Archive for January, 2008

How to Stock Up on Free Items at Rite-Aid

As I mentioned in my previous post I purchase a lot of items for free or nearly free at my local Rite-Aid drugstore. The process for attaining items is easy.

At the beginning of each month I click over to Rite-Aid’s Single Check Rebate page to view the current list of rebates available for the month. (You can also find brochures in the front of most stores.) Look through the list of rebates in search of any items that might interest you. If you use Rite-Aid’s website you can actually create a list of all of the items of interest, so you can print it out, and take it to the store with you.

Take note of the dates associated with each rebate offer. While some rebates are available for an entire month, most really good deals are only available for a week at most, and some only a few days. Each Sunday look over the store’s circular, which can also be found online, for sale items. Most of the time items earmarked for rebates will also be priced on sale. If you receive the weekend edition of the newspaper look for coupons for rebate items. This will help pay the tax on items that are essentially free after rebate.

Make certain to read the rebate details very carefully. For example, this week Rite-Aid is offering a Garnier Fructis shampoo rebate for $2.99. The item is on sale this week for $2.99. But the rebate does not apply to all Garnier Fructis shampoos and conditioners. It only applies to Shine Burst Shampoo or Conditioner. If you buy another type of shampoo the rebate will not apply. I suggest taking the detailed rebate offers with you to the store to make certain you purchase the correct item.

You will need to create an account on Rite-Aid’s single check rebate website. After you purchase your items make certain to hold on to your receipt. You will need to enter the details, including store number, transaction number, and date through Rite-Aid’s website. Return to the store as many times you need to during the month. Most items are limited to one rebate per household, so make certain you read the offer clearly. You don’t want to purchase extra items that won’t qualify. Enter your receipts each time you return from shopping. (Hold on to your receipts in case any errors occur.) Rite-Aid will verify your transactions and send you email updates a few days after you enter the data. Rite-Aid only allows you to submit a rebate request once per month, so make certain you complete all of your shopping for the month before requesting your rebate check.

When the month is over and you have completed all of your transactions simply return to the Rite-Aid site to request your rebate check. You must request your check so make certain to set a reminder for yourself or your check will not be sent. Your rebate check will arrive a few weeks after you request it. Last month was a big one for Rite-Aid rebates, I received shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, toothpaste, mouthwash, light bulbs, body wash and coupons for cereal all for free. (Well not exactly free. I had to pay the tax on a few of the items.)

Obviously if you don’t have a Rite-Aid near your home you cannot take advantage of these deals, though I hear Walgreens offers similar offers.

January 31, 2008 at 4:05 AM 3 comments

Paying Nothing for Something

On Friday night as we were drifting off to sleep my husband asked if I was going bargain shopping on Sunday morning. Every Sunday morning I head out to the drug stores, (which are extremely close to my home), to pick up the latest sale items. Through CVS’s ECB program and Rite-Aids single check rebates, I haven’t paid for shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, dish soap, razors, and a whole host of other items in well over a year.

I am not a CVS fanatic. I have perused sites where bloggers upload photos of the forty things they purchased at CVS for less than a dollar, but I am not this extreme. If five bottles of shampoo are available for free after rebate I still buy only one. In fact, I’ve had to cut back on my free purchases lately, because I have too many items already in storage.

But it seems drug stores are always giving away something we need. Before heading to bed on Friday night the light bulb in our bedroom blew out. I remembered seeing an ad for free light bulbs after rebate at Rite-Aid. So when my husband asked about bargain shopping on Sunday I told him that I would indeed be heading out. After all, why spend money on something you could otherwise get for free?

January 30, 2008 at 3:15 AM 6 comments

Will Mortgage Rates Go Up or Down?

As I mentioned yesterday my husband and I decided to refinance our home. We considered waiting to see if rates would continue falling, but ultimately decided this was the right time for us. Of course it never hurts to find financial experts who agree with our decision. So I poked around the Internet and found the Rate Trend Index on bankrate.com. If you are considering refinancing your home anytime in the near future you may want to subscribe to the Rate Trend Index alerts.

For the week of January 24 – 30 the majority of polled experts believe mortgage rates will rise over the next 35 to 45 days. About one quarter think rates will fall and the rest believe rates will remain relatively unchanged.

Here are a few of the expert’s comments:

  • Rates have had an unbelievable run as of late. Anytime we have approached these levels in the past four years, we have been jerked higher in coming weeks, and I expect nothing different. If you haven’t applied for a loan and/or locked your rate, do so now.
    Jim Sahnger, mortgage consultant, Palm Beach Financial Network, Stuart, Fla.
  • With the intent of stimulating the economy, the Fed has cut rates, and will most likely do it again. This will entice more international investors, boost consumer confidence, leading to higher rates.
    Steven M. Levitt, vice president of mortgage lending, Guaranteed Rate, Chicago
  • Mortgage rates have been in free fall. But how much longer can it continue? Bonds are overbought and mortgage rates could bounce back quickly.
    Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst, Bankrate.com

Of course there are a few that think rates will continue to fall:

  • The more the public hears about recession, the more likely it is to happen. The absence of inflation pushes mortgage rates down.
    Dan Green, mortgage planner, Mobium Mortgage, Chicago

Since we have no idea what rates the future will bring my husband and I decided to go ahead and lock in our loan. I think it’s wise to search for cheap mortgage deals right away.¬†After all, 30 and 15 year fixed mortgage rates are close to reaching historical lows.

January 27, 2008 at 3:05 AM 7 comments

Let the Refinancing Begin

Torn over the idea of refinancing your home? My husband and I have been debating the issue for days. Should we wait for rates to drop even further or lock in on a low interest rate right now? Today my husband and I turned to the trusty Internet to find our answer.

First, using online mortgage calculators I ran the numbers on a 15 year $417,000 mortgage, (the maximum conventional loan amount), at various interest rates. As you can see below the total interest paid on a 4.75% mortgage is roughly $19,000 more than the interest on a loan at 4.25%. $19,000 isn’t chump change but in terms of mortgage interest on a $417,000 home it’s a relatively small number.

  • 15 years at 4.75% = $166,840
  • 15 years at 4.50% = $157,204
  • 15 years at 4.25% = $147,660

Also we are currently paying roughly $2300 in mortgage interest each month on our current loan. In 8 months $2300 in mortgage interest is close to the $19,000 we’d save by waiting.

We’ve been putting aside money to help us shorten the life span of our mortgage for years. We originally signed on for a 30 year mortgage to make certain that we could afford our monthly payments. We purchased the house right after my medical problems began and my husband started a new job, but a few months after purchasing we became comfortable with the payments and began putting extra money aside to pay down the principal.

Since the day we signed the loan papers we’ve been counting down the years until it’s fully paid. Today we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We locked in on a 15 year mortgage at 4.75%.

January 25, 2008 at 11:43 PM 3 comments

How Do You Search For a Bargain?

I need to purchase two new blenders. The ones at the beach are in constant use by our renters, (who doesn’t like a round of margaritas by the pool), and consistently broken. In the three years that we’ve owned a beach house I’ve purchased four blenders. We keep two in the house and this year another two are in need of replacement. I’m not certain if the blenders are broken because of constant wear and tear or poor manufacturing. Up until now I’ve purchased moderately priced appliances, but that approach clearly isn’t working. I should either buy more expensive blenders in the hopes that they’ll last through through a number of rental seasons or purchase a large supply of inexpensive blenders knowing that they’ll need to be replaced each summer.

Since I’m not certain which approach to take I’m not certain where to begin. Usually I know what item I wish to purchase, so I head right over to froogle to find the store with the cheapest price. I tried this tonight but with so many blenders on the market it’s difficult to decide whether to go the expensive route or find the cheapest ones available.

I googled for blender bargains but couldn’t find any current offerings. I visited the clearance section of various online shopping sites but came up empty handed. So I’m asking the readers of this blog… how would you search for bargain blenders? Any input you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

January 24, 2008 at 3:48 AM 10 comments

Turbulent Times Ahead

As you wait and watch the ever so turbulent stock market sink lower and lower, keep Warren Buffet’s words in mind… “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” For now, I’m holding tight in the market. I’m not buying or selling, but if prices continue to fall I might begin the search for bargains.

January 23, 2008 at 2:10 PM 3 comments

How Much Will My Pension Be Worth at Age 65?

Anytime after age 55 I will have access to pension benefits for a plan that is currently frozen and without a COLA (cost of living adjustments). In order to receive the full benefits I have to wait until age 65. If I take the pension prior to age 65 I will be penalized for early retirement.

According to pension documents I will receive upwards of $1,000 per month in benefits at age 65. (I’m rounding the number down to $1,000 to keep the math simple.) Add $1,000 payments over 12 months and you’re looking at a sum of over $12,000 in extra income each year. $12,000 isn’t going to send me to the moon, but at first glance it seems like a decent boost to my 401(k) and Roth IRA savings. But after taking inflation into account those pension benefits appear far less than stellar.

In 35 years, after accounting for a 3% rise in inflation, my $1,000 a month pension benefit will be worth less than $350 in today’s dollars. And that’s the value in my very first year of retirement. Add an estimated 20 years of retirement and I’m looking at a value of less than $130 in today’s dollars. When I look at the numbers I can’t help but hear my grandmother saying, “how can a coke cost over a dollar? When I was young I could buy a coke for a nickel?”

Inflation is cruel to pensions without cost of living adjustments. When adjusted for a 3% rate of inflation a fixed pension will lose 50% of it’s value in 22 years. Raise the level of inflation to 5% and that same pension will lose half of it’s value in 14 years. This might not be such a big deal to those who choose to retire later in life, but inflation will quickly erode the pension benefits of those who choose to become young retirees. It will be even more cruel to pensions like mine that have been involuntarily frozen.

Let’s face it if my company had provided the option of receiving a cash payment for accrued pension benefits I certainly would have taken it. Furthermore, if my company had provided the option of additional 401(k) matching in lieu of the pension I would have opted for the alternative. But I wasn’t given either option.

Now I realize that most of today’s employees, particularly today’s 30-year-old employees, do not participate in pension plans. So I am happy that my company will send me a check at age 65, but by the time I’m ready to collect, that check will be an extremely small one.

January 20, 2008 at 11:05 PM 1 comment

Easy Money Saving Suggestions

Over at Woman’s Day you’ll find Mary Hunt’s list of 17 simple ways you can save money. Here are are a few of her ideas:

  • Drink water. (Stop buying juices and soft drinks.)
  • Cut back on extras. (One less dinner or movie out a month.)
  • Purchase generic/store brand groceries.
  • Stretch out the time between haircuts.
  • Do your own nails.
  • Spend less on clothes.
  • Adjust your cable package.
  • Compare insurance plans & increase your deductibles.

My husband and I adhere to many of the suggestions on this list, but I disagree on her suggestion that you’ll save more money by purchasing generic groceries. Through a combination of coupons and sales I often spend far less on name brand personal hygiene products, cereals, pastas, etc then I ever would by purchasing generics.

Hunt also suggests saving money by:

  • Refinancing your car loans.
  • Refinancing your student loans.
  • Reducing credit card rates.

Since my husband and I always pay off our credit card in full and don’t have student loans or car loans these tips don’t apply.

You can check out all of Hunt’s money saving suggestions here. You can also find a bunch of interesting personal finance articles here.

January 20, 2008 at 8:55 PM 2 comments

The Total For My Horrific Day At the Hospital

Two weeks ago I wrote about my horrific trip to the hospital including my fight with the receptionist over projected hospital bills. Here’s a brief recap of what happened. Three hours prior to my appointment I was informed that my insurance company refused to pay for my procedure. According to the receptionist the insurance company considered my treatment experimental. In order to keep my appointment I had to agree to self-pay. This means that the hospital would send me a bill directly rather than billing my insurance company.

My husband and I desperately tried to work out the billing problems prior to the procedure but we simply didn’t have time and the receptionists refused to provide any information that would help us resolve the issue. They told me I had to pay $1000 on the spot in order to be treated. They were unable to tell me anything else, including what the procedure would actually cost me. When I asked for more details the receptionist reiterated that I owed $1000 immediately.

How can this be? When you have a car repaired the mechanic provides an estimate prior to competing any work. How can a hospital not provide an estimate of medical care?

I contemplated having this procedure done for almost a year. I kept hoping and praying that my chronic pain would disappear. Obviously it didn’t. When I set up the appointment, (a month prior to that day in the doctor’s office), I had made up my mind: this procedure would help me. Money or no money I couldn’t put it off one day longer. So I forked over $1000 and went behind the gray curtain having absolutely no idea how much I would end up paying.

Well this week the hospital bill’s began to roll in. To date I owe $4200 and the doctor’s bill has not yet arrived. I’m still planning on submitting a claim to my insurance company although I expect they’ll reject it. Of course, I can’t submit a claim until I receive an itemized bill from the hospital. When I called the billing department today they told me they didn’t have an itemized bill since I agreed to self-pay. I was told a bill would be sent out as soon as possible but I have a feeling one will never arrive and that I’ll be on the phone again next week hashing through the same story with yet another hospital employee.

On top of this I may also need to pay out of pocket for massage and physical therapy. My condition is quite rare and unique and to date I’ve been unable to find an in-network therapist who can help me. I’m considering paying out of pocket, up to $100 a session, for a therapist who is familiar with my condition. I am supposed to have three therapy sessions a week for the next three months, which would result in an additional $3600.

Truth be told if the procedure provides relief from pain than it will be worth every penny, but since the procedure is experimental the time ahead is just a waiting game.

January 16, 2008 at 1:15 AM 8 comments

How Clipping Coupons Got Me Into Trouble

About a year ago I began a subscription to the weekend edition of the Washington Post so I could try my hand at clipping coupons. Since that time I’ve managed to save a ton of money on personal hygiene products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and razors. I’ve also saved a ton on cleaning products like dish soap, laundry detergent, and bathroom cleaners. (Although, once these run out I’m switching over to simple vinegar and baking soda.) I’ve made a dent in our general food bills for staple items like sour cream, butter, ketchup and salad dressings. I try to use coupons in combination with sales, though I’ll admit that I don’t keep on this as much as I should.

When clipping coupons I tend to adhere to one rule. I won’t clip coupons for items that I wouldn’t otherwise buy. My dad clips coupons, but he’s a sucker for buying the latest cookies, crackers, chips, etc., just because he has a coupon for it. Most of the time I throw these coupons out. I don’t want to bring unwanted food into the house just because I bought it with a coupon.

But a few weeks ago I broke my rule by clipping a coupon for POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice. I noticed the local Food Lion in North Carolina had the juice on sale, so with the coupon in hand I decided to give it a try. I bought two 16 ounce bottles for around $1.50 each. I brought it home poured myself a glass and fell in love. I’m not usually much of a juice drinker. I love the taste of water, so I drink it more than any other beverage, but that pomegranate juice has the best flavor.

The problem: POM’s juice typically costs $3.99 for a 16 ounce bottle. That’s a crazy amount of money to spend on fruit juice. So now every time I pass a bottle I’m tempted to buy one. In fact, I’m so in love with the flavor that I’ve considered buying a stack of POM coupons off of eBay. I should have left that coupon attached to the insert. If I’d never clipped it I wouldn’t be so tempted to buy more.

January 14, 2008 at 4:33 AM 15 comments

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