Saving Money


I have a love/hate relationship with coupons. Sometimes, like this week, I take the time to sit down, read coupon blogs and make a shopping list with matching coupons. I save a ton of money and feel really good about myself. Other times, I am just too busy to coupon shop. Yes, it sounds lazy. No, it doesn’t make sense. If I am saving tons of money, why don’t I make the time to coupon? I really don’t have an answer other than, as a working mom with three kids, I only have so many hours in my day.

This week I was finishing up some Christmas shopping and did so online. The first place I went to was the Personalization Mall. During the checkout process, it asked me for a coupon code. I didn’t have one, but I decided to look for one. It took me 15 seconds to Google it and copy and paste it. I saved $12.00, which was the shipping cost. I decided to try it again with Sports Authority. I found a 15% off coupon, saving me $17.00. I went on to find coupon codes for Target, Macy’s and Best Buy, but they were not for items I needed.

I always find myself at Walgreens during the week – usually we are out of milk – so I read the coupon blogs to find the sales. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked out of there with free stuff and this week was no exception. Not only did I get free dish washing soap and free aspirin, the cold medicine I bought was less than $2.00. For the items below, I spent $11.73 and they gave me $10.00 back in Walgreens Register Rewards. This is Walgreens cash that you can spend in the store on other purchases. Thanks. I am sure I will use it next week.

I did well at the grocery store, too. I saved $109.00 in coupons and store deals. I carried in $32.00 worth of coupons that I cut out of the paper. Now, I am not one of those people that walk out of the store with a full cart for $1.87. I still spent $112.00, but I saved almost half the cost! Here is just a sample of what I got:
Betty Crocker Brownie Mix – free after coupon
Betty Crocker Cake Mix – free after coupon
Betty Crocker Frosting – free after coupon
Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate packages – free after coupon
Sierra Mist (2 liter bottles) – free after coupon
Scope (33oz bottle) – 50 cents after coupon
Kleenix – 28 cents per box after coupon
Peter Pan Peanut Butter – 50 cents after coupon
Eagle Condensed Milk – 94 cents after coupon
Pam Spray – 99 cents after coupon
Quaker Granola bars – $1.49 (no coupons, but this is half price!)
Arm and Hammer Cat Litter 14lbs – $2.00 after coupon

I, of course, bought as many of these as I had coupons for. A lot these products will be donated. With the help of coupons, I can donate a lot more food/necessities.

I also bought 10 Kelloggs products for $25.00. I used $2.00 worth of coupons. I will send the receipt in for a $10 rebate, plus I got a coupon that printed out for 2 free movie tickets and a $10 voucher for the concessions. Not a bad deal!

So how long did it take me to gather all this information before I went shopping? I did it over a couple of days while drinking my coffee or eating lunch. It was probably 2 hours total. So see what I mean? I don’t always have 2 extra hours in addition to shopping time. When I am not busy, I justify those two hours by saying, I saved over $120.00 in two hours. Do I make $60.00 an hour at my day job? I wish! To cut down on time, I try not to go to several stores. Walgreens and Jewel are usually it for me. However, I read about all the local deals because you never know.

If you are a local, here are the coupon sites I read:
Super Couponing
Mashup Mom
Common Sense with Money
Saving Addiction
I also read Hip2save which is based out of North Carolina.
Many of these sites list more than grocery deals. I found an Amazon deal for a yearly magazine subscription for $5.00. Who could pass that up?

I was talking about my coupon success at a party last summer when one of the guys started to make fun of it and got everyone laughing. This is the same man whose wife told me that the restaurant we picked for dinner was too expensive. I told him that if they used coupons, they could afford to eat out at a nice place once in awhile. The laughter quickly stopped. If we are all buying the same things, why laugh at someone who is getting a better deal? I should be laughing at them for paying full price!

So that’s my plug for coupons. Give it a try.

Refill your drink and stop in the bathroom. This is a long story!

We are still having an issue with the water heater. I wrote about this on Tuesday (read it here) and I thought it had a happy ending. They ordered a part, it was supposed to be shipped next day and they would come on my day off, today, to install it.

On Wednesday, they called and left an automated message for us to make another appointment. We were busy with the 10,000 other things going on in our life and didn’t call them back until Thursday. By 4:00pm on Thursday afternoon, we still did not have the part and they were coming to replace it Friday morning. My husband was the one to call them back. (Hey, I get stuck talking to the health insurance guys all the time. Besides, being in sales, he is pretty persuasive.)

He talked to five different people and was cut off two times. For each person he talked to, he had to explain the whole story again. I was busy doing the after school shuffle, so I had to leave. When I got home 35 minutes later, he was still on the phone.

This is what he heard:

Person #1: The part shipped on Tuesday. It went out next day.
Husband: Well, it isn’t here. Can you track it?
Person #1: I’ll talk to my manager.
Person #2: We can’t track it for you. We can transfer you to the automated system for tracking.

He was disconnected when transferred. He called back.

Person #3: We can track it. It shipped out, but not overnight. It should be there Friday.
Husband: Why didn’t they ship it over night?
Person #3: It wasn’t ready to ship over night. (What?)
Husband: When did it ship?
Person#3: Tuesday.

They went back into “why didn’t it ship over night” again. He was transferred to another manager.

Person #4: We do not really know where the part is. We could ship out another part. It would arrive Friday if they shipped it over night.
Husband: Could they come Saturday to fix the water heater then?
Person# 4: No. There are no emergency spots open Saturday or Monday. You will have to wait until Tuesday.

My husband explained that it is a water heater that is under warranty and is less than two years old. It has been leaking for almost a week with a constant stream of water dripping into the floor drain. We are wasting water and gas. He asked again if there was anyway to fit us in. Still, the answer was no.

My husband asked why was it that Sears could get a brand new water heater here in less than 24 hours, but to get a part repaired, it was over a week? She agreed that he was right and offered him a new water heater. Now we were getting somewhere! When she put him on hold, he got disconnected again. He rested his head on the table to keep from losing it.

A few minutes later, she called him back. They ordered it and talked about installing it on Friday morning. Everything was looking up, until…..

She told him that the water heater was free, but the installation was going to be $300.00.

Are you kidding me? He battled back and forth, but she wouldn’t budge. There was no one else above her to talk to (or so she said) and nothing else she could do. We were stuck. We either got another water heater on Friday for $300.00 or we take another day off work, wait for the part and another repairman for $75.00. Let me remind everyone that I groom dogs out of my house and need the water heater. Taking off time for a four hour repair window throws a wrench in my day! Washing a dog in cold water is mean.

My husband calmly told them that this is the last $300.00 Sears will receive from us and to please let those people above her know that. Person #4 reminded him that there was no one above her and this was all she could do. He asked if Bruce Johnson was still CEO and thought that he was probably above her. Could she let him know? He also mentioned that he would be sharing his story with our many neighbors and friends that still had their original water heater. He would be directing them to Lowes or Menards. He got off the phone, pissed off and exhausted 45 minutes later.

But it was not over. While I was out doing the early evening shuffle with the kids, someone else called back. This time it was a part manager from New York. My husband asked him why he was getting involved. He said that he just stumbled upon our situation and looked into it. He told him that customers were the reason he had a job and he wanted to help. (How refreshing!) He apologized for the running around and the fact that they were going to charge us $300.00 to install a new water heater just because they didn’t know where this part was. He said the truth was, they are completely out of parts. They never shipped anything because there was nothing to ship. He could not explain why the other Sears employees were telling us false information. The part manager found a Sears parts store near our house that showed “low inventory” for this part. Could my husband pick it up? If so, they could fit us in on Saturday to fix it at no charge.

So guess what my husband is going to do this morning? To be continued….

Yesterday I received an email from my daughter’s middle school.

Let me start off by saying that we live in a large school district that has an equally as large budget. Last year we received a note of panic that said, due to the State’s lack of funding, they may need to cut some programs. The program they chose to target was the middle school level music program. Of course, the parents were in an uproar, as our music program in the district has won Grammy Awards. After much debate and the loss of several music program teachers, the program is pretty much the same. However, the parents of music program students pay a yearly fee of just over $100.00.

Now, I SORT OF, get it. Although I think we have plenty of money in the district to cover this, I understand that not every kid participates in the music program. The athletes have fees (which have gone up this year), so fair is fair – I guess. It is sort of taxing on the parents (pun intended), especially in this economy, to have to pay all these extra fees.

Back to the letter. It seems that my daughter’s middle school is “in the process of enhancing their curriculum by incorporating a fitness center to continue to improve the students’ fitness levels”. They want donations from the parents in order for this to happen. I am assuming that they are using the building space they have, but they want donations of fitness equipment, including, but not limited to, free weights, kettle weights, Bosu balls, medicine balls, elliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bikes. There are requirements for these donated items – they need to be less than 5 years old and in good working condition.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same district that didn’t have enough money for its CURRENT programs?

Do they realize how ridiculous they sound? Imagine if (God forbid) my household had to take a pay cut. In our anger, we told all our friends and family, hoping for sympathy in our situation. Let’s say the friends and family that frequent the house were charged an entertainment fee to hang out with us. (I have to say, we throw some fun parties!) However, with this fee, they don’t notice any difference in our parties. Now, less than six months later, we decide, with our limited budget, that we are going to upgrade our kitchen. Our friends and family would benefit from this new kitchen, too.

Imagine if I sent out an email to everyone that has stopped by our house in the last year. Imagine that I told them that we were planning on upgrading our kitchen, and we are looking for donations to do so. We need stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, cabinets and sink. Of course, all of these items would have to be less than 5 years old and in working condition.

How many donations do you think we would get?

Why doesn’t the school realize that if it is not in the budget, you can’t do it? I wanted to upgrade my kitchen for the past few years. The “extra” money we had in our budget went to silly things like braces for two kids, a water heater, a sub pump, replacing my seven year old car, etc.

The kitchen upgrade will happen. We have saved money by cutting things here and there. We will probably forgo our summer vacation.

Am I wrong in expecting the school to do the same thing?

Tomorrow my kids have a day off from school – again. I usually take Fridays off, and since I worked all of spring break, I told the kids we would do something tomorrow. In my search, I remembered that the local library has a program called “Museum Adventure Pass”. This is strictly for Chicagoland library cardholders. Check to see if your library is participating here.

There are many great local area museums that are part of this program. See the full list here. It includes Brookfield Zoo, the Morton Arboretum, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and many local heritage and historical museums.

To get the free passes, you need to present your library card to the librarian and tell her which museum you would like to visit on which day. There is a limited number of passes available. Your name will be printed on the pass so you can’t give it someone else to use. Seems pretty simple.

I also went looking for “free days” at the Chicago Museums. Of course, Lincoln Park Zoo is always free. I took my kids there a few years ago. It is not as exciting when compared to Brookfield, but we  had a good time. In case you are looking to go to a free museum (none are free tomorrow), check out the list here. It looks like there are some good free days in early June. We get out before Memorial Day so I hope to get down there. (Just waiting for the last of the baseball/softball schedules!)

For my out of state friends and family, as well as the locals,  if you are visiting Chicago, you might want to get the Go Chicago Card. It is a 1 to 7 day pass (similar to the Disney passes) to visit Chicago attractions like Navy Pier, Adler Planetarium, Arlington Park, Legoland, etc. See the full list here.  The prices range (for adults) from $66.99 for a 1 day pass, to $169.99 for a 7 day pass. I haven’t check out the savings, but they claim you save up to 35-55%. The only bad part is that it is for consecutive days only. And, the Go Card can be used in other cities, too. If you are traveling this summer, it might be worth a look.

After sharing all this with you, I still don’t have a plan for tomorrow as no one can agree. I would love to hear some ideas from you!

We just got back from Wisconsin Dells. It was our pre-spring break vacation as I am working during that week. We were gone for 3 days and 2 nights with our friends and their kids and had a great time! I have to share our experience as we saved a ton of money. As you know, I tend to do things differently – the road less traveled and all that. I think if you travel this road with me, you will agree that the road less traveled is a better choice.

We stayed at the Wilderness Territory. Although we have been to many of the waterparks in the Dells, we have never stayed there before. You really get your monies worth! There are 4 indoor waterparks (plus 4 outdoor) at Wilderness Territory that include a 70,000 sq. ft. wave pool, three different 4-person rides, multiple tube rides, body slides, a lazy river and several zero-depth baby/toddler areas. They also have a giant (dry) climbing thing (think McDonald’s playland times 10) that our kids (ages 14-7) enjoyed. All of that came in the price of the room.They had TONS of other things to do there for an additional cost, like 3-D mini golf, arcades, laser tag and more, but we really didn’t have time to get to those things.

We stayed in a 3 bedroom condo on the lake that sleeps 14. We had 10 people with us so there was lots of room. It had a full kitchen, 2 baths, 5 beds and 2 sleeper sofas, a 4 person hot tub in a lanai, 2 fireplaces, 5 TVs, a washer/dryer and plenty of sitting areas. The upstairs had a loft that the 4 girls took over. I think the place was over 2000 sq. feet. We had a great view of Lake Delton. The room cost us $850.00 for the 2 nights. Costly? Not really. If you split it between the 2 families – it was $425.00 or $212.50 a night. The regular room rate – 2 queen beds in a normal sized hotel room (400 sq. ft.) was $275.00 per night.

We brought and cooked all our own food. Between the 2 families, we brought up $400.00 worth of food and drink. Sound like a lot? Not really if you compare it to buying everything there. For example, we brought and consumed 2 cases of water – 48 bottles. For 10 people, that is less than 5 bottles each over 3 days. The water cost $3.00 each at the Waterpark ($144.00 for 48) or $8.00 for all 48 bottles that we brought with us. We also fed 10 people 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 2 dinners, including alcohol and other drinks for  the kids and snacks. Based on the menus in the restaurants/waterparks, we calculated that it would cost us $1400.00.That is $140.00 per person for 2 1/2 days of food, drinks and snacks. By bringing our own food, we spent $40.00 per person for 2 1/2 days of food, drinks and snacks. By the way, we stopped at McDonalds on the way to the waterpark. It was $40.00 for our family of 5 and it wasn’t very healthy.

The food we brought was much healthier (9 different fruits, 7 different veggies, homemade pizzas with fresh veggies and homemade marinara sauce and meatballs – no Ragu for this mom!) in addition to less expensive. We know what was in the food our kids were eating and controlled the amount of junk they ate. Have you seen the options at the waterpark restaurants? Nachos, pizza, giant pretzels, softdrinks! Don’t get me wrong. I am not a crazy mom that forbids “fun foods”. I just believe in everything in moderation and just because you are on vacation, doesn’t mean you have to eat like you are going to the chair.

Think my calculations are off? Check it out next time you go to the waterpark.

So if you signed up for Your Bucks deals with your Jewel card, you probably got the email about them changing some of the prices on the coupons you got back. It really wasn’t too bad – it was only 3 products, Ragu, Suave and Degree. The money back on the item was more then the idem is worth so I understand. Thankfully, most of the program is left alone. Click here to sign up and/or see the new deals this week. If you shop at Jewel, it is foolish not to sign up. Today I went in for a couple things and without even trying, I got $7.50 back.

Restaurant.com now has 80% off deals making a $25.00 gift certificate available for $2.00 through 3/16. Better hurry – they go fast.

I found this great new (to me) blog called Saving Addiction. They have so many great savings/coupons for many stores and not just in Illinois either! I found their Getting Started post interesting. Check it out!

Target shopper? I found a blog for you, too. Target is another store you can stack manufacturer and store coupons. Target also runs “free gift card” deals where you get a gift card, usually $5.00, for purchasing select items.  The blog is called Totally Target.

Happy Shopping!

A customer of mine is a scrapbooker and spends a lot of money to have her pictures printed. She had been going to Walgreens like I do. Recently, she discovered that Wolf Camera has 6 cent prints on Tuesday and Wednesdays. You can order online but the pictures have to be picked up in the store. Talk about savings! Even if you don’t have a store near you, you can order online and pay 9 cents per print plus shipping. Still cheaper than Walgreens when you don’t use a coupon. Plus, when you sign up for membership, you get 25 free prints.

Have you ever used Restaurant.com? They have a great deal right now – purchase $25.00 restaurant gift certificates for only $4.00. We have used them before as you can purchase the gift certificates with your United Miles. When my husband switched companies, he also switched airlines. It was a good way to use them up. We like to go out for lunch and it gives us a chance to try out new places.

So, you find participating restaurants by putting in your zip code. You scroll through the list, find the ones you want and add them to your cart. Most of the restaurants add restrictions such as a dollar amount that you have to spend (usually double the certificate amount), exclusions such as alcohol and most certificates are not valid on Saturdays. Every restaurant is different so read before you buy.

I purchased 8 of them for $34.00. One of the restaurant certificates was $6.00 for some reason. The minimum purchases range from $35.00 to $50.00 – that is 50+% off! The even better part of the deal for me is that I used Paypal to pay for my purchases. A month ago I sold my son’s Thomas tracks on Ebay and used the money from the sale to pay for my gift certificates!

I promise to keep posting deals as I find them!

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