Friday, July 1, 2011

Supermarket Showdown 6/27/11

I just wanted to share a great success story about our most recent trip to Harris Teeter, coupons in hand. Until the super double promotion ends tonight at midnight, there is still a great opportunity to find amazing deals. Keep in mind the stores coupon policies are always against us though. You may only double 3 identical coupons per transaction and there is a limit of 20 coupons per day that may be double per household. My wife had to go with me to use her rewards card on separate transactions so we could limit the amount of time we were holding up the line. So here is what our coupons bought us:

20 Large bottles of Lysol brand toilet cleaner retail valued at $2.99 each

15 Boxes of Hormel Compleats microwave meals retail valued at $2.47 each

12 boxes of Reynolds aluminum foil retail valued at $3.99 each

10 packs of Orbit Gum retail valued at $1.29 each

Grand total of this purchase was $169.85 after tax yet we only spent $17.24 for all this stuff! I know, I know. Who needs 20 bottles of toilet bowl cleaner? Not me either. But I bet 3 years from now I still won't need any. I wonder how much money I could or would have spent in that timeframe on products that clean our crapper. A lot more than I just spent upfront that's for sure. The biggest key in the coupon game is building the stockpile. I've read a lot of recent articles that say couponing brings out the worst in people and it makes normally good-natured people bring the claws out when hunting for great deals. I've also heard it said that it's unfair to other consumers when couponers buy 20 of an item and leave none for others. To that I would simply respond: I'm sorry. I don't do what I do to offend anyone. I do what I do because I'm a good father that loves my family and will do anything I can to make a dollar go further than others think possible. I do it so when the time comes and the kiddos need something, I don't have to look in their sad faces and say: Sorry, don't have the money for that. Happy hunting people!

$99 Vacation. Really?

We've all seen those advertisements for dirt cheap vacations whether on tv, internet or newspapers. Every time, we instantly write them off as too good to be true. But are they really too good to be true? Or are we letting false perceptions keep us from having great experiences at ridiculously low costs. Well folks, when you read those articles and say to yourself: "yea right", you're only half correct. The truth is, you absolutely CAN have great vacations for a fraction of the regular cost, but there is a catch. The catch is: Timeshare presentations. I must admit, this deal is only for cheapskates with an iron will and a firm affinity for the word NO.
Recently, my family and I had a cheap vacation to Hilton Head Island, S.C. Fuel to and from our home town was the only major cost involved. For $99 we purchased a 3 day/2 night stay at a very nice resort and were also given $100 in gift vouchers for meals at partnered restaraunts throughout the beach area. When the 90 minute sales presentation concluded, we were rewarded with another voucher for a 3 day/ 2 night vacation with no sales presentation to sit through and the cost for this one was only $50 to boot.
I really wish I could say that it was that easy however. I would'nt be doing you any favors if I made it seem like this is such a pleasant thing to put yourself through. The sales presentations given by these timeshare companies can sometimes be brutal. The salesmen hired by these companies are quite literally, the cream of the crop. They can sell ketchup popsicles to women in white gloves so to speak. Honestly, even if you're like me and find absolutely no value what so ever in timeshares, they will make your mouth water at the thought of being a partial owner in this "exclusive club" for high society vacationers. And at such an affordable cost too, so they say.
For me, some of these guys are slime. They make you feel like garbage when you say no or show any signs of objection. From the first smile and handshake, they are busy picking apart your every move and every word to find an angle to sell you what I believe to be a worthless expense. Oh they will be your best friend and show you the utmost courtesy from beginning until (almost) end. They'll have an ice cold soda for you, snacks and other refreshments, etc. But the moment you begin to say no or "let me think about it" their attitude can change on a dime.
This last guy we had the unfortunate chance to deal with was a picture perfect "good cop, bad cop" all by himself. He really tried to get on a personal level with us by trying to make himself our new best friend. Then turned into the biggest baby when we said no. He attacked us and tried to make us feel guilty for wasting his time. He made us appear to be liars saying that the formula they use to attract people to these things should be able to afford this timeshare if they told the truth on the questionnaire.
That last line was where I put my foot down and had to play along with his game. I too, had been very polite and cordial during the presentation and even during his tantrum. But when he called me a liar in front of a room full of people staring at the table with raised voices, I had enough. I had to get vocal with the man and let him know that I was not about to sit by while he insulted me in front of my wife and children. Long story short, I told the guy he needed to vanish quickly before he forced me to do something we would both regret.
What started as a phone call with an operator saying "no obligation" "guilt free vacation" "enjoy the beach on us" ended up being a nightmare for 90 minutes. But if you ask me would I do it again, the answer will always be: absolutely! Where else can you get a deal this cheap and make memories to last a lifetime with your family out of town? I havent found anywhere else which is why I find so much value in these timeshare pitches. If you would like to get in on the deals just go on over to and see if you are eligible too. But you have been warned. Deals like this come with a catch and you need to be willing to take a dose of punishment for the greater good. If this type of vacation even seems like it may be a hassle, your hunch will be right and will be magnified when you experience this for yourself. These salesmen are INTENSE!

Recycle This: Baby Wipe Containers

As a parent with two kids that used to go through about one container of baby wipes every other day, I know the value in finding creative ways to stretch a dollar. Surprisingly, I have found that the little containers are pretty versatile and can be reused in a lot of different ways. When properly cleaned and disinfected, the sky is the limit within your own creative mind. Older kids in the house can decorate these containers and find new uses as :

  • A piggy bank
  • A pencil/pen/marker/crayon holder
  • Flash card container
  • Jewelry box
  • Craft box
  • Paint supply box
  • Hot Wheels box
  • Valentines day card box
  • "Special" box for most prized items or treasures
  • Invitation box - for the next big party
  • And on and on and on. Only limited by your child's imagination
For adults there are still many more uses. Some are very practical and others take a keen eye to see the value in. You can try many of these new uses such as:
  • Travel tote, for toiletries like soap, razors, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, toothbrush, bath sponge, etc.
  • Craft box for the hobby enthusiast
  • Jewelry box for fine jewelry - Yes! I said it. It has been researched that home invaders rarely open boxes that appear to have no value on first glance. A box like this to hold your most valuable jewelry is in its own right, an insurance policy.
  • Contact list box with each contact on an index card
  • Card box - never run out of cards for special occasions
  • Auto box - for those pesky items that overflow the glove box
  • Napkin box - for cookouts and get togethers
Of course these ideas were just what I was able to come up with on a whim. With more thought, you will be able to find many more uses yourself. And who wants to run out and spend more money every time you need a box of some sort. Next time you find yourself saying, I need to go to the store to pick up a box for my scrapbook nick nacks, you may think twice about reusing what you already have. Of course it's better for the environment to recycle as much as possible, but it's also better for your wallet. How many other items around the house do you think may hold untapped potential for recycling? I would love to hear your ideas.

Extra Money Around the Neighborhood

Looking for creative ideas to generate some extra cash? Try looking around your very own neighborhood. Theres always someone close by that's in need of something you have to offer. Whether it's your time, knowledge, or just an extra set of hands. Try creating a newsletter showcasing what you have to offer and put them in each mailbox you come to as you walk the dog. You can tailor your newsletter to something specific such as mowing lawns, grooming dogs, house cleaning, whatever you have to offer. The sky is the limit with your creativity and the kiddos can be a big help in scoping out new customers. As a matter of fact the whole family can get involved to make a task go by faster while having fun and developing your relationships with one another. Picture this, dad's mowing while mom is in the garden. Little Timmy is sweeping the driveway after he pulled all the weeds because his big sister is still washing the vinyl siding. Seems like alot huh? This task may only take an able-bodied family an hour to complete. But the nice old man with the bad back down the street will be gleaming with joy as he watches his yard come back to life. A value in his eyes for $100 dollars. How many people in your neighborhood can you help this weekend?
If the weather is nice outside you could get alot done. Your neighbors will love the service you provide and in time they may think of you first every time they're in need of help around the house. You may not be able to accommodate them every time, but wouldn't it be nice to know you're thought of like that? Maybe your budding handy service can extend through the fall and winter months as well with cleaning gutters, raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc. Keep in mind as your demand increases, so will the pay and so will your relationship with the family.

Product Review: Netflix

Still skeptical about Netflix? Of course if you go to the Netflix website you'll only hear good things and nothing bad what so ever. That's why you're here right? Of course it is. You want an honest review from a regular guy that will give you an honest opinion that you can trust. Well seeing as how I don't get paid for reviews..... you got it! Honest opinion: Netflix is about the best thing since sliced bread. We find it to be so versatile and cost-effective that we've recently cancelled our cable service. Netflix allows to update your list with a seemingly never-ending supply of DVDs that are shipped to your doorstep with lightning speed. They have a ton of shipping facilities to make sure you're never waiting long for your next movie.
Apart from DVDs to your mailbox you can also stream movies with devices such as your computer via a HDMI cable running to your flat screen. You can also stream through your XBOX 360, Playstation3, Nintendo Wii, TiVo, and I think there's a couple other ways. Believe me when I tell you, the choices are endless. The only negative I have been able to find is that you are at the mercy of waiting for movies to be released on DVD and that also includes television series. If you are an avid fan of certain shows that you positively MUST watch weekly, then cancelling cable may not be right for your household. Live shows such as American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and others are not available with Netflix. If these are shows that you watch regularly and can't be left without having "the scoop" to talk about at the water cooler, then again, don't cancel cable right away. A final negative is due to the whole 28 day waiting period after a show or movie is released on DVD. Netflix and RedBox are not allowed to ship these movies for one month so that publishers may have a sporting chance at profit from sales. Other than that, Netflix is the bees knees.
Regardless of your choice to cancel cable or not, I highly recommend Netflix. You will find a ton of entertainment at your fingertips and the value of this service skyrockets if you have the capability to stream movies and shows. The best part is that it's only $8 a month. I don't know of any premium channels that are that cheap without being on a promotion and they don't have near the selection. The next package is around $14.99 and you can receive 2 DVDs by mail at all times while of course every package you select the streaming feature will come standard.

Energy Saving Tip - Programmable Thermostats

You've probably read or heard several reports by now that offers tips on where to save money on your heating and cooling costs. Surely many of the local news anchors that do pieces of this nature have mentioned a list of things you can do to save money around the house, with programmable thermostats being on most of those lists. I find however, that many news stations fail to really go in-depth on a promoted items uses and benefits. Most times they simply say: use this, it saves money.
But why use it? How does it save me money? Well the good news is: Use it. It saves money. The reason you want to invest in a programmable thermostat is because apart from the obvious savings on your energy bill, you can control the environment in your house much easier and without worrying about using excess energy. Most of these units range from $50-$100 at most home improvement stores and are surprisingly simple to install. I myself have a Honeywell model that was purchased for around $59.99 before tax. I installed it rather easily with the help of a technician I contacted after calling the toll-free number provided with the unit.
After it was up and running I was able to program the settings exactly how I want them. On certain days I may work from 9-5 so the appropriate settings were as follows. I awake on these days at 7:30 am and the unit already began heating the house up 30 minutes earlier so that it was a comfortable temperature of 68 degrees when I began my day. At 8:30 when I left, the system would back off on the heating and allow the temperature to lower to a cost efficient 55 degrees. In the evening I returned home at 6:00 pm to a comfortable home set at 68 degrees yet again because the thermostat began gradually raising the temperature 45 minutes earlier instead of burning strip heat to quickly get the temperature where I wanted it. Strip heat is incredibly taxing on your HVAC unit which will lead to replacing the system years earlier than you want to. That in itself is very expensive, not to mention the toll strip heat takes on your energy bill. Bed time was 10 pm these days so guess what.... the thermostat would again lower the temperature to a more cost efficient 62 degrees throughout the night until the cycle began all over the next morning.
To simplify my message, the plain and simple truth is that these units will pay for themselves in only a few months and the long-term savings is even more impressive. Last year my wife and I signed up for a plan with our energy company that allows us to make equal payments for 12 months based on the previous years usage. What a perfect test to see how much one of these can save you! The plan is simple. Your costs either go up or down throughout the year but you pay the same each month until the 12th and final month at which time you pay the difference if there is one. Last month was our 12th and we not only have this month of service paid for already with the big credit balance on our account, but there's a $34 credit towards next month as well. So again, at the risk of stating the obvious: Use it. It saves money.

Up in smoke. Literally.

Are you a smoker? Have you ever considered quitting the habit? As addictive as smoking can be for some, quitting is much easier said than done. The nicotine along with other chemicals and additives forces a smoker to face severe withdrawal symptoms if the addiction is not fed periodically throughout the day. A tight-knit support program is very important for those willing to take the plunge and finally put down the cigarettes. If you have considered quitting then I applaud your effort and wish you well on your journey. I know from personal experience how hard it is, yet I also know how great it feels when you can finally call yourself a non-smoker and mean it. Need a little more motivation? Great. Simple math, if you smoke one pack per day and that pack costs you $4.00, you will save $1,460.00 in the next year. Of course your savings may go up or down depending on frequency and the cost of your preferred brand. What would you do with almost $1500 smackaroos? As a frugal advocate, I find the best possible things to spend money on is good ol' fashion experience. Take a vacation. Go to an amusement or water park. Host the family reunion that your relatives will be talking about for 20 years. Get creative, kick the habit, and start living your life healthier and with more coin in your pocket.