Donate $109 to Major Charities for $6

I have recently resurrected my interest in Swagbucks as shopping and coupon printing portal. Last week I noticed an offer on their homepage: Make a one-time donation of $25 to Covenant House, receive 2,500 Swagbucks ($25). This morning, I figured out how this probably works – there’s a donor-sponsored Million Dollar Match going on and they’re $250K away from maxing it out by the 3/31/15 deadline. They don’t leave that money on the table and they build their donation base, smart!

Then today I saw a donation offer for World Wildlife Fund: Symbolically adopt an elephant for $9/month, get 1,500 SBs ($15), an eco-shopping tote and a stuffed elephant (or penguin or sea turtle). I’m a sucker for those shopping totes, lol. I’ve supported WWF on and off since their campaign for tiger preservation when I was in college.

And THEN I noticed a Swagbucks “Give + You Shall Receive” offer (if you’re not a member, it would be superniceynice if you clicked the link in my twitter profile blurb) – every month you give an initial or one-time donation to 2 charities, you get 300 bonus SBs ($3). Give to 3, get $6. Give to 4 or more, get $18. Only first-month donations count so it’s not something to get crazy with, but this seems a good month for me to go for it because I’ve already given to two. And of course I used my US Bank TravelPerks credit card to earn 3 points per $ for charitable contributions.

So the best way to maximize what you give while minimizing the cost looks like this:

SwagbucksCharity

  • The charities in the table are those that represent the best cashback value. Other options include the ASPCA, the Humane Society, Feeding America, Catholic Relief, Child Fund and Defenders of the Wilderness.
  • The fine print warns that your Swagbucks may not be awarded for cancelling too quickly, but my experience from 2013 showed that cancelling after the second monthly contribution works out fine. Bear in mind that most of the current options have ongoing bonuses for the first 4-6 months if you feel inclined to keep it going a bit longer.
  • I don’t benefit in any way from you doing this (maybe if you sign up through my link, but I’m not sure). I just like finding new and unusual ways to stretch a buck, especially the ones earmarked for charity.
  • If you’re not familiar with Swagbucks, you can cash in points for gift cards or a PayPal deposit. All options are currently valued at 100 Swagbucks = $1.

Additional charity “deal” – Child Fund is one of those sponsor-a-child-for-$XX-a-month charities. In this case, $28/month. If you do it for 6 months, you’ll pay $168 total and get 14,000 SBs ($140) back. I’m tempted by this, but it can be hard to cancel when you have a little face attached to your donation every month.

Penny Experiment 2: $204 for $23

I visited my mother in New Jersey this weekend to check out her new TV, get bangs cut to hide my healing scar, increase her freezer space by 1 filet mignon steak, and indulge in coupon insanity on behalf of The Penny Experiment. Saving are based on full shelf price v. net cost after sale price, coupons and other deals ($Shelf/$Sale).

Transaction 1 – $78.94 for $8.91

$15.54/$11.94  –  6 boxes of Quaker Chewy Granola bars
$ 4.00 /$ 4.00  –  2 bottles of G2 Gatorade
$ 3.30 /$ 2.40  –  6 cans of Contadina tomato sauce
$ 4.38 /$ 3.58  –  2 tubs of Betty Crocker icing
$10.74/$5.28  –  6 Hamburger Helper
$ 9.57 /$5.00  –  3 boxes of Maypo oatmeal
$ 3.69 / $2.47  –  Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Raisin Bread

– $2 Quaker granola bars (2 x $1/2)
– $2 Gatorade G2 (2 x .50/1 doubled)
– $2.20  Contadina (2 x .75/3 partially doubled…weird)
– $2 Betty Crocker icng (2 x .50/1 doubled)
– $3 Hamburger Helper (2 x .75/3 doubled)
– $3.30 Maypo oatmeal (3 x .55/1 doubled)
– $1.10 Pepperidge Farm bread (.55/1 doubled)
——————————————————————–
Full shelf price: $60.22 
Sale price: $34.67
After coupons:  $19.07
Register rebate:  $10 off your next order (Quaker/Gatorade deal)
Net cost:  $9.07
Savings:  85%

$ 9.96 / $ 4.96  –  4 Right Guard deodorant
$ 3.78 / $ 1.92  –  2 Halls cough drops
$ 4.98 / $ 1.96  –  2 Aquafresh toothpaste
————————————————————–
$18.72 / $8.84
– $4 Right Guard (2 x $2/2)
– $2 Halls (2 x .50/1 doubled)
– $3 Aquafresh (2 x .75/1 doubled

Full shelf price: $18.72
Sale price: $8.84
Coupons:  $9
Savings:  100%

=====================================================

Transaction 2:  $32.09 for $3.39

$17.34 / $8.00  –  6 jars Ragu sauce
$  4.79 / $2.99  –  1 Hellmann’s mayonnaise
$  9.96 / $5.00  –  4 bottles of Pompeian vinegar & cooking wine

– $3.60 Ragu (3 x .60/2 doubled)
– $1.00 Hellmann’s
——————————————————————————–
Full price:  $32.09
Sale price:  $15.99
After coupons:  $11.39
Register rebates:  $5 off next order (Pompeian) & $3 off next order (Unilever)
Net cost:  $3.39
Saved:  89.5%

==========================================================

Transaction 3:  $22.32 for $2.16

$9.16 / $8.00  –  4 Skippy Peanut Butter
$13.16 / $7.96  –  4 Wishbone salad dressing

– $4.80 Skippy PB (4 x .60/1 doubled)
– $6.00 Wishbone (4 x .75/1 doubled)
——————————————————
Full price: $22.32
Sale price:  $15.96
After coupons:  $5.16
Register rebates:  $3 off your next order
Net cost:  $2.16
Saved:  91.4%

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Transaction 4:  $21.33 for $3.66

$ 3.99 / $ 2.49  –  Lipton 100ct tea bags
$17.34 / $8.00 – 6 jars of Ragu

– $1.20 Lipton (.60/1 doubled)
– $3.60 Ragu (.60/2 doubled)
—————————————————-
Full price: $21.33
Sale price: $10.46
After coupons: $6.66
Register rebate: $3
Net cost:  $3.66
Saved:  83%

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Transactions 5 & 6 combined: $20.03 for $1.62

$ 5.18 / $3.00  –  2 Krusteaz pancake mix
$ 4.98 / $2.48  –  2 pints of Coffee-Mate creamer
$ 9.87 / $5.64  –  3 x 1-lb packs Butterball 93% lean ground turkey

– $2 Krusteaz (2 x .50/1 doubled)
– $3 Coffee-Mate (2 x .75/1 doubled)
– $4.50  Butterball ground turkey (3 x .75/1)
————————————————————
Full price:  $20.03
Sale price:  $11.12
After coupons:  $1.62
Saved:  92%

===================================================

Transaction 7 (Target):  $29.90 for $3.30

$29.90 / $15.30  –  10 x $1.53 Keebler cookies
– $2.00 ($1/3 x 2, Target website)
———————————————————–
Full price:  $29.90
Sale price after coupons:  $13.30
Rewards earned:  $10 Target gift cards
Net cost:  $3.30
Saved:  89%

GRAND TOTAL:  $204.57 for $23.04

Penny Experiment: $262 Toiletries for $7 + tax

Hope y’all don’t mind, but in order to participate in The Penny Experiment, I need to post pictures and details of the deals that I do. I’ve pretty much avoided this because I don’t want to be lumped in with some of those bloggers who empty whole shelves of Crest Pro-Health just because they can.

This photo isn’t complete – it’s just what I got at CVS, not Rite Aid because I gave all that stuff away already. As soon as I found out Single Mom-of-1 was on her way, I ran out and did my Rite Aid deals because she was desperate for hair conditioner (both mom and teenage daughter have dry, frizzy hair) as well as the food I’d already accumulated. I didn’t put together that donation pic because, again, I was in a time crunch.

At CVS, I bought (full shelf/sale price):
$32.94 / $32.94  6 x Dove Men+Care body wash
$23.98 / $20.00  2 x jumbo packs Huggies diapers
$31.96 / $23.96  4 x Pantene (large size)
$  6.38 / $ 5.98  2 x Colgate Max Fresh
$  8.38 / $ 7.98  Oust Air & Surface Sanitizer
$  4.08 / $ 2.60  2 x 2L Coke (inc .05 deposit)
——————————————-
Shelf price total:  $107.72
Sale price total:  $93.46 + tax

– $10 (2 x $5/$30 purchase coupons)
– $6 Pantene (2 x $3/2 mfr)
– $1.50 Huggies mfr
– $1 Huggies mfr
– $7.25  Dove Men+Care mfr
– $3.99  Oust BOGO mfr
-$.50  Coke store coupon
-$1.50 Colgate mfr (IP)
———————————-
Total owed: $61.70 + $5.84 tax
Paid with $60 ECBs + $7.54 cash

ECBs earned:
$32.94 Dove Men+Care (more than 1 card…long story)
$4 Colgate
$6 Oust
$5 Huggies
$10 Pantene/Coke
$57.94 ECBs earned – almost a wash!

Then at Rite Aid – sorry, no photo – I picked up (shelf price/sale price):
$9.98 / $7.00  Pantene (2 bottles)
$5.99 / $3.99  Nyquil
$4.99 / $1.75  Post GrapeNuts cereal
$5.99 / $2.99  Nivea body wash
$4.49 / $1.99  Carefree Ultra liners
$17.96 / $7.96  Stayfree pads
———————————————-
Shelf total:  $49.40
Sale total:  $25.69

– $5/$25 purchase
– $2/2 Pantene
– $2 Nyquil
– $2 Post cereal
– $2 Nivea body wash
– $2 Carefree Ultra (RA video values)
– $2 ($1 x 2) Stayfree
– $3.98 (2 x BOGO) Stayfree
——————————————–
Total:  $4.70 + $1.33 tax = $6.03
SCRs due:  $3 ($2 Pantene, $1 Nyquil)
Net out-of-pocket cost after rebates:  $3.03

And yesterday, I dashed out to Walgreens to pull of this deal after Mom-of-10 said she bought a bottle of shampoo because they were out. I “yelled” at her for buying something I could get much higher quality for nearly-free. This total is actually 3 orders, with one done on last week’s sale:

$10.99 / $10.00  Zicam cold sore swabs, 10ct
$  1.99 / $ .79  Ajax dishwashing liquid
$33.96 / $20.00  4 x 12oz bonus bottles NyQuil/DayQuil
————————————————————————
Full price total:  $46.94
Sale price total:  $30.79

– $8.00 (4 x $2) Vicks NyQuil/DayQuil mfr
= $22.79
Paid with $23 in Register Rewards (had to throw in a candy bar for myself to make this work, not included)
Earned back $20 in Register Rewards

$23.98 / $17.98  2 Huggies jumbo packs
$23.94 / $20.00  6 bottles of Garnier Fructis shampoo & conditioner
$ 7.58 / $ 6.00  2 x 22ct Kotex pads
$ 2.29 / $ .99  Aquafresh, 8.2oz bonus tube
—————————————————————————
Full shelf price: $57.79
Sale price:  $44.97

– $2 Huggies store coupon (2 x $1)
– $4 Huggies mfr IPs (2 x $2)
– $6 Garnier Fructis mfr (6 x $1)
– $2/2 Kotex mfr
– $.75 Aquafresh mfr
———————————————–
$30.22 + 2.40 sales tax
Paid with $27 RRs and $5.62

Got back $6 Huggies (2 x $3), $3 Kotex, $10 Garnier Fructis

GRAND TOTAL

BOUGHT:  $261.85 worth of personal care, baby care, OTC meds and other non-food necessities
PAID:  $16.19 out-of-pocket ($6.62 + 9.57 sales tax)

WHO BENEFITS

Single Mom of Teen Daughter and her friend, Single Mom with Tween Daughter, got 6 bottles of Pantene, 1 Oust, 2L bottle of Coke, NyQuil, 4 Stayfree, 1 Carefree, Nivea body wash, 2 Colgate, Post GrapeNuts (plus a few boxes of the free Kelloggs from my previous Penny Experiment purchase) on Sunday. She got tons of other stuff too (2 frozen turkeys, 3 cans of tuna, Ragu, Ronzoni, SoyJoy, Chex Mix, Stove Top, cranberry sauce, gravy, Scrubbing Bubbles, Lysol, Dawn, All), but that pre-dates my participation. Interesting twist: the turkeys and trimming came from Bronx Mom-of-10 – they’re not fans of Thanksgiving foods, so I just redistributed what the church and a very nice local supermarket owner gave her over the holidays.

Semi-Official Shelter Lady, Joanne, will get the 6 bottles of Dove Men+Care body wash with her next delivery.

Bronx Mom-of-10 got 4 packs of Huggies, 6 bottles of Garnier Fructis, Aquafresh, Kotex, 4 bottles of NyQuil and DayQuil, Zicam swabs (one of her kids gets cold sores), Ajax dishwashing liquid, and the other things pictured below:

I’ve joined a “Couponing for Food Banks” Club

Thanks once again to Dani-the-Coupon-Expert, I’ve found a virtual “club” of sorts for my Robin Hood activities. Jeffrey, who posts regularly on SavingAdvice, has started the Penny Experiment. He is attempting to turn a penny found about 10 weeks ago into $1 million worth of food donated to food banks (full story behind it can be found here).

Participating coupon crazies do their super-bargain shopping thing, post pictures of the shopping haul and receipt on their blog, donate it to a food bank, and get reimbursed by the Penny Experiment funds for the money they laid out for their super-bargains. I contacted Jeffrey, explaining that food banks in NYC are so massive that they don’t really want donations of goods from individuals – which is fine with me since I’d have to take a subway and then a bus to a warehouse in the South Bronx toting it all (I’ve been there). I described what I’ve been doing, and he’s fine with it since I’m just basically cutting out the middle man in the donation process.

So, here’s my first shopping trip towards the Penny Experiment. I’m hoping it counts even though I am unable to post the required items because, in a fit of efficiency, I mailed off the receipt for a rebate immediately and gave away the cereal in under 24 hours. I really think it should count though, because there is no out-of-pocket expense to be reimbursed!

Date:  Saturday, January 30th
Store:  CVS
Product:  Kelloggs cereal
Quantity:  10 boxes
Full price:  $4.59 x 10 = $45.90
Sale price:  $2.00 x 10 = $20.00
Coupons used: $5/$30 purchase (full price), 10x $1/1 MFR coupons, $5 ECB
Total OOP (out-of-pocket expense):  $0
Qualified for $10 debit card rebate from Kelloggs!

I’m not sure this transaction will qualify for The Penny Experiment because, in an uncharacteristic burst of efficiency, I mailed the receipt immediately for a $10 rebate on 10 Kelloggs/Keebler items and gave the cereal away 12 hours later, before I could find my digital camera. But since there was no money laid out and therefore none to be reimbursed, I’m hoping it can be included towards the $1 million total anyway.

The donation story:  All 10 boxes, plus another 10 from a previous purchase, were given to Maribel and her 10 kids. It might even be enough to keep them in breakfasts until her food stamps are reinstated – her case has been resolved, and that should happen in a couple of weeks. I also gave her a bag of 5 used towels in good condition to replace the ones she had to throw out from cleaning up the vomit of a bunch of sick kids, and a bag of 12 pairs of new socks from my mom. Well, World War 3 broke out because (a) the kids are used to white towels and these are colored – the novelty was apparently exciting, and (b) some of the socks were incredibly soft, and this made them all doubly crazy. Funny, I thought they’d be all over the big bags of Wise chips I’d gotten for .49, or the Pepsi I’d gotten for free.

Creative Christmas Challenge – MET!!!

Well, you blogosphere folks are pretty freakin’ awesome. I put $60 in the pot to see how far it could go, and next thing I know, Jillian wanted in on the action. And then Little Miss Moneybags jumped right in and matched my $60! Throw in some shopping guidance and on-the-ground (or, more accurately, in-the-stores) assistance by Dani and A. from Webhunting, and we put together a rockin’ Christmas for Maribel and her huge tribe. Amazon and eBay, couldn’t have done it without you either.

Here’s the loot (prices include tax and shipping) ….

$53 – 4 Reborn Berjusa/Berenguer vinyl baby dolls. Just the kit to make these dolls goes for $60, so bagging 4 gently-loved dolls for less than one kit is pretty freakin’ awesome. Bonus: it turns out one of them is exactly the doll that had been “kidnapped” by one of her kids’ friends. It’s really special to her because one of her daughters died and was revived as a newborn, and the hospital gave a pair of these dolls to her as a gift during the ensuing 2-month hospital ordeal – they were an anatomically correct boy and girl. The girl was stolen, and now she’s getting replaced. Also, I only ordered 3 dolls, but when I opened one of the boxes, there were two instead of one. Score! They’re going to Cheska, Gladys, Priscilla and Jacqueline.

$14.50 – 5 Bakugan balls for the price of 3, basically. Turns out the seller is in Hong Kong, which makes me think they were stolen straight off the factory assembly line, heh. They’re going to Ricky, who even my doorman remarked was exceptionally helpful towards his mother.

$28 – Insignia 7.0 MP digital camera for Maribel the Mom. Used, but in box and comes with the USB cord (most don’t). Photos have always meant a lot to the women in my family, to the point where my mom taught us that if the house was on fire and we could only save one thing, grab the photo albums because they can’t be replaced. Of course, that was the pre-digital era, but the sentiment lives on.

$0 (but really $25 – tab picked up by Jillian!) – Dora the Explorer Sleepy Dreams doll, a replacement for one that melted in a laundry accident. The doll was brand-new and cost $25. A friend on Long Island picked it up for me at her local Walmart – it wasn’t available online or within 30 miles of my mom in NJ or me in NYC. The doll is going to Kristi, who at the moment is glassy-eyed with fever (I saw her on Friday).

$0 – Disney blanket sleeper, size 3T Tigger design. So its true cost was $8 ($6 + tax + pro-rated shipping), but it came from my Amazon Swagbucks gift card balance. It’s for the baby, Alex. He’s also getting a Playskool whistle thing and Mr. Bubbles bubble bath that I picked up on clearance last year after Christmas.

$0 (but really $7.50 + postage) – Moon Sand Treasure Kingdom (direct from Jillian – shipping costs were probably hideous, blech, but still a great deal). This is going to all of them, since it’s this great crafty kit along the lines of Play-Doh but even better – it doesn’t dry out. I’m telling you, it makes me want to be a 5-year-old again, this stuff is cool! Anyway, there is one kid without an individual present on the list, so Francois’ name might be on the tag. He’s one of the two stepkids, not really sure if his mom (her sister) helps with Christmas at all.

$0 (but really $20 recycled) – 2 packs of 3 WWE Micro Aggression wrestler figures. They are 2″ caricatures of actual professional wrestlers and qualify as ugly-cute. I “paid” $15 of the price with 2 Disney sleepers that a friend put in on my order to take advantage of shipping cost limits – but it came from my Amazon Swagbucks gift card balance. The other $5 came from a Kellogg’s rebate I submitted using her address for cereal I paid a total of $5 for. Net cost to me is therefore $0. Fernando is on the receiving end of these.

$13 – clearanced clothing from Target. It was actually more than that, maybe double, but Dani very kindly did a money-making deal on Glade scented oil products with coupons I sent that earned back about $10 more than was spent in the form of gift cards. Most of the clothes were the right sizes for Stephanie, Priscilla and Fernando, with a few pieces for Kristi and Ricky. Cheska isn’t allowed to have new clothes because she is the Tazmanian Devil Child (that’s what her tantrums are like – bouncing off walls, damaging everything in her wake) and destroys her own clothes.

$0 – Glade plug-ins and refills from Jess VonWallenstein, one of my Twitter followers, who had a ton of these products that she’d gotten for free or better-than-free on drugstore deals and was ready to throw out. So glad she didn’t! When asked what she’d like for Christmas, Maribel mentioned the Glade Sense & Spray I’d given her in September – said she’d like to have a plug-in for every room in her house. So Jess, you granted that wish!

$3 – Candy and cute containers to put it in. I got all of it for nearly free, so that $2 is mostly the tax. Grr, tax. 3 bags of different Hershey’s Kisses, a bag of Butterfinger Bells, and then a ton of CVS candy that came individually wrapped within the bag – bubble gum, laffy taffy, caramels. Oh, and some clearanced Russell Stover chocolate marshmallow Santas at Walgreens last week.

$0 (but actual cost of $23) – A 12-pair pack of ankle sports socks for little girls, paid for with my Amazon Swagbucks gift card balance ($5). I babysat Ricky, Alex and Kristi last weekend and the baby’s socks were fine, Ricky had no socks (and it was hideously cold out), and Kristi was wearing 1 black and 1 white crumbly boy’s sweat socks with no elasticity left. I ordered these after my mom called to let me know she’d picked up 10 pairs of socks ($18) for the boys and the older girls at Kohl’s and Target.

Total cost of Christmas:  $195
Total paid with free money: $33
Total cash cost to me:  $52
Cash cost to blog readers + my mom:  $110
(+ about $18 in shipping)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On a Christmas sidenote with regards to this family… because of the extreme bitter winds and temps last weekend, I agreed to watch 3 of her 4 youngest (NOT the Tazmanian Devil) because they were ill-equipped for the cold and she had to go out to some unfamiliar neighborhood in Queens to pick up donated clothes for the baby. Thanks to weekend subway maintenance and rerouting, a trip that should have taken no more than 2 hours took over 5 hours. I was miserable – the kids are normal, active kids, but my apartment is a studio and not at all childsafe. But my vinyl Thai mat became their tumble area, I threw a sheet over the massage table to make a fort, and damned if they didn’t wolf down my bananas as soon as my back was turned (I didn’t mind, I just thought it was funny). Anyway, after nearly 5 hours of dealing with bad public transit and walking to someone’s home that was a mile from the subway stop, Maribel decided to take a taxi for the first time in her welfare life – and didn’t know what she was dealing with. Now, don’t click away – this story has a happy ending!

She hired a gypsy cab, thinking it was a non-yellow taxi car service (which can be cheaper). For those who don’t know, a gypsy cab is just a guy with a car who trolls the neighborhoods outside of Manhattan where you can’t get a regular cab looking for someone willing to pay for a ride. I went to college in the Bronx, I only took one once, with a friend who used them all the time, but then never again. You are basically getting in the car with a strange man. In the Bronx. Anyway, as soon as she had the kids out of the car and paid him, he tore out of there – taking with him the clothes she’d busted her skinny butt getting on a bitter day, all the chicken and eggs and other food I’d given her, and worst of all, the baby’s stroller. It was a really good stroller that I think she had recently bought second-hand on craigslist. It goes for about $200 new and $50-80 used. She was heartbroken. She and her son, Ricky, chased the minivan down the street and even a few of her neighbors joined in after she took a header (yeah, running with a 25-lb baby on her hip was not smart) – but the foul excuse for a human being ran the light and got away. She reported him to the police, but didn’t have a license plate number, and none was visible on my building’s security tapes.

Now for the happy ending… Two days later, I found the same make of stroller (an Inglesina Zippy) that she’d had stolen on craigslist, being given away by a woman on the upper eastside for free. Free! And the owner threw in one of Maribel’s Christmas requests that I hadn’t fulfilled: a snuggly, fur-lined sleeping bag-like thing to keep the toddler warm in the stroller (blankets always move around and get caught in the wheels). I picked it up because I knew it would go to whoever could get there first and I was a 20-min subway ride away, so for the cost of two subway trips and some Krazy Glue (my fault – I broke off the lap bar trying to clean it, lost my balance), Maribel ended up with better than she had lost. Except maybe for that broken lap bar. What can I say, I’m not used to being this chubby, so I weebled right over while simultaneously scrubbing and squatting. Yeah, really should do something about this weeble thing. But I’ll save resolutions for another post.

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)

Snackpicks.com (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

www.coupons.com (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…