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6 Apr 2011   ·   104
Money Saving Mom

Q&A: How do you get stuff for free at drugstores?

Lynn-Ann emailed in a great question this morning:

As I’ve received your e-mail updates, I’ve been a bit frustrated about the ECB/RR stuff. I will share with you what I mean: in the April 4, 2011 e-mail you share the following:

Buy 1 Colgate Maxfresh, MaxWhite or MaxClean Toothpaste at $2.99, Get $3 Register Rewards
Use $0.35/1 coupon from the 4/3 SmartSource insert
Free plus overage after coupon and Register Rewards

I get so excited when I see FREE. But basically it isn’t free when I go to the register and check out is it? Since I still have to pay for the toothpaste at $2.99 and of course I can use the $0.35/1 coupon, but I basically pay the difference, because I don’t even get the Register Rewards til after my purchase is complete. Correct?

-Lynn-Ann, Kansas City, KS

Hi, Lynn-Ann!

Many times, it’s a little confusing when you first begin the drugstore game because you have to outlay cash in order to start getting free groceries and household items. However, once you invest $10 or so and start building up some Register Rewards or ECBs, then you can just use these instead of cash to pay for your groceries/household items. And you just keep rolling these and rolling these and rolling these! Meaning, you pay for your order with the ECBs or Register Rewards you earned from the last transaction instead of paying with cash.

Yes, you usually can’t get your order total down completely to $0.00 — though I’ve done it before! — but you can get it pretty close. Back when we lived where there was a CVS store, I was able to get thousands of dollars worth of groceries and household items over the course of two years and spent less than $75 out-of-pocket for everything. I typically paid around $3 out of pocket for every $100 worth of purchases because I was rolling ECB’s from my previous transaction.

For example, this week at CVS, you could do something like this:

Transaction #1:
Buy 2 GUM Eez-Thru Flossers (75-150 ct) at $2, Get $2 ECBs (Limit 2)
Use 2 $0.75/1 printable
You’ll spend $2.50 plus tax after the coupon and you’ll have $4 in ECBs to spend on your next transaction.

Take that $4 in ECBs and use it to do a second transaction.

Transaction #2:
Buy 2 Oral-B Manual Toothbrush (1 ct) at $2.99
Buy 1 Crest or Oral-B Pro-Health at $3.49
Use $1/1 Crest coupon from the 4/3 P&G insert
Use 2 $2/1 Oral-B coupons from the 4/3 P&G insert
Use $4 ECBs earned from Transaction #1
You’ll spend only $0.47 plus tax out of pocket and you’ll then get back $4.48 in ECBs.

So, for an initial monetary invstment of $3 plus tax, you’ll have purchased five items and have $4.48 in ECBs leftover.

You can do another transaction to purchase ECB deals you’ve still not done for the week yet (like a second Oral-B — it’s a limit of two — or the Complete Contact Solution). Or, you can just hang onto the $4.48 in ECBs and use them for the ECB deals next week.

Walgreens is a bit more complicated, in my opinion, and it’s harder to get your totals down to under $1 — especially with the tax we have here in Kansas! But you can still significantly lower your totals by using Register Rewards from previous transactions to take off most of what you owe.

For more information, be sure to read Walgreens 101 and CVS 101 where I explain more in-depth how to maximize the mileage of your money at both of these stores.

4 Apr 2011   ·   121
Money Saving Mom

“$50 here and $75 there adds up fast…”


An encouraging story from Terri:

My husband and I read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover in March of 2009. I absolutely loved the book as it started us on our journey to becoming debt free in a year.

Our goal was to pay off a student loan, home equity loan, and to get my husband a used car since his 15-year-old SUV was on it’s last leg. It was about $25,000 worth of debt and we were looking at used cars in the $10,000 price range.

We started by:

  • Making sure our allowances for our taxes were correct so that we were getting the maximum amount back per paycheck
  • Temporarily discontinuing contributions to our 401K and the kids college funds
  • Cutting back on eating out
  • Using coupons

I realized that in one month I spent $600 at Target! It was not all at once but $50 dollars here and $75 dollars there, it added up fast. After that discovery we really only bought necessities when shopping.

We started using Mint.com to keep track of our spending habits. Once we figured out where all the money was going, and stopped our other contributions we came up with an extra $2000-$3000 per month to go toward debt.

We paid off both loans one year later on February 22, 2010, and two months later we paid $11,000 in cash for my husband’s Mazda RX-8. Handing over the check was pretty scary but it felt awesome!

We continued to save the following year and now have $25,000 in our savings account for emergencies, and no debt except the house. We have also been able to increase our tithing at church. We have almost given more to church the past three months than we did all of last year at church. It feels wonderful!

Our next goal to to save for retirement by increasing our contributions to 15%. Everything that is leftover will go toward the kids college and pay off the mortgage.  I would also love to be able to start helping more people in need now that we have our act together. I would love to give that big tip to a single mother who is a waitress or give a $100 bill to a stranger in need on the street.

It is amazing to me that when we were not managing our money well, we wanted to go out and spend it.  In contrast, now that we have money set aside, we do not want to spend any of it!

I am so looking forward to see what this year brings. We have been blessed by God beyond belief. It truly is amazing.

Terri is 36 and a stay at home mom to her two wonderful kids. Her husband is 43 the Senior Director for a Computer Consulting firm. Terri likes to make a little extra money every now and then by subbing at her children’s old preschool and picking up an occasional data entry project for her husbands company.

Do you have a story to share about your financial journey which would encourage other readers and give them hope? Email it to me and I’ll consider posting it.

4 Apr 2011   ·   55
Money Saving Mom

How to work from home as a transcriptionist

Guest post by April

Hundreds of thousands of people are searching for a legitimate way to earn an income from home. Sadly, an overwhelming majority of what they run into is a scam, produces minuscule amounts of money or requires a considerable investment in training programs and/or years of experience.

Home-based transcription is a work-at-home job which allows people to make a real living without special education or experience required. Granted, just like any real job, it takes practice and study to become efficient, but the pay and flexibility of the job can be very rewarding.

I began my own transcription career at age 18. My mom was a small town court reporter from North Carolina and she taught me how to create legal documents. I was able to use the knowledge she gave me to start my own business as a legal transcriptionist.

I quickly discovered that the field of home-based transcription had many available opportunities. It wasn’t just for people with a medical certification, or even just for those with legal training. There were great general transcription positions available open to anyone with a strong work ethic, speedy typing, and good grammar and spelling abilities. Before I knew it, I had several different companies willing to provide me with work!

This proved to be a tremendous blessing for my family. It financially supported us through three years of my husband’s education and an additional two years through some pretty huge life changes. I took my job with me from North Carolina to California and back again to North Carolina, and was even able to work while caring for two precious babies.

Interested in working from home as a transcriptionist? Here are some qualifications needed:

1. Fast Typer: As a transcriptionist, you specialize in converting audio that you hear into specially formatted documents called transcripts. While you have a foot pedal to start and stop the audio when you need to, you will still need an absolute minimum typing speed of 60 words per minute, by hiring company standardsand to make the job worth your time and energy. If you’re not already a fast typist, don’t worry! Practice is all it takes to get your speed up.

2. Skilled Writer: Proper grammar usage, spelling and punctuation are very important in translating the spoken word to written. You can change the meaning completely by simply misplacing a period or comma. If you need to brush up on your writing skills, I recommend reviewing the guidelines and taking the quizzes by The Basic Elements of English Grammar Guide – University of Calgary.

3. Detailed Reseacher: As a transcriptionist, you are frequently exposed to new ideas, people, places and words you’ve not heard of before. This is a fun part about the job, but it can also be challenging to understand and spell correctly unless you’re skilled at researching.

You can expect to be paid anywhere from $6 to $60 per hour. When I first started and was learning the ropes, I was able to make about $12-$15 per hour. Knowing what I know now, and having increased my typing speed to 90-100 WPM, I am able to make about $25-$30 per hour. The more you practice and work on improving, generally, the more you’re going to make.

Steps of action to starting out as a transcriptionist:

  • Create a winning resume and cover letter.
  • Make sure you have the tools necessary to perform your work. Many companies require you to type a small transcript as part of your employment application, so it’s best to be ready before applying.
  • Start applying to any and all transcription companies you can. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back regarding your first few applications. I applied to nearly 60 companies before I was hired. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, it’s often easier to be accepted by more companies.

Working as a transcriptionist does take a lot of work and discipline, but it’s also a super, straightforward way to earn income from home with refreshingly honest wages for your valuable time and effort.

Happily married and delighted to be the stay-at-home mom of three munchkins (so far), April still enjoys transcribing part-time in addition to caring for her home and family. For more information on getting started as a transcriptionist, get her Home-Based Transcriptionist ebook.

photo credit

2 Apr 2011   ·   44
Money Saving Mom

Super Savings Saturday: Eating from the Pantry Week

I’ve been spending all my spare minutes finishing up my book manuscript because my self-imposed deadline for the finished rough draft is in a few days, so we’re Eating From the Pantry right now. It’s been awhile since I’ve challenged myself to only use what we have on hand, so I’ve had fun being creative in the kitchen this past week.

It helps that we had stocked our freezer and cupboards pretty well over the last six weeks and it also helps that we’re not buying milk right now to see if it makes any difference in Silas’ cough/asthma. We are almost out of fruit, though, so a trip to Aldi will be happening sometime in the next few days to at least buy fruit and a few other basics.

In the mean time, I’ve enjoyed the extra time that not going to the grocery store or clipping coupons has provided and am excited at the progress I’m making on the manuscript (though I’m not going to pretend like it’s been perfectly smooth sailing or that my house is anywhere near tip-top shape right now! :))

Did you snag any great deals or bargains this week or save money in other ways? If so, be sure to post about them on your blog and leave your link below. Please remember that this weekly round-up is to share deals you personally got and/or money you were able to save this week. In order to keep this weekly round-up focused on helping and inspiring others in their efforts to save money, links which have little-to-no content other than promoting affiliate links, etc. will be deleted. Also, to make it easy for everyone to navigate quickly through the links, your link must link directly to your Super Savings Saturday post.

1 Apr 2011   ·   59
Money Saving Mom

We Paid Cash: SUV

We paid cash!

A testimony from Jen

We’ve been married for 8 ½ years and have two children. In early 2010, just a year after the birth of our second child, my husband and I decided that it was time to sell his 14-year-old truck and buy a larger truck or SUV that would fit our growing family. We had been driving two cars everywhere we went because we couldn’t all fit into just one of our vehicles.

Having taken Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University in the past, we committed not to finance vehicles, so we knew this was going to be a cash deal. It was time to sell the truck, and just hours after listing it online we had an offer. We took it and three days later we had a large wad of cash for our next vehicle!

We set our budget for buying a new truck and began searching. Two months later we found a Suburban that was within our budget and fit all of our needs. So we bought it — with cash!

A month after the purchase the our new-to-us automobile, the suburban’s engine blew. We were out. Out our truck and out our cash.

Not only that, but it was going to cost more to fix the problem than we paid for the vehicle! We had been scammed and I was mad; the kind of mad where steam comes out of your ears.

I got over myself, and we decided to cut our losses. We picked ourselves up, decided to sell the suburban “as is”, tuck the money away and start saving again for another vehicle.

Once again, we set a budget and decided when we reached that amount we would start looking. This time though, we decided that as we were looking we would continue to save. This way, the longer it took to find another truck, the more we’d have to spend. We began putting money away from each paycheck.

Fast forward eight months to January 2011 and we had reached our goal. It was time to start looking for a vehicle, but this time we knew we did not want to make a private party purchase. We were determined to buy from a dealership.

The search began and on February 12, 2011, we paid cash for a 1999 Chevy Tahoe! The dealer even sweetened the deal by including a three-month warranty because we were paying in cash! As you can see, it’s a beautiful truck, and we now have peace of mind about our purchase because we have a warranty.

The best part about our purchase was we were able to negotiate the price and walked away from the sale with $600 of our budgeted money leftover in our pockets! We were able to put the extra money back into savings for future vehicle needs.

Jen Lowman is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of two and lover of the Lord Jesus Christ! Her husband Chris is a wonderful man who also loves the Lord and works very hard to support and provide for his family!

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

1 Apr 2011   ·   125
Money Saving Mom

“I don’t want saving money to be what consumes me.”

Guest post by Lacey Wilcox at Live Loved

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re on this website because you have a desire to save money. I’m right there with you.

Like many people, my husband and I have made achieving complete financial freedom as one of our goals for the new year. Together we’ve created a budget, told every penny where it is going to go, fought to maintain “gazelle-like” intensity (you’ll only appreciate that if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan), and worked to see that it all happens.

I have loved how each of us has our own unique role in this goal. For my husband, that role involves working to earn an income, being our spiritual leader, and taking care of things that are above and beyond me (things like knowing when it’s time to rotate the tires, or change the oil).

My role, however, is a little different. I get the blessing of taking care of our home, and more importantly, our sweet baby girl. While my husband earns the income, I try to make sure we spend as little of it as possible. Websites like MoneySavingMom.com have become my best friend. Couponing is becoming an art form. And getting things at the lowest possible price is now, well, an obsession.

I think about it constantly, read tons of websites and ads throughout the day and cut coupons like crazy. (Please tell me I’m not alone. If I am, just don’t let me know.)

It’s a noble obsession. I mean, who doesn’t want to help their family save as much as possible? What could be wrong with something like that?

Nothing is wrong with it. Not one thing at all.

In fact, I think such a desire shows responsibility, diligence and good stewardship. For me, I feel it is a part of fulfilling my call as wife and mom, one that I am so humbled and honored to receive. So I repeat, there is nothing wrong with wanting to save money, and doing what is necessary to carry out that desire — unless it becomes an obsession.

The very definition of an obsession is something that eventually consumes you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want saving money to be what consumes me.

And so, I find myself already tweaking my New Year’s resolutions (Okay, to be honest, I had never really set official resolutions to begin with, but you get what I mean).

I want to save money. I mean I really want to save money. But with everything I do toward that, I’m going to check my heart and mind constantly to make sure that my motives are coming from a pure heart, and not one that is consumed.

My guess is many of you have already been at this place. What suggestions do you have to help keep a right perspective on saving money, without making it an obsession?

Lacey Wilcox lives in the Panhandle of Texas with her husband, Kade and sweet baby, Selah, where they manage Panfork Baptist Camp. Lacey writes about adventures in marriage, mommy-hood, and camp life at her blog.

31 Mar 2011   ·   65
Money Saving Mom

Fun & Frugal: Water scooping and pouring

After my post on Bean Scooping, a couple of you suggested I try something similar with water for Silas.

Silas loved the water (as did Kathrynne and Kaitlynn!) I just laid down a towel on our kitchen floor, gave him some measuring cups and spoons and various bowls and tubs.

I added a little dish soap to the water to make it bubbly and he had at it.

Yes, there were a few puddles on the kitchen floor after he was done, but it kept him quietly and cheerfully occupied for 15 minutes while I cleaned up the kitchen, so it was every bit worth a little mess.

What kinds of fun and frugal activities have you been doing at your house recently? I’d love to hear your ideas!

30 Mar 2011   ·   41
Money Saving Mom

The Best Way to Save Money

Amy (who is my real-life friend and who also helps set up all the private advertising and giveaways here on MoneySavingMom.com) has an excellent post up today on the best way to save money:

Clipping coupons is great, but not if you spend 2 hours clipping and sorting to save $5 on items your family doesn’t like to eat.

Purchasing that cute shirt at a discount seems rational, until you get it home and realize it doesn’t fit… and then you never bother to return it.

Dining out with a free meal deal is fabulous, unless you have to spend outside your budget for the rest of the meals to get one “free.”

Read her full post.

photo credit

29 Mar 2011   ·   109
Money Saving Mom

Ask Jesse: Should we finance our car in order to keep more money in savings?

If we can afford the payments, is it smarter to finance part of the vehicle to keep our savings, or should we go ahead and pay cash (keeping $5,000 to $6,000 in our Emergency Funds still)? -Leah

First off, congratulations on building your savings to afford paying cash for the vehicle! Having just purchased a newer car for the first time last year after years of driving old and hand-me-down vehicles, I can empathize with how nice it is to have the money set aside.

If I were in your shoes, I would make sure that your Emergency Fund is enough to cover at least three months’ worth of expenses if something happens to your income. If you have enough after that is set aside to buy a vehicle with cash, I would go ahead and pay cash for the vehicle.

Is it “smarter” to make the payments and finance the vehicle? I would say, in short, no. You will be paying more for the car with interest payments over the next five years than you would if you just paid cash outright.

Also, touching on another discussion for another day, I think we have some serious inflation coming down the pike within the next few years. If you spend the cash now, I believe the money will be worth more now than it would be sitting in savings at a later date when you would use it to pay the interest payments over the next five to seven years. So, not only would you be paying more money due to the interest payments, you potentially could be paying more due to inflation.

Additionally, if you use cash, there is a greater potential at having your money go further by being able to negotiate a better deal. When I bought my car last year, I may not have saved that much money upfront by paying cash, but paying in cash allowed me to go an unconventional route and expedite the process.

After extensive research, I ended up getting my car through a dealer who got the vehicle at a dealer auction. The car was off-lease and had been wrecked and had hail damage but the dealership repaired it as good as new under the lease. The car I bought still had the original sticker in the glove box and we ended up paying half of the value of the original price for a three-year-old vehicle. The previous owner took the hit on depreciation and we were able to get a great deal. And going the cash route allowed us to finish the deal rather quickly.

If you can afford the payments now when you have everything saved up, I would go ahead and use the already-saved money to buy a vehicle. Then, I would take the money you would have been paying for a car payment and set it aside for your next vehicle purchase or another savings goal. When setting aside money for something, I’ve found it helpful to already mentally “spend” the money while it is being set aside. Then, when it is time to write the check, it does not hurt as much. 🙂

What about the rest of you? Would you recommend paying cash for a vehicle or would you finance a vehicle and keep more money in savings?

Jesse Paine is a licensed attorney who owns his own law firm. He’s married to Crystal and is the numbers nerd of the MoneySavingMom.com team! If you have a question you’d like him to answer in a future column, you can submit it here.

The content of this column intended for informational use only and is not to be construed as providing legal, investing, accounting or other professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly seek qualified professional counsel concerning your specific legal, investing or accounting needs.

28 Mar 2011   ·   48
Money Saving Mom

Five Ways to Give on a Budget

Guest post by Sia Hills at Centsible in Seattle

Even more than frugality, I love generosity. When there are opportunities be frugal and generous, I get really excited.

Opportunities exist to get something for free, while giving to another. Others provide great leverage for your dollar: when you purchase something your money will be doubled and you will get product.

Regardless of your budget, there are opportunities for everyone to give. Here are a few of my favorite ways to give:

1. Read a Book. Give a Book.

At WeGiveBooks.org, you choose a book to read online. You then select a charity to donate a free book to a child in need. My girls love this program, and it teaches them about giving at a young age.

2. Donate Extra Items From Your Stockpile

You can donate items to your local food bank or homeless shelters. Check out Feeding America for a food bank near you.

Do you ever wonder what you might be able to do with all of that free soap and shampoo you have stockpiled? Send it to Clean The World and recycle your soap to save lives. Diseases like Cholera are addressed best with soap and water. Your extra soap and shampoo can save a life. Work with others you know to combine your stockpiles and share shipping costs.

Another great option is to fill a shoebox with with school supplies, small toys, toothbrushes, etc. for the children in need in poor areas of the world through Operation Christmas Child.

3. Purchase Coffee For a Cause

If you’re a coffee lover, be sure to check out OneCup.org. For every $11 in coffee you purchase, $11 will be donated to help humanitarian aid work in Africa.

In addition, Doughnut Girl Coffeeprovides an opportunity to get coffee and help another. Pay $9 for coffee and 100% of profits go to Salvation Army.

4. Buy Handmade Items from Entrepreneurs in Third World Countries

Heavenly Treasures, one of my favorite sites, offer the opportunity to purchase items that have been handmade by an entrepreneur in a poor country. These are recipients of Micro Loans, and you are supporting the growth of their business. They offer unique and affordable one of a kind gifts (many start at around $5).

5. Buy a Pair of Shoes, Give a Pair of Shoes

For every pair of shoes purchased, Tom’s Shoes gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. What is great about Tom’s Shoes is that they work from a replenishment model: the child who received the first pair will continue to get a new pair as they grow out of them or wear them out. Besides the comfort of wearing shoes, it has a significant impact on health issues for the children that receive them. The shoes are not cheap, but your purchase will impact a child’s life!

Sia Hills is a wife and mother of three, who in addition to blogging works in the humanitarian world. She loves to share money saving opportunities, as well as ways to give and live generously. Her blog, centsibleinseattle.net, focuses on sharing savings opportunities available in the Pacific Northwest.

What are your favorite ways to give, even on a limited budget?

28 Mar 2011   ·   239
Money Saving Mom

A secret project I’ve been working on

I’ve been working on a secret project since the beginning of January. I’m no good at keeping secrets, so I’ve been bursting at the seams to tell you all, but I had to wait until a bunch of details were in place before I could do so.

And the day has finally come.

The secret? I’m writing a book!

How it all came about was a crazy, bizarre set of circumstances and I’m still pinching myself that this is really and truly for real.

Writing a book has long been on my list of “things I hope to do someday”, but it was one of those big dreams which seemed very much out of reach right now. So, the idea’s been tucked into the back part of my brain and left there. I figured once my children were older, it’d be something I might pull back out and pursue.

Well, God had other plans. In November of 2010, a vice president at a publishing company happened to stumble upon my blog. He emailed me the same day and asked me to call him about a book deal.

When I got the email, I wondered if it were a fluke or a prank. But no, investigation showed he was the real deal. I was incredulous that anything would come of it, but Jesse and I decided to go ahead and call him.

I was shocked when I called him and he basically said, “We’d like to offer you a book deal. What do you want to write on?”

He was very thorough in explaining how it would work, what they were expecting from me and the time frame they were thinking. I just sat on the other end shaking my head. This can’t be for real.

But it was real and I had to face reality and decide whether I wanted to take the plunge into a completely unknown world. It was daunting and I was scared.

Jesse and I spent the next few weeks praying about it and seeking the counsel of people who know us best. I was a lot more hesitant than Jesse as I could only imagine what effort would be required to write a 50,000-word manuscript in a short time frame. But Jesse continued to assure me he thought I should do this and that he would be right by my side as my biggest supporter and cheerleader (which he totally has been!)

I knew I’d have to delegate some of my other responsibilities in order to devote time to writing a book (I’m not superwoman!), so I prayed that if God wanted me to accept the book deal, He would provide an assistant for me. It was a tall order because I was looking for a very specific skill set in a person as well as a certain type of personality and I was really not sure anyone in our area would fit the bill.

God’s pretty amazing at answering “tall orders”, though. That very same week, God brought Megan into my path. She had all the skills and qualifications I was looking for, she was already considering a job change and she and I just “clicked”. I hired her in January and she’s taken a huge weight of responsibilities off my shoulders so I can focus on writing, blogging and being a wife and mom.

With all the lights staying clearly green to us regarding the book deal, I accepted the publisher’s offer in January and embarked on this new adventure. Truly, I’ve loved almost every moment of it, even if it has been a little grueling at times.

My manuscript is due to the publisher on May 1, 2011 — yes, about five weeks away. Needless to say, it’s crunch time around here and I hope you’ll bear with me if you email and don’t hear back from me until after May. I promise I’m not ignoring you personally, I’m just pretending my email is not piling up so that I can focus on cranking out this manuscript. 🙂

In addition, for the next five weeks, I won’t be posting weekly menus, likely won’t be sharing details and pictures of my shopping trips and will most probably not be posting quite as much. I’ll still be sharing lots of deals, great guest posts and reader tips and writing posts as I’m able, but if you don’t see updates quite as often or I don’t have a chance to respond to your comment, you’ll know why.

Never fear, once May 1 arrives, I should be back to my usual posting schedule. (And you just might hear a big sigh of relief coming from this part of the country!)

Thank you, in advance, for your patience. And if you think of me, I’d so appreciate your prayers as I finish up this project.

If all goes as planned, the book will be available for sale in January 2012. All of my profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Compassion — a ministry our family whole-heartedly believes in and is thrilled to support.