Archive for February, 2011

Product Reward Programs – Why I Sign Up For Them


I’m a sucker for the rewards that companies offer for buying their products. As soon as my husband walks in the door with a new 12 pack of diet Coke, he knows to rip off the cardboard coke rewards number and lay it next to my computer. He does the same thing with all sorts of other products.

He knows to store the caps on some products and to cut the UPC symbols off of others. While he thinks this is all a bit crazy he happily follows along with my schemes and smiles each time he hands over a code.

While it can take an extremely long time to rack enough points to earn something of value it really doesn’t take much effort to set aside the various product codes or to enter them online.

Over the years I’ve received a variety of free magazine subscriptions, gift cards, store discounts and even camping equipment as a result of participating. In fact, last year two of my husband’s Christmas gifts came from rewards programs.

In an ideal world my husband wouldn’t drink diet Coke, (I don’t think it’s the best thing in the world for him), but if he’s going to drink all that soda we might as well earn some rewards for doing so.

My favorite programs are Coke, Tropicana and Pampers. I participate in the Pampers program even though I don’t have a child. I used to make diaper cakes for various baby showers and I entered the codes from the diapers I purchased. If I earned enough points to get a reward I would add that reward as a gift for the next shower.

Do you participate in any reward programs? If so, which ones are your favorite. If not, why not? Is it just not worth your time?

February 27, 2011 at 4:15 PM 9 comments

How To Get My Money Back for All of Those Things I Should Not Have Purchased

Over the years my husband and I have purchased many items we’ve barely used and quite a few that have never seen the light of day.

First there are the infamous electronics. We owned an Apple TV and a Popcorn Hour that were used for less than a month. There’s a Wii Fit collecting dust underneath the table that holds our television and a Playstation that’s just as dusty right beside it. We owned DVDs at one point that we watched only once or twice and video games that are still in their shrink wrapped paper.

There was also that $400 pile of men’s dress clothes we purchased for a job that my husband never accepted and bags of shirts and pants that I shipped to Goodwill after wearing them on one and only one occasion.

We certainly didn’t set out to waste the money. We had every intention of watching DVDs, exercising with the Wii and wearing the clothes we purchased. It’s just that for some reason or another we ultimately realized the Apple TV didn’t work quite the way we hoped, exercising to the same video games became boring, and those clothes that looked so amazing in the mirror at the store, didn’t look quite the same way once we got home.

After cleaning out the closets and decluttering our home I’ve come to a couple of solid conclusions. First, if I buy clothes I must jump around in them while I’m still in the dressing room. A lot of the clothes I donated just weren’t comfortable. They were too small in one place or too large in another. Now, before I purchase anything new I really need it to feel just right.

If I can prevent yourself from purchasing unwanted and unncessary items in the first place, I’ve won the battle. If I can’t stop myself from buying something I move on to step two.

If I decide an item is worth purchasing I stow the receipt in a special binder and try the item on at least one more time at home. If I decide I still want it, I place the item in the front of the closet so I’ll be forced to look at it each time I open the door. If I don’t wear it within a week or two I gather the receipt and take it back to the store. I hate to waste time returning unwanted stuff, but I’d rather take the time to get back my money while I can.

A lot of stores have short return policies these days, so I make certain that I mark a date on my electronic calendar so I won’t forget to go back to the store.

Unfortunately, electronics aren’t quite as easy to deal with, but I have come up with a quasi-solution for them too. I know that I won’t be able to return the item once the box has been opened, but I still store the box anyway. I have a couple of plastic tubs in the basement that I reserve for this very purpose.

If my husband decides he doesn’t want some piece of equipment he recently purchased, (which usually happens because it doesn’t work quite the way he expected), then I immediately take pictures of the item, including the box and list it on eBay.

Now this sucks, because we will never recoup the cost of the original item, but if we list the item right away we can be certain to get the highest price for it. There’s no sense in waiting months or years to sell an item that is outdated. A new model will sell for close to it’s manufacturer’s listed price while an old model will sell for only pennies on the dollar.

Of course, in an ideal world we would never buy items that we don’t use, but let’s face it life doesn’t always work out that way. While we are much more careful these days and think long and hard before buying something, it is inevitable that we will end up with something that we no longer desire.

When that time comes I now have a plan for dealing with our unwanted stuff and I can now reclaim a good portion of the money that would have otherwise been wasted.

February 24, 2011 at 1:50 PM 3 comments

My Magical FSA Card

This is the first year that I’ve ever signed up for an FSA (Flexible Savings Account) through my employer. The FSA is a use it or lose it type of account, so at the beginning of the year I have to determine how much money to set aside for medical expenses and hope by the end of the year that I’ve used each and every penny.

This year I decided to take a stab in the dark and estimate a year’s worth of medical expenses. To be honest I still have no idea if I selected the right number, but I figured I should try it at least once.

I received my FSA debit card in December and used it for the first time in January. I am absolutely in love with it. I swipe the card at my doctor’s office and pharmacy and just like that my medical expenses are paid with tax free dollars.

I can log in at any time to see how much money I’ve spent and how much I have left in the account. The website for my FSA lists all of my transactions and lets me know exactly how my medical expenses are adding up.

Every once in awhile I pay for something with the FSA card that requires further documentation. Tonight I uploaded a series of receipts for medical transactions that required detailed receipts. All of this can be done online and once I’m finished I can also track the status of my submission.

Unfortunately, I have a lot of medical expenses that are not permitted through the FSA. I seek weekly treatments from a massage therapist, but I cannot pay with my FSA card without a doctor’s prescription stating that the massage is a medical necessity.

While it certainly is a medical necessity I got tired of waiting for hours in my primary care physician’s office for a note stating that fact. So now I pay those expenses directly out of pocket and they really add up. I pay over $300 a month just to my massage therapist.

I wish it was easier to pay for alternative medical treatment through the FSA. I hope that this changes over time. I also hope that the government changes it’s policies and permits the purchase of non-prescription drugs through the FSA program again.

I’m still concerned that I put aside too much money this year, but I won’t really know for sure until the year ends. I may have completely different feelings about my account if lose money at the end of the year.

February 22, 2011 at 3:05 AM 8 comments

Repurposing


When I got married I thought long and hard about what types of favors to provide for my guests. I wanted something that was personal, inexpensive and preferably homemade. After a lot of contemplation and debate I settled on the idea of preparing cookie mixes.

I bought a book dedicated to cookie jar recipes, purchased seventy ball jars and set up an assembly line in my kitchen. I chose five different recipes from the cook book and created batches of ten at a time.

I cut out beautiful, white cotton fabric to cover the metal lids and attached instructions on how to prepare the cookies with white ribbon. My husband hand wrote the names of the guests on each jar and included little notes for those guests that were extra special.

Those ball jars were such a pain to transport to the wedding site, that I wondered at the time if I’d made the wrong decision. When I came up with the idea I didn’t realize how much work it would be to carry them. We filled milk crate after milk crate with those heavy jars and literally lugged them to their destination.

When the wedding was over we realized that ten or twelve of our guests had forgotten their favors, so my in-laws gathered up the ones that remained and brought them back to our home. Over the next few months I baked up a couple of batches of cookies and then cleaned the jars and stacked them in our basement.

At first I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with them, but I knew I’d eventually find a use for them.

Now I use them for a whole myriad of purposes including transporting various food products from our primary residence to our beach home. Rather than lugging an entire bottle of juice along for the ride, I usually pour just a portion into the ball jars. They are super easy to transport and nothing ever leaks out of them.

After banishing plastic food containers from our home I brought the rest upstairs and now use them to store nuts and granola.


I love the fact that the jars that stood on the table at our wedding are now a useful part of our routine. In fact, I recently started pouring water into one and using it as my every day glass.
Every time I think about those jars and that special day I smile.

February 19, 2011 at 10:25 PM 2 comments

Boston Trip Final Tally

Here are the totals for our trip to Boston:

  • $10 – Tickets for the T
  • $78 – Dinner on Friday
  • $0 – Continental Breakfast
  • $9 – Lunch at the Game on Saturday
  • $1.80 – Hot Chocolate
  • $6 – Turkey Wrap
  • $33 – Dinner on Saturday
  • $0 – Appetizers at the Hotel
  • $3 – Chocolate Covered Strawberry
  • $31 – Sunday Brunch
  • $1.50 – Chocolate Covered Strawberry
  • $2 – A Pack of Gum at the Airport
  • $9 – Bottle of Water and Salad at the Airport
  • $20 – Water Taxi Trip for 2 Back to the Airport
  • $359 – 2 Nights at the Marriott (plus 2 Bottles of Beer)
  • $208 – Airfare for 2

Total Spent: $771.30

Where we could have saved…

  • The chocolate covered strawberries in Quincy Market were twice the price of the ones on the North End and only half as good. If you are ever in Boston skip Quincy Market and head straight to Mike’s Pastry. If I could have transported Mike’s strawberries I would’ve brought at least half a dozen home.
  • We ate a late breakfast on Saturday, but by the time we got to the game we started to feel hungry again. The miniature pizza and flat soda were certainly not worth the $9 concession food price we paid.
  • My husband purchased an inexpensive turkey wrap that we could munch on as a late night snack. (We figured this would prevent us from calling for room service.) Unfortunately we didn’t shut the door to the fridge completely and when we returned to the hotel we found a very warm and inedible wrap.
  • Poor planning led to the salad at the airport. I thought about picking up something to take on the plane for dinner, but didn’t. I could have found a much tastier meal for less money.
  • Lastly I spent an extra $12 choosing seats on Air Tran Airways. This wasn’t entirely necessary, but did ensure we sat in the front of the plane. I absolutely hate waiting to get off an airplane!


February 18, 2011 at 4:00 AM Leave a comment

News on the Job Front

I interviewed this week for a new job within the company I currently work for. I had a phone conversation the previous week and a series of face-to-face interviews on Monday. I think the interviews went well and I’m pretty certain I can have this job if I want it. I should find out more soon.

If I were offered the job today I’m 99% sure I would take it. The biggest perk is that the new job will be ten miles from my house. My current job is over 35 miles. Without traffic it will take 25 minutes to get to work. Even without accidents and congestion it takes me at least 45 to drive to my current job.

That alone is enough to make me convert, but there are other incentives as well. First, it’s a different side of the company, one that I’m not at all familiar with. The business is much more complicated and I’m extremely interested to learn more about it. Second, I’ll be using technologies that I’m not an expert on. I’ve used them from time-to-time on other jobs, but it’ll be nice to dig in and learn something new. Third, the manager and I have great synergy. He brings a lot of energy and excitement into a room and I enjoy his enthusiasm.

I’ve extended my job search outside of the company, but I’m not sure those jobs can compete with my current salary and my ability to work-from-home. I hate to admit it, but I am very spoiled in my current position and it will be difficult to move on.

February 16, 2011 at 4:15 AM 4 comments

Worth the Money

My husband and I are about to head to the airport and return home from our short trip to Boston. My team lost the game we flew up here to watch, but the trip was more than worth the price we paid.

Our plane landed just as the sun was setting and we stepped out of the gate and onto a shuttle to the T within a matter of minutes. The T cost just a few dollars per ride and our hotel was three stops from the airport and just outside of the station’s exit. We settled into the hotel for just a few minutes and then walked down to the North End for dinner. We chose a small Italian restaurant where I ordered the most expensive seafood dish on the menu. Just look at the amount of seafood in the picture below!

We wandered around the North End and settled back in the hotel to hang out for the remainder of the night.

Our hotel had a few extra perks we weren’t expecting including a concierge level complete with continental breakfast, hors d’oeuvres, dessert and an honor bar. We visited that spot overlooking the wharf a couple of times in between our ventures out of the hotel.


We woke up late on Saturday morning and ate free bagels and hard boiled eggs before walking over to Government Center where we picked up the Green Line and rode it all the way to Boston College.

We spent $9 on concessions during the game, because we were both a little hungry and looking for something to eat that would tide us over until we ate a late lunch or early dinner. On the way back home we stopped at a local deli where I ordered a small cup of the most delicious hot chocolate I think I’ve ever tasted.

There is something so comforting about walking the streets of Boston with a warm, cup of cocoa in hand. We wandered around with no particular destination in mind. We visited Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market and walked up and down the streets before heading back to our hotel.


The rest of our trip went much the same way. The majority of our activities involved walking, eating and riding the T. It was nice to venture around with no particular place to go. We enjoyed lots of tasty breakfasts and rich desserts. Check out my beautiful, chocolate covered strawberry below.


It was the perfect way to spend the weekend and worth every penny we spent. It’s still cold in Boston and it was nice to walk hand in hand through the streets trying to snuggle close and stay warm.

February 13, 2011 at 8:35 PM 3 comments

A Weekend Away

What do you do before leaving the house for a weekend away? I don’t know why, but I always feel the compulsion to sweep the floors, wash all the laundry, run the dishwasher, put away all the dishes, run water down the kitchen sink, run the disposal, take the trash, shut down all of my computers, make sure the light over the driveway is on, oh and pack.

Then I make certain we’ve packed our toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving gel and all of the other stuff we require while we’re away. This time I also packed a few snacks, which is really nothing more than a whole bunch of random stuff we had sitting around in our kitchen. A bag full of skittles, two apples, a few granola bars and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just in case I get hungry along the way.

I’m excited about our upcoming trip. The plane tickets cost less than $200 combined. The flight is only one hour and twenty minutes long and we scored free tickets to a basketball game while we’re away. We plan on taking public transportation everywhere we want to go, so no car rental, (hooray!), and no gas expenses either.

The hotel, as usual, is the most expensive part of our trip. I found a room at the Marriott for $150 a night before taxes and other fees. I purchased Marriott gift cards a few months ago in preparation for the trip. I earned points for purchasing the cards and I’ll earn additional points for our stay. You can’t beat that. I’m super close to earning a free room with Marriott’s point and I think this trip will put us just over the top.

I’m not going to be a frugal fanatic on this very short trip. If we want to spend money to sight see or eat while we’re there I’m going to fork over the money no questions asked. I looked at Groupon deals in Boston, but decided it was to risky to purchase anything for this trip.

My husband and I are fly-by-the-seat of your pants kind of people while we’re on vacation. We don’t adhere to any specific agenda and we stop to sight see or eat at the drop of a hat. I didn’t want to get pigeon holed into being at a particular place in the city when there are so many wonderful spots we might find along the way.

So I’m bringing some cash and a credit card and plan to let the weekend unfold in whatever form it chooses. I can’t wait!

February 11, 2011 at 7:08 PM 4 comments

Just Like That I Spent $300 on a New Shelving Unit


I decided not to wait any longer before purchasing a clean, orderly storage solution. The Container Store was running a 30% off sale on all elfa products so I went online and ordered $300 worth of shelves.

I saved $10 by purchasing a $100 gift card from Gift Card Granny for $90. (If more gift cards had been on sale I definitely would have snatched them up.) I also drove to the store, (it’s on my way to work), so I could avoid shipping fees. Despite the small savings here and there I still managed to spend quite a bit of money.

In retrospect I probably could have purchased one, high quality dresser to store a lot of our belongings, but the truth is that our storage room is unbelievably tight on space and I thought it would be nearly impossible to find the perfect piece of furniture to fit in that little room.

The good news is that I purged quite a bit of our belongings and reorganized what remained. I still have a drawer full of strange odds and ends that I’d like to get rid of. You know the types of things, small bottles of quality products that are all half empty, vials of nearly expired medicine and tubes of lipstick I never seem to use.

I put them all in one drawer and decided to set a three month expiration date on it. If I don’t use the products in three to six months I’m throwing them out. I’m much more ruthless about purging things than I used to be and I see no reason to leave items sitting around if I never intend to use them. Organized or not there is no need to let things linger indefinitely.

If you read this blog frequently you know that I absolutely hate to spend money, but I feel really good about this purchase. The shelves are neat and clean. They slide in and out easily and fit all of our belongings with room to spare.

I moved our old, rickety IKEA shelves into the basement and took the odds and ends of my husband’s electronics collection downstairs with it.

I’m inspired to keep reorganizing and plan to pull apart our filing cabinet early next week. I have a feeling we can file and shred the majority of paperwork in there.

I do need to find a better storage solution for all our old photographs. I know some people scan their images but that seems like a ridiculous amount of work. I’m not sure that I want to sign up for that job, but I would like to figure out a system for them. Right now they are stored in a hodgepodge of boxes and bags around the house.

I plan to stop by the Container Store on my way to work tomorrow to pick up a missing shelf. It seems I was one short. I might just have to go early and spend a few minutes walking around. That store is like an oasis to me and yes I am a total dork.

February 10, 2011 at 4:55 AM 5 comments

In Search of Storage Solutions

I’m still in the midst of cleaning out our unwanted belongings and reorganizing everything that’s been left behind. The dining room table is loaded to the brim with blankets, clothes, books and CDs that are just waiting for the donation truck to arrive.

I clean out the house every few months and just when I think I can’t possibly find anything else to donate I dig through another set of drawers or closets and find boxes and boxes of items that can be handed over to those in need.

This time around I’ve been able to part with even more stuff than ever before. I’ve relinquished a lot of emotional ties to my possessions and feel ready and willing to part with things I’ve never wanted to part with before.

If an item has gone unused for over a year it is definitely time to give it away. The only exception to this rule is a bunch of toys that I’ve been holding on to from my childhood.

Now I’m trying to find a better way to organize the possessions that remain. My house has extremely limited closet space. We make do with a few small dormer spaces, but they are unbelievably difficult to maneuver around in. I usually have to sit on the floor just outside of them and get down on all fours to grab a hold of the items inside.

Some of the items, like Christmas decorations, are unbelievably heavy and awkward to move. Luckily I only have to dig into the dormer once a year to pull out the items and once a year to put them back, but it’s still a big pain in the you-know-what. I’d really like to organize all of these items in a way that is easier to manage.

In an ideal world I’d build some cabinets in our basement to store these things, but there are a lot of other things that need to be fixed before this could be accomplished. I’d need to redo the paneling and the floors.

I don’t really want to wait to fix this problem. I’d prefer to purchase some shelves an shelving units that could help me organize those items that I don’t use more than a few times a year. Our basement is in a state of disarray, but I’d still like to purchase something sturdy and strong that I can use for years to come.

I’ve considered a number of different shelving units ranging from Home Depot and Target to Walmart and IKEA. I really like the elfa shelves from the Container Store.


I’d also consider replacing the upstairs shelving units with fancier ones and moving the old ones downstairs. I found a couple of interesting modern furniture options at CSN stores.

Before I can make any decisions I guess I need to figure out exactly what I want to store. I currently keep an extra dresser in the basement to store seasonal clothes. I also moved an old Target bookshelf downstairs to use as an extra pantry for canned goods and paper towels.

I’d primarily like to store seasonal items like Christmas decorations and gift wrapping supplies, but it would be great if I could also use this space to store other random items, which includes everything from stockpiled goods and rarely used electronics to craft supplies.

Now I need to set a budget for my new found solution and figure out exactly how much I want and need to store.

February 7, 2011 at 2:55 AM 1 comment

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