We’re less than a week away from Valentine’s Day, and whether you’re thinking about a gift for your significant other or just shopping for candy to take to your child’s classroom, it’s likely that many of you will be doing some shopping for gifts this week.
1. Make a Gift:
When I was a child, I remember reading a short children’s story about a farm girl who starts at a new school right before Valentine’s Day. She was upset because she didn’t have the money to buy special valentines like her classmates, so her mother suggested using the resources they had on the farm – eggs, milk, flour – to make a batch of heart-shaped cookies. Her class loved her personalized, yummy cookies better than any other valentine, and the story finished with the recipe to make your own cookies. After all these years, that story still sticks will me, and I think it’s a timeless message! Whether it’s homemade treats, handwritten cards, a bouquet of wildflowers, or a craft idea you found on Pinterest, I firmly believe that DIY presents result in some of the most cherished memories.
2. Give Your Most Precious Resource – Time:
But what if you don’t have the funds or materials to even make a homemade present? Then you can create memories and do something special for your loved one by giving the most valuable gift of all, which is your time. With everyone getting busier and busier, quality time is getting scarcer than ever. Take an afternoon to just hang out and visit the park, watch a movie, go for a walk, play video games – whatever you feel like doing! The time we spend with others is what we remember all our lives, long after the chocolates have been eaten and the flowers have wilted.
3. Use Online Coupons….
If you have a larger budget and are planning on shopping online for something specific, take a few minutes before you place your purchase to do a little comparison shopping, then check for online coupons or rebates that may be available at the vendor you decide on. For example, if you’re shopping for jewelry, Red Envelope has a page of coupon codes including 20% off their jewelry, $30 off your order of $135, 15% off your order of general merchandise, or free shipping on order of $49 or more. Their diamonds aren’t exactly in my budget, but they do have some other more modest offerings. The clearance section had some items around $10 that would be a little more my style if I were shopping for gifts there! No matter how much you plan on spending, a bit of quick research on available coupon codes can quickly shave money off your order.
No, clearance candy probably won’t taste good in 2014, but there are plenty of other things you can find marked down now that can save you some time and cash next year – decorations, craft supplies, or other non-perishable Valentine’s themed items are all good buys for next year if you can pick them up at a steep discount February 15th.
I just read a great article from The Wall Street Journal titled “Doing the Math on Coupons”. It was published in 2010 but I hadn’t read it prior to today, so I wanted to share because it’s still a good read. It’s nothing we haven’t talked about many times here on Super Coupon Girl, but it’s refreshing to see a publication like WSJ pointing out the same financial logic behind clipping coupons that people like myself have been extolling for years!
It’s ironic that I’m writing an article about saving money on pet food, because I don’t have any pets. So how would I know anything about feeding Fido on a budget? The interesting thing is, I’ve actually ended up purchasing a lot of cat and dog food over the years, either because it was free with coupons and I wanted to give it to my friends and family who have pets, or because I was actually making a profit on it through overage. That’s right, not only have I gotten cat and dog food for free, I’ve made money off it! So how can you start saving on products for your furry friends? Here are my top 7 tips:
1. Use coupons.
This may seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating. I have gotten bags upon bags of catfood completely free thanks to coupons from the Sunday newspaper. Pet food manufacturers often run promotions where they offer coupons for totally free items. One example of this is a promotion that Friskies ran in 2008 for their “Party Mix” cat treats. They offered a coupon in the paper for a totally free bag, and since I had multiple copies of the newspaper inserts, I ended up getting many bags of these cat treats completely free. This scenario has played out many times for me, as cat food manufacturers in particular seem keen to offer free product coupons in the newspaper.
So how do you get your hands on multiple coupon inserts?
Not too long after the Friskies Party Mix deal, there was a printable coupon offer good for $3.50 off any Purina Cat Chow. Because they were good on any size or variety of Purina cat food, I was allowed to use these on the lower priced bags, resulting in overage – so it actually helped pay for the other groceries in my transaction! Bear in mind, overage policies vary from store to store, so as with everything relating to coupons, you should do your homework and look up the store’s coupon policy on their website or ask a manager before shopping to save yourself any confusion or hassle.
I ended up with a ton of free cat food thanks to sales like these. So what on earth did I do with all this cat chow if I don’t have any kitties? I put all of the cat food into a large box and gave it to my friend who owns several cats. She was thrilled – and so were her cats!
$26.21 worth of groceries & cat food bought for $2.87 after coupons
2. Don’t stop at pet food coupons.
Perhaps your cat or dog requires a special kind of food for health reasons. Or maybe there just aren’t any good coupons for the brands carried at your stores. Now what?
The great thing about coupons is that they can still help you save money on key items, even if you have special circumstances or the item you want doesn’t have many coupons. For starters, if you use coupons to save money on necessities like toothbrushes, toilet paper, or cleaning supplies, it gives you that much more money in your budget for Fido’s food. You can also use the overage concept I outlined above if you have coupons for other items in your transaction that will result in overage, and use the extra to help offset the cost of your pet food.
Another coupon to look out for are “Catalinas”.
Catalinas are a coupon that are generated at the register during checkout when you buy a specific item; sometimes these will be money off coupons that are valid towards your next purchase at that store. These particular catalina coupons can be used on almost anything except alcohol or cigarettes. I wrote a series of catalina articles here that you can read for detailed information on how to find and use these coupons. I’ve used coupons from the Sunday newspaper to get Glade Plug-Ins totally free, which then generated catalinas for money off my next order. I bought more Glade Plug-Ins in subsequent transactions, and then used those catalinas to get a whopping $70 off my order of produce, cheese, eggs, and more. Keep an eye peeled for these type of deals, and if you find one, use the catalinas to pay for your cat food! (And what do you do with a dozen Glade Plug-Ins? donate them or sell them at a garage sale!)
3. Sign up for samples.
There are lots free sample offers out there for cat or dog food, and it can be a great way to supplement your pet food stash. I sign up for these whenever I find them, so I can pass them on to my friends and family. One recent free sample I signed up for was a full-size bag of puppy food mailed straight to my door. That’s nothing to sneeze at! You can find samples on sites like StartSampling.com and MoneySavingMom.com.
4. Enter giveaways.
When it comes to saving money, the more creative you can be, the more money you can save! I’m also a sweepstakes enthusiast, and I often enter pet giveaways so I can win gifts for my pet-owning friends. Pet giveaways tend to get lower entries because they’re such a niche product, and low entries mean better odds of winning. I won two pet giveaways in August alone! I have a number of articles on how to get started entering & winning giveaways on my sweepstakes blog, Contest Corner, which you can find here.
5. Keep an eye peeled for online deals.
Online retailers often carry pet food, so watch out for special sales and discounts. One of my favorite resources for finding deals online is SlickDeals.net; I would also recommend RetailMeNot.com to look up coupon codes for online retailers. And if you end up shopping online, make sure you check to see if you can get cashback on your order first!
Here’s a few sites to check for pet food sales:
Wag.com is a new pet supplies store owned by the creators of Soap.com and Diapers.com. You can get 10% off your first order by using this coupon code: SUPE8183.
Amazon.com has a whole section for pet supplies, and sometimes has special coupons and discounts available. Be sure to check out programs like Amazon Mom and Amazon Student, as they each come with a free trial of Amazon Prime, which will score you free shipping on most orders. Also consider signing up for rewards programs like Swagbucks and MyPoints, which you can use to earn Amazon gift cards by searching the web, taking surveys, and more. Then, use the gift cards you earn to pay for dog food!
6. Write to companies and sign up for mailing lists.
Do a Google search for the pet food brands you use, and use their website’s contact form to drop them a line and let them know you enjoy their brand and would like to be added to any mailing lists that they may have. Companies love hearing from their customers, and will often mail out special coupons to thank you for your business, or add you to their customer database to receive future mailings and offers. This can be a source of big savings – I’ve gotten coupons for everything from free organic produce to free sugar by writing to companies, so it’s worth taking a moment to email your favorite dog food manufacturer to see if they have any coupons on offer!
7. Start a pet blog!
If you enjoy reading blogs, perhaps you should consider starting one yourself. Companies love to promote their products through social media outlets because it’s an inexpensive and effective method of advertising. This means that bloggers often receive complimentary product samples from companies who’d like to be featured on their webpage. If this intrigues you, perhaps you should set up a blog for cat or dog lovers with the aim of reviewing pet products! You can check out The Motherload’s article on how to become a product reviewer for further information; Mama of 3 Munchkins also has a great listing of 37 different resources for budding product reviewers.
Pet lovers: How do YOU save money on food for your cat or dog?
I read a great article on For The Mommas this morning about using stockpile items to make holiday gift baskets. I think this is a wonderful idea – Shannon has some great ideas and photos posted, so you should click here to check it out.
Personally, I’ve been using stockpile items to create gifts for years, so I wanted to add to the discussion with some photos of gift baskets that I have made and given personally. I’ve always been a huge fan of gift baskets, and I made my own long before I used coupons or had a stockpile. Once I began accumulating useful items, it became a natural next step to start incorporating these in goodie bags. For the last three or four weddings that I have been invited to, I made special gift baskets for the couple to use in their new home. Here is an example of one I made last year:
Click on the images to see them full-size
The happy couple’s names are blurred out for privacy!
To make this gift, I bought a pretty laundry basket and filled it with all the necessities for a new home. Each item had a theme that tied into married life – down to the “His & hers” blue and pink toothbrushes! I made special gift tags for each item, labeling their uses: “For the bath”, “For cleaning your new home”, and “For your first dinner party”. All of the cleaning and home products came straight from my stockpile. For the “Dinner party” theme, I tucked in a place mat set with chopsticks which I had picked up at Poundland (The UK equivalent of Dollar Tree!), rice and green tea from the stockpile, and a printout of a yummy recipe for Cashew Fried Rice.
I had great fun making this gift basket and put a lot of time and love into it. And it was well-received – when I carried it over to the gift table at the wedding, one of the other guests noticed it and exclaimed what a great idea it was! Since then, I’ve made several other stockpile gift baskets for weddings. In one variation, I bought a plastic utility basket and lined it with washcloths that I had bought off the couple’s registry (shopping through Ebates, of course!), and then filled it with similar items.
I’ve used stockpile items in all sorts of gifts, from wedding baskets to care packages to gift bags for holidays and special occasions. It’s a thoughtful gift because of the time and care put into it – these are useful items that you know the recipient needs and will use.
So tell me, readers: Have you ever made a gift basket using stockpile items?
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, many of you are planning feasts and figuring out how to make the most of your holiday budget. So I thought it would be timely to mention a guest post I wrote back in 2008 for My Precious Pennies called “Entertaining on a Budget”, for those of you who may have missed it the first time around. In this article, I share my tips on how to cut your expenses when hosting holiday gatherings. Click here to read it!
Most people dread being added to mailing lists, but I’m just the opposite: Whenever anyone asks if I would like to be added to their promotional database, I’m all ears. Mailing lists are a great way for companies to share coupons, samples, and free offers with their customers – so if you play your cards right, it can really benefit you.
Earlier in the week, Earthbound Farms sent out a message to those of us on their email list, seeking 30 consumers to receive free salad in order to test out a new method of packaging and then provide feedback via a brief survey. I took a few seconds to email them back with my interest, and was notified that they’d be shipping me some salad directly via FedEx. On Friday, I received the box above with two lovely packages of organic salad mix; and that’s not all. They also enclosed these coupons:
After I took this photo, I found two more coupons for .75 cents off in the box!
Note the two coupons for completely FREE produce! It was well worth a few minutes of my time to receive these normally-expensive groceries for nothing.
So how can mailing lists help YOU?
Sign me up!
By being a part of corporate mailing lists, you will be the first to hear about new offers and promotions. Advertisers may send you coupons, free sample offers or product testing opportunities, so it can be a valuable resource. I recommend setting up a separate email account specifically for such offers, so that your primary account won’t be overloaded.
What About Snail Mail?
Receiving promotions via US mail is actually my preferred method. I know some people are (understandably!) completely fed up with all the catalogs and other mailings they receive, but it’s never been an issue for me. I love these type of lists, because I’ve received unusual, high-value coupons this way. Anything I don’t need goes directly to the recycling bin. The only piece of contact information I never give out? My phone number! I can’t think of a situation where a junk call could ever be useful, so when I register for promotional lists, I use the number of a pay-as-you-go cell phone that I keep for emergencies. I rarely turn it on, so I don’t care if they call it!
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Of course, you have to be smart about how you approach mailing lists so that it doesn’t become counter-productive. I actually ignore my own advice about a separate email account, because I find that when I keep mailing lists separate from my primary email, I end up just ignoring the secondary account and never look through it. I register my primary email address with the mailing lists I’m interested in, and it worked well for some time – I was able to keep up with what came in and benefit from it. Over time, my inbox became more and more crowded; and for me, manufacturer mailing lists actually comprised a minority of the emails I was receiving. Most of the overcrowding was due to the dozens of mailing lists I had registered for in order to enter contests, as well as email inquiries that I receive about my blogs. As a result, I went through this week and did a mass unsubscribe of lists that were no longer serving a purpose to me. Remember, your time is your most valuable resource – so if you’re spending hours sifting through junk mail, it’s not worth it. It’s important to find a happy medium and make your mail work for you.
If you’re on a very tight budget, it make seem impossible to make a difference in the world with no extra money to spare. But, much in the same way that you can use your frugal skills to reduce your spending and come up with clever solutions to financial problems, you can use those same skills to give back, even if your budget allows no wiggle room whatsoever. Here are 3 ways you can help others without spending a dime:
1. Click to donate.The Hunger Site is an innovative site that uses advertiser funding to benefit those in need. By clicking on the “Click to give” button once per day, you are taken to a page of advertisers that sponsor the site; the revenue from these advertisers is then donated directly to charity. As of this writing, The Hunger Site has given 745,818,023 cups of food since June 1999. They have several partner sites – The Rainforest Site, The Breast Cancer Site, The Child Health Site, The Animal Rescue Site, and The Literacy Site, which also which run off the same premise. By making a few clicks per day, you can donate a cup of food, 11.4 square feet of rainforest habitat, a free mammogram, and so on.
Many other sites utilize this concept to raise money for worthy causes also. Freerice.com is a unique, fun word game that uses sponsor advertising to fund 10 grains of rice donated through the World Food Programme for each answer you get right.
I know there are many great sites like these that I’m missing, so please feel free to leave me links to your favorites in the comments!
2. Share your stockpile. You may not have any cash to spare, but if you clip coupons, you’ve probably hit some good sales where you were able to stock up on items for free. Food banks always need donations – and if you don’t have any extra food, remember that many food banks will also take toiletries and cleaning supplies. Shelters for the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and other similar organizations can also use these donations.
3. Volunteer. Donating your time costs nothing out of pocket, and can make a big difference. Perhaps you want to do something with a local organization – sites like Volunteer Match can help you find the right opportunity. Or maybe you’d like to do something creative and raise awareness and funds through your social networks or blog. It could even be something as simple as taking a casserole over to a neighbor who’s having a hard time.
In the past, I’ve felt limited by lack of time or extra money – if I couldn’t spend 30 hours volunteering or donate huge chunks of money to charity, it felt pointless. But making a difference isn’t about being in a special position – if all you have is 5 minutes to lend a hand, it means something. When I think about the scale of the world’s problems, I often feel like nothing I do could make enough of an impact. Then I remember that you can give a child one year worth of clean water for less than the price of a movie ticket, and feed someone with a simple click. I cannot change the world, but I can change one person’s world.
I know there are lots of other unique, creative ways to give back on a budget – and I would love to hear them, so please feel free to share in the comments!
Well, it looks like Catalina Marketing may be taking the first step towards making their offers less confusing and more accessible to the general public. I read an article on Money Saving Mom this afternoon about a new website which they have launched, called CouponNetwork.com, where users can register to print coupons as well as access information about catalina offers (Or as they refer to them, “Buy & Save Offers”). Now, since this is a brand new website, information is very sparse: It only lists one catalina offer for my local store, so this isn’t a complete database by any stretch of the imagination. Also, I think this could be very confusing to most consumers, since you actually have to print the “Buy & Save Offer” in order to read the details of it – making it appear like a printable coupon, when in fact you’re just printing the information on how to earn a coupon. I think it would be a good idea to provide the details on the website without requiring the user to print it off just to read what the offer terms are. However, this is a brand new website and I’m sure they’ll continue to update it and make improvements – and I think it’s definitely worth bookmarking, as it has the potential to become a valuable resource for information in the future.
One roadblock you may encounter when planning a meal around your stockpile is figuring out what exactly to do with all these ingredients. When you’re standing in front of your cupboard staring at cans, it can be hard to visualize what you could do with them. Here’s how I find inspiration for stockpile meals:
When I need meal ideas, the first place I turn to is Google. As an example, right now I have chicken thighs, carrots, and onions in my fridge. A quick search for “chicken thighs carrots onions recipe” brings up several yummy ideas, like Sweet-and-Sour Chicken Thighs with Carrots. But let’s say I’m in the mood for a different sort of dish, so I add “casserole” to the search query. This time, I get a chicken casserole recipe which I could adapt to what I have on hand.
Other times, my query might be a bit more general. Last summer I punched in “uses for leftover spaghetti” and ended up with this recipe for spaghetti pie. Google has helped me use up a lot of food that I had no clue what to do with!
Check your favorite blogs:
There’s a lot of great websites devoted to pantry cooking that can help inspire your menu. Here’s a few of my recommendations:
I’m always curious to hear what my friends and family are cooking. If you’re out of ideas, ask someone else what they would make! Sometimes, I even take to social media outlets and brainstorm recipes with people through Twitter. (I’m @hardertobreathe if you ever want to say hi!)
Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Some of my best dishes have come from pure experimentation. If you can’t find a recipe that works for you, why not make your own? When I have leftovers or ingredients that need to be used up, the first thing I think is: Could this be used in a casserole? Could I stir-fry it with something else? Would it be good in an omelet? Don’t be intimidated – experimenting could mean something as simple as swapping one ingredient for another. Worst comes to worst, it doesn’t turn out great and you’ve learned what substitutions don’t work. But you won’t know until you try – and you might discover a delicious new recipe!
Today I’d like to discuss another easy way to save money and get coupons for items you use regularly – writing to the manufacturer directly.
If there is a product that I really find useful or enjoy, I will send an email to the company to let them know what I think of it. If I have a suggestion regarding a product I would like to see or a possible improvement, I will mention that as well. Companies greatly value feedback from their customers, and spend a lot of money researching what people want. As a result, they often send follow-up letters to thank me for getting in touch, and often they will enclose coupons as a thank-you.
Additionally, if there is a product that I am unfamiliar with and would like to try, I will drop the manufacturer a line to see if they have any coupon mailing lists that I can be added to.
All it takes is a quick Google search to look up a company that you want to get in touch with and a minute to write a message. Most companies have contact forms directly on their website; there is even a list of such contact forms here. It doesn’t have to be a big time investment – the next time you’re writing emails, take an extra moment to send a note to a company that you like. In my experience, the small amount of time it takes to contact manufacturers has paid off with unusual, high-value coupons that I wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere – sometimes, I’ve even received free product coupons! Each photo in the post is of coupons I have received from manufacturers recently. As you can see, there are some fabulous coupons – even “frees” – for organic produce, sugar, and more.
Sometimes, a corporation will send something other than a coupon when you contact them. I recently wrote to a company to tell them that I enjoy their produce, and they mailed me a check for $5.00 marked “Customer appreciation” – you can imagine my surprise when that arrived! Other unusual items that I’ve received include a package of Kung Pao sauce and baseball caps.
But remember, companies have different promotions available at different times – just because my neighbor writes to Brand X and gets a free coupon doesn’t mean that I will. When you contact a company, there is no guarantee that you will even receive a reply, let alone coupons; so don’t be disappointed if you don’t receive coupons from a specific company. Just by making the effort to put yourself out there as an interested consumer, you will find that brands frequently want to connect with you through promotions and special offers.
Companies love to hear what consumers think, and are often more than glad to forward their customers coupons to reward them for their loyalty and provide an incentive to purchase more products from them in the future. So don’t be afraid to express your interest – you might be surprised at what you find in your mailbox.