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

Monday, June 1, 2009

A New Twist on Summer Camp

Summer is quickly approaching, and, in the Diva household that means it’s time to plan for summer camp. Last year, Junior D went to a half-day program three days a week through our city recreational center. He enjoyed the experience, but we wanted to do something different this year. This summer, Daddy Diva came up with a fun and unique idea tailored to Junior D’s interests – Fish Camp.

The “guys only” extended weekend will include a trip up to the cabin for Grandpa Diva, Daddy Diva, and Junior D. Along the way, they’ll stop at the bait shop (Lesson #1: Worms, Minnows, & Leeches). Then they’ll head out on the lake at the crack of dawn (Lesson #2: Casting, Reeling, & Netting). Throughout the day, they’ll snack on baggies full of fish crackers and gummy worms. Then, they’ll head back to the cabin with the fish they caught (Lesson #3: How to Clean a Fish), and enjoy a nice fish fry dinner.

In addition, Mommy Diva has added a few extras to round out the fish theme and add to the experience.

Custom Shirts:
I bought a T-shirt software kit from Office Depot for $9 (after mail-in rebate), some plain t-shirts and some iron-on transfer printer paper (using a 40% off coupon at Joann Fabrics). For $30, I made 4 custom camp shirts (including one for Baby D – so that he didn’t feel left out!).

Story Time: I picked out a stack of fish-themed books from the Diva boys book collection to send along for bedtime reading. Cost: $0

Fish Art:
I’m sending along a few fish-themed “cutting-and-gluing” projects to do at the cabin when they are not out fishing. Cost: $2

So, for a few days off work for Daddy Diva and a few dollars in expenses, Junior D will not only have a unique camp experience, but he’ll also have some great quality time bonding with his dad and grandpa and memories for years to come. And, if it’s a success, it just might become a new family tradition. (Stay tuned for Fish Camp photos!)

Your Turn: Share your thrifty and creative ideas for spending quality time with your family! Leave a comment with your input.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Laundry Detergent - What's the Deal?

One money-saving tactic that's often brought up in the most frugal of circles is making your own laundry detergent. It's true that name brand laundry detergents can make a sizable dent in your cleaning supply budget...but, do you gain enough savings by making your own to warrant such drastic measures?

The Simple Dollar is a blog that I truly enjoy, and recently, while browsing though the 2008 archives, I came across this post: Making Your Own Laundry Detergent. Trent provides a visual, step-by-step guide to making your own laundry detergent with little more than a few cups of powder, a bar of soap, and a couple gallons of water. The resulting "sludge" works just as well at cleaning your laundry as the name brand Tide with Bleach Alternative.

I have to admit, it did sound like a fun experiment, but, after thinking about the work involved, and the idea of where to store it all, I thought twice about trying it myself. That got me thinking about the cost of buying vs. making laundry detergent. Was the juice truly worth the squeeze?

Using Trent's calculations, homemade laundry detergent would cost just over 2 cents per load. In comparison, Trent mentions that Tide costs about 20 cents per load (based on his pricing). Now, if you have a large family and are doing several loads a day, an 18 cents savings per load could be substantial over the course of the year. However, in the Diva household, we do an average amount of laundry per week - let's say 4 loads - which equates to 208 loads a year. At 2 cents per load, homemade detergent would cost us $4.16 a year. Wow, that's cheap! And, at 20 cents per load, name brand detergent would cost us $41.60 a year...still, not bad.

My Conclusion: For a savings of $37 a year, it's really not worth my time to make the homemade detergent.

But wait...let's take this a step further. Being the Deal Diva that I am, I never pay full price for laundry detergent. In fact, unless I have a high-value coupon for name brand detergent, I often opt for store brand detergent. Just this week, I paid $3.94 for 56-load Purex detergent at Target. That equates to $0.07 a load - only a nickel higher than homemade detergent. In comparison, Costco's Kirkland brand laundry detergent comes to 12 cents a load...still cheaper than regular priced name brand soap. Finally, if you're vigilant in scoping out a laundry detergent deal, you'll wait to take advantage of the regular sales this week's sale at Walgreens...50-load Xcel for $2.50...which is only 5 cents a load.

Your Turn: How do you save money on laundry soap? Do you notice any difference between name brand and store brand laundry detergents? Share your input!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Look out CVS, Here comes the Deal Diva

I'm not a big CVS shopper. Nothing against the store, they do have great deals. It's just that I try not to go too far out of my way for a deal. Even though there are numerous CVS stores here in the Twin Cities, none are right along my normal routes. If the deals are good enough for the week, I might plan the extra time to head to one - but what if they are out of the "deal" items? Or, even when I am lucky enough to find these items in stock, if I don't plan ahead for a strategy to do two transactions (one to earn the Extrabucks and one to redeem them), then I need to make another future trip to the out-of-the-way store.

One of the main reasons I shop at Walgreens is that there is one right on my way to and from work. If there's something specific that I'm looking for, or if I have expiring Register Rewards, I can be in and out in 5 minutes.

Which brings me to the point of this post - a new CVS is under construction right along my work route.

I'm hoping to become a more frequent CVS shopper once this new location opens. It will be much easier to do as others do and "roll over the Extrabucks" when I can quickly stop in on my way to or from work. Plus, if I stop in early Monday morning, hopefully I will have a better chance of finding the new deal items from Sunday still in stock.

Just a few months to go, and my Extra Rewards card is burning a hole in my pocket! I will report back on my deal-finding success stories shortly!

Your Turn: How much does store location play a part in your deal-finding strategy? Do you ever consider the value of your time and gas costs in determining whether a deal is worth your while? Share your input.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Making an Appointment to Save Money

(Note: This post was originally published in January 2009.)

It’s always exciting to come across a great coupon to get an item free or inexpensive, particularly when it’s for something that you would certainly use. When you find this coupon, you normally would clip it out and then set it on the kitchen table (creating clutter for days until your next shopping trip) or stick it in your purse (a.k.a. the black hole – never to be found again), and inevitably, by the next shopping trip, the coupon is either left behind at home, or forgotten in the bottom of your purse, and likely will expire long before it ever surfaces again. Sound familiar?

Here are a few tips I’ve learned to make the most out of the best coupons I receive.

  • Whenever I have a coupon for a free item, I put it right in my car. I’ve got a little spot where I keep gas “cents off” coupons, free item coupons, Register Rewards, and CVS ExtraBucks. Since I’m in my car every day, it’s a visual reminder that I’ve got important coupons to use that I can’t let go to waste.

  • As an added insurance for high value coupons that I want to use, I add a reminder in my cell phone calendar a few days before the coupon expiration date. When the reminder pops up, it jogs my memory and helps ensure that the coupon doesn’t go to waste. Whether you have a cell phone calendar, a calendar on your computer, or even a wall calendar….making an appointment reminder to use your coupons can save you plenty of money.
What methods do you use to help remember and make the most out of your best coupons? Leave a comment with your advice.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is It Really A Deal?

When is a good deal really a good deal? Is something a good deal just because you can get it for nearly free? What if it’s something you may not even use?

I asked myself this question just this morning. I was at Target yesterday stocking up on groceries and other household items. Before heading to Target, I logged onto Attention Target Shoppers to get the lowdown on the best Target deals for the week. Then I logged onto A Full Cup to print out some of the Target store coupons for items I was planning to buy. There were also a few manufacturers’ coupons that I clipped out of my recent Sunday inserts to take along. I had everything organized in an envelope, and I went about my shopping until I reached the paper products aisle. It was then that I realized I had forgotten to clip the $2 Chinet coupon from the 5/3 Smart Source insert. I had read online that the 7” Chinet plates were on sale this week for $2.49. With the $2 off coupon, they would be just $0.49. That’s a pretty good deal. BUT…did I really need them? We rarely even use paper plates in our household.

Sometimes the thrill of finding a good deal overpowers the logic behind whether it truly is a deal at all. Would I have found a better use for the $0.49? Maybe. Maybe not. If I would invest the $0.49 for 13 years at 6%, I’d have double the original value ($1.07 to be exact) to use towards Junior D’s college education. Sure, that’s still just pocket change. BUT…on a bigger scale, if you look at $0.49 here and $0.49 there, over time, this could make an impact. Saving $0.49 a day at 6% would compound to just under $3,500 in 13 years. That would buy a few textbooks. And, if I chose not to use it for college, and instead, let it continue to compound for another 13 years, without even making any further contributions, I’d have just over $7,500.

The compounding may seem a bit extreme, but the point is that it pays to think about whether something really is a deal or not as well as the opportunity cost of the money spent on the deal. What may be a deal to some, may not necessarily be a deal to you. Although I was instantly disappointed when I realized I had forgotten the $2 coupon at home, after a day to reflect on it, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. And who knows, maybe by leaving one extra package of paper plates on the shelf, I made the day of someone else who had the $2 coupon and had a good use for them.

Your Turn: How do you define “a good deal?” Leave a comment to share your thoughts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Spin The Deal Friday Roundup

More Free Magazines

Are you sick of hearing about all the free magazines yet? Well, I have just one more to share with you. Yesterday, I received my first free issue of Cruise Travel magazine. It’s a dangerous one though…it has me dreaming about taking another cruise some day. Anyone have any tips for saving money when booking a cruise?

Friday Chocolate Giveaway

Mars is giving away free chocolate bars every Friday through September to the first 250,000 to log onto their site each week. Click HERE. Limit of 1 coupon per e-mail address each Friday and 4 coupons total per e-mail address through the offer period.

Great Deal at

If you have a Kohl’s charge card, use code MAYTAKE30 for 30% off and also use code MVC8231 for free shipping. The first code is good through next Wednesday and the other code is good through Saturday.
I got several gifts purchased and saved $205 off regular prices using the 30% code on sale and clearance items. That’s another $205 toward the Diva family 2009 savings goal of $5000, and it’s just enough to bring us over the half-way point!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another Free Magazine: Ladies Home Journal

As a SheSpeaks product tester, I've been selected to test several magazines and offer my opinion on them. The two I'm currently testing are Taste of Home and Ladies Home Journal. This week, I received my first issue of the free annual subscription I got through SheSpeaks.

If you're interested in becoming a SheSpeaks product tester, sign up at Even if you are not selected to participate in specific product trials, as a SheSpeaks member, you are still eligible to sign up for products and magazines at a discount price. Currently, SheSpeaks has a subscription to Ladies Home Journal for just $5.99.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Progress Update: 2009 Savings Tracker

It can be tricky to quantify exactly how much you save on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Whenever you see the total amount saved at the bottom of a receipt, it can feel like you are saving quite a bit. But, do you really know how much this adds up over time?

This year I decided to keep tabs on what our family saves. I created a savings tracker spreadsheet to record money saved from coupons, discounts, sale prices, clearance prices, and rebates. My goal for 2009 is to save at least $5000. As you can see from my progress so far this year, we are almost half way there.

What have I learned so far? By tracking our savings, it gives us a good basic idea of how much savvy shopping positively impacts our wallet. However, I feel that it only shows us a fraction of what we truly save. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Groceries: Although we shop at a regular grocery store about once a month or so, we do the majority of our grocery shopping at Aldis and Costco. With these stores, there is no "total amount saved" at the bottom of the receipt. We know that we are saving a great deal of money at these two stores, but unless you took the time to figure the savings per item over the regular grocery store prices, it would be difficult to quantify how much you actually save. I keep a pricebook to validate that we truly are saving money by shopping at Aldis and Costco, and I know which items are the better value among all stores, so I have a sense of how much we save. But, since there's no precise way to measure these savings, I exclude this from my savings tracker.

Used Items: Whether it's kid's clothes, toys, or furniture, I'm always open to buying good quality used items over paying full price for new ones. Our family saves a great deal of money each year by picking up kid's items at garage sales or on Craigslist. Last year, we bought Junior D a bedroom set off Craigslist. It was still available new in local furniture stores for $900 plus tax. We found the same slightly used set from a family who was moving and paid only $150. Saving money by buying used items can really pay off, but the total amount saved is often hard to measure, so this is another category that I have excluded from my savings tracker.

Meals Out: Daddy Diva and I both pack our lunches to take to work almost every day. At $5 a day, if we were to buy lunch every day, we would be spending an extra $200 a month. We also only eat dinner out about once a month. Cooking at home and packing lunches saves us a great deal of money and helps us maintain a healthy diet. Again, this would be a difficult one to quantify in terms of how much money this saves us.

If you'd like to check out the Diva family savings tracker, click on the Year To Date Savings link on the right pane of this blog. The link will route you to a spreadsheet listing monthly savings totals so far for this year as well as a detailed breakdown of what we have saved over the course of the current month.

Your Turn: How do you keep tabs on how much you save? Do you set a goal for the year, and if so, what is it?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Couponing: A Husband's Perspective

I came across two hilarious blog post links recently on Refund Cents. They both are written from the husband's perspective on being married to a coupon-a-holic. If you are a seasoned bargain hunter, you'll find these just as amusing as I did:

Frugal in Virginia

The Bargain Jargon

Hopefully you were able to take advantage of the two-day free trial at Refund Cents. If you did, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Local Readers: Artisan Bread For Pennies

If you live in the Twin Cities, here's a little known secret - C2B Bakery outlet store (formerly Lofthouse Bakery) in Fridley (7350 Commerce Lane). The outlet is a little store off the north side of the bread factory, and it's only open weekdays from 9 - 4. The factory produces breads and cookies for local grocery stores (which sell for $5 or so EACH), and the outlet store sells excess artisan breads, rolls, and cookies for $0.50 - $1.00 per package. You can purchase individual loaves or, for an even bigger discount, buy a full case.

I first heard about this place a few years ago, and I try to get there whenever I have the opportunity.

Here are some of the items available on my recent visit: Organic French Baguettes (3 for $2.50), Garlic Ciabatta Loaves ($10 for a case of 10), Rosemary Garlic Rolls ($7 for a case of 84), Italian Flatbread ($1 a loaf), Earl of Sandwich sliced bread, Herbed Boule (big round loaf - great for a bread bowl!).

The selection varies every day, and they usually have anywhere from 10 to 20 varieties available.

During my recent visit, I spent a total of $10 and got 2 french baguettes, a garlic ciabatta loaf, and a case of rosemary garlic rolls.

When I opened the case, the rolls where so fresh that there was condensation on the inner bag yet. The warm, aromatic vapor was heavenly!

To preserve the rolls, I repackaged them in gallon-sized freezer bags.

Then I loaded them into our freezer, stacking the bags on top of eachother.

When I want to use them, I simply thaw a few out at room temperature, and then toss them in the oven or on the grill.

I also take them for lunch. It certainly beats plain old sandwich bread. In the morning, I toss a frozen roll in a baggie, and then I toss some lunchmeat and cheese in another baggie. At work, I let the roll thaw at room temperature, and it's ready to slice, fill, and eat by lunchtime. It's a deli-style sandwich with gourmet bread for a fraction of the deli cost (only $0.08 a roll).

Your Turn: Tell us how you save money on bread and bakery items. Leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Refund Cents: Free Preview Days

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you probably already know what a big fan I am of Refund Cents. This site is packed with useful information - Walgreens/CVS/Wal-Mart/Target deal alerts, a searchable coupon database, a daily digest of the hottest freebies and deals, deal discussion boards, and on and on...

An online membership to Refund Cents is only a few dollars a year, and it will pay for itself many, many, MANY times over - even after your first few visits. In fact, it's the only "deal-finding" membership that I'm willing to pay for.

Want to check it out for free? This Thursday (5/7) and Friday (5/8), Refund Cents will be having a two-day open access day for people to try it out. Click HERE to get the site, and use the following to log in:

Username: clipping

Password: coupons

Once, you're logged in, check out my two favorite sections: 1) Michele's Updates, and 2) Centsible Chat. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Yet Another BzzCampaign & More Free Magazines

I received my latest BzzKit over the weekend for the John Freida Root Awakening BzzCampaign. Lots of coupons, samples, and a full sized shampoo and conditioner. This should be a fun one!

I also received my first free issue of Business Week. Check out for more free magazine subscriptions, as well as the lowdown on this week's CVS and Walgreens freebies. I'm planning to stock up on V8 Fusion juice as it's $3 at Walgreens and $2.99 at Target this week. With the $1 and $2 V8 Fusion coupons available, this will be an even better deal, and the Diva boys love it!
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A New BzzCampaign

I just received my latest BzzKit in the mail today. I've been invited to participate in the T.G.I. Friday's Late Night Menu product trial through BzzAgent. What a fun surprise to receive a big box filled with goodies - including a giant T.G.I. Friday's margarita glass, an actual T.G.I. Friday's restaurant late night menu, a BzzCampaign button, a $15 gift card, and several cards to pass along to friends for free appetizers and free desserts.

In the past week, I've also been invited to begin participating in new product taste tests through Delve - a Twin Cities market research company. Delve, the company I mentioned in my previous post about diaper studies, does monthly taste tests which require an hour of your time to try products and provide feedback, and in return, you receive $65 in compensation. If you enjoy trying new things, and you live in the Twin Cities area, you may want to check them out.

Your Turn: Has anyone joined BzzAgent or any other product research companies after reading my Lowdown on Product Testing series? If so, leave a comment and share your experience!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Lowdown on Product Testing - Part 4

We are in the home stretch with the “Lowdown on Product Testing” series. In Part 1, I talked about how consumer product testing works – including the benefits, time commitment, and precautions. In Part 2, I told you about SheSpeaks – a forum-based product review company for women. And in Part 3, I profiled BzzAgent – a word-of-mouth marketing and media company involved in product testing.

To wrap up this series, here’s a list of additional reputable market research companies who work with consumers to provide input to product manufacturers:

StartSampling – This is an online sampling company where members can select items to sample and receive Frequent Tryer Miles (FTM) to be redeemed for prizes. Membership is free.

PineCone Research – This is a market research panel for new products. Membership is usually by invitation only. Occasionally, PineCone Research recruits new members by posting banners on specific websites, and you must enter their site through the banner to qualify for membership. When the membership banners are spotted, often they are mentioned on forums, such as Refund Cents. PineCone product surveys are confidential, and members are required to agree to a confidentiality agreement to take part in the surveys. PineCone invites members to complete individual surveys based on their consumer profile, and members are paid $3 for each survey completed. Occasionally, PineCone will send members a product to test and complete a follow-up survey which includes additional compensation.

General Mills Pssst – This is a manufacturer-run market research division of General Mills which gathers feedback from consumers and shares information on new products. Pssst membership is free and members are encouraged to spread the word about the new General Mills products. I’m currently testing Fiber One Mocha bars for Pssst.

Kashi Taste Tester Panel – This is another manufacturer-run testing panel. Simply sign-up at the Kashi website, and after you create an account, select the “Edit Settings” option, and then select “Taste Tester Panel.” After completing a short survey, you will receive a coupon in the mail for a free Kashi product. Here’s a picture of the one I received.

Kraft First Taste – Again, this is yet another manufacturer-run testing division. I signed up several months ago, but I haven’t received anything yet…crossing my fingers!

Hopefully this series has given you a good primer on product testing. In my experience, it’s been a fun way to test new products, and it doesn’t cost a thing. As you get more involved in product testing for different companies, you’ll see your invitations to test new products increase. Generally, I receive a new opportunity every week. In the time since I began writing this series, I’ve begun testing three new products: TGI Friday’s Late Night brand (BzzAgent), John Frieda’s Root Awakening Hair Care products (BzzAgent), and Sinupret for Kids (SheSpeaks). In this time, I’ve also turned down the opportunity to participate in a two-week diaper study, because it didn’t fit into my schedule.

If you enjoy getting things free and having the opportunity to provide feedback on products, I’d encourage you to get involved in product testing. The keys to remember are that it shouldn’t cost you anything to participate, it shouldn’t be very time-consuming, and most importantly, it should be something you enjoy doing!

Your Turn: Are you currently a product tester? If so, tell us which companies. If not, are you thinking about becoming a product tester after reading this series?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Free Magazines

One of the easiest freebies to find these days is free magazine subscriptions. Currently, the Diva household gets the following magazines completely free: Taste of Home, Forbes, Forbes Life, Parents, and Family Circle.

The key to finding free, legitimate subscriptions is that there should be no credit card required.

I often learn about free magazine opportunities by reading other blogs or through Refund Cents.

Check out Money Saving Mom for the details on free subscriptions to Business Week and Prevention magazines.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Local Readers: Paid Diaper Study

If you live in the Twin Cities, here's an opportunity to participate in a paid market research study for training pants.

Delve - a Bloomington market research firm - is looking for parents of boys who are currently potty training and weigh between 30 - 40 lbs. Qualifying participants will receive a 16 day supply of training pants/diapers along with $105 in compensation. To participate, you must be willing to make a few trips to the Delve offices in Bloomington on specific days in the next few weeks.

To see if you or someone you know qualifies, call Delve at 952-858-1572 between 9:00 AM and 3:00 PM CST.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Heading to CVS? Another Freebie…

If you are headed to CVS this week to take advantage of the Huggies deal, don’t forget to pick up a Skintimate Cream Shavefree this week after ExtraBucks. This is the same item that’s free after Register Rewards at Walgreens. If they are out of stock at CVS, remember to ask for a rain check – CVS rain checks do not expire (at least in my experiences they haven’t).

Also, here’s a tip for infrequent CVS shoppers (like myself). Rather than making two separate trips to CVS – one to earn the ExtraBucks and one to redeem them – I simply do two separate purchases in one trip. Just ask the cashier to ring up two individual transacitons. In the first transaction, I buy everything that generates ExtraBucks. Then, in the second transaction, I buy everything else and apply the ExtraBucks to the purchase. This saves time and gas. It also eliminates the risk that you could misplace your ExtraBucks or forget to use them before they expire. If you do go to CVS on a weekly basis, then just save them for your next purchase and perhaps even use them to purchase other ExtraBucks-generating items, which is called “rolling them over” in coupon-lingo.

Want more free diapers? Click HERE
for a free 3-pack sample of Huggies Pure & Natural diapers (available in sizes: Newborn, 1, & 2 only).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Almost Free Huggies - Run to CVS!!!

Remember my post from a few weeks ago where I mentioned the $5 off Huggies coupons? Well, if you printed some, this is the week to use them.

CVS has a “Buy $25 in Huggies, Get $10 ExtraBucks” sale this week. If you buy 3 packages (on sale for $30) and use 3 of the $5 coupons (- $15), you would receive $10 in ExtaBucks ($-10), making your net cost $5 for 3 packages. In addition, if you submit your receipt to Caregiver’s Marketplace, you would get a refund of $0.75 per package ($2.25 total), which brings your net cost down to $2.75 for 3 packages, or $0.92 per package. Almost free!!!

Time to head to CVS!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Lowdown on Product Testing - Part 3

Today, I'm continuing on with my product testing series and will tell you about BzzAgent. (Click HERE for part 1 and HERE for part 2.)

BzzAgent is a word-of-mouth marketing and media company. Product testers are called BzzAgents, and their duty is to spread the word about the products they are testing, called BzzCampaigns.

Getting Started

Sign up at to join. In addition to the questions asked when joining, BzzAgent posts themed polls on their site for you to complete from time-to-time. You earn points for each poll you complete, and you become eligible for BzzCampaigns. When a new BzzCampaign comes along that fits your profile, BzzAgent will send you an e-mail inviting you to join the BzzCampaign. The staff at BzzAgent selects specific testers to invite to each campaign, so you have to be invited in order to join. There is also a limit to total participants allowed in certain campaigns, so if you do receive an invite, act fast with your acceptance.


Once you have joined a BzzCampaign, you will receive a BzzKit in the mail. It will contain the product, coupons, and a BzzGuide that provides instructions and suggestions for spreading the word about the product. After you’ve spread some “Buzz”, you are expected to complete a BzzReport on the BzzAgent site explaining the details of your “buzzing” about the product. The more you “buzz” and the more you report, the more future BzzCampaigns you will be invited to join. You will also be assigned a status based on your level of participation. My status is “Busy Bee.”

Additional Perks

BzzAgent used to award points to be redeemed on their site for gift cards and rewards. They got rid of that over a year ago, and now, when you complete a BzzReport or poll, you receive MyPoints, which can be redeemed on the MyPoints website. It’s a nice little perk on top of getting the product you’re testing for free.

What I’ve Tested

I’ve been a BzzAgent for several years and have tested dozens of products, including: Canadian Club Whiskey, Vanilla Royale, Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner, Dodge Ram Trucks (no – I didn’t get a free truck – just promotional materials!), Smuckers Uncrustables, Pledge Dusters, and several more.

The vast majority of BzzCampaigns are at no cost to the product testers. Occasionally, there is a BzzCampaign for a high-value product where the testers are required to pay a fee to join the campaign. Generally, subsidizes the majority of the cost and offers you the product to test at a reduced cost. Over the years, I’ve only been invited to 2 or 3 campaigns with a cost – one for a clothing steamer and one for a game system – and I just chose not to join these campaigns.

Current BzzCampaigns

I’m currently testing the following products: Afrin PureSea, Palmolive Pure+Clear, and Boston Market products.

Additional BzzCampaigns currently underway include: Neutrogena Cosmetics, Dannon DanActive, Got2B lotion, Ontario Turkey, Chili’s Restaurant, Pepsi AMP, Florida’s Natural, Clean & Clear, Diet Mountain Dew, Walgreens Take Care Clinic.

Up Next: In Part 4, I'll wrap up this series with a list of additional reputable product testing companies and give you the lowdown on how they work.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Walgreens Freebies This Week

I stopped at Walgreens tonight to pick up a few items - some medicine for Junior D, razors for Daddy D, and Easter basket goodies for the boys. It may seem hard to believe, but it was my first time there in well over a month!

Here are a couple free items I got - Skintimate Moisturizing Cream Shave and Chapstick 100% Naturals Lip Butter. These were both "Register Reward" items. In this case, the items were free after Register Rewards. The Skintimate was $2.99, and I received a coupon for $3 off my next Walgreens purchase. The Chapstick was $1.99, and I received a $2 coupon off my next purchase.

How did I do on the rest of my purchase? My total before sale prices and coupons was $88.24. After sale prices, manufacturers coupons, and Walgreens coupons, my total was $59.83. I also received $18 in Register Rewards good on my next Walgreens purchase. So, in the end, I paid $41.83 for $88.24 worth of goods. Not my best trip, but 50% savings isn't too bad. (I would have saved an extra $4, but the razor coupon I had expired on 3/31 - darn!)

How did you do at Walgreens this week? Leave a comment and share your success story!

Want to know the secrets behind Register Rewards? Click HERE for Register Reward FAQs.