Free is FUN!

I guess you could call it an offshoot of my new coupon craziness, but quite a few sites that succinctly compile the deals for the drug stores also list freebies. Most of them are free samples of things that just aren’t worth filling out the online form for, but others are totally worth pursuing.

Like those free reusable shopping bags for Earth Day/Week. The best of the bunch so far is the one I wouldn’t have known about any other way: the lunch-size tote from WholeFoods-Sheryl Crowe-Oprah. There’s another one due by mail in about a month that I stumbled across in the blogosphere, we’ll see how that one looks and feels.

On Monday, I got a free piece of KFC’s newly rolled-out grilled chicken. Unexpectedly delicious! In the process, I signed up for the Colonel’s Club and got coupons for cheap meal combos relevant to my zip code (which I suspect will be rejected, but I’m hopeful).

If I had a Baskin Robbins nearby, I’d be getting their 31-cent scoop today. Same goes with Carvel, who are giving away something along the lines of an ice cream soda 4-7pm tomorrow. However, I do have a coupon for a freebie from Cold Stone Creamery as a member of their Birthday Club, and they’re just a 15-minute walk away.

But without leaving my apartment, I can sit here at my laptop and order up some freebies by mail. I only request things I actually want, and the fun part is that I forget about most of them as soon as I sign up — it means surprises in my mailbox a month later. Off the top of my head, I’m expecting a free magazine subscription (can’t remember which one, there are tons of free subscription offer out there, mostly of no interest to me), a razor system (Schick Quattro, I think…but maybe it’s a Gilette Fusion?), and a sample of something from the L’Oreal Revitalift skincare line (I think). I use a totally separate email address for this, and I’m bemused to report that I get no spam – just the occasional email newsletter if I ticked that box when I signed up, which I do if I want coupons from them.

In case you’re wondering what sites I peruse for freebie info:

State of the MMK Union

According to the talking heads at CNBC (my commercial break channel surfing destination of choice before 4pm), that whole downturn thing is over and happy days are here again. So let’s pretend for a moment that I believe them and look at how it has affected my year thus far, as I sit here on the eve of my 39th birthday…

Income:  My income has taken a 20% hit, based on a year-on-year comparison for the Jan-April period. I predicted a percentage closer to 50%, so this is GREAT!!! I suspect it would have been higher if Feb 2008 hadn’t been so frighteningly dire in the immediate aftermath of the Bear Stearns collapse. Anyway, this means I’m making my expenses and a bit more, but not a whole lot more. And I’m hoarding it.

Career:  Looks like there will be a 2-day Rolfing workshop in June. Given the complexity of Rolfing, I suspect it’s an intro deal to market the big 300+ hour course, which bodes well for my financial future!

Investments:  GE is down 30% since I purchased it, and AIG is up 180%. And if business continues to show recovery, I just might be able to make that Whole Life premium in September (I’ll go monthly if I have to, but I feel like that’s just postponing the inevitable).

Health:  Still fighting to get my minor vascular procedure done – pain in the ass doctor won’t schedule a surgery date (it’s not just me). My weight is way up but, I think, no longer increasing…with Bridezilla’s big day looming, I really need to re-establish my good habits pronto. And thank whatever powers that be, I finally resolved the neck-shoulder-elbow pain in February…ahhh!

Home:  Re-upped in March for 18 months at an acceptable rent. In retrospect, I wish I’d shot for 20-24 months, ugh, what was I thinking. I do need to replace some dying items in here though, like a shelf unit that’s getting awfully rickety. But I tend not to get around to such things until they completely fall to pieces, which is really not a great plan when clients come to your home.

Travel:  No plans in the making, except for the non-negotiable trip to Colorado in September for the wedding. I really should do something the first week of July though, because I know I’ll be wasting my time waiting around for clients to call.

Charity::  I’ve funded several microloans at Kiva with money that had been repaid from other loans. I’ve made weekly deliveries of cereal, dairy products, condiments, toiletries and first aid items to a teen shelter and also cooked dinner there twice. My new shopping-for-free hobby has been fantastic in this respect! I’ve made one delivery, with another in preparation, of toiletries and beauty products to Bottomless Closet. I’ve done 4 ThaiForGood massages for $$ for my little charity projects. I sent a check for $80 to Thai Freedom House in February, with plans to send another $50 within the next 10 days.

CONCLUSION:  Despite the year’s craziness on a macro level (volatile markets, new president, Craigslist Killer, swine flu panic, etc), I’m doing just fine on a micro level. And you too can come to this conclusion if you restrict your news viewing to Comedy Central 🙂

Sticking it to Rite Aid

Or not, really. But they think I did, and that’s what counts.

The manager of my local store has clearly instilled the fear of armageddon in his staff about letting people use coupons, so it freaks out the cashiers whenever I pay too little. I’m pretty sure they report my transaction, and the manager then lays down a new rule so that I (or anyone else) can’t do something similar again. Now, I’m not doing anything even remotely shady – I never have a problem at other Rite Aids, just this one. Guess you could say I’m violating local store policy but not corporate policy, so HAH. Here’s what I did…

I crashed in a Splenda raincheck and got 2 boxes for $2.99 each, total $5.98. Then I got 10 packs of gauze pads and rolls that were Buy 1 Get 1 Free this week, at $3.49 each, total $17.45. I threw in a gallon of milk for the teen shelter @ $3.09 for a total of $26.52. First, I applied a $5-off-$25 purchase coupon (which scans fine everywhere but at this store – I’m convinced the coupon-hating manager has the machine set so sensitively that it only picks up half the coupons presented, so it had to be entered manually, which most refuse to do outright) and then started with the manufacturers ones. Which is when the real fun began. I handed over my $3-off-2 Splenda coupon, and nasty old Ara the cashier screams at me, “why didn’t you give me this one first??” to which I answered “why would I?” We stared each other down. She called the shift supervisor over, who told her there was nothing wrong with what I was doing. Ara was still pissed. So I completely horrified her with five $3-off-2 Johnson & Johnson First Aid coupons, which the supervisor had already ok’d. Ara then engages her in a discussion about how many I’m allowed to use, and is now looking ill as she sees my $48 bill (pre B1G1 Free, pre raincheck) shrink from $26.52 to $3.52 – less than I used to pay for a single box of Splenda. To add insult to injury, I paid with a GIFT CARD – hah! She starts bitching to the cashier next to her in their native language, and although Hindi is not in my linguistic repertoire, I’m pretty sure it translated to “this beeyotch is robbing us blind, I’m reporting her to the manager”.

Know what this means? I won’t be stepping foot in that store before 6pm for at least a month. I haven’t been in that store in about a month anyway, and the only reason I did today was that the first store I hit was out of the B1G1 products. I wish the receipt had that “how are we doing” feedback request so that not only could I pretty much paste this whole blog entry into their survey, but be entered for a chance to win $5K for the privilege. Know what’s really quite sad? Rite Aid is on the brink of bankruptcy, and I have not been shopping there (or at any Rite Aid) anywhere near as much as I did before I started couponing because of the way they treat me.

Feeling emboldened, I took another $1 coupon to Subway and got a 12″ double-meat beef brisket sub. Extremely tasty! Half for lunch, half for dinner. I just finished a massage appointment, and thankfully the pervert who was scheduled afterwards showed his true colors via text (“do u hv a hot body”) despite my thorough phone screening (“you know I don’t do happy endings or anything remotely sexual, right?”), so I was able to cancel him. And now I’m on my way to pick up my second lunch-size tote at Whole Foods and return a tube of gel cleanser with a broken cap at CVS. Yup, it’s a rockin’ Friday night in NYC for MMK.

Earth Day Totes, Part 2

It looks like Oprah is sponsoring a free “lunch bag” tote at Whole Foods, which is really quite unusual. First, its size is roughly that of a sheet of paper, with a good depth of about 5″. Second, it’s designed by Sheryl Crow (not important to me, but whatever). Third – and best of all – 80% of the material is from recycled plastic bottles. Fourth, if it rips, you can return it for a replacement. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t take advantage of that last one because if I wanted a new one that badly, I’d cough up the 79-cent retail price. But I like that there is a sort of guarantee because it indicates the durability they believe this bag has. Oh, and, um…I’ve already picked up 3, which are sitting in a little row on my massage table filled with lime green, purple, and navy blue things. I’m planning to add 3 more to my collection tomorrow.

And after my resounding success with the Dunkin Donuts 50-cent coffee deal on Tuesday, I decided to attempt using my $1 off a double-meat $5 footlong at Subway. It confused them, but it worked. The boss said something to the sandwich maker in their native tongue, and even though I don’t speak Hindi, I’m pretty sure it translated to “short her 2 slices of ham”.

Working the Earth Day Tote Deals

Rainy days often result in a slow day of work for me even in a booming economy, so I didn’t rush home after my lunchtime outcall at the Marriott Renaissance (much nicer than the Marriott Marquis, by the way). I walked a few more blocks in the drizzle to the Walgreens in Times Square with a wad of coupons in my grubby little fist. Okay, not so grubby – more like freshly washed with hotel miniatures from Lather Spa. I couldn’t resist a free reusable tote plus 15% off everything I was planning to buy. Gotta love getting $20.97 (shelf price) worth of make-up for better-than-free. For the curious:  Physician’s Formula cosmetics are 40% off this week, 15% off today only, 3 x $1 manufacturer’s coupons, paid the remaining $7.27 with gift card and will get an $11 rebate ($10 + 10% for putting it on a Walgreens gift card). Plus a free bright green tote and more free Skintimate shave gel. [11pm update: I went back and did this again – another round of money-making make-up, free Chapstick and a free tote).

I got an email coupon from Staples for a free reusable tote with any purchase, good thru April 24th. I picked up a much-needed ream of paper and my freebie – the biggest so far, color is “natural” with slogan that puts a green spin on their Easy Button campaign. Since I can continue to get them free w/purchase, I’ll be hitting their clearance table with cool stuff for under $1 that will make great Secret Santa gifts to donate at Christmastime (it’s all kids’ stuff). Heh, one of them is a neon green bubble-button calculator for 50 cents – perfect for Bridezilla’s box of lime green silly stuff.

Ten days ago, I snagged another free tote from Earthbound Farm. It should arrive in the mail in about 5 weeks. According to the picture, it’ll be rough brown sack material. Cool. I like how different they all are.

And now I’m using all my totes to sort and store my unbelievable amount of stuff-for-free. Because until today, I’d been using plastic bags which looked like I had garbage piled up in the corner. Guess I didn’t get the memo about how cool it was to “declutter in the 21st century”.

Freaky Coincidence: Not dying to make a living update

Um…not 100% sure and currently looking into, but pretty sure…I have one degree of separation from the fiancee of the man dubbed the Craigslist Killer. If she is who I think she is, her brother was a classmate of mine in middle & high school. Not finance-related, but weird enough for me to feel the need to write about it.

Do I Dare Try the Dunkin Donuts 50-cent deal on Tuesday?

A couple of weeks ago, one of the Sunday circulars contained coupons for Dunkin Donuts, including one specifically for a 50-cent iced coffee on April 21. I normally don’t attempt to use coupons at fast food restaurants in Manhattan – they always come up with a reason not to accept it. You don’t want to tell them in advance because you could end up with an experience like J Money’s at Quizno’s, and if you wait until afterwards, you’re put in a position to either suck up the rejected discount or leave the food and look like a mean-spirited cheapo.

Dunkin Donuts would do well to take this coupon from me tomorrow, because last summer I got my weekly treat from McDonald’s and the quality varied widely, to the point of occasionally being undrinkable. So I’m willing to challenge my loyalties…for 50 cents.

Coupons in the news…and in color-coded boxes

This is such a funny trend, and I realize it’s a sign of the times. Every show from Good Morning America to Oprah has had “super couponing” stories in the past couple of months, and they seem to make the late half of each evening news program once a week. That’s a lot of airtime for coupon coverage. But the funniest offshoot is the way people actually call me to read things out of their newspapers about couponing. Oh, what a fun and exciting thing to be associated with. NOT. But I find it vastly entertaining that these are the same people who roll their eyes and laugh at me for my new hobby.

A few days ago, my mother read to me from the front page of her rather thick local newspaper about a woman who saved $250 on her $750 supermarket/drug store shopping that weekend through the use of coupons and sales. Was it because she was impressed? Hah! She was calling to laugh at how much the woman had overpaid because we had recently worked deals on the same products and did MUCH better. Her favorite example was about Schick Intuition razors, which retail for $9.99 – the woman being interviewed bragged about using a $4 coupon against a $5.99 sale price somewhere. Mom snorted. We’d gotten 8 Intuition razors/refills for free at CVS. Then there was the Kraft salad dressing dea – right after they put out a $1.50 coupon, several stores put them on sale for $1.49-$1.59. Huge no-brainer, even for people who hardly ever use coupons. I had mailed 6 of those coupons to my mom to do the deal on my behalf at her supermarket, and she said everyone in line had a bottle or two. Her tone very much implied that this “advice” wasn’t at all newsworthy. I took great pride in having her say “we could have done a whole lot better”.

On a sidenote, the easiest way to stop the friendly ridicule of shopping for free, i.e. couponing, is to give them a bag of their favorite products, stuff they would have paid about $40 for even on sale, and tell them you paid 65 cents for it all. Their eyes bug out and it feels like Christmas to them. My best friend is very brand-loyal and just gave me her list of preferences today, and it turns out I’ve got quite a few of them in my stockpile already. Littlest sister Starfish is once again getting a “purple box” – a box full of all things purple, no matter what they are, as long as they’re useful – which currently contains Olay Ribbons body wash, lavendar-scented Dawn dish liquid, Skintimate shave gel, Theraflu with the purple cap, and grape-scented L’Oreal For Kids shampoo (inside joke, because she always wore sickening grape Bubblicious-scented deodorant and body sprays when she was a tween/early teen). Bridezilla picked lime green for her box, and so far I’ve got Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber, Garnier Nutritioniste face scrub, Doublemint gum, a clementine & ginger body scrub, and Tresemme curl spray. I’m also doing a box for Starfish’s boyfriend because I have a very warm place in my heart for a young man who runs through fire for someone I love, literally. She said navy blue, and so far I’ve got Lysol toilet cleaner, Right Guard pro deodorant, Pledge multi-surface cleaner and Crest Pro-Health Night toothpaste. I know, exciting, right? Remember, all three live in Aspen, where there are no chain stores, ridiculous prices on everything, and no sales. This stuff actually does excite as well as amuse them. Lucky me – and them!

I don’t want to die while making a living

Sometimes I truly hate those really scary news teasers that succeed in enticing me to watch their “real” news instead of The Daily Show. Most of the time it’s all hype no substance. However, there was one teaser tonight that made my heart flip-flop and scurry over to Google:  New York masseuse murdered in posh hotel.

I’m a massage therapist. I will see clients in their hotel rooms (they behave much better than New Yorkers!). And like this girl, I advertise on Craigslist.

But that’s where the similarities end, though I have to agree that there are already too many. First, the murder happened in Boston. I’m in Manhattan. Second, she’s a 26yo aspiring actress who “sounds like Paris Hilton” according to her friends. I’m a 38yo with a master’s degree in linguistics who has lived in 4 foreign countries, alone. Third, she did the kind of massage she was embarrased to tell her friends about. Ahem. I’ve been doing this for 6 years, have actually worked on my friends and family – and I specialize in a clothes-on style. Fourth, she puts photos in her craigslist ad. I put in a list of prohibited behaviors. Fifth, I’ve spent 8 years training in 3 different martial arts and can apply a blood-choke as well as any UFC contender. Plus, I don’t own a gun but I can shoot a pre-selected twig off a tree at 50 feet in a blizzard. And you would never guess it to look at me.

Lateness: Will the IRS behave like Citibank?

I emailed my CPA yesterday morning, since he didn’t drop off my taxes the night before as promised. He never replied. I checked my mail around 7pm last night, still no taxes and no answer to my email. Figured he was just filing for an extension again…until I saw the big fat envelope in my pigeonhole this morning. Crap.

In the past, I’ve mailed my taxes 1-3 days after the official deadline and never got penalized. When I’ve paid a credit card late, I just called and asked them to waive the fee (maybe had to do that once every two years) – no problem. However, the credit card companies have gone all hardass about their fees these days, and I’m wondering if, with the government’s spending rampage, they’ll jump at the opportunity to hit me with the $100+ penalty for being 24 hours late.

At least my actual federal tax obligation is a 3-digit number. Self-employment has its drawbacks, but being able to deduct just about everything helps make up for the extra hassles and expenses (translation: health insurance and double social security).