Still saving money over here!

Recently I have been investigating earning/saving cash in the home. In previous posts I mentioned saving money by bundling home phone, internet and TV and also by changing our mobile phone plan. Well, after an hour long phone call with AT&T (no I didn’t get paid to write this review!) I managed to save $1,428 a year on everything. Plus I will get $150 in a rebate card. I get more TV channels too, even though all I really care about is BBC America, don’t judge me I’m a Doctor Who fanatic, I’m British remember? I grew up watching Doctor Who and I will never give it up, ever, not even for a jammy dodger. If you know what a jammy dodger is you are either a Brit too or a Whovian. Which ever you are, welcome. One tip I can offer you, call and speak to a representative. Don’t order from them right away, but take their number, then call another representative a few days later. Tell them what the other person said and then go back to that first person. I didn’t plan on doing this but it is how it worked out and we saved another $8.00 a month. Small potatoes I know but, and say this with me, every penny counts. $8 a month is almost $100 a year, it can be in your bank account or theirs, you choose.

I have also looked at a gift card saving site, called Raise.com (also not paid to review this site, honestly!). It is really a simple idea, if you know you are going to have an expenditure in say Lowe’s, go online and take a look at their offers. Today there is a Lowe’s gift card with a value of $74.84 for sale for $67.66. That’s 9.6% savings. Quantities are, of course, limited as are the stores they offer but most of the major chains seem to be represented, as of today – Starbucks 18% off, Target 5% off, Aaron Brothers 20%, Marshals 16% off. These are not coupons, they are gift cards so you can use them as cash in the store and with a coupon. You might even be able to pay off a balance on a store credit card with them. Most of them are in-store only, check if you want them for online purchases. There are no other fees for you to pay and no postage. I ordered a PepBoys card for my husband’s oil change, well his car’s oil change really, and everything went fine. No problems at all, the card arrived in a few days and you can see on the picture we paid $27.61 for a card worth $31.27. It just takes a bit of advance thinking. Keep looking for great deals and save up for the holidays. You can sell unused gift cards to them too, I haven’t done that so I don’t know how it works exactly but their website says you choose the amount you want for the card, mail it off when it sells and get paid once you confirm postage. They take 15% of the selling price. If you have unused gift cards you will never use, it’s better to get something for them than nothing.

 

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I must say that I am loving the money saving. It is getting a bit addictive, to be honest. I have found that I do have my deal breakers – iPhone, BBC America, heinz ketchup looking at you all here – but being mindful of what the cash is going on makes me appreciate those things even more.

As always, I am happy to answer any questions if I can, I love to hear from people! Makes me feel loved.

 

 

Finances Part Three – Still Saving Pennies

The next installment of saving cash or earning at home really focuses on a few reviews of what I call micro earning. You’re not going to pay the mortgage with any of these but as every penny counts, these small amounts add up over time to something worth having. I often save these up for certain times of the year, you’ll see what I mean as we go.

 

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Viggle is an app for smart phones where you can check in to T.V. programs and music you are listening to and earn points for every minute you’re checked in. For example that morning TV show, or Ellen or pretty much any program you watch you can get points for. You also get points for music you might be listening to. The app does have some bugs, sometimes it just wont ‘hear’ the T.V. show at all and you have to put it in manually. Once you have some points you can redeem them for gift cards (my preferred option) or discounts for some stores, even save them for ever for a cruise! Now, I am not much of a numbers person but I did a bit of math – and if you just check in to regular shows you have to be logged in for 50 hours to earn $1 on a gift card. This is an approximate number, some gift cards are more or less and I’m not good at dealing with numbers that run to 8 decimal places! But, there are ways to ‘super charge’ those check ins. Some programs are promoted by Viggle and you can get double or triple points, or if you watch say six out of eight episodes you could get 1,000 points in a ‘streak bonus’. There are ads to watch too for a few points here and there and games like MyGuy where you choose which basketball player (for example) is going to do something good next and compete with other live players who are logged into the game. Sort of like fantasy football I think? Yes OK I never really figured out MyGuy, not being into sports but if you are you might enjoy it. Like I said, you won’t be paying the mortgage with Viggle but I save up and either use it to get a redbox movie rental free every now and then or turn it into Christmas gift cards like iTunes, Best Buy or Barnes and Noble. I have had no problem redeeming the points.

Checkout 51 is a coupon rebate website, I wrote about it briefly last post but I have actually used it for a little while now. The new offers come out each Thursday on a smartphone app and include a bunch of stuff I never buy like Arizona Iced Tea for example, and then after you scan your receipt they credit you with (in this case) $0.25. Earn $20 and they promise to send you a check. I will be waiting a long time for my check I think, but if I can get $20 by Thanksgiving I’ll be happy. Each week they do have a few basics that most people buy, this week for example it was $0.50 off a gallon of milk, which I don’t buy, $0.50 off eggs which I always buy, and $0.25 of tomatoes which I also usually buy. So $0.75 for me this week. Most people would probably be $1.25 at least a week. $65 a year for scanning a receipt. There are also pretty cool recipes and a chance to win $500 if you upload a receipt over $60. The funny thing is I suspect they may use mTurk to deal with these receipts as I have on occasion transcribed receipts much like this! I might come across my own receipt and get paid twice! You can also use a regular coupon for the items in question. This would be great for serious couponers . . . couponeers?

Gigwalk – using a smart phone app you become a secret shopper and log in to assignments for shops/businesses near you. It’s pretty cool, the map shows you jobs that need doing, you select one and off you go and do what they want. For example, I have seen assignments that ask for a photograph of the inside of a restaurant, or asking a customer service rep a question. You then have to compile a short report/upload receipts etc and then get paid.  I have tried this twice over the last three years and both times I have found that there are no assignments in my area – I tried it the second time because I had moved and I thought there might be more. Thing is it’s just not worth driving 20 miles to earn $5.00. I never earned a penny from this.

 

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Influenster – this is a review website for people who like to rate things. It is pretty time consuming and there is no cash involved, just the vague promise that you might get some free products to review if you do enough and have enough social media contacts. You link up your facebook/linkedin/pinterest/blog accounts etc. and start reviewing products or services. I have so far given it a couple of hours and will keep up for a while to see if I get any free products to review. It’s quite fun as there are many badges to collect but unless I get something out of it, I won’t continue.

Slice The Pie is a music review website where you listen to songs and then review them. You listen for 90 seconds or longer and then give a thoughtful review. It is mostly new songs and you can choose the genres of music you like, but you still may get a thrash metal song and have to review that. This is great if you actually have an interest in music. I do so I quite enjoy reviewing these songs, some of them are terrible and some are fantastic. You will earn between $0.02 and, my highest so far, $0.12 per review. The longer or more articulate the review the more you get paid. Once you earn $10 they promise to mail you a check. I haven’t gotten that far yet but I will give it a serious go and see what happens.

So there are my five micro earning reviews. I have more to come but I need to actually do them first! CafePress update – still no sales!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments, I will do my best to help!

 

 

Finance Part Two – Saving Money

In my bid to seriously change up my life I have embarked on a series of small changes, hoping they will ultimately lead to a better life and lifestyle for me and my family. Micro changes. Several are ongoing but it is time to address our financial situation. I am a stay at home parent and see the value in that. My son has had some challenges in the past few years, he’s a talented, sensitive teenager and although he is very mature for his age in some ways (he just got himself his first job with no input from me at all) he still needs some supervision. So going back to work is out of the question for now.

I earn a small amount on mTurk and have amped that up somewhat but now it is time to address saving money. Frugality can be a dirty word in some circles I have found. Tightwad, skinflint, money grabbing, cheap, many of the words used are negative but I see saving money as being responsible, smart and creative. So below is a list of things I currently do or are thinking of doing to save some cash/wonga/ackers/benjamins etc. Feel free to comment on my list or add suggestions of your own, I will try almost anything. But first I need to check that the lights are turned off in the house. 

1. Cook at home. I already do this as I said in previous posts. I cook almost everything, I love the challenge of learning new ways to be creative with cheap ingredients. I actually prefer bean burgers to the meat kind and have realized that soup is my favorite part of any meal – or just a meal in itself.

2. Grow food in the back garden. This I also do, my cucumbers are my pride and joy! My results are erratic, can anyone say Tomato Hornworm? But producing food is the stuff of life and I love it.

3. Make cleaning products at home. I do make some cleaning products already, for example laundry detergent which saves a fair chunk of change, and I also tried my hand at liquid soap. Next up will be cleaning spray (I usually use 409) made with vinegar or lemon juice. 

4. Couponing. Now this is a thorny topic for me because I have tried couponing in the past and found it to be almost a complete waste of time. The trick, I have found is to only clip coupons for items you actually use. Thing is, most of those coupons are for things like scented candles or boxed food which I absolutely never use. So sorting the wheat from the chaff can be a total time suck. I stick to a few basics – I use the coupons I get mailed from the grocery store, they are targeted to what I use anyway, I go onto coupons.com and print any coupons that I actually want, you can print these out three times so I do that, then I wait for a sale and use them in conjunction with a store sale. I am also trying out a coupon rebate site called Checkout 51 where you upload your receipt and get rebates for certain products, again mostly products I just don’t use so we’ll see if it is worth it. I will usually go with a generic product too if I can, I have zero customer loyalty (unless it’s ketchup or cornflakes my family just won’t eat the cheap versions of them!).

5. Phones. Our family have three iphones. I know that is a bit excessive but I just won’t swap. My phone has saved my time, gas costs and my sanity. I love it and will not give it up, neither will my husband and although my son is not allowed his full time he will be getting it back when he starts his job. But our plan is expensive – we pay $205 a month for three lines. There might be a saving there somehow, needs some investigation.

6. We have two cars. One is paid for, one is still being paid off. My husband has checked out the credit union at work and they are offering car loans at 1.69% so he is going to refinance the rest of the loan. It was tempting to him, to extend the term of the loan and make the monthly payments even lower but after I pointed out that we would end up paying more he saw the light. We will save $24 a month on this. It’s not a lot but it’s $650 or so in total.

7. The trash company have smaller rolling trash carts which cost less per month. As I recycle most of our waste – compost and the recycle bin and we don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged foods, the smaller bin is plenty big enough for the three of us. Again, it’s only saving $4 a month but that’s $48 a year I don’t have to pay and I’m helping the environment.

8. I pay all my bills online. Can’t remember the last time I ordered a check book – oh wait yes I can it was when we moved house and we needed to update the address. I also buy very few stamps, only really for cards which I think are much nicer than e-cards.

9. We pay about $60 a month for internet and $80 a month for DirecTV. I could look at getting this cheaper. We survived before without cable TV and could do so again I suppose. There is a point at which frugality and quality of life collide though and this could be it! No Dance Moms? Sigh…

10. We switched our back lawn to a water wise garden and although we are having to water to establish it, we will be able to cut it down next year. Another way we save water is by putting a bucket in our shower, in the morning the bucket fills up with run off water and we either use it to water the plants in the garden or flush the toilet. If everyone did this, think how much water the state would save!

Okay, that’s 10 items with a couple for me to look into, anyone else got ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Below is a iPhone case I designed, the text reads :”In the future phones will play music, take photos and fit in your pocket” I should have also put, given you directions, played a movie and allowed you to read the entire world’s newspapers, but it was too long! Sometimes I feel very old.

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1970s dudes shooting the breeze.

 

Piggy Bank Cooking

So, in my efforts to save money I have coined a new phrase, well nothing is really new is it, but it’s new to me so that’s what counts. I call it Piggy Bank Cooking, because it saves us money to fatten up our piggy bank. Or we have to resort to using our piggy bank to have anything to eat. Either way works. Our local supermarket has a magical aisle, magical to someone like me who uses coupons, makes her own laundry detergent and would still be cutting her kid’s hair if she hadn’t been asked very nicely a few years ago to, “Get those clippery things awaaaaaay, aghhhhh!” as kid runs screaming from room with half a hair cut.

So, when I see a bargain I have to act. And I have been acting. The grocery store has an aisle, as I said, filled with the marked down items they want rid of. Bashed up boxes of cereal, odd brands of over priced pasta, six packs with only three bottles left, things like that. I don’t care what the box looks like so I’ll often pick up these offers and bring them home, gleefully to my pantry/garage. They have been accumulating somewhat and today seemed like a good day to get rid of some of them.

I should say that I cook everything (well almost) that my family eats. I cook breakfast for those who will eat it – mostly just me unless it is a weekend then everyone wants some! I make lunches for work and school and I make dinner every night. I also make all our bread, all our cookies/treats/ice cream/jam/pickles/mayo. OK, well mayo is kind of an issue because I love to make it fresh but as it only lasts a few days I only make it infrequently and the rest of the time I use the bought stuff. I cut myself some slack, I do plenty. I have the same philosophy with pasta, I love to make it and I make it fairly often but I am not making hand crafted pasta for my kid to have slathered in cheese sauce, the dried kind will be just fine for that. Now ravioli on the other hand… but I digress. 

So, being in a monumental hurry, as usual and having got my daily loaves rising I realized that the full tray of chocolate chunk cookies I had baked on Monday had all gone. Every one. I had eaten exactly two. As I always send my boys to work and school with a treat, I realized I had to make something but I have to head out to the school in about half an hour to pay the first installment of the mandatory fundraising my son needs to donate in order to do band this year. $700! I’m buying bashed up boxes of cereal, picking up pennies on the ground and working for about $4 an hour on mTurk and we have to pay $700?! Sigh…rant over. Rice Krispie treats it is, is there any cookie/bake/bar as quick to make in the world and as cheap as these little beauties? 

Two minutes later I had raided my pantry for marshmallows, rice krispies and found a mostly eaten box of cocoa puffs. I hate half eaten boxes of stuff. Like most Moms/Mums (I’m English remember so even though I insist on Mum I usually get called Mom) I have this recipe down. Six, one, one. Six cups of cereal, one small bag of marshmallows (minus the one or two I may have eaten between bag and saucepan while no one was looking) and one stick of butter. This time though I changed it up and made two of the cups of cereal cocoa puffs, I didn’t want them all huge so I zapped them in the food processor until they’d broken up some but not too powdery.

OK, so measure this, melt these and stir. It’s not much of a recipe but that’s why I like it.

One tip – when you come to mush it all down into the greased 8 x 8 inch pan? Use wet hands, otherwise you’ll get rice krispie strings and globs of cereal all over your hands/kitchen and possibly in your hair. That has absolutely never happened to me ever, at all, not even once. Yeah right. I once went out with rice krispie goo on my back, how that happened I do not know.

Let it cool, cut it up and the next time you look they will all be gone because school is out and, “What is there to eat? I am STARVING!”

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Oh and with all the ingredients ($0.59 for the marshmallows, $0.25 for the other cereal and $0.60 for the butter) this came to approx $1.44. I will cut them up into 12 pieces or so that comes to about $0.12 each. Way cheaper than buying them and I haven’t contributed to the trash crisis on the planet. Plus you can’t buy rice krispie treats with cocoa puffs, because they are Kelloggs and General Mills products respectively and they don’t talk anymore.  They’re sort of the Montagues and Capulets of the cereal world. Not bad for 15 minutes. Took me longer to type this post.

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CafePress Update

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Have you ever thought it might be you?

I’m still plodding on with the CafePress store. I try and work it into my day so I don’t spend all day doing it, but it is seriously addictive. I have spent hours at a time noodling away, it’s like a crack habit! I look up from my computer and realize it’s dark outside, my kid has gone to bed, the dogs are even in their beds and the husband has a pair of noise canceling head phones on while he is reading, to block out my tip tapping on the keyboard. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration but I have taken a break and realized that I am thirsty, hungry, need to go the the toilet etc. I am officially in the zone.
  • Time spent so far? Exorbitant!
  • Sales so far? Non-existant!
  • Fun had? Enormous!

I’ll keep on, keeping on.

 

 

Drought Tolerant Garden Update

A few weeks ago my family and I finished off our water wise back yard. It cost a lot of cash, both in terms of the plants/gravel/hospital bills after I realized I am nearer 50 than 40 and can no longer do the work of a 20 year old! It also took a big chunk of time too, which is free, but was totally worth it.

Being a keen gardener I especially enjoyed the planting aspect of the make over and I distinctly remember telling my husband who is a gardening novice, “Now, don’t panic but some of these plants might die on us, OK?” Well that time is here. We are in mourning for 6 out of our 8 woolly grevilleas, and one and a half sweet pea shrubs. I was very careful about buying only drought tolerant plants, we live in a desert after all but still I think I underestimated how often I would have to water to establish these plants. Hey, I’m from England, we have no shortage of rain our ground is soggy much of the year. But being philosophical about it helps. Learn and move on.

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Some of the sad looking plants I gave a hard prune and I can see some growth happening, others were christmas tree in January dry and got put in the green waste.

We have also had a near death experience:

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I caught this ceanothus just in time. I had read that they didn’t like to be watered, well they don’t but they have to get a good root system in place first. This was the only plant my husband planted himself and when all the leaves turned brown and started to fall off he thought he had killed it. In reality I think it was just super thirsty so I upped the frequency of watering from twice a week to three times a week and it breathed a sigh of relief and got to growing some new green leaves. It’s been a roller coaster of emotion for Alan!

Of course we have also had some wonderful successes:

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These salvias have been in bloom for about three weeks now and are growing well.

We have a six foot wall all around our garden and even so our neighbor dog, Molly likes to say hello to me every morning.

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This pic doesn’t really convey the full bounce of her jump!

In our food production area of the garden we have lots happening, here is my favorite this week:

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Meyer lemons, first time they have ever set fruit (in over 3 years!).

So the garden is looking lovely, and even with watering more to avoid the die off we are still using less water than we would trying to keep a lawn alive and we will soon be eating produce from the garden too. I love my garden!

Cafepress Store

My recent aim to increase the amount of cash that comes into our collective family money bucket (or teacup really in our case) has pushed me to try a new thing. I like new things. I have mulled over designing t-shirts for a while. I see myself as an ideas person primarily so I thought it would be time to actually take an idea and do something with it, hopefully it will result in a few dollars. So I sat down with a pen and pad and started to design a t-shirt. Then I realized that I have absolutely no talent at all for drawing, which was a bit of a surprise because I am a pretty creative person. But no, I can’t draw a straight line or a black cat in a coal mine at midnight. So, (business buzzword alert) I leveraged my resources and got my husband to draw it for me. He’s a graphic designer. He’s pictures I’m words. I had read a brief write up somewhere once for cafepress and have ordered products from them in the past but got serious and went and read up as much as I could. There wasn’t much actually and here are the distilled, cliff-notes version:

  • create a design
  • upload design to cafepress
  • choose what product to apply design to
  • watch the cash come rolling in

Nice, I thought. So, I got a few designs together via my design team/husband and got to work. There are two ways to sell on cafepress, the first is via a store front which is a template website you set up and have control over. It is free to set up a store if you choose the no up-front option, which I did because let’s face it people I pick up pennies on the street so I’m not likely to pay for anything unproven am I? The second is in their marketplace, which I’ll cover in another post because there is quite a lot to say about the marketplace. After you set up your account you have an option to create a new store. I then spent ages trying to get back to this page before I realized that up in the far right hand corner of the members page is an amorphous blob that is supposed to be a person. Click on this and the drop down menu has a shops option. This is the page you are looking for (sorry but it was just May 4th and the force is strong in me). Anyway, this page is where it’s all happening. This isn’t a tutorial so you’ll have to figure it all out on your own from here – or ask me a question, I’ll answer if I can. The store option is pretty cool though, you get to choose products to apply your designs to, apply them and then choose a mark up. I liked fantasizing how much money I could make. Would anyone pay $169.99 for a king sized duvet cover with my design on? It seems a lot to me, but I am cheap! Maybe it’s not high to others. The base price for that item on cafepress is $159.99 by the way so I would only actually be getting $10 of that $169.99, I’m not gouging or anything. Other items seemed more realistic to me and as I have ordered some of these items in the past I know that the quality and customer service is excellent. I uploaded a few designs and chose products, added write ups and generally noodled around for a day. It was fun. Now I have my own store my husband came up with the name Cursory Rhymes because we take nursery rhymes and monkey with them. I like the tag line “Messing with your childhood for financial gain.” he’s not so sure! Go have a look:   www.cafepress.com/CursoryRhymes. Of course I want some samples to show off, but until someone else buys something I’m going to resist. The next thing to do is get people to visit my store and hopefully buy stuff. Hmmmm. Marketing. Not my strong suit but I am reasonably smart, I’ll have a go. Here is my first design, I love it! Feel free to comment.

 

Money money money

I have been quiet for the last few weeks. Not in my life, just in my blog. I decided to have a bit of a break and focus on just doing stuff. Well, stuff has been done, a lot of stuff.

I decided that my next topic of focus would be financial. With a ton of medical bills arriving we need laser focus for the next few months. Laser, I say. As I am a stay at home parent – and will be for the next four years or so – I feel bad that I don’t bring any money into our lives. There are two ways of attacking this, first save money and them earn some! Simple, right? Right!

I already earn a bit of cash here and there on Amazon’s mTurk. But it can be an enormous time suck for relatively little. For those who don’t know, it is a portal where small jobs or parts of jobs (called hits) are listed for workers to complete. I have completed hits for one penny and hits for $20. I’ve been doing it for over a year now (but not consistently). I usually do this for a thing I want, then transfer the money to my bank account, then stop until I want another thing. It’s reliable and I’ve never had any trouble with it, but it can get incredibly dull and if you don’t choose your hits wisely the hourly wage can be pitiful. Mind you I earned enough to fix our roof so that made me very happy. And I didn’t even have to put office shoes on. I decided to give mTurking another
go being a bit more choosy about what hits I complete. As I can type faster than I can talk I decided to concentrate on transcription tasks and stop after a certain dollar amount each day. It’s a start and as I get a bit more practice in I expect to get faster. It can be interesting too, I have transcribed presentations on investing, blogging (very useful), interviews about football draft picks (less interesting to a UK native who has no clue at all what is going on on the field) and crafting. As I am a keen knitter and recovering crafter I have actually enjoyed these hits. I aim to earn $10 a day but usually get a bit carried away and do a bit more. So $20 a day is good for me, this usually takes me three hours or so. Yes, it’s less than minimum wage but it’s better than nothing. I’m that person who picks up pennies on the ground. Hey, that’s MONEY you are walking by people! Cash money!

To illustrate my point, I put all the money I find on the street and all those dimes that I find in the washing machine in a mason jar in my laundry area. I just needed to buy some laundry detergent ingredients (I make my own more about that another time) and I got it for free (well free to me). That makes me smile!

So for next week, more on earning some cash and more on saving it.

Ps I didn’t get paid or anything to review mTurk, although I probably could somehow! I just thought a real person’s experiences might be useful. I’m happy to answer questions if anyone has any, just leave a comment.

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