Saturday, October 3, 2009

On a Blog-cation

If you happen to wonder why you haven't seen any posts from the Deal Diva lately, it's because I've been on a temporary blogcation (i.e. a vacation from blogging). What have I been up to during my blogging hiatus? Well...I'm still finding great deals, but...I'm also taking some time to focus on the Diva household, spending precious time with the Diva boys, and sharpening my cooking skills (thanks to a recent obsession with all things Julia Child).

But, not to worry, once I have the famous Julia omelet flip mastered, I plan to be back in action, sharing my stories of the bargains I'm finding here in the frozen least as much as time allows.

So....if you've enjoyed reading this blog over the past year, and you'd like to see more posts with money-savings tips and techniques, please send me an e-mail or leave a comment. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thanks for reading! Happy deal hunting!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Palomino Restaurant: Diva-Style Discount Dining

Here’s a local “triple play” deal for a delicious and value-conscious meal out. Palomino Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis offers a 3-course “price fixe” meal weeknights from 5:00 – 6:00pm. The meal includes a starter (soup or salad), main dish, dessert (sorbet, ice cream, or chocolate tiramisu) and a non-alcoholic beverage for $25. The entrees are the same portion size as those on the regular menu for a fraction of the price. In our recent visit, I had the Alaskan King Crabcakes, which were $27 alone on the regular menu. Other entrĂ©e options include Braised Beef Short Ribs, Prawn Scampi, Chicken Parmesan, and Capellini Pomodoro.

Another reason to love Palomino is that it’s known for it’s no corkage fee policy. Bring in a favorite bottle of wine, and your waiter will uncork it and serve it with your meal for no extra fee. Most downtown Minneapolis restaurants charge between $15- $25 for corkage. Not only can you enjoy a great bottle of wine from your personal collection with your meal, but you also avoid the often 2-3 times retail markup on purchasing a bottle of wine at the restaurant – particularly when the restaurant selection might not be your preferred choice. Also, if you don’t finish your bottle, you can re-cork the bottle and bring it home with you (in the state of MN). If you do choose to bring your own bottle of wine, just make sure that it’s a nice selection comparable in value to those sold at the restaurant (…No 3 Buck Chuck!) and that it’s not something that is actually on the restaurant wine list.
Parking in downtown Minneapolis can be pricey. Fortunately, some downtown restaurants offer validated parking. Palomino validates parking in the LaSalle Ramp for up to 2 ½ hours. On our last visit, we saved $12 in parking fees with the complimentary parking validation.

Finally, here’s one last tip for frequent diners. Log on to and make a reservation before you go. You’ll earn 100 points for each reservation, and when you reach 2,000 points, you can redeem them for a $20 restaurant gift card. As long as you make at least one reservation a year, your points won’t expire. You can even type in a comment while making the reservation online to let the wait staff know if you’re celebrating a special occasion – which will make your night even more memorable. (By the way, Palomino provides a free dessert on birthdays and anniversaries!)

Want even more rewards for dining at Palomino? Check out the Eat, Drink, & Earn Club by clicking

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fish Camp In Pictures

The Diva guys had a wonderful time at Fish Camp this past weekend.

As you can see, there were plenty of fish to catch, and lots of fun was had by Junior D, Daddy Diva, and Grandpa Diva, too.

The rainy day projects I sent along were a hit. I think Fish Camp will become a new, annual family tradition in the Diva household!

Your Turn: What fun family activities do you have planned this summer? Leave a comment and share your stories!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Cheerios Challenge

Saving money on groceries means not always being loyal to a particular brand. For our family, we’ll use store brand or name brand items - whichever happens to be the better value at the time. Sometimes, having a coupon on a name brand item makes the item cheaper than the similar store brand item. Although, other times, even with a coupon, the name brand still costs more than the store brand. Add in weekly sales and “buy 1 get 1 free” promotions, and the value equation shifts on a weekly basis.

There is one thing in the Diva household that we are loyal to though, and that is Cheerios.

Daddy Diva is supportive of any measures to save money on groceries and will happily eat store brand yogurt, cheese, bread, etc….but don’t mess with his Cheerios!

So, what is a Deal Diva to do to ensure that we’re not paying top dollar on name brand Cheerios??? The answer is that we know the sales cycle, and we stock up. In our area, Cheerios is usually on sale at least once a month. In addition, there are often exceptional offers available on top of the sale prices every other month or so.

Last week, we were down to our last box of Cheerios. When our supply starts to get low, I start checking the grocery ads. If it’s not on sale this week, then it will be by the next week at one of the local stores.

Here’s the deal I found at Cub Foods:

11 boxes of 8.9 oz Cheerios @ $2 each: $22
1 box of 18 oz Cheerios @ $3

Total: $25

I used $3 in coupons, which brought my total down to $22, and then I received a $10 coupon off my next store purchase for buying $25 worth of Cheerios. This brought my net cost down to $12 for 12 boxes.
That’s just over 10 cents an ounce – a great price for Cheerios!

If there hadn’t been a sale at Cub, I could have waited until this week. Our local Rainbow Foods has their monthly General Mills sale this week where you receive $10 off along with coupons for 2 free gallons of milk when you purchase a certain number of boxes of General Mills cereal at full price. If you had coupons and shopped on Double Coupon Wednesday, you could save even more on the Rainbow Foods deal.

Your Turn: What name brand item does your family refuse to live without? What ways have you found for saving money on it? Leave a comment to share your story!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Breakfast - Deal Diva Style

While the Diva guys were away at fish camp this weekend, Baby D and I decided to clean out the fridge and pantry. The result was a fun and tasty breakfast with plenty of leftovers for our busy week ahead.

Diva-licious Waffles

We followed the recipe on the Bisquick box and added a little vanilla extract and cinnamon. Using cooling racks keeps the extra waffles from getting soggy before storing them in the fridge. These will make quick meals for the Diva boys this week.

Deal Spinner Smoothies

This is a great way to use up fruit. We keep a Ziploc freezer bag in the freezer and use it to store extra fruit on hand before it goes bad. To make the smoothie, toss in some frozen fruit, a cup of yogurt, and a splash of milk and orange juice. We used some ripe bananas, frozen pineapple, cherry vanilla yogurt, milk, and OJ. Yum!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Power of the Snowball – Part 3

Photo: marklarson

Is anyone else as excited as I am about the Debt Snowball process?

In Part 1, I talked about how Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball approach works. Then, in Part 2, I shared how to get the ball rolling and how you can benefit from it. I’ll wrap up this series today with tips on how to save extra money to build the initial momentum.

Finding an extra $500 a month isn’t easy, but finding an extra $5 here and $20 there is quite do-able. Rather than trying to come up with a large sum at the end of the month, break it down into manageable amounts. For us, one way we save a great deal is on our monthly food expenditures:

  • Packing Lunches – Taking the extra time to shop for and prepare lunches in advance saves us the $5 - $10 we each would spend daily buying lunch during the week.

  • Homemade Dinners – Rather than eating out a few times a week, we save money by stocking the fridge and freezer with healthy and convenient meals. Having options on hand really cuts down on our desire to eat out. When we have a craving for a restaurant burger ($10 each + tip), we fire up the grill and prepare burgers from the side of beef in our chest freezer ($1 each).

  • Family Outings – Whether we are headed to the zoo, the state fair, or on a road trip, rather than forking over cash for unhealthy meals on the go, we try to pack a small cooler with sandwiches, carrot sticks, fruit, and juice boxes.

Other ways to save money include comparison shopping to find the best deal on items and shopping around for the best rates on services. Always shop with a purpose, not for entertainment, and think about the value you will get out of each purchase, rather than impulse buying.

For a small amount of sacrifice, you can make substantial progress towards completing your debt snowball.

Your Turn: Have you been working on your debt snowball? What advice do you have for others? Are you thinking about it, but don’t know where to start? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Power of the Snowball – Part 2

Photo: patterbt

In Part 1, I shared with you an example of how to pay off your debt using Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball approach. Today, I’ll talk about some tools to get you started.

A few years ago, I first heard about Dave Ramsey and the Debt Snowball concept. I love reading financial advice books, and so I devoured every single one of Dave’s books. Yes…EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. (I have read all of Suze Orman’s books, too. No surprise, right?)

If you are serious about paying off your debt, I would suggest you read at least some of Dave’s books. Then, get to work - as Dave puts it - with gazelle intensity.

What can be gained by implementing the Debt Snowball?


Once you’re down to just a mortgage, you don’t have to worry about making monthly payments on several loans – especially in an uncertain economy. If you are a two-income household, you may even gain enough flexibility to consider scaling back and going down to one salary, if you chose to do so.

You can also gain the freedom to never have another car loan – EVER. Some people replace their cars not long after they are out of warranty, rolling their growing debt from one car to the next. As a result, every new car comes with a bigger and bigger payment. By keeping cars well maintained and driving them longer, you’ll continue to save the money you would have paid towards car payments and use it to pay for future cars with cash. Taking a bit of cash out of the emergency fund for minor repairs costs substantially less than a new car payment. Squeezing just an extra year or two out of your existing car once it’s paid off can make a significant difference.

Finally, implementing the Debt Snowball will give you a better understanding of the true cost of carrying debt. That $25k car loan will end up costing you over $30k when you factor in 8% interest over 5 years. Even more eye-opening: The $5k in credit card debt would cost you almost $8k if you made a $100 monthly payment over the next 6 ½ years…or worse yet, if you only paid $75/month, you’d pay over $10k (more than double the original debt!) in the 12 years it would take to pay it off!!!

The compound interest that works to your benefit in a savings account over time is the same thing that works to your detriment and makes it extremely difficult to pay off debt. This is particularly true with high, double-digit interest rate debt, like credit card debt.

Coming Up: In Part 3, I’ll wrap up this series by sharing how to find excess cash to apply to the snowball each month.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Power of the Snowball – Part 1

Photo: redjar

With the weather finally warming up here in Minnesota and the danger of frost hopefully behind us now, you may wonder why this post even references the word snow.

If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey, you’ve probably heard of the Debt Snowball concept. The basic idea is to pay off your smallest debt first, then use the monthly payment that you had been paying on that debt towards the next smallest debt, and so on, until you’re eventually debt free. As each debt is paid, you have more and more money to apply to the next debt…thus – the snowball effect.

Here’s an example of how to leverage the power of the Debt Snowball.

Let’s say you have the following debt:

  • $5k in credit card debt ($100/month)

  • $10k student loan ($400/month)

  • Car loans (2 @ $500/month each)

  • Mortgage ($1,000/month)

  • 2nd Mortgage ($500/month)

That’s $3,000/month in total payments. In this example, let’s say you are able to come up with an extra $500/month to use toward your debt after all the minimum payments are made.

To start the debt snowball effect, you would pay $600/month toward the credit card debt ($100 regular payment + the extra $500) until you have paid off the smallest debt. Assuming a static $5k (i.e. cutting up the card), at a 15% interest rate, you’ll be paying $100 a month for the next 6 ½ years before your balance is paid off. However, paying $600/month towards the balance will retire this debt in just under 9 months.

Accelerating your repayment of the smallest to largest debt not only builds up momentum, but it also gives you quicker gratification that you are truly making an impact.

Once the credit card debt is paid off, then you would move on to the next smallest debt – the $10k student loan. At a rate of 5%, you’d be paying $400/month for over 2 years before your debt is paid off. With the Debt Snowball method, you would pay $1,000/month ($400/month regular payment + $100/month former credit card pymt + the extra $500), thereby paying off the student loan in just over 10 months.

Next, you would move on to paying off your car loans. Instead of making the combined $1,000 in minimum payments, you would make a total of $2,000 in payments ($1,000 regular payment + $100 former cc pymt + $400 former student loan pymt + the extra $500). If you had one car loan with a smaller balance, you could focus on paying off that one first, and then move on to the next.

Whether it’s an extra $500 or some other number, every dollar of excess cash available to apply to the Debt Snowball makes a drastic difference in how quickly you can accelerate your debt retirement.

Coming Up: In Part 2, I’ll tell you about some tools for implementing the Debt Snowball and what you will gain from it. Later, I’ll share tips on how to find excess cash to apply to the snowball each month. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Diva Boys Closet Clean-out

Photo: Klara Kim

We had some chilly, rainy, gloomy…and generally yucky weather this weekend. Since we didn’t make it outdoors, I decided to tackle my bi-annual chore – cleaning out the Diva boys’ closets. Every spring and fall, I go through the boys’ closets and filter out the outgrown and out-of-season clothes and replace them with clothing for the current season.

All of Junior D’s outgrown clothing goes into Baby D’s closet. All of Baby D’s outgrown clothing goes into two piles: “Sell” and “Donate.” The clothing to be sold will go on Craigslist. The donation items will go to our annual church garage sale later this month. The out-of-season clothes get packed into recycled office paper boxes, labeled with a Sharpie, and stacked on shelves.

Getting organized twice a year gives us a good idea of what we have and what we don’t have. Rather than buying clothes “just to buy clothes” for the boys, it gives me a mental list of what specific items to look for when shopping. I can also plan ahead and stock up on clothing items that they will need for next fall if I run across a deal.

Your Turn: What are your tips for organizing, storing, and getting rid of your family’s clothes? Share your ideas!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Local Readers: Free Admission to MN State Parks & Museums

On June 7th, admission is free at all 26 MN Historical Society sites and museums and all 72 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas. From Fort Snelling and Afton State Parks to the Society's Forest History Center and Oliver H. Kelley Farm, there are many opportunities for exploring. Visit or for more information.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Buy Ahead Principle

Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives

I recently read an interesting post at Money Saving Mom, called “The Buy Ahead Principle: One of my biggest grocery saving secrets.” If you’re not a regular reader of Crystal’s blog, check it out at It’s one of my favorite sources for the best up-to-the-minute deals.

In her recent post, Crystal talks about the odd combination of items she buys during her weekly shopping trip. Each week, she looks for the best deals on items they will use, and then she stocks up on those items that week. To round out their weekly menu, she uses items already on hand in the freezer, fridge, or pantry. One week, she might buy Jello, Mac & Cheese, and salad dressing. Then she uses meat, bread, milk, etc. – whatever else she has on hand – to complete the weekly menu. By stocking up on grocery items when they go on sale, you avoid paying full price for items, which lowers your overall grocery expenditures over time.

If you are a normal, weekly grocery shopper, often you are shopping to replace the things you’ve run out of in your home. The problem with this approach is that if you are already out of something, you are at the store’s mercy to pay whatever they happen to be charging for the item that week – whether it’s on sale or full price.

Here’s an example of how I stocked up this week:

Our local Cub Foods had a few Diva household staples on sale for less than the lowest price in our pricebook. On my weekly trip, I bought the following: 10 boxes of Mac & Cheese, 2 gallons of milk, 6 jugs of V8 Splash, 2 packs of CapriSun, and a handful of produce. (I’m sure the guy in line behind me thought this combination was a bit odd, to say the least.)

Out of this purchase, the only things I paid for were the V8 Splash, 5 of the boxes of Mac & Cheese, and the produce. Everything else was free. Will we be living on macaroni and a variety of beverages all week!?! Heavens, no. But, we saved over $20, and we’re now re-stocked on items we’ll use over the next few weeks.

Detailed breakdown:
10 boxes Mac & Cheese – Buy 5, Get 5 Free
2 packs CapriSun – Free with coupon attached to Mac & Cheese 5-packs
2 gallons Milk – Used a Buy 1 Get 1 Free store coupon, combined with a Free Gallon coupon received a few weeks back when I bought 10 boxes of Cheerios.
6 jugs V8 Splash – On sale for $1.99 (would have been even cheaper w/coupons, but I used the ones I had up the last time this was on sale).

The key to the buy-ahead principle is this: Only stock up on the items that your family will use in a reasonable amount of time before they expire. If you find a great price, but buy too much and have to throw some out, then it’s not really a deal after all.

Your Turn: What staples does your family stock up on?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Deal Diva Confession

Photo: Joshua Jordan

I have a confession to make. I haven’t bought a bar of soap in over five years. Yes, that’s right FIVE years. Yikes.

It’s not that we don’t use bar soap. The Diva family goes through the same amount of bar soap as any other family. It’s just that I haven’t needed to buy any in the past several years. We are that stocked up on it.

If you’ve read my blog for awhile now, you may remember that I’m not a huge stockpiler. That hasn’t always been the case. Back when double coupons were the norm in the Twin Cities, I did stock up on anything and everything that was free after coupon. But, in the past few years, I’ve taken a much more critical look at what I choose to stockpile – diapers, non-perishable foods that we will definitely eat, razors, toothbrushes, toiletries – and with everything else, I either pass it up at the store or purchase it to donate.

So, back to the soap. Several years ago, there were coupons available for a free two-pack of Dove bar soap. Anyone remember those? They had a very distant expiration date, and I had quite a stack of them. Bar soap is one thing that really could last for years in a stockpile without any noticeable decline in effectiveness. I used up all of my free Dove coupons over the course of several months, and stocked the soap away in a giant tote in the basement. That was five years ago, and the reason I’m writing this post is because…gasp…we only have one bar left!

Now, to be completely honest, I have purchased some of the Johnson’s Buddies kid’s soap over the past year. These, of course, were free after coupon, and the Diva boys love them in the tub. Who could resist!?!

Your Turn: What have you had the longest in your stockpile? Share your thoughts!

Coupon Photo: Roadsidepictures