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 cycle...like 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 Kohls.com

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 www.shespeaks.com. 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
http://www.commonsensewithmoney.com/ 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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