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Archive for July, 2008

Walgreens, Wendys and Utilities

July 31st, 2008 at 04:22 pm

Walgreens first:

As expected, they were out of the Pert. No surprise, they never have everything I'm looking for. Regardless, I got the other 2 bottles of shampoo (11.98), the Walgreens-Brita filter (6.99), the 4 pack of light bulbs (1.99), and 3 small mailing boxes ($.55 each). The total with tax came to about $24, minus the $5 coupon. $19 out of pocket, and I'll get $23.06 back on a Walgreens gift card ($20.96 + 10%). Not a bad deal at all.

Stopped at Wendy's for dinner. Stayed late at work and had to get home for a meeting, so I had to grab something quick. While I was cleaning out my desk this past weekend, I found about $20 in old Wendys gift certificates. They have to be at least 3 years old. I tried using them, but the manager told me they don't accept them anymore. There's no expiration date on them, so she told me to call or email the company. I'll see where that gets me.

Finally, got my electric bill today. Used an average of 53.12kwh/day, instead of 55.29/day last July. So I'm heading in the right direction, albeit slowly!

That's it for tonight. Quick post. Hope all is well!

Thursday Walgreens Savings!!

July 30th, 2008 at 06:23 pm

I got a coupon from Walgreens in my email, save $5 off $20 on an in-store purchase, Thursday only. (There's a link to forward to a friend, so if anyone is interested, let me know). So I checked out their new rebate booklet, which started 7/26 and goes through the end of August, and I've laid out my strategy:

1. Walgreens 4pk lightbulbs $1.99 (FAR)
2. Walgreens "Brita" water filter $6.99 (FAR)
3. Pert Plus shampoo 13.5oz $4.29 (FAR)
4. (2) BIO Infusion Shampoo/Cond $11.98 (FAR)

Hubby just told me this week that we need lightbulbs, we use a Brita pitcher instead of bottled water, and hubby is loyal to Pert Plus. The kids and I use whatever shampoo is on sale, so I'm great with that, even though I've never tried it before.

The total comes to $25.25, minus the $5 coupon and minus a $1 Pert coupon, for a total out of pocket of $19.25. All of the items are free after rebate, so I'll get the full $25.25 back, plus an extra 10% for having it put on a Walgreens gift card, instead of getting it as cash. So basically, I'm making $8.53, plus getting the stuff for free. Sounds like a great deal to me. Now, I just have to hope that my WAG has all of this stuff in stock, which is not always a given...

All over the place

July 30th, 2008 at 07:55 am

My thoughts, not me. I'm staying at home! Here they go, in no particular order:

1. I was rereading HouseHopefuls blog, catching up on some back entries. I really need to get back to the Mypoints thing (it's painless), and I need to get back to some of those trial memberships where you get the free gift cards. Requires some organization, but nothing a calendar can't handle. Plus I've been getting myself more organized, so I think I can handle it.

2. Myrtle's Money mentioned that she bought a "Save a Watt" to check how much her appliances are costing her in electricity. I can buy it locally for $20. I'll try to hold off buying it and just do what I know I should (shut down computer, unplug things, etc.). I'll see what effect that has, and pick one up in a few months if it doesn't help.

3. We paid off one of our cars last month (woohoo)! I need to call the insurance company so I can raise the deductible. The loan company required a $500 deductible, but now that we don't have a loan, we can bump it up to $1000. I also need to sign up for the driver ed class that has been on my list of things to do for YEARS! It will cost $60 each for me and hubby, but will save $120/year for 3 years.

4. I'm also going to check into a programmable water heater (thanks Ima) and an insulation blanket for the water heater, though ours is pretty new, so I imagine it's pretty efficient.

5. I'm cancelling my Weight Watchers online membership. I joined in February, and have lost 11 pounds, which is great. But I was never great about tracking my food and points. I think I'm just more aware of what and how much I'm eating. I have all the tools at home (the points scale, the book, etc.) and many of my friends do it, if I need to get on line for something. I'd rather save the $16.95/month.

6. I also have one other online membership for $7.95 that I need to cancel. I use it a few times/year, so it would be cheaper for me to just join when I need to.

7. On the today show, I saw a financial planner from CNBC talking about what % of your income should go to housing, transportation, savings, etc. I only caught a piece of it, but I'd like to track it down so I can compare it to our numbers. (I know housing is 30%, but I'm not sure about the rest). That's my plan for the evening.

Whew, that's a lot. Better get going!

Utility analysis

July 29th, 2008 at 08:42 am

I called up my electric company and asked for my average daily KWH usage (total kwh/# of days in billing cycle), from January 2007 through my last bill. Computers never cease to amaze me; the rep had them for me in about 30 seconds. Here's what I learned:

Electric
2008 vs. 2007
Avg. kwh/day
January 38.63 < 41.77
Feb 31.31 < 34.90
March 29.72 > 29.62
Aoril 26.55 > 26.14
May 28.18 < 29.31
June 56.76 < 57.03
July ???? 55.29
August ???? 55.59
Sept ???? 52.13
October ???? 32.13
Nov ???? 35.21
Dec ???? 44.80

eta: sorry this is hard to read. The first number is 2008 use, the second number is 2007. For months where I have both years data, I indicated if it was < or > from 2008 to 2007.

My usage was up slightly in March and April vs. last year, but down the other 4 months. Overall, through the first 6 months of the year, avg daily usage is down by about 1.7kwh/day. That's pretty good. My bill, however, has increased during that time from $186/month in July 07 to $250/month now! I'm on the budget billing plan, so they reset my rate once/year, based on the previous 12 months. I assume rates during this time have gone up (alot, apparently). I'm going to keep trying to lower my usage vs. last year, and I'll put a reminder in my calendar to see what happens when the rate resets, and raise heck if it doesn't go down at all.

Then, I did the same thing with my gas company, and found this:

Gas
2008 vs 2007
Total CCF
January 377.476 > 118.404
Feb 334.972 < 494.868
March 370.392 < 432.124
Aoril 279.312 > 276.276
May 79.948 < 163.944
June 74.888 < 107.272
July 33.396 < 92.092
August ???? 39.468
Sep ???? 68.816
Oct ???? 93.104
Nov ???? 46.552
Dec ???? 246.928

Here, I was also up 2 months, and down the rest. My bill from July 07 to now went from $252/month to $264/month, which includes $11/month for a maintenance contract on my air conditioner, which I think I have duplicate coverage for. (Yes, I pay $500+/month for gas and electric, which is ridiculous! That's why I'm so bent on getting these down!). The winter is tough, because it's so dependent on the weather. My summer usage has gone down a lot because we have a pool that we used to heat pretty regularly last summer, and I think we've only used the heater twice this year. The kids don't mind the cold water, and I mind it a lot less when I think about how much it costs me! So this one will be harder than the electric bill, but I'm going to think about what else I can do to get this down, especially as the fall/winter approaches. (We replaced our front door last year, and we use digital thermostat timers to turn down the heat when we're out of the house. I have to drill down to the next level of ideas).

Fortunately for us, water is cheap, and costs us only $27/month. (Not even, as that's also on budget billing, and we always come in under).

So that's my challenge for today, tomorrow, and the rest of the year: To continue thinking about ways to get this down. All thoughts are welcome!

$20 Challenge

July 28th, 2008 at 05:14 pm

I was inspired by Lux Living Frugalis! Now that I'm back on the site more, I picked out a few of my favorite authors, and started looking at old entries. I came across Lux's first foray into the $20 challenge, when she started with all of $.34. She was so excited! I decided that I could probably find a nickel or a dime to get started too, so why not?

I actually participated in the challenge a while back and did quite well by selling books. Unfortunately, most of the books I have now are not worth anything, so that probably won't be a good avenue. As I declutter my house, I'm going to see what I can get rid of on ebay, etc.

I also revamped my categories, so I can better find old entries that I'm interested in. One of the things I did a while back was to go through every line item on my budget and brainstorm what else I could do to lower it. It's been a long time, so it may be worth it to revisit them and see what I've slacked off on.

Shower Excess

July 27th, 2008 at 05:54 am

I went to a baby shower yesterday. Driving home, I was thinking about how totally excessive it was. (Full disclosure, I had ridiculously excessive bridal and baby showers too!). It's one of those things where I "wish I knew then what I know now".

In both cases (bridal and baby), we registered for gifts. (One store each in my case, two stores this time, and I've seen even more)! Looking back, I registered for things that I thought I absolutely had to have, and ended up never using. If I had it to do over, I would have registered for more diapers and wipes, and less of the gadgets.

The mom-to-be yesterday got an extraordinary amount of stuff. She knows she's having a girl, so it was a "princess" theme. Every single thing she got was pink or purple. I thought to myself, "what happens if her next child is a boy?" She likely won't have another shower to get it all again, but in blue. Crazy. I'm sure she got enough outfits and onesies that the baby will not have to wear a duplicate outfit for the first 6 months of her life!

All that said, I know how excited she was, and I was too. I just wish I had an experienced mom tell me that the wipe warmer that you plug in the wall to keep the wipes warm when they hit baby's hiney wasn't really necessary, that you could warm them in your hand just as easily. The Diaper Genie, where you store used diapers until you're ready to throw them out, wasn't really needed, especially when the refills were $5 each. We move our garbage to the garage every day, and it goes to the curb twice a week. Throw it right in the trash and there's no smell in the house! Amazing...But I did get an amazing free meal in the process.

Today we have a stay-at-home day, except for Church. It looks like it may rain, which is ok for me, because I have things in the house that I need to take care of. Also, with July wrapping up this week, I need to finish paying July bills and see where we're ending up.

Two Strikes

July 23rd, 2008 at 07:55 pm

One little, one big.

I called CVS. Turns out that they can't extend the expiration date on ECBs that were given when you purchase products (like rebates). The only ones they can extend are the quarterly ECBs that they give you based on your spending. So I'm out the $2. Lesson learned.

Tougher lesson: I'm out $100 today. My job pays for the first $100 of public transportation costs each month. You can arrange for any money you need above that to be automatically withdrawn from your paycheck. They give you a special credit card to use whenever you buy your tickets. Normally, I use the same amount each month, so I put in the amount and set it to repeat each month. For the summer, my commuting pattern changes because the kids are out of school. So I did a 1-time change to my new amount. Unfortunately, I forgot to do another 1-time entry for August, so I'm not getting my $100 this month. I went in today to reset it for September (must be done by 8/1), and I realized that I forgot it. I haven't figured out my exact costs for August, probably $75-100. Expensive lesson learned. I'm putting a reminder in my calendar on the 20th of each month to double check. Ouch!

So today was not a banner financial day for me. I'll hope to improve it tomorrow...

3rd party energy

July 21st, 2008 at 07:55 pm

In NJ, you can shop around for a 3rd party supplier for both gas and electric. The utilities make it pretty easy, too. On the bills, they spell out exactly what your usage is, and what the price to compare is. In an effort to try to get my bills down, I spent the better part of this morning checking it out.

Alas, I was disappointed to find out that in most cases, the 3rd party suppliers were actually providing alternative sources of energy, and would actually add a few cents/unit onto my bill. For those who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint and going green, it seemed really reasonable and worth checking out. I may come back to it, but my focus today was to try to save some money, and it didn't work. At least I can cross it off my list of things to look into.

Stopped by Walgreens today to take advantage of some back to school sales. The store was a madhouse and of course all the really great deals were pretty much sold out. I did manage to pick up a few things on my list, and spent about $6.

Has this happened to anyone? I have a piggy bank where I dump all of my change at the end of the night. It's getting really full, and I'm so tempted to count it out, but I'm afraid if I do, I'll make up a reason to spend it. The temptation is killing me, though. I'm going to try to stick it out until Christmas time.

Working from home tomorrow. I have a date with my washing machine. I'm also going to spend some time decluttering my house...

Sunday ramblings

July 20th, 2008 at 08:03 am

Called CVS yesterday, but there office had closed. Will try again on Monday. Went there to pick up a few things however, and was pleased to find a $5 ecb for a survey I filled out a while back, as well as another $2.50 in ecbs. I'll make sure to use these before they expire!

Today I'm heading down to dad's. I spend a few hours with him, do his grocery shopping, run some errands, and have dinner with him. No spending, other than for him.

I'm looking to continue decluttering the house. In addition to paperback swap and the others, I'll keep my eye out for anything I can pass along to my younger nieces and nephews, sell on ebay, etc. Not sure how much it will help financially, but it will definitely help my mental state!

I emailed the electric company to see if they had a "time of use" program. They offer it for NY residents, where your rates are super high from 9am-9pm M-F, and super low the rest of the time. It would definitely make sense if you're out of the house during the day (we are) and you can arrange your laundry, dishwashing, etc. during the cheap times. For some reason, they don't do it for NJ residents, and I didn't get a good understanding from the customer service rep as to why. My utility bills are through the roof, though, so I'm definitely trying to come up with ways to significantly reduce.

I've rambled enough. Hope everyone has a good day!

Calling CVS

July 18th, 2008 at 06:36 pm

I'm going to call CVS tomorrow morning. I do their Extra Care program, and got a coupon for $2 that expired at the end of June. I read that if you call them and tell them that you haven't used the coupon, they'll reset it and extend the expiration date. I've been such a slacker the last few months (which is why I didn't use the coupon in the first place). Normally, I would have thrown it out, but no more. I'll call and see what they say. I'll let you know tomorrow.

On another note, I know I've spoken in the past about Paperback Swap . com. For those of you who haven't heard of it, you post books you want to get rid of, and others do the same. The only cost to you is that you pay the postage if someone requests one of your books. For every book you mail, you get a credit which allows you to request a book from someone else. Easy as that. My kids are into Harry Potter and I just got the first 5 books using my credits. They also have sister sites where they swap DVDs and CDs. I started doing that too. The first 4 DVDs I posted were requested by others right away. They don't seem to have as good a selection of new movies, however, as I wanted Alvin and the Chipmunks and it had to be put on a "wish list". Still, it allowed me to declutter a few movies from my house.

We've had a sea change in the way we handle finances in the family. Hubby has been complaining for as long as we're married that he has no idea about our finances (I pay the bills). We've finally reached a compromise that's working. We're writing every single thing down on a piece of paper in our bedroom. That way, at the end of the month when he wants to know where our money goes, he can see it all in black and white. A side benefit is that I think we're subconsciously spending less. Writing down every dollar really does help. Go figure. This will also allow me to get back to tracking our expenses so we can see what needs to be cut, so that will be another positive coming out of this.

Thanks for all the kind words from everyone. It's good to be back on the wagon...

Dipping my toe back in

July 17th, 2008 at 08:30 pm

Can't commit to jumping both feet in the pool, but I'm dipping my big toe in. After months away from this site (and really much longer since I've been really focused on this stuff), I'm back.

Funny how things change and yet they're still the same. I'm trying to get a grip on all of our expenses, and cut them where I can without lowering our quality of life. Much tougher now with gas and grocery prices. Usually, I don't feel it so much when they talk in the news about this stuff but over the last few months, I've definitely been seeing it. My utility bills are also through the roof, despite significantly lower usage over last year.

So hear I am, anxious to catch up with my old friends, and ready to read about some of the new posters. I'm always looking for good tips. Until my next post, I'll leave you with this tip, which I came across as part of a fundraiser I'm involved in:

In our area, non-profits sell grocery store gift cards. Many of the major chains have this program, where the charity buys $1000 worth of gift cards, but only pays the store $950 (5% discount). They then sell the gift cards at face value, so they make $1000 and keep the $50 as profit.

I always assumed that the stores only made this deal available to charities. However, the stores (at least the ones by me) will give this deal to anyone who buys $1000+ worth of gift cards. That's a 5% savings! And with people's grocery bills these days, the savings would add up quickly. A family who spends $500/month on groceries ($6,000/year) would save $300/year doing this.

The only trouble is coming up with the money up front. One alternative to make it easier is to partner with some family or friends and share the benefit.

If you're interested, check out your store's website and surf around for gift cards. If you don't see it, call the customer service #, as it's not always well advertised.

I'm happy to be back. Hopefully I'll be able to get my focus back...