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Monday, March 31, 2008

Creative strategies for coping with rising costs - Part Four: Unusual Ideas For Saving Money Without Reducing Your Standard Of Living

In this series, Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs, I will discuss ideas for saving money and cutting costs in order to maintain your lifestyle as prices increase. You can read Part One: Back to Basics here, Part Two: The Drugstore Game here, and Part Three: Finding Time For Cost-Cutting Measures here.

The fourth part of this series is a collection of ideas that can all be distilled to one essential idea: Step outside your comfort zone and try new things. I've listed some of the ideas I've come up with, and I invite you to share your own ideas. I'll compile the best reader ideas for a future post.

Maximize your money with these ideas:
  • Start a supper exchange with friends. Organize a group of friends and have everyone make multiple batches of a dinner that can go in the freezer. Meet up, exchange dinners, take them home and freeze them. It'll save you time and money, and add a little variety to your meals.
  • Practice feng shui. A few months ago, The Frugal Duchess posted some tips on how to increase your wealth via the ancient practice of feng shui. She also linked to a magazine article (pdf) on the topic, which taught me that my kitchen is my house's money center - I've been working (albeit slowly) on overhauling my kitchen ever since.
  • Try a new recipe once or twice a week. There are many ways you can go about this. If you plan your menus ahead of time, look online for recipes made from inexpensive ingredients. One great place to look is Miserly Moms. If you don't menu plan, you can collect recipes, and then find something you can make with ingredients you already have on hand. (Using up your pantry is a good frugal practice anyway.) Making things you normally would avoid is also a good way to keep things interesting. Don't be afraid of failure - even the best cooks make a bad meal sometimes.
  • Shop at new stores. This is especially true if you don't normally shop at outlets, thrift stores or consignment stores. You may go in and confirm your worst suspicions. Or you might discover a surprisingly great bargain. For example, I just happened upon a bread outlet a couple of towns away, so I popped in, figuring I had nothing to lose. I bought two packages of Thomas English muffins, one dozen French rolls, and a loaf of Oroweat bread for less than $7. They all had a "best by" date that was two days away, but I knew I had room in my two freezers. When I went to pay, I received a free loaf of Oroweat potato bread because my purchase was over $6. (The potato bread expired that day, and I decided it would be a good opportunity to use the Clever Dude peanut butter and jelly sandwich method.) I now plan on making a monthly stop at the bread outlet; I won't be buying sandwich bread or English muffins at my usual grocery stops anymore!
  • Try new activities. Start a money-saving or money-making hobby. Get your family interested in activities that are free or inexpensive. If you've always been hesitant to use Craigslist or Freecycle, sign up! I've always been wary, but I'll be joining Freepeats LA while it's free (sign up before May 1).
  • Ask and talk with your friends (and other people) - A LOT. You probably already know this, but friends will be your best source for the best ideas and deals. They don't have to be your best friends, the kind that you can spend five hours over coffee with and still have plenty to talk about. I'm talking about friends beyond those friends, the ones who fall somewhere in between "best friend" and "acquaintance." The more people in your network, the better your odds of finding the best store for the best sales, the best schools, great recipes and more. Talk to people whenever you can - to the other kids' parents at school, to the person in front of or behind you at the grocery store, etc. You never know when you'll learn something new that you are really glad to know.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the key for coming up with unusual ideas is to think outside of the box - and specifically, outside of your box. Do that and I can almost guarantee you'll find ways to maximize your money without compromising your lifestyle.

Now it's your turn: What are your unusual ideas for saving money?

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Friday, March 28, 2008

One recall today: Boys' hooded sweatshirt

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

Boys’ Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings Recalled by High Energy; Children Can Strangle on Drawstrings - Click through for pictures of additional designs.


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

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

One recall today: Plush rocker toys

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

Plush Rocker Toys Recalled By Tek Nek Toys Due to Fall Hazard - Click through for additional photos of the different versions.


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

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Two recalls today: Penguins & water bottles

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.

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My Lenten Resolution: A report

My Lenten resolution this year was to be a kinder, gentler person. Every day, I read a little bit of Richard Carlson's book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

The book is wonderful and I can't recommend it enough. The chapters are all short, so they only take a few minutes to read. And after the first few times through the book, you only need to read a few sentences before you remember what the chapter is about.

What the book does for me is give me perspective, and also remind me of my priorities: being peaceful, kind and happy is much more important than being right.

And have I changed, at least a little bit? I think so. I am more conscious of getting caught up in the "small stuff" and getting better at learning to let go.

The extent of my progress was evident recently, when I was feeling particularly stressed. Work has been piling up, and I had a couple of big family events on my mind as well. I may also have been experiencing a little bit of PMS. In any event, my state was such that it wouldn't take much to push me over the edge and into tears.

It was in this state that I found myself at the exit of a parking garage with no attendant. I couldn't get out, nor could I find a button to push to contact someone. I also noticed that the parking rate went up $3 at the 40-minute mark, and that I was at the 37-minute mark. Eventually, a voice came over an intercom but then quickly disappeared. More minutes passed. I decided to refuse to pay the extra $3 since it was the garage's lack of an attendant that had caused me to go over the 40-minute mark.

By the time the attendant arrived, the lawyer in me was ready to scream "false imprisonment!" He demanded the extra $3, I refused. He told me I could stay there and started to walk away. I demanded his supervisor's name and number, which he refused to provide. He also refused to provide his own name, of course. Perhaps if Tyler hadn't been in the car, I would have stayed put. But instead I swore at him (something I don't think I've ever done before!) and threw my money at him. I drove away and called Marc in tears.

I've read enough Consumerist posts that I immediately began thinking about whom I could hit with an EECB (executive email carpet bomb). But while I could try to get my $3 back and/or get the attendant fired, I couldn't do it right away because I had other things that I had to do first.

And that's when it hit me: It's easy to practice being kind and gentle when life is good, but much harder when things get rough. And this was one of those times when I really needed to call upon the "happiness muscles" I'd been exercising since Ash Wednesday. Amazingly, it worked. Within a few minutes, I was calm, able to think about what I needed to get done rather than getting vindication or revenge, and the rest of my day was good. I was able to see the experience as an opportunity for personal growth. Now that's progress!

Needless to say, my Lenten resolution hasn't really come to an end. My quest to be kinder and gentler and therefore happier is really a lifelong quest, one that will never end.

But I'll make a different resolution next year. ;)

Note: In retrospect, I also realized that the whole incident with the attendant perhaps could have been a pleasant experience if I hadn't been so wound up to begin with. That's what I have to work on next!

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Monday, March 24, 2008

TaxCut 2007 Giveaway

Believe it or not, the winners of the TaxCut giveaway are not responding to my congratulations emails (I've only gotten one so far - maybe everybody else has already done their taxes?). SO . . .
The first 2 people to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with "TAXCUT GIVEAWAY" in the subject line will receive the remaining flash drives.
Your email must include your name and mailing address, which will be forwarded to H&R Block's representative. Good luck!

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Creative strategies for coping with rising costs - Part Three: Finding Time For Cost-Cutting Measures

In this series, Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs, I will discuss the ways I am saving money and cutting costs in order to maintain our lifestyle as prices increase. You can read Part One: Back to Basics here and Part Two: The Drugstore Game here.

The first two part of this series discusses fairly time-consuming measures if you've never kept a price book or played The Drugstore Game. So in Part Three, I want to discuss ways to find the time to do these things. Unfortunately, there's no totally painless way - if you weren't doing these things already, you'll have to make some changes. My goal in this article is to suggest the easiest ways to make time.

Here are some ideas for finding blocks of time to implement your cost-cutting measures:
  • If you work, use your lunch hour. You can take the weekly circulars and cell-phone pictures you've collected and enter them into your price book to get started. Or, if there's a drugstore nearby, you could head there at lunchtime. This is also a good time to plan a menu, if you are using meal-planning as a way to save money (bring the grocery store circulars to work so you can plan your menu around what's on sale).
  • Trade baby-sitting time with a friend. You can watch her kids while she goes to the drugstore and vice versa.
  • Create your price book with a friend who lives in your area. You can divide responsibilities by store or by category. Better yet, do both - trade the raw figures that you've collected, fill out the price book page for the items assigned to you, and then make copies of the pages so that you each have a complete book. Your price book will be done in half the time (even less if you get more than one friend involved).
  • Go shopping after the kids are asleep. Personally, I hate shopping late at night, but I have friends who love it.
  • Get your spouse on board. My husband is very accommodating about stopping at a drugstore on the way somewhere. If we're all together, I'll just run in and grab the deal I need, but he will also go by himself if I am clear about what the deal is.
These are the ideas I came up with. If you have suggestions to add, please leave a comment!

And remember, once you've created your price book and played The Drugstore Game a few times, the time commitment is greatly reduced.

Come back next Monday for the fourth part of the series on Unusual Ideas For Saving Money Without Reducing Your Standard Of Living. And don't miss the update on the first two posts in this series.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Creative strategies for coping with rising costs: A few more thoughts

I wanted to add a couple of things to the posts so far in the Creative strategies for coping with rising costs series.

After reading this post over at The Consumerist, I wanted to add to my suggestions about using a price book that a price book isn't limited to groceries. (I think it was implied, but I wanted to make be explicit about this point.) My price book includes all toiletries we use, as well as paper goods such as zip top plastic bags, toilet paper (I've actually calculated the price per tissue), paper towels, and of course, diapers. In fact, a price book works for just about everything you buy regularly.

The other thing I wanted to add is that I came across a post about playing The Drugstore Game at CVS that made a point I have been learning myself: Buy things you don't need for the ECBs. As the writer says, doing so goes against the frugality that comes naturally to many of us, but it's how the game is played. (You can either save the items you bought for when you do need them, take the opportunity to try something new, give the items to a friend, or donate them to charity.)

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Friday, March 21, 2008

One recall today: Hobby Lobby Stores Easter products

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

Hobby Lobby Stores Recalls Easter Egg Containers and Spinning Egg Tops Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through to the recall or on the picture itself for a larger version.


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

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Drugstore vs. Department Store Makeup

I have oily skin, which may be why I've never liked wearing makeup. And I haven't worn any in years. (Wearing a suit to court is required. Wearing makeup is not.)

But lately I've been noticing that I look, well, older. (Full disclosure: I'm rapidly approaching 35.) In a couple of weeks, I have to attend a family member's bridal shower, and while the setting is upscale but casual (this is LA, after all), I anticipate the other women attending will be well-dressed. And stylish. The thought of which makes me - sitting here in my jeans and t-shirt - quite self-conscious. It doesn't help that I hardly know any of them, which means I don't really know what to expect.

I've got shoes and I've got pants. I'm working on acquiring an appropriate top. In the meantime, I've decided that makeup will help me feel more confident and like I belong (the bride wears a fair amount of makeup so I expect her friends will also). But I threw out all of my old makeup recently after realizing how long it had been sitting in the drawer. And I don't want to spend a lot of money, especially when the odds are good I'm not going to wear it much after the event, if at all.

Unfortunately, I don't know much about makeup. The first time I really wore makeup - junior prom - my mom took me to the Clinique counter at the local department store, had them do a consultation makeover, and bought what they recommended. It couldn't have been cheap, and I learned nothing about how to select the right makeup for my face or how to apply it. (Eyeshadow still scares me.)

I started with a Google search for "best drugstore makeup", which led me to the Makeup Moxie blog and her post on the best drugstore mineral makeup. After reading the reviews (including separate reviews of the products - links are in the article), I've decided that because of my oily and sensitive skin, I'd better head over to Sephora to see if Bare Escentuals looks right and doesn't irritate it, and to find the right shade. But if you wear makeup regularly and are looking for the best inexpensive foundations, check out the Makeup Moxie article. It could save you hundreds in the long run.

Of course, I need more than foundation. At a minimum, I'll also need lipstick and mascara. A little research revealed that lipstick and mascara are the perfect items to buy at a drugstore because the formulas are pretty similar to high end brands. And mascara in particular should only be used for three months, too short a time for the vast majority of women to use up an entire tube.

I saw two recommendations for Maybelline Lash Discovery Mascara, so I'm leaning toward this in the waterproof version (just in case the bridal shower location is hot and muggy - not an impossibility considering we've had temps in the high 80's recently). I haven't decided yet if I'm going to follow all of the steps in Makeup Moxie's ultimate mascara secret. Also, based on a quick read of reviews, I'm thinking of getting some MaxFactor Lipfinity lipstick, which gets high marks for not coming off.

Of course, I would love some input and advice from those of you who do wear makeup regularly. What are your frugal makeup tips?

Note: Right after I wrote this post, I read a post at Pink of Perfection that includes instructions on making your own concealer that will match your foundation exactly.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Making a few more changes

The changes I'm talking about this time aren't to this site, though. Instead, the changes are - hopefully - to me. As in, losing weight and gaining muscle tone. In other words, I'm getting in shape.

While this is something I'm always thinking about (the Fitday experience a few months ago didn't last very long, I'm afraid), it's something that always takes a backseat to taking care of my family, work, and this blog. But that can no longer be the case. Marc has promised Alex that we'll take him to Raging Waters or another similar water park this summer.

This means I'll have to wear some sort of swim attire in public. After all, Tyler won't tolerate being left out of the water the way he did last summer during our trips to the beach.

Is this a vain reason to want to get in shape? Of course. But it's much more than that, in the sense that I am more concerned with avoiding how miserable I'll be if summer comes around and I haven't gotten in shape, than I am with looking hot. In other words, it's mostly about preserving my happiness and avoiding misery.

So what does this have to do with this site? Well, I've hinted at it above, in that I'll have even less time to blog than usual because I'm trading in some of my post-kids' bedtime computer time for a nightly date with the treadmill or yoga mat. That means less time to respond to comments and emails, and I ask for your understanding in that regard. I plan to continue posting quality articles, and I am hopeful that regular workouts will actually help me become a better blogger because I'll have more energy and be mentally sharper.

One thing my new regimen will allow me to do is really make use of the Go Workout Mom First Year Fitness Journal, which I promised Cindy I would review a couple of months ago. I downloaded it and started to read it but haven't gotten very far. But now I'll really use it and be able to give you a thorough review.

I plan on posting in a few months and telling you about my wonderful progress and success!

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Congratulations to the winners of the TaxCut giveaway!

I used Random.org to select the winners of the TaxCut giveaway:

Jun, Marie, and Mary are the lucky winners!

I've sent you all an email. Please respond by Friday at 5:30 a.m. PST with your mailing address and I'll pass the information along to the H&R Block representative, who will send out your prize.

A big THANK YOU to H&R Block for sponsoring this giveaway! Don't forget to check out Digits, their new online community.

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Updates: New car & a new mortgage

Just a couple of quick notes this morning:

We bought our new car yesterday. I'll post about the process in detail once I've had the time to write it up, but for now, I'll just note that dealers hate selling cars without options! But I'm happy with the deal we got and with the car, too.

We don't have a new mortgage yet, but rates are sliding down, so I'm keeping a close eye on them. As I calculated back in February, a lower interest rate could save us thousands over the long run, since we intend to remain in our house for next thirty years. But I think rates would need to fall to 5.4% before I start the ball rolling on a refi. (The rate today is 5.66%.) I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Image credit: Edmunds.com

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One recall today: Journals & calendars

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

Galison/Mudpuppy Recalls Wire Bound Journals and Calendars Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click on the picture or through to the press release for a larger version of the picture.


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

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Two recalls today: An assortment of magnetic toys

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.

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Welcome Dumb Little Man Readers!

If you've found Chief Family Officer after reading my guest post on recovering from a big mistake at work, welcome! I'm delighted that you decided to visit CFO. Let me be upfront and tell you that my guest post at Dumb Little Man is not typical of my posts here, although I did find a couple that you might enjoy: Annual Life Review and Goal-Setting.

Rather, my favorite topics to discuss are family finances, cooking, and parenting. I'm currently publishing a series called Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs. Part One: Back to Basics is here and Part Two: The Drugstore Game is here. (Part Three, on finding the time to cut costs, will post next Monday.)

Thank you again for visiting CFO! If you like what you see here, please consider subscribing to new posts via RSS or email. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your inbox or favorite feed aggregator.

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Creative strategies for coping with rising costs - Part Two: The Drugstore Game

In this series, Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs, I will discuss the ways I am saving money and cutting costs in order to maintain our lifestyle as prices increase. You can read Part One: Back to Basics here.

Did you know that you can get many items for free from drugstores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid? Did you also know that it's incredibly easy if you have the right sources?

I've known for years that Rite Aid offers some items free after rebate, but I only recently discovered that Walgreens offers both rebates and rewards, and that CVS has its own rewards programs. I've always hesitated to seek out these deals because there is a lot of fine print and finding the exact right deals seemed like it would require a lot of effort.

But it turns out that there are some wonderful blogs dedicated to showing readers how to get the best deals at these stores. So I subscribed to their RSS feeds and read their posts and began to see that The Drugstore Game, as I've come to think of it, is perfectly doable, especially if I keep my goals in perspective.

The benefits of The Drugstore Game, when played right, are substantial. You can get free or heavily discounted toiletries and groceries, thereby significantly reducing your monthly expenses on these items. I played The Drugstore Game at CVS for the first time two weeks ago, and spent less than $27 out of pocket for four bottles of Neutrogena body wash, a huge amount of candy (perfect for Easter), and two non-disposable razors. Alternatively, I could have spent $24 at Target on just the body wash (I do have a use for the other items, so they were well worth the additional $3). I also have $11 in "Extra Care Bucks" to spend the next time I buy something at CVS. (ECBs are the rewards CVS prints out at the bottom of a receipt after qualifying purchases.)

I realize that The Drugstore Game usually won't help me get the cheapest price on something I need right now. That's what my price book is for. What The Drugstore Game can do for me is help me build up a stock of items that we use regularly for as little as possible so that I make as few "must have right now" purchases as possible. In the end, I expect to save hundreds by playing The Drugstore Game.

And the best part is, I won't have to invest a lot of time in the game. My favorite source for planning my Drugstore Game purchases is Money Saving Mom. If you're new to The Drugstore Game, I highly recommend her tutorials on playing at CVS and Walgreens. Also check out the links in the Beginners section in her right sidebar. If you click on the link that says "Do you like bargains and free stuff?" it will take you to a list of current deals. I particularly like that Crystal offers "deal ideas" for CVS shopping to minimize the out-of-pocket expense and maximize the return of ECBs.

Here are some additional tips that I've picked up during my first few weeks of playing The Drugstore Game:
  • Start slow. My first purchase was in late January at Walgreens, where I picked up some Kleenex that came with a $1 mail-in rebate. I went in the next week and picked up a bottle of Garnier Nutrisse shampoo that was free after mail-in rebate. I'm still waiting for the rebate to arrive, and when it does, I'll use it to buy more free-after-rebate and heavily discounted items. The Drugstore Game experts call this process "rolling over," since you're redeeming current rewards for even more rewards.
  • Plan your purchases ahead of time. It really helps to know what you want to buy before you step into the store. Make a list of things you need, even if they aren't on sale that week, so you can fill out your purchases as necessary (for example, to take advantage of a $4 off $20 purchase coupon where you have $18 worth of items in your shopping basket).
  • Take the store ad with you to the store. I've learned this lesson the hard way, after discovering that the stores can't be relied on to properly mark their shelves - some stores mark their shelves better than others, and some stores will mark certain products while other stores will mark different products. Taking the circular with you will help you be sure you're buying the proper item. (You can also whip it out to show a salesperson if you're having trouble finding an item.)
  • CVS cashiers can't tell you if an item will print ECBs just by scanning an item. I don't know why this is - you'd think that the register would give them a notation of some kind, but it apparently doesn't.
  • Stores sell out quickly. I am definitely not the only person in my area to be playing The Drugstore Game. I've found many items out of stock, but fortunately, I live close to three CVS stores and two Walgreens stores, so I've generally been able to find the deals I've really wanted. I'm still working out the best time of week to go, if it's not first thing Sunday morning.
  • Maintain perspective. The Drugstore Game is highly addictive, and you can find yourself making numerous trips to different stores in an effort to track down the deals you want. I've personally found that I don't mind making multiple trips, but that's usually because I've got to get the kids out of the house or kill some time between appointments. If your drugstore trips are negatively impacting other areas of your life, make fewer trips, even if it means you're not getting the very best deals. Your sanity is worth more than a few dollars.
Finally, here are some links that I've found helpful in learning to play The Drugstore Game:
  • I Heart CVS is a blog with deal ideas and links to printable coupons for CVS.
  • BeCentsAble hosts "The Grocery Gathering," which links to the best deals at grocery and drugstores each week. For an explanation of The Grocery Gathering, visit For Families First.
  • The FatWallet Hot Deals Forum often has posts on drugstore deals, and I particularly like that they are often deals for the following week (such as a heads-up that Coke products are 5 for $11 this week - because I knew to look for the deal, I found a coupon for it in the Walgreens circular in the Sunday paper; the coupon says 5 12-packs for $12, which is still a great deal). The downside is that these posts are buried in among other forum posts that have nothing to do with The Drugstore Game.
So what are you waiting for? Start playing The Drugstore Game and be on your way to big savings! And if you have tips of your own, please leave a comment!

Don't forget to come back next Monday for Part Three of the series. I'll discuss ways to find the time to do all these cost-saving measures.

If you liked this post, please consider Stumbling or Digging it. Thanks!

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Win a 1GB flash drive with TaxCut 2007 Premium from H&R Block!

H&R Block recently launched an online community called Digits, which "highlights the connections between money, art, politics, the planet and people everywhere." Areas that might be of particular interest to CFO readers are the AMT Information Center, an FAQ on the tax rebate, and tax-related podcasts.

To celebrate the launch of Digits, H&R Block is offering CFO readers a chance to win a 1 GB reusable flash drive containing H&R Block TaxCut 2007 Premium Federal + State(affiliate link).

There will be three winners. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment. Please be sure to make sure that I can contact you - if I can't figure that out easily, your prize will be forfeited. Also, one entry per person. The contest will end at 9:00 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, March 18. After that, I'll randomly select three commenters as the winners. Good luck!

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Two more recalls today: Toy sundae sets & Magnetic construction sets

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.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One recall today: Toy airplanes, cars and motorcycles

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

Toy Airplanes, Cars, and Motorcycles Recalled by S.U. Wholesale Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for pictures of the other recalled items.


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

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Silence the Sounds of Pertussis

I've been asked to tell you about the "Silence the Sounds of Pertussis" campaign, and remind you that while pertussis, better known as whooping cough, isn't as prevalent as it once was, it's still around and it can still be deadly.

Pertussis is caused by a bacterial infection that can strike at any age, but is particularly dangerous for babies. Pertussis is characterized by a "whoop" made when gasping for breath after a severe coughing attack. Visit PKIDs Online to hear what pertussis sounds like.

Pertussis usually starts with cold or flu-like symptoms (runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough). Your child might have pertussis if he or she has the following symptoms about two weeks after the first cold or flu-like symptoms appear:
  • a cough that sounds like a "whoop" as he or she struggles to breathe
  • a cough that produces a thick mucus
  • lips and nails may turn blue due to lack of oxygen
  • your child is left exhausted after the coughing spell
  • vomiting after a coughing spell
If you suspect your child has pertussis, visit the pediatrician, since he or she will require antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection.

For more information, visit the "Silence the Sounds of Pertussis" site.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Two recalls today: Ellaroo slings & Boys' sweatshirts

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.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Creative strategies for coping with rising costs - Part One: Back to Shopping Basics

In this series, Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs, I will discuss the ways I am saving money and cutting costs in order to maintain our lifestyle as prices increase.

My first strategy for coping with rising costs is going back to basics. Specifically, I'm going to start keeping a price book again.

If you're not familiar with a price book, it's a notebook for tracking the lowest price of an item. I've previously described it as the best way to cut back expenses without changing your lifestyle, which is why it's my first strategy for dealing with price increases. In fact, I've posted before about price books and how they save money (here and here).

When I first started learning about frugality almost ten years ago, a price book was one of the first suggestions I came across for cutting expenses. It made complete sense, so for a while I kept track of the lowest price of the items we bought regularly. But after a while, I had most of the numbers in my head so I stopped updating the price book. I've since added a few things to my mental list (particularly diapers), but it's been long enough that I think I could really benefit from an up-to-date and accurate price list. It will help me ensure that I really am getting the best deals.

I'll be starting from scratch since my original price list was kept two computers ago and apparently didn't survive the transition of files, since I can't locate it on my current computer. Rather than create my own table again, I'm going to use NCN's printable price book to create a booklet that I can carry around with me. Here's how I'll use it:
  • To start, I'll just gather some recent receipts and fill in the first row. It's important to remember to write down the price per unit of every item. The unit price will give you a true comparison of an item's price at different stores.
  • I'll use my cell phone's calculator function when I'm in a store to see if the unit price is better than what's in my price book and therefore I should buy the item.
  • If I see a sale price on something I'm not interested in buying at that moment, I'll take a picture of the shelf tag with my cell phone. The shelf tag usually has the size of the item as well as the price, so I should be able to calculate the unit price from the picture when I get home. (Don't do this too many times or be overly conspicuous about it, as some stores seem to have policies specifically designed to prevent consumers from comparing prices.)
  • I will also track prices using store circulars. We get mailed circulars from the grocery and drug stores each week, and of course there are also circulars in the Sunday newspaper. I'll use these to add prices to my price book. This has the added benefit of helping me spot great deals each week. If I see a great deal, I can plan ahead of time to go to that store and stock up.
  • I really like that NCN's price book has a column for coupons. I'll use it to note not only whether I included a coupon in the price calculation, but also the value of the coupon and how many items it required. I've found that this can be helpful in determining the true value of a sale where I don't have a coupon. Over time, this can also help me figure out coupon cycles and whether one might be coming out soon.
  • If you want to learn more about price books, check out Frugal Upstate's tutorial.
Another basic strategy for coping with rising costs is incorporated in my use of a price book: shopping at different stores.

Early on in my conversion to frugal living, I learned that keeping track of loss leaders* and shopping at multiple stores would probably yield the greatest savings. It didn't take me long to decide that the effort required to do this wasn't for me, especially because the stores often seemed to have similar deals, at least on different weeks. In fact, I only have one supermarket frequent shopper card because I ignore the other chains in my area that use them.

However, by checking each store's weekly circular, I'll now know ahead of time if a store I normally wouldn't go to is having a big sale on something we need or regularly use. I'll probably only go to such a store if the deal is particularly compelling, but I might even find that the store I normally go to isn't the one with the best deals for me.

These are the two shopping basics I'm going to start practicing: an up-to-date price book and shopping at multiple stores. If you already follow these basics and have some tips to share, please leave a comment! And come back next Monday for Part Two of this series and learn about The Drugstore Game.

*A loss leader is an advertised item that's heavily discounted to draw people into the store.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

New Series: Creative strategies for coping with rising costs

If you're a regular reader, you know that I've recently become concerned about inflation. Egg prices have shot up, and the cost of flour and milk have gone up noticeably, too. And I've found that even the price on toiletries has risen. Add in the increased cost of gas (we paid over $50 to fill up our Nissan Altima today), and I've been thinking that it's time to make some changes to our budget and/or spending plan.

The problem I run into is that I've gotten pretty good at keeping our costs down. There isn't that much more room to cut spending without reducing our lifestyle, which is a change I really don't want to make. So I've been thinking about how I can reduce our spending in new ways. In this series, I'll share some of the things I'm going to start doing - hopefully I can help you save money, too.

Read the series:
Part One: Back to Basics
Part Two: The Drugstore Game
Part Three: Finding Time For Cost-Cutting Measures
Part Four: Unusual Ideas For Saving Money Without Reducing Your Standard Of Living
Part Five: Final Thoughts

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Combi recalls 67,000 car seats

Combi has recalled 67,000 Centre, Centre ARB and Shuttle car seats (Model # 8065, 8074, 8086, 8087 and 8520) and associated Travel Systems containing Centre and Shuttle (Model # 4400, 4515, 4520) produced from October 2005 through December 2007. Apparently, there is a possibility that the car seat could detach from its base in a crash.

The remedy is a free retrofit kit that Combi will send to you. You can order one at their web site or by calling 800-543-7734.

Read Combi's notification letter here.

Via Consumer Reports.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Money-Saving Tip: Switch to a (free) low-flow showerhead

A few days ago, I read about switching to a low-flow shower head over at The Lean Green Family to help the environment and save money. Leah also gave some tips on how to select a good low-flow shower head - one that won't make you want to revert back to your regular-flow shower head because you're not getting any pressure.

However, I want to suggest an alternative that may get you a free low-flow shower head: take an energy-use survey for your utility company. I did one online (I think it was with our gas company), after which I received a box containing one low-flow shower head and some faucet aerators. We swapped out the shower head and while it's not as great as our previous one, we've adjusted and it's perfectly adequate. Oh - and did I mention it was free?

Of course, it's possible that you won't see any changes. Our water costs are included in our monthly homeowner's association dues, so I can't confirm that our water consumption has gone down. I wish I could say that our natural gas bill has gone down since we're heating less water but unfortunately, the increase in natural gas prices has meant that our bill is actually higher this year than it was last year. Additionally, I've compared our usage from last year and we're only using a smidge less natural gas since switching to a low-flow shower head. However, I think it's likely that we're using more hot water than we used to, since both boys take a bath every night.

The bottom line: Get a free low-flow shower head from your utility company, and then give it a try. You'll help save the environment, and you might just save some money, too.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Two recalls today: Girls' sweatshirts and Infant rattles

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.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

What silly things do you do to stay motivated?

Story Girl wrote that she was feeling frustrated because the "extra" money she expected to have each month kept disappearing - this month it went to her husband's car, which needed new tires. I wanted to encourage her, so I left her a comment, part of which I thought you might find amusing:
Once in a while, I'll log into my 401(k) account just to see the balance and put a smile on my face. I've been invested for long enough (and am diversified enough) that even with the decline in the market, I have a net gain. So I look at the number I've invested over the years (it's listed as the amount I can take out as a loan), and then the total balance, and I can see how much I've made just by contributing every month. It's pretty satisfying.
I feel silly admitting this, but it really is something I do sometimes.

Are there any other confessions?

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