More Coupons, Groupons, and Savings

Last time my daughter was here, she shared when and how she decided to take control of her money. (you can read her first post of this series HERE) Today she is giving her tips on using coupons.

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Coupons

I used to hate using coupons because it felt like a long process of finding the ones I needed, calculating the best buy, and waiting through the dreaded issue of a cashier having issues scanning them. However, I decided to give them a go again last month, and we will have saved almost $50 by the end of this month with coupons alone. The easiest way to find relevant coupons is through the mail. Some larger companies will send coupons directly to you, not as part of a newspaper advertisement. Our local Ford dealership, for example, sends me a coupon every few months for a discounted oil change that is the same price as most other places nearby, but their offer includes a multi-point inspection for my car and a few other services that I would otherwise need to pay for. I might pay the same price for the oil change, but I am saving on car maintenance.

My main destination for coupons is www.coupons.com. They have a random assortment of coupons ranging on topics from food to beauty products to household items. I can usually find at least 10-15 when I look at the website every week or two, and the coupons are set to have an expiration date of one month after you print them. So you have a while to use them. They also bring over coupons from other sites, such as P&G coupons, which cover brands such as Bounty and Charmin. The savings is not always massive. Sometimes it’s only $0.25 off of a pack of Bounty napkins or $1.00 off a 12-count of toilet paper, but it adds up if you do it regularly. One major downside is that the program it uses to print the coupons requires you to install the Coupon Printer program on your computer, and—this is just awful—it only seems to work on Internet Explorer. The time spent waiting on IE to load is worth the savings to me, though. P&G has their own coupon website as well for major brands of household items that we use, but, as I said, they are often imported to coupons.com. I usually double-check it anyway just to be certain that I haven’t missed anything.

Don’t forget to check your actual products for coupons as well. Chili’s restaurant came out with frozen meals a while back (yes, they are delicious), and, to encourage people to continue to buy their products, they printed inside the meals’ boxes a coupon for $1.00 off the purchase of two of their frozen meals. Again, it’s not a large savings, but I liked the meals and was going to buy them anyway. That’s the important thing to keep in mind—if you are going to buy the products anyway, especially if you can save by buying items like household goods in bulk, you might as well take the time to save some money in the process. I have found coupons for products in frozen meal boxes, dry goods boxes, cat litter tubs, cat food sacks, and tons of other places. Companies realize that you have choices, and they want to give you another reason to use their brands. I don’t know about you, but letting me save a few bucks on something I already buy makes me like a company all the more.

If you are lucky enough to live in an area with stores that offer discounts, rewards, or specific coupons, by all means use them for all they are worth! We frequent two stores when it comes to groceries and household goods: Target and HEB. Target is nation-wide, and we use them primarily for their pharmacy. We have always had luck with friendly and knowledgeable pharmacists at Target, to the point that they know us by name when we walk up and we know more about our their personal lives than we probably should. So we do our prescriptions exclusively at Target, which comes with a great rewards program. After filling so many prescriptions, we receive a 5% off coupon for an entire purchase. As far as I know, there are no restrictions on what the coupon can be used for. So we occasionally use those for larger purchases if it will save us money in the long run, or we use it for a few small items, like vitamin waters that are practically the same price there as anywhere else, and save that extra 5%. For everything else, we shop at HEB, which has a fantastic coupon program. I’m sure they have a system to it, but it looks random—there are yellow coupons for savings or deals, i.e. buy a pack of hotdogs and get a pack of buns for free, hanging all over the store for particular products. Sometimes you can save several dollars just with the in-store offers. However, if you are using conflicting coupons that you have printed from a website or manufacturer, do the math and see which coupon actually saves you more money. Watch the fine print as well. I’m not sure where the people on those coupon-crazed shows shop, but all of my coupons have small print that say they cannot be combined with other offers and the total savings cannot exceed the value of the product. In other words, don’t plan on being one of those people who use multiple coupons and end up having the store pay them at the end of the transaction.

You might be like I was a few years ago and wonder if all of this coupon…let’s call it hoarding because I feel like that’s how I am right now…if all of this coupon hoarding really saves that much in the end. Take our last shopping trip as an example. We were sick last weekend and so missed our regular two-week shopping trip as well as ran out of nearly everything before we made it to the store this week. By everything I mean we had a box of tissues, a twelve-pack of toilet paper, and half a twelve-pack of Dr. Pepper left. That was it. We walked into the store with 18 coupons, 15 of which we used, and we added three coupons along the way thanks to in-store coupon savings. We stocked up on enough meats, meals, dry goods, lunch items, and snacks to last us at least two more weeks, maybe three if we are thrifty. We bought more household goods than normal, but I had several big savings coupons, and household items won’t go bad. As long as you have the storage and available funds, buying them in bulk and saving is a good scheme—and I don’t mean buying them in bulk at Sam’s where you pay a membership fee, which can sometimes be more expensive than it’s worth. When we checked out, I looked at the receipt to see that we had saved a penny on brand savings (a penny here, a penny there), $1.55 on in-store savings, and $23 on manufacturer coupons. In total we saved $24.50, which was more than 10% of our total bill, and we walked out with a free comb—I needed one for my cat, but the in-store coupon saved more than the value of the comb; so I bought a two pack for $1 more that included a new one for me, which I actually needed, and with the coupon came out at the cost of a single comb so it was like getting the second for free—and a free air freshner plug-in. That coupon clearly stated that buying a refill pack came with a free Glade air freshner plug-in. We already use them in the apartment around the cats’ litter boxes and needed refills, so why not use a coupon and get a free plug-in to keep another room smelling fresh? With the $11 we saved on our last visit, that took us to $35 in total savings on groceries and household items. After taking my car to the Ford dealership next week and receiving a little free maintenance, we will be at about $50 a month in savings or free services. Add that up over a year, and we’re looking at almost $600 in savings in 2015!

And just in case you need one more incentive to start couponing: I haven’t stepped foot in a Wal-Mart in almost a year. I am spending the same amount or less than when I shopped there, and the food quality is also better. I don’t know about you, but that is a lifelong dream come true for me.

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Kudos to my daughter for saving when and where she can! She’ll be back next week talking about advertisement & restaurant offers.

Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

Beach Picture Collage

On Valentine’s Day, Mr. and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary! Yes, I made it easy for him to NEVER forget our anniversary! :-)

For his present this year, I had come up with the idea of putting together a collage of beach pictures, since we love the beach, water, and everything ocean! So off to the beach I went to take pictures. Funny how that sounds like it was more of a present to me!! An afternoon at the beach…one of my favorite things to do! So I told him I had errands to do, swung by and picked up my daughter and her roommate, and off to Galveston we went.

And four hours later of “running errands”, this is what we ended up with.

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Anniversary 5

Anniversary 4

Anniversary 6

Anniversary 7

And no trip is complete without pictures of the ocean…

Anniversary 2

Anniversary 1

 

And this is the collage that I had made for him. He loved it!

beach collage

Special thanks to my daughter who did the writing in the sand for me! I had a really fun time doing this with the girls.

Happy Anniversary, Mister! I Love You!

Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

We Finally Have Backsplash!!

After five months of living with this:

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I have this!

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It took me the entire five months to decide what I wanted. I bought tile after tile samples, brought them home, and held them up to the walls. I just didn’t get that “this is it” feeling. Then I saw what I wanted on Pinterest. And as soon as I saw it, I got that “this is it” feeling!! :-) A beadboard backsplash would go great with the coastal look I was bringing into the house!

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And let me tell you, the price was fantastic!

2 – 4 x 8 beadboard = $40

2 – tubes Liquid Nail = $6

2 – 8′ pine trim = $24

1 – pkg. brads = $5

paint & primer = $0 (leftover from previous project)

caulk = $0 (leftover from previous project)

Even if we would have had to purchase paint, primer, and caulk, we could have installed the entire backsplash for around $120! Mr. was super excited about the price AND the fact that he got to buy a new cordless nail gun! :-)

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I found a great tip on how to cut out the holes for the outlets on ellaclaireinspired.com. A little tape and viola, the holes were marked! So much easier than using a tape measure, especially when you have three cutouts in one piece of board!

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Mr. recently added the pendant lights over the sink and the desk, where the recessed lights were before. We used a conversion kit that takes literally minutes to install and what a difference it makes!

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And how cute are these whale measuring cups that I got for Christmas from our daughter! Love, love, love them!

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And everyone should have a quirky magnet collection on their fridge! :-) Ours are from places Mr. and I have visited and a couple are from our daughter and her roommate.

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I am thrilled with the way the backsplash turned out!

And of course, I have to remind you of what we started with two years ago and how far we’ve come!

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Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

Coupons, Groupons, and Savings

My daughter is back with a new post series: “Coupons, Groupons, and Savings”.

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I’ve always hated budgeting and dealing with money. The stress of knowing that one car issue or an unexpected veterinarian bill could throw my entire bank account into the negative stresses me out, and it’s all the more difficult to become comfortable with a limited income when I’m young and just starting out. I am not a homeowner (which, as I’ve recently learned through research, comes with a plethora of additional expenses, so hats off to you people who take that on); I thankfully do not have children yet. I count myself doubly lucky that my car is paid off.  And, while these missing expenses make my budget stretch further, there are many reasons why it can be very difficult to budget when you are twenty-something. For instance, despite being over that dreaded 25-year mark when it comes to car ownership, the fact that I am under 30, do not have a spouse’s car for a multiple car discount, and no longer receive a student discount has my auto insurance at an all-time high. I’m not married, so my taxes tend to be a bit higher because I don’t qualify for certain tax breaks. Rent in Houston is sometimes flat-out ridiculous, continues to rise, and has me paying the equivalent of a small house payment for a comfortable apartment in a slowly declining neighborhood. When I try to save a little on the side for a rainy day fund, these obstacles often leave me frowning at my budget.

The other day, however, I experienced a turn-around in my attitude about surviving at my age. I read an article that said one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that you are supposed to have your life figured out and settled in your 20s. It’s immensely difficult to do nowadays. Let’s be honest with each otherbeing an adult is hard. Just plain difficult. And sometimes not a lot of fun. Starting with my move to graduate school after finishing my undergrad, I have moved six times in seven years, and I still live in an apartment because I am uncertain where I want to settle just yet. I don’t have kids, but I dropped more than $300 on my cats this month because of medical issues with both felinesand you can’t say no to those kinds of expenses. I have a Ph.D., but my field is academia, which traditionally pays poorly in return for an employee’s education (ironically enough), has a slow rate of promotion, and tends to show bias towards recognizing women with a well-documented gender gap. I still love my job in many ways, but sometimes I want to write the government and ask if they really need to take that much out of my paycheck because social security will probably be gone by the time I need it and I could use that money to replace the flat tire in my work loafers. Hate it or love it, budgeting is a fact of life.

So a few months ago I decided to take control of my money and figure out how to live in a way that lets me enjoy the parts of life that I really love while managing to save and prepare for life expenses, and I’m happy to say that it seems to be working rather well. In fact, I often find myself searching Pinterest looking for new ways to budget or save, and I’m actually enjoying it! The tips in this post series are geared toward younger readers who might be experiencing the same life phase that I am in at the moment, but they are most definitely applicable to anyone wanting to cut back on expenses and try to save a little. The important thing to remember is that you have to make adjustments that work for your life. For example, I am a picky eater. I like the brands of food that I like, and that was not a part of my spending that I was willing to change; so, rather than buying cheaper brands, my roommate and I ventured into the realm of smarter cooking, ensuring we made our food stretch further which stretched our budget as well. I am sure Dave Ramsey knows what he is talking about. I am even considering reading one of his books soon, but his Latte Factor doesn’t apply to everyone. His idea is that cutting out expensive and unnecessary spending habits is one of the quickest ways to save money, and, while that’s true, I don’t agree that you should cut our all unnecessary expenditures. You should still enjoy life; you just have to learn how to do it on a budget. Yes, buying a tall mocha from Starbucks every morning on your way to work will cost you roughly $20 a week, which means you could cut out $80 in expenses a month if you made your coffee at homebut, you know what, if you don’t like drip coffee and can’t afford a $250 expresso machine for your kitchen, that might not be the best expense to cut. You go ahead and get your mocha, girl, and look for another way to save.

In the end, this series will give tips on how to save on every day living by using coupons and the like and how to change your habits to shop and live smarter. In tandem you can start to see results in your bank account by the end of the month. Even at the end of last month, I was able to pay those unexpected vet bills without dipping into savings because we’ve been watching our spending, tracking our money, and being smarter about how we use it. And I promise that, even if you hate it now, you will learn to at least accept it if not come to love it.

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She hit it right on the head when she stated “budgeting is a fact of life”.

Mr. and I budget for big expenses like vacations and house updates by saving our five dollar bills. You can read about that HERE and HERE. And if you haven’t checked out Dave Ramsey and his financial/debt advice, you really should. I have been using his “Debt Snowball Method” of bill paying for approximately two years now and it works!

Be sure and check back next week for her tips on using coupons.

Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

Chicken Marsala

I have to tell you, I love chicken! I could eat it everyday. Mr…not so much. He could eat red meat everyday! Mr. likes his red meat, as most men do! :-) But lately I’ve been trying to limit the amount of red meat that we eat. I have even switched to using ground turkey in several recipes instead of ground beef. And more times than not, when we it out at restaurants, I order chicken.

So I’m always on the search for a new chicken recipe. I found this one on Land O Lakes website. Prep was quick and easy, plus it tasted great!

Chicken Marsala

Chicken Marsala

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

4 Tbl butter, halved (I always use unsalted Land O Lakes butter)

16 oz.  boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 cup dry Marsala wine or chicken broth

8 oz. package sliced mushrooms

Combine flour, salt, and pepper in large, resealable bag. Melt 2 T butter in shallow bowl. Dip chicken into butter and place into bag. Reseal and shake gently to coat.

Melt remaining 2 T butter in skillet until sizzling. Add chicken and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat, turning once, 6-8 minutes or until chicken is browned. ( if necessary, reduce heat to prevent  garlic from burning) Add wine or broth and mushrooms. Continue cooking 4-6 minutes or until chicken is done and no longer pink and sauce is slightly thickened.

Serve over pasta, if desired.

*I used chicken broth instead of wine, as this was what I had on hand.

*Since I wanted the garlic to get golden brown, I frequently stirred the garlic and butter to keep it from burning.

*When it comes to cooking chicken, I usually cook it several more minutes than what the recipe calls for, as I want to make sure that it’s done. I cooked the chicken in this recipe for approximately 20 minutes in total.

*The online recipe suggested fettuccine pasta, but I had some penne on hand and just used that.

Chicken Marsala

 Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

Organizing Small Spaces: Kitchen

My daughter and her roommate live in an apartment with a fairly small kitchen. She’s had apartments before with bigger kitchens and one with a very small kitchen. But no matter how big the kitchen is, I think it’s the amount of storage that matters. Today’s post is the last in my daughter’s series of  “Organizing Small Spaces” and she is talking about a couple of ways they maximize the space in their kitchen. If you missed her any of her other posts in this series, be sure and catch up HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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Kitchen: Maximizing kitchen space is difficult because often times you are stuck with what you have and integrating baskets or helpful organizational items is difficult. One of our tips is to keep dishes clean as much as possible. We make use of leftovers as often as we can, especially when it comes to taking lunch to work, so we go through a lot of Tupperware and to-go containers. We used to think that we didn’t have enough to keep up with our storage needs before we realized how many were sitting in the fridge with uneaten leftovers for a week or two longer than they should have. We found that, if we were honest with ourselves about what we would eat and cleaned out the fridge often, we had plenty of containers. And let’s be honest here—drying the containers is our absolute least favorite thing to do. It takes up so much time! So the fewer Tupperware containers we have to dry, the better!

What’s the catch, then? You have to keep up with your dishes and clean them out often. In the same way that doing dishes often allows you to live with four plates instead of eight or with six forks instead of twelve, doing dishes often allows you to save space by using only a handful of to-go containers instead of taking up an entire cabinet space with a 40-piece set you saw on sale at Target. The same is true of all of your kitchen utensils. It might be annoying at first to do dishes more often or run the dishwasher every other night instead of once a week, but it saves space and time when you get down to it.

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Just recently, I sorted through all my plastic containers and threw out any that didn’t have matching lids or bottoms. I was surprised at the amount that didn’t have mates and were just taking up space! Although I do have to confess…I bought some new Sterlite plastic containers a couple of weeks ago. They are freezer, microwave, and dishwasher safe, as well as BPA-free. They have easy snap-on lids with vents and each lid/bottom is color coded! That way you know exactly which lid goes to which bottom.

Sterlite containers

I hope she has given you some helpful tips these last several weeks. If you missed any of her past organizing posts, you can read them here, here, and here.

Y’all have a great day! Later gators!

My Trash to My Treasure

You know that saying, “Someone’s trash is another’s treasure”? Well, this is my trash and hopefully my next treasure.

A few years ago, we picked up a small, 4 drawer chest of drawers at an auction that we went to on Monday nights. I initially was going to paint it and use it as a table in my entryway at our previous house in Oklahoma. But before that could happen, we were packing up and moving to Houston! And for some odd reason, once we arrived in Houston, the top two drawers had disappeared and cardboard adorned the top 1/3! I suppose this is the consequences of a company being in charge of your move, as some things are never quite the same when they come off the semi on move-in day. But hopefully, our moving days are over for awhile.

Anyhoo, I’ve been wanting an island in my kitchen and I believe this little chest of drawers will fit the bill. Now my kitchen isn’t super wide and the online kitchen “experts” state you should have at least 36 – 48 inches of walk space around your island. One website said that if you don’t have at least eight feet (96 inches) of walk space, “don’t even think about an island!”. My kitchen “walk space” is 6′ 9″ (81 inches) from one side to the other. So theoretically, my island can only be 9 inches wide with a 36″ walk space! Well…that’s not going to work! Therefore, I’m thinking if I put wheels on the island, I can just move it out of the way when I’m not using it! Problem solved! (and if you read this post,  you’ll remember that I did what the “experts” said not to! Which by the way is still holding up wonderfully.)

And for the top of the island, we have a piece of quartz left over from where they did the cutout for the cooktop when we had our countertops installed.

Enough yada yada yada, I’m sure you’re just dying to see this lovely chest of drawers which I want to miraculously transform into my new kitchen island!

Nothing to write home about, right?

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And here is where I will draw my inspiration from. :-)

kitchen island 2

via Refurbished Ideas

kitchen island 3

via Etsy

kitchen island 6

via Refurbished Ideas

 kitchen island 7

via The Virginia House

kitchen island

via DIY Network

So hopefully in the very near future, I will be using an island in my not-big-enough-for-an-island kitchen!

Y’all have a great day! Later gators!