Thursday, December 31, 2015

Frugal Successes and Failures: Thursday 12/31/15

  • Last post of 2015!  Thanks for reading. I hope my ramblings have been sometimes entertaining but more often helpful, in some way.  I know that blogging my frugal efforts (and other tidbits of my life) has been invaluable to me: it has provided me with an online journal that I can re-read and rediscover (my memory is horrible!), it has allowed me, very antisocial me,  to connect with several awesome people throughout the world and here in the USA (shout out to all of you who have commented and emailed, thanks so so much!), and most importantly for me, it has continued to inspire me to be a better steward of the income my wonderful husband brings in for us, so we can continue to hopefully enjoy life with some kind of an income and a paid-for house after his retirement or if he loses his job.  I could do so much better, though, but I'm determined to make progress every year as I reflect on the years past.

  • It's 2:15 a.m. as I'm prepping this post.  I'm extremely late going to bed because I got all caught up in recording Greg's paystubs for 2015 into a tax worksheet that I have designed. You'd think that understanding a paystub would be easy (it certainly was very straight forward back when I worked!) but Greg's paystubs are something else... and the only way I can make sense of them is to retype everything manually into Excel and see if the totals that should be match what's on his paystubs.  Most times yes, they do match. But sometimes they don't, and then I need to become a detective to see why.  Can I say that I hate stock options and vesting and restricted stock and gross up and all this crap?!  I wish they would just increase his annual pay to the amount that he actually makes (and so deserves) after all the bonuses and stocks, it would be so much more straight forward!
This detective/recording task is something that I should have been doing throughout the year but, as I mentioned yesterday, I hate dealing with this stuff so every year I end up ignoring the reminders that I set in my Google calendar to do it everytime he gets paid.  Ugh.  

  • Plus the cat is in heat. That's it, I've decided that is her problem. She is crying and meowing and rubbing against cabinets and furniture while crying out (and man, she is LOUD!) and I have no patience for such nonsense.  We need to sleep! I've rebuked her forcefully and sent her back to the entry room with the other 2 cats and hopefully she'll just hide and fall asleep. I don't even care if she doesn't like me anymore!  My daughter tried taking her into her room for the night and that lasted about 15 minutes before she brought her back down, litterbox, water bowl and all, lol.  

  • Now (2:30 a.m.), I've got to try and get some sleep as I have to get up early to get the crockpot started and for us to head out to WDW on New Year's Eve.  What were we thinking?!  I so wish my son didn't care if we went or not so I could cancel, but he was really excited when I told him we were coming to see him, lol.

  • New Year's is a non-event for us so I doubt we'll even stay up late enough to see the ball drop on Time Square. I just hope that the neighbors won't go overboard with fireworks but at least we have less of a chance of fires since it rained last night.

  • Well he just couldn't stay away... my middle son called tonight and asked if he could come spend the night tonight because he's coming to visit his GF for a few hours and then he has to work at Universal tomorrow.  Greg asked me if we were going to charge him the nightly fee, lol!

  • It rained overnight!  I realize that some readers might be dealing with floods or the threat of a flood right now (and I'm sorry if you do) but we haven't had any rain to speak of in many weeks. We need rain so my garden can grow vegetables, our lakes and rivers are healthier, and we have less forest fires come late winter/early spring.

  • I researched the 2016 401(k) maximum contributions (still $18,000) and figured out the rate that we need to set aside each pay period so we can max out our contributions. It's a little different from last year since Greg got a small raise, so I'll need to change that on the appropriate website tomorrow.  We contribute to a Roth 401(k), which means that we pay tax on contributions right now, not wanting to take the gamble that our tax rate will be lower in our golden years.  I'd much rather be safe than sorry.

  • I prepped our 2016 Tax Worksheet by trying to guess what Greg's paychecks will be next year. I say "guess" because having a larger income than the minimum wage is very nice  and working for a company that hands out bonuses is awesome, but it brings its own set of problems when trying to anticipate our income and taxes for the year and whether we think we'll be eligible to contribute to Roth IRA accounts or not.  
I wasn't kidding when I said we needed an accountant.  Arrgh.  Tomorrow, FICA contributions restart, the Roth 401(k) contributions restart too (they had ceased these last 2 pay periods since we'd contributed the maximum), and the new health benefits contributions kick in.  So I've guesstimated what I think his first 2016 paycheck will be, which is significantly lower than the last 2 we have gotten.  The only thing that makes it a little easier this year is that I'm keeping our W-4 at zero exemptions.  Still, I think we'll owe taxes come April because we were very lucky in 2015 that he received a large bonus AND quite a bit of restricted stock too.  If I had paid attention to the details of his paystubs all year, I would have realized that and recalculated the W-4 to see if I needed to send extra money to the IRS every pay period.  But I didn't, and the Restricted Stock, even though it appears in the gross amount that he has earned in 2015,  isn't real money that was deposited into our checking so I didn't realize that he had gotten it. I don't get the email statements for that account (and even if I did, I wouldn't open them because I don't open any of the other investment statements, they scare me!). Greg says that it doesn't matter if we pay it throughout the year or all at once in April, but that's because he's not the one writing the check for several thousands of dollars!  
Anyway, after guesstimating his paychecks, I plugged that magical paycheck number into my Excel budget, which has been prepped for 2016.  Once we get the first paystub of the year, I'll update it again with the real number. For now, it gives me an idea of what our cash flow will probably be like every day of the year, provided that we stick to our budget... and that he doesn't get laid off.  Then, I get to do it all over again in June, since (fingers crossed) this is when he usually gets a raise and a bonus.  I really need to be more assiduous with this in 2016.  Yeah, yeah, I say this every single year. Listen to me whine about this when some of you are trying to figure out how you will make ends meet in 2016... but that sad reality doesn't make the PITA of my reality any less true. I love my BFF but I wish she was an accountant so I wouldn't have to find someone else to give me advice, as I don't like meeting new people with whom I'm expected to have a relationship.

  • We got up at 6:45 a.m. and had breakfast at home before leaving for WDW.  I brought water along for the car trip, Greg brought his tea in a traveling mug.  Thankfully he had some peanut butter crackers in his truck, because I was quite hungry when we drove home and we avoided stopping at Panera's (as I had thought we'd do) since I could eat some crackers :)

  • Before we left, I got dinner started in the crockpot.  I cubed the bottom beef roast (ugh, cutting raw meat that early in the morning is disgusting!), used up the rest of the butternut squash that I had peeled and cubed before the Christmas break, some carrots that I had frozen, a little bit of onion that I had frozen, a bottle of blond lager (the recipe calls for stout but lager was all I had on hand), and some beef bouillon granules + water.  Herbs were dried rosemary and thyme from my garden and 2 bay leaves.  I cooked it on low for 8 hours.  There was no room in the crockpot for me to add the 2 potatoes that I wanted to use instead of turnips so I might steam them in the microwave tonight.

  • We gassed up Greg's truck so I have another receipt with which to take a survey for a freebie.  Not sure if I'll redeem them because both my daughter and I want to eat healthier, but maybe I'll just freeze them for my son.

  • I found 10 cents on the ground as we were walking from the Magic Kingdom parking lot to Transportation and Ticket Center. Woohoo!  Our little debacle just came down by 10 cents!

  • An upside of our WDW tribulations is that we got exercise today, since we walked from our parking space to TTC, then from the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary Resort, and then from TTC back to our car!

  • When we got home, my 13-year-old tried to convince me to go get lunch from Hardee's, reminding me that I had coupons, but I held fast and we had lunch at home with what we had on hand.  Way to go, me, as you all know that I haven't resisted ANY take-out opportunities recently. Which reminds me that I really need to add up my receipts and see how badly I behaved these past 10 days!

  • Instead of going to run errands, we remained home the rest of the day and watched "LOTR: The Return of the King, Extended Edition" (we own the Blu Ray set that I had bought in July when the best price was available). Then we started watching some of the extras. Today the DVD did work in the Xbox One. Go figure...

  • Meanwhile, I earned my Bing Rewards credits for the day and played SBTV on my phone and NGage and Juno Group videos on my laptop to try and earn some Swagbucks.  By the way, there is a new post on the Swagbucks blog about changes coming to the Daily Goal, including the fact that you will now need to CLAIM your bonus and do that during the first ten days after your (new) notification or you will lose it. Boo.  Until now, it was credited automatically but people were whining that they weren't notified when it was because they're.. well, whiners who can't be bothered to check their ledger. Sheesh. Seriously, people, help yourselves!  This means that if I go on vacation abroad for more than 10 days around the time my notification would be made, I would have to forfeit my bonuses from the previous month because Swagbucks cannot be accessed from where I'll be.  Arrgh.  Anyway....

  • What a better way to end the year but to reach my daily goal?  No, I won't try to make it to the 2nd goal though...

  • I also took advantage of the looooong movie to catch up on some blogs.  One post I found was of a blogger who had posted 5 covers of financial books she had read in 2015 but without any comments about them or back story, so I got curious to see why she would have been interested in them and researched them on Amazon.  I ended up deciding that one of my goals in 2016 should be to become more interested and invested (see what I did, there?!) in such financial matters as investing and financial planning so I looked to see which of those books were available at my library system and put one on hold, two on a list to put on hold at a later time, and put one in my Amazon wishlist for later this year since the latest edition will be published in April (and hopefully my library will acquire it).
I put this on hold at the library. It came highly recommended by several people. John Bogle used to be the CEO of Vanguard.
I added this one to a waiting list at my library. I intend to read it at some point in 2016 to see if I can pick up any more tips. My ultimate goal is to live on as little as we can (without resorting to extreme measures such as using leaves as toilet paper!) NOW so we can save as much as we can and not be a burden to anyone in our old age.

This guy's book is updated frequently and also was highly recommended. The new edition comes out in April so I won't bother with the older ones since the last one was published several years ago and the economic situation has changed quite a bit between then and now.
  • Since I was thinking about goals (yeahhh, the extra footage wasn't all that gripping, actually, and all the characters were crying at one point or another, which has always annoyed me to no end), I decided that I should try to devise an exercise regimen for myself too.  I don't like exercise videos because I'm not coordinated, but I do own and love the old Greg Smithey's series (from Buns of Steel, a big 80s exercise juggernaut): Easy Aerobics, Easy Toning, and Easy Stretching... but on VHS.  Sadly, it is still not available on DVD, and will probably never be.  So one of the tasks on my new to-do list will be to dust up my VCR, play the tapes, and film the TV screen with my digital camera so I can have them on an SD card and play them from there since either the tapes or the VCR will probably bite the dust pretty soon.
Can you believe that they want, in 2015, $51.89 for those old VHS tapes?!  I bought them for less than that about 20 years ago!
  • CVS sent me a 20% off coupon that I uploaded to my ExtraCare card. Once again it's not valid on anything that's on sale or on milk, so it's pretty much useless to me, but "you never know"!

  • I watered my zombie celery plant (still surviving but not thriving) and the pineapple top that has regrown now and that I need to transplant with water collected from the dehumidifier last week.

  • I uploaded new Kellogg's rebate offers to my SavingStar account.

  • I collected the MyCokeRewards codes from the last 3 packs of Coke products from the Christmas Eve buffet and saved them. I'm waiting for some promotional event to see if I can earn more than the regular MCR points when I input them.

  • Nothing today!


  • I had to throw away the half-loaf of corn bread that I had baked last week because no one ate it and it got moldy because I had no room in the fridge or freezer for it.  My bread baking days are going to be numbered in 2016 as I need to lose a significant amount of weight.

  • I didn't go out to run the errands I kind of needed to do today in order to use up coupons that expired today so: I didn't get to use my free Steak'n Shake meal voucher (birthday freebie) or the $1.50 Barber Foods coupons, which is kind of a failure to get free and cheaper food.  Oh well. I did make a half-hearted attempt to motivate myself to go mid-afternoon but Greg reminded me that we have tons of stuff in the house so going out isn't an emergency. He's right.

  • I tried baking the last 4 biscuits from a can I had opened on Christmas Eve, but they didn't rise and remained like small pucks so I just threw them away. Thankfully I had also baked a can of 5 Grands! Jr. biscuits, anticipating the failure.  But I had to try...

  • Figured out some financial stuff for 2016. 
  • Cooked dinner in crockpot.
  • Attempted to go see my oldest son perform at WDW.
  • Finished watching the Lord of the Rings, extended edition with Greg and our son.
  • Researched financial education books online and made a list of those that I want to read in 2016.
Did you have any frugal successes or failures today? Please do tell!

Failure on all fronts...

We made it ... Only, not so much. At 9:28 am my son called me: management had just decided to move the performance to INSIDE the Magic Kingdom, on Main Street. What?! He was so upset and so was I. Greg took it all in stride, as he does. We're like oil and water. But after assuring my son we were fine and hanging up, I cried.  This was his very last performance as a toy soldier (save for the parade this afternoon) so there was no "do over".

But the nightmare wasn't finished... We couldn't leave!!! They weren't allowing anyone to ride the ferries back to TTC. The crowds were so large that we couldn't make it to the monorail station or to the walkway to the Contemporary hotel. It was unreal! I asked a Cast Member what we should do and she said to take a bus to one of the resorts and then hop on the monorail from there but there aren't any buses that go to the resorts located around the Seven Seas Lagoon!

Greg wanted us to force our way through the very dense crowd waiting to be admitted into the park to make it to the walkway to the Contemporary Resort. He used to work there so he wanted to go see it. Thankfully, I asked a cast member who looked like it was management how we could get to the walkway and he took us in hand and walked us to it via special employee gates across the bus path. Phew!  Thanks, James!

We walked to the Contemporary Reaort, uses the bathroom there (they have very luxurious paper hand towels in the bathroom!), showed our son the Front Deak area where Greg uses to work, and ran into the son of our across the street neighbors, of all people! He didn't see us though, even though he walked right past us. 

We got on the resort monorail which runs in the opposite direction as the main monorail so it wasn't crowded and the first stop was TTC.  Then we walked to our truck. This ordeal took us 45 minutes. 

We didn't find any more cash or even a Coke bottle cap, even though we had a close call and Greg was the one who spotted it, lol. 

Leaving the parking lot, the line of cars on World Drive, trying to get into the parking lot was unreal. Backed up for a mile or more, and apparently they would all be turned away because we spotted a big electronic sign that said "MAGIC KINGDOM FULL". 

Now we're driving back to our house, which will take an hour.  I decided to forego Steak'n Shake, Kohl's and Walmart. I just want to be home!

My son just called us and said that they ended up playing above the train station, facing the castle and it was their best set ever. He played first trumpet. Apparently an executive was around to listen to them and was so pleased that he may want to have those musicians play year round. This might just be a rumor, though, but we're keeping our fingers crossed. 

He also said that a lot of people he knows took videos so he will try to obtain them and send them to us, and he offered to refund us for the gas and parking fee, which was appreciated but completely unnecessary, so we declined. 

I'm not gonna lie, I'm extremely disappointed that we didn't get to see him, but so relieved that we hadn't planned on visiting the parks today!

Live from Walt Disney World!

We made it! We're in line for the ferry to go from Transportation and Ticket Center to the Magic Kingdom. My son performs in 30 minutes so I hope we get there on time! The crowds are unbelievable. 

Honestly, I'm looking at all of them and pitying them because they're going to be standing in line like this

Whereas we get to leave in an hour, lol. 

I found 10 cents on the ground, walking from the parking lot to TTC (line to get onto the tram was way too long) so this is "only" costing us $19.90, lol. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frugal Successes and Failures: Wednesday 12/30/15

  • I had a horrible night. The allergen levels are pretty high around here right now and I woke up with a fierce headache.  And awakened again. And again. And again.  What?!  The cat woke me up by crying out at 4:20 a.m., then 4:30 a.m., then 4:40 a.m.  Telling her to shut up didn't work (works with my other 2 cats!). Throwing a pillow at her didn't work.  Taking her to the other side of the house and telling her to stay there didn't work!  I don't have a room to lock her up in where no one would hear her go beserk.  Then she finally shut up.  My middle son had come home late from a friend's last night so didn't pack anything for his move today. He decided to pack things and take them downstairs at 6:30 a.m. That necessitated several trips on our very noisy stairs.  Then the cat starting crying out again. Arrgh!

  • We had agreed that I would do the walk-through of his room at 7:30 a.m.  He only expected to get his $200 deposit back if there was no damage, but Greg and I had discussed how much we were going to give him back yesterday. He had also paid us $600 in rent since he moved in (and a DSLR camera for the December rent).  I wanted to withhold money since he hadn't kept his room clean as had been agreed and also he kept the lights on, I had to do his dishes, etc.  But Greg was fine with just giving him everything back and left it up to me.  I did the walk-through and everything was fine. The desk that I had painted was a little scuffed, but it wasn't bad and also he had completely cleaned the room so I decided to just give him everything back. I'm a softie after all!  He's not an effusive kid but he was surprised and very happy.    It was the happiest I've ever been having to give $800 to someone!  It helps that I never thought of it as my money :)

  • I also put a box together for him with the large bag of Malt O Meal chocolate cereal that I had bought a couple of weeks ago, 3 or 4 boxes of mac and cheese from my pantry, a large jar of peanut butter, and a box of Little Debbie Christmas Tree brownies.  I couldn't think of what else to give him since he's so picky and won't cook (so canned fruit and veggies will go unused and I didn't want to give him anything frozen or that needed to be refrigerated since he had a long drive and day ahead of him).  I'll probably mail him a Save A Lot gift card at some point or send him a care package. Oh wait, he's coming back this weekend!  I'll go to Save A Lot before then and get him a bunch of stuff.  Oh and I also gave him a couple rolls of toilet paper, a bottle of shower gel, and some tissues.  And the box of dishes and pans that I had bought for him at a thrift store this summer and a toaster that Greg had brought back from his parents' RV.  His GF texted me tonight a picture of him holding a wine bottle opener with a puzzled look on his face and the caption "Thanks, mom...".  Oops!  I hadn't looked in that box for a while and completely forgot to sort it before giving it to him. He's turning 20 soon (and isn't interested in drinking at all) so this is a very inappropriate item to give him!

  • He had his car's brakes fixed yesterday and the car was still at the garage so I gave him a ride to the garage and he came back here. We loaded up his car and off he was... going to his dad's to drop off the mini fridge and fill up his dad's van with a bed and loveseat and then the two of them driving to Daytona Beach and meeting his roommate there to move them in.  I have to say I was very sad to see him leave. It got to me more than when he moved out after graduating, probably because then he was moving in with his dad so I didn't have to worry about how he was going to pay his bills and if he would be safe!  We couldn't fit everything into his car so he will be back to spend the night on Friday or Saturday in between work shifts at Universal so he can pick up the rest of his stuff.
  • Our new cat escaped while we were loading his car, she's quick and we're not used to our cats trying to escape!  Thankfully my son was able to catch her.  I keep on vascillating between thinking that she is pregnant (big belly, wants to eat all.the.time!) and thinking that she is in heat (crying out, wanting to escape...).  I really hope the vet can tell us for sure next Thursday when I take her back in.  If she is pregnant, I decided that I would see if what is now the spare room would work for her nesting.  I'm spending wayyyy too much time planning the delivery and kittens without even knowing if she is pregnant!

  • I received a thank you letter from my great aunt today. She was soooooo thrilled with everything she got from us and told me she was saving the chocolates to eat them on Christmas Eve while she listened to my son's Jazz CD, LOL.  So I'm guessing she was alone at Christmas, which makes me very sad. Anyhoo, I could tell she wasn't lying about being thrilled about everything because she added a P.S. and instead of being somewhat formal the way French people are when they write letters, she wrote from the heart about how excited she had been to receive the chocolates and my letter so that made me all teary eyed. I love her.

  • I was so close to Donut King this morning when I dropped off my son at the garage, and sooooo tempted to stop and get half a dozen of glazed donuts.  But I refrained from doing so and drove straight home. Yay!

  • Bing Rewards: earned all daily credits available.

  • Swagbucks: 200 SB were credited to me this morning as part of the Thanksgiving Team Challenge swag-up rebates. Those don't count toward the daily goal though. My daily goal had gone up is 95 SB today. I took the daily poll and did the NOSO and will run SBTV on my phone. Oh, what the heck... I ran NGage and JuneGroup videos as well since I was online anyway...  Oooh, and I earned 50 SB in coupon redemptions today too!  So I reached my 1st goal without trying too hard.

  • Greg had the last hamburger patty from dinner last night.  I had made four but I wasn't very hungry and realized that my middle son hadn't eaten his wonton soup from our Chinese take-out order so I had that for dinner instead.  For lunch today, I ate the rest of HIS General Tso's chicken and rice. He hadn't liked it either.  Sigh... more stomachaches for me but at least I won't throw it away. Yay?!
  • I was scheduling a credit card payment online and was logged in to our bank account so I decided to balance my checkbook while I was at it. I keep a running total of everything in Excel and just reconcile it with what the bank tells me has cleared. I hadn't done that since 12/2 so I didn't realize that the two paychecks that had been deposited in our account in December were about $700 higher than I expected EACH.  Wow. Great news, but Greg never gets bonuses in December so I need to figure out why that is. I'm thinking maybe the 401(k) contributions weren't deducted? Maybe we hit our maximum too soon?  Gotta go print his paystubs and try to understand what's going on. Yes it's a nicer problem to have than the opposite!  Update: yep, that's what it was. We hit the $18,000 mark for the Roth 401(k) around the end of November so they stopped the contributions.
  • Good news: unless we get more money (and we're not expecting any!) between now and 1/1/16, Greg earned under the threshold for us to be able to qualify for Roth IRA contributions this year.  I'm wording this awkwardly, but it means he did NOT make too much money for us to qualify for those contributions.  Last year he had sold stock, which pushed our income too high so we had to backpedal and transfer our 2014 contributions back into regular IRA accounts prior to filing our taxes.  Boy, am I glad I typed up notes after the nightmare that was doing our taxes this year, because I would have never remembered this... it looks like we already funded Greg's 2015 Roth IRA account to the maximum allowable, but mine might still need to have $1,200 deposited into it to reach the maximum.  I'll have to check the website for those accounts (which is a pain as nothing is identified on the screen as being Roth or not!) to try to make sense of it all and then have Greg call them to do a transfer of "earned income", and then also transfer money for the 2016 contributions...  Arrgh, I hate this shit. Seriously. I can spend a whole day inputting the minutia of my grocery receipts and calculating savings rate and getting excited about saving 20 cents on a lb of butter but the big financial stuff?!  Doesn't excite me at all. Gives me headaches.  So I avoid it like the plague. The problem is... Greg too! 

  • I don't know if I mentioned it here or just to Greg IRL, but I really want to be watching LESS TV in 2016. I've turned into a complete couch potato, which is odd since just a couple of years ago I wasn't watching TV hardly at all! Most of the time it's on but I don't even pay attention to it, I surf online and pat myself on the back for "multitasking".  What a crock!  I mean, if I'm actually doing something productive (like looking at my tax information) while having it on, it's not bad, but when I'm using the excuse that I'm being productive for wasting time online while having a police show on the TV, it's just that: an excuse to avoid doing the dishes or getting on my recumbent bike!  Anyhoo... I got annoyed today because I expected to be able to have a marathon of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on one of the over the air channels that I watch every day, but no... it seems that they changed the programming schedule of all the channels that I watch so it's all talk shows and judge shows and all this stuff I hate!  I started to whine about it and then realized that actually it's a GOOD thing.  I now don't have the TV to lure me to the couch!  There's really not much that I want to watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant so it should be easier to try to turn that darn TV off in January!  But for now... The Rockford Files is on.  I love me some James Gardner so I'll keep it on until 1 p.m.  Then Greg wanted to watch the final movie of LOTR but I don't know if I'm up to it today.

  • Greg downloaded a free e-book to his Kindle.

  • Oh, and I think I was reading Jess's blog when I saw that you can download free Xbox One games every month so I asked him if he ever downloaded those and he said "Yes, every month!" so I told him I'd put that in the Successes column for him. He never mentions those things and I only know about the free e-books because he uses the Amazon account under my name so I get the email notifications. So, yay for him for getting gaming freebies!

  • I defrosted a couple of on-the-bone chicken breasts for dinner tonight. I haven't decided yet how I'll cook it, but I never did make baked potatoes last night so I'm thinking that's what I'll cook tonight. I should harvest collard greens and stir-fry some too.

  • I saved a mesh bag from the mandarins I bought a couple of weeks ago so I can make another pot scrubber at some point.

  • Since my daughter wants to eat healthier, I gave her my "New Light Cooking" cookbook and instructed her to look through it and make a list (with page numbers!) of every recipe that she thinks sounds good to her.  Then I'll incorporate those into my menus. She's been bored so that'll keep her busy. I wish I could say that it'll spur her to cook as well, but realistically she won't have any time for this with her schedule.

  • I washed 3 bags from cereal boxes and hung them to dry. 

  • I used homemade mandarin-scented vinegar countertop cleaner and a cleaning cloth to clean my countertops and my kitchen trashcan. I might have to actually buy paper towels soon.  I can't remember when I bought the last batch but I think it was in the first 3 months of 2014?  Then Greg brought back several rolls from his parents' RV back in April too. I like the Bounty Pick A Size towels as you only need to use 1/2 a sheet for each task, usually.  I hated the Publix brand towels that we got for free (in-laws) because they don't absorb anything so you'd end up using 3 or 4 towels for the same task.  So a splurge on Bounty towels is coming up soon but it should last us at least a year since I try to use washable cloths for most everything.

  • Well, darn it, I got ANOTHER issue of Entertainment Weekly in the mail (free subscription via RecycleBank). I thought they said the last issue was the LAST?!  So it went in the pile with everything else.  I can't read them until after Game of Thrones Season 5 becomes available on Blu Ray, lol.   

  • I got a bill from the dentist for my youngest son's fillings done a couple of weeks ago. It's only about $31 but it gets added to the co-payment that we had already paid.  Instead of mailing them my payment,  I will stop by next time I'm in Clermont and have them charge it to my Health FSA Visa card and that will save me a stamp.  I **think** I still have that much available on it, but I need to check.

  • I broke down and printed coupons via Swagbucks.  I'm about to clip them and then I need to clean my coupon organizer of those that expire tomorrow.  That might spur me to go shopping tonight since tomorrow we're going to see my oldest perform and then probably watching "The Return of the King, Extended Edition".

  • I cleaned my coupon organizer! I realized that I have a voucher for a free meal from Steak 'n Shake that expires tomorrow (my birthday freebie) so we might swing by after WDW tomorrow morning.  I'd also like to go to Kohl's since I have $10 in Kohl's cash that expires Sunday but the 20% discount expires tomorrow.  Greg needs some exercise shorts.  I should go to Walmart too since I have those $1.50 Barber chicken coupons and the Breaded Chicken Cordon Bleu is way cheaper at Walmart (I want to say less than $3?) than at Publix (more than $4).

  • My youngest son now has Windows 10 on his PC and that comes with the Microsoft Edge browser. He'd been using it without any problems but it was updated yesterday and since then, he can't sign in to his Google account on that browser.  No error message, it just won't log him in at all!  He was frustrated with it so I took a look at it, cleared the cache and cookies, tried logging him in... nothing.  I tried logging him in with Chrome and it works just fine on there.  He'd rather use Edge, though. So I posted in the Gmail forum and asked for advice and got a response that Edge isn't a supported browser.  What b.s.  Those companies that provide internet services should not be able to dictate which browser or which email account you're going to use on your own computer! So for now he's "stuck" with Chrome. I told him to keep checking Edge, in case it gets updated again. I'm glad that we're computer-savvy enough to take care of those things on our own without having to cart the computer to some "expert" or "Geek Squad" or what not.  That saves us tons of money.  Thank you, internet!

  • I called my son and he's all settled in his new apartment and his GF is already visiting so I'm relieved there wasn't a problem with that (although he did say it was confusing and took much longer than he expected since he and his roommate hadn't gotten the money orders that they needed ahead of time and they don't really know their way around Daytona Beach all that well).

  • For dinner I roasted the 2 chicken breasts on the bones with "Ten Things Farm" Chicken Seasoning and steamed 4 russet potatoes in the microwave. My Tupperware steamer is too big for the new-to-us microwave so I tried it in the larger over the range microwave, which has a history of only working when it wants too. I cooked the potatoes early in case it ended up not working, but it did.  I also warmed up a can of green beans so we had *some* greens.  I found the small container of salsa that had come with our Mexican dinner last week so I used some salsa on my potato.  

  • After dinner I realized that I had an almost empty jar of Pace salsa in the fridge so I scrapped the rest of the salsa, added it to the leftover restaurant salsa, and I will dump it in the crockpot tomorrow with... (see below!).

  • I wanted to cook something in the crockpot for tomorrow's dinner since we'll be on the go so I stuck my hand in my freezer and came up with a piece of beef meat of some kind.  I found a recipe for "Fall Stew" in one of my crockpot cookbooks that will allow me to use up the rest of the butternut squash that I had cubed over a week ago and some carrots that I had frozen. I don't have any turnips so I'll just put 2 large Klondike Gold potatoes in there as well with herbs and beef bouillon.  I'll bake a can of biscuits with that since I have some leftover from Christmas.  OK. dinner is planned for tomorrow night, woohoo!

  • Did you read my post about my "Found Money Earnings for 2015"? Well in line with this, I got an email tonight that our Best Buy Rewards will go back to zero if we don't make a purchase before 1/9.  There was a time when we shopped at Best Buy regularly but nowadays we can't even imagine driving the 25-30 minutes it would take to get to the exact same store!  Online shopping is now the norm but there's nothing we want/need from Best Buy either online or B&M.  We only have 166 points with them and they never send us emails with $5 surprise certificates like others have boasted about on Slickdeals or anything so I'm thinking... I'm going to let those points lapse.

  • I want to track my 2015 "Found Money Earnings" more accurately than I did in 2015 so I'm going to create a new spreadsheet.  I'll have to remember inputting all that stuff, which, if you know me, is going to fast become a chore that I don't want to do!  But I'll try.  For now, I went to my stash of glass jars, found one and made a quick and ugly as all label with masking tape.  It'll be my "Found cash on the ground/in the laundry/extra change from my purse and car" jar for 2016 and hopefully I'll just have to count it at the end of the year.
I'm not into cutesy decorating projects, as you
can tell! It won't be displayed anyway.
  • I saved the chicken bones from tonight's dinner and froze them. I couldn't find my other bag of frozen chicken bones so I just used one of the cereal bags that I had washed earlier and a twistie tie that I had saved from some packaging.

  • My daughter wants to sign up for a student membership at the local gym.  She found out that they are waving the registration fee in January and asked if I could go with her on Sunday morning to sign her up. I think I'll have to sign a 6-month contract. The cost with her discount will be $27 a month.  She said her dad had agreed to share the cost with me so I texted him to ask how he wanted to handle the payments.  He hasn't replied as of this posting. Honestly, I wished he would pay for all of it since we are covering most of her other expenses (he pays for her cell phone service).  We'll see what happens.

  • I had loaded an American Express offer to my card and also to Greg's for a $5 statement credit if we spent $10 at Dunkin' Donuts.  The offer expired today.  In a move that makes no sense since I decided that I needed to lose weight, I reloaded my DD Perks card with $10 charged to my Amex and got the confirmation that I used my Amex offer. Woot!  It's a 50% savings and the money won't expire so it's not a bad deal.  Greg doesn't go to Dunkin' Donuts so his offer will go unused.

  • I don't think we had any failures today!

  • Took the recycling down to the curb. We had 2 full bins this week!
  • Took my middle son to pick up his car from the garage.
  • Helped him pack his car.
  • Did the walk-through of his room.
  • Fed the cats.
  • Scheduled a credit card payment online and balanced my checkbook as well.
  • Printed 6 months of Greg's paystubs (I like to have printouts in case he loses his job at some point.  I keep them with our tax returns.)
  • Investigated the cause of the larger than expected paychecks.
  • Corresponded with my mom via email (my great uncle was buried today).
  • Swept the laundry room.
  • Went to get the recycling bins by the curb and picked up the mail.
  • Did a load of dishes.
  • Washed some cereal bags.
  • Printed coupons.
  • Cleaned my coupon organizer.
  • Helped my youngest son with a browser problem.
  • Cooked dinner.
  • Clipped, sorted and filed my coupons.

Did you have any frugal successes or failures today? Please do tell!

My "Found Money" Earnings for 2015

I named this post in honor of Susan from Retirement Fun(ds) because that's what she calls the funds that she's accumulated from various sources and I liked the idea a lot since I have a long list of sources that, as a homemaker, I use to "supplement" my husband's income.  It's really more a list of what the various sites/loyalty programs that I use to maximize his earnings and minimize our costs.

2015 was the year when I tried to strategize how I spent money in order to earn money, via various programs. It was also the year when I decided to try to seriously earn rewards via several programs.

I still didn't monetize my blog and I don't anticipate doing that. I find that most bloggers who do that fall in the trap of promoting a bunch of stuff for the sake of getting freebies or earning page clicks and while, yeah, they're entitled to make a living, it just feels disingenuous to me if they're bloggers talking about being frugal.  So since, as a blog reader, it turns me off, I don't see myself doing that on my own blog.  I've posted half-hearted referral links for Swagbucks and Bing Rewards, but I'm not pushing those every time I talk about those programs, just here and there when I think "What the heck..." but it's not an ambition of mine to get people to use them :)

All in all, I'm really happy with how 2015 turned out for us.  Here is a small recap of what we (well, I for the most part!) earned:


  • Swagbucks:  I earned $595.00 in Swagbucks gift cards in 2015!  I mostly earned $5 Amazon gift cards until late April when they changed their earning thresholds and started giving a discount on the 1st $25 GC of the month and then I started earning more seriously, at first $25 Amazon gift cards that I redeemed for various household items, and then for $25 Walmart gift cards that I'm using for grocery shopping exclusively.  Out of $595 earned, $175 was in Walmart gift cards, the rest was in Amazon gift cards.  Nobody took me up on my referral offers so everything I'm earning is through my own activities.

  • Bing Rewards:  I didn't sign up with Bing Rewards until March.  Weirdly, it was Greg announcing that he had earned "another credit on Bing Rewards!" that got me interested in it.  Ahem, all those months later, he has yet to earn a single $5 gift card!  As for me, I have earned $60.00. Two people signed up with my referral link (one being my youngest son) but failed to earn enough Rewards during the prescribed time for me to earn any bonuses :(

CREDIT CARD REWARDS (note: we don't pay any membership fees and don't carry balances)
  • American Express Rewards:  I signed us up for an American Express card in December 2014. We had to charge a couple of thousand dollars to it in the first 3 months in order to qualify for a $200 statement credit, which we did, and I used towards my grocery budget. We also got a 1-year Amazon Prime membership and free ShopRunner membership as added incentives.  We have used the Amazon Prime extensively but never did use ShopRunner.  Since getting the card, I have been able to redeem enough reward points for $200 in CVS gift cards, that I have been using primarily for grocery shopping.  As of right now we have another $88.44 in rewards ready to be redeemed, but I'm waiting until we reach $100. This seems to be growing very slowly, considering that we are using that card most of the time, though.

  • USAA Mastercard Rewards: we don't use that card much anymore, but in 2015, I was still able to redeem $300 in Rewards for various gift cards (I had charged our plane tickets and car rental to that card when we went to France, so that helped, but I don't think we earned any rewards for expenses incurred while in France, which were quite a bit, so grrr.). $250 of the $300 were in gift cards to Lowe's and Home Depot and were used mostly for gardening/landscaping supplies, but we also used some of them towards supplies for the ceiling repair that Greg did in our house.  The last $50 was for a CVS gift card that I'll be using for groceries.  Update: I just realized, too, that thanks to a special 5% rebate on the first $150 in gas purchases every month in 2015, we earned an additional $53.43 in Rewards, that won't be available to us until April 2016 since the rebate program ends in March 2016.  We would have earned more but Greg and my daughter charge their gas to different cards because he can't remember to use the Mastercard just for that and she's an authorized user only on my Discover card.

  • Discover Rewards/Discover Deals: again, I don't use Discover much anymore but I do love their Reward program.  Since my last anniversary date (and let me state right now that I have no idea when my anniversary date was!), I have earned $162.41 in Rewards and all of them were used towards Amazon merchandise (so gifts and household items).  Greg earned $32.66 since his last anniversary date and that was also redeemed for Amazon merchandise.

  • Amazon Rewards Visa card: a couple of months ago I applied for an Amazon Visa card on my own.  As a sign on bonus, I was awarded $80 in Amazon Rewards, which I applied towards Christmas presents. Since then I haven't used it much (despite what you might think, I really don't do all that much shopping!) and so I have earned only $1.88 in points.  I don't think I've redeemed Amazon points through that card yet so it's probably the total amount that I have earned.  I just realized that I might earn a high amount of rewards through that card than through Amex while shopping at various stores... I need to look at the rewards chart that I had created before leaving for France again!

  • Target REDCard: I only use my REDcard when I actually shop at Target so I don't earn many rewards (if any?) with it. However, I do earn a 5% rebate on my Target purchases, which is what interests me most :)  My Target shopping has actually decreased this year, as my overall shopping mood has been "meh" and sometimes I don't feel like driving the extra couple of minutes and park and walk through the huge store just to buy 1 or 2 things.  Greg did use his when he went Christmas shopping this year, though, even though he had to use the PIN code. I'm proud of him!

  • Balance Rewards (Walgreens): I was trying to earn more Balance Rewards earlier this year when I was being active by logging my activity and weight on the "Healthy Choices for Balance Rewards" program (not exactly its name but close!) but then my healthy efforts petered out.  Their website will only let me look up my account activity for the past 6 months so this isn't accurate for all of 2015, but since July, I was able to redeem $16.00 in Balance Rewards points and I used all of them towards groceries.

  • CVS ExtraCare Bucks:  Unfortunately I didn't track how many ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) I earned in 2015 and CVS doesn't track those separately from their "ExtraSavings" either so I can't tell you... all I know is that in 2015 I reused every ECB earned towards my grocery budget, and I mostly purchased grocery items from there with CVS gift cards earned from our credit card reward programs. I'm going to try to be better at keeping a running total of those in 2016.

  • Ace Hardware Rewards: argh, their website doesn't track how many reward certificates I received this year and I have 1740 points right now (I need 2,500 points to receive a $5.00 reward certificate).  I was going to search my Freebies posts to see how many gift certificates I received this year, but the Search function isn't precise enough so forget it.  It was at least $10 and also I received a $10 certificate for my birthday.

  • Dunkin' Donuts DD Perks: in 2015, I spent $10.91 at Dunkin' Donuts and earned 7 free drinks with the DD Perks app.  

  • Starbucks Rewards: In January, I received a $25.00 Starbucks gift card for trying out a new retirement calculator on American Century.  Later on this year, I received FOUR $5.00 Starbucks gift cards for checking if each of our phone lines would be eligible for Ting service.  So that's $45 in free Starbucks merchandise!  I still have $22.34 on the card.  Additionally, I received a free breakfast sandwich freebie when they started offering breakfast sandwiches, and a free coffee on Veteran's Day since my husband is a Veteran.

  • Panera Rewards: my daughter started college classes in the fall and the community college is almost right next door to a Panera's so she usually eats there about once every 2 weeks.  I gave her my Panera Rewards card so she could earn freebies on my account and then redeem them. Later on she signed up for her own account and use her welcome pastry freebie to get a treat for me!  This year, I earned a free birthday pastry reward, a free Pick Two (since we had visited several times in November but sadly this freebie expired before we got to redeem it, grrr!), free daily coffee during the last 2 weeks of July (although I was unable to redeem this at all), as well as several discounts off my next purchase, some of which I did use.  I also received $10 in vouchers from the regional office when I sent a negative comment about a salad I had ordered as a Pick Up order. I haven't redeemed those yet.

  • Kellogg's Family Rewards:  I buy quite a bit of cereal boxes since that's what my kids like to eat in the morning and my daughter's cereal of choice is Special K. Her favorite snack are the Special K Red Berries cereal bars.  So I always input the codes from the packages or upload my receipts to the KFR website, as well as input bonus codes emailed to me by Kellogg's or that other bloggers post online.  You can redeem the KFR points for free merchandise, but I prefer to redeem them for $1.00/1 coupons off more Kellogg's cereal!  I don't feel like totalling up all the points that I earned this year, but I really like this program, even if it's a PITA to have to upload my receipts to yet another website!  I almost forgot to mention that I also won a $100 gift card to Publix in the Kellogg's/Publix Tailgating Instant Win Game a couple of months ago.  That was awesome!  I had to text a keyword to win this one.  I've never won any of the prizes that supposedly can be found in the boxes of cereal themselves (Fitbits, laptops, etc...).  Have you?  They claim that "thousands of prizes" are given away but I wonder how many of those are actually available.  

  • MyCokeRewards: I quit drinking Diet Coke a year or two ago (well, I've been drinking a lot of it this past week since I bought 2 cases for the holidays but otherwise I only drink it when I get it as a freebie somewhere or if we go to a fast food place) so I don't have many codes to input.  But I do look for bottle caps on the ground whenever we go somewhere, and my daughter has been great at collecting codes from bottles and 12- and 24-packs for me from school whenever she spots them!  I wasn't very strategic with my inputting though, inputting the codes right away instead of waiting for double point promos (so I missed all of those!) and being too lazy to input codes during this last round of holiday promos to earn free 12-pack codes.  But I did redeem some points this year for a $10 Amazon gift card, and a couple of free 20 oz bottles.  Not too shabby.

  • Murphy USA: No cards needed for this one, you just sign up on their website and you can print freebie store coupons. I redeemed several of those this year although I was restricted to those for free soft drinks or candy bars since my Murphy USA station is tiny and doesn't serve hot foods or drinks.

  • Kohl's Yes2You Rewards and Kohl's Cash: if you sign up for Yes2You, you earn 1 point for each $1 you spend at Kohl's, no matter how you pay (so you don't have to have a Kohl's charge card). When you reach 100 points, you get a $5 certificate for free merchandise.  Since I have fewer kids at home and they don't need as many clothes as in the past, I haven't spent as much at Kohl's as I had in the past, but I still received $25 in certificates this year.  I don't think this includes my Kohl's cash but I can't tell. I also received several other promotional $5.00 and $10.00 merchandise certificates, some of which I gave to my BFF (like the Black Friday one). I got those for having a Kohl's charge card.

  • Staples Rewards: Staples pissed me off on several occasions this year when I had problems with some of their rebates and various departments of the same company kept on passing the buck.  Consequently, I haven't shopped there much. Also, with fewer kids at home, I don't need to buy as many school/office supplies or ink. Still I use them to turn in my ink cartridges. I earned $14 in Staples Rewards in 2015 and I think all of them were from ink cartridges.

  • Orbitz Rewards: I don't travel often but when I have traveled this year, I have booked our flights/car rental and hotel nights via Orbitz.  Signing up for their reward program did allow me to save some money as you earn some points that you can redeem on future hotel night bookings. I was able to save about $40 on our 1-night hotel stay in Paris and $4.81 on our hotel stay in Tallahassee.  I've heard that Orbitz was bought by Travelocity, though (I think?) so I'm not sure if that program will continue.  Greg traveled a few times for personal reasons but didn't book his tickets via Orbitz (or Swagbucks for that matter!), which annoyed me.

  • Great Clips: Not sure if this is at every salon, but make sure that you always give them the same phone number when you check in, because your 10th haircut is free. I have Greg and the kids give our home phone number (which NONE of them knows by heart because we never use it,  I keep the line just so that I have a phone number to give to people that I don't want to talk to, which is most everybody) so we can earn free haircuts faster. However, this year Greg grew his hair and since he doesn't go as often, our son doesn't get a haircut as often either because then I have to take him and I always forget to!  But we got at least 1 free haircut this year and then I also got a free haircut by donating my hair to Clips For Kindness through Great Clips.

  • Gold'n Plump and JUSTBare: those are programs where you get free coupons by signing up for their e-newsletters.  However, you can also earn free merchandise by collecting appropriate UPCs and mailing them in. In 2014 I was able to receive several freebies like that, but this year I didn't bother and it seemed the freebies were harder to obtain (i.e. I would have needed to buy products that my SuperTarget wasn't offering). Still, I love those $1.50/1 coupon that they send (and sometimes even $2.00/1 coupons!) because I can couple them with manager specials at Target to get good tasty chicken much cheaper.

  • Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Labels4Education: I subscribe to their e-newsletter and several times this year I was able to order free samples through them.  I'm also able to print exclusive coupons every week, that are of higher value than those available on

  • Redbox: this year I received several freebie codes from Redbox, either via email or text since I signed up for both.  I gave several of those away online, some to my older sons, and we watched a couple of movies ourselves. I didn't keep track of how many.

  • RaceTrac: my favorite customer survey program, as you all may know!  We have a Racetrac station near our house, where Greg gasses up his truck, but my daughter and I gas up our vehicles at the Clermont station, where gas is cheaper.  Each receipt that we receive qualifies us (i.e. me!) to take a new, short customer survey about our experience, and gives me a survey reward code for a freebie, whether it be food or drink.  I didn't keep track of them in a spreadsheet but I should try to do this in 2016. However, I received many many free cups of coffee, pastries, and roller grill items this past year. Not the healthiest of things but hey!  Free food and pretty darn good food at that.
  • Dunkin Donuts:  Their receipts have a survey ID code that you can use to fill out a short customer survey online.  You obtain a survey reward code for a free donut that you can redeem whenever you purchase (or redeem a freebie coupon for) a medium of larger drink.  I didn't keep track of how many, exactly, I redeemed this year, but at least 4. 

  • Burger King: Their receipts also have a survey ID code that you can use to earn a free Whopper with purchase of a drink and fries. We don't eat at Burger King very often but when I tried taking the surveys this year, I was frustrated to find that my local Burger King didn't print any survey ID codes on their receipts.  After the 2nd time, I contacted Corporate and the manager of my local store contacted me via email to apologize and offered me a completely free meal. I haven't been back since so I'm not sure if they fixed the survey ID code problem or not.

  • Subway: Their receipts have a survey ID code that you can use online to take a short survey about your experience and earn a free cookie.  This year we didn't eat at Subway as much as in the past since my daughter wasn't playing volleyball (it was her to go meal when she had games!) but whenever I had a receipt from them, I did take the survey and gave her the code to go get a free cookie. I think we might have gotten 3 or 4 cookies this year.

  • CVS Consumer Panel: I joined this earlier this year and was invited to take a single survey. However, the payout was $10 in ECBs, which I redeemed for groceries, of course!

  • Driscoll's Consumer Panel: one of my favorite loyalty program this year has been, once again, the Driscoll's Consumer Panel because I love strawberries and raspberries and taking the surveys is really easy.  Unlike the previous year when I took the surveys right away and then tried to use up all the coupons before they expired, I only took surveys when I needed to print $1.00/1 coupons for my next purchases, and I tried to match those with sales at SuperTarget and the 5% Cartwheel rebate that they offered for a few months this year, as well as the 5% REDcard discount. So I got some great deals on berries although I also spent quite a bit!  I have a huge backlog of surveys to take, and my strategy is going to be to take them in early January to earn the Gold Level coupons as early as I can in the year.  In 2014 they had sent a very cute freebie set (small colander, coupons, and something else that I can't recall) but this year they didn't send me anything. I also didn't win any of their sweepstakes :(

  • Mail-in and online rebates: in 2015 I didn't redeem as many manufacturer rebates as I had in the past. I credit/blame this on the fact that I just didn't shop as much in 2015 as I had in previous years, a frugal victory in itself!  Still, I sent for and received $250.70 this year! This includes several Staples rebates and many "Free After Rebate" offers for groceries, cleaning products and beauty products. Oh and the $70 we got back on the generator battery for writing a review and taping a video review.

  • Rebate apps:  the rebate apps that I use are: Checkout 51, Ibotta, SavingStar and Snap by Groupon (although I haven't used that one in a while).  The breakdown of what I earned this year is as follows:
    • Checkout 51: It only gives me how much money I have earned since creating the account and I have no idea of when I created it... but I earned $48.75 back with it overall.
    • Ibotta:  I signed up in October of this year.  I have earned $55.95 back. Crazy!
    • SavingStar: again, they only show how much you have earned since you signed up. I don't know when I did but it was prior to 2015, I'm pretty sure.  Anyway, I have earned $84.64 back, overall, including $41.35 that is available to cash out right now so I guess I should do that.
    • Snap by Groupon: this app was so promising because it had great "generic" offers, then they started advertising offers that ended up not being redeemable because, somehow, they were all claimed within minutes of being posted, and now they mostly have crap offers that don't interest me. I did earn $21.10 since I joined, although I have nothing available to redeem currently. Again, no idea when I joined.  I did get a full-size bottle of Old Spice body wash and a full-size Old Spice deodorant stick for my 19 year-old son through them recently (an offer had flashed on the app coincidentally on the only day I checked it that month). He's supposed to take a survey now that he's been using those for 10 days. I'm not sure if we'll earn more freebies through that or if it was just a one-time deal.
  • I already mentioned being able to order a free sample of Betty Crocker or Pillsbury products via their e-newsletters, once in a while. Those are usually targeted and they run out of the samples fast so even if you receive the offer, you might not get the samples. I've been frustrated by that on several occasions!

  • SampleSource: I was able to sign up for several samples this year, including (apparently!) vaginal moisturizer, shampoo, toothpaste, granola, Breathe Right strips, etc.  Those aren't usually full-size but even in their reduced size, they save me money!

  • PinchMe: I was able to sign up for several samples including Gevalia coffee, several samples of cat food, PureVia sweetener, Align probiotics, some beauty and health products and more.  They usually also send coupons, which I love!

  • BzzAgent: I just signed up for this a few weeks ago and the only campaign I was invited to take part in was the Barber Foods campaign. I was sent a coupon for a free product and several $1.50/1 coupons to give to friends but I don't have many friends and I love coupons so I kept them and used 3 of them so far.  They expire in 2 days so I'll need to go to Walmart and buy a couple more boxes of the Cordon Bleu chicken, which is the only flavor my Walmart has and where it's way cheaper than at Publix. In exchange for those, I had to complete activities such as writing reviews, tweeting about the products, upload pictures, talk about my family & friends reactions to the products, etc.  They didn't need me to promote them on the blog so you didn't get to be bored with my genuine reviews of the products :)

  • Amazon digital credits when choosing No Rush Shipping: another way I saved this year was for choosing the "No Rush Shipping " option on Amazon whenever they offered a $1 digital credit for it.  Once again I didn't keep track of how many credits I earned, but I just redeemed $4 this past week when I ordered Season 2 of "Fargo" and I know I used at least $5.00 more in digital credits this past year towards movie rentals or digital music for my daughter.  So let's say $10 for the year?  This is something that took no effort since I didn't need the merchandise right away and shipping was free to me anyway thanks to Amazon Prime. I also earned a couple of $5.00 Amazon Pantry credits but I never redeemed those since it would have actually cost me money and I don't think the deals are all that amazing.

  • Other Amazon Rewards: just last week I qualified for a free HD digital copy of "Kung Fu Panda" because I purchased Season 2 of Fargo.  A $6.99 value.  I only wish I could gift it to someone else!

  • Mystery Shopping:  For part of 2014, I was a member of a mystery shopping site.  I mostly shopped at Publix and Ace Hardware.  Once at Panera's. But that was in 2014.  It became evident that even with the offer of free merchandise or food, it was a heck of a lot of work for not much of a payout. Plus, I hated lying to my local Publix's staff as required by the assignment when I had to pretend I didn't know about something (and they knew that I knew because I used to shop there a lot) or when I had to interact with Customer Service. So I quit in April of this year. I made $6 in 2015 and was refunded for $10 in merchandise.

  • Money found on the ground/in the laundry: it wasn't much, mostly pennies and the occasional quarter, but I don't pass free money. I didn't keep a tally of how much I found and it's too much work going through all my 2015 posts but it was probably between $2 and $3 at the most.

  • Contacted manufacturers to get refunds/free replacement: I'm not shy about contacting sellers or manufacturers when I've bought something that has broken through no fault of my own or that has stopped working.  As long as I can email them, I will.  This year, I received replacements or cash back for such things as items bought on Amazon, Malt O Meal cereal, Sugru (that one was my fault but Sugru was wonderful and replaced the product anyway), Starbucks, Panera,  and other items as well. Yesterday AbsoluteGenerators agreed to refund me the last $9.00 from my generator battery since it was already depleted after not being used but once a month for 3 months.  I think they expected me to say that I didn't want the $9, but heck, it's my money and their battery failed so yes, I want every cent back that I put in it.  As it is they're left with our glowing reviews both online and in video form, should they decide to put it up, and that pisses me off!

  • Contacted manufacturers to express my delight and got coupons/merchandise in exchange:
    • DairyPure
    • Ball (canning supplies)

This is all I can think of for now.  I know there's more... I have a whole wallet dedicated to my customer loyalty cards!  If there is a loyalty card, I will sign up for it.

What "found money" earnings did you have this year? Feel free to link up in the comments!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Frugal Successes and Failures: Tuesday 12/29/15

  • The kitty woke me up at 5 a.m. this morning, meowing loudly for no reason (well, I think she wanted some food!) so I pet her and tried to go back to sleep and then Greg and our son got up to get ready for their hunting session this morning. So then I was wide awake and I stayed up.  The kitty went right back to sleep.  Did I say we think she might be pregnant?  I kept on thinking about what would happen if indeed she was pregnant. Kittens are so cute.

  • Ugh, a lot of bloggers have already started blogging about their resolutions for the New Year.  Arrrgh. I hate those kinds of posts, lol.  Along with all the posts like "OMG, I've discovered that you can make your own laundry detergent!".  Don't mind me, I'm just being cranky because it's so freaking early and I'm already up.  I need to make a plan for 2016 and I haven't even kept up with 2015 all that well.  My plan probably won't be posted until... way later in January?

  • I'm sick of food.  We've over eaten so much during this break.  I feel sluggish and lazy. Well, more than usual.  I have no motivation.  Well, even less than usual!  The Chinese food from last night was expensive and terrible.  My middle son didn't finish his and I didn't finish mine either.  I put it in the fridge, thinking that I'd have the leftovers for lunch today, but I felt so icky last night after eating it that I'll probably just throw it away.  Several of my toes started hurting last night, like I had gout or something. I think it was something in the food that caused this pain.  MSG?  I don't know. It lasted for several hours and then, luckily, went away.  I feel like I need to do a cleanse!  I don't do that kind of thing but my body needs a reset button!  And, as I'm typing this, my brain is telling me "I'm hungry, feed me!".

  • So I don't think I'm going grocery shopping tomorrow.  We have food all over the fridge. I might run to Walgreens or Publix and get more milk later on this week but I'm hoping I don't need anything else.  

  • We've been talking about driving to Walt Disney World to see my oldest son play with the Toy Soldiers Band before 12/31 so we will go there tomorrow morning. All we'll do is drive there (1 hour), park at the Magic Kingdom ($20, ka-shing!), take the ferry to the entrance of the park, watch my son play at set, take the ferry back to the parking lot and drive home.  He'll be in costume so we won't even know which one he is and he can't talk to us anyway.  They change out the toy soldiers every 30 minutes so at the most we'll have to wait 30 minutes. A big splurge, but it's my only chance to see him play as a Toy Soldier live!  Update: Oops, forgot that my middle son moves out tomorrow so we should be here for the walk-through.  So I texted my oldest son to let him know we'll be going to see him on Thursday morning instead. 

  • Since I was up before the crack of dawn, I worked on Bing Rewards and Swagbucks.  Bing Rewards is no problem. It's slow earning but it credits me what I'm owe usually without any headaches.  Swagbucks... ugh.  My goal today is 102 SB. I'm glad I'm not worrying about meeting that this week.  I did try to complete a couple of surveys only to advance in my overall SB earnings only to be disqualified. Then I did a complete survey for Fitbit and once again it told me the survey had been filled.  Grrrr.  I emailed Customer Service. This is so aggravating. Then I gave up on the surveys. I took the Daily Poll and NOSO and I'm running SBTV on my phone so I'll earn something but probably fewer than 50 SB for the whole day.  Update: I checked my total at 5:30 p.m. and it was much higher than I expected so I opened my ledger: they credited me with the 50 SB for the survey, I got 30 SB from coupon redemptions and also 200 SB in Swag Ups from the Thanksgiving Team Challenge and my holiday purchases.  Woohoo!  I'm up to 948 SB already, overall.

  • I went to brew some coffee and realized that I had a whole cup left over from yesterday morning so I drank that cold.  

  • At lunchtime my frugality took over my resolve to stop eating that crappy Chinese take-out and I ate the rest of my dinner from last night. I'm sure I'll regret it.  Greg ate the rest of his Hot & Sour Soup. He likes it.

  • I earned 100 KFR points by entering bonus code FREEPOINTS4DIVAS into my Kellogg's Family Rewards account. (thanks, TotallyTarget!)

  • Redbox emailed me a couple of "Rent 1, Get 1 Free" codes that could be used for just renting 2 movies for free. However, there's nothing of interest to us and we still have to watch The Return of The King, Columbo, Fargo Season 2...

  • Frugal entertainment: I spent the afternoon reading blog posts from around the web.  Didn't cost me anything!  I can't say that I learned anything either, but since they were mostly about people trying to save more for retirement or be financially independent, it put me in the right mood to start thinking more seriously about our road map for 2016.

  • Gas for my daughter to drive to Clermont to pick up the college materials she still needs from the community college's book store and for her to do some shopping at Target. 

  • I was thinking ahead to frugal strategies for next year and decided that since we won't be able to do "No Drive Days" with a 3rd driver in the house, I'm probably going to start driving a little more myself... I NEED to exercise and we have a really nice trail where I like to walk, but I need to drive to it.  So I'm thinking that I might drive to the trail twice a week to do some walking and then use my recumbent bike at home the rest of the week. I need to do this. Also, Aldi is selling some exercise equipment starting tomorrow so I might buy a few things.

  • Greg and our son went hunting and once again came home empty-handed. A frugal failure but one that pleases me since I don't want to have to eat weird critters or figure out how to store a wild hog or deer!

  • My daughter decided to throw away the 3 hamburger buns that had started to get some mold.  I meant to look them over and turn the non-moldy parts in much needed bread crumbs so I was quite annoyed. 

  • Fed the cats.
  • Collected the trash throughout the house and asked my middle son to take it down to the curb for me.
  • Sprayed some bleach in the shower stall.
  • Researched and composed a blog post about my "found money earnings" for 2015.
  • Played with the cats... all three of them at the same time, it's a new record!
  • Cooked dinner.

Did you have any frugal successes or failures today? Please do tell!

My Favorite Thrift Store Finds in 2015

A big part of saving money AND helping the planet a little bit is by reusing, recycling, repurposing, or buying used.

When my kids were growing up, I bought them clothes at garage sales and thrift stores as much as I could, as well as toys, baby furnishings, etc.

These days I don't buy many things (well, compared to other people) and I make a conscious effort to shop the thrift stores first.  I don't always remember it, but when I do, I'm usually rewarded. I also keep a "thrift store wish list" on my phone for those items that I don't need right away (and honestly, most things aren't needed right this minute so my list should be longer!) and I consult it every time I enter a thrift store.

As much as I dislike Goodwill for not being as organized as my favorite thrift store (the South Lake Animal League Thrift Store in downtown Clermont, where I donate 99% of my stuff), I have purchased great items there this year.  I also have found several items at the SLAL thrift store.  Here is a little trip down memory lane for this past year, mostly to continue motivating me for trying to shop the thrift stores first.  After all, it also helps (line the pockets of charity executives, sorry, just being sarcastic for a moment) others in need.

So here are my favorite thrift store finds in 2015:

What? 4 large blue ceramic pots
How Much? $10 each
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 2/5/15
Used For?  Growing herbs in my garden

What? Brand new toilet seat
How Much? $3.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 3/4/15
Used For?  To replace the seat on the downstairs toilet

What? Wood and fake leather ottoman
How Much? $7.99
Where? Goodwill
When? 3/18/15
Used For?  Extra informal seating in the living room when we play Dungeons & Dragons

What? Large Snapware container
How Much? 2.75
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 3/18/15
Used For?  Storing bags of popcorn in my pantry

What? Large Arcoroc glass bowl
How Much? $4.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 3/25/15
Used For?  Replacing my favorite (but broken) mixing bowl for baking bread by hand

What? Cephalon asparagus pot and insert
How Much? $5.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 3/25/15
Used For?  Steaming asparagus, of course!

What? Large Rubbermaid bin
How Much? $5.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 3/25/15
Used For?  Self-watering bin for growing vegetables

What? Bistro style patio set with concrete poured table
How Much? $75.00
Where? Habitat for Humanity ReStore
When? 4/2/15
Used For?  Back patio furniture

What? Swiss Gear laptop bag
How Much? $2.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 5/6/15
Used For?  Traveling to France with my laptop

What? (3) pairs capris and (1) pair shorts
How Much? $3.69 each and $2.49 each
Where? Goodwill
When? 5/13/15
Used For?  Replacing worn out clothes in my closet

What? Black & Decker bread machine
How Much? $7.99
Where? Goodwill
When? 5/13/15
Used For?  Baking delicious homemade bread!

What? Embroidened pillow
How Much? $1.99
Where? Goodwill
When? 5/13/15
Used For?  Birthday present for my BFF

What? Philips electric kettle
How Much? 5.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 7/29/15
Used For?  Heating up water for Greg's tea and cooking

What? Large Ecolution skillet
How Much? $5.00
Where? South Lake Animal League Thrift Store
When? 7/29/15
Used For?  Everyday cooking. Seriously, I use it most days!

What? Samsung Blu-Ray player
How Much? $6.99
Where? Goodwill
When? 8/19/15
Used For?  Watching our blu-rays and DVDs

What? 2 ceramic soup bowls
How Much? $0.49 each
Where? Habitat for Humanity ReStore
When? 9/26/15
Used For?  Soup, cereal, and as mixing bowls

These aren't the only things that I bought used in 2015, but certainly my favorites.

What were your favorite thrift store finds this year?