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Friday, November 28, 2008's customer service

I've recommended in the past as an easy way to make a few bucks. In essence, you take their surveys, they give you points, and you redeem the points for prizes, including cash. (Read my original review.)

Recently, I was afraid I was going to have to retract my recommendation but fortunately things worked out just fine. In the last month, I've taken a couple of surveys that gave me an error message upon completion. Instead of taking me to the "thank you" page, the submit button gave me an error message saying that I should contact customer service if my points weren't credited. And sure enough, on both occasions, my points failed to appear in my account.

I used the contact form on the web site to email them and ask them to credit my points. The message after I submitted my request stated that someone would get back to me within a short time frame - I think it was 24 hours. But on both occasions, it was days before I got a response - long enough that I began to think MySurvey wasn't trustworthy. But after several days, I did eventually get a response. And fortunately, both responses were exactly what I wanted: a message stating my points had been credited.

So, while I think MySurvey should change the message that appears after the contact form is used, I'm happy to report that my recommendation still stands. They're not wasting my time by making me complete surveys and then not giving me credit for them. And they still send checks out in a timely fashion (although I do wish they'd offer payment by PayPal).

Another thing worth noting about MySurvey is that they occasionally send out products to be tested, and both of the products that I've received were just a newer, full-size version of things I would have bought anyway, so they actually saved me money.

If you'd like to sign up for MySurvey, please consider using my affiliate link - I'll get 150 bonus points if you do. Thank you!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Build-A-Bear Workshop $25 Gift Card Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Build-A-Bear Workshop $25 gift card giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Kristina (!

Kristina, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.


Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I want to give thanks to all of you for reading Chief Family Officer. The blog has really grown in the last year, and I've forged new friendships that I treasure. A blog truly is a community, and CFO is a better blog because of you.

A blog is also a part of a bigger community, and I want to thank all of my friends in the blogging world. I learn so much, but what I appreciate most of all is the affirmance on a bad day that the world is still good.

I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Image credit: Thanksgiving Medley Dessert Plates at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giveaway: The Snow Bear

This is the first of three weekly winter book giveaways. One winner will receive a copy of the paperback version of Miriam Moss's The Snow Bear.

This book was actually recommended by the director of the boys' preschool, and is the story of a little white bear who's lost his mommy. The recommended age range is 4 to 8 years, but of course that's variable by child.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest - tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.

You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. I'll select the winner using and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Wednesday, December 3. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!


Works for Me: Saving takeout plasticware and condiment packets

As I've mentioned previously, we've been eating a lot more takeout than I would like. It's been getting better since my resolution to buy more convenience foods instead since they're more economical, but we still get fast food and takeout sometimes.

And when we do, I save the plasticware and condiment packets for brown bag lunches. The ketchup packets are particularly handy because little kids really like ketchup! I generally use at least a couple of these every week for the boys' school lunches.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One recall today: JCPenny infants' jeans

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

JCPenney Recalls Arizona® Newborn and Infant Pants Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for an additional photo.

As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.


When to replace a car seat that's been in an accident

As I wrote about over the weekend, we were rear-ended last week. Both boys were in the backseat in their car seats - a Britax Marathon for Alex and a Britax Roundabout for Tyler. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that car seats be replaced after a moderate or severe crash, but states replacement is not necessary if the crash was minor. It defines a minor car crash as one that meets all of the following criteria:
  • The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site.
  • The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged.
  • There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants.
  • The air bags (if present) did not deploy.
  • There is no visible damage to the safety seat.
The accident we were in does fit the criteria, but probably just barely. The back of the car is so badly damaged that I think we were only a few miles per hour from damage to the rear doors. So we'll be replacing the boys' seats.

Fortunately, our insurance will pay for it. That doesn't mean I won't hunt for bargains, though, especially since I am going to try to get them to pay for an upgraded seat for Tyler, because I just haven't been thrilled with the Roundabout. (My biggest complaints are that it's harder to install and the back is lower.)

However, instead of getting two Marathons, I am thinking about getting two Regents. I'd love to hear from anyone who has a Regent, because I'm just not sure the boys are ready for it.

In doing some research, I've come across quite a bit of food for thought. For instance, a friend who has a Regent pointed out that the Regent sits lower, making it harder for the child to see out the window. So I'm going to take the boys to try out the seat in her car, but it probably wouldn't be appropriate for Tyler, especially - at least not yet.

The same friend also reports that a friend of hers cautioned against using five-point harnesses with boys older over the age of four because they can be harmful to the genital region. I was skeptical, and couldn't find anything about that in a couple of Google searches, so I called our pediatrician's office. The doctor is out until the end of the week, but I got my favorite nurse on the phone. She didn't know anything about it and couldn't find anything about it while we talked. She did, however, point out that if it was a common problem, the doctors would be aware of it and warning parents about it. I even called the NHTSA hotline (888-327-4236) and was assured that there is no such problem. So I'm calling this one an urban legend.

Another thing I learned is that LATCH anchor weight limits vary by car but are usually around 40 pounds. The car seat then needs to be installed with the car's seat belt. The tether should be used regardless of the installation method. So that's something else to keep in mind.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), it's going to take two to three weeks for the car to be repaired. So I've actually got some time to think about this.

Image credit: Britax Regent Youth Car Seat at


Monday, November 24, 2008

How to use coupons to pay for your groceries

Maryjoe at A Full Cup posted pictures of her multiple Walgreens trips and explained how she used a razor sale and coupons to buy her groceries.

The basic transaction went like this:

8 Bic Soleil razors/refills, on sale for buy 1, get one free @ $6.99 = $27.96

For each razor/refill, she used a $3 manufacturer coupon. She also used the $3 EasySaver coupon from the November EasySaver book. That totals $48 in coupons, giving her $20.04 "overage" which she then used to purchase groceries and other items she needed.

She ended with a total of 106 razors/refills, which by my calculations yielded a total of $265.53 overage for groceries. She did her transactions at 12 different stores over the course of two days.

Some lessons from this example:

Getting your groceries/necessities for free using coupons is hard work. Maryjoe says this herself in her post.

But it can be done! Going back to the idea that most people have more time than money, this example shows how you can still buy what you need without spending a lot out of pocket.

You can still give to charity no matter how tight your budget. Maryjoe writes later in the thread that she donates much of what she gets for free. After all, who needs 106 packs of razors and refills?

And in case you were wondering, Maryjoe got her 106 manufacturer coupons by befriending a man who works at the local paper.

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Emergency Preparedness Reminders

When I was watching news coverage of the wildfires last weekend, I caught the state insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, reminding people to take action before their homes were in danger of burning. It was great advice, and I've moved the following items to the top of my to-do list:

Inventory our home.
This was one of Poizner's recommendations, and while a thorough inventory takes time, any kind of inventory is better than nothing. It's been at least three years since our last inventory, probably longer. So before the month is over, we are going to make a video of our home's contents. As Poizner reminded everyone, keep this video offsite! It will do no good if it's lost with the rest of your belongings.

Update my list of accounts and policies.
Marc and I consider ourselves a team, and we make our family's financial decisions together. But as is probably obvious, I handle the vast majority of our day to day finances. So I keep a simple list of all of our accounts and various policies for him. The list includes bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, our different insurance policies, account numbers, passwords, contact information, and if applicable, notes on how the account is held (e.g., jointly or individually) and what the account is used for.

It's a list we hope Marc will never have to rely on, but if something catastrophic happened to me, I'll have made things a little easier on him. In fact, I think that when I update it, I will include a section at the end on how I think he should simplify things if I'm not able to manage the accounts anymore. If you don't have a document like this started yet, check out this guide from Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

Make sure our earthquake kits are fully stocked and updated.
Because we live in earthquake country, we have several earthquake kits at all times. But sometimes it's hard to remember to check them to be sure everything in them is updated, especially because the kids are little and growing so fast. I probably need to swap out the diapers and clothes for a bigger size, for example. It's also good to check items that expire, like food and batteries.

Make a list of what we'll take in an emergency.
I've thought about this before, but I never did get around to writing anything down, besides what's in my post. This time, I am going to actually make a printed list that I'll put in the grab-and-go earthquake kit so we don't have to think in an emergency.

Taking MetaMommy's advice, I'll divide the list into two sections: (1) things to take if we only have 5 minutes to get out and (2) things to take if we have 30 minutes to get out. For the first time ever, I'm putting my coupons on the list! :)

What are your best emergency preparedness tips?


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Information for email subscribers

If you subscribe to Chief Family Officer by email, you should soon begin receiving your daily email earlier in the day. A reader kindly pointed out that because I'd set delivery to midnight, time-sensitive shopping deals are often expired by the time the email is received.

I've therefore changed the delivery time to a window of 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Pacific time. I think that will give those of you on the East Coast enough time to act on time-sensitive deals, but any feedback - positive or negative - would be much appreciated. Thank you!

And this is why we have a (relatively) big emergency fund

Last week, I wrote about how we were dipping into our emergency fund to cover a large plumbing repair and the cost of installing a new car battery, all in one week. This actually came on top of what I expect will be some decent medical bills, since Tyler needed those emergency stitches put in by the plastic surgeon a couple of weeks ago.

Well, it's a good thing our emergency fund is bigger than the $1000 baby fund advocated by Dave Ramsey, because we're going to have to dip into it again: on Thursday, we were all in the car when we were rear-ended in heavy traffic. We were hit so hard that we were pushed into the car in front of us, but fortunately, no one was hurt. Although the guy who hit us took full responsibility, apologized to us and the kids, and appeared confident he had insurance, it looks like his insurance company might be claiming he wasn't covered. So we'll have to pay our deductible and hope that eventually we'll get it back (more on that next week).

Reiterating the theme from last week, though, life is still good. This is just an inconvenience that will hopefully be over and done with in a week (let's hope the repairs don't take any longer than that) because:
  • We have enough money in the bank to cover the deductible.
  • We have auto insurance and pay our premiums on time, every time.
  • Our auto insurance is with a reputable company, with customer service that we trust. Our agent has been the family agent for years, although we haven't had to file a claim in a long time. So far, the adjuster has been quite competent and proven worthy of our trust.
  • We didn't buy a flashy car. We were in the new car when we were hit, but even so, it's not particularly devastating because we bought a modest car (Nissan Altima). I've known people who buy expensive, beautiful cars and then freak out over a scratch - an accident like this would be scarring to them. (In the interest of clarity, it was the older car that got the new battery last week.)
Of course, even knowing that this accident is a relatively minor incident, I do hope to avoid any new reasons for dipping into the emergency fund this coming week!

Update: We didn't get the car back until January!


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Frugal Duchess giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered The Frugal Duchess giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Kristin T.W.!

Kristin, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.


Make a free "Economy Survival Kit"

If you play The Drugstore Game, you probably have enough of a stockpile of everyday items that you wouldn't have to shop for years for certain things, like toothpaste and shampoo. And if you're like me, you've wanted to share the items with friends and family, but the items often seem too random.

VacationLover at Hot Coupon World has the answer: the Economy Survival Kit. She's assembled a beautiful basket with a card that ties everything together. It starts:
In this basket you’ll find everything
you need to beat the economy blues!

Toothbrush/Toothpaste . . . Because the economy has left a bad taste in your mouth.
Household Cleaners . . . because SOMEONE has to clean up this mess!
Pain Relievers . . . to dull the pain in your wallet.
You'll have to click through to her post to read the rest of her clever phrases.

If you accumulate extras through The Drugstore Game, how do you share them?

Image credit: VacationLover at Hot Coupon World.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Three recalls today: Bead mazes, blinds, and Roman shades

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.


A great example of the power of couponing

I don't mean to keep talking about couponing but I couldn't pass up the example below. (That's right. I used "coupon" as a verb. It may not be proper grammar, but it's appropriate. Trust me.)

I came across a thread at SlickDeals started by Norgechica, whose husband is competing in a "food bank donation contest." Whoever buys the most non-perishables by weight for $15 or less wins. After I read her post, I could only imagine her husband blowing the competition away and having to prove that his wife had stayed within the $15 spending limit.

Here's what she has already gotten for free:

Muir Glen tomatoes - 8 cans
Powerade - 10
Sobe Life Water - 15
Joint Juice - 8
Baking powder - 6
Corn Starch - 4
Chex Mix - 2
Celestial Seasonings Tea - 4

Her post includes notes on where and when she obtained these items, combining coupons and sale prices.

And here are the items she is planning to buy (Q=coupon; IPQ=internet printable coupon; WAGS=Walgreens, SS=Smart Source newspaper coupon insert):

Joint Juice - $0.99 - $1 Q = free (Target)
Baking Soda - $0.46 - $1/2 Q = free (Walmart)
Chex Mix - $0.99 - $1 IPQ = free (WAGS)
Duncan Hines Carrot Cake Mix - $1 - $1Q (SS 11/9) = free (starting tomorrow at Kroger)
Vlassic Pickle Relish - $1 - $1 IPQ = free (Walmart)
Muir Glen - $1.19 - $1 IPQ = $0.19 (Target)
Progresso Soup - $1.30 - $1.10 IPQ = $0.20 (Walmart)
Kroger Broth - $0.33 (reg price at Kroger)

She asked for help coming up with more coupon match-ups for free or nearly free items, and SlickDeals members obliged.

There a few things worth noting about this example:

Use coupons and combine them with sale prices. This is the obvious lesson here, of course.

Shop with a list. You have to go into the store already knowing the sale and coupon match-ups, or you'll be there forever.

Shop at multiple stores. This will allow you to take advantage of each store's sales. This is a tough one for me, though, because I get tired after two or three stops. It helps if you can plan ahead so that you're only making one trip to each store every one or two weeks. Walmart and Target deals are tough to find out about ahead of time, but previews of the drugstore deals are available weeks in advance.

Buying things for free or almost free takes time and effort. But it can be done! For some people, time is really worth paying for. But many of us have more time than money, especially in these rough economic times. And couponing gets easier and takes a lot less time once you've been doing it for a while.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Two recalls today: Hoodies and dive sticks

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.


More on buying holiday photo cards

As I mentioned last week, I decided to see if I can get all of my holiday photo cards for as little money as possible. The price I want to beat is 15 cents per card, which is what I paid for a set of 10 and what made me realize that my cards don't need to match, they just need to be cheap! I've come to realize, though, that 15 cents per card is probably going to be unbeatable, and that anything under 30 cents is actually a pretty good price.

I'll probably wait a couple more weeks to see if there are any more outstanding deals on photo cards, and if not, I'll just order a set from Costco. (Thanks to Clean Clutterfree Simple for the reminder that they're usually the most inexpensive place for these things.)

Gina at Mommy Making Money has some great tips on saving on holiday cards. After calculating what I'll end up paying this year to send out holiday cards, I've decided to borrow one of Gina's ideas for next year. As I always do, I'll pick up boxes of cards on clearance after this Christmas. Next year, I'll get a stack of inexpensive or free prints of the photo I would have used on a photo card, and simply enclose it with the holiday card.

I like to enclose a little note each year with an update on our family, but I hate writing the same thing out over and over by hand, so I end up printing out letters on full size holiday paper. But with the photo already in there, I'm afraid it's going to get too bulky. So what I'll do next year is print up a brief note on a large shipping label and affix the label on the inside of each card or to the back of each photo. I think I should be able to fit my note onto labels like these.

In fact, I may even try the label thing out this year . . .

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Works for Me Wednesday: Duplicate checks

Before I had kids, I was so organized. But all of that changed after Alex was born. It really hit home when he was a few months old and I checked the balance in my checking account to find it was off by a significant amount. I realized it was the check I'd written to American Express, and the amount I'd written the check for was the exact amount that should have been the remaining balance. In my sleep-deprived state, I'd switched the numbers around. Fortunately, I discovered the error before the account was overdrawn, and managed to transfer money in time to avoid any fees.

This was a few years ago, around the time that the law permitting companies to treat checks electronically went into effect. When I called American Express, I was told that they would send me a copy of the electronic check in eight weeks. (I never received it, but by the time the eight weeks were up, I had my canceled check from the bank. The experience didn't do anything to bolster my confidence in Amex, however.) I mentioned my experience in a discussion over at Mighty Bargain Hunter, and either he or one of his readers brilliantly suggested that duplicate checks would avoid the problem in the future.

I'd never used duplicate checks before - I hated how thick the carbon copies made the checkbook. But now they're the only kind I order. Since the organized me seems to be a thing of the past, duplicate checks ensure that I always know when I've written a check, who it was made out to, and how much it was for. There's been more than one occasion when I've been relieved to have all of that information so easily accessible, so duplicate checks definitely work for me.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why buy the store brand when you can get a name brand for free?

Free Money Finance wrote today about Americans finally "getting a clue" that store brands are generally as good as name brands, and a lot cheaper to boot. The example given was of a woman who bought the CVS brand of facial scrub instead of the name brand, and was pleasantly surprised that she couldn't tell the difference.

Now I know those of you who also play The Drugstore Game are probably laughing, just like I was. Because what the woman doesn't realize is that she could be getting the name brand version for free. Especially since she's shopping at CVS, where a combination of coupons and ECBs gets me almost all of my toiletries for free. In fact, the only toiletry I haven't been able to find for free in the last three months is Dove body wash (my preferred shower soap because I know it won't irritate my pemphigoid gestationis-afflicted skin). And even then I paid at most $3 for two bottles at Rite Aid after the sale price and coupons.

I certainly have nothing against store brands, and there are many store brand items throughout my house. And other than toilet paper and paper towels, I think I've found every generic item I've tried to be acceptable, at least for the price.

But just because something is generic does not mean it's the cheapest. This is especially true if you play The Drugstore Game. If your goal is to save money and spend less, then you should always make the most of the resources available to you, including coupons, sales, store rewards programs, and your calculator. (Why do you need your calculator? For your price book.)

What's the best or favorite thing that you've gotten for free in The Drugstore Game?

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Build-A-Bear Workshop $25 Gift Card Giveaway

The folks over at Build-A-Bear Workshop sent their Hal and Holly Moose set (minus gift card) over for Alex and Tyler to try out. My boys being stereotypical boys, they played with Hal and Holly for a few minutes, and then turned their attention to the fabulous house-shaped boxes that Hal and Holly came in. (The boxes have cut out multi-paned windows and doors that open. Tyler fills his box with stuff, then takes it to another room, dumps it out, then fills it again. And then repeats.) Hal and Holly still get some love from the boys, though.

And I can't get over how soft and touchable the moose (mooses?) are. If you know a child who loves soft plush, check out Hal and Holly and their brethren. Of course, you're not limited to moose - they have a variety of animals to choose from, and just about any variety of bear you can think of. Although I might skip the clothes, since the clothes aren't nearly as touchable as the fur. (Is it wrong to gift a naked moose to a child?)

Win it!

Build-A-Bear Workshop wants you to get in on the fun, so they sent me a $25 gift card to give away to one lucky winner. To enter, head over to Build-A-Bear Workshop, then come back and fill out the form below, telling me your favorite thing you saw over there. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest - tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.

You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. I'll select the winner using and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, November 25. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!


Monday, November 17, 2008

Easy and Inexpensive Homemade Gift: Scented Bath Salts

On the rare occasion when I have time to make a homemade gift, I like making scented bath salts. They make thoughtful thank-you gifts and great baby or bridal shower favors. They also make a great addition to a spa or pedicure-themed gift basket. (Check out Mommy Making Money for ideas on how to make such baskets for free via The Drugstore Game.)

The best part about scented bath salts is that they're inexpensive and super easy to make. I use a recipe that I think came from Martha Stewart, although I can't find it online:

Just combine nine parts of epsom salt with one part baking soda, then add several drops of the essential oil of your choice until you achieve the desired fragrance. You can add a couple of drops of food coloring if you want to color the bath salts (a little goes a very long way). I've found that the easiest way to combine everything is in a large zip top bag - just moosh everything together until thoroughly combined. Then pour the bath salts into a pretty jar and affix a label and maybe a ribbon.
That's it!

Image credit:

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

This is why we have an emergency fund

This was written on Friday evening, and I've added an update at the bottom.

When it rains, it pours, the saying goes, and it's certainly been true this week!

On Tuesday evening, I discovered a pool of water in the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink, so much of Wednesday was taken up with the plumber.

Yesterday evening, I slammed the top of my left foot into an inconveniently placed firetruck so hard that for the first hour or two, I was afraid I'd broken it. The pain even woke me up half an hour early today, and I nearly fell over when I first got out of bed. Fortunately, it's gotten much better throughout the day and I expect to be pretty much healed by the end of the weekend.

But today, when I went to start the car, the battery was dead. So I had to take the car to the dealership, and then walk home. It's a good thing my foot was feeling better, and that I can work from home.

The bright spot in all of this is that LIFE IS STILL GOOD. Money was never a concern, because we have an emergency fund. Even though the plumber and mechanic were unexpected (and substantial) expenses, paying for their services puts no strain on us financially. And today was the perfect example of why I've been a AAA member for 20 years: as soon as I realized the engine wasn't going to start, I called AAA and someone arrived within 20 minutes to jump start the car. The annual fee is well worth the peace of mind.

Finally, this is a little off-topic, but please join me in congratulating Jennifer at Joy of Frugal Living on becoming debt-free! And also say a prayer for her that her fourth pregnancy will turn out to be her keeper. Thanks!

Update from Saturday morning: I went to Ralphs to pick up some extra weekly circulars for the pharmacy coupon, and to do my grocery shopping for the week. I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, and carefully plan my Ralphs trips to maximize coupons and sale prices. I'd spent half an hour walking the aisles, and was ordering at the deli counter when the power went out.

Their emergency generator kicked in, but apparently it only generates a minimal amount of power, and after five minutes, it was clear the power wasn't coming back on. So I left the deli counter and headed over to a checkout line, because cashiers were still ringing people up. Or trying to, anyway. After five to ten minutes of waiting in line and not having it move, I wheeled my cart over to the manager so he could have someone shelve the perishables and left.

I wanted to cry over losing 45 minutes of "me" time (Marc took the boys out this morning), but everything was put back in perspective for me when I got home and turned on the TV to news coverage of the huge wildfire in Sylmar. As I was watching, fires started in Corona and Palos Verdes. Please join me in praying for the safety of the firefighters, and the physical, mental and fiscal well-being of all those affected. I think they said 10,000 people have been evacuated so far, and an entire trailer park has been destroyed.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Chief Family Officer's Holiday Shopping Tips

Last year was the first time I fully appreciated the power of online shopping portals, deal forums, and online deals. I discovered sites like SlickDeals and FatWallet, which posted astonishingly great deals, and sites like Ebates, which give you cash back on your online purchases (read my Ebates review). I learned that if I monitor my favorite deal sites, I can give awesome gifts while saving hundreds of dollars. As this year's holiday shopping season swings into full gear, I offer some shopping tips to save you as much money as possible:

Establish a budget. Know how much you can afford to spend this holiday season. Don't go into debt. Enough said.

Establish your priorities. If your goal is to save the most money, then you should be prepared to devote your time to hunting down the best deals. But if time is more precious, then be prepared to spend a little more money in exchange for saving some time and stress.

Get comfortable with the best deal sites. Spend some time on SlickDeals and FatWallet to become familiar with how they post deals, before the sheer number of deals posted becomes overwhelming. My personal preference is to subscribe to the forums via Google Reader, but that only shows me the first post in each thread so I probably miss out on some deals that are posted within threads. (I'll click through if I have reason to believe there's valuable information within the thread.)

Find sites that specialize in deals on the things you're interested in. For example, I like to keep an eye on toy deals at Amazon, and last year, I found that Bargain Hunting Moms did a pretty good job of highlighting some real bargains.

Decide if you're going to shop on Black Friday. I might skip Black Friday this year, but I'm still keeping an eye on the posts at They post previews of Black Friday deals as they become available, which is helpful in planning your Black Friday shopping trip. If it's your first Black Friday, try to find out what to expect. It's been my experience that lines form outside the electronics stores and Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving Day, while the early bird at the mall has it pretty good. If you plan to hit an insanely busy store like Wal-Mart or Best Buy, do a Google search to learn how others handle the experience.

If you shop online, don't forget to take shipping charges into consideration. Shipping charges can turn a great deal into a terrible one, so always make sure you've factored them into your decision on whether to make a purchase.

When shopping online, always shop through a rewards portal. There are very few sites that don't offer a reward of some kind. Alas, one of them is my favorite online store - Amazon. But except for Amazon, I have always been able to earn a reward on my purchases. My favorite portal is Ebates, because it gives me cash back each quarter. But I've also used Upromise and my credit card issuer's "shopping mall." There are dozens of other rewards sites, so there's no excuse for not getting something in return for your online purchases.

When shopping online, always look for coupons, discounts, and promotion codes. I try to never shop online without some kind of discount, because I can almost always find a code that gives me free shipping, a dollar amount or percentage off, or a free item. For example, when I bought some items from Oriental Trading Company for Tyler's upcoming birthday party, I went through Ebates and got 6% cash back (it was their Double Cash Back day) and free shipping, saving myself over $15. Ebates lists coupon codes and automatically applies some of them when you click through to the merchant. You can also find discount codes at sites like RetailMeNot and UltimateCoupons.

Keep track of your purchases. This is especially important if you have to buy a large number of presents or if you have a tendency to forget what you've already bought. You don't want to accidentally buy two gifts for Aunt Maggie when you only need one.

Similarly, keep track of your expenditures. See the first point in this list and don't go overbudget.

If you follow all of these tips, you'll have a houseful of affordable gifts, which should make your holiday season brighter. Happy shopping!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

A new perspective that saves money on holiday photo cards + $10 off at Kodak Gallery

Yesterday, one of my most favorite bloggers, Heather at Freebies 4 Mom, posted a coupon code for a free set of photo cards at Kodak Gallery (TRYUS3).

The code gave me a credit for $10 off a set of in-stock 5x7 photo cards. But there are only 10 cards per set, and I need at least 65 cards this year. Each set is $9.99, although there are volume discounts. Ordering seven sets would bring the price down to $6.99 per set, but that still totals $48.93. Factor in the $10 discount and postage and we're still talking over $65 before shipping, although that's before additional coupon codes.

And that was when it hit me: All of our holiday photo cards don't have to be exactly the same! I'll use the same photo for all of the cards, but it makes no difference to anyone - least of all the recipients - if the background is different.

I can now hunt for the very best deals on photo card sets without regard to quantity. If I can purchase them all at one time at a steep discount, so much the better. But if I have to pick them up one set at a time, that's fine too. It takes almost no time at all to create a card. And it's early enough in the season that my need is not yet urgent - in fact, Angie at Baby Cheapskate says the best photo deals are yet to come (check out her post for current photo deals).

Incidentally, I ordered my set from Kodak and elected to pick them up at CVS, which kept the shipping down to $1.49 (it would have been $2.49 to have them delivered to my doorstep). Since I always go to CVS anyway, the $1 savings is worth it.


Three recalls today: Trains, dive sticks & radios, plus a defective Peg Perego car seat strap

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

JA-RU Recalls Toy Trains Due To Choking Hazard

Swim ‘N Score Dive Sticks Recalled by Modell’s Due to Risk of Impalement Injury to Children

Cobra Electronics Recalls Children’s Two-Way Radios with Rechargeable Batteries Due to Chemical Burn Hazard; Sold Exclusively in Toys 'R' Us Stores - Click through for additional photos.

As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

Also, the Baby Bargains Book Blog is reporting that some Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 30-30 car seat straps ended up with plastic on them during the manufacturing process, and the plastic may cause scratches and minor bleeding on an infant's legs. Peg Perego is apparently working with the NHTSA on an official recall and has already sent new adjuster covers to all consumers who have registered their Peg Perego Primo Viaggio SIP 30/30 car seat, manufactured between July 2007 and March 2008. If you didn't register but have a qualifying car seat, you can call Peg Perego at 1-800-671-1701 to request a replacement adjuster cover.


A typical lunch for the boys: Fried mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, grapes and a vanilla wafer

I pack the boys lunch when they go to daycare, partly because I don't want to pay $3.50 per meal, and partly because I fear they wouldn't eat the food and I'd be wasting my money.

The bento pictured here is a good example of what I pack most days. The lower, shallower tier contains two halves of a fried macaroni and cheese ball, and two frozen chicken nugget balls. The macaroni and cheese was left over from the previous night's Cheesecake Factory takeout, and the chicken nuggets are Ian's brand. It turns out neither Alex nor Tyler cared for the Ian's chicken nuggets so I'll have to find another brand that uses organic chicken. (Any suggestions would be appreciated.) I packed the chicken nuggets in a doubled paper cupcake liner to keep them separated from the mac and cheese.

The upper, larger tier contains two silicone cupcake liners with organic grapes, and a Trader Joe's vanilla wafer. There are probably a couple of Trader Joe's animal crackers tucked under the wafer, but it's hard to tell from the picture. I would prefer to pack a fruit and a vegetable, or even two different types of fruit, but Alex in particular has rejected just about everything I offer lately. I would have used a silicone liner in the bottom tier for the nuggets, but the container is too shallow and it's easier to crush the paper ones down.

I get a lot of great tips on packing lunches from Biggie at Lunch in a Box, which is where I learned to use the silicone cupcake holders as separators. I use them almost every day no matter what I'm packing. Biggie also turned me onto Ichibankan, a discount Japanese store that sells lots of bento gear at very reasonable prices. They have a varied selection of two-tier bento boxes, as well as other supplies like sauce containers and picks. If you're looking for bento gear, you may also want to check out Biggie's Bento Store Locator to see if there's some place local where you can pick some things up.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dye-free Mylicon recalled for possible metal fragments

Approximately 12,000 units of Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Dye Free drops non-staining are being voluntarily recalled because they may contain metal fragments. The drops were sold in one-ounce plastic bottles that were distributed after October 5, 2008 nationwide.

The recalled products are from the two lots below:
Product Code #Lot #ExpProduct
71683791111-1SMF00709/10Infants’ MYLICON® Gas Relief Dye Free Non-Staining Drops 1 oz.
71683791111-1SMF00809/10Infants’ MYLICON® Gas Relief Dye Free Non-Staining Drops 1 oz.

You can find the lot numbers on the bottom of the box containing the product and also on the lower left side of the sticker on the product bottle.

If you purchased any products included in this recall, you should immediately stop using the product and contact Johnson & Johnson/Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals Company at 1-800-222-9435 (Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. EST) or via the internet at for instructions regarding how to dispose of the product and request a replacement or refund.

FDA press release
Johnson & Johnson/Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals Company press release

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Works for Me Wednesday: Program urgent care info for travel destinations

After I wrote about the evening Tyler and I spent at urgent care last week, reader Regan kindly sent me an email to let me know that there's an excellent new urgent care in Playa Vista. I don't live in Playa Vista, but I was glad to know about the urgent care in case I happen to be out that way.

And that got me thinking: before traveling, I should find out what emergency services are available - especially pediatric services - and program their phone number(s) into my cell phone.

I'll definitely be doing this from now on.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Frugal Duchess Book Tour comes to Chief Family Officer

One of my favorite bloggers published a book earlier this year, and I'm delighted to host a stop along her online book tour. Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is known as The Frugal Duchess and has written a book by the same name. The following guest post is by her, and will give you a taste of what her book has to offer:

The Brady Bunch versus The Cosby Family

My book — a memoir with money-saving tips — is really a green book and I'm not talking about recycled paper. The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money is a green book because it's filled with recycled memories and borrowed material from my parents. You see, my parents were children during the Depression, and I have borrowed a lot of their frugal memories and money-saving tips to write this book.

My folks were born in the 1930s, attended college in the 1950s, and they raised four children during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. As such, my parents have witnessed a lot of change in this country.

For example, hunting for a house — one of the major themes of my book — was a challenge for my parents.

During the 1960s, when I was a little girl, my parents wanted to raise a family in an upscale suburb. As part of the process, my parents would speak to real estate agents on the phone and would receive hearty long-distance welcomes from brokers. But houses would suddenly be taken off the market when the Harveys (my family) arrived. At least once or twice when we got out of the family car to look at a home that was for sale, we quickly piled back in.

Over the phone, real estate agents assumed we were the Brady Bunch, but when we arrived at curbside, we looked like the Cosby Family. And in the 1960s, the Cosby Family was not always welcome in a Brady Bunch-era neighborhood.

I was about six or seven at the time, so I was clueless and didn't understand why we were locked out of some Open House tours in suburban neighborhoods. My parents provided details and insights when I spent time interviewing them for my book.

Here's a sample of the frugal tips that I picked up from my parents: On many Saturday mornings, my mother and her brother — as children — walked four miles to attend free art classes at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Decades later, as a mom and a writer, I have followed in their footsteps and have used my phone, feet and keyboard to find low-cost programs for my family.

For instance, from tutoring services to Internet access, public libraries offer a wealth of free programs. With a library card you can rent movies, CDs and DVDs for free. The branch near my home has an ample supply of movies for children, tweens and teens. My sons and daughter are happy with the selection and their contentment means that we spend less at the video store. As a source of entertainment, libraries provide a long list of cultural programs, lectures and performances. I've spotted free music classes, bike and backpack safety courses for school-age children. Other activities include storytelling sessions for toddlers — complete with songs, stories, finger play and crafts. Other free programs include "Live Homework Help," in which students (grades 4 through 12) receive free and individualized tutoring in science, math, English and social studies. The pool of tutors includes college professors, graduate students and certified teachers. Each public library has its own menu of community programs. The free services are worth checking out.

Thank you, Sharon! You can find The Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money at Amazon. And, you can win your very own copy of Sharon's book by filling out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest - tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.

You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. I'll select the winner using and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, November 18. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Thank you to all veterans for serving our country and keeping us and our freedom safe!

Here in the United States, it's Veterans Day, on which we thank and honor all those who served honorably in the military, in wartime or peacetime. And while service in the military comes with some great financial benefits (free medical care and legal services, commissary and base exchange privileges, various discounts), the base pay is disturbingly low. So please consider donating to one or more of the charities below - they all focus on helping veterans and/or military families. I have no personal affiliation with any of them, and have only donated to one of them personally myself. But they all have four-star ratings at Charity Navigator, and provide important services to those who have served us all.

Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust - DAV provides free assistance to disabled veterans in obtaining benefits and services earned through their military service. It is fully funded through its membership dues and public contributions. It is not a government agency and receives no government funds. (Charity Navigator rating)

Special Operations Warrior Foundation - The Special Operations Warrior Foundation provides full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of Special Operations personnel killed in operational or training missions and provides immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations troops and their families. (Charity Navigator rating)

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society - The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society provides, in partnership with the Navy and Marine Corps, financial, educational, and other assistance to active duty and retired members of the Naval Services of the United States, eligible family members, and survivors when in need. (Charity Navigator rating)

Air Force Enlisted Village - The Air Force Enlisted Village provides a safe, secure and dignified place for and financial assistance to indigent surviving spouses of retired Air Force personnel. (Charity Navigator rating)

Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation - The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation provides financial assistance in the form of scholarships for higher education to deserving sons and daughters of Marines and children of former Marines, with particular attention being given to children whose parent was killed or wounded in action. (Charity Navigator rating

Finally, if you are a veteran, thank you for your service and keeping us all safe and free! And be sure to take advantage of these special discounts for veterans. (Via Cash Money Life.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the If You Take a Mouse to the Movies giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:


Francine, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.


New Mega Swag Bucks

Search & WinIt's been a while since I reviewed Swag Bucks, and I'm happy to report that I'm still loving it. The search engine works well, I earn Swag Bucks every day, and I keep cashing them out for Amazon gift certificates. Thank you to everyone who's signed up using my referral link and helped me earn those certificates!

And now, Swag Bucks is even better because you can earn Mega Swag Bucks in bigger - much bigger - denominations. Imagine if you won 50 or 100 Swag Bucks all at once! And on Fridays, you have a chance to win 1,000 Swag Bucks!

I haven't been that lucky yet, but even 1 or 2 daily Swag Bucks add up quickly. Without referral Swagbucks, I still earned my first 45 points (enough for a $5 Amazon certificate) in less than a month. And it was almost effortless, so if you like winning/earning prizes that can help you save some money, I highly recommend it.

Here's my original Swagbucks review. And as always, thank you so much if you sign up using my referral link!


Friday, November 07, 2008

Stitches in the lip

I'm sorry for the late posting today! I've spent the last day taking care of Tyler, who managed to split his lower lip at daycare yesterday. Apparently, he was pushing a push toy outside and fell. He has a small cut inside his mouth, and another small cut on the outside of his lower lip.

I couldn't tell if he needed stitches or not, so I spoke with the nurse at the pediatrician's office twice. She said to check if the skin was coming together, or if there was a space. Unfortunately, I really couldn't tell.

She told me that they couldn't take care of Tyler before they closed, so I took him to the pediatric urgent care in the evening. I have to say, their services are worth every penny of the $75 facility fee. There's a much shorter wait compared to the emergency room, and they have almost all of the resources they need.

The doctor saw us pretty quickly and said she thought the cut was on the borderline for needing stitches. She wanted to consult with a plastic surgeon, so we had to wait around quite some time for that. The first one she called never called her back, but the second one actually came over from his office. Apparently he was working late, and when he got the page he decided to drop in instead of doing a phone consult.

The plastic surgeon checked Tyler's cut and recommended stitches, because the cut is right at the Vermilion border, or where the lip meets the skin. He explained that stitches would make sure the skin lines up properly when it heals. I won't go into the details of how the stitches were put in (mostly because I tried not to look), but Tyler did great.

I also took Tyler to his pediatrician today just to make sure everything looked right, which it does. His regular pediatrician said he was glad the stitches were put in because of the location of the cut. So, apparently it's important to stitch up cuts that are located at the Vermilion border to ensure proper healing. If nothing else, at least I get to pass along that little nugget of information - although I do hope you'll never need it!

The stitches will stay in for 5 to 8 days and in the meantime, I am supposed to keep them "greasy" with an antibiotic ointment. I am also not to let a clot or scab form on the outside, but if one appears, I am to remove it with hydrogen peroxide. My skin crawled when the plastic surgeon gave me those instructions, but a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. The nurse was kind enough to warn me that the hydrogen peroxide will foam when it comes into contact with the blood. I'm glad she told me because I probably would have freaked out the first time it happened.

So, thus far Tyler's doing okay but I do find that I sound even more like a broken record than usual: Take your hands out of your mouth. Keep your hands away from your face. Gentle!

Alas, I'm sure this won't be our last trip to urgent care!

*Previously: Our First Trip to Urgent Care

Image credit: Little MD kit at


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Buying gas at Costco: a sign of the times

A few months ago, when gas prices crossed over the $5 mark at some stations here in Los Angeles, the gas station at Costco became incredibly busy. But when prices started to fall, the lines became noticeably shorter.

I've noticed another trend in the last couple of weeks, however. I'm sure you've noticed that gas prices have come down even more - in fact, we paid $2.85 per gallon of premium at Costco over the weekend.

Which brings me to my point: the gas station at Costco has been busier in the last couple weeks than it had been just a couple of months ago, when gas prices were significantly higher. And the savings haven't changed, since Costco's prices have always been lower.

I think what's changed is that people are keeping a tighter rein on their spending. The last couple months have been filled with bad economic news - the plunging stock market, job loss, etc. So either people are really feeling the pinch or they're preparing to feel it, and so they're finally doing what many (most?) of us been doing all along: cutting costs.

In fact, earlier this week, a colleague came into my office and asked for some cost-cutting suggestions. She said that she's started meal planning and she and her husband are bringing lunch from home at least some of the time now, but she wanted ideas for trimming expenses further. So I introduced her to The Drugstore Game, and hopefully she'll be able to save as much money as I do on basics like toiletries and paper goods.

It's all a sign of the times, but I'm confident the economy will eventually turn around. And when it does, I hope these newly developed frugal habits stick around.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

One recall today: Metal necklaces

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Claire's Recalls Children's Metal Necklaces Due to Risk of Lead Exposure

As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.


California Charter School Locator

My friend Beverly kindly sent me a link to the California Charter School Association, which has a handy charter schools locator that you can use to find charter schools in your area.

I haven't found a national charter schools locator, but the U.S. Charter Schools web site seems to have some interesting basic information about charter schools. I didn't even really know what a charter school is, so this definition was helpful:
Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. The length of time for which charters are granted varies, but most are granted for 3-5 years. At the end of the term, the entity granting the charter may renew the school's contract. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor -- usually a state or local school board -- to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. They are accountable for both academic results and fiscal practices to several groups: the sponsor that grants them, the parents who choose them, and the public that funds them.
It looks like there are several charter schools within our area, so I'll be adding them to mix in deciding where to send the boys to school.


Works for Me: Playmobil toys

This week, Works for Me Wednesday is all about The Toys Worth Buying.

My boys are very typical when it comes to toys: they love trucks. Especially garbage trucks and forklifts. You wouldn't believe the number of garbage trucks and forklifts that occupy my house right now (not to mention the number of other types of vehicles, but I'm going to focus on garbage trucks and forklifts).

We've found that not all trucks are made equal. The forks on this Bruder forklift broke rather quickly. As did the forks on these Tonka front-loading garbage trucks.

But this Playmobil forklift (pictured to the left) has withstood the boys' rough play without a problem. The other Playmobil toys we've received have also held up well. In fact, the only one I don't like is this pallet mover, simply because it and the crate both disassemble too easily for little hands that can't put them back together without help. And I know I'm not the only parent familiar with the refrain, "Fix this, please!"

What are your favorite toys for your kids?


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Febreze coupon giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Febreze coupon giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winners:

Angelia and Vicki!

Angelia and Vicki, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.


Two recalls today: Xylophones and toy TVs

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Toy Xylophones Recalled by King Import Warehouse Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

OKK Trading Recalls Toy TVs Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard

As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.


Recap: The LAUSD Choices Program Informational Fair

As I mentioned previously, the LAUSD Choices Program Informational Fair was held this past weekend. The main attraction was the three seminars, which were each held three times so that you could attend each one, in whatever order you chose. I know for sure that two of the seminars addressed Magnet schools and Gifted/High-Ability Magnet schools. I think the third seminar covered the Public School Choice program, which allows children whose local school is classified as needing academic improvement to transfer to a better school.

I didn't know what to expect at the fair, but I did come away with the information I was hoping to get: details on the application and selection process for magnet schools. I attended the Magnet school seminar and learned some things I didn't know about the priority points system. For instance, there are a maximum of 12 Wait List or Matriculation points, but you can add points for other criteria. You get 3 points if a sibling will be enrolled in the same school. And you get 4 points each if the school is designated as "Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian or Other Non-Anglo" or overcrowded. Thus, a child could have a maximum of 23 points at the time of application. I'd been under the impression that the maximum was 12, but it turns out that's just for the Wait List/Matriculation points. (For more info on the points system, see page 3 of the Choices Program Brochure (pdf).)

It was interesting to learn how the selection process works. The children with the most points are accepted first, and only when there are more children with the same number of points than there are slots does it become a random lottery. So, for example, say you have a school with 100 openings and 150 applicants, as follows:
  • 20 applicants - 23 points
  • 25 applicants - 20 points
  • 30 applicants - 15 points
  • 50 applicants - 12 points
  • 25 applicants - less than 12 points
The applicants with 23, 20 and 15 points all get in, so that's 75 slots filled.

That leaves 50 applicants with 12 points competing for 25 slots. That's when the random lottery comes into play. It's also where race comes into play: There are two lists, one for "white" and one for "non-white." And each school has a certain racial percentage to reach - some are 70% non-white, while some are 60% non-white. So the way I understood the explanation, the number of kids that come off of the two lists in the lottery process is determined by the number of such kids needed to achieve the desired racial profile of the school. And you really only have two choices for race in the application process: white or non-white. So for a child who's of mixed race, checking one box or the other could be the difference between getting in or not getting in.

The lecturer recommended checking a box at the end of the application to allow your name and address to be shared with other magnet schools. That way, if you're wait listed at the school you applied to, other schools that have slots to fill will be able to call you and ask if you'd like to attend their school instead. Declining such an invitation does not affect your wait list priority points. But the lecturer suggested that before you accept such an invitation, you call your preferred school first and find out what your chances of getting in there are, because you will be removed from the wait list once you decide to go to another school.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to attend the other seminars. We attended the fair as a family, and the boys were ready to go home after the Magnet seminar. That was fine, since I'd learned what I really wanted to know. But if I'd realized that there was a hall where each school had a representative, I would have stopped by some of those tables first. However, the good thing about starting my research early is that I'll be able to attend next year's fair before Alex starts kindergarten, and I'll have a better idea of what to expect then.

I had a couple of friends who also attended the fair, so if they tell me anything noteworthy from the other seminars, I'll be sure to pass the info along.


Don't forget to vote today!

It's not as if you could not know that today is Election Day here in the United States, but it's always good to remember what a privilege it is to be able to vote and have a voice in our government. Not only are there too many countries where democracy is but a distant dream, don't forget that women weren't even allowed to vote in this country until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920.

When I was growing up, my parents always voted by absentee ballot. So I never had the experience of accompanying them to the voting booth and seeing what it was all about. But the importance of voting was emphasized in our family, and I've voted in every presidential election that's been held since I turned 18. Once I got married and had a permanent home, I realized that there's an election at least once and often twice a year, at least for local levels of government. I think I've only missed one election since I got married, although I can't remember why we didn't vote that time.

For the last few years, our polling place has been the fire station down the street, and I expect Alex and Tyler to be quite pleased about that. There's usually one truck still parked in the station, and there's always a few firefighters doing their best to get their job done amidst the major disruption to their routine. I imagine the boys will grow up associating voting with the fire station, and that's okay. I just want them to appreciate the privilege and exercise it every chance they get.

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