Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coupons Coupons and More Coupons

If you picked up your Sunday paper this week, then you got the P&G coupon booklet, right????  Great coupons this week, and the big bonus is the Coupon Booklet that you can receive from P&G which they are claiming is worth $110 in savings.  Thankfully, I have been saving my receipts each week so that I can comparison shop and look back at prices and savings; so I am already in the habit of sticking them in a safe place. 

In order to receive this coupon booklet, you need to spend at least $50 on P&G items between 08/20/10 and 12/31/10.  I use Tide and Pampers, and can tell you that I spend close to $80 per month on diapers so I don't see this being a problem at all.  Other qualifying items that you may already buy include Crest, Bounty, Cascade, Charmin, Downey, and Duracell batteries.  Heck just in getting a hurricane supply bin together you could probably rack up enough items to get this coupon book.  The Mail In Form appeared on the 2nd page of the P&G coupons, but if you didn't have a chance to get the Sunday paper this week, there is a link to the form that you can use at www.southernsavers.com

This Sunday when I went to Publix, I used $18.00 in coupons alone, I was so proud of myself because really that's the equivalent of a package of diapers for me, or a manicure but who's really keeping tabs on that :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Emptying my tank

Over the last year, Mint.com estimates that I have spent $6,600 in gas and fuel for a Toyota Tacoma and a Toyota Venza.  Quick math will tell you that according to that information, I spend on average $550 per month, $126 per week, and $18 per day on gas alone.  This was a shocking number for me, because I don't consider myself to be a commuter, nor do I think that we spend a great deal of time in the car at all.  When I start to add all the auto amounts in my head, including car payments, insurance, maintenance, and gas . . . my heart begins to race as I come up with the number; we spend $52 per day on our cars.  For now our car payments are set, we just changed our auto insurance company to lower the monthly costs, and my husband has started to change the oil in our cars himself.  That really only leaves us with gas.  I did a little research and found some tips for saving money on gas.  I am going to start implementing some of them; I say some of them because you must know this about me . . . I love my car and I love to drive.  In my car I come up with some of my greatest ideas, I can formulate answers to the biggest problems in my life, and when life gets a little crazy, I can turn up the music and jam my worries away!  So knowing this, you must know that giving up driving entirely is not an option, but cutting back - Let's see, shall we:
1.  Park in the first spot that you see, don't drive around finding one that is closer or more convenient (I am so guilty of this one, including the fact that I sometimes drop my husband at a store only to drive around the parking lot to lull the baby back to sleep)
2.  Take care of your car - apparently cars that are well maintained run more efficiently and get better gas mileage (Oops, I am super guilty of this one, yes I am the girl that will let my car go 10,000 miles without an oil change.)
3.  Find better gas prices - I use gasbuddy.com, but don't go overboard when looking for the cheapest gas because if you are driving further to get the better price, you could be spending more than you are saving.
4.  Drive less (duh) - but the funny thing about this one is that we are all guilty of it.  This is where you go to Target in the morning to get diapers, then head out later to Walgreens to pick up the prescription that you forgot to get earlier.  Make a list of everything that you need to do and try to minimize trips. 

How much do you spend in gas per day?  I'll bet that you don't know. . .  find out the answer and possibly find out the key to saving a little bit more money!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Date Night In!

Planning a date night this weekend to save money on both the babysitter and going out in general.  I want to make it nice enough so I'm not missing going out, so while I don't want to go too overboard in my spending, I want to buy nicer items that we normally wouldn't eat for dinner that might be on sale.  Publix has small lobster tails on sale for $4.99 each, and grilling veggies on sale for 99 cents per pound.  Any of the grilling veggies can be easily tossed in a little bit of olive oil with salt and pepper, then put them in the oven to roast at 425.  Roasted veggies and lobster tails for dinner, now you're talking.  If you're a steak person, they also have T-Bones and Porterhouse steaks on sale too. Bonus . . . Popcorn is on sale too - buy one get one free so a package is only $1.50.  I think I'm gonna have to get some popcorn and a movie, (movie rentals from the machine at Publix are only $1/day and are new releases).  For under $15, we can have a date night in with a lobster and roasted veggie dinner, with popcorn and a movie!  Grab a bottle of wine from the wine rack and we are in business.

If Publix isn't your store of choice, most grocery stores have the movie rental machine, there is even one at the Parker's on 170.  Another good tip that I learned is that grocery stores put their best sale items on the front page of the flyer, so you know it's a good buy if it's on the front page because it's meant to grab your attention.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fun Weekend Day Trips

As the weekend is approaching and I've been staying in town week after week to save money, I feel a little bit antsy so I decided to come up with a few day trips from Bluffton that won't break the bank.  A day trip with the kids takes a little prior planning, but we can usually drum up some bags and get in the car pretty quickly when we put our mind to it. 

Columbia is such an easy drive; only 2 hours and it really doesn't even feel that long, and such a great place to take the kids if you have never been there.  They have a wonderful zoo, called the Riverbanks Zoo that boasts a carousel, a train ride, animals that you can feed if you get there in time, and pony rides too.  The price is very reasonable for how large it is, Adults are $11.75, children ages 3 to 12 yrs are $9.25, and children under 3 are free.  Senior citizens and military also receive extra discounts.  Since my two kids are both under 3, it only costs us $23.50 for the day for entry to the park.  If you happen to be able to go on a Tuesday this summer, they are offering 2 for 1 admission if you bring 2 cans with you for recycling.  Rides and feeding the animals are anywhere from $1 to $5 per person in the zoo, but you really don't have to do those things if you don't want to.  To save money on food, we would opt to pack a lunch and eat it on the way, or there is a picnic area near the zoo that you can use as well.  The last time we went, we only bought a few snacks, but one of the cafes offered a tiger lunch box that included a PB&J sandwich, Teddygrams, and a juice box for $6.50.  It was a super bonus because my toddler got a souvenir and a snack all for $6.50, not bad in a place like that.  Check out the website to the zoo for more information:


If it happens to be raining, head to the EdVenture Children's Museum, which is such a fun interactive place for little ones and their imagination.  Children and Adults are $9.50 each, Seniors and military receive a discount, and children under 1 year are free.  Our clan pays $28.50 for entry but it is well worth it to wear out our toddler and have a lot of fun ourselves.  Again, I would recommend packing a lunch and eating on the way to save on funds, but they also have McDonalds inside if you don't want to stop somewhere on the way.  Kids can grocery shop, climb through the worlds largest child, make a large variety of crafts, or go camping indoors! 


Since a tank of gas for my car costs about $35.00, and I normally can get at least 4 hours or more of highway driving in, this entire trip costs no more than $75 for the day, if you don't want to pack your lunch or bring snacks for the car, you could still get to Columbia and back for under $100.  So get packing, cause your going on a day trip this weekend!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Figs and Feedback

I knew as soon as I saw the ad in the Bluffton today that I would probably end up offending someone from Starbucks. Which of course I did, who decidedly called the Vox and complained that the headline for the article even appeared on the front page of the paper.  Funny enough, in the article I did say how much I love Starbucks, how great the drive-through attendant is, and that it is in essence, my "happy place."  Funny that this person even thinks that by my writing this article about cutting costs I have in essence put his/her job in jeopardy as well.  Oh well, I guess you can't please everybody, but it could have just as easily been written about a cigarette company if I smoked, or Macy's if I was addicted to buying clothes.  Anyhow back to saving money, in no particular order.

Figs . . . Have you ever eaten a fig?  I'm sure that you have heard of Figgy Pudding, I think it's in Scrooge the movie and maybe even a Christmas song, but figs are super delicious.  It just so happens that Figs are on sale at Publix, buy one get one free so if you only want one package (which is really all you need to buy at one time since they are very perishable), then they will only cost you $3.00.  For figs, this is a great price since they normally run about $6.00 per pint in this area probably due to the fact that they are shipped all the way from California.  Figs can be used in so many dishes, and are considered by some diet fanatics and nutritionists to be one of the super foods.  This week, we are making a pizza with figs, prosciutto, and both fontina and mozzarella cheese.  But since there are about 15 figs in the package, the pizza will only use 5.    We will also be broiling them in the oven, drizzling them with honey and serving them over vanilla frozen yogurt for an "off my diet" treat. 

If you happen to be having company this week or throwing a get together, buy a package of figs and stuff with cheese, then wrap with thin slices of prosciutto.  Super easy and you will look like a gourmet chef.  There are many recipes online, but any sweet or savory soft cheese will do just fine.  You can serve them cold or pop them in the oven to crisp up the prosciutto and warm the cheese.  I am getting hungry just thinking about it.  Figs can also be frozen for up to about 10 months or so if you don't plan on using the entire package. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Fine Line

As I am waiting in line at Publix today, I have a girl and guy in front of me checking out.  I can't help but look at what groceries are on the belt as I wait (C'mon, you know that you do this too).  I notice that they have a plethora of hot dog buns, 6 cases of a variety of Dr. Pepper, and Totino's Pizza rolls galore.  While I am standing there, the cashier begins to ring the coupons through, which takes no less than 10 or 15 minutes.  Her stack of coupons is amazing, I can't take my eyes off the ones that just keep on coming.  I am so utterly interested as to how many she really has and how much savings that this is going to add up to.  The girl turns to me, nods and apologizes for the seemingly never ending scans of coupons.  "I have my own large stack too, so I understand," I offer, but she really doesn't give me the time of day, as I desperately wanted to chat about this to find out if she knew any secrets that I have not yet found.  I continued on even though she wasn't really inviting me to, "I use southernsavers.com, it's a great website, they do all the work for you."  This time she nods again and tells me that she uses that site too, offering nothing more.  Feeling a little obnoxious, like those strangers who think it's OK to touch other people's children in public, I finally close my mouth and mentally tell myself not to open it again until she is gone.  As her receipt prints out, I can't help but eavesdrop, because I am dying to know after this production exactly how much she saved.  Her total savings was $215.00 - WOW! 

Ok, then I begin to remember the items in her cart again and I have come to a conclusion.  If you don't mind buying junk food, you can essentially get a super savings at the grocery store.  Not for nothing, because my savings was $70.00, it just couldn't touch $215.00.  For me there is a fine line, I definitely will have a few junk food items in my cart, but I know that it's also important to eat healthy and know what you are putting in your body.  If you don't believe that, then I would urge you to watch both the documentaries:  Food Inc and Super Size Me.  Food Inc has changed the way that I buy food, and has if nothing else, made me more aware of the hormones, pesticides, and additives that are put into the food that we purchase from the grocery store. 

Just a little side tip that I have started doing, before you throw out your already read magazines, flip through them for valuable coupons as well.  Most magazines will have at least a few coupons and their expiration dates tend to be much later, the magazines that I found good coupons in were: Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, and Parenting.

I have also decided that I need a better coupon organizer, as I currently only have them separated into 3 categories right now which are: baby, food, and not food.  I am finding that the more coupons you clip, the harder it gets to remember what you've got, so I think it's time to spend the $5.00 and upgrade to one with a few more compartments.  Here is what I am thinking for more categories: Baby, Frozen, Dairy, Cereal, Paper goods, Canned goods, Drinks, Animal, and Personal Care.  I again may need a Misc category too but I think that will better help me when I am preparing for my shopping trip.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Meals on sale

As I browse through the weekly ads this week, I make a mental list of the dinner items on sale that my family will eat and that stay within the confines of our healthy diet.  At Publix, I note shrimp, rotisserie chicken, chicken breast tenders, ground beef, and tilapia.  Shrimp is so yummy when tossed in a bowl with a tiny bit of olive oil and the grated peel of a lime.  I have a flat top grill that flips into a graded grill that I am just in love with, for healthy, easy cooking with kids it's awesome.  I just toss the shrimp on, no skewering required and cook for a few minutes, tossing with tongs.  Then I top a salad of some sort with these yummy shrimp or serve with a steamed veggie and brown rice (your choice).  If you're in a real hurry, the quick cooking rice goes on sale every few weeks and I tend to stock up, because you only have to microwave it for 90 seconds and coming in from a long day's work, I never feel like cooking for more than 15 mins tops. 

The rotisserie chicken is wonderful too,  you can quickly shred it and use it for so many dishes.  With a little bit of mole sauce, cumin, and oregano, you can make the yummiest chicken tacos.  Serve these with a salad or black beans and rice, Mmmmmm - it makes me hungry just thinking about it.  If you have leftover shredded chicken, throw it in a Ziplock bag or Tupperware and use it during the week for sandwiches.  If you're in the mood for spaghetti this week, Publix has ground beef, Barilla pasta, and bag salad on sale this week.  Spaghetti sauce has been on sale for the last few weeks, so if you stocked up like I did, you can easily make a pot of pasta that serves 6 people with a small salad for approx $7.00.  $1.17 per serving for dinner is exactly what I'm aiming for.

If you shop at Food Lion, your menu should include Shrimp skewers, ground beef, pork loin, and chicken breasts.  At Kroger, the ad changes tomorrow but if you are shopping today, the menu should include pork loin, salmon, chicken breasts, tilapia, and rotisserie chicken.  Happy planning and shopping this week!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Waste more, Spend more

It occurs to me as I begin cleaning out the refrigerator for my weekly shopping routine this week, that I throw away a lot of food.  I am always frustrated by the zucchini that was just purchased that seems a little slimy still in it's prepackaged state, or the yogurt that I seemed to have pushed to the back of the fridge when I put the new groceries away.  Even with my strict shopping and meal planning, I still seem to be losing money and obviously still over-buying a bit.  So as I continued to clean out the fridge, I took out a piece of paper and a pen and started to write it all down:

     1 Cantaloupe
     Lg plain yogurt
     1 bag of mixed greens
     1 opened container of pizza sauce
     approx 1/4 lb deli ham
     1 avocado
     2 lemons
     1 bag of radishes
     3 sm containers of mac & cheese

The saddest part is that I have yet to even get to the pantry or the freezer, let alone opened the refrigerator in the garage.  The food that I pulled out of my kitchen refrigerator is estimated at about $13.00 of wasted food that could have been used to pay down my credit card or help with my electric bill; this is only one week of food waste which means that I could be throwing away over $600 a year. 

After doing a little bit of research, I found some tips on food storage that I will begin to implement:
  1. Store vegetables and fruits separately to reduce ethylene gas build up in the refrigerator
  2. Store herbs upright in a glass of water covered with at plastic bag for longest shelf life
  3. While foods like Apples, Cantaloupes, and berries should be stored in the refrigerator, bananas, tomatoes, watermelon, and mangoes should be stored on the counter out of direct sunlight
  4. Store onions, potatoes, and squash in a cool, dry place
  5. It is recommended that berries are stored unwashed and in a single layer (this one seems a little tough for space reasons, so I will simply try to eat my berries more quickly)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Celebration Time!

Whether it's a birthday, anniversary, or exciting life event, there will always be a need for Celebration from time to time.  As I am learning more each day, the key to saving money in any of these events is planning.  This coming Saturday night, my husband and I will be going out to celebrate the fact that I just earned myself a column in the local newspaper, The Bluffton Today.  While this may not seem like an enormous achievement, you would have to know that I began my schooling long ago as a Communication major at East Carolina University.  I have never pursued this avenue before but it has always been a life long dream for me.  So as any good husband would, mine is taking me out for a night on the town to tie one on. 

In keeping with my money saving theme, planning is the key to saving money while dining out and enjoying a good time.  This lovely area of Bluffton and Hilton Head is famous for its' Early Bird Specials, while you need to attend dinner at a particular time of the evening, these are specials not to be missed.  One of my favorite restaurants in the area is Wise Guys, located on Hilton Head Island on Main Street next to Frankie Bones, another yummy restaurant.  Wise Guys offers an Early Bird special that is amazing, which consists of a 3 course dinner for $15 between 4:30pm and 5:30pm daily.  It just so happens that I follow the Wise Guys Facebook page regularly and they are offering a coupon for a Buy One Get One free during the early bird time.  So, for $7.50 each, you and a friend, spouse, or stranger (who am I to judge?) . . . enjoy a 3 course meal served by a wonderfully talented chef.  In addition to this great special, they have happy hour from 5pm to 7pm where bottles of wine are $10 off, and drinks are $1 off.  Chateau St. Michelle Pinot Grigio is a favorite of mine which Wise Guys offers at $26.00 per bottle.  At happy hour, this bottle is only $16.00, since a bottle holds approximately 4 glasses of wine, my husband and I can enjoy a 3 course meal and 2 glasses of wine for $31.00 plus tax.  What a wonderful celebration it is!

Below is the link for Wise Guys and the coupon located on their Facebook page, stop by and get a great meal for a great price:



Monday, August 16, 2010

Do it Yourself!

Whether you are crafty, good with computers, or handy around the house, we all have talents that we can use to save money. My husband for instance, and thank goodness, is extremely handy around the house. This is helpful for times when things break or just need a little tweaking. When the back door to our house doesn't shut the way that it should, he is able to go and buy the items needed at Lowes or Home Depot to fix it fairly quickly. This month to save money, he is changing the oil on our cars. Advance Auto parts has a sale that includes 5 quarts of oil and an oil filter for $16.99. So for the price of one oil change, he can get both of our cars done. I searched a few places in the area and am listing the prices below, that way if you can't change your own oil, at least you'll be able to use your money wisely:

  • Tire Kingdom - $21.99 with online coupon until 08/31
  • Walmart - $30.00
  • Firestone - $25.99
  • Tires Plus - $23.99
As for me, I do our taxes, obviously our financial planning, and I get crafty around the house. I recently was in a store in Bluffton that sold bow holders for little girls. I loved them, but they were $40 plus, so I stood there and took it all in, I hesitate to take a picture when I am in a store, but if I see something when no one else is around, I would definitely take my phone out and snap a shot. I know that Michaels sells all the ribbon and wood needed for a project like this so I went home to think about it. Upon observing my daughter's room, I noticed that she has a pink wooden wall hanging that would be perfect, so I got some pretty polka dot ribbon and with a staple gun added the ribbon to the wall hanging. PERFECT! It looked even better than the ones in the store for a fraction of the price. Don't be afraid to try to replicate something that you see, yours might turn out even better than you expected.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back to Shopping. . .

My focus today has been coupons, coupons, and more coupons and my new favorite website that I must share with you.  It's called http://www.southernsavers.com/, and I am learning so much more about grocery shopping then I ever could have thought. 

First off, let's talk about Publix.  Upon entering Publix grocery store, make sure that you are looking at the flyer stands in the entrance, because some of those inserts contain great coupons that you can use right then and there.  Secondly, Publix takes a large variety of coupons, and I tested this out last weekend.  Publix will take both a store coupon and a manufacturers' coupon on the same item, they take competitor's coupons (like Target), and you don't have to buy 2 items to get their Buy One Get One special.  I also read that they have a secret penny item on Wednesday, this week it was supposed to be the Publix Iced Tea, but I didn't find the coupon and haven't yet figured this whole thing out, but don't worry, I'm on it and I'll let you know.

Ok, now let's talk a little bit about Kroger, while their customer service is not as great as Publix, the prices are a little cheaper overall from what I have found.  They also allow you to add coupons to your Kroger card from both the Kroger website and the Cellfire website, and you are allowed to have 2 coupons for the same item if they come from different websites.  In addition to the coupons you add to your card, you can also use printed coupons or ones out of the paper as well.  http://www.coupons.com/ is great for printing coupons to use and so often you will have a coupon already added to your Kroger card as well.  Big bonus is when the item is already on sale too, which means you either get the item for free or you get it for a few cents.  I love this!  Both last week and this week you could get a package of Nature's Own Clusters for free if you added the coupon to your Kroger card and then printed a coupon to take with you.  It's work, but who can argue with getting free snacks. 

Visit the website to help you save at many of the groceries stores in our area as well as Walgreens and Target!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Electric bill came today!

Wow, the SCE&G electric bill came by e-mail today and I was floored.  My bill was $269.62, and last month was a whopping $322.25.  In June, we moved into a 3 bedroom home with a bonus room and expected to see a large reduction in our utility costs, but that has not yet happened. On average we could end up spending over $3,500 a year on our electric bill.  So today I began to educate myself a little in order to help us cut costs in this area.  Did you know that approximately 46% of your electric bill is directly related to the heating and cooling of your home?  Right now our thermostat stays on 75 degrees at all times, which happens to be 3 degrees lower than the SCEG recommended temperature.

Upon doing a little research on the SCE&G website, I found out while the majority of your electric bill is related to the HVAC system, 14% is related to the water heater.  They recommend setting your thermostat to 78 degrees or higher in the summertime, and state that for every degree lower that your thermostat is set you will undoubtedly pay at least 5% more in your electric costs.  Which means that having my thermostat set at 75 degrees is increasing my electric bill by at least 15% each month.  The site also recommends keeping interior doors open and utilizing any ceiling fans in your home, but if you leave the room, remember to turn them off.

On my July bill, the energy analyser on the SCE&G website shows that there were 18 days where the temperature reached over 90 degrees, on my August bill this number jumped to 25 days.  If interested the website even teaches you how to read your own meter, so if you wanted to check your billing each month, you definitely could do so by using the dates on your bill to read your own meter.  One thing that we do not yet own in our home is a programmable thermostat, but these are great for working adults because you can program your thermostat to operate at a higher or lower temperature when you are not at home, which could save you money in the long run.  At Lowes, these thermostats range anywhere from $29.00 to $120.00.

If you are in an extremely tight position and you are at risk for not being able to pay your electric bill, SCE&G offers a program where they can refer you to government programs designed to help you heat your home, these are only available for cooling your home in extremely rare cases.    Below is a letter from the President of SCE&G, that I found on the website:

In today’s economy, we’re all looking for ways to tighten our belts. As SCE&G is working to build new generation to continue meeting your energy needs, we’re also taking steps to cut costs in our day to day operations. I can’t think of a better time to share something that we have in common – finding ways to save money and still keep the household running, today and in the future.

"I know it may be hard to see how a big company like SCE&G and your own household budget compare. But controlling our operating costs is not so different from managing your monthly budget. It’s important that we’re cost conscious in everything we do. We owe that to you as a customer.

In 2009, we cut 40 million dollars in our operational and maintenance costs. Here are some of the other things we’ve done:

• eliminated 34 percent of our contract positions

• eliminated pay increases for two years straight for salaried employees

• limited the hiring of new employees

• offset nearly 77 percent of the cost of federally-mandated Lake Murray Backup Dam through tax credits, saving customers like you $254 million that we did not have to collect through rates

As SCE&G continues to serve South Carolina’s energy needs, we do it with you in mind every single day. That’s the bottom line and I wanted you to hear it from me. – Kevin Marsh, President, SCE"
Today I am turning my thermostat to 78 degrees, and I will be following the tips from the website in order to lower my electric bill, I will be sharing my rates again next month to see if it made a dent in my bill.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Earn more money!

I know that I am constantly talking about saving money, but the reality of the situation is that if you don't make enough money right now to pay your bills and put more than your minimum payment on those pesky credit cards, saving money is almost impossible.  The sad part of the matter is that income checks are getting smaller and bills are getting higher.  I recently took my own advice and I sat down to revamp our monthly budget.  I inputted all of our forecasted income for the rest of the year along with all of our monthly expenses into an excel spreadsheet.  Now, while my income is completely set, my husband earns bonuses as part of his income that are pretty difficult to predict because they are based on residential home sales.  So I find myself being extremely conservative in order to give myself the "worst case scenario." 

As I enter all of the numbers of the bills that must be paid, our mortgage, our rent, (yes we have both right now, I will share that story later), our utility bills, our daycare costs, insurance, car payments . . . wow it just keeps on going.  And by the way don't forget those bills that only pop up annually or quarterly like your SC property taxes on your vehicles or your HOA dues.  Regardless, I find out the hard way that we are in the negative even before we spend money on things like entertainment and eating out.  So for every dollar I spend in excess of our monthly bills, I am digging us further into a hole. 

My decision:  We need to earn more money, period.  So a few weeks ago, my husband and I both began looking for part time positions, knowing that really only one of us would probably be able to take on another job, because the other would need to take care of the girls.  But I have to tell you that we weren't looking for manual labor, or really anything that didn't jump out at us, we were looking for something that we would enjoy doing while making money at the same time.  BINGO . . . Ben found it, he found a job refereeing Soccer for Beaufort County.  It is in the evenings and on Saturday and fits pretty well into our schedule, and he loves Soccer so much that he would probably volunteer to do it anyhow.  We needed to resign ourselves to the fact that every dollar counts, and even if we are only bringing in a little extra a week, our budget tells us that we only need a little extra to pull us out. 

Some other ideas for earning some extra cash if you can't take on a part time job include holding a garage sale, selling things you don't need on Ebay, or selling your books that you have already read on Half.com.  If you are looking for a part time gig, search listings on craigslist.com, careerbuilder.com, or hotjobs.com.  It may take some time, but it will be rewarding in the end to know that you dug yourself out of debt all on your own.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Play like a tourist, PAY like a local!

This year has been hard on many of us, and the vacation funds seem like the first thing to go, but with Hilton Head Island right around the corner, it seems fitting that we plan our vacation here this year.  Tourists spend thousands of dollars coming from all over the country to enjoy the beaches, food, and lush island that for us is practically home for those of us that live in Bluffton.  So this year, let's be tourists in our home towns.  There are so many activities that we have not done on the island, so many restaurants that we have not yet dined in and many possibilities to accommodate our tastes on the weekend.  BUT . . . you know me, we need to save money and set a budget for our mini-vacation.  As the island has just had it's best tourist month in July, Hilton Head businesses will begin salivating for locals pretty soon.  The drop off happens right after labor day when the kids head back to school, and the local businesses begin to offer more specials, put out more ads and coupons, and are practically begging for local support. 

This is the time for you to plan a full day of activities for the entire family on the island.  Enjoy the beach, eat out at the local restaurants, and pretend that you have traveled many many miles for this paradise when in reality you only had to sit in the car for 20 minutes.  That is my kind of vacation, cheap, easy and fun.  Here are some tips and ideas that you can use to make the most of your money in the Hilton Head area:
  1. Use COUPONS - I'm pretty sure that I've said this before, but knowing where to find the coupons is the key.  Hilton Head businesses spend thousands of dollars each year to print these coupons and it is our job to use them. 
  2. Check websites for specials and happy hours
  3. Ask if the restaurant or business offers any locals discounts, many do but they aren't advertised and they want your business in the off season, so even if they don't have an actual special, they may give you something just to bring you back in again.
  4. Join the Hilton Head Insiders Club which offers a card that brings with it many discounts in the area:  http://www.hiltonheadisland.org/hilton-head-insider/restaurants.php
Check the websites below for coupons, ads, and specials to help in planning your day on the Island:

Places to Save: http://www.hiltonheadisland.org/hilton-head-insider/restaurants.php
Hiltonhead.com: http://www.hiltonhead.com/Main/Coupons.aspx

If you are located outside of the Hilton Head area, vacation close to home this year.  Go online and check out the specials, visit a museum or historical site that you have never toured - take advantage of what your city has to offer!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Keep Digging!

     The first step to digging out of debt is to know your actual total of debt.  So many people who I have spoken with over the past few weeks readily admit that they don't actually know what the real number is.  If you don't know what you owe, it will haunt you forever because you will inevitably have lingering debt.  Sit down, Right Now, as you read this blog and pull out a piece of paper.  If you are more of a computer person like me, open up a blank excel sheet.  Make a column for each of the following:  Debt Name, Total Amount, Monthly Payment.  Make a list of every debtor that you owe money to starting with your home, cars, student loans, etc.  Pull out the bills, don't estimate, add them all up and know your number.  Knowing your total debt is the first step to digging out of the hole of debt that you are in.  If you are the one who pays the bills and deals with the finances in your marriage, after you have the list, show your partner.  If by chance you are not the one who takes care of the finances, find out the answer to this question and get involved.  One partner should not hold the full responsibility of the stress of debt. 
     In my marriage, I am the one who deals with the bills, checks our finances, moves money to our savings account, and makes most of our financial decisions.  BUT, I often ask my husband to sit down with me after I have completed our budget, or from time to time, I give him the bills and have him pay them.  I want him to know what we have, what we owe, and where we are financially so that he is just as responsible for the numbers as I am.  It helps strengthen our marriage because if the money times are stressful then we are carrying the burden together, and we can make informed decisions together as well.
     After you know your debt, you need to track your debt.  I currently use mint.com for my tracking, but there are many other programs and ways to do this such as Microsoft Money.  On mint.com, I link all of my accounts into the system and it automatically tracks my income and spending so I can check to see how much money over the course of a year that I spent on groceries, gas, restaurants, you name it.  Now, it is a computer, so it isn't perfect and you do have to do a little work to make the most of the system.  From time to time you need to go in and code the transactions to the proper categories or reclass the items that it coded incorrectly, but for the most part it helps to paint an accurate picture of your spending and areas that you need to address.  Just in using this program, I was able to find out that we have a problem with our spending in the area of Food and Dining which is why it is a major focus of mine.  In some months, we are guilty of spending almost $2,000 on food and dining which encompasses groceries, restaurants, fast food, etc.  All I could think when I saw some of those numbers is, "That is ridiculous, we should be obese with that much money spent on food."  As it is, we love to eat out, snack out, and overall eat anywhere but in our home.  That is why we have vowed to make a change. 
     Especially now that we have children, we have realized that if we spend a little bit more on quality foods at the grocery store, we can have a really nice dinner in, after the kids have been put to bed.  So this week I purchased 2 NY strip steaks from Publix because they were on sale.  Paired with the broccoli that was on sale at Kroger and 2 Baked potatoes w/ butter and sour cream, our entire meal will total $14.12.  Pretty cheap for a date night I must say, and my husband really enjoys cooking our steaks on the grill which makes for a great dinner.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Girls/Guys Night Out

When working with a family budget things like dinners out, entertainment, and girls or guys night out get a little tough but as you know, I am not in support of giving up these things completely.  Within reason, you can still enjoy a fun night out while not blowing your budget.  Here are some tips to follow when going on a girls or guys night out:
  1. Know where you are going ahead of time and take time to look at the menu before you leave.
  2. Figure out what you are going to order before you go, this will help you to avoid impulse ordering and over ordering.  Knowing what you are going to order before hand can also help you order a more healthy meal as well.
  3. Check online for any coupons that the restaurant or bar may offer, print them and take them with you.  Even if it's only 10%, it will help you to be able to make the most of your money.
  4. Set a budget, and stay within your limits.  If items do not have a price on the menu, ask your server for  a price before you order. 
  5. Try to suggest a place that offers happy hour or nightly specials - this will ensure that you can stay out longer and enjoy a few more drinks or food items
Last night was girls night out at Mi Tierra.  I researched ahead of time and found out that they offer a happy hour from 4 to 7pm with margaritas at $4.00, domestic beers at $2.00, and import beers at $2.50.  I also checked the menu ahead of time and found a healthy salad choice for $6.25.  I set a budget for myself of $20.00, and I found a coupon on the Mi Tierra website for 10% off, which I printed and brought with me.  Even though I am a lover of Margaritas, I opted for a cheaper and lower calorie import beer.  The total price for 3 Sols, and a 2 Tostadas salad was $15.64 including my 10% off.  I was well under my budget and even had plenty of money for tip.  SUCCESS!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sales Tax Holiday Weekend

This weekend, Friday August 6th to Sunday August 8th will be South Carolina's annual tax free shopping weekend.  Most of the tax exempt items apply to school supplies and back to school shopping but the free taxes cover so many items.  Take advantage of the savings in Bluffton this weekend if you have any shopping to do for clothing, diapers, shoes, school supplies, linens, and/or computers.  Just because you don't have a child going back to school doesn't mean you can't take advantage of this amazing savings.  Just to give you a quick idea of your savings this weekend, diapers qualify as a tax exempt item, which are normally taxed at 7% here in Bluffton.  If a package of diapers costs $19.99, you pay an additional $1.40 in taxes at the checkout, so this weekend in addition to the coupons that you have undoubtedly cut out of your local paper this week, you will save an extra $1.40 per box of diapers.  Below is a link that you can go to find all of the tax exempt items and will answer any questions that you may have about the tax free weekend:


The sales are also still going on this weekend for back to school shopping so now is the time to buy if you have been holding off on something you need.  And if you keep to your budget and only bring cash into the store you can assure yourself that you will not overspend or add to your debt!

Check my "Grocery" page to see all of the items that I bought with $120.00 last Sunday, and be sure to clip those coupons from your free copy of the Bluffton Today that appeared in your driveway this morning.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dinner out for 4 for $20 in Bluffton!

Many financial advisers will tell you that in order to get out of debt and save money, you must cut back on the luxury spending. Suze Orman advises debt ridden folks to take a challenge of not eating out for a week, then after doing a week she challenges you to do it for a month. I whole heartily disagree with this logic. Upon taking on this challenge I had a binge where I am dying to get out and have dinner at a restaurant so we go out one night and pay absolutely no attention to our spending, and go on a BINGE! If your personality is anything like mine, "Going cold turkey," is not the way. Drastic changes are difficult and painful, whereas small changes over time can equal drastic ones in the long run. My advice is this: Make a list of what you consider to be your luxury spending items, these are items that are not considered to be a necessity such as Starbucks coffee and going out for meals in general. After your list is complete, rank the list by what you feel is most important to you or what you personally do not think you can live without. Here is my list:

1.  Going out to dinner w/family
2.  New clothes/toys for the girls (fun stuff not necessity items)
3.  Travel Spending
4.  Girls/Guys night out
5.  Date Night
6.  Going out to lunch
7.  Lowes spending for Ben
8.  Starbucks Nonfat Sugar-free Vanilla lattes
9.  Sodas and biscuits for Ben J
10.  New books for me

Once these items are ranked in order of importance, pick the top two of them and set a budget for your spending, since my top one is "Going out to dinner w/family", I have set a budget of $20/week. In an envelope, I put $20 that I took out of the ATM for us to have dinner, so the choice is ours, we can have a cheap meal once a week or a nicer meal out every other week. Either way I feel like I'm cutting back but not sacrificing completely. For me, this is my cake and eating it too. I am still sticking to a budget and trying to live within my means but not going crazy and putting any money on the credit card that we can't afford. In my other categories, I am cutting back almost completely to accommodate my dinners out. We have started packing our lunch daily, taking coffee in our stainless coffee mugs from home, and bought new water bottles to refill throughout the day to curb soda spending. If you want to do the $20 dinner challenge, here are some good ideas in the area where you can feed a family of 4 for $20 or less!

  • Romeo's Pizza
  • Monster Pizza
  • Fiesta Fresh
    • 2 Kids meals, 2 taco or enchilada combo plates w/ 2 adult drinks $19.30
    • Kids meals come with a drink
  • Jim n Nicks
    • Taco Tuesday (all tacos are $2.49 each, mex beers $1.49 each)
    • Family BBQ Dinner to go - $19.99 - 1 lb meat, 2 sides and 6 cheese biscuits
  • Moe's Southwest Grill
    • Kids Eat Free on Tuesdays w/adult purchase
    • Wednesdays - $5.00 for any burrito and drink
  • Chick-Fil-A
    • Kids eat free on Tuesdays w/adult purchase
  • IHOP
    • Kids eat free everyday from 4pm to 10pm w/ adult purchase
  • Jersey Mikes
    • Kids get a free mini sub, chips and drink from 3pm - 9pm on Wednesday w/reg sub purchase
  • Mi Tierra
    • Tuesdays - Kids meals are 99 cents w/ adult entrĂ©e purchase
    • One Taco or enchilada with rice and beans $5.25
  • Giuseppi's
    • You Call It Wednesday! EVERY WEDNESDAY - From 6-10pm....The time you call in your order is what you pay for a large 1-topping pizza! So if you call at 6:01 pm you pay $6.01 for a large 1 -topping pizza!
I'm sure that there are many more, share some if you have them!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Change and common cents . . .

Don't be afraid of change!  Sometimes change is hard, but change can be exciting and empowering.  Even though this blog is only a week or so old, I have been on this journey for a while.  In November last year, we traded in my Toyota Sequia that we leased and bought a Toyota Venza.  We learned the hard way that a lease was not right for us due to the amount of miles that we put on the car and ended up paying a hefty mileage penalty when we turned it in.  Lesson learned, and letting go of that car was very hard for me because I loved my SUV.  I had always wanted one, and I really enjoyed driving it.  BUT . . . between gas, accidents, and the increasing cost of insurance due to the accidents, we just could not afford that car.  That is really hard for me to say, "We just couldn't afford it."  But saying it out loud makes it a little more true.  I can remember when the gas pumps would shut off at $75 when I would go to fill up, my gas tank would not be full but I was not going to put my card back in to start it back up again, so when the price of gas was rising, I had no idea how much it actually cost to fill up my tank.

Then one day I was at the Sams Club in Pooler filling up, I watched as the pump ticked past $75. .  $80 . .  $85, I could feel my heart pounding as the numbers clicked on.  It finally stopped at $87.00, I will never forget that day.  I was filling up more than once a week, and that was an enormous amount of money to be spending on gas. 

Accidents you ask?  Yes, I backed that car into almost everything, and don't worry I have many friends and family who didn't let me forget.  Even worse was that the insurance on my car was rising considerably every year to the point where we were paying $267/month.  Comparing auto expenses from last year to this year, we have saved over $1,000 just from choosing a car that gets much better gas mileage.  Whenever anyone mentions my car or asks how I like it, I can't help but blurt out, "It only costs $35 to fill up!"  I can't even control myself.  I'm excited and I still enjoy driving this car, it still works for us and helps us live a better life within our means.  I encourage you to do the same, change is difficult, but no one ever did anything great without a little change.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

3 Stores - 2 Days

Can you stretch your dollar farther by visiting multiple grocery stores to achieve the greatest savings possible, the answer is yes, but the question that you'll have to answer for yourself is whether it will actually be worth it to you?  I would visit 2 stores in one weekend, but 3 is pushing it for my patience and time.  Overall I bought $120.00 worth of groceries, for a total savings on my reciepts of almost $50.00.  I bought enough to cook 8 meals, lunches, and breakfasts all week, and I purchased 5 sundry items including laundry detergent, paper towels, soap, toilet paper and deoderant.

Coupon-wise I saved a total of $4.00, a great tip for Kroger is that you can go online before you shop and add coupons to your Kroger card.  When they scan the Kroger card, they are automatically applied to your receipt.  I liked this idea because there have been so many times where I have brought my coupons with me and left them right in my purse.  This is not happening anymore, I put my coupons in my wallet with my cash so when I pull out my cash I can't possibly forget then anymore.  The other thing that I do is when you pick up an item that has a "SAVE NOW" sticker on it, I take it off and put it with my coupons.  Every time I leave the sticker on the box, I miss my savings. 

Overall I know that my fridge is a little more full than usual, I feel like I got a little better quality in my meals, but the hassle and the time it took was not worth the running all over town.  My advice, "Pick the grocery store that you feel most comfortable in, and that you get your money's worth at, and shop there."  They all have good sales, they all have similarly priced items, but it really comes down to where you want to spend your hard earned money.  My money will be going to Publix and Kroger depending on my mood.