Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to wish all of you a happy and safe holiday this Thanksgiving! Whether you're going to be spending the day with friends and family, working, or flying solo I hope you have a great one!

In honor of this special time, I found a special offer to send out free e-cards to those you care about. I sent out a few fun animated ones to coworkers and the good thing about My Fun Cards is that you don't have to register, there are more than 1,000 to choose from, and they're totally free.

If you'd like to send out your own personalized e-card, here's the link:


Enjoy some turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce!

New Year's Challenge 2009

Wealth does not always come from income, but from the way money is handled. I am not rich and I do not make six figures. However, I am in better financial shape than many people who appear much wealthier than myself. When a paycheck comes in, I can spend it frivolously or unwisely... or make the most of what I have.

Some background information about me: my fiance Tim is currently looking for a job. He has significant student loans that will start repayment in a few months. We cannot both live off of my salary and it's a hard reality fo face. I mean, if I was single, I wouldn't really have to scrutinize my situation at all. But until Tim finds work, I really need to not spend any unnecessary funds. He's my partner-to-be and we both need to work together to get through these difficult times.

Tomorrow CVS is having a really great sale (yes on Thanksgiving) with quite a few free items after Extra Care Bucks rewards. I want to go, and many of the items are essentials that I purchase frequently... But... there will be temptation to purchase free stuff that we will not use (ie: makeup products, 5 Hour Energy, toys) Not to mention the fact that it would mean getting up at 5:30 a.m. So we'll see if I end up there or not.

There are a few electronics that I've been eyeing. One is an ultraportable laptop. This one in particular... (The ASUS EEE PC 901) It's so cute and little, and is in the cheaper realm of computers at around $350.

My own computer is on its last legs and I would love to use some of my tax refund next year to buy one. However, Tim has two Sony Vaio's both in good condition. I will make due using his.

In our office, coworkers and I have been checking out a nifty Audiovox Digital Photo Frame / Message Board. It's really cool. At Best Buy it's $130. This afternoon I discovered it online for $70 plus $8.95 shipping. Part of me was drawn to the idea of ordering it for my mom and stepfather. It's such a great price! But is it? You can put photos and a dry erase board on the fridge for a lot less than $78.95!

My goal for 2009 is to consciously spend wisely instead of thoughtlessly buying things I think I need, but really don't.

Here's what I'm going to do: whenever I'm considering a large purchase (something non-essential over $20) I will NOT buy the item when I would normally. Instead, I will post it on here, and YOU will tell me if I should buy it or not. Your comments will be my consumer conscience. Please help me in this ambitious process of becoming a better spender and saving more money. Thank you guys and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Trippin' At CVS

Yesterday I made out like a bandit at CVS.

While browsing online in the morning, I caught the online circular, which advertised these deals:

Buy 1 Maybelline Mineral Power Liquid Foundation at $8.99, Get $8.99 ECBs (Limit 1) Free after ECBs

Buy 1 Complete Multi-Purpose Solution (12 oz.) at $8.99, Get $8.99 ECBs (Limit 1) Free after ECBs

Buy 1 Right Guard Professional Strength Deodorant (solid 1.8 oz. or aerosol 6 oz.) at $7.99, Get $7 ECBs (Limit 5) $0.99 after ECBs

Buy 1 Crest Pro-Health Whitening Toothpaste (4.2 oz.) at $3.49, Get $3.49 ECBs (Limit 2)

Tim had just mentioned how he was running out of contact solution, so I decided to act. Usually when I get to CVS it's on a Tuesday or a Thursday, and all the good merchandise has been picked over. Of course, the free items are out of stock by that time.

So this time I went early on Sunday morning around 10:20 a.m. Armed with a $1 ECB and a .75 coupon for the toothpaste.

Here's what I bought:

*1 Maybelline Mineral Powder Liquid Foundation (I use one bottle foundation for under the eyes and on blemishes and my current one needed to be thrown out)

*2 bottles of the contact solution

*2 cans of the aerosol deodorant

*2 tubes of the toothpaste

*500 pack of generic CVS cotton swabs for $3.19

My total was $55 and I got $47 back in Extra Care Bucks. With the store card, customers can use ECBs like cash for everything except alcohol, tobacco, gift cards, prescriptions and a few other items. In the store, I also snagged a coupon to get a $25 gift card with a transferred prescription. I do have one, so next time I refill it I'll just bring it back to CVS from Target (where I got a $30 gift card for transferring it to that store).

Currently I have about $45 in Target cards and $47 in CVS ECBs. Hopefully in a few weeks, I'll also have that $25 CVS gift card. That's more than $100 to spend at the two stores. I'm trying to think of staples, things that I need, to spend this money on. Holiday gifts? Groceries? Household items? I am moving in a few weeks and could use a new trash can, closet organizers, cleaning supplies, and dinnerware -- as right now I'm using my room mate's dishes.

Over the next few weeks I'm definitely going to be scouring the ads for ECB deals on stuff I really need and for great sales at Target to use the gift cards on. Any suggestions?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Weekend And Beyond

It's been a relaxing weekend so far. I've stayed home, eaten leftovers, and watched almost the entire season of 30 Rock.

Tim made a leg of lamb earlier in the week and I've been picking away at that ever since. It's delicious. I've had it with potatoes, in a sandwich, and with A1 steak sauce.

Did some laundry, and today I need to make some phone calls, and work a little bit on a project.

It feels so good to get things accomplished, especially since Tim and I are going to Buffalo this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I'm also hoping to see some old friends if our schedules work out.

I hope this trip isn't too stressful. In the past few years I've come to despise airports and flying. I'd much rather drive if I'm able to, but since I live in Florida there's no way I can efficiently road trip to New York state.

What are you doing for the holidays? Are you looking forward to it or do you find yourself anxious about it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wheeling & Dealing

Yesterday my fiance and I ate lunch at a fancy steakhouse for a total of $24.60 (including tip) and we got steak, prime rib, calamari, and sodas.

How, you ask?

I purchased three $25 certificates to local restaurants for $2 each. Frequently, the site has promotional deals if you sign up for alerts to get discounts. Usually $25 certificates are $10. There are restrictions, but if you plan enough, it's not a big deal. (ie: must have a minimum $35 tab excluding alcohol, must have two or more in your party, not valid on holidays, etc.)

My credit card is through Citi, and there's a great rewards program called the Thank You Network. I go there all the time and if you link to other sites through the Thank You Network, you get bonus points. Whenever you purchase anything from you get 15 (yes FIFTEEN) pounts for EVERY dollar you spend.

If you purchase an Entertainment book through the Thank You Network's link, you get 21 points per dollar spent on the book. Since mine was 20 dollars, that's 420 points right there.

Through the Thank You Network I've cashed my points in so far for a $330 plane ticket and three $100 retail store gift cards. I've had the card for two years.

Today I went to Target on my lunch break. I received coupons in the mail to get a $10 gift card for a new or transferred prescription and a $20 gift card if you signed up for the Pharmacy Rewards program. (I'm still not exactly sure what that is) I did have to open yet another Target credit card but I walked out with $30 worth of Target gift cards for only buying a $9 prescription that I would have to purchase regardless.

Because I was hungry, I did stop at the Target snack area and got the hot dog/soda combo for $2.68. Much cheaper than a McDonald's meal and I did not have to make an extra stop. I love store snack shops. When I was a little girl our local Kmart had a restaurant in it that I liked to eat at. I've often munched on a double cheeseburger from the McD's inside Wal-Marts as I strolled down the aisles late at night.

Sam's Club is my favorite. There's a great deal for $2.50 which includes a HUGE slice of pizza and a monster drink. I like to grab something on Saturday afternoons when Tim (my dude) and I are stocking up.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Betty Crocker Coupons

Recently, I've become a coupon hawk and have found that there are plenty online to be had!

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker just came out with a great new offer that you'll want to take advantage of if you like their baking products. Sign up for the Betty Crocker email newsletter by clicking on the image above and you'll receive a free $10 coupon booklet in the mail! I love these types of offers; who would turn down free coupons?!

I checked out the web site and there are tons of yummy looking recipes and even video tutorials on how to make different things like castle cakes and other fun stuff.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Stupidity At Its Finest

I'm a huge Suze Orman watcher and personal finance book enthusiast. Every Sunday morning I watch the previous evening's show that I've DVR'd . This most recent episode definitely takes the case for shock value.

The first guest Dawn was from California. She and her husband make a combined $9,000 a month, but have living expenses totalling $19,000. They have more than $230,000 in CREDIT CARD DEBT. That's more than doctors have in student loans from medical school! When Tim and I heard that number, our jaws both dropped. Tim was so disturbed by that, he had to excuse himself to have a cigarette. I was incredulous. More information on Dawn: her family bought a home for more than $300,000 and now have a mortgage and home equity loans for $900,000.

Dawn loves vacations and openly admitted a jewelry addiction. She'd sent in a home video of her remodeled lavish home that she and her husband have no right in owning. She has a 7 year old daughter who has no idea mommy and daddy are lying about their lifestyle.

Suze's advice to Dawn was to 1) sell the home immediately with everything in it 2) move into a small 2 bedroom apartment 3) she and her husband should both get second jobs 4) paying off creditors as quickly as possible 5) saving up more money and eventually buying another home they can afford.

Dawn's reaction "I don't think that's gonna happen. I'm not ready to give this up."

This woman also seemed to think that having an upside-down home she can't afford is better than paying off the credit card debt.

What a moron. That's really all I have to say.

Although I have to add that we've all made financial mistakes, but that we need to own our decisions and the consequences.

My student loans are particularly a sore spot for me. I should not have student loans anymore. From 2000-2004 I attended a small private college which cost about $10,000 per year including tuition, room and board. My parents are divorced and my father helped me out every year.

Here's where I went wrong. Because I received financial aid, I only needed to borrow $6,000 to $8,000 per year in loans. However, my father would write me a check for 4-5,000 as a gift. Really, I should have taken out a loan for $2-3,000 per year. Instead, I maxed out my student loan allotment and used the money from Dad to live on. Was I careful with it? Yes and no.

Since age 16, I worked as an office clerk at an engineering company. My first wage was $5.25 an hour. During summers through college I had temp jobs at a bank headquarters, as a waitress, and interning at a TV station in West Virginia while working at a dry cleaners. My checking account had a healthy balance at all times from then until now.

Thinking back, I could have lived quite a bit more frugally. I made quite a few trips to the mall to pick up nice clothes, bought electronics like fancy cameras, and ate out more than I should have. Had I saved that money and taken out less in student loans I would be debt free today. My college buddies all thought I was comfortable, as I always had cash for Eat 'N Park and going out to Ben's on Thursday nights. At one point, my ex-boyfriend saw that I had $11,000 in my checking account and saw me as a gift horse. I have no idea where all that money went. That scares me.

If I could give myself a grade on money management in my teens and early 20s it would be a B- . My student loans are pretty manageable, even though out of college I paid $300 a month which is difficult for someone making $1600 a month. I really should have taken about $15,000 in loans instead of $30,000. Last year I was able to net $15,000 with the condo sale so that leaves me now with $8,000 left to go. Imagine if I had only taken out $15,000 in loans. I'd be out of debt. Hindsight really is 20/20.

Lucky for me, my debt is manageable and the payments are well within my budget. Dawn's is much more serious. Dawn, you need a reality check. You need to listen to Suze.

Suze, just to let you know, my favorite food is also hot dogs.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Those Sneaky Drug Makers!

For most of my life, I've felt very self conscious about my face. The rest of my body has this great, soft, perfect skin... But my face is another story. Since college, acne has wreaked havoc on my appearance.

In the past few years I've seen two dermatologists. The first one was a total crook. He tried to sell me obscenely expensive skincare products in his office. The first time I fell for it. I bought a "specially medicated facial soap" for $26 from him. A month later I found the exact same soap for $8.95 on a dermatology products web site. When I slyly asked him whether I could purchase "his" soap online, he told me I could not because it was manufactured special for his office. Liar... (Note: I ordered one of the other bottles online and the ingredients were the same)

The same guy tried to prescribe me Tazorac cream, but my old employers' insurance was not great and it would have cost $150. No thanks.

A year later, I moved to a different state and saw a new dermatologist. He's fantastic. He also prescribed Tazorac cream (You apply it at bedtime. I'm not sure what's in it, it does cause some flakiness, but it sure did clear up my skin) On my new insurance plan, Tazorac was $20.

One year after that, which was a month ago, I noticed the return of the zits. So I called up the same doctor and he called in another prescription for me. The price was the same. The tubes look identical -- except for one thing. Tazorac tubes went from 60 grams to 30 grams. Nice!

It's interesting how I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't still had the old tube. Apparently even pharmaceutical companies are trying to squeeze every penny out of us. Gee, I never would have considered that before.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not Keanu Reeves' Matrix

Lately, I've read quite a few articles and lists of Best Cars for Fuel Efficiency. Usually the Toyota Prius makes the rankings... But my car is never on these lists. I have no idea why.

Several months ago, my Ford ZX2 was totaled. Panicked with only two days to find and purchase a new car I went to the Toyota dealership. I negotiated a 2008 Toyota Matrix with power locks, windows, and cruise control for about $15,600 plus tax and title fees. (Note: I saw a 2007 model with 28k miles on it going for $17,986 on Craigslist, another 2006 model with 26k went for $16,999)

Originally I'd wanted a used vehicle, but with so little time to research and shop around I couldn't risk buying a lemon. Plus, my insurance company gave me much more for my car than what I would get for it in a private sale. Along with a generous gift from my father, and using part of my savings, I managed to put down about $10,000 on a brand new car.

The Matrix has been my mode of transportation for more than six months and I have to say: I LOVE IT. The gas mileage comes close to 40 mpg highway. The wagon/SUV crossover is built on a Corolla chassis. The Corolla constantly makes most reliable and best car lists. Unlike the Corolla, the Matrix has a lot more room inside! The backseat folds down and you can transport smaller pieces of furniture. The back is also plastic instead of cloth, making for easy clean-up.

The drivers seat is a bit higher up, giving me that SUV type feel. Since purchasing the car, I've noticed quite a few Matrix's on the road, which makes me smile.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Thumbs Up For $2.99 Wine

About a month ago, several Aldi stores opened in the Tampa Bay area. The last time I was at an Aldi's was in college. The chain prides itself on very low prices, with streamline operations with cashiers, but no baggers because customers must bring their own bags or boxes. Getting a cart at the store requires a quarter deposit to encourage shoppers to return them to corrals.

Tim and I stopped by after looking at some very interesting foreclosed homes. This includes one in a rather shady neighborhood. Hoodlums had kicked in the door several times and left spray paint messages. We spotted a few crack pipes inside and someone had actually left their weave on the front steps. Seriously?

Anyways, on the way back home we stopped at Aldi. Along with lunch meat, bread, chocolate eclairs, and flour we spotted Winking Owl brand wine. I'd never heard of it before but it cost $2.99 a bottle. I picked up merlot and shiraz. The merlot is good. It doesn't taste like typical cheap vino. Winking Owl honestly tasted as good as $25-$35 bottles I've had in the past few months. Tim thought it was better than the $5.99 wine we also bought at Aldi.

I'm excited to try the shiraz, and the cabernet sauvignon, which the store did not have while we were there. In other good news, another new Aldi store opened up even closer to my apartment!