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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One recall today: Toy boats

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

Toy Boats Recalled by Buzz’s Boatyard Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for a photo of a different boat.


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

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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Drugstore Game: A Primer

Updated 1/3/2010

I wrote my original introduction to The Drugstore Game six months ago, when I first started playing. I even wrote a rather controversial guest post about the game at Get Rich Slowly. But I've learned so much since then that I thought it was time for a new introductory post.

As background, let me say that I shop at the three biggest drugstore chains: CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. I save about $200-300 per month over what I would have paid at Target's best price (i.e., with sales and coupons). My personal policy now is to not pay for shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, and dishwashing soap, unless my favorite version is on steep sale or I need a very specific version. I also save on necessities like paper goods, baby items, over the counter medication, and food. If you want to do the same, here's how you can get started:

First, you need to understand how store coupons and manufacturer coupons work together. Coupons that come with the Sunday newspaper are most commonly manufacturer coupons that can be used at any store that takes coupons. Manufacturer coupons can usually be combined with a store coupon, which is a coupon that is put out by the store. For example, if you have a $1 off Pantene manufacturer coupon and a $1 off Pantene CVS coupon, you can use both coupons at CVS to get $2 off a bottle of shampoo.

The next thing you need to understand is how the various store rewards and rebate programs work. Each major drugstore has its own program and each is a little different. For example, CVS has the ExtraCare program - Extra Bucks (also known as ExtraCare Bucks, or ECBs) are coupons that print at the end of your receipt after qualifying purchases. ECBs can be used like cash on future purchases, and expire a month after printing.

Walgreens has a program that's somewhat similar to the ExtraCare program called Register Rewards, which are coupons that print out after you make a qualifying purchase. Register Rewards (RRs) usually expire two weeks after printing, although that occasionally varies if there's a special promotion.

Rite Aid has the Single Check Rebate program. Each month, Rite Aid puts out a rebate booklet that lists that month's offers. Make your qualifying purchases, enter your information online, and request your monthly check.

The key to success and big savings in The Drugstore Game is understanding how coupons and rewards programs work together. This can be tricky, but it is absolutely worth mastering. For example, last week, CVS offered a Sunday-and-Monday only deal of free-after-ECB L'Oreal Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle Serum. If you paid $11.99, you got $11.99 back in ECBs. But wait! If you used a $2 off $10 purchase coupon that was available online last month, and a $3 off L'Oreal Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle product coupon from a previous Sunday newspaper, you'd only pay $6.99 and still get $11.99 back in ECBs. In other words, you'd "make" $5 to spend at CVS on things you'd be buying anyway, like food or diapers or toilet paper.

In order to play The Drugstore Game at a high level, you need a game plan before you head out the door. The key to a good game plan is good sources of information. You could sit at home poring over the weekly and monthly drugstore circulars, or you could simply visit the sites that do all the math for you.

I rely on some fabulous blogs and forums that put together lists of the weekly deals, lists of items that are free after coupon and/or sale, and scenarios to help get the most bang for your buck. These sites were especially helpful to me when I first started playing The Drugstore Game and didn't quite understand all of the in's and out's of the game. The following list is hardly exclusive, but will be tremendously helpful if you're just getting started:
You'll see lots of abbreviations and acronyms - check out Common Sense with Money's FAQ for definitions of the common ones. Finally, let me offer a few suggestions to help you get started:

Pick a week and start on Sunday. Better yet, buy an early edition of the Sunday paper and start on Saturday. (I can always find weekend editions of the Los Angeles Times with all of the circulars and coupon inserts on Saturday at supermarkets and select drugstores.)

Get organized. At the beginning, you may find it easiest to clip every coupon and file them in a multi-pocket folder, shoebox or plastic container, although some people really like to use a binder and still others use hanging folders. I'm still working on my own coupon organization system, so I'm not the best person to give advice in this area. Eventually, you'll figure out what works for you.

Check out the sites listed above and decide what you would like to buy. Create your scenarios and write them down, including the coupons you plan to use. Create some alternative scenarios as well, in case some of the items are out of stock. This does take some time at the beginning, but trust me, it'll take a lot less time once you get the hang of it.

Before you leave the house, make sure you have your coupons and scenarios. I like to bring all of my coupons since I never know when I might spot an unadvertised or clearance deal that I can't pass up. I also recommend bringing a calculator in case you have to re-work some of your deals (I use the calculator function of my cell phone all the time), and the weekly and monthly circulars. (If you forget the circulars or don't have them yet, you should be able to pick them up at the front of the store.) The circulars are handy because stores don't always mark the shelves properly, and sometimes the only way to tell which item qualifies for a deal is to check the printed circular.

One final word of advice: Sometimes using a lot of coupons can create problems with the registers, which are programmed in a certain way. And sometimes cashiers and managers have attitude problems with customers using coupons. Even if there's no excuse for the treatment you're getting when you're checking out, please try to always remain polite and courteous. It's good for all Drugstore Game players if the stores think of us as their best customers!

You can read all of my posts on The Drugstore Game here and here. For a simple example of how The Drugstore Game can work, check out this post at I heart Wags, and then read the explanation.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Weight Watchers giveaway winners

Thank you to everyone who entered the Weight Watchers giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winners:

CE, Renee S., and Vivian A.!

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

Stay tuned because I'll be giving away more Weight Watchers coupons later this week!

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

CFO Sponsor: Kindermusik

You may have noticed in the last couple of weeks that there's an ad for Kindermusik over in the left sidebar. Kindermusik bought the ad through BlogAds without any discussion with me first, so I don't have any obligation to them other than to run the ad, but this is a great opportunity for me to promote them because I actually took a class with Alex a few years ago when he was a baby and liked it quite a bit.

There's a ton of research out there touting the benefits of music for young children. My favorite tidbit is that the music of Mozart - my favorite composer - is very mathematical, and there's a strong correlation between music and math.

If, like me, you believe music is good for a child's development, then you might want to take a Kindermusik class. It's been a while for me, but as I recall, the instructor was quite good about explaining the benefits of the various things we were doing. Keep in mind that this was a class for babies, so we were all holding our kids and moving their limbs for them, and fully participating. I'm sure the classes for older kids don't require that degree of parent involvement.

I would have liked to continue taking classes with Alex, or to take them with Tyler, but the location of the classes was about as bad as it could be - in a strip mall with zero parking. The stress of going simply wasn't worth it. But that's the sort of thing that's probably specific just to the classes we were attending, and most, if not all, of you won't have that problem.

Like most children's programs, Kindermusik offers a free trial class. You can click on the ad over to the left or on this link to learn more. (I seem to recall the cost being comparable to a Gymboree session, but as I said, it's been a while so don't hold me to it.)

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three recalls today: Police cars, mini-ATVs & Razor scooters

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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Weight Watchers Week Nine: Learning to live with lifestyle changes

I haven't written about the last couple weeks on Weight Watchers because I've been in an interesting adjustment period. I worked really hard the first six to seven weeks and lost 12 pounds right off the bat. I just couldn't keep up that intensity, though, so I haven't been very dedicated for the last two to three weeks. I haven't been tracking points, and I haven't been exercising nearly as much.

But guess what's happened? Despite eating my favorite foods, I've actually maintained the weight loss within a half pound or so over the course of several weeks. I'm extremely pleased about this, because it's proof that I've made changes that I can live with.

Obviously, I can maintain my weight at this level, but I'd still like to lose another 15 pounds or so. So I've started counting points again.

On my last Weight Watchers update, I mentioned that I wasn't eating all of my points, and I got a slew of comments about how important it is to eat all of the points available. I think I needed to read that over and over again, because it seems to be true for me. So a big thank you to everyone who commented on that post!

The challenge for me now is to learn how to incorporate my favorite foods into a lifelong eating pattern. I've already gotten quite good about not over-indulging, but I do still like to eat sweets every day. At Get Fit Slowly, Mac and J.D. are struggling with the same problem. According to Mac, their wives "automatically budget their food intake" and "view sweets and desserts as a reward, not a necessity," whereas he and J.D. don't.

I don't either. I've tried, but I just don't think I'll ever be someone who only eats sweets once in a while. So instead of making myself miserable trying to do something that's virtually impossible, I'm trying to find reasonable compromises that allow me to eat healthfully, reach and maintain a healthy weight, and still enjoy my favorite foods (and I'm talking about the real stuff, not diet cookies and what not). I believe it's possible, and it'll just take some time to figure it out. How long? I have no idea, but I hope not too long.

Check out Kris's insightful post at Cheap Healthy Good on why she gains and loses weight.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

One recall today: Harry Potter bookends

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

Harry Potter Bookends Recalled By Giftco Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


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

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Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef

I told you last week about my friend's all-slow-cooker birthday dinner - here's the main course. Steph at A Year of CrockPotting had linked to this Mongolian Beef recipe, which I adapted as follows.

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef
Serves 8-10

nonstick cooking spray
1 large sweet onion, cut in half and sliced thinly (if you like onions, add another 1-2 onions)
1 cup soy sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3 1/2 pounds flank steak, sliced thinly (about 1/8 inch) across the grain (Note: This is the most time-consuming part of the preparation, but fortunately it can be done ahead of time. Freezing the meat for about an hour will make it easier to get thin slices.)
1/2 cup cornstarch

1. Spray the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray. In the crock, combine the onion, soy sauce, broth, garlic, hoisin, sugar and ginger.

2. Combine the flank steak and cornstarch in a large zip top bag. Shake until the meat is evenly coated.

3. Add the beef to the crock and stir.

4. Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours. Serve with hot rice.

Note #1: Since I was serving this to the kids, I left out the pepper flakes and alcohol. You could easily replace one cup of chicken broth with 1/2 cup of sherry and 1/2 cup of white wine. Add the sherry in step 1. Add the white wine in step 3 - pour the wine over the meat and don't stir. If you want heat, add 1 teaspoon of pepper flakes in step 1. I also left out the scallions because I don't like them, but per the original recipe, you could stir in two cups of chopped scallions one hour before you are going to serve the dish.

Note #2: I did most of the work the night before. I sliced the beef and put it in a zip top bag, then parked the bag in the fridge. I also did step 1, and parked the crock (covered with the lid) in the fridge overnight. The next day, around noon, I put the crock into the cooker, and added the meat. I have to admit that I was in a rush and added the meat without coating it in cornstarch. To compensate, I combined about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold chicken broth, stirred until it was smooth, then stirred the mixture into the crock. My sauce probably would have been thicker if I'd followed the original recipe, but it was fine the way it was too.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Reduce junk mail and spending with Catalog Choice

A while back, I read several articles on eliminating the delivery of catalogs with CatalogChoice.org. The system is simple - you register and fill out a form, then Catalog Choice forwards your request to discontinue delivery of the catalog to the merchant. It takes a few weeks for the request to kick in - you can't even re-submit your request for 10 weeks.

But the fabulous thing is, it works! For most catalogs, anyway. A few of the catalogs I submitted are listed as "not participating," apparently meaning they won't accept an opt-out request from Catalog Choice. Catalog Choice does provide a number I can use to call each merchant, but I haven't bothered yet.

Even with the handful of catalogs that won't honor my request, I've noticed a marked difference in our mailbox. There's a lot less mail, which translates into a lot less shredding. I don't waste nearly as much time tearing out labels and flipping through the pages out of curiosity.

And I'm less tempted to spend money, too. There's a good article about the impact of advertising on spending at Get Rich Slowly, and it applies perfectly to this situation. Perusing catalogs would make me think about all the things I could or might find handy, especially at a sale price. But if I never see the items at all, I'll never think to buy them. So eliminating catalogs eliminates a lot of temptation.

If you haven't sign up with Catalog Choice yet, I encourage you to do so. It'll eliminate stress and clutter from your life.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick Product Reviews

One of the many awesome things about The Drugstore Game is that I get to try lots of new products for free or almost-free. Some have been delightful surprises, others shocking disappointments.

I'm going to start posting brief reviews of some of these items in case anyone is wondering what is and isn't worth spending money on. There are too many items for one post, so this will be an ongoing series. I'll start with one of my absolute favorite new items.
  1. Garnier Fructis Instant Melting Conditioner - This was free after Single Check Rebate at Rite Aid last month. I just started using it and it's awesome. "Melting" is a great descriptor for it. This is one item I will make a special trip for when it's on sale/free. In fact, I'm hoping it's included in the 2/$3 after-SCR-deal that started yesterday in LA and starts tomorrow in most places. I'm sure I have coupons, so although I now "buy" shampoo and conditioner only if it's free, I'll gladly pay $1 for two of these.
  2. Schick Intuition razor - This was free at CVS a while back, but I just started using it. Unlike the Melting Conditioner, it's awful. It's huge and clunky and I keep feeling like I'm going to cut myself. I don't even know if I can keep using it until the blade dulls, because I feel like I'm tempting fate too much. On the bright side, this is the only moisturizing strip I've ever had that actually feels like a moisturizing strip - I mean, it's slimy in a good way, if that makes any sense.
  3. Schick Slim Twin razor - I picked up a free-after-coupon travel pack of these, and Marc promptly declared them his favorite razor for that area between his nose and his upper lip - the razor is indeed slim, so it gets in there better than any razor he's had since I met him 10 years ago. It also seems to have a similar moisturizing strip as the Intuition. I actually paid for two full size packs of these when Walgreens had a great deal on them a couple of months ago, to make sure that Marc is well-stocked.
  4. Nizarol - My dermatologist recommended this anti-dandruff shampoo after he diagnosed me with alopecia areata (which I'm happy to report has completely filled in). I bought a bottle at Walgreens for $14.99 using a $10/$30 coupon at the end of May. But I don't think this shampoo works that well on long hair, because it doesn't lather much. I never felt like my hair was getting clean when I used it.
  5. Herbal Essences No Flakin' Way - My dermatologist had also mentioned anti-dandruff shampoos containing zinc pyrithione, although he seemed to prefer Nizarol. But since the Nizarol really wasn't working for me and I continued to have a little dandruff, I took advantage of Drugstore.com's double cash back day at Ebates and bought three bottles of Herbal Essences No Flakin' Way and two bottles of Head & Shoulders Intensive Solutions. I can't find the Herbal Essences at local drugstores, and the Head & Shoulders is pretty expensive and excluded from the occasional sale, so I was happy with my deal. I've been using the Herbal Essences and it's worked great. I get a good lather, my hair feels clean, and best of all, the dandruff is now gone. (I haven't tried the H&S yet but will let you know how I like it when I do.)
  6. Gillette Venus Embrace - This is a much better razor than the Intuition. It's a normal shape and size, and I don't feel like I'm going to cut myself. The replacement blades are expensive, but I just keep getting free razors so it hasn't been a problem yet. I do feel guilty about the environmental impact of continually replacing the razor instead of just the blade, but not bad enough to want to pay for the blades.
  7. SoyJoy bars - These were a money maker at CVS a couple of months ago, so I bought the maximum of 20 bars. But they tasted pretty bad. I think it's an individual thing, and if you have the chance to try one for free, you should because you might like it. But I wouldn't pay to find out.
  8. Walgreens brand diapers - One of my very first posts was about my brand loyalty to Pampers Cruisers, because they were the only diaper we trusted. We had massive blowouts with Huggies but not with Pampers, and although I knew that other brands might be cheaper, it just wasn't worth the risk. But now, three years later, I've finally decided to risk other brands. The deals are just too irresistible, and Tyler's old enough that we don't have blowouts anymore. In fact, he's just starting to potty train, so hopefully I won't be buying diapers for that much longer. I've got a package of Luvs I need to try, but in the meantime, we're into our second package of Walgreens brand diapers. The first package was Premium but the second isn't, and both types have been perfectly fine. We don't use them at night, because I've taken the Walgreens diapers to daycare, but I'll gladly buy them again when they're on super sale.
  9. Huggies Clean Team wipes - My diaper loyalty was with Pampers, my baby wipes preference was with Huggies, but my flushable wipes loyalty was back with Pampers. I think when it came to flushable wipes, it actually had less to do with loyalty than knowledge: if I recall correctly, Kandoo products came on the market first, and I didn't even realize Huggies made flushable wipes until fairly recently. Even though flushable wipes are hard on toilets (never flush more than two at a time!), we prefer them because it really does make wiping easier. Huggies seems to regularly put out $3 off 2 Clean Team coupons, so I've gotten good deals on the wipes. I think they tear a little more easily than Kandoo wipes but I'm definitely deciding which to buy based solely on price.
  10. CVS brand paper towels - These are awful and I'm never buying them again. They are small sheets and not very strong, the exact opposite of what you want in a paper towel.
Image credit: Garnier.com.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Slow Cooker Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding

I mentioned the other day that I was making the appetizer, main course, and dessert in slow cookers for my friend's birthday celebration. The meal was a success, so of course, I have to share the recipes with you.

For the appetizer, I'll just direct you to A Year of CrockPotting , where I got the recipe for White Bean and Pesto Spread. I followed Steph's suggestion and served it with crostini - it was a better match than the pita chips I also served.

For dessert, I adapted Steph's CrockPot French Toast Bake. I made the original version a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it, but found it to be more like bread pudding. So it seemed natural to turn the recipe into a dessert. Steph is right about needing a 6-quart slow cooker for this recipe because of the bread expanding as it absorbs the custard. I borrowed my mother-in-law's slow cooker, since I only have my beloved 4-quart West Bend.

Slow Cooker Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
Serves at least 8

nonstick cooking spray
one pound egg or cinnamon raisin bread, cut into 1-inch cubes*
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup raisins, optional
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds or your favorite nut chopped
12 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups milk**
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
powdered sugar and caramel sauce for garnish, optional

1. Coat the inside of the crock with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the crock with half of the bread, sprinkle with two tablespoons of chocolate chips, one tablespoon of raisins, and one tablespoon of nuts. Repeat.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, milk, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Pour the mixture over the layers of bread. Do not stir.***

3. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. The bread pudding is done when all of the liquid has been absorbed, the egg is cooked through, and the bread starts to pull away from the walls of the crock.

4. Spoon a serving onto a plate and if desired, sprinkle powdered sugar and drizzle caramel sauce over the top.

*For the French toast version, I saved the heels of seven loaves of cinnamon raisin bread in the freezer, knowing that I would eventually use them for something. If you do use heels, I recommend turning most of the pieces so the cut end is facing up, just for the prettiest presentation.

**Steph used 3 cups of soy milk and 1 cup of heavy cream; I used 2 cups of soy milk and 2 cups of 2% milk the first time and 2 cups of soy milk and 2 cups of half & half the second time. Each version came out just fine.

***For the bread pudding version, since it was going to cook during the day instead of overnight, I prepped through step 2 (pouring the custard) the night before and parked the crock in the fridge overnight. It came out a little bit moister than the French toast version.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Review & Giveaway: Weight Watchers Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling

Weight Watchers sent me a box of their new Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling to try, and I must say, they've done a decent job of replicating the Twinkie. The Golden Sponge Cake is a little drier and grainier than I remember Twinkies being, but then again it's been years since I had a Twinkie so my memory could be faulty.

As a chocolate lover, I thought these cakes were just okay - maybe I should turn them into Chocodiles, then they'd be the perfect dessert. But then they'd no longer be just one point. And for one point, the serving size is pretty generous. If you're on Weight Watchers - or any weight-loss/maintenance plan - and you look for low-point treats to keep you happy, these are definitely worth trying.

Win it!

Weight Watchers is giving three lucky CFO readers a coupon good for one free package of any Weight Watchers snack cake, muffin or soft cookie.

I'm going to try something different this time to collect entries, thanks to Angie's post on creating a form at BlogCoach. Simply fill out the form below and click "submit." That's it!

For an additional entry, subscribe to my feed 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 winners using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. Winners 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. on Thursday, Sept. 25. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One recall today: Simplicity cribs

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

Simplicity Brand Drop Side Cribs Recalled By Various Retailers Due To Serious Entrapment And Suffocation Hazard To Infants and Toddlers - Click through to the press release for details and additional pictures. Note that this is a separate and different recall from the recall of Simplicity bassinets.*


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

*Last week, the CPSC issued a follow-up advisory to warn that some of the recalled Simplicity bassinets are branded Graco and Winnie the Pooh. For more information, see the previous CPSC announcement.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two recalls today: Water bottles & soccer goal nets

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

  • Pottery Barn Kids Recalls Children's Metal Water Bottles Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for a list of the style numbers.

  • Regent Sports Recalls Soccer Goal Nets Following Strangulation Death of a Child - Click through for additional photos.


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

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    My new favorite job title is "Chief Mom Officer": an interview with Jessica Smith

    You may have noticed the new icon in the "Communities" section at the bottom of the right sidebar, denoting me as a contributor to Blissfully Domestic's Financial Bliss section. BD is an online magazine with a ton of posts every day on a wide variety of topics. One that caught my eye last week was an announcement of a weekly column from "Chief Mom Officer" Jessica Smith. I was so intrigued by her title that I asked Jessica if she'd answer a few questions, and she graciously obliged:

    What does a Chief Mom Officer do, and how did the position come to be? Did you create it, and are there more CMOs out there?

    Jessica: As a Chief Mom Officer, I am responsible for marketing, business development, and community management for the social shopping site Wishpot.com's Baby channel. The title was the idea of Wishpot Co-founder, Max Ciccotosto, because he wanted to make sure that our mom members would know that a mom was at the helm, so to speak. There are and will be more CMOs out there. BabySpot.com is currently in the midst of hiring one as we speak. And I've got some things going on behind the scenes to create more opportunities like this one so stay tuned. A more detailed account of how I was hired, what I do, and what to expect can be found at my site http://chiefmomofficer.org.

    What do you do as CMO on an average day? How many hours do you work each week?

    Jessica: Every day is different. I spend my time talking on the phone with potential strategic partners, managing the guest blog posts on the Wishpot Baby blog, recruiting new Baby Experts, getting valuable feedback from our Baby Experts, and being a champion for the Wishpot Baby users to the leadership team in Seattle. I work 15 flexible, family-friendly hours a week for Wishpot. I am also the Celebrity Business blogger at Sparkplugging.com and I update my personal blog, http://jessicaknows.com regularly.

    What is the average salary range for a CMO?

    Jessica: That's a question I get a lot these days as more moms become interested in this type of role and companies are seeing the value a role like this can add to their organization. Here's the deal: the pay should be comparable to what the same role would make in the brick and mortar world. I'm paid hourly based on my experience and the results that are expected from me. In return, I am accountable to Wishpot and like any other position I would hold, virtual or not, I strive to exceed expectations.

    What is your professional background, i.e., what qualifies you to be a CMO?

    Jessica: I have eight years professional experience in business development, marketing, sales, and recruiting. I've always leveraged technology and the web throughout my career. I got my first Prodigy account when I was in middle school. It is truly a dream come true to marry my professional experience with what has always been my passion - the web, social media, and social networking.

    What advice would you give someone who wants to become a CMO? How should she get started, especially if her background is not the same as yours?

    Jessica: I'd say the best way to promote yourself as the ideal Chief Mom Officer would be to promote the people and ideas you are most passionate about. Don't be afraid to show your enthusiasm but don't force yourself to be an evangelist for something you don't genuinely believe in. People will see through it. You need to do more than talk about your experience or the value you can add. Demonstrate it. Get involved in communities that you are drawn to in the mom niche and engage in conversation. Marketing is all about relationships. Again stay tuned, as I have made it my personal mission to do whatever I can to get more moms in this type of role.

    If your readers have any additional questions that I didn't answer here they can visit my column at the Digital Bliss channel on Blissfully Domestic and send me their questions. I'll be answering them weekly.

    Note: You can read Jessica's weekly column here. Thanks again for your time, Jessica!

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    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Welcome Baby Cheapskate Readers!

    Many thanks to Angie at Baby Cheapskate for highlighting my series on selling your stuff via Amazon.com Marketplace. As I mentioned on Saturday, BC is one of my daily reads, and I highly recommend it if you don't already know it.

    If you've found Chief Family Officer for the first time via Baby Cheapskate, WELCOME! My favorite topics to discuss are family finances, cooking, and parenting. With prices on the rise, I've been working hard to keep my family's expenses from rising along with them. I share my tips here at CFO, along with my thoughts on family finances, original recipes, and reviews. A good place to start exploring here is the Best of CFO.

    I just posted a comment at BC and wanted to reiterate it here: Do be cautious about selling baby gear. Many of the items are super heavy, and shipping costs will probably make reselling such items at a distance unprofitable. On the other hand, I've found that baby-related books, CDs and DVDs are in demand and sell fast. I've sold some of these items within hours of listing them, and at good prices. I do recommend trying to sell them while they're still the current edition, and doing your best to keep them in fairly good condition.

    If you like what you see here at Chief Family Officer, why not subscribe to new posts via RSS or email? You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your inbox or favorite feed aggregator. Thanks for stopping by!

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    Amazon Selling Tips: Shipping

    This is the third and final part of a series on selling at Amazon.com Marketplace.Read my introduction to selling on Amazon and my tips for listing your items.

    Before I list my shipping tips, I want to make a recommendation for your own security. When an item you've listed on Amazon.com Marketplace is sold, Amazon will send you an email with the subject heading, "Sold - Ship now!" I recommend checking your orders and verifying the information in the email that Amazon sent to you. A few months ago, Mercedes at Common Sense with Money wrote that after she had removed a listing for a DVD player, someone sent her a fake "Sold - ship now" email. Her post includes tips on how to spot fake emails.

    In order to avoid being scammed, I highly recommend logging in to your Amazon seller account to verify that you've received payment for the item. In fact, I immediately initiate a transfer to my bank account so that I get the money sooner rather than later. Amazon automatically sends out payments every 2 weeks, but you can initiate a bank transfer every 24 hours. (New customers have to wait for the first automatic disbursement.) You can also choose to get paid in Amazon certificates. Read Amazon's info on getting paid.

    Once you've verified that your item has indeed been sold, you'll want to know the following:
    • Amazon helps you pay for shipping. You should definitely read Amazon's info on shipping credits, but basically, they give you a certain amount of money to cover your shipping costs. Depending on the item you've sold, the shipping credit might yield a little profit if the item won't cost much to ship. Or the shipping credit might be just a fraction of the shipping cost, and you'll have to pay for the extra.
    • Media Mail is your friend. When I first started selling at Amazon, I didn't know what Media Mail was (read the Postal Service's explanation). It's been great for me, since I only sell books, CDs, DVDs, and video games, all of which can be sent at a reduced rate via Media Mail - although sometimes if an item is especially light, First Class Mail will be cheaper. If you sell other types of items, especially heavy ones, the Postal Service may not be your cheapest option like it is mine.
    • Package your item well. You want to make sure that you take reasonable steps to protect the item in transit (read Amazon's packaging guidelines). For me, that usually means a layer of bubble wrap or a padded envelope. I invested in a giant roll of bubble wrap and a 100-count box of 9x12 envelopes from Staples and have been using it for quite some time. And since I began playing The Drugstore Game, I sometimes buy some padded envelopes when they're super cheap and use them for books that are too big to fit in a 9x12 envelope. Some people make their own boxes out of cardboard, although I have to admit that when I've been the recipient of such an item, it does strike me as unprofessional (I usually buy from companies and not individual sellers on Amazon).
    • Consider getting a post office box to use as your return address. I began renting a post office box when I started selling on Amazon and eBay because I wanted the added sense of security of not giving strangers my home address.
    • Be careful about selecting Expedited or International Shipping as options. You'll get a bigger shipping credit if you offer expedited or international shipping as an option and the buyer chooses it. Expedited shipping generally means Priority Mail for me, and it also means I need to check each "Sold - ship now" email for the shipping speed, since once in a while I do get an order with expedited shipping. I used to offer international shipping, but stopped after a first-hand lesson in the risks. I sold a book that took over eight weeks to arrive in Europe, long enough that when the seller contacted me, I felt obligated to refund his money. Shortly thereafter, he informed me that the book had just arrived. He was more than willing to pay me again, but Amazon told me that he had to initiate it, so I had to send him an email with instructions and pray that he followed through (thankfully, he did). I've since decided that for me, the risk of shipping overseas simply isn't worth it.
    • When sending something via Priority Mail, pay online. You can pay for certain types of postage, including Priority Mail, online at the USPS web site. If you're sending an order via Priority Mail, paying for and printing the label through the web site will save you a little money, and also get you free delivery confirmation.
    • Always remember to send your orders out within two business days. Marketplace terms require shipping within two business days, so keep that in mind when you list items. If you're not sure if you'll be able to get an item out in a timely manner, don't list it.
    • Communicate with the buyer. I don't always follow this rule myself, but I do try to send shipment notification emails through Amazon's "contact buyer" option. This is especially helpful when shipping via Media Mail, since it can take two weeks for an item to be delivered and not all buyers realize this. I always include a general time frame of when the buyer can expect the item to arrive (for Media Mail, I say 4 to 9 days but possibly two weeks).
    I am by no means an expert on selling at Amazon.com Marketplace, but I hope you'll find these tips helpful, especially as a starting point. And if you have experience selling on Amazon, please share your experience - and especially, any tips that I missed!

    Read an update on shipping here.

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    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    My Daily Reads

    I'm completely out of the carnival groove, but thought you might enjoy a list of sites I read daily, primarily through Google Reader. In no particular order, they are:
    • Baby Cheapskate - Thanks to Angie, I almost never do math when it comes to diapers. If she says in her weekly report that a sale is a good one, I'll try to pick some diapers up that week.
    • Coupon Cravings - I appreciate the weekly CVS preview of the following week's deals, and also the highlighted deals throughout the week.
    • Common Sense with Money - Mercedes is truly the Walgreens deal queen. She's also kind enough to leave comments here with a heads up on upcoming deals and coupons.
    • A Year of CrockPotting - I love my slow cooker, so a daily slow cooker recipe is right up my alley. Although today's recipe is for Shrinky Dinks rather than food. (!)
    • Mommy Making Money - Gina posts a lot of money saving ideas, and is my special source for deals at Pavilions (part of the Safeway family). Thanks to her, I knew to send Marc out for Eggo waffles last week (the boys eat them in the car each morning). Gina is also kind enough to let me know when good deals are coming up at the drugstores.
    • Money Saving Mom - MSM was my first source for drugstore deals, and although I don't rely on it the way I used to, it's still a good place to catch deals.
    • Freebies 4 Mom - Heather's tipped me off to some great free things over the last few months, including a free cookie today.
    • Hooray for Freebates - I was never a fan of rebates, but until a few months ago, I didn't know that you could actually make money off of them, or at least get things for free with them. And not just through Walgreens and Rite Aid, either. Lorelei keeps me updated on a wide variety of free-after-rebate items, and while I might not do the legwork for every one, I'm always interested to see what's out there.
    • I heart CVS, I heart Rite Aid, & I heart Wags - All authored by Erica, these blogs are helpful resources for drugstore deals.
    • Cheap Healthy Good - Kris is hilarious, and her recipes are awesome.
    • Just Hungry & Just Bento - Maki's recipes for Japanese (or Japanese-influenced) food demystify some of my favorite things to eat. My absolute favorite is her salmon furikake recipe, which I've made more times than I can count.
    • Smitten Kitchen - The pictures here are amazing, and so are the recipes.
    • Lunch in a Box - This is where I get ideas and inspiration for packing the boys' lunches.
    • Like Merchant Ships - Meredith is so inspirational, and reading her blog is a true pleasure.
    Of course, I subscribe to and read many more blogs. I desperately need to update my blogroll - I think only the financial sites section is remotely up to date - but it does include many of my favorite sites.

    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    One recall today: Another helicopter

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

    Remote-Controlled Helicopter Toys Recalled by Protocol Due to Fire and Burn Hazards - Click through for a photo of the packaging.


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

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    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Don't forget to sign up for the Trans Union Class-Action Settlement

    I hate to leave money on the table, so when a colleague sent me an email in June with a link to an LA Times article (no longer on their web site, unfortunately) on the Trans Union class-action settlement, I knew I'd be signing up for my fair share.* As you know, however, I've been busy, and I haven't gotten around to registering yet. But the deadline is rapidly approaching, so it's higher on my to-do list now.

    Here's the lowdown:

    The complaint alleges that Trans Union LLC and Acxiom Corporation violated the law by selling lists containing personal and financial consumer information to third parties for marketing purposes. The settlement is for expediency, and not an admission of wrongdoing.

    Anyone who had an open credit account or an open line of credit from a credit grantor (such as car loans, bank credit cards, department store credit cards, other retail store credit cards, finance company loans, mortgage loans, and student loans) located in the United States anytime from January 1, 1987 to May 28, 2008 is eligible to apply for a share of the settlement.

    Class members must choose from one of the following benefits:
    • Sign up for six months of credit monitoring services.If you select this option, you can also register to possibly receive cash benefits in the event of a cash distribution or file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.
    • Sign up for nine months of enhanced credit monitoring services.If you select this option, you will not receive any further benefits, including a cash payment, and you will not be able to file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.
    • Register to possibly receive a cash payment. If you select this option, you can also sign up for six months of credit monitoring; however if you receive a cash payment, you cannot file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.
    I am going to register for the cash payment, as well as the six months of credit monitoring. I'll have Marc do the same - I'm assuming that because we have separate accounts as well as joint accounts, and did so during the applicable period, we are both eligible for our own share of the settlement. Maybe we'll get two unexpected checks in a year or two.

    You can register for benefits at the Trans Union class action web site but you have to do so by September 24, 2008.

    *Class-actions can be a great source of "free" money. It's not truly free, since the company is compensating you for a harm you suffered, but it's free in the sense that it's money you never expected to see again. A couple of weeks ago, we got a $16 check from a Countrywide class-action settlement related to mortgage application fees, and we should eventually get settlements for the diamond and Bar/Bri (bar review course) class-action lawsuits. Eventually. Unfortunately, these things take time.

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    Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Biscuit Goes to School giveaway winner

    Thank you to everyone who entered the Biscuit Goes to School giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner ...
    #10 - Danielle!

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

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    Saturday, September 06, 2008

    Roundup: Awesome random stuff

    I didn't participate in any carnivals again this week, but I did read some interesting things, so without further ado, here they are:

    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Money Saving Tip: Get your hair cut at a beauty school

    See the end of this post for an update.

    I've never seen a study on the average price for a hair cut, but I'd wager that prices here in Los Angeles are higher than almost anywhere else. I could easily find a salon in Beverly Hills that charges over $400, and even a relatively inexpensive salon charges over $60. My last hair cut was supposed to be a bargain, but after tip it came to $85. And I wasn't even that happy with it.

    Between the cost and the time, I've been getting my hair cut every 9 to 12 months since Alex was born. The last time I cut my hair was last November, when I lopped off a 10-inch ponytail and donated it to Pantene's Beautiful Lengths program.

    I thought about donating my hair again, but I just couldn't wait for my hair to grow any longer this time. Like I said, I wasn't thrilled with my last cut, and I hated the way it was growing out. And I definitely wasn't going back to the same salon.

    Because I get my hair cut so infrequently, I haven't had a regular stylist in years. So this time, I decided to act on a frugal tip I've come across multiple times: go to a beauty school. It just so happens that there's a conveniently located Paul Mitchell School, where cuts by a "Phase 2" stylist are a mere $17. I learned that Phase 2 stylists are in the top 5% of their class and have at least 1000 hours of experience on the floor. Phase 1 stylists are everyone else at the school, and they charge $12.

    I decided to pay the extra $5 for a Phase 2 stylist, and my hair was cut by a woman who graduates this month. She was a little bit slow on the cutting, and didn't have the deftness that I'm used to seeing. But she made up the time blow-drying my hair, which took a lot less time than it usually does, probably because she didn't try to do anything fancy. I appreciate that she really listened to what I asked for (no short layers that irritate my cheeks) and I'm as satisfied with my $22 cut (I tipped her $5) as I was with the $85 cut I got in November. And, I'm a lot happier than I was when I tried Super Cuts for the first and last time, where the stylist decided that I needed bangs even though I hadn't asked for them and lopped off inches in front before I could stop her.

    I do think I would be a little bit more cautious if I wanted a perm or color treatment, but even then, I think a Phase 2 stylist would probably be okay. I could see the "Color Bar" where they mix colors from where I was sitting, but everyone around me was getting a cut or just a blow out. I couldn't see the back of the salon where they must have been doing perms and color, so I don't really know how that went for the customers who wanted it. But during the hour that I was there, I didn't hear anyone complaining about their hair or see anyone whose hair looked, well, wrong.

    I don't know when I'll cut my hair again, but since it's a little longer than usual after a cut, my next hair cut will be sooner rather than later. And I'm definitely going back to the Paul Mitchell School for it.

    Update Feb. 2009: I got a hair cut this month and didn't go back to the Paul Mitchell School. As it grew out, the cut didn't maintain the shape I would have expected, and I decided that a truly good hair cut is worth spending money on.

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    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Slow cooker ribs

    I've previously mentioned the site, A Year of CrockPotting, and how its author is making something new in her crock pot every day this year. Being a crock pot lover myself, I am always delighted when Steph declares a recipe a huge success. A couple of weeks ago, I adapted her recipe for Orange Chipotle Ribs in the CrockPot and it was awesome. I made a few changes based on available ingredients and my hope that leaving out spicy spices would make the ribs more palatable to the kids (it didn't). I shared leftovers with my in-laws, who actually called in the middle of their meal to tell me how good it was. As good as this was, though, I think that the next time, I might make things even easier on myself and just toss the ribs into the crock with some bottled barbeque sauce!

    Slow cooker ribs
    Makes about 6 servings

    cooking spray
    approximately 3 pounds baby back ribs (I bought two vacuum sealed packages from Trader Joe's and ended up with closer to 3 1/2 pounds)
    1/2 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup orange-apricot marmalade (because I couldn't find plain orange marmalade at TJ's)
    1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    2 tablespoons brown sugar
    4 garlic cloves, grated on a microplane
    1/4 cup chicken stock or water

    1. Spray the inside of the crock with cooking spray. Cut the ribs to fit in the crock. I simply cut the two racks in half, then stacked them in the crock. They fit - just barely - in my beloved West Bend 4-quart slow cooker.
    2. In a small bowl, combine the ketchup through garlic (everything remaining except for the 1/4 cup stock or water). Pour the sauce over the ribs. You should probably spread some sauce in between the layers, although I didn't and they turned out fine. But the parts that were exposed to the sauce naturally had more flavor.
    3. Add the 1/4 cup stock or water to the bottom of the crock. I did this just to make sure there was no burning, although Steph's original recipe doesn't call for it and it's probably unnecessary.
    4. Cook for 8 to 10 hours on low, or 5 to 6 hours on high. Slow cookers are so forgiving with time, and you can vary the time based on how tender you want your meat. I actually had my ribs in for about 11 hours and they were falling off the bone, which is my preference.

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    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Parenting an only child

    There is a lovely guest post at Rocks in my Dryer about parenting an only child. I'm an only child myself, and I can't help but wonder if my mom had these feelings. (Mom?)

    From my own perspective, as an only child who always wanted a sibling, I am very happy to have two kids of my own. (Although I must admit that I had a very privileged childhood because I was the only child.) But I am glad that my children will have someone who understands how horrible Mom and Dad are (I am so not looking forward to the teen years). And I'm especially grateful that they'll always have each other - my greatest fear during my teens until I got married was that if something happened to my parents, I would be alone in the world.

    Still, as an only child, and as a woman who suffered two miscarriages before Alex was born, I've never had a negative feeling toward parents with only one child. My first inclination is to think that perhaps they couldn't have a second child. And I have friends who've decided that one child completes their family, and it's the right decision for them.

    What are your thoughts on "onlys"?

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    Giveaway: Biscuit Goes to School

    I think it's time for another giveaway. And since it's back-to-school season, I'm giving away a copy of the paperback book, Biscuit Goes to School.

    How to enter: Leave a comment with your best back-to-school tip. Or, if your kids aren't in school yet, share your favorite back-to-school memory.

    For an extra chance to win, subscribe to my feed via RSS or email and leave a separate comment telling me you have done so (or that you're already subscribed).

    And for a third chance to win, write about this giveaway on your own site, then leave a separate comment with a link to your post.
    It's important that you leave separate comments because each comment constitutes one entry.

    The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PDT on Sunday, September 7. I'll use Random.org to generate a number that corresponds with the winning comment.

    The winner will be announced here on CFO. The winner will have 48 hours to claim their prize; otherwise a new winner will be randomly selected.

    One entry per type per person. This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

    Good luck!

    Image credit: Amazon.com.

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    Monday, September 01, 2008

    Shortcut cookie recipes at Betty Crocker

    A few months ago, Betty Crocker announced the winners of their Bake Life Sweeter contest and sent me a package of their sugar cookie dough so I could make the winning recipe, "Cinna-spin" cookies. The cookies were supposed to look like the picture to the left, and of course, mine didn't (alas, I never got around to taking a picture of them). I didn't feel like rolling 30 coils so I grabbed my rolling pin, rolled the dough out to a large rectangle oval, sprinkled the cinnamon mixture on the dough, and rolled the dough as tightly as I could. Then I sliced the dough and lay the cookies on a baking sheet cut side up. Since I ended up with an oval, the end cookies were noticeably smaller than the middle cookies. Where the dough ended up loose, I just bunched it together. While not as pretty as the cookies in the picture, mine looked okay and tasted just fine.

    Neither Marc nor I was crazy about the Cinna-spin cookies, though. And I have a box of sugar cookie mix that I picked up on clearance at Costco after the holidays. So I went through the recipes and decided to make Buckeye Delights. I have a tremendous weakness for buckeyes, thanks to a college roommate from Ohio whose grandmother would send her tins of these decadent treats of sweet creamy peanut butter covered in chocolate. I don't think I was a huge fan of the peanut butter-chocolate combo until I had buckeyes, and now they're a particular favorite of mine. So a chocolate cookie with peanut butter filling sounded delicious. I wanted to freeze whatever I made, so I stopped at Step 2 of the recipe. The cookies were a hit with both Marc and me, and I actually think extra chocolate topping would have been overpowering and unnecessary. Incidentally, I used paper cups (not foil ones) and they peeled off just fine.

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    How to write an effective complaint letter

    A couple of years ago, I wrote about complaining to let companies know their service was unsatisfactory. Since I recently picked up a great tip from Money Saving Mom, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the topic. Here are my tips for writing a good complaint letter:
    • Always be polite. There's no reason not to be. Even if you are angry, it is not properly directed at the person you are writing to. And politeness is almost always more effective than rudeness.
    • Be brief. I've read so many long-winded complaints in the coupon forums I frequent, and I can't count the number of times I've given up halfway through. Obviously, I'm not getting paid to read the complaints, but even someone whose job it is to read them might miss an important detail or craft a solution that's not ideal because they ended up skimming the complaint.
    • Explain the problem clearly and with sufficient detail. This goes along with being brief, but it bears emphasizing. Be blunt, and be specific. I try to include enough detail to help the company determine what the source of the problem is.
    • If applicable, include product details. Generally, that means UPC code, expiration date, and any other data that's been printed on the packaging. I think including this information makes my complaint more legitimate, and also helps the company track down any ongoing problems on their end.
    • State the remedy you are seeking. This is the tip I picked up from MSM, and I really like it. For example, if you're complaining about a defective product, ask for a free product coupon to replace the defective one that you bought.
    • Send your letter via the company's web site. Many, if not most, companies now have contact forms on their web site. It's an extremely easy way to contact them, and it's free. This is by far my preferred method; in fact, I probably wouldn't bother contacting a company if they didn't have a contact form or email address, unless there was a lot of money involved.
    • Compliments work, too. I've never tried this, but apparently a lot of companies will send out coupons to customers who take the time to send them a compliment. If you've got a few minutes of free time or there's a company you'd really like to get some coupons from, why not send them a quick message? Especially if the product is a little pricey or a luxury item - you could mention that it's hard to work into your budget and a coupon would really help out.
    What are your best tips for complaining?

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