Friday Favorites: Saving Money Edition

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I’m a big fan of saving money. I pick up coins I find on the ground, I check store flyers for weekly specials, and I even return our empty soda cans to the grocery store. (I paid for that deposit, and I like to get it back!) There are countless ways to save money, and I try to use as many as possible, within the time constraints of my life. Here are some of my favorite, easy ways to save money:

Cardpool

I clued into the idea of buying discounted gift cards fairly recently, and I’m so glad I did. It’s like getting a discount on my purchase, right off the bat! I use Cardpool to purchase my discounted gift cards. Their website says you can get cards for up to 35% off the value, but I’ve generally saved in the range of 10-20%. Since I do a decent amount of shopping online, I always check Cardpool before I make a purchase, to see if I can snag a discounted gift card to use. (They sell both physical and electronic gift cards.) And I haven’t done this, but you can sell them your unwanted gift cards for cash, too.

Ebates

I’ve been using Ebates for over ten years!! If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great tool for saving money when shopping online. Before I make a purchase, I check to see if the store is an Ebates partner. (I’ve encountered very few stores that aren’t partners. Amazon, Gap, Macy’s, Target, Ann Taylor, Gymboree, Best Buy, and many, many more are all there.) Then I simply click through the Ebates site to go to the store, and shop like I normally would. I earn 1%, 2%, 3%, 6%, and sometimes more in cash back on these purchases. In fact, since I started using Ebates in January, 2006, I’ve received $863.78 in cash back!! I haven’t tried it yet, but Ebates recently started offering cash back on in-store purchases at some stores, using credit cards that you link to their site.

Rewards Websites

In my view, sites like Swagbucks, InboxDollars, and MyPoints are fairly similar. They all award users points for engaging in a variety of relatively quick and easy tasks: answering daily poll questions, clicking through links in promotional emails, printing and using grocery coupons, taking surveys, watching videos, and more. Once you’ve accumulated enough points, you can cash them in for gifts cards. I don’t use any other them to their maximum potential, mainly because I don’t have the time. But I always click through the emails I receive from MyPoints, answer the Swagbucks daily poll question, and occasionally, if there’s a higher cash-back percentage for a given store than offered by Ebates, I click through the store’s shopping link on one of these sites. I know some people earn hundreds of dollars or more each year with these sites, but I tend to collect a few $10 Amazon gift cards from them each quarter.

Grocery Savings Apps

Inspired by the show, Extreme Couponing, I went through a phase of religiously clipping and using paper coupons when I went grocery shopping. I still clip and use the occasional paper coupon (and earn rewards points for doing so!) from MyPoints, but these days I mainly use three apps to get cash back on my grocery purchases: SavingStar, Ibotta, and Checkout51. All of them work with my favorite, regular stores – Price Chopper, Hannaford, Target, and CVS- and all of them use either my store loyalty card numbers to automatically credit me for my purchases, and/or simply require a quick submission of a photograph of my receipt. Over time, I’ve earned $262.52 in cash back from SavingStar, $38.50 from Checkout51, and $18.75 from Ibotta, all for items I regularly purchase. I’m talking milk, produce, and toilet paper, not just processed food! (If you want to try Ibotta for yourself, click here and use my referral code, rbkhnjf, when you sign up. You’ll receive a $10, just for signing up!)

Amazon Prime

While it may seem counter-intuitive that a service with a $99 annual fee actually saves me money, hear me out. Amazon sells pretty much everything known to man. My husband and I purchase a couple of things from them every month. Before we decided to spring for Prime, the item(s) we purchased didn’t always meet the ever-increasing minimum dollar amount for free shipping, and we would play Amazon’s game of adding something else to our cart to qualify. When the minimum amount for free shipping increased to $49, we decided it was time to sign up for Prime. Now, it’s much easier – and less costly! – for us to make smaller purchases from Amazon. Plus, we love that the free shipping takes only two days, and our daughter loves that she can listen to as many KidzBop songs as she wants for free through the Prime music benefit.

What are your favorite tools for saving money??

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My Organizing Favorites

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The more blogs I read and podcasts I listen to, the more excited I get about becoming more organized, in all aspects of my life. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a complete mess, but there’s definitely work to be done on many fronts. Fortunately, over the past few weeks, I’ve found some great tips, tools, and ideas that I’ve been able to implement, or at least give some serious thought to. Here are a few of my favorites – old and new – that are helping me take control in various areas of my life:

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My Day Designer Planner

Until fairly recently, the planner I carried with me was a tiny, monthly calendar that I got in the dollar bins at Target. (It’s a two-year calendar, so I actually got two years of planners for just $1!!) The daily squares are tiny, so I had trouble writing anything at all in them, let alone more than one thing on a given day. Then I read another blogger’s review of her Day Designer planner, and I knew I had found a great tool. I ordered the Midyear (because I bought it over the summer) Flagship Mini Edition, and I love it! Not only is it beautiful and high-quality, but it has so many of the things on my planner wish-list: daily pages, divided up by hour; space for a look at the week ahead; daily to-do lists, with top three daily priorities; a monthly overview; and even space for daily gratitude. It has helped me add more structure to my days, especially the ones when I’m not at my job.

Laura Vanderkam’s Time Tracker Documents

This summer, I heard the author, Laura Vanderkam, interviewed on at least two podcasts, and I really liked her message. She has written several books on time management, and I’m currently reading her most recent one, I Know How She Does It. The (greatly) simplified premise of this book is that we have a lot more time than most of think, and while we can’t always achieve perfect balance every day, we can come close to it on many days. She believes that the first step in managing our time more effectively is tracking how we’re currently spending it. To facilitate this process, she offers free tracking documents (in spreadsheet and PDF form), for tracking your time in 15- and/or 30-minute increments. I’ve found 30-minute increments to be more manageable, and today is my fifth tracking day. Stay tuned for an update on what I learn from this exercise…

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My FitBit Surge and the FitBit App

My husband surprised me with a FitBit Surge for our tenth anniversary last October. I started wearing it immediately, and it’s barely been off my wrist since then. (Seriously, I wear it in my sleep, which it measures.) However, I got pretty lazy over the summer, and stopped worrying about whether or not I was actually meeting the daily goals I set for myself in the app. Fast forward to my return to work this fall, when I realized that my work clothes, which had been hanging unworn in my closet for four months, had apparently shrunk. All of them. Clearly the ice cream and kettle corn I referenced here had taken their toll. As a result, I increased my daily and weekly activity goals, and started to track them religiously. I love all of the different metrics and screens available in the FitBit app, and I find myself checking in with it several times a day. (And eating a lot less ice cream.)

This Amazing Chore Chart

Getting my daughter to complete her daily tasks – especially on school day mornings – is an ongoing battle. I’ve tried both positive and negative reinforcement, and while she’s made some progress, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. I want the system to be easy, self-managed, and reward-driven. I’m not even remotely crafty, so I had basically settled on using a simple checklist on a clipboard, when I came across this idea. It meets all of my criteria, is pretty, and looks like something I could actually create myself. It’ll take a small investment of time and money, but I think I can handle it, and I think it’ll work well for my daughter.

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The Organizher School Memories Keeper

My mother kept very detailed baby books for me and my sister. She filled them with photographs and specific dates, milestones, and memories. I still get a kick out of looking through them. So when my daughter was born, I got myself a baby book, and started filling it out. But I was quickly swept up in the busyness of being a mom, and forgot to note the dates of pretty much all of my daughter’s milestones. Now that she’s in school and I’m better at managing my time and projects, I have a kind of second chance. I knew I had seen memory books that were organized by grade, so I hopped on Amazon and found the Mead Organizher School Memories Keeper. In addition to being organized by grade, it has a place to affix each year’s school picture, a large pocket for holding documents and other mementos from that school year, and spaces to fill in basic information about the year, like teacher’s name, friends, milestones, and current events. It’s a perfect way to capture all of this information.

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What are some of your favorite organizing tips, tools, and ideas?

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Friday Favorites

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Happy Friday!! In honor of the weekend’s arrival, I’m sharing some of my current favorite things today:

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Dunkin Donuts coffee deal. My husband and I are big fans of coffee, but we are not coffee snobs. I like a good latte or cappuccino on occasion, but at home, we brew and drink Dunkin Donuts Original Blend coffee. In our area, the regular price is $8.99 for a one-pound bag, so I typically buy it in bulk at BJ’s, to get it a bit cheaper. But this month, the Dunkin Donuts locations in our area are running a special: 2 bags for $9.99! We stocked up to get us through the winter.

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Nature’s Way Pest Control. For several months, we’ve had ample “evidence” that there was mouse activity in our house. We’d clean it up, put out traps, and remove the corpses a day or two later. Even our 16-year-old, arthritic cat killed a couple of the intruders. But the thing is, the evidence kept showing up. It was clear we were playing a losing game. So I contacted Nature’s Way Pest Control, and they sent Andy to help me out. Andy confirmed that we had a “significant infestation”, and that he’d found “multiple nesting sites” in our basement. (Gag!!) He put out bait inside and outside our house, signed us up for the “mouse program” (a monthly refilling of the bait containers), and will be back in about six weeks to seal the entry points all around our house’s foundation. I love Andy.

The Just Clean Something Challenge. I’m not a huge fan of cleaning my house, and I generally approach it fairly erratically. The only time I really get down to business and clean with purpose, is when I’m expecting company. So when Rebekah Hoffer of Simply Rebekah, announced the she would be leading her Just Clean Something Challenge this month, I signed on right away. Rebekah feels pretty much the same way about cleaning as I do, so she challenges her followers to simply clean one thing – above and beyond their normal, daily routine – every day. I love how this challenge breaks a seemingly huge project into manageable pieces. And the accountability in the Facebook group is very motivating.

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King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. As I mentioned here, one of my favorite things about fall is getting back to baking. It’s just too hot to turn on the oven during the summer, but now that the temperature has cooled down, I’m going back in! I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, and I finally bought it. It’s chock-full of information on different grain flours, their history and uses, and how to best incorporate them into recipes. First up will be the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe (made with whole wheat flour)…

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Saratoga Springs Public Library. I read a lot of books, but for various reasons – lack of storage, cost, etc. – I don’t purchase most of the books I read. Instead, I borrow most of them from our local library. I also borrow lots of children’s books and DVDs for my daughter. Over the summer, she participates in their summer reading program. Sometimes she reads to one of the therapy dogs. We’ve attended their annual gingerbread house-building event, nature shows, and musical performances hosted by this library. Although I haven’t taken advantage of them, our library offers all sorts of classes: computer, meditation, history, and hobbies. It’s truly a local treasure!

What are some of your favorite things today?

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My Fall Favorites

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Although we still have a couple of weeks left before the official start of fall, it’s definitely upon us. Here in upstate New York, there are many things to love about this season. These are some of my fall favorites:

Celebrations. We have a lot to celebrate in the fall. In addition to the Thanksgiving and Halloween holidays, my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary (11 years!) in October, and our daughter will turn seven at the end of October, too.

Gorgeous colors. This is kind of a no-brainer. In a couple of weeks, the leaves will start turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Plus, there will be mums and pumpkins everywhere we look,which only adds to the colorful beauty.

Cider donuts. The proliferation of cider donuts is clearly one of the best things about fall, in my humble opinion. Seriously, is there anything better than picking up a grease-stained bag of warm, cinnamon sugar-crusted cider donuts on a crisp fall day??

Return of baking weather. I really enjoy baking, but I generally take a hiatus from it during the summer. It’s already pretty hot, and I can’t bear to fire up the oven on most days. But by early fall, temperatures are cool enough to start making cookies, muffins, and other baked goodies on a regular basis, again.

Decorations. I love all of the pumpkin, acorn, apple, and gourd goodies that proliferate come September! The Saturday when our family goes to the local nursery to pick out pumpkins of every color and shape, Indian corn, and mums for our front steps, is an annual highlight!

Apples. Crunchy, juicy, delicious, and healthy?? Sign me up! Of course I particularly enjoy them candied and in pies and crisps, but surely they retain some of their health benefits in these forms… right??

Smell of wood fires. We don’t use our wood-burning fireplace (mainly because it’s very energy inefficient), but I adore the smell of wood-burning fires. Starting in late September, the smell seems to be everywhere outside.

Cozy clothes. While I don’t like winter’s freezing temperatures, I’m a wool-sweater-and-long-pants kind of gal. Each year is a little different, but usually by mid-October, my wardrobe has been completely switched over, and the cozy clothes are back in rotation.

A brief respite. Our highest electric bills of the year always come over the summer, when the air conditioning is in use. In the winter, we have propane bills for heating our house. But in the fall – at least until we change the clocks and the darkness descends upon us – we get a couple of months of relatively low electric and propane bills.

A fresh start. The start of a new school year energizes me, and gets me excited about becoming organized and scheduled, again. I implement systems, fill storage bins, and test new organizational tools. What can I say: I love structure!

What are some of your favorite things about fall?

My Favorite Cocktail

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For the past few months, I’ve been downing the same cocktail every night. It’s become a ritual, ever since it was recommended by my doctor. I take 400mg of CoQ10, 500mg of magnesium oxide, and 200mg of vitamin B2. Shaken, not stirred.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that I was getting terrible headaches that lasted for three days, every four weeks. Upon consultation with my doctor, I was informed that they were “menstrual migraines”, my body’s fun reaction to the monthly estrogen drop. (I have to pause here and ask: is there an uglier word in the English language than “menstrual”?? Maybe “blouse”, maybe “moist”, but I give “menstrual” the edge.)

These headaches are incredibly painful, and completely unresponsive to anything over-the-counter. I tried Tylenol, Motrin, Aleve, and Exedrin Migraine. Nothing helped in the slightest. Since the headaches last for three days, I dreaded their arrival. They also started popping up at other times throughout the month, and added sinus pain on the side of the face they dominated. I tried over-the-counter sinus medication, which also didn’t help.

There are many places I feel modern medicine still has a lot of work to do, but it seemed impossible that it had nothing else to offer for headaches. I decided to see a neurologist who specializes in headaches and pain management. He informed me that I have migraine headaches, and after ordering blood work and a brain MRI to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong, he prescribed a medication that works pretty well, called naratriptan. The problem is that it has to be taken during a short window before the headache really takes hold. If I miss that window, the medication doesn’t work. However, my doctor also advised that good sleep hygiene, running daily, and a cocktail of supplements had been demonstrated to help migraine-sufferers. My sleep hygiene is decent, I haven’t run in two years, but I’m a supplement-taking rock star!

While I was a little skeptical about the potential benefits of taking these supplements, I’ve definitely noticed a difference since I started. The frequency of my headaches has not changed, but the intensity has diminished greatly. I now experience them as more of an annoying, background pain that’s unpleasant, but tolerable. And since they come one-two times per month, and each last for three days, that’s a major improvement in my quality of life. Cheers!

What’s your favorite cocktail?

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My Friday Favorites

Friday Favorites

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens… Happy Friday!! Today I’m sharing a few of my Friday favorite things:

Electricity. Sometimes, it’s the little things… On Tuesday, our power went out just before 1:30 in the afternoon. A power outage is never ideal, but because we have well water, it means basically means we lose our water supply. (A small amount of cold water remains in the tank, so I could at least wash my hands when I needed to.) Most power outages are pretty brief – an hour or two, at most. But on Tuesday, the power remained off until almost 8:00, for a total of 6.5 hours!!! In addition to being without access to anything that requires electricity – hello, A/C! – and a normal water supply, my car was in the garage. Despite watching a few YouTube videos about how to manually open an automatic garage door (shout out to my sister for suggesting this), I was unable to open the door and leave my house. This was unfortunate, because I was supposed to pick my daughter up from camp at 4:00. Thankfully, my husband was able to leave work early and get her. While I was waiting for them to come home, all of the smoke detectors in our house starting going off, presumably because the batteries had been drained. To escape the deafening noise, I went outside and sat on our front steps. While there, I looked to the side and noticed a very large bees’ next in the ground next to the steps. It was an all-around, banner afternoon! But the power finally came back on, my husband showed me how to manually open our garage door, we replaced the batteries in the smoke detectors, and I’ve been enjoying my hot showers since then with a renewed appreciation for electricity.

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This cookbook. While the power was out on Tuesday, I randomly grabbed the Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Meals cookbook from my collection, and started paging through it. I quickly realized that I was in possession of the best. cookbook. ever, and couldn’t believe I’d never realized this before! (A big thank you to my husband, who I’m pretty sure gave me this book for my birthday, about five years ago!)

I do not enjoy cooking in the least, so I try to keep the meals I make as simple as possible, while still feeding my family reasonably healthy and tasty food. This cookbook is made for people like me. The ingredient lists are short and include store-bought shortcuts, like puff pastry; the directions are simple and clear; and the food looks delicious! Some of my favorite recipes include Easy Ice Cream Cake (made with ice cream sandwiches – genius!!), Curried Rice with Shrimp, and Lasagna-Style Baked Ziti. I can’t wait to try the recipes in this book!!

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The seasons. My sister shared the frightening image above with me this week, and if it’s correct, winter is going to be back with a vengeance this year. I dread almost everything about winter – the cold, the darkness, the ice – but I still love the change of seasons. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a little over a year, and I really missed the changing seasons. Having lived in the Northeast virtually all of my life, seasonal change is inextricably linked with the passage of time for me. In the Bay Area, everything always looked pretty much the same – no autumn leaves, no glistening snow, no return to life in the spring. So while you’ll hear me complaining about winter from November through March, I know couldn’t live without it.

What are some of your favorites today?

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There’s an App for That!

I’m definitely not an early adopter of technology. My first smartphone was an iPhone 4S, and I used it for over three years!. (That’s definitely not a record, since my father is still using his iPhone 4!) Similarly, I shied away from downloading and using apps until fairly recently, but now I’m hooked! In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, my husband was looking at my phone and commented, “You have a ton of apps!” I have social media apps, news apps, money-saving apps, and selling apps. I’m always amazed at all the number and variety of apps available! These are some of my current favorites:

Social Media Apps

  • Facebook. I check Facebook several times every day, it’s just a part of life. I first see most news headlines there, and I love that I can keep up with people from lots of different times and places in my life. I have a personal page, as well as one for this blog. (hint, hint)
  • Instagram. I’m not much of a photographer myself, but I love looking at other people’s pictures. I tend to follow others whose posts fall under the headings of food porn, flower porn, and/or scenery pron. I don’t have a personal Instagram account, but I do have one for this blog. (hint, hint, again)

Money-Saving Apps

  • Savingstar. I’ve been using this app for several years, and have received over $243 in cash back. I especially love this app, because once it’s set up, it’s basically effortless to use. As long as I scan my loyalty card at stores like Hannaford, CVS, Price Chopper, and Rite Aid, I receive cash back on my eligible purchases. If I want to work a little harder and scan my receipt, I can get cash back on my Target purchases, too.
  • Ibotta. This one requires a little more work, so I don’t use it quite as religiously. Still, it’s a pretty easy way to get a little cash back on my groceries every week. (Thinking of signing up? Use referral code rbkhnjf to get your $10!)
  • Checkout 51. This one is my least favorite, since there aren’t many offers on products I purchase. However, I typically get a $0.25 credit every week for my produce purchases with this one.

News Apps

  • NPR News. I’m a bit of a podcast junkie, and I can access all of the NPR apps from here, as well as recent news stories.
  • NPR Planet Money. I like that I can choose individual financial news stories to listen to.
  • WAMC. This is my local public radio station, and they have some great programming that I can listen to here. I especially love The Roundtable, Vox Pop, and The Media Project.

Selling Apps

  • eBay. I go through phases of selling things on eBay, and then feeling like it’s too much work. I’m currently in a selling phase, and the app is really handy.
  • Kidizen. I’m dabbling in selling some of my daughter’s outgrown clothes with this one. In my opinion, the fees are fairly high, but I’ve had a couple of sales
  • Fam Styled Child. This is another one I’m trying out for selling my daughter’s outgrown clothes. The fees aren’t bad, but it’s a pretty basic app. I’ve had one sale since I started using it a few weeks ago.

How many apps do you have on your phone? What are some of your favorites?

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