Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ebates: Get Paid to Shop Online!

I know I've talked about Ebates on the blog before, but with the holiday buying season fast approaching, I thought it couldn't hurt to just remind everyone what a great tool Ebates is!

Basically, instead of going straight to the website of the store you want to shop at, you go through Ebates, which will route you to the store.  Do your shopping as normal, check out as normal.  The difference is that Ebates will then pay you back a percentage of what you spent.  It can be as low as 1% and I've seen it as high as 50% when they are running a special. 

Here is an example of what Ebates is paying for cash back at a few stores right now: 
  • Macy's = 6% cash back
  • Lands End = 6% cash back
  • American Eagle = 4% cash back
  • Gap = 7% cash back
If you're shopping online already, you may as well get paid to do it! 

Once you have $5 in cash back, they send you a check at the end of the quarter.  You don't have to request the check, it just comes to you!  If you don't have $5 by the end of the quarter, it just keeps rolling in to the next quarter until you do.  It's a very easy system. 

Not every single store is supported through Ebates, but most are.  It can't hurt to check Ebates first before you make any purchases online. 

All you have to do is sign up here.  Then next time you shop online, search for your store in this little search box in the upper right hand corner:

It will bring you to a screen that looks like this:

Select the correct store (if I was shopping at Gap, it would be the top one) by clicking on "shop now".  And it will bring you to the website.  Then you just shop as normal.  Easy peasy!

I'll also put reminders at the bottom of posts with online deals, so you don't leave any money on the table!  Let's keep a little more money in our pockets this holiday season!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Five Easy Ways to Free Up Money in Your Budget

This is a re-post from last year, but I thought it was relevant as the holidays are quickly approaching:
I have some ideas and suggestions on ways you can trim your spending from now until the end of the year to help free up some extra money to spend on the holidays.  Not every idea will be for you, but hopefully you'll find one or two that may help!

I really tried to come up with ideas that wouldn't be hard to incorporate in to your normal routine.  Keep an open mind as you read on...

1.  Hair maintenance:  I've already talked about the free haircuts at JC Penney, but there are other ways to save on hair maintenance for your family.  If you don't have a very short hair cut, you could try going a little longer in between hair cuts.  If you normally would have gotten two haircuts between now and Christmas, could you get away with just one?  If your husband has a buzz cut, could he cut his own hair?  If you dye your hair all one color, you could dye your own hair with a kit from a pharmacy.  They also have highlighting kits that they sell at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens; if you're adventurous, you may try one!  Someone I work with has her daughter highlight her hair with a CVS kit.  Her daughter has no hair dresser training at all, she just follows the directions.  Whenever this woman told me her daughter highlights her hair, I couldn't believe it!  It completely looked professional!

2.  Groceries:  Can you spend just $5 less per week on groceries from now until Christmas?  There are ten weeks left until Christmas, that is $50 that you can either put towards a present or your holiday grocery bill.  $50 can go far when you're buying baking supplies and other holiday groceries. 

3.  Recycle bottles and cans:  If you live in a state where there is a deposit on cans and bottles, don't just put them on the curb for the garbage men to pick up; put them aside and recycle them!  They are worth $0.05 each!  We religiously recycle in my house and in my experience, three garbage bags full of cans (not bottles, as they take up more room) nets me about $20.  It takes 15-20 minutes to feed all the cans in to the machine, but $20 in 20 minutes is like making $60 per hour!  I'll take that any day!  Also, the people in my husband's office knows he recycles, so they regularly give him cans and bottles to recycle.  Every day my husband comes home a few extra cans and bottles to recycle - all those nickels add up! 

4.  Save the ones:  I've heard of people who put aside every single they get back as change.  If you use cash often, this could be a great technique for you to build up a little extra cash.  From the testimonies I've read about this technique, the people say they don't even miss the ones - it's an effortless way to save a little money!

5.  Eating out:  Depending how often your family eats out, can you skip just one meal out in both November and December and put that money towards your holiday expenses?  Conservatively, if you spend $30 on an average meal out and you skipped just two meals out between now and the end of the year, that's $60 to put towards a gift, travel expenses, entertaining, outfits for the holidays, etc! 

Even trying one idea should save you anywhere from $20-$50!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Stretching Your Child's Wardrobe: Gymboree Outlet

As I was going through my big pile of kids clothes to consign, I realized that some of my sons pants (from Gymboree) from last winter still fit him. I was excited that I didn't have to buy as many outfits for this winter, only... They didn't have the matching tops. 

Then this morning I had this brilliant (if I do say so myself!) epiphany - the Gymboree outlet sells last seasons clothes!  So off I went to the outlet and guess what!  I got the two tops I needed to complete these outfits!  Two tops for $11!  Two complete outfits for $11!  

The pants were an end of season clearance find earlier in the year but didn't have a top. Found the matching top at the Gymboree outlet for $6!

These pants my son wore a ton last winter and they still fit!  But the shirt didn't. I found the exact same shirt he had last winter in a bigger size for only $5!

I will note that the prices at the Gymboree outlet aren't always this low. Since it's a holiday weekend, they had a big sale and the whole store was 50% off.  

So if you have pieces from last seasons outfits that still fit your children, don't dismiss them!  Try the Gymboree outlet to complete your outfit for much cheaper than buying a whole new outfit!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Parties for Less: Princess Tea Party

Well it has been a whirl-wind weekend in our house!  We hosted not one, but two birthday parties for my soon-to-be 5 year old princess!  I really wanted to share the details of the Princess Tea Party I hosted for my daughter and her friends, because it was an awesome party (if I do say so myself) that didn't cost me a lot of money.

First of all, I held it at my house, which saves us right there.  Secondly, I have been planning this party for a while, so I've been collecting items for it for months now (and so has my Mom - she's found some great stuff!).  And lastly, I used things I already had and borrowed, borrowed, borrowed what I didn't have!

Here are some of the details:

Pink, purple and white pom-poms hanging from our pop-up tent.  These pom-poms are so easy to make and it probably took me less than an hour (sitting down, watching The Big Bang Theory :)) to make all six of them.  I'll try and post a tutorial in the not too distant future, but in the mean time, you can just search "Martha Stewart Poms" in You Tube and you'll get some great directions. 

They are made from tissue paper, which makes them super affordable.  The white tissue paper I had picked up at the after-Christmas clearance at Target for pennies.  The purple and pink I didn't have, so I bought those at Walmart.  It's $0.97 for one pack of 8 sheets of tissue paper.  I used the whole package on each pom-pom, so each pom-pom cost me $0.97.

Floral Centerpiece:  I used a vase I already had and cut Hydrangea from my yard.  Total cost - free!  And they looked great.  Hydrangea are a great centerpiece flower as they are so big, so you can use less flowers to get a big impact, and they are usually free!  If you don't have a Hydrangea bush in your yard, don't be afraid if you can ask a friend, family member or neighbor if you can cut some of theirs.

Sofia the First banner:  I bought it from Oriental Trading a few months ago for less than $3.  It was a total steal!  I just went back on the website to give you the link to it, but they don't sell it anymore.  I don't know why, as she's still pretty popular!  But they do sell it at Party City (and I'm sure other party stores) for $4.99.  It really was adorable. 

Paper Straws:  Paper straws make a party, in my opinion!  The purple straws were the ones I told you about here from the Christmas Tree Shoppe, 96 for just $2.99.  Such a bargain.  I used them at both parties and we still have a ton left over.  The cute pink ones with the grey flags were from Target at the beginning of the Spring.  They were also $2.99, but they were only a pack of 20.  The cup to hold the straws in was purchased at a local consignment shop last year for my daughter's Cinderella party (it was $3).

Silver Tea Set:  Well nothing says tea party like a silver tea set!  This is my mom's set, that she was so nice to lend to me for the party.  We didn't put any "tea" in this one, this was just for show!  It really made the table. 

Candelabras:  These were also lent to me from my mom.  I put some "pearls" on them to jazz them up a bit.  Those "pearls" are those mardi-gras style beads that my daughter had in her collection of jewels.  And the candles, well, those were the only ones in my house.  I would have preferred pink or purple ones to go with the rest of the colors, but I went with "free" instead!  They did go nicely with the Hydrangea though.
Tea Cups:  My mom and I have been collecting tea cups for a few months now from Good Will.  We didn't pay more than $1 for a tea cup.  They didn't match and that was exactly what I was going for. 

Fruit "Wands":  These were so easy to make.  I cut the watermelon with small cookie cutters in to flower and butterfly shapes.  The strawberries look like hearts by design, but I really just did that to hull them.  And I just put them all on wooden skewers.  Easy-peasy.  And the girls loved them!

Sandwiches:  I offered Nutella (or "chocolate bread" as it's called in my house), cheese and PB&J sandwiches, cut in to hearts with a cookie cutter.  Putting them on the silver platters made them look even fancier. 

This is just goldfish crackers in pink gingham cupcake liners.  You could do this with any dry finger food.  And again, putting them in a silver platter jazzes them up even more!

Petit-fours:  My mom made these from an idea she saw on Pinterest.  Just take a pound cake, cut it up in to little squares and dip in frosting.  They were adorable and they were a really big hit amongst the girls. 
Putting it all together - Here's an overview of what the table looked like when it was all put together.  Other small touches that I didn't talk about include silver napkin rings (borrowed from my mom); glass drink dispensers (a birthday present from a few years ago, that I use all the time); table cloth was an old floral sheet from an estate sale for $0.50; and mason jars as glasses (I bought these a few years ago at a tag sale - $1 for 24 glasses!).
This was one of the most fun parties to plan.  And in total, the party cost me less than $150 and that includes all the food, a craft (decorate your own crowns) and the biggest budget sucker - a piñata.  You could easily do this party for under $100, depending on your food and by omitting the piñata (what a waste of money!).
Now that the weekend is over, I just have to say, thank goodness I have tomorrow off from work!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Planning for Disney: 8 Ways to Save Money

Our 2010 Disney Trip

A trip to Disney is expensive.  There's no way around that.  But there are some steps you can take ahead of time to help you save a little money on this inevitably expensive trip. 

I'm currently in the throws of planning a trip to Disney.  Here are a few things I'm doing to save money on my trip:

1.  Brita Water Bottles:  If you buy drinks at the park all day long, you'll go broke very quickly!  There are water fountains all over the park that are free, but I hear that the water in Florida tastes a little funky.  I have read that a Brita makes all the difference though, so I've purchased Brita water bottles for each of us.  I was able to get a 3-pack of the water bottles for under $15 at BJ's.  That's less than $5 per person - I can guarantee we would have spent more than that on just one days worth of drinks!

2.  Food:  Disney allows you to bring food in to the park, just no glass bottles.  So we will be bringing some snacks with us in to the parks each day.  With two young kids, who seem to be constantly hungry, this will save us a lot of money on snacks and will hopefully ward off a lot of whining! 

3.  Souvenirs:  I have been collecting Disney items on clearance, at the Target dollar section and even from the dollar store for a while now.  While I know my children will still want to buy some souvenirs while we're in Disney, I'm hoping I can appease them with some of the items I've already purchased for next to nothing, so we don't spend too much on souvenirs!  I've also told my daughter (age 4 1/2) that if she's good each day, I will give her a little present each night.  I'm hoping this tactic works to encourage good behavior!

4.  Glow sticks:  I'm hoping to catch either the night time parade or fire works show at least once while we're there (we'll see with a 1 year old!).  So I picked up some glow sticks, glow bracelets and even a glow wand in the Target dollar section.  This way my daughter can have those fun things without me having to spend $20 on a glow item from a vendor that she'll never use again!  I was also in Ocean State Job Lot the other day and they have a huge selection of glow items for next to nothing!

5.  Ponchos:  I purchased a poncho for each of us from Target for $1.47 each.   They are disposable ponchos, but I'll be bringing zip lock bags with me, so if we do get caught in the rain one day, we'll put our wet ponchos in the zip lock bags and just dry them out over night in our room.  If we had to buy a poncho down there, we certainly wouldn't be spending $1.47 per poncho, I can tell you that!

6.  Renting a stroller:  Disney has stroller rentals, with double strollers going for about $31 per day.  Their strollers don't recline and don't have a basket for holding bags, etc.  I rented from an off-site company (Orlando Stroller Rentals), a double stroller, that reclines and has a basket for storage in it for just $80.25 for the whole week.  The stroller will be waiting for me at my hotel when we check in and we just have to leave it at the front desk when we check out.  Not only will we be saving over $105 on stroller rental fees, but we'll have the stroller with us at all times - getting off the bus and going back to the hotel room at night, for example. 

7.  Traveling off-peak:  I checked Mouse Savers to see when the peak and off peak times were for Disney.  We weren't able to travel during the very cheapest season, but we were able to travel during the second cheapest Disney season.  I was also able to see when different discounts had been historically offered.  I saw that we'd probably be traveling during a hotel discount promotion.  Sure enough, after we booked, a hotel discount promotion came out that we were able to apply to our hotel.  We saved about 20% off the price of our already cheaper (because it wasn't peak time) hotel rate.  I'll take it :).

8.  Photo Pass Plus:  I really hemmed and hawed on this one and I wasn't sure if it would save me money.  But I finally decided that it really would.  I have pre-paid for my photo pass plus card.  This is the card that you give to all the Disney photographers so all your Disney pictures are in one place.  The card itself is free to everyone, but with Photo Pass Plus, I'm getting a digital copy of all of the pictures that are taken - at all the character meet and greets, at almost every single one of our character meal reservations and at hot spots all over Disney World (like in front of Cinderella's castle!).  By paying for it ahead of time, I saved $30.  So that was a savings.  But we also decided that we are going to use these pictures as my son's 1-year old pictures.  We'll make sure the photographers get close ups of all four of us, myself and my son, my husband and my son, my son and daughter, just my son - all the types of pictures we'd get at a regular 1-year old photo session - only with Disney as the back drop!  We spent over $200 on my daughter's 1-year old photo session.  We're only paying $169 for Photo Pass Plus - which will be our vacation pictures as well as my son's 1-year old photos.  A huge savings in my book!

Don't get me wrong, this is an expensive vacation no matter how you look at it!  But the few hundred dollars we saved through the tips above will be a nice start to our vacation fund for next year!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A VERY Easy Way to Save Money this Year

Here is a VERY easy way to save a good chunk of money this year that you can put in savings, put towards a vacation, pay off bills, etc. 

Do you or your spouse get paid every other week?  If you do, you get paid 2 times in most months.  In all of those months, you make your budget off of 2 paychecks and it covers the bills (we'll be talking budgeting soon if it doesn't :)).  With 12 months in a year, and 2 paychecks a month, that's 24 paychecks.  But if you're paid every other week, you actually get 26 paychecks in a year. 

This means that 2 months out of the year, you get an extra paycheck! 

Since you're able to live off of just 2 paychecks a month for 10 months out of the year, you should be able to do the same in the 2 months that you get 3 paychecks.  Having said that, you should be able to put those 2 extra paychecks in to savings, towards bills, etc without ever missing the money!

We do this each year and it's a very nice addition to our savings - and it's so easy to do! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Do You Coupon?

Do you coupon?  I'm not talking being featured on TLC for extreme couponing, I just mean - do you use coupons?  If you don't, I would strongly urge you to consider it.  And if you're considering it, this is a pretty good week to start... there are 6 (SIX!!!) coupon inserts in this week's newspaper - that's a great way to start!

Not only will couponing help you to save money on your groceries and personal products, but it will also help you save on your holidays.  How, you ask?

Valentine's Day - there's always coupons for Valentine's Day candy.  Pair those with a sale and you can get some very inexpensive candy. 

Easter - Same as Valentine's Day, you'll get great deals on candy.  Also, last year at Easter time we saw AWESOME coupons for some toys (I got the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Dog for $3 with coupons last year at Easter time - no lie).  You can use these toys for Easter baskets or save for your gift closet.

Summer Picnics - You'll find great deals not only on the food you're going to serve at your picnics, but also on the paper products that you'll need.

Halloween - Again, candy!  I don't think I've ever seen a coupon for costumes, however, if you follow coupon blogs, you'll definitely see which stores/sites have the best deals on costumes. 

Thanksgiving - There will be tons of coupons for the traditional Thanksgiving fare.  AND... Black Friday at the drug stores is awesome!  You're able to score so many free items!

Christmas - Again, coupons for candy and food.  You may also find some coupons for toys.  But just like with Halloween, if you follow a coupon blog or two, you'll see the best deals on toys to snag them at the lowest prices.

I've been couponing for almost 3 years now.  But I'll be honest - I'm not very good at couponing at the grocery store.  Maybe it's just the area of the country I live in, who knows, but I could never be on Extreme Couponing!  But I am able to save a few dollar each time I go, so I'll take that. 

But where I really save money is in toiletries.  I rarely ever pay for toothpaste, tooth brushes, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, razors, shaving cream, body wash, mouth wash and the list goes on.  And when I do pay for those items, I pay less than $1, 100% of the time. 

So even though I can't get $500 worth of groceries for $0.89, I figure I'm still saving a ton of money on necessities by getting free toiletries!

If you are interested in getting started couponing and don't know where to start, here are the resources I used when I started couponing:

My Frugal Adventures:  Couponing 101
Couponing to Disney:  Getting Started
My Frugal Adventures:  Drug Store 101

If you do start couponing, remember that you aren't going to save 97% your first week!  Take it slow, and before you know it, you'll be seeing big savings!