Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saving Money Series: All of the Other Shopping

Alright, let's be real.  Not all of your shopping is done in the grocery store out of your grocery budget.  In fact, although grocery couponing and the thrill of it has made my grocery shopping much more enjoyable, these aren't my favorite deals to get.  No, the deals I really enjoy are those I get in other kinds of stores or online.  Some of my favorites:  Old Navy, Kohls, Macy's (occasionally), Target, Amazon, The Children's Place (especially recently), and deal site deals.  This list is by no means all inclusive.  I've found you can't be store loyal (or picky) to get good deals on all of the other 'life essentials', and sometimes it means checking out stores you didn't even know about or stores you didn't think you'd like.

So what are the tips here?  Well, if you're looking to buy in the store:

  • Watch clearances and sales like a hawk.  I follow a whole list of blogs (listed to the left), that often clue me in on when chain stores are getting ready to clearance their items.  The more you follow, the more you know ahead of time when you should wait and when you should buy.  For example, this time of year, winter clothes are on major clearance as stores are clearing out their winter attire to make room for spring! (Make sure you also check for the 'extra' clearance sales too!  Old Navy often has 50% off already reduced clearance prices.  My last Old Navy trip ran during one of these sales and I literally spent around $17 for 11 kid items!  One of which was a winter coat for Ansley for next year!  I don't know that you could do that well at a yard sale!) (EDIT:  I actually went back yesterday, and with their current 30% off sale, I got Ansley's Christmas pajamas - a family tradition - and two long sleeved shirts for Bryton next year for $6.)
  • That brings me to my next point.  Plan ahead!  I start buying for next year's Christmas in January.  I do try to buy things people want and things I think they would enjoy.  This year I even made myself a spreadsheet of all of the birthdays, special events, holidays, etc in each month, and left spots so I could record each purchase I make and how much I spent.  This allows me to know ahead of time what I have so I don't forget about things and over-shop.  This mindset also works with clothing.  I buy most of our kids' clothing in the off season, leaving me very little I have to buy when the time actually comes around.  
  • Collect paper coupons out of magazines, newspaper inserts, and print them online.  Take these coupons with you when you shop to maximize your savings!  Think more bang for your buck!
  • Think coupons for restaurants!  Seriously! We love eating at Steak n Shake on weekends when kids eat free and we can both use coupons for our meal.  It's nothing for us all 3 to eat and leave paying around $10 for a sit down eating experience.  It makes our misc. envelope last much longer!  

  • Think coupon codes!  If you order from places once, chances are you'll be getting those coupon codes in your email soon.  Another place to find them?  You can google search to see if any codes are available at the time, or you can visit sites such as Retail Me Not where you can search by store for active coupon codes.   Many stores allow you to use more than one coupon code during check out, especially if one is for a percentage off and one is for free shipping!  It doesn't hurt to try! 
  • Shop through places like Ebates (get $5 cash just for signing up!) or Shop at Home and earn percentages back on your purchases all over the web! You can stack this with coupon codes so it makes your purchases that much cheaper!  
  • Daily Deal sites are your friend!  I'm a firm believer in sites such as Groupon because you can score such great deals (and not only from your selected city!).  I've purchased 5 groupons recently, one for a Build a Bear purchase (that was ultimately free because I had a $10 credit, and got us 2 free bears after the cost of the groupon!), a movie ticket purchase (that required some customer service support from groupon because the company who sponsored the groupon went under... and groupon's customer service is outstanding), I bought two different groupons ($20 total), which basically got us all our halloween costumes for free (after the cost of the groupon), and I recently bought, from another deal site, a $20 amazon gift card for $10!  It seems like there are always national photo deals to be had as well!  Very much worth looking into! (Plus there are a ton of other daily deal sites you may hear me mention on this very blog!  Eversave is mentioned at the bottom of this blog!)
  • Swagbucks.  If I've said it once I've said it 1000 times.  You get free money with swagbucks through gift cards.  It takes seconds of your day.  You won't get rich, but it'll cover the cost of those splurge items, or for us, Christmas gifts and diapers :)  Click on the link on the left to go sign up.  Just use swagbucks as your search engine and start earning bucks.  450 swagbucks earns you one $5 Amazon gift card (which stores in your amazon account.)
  • Pair coupon codes with special sales.  For example, I recently purchased from The Children's Place online because they had a 60% off Monster sale going on, free shipping, and I had coupon codes.  When I stacked those I got amazing deals.  In fact, I got B a sweater, a sweatshirt, and a flannel shirt for the fall for $14 shipped to my door.  You can't beat that.  
So don't just coupon in your grocery store.  Make sure you spread your savings around all the other places you shop as well!  

ADDED:  If you have never joined Eversave, today is the day.  Find the link on my facebook page to go straight to today's save (and sign up if you need to), as Parenting Magazine is for sale at $5 for a two year subscription.  These can be bought as gifts (think cheap baby shower gift!) or can be bought for yourself!  The greatest part, if you are a new eversave user you can receive $2 in credit making the cost only $3 for a two year subscription!  AND - these magazines have been responsible for several of the amazon coupon codes for diapers that are stackable with the subscribe and save offers!  You can't beat that!  These are exactly the deals I'm talking about! 


Friday, January 28, 2011

Saving Money Series: The Couponing Blog

Whew, where to begin?  First of all, when I started couponing I was doubly overwhelmed.  I was trying to stack coupons with sales, I hadn't been at it long, and I was finding that I was purchasing items that were not necessarily things in our house that we ate much of, and that it wasn't really getting me anywhere.  (That's why I posted yesterday's blog first!   Those tips revolutionized my couponing!)

As time progressed I became better at stacking sales and coupons (use coupons for the items that are in the sale bill for ultimate savings.  For those of you around here, Kroger Mega-Events are great for that!)  I was even able to make meals out of the things I was purchasing (for very very little out of pocket) and it was encouraging me to find and try new recipes as well.  (That I looked up before I purchased an item, so it didn't just sit in my freezer or pantry forever and get tossed after the expiration date.)

So, the best way I can think to even tackle this blog is by answering questions that I've been asked frequently, but before I do that I want to mention this.  I got really caught up in the beginning of my couponing on 'percentages saved'.  Kroger makes it really easy because you can look at the bottom of your receipt and see the actual percentage that you saved on your shopping trip.  Please don't misunderstand me, it's an awesome feeling to see anything 75% or higher  on that percentage line, and it's not necessarily bad either!  For me though, that meant I would buy very little, if anything, that wasn't on sale and I didn't have a coupon for.  (Right now you're saying, this is a coupon blog, isn't that what you are supposed to do?)  Well, kind of.  By purchasing only things that were on sale that I had a coupon for, I was missing out on key staple foods like fresh fruits, veggies, and meats.  (Things that Bryton loves.)  When I did start finally purchasing these foods, I did them at a different time of the week so that the $3.00 I'd spent on grapes didn't effect my bottom line.  Pathetic, I know.  The extra trips to the grocery store are of course detrimental... so I started limiting myself (on most weeks) to once a week, and doing all of my shopping during one trip that week.  Afterall, my goal is to see my family fed and fed well for $100 every two weeks, not to see that I've saved 95% on a grocery transaction.  (Which I do still pull off occasionally, on the smaller trips. :)  I thrive for 60% savings or higher on each grocery trip, allowing myself $10 a week on fresh fruit alone.  50% is fairly easy now, and sometimes I do better.  Hope that helps. 
So - that being said... don't fall into the trap of purchasing things you won't use or need.  If I 'purchase' things I don't need (for donation etc.) I make sure I'm spending pennies out of pocket or getting the item free.  Okay, now to questions :)

1.)  Where do you get your coupons?
       Everywhere.  :)  I get coupons online ( is my favorite, but I also get coupons a lot of times from a brands website.)  I get coupons from the Sunday newspaper.  (You can even check online to see what will be in the paper before it even comes out!)  I get coupons from magazines.  (I'm an All You subscriber specifically for the coupons that comes in it.  The coupon savings total is always over $70 per issue.  A subscription may run you about $20 for the year.)  Shopping at Kroger I get tons of Kroger coupons in the mail... and they are usually pretty high value.  Also, another coupon, called catalinas, are the coupons your register spits out at you when you check out!  Keep those!  You never know when they may come in handy!  And a favorite, add them to your shopper card either by visiting Kroger's website, visiting Cellfire and Shortcuts.  Electronic coupons added to your shopper card can be stacked with manufacturer coupons when checking out!  Double savings!  (Speaking of manufacturer coupons, they are also stackable with store coupons.  This comes in very handy at Walgreens and Target.  What does that mean?  It means you can use a Walgreens coupon and a manufacturer coupon for the same product!  Very handy information!)

2.)  How do you store your coupons?
     This is another personal preference.  When I started couponing I used a small coupon organizer.  About two months in I was so overwhelmed with the number of coupons I had and the fact that I couldn't see all of them when I was in the store (for those unadvertised deals), that I knew I had to figure out something else.  So, now if you see me in the store, you'll probably see me with a binder.  Yep, a 3 ring binder that I've put baseball card sleeves in, so I can turn the page and see the face of every coupon I have possession of.  It helps me keep the old cleaned out, the about ready to expire in mind, and since I order things in the binder in order of the way I walk through the store, it's easy for me to find that 'certain coupon' when I see something is on clearance unannounced, etc.  Some people may think it's cheesy, but it works for me :)  Remember, you have to do what works for you!

3.)  Why when people coupon do they end up with so many of the same item in a shopping trip?
      I wondered the same thing when I was starting off.  The answer is really pretty easy.  If you are going for maximum savings you are stacking sales with coupons you have on hand.  (And some people have a lot of coupons on hand.)  So, when you go to the store and Rotel Tomatoes are on sale for .50 each and you have several $1 off 3 coupons, you can really get each can of Rotel for around .17 a piece.  I'd call that a stock up price.  If you have say 4 of those coupons, then it makes sense for you to stockpile (because they last so long) and buy 12 cans of Rotel.  In essence, those 12 cans of Rotel are really only costing you about $2.  When you do this with a lot of different sale items, you find that your shopping cart looks like you really like Texas Toast, Rotel and cereal :)  But this is how you stock up for later.

4.)  Explain stacking, and how can I do that more easily?
      I use the word stacking interchangeably for two things.  One is stacking a manufacturer and a store or electronic coupon which is what I mentioned earlier.  The other is stacking sales (that you found in your local sale ad) with coupons you already have on hand.  When I was first starting out, I let someone else do all of the work for me. :) You can visit her here:  Southern Savers.  She is a master-mind and is super organized.  If you click on her Kroger tab it will bring up a list of blogs she's written about Kroger.  Find the blog with the most recent date in the title, click on it, and the sale ad is dissected there in such a way that you can see what the sale item is, the price, and what coupons you may already have or that you can print to get the best bang for your buck!  Makes starting off really, really easy! 

5.)  Tips?
     Know your stores coupon policy.  For example, Kroger doubles coupons .50 and less, as long as the coupon does not state otherwise.  (Many of your printable coupons will say 'do not double or triple' on them.)  If you coupon at Walgreens, you'll need to know about Register Rewards, that can also make many items free + overage (you make money on the item).  The catch?  Register Rewards expire in about 10 days - 2 weeks.  Make sure you're going to be around Walgreens again in a period of time that you can actually take advantage of them!
     Also, get to know the cashiers in your local grocery store.  I always look at who is working when I walk in.  Some are extremely coupon friendly, others are not, and though they may not be able to 'do anything' about your couponing, they can make your checking out experience uncomfortable and unpleasant.  (Luckily, there is only one woman at our Kroger that I dread checking me out... I'll wait in a line 3 times as long to not have to deal with her.)  I've also found Wal-Mart not to be super coupon friendly in the last year, although they are apparently making a shift to a friendlier direction, even adverstising in their sale ads that they will now accept competitor coupons (think Target coupons at Wal-Mart) and will willingly accept internet coupons (which is where I had most of my hangups at Wal-Mart last year.)  We'll see how that plays out this year.
     Be polite and prepared at checkout.  I never want people to see my stack of coupons and not want to get in line behind me.  I also never want to be rude to the person who is checking my items, as that really isn't going to get me anywhere.  If there's a conflict about a coupon, (which happens rarely, but does happen), ask for an explanation and if you still think you're right, ask to talk to a manager.  Kindness goes a long way.  So does knowing what you are talking about!
     Lastly - have some coupon courtesy.  You'll find really quickly after beginning to coupon, that you will often times show up and the shelves be empty of the sale item.  Shows you that you aren't the only one couponing out there!  I'm all about stocking up on those 12 cans of Rotel if there are still several on the shelf, but watching people pile their carts with 25-30 boxes of 2 different cereals, leaving the shelves empty (which I've seen happen before in our very on Kroger) seems to me a little disrespectful to those people trying to get in on the same deal and stretch their budgets as well.  Be courteous and think of others.  If there's ever a time I've had to go back to a store in the same week, it's because there was a deal that we really needed to hit (because of the rotation of sales) and all of the items were gone when I got to them.

Phew.  Now you know why I didn't combine this with the non couponing grocery saving blog!
I'd be happy to take any questions left unanswered!  Leave in the comments below!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

How He Loves Us

One time, not all that long ago, God stripped from me some things that were very important in my life.  A teenager, I felt very alone, had very low self esteem, and to be quite honest, I was a Christian, but was forced to really turn and face God for the first time in my life.  It was the greatest spiritual moment of my life up until that point.  God was working out my salvation within me, and in order to do it He had to allow His daughter to endure pain since I wouldn't come to Him on my own.  It was Him drawing me to Himself, and for that I will ever be thankful.  If it weren't for this specific, lonely time of my life, I would not be remotely who I am today.  In fact, I may have a different life all together.  Thank you, God, for your sovereignty. 

He taught me a lot, and I grew.  As time went on my loneliness began to diminish as God gradually placed friendships, real, genuine, sincere friendships in my life.  My self esteem began to increase on an even slower rate, but it was increasing none-the-less.  Afterall, if the Lord of the Universe could take time out of His schedule to love me, I must be worth loving, right?  For the first time I was able to look in the mirror and see past myself and see into what God wanted for me, how God valued me, how He loved me.

It wasn't long after this that I moved past the lonely state all together.  I was almost nervous about it.  I was able to look back over the past 4 years (since I'd been a Christian) and see how easy it was for me to almost love Jesus.  Almost.  Getting my attention was such a painful, but redemptive, process.  Is this how God was going to have to continue getting my attention?  Is this how He'd continue to show me His love?

Then I began to notice Aaron in a different light.  His love for Jesus astounded me.  I could look at him and think to myself, "I see a lot of qualities in this man that I hope to someday see in my future husband."  It wasn't long after that, and we were dating and seeking God's approval.  (And if you know our story, everyone elses as well.)  When I was 20 years old I married him. 

And marriage was a whirlwind.  I was so in love with my new husband and so in love with this Creator who had authored the entire thing, through my loneliness, my trials, my complacency, my filth.  He had good in store for me!  I just had to heed to His guidance.  I felt so very blessed and unworthy to have a loving Savior and a loving husband.  I knew some would never experience the joy I felt. 

Jesus continued to use my union and commitment with Aaron to display to me how He wanted my commitment to Him to be.  He was showing me the union formed between He and His church.  He was showing me, up front and personally, how to extend grace and receive it, how to show mercy and accept it.  He was showing me the joys and heartaches that come with a relationship indebted in this much commitment.  He was teaching me what it felt like to be in submission, and how it felt to be the recipient of sacrifice, and though I still can't fully understand what Jesus' sacrifice on the cross felt like to God, or can I even understand the weight of the sacrifice from the recipient's end, Aaron teaches me daily what sacrificing, giving up your life for the cause of someone else looks like. 

Jesus was still wooing me, tickling my chin through the winds of marriage to get me to look up at Him, see Him, know Him, love Him.  Marriage is still a mirror in which I can see how He loves us. 

In January of 2008, Aaron and I decided to start trying to have a family.  On Easter Sunday I was able to lie in bed with him and watch his eyes light up as I told him he was going to be a daddy.  We had no idea what we were getting into.  Yet another beautiful hurricane God was leading us into, together.  And in November I was staring into the beautiful blue eyes of a chunky baby boy.  I felt the spiritual wind stirring again.  There was nothing to explain the love I felt for this tiny human laying in my arms.  A child I'd never met, but felt like I'd known for 100 years, and I wondered, is this how God looks at me?  When I really curl up in his lap, look into his eyes, and become fully dependent on Him, fully trusting with the faith of a child... do His eyes well up with tears because this is how He loves us? 

The next few months were the hurricane.  We were tired.  We were exhausted, and we were trying to figure out this tiny child that we just couldn't understand.  Our whole world felt upside down.  Everything changed.  Everything was different.  Even adapting to the new little joys, which by no means were anything like the old little joys, was difficult.  Sometimes the wind blew hard on our marriage, the convictions of places where we both were falling short were like huge waves ready to capsize us.  But God was in the hurricane.  It was yet another moment of God speaking... teaching... loving. 

And the more B grows the more I understand how He loves us.  Everything is metaphorical.  The dependence of Bryton for us to nourish him, love him, and guide him.  The way my heart feels when he crawls up in my lap, or says my name, or tells me he loves me.  Is this how God feels?!  When Bryton asks me to play with him, to spend time with him, is that how God feels when we really seek to spend some time with him?  Watching him succeed, and watching him make good decisions, hurting for him when he hurts, and smiling when he smiles.  Do you think God smiles when we smile?  Do you think He cares?  I bet He does.  And disciplining.  When we know what's best for him, we know the direction in which he should go, we know where the other paths lead, and we have to discipline him for his own good.  Isn't this God loving us?  Isn't this why He disciplines?  Because He loves us.  He knows the path.  He's seen where our road ends.  He wants a better road for us!  A father's love for His children, He wants what is best for us... what will most benefit us... He loves us. 

And so it's for all of these reasons that I can't let this song go.  I weep when I hear it, but God has been so gracious in drawing me to Himself, through highs and lows, through joys and trials, always showing His love for me.  It's our love story... my life is His love letter...

Saving Money Series: Grocery Shopping (Not the Coupon Blog)

Couponing deserves it's own blog.  There is so much to be said about it that this thing would be insanely long if I did all of the couponing tips with all of the rest of the grocery shopping tips.  So be prepared for the coupon blog tomorrow!  But don't stop reading!

This blog is equally, if not more important than the coupon blog.  Yes, I said it could possibly be more important.  Why?  Because couponing is a tool to a lifestyle.  These tips help you develop the lifestyle.  Couponing helps you do it extra extra cheap.  (And you'll be surprised how much just these tips will help your budget!)

So here we go!  Grocery shopping tips I think everyone can benefit from!  No matter how coupon savvy you are!

  • Find a local grocery store and shop there.  Avoid supercenters.  Why?  Because their 'always low prices' are not always low.  Their slogan should say 'pretty consistent prices', because this would be true.  Here is basically how this works:  shop at Wal-Mart or other supercenters constantly and you'll pay higher prices on virtually everything that is in your local grocer's sale bill.  You may find items cheaper if they are not on sale at your grocer (but this is why you shop sales, get the always low price for real), but you may find out if you can wait a couple days for the new sale bill to come out, you can get huge savings.  Remember the milk I talked about in a previous post?  So find your local grocery store, I shop at Kroger almost exclusively, and watch their sale ads (which are easily available to find online!).   You may find some items are cheaper elsewhere, if so, buy those items where they are cheapest if it doesn't require an extra trip.  For example... we only use 93% hamburger unless we are making burgers.  It's a quality of meat and a healthy choice I make for our family.  WalMart, yes, the supercenter, always has 1 lb rolls of 93% for $2.98, almost $2 cheaper than our Kroger's normal price (and still cheaper than the sale price when it hits rotation), so I always buy my hamburger from the super center. 
  • Stock up on items you use often when they are on sale at your grocer.  Why, because a rotation of sale items is about every 6-8 weeks.  So I've found that when something goes on sale, if I stock up then, I may not need that item again for a few weeks - a month (or more).  And that's nice because I never have to pay full price for the item.  (Of course there are some items you can't do this with, such as milk, eggs, etc.)  Some of our staple items:  tomato sauce, beans and rotel (for chili), pasta noodles, canned fruit (canned in only juice, no syrup), boxed mac n' cheese (for those chicken casserole in a pot nights), meat (check for manager's specials, etc. meat freezes, so just because the use by date is tomorrow does not mean that you can't buy it and freeze it today), and any kind of toiletries, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.  (I literally have 7 bottles of body wash in my pantry right now.  That should last us awhile.  Oh, and I got them all for free ;)
  • Menu plan, menu plan, menu plan!  I cannot stress this one enough.  If you read nothing else, read this.  How many times have you gone to the store, left, come home, and tried to find something to fix for supper and had nothing to create a complete meal?  Be honest.  How annoying!  First of all, menu planning fixes that all together.  Second of all, you can base your menu plan around your stockpile (that's the next bullet) and what is on sale at your grocery store that week, and it makes for a really easy shopping experience.  So check out your stockpile, look through the sale ad, base your meals around those things, make a shopping list that includes the items you need (think things like breakfasts and lunches too, though you may not have to be very exact with those), and when you go shopping, buy ONLY the things on your list!  This saves you from extra buying and has saved us from wasting a lot of food!  
  • Stockpiling.  Remember when I said to stock up on the things that are on sale each week that you know that you'd use?  By doing so (I even budget a small amount of my grocery budget to do exactly this) you form a 'stockpile' of product at your house.  For example, I mentioned that I like to stock up on tomato sauce, beans, and rotel. When I'm creating my menu plan, and I check my stockpile, I can see that I have all of the ingredients I need for chili except hamburger, because I've stocked up on them at rock bottom prices.  Then, I can write chili on my menu plan for that week, and all I have to buy (if none is stockpiled in the freezer) is a roll of hamburger!  (And any condiments like cheese shreds or crackers, if they aren't already in the house.)  There have been times I've been able to put over half our grocery budget in savings because I was able to fix meals almost completely from our stockpile.  Those are good weeks :) 
  • Limit grocery shopping.  When I started the whole couponing / saving money idea, I set out to only grocery shop once every two weeks.  It was an am mature mistake.   I now shop once a week.  The reason why?  1.) Because there were certain things we had to buy each week for them to be good.  Think produce, bread, milk, etc.  I found I was going back to pick up an item here, and a couple days later an item there, just because I was trying to avoid the grocery store all together.  It was costing me more time and more gas to try to keep in the house the perishable things that we use or run out of.  2.)  You are missing stockpile opportunities.  One thing about Kroger is that their specials usually run for two weeks.  (usually is the key word here).  BUT, there are things every week on their sale ads that don't run for two weeks.  Stocking up has to be something that's looked at weekly, or else your 6 week cycle can become twice as long!  3.)  It's much easier for me to menu plan for one week at a time than it is two.  I can incorporate a lot more fresh food (veggies and produce) than if I waited two weeks. 
  • Watch for great deals on toiletries, diapers, etc, at unexpected places.  If you are ever near a drugstore such as Walgreens or CVS, you can score amazing deals, and even freebies, by watching sales at these places.  It can lead to free or cheap bottles of shampoo, razors, body wash, otc medicines, even diapers and wipes.  Another place to look for diapers and wipes?  You can't beat the deals I've been getting through Amazon with my Amazon Mom prime account!  Love it!  
Tomorrow:  How to save even more money with coupons!  Tips and tricks.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Groupon St. Louis Deal: Carriage Ride in STL!

For all of you out there looking for something fun to do downtown STL or looking for a romantic night out, you need to go visit Groupon!  Sign up and check out St. Louis' deal of the day!  A 30 minute carriage ride through downtown (a $50 value) is for sale for $25!  Note: you CANNOT use this groupon on Valentine's day, HOWEVER, it doesn't say anything about the weekend before, which is probably when most people are celebrating anyway, being that V-day is on Monday this year! :)

Click on the link above and get in on the deal!

Saving Money Series: Cash Envelope System

This was the most difficult part of the Dave Ramsey study for us to swallow.  Aaron and I never used cash anywhere.  We both had debit cards, and let's be honest, sometimes swiping a little piece of plastic is much, much, much easier than having to cipher through what bills and change you have in your wallet.  Especially if you are going to store them in different areas.  Bleh.  No. Thank. You.

But when I said I was gung-ho about this new financial change in our lives last year, I meant it.  So, if that meant digging out the ugly Dave Ramsey envelope wallet, then by golly we were going to do it.

Now, seeing the 'excess' we have in our budget each month that can go towards grocery items or miscellaneous items (remember from yesterday?  it's currently about $500, sometimes less) we didn't have an over abundance to be budgeting out into cash envelopes.  I know people who successfully have envelopes for EVERYTHING.  Doctor's visits, groceries, car repairs, gas, clothing, entertainment, etc.  More power to them!  I think that's incredible!  For us (again, you have to do what is best to meet your needs at the time), it's easier for us to have a grocery envelope, a misc envelope (which I sometimes separate the cash in between), and our blow money separate.  Then, everything else goes into our savings account and when we need a car repaired, there's money there.

So here's the idea behind what makes the envelope system work:
  • You can physically see what you have available to spend.  With debit cards it is much more difficult to 'keep track' of the spending in that period of time, and by the time you catch yourself, you may be over budget.  Being on top of it enough to keep track, I found, to be a ton more work than just going through my cash in the grocery store. 
  • There is an emotional response to watching cash leave your hand.  Ramsey talked about this in his series, and I didn't believe it.  Boy was I wrong!  I now go into the grocery store with an idea in mind of how much I want to spend (it's never the entirety of my budget, you have to keep $$ in there for emergencies!  I mean, what happens if you run out of milk!?) and if I go over that amount I had decided on, even if it's just by a few dollars, I can feel myself cringe.  In fact, I pretty much cringe anyway.  
  • It makes you understand the value of a dollar a little bit more.  I've become that woman that really needs milk and will wait until I go to Kroger to get it because it's on sale and is $1.50 cheaper than WalMart.  (More about that in the couponing, grocery blog.)  Why?  Because making that similar decision about multiple products over and over and over again stretches your dollar further and further and further.  The way I see it, $1.50 could buy me an extra 1/2 gallon of milk at Kroger when they are on sale, so for the price of one gallon at Walmart, I could get 1 1/2 gallons at Kroger.  This is where couponing really came in for us.  I began to see my carts coming out of Kroger heaped up like the carts I used to push out of Walmart, this time with food that I knew would make meals and for 1/2 or 1/3 of the cost!  If you don't think $50 can fill your cart to the brim with food to feed your family, you are probably missing some huge money saving strategies!  
  • When it's gone, it's gone.  Period.  It makes you reconsider those nights where you just don't feel like cooking.  I mean, what is $10 to grab some fast food, well, it may mean no gas in the car and a walk to work next week.  I think we can warm up leftovers.  May not sound as good, but it's got to be healthier and is much more economical.  
A few things that we've learned in this cash envelope adventure:
  • Gas money going into our misc. folder never worked for us.  Why?  Because walking inside was too much of a hassle and not conducive to where we are in life right now.  (My biggest fear is leaving Bryton in the car - even though I can lock it - just to run in to pay for gas.  I will not do it.)  Thus, I ration out some of our misc money, keep it in the bank, and we use our debit card at the pump.  (But we both know exactly how much we have to put in our vehicles, not a penny more.)
  • Separating out our misc envelope helps us know what is going where.  For example, if we know that there are two Sunday's before Aaron gets paid again, and we know that we eat out every Sunday for lunch, and we know that we spend about $20 each time, I'll designate $40 of that cash specifically for those eating out experiences.  Doing this when I get the cash in my wallet allows me to see what is really disposable income.  Plan, plan, plan.  
  • This one is random and personal to me.  I used Dave Ramsey's cash envelope system (the literal brown, leather, wallet type that came in our Financial Peace materials) and it lasted me a year.  The envelopes were actual paper envelopes (which worked just fine, mind you, if you put your change someplace else), but being that I put my change from each folder back where it went, well, let's just say my poor misc. folder was losing change in the bottom of my purse at an alarming rate.  Way too much ripping!  So I started searching out other options.  (I also hated that I carried around our checkbook, our envelope system, and my wallet in my purse everywhere I went.  3 things!  Around Christmas time I found this:

Talk about a lifesaver! has these amazing gadgets that, get this, hold your 'envelope system' (not paper), all of your id's, discount cards, debit cards, etc, has a change holder on the back, and even has a place for your check book and to store a pen!

I'm not going to lie, it took me probably two months to pay the $30 that the wallet cost me.  (First of all, I've never in all my life spent $30 on a wallet.  Second of all, now that I'm trying to be frugal, why would I want to start now???)  But after much frustration with the other guy, I spent $30 of my Christmas money to purchase this!  AND I couldn't be happier!

I love how it's set up.  I love that I can fit each of my items in one place, and I love that each divider in the envelope system has virtually two slots, which means money can go in one area, and coupons can go in the other!  (Not to mention the fact that I know it will last me longer than a year!)

So there you go.  Trust me, it seems like too much work, but it's worth a shot, right?

Next up:  grocery shopping and reducing your grocery budget.

Make sure you check out my friend at Brooke's Bargains to see how they make budgeting work for them!


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saving Money Series: Create a Budget

Alright, fast forward two years to the beginning of 2010.  Sure, we'd kept our out of pocket costs down when it came to vehicles, but not much else.  (Well, we stayed away from high priced cable.  In fact, we stayed with the 19.99 comcast plan that literally made our monthly payment $21 and some change.  Last year after we incorporated our budget we 'treated' ourselves by getting rid of our 20 channels and upgraded to Directv so our monthly expense is now $36.99.)

Anyway.  in the year previous I had watched a fellow youth pastor's wife take up couponing with a vengeance.  She was amazing!  (Man, I wish we had a Publix!) I watched her blog and all of her deals intrigued me.  Then I read why she was doing what she was doing:  she had looked over their finances and literally seen what they were spending monthly on food, groceries, toiletries, etc.  A stay at home mom to twin boys, if she wasn't earning an income, she could at least be stewarding their money in such a way that she was 'making back' money they already had.

I was immediately convicted about my own grocery spending and set out to find how much we'd been spending in the grocery store each month.  Being the beginning of the new year, we were not only going on a budget (I needed the peace of mind), I was taking up couponing as well.  (We'll save the rest of that story for another blog.)

So I sat out to get a budget written out.  I'll be honest.  I was doing the bills in our family again,  and I would worry each bill time that the money we needed wouldn't be there.  I firmly believed that God was miraculously allowing us to make ends meet each month.  (There may be a little bit of truth in that statement seeing now how we were spending our money.)  Because of this fear, making a budget terrified me... what happens if I look at what money we have and what money we need and there isn't enough there?  *Gasp*  And just the opposite happened.

In a matter of about a 1/2 hour I had written down all of the bills we paid, when we paid them, and how much they were.  I then separated them into two different segments, bills to be paid each month on the 1st and bills to be paid each month on the 15th.  (Aaron gets paid bi-monthly.)  This made sense for us.  (Remember, you have to work it out how it makes sense to you.)

Our budget broken down basically looks like this:
Pay on the 1st:
  • Tithe 
  • Building Fund Commitment (for our new church building)
  • Mortgage payment (includes our homeowners insurance and our property taxes)
  • Phone bill
  • Water Bill
  • Herwill (our sponsored world vision child)
  • *Grocery (includes anything bought at the grocery store: food, toiletries, diapers, formula, etc.)
  • *Misc. (includes all of our out to eat meals, gas, extra-curricular things such as events, etc, clothing and so on)
  • Savings
On the 15th we pay:
  • Tithe
  • Blow Money (Money that Aaron and I each get per month to 'blow' on whatever we want.  It's not much, but it's nice to have that in your wallet each month.)
  • Car Payment (Bleh... working on it)
  • Car Insurance (which will go down some once the car is paid off)
  • Life Insurance Policy
  • Trash Service
  • Utilities (Gas and Electricity, again, bleh)
  • Directv
  • Internet Service
  • *Grocery
  • *Misc.
  • Savings
(Thankfully we have no credit card debt to have to pay off!  God protected us from that!)

* Denotes items we use cash only for and items that have a semi-flexible dollar amount in our budget.

So now we had it all planned out, and it became increasingly easy to look at what had to be paid when, do the math of taking the amount of Aaron's pay check, subtracting all of the set outgoing bills, see what was left over, and come up with an acceptable amount for Grocery and Misc.  Whatever was left went into savings.  I do this every month based on our needs.  (Sometimes grocery is a little higher, sometimes a little lower, etc.)

Doing this allows me to know that every bill that comes to my mailbox, can be paid for and has already been accounted for.  That, my friends, is financial peace.

I also realized how much I'd been spending at the grocery store and on miscellaneous things by building this budget and was appalled to see that $400 + was going to just grocery shopping monthly.

I'll be very candid about our cash envelopes (which I'll talk more about tomorrow).  Our grocery envelope started last year with $125 in it each two weeks, making it $250 a month.  Remember, all of our food, toiletries, diapers, etc came from these folders.  In September, after getting more familiar with couponing and finding deals, I decreased our grocery envelope to $100.  Our misc. envelope sees the most flexibility, depending on needs that need to be met each month, but the highest that goes into that envelope each time is $150.  That gives us $150 to eat out on, put gas in the car, pay a sitter to go out, buy clothing that is needed, etc.  We also use some of this money to 'budget' for things we know we'll need coming up (such as healthcare, dental visits, vacation, a new piece of furniture, etc.) 

And that's the idea of a budget.  Our budget was the keystone that got us on the right track financially.  It's not always easy, there are times Aaron and I have had to discuss whether we can eat out one night in order to be able to eat out with friends on Sundays, or have had to discover really inexpensive ways to go on dates.  There is sacrifice to be made, but the result is two fold:  first, you get the peace of knowing your bills are taken care of when they reach your mailbox.  Second, Aaron and I know we won't have to live like this forever.  As we work our way out of our car loan, begin to put money back in the savings each month, and learn to spend money wisely, we know that the reward is in the marathon, not the sprint.

Tomorrow, cash envelope system :)  (Our biggest obstacle to the Dave Ramsey system, but once we allowed our selves to try it, we found it worked for particular parts of our budget!  It's worth a shot!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Saving Money in 2011: Don't Accumulate Debt, Pay Cash

In a time where all of our costs seem to be rising and our salaries aren't increasing there has been an excess in talk about people having to take on 2nd (or 3rd jobs) or try to cut back majorly on their expenses.  A blog series on 'saving money' (not just couponing) seems not only appropriate, but overdue.  So over the course of this week I'll be sharing tips about how the Gregg's did it successfully in 2010.  Keep in mind, these are all ideas, and the Gregg's aren't any of you out there.  Part of making this work is making it adapt to you, but don't be afraid to try something you would never consider.  Sometimes those are the things that make it work for you.

Let me start with a brief synopsis of me:  I've worried about money since I can remember, literally.  I was the 4 year old looking over my mom's shoulder at the bank to see how much our accounts had in them so I could feel 'secure'.  (As if I knew what was really needed to be 'secure' at that point.)  I carried this through my childhood, adolescence, and into my marriage.  When Aaron and I got married, he had to be in charge of making out bills, because I couldn't handle the stress of it.  Many times I'd sit and cry. 

Fast forward to when we lived up north, and we were encouraged to be in a small group (a great thing for your ministers to be fed outside of what ministry they are asked to do).  The class that happened to be meeting at the time was Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.  Now, I would love to say we took all of the ideas and incorporated them right away, but there was so much change in our lives at that point that we were able to take a couple ideas and make some good financial decisions for the first time.  (Do keep in mind that the revelations from this class did lead us into 'financial peace' for the first time... for me, ever, and if I get real candid about our budget, you'll see that it's not because we have an excess of spending money.)

One of those decisions?  We didn't have a second car at the time (we'd just gotten off the road), and one thing that made an overwhelming bit of sense to us in Ramsey's advice was that purchasing a car is NOT an investment.  Think about it, buy a new car and drive it off the lot and it immediately loses a great deal of value.  You never 'earn more' on a car (unless you fix up an antique or something, that's not what we're talking about here), you always lose money.  So the idea was to save up cash,  buy used, and to buy something within the cash budget you have set out.  NO CAR LOANS.  (Again, a mortgage on your house is normally an investment, you should earn from your house, if done properly of course.  A car offers no return, so why would you want to pay interest on something you are going to lose money on anyway?  Exactly.)

So, our first wise financial decision was to take $3500 out of our savings and buy, outright, our second car.  We researched like crazy to find that $3500 miracle vehicle that we'd at least be able to get 3 or 4 years out of.  We finally decided on a Nissan Altima, which we bought in 2008, and Aaron's brother is still driving around today (despite a major hail storm that took out all of the cosmetic appearance and his back windshield and a few minor fixes here and there.)  We've been without a second car payment since, well, basically 2006 when we sold our vehicles to get on the road. 

Our goal is to pay our other one off early in order to free ourselves of that $190 car payment every month, then take what we'd be paying in a car payment to put in our savings to later purchase another car with cash. 

So our first big lesson was this:  big purchases, or small ones, aside from your mortgage, should be bought with cash, not with credit or by borrowing money.  When you receive your paycheck, wouldn't you want that money to feel like it's yours rather than everyone elses that you are indebted to?  I would. 

So if you're looking for new furniture, start saving up.  If you're looking to buy a car, start saving up.  Need a new refrigerator?  Start saving up. 

Another tip about paying cash (real cash, not with a debit card or check), you can haggle for things you never thought you'd be able to haggle for!  You'd be surprised how cheap our $1000 couch got after haggling, price matching, and paying in cash!  Our couch that we bought going off the road went from costing us $999 to $499... $500 in savings because we asked for it and didn't have to finance it. 

What could you do with that extra $500 in savings???

Stay tuned, next in the series:  Creating a Budget.



They say after you have one child you wonder how you could love another as much.  I'll be honest, I've never wondered that, but it's only because I couldn't imagine before Bryton was born how much I could possibly love him, and I expect my love for Ansley to be the same way.

I do, however, want to remember vividly each little detail of themselves as they grow.  And as Ansley's birth is upon us... and we're getting ready to watch her grow before our very eyes (along with Bryton), I wanted to write down a little something, a reminder, of Bryton's early time with us. 

There's something special about seeing your first baby (and every baby for that matter) face to face. 

To my handsome baby boy:

It was 1:15 when I saw your face,
The face I'd known but had never seen,
The pudgy cheeks with the baby blues,
With your momma's nose in the in between,
And that early morn with your first breath
When you looked into my eyes
It's when I realized

Those eyes would melt this momma's heart
for years and years to come
Those cheeks would be my target
for the kissing to be done
And besides your dad you would grow to be the most handsome man I'd ever seen,
And I'd forever cherish November third at an early 1:15. 

The first month passed in just a blink,
As you changed before our eyes,
Your dark brown hair was turning blonde
Your needs coming out in cries
And at 1:15 as you cried out
for mom to rescue you,
That's when I knew

Those cries would wrench this mother's heart
through all the years ahead
That blonde hair would get the final rub
when I put you down for bed
And as the moon and I sat up with you during the tired nights we'd seen,
I'd forever cherish the baby boy who needed me at 1:15.

And as one year would turn to two
The clock turning the days upon,
I see my baby turn to boy
A precious, handsome son
And as those early 1:15's now pass by with sleep and rest,
I know I'm blessed

To know that passing time would only deepen the
love I hold inside,
That time would grow into a man
What was once this little child,
And to know that all the laughs and grins and tears we'd share from here and in-between
Means I'll never forget that first glimpse of you at early 1:15. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dancing in the Minefields

Wish I could claim it, but it's not mine, but it is a favorite of mine right now.  It's an Andrew Peterson song.  I'll post the lyrics, then go check it out on youtube ;)  Enjoy

Dancing in the Minefields
Well I was 19 you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much to young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storm
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

Well 'I do' are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price for the life that we have found

And we're dancing in the minefields
We're sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for
That's what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for
That's what the promise is for

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One Major Lie We've Bought Into

Love.  Not that love is a lie, because love is very legitimate, but the idea that love is this gushy feeling you have within you that makes you feel butterflies and warmth and makes your favorite sappy love song your theme song to life, well that, my friends, is not really love. 
Before you start fuming or quit reading, let me clarify that these are characteristics found from time to time in the whole realm of love, but these characteristics alone do not determine what love is.
More than anything, love is a choice.  Sure those sappy feelings may start your trek into love, and I pray that they make an appearance in your 'love life' often as your love progresses through the years, but one of the biggest lies we've come to believe is that the absence, even temporarily, of those 'feelings' means we can no longer love a person. 
Here are some examples:
  • Husband:  I love my husband dearly.  We entered our relationship with all of the sappy lovey feelings of most newly infatuated couples, and have seen those sappy lovey feelings several times through our 5 years of marriage.  I can tell you (as he could also testify about me), that those sappy lovey feelings are not present after I've picked up his clothes, yet again, off of our bedroom floor.  (Right beside his hamper for that matter.)  And in fairness, his lovey feelings for me are never present when I refuse to do something because I'm afraid I may fail at it.  
So does it mean that we should divorce since those 'lovey' feelings temporarily fade at that particular moment?  NO!  It means we should love one another despite our short-comings.  This gives us the opportunity to show grace and offer love by choice to our spouse, growing each of us individually, and growing us as a couple.  These times of loving despite feeling have been some of the most crucial building opportunities in our marriage.  I've seen the grace Aaron has expressed toward me when he has chosen to love me despite my attitude and my failures, and that initiates those loving feelings in myself towards him.

  • Children:  Nothing on this Earth can explain the love between a parent and a child.  Really, just to ponder on it for a short time brings tears to my eyes.  My husband holds my heart, for sure, but the love one holds for their children is a love that is unconditional and is full of responsibility.  To say I love my son is an understatement.  However, more than once daily the feelings he makes me feel are not those of love and contentment, but are those of frustration.  I mean, really, how many times do I have to tell you to come in the bathroom so we can brush your teeth, or not to throw your hammer across the room, or to pick up your blocks?  Grrrr!  But it's during those moments God allows me the opportunity to take a step back, tame my anger, use a gentle voice and distribute discipline as well as grace.  This is a learning opportunity for my son and for myself.
  • Strangers:  This is getting into the nitty gritty here.  We're supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (and our neighbor isn't just the lady next door), but with our skewed view of what love really is (give me happy feelings, give me contentment, give me joy... give me give me give me), then how can we really show love to people who never give us any of those feelings.  Sure, my son and my husband both give me moments of absolute 'lovey feeling' and emotion.  I gain something in my relationship with them.  They give me joy that neither one of them could ever comprehend... but what about that man on the street corner holding the sign?  He has nothing to offer me.  No relationship would give me those 'lovey' feelings.  He has nothing to offer to make me feel as if I've gained something.  Yet he is another I'm called to love.  (Remember scripture points out that a person's love cannot be measured by giving love to their own family... as ALL people do this).  
And that's where we get all jacked up.  We believe that love is something that we should benefit and profit from (and in some cases those are really nice bonuses).  But sometimes, and probably more often than not, love is not some gushy feelings caught up in our hearts, but rather an experience that we choose to share with another individual.  I think if we'd get our selfish ambition out of the way, we'd have more healthy, strong marriages (and probably more of those gushy feelings as a result), we'd have better relationships with our kids, and we'd have a whole lot of compassion for those who may flutter quickly in and out of our lives.

Just a thought.

$20 Amazon Gift Card for $10

For those of you who enjoy Amazon shopping (I buy alllll of our diapers and wipes through there!) Today's living social deal is a $20 Amazon Gift Card for $10!  With my previous diaper purchases that have gotten me a box of 176 pampers diapers for B, with the 30% off subscribe and save discount + the 20% off code in many magazines, my total has been around $18 for a huge box of diapers!  (Shipped free of course!)
With this gift card I could score the same deal ultimately for $10 for that same big box and have $1.-- left over!
There's always great deals to be had at Amazon! This would make a great purchase for you!
Go check it out HERE!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Epic Mickey on Amazon 40% Off!

I'll be honest... I waited for this deal from about mid - November through Christmas as I thoroughly considered getting this game for Aaron, but I didn't want to buy a game neither of us had played at $50!  Now it's only $30!  If you have a gamer man in your life this may make a good Valentine's Day gift :) (Or think ahead to birthdays, even Christmas!) 
You can click straight through by clicking on the Amazon daily deal icon on the left!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Blog About our First Born Baby

It's been a long time since I've done a Bryton update, so we're far past due time. 
Here we go:
Bryton is about 26 1/2 months old now, doing wonderfully.  I know I've said this before, but I really believe he learns something, or multiple things, new everyday.  His vocabulary is forever expanding, and Aaron and I often times find ourselves amazed at the things he says like, 'how did he know that?"
Among his favorite words; cookie, ball, basketball (still), drum, football, Mickey Mouse, books, and apple juice.  Sucker has also made the list, as well as 'big truck'.  Of course, these are the words we hear most often, I'm shocked at all of the words and mini-sentences he's tossing around now.  Especially being that he's making connections amongst things to make these sentences.  It's really fun for us to watch him grow!
I guess we've somewhat hit on some of his favorite things with the words, but he is definitely all boy.  He asks for one of two or three things when the television is on (which is still fairly rarely during the normal week), but he asks for "Mickey Mouse" first, football second, and occasionally he'll ask to watch hockey or basketball.  It blows my mind.  That's what I get for already having two males in the house :)
He loves to jump and play sports, we've moved his child's basketball goal up to the highest position and he's still making baskets like crazy.  Not sure where we can go from here... guess he'll start learning to shoot a big boy goal soon.  He's also loving books and letters right now.  He goes around attempting to sing his ABC's all the time.  Believe it or not, he does best on the "LMNOP" part.  Shouldn't that be the most difficult part for him to get?  One would think.  But he loves music and we have heard him singing this particular tune over and over again, the tune to twinkle twinkle little star, and we wondered where in the world he learned that because it wasn't a song we'd ever sang to him.  Turns out, the ABC song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star have the same tune.  Who would of thought?  Maybe I'm the only one on the planet who didn't know this, but I learned something new myself.
Drums are his major infatuation right now, which is funny.  He got one from his grandparents for Christmas that he hardly plays with, but Lord forbid we be at the church or driving by the church, or talking about church, and his first word is "Jee Jee" (also coming out occasionally now as "Jesus"), but his immediate second word is drum.  Mom and dad may be investing in a small electronic drum set for Christmas or birthday this year to feed that little desire in a way that is manageable :) 

So all in all, B is great.  We attempted the potty training thing once, and backed off.  We may try it again after Ansley gets here and let him try a different route.

Can't say enough how much I love and am thankful for this little boy in my life!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Diaper Wipes Cheap on Amazon!

Just a heads up that is offering a great sale on Pampers Wipes!  If you are an Amazon Mom member you can use the subscribe and save option and save 30% making the total $12.94 for 720 wipes shipped to your house!  If you are not an Amazon mom member and you are a mom, dad, grandparent, caregiver, etc, you really should be.  It's free to sign up, and it scores you a Prime account that offers free shipping on a ton of items, not just baby things.  On many baby things like wipes and diapers you will be offered the subscribe and save discount of 30% and your subscription can be cancelled at any time.  (Trust me, I've done this probably 10 times in the past 4 or 5 months.  It's super easy to cancel the subscription, and I've got at least 8 boxes of diapers for half price or less!) 
So go here and check out this great deal on wipes! We know we'll be needing a lot in the days, errr, years to come :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2 Online Shopping Tools Everyone Should Use

Admittedly, couponing and saving money can take time.  In fact, the average money saved, or earned in my opinion, by couponing is about $40 an hour, and after a year of doing it myself, I believe this whole heartedly.  That being said, I know there are several of you out there who are working full time jobs or more than full time jobs and just don't have the time to spend an hour or two every week to do couponing and bargain hunting.  What you can do, however, can save you this year!  (And this is for everyone, avid couponers too!)

Tip number 1:  Retail Me Not

Retail Me Not (dot) com is a coupon finding website that I find faster than googling for a coupon code.  If you shop online at all, it's worth a stop here, as it will literally take you seconds to type in the store name you are shopping from and look through the possible coupon codes that may or may not be available.  What I love about the site, it gives you a percentage of how often it has worked before (based on human error as well, I've had codes in the 70% ranges work for me, just make sure you read all of the qualifications for the code, if you have to use a certain credit card, do it before a certain date, etc.)  Also, you can read other customer comments about the code to let you know why or why it didn't work for them.  Go check it out before every online purchase!

And remember, several online stores let you stack coupon codes, especially if one is for free shipping and another is for a percentage off, etc.   It doesn't hurt to try.  All it can do is refuse your extra codes!  I've used 3 codes in one transaction before!

Tip Number 2:  You have to shop through Ebates

It's super easy (and free) to sign up.  In fact, they give you a 'bonus' when you do sign up... so technically they pay you to be a part of their cashback rewards.  How does it work?  Easy.  When you are looking to shop online, go to ebates first, search for your store, it will show you a percentage you get back for shopping at that particular store (all stores I shop at have been between 2 and 20%, anything is better than nothing!), click on the store name, it will open up the store website in a new window or tab (definitely use this to complete check out, it's connected to your ebates account), and when you complete your transaction, cash back will be added to your ebates account!  Money accumulates in your ebates account and you can request a check! 

This is great to use in addition to using all of your coupon codes on websites!  It's really a must do! 

For example.  I placed an order through The Children's Place, used two coupon codes (one for 15% off - and The Children's Place has way cheap stuff right now fyi - and another for free shipping, $5), I went through ebates when I made my transaction, and I received 3% cash back for my purchases.  Some may seem like it just amounts to pennies, but those pennies add up.  I requested a check at the end of last year after only being signed up through June, and I received a $15 check!  Not bad for an extra 2 seconds in each of my online shopping events! 

Go check them out!

Monday, January 10, 2011

So Remember the Wrapping Paper...

that I used to create Ansley's bow holder?  Well, it got it's double use today :) 

Let me introduce you to our new Ikea dressers, a his and hers, both in white, for Bryton and Ansley's room.  This is Ansley's dresser :) 

Now let me put a quick plug in for Ikea... we love Ikea.  It offers modern furniture at a very affordable price (because you pick up everything in the store yourself and then assemble it all when you get home).  It isn't your solid wood, last forever kind of furniture, but really, what do you expect at this price.  We got both dressers for their bedroom, new, for $140!  Can't beat that!

That being said, there was one problem with these particular dressers.  (That we dauntingly picked out.  We wanted something with big drawers, lots of space, and high enough to be a changing table.)
What's the problem?

 This is the problem.  The front panels of the drawers are frosted, but are definitely see through.  I stuck some of Ansley's clothes in there so you could see what I meant. 

Luckily, I found out about this problem when we were deciding on the furniture, not after we bought it.  Then, when I developed my way to 'fix' this problem, the problem itself actually sold me on the dressers, because Bryton could have 'his' dresser and Ansley could have 'hers.' 

Here's where the wrapping paper comes in.  So I had this nice green argyle wrapping paper literally for almost two years now.  The rolls are so big that I'm trying to get rid of them.  AND, I have just bought the same kind of wrapping paper for Miss Ansley in a nice paisley pink and green on white print. 

I took some cardboard (from the boxes our dressers came in), cut it in the size of the panels in the dressers, inserted and secured with double sided tape.  (Makes for a quick 'upgrade' down the road!)

The results?



So what do you think?  Like the transformation?  (BTW - we don't hang wall hangings that low, the dressers are just that high!  Changing Bryton is going to be a feat for me until Ansley gets here!


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Preparing for Baby

Yesterday was my baby shower.  I have great friends who put together an amazing shower.  There was good fellowship, good cake, and of course cute little girl clothes to oooo and awww all over.  (Which I'm privileged to get to do over and over again as I go through them to see what we still need, wash them, and put them away, etc.  It's quite fun. 
And my nesting has set in.  The house can't be clean enough, I want everything in it's perfect place, and I wanted it all done, well, yesterday.  I'm also noticing that getting all of this stuff done is much more difficult with a two year old running around than it was with Bryton when I was alone.  He just wants to be into and a part of everything.  I guess I can't blame him, but it does make it difficult.
So in order to not overwhelm myself, but to motivate myself to get some things done, I made a list tonight of all of the things I can do this week to get started on preparing for Miss Ansley Makenna.  My list of just tasks I need to do for her this week consists of 20 items.  For this week alone. There is a lot of preparing to do, and it can consume my time and my attention. 
But just like with Bryton, I get caught up in all of the 'good' things (because they are good) and the things that must urgently be done (because, of course,  baby just can't survive without clean clothes and blankets), and God has to swing me back around to what preparing for a baby (or in our current case, another precious child) really looks like. 

And I'm reminded of the need to pray for this baby in my womb (and the one asleep soundly in his crib as I write this), that God would be preparing their hearts already, loving them, molding them, and making Himself known to them.  If I do nothing else for my child, but hit my knees daily for them, to weep and plead for their salvation, I know I've done the most important thing. 

I can't shake this obsession.  I want this more than anything I've ever wanted more in life.  I want my babies to love Jesus and to follow Him.  I desire it so greatly that I'd give up myself to see them find themselves in Jesus. 

So that's the preparedness... the preparedness is for me to be on my knees, praying and pleading for this baby to be and this baby who is already.  It's praying for wisdom for myself and my husband as we raise them.  It's praying that we'd be good examples and that God would use us in the lives of our children, and already be placing in their lives others who will love them and show Jesus to them. 

Praying for my children -

Friday, January 7, 2011

My 2nd Crafty Adventure

And I'm thrilled with the result!  I'm not really being overly creative on my own just yet... trying to learn some basic ideas before I start trying to go all out, but I saw these awesomely cute little bows on a blog a friend had posted on her facebook, and I had to give them a try! 

Go check it out here:  Homemade Ginger
(You can expect a lot more ideas taken from her blog too.... stuff is soooo cute!)

So how cute are those little felt flowers?!  So - I tried my hand at one today.  Literally took me 15 minutes.

I cut the circle.  Cut around, and started rolling.  Hot glued the back down and even hot glued a little clip on so it will clip easily on a little head band, or later on, in her hair.  Here's the finished project:  (clipped onto her new bow board by the way ;)

I love these and think they look very vintage!  I'll be making a lot of these in my future.  I did white this time just because it was an 'experimental' one and the only colors of felt they had at walmart were white, green, red, and black... so white seemed like the best option at the time.  I'll be heading to hobby Lobby later :)


My First Crafty Adventure - Bow Hanger

Okay - so this may not be considered to be 'crafty', but it was a good step in the right direction.  I have another project in mind for today that may be more 'crafty,' but a friend of mine said since I used a hot glue gun it totally counts as 'crafty,' so I'm going with that :)

Okay, I'm trying to get all of this 'I'm having a girl' stuff down, which makes me think of how different it's going to be to dress her and get her ready than it is with Bryton.  That made me think of bows, and then I immediately thought to myself, "Where in the world am I going to put all of her bows?"  So - that's what I decided to make my first project.  I've found a lot of cute ones and actually had an idea to make a little dress to hang the bows on ribbons on her skirt, but I found some wrapping paper that I'm hopefully going to use for another project and decided to use that to kill two birds with one stone.  Yes.  Wrapping paper.  So, here's how it all worked out:

I bought the wrapping paper (for the other project, hope to post that later on), some foam board, and two spools of ribbon that matched my wrapping paper.  I then cut my foam board into two equal sized rectangles.  

I then wrapped each rectangles with the wrapping paper.  I actually used double faced tape and regular scotch tape to give the wrapping paper (which was very thick) extra security.  Each rectangle looked like this:

I then cut my ribbon to be just longer than the width of my foam board.  I chose how many ribbons I wanted for each board and laid them out how I wanted them spaced.  I then glued each ribbon down with my (new) hot glue gun! (Pictured on left ;))

I then pulled the ribbon around the front of the board and secured each end to the back side, allowing the ribbon to be just loose enough to clip hairbows on :)
Here is the finished project (well, one of two).  The picture came out a little 'yellow' because of the lighting in our kitchen.  My goal is to get these hung on her wall so you can see them in 'functional order.'  

So not too bad for my first attempt, I believe it was a success.  We'll see how the next one turns out :)


Almost 31 Weeks

So tomorrow I'll be 31 weeks pregnant, and I have to ask myself, where has the time gone?  She's growing up right before our eyes and she's not even here yet! 

Before getting pregnant with her I told myself, knowing that I may have never had the opportunity to be pregnant again, and probably never will, that I was going to enjoy every second of my pregnancy.  Bryton's pregnancy was pretty breezy until the last 6 weeks or so, and I naively thought I'd handle every other pregnancy the same way.  Naive. 

My whole first trimester I spent sick... not throwing up constantly sick, but constantly nauseous and pukey feeling.  Needless to say, I was praying away those first weeks... afterall, they aren't the 'fun ones' anyway. 

Luckily, 2nd trimester was pretty good to me.  I felt good, got around well, the headaches from first trimester also stopped, and I had a good amount of energy, but at almost exactly the 29 week turn, I could sense the miserableness that was nearing around the corner.  I, now, am remembering how I really felt with Bryton towards the end, and I'm not there yet. 

I'm still kind of fighting her, as she's brutally active, and I don't use that word lightly.  Aaron and I talked the other day about how much I enjoyed Bryton moving and watching Bryton move around in my belly.  Well, Ansley, she's a powerhouse, and I'm guessing will be very stubborn.  If there's somewhere that she wants to be and I have organs or ribs in the way, she kicks harder.  More than once she's knocked the wind out of me, and it's nothing for me to feel pain as a result of her movement.  Crazy.

I'm trying to do a good job at keeping my feet up at least once during the day for about an hour, to prevent the swelling that inevitably came (and would not go away) with Bryton.  The very bad swelling didn't come until about 34 or 35 weeks, so I still have some time, and I'm trying to do what I can to prevent it all together.  I can already see some swelling in my face this time.  (Knowing this time what I'm looking for... I didn't even think my face had swelled any with B until after I had him and the swelling went down.  I then realized how awful I'd looked.) 

Besides those few things, I'm tired, it's getting harder to get around, especially with Bryton, and if I'm on my feet for two long, or laying in a position to sleep for any period of time, or sitting in a recliner too long, I hurt.  Legs, back, you name it.  I'm remembering how much I hate maternity clothes, and look forward to the day I can wear my normal clothes again.  (I hope it happens as quickly as it did with Bryton, but I'm not getting my hopes up.)

So, though I can say I'm not miserable yet, I will not be so naive this time to think it's not coming... it is coming.  As it comes, I'm now thinking about labor and delivery again, and it's all coming back to me.  Especially as my belly gets bigger I think, "this thing has to come out some how," and I remember how that 'somehow' is.  I honestly hadn't thought about it much until now, because it seemed so far away... now it's not all that far.  If Ansley decides to be anything like her brother, she could be here in about 6 weeks, which blows my mind. 

Hmmm - seems this 'update' has turned into complaining... and I'm really not complaining, all of this is said just basically to show where I'm at in pregnancy.  Any woman who has been pregnant knows that it ultimately comes to this.  Pregnancy is a gift, in fact the greatest gift I believe God has given us women.  It's amazing to allow God to grow a child inside of you.

So with that update... here's the 30 week picture.  I didn't put it up on facebook because after I took it I decided I'd take the rest of the pictures with a tight shirt on and no 'real belly' shot.  So, here she is... and I feel huge... how can I possibly have 6-9 weeks left???

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Children's Place Monster Sale

If you have kiddos you are trying to clothe, I'll tell you one of my secrets to buying kids clothes is by trying to never buy clothes in season (when they are most expensive.)  Right now is a great time to be buying winter clothes as stores are trying to stock their shelves with springtime items already. 

That being said, you really have to head over to The Children's Place and check out their monster sale!  They currently have a 50% off sale going, and you can score an extra 15% off by using the coupon code RETAILMENOT1C at check out. 

I just scored 13 items for the kids for around $50 shipped.  Be fast because in the amount of time I was checking out, two of the items I'd put in my cart went out of stock!  But definitely stock up because shipping is $5 if you buy one item or 20!  

True that in a few weeks all of the items will be marked down even further, but sizes and styles may be very slim at that time! 

Let me know about your deals!


New Year, New Goals

I'll be honest, I'm a celebrator of New Year's not because I enjoy seeing a new year come, but it's often because I'm mourning an old year ending and I need something uplifting to get me through it.  Sounds crazy, right?  Maybe I'm a sentimentalist.  Maybe I live in the past, but setting goals personally and as a family gives me something to look forward to in the new year.  (And some accomplishments to look back on when December of 2011 is winding down.)

So, that being said, here are our Gregg family goals (or most of them, a few have been left out for the sake of privacy ;)):

Family Goals: 
  • Get healthy, which means better food choices, smaller portion sizes, and a lot more exercise together and separately.  I, personally, will be trying to do our ever infamous "eat healthy 6 days a week and have a cheater day" but I'm trying to figure out how that now fits with our current lifestyle.  I will figure it out.  Also for myself, I've set a goal weight of 125 (almost pre-pregnancy weight, that was 128), and I want to tone some.  I'm giving myself until the end of the year for that goal.  We'll see when I meet it, I'll keep you updated!
  • Aaron and I are reading through the Bible in one year (in Bryton's presence).  We both felt it very important to be in the Word daily together, and I initially thought that we'd do the Bible in 90 days reading plan, but figured with all of the changes this year we'd do something slightly more attainable.  
  • Aaron and I plan to meet together monthly to see how we are doing relationally.  
  • 2 date nights a month.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but this means without the kids and is not something we succeeded at last year.  We'll plan accordingly and work our budget and our time in order to make it happen.  
Alicia Personal Goals:
  • Blog more often.  I'm not promising everyday, and it may mean some days there may be multiples, but for now I'm shooting for one a day.  We'll see what our world looks like once Ansley gets here.  I'm sure it will calm down after awhile, but hopefully I'll be able to keep up with it.   
  • Find a way to help add to my family's income while being able to be with my kids as much as possible. 
  • Try new things.  For all of you who know me, you know I have this ugly fear of failure looming in my life.  I want to look back on 2011 and either say, 'wow, who knew what I could do if I would have just tried," or, "wow, I failed a lot this year, but I'm so glad I at least attempted it."  I don't want to leave the year feeling like I've missed opportunities.  As I said on facebook the other day, I want my fear of regret to overwhelm my fear of failure.  
  • Write a short journal entry each day, in a journal.  I'm not going to lie, I have a few days to catch up on already, but I thought this would be a fun way to see what happened to all of us each day throughout the year.  The few that I've succeeded in have been just a few sentences long, and I'm fine with that.  
  • I need the entire house clean every two weeks... somehow.  Whether that means a room a day for 6 out of 14 days or a whole day of cleaning, or whatever, it has to happen.  I know there are some of you out there that are scoffing about "every two weeks" because you are every weekers or more than that, but take a step into our church schedule and life with a two year old running around who hates the vacuum and wants to be into everything I'm into, and you'll see where I'm coming from.  
Bryton's Goals:  (He is still young enough for us to set them for him ;) 
  • Potty trained by the end of the year.  (He'll be 3 years, 1 month by that time.)  Don't get me wrong, we are shooting for much before this, but I'm taking his readiness into consideration and attempting not to 'push it' on him. 
  • Adding small responsibilities to his life in our household.  (We'll have chores that everybody does because they are part of the family, and then eventually he'll have 'extras' that are optional for him and earn him an 'allowance', pay depending on what he does and how often.)  For now, he's doing a great job picking up his toys and putting them away in the evening and helping mom put away his laundry (he actually does a decent job with this.)  A few things I'd like to add to this for sure is making him capable of putting away all of his own laundry and being able to scrape his plate after meals and put his plate in the sink (rinse and put in dishwasher will have to be a year or so down the road). 
  • Lastly, the goal is for him to have all of his primary and secondary colors down by the end of the year and all of his numbers 1-10.  We have the idea of 'colors' down now (if you ask him what color something is he'll answer in a color but he always starts with green and yellow ;), but he needs work on knowing which ones go with what.  As far as numbers, he has 1-3 down on his own, and if you count with him he can get through 6, so this one shouldn't be very hard to attain.  
Keep in mind, I'm doing these Bryton goals from a 'new parents' perspective, I could be way off on all of them.  Maybe he'll have all of his colors, his numbers to 20 and his alphabet by the end of the year but won't be potty trained.  Maybe he'll be potty trained and we still won't have numbers... we'll just have to see.  After all, they are just goals :)

So there you go... there's the Gregg's goals... what are yours???


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And a New Year Turns...

Whew!  Finally through the holidays.  Not that I was rushing anything... I typically enjoy them, but they just seemed really cram packed with stuff this year!

So let's catch up to speed.  2011 is here, which of course brings in all of the New Year's Resolutions.  Be looking for a blog from me soon for the goals the Gregg family has set forth this year!  (Goals seem much more attainable... I feel like I have a year to succeed, not a one time mess up and you're done for another year kind of thing.)
But for now let's just mention a few things you can be expecting to see on the blog in the coming year:

  • A lot more deals and couponing information / tips.  
  • The typical family updates / faith updates this year.  (We should have a lot of both with a new baby being born in just a couple months!
  • You may see this not so crafty individual attempt some craftiness.  You'll want to check out those successes and failures.  May just be good for laughs! 
  • Menu planning / meal ideas.  I'll spill one of the new years goals early:  we're trying to get in shape and eat right this year... which should bring some interesting ideas to my menu planning.  
  • Thoughts on random subjects / current events.  You know I can't resist some of them. 
So don't miss out this year!  Lots of good stuff coming your way, and I'm looking forward to writing them myself :)  

Resolutions errr, goals posted tomorrow :)