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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Meet my blogroll: Growing Up Gabel

Camille has been a long time CFO reader and active commenter, and so I found her own delightful blog, Growing Up Gabel. She writes about topics close to my heart, including frugality, cooking and family, all with a touch of her sweet personality. Features of Growing Up Gabel include a weekly "Vons Bargain Meal of the Week" - last week, it was Crock Pot Swiss Steak with Corn on the Cob and Zucchini. Yum! I also love her recent post on the importance of a price book, something I've discussed too.

Previously: Meet the blogroll I've already introduced

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dry Cleaner's Secret giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Dry Cleaner's Secret giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner, who won with her subscription entry:

Marla T. (koinonia******@yahoo.com)

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

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

One recall yesterday: Step2 Outdoor Play Set

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

Outdoor Play Sets Sold Exclusively at Toys"R"Us Recalled by Step2 Due to Fall Hazard; Swings Can Break - Click through for a larger version of the photo.


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

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Reiterating the benefits of contacting customer service: Make it a habit!

I've written before about how to tell companies that when you're both satisfied and dissatisfied about their services or products. I generally practice what I preach, but I have to admit that sometimes I simply forget or get lazy.

For instance, I have a broken night light sitting on my desk. It's been there for months. I intended to email the manufacturer to complain about how it was broken when it came out of the package. But I got lazy and now it's too late (since I appear to have tossed the packaging that I thought I'd saved).

As I get tangible results from contacting companies, I realize the benefits of making it a habit. And it really does pay off – literally. Earlier this week, I found a tiny dead bug in a Target brand package. I immediately used the online contact form to contact Target and by that evening, I'd received a response saying that my message had been forwarded to their monitoring staff and that they were sending me a $3 check to reimburse me for the product. I would have been even more impressed if they were also reimbursing me the 28 cents that I paid in tax, but in this instance, I didn't even ask for compensation. (It was a non-food product and I'd used almost all of it before I found the bug.)

On my post about complimenting companies and asking for coupons, Mama Bird left a comment noting that she's had success emailing companies who make products that rarely go on sale. I think that's a great strategy and plan to implement it myself.

So, to sum up, the lesson of the day is make it a habit to contact customer service with all good and bad experiences!

Previously: How to write an effective complaint letter & How to write a complimentary letter and get free coupons

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One recall yesterday: Trampolines

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

Trampolines Recalled by Skywalker Holdings; Enclosure Problems Can Result in Fall Hazard


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

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Little Quack Giveaway Post Corrected

I apologize for leaving out the form in the Little Quack giveaway post. That's what I get for generating posts in a hurry while coping with limited internet access. I've now embedded the form in the post. If you tried to enter via comment, please visit the giveaway post again and enter your info into the form. (I'm deleting the comments with email addresses to protect your privacy.)

Thanks for your understanding!

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Giveaway: Little Quack's New Friend by Lauren Thompson

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Lauren Thompson's Little Quack's New Friend.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

In this story, Little Quack learns how much fun it can be to make a new friend. The book is recommended for ages 2 through 6.

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. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, spread the word about this contesttweet about the giveaway, Stumble this post, 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 complete the form once per entry. 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 must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, June 2.

Good luck!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Changing my shopping habits: Am I now spending less on groceries?

A few months ago, I mentioned that I had started shopping at multiple stores in order to get the best deals on groceries. I was asked if my spending had declined, but at the time, it was too soon to tell. Now, I have a pretty good idea of where we stand.

The bottom line is, my grocery spending remains about the same. But, we are eating out a lot less, so our overall spending has gone down. Since I started cooking again shortly after changing my shopping routine, I'm spending the same amount of money but buying more groceries. I'm also wasting less, and we're eating healthier.

I could spend a lot less if I was willing to buy more conventionally grown produce, and conventional dairy and meat products. These items account for about a third to a half of my weekly grocery bill, and I could probably spend half that amount by buying conventional products. But I can afford to buy organic produce, dairy and meat, so I do. It may not have much effect in the long run, but I like the idea of keeping my boys' bodies as chemical-free as reasonably possible.

I've pretty much eliminated Costco from my list of grocery stores. I'm sticking to going there just for gas and birthday parties because it's too inconvenient and the savings aren't worth it – especially compared to the risk of impulse buys.

I continue to do the bulk of my shopping at Trader Joe's. I wish it was publicly owned so that I could buy stock. They consistently have the best prices on organic and antibiotic/hormone-free products, and the relatively new store in Woodland Hills actually has decent parking. (Every other TJ's that I've been to has a horrific parking lot.)

I also shop at Ralphs (Kroger affiliate) and Pavilions (Safeway affiliate) on an almost-weekly basis to pick up loss leaders. The SoCal grocery thread at SlickDeals is my best source on these deals, and this is where the "more stuff for the same amount of money" part of my shopping really comes into play. I routinely get things for free at these stores, and the amount of savings at the bottom of my receipt is almost always over 50%. Granted, the savings amount is calculated based on regular prices, which at these stores is usually absurdly high, but the point is that I walk out of there with a lot of great deals. Last week, I bought three boxes of Wheat Thins for 69 cents each, and they'll make inexpensive contributions to our pot-luck playdates.

The last store I regularly buy groceries at is Whole Foods. Bargain Briana recently started listing the weekly deals there, which has inspired me to check the deals for my local stores on the web site (locate your store, then click for a pdf flyer for specials). Yesterday, I bought 3 pounds of hormone and antibiotic free ground beef for $1.99 per pound, the best price I've ever gotten. It's 22% fat, which is a higher fat content than I'd like, but I always drain my ground beef anyway, so it'll be fine. I actually wish I'd bought more, so I might be heading back today if it's not too inconvenient.

The bottom line here is that there are many ways to save money on food, and that you have to do what works for you. I'll be the first to admit that shopping at multiple stores and organizing my coupons takes a fair amount of time. But for me, it's worth it.

Previously: Costco vs. Trader Joe's vs. Ralphs

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Sit'n'Stroll recall

Sit'n'Stroll child restraint systems (model no. 4002) that were manufactured on May 5, 2008, are being recalled because the harness may fail. The manufacturer is providing a repair kit. Contact them at 1-800-829-1625. (Read the official NHTSA recall notice.)

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Two recalls yesterday: Bunk beds & hoodies

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

Gothic Cabinet Craft Recalls Bunk Beds Due to Fall Hazard - Click through for an additional photo.


Girl’s Hooded Sweatshirts Recalled by Ely and Walker Due to Strangulation Hazard - 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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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Earthquake Preparedness: Are you ready for the big one?

There was an earthquake on Sunday night here in Southern California – it felt like a small one out in the San Fernando Valley, but my friends who live south of LAX said the 4.7 quake gave them a pretty rough jolt.

By all accounts, the damage and injuries were minimal. But it was a good reminder that an earthquake can happen at any time and it's important to be ready for one.

The booklet Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country has a lot of good, basic information. You can read it online, download it as a PDF, or order free copies.

One thing we've done that puts our minds at ease is assemble some emergency kits w/ essentials like a hand-crank radio and flashlight, work gloves, nonperishable food, etc. The California Office of Emergency Services has a comprehensive checklist (pdf).

This earthquake has reminded me that I need to update the kits with fresh food and clothes for the kids. I think I will also replace the first aid supplies while I'm at it!

Previously: Emergency Preparedness Reminders

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All You subscription giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the All You subscription giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Mellissa R. (mellisar***@yahoo.com)

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

If you didn't win, don't forget that you can buy a one-year subscription of All You for just $10 at Amazon this month. (More details in this post.)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review & Giveaway: Dry Cleaner's Secret

Woolite Dry Cleaner's Secret cleaning cloths "freshen" and spot clean hand-wash and dry-clean only clothes. I was sent a box of Dry Cleaner's Secret and found it incredibly easy to use.

I used it on my winter coat, which needed "freshening" but not a full dry cleaning because it didn't really get worn much this winter since it wasn't particularly cold or wet here in Southern California. (In addition to our state's financial meltdown, we're in the midst of a pretty bad drought.) Twenty minutes in the dryer with a Dry Cleaner's Secret cloth left my coat feeling crisp, just like it does when I take it to the dry cleaner's. It had a bit of a funky smell, but the odor faded very quickly. While I don't think Dry Cleaner's Secret can replace a true dry cleaning, it can help stretch your dollars by reducing the number of trips you make there.

And right now, at the official web site, you can request a free sample of Dry Cleaner's Secret and enter to win a full 6-count box.

Plus, I'm giving away one full 6-count box too!

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. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, spread the word about this contesttweet about the giveaway, Stumble this post, 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 complete the form once per entry. 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 must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, May 26.

Good luck!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Meet my blogroll: Like Merchant Ships

I'm not exactly sure when I "met" Meredith of Like Merchant Ships, but I quickly fell in love with her blog. She's the sort of gracious, loving person who somehow manages to inspire rather than diminish. And she shares all kinds of wonderful ideas on her blog – crafts, cooking, cleaning, childcare, and more. I particularly love how she creatively stretches her dollars, and how generous she is with them. Who wouldn't love to be the lucky recipient of gifts like these?

Recently, Meredith ventured into Once-A-Month Cooking. She and Jessie spent six hours putting together 15 recipes (I think it worked out to 30 meals for each of them). She shared her freezer packing strategy at Frugal Hacks, where she writes a weekly column aptly titled "Cheerful Frugality."

If you don't know Meredith already, please head over to meet her. She recently moved her domain and resigned her lovely site. She's also got a handy Tumblr page where she links to favorite articles she's found throughout the blogosphere.

Previously: Meredith interviewed me last year (the podcast no longer seems to be available). One of the things we talked about was the price of eggs, which had been rising quickly at the time – since then, Trader Joe's has held the price steady at $1.49 per dozen.

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Cheap Huggies at Rite Aid & Ralphs (maybe all Kroger?)

I haven't been shopping much at Rite Aid lately, but Baby Cheapskate posted about a "stockupportunity" on Huggies mega packages there this week. The deal is pay $13.99 for a mega pack, and get a $2 Single Check Rebate (#35). There's also a $5 off $25 purchase printable coupon (pdf) that you can use. I bought one mega pack, one box of Bayer Quick Release Crystals (10 count) at $3.99 and 1 Alaway eye drops (10 ml) at $7.99.

Both the Bayer and Alaway are free after SCR (#32 and #31, respectively), and there are coupons out there for both. Some people have found $1 off Bayer tearpad coupons (at Walgreens for sure, maybe elsewhere as well), and there were printable coupons a few weeks ago (no longer available, as far as I could tell). And there was a $4 off Alaway coupon in the 3/15 SmartSource insert, which is also available at Coupons.com (I also saw $3 off blinkies at Rite Aid).

I didn't have the Bayer coupon, but I had the $4 Alaway coupon. I had intended to buy Pull Ups but the store I went to didn't have mega packs in Tyler's size. I bought diapers instead (we're still using both) and used a $1.50 coupon (there's one in today's paper). So I paid $15.47 plus $2.40 tax, and will get $11.98 $13.98 back. That makes my total $5.89 $3.89 for a mega pack, or 14.7 9.7 cents per size 5 diaper after tax - definitely a great deal. (And I have free aspirin and eye drops.)

Over at Ralphs, which is the Kroger affiliate out here, Pampers and Huggies jumbo packs are $9.77 (apparently they are $8.99 at Kroger). The available coupons that I know of are $1 off Pampers from the 5/3 P&G insert, $2 off Pampers diapers blinkies, $1.50 off Huggies diapers, and $2 and $3 off Huggies Pull Ups (the $2 coupon is in today's paper, the $3 one is from a few weeks back). Combine the paper coupons with electronic coupons from P&G eSaver and/or Shortcuts.com and/or Cellfire.com and/or Upromise.com, and you could find yourself some pretty sweet deals.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Thumbs up to Fidelity Customer Service

Back in November, I mentioned that California residents could get a $50 Target gift card by opening a new 529 Scholarshare account. I waited until December to act on the offer, but I did get applications for both boys in by the deadline. In the subsequent weeks, I got lots of mail from Fidelity (which manages Scholarshare), confirming that they had received the applications and opened the accounts.

And then I waited.

I'd signed up for an automatic deposit into both accounts, but the money wasn't being withdrawn when it should have been. I knew it might take some time to set the withdrawals up, but finally, at the end of last month, I had to admit that something wasn't right.

I dreaded calling customer service but I didn't feel this was something that could be communicated effectively via email. So I forced myself to make the call, and as always seems to happen, it was much less painful than I thought it would be. I was put on hold for a while, so the customer service rep could go figure out what the problem was. That was okay, though, because when he came back on the line, he really had figured out the problem. It seemed my authorization to withdraw funds hadn't been sent to the right department.

I then mentioned the Target gift cards and pointed out that through no fault of my own, the requirements for getting them had not been fulfilled. (The first contribution had to be made within 90 days of the creation of the account.) The CSR agreed that it wasn't my fault and said he'd get back to me. The next day, I was informed that the gift cards were on their way. And they arrived just a couple days later.

These are the first Fidelity accounts I've ever owned, and I'm pleased with how they handled the situation. Hopefully, the automatic withdrawals will now be taken care of and I can put the boys' 529 plans on autopilot.

Previously: Good customer service from Sharebuilder

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

One recall today: Toy folding chairs

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

Folding Toy Beach Chairs Recalled by Build-A-Bear Workshop Due to Laceration Hazard - Click through for additional photos.


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

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White Bean Dip

For some reason, I've been craving a simple, tasty white bean dip, so I made this up. It's great with baby carrots and pita chips.

White Bean Dip

1 15-oz can white kidney (cannellini) beans
1 teaspoon minced garlic
zest and juice of one small lemon
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a mini-food processor and process until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Variations: I haven't tried any of these, but I'm thinking that if you want heat, a dash or two of hot sauce would be nice. Or, try adding some spices, like cumin or curry powder, depending on what you like.

Previously: More recipes at Chief Family Officer

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One recall today: Eddie Bauer play yards

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

Eddie Bauer Play Yards with Rocking Bassinets Recalled by Dorel Juvenile Group Due to Suffocation Hazard - 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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[IN]PLACE System by Peter Walsh & DiViga collection giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the [IN]PLACE System by Peter Walsh & DiVoga Product Collection giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Erin K. (erinr***@gmail.com)

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

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Works for me: Make a quick weekday lunch salad

One of the benefits of cooking at home instead of eating out is that you eat healthier. And I've definitely been eating healthier the last few weeks. One thing I've started doing is packing a salad for lunch every day. If I add protein, it can serve as an entree, though I'm more likely to leave out the protein and have it as a side dish along with leftovers from the previous night's dinner.

I'm all about the speedy packing, however, and I've established a system for packing a quick salad the night before. The first thing I do is drain and rinse a can of black beans. I have a small colander that comes with a bowl, so I use that. The second thing I do is chop a package of steamed beets. I get these at Trader Joe's – they come vacuum packed, and there are approximately five steamed beets in each package. I dice the beets and store them in a plastic container.

Each night, I put about 1/3 cup beans and 1/4 cup beets in the bottom of a plastic bowl with a lid. (I use the bowl that came with this Lock & Lock set but any similar container will work.) If I want dressing, I'll add some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt to the bean and beet mixture. Then I fill the rest of the bowl with lettuce, and top the lettuce with some shredded cheese (usually part-skim mozzarella). If I want protein, like shredded chicken or kalua pork, I add that on top with or instead of the cheese. Because the wet ingredients are at the bottom of the bowl, the lettuce won't wilt (just make sure that it's dry before you pack it).

In the morning, all you have to do is grab the container and go!

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at We are THAT Family.

Previously: A wake-up call: Time to go back to menu planning and cooking at home

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Giveaway: One-year subscription to All You

A couple of weeks ago, I gave All You magazine a thumbs up, so I'm delighted that they're now giving away a one-year subscription to one lucky CFO reader! Make sure to pick up this month's issue – you'll find great coupons (see which ones), plus tips from Couponmom.com's Stephanie Nelson, thrifty-chic fashion solutions, and pantry tips for economical meals.

If you can't wait to win this giveaway, don't forget that you can buy a one-year subscription for just $10 at Amazon.

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. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, spread the word about this contesttweet about the giveaway, Stumble this post, 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 complete the form once per entry. 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 must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, May 19.

Good luck!

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Does the mortgage interest deduction make carrying a mortgage worthwhile?

Since announcing our intention to pay off our mortgage in six years, I've been asked if that's wise, given that the interest on a mortgage is tax deductible. The short answer is, it doesn't really matter to me. Paying off the mortgage will free up a lot of cash flow, which in turn will open up lots of options for us - options that I most definitely want to have in six years, because they may include things like the very expensive private school that we can't afford right now.

The long answer is - no surprise here - it depends - on whether you can earn more money with the extra principal payment than you would save by paying off that amount of principal. The math gets kind of complicated (at least for me), and I'm not a CPA or tax lawyer, so let me know if I haven't got this right.

Let's say that you'll pay $10,000 in mortgage interest this year and are in the 25% tax bracket, meaning that you'll pay $2500 less in taxes thanks to your mortgage. Let's also assume that if you pay an extra $250 per month in principal, you'll reduce your mortgage interest to $9,000, and therefore reduce your tax deduction to $2250. In other words, you'll end up paying $250 more in taxes this year because you paid off $3000 extra in principal ($250 x 12) . But you also paid $1,000 less in mortgage interest, for a net gain of $750.

Now, suppose you could take that $250 per month and invest it somewhere and earn more than $750 over the course of the year (plus more, to cover the taxes you'll owe on the extra income). Then theoretically, you're better off not paying extra on the mortgage but going with the investment instead. However, it also occurs to me that the math ought to be even more complicated because the mortgage interest savings are probably compounded over the life of the loan - that sort of calculation is way beyond my abilities, so I'm not even going to attempt to go there.

In my case, I haven't run the actual numbers to see if we could earn more via investment than we'll save by paying off the mortgage early. I don't even want to attempt those calculations, and in any event, it doesn't matter because I would predict the gain wouldn't outweigh the options that I'm looking forward to having in six years. And for us, that's what really matters.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Romano's Macaroni Grill Restaurant Favorites Giveaway Winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Romano's Macaroni Grill Restaurant Favorites giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winners:

Susie G. (ger***@juno.com)
Sandi (sandr****@gmail.com)
and Cindy D. (dma***@gmail.com)

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

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Friday, May 08, 2009

CVS in California: No ECB deals in May?

Last year, CVS acquired Longs Drugs, and apparently this is the month that they're converting Longs stores into CVS stores. There's a corner a few miles from my house where Longs and CVS have been across the street from each other for years, and I've been wondering if the Longs will simply close - but I haven't driven by that intersection to see what's happening.

What this means for local Drugstore Game players is that there are no new ECB deals this week - and possibly for the rest of May. There's some mention over at Slickdeals that Longs will start accepting ECBs on May 21, and perhaps the ECB deals will return around that date.

In the meantime, it appears the deals that have carried over from previous weeks are still working. For example, the Aveeno and Softsoap deals are still printing ECBs, and my receipt from a couple days ago lists the Nivea deal. (The Aveeno deal reportedly ends on 5/9, and the Softsoap deal on 5/30.) Slickdeals has a list of deals that may still be working.

Also, it appears that if you have a rain check for an item that gave ECBs, the cashiers can "force" the ECB to print when you redeem the rain check.

I have a bunch of ECBs that will expire next week (from when I used the $20 off $100 purchase coupon). The carry-over ECB deals are not on things that we will use, so I'm probably going to end up burning the ECBs on things we will use. Fortunately, some of the sale items this week are things we can use (like Kleenex and Glide floss, which is by far our preferred brand).

But I can't help but hope that CVS sees their California sales plummet in May so that the ECB program proves its value to them!

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

One recall today: Hooded sweatshirts

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

Children’s Hooded Jackets with Drawstrings Recalled by Jason Evans Associates Due to Strangulation Hazard


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

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Menu Planning Tip: Check the Weather

I've been planning weekly menus for a couple of months now. I used to do it years ago, and started again recently when Marc and I decided that I should cook more so we could stop spending so much on take out.

I've gotten better about planning my menus around what I already have and what needs to be used up, and yesterday I figured something out that I'm going to put into practice this coming week:

I'm going to check the 7-day weather forecast when planning my menu.

Why is this important? Well, my car thermometer read 99 degrees yesterday. And I'd planned on making pizza for dinner, which of course meant turning on the oven.

I made the pizzas anyway, and they were delicious. But I realized that I can possibly avoid this problem in the future by checking the weather forecast.

Of course, pretty soon, every day the temperature will hit 100+ degrees and I'm planning to keep my oven use down to once a week when we get into summer. But until that happens, I'm checking the weather forecast before I plan my menu!

Previously: Menu Planning: Getting Started

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

One recall today: Craft kit necklaces

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

Children’s Jewelry Craft Kits Recalled by Action Products International Due to Risk of Lead Exposure - 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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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

One recall today: Knitted hats

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

Ambler Mountain Works Recalls Children's Knitted Hats 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.

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Review & Giveaway: [IN]PLACE System by Peter Walsh & DiVoga Products

As I've mentioned in the past, I love being organized, but the throes of motherhood have made my life incredibly chaotic and I'm not nearly as organized as I'd like to be. So when I was offered a chance to try out some new products from the [IN]PLACE System by Peter Walsh (you might know him from the TLC show Clean Sweep), I happily accepted. The products are lovely, and designed to be used together in one comprehensive organizing system. Just having them makes me feel more organized!

I probably would have done even better if I'd reorganized from scratch – but I don't have time for that! However, I have happily incorporated some of the items into the space on my desk, most notably the File Tote. It's my new tax organizer, and every time I get a new tax-related document, I just slip it into the designated folder.

I also received some DiVoga products, which are equally stylish and work well with the [IN]PLACE System. I'm now organized enough that I don't feel overwhelmed by my desk!

And best of all, I get to share the love so you can get organized too! Thanks to our sponsor, one lucky CFO reader will win a File Tote by [IN]Place System by Peter Walsh and a DiVoga product collection, plus a super fun colorful giant rubberband ball (Marc immediately swiped mine before I even had a chance to say "no swiping!").

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. You'll get the latest on CFO delivered right to your favorite feed aggregator or inbox, so you don't miss any weekly giveaways. (If you're already a subscriber, just fill out the form to let me know.)

For a third entry, spread the word about this contesttweet about the giveaway, Stumble this post, 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 complete the form once per entry. 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 must respond within 48 hours, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, May 12.

Good luck!

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Monday, May 04, 2009

How to write a complimentary letter and get free coupons

Recently, I read over at A Full Cup that someone sent an email to the makers of Shout stain remover, telling them how much she loved one of their products, and that in response, they sent her a coupon for a free product.

It was enough to get me over my hesitation of sending complimentary messages, which came about because my first experience went so badly. It was five or more years ago, when I called the 800 number on a package of Glide floss, and told the representative how much I loved their product. The rep said thank you, and that was the end of the call. I was much too shy to ask for a coupon, and it was many years until I tried again.

Since I keep Shout wipes at work, I emailed Shout myself and said that I love the wipes and keep them in my desk at work, and that I'm constantly handing them out to colleagues so they can erase their spills. I then asked for coupons. Two days later, I received an email thanking me, and a couple of days after that, my free product coupon arrived.

So here are the keys to a complimentary letter:
  • Keep it brief. Don't bury your request in a long missive.
  • Be honest. Have a genuine compliment. If you've never tried the product, say that instead to justify your request. If you have a suggestion for improving the product, tell them.
  • Make your request explicit. If you want a coupon, you can say something like, "I would appreciate some coupons for my next purchase of your product."
  • As always, be polite. There's really no excuse not to be.
Now, I'm off to see if there's an email contact form for Glide floss!

Previously: How to write an effective complaint letter

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Stamp Out Hunger: The Annual USPS Food Drive is on Saturday

Each year, the United States Postal Service holds a food drive to collect donations for local food banks. The event is called Stamp Out Hunger and it's one of my favorite charity events because it's so easy to participate. All you have to do is leave a bag(s) of nonperishable grocery items next to your mailbox. (They ask that you not include items that are expired or in glass containers.)

This is an excellent time to go through your pantry and clear out the things you won't use before they expire!

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