What I do with all the free samples I receive….

bright boxesOn Saturday, my mailman asked me, “What’s up with all of the free samples?” She’s not the only one who asks. It’s one of the questions I get a lot when people find out I coupon and we live frugally (the other question I get a lot  is: “Do you have TP under your bed?”

Well, here’s the deal: I donate them. And no, there is no TP under my bed. Just out of season shoes and dust bunnies.

I donate about 90% of the free samples I receive in the mail. The local American Legion post collects small sized toiletries to make into care packages which are distributed to local homeless vets.

Additionally, the other local charity that my coupon club supports (Naomi’s Closet) also collects and distributes small sized toiletries to women’s in need.

If that sounds like something that appeals to you, you can collect travel/sample sized products and donate them to your local charity of choice.

I like MySavings to find top quality freebies. I also sign up for the P&G Brandsaver (it’s a collection of free samples from P&G available once a quarter).  Once the samples arrive, I take them out of their shipping container and I have a small box under my bathroom sink where I store samples and donation goodies.  I donate the contents of the box each month.

I also regularly donate full size products too.  For example, my donation budget is $5.00/month.  That doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but when I match sales with coupons, I am able to save big, and that $5.00 goes pretty far!

So the next time you that I’m posting free sample offers here or on Facebook, know that there will be one headed my way, to help someone in need!

Review: Multi Colored Baltic Amber Teething Necklace

balticamberI love amber jewelry for kids. Not only do the anti- inflammatory qualities of the succinic acid help ease fussing when it’s teething time, but I’ve found that they also help ease the day to day discomfort that little ones suffer (growing pains, etc.).
I was thrilled to receive this Amber teething necklace for my little one. She’s worn it every day for a week and I’ve noticed less fussiness. A few of the other things I like about this necklace:
-The nice drawstring bag that I store it in at night (I don’t let her sleep in the necklace).
-The fastener. It’s a screw together type, rather than a metal or plastic lobster claw.
-The knotting between each bead. I have no fear of it breaking and losing all of the beads. It’s so well constructed and knotted, it would take a lot of force to break the necklace.
The length- It’ the perfect size for a child 10+ lbs. I know my daughter will be able to wear this necklace for at least 2 years, which makes this necklace an incredible value

My older son wore an amber necklace for a few years when he was little and I could def. tell a difference when he wore it and when I forget to put it on him. I was stoked to find this necklace right after my daughter was born to continue more natural care for my daughter.

I received this necklace at no cost thanks to Baltic Wonder and Tomoson to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

Vacations of the Cheap, Part 3: Saving Money at the Park

Today we’re going to talk about saving money inside the park.  Specifically FOOD, but also souvenirs and other goodies.

I like most of the food choices at Disneyland (OMGoodness Gibson Girl Ice Cream), but it can get a little expensive. So here is what we do: Rent a locker and bring a picnic.

I pack a soft side cooler (like this one from Thirty-One) with a few frozen water bottles, lunch meat, fruit, frozen yogurts, and a small re-usable grocery bag with bread, individual packets of condiments (you can buy them at Smart and Final), and Ziploc bags with snacks, and we put all this stuff, plus our jackets and a few other misc. things into a locker.

We like the lockers on Main Street, but if you have a larger group going with you, there are bigger lockers immediately outside of the park.  More info about Lockers, including prices, and locations can be found here. Reviews of the lockers can be found here (I love Yelp!)

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.23.18 PMThere are various picnic areas inside the park (there is one up by Big Thunder Mountain, and various tables and benches scattered throughout the park), as well as one right outside the main gate by the large lockers.

For snacking during the day, I pack snacks that fit in our pockets (we both usually wear cargo shorts) like bags of pretzels, hard candy in Ziploc bags, and a 16oz. or so size bottle of water that we refill at the various water fountains throughout the park.  We’ll stop back at the lockers for fruit or a larger nosh if we’re nearby and hungry.

That doesn’t mean I’ll go without my beloved Ice Cream. We usually pick one treat a day and share it. Ice cream, frozen banana on a stick, Dole Whip…. Whatever we both can agree on.

We also save money by buying our Disneyland shirts before we go on vacation. The Disney Store usually has an end of summer sale, and I can stock up of D-land shirts for 50-75% off retail prices. The mall closest to our house has a Disney Store, so we cruise in frequently (Lil’ Man is obsessed with Mickey Mouse).  Other Disney Souvenirs like sippy cups I’ll buy in advance and sneak in our bags so he doesn’t see them until we arrive. In the past, I have scored a sweet new Disney shirt for $2.00!

99 Cents Only has a great selection of Disney Branded and Licensed items like crayons, coloring books, sippy cups, sandwich boxes, and other lunch/food storage containers. I’ve been sneaking 1 or 2 items into the cart each week when Lil’ Man isn’t looking!

We also set a budget when we go on a trip and stick to it. Bring cash with us each day of the trip, and when it’s gone we’re done spending. It’s just that simple.

 

 

My monthly Savings to do list…

file000901554050I get asked a lot about how do I manage to stay on top of all of the deals and programs that I take part in?

I calendar it.  I use my Google Calendar to remind me each month.  Here are just a few of the types of reminders I have set up:

 

 

 

 

1st (then once a week after that): Printable coupons refresh. Print new coupon from Coupons.comSmartSourceRedPlumHopster. Check apps and add items that appeal. Here are a list of the apps I use.

1st: L’Oreal Gold Rewards– enter 2 more codes. I do love free hair color!

1st and 15th: Mail out SBKC junk mail envelopes. I process our mail when it all comes in and I put the junk mail in the envelopes as it comes in.

Daily: I spend a little time each day (usually when Lil’ Man is napping) working my points programs. This includes Swagbucks (doing surveys, watching videos) and Mypoints (I save all of my Mypoints emails and do them all at once, one time a day). I also try and do MTurk work too (about 20 minutes, usually while I’m on hold calling someone, or while Hubs and I watch a movie n the evening.

Once a Week: Log onto Recyclebank to see what new point earning opportunities there are to do, check BzzAgent and Smiley360 to see if there are any new campaigns to get in on (and score some sweet freebies).  I also clip out the coupons I need when I get coupon inserts. I stopped getting the paper, so I usually get inserts from friends and family who don’t coupon, or who use different coupons than I do.  I go through the cupboard and meal plan for the coming week.

As I am notified via emailPaid View Point (some of the surveys are time sensitive- those usually pay extra!), PineCone Research (surveys must be completed 3-6 days upon receiving the email).

Last day of the month: Clean out coupon wallet and removed expiring/expired coupons.

As needed/codes become available: Enter Pampers points, Huggies codes. I use the Swagbucks tool bar to do most of my internet searches, so I earn Swagbucks points intermittently with that too. I also order free samples when I see them available online. I’ll be posting about what I do with all the samples coming up.

I try to do as much shopping online with discounts as I can.  That means I check with Mypoints, Swagbucks,  and UPromise to see who is giving the better points/cash back, and I use my Upromise Master Card to make purchases online (which earns me even more cash- up to 5%, when I shop through the UPromise website at selected merchants). I also check Retailmenot for coupon codes before shopping online too.

How do you keep track of all of your programs to save money?

Review: ThinkFun Maker Studio Building Kits

Recently, ThinkFun sent me three Maker Studio building kits to test out. Last Saturday, amid the torrential downpour and retched humidity, Lil’ Man and I built two of the kits successfully, and one, well, not so successfully.

macncheeseracerWe started with the gear set. In this set featuring gears, we built a race
car (you can build a cable car, a 3-wheeler and a motorcycle). For each build you’re given Engineering Challenges – experiment with friction, torque and propulsion as you engineer your solutions.

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.19.11 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.19.25 PMWe used a Star Wars Mac and Cheese box (It’s what we had handy).

These kits are a great idea, however…. The directions are picotgrams and are pretty small, so we had to bust out the magnifying glass (which was a fun experiment all by itself).

winchessetNext we tackled the Winches set. This set featuring winches, you can build a tow truck, a jeep, a well and a crane. The tow truck we built completely fell apart before I even got a photo of it, and that made Lil’ Man lose his mind.

propellersetFinally, the Propeller Kit! With this kit you can build a chopper, a biplane, a windmill and a plane. We attempted to build the windmill, however, it proved too difficult for Lil’ Man to master, and I was engineered out at that point (going on 3 hours of making these sets).

The only problem I had with the kits is that it requires you to use a box or can. Most cardboard boxes are recycled so many times that they don’t stand up well to the poking and prodding to build the kit in addition to all of the torture and abuse toys endure. My son played with the car we built (mostly me- he grew frustrated after about 20 minutes) for a few hours before it started to come apart and we had to reinforce it with gorilla tape.

These kits are for ages 6+, but if your kiddo is interested in building stuff and fairly dexterous (which Lil’ Man is), and patient (which he isn’t) I think a younger kid could handle these (with parents nearby of course).

I received these kits free of charge to facilitate the review, courtesy of ThinkFun and Tomoson. All opinions are my own.

Get a $10 Aéropostale eGift Card!

I don’t shop at Aeropostale, but I bet some of you do!

Just spend at least $20.00 with your registered VISA credit card at an Aéropostale store. This would be a great way to add a a little bit extra to your back to school clothing budget!

Valid through August 6, 2015, or while supplies last.

Please note: Purchase must be made in-store. Online or gift card purchases do not qualify. Limit 1 per person. TrialPay will email you the eGift Card within 1-2 days of your in-store purchase. To get started, click here.

(FYI-Don’t worry! The offer only need your card number to know when you make your qualifying purchase for this offer. It won’t be charged. And it’s an HTTPS address, so you’re safe.)

Vacations on the Cheap: Part 2 (The Tickets)

I am really bothered by all of the mis-information that is available online surrounding the discounts available for Disneyland passes.

So, today’s installment in the vacationing as a cheapster is going to cover discounted Disneyland tickets.

I’m going to break it down this way: first the myth, then the truth.

1- Just have your dad/mom/friend/uncle’s cousin’s brother who is/was in the military buy you tickets at the discounted ticket office on base and use those. 

Waa waa waa- That’s the sound of the saddest trombone. Our local  ITT (information tickets and travel) office at MCAS Miramar says that’s no dice. From their website: “Name of sponsor or spouse will be printed on all tickets & that person must be present all days.” So, unless your dad/mom/friend/uncle’s cousin’s brother is coming with you on your family vaca, think again.  If you are a military family, ITT is a great way to go when buying tickets.

2-I’ll just join AAA and get discounted tickets through them!  I’ll be saving big bucks in NO TIME!!!

If you are joining AAA just for the Disneyland discount, think again, my friend, you may not be saving any money. Annual membership in AAA is $48.00 plus there is a  New Member Admission Fee of $20 (for the first year only). Depending on which type of ticket (number of days and which parks) and number of tickets you are purchasing, you will save approximately $4.25-$7.75 per ticket. So if you are purchasing multiple multi-day passes OR multiple annual passes, it might be worth it.

Bottom line- If you are already a member of AAA, this is a good deal!

3-I’ll just buy a ticket from someone on Craigslist. There is always someone selling the remainder days on the their multi-day pass on Craigslist. 

Please don’t. Here is why. The pass has the sellers name on it. The nice cast members working at the gate have the right to check your ID against the pass. The names don’t match? Guess what? They’ll confiscate your ticket. This was confirmed by a friend who is a cast member after reading some horror stories I read online about this. This may NOT happen, but do you really want to chance your family vacation to save a few bucks?

So how DO you get discounted passes? Well, many unions, fraternal organizations, student unions, and businesses offer discounted passes for sale. Ask someone in the organization’s office.  You can buy legit discounted passes online from aRes Travel (I found them through Mousesavers.com).  They offer tickets to a lot of Orange County and Los Angeles  area attractions for a discount, however, they do charge a $4.00 convenience fee.  So it may only be worth it to you if you are buying multiple passes.

 

Enter to win a $200 Grocery Gift Card!

Kroger (That’s the family of stores that owns Ralphs and Food4Less here in So Cal) and Hebrew National, wants to hook you up with a $200 Grocery Gift Card!

All you have to do is answer some trivia and build your own hot dog for a chance to win a Kroger gift card! This is seriously The Most Important Hot Dog Quiz You’ll Ever Take.

To get started and enter, click here.

Fine Print: You gotta live in one of these states to enter: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MI, MO, MS, MT, NC, NE, NM, NV, OH, OR, SC, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WY

Family Recipe: Yummy Banana Nutty Bread

IMG_0405We love bananas, but sometimes they get over ripe before we can eat them all. That usually only happens when the weather is so hot and muggy- or if I buy too many. In that case, I peel, slice and bag them in snack sized zip top bags and toss them in the freezer. They are now perfectly portioned for smoothies or baking recipes!  This week, I’m posting my favorite Banana bread recipe. It’s quick, easy, and it uses no white sugar, so it’s ideal for those watching their sugar intake.

I’ve included variations for various diets below.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Stevia or brown sugar splenda (or 1/4 c honey)
1/3 cup applesauce
4 egg whites
1/2 cup of ripe banana (about 3-4 ripe bananas)
3/4 cup almond meal or flax meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions:

  1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large mixing bowl with electric mixer until fluffy and creamy.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients until smooth.
  3. Pour batter into 1 greased loaf pan.
  4. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.
  5. Slice and serve hot or allow to cool, wrap in aluminum foil and store in the freezer for up to 3 weeks.

Variations:

  • Gluten Free variation: Substitute coconut flour or GF baking flour blend.
  • Nut Free Variation: Use Flax meal in place of Almond Meal.
  • Vegan Variation: Substitute egg whites for flax egg.

Legoland: Kids go free with purchase of Adult Ticket!

LEGOLAND_California_main_entranceWe’re heading to Legoland for the first time this summer and I am stoked. Ok, not as much as Lil’ Man who is currently spending this rainy afternoon building  animals and a zoo with his Duplos.

If you’ve got kiddos that are Jonesing for a trip to Legoland, but your budget is a bit tight, check out this sweet promotion from McDonald’s. Visit any SoCal area McDonald’s restaurants (L.A. and San Diego) from June 29 to July 31 and you’ll receive a Kids Go Free offer with any purchase!

PirateShores22Kids Go Free with paid adult ticket to LEGOLAND® California Resort and your choice of LEGOLAND Water Park or SEA LIFE® Aquarium. It is a $104 value!

Hubs is excited because of the sweet new Star Wars stuff at Legoland! The 8 feet wide LEGO® Star Wars™ Death Star Model Display has been added to LEGO Star Wars™ Miniland.

In addition to Duplos and Regular Legos, we were gifted with some Friends sets not long ago and Lil’ Man loves building with those as well- There are so many cool pieces in the sets (like animals, perfect for when he wants to build a “delicate” zoo – which is how he refers to regular Legos and the Friends pieces: Delicate Legos), they are great for girls or boys.  Lil Man can hardly wait to visit LEGO® Friends Heartlake City.

Heartlake City has all kinds of great things to do and see: Ride the beautiful new carousel in Mia’s family ranch. Stroll through the LEGO horse stables. Sing along with Andrea at her stage. Or cool off with new friends in the Heartlake Fountain.  The adventures are endless in Heartlake City.  Visit LEGOLAND.com for details.

I can’t wait to see the big smiles when we go on the rides, and of course when Lil’ Man splashes Daddy at the water park!

I’ll be sure to post tons of photos and tips to save money at the park after our trip! And if you have tips that will make our adventure more fun (or frugal!), please leave a comment!