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Friday, July 31, 2009

Two recalls yesterday: Hoodies & Play sets

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

Boy’s Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings and Warm up Sets Recalled by Burlington Coat Factory Due to Strangulation Hazard
- Click through for an additional photo.


Little Tikes Recalls Clubhouse Swing Sets Due to Fall Hazard; New Assembly Directions to Be Provided


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

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Giveaway: McDonald's Happy Meal 30th Birthday Ty Teenie Beanie Babies Set

Did you know the McDonald's Happy Meal is celebrating its 30th birthday? No wonder I feel like Happy Meals have always been a part of my life - it's because they have!

To celebrate this milestone, McDonald's commissioned a survey to find the Top 10 "Happiest Cities for Families" in America, and recently announced the results at a birthday celebration last Friday in the "Happiest City" – Minneapolis - with Ronald McDonald, "Happiness Ambassador" (and Olympic Gold Medalist) Shawn Johnson, and a larger-than-life Happy Meal box-shaped cake. (To no one's surprise, Los Angeles is not among the top 10 cities.) Visit the new Happy Meal Birthday website to test your Happy Meal trivia knowledge and download resources to create the ultimate birthday party.

In honor of the 30th Birthday of the Happy Meal, McDonald's has brought back one of its most popular Happy Meal toys ever – the Ty® Teenie Beanie Babies® plush toys. You can get one of the 30 different Teenie Beanie Babies with your Happy Meal purchase through August 13th.

And best of all, one lucky CFO reader will win a complete set of the 30th Birthday Ty® Teenie Beanie Babies® plush toys, courtesy of McDonald's! To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may 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 Thursday, August 6.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One recall yesterday: Baby Bjorn bouncy seats

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

BabySwede LLC Recalls Bouncer Chairs Due to Laceration 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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Ralphs: 7/29 - 8/4

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double one of each like coupon up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments. I'm a little torn on whether to mention the available e-coupons after yesterday's discussion, so I'll just say that there are some available.

Mix & Match appears to be over, and has been replaced by a P&G bonus rewards points deal: Buy any 4 participating P&G products in a single transaction and receive 400 bonus rewards points, which works out to $1 off each product when you get your rewards check. Here are the best participating items I see for this deal (note that the July P&G insert coupons expire on 7/31; there's an insert coming this weekend and some of the coupons may be of a different value):

Cascade $4.49 - Use a $1 coupon from the July P&G insert and get it for $2.49 after rewards.

Charmin 12 Big Roll or 6 Mega Roll or Bounty 8 Roll or 6 Big Roll $7.99 - Use a 25-cents coupon from the July P&G insert and get it for $6.49 after rewards. There are also Upromise e-coupons on these products (which I read somewhere are perfectly okay to combine with paper coupons).

Pringles Stix $2.99 - Use a 50-cents coupon from the July P&G insert and get it for 99 cents after rewards.

Other Sale Items:
Dannon Activia or DanActive $1.88 - Use $1 coupons from the 5/10 or 7/26 SS and get each for 88 cents.

Ralphs Milk 1 gallon $1.99

Oscar Mayer Lunchables 99 cents

Barilla pasta 4/$5 (selected varieties)

Classico Pasta Sauce 4/$9 (selected varieties) - Use the $1/2 printable coupon (available according to A Full Cup) to get each for $2.25.

Grapes 77 cents/lb.

White peaches or nectarines 79 cents/lb.

Lemons, limes or key limes 99 cents/1 lb. bag

Pineapples 99 cents/lb.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Works for Me: Use a rubber band to save on hand soap

As I mentioned yesterday, the boys have started using up hand soap like crazy. I can't complain too much, since it means they're using the bathroom and washing their hands by themselves. But just because the soap was free after sale and coupon doesn't mean I want to waste it.

So to reduce the amount that comes out with each pump, I wrapped a small rubber band around the pump, which prevents the pump from going all the way down. (I think I picked this tip up from someone at A Full Cup, but I can't seem to find the post.) The boys are now getting about half the amount of soap that they used to – still too much, in my opinion, but a significant improvement!

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

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The ethics of stacking coupons

I want to thank Andrea of Mommy Snacks for a thought-provoking email she sent after I posted about saving money with e-coupons last week. It's given me quite a bit of food for thought, and I'd like to know what you think. Andrea said that she had spoken with a customer service representative of Shortcuts, Cellfire and P&G, who said that the companies do not "condone" stacking coupons but can't prevent it.

"Stacking" means using more than one coupon on an item. For example, when I used a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon on the DiGiorno pizza at Pavilions last week, I "stacked" the coupons. It's always been my understanding that such stacking is perfectly legitimate.

I think the stacking that the CSR was concerned about is the type that happened with the Cascade rinse agent in the deal I posted about last week, where I used a free item coupon and also got the benefit of a P&G eSaver e-coupon. I only bought the item because of the coupon, so the manufacturer achieved their goal of getting me to buy their product. I can understand the manufacturer's perspective here, that they don't really want people saving too much money because it cuts into their profits. But they can't have it both ways, especially because, as far as I know, the only way to "deactivate" an e-coupon is to let it expire.

As a consumer, I think it's too much to ask me to always be aware of what e-coupons are available, and to be sure to only use either a paper coupon or an e-coupon. As I said, I always load e-coupons when I get the chance, because otherwise I'll forget about them (and I do, constantly). In this case, having loaded the 50-cents off Cascade e-coupon a couple of weeks ago, the manufacturer's unofficial rule would have precluded me from using the much higher value paper coupon. From my consumer's perspective, that seems grossly unfair. If they don't want me to use the e-coupons, then they shouldn't make them available.

I'm also skeptical of the manufacturers' claim that they can't program their computers to prevent stacking. To some degree, it might be true. But I've noticed that more and more, the registers seem to know which product a paper coupon applies to. Which would indicate that the computers can be programmed to not apply an e-coupon when a paper coupon has "attached" to an item. I realize that it doesn't work with every item, but it seems to me that it's something that will be "fixed" by the manufacturers and retailers within the next couple of years.

In the meantime, I'm not planning to change the way I shop, unless I stop using e-coupons altogether (which is certainly an option - I forget about them all the time anyway).

What do you think, and how do e-coupons factor into your shopping?

P.S. Head over to Mommy Snacks to enter a $100 back-to-school Visa gift card giveaway!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Adapting to life with my two boys

Alex is four, so you'd think I'd be used to living with my kids by now. But I find that life with my boys changes so frequently that I'm constantly having to adapt.

To wit: They have become true consumers.

I don't mean they buy lots of stuff when we go shopping. I mean they use up a lot of stuff around the house!

They eat a lot more now, so a meal cooked for four really does serve only four. Six months ago, I could cook a half pound of pasta, feed the four of us for dinner, and still have leftovers for lunch for Marc and me. No longer. I discovered last week that I need to cook the whole one-pound package if I want leftovers for lunch.

The boys also use up a lot of handsoap in the bathroom. (I'll share my trick for cutting down on that later this week.) We go through toilet paper and tissue more quickly than before, too. (Not that I'm complaining about them being potty trained in the least. We can't be done with diapers soon enough!)

The thing is, I'm sure that as they get older, these types of changes will become more and more frequent. I'm trying to prepare myself mentally for the day when I have two ravenous adolescents threatening to devour everything in the kitchen.

In the meantime, I realize that I simply need to learn to accept these types of changes as a given, and not be surprised when I notice them. (Any tips on specific things to be prepared for?) I want to stay on top of these shifts in behavior and consumption so that I can keep us well stocked. I wouldn't want to run out of toilet paper or soap and have to pay full price on them!

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Honey Kix prize pack giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Honey Kix prize pack giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Fran (ptot***@sbcglobal.net)

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

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Roundup: Slow cooker tips & more

Homemade Yogurt & How to Have A Princess Party From Scratch And On A Budget @ Growing Up Gabel - I remember reading the yogurt-in-the-crockpot post when Stephanie published it, but I was too wary to try it (based upon my mediocre experiences with my old yogurt maker). But after reading Camille's post, I'm going to give it a try.

Slow Cooking During a Recession @ A Year of Crockpotting - Speaking of Stephanie, she has some tips on saving money on food.

An Update on the Youth Cash Card Experiment @ All Financial Matters - I'm always looking for ideas on how to teach the boys to manage money, so this update was a welcome one.

Back to School Shopping for Less @ Common Sense with Money - Mercedes has some tips on saving money on school supplies and clothing. I missed most of last year's sales, but I've made an effort to get the free and really cheap items this year to start my stockpile for next school year so that I can just reach in to fulfill teacher requests for supplies. (Yes, storage is a small issue. I'm working on it.)

WFMW: Price Matching @ Moneywise Moms - I saw the language in our local Target ad about price matching, but Gina explained how it actually works. The customer service at the Targets I go to isn't that great (no comparison to the service I've gotten at CVS and Walgreens, for instance), but I'm sure I'll eventually take advantage of this new policy.

Fabuless Coupon Tip Tuesday: Decoding The Store Ad & Fabulous Coupon Binder at Costco @ Fabulessly Frugal - If you haven't been able to make heads or tails of the abbreviations used in posts about store deals, read the first post. I don't use a binder for my coupons, but I might give it a try with this binder, if I can bring myself to go to Costco before the coupon expires on August 2.

Crumbs @ Less is Enough - I'm not especially diligent about saving leftover bread to make breadcrumbs, but I'm intrigued by the muffin and cookie recipes.

20 Scam-Free Ways to Make Money Online Fast @ Erica.biz - I sometimes get asked about how to make money online. I'm now going to direct people to this article.


Simple Sourdough Starter
@ Ruhlman.com - I'm not baking bread until the temps fall, but when I do, I'm going to give this a try. If nothing else, it sounds like a fun science experiment.

Giveaways to check out:
Bake me a Wish Review and Giveaway @ The Bragging Mommy - Win a Triple Chocolate Enrobed Brownie Cake (!), ends 8/1
How Would You Like to Win a YEAR of FREE Ice Cream?? @ We are THAT Family - Win 12 months of Breyer's ice cream, ends 7/27
BABYBJÖRN Review And Giveaway @ Two of a Kind - Win a BABYBJÖRN Potty Chair, ends 8/10
The Closer Season 4 DVD from TNT @ Sweeps4Bloggers - ends 7/31
Energizer Power Through It All Emergency Kit @ Sweeps4Bloggers - ends 8/1
Baby Signs Pop-Up Book and Babies ‘R Us Gift Card GIVEAWAY @ GrowingYourBaby.com - ends 7/27

Stockpile pic of the week: AFC user deniseweber posted a slideshow of her stockpile. OMG!

Runnerup pic of the week: AFC user Ms Coo P'on has a huge stockpile of drinks!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Giveaway: Pillsbury Simply ... Refrigerated Cookies Prize Pack

This week's giveaway is for a Pillsbury Simply ... Refrigerated Cookies prize pack that includes a cookie jar, tote bag, and coupon for a free Simply ... Cookies package (courtesy of MyBlogSpark). The new Simply ... Cookies come in two favorite flavors, Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter and have zero grams trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial colors or flavors and no preservatives. The cookies are ready to bake so there is no messy preparation, and they are ready in minutes. You can also print a high value $1.25 coupon to try these cookies now.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may 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 Saturday, August 1.

Good luck!

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Recall: 28,350 Maxi-Cosi car seats

Dorel is recalling 28,350 Maxi-Cosi Mico Infant Seats because of attachment difficulties between the infant carrier and the base. If the carrier is improperly mounted to the base, the child could be injured in the event of a crash. The affected models include the Maxi-Cosi Mico infant child restraint systems, models 22-371 and 22-372, and Maxi-Cosi Mico infant child restraint system - base only, model 22-515, produced from July 2007 through February 17, 2008.

To receive a free replacement, contact Dorel's customer service department at 1-877-657-9546 or http://www.djgusa.com/.

Read the official NHTSA notice or Dorel's press release.

Image credit: Amazon.com.

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Today's Amazon Friday Sale: Does anyone use a pressure cooker?

I've been noticing pressure cookers in Amazon's Friday Saleslately, and have been wondering if I'd use one. The Wearever 8-Quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker(pictured) is on sale for $69.99. But I have lots of questions, so does anyone have a pressure cooker? Do you use it? What do you make in it? What qualities should I look for? Do you think it would save me time and money and/or help me be a better cook? Thanks for any thoughts!

The other thing that caught my eye this week is the Sensio Bella Cucina Rocket Blender.It's only $19.99, and I've been looking for a new blender for a while now. The only thing is, this seems to be good for smoothies but maybe not for the other kinds of blending I do - for soups, sauces and things like that. But I do mostly make smoothies so I'm thinking about it . . .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Two recalls the last two days: LeapFrog plush & Buster Brown Clogs

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

LeapFrog Recalls Electronic Plush Toys Due to Choking Hazard


Buster Brown Clog Children’s Shoes Recalled by Brown Shoe Co. and Pagoda International Footwear Ltd. Due to Choking 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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Quick Product Reviews: Trader Joe's Edition

I love Trader Joe's. It became my primary grocery store during the 2003 grocery store strike, when I was reluctant to cross the picket lines at the mainstream markets. They don't have sales, and most of the items in the store are their own brand (though they do carry some name brands, like Laughing Cow, and they will take manufacturer's coupons on those). One of the things TJ's is known for is their exceptional prices on wine, but what I love most is their low every day price and wide availability of organic produce, and organic/hormone and antibiotic-free dairy and meat. They frequently have a better selection of organic produce than Whole Foods (although WF always has a better selection of meat). Here are some of the Trader Joe's products I buy regularly:

Lobster Ravioli - You'll find these in the refrigerated pasta section and they're our family's favorite of the prepared pastas there. I serve these with a quick pink sauce.

Beef hot dogs - These are high in fat but they're nitrate-free, so these are my first-choice franks. (I tried serving the nitrate-free turkey hot dogs but Alex, who loves the beef dogs, rejected them.)

Organic, sulfite-free Thompson raisins - Since foreign grapes are on the list of produce that retains a high amount of pesticides, I figure it's best to go with organic raisins. I particularly like these because they don't contain any sulfites (I have a hard time breathing when I consume some).

Party-size frozen meatballs - These little meatballs are about one inch in diameter, making them perfect for little hands. They're a little on the greasy side, but that gives them a lot of flavor and Tyler loves them with ketchup.

Parmesan reggiano cheese - TJ's sells these in vacuum packed wedges. This cheese is of such high quality that I'm not allowed to serve the pre-grated Parmesan cheese anymore. It really doesn't take long to grate the cheese on a microplane, and the fluffy snowflake-like bits are well worth it.

Handmade whole wheat tortillas - These are a little thicker than Mission brand tortillas, but I prefer them because they have fewer ingredients. They do have a fairly short expiration date, so poke around on the shelf to find the freshest packages. (They freeze pretty well.)

Organic cheese sandwich crackers - Surprisingly, these are pretty comparable, nutritionally, to Wheat Thins. The boys love them.

Cereal bars - The boys like strawberry, blueberry and apple. They eat about half of the fig bars before handing them back to me. I like these bars because Tyler doesn't react to them. (He gets a bit of a rash from Kashi cereal bars.)

Chocolate Decadence cereal - The name sounds absurd but it's pretty accurate. I love this cereal, but I didn't see it on the shelf this past weekend. Hopefully they haven't stopped selling it. (TJ's is known to stop production on some products rather quickly – I hope that's not what happened here!)

Ultimate Vanilla Wafers - One of these cookies serves as an occasional "dessert" for the boys, and they're very tasty. I particularly like that they don't contain hydrogenated oil (unlike Nilla brand cookies, last time I checked).

Note: If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, you have my condolences. I would suggest contacting them and urging them to open a store in your neighborhood – your neighbors will thank you!

Kitchen essential: I love my microplane grater.

Previously: More quick product reviews

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ralphs: 7/22 - 7/28

Note: This summary of deals is based on the ad I get in Los Angeles, where Ralphs stores double coupons up to $1. I don't list all of the deals, only what I consider to be really good ones. If I missed any, please let us all know in the comments.

The Mix & Match deal continues through this week, and you can find a list of participating products at A Full Cup. I don't see any spectacular deals, unless you have lots of one coupon, which I usually don't (e.g., 10 $1 off Vitamin Water coupons would make them free + CRV).

Strawberries 77 cents/lb

Mangos - 3/$1

Top Round Roast $1.99/lb - I don't know much about this cut of meat, but I've yet to find one that can't be made delicious in the slow cooker.

Whole Turkey Breast $1.49/lb - Question: how would you cook this?

Crest Toothpaste & Oral-B Toothbrush $1 - There were 50 cents off and 75 cents off toothpaste coupons in the June & July P&G inserts, and a $1 off toothbrush coupon in the July P&G insert, making all of these items free. Remember that only one like coupon will double (so you can use one each of the toothpaste coupons).

Selected melons 2 lbs/$1

Blueberries $3.99/18 oz.

Broccoli crowns or cauliflower 99 cents/lb

Organic russet potatoes 5 lb bag B1G1 free - That's probably a pretty good deal on organic potatoes (I don't know the actual price because I haven't been to the store yet). Potatoes are on the list of produce that retain a lot of pesticides, so I try to always buy organic.

Green onions or red radishes - 2 bunches/$1

Roma tomatoes - 88 cents/lb

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Save money without even realizing it with e-coupons

Like any good couponer, I've registered my store loyalty cards at all of the e-coupon sites: Shortcuts, Cellfire, Upromise, and P&G eSaver. (Kroger's e-coupon site, Bringing Hope to the Table, appears to have fizzled and is pretty much blank now.)

There are some e-coupons I know I'll never use - like the $2.50 off Pedigree DentaStix, which becomes a moneymaker with a sale and the $2.50 off printable coupon. I've found that the e-coupons are somewhat unreliable, in that about once in every ten transactions or so, the e-coupon doesn't come off. So I won't take a chance with an item I don't need at all.

But when it comes to items that I would definitely buy if they're a good deal, I always load the coupon. This is important because I tend to forget about e-coupons when I'm putting together my scenarios.

For example, Pavilions (which is a Safeway store out here in SoCal) often has coupons in the weekly ad that require a minimum $20 purchase after sale and store coupons. This week's flyer has a coupon for a 12-inch DiGiorno pizza for $3.99. Couple that store coupon with a $1 off manufacturer coupon, and that's $2.99 for a large frozen pizza, which is an excellent deal on an easy meal when I'm not in the mood to cook. (My family doesn't like the flatbread pizzas so I got the rising crust variety - but if you like the flatbread, there are $1.25 off coupons out there.) To get to the $20 minimum, I decided to use one of my free Cascade rinse agent coupons (they come in the free Home Made Simple booklet that I told you about a couple of weeks ago). It was only after I got home and checked my receipt that I realized that in addition to getting the full $4.99 off with the free coupon, I also got 50 cents off for a P&G eSaver coupon on any Cascade product. So the purchase, which I made just to keep my out of pocket expenses to a minimum, actually turned into a slight moneymaker (even after our 9.75% sales tax).

The moral of the story is that you should always load every e-coupon you come across for a product that you might buy at some point. Unlike printable coupons, which cost at least a penny or two to print and take up space, e-coupons cost you nothing. (Well, they do cost a little privacy - if you're paranoid about companies tracking your purchases, e-coupons might not be for you.)

And if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself saving money without even realizing it!

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Horrible Harry Cracks the Code giveaway winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Horrible Harry Cracks the Code giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Andrea (a10sm***@hotmail.com)

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

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Calculating nutrition data for your own recipes

When I was on Weight Watchers, I could use their web site to calculate the nutrition facts for my own recipes. It was very handy because I'm constantly creating my own dishes. But I'm no longer doing Weight Watchers, so I needed a different source for nutrition data.

Enter SparkPeople (where you can keep a food journal, log your cardio and strength exercises, and join a community), and their sister site, Spark Recipes. Their free recipe calculator is easy to use, and instantly provides the nutrition data per serving. You can tweak the recipes to minimize calories, and have that all-important awareness of how much you're eating.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Exclusive printable coupons at AllYou.com

I know All You as the magazine with the awesome coupons, but they are more than a source of coupons. The re-launched AllYou.com has a lot of articles and money-saving tips, like Create Your Own Water Park at Home and Asian Meals Under $2. Plus, you can get a peek at the coupons in the upcoming August issue. I love the coupons in the magazine because they are generally higher value than coupons that come in the Sunday paper.

Of course, I couldn't help but notice that the web site has the all-too-irritating pop-up subscription window, and it pops up on every page. That unfortunately renders the site pretty much unusable in my book. However, don't avoid AllYou.com completely – they have exclusive printable coupons through Coupons.com, such as 75 cents off Mahatma rice and $1 off select Snapple products (just go to "Coupons" in the nav bar, and click on "coupons" in the drop down menu).

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Three recalls yesterday: Hooded sweatshirts & Phone toys

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

Children’s Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings Recalled by Propac Distributing Due to Strangulation Hazard - Click through for photos of additional styles.


Evenflo Recalls Telephone Toys Due to Choking Hazard


Children’s Hooded Jackets with Drawstrings Recalled by EMH Associates Due to Entrapment Hazard


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

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Psychology of Having Multiple Savings Accounts

Back in 2007, I finally designated a savings account specifically for money to pay infrequent bills – things like life insurance, car insurance, homeowner's insurance, property taxes, disability insurance, etc. I calculated how much all of these expenses cost annually, divided by twelve, and began transferring that amount into the Infrequent Bills Account each month, minus whatever payments were due that month. About three times each year, I have to take money out of the IBA to pay all of the bills due that month. It all balances out, though, and knowing that the money for those bills is always available and accounted for makes my bill-paying very easy.

So it's no surprise that I've become a fan of having multiple savings accounts for specifically designated purposes. I've taken to keeping these accounts at ING Direct simply because it's so easy to open a "subaccount" there (once you've figured out how to do it – the first time, I had to hunt down directions). We now have a "car fund," which gets a monthly deposit roughly equivalent to a car payment. The money in this account will naturally be used to pay cash for our next new car (which, if all goes according to plan, will be in four or five years).

As I mentioned earlier this week, I recently created a "mortgage fund," which now gets a monthly deposit that's half of our debt snowball. Psychologically, I like keeping the money separate from our regular savings/emergency fund. It seems less available, somehow, although of course it's not. And keeping the money in a separate account makes it easier to stay on track with our original six-year payoff plan, if we decide that we can go ahead and use the money to prepay our mortgage.

If you're having trouble keeping track of the amounts you're saving for specific purposes, I highly recommend trying separate accounts. Just be sure not to open so many that you can't keep track of them!

Previously: My review of ING Direct

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ralphs: 7/15 - 7/21/09

The Mix & Match event is back at Ralphs this week (Safeway stores too, so Vons and Pavilions out here in SoCal), but unless there are good unadvertised M&M deals, it looks like a pretty slow week to me. I'm going to go for the produce deals, and I'll take a look around while I'm there. In the meantime, below are the best deals I see in this week's circular - I'll update the post throughout the week as other deals come to light.

Mix & Match - Buy 10 participating items and get $5 off
Vitamin Water $1.29 - if you have a $1 off coupon, these will be a 21-cent moneymaker after coupon and M&M (actually, 16 cents after CRV)

Kellogg's Cereal, Nutri-Grain bars, & Special K bars $2.49 - if you have a $1 off coupon, these will be 99 cents after M&M discount; the ad shows Mini-Wheats and Raisin Bran, which you can get for 88 cents after coupon at Target this week, but the cereal will be a decent filler if you need something to get to your 10 items.

Keebler Fudge Shoppe Cookies $2.49 - There are printables for these here and at Coupons.com. The final price will range from 99 cents to $1.49.

Note: You can combine the Keebler cookies and Kellogg's cereal deal to do the Fuel for School rebate, but Target is probably a better deal if you have coupons. See Money Saving Mom for Target scenario examples.

Colgate Toothpaste 4.0-6.0 oz or 8.2 oz $1.99 - use a $1 coupon from the 7/12 SS or 75 cents coupon from the 6/28 SS, with a 75 cents coupon from Cellfire.com for a final price of 24 cents

Daisy Sour Cream 16 oz. $2.49 - Use the 50-cents off coupon from the 5/31 RP and get it for 99 cents.

The rest of the deals
Black plums or yellow nectarines 49 cents/lb

Personal watermelon or Tuscan cantaloupes $1.99 each

Ralphs milk 1 gallon $1.99

Oscar Mayer bologna or salami 88 cents

Boneless pork butt $1.99/lb

Asparagus $1.99/lb

Green or yellow zucchini 99 cents/lb

Dannon Light 'n Fit Nonfat Yogurt 6 oz. 60 cents - use the 60 cents off 6 coupon from the 5/3 SS for a final price of 6/$2.60

Thanks to CalItalian at SlickDeals for some of the deals.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Works for me: Shave in multiple directions

I first read this tip years ago in a book of beauty tips, and I was reminded of it the other day in the shower. It was such a big revelation for me that I thought it was worth sharing: Shave your underarms in multiple directions. Apparently underarm hair grows in more than one direction, so the general guideline of shaving in just one direction doesn't quite get the job done.

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

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Giveaway: Honey Kix Prize Pack

This week's giveaway is for a Honey Kix Prize Pack, courtesy of MyBlogSpark. The Honey Kix prize pack includes a coupon for a free box of cereal, a honey jar, a cereal bowl, a container to take your cereal and milk on-the-go, and a great container to keep cereal fresh at home.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may 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, July 21.

Good luck!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Re-thinking the Mortgage Payoff Plan

On a day-to-day basis, I tend to focus on the small picture: save a few dollars on milk and cereal, buy the boys' clothes a year ahead on clearance, pay insurance bills in full to avoid the installment plan "convenience" fee, etc.

But lately I've been thinking more about the big picture: our long term goals, what's likely to happen in the next five to ten to twenty years, and especially, how do we balance liquidity with paying off the mortgage?

While both Marc's and my jobs seem secure for the moment, we are definitely not immune to the economic crisis that our country – and particularly, our home state of California – is weathering right now. We could be hit by pay cuts or layoffs, a steep decline in the quality of our local public school, or even a medical crisis or something unpredictable.

Pay cuts or layoffs are unlikely but not impossible or even improbable. One of my best friends and her husband were both laid off earlier this year and just found jobs after months of searching. It was stressful, to say the least, but they survived as well as anyone could due in large part to their conservative spending habits and savings. We want to be in the same position, just in case.

Additionally, you may recall that I've spent much of the last two years researching public and private schools in an effort to determine where to send Alex next year. I was pleased to discover that our local public school is at least as good as any private school that we could afford. But of course, whether the public school is able to maintain its high standards in the midst of this recession remains to be seen. Class sizes are increasing this coming year. The school board has approved a three-year plan to eliminate full-day kindergartens and all arts and music programs, cut salaries by five percent in 2011-2012, and require furlough days. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to "suspend" mandatory school funding. I'm cautiously optimistic that because our public school seems to have a committed administration and an active PTA, it will be able to adjust to these restrictions without a loss in quality. The PTA, if it is able to raise enough money, can provide funding for supplemental arts and music programs, for instance.

But, who knows what the situation will be in a year or two? It would be nice to have the option of sending the boys to private school should that become preferable.

It would also be nice to pay off the mortgage in six years, as we'd originally planned. But sometimes it's necessary to strike a balance.

For the time being, we are splitting our debt snowball and directing half to our mortgage and the other half into savings. I created yet another subaccount at ING to keep this money separate. My thinking is that we will re-evaluate every six months or so, and if things look good, we can make a large principal payment on the mortgage that will keep us on the path to full repayment in six years. On the other hand, if we feel like hoarding cash, we can do that too.

This plan worked well for us when it came to paying off my student loans – and in fact, we did that a few months earlier than I'd anticipated. So hopefully things will work out that well when it comes to the mortgage too.

Previously: How I'm paying off my student loans

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chex Mix Bars giveaway winners

Thank you to everyone who entered the Chex Mix Bars giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winners:

Lauren (lauren.bel****@gmail.com)
and Kasey (kasha*****@aol.com)

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

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Three recalls yesterday: Balls & hooded sweatshirts

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

American Greetings Corp. Recalls Sport Balls Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


Children’s Hooded Sweatshirts with Drawstrings Recalled by C-Mrk Inc. Due to Strangulation Hazard


Children’s Hooded Jackets and Pullover Sweatshirts with Drawstrings Recalled by Hard Tail Due to Strangulation Hazard - Click through for photos of additional styles.


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

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Giveaway: Horrible Harry Cracks the Code

This week's giveaway is a paperback copy of Suzy Kline's Horrible Harry Cracks the Code.

Here's the description from Amazon:
Horrible Harry thinks he’s the world’s second-best detective—second only to Sherlock Holmes, of course. But the rest of the kids in Room 3B aren’t so sure. So he’s determined to prove himself by solving the latest mystery at South School—how to win the new cafeteria contest. He knows the cafeteria lady is using a special mathematical code, but can he crack the code before his classmate Mary tattles on him again? Or will the case go cold right before Harry’s eyes?

The book is recommended for ages 9 through 12, and seems like a great summer read.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you may 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 Friday, July 17.

Good luck!

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

One more recall yesterday: 1 Million Kolcraft Play Yards

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

Kolcraft Recalls 1 Million Play Yards Due to Fall Hazard - The recall includes Kolcraft, Carter’s, Sesame Street, Jeep, Contours, Care Bear and Eric Carle play yards. Click through for additional photos and a long list of affected model numbers.


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

Bacon & Spinach Strata

My friend C. gave me a couple of loaves of La Brea Bakery's Roasted Garlic Bread, and I wasn't quite sure what to do with so much of it. And then it came to me: a strata. I totally improvised this recipe, so the measurements aren't exact, and I wish I'd thought to add one cup of shredded cheese. I also think it could have used a little more flavor - if I'd had any fresh herbs, I would have added them but I made this at the end of the week when my fridge was rather bare.

Bacon & Spinach Strata
Serves 4 to 6

10 ounces La Brea Bakery Roasted Garlic Bread or other peasant-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 slices bacon, diced
12 ounces spinach, chopped
4 eggs
2 cups milk
salt & pepper to taste
nonstick cooking spray

1. Lightly spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray. Add the bread to a large mixing bowl.

2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and cook the bacon until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the bacon and add to the bread, reserving 2 teaspoons of fat in the pan. (Discard remaining fat.) Return the pan to heat and add the spinach. Sauté the spinach until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach to the bread and bacon, and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk, salt and pepper (and anything else you might be using, like herbs and/or cheese). Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and stir. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for four hours to overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and the egg mixture is firm.

(Note: I'm okay with this as a summer time dish because the 8x8 baking pan fits into my toaster oven - that means it doesn't heat up my whole kitchen!)

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

One recall today: Jaloma Pacifiers

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

Pacifiers Recalled by Gromex Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for an additional photo.


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

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Ralphs: 7/8 - 7/14/09

I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, but I always check the weekly circulars for more traditional grocery stores, like Ralphs (Kroger family of stores) and Pavilions (Safeway family). Pavilions tends to track the national sales at all Safeway-owned stores, so planning my trips there is relatively easy. But I've struggled with Ralphs.

The single best source of deals I've found is the SoCal Grocery thread at SlickDeals, where user CalItalian regularly posts coupon match ups for the weekly ad. But I've found that even that isn't enough, since I find unadvertised deals on other sites like A Full Cup.

So, I've decided to list the best deals at Ralphs each week (I'll update the post throughout the week as I come across more deals). CFO isn't really a deals blog, but my hope is that the list will help some of you as well - and I'd love to get some feedback on this, too. We'll see how it goes, but here are the best deals I see in this week's ad:

DiGiorno or CPK Pizza $4.99 - For DiGiorno, there was a $1 off coupon in the 6/14 SS. If the Flatbread pizzas are included, there was a $1.50 off coupon in the 5/17 SS. For CPK, I'm hoping that the Rising Crust pizza is included because I have $2 off printables (that don't seem to be available any more).

Lean Cuisine Entrees 5/$10 - There was a Buy 2 Get 1 free coupon in the July All You. There are a couple of other LC coupons out there, but this is the best one I can find.

Ben & Jerry's - The pints are 2/$7, but I'm hoping this means the new Flipped Out sundaes will also be on sale because I'd like to try it. There were B&J coupons in the 6/28 RP.

Strawberries and peaches (white or yellow) are 99 cents/pound.

Bounty single rolls $1.25 - There were 25-cents off coupons in the June and July P&G inserts, which will double. And there's a 25-cents off any Bounty ecoupon at P&G eSaver, so that's 50 cents for one roll (only once, since the ecoupon can only be redeemed once).

Broccoli crowns and cauliflower are 99 cents/pound.

Thomas' English Muffins B1G1 - The last time these were buy one, get one, I think they were priced at $3.79. They are usually $1.99 at the bread outlet, so it's a pretty good price if you get two.

Skippy Peanut Butter 99 cents (selected varieties)

Also, if you spend $50 in one transaction, you'll get double bonus points. According to CalItalian at SlickDeals, the $50 minimum is before coupons. So this is a good time to use those coupons for free items. I will probably try to get my total up to $75 with free item coupons since I have a $5 off $75 purchase coupon from the Clipper magazine that comes periodically in the mail.

Update: This year's Kellogg's Fuel for School $10 rebate is back (click on "More" at the bottom right to register so you can print the form). The participating products are
  • any Kellogg's Cereal (10 oz. or larger)
  • any Keebler or Austin Product (8 oz. or larger)
  • any Sunshine Product (8 oz. or larger)
  • any Eggo Product (4 ct. or larger)
  • any Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Cereal Bar (8 ct. or larger)
  • any Kellogg's Special K Cereal Bar (8 ct. or larger)
  • any Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Toaster Pastries (8 ct. or larger)
  • any Kellogg's Rice Krispies Treats Squares (8 ct. or larger)
  • any Kellogg's Fruit Flavored Snacks (6 ct. or larger)
  • any MorningStar Farms Veggie Foods Product (5 oz. or larger)
  • any 100 Calorie Right Bites (6 ct. or larger)
Keep in mind that all 10 items need to be purchased in a single transaction. According to A Full Cup user AWools, Morningstar Farms products are on sale for 2/$7. There are apparently $2 off coupons in booklets, but if you don't have those, there are $1 off printable coupons.

There's a deal where you get $3 off if you buy 3 selected Keebler products. There are $1 off Fudge Shoppe and 55-cents off any Keebler cookie coupons, and $1 off 2 Fudge Shoppe coupons. You could also use $1 off Sandies coupons if you have any left. The ad says one offer per household, so presumably you can only do this deal once.

Eggos and Eggo Bake Shop products are on sale for $2.39 and $2.99 respectively. There are $1 off Bake Shop coupons at RedPlum (although you should be able to get them for less at Target).

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Quick Product Reviews - Food Edition

Here are some food and food-related products we've tried recently:

Healthy Choice - Sweet Asian Potstickers - The potstickers were okay enough to eat, but the rest of this entree was inedible. I would only buy this if it were a moneymaker.

Healthy Choice - Mediterranean Pasta - I think this entree is poorly named, because I don't think cranberries and fontina and cinnamon when I think Mediterranean. And the combination here didn't work for me. I'd buy this if it were a moneymaker, but I wouldn't eat it.

Healthy Choice - Pumpkin Squash Ravioli - This one was the worst of all, because it was trying too hard to be savory and sweet at the same time. I'm not crazy about cinnamon, especially in savory dishes, and there was way too much in this. I tossed the whole thing after a couple of bites. I wouldn't eat this again.

Special K Crackers - These are a new product I got cheap thanks to a promotion at Target. They're more like Kashi 7 Grain Crackers than Wheat Thins and quite tasty. I like that there aren't any hydrogenated oils in them.

Rubbermaid Food Storage Containers- I've found that these containers really do extend the life of my produce, especially the pieces that are at the bottom, and especially fruit that tends to exude juice over time - things like watermelon, for example. It's still important to dry the produce well before putting it in the container, but I'd say the containers add a day or two to the life of my produce.

Previously: More quick product reviews

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes

I'd been giving the boys store bought frozen waffles for breakfast on weekday mornings, but since I'm not a big fan of processed food, all of the additives weighed heavily on my mind. Unfortunately, Tyler won't eat plain or fruit pancakes, but I hit pay dirt when I added a little bit of chocolate to a recipe adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking.

Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes approximately 16 pancakes

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, very finely chopped (tip: use a serrated knife)
butter or nonstick cooking spray, for cooking

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt) and mix well. In a small mixing bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until flour mixture is just moistened. Stir in chocolate.

2. Preheat a griddle or large nonstick pan over medium heat, and melt some butter on it (or lightly coat with cooking spray). Use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to pour batter onto the griddle. When there are air bubbles popping, carefully flip the pancakes. Let cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes or until the bottom is the desired color. Repeat with remaining batter, occasionally cleaning off the griddle or pan with a paper towel.

3. To freeze these pancakes, cook until lightly browned, and cool completely. Separate with wax paper or parchment paper and freeze. You can defrost these in the microwave (they'll probably take about 10 seconds or so), but I prefer to heat them in the toaster oven to get the edges crispy again.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Safety alert: It may be best to avoid drop-side cribs

A few months ago, the Baby Bargains Book blog posted about Babies R Us's decision to stop selling drop-side cribs. The decision came after more than 375,000 Jardine cribs were recalled, costing BRU a lot of money (they're the exclusive seller of Jardine). The Baby Bargains Book blog suggests that the problem isn't inherent with drop-side cribs, which have been around for decades without the kinds of problems we're seeing now, and that the baby gear industry is motivated by the increased profit they could make from non-drop-side cribs.

I'm no safety expert, but we had two drop-side cribs at one point when Tyler was an infant. His crib was one of the Jardine cribs that was recalled – it cost about $300 and was of noticeably poorer quality than the convertible Simmons crib that we had bought for Alex for almost $600. The drop-side on the Jardine crib worked so badly that I stopped using it – I couldn't use it one-handed, and it was quite loud. And I'm 5'3" so you know the drop-side had to be really bad for me to not use it. By contrast, the drop-side on the Simmons crib always worked great.

From this admittedly tiny sampling, the lesson I draw is that you get what you pay for. Not that $300 is a pittance, but the difference in the quality of the two cribs was dramatic. And, given all of the recalls recently for drop-side cribs, it may be better to play it safe and avoid drop-side cribs simply because the hardware is more complicated. (By my count over at the CPSC site, there have been six recalls involving drop-side cribs since last fall.)

At the very least, if you have children still sleeping in cribs, you should read this warning from the CPSC about cribs. It includes this list of safety tips for all cribs:
  • Parents should not use any crib with missing, broken or loose parts.
  • Hardware should be inspected from time to time and tightened to keep the crib sturdy.
  • When using a drop side crib parents should check to make sure the drop side or any other moving part operates smoothly on its track.
  • Always check all sides and corners of the crib for disengagement. Any disengagement can create a gap and entrap a child.
  • Do not try to repair any side of the crib without manufacturer approved hardware or with tape, wire or rope.
  • Putting a broken side up against the wall does not solve the problem and can often make it worse.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Two recalls today: Cribs & baby floats

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

Simplicity Drop Side Cribs Recalled by Retailers Due to Risk of Death from Suffocation - Click through for more photos.


Aqua-Leisure Industries Recalls Inflatable Baby Floats Due to Drowning Hazard - Click through for photos of other float styles.


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

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Earn cash with Swag Bucks

Search & WinI'm still loving Swag Bucks, through which I continue to earn Amazon gift certificates. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that they've added a true cash option for redemption. Eighty Swag Bucks will now get you a $5 deposit into your PayPal account.

For me, Amazon gift certificates continue to be the better option since a $5 certificate code only costs me 45 Swag Bucks - and I know I'll spend the money at Amazon for sure. But, if you're looking for cash, this is certainly a very easy and totally free way to earn some.

Back in my original Swag Bucks review, I said that it took me about a month to earn 45 Swag Bucks. But it seems to me that I'm earning Swag Bucks a little more frequently through my own searches, so it might not take you that long these days.

Of course, you'll earn even more Swag Bucks if your friends sign up using your referral link. So I want to thank everyone who's signed up using my referral link, because of course, I've earned those Amazon gift certificates a lot faster thanks to you!

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Works for Me Wednesday - Summer Recipe Edition: Couscous Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes

This week's Works for Me Wednesday is the Summer Recipe Edition. I'm contributing a recipe I created a few years ago when Alex was just a baby:

Summer Couscous Salad With Heirloom Tomatoes
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
3 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes (or halved cherry or grape tomatoes)
1 15-oz. can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
2. In a large bowl, combine the basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar, and stir with a whisk.
3. Add the couscous, tomatoes and garbanzo beans to the dressing and toss. Taste and add more salt and balsamic vinegar to taste.