A good weekend for coupons

14 05 2009

Looks like it will be a good Sunday to buy an extra newspaper or two or three.

According to the folks over at thecouponclippers.com, there will be three nice-size inserts in this Sunday’s papers. Click here to check out the list to see what coupons you may be interested in. Then click on each of the inserts listed under May 17: Smart Source, Valassis and Proctor and Gamble.

By buying extra papers, you’ll be able to maximize your savings and add to your pantry stockpile when you  match your coupons to store sales.

 And, with my journalism roots, I can’t resist an opportunity to put in a plug to buy extra papers to boost those ever-shrinking circulation numbers at newspapers across the country. Click here, here and here for past posts on why I think newspapers are still a smart purchase.

A couple coupons that caught my eye for this weekend: 75 cents off 1 package of Breyers Yo Crunch 100-calorie packs of yogurt and 55 cents off 1 package of Nabisco Chips Ahoy cookies.

In double- and triple-coupon land where I live, those two coupons have huge potential.

And don’t forget about my shortcuts for clipping all those coupons from multiple papers. Click here to save yourself all kinds of time and aggravation.

One last remember:  Next Sunday, May 24, there will be no Sunday coupons because of Memorial Day weekend.


More Target deals

30 04 2009

img_1699I couldn’t resist going on another shopping expedition to Target today with my Target coupons. I had a couple coupons expiring and I couldn’t stand the thought of them going to waste.

I thought I would share the deals and post a photo to further illustrate the “Target Tutorial” post I wrote earlier this week.

If I had paid full price, which would NEVER happen, my bill would have been $14.40 for the items you see pictured.

Here is what I paid and how I did it:

*Half-gallon Tropicana orange juice, $2.99, minus $1 Target coupon, minus $1 manufacturer’s coupon = 99 cents

*Three apples, regularly $1.89 on sale for $1.27, minus $1 Target coupon = 27 cents

*Promise Activ Supershots, $2.89 (cheapest price I could find), minus $1.50 manufacturer’s coupon= $1.39

*Three Quaker granola bites packages, $1 each, minus three $1 Target coupons = free

*Two GE Energy Smart CFL bulbs, $3.59 each minus two $2 Target coupons minus two $1 manufacturer’s coupons = 59 cents each

My total bill was $4, which includes tax. The cashier was speechless. I was giddy. I carried it all out with my FREE reusable Target shopping bag, which I received on Earth Day.

Lovin’ Target, lovin’ coupons.

Don’t forget: 31-cent ice cream today

28 04 2009

Here’s your friendly reminder to stop by Baskin Robbins today for a cheap treat.

Scoops of ice cream will cost you just 31 cents today, from 5 to 10 p.m.

Participating stores will sell small scoops for 31 cents in honor of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) National Junior Firefighter Program. The company is donating $100,000 to the program. To find a Baskin Robbins near you, click here.

It’s time for triples again

27 04 2009

My favorite grocery store, Harris Teeter, is at it again with another round of triples. It has only been one month since the last triples promotion, and according to folks with inside sources, it is another week-long event. Triples will begin Wednesday, April 29, and run through Tuesday, May 5.

This lends credibility to the rumors that Harris Teeter will be doing triples on a monthly basis. We coupon crazies can only hope.

And for those of you in the lands of no triples, such as Florida, my pantry runneth over in sorrow for you.

For those of you on the East Coast within driving distance of a Harris Teeter, click here  for a wonderful list of triples deals posted on the North Carolina-based deals forum, SavvyDollar.org. Many thanks to Faye Prosser, a North Carolina coupon guru and the author of the book, The Smart Spending Guide, for compiling the list, which also includes deals listed on HotCouponWorld.com, a national deals forum.

Looks like there are many free and nearly free items available to savvy shopper with the right coupons. During the first two days of the sale, we’ll be able to take advantage of those coupons with April 30th expiration dates. And Sunday will bring another new round of deals with the new coupon inserts in Sunday’s newspaper.

In these recessionary times, I can’t think of a better way to stretch that grocery budget.

Fifty reasons to keep subscribing to the daily newspaper

23 04 2009

Many years ago, as a reporter at The Miami Herald, I would periodically tick somebody off when I wrote a story that didn’t portray him (or her) in the best light. More often than not, the angered party would let me know that my story would be on the bottom of  bird cages across South Florida by the next day.

I started thinking about those intended insults lately as the bad news mounts in the newspaper industry. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has ceased publication in favor of an online-only format.  And there is no more Rocky Mountain News — period. And papers across the country are shrinking — in page size, in the number of sections, in the amount of advertising and in the number of dedicated, talented journalists they employ. My own hometown paper, The (Raleigh) News and Observer, is a mere shadow of its former self. I can remember the Sundays of old when you practically needed a forklift to raise it off my driveway.

It’s a troubling time in our democracy — not to mention in the households of the frugal-minded. What will folks in Denver and Seattle do when their recycle bins are emptied and their bird cages need changing? Seriously.

I’ve started compiling a list of all the useful ways we use our newspapers after we are finished reading them. After exhausting my own ideas, I turned to the Internet, where I found dozens of lists of how to put your old newspapers to work for you. There’s something for everyone — pet owners, crafters, kids, clean freaks. So think twice, frugal friends, before canceling that subscription.

Here are 50 of those ideas — 50 reasons why we all need to keep subscribing  — if not for the democracy, then for your wallet.

1. Line your bird cage, hamster cage, any small critter cage.

2. Layer several sheets of newspaper on the floor when you’re training your puppy.

3. Wash your windows with newspapers, saving money on paper towels, and avoiding streaks.

4. Use the Sunday comics to wrap gifts. The funnies are my favorite, especially for children’s presents. I’ve also heard of folks matching the section of the newspaper to the interests of the gift recipient. Sports pages for the sports enthusiast; the theater listings for a movie buff; the classifieds (what’s left of them) for the garage sale lover (or unemployed). You get the idea.

5. Making seed pots. I recently read about this on a site dedicated to frugal gardening. Click here to read Mr Brown Thumb’s instructions on his very funny gardening blog.

6. Use sheets of newspaper to wrap breakables for moving.

7. Shred newspapers for packing materials.

8. Give a newspaper to your kids along with an egg of  Silly Putty. Wow them with tales of your childhood spending hours  flattening the Silly Putty on newspaper images and then stretching them into grotesque abstractions, then making them magically disappear.

9. Make your own pinata, using strips of newspaper, flour paste and a balloon.

10. Lay newspapers down in your flower beds and cover with mulch for weed control.

11. Crumple and place inside wet shoes to absorb moisture and eliminate odor.

12. Crumple and place in luggage to eliminate odor.

13. Use as an emergency umbrella.

14. Use as an emergency dust pan.

15. Roll and use as an emergency fly swatter.

16. Fold and use an an emergency fan.

17. Fold and use as an emergency pot holder. I personally would not recommend this unless you’re interested in having the fire department at your door.

18. Make party hats. Click here to read Skip to My Lou’s directions for two types of newspaper head wear.

17. Make paper chains.

18. Make paper dolls.

19. Make dress patterns.

20. Use under cars to keep oil leaks from staining the garage floor.

21. Place under baby’s high chair to protect the floor.

22. Place under children’s art projects to protect your table.

23. Roll into a log shape and use as a fire starter.

24. Use as a mat when polishing shoes.

25. Stuff under doors and in cracks to keep the cold out and the heat in.

26. Use the daily black and white comics as a coloring sheet for your kids. Staple several together and you’ve got a coloring book. Add crayons or makers and you’ve bought yourself enough time to make dinner.

27. Make a scrapbook of articles on a topic of interest to you. Like the death of newspapers. No shortage of material there.

28. Cover plants in case of a late frost.

29. Wrap green tomatoes to ripen.

30. Use as a knee pad when kneeling in the garden or scrubbing floors.

31. Place on the car windshield to prevent icing.

32. Use as a mat for wet or muddy shoes and boots.

33. Stuff in purses to keep their shapes while in storage.

34. Use the plastic sleeve that newspapers are delivered in these days as a pooper scooper. Simply slip your hand all the way in, pick up your dog’s doo, then pull through and knot. I have done this myself and can attest to its usefulness. That is, of course, unless your carrier sends the paper skidding across your driveway, leaving tears in the bag. Ewwwww.

35. Use the brown bag advertisements that are often inserted into the Sunday paper as book covers for your child’s textbooks.

36. Collect the crossword puzzles and other games from several papers, assemble into book form. Use it yourself or give it as a gift, preferably to a frugal-minded friend.

37. Cut headline-sized words out of the paper, mount on index cards and use them to teach your kids how to read. Use discretion here so junior doesn’t learn the word murder before the word mom.

38. For older kids, have them cut words out of the paper — hundreds of them — and then use the words to write an original poem or message –kind of like those boxes of magnetic words you can buy at fancy bookstores to leave messages on your fridge.

39. Use it as a doodle sheet when nervous or bored, coloring in headline letters with a pencil. I once had an uncle who routinely did this to my grandfather’s paper before he had finished reading it. Not a good thing. Do your doodling on yesterday’s paper.

40. Use newspapers to make a homemade kite.

41. Use a section of newspaper to catch potato or carrot peelings in the kitchen. Clean up is a breeze.

42. Line the vegetable drawer of your fridge with newspaper, making clean-up easy and absorbing odors.

43. Use a thick pile of newspapers as an emergency cutting board. Thickness should equal one Sunday paper of days gone by.

44. Shred and add to compost.

45. Use to line shelves.

46. Tape over windows when painting.

47. Line your trash bin with a layer of newspaper to keep odors down. I’m definitely going to try this. My current method of taking the trash out, which involves holding my breath while hurling the bag in as quickly as possible just isn’t working for me. 

48. Cut into small pieces to make confetti for a birthday or New Year’s Eve party.

49. Ball up a sheet tightly and use as an emergency wiffle ball. Now that’s an emergency.

50. Keep a few copies stashed away as relics of our past.

DIY Birthdays: A wrapup of 11 budget-friendly ideas

15 04 2009

img_16921The cake has been eaten, the presents unwrapped, the thank you notes sent. All that’s left of my daughter’s 11th birthday are the fabulous memories. I invested a lot of time on the party, but not much cash. What a great feeling. Much like that after-Christmas feeling when you’ve stuck to a budget and are not dreading that January credit card statement.

I didn’t keep an exact count of how much I spent on the party because I used so many items I already had on hand. But if I had to put a figure on it, I would say the entire party cost less than $10.

Many of you may be skeptical. How much fun can a kids’ party be on so small of a budget? Let me give you a run-down of what we did at Caroline’s “dog lover’s” party.

First, Caroline and her five guests made homemade dog treats, following a recipe I found on the Internet. Click here to check it out. They mixed up the dough, rolled it out img_1653and cut out shapes with dog-themed cookie cutters I had on hand and borrowed from friends. (I bought two jars of peanut butter at $1 each and a five-pound bag of flour at $1.79 for the recipe. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand.)

While the treats were baking, the girls watched the first part of  Bolt, a movie about a super hero dog with his own TV show. (We rented the movie from Redbox on Monday, using the code for a FREE rental!) Click here to read my post on Redbox.

When the treats were finished baking, my homemade pizza went in the oven for the girls’ lunch. (I used three of the many Pillsbury pizza crusts I bought at Kroger a couple weeks ago for a few cents each. They also munched on chips I bought FREE with those great coupons from a Pepsi rebate a few weeks ago.)

The birthday party plates and napkins, along with a matching mylar balloon, were leftovers from her family party on Friday evening. All were purchased at a dollar store.

Next, Caroline opened her presents. She had asked that her friends bring a donation of dog food or treats for the animal shelter rather than a gift for her. Each of the girls went around in a circle, showing what she brought for the animals.

img_1683After that, we loaded up the girls and took them to the SPCA of Wake County in Garner to drop off their donations and take a FREE tour, which I had previously arranged. Led by the shelter’s education coordinator, the tour was fabulous. The girls learned all about taking care of pets and how the shelter protects animals and finds homes for them. The girls also got the chance to pet a rabbit, play with the cats and play with two border collie mix puppies.

At 11, these girls were the perfect age to learn all about responsible pet ownership. They oohed and aahed their way through the shelter and especially loved giving treats to the puppies. If you’re a local reader of my blog, click here to check out the SPCA’s tour opportunities.

Once we got home, the girls ate their ice cream and dog bowl cake. The cake was such a huge hit, the girls all asked for a second piece. (The cake, which I estimated to cost about $3.25 for the ingredients, was the most expensive part of the party.)

After that, they finished watching the movie. When their moms came to pick them up, the girls went home with a huge goodie bag filled with the dog treats they had made themselves.

With so many of today’s parties at bowling alleys, roller skating rinks and gymnasiums, I think an at-home party is almost a novelty. And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had a couple of parties at these expensive venues so I’m not criticizing those who choose that route. I’m simply saying that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money for kids to have fun.

With three kids, I have hosted just about every type of birthday party imaginable. Themes have run the gamut — from pirates and baseball to Barbie and roller skating. But my most favorite children’s parties were those I have spent time on rather than money. This year’s party definitely ranks right up there in the top 10 — and that’s saying a lot considering I have hosted more than 40 children’s parties over the years for my three kids. (Thank goodness the children’s party circuit is over for my two boys!)

Here are some of my money-savings tips for at-home parties:

1) Use the Internet to do your planning. Once you and your child have decided on a theme, simply Google key phrases, such as “pirate birthday cake” or “princess party favors,” to see what other parents have come up with. Unless you are super creative, which I am not!, you’re better off taking advantage of the tips and ideas of others. If you are totally at a loss for ideas, check out familyfun.com, the online version of the magazine. Click here  to check out its A-to-Z list of party themes and ideas. 

2) Make your own invitations, using craft supplies you have on hand or using your computer to make an invitation with your child’s photo on it. Better yet, have your child make his or her own invitations. Keep in mind, these invitations are usually tossed out after the event so they don’t have to be perfect.

3) Keep decorations simple and make them do double duty, if possible. Party favors, for example, can be used as table decorations. Use paper punches to make confetti for the party table.

4) Instead of spending a bunch of money on goodie bags filled with trinkets and candy that frequently get tossed out, think about having the kids make something to bring home as their party favors. Once again, you get two for the price of one. I have heard of kids tie-dying t-shirts, for instance, as a party activity turned party favor. The most creative thing we did along these lines was during my daughter’s sleep-over party last year. Capitalizing on that sleepover theme, the girls sewed their own pillowcases. For some girls, this was the very first time they had ever been exposed to sewing. They went home the next morning so proud to show off their “party favor.”

4) Utilize your talents and those of your friends. If you are a scrapbooker or your husband likes to garden, for example, consider planning a party theme around these talents. If an older sibling is a cheerleader or basketball player, have them teach a clinic for the party. When we sewed pillowcases last year, a friend of mine who is a talented seamstress helped out, giving the girls mini sewing lessons while guiding them through the pillowcase construction.

5) Make your child’s cake. Every year, for my daughter’s family birthday party, I make a doll cake — the very same cake that my mother made for me since my first birthday. It’s the same doll, the same recipe and the same mold. This has become such a tradition — and it’s so easy — that we wouldn’t think of doing anything different. Also, be sure to check the Internet for cake ideas. That’s where we discovered the idea for this year’s dog bowl cake. Click here to read all about it.

6. Take advantage of local resources or surroundings that may be free or extremely low-cost, such as the free SPCA tour. Other ideas: hosting a pool or luau party at your neighborhood pool, a camping party in your backyard or a game room party at your local community center. A fishing party could be held at a nearby lake, and most communities offer free or low-cost permits for children.  

7. If your child is begging for a party at a pricey venue see if you can duplicate that party at home. Instead of taking a group of girls to have their nails done, have a “spa party” at home. I helped a friend of mine pull off this party one year with terrific results. We painted the girls’ finger nails and pampered them with lotions, cucumbers on their eyes, a facial scrub and, of course, plenty of magazines to read.

If your child wants to go to the movies for his party, rent a brand-new DVD and set up a “theater” in your home. Dim the lights, serve popcorn in those cute red and white boxes or bags and let each kid pick a theater-sized box of candy, which are readily available at most dollar stores.

8. If you’re absolutely set on having a bowling or skating party, consider skipping the party option these places offer and simply take the kids there for an outing, then bringing them home for cake and ice cream. Paying a $6 fee per child will end up being far more affordable and your cake and ice cream will be far tastier than any a rink could offer. And you might even be able to use coupons!

9. Buy your paper goods at your local dollar store. Our Dollar Tree has a great selection of party goods and mylar balloons. Better yet, consider using your every-day dishes to save money and reduce trash.

10. Borrow items you aren’t likely to use again rather than purchasing. For this year’s party, I already had a few dog-related cookie cutters but not enough for the party. I didn’t want any more so I borrowed. In the past, I’ve borrowed an ice cream maker, jump ropes and hula hoops. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve loaned out our bingo set. 

11. Offer your child the option of skipping the party in favor of inviting just one or two friends for an outing to a zoo, a museum, a day trip to the beach, or other special location.

Got any budget-friendly birthday ideas? I would absolutely love to hear them because I’ve still got a few more parties to go before sweet Caroline ages out of the kids’ party circuit. Leave a message in the comments section below. Thanks!

DIY: Kids’ birthday cakes

14 04 2009

img_1647My daughter turned 11 last week but is celebrating with friends today. That means I was in the kitchen yesterday whipping up a birthday cake to go with her party theme.

Why pay a fortune for a cake when you can do it yourself for much less — and bake up some fond childhood memories?

A big animal lover and the proud owner of a miniature dachshund named Maggie, Caroline chose to have a dog theme. At 11, she is computer savvy so I sent her to the Internet to look for instructions for a dog-themed cake.

All of the cakes she found were cute, but several were way above my abilities. After 21 years of  kids’ birthday cakes, I know my limits.  We settled on a super-simple cake with a high cuteness quotient.

As you can see from the photo, Caroline was all smiles with the dog bowl cake she helped me make. We used a chocolate cake mix to bake two 9-inch layers. Then, following the instructions here, we carved and frosted the layers into a dog bowl. In case you haven’t already guessed, the dog food is Cocoa Puffs.

The total cost of the cake was about $3.25. The box of Cocoa Puffs was the most expensive  item at $2 after coupon. The cans of frosting were 50 cents each after triple coupons and the cake mix was no more than 25 cents.

To compare, quarter sheet cakes at the grocery store start at $18. Add any type of personalization, and you’re looking at $25 or more. Add a licensed plastic toy or two, and the price skyrockets.

I have, on a few spendthrift occasions, purchased cakes. But for most of my kids’ birthdays, I have created my own — with the help of a magazine article or, more recently, online instructions. Some of my favorites:

*an orange striped Tigger cake, which required massive amounts of cutting and piecing together to form the head, body and tail of the famous friend of  Winnie the Pooh.

*a giant Lego cake made by placing cupcakes upside down on a 13 by 9 cake and employing massive amounts of frosting.img_0705

*a sleepover cake made with a 13 by 9 cake,  Twinkies, vanilla wafers and, you guessed it, massive amounts of frosting.

*and my most favorite of all, a doll cake I make every year for my daughter’s family birthday party — theimg_0700 very same cake that my mother made for me since my first birthday. It’s the same doll, the same recipe and the same mold. This has become such a tradition — and it’s so easy — that we wouldn’t think of doing anything different.

None of these cakes looks professional, but they all have a certain homemade charm to them. And I always tell myself, these cakes are not works of art but rather the work of a mom looking to make her child’s big day special without breaking the bank.

If the cake is a real dud, I remind myself that the evidence will be eaten.img_1645