Saturday, June 29, 2013

How-to: Saving Money!



Oh, money.

The thing we all wish we had more of. Sadly, it really doesn't grow on trees and we must work to earn our keep. Expenses are constantly rising and ends can be tough to meet. Over the years of struggling, I have found ways to help myself stay out of the red and even now, I still do these even though I'm financially comfortable. I don't think any of these are "breakthrough" or "secret" but anything helps, right?

In addition to saving money, you can read this post on how to earn a little extra by doing what you already do on the internet (yes, really!)


Shop Online: Everyday Purchases

In this day and age, it's all too easy to buy all of your essentials from the comfort of home. Some online shops even give you a better rate than what you get at the store AND you don't have to waste gas or sit in traffic. The catch? Shipping cost. There is a catch to the catch, though! If you spend enough (usually $40-$50), you'll get free shipping. AND! Majority of online stores have promo codes that can be entered for more money saving goodness (bookmark RetailMeNot and thank me later - codes galore!). Ordering a pizza? Promo code. Buying shoes? Yep, promo code. Very seldom do I not have a code to use but it's okay because I love shopping online. And admit it, getting a package in the mail is exciting. To make ordering online worthwhile, I wait until I need a few things so I know that I will get the free shipping cost. If I have to fish for things to add to my order to raise the price for the free shipping, then i'm not really saving much or I'm buying something I didn't really need.

And to make shopping online an even greater experience, you can earn CA$H BACK! Oh yeah, I said it! Shopping through ebates or Shop at Home gives you a % back (usually between 5-12). If you're like me and shop for vitamins and natural beauty/home products, you can also earn %5 back on purchases through Drugstore.com! So by shopping through the rebate site you earn their cashback, and then get cashback on the site (it will deduct from your total), it's super mega savings! Another site I shop through religiously for vitamins & such is Vitacost (click that link and you'll get a special discount because I <3 you). And of course, sites like eBay & Amazon - savings on tons of stuff and mostly free shipping!

Shop Online: Half-off Deals

I am by no means joking when I say I am pretty much addicted to buying half-off deals! What is it, exactly? Well it's basically what the name implies - you are getting something for half off. Let's take sites like Groupon & LivingSocial (I buy from these sites constantly!). For example - you pay $10 for $20 worth of 'goods' from a company. There is an abundance of restaurant deals like this and that's what I mainly go for. It makes date night inexpensive and opens up the door to try a place you've never been. In addition to restaurants, there are actual products that you can buy or activities around town. I live in Florida so there are tons of deals on kayaking, dolphin tours, sunset boat tours, etc etc. The choices are plentiful, seriously. I also want to note that some of the deals are even up to 80% off! As another tip, if you are going out of town for a few days or for vacation - check for deals in the city you are visiting! I took a handful of restaurant vouchers with me on my last vacation and it was totally worth it.

There are MANY more sites like this, you'll just have to search since many cities will have their own version. But in all honesty there is no beating Groupon (now they do concert ticket deals from Ticketmaster so its even better!). One thing I would watch for is museum memberships. Most museums have their own perks which would make it completely worthwhile to get a membership on the cheap. I did this about a year ago and got free admission to many other museums, zoos, aquariums - all for $40. Not bad, huh?

Shopping in Bulk

Let's face it - going to the store is a pain and your local grocery store is kind of pricey. So now then do we try to deal with Walmart? I say, hell no! If you have a local warehouse club store (Sam's, BJs Wholesale, Costco), I highly recommend getting into one! Basic membership varies at each store and is $40 - Sam's, $50 - BJs, $55 - Costco (I think). The fee is for a one year membership and a lot of these club stores also offer gas at .05-.10 less than the one down the road. I have one for Sam's and BJs and got both memberships discounted. The Sam's club membership I bought on LivingSocial for $45 but it came with a $20 gift card and about $15 worth in free product coupons, so my out of pocket was less than $10 (which is great because I NEVER shop there due to no organics or coupons). If you go here, you can get a free pass for a 2 month membership to BJs but there is a little secret to turn this pass into a discounted full membership! First of all, you can browse the store with no hassle because they don't card-check at the door. So if you like what you see, take the pass up to the membership counter and let them up-sell you into a full membership. I did this, and got a 14 month membership for $40 (versus 12mo/$50).

I've never been into Costco so I can't vouch for it, but I have heard good things about it. I also hear they have a lot of organic stuff and do coupons, which is a plus! I shop at BJs because they do both. They are constantly getting more organics and it's fantastic. I honestly do 90% of my shopping here because they don't make you buy mega tubs of peanut butter (meaning, majority of the package sizes are catered to normal households). Each month I get a coupon booklet AND they do manufacturer coupons (just no stacking).

For all warehouse clubs, you will spend more money up front and that can be scary. BUT! Once you start building up a stash of things, you'll spend less as time goes on. I haven't bought toothpaste, tp or paper towels in months. For whatever I can't get there, I hop across the street to Super Target and fill in the blanks and hit Whole Foods (or the local health food place) around once a month for my specialty items. Another bulk option is Amazon! They sometimes have cases of stuff for really cheap or just a good price in general. I recently bought a case of cereal for $40 shipped (retail product is roughly $65). Explore your options and shop! Only downfall is finding places to stash all of your stuff, though, so good luck!

Coupons & Clearance

This is a no-brainer. Use coupons and shop clearance as MUCH as possible! Personally, I print coupons pretty much before every shopping trip. I buy a lot of organic and healthy brands so the average newspaper coupons just don't cover those. I'm also not an extreme coupon crazy-lady, so I'd just rather print what I'll use. There is a handy site that shows you what coupons are coming out in the papers so you can know if you need to buy a paper that week - Sunday Coupon Preview. You can sign up for email alerts so you won't forget, too. There are also sites/blogs that show you price match-ups so you can get the best deals on stuff but I don't use those, so unfortunately you are on your own for finding them.

As for clearance, don't even think of buying things at full price again (or at least very often). Shop ONLY the clearance racks and you'll save so much money in the long run! For clothing, that's all I even look at UNLESS the store is having a sale PLUS a %-off coupon (like Kohl's - they stack clearance + sale + discount, so that = super savings). Be sure to sign up for your favorite stores email list and get notifications on sales & discount coupons and take advantage when stores do a %-off of what's on clearance (I've purchased shirts and other stuff for a buck at these sales). Score!

I'm also HUGE into the discount chain stores like Ross, Marshall's, TJ Maxx, etc for my kitchen gear and other home necessities. These places are seriously the go-to place to outfit your kitchen! Pots, pans, utensils and gadgets. And it's all name brand, so it's much better than buying the junky stuff at Walmart. These places also usually have food snacks, tea, bottled drinks, etc for cheap so there's plenty of goodies to be found for a reasonable price.


Ditch the TV

I know you probably just laughed, but really - paying for cable or satellite is crazy! It's expensive, and then they trick you into bundling to "save money" but don't tell you the rate rises after a year or two. No way, Jose! My cable internet connection is all I need. I'm not a big TV watcher anyhow, but just think about it - you can subscribe to both Netflix AND Hulu+ for $20 a month and have unlimited access to tons of tv series and movies. Better choice? I think so! And the best part is that you can stream from your computer, an app on your phone/tablet or through the Ps3, Xbox & Wii. Easy breezy.

Netflix updates their selection frequently but also takes things away (which can suck). I believe they only stream what is currently on DVD. Hulu makes you watch commercials even when you pay, but they have big network shows on about a week after they air (sometimes a day later, I think) so you can still stay fairly current on your shows.


This concludes my tips on saving money. When I can put together more, there will be a part II! If you have any tips of your own, feel free to share and I may include them next time!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How-to: Acquiring pocket change!



Okay! Who likes finding that $20 bill in a pair of jeans that haven't been worn in forever? Or getting that lucky scratch-off ticket that wins more than a free ticket? A little bit of extra cashola is always nice - especially when times are tough. Or if you just want a little something to play with. Never question extra money! I want to share some of my tips with you on how to earn a little something for your wallet all for FREE and all ONLINE!

Wait, wait, wait! Yes, I am serious! There are really reputable and legit ways. So before you write this off as another scam, just keep on readin' (please)! I do have a job... so why do I bother with these methods? Well, because it takes practically zero effort and very little time and I can do it when I please. So then why am I sharing? I always get asked by my friends on Facebook on where I got a free $50 gift card or free this or free that - so I wanted to publicly share the wealth (no pun intended)! Honestly, I wish I would of come across something like this back when I was starting... everything I use I just happened upon at one point or another. I use my "earnings" to treat myself to extras or to give myself something more to play with during vacations or holiday time. This may be kinda lengthy, so bookmark or pin this page! So let's get started, yay! (please note: the money is real but it's not substantial enough to pay your bills)

Clicking on the site name and the attached photos will open a new window with the site!

Ebates

Not to be confused with eBay! This is a 'rebate' site that pays you cold hard cash for shopping online. WHAAAT?! Yep! No.Strings.At.All. I seriously wish I had discovered this type of thing 5-6 years ago because I do some serious online shopping due to my hatred for fighting store crowds. I signed up in December and have already gotten $32 back, with a little more earned since then. They pay out every 3 months and you have the option for a mailed check or a deposit straight into your Paypal account. They usually also do new user promos and will send a gift card after your first payment is issued (I received a $10 card to Kohl's). ALL you do is go through their site and choose the site you want to shop at, and they will give you a percentage back of your subtotal. And the minimum amount required to be earned to be paid out is only $5.01. The list of stores they have available is pretty big so you should be able to take advantage of this (they even support Groupon woohoo!). Realistically, you're earning back roughly $2.00 or less per purchase. I know this sounds paltry but it adds up. Plus, if you went to the store, they don't give you crap back AND you waste gas to get there. "But what about shipping costs?" Most sites offer free shipping when a minimum is met. For stores with high minimums ($50), I wait until I can meet that and then shop. I also religiously use coupon codes found online to boost my savings. Try it, you'll be hooked!

(Screen capture from my account. I have no idea why I was paid in Jan when they say it's every 3 months)


This is the site that I've used for the longest time (since 2005) and they also pay cash rewards in the form of a check. I've received several checks and currently have over $30 earned now, but I don't care to cash in at this time. The only bummer is that your minimum needs to be $30 and they take a very small cut - but you have to request the check so you can earn as much as you want until you're ready. This site is fairly slow earning if you only do the free offers. Their thing is exactly as the title reads - inbox dollars. They send you 2-4 emails every day and all you do is click the link in the email and earn. I think it's around .02 per (yikes, I know) BUT it takes 5 seconds and you are done. They don't spam, so that's really all you do... click an email and move on. They also have more ways to earn and you can get decent payouts with some effort. I used to use these methods but I just honestly don't want to take the time, so I stick to the emails. They offer cash surveys which offer from .25 to $1.25 each (I used to do these constantly but I hate online surveys). They also do paid offers - these are things you sign up for, such as trials, and they give you something bigger like $8.00 each. This sounds great, but you DO need a credit/debit card to sign up and you have to remember to cancel if you don't stick with the service (example: Netflix). I did these at first and made money really fast.. but I got burned by a company who had a way with words and extended my trial for 2 weeks.. so little did I know I had to call before that was up and cancel again. I was out of $50 and NO refund. Don't let that dissuade you, though, just take caution if you choose that route. The emails and surveys will get you earning so that you can get a check in a few months. 

(My payouts to date. Yes, it is slow - but it's still free!)

Swagbucks

I think by now everyone has at least heard of Swagbucks. If you haven't, or if you just have but are not using it - you will want to check it out! This site has a lot of earning potential and it's super fast and easy. The only drawback is that it is prize rewards. They DO offer Paypal prizes, so that is basically cash, but most of their stuff is item or gift card based. Their store offers a huge selection of stuff and most of it is pretty good. The prices may look high, but just remember that it's still FREE! The gist of it is that it's web-based searching. Their engine is powered by Google and Ask, so all you do is search for something and you get Swagbucks (SB). You don't win EVERY time you search, though. The amount of times you win is random and the SB you earn is random as well. Personally, I just sporadically search something and refresh the page every now and then and earn. If you follow them on Facebook & Twitter, they issue Swag Codes which you enter into the site to earn another few points, but these expire after a few hours. If you don't think this sounds appealing, just give it a shot! There are way more ways to earn as well and it seems they add new ways periodically. For example, printing and using store coupons will give you 10 SB each. You can watch video ads and clips for more, surveys, paid offers (again, like Netflix) etc etc. They also have a system so if you reach a daily goal, you get a bonus (example: if your daily goal is 80, you get another 10 if you reach it). I personally don't do much more than searching the web because I don't feel like going the extra mile. But I have heard of people earning enough to get an Amazon gift card every few weeks.

(That $50 Paypal cash was a nice treat for my vacation earlier this year! And the video game was seriously like new - not a scratch!)

Recyclebank

Recyclebank isn't exactly exciting and the prizes aren't as affluent as Swagbucks, but I still can't stress enough that this stuff is free, free, free! Basically what Recyclebank does is reward you with points for learning about the environment and the impacts of waste and recycling can do. So you basically pledge to do something good for the earth or energy conservation and you earn points. It's really informative and I recommend it mostly for the Environment (I am a modern day hippie.. sorta). A lot of it is interactive and you can click on different things to learn what happens. For example: they frequently do scenes (let's say a house) and you can click on a lamp and it will tell you about the effects of turning off the light or what switching to a CFL bulb can do and then you pledge to do it. Boom, points. They offer a lot of good coupons for Organic and natural products (stuff you don't find on the coupon sites) and also magazine subscriptions. I also believe they do percentage-off discounts for a few sites but in my opinion, the magazines and coupons is where it's at. No cash potential here, but who doesn't like coupons and magazines? There isn't nearly as much earning potential here for points, but when they have their interactive scenes come out, you can usually earn a few hundred (up to a thousand) per one, which is basically enough to start collecting rewards, yay!


(So far for me: two full year magazine subscriptions and a ton of coupons!)

I hope everyone has enjoyed these tidbits and hope that I can help everyone fatten their wallets just a tiny bit. If you use any other sites, please comment so I can check it out and possibly add them to this post!

I would also like to write a post with tips on how I save money in the coming week or two (but I am busy and lazy) so stay tuned! If I happen to get around to that, I will update this post with the link!




Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cosmo VoxBox

So, what's a voxbox you ask? I have no idea what it means, but it contains goodies!

There's a little site called Influenster and I heard about it through a friend. I didn't think it was going to be as fantastic as it is, since most 'test free product' sites are always a let down. Influenster definitely is NOT a let down!

First of all, you do a bunch of surveys and questionnaires about yourself to show what you are interested in. If you are a match for a product, you get an email with pre-qualification survey to see if you really are a fit for the program they are launching. It's that simple.. and you wait for the email saying you're in!

I got my first voxbox in November I think. Here are the FULL-SIZED FREEBIES it contained:

•Pilot FriXion pens - 1 black, 1 orange.
 -Amazing little gen pens. They write super smooth and the ink doesnt smear around or bleed through your paper. Best part is that they are oops-proof aka erasable. The eraser doesn't fully clear the ink but it does get most of it off. The orange was really vivid so I'm interested to see if they have purple or pink. I gave my husband the black one to test out but he lost it at work or the klepto cat stole it.

•Venus Embrace razor & 1 Olay razor refill (AND $2 off coupon).
 -I've used Venus razors for years but the new Embrace is a 5 bladed razor. Its a smooth, close shave for sure. If you like the Venus already, you'll like it. The Olay razor has a big stick of Olay soap on top so it smooths while shaving. It's not a bad concept but it seems inconsistent and the plastic underneath is pointy and scrapes at your skin when it starts running out. And of course, nothing bad to say about a coupon for $2 off my next purchase. Oh, and any Venus refill blade fits on ALL Venus razors! So if you have the original, you can put any refill blade on it.

•Bath & Body Works Forever Red perfume.
 -My initial reaction to the scent is that it was fantastic! It has a fruity and musky smell.. very fun and sensual. It's perfect for work or going out. It goes on strong but doesn't stay all day. The price is really high for what it is, so I'd probably pass on the larger bottle.

•Ghiradelli Sea salt & almond chocolate bar.
 -You can't go wrong with chocolate.. ever. Unfortunately since I live in Florida, my bar arrived partially melted (yes, even in November). I tossed it in the fridge and it was perfectly fine. I love sea salt and chocolate, but the bits of almond I wasn't a huge fan of. It's also milk chocolate, so if it comes in a dark variety I'm sold.

Once you're done testing out the products, you spread the word and do another questionnaire on your opinions on everything. Voila!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smelly cat, oh smelly cat!

Smelly Cat, Smelly cat what are they feeding you?
Smelly Cat, smelly cat it's not your fault...
They won't take you to the vet.
You're obviously not their favorite pet.
You may not be a bed of roses,
And you're no friend to those with noses. I promise you when we're done
all the world will smell as one
Smelly cat, smelly cat what are they feeding you?
Smelly cat, smelly cat it's not your fault!


Don't fret, you don't have to have a smelly cat.

In my apartment, I had the luxury of having the cat box on the [screened] back patio. In the Fall/Winter, the sliding doors stayed open so they had the freedom to go as they pleased. In the summer months, I would let them outside to do their business and not have my nose run for cover. Plus, well, it's an apartment and there isn't much room for cat boxes. They're both boys, and they are fixed, but it can still get pretty funky when tinkle continuously seeps into the plastic. I've always wondered what you were supposed to use to clean a cat box?

Bleach is a NO NO!! Bleach + ammonia = bad news. I used bleach once or twice with no consequence but was paranoid the entire time. Some things I've read highly advised against it, and well, not worth the risk. So now what? From then on out, I used my bleach-free Lysol bathroom cleaner. It worked, but the box was kind of perfumey and not all that fresh.... and then the light bulb came on!

 [cha-ching!]


Duh! This stuff is good for everything, so why not try it to tackle the mighty cat box!? I figured I had nothing to lose, it couldn't be worse than what I have been using previously.


[yes, I have a funky space age cat box - don't judge me]

•Rinse the box out really well with water to get any lingering litter and put the scoop inside with it. 
•Add an inch or so of white vinegar to the bottom of the box and swish around a bit with the scoop to start loosening things up.
•Generously sprinkle in the baking soda and watch the magic happen! Fizzzzz! Swish the scoop around in the fizzy fun!
•Repeat those steps if you are anything like me and enjoy watching the reaction.
•Let it hang out for a few minutes, then come back and scrub everything down with a scrubby brillo pad [that little green thing]. Scrub the scoop and all the walls/bottom of the box.
•Rinse, dry, and voila! CLEAN! You can even put your face in it and smell nothing but sparkly clean.

I usually air dry mine outside. If you do, remember to go grab it before your boyfriend/husband mows the grass and you have to rinse it out again...

[cat approval]


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Baby, come back!

You can blame it all on me!

Okay okay, it's from the Swiffer commercial where the fancy little Swiffer has kicked the old mop & bucket to the curb. I have one, it's pink, and I got a 3 n 1 starter kit for really cheap at my local Big Lots about a 1½ years ago when I moved into my apartment.

[seeeee!]

Well, I just moved out of my apartment into a house and now I need my little guy more than ever [95% tiled floors, yaaay]. I used my last mop pad for it while cleaning out the apartment.. uh oh, how am I going to mop this entire house [that needed about 5 moppings - badly!]? I didn't fancy buying new ones because I find the sweeper & mop pads wasteful... use it once and toss it. Blek.

While at my local Dollar Tree [♥] shopping for cleaning accessories for the house, I noticed a cute [pink] little microfiber cloth that looked like it could come in handy. Lo and behold - it was the perfect size for the Swiffer! No alterations necessary - just fasten that bad boy in like you would the disposable ones. It holds snug and doesn't fall off.

Fill a spray bottle with half water, half vinegar and shoot the floor and mop it. Presto! The cloth is machine washable and you just cleaned your floor naturally. No waste, no harsh chemicals. If you don't care for the smell of vinegar, you can soak some orange peels with it or add a drop or two of essential oil (orange oil is a degreaser, fyi). My bottle is filled with lavender, and I use the same combo [-sans water] in my laundry as a 'fabric softener' with my home made lavender scented laundry soap.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Salad? Isn't that with lettuce?

Salad isn't just made up of lettuce anymore, folks!


I'm a big fan of all types of salad. Pasta, bean, potato, egg, fruit and your traditional leafy greens. My last post included a fruit salad, but this time I'd like to dive into a hybrid salad. I only bring salad back up because I had an uh-maaaazing southwest taco salad at one of my local digs this past weekend. Best part? Half price on Groupon! Dear goodness, if you have yet to try to find a deal on there... GO! I'm waiting to redeem the one I just picked up for Mellow Mushroom pizza.. mmm pizza & beer. Oh right, back to salad!

"Hybrid salad, you say?". Why, yes! It's a bean & pasta mixture. Sounds kinda weird, I'm sure. But try it - you'll like it!

Salmon tortellini salad

»1 package/can of wild caught Salmon
»1 can of garbanzo beans [or boil the heck out of dried beans like I do]
»1 package of tortellini [I use whole wheat Bertolli - found in the 'fridgerated section]
»handful of sundried tomatoes
»couple leaves of fresh basil
» Parmesan cheese
»Italian dressing [or your choice of a similar vinaigrette]

[pasta is on the stove - the picture of that was boring]

•While the pasta cools, put your beans into the bowl or storage container you plan on using
•Chop up your basil and sundried tomatoes. If your tomatoes are in oil, drain/dry them [mine come dry].


•Strain out the pasta if you haven't already and add them to your bowl. Gently fold the two together.
•If salmon is in water, drain it out and also gently fold into your mixture [some cans have bones, be careful].
•Add your dressing choice [I don't measure, but if I had to guess... ½ cup or so] until everything is nice and coated
•Sprinkle in the Parmesan until you feel like stopping
•Add the basil & tomatoes.


•Try not to ravage the whole container in one sitting.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Caramel Apple Crazy


Oh caramel apple, I love you so.

Do you ever think about that luscious sweet and tart creation... but then realize it's nowhere near Fall and you can't find one anywhere? Sigh.. me too. Well, some local confection shops carry them year 'round but I find that $6 a pop is a bit steep.

I actually worked in one of those shops for over a year - and have decorated a couple hundred apples. Snickers, rocky road, Almond Joy, peanut, pecan, walnut, black & white chip, Butterfinger, apple pie, cheesecake.. and onnn and on.

Drooling yet? Try this on for size.

Caramel Apple Salad

»2 granny smith apples
»handful of mini marshmallows
»handful of peanuts
»caramel sauce [recipe here - it makes a ton! So either half it or make sure you have another use for it.. like topping ice cream or swirling in brownies/cookies!]

•Make your caramel according to directions. It'll look nice and lovely like this when it's ready. Set it aside to cool.

•Chop up the peanuts into bitty little pieces. This is fun because they like to roll away.
•Chop the apples into nice little squares. Tip? Cut a tic-tac-toe grid on the top of your apple for perfect slices [the core being the center square].
•If you don't have mini mallows on hand, yes, you'll be chopping these too! Prepare for lots of knife rinsing and sticky fun.


Toss everything into a bowl and you're almost there to caramel apple bliss. Once the caramel is cooled enough, start drizzling until you're satisfied. Mix it all up and enjoy! And yes, your apples will still turn brown! But that caramel goodness will cover it up. I believe you can work some magic with citric acid to prevent the oxidation.. but not like your apples will be any less delicious when brown. 




Fun story from my confection store job: Can you believe how many people would try to return a half eaten caramel apple because it started browning? It happens probably more than you think! Some people would ask for it sliced even if they weren't eating it right away. Naturally, we would warn them about oxidation [so they wouldn't try for a refund] and their faces would twist in confusion about apples "turning brown?" then say "never mind, don't slice it". But that's not the worst... getting asked what a 'chocolate dipped Twinkie or cherry' is, or what it tastes like is mind boggling.