Sunday, November 29, 2009

Things I got for free in November!

I have become the coupon Queen and have been seeking out and taking advantage of any free things that I come upon...

1. I babysat for my friend Juliet's kids and she graciously made me dinner, brought me a bagel and juice the next morning at work, and brought me homemade lunch another day. So, three meals for a few hours of hanging out with her supercute and fun kids.
2. A pair of underwear from Victoria's Secret-I don't know how I got on their coupon mailing list, but it's the best thing I ever did.
3. A steak dinner and two blueberry martinis from Outback Steakhouse from my yearbook rep. Being the yearbook adviser has it's perks. (Okay, that might be the only one. But it was a good one!)
4. A venti caramel apple cider from Starbucks (leftover from the birthday coupon stash.) If you register your Starbucks card online they mail you a free drink coupon on your birthday.
5. Free meal at Wahoo's-there was a coupon for their birthday celebration. Yum!
6. Read Nick Hornby's newest book sitting in Borders over a few afternoons. They wouldn't fill the place with comfy chairs if they didn't want me to sit and read!
7. Went to see Fame at the new Gold Class Cinemas in Pasadena. They needed to "practice" before the real opening, so I got to see a free movie, sit in an amazing recliner, enjoyed a free "pressed Cuban sandwich" and a free diet coke. Awesome.
8. Brave New World, for book club. I used my Amazon Mechanical Turk money to get it. :)

So there you go...I also started subscribing to The Freebie Blogger website and will be expecting some freebies my mail in the weeks to  come. Anyone else have an freebies to share?

Friday, November 27, 2009


This morning I checked my email to see's Black Friday ad. My first mistake was clicking on the DVD link. There are some awesome deals! I mean, really, if I were in the market for those DVDs or needed them as gifts, this would be an entirely different post. But, there is a ban on shopping until the credit cards are paid off, and I've already planned what to get my family for Christmas. So, the following mental argument was taking place....

Bad, Irresponsible, Self: "Wow! The Office Season 4 is only $12.99! That's a great deal. I should get it."
Logical, Wise, Self: "No. You don't need to spend the money. Plus, there would still be shipping to pay."
BIS: "Not if I spend $25, then shipping is free!"
LWS: "See? You are just going to spend even more. You don't have the Mechanical Turk money or the Swagbucks for it yet. Don't buy it."
BIS : "But I'm saving money if I buy it today."
LWS: "No, you are still spending $12.99. Stop it."

Luckily, Logical Self won. But I pretty much repeated the same argument for a bunch of other movies and TV shows until I really wised up and closed the window on my browser. I think that's  a trap I really used to fall into, "I'm saving money by buying this!" No, you are still spending money. The only way you are saving is if it was something you needed and it's on sale.

I miss shopping, by the way. If you can't tell. :/

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No Drive Days

I am working on having more and more No Drive Days. It's pretty much what it sounds like-days where I don't drive my car. I am in a carpool for work with two other people, so I can avoid driving to work a decent amount. (Of course, being teachers, we aren't always ready to leave at the same time and are on different committees; but the carpooling certainly helps). My goal for 2010 is to have 100 days where I don't drive my car at all. I know there are cities where this would be common; but I'm a Californian. We really like to drive.

Today I had a no-drive day. I hung around the house most of the day, to be honest. But, this evening I decided to walk to Ralphs to buy the ingredients for my green bean casserole that I am preparing for Thanksgiving. I bundled up, loaded This American Life onto my ipod, and walked to the store.

The result-I listened to a great podcast, got a little exercise, didn't buy more than I needed at the store (didn't want to carry it!), helped the environment, and saved some cash by walking instead of driving. Well worth it!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shopping and lunch for free?


1. Print this coupon for The Limited. If you can find something not marked down and not jewelry for less than $15, it will be free. I am off to see if this feat is possible.

2. Wahoo's is celebrating their birthday TODAY ONLY. Go to their website, click the banner at the top of the page, and print your coupon for a free number 1 combo with side salad.

You're welcome.

Swag Bucks???

I am Swag Bucks' newest fan! Sign up is easy and you earn bucks by doing searches. The bucks can be redeemed for items or gift cards. I plan on combining my Swag Bucks with my Amazon Mechanical Turk earnings to buy the newest season of Big Love when it comes out (or I guess I should say when I have earned enough). Definitely easier than Mechanical Turk and seems less gimicky. Click the box below to join...I get bucks when you join if that's any incentive. :)

Search & Win

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...

I figured out how to make tracking bars thanks to Girl Makes Cents...but now it has really set in how much credit card debt I have...and that you will all know about it. Strangers, friends,'s out there. And it's embarassing, honestly. I could give the some reasons and extenuating circumstances...but if I were being honest I'd also have to admit to some Starbucks runs and unnecessary clothes purchases. I had pondered creating an anonymous finance blog to avoid this embarassment, but I thought about it and I think there is some value in admitting the truth. So many people I know are in credit card debt...but it's totally taboo to admit it and to admit the amount.

My name is Jessica and I am in just over $5,000 of credit card debt.

But, I am determined to get out of it. The last two months have been productive in getting on the right track and paying down my debts. And, if nothing else myabe my people will realize why I am saying no to going out to dinner, to getting drinks, and why I haven't clothes shopped since August (clothes shopping is banished until all my credit card debt is banished).

So, there it is. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Blog...

Hello Blog Readers...

This is my Brand New Blog! I decided to make a separate blog dedicated to personal finance, since I know some of my friends probably have very little interest in reading about my money, while other readers are only interested in reading about finance and not my personal musings.


The goal of this blog is to motivate myself and others to live more frugally. I have really enjoyed and been inspired by reading other people's personal finance blogs, and I am hoping to be part of the PF blogging community. Also, the accountability of putting it all out there on the internet is appealing as well.

For now, I just posted some of the finance posts from my other blog, but I plan to update often, especially when I start "No Spend January."



All About the Benjamins

A few weeks ago I made a new life goal for myself: I want to get control of my finances. The goal is threefold:
1. Pay off credit card debt and stop having it in the future. If I want something, I need to save for it.
2. Talk to a financial manager about saving for retirement. LAUSD automatically deducts for STRS, but I want to start putting away some extra amount now.
3. I want to save enough money for a down payment on a property of some sort (ideally a small house in LBC, but more realistically at least a condo.)

So, I have been brainstorming ways to save money in small ways. I am a big fan of a little bit going a long way. And now I would like to share my ideas with you, blog readers, in the hope that you will share your ideas with me. I have divided them into categories (because I am a huge nerd).


1. Use the library. Which is totally obvious, I know, but I never used to do it. I recently decided to start a book club and rather than buy the book I went online to see which of Long Beach's libraries have it and went and picked it up. The only catch is returning the book on time so I don't have to pay late fees.

2. Strike up a DVD Deal. I am a HUGE fan of TV shows on DVD. But, it gets pricey to buy all the shows I like. Luckily, some friends and I have reached an unspoken understanding. I buy Weeds, Dexter, and Big Love (when it goes on sale. Damn HBO shows!). Becca and Justin buy How I Met Your Mother and Big Band Theory. Shelley buys The Tudors. We didn't sit down and discuss a plan, but it's nice that we share the wealth in this way. Also, I am going to rent Mad Men when I find the time, rather than buy it. And I save every month by not having cable. :)

3. Happy Hour at Home. Felisa started this one, but it's genius. Even with drink specials, happy hour can add up (especially when you go to Yard House). Last week, Greg hosted at his place. I brought a six pack and a bag of chips, spending $11. We hung out for a few hours and I can guarantee you that had I gone to Yard House I would have spent two to three times that amount. And, no waiting for a table or your next's all right there.

4. Drink Water. Okay, this one I just tried for the first time on Saturday, but I have high hopes for it. When you go out to a bar, make the first drink you order a glass of water. This not only has the benefit of keeping you hydrated, but if you drink it while you socialize that's one less drink you will buy that night, saving you some cash. I say do it first, because later in the night your judgment might not be as clear, and planning to only have two or three drinks gets trickier. But if you start slow you are less likely to drink as much (which is good for your health and your wallet.)

Beauty Products

5. Take advantage of Gift With Purchase. Every six months (in October and April) Clinique does their bonus time. I wait to buy my usual products (eyebrow pencil is the staple. The others I mix up.) until it is gift time. That way, I get a free mini mascara (I haven't bought mascara in a few years now.) It's about a six month supply, which is perfect because that's how long you are supposed to keep it anyway. And there are always other goodies that I use and a few that I give away to friends who enjoy them as well. You also always get at least one cosmetics bag, which I use to store toiletries when I travel.

6. Which leads me to storing travel-sized items. You know how when you go on a trip you always visit the mini-sized aisle in Target and stock up? I realized that for most of my trips I don't use the whole amount. So, I have a stash in my cupboard of travel sized items. Now, when I go on a weekend trip I don't waste money buying more toothpaste or shower wash, I dig into my stash. It's also great for emergencies when you realize you are out of shampoo or conditioner.

7. Talk to your stylist. Recently I asked Ashley, my fabulous hair dresser, how I could make my visits to the salon a little less expensive. She worked some magic (only dying certain parts of my hair every other visit. I don't really remember the details now, but I can't tell the difference when I look in the mirror). Essentially, I am saving an average of $10 per visit. Score!

8. Make a no professional pedicures allowed rule. This one is difficult. I love getting my toes done. They last longer than when I do it myself and look better. BUT, doing them at home is essentially free, since I have a decent stockpile of nail polish and files, and I can touch up chipped polish without having to do them all over, since I own the colors. This one has to be a RULE, because otherwise I'd totally break it.

9. Order styling products on ebay. I got hooked on the fancy-pants styling products for my hair over the past few years, but I have a hard time justifying my twenty dollar bottle of shampoo. The solution: Ebay! I can find my shampoo and conditioner, blow-drying lotion, leave-in conditioner, and hairspray on Ebay for a good deal less than the salon price. It's not as cheap as drug store brands, but frankly, I can tell the difference in my hair, and these few luxuries make me happy. And I'm not getting pedicures anymore, so leave me alone.

Do It Yourself

10. Recycle for money. I know it's lovely that the city gives you bins to throw your recycling in, but I just started saving bottles and plastic containers for cash recycling. Cal State Long Beach runs a community recycling spot where you can take your items and they pay you cash for them. You pay the CRV on all of those items anyway, so you might as well get it back. Also, since my roommate throws her stuff in with mine that's essentially free money.

11. Make birthday cards. This is my new goal because cards are a freaking rip-off. Every time I make a card I am saving between two and four dollars. I am making three cards in the next month, and am thus saving up to $12 this month alone. And I think it's fun to make your own, even though I am far from a craft queen. At least my mom will like it.

12. Grocery Shop. I loathe going to the store. But, if I don't I end up eating out because I have no food in my house. So, I have made going to the grocery store each weekend part of my routine. I have to be careful to balance going with stuff that I have to prepare so that it's cheaper and going with pre-made stuff because I am lazy as hell. But, I am making it a concerted effort to eat at home unless it is a group eating out activity.


13. Ask a teacher friend if they get magazine discounts. Every year my school sells magazines and teachers get 40% off. I not only get my beloved Entertainment Weekly for less than $15 bucks a year, but I hook several of my friends up too, getting them a good deal. Ask around.

14. Keep a regift bag. I know, I know. It's tacky. But, I keep a bag in my closet of items that I can use as gifts. Most of them end up being stocking stuffers-small items. But recently I got a free bag of stuff when I spent money at a store I like. It came with a pair of fun socks by Burton. I threw them in the gift bag and they will go in someone's stocking for Christmas. Candles that my students give me go in there. Extra stuff from Clinique gift. Things like that. I don't try to pass it off as purchased goods, but it's a nice go-to when you need a gift or want to thank someone for something.

15. Gym membership. You can buy a two-year membership to 24 Hour Fitness for $300 at Costco. As soon as the credit card debt is paid off, I am doing that and saving my $30 per month instead.

16. Tell your friends. Which is most of the reason I wrote this blog. If my friends know that I am saving and trying to spend less, they will get it when I decide not to go to dinner or cut back on shopping trips or whatever. And you can all come to my housewarming party in three years. Look forward to it.

So, if anyone is actually still reading, I want your ideas on how to save money! No idea is too small, I'm just tired of reading the same ideas on the internet. What's worked for you???

Two More Ways to Save...

Get on Victoria's Secret's mailing list. They send out coupons for free underwear every month or so. (They call them panties, but can we all agree that we never need to use that word again?) No other purchase necessary, just walk in, pick out a pair of cotton underwear, have them ring it up and it's free.

And Polly's idea (see her comments on my last blog) of making a spam account just for restaurant Eclubs is great too. I signed up with all my favorite restaurants and have coupons for 10% off, free appetizers, and promises of free stuff for my birthday, which is coming up. Score! I think I am going to print them out and keep them in my purse so I am ready when people decide they want to go out.

99 Cents Store Review

This morning I visited what I thought to be the "final frontier" of my desire to make discount shopping a part of my life: The 99 Cents Store.

Now, I am no stranger to bargain stores. I grew up frequenting Pic N' Save (before they changed it to the more appealing Big Lots. Good call-no one wants to think of picking their nose while they are shopping.) I am no stranger to The Dollar Tree for teacher supplies, and I used to go the 99 Cents Store semi-regularly for prizes for my students and the like, but today I when I ventured into the 99 Cents Store in Gardena, I had a different mission in mind: grocery shopping.

I was skeptical at first friend Jessica had been talking about shopping there for weeks, and I made fun of her at first. But, I did some online research and heard about people getting wine and organic produce there, so I thought I'd give it a go. Jessica recommended the one in Gardena, so we went this morning. My goal was to see what items that I wold normally buy I could get for 99 cents and to see if I could gather all the ingredients I needed to make taco soup from my friend Keri's delicious recipe.

First of all, the store is jam-packed! No shelf or wall space goes unused and it was a bit overwhelming when we walked in. But, I have to say overall I was impressed. I think it's improved since I went there as a kid. Here are some of my most impressive less than a dollar bargains:

*1 Dozen eggs
*4 pomegranates 
*6 tomatoes (organic)
*pack of flour tortillas
*80 pack of cotton pads (the kind you use to take off eye makeup. This may not seem that amazing, but I spend at least twice that at Target).
*hands free cell phone device (mine broke and I need to stop putting everyone on speaker phone in the car.)
*3 pack of jumbo Dodger pens. YES!

And, I was able to get all the ingredients for my soup, except for the meat and the green chiles. Other highlights of the trip included Jessica sneezing on her arm and showing it to me. Luckily I was planning on buying tissues anyway, so we opened them and used one before we paid. She did the same thing with a bag of Sun Chips (opened them before paying, not sneezed on them).

They also had am impressive selection of spices, candy, and cookware. If I were a fan of hot dogs and white bread I also could have been all set. I saw some wine, but it was a rose, so I think I will wait until I see a white I'm willing to try.

Overall I would say that the trip was a success. I spent $37, and while I didn't get everything I normally would at the grocery store, I would say I won't spend more than another $15 at Trader Joe's tomorrow. I came home and made a quesadilla for lunch and if I were better at math I could tell you how much it cost me. I am going to guess no more than a quarter. And my soup, which I plan to make tomorrow and freeze in serving sized portions, will be at least eight meals at I would guess about a dollar each.

While the 99 Cents Store won't replace my regular grocery store, I definitely plan to make it a stop on my grocery shopping route. 

Amazon Mechanical Turk

I know Amazon Mechanical Turk is sort of gimmicky and sometimes shady. I know that the rates can make working in a sweat shop seem lucrative. But I transfered my $6.95 over to an gift card and bought my next book club book used for a total of $4.00, which means I have $2.95 to spare.


Need I say more? I'm addicted!

(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, google it. I've been completing HITs while I watch TV and my goal is to build up funds consistently so that I can shop for books and DVDs without spending any money. Tedious? Yes. Right now, totally worth it? Yes.) Also, google the origin of mechanical turk for another interesting story.

No Spend November

I have been seeking out blogs about saving money recently, for a few reasons. One, to get ideas of how I can save or bring in extra money. Two, it's nice to be able to relate to other people who are working on changing lifestyle habits and working their way out of debt in an anonymous format.

Today, I stumbled across a blog about No Spend November. This guy makes a rule that he can't spend any money except on things like rent, credit card bills, utilities, etc. No groceries, and for him, no gas. The trick is that any money extra made during that month CAN be spent. Spare change, selling things on Craiglist, calling out people who owe you money, rebates, etc.

Check out his blog. You can click on each day of the calendar to see his daily update. I really like this idea and I am planning on doing No Spend January, which lacks the alliteration, but gets me through the holidays. I am planning on doing a daily update on my blog for that month. Anyone else in? I'd love to see how much we can all save and how much we could really earn if we got creative and sold stuff around the house, took in recycling for cash, and collected the spare change.