We went to the zoo on Earth Day this past April and placed a bid on a rain barrel in an auction there. Various groups in the area had decorated rain barrels and the money made on each went to the group that painted it. We ended up winning one of the rain barrels for only $50 and we were given all the materials needed to hook it up. After much pushing and shoving to get it in our vehicle with 2 kids and a stroller, we set it up at home. It didn’t take long for it to fill up and we were able to start using it almost immediately. This past summer, we watered a lot of our plants and flowers using the water from the rain barrel. We haven’t done a formal cost analysis or anything, but I know it has definitely saved us some money! It is also great to know that we are conserving water and not wasting it!
Do you use a rain barrel? How much money do you think you save by using one?
When I first started couponing and following blogs that were centered around saving money, I came across numerous opportunities to sign up for free samples. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but sometimes you can get some really good products for absolutely free. I have gotten lots of small shampoo and lotion samples of things I don’t typically use, but I save them for when I go out of town and need smaller portions. It saves a ton of room to pack a few samples than it does to pack an entire bottle of something. I also use these kinds of samples when I run out of something and haven’t gotten a new bottle to replace it with yet. Because of the samples I’ve gotten, I always have something to use until I can get to the store. Some free samples also come in the form of a coupon for a free item. I have gotten free bottles of juice and free bottles of coffee creamer this way. Sometimes, I have also gotten bigger items in the mail like razors, small bags of chips, granola bars or a free water bottle, which my husband snatched up as soon as I got it. He likes to make fun of my couponing but that didn’t stop him from stealing that free sample from me! Target also regularly gives away free samples, and I was able to sign up for an entire package of free cleaning samples once through my Sam’s Club membership.
So how do you find out about these free samples? Again, I follow blogs. Some couponing blogs will also report when there are free samples available, in addition to couponing tips and weekly ad matchups. In addition, there are blogs that are completely dedicated to alerting readers to free samples, such as Free Stuff. Following these blogs through Facebook also helps you to find out about these opportunities even faster. Check out my Suggested Links for blogs that will let you know when a good one comes up! When you do get a chance to sign up, it is usually as easy as entering in your name and address. Sometimes a small survey is involved but they are usually very short.
You aren’t going to stock your pantry or end up with a year’s supply of something by signing up for free samples, but I typically like to save sample-sized items for vacations or instances where I need something smaller. As long as it is something you can use, it is a good deal!
Since I’ve been writing the First Impressions posts (so far, I have posts about London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Dublin, Prague, Munich, and Venice), I’ve been going through pictures, which has got me thinking about visiting Europe again. So I thought I would share with you some of the money-saving tips that have helped us to travel cheaply when we travel in Europe.
Like a lot of things in Europe, calling home is super expensive, even if you do have a cell phone plan that works. I know people who have travelled in Europe and used their working cell phones to call home, and even though they felt they used it “sparingly,” their cell phone bill that month was several hundreds of dollars more than it normally was. The first two times we travelled to Europe, neither of our cell phones worked, so we just turned them off and rebooted them once we arrived back in the states. The last time we went, we bought a service that was supposed to make my husband’s Iphone work (I still had a regular caveman-like phone and still do at the time of this writing). Unfortunately it didn’t work, so we ended up cancelling it and getting a refund after a long phone call with the company. So we have done 3 European trips without cell phones. Some of you are probably thinking “How?!”
First, let me just say how wonderful it is to actually turn off our cell phones for 16 days at a time. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. We didn’t have people calling us who didn’t know we were on vacation or people asking questions about work. We didn’t have people who knew we were on vacation calling to see how it was going when we were trying to run to catch the train or figure out how to order dinner in French or German. We could simply do what we wanted with our day without interruption, and it is so nice.
That being said, I know it is always scary for our families because they know they can’t reach us whenever they want. Rest assured that we always leave an itinerary with our lodging’s phone number and instructions on how to call to that particular country. If there was a true emergency, we would be notified. We also contacted family in the evenings when we got back from being out all day, and we did this in a number of ways.
If you have read any of my other posts about saving money in Europe, you would know that we typically book hotels and bed and breakfasts with internet, and this is key if you’re going to go without a cell phone. We always travel with our Ipad or some kind of laptop. At night, we were able to check our Facebook accounts and email (even though it’s nice not to be interrupted during the day, we still enjoyed seeing what was going on at home!) and post pictures if we had a chance. This let friends and family know that we were all still up and running. There was also email to contact family if we happened to be in our room at a time that wouldn’t have been convenient to call family, due to the time difference. But the best option, I’m convinced, is Skype.
We first started using Skype almost 7 years ago on our honeymoon, and it is a great service. From some countries, you can call using Skype (through internet) for free. From Europe to the US, it is only $0.02 a minute, which is super cheap. I can’t stress the convenience of this service enough. It is free to sign up and then you can go from there. I know there are even more features to the service than I even know about, but even if all you want to do is call home, it’s easy enough to use. Just be sure to let your friends and family know that the number will show up as a really long random number and not the one you normally call with. I’m not sure how much we actually spent on phone calls on our trips to Europe, but I doubt it was ever more than $10, and probably not even close to that.
Have you ever used anything else to call home when you’ve travelled overseas?
We are almost 21 weeks into our CSA that we joined in May of this year. For those who don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, our family and another family have split the cost for a partial share of fruits and vegetables grown at a farm in our area. Every Saturday, one of us picks up our weekly share and we split what we get. When I do the math, it comes up to be around $8 a week when we split a partial share. Of course, some weeks we get more than other weeks, but all in all, I really do believe that we have gotten a fair price. Though our CSA is not technically certified organic (due to paperwork and red tape), they do follow organic guidelines when growing their crops, so that makes the deal even better. So basically we are getting fresh and locally grown organic fruits and veggies each week.
Anya picking tomatillos at the farm.
How is this saving us money?
1. We don’t have to buy much produce at the grocery store. There are a few things we get to supplement what we don’t get from the farm, but we don’t have to buy nearly as much. Plus we are eating healthy by adding in all the veggies we wouldn’t normally think to buy.
2. We are eating less meals with meat. I don’t have anything against meat, but when we get fresh veggies each week, we feel like we need to be sure to use them before they go bad. Therefore, a lot of our veggies show up as the main entrée in many of our meals. Because of this, we have bought much less meat over the course of the summer.
3. We also get fresh herbs and flowers. We all know how expensive it is to get fresh herbs and flowers from the grocery. At our CSA, we are allowed to cut as much of each of these as we need for the week. I have made a ton of pesto and used lots of fresh oregano and basil in many recipes. And I think getting the freshly cut flowers speak for itself.
Herbs at Seton Harvest
4. We have been saving some of the vegetables for later. We also spent a little time canning and freezing both fresh and prepared vegetables, including things like pizza sauce, diced tomatoes, green beans, salsa verde, etc.
5. We even use the leftover ends of veggies. I have been saving all the scraps and ends of veggies to make vegetable stock when I get a full gallon-size bag of them. I keep it in the freezer to keep it from going bad until I have enough for a full batch. This has saved me lots of money on buying stock at the store. Also, whatever doesn’t go in my vegetable stock goes in my husband’s compost bin, which we use in our own garden.
6. Volunteer hours get you a discount on next year’s share. I don’t know that all CSA’s do this, but ours happens to offer a $50 discount if your family logs at least 4 hours of volunteer hours working at the farm. This makes next year’s share even cheaper.
I’m sure there are other ways we are saving by joining the CSA, but these are the main ones that I can think of off the top of my head. We considered this year a trial run, but we will definitely be back next year to do it again. We have learned so much about vegetables and have tried several we have never had before.
I am a big reader and reading is one of my favorite past times. I also love bookstores, libraries, and coffee shops that have books. I love the feel of a paperback and there is just something about reading from a book. This is why I resisted getting an e-reader for so long.
That being said, at one point last year, I mentioned that a Kindle would be nice for vacations so I wouldn’t have to pack a ton of books that weighed down my bag. I think I made one or two comments about it just in passing, but my husband must have been listening and bought me a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas. Sometimes I do miss the feel of holding a book, but I absolutely love the convenience of my Kindle.
I can check out books at my local library on my Kindle from the comfort of my home and it doesn’t cost anything. I am also an Amazon Prime member and could choose to check out a book from a list each month. Another cool thing about the Kindle is that you can get free or discounted books on Amazon every day. At the writing of this post, I have 489 books on my Kindle. Two of these books are library books and one of them I paid $0.99 for. The rest were completely free.
Amazon offers a certain number of e-books for free each day. All you have to do is search for them on Amazon. They also offer daily deals where you can purchase e-books at a discounted price. Now, not all these books are necessarily the best books you will ever read (almost anyone can write an e-book), but I have found some good cookbooks and books about home organization, green cleaning recipes, time management, and daily devotionals. One day I even got a free version of The Da Vinci Code. The worst thing that happens is that I download a book for free, it’s not very good, so I delete it off my Kindle. No big deal. I would suggest checking out Ereadergirl to get a watered down version of the best free and discounted options each day.
I still do read paperbacks from time to time, but I think, for me, the Kindle Paperwhite was a pretty good gift/investment, especially when I have literally only spent $0.99 for books since Christmas.
Before I started following coupon blogs, I never realized how affordable a store like Staples could be. I usually bought all my office supplies at Walmart or Target, but once I learned how to really shop at Staples, I found that it was worth my time. Here’s why:
1. Rewards Program
Staples has a good rewards program. It is free to sign up and gets you things like free shipping. Also, you get 5% back in rewards on everything you purchase and earn $2 in rewards for every used ink cartridge you turn in. Rewards are distributed each month.
2. Binder Recycling
You can bring in an old binder you can no longer use to receive $2 off the purchase of a new binder. Those things are expensive, so any little bit helps!
3. Free after Rebates
I have gotten several deals that made the items I purchased free after a rebate. I have not spent a single penny on computer or printer paper since I started shopping at Staples. It seems like they always have free paper deals there. When the deal is going on, all I have to do is buy the paper, then turn in the rebate application. A few weeks later, I get a check in the mail for the amount. The best part is that the rebates can be submitted online, which is so much better than mailing it in! Sometimes when I am feeling really lazy, I even order the paper from my computer.
Staples actually has really decent coupons. In addition, there are items there that I never thought to look for. For example, we actually buy a lot of our K cups there. They are on sale a lot and when I pair them with a coupon from the ad, I get a pretty good deal. Other items I’ve gotten deals on also include cleaning supplies, like Lysol wipes.
I’m sure I’m missing something. How else have you saved money at Staples?
Since I’ve been writing the First Impressions posts (so far, I have posts about London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Dublin, Prague, and Munich), I’ve been going through pictures, which has got me thinking about visiting Europe again. So I thought I would share with you some of the money-saving tips that have helped us to travel cheaply when we travel in Europe.
Eating while on vacation can take up a huge chunk of your budget, that’s for sure! However, it’s one of those things you can’t get around. There are lots of ways to deal with food while on vacation. One could just eat out all the time, without worrying about how much things cost, or one could visit grocery stores and make most of the food. We prefer to do something in the middle.
Typically, we plan on spending no more than $100 a day on food for all of us. Yes, that is a large amount, but we typically don’t have capabilities to cook while we are in Europe and some places are more expensive than others. So here is what we do:
The awesome breakfast we had every morning in Dublin
Breakfast: We typically try to stay in a hotel that offers a free breakfast. Then, we eat as much as we can at said breakfast. Sometimes there are items (like fruit) that we can take with us. If we stay at a hotel that does not offer breakfast, we typically go to a local grocery store and/or bakery and pick up something that can be kept at room temperature to eat in the mornings. We sometimes splurge on maybe one or two breakfasts out if there are places the locals recommend for breakfast.
Typical garb in Munich
Lunch: Because we usually eat so much for breakfast, we normally aren’t very hungry for lunch. However, we do visit local groceries in almost every location we visit to pick up snacks, so we pack a few for the day, and that is what we typically do for lunch. Sometimes we are in areas where there is street food (like pizza in Rome, langos in Budapest, pretzels in Munich, jamon in Madrid). If we are hungry and happen to see street food, we might choose to get an item or two to share.
Dinner: For dinner, we typically eat a nice meal out. Since we typically did not spend money on breakfast and spent very little, if any, on lunch, we let ourselves have a nice dinner. We order what we want (within reason, of course), and often get a beer or a glass of wine. In Europe, alcoholic beverages tend to be almost as cheap as soft drinks, so we like to allow ourselves that luxury. We usually don’t go anywhere fancy or super nice, but we like to go places the locals suggest. We try to order different dishes and then share with each other so we can try as much as possible.
Most days we stay under the budget, though we enjoy the food in some places more than others. For example, I’m pretty sure we went over budget in Barcelona and Madrid, because we love the tapas, but we didn’t spend as much in other places, so it all came out within the budget in the end.
Tapas in Madrid
Could we eat cheaper in Europe? Yes, definitely. But we feel that part of our vacation and experience in each place is eating like the locals and that means we have to spend a little for that experience. We have found that what works best for us is to eat some of our meals out to taste the local eats and then purchase snacks at the local groceries, bakeries, and especially the local markets.
One of our challenges in budgeting is eating out. We have always liked to eat out and I’m convinced that my husband could eat out every night if I would let him. Unfortunately, eating out seems to be getting more and more expensive, especially now that Anya is eating and Felix will be at some point. Here are a few things we do to keep cost down.
Order water. Ordering even just soft drinks can add over $2 per person to your bill. Sometimes, I order water and Eric orders a soft drink and I can taste some of his if I want. This works because we tend to like the same drinks. I know that we need to drink more water anyway, so it is better for us to be drinking water instead of soft drinks.
Share your food with the kids or bring food. I am aware that this sounds really “cheap,” but Anya is still at the picky stage some days and she doesn’t always eat what she says she will. We got really tired of paying $5 (or more) for her to pick at her food, us to bring it home, and then throw it out a few days later because no one had eaten it. If we know we are going somewhere that has large portions, we get an extra plate and share our food with her. If we go somewhere she doesn’t like, we bring her own food. I do want to clarify, though, that once Anya starts eating food we order for her consistently, we have no problem paying for her. What I do have a problem with is paying for a meal she will most likely not eat.
Sharing with Anya while in Madrid last year.
Order an appetizer as a meal. Every once in awhile we do this. This works well at places where the portions are large. You could order an appetizer and a main entrée and split the two.
Go places you have coupons or groupons for. We have been trying to eat at places that offer coupons. This cuts down on our bill quite a bit.
Eat dessert at home (or eat dinner at home and go out for dessert). At one point, we were getting into the habit of going out for dinner and then getting ice cream on the way home. Sometimes we still might do this, but definitely not as often. Another option would be to eat dinner at home and then go out for ice cream (or dessert). Dessert would be cheaper than a full meal!
Put yourself on a budget. It has taken awhile for my husband to get on board with this, but he is doing better. I have allotted a certain amount of money in our budget to spend on eating out on weekends and for lunch on weekdays. Each week we try to stay at or under the budget. If we are going out for a special occasion, we tend to spend more, but the idea is that the weeks we are under budget will allow for us to spend a little more on the weeks we are out for special occasions.
Even with all these small things we are doing, we are still spending a ridiculous amount of money eating out. However, that is one of the few things we do as entertainment on the weekends, so it is worth it to us to be able to get out of the house on the weekends, as long as we can control how much we spend and it doesn’t get out of hand.
One of the things we do frequently is search for deals on deal-of-the-day websites. There are a number of these right now, including Groupon, Seize the Deal, Half Off Depot, Living Social, and numerous others. How it works is that once so many people purchase the deal, then the “deal is on.” This isn’t always the case, but a lot of times the consumer only pays half of what the deal is worth. For example, we recently purchased a deal on one of these sites for Smiling Moose Deli. We paid $5 for $10 worth of food. Once we purchase the deal and get the voucher, we just print out the voucher and show it to the cashier when we order. Then, we get to order $10 worth of food. Typically, the voucher must be used in full when it is used, and you cannot get cash back. It is also considered a discount, so you usually cannot use another coupon with this deal, as most coupons state that they cannot be used in conjunction with another discount.
These kinds of deals are super easy, though the only thing to watch is to make sure you use your voucher before it expires. The amount that you paid for the voucher never expires (if you pay $5 for $10 worth of food, you can always use the voucher and get the $5 you spent on it, but the $10 will eventually expire.) We have gotten everything from restaurant deals, exercise deals, massage deals, and even hotel deals. Here are some of the best ones we’ve gotten over the past couple of years:
Power Yoga (from Evansville Power Yoga)
Hot Yoga classes (from Yoga 101)
Deals from restaurants such as Smiling Moose Deli, Spudz n’ Stuff, Acropolis, Pita Pit, Fazoli’s, Sweet Cece’s
Sam’s Club Membership
Starbucks gift card
5 nights at Chattanooga Choo Choo in Chattanooga, TN
Recently, we got a really great deal. For $25, we got a card for a “date night” that includes 1-night stay at a newly renovated Holiday Inn, an appetizer and 2 beverages at Delizio’s (an Italian restaurant in Henderson, KY), 2 1-scoop sundaes from Baskin Robbins, 24 cheesecake bites from Anthony’s Heavenly Cheesecake, 2 combo meals from Smiling Moose Deli, and 2 tickets to Joke Factory (a local comedy club). Not bad for $25! We are planning to use this when we celebrate our anniversary this year.
What other great deals have you gotten from these websites?
Since I have previously posted about couponing, I thought I would share deals as I get them. The first one is from Walgreen’s. 100-count boxes of Splenda were on sale for $2.99 (I think they are normally over $5), and I was able to find three $1 off coupons. This brought the total to $8.97, and there was also a deal set up for if you buy three boxes, you would get $5 to spend on your next purchase (assuming you have a Walgreen’s Rewards card). Then, I found out that if you spent $10 between August 20 and 21, you could get 2,000 points in rewards (this equals $2 or more depending on when you redeem it). This meant that if I could find something that cost $1.03 or more, I could get another $2 (or more) back. My sister-in-law told me that some people had reported finding “Try me free” peelies on packages of Finish (a kind of dishwasher detergent), so I looked for that, and sure enough, I was able to find one. They were on sale for $3.99 (normally over $5), but I will get a full refund when I send in a mail-in rebate. Here is what my transaction looked like:
3 boxes of 100-count Splenda at $2.99/1 = $8.97
1 box of Finish at $3.99 = $3.99
Total: $12.96 + tax
Minus 3 $1 coupons, which brought the total to $9.96 plus tax. This is what I paid out-of-pocket.
I got a $5 coupon for my next purchase, earned 2,000 points (equal to $2 or more), and will get a $3.99 rebate once I mail it in. I saved approximately $13.99 (including the coupons I used in the transaction). And now I am set on Splenda for a good while!