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  • Good Pavilions trip this week + examples of how coupons help you stretch your (charity) dollars

    Pavilions is part of the Safeway family, and is the smaller sibling of Vons here in the Los Angeles area. The Pavilions near me is a little dingy, and has proven unreliable with sale prices, so I rarely go. But it’s within walking distance of my house (we’re still down to one car), and there were some deals I just couldn’t pass up: primarily the buy 5 of selected items and get $5 off deal. That deal included Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes for $1.29 after the discount, and I had four $1 off coupons from the November 9 newspaper.

    So I got:
    4 Frosted Flakes @ $2.29 each
    1 Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts @$2.49 (to finish off the buy 5, save $5 deal)
    3 Safeway marshmallows @ $1 each (I forgot that these are 97 cents at Target)
    1 C&H brown sugar @ $1
    1 Dixie plates @ $2.50
    Total before coupons: $18.15

    Coupons used: 4 x $1 off Kellogg’s, 35 cents off C&H sugar (doubled), 35 cents off Dixie plates (doubled)
    Total after coupons, plus tax: $12.44 (should have been $7.44 after the $5 promo)

    I had calculated my total before I went to the store, so when the cashier told me the total, I knew it couldn’t be right. I quickly realized that it was because the register had not taken off the $5 for the buy 5 promo – not unusual at this store, but irritating and the perfect example of why I rarely go there. It took more than a few minutes for the cashier to review the info in the register, then have the bagger fetch a weekly ad so she could review the wording of the promo, then agree that I should get the $5 discount, then ponder how to give it back to me. I asked if a manager could do something; she shrugged. Finally, I said that I would pay the full $12.44 if she’d give me $5 cash back, and that’s what happened.

    The effort was worth it to have 4 boxes of cereal for $1.16 (4 x 29-cents) that I can donate to the food bank, along with the sugar (30 cents after coupon). (Marc will eat the Pop Tarts.)

    The coupon forums and other bloggers’ posts have shown me that by shopping smart, you can donate so much more to a food bank or other charity than if you just gave money. After all, how much would a food bank have been able to buy for $1.46? And the savings are even greater when you consider the large donations coupon users make on a regular basis.

    For instance, Gina at Mommy Making Money explained how she spent less than $17 to donate $50 worth of food. (Actually, that’s probably the sale price pre-coupon total, so the food was likely worth more.) And just a few days ago, Briana showed how she was able to provide “everything from canned food items to backpacks & toys” to a family that had just lost everything in a fire.

    So as you shop throughout the year, keep an eye out for free or cheap items that you can get not just for your family but for those less fortunate too.

    Five free or cheap random acts of kindness for the holiday season

    It would be good, of course, to practice random acts of kindness throughout the year, and I do. But I think, especially with strangers, they’re easier to do at this time of year. So here are five that I’ve come up with – I’d appreciate it if you’d add your own ideas too!

    1. Send a note and/or small gift to someone who’s lost a loved one. The holidays can be difficult for someone who’s lost a loved one, so I like to send a note or gift acknowledging that.
    2. Leave coupons next to the products they’re for so other customers can use them. This one is actually easy to do at any time of year, especially if they’re for products you’re not going to buy yourself. And I know from reading the coupon forums that they’re much appreciated.
    3. Ask a cashier what their favorite candy bar is, and then buy it for them when you’re checking out.
    4. Visit those who don’t get many visitors at a nursing a home. Bring some cookies or cupcakes, and then listen to their stories.
    5. Put change in parking meters that are close to expiring. Thanks to Clever Dude for letting me know that this is illegal in some jurisdictions. An alternative, if you are driving where this applies, is to pay the toll fee for the car behind you.

    Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

    Today is Blog Action Day 2008, and the topic this year is POVERTY.

    Here are four ways that you can help eliminate poverty:

    1. Shop smart and give free or inexpensive items to food bank and other charities. Many people who play The Drugstore Game donate their surplus to worthy causes. Gina at Mommy Making Money routinely mentions dropping off free or cheap groceries at a local food bank. Erin at Coupon Cravings hosts a weekly $5 Charity Challenge, through which she encourages her readers to donate $5 worth of purchases to a charity each week. Why not join your fellow frugal shoppers and donate your extra items?
    2. Donate to a charity that provides microloans. Marc introduced me to the concept of microfinance a couple of years ago, and I’ve been a big fan of it ever since. The concept got worldwide attention with the selection of microbank founder Muhammad Yunus as 2006’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. Microloans involve making small loans to very poor people who can’t qualify for a traditional loan from a bank. For example, I currently have a loan through Kiva.org to a woman in Tanzania who borrowed a total of $175 to expand her business, which is selling fruit and vegetables. The loan allows her to buy more produce, which results in increased profit. If the cycle is continued, it can lead men and women out of poverty and into greater financial security.
    3. Teach someone a new skill. If you sew, you could teach someone how to make their own clothes, or maybe some cute craftsy item that would sell on Etsy. If you cook, you can teach someone basic cooking skills and maybe a set of basic recipes, like Jamie Oliver is apparently doing over in England.
    4. Teach a young person basic financial skills. Personal finance bloggers like to complain about the lack of formal education on finance. But that’s not the only way to make sure future generations know how to manage their money. Kids can learn from any adult in their lives.

    Getting the most out of your sneakers

    It’s been about a month and a half since I said that I would be making some lifestyle changes, and I’m happy to report that except for a one-week period when I was knocked out by the flu, I’ve worked out every day. And I’ve come to realize that I really need a new pair of running shoes. In fact, that’s what Marc is going to get me for Mother’s Day.

    Since I’m thinking about new shoes, FitSugar’s post on how to get the most wear out of your sneakers caught my eye. I had to wonder about Step 4: how many shoes would be in “good shape” after surviving the first three steps? (In a nutshell: Step 1 is workout shoes; Step 2 is casual streetwear; Step 3 is work-around-the-house shoes; Step 4 is donate them to the needy.)

    I think a better bet for Step 4 is Nike’s Reuse a Shoe program, which turns worn-out shoes into sport surfaces. Otherwise, I recommend donating at Step 3 at the latest.

    The 29-Day Giving Challenge: Day 16

    Today was Day 16 of my 29-Day Giving Challenge. I donated money to one of my favorite charities, the USO. I believe firmly in their mission, but their low efficiency rating at Charity Navigator has always bothered me. In an effort to force them to use my donations efficiently, I donate to a specific program, like Operation Phone Home, which provides phone cards to service members. I also like Operation Care Package and have donated to that in the past as well.

    Incidentally, Charity Navigator is a fabulous tool when deciding how to allocate your charitable contributions. I think the feature that lists each organization’s privacy policy is new, and I’m glad to see it. I knew charities often sell their mailing lists, but in checking the USO page, I realized that I’d never thought about their privacy policy and that I’d certainly never opted out. I’ll be sending an email asking them to remove me from their list tomorrow.

    What do you do with old toys?

    I usually donate things that the kids have outgrown to Goodwill, but they’re not taking toys anymore due to all of the recalls. So now I’m not sure what to do with the five bags that are currently sitting in my upstairs hallway. Here are the ideas I’ve come up with so far, none of which are as effortless as simply loading up the car and heading to Goodwill:

    1. Find a different charity to take the toys. While this seems rather obvious, I’m not sure where to start. I’m going to ask around, though.
    2. Have a garage sale. Unfortunately, this isn’t easy because we don’t have a front yard (we live in a townhouse). Some friends have mentioned doing a group yard sale at one person’s house, which may or may not happen.
    3. Give them to or swap toys with a friend. I’ve tried this but can’t find any willing takers. I suppose some friends might want one or two pieces, but it would take way more time and energy than I have to dole the toys out a few at a time. One alternative I’ll consider is hosting a swap party, though again, I’m not sure where I’ll find the time and energy for that.
    4. Sell them on eBay. I just don’t think the return will be worth it.
    5. Take them to a consignment store. Unfortunately, I’m pretty confident only a few of the toys in the bag would be consignment-worthy. There are a lot of small toys in there, like rattles, links, and such.
    6. List them on a site like Freecycle or Craigslist. I’ve never used these sites, and I’ve heard both good and bad things, so I’m hesitant.

    I’d love to hear more suggestions, so if you have any, please leave a comment or send me an email at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com.