Monday, June 29, 2009

I just LOVE saving money!

After a couple recommendations from friends, I signed up for a trial of Grocery Game for $1. I realized quickly, after just four weeks, that I could easily do this myself. The time I spend clipping coupons and browsing on-line grocery ads and circulars is well worth the money we save at the grocery store. Let me share a few tips & my experience from today:

1. The Sunday paper is available for *free* at TCU every week. We stop by campus on the way home from church or Brad brings one home on Monday so we don't spend the $2.00 it would cost each week.

2. Making sure I'm not hungry, I pull out the advertisement section of the paper along with coupons and discard the extra paper to feel more organized & calm. Find a large table or desk. Start by setting aside each coupon page you think you'll use (not cutting with scissors yet) and go through all coupons, relatively quickly.

3. After discarding unnecessary coupons, I tackle the coupon pile once more, cutting out each one with scissors AND doing two things:
  1. Re-evaluate its usefulness. HINT: Just because it's a good coupon, does not mean it's a good deal. Are you already planning on buying this product? Maybe hot dogs are already on your list so a coupon for Ballpark Franks is perfect!
  2. Read the fine print. For example, today, I found myself re-reading a 75¢ coupon for brownie mix. Great, right? Here's the catch: you have to buy two (like a lot of coupons) but you also had to buy two boxes of Supreme brownie mix. We don't like the Supreme styles so this would have actually wasted a few dollars, rather than save us money!!
4. Organize coupons by categories like: frozen, meats, sauces/condiments, home (paper towel, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, etc), health & beauty, etc. This will help you in step number 5.

5. Go through each weekly ad/grocery story ad. These include: Kroger, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Target. HINT: Make sure the ad is current. Also, visit each website where the most current weekly ad is available. I would highly suggest reading the text and not looking at the pictures, as you will specifically identify what you need, and not what you WANT. Advertisers score when you make a decision based on packaging & presentation, not actual necessity.

6. Make a list, by grocery stores, of items to purchase. I like to type it in an email to myself so it prints off easily. I also like to include the advertised price and if I have coupons. It also helps me remember in case I'm at one store and see a good deal but want to compare to another location. Here's what my list looked like this morning:

Tom Thumb - you can see the list above of the three items I needed. First of all, Ballpark Franks are normally $3.99 per package but were on sale for 99¢ each. That's a great deal alone BUT there was a coupon for $1.00 off two packages. So I saved a total of $7.00 on two packages of hot dogs and spent just $0.99!!! Then, 75 feet of Reynolds aluminum foil was on special for $3.00, marked down from $4.49. With a $1.00 off coupon, I saved another $2.49. With two other items (tea bags & hot dog buns), my grand total, including tax was $6.93. I saved $10.79 in just ONE trip to a store to buy just five items!! That's a savings of 61%.

And, finally, we took a trip to Wal-Mart, where prices are lowest but coupons don't double or triple so I save all my coupons that are more than 50¢. I used eight coupons to save a grand total of $10.46. Check the prices of other stores on your list while you're in Wal-Mart because they're often lower than sale prices. Like today, I had cereal & ice cream on my CVS list, but at Wal-Mart each item was actually cheaper - I could compare because I had the prices written down - so it saved me a trip to another store with two kids in tow!!

Grand Savings: $21.25 in just two hours, two stores!! Wooohooo!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Facebook, I rebuke thee!

Do you find yourself ever thinking in Facebook?  

I had just pulled clean bed sheets out of the dryer and was walking back to our room with an armful of warm linens, giving off that fresh aroma we all know & love.  Something about it reminds me of Home.  Instead of actually enjoying the moment, I found myself thinking how I could word my thoughts as a Facebook status.  Utterly ridiculous.  

Then I realize that a lot of my thoughts, reflections, epiphanies, and whatevers often make their way through my head as a status.  Or a blog idea.  Somehow, I started believing that communication involved online networks and websites.  I can pride myself in the number of views to my blog or how many people I connect with through Facebook but it's alarming to me how these things are replacing community.  Friendships.  Heartbeats and tears as we share life with our closest bff's.  

We've convinced ourselves as a Facebook community that we are connected to people based on their profiles.  We check off our "I'm a good friend" box when we write on someone's wall, view their posts, or peruse their photo albums.  

I currently have 463 "friends" on Facebook.  Out of those 463:

I have 27 of those friends' phone numbers stored in my cell phone.  That's only 5.8%
There are at least 150 people I haven't talked to in more than 10 years.  (Two high schools.)

I would be completely embarrassed to tell you how much time I spend on Facebook each day.  I've been deeply convicted about ignoring my children to check my notifications.  I've wasted time flipping through photo albums of people I've never met just because one friend was tagged in one picture.  This could seriously be addiction.  Hello, my name is Heather and I'm a Facebook-aholic.  Anyone want to be my sponsor? 

We like to downplay this atrocity by laughing and making jokes about its pull.  I had a friend recently post a status that said he was "bored with Facebook." I often see statuses reflecting guilt for not "doing something" because they were consumed with FB.  Isn't this something deep inside of us crying out to get away from our computers or phones (whatever your medium) and hit REALITY with our lives?!  When did we become okay with wasting our time?  When did I become okay with wasting my life - my children's life - my home life - so that Facebook could get an extra minute (or hour) of my time?

Now, there are definitely things I appreciate about FB: I have lots of friends who have moved to other states and countries and their profiles give me the opportunity to stay connected to their lives.  I miss them all and appreciate seeing their kids, their homes, and updates.  However, the album will still be there, I can see all statuses in a few day's time, and they will still be my friends if a week goes by without seeing their profile.
I've been contemplating breaking away from Facebook in order to gain perspective.  Let's consider it a FB Cleanse.  Time to get the bad stuff out so the good stuff can take hold.  Time to realize that words on a screen are not friendships.  And time to give the best of my day without logging in or signing in.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Our Anniversary Trip

We just came back from a 4-day trip to Austin for our 5th anniversary.  We had an incredible time and to help remind us of our time away, here are a few highlights!

First, a big thanks to Brad's mom, Janet, for watching our kids.  We have never left both of them for more than one night so this was a big deal for everyone.  Janet did a great job at keeping them laughing and covering them with love and affection.  And she let the kids pick out a new fish - Jonah - a blue betta that adds some color to our kitchen.  We miss Gigi already!

Day 1:  Thursday morning we headed down to Austin and checked in to the newly renovated Courtyard by Marriott.  We had an expanded king-size room and the travel size shampoo & conditioner were the best - one of my top ways of rating a hotel.  Definitely two thumbs up from the Thompsons.

We had dinner at P.F. Changs and then headed to see "Angels & Demons," the latest Dan Brown novel to hit the big screen.  Some of my favorite books and definitely one of my favorite movies.  Again, two thumbs up from the Thompsons.  

Day 2:  After breakfast at the local Whole Foods market, we headed to Ikea, where we roamed and picked out some items for our newly renovated bathrooms.  Two mirrors, framed art, and a shower curtain were loaded into the back of our van as we made our way to the Premium Outlets.  Being disappointed by the selection of stores, we spontaneously went to another movie - Land of the Lost - where we laughed like kids and drank Coke out of a collectors cup.  It only cost $4.50 and came with a free refill!!

Thanks to a suggestion from our pastor's wife, Lisa Young, we headed to the Hula Hut on Lake Austin for a late lunch/early dinner (lunner? dinch?).  We ate enormous tacos & enchiladas, enjoyed the best queso ever, and drank some kind of rum punch for two.  Dee-lish.

There was a Marie Callender restaurant & bakery across from the hotel so we headed over there for late-night dessert.  We bought a WHOLE blueberry pie and took it back to the hotel room.  I'd like to say we killed it, but that would be embarrasing.  

Day 3:  Saturday morning lunch at the hotel was free so we ate some yummy food, drank really good coffee, and then headed down to the SoCo, a stretch on South Congress that's populated with vintage boutiques, quirky shops, and an empty lot full of hand-made jewelry booths and recycled clothes for both adults & kids.  I found a cute bohemian-style skirt for just $10 and love it already.  So cool.

Hey Cupcake! serves amazing cupcakes out of trailer so we picked some up for a "some time later" treat.  We felt like we were on a food tour of the city, eating every three hours in amounts suitable for big foot.  We joked all weekend about needing a barf bag.  Sorry if that's too much information but it gives you an idea how much we ate.

Lunch at the Olive Garden made me ready for a nap so we snoozed back at the hotel.  For our last night in Austin, we celebrated at The Cheesecake Factory.  Brad ate his signature order, Steak Diane, and I tried something new: Herb Crusted Salmon with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.  I had a Bikini Martini and we took two slices of cheesecake back to the hotel: chocolate chip cookie dough and white chocolate raspberry.  Divine, if you ask me.

We splurged on a pay-per-view movie that night and watched "Sunshine Cleaning" which made us happy and love films that sport a good ending and great acting.  It should be out on DVD soon, and we would both highly recommend it.

Day 4:  We checked out of the hotel and headed back towards UT where Guadalupe Street lead us to a bakery called Texas French Bread.  We got some loaves as gifts and prided ourselves in finding another whole-in-the-wall place.  We were a little sad to leave behind the city but were eager to see our kiddos.  

This is a very long description and really, more for me & Brad, than for your reading pleasure.  Some people might think how we spent our trip was lame & boring but let me share with you a little secret:  when you have two children, the best vacation means sleeping in & staying up late, eating at nice restaurants without leaving crumbs on the floor, going to a movie in a theater, and being spontaneous.  No seat belts to buckle, diaper bags to remember, or attitudes to adjust.  Just a husband and a wife, two best friends remembering why we got married and how insanely lucky we both are.

Love you, B-Rad.  You are my favorite thing EVER.