Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can Organic be Frugal?


Yes, yes a resounding yes! And after all...health is priceless...and if you are what you eat, why would you want to be junk? Consider eating well and eating organic as part of your health care budget. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Steeper Discounts
Organic coupons are typically from smaller companies that really want to get you to try their product....and unlike their non-organic competitors, they offer steeper discounts (i.e: $1 off one item, $1.50 off one item)

I "Like" you on Facebook
"Liking" companies on Facebook can give you great coupons, vouchers and even free products! Don't be shy, tell them how you feel! :)

Stack Your Coupons at Whole Foods
If you have a Whole Foods near you....you are really in business! You can stack Whole Foods coupons found in their flyers or online (here) on top of Manufacturer coupons and get organic groceries for just a few cents or sometimes,.....free! Sign up for Whole Foods email notifications for special sales and free events. FYI: Other Organic favorite Trader Joe's also takes coupons.

Blogger Healthy Life Deals simplifies saving money for you and writes out the up to date deals for Whole Foods and provides links to each available online coupon!

Whole Foods keeps a stash of coupons on hand from their old flyers and from vendors at their customer service desk. Just yesterday I scored a handful of $1.00 off BearNaked Granola coupons and $1.00 off Coconut Milk from SoDelicious!

Ask for the coupons you want!
Email or call the organic companies and ask for coupons. There's always a 1-800 number on their package to call and request coupons.

Get Friendly with Vendors
Also if there's a vendor promoting an item you enjoy at Whole Foods or a festival, ask if they have coupons - they are always happy to get rid of extra coupons!

Start Drinking Free Water...
There's a site called "Find a Spring" where you can find fresh spring water year round somewhere near you. It's user-submitted and rates the quality and taste of the water....there are a couple great springs in Chicagoland.

Try Eating Raw...
It saves time cooking, cause you're not cooking and time is money! Check out site: Raw Under $10 a Day This blogger is frugal minded and health conscious!

Stock a Frugal Organic Pantry...
This may take a couple weeks, because you can buy throughout an entire sale cycle. When Organic Couscous is on sale, grab 3 weeks worth of those yummy little grains. Then, when Organic Chicken Broth is on sale (It was free with stacked coupons a couple weeks ago!) buy up as many that will last through the 'use by date' stamped on the package,...and so on! More helpful tips on stocking your pantry are found on the Whole Foods site.

I will continue to post on these topics....any thoughts, sharing ideas and comments are welcomed!

Free things to do on Thanksgiving (AND bonus advice from a retail pro for tomorrow)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

  1. Be thankful - say grace and give thanks for all the blessings in your life. There is always something to be thankful for. Play a 'thankful game' with kids or adults....write on your paper cup what you are thankful for and go around the table and share what everyone wrote down. This is a great way to also not lose your cup!
  2. Be lazy and chill out with your friends and family. There's always football and those 'feel good family movies' on during Thanksgiving! Grab some cozy blankets, tea or hot chocolate and cozy up on the couch with your loved ones!
  3. Check out some new Christmas/Thanksgiving movies by swapping DVDs with a neighbor. My favorites are Elf and the Chicago-based original, Home Alone.
  4. Burn off some of those pie calories with a jog or run around the neighborhood. Invite family members to join!
  5. Look through the Black Friday Ads online and in the newspaper and carefully plan your retail attack on your favorite stores. If necessary scope out the floor plans at Best Buy and Walmart in the evening with fellow shoppers after the meal - this is a family ritual for us!
  6. Volunteer at a senior home - visit seniors who are alone on the holiday.
  7. Learn to cook; There's not better time! For Thanksgiving tutorials I recommend Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray's "How To" videos online.
  8. Learn and attempt to carve the turkey. Some one's gotta do it! Learn how to do this from Martha Stewart,...she knows everything! There's a free online tutorial.
  9. Go Christmas Caroling in your neighborhood! Hey, it's early, but the radio started playing Christmas tunes already! I say go for it!! Sing the classics, Joy to the World, Let it Snow, Away in the Manger, Frosty the Snowman and all your other favorites!
  10. Play a game with your guests. It could be anything from 'Apples to Apples, 'Freeze Tag' to 'Texas Hold'em'.
  11. Join ChicagoNow's FREE BLACK FRIDAY 5K for ChicagoNow!
  12. If you're flying Southwest Airlines and over 21, treat yourself to a free beverage!


And as a special THANKSGIVING bonus from my good friend and guest contributor, Theresa Egan, here's her helpful advice to keep in mind tomorrow while you're out shopping! Remember retailers are people too, so be nice to them as they are helping you get those Black Friday Bargains! Thanks Theresa!!

Secrets of a Retail Associate on
Theresa Egan

My husband and I have nearly 20 years of retail experience between us. Needless to say, we have both seen our fair share of Black Fridays. The following is a list of things that we wish the customers who shopped in our stores for Black Friday knew. If you are a customer, avoid some of the following things and learn the others and you will receive the best customer service possible on a day that is pure chaos. As you are shopping for those great discounts, please keep the following things in mind:

1.) You probably look forward to Black Friday for weeks. I have been dreading it since I was hired. Black Friday is a nightmare for retail employees. It is completely overwhelming and so crowded that you can't breathe. The difference is that you get to leave whenever you want, but I am stuck here all day.

2.) You arrived before dawn to grab all those irresistible deals right? Well, I had to get here at least one hour before the store opened. That puts my wake up time around 2am. I'm exhausted. Yes, I am getting paid to be here, but would you be happy about going to work in the middle of the night?

3.) I know that it bothers you when I "pounce" on you the second you walk in the door by bombarding you with sale information. Guess, what? I hate it too, but my boss is standing right over there, so will you please do me a solid and just listen for ten seconds? I promise I won't bother you again.

4.) If I am wearing a lanyard with a sale badge around my neck, don't ask me if I'm for sale. It's not funny and neither are you. PS---It wasn't funny the first 100 times I heard it today either.

5.) No, I will absolutely not model the clothes for you. That's creepy. If you offer to pay me for it, I'm calling security.

6.) You know that impossibly long line that you have been standing in for a half an hour? That's how it has been all day and will be all day, and guess you has to ring you all up? On a regular day I ring around 25 transactions for my 8 hour shift, on Black Friday I will ring 350 transactions by the time I go home. Stop whining.

7.) Please, please, PLEASE read the fine print on the coupon. They always have exclusions and no I can't just magically override the computer for you. Companies purposely make it so I can't do that. It's called stealing.

8.) While we are on the topic, please, please, PLEASE read all sale signs. The exclusions are always printed on the bottom of the sign. If a sign is on a table with pants and shirts and the signs says " $19.50 Shirts" and you bring me pants and complain that they did not ring up at $19.50 then I'm going to suggest that you not buy anything and instead invest in some tutoring to learn how to read. I will never say this to you out loud because my boss is standing right there, but you know who you are.

9.) If I am talking with a customer, please don't interrupt. We are all in a hurry and we have all been up for hours and we are all tired. Just wait politely and I will help you in a moment. You are no more important than anyone else so stop pretending you are

10.) On that note, don't treat me like I am less of a human being simply because I work retail. I am not stupid. Where do you think surgeons and astronauts work to put themselves through school? I could write a lengthy novel about the abuse I have taken from customers over the years simply because I was a "shop girl." How would you feel if I came into your work and treated you like that?

11.) Yes, I do have that sweater in a medium in blue in the back. If you are polite to me I will go get it for you. If you are rude to me, then I suddenly will not have it anymore. If I honestly tell you I don't have it in the back and then if you are an absolute miserable human being to me, then I will tell you I am going back to look for it, but I will actually sit down at the break table and eat cookies and drink coffee for 10 minutes and then come out and tell you that I don't have it. Then I'll sell it to the person in line behind you as soon as you walk out the door.

12.) Remember how your mom taught you to say please and thank you when you were a child? There was a reason. A simple please and thank you can make my day. Please try to remember basic manners. It makes me want to help you and break the rules for you. I'm willing to bend rules for polite, regular customers. I won't budge for the disrespectful ones.

13.) I make more than minimum wage. Barely. There is only so much abuse that I can take before it really isn't worth it anymore, but who can leave their job in this economy? Don't make my bad situation worse by being disrespectful and demanding.

14.) Always get gift receipts. Explain to your friend that if they return it, they will only receive store credit in the amount that you paid for it. So, if you only paid $10 for that sweater, they are only going to get $10 in credit. If the sweater is now $30 it doesn't matter. You only paid $10. I am not going to give you $20 just because. I'm selling sweaters, not giving away money. Of course, if you want to exchange it for the same sweater, but a different size or color, it will be an even exchange regardless if the price has gone up or down and you will not get any money back, nor will you owe any. That's why it's called an even exchange. The same logic is true if you are returning with an original receipt. The amount you paid, is the amount you will get back.

15.) This one is actually really tricky. If a sale is a buy one get one free (affectionately referred to as BOGO) you can't return the full price sweater for the full amount and keep the free one. Otherwise we just gave you a free sweater. You will only receive half the amount that you paid back. For example: You buy 1 sweater at the BOGO price of $40 and get one for free. That means one was $40 and the other was free right? Wrong. This really means that you paid $20 for each sweater. Basically, BOGO is nothing more than half off, but way more problematic. Stores have to make a unit per transaction number each day and this helps them sell more items to each customer. Don't fall for a BOGO unless you really want 2 sweaters and understand that if you return one, you will only get $20. Only God can help you if you do a BOGO and give the sweaters to 2 different people and the person who received the free one wants to return it. Buy them a gift card instead of a sweater. If you return both sweaters, you will receive $40 back.

16.) Yes, if sweaters are 2 for $30 you must purchase 2. No, you can not get only 1 for $15. This process is known as a 2fer. If you could buy 1 at $15 then we would mark them at $15 and not 2 for $30. This is not a grocery store. I am selling sweaters, not cereal.

17.) If you have children with you, don't let them run around unattended and destroy my store. Do you know how long it takes to put up those displays and how long it takes to clean their disgusting fingerprints off all the glass in the store? They may be your precious angels, but to me they are screaming demon spawn sent to make my life a never -ending chore of cleaning Skittles off the merchandise. They are not adorable when they are using permanent pen to draw on our cashmere and silk sweaters and neither are you when you don't confess to it and try to take responsibility. We won't make you pay for it, just do the right thing and teach your children to be accountable for their actions. And no, you may absolutely not use the fitting room as a changing station and leave the dirty diaper for me to pick up. How would you like your workplace to smell like a bathroom? Seriously, in what world is this acceptable?


So as you are hurrying about scoring all those fabulous deals, be kind, be patient, be considerate and be understanding and it will be returned to you with gratitude and stellar customer service. We all want to feel appreciated and if I feel that way, I will do everything in my power to make sure you feel that way too. No, my job in retail is not hard. It doesn't take great wisdom to fold sweaters all day, but being mistreated by people day in and day out makes it unbearable and I go home upset every night. Help make this holiday pleasant for all and follow that age -old golden rule of treat others the way you want to be treated. Everything we really need to know in life we learned in kindergarten after all.


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Top 10 shopping secrets for BLACK FRIDAY!!

BLACK FRIDAY is the annual American retail-crazed extravaganza that offers deals beckoning and tempting frugal shoppers and bargain hunters nationwide out of their homes into the cold at insane hours of the night or morning! If done right, you can save a lot of money without camping out the night before! From a family who has mastered the art of Black Friday retail reconnaissance....here are my top 10 secrets for success on BLACK FRIDAY!
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Are you ready???

Start Wednesday
1. First, make a list and budget for your gift buying for the holiday season if you haven't done so already.
We make something like this on Excel: We jot down ideas in the ideas list and keep a running total of what we've spent. From the budget, we calculate how much we have left to spend on each person.

Name Have Idea Budget Spent Total
Bob Hat Golf Stuff $75 $20 $20
Judy ----- Sweater $75 $0

2. Research the BLACK FRIDAY deals online: Do your homework and read up on the ad scans! Crazed bargain hunters have leaked the ads for over a week now....check it out! Assess your shopping needs with the ads make a Quick GOAL List with item and store....(this will be elaborated later)
Golf Bag - Dick's
Disney PJ's - Walmart
DS LIte - Walmart
Book - Walmart

3. Match deals with coupons - yes you are allowed to use coupons on Black Friday! If there's not a coupon in the paper ad, check their website. Also make sure to check Retailnenot.com to check for any additional printable savings/coupons/freebies.

4. If you're going for the big screen TV or appliance, buy it with a credit card that doubles or extends your warranty for free! These cards give you that free extended coverage or double you warranty in case something should break. Both Discover Card and AMEX have a good reputation for the extended warranty if you make the full charge of the purchased item on the card. Also, Old Navy Card Holders are allowed to get the Black Friday sales pre-sale on Thursday!

5. If you are buying clothes for yourself or for the family (which I think this is a GREAT time to do so) go clothes shopping and try on clothes on WEDNESDAY. This avoids the nightmare of trying on clothes in the fitting rooms on Black Friday and eliminates the need to return items that don't fit during the holiday season. If you can, put the clothes on hold under your name on Wednesday or Thursday....that way you can get in and buy them, and then get out! Remember your time is very valuable on Black Friday!!

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THURSDAY

5. Do your in-store recon after Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Scope out where things are located and make detailed notes about the locations, varieties and numbers of each item.

6. Elaborate and organize your PLAN: Find out what time the doors open, where the items are located and make detailed notes of it on your sheet.

WALMART: TIME OPENS 5 AM
ITEM , DETAILS/NOTES
DS Lite Nintendo Bundle, color RED, located back 3rd row, Electronics
2 sets Disney PJs: Boys sizes 3T, 6, Center aisle of store, children's section
DICKS SPORTING GOODS: TIME OPENS 6AM
ITEM, DETAILS/NOTES
Golf Bag, front of store - Color Hunter Green

7. Map out your driving route the night before...prioritize your route by opening times and your biggest goal items. Even consider doing a test run of your route the night before. Also, you don't want to be getting lost in the dark in an unknown area and wasting precious time. Make time goals for each store.....I mean you don't want to spend over an hour in Walmart if it means you are going to miss fantastic Door Busters elsewhere! If you're out of town, shop with a GPS in your car and plug the addresses of the stores in the night before.

On Black Friday...
8. Eat breakfast before you go whenever that is..and get your coffee prior to shopping if you're one of those "I'm cranky if I don't have coffee" people.

9. Come prepared,....bring your detailed lists, GPS, coupons, rewards credit card, budget sheet and the ads for each store. Women: Bring a sling purse that allows for two hand shopping. And remember buying something just because "It's a good deal" doesn't help your bottom line. In the spirit of BLACK FRIDAY, in the chaos and noise of it all, you may want to consider using hand signals with your shopping army!!! (See Below!)

10. Always get gift receipts - (and boxes but only if they are free!)

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A hand signal is worth a thousand words....on BLACK FRIDAY!!!

Most importantly, remember to be kind to others and remember the reason for the giving! Best of luck to all! Be safe and have a happy Thanksgiving and a successful BLACK FRIDAY!!! Check back to see Free Things to do on Thanksgiving!!!

10 Free Ways to Relax...

Relaxing is an important part of life. Period. Stress affects your health, so counteract it by fitting in some time to relax...to truly relax. Take a deep breath in,........slowly exhale....good! We're onto something now!

So, even if it's just for 15 minutes...let go of whatever you are spending time worrying and thinking about, work, school, car, family, health, kids, spouse, cat, dog, jobs, interviews.....it will all still be there waiting for you later, so just for now, take some time for you.

1) Take a nap (set the timer for 15-20 minutes and visit dreamland!) Zzz......

2) Visit RainyMood for a relaxing thunderstorm soundtrack. Sit back in your chair and think happy thoughts. (I am playing the 30 minute soundtrack while I'm blogging....sigh! so relaxing!)

3) Pray. Just get on your knees and pray. Let Him know you're still around, after all, it's great to know He's there and already knows what you're going to say.

4) Yoga....there's yoga free everywhere,....free online classes and free within your community. Take a moment to look online for places near you that offer free classes. And don't miss Free Yoga Day USA next year....look up a free yoga studio near you! DIY Yoga....do a free online yoga class at home. Many free yoga classes are found not surprisingly on YouTube. Also you can rent a Yoga videos free or cheaply from your Library.

Free Yoga in Evanston and Chicago:
  • Free classes taught by advanced students: Evanston's Global Family Yoga.
  • Frugal Bikram Yoga for 31 days only $29.00 (available in Lincoln Park and Wicker Park). Evanston also has a Bikram Studio that costs $75/for first month unlimited and then $99/month after that (Bikram Yoga Evanston).
  • Pick up a free 3 day pass for LA Fitness or other "box" gyms and take advantage of their free yoga and pilates classes.
  • Lululemon retail locations offer free Yoga classes (on Saturdays 9AM-10AM in Evanston)...look up your location to take advantage of their free yoga classes. You can bring your own mat or borrow one there.
  • 'Yoga from the Beginning' offers you one free class - and many other classes free throughout the month as well. It's located at the Mystical Science Institute on Ashland Avenue in Evanston.
5) Take a walk or jog outside. There's very little that endorphins and fresh air can't solve!

6) This one is simple, drink a glass of water. Dehydration causes much physical stress that we don't consider throughout the day.

7) Animal Therapy! Spend some quality time with your favorite furry friend. Stoking a cat or dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Little Layla (our Ragdoll cat) is a great therapist she and I volunteer with seniors in Evanston! She curls up on anyone's lap and purrs while they get to spend some time with an adorable and friendly cat!

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Layla our adorable Ragdoll! Isn't she cute??


8) Sing! Singing reduces stress! Just turn on your favorite songs to sing along with or if you want to be more adventurous, sign up for voice lessons. I know other voice teachers who do this as well, but personally as a voice teacher, I would definitely teach a free first lesson if asked!

9) Stream relaxing music for free....whether it be Enya or Brahms or Baroque selections, you can create your own free play list on Playlist.com (thanks Kristine!) or create your own free radio station at Pandora.com.

10) Watch a picture slide show. Sit back in your computer chair and gaze at the slide show of the best photos on Flickr from the past 7 days. Or if you need a good laugh, look at some "Adorable Animal Photo Bombs"...you'll enjoy it! Laugh and relax!

Cheap Eats from Your Pantry

Maybe you're feeling a little bit of financial stress...well, you still need to feed yourself and the family, so no fear....'Cheap Eats Part 1' are the answer!

Currently we're going through our pantry/fridge/freezer and creating meals from what we have stored up from previous sales and trips to the grocery! Here's some delicious ideas from what we've created!

Gnocchi with Beef Vodka Sauce and Caramelized Onions
  • Gnocchi Package, $1.00 (bought on sale and stored in pantry)
  • 4 oz Ground Sirloin, .80 cents (bought on sale and stored in freezer in 4 oz portions)
  • 1 Spanish onion, .65 cents (bought on sale and stored in pantry)
  • Classico Vodka Sauce (1/2 jar), .80 (bought on sale for 1.75 for whole jar and stored in pantry)
  • $1.00 for 1 pound of In-Season Oranges
Boil Water (salted). De-thaw and brown beef in skillet. Drain any fat and add chopped onions. When onions are tender, add 1/2 jar of Vodka Sauce. When water is boiling, add Gnocchi - they are done when the dumplings float to the top, then drain. Plate sauce over gnocchi and enjoy with in-season Clementines and oranges on the side!
Total cost = $4.25

Date & sharp cheddar Quesadilla
It's that sweet and sharp flavor combined that are just so delicious! Yum!
  • 2 flour tortillas, .10 cents (.60 cents for package of 12)
  • 4-5 chopped pitted dates, .30 cents
  • 1 oz of shredded sharp cheddar, .25 cents
Total cost (for one quesadilla) = .65 cents

Italian Quesadilla Dippers
Great for late night pizza cravings! Makes 2 quesadillas to share with a friend/spouse!
  • 4 flour tortillas, 20 cents
  • 2oz shredded mozzarella, .50 cents
  • 1 small can tomato sauce (in pantry bought on sale), .50 cents
  • Dried Oregano
  • Garlic Powder
Make quesadilla in skillet with tortillas and mozzarella, when done, slice into 8 pieces for dipping. Heat tomato sauce (combined with garlic powder and oregano for taste) in a microwave-safe dish in microwave until hot. Total costs = $1.20

Spaghetti-O's (homemade style!)
We stumbled upon this creation that has delighted our childhood appetites! It's better than the real thing and is all natural! For my husband who loves this so much this would only be a 1 serving recipe, but for most normal people, this serves 2-3 people. (Serve with Garlic Toast to re-create childhood tradition!)
  • Orzo pasta, .35 cents (whole box was $1, bought on sale and stored in pantry)
  • 1 can of basic Tomato Soup, .60 cents
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese, .70 cents
  • Garlic Powder
Cook 1/3 box of Orzo noodles in a small amount (10 oz. approx) of boiling water. When orzo is al dente, add can of tomato soup and stir. Add 1 teaspoon of Garlic Powder and 2-3 Tablespoons of Grated Parmesan Cheese and stir in! Total cost = $1.65 cents

More adventures in cheap eats to come....new challenges....using different items in pantry/freezer including Bran, canned Chili, Beans, pineapple rings, Panko crumbs, dry ravioli and more!

Eating out 50% off menu prices!

Even though cooking at home is always cheaper (and usually healthier!) eating out doesn't have to be un-frugal! Who doesn't enjoy a nice dinner date or meeting up with friends at your favorite restaurant!
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Here's a "HOW TO" for eating out and maximizing your dollar!

1) Sign up for the Restaurants.com email list to receive email updates to buy restaurant gift-certificates to your favorite local restaurants for a fraction of the menu price.

Just type in your zip code and search the dozens of participating restaurants that pop up on your screen. Restaurants.com does have a minimum purchase; for example at LePeep (in Evanston), a $25 certificate could be used only with a minimum of $35 purchase.

2) Only buy when it's 80% off - this happens once a month, wait for that sale and then stock up!

3) ALWAYS purchase through a cash-back program like EBATES.COM or FatWallet.com. Compare both cash-back percentages and go with the higher percent. Compare cash back % here!

4) Pay for your online purchase with a rewards credit card such Chase Rewards or Discover Card. We'll discuss the best rewards cards in a post...coming soon!

EXAMPLE:
My husband and I bought a gift certificate to LePeep ($3 for $25 off), and we order $35.00 of food, paying only $10.00 to LePeep. (add $6 for tip)...here's how it breaks down into dollars and cents:

Regular eating out price: (35 for food, 6 for tip) + tax = $41.00 + tax
Restaurants.com price: $10 (to LePeep) + $6 (for tip) + $3 (to Restaurants.com) = $19.00 + tax
(Let's say I also purchased the gift card for $3 through Fat Wallet Cash-back (24%) and received back .72 cents.)
So buying ahead of time not only saves more than 50%, but it also earns accumulated cash back from online cash-back programs and of course you would pay the restaurant bill with a rewards credit card to earn extra bonus credit-card points!

For non "Restaurant.com" restaurants - Use Groupons!!

Other options for frugal eating can be purchased through Groupon.com. This site features a daily deal in your area, for 30-90% off their normal prices. Groupon.com is a new great way to try new restaurants, bars, cafes and more in your area and you can also purchase your Groupons through Ebates.com/FatWallet or other cash-back programs (you should always be making the most of your dollar!).

Recently we snagged a couple Groupons for Sushi places near us and of course one of our favorites, The Little Mexican Cafe. These were listed as $10.00 for $25.00 worth of food. Eating out for more than 50% off always sounds like a good idea to me! For fun and experienced Groupon advice, follow the 'Live-off Groupon Blog' for Chicago Native Josh's Groupon adventures!

Use Coupons!

Always look for coupons in your mailbox....or look the "Entertainment Book" that has exclusive local coupons for dining, movies and businesses in your area. You can buy this online, usually free shipping with extensive cash-back. These books usually feature coupons for 'buy one get one entrée free' for restaurants - It's a great way to save. They also make great gifts! Currently you can buy the 2011 book with $7 off normal price, free shipping and 35% cash back through Ebates.

Take advantage of Holiday offers:

Bravo Cucina Italiana in Evanston is a favorite of mine,...and it's less than a block from my living room, so I love it that much more! For the holidays they are encouraging folks to buy gift cards as gifts and giving you an extra $20 for every $100 you spend on gift cards. This would be the time to stock up!

Let's say you eat at Bravo 5 times a year....(estimate about $50 each meal) so thus $250.00 would be your normal Bravo annual spending. So, take this opportunity and purchase $200 of gift cards, (of course on your rewards credit card) get $40 in bonus Bravo Gift Cards.

And then when you dine at Bravo, always bring their coupons from their e-club called "CLUB BRAVO!" Join and right away receive a free appetizer! Mmmmmm! Be sure to enter in your special dates on their e-club like your Birthday and Anniversary for free entrée/dessert coupons!

Many restaurants have free e-clubs that mail you free coupons for desserts and appetizers. Go ahead and do some re-con....Google your favorite restaurants to find their e-clubs. Other holiday deals that come to mind are listed below:

California Pizza Kitchen: Buy $100 in gift cards, and get a free gift card for $20.

Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants (in Chicago, Minneapolis, DC, Vegas and Atlanta): From November 1 through December 30, 2010, you will be rewarded with a $25 Holiday Bonus Certificate for every $100 in gift cards you buy. You can buy these online too! (Includes restaurants listed here)

The point is, living frugally doesn't mean you can't go out and live it up on the town! Be smart and use those frugal resources that are available to you online and around the town!

Use your student I.D.

Are you a student or do you work for a school, college, or university? Whip out that Student ID and get your well-deserved discounts!

Northwestern University: Many restaurants in Evanston offer 10% off your total bill for showing your Northwestern University WildCard (even for faculty and staff)! Here's a list of restaurants that give discounts for Wildcards! Check with your college or university to make the most of your faculty or student status!

Have a question or idea? Email me or leave a comment! Thanks!

Free Makeup Samples - Just Ask!

When buying beauty supplies, do you loooove that new fragrance, but don't know how you'll like it tomorrow? Or let's say you've heard about a new hair product that requires towel-dried hair and a hair-dryer? How are you supposed to try it in the store before you buy it? Just ask a retail associate for a sample! This holds true with ANY product at Sephora, Ulta and most other beauty product retailers, including most department stores.

ASK FOR IT IN STORE
When you ask for a sample, either they will have pre-packaged samples sent from the products' company for this very reason, or they will fill a small plastic container to give you enough to take home and try out! It's a great way to try the product before you purchase something you are unsure of. This is also a great idea for people with sensitive skin and allergies, so you don't spend $50 on something that may cause your skin to break out into hives!

GET SAMPLES WITH ONLINE ORDERS
Personally, as an avid online shopper, I like trying things in stores that I am considering purchasing online. For example, I'll try it at Sephora in store by asking for a sample and then later buy it online at Sephora.com with free shipping, 3 bonus samples (that come with every Sephora order) and of course use a cash-back program like Ebates or FatWallet.com.

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Generous free samples from your beauty counter can make decision making when buying the perfect foundation (or whatever product) simple, fun, more frugal and easy!

Breakfast Burritos....Cheap and Tasty!

The best part of waking up....is breakfast? Sometimes the answer is certainly yes! This is especially true when you don't have to spend $5 to get a decent breakfast sandwich and can make something delicious, filling and very quickly on your own stove-top!

What you need: (you can make your own substitutions,...this is just what I used this week)
Sour Cream = .03 cents (16 oz= .99 cents)
Queso Fresco = .30 (was on sale this week for 1.18)
Center Cut Bacon = .38 cents (Package holds 7 servings of three strips, was on sale for $2.50)
Fresh Salsa = .10 cents (I like hot salsa with Serrano!)
1 Egg = .08 cents (Easter sale! Eggs were .99 cents for a dozen)
Frozen bell peppers (chopped in fridge) = .10
2 Flour Tortillas (taco size) = .12 cents
Total cost for two delicious breakfast burritos....... $1.11
Calories for two delicious breakfast burritos with bacon, cheese and sour cream! = 430

In Chicago get "El Milagro" brand of tortillas, not only are they one of the cheapest brands, but also they are made right here in Chicago and are exceptionally fresh and delicious! At Village Market Place on Dempster 12 tortillas will only cost you .65 cents.
TORTILLA.jpgFirst, cook the bacon to drain the grease and put bacon off to the side on a paper towel. Leave a little grease in pan to add some extra awesome taste to the eggs. Crack the egg and scramble it around in the pan. Throw in those frozen peppers. Crumble some queso fresco and add it to the pan. Crumble the bacon and add, (or eat as a pre-breakfast treat! haha). Turn off the heat. Now, if you have a gas stove, turn on a burner on low and throw one of those tortillas on top turning every 3 seconds until flexible and warm. This makes the tortilla SO delicious and is the way Rick Bayless does tortillas "del Casa". If you don't have a gas stove, sorry, you can just use the microwave. Eat one tortilla at a time and come back and warm the tortilla above the gas flame for the next burrito.

Top your breakfast creation with salsa and sour cream and cilantro or whatever! Enjoy! Remember, these can be eaten whenever....not just breakfast! Sometimes, I like substituting for bacon sometimes and use sausage, ham or chorizo. These meats I cook up when I buy them and crumble/dice them and put them in freezer bags in my freezer. That way, when I'm assembling a breakfast burrito in the morning I just add them to the hot pan and they thaw right there within seconds. Also to reduce calories, reduce bacon to 1 strip and use two egg whites instead of 1 whole egg. (That would bring the calorie count down to 303: still delicious and filling! Yuuuuum!)

Also, I like keeping chopped frozen bell peppers on hand to add to my cooking. I found a sale at Kroger (Food4Less in Evanston) last week frozen veggies = .99 for a large bag. Usually I buy bell peppers on sale/discounted at my grocery stores and chop them immediately when I get home and bag them for the freezer. That way when I want peppers on my burrito or pizza, or whatever, they are already there and ready to go!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!! This meal is DELICIOUS....and also happens to be a pretty cheapo-burrito! Add some coffee and you got yourself a pretty awesome breakfast!

How to Shop Online and Save!

When shopping online, have you ever thought, "Gee it would be nice to get back some of this money I'm spending!" Even if the thought hasn't crossed your mind, you should get in tune with Cash Back concepts of shopping online. All smart shoppers should use this tactic, and here's how...

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GET CASH BACK
'Cash-back shopping' is usually through a connecting website, (Ebates.com, Fat Wallet.com or others) that have active links to your favorite online stores and then provide you with a percentage of your total amount spent, returned to you either by mailing you a check or through PayPal.

First log-in and create an account with a Cash-Back program. I recommend starting with Ebates.com and also possibly FatWallet.com. You can sign up through these links:


GET ONLINE CODES/COUPONS
Next....browse through their thousands of coupons and online stores that are available. They provide all the current coupons online for extra savings!

Once you click on the link to your desired store, the connecting cash-back site keeps a log of your shopping activity and total dollar amount spent. That percentage is then sent to you by mail (in a check) every three months as it accumulates! What a great concept! You can stick with your preferred cash back stores or switch among the competing Cash Back Connections, by looking up which company offers the highest percentage for you desired store.
FREE SHIPPING
For example, I was buying scrapbooking supplies at JoAnn.com, because there was a "Free Shipping" coupon and my nearest JoAnn Fabrics is nearly in Morton Grove which requires a very long drive down Golf Road (under construction and a total pain to get to!) My general rule of frugalness is this; if I can get it shipped to me free, I will choose that rather than wearing out my car and driving to the store, so overall it's a better deal! Also, getting things shipped free is more economical over driving there yourself means you won't risk your car getting bumped, wrecked, which means you are a safer driver generally and thus, you will have lower costs for auto insurance rates! Okay, back to JoAnn Fabrics!

Ebates.com was offering 5% cash back, but I checked on a site called 'CashBackWatch' (cashbackwatch.com) and saw that FatWallet .com was offering 6% cash back. An extra percent is worth it, so I quickly logged into FatWallet.com's Cash Back link, searched for JoAnn Fabrics and clicked on the connecting link taking me directly to JoAnn.com. I selected my items to buy and checked out (with free shipping of course!) and voila, it was easy and much cheaper than going in store, completed from my living room computer and best of all, there was no wear and tear on my car!

Stephanie's Evanston Wine Trail... Free Tastings!

You don't have to worry if you're a prince or a pauper, because when you walk in the door at Vinic Wine Co. right away you'll feel its fresh, sophisticated, yet unpretentious vibe and be greeted by the friendly, talented and perceptive sommeliers behind the counter. Owner Sandeep and member of staff, Tom have an incredible selection of fine wine for affordable prices that will make you want to buy 3 or 4 more extra bottles to take home! Come for the free wine tastings at their groovy chic counter every Friday evening and Saturday afternoon and come back for the insightful pairing recommendations, prices and selection.
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The complimentary wine tastings feature a certain growing regions, variety of grape or just simply their favorite picks of the week. There's no need to be self-conscious if you're a greenhorn to the vino world; Sandeep makes wine tasting approachable and fascinating! He'll pour you a glass to sample while he and Tom will educate you on the wine's history, region of origin, vintage and playfully banter over their selections and flavors of the wine, debating the hints of 'cocoa' or 'forest floor' that appear on your palate as the wine decants. You can hang around the counter and chat with fellow sociable customers or wander around the store, sipping and strolling, gazing at the latest local artwork displayed around the shop that gives Vinic a 'comfortable yet hip gallery feel'. Sandeep and his staff are lightheartedly conversational and happen to make insanely on-target recommendations to go with any meal. Go ahead and quiz Sandeep; ask him, 'what goes well with Goat Cheese?', 'Peking Duck?' or 'Pineapple Pizza?' His palate and experience are certainly up for any challenge and will help you pick out something that will impress even the snobbiest of wine snobs!

For a fancy frugal date, I recommend popping in during a wine tasting to pick up a couple bottles for a nice night out to a local BYOB restaurant! Ask for a personal recommendation or pick up something light such as their 'beyond organic' Hofer Grüner Veltliner. It's 1 Liter of deliciously crisp Austrian white wine for just $13.99 that also comes in recycled glass bottles with a crown cap, which makes the bottle reusable and valuable to the home-brewing niche market.

For a relaxed and beautifully boozy Saturday afternoon, take the train to the Davis Metra or EL station and hit up my original 'Evanston's frugal Wine Tasting Trail'. Start at Cost Plus World Market near the Century Movie Theater and then wind you way around Evanston's scenic downtown shops and eventually buy up your bottles o'vino at Vinic Wine Co.

1) Cost Plus World Market Saturday Wine Tasting (Seasonal) 4-7 PM
1725 Maple Avenue, Evanston
2) Whole Foods Food and Wine Tasting on Saturday, 2-4 PM
1640 Chicago Avenue, Evanston
3) Wine Styles Saturday Wine Tasting 2-4 PM
1741 Sherman Avenue, Evanston
4) Vinic Wines Saturday Wine Tasting (BEST) 3-7 PM
1509 Chicago Avenue, Evanston

Frugal Finds at Garage Sales!

My cousin Kris and I decided to go around the North Shore area this past Saturday morning to see what we could find at garage sales! In our pictures, you can see our masses of loot we accumulated! We had a great time, spent about 4 hours shopping and scouting and had some great finds for a total combined amount of $19.25.
Our first find was a box of plates with artistically designed Chicago scenes. I saw a box that told they were from Marshall Fields, one particular design of a Christmas at Daley Plaza (my favorite time and place in Chicago - the Christkindlemarket). I was thinking about offers when the lady said, " You can take them all for ten dollars". Sold! I packed them up into a printer-paper box and set them aside. Right away, a little black camera caught my cousin's eye....as an aspiring photographer, the little Brownie Target 6-20 was a diamond in the rough...and it was hers for a mere $3! When we got home, we did some online research and found that the plates were worth about $10-30 a piece, and I had 9 of them! They were from annual releases of a Limited edition from Chicago-based artist Franklin McMahon. Score!IMG_8693.JPG
A cute little German-looking music-box caught my eye as we were leaving, and interested me even more when I turned it over and learned that it was made in West Germany and had Reuge Swiss movement, (a company that creates music boxes and still exists today). "How much for the little music box?" I asked. "3 dollars" she replied. I handed over three 1 dollar bills and it was mine!

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A while later, we came across a woman selling the lot of her Antique Booth...I saw a broken 3 Tier serving tray (something I have been wanting ever since having High Tea at Harrod's in London this summer!). "How much for this thing?" I asked. "How about 1 dollar?". And I carted it away....knowing the fix would be easy for my handy husband and some JB Weld. When we got home, Jon fixed it up right away and it looked very elegant,...just like Harrod's in London! Now all I have to do is have a tea party! It even fit our white Crate & Barrel plates! (see below)
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The last item was .25 cents at an Estate sale.....a 2-part Tube Cake Pan that my husband has been wanting for a couple years now. He "borrowed" his mother's Angel Food Cake Pan when he moved out to Chicago and never gave it back...now with my 25 cent purchase, he can finally have his own pan and return the original to his mom!
My last purchase was a game I had on my Christmas list last year and didn't receive. It was "Tangoes" a competitive Tangram game that retails for $9-20 on Amazon.com. I scored it brand new in mint condition, never played for $2!
All in all, Kris, Jon and I are going to hit up some more local sales to see what history and deals we can find in Chicago-land! We had a full day of fun and adventures for less than $20! Now, that's frugal!

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Fixed 3-tier Tea Tray!

Frugal Grocery Shopping in Chicago

In Chicago, Jewel-Osco and Dominick's are everywhere! But, choosing between going to Jewel or Dominick's is not your only choice for all your groceries. You can save a lot of money by a little bit of adventure and a little bit of planning ahead.

Plan your week (quickly)

Now I realize not everyone may have the chance to plan their weekly meals, but it reduces stress throughout the week, and eventually saves time and money. So on Saturday or Sunday when I have an extra minute or so of free time, I jot down the week's evening dinnertime schedule (quickly determining if a family dinner is possible for each night, if I have time to cook, etc). It goes like this:

· Mon - - COOK
· Tues - - PACK/LEFTOVERS
· Wed - - COOK
· Thur - -EASY COOK (busy night)
· Fri - - -COOK
· Sat - - -Go out to dinner with friends

So for the week above, I need 3 regular cooking meals, 1 Easy Cook meal (something like boil pasta and add sauce, or a pre-made freezer meal) and 1 day where I pack my lunch and my family eats leftovers.

Scan the Ads

Then, I glance over the local adds (online) for meat that's on sale. This will probably be the main course of my 3 COOK meals. (looking for meat $2 or under)

For example....This week, I found boneless skinless fresh Chicken Tenders for $1.79/lb at Village Marketplace, my COOK meals reflect and are planned as such: Pineapple Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Chicken with Artichokes and Chicken Parmesan. Also Boston Lettuce is 2 Heads for $1.00...thus, Lettuce Wraps and side salads are planned with each meal.

Adventuring out to new places:

Discover your neighborhood - Do not be totally satisfied with your big chain supermarkets! Venture to places that attract immigrants or local ethnic groups; these smaller markets tend to have fresher and cheaper produce than Jewel and Dominick's. Shop fresh items (meat, produce, and even some cheeses) at these local Grocery stores and save the commercialized items and your coupons for Jewel.


Some of Chicago's cheaper alternatives: (for north side)

Food4Less, Main Street & McCormick (Takes coupons, Kroger store brand, great produce & Mexican food section)
Village Marketplace, two locations in Skokie and Carol Stream (amazing produce sales, best meat & deli counter with great prices, Kosher products, friendly staff that remembers you)
Marketplace on Oakton (fresh produce, more meat and fish selections)
Aldi - opening up all over Chicago! Great prices especially on dried goods, great food!
Strack & Van Til, on Elston/Bucktown, (has a devoted following for their meat and deli counter, has much better prices than Jewel & Dominick's).

Save your coupons for the "Super-Markets", Jewel & Dominick's! Always match sales, coupons and rebates together and use your customer cards to get "preferred savings". At the supermarket chains, only shop for the coupon/sale items that are the American "commercialized items", (Like freezer items, soda, cereals, crackers, and cookies). This will save you immense cash throughout the year!

$$ Tip: Buy your Sunday Paper at The Dollar Tree (for only $1) and clip coupons for your week from the coupon inserts! The paper coupons are usually the best during the first week of every month. Are you even more (maybe shamelessly) frugal? Pick up coupon inserts from Starbucks or any fancy coffee shop on Sunday morning; many coffee drinkers buy the Sunday paper to read and discard and toss aside the coupon inserts! Also don't forget to log on to Coupons.com, Smartsource.com, and redplum.com to select and print online coupons. Most sites will let you print 2 coupons per computer.