Saturday, April 23, 2011

earth day every day

Sadira on her very first Earth Day, looking like a baby boy. :)

It's Baltimore Green Week/Earth Day Week!!!  No better time to share some EASY tips on how to be green!!

A little background.  I've always been a bit of a tree hugger when it comes to environmental issues.  Having been a Biology major its kind of a prerequisite.  I remember reading books with my mom when I was very young about conserving water, be mindful of world around you, not wasting electricity, never ever ever could I throw trash on the mom did a great job teaching me about respecting the world around me, and I'm trying my best to duplicate that with Sadira. 

I admit, I immediately lose all respect for someone if they throw trash on the ground.  Gross.

When I was in middle school I even attended "Save the Environment" camp one's that for the epitome of dorkdom?  We basically just traipsed around for a week without showering, participated in drum circles, and learned how to bird call.  Just kidding...maybe. ;)  Surprised I didn't turn out to be a barefoot hippie with dreadlocks and a mangey mutt named "Soul Flower?"  Yeah, sometimes I am too.

What we actually DID learn at "Save the Environment" camp is that everything that WE do (or don't do), affects the world around us.  Living in Baltimore its easy to see how runoff from the city eventually dumps everything into the Chesapeake Bay.  We learned how trash can camouflage itself to look like food for fish, birds and other animals.  After camp, I became the collector of cigarette butts (they can be mistaken by birds to be food, are eaten and swell in their stomachs), and the destroyer of plastic six pack rings (always snip these with a scissor before you throw away, because animals can get themselves entangled in the rings).

One of my most vivid memories of that summer was when I was sitting around my grandmother's kitchen table about to eat dinner.  She was asking what I learned at camp that day and I was rattling off 101 things about how to save the planet.  It was an election year that year (1992--the Clinton/Bush/Perot race) and in typical form my grandmother (the staunch Conservative) had her right wing talk radio blaring in the background.  In the middle of me proudly reporting all the things I had learned that day, I hear Rush Limbaugh's voice complaining about "the damn environmentalists who want us to spend money on planet instead of the national deficit."  I stopped short with what I was saying.  Having not been alive during the 60s or 70s, I didn't realize that environmental activism had a political spin to it too.  My grandmom, seeing me get startled, hopped up and turned the radio off.  "Your doing a wonderful thing, honey," she said.  "God gave us a beautiful Earth and it's our job to take care of it.  People need to learn how to clean up after themselves, and that has nothing to do with those loudmouth politicians."

And that's been my viewpoint ever since.  Taking care of our planet shouldn't be a political's something everyone should be invested in.  It's the simple principles of cleaning up after your self, not being wasteful, and taking only what you need.  I mean, for goodness sake, there's a giant disgusting garbage patch floating around in the Pacific Ocean thanks to our inability to clean up after ourselves.  Just click here, if you want to see photos of how gross it is.

But enough about that.

I realize that "Going Green" has become very trendy in the past couple years (yay!) but there is still lots more than can be done.  And it's really quite easy.  So today I jotted down the first 30 things I could think of that Sadie and I have done JUST THIS WEEK to show that we care about the Earth and the environment.  Again, many of these are things that we do all of the time, but since I like lists, and having this running theme with the number 30, I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could think of 30 things we actively here goes:

1. Think twice before printing!  I have a little note on the bottom of every work email I send out that says, "P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail. "  (Feel free to copy and paste for your own purposes!)  I also have disabled my default printer on my work computer this week.  So every time I hit "print" I have to click a second window that asks which printer to use.  This extra step has really made me re-think if I need to print off every little memo that comes across my screen.

A sample of what we recycled...just this evening.

The recycle bin at home...
..and the recycle bin at work.

2. Recycle!  Duh, this one seems the most obvious.  Sadira and I are huge recyclers and we're lucky to live in a city that supports single stream recycling.  My office also has recycling bins on every floor.  Recycling is so accessible in so many areas now, there's really no reason not to do it.  And if it's STILL not accessible where you live, do something to change that.  I mean, seriously.  It's 2011 and there's really no excuse anymore not to recycle.  Speech over. :)

3. Maintain your car!  Sadly I have a 50 mile roundtrip commute to work each day, which uses LOTS of gas and LOTS of money.  This week I took my car in for my routine oil change and tire rotation.  They also top off all of my fluids and replace my filter.  All of the things help to keep my car running at optimum levels, and be the most fuel efficient--which helps the environment and saves me gas money. ;)  I also try to use cruise control as much as possible--this is a huge gas saver when you do mostly highway driving!

4. Neighborhood clean-up!  Spring has finally spung in Baltimore, and this past Sunday I couldn't have kept Sadira indoors if I had bribed her with cupcakes and Kai-lan.  While we were outside I took the time to sweep my front steps, clear trash out of the gutters and collect any old newspapers.  I was happy to see so many neighbors outside doing the exact same thing. 

5. Unplug!  This one is so easy, but so many folks overlook.  Unplug your appliances when you're not using them.  This may seem tedious as first, but it's really not.  I have a desktop computer in the basement that I only use once a week at most--this stays unplugged unless it's being used.  Start with your kitchen appliances (toaster, coffee machine, etc.) Unplug them and then replug just for when you need to use them.  Appliances that are plugged into the wall (even if they are not being used) continue to draw electricity from the outlets.  So unplugging will save energy AND money.

6. Stop junkmail!  Everyone hates junkmail, right?  In our house it's mostly nonsense clutter that gets tossed right into the recycle bin without being read.  This week I took some steps to reduce the junkmail I receive, by first reading up on privacy rights here and then registering my information here.

7.  Opt out of credit card and insurance offers!  Similar to #6, I'd say the bulk of my junkmail is offers for new credit cards or insurance.  I didn't realize until I did a little googling that you can actually opt out of these, which will greatly reduce the amount of mail I receive.  Go here to quickly and easily opt out for either 5 years or permanently.

8.  Say "no" to the receipt!  Next time you're visiting the ATM or gas pump, choose the "no receipt" option after your transaction is complete.  You can easily check your balance electronically with most banks providing this at no additional costs, and saying no to the receipt will help keep your wallet or purse clutter free.  I once read a stat that said, "if everyone in the United States would select the no-receipt option at the ATM, it would save a roll of paper more than two billion feet long, or enough to circle the equator 15 times." (source: Market Watch)

9. Use re-usable water bottles instead of buying bottled water!  My grandfather always jokes that he's kicking himself for not thinking of SELLING WATER when he was younger---a thought that was so ridiculous to him as a child.  Water used to be something that was free, but it's now a multi-million dollar market.  Save money (and resources) by using a Brita filtering system and reusable bottle. Or get yourself a Bobble that will do the filtering for you.  I'm lucky that I live in a major city where water treatment is a top priority, so I have no issues drinking straight from the tap.

This is one of my favorites. It's ceramic and looks just like a standard Starbucks coffee cup.

10. Use re-usable Starbucks coffee cups!  I'm a Starbucks fanatic, but you can easily replace "Starbucks" with "Jamba Juice" or "Caribou" or whatever you prefer.  Point is, the cups from those weekly lattes, add up...and if you're like me, you're rarely near a recycling bin when you finish yours.  Start to train yourself, say, "I'll only get a Starbucks grande skim with whip mocha if I have my reusable cup with me." :)  It's a good way to get in the habit, if you're gonna spend $4 on a freakin' cup of coffee...

(These super cute alternatives are available at Old Navy for only $5!) 

11. Watch the temp...and open the windows!  Spring has spring, so instead of being a slave to the heat to the AC, shut off the air and open the windows.  Saves money and electricity.

12. BYOB---bags, that is!  Not only are they more convenient because you can re-use them, but they are also sturdier, have better handles, and you can throw them over your should unlike traditional plastic bags.  Many stores will also offer a discount if you use re-usable shopping bags.  CVS now has a promotion if you buy one of their green tags (which were free last week , after ECB promotion) and loop it onto a re-usable bag, and scan it each time you come into the store, they will give you $1 ECB for free after every four visits.  Not bad!

13. Clean green!  There are so many "green" or "natural" products on the market now, it's easier than ever to clean green.  Not to mention, it amazing what a little vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice can do!  Keep in mind, everything you send down the drain eventually ends up back in our ecosystem.  Here are some great tips for cleaning green.

14.  Remove the hazardous wastes from your house, and dispose of them properly!  Household hazardous wastes need to be disposed of differently than regular trash.  Many of these items contain ingredients that can be detrimental to the environment if sent to the dump and allowed to leach into the ground and ground water.  We know we're not supposed to do it (come on now, we've all seen Erin Brockovitch...) but I'm sure we're all guilty of tossing something in the trash that shouldn't be there.  Here is a list of household hazardous wastes.  Lucky for me Baltimore Household Hazardous Waste day (comes around twice a year) is next Saturday.  Check to see if your city offers something similar!

15. Stock up on energy efficient bulbs!  These are something that I always try to snag if I see a good deal!  Energy efficient bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and require less energy.  I am slowly transforming my house to be more energy efficient, so when one regular bulb burns out, it's replaced with it's energy efficient counterpart.

16. Wash in cold water!  Now I won't do ALL of my laundry in cold water, but I do try to pick the lowest temperature setting necessary.  Especially since I learned that up to 85% of energy needed to wash a load of laundry goes into heating the water! (source: World Watch Institute)

17. Get a programmable thermostat!  These things are awesome, and saved me a ton of money this past winter. I had a regular thermostat and then one afternoon I was shuffling around the house in my UGG boots and I generated enough electricity between my boots and the rug that when I touched the thermostat I SHOCKED IT SO BADLY I SHORTED IT OUT.  Seriously, I think these things only happen to me, I'm like one walking Murphy's Law.  Anyway, when I bought a new one I was sure to buy one that could be programmed.  It was perfect during our freezing cold months this winter, knocking the temp down to 60 while I was at work, and heating back up to 75 around 5pm, just as I was heading home.  I'm excited to see the affect it'll have on this summer's AC bill!

18. Go to the library!  First of all, the library's free.  Second, it's free.  And's free.  You don't have to pay a dime (as long as you don't accrue fees) and you get access to all kinds of books, magazines, journal subscriptions, DVD's, CD's, you name it.  Our local library is particularly awesome because it has an amazing kids section called "Tiny Town" with toys, huge play areas, dress ups, art project space, and tons of books.  Not to mention most libraries will have free programs for kids and adults.  It's a total win-win situation.  All while encouraging the re-use of products, which saves in the long run.  Did I mention it's free?

19. Recycle or donate your old cell phone!  There are many programs out there that can make use of your old cell phone.  Point is, don't throw them--or any electronic for that matter--away in the garbage.  Most electronic waste contains mercury and other toxic chemicals.  Not something we want sitting in a landfill, leaching into the soil.

20. Teach 'em young!  This week, Sadira and I talked about how it's important to turn off the faucet while brushing our teeth, and we continued our conversation about what goes in the trash vs. what goes in the recycle bin.  Since it's Earth Week, Nick Jr. was broadcasting episodes of her favorite cartoons that addressed Green issues, and we read Dr. Seuss' book The Lorax, which features a main character who "talks for the trees" when they are threatened to be cut down.  I try to make a very concerted effort to raise an environmentally conscious kid.

21.  Bring the outdoors in!  Indoor plants can help filter the air, helping to remove indoor air pollutants like formaldehyde and benzene.  This week we have some beautiful Easter lillies freshening our air.  Now if only I could work on keeping plants alive, I'd be good to go...

22.  Pay all bills online!  I typically pay my credit cards and electric bill online, but this week I switched ALL of my bills to electronic bill pay--even my mortgage, something I've been meaning to do for awhile.  I also opted out for paper statements, set all of my accounts up for automatic monthly payment.  All I did was make a list of all of my monthly bills, pulled together last month's statements and bills, pulled out my check card and checking account information and took care of all of them at one time.  This will save paper, save money in stamps, and help to ensure that all of my bills are paid on time every month. 

23.  Buy "concentrated" or "ultra" cleaning products!  They work just as well as their full size counterparts (just require more water to dilute when using) and they use 50-60% less packaging.

24.  Take your lunch to work!  My office cafeteria uses Styrofoam.  DRIVES ME CRAZY every time I have to buy lunch in that crap.  So I stopped.  Every day this week I took my lunch to work with me in Tupperware and a lunch bag.  I estimate I've saved about $30 this week NOT buying my lunch every day, not to mention it's healthier, AND I've avoided using Stryfoam which will still be present on the planet long after I'm gone and the next fifteen generations after me as well.

25. Use washable dish towels instead of paper towels!  This one is Sadie's.  She uses it to dry her hands, clean up spills, wipe her face, you name it.  It's right on the handle to the fridge so it's at her level and easily accessible.  I have my own too.  Every time I do a load of laundry, I'll throw them in, so every couple of days they're cleaned.  Sadie doesn't even ask for a paper towel at home.  In fact a standard roll of paper towels usually lasts about a month to six weeks in our house.

26.  Match the pan to the burner!  I'm notoriously bad about this, so since I read this tip earlier in the week, I've made a honest effort to do this habitually.  Foods do not cook faster just because they are boiling over.  If you turn down the heat when the water begins to boil you'll use less energy and foods won't boil over or burn dry.  In fact, a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner will waste more than 40% of the heat produced AND food will take longer to cook. (source: Good Housekeeping)

27.  Build a birdhouse!  This one's totally for fun, but it IS something we did this week. After a evening out with her Dad, Sadira came home with a new toy--a build your own birdhouse!  Fortunately it was relatively easy to put together, and Sadie couldn't wait to paint it.  I think she did a beautiful job, and I think our neighborhood birds are going to love it when we hang it on the porch tomorrow.

28. Learn what these symbols mean!  This is something I've been meaning to read up on for quite some time.  So here, now you too can learn something :)
USDA Organic. What it means: Food is produced without antibiotics, genetic engineering or most synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides. (Seen on food products)

Rainforest Alliance Certified. What it means: Companies harvesting the food practice soil and water conservation; they also reduce the use of pesticides. (Seen on coffee, chocolate, bananas)

Fair Trade Certified. What it means: Food is grown on small farms; farmers receive a fair price. (Seen on coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, rice, sugar)

Certified Humane.What it means: Animals raised for dairy, meat, and poultry products are treated humanely. Growth hormones are prohibited, and animals are raised on a diet without antibiotics. (Seen on eggs and meat)

Green Seal. What it means: Products are evaluated for environmental impact; they must meet recycling and bleaching standards. (Seen on napkins, paper, towels, and toilet paper) (source: Good Housekeeping)

29.  Re-use!  This is one of my favorites.  What you consider trash may be perfectly useful to someone else.  Consider donating to Goodwill, or selling on Craigslist or Ebay.  Sign up for Freecycle!! (One of my most faves.)  It's not only helpful to the environment, but it will save you a ton of money.  I scored the glider and ottoman pictured above for a sweet $40 altogether when I was pregnant with Sadie.  It was in perfect condition and had I bought it new in the store, the exact same model would've cost $250-$300.  Almost four years later we still use that glider and ottoman almost every day.
30. Watch the Story of Stuff!  Watch it, learn something, and pass it on to someone else  Hopefully they'll learn something too.

Happy Earth Day, everyone. :)  Thanks to today's nasty weather, we'll be planting our tree (and crossing #6 off the list) tomorrow.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

30 days of shredication

"I love this. Really, I do. Really. I'm not lying. Nope, not at all."


13. Actually do that damn 30 day shred for 30 days straight.  - In progress...

Alright, so let's talk about working out.  I really do enjoy working out, for the most part.  There are plenty of things I enjoy doing that require physical activity.  I love dance.  I love aerobic classes.  I love the elliptical.  I have days when I really enjoy weight training.  I love running.  No, I don't, that's actually a total lie, I hate running.  But whatever.  Point is, for the most part I enjoy working out.

And I like going to the gym!

Problem is, there's just never enough hours in the day to go consistently.  Between working full time, carting around a three year old, and our hectic insane schedule of activities, my gym time is really limited.

And sometimes, I like to sleep.  You know, on occasion.

So while there are several opportunities to make it to the gym each week, I usually go twice a week.  Sometimes once a week.  Sometimes I skip a week. Shhh, don't tell.

When I was making up this list, I decided to put this absolute *gem* of a task on there.  To actually DO the 30 Day Shred for 30 days.  The 30 Day Shred is a video put out by the Biggest Loser's resident ass-kicker, Jillian Michaels.  You obviously don't HAVE to do it for 30 days, it's really just like any other workout video, but a 30 day committment is kind of the point.  A few years back a few of my friends were talking about it, so I ordered it from Amazon when it was on sale and figured I'd give it a whirl.  I don't really like home workout videos, but I admit, I did kinda like this one.

As my in-the-gym time has become scarcer and scarcer I wanted to try to see if I could meet Jillian's challenge.    

Here are the 30 Day Shred's stats:
  • There are three levels of workouts
  • Jillian combines three minutes of strength training, 2 minutes of cardio, 1 minute of abs, rinse and repeat several times
  • The entire thing is under 30 minutes (27 minutes, 44 seconds to be exact, but who's counting?)
  • The content really isn't THAT hard, it's just that you don't stop.  Ever.
  • There are two options, a "beginner" level and an "advanced" level.  Beginners should follow green-sports-bra-Anita.  Advanced Shredders follow red-gym-shorts-Natalie.
I've started and stopped this task several times over the past nine months...eventually missing a day, or just blatently skipping to be a rebel.  Finally with only 2 months until my 30 birthday, it's do or die time.

Day one was last Sunday.  I survived.  In fact Sunday, Monday and Tuesday all went off without a hitch.

Until Wednesday when my DVD player didn't want to work.  Tried several times, and nothing.  Kept saying, "bad disc."

You won't take me down that easy, DVD!

So I popped the DVD into my computer...and it just spun...and spun...and spun.  But wouldn't play.

Seriously, what the eff, DVD?  Like, I really don't WANT to be doing this anyway, and now you're practically HANDING me my excuse not to do it!!

I won't be taken down that easily.  I've already finished THREE STRAIGHT DAYS (that's 10%!) of my 30 days, and I didn't do those workouts for nothing.  I pulled out the big guns.  I YouTubed.

And while I don't recommend doing the 30 Day Shred on YouTube, I was able to do it.  In several installments.


The next day my DVD player worked just fine.  Seriously, what the hell?  Like it forgot the incidents of the day before and how it rejected both my DVD player AND my computer. I think my DVD was just trying to test my committment.

So here we are.  As of yesterday Day 8 is complete.

Are we having fun, yet?  Anyone?  Anyone? 

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

get more, spend less v2.0

With the re-emergence of TLC's show, "Extreme Couponing," I've had a few of my friends ask me for some tips on how to get household products virtually for free.  While I do not at all consider myself an "extreme couponer," I have learned how to work the system in order to pay as little as possible for some household items that I frequently use.

Just to further clarify (and because I'm all for beating a dead horse..) I'm not going to be able to show you how to buy 35 bottles of Maalox for free, because I never have and never will make that type of purchase.  But I can tell you how I typically spend very little out of pocket for things like cleaning supplies, shampoo/conditioner, body wash, toothpaste/floss/mouthwash, makeup, and other toiletries and household items.

So, back by popular demand, I'm going to share some of tricks of the trade I've learned in order to be a savvy shopper, but NOT an obsessive extreme couponer.  I'm also going to explain this process exactly as I learned.  There are many different ways to learning how to cut costs by couponing, but this is the method I found easiest, and it's what I've shared with my friends who've asked me, so it's what I'll share with you.

Now that we're clear. :)

The first step to learning how to effectively coupon, is to start clipping coupons.  My grandmother has always been a coupon cutter.  I'd sit at her table as a child and watch her clip her coupons and pile them into a wicker basket, and I thought she was so organized and on top of her shopping.  Now I look at her pile and think, "Mommom, how can you make sense of your messy coupon pile!?"  I knew I had achieved a certain level of savvy shopping when my grandmother recently asked ME for advice!

My biggest piece of advice in the beginning is to start small with just a couple of products.  Don't expect to go to the store and get $100 worth of items for $0.50.  I recently walked a friend through the process.  Armed with $5 and handful of coupons I gave him to start him off, he was able to purchase shampoo, replacement razor blades, and two tubes of toothpaste.  He spent $3.10, and walked out of the store $8 in store credit/coupons for anything in the store on his next visit.  At retail cost those products would have cost him $15.60, a savings of $12.50.  If you are able to put $12.50 back in your pocket each week from products that you need or will use throughout the year, than you are essentially saving $50 per month or roughly $600 year.  And that's just on a couple of toiletry items.  It's mind boggling how much you are saving when you start applying this process to the rest of your every day purchases.

I started by purchasing a subscription to my local paper, The Baltimore Sun.  The subscription I chose is $1.50/week for Wednesday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday delivery.  This works best for me, and I am able to get the coupon inserts that come in both the Sunday paper and the Wednesday paper.  I think it's really important to consider the cheapest route to getting you what you need.  I know some people buy extensive subscriptions, or multiple papers each week, but for my needs to support our family of two, I have absolutely no need and cannot justify spending $8-$10 per week just for coupons that are supposed to cut costs not create them, but again, that's just me.

There are also lots of options for printing electronic coupons off of internet servers, but there are so many different search engines that it can be overwhelming for someone new to couponing.  You may be tempted to print every coupon you come across in the beginning, and then you end up wasting ink and paper on the coupons you don't use.  In the beginning, I recommend just sticking to the newspaper coupons until you get a handle on what products you are purchasing, and what coupons you need.

Okay, so step one:  Get your self access to some Sunday papers with coupons inserts.  Start by cutting as many coupons as possible.  Any coupon for an item that you regularly buy, or would potentially like to try, you should cut.  Ask yourself this question, "If I could get this item for free, or potentially make money by purchasing this item, would I get it?" If the answer is yes, then cut the coupon.  

One thing I wish I would've done in the beginning is save the coupon inserts for a few weeks after I was finished cutting the coupons I wanted.  I would frequently come across a deal a few weeks later, that required a coupon I had passed over and tossed out, and would regret that I hadn't clipped it.  Now I try to remember to keep the inserts in a folder for a few weeks, just in case there is something I should've clipped, but didn't.

Step two: Organize those babies.  I didn't do this for awhile in the beginning, instead opting for the pile 'o coupons, a la my Grandmother.  It wasn't until I got such an impressive stash on my hands and I'd find myself fumbling through 50 coupons in the store just to find the ONE that I needed, that I realized I needed a better system of organization.  Some people opt for a large binder with plastic baseball card-style inserts to store and sort their coupons, but I prefer a plastic accordion-folder style organizer, similar to this or this.   I organize them by category, hair care, dental, household cleaning, household paper/plastic products, grocery dairy, grocery pantry, etc.  Pick categories that work for you.

Step three: After you've compiled a week or two of coupons, its time to start putting them to good use and making some purchases.  I first started out couponing by working the system at CVS, or "CVS'ing."  There are countless websites that give you all the nitty gritty details on how to do this, and I know I'll probably leave out some details, so I'll leave you with additional tutorials here, here and here.  

I've alluded to this process in one of my previous posts, but what you want to do is sign up for CVS's ExtraCare program.  It's free. Once you have your card, you're going to need one of the weekly advertisements, or circulars.  That's where that handy Sunday paper comes in again.

Step four: Planning out your purchases.  You want to try to do the leg work at home, so you don't waste precious time in the store, or get distracted and buy something at (god forbid!) actual retail price. ;)  This is also the step where (after people have been CVS'ing for awhile) they can get totally obsessed and start to show early signs of hoarding extreme couponing.  We don't want to do that.  This is just about buying items that you need, or WILL need in the future, and purchasing them at the time they are at the lowest price available so you can get the best deal.

You are basically looking for items that are already on sale and that will generate ExtraCare Bucks--or CVS play money.  When you combine these sales and ExtraCare Buck deals with coupons then you are on the road to getting items for free or "making money" off of them. I'll explain this more by using examples from this week's past shopping trip.

Last week is a good week to start with, because I hadn't done any CVS'ing since our big Hawaii/California trip.  Knowing that I was going to be out of town for awhile, I used up all of ExtraCare Bucks in my stash before I left--didn't want them to expire (they're good for 30 days) before I had a chance to use them.  So going into last week's shopping trip, I didn't have any ExtraCare Bucks to work with, which is the same situation a beginner finds themself in.  The goal is after you make the initial purchases (investment) and get your ExtraCare Bucks, you want to start "rolling" them so you're spending as little "real money" as possible.  This holds true for puchases at Walgreen and RiteAid also, they just have slightly different rewards programs, so you have to learn the details for your store.  Fortunately so many others have turned this into a science, that many websites will spell it out for you.

Here is everything I bought at CVS last week.

Here is how I bought it:

Transaction 1:
Complete contact solution, on sale for $8.99.
I had a coupon for $1 off and CVS was running a promotion that you got back $8.99 in ExtraCare Bucks with this purchase...essentially making it free, or for me, a dollar "profit."
Cost of item: $8.99
   plus tax: $9.53
   minus coupon: (-$1): $8.53
   Pay: $8.53
   Get back $8.99 in ExtraCare Bucks

Transaction 2:
(2) packs of Dentek flossers, on sale for $2 each with a $2 ExtraCare Buck reward for each (again, essentially making them "free)
(2) Crest mouth washes, on sale for $3.49 with a $2.50 ExtraCare Buck reward for each, plus I had a $2 coupon off for each
4 Tide DuoPacks on sale for $3.99, plus I had a $3 coupon off for each
Cost of items: $26.94
   plus tax: $28.35
   minus coupons: (-$2 x 2): $24.35
   minus coupons: (-$3 x 4): $12.35
   minus ExtraCare Bucks ($8.99) from previous transaction: $3.36
   Pay: $3.36
   Get back $9.00 in ExtraCare Bucks.

So in this second transaction I've essentially "made" money.  Now granted, it was CVS play money, but still, it's a profit here!

Some weeks there isn't anything that I would need or want on sale, or that would generate ExtraCare Bucks.  In this situation, I don't buy anything.  ExtraCare Bucks are good for about four weeks, so there no sense in wasting your "credits" on something you don't need or want.  But you definitely don't want to let them expire.  If you get to the point where they are about to expire, use them to buy whatever you need, regardless of whether they generate more ExtraCare Bucks.  You can start up again later on.

This particular week, there was lots of good stuff.  So in that situation I pulled out my second ExtraCare Card (in Sadira's name, sneaky sneaky!) and repeated the same process.  I purchased slightly different items in the second transaction, but again used coupons and was able to generate more ExtraCare Bucks.

In my second round of "sneaky" transactions, I also purchased Physician's Formula mascara (not pictured, oops) for $0.64 after coupons and ExtraCare Bucks, however it retailed for $10.59.  The mascara had a "try me free!" tag on it, with a link to a rebate form.  Once I got home I printed the rebate form, included the "try me free!" tag, and receipt with purchased price circled (as directed on the rebate form) and mailed that baby away.  Per the rebate, I'll be reimbursed the manufacturer's price, which is $10.59, or a profit of $9.95.

For the pile of loot pictured above, I spent $21.06, got back a total of $14.00 in ExtraCare Bucks, and will get a check for $9.95 in 4-6 weeks.

As I mentioned, I started off this week with $0 in ExtraCare Bucks in my "bank" since we had been travelling so much for the past few weeks.  You can see how one can essentially get loads of things for free or almost free when you can strategically roll this play money over from one week to another combined with coupons.

I've been doing this for so long now, that I spend no more than an hour per week, cutting coupons and planning out purchases.  I also set a budget for how much I'm willing to spend out of pocket for purchases per week.  Right now it's $50 per week for all Target, CVS, Walgreens, AND grocery store purchases.

So yes, all of my purchases, INCLUDING Target and the grocery store is limited to about $200 per month.  And I have NO PROBLEM coming within this budget.  I remember when I used to spend $200 in one grocery store visit.  It's pretty amazing how much I've been able to shave off of my grocery and Target purchases per month just by planning out my purchases and buying strategically.

It took me about 6 months to really hit my stride with couponing and comparative shopping to get to where I really felt I was doing well, making smart purchases and making significant cuts to my budget.  It's a little tricky in the beginning, but it's SO worth it in the end.

And, for the record, I don't always plan every shopping trip.  In fact, I'm pretty bad at planning out grocery store trips...fortunately I've just gotten good enough at spotting what a good deal is versus a bad one, and combining deals with coupons to get the most bang for my buck.

Just this week I went to the grocery store and purchased these items:

Original price: $83.69
Price I paid after coupons: $51.18

Savings of 39%

Like I said, I'll never be one to buy 35 bottles of Maalox, or 87 Snickers bars, or 113 bottles of PowerAde.  But a savings of 39% off of my normal grocery bill? I'll take it!

A blog that I follow and really love, is doing a series called "31 weeks to a better grocery budget."  The latest installment addresses using coupons to get items for free.

It's all of these little tricks that have helped me continue to be successful with goal #23. Do not use a credit card at all for the entire year.
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