Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Lowdown on Product Testing - Part 2

Remember that package of ice cream on my doorstep that I blogged about last week? Well, it was my Haagen Dazs party kit from SheSpeaks, and it included 7 pints of ice cream, an ice cream scoop, coupons, recipes, and sampling supplies.

Today, I’m profiling SheSpeaks, a forum-based product review company for women only. If you missed Part 1 – click HERE. Here’s the lowdown on how SheSpeaks works.

Getting Started

Prospective female testers sign up on the SheSpeaks website and answer a series of questions about themselves. There is no cost to become a product tester. The SheSpeaks staff will match available products to testers based on tester profile.

Product Tester Requirements

Once you are selected for a product test, you will receive a package in the mail within a few weeks. After you’ve tried the product, you are asked to provide feedback to SheSpeaks and discuss the product with other testers on the SheSpeaks discussion boards. You will also receive product information and coupons to share with friends and family.

What I’ve Tested

I’ve been a tester for SheSpeaks for the past few months. In that time, I’ve tested two products – Ghirardelli Chocolate and Haagen Dazs ice cream. (Can you tell this is for women?!?) I’ve also recently been asked to product test a popular cooking magazine and will be receiving a free one-year subscription as part of the test.

What’s Unique About SheSpeaks

SheSpeaks has recently rolled out the “taste taste party” concept. With these, testers are asked to invite friends and family to try out the products and provide feedback. The Haagen Dazs product test is one of these. Last week’s Haagen Dazs ice cream social was a blast, and my guests came up with great feedback for the manufacturer.

Up Next: Part 3 – I’ll share with you the Buzz about a company called BzzAgent.

Freebies for the Week of 03/30/09

Here’s a rundown of what’s free this week at Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and CVS.

(Check out the Money Saving Mom blog for details.)

Artisan Bread Mini Loaves
Gillette Body Wash
Renu Contact Solution
Shout Wipes
Pledge Furniture Polish


Kraft Dressing ($0.08 after $1.50/1 coupon from this week’s paper)

(Check out the Common Sense With Money blog for details.)

Mentos Gum
Edge/Skintimate Shave Gel
Equal Sweetener
Reynolds Aluminum Foil
Glade Candles
One A Day Multivitamin Drink Mix – April EasySaver Rebate
Printer Cartridge Refill – April EasySaver Rebate
Wal-Itin Allergy Relief 30ct – April EasySaver Rebate

(Check out the Common Sense With Money blog for details.)

Paas Easter Egg Coloring Kit
Accu-Check Diabetes Monitor (Great item to donate!)
Softsoap Ensembles
Rimmel Mascara
Sally Hanson Nail Polish
Scrubbing Bubbles Action Scrubber

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sharing the Wealth: The Deal Diva Way

What's the best part about being a Deal Diva? For me, it's finding deals on things that can help those in need. As I've mentioned before, when I first started learning how to use coupons and find deals, I quickly accumulated much more than our family needed. For instance, each month the Walgreens EasySaver rebate program has between 1 - 12 items that are completely free after rebate (and better than free if you use a coupon). On top of these items being free, if you request your rebate in the form of a Walgreens gift card, they throw in an extra 10% back in addition to the full rebate. Often, the rebate items are for shampoo, conditioner, and other miscellaneous toiletries. The same is true for CVS. With the CVS ExtraCare program, you can quickly accumulate quite a large amount of free toothpaste, toothbrushes, make-up, and hair care products.

So, what do you do when you have more than your family can use?

DONATE them!

The items that are typical free or "money-makers" at Walgreens and CVS are often the types of things most commonly needed by homeless shelters, women's shelters, and local charities. My favorite charity is always in need of toiletries, so whenever I am shopping and find an opportunity to pick up additional free items, I take advantage of it.

Pictured above is the donation we are dropping off this week at our favorite charity. I encourage you to do the same as you find deals that can helps others as well.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Get a 10% Return at Cub Foods

Got any ideas of how to get a guaranteed 10% return on your money? With the stock market in flux and savings account rates dropping, it's difficult to even find a guaranteed 2% return right now. But, if you're a Cub Foods shopper, you can get a 10% return on your money - guaranteed.

Now through tax day, purchase a $300 Cub Foods gift card, and you will receive a bonus $30 gift card free.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Lowdown on Product Testing - Part 1

Today, we’re beginning a new series on consumer product testing. For the past few years, I’ve been a product tester for numerous market research firms and manufacturers. Not only do I get to try the latest products on the market, but I also get to keep them for free along with high-value coupons to purchase more or pass along to my friends. In this series, I’ll tell you about the companies I work with, the necessary time commitment, and benefits of product testing.

How It Works

When manufacturers are considering bringing new products to market, they look to ordinary consumers to test-drive their product concepts and provide honest feedback and opinions. Some manufacturers, like General Mills, have their very own market research division which works directly with consumers to generate feedback on new or existing products on the market. Other manufacturers hire market research firms to work with consumers to generate feedback.

Product Tester Precautions

All the companies I work with are free to sign up. There is never a cost to test out the products. If you fit the consumer profile they are targeting, you will be invited to participate in the test free of charge. Be extremely wary of any market research firm that changes a fee to sign up.

The Perks of Product Testing

Product testing is a great way to stretch your grocery budget. It allows you to try new products without the investment in something you’re not sure whether you will like or not. It also allows you to provide your feedback to manufacturers on what you like about a product or what you would change. Your opinions influence what ends up on the market.

Product Privacy

Some testing companies focus on product development and testing new product concepts. In this case, often the tester is required to keep the product information confidential. Other testing companies focus on new products that have just come on the market. Their goal is to get people talking about their new products and generate excitement for these products. In this case, testers are free to share product information with everyone.

Product Tester Requirements

Tester requirements vary by company, but most require only a small time commitment. Some require the tester to complete surveys from time-to-time to help match consumer tester profiles to the product target consumer. Others require only you to complete an initial questionnaire when registering. Still others monitor your participation and quality of feedback on initial product tests to determine eligibility for future product tests.
Here are just a few of the products I’ve tested over the years: Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner, Pledge Dusters, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Yoplait Yogurt, YoBaby Yogurt, Smuckers Uncrustables, Coca-Cola products, Taco Bell products…and on and on.

Up Next: In Part 2, I’ll tell you about SheSpeaks, the market research firm for which I’m currently testing Haagen Dazs ice cream. Later, in Part 3, I’ll talk about BzzAgent, a word of mouth firm for which I’m currently testing Boston Market products, Palmolive dish soap, and Afrin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Local Readers: Saving Money at Lund's & Byerly's

If you live in the Twin Cities and shop at Lund's or Byerly's grocery stores, here's a few money-saving tips.

  • Sign up for their e-mail newsletter at http://www.lundsandbyerlys.com/. Every week, there's a coupon for a free or reduced priced item with a $10 purchase. Weekly sale details are also included in the newsletter, so to get the most bang for your buck, buy featured sale items, and then use the coupon to get your weekly free item.

  • Lund's and Byerly's offers a free birthday cake for your child's first birthday. Bring in a copy of the birth certificate when you order, and the cake is on the house. We got Baby D's first birthday cake from Byerly's and it was decorated with adorable yellow ducks and bubbles.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mail Call – Deals on the Doorstep

Yesterday I arrived home to two large packages on our front porch.

The first one was a replacement part for Baby D’s new Lightening McQueen bed from Costco. That’s right, the bed we just bought a few weeks ago…the one that was such a great deal…the one that I called such a high quality bed. As it turned out, less than a week after buying the bed, the trundle drawer broke. Disassembling the bed (which took several hours to assemble) was not an option. Instead, I called the manufacturer, explained the situation, and was able to get them to ship us replacement parts free of charge. Meanwhile, Daddy D rigged the drawer with more robust screws. Problem solved. Now, if only Baby D would decide to sleep in it!

The next package was a giant box full of ice cream. That’s right…ice cream! I opened the outer cardboard box to reveal a Styrofoam cooler packed with 7 pints of Haagen Dazs ice cream (securely packed in dry ice). Also included was another box filled with an ice cream scoop, a Haagen Dazs reusable tote bag, individual sampling bowls and spoons, recipe cards, and a stack of high-value coupons. Did I win the lottery??? No, but I did get this all free. What am I going to do with it? Stay tuned for my next post, where I begin a series on consumer product testing.

Up for a movie? Head over to Redbox and use code MMM325 for a free rental (good today –Wednesday- only). For more free rental codes sign-up at www.redbox.com to receive free codes via e-mail on Mondays and Wednesdays, or check out www.insideredbox.com for free codes that will work anytime.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spin The Deal on the Star Tribune

Welcome Star Tribune visitors!

If you’d like to subscribe to this blog via e-mail or web feed, enter your e-mail address on the right-side pane of this blog.

To learn more about deal spinning and saving money, please check out my previous posts:

The Lowdown on Costco
The Lowdown on Aldi
Frozen Assets Series
Discount Dining – The Diva Way
Vino on the Cheap
My Secret Weapon – Refund Cents
How To: Walgreens Register Rewards
7 Meals for 7 Dollars
Tracking Prices: The Sales Cycle Game
A Strategic Approach to Bargain Hunting

To my regular readers: Please check out John Ewoldt’s Dollars and Sense column in today’s Star Tribune. My OnStar money-saving tip is featured in John’s article. Also, check out John’s prior articles: Dollars & Sense: Drugstore Dollar Dealers and Be a Drugstore Super Shopper.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diaper Deals: Almost Free Huggies

Believe it or not, the Diva family is running low on diapers. As a Deal Diva, my definition of “low” is that we have enough for another month or two, and since Baby D will be in diapers for a while yet, I’ll need to start looking for opportunities to stock up again soon.

Here’s what’s left of the almost free diapers we got last year during the Walgreens diaper bonanza when we were “drowning in diapers.”

(Click HERE to read about our first "drowning in diapers free spree" and then HERE to read about our second "nearly free" diaper spree from last year - including pictures of the Diva boys and their diaper fort.)

And now, here’s an opportunity to stock up on Huggies brand diapers. Coupons.com is offering an online coupon for $5/1 Huggies Gentle Care and $3/1 Huggies Natural Fit diapers. These can each be printed twice per computer. Click HERE.

Submit your receipts to Caregiver’s Marketplace, and you’ll save a total of either $5.75 or $3.75 per package.

Rumor has it that CVS will be running a “Buy $25 in Huggies, Get $10 ExtraBucks” sale in early April. Walgreens had a similar offer last week, and if you bought 3 packages (on sale for $30) and used 3 of the $5 coupons (- $15), you would receive $10 in Register Rewards ($-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!!!

Wondering where to store all your discount diapers? Check out my Stockpiling 101 post for tips.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Cash Back for Caregivers

If you buy diapers, vitamins, or other personal care products for your loved ones, then you need to know about a free program called Caregiver’s Marketplace. This program is sponsored by care product manufacturers, and it offers consumers cash back on specific items purchased.

Categories for cash back include: Baby Products, Digestive Health, Bathing/Skincare, Denture, Footcare, Oral Health, Dietary Supplements, and Incontinence products. Some of the specific eligible brands include: Huggies, Pull-Ups, GoodNights, Ensure, Citracel, Depends, Poise, and Gold Bond. The cash back amount varies by product and ranges from $0.50 - $2.00 per item.

Currently, Caregiver’s Marketplace offers $0.75 back per package of Huggies purchased. The process for requesting cash back is simple: Fill out the request form, and mail it in to Caregiver’s Marketplace with your original cash register receipt(s) for at least 5 eligible products purchased. In a few weeks, you’ll receive a rebate check along with another request form for future use.

Check out the Caregiver’s Marketplace website for FAQs, a request form, participating product details.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Stockpile Organization 101

If you are a seasoned bargain hunter, then you are already familiar with the term “stockpile” – the bounty of non-perishable food, toiletries, cleaning products, etc. that often gets piled in any available nook and cranny throughout your house. As your purchases begin to accumulate, it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve even got on hand.

Here are some tips for savvy stockpiling:

Good organization and ample storage space are two key factors in keeping tabs on your bargain inventory.

Storage space – When I first began to bargain hunt, I would store bathroom items in the bathroom, kitchen items in the kitchen, etc. This worked for a bit, but soon the cabinets we used every day became jam-packed with excess.

Now I store everything in the basement. We have several racks in our basement storage room. Whenever they get too cluttered, I know it’s time to reorganize. By having everything in one place, it’s easy to know when you’ve got enough and when it’s time to donate the excess.

Organization – Whether it’s cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer or an entire storage room, the best way I’ve found to cut out the clutter is by unloading everything and editing what you put back. In terms of our junk drawer, I toss everything in a box and store the box elsewhere. Anything that I need during the course of a month goes back in the drawer. Everything else goes in the trash.

This past weekend, we used a similar approach to clean out our storage room. Here’s a picture of Baby D among the chaos of our unloaded room.

After sorting everything into “Keep”, “Donate”, and “Throw” piles, we loaded everything back neatly in the storage room. As you can see, we had several bags of donations:

Certain racks are reserved just for stockpile items, and everything is ordered neatly by item type. Here is our reorganized cereal/baking item shelf:

A well organized storage space not only makes it easier to find what you’ve got, but it also helps you know when you have enough. Determine what your family will use within the next year (or less if it’s something with a shorter shelf life) and don’t buy any more beyond that amount. Remember the Deal Diva motto: It’s not a deal unless you can use it within a short timeframe or pass it along to someone else who can use it.

Your Turn: How do you organize your stockpile? How do you know when enough is truly enough? Leave a comment to share your tips!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Lowdown on Costco - Part 2

Today we continue on with the lowdown on Costco. If you missed Part 1, click HERE.

The Cons of Costco

  • $100 Rule – As a rule of thumb, it’s very difficult to get out of Costco without spending more than $100. You’ll also have a limited variety of items in your cart for $100 because of the larger quantities. If you were to do all your shopping for the week there, you total could likely be even higher.

  • Large Quantities/Limited Variety - I would estimate that we do about 50% of our regular shopping at Costco. We still need to go to a regular grocery store for the items we only use in smaller quantities and for more variety than what’s provided at Costco.

  • Coupons/Bags – Costco does not accept manufacturer coupons (but they do send you Costco store coupons occasionally), and they do not provide shopping bags. They usually have a supply of boxes available for free.

What Works for the Diva Family

We limit impulse purchases. Costco makes a lot of money from members who make impulse purchases. Although we love to try the samples, we consider whether it’s something we need before purchasing sample items.

Finally, as I mentioned before, we use a pricebook to compare the Costco prices to other stores. We focus on buying the items that are cheaper per ounce at Costco and pass up the items that are more expensive per ounce. Over time, you’ll begin to recognize a good deal without having to reference a pricebook. For our family, some of the things that are consistently a better deal at Costco are: milk (usually equivalent to Aldi), bread machine yeast, rice, flour, sugar, spices, butter, and cheese.

Our Best Deal: The Diva Boys were recently enamored with a twin sized Lightening McQueen racecar trundle bed on display at Costco. The Costco website price for the bed was $799. In the warehouse, the price for the bed was $499. (Costco Tip: There's a wide selection of items available on costco.com, but the prices tend to be higher than in the warehouse.) Baby D is almost ready for the transition to a "big boy" bed, yet we didn't want to spend an excessive amount of money on a new bed. (As a side note, in true "Deal Diva" fashion, we purchased Junior D's bedroom set on Craigslist in excellent used condition for a fraction of the furniture store cost.) So, on a recent Costco trip, when we spotted the racecar bed marked down to $199, we decided to make the purchase. In talking with the manager, the price had been marked down that morning, and there was only one left. (Another Costco Tip: Items that do get marked down tend to go VERY fast.) In the end, we got a high quality bed for well over half off the regular price.

Now it’s your turn. Are you a member of Costco (or Sam’s Club)? What is your approach to shopping at a warehouse store? What items are the best value for you? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail with your feedback.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lowdown on Costco - Part 1

Today we begin a new series on Costco. Over the next two posts, I'll share tips and tricks for shopping Costco. I'll also talk about the pros and cons of the store. Finally, I'll explain why the Diva family loves Costco and share with you our best deal ever - one that saved us several hundred dollars!

The Pros of Costco

  • No Hassle Returns – If you have a food item that goes bad too quickly or you do not like for any reason, Costco will return it with no questions asked. I have returned a few items over the past year and have not had any issues. Clothing can be returned as well, since you can not try it on at the store before purchasing.

  • Electronics – Costco offers a free customer support phone number for electronics questions or troubleshooting. They also provide a 90 day return period if you are not satisfied with the product.

  • 2% Rebate – At Costco, you can choose from a standard membership for an annual fee of $50, or an executive membership for $100. Executive members receive a 2% rebate each year on their purchases (excluding gas and a few other items). If you do not spend enough in the store in a year to earn a rebate of $50 of more ($2500/yr), then Costco will give you back the difference up to $50 by simply inquiring at the membership desk. For instance, with an executive membership, if I spend $1500 at Costco in a year, I would receive a $30 rebate, making my net membership cost $70. In this scenario, I could request the additional $20 back that I paid above the standard membership cost of $50. So it’s a no-lose situation. In our first year, we opted for the executive membership, and then ended up buying a computer there, in addition to our regular grocery purchases, and we received a rebate back of $62, thus netting our membership fee at $38 for the year.

  • Quality Produce – We’ve been very pleased by the quality produce we’ve found at Costco. Buying in bulk directly from their suppliers helps ensure quality produce at a low cost. We try to buy what’s in season to get the best value on produce, as some out-of-season items can be costly, especially when purchasing a warehouse-sized quantity.

  • Low Prices – To ensure you are getting a good value for your money at a warehouse club, it’s very important that you consider the per ounce cost of the items. I keep a pricebook with the common items our family buys on a regular basis, and I can determine whether certain items are a better value at a warehouse store, a discount grocer (like Aldis), or my regular grocery store. Whenever you consider an item at Costco, you also must consider whether you need a large quantity of the item. If you won’t use it all up before it goes bad, then the cost per ounce savings goes out the window.

  • Abundant Samples – Our family loves to try before we buy. This is particularly true for items in larger quantities. Who wants to be stuck with a $10 jar of salsa that nobody in the family will eat?

  • Entertainment Value – A trip to Costco is always an entertaining experience for the family. Between the samples, the crowd, and the interesting, ever-changing selection of limited purchase items, there’s always something new to see or try there, and the kids are easily occupied throughout our shopping trip.

  • Additional Services – As an added bonus, warehouse clubs offer services to help their members save money on a variety of things – gas stations, cell-phones, pharmacy, vision centers, photos centers, auto and home financing, vacation packages. To this point, the only service we have used is the Costco gas station. We don’t go out of our way to get gas there every time, but when we are heading to Costco to shop, we always fill up. Their gas prices save us an average of 5 cents a gallon.

Up Next: In Part 2, I’ll talk about the downsides of shopping at Costco, and then will share with you why we love Costco and what works for the Diva family.

Friday, March 6, 2009

After the Deal Spin: Paper or Plastic?

As the deals pile up in your home, what also often piles up are the bags that carry all the deals home. So what does a deal spinner do with all the paper and plastic bags? While saving some “green” by finding great deals, you can also save some “green” in terms of our planet. Here are some suggestions on how the Diva family recycles paper and plastic bags:

Stinky Diapers – Phew! We keep a supply of plastic bags in Baby D’s room and use them to “contain the stink” and dispose of poopy diapers.

Kitchen Recycling – Our city provides a large, wheeled recycle can which we keep in our garage. For years, whenever we had something to recycle (a paper, a can, etc.), we would walk it to the garage - one item at a time. As you can imagine, we would sometimes get lazy and throw recyclable items in the kitchen trash, to save the trip out to the garage. In addition, during winter months, each time we opened the door to the garage, we’d loose a bit of heat as the cold air rushed in. To kick our kitchen recycling into high gear, we now keep a paper grocery bag in the kitchen cabinet next to our garbage can. Recycling is now much more convenient, and when the paper bag is full, we simply toss the whole thing in the recycle can in the garage. As a result, our recycle can is always brimming full whenever the recycling truck comes around to collect the recyclables.

Artwork – Here’s a tip I learned from Grandma Diva. We keep a plastic bag in Junior Diva’s backpack. Whenever he makes a “messy” project at school, the project is sent home inside the plastic bag which protects other items in the backpack from any glue, glitter, or wet paint on the paper.

Donate Them – Every year our church has a huge garage sale. We donate our excess bags to the church along with our regular clothing and household donations. The church goes through hundreds of bags to package up garage sales shopper’s purchases.

In addition to finding creative ways to reuse paper and plastic bags, the Diva family is also making a greater effort to bring reusable shopping bags with us to stores. I keep cloth shopping bags in my car, and they come in handy, particularly when shopping at Costco or Aldi.

Your Turn: What do you do with your paper or plastic bags? Leave a comment to share your tips.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Free Juice - Holiday Gas Station

Click HERE for a coupon good for a free 16 ounce Holiday Pantry juice (up to $1.39 value) with any purchase at participating Holiday Stationstores. Expires 3/31/09.