Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cake Class

I have been wanting to take the Course II cake decorating class for quite a while now, and I think it is finally going to happen in August! Course II at Hobby Lobby has always been on Wednesday evenings. That is our Bible study night, and I definitely was not willing to give that up. I just checked the Hobby Lobby calendar and they are having course II on Tuesdays in August. Woohoo! I am going to run by the store tomorrow for some supplies I need anyway and see if they have any of those fliers for 1/2 off classes. When I took the first class it was a half off special - $17.50 for a month of classes (2 hrs. each week). That is a deal if you ask me!

And if anyone is interested in taking course II at the Hobby Lobby in Meyerland, let me know.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Freebies at Target: Fact or Fiction?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I thought couponing at Target was not worth the hassle. I probably shouldn't generalize it like that. Target does have some good deals since they put out their own Target coupons which you can combine with manufacturers coupons. However, I was having bad luck with the freebies. I would go to sites like Money Saving Mom, and be enchanted by long lists of "freebies" at Target. There would be about 8-10 things that you could get absolutely free - who could pass that up? Most of the items were trial sized - but who cares, right? They are free when you use coupons. And since I buy the Sunday paper every week for coupons, might as well use them before the expire.

So I gathered a few coupons and went to Target one day on my lunch break to try to snag a few freebies. The trial sized items were mostly 99 cents. The coupons however, were for $1 off. These coupons did not say "Excludes Trial Size" as some coupons do, so in theory, you should still be able to use them. Well the cashier scanned them and they all beeped at her and she wouldn't accept them. She told me I couldn't use a $1 off coupon on an item that was only 99 cents. She also said I couldn't use them on trial size items. I pointed out that it didn't say anything about not using them on trial sized items on the coupon, but she said that was just their policy. I tried to explain to her about MoneySavingMom and all the community of couponers out there who shared the weekly Target deals on the web and how it was working for other people...She just stared at me and shook her head. She did ask another employee if I could use the coupons, and they said the same thing. Not wanting to cause a scene, I just said ok, and didn't end up buying the products.

I went back to the computer. Time to do more research. Money Saving Mom is a very high traffic blog with paid advertisements and I'm sure thousands of readers. Obviously these deals had to be working for someone or they wouldn't be posted continually. I read through the comments section about many people having trouble with cashiers accepting the coupons. The reply to those comments was to contact the store for their coupon policy, and you will see that it IS in fact their policy to accept those coupons, and just ask a manager if you have any problems. So I decided to email Target to get their coupon policy to see if that was true. Target was very friendly, got back to me right away, and gave me their policy, which said they can indeed manually adjust the price of the coupon down to the price of the product. They won't give you a penny back if the coupon is for $1 and the product is 99 cents, but they can enter the coupon in the system to be 99 cents.

A few weeks later I saw another alluring list of Target freebies. I decided that I needed to give it one more try. I printed off the corporate email and brought my coupons to the store. I nervously went to the check out line. Same story.

Coupon beeps.

Cashier: Um, you can't use a coupon that is for more than the price of the product.

Me: Oh, well that is what I thought too at first, but I emailed corporate and they said you can just manually adjust it down.

Cashier: (Frustrated Sigh, calls another employee over)

Other Cashier: No, you can't use these coupons.

Me: Same explanation.

Cashier: (Pages Manager)

Me. (Uh oh, nervously smile at the people behind me in line who look like they want to beat me up)

Manager: You can't use these coupons because....blah blah blah.

Me: Ok, but there is this blog I read, and it explains about Target coupons, and I have this email from corporate, let me just show you...

Manager: (Annoyed) Ok, fine, but I can't let you have anything for free. You have to at least pay one cent.

Me: (Hmmm, that sounds made up). Um, ok, fine, if you need me to pay you one cent I will pay one cent.

Manager leaves and by this time the line has cleared out behind me. I am THAT LADY. Oh gosh. I felt so bad. The cashier tries to do what the manager told her, but even when she adjusted it the coupons STILL wouldn't go through. Something about trial items, etc, etc. Unbelievable. So I think I left with one trial size item and it still ended up being 50 cents or something.

In conclusion, I have decided to cover my eyes and run the other way when I see lists of Target freebies. They just have not worked for me. But every Target is different so it would still probably be worth a try for others who want to give it a shot. Obviously some people are getting these freebies and loving it. Maybe your Target is more coupon-friendly and the cashiers are better trained on the coupon policy. Just my experience. If you have had luck getting Target freebies, please share!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Book Report

I finished this book a couple of months ago. It is a very popular book that takes a look at the difference between the cultures of poverty, middle class, and the wealthy. This is a great book to read, especially for teachers, for anyone interacting with people in poverty, or just anyone who wants to get a new perspective on poverty and the different classes. This book probably only skims the surface of all the ins and outs of poverty, but it definitely has opened my eyes to some misconceptions and preconceived notions I had about poverty. I wonder what a person from poverty would say about this book - if from their perspective they would say it is accurate or not. Either way, on the whole, I think it was a good book for me to read.

One thing I realized that I incorrectly assumed about people in poverty, is that they had the resources to keep their stuff nice, but they just chose not to. For example, when Greg and I would drive by poor areas of town, I would notice that things were usually very messy. I know this is not always true, but I noticed that this was true often. Front yards would be cluttered with junk, cars or even boats would be sitting there out of service, just rusting away and used for some other purpose, and things would generally be falling apart. I would think to myself - even if you don't have much money, you can at least clean your stuff and keep it fairly nice. Well, I was assuming they had the resources to do that. However, having tools, is usually an identifier of middle class. When something breaks, I have the resources to fix it myself, purchase the tools I need, or pay someone to come fix it. That may not be true for someone in poverty. So when things break, sometimes they just stay broken. Also, their houses may be very cluttered and messy. But when I think about it - I am able to stay (somewhat) organized because I have spent money on organizers, filing systems, storage containers, racks, etc. Just think about how much money total you have spent on everything in your house that is organization/storage related. If you make $7K a year, you aren't going to be zipping on over to the Container Store to invest in the Elfa system. Hence, clutter ensues. That is just one example of many, in which I try to apply a solution to poverty from a middle class mind set, and it just doesn't work.

Here are just a few random, interesting facts that are in the book. Side note: If you were at the Houston Project meeting where Malcolm gave the training, he taught straight from this book :)

Generational Poverty is defined as being in poverty for two generations or longer. Situational poverty is being in poverty for a shorter period of time and is caused by a circumstance such as death, illness, divorce, etc.

Schools and businesses operate on the middle class norms and use the hidden rules of middle class.

People bring with them the hidden rules of the class in which they were raised.

For many people living in poverty, jail is just a part of life, and not necessarily always bad. The line between what is right and wrong is blurry and often crossed. Middle and upper class people also cross the lines, but less frequently and usually have the resources to avoid jail.

In middle class, money is to be managed. In poverty, money is to be spent. There will always be needs and emergencies, but entertainment comes first. Entertainment is a way to escape the current situation. Also, it is a hidden rule in poverty that any extra money is to be shared.

People in poverty view the world as locally. Middle class people view the world nationally. Upper class people view the world globally.

Typically, the family structure in poverty is matriarchal (the mom is the head of everything -that is why you don't make fun of some one's mama!), in middle class it is patriarchal, and in upper class it depends on who has the money

In one section of the book, there was a little quiz to see which class you fall in to. You are supposed to put a check next to the ones that are true for you. Here are just a couple from each category.

I know how to get someone out of jail.
I know how to get and use food stamps or an electronic card for benefits.
I know how to live without a checking account
I can get by without a car

Middle Class
I know how to get my children into little league, piano lessons, soccer, etc.
I know how to get one of the best interest rates on my new car loan.
I know how to decorate the house for different holidays.
I know how to properly set a table.

Upper Class
I have several favorite restaurants in different countries in the world.
I support or buy the work of a particular artist.
I am on the board of at least 2 charities.
I know how to host parties that "key" people attend.

Also in the book, there are many made-up (yet realistic) scenarios given - with different characters and different problems. (Ex: Mom has to take sick baby to doctor, boss threatens to fire her if she is late one more time, car just broke down, no money to pay for the baby's medicine, brother just asked her to come get him out of jail, son has school project that requires supplies they don't have). I get stressed out just reading the scenarios. I read several to Greg and he almost had a panic attack as well. But for many people in poverty, these may be real life situations.

Overall, I think this opened up my eyes just a little bit (I'm sure I have way more to learn) to the differences in the classes, and has helped me be more compassionate and less judgemental towards people in situations that I might not understand. I would definitely recommend this book!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Should it concern me that Greg wants to go on this show?

If you haven't seen it, it is basically an obstacle course where people have to do things like this.

And this.

Greg actually looked up how to get on this show. He really is the perfect candidate though. There is nothing this man won't jump. The only problem is, which picture to send in with the application?

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I only paid 60 cents for all of those items at CVS, and increased my ECB's! Keep reading to find out more...

I started the "CVS Game" a few months ago to see if it really does work. I had never heard anything about this until recently. I have had a CVS card for quite a while (similar to a Kroger or Randall's card). I remember in the past those ECB (Extra Care Bucks) things printing out at the end of my receipt and I would think - oh great, I'll have to use that on my next purchase. But then those receipts would just get lost in the black hole of my purse of the abyss of my car, never to be seen again. Now I look back on those days and could I have been so foolish? :) I am like the person who throws away the Bed Bath & Beyond coupons. Crazy!

Let me start out by saying CVS is expensive. It is quick. It is convenient. It is a drugstore. What do you expect? Of course it is going to be considerably more expensive than somewhere like HEB or Walmart. With that in mind, it only makes sense to shop there if you are doing the ECB system.

Here is my goal in shopping at CVS - to get most our hygiene products for free or almost free, and therefore reduce our grocery bill. This would include toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, razors, body wash, face wash, etc.

There are tons of blogs dedicated to explaining the whole CVS game - such as MoneySavingMom, or IHeartCVS. The basic idea though, is that there are certain products each week at CVS that give you Extra Care Bucks (ECB's). So for example, the weekly ad may say - Buy Colgate toothpaste at $3.99 and get a $3.99 ECB. When you buy the toothpaste, the ECB will print out at the end of your receipt, and will expire in one month. You save that and use it like cash on your next purchase. There are some restrictions to how you use it - such as you can't buy gift cards, etc. This makes the toothpaste practically free, although you will have to pay out of pocket the $3.99 the first time. Other items may give ECB's for less that the total product, such as - buy body wash at $4.99, get $2 ECB's.

So the theory behind using ECB's is that you go to CVS the first week, and buy whatever items are free after ECB's (such as the Colgate toothpaste example). This first trip you will be paying out of pocket, and having to pay CVS high prices. But then the second week, you use the ECB's you got the first week, to pay for the products the second week that are free after ECB's. Then you just continue doing that week after week - rolling forward your ECB's.

Also, sometimes you can get products for even better than free. For example, in the Colgate toothpaste example, if you also had a manufacturer's coupon for $1.00 off, you could use that. Then you would only have to pay $2.99 for the toothpaste, but you would still get $3.99 in ECB's. Basically you would be making $1.00.

You don't have to figure out all the coupon match-ups yourself. I go to MakingCentsinTexas or MoneySavingMom each week to see what is free at CVS that week - and which coupons to combine.

This whole thing sounds great in theory, but there are a couple of things that could keep you from saving money.

ECB's have to be used exactly. So if you need to pay for an item that is $2.00, but you only havve a $3.00 ECB to use, they aren't going to give you a dollar back. They can manually mark down the price of the ECB to $2.00 (watch out, not all cashiers know how!) and you will effectively lose one dollar, or you can buy a filler item - such as candy. But then you are just sort of wasting money on something you don't need, and will have to pay a small amount out of pocket for the overage.

There are some weeks where there is nothing free at CVS. If there are no good deals, I just wait until the next week. Your ECB's expire one month from the date you get them, so you still have time to use them.

The new deals at CVS start each Sunday. I recommend shopping early in the week - on Sunday or Monday. The items that are free after ECB's for that week WILL sell out. You can get a rain check, but it is just better to start early to get the deals. When I am doing my shopping I am like a mad woman - swiftly walking all over the store snatching up the products, eyeing the other customers thinking - You better not be headed over to the refrigerator to buy the last free vitamin water, I will take you down! Ok, I wouldn't really :) The other customers are probably completely unaware the ECB program even exists, and do not present a threat at all.

Now you may be thinking - do you end up buying stuff you don't need?


The items that are free after ECB's may or may not be things we need. Toothpaste is a common one. We can always use that. It is good to stock up on it when you can get it free so that you don't have to pay for it later. We are also flexible on brands. I will use any brand of face wash, body wash, toothpaste, etc. if it is free. But some people might not like that. But then there are random things that are free that I end up buying like - Therma Wraps for neck or shoulders, or Soy Joy bars (imagine eating a slightly crunchy and grosser-than-normal fig newton...i think we have 5 left, any takers??), or glasses lens cloths. I would never buy those things normally. But if I can pay for them exactly in ECB's, and they return the same amount in ECB's - might as well get them, if only to extend the life of your ECB's so they don't expire.

Another reason I buy things that I don't need is because sometimes I need to reach a certain amount to get a better discount. About once a month CVS emails me a coupon for $4 off my purchase of $20, or $5 off my purchase of $25. So if I can buy enough things that are free after ECB's that add up to $20 or $25, then I can get an additional $4 or $5, so I actually make money (by increasing my ECB's).

Again, I only buy the stuff that give back ECB's. I could use my ECB's to buy stuff we actually need, but then I would be back to paying the CVS high prices. If I only use ECB's to buy things that produced ECB's, then I am just continually rolling my ECB's and getting stuff for free. And some weeks the ECB producing items are really good products!

The other week there was an amazing deal. If you bought 2 pairs of sunglasses you got $10 in ECB's. Well I wasn't about to buy any sunglasses, but I read on a blog that if you bought 2 glasses lens cloths at 99 cents each, it would give you $10 ECB. I tried it, and it worked! I didn't have a $2 ECB on hand, but I had a $3 one. So I bought a pack of gum, paid for my transaction with a $3 ECB, and got a $10 ECB back. I just made $7. CVS didn't even know what hit them. I called Greg and told him he could quit his job because we have a new source of income.

My shopping trip today was also a money-maker. The picture above is what I bought. Really random, I know. But those were all things that produced ECB's (except the gum and candy - those were filler items to get to $25, since I had a "$5 off $25 coupon"). I used manufacturers coupons for several items. I paid $14 in ECB's that I already had from prior weeks. Then I paid 60 cents out of pocket. Then I got back a little over $16 in ECB's. So I basically made money on that trip. So fun!

We will definitely eat the cereal, use the dish washing soap, toothpaste, tape, and gum/candy. The other stuff we won't need/use, but I had to get them to make the deal work. Pencils can definitely be donated for back-to-school stuff. Maybe even the other stuff.

This system is pretty complicated and overwhelming at first. It takes a while, but I think I am getting the hang of it.

If you are going to start shopping at CVS and trying it out, I would suggest trying to get a $25 gift card from filling a prescription so that you can learn with that money. That way when you have to pay out of pocket, you can put it on the gift card and it can sort of be your play money. So if you have a prescription that needs to be filled try to find one of those coupons that is "$25 with new or transferred prescription". CVS also takes competitor versions of these, so if you can find one online for another pharmacy (Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc), those will work. I have gotten $100 in CVS gift cards using those coupons. I have printed out competitor's coupons, used ones that CVS sent me in the mail, and used ones that printed out at the end of my receipt randomly.

Oh, and one more thing - CVS gives you 2% back on all your purchases, which is paid out quarterly. On my shopping trip today I got a $2 ECB for my Q2 purchases. I am not sure how this is calculated, since I definitely have not spent anywhere near $200 out of pocket at CVS. I guess they count every time I use ECB's, or maybe the price before coupons? Either way, I am happy with getting a couple extra ECB's each quarter.

Confusing enough?

If there are any CVS shoppers out there, please share any tips! And also, if you have done this in the past, do you think it is worth it? Or am I getting sucked in to thinking I am getting a deal when CVS is really the one making money off me?

ps - I have a coupon for "$25 gift card with new or transferred prescription" if anyone wants it. It expires July 18th and I don't have any new prescriptions to fill. Lauren, do you need it? I could mail it if you do.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lessons in Couponing

I have been stepping into the world of couponing. Learning the ropes, learning the language. It is a whole new world. It takes much study and practice. I have been at if for about 3 months now. I buy the Sunday paper every week, then check different coupon sites for the current deals. My biggest question is...

Is it worth it?

Is couponing worth the time and effort to save a few extra cents?

I haven't figured out the answer yet. Over all, I think it is different for each person. Depending on your buying habits, coupons may or may not be beneficial. For example, we buy a lot of generic brand items. I don't care if I am using Hill Country Fare brand mustard, buying Kroger select bread, or eating Double Stuffed Kiddos. I will even buy the shampoo that looks almost identical to the Panteen Pro V bottle, but is actually the generic look-a-like.

Obviously, generic brands do not offer coupons. They are already cheap. And they are usually still cheaper than the brand name products even when you use a coupon AND your store doubles or triples* your coupons. (See bottom of post for what that means if you don't know...I just found out a couple months ago)

Plus, sometimes you have to buy in bulk to get the benefit of coupons. There might be a coupon for "40 cents off when you buy 3 gallons of milk". Um, what? We would never buy 3 gallons of milk at once. But later on, when we have little ones running around, this might be a great deal.

The thing I am learning about coupons is - if you just use coupons by themselves, you probably won't save that much money. You have to combine coupons with a sale. Most coupons don't expire until a couple months after they come out in the paper. Sometimes they are good for 6 months. So I check different coupon sites and blogs which tell you all the current coupon match-ups. For example, maybe hand soap is on sale for $1.00 at Kroger one week - then you can use a "35 cent off hand soap" coupon that came out in the 4/19 Sunday Paper, which Kroger would triple, and you would end up getting it for free.

But then I think to myself - Hmm...I have already done my shopping for this week, is it really worth it to make an extra trip to Kroger just to get one bottle of free hand soap? I might spend that much money on gas to get there, and I don't even really need hand soap. It just depends. Not every deal is worth it.

I have learned a few lessons over the past few months that I will share. If you have any tips or advice, please share because I am still really new at this and could learn a lot from the more experienced couponers :)

Lesson 1: Couponing at Target is not worth the hassle.
Lesson 2: Playing the "CVS game", has been fun, and I do think beneficial for me so far
Lesson 3: Even though at first I thought CVS and Walgreens basically had the same "game strategy" (Extra Care Bucks @ CVS seemed the same as Register Rewards @ Walgreens), I think CVS has a much better system, and it is not nearly as easy to save a lot a Walgreens.

All three lessons will be expounded upon in a later post.

*Doubling or Tripling Coupons means that your store will double or triple the value of the manufacturer's coupon. Some stores do this, some don't. The Kroger by me will triple coupons up to 35 cents and double coupons up to 50 cents. (I think...but check your own store to be sure). So if your coupon is for 30 cents off rice, when the store triples it, you will be getting 90 cents off rice. If your coupon is for 50cents off shampoo, you get $1 off shampoo.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Catching up in Pictures

There are a ton of pictures in this post, brace yourself.

Last week we went to Estes Park, Colorado with the Mattern Crew. There were 9 of us. It was like traveling with the Duggars. Well, half of them at least. I always wanted a large family so this was great! Never a dull moment. Unfortunately we didn't have a picture of the whole group on our camera, but here are the "kids".

Here are Greg's sweet parents who planned this awesome trip.

I love this picture of the Bryants!

The weather was beautiful - cool at night and warm during the day. You can still see the snow on the mountain peaks.

The Rocky Mountain National park was minutes away from where we were staying, so we went just about every day to go on a hike or check out the scenery.

The brothers.

Family picnic.

This is a typical picture of Jameson and Michelle. 50% funny, 50% awkward.

Just kidding :) I think those were Greg's words.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing the animals. Chipmunks are everywhere! And they are so much cuter than squirrels.

And you didn't think we could leave without taking a jumping picture did you?

We went rafting one day, and I was completely terrified. But it actually was not as scary as I thought, and turned out to be really fun! We don't have any photographic proof because Greg said he would rather put our kids through college than spend all our money on a ridiculously overpriced picture CD souvenir. I agree.

At night we had game nights - including Quelf! Thanks to Abby I discovered that awesome game and Greg and I brought it. It was pretty hilarious to play with his family. Greg's dad had to ask his foot for permission to speak every time he wanted to say something, and could only speak in 3 word phrases. Greg couldn't bend his arms or legs for half the game. I won't give too many of the rule cards away, but it was really fun. I highly suggest this game if you really enjoy weirdness.

Also, I have a few pictures to post from the weekend before our vacation, which we declared to be the first annual "Man Weekend". Greg and Cody's birthday's are 2 days apart, and the same week as Father's Day. So we celebrated all 3 occasions in one weekend. It was a blast. Lauren and Cody came in town for the weekend, and Greg and I spend 2 nights at the "Grosse Compound" - as my dad likes to call it. We all went down to Galveston for the day to take part in a Grosse family favorite - crabbing.

We came back home and that night had a crab boil, and celebrated the men. My dad is the greatest dad ever. And him taking us crabbing all together just reminded me of all the cool things he took us to do growing up. We have so many great family experiences like that.

Here are the birthday boys.

Alright, that is quite enough pics for now. More posts to come later!