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  • 2x Tuesday: Save money and stress by using these tips when you call customer service


    This post was originally published in 2007, but I still use these tips today. They’ve stood me in good stead throughout the years, and should serve you well too!

    Save Money & Stress When Calling Customer Service - chieffamilyofficer.com

    I hate calling customer service. But I do it anyway, because I hate not saving money even more. In fact, I’ve been doing it for years, and I’ve saved thousands of dollars because of it. Keeping the end in mind helps me pick up the phone. So do these tips:

    • Always have the necessary information in front of you. This includes the bill you’re calling to question, your account number, product info, or anything else the CSR may ask for.
    • Always take notes. I usually write directly on the bill or relevant paper if there is one. If there isn’t, I write on a blank piece of paper and store it with the relevant records. You could use a notebook, or keep a file on your computer, tablet or phone. Do whatever works for you – just make sure you write down the date, the name of the CSR, and the important details of your conversation. It’s okay to ask the CSR to speak more slowly or hold on a moment because you’re writing things down (in fact, they may provide better service because they know you’re documenting the call).
    • Make sure you can find the paper you wrote on when you follow up. This actually goes along with tip #1. If you have to make a follow up call, it’s best to have your notes from the previous call in front of you. That way you can start off by saying, “On September 6, I spoke to Mary, who said that I would save money by switching phone plans.” This makes it clear to the CSR that you’re on the ball, and it’ll be easy to answer questions about what you were told the last time you called.
    • Be polite. I’ve had the best results when I’ve stayed calm and polite, even if at the same time, I’m stomping my feet because I’m so frustrated. It helps to call when you’re in a relatively good mood and not pressed for time. Which leads into the next tip . . .
    • Do something else that’s interrupt-able when you call. I hate being on hold, so I make sure that I’m doing something else that can be easily interrupted when I call. This can include going through posts on Google Reader, writing thank-you notes, or simply flipping through a magazine.
    • If you do snap, apologize. I’ve done this when my frustration has gotten the best of me. I say something like, “I’m very sorry for my harsh tone. This is very frustrating and I’d really like to get this resolved.” If appropriate, I mention the prior, ineffective calls that I made. This is also a good time to ask to speak to a supervisor.

    Follow these tips and calling customer service will be a little less painful.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Free Online Resources I Use {Almost} Every Day


    Free Online Resources - chieffamilyofficer.com

    There are some free online resources that I use every day, or almost every day. And since they’re so fabulous, I thought I should make sure that you know about them too:

    Gmail – You probably already know about Gmail, but in case you don’t, it’s a free email service from Google. And yes, there are privacy concerns {for example, they show ads targeted according yo your email content}. But it works really well, it’s FREE, and you get a ton of storage. And yet, I still have at least one friend who won’t get an email account … I don’t get it!

    Google Drive – Formerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is like an online office suite where you can create and edit various types of documents. I especially like to use it for sharing documents with others, since you don’t have to deal with attachments – simply click on the “share” button, enter the other person’s email, and let them know the document has been shared with them. Google Drive also has templates like calendars that can be very useful. Finding them is not intuitive, but you can find instructions here.

    Google Calendar – I find Google Calendar to be the easiest way to keep track of all the different things going on in my life, although it can be glitch-y {I’ve been having lots of trouble lately with not getting email reminders}. I love the color-coded calendars, which allow you to assign everyone in your family a different color. It syncs with the calendar on my iPhone so I only have to enter the info once. And I recently discovered the interesting calendars feature, which allowed me to add all major U.S. holidays and important days {like when daylight savings starts}.

    Free Digital Photos – Free Digital Photos is a stock photo web site that allows images to be used for free, so long as you include an image credit according to their terms of service. {You do to have to pay if you want to use a larger size image.} Although visuals have always been important to web sites, thanks to Pinterest, they’ve been become even more important. And I really appreciate FDP as a resource for images I can use and edit for free.

    PicMonkey – Speaking of editing images, I use PicMonkey when the editor in Picasa and Paint can’t get the job done. They have free and paid versions, and I find the free version is adequate for my needs.

    Evreward – This is a great site that helps you see what cash-back site is offering the highest return. I use it whenever I’m about to make an online purchase. Just note that it doesn’t include all sites, like Swagbucks.

    Swagbucks – I mention Swagbucks all the time, but I have to mention it here too, because you can earn totally FREE gift cards just by using their search function, playing games, watching videos, and more. Learn more about Swagbucks here.

    Bing – I recently started using Bing as a secondary search engine, once I’ve had one or two search wins at Swagbucks. You can get a $3 Amazon gift card for 330 Bing credits, or even get 500 Swag Bucks for 525 Bing credits. It seems to take a lot longer to earn Bing credits, but I see it as a back up to Swagbucks since it too is totally free.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles.

    Simplifying My Menu Planning


    Simpler Menu Planning - chieffamilyofficer.com

    The benefits of menu planning are undeniable: You save money by not eating out or picking up take-out. You also save money buying only mostly what you need, and not buying food that just goes to waste. You can even save money by having leftovers for lunch the next day. And you tend to eat healthier, since you control the ingredients.

    However, as I’ve mentioned a few times now in my Menu Plan Monday posts, I’ve been looking to simplify my monthly menu planning. When I first started planning weekly menus, a monthly plan felt so overwhelming. But Gina, Camille, and others encouraged me to try it, so a couple of years ago, I finally did.

    I’ve been amazed at how much easier it is to plan a weekly menu when the monthly menu is already done. And I’m much more likely to plan a weekly menu if I’ve already done a monthly one. Oddly enough, even when I don’t follow my menu plan, I’m still more likely to make dinner at home than when I don’t have a menu plan at all. But at the end of each month, I dreaded sitting down to make the next month’s meal plan.

    Wendy suggested that each month, I start with a list of meals that I make regularly, and then fill in some of the days with other meals. I thought that was brilliant, so I promptly created a list of 30 favorite meals, which I referred to last week when I was drawing up my menu plan for March. I still needed my calendar of family events – in particular, the boys’ sports schedule, which once again includes weeknight games, in addition to weeknight practices, weekend practices, and weekend games. My menu plan has to be carefully constructed to take into account nights when food has to be ready the moment we walk in the door, or even taken to the field. {Admittedly, sometimes I just throw my hands up in the air and go with fast food or take-out. But it happens far less often when I have a menu plan than when I don’t.}

    You can see my monthly list of meals here {pdf}. Most of the meals have links to recipes, so you can try them yourself. And feel free to send me your list of favorite meals – I’m always on the lookout for new family favorites, especially ones that the kids will enjoy, and I’ll share them with other readers so we can all menu plan more easily.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Witthaya Phonsawat.

    Simplifying by NOT Buying Ahead


    Simplify by Not Buying Ahead - chieffamilyofficer.com

    For years now, I’ve prided myself on my ability to save money by buying ahead. I’ve stocked up on laundry detergent, toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, juice boxes, cereal, crackers, and my kids’ clothes.

    But as I walked through Target the other day, I found myself reluctantly perusing the clearance rack in the boys’ section. And I realized that my reluctance stemmed from not wanting to buy something just to stick it in the closet for a few months or even a year.

    As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve discovered that a clutter-free house is easy to clean – and that has made me averse to bringing things into the house, especially if they’re not consumable but sometimes even when they are.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a bargain hunter, and I’m still stocking up. But only on those things I am absolutely confident we will use up – things like toilet paper, facial tissue, and OxiClean, and only enough for a few months at most. I’ve been passing on deals on things I’m not completely 100% positive we’ll use up – things like cereal, mouthwash, and even toys.

    I’ve also been making an effort to use up what we have, and to get rid of things we don’t need or won’t use. I think my house feels better without all these extra things in it. And I know I feel better having less clutter around!

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by sumetho.

    5 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Reusable Bags {Thrifty Thursday}


    Ways to Get Free or Cheap Reusable Bags - chieffamilyofficer.com

    As I mentioned earlier this month, Los Angeles has banned shopping plastic bags, and we now have to bring our own reusable bags or buy bags at checkout. That means we need more reusable bags than ever, so here are some tips on getting free or cheap bags:

    1. Take advantage of free bag offers. Stores occasionally offer a free reusable bag to get you into the store. For example, Staples regularly offers a coupon for a free reusable bag plus 20% off everything you can fit in it. Stores like the Disney Store offer a free reusable bag every Earth Day, on April 22.

    2. Take advantage of free-with-purchase offers. Through today (1/15), Vons/Pavilions is offering a free reusable bag with a $25 purchase, 2 free bags with a $50 purchase, and 3 free bags with a $75 purchase (there was a coupon for the offer taped to the register at my store). Ralphs has given me a free wine carrier with the purchase of six bottles, though that was a while ago and I don’t know if that’s standard practice. I’ve also heard about other stores offering free-with-purchase reusable bags to ease their customers into the plastic bag ban.

    3. Reuse paper and plastic bags you already have. You probably still have some paper and plastic bags from purchases you made last year. If you’re not using them for anything else, they can be reused as shopping bags for as long as they last.

    4. Reuse gift bags. Some gift bags are very sturdy, and can be reused multiple times. As long as you don’t get them wet or make them too heavy, they should last for a while. And if you’re really lucky, someone will give you a gift in a reusable bag (I like to do this, and recipients like teachers love it!).

    5. Look for 99-cent reusable bags. I think every store I shop at sells select reusable bags for $0.99. They are usually branded with the store name, and tend toward the ugly, but they certainly serve their purpose and the price is definitely right.

    This post will be linked to Thrifty Thursday at Living Well, Spending Less.

    Affiliate banner via Escalate Media Network

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by kraifreedom.

    5 Ways to Remember Your Reusable Bags


    Ways to Remember Your Reusable Bags - chieffamilyofficer.com

    Locals, have you noticed? Los Angeles banned plastic bags in stores effective January 1. We customers now have to bring our own bags or buy bags in store.

    I have to admit, I’m a little sad because I’m a huge bag re-user. Plastic bags get used in the kitchen to collect waste on the countertop – it’s more efficient than constantly walking over to the trash can, and it’s also nice to have a double barrier of plastic on anything wet. Plastic bags also get used to collect muddy cleats after games, and so on. Paper bags get used to give stuff away all the time – whether to a friend, or donate to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, etc. I’m going to miss those free bags!

    But, I understand the motivation behind the plastic bag ban, and we already have more reusable bags than one family needs. The trick is remembering to bring the bags into the store. So here are some tips to make that happen:

    1. Keep bags in your car. Unless you usually bike to the store, in which case you should bundle up the bags and keep them in your basket. To help remember to put the bags back in the car, get in the habit of leaving them by the door once they’re empty, so you seen them on your way out.

    2. Keep extra bags in the car. You will, inevitably, forget to take the bags back to the car. So have enough bags that you always have a couple of extra bags in the car, even after your biggest regular shopping trip.

    3. Put some bags in your coupon bag or purse. Some reusable bags come with a nifty feature that allows them to become super compact. I have one that folds up and zips into a tidy little square, and a couple with a built-in strap and snap {similar to what’s on a folding umbrella}. These types of bags are great for keeping in your purse, for those occasions when you forget to take a bag out of the trunk, although they won’t be enough for a big shopping trip. And they won’t really help someone who doesn’t carry a bag while shopping, unless you get in the habit of keeping one in your pocket!

    4. Leave your cart near the registers or at customer service. If you realize while shopping that you forgot your bags in the car, just ask a cashier or someone at the customer service desk to keep an eye on your cart while you run out to the car for your bags.

    5. Have everything put in your cart, then fill your bags at the car. If you don’t realize you’ve forgotten your bags until you’re already being rung up, ask the clerk to put all of your unbagged items into the cart. You can fill your bags when you get to your car, and then return the cart as usual. Or, if you don’t mind leaving the register while your items are being rung up, make a quick run out to your car as soon as you realize you forgot your bags. {But many couponers like to keep an eagle eye on the register, so the first alternative gives you that option.}

    How do you remember your reusable bags?

    Affiliate banner via Escalate Media Network

    Image via FreeDigitalPhotos.net by kraifreedom.