Tipster Tuesday: FREE, $1.00 & $2.00 School and Home Office Supplies at Staples This Week

Go to Staples for some fantastic deals on school and home office supplies. Prices are good from 3/15-3/21. (Limit 2 per item- except as specified for Delta Elite pens. While supplies last. In store only.)

PENS, PENCILS, HIGHLIGHTERS AND CRAYONS
FREE AFTER EASY REBATE- Staples Delta Elite retractable ballpoint pens, black 2/pack (5.29-$2.30 instant savings -$2.99 Easy Rebate= FREE (Limit 1 rebate per customer)
$1.00 BIC Ultra Rround Stic Grip ballpoint pens, medium, black, 12/pack
$1.00 Pilot FriXion Ball gel pens, fine, assorted, 3/pack
$1.00 BIC Atlantis ballpoint pens, medium, assorted, 4/pack
$2.00 Staples gel stick pens, medium 12/pack
$1.00 Staples assorted mechanical pencils 12/pack
$1.00 Ticonderoga pencils 12/pack
$1.00 BIC Brite Liner assorted highlighters, 5/pack
$1.00 Crayola crayons standard, 24/pack

PAPER, PADS, PHOTO PAPER, INDEX CARDS, ENVELOPES
$1.00 HammerMill CopyPlus copy paper, 500 sheets/ream
$1.00 Staples Accel 4.25″x5.5″ fat book, 200 sheets (this is a spiral bound paper notebook)
$1.00 Writing pads, perforated, letter size, white, wide ruled, 3/pack
$1.00 AFTER EASY REBATE- Staples photo plus 4″x6″ paper 60/pack (this is paper for printing your digital photos on)
$2.00 Staples ruled index cards, 3″x5″, white, 500 pack
$1.00 Staples Pull & Seal #10 Envelopes, 25/pack
$1.00 ALL 12/pack Staples clasp envelopes

POST IT’S, TAPE, GLUE STICKS
$2.00 Post-it 1/2″ unprinted tape flags, 4/pack
$1.00 Scotch Magic tape dispenser, 3/4″ x 850″
$1.00 Staples glue sticks, 4/pack

3 HOLE PUNCH, SCISSORS, STAPLER, BINDER CLIPS
$1.00 Staples binder 3-hole punch
$2.00 Westcott 7″ soft-handle scissors
$2.00 Staples black full-strip stapler value pack
$1.00 Staples soft grip binder clips, medium, 12/pack

GET MONEY BACK WHEN YOU RECYCLE ANY INK AND TONER AT STAPLES
Get $3 back in Staples Rewards (per cartridge) when you recycle any ink and toner (limit 10 cartridges per customer per month). Visit StaplesRewards.com for full program details.

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Why Not Consider Wednesday: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending Part 2

Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending- Part 1 discussed using a spreadsheet to track your spending and to make projections about what you may spend in the months to come so you could have an idea of what your expenses might be for the year. 

In order to facilitate this process, we have put a link on the right hand side of this blog.  If you click on: Track Your Spending Spreadsheet 2009 you will be directed to a spreadsheet that has been uploaded as a google document so we can link to it here.  You can click on File, Export, .xls and the document will be saved on your computer as an excel spreadsheet. Once this has been done, you can start adding figures in the boxes and calculating your own spending.

Note: the areas highlighted in Grey, Yellow and Pink are formula driven.  If you enter something into these areas, it will destroy the formulas and the spreadsheet will not work properly.  We would recommend staying away from these areas completely.

I use a similar spreadsheet, not only to track my actual spending but also to track my projected spending.  Here is what I do to distinguish between those dollar amounts that I have actually spent from those that I anticipate I will be spending.  I highlight the ones still to be spent in red.  At the top right of the excel spreadsheet you will see a paint bucket. Make sure you are in the box you want to highlight.  Now, click on the arrow to the right of the paint bucket.  This will allow you to select the color you want to use.  Now, the box will become highlighted in the color you have selected.  When you want to remove the highlighting, for instance, when you have paid the bill and the figure ceases to be a projected one and becomes an actual one, make sure you are on the excel box you want to remove the highlighting from, click on the arrow to the right of the paint bucket and select no fill.  This will remove the highlighting. 

I like doing this, not only because I can see what I expect to pay for things going forward, but, it also helps me make sure I have not missed paying a bill.  If I get to the end of the month and I still have items in red, I know that those items have not yet been paid.

This spreadsheet has been separated into two broad sections.  Section 1 which has one Total includes items that we anticipate you would be paying for on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.   Section 2 has a Total Additional Costs for the year.  This section adds up items like insurance costs, doctor visits, clothing, one time costs (in other words, things that you don’t expect to pay every month but that you might have a bill for once a year or several times a year). 

At the bottom of the spreadsheet you will see a row entitled Total for the Year which has been highlighted in yellow.  This totals everything in the monthly categories so you can see how much you have spent in each of the categories at the end of each month. 

The very last row of the spreadsheet has an item entitled Grand Total for the Year which has been highlighted in pink.   This adds together the totals for section 1 and section 2 items in the spreadsheet to tell you how much you have spent for the entire year on all items.

There is a column at the end of the spreadsheet entitled Notes. I like entering notes into the spreadsheet to help me remember key purchases.  If after you have typed something in under notes you want to start a new idea (and put it on a new line) after you have finished typing the first note, hold down the Alt key while at the same time clicking on the Enter key.  This will take you to the next line so you can start typing something new.  Additionally, you can always make a short note in a box to the left or right of an item.  But this can get messy so be warned.

We hope this spreadsheet will be helpful and serve as a valuable resource.  Please note, nobody is perfect and although we tried to make sure that the formulas in this spreadsheet are 100% accurate, it is possible we made a mistake somewhere.  Additionally, it is possible that as you go along, you might change a formula by mistake.  So- we highly recommend doing some spot checks with a calculator at a minimum to make sure that the figures make sense, and/or just adding up months to make sure that the figures you have put in do indeed add up correctly- especially if you are relying heavily on this spreadsheet as a tool.

Now- you have the tools you need to succeed- so start tracking!

We have put a link to a partially filled out spreadsheet entitled SAMPLE under the Track Your Spending link.  I made up the figures in this spreadsheet and they don’t reflect reality.  The sample is really there just so you can see what the spreadsheet looks like when filled in.  You might want to take a look at the sample before you get started.

Why Not Consider Wednesday: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending

How I became a Recessionista Before the Recession Started.

Last January, I decided to create a spreadsheet to track how much money we spent. While my husband initially rolled his eyes at my project (especially when I asked him every day- how much money he spent in each of the categories I created) we both learned a lot about our spending habits by reviewing our totals at the end of the year. However, we didn’t have to wait until the end of the year to learn some valuable lessons about where our money was going. The numbers on the spreadsheet told us a lot

This year we decided to continue to track our spending again. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to consider tracking your spending too.

Tracking what you spend your money on allows you to:

1. See what you are spending your money on
2. Make projections about what you will owe and when it will come due
3. Reduce stress from not knowing how much you will owe and when it will come due
4. Stop making purchasing decisions based on impulses, but rather, make them based on what you truly value and appreciate

1. What Do You Spend Your Money On?
There are generally two categories that people spend money on: fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs include things like the rent, a mortgage or car payments. It is usually pretty easy to list these items and account for them. Variable costs are items that fluctuate depending on usage. These are items like utilities, groceries, dry cleaning, and one time costs. One time costs are things like an unexpected hospital stay or a broken hot water heater.

In order to determine what you are spending your money on, you need to create or find a spreadsheet you can use and then enter information into it daily, before you forget what you have spent your money on.

Additionally, you need to make sure you don’t just enter all your variable costs into a category labeled miscellaneous. Indeed, if you are going to go to track your spending, you want to be able to see exactly where all your money is going. To be sure, you will need to have a category labeled miscellaneous. However, the less you put into this category the better. Some of the items you might want to pull from the miscellaneous category include: Dry Cleaning, Gas, Commuting Costs (ie the Bus, Train etc), Groceries, Take Out, Drug Store Purchases, Kids Classes and Toys, Entertainment, Babysitting, Cleaning Service, Travel, Clothing/Shoes/Makeup/Hair, Charitable Donations, Gifts, Taxes.

2. Make Some Projections
After you have tracked your spending closely for at least one month, you can start to make projections about what you will owe and when it will come due. Granted, you might not have a high degree of accuracy using just one month’s figures, but at least you will be able to make an educated guess about how much you will spend for the year. Go ahead- fill in the spreadsheet for the upcoming months. Dry cleaning $x each month, utilities $y each month, taxes $z in April. Now make some adjustments to try to get things to be as accurate as possible. Do you use more energy in the winter when it is cold? Add a little something to the figures you have input for utilities for the months of December, January, February. Do you go to a lot of holiday parties in December- add a little something onto your dry cleaning bill for that month. Do you have reason to believe you will be paying more taxes this year? Go through this exercise for all your categories. Now add all the monthly totals to come up with a grand total for the year. Are you surprised by what you will spend for the year? Try playing around with the spreadsheet a bit. Reduce a few numbers here and there.

Ask yourself two questions. First, do you like what you see? Second, are you being realistic? If not- go back and fix things. When the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you have effectively created a budget for your household.

Perhaps when you have heard the term budget in the past it has conjured up negative feelings. Here is why it shouldn’t. Businesses have budgets and make projections about what they will earn and what they will spend. So, if it is acceptable for businesses to make decisions based on a budget, then why shouldn’t it be acceptable for you?

3. Tracking Spending Reduces Stress.
When you don’t know how much you owe and when it comes due, it creates a great deal of stress. Creating a budget allows you to figure out exactly what you can do to make sure that your expenses don’t add up to more than your income. However, if your expenses do add up to more than what you earn, having a budget allows you to see how long your savings will last. Moreover, having this type of budget allows you to show family members how certain purchases will affect your bottom line. Consequently, purchasing decisions can be based less on impulse and more on reason.

4. Tracking Spending Helps You Make More Informed Decisions About Purchases
When you are buying that tall skim no whip mocha at Starbucks every week are you really thinking about how much money you are spending in a year. Probably not. Assume you spend $10 on coffee every week at Starbucks. There are 52 weeks in a year. $10 times 52 equals $520. Now if you get a lot of pleasure out of that coffee, you may well determine that spending $520 on coffee is worth it. But maybe you won’t.

A lot of personal finance blogs will talk about budgeting and then get into a discussion of wants and needs. The problem is- human beings truly have very few needs. Food, shelter, something to cover our bodies with. So everything can then be thought of as a want and as unnecessary. This can leads one down a slippery slope where everything that is wanted should be denied and all money should be saved.  That’s just not practical.  Like the dieter who constantly denies themselves the piece of chocolate cake and then goes on a binge eating every sweet they can find, I worry the above practice can lead to a situation where the individual, tired of always saving every dime might just go out and binge on unnecessary purchases.  That’s why I think that getting that Starbucks coffee every now and then can actually be a good thing.    

To me, the issue really is more about what do you value and what can you afford. Some people want to save as much as possible for retirement, for their kids college, for an emergency fund etc. etc. etc. and other people are happy saving just a little less so they can experience different things that life has to offer. However, we all have very different ideas of what will make us happy and content. Additionally, we all have very different financial situations. Thus, just because someone values something very much, they may still not be able to buy it. 

Nevertheless, everyone can benefit from tracking their spending and creating a budget. So why not give it a try?

Why I Love CVS- Part 2

It’s nice to get a free item like toothpaste every once in a while, and that’s what made me fall in love with CVS initially. But my love for CVS has grown over the months. Basically, I have discovered that if I bundle items I need with items that are free after Extra Bucks, very cheap after a manufacturers coupon is applied to a sale price item, or even yield a profit after I apply a coupon to the sale item -I can really get great deals on items I need and use everyday.

How to Maximize Your Savings Using CVS Coupons for $X off a $X Purchase
I mentioned in Why I Love CVS- Part 1 that when I walk into a CVS, before I do anything else, I find the red machine that is used for checking prices, take out my CVS Extra Care Card and swipe the barcode past the machine. I do this, because I am looking to get a CVS coupon for a dollar amount off a dollar purchase. On the day of my most recent shopping trip at CVS (Feb 17), I received a $10 off a $50 purchase coupon.

Don’t Just Buy What You Need and Be Satisfied
The temptation is to walk around the store, get items that you need, using coupons that you have and think you are getting a good deal because you have a coupon. Resist this temptation. If you are patient and stockpile a few of the items you need by buying them when they are on sale or when you get these special coupons, you can cherry pick and get the best prices for items you really need.

Instead, Pad Your Bill With Items That Are Free or Nearly Free and You Will Pay Very Little For the Items You Really Want and Need
For example, on Feb 17th I needed to go to CVS to get an over the counter item for one of my children from the pharmacy. However I did not have a coupon and the price was not the sale price. I was just walking in off the street- so I was going to pay the highest price for this item. But I got a $10 off a $50 purchase coupon from the CVS machine so here is how I packaged my item to save myself some cash.

What I Bought on Feb 17th at CVS

Item

Price

Coupon

Extra Bucks Generated by the Item

1 Huggies Pull Ups Jumbo

       8.99

          2.00

                                  

1 Colgate Total Advance 4oz

       2.99

               

                             2.99

1 Colgate Total Advance 4oz

       2.99

               

                             2.99

1 Herbal Essence Shampoo 12oz

       2.99

 3.00 off 2

                             1.00

1 Herbal Essence Shampoo 12oz

       2.99

 

                             1.00

1 Herbal Essence Conditioner 12oz

       2.99

 3.00 off 2

                             1.00

1 Herbal Essence Conditioner 12oz

       2.99

 

                             1.00

1 Glade Fusion Phenom

       3.99

          3.99

  

1 CVS Acetaminophen 10ct

       1.99

          1.99

 

1 Fleet Plax GL .14oz

       6.89

 

 

1 EARinse Ear Cleansing Spray 1oz

       7.99

 

                             7.99

1 Extreme Energy 6 Hour 2pk 4oz

       4.99

 

                             4.99

Totals

     52.78

        13.98

                           22.96

I asked the cashier to tell me when I had reached the $50 mark. She did. The total was $52.78 plus tax. Here’s what I did next:

  1. I gave the cashier the $10 off $50 purchase coupon. Note- it is important that you always give such dollar off dollar purchase coupons first, because if you give all the manufacturers coupons you have, your total can dip below the dollar threshold necessary for you to use the coupon, and the cashier will not accept it.
  2. I gave the cashier my manufacturer’s coupons
  3. I gave the cashier Extra Bucks I had earned in a prior trip to CVS and not yet spent for $7.99

The grand total I owed was $20.95. I paid the amount and received my receipt. At the bottom were my Extra Bucks worth $22.96. Now- I have a sneaking suspicion that I could have done slightly better. I know I had coupons for the Colgate toothpaste somewhere that would have made those items an even better buy. Moreover, I didn’t do an internet search to see if there were any internet coupons I could use. But, I figured I did ok for the day. It would have taken me more time to find that stuff and even I recognize that there is a law of diminishing returns. So- all in all, this Rece$$ionista was happy.

But I Won’t Use Extreme Energy Shots or Ear Rinse Spray- What Do I Do With Them?
Instead of throwing them in the garbage, offer them to a friend or, better yet, save your items to donate to charity.

What If CVS Does Not Have Any More of the Item You Want?
Stay tuned for Why I Love CVS- Part 3 for a discussion that will include information like getting rain checks and substituting similar items for an item that is out of stock. *Notice in the above shopping trip I substituted the Gilette Fusion Phenom for the Gilette Fusion Gamer which was an Extra Bucks item for this week. The store chose to ring me up at a price of $3.99 and just not issue me any Extra Bucks in this instance.

Why I Love CVS- Part 1

What I Got at CVS

What I Got at CVS

Did you know you can get lots of free things at CVS? Things that you actually need and want to have and might otherwise pay for? My love for CVS began simply enough when I discovered that I could get Crest or Colgate toothpaste for free pretty much on a regular basis at CVS.

The CVS Extra Bucks Program- Lesson #1: free toothpaste
If you flip to the back of this week’s CVS circular, (week of Sun. Feb 15- Sat. Feb 21), you will see an offer for Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste 4oz on sale with card for $2.99 generating Extra Bucks rewards of $2.99. What does this mean exactly? Well, let’s say you are only purchasing one item- Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste (4oz). When the cashier swipes your red CVS loyalty card and then the item, it will ring up at $2.99. After you pay the total and get your receipt, you will notice at the bottom of your receipt an item with a barcode on it. It should say “Here are your Extra Bucks for having purchased Colgate Total Advanced Toothpaste: $2.99 Extra Bucks Expires __/__/2009.” So- what do you do with those Extra Bucks? Let’s buy more toothpaste.

The offer for the Colgate toothpaste was actually not just for one but for two items for the week (notice the “limit of 2 per household with card” which appears in the fine print). So- in a separate transaction (let’s call it purchase #2) you buy another Colgate Total Advanced Toothpaste (4oz) for $2.99, hand over the Extra Bucks you just received in the prior transaction (purchase #1) for $2.99 and any applicable taxes, and you are done. When the cashier hands you your receipt, you will have received Extra Bucks for $2.99. To summarize purchase #1 and purchase #2, you spent $2.99, received 2 Colgate toothpastes, and walked out of the store with $2.99 in Extra Bucks that can be used when you make your next purchase at CVS.

The basics of using Extra Bucks- some things you need to know.
• First, you need to get a CVS loyalty card (Extra Care Card) and give it to the cashier every time you shop at the store.
• Second, you have to use your Extra Bucks in their entirety or you lose them. What does this mean? Make sure that the sum of your purchases equals at least the amount of Extra Bucks you want to use- or be willing to forfeit the difference.
• Third, Extra Bucks have an expiration date. This means that if you forget about them and then discover them in your wallet after the expiration date, they will be worthless.
• Fourth, Extra Bucks can not be transferred. Thus, you can’t give them to a spouse or friend to use. They belong to the person with the loyalty card used.
• Fifth, if you lose your Extra Bucks, you are out of luck. So don’t lose them.
• Sixth, the offers are very specific. If you don’t buy the right item or size, you won’t get the deal offered.
• Seventh, sometimes CVS makes mistakes. Always check to see that the Extra Bucks you think you are entitled to have actually printed out. The time to do this is before you leave the store.
• Eighth, Extra Bucks can not be used for are prescription drugs and cigarettes. I am not aware of any other items- but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If in doubt, check with a cashier.

But my Extra Bucks didn’t print out- what happened?
You need to be very, very careful about the items you purchase. In the example referred to above, the offer is not just for any Colgate toothpaste, it is for Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste. This means, if you just picked up a tube of Colgate MaxFresh toothpaste you wouldn’t get the advertised deal. Also- if you got the right toothpaste, but the wrong size- for instance, you picked up a 6oz bottle and not a 4oz bottle, you would also not get the advertised deal. However, there have been times when my Extra Bucks have not printed out- and should have. In such cases, all I had to do was show the cashier the flyer, verify that I had the correct size and item and ask what happened. The problem was always resolved to my satisfaction. Of course, it helps if you bring any problems to the attention of the cashier before you leave the store.

The Extra Bucks Program- Lesson #2: maximizing savings by using manufacturer’s coupons.
In the above example with Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste, we didn’t use a coupon. Let’s say we have a coupon for $1.50 off any Colgate Total product (excluding trial size). In purchase #1, we would simply be told that we owed $1.49 (or $2.99-$1.50) instead of $2.99. However, we would still receive an Extra Bucks reward of $2.99. To summarize, in this scenario you would have done much better, because after purchases #1 and #2, you would have spent only $1.49, and received 2 Crest toothpastes and Extra Bucks for $2.99 to use on your next purchase at CVS.

Lesson #3: maximizing savings by using CVS coupons
Did you know that you can get CVS coupons every time you walk into a CVS store? When I walk into a CVS, before I do anything else, I find the red machine that is used for checking prices, take out my CVS Extra Care Loyalty card and swipe the barcode past the machine (some stores do not have these machines- sorry if yours is one of them). The coupons dispensed vary. Among the coupons I have seen are those for a dollar amount off a brand name item, those for a dollar amount off a CVS item, and those to redeem for a free item.

My favorite coupon, however, is for a dollar amount off a specific dollar purchase (for instance $3 off a $15 purchase). Today I swiped my card and got $10 off a $50 purchase. When I first started doing this I routinely got a coupon good for $3 off a $15 purchase or $3 off a $10 purchase, but now I seem to be getting coupons good for $10 off a $50 purchase. I got one of these coupons today and was able to walk out of the store spending only $20.95. However, I got Extra Bucks for $22.96. Basically, today I bought Huggies diapers, 2 shampoos, 2 conditioners, acetaminophen, 2 toothpastes, a razor, some over the counter medicine, and some other items and made a profit of $2.01. Interested in knowing how I did it? Stay tuned. . .

Menu Plan for the Week of Feb 16

menu
This week my grocery purchases ended up being pretty much fruit, veggies, eggs & milk, and boxes of cereal (ok and some mac n cheese for the kids and raviolis on clearance). It used to be so much easier planning meals and then buying ingredients. It is much harder planning meals around what I have in the house.

DINNERS

Shepherds pie but I will substitute the lamb for beef, the frozen peas for string beans, and add some cheddar cheese to the potato. This recipe feeds my family 2 dinners and maybe lunch for 1.

Mushroom stew with creamy polenta I make creamy polenta instead, omit the goat cheese, and add a little red wine when I cook the mushrooms

Pesto pasta with chicken (New Hoboken Farm at 3rd and Washington always has such nice cheap fresh basil)

Burritos (my husband is an expert at finishing off leftovers this way – it will probably involve rice, beans, and spinach in addition to whatever leftovers we may have)

Spinach & cheese quiche with celery/apple/pecan salad

Potato/leek soup, beet salad, and cheese sandwiches

Hot dogs, mac n cheese, corn

LUNCHES

Most of the dinners should have enough leftovers for at least 1 lunch
Otherwise, ravioli and ham sandwiches are on the menu

BREAKFAST

Cereal
Eggs
Cinnamon toast (amazing what a bit of butter and cinnamon/sugar can do to your breakfast toast)
Pumpkin pancakes (I discovered a leftover can of pumpkin from Thanksgiving)

Bon appetit!