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  • Drugstore Game Padawan Update: Hayden’s been busy!

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    If you’re just tuning in, I’m mentoring Hayden in The Drugstore Game. If you’ve always wanted to play but weren’t sure how to get started, follow along with Hayden as he becomes a Drugstore Game Master. You can read all of the posts in this series here, in reverse chronological order. Please read my Drugstore Game Primer and Common Sense with Money’s FAQ to get an overview of the Drugstore Game and definitions.

    Hayden’s got the week off from school, meaning he can make multiple visits to the stores. He is super excited to have discovered how cheaply he can buy things he used to pay so much more for at Target or Walmart. I remember that feeling – just the other day, I made a comment about how I used to think $1 was a good price for Kleenex at Ralphs (because they’d double the 50 cents/3 coupon). And just look – last week, I got six boxes of Kleenex plus a bunch of other stuff for $5 out of pocket.

    But back to Hayden. He took the scenario I’d suggested, but couldn’t find any Sobe so he bought a Green Tag instead. (Those are the leaf-shaped tags you attach to your reusable bag and have scanned each trip. After four trips, you’ll get a $1 ECB.) Here’s how it went:

    1 Aussie Volume Shampoo $2.99-1.00 coupon from 2/14 RP = 1.99 (get $2 ECBs)
    1 Colgate Total Advance $2.99 – 0.50 coupon from 1/31 SS = 2.49 (get $2 ECBs)
    1 Crest Pro Health Enamel Rinse $3.49 – 2.00 coupon from 2/7 P&G = 1.49 (get $3.50 ECBs)
    1 Green Tag 99 cents

    Used ECBs: $6.00
    Subtotal: $.97
    Received ECBs: $7.50
    Saved: $13.59

    Note: I always find the “savings” total on receipts to be incredibly deceptive, because they take the discount off regular price into account. And even before I started playing The Drugstore Game, I never would have paid a drugstore’s full price for a bottle of shampoo or anything else – so for me, at least, those “savings” aren’t really my savings. However, I must admit that I do get a kick out of seeing the number anyway, especially when it works out to 90%+ savings. πŸ˜€

    Hayden also headed to Walgreens and used his $6 Register Rewards to buy some deodorant:

    Dove Men Degree Deodorant: 2.49/each x 2 with in-ad coupon
    3 3 Musketeers Bars 3/$2

    Used 6.00 RR
    Subtotal: $.98
    CA Tax: $.44
    Paid: $1.42 cash
    Saved $8.87

    He should have gotten a $1 RR for buying the candy bars, but it didn’t print. I would give this store one or two more chances, but if he consistently has problems with getting RR’s, I would recommend he switch to another store.

    Hayden also headed to Rite Aid and transferred a couple of prescriptions. There are $25 gift cards for transferred prescriptions in this week’s Rite Aid circular, and those gift cards will really help offset the out of pocket costs that are always higher at Rite Aid because of the delayed nature of the Single Check Rebate program.

    One thing Hayden and I have discussed in our emails is the thrill of the deal and how it’s hard not to buy something right now just because it’s so much less than he’s used to spending. Here’s a bit of our exchange – the first part is from me:

    One thing I’m sensing is that you’re impatient to get the deals, which I totally understand. It’s addicting and I was shopping like mad when I first started The Drugstore Game too. But I would caution you that patience really pays off and helps you get the best deals. You have to find a balance between buying what you need and stockpiling so that you can get the very best price on everything. For example, I never pay for toothpaste anymore – I only buy it if it’s free or a moneymaker. The same goes for deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, razors, body wash – unless you’re brand loyal, you should never have to pay for these items.

    I would encourage you to start a price book if you don’t have one already. Mine really helps me keep my enthusiasm for sale items in check. Today, for example, I saw All detergent on clearance at Target, so it was tempting to get them but at $3+ after coupon it just wasn’t a great deal because I know my stock-up price is $2 or less per bottle.

    Hayden responded that he keeps all his receipts and can easily put together a price book. I recommended that he read my most recent post about price books, and use NCN’s price book template. He also said:

    I never knew how easy it could be to get everything for free so I’m still okay with paying a bit for it but I’ll try and limit costs even more. I have been brand-loyal with a few things, so right now me and my family are okay with trying new things to limit costs. Me and my dad are pretty flexible with what we use, but my sister and mother are more brand-loyal than were are.

    I’m okay with paying a little bit for things right now to see what other brands I like because even paying a few dollars for something is still saving me money from me being too brand loyal and buying things not on sale.

    Hayden’s perspective is really bringing me back to when I first started playing The Drugstore Game. It’s so counterintuitive that you can get so much for so little, or even free, and you figure you’re saving money anyway. Which you are, compared to what you used to spend.

    As I told Hayden, he needs to do what feels right for him and his family, so if he’s not going to go for the absolute minimum out of pocket, that’s fine. But I’d bet that once he gets used to seeing free toothpaste, razors, shampoo, etc., week after week, he won’t want to pay for it either πŸ™‚

    Ways to Make & Save Money #7: Tax-Deductible Donations

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

    It can be a time-consuming process, but itemizing your tax deductions can save hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of dollars on your tax bill. One thing that can be itemized on your taxes is tax-deductible donations – and that’s especially easy when it comes to donating things like clothes, toys and other items that we simply don’t use anymore.

    As I started thinking about ways to achieve my financial goal this year, I immediately thought of clearing out clutter and cleaning my house. That made me realize that I feel richer when my house is clean and organized. So one huge benefit of my goal is going to be a house that makes me feel wealthy – that’s a worthwhile benefit even if I don’t reach my end goal!

    The two most important things when it comes to saving money with your non-cash charitable donations is to have a place to stash your donations, and to itemize them before you donate them. I’ve designated one corner for donations, so anything that’s getting donated gets placed there. When I have the time and am ready to make a run to Goodwill or Salvation Army, I itemize the various items for my tax records. I’ve previously discussed how I keep track of non-cash charitable donations:

    Works for Me: How I keep track of charitable donations

    and

    Calculating my non-cash charitable contributions

    I’ve tried DeductionTraq and Turbo Tax’s free service It’s Deductible Online, which were recommended by readers as an easier way of tracking donations. I didn’t love either, but I’m going to give It’s Deductible another try this year – maybe I’ve evolved enough that I’ll be more comfortable with it.

    I expect to save a couple of hundred dollars in taxes thanks to our non-cash donations to charity, and I hope our donations find their way to people who really need them!

    Ways to Make and Save Money #6: Use the Snowflake Method

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

    Many people are familiar with the “Debt Snowball,” in which you direct all of your extra money to pay off one debt, then take that monthly payment and add it to another monthly debt payment you make, and so on until all of you debts are paid off. It’s a tremendously effective method, because the cumulative sum of all of the payments adds up quickly.

    One of my favorite bloggers, PaidTwice (who alas, doesn’t post very often these days), came up with the “Debt Snowflake,” in which you collect small sums to apply toward your debt. We’re talking about a quarter you found on the ground, extra income, monetary gifts, etc. The basic premise of the Debt Snowflake is that small amounts of money can add up to big amounts, and therefore every penny counts.

    I’ve often applied the Snowflake Method towards a savings goal – basically, any extra money goes into savings instead of being spent. And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing this year: any extra money will help us meet our savings goal. Again, every penny counts – now more than ever!

    Ways to Make & Save Money #5: MyPoints

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

    MyPoints.comI’ve mentioned MyPoints several times in the last few years (here’s my first review from a year and a half ago). It’s a really easy way to earn free gift cards – simply accumulate points, then redeem them for selected rewards. There are several different ways to earn points:

    Emails – If you agree to receive emails from them, you’ll get several each day. Many of them will be offers for 5 points if you click through, with more points if you take an additional step. Some of the emails will be surveys, which will get you 10 points if you don’t qualify, and quite a few more if you do.

    Print & redeem coupons – MyPoints is a portal for Coupons.com, SmartSource and Coupon Network, so you can earn points if you print coupons through MyPoints and then redeem them in-store.

    Toolbar searches – If you download the MyPoints toolbar and use it to search, you’ll earn points.

    Easy Points – These are offers that you can sign up for (I believe they’re usually, if not always, free). I’ve always stayed away from them because they often ask more information than I’m willing to give out and I am ultra-cautious about online offers. (I’d always rather forego a few bucks than risk someone stealing my identity.)

    BzzAgent – BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth marketing company that uses its members to spread the word about certain products. You can earn MyPoints through BzzAgent for doing certain things, such as submitting Bzz Reports (which is an explanation of how you spread the word about a campaign you joined).

    Shopping – You can earn lots of points by shopping through MyPoints, but my personal preference has always been to go through a portal like Ebates or Mr. Rebates.

    One word of caution – some people have had negative experiences with MyPoints, as reflected in the comments to my original review. However, my own experience has been quite positive. You definitely won’t get rich with MyPoints, but it takes me about 5 to 10 minutes a week to got through their emails, and I print SmartSource and Coupon Network coupons through their site. And you know I print a good number of coupons every week πŸ™‚ (I print Coupons.com coupons through Swagbucks.)

    I earn $50 to $100 worth of gift cards each year just by clicking through emails, redeeming coupons, and receiving occasional points from BzzAgent, so that’s a worthwhile payoff to me for less than 10 minutes of my time per week.

    MyPoints

    Disclosure: Banners via MySavings.com.

    Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and/or referral links, and may refer to items that were sent to me for review. However, all opinions are my own. You can read Chief Family Officer’s full disclaimer and disclosure policy here.

    Ways to Make & Save Money #4: Cook More & Eat In

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

    Unless you already eat in every meal, the easiest and biggest savings in your monthly budget will probably come from food. When you eat out, you pay a huge markup for the convenience of having someone else buy, prep and cook the food for you.

    Sometimes, that’s okay. When the boys were younger and the before-dinner hour was a nightmare, we made a conscious decision to spend more on food to save our sanity. We also spent a lot of money on takeout and fast food during last year’s hospital crisis.

    But most of the time, it’s best for your wallet and your health to eat in. It’s just not that easy to do – and especially, to maintain.

    The two keys to eating in consistently are menu planning and cooking ahead.

    Even if you never shopped a sale and didn’t use coupons, your bank account would be better off if you planned your meals and had a few extra meals in the freezer. Add in sales and coupons, and you can save a ton of money. I’ve discussed saving money and other benefits of menu planning here.

    I wrote a beginner’s guide to menu planning that’s a few years old but still applies. I’ve been planning my menus weekly, because my attempt at planning monthly menus hasn’t gone well.

    I do have some things I keep in mind as I plan my menu:

    Variety. We get sick of eating the same foods pretty quickly, so variety is key. I’m very lucky that my husband is quite tolerant of experiments, and very understanding when they don’t come out great. I have a huge stack of recipes to try, and that helps keep the meals fresh and interesting.

    Time requirements. I am very careful to plan meals that don’t take a lot of time or that can be done mostly ahead of time. I try to get dinner on the table within an hour of walking in the door after I get home from work, and that hour includes changing my clothes, checking my personal email, and so on.

    Use what I have. I’m trying to make the switch to buying only sale items, plus perishables, each week, and basing my meals on what I’ve already got on hand. Some bloggers who do this extremely well are A Thrifty Mom and Money Saving Mom.

    Make extra. Even as I use up what’s on hand, I try to fill up the space in my freezer with ready-to-go meals, like baked pasta and meatloaf. Being able to pull a couple of meals out of the freezer each week makes my meal planning that much easier.

    Leftovers. On weeknights, I try to plan for leftovers so that we can brown bag our lunches. If you figure lunch costs at least $5 per meal, the savings really add up!

    Ways to Make & Save Money #3: Paying Ourselves First

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

    Pay yourself first.

    It’s a favorite saying of personal finance advisors and bloggers alike, and for good reason. Paying yourself first is the single best way to build up your savings.

    What it really means: The first thing it means is that you have to have some kind of budget so that you know how much you can afford to put into savings in a given time period. If you bring in $2,000 a month and spend $1,800 but budget $500 for savings, you’ll end up discouraged because you’ll never be able to reach your goal.

    The second thing it means is that once you set a realistic amount to set aside, you put it into savings before you have a chance to spend it. In the example above, a realistic amount would be $200. That $200 should go into savings as soon as it’s received – that’s paying yourself first.

    I have to admit that I’ve gotten away from a regular monthly budget the last few years. I know that we spend well below our income, and I’ve had a rough idea of how much could go into savings. But this year I sat down with Quicken and created an up-to-date budget that gives me a clearer picture of our monthly spending. This is especially important because we’re starting to incur more child-related expenses as the boys get more involved in more activities, like soccer and T-ball and karate.

    It only took me an hour or so to create our new budget, since I have a good grasp of our expenses and didn’t have to look up too many numbers. It was simply a matter of inputting the data to get a look at the whole picture. And now I know where I have room to cut back, and how much room there is, and how much I can put into savings each month to start.

    Approximately 30% of our savings goal will come from automated savings. So unless something costly happens this year, we’re guaranteed that much success. The rest of the savings will have to come from the other methods I’ve been discussing, and will continue to discuss in the coming weeks.