Wrap it up--Frugal Gift Wrapping

I refuse to spend a significant portion of our Christmas budget on wrapping supplies that will just end up in a landfill. Whether it's to save money, the environment, or both, here are some ideas for frugal gift wrap.

1. Children's art work. While we all think our little Picassos are geniuses, there's only so much refrigerator space. Choose a handful of pieces that you love from throughout the year, label them with your child's name and the creation date (or year, if you're doing it all at once :P), put those into the time capsule, then use the rest to wrap gifts. Grandparents especially will enjoy the hand-crafted wrappings, your children will have the pride of knowing they created it, and it won't cost you a dime.

2. Sunday comics. These are especially good for wrapping children's presents, but are also good for adult presents, especially if you see a particular strip that person will appreciate. Be sure to wrap so that the strip you like best is highlighted on the top of the present.

3. Craft, Mailing, or construction paper. If you like the idea of child-created gift wrap but don't have or want to give up your children's art, then have them create more. Wrap the gift in plain paper (I use construction paper for small gifts. Craft or butcher paper works well for larger ones. You can also use freezer paper). Then turn the kids loose with some markers, crayons, or stampers & ink pads. Gorgeous, one of a kind gift wrap for pennies!

4. Reusable shopping bags. I always sign up for the 'free' ones companies give out throughout the year, but I usually end up buying the larger ones for the holidays. They tend to be within $1 pricewise of a similar size paper gift bag, but they hold up better to travel (important for those of us who transport our presents hundreds of miles) and can be reused after the holidays. It's like giving two gifts in one :D

5. Recycle. I'm sure you know someone who collects the scraps of gift wrap to use again next year. I don't tend to do that (really, with three children, there's not much more than scraps left), but I DO save and reuse paper gift bags from Christmas and birthdays. I definitely follow the 'once is not enough' philosophy when it comes to gift bags--you should be able to use them at least a couple of times before they go to the landfill.

6. Collect containers throughout the year. I love to buy baskets, pretty boxes, and other unique containers at thrift stores and yard sales throughout the year and then use them for gift wrap--much like the reusable shopping bag, it's like adding an additional gift. You could also get your kids to decorate containers (such as oatmeal boxes or flower pots) and then use them for wrapping gifts. In my opinion, most gift wrap is going to be thrown in the trash, so if you can get it for free or make sure the giftwrap is reusable, you've not only saved yourself some money, but also kept something out of the landfills.

Frugal Birthdays Part 2--Adult Birthdays

It would seem like saving money for birthdays would be the same no matter what the age of the birthday boy/man or girl/woman, but that simply is not the case. As we get older, it seems our priorities changes, and certainly our parties change--a party at the local pizzeria or cake, balloons, and pin the nose on Elmo might be great for the pre-school set, but in general in just won't work for adults :D. Generally, though, a lot of the guidelines are the same.

1. Know your recipient. There is a lot more room for error with a child's birthday than an adult's birthday--a child is excited to celebrate every single year, while adults sometimes would rather just let their birthday pass without a thought. If the person in question is depressed about this birthday, or just doesn't like being the center of attention, a large and loud party would be be more of a trial than a celebration. A diabetic? Then you probably don't want to buy a sugar-laden cake. A busy parent or grandparent of little ones? Then breakable knick knacks, no matter how beautiful or sentimental, are probably NOT the way to go. Just knowing your recipient can take a lot of stress out of birthday planning--and gift giving. (see Giving the Frugal Gift--coming soon!)

2. Prioritize. Adults tend to focus on different aspects of their birthday than children, but the same advice applies--don't go all out on every aspect of birthdays, just choose one or two areas to focus the largest portion of your budget and go low-key with the others. This actually tends to be easier with adults than children, since most adults will tell you point blank what they do NOT need more of!

3. Plan ahead. Yes, I'm saying it again--the best way to save money is to plan for an event rather than wait. If your mother's birthday is in April, and you're thinking of jewelry, then try hitting the jewelry stores for the after Christmas or after Valentine's day sales. Dad's a fisherman? The fishing equipment sales in my area tend to be at the end of the summer or around Father's day. Thinking of an 'over the hill' party for your sibling this year? Then pick up black party supplies right after Halloween, and grey/silver just after New Year's. And if you always seems to be the one who plans office parties, then take a minute whenever you're at the party store or a big box store to look for clearance or sales. I recently purchased a box of 12 children's birthday cards at Wal-mart for less than $4--perfect for the upcoming birthdays at my son's preschool, and a LOT better than spending $2 or more per card for each event. You can do the same for adult birthdays.

4. Do it yourself. If you're throwing a party, the more you do yourself (or get others to volunteer to do), the lower your costs. If you want to have a large family party for an adult, there's no reason you can't make it a pot luck dinner. If you'd rather do something more formal, how about asking guests to bring specific things, whether it's appetizers, wine, or side dishes? Rather than hire expensive entertainment for a formal party, find out if your local college or even high school has a string quartet or a jazz band that would be willing to play for a fraction of the cost. You could also get a tech savvy guest to make a DVD compilation of videos or photographs of the guest of honor throughout the years, and either play it as the 'big event' for the party, or just keep it on loop throughout. Or if you're a southern country girl like me, just ask your guests to bring their guitars, and make sure they have a comfortable place to get together--a porch or gazebo works great in the summer, a family room when it's cold. Your guests will entertain themselves--and each other--there will be no additional costs, and it will add a personal touch to the party.

5. Give the gift of time. Adults tend to have birthday parties only on 'big' birthdays--the decade marks, 75, anything after 80 (as well they should!). Also, there are usually more people willing to share the financial burden of the party--whether it's siblings, spouses, adult children, or friends--than you have with a child's party. However, the gifts for adults tend to be much more expensive than those for children, but they don't have to be. Thought and time tend to mean a lot more to adults than to children, and there are a lot more precious memories for adults to treasure. A scrapbook that cost you $15, but includes pictures from the person's entire life may be more treasured than an item you spent hundreds of dollars on. Parents of young children often don't get time to themselves, so offering to babysit while they have a date night costs you nothing but an evening, and will be MUCH appreciated. Perhaps your mother would enjoy just having a quiet lunch with you, or you could compile a book/cd/dvd of childhood stories and memories from your father--a gift for him AND your children. I think in our overly commercial society we sometimes forget that 'It's the thought that counts' only applies if you actually put some THOUGHT into the gift--a $50 bath set in a scent that makes the recipient's children sneeze is not nearly as thoughtful as $2 binder filled with stories and anecdotes you have gathered from her friends and relatives. (See Giving the Frugal gift for more ideas--coming soon!)

6. Get creative. Who says a birthday has to be about cake and presents? My favorite birthday celebration ever was the year our oldest was a five month old newborn--hubby took the baby, a pack of diapers, a box of baby cereal, and a 24 hour supply of pumped milk to my parents' house. He cooked me a nice dinner while I had a long shower, I had dinner by candlelight in my favorite flannel pajamas, I was asleep by 9, and I slept until 11 the next morning. To an exhausted mom, there IS no better gift than uninterrupted sleep. A friend of mine likes to spend her birthday doing volunteer work with charities she supports but doesn't ordinarily get time to work with, and any friends who ask what she wants for her birthday are asked to donate a few hours of their time as well. Instead of a gift card to a restaurant, make a few freezable dinners so that your recipient can have a quick dinner whenever they wish (just make sure you include cooking instructions!). If you live nearby, how about volunteering to do some yard work or home repairs or improvements? Then, every time your brother opens the cabinet door that no longer sticks or sees the yard he didn't have to mow himself, he'll think of you and his birthday. Again, the important thing is to let your loved one know you were thinking of them, and that you were willing to put in the extra effort to make their birthday special. The amount of money it cost you won't even be a consideration.

Frugal Birthdays, Part 1--Children's Birthdays

It's been LONG time, but let's see if I can't get back in the swing of things :D My oldest just turned 5, so we've been thinking a lot about ways to cut costs for birthdays without reducing the celebrating. Here's some of the things we came up with. This post will be focussed mostly on children's birthdays, and I'll do one a bit later on adult birthdays.

1. Prioritize. Just like any other aspect of frugal living, it's imperative that you know what is important to YOU about birthdays. If it's the gift, then put the largest portion of your budget there. The party? Then splurge on decorations, favors, or location. The cake? Then give yourself free reign in the cake department, and cut corners elsewhere.

2. Ask the birthday boy or girl. A teen or even tween will be able to plan their own party within a budget--and if they can't, then it's a great chance for you to teach them budgetting skills. But even younger children can tell you what's important to them. At 4, my oldest didn't care about anything other than having balloons and a Thomas the train cake. This year, he didn't care at all about the cake or the decorations, as long as the party was at the local kid's pizza place. The place charged about $10 per person, but since that included cake, drinks, pizza, game tokens, plates, cups, hats, and a small favor or two, we cut out a lot of extras (we brought our own ice cream and bought a $2 pack of balloons that we blew up ourselves) and still managed to stay within budget.

3. Plan ahead. I know I say this on almost every post, but there is NOTHING that will save you more money than planning ahead. I can promise you that every single person you know will have a birthday within the next year, so do not wait until the week before to think about parties, gifts, or other things birthday related. Right after Christmas is a great time to buy red and green party items (which can be used both for birthdays and for Valentine's day and St Patrick's day, respectively). If you're pretty sure your son wants a spiderman party, but his birthday isn't for another three months, then pick up some plastic spiders for the cupcakes right after Halloween. Many stores have large clearance sales on toys in January (just after Christmas) and in September or October (just before they get their Christmas stock in), so be sure to stock up for upcoming birthdays then, too. And not just for the birthday child--a $3 doll at 90% off in late January might make an excellent party favor for a March birthday, at only $0.30 a guest. On an off-topic note, this is also a great time to stock up on toys to donate to Toys for Tots or other programs during the holiday season.

4. Do it yourself. It costs less than $5 to buy a cake mix and icing and make a cake yourself. Even if you want to do a character cake, you can buy cake kits online or at any party supply store for only a few dollars, as well, depending on the character or the intricacies of the kit. And I recently discovered that a local party store RENTS those expensive shaped pans than you use once and then never use again for less than $5 per pan for a 3 day rental. Some paper, markers or crayons, and tape or glue can go a long way towards activities for kids at a party, whether it's a craft or art project for them or a 'pin the wheels on the engine' game you made before the party. And if you're eyeing a particular craft kit for your child's party that looks like it might be a little over your budget, take a stroll through your local craft store with a list of materials and see if buying them in bulk and putting the kits together yourself would be more cost effective. I recently saw holiday craft kits for $2 each that I thought would be nice for my son's preschool, but two dozen of them would cost almost $50. Looking through the SAME craft store, I can buy enough craft foam, googly eyes, chenille stems (pipe cleaners to us old people who remember pipes :D), and glue to make three dozen of them for about $12. Sure, I might have a little more prep time putting them all together, but no more than a half hour, and a half hour of my time is certainly worth almost $40 in savings.

5. Go generic. I don't mean buy the store brand cake mix (though feel free to do so :D). But for a child's party especially, those character plates and napkins can really add up. Focus on what you think will make the most impact, do those in your theme, then fill in with generic items. For example, our twins' second birthday was a Sesame Street theme. I bought a Big Bird pan at a yard sale for $1 and rented an Elmo pan for the second cake (it's really important to me at their age that they get their OWN cake to tear into). Three cake mixes, four tubs of icing, and some paste food coloring, most of which I already had, brought my total cake costs to around $12, plus about two hours of my time. While I was at the party store renting my pan, I also bought some Sesame Street party blowers that were on sale ($2 for 2 dozen), a giant Sesame Street pin something on something game ($3), a pack of 24 sesame street cupcake picks (those little things you stick into the tops of cupcakes, $2), a pack of generic cupcake liners ($1) and plain yellow and red mix and match cups, plates, napkins, table cloths, and cutlery. (another $10 for enough for 30 people, with extras). I then raided their room for stuffed elmos, big birds, and anything else Sesame Street. The gift table got an Elmo bedsheet as the tablecloth, and we pinned an Elmo toddler-sized comforter on the wall behind it, with some of the Sesame Street toys sitting on and around the table. The game I bought went onto another wall as decoration (I thought maybe the older kids would want to play the game, but they didn't :D). The red and yellow theme looked awesome with random Sesame Street toys as centerpieces, and there is nothing easier, in my opinion, than cupcakes for the guests. All the decorations, the cakes for the boys, and the cupcakes cost us just over $30-- less than the price of a large sheet cake-- everything looked great, and the boys had a great time.

6. The cake. I have seen cakes at birthday parties that cost $50 or more. If it is ultra important that your child have a certain cake or their birthday will be ruined, then by all means, make sure they get that cake. But if you just need a cake--even a theme cake--there are ways to cut the costs. Check into doing it yourself--it may be easier than you think. If you absolutely do NOT want to do it yourself, then how about a smaller cake with some cupcakes? A 1/2 sheet or 1/4 sheet cake is usually significantly less expensive than a full sheet cake, and you can even buy the cupcakes from the same place if you don't have the time to do them. You can also do PART of the cake yourself and save some money. My mother in law was having a small party for my oldest, and literally two hours before the party he decided he NEEDED a Thomas cake. Since he had his 'official' birthday party the week before at home, we hadn't been planning on a cake at all. My ever creative mother in law hit the grocery store for a ready-made birthday cake ($8, I think) and a tube of brown decorating icing ($2), then the toy aisle for a small set of Thomas toys ($5 or so), took off the Happy Birthday sign, put the Thomas toys on the cake, and used the icing to draw tracks all around the cake. It took only a few minutes to put together, looked great, and was at least half the price of ordering a character cake from the store. Plus, he had the toys to play with later.

7. Get creative. If you think of a birthday as an extra special play date, it's a lot easier to plan--and a lot less stressful. Some ideas that don't take a lot of time or cost a lot of money:
A. Tea party. Use your child's tea sets or your own (if you're brave!). Serve different types of tea for older children, or juice for younger. Either ask the guests to come in 'fancy dress' OR set up a 'dress up' station for the start of the party, complete with clothes, shoes, hats, and jewelry. Serve sandwiches cut into small, fun shapes, cookies, and miniature cupcakes. Add some crowns and you have a Royal Tea Party, crazy hats and playing cards and it's a Mad Hatter tea party. Be sure to use nice tablecloths (even plain white sheets can look nice if you pin some bows or flowers on to the edges) and place settings (paper plates are fine, but try to find metallic ones--just after New Year's is usually a great time to find these on clearance) to make the party feel extra special. Other Fairy Tale Party ideas
B. Building party (great for a child who likes Handy Manny or Bob the Builder) Use purchased pound cake and other candies to make an Edible Excavator Cake (instructions from Family Fun Magazine). You can also serve 'dirt cups'--small cups of chocolate pudding with crushed oreos on the top, with or without gummy worms for decorations. Activities may include providing paint/other materials to turn a giant appliance box (ask at your local appliance store) into a house in the yard, using legos or other building blocks to build structures, or even just a play-doh building table, with play doh toys or cookie cutters. Other ideas for Car or truck Themed Parties
C. Race Cars. There are SO many things you can do with a race car or car themed party. Give a group of kids a box of blocks and a box of matchbox or hot wheels cars and they'll be busy for hours!! You can also build ramps or race tracks in advance, and then have the children race their cars (giving away 'racing cup' favors or prizes). Or you can use boxes to make 'cars' before the party, let the guests decorate their cars, then have them wear their cars for a giant race. If you have the space, make sure you set up 'pit stops', either with refueling centers and/or mechanics for the cars or snacks and drinks for the drivers. Put a few adults in mechanic overalls and you've got a party theme!
D. Sleepovers. Children love sleepovers almost as much as their parents dread them :D. Press a couple of teenagers or pre-teens, depending on the age of your guests, into service as both supervision and entertainment, and your night will go a lot easier. Choose a couple of age appropriate movies, set up sleeping arrangements in one large room or in a tent or two for a camp out, and plan a couple of activities such as manicures, facials, or game playing (board games, darts, twister, karoake, whatever you have and is safe/appropriate for your group). A word of caution, though--no matter what the age of your guests, do plan to supervise closely, and even after all of the children are asleep, make sure you have another adult who can switch off checking on them every hour or so, both to protect them from bad choices and to be available should they need something, whether it's to call home, get a snack, or just to be reminded where the bathroom is. Other Sleepover party ideas

8. Don't have a party at all. I put this one last because many people can not imagine skipping a party for their child's birthday--and to be honest, I'm probably among them, as the days my children were born are among the highest of holidays in my mind. However, just because you skip having a party does not mean you don't observe the day. Perhaps you could take a trip--either a day trip, to a zoo or other attraction, or even a weekend camping trip. You could have 'your child' day, where the birthday child gets to choose everything for the entire day, possibly including what everyone wears (pre-teen girls seem to have the most fun with this one), what foods are served, and what the family does with their time. Or just have a quiet family day at home, marveling at how you managed to create this being whose day you are celebrating. After all, birthdays should not be about the cake, or the presents, or the party, but rather about celebrating the day that the birthday boy or girl was born. And if I've learned anything from my children, it's that counting your blessings doesn't cost a thing.

How to Get Sick without Killing your bank account

I haven't posted in a while. That's because each of my three children got sick, one at a time, and now that they are mostly recovered, I'm sick. It has not been a fun couple of weeks in our house, nor a cheap one--having someone sick in our house is always a stretch of the budget, with doctor visits, medications, 'feel better' items (whether it's special Popsicles or a new video game) and more, having a sick child can cost us hundreds of dollars. Here are some ways we've tried to bring the costs down without sacrificing care--or sanity.

1. Ask the doctor for medications. And not just samples of prescriptions--many doctors also have over the counter medications they can give you. We get about half of the children's tylenol & motrin that we use from our pediatricians office, at no additional cost. If they don't have the medications, ask if they have coupons--you can still save a few dollars.

2. Buy generic. Children's ibuprofen is the same medication whether it is labelled motrin or Kroger brand. Tylenol has had TWO recalls in the past couple of years on their children's medications--I actually trust generic brands better than the name brands at this point! In addition, some hospitals or clinics that have their own pharmacy have brands of medication I've never seen in stores (Q-pap, for example, which is a children's medication brand) that tend to be much cheaper than brands you can buy at retail stores.

3. Substitute. Our twins had severe acid reflux their first year or so, which meant that every time they got sick, the reflux was irritated, they were in danger of dehydration, and we started a pedialyte regimen--at a cost of $100-$200 PER ILLNESS, depending on how sick they were and how long it lasted. Last week, the pediatrician we saw pointed out that while plain water wasn't what my son needed to replace what he had lost throwing up, I could mix 1 cup of water, 1 cup of salt, and 1 cup of sugar, along with any flavoring I wanted, and it would have the same effect as pedialyte or Gatorade. When my twins were four months old and teetering on the brink of failure to thrive due to their reflux, I would never have considered this option. But now that they are older and stronger, it's a great alternative--and costs pennies per gallon, when I have paid $5 per quart for pedialyte.

4. Know your own shopping habits. When I am sick, I am the absolute best person to send to the store, because I will buy exactly what is on my list and nothing else. Some times, I won't even finish the list :P But when one of my sons is sick, I'm the worst person to do the shopping--suddenly a $50 video game or toy seems like a great idea if it MIGHT make my sick child smile. If this is you as well, find someone else to do the shopping when your little ones are sick.

5. Indulge sensibly. If you are sick, you probably aren't spending a lot of money (unless you're shopping online or on QVC :P), so it's OK to spend a little extra on the orange juice you like but don't usually buy, or for a paperback that you usually wouldn't read but would like to (my husband calls these my 'trash literature'-I enjoy them, but they really don't have any value other than entertainment :P), or a toy or game to help keep your child occupied. But be sensible--even sick, there's no reason to spend $75 on a new video game when a used $20 game from a pawn shop would keep your child just as entertained.

6. Stock up on sick-day supplies when you're well. If you have children, chances are someone in your house is going to be sick at some point. So when you see spray disinfectant on sale (or even better, free or close to free after coupons), buy a few extra and stash them in the closet. Same goes for hand cleaner, tissues, chicken noodle soup, cold medicine, or anything else you might need when you're sick--for me, being sick or having a sick child and having to pay a premium price for something that was on sale recently or will be on sale soon is like adding insult to injury. When your local library has a used book sale, spend $5 or so on some books that you or your child would like to read if you were stuck in bed for a few days. I always have a couple of toys or games stashed away in my 'gift closet' in case of a birthday party invitation that arrives unexpectedly--add a couple of items that you can pull out if your kids are sick, too.

7. Miss work judiciously. Depending on your job, it could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be sick or to have sick children, and here in the real world, bosses don't always care that you're sick or you've been up all night with an ill child. And to be fair to bosses, the world doesn't stop just because your house has been invaded by the plague, so somewhere, someone is still depending on your job getting done. However, especially with the pandemic flu we are currently facing, it's important to STAY HOME if you are contagious. If you have a sinus infection and you're miserable and you go to work anyway, then you may gross out a few neighbors, but mostly you're torturing yourself. But if you have a virus and you take your germs out in public, you never know who is seeing you right before visiting their elderly parent or newborn niece. Do not risk killing someone else to prove you are super strong--if you are sick, stay at home.

8. Keep some comfort food in the freezer. I LOVE homemade chicken noodles soup when I'm sick (or, honestly, anytime I want comfort food), so I keep all the ingredients on hand all the time--a bag of egg noodles, some frozen chicken breast, and some chicken bouillon and I'm good to go. I also try to keep things on hand that might tempt a sick child's appetite. If I have some frozen dinners already in the freezer (pasta dishes, like manicotti and lasagna, seem to freeze well) then I'm not as tempted to get pizza or fast food--which also means I'm keeping my germs at home :P

8. Don't get sick. Of course, this is the best way to save money. Eat well, take your vitamins, use good hand washing, avoid enclosed spaces when possible, and make sure your kids do these things, too.

Wednesday Deals

1. There's a Woot off today over at www.woot.com . During a woot off, instead of just a single item posted each day, woot posts an item until it sells out then immediately posts another item. They also randomly will post a grab bag item called a 'Bag of Crap'. There are urban legends of these things being worth hundreds of dollars. I've never succeeded in snagging one, but I will keep trying! :P You can read more about woot-offs HERE.

2. JC Penney has Wednesday deals today. Not as many deals as I'm used to seeing, but still a few interesting ones, including a cute 'wedding' dress up set and some pajamas for those interested in jump starting their holiday shopping. Promo Code ENJOY10 is supposed to take off $10, but I couldn't get it to work on the wedding set, so it may not be valid on outlet items.

3. Today is the last day kohl's current 30% off sale is valid, as well as the last day to earn kohls cash. Put at least $71.43 worth of merchandise in your cart, then use codes SAVE30 (30% discount, expires tonight) and THISIS4FREE (free shipping, valid until 9/27). This will bring your total down to $50 + tax, and you'll get $10 in kohls cash via email within a few days (for more details on Kohls Cash, see the Kohls Primer). Be sure to check out www.kohlsbargains.com for some hidden clearance items.

**For those who are patiently waiting for the next coupon class to be posted, I am so sorry for the delay. It seems I've caught the bug the boys have, so I'm not well enough to work on it. It's still in the works, though, so hang in there!


Register at Gamehouse.com and you can download a different free game every day. The game has ads (usually between rounds), but they're very unobtrusive, and as of yet I haven't seen one that I wouldn't want my four year old to see. I've gotten two games for him (one being Diego's Dinosaur rescue, which he LOVES), and several time management games for me. Hidden object games are also common.

Couponing 102: Types of Coupons

Types of Coupons

1. Manufacturer’s Coupon
A coupon provided by the product manufacturer. These coupons are available in many formats. The shopper redeems them at the store, and the store gets reimbursed by the manufacturer for the face value of the coupon plus a handling fee (usually around $0.08 per coupon). Manufacturer's coupons may be used at any store that accepts coupons.

2. Store Coupon
This is a coupon provided by a particular store, and good only at that store (though some stores accept the store coupons from other stores in an attempt to get your business). Sometimes, the store receives an incentive from the manufacturer for providing these coupons, but it is more like a store sale price than a traditional coupon. MOST stores allow consumers to use one manufacturer’s coupon and one store coupon per item, maximizing your savings. A store coupon will either state on it 'store coupon' OR will say under the terms and conditions 'coupon may only be redeemed at X store'.

3. Tear pads
Tear pads are little notepad like stacks of coupons, commonly found on displays, shelves, or cooler doors. (I have a lot of luck finding tear pads at convenience stores, especially for single bottled drinks). These are usually manufacturer’s coupons, and can be used anywhere that accepts coupons (not just at the store where they are found).

4. Blinkies
Blinkies are manufacturer’s coupons that are dispensed from little machines in store. The machines usually have a little blinking light (children seem to LOVE these machines, so your little ones may notice them before you do). These coupons usually have short expiration dates (expire within a few weeks of being made available), but are almost always manufacturer’s coupons that can be used anywhere (not just in the store where they are found).

5. Credit Card Company Coupons
This coupon is available through your credit card company, usually via an internet printable, but sometimes as either an online shopping code or as a credit on your statement. Usually, it is store specific (save 10% on your purchase at Payless, for example) and you almost always have to use your credit card for the purchase. Contact your card issuer for more info on finding this type of coupon.

6. $x off of $xx coupons
This type of coupon is becoming more popular, and is frequently an internet printable. The coupon states that you can save X amount if you SPEND X amount. ($5 off of $25 is very common). The total spent is after sales prices, but before tax and coupons. These coupons are almost always store specific. In general, if you are using this type of coupon you should give it to the cashier BEFORE any other coupons, as they sometimes do not work correctly if scanned last. These are especially helpful for items that rarely go on sale or have coupons and when combined with free item coupons (see Couponing 300: Leveraging Coupons to Maximize Savings for more info).

7. Free Item Coupons
These coupons are for free items. There is usually, but not always, a maximum amount printed on the coupon, and there are frequently restrictions on size and type of product. (For more information on how to obtain this type of coupon, see Couponing 200. For more information on how to leverage these coupons for the best savings, see Couponing 300).

8. Double/Triple Coupons
This is a store based program and rules vary from store to store. In general, the store doubles or triples any coupon you use up to a certain dollar amount (many grocery chains double coupons every day up to $0.50, making a $0.50 coupon worth $1).

9. Rebates (also called TMF or Try Me Free)
A rebate is a refund for a purchase you have already made. You must do something to redeem this rebate, usually fill out a form and send in a receipt and UPC from the product, though some manufacturers and stores are making rebates easier (Rite Aid and some office supply stores have incredibly simple, online rebate programs). Many products are beginning to offer TMF rebates for new products. There are usually coupons available for the same products, so you can often make money trying something new!! (See Couponing 300 for more details).

10. Buy X get Y coupons
These coupons can be a bit tricky. Rather than a set amount off of an item or items, the coupon gives you a discount only if you purchase another item. The usage of these coupons can vary depending on the wording of the coupon, a particular store's policies, or even the cashier or manager’s interpretation of the wording. (See future classes for more detailed information and examples).

11. Store Loyalty Cards
Store Loyalty Cards often work like a coupon—you won’t get the discount unless you have a card and the cashier scans it or otherwise enters the information. There are some concerns about privacy with these cards. I personally suggest only sharing as much information as you are comfortable with. Most stores do not require any form of identification to get a store loyalty card, so you may choose how much information to share. Keep in mind, though, that some stores send additional coupons through the mail to customers who have store loyalty cards. If you are interested in these, then you should make sure your correct address is on file. Store loyalty cards sometimes have the added benefit of allowing you to add digital coupons to your card. These discounts are in addition to any other coupons or discounts you may receive in store, so they can add up to HUGE savings. Be sure to check your store’s website for all the details and benefits to using a store loyalty card.

12. Catalinas
Catalinas are coupons that are triggered by some aspect of your purchase and print on register tape, usually from a separate machine than the one your receipt comes from. In my area, these coupons are unreliable (it is rare that the machine even have tape in them, and the cashiers are not trained on any aspect of utilizing this type of coupon). In some areas, though, catalinas are an excellent way to reduce your shopping totals.

13. Wine tags
Wine tags are coupons found hanging around the necks of wine bottles. They sometimes require you to purchase wine to use them, and sometimes do not (you will see this abbreviated as NWPN—no wine purchase necessary—on some couponing boards and forums). Sometimes these are instant coupons (give them to the cashier at the register) and sometimes they are mail in rebates. Read the wine tag carefully for details.

Couponing 101: The Basics

This is still a work in progress, so feedback would be greatly appreciated!!

Couponing 101: The Basics

What is a coupon?
Coupons are a discount on a particular item offered by either a manufacturer or a store. Coupons are different than a standard sale or price reduction because the consumer must actively do SOMETHING (whether it is trade a physical coupon, add a virtual coupon to a store loyalty card, or enter an online discount code) to get the discount.

Coupon Formats

1. Paper coupons
Paper coupons, or traditional coupons, are simply pieces of paper that you give to a seller for a discount. The most common are found in the inserts in the Sunday paper, but they can also be seen on products (either as a peel-off sticker or as a part of the packaging that must be cut out), on tear pads in the store, and in many cases will be sent directly from the manufacturer or advertising company.

2. Internet printable coupons
Internet printable coupons have revolutionized couponing, but also created new barriers and problems. Internet printable coupons are coupons that you print yourself from a computer. Due to an incredible amount of abuse and fraud, some stores do not accept internet printables at all, though most are beginning to. Most internet printable coupon sites require you to download a small program onto your computer. This program is designed to limit your printing to the number of coupons allowed by the manufacturer. As long as the site you are utilizing is reputable, these programs are safe.

3. Store Loyalty Cards
Store loyalty cards are offered everywhere, it seems. You give the store your name and address, and in return you get a card that gives you discounts on your purchases, coupons or discounts printed at the register to be used on a future purchase, an even occassionally receive coupons mailed directly to your home. With some stores, you also have the option of loading Digital or store loyalty coupons onto your card.

4. Digital or store loyalty coupons
Digital or store loyalty coupons generally require you to visit a particular website, enter your store loyalty card number, and choose which coupons to add to your card. These discounts just sit there until either you use them or they expire. There is NO obligation to use these once they are loaded, though some stores limit the number of coupons you can load onto your loyalty card at one time. As they are loaded directly onto the store loyalty card, they can not be used anywhere else, though in most cases they work like a sales price and you CAN use a paper coupon along with them.

5. Online coupon codes
If you've shopped online, you've probably seen a box somewhere during the checkout process that asks if you have any discount codes. This is simply a short code, almost like a password, that gives you some sort of discount or benefit. There are several sites online that post known discount codes in a searchable format (www.retailmenot.com and www.naughtycodes.com are two).

Thrift Store shopping

I LOVE shopping at thrift stores. For me, it's like a treasure hunt. Plus, it's a low-cost way to have some retail therapy, if you are so inclined. But many people complain that they can never find what they're looking for at thrift stores. Still others seem to find too much, and end up spending just as much or more than they would have at a retail store, with the added headache of buying more than they need or have space for. Here are some guidelines to make your thrift store shopping more cost effective--and more fun.

1. Know what you want.
I'm not saying you should go in with a detailed list. But you should have a general idea of what sort of things you are shopping for, just like you would if you were shopping at yard sales. Do you need baby things, household items, coffee mugs, small appliances? Even a small thrift store can have thousands or even tens of thousands of items, and sometimes their organization is lacking. Knowing what types of things you want can make your shopping much more enjoyable.

2. Know how many, what brands, or what sizes.
If you want curtains for your living room, then you should know how many windows and what sizes, as well as what colors. This may seem obvious, but I can't count the number of times I've been standing in a thrift store looking at something, and found myself wondering if it was the right size or color to fit the need I had. Brands are especially important if you're looking for replacement items or to add to a set--if your coffee pot has a broken carafe, then you might be able to find a replacement for super cheap at a thrift store, but only if you know what brand or size you are looking for. Most thrift stores do not allow returns, so it's good to know before buying if you have an actual use for the item.

3. Have a thrift store tool kit.
This does not need to be elaborate. Personally, I like to have a notebook in my purse (with sizes and colors of things I know I'm looking for, and the general price of that item in a retail store or online) as well as a cheap measuring tape (the type a seamstress uses is more versatile, and allows you to measure clothing if the size tags are missing). I also use my cell phone a LOT when thrift shopping, most often for calling family and friends when I find a deal on something that I don't want or need but I think they might.

4. Know how much things cost.
I just spoke to a fellow thrift store shopper this morning who scored insulated curtains at Goodwill last week for all but one window in her house. Her husband nearly hit the ceiling when she told him she had spent almost $40 on 'used curtains'. He calmed down quickly when she pointed out that buying similar curtains for the one remaining window would cost them $80 new. He is now encouraging her to continue looking for a matching set at thrift stores :D. Of course, on the other side of that coin is the multitude of people who buy something at a thrift store assuming the price is good, only to find out later that they could have bought the item new for a similar price. Before buying, know how much the item is worth, and calculate how much it is worth to you--an $80 pair of jeans that don't fit for $20 are not nearly as good of a deal as a pair that do fit for $30. You should also know how much that item sells for second hand, if possible. There is no reason to pay $1 each for coffee mugs if three other stores in the same town sell them for $0.25.

5. Know what your needs are.
It is not a bargain to spend $50 on $500 worth of items you will never use--you still spent $50. Before buying an item, consider how you will use it, how you will store it, and what you will do with it when you are done with it. If the answer to any of those questions is "I don't know", then you should probably not buy.

6. Inspect items before buying.
If it has a zipper, zip and unzip a few times. Check pockets--both for random 'extras' and for holes or tears. If it has a door or drawer, open and close it a few times. Check buttons to be sure they are securely attached. If the item has multiple pieces, make sure they are all there. If there are pieces missing or the item is damaged, ask yourself if it's an easy fix. If so, and you're willing to fix it, then use the damage to negotiate an even further discount. I frequently buy board games for my boys second hand. If the game has a few pieces missing and we already own it, I will sometimes buy it anyway for a quarter, maybe fifty cents, and use the pieces as 'extras', assuming that with three boys in the house, we'll lose pieces eventually. However, I will not buy clothing with damaged zippers--it's just too much effort to repair them. Be sure to mentally calculate the time, effort, and materials it will take to repair the item and make sure it's worth it before buying.

Blog on temporary hiatus

Sorry, but I'll be taking a short break from the blog while we deal with the death of my husband's grandfather. He was a great man, and will be sorely missed. You may read a bit about him HERE. Thank you for your understanding. I hope to be back online by the middle of next week.

Little Tikes Buildin' to Learn Motor Workshop Less than half price!!

Kids Woot, which I mentioned in a post yesterday, has another steal today. Little Tikes 2-in-1 Buildin’ To Learn Motor/Workshop is $49.99 + $5 Shipping. This same toy is $130 at Toys R Us!

Deal of the Day sites

This is a list of deal of the day sites. I will update this list as I come across more. Most post a single close out deal per day (My husband and I recently purchased THIS Thomas set for our oldest's upcoming birthday for $55 shipped from kids woot. Yesterday, it was on clearance for $115 at Toys-R-Us brick & mortar.) Keep in mind, each deal is posted for a single day or until it sells out,whichever comes first, so if you want it, you need to order it.

I have used the following sites personally. The named items were always exactly as described, the mystery items were always worth at least what I paid for them (though sometimes they weren't worth it to ME because I didn't need the items. Still, though, they were easily resold on ebay or at a yard sale for as much or more than I paid.)


These are woot affiliate sites that I HAVEN'T used, but I see no reason they wouldn't be just as reliable as woot.

sellout woot
shirt woot
wine woot

The following sites I have not personally used, but they seem to have a good reputation on slickdeals.

1 Sale A Day
Wireless 1 Sale A Day (Wireless items--cell phones, accessories, etc)
Watch 1 Sale a Day (Watches)
Easy Street Deals

This site is interesting. On regular working days from 9am to 5 pm CST. They post a single item per hour. The price starts at regular price and drops every second or so until either the item is free (plus shipping) or it sells out, whichever comes first. These are always baby items.

Baby Earth Gaga Deals

Free Chocolate Friday!

Mars Real Chocolate Relief Act. Follow the link, fill in your birthdate, then your mailing address. In a week or so (they say longer, but in my experience it's just a week or two), you will receive a coupon in the mail for a free mars candy bar.

Alice is INCREDIBLE!!!

I just can not say enough good things about this site!! But rather than go on and on about it, I'll give a summary of the four orders I've placed over the past week.

Order #1
1 Huggies wipes (2.80 - 1.50 Q)
2 Lady's speed stick deodorants (1.58 - 1 Q each)
1 Dentek Dental Flossers (3.29, no Q--we LOVE these)

Total: $9.25 - $3.50 Q + $1.06 Tax = $6.81
(I should note that this order originally contained two packs of diapers. Alice cancelled that portion of the order due to being sold out and sent me a $5 gift card to use on a future order. However, it looks like they charged tax on the original total--I'll need to email them about that )

Order #2
2 Huggies Jumbo packs diapers (9.69 - 6.20 Q each)
2 lady's speed stick deodorants (1.58 - 1 Q each)
1 men's speed stick deodorant (1.86 - 1 Q)

Total: $24.40 -$15.40 Q + $0.53 Tax = $9.53

Order #3
2 Bounty Paper Towels single rolls (0.84-0.50 Q)
1 Mean envelopes 50 count (0.85 - 0.50 Q)
1 White Rain Body Wash (0.97 - 0.50 Q)
1 Kleenex Tissues (0.98 - 0.50 Q)
1 Softsoap Hand Soap (1.06 - 0.50 Q)
1 Jergens Hand Wash (1.16 - 0.50 Q)
1 Ajax antibacterial dish soap (1.10 - 0.50 Q)
1 Downy Wrinkle Releaser, full size bottle (1.59, no Q)

Total: $9.39 - $4 Q - $5 gift card (from order #1) + $0.33 Tax = $0.72

Order #4
1 Downy Wrinkle Releaser, travel size (1.59 - 1 Q)
2 Suave Shampoo (1.10 - 0.55 Q each)
5 Tide In Wash Laundry booster (3 different types, 3.36- 1.50 Q each)
2 Dawn ultra concentrated Dishwashing liquid (1.34 - 0.55 Q each)

Total $23.27 - $10.70 Q + $0.75 Tax = $13.32

GRAND TOTALS: $66.31 - $33.60 Q + $2.67 Tax = $35.38 - $5 Gift Card = $30.38!

And best of all, as far as I'm concerned, those prices include shipping. So I saved time, gas, money, AND the headaches of shopping with two toddlers and a preschooler. What could be better than that?

If you sign up via a referral link like this one, you will get a $10 gift card added to your account once you have spent $50. And the $50 total is PRE-coupon--I have already qualifed for my gift card, even though I have really only 'spent' $30.38 of my own money. Pretty sweet deal :D

If you haven't tried Alice yet, it really is simple. Go Here , create an account (it takes about a minute) and start shopping. I always go to 'other ways to shop' in the upper right corner, then choose '50 best deals' from the drop down menu. After I choose which of the best deals I want I use the room by room or the search function to find any other products I need. This new site is going to revolutionize the way we shop for household consumables, I'm sure of it!

*A word about Alice coupons (which I have notated with a Q in my order summaries). Alice coupons are applied automatically when you place an item with a coupon in your shopping cart. However, they are limited use--usually only once or twice per customer. You may purchase as many items as you wish (for example, you can buy 10 packs of diapers) but if the coupon is limit one, you will only get one discount, the other items will be regular price. This allows more buyers to get in on the deals. It's a little bit frustrating to only be able to order one or two of an item I really want, but if it were unlimited, the first few people to find the deal would buy the entire stock, so this way is a little more fair.

Deal Alerts

These are just some deals I felt were worth mentioning. Some may last a while, some will be gone quickly, so if you see something you want, order now :D

1. Fisher-Price Ready 2Wear Baby Monitor
Kohls.com Original $49.99/Now $19.99 ($16.99 after 15% coupon)
Valid coupon codes: (you can combine one % off coupon with the Free shipping coupon)
AUGUST15 15% off w/Kohls Charge
SAVE20AUG 20% off $100 or more w/Kohls Charge
PERKSPOT100 15% off $100 or more (no kohls charge necessary)
MVC1383 Free Shipping

This is the baby monitor we use for our twins, and it's incredible. The parent's monitor is so light--we wear it on our wrists like a watch and I actually forget I'm wearing it until I hear the boys. It has crystal clear sound and a great range. Walmart.com has this same monitor on clearance for $49.

2. Alice.com
Today's deals on this awesome site include Bic Razors, Men's or Lady's Speed Stick Deodorant, and Suave Shampoo & Conditioner all for less than $1 each after coupon. As always, two day shipping is free. I don't really like the Suave shampoos for my hair, but they make great body wash, and so much cheaper than the actual 'body wash' in same or similar scents! Don't need or use these products? Order two Lady's Speed Stick, Two Men's Speed Stick, Four Shampoos, Two Conditioners, and two packs of razors. Now put one deodorant, one pack of razors, and a shampoo into four bags or baskets, adding the conditioners to the containers with the women's deodorants. For under $10, including the tax, you now have either four gifts for kids who have just left for college, four 'emergency packs' for guests in your home, or four bags to donate to a school, homeless shelter, batterred women's shelter, home for teens--the list goes on!! You could even add Reach toothbrushes for $0.90 & Aquafresh toothpaste for $0.97!!

3. Gevalia
Gevalia always has good deals, especially for new customers. Follow the link above and enter the code of your choice from below:

121374 Three Half-pound boxes of coffee or tea & a travel mug for $3
166272 Two half-pound boxes of coffee or tea & a programmable coffee maker for $10
120823 Coffee maker, caraffe, Travel mug, and two boxes of coffee or tea for $14.95 !!!


**Updated on 4/19/2010 to correct point totals**

Swagbucks (click on the title of this post to follow my referral link) is a search engine where you randomly earn swagbucks (points) for searches. You can also earn them through swagcodes (random codes giving free points, usually posted on their blog or twitter, and often posted on the swagbucks thread on slickdeals.net), referrals, trading in your old cell phones, etc. 450 swagbucks will buy you a $5 amazon gift code. They have other prizes as well, but I'm all about the amazon codes. In my first six months as a member, I earned enough points to purchase $100 in amazon gift codes to help out with our Christmas budget. I have earned these through NO MORE than five minutes a day of searches (I usually search for a few minutes in the morning until I get a swagbuck reward, and a few minutes in the evening until I get a swagbuck reward). It really is incredibly easy.

In addition, for the first 1000 swagbucks a referral earns, you earn swagbucks, too. So if you use my link, I will get something out of it. Of course, this also means that for everyone that signs up with YOU as a referral and earns swagbucks, you get swagbucks, too. I've heard of people with so many referrals that they earn a $5 amazon gift code every couple of days. It's hard to keep getting new referrals, but for every one you get who earns 1000 swagbucks, you get 1000, too, which means you get $10 in amazon (or whatever other prize you choose) for each active referral.

What is ALICE?

Alice (Click the Title of this post to follow my referral link to the site) is a new way to shop for household items. They have pretty much every conceivable non-grocery consumable you would use in your home (trash bags, diapers, deodorant, soap), and a lot of pantry grocery items (tea, coffee, granola bars). Their prices are comparable to Walmart--some are slightly higher, but since you save gas, time, and frustration by NOT having to drive to walmart, it works out better in my opinion :D. Of course, some items can occassionally be found in brick and mortar stores at a better price when you combine coupons and sales, but they have their OWN coupons as well, and the items with coupons tend to be really really good deals. I suggest anyone shopping there go to "other ways to shop" in the tool bar at the top of the page, and choose 'shop the best deals'. This gives you a list of the 50 best deals (based on percentage off) on the site. I recently got jumbo packs of Huggies for $3.49 each, a price I have NEVER gotten in a brick and mortar store (I have gotten a similar price on Pampers, but that was well over a year ago with a Target super sale, and I haven't been able to replicate it :( . )

It should be noted that the coupons are limited use--usually only one or two uses per customer. This keeps people from buying all of the available items before anyone else gets a shot at them, so while I'd rather be able to buy 20 packs of cheap diapers, I'll settle for one or two. Still, though, this site could be a great time and money saver for busy frugalists!! :D


Hi!! I hope to use this blog as a place to post deals I've found, advice on frugal living, and ideas on how to best utilize your family's income.

I am a stay at home mommy of three little boys--a four year old and twins who will be two next week. My husband is a high school teacher at a public school, so it's imperative for us to stretch our dollars whenever possible. Moreover, though, we feel that we owe it to ourselves and our boys to steward the monetary resources we have as best we can. If we bought retail, we could afford to feed, clothe, and house our boys. Living frugally, we are able to give them the experiences we want them to have-vacations, museum trips, etc-that we would be unable to afford otherwise. In addition, we are frequently able to donate items (especially health and beauty items) to charities that we support that we would be unable to afford otherwise. It's a win for everyone involved :D