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It's all in the details

April 12th, 2006 at 08:22 am

And sometimes it's tedious and frustrating.

Last night I was happy to find some lipstick on Ebay that I can't always find in stores, and went through MyPoints Insider's Club just in case they refunded shipping on Ebay purchases. However, even if they do, I'll be out of luck. I forgot the purchase had to be done on a credit card that's registered with the Insider's Club...and paid for it out of my checking account. Duh!

I just got an offer from Citicard, where I get $10 extra dividend dollars when I make my first purchase through their Dividend Merchant Network. So I went to register for it, and it said I already had. It said I could have a new username and password emailed to me--but apparently I'd used an email address I haven't had in over a year. So I had to call and find out what to do. It took calling two different phone numbers and going through 3 CSRs to get it straightened out. (Although I'd signed up before, I'd never used the program, so it looks like I'm still eligible for the $10.)

I figured while I was setting things like this up, I might as well get Fatwallet Fat Cash up and running. I tried to use it before, but it didn't work for me. So today I got around to looking at their "Cash Back Solutions" where they walk you through computer settings that might be hindering things. There were 13 printed pages of things to go through!

So. I now have access to all these programs. Plus AAA deals, and AARP deals, and general Mastercard and Visa deals. How on earth to keep track of which program has which stores, what the % off is, which cc and email address I need to use with each one, who has free shipping anyway, and which stores I can easily get discounted gift cards for.

The only thing I can think of is to assemble a spreadsheet with stores down the left, and then columns for each discount program where I can enter the % discount and any other notes. If anyone's seen something like this online, already assembled, I'd sure like to use it and save myself some work!

I could kick myself! -- Insider's Club

April 10th, 2006 at 07:19 am

I joined the Insider's Club at MyPoints over the weekend, and re-explored the stores on MyPoints. Sheesh--just within the past couple of weeks I've bought stuff at several of their stores. I did look up coupon codes and used the cc with the best rewards, but I would have certainly saved more money with the shipping rebates. Not to mention, I didn't earn the MyPoints! So thanks for all the info on it.

I didn't know they'd offer $10 back on my next purchase through MyPoints, over and above the shipping rebates. I'm about shopped out now, and have spent way too much time trying to figure out what I could really use at this point! Finally settled on some batteries at Ace Hardware. After the $10 back, it will come to 59 cents for an 8-pack of C's.

BTW, the offer I got was $6.99 a month for membership, but billed annually. So I'm preparing for a hit of $83.88 after the 30-day intro period. The good news is, if you quit before the year's up, you're supposed to get a pro-rated refund. Also, it looks better than Amazon Prime because it covers so many more stores.

Thanks again!

4-week report

April 8th, 2006 at 03:44 pm

Total cc debt as of 4/8 - $3537, ($3906 on 3/11), down by $369

Emergency fund as of 4/8 - $511, ($441 on 3/11), up by $70

We aren't quite caught up to where we were as of February 11, but we're moving in the right direction again.

Everyday expenses 4 weeks ending 4/8, $506, which is fine. Anything around $545 or under, I feel pretty good about.

I think it was a very good month, especially considering--

It was quarterly utilities month, about $190 for water and two sewer bills (one municipal and one county)
It was time to put money on the Virgin Mobile phones, about $111
It was our nephew's birthday, which required a gift, $20
I did quite a bit of discretionary spending on clothes, about $115
Joined TOPS, $24
Bought that beer! $18

I did charge quite a bit of this for convenience and the rewards, but paid it off right away. It helped that I worked some extra hours, and we didn't have to pay an electric bill this month.

Today's money-generating task was calling Discover card, and trying to cancel. I really was ready to cancel, as there isn't much reason for me to keep it. But I figured if they made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I'd keep it awhile longer. Wink They did--a $20 rebate when I make a purchase within 30 days. Smile

Two more money-generating tasks

April 7th, 2006 at 06:59 pm

First, thanks for all your supportive comments. Smile

This morning I opened a Netbank checking account for the $75 bonus. I'm hoping that once I've left $500 there for the required 30 days, I'll have another $500 free to add to it. Then I can put $1000 into their money market for another $75.

I missed doing anything to generate money yesterday, and was looking for something small to catch up with today. And...

After months of nothing, tonight I got the chance to do a survey for Stanford Research for a $5 Amazon gc. I hopped right on it so I wouldn't miss out. What an exciting Friday night! Wink

Car inspection, and gift cards

April 4th, 2006 at 06:51 am

These are my little money tasks for the day.

I haven't posted about this before, but I'm doing something different with the the PNC account I opened awhile back. I found out I could split the direct deposit of my paycheck, so I now have $140 a week going into the PNC account. That's just enough to cover the Everyday Expenses budget, the newspaper subscription and Netflix.

My current Everyday Expenses cycle is over on April 8, and there isn't much left in the budget. But there IS money left in the PNC account, because part of the spending was from Petsmart gift cards. So I'm using part of the extra cash to buy more discounted gift cards, which will help even more cash build up in the account. Kind of a snowball effect.

It's car inspection month for me, and I think I'll get it done this morning. I'm anxious to do the Netbank checking account offer for $75, but they want you to keep a $500 balance for at least a month. Before I tie up that money, I want to know how much I might have to spend to get the car up to snuff.

Credit Protector, part 2

April 3rd, 2006 at 07:30 am

I decided I'd try to do one little thing each day this week, to help our finances. No matter how busy the day is.

Today is my long day at work, but this morning I called Credit Protector and asked if there was any way I could get more of the rebate vouchers like the $20 one I got when I signed up. (Over at Fatwallet, rumor was you didn't really need to threaten to cancel, just ask.) It worked! $50 in rebate vouchers should be here within 7-10 days. (5 x $10 each)

Easy money, although slow. I can send in receipts for anything, such as groceries or gas I need to buy anyway, so it's not much of a risk. And rebates aren't taxable. No reason NOT to do it, really.

Harry and David gift card deals on Ebay

March 31st, 2006 at 04:44 pm

Thought somebody might like to know about this--

I was browsing the gift card auctions that were about to end, and found one for Harry and David $50 gift cards in the $30+ range. That is, about 65% of face value, where most other gift card auctions run 85% of face value and up.

When I started searching, I discovered there were quite a few of these auctions, and most of the sellers had multiples to sell. I wondered, what's the deal?

Turns out some Costco stores have been clearancing them at $40 for $100 worth of gift cards. People are buying them up and selling them on Ebay. They make $10 or so per card, and it's still a great deal for the buyers on Ebay.

You could combine the discounted gift cards with a 10% off coupon from the Entertainment Book, or a 15% discount through Passport to Fun. I just ordered 3, for holiday gifts for the in-laws. Luckily, I already have the money on hand in the Xmas account. Smile

Great day at Entenmann's Outlet :)

March 20th, 2006 at 07:45 am

I had an early errand to run, and since I had some extra time and was near the Entenmann's Outlet, I figured I'd stop in.

A long while back I stopped counting on them as my main source of bread and rolls. Too often I'd go in and they'd be completely wiped out of regular bread. But if you hit them on a good day, it can be worthwhile.

Today I got all this for $5.03--hot cross buns, crumb cake, 16 hot dog rolls, multigrain bread, and onion rolls. All of them with expiration dates almost a week away. They were running a buy 2 get one free deal on the bread and rolls. I got the crumb cake free because I'd filled up my frequent-buyer card. And I think they plain forgot to charge me for one item.

The full retail value if I'd paid full price at the supermarket would have been over $17. This is going to stock the freezer for awhile. Smile

$20 Challenge

January 30th, 2006 at 07:19 am

DH put up the can crusher this weekend, so things are finally moving. I crushed a month's worth of cans we'd been saving--it was quite a workout! I can tell it's going to help my upper arm and shoulder strength. Wink The bin I have to keep the crushed cans in is about 1/2 full, so I guess I'll have to take them in every 2 months. It won't come to much money each time, but I don't want to get overrun with the things.

I have between $2 and $3 left of the $20 to use on Ebay listing fees, but I'm not quite ready. I need to play around with the digital camera and figure out how to put pictures in a listing. Also, I need to look into free photo hosting services again. I had one lined up (called Y44 or something), but I just got an email from them saying they're going out of business. I've sold on Ebay before, but not things that required photos, so this is why it's a new project for the challenge.

Last time I voted, I signed up to be a (paid) election board worker. They don't often open it to new people, so I jumped on it. But it's a slow process. This week I'm mailing back the card saying I'm still interested and am willing to go to training. Then there will be the training, and waiting for someone to drop out so I'll be called. But once you're in, you can make some decent money for a couple of days' work a year.

Another thing I need to do is change settings on my computer so Fatwallet's cash back feature will work. I found instructions on their site awhile back, but never got around to fixing things.

Four-week report

January 15th, 2006 at 12:55 pm

Thanks for the encouraging comments, guys, it helps. Some days I just reach my limit, and I guess Friday was that kind of day...

OK, raise or not, insurance problem or not, the 4 weeks ending yesterday did not go badly at all.

Once again, my grocery spending was $287, same as the last time. I'm hoping this means I've gotten into some sort of groove, with knowing how much food we really need and how much I should try to stock up and do rebates.

Overall Everyday Expenses totaled $502. For comparison, here's how it's been going over past 4-week periods:


So, it was the second best since I started keeping track.

Credit card debt went from $4016 to $3829, down $187
Emergency savings went from $166 to $272, up $106

I'm pretty satisfied with that, considering I paid two yearly vet visits in cash, bought quite a few household items, got through Christmas, and had a car repair.

I wanted to track how many "deals" I did. There were 11:
0% cc deal with HSBC
$25 Mazda test drive
Filtrete rebate
Credit Protector rebate
5 regular grocery rebates
Emailed Campbell Soup with a complaint (due to receive coupons, but haven't arrived yet)
Emailed Birds Eye with a compliment (received 5 coupons)

Still reading up a storm, and not exercising much. Frown

DH and I are getting ready to go out for a steak dinner. I have a $10 coupon for my birthday, and we haven't been out alone since well before the holidays. It's still nice getting out with DMom, but it's just not the same as a date. Wink

Claritin, and misc.

January 12th, 2006 at 05:40 am

Someone mentioned how expensive Claritin was, I forget who... Anyway, I've had success with Walgreens' over-the-counter generic version called Wal-itin, which is pretty cheap when it goes on sale. This week it's around $5.99 for 20, in a B1G1F sale on 10-pill packs. I was going to stop in for some, but I found an even better price. Aldi has a generic 10-pill pack for $1.99, all the time. (Just marked loratadine.) No waiting for sales or having to buy more than you need at the time. Thought I'd pass it along.

It's the 12th of the month already, and I've only made 2 credit card purchases.

DMom doesn't have a credit card, and doesn't need to be making extra trips out for new phone cards all the time. So usually I add minutes to her phone card with my credit card, and she reimburses me. I just did it automatically, as I always do, and then realized there's no real reason it couldn't have been done on a debit card. I'll try to remember that next time.

The $100 statement credit finally showed up on the Chase Sony credit card, but I had just paid it off. So I ended up with an actual credit balance. I used it to buy my discounted gift cards for the month. (I purposely want to keep using a cc to buy these, just in case something goes wrong. So this wasn't a slip-up.) After the rebate comes back, my account balance will be back to zero.

At that point I may just close the account. I don't want too many cc accounts open, and at this point I just have a bad taste in my mouth about this company. If it took 19 weeks to get something that was due in 12 weeks, and it was something they offered voluntarily, themselves--how long might it take to handle an actual billing dispute? If they are so disorganized that one week they send a letter saying I'd need to wait 1-2 billing cycles, and the next week the credit shows up... If I know from Fatwallet discussions that some people were getting their credits within days of their first purchase and others were waiting months... If I know that they kept offering the same deal under different names, when they were so far behind fulfilling the deal for people who'd applied months before... I don't know, I just don't feel very good about them. It's a failed marketing ploy for them, as far as I'm concerned.

It's funny. The PNC deal was for less money, but things went a lot smoother, and they won me over as a customer when I'd originally thought I'd close my little account fairly quickly.

Yesterday's car repair bill was only $213, and it included some maintenance stuff as well as the actual repair. I know we saved at least $75 compared to Firestone or a dealership doing it. And I can walk to our neighbor's repair shop. Everything seems to have been done right the first time. So I'd call it a success. Smile

Progress and frustration

January 8th, 2006 at 10:59 am

Have gone an entire week with no credit card purchases.

The HSBC card arrived, as did the balance transfer into our checking. I've scheduled payoffs on the other cards.

DMom gave me my birthday cash, and it was higher than previous years. For once, I don't feel like I need it desperately for anything and am going to put it right into the emergency savings account. I was playing around with the tax estimator thing Baselle posted, and it looks like we might owe this year. It would be nice to know enough money is sitting there, ready.

We're building up quite a credit on our electric co. budget billing. We should have one or two months with no bill this spring, plus the monthly amount after that should go down. A nice surprise.

It's the last week of my 4-week budget, and I still have money for Everyday Expenses. Smile Looks like I might finally come in at or below my 4-week goal for the first time.

Now for the frustrations. I guess I need to develop some philosophy about when to declare an issue dead, and just give up on it. And when to keep pushing so as not to lose money or a service I'm entitled to. Right now, I'm dealing with several ongoing problems that could use up several hours a day, if I let them.

--Pioneer Telephone. Still waiting for long distance service. Called the state board of public utilities, and am playing telephone tag with the person who takes complaints. How much more time should I waste making phone calls that result in nothing? What I'm thinking of doing is this: Use up the

Misc. updates

December 29th, 2005 at 08:29 am

HSA/DH -Thanks for the support and book suggestion. I *am* going to call again next Tuesday when that person is back from vacation, and keep trying to get it set up. DH doesn't seem to mind that I'm working on this; I was kind of afraid he'd be angry that I butted in. And the ladies in his office are nice enough. I guess it's more me feeling really uncomfortable about doing it. I can't imagine DH calling my job, asking about my benefits. Or my parents calling each other's jobs. Or spouses of co-workers of mine calling in, either. Unless the employee in question is deathly ill in the hospital or something.

Believe me, I do have quite a few accounts in my name only. And I have gone online to make changes in DH's 401K allocations and do health insurance business. (After I talked to him about it.) I guess I'll be able to do the HSA business on my own, too--after it's set up. But it sounds like filling out forms for his payroll person to set this stuff up is something that has to be on paper, and come from him.

Long distance-We tried to make some long distance calls over the holidays, using Pioneer instead of the phone card. We kept getting a message about not being authorized to make the call. I checked our last phone bill, and it showed Sprint as our regional carrier, and no long distance carrier at all. So I called Pioneer this morning. They said the Sprint part was ok, and said the long distance should be set up within 24-48 hours. I have to call a test number in a few days to make sure it went through. I was joking when I said this project could take weeks--I never imagined months! I started making the switch back on October 26.

BestBuy-Between phone calls, driving to Best Buy and waiting in the return line, It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get the Virgin Mobile top-up card problem settled. A lot of work to do, just because somebody missed scanning the barcode somewhere along the line. Glad it's finished!

Mazda test drive-It's been less than 2 weeks since I mailed in the offer, and the Supercertificate code came in my email already. I'm impressed! I've ordered a $25 Staples gift card.

HSBC cc application-Yes, two applications did go through. The second one was turned down. The rep said it couldn't be deleted because the decision had already been made. I really don't like the idea of a "declined" on my credit report, but there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it. I'll make an explanatory statement with each credit reporting agency, but from what I understand nobody is apt to read it. Everything seems to be done automatically by computers, which only look at numbers.

The good news is, the rep on the phone put through a balance transfer big enough to pay off the balance on the Sony and Discover cards. He's actually sending the money to our checking account, to save us $50 on balance transfer fees. (Doing one transfer instead of two.) Then I'll just pay off each account out of checking. 0% till March 2007. I just hope the declined application doesn't affect my FICO number, triggering a cancellation of the 0% rate...

Have read 3 books so far, right on schedule. Exercised once last week. Mailed 2 more rebates this week, for a total of 4. The latest ones were Dr. Pepper for $5, and 2 General Mills whole grain rebates for another $5.

Goals for next four weeks

December 21st, 2005 at 07:08 am

Besides spending a few hours yesterday obsessing about what will happen at the end of the 0% periods on our credit cards, mostly what I've been thinking about on the money front is what my next set of goals should be. Here it is 4 days in, and I still haven't decided.

--For sure, I'll aim to keep our grocery expenses to a minimum, and try again to say within the USDA's Thrifty Plan.

--For sure, I'll try to exercise 8x. And to try and leave enough time for that, I'm going to reduce my reading goal to 6 books over the 4 week period. 1-1/2 books a week is still more than I was doing for a long while.

--I thought I'd say I wanted to do one deal a week, whether it be a bank offer, a rebate or whatever. Then I thought back and realized I'm probably doing more than that now. Just this week, I mailed off two rebates already and am ready to do some bank deals.

I guess what I really want is to try and pace myself on doing them. I want and need to do quite a few, but at a steady pace. I don't want to get overwhelmed. Sometimes I do a flurry of them, which ends up taking more time than it should in one particular week. And following up on them... Maybe what I need to do is LIMIT myself to no more than x number, to force myself to concentrate on the most profitable ones. Maybe what I'll do this 4-week period is just track what I'm doing, to get a baseline figure.

So far:
1--Mailed Mazda test drive form (for $25 Supercertificate)
2--Mailed in Clairol Root Touch-Up rebate ($4.99)

I also want to try and cut down on so many separate shopping trips, but again, I don't know off the top of my head how many is too many. Maybe I can make a count of separate stops, looking back in Quicken.

Happy Winter Solstice to all--what a relief to know the days will start to get longer now. I've had enough of winter, and it's only starting!

The Credit Protector Gambit has begun

December 14th, 2005 at 07:31 am

I'd heard about this on Fatwallet, and am now in a position to pursue it. It's available through Citibank credit cards--I'm not sure if others have a similar thing. You sign up for the Credit Protector program, which is designed to help you pay your credit card bill if you are disabled, called up for military duty, etc. After the 30 day intro period, they start charging you 85 cents per $100 of your balance.

Not a great deal at all, if you are carrying a balance. BUT--normally they give you a $15 gas purchase rebate for joining. Right now it's a bit better, $20 back on any purchase at a store. Then when you try to cancel, they keep offering you more $15 gas rebate offers. Still not great, if you are carrying a balance. But if you aren't actually using the card, and there's no balance, you are getting $15 back every so often, for no cost whatsoever.

Since I'm not planning on using the card after this billing cycle (and after I get my last rewards check), I can finally take advantage of it. Smile

FYI--The offer showed up for me three different places when I went online to check my Citi account today, at different times. Once along the right side with some other offers. Once on the screen that came up after I logged off. Also through the link that says "today's special offers."

Baselle--Thanks for your comments. I don't think I've been too extravagent, either, glad you reinforced that. Although I don't really feel guilty about this spending, I just feel kind of guilty that I DON'T feel guilty, if you know what I mean. Wink

4 Week Status Report

November 19th, 2005 at 03:46 pm

It's the end of another 4-week "month" that I've divided the year into. Debt is as follows:

Firestone - 0 - yay!
Citi - 450
Sony - 1530
Discover - 2499 - finally under 50% utilization

Total debt as of 11/19, $4479. This is up $269 from 4 weeks ago, but still less than it was when I started keeping this tally back on 9/15. The main causes were the $450 car repair, $185 vet bill, and $330 in discounted gift cards I stocked up on before I knew I wouldn't have to cancel my membership.

I don't feel great about the way things worked out, but I don't feel terrible either. I *was* able to pay the 2nd vet bill for follow-up blood work with a check. And, having a higher balance because of buying the gift cards is outweighed by the rebate and having them on hand as an asset. With less going into goal savings accounts, and being able to free up some cash by using gift cards, I should be able to put quite a bit more against the cards in the next 4 weeks.

In other news, the $25 gas gift card from PNC came in the mail today, and the 10,000 reward points finally showed up in my Visa Extras account. I was getting a little worried! That is enough points for another $25 gift card right away. Also a $5 coupon from a Petsmart offer came today, and a $2 check for doing a survey. Went to an all-you-can-eat oyster supper tonight, Mom's treat. And a ton of request books just came in for me at the library. Am feeling kind of rich today, despite the debt. Wink

Lands End GC = Dog Food

November 17th, 2005 at 12:13 pm

Yup, it's weird but true. I used a Lands End gift certificate to buy dog food today.

When I first signed up to get the discounted gift cards, I had in mind to buy more Land's End clothing. I have a t-shirt and a sleeveless cotton blouse of theirs that I really love, and I'd gotten them on a really good clearance sale at Sears. I figured when things went on clearance again, at landsend.com or in Sears, I'd be ready. But I kept checking, and no really good deals have come up. I couldn't find much of anything else at Sears or Sears Hardware to use them on, either.

A K-Mart store not too far away was switched over to a Sears Essentials over the summer, so yesterday I finally called them to see if I could use the Lands End gcs there, like you can at a regular Sears. They said yes. I didn't know quite what to expect, but it worked out well. I found two of Sears own brand winter tops on sale for $10.99 each, which I can really use. And to use up the gcs, I was able to buy the dog's food for the week and some regular grocery items.

I can't say I'll be going back anytime soon. But it feels really good to get some use out of the gcs, and conserve some actual cash. Monkey #3 off my back this week!

Russell-I know what you mean. It's great if you can find an independent mechanic you can trust. Unfortunately, ours on the corner sold out, and now here's an Eckerd where he used to be. Another guy we tried down the road couldn't figure out to put a belt on correctly, and it kept getting shredded. Finally a dealership mechanic figured out the problem. What good is cheap if the work isn't done right? A friend of DH's is a good mechanic, and will do side jobs for us at at good price. But if it's something where the car won't start or it isn't safe to drive, it can't wait til he has a free weekend. We kind of have to go where we can arrange getting us both to work and back, and picking the car back up. Which for us is this Firestone, or a Dodge dealership about 8 miles away. I did call the dealership for a comparison price on the wiper motor, but their price wasn't any cheaper.

Misc. updates

November 13th, 2005 at 10:27 am

Thanks for the good wishes for our cat. Smile He's doing much better. He's still eating nothing but "people" salmon and some Nutrical goo if I put it on his paw, but I can tell when I pick him up that he's put some weight back on already. We have to get more blood work on Monday, to see if his liver is getting back to normal now that he's eating well. But the way he is acting and looking, I'm not expecting bad news. He wanted to jump out of my arms today and chase a bird--big improvement!

The only down side is that I've got so many opened packages of foods he won't eat. So the dog is getting some sardines and Sheba today, and I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. The older stuff will just have to be tossed.

With this latest vet bill, I decided to add up how much we've spent on emergencies since I starting using Quicken again back in May. It's over $3000. I figured on $2500 for an entire year's worth, based on the past couple of years' totals. That would have been $1354 in 6-1/2 months, instead of $3000. Or to look at it monthly, our emergencies have been costing $461 a month instead of $208.

I thought we were going to get away with the 10% increase on natural gas that went through month or so ago. But now the gas company is asking for an additional 30% increase, which will come to about $47 more a month year round on our budget billing. That's another $564 a year.

I just ran a cash flow report, which shows we are only in the black by $160-some dollars over the past 6 months--meaning every penny received as gifts, on rebates, from cc rewards, from surveys, and from selling books online has been absolutely necessary. It can't be thought of as "extra" income right now.

Well, it could be worse. At least we aren't in the red. And I'm not even counting what goes into DH's 401K plan, or the fact that our mortgage is getting paid down a bit each month, so really we are ahead by more than $160. But it's not good, and it's getting kind of scary.

I've got to find some more ways to cut our spending, and/or bring in more cash. Simple as that. Only, how.

One thing I managed the other day was cut my membership costs at Passport To Fun, the discount gift certificate program. Over on fatwallet, they were talking about being offered one year for $9.95 or $14.95 when they tried to cancel one of the programs. It sounded like you'd get an automated thing, and it was luck of the draw. However, I got a live person and was really unsure of what to say. Luckily, the rep offered me the option without my having to ask. One more payment of $9.95 and I'll be a member for one full year.

Some efforts paying off

November 4th, 2005 at 07:20 am

Good things in the mail this week--

* Got a letter saying my long distance was switched to Pioneer.
* The checks for my new personal checking account arrived.
* Got a package from Sanford, the people who make Sharpie markers, with several nice things in it. I'd mailed in two white-out pens I could never get to work, which turned out to be discontinued. For good reason, I think! They sent two new ones, a red Sharpie and a click-type ballpoint pen, plus stamps for what it cost me to mail in the bad ones.
* Free magazines, which continue to amaze me. Right now we are getting US News, Family Circle, Psychology Today, Antiques, and Budget Living.
*More gift cards I ordered from Passport To Fun. Got quite a few for Amazon, because I'm planning ahead for Virgin Mobile. I finally figured out that I could add minutes at a discount if I bought top-up cards with a discounted gift card instead of doing it with a credit card. I did get one with a gc at Target, but noticed they charged sales tax. Someone over on Fatwallet mentioned getting them on Amazon, where hopefully I won't be charged tax. So now the money is already sitting in my Amazon account, when it's time to get them.

I also got what looks to be my first chance for a test drive offer. I don't even remember how long ago I signed up for it, but I finally got the chance to do a Mazda one for a $25 SuperCertificate. Hope I have the guts to go and do it! I have til December 18 to build up my courage.

On the down side, I discovered yesterday that I'd paid $75 to Citibank twice. Good for our debt levels, not so good for our checking account balance.

Debt tally update

October 22nd, 2005 at 07:24 am

I last added up our cc debt on September 15. That day it was $4527. As of today, it's $4210, for a net reduction of $317 in about 5 weeks. I don't think that's too bad, especially since I had to charge that additional $500 car repair bill. On the negative side, I can't remember the last time I had to actually pay interest--but this month I ended up paying $6 to Citi because I didn't have quite enough to pay it off completely by the due date. Here are the details, to keep me honest--

Firestone - $427 (0% runs out in December, want to pay off asap)
Citi - $20 (paid off balance with an extra payment, this is new gas purchase)
Discover - $2874 (0% til next spring)
Sony - $889 (0% for another 11 months)

What I'm trying to do is kind of let the Sony balance build up and start paying down extra on Discover. Assuming I won't be able to pay off the Discover by the end of their 0% period, I'll want to do a balance transfer to the Sony card--but they charge a 3% BT fee. So the lower the balance is at that point, the lower the fee.

OTOH, I don't want to miss out on the cash back from Citi. So I'm using it where they offer the 5% back (grocery stores, gas and drugstores) and using the Sony everywhere else.

I'll try to report back on this in another 4 weeks. It helps to add the figures up once in a while, and see the big picture.

I'll be so glad when it's paid off and I don't have to do all this juggling.

Girl's Day Out

October 21st, 2005 at 12:10 pm

Just one girl, me. Smile I had a floating holiday to take, so I had the day off work. Even though it's been raining all day, it was still nice.

First I went and did the PNC offer, which by the way I found over on Fatwallet.com (I should have given credit). It's actually even better than I originally noticed. When you sign up for the rewards program on the debit card, they automatically give you 10,000 points, which qualifies you for a $25 gift card of your choice right off the bat. So it's really a $60 deal instead of a $35 one. Hope all goes through ok--the customer service person wasn't sure how the special web deal worked, and had to call in to find out. But I do already have the $10 Best Buy gift card in my hot little hands, so that's something.

Next I drove over to the town we used to live in 10 years ago, before we bought our house. It was already upscale compared to where we were able to buy, and it's only gone onward and upward since we moved! The crummy old Superfresh is now a fancy Genuardi's supermarket, which was my first stop. I've been seeing some good sale prices there on http://www.cairo.com, and figured I'd get one of their savings cards. I scoped the place out and was able to get a few sale items already. Very nice, especially the 1/4 of the store that was actually a sit-down restaurant.

Also discovered there was a Baja Fresh in the same shopping center, which I'd like to try someday. (With a discounted gift card of course.)

I'm trying to use up last year's Entertainment Book coupons before they run out on November 1. So I used a bakery coupon and got some nice stuff for 50% off. If any of you follow true crime, maybe you remember the case where the NJ rabbi hired someone to kill his wife, and the wife was well-known as a bakery owner? Well, this was one of her bakery locations, and I'd never been there.

Had a coupon for Hallmark also, so I went to look at Christmas cards. It was pleasant to look at everything, but I just couldn't get psyched to spend $3.99 per card, even with a coupon.

Now I'm off to polish my nails, for DH more than myself. Gotta keep him happy; I just usually don't have the time or patience to sit around waiting for them to dry. No dinner to worry about as we're getting pizza. We have beer, movies and books on hand, so I anticipate a nice relaxing evening.

My Stress is definintely Less today. Smile

The trouble with freebies

October 10th, 2005 at 05:19 am

I've gotten a lot of nice free stuff that hasn't caused any later harm in our budget. Mostly, it turns out a trial product is good, but not much better than what I've been using. I don't have a strong urge to actually spend money to get more of it. For example, free bath stuff from Calgon. It's nice, but when it's time to actually buy something, usually I go back to Pathmark's store brand of bubble bath and I'm perfectly happy.

But the whole purpose of a lot of freebies is to hook you on a product and get you to buy it in the future. What if you see there *is* a big difference over what you've been using and you get spoiled? For me right now, it's Schick Quattro for Women razor blades. For probably 20 years I've survived using plain old disposable Bic shavers, and not even the sensitive skin or ladies' kind. They come out to roughly 12 cents or so a piece, on sale. The best price I can find for the Quattros even on Ebay is around $1 a piece, often over a dollar, $1.25 or $1.50. Which means each cartridge is 100 TIMES the cost of my old shavers. The best price I could find in a store was at Walgreen's, on sale, with a coupon and a rebate, and it still came out to over $1.50 a piece.

I hate to admit how much time I've spent on Ebay trying to win some at the low end of the prices I've seen in the completed listings. I'm in a quandary about whether to continue looking there, just buy them outright at the best price I can find, or give them up. Are they that much better that I should keep on using them? Are they 100x better? If I do decide to keep using them, should I spend $60 to buy them in quantity on Ebay, or just try to fit a full-price package in my monthly budget? I'm getting darned tired of thinking about it.

When I think of spending $60 it just sounds ridiculous--I'm used to spending $12 for a year's worth of Bics, for both my husband and me. Now I'm thinking of spending $30+ a year on just me, when we are thousands of dollars in debt.

If I just could find them wholesale, it might be profitable to sell them on Ebay myself--at least profitable enough to pay for my own supply!

Can't say yet what I'll do because right now I seem to be in the midst of a PMS attack. It always makes me impatient, which I'm realizing has consequences as far as spending. (Will discuss more in another post.)

Rethinking take-out

October 8th, 2005 at 10:29 am

No, I'm not going to try and cut it out. Take-out dinners once or twice a week help save my sanity. And frankly, DH would like to live on burgers, cheesesteaks, hoagies and pizza if I'd let him, anyway. It's a part of our life and I just have to keep the costs under control.

It's been pretty easy the past few months because of a pizzeria we discovered recently. I was counting on their $6 pizzas every Tuesday, plus cheesesteak/fries combos they had good coupons out for. The problem is, they seem to have gone out of business already! Frown I guess they couldn't make money selling the food so cheaply. It's a shame, because the food was good.

So now I have to get creative, and be more attentive to other deals that are out there.

I'll definitely be buying more Wendy's and maybe Burger King gift certificates through Passport To Fun.

I went through the Entertainment Book that expires Nov 1, to see what restaurants let you use the coupons for take-out. There are a lot that sound like regular restaurants, but don't say "dine in only," so they look like a possibility. (It's like pulling teeth to get DH out to a restaurant, so we might as well use them for take-out.) I found a post here about a free trial for the Entertainment Book which lets you print out 3 online coupons without buying the new book. And I called AAA to find out what their price was for the new books. ($5 off and no shipping because you pick it up at the AAA office.)

The only other thing I can think of right now is remembering to order Chinese food at work before 3 p.m., so we get it at the lunchtime price. The only difference is, you get a can of soda instead of an egg roll. Usually I don't think to do it til the end of the day; I'll just have to plan better.

Crazy Eights Sale

October 2nd, 2005 at 03:28 am

I feel like I've made up for lots of mistakes through a great sale at Stop and Shop.

I could see from the circular that their Crazy Eights sale was a good deal. You bought 8 items from a particular group of products, and got an $8 coupon to use later. Since many of the items were only $1, you basically got them for free. What they didn't say in the circular, that I only found out from a message board, was that you could do this over and over again. You could even take the first $8 coupon and use it to buy the 2nd group of 8 products, and so forth, so you hardly had to put out any actual money. I didn't know about this til late in the week, but I still managed to go 4 times!

I used 2 of the coupons and still have 2 to use this week--on things like B1G1F chicken, and Ragu on sale for which I also have coupons. Because of all the stocking up I've been able to do for practically nothing, it's not going to be hard at all to keep to my reduced food budget this month. Whew! Thank goodness for: Stop & Shop's sale, the info I can get on the internet, working part-time, and storage space.

Also, our property tax rebate of $350 arrived in our bank account yesterday, instead of October 15 as I expected. Saturday was a good day. Smile

Yikes! September numbers

September 30th, 2005 at 04:21 am

Yesterday I caught up on recording my spending, and was finally able to run my September Everyday Expenses report in Quicken. (My September ran through September 24.) It was painful to see--I was $281 over what I'd planned.

OK, maybe the gas and food expenses for our day trip to the shore shouldn't be in there. Subtract $50. Maybe the money I spent on haircolor for the P&G rebate shouldn't be counted under groceries. Subtract $10. And maybe subtract the amount of money I'll be getting back on all the rebates I did, $68. That still leaves me $158 over budget. Not good.

Looking back, I know exactly why it happened. It's the same old reason--responding to marketing ploys that appeal to my bargain-hunter side.

I won that $100 in groceries, which sounds great. But I usually spend no more than $25 a week at that store because that's all the good deals I can usually find. I was forced to use the money in no more than two trips--they don't use plastic gift cards that get swiped, they'd have to rewrite a gift certificate each time you used a little. So I ended up buying things we didn't need yet, and things that weren't that great a deal, just to get the money spent. So I spent more than I normally would have.

Same problem with Stop and Shop. I had these $5 off $50 coupons--too good to pass up, right? But what if you have to stretch to find things that add up to that $50. I know I spent more there than I really needed to.

Rebates. If I ever mention doing rebates again, please somebody reach through the computer screen and give me a virtual whack on the head. It's just not worth the effort, compared to something like staying home and opening a bank account to get a bonus. Plus it makes me spend money on things I don't need yet, or things that aren't a great price, just to complete the rebate.

Entertainment Book coupons. They run out November 1, so I've been trying to get use out of them. But it's made me spent more money on take-out that I normally would have.

I'm revising my next two months' budgets to be $140 lower, to make up for the $280. It shouldn't be too bad considering what all we already have on hand.

Another $184.61 out the door

September 15th, 2005 at 10:43 am

That's what the bill at Midas was this morning. When I add up the emergency type expenses we've had over the past 12 months, it comes out to about the $200 a month I planned on. It's just that so many of these expenses have fallen in just the past few months, and we didn't have a cushion built up yet for emergencies.

Until recently, I've been mainly working on paying down debt. Back in February, our debt level was the worst it's been in years--$4185, not counting our mortgage. By the end of August, it was down to $3548, plus I'd gotten more money into savings toward various known bills and goals. Now it's up again, worse than ever:

Discover (no new purchases, just paying down at 0% interest) - $2939
Firestone - $660
Sony Card (just got, expecting a $100 credit as a bonus from them, also 0% interest) - $229
Citi (we pay that one off each month, used to earn cash back) - $699 as of today, will pay off early October

For a total of $4527. I could take some money out of savings goals accounts, but that would only pay it down partially and we'd have no cushion left. Not to mention lost hopes and dreams, like replacing our 13-year old car. I can't take money out of the accounts for things like the property taxes, because we need that money on hand to pay the upcoming bills.

I'm nervous about it, but maybe not for the reason you'd think. I know we can pay this off eventually, gradually. What I'm mostly afraid of right now is myself, and how I can tend to try too hard and end up making things worse for myself. Kind of like a gambler betting even more to make up for losses. Or someone exercising too hard because they've neglected it, and ending up with a heart attack, or at least sore.

I've already been burned on Ebay, trying to save a few dollars over Amazon's price on that software. I've already had rebates this year that I forgot to mail in, after spending extra money I wouldn't have if I weren't trying to do the rebates. I've already wasted time and money on "frugal" recipes that turned out so badly I had to throw the food away. I've had food go bad in the fridge and spent money on take-out because I got too involved in some other "money-saving" project. Then there's the way I overdid it on those discounted gift cards, leaving us strapped for actual cash.

And the more worried I am about money, the more compelled I feel to pursue these things, to make up for previous losses. So my main goal right now is to stay to my usual routines, and try to relax and not worry.

Rebates running me ragged

September 13th, 2005 at 05:31 am

Right now if you asked me about doing rebates, I'd say never again. But after I've forgotten the pain I know I'll be ready to do it again--kind of like childbirth, from what I hear. Wink

Sunday we weren't doing much, so I thought I'd go out and buy what I needed for several rebates due in this month. I've lost track of how many stops I made, trying to find all the items I was looking for. I haven't even entered what I spent yet, because the number of transactions and receipts feels overwhelming. It's one thing to do a rebate for a single item. What's really driving me bonkers are the ones where you need a certain number of products, or a certain dollar amount of stuff from one parent company. Here are some examples:

*Underwood deviled ham, 10 cans for 2 movie tickets. A lot of people must be doing this one, because everywhere I go, they are very low on deviled ham. So I couldn't buy them all in one place.
*Unilever, spend $15 for a $5 KMart gift card. The prices at KMart itself were way too high, so I planned to get everything at Target (it's supposed to work no matter where you buy the products.) I figured very carefully, but my total at Target came to just under $15. So I had to remember and buy a jar of Ragu somewhere else, and keep another receipt.
*Walgreens, $15 on P&G products to get a beauty product sampler and a $10 Walgreens gift card. It's unclear whether it can be any P&G products or just beauty and personal care. They say different things in different flyers. So I figured I get all Clairol products, to be safe. But my regular Walgreens was out of the root touch-up color I use, and were also down to one box of my Nice N Easy color so I couldn't use the $5 off coupon on 2.
*Walgreens, $10 on Pepsi and Frito Lay products, get a $5 gift card. You have to remember to write the UPC codes on the back of your receipts, which is a pain. Plus there's a local Pepsi strike going on, and all the Walgreens I've been to are completely out of Pepsi and Mountain Dew. (Although there's a plentiful supply at Target and the IGA.) Between this and the P&G rebate, I've been to 3 Walgreens and I still haven't been able to buy everything I need to finish up.

Now that I've bought some of the stuff, I feel like I have to complete the rebates or my previous effort and $ spent were a waste. And this isn't all--there are still a Delmonte one for $10 and a Coors one for up to $35 back on meat purchases I planned on doing.

It always looks like it will be worthwhile. And if I could get all the products for one rebate, at one store, on one trip, it would be easy. But in reality, it always turns out to be more complicated--especially compared applying for a Sony credit card in about 2 minutes, and eventually getting $100 from them. But I suppose if I'm not doing anything else, and I'm staying within my gas budget, I might as well be working on rebates as anything.

I actually won something!

September 6th, 2005 at 03:01 pm

Opened the mail today, and got quite a surprise. We've won $100 in free groceries! It's "Grocery Cash" from Kraft and my local IGA--they were taking entries for a drawing several months back, something to do with an NCAA championship theme. I kind of forgot about it, so when I first opened the envelope I thought it was some kind of scam. You know, sign this check and suddenly you're automatically enrolled in some program or other. But I kept looking it over, and it seems to be legit.

Oddly enough, I was also mailing some other contest entries today, and wondering if my entries would ever come to anything. Smile

I'm very grateful to get this right now, as I've been worried about our cash flow now through October 15. I'm still going to have to move some money from savings to checking temporarily, then pay it back in November. But this will be a big help to us, and it also gives me the confidence to donate another $25 to hurricane relief.


September 3rd, 2005 at 11:51 am

Over in the forums, I'd posted about Microsoft Streets and Trips, software I was curious about trying. It's supposed to calculate the shortest routes to hit several locations you want to cover on the same trip. I thought it might save me on gas by giving me better ideas how to arrange my errands.

Well, I bought it on Ebay. I did notice the fellow said it wasn't in a box, but he did say it was sealed. I figured maybe he just wanted to ship it the cheapest, lightest way since he was offering free shipping. Or that the box was damaged. Anyway, he had quite a bit of feedback, and it was pretty close to perfect. But when the software came, it was clearly labeled "For distribution with a new PC only."

I don't know if it would cause a problem to put it on my computer, but I don't want to take any chances. Recently when I did Windows Update, it went through a process where it was "verifying" all the software on my computer. The way it was worded, I got the impression they were trying to identify any Microsoft products that shouldn't be there. I just don't need the hassle of worrying about it.

Anyway, I checked Ebay's policies, and it was against the rules for him to sell this "OEM" software if it wasn't part of a PC purchase. So I reported the listing. But it looks like I have to go through a separate process to try and get my money back. And their system won't let me do that yet because not enough time has elapsed. They want you to try and settle it between yourselves--but I just don't see the point of communicating with the seller at all. They did something they shouldn't have, and Ebay ought to know about it. I don't want to just return it and get my money back, and have them sell this stuff to someone else.

It's really frustrating to have this software (still sealed) sitting in front of me, and not being able to try it out. But I just ordered a good one directly from Amazon. They've lowered the price, and after the rebate and my 20% discount it will turn out cheaper than the Ebay guy's anyway. All's well that end's well, and I'm sure things will end up fine. It's just going to be a hassle communicating with Ebay over the next few weeks.

Eliminating annoyances

August 30th, 2005 at 06:16 am

(Thanks for the tip on the housing bubble blog. Just what I need, another blog to read! But it looks really interesting. I've subscribed to their feed.)

I think it was in a book by Cheryl Richardson where I read how useful it can be to tackle small annoyances. The idea is, they are small but they stay in the back of your mind, sapping your energy, and wasting your time in little bits every day. So it's more worthwhile to handle them than it might seem. Well, I seem to be in a mode of getting rid of those annoyances. And so far it's saving me money, too.

--I spent $7 at Target a few weeks ago, on what turned out to be a sorry excuse for a lamp. It was all plastic, and you were supposed to attach the shades by pushing them up and then turning. No screws to secure them. DH and I went through the procedure several times, and each time they fell out after a few hours or at most a day. I doubted Target would take it back, since we'd thrown the box away. But they did! $7 back into our pockets.

--I had a Crest spinbrush where a little plastic collar on the base broke. There was nothing for the new brush head to attach to. I called their 800 number, and they're sending a coupon for a whole replacement. About $6 back into our pockets, since I would have bought a replacement regardless. (I feel like I can stretch out dental appointments when I use it, because it keeps my teeth feeling like I just saw the hygienist. Nope, I don't work for Crest. Wink

--We had some Mountain Dew cans that were leaky where the lids attached, 5 cans from 2 different cartons. I called the 800 number, and I already got coupons for 2 12-packs. Worth about $8 because I'll save them for when we need them and they're not on sale.

--Did some research about our DVD player, which seemed to be on the fritz. Found out it just might need a cleaning, which you do with a special cleaning disk. Found one for $12, ran it through twice, and it was playing perfect again. Savings about $20, over having to replace it. And I can use the same disk to clean the CD drives in the computer, too.

--This one is costing money, but not very much. I had a cheap little upright vacuum that I loved, and it stopped working several months ago. I have a canister one, but it's a hassle to get out so I don't vacuum as much as I should. I finally took the upright in to be looked at, for $10. They said the parts were no longer available; the vacuum is designed to be disposable. Frown So I found one that looks even nicer (cordless) on Target's website which is on its way to me. It was $53 with tax, minus $5 from a link on http://www.naughtycodes.com, and I paid for it with some 20% off Target gift cards. And they were offering free shipping.

Oddly enough, on our local Craig's List website, someone was seeking people for a survey about vacuum cleaners. I emailed about it, and did the survey yesterday. They're supposed to mail a check for $20. So, after this serendipity, for about $28 net the vacuum cleaner problem is solved.

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