Low-stress Round of Couponics

Friday morning, I headed out to my favorite little shopping block in downtown Brooklyn – within a 3-minute stretch of walking, there’s a CVS, a Rite Aid, and a Trader Joe’s. The only minor hitch I had was with a cashier at Rite Aid who didn’t want to let me use 2 coupons on one item (one was a store coupon, one was a manufacturer’s – they allow that, as do Walgreens and CVS), but the manager ok’d it … phew, because I was doing 3 transactions that all included that one particular product.

8-26-09 CVS/RA Trip

A quick summary of my shopping & savings:

CVS:  2 Glade Sense & Spray, 3 John Frieda shampoo/conditioner, 2 Kotex liners, 1 Schick Quattro 4ct refill, 1 Adidas deodorant, 2 x 2ct Schick ST2 disposables. Total @ sales prices = $43.20. Coupons used = $26.75. Total ECBs used = $16. Total ECBs earned = $13. Out of pocket: .45 + sales tax (about $2).

Rite Aid:  3 Zyrtec 30ct, 2 Kotex pads, 1 Colgate toothpaste, 1 Tylenol 24ct, 4 Trident Extra Care gum, Glade Lasting Impressions. Total @ sales prices = $78.40. Coupons used = $51. Out of pocket: $27.20. Rite Aid rebates earned:  $41.50

Saturday, I ventured back into Walgreens after having a particularly frustrating experience earlier in the week. Shame on them – had they handled things better, they’d have moved $50 more stock. And had they handled things really well, it would have been $150. Seriously. There was a $5-off-$25 purchase coupon issued for Weds-Sat that states the total must be $25 after all coupons, but the majority of Walgreens out there are happy to apply it before. No dice here. But then the manager insisted that he gets in trouble if more than one Register Reward is used per transaction, blah blah more wrong info. So tonight I stopped in just to do one fairly straightforward deal and had a chat with the cashier about using more than one RR. He told me I could use as many as the scanner would allow, so off I went to put together a $25 order and see what would happen. The whole thing went perfectly, and then the manager came up to help someone with a return. Gulp! Didn’t think the same guy would be running the show on the weekend. He either didn’t recognize me or didn’t want to deal with me, but had I known he was there, I wouldn’t have tried to use the $5/$25 coupon – it isn’t worth the risk of being banned from the store. Anyway, below is my Walgreens haul:

Wags 8-29

Walgreens:  2 Sudafed PE 24ct, 2 Rice Krispie treats, 2 Pop Tarts, 2 Arizona iced tea, 2 loose leaf paper 120 sheets, 1 Arrid deodorant, 1 Goody’s hair elastics. Total @ sales prices =  $28.92. Total after coupons = $14.92. Out of pocket = $1.42 + $13.50 in Register Rewards. Earned $12 Register Rewards.

Of course, the really fun part is what I do with it all…

For myself, I’m keeping 2 packs of gum, the Arizona iced tea, and possibly the set of John Frieda Brilliant Brunette.

Mom-of-Nine got 1 Sense & Spray, the Quattro cartridges (along with a Quattro for Women I picked up last month), 2 packs of gum, 2 packs of Kotex pads, and the Schick disposables. When I next see her, she’ll get 1 Sudafed PE, 2 Rice Krispie treats, 1 Pop Tarts and loose leaf paper.

Teachers at a local primary school will get the Sense & Spray, Lasting Impressions, deodorant and hair elastics. The teacher I gave 5 bags of supplies to on Thursday said, of her own volition, that her 5th grade classroom reeks of B.O. because the students are at that awkward age of change and that a friend suggested she get “those plug-in things”. Well, guess who had a boatload of them. So I gave her one and asked her to put her former co-workers (she just changed schools) in touch so I could pass a few on to them.

Debbie was supposed to be getting the Zyrtec — no, she’s not a charity case! She’s a fellow couponer who has done me some pretty phenomenal favors, resulting in $60 worth of CVS ExtraCare Bucks for me and a dozen blood glucose meters for her patients. Talk about win-win! However, it looks like she did the deal herself and is now set for 3 months…so we’ll see if she wants it.

Working Poor Mom + 2 teens will get a box of Pop Tarts. Yes, she’ll eventually get a lot more, but she just picked up 4 bags of food and personal care products this afternoon, so this kicks off the next care package.

The rest will be filed into my “aisle bags” – I have one for shampoo, one for first aid/OTC meds, one for deodorants, one for dental hygiene…kinda like aisles, but not. And much easier to pile into my closet.

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Stock market: If you had the guts…

… what would you do with the cash sitting in your brokerage account?

I maxed out my Roth IRA (TDAmeritrade account) back in April, and have just let the money sit idle. Anytime I mention this to someone in the investment biz, they say “Good!”  Current stock market fluctuations make absolutely no sense to me, and I don’t trust the Dow to stay be this unjustifiably buoyant for much longer. If I really wanted to put my money where my mouth is, I’d pick a stock to short – but I’ve never shorted.

So what’s a MoneyMate to do with cash that’s locked up for at least another 20 years? Do I start researching stocks to buy? Is there even a point do to doing that? Do I continue to sit and wait? Do I pick a mutual fund?

What are you all doing with your money in the market?

Help me play Robin Hood?

Okay, so I buy-for-free from the big retailers rather than steal from the rich — but the fruits of my crazy coupon labors find their way to the poor much as Robin Hood’s booty did, so I’ll draw the self-aggrandizing parallel anyway 🙂

Quite a few of my readers have expressed an interest in helping me with my efforts, and a few have even been mailing me envelopes of GREAT coupons, so I figured it was time to compile a more focused list of what coupons would do the most good. Generally speaking, anything for shampoo, dental care (especially Colgate and Reach!), first aid and OTC meds/products, deodorant, cereal (Kelloggs puts out the best and I never get them!), fem hygiene, razors (I never get the ones for Bic). The regional variations on my Sunday coupon inserts always leave out Unilever (Ragu, Hellmann’s, Knorr, Skippy, Lipton, Dove, etc), Colgate-Palmolive (in addition to the obvious, they also put out Softsoap and Speedstick, which are often on special promo), Procter & Gamble BrandSaver (they come out about once a month, and I usually get my hands on 1-2 copies), and as of this month, it would appear that all the Garnier lines are no longer in my regional insert. That one particularly sucks because there are always deals on their hair products – the broke folks like the shampoo, my mom likes the dye.

Some of the best coupons out there are internet printables (IPs). Most of them are limited to 2 print-outs per computer, and I only have one computer. I can occasionally get my mother to help, but her inkjet is very low-res, which means they don’t always scan. Some of the coupons I’ve linked below require a “sign up”, but I’ve already signed up for them all using a throw-away email, but that wasn’t as necessary as I’d thought — while some require you to subscribe to their monthly newsletter or something (like Colgate), they’re all reputable companies that don’t sell their email lists. So no spam and no junk snail-mail either when I’ve had to include that for some reason. If you’d like to help me out, here are the “hot” coupons I would LOVE :

 * = could use asap for deals this week and next

A few things to know about this:

  • To print the second one, it’s best to use the back button. Sometimes you have to go back more than one page (I often find it’s 3). In the case of coupons.com, you’ll just go back and “clip” – after you print it once, it goes to the last page of available coupons, fyi.
  • You might be asked to download a coupon printer, which I’ve never had issues with. Just make sure you don’t download the coupon bar – not the end of the world if you do, but there’s no point.
  • If you have trouble printing, paste the link into a different browser (Internet Explorer -> FireFox). Some coupon sites don’t work on IE8.

Now for a truly key point:  print before the end of the month! Many of them either reset (meaning you can print them again!) or disappear completely on a monthly schedule.

If you decide to help me, leave a note in the comments and I’ll send you my snail mail address.

I hate shopping for clothes

I hate clothes. No, I’m not a nudist – I just hate shopping for them, and lead the kind of life where I can wear clothes that are barely more restrictive than pyjamas. But I mostly mean that I don’t enjoy clothes shopping. All that on and off, the unforgiving lights in the fitting rooms, and in Manhattan, the tightly-packed racks and even more tightly-packed shoppers. A fews days ago, after my mother took little sister Starfish shopping for a bridebitch dress and a few other things she needed, she started in on me about what clothes I had that would be suitable for our 5 days in Colorado next month. She was quick to stipulate that black yoga pants and Old Navy t-shirts don’t qualify. I couldn’t come up with a single garment, and was promptly ordered to report to NJ where I would remain until I, too, had a bridesbitch dress and at least one more outfit.

Could she pick a more uncomfortable day to go shopping?? The 100 feet from the parking lot to the mall door = 1 layer of sweat. In and out of weird origami dresses = 1 layer of sweat per 4 dresses. And one of the stores felt very humid, like their a/c was on a brown-out. O, the misery! I attempted to make it into a frugal adventure by googling up printable in-store coupons — got one for 20% off clearanced merchandise at Lord & Taylor and one for $15-off-$75 purchase at JC Penney’s — but that really did nothing for my grumpy stickiness. Know what really didn’t help? My mother remarking what a shame it was that I’d gained back so much weight in the last year. Like 3 sizes. But this blog is called MoneyMateKate and not OverWeightKate for a reason… Anyway, it took 14 dresses to find ‘The One’ at Lord & Taylor: it looked pretty good (or at least, good enough), and it was $145 marked down to $87, and then another 20% off with that printed coupon. Wow, a truly re-wearable bridesbitch dress for $70. Sweet. Then she let me pick up more black yoga pants and t-shirts (along with black jeans that will pass muster for the rehearsal bbq) with the JC Penney’s $15/$75 deal.

Hey, if I was going to be forced to buy new clothes that, yes, I undeniably needed, at least I got to save $33 over and above the already decent sale prices. And that $33 covered my train ticket and supermarket double-couponing. It feels good knowing that I got the retailers to pay for my first unpleasant visit with my mother in over 15 years. Now hopefully she’ll go back to being the blond-blue-dimpled wiseass I love hanging out with.

Craigslist Care Package: Update 1

I figured you all might want to know how all of this is turning out, especially those of you who think of Craigslist or 1-to-1 giving as “scary”.  A little nutso, absolutely!, but so far nothing even remotely scary. 

Yesterday I distributed 5 care packages and have plans to assemble another 2-4. All care packages included toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo/conditioner, shower gel, deodorant, band-aids, fem hygiene (except the one guy, obviously). A few of them got toothbrushes, Tylenol/Excedrin and cereal. The winners so far are:

Candidate A:  Maribel, the 34yo single mother of 6-8 kids (still trying to get an exact number) who lives in the Bronx. I almost nixed her for owning a Sidekick but am very glad I didn’t. She has a severe speech impediment – she sounds like a deaf person, but she’s not so I’m guessing she’s got a deformity in her palate or no tongue or something along those lines. Anyway, communicating by phone would be frustrating and nearly impossible for her. She’s very skinny and tired-looking, but had a lot of spirit. She came with her two youngest, about 2 and 4 years old. The father of all the kids walked out and doesn’t provide a penny of support. I gave her a rather large package, though I thought she “only” had 4 kids, so now it doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough. After making the trek down from the Bronx, she took my advice and wheeled the little ones to the awesome adventure playground at the south end of Central Park and texted me to rave about the sprinklers, soft play surface, and clean restrooms/changing tables. So we have plans to repeat the experience next week so I can pass on some school supplies and additional toiletries.

Candidate E:  Jean, the 39yo homeless man who lives in a shelter. He just ducked into the Starbucks where I planted myself for half an hour, asked for his bag of goodies, and went back outside to his pile of small backpacks. I guess the shelter isn’t one of the ones that provides storage lockers. The man needs a new t-shirt, his was filthy, but he was softspoken and not particularly weird.

Candidate K:  Jessie, the 21yo working three jobs and barely making rent. Of all of them, she came closest to tears. She does overnight nannying for an infant, and his parents (hospital doctors) never come home on time. She got 2 hours of overtime cash-in-hand rather than having to wait for payday, which was a huge deal for her – she had $10 in the bank. Instead of finishing at 9am this morning, she finished at 4pm and after collecting her bags from me, was off to another job. Been there, done that, hope to never have to do that again. She said she’d help with my internet printable coupon needs once her roommate gets ink for the printer. I reassured her that the care package was no-strings, and told her to drop me a line when she starts running low on things.

Candidate L
“Hello! My name is Andrea. I’m a single living in Brooklyn. I would like to give you some background: I’m still going to school(Long Island University Brooklyn Campus) so I’m low on funds.. I recently gave away some groceries on craigslist (a friend of mine is a chef-they cooked for the weddn reception in my kitchen-left tons of food so I gave a couple bags away!)and I’m interested in getting your package because I need the deoderant, toothbrush/paste, mouth wash, I could use the bandaids(they cut themselves cooking and used most of mine up) shampoo/conditioner (I’m a brunette)and the feminie hygeine stuff.. so whatd ya say?? help me out?”

Honestly, I didn’t think she sounded like the neediest and picked her on the principle that one good turn deserves another, and I’ve got a lot of bandaids. Well, I was wrong – she was quite needy. She sat with me in Starbucks for about 20 minutes and I got to hear about how she’s a recent college grad in a tough job market, she uses internet at the library, told me all about how the various food pantries in the city operate from her experiences searching for one that you didn’t have to line up at 3 hours before it opened and then only got a can of beans, a can of tomatoes and a bag of rice after showing ten forms of ID. I invited her up to my apartment to pick out a few boxes of cereal, and she seemed to feel guilty taking more than one.

Candidate M
“Still available? i’m a pretty broke grad student trying to get by and skimming wherever possible, which comes to food and basic health products. help a girl out! let me know if you still have one”

She wasn’t as “needy” as the others, but was nevertheless very appreciative. She’s also the most recent “victim” of the same bad cheap shampoo that everyone else complains about – it gave two people some form of dandruff/dryness and even the shelter kids remarked that it just didn’t get their hair clean. And just as I was thinking that maybe I was dealing with one of those people who used the term Broke Student a bit liberally, I brought up the possibility of coupon printing and she said she’d be happy to help in a couple of weeks when school started, because she didn’t have a printer. Hm, not even a $50 inkjet (that of course costs $50 to replenish with ink – don’t you hate that?). My point in mentioning all this is that I was sort of expecting her to be not terribly in need, but while she wasn’t as badly off as the others, she was farrrr from flush.

My next two care packages are going to two daughters who are taking care of their mothers: a barely-pregnant 20yo who’s helping her 47yo mother recover from a stroke, and a 42yo daughter helping her 62yo diabetic mother. And on a purely selfish note, I’m delighted with the reclaimed space in my apartment – it was starting to look a bit, you know, Sanford & Son.

Offering Care Packages on Craigslist

Monday afternoon, I posted an ad on Craigslist NYC’s “Free” page, offering care packages of unused, unopened, full-size toiletries and personal items that food stamps don’t cover. I asked for a little info about them and their situation so I could put together a very suitable package.

Believe it or not, I’m very skeptical, and quite a few of the replies I got set off little warning bells. I can’t tell if I’m just being a paranoid Manhattanite or what, so here are the replies I got that I’m deciding amongst … I’ll probably update this post later tonight with more responses, so feel free to check back. I’ll be taking the post down soon – I don’t want to find myself with 25 deserving people/families and only enough for 4. Anyway, those labeled in Green are YES, Red are NO, and Orange are UNDECIDED.

Candidate A
“I am interesting the item I am a female 34 years old with 3 teenages age daughters .and one eldest son.”
I was quite excited about this one until I scrolled down and saw that it was sent from a T-Mobile Sidekick. I’ll probably give to her anyway because I totally get the need to be reachable when you have 4 teenagers, and T-Mobile is the cheapest service available.

Candidate B
I am interested in your unused care package. I am a mother of 2 boys 15 and 16 years old and could really use your products. please call me @ xxxxxxxx”.
Short but workable. She’s got a decent shot.

Candidate C
“Before I tell you about myself I’d like to say this is a generous thing you are doing for people. Even if you dont give me a package I just want you to know GOD will bless you, if he hasn’t already. I’m 20, female, I live with my mother who’s 47. When you say background what would you like to know?”
I’m willing to overlook the god thing. This one will probably make the list, but might not get one immediately depending on my supplies.

Candidate D
“i can come pick up tonight if you still have.”
Judging from the name, the person is female – but she gave no information about her situation, e.g. does she have a family, is she of an age to need feminine products? Judging from her writing, her English is pretty good, so she must understand my request for basic details. Perhaps she’s just trolling for anything she can get for free? I’m not answering.

Candidate E
“Hi:  I’d be interested in one… I currently live in the 30th Street shelter.. I am 39, male, 5ft 11…  It’s just me.  I definitely would appreciate the band-aids and excedrin… and everything you can spare.”
Well, shelters always specify “trial size items” when asking for donations, so I’m not sure what, if anything, to do with this one. First, the mention of height made me laugh – like, has this homeless man been hanging out on dating sites?? In any case, I’m a little confused and perhaps intrigued by someone living in a shelter who didn’t make a single spelling or grammar mistake, and left two spaces after the colon and the period.

Candidate F
“Married couple can us the products can I provide a UPS number for pick up no cost to you”
Um…how do you have access to a UPS account? Why are you looking on the NYC Free page if you’re not in NYC?

Candidate G
“I am a 42yo male, out of work for almost a year, and could use a care package.”
The simplicity of this makes me think that it was hard for him to ask. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it though. Hmm.
Decision made: yes.

Candidate H
“Are these care packages still available? We could use these at my non profit for the clients. Please let me know ok.”
Well, I like doing things my way rather than through a middleman, but I might keep her details handy – despite the collection of cheesy quotes in her auto-signature.

Candidate J
“Hi im a 25 yr old single mother and these things would really come in handy for me”
I mentioned in my post that I don’t have baby items, but I have a soft spot for single moms – not for any personal reasons, but most of the ones I’ve met do everything for their kids and nothing for themselves. I’d like to give her some things for herself because cheap crap from the dollar store often gives dandruff or just doesn’t clean.

Candidate K
“If this is a real offer I am in serious need of some help. I’m 21, female, and really broke. I’m working three jobs and can’t make my rent let alone buy toiletries. Please email me if you can help me.”
Yup, you’ve got it sweetheart. I worked 3-4 jobs my last two years in college, so I do indeed have a very personal soft spot for someone who works their butt off to maintain some independence. And who knows what her options are? I’d rather give her things than see her go to the dark side to make rent and keep her teeth clean.
Update:  Will be meeting her tomorrow. We were supposed to meet up this morning, but one of her jobs is overnight infant care, and the baby was sick. Mm, I do not miss my graveyard shift days.

Any thoughts? Which would you accept, which would you decline? Help!

Bra-fitting Boutique: Vanity Sizing = Vanity Pricing

One of my mother’s co-workers went to a special bra shop on the Upper Westside and came back raving about how it didn’t even feel like she was wearing one because it was so comfortable. So over the family weekend in Manhattan, my mom dragged me and my sister along with her. We weren’t really into the idea, but when we overheard her in the dressing room saying things like “Wow, this is really comfortable. How many colors does it come in?”, we changed our minds.

Now, when I buy bras, it’s been the same brand and style for the past 10 years. Their official retail price is around $30 each, but there’s always a deal that works out to $15-18 each. That’s what I’m used to, but my mom warned me that the price tags would be around the $60 mark. Hm, okay.

Well, it turns out that for your $50-90 (depending on what they’ve got in your size and preferred style), you get some serious vanity sizing. I’m assuming my female readers know that your band size is the actual measurement around your ribcage plus 4 (rounding up if it’s an odd number). I tried on three or four different brands and they were all very obviously just the ribcage measurement. For a brief moment, I felt skinny! And then there was the cup size. Now THAT was clearly vanity-sized to make small-to-average women feel enormously endowed because there’s just no way…just no way…I mean, we were way too far into the alphabet. My mother knew she was wearing the wrong size – 42B (I’d have pegged her at a 40D) – but to hear her screech, “I’m an F??? As in, What The F….??? Because that’s just ridiculous, I’m not Dolly Parton.” Then she went ahead and bought two, with extenders to ease the initial discomfort.

I bought one bra @ $49. It was my second choice by a slim margin, but my first choice was $89 and I don’t think that slim margin was worth $40. I copied down the style numbers and all that to google when I got home. Sadly, these bras are like fancy cosmetics – same price no matter where you buy them.

So ladies, if you want to feel 2 sizes skinnier and at the same time 2 sizes more buxom, AND you don’t mind paying $65 on average for a new underthing, go for a boutique fitting. I’ll follow up in a few weeks to let you know if I think the purchase was worthwhile…if I add this to my Investment category, you’ll know I was very, very happy with my purchase.

And now I’m a little worried what kind of Google traffic this post might generate…