Coins in the couch: an update

28 02 2009

Earlier this month I told you about the “coins in the couch” money I had rounded up during my clutter-busting rampage through my house. I had mixed feelings on the fate of that $4.22, especially since it was February, my month of no spending.

My two college boys suggested saving it until they got home and then buying ice cream. My husband told me to indulge myself in this month of no indulgences. A good friend suggested I deserved to spend it on myself. What are good friends for!

Saving for a splurge

Saving for a splurge

But many folks told me to save it. One said to stay true to my no-spending mission and deposit it in the old emergency fund. Others told me how they keep a coin jar, where they deposit all their spare change and found money, saving it for vacations, holiday spending or other special treats. Then I happened to read a fellow blogger’s post that mentioned her habit of stashing spare change in an old Mason jar. That really struck my fancy.

So I reached into the back corner of my highest cupboard where I knew I had some old Mason jars stashed and dumped my $4.22 into it. It barely covers the bottom of the jar, but it’s a start. When it’s full, we’ll take it to the credit union, which has a coin counting machine that is free. Not sure yet what we’ll do with the money, but it will be something special. A splurge.


A new life for old Christmas cards

26 02 2009

We’re closing in on the end of February and I’m wondering how many folks still have their stacks of Christmas cards. Maybe they’re on the bottom of a pile on the kitchen counter. Or in the bottom of a junk drawer. No need to confess. You know who you are!

img_1529For many Christmases past, I have had good intentions regarding the recycling of my holiday cards. Once or twice, I even gave them to charitable organizations or my kids’ schools for projects. But most years, they would sit in a neat stack in a forgotten spot in my house. Periodically, I would run across the stack, mutter to myself that I should really do something with them, then move on. By summer, I would give up and guiltily throw them out. Sound familiar?

This year, following through on a promise I’ve made to myself to reduce, reuse and recycle, I spent one evening turning last year’s Christmas greetings into this December’s Christmas gift tags.

Using a tag punch, I placed it over the coolest part of the card and pressed down firmly. I ended up punching out about 30 tags in an evening.

img_1525Some cards yielded just one tag, on other cards I was able to punch out several, depending on the size of the card and the location of the designs. If a card had handwriting on it, I simply glued another hand-punched tag to it. I handknotted leftover yarns and embroidery thread for the string.

On the crafty scale, I would rate this a 1 or 2. Even the severely craft-challenged can do this. All you need is a little hand strenth to operate the punch.

I happend to borrow my tag punch from a Creative Memories scrapbooking consultant. But you can also buy tag punches inexpensively at any craft store that sells scrapbooking supplies. Michael’s and A.C. Moore come to mind, and, of course, they both offer 40 percent off coupons on a weekly basis.

And you don’t have to be limited to Christmas cards. Recyle all your old greeting cards into gift tags for birthdays, graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any occasion. You’ll never have to buy another gift tag again. Or feel guilty pitching your cards in the trash.

Coins in the couch

24 02 2009
My coins-in-the-couch windfall.

My coins-in-the-couch windfall.

While spending vast amounts of time at home during my No-Spending in February challenge, I have been on a rampage through my junk drawers, closets, laundry room, jewelry boxes and anywhere else that harbors clutter trying to “dejunk” my house and get organized.

I’ve already written about how profitable it was to go through my jewelry. Click here to read about the more than $500 I received from a local jeweler for my broken chains, add-a-beads from the 80s and various other pieces of scrap gold.

Not quite so profitable, but fun nonetheless, was the collection of change I’ve been collecting from under the couch cushions, the bottoms of dresser drawers and the floor of the laundry room as I clear the clutter.

At last count, I had found $4.22. While the vast majority were pennies, I found a few dimes, quarters and three $1 coins. (I must have run out and got these when they first came out, put them in a drawer and promptly forgot about them.)

So what do I do with my windfall? I deposited my gold jewelry money into our emergency fund but thought I would ask my blog readers what I should do with my $4.22.

Should I:

*save it,

*be a purist and wait to spend it on March 1,

*spend it now because it’s “found money,”

*let my daughter and husband spend it for putting up with my crazy no-spend idea all month?

What do you think? Leave me your ideas in the comments section.

FREE: One million Quiznos subs

23 02 2009

This is going to go quick folks. A free Quiznos sub to the first one million who sign up. Coupon comes to your email and you print it out. If you don’t see it, check your spam folder.

Click here to get your free sub!

No-Spend Challenge: 3 weeks down, 1 to go

23 02 2009

Three weeks in to my No-Spending in February Challenge, the fridge, freezer and pantry shelves aren’t exactly bare but there are gaping holes. We are learning to make do.

On Friday, when I went to make my usual grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, I realized we had no more bread…..No problem, I made one with a bun. I have to say I wasn’t counting on it being very good, but it actually tasted just fine. Not much difference really.

When I realized I had no barbecue sauce for crockpot beef barbecue that I had already thawed, I used a marinade instead. It wasn’t quite as good, but still more than edible.

I’ve also fudged a bit on recipes using fewer eggs than called for, and I’ve begged and borrowed a time or two from friends and neighbors. (Thanks, Mom, for the baking powder and Mary, for the chili powder.)

But probably the biggest thing that stands out this week is the continuing good fortune we have had during this month of no spending.

One day last week, as I was walking in the neighborhood with a friend, I found a $10 gift certificate to a local pizza place. It was just blowing in the wind down the street on a blustery day.

Another day, a friend was cooking for neighbors in need and ended up with way too much food. She gave us the leftovers.

On yet another day, my husband got an email from the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team, telling him the team wished he would reconsider his decision not to purchase tickets this year. (In previous years, we have had a “mini-pack” of season tickets to 10 games.) In appreciation for his past loyalty, the email offered him two free tickets to Friday night’s game. Whoohoo. Free entertainment. He and my daughter went, parked in a free lot and hiked in to the stadium and then, get this: They were selected to play one of the fan-appreciation games in between periods. So not only did my 10-year-old get the thrill of being on the jumbo-tron, she and her Daddy won $10 in gift certificates to Moe’s Southwest Grill.

On Saturday, our good fortune continued: When I announced it was grilled cheese on a bun all around for lunch after my daughter’s noon basketball game, my Mom kindly invited us all out for a fast-food lunch — her treat.

Add that to the well-timed arrival in the mail of a $5 gas card from a long-forgotten promotion and a $20 gift card from a rebate, which allowed my husband to go ahead and fertilize an area we are preparing for blueberry bushes. I would have to say our no-spend month has created some good karma.

Now for the moment of truth. Did we meet the challenge this week? 

*I put $50 on my credit card to register my daughter for Girl Scout camp this summer. Since these camps fill up quickly, I couldn’t see having her miss out because of my little social experiment with money.

*With a Target gift card I had in my wallet, I bought 5 apples, three bananas, salad greens, a tomato, a dozen eggs and a jar of yeast. No money out of pocket. Had to have an infusion of fresh produce and eggs to keep my husband happy and the family healthy. And instead of buying bread, I opted to buy yeast to try my hand at baking my own. I made two loaves Saturday night, by the way, but with not-so-great results. My loaves failed to rise sufficiently so they were — shall we say — a tad dense! We ate them anyway and I will try again, making sure to keep the kitchen nice and warm to help the yeast rise.

*With my CVS gift card, I purchased a gallon of milk.

*With a Panera Bread gift card, I purchased bagels for neighbors grieving the loss of a family member.

*With their Moe’s gift certificates, my husband and daughter treated themselves to Sunday lunch. (I had my grilled cheese on very dense homemade bread.)

*I gave my daughter the coins from my wallet to put in the offering basket at church.

These last few days of the month, I’ll be sticking close to home. My gas tank is nearing empty! 

To read previous, No-Spend Challenge posts, click here, here, here and here.

It pays to subscribe to your local newspaper: Part 2

18 02 2009

Tonight’s temperature is expected to dip to 21 degrees in Lewiston, Maine, but the deals at the local newspaper are sizzling hot. The editors in charge at the Sun Journal are betting that their newspaper can save subscribers big bucks and they’ve put it in writing with a money-back guarantee.

In a Jan. 4 article, Rex Rhoades, the executive editor at the Sun Journal, told his subscribers:

” If you follow the tips, tricks and advice in our series “Tough People, Smart Money,” you will save far more than the cost of your six-month subscription.

“Our goal is to save you $1,000 over six months … about 10 times the cost of your newspaper for the same period.

“I’ll even offer you this guarantee: If you don’t save at least twice the cost of your home subscription price, call me at the end of the series and I’ll refund your money.”

Another line that struck me from Rhoades’ column:

Instead of simply writing about gloomy forecasts and layoffs, we want to help our readers take charge of their lives and get through this difficult period.
We’ve asked our senior reporter, Bonnie Washuk, to work full time on this series for the next six months. She will write about the things you can do – large and small – to make ends meet.

There are five parts to this series:
1. A daily money-saving tip. When the paper inadvertently missed a day, editors received a flood of calls asking what happened to their tip of the day.
2. Monday through Friday, the paper runs thrifty recipes supplied by a cook of the week.
3. On Wednesday, the Sun Journal analyzes a money-saving idea in a feature called “Breaking it down.” Programmable thermostats were a recent topic.
4. Thursdays are “Fun on the cheap”  days, giving ideas on inexpensive or free things to do.
5. Throughout the week, periodic stories on the recession are published. But these stories are written with the consumer in mind. One recent story was on how to avoid being the person chosen for layoffs. 

What a concept. It is just the sort of approach all newspapers, which are in financial free fall, should be taking to maintain readership. From my years of reporting and editing at The Miami Herald, I know that newspapers have always done these types of stories. But they were rarely showcased and rarely had a seasoned reporter assigned to do them. Most often, consumer-type stories were hidden in the back of the section.

Now is the time to retool.

As I mentioned in a previous post (click here to read), I have watched in sorrow as former colleagues lose their jobs. And as the mother of a journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have a keen interest in the future of newspapers.

Judging from the proliferation of blogs on frugal living, bargain hunting and freebies, folks are hungry for this type of information. And local newspapers are in a great position to deliver it to their readers with local information tailored to their readers.

I emailed Rhoades to see how the series is being received in central Maine. He said that while he has no solid evidence the paper is gaining or retaining readers, “I can say that the public response and participation in the project has exceeded our expectations.”

Managing editor Judith Meyer is taking a lot of the calls from readers. “We hear constantly from people that they pick up the paper and turn directly to the daily tip, so it’s become a conversation starter in our readership area.

“Mainers are generally pretty proud of Yankee miserly ways, so our readers are proud to share what they’ve learned. We take the sentiment to ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without’ pretty seriously.”

Rhoades said he has had inquiries from three other newspapers that are contemplating the launch of a similar series.

It’s about time. As newspapers across the country do away with entire sections, lay off and furlough employees and freeze salaries and pension plans, editors are also trying to reinvent and/or repackage the content of newspapers to find a niche in a media-saturated society.

At the risk of over simplifying, in my humble opinion, a daily serving of surviving-the-times journalism would give subscribers a reason to keep the paper coming to their driveways every morning. Not the definitive reason, but a reason nonetheless.

As the recession deepens, a lot of subscribers are looking at their budgets and trying to decide where to cut. Among those things on the chopping block are newspaper subscriptions. It’s the job of newspaper editors to realize this and run with it. It’s a given that newspapers are the best at asking the tough questions, holding public officials accountable and digging into public records. But sadly, that’s not enough anymore.

Newspapers have got to become indispensable, giving subscribers  tangible, no-nonsense, money-saving information on a daily basis . Let subscribers know  they will more than recoup the cost of their subscriptions. In households across the country, it’s about the bottom line. It’s time for newspapers to earn their keep.

So, hats off to a small daily paper in Maine for leading the way. If you’d like to read the full text of Sun Journal Editor Rex Rhoades’ article announcing his money-back guarantee, click here.

And click here to read the Sun-Journal’s daily tips and consumer-related stories that make up the “Tough People, Smart Money” series.

Countdown to FREE Rita’s Italian Ice

18 02 2009

Celebrate the first day of spring with a FREE Italian ice from Rita’s.

In case you haven’t noticed, I love freebies so news of this one is particularly welcome because I also love springtime.

No forms to fill out, no fine print. Simply show up between noon and 10 p.m. on March 20 for a free regular-size Italian ice. This will be the 17th annual spring freebie at Rita’s, a Philadelphia-based franchise. As I post this, we’ve only got 29 days to go until springtime and a free Italian ice. Click here if you want to check it out for yourself. I don’t know about you, but I’m marking my calendar.