Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sign Up for Free Samples from Betty Crocker

I just visited the Betty Crocker® website and signed up for two of its email newsletters so I can get baking and cooking ideas, recipes, coupons, and FREE SAMPLES!

If you sign up for the Betty Crocker email newsletter, you will receive a free sample of Warm Delights™ Minis. YUM!

If you sign up for the Dinner Made Easy email newsletter, you will receive a free Hamburger Helper® Microwave Singles sample.

Sample quantities are limited so if you're interested, you'd better sign up quickly! Limit one sample per household. You must be 18 years of age or older to receive samples. Offer limited to the United States. Hamburger Helper® Microwave Singles offer expires 6/1/2008 and Warm Delights™ Minis offer expires 6/30/2008. Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Start an Herb Garden

I’ve never been to the Minneapolis Farmers Market before so last Thursday after work, I finally decided to check it out. I ended up buying three herb plants -- curly parsley, chives, and catnip. (I have three cats, and one was diagnosed with depression so I thought catnip might cheer her up).

I’m not really the gardening type, but I’ve decided to try growing an herb garden out on my patio in hopes of saving money because fresh herbs at the grocery store are expensive and don’t last very long! I swear, the chives I buy in those plastic packets for $2.99 get all discolored and slimy in less than a week! Plus, I am really trying to live a greener lifestyle and not buy food that has been sprayed with harmful pesticides.

Container gardening is all new to me so the jury may be out for a while on whether this is something that will actually save money or just be a waste of money in the long run. So far, I’ve spent $5.00 on the plants, $7.00 on a bag of Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Potting Mix from the Home Depot, $4.99 for gardening tools and gloves from Wal-Mart, and $13.97 for three stylish pots from TJ Maxx and the Goodwill for a grand total of $30.96.

If these plants survive until Thursday -- I think I may have overwatered the parsley because a few leaves have turned yellow -- I may buy a few more. I’m thinking of adding rosemary, basil, mint, cilantro, thyme, oregano and chamomile to my little patio garden. I may even get daring and try to grow some tomatoes!

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Use Reward/Loyalty Cards to Maximize Your Spending Power

I am a huge fan of "reward" and "loyalty" cards because if I am going to buy something, I might as well get something back.

For instance, I buy all of my gas at Super America because of its "Speedy Rewards" program. Every time you use your Speedy Rewards card, you earn points towards free merchandise or gift cards. You earn 20 points per $1 spent for food, drink, and merchandise and 10 points for every gallon of gas you purchase.

Unfortunately, if you want one of the "good" rewards like a $25 gift card, you'll need to be patient. It took approximately three years to earn my first $25 gift card, but now that my fiancé and I share a rewards card, we're on our way to earning a $25 gift card in less than 12 months!

Another reward card I use is from the salon I visit on a regular basis. You earn one stamp for every $40 you spend on products and services. After receiving 20 stamps, you can redeem your card for a $40 discount off any service or a $40 discount off any product purchase. I currently have 10 stamps so I am almost half-way there!

The third reward card I have is an AMC MovieWatcher card. You earn 2 points for each movie ticket purchased (with a maximum of 4 points per visit) and every time you accumulate 10 points, you get a free bag of popcorn or small soft drink or movie ticket (which you have the option of trading for a large soft drink and large popcorn). When you hit 100 points, you get a free night at the movies (i.e., free moive ticket, small popcorn, and small soft drink).

Even though I rarely go to movies at the theatre -- seriously, why pay $9.50 to see a movie when I can rent it on DVD for $3.99 (or for free) in just a few months? -- I use the card every time I go because I have absolutely nothing to lose by using it!

Finally, if you really want to maximize your spending power, use a credit card with a reward program to pay for all of your purchases, then it will be like getting twice the free stuff! Through the years, I've earned tons of gift cards to cool places like the Cheesecake Factory, Borders, and Crabtree & Evelyn because I use my credit card for everything -- gas, groceries, doctor bills, etc.

Just make sure you're able to pay your balance off in full each month, or else you're not really maximizing your spending power because the interest you'll have to pay is likely to be way more than the reward you're getting.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sell Your Old Books and Don't Buy Any More (Go to the Library)

I am an avid reader. I love reading fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and yes, even self-help books. Over the years, I have spent hundreds of dollars on books (thousands if you count my law school text books).

A couple of years ago, after it finally started sinking into my brain that I do not have room to continue storing all of my books, I started getting rid of them. I thought about listing some of the books for sale on eBay or Amazon, but I didn't think it would be worth my time for all the work that was involved (shipping books is a pain) so I donated a majority of them to the Goodwill.

Of course, then I bought more, so I ended up right back at square one. Fortunately, a friend advised me to bring my old books to a used bookstore so I would at least get something for them, instead of just giving them away. Well, the other day, I gathered up all of the books I didn't want anymore and headed to a used bookstore in a neighboring suburb. I sold 17 books for $11.50.

I was not pleased at all with the price, considering I paid $25 just for Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament -- gee, did I really need to spend $25 to be told that? -- and another $20 to learn Apprentice winner Bill Rancic got his big start by washing yachts and hoarding cigars in his apartment in his lame book, You're Hired. However, I guess $11.50 is better than nothing. Combine that with the $30.50 I got for my old CDs and DVDs, I now have an extra $42.00 to put toward my student loans. Hooray.

Well, I have learned a valuable lesson -- don't waste your money on books because (a) you're probably only going to read them once, (b) if you don't have adequate space for them, they just end up becoming clutter, and (c) the resale value is absolutely awful!

From now on, I am going to check books out at the public library for free. It may take a long time to actually get the book*, but the wait will be worth it in the long-run.

*For instance, there are 77 people waiting for 15 copies of David Cay Johnston's Free Lunch : How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill) and 29 people waiting for 4 copies of Jen Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest To Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, Or Why Pie is Not The Answer...the two books I want to read!!!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stock Up on Non-Perishable Sale Items Like Cereal

Even though some people are in a panic over rapidly rising food prices, I'm not too worried because I am a very savvy grocery shopper. As long as stores continue to have sales and manufacturers continue to print coupons, I will be just fine.

Every Sunday, I look through all the grocery store circulars, clip coupons, and strategize how I can get the most for the least amount of money. If I find a really good sale on a non-perishable item I use regularly, I buy several because then if the item isn’t on sale later, I will have enough stockpiled in my pantry to hopefully last until there is another sale.

Now, I’m not advocating hoarding food by any means, but I am advocating that you stock up on sale items you use frequently (especially if you have extra money to spare and space to store everything). By stocking up on items now when they are priced low, you may be able to protect yourself from food inflation later on -- at least until your stockpile runs out!

For example, last week, I found a great deal on General Mills cereal – ten boxes for $25 -- so I bought ten 14 oz. boxes of Cheerios. Other brands like Lucky Charms and Chex were also included in the sale, but I only eat Cheerios (and for the record, no, I do not get tired of eating the same thing every morning).

Anyway, there was an in-store coupon for $10 off if you bought ten General Mills products so each box of Cheerios only ended up costing $1.50 each.

But, wait, there's MORE! I also had five manufacturer’s coupons – one $1.00/2 boxes and four $.75/2 boxes – so I only ended up paying $1.10 per box. Considering that cereal prices are expected to rise by more than 8% in the next year, I think my $11 was well spent! In fact, if I had more storage space in my house, I probably would have bought twenty boxes!


In last Sunday’s paper, there was a mail-in offer for a free box of Post Honey Bunches of Oats cereal. All you have to do is complete the original mail-in offer and send in five original coupons* from any cereal brands other than Honey Bunches of Oats in order to receive a coupon good for one box.

*Coupons must have an expiration date of later than April 1, 2008.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Don’t Get Manicures or Pedicures Unless They’re Free (Germ-Free, too)

I have wanted to splurge and treat myself to a manicure or pedicure — actually, both! — for many years, but I have always felt guilty about spending money on such a self-indulgent and unnecessary service, especially when I’m always complaining about the dismal economy and my student loan debt.

Well, now, I can finally find out what’s so great about having my nails “done” thanks to Clairol.

In last Sunday’s paper, I noticed you can get a free manicure or pedicure with the purchase of any 2 specially marked Herbal Essences shampoos or conditioners or any 1 Herbal Essences hair color so I picked up two bottles of “Color Me Happy” conditioner when I was at Target today. They were only $2.94 each, plus I had a coupon for a dollar off, so I only ended up spending about $5.96!

If you’re interested in getting a free manicure or pedicure, too, all you have to do is:

(1) Buy 2 specially marked Herbal Essences shampoos or conditioners (the collections participating are “Hello Hydration”, “Body Envy”, “Long Term Relationship”, “Color Me Happy” and “Totally Twisted”) or any 1 specially marked Herbal Essences hair color;

(2) Go to and enter the UPC codes from the back of the bottles (if you buy hair color, enter the LOT code);

(3) Print out a redemption form, complete it and mail it in, along with your original receipt.

In approximately 4-6 weeks, you will receive a voucher for a pedicure or manicure by mail. The voucher will provide you with the address of a website that will tell you where you can redeem the voucher.

While I’m delighted to be getting a nice little “extra” with my conditioner purchase, I wish the names and locations of the participating salons would have been disclosed beforehand. I can just see anxiously checking the mailbox every day for weeks, waiting patiently for my voucher, only to be disappointed to learn the nail salons participating are those scary little places that use the same tools on everybody without disinfecting them.

There is absolutely NO WAY I will ever step foot in any of those germ havens, even if the manicure or pedicure is free!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sell Your Old CDs or DVDs (and Don’t Buy Any More)

Getting rid of clutter is a topic that will be discussed frequently on this blog because my house is cluttered with tons of stuff I don’t need or use but just can’t seem to get rid of.

With all the stories lately, though, about people selling their belongings for gas money, I think I’ve finally found the incentive I needed to start paring down.

The first things to go? The CDs I don’t listen to anymore, and the DVDs I just had to buy but only watched once. (Seriously, why would anyone want to watch Madagascar or Memoirs of a Geisha MORE than once?)

Anyway, the other day, I gathered up the ones I wanted to sell and brought them to a place that pays cash for used CDs and DVDs. I sold 17 CDs and 4 DVDs for $30.50 which I didn’t think was so bad because a majority of my CDs were purchased back in the late ‘80s to early ’90s when I was a member of Columbia House.

Remember Columbia House? If not, Columbia House was a music club that let you buy a certain number of CDs (e.g., 20) for 1 cent plus shipping and handling as long as you promised to buy a certain number at regular “club” price. It sounded like a good deal, but in the end it really wasn’t because you ended up paying about $22-$25 for each CD you were obligated to buy, way more than what you would have paid at Target or Musicland.

“Wow, I haven’t seen them for a long time,” the guy behind the counter remarked when he saw an old CD from Bel Biv Devoe. “Or them,” he added when he saw my CD from House of Pain.

After he finished looking at all of my CDs, he remarked, “My, what interesting taste in music you have.”

I wondered if that was a polite way of saying my taste in music totally stinks?

Oh, well. At least I have another $30 to put toward my student loan debt.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Welcome to Moths in My Wallet

I’m always talking about the state of the economy so the other day my friend, Nikki, asked if I had any ideas about how to spend less money.

I thought, “Sure, I do!” so I decided to start this blog to share the money saving strategies that have (or haven’t) worked for me as I work toward my ultimate goal of paying off my student loans.

Without going into all of the depressing details, student loan debt has pretty much ruined my life. That is why I am so hell-bent on finding a way to get out of it, and the only way to get out of student loan debt is to (a) make more money; (b) spend less money; or (c) do both. (I would have included option (d) die, but I thought that was too negative. Seriously, though, student loan debt is only dischargeable upon death; it will not be "forgiven" through bankruptcy.)

I’ve spent five years trying to make more money and have been completely unsuccessful, so I’ve decided to concentrate my efforts on spending less and saving more. As David Bach, author of Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying, writes, “It’s not what you earn that makes you rich or poor; it is what you spend.”

This blog will focus solely on my thoughts about the economy, consumerism, and ways to save more money and spend less. A majority of blog posts will focus on the following five topics:

(1) Living Below Your Means;
(2) Ridding Yourself of Clutter;
(3) Being Organized;
(4) Going Green; and
(5) Looking for Freebies.*

*Even if you’re not in debt or struggling financially, you may enjoy this section! I mean, who doesn’t love free stuff?

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal or financial advice in any way.