Christmas Plans

My mom and I leave at the crack of dawn on the $9 Megabus to Baltimore, where we’ll be spending the long Christmas weekend at the family homestead. Okay, so it’s not a homestead by the usual definition, but my brother was the first to become a homeowner (my parents never did). Newlywedzilla has become a homeowner by marrying one, and she might become the new homestead once she starts reproducing…but for now, it’s a new-build row house in Baltimore.

There could be a fair amount of sitting around and doing nothing, so I’m sort of planning to bring all my coupon stuff and hit up the drug stores during down time. However, even though he’s got CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and Dollar Tree within a 20-minute walking radius, Baltimore is apparently too dangerous even during daylight hours to walk through alone. I started to argue with him, a la “Hey, I took the subway with 50 lbs of groceries to a neighborhood in the Bronx where all the little stores have bullet-proof glass from counter to ceiling. I can handle myself”…until he mentioned that a woman who lived between his home and Walgreens was raped and got her throat cut by a guy who used shoveling snow as an excuse to approach her last weekend. Um…yeah, I don’t need free toothpaste that badly. So I’m less scared of the Bronx than I am of Baltimore. Interesting. I guess I’ll just spend time familiarizing myself with the Wii he’s getting from my mom – she’s planning to give it to him on Christmas Eve so it’ll be all hooked up for endless Christmas playtime. Gotta wonder who she really bought it for!

Blame it on the Paint: Lack of Posts

I really want to blog. I have a few things going on worth mentioning: an out-of-the-blue collections call with advice from my financial adviser on how to handle it, adventures in Christmas tree chopping-shopping last weekend, progress towards the $60 Christmas Challenge for Mom-of-10 (I miscounted – forgot to include the baby!), opinions on seasonal charity fundraising, and the true cost of this paint job. In the meantime, please cross your fingers that the $41 gallon of paint called Dragon Fire doesn’t come out Sunkist Orange!

Printable Coupon Requests for My Robin-Hooding

Okay…here’s the relatively small list of printable coupons I’d like to get my hands on. I’m kind of pulling out all stops with the food things for the next month or so because Maribel (Mom-of-9, but really 10!) had her food stamps cancelled when they found an error in her household documentation – the birth of her toddler wasn’t officially registered at the hospital level apparently, so they though she was lying about the number of children she really had. Anyway, it’s been sorted out but between holidays and red tape, this benefit won’t kick in again until some time in January.

.55/1 Chock full o’ Nuts
$1/1 General Mills kids’ cereals
$1/1 Nestle Tollhouse Morsels

$1/1 Degree Ultra-Clear deodorant
$3/1 Neosporin Lip Health
$1/1 Stayfree

$1/1 Johnson’s Baby Shampoo
$1/1 Betty Crocker pouch potatoes
$1/1 & $1.50/2 CoffeeMate

$1.50/1 Wet Ones (take the pledge) (might have to register if this link doesn’t take you straight to the page of printable coupons):  $1/2 Fudge Shoppe, $1/1 Sandies, .75/1 Toppers (enter 90210 to make sure you find these – they vary a little):  .75/1 Kellogg’s Smart Start or Crispix or All-Bran; .50/1 Kellogg’s Raisin Bran; .50/1 Chex Mix

Kraft Foods – .55/2 Philadelphia Cream Cheese; .55/1 Breakstone Sour Cream

Red Plum (90210) – $1.50/2 Kellogg’s Frosted MiniWheats or Raisin Bran

Smartsource (90210) – .50/1 Starkist; .50/1 Chex Mix

Creative Christmas Challenge for the Mom-of-9

Last Christmas Eve, some random wealthy person (at least in relative terms) drove through Mom-of-9’s neighborhood in the Bronx asking on the street if anyone knew of a single mom with lots of kids who could use a good Christmas. Everyone sent them to her home, where they anonymously left a huge stack of presents. Oh yes, people, there is indeed a Santa Claus! This year, Maribel (Mom-of-9) went to her local community center to put her kids on the Toys-for-Tots list, and was told they probably wouldn’t be able to give all of them a gift because donations were way down. I’m actually surprised at that, because it seems like everyone who is doing okay – even if it’s just barely okay – is way more aware of this than ever. I guess there are just that many more people in need of a $7 Christmas surprise for their kids.

I am not presenting you with the complete picture as I know it because it sounds like a sob story, and a real downer. That’s not what I want! This is about a financial challenge for ME, not her!

Maribel’s situation, in brief, no sob story
Maribel just turned 35 yesterday. She had 7 kids by the same man, who ditched them all about a year ago and provides nothing. She has somehow acquired 2 stepkids – I don’t know how.  All are between the ages of 2 and 12. She has siblings who want nothing to do with her, and both her parents died when she was a teenager. She has a significant speech impediment (I’m guessing a palate issue from the way she speaks) that makes phone contact useless, so she has a pay-as-you-go T-mobile Sidekick for text/email. Someone gave them a computer a few months ago, but didn’t set it up and she doesn’t know how, so it sits unused. Obviously employment is not an option with her huge family and disability, but she has proven quite resourceful, traipsing around town collecting free stuff from individuals like me, or checking out “curb alert” goodies. So when you see things like “they have a video game console”, bear in mind that she either got it from someone off craigslist or it’s a throwback from better days. She’s only been a welfare case for about a year.

The $60 Santa Claus Challenge
I normally put up a big, real tree – like 7 feet tall (my ceilings are 8 feet). Yes, it takes up half my apartment, and I don’t care! We Manhattanites are trapped by our lack of cars into buying a tree within lugging distance of our homes. The corner delis and Canadian street vendors know this and nail you for about $80 for a 6′ tree. Bastards. Well, because I’m getting my apartment painted at the end of next week, and then heading to Baltimore a few days after that, there really is no point putting one up. So…

The $60 (the only thing I ever bargain for is my tree – I’ve never paid $80) I had mentally spent on a tree is now earmarked for Maribel and her little ones. The challenge is to see how much I can get for that! The only thing I am *not* including in that $60 is, ironically, a tree — her 2-footer isn’t cutting it for 10 people, and a few of them are allergic to real ones. I’ve built an unmanageable amount of Register Rewards (free store-based money) at Walgreens, and will be picking up something fake at least 5 feet tall at their 50% off sale this weekend. You could say that the tree is compliments of Novartis, given my rather large collection of those particular RRs.

What to Buy
She gave me both a general and specific list of good ideas and bad ideas.

Bad: paint, markers, nail polish, play-doh — anything that can be smeared on a wall or carpet will be.
Good:  Moon Sand (doesn’t dry up) and any non-messy crafts. 
Bad: Board games — they cause fights and the kids wreck them.
Good:  Card games.
Bad: Big toys — they have very little space, and the kids aren’t crazy about them.
Good: Little dolls and action (WWE micro) figures no more than 2″ — kids love ’em.
Bad: Video games — they have some unit or other, but the kids don’t like video games. Wow.
Good:  Bakugan balls — got a few, but not the oh-so-sought-after 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid (NOT gonna happen).
Bad:  She requested the Hot Toy of 2009, Mindflex. Her kids will trash it – no way.
Replace:  Sleepy Dreams Dora — Maribel put it in the dryer and melted it.
Maribel:  Her pay-as-you-go T-mobile sidekick screen is broken. With her speech impediment, this text/email machine is really important – it’s how she arranges to get all the free stuff. To replace the screen is $55, to get a second hand one is $80-100. If you happen to have one lying around…
Pets:  They have 3 cats – she loves animals. One is a huge Maine coon cat that kills big Bronx rats. Awesome. She’s been feeding them (the cats!) bits of people food because she can’t afford cat food.

Awesome News
Her family opens gifts on Three Kings Day, aka the Epiphany, on January 6th. In other words, I can take full advantage of the after-Christmas sales!!!

Want to Help? – No, this is not a Sally Struthers plea!
I don’t have kids and really don’t know how to bargain shop for these things beyond checking Amazon and eBay. If you see a phenomenal price on any of the toys listed (especially the Moon Sand and Sleepy Dreams Dora), let me know. If you’re getting rid of any of these things and don’t mind mailing it, let me know. Of course, you’re welcome to send something along (thanks, Jillian!), but I’m really quite happy just getting some help seeing how far $60 can go!

And just so you all know, I’m going to visit her home for the first time on Thursday. She’s stuck waiting all day for the state housing inspector to approve of how she’s maintaining the place, and I have to make myself scarce 9am-3pm while my apartment is being painted. I figured I’ll bring the tree and lights, and set it up for the kids to decorate when they get home from school. Her one request for herself: please bring coffee, any coffee, except that cheap, nasty Bustelo. She brings up coffee a lot. And guess who has several cans of (free) Maxwell House and a bottle of 24-cent French Vanilla CoffeeMate looking for a home…

Clipped Coupon Requests for my Robin Hooding

Ugh, sorry, I’ve been meaning to do this post for at least a week, and a few of you have been asking for my list. I really should do this post every other week…at this point, I’ve got requests going back 4 weekends’ worth of circulars. Some values may be different depending on where you live, but you’ll get the idea because you’re smart 🙂  Also, the ones in bold are the ones I really, really want, either because I know there’s a “moneymaking” deal coming up, or it’s an item that a lot of my Broke Folks and overseas troops need/want. I will do another post – maybe even today – for printable ones.

Red Plum 11/15
.50/1 Caress soap 6-bar
$1/1 GUM toothbrush
.60/1 Hellmann’s mayonnaise
.60/2 Knorr Rice & Pasta sides
.75/2 Lipton Cup-a-Soup or Soup Secrets
.60/2 Lipton Recipe Secrets
.60/1 Lipton Tea bags
$1/1 Polly-O Ricotta (my fave, and I didn’t get this one!)
.75/2 Skippy Peanut Butter
BOGO Snickers/M&M-Mars candy bar

SmartSource 11/15
.75/1 Orville Redenbacher’s Poppycock
.75/1 Oscar Meyer bacon (I have $1/2, but want this one because it doubles!)
.50/2 Swiss Miss cocoa

SmartSource 11/22
$1/1 Toblerone or Terry’s

P&G Brandsaver 11/29
.75/1 or $1/1 Crest toothpaste
$4/1 Gillette Fusion razor
.50/1 or $1/2 Herbal Essences
$1.50/1 NyQuil or DayQuil
BOGO Olay Body Wash/Lotion
$1/2 Zooth or Stages toothbrushes
$1/2 Zooth or Stages toothpaste

Red Plum 12/6
$2/1 All detergent

$1/1 TARGET ONLY Dove chocolate
$2/1 Garnier Nutrisse hair color
$1/1 Garnier Nutritioniste cleanser/moisturizer
.75/1 or $1/1 GUM toothbrush
$1/1 Listerine/Rembrandt
.55/1 Ocean Spray cranberry drink
BOGO Reach toothbrush
$2/1 Snuggle fabric softener or dryer sheets
$2/1 Sudafed

SmartSource 12/6
.75/1 (or whatever you got) Colgate toothpaste
.25/1, .50/1, $1/2 Folgers
All Glade
.50/1 Halls cough drops
$1/1 Hersheys bags
$1/1 Hormel Compleats
.50/1 Imperial Sugar
.75/1 Lloyd’s BBQ tub (must be .75, not $1 – for doubling)
.50/2 Pop Secret Microwave Popcorn
.75/1 Reynolds Wrap
$1/1 Rayovac, any alkaline
.75/1 Ronzoni Smart Taste Pasta
All Schick razor coupons
$2/1 Theraflu, any
$3/1 Theraflu Warming Relief Caplets
$2/1 Triaminic
$3/1 Triaminic strips
$1/1 Trident gum 3-pack

SmartSource 11/8
.75/1 Chock full o’nuts
.50/1 French’s French Fried Onions
.55/1 International Delight creamer, pint
$1/1 Nabisco Crackers or Easy Cheese

Other Random Ones from Earlier Than 11/8:
$30/1 Bayer Contour/Breeze Glucose Meter from 10/25 Red Plum – I help 2 diabetics, and I use them as “moneymakers”
Buy Gillette Deodorant, Get Gillette Body Wash Free – 11/1 P&G Brandsaver
Target-only coupons (except Charmin/Bounty)

Thanks…and a Merry Christmas to my “Merry (Wo)Men” 😀

What NOT to do when you know you’re dying

I may half-jokingly refer to my family as The Moneytards, but my friend who’s dying of a brain tumor just found out that he’s related to MUCH worse. I’m so sorry he had to see his sister’s true colors…

Yesterday, Indecent Proposal Guy (heretofore referenced as IPG), found out that his sister had him declared incompetent and seized full control of his accounts. He can’t even withdraw $20 from an ATM without asking her. She rather sneakily informed him somehow via cell/voicemail at a time when he was unable to speak (he’s regained that for the moment), so he didn’t find out until after it was done and dusted. I can tell from his instant messages that he’s still the same person he’s always been for years, so I have no idea if just the fact that he has a brain tumor automatically qualifies him as mentally unfit.

Anyway, guess who his sole beneficiary is? Yup, IPG’s sister. She is hoarding her inheritance. And to add insult to injury, she is working with lawyers to seize his computer in order to retrieve IMs, emails, account info, etc. to see if he’s hiding any more money. He’s not – he never thought he’d need to. He’s thinking about wiping his hard drive and loading vile porn for them to sort through. I suggested he load his search history with “how to murder your moneygrubbing sister without leaving a trace”.

I’m shouting as loud as is electronically possible at him to hire his own lawyer. Of course, it would be on…what’s it called, a contingency fee arrangement?… because he has zero access to his money. He was like “the lawyers will end up with all the money”, and I remarked that that was a much better option than his sister getting his hands on it. I half-jokingly suggested he hurry up and get declared incompetent in order to get married. It was kind of a joke, but in light of the extremes his awful sister is going to, he’s thinking it’s not such a terrible idea. It’s the only way either of us can think of to get him back in control over his money, or at least have a say in who holds the legal purse strings. I really want him to consult with a lawyer, but he’s just tired and has constant headaches…not really physically up for a fight like this.

So, what NOT to do when you know you’re dying: Give or leave by default all power and assets to one person, even if you think he/she is a good, solid, decent human being. His parents are dead, he has never been married and has no kids…his sister is it. I didn’t ask him if he’d sorted things out with an estate/family-type lawyer – just assumed he had because he’s a bright man. It also occurred to me a few months ago that mental competency would become an issue at some point…again, I thought it would be insulting or maybe even a cruel reminder of his near-future to ask if he’d planned for that eventuality. I didn’t think it was my place to discuss all this, I didn’t think my words would hold any kind of sway because I’m just a massage therapist whose bones he wants to jump…but I’m really sorry I kept silent.

Turning BedBug Lemons into Apartment Lemonade

As you know by now, I’ve been living in plastic-wrapped hell for the past few weeks while my place goes through a series of fumigations to make super-sure that all the critters are annihilated. Okay, so “hell” may be a little strong, but I work from home so I don’t really get away from this environment, the pesticides give me headaches if I don’t open my windows and freeze at least once every 3 hours for about 10 days after each treatment, and I have to warn new massage clients about how the place looks because some folks think all the plastic gives my apartment a “Dexter vibe”.

Of course I don’t want to tell my clients about bedbugs, especially since my problem was incredibly minimal and didn’t affect them – they’re only active 2am-5am and don’t like vinyl or finished wood (the materials my massage table is made of). But I’ve offered a vague version of the truth to explain the state of my studio: I just had some building maintenance work done and am taking the opportunity to repaint and redecorate. That pretty much commits me to repainting and redecorating, since I threw out the rugs as well – which my mom pointed out were looking a bit worn anyway. Heck, one of them was a $30 remnant that was only supposed to be temporary.

I hate painting, but I hate “NYC apartment white” even more. I have two color walls, and I bartered back in 2004 to have that job done. So yesterday I remembered that, when my landlord was trying to raise my rent $150 this time last year, he offered to have the place repainted to make me feel like I was getting some value for that big increase. I declined and postponed the negotiations to my advantage. Well, I haven’t contacted him at all during this bedbug hullaballoo, which I figure makes me his favorite tenant ever. This was very deliberate on my part – I wanted the “perfect tenant” bargaining chip. So last night I emailed him to see if the offer of a paint job still stands, and he said yes, no problem, call so-and-so to arrange. So I’ll get the normal wear-and-tear scuffs spiffed up, and those bright walls I’m planning to paint myself will essentially be primed for me, free!

Then I decided to push my luck a little. When I negotiated my current lease terms earlier this year, my February 1st cycle became an October 1st cycle (10/1/10). This sucks for me because it means the next round of negotiations will take place in mid-summer 2010, when rents are at their highest because of seasonal demand. And if I were to move, negotiating in September is equally disadvantageous. Personal experience has shown me that you can end up paying 5-7% less if you’re looking in winter v. summer, and in Manhattan, that’s 3 figures for most places. So I requested a lease extension on my current terms to April 1, 2011 – and got it, no hassle! Not only do I not have to deal with lease renewal turmoil until Feb 1, 2011, but I’ll be back in a “cheap” lease cycle whether I stay here or move.

I really do want to stay as long as possible. It’s my home and my livelihood, and heck, I’m investing a few hundred in paint, curtains, rugs, etc. to spruce the place up. I’ve been here 6 years and wouldn’t mind 6 more.

The Sheer Poetry of Couponing

I try really hard not to be a coupon blog – I think that’s a distinct niche that, while I’m happy to read them, I don’t want to be one. But yesterday I had a trip to Rite Aid that seems worth writing about. And I suspect it just supports my mother’s coworker’s opinion that it helps to have a PhD in Math from Columbia to pull this stuff off.

So here is a compilation of my 3 transactions, with coupons used, rebates qualified for, and other bonus stuff…

Purchased: $79.01 + $5.95 sales tax
15.00 – 6 Herbal Essences shampoo/conditioner on sale, 2.50 each
34.96 – 6 Herbal Essences stylers, 2 @ 2.50, 4 @ 7.49
4.99 — 1 Oral B Power toothbrush
4.98 — 1 Oral B Advantage toothbrushes on sale, 2.49 each
11.60 – (4) Scrubbing Bubbles Shower Cleaner refills, 50% clearance 2.90 each
5.49 — Dry Idea roll-on deodorant, BOGO Free
1.99 — Keebler Fudge Shoppe cookies, sale 1.99

Coupons Used: $69.21
-15.00 – (3) Rite Aid $5/$25 purchase coupons
-34.96 – (6) Herbal Essences Buy Shampoo/Conditioner, Get a Free Styler
– 2.50 — Free Herbal Essences product
– 1.00 — $1/1 Herbal Essences product
– 2.00 — (2) $1/2 Herbal Essences products
– 1.00 — Keebler Fudge Shoppe cookies
– 4.00 — (2) $2/2 Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner refills
– 4.00 — (2) $2 Dry Idea roll-on
– 3.00 — Crest Power toothbrush
– 1.00 — Crest Advantage toothbrush
–  .75  — Crest Advantage toothbrush

Rebates Qualified For:  $24.80
2.00 Crest Advantage toothbrushes
2.00 Crest Power toothbrush
5.00 SC Johnson $5 rebate on 3 products (Scrubbing Bubbles)
$15.80 Rite Aid Gift of Savings – $20 store credit back on $100, so calculated @ 20%

Gross cost (out of pocket): $9.80 + $5.95 tax = $15.75
Net cost after rebates:  +$9.05 profit

I’m keeping the Scrubbing Bubbles cleaner refills for me and my brother, the rest is being donated. I was hoping to get milk and Arizona iced tea, but the refrigerators still hadn’t been restocked from the weekend. Also, most of the coupons I used were expiring that day, and my last transaction came in just under the gun at 11:54pm. Oh, and wonder of wonders, the evening manager had clearly gotten some quality training on the use of coupons and lightly scolded the cashier for being so reluctant to take all my coupons because “they’re as good as cash”. It was hard not to giggle, because it wasn’t until I gave them their own coupon policy that this manager warmed up to me.