Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year-end CVS wrap-up...

So, how extreme do you have to be?  Well, I go to CVS pretty much every week.  Not always, I've missed a week here or there, but pretty much every week.  It's on my way to and from work, so it doesn't cost me much in the way of time or gas to get there.  And I'm a BIG fan of the drugstore deals, because they have their own sales, manufacturer coupons, and their own store coupons, and when you match all three, you can save a lot over time.

How much?  Here's my latest receipt showing year-to-date totals:

Yep.  You read it right.  $1396.60 savings.
So, how could that be possible?  Take a look at this week's transaction, a fairly typical one.

Maybe it's not so easy to read, but I spent $1.48 and saved $24.87.  I got 2 shampoos, a toothpaste, and a bodywash (and some filler candy bars, because I miscalculated and needed to buy more).  Oh, and I got $7 in ECB for the next time.  That's how massive year-end savings are possible.  Next week, with my $7 ECB coupon I'll buy something else that generates ECBs and I'll "roll" them from week to week, meaning that I get a fair amount and pay very little along the way.

The best part?  I've only been doing this since the middle of March.  So I expect to beat this total next year.  Along the way, I need to recruit some people to do the same thing.  I'll make the scenarios, if you commit to shopping.  Build yourself a reasonable (3 month supply) stockpile, and then give the rest away.  It's fun, and there's a desperate need for these items in food pantries (since food stamps usually cannot be used to buy them).

Ninja new year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

TLC's new Extreme Couponing series....

...was pretty interesting, as someone who is more familiar than most with coupons (and couponers).  I suppose you don't get to be on the show unless you're "extreme", so that might explain some of this, but I couldn't stop thinking about how much effort and stuff was ultimately being wasted.

I'm a professor.  Let me explain this academically.  There's a concept in economics called "marginal utility".  In a nutshell, it asks, "What is the value (to me) of one additional unit?"  For example, I like ice cream, but I don't want a truckload.  At some point, the marginal utility of additional "units" of ice cream is actually negative.  Give me the truckload, and it's going to melt on my lawn and look like the morning after a high-school party.  Or I'm going to have to buy a couple of additional freezers to store it all.  Or I'm going to have to run around and post signs for all my neighbors and friends to come and get it while it lasts.  Any way you slice it, a truckload of ice cream is a big problem.  I'd rather just have a free gallon.  More is not always better--sometimes it's worse.  That's negative marginal utility.

The extreme couponers on the show would likely disagree with the concept of negative marginal utility, but I think it's pretty easily proven mathematically.  Given that you already have, as one of the couponers on the show did, 150 YEARS worth of deodorant, the value of accumulating more can't be positive.  Even if it's free, it's taking time to purchase and store (and it's probably rotting in the container).

What if you give it away?  Then, it takes a huge number of  "units" to reach the point of diminishing returns, and even longer to get to negative marginal utility.  That's why couponing for charity is more attractive to me.  Also, my wife threatened me.

Well, she didn't directly threaten me, but I was under no illusions as to what she meant.  What she SAID was "You know, all your stuff is cramping my style" but what I heard was "If you don't get this stuff out of the house, I will kill you in your sleep in such a way that I still qualify to receive your life insurance benefits."  So the meaning was clear.

Back to the TLC series:  my thought when I see people who have way more than they need for the foreseeable future continue to accumulate for their own personal stockpiles is "missed opportunity".  One woman on the show got more than $600 of products for less than $10.  That's great from a savings standpoint, but if it goes from the store shelves to her basement, it's wasted.  40 jars of spaghetti sauce and 40 boxes of pasta would set a 3-person family up for a long time (an example of one of the items she bought).  Pasta and sauce go on sale pretty frequently.  It's hard to believe that those quantities are necessary to hold them over until the next sale.

So, a challenge to the TLC folks (and those like them):  give half your stockpile away.  You know as well as I do that half will still keep you set up for a long time.  Remember, the IRS counts "fair market value" as what you're allowed to deduct for a charitable contribution (I'm not an accountant.  You need to talk to one before you take this as tax advice.)  I was happy to see that at least one of the couponers did make a large purchase of cereal for the food bank, so he's on the way to meeting the challenge.

Seriously, if you've got three months' worth, there's no reason for more.  It'll be on sale again.  So give it away.  Your wife (or similarly murderously-inclined spouse) will thank you.

EDIT:  Upon reading the accounts of those who were portrayed on the show, it sounds like they all donate, some quite substantially, and that TLC chose to de-emphasize (or not emphasize at all) that aspect of their couponing.  So, in the previous post, what I've done is criticize people who are doing exactly what I do.  And some of them do it better than I do.  They are due an apology from me, and I hope (should any of them read this) that they accept it.  In addition, if any of them would prefer to respond directly, I promise to post unedited whatever they'd like to say as a response.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Walgreens 12/26-1/1

Here's my plan for Walgreens this week:

Herbal Essences                       $2.99
Colgate Total Max toothpaste   $2.99
Ban Deodorant                         $1.49 (with Walgreens in-ad coupon)
Butterball Chicken Broth           $0.50

Subtotal:                                   $7.97 + $0.56 tax

- $1 Herbal Essence coupon (from 11/26 P&G insert)
- $0.75 Ban Deodorant printable (from a long, long time ago)
- $3 Register Reward from before
- $2 Register Reward from before

= total OOP of $1.78, and receive a $2 RR (Colgate) and a $1 RR (Herbal Essences) for next time!

Sounds good to me!

I wish you a Merry Ninja, and a Ninja New Year!

CVS 12/26-1/1

Merry Christmas!  Here's what I'm planning on doing next week at CVS:

Tone Bodywash $3.88 (get $3 ECB)
Colgate Total     $2.99 (get $2 ECB)
Pantene Shampoo $6.97 for 2 (get $2 ECB)
2 Reese's candy      $1.78

Subtotal                 $15.62

- $1 Tone coupon (printable)
- $3.48 BOGO Pantene coupon (from 11/26 P&G insert)
- $0.89 Reese's BOGO coupon

Total after coupons = $10.25 + $1.09 tax

And then, the secret weapon:  A $10 ECB that's about to expire!

So, all told, I'll pay $1.34 for all that and get $7 ECB for later!

Merry Ninja!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Christmas Card/Letter combo...

A couple weeks ago, if you were reading this blog, you probably were on the list to receive a Christmas card/letter from us in the mail. In case you did not, here's what you missed.

...and here is the letter that accompanied said Christmas Card.  I think the letter is funny.  Rachael thinks I overestimate how funny it is.  You be the judge!

2010 Christmas Letter
Dear Friends,
This year, as a change, Rachael has commanded Kevin to write the Christmas letter.  However, she still retains editorial control.  So, if you feel like some of these events could have been described in a more humorous manner, be advised that they probably were in the first draft.
Our lives were markedly different this past year, because of…wait...why was that again, Rachael?  Oh, right, we have a baby, who is named…um....(Rachael punches Kevin)...Daisy.  That’s right.  Daisy.  She is a little mischievous imp of a girl with a beautiful smile and an uncanny ability to consistently identify  the most dangerous item in a given room, which she then tries to eat.  She turned one on November 20, which, coincidentally, is also the number of times she has been bathed by Kevin in the past year.  Of the many blessings we have in our lives, she is surely the brightest.
Kevin loves his job at Ball State University, where he teaches Risk Management and Insurance.  He won the Miller College of Business teaching award, which he thinks is largely due to his jokes (actual joke sample:  He uses Titanic characters in one insurance example, asks if “Titanic” jokes are too old to be useful, and when told “yes”, responds “Well, I’ll never let go.”) 
Rachael has begun to integrate herself in the “mommy” community of Muncie, filling her and Daisy’s time with play groups, library programs, mothering support groups, and art programs.   She enjoys her “mommy’s helper” twice a week, which allows her to maintain her sanity and her (entirely too rigorous) housekeeping standards.  Our helper is arguably a better parent than either of us, and we are grateful that our paths crossed.
We lost some important people in our lives this year.  Kevin’s great-aunt Carol, who lived with his family for several years during Kevin’s adolescent years, passed away in October.  Carol once made a deal that she would take Kevin and his sister to the junior high dance if they could go a week without fighting.  They could not, and the junior high dance was spared Kevin’s dancing.  Carol was right to be consistent.  It’s a parenting lesson Kevin has never forgotten, and one for which he’s now thankful (Daisy may not be so sure, however).  During the trip back to Minnesota for Carol’s funeral, Daisy got to meet both of her great-grandmothers (on Kevin’s side) for the first time.  We also spent some quality time with Kevin’s sisters (Kate and Kristin) and parents, as well as many of the relatives on his mother’s side.  We also toured Bruce and Jodi’s farm, where Rachael got a chance to name her first calf (Sneakers, formerly #168).   
Rachael’s great-uncle Jim passed away in July.  She remembers working with him in the pharmacy, his zest for life, and the amazing parties he used to throw at his lake house featuring every type of watercraft imaginable.  Our family journeyed to Oshkosh for the funeral.  On the way, we stayed at a hotel that was located between 1) a fireworks store and 2) a gentlemen’s club.  Kevin swears this was a coincidence.   We were able to spend some quality time with Rachael’s sister Autumn, and two of our nephews: Nick and Maddox.
We were fortunate to be able to have both of Rachael's siblings in one place in January in Fort Myers, Florida.  A highlight was driving to Naples (1 hour away) to watch Rachael’s brother Franco skateboard at a skate park.  It was closed.  On the positive side, it turns out that Naples has THE best TGI Friday’s.
In June, we decided it was high time Daisy went to Vegas.  And go to Vegas she did, ending up with a onesie that says “I drink until I pass out”.  What?  It’s true.  The occasion was the wedding of a friend we knew from Tallahassee, and it was great to be able to reconnect with several other Tallahassee friends.  At Circus Circus, Kevin won two stuffed animals for Daisy, which, statistically, represents an infinity percent increase over the number Rachael won.
Several times this year, Rachael’s parents came to visit.  We are very grateful for their help in a number of household improvements, but specifically in painting and decorating the nursery—it looks beautiful!  During another visit, we all went to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever fed a giraffe.  If you look closely, you’ll see Amy’s hand in the air!  They also helped cook a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at our house.
In November, Kevin was scheduled to give a presentation at the Insurance Nerd Conference (OK, fine, technically the Southern Risk and Insurance Association) in Charleston, SC.  Rachael and Daisy accompanied him, and while he was at the conference, shopped and bought many unnecessary items, such as two pounds of Gummi candy for $22.95.  Statistically, this represents an infinity percent increase over the amount of money that was spent on candy for Kevin.  Not that he is bitter.
For Christmas this year, Kevin’s entire immediate family is coming to Muncie.  We are all excited and cannot wait!  Tales from this encounter will likely be the start of next year’s Christmas letter.
To close, we look forward to next year.  The most significant event will be the birth of our second daughter, Aria, due in February.  Most of you already know that she will face serious challenges.  She was diagnosed in utero with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and agenesis of the corpus callosum (missing the structure that allows the right and left hemispheres of the brain to communicate).  She also has duodenal atresia (intestines that do not connect correctly) and a dilated kidney.  Some of these conditions will require surgical correction upon birth.  Others raise the likelihood of developmental delays.  There is no way to predict in advance what the outcome will be, and we can do nothing but wait, prepare, and pray for the best.  If she survives, we will give her the best life we can.  She’ll have a big sister who loves her, parents who are ready and willing to accept responsibility for her, and a fabulous pink, green, and aqua bathroom.
In the meantime, we count our blessings.  We have each other.  We have our beautiful daughter Daisy.  We have our immediate and foreseeable needs met, while so many do not.  Most importantly, we have all of you.  We are grateful, and wish for you a wonderful and blessed 2011.
Kevin, Rachael, Daisy, and Aria

A Different Kind of Christmas...

This year, we're trying something we've never done before.  No presents.

No, not a joke.  We will not be exchanging presents with each other or our families.  We started talking about how $25 per family member really adds up, but it makes little to no impact when these gifts go to people who already have enough things.  We certainly don't have everything we could want or use--for example, I could use a vehicle with fewer than 5000 dents (thank you, Tallahassee drivers), or maybe some new clothes (true story:  Rachael slept in my T-shirt last night, and I sarcastically asked her if it was comfortable, since I have only so many T-shirts with designs on them, and her response was, "Oh yes--probably because it was the first one ever made."  Also, my students have mentioned that I appear to own two pairs of dress slacks, strategically rotated.  I mean the schedule of the pants is strategically rotated.  Not the pants themselves.  I am not Kris Kross.)

Anyhow, before I got sidetracked in parentheses, I was saying that while we could USE certain things, we don't really NEED anything.  And that when we spend money on every relative in the same situation, we spend a lot of money but don't really improve anyone's life.  Thus this year's experiment.  No presents.  We've told our families there won't be any from us, and we asked them not to buy us anything either.

We adopted a local 12-year old boy through the Salvation Army instead.  He said he wanted some shirts, pants, a winter coat, and some shoes.  He also said he wanted video games and action figures.  So, we went all-out.  We got him a Nintendo DS with Super Mario Kart (saved about $50 by shrewd shopping at Meijer on 15% off day during a week it was on sale).  We got him a $40 gift card at Game Stop (a used game shop), so that he can get a couple other games of his choice.  Rachael went shopping at Aeropostale with a printable 20% off coupon, and bought a hoodie, a sweater, 2 T-shirts, and a zip-up thermal shirt.  All these items were between 30%-70% off to begin with, so $130 worth of trendy clothes for $48.  We didn't have a size for shoes, and a coat for someone else is difficult to buy, so we got him a $50 Kohl's gift card (which when used, will generate $10 in Kohl's cash).   While at Kohl's, Rachael got him 2 pairs of pants, an Indianapolis Colts shirt (which is mandatory in Indiana), a sweater, and 2 T-shirts--about $150 worth of stuff for $70.  We also included all the gift receipts, in case he'd rather have other clothes. 

All in all, it was really fun.  We debated over spending so much on one child, but it's hard--I don't think kids consider clothes to be presents, and you can't really get "video games" without spending a lot of money, so in the end, we thought it was best to give one child a Christmas he'll never forget rather than spread it out and try to meet the clothing needs of 2 or 3 children.  If the parents in this family disagree, well, they have the gift receipts.  They can reconfigure how they see fit.  We weren't told how many other children are in the family, if any, or what ages, so it's difficult to decide the best way to proceed.

Next year, we'll try a shotgun approach based on buying toys as inexpensively as possible and donating to Toys for Tots.  We did a little bit of that this year (maybe $200 worth of toys for $50 at Menards on Black Friday).  There's also a gentleman in town that offers the opportunity to adopt entire families for $550--maybe next year we can convince someone to split the cost with us and do that.  Anyway, I'm definitely willing to give up my presents to do it again, and we were glad to use coupon ninja skills to increase the power of the donation along the way!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This week (12/12-12/18) at CVS...

Crest Pro Health toothpaste is on sale for $2.99 with a $2.00 ECB coupon back after purchase (limit 2).  There are 75 cent Crest toothpaste coupons from the 11/28 Procter & Gamble insert, so in effect, it's $0.24 per toothpaste!

Not free, but not too bad!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If you can make it to CVS before Saturday Dec. 4... can buy some Complete contact solution (with case) for $9.99, and receive $9.99 in ECB back!  This makes a great donation item if you don't wear contacts (like me).  Not because I have great eyesight, but because I have a shaved head and if I don't wear glasses, I am essentially featureless, like Voldemort.

Hope you can make it there!

Taylor and I, excited about CVS.

Pictures of items donated from 11/27

So, the goods were spread out on my living room floor.  They actually spilled over into the dining room.  So, for the last few days, the rooms looked like this:

and here is what it looks like if you box it up real nice and neat in Halloween totes (on sale at Meijer for $3.00 each) :

It turns out it's a bad idea to get goaded into lifting more than one of these at once.

Moved them into the Glorious Minivan, and dropped them off this morning.  The personal care stuff went to Take 5, and the soup and canned oranges went to Christian Ministries Food Pantry.  It'll be a long time before an opportunity like this one comes around again, but it was a fun ride!

Back to regularly scheduled programming...sorry for the delay.  I blame the tryptophan.