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  • Save Money by Keeping a Gift Wrap Center

    I’ve mentioned the gift box before – it’s a stash of gifts bought on sale for when you need to give a gift. But being out with a friend who bought not just a birthday gift but also a gift bag and tissue paper reminded me of the corollary: The Gift Wrap Center.

    My gift wrap “center” is actually a bunch of containers in a closet. There’s a tall plastic bin for rolls of wrapping paper, a bag stuffed with gift bags, and boxes of ribbon. I also keep some cards on hand – inexpensive all-occasion and blank cards. Back in my pre-motherhood days, I also kept some handmade cards around but I don’t have time for that anymore.

    The paper, bags, ribbon and cards are items I’ve collected over the years, and which I’m constantly collecting. I buy wrapping paper when it’s on clearance after the winter holidays – there are always a few patterns and solid colors that can be used year round. The same goes for ribbon and tissue paper.

    I’m also a big believer in reusing gift bags. They’re expensive for what they are, and it’s rough on the environment to discard them after just one use, or even a few uses. So whenever we receive a gift and the bag is in good shape, it goes into the closet for when I need to give a gift.

    My gift wrap center reduces stress, because I’m never scrambling to find wrapping paper or a gift bag. And it also saves me money, because I never have to over spend on last-minute supplies.

    Ways to Make & Save Money Update: The Proof is in the Pudding – Er, I mean the Winnings

    Every Monday, I share a way to make and/or save money, as I strive to achieve my New Year’s Resolution of banking a large sum of money by year’s end. You can read the rest of the series here.

    Today, I want to follow up on Ways to Make & Save Money #10: Enter Blog Giveaways and Sweepstakes. Shortly after I published that post, I won a $25 Visa gift card by playing Huggies Enjoy the Ride Rewards. And then a few days later, I won a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card.

    Not long after that, A Thrifty Mom wrote that her husband won a cruise (!) from JetBlue. I was particularly struck by her reaction to her brother’s comment that she always seems to win:

    HELLO you have to enter, yes MOST the time we do not win….but sometimes we do!!!

    It’s so true. I usually don’t win, but sometimes I do. As I mentioned in my original post, I don’t drive myself crazy over it, but it’s a more productive way of spending my time than just sitting around, and most contests take just a couple of minutes to enter.

    One thing to keep in mind: I never pay to enter anything. That means I never play the lottery, gamble, etc. There’s no risk to what I’m doing, so it doesn’t matter if the odds are long. (Note: I am careful to only enter contests and giveaways that seem legitimate and don’t ask for more information than necessary. There’s no sense in taking unnecessary risks with my privacy and identity.)

    Have you ever won anything?

    Ways to Make & Save Money #12: MySurvey

    Updated May 19, 2011

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    I’ve been a member of for a while now and I definitely recommend them as reputable and reliable. They seem to work mostly with major manufacturers and service providers, and I’ve received a couple of full-size products to test. They were the type of products I use anyway, so it was like getting something for free that I would have had to buy otherwise.

    That’s pretty rare, but I do find myself filling out surveys for them a few times a week. Most of the surveys are qualifiers, which ask some basic questions about me to see if I qualify for a survey. I must not be a desirable demographic, because I don’t get many actual product surveys. However, given how often they ask me about diapers, they seem to need more mothers of children who wear disposable diapers and training pants.

    What I like most about MySurvey is how legitimate they appear to be, and how reliable they are about payments. Their privacy policy is easy to find, and includes a promise to never sell members’ personal information.

    You earn points for each survey, and can redeem the points for prizes or cash payments. You need 1,100 points to request a $10 check, or 2,200 points for a $20 check or Paypal deposit. I’ve never had a problem with receiving payment from MySurvey.

    The qualifier surveys give you 5 to 10 points, depending on length. Longer, product-specific surveys give you more points and depend upon the length of the survey. Without referral points, it does take a while to accumulate enough points for a payout, but I do suspect that I’m in a demographic that just doesn’t get a lot of surveys and that others accumulate points a lot faster. On the rare occasion that my points didn’t get credited properly, a quick email via their online contact form has gotten the problem resolved within a couple of days.

    MySurvey emails you to let you know that there’s a new survey available so you don’t have to log in every day. As with all legitimate survey companies, MySurvey won’t make you rich, but it’s an easy and simple way to make a few extra bucks.

    Disclosure: The link to MySurvey is an affiliate link that benefits CFO at no cost to you. Thank you if you join(ed) MySurvey through it! You can read the full CFO disclosure here.

    Ways to Make & Save Money: Grocery shop with coupons

    Every Monday, I share a way to make and/or save money, as I strive to achieve my New Year’s Resolution of banking a large sum of money by year’s end. You can read the rest of the series here.

    This tip will seem overly obvious to regular readers, but it’s a big one and worth repeating. Last year at this time, I was still doing the vast majority of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. It was a routine that I began during the 2003 grocery worker’s strike, when I discovered that I love Trader Joe’s. It’s like they were made for me, with their large stock of organic and hormone/antibiotic-free products. Their everyday prices are far and away better than mainstream markets like Ralphs and Vons.


    There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

    I discovered the joy of massive coupon use in 2008 when I began playing The Drugstore Game. Last spring, I discovered the joy of carrying over the coupon use to markets like Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions. It really hit home in April, when Vons and Pavilions (which are part of the Safeway family of stores) had their Living Well promotion. When you bought $30 worth of qualifying products, you got a $10 Catalina coupon to use on your next order. And the deal rolled, so that you could pay with the $10 Catalina and get another $10 Catalina if you bought $30 of qualifying products. The promotion went on for several weeks, and I made multiple trips to the store each week because I was getting napkins for 33 cents per package (which was way below my target price), garbage bags for my target price of 6.6 cents per bag, and Huggies wipes refills for $3.

    The Living Well promotion opened my eyes to the great deals to be had at the major markets. Since then, I’ve regularly shopped at Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions, and increasingly bought more of my groceries there. And I’ve discovered that sometimes I can get cheaper prices at the major markets than elsewhere.

    For instance, sometime this past fall, Vons lowered the price on their store brand gallons of organic milk to $5.49. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that I was paying 50 cents more at Trader Joe’s, but needless to say, I started buying my weekly two gallons at Vons or Pavilions. But half-gallons are 10 cents cheaper at Trader Joe’s ($3.29 vs. $3.39). Of course, you have to keep an eye on the prices, because Vons raised the price to $5.99 a couple of months ago, but right now they’re on sale through the beginning of April for $5.49 again.

    Another example is Challenge butter – last year, I discovered that it’s RBST-free, just like the butter I’d been buying at Trader Joe’s. And by combining sales and coupons, I’ve been able to buy Challenge butter for less than I would have paid at Trader Joe’s.

    It’s these kinds of discoveries that I want to keep my eyes open for in 2010 to maximize our grocery dollars. Right now, we spend about 40% less than we did a year ago. I won’t compromise the quality of food we eat, but I’m convinced that with some astute grocery shopping and meal planning, I can reduce that number to 50% or more.

    Ways To Make & Save Money #11: Communicate With Your Family

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    I totally believe it when I hear that financial issues can cause huge problems in family relationships because I know firsthand how important money is. One thing that helps our family tremendously is good communication about finances and goals.

    Right now, it’s just Marc and me who make most of the decisions. We are really on the same page when it comes to our financial goals, and we agree on living frugally, limiting spending, and saving as much as possible. Plus, I appreciate how supportive he is of all the work I do to keep our grocery and household spending down – most weeks, he takes the boys to swim class alone so I can go grocery shopping by myself. (It’s funny how easy it is to hit five or six stores if I’m alone and how hard it is to do more than two if I’ve got the kids.) In turn, he appreciates how hard I work at saving us money while maintaining our lifestyle.

    Even though our kids are young, we take advantage of opportunities to talk with them about money. Just yesterday, the boys asked for Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, which I haven’t bought recently because I haven’t been able to find it for 50 cents or less (note: that’s my target price on cereal). Of course, there’s a ton of cereal in the house, and other breakfast foods too, but not that specific variety.

    I sat down and explained that we don’t have any Cinnamon Toast Crunch right now because I haven’t found any good sales. But I got an adorable plea to “Please, can you buy it anyway?” So I responded, “Sure, I can buy expensive cereal, but I won’t be able to buy you toys. Would you rather have a new toy or Cinnamon Toast Crunch?”

    I could almost see the computations in their head as they processed the question. And then came the answer: “A new toy.” Alex said it first, but Tyler said it too, and in a way that made it clear he wasn’t just parroting his older brother.

    Here’s another example of why communication is important: I buy lots of things, but if Marc can’t find them when he needs them, he’s liable to go out and buy more stuff at a much higher price (and with good reason!). So we have designated places in the house for our stockpile – toiletries are in a closet, separated by category; paper goods are in a hall closet, although I recently stockpiled so much that there’s also a tower on the landing of the stairs; light bulbs are in the garage, etc. I also let him know what food is in the fridge/freezer/pantry, because he’s so polite and cautious about not eating anything that I might have plans for.

    Of course, we talk about the big picture too – a lot. While we don’t plan regular meetings to discuss our family finances, I keep him in the loop on how we’re doing on spending, saving and any changes I think we should be making. On the rare occasion that we don’t see exactly eye-to-eye, we compromise.

    The best part of all this communication is that everyone is happy, because we all know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And that gets us to our goals all the faster.