The (Rare) Cleaning and Organizing Post

Since it’s already been a week since Labor Day and I’ve already shared with you the Labor-Less part of my Labor Day weekend, I thought I’d better prove to you that I made good on the “Labor” part of the holiday as well. Before, you know, it’s Halloween.

I was determined to get some things accomplished over the long weekend instead of doing my usual—saying I’m going to get some things accomplished and then cozying up to the DVR instead. So I started a painting project because I knew I would HAVE to finish. As a result, the boys’ bathroom finally got some fresh paint, as well as a new shower curtain and towels. I went with a light bluish gray color because I wanted to give it a peaceful, spa-like feel. And it didn’t turn out too bad.

Instead of buying a new soap dish and toothbrush holder (because the primary-colored fish themed holder I had didn’t quite look so good anymore), I shopped around in my house and found a dark gray dish I had picked up at a thrift shop to hold soap, and a vintage glass jar that was Husband’s grandma’s to hold toothbrushes.

When Boy #2 walked into the bathroom after I’d finished cleaning up, he said, “Whoa, this is too fancy for me to use!” Pretty sad what my kids constitute as being “fancy”! But perhaps the most embarrassing moment was when Boy #3 opened the lid of the toilet and said, “Look! The toilet is white! WOW! That’s so cool! Thanks, Mom!” And no, the 6-year-old wasn’t even being sarcastic.

So once I started organizing and redoing the bathroom, I got more motivated to tackle other rooms in the house. I managed to get our bedroom, and two of the boys’ bedrooms completely cleaned out. You’ll notice that I do not have any “before” photos to show you. That’s because I don’t think I really need to provide any evidence for DHS to use against me someday. Nor do I want Oprah to get ahold of it and drag me onto her show to do some kind of cleaning intervention. Just trust me. It wasn’t pretty.

But here’s the “after” result of our bedroom.

It’s amazing how much bigger the room feels when you can walk on the carpet without stepping on dirty clothes, clean clothes, Pokemon cards, books and a smuggled birthday cake.

I literally spent three hours untangling necklaces from my jewelry basket. My back was near-broken and I’m pretty sure I lost some of my eyesight, but I got all of those chains apart. (Thanks to the obsessive part of my personality.) Then I decided to find some other means of organizing my jewelry so I didn’t have to go through that torture again. So once again, I went shopping in my basement. And I love how this turned out!

This scale was Husband’s great-grandfather’s, which he used in his veterinarian clinic. We’ve had it for several years, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. Finally, I found the perfect use. I put my bracelets on one side, and my rings and earrings on the other.

I found another “treasure” I’d picked up at Goodwill at one time, a little brass stand that kind of looks like a mini umbrella stand, and I hung my necklaces on that.

I’m sure this will not win any design awards, but it totally fits my style, and I am excited about how it turned out.

If you can’t tell already, I have a thing for old crap vintage goodies. And I literally get chills up my spine when I figure out how to repurpose something I already have. Suitcases are one of my little addictions…

Aren’t they cute? They were just looking for a loving home!

I used this cute little dish I’d picked up at Goodwill to hold soap in our bathroom. It reminds me of a birds’ nest. It makes me happy when I’m washing my germy hands.

Whew. I feel better now. After always posting the horror stories (and photos) of my house, I’m glad to be able to show you that sometimes I actually try to make things look halfway nice (and clean).

Maybe someday we’ll actually be able to keep it this way for more than a few days…

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5 Easy Ways to Save Money

I’m all about saving money, but I’m also busy and somewhat disorganized (I know, shocker!). There are some bloggers who save some amazing cash, but some of the methods they use frankly sound like a full-time job to me, which is great if you have the time. Unfortunately, I don’t right now. So I wanted to put together a list of some ways you can save money without spending all your time doing it.

1. Use Ebates

If you haven’t signed up for Ebates yet, seriously, there’s no excuse. My sister tipped me off on this site after telling me about the checks she gets from them, just for shopping like she normally does online. I just got word of my first check that’s being sent out in the mail and decided you all need to be doing this if you’re not already.

There’s really nothing to it. Sign up for an account. Then next time you want to purchase something from any major store, like Target, Amazon, Lands End, Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, go to Ebates first. Then find that store there. You’ll see what the current cash-back percentage is. It could be anywhere from 1% to 26%, depending on what kind of promotion they’re running at the time. The click on the link for that store through the Ebates site and you’ll be directed to the store’s website, but you’ll automatically earn that cash-back from Ebates when you place an order. You have to do nothing else!

Check back often with Ebates because they have double cash-back bonuses and all kinds of other promotions, where you can really save some serious cash. I plan to use Ebates for my Christmas shopping this year. Can’t wait to get that check in the mail!

(By the way, just so I’m fully disclosing, Ebates also has a great referral program. So if you click on the Ebates links in my post here and sign up for an account, I’ll earn a bonus. Just so you know.)

2. Clip Coupons

If you don’t already clip coupons, don’t worry. Those who have gone before you have suffered the snickers and eye rolling and blazed the path to thriftiness before you. It’s no longer embarrassing, inconvenient or just for “poor people.” In fact, couponing has become somewhat chic I think. I mean, who can’t use an extra dollar or two in their pocket?

Easiest place to start? Your Sunday paper. There are usually two different inserts, Red Plum and Smart Source, which contain coupons from a variety of manufacturers for all kinds of products. Sometimes you’ll also get a bonus insert from Proctor & Gamble or another company that produces many different brands. Go through the coupons and clip the ones for products you normally buy or that you would be willing to buy at the right price.

Next, organize your coupons. You can pick up a plastic or fabric organizer at a dollar store or can find really cool ones on places like etsy. You can even just use different envelopes that you label and keep together with a rubberband. Just make it easy for you to find coupons as you go through the aisles of the grocery store or superstore. (And by the way, don’t forget to TAKE your coupons with you to the store! Just stick the organizer in your purse or car and you’ll always have them.)

When you are deciding whether or not to use a coupon, make sure to pay attention to the prices of the other brands if you’re not married to that particular brand. Just because you have a coupon doesn’t mean it’s the best price for you! You may find that another brand still has a better price, and you’re willing to buy that brand. The best time to use coupons is when the store has that product on sale. You can get some great deals that way! Make sure you check the store’s coupon policy to see how many coupons you can use for an item per transaction.

3. Subscribe to Money-Saving Blogs

I find out about tons of great deals through a few different blogs. I subscribe to them via email, so the deals just get sent to my inbox daily or sometimes more than once a day! They offer links to coupons and other great sales, as well as what I love—scoping out the deals at major stores like Target, WalMart and Walgreens, and linking coupons you can print out with their sale items to get you the VERY best deals. Yeah, sometimes things are even BETTER THAN FREE! These bloggers do all the legwork so you don’t have to, and I’m very appreciative!

Here are my favorites, although I’m sure there are more great ones that I don’t know about!

Deal Seeking Mom

Money-Saving Mom

A Frugal Friend

Coupon Mom

4. Subscribe to Vocalpoint

Vocalpoint is an online community where you can sample new products, take surveys, share your opinion on products and more. What I love is that you will receive samples of products along with amazing coupons in the mail. Many times the coupons will be for a FREE item, as well as several coupons for significant savings to use or share with friends. It’s easy, and I like it because I can share my opinion about what I liked or didn’t like if I want to. It’s worth it to me.

5. Sign Up for Newsletters of Brands You Love

Many times, brands or manufacturers will have their own websites and newsletters that you can subscribe to. This is an easy way to keep up with the latest, as well as receive promotions or coupons to use. Some I subscribe to are Kraft, Betty Crocker, SC Johnson and Pillsbury. If there’s a brand you use a lot, just find them online. There is likely a way to subscribe for coupons.

There are more ways you can save money, but these are 5 easy ways to get started. What about you? How do you save money?

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Cool money photo by J.D.R.

Thritifilicous Holiday Tips for a Crappy Economy

If you’re finding yourself short on cash this Holiday season, you’re not alone. I think most of us are feeling the pinch, and for me it’s actually leaving a bruise.

Why is it, by the way, that everything seems to break within a month of Christmas, right when you’re scrimping and saving to buy for all of the people on your list? Please tell me I’m not the only one. For me it’s been our kitchen table (thanks to Husband), my “good” pair of glasses, my back-up pair of glasses, and today—my winter coat. That one happened because I thought I should actually wash my coat for once, so I followed the directions, washed it on delicate, dried in with a tennis ball to redistribute the down . . . and now it’s somehow missing the zipper. So I guess for a while I’m going to be cold with blurred vision eating off a lopsided old craft table. *sigh*

Not done shopping? Yeah, me neither. Check out these thriftilicious tips for saving your pennies during the Holidays:

  • Print this coupon from Hallmark and save $5 on your purchase.
  • Download a whole album of Christmas songs from iTunes for free! Then burn them on a CD for your mom or Great-Aunt Glenda.
  • Check Ebates before you purchase anything online. You can earn cash-back from most major stores, and many specialty stores. Right now, Amazon.com doesn’t partner with Ebates, but Ebay does, and right now stores like Old Navy are offering a whopping 10% cash back bonus! And that’s actual money in your pocket.
  • Amazon.com has daily Gold Box deals year-round, but right now they’re offering additional “Lightning Deals” on many items for the Holidays. But you need to check back—and act—every day. I could barely sleep last night because I missed out on the Club Penguin Nintendo DS game for $9.99, and now it’s back up to $29!
  • Other stores with daily deals are Best Buy, Target, The Disney Store, The Discovery Store, L.L. Bean, Kid Surplus, and 6pm.com. Get great Deals of the Week at Crocs.com.
  • Want to order photo gifts? Register at PhotoWorks, SeeHere.com, Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery, Creative Memories Digital Center, and Snapfish. Make sure to include your email address so you can get sale alerts. The photo sites have been offering AMAZING deals the past few weeks (I paid $3.18 for 100 photo cards and got 2 photo books FREE.), so take advantage of them for gifts for moms, dads, or grandparents.
  • Subscribe to great money-saving blogs so you don’t miss out on any great deals. My must-haves include Deal Seeking Mom, Money Saving Mom, Housewife Hacks, and The Bargainist.

Hang in there, and don’t forget to keep in mind the true meaning of the season and enjoy yourself!

The First Snow Day of the Season

Ahh, snow dsnowdayays. It always happens—the first blizzard of the year and I dream in anticipation about being hunkered down in the house, fire crackling as we quietly lounge around in our pajamas, watching movies or catching up on our reading. Maybe playing a mean game of Scrabble while sipping some hot chocolate.

And then it happens . . . and I remember that my snow day dreams are never quite equivalent to my snow day reality.

Granted, we all are in some sort of pajama-mode attire, which for the two youngest boys means nothing but their underwear. The fire is crackling, or at least burning, since it’s a gas fireplace, but quiet and relaxing? Yeah, not quite.

Boys #2 and 3 have been upstairs most of the day playing Pokemon, and occasionally come down to tattle on each other (or Boy #1), whine that they’re hungry, or tell me that they need help wiping (that’s Boy #3).

Boy #1 and I havsnowday_videogamese been on the couch, me trying to work on the computer, and Boy #1 watching Husband play Call of Duty. There’s nothing that brings families together more than a good deathmatch. I’ve tried to remain calm and relaxed (It’s a snow day for heaven’s sake; that’s what you do on a snow day!), however it’s a bit difficult when I am constantly bombarded with either the sounds of Husband getting killed by a sniper (and expressing his anger “under his breath”), the smell of Boy #1’s gas, or the feel of Boy #1’s clammy feet on my skin (and then the sound of my own voice reminding Boy #1 again that I don’t enjoy people touching me with their feet). And then there are the annoying sounds Boy #1 continues to make. Honestly, I think it comes with puberty, the ability to produce the world’s most annoying noises in a baker’s dozen different varieties. I mean, I don’t enjoy the actual farting, so I’m not sure why he thinks I’ll enjoy the sound of faux farting.

I even made a hearty snow-day supper: Lasagna Soup, courtesy of Jody at Fab Food Friday. And after answering “Soon!” about a bazillion times as Boy #1 asked me when dinner was going to be ready, I finally dished it out. But as is the case most of the time, the boys were less than appreciative. Granted, Boy #1 had been suffering from “stomach issues” all day (hence the farting), so he said he liked it but it was too spicy. Boy #3 ate half a bowl of it until he saw what Boy #2 was having and insisted, “It’s not fair!” and demanded his own. And what was this culinary delight that Boy #2 was having? A bowl of store-brand Frosted Mini- Wheats. I give up.
(But it is delicious; take my word for it, not the boys’.)

The Dog has been suffering from cabin fever all day too, vacillating between passed out in front of the fireplace to running hot laps through the kitchen and family room. When I finally give in and take him outside, he tries to prance through the snow but can’t quite make it since he sinks clear to his belly. Yet he seems to forget that fact five minutes after we’ve been back inside and starts barking at me to take him out again.

And as I’m writing this I see that school is already canceled for tomorrow. . .

Wish me luck!

Your Black Friday Survival Guide

So, for my friends who have been living in their bomb shelters for a few months, as well as my agoraphobic peeps who do not have a television, computer, or daily newspaper, I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s Black Friday Week!

Oh, and Thanksgiving too. Right.

Retailers and consumers alike are salivating with anticipation of what Friday morning will bring. Are you braving the crowds in search of the best deal? If so, here are some tips to make your shopping more enjoyable (and hopefully injury-free)!

  • Start looking at Black Friday ads now. The site I like is blackfriday.info, which not only lists the items that will be on sale but also denotes whether or not it is a “doorbuster” item, as well as linking to ebay so you can see what that item is currently going for. That way you can tell how great of a deal it really is.
  • Make a list of all of the people you need to buy for, as well as any gift ideas you have for that person. Compare your list to the ads.
  • Next, see if there’s anything you really need that’s on sale. And here’s the key: Make a list. Otherwise you’ll find yourself standing in line for 45 minutes at the home improvement store to purchase a 140-piece socket set because you got caught up in the Black Friday fever. Been there, done that. In my case, a really ugly Dora the Explorer lamp and a fleece blanket that I needed “just in case I need another gift for someone.” Yeah, no clue where that blanket is now. Probably buried at the bottom of my closet with other “bargains” I’ve picked up here and there “just in case.” Not quite a bargain if you’re wasting your money on something that’s going to go unused!
  • If there is a big-ticket item you have been waiting to buy, be prepared to strategize. Go to the store right before it closes on Thanksgiving, or Wednesday if it’s not open on Thursday. See if you can find the item so you know where to go once you get inside the doors. Remember, though, that some stores put their big-ticket items in crazy places, such as a computer in the produce section. If the store is open 24 hours, like WalMart, go there sometime after midnight and see if you can tell where they are going to put the items. Do a little snooping around. Don’t worry; you won’t be the only one!
  • Prioritize and map out your shopping trip the night before. You can’t be in three stores at once, so decide which items are the most important to you, or which you think will likely sell out first. I personally save Target for later in the day. Since they only offer a 2-day sale instead of doorbusters, you’re likely to find that item later. I believe they receive shipments throughout the two days as well, so even if an item isn’t there, you may be able to find it on Saturday.
  • Wear steel-toed boots if you have them. You will get stepped on. This is especially true if you’re going for a big-ticket item. If you have steel-toed running shoes, even better.
  • Once you get inside the door, don’t grab a cart. It’s only going to slow you down and make you really irritated when you can’t get down aisles. Instead, carry reusable shopping bags with you and fill those up with your loot. Just don’t forget to pay!
  • If you don’t get a big-ticket item or the thought of fighting crowds makes you want to slowly poke out your eyeballs with a dull pencil, look online. You’ll likely find similar sales offered by competitors. Amazon.com usually has competitive prices on the hot items of the season.
  • And please, please, be nice. Remember the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not seeing how many old ladies you can take out on your way to the $5 pajamas. Christmas isn’t about stuff or spending money. If you need reminders throughout your shopping trip, write down some Bible verses on sticky notes and stick them inside your car, or listen to some inspirational Christmas music. Praying before you run into that first store can’t hurt either!
  • Need something to do with your kids while you shop? Check around your city to see if businesses are offering babysitting services or children’s programs. If you’re in Central Iowa, your kids can have fun at Pump It Up in Urbandale while you snag the bargains. They’re offering a fun program for kids from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. For $25, your child can jump on the awesome inflatables, play games, make crafts, and eat lunch! Each additional child in a family receives a $2 discount. Just think, when you get home worn out from a full morning of shopping, your kid will be worn out too from a full morning of jumping and running. Perfect! If you’re in the DSM area, drop the kiddos off at Pump It Up at 4069 121st Street in Urbandale. Questions? Call Pump It Up at (515)270-5017.

So what about you? Are you venturing out on Friday? Do you have any special traditions or survival tips?

Christmas image from lusi at Stock.xchng
Inflatables image courtesy of Pump It Up

Thrifticilious Thursday—Deals to Get You Ready for December

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is one week from today? And after that, we’ve got Black Friday and then the short slide into December…

Are you ready? No? Well, I know you’ll find this hard to believe but—neither am I. I have only a handful of gifts purchased, and I haven’t gotten my boys’ hair cut yet so we can even think about getting a photo taken for Christmas cards. And then there’s the writing, addressing, sending…

So here are some deals and events that can get you ready for December. Because it’s coming whether you’re ready or not!

Need a big gift for someone? Today only, Best Buy has the LG Blu-ray Disc Player with 1080p Output on sale for $129.99, a savings of $70! (Thanks to Bargainst for the heads up!)

Need a gift idea for me? Books. Lots and lots of books. Or a gift card from Borders.com would work too. And for a limited time if you purchase two $25 gift cards from Borders, you will get a $10 gift card FREE! Save it for yourself, or just give it to me. Along with the $25 gift cards. Thanks. Offer available online only. (Thanks to Coupon Cravings for alerting me to this great deal!)

What’s better than Christmas shopping sans kids? Hmmm… how about Christmas shopping sans kids while munching on free desserts and sipping wine? Yes, much better. Much, much better. If you live in the Des Moines or Minneapolis area, you can sign up to attend the Night Owl Shopping Event for Grownups this Saturday, Nov. 21 at Creative Kidstuff! It’s an after-hours event, so registration is required. Like mimosas and breakfast treats? Then sign up instead for the Early Bird Shopping Event on Saturday morning. Besides treats and drinks, there will also be special discounts and gift card drawings! Don’t live near a store? Shop online and get 25% off 1 item and free gift wrapping on all orders with discount code 25fcat!

I love Advent calendars, but we don’t have one for this year, and I’m pretty sure the budget won’t allow me to buy one. So I was thrilled to get an email from mibo today with a link to a free Advent calendar download! I printed their 2009 calendar, and I love the artwork! This Advent calendar will be perfect for our family this year, and I’ll even get to feel a little crafty when I put it together!

Just a few deals to get you on your way to December. I’m sure there will be many more I’ll want to share with you in the next month!

Thriftilicious Alert!

It’s obvious that retailers are pulling out all the stops to get us to spend money this Christmas season. However, if you’re planning on purchasing Christmas gifts anyway, all these promotions and marketing efforts could turn out to be really good for your wallet. Now are we not only looking to Black Friday for bargains, but Pre-Black Friday (and Early-Bird-Pre-Black Friday) deals as well.

Here are some deals I wanted to alert you about today:

Need photos printed? TODAY ONLY, purchase any item worth at least $5 at Snapfish and get 100 FREE 4×6 PRINTS! Seriously, this is a BIG deal. Order a photo ornament for grandparents for $10 or a photobook to give for even less. And then send those photos that have been sitting on your computer off to get printed as well, for free! Just order by midnight tonight, and use code FREE5 at checkout!

Now through Christmas Eve, get a $10 Gift Card when you spend $25 at L.L. Bean. I love L.L. Bean, especially for gifts. Their personalized bags make excellent gifts that are useful yet thoughtful. I also dream about having all 3 boys wearing matching L.L. Bean pajamas and slippers on Christmas morning. Hasn’t happened yet, but maybe this year…

VistaPrint is having a humongo sale now through Nov. 30. Although they’re always very reasonable for things like business cards and brochures, you can get tons of stuff right now for FREE. I’m not kidding. Calendars, T-Shirts, Window Decals, Small Flip Photo Books, Notebooks are more . . . all FREE. Whether you want to order a personalized gift for someone on your list or pick up some things for your blog or business, now’s the time to do it!

And I’ve got another post up at the Boogers and Burps Gift Guide for Boys. This post highlights Artsy Fartsy gifts for boys! So check it out, and leave me a comment telling me what you like or if you have other suggestions for this category!

That’s all for now. Happy bargaining!