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Success - or, The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease

March 30th, 2007 at 09:27 am

Woo hoo!

I last reported that my area Kroger refused my Internet coupons. Well, I fought back... and won!

First, I called the store itself. Left a message for the manager to call me back. I didn't hear anything, so I called Corporate to find out their official policy with regard to Internet coupons. I was advised that some stores accepted them, but that none of the stores in the Knoxville area would take Internet coupons.

I explained to them about the security and anti-fraud measures now in place from coupon providers like SmartSource and Coupons, Inc. I also described how it seemed like a mixed message when Kroger prominently displayed "blinkie" machines with SmartSource.com emblazoned on them, yet they wouldn't accept coupons from that very website. I was assured that they'd forward my comments on to my local store's manager.

Well, today my phone rang and it was the manager from the local Kroger. He assured me that he just announced to all his employees that his store would now accept Internet coupons.

YEAH, Baby!

$20 Challenge, my kick-off

March 22nd, 2007 at 05:37 am

All-RIIIIIIGHT!

I officially kicked off my $20 Challenge last night. Went to get my boys' prescriptions filled and I had two Instant Rebate forms that I printed off the Internet for $10 off Adderall (each of my boys take it). Walgreens took the rebates with no problem.

Ka-CHING! The $20 saved is going into the Challenge money.

While I was at Walgreens, I also bought the movie Rocky Balboa... BUT, Walgreens had a coupon this week for $5 off the movie... so that's another $5 I saved and another $5 that's going into the Challenge account. We are all big Rocky fans at my house and I was going to get the DVD one way or another, so why not save in the process?

Total Challenge to date: $25

Hey, it's a start.

Frustration with coupon trains

March 19th, 2007 at 04:10 pm

I am not on a coupon train. In fact, I never even heard of them until I started looking here. I thought they sounded like a good idea... so, I've looked around for one that I could join.

All I can say is, you have GOT to be kidding me.

Just about all of them have done everything short of ask me for a copy of my latest credit report! Several require that you have at least 75 forum posts to join. Another one, based on Yahoo, was downright snotty to me. The Conductress demanded to know why I was asking to join HER group out of all the other ones that are out there. Then, she demanded to know how I found out about her group (through a google search) and requested that I provide the link that led me to her group's page on Yahoo.

Whatever.

I have tons of coupons that I do not use, will never use, and would be glad to share them with someone who WOULD use them. But NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Now, I understand the desire to weed out people who get lazy and fail to mail out their envelopes on time. But give me a break! There is no need to be snotty and declare yourself Grand High Poobah of Upper Butt-Crack and become all high and mighty about it.

To the Coupon Sovreigns who think they're too good to associate with us peons, I say PBLLLLLLLLLLLLLT!

Ahem.

Having said that, if any of y'all are neophytes like me and would care to start our own UNDERGROUND COUPON RAILROAD - let's call it a Coupon SUBWAY - then leave a comment here and we'll get started.

Ack! My Kroger quit accepting e-coupons!

March 16th, 2007 at 01:08 pm

Grrrrrrrrr...

Last night I went to Kroger, all proud of myself because I'd had everything planned out, coupons at the ready. I was gonna fill my freezer with Bird's Eye and Green Giant veggies.

That is, until I got to the checkout.

The cashier advised me ever-so-smugly that they don't take Internet coupons anymore.

Say WHAT?!

Have any of you experienced this? If so, how did you handle it?

More details on my diet

March 14th, 2007 at 10:51 am

Well, I've had some requests about the diet plan I'm following, so here goes.

It is actually a pre-op diet that I am on, in anticipation of weight loss surgery. I am a candidate for roux-en-y gastric bypass, and I am on this diet in an effort to get into a "weight loss" state, or negative calorie balance, at the time of surgery.

Reasons for the diet, per my doctor:
1. To help shrink the left lobe of the liver by using up excess glycogen stores. Shrinking the liver aids in a safer surgery.

2. To help transition to the post-op diet.

3. To get in the habit of counting protein, fat, and carb grams prior to surgery, since it is essential to do so after surgery.

What you'll need to do the diet:
a food count book, such as The NutriBase Complete Book of Food Counts.

Basic guidelines for the Pre-Op Diet:
Men:
75 grams of protein/day

Wedding Frugality, Part IV

March 13th, 2007 at 03:00 pm

Still more ways to save on the big event.

I never realized how much "extra" stuff was associated with a wedding. Gifts for attendants. Gifts for parents. Gifts for the person you're going to marry. Rehearsal dinner.

Yeah. It's enough to nickel and dime you to death and it can take a huge bite out of your wedding budget if you're not careful.

I'll start with the last one first: the rehearsal dinner. What we did? Barbecue in my mom's backyard! It was fun, festive, laid-back, and inexpensive (as compared to a restaurant). After we did a wedding walk-through at the church, we headed back to my mom's for the dinner. We grilled steaks and had baked potatoes, salad, all the fixings. My mom has a bar in her house, adjacent to the screened in back deck. We set up tables on the back deck, lit tiki torches all around the yard, and had a ball! Granted, it was nothing formal... but it was fun. It gave everybody a chance to laugh and relax.

Gifts for the attendants. I do love personalized things and I do love silver. I don't love the price, however. Normally, I would not even THINK of shopping at a place like Things Remembered - a specialty store and, therefore, expensive... but I was pleasantly surprised when I started keeping my eye on them. When the clearance sales hit, I jumped! I bought a picture frame for my parents, a cigar set for the best man, a multitool for the usher, a compact and picture frame for the matron of honor... all for a very good deal. BUT, I didn't get them personalized at the store. THAT's their bit - their engraving fee is high.

Instead, I took the items to a local trophy shop and had them engraved for a lot less. A LOT less!


Matron of Honor and Best Man with their gifts


I didn't have a DJ at the reception. I just burned several CDs of "ambient" music and had a CD player at the reception. Wedding music was the same - the usher was in the back of the church with a CD player. The wedding was in the early afternoon, so it wasn't late enough to be a formal "dinner and dancing" sort of affair - that was another conscious decision to save money!

The photographer was a friend of mine who did photography as a side business... so he cut me a deal. The caterer was the photographer's WIFE! She cut me a deal, too. The pictures are fantastic and cost about $500 (that's everything, including the photographer's fee), which is very, very reasonable for wedding photography.

I have to say this - if you can at all afford a caterer, DO IT! It was totally worth it to me to have somebody set everything up, prepare all the food, haul it to the reception site, and CLEAN UP after everybody! If you ask around, you might be surprised about who offers catering services, and they might not be as expensive as you think. I paid less than $8 per person, and we had TONS of food that was all incredibly delicious and beautifully presented.

A major help for me was to be able to pay fees and such in payments. I didn't have to pay the photographer everything in one lump sum, neither did I have to pay the caterer in one lump sum. I paid them each a 25% deposit, then 25% a little later, then 25% still a little later, then the remaining balance in full was paid 10 days before the wedding. It helps if you plan things out far enough in advance.

Grocery price book - how to begin?

March 13th, 2007 at 02:53 pm

I've been reading about these grocery price books. Have no idea where to start. Do y'all just stroll through the aisles of the local Kroger and write down prices? Has a manager ever come up and started asking questions? Or, do you wait until you get home from shopping and just transfer prices from your receipt?

I think it's a great idea. I just don't know how to go about doing it. Guess I'm afraid of the grocery police!

Menu for the week

March 12th, 2007 at 05:17 am

I am on a medically supervised diet. It's high-protein, but not extremely low carb like Atkins.

Here are the daily guidelines:
> 60g protein
< 60g carbs
< 30g fat

Try to keep the total calories under 1450.

With that in mind, here's this week's supper menu:

Monday: Turkey Loaf (meatloaf made with ground turkey instead of ground beef)

Tuesday: Crock Pot Roast

Wednesday: BBQ Baked Chicken (sauce is spicy and sweetened with Splenda rather than sugar)

Thursday: Meatless Chili (made with veggie burger crumbles)

Friday: Chicken & Spinach Adobo

Saturday: Blackened Catfish

Sunday: Spicy Grilled Marinated Chicken Breasts

For breakfast I usually have either an omelette made with Egg Beaters - they have mixes now with the veggies already in there, the Southwestern mix is fabulous - or I'll have lowfat/sugar free yogurt and maybe a protein smoothie.

Lunch varies, usually it's leftovers from the night before or something high-protein like tuna.

Snacks: low-fat string cheese, beef/turkey jerky, hummus or low-fat cream cheese on Wasa crackers, small piece of fruit, stuff like that.

The toughest thing for me is finding sources of protein. but I'm slowly getting better at it.

Wedding Frugality, Part III

March 11th, 2007 at 09:14 pm

I'm throwing rice at the girl that I love
After she just said "I do"


Another part of a wedding that can really hurt the pocketbook: favors. They can be outrageous if you order them pre-made from party stores or companies that make favors. But you don't want to leave your guests empty-handed, right? Part of the fun of going to a wedding is to see what neat favors they have. So I had to do some thinking.

I had plenty of tulle - I bought a bolt of it, much cheaper than buying it in the small packages. I knew I didn't want those little bottles of bubbles. Rice was out. I did find heart-shaped rice at Michael's for less than $20. One bag was enough to make 100 favors. I put a scoop of rice into a circle of tulle, tied it up with a bow (10-cent spool of narrow satin ribbon, on clearance from Hobby Lobby), and presto - a favor!

I wanted more, though. I looked online for ideas and found that people were giving away packets of flower seeds as favors. Neat, I thought. However, to buy these pre-made packet favors from seed companies was going to cost a fortune - at least $2.50 per favor! Ouch! So, I made my own.

I found little white paper bags at Michael's for about 50 cents for 50 bags, and they were about the size of a small seed packet. I also found a rubber stamp that had a very pretty "Thank You" design on it, and picked up a pad of coordinating blue ink. I then found a bunch of self adhesive tiny blue satin bows at The Dollar Tree for, you guessed it, a dollar. Woo Hoo! Lastly, I went to Wal-Mart and picked up a big bag of mixed wildflower seed mix.

I stamped each paper bag with the Thank You stamp and stuck a bow on it. Filled each bag with a scoop of the wildflower seeds and sealed the bag shut with a return address label that I had printed on my computer with our monogram and the wedding date. TA-DA, another favor done! Each seed packet cost me just a few pennies to make, as opposed to a few dollars to buy!

Of course, you've gotta have candy. My first thought was to tie up some Jordan almonds in tulle, but those almonds are expensive - like $7 a pound! I thought I'd skip the almonds. I then considered getting colorworks M&M candies, but they were expensive, too. Then, I remembered some coupons I had... for Dove promises chocolates. Yeah! I bought enough bags to put three chocolates per favor - I got Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, and Caramel.

The packaging for these favors was different, though. I found some hexagon-shaped favor boxes on clearance at Michael's and I cleaned them out. I also found some silver sealing wax and a wax stamper there with our initial.



Here's how I decorated the favor boxes: I took a small length of narrow satin ribbon and looped it like the ribbons people wear for various causes (you know, like the pink ribbons and such) and taped it to the lid of the box. Next, I dripped a little of the hot wax onto the middle of the loop and quickly stamped the initial stamper into the seal. PRESTO, instant monogrammed favor box. I put three chocolates into each box and everybody said that they were really elegant looking. It cost less than a dollar per favor to make.



Lastly, because we were having an outdoor wedding in June, I wanted to make sure the guests were comfortable. One way to keep cool - paper fans! I thought something bright and colorful would be a lot of fun. I found a novelty company that was selling paper hand fans for less than 20 cents apiece. Everybody loved them and they added a real festive feel to the reception.



And that's how I did the favors. The great thing was that I didn't have to buy everything all at once. I could buy things a little at a time and make the favors over time. I spent about four months making favors.

Wedding Frugality, Part II

March 11th, 2007 at 01:20 pm

"I used to think a wedding was a simple affair. A boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say 'I do.' I was wrong. That's getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition. I know. I've just been through one." - Father of the Bride

One of the biggest expenses in a wedding is the attire. What'cha gonna wear? Me, I wanted a wedding gown. Big, white, lacy, sparkly... you know the deal. Once in our lives, all us girls dream of our own Cinderella days and most of the time, that happens at our wedding.

I wanted a gown. I did not want to shell out the big bucks associated with it. I can sew, but not well enough to take on a wedding dress.

I searched eBay and newspapers, all sorts of places where people were selling used, excuse me, certified pre-owned gowns. Nothing. So, I had to bite the bullet and go to David's Bridal. The gown I got cost me $500... BUT, that was on sale. AND, I didn't fall prey to their sales pitch of wanting me to get the shoes, veil, headpiece, gloves, and so on.

THAT is what I wanted to warn you about. If you decide to go to a bridal shop, PLEASE either go in there with a game plan (i.e., I'm buying a dress ONLY, nothing else) or go with a support team who will help you stick to that resolution. Because let me warn you... that wedding dress mojo is really hard to overcome. Something happens to us when we try on one of those dresses, and we can't say no to ANYTHING. Trust me, I've seen it happen. It almost happened to me.

I went to David's Bridal to pick out a few dresses to try on. The sales associate just fussed all over me, about how stunning I looked and that she had THE thing to make me look absolutely perrrrrr-fect. She came back with a veil ($250), a headpiece ($300), shoes ($75), gloves ($50), a handbag ($60), a wrap ($125), and had me try them on. Of course, they looked beautiful. And it was really hard to say no.

DO say no. Drill it into your head. I learned that the bridal shops lure you in with their dresses but they really make their money with the accessories. That's why David's Bridal has those $99 gown sales so often.

That $250 veil and $300 headpiece? You can get the same exact thing at Wal-Mart for around $20. I bought a 99-cent headband from Michael's and hot glued on some tiny flowers and rhinestones. I hot-glued some tulle onto a hair comb for the veil, to which I also ironed on some rhinestones for sparkle.

The shoes? I wore flip flops (50 cents) that I decorated by hot-gluing on some flowers and rhinestones. Let me tell you that my feet were SO comfortable that day! I would have been in pain if I'd been standing around in heels all afternoon.

A handbag? I had my mom hold a small makeup/emergency bag for me. I figured that on my wedding day, I probably shouldn't trust myself to carry around anything of much importance, anyway. I probably would have forgotten a handbag.


See our fake flower bouquets?


Bridesmaid dress? JCPenney clearance sale. My bridesmaid and I wanted to get something that she could wear again, so we decided on a cocktail dress instead of a full-length monstrosity. The cost was $40 and I believe she got her shoes at Payless.

The groom, best man, usher and ring bearers (my two boys) wore khaki slacks, blue dress shirts, ties, and navy blazers (already staples in their wardrobes).


Three handsome devils!

Wedding Frugality, part I

March 9th, 2007 at 08:12 am

We got married in a fever,
Hotter than a pepper sprout...


I got married (again) about 9 months ago and really wanted to have a wedding (I didn't have one the first time). I did it, however, on a cash-only budget. Did I scrimp and save? Yes, but not to the point where I was uncomfortable. Was it tacky and cheap? No, everyone had a great time and everything was beautiful.

So, how did I pull it off?

One word: creativity. I had to force myself to think outside the box.

One major way I saved was in the venue. I held the wedding and reception at a state park. I am fortunate enough to live in Tennessee and we have some very beautiful state parks. One of them has a quaint little stone chapel and a pavilion right next to it. For a small fee (less than $200 total), I was able to rent the chapel and the pavilion for the entire day. Lots of state parks have gazebos and pavilions which would make gorgeous backdrops for weddings. All you need to do is ask the park ranger.



Everyone enjoyed the lovely setting and I didn't have to book a reception hall!

The cake? I admit that I got lucky there. My sister-in-law took a Wilton cake decorating class a few years ago and started making cakes as a side business. She made my wedding cake for free... as a gift to us. It was really beautiful.

Invitations cost me about $110, and that's including postage! I found some very nice looking computer-printable invites at Office Depot (!) I printed them myself on my ink-jet printer. Everybody said they looked great and thought I'd had them professionally done. All it took was a little patience.

The flowers? Fake. I went to good ol' Hobby Lobby and bought fake flowers (on sale, of course). I know diddly squat about flower arranging, so I selected ones that were either already arranged or that were pretty enough to use on their own, without any special arranging. My bouquet was several stems of hydrangeas, tied with a ribbon. It cost maybe $5. The bridesmaid's bouquet was just a smaller version of mine. I found some ready-made bouttonieres, white rosebuds, for the guys. 50 cents apiece! WOO HOO! And for the mother's corsages, they had some ready-made gardenia corsages for $1 each. They all looked really nice.

Flowers/decorations for the church? I borrowed the ferns my mother had hanging on her front porch and used them to decorate the front of the church. I tide tulle bows around the pots. The only other decorations were tulle bows that I tied and hung from the ends of the pews. The tulle cost next to nothing (buy it by the bolt, not in the individual - and more expensive - packages).

More to come.

Why Zen?

March 8th, 2007 at 01:09 pm

The Zen of living without credit... why "Zen?"

Zen involves letting go of attachments - to physical, emotional, all kinds of things. When we let go of the attachments, then we achieve true enlightenment. We discover that we already have everything we need.

Keeping this in mind, I believe that it is within everyone's reach to get free from the DebtMonster. We just have to let go. Do we really need huge plasma screen TVs to make us happy? Do we need brand-new cars or this widget or that designer clothing? No, we don't.

What do we need?

Air - that's still free, at least for now

Water - it's virtually free. If you're sworn to drinking only bottled water, I dare you to read this report.

Food - you can choose your own fate with this one. Think it can't be done? Look at this example of grocery success! Coupons can be very useful.

Clothing - Do we really need the designer labels? Will little Junior REALLY die if he doesn't get those fancy sneakers? There's nothing wrong with discount stores, yard sales, etc., unless you are opposed to saving money.

Shelter - Do we really need to live in a McMansion? The right house in the right location may mean prestige, but at what price?

Let go of the attachment to "keep up with the Joneses." They are not in charge of your happiness. YOU are. Would you rather live surrounded by "stuff," but broke, drowning in debt, fighting about money and stressed out over how you're ever going to pay for it all? Or would you rather live modestly, not worrying about how the bills are going to get paid, happy, and content?

It's achievable... once you learn to let go.

When you let go of the attachments, you no longer feel like you're having to "do without" things. You don't feel less privileged. You are no longer jealous of other people's stuff. You are content, knowing that you have everything you need. It is very liberating, and you find that you gain so much more in return - peace, most especially.

At this point, don't be alarmed if you find yourself wanting to help others. It's called compassion, and it's another thing you'll gain, once you let go.

A milestone (or, better credit = lower insurance rates)

March 8th, 2007 at 12:35 pm

It was time, very recently, for me to renew my auto insurance. Because of my previous credit mistakes, my insurance premiums had been rather high.

Now, I'm beginning to see the benefits of all this work. I contacted an insurance agency that had turned me down just a few years ago because of poor credit. This time, I was quoted a very reasonable rate... much lower than what I had been paying AND with better coverage.

I had to ask the agent to repeat the quote, just because I didn't believe her the first time.

It's not hard to live within a budget - you just have to commit to it and never stray from it. Good things really do come to those who wait.

Instant rebate for AdderallXR

March 8th, 2007 at 12:13 pm

I have five kids. Two of them are taking AdderallXR for ADHD. One month, the insurance wasn't in effect and to pay cash for the prescription? Let me just say that I had to pick myself up off the floor. Nearly $500 for two 30-day supplies.

It is nearing the time where I will have to get the prescriptions refilled (thankfully, I have reasonable insurance once again). BUT, I found an instant rebate coupon for $10 off AdderallXR.

http://www.adderallxr.com

Walgreen's is my pharmacy... let's see if they accept the coupon.