Treasure Box: A Week of Food for $30

image: Treasurebox.org

My friend Koni (Hi, Koni!) works for Treasure Box, a wonderful organization that decided to expand their services and offer boxes of quality food for a budget friendly amount of only $30. Treasure Box has partnered with faith-based and community-action organizations to offer food boxes that are nutritionally balanced and affordable. Each month they offer several types of boxes in addition to the standard monthly box of food which has 20-25 pounds of food.

In March, I ordered a Treasure Box to see what all was in it. I actually ordered it for my mother-in-law since CycleGuy’s brother came down to visit for a month or two and help out with a few things around MamaSan’s house. Ordering was easy and I received a confirmation email and a few days prior to pick up I received a reminder email.

On pick-up day, I drove to the location I had selected and the people couldn’t have been nicer. They checked off my name from the list and gave me a slip to hand to the volunteers who were giving out the boxes. They even brought it to my car! That was very nice of the gentleman.

How the Treasure Box is packed.

I came home and unpacked it, even though I could have done a few errands or such as the food was frozen and those few items that did not require freezing were being cooled from the frozen foods. Wow, what a haul! Everything they said would be in the box was in the box – chicken, beef patties (bacon & cheese), ground beef, sausage, soup, chili, tortillas, Stouffers Mac & Cheese, and so much more.

Contents of the March Treasure Box

It was fun taking it over to MamaSan’s house and sharing it with her and Uncle Coach. They even decided to share it with one of their neighbors they know has been having difficulties making ends meet.

Orders are placed online and there is a $1 processing fee, so your total would be $31. There are Host Sites throughout California and in Phoenix, Arizona.

The April Menu will include the following, and orders must be placed by April 11:

3lb – Whole Chicken                            2lb – Beef Patties
1.6lb – Chicken Thighs                        1.5lb – Beef Meatballs
1.5lb – Turkey Ham                              1lb – Smoked Sausage
2lb – Cheese Ravioli                              2lb – Chili
1.65lb – Chicken Egg Roll                   1lb – Frozen Fruit
1lb – Frozen Vegetables                       2lb – French Fries
6 – NutriGrain Bars                               1 – Dessert

To see if there is a Treasure Box location in your area, or to order yours go HERE.

Sara

Saving money doesn’t mean stiffing your real estate agent

Today I read an article on Yahoo! whereby Elisabeth Leamy, the Good Morning America consumer correspondent, is the expert being quoted about savings on big ticket items.  While I generally agree with her that it is best to try and save when you make those large purchases, I take exception to her suggestion regarding cutting real estate commissions.

I have a problem with Ms. Leamy’s suggestions regarding buyers negotiating with real estate professionals.  I agree with her that mortgage lenders/brokers often have ‘flexibility’ (my word, not hers) in some of the fees they charge.  I know this first hand having been involved in the real estate business for over 10 years.  I also know escrow companies are willing to discount their fees, in certain circumstances.

With regard to real estate professionals; however, there seems to be an assumption that they don’t do much.  In this day of the internet and online home searching it is very common for the public to think a real estate professional just shows up, opens the house, gets you to sign the papers and then walks away with a handsome check.  This is not how it works. With all the short sales and foreclosures there is a lot more work to be done.  (Note to Ms. Palmer who wrote the article: Realtor® is a trademarked term used only by those who are members of the National Association of Realtors. Not every person who sells real estate is a Realtor®)

Keep in mind, though, that the buyer does not normally pay the real estate commission.  Real estate commission is often paid by the seller, to the seller’s broker/agent who then splits it in some manner with the buyer’s broker/agent.  Negotiating with your agent, as a buyer, will not save you a dime if you’re not paying the commission.

I understand that Ms. Leamy was trying to make a point about saving large amounts of money in places that maybe you wouldn’t think.  Her point is taken.  However, if you’re not sure what the person is going to do for what you will be paying then ask what you’ll get for your money. You can’t just assume that because the final amount is followed by a few zeroes that it isn’t warranted or earned.  Most real estate professionals work very hard and if your house doesn’t sell they get nothing regardless of how much time or money they have already invested.

So, if you are going to negotiate your real estate sales fees, do so with knowledge and pay for the services you are getting.  In real estate, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you cut your agent’s commission you’ll be geting less services.  They may not want to tell you, but rest assured that you will get what you pay for.

I wish Ms. Leamy would have suggested seeking discounts for brokerage fees or other fees associated with the management of mutual fund, 529, IRA and 401-K accounts.  Like real estate professionals, they work on commission and often you as the consumer don’t really know what you’re getting for the fees you pay.  I wish she would have suggested shopping around for a mortgage before buying a house so you can get the best rate, which over the life of a 30-year mortgage would save tens of thousands of dollars.

Instead, I think she picked a group that while large and represented by a national association are often just sole practitioners trying to make ends meet.

So, now I’ll get off my soap box and put the horse back in the barn.  I hope my little rant did not offend anyone, especially Ms. Leamy. Nonetheless, if you’d like to share your thoughts please do.  Do you have suggestions on how to save on big ticket items?

Sara

Bubbe Says: Make your savings tangible

My grandmother dispenses wisdom, although now that she’s nearing 90 she often feels that what she offers might be out of date.  That’s a picture of her.  She was blowing bubbles with BabyGirl.  Isn’t she adorable?  Now that I’ve been blogging for a few months though, I’ve been asking my grandma (BabyGirl calls her Bubbe) more about how she’s lived so frugally but has so much and has been so many places.

She grew up at a time when there were no credit cards, personal loans were nearly non-existent and if you didn’t have the money in the bank you couldn’t buy it. So cash it was.

My grandma explained to me that being able to live the life you want is not as much about spending less, but more about actually saving the money you don’t spend. She’s always been a couponer, but I never knew that when she came home she would put aside cash in a special envelope equal to the amount she saved in coupons.

In one of our recent calls she shared the following – Five Ways To Make Savings Tangible:

1. Set aside the money you saved by using coupons.

2. If you go out to dinner with a friend, share a meal and set aside the money you would have spent on a full meal.

3. When you need to buy a gift, set a budget and if you can buy the item at a discount the money you saved should be put aside.

4. Send in for mail in rebates and when you get the check, deposit it in your saving account.

5. If you pay with cash and have coins, take out anything other than the quarters and put them in a jar until it is full then deposit it.

When you make an effort to save money, make sure you have something to show for it!

Sara

Rebate: Free Olay Quench Lotion

I posted this about a week ago, but wanted to bring it back, thanks to a reminder from my friend Janet, to make sure everyone has an opportunity to get in on this deal. Really, who doesn’t love FREE lotion?

Olay is sponsoring a promotion called Quench For Clunkers.  Kinda catchy, huh?  Olay is offering a FULL rebate on Olay Quench Lotion when purchased between March 19 and April 16, 2010.

Download your rebate form HERE for your full rebate on lotion purchases between March 19 – April 16, 2010 (excluding trial size).  Print the form, fill it out and mail the original form, original receipt with item and purchase price circled on it.  You do not need the original UPC, you will provide that information on the form.  All rebates must be postmarked by April 30, 2010.  (Valid in USA, but void in Maine)

Sara

FREE Lotion: Olay Quench Rebate

Olay is sponsoring a promotion called Quench For Clunkers.  Kinda catchy, huh?  Olay is offering a FULL rebate on Olay Quench Lotion when purchased between March 19 and April 16, 2010.

Download your rebate form HERE for your full rebate on lotion purchases between March 19 – April 16, 2010 (excluding trial size).  Print the form, fill it out and mail the original form, original receipt with item and purchase price circled on it.  You do not need the original UPC, you will provide that information on the form.  All rebates must be postmarked by April 30, 2010.  (Valid in USA, but void in Maine)

Sara

Buying Produce: Getting The Most For Your Money

What if I told you that you could get about 20% more produce for your money for just a few extra minutes of your time?  I know you’re already pressed for time when you’re at the grocery store.  I promise, though, that your time will be rewarded — and you’ll get a small workout for your arms.

Next time you reach for that 5-pound bag of potatoes or 10-pound bag of oranges, weigh it.  That’s right, head over to the scale and see how much it really weighs.  Regulations require that each bag of produce must weigh at least what it states.  However, natural produce isn’t perfectly sized.

Grab a few bags and weigh them.  Some of these bags can give you 10%, 20% or more worth of produce.  If your potatoes are $0.99 for a 5-lb bag and you can get 20% more, you’re stretching your dollar farther.  Same goes for any prepackaged fruits or veggies.  Doesn’t seem like much to save a few cents, but over time it adds up.

Any fruits or veggies that arrive at the grocer pre-packaged are fair game – carrots, celery, apples, onions, potatoes, lettuce.  Also, don’t forget those items sold by the unit either.  Last week, cantaloupe was $1 each at my local store.  I ended up with two large melons – both nearly 4 pounds – because I took a few extra minutes.  By weighing the melons I was able to buy 50% more for the same  price as if I had done a grab-n-go.

This tip also applies to other items sold by weight.  You can always take that bag of flour or sugar over to the produce section and double check that you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Getting more for your money.  Now that’s smart shopping!

Sometimes You Have To Spend Money To Save Money

Sometimes You Have To Spend Money To Save Money

Many years ago my grandfather shared this phrase with me.  And while I love my grandpa, I was a teenage and thought he was out of his mind.  It sounded like double speak.  How do you spend money to save money.  Even thought I was a teenager I knew about saving money and putting it in an account and getting interest, and because of the fact that I was a teenager I thought I was smarter than everyone else, grandpa included.  So I lived with my ignorance for quite some time, blissfully.

Then I got a car when I graduated from college.  My first ‘real’ grown up thing to take care of.  I lived in apartments so I didn’t have maintenance or repairs to deal with.  But with my car it needed some TLC.  But I still didn’t understand the spend money to save money concept.  I was still naive and, well, regardless of that college degree I had, ignorant.  Besides, it was a new car and didn’t need anything special.

Then I bought a house.  To be factually correct, CycleGuy and I got married and then we bought a house.  My grandpa had passed away but when I walked in to my very own house that day I heard those words – Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.  I started to understand what that meant.  I didn’t really get it, but I was starting to.

My house was an unfurnished shell, it felt like Gilligan’s Island — no phone, no lights, no fridge, no washer, no dryer, no this, no that and definitely no other thing!  So in to the appliance store CycleGuy and I walked.  We now had to spend money.  But where was the saving part?  This was long before the internet and the concept of comparison shopping meant driving around town trying to compare apples to oranges.  There was no comparison shopping website.  I was left to my own notebook and long hand of what all the bells and whistles were.

I slowly began to understand the concept of spending money to save money.  My grandma suggested we look at a certain brand of washer and dryer, she said they last a long time.  STICKER SHOCK!  These Maytag puppies were almost twice the price of the seemingly-off brand that sounded more like a 1980s sitcom family than a brand of sturdy appliances.  My first lesson in spending money to save money.  Grandma was very generous and helped us buy the Maytag washer and dryer, which, by the way, we still have 15 years later and they work perfectly .  Other than a $25 repair, they have definitely been worth the price paid.

But, that was then.  How does it still apply?  Well, let me tell you.  About 6 months ago I kept hearing water run and it seemed like the water softener was working over time.  Maybe I was just going insane?  I’ve been accused of being hyper vigilant (that’s nice for ‘crazy’) before, so maybe I’m just hearing water in my head.  Then the water bill came.  It seemed high, but I’ve been washing clothes and CycleGuy was working from home now and BabyGirl seemed to have an urgent need to bathe her Barbies much more frequently.  It was fine!

And the water bill arrived the next month and was a little high.  Or so I thought.  But I didn’t want to call the repair guy because I imagined it would cost over $200 and, well, I could use that money on my vacation.  And then I didn’t call the next month because I didn’t want to spend the money since we had other things that seemed to be more of a priority (dare I say, Wii?).  And another month came and went.  I didn’t want to spend the money and be told there wasn’t anything wrong (I’d already done that on something else and this time I wasn’t going to be foolish!).

But I kept hearing that darn water softener running.  Here I am, 6 months later and I still was rationalizing not spending the money.  At this rate I must have had the softest water west of the Mississippi!  So I broke down and called the softener repair guy.  Super quick service and $120 later my water softener stopping running 24/7.  Ahhhh, quiet!

I got my water bill yesterday.  In one month I lowered my water consumption by 70% and my total bill was about 30% less.  If only had sucked it up and called the repair guy when the problem started I would not have (1) wondered if I was crazy for hearing water run all the time, (2) wasted so much water, and (3) wasted money.  At least I didn’t wait a year, right?

It taught me a very valuable lesson.  The reason I have a maintenance fund is not to spend it on vacation or other things.  I have it for a reason.  I should have used it after I investigated and determined the softener didn’t seem like it was working right.  In addition to being fiscally imprudent, I also wasn’t being a very good conservationist.  I live in the desert (although with all the rain the past few days you’d never know), I should know better than to waste water.  If only I had heeded my grandpa’s advice – Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.  It will take me about 3.5 months to recoup the cost of the repair by having lowered my water bill.  I can deal with that!

Next time something comes up around the house, or really anything for that matter, ask yourself if you’re being fiscally responsible in the larger scheme of your budget by choosing not to spend the money at that time.  This is something that will be especially important to consider within the next few months as the new round of government rebates for household ‘clunkers’ is rolled out.  Don’t look solely at what is coming out of your pocket.  Instead, take a more global view and factor in the long-term savings and remember, Sometimes you have to spend money to save money!

Thank you, grandpa!  It’s taken me this long, but I finally got it.

Save On Your Allergy Medication: Get A Prescription

Zyrtec DPseudoephedrine

A few years ago, the rules for buying certain over the counter (OTC) allergy medications changed and it became more difficult to buy what you need.  First, we hated having to go to the doctor to get a prescription for basic allergy medication.  Then someone had a brilliant idea to just make it available over the counter.  No more having to go to the doctor for something so basic as allergy medication like Sudafed, Claritan-D, Zyrtec-D, even Triaminic or Tylenol products that have pseudoephedrine as the active ingredient.

But that all changed and instead of a quick trip to the store, you now have to go to a store that has a pharmacy, give your ID, and sign your life away.  And, you’re limited as to how much you can purchase so you have to figure out how you’re going to get enough medication for your entire family without the pharmacist thinking you’re trying to make drugs in your bathtub.

Rather than keep it to myself, my pharmacist friends heard about it all the time.  That was until one day, PharmaAmy told me to ask my doctor for a prescription.  She told me that I’d still have to pay out of pocket because insurance probably wouldn’t cover it even though it was a prescription.  I didn’t mind that.  What I minded was having to go to 4 different stores several times a month to get enough allergy medication for my family.

I asked my doctor for a prescription for Claritan-D and explained why.  At the pharmacy my prescription was filled for enough Claritan-D for the ENTIRE MONTH!  WooHoo!  I didn’t have to go back for weeks.  And, it had refills so I could order ahead and have my stuff waiting for me.

As you likely know if you take these OTC, but not really, medications the prices vary widely depending on where you shop.  I’ve put together the following tips to help you save money on your ‘quasi-OTC’ allergy medications.

1.  Get a prescription – OTC drugs that are still regulated and sold behind the counter can be purchased with a prescription.

2.  Shop at a warehouse club – Even if you are not a member of a warehouse club, all of them open their pharmacy to the general public.  You can not buy anything without a prescription, but these ‘quasi-OTC’ drugs for which you now have a prescription are available to you at their super low price.

3.  Prescription Transfer Bonuses – Many drug stores offer great incentives to transfer new prescriptions.  They also often put these ‘quasi-OTC’ allergy medications on sale.  Take advantage of the low sale price AND the Prescription Transfer Bonus.

4.  Use Coupons and Sales to Your Advanatge – There are rarely drugs that you purchase with a prescription that manufacturers give coupons.  The name brand versions of these  ‘quasi-OTC’ allergy medications often have manufacturer coupons which you can use even if you buy them with a prescription.  Also, if the name brand or store brand is on sale you can maximize your savings because you can buy in a larger quantity because you have a prescription.

5.  Stop Driving Around – You may shop multiple stores each week, but having to figure out where you can or can not purchase your ‘quasi-OTC’ allergy medications can waste time and money.  Now you can manage these on-line and have your medications waiting for you instead of you waiting for your medication.

Next time you talk to your doctor, ask about getting a prescription for your ‘quasi-OTC’ allergy medication.  Allergy season is right around the corner!

For other insights on frugal living, check out Madame Deals and Life As Mom!

Sara

Health Insurance: 5 Ways To Save When Buying Your Own

Over the past year we’ve all heard of the staggering number of Americans who have lost their health care coverage.  Some lost their insurance when their job was eliminated.  Others still have a job but their employer couldn’t afford to continue offering health insurance.  Many retirees lost benefits and still others have seen their premiums soar out of reach.  Millions of Americans are now left to sift through the convoluted language of health insurance policies to try and compare apples to apples to get the coverage they need at a price they can afford.  Even if you read the policy and the slick marketing materials provided, often it can cost you thousands of dollars in what turns out to be uncovered events because the policy language is like reading a foreign novel.

Taking control of your health care coverage is something I think is greatly needed.  Many are at the mercy of whatever someone in HR thinks is acceptable, regardless of what each individual employee really needs.  Sure, it’s impossible to tailor a plan to each person but many end up getting less because the costs of providing some services are too high.  In addition, healthy people are often over-charged because they are pooled with others in the company who have serious health problems.

Health insurance is regulated at the state level, and some states are more protective of their citizens than others.  There is no federal/national oversight and the insurance companies are often left to police themselves.  This has left us with the ongoing and very contentious debate about health care that has been in the news for the past several months.

What do you look for in choosing your health insurance policy?  First, you want to compare them side by side.  I came across this booklet that will allow you to do just that.  It is a PDF and you can download it directly to your computer.

Here are 5 Ways To Save When Buying Your Own Health Insurance:

1.  Shop around – as with many things, get quotes from different companies and use the worksheets from this booklet to compare the plans side by side.  If you belong to a professional organization (realtor, lawyer, actor) check with them to find out if there is an arrangement with an insurer to offer discounted plans to members.  Check with friends who own small businesses, as they might have a contact they feel offers a good product.  Call the company that handles your life insurance or investments to see if they offer health insurance.  Once you have chosen a few, check them out with your state insurance department to make sure they do not have open complaints.

2.  Purchase only the coverage you need – do not over insure yourself or your family.  It’s a waste of money and if you’ll never use the coverage they why pay for it?  For example, if there is no possibility you or someone you will be covering will become pregnant then do not have that coverage.  If you need to cover your entire family but one person has a medical condition that may have high premiums associated with it, consider getting separate policies.  No one said a husband and wife had to have the same policy.  And family coverage might not be the best price if one parent is ill but the other and children are not.  Your goal is to buy the most comprehensive policy at the lowest price.

3.  Deductible – know exactly what is covered in the deductible.  If drug costs and doctor co-pays do not apply, make sure you take this into consideration when evaluating the policy against the others.  If the policy covers more than one person, find out if the deductible is for everyone or if each person must meet that number.  This could mean thousands out of pocket if you are unsure.

Continue reading “Health Insurance: 5 Ways To Save When Buying Your Own”

5 Ways To Save On Bank Services

Banking

In our high-tech world, you just can’t get along without a bank account.  Sure, there are a few people who live in a cash only world but for the majority of us we need some type of checking or savings account.  Often these accounts come with hidden, and no-so-hidden fees.  It seems that there is a very high cost to the convenience of banking at a specific institution.

Most of us choose our financial institution for personal reasons.  It’s close to work, close to home, has a branch in the grocery store, has ATMs where we need them, and many others.  And we may be lulled into complacency after years of being a customer.  But times are changing!  We, as savvy consumers, are taking control of our finances and reclaiming every penny.

5 Ways To Save On Bank Services

1.  ATMs — use only ATMs that do not charge you a fee.  The price of convenience can be very high.  If you withdrawal $20 and pay the now typical $2 ‘convenience fee’ you are paying the equivalent of a 10% surcharge for the privilege of using your own money.  If you can’t get to a free ATM, consider stopping at the store to pick up a necessity and getting cash back.

2.  Check Printing — Banks and Credit Unions can charge upward of $25 for a box or two of plain checks.  By using a discount check printing company such as Walmart Checks, Current or VistaPrint you can save up to $20 per order!

3.  Overdraft Fees — The average overdraft costs consumers $30, just in fees from their own bank.  Add to this the fees from the merchant and you’re easily at $40 or more!  Per incident.  By linking your checking account to your savings account, you can often avoid having insufficient funds and thus overdrafting your account.  Some banks and credit unions will let you have an overdraft loan.  These loans are not the optimal solution but can save you from paying high overdraft fees in exchange for paying a small amount of interest on the loan.  The best way to avoid overdraft fees is to keep your account in balance and be honest with what you have in the account.

4.  Online Banking — More and more banks are charging its customers to complete face to face transactions.  Banking technology has evolved to provide a very safe environment in which on-line transactions are quick, seamless and save both time and money.   With online banking transactions and bill-payer services, you may never have to go into the bank again!  Check with your bank to verify their policy regarding on-line banking.  If they charge a fee you should shop around for a new financial institution.

5.  Monthly Maintenance Fees — It’s your money and you should not have to pay the bank to keep it.  If your financial institution charges you a monthly fee for the privilege of having your account with them, find out how you can get rid of that fee.  Often, the fee can be waived if you have your pay check signed up for direct deposit.  If you carry a significant balance or have multiple accounts in good standing you need to ask about waiving that monthly fee.  Stop paying for the privilege of having the bank hold your money!

By implementing these 5 simple ides you can see real savings in your pocket!  Don’t let banks charge you for services you don’t need.  Banks earn interest off the money you have them safeguarding.  Yes, they are a business and a for profit one at that.  But you are the consumer and you have a choice.  It’s your money, don’t give it away unless you make that choice!  Every little bit saved gets you one step closer to your ‘someday’!