Sears $20 Voucher for $1 (After Cash Back)


Right now new TopCashBack members can buy a $20 Sears voucher for $1 after cash back!

Here are the details:

  • Sign up for TopCashBack.
  • Search for Groupon (after signing up and logging in.)
  • Purchase the $20 Sears Voucher for $10 by clicking on the Get CashBack button. It looks like this:

Cashback Button

  • Within 7 days the $9 cashback will post to your TopCashBack account.
  • The $20 Sears voucher will be emailed to you by Groupon just like normal and is valid in stores only.

Within 12 weeks, the $9 cashback can be credited  to your checking or PayPal account. Or if you chose to be paid in an Amazon Gift Card, you will get $9.45 back instead!

This offer is for new TopCashBack customers only and ends 6/17 or whenever Groupon ends the deal.

June 13, 2014 at 4:25 PM Leave a comment

Why It Pays to Be Organized

to do list

I maintain a number of lists to keep my life organized. One is a to-do list full of simple actions that need to be completed in the next few days/weeks. Another is the collective buying list that includes a list of coupons and their expiration dates. This ensures those Groupon purchases no longer go to waste.

I also maintain a list called Things to Look Out For. This list includes items like Look for Survey Payout or Keep an Eye out for UPS Package from eBay. There are a lot of things going on in my life in any given day and I have a lot of trouble keeping track of checks, payouts and packages. I write down a description of the item, the amount and the date I expect it to arrive.

This list has paid for itself more times than I can count. Just today I ran down the list and realized that I was still awaiting payment for returned car tags. I shipped them via USPS and received a confirmation of arrival on March 31st, but months passed and a check never arrived in the mail.

If I hadn’t written myself a note I never would’ve thought about those tags or I would’ve thought about them long after the window for receiving a refund was over.

Thanks to that note I spent five minutes on the phone with the Maryland MVA and should expect a $90 check in the mail in the next three to four weeks. I updated my note with today’s date and the expected arrival. If a month passes without a check I’ll be sure to call again.

I’m sure many of you are much more organized and in tune with the items that should or should not be arriving in the mail, but unfortunately I am no longer one of those people. This list helps me keep track and since it’s inception I have recovered over $600. Not too shabby from simply writing down the amount, date and item I expect to receive.

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June 9, 2014 at 7:02 PM 1 comment

Four Speeding Tickets in A Month!


I’m a pretty good driver. I pay attention to the traffic in front of me. I check my mirrors and I always look before switching lanes. I don’t text while driving and I use bluetooth whenever I’m on the phone. In the twenty years since I started driving I have only been in one minor, fender-bender type accident. Technically I think it might have been my fault, but the police who were called to the scene blamed the other driver.

The only trouble I have with driving is my inability to drive the actual speed. I tend to push the gas a little harder than I should. Up until now I’ve never paid for a speeding ticket. I received two or three warnings many moons ago, but nothing in the past ten years. So you can imagine my shock at finding four speeding tickets in the mail over the course of three weeks!

Technically I am only responsible for three of the tickets; my husband triggered the speeding camera on the fourth one. The speed light camera catches anyone traveling 12 miles over the speed limit and in three of the four tickets we were traveling exactly twelve miles over.

Each ticket cost us $40 and each charged a $2 or $3 fee for processing. So just like that we are out over $160! On each occasion I was in a hurry, which isn’t an excuse for driving too fast, but is true nonetheless.

I need to add a little extra time into my travels, so I’m not in such a hurry moving forward. It looks like I also need to drive a little slower from this point on…

Photo Credit

June 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM 2 comments

Not In Colour — Saving Money On Printer Toner

Saving money, there are fewer things that are more satisfying. Of course there are some things that you need to spend money on, but if you can fulfill a need while saving money? There’s no better feeling. When you have to print everything you type out, the printer and, more specifically, the printer toner, can be a big drain on your wallet. There’s a reason why printers are sold for so cheap: the manufacturers make the money back on the ink or toner. That said, there are ways to keep replenish the printer cartridges while saving money.

Here are five tips to do just that:

Be smart about your printing

When you do not need a perfect copy or print, set your printer setting to “draft”. This uses less ink than a normal setting. Along the same lines, print in black and white when color isn’t necessary. Color toner is usually more expensive than black and white toner.

Buy third party

Manufacturers like to state that, for the best results, only use their own branded ink or toner. While in some circumstances this may be true, the difference between printer toner from the same manufacturer and a third party is often negligible. Unless you need the highest quality prints every time, you’re better off with a less expensive, third-party toner.

Sell or recycle your empties

Once your printer cartridge is empty, it may be tempting to throw it away. Don’t! Not only does this add waste to the landfill, but you could be losing money. Many retail stores offer a store credit if you bring in your empty ink or toner cartridge. If you do not have a store around you that offers this, there are many online services that do the same thing.

Double check before you print

While this may seem like basic advice, you’d be surprised at how many people forget to check for spelling errors or fix the red eye in photos before they print. Simply by reading back over what you’ve typed, you may find yourself saving quite a bit of money — on both ink and paper — by eliminating unnecessary printing. And if you already do this, great! You’re already a step ahead.


Granted this suggestion is for those who don’t mind a little squinting when printing documents, but if so you can save quite a bit of ink or toner. N-up is printing more than one page on one sheet of paper. Once you click print and the print dialogue box pops up, click the properties button. You should see a “layout” or “finishing” tab to the left. Select it, then look for a “pages per sheet” option. This lets you specify how many pages you want to print out on one sheet of paper. Unless you have extremely keen eyesight, you shouldn’t set more this at more than four pages per sheet. Anything above that and you’re going to have a hard time reading anything.

Some of these suggestions may be simple, and some you may not use. However, even if only one of these apply to you, you’ll still save yourself printer toner, and, in the long run, money.

June 2, 2014 at 4:05 PM Leave a comment

Finding Happiness Throughout the Day

We all want to be happy, but how do you find happiness throughout an overall busy day? When I was working full time I often felt exhausted and broken. In retrospect I believe part of my misery was a result of my environment. Not the bosses, paperwork, endless meetings and general coworker-related frustration, but the fact that I spent nearly every waking hour of my day sitting inside a stale and stuffy building.

As a stay-at-home mom I now spend a minimum of two to three hours outside each day. My son loves to step outside of the house and to be honest I love to let him run around and release his toddler energy. On those days when rain keeps us inside I can definitely sense a change in my mood.

I believe the combination of physical activity and sunshine brighten my spirits. It’s tough to sit still outside with a two year old. My son wants to explore everything. We check out the flowers in the front yard and herbs in the garden. We fill watering cans and nourish the plants, we kick balls, ride bikes and run around in circles.

What is it about nature that makes you feel so connected to the universe. As soon as I push the stroller out of the garage and feel the sunlight hit my cheeks I know the day will immediately be that much brighter. Outside you can hear the birds chirping and watch the leaves swirling.

In fact, thinking back I believe my best days on the job were those when I left the office for lunch. I didn’t realize it then, but the sunshine and fresh air definitely lifted my spirits, particularly on not-so-pleasant days. I’m sure the combination of exercise, (walking to the sandwich shop), and being outside worked as a solid one-two combination.

Happiness seems like an elusive goal, but there are many simple acts that we can perform each day to lift our spirits.  7 Things in Life That Make Us Absolutely Euphoric provides an easy list of actions to try. While exercise and sunshine certainly top the list there are other solid suggestions like listening to music, caring for other people, making plans and having sex. Most of the ideas are not only simple, but also quite easy to execute in a short period of time.

I often forget how big of an impact music can have on my mood. Lucky for me my son loves to turn up the speakers in our house and thankfully he loves real music more than baby tunes. At two and a half he has become a huge fan of Bob Marley. My husband started singing them to him one evening and I can now find him walking around the house quietly humming the songs and reciting the lyrics. Right now one of his favorite songs is Three Little Birds. At any given moment, (eating cereal, putting on his shoes or putting together puzzles on the living room floor), you can hear him singing “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.” If those words, (being sung by a two year old), don’t help you release your stress and brighten your day I don’t know what would.

May 26, 2014 at 11:00 AM 1 comment

If You Cannot Save Enough Money for the Life You Want to Live Isn’t it Time to Redraw the Plans?


In case you haven’t noticed I’m the kind of girl who likes to save money. I met an extremely intelligent guy with a similar tendency. We are the type of people who envision large goals for ourselves and then dig our heels in the sand in order to achieve them.

Our lives are not difficult. I’ve had my fair share of strange medical problems, but in the big scheme of life my illnesses pale in comparison to the struggles of many others. We’ve both held high paying jobs and although we worked hard to increase our salaries and prove ourselves on the job we’ve have it really easy; neither of us have ever slathered tar on rooftops in the heat of summer. We dedicate long hours to our employers, but it is our own drive and determination that motivates us to work hard. In fact, we have no one to blame for that balls-to-the-walls mentality other than ourselves.

Although our success stems from a myriad of factors I believe that earning high incomes and learning to manage our money has had the greatest impact.

There are many paths people take in life. You can earn less money and manage it well or you can make a lot of money and manage it poorly. Either of these situations may lead you to the same place my husband and I have landed, but it is certainly easier to reach financial independence by understanding both aspects of the equation.

What boggles my mind more than anything is those people who earn high incomes but fail to save their money.  I’ve recently heard two stories that boggled my mind. The first was a man earning over $200,000 a year who did not have enough money in the bank to survive a three week furlough. The second was a married couple earning $200,000 a year who did not have $5000 set aside as a down payment for a new car.

As someone obsessed with personal finance I immediately want to know more. How much do they pay on their rent/mortgage, how large are their car payments, are they paying back school loans or medical bills? Where does ALL of that money go?

When I was growing up my father made a middle class salary and my mom stayed home to be with my brother and I until we were nine and twelve. During this time they drove old cars, lived in a small three bedroom house and didn’t complain about needing anything bigger. Despite earning high incomes my husband and I tend to live by a similar model.

In life you make many decisions and although we don’t think about it on a minute-by-minute basis we make decisions about money every single day.

Some decisions are rather small; doughnut here, a sandwich there. Others are slightly bigger; a new TV, a new video camera. Ultimately you make the whopper of all financial decisions, which typically consist of those big ticket items like cars, expensive vacations and a house.

Each time you spend money you lose the opportunity to spend it somewhere else. Although you can earn more money, you will never regain the dollar you just spent.  If you want to spend your money on thousands of little things then you cannot lump it together to buy something larger.

The $200,000 couple cannot afford an SUV because they are choosing to spend their income in other ways. In and of itself that decision is perfectly fine. They can choose to spend their money any way they want, but they cannot cry woah-is-me because they want a larger vehicle they cannot afford.

The same goes for any other big ticket item including a house. Don’t spend your days looking for five bedroom houses in the nicest neighborhoods with the highest rated schools. If you want to move into a larger home than create a new house fund and put every dollar you can spare towards that new goal. If you cannot save a lot of money, then stay where you currently live, buy a smaller home or buy a larger house further away from the city where housing is cheaper.

I believe your wallet should keep pace with your lifestyle. If you cannot save enough money for the life you want to live isn’t it time to redraw the plans?

May 22, 2014 at 4:09 PM Leave a comment

Counting Down the Days

paper chain

Two years after graduating from college I bought a house. For once in my life I didn’t struggle to make a decision. I acquired financing with my boyfriend and signed my name on the dotted line five days after turning twenty-two.

The down payment came in part from money I’d saved in college. The rest came from a principal free loan offered by my employer. The company provided me with $12,600 and every two weeks I paid $18.89 in interest on that loan. I couldn’t pass up free money; $12,000 was more than a third of my starting salary in 1999.

There was only one caveat to that loan. I had to remain employed for five years. If I left at any point before that time I would be responsible for paying back the principal. There were many times I considered leaving in those first few years but that loan always convinced me to stay.

I’ve never been in debt. My parents paid my tuition bills while I was in college and my grandmother always told me to pay off of my credit card bills each month. Despite the free money I didn’t like feeling shackled to my employer.

I created a giant spreadsheet that included sixty cells and taped it to my office wall. As each month passed I pulled out a red pen and crossed off one date. In the beginning there was more black ink visible then red, but eventually the red marks began to outpace the black.

I remember pulling that paper off the wall and feeling elated when that loan was finally forgiven.

This month my husband and I reached the five year mark on our mortgage. If all goes according to plan we will pay off our mortgage sixty months from now.

I know it sounds rather silly, but I’d like to create a giant paper chain to commemorate the occasion. I could hang it around the ceiling in our sun room and pull off a link every thirty days.

When I told my husband he laughed at the idea. It’s not the first time I’ve talked about celebrating a life free from mortgages. Of course, I told him no one else has to know what it symbolizes. They’ll just think it’s a colorful decoration I made with my son on a quiet, summer afternoon. Only the two of us will know that it symbolizes financial freedom. The flexibility to work if we want to, not because we have to pay the mortgage!

Photo Credit

May 20, 2014 at 4:03 PM 1 comment

Random Tidbits



    1. The medical bills finally started rolling in. It is remarkable how much providers charge and how little insurance companies are willing to pay. The most outlandish bill was for lab work. The total: $1,570! The allowed charges knocked that bill all the way down to $57.01. Pretty remarkable! With all the bills in hand I now know that I owe roughly $2,000 more than I already paid, but I have reached my $2,600 deductible for the year, which means I shouldn’t owe much more from this point forward.
    2. The good news is that I feel 90% better than I did in February. The $1500 I spent on alternative treatments really paid off and my symptoms are almost non-existent.
    3. With the medical all clear we started trying again for baby #2. It took nearly a year to get pregnant with baby #1. I thought it would be easier this time around, but unfortunately I haven’t had any luck so far. I keep trying to remind myself that baby #1 was worth the wait, but some days that is easier said then done. I’d like to write more about my journey to motherhood, but I keep finding myself struggling to push the publish button on posts I write.
    4. There are a lot of babies coming into the world this spring and I have been on the lookout for baby bargains since late January. I scoured the clearance sections of a number of stores and managed to buy a mountain of gifts for friends and family who have or will soon be delivering. I plan to post pictures of the loot, but I need to wait just a little bit longer since some gifts have yet to be opened.
    5. In lighter financial and emotional news I bought 10 pairs of pajamas for my son from Old Navy. He finally transitioned out of footed pajamas and I had absolutely nothing else for him to wear. On my first trip to the store the prices were hovering between $5 and $6, so I bought just a few to make sure they fit well. They were perfect, so I returned a few days later to buy more. The second time around prices ranged from $0.97 to $2.67 so I snagged one of every design in his size and five more in the next size up. I had a $5 coupon from a previous visit and spent less than $2 per pair. I asked the clerk to price check a few items and I just noticed today that I was charged for something I didn’t buy. Ugh. I’ve never had this happen before but I suppose I’ll return to the store in the hopes of receiving a refund.
    6. That same day I tried to fill my car with gas at Shell and found after pumping that my reward points weren’t used to save 50 cents per gallon. The display mentioned a 50 cent savings, but after pumping the receipt showed the full price per gallon. I don’t think there is anything I can do about this one.
    7. I earned $2500 so far this year from online endeavors including reward programs, giveaways, advertising and surveys. I plan to sell a bunch of stuff on eBay in the next few weeks, which should give my PayPal account a slight boost. My advertising revenue has dropped dramatically as I haven’t posted much since I got sick in February.

I know I have other topics to write about, but it’s time to pack up the house and get ready for the beach, so I suppose that’s all I have to say for now. Everything is better at the beach and I cannot wait to get down there.

Photo Credit

May 15, 2014 at 5:10 PM 1 comment

I Have No Idea What I Owe

Medical Bills

For over a decade I bought my health insurance through my employer. I paid a couple hundred dollars a month for a PPO plan and my company subsidized the rest. That insurance plan seemed to cover everything. If I needed to visit an acupuncturist, chiropractor or any type of specialist I paid a small co-pay and very little else. I paid a few hundred dollars for this care and my employer picked up the rest of the tab. I had no idea how valuable that benefit until 2011 when I was laid off.

When my job ended I opted to use COBRA for a year. My son was born a few days prior to the layoff and I wanted solid insurance in case anything should happen. Thankfully we never needed our insurance that year, but we continued to pay a $1500 monthly bill nonetheless.

Shortly before my COBRA coverage was set to expire we switched to a high deductible insurance plan. Even with the high deductible we still pay over a thousand dollars a month. The new insurance plan seems to cover a lot less than the old one. Acupuncture and chiropractic work are no longer included a long with a whole host of other treatments.

I understand that I no longer have access to the rolls royce of insurance plans, but I am amazed by how little the plan covers given that I pay only a few hundred dollars less. The most troublesome part of my new insurance plan is the amount of time it takes them to process claims. My previous insurer would process claims within a matter of days. The new one takes months. I am still waiting on claims from February to be finalized.

Between February and now I visited a multitude of doctors in hopes of curing my antibiotic induced neuropathy. I have a general idea how much my appointments and tests cost, but I have absolutely no idea what I will actually owe. I have to wait to see how the insurance company’s negotiated charges impact the bottom line. I have a $2600 family deductible and at this point I would assume I already owe that entire amount. Though it would certainly be nice to receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) detailing that fact.

Photo Credit

May 2, 2014 at 6:31 PM 4 comments

Preschool: Decision Made


Last week I made the decision to visit the co-op preschool one last time. My husband told me that it would be a big waste of time, (he has been voting for the traditional preschool since January), but I wanted to make peace with my decision once and for all. I also wanted to meet the woman who might become my son’s teacher.

I was welcomed into the co-op with open arms. The teacher invited my son to play with the all of the toys and I was told to make myself at home in the classroom. When snack time came we were not asked to leave, but instead were offered crackers and apples alongside the rest of the class. I’ll be honest I loved that welcoming atmosphere. I also liked the teacher’s philosophy and the way she interacted with the students.

Sounds positive so far, right? So why did I choose not to send my son there?

First, the classroom was quite tiny for the number of children in attendance. By the time you accounted for tables, chairs and toys there was little room for the twelve kids to move about. The toys were scattered all over the carpet, which is to be expected, but there was little ground to walk on. The children play outside twice a day so this might not be such a big issue, but on rainy days 2.5 hours in this tiny little room seems like it would be a bit much.

Second, I saw very little consistency in discipline. One mom said nothing when children pushed and shoved each other in front of her. When a boy grabbed a toy out of another boy’s hands the mother did not step in to calm the crying child or discipline the aggressive one. When this happened in front of another parent she stepped in to help.

In the first instance the teacher stepped in to soothe the crying child but by that time the situation was somewhat escalated and it took a bit for the boy to calm down. Since the teacher hadn’t witnessed the incident she did not discipline the aggressive child for taking the toy away. I think that is as important an action as quieting the one who is upset.

In general I noticed much more aggressive behavior in the children at the co-op. I am not saying that all co-ops contain children who are more aggressive, but at this particular school I noticed a lot more grabbing, pushing and general snarkiness amongst the children. None of the boys wanted to share the toys they were playing with and a number of them grabbed toys right out of my son’s hands. I realize that two and three year olds don’t typically like to share, but I witnessed the opposite behavior at the traditional preschool. Two young boys willingly handed over toys so my son could participate in an activity with them.

In general the co-op took a more hands off approach to the children. I understand this philosophy, but given my son’s quiet, sensitive nature I am not certain I want him to start school in a dog-eat-dog world. It was clear that the quieter children stuck to the perimeters of the room while the more aggressive children controlled the main floor.

At one point just before parent pickup one child dumped sand over the head of another. The little boy sat crying in the sand box. One of the parents brushed the sand off his neck and shoulders, but the little one continued to cry. When his mother picked him up, (which coincidentally happened moments after the incident), she said “he has sand in his eyes.” The teacher responsed, “he does?” Now I understand letting kids work things out themselves, but it seems to me a quick check of the child would have made that fact rather obvious.

In general the co-op approach appeared very hands-off. They gave the children 2.5 hours to play with no formal activities other than a five or ten minute story time. Again there are perks to this approach, but I am not certain it is the model I prefer for my son.

I also didn’t love the idea of taking other children to the bathroom and changing their diapers. It seemed that was one of the mom’s main duties. Every time I looked up she was taking another child to the bathroom. When I asked specifically about it I was told that wet diapers don’t typically need to be changed as they are only in the classroom for 2.5 hours. I took this response to mean they allow children to sit in wet diapers for most of the morning. My son should be completely potty trained before preschool starts, he is almost there now, but in general I’m not a fan of allowing kids to sit in their urine.

The teacher also mentioned that children cry just as much at a co-op as they do at a traditional preschool. She said eventually all parents have to leave, (because there would definitely not be enough room for all twelve parents to stay), and when they go the tears often fall. This made me realize that regardless of my preschool selection my son may be sad on those first few days there.

Add to this the fact that I would need to help fundraise, clean the school, attend mandatory meetings and hold an administrative position and I decided that the co-op was not the right choice for me or my son. Although I certainly felt welcomed into the co-op family I decided I did not want to send my son there.

Instead he will attend the traditional preschool located within walking distance of our home. I’m still not a fan of the longer hours, (4 hours versus 2.5), but otherwise I am happy with this decision. I talked to many parents who said the time flies in the morning and that their children love the longer day.

I’ll be honest, I’m not ready to part with my little guy and although I want him to interact with other children I know in my heart that I will miss spending those early morning hours with him. I will miss making his lunch and sitting at the kitchen table with him, but I have to remind myself that he will only attend school two days a week and that he will love making little friends and having a long list of activities to tell me about when the school day ends. At least I hope so…

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April 28, 2014 at 6:32 PM 5 comments

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