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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One recall yesterday: Boys' vest

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

Boys Reversible Vests Recalled by Bon-Ton Stores Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for a photo of an additional style.


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

New ways to win Swag Bucks

Search & WinI first reviewed the search and win site Swag Bucks back in July, and I continue to enjoy using it to earn Amazon gift certificates. (They have lots of other prizes, but the Amazon certificates are a good value and something I can never have enough of.)

If you've joined Swag Bucks using my referral link, THANK YOU.

And I have great news: there are new ways to earn Swag Bucks now. First, there's the Swag Bucks blog, which regularly posts codes for one or two free Swag Bucks, as well as contests with Swag Bucks as the prize.

Second, there's the new Swag Bucks Facebook page, where you can periodically find codes for free Swag Bucks.

Third, codes for free Swag Bucks will appear in the downloadable toolbars. The last code was for the IE toolbar, but apparently there will be codes for Mac users coming soon. And since there are plugins for Firefox and Safari, there will probably be codes for those as well.

And finally, a major promotion will be announced on January 5. I can't wait to see what it is!

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Giveaway: Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm with read-along CD

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

Here's Amazon.com's description of the book:
This latest escapade is set in motion when Amelia returns some books to the library. Mrs. Page, the librarian, needs new book jackets, so Amelia, naturally, obliges and fashions some cute little coats, complete with sleeves and buttons, for the books. From there, the queen of literal mindedness creates a clamor for bookmarks, makes a pen drop, and even drives off with the library's bookmobile.
The recommended age range is four to eight, or kindergarten through third grade.

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

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

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


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

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

Good luck!

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Why are mortgage rates going up?

You might recall that we're in the process of re-financing our mortgage at a rate of 5.125%. The rate came with two float downs, so if the rate drops before we close, we'll get the lower rate.

Unfortunately, even though the Federal Reserve has since lowered the federal funds rate, the rate at our lender has gone up to 5.375%. That made me curious. I've known for a while that the mortgage rate often doesn't drop following Fed cuts, but I finally wanted to know why that is.

The best explanation I could find was this About.com article, which states that rates are based solely on Mortgage Bonds or Mortgage Backed Securities, and therefore are slower to react to rate cuts than other financial sectors. I still don't understand why mortgage rates go up when the trend should be down, though.

Are rates going to stay where they are or maybe even go higher? I hope not. I'm being cautiously optimistic that rates will go down again because the Fed is still buying mortgages. And we still have some time.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

After-Christmas sales don't seem that great

We went to a few stores on Friday and Saturday, and I noticed a couple of things. First, there seemed to be fewer people around than in years past. The parking lots weren't completely packed, and there was plenty of room inside the stores and mall. There weren't any checkout lines in the stores. Even the kids' areas at the mall we went to was actually kind of empty. It was nice.

Second, the deals weren't as great. Maybe the stores did a pretty good job of managing their inventories and getting people to buy with steep pre-Christmas discounts. I found the clearance sections to be surprisingly sparse. In fact, even though I said that I would wait for a 90% clearance to buy wrapping paper, the selection was so small compared to years past that I ended up picking up a couple of rolls at only 50% off. Their cute patterns aren't holiday specific, and are colorful enough to use for kids' birthday gifts, which is exactly what I needed - and I was afraid that if I waited a week for a bigger discount, these patterns would be gone.

What about you? Have you found any great post-Christmas bargains?

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Watch full episodes of the current season of NCIS for free

Ever since reruns of the CBS drama NCIS started airing on USA in the evening, I've been a huge fan. The show is on when I do the dishes and get on the treadmill, so I get to watch it several times a week. I rarely get to watch a full episode, but USA airs three episodes each weeknight, so I eventually get to see the parts that I missed.

The current sixth season of NCIS has a regular air time of 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights, and I always miss it because that's my blogging time. So I was delighted to discover that right now, full versions of all of the current season's NCIS episodes are up at the CBS web site.

But if you want to catch up, do it quickly. Just a week or so ago, only the most recent episode was available.

Image credit: NCIS Squadroom, which has a great episode guide - it's satisfied my burning curiosity more than once when I was dying to find out how one of those episodes ended.

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Review: Graco Nautilus

In case you haven't been following my little saga, here's a quick summary: The week before Thanksgiving, we were rear-ended - thankfully, everyone was all right, but the car was pretty badly damaged. It's been in the shop for repairs, and in the meantime, I spent some time trying to decide what new car seats to get. I eventually settled on the Sunshine Radian65, a convertible seat that looks a lot like a booster.

When we last left off, I had returned the Radians because they wouldn't install correctly in our Nissan Altima, and purchased a Graco Nautilus.

The Graco Nautilus (pictured) is billed as a three-in-one car seat. It starts off as a forward-facing 5-point harness car seat for children between 20 and 65 pounds. Then it converts to a high-back belt positioning booster for children between 30 and 100 pounds. Finally, it becomes a backless booster for children between 40 and 100 pounds.

We've been using the Nautilus for over a week now and been quite satisfied with it. It was easy to install with LATCH, and I'm happy with how secure it is (no comparison with the Radian). There are little compartments in the armrests that can hold toys, and there's also a cup holder, which all make the chair seem like it's for an older child - so Alex loves it, of course. The buckles and belts are typical Graco, so they're not as easy or comfortable to use as a Britax, but they are perfectly acceptable.

I was a little concerned about the recessed red handles on the bottom of the headrest (you can see one in the picture) - it seemed like they could cause injury in the event of an accident. But they really are recessed, and Marc convinced me that the seat wouldn't be sold this way if they posed any kind of danger.

We've decided that we're keeping the Nautilus for sure. I am still thinking of buying a Britax Regent for when we get the other car back, but we'll probably just get another Nautilus. Then again, I've changed my mind so many times in the last few weeks that who knows what we'll finally end up with?

Read an update to this post (1/30/09).

Image credit: Amazon.com,where you can get the Nautilus for $134.96 with free shipping.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Craft kit giveaway form corrected

If you tried to enter the Craft Kit giveaway and were confused by the entry form, I apologize for the incomplete form. It looks like I did not save the changes I made after creating the form, so it didn't look right.

I've now corrected the form, so it should no longer be confusing (and if it is, please let me know!). Don't worry if you already entered, I'll just accept those entries as is.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Three recalls yesterday: Hoodies, cribs and drums

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

Foursquare Recalls Hooded Youth Jackets with Drawstrings Due to Strangulation Hazard - Click through for pictures of the boys' version and the company's logo.


Munire Recalls "Newport Rubbed Black" Cribs and Matching Furniture Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for a list of the recalled models.



Woodstock Percussion Inc. Recalls Toy Drums 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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Works for Me: Start shopping for next year's holidays right now

I'll let you in on a little secret: I love after-Christmas sales.

Most stores will put their holiday items on 50% clearance the day after Christmas. If you have your eye on something particular that might run out, this is the time to pick it up. For example, I always try to buy my cards for the next year on the day after Christmas because I have certain criteria that my cards must satisfy, and there's too good a chance that the few cards that meet those criteria will sell out.

About a week after Christmas, the clearance price drops to 75% off and about one week after that, it's 90% off. The actual dates vary according to store, so it's worth popping in often to see what's going on. I'm not nearly as particular about wrapping materials as I am about cards, so I always wait until there's a 90% clearance for paper, ribbon and tissue paper. I try to buy a couple of wrapping paper rolls that have a neutral pattern and white tissue paper – that way, I can use them year-round and no one will know how cheap they were.

I'll also look for anything that can be given as a gift throughout the year. For example, I've picked up multi-packs of little Playdoh tubs in the past (although this year I got a whole bunch during Halloween clearance sales).

I will caution against buying the cheapest wrapping paper because it tends to tear extremely easily (yes, that was a lesson learned the hard way). But the reverse side makes for inexpensive and huge sheets of paper to draw and color on.

Another word of caution: While the prices are tempting, especially at 90% off, try not to go overboard. The very first time I shopped an after-Christmas sale, I bought half a dozen bags of bows because they were about 25 cents per bag. It's now five years later and I still have two full bags left. The lesson: There will always be another sale next year, so you only need one year's worth of supplies!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Subscriber giveaway: Craft kits from Oriental Trading Company

I ordered some craft kits from Oriental Trading Company for Tyler's birthday party, because they make for an easy indoor activity. I have a few leftover, so three lucky winners will win one each of the following crafts:

Race Car Photo Frame Magnet



Race Car Magnet



Snowflake Bookmark




Please keep in mind that these crafts contain small pieces, including small magnets, and that proper care and supervision should be exercised when letting children handle these crafts. By entering this giveaway, you agree that Chief Family Officer is not responsible for any injury caused as a result of using these craft kits.

I'm going to try something a little different this time, and make this giveaway open to subscribers only. There will be a secret phrase at the bottom of each post in your feed reader or CFO email that you will need to enter this giveaway. You can subscribe to CFO via RSS or email. (If you're not sure what it means to subscribe, read this introduction to blogs.)

Once you've got the secret phrase, simply fill out the form below. If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.

For a second 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 two 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. The 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. PST on Tuesday, December 30. This giveaway is open to all subscribers regardless of where you live.

Good luck!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

How I play The Drugstore Game: CVS example

As I mentioned yesterday, CVS is having a fabulous sale today and tomorrow with lots of free after ECB items. I started off with quite a few ECBs from Thanksgiving week, and I was able to roll them into even more ECBs than I started with.

Before I lay out my transaction, I want to note for anyone who might be starting out in The Drugstore Game that it's just an illustration of how I made money (so to speak). Your own transaction should depend on what coupons you have and what you need. I'll explain after I tell you what I bought:

1 Listerine 500 ml @$2.99
1 Zantac 150 8-count @$4.99
1 Halls Naturals @$2.59
1 Excedrin Express Gels 20-count @$3.99
1 EAS Advantage bar @$1.69
2 Crest Pro Health toothpaste 4.2 oz @$2.99 each
2 Arm & Hammer Essentials Starter Kit @$2.99 each
2 L'Oreal HIP Duo Eyeshadow @$6.99 each
1 Benefiber Drink Mix @$7.29
Total before coupons: $52.61

Coupons & ECBs used: $1 off Listerine from CVS diabetes booklet (available at pharmacy; mine is actually in Spanish, LOL); $1 off Zantac from 11/09 SmartSource; $2 off Excedrin (printable); 2 $1 off Crest from 11/30 P&G insert; 2 $1 Arm & Hammer from 12/14 SmartSource insert; $2 off L'Oreal cosmetics from 10/5 RedPlum insert; $1 off L'Oreal cosmetics from 11/2 RedPlum insert; $2 off Benefiber from 9/21 SmartSource insert; $17.98, $9, $5 and $4 ECBs

Total after coupons & ECBs: 79 cents

I received $47.60 in ECBs, as follows: $2.99 Listerine; $7.29 Benefiber; $2.69 Halls; $3.99 Excedrin; $4 Crest; $1.69 EAS; $4.99 Zantac; $13.98 L'Oreal; $5.98 Arm & Hammer, for a total profit of $10.83.

My favorite store was out of the Thermacare Heat Wraps that are free after ECB. Those are a limit of 5, and I had three coupons, so I lost out on $3 profit there. But I probably won't make an extra trip to pick those up since I don't need them.

And speaking of needs, my transaction is a good example of combining things I do need with things I don't need for maximum profit. The only thing I bought that I would have made a special trip for was Listerine, since that's pretty hard to get for free. And we'll use the Halls, Excedrin, and Crest. I bought all of the other items solely because of the profit I made off them, because I had coupons for them. And they definitely won't go to waste. I'll give them to friends or donate them to the local food pantry, which takes non-food items as well.

Even if I hadn't had coupons for some of the profitable items, I might have bought them anyway if I needed to "roll" my ECBs to make sure they didn't expire before I used them. So that's always an option to keep in mind when you're playing The Drugstore Game at CVS.

Do you have any Drugstore Game tips to share?

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Friday, December 19, 2008

The financial impact of jury service

I had jury duty today. As an attorney, I have a thorough grasp of how our justice system operates, and the importance of jurors within that system. They're crucial. It's that simple.

And in Los Angeles County, jurors are paid $0 for their first day of service, and $15 for each subsequent day. For the average trial of 5 to 7 days, the financial burden is probably manageable. For one thing, many employers will pay for at least some of those days.

But while I was there, the staff pre-screened jurors for their ability to serve on a 90-day trial that would begin in late January. Jurors whose employers pay for less than 90 days were automatically excluded. I'd guess that the eligible jurors were retired, unemployed, or work for the government or large corporations. After all, who else could afford to serve on a jury for that long?

Ninety days at $15 per day comes out to $1350. That's a pretty paltry salary for three months' work. Not many people could afford that - and the pay will probably be less than $1350, because I would guess the 90-day estimate includes weekends and holidays. I think there were only nine people in the entire room who said they could serve on that jury - and I can't help but wonder what the financial impact of being selected would have.

If their employers pay for unlimited jury service, then the jurors probably give the $1350 to their employers in exchange for their regular salary. And if the jurors are retired, then I presume the $1350 would simply be additional income that supplements their Social Security or other retirement income. I have no idea what impact jury pay has on unemployment benefits, but I do know the income is taxable.

Could you afford to serve on a jury for three months?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Two recalls today: High chairs & jewelry

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

Evenflo Recalls Majestic™ High Chairs Due to Fall and Choking Hazards - Click through for additional photos.


Children’s Jewelry Sold Exclusively in Hawaii Recalled by Aloha 808 Trading Due to Risk of Lead Exposure - 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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Mediocre customer service is worse than none at all

Yesterday, I wrote a negative review of EliteCarSeats.com after they unilaterally canceled my order for two Britax Regents. When I mentioned my frustration to Marc, he said he'd recently read a suggestion that companies should either commit to fully satisfying their customers or just not answer their phone. And I think that's exactly right – you can't go halfway when it comes to customer service.

But that's exactly what EliteCarSeats tried to do. They could have just canceled my order and sent me an email explaining why. But instead they tried to go a step further by calling to let me know of the cancellation and in doing so just made things worse. By refusing to go another step further and grant my request for expedited shipping, they lost my business forever. I'm actually more unhappy with their customer service after having my request refused than I would have been if I'd simply gotten an email explaining why my order was canceled. And that's why I say you can't do customer service only halfway.

I think as customers, we simply want to know what we're getting. So if a store purports to have customer service, it had better be excellent. And if a store isn't going to give good service, I want to know about that upfront. Woot! is a good example of a store like that. Their FAQ says upfront that you'll most likely never get hold of a live person and that they don't provide traditional customer service. So if you buy from them, you do so knowing the risks.

I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Jeremy Schoemaker at Shoemoney says he's never going back to what used to be his favorite teppanyaki restaurant because the chef served undercooked shrimp that made him sick. Jeremy concludes:
It got me thinking a lot about how businesses work. Serving undercooked shrimp which are 85% done does a LOT more damage than what the modulus would make you think. It would have been much better if they would have done 0% and not served us at all.
What do you think? Is mediocre service better or worse than none at all?

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The Little Penguin winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Little Penguin book giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Cindy (****tocindy@***.net)!

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

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two recalls today: Strollers & dinosaurs

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

Regal Lager Recall to Replace Phil & Teds Strollers Due to Fall Hazard


Xtreme Toy Zone Recalls Toy Dinosaurs Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard - Click through for an additional photo.


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

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Review: EliteCarSeats.com gets a thumbs down

See the end of this review for an update.

I really wanted to like EliteCarSeats.com. In fact, I expected to. Their prices were good, the web site was easy to navigate, they responded to the email I sent to their on-staff certified technicians about the Sunshine Radian, Sally from the company has commented here on my posts about the Radian, and they offer $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I was so sure that I would like them that I was even looking forward to signing up as an affiliate once everything was settled with our new car seats. Alas, it wasn't meant to be.

At first, everything seemed to be going fine. I bought two Sunshine Radian65s from them a couple of weeks ago, and I happily paid the extra dollar for Return Shipping Insurance. I have no complaints about that transaction - at least, not yet. Hopefully, my refund will processed without a problem next week. (I'll update this post at that time.)

But everything went downhill with my second transaction. Because I had to send the Radians back, I ordered two Britax Regents - again from EliteCarSeats.com, and again with $1 Return Shipping Insurance. I ordered on Sunday, and on Tuesday, I received a call saying they'd canceled my order because the color I selected was out of stock and for whatever reason, the computer didn't reflect that. Okay, these things happen. But when I asked if they'd upgrade my order to expedited shipping if I placed another order for a different color, my request was refused.

That means I won't be doing business with EliteCarSeats.com anymore, and I can't recommend them to you. It's terrible customer service to make a mistake and not offer anything to the customer to make up for it. And even if I'd been inclined to brush off the error, I can't wait an extra three days for the new seats, which is why I asked for the upgraded shipping. The EliteCarSeats web site says free shipping to where I live takes four to five days, which would have the Regents arriving early next week. The car is supposed to be fixed by then (fingers crossed), so I can't wait that long. (And I'm not paying for shipping - since it's calculated by weight, any savings from ordering online would be negated by the shipping costs.)

So all of this also means that I'm very grateful to Camille, Quirky Mama, and easytocheck, who left comments praising the Graco Nautilus. We bought one at Target last night and will try installing it later today. I'll let you know how that goes!

By the way, if you're wondering why I didn't just pick up a Regent at Target, they only sell it online. And Babies R Us and Toys R Us are considerably further away than Target, especially in rush hour traffic. If the Nautilus doesn't work out for some reason, I will probably throw in the towel and pick up two Marathons.

Update: I got my refund for the Radians without a problem. There's also an explanation from EliteCarSeats.com in the comments that expedited shipping simply would have cost them too much. I'm sure that's true, but they've still lost my business forever since I no longer trust their their web site or customer service not to leave me hanging and costing me more money.

In the situation above, I could have ordered Regents from Amazon and paid the same price that I paid EliteCarSeats.com. Because of the time constraints, by the time EliteCarSeats.com canceled my order, I could no long buy the car seats online. Buying Regents at the store would have cost an extra $50 apiece. Because I had to buy the Nautilus at Target, I ended up paying an extra $40 apiece. Fortunately, our car insurance covered the cost of the new car seats because the replacement was necessary due to an accident, but that hopefully won't be the case the next time we have to buy new car seats. And I won't give EliteCarSeats.com the chance to put me in a bad spot again.

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Works for Me Wednesday: Make sandwiches at the office

We all know that a major money-saving tip is to brown bag your lunch, saving $5 or more every day. And sandwiches are maybe the main staple of a brown bag lunch.

But a pre-made sandwich simply can't compare with a freshly made one, so I tote all of the components to the office and assemble my lunch when it's time to eat. If the bread needs to be toasted, I'll toast it in the morning and cool it completely before packing to eliminate condensation and its resultant sogginess. I also pack condiments (this is when those condiment packets come in handy) along with the filling, so the end result is a very tasty sandwich. The freshness makes all the difference in appeal, and I've been the envy of more than one colleague who's seen me put together a sandwich right in front of them.

If you have access to a fridge at the office and don't mind having the same thing multiple times during the week, you could take a week's worth of sandwich components in on Monday and just make yourself a fresh sandwich every day. At $5 per day, that's a savings of $25 per week!

Find more Works for me Wednesday tips at Rocks in my Dryer.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Becoming a one-car family

We were rear-ended the week before Thanksgiving, and although everyone was okay, the damage to the car has proven extensive. The original 2 1/2 week estimate for repairs is now at a solid 4 weeks. Our insurance policy includes rental coverage, but we'd still have to pay 20% of the cost. Plus there's the hassle of renting and driving an unfamiliar car.

So we've been getting by with only one car for the last three weeks. (It helps that Marc and I commute together.) We've been a little surprised to discover what's actually within walking distance of our house. The excursions take one to two hours, but I've found that when time is not of the essence, a walk to the bank, Pavilions or CVS is actually quite pleasant. Of course, I can't buy too much, and nothing perishable.

So the last three weeks have proven that we could, if necessary, become a one-car family.

The savings would be significant, even though both of our cars are fully paid for. We pay about $1000 per year in insurance and registration on our older car, plus approximately $25 in gas per month. And maintenance costs are probably about $200-500 per year, depending on the year. That adds up to a savings of $1500-1800 per year, or $125-150 per month.

We are going to keep both cars, though, simply because having two cars is a convenience that we can afford - and while having only one car has been manageable, it hasn't been preferable. But I do think that we'll consider walking a realistic option for a handful of locations from now on, especially when we're not in a rush.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunshine Radian review: Big thumbs down

In case you haven't been following my little saga, here's the quick version: The week before Thanksgiving, we were rear-ended - thankfully, everyone was all right, but the car was pretty badly damaged. It's been in the shop for repairs, and in the meantime, I spent some time trying to decide what new car seats to get. I eventually settled on the Sunshine Radian65, a convertible seat that looks a lot like a booster (pictured).

I ordered two Radians, which arrived on Friday. I tried installing one over the weekend. Aarrrggghhh!!! I was reduced to tears after wrestling with the seat for nearly an hour, because no matter what I did, the seat would not install as securely as it should have. Of course, I knew this might happen - but I had convinced myself that it wouldn't. And what was so frustrating about it was that it was so close. The seat didn't move that much - but it was more than we were comfortable with.

I was also frustrated by the top tether. In the picture in the instruction booklet, the tether is at or above the top of the car's seat. But in our Nissan Altima, the tether was quite a few inches below the top of the car's seat and the latch for loosening the tether necessarily ended up behind the Radian itself, making it difficult to tighten the tether.

By contrast, re-installing Alex's Marathon when it was time to leave the house was a breeze. It took less than three minutes to get such a secure installation that I can't move the seat a millimeter.

I'm definitely returning the Radians. And I thought briefly about buying two more Marathons and calling it a day. But if the Britax Regent (pictured at right) installs properly, then we should be set with car seats for Alex until he doesn't need a seat or booster anymore. So, I went ahead and ordered two Regents, again with $1 Return Shipping Insurance from EliteCarSeats.com.

However, I have read one review complaining that it was much more difficult to install than other Britaxes, and everyone agrees that the seat is a monster because it's so large. Still, I've got my fingers crossed that this is the last seat I'll need to buy for Alex for any reason.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

New The Christmas Party From the Black Lagoon winner

The original winner of the Christmas Party From the Black Lagoon book giveaway never responded, so I've drawn a new winner. Congratulations to:

Olivia H. (OMIE****@xxx.com)!

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

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good Pavilions trip this week + examples of how coupons help you stretch your (charity) dollars

Pavilions is part of the Safeway family, and is the smaller sibling of Vons here in the Los Angeles area. The Pavilions near me is a little dingy, and has proven unreliable with sale prices, so I rarely go. But it's within walking distance of my house (we're still down to one car), and there were some deals I just couldn't pass up: primarily the buy 5 of selected items and get $5 off deal. That deal included Kellogg's Frosted Flakes for $1.29 after the discount, and I had four $1 off coupons from the November 9 newspaper.

So I got:
4 Frosted Flakes @ $2.29 each
1 Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts @$2.49 (to finish off the buy 5, save $5 deal)
3 Safeway marshmallows @ $1 each (I forgot that these are 97 cents at Target)
1 C&H brown sugar @ $1
1 Dixie plates @ $2.50
Total before coupons: $18.15

Coupons used: 4 x $1 off Kellogg's, 35 cents off C&H sugar (doubled), 35 cents off Dixie plates (doubled)
Total after coupons, plus tax: $12.44 (should have been $7.44 after the $5 promo)

I had calculated my total before I went to the store, so when the cashier told me the total, I knew it couldn't be right. I quickly realized that it was because the register had not taken off the $5 for the buy 5 promo - not unusual at this store, but irritating and the perfect example of why I rarely go there. It took more than a few minutes for the cashier to review the info in the register, then have the bagger fetch a weekly ad so she could review the wording of the promo, then agree that I should get the $5 discount, then ponder how to give it back to me. I asked if a manager could do something; she shrugged. Finally, I said that I would pay the full $12.44 if she'd give me $5 cash back, and that's what happened.

The effort was worth it to have 4 boxes of cereal for $1.16 (4 x 29-cents) that I can donate to the food bank, along with the sugar (30 cents after coupon). (Marc will eat the Pop Tarts.)

The coupon forums and other bloggers' posts have shown me that by shopping smart, you can donate so much more to a food bank or other charity than if you just gave money. After all, how much would a food bank have been able to buy for $1.46? And the savings are even greater when you consider the large donations coupon users make on a regular basis.

For instance, Gina at Mommy Making Money explained how she spent less than $17 to donate $50 worth of food. (Actually, that's probably the sale price pre-coupon total, so the food was likely worth more.) And just a few days ago, Briana showed how she was able to provide "everything from canned food items to backpacks & toys" to a family that had just lost everything in a fire.

So as you shop throughout the year, keep an eye out for free or cheap items that you can get not just for your family but for those less fortunate too.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Britax to recall over 30,000 Frontier boosters

According to the NHSTA, Britax is going to recall over 30,000 Frontier boosters in January 2009. The problem is that on certain models, the harness straps may detach from the metal yoke in the back if the straps are loosened one at a time. That obviously poses a safety hazard since the child wouldn't be strapped in properly if a strap is detached.

Beginning in January 2009, all registered owners will receive a consumer notice and remedy kit. Unregistered owners should call Britax and request a kit (704-409-1700). Britax is supposed to post information about the recall on their website by December 17 (there isn't anything right now).

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Managing cash flow when you're not living paycheck to paycheck

Two of my favorite personal finance bloggers recently discussed breaking the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. Paid Twice revealed her 2009 goal of working one paycheck ahead - this seems to mean having enough in savings to cover expenses for the next two weeks without needing the next paycheck to do so. NCN at No Credit Needed explained how he became debt free and "escaped" the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

These articles got me thinking about how best to manage cash flow when you're not living paycheck to paycheck, because it's not something I've ever really thought of before. We built up a nice emergency fund early in our marriage, so we haven't lived "paycheck to paycheck" - meaning we need the next paycheck to pay our bills - in a long time.

But I manage my money as if I do need the next check. By that, I mean that our paychecks are deposited and distributions are made from there to the savings, emergency fund and infrequent bills accounts. Under this system, bills are paid with the money that was direct deposited by our employers. In fact, I'll hold off on paying certain bills each cycle until after payday because I don't want to transfer money out of savings.

Now I am wondering if it would be best to have our paychecks deposited right into our savings account. Then at some point each month, I would transfer the money needed to pay the bills into our checking account - without regard to our paychecks. For us, that would truly be breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

I'm trying to work out what kind of impact this would have on our overall finances and money management, but I am leaning toward doing this. I think it could work out quite nicely for us. And give us a whole new mentality on how we manage our money.

What do you do? (Or would you do?)

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

$4 coupon mishap

We've been managing to get by with one car while the car that was rear-ended is being repaired, but predictably, I haven't been shopping as much. I can walk to CVS, but yesterday was only the second time I've been to Walgreens since we dropped the car off at the body shop before Thanksgiving.

You'd think that since I'm not shopping as much, I'd have more time to get my coupons organized and plan my deals, but the opposite seems to have happened. Partly it's because December is just a crazy month, and I'm overwhelmed with all that I have to do.

But partly it's that I'm out of practice. What used to come naturally now requires a lot of thought. I have no rhythm when I go into a store.

For example, I'd written down all the deals that I wanted to get. But I neglected to write down all the details, or calculate my exact total. And somehow I neglected to note that the $3.99 case of Aquafina (which I need for a Christmas party this weekend) required a 7-day ad coupon. The regular price was $7.99, and that's what I paid because I didn't hand over the coupon, costing me $4.

Now, $4 isn't much in the great scheme of things, but it's huge for a coupon error. It's not quite like forgetting to hand over a 40-cent coupon that would have doubled to 80 cents, like I did a couple of weeks ago at Ralphs. And $4 makes the price of the water twice what I'm willing to pay for a 24-pack.

So I'll probably stop by the store on Saturday on our way to the Christmas party and ask to have the coupon refunded. I don't know if they'll do it, but it's worth a try.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More possible Free Shipping Day deals

I took another look at the Free Shipping Day site and noticed that Teleflora is one of the participating merchants. Shipping costs are usually a huge percentage of an online flower purchase, so I think this could result in some great deals if there aren't free shipping restrictions and no price increases.

There are Christmas arrangements starting at $19.99 (like the one pictured). If you go through Ebates, you'll get 10% cash back, so your total cost is down to $17.99. But it gets better - when I went to the Teleflora site, there was a banner at the top of the homepage that said I'd automatically get $10 off on all products (or I could use code psgg10d.) Assuming that deal remains in effect, your total purchase price would be a mere $7.99 plus tax. That's spectacular for a cute bouquet with delivery. In fact, assuming I can get that price, I'll be ordering several of these on December 18!

To learn more about Ebates, read my original review. If you sign up through my referral link, you'll get a $10 bonus when you make your first purchase by December 31. (Disclosure: So will I, thanks!)

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Graco ComfortSport (Frazier) recalled

Graco is recalling over 40,000 ComfortSport car seats in the Frazier pattern (pictured). The seats come with a supplemental pillow that obscures the child airbag warning label on the seat pad. The seat's performance isn't compromised, but the obscuring of the warning label could lead to improper installation and violates federal car seat safety requirements.

The remedy is simply removing the supplemental pillow so that the warning label is not obscured. If you registered your car seat with Graco, you can expect them to contact you regarding the recall.

You can read the NHTSA recall notice. There's also a notice on the Graco web site. Both sites have the information you need to determine if your car seat is being recalled.

Image credit: Graco.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Works for me: Baby powder to remove little hairs

I picked up this fabulous tip at the equally fabulous blog Parent Hacks, which is a great resource for "why didn't I think of that?" ideas.

When Alex was a baby, he had an amazingly full head of hair and at six months, he had his first hair cut at SuperCuts. It was fine, but each time we went back, he'd be more difficult. Finally, we decided that we might as well just cut his hair at home. So now we Marc cuts the boys' hair with clippers every few months.

And when he's done, I use a little baby powder to get the little hairs off the boys' bodies. It works much better than a towel, paper towel, or tissue, and is easy to clean up. I still whisk them into the bath as soon as Marc is done, but I don't have little boys screaming that their skin itches while I'm getting the bath ready. No screaming? That works for me!

Find more Works For Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in my Dryer.

The Christmas Party From the Black Lagoon winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Christmas Party From the Black Lagoon book giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Cyndi (cstar***@xxx.com)!

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

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Winter Book Giveaway #3: The Little Penguin by A.J. Wood

This is the last of three weekly winter book giveaways (but don't worry, I have more giveaways planned for the coming weeks - and you still have a few hours left to enter the Christmas Party From the Black Lagoon giveaway)! This week's giveaway is a paperback copy of A.J. Wood's The Little Penguin.

It's the story of a little penguin who gets separated from his family, meets other creatures, and eventually has a happy reunion. The book is listed as appropriate for ages 4 through 8, but as always, that's variable by child.

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

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

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


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

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, December 16. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Choosing a new car seat is not that easy

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I need to buy new car seats after our recent accident, and asked for info on the Britax Regent. I want to thank everyone who shared info, experiences, and recommendations - it was so helpful and the perfect example of why I enjoy and appreciate this blog so much.

Melissa and Shelly convinced me to give the Sunshine Radian a try - although, as easytocheck noted, it's hard for a Britax mom to switch!

The Radian (pictured) is similar to the Regent, in that it sits low and has a high weight limit of 65 or 85 pounds, depending on which model you choose. I got the Radian65 since my kids are average in height and weight, and I expect Alex will be able to use this seat for years.

The main reason I decided on the Radian over the Regent was size. The Regent is huge - I believe Melissa called it a "beast" because it's so wide. With the Radian, we should be able to fit someone in the middle - we may even be able to get a car seat in the middle, which would be nice, although I don't know if the boys will be able to tolerate being so close to each other in the back seat.

The other reason I was sold on the Radian is that it can go on an airplane - the Regent definitely can't do that. Shelly says the Radian is heavy but still quite portable, so that's reassuring.

Of course, there are always drawbacks. The biggest reason I hesitated and waffled for over a week in making my decision was that I read in a few places that the Radian can be difficult to install, particularly with a seat belt (as opposed to LATCH). Apparently the bottom of the Radian is quite flat, such that the seat does not always rest in proper position on the back seat. I could only find one reference to a successful forward-facing installation in a Nissan Altima (of which we have two), but Shelly's report that it installs easily in her Honda Accord was enough to make me decide to give it a shot.

I did insure my decision as best I could. I found a new-to-me site, EliteCarSeats.com, which has the Radian at just 99 cents more than Amazon, and $1 Return Shipping Insurance. The shipping insurance means that I paid a non-refundable dollar in my order, but I won't have to pay for shipping if I need to return the seats. They also offer free shipping, and my seats should arrive by the end of the week. I'll let you know how installation goes.

Image credit: Sunshine Kids Radian65 Convertible Car Seat at Amazon.com.

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A resource for the newly poor: 211

Yesterday's LA Times had an interesting article on a county service I'd never heard of before: 211. Like 411 and 911, 211 is a phone service that's available 24/7. It provides access to health and human services programs throughout the county.

Here's how they work, according to their web site:
Callers to 2-1-1 begin by speaking with a live Community Resource Advisor who helps them identify both their, immediate, and long-term need(s). Once the caller's need(s) are determined, the Community Resource Advisor searches in a comprehensive database to locate agencies, programs, and services that can assist the caller to meet his/her needs.

The Community Resource Advisor attempts to locate resources for the caller that are in the caller's community and are free, or low cost. After explaining to the caller what each organization can assist with, the Community Resource Advisor then provides the caller with a variety of possible solutions (referrals) along with the addresses and phone numbers.

In situations where callers are in a crisis situation or find they are unable to resolve their problems without assistance, the Community Resource Advisor will provide additional service for the caller to ensure their success. This may include calling organizations and advocating on the caller's behalf. It may include providing direct phone connection with the organization that can assist the caller, or it may include contacting emergency or law enforcement agencies, if needed, to ensure the caller's safety.
Yesterday's article made 211 sound like a good resource for those who don't know how to begin to find the help available to them - in other words, it's especially good for those who never expected to need such help in their lifetime. If you're online and you want to search the county's database yourself, you can do so at HealthyCity.org.

There's also a national 211 web site, where you can check to see if 211 is available in your city or zip code.

Does anyone know anything more about 211?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Snow Bear book giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Snow Bear book giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Dina (dkell***@xxx.com)!

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

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Walgreens recalls Merry Christmas teddy bear

I don't normally post food-related recalls, but since a bunch of us are avid Walgreens shoppers, I wanted to pass this one along: Walgreens has recalled The Dressy Teddy Bear with 4-oz. Chocolate Bar for melamine contamination. There are boy and girl versions, approximately nine inches tall, and they came with a decorative chocolate bar that says "Merry Christmas" and has Santa, a tree, and a bear in a Santa hat. You can view the official notice at the Walgreens site (pdf), which contains a picture of the recalled bears. You may also want to read the official FDA recall notice.

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This week in CFO history: My best financial move, our first trip to Urgent Care & the Annual Life Review

One year ago, I shared my best financial move of the year, which has continued to pay off this year as well. It's also been exactly one year since our first trip to Urgent Care - unfortunately, we've been back several times since. But fortunately, the reasons for our visits have been relatively minor and the care we've received has been excellent.

Two years ago, I recommended an Annual Life Review, following the steps outlined in life coach Cheryl Richardson's weekly newsletter.

Three years ago, during my first year as a mother and blogger, I was so overwhelmed during the holidays that I ended up taking a hiatus. Things are just as crazy this year, but I'm not going anywhere this time :)

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kidco safety gate prices to go up in 2009

The Baby Bargains Book Blog reports that beginning January 1, 2009, Kidco will enforce a new minimum advertised policy (MAP), meaning that sellers must sell at a specified minimum price. The validity of MAP policies has been contested, but without much success.

Kidco is one of the major safety gate manufacturers, and in fact, we used the gate pictured here for our stairs for a while. So if you're looking to buy a Kidco safety gate, now's the time to do it. You can find them at Amazon here. and at Babies R Us/Toys R Us here, but of course, there are many other retailers out there. Do be careful of shipping charges, since gates tend to be bulky and heavy.

Disclosure: I'm an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on this site supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

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Friday, December 05, 2008

We're Finally Re-Financing Our Mortgage

I've mentioned several times in the last year that I've been keeping an eye on interest rates to see if they fall low enough to make re-financing worthwhile. And they finally have.

We'll be re-financing at 5.125% or lower. Thanks to some special programs that we're eligible for, we got a low rate with a 60-day lock and two float downs, so if rates go down between now and when we close, we'll be able to get that lower rate. The loan officer said she thinks rates will go down in the next few weeks, so I took her advice and took the 60-day lock at 5.125% instead of a 30-day lock at 5% with no float down.

Calculating whether the refi would be worthwhile involved enough numbers to make my head spin, but the loan officer ran the numbers with me a second time and confirmed my conclusion. A key factor in making the refi worthwhile is our commitment to continuing to make our current monthly payment even though the minimum payment will be lower with the new loan.

Here's an example of the math (I'm using round numbers for the sake of privacy and convenience - and remember, if the balances seem high, they're normal or even on the low side for Southern California):

Current mortgage
Current balance: $230,000
Current interest rate: 5.75%
Current monthly payment: $1460
Interest paid to date: $78,300
Interest that would be paid over life of the loan: $275,215

New mortgage
Balance including closing costs: $235,000
New interest rate: 5% (I'm gambling that it will go down at least this much)
Interest paid over the life of the loan making the same monthly payment as above: $175,740
Total interest paid on this loan plus interest paid on previous loan: $254,040

Difference in interest paid between the two loans: $275,215 - $254,040 = $21,175

So that's a savings of $21,175 in this example, and the loan will be paid off in 25 years instead of 30. In our case, the numbers work out to a savings of about $30,000 over the next 22 years, and we'll still pay the mortgage off two to three years before our current mortgage (assuming no extra principal payments).

Of course, we can always increase our savings by paying more extra principal each month, and it's likely we'll do that. Still, I can't help but wish the savings were greater (and they may be if the mortgage rate goes down further before we close). But in any event, for just a few hours' investment, we'll have saved ourselves $30,000.

Maybe it's time to think about re-financing your own mortgage? . . .

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Five free or cheap random acts of kindness for the holiday season

It would be good, of course, to practice random acts of kindness throughout the year, and I do. But I think, especially with strangers, they're easier to do at this time of year. So here are five that I've come up with - I'd appreciate it if you'd add your own ideas too!
  1. Send a note and/or small gift to someone who's lost a loved one. The holidays can be difficult for someone who's lost a loved one, so I like to send a note or gift acknowledging that.
  2. Leave coupons next to the products they're for so other customers can use them. This one is actually easy to do at any time of year, especially if they're for products you're not going to buy yourself. And I know from reading the coupon forums that they're much appreciated.
  3. Ask a cashier what their favorite candy bar is, and then buy it for them when you're checking out.
  4. Visit those who don't get many visitors at a nursing a home. Bring some cookies or cupcakes, and then listen to their stories.
  5. Put change in parking meters that are close to expiring. Thanks to Clever Dude for letting me know that this is illegal in some jurisdictions. An alternative, if you are driving where this applies, is to pay the toll fee for the car behind you.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Two recalls today: Doll clothing & army figures

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

Doll Clothing Sets Recalled by Manhattan Group Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


OKK Trading Recalls Toy Army Figures 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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What to expect from your insurance company after a car accident

When we were rear-ended a couple of weeks ago, I really didn't know what to expect in terms of our insurance claim because it had been over ten years since I'd been in an accident. Obviously, I've been paying for car insurance during all of those years, and I expected our insurance to cover most of the repair costs. But I was clueless when it came to details. Here's what I've learned so far:

You have the choice of proceeding through your own insurance company or working directly with the other party's insurance company. Our insurance agent said that if the other company makes it easy, then it's better to work directly with them - you'll get the money sooner, and you won't have to pay your deductible, then wait to get reimbursed.

If you go through your own insurance company, you'll have to pay your deductible. But you might get it back. It sounds like you get reimbursed for your deductible after your insurance company has received money from the other party's insurance company - and apparently that takes months. In our case, we're still not sure if the other party was actually covered at the time of the accident, and we've been told that we might get our deductible back if he turns out to be an uninsured motorist (apparently that's a term of our policy).

You'll probably get the repairs done fastest if you go through your own insurance company. This is what we're doing, because we didn't want any delays in getting the car repaired. It would have taken at least one additional week, and probably more, if we'd tried to work things out with the other insurance company.

In California, you have the right to choose the repair shop. In other words, your insurance company can't make you use a certain shop, although you may have to pay the difference. In our case, we chose a body shop that's not preapproved by our insurance company, but the body shop accepted the insurance company's estimate without quibbling so we are only on the hook for our deductible. We've received notice from our insurance company that this is California law, but if you live in another state, you'll have to check your own state law to see if that's the case where you live as well.

Your insurance company will handle all communication with other parties and their representatives. One of the nicest moments in this experience was being able to tell the insurance company for the driver of the car that we were pushed into to call our insurance company instead of talking to us directly.

Your insurance company will reimburse you if you have to replace any car seats. I'm still deciding which seat to get, though.

It's good to have good insurance. This accident has served as an excellent illustration of why insurance is so important. As it turns out, the total cost of the repairs will be a few thousand dollars, an amount that we could have paid out of pocket if necessary. But what if the accident had resulted in greater damage or even injury? You never know when an accident is going to happen, and I know that we were lucky that no one was hurt. And that's why we pay good money for insurance.

All in all, this has been a relatively painless experience thus far. Hopefully, we'll get the car back within two weeks, our deductible will be reimbursed without too much delay, and we can put this whole incident behind us.

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Works for Me: Use masking tape to label plastic containers

The boys' daycare asks that all food containers be labeled with the child's name, and most parents write the name right on the container with a Sharpie. From the earliest days, when Alex was just a baby starting on solids, I've been extremely hesitant to write directly on the container - I have visions of the black ink rubbing off in the dishwasher and specks of it getting on everything.

Instead, I affix a small piece of masking tape to each container and write the appropriate child's name on it. When I'm doing dishes at night, I simply pull the tape off and put the container in the dishwasher. Masking tape comes right off and there's no residue, plus one roll lasts for over a year - Alex has been in daycare for about three years, and I'm just finishing up my second roll of tape.

The masking tape works great on any plastic container that goes in the fridge, too. But it tends to peel off in the freezer so I don't recommend it for that.

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

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Winter Book Giveaway #2: The Christmas Party from the Black Lagoon

This is the second of three weekly winter book giveaways. (There's still time to enter the Snow Bear book giveaway!) This week's giveaway is a a paperback copy of Mark Thaler's The Christmas Party from the Black Lagoon.


My kids are too young for me to be familiar with the Black Lagoon series, and the author's web site isn't much help since it hasn't been updated since 2004. But the series seems quite popular, and this one is perfect for this time of year. The book is listed as appropriate for ages 9 through 12, but as always, that's variable by child.

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

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

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


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

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, December 9. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Guest Post: Is Your Credit Card Causing You To Sleep on the Couch? Handling Money in a Relationship

This is a guest post from Jonathan at Master Your Card, where you can learn how to make your credit card debt history. Check out his post on How to use the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to your advantage.

Ah, love. It makes the world go round, it puts that spring in our step – and it can come to a screeching halt at the sound of a credit card plunking on a retail counter. Money is a major headache for couples. It’s the thing that causes those all-out fights and those seething little comments that last for days. Luckily, there are ways to avoid the biggest money relationship blunders so that you can avoid sleeping on that lumpy couch again.

Tell me lies, baby

You know lying is never a good idea, and lying about money is no different. There is no point in pretending you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth if you’ve just been scraping by and no point in hiding money while claiming you’re broke. You don’t have to tell your partner what you’re worth down to the last penny but you should not be pretending to be something you’re not.

The spender and the scrimper

Welcome to the third circle of hell. Is there any worse mismatch than the spouse who loves to shop and the partner who considers every penny? If you’re addicted to shopping and your partner has a fetish for savings – or vice versa – you can expect a lot of conflict. The spender tends to see the scrimper as an ungenerous tightwad and the scrimper tends to see the spender as a frivolous dolt who will drive both parties into debt. A first solution here is to separate expenses and accounts – that way, the spender will feel less judged and the scrimper will feel more in control of his or her money. Understanding and lots of talking will go a long way towards soothing out some hard feelings. This is also one of those situations where a third party may be needed – ideally a professional who has counseled couples in similar predicaments.

The Siamese twins

Everything has been going so well for three months that you decide to move in together. And if you’re living together you need a joint account and maybe some joint credit cards to take care of shared living expenses, right? Not so fast, lovebug. Just because your expenses are shared that does not mean you money is, too. It’s likely best to maintain separate accounts for at least a little while. Each person can pay half the rent with their checks and half of the bills online. It’s a good way to test money compatibility before linking your financial futures together. And look out for shared debt – including credit cards. If your honey bunny turns out to be not quite the person you thought they were, you are still responsible for the debt. You don’t want to end up with a broken heart and a wrecked credit rating.

The money fight

Maybe you are financially compatible. Maybe you agree about most things. You still need to learn how to fight fair about money, because money disagreements will happen. He will wish you brought home more of the bacon or she will wonder why you never splurge on special dinners or gifts. So learn to fight in a way that doesn’t wreck everything. If you disagree work it out calmly and in private, without slinging around terms like “bimbo” or “tightwad.” That hurts as much as that bad sofa.

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