Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Swine Flu causes stupidity.

Strangely, this symptom is most common in people who are NOT exposed to the disease.

OK, on to the real post.

Quinn is talking more and more. He is also singing more and more. He always sang all the time, but he's not just singing a few bars of a song. He's singing entire songs with all the verses. Yesterday he sang this for his grandma, straight through, on key the whole time:

I gave my love a cherry that has no stone.
I gave my love a chicken that has no bone.
I gave my love a ring that has no end.
I gave my love a baby with no cryin'.

How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
How can there be a ring that has no end?
How can there be a baby with no cryin'?

A cherry when it's bloomin', it has no stone.
A chicken when it's pippin', it has no bone.
A ring when it's rollin', it has no end.
A baby when it's sleepin' has no cryin'.

My baby when he's sleepin' has no cryin'.

He's not even three yet! Two year olds aren't supposed to do that, are they?

Speaking of doing things they aren't supposed to, Zoe is getting in more in more trouble at school. Her teacher said something about it to me today, implying that we never tell her no. I didn't know whether to laugh or be offended. We tell her no about a dozen times a day. And we get screamed at about a dozen times a day, too. I admit that I try to set things up to where I don't have to tell her no any more often than necessary. It's called picking your battles. If I didn't set it up that way, all we'd do is fight. But I do tell her no and I stick to it. I try hard to make no mean no every time. But I avoid saying it unless it's necessary. Do I make her buckle her seatbelt? Yes, every time. Brush her hair in the mornings. Yes, every time. Taste each and every type of food on her plate. Yes, every time. Not hit Quinn. Yes, every time. Not yell in the car. Yes, every time. But do I make her pick up every last toy? No. Not worth it. Wear shoes in the yard? No. Not even close to worth it. Go to bed at 8 instead of 9? Not worth listening to her scream for an hour at 8 at night.

I told her teacher that she listens to me and Scott and minds us, but is not so good with others. She had to fess up that Zoe listens to her, but not the aides. Maybe the aides need to tell her no, too. Later I will point out that she is naturally a boundary pusher. She WILL back down, but it's a fight every time. One day she'll be a lawyer or a wrestler and it'll come in handy. Right now, it's a pain.

Caly is growing fast. She's inches taller and has hips now. She's strikingly pretty, but she feels very self concious. I got her stuff to whiten her teeth and that helped. And I'll be calling the doctor this week to set up an appointment for her acne. I know it would be a lot better if she pulled her bangs off her forehead whenever she's not at school. She likes them long, but when she wears them down her forehead breaks out.

So far, she's not expressed any interest in any other boys at school. Well, there's a high school boy who she says has perfect hair, but I don't think she could pick his face out of a lineup. His hair, yes. But not his face. She's a bit sad, though, that most of her friends have boyfriends. She's not interested in any particular boy, but it's hard to see all your friends show up to the dance with a date when you don't have one, even if you don't know someone you'd want to date.

Zaven, on the other hand, is oblivious. He's got female friends. And he even has a few he likes romantically. But he never bothers to flirt with them or ask them out. I think he'll start dating when some girl clubs him over the head and drags him home to meet her folks. He's like that with all things social. He enjoys it, but he never initiates it. He'll talk on the phone to friends who call. But he doesn't call them or even find out their phone numbers. I think it's a combination of it not coming naturally and him being lazy. It's just not important enough to him to make that big of an effort. Of course I worry that he'll regret it in the long run. Fortunately, he's in a lot of activities and he's in Upward Bound. He makes friends without working at it there. I suspect he'll grow into it over the next summer. I won't be shocked if he comes home in love.

And Scott and I are surviving. I'm getting over my horrible flu, wondering now if it was swine or not. But I'm improved enough that I'm not worried either way.

Scott hasn't been sick but he's gotten hurt twice lately. He cut the very tip of his thumb in a chainsaw accident. He actually cut the tip off. But just that bit of skin. It bled a lot, but he didn't even get any of the bone. I'd say he cut off about a quarter of an inch. It's growing back nicely. And he got burned yesterday when someone lit a fire on our property. He had to hook up some stuff that was on fire to a chain and use a tractor to haul it away from some propane containers. Somehow, he ended up grabbing a chain after it had been in the fire and burned his left palm pretty badly. It looks like it's going to be fine. It blistered awful, but when he drained them this morning they stopped hurting. I, on the other hand, am a bit concerned. He never gets hurt that bad on the farm and twice in the same week he got an injury that could have been serious. Plus there's the fact that someone set a fire on our property. Not reassuring at all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My MIL just left. A friend of a friend had offered to work on her car since the garage couldn't do it. But then he had some other things he had to do first that he hadn't bothered to mention, and then the part he bought didn't fit, and the store didn't have the one that would fit... But it's fixed and she's on the road.

I should point out that the only reason I didn't want her here for so long is that the house is kind of overfull with 7 people in it. Zoe alone is like having 3 or 4 people around. She's loud and moves a lot and she fills a room. It's very strange, but it's true. So while I get along great with Scott's mom in general, it's hard when we're all here for an extended period. Besides, we only have one bathroom! But, she did clean my kitchen yesterday for me, which was wonderful. And Quinn seemed very happy to have her here. He's always loved her, but it was nice for him to just get to spend some time with her on his own turf. He wasn't busy raiding her closet for toys or trying to get all the pots and pans out of her cabinets, so he didn't have as many new and interesting things distracting him the way he does at her house. He sang her songs and gave her hugs and flirted a lot. He was sad to see her go.

So, tomorrow I'll try to write a productive post. Maybe something about saving money, or maybe pics of the kids. Heck, I can always do both. But for today, I'm just gonna stretch out and enjoy the space.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Plans gone awry

Well, I was planning on spending the weekend home with Caly. Zaven is on a weekend trip with Upward Bound and Scott was going to take the little ones with him to Somerset to visit his mom. I thought Caly and I could stay home and try to get the house cleaned up again, but also to spend some time together visiting. I figured we'd go to a movie or rent one at least, and just spend some time alone. The cleaning goes so much faster when there aren't little people underfoot messing it back up.

But the plans have been scrapped. Zaven is still out of town, but today Scott's mom came over to look at a house that's being auctioned near here. And then her car broke down. So she's staying here while it's being worked on. I don't mind, in that I love her very much. But I'm a bit bummed about not getting to make progress. I know what it's like trying to clean around Quinn. He's a mess maker. And I'm also disappointed to not get time alone with Caly. The only really hard part about having four kids is that you don't get chances to spend time with them one on one as much as you'd like. But I figure we'll work it out somehow.

I may just leave Scott and Grandma watching the babies and take her to a movie anyway. Plus it's supposed to be really, really warm and sunny. So maybe they'll spend the day outside. Someone still needs to be out there with them. Even though the road is a long hike away, Quinn really likes to get into stuff he's not supposed to and his latest quest is to open the car doors and play in the cars. Not at all safe on a hot sunny day. But Grandma might like to sit on the porch swing and sip iced tea and keep an eye on them while Caly and I get some things done. We'll see. We'll work something out. We always do.

And speaking of working things out, I went back over our finances to see where we'd stand if Scott doesn't find a job in the fall. While it's not good, it's not as bad as I was afraid. Unemployment doesn't pay what his job does, but then again, nobody will be taking things like retirement and insurance out of his unemployment checks. In reality, we'll end up making nearly as much take home pay from unemployment and food stamps. It doesn't feel good to need to have those, but it's better than starving. If we spend our money very, very carefully (which I try to do anyway) and there aren't any major unplanned expenses like a car breaking down or the house needing repairs or what-have-you, then we should be able to just manage to stay afloat without going into debt. The real problem is that we won't have insurance. I really, really liked having health insurance. But it is what it is. We'll keep trying and keep hoping and we'll work something out. As I said, we always do. But I hate that we have to.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Today's crappy news.

Despite yesterday's news that Scott got a perfect score on his evaluation, his principal asked to speak to him after school and told him that due to budget cuts they won't have a position for him next year. Crap, crap, and crap. I'm not only bummed that he won't have a job and we won't have money, I'm pissed that he had to tell us today and we didn't even really have a chance to celebrate the good news about the evaluation. He could have waited until Monday. We were gonna go out to dinner this weekend just the two of us. The principal said he'd hire him if there was money but he won't know until the state approves the budget changes, which will be at the end of June.

I'm not sure what this means long term. All the public schools are having budget problems because of the economy. The crash in real estate values and the unemployment rate means the tax base is down and the state isn't able to make their budget. Private schools and even colleges are hurting, too. So maybe Scott won't teach next year. He does have a car business ready to go, which is what he was gonna do before he got offered this job, but again... crappy economy means crappy sales.

Meanwhile, we get paid through the summer and he already has a job teaching with a summer program so we'll be getting double pay for two months. Then who knows?

I'm not ready.

Quinn is growing up. Now that he can climb out of his crib I really should disassemble it and get him a big boy bed. But I'm not ready. You'd think that since I've been a mommy for almost 16 years I would be glad to get the last one out of his crib, his diapers, and my hair. But I think that it's because I've been doing this so long that I don't want it to be over. Zaven is a wonderful kid. He really is. But he doesn't snuggle. He doesn't share his mushy partly-chewed cookies. And he doesn't pet my hair with sticky hands. Instead he asks if he can borrow my MP3 player and will I rent The Matrix while I'm out. So even though part of me is relieved to be done with some of the worse parts of parenting, I also know that when it's over, it's not coming back. They will not just grow up, they will grow away. And as much as I love the teenaged Zaven, I miss the baby Zaven with the sticky hands and the mushy cookie. I am not ready for Quinn to borrow my MP3 player or whatever gizmo we have 10 years from now.

So for those of you who are just starting out as moms, or maybe even just hoping to start out, here's my best advice. Don't be in a hurry. Enjoy whatever your family is like now, even as you move towards the next steps.

Oh, and the best way to get a sleeping baby into his crib without waking him is to put a towel under him before you start nursing him or rocking him, then when he drifts off you can carry him like a stork carries babies in the picture books. Just lift up the towel, baby and all, and put it in his bed. That way he won't hit the cold sheets and wake up screaming again. You can even put a hot water bottle in his crib before you start nursing him so that the bed has a warm spot. Just remember to take it out when you put the baby in. And don't forget to put him to sleep on his back. It keeps him safe. I suspect it will be quite a few years before I get to do that again so I just wanted to share it before I forgot it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Still in the land of the living.

We are still alive over here, but I suspect we're in for a hard week. Quinn's nose started running today. I really hope he doesn't have what I have. Cross your fingers. I'm doing better but I'm still worn out and sleeping a lot. I'm dreading the catching up on housework that I know I'll have to do in a day or so. But for now I'm just happy to rest as much as I can.

The bright shining note of today is that Scott got the results from his KTIP evaluation today. For those of you who are not teachers in Kentucky, the KTIP is the Kentucky teacher's internship program for new teachers in the public school system. Scott's not a new teacher. He's taught almost 20 years of college. But he's new to the public school system, so he had to have an internship year. It's supposed to help the new teachers start out. Um, yeah. Help. That's funny. In reality it's a huge amount of meetings and paperwork and evaluations. So much that a lot of new teachers wash out. And while Scott wasn't a new teacher, he was teaching in a very different environment.

His first few months were very rough. In fact, his evaluators told him today that they thought back in October that he had a snowball's chance in hell of passing his final evaluations. If they had asked me, I could have told them that he'd ace it. I know my husband very well. He'll quit because he figured something out and got bored, but not because he couldn't do it. The very fact that he had a hard time at first pretty much guaranteed that he'd do well in the end. If it had been easy, he'd have quit by now.

Scott didn't just pass his evaluation. He got a perfect score. I have no idea how common or how rare that is, but I'm impressed. Of course I was always impressed by him. He's smart. And funny. And a good man. What more can you ask for out of life? Anyhow, he really impressed them and the evaluator sent in by the state wants him to try to get certified as a Highly Skilled Educator. There are only like 40 or 50 in the state and I understand that you can only hold the post for a few years, but while you have the job you get paid at 135% of your normal pay. I don't know if it'll pan out, but I think it's cool that they think he'd be good at it. Plus, a 35% pay bump would be pretty sweet, even if it only lasted a few years. I'm very proud of him today.

On a completely unrelated subject, you guys should go shopping at Rite Aid this week. There's a $5 off $25 coupon here. It's a legit link from one of the NBA teams. Anyhow, here are a few ways to use it:

Buy 2 Compound W wart freezing kits and a package of Huggies Pull Ups. The wart removers are on sale for $9.99 each and you can get a full rebate on both. The diapers have a $3 rebate and Sunday's paper had a $3 off coupon. After the rebates and the coupons (including the $5 off one above) it'll be free.

OR Print two copies of the $5 coupons and then go buy some Zyrtec twice. You can get the $30 bottle (a month's supply) and use a store coupon that's in the flyer for $3 off plus any other coupons you have for it. If you check out twice (so that you can use the $5 coupon for each transaction), you'll get a 2 month supply for $44 (minus whatever manufacturer coupons you had). Then submit the receipts to Rite Aid's online Single Check Rebate program AND to their current Zyrtec Rebate program. You'll get $25 back from the SCR and $10 back from the Zyrtec. So you'll spend about $7 after rebates (or less if you have coupons) for 2 months worth of allergy meds. Not bad at all.

And on another unrelated note, Zoe taught Quinn how to climb out of his crib. They are so proud of themselves. Sigh. I wish I'd had a few more months. Zoe is just now sleeping some nights in her own bed. She's a night wanderer. Plus that pretty much ends my ability to nap when he's napping. Yeah, I know that's supposed to be for newborns. But it works very well for sick moms, too. I suppose I should be happy she waited until I was almost well.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A post from my deathcomputer.

It can't be a post from my deathbed since I'm not actually in bed. Isn't it nice that I have a deathcomputer? It'll be handy for when I die from this monster cold I have, which I expect will be soon.

Actually I'm exagerating. I'm not nearly as sick today as I was this time yesterday. Day before yesterday I was a little stuffed up in the evening. I figured it was my allergies acting up because of the dust I'd kicked up while cleaning the house for the home visit. In general, if I dust, I get a runny nose. But yesterday morning I woke up with it much worse. And as the day went on, I got a LOT worse, and fast. In complete honesty, if I thought that a doctor would check me into the hospital, I would have gone to the ER. I never even visit the doctor for a cold and I was trying to figure out how to get them to admit me to a hospital. Over the course of 6 hours I went from having a runny nose to having a high fever, chills, sore throat, and a nose that dripped so badly that I had to hold a towel under it. Not a washcloth. A bath towel. I tried a washcloth. I was dripping too much for that. I was taking a prescription level dose of ibuprofen and couldn't get my fever down. And really, if I had been in poor health (like if I had cancer or was an old lady), I think it would have killed me. I kid you not.

Fortunately, it passed as quickly as it came. I'm in the endstages now. Just tired and my head feels funny. I suppose that makes me lucky. I survived and am going to be fine. But I don't feel lucky. I feel like shit. Maybe tomorrow I'll post a real post. But I'm still calling my computer a death computer.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The shameless ploy.

Just a quick update. I stayed up and got the living room clean and when I got up I found that Scott had put the play house back where it belonged. The visit went well, in large part because I put the box of kittens in the living room. My excuse is that I didn't have a fire in today, and I had put the space heater in the living room because that's where the kids spend most of the morning. All their toys are in there and so is the TV. But in reality I put the kittens in the living room in an attempt to distract Zoe's teacher from looking anywhere but at the newborn kittens. It mostly worked and thus she did not really look at the stuff that didn't get cleaned.

Now I just have to call my mom and make arrangements for tomorrow.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wait? What happened?

So here it is, the eve of the dreaded home visit. And how are things going? Over the course of the last two weeks Zoe has regressed in her behavior from being a delightful child to being a screaming banshee, and sometimes a hitting and kicking banshee (both at home and in school). The goals for the cleanliness of our home have devolved from everything being clean and neat to please God let me figure out where the cat peed so that at least it won't smell. And the weekend plans have gone from a relaxing but productive weekend at home to 1. lunch with my mom on Saturday in her hometown an hour away, 2. Caly going with my mom sometime on Saturday to her cousin's dance recital in her cousin's hometown two hours away but in the opposite direction, and 3. Zoe and Quinn having their gymnastics recital in our hometown Saturday at 3 pm.

How this all came to be is a mystery to me. But here's how we're dealing with it.

I'm going to place the blame for Zoe's behavior squarely on her teacher's shoulders in the hopes that she'll be so stunned to be blamed that she won't notice the state of our home. And I'm going to see if my mom wants to meet me for lunch here and pick Caly up when she does. If the recitals are both at the same time, it should work out. If not, then I'll blame the mix up on Zoe's teacher as well. (If you haven't tried blaming an innocent scapegoat, I highly recommend it. It's very handy.)

In reality I'm going to stay up tonight to clean the living room anyway. I spent the last two days getting most of the rest of the house back into the range of just being messy and cluttered rather than being something you call child protective services over. And unless Zoe wants to take her teacher on a tour of the house, all she'll see is the living room and the yard and porch. I'm cleaning the living room tonight once I know for sure everyone else in the house is asleep. The outside will just have to be what it is. The yard needs mowed (but can't be because there're still too many sticks from the ice storm scattered everywhere). But the big branches are gone and it looks like a lot better. And there are plastic boxes from the basement on our porch (from where we're putting our winter clothes away and bringing our summer clothes out). But they're stacked neatly and it's easy to explain. Unfortunately, the key feature of the yard right now is Zoe's plastic toy house laying on it's side by the swing set. A storm blew through last week and the wind gusts knocked it over there. I was going to move it back but then Zoe discovered that she could swing in and out of the bottom of the house and Quinn discovered that he could crawl through the window. So they don't want it right side up. And since they're playing in it now more than they ever have I'm just leaving it until the novelty wears off. And if her teacher isn't impressed with how cool it is to swing in and out of the bottom of a toy house, then nothing I do will impress her anyway and there's no point in trying.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


That's the sound my tummy keeps making today. I think the house will not be clean for the home visit because I am not feeling well. But that's just the way it'll have to be. Zoe's teachers are really quite nice and they aren't judgemental about that sort of thing at all. I just hate that it's always a wreck and having company coming (even if only for an official visit) is a good incentive to clean. Not so good that I am willing to clean while sick, though.

On a brighter note, I'm happily enjoying my Easter and Christmas presents. Last summer, I won a free mp3 player online. I never win things online. I win in real life, but not online. But I won an mp3 player and decided not to give it to the kids for their birthdays, but to give it to myself at Christmas. And it's been in my dresser since Christmas while I waited around trying to decide what I wanted to listen to. I like music, but I never buy it. I just listen to the radio. And I didn't want to go out and spend money that I couldn't spare to buy music to put on the player. But I don't really believe in downloading it for free. I don't judge those who do, but I know that if people were stealing the product of my work it wouldn't matter to me that I had plenty of money, it would still bother me. So I don't download it if I don't pay for it or get it free through a promotion.

But, I finally decided that as much as I like music, I would much prefer to listen to an audiobook. With toddlers around I never get to just read. Not the way I'd like to, anyway. So for Easter I gave myself an audiobook that I bought on ebay. It's Small Favor, one of the Dresden File books by Jim Butcher. I've read it before, but just one time and with an insane amount of interuptions. I didn't get to soak it in. But it's exactly the kind of book I like. It's funny and exciting and action packed and... did I mention funny? He's fighting the three billy goats gruff! I get tickled just thinking about it. Anyhow, last night I ripped the CD's and synched my mp3 player and I've been able to listen on and off today to distract myself from my tummy troubles. I may have to order the others in the series.

Monday, April 13, 2009

To new beginnings.

I don't know if it's just my hormones or a midlife crisis but the last couple of weeks have been topsy-turvey emotionally. I think it's mostly that I get an idea of what's supposed to be happening and when I can't make it happen, I get moody. The past two weeks have been spring break. First came the kid's spring break, but not Scott's since he teaches in a different school system. Then they flip-flopped. Scott was on break, but the kids were in school. It would have been a really nice time, except that in my head being on spring break means that we should do something grand and the kids should be crazy-happy. But you can't make 4 kids crazy-happy for a week even if you do manage to do something grand and you sure can't make them crazy-happy for two weeks while you basically stay at home and do chores. Thus as the end of the "vacation" approached, I freaked out and melted down. Friday I was miserable all day, despite the fact that nothing was wrong that hadn't been at least tolerable the day/week/month before. Well, there was the syrup... still dealing with that. (Steam-vac-ing tomorrow. Cross your fingers.) But overall, it was just that my expectations for the last two weeks were different from my expectations for normal life. Maybe syrup in a recliner is par for the course on a regular day (or a regular day in this house) but it's not part of the sales pitch for a dream vacation. Does that make any sense at all?

Anyhow, the break is over and Easter was very nice. We had a good day. Good. Which is (in it's own way) much better than great. We ate chocolate and colored eggs and did laundry and hunted eggs and I took a four-hour nap and we made a mac-and-cheese casserole instead of a ham that the kids wouldn't eat. The kids were happy with their baskets which (aside from the chocolate bunnies) didn't have all that much candy in them. We did NOT visit with our extended family, which is very rare for us on holidays. Usually we visit everyone and end up exhausted. This time we just resisted the social pressure and told the honest truth. We needed some time to just be together as a family. And while it's wonderful to have an extended family, we needed to not be traveling or cleaning up for visitors or anything else that just didn't have to be done.

So even though I still have that home visit coming, they'll just have to get over the state of my home. It's always a mess. Always. But we are who we are and they'll just have to deal with it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Life sucks.

OK, maybe not. But it feels that way today. And Quinn just poured a bottle of maple syrup into the recliner. And YES, I saw him before he did it. And YES, I took the bottle away and told Caly to take it to the kitchen and put it away. And YES, she did take it to the kitchen. But NO, she did not put it away. She put it on the counter. On the edge of the counter. Where he could see it. And reach it.


Zoe's second preschool home visit is in 5 and a half days. My house was already trashed and I was already exhausted. I am thinking of running away and joining a circus. I could be the fat lady.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Scorched earth

Today was productive! It was sunny and clear, but still a little cool... perfect weather for yard work. So that's what we did today. The yard had never gotten cleaned up after the ice storm in January. I had wanted to, and had made some small bits of progress, but there was just too much to do and not enough time. We had big branches down all over the yard and I had dragged them into a pile, but even though Scott has the equipment to cut them up, he didn't have the time. And we certainly didn't have the money to pay someone to do it. So they just laid there waiting. But this week is Scott's spring break so we decided to tackle it today. First, Scott cut them into managable sections with a chain saw. While he was doing that, a friend used some heavy equipment to prepare a seed bed in one of our fields. Then he used a dozer to move the branches into the seed bed. It only took about 10 minutes, where it would have taken all day by hand. Then we went around the yard and trimmed out a few trees that were damaged so badly they won't make it, plus we cut back some overgrown vines that were threatening our redbud tree. Then we hauled that stuff into the seed bed. And Scott and Caly are outside right now clearing the fallen branches from the edges of our gravel lane and loading them into his truck to add to the pile.

It's a huge pile now, and will be a very exciting bonfire in about an hour. If you make a seed bed out of potting soil, you can be pretty sure that the only things coming up are the ones you planted. But if you just till the dirt in your field you need to make sure you kill off the seeds that are already in it. So we're burning the seed bed, or rather, scorching the dirt in it by building a big fire on top of it. And big fires are fun. I have the marshmallows and hot dogs ready.

All that's left to do in the yard is to gather up all the little twigs and sticks that are all over. We have to get those up to mow the grass, but it'll take a good couple of hours. There's a lot of them. However it's doable by me and the kids, so we should be able to get it done next week. And I'm kind of glad that we won't be burning all the twigs tonight. I'm planning on keeping them around for kindling since we're still having nights where it gets down in the 30's. We heat with a wood burning stove and a nice pile of kindling might be very much appreciated over the course of the next week or two. And if not, it'll still be there in the fall when the nights get cold again.

I'm really happy that we made so much progress today. It's very satisfying to see things get better. And unlike cleaning the house, it should stay done at least a few weeks.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen Step #5

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps.

Step #5. How to do this and still stay sane. This last step in the process is not something I've read on other sites. This is just me. But I think maybe this can be of help to those just starting out. Because at some point you'll start to be very successful at this. You'll start walking out of stores with a hundred dollars worth of stuff that you only paid a few dollars for. And then one day some cashier or some person in line will basically accuse you of running the store out of business or ruining the economy or stealing or cheating or something like that. And you might be ticked off at first, or not even think about it. But if you do think about it, you might wonder if there's any truth to it. What's fair to the store, the manufacturer, the other shoppers, and your family? Who's really paying for that stuff you're taking home, and what do they get out of it? So here's how it works and what rules you have to play by.

  • Nobody thinks twice if you use a $1 off coupon on a $5 product. And nobody thinks twice if the product is on sale for $4 and you still use your coupon. People combine coupons and sales all the time and no one worries about it. That's because the sale is coming from the store (they're taking a dollar loss from their regular profit) and the coupon is coming from the manufacturer (they are also taking a dollar loss from their regular profit). No one is taking a big loss. But what if the sale is a Buy One Get One Free sale and the coupon is a Buy One Get One Free coupon? You walk out with two free products and suddenly the store manager is pissed at you. But the same rules apply. The store is being paid for one product by the manufacturer. They ARE being paid, just not by you. And what does the store get out of this? Well, they get you. They get you in there buying free shampoo but also picking up milk because you're out and you need milk and also some crackers to keep your kid quiet while you shop and don't forget that set of wrenches your husband needs... Yes, you could go in and just buy the sale stuff. But this is reality. You end up buying other stuff (even if it's more expensive at this store) because it's cheaper than paying the gas to drive across town to the store with the good prices. And what does the manufacturer get? He also gets you. He gets you to try that new eyeshaddow that you would never have paid full price for. But now that you have tried it, you switch and will always buy it (which is what happened when I tried Revlon's Illuminance Creme Eyeshaddow). And let's not forget that people who love a new product tell their friends. I just told you about my favorite eyeshadow. Word of mouth is good advertising.
  • So here are your obligations to the stores and the manufacturers: Don't print fake coupons. Don't buy things for the rebate and then return them just to make a profit. Follow the fine print on the coupons and sales flyers. Those are the terms of the deal, folks. Don't pretend your house is an apartment complex to get 47 extra rebates. If you aren't sure of the rules ask about them on a coupon website. Ask me. But try not to cheat. Why? Because even though giving away some free products helps them, giving away an unlimited supply of free products hurts them. And we don't want to go and kill the goose that laid the golden egg now, do we?
  • And here are your obligations to the other shoppers: Don't steal every peelie or tearpad coupon in the store. Take what you'll use and maybe a few extra to share with a friend or to trade, but don't take them all. And don't clear the shelves of sale items if you can help it. Sometimes you can't do much about this. Stores don't always stock up on sale items and sometimes the deal only works if you buy in bulk (like the tomato sauce sale I mentioned before). But try. And yes, other customers can ask for rain checks. But it's still better for them if they can just buy what they need when they're already in the store.
  • Finally, here are your obligations to your family. Don't let this take over your life. Don't let it eat up all your time with your family or fill up every space in your house so that no one has room to breathe. This is supposed to make life better, not worse. It's up to you to keep this under control.
  • I also strongly recommend that you use your new couponing skills to help others. Donate free items to people in need, homeless shelters, the dog pound, an afterschool program. And hang on to those expired coupons and mail them to the military. Overseas military can use coupons for up to six months after the expiration date. Also, coupons are a great way to be generous to people at a distance. You can mail coupons for free products to someone in an earthquake or hurricane disaster area much less expensively than you can mail the actual products. Be generous. It's important.
  • There are no drawbacks to this part. Here's why: Playing by the rules will get you the same results as cheating. It just takes longer. You're going to see some awesome deals doing this. And you're going to be tempted to get every single one, even to the point of double-dipping on rebates or using coupons you know aren't legitimate. But the thing to remember is that these deals are cyclical. That shampoo that's free after rebate? If you want more, you don't have to cheat. You just have to wait. And honestly, you don't have to wait long. You'll find far more free shampoo than you have room to store in only a few months. Without cheating, here are the results you can expect: You'll be able to get most of your health and beauty products for free or very close to free. It will take a while, because not everything goes on sale at once. But you'll soon be seeing free shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, mousse, soap, bodywash, deodorant, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, etc. You may even get overage on those. And you can expect to do very well on medications. Most of the time over the counter medicine won't be free, but it will be a lot, lot cheaper. Maybe 75-90% off retail. Same goes for makeup, tampons, and pads. You can expect to buy most cleaning supplies and baby supplies like diapers, wipes, baby shampoos, diaper creams, etc. at 50-75% off the regular prices. The cleaning supplies vary wildly so you'll do better (and even get things free) for some of those. Food is a different story. First off, we all know that the cheapest (and healthiest) way to eat is to prepare your own food from basic ingredients. A potato you bake in your oven is cheaper than pre-pakaged, pre-cooked french fries. But there aren't going to be many coupons for raw potatoes. And you can't exactly stockpile fresh fruits and salads and bread and milk. So there are limits on how you'll be able to stretch your food budget. Expect to save about 30% of what you're currently spending on groceries. You could save more... but you'd be eating sodium, artificial sweeteners, and corn syrup at pretty much every meal. Look for your bigger savings to be on cereal, frozen foods, peanut butter, pasta sauce... things that you can stockpile. (Plus junk food. There are lots of coupons for junk food.) On those items, you should be able to do better than 30% off. But the fresh milk, meats, fruits, and veggies are going to be full price with only the occasional rebate. If you have a freezer, buy extra meats to freeze when they're on sale or marked down on clearance. And look for stores that give $$ off your next purchase coupons or % off your total purchase coupons and use those when you buy fresh foods. Plus, pay attention to what's already in your fridge and use things before they spoil. (I was always bad about that but I'm getting better now that I think of it as money I'm throwing away.) But I digress. The point is that you're going to get a lot of really, really great deals and there will be no need to break the rules or even bend them. And there's no need to let this take over your life. It's OK to miss a bargain because you were playing with your kids. Another bargain will come along. They always do.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions, and please share the links to these posts with your friends. And let me know how it's going, too. I love to hear when someone scores a great deal. I'll try to fill in some of the missing details every few weeks. I know it's a lot to get all at once, but it gets easier as it goes. And believe it or not this was the edited down version of all the tips I read on coupons sites. I hope it wasn't too much. But you can print it out and read it over a few times and you should be able to do really, really well. I hope you have fun.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen Step #4

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps.

Step #4. Organizing. This is probably the most difficult aspect of couponing. But it's also the most critical. There are three main things to organize: your coupons, your deals, and what you just bought.

  • You'll need to be able to find the coupon you want when you want it. This is key. Some people just put all their coupons in a shoebox full of envelopes and go. Some keep all their flyers intact and then cut out the coupons as they need them. But for me, I've found that a 3 ring binder (a HUGE 3 ring binder) and lots and lots of baseball card organizers is the way to go. I have a small expanding folder for the coupons I plan to use this week. I keep the ones for sale items, rebate items, or coupons about to expire (the ones I really want to use even though there's not a sale) in this. And for coupons I might use in the future, but aren't for stuff on sale right now, I have a three ring binder decorated by Zoe with a picture of Quinn on the front and Zoe on the back. (Can you recognize them?) Everything is divided into main sections like Medical and then subdivided further (using a sticker on the page) into categories like allergys, pain killers, injuries, tummy meds, etc. It sounds complicated. It is complicated. But it makes it a lot easier in the store.

  • You'll need to organize your deals. By this I mean you'll need to not just have a shopping list of what you need, but also a shopping list of what's on special, what you need to meet the terms of a rebate, what coupons you can use, etc. Shopping will be a little harder and will require you to plan in advance much more than you're used to. Blogs and websites are a huge help, but they can't do it for you because no one else knows what products you hate, which ones you can't live without, which coupons you have, which stores are close to home, which items your store just doesn't carry, etc. So plan on spending a half hour making a shopping list instead of 5 minutes. And try to avoid shopping with a lot of distractions. Husbands and kids can theoretically be helpful, but mine mostly put stuff I don't want in my cart.

  • You'll need to organize the stuff you buy. I know, I know. You don't plan to buy so much stuff that it needs to be organized. But there is a reason. First off, sometimes you can't help it. No one wants to go out and buy 13 cans of tomato sauce when they just need one. But I did just that last week. Why? Because I could get all 13 for a total of 7 cent. Not 7 cents each. 7 cents for all 13. But if I bought just twelve, I would have had to have paid almost $5. No, it doesn't make sense. But that's how the sale and the coupon and the rebate combined. I had to have a before coupon sale of $10 to get a $5 rebate. The coupons brought it down from $10 to $5.07, then I get the rebate. 13 cans for 7 cents. So now I have all this tomato sauce and what can I do with it? Plus I can never turn down free shampoo or conditioner or free razors or free soap. And what about when there's overage (when I'm gettting back more than the cost of the sale item)? In other words, you end up with a lot of stuff and you'll need to deal with it. Here are the best options: #1 - make gifts of it. Buy a cheap basket at a yard sale and give a gift basket of hair care products or make up as Christmas gifts. #2 - donate to charity. God's food pantry might really like some of that tomato sauce. There's no need not to share at that price. #3 - stockpile it. Sure I have more tomato sauce than I can use right now. But it's not on sale that cheap every day now is it? I can buy when things are on sale and save them. When they're not on sale, I will still have plenty. Plus, if my husband loses his job (like he did last year) I will be able to cut our household expenses by living off the stuff I have in storage. I will still have to buy food. I don't have near enough space in my house to stockpile a year's worth of food. But I could easily go a year without buying soap or shampoo or hairspray or razors or toothbrushes or toothpaste or floss.... And almost all of it was bought for free.

  • You'll need to organize your budget. No, I'm not joking. And it's not as simple as just spending less money on shampoo and more on going to the movies. Initially you won't be saving much money. That's because you'll be buying things that have rebates and you'll need to wait for the rebates to come back. And you'll be buying more expensive brands so even though you're not paying full price you won't be saving tremendously off the price of the store brand. Don't panic. Here's how to handle it. First, you need to get a rough estimate of what you're spending now. If you don't already have a budget, just save a copy of all your bills for a month. Not your receipts, your bills like electric, water, insurance, internet, etc. Your income minus your monthly bills is your discretionary budget. That's the money that you have each month that you get to decide how to spend. You use it for gas and groceries and food and entertainment and emergency car repairs and whatever else comes up. If you know how much you spend on groceries and OTC medicines and personal care items, that's great. If not, take a rough estimate. Maybe half your discretionary budget? That's about what it is for us, but you may make more or less than I do or have bigger or lower bills. Whatever number you come up with, write it down. As you start the process of couponing, remember that number. You can't just go out and buy every item that's free after rebate if you don't have the money in the bank to pay for it, can you? And what about those newspapers you're buying? They have to come out of your budget, too. Over the course of the next two or three months, you'll start getting rebates back and then there's more math. I will do a post on this in a few weeks to help guide you through it. For now, it's enough to know that you still need to keep to a budget and that just because somethings a great deal doesn't mean you can afford it.

  • The drawbacks: This is not a fun hobby for those with poor organizational skills. It takes a lot of time and even a bit of money to set up a coupon organizer. And even if you plan to give away most of your free/dirt cheap products you'll still need to store them long enough to not be driving to God's Food Pantry daily. Plus you'll need some space for the things you want to keep. Don't be afraid to buy a few plastic storage boxes, but don't let it take over your home. Logistically figure out how much space you can afford, how much time you want to spend on this, and what your budget really is. Then stick to your limits.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen, Part 3

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps

Step #3: Using coupons to best advantage. So why do you need to snag peelies or tearpad coupons to use later when you can just use them right then? It's actually a simple idea. The best deal is when you can combine a coupon AND a store that doubles coupons AND a sale AND a store rebate AND a manufacturer rebate AND a free attached product AND whatever other promotional offer you can find. The list of possible combinations goes on and on. And in reality you're not going to get all of those at once. But you can get two or three easily. Here's how to do it.

  • When you're deciding what coupons to keep, the standards are a bit different from what comes naturally. If you don't have a dog, there's not much point collecting dog food coupons. But what about coupons for products that you buy (like shampoo) but not a brand you normally buy? Depends on why you don't buy it. If you hate the shampoo then let someone else have the coupon. But if it's just too expensive because you normally buy store brand, then keep it. Keep coupons for anything you'd want if it was free. That way you'll have them when the item goes on sale and/or has a rebate.

  • Pick two stores to shop with at first. You can add more once you've got the hang of those stores. One should be the store you normally shop at. The other needs to be a drug store like Rite Aid or Wal-greens. I have both of those in my town. (And in another post I'll explain the best way to shop at each of them.) Rite Aid is simpler, but the deals are more plentiful at Wal-greens. Both have a rebate program. CVS is also supposed to be good, but I don't have one in my town so I can't help you out on learning their program. The reason that you need to shop at a drug store is that's where most of the non-food freebies are. Learn the stores policies on coupons. Do the double coupons? Do they match sale prices from other stores? Do they accept coupons printed from the internet? Do they have their own store coupons? If they do, how do those coupons work? Do they have a rebate program? If you forget a coupon can you bring it in with your receipt later and get money back? Some stores let you do this and others look at you like you're crazy. Once you've got an idea of how they work, start trying to look for sales or deals. Don't panic if it takes you a few weeks to get the hang of it. There's a learning curve. After you've learned the ins and outs of those two stores, start learning the deals at another store. But don't try to get every deal at every store. Not only is it too much to keep track of, you'll end up driving all over town all day. Not only does the gas eat into your budget, the time eats into your life. You'll be much happier if you find 3-5 stores to shop at regularly and only go to the others every few months.

  • Learn what the fine print on your coupons means. One per purchase means that if you buy one can of soup, you can use one coupon. If you buy two, you can use two coupons. Unless a coupon says otherwise, you can use one coupon for each item you buy. If a coupon is a Buy One Get One Free (BOGO) coupon, you can usually pair it with a second coupon for the free item. For example, buying two toothbrushes using a BOGO coupon and a dollar off coupon is OK because you are buying two items and using 2 coupons. Same thing with a BOGO sale and two different dollar off coupons. Two items using two coupons. Some people even combine a BOGO sale, a BOGO coupon and a dollar off coupon. Again, two coupons for two items should be OK. Some stores freak out about this and some don't bat an eye. The exceptions are when the coupons says $1 off of 2 items or $2 off of 3 items. In that case, one coupon is for 2 or 3 items and you can't use coupons on those other products. Another exception is that two coupons can be used on a single item if one is a store coupon and one is a manufacturer coupon. This varies from store to store, but usually it's OK to combine these two types of coupons.

  • Buy the right size of the product. Normally, a larger size of something means that your price per ounce is cheaper. But when you add a coupon into the mix, that can change. Just say you have a coupon for $1 off any size bottle of mouthwash. If the 36 oz. bottle is $3 and the 12 oz. bottle is $1.50, then the bigger bottle is the better deal. But with your coupon the 36 oz. bottle is $2 and the 12 oz. bottle it $0.50. Now the smaller size is a better deal. What if there was a trial size 3 oz. bottle for $0.75? Without a coupon it's the most expensive one of all. With your coupon, you're being paid to take it. BUT part of this depends on how much of the mouthwash you need and how many coupons you have for it. If the $1 coupon is something that comes out every month or so, and you have tons of mouthwash at home, just go for the sample bottle. It'll be nice when traveling. But if you're out of mouthwash, haven't seen a sale in an age and that coupon is something you've never seen before... maybe you might want to go for the small bottle. In the end, if you buy more at full price next week because the sample didn't last you, you're not saving as much by going for the tiny sample. (I know. It's complicated. It gets easier with practice.)

  • Be sure not to pay more for something just because you have a coupon. Just say I was buying dog food. I might have a great coupon ($4 off!) for an expensive brand (Iams) and even using the coupon I'd be paying more than if I just bought the wal-mart brand that I've been buying for years. Using that coupon in that way would actually cost me more than if I just bought what I normally buy. So be sure to compare costs and start paying attention to what the best deals are. Sometimes the best deal is just the regular old store price. It's OK to let a coupon expire.

  • Study the sale flyers for the stores you shop at AND check online blogs or coupons sites for deals. People who like couponing usually post the deals they're excited about. If you have even 4 or 5 people going over the store ads with a fine tooth comb you'll end up with a nice shopping list that even tells what coupons you'll need to use and has links to rebate forms. My friend Tara posts the Walgreens and Price Chopper deals each week. (She also did a great post the other day about her coupon sources.) I like scanning the forums at HotCouponWorld, but I had trouble with it as a newbie because there's a lot of jargon, a lot of forums and posts, and frankly it gets overwhelming. Once you have more practice you should go check it out. They are very friendly. It's just a lot coming at you at once.

  • The Drawbacks: There are two main drawbacks here. #1 - You are not going to get every deal, every time. Say it with me folks... You are not going to get every deal, every time. You have to learn to live with that. It's just a fact of life. #2 - Sometimes cashiers will give you problems. They will fail to ring up all the coupons. Or they'll decide that you can only use one coupon on a trip to the store. Or they'll decide you can't combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon even though the add in the newspaper says that you can. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. If you've learned the rules and you're doing everything you're supposed to, then don't accept it when a cashier rings your stuff up wrong or tells you that you can't do coupons this way. If you have a problem, you can ask for a manager. If the manager is not helpful, you can tell them that you'd like to void the transaction and take your coupons and your money and leave. They'll get over it. So will you. Saddly, sometimes they will try to keep the coupons. If they're low value coupons that you see all the time it may not be worth fighting over. If they're high value coupons that you had to trade your dog to get, you can argue with them. You have given back every part of the merchandise, they have to return every part of the payment. Or you can continue with the transaction and then come back and return some things, and then come back again and return more until it's all returned. Obviously that way is a pain in the butt, however if you return things in separate trips, they usually can't tell which items were bought with a coupon and which weren't. Unless the receipt says "L'Oreal coupon -$2" then you'll get the full asking price when you return it. This is fair if they keep the coupon because they'll be sending the coupon off to the manufacturer and getting paid by them. In fact, they actually get more from a coupon than they do from you. That $2 L'Oreal coupon will be redeemed for $2.08.

Coming next... Step #4: Organizing

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen, Part 1

I started working on this yesterday and realized it was too big for a single post. So I've broken this down in to five posts. Let me preface this series of posts by saying that there are lots of sites out there that will teach you how to do this. Most, if not all, of them are done by people who've been doing this for years and can give you a much more comprehensive tutorial. That being said, I think sometimes it gets to be too comprehensive. I know that when I started this about 6 months ago there was so much to learn that I got overwhelmed. So I'm going to try to write up a quick-and-easy guide, rather than a perfect guide. It'll still be too big for one post. But I think I can do it in 5 steps and still keep each step understandable. I hope it works for you.

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps.

Step #1. Rebates. They've revamped them in recent years to make them easier.
  • Drugs stores often have rebate programs where you buy the rebate item, go online and enter some information from your receipt. No mailing or UPC's required. You enter receipts all month and at the end of the month request a check. Very, very simple.
  • Beer and/or wine rebates will pay for things besides beer and wine. Beer rebates usually involve things like, 'Buy some beer and $10 worth of sodas, chips, ice, or pizza and we'll reimburse you $10'. And in some states, the laws dictate that no alcohol purchase is required. Because I live in Kentucky, that rebate simply says to buy $10 worth of soda, chips, ice, or pizza and they'll reimburse me $10. That makes it free. Beer rebates tend to be on party foods, wine rebates tend to be on cheese and crackers. Find out the laws for your state and then check your liquor stores regularly. In most cases, no UPC's are required, just your receipts.
  • Try-Me-Free products have the rebate form on the item you're buying. Those do require UPC's, so read the fine print.
  • When you send for a rebate, they do not normally take coupons into account. If I go buy a shampoo that has a $3 rebate, the rebate company does not care if I used a coupon to buy the shampoo. They reimburse based the fine print of the rebate. If it says $3, they pay $3. If it says purchase price, they reimburse the price that your receipt says you were charged. In most cases, a coupon is part of the payment, not a reduction on what you were charged.
  • Save your receipts each month and when a new month starts, stick last month's receipts in an envelope somewhere. Sometimes you find a rebate form for something you already bought. It's free money IF you have the receipt. If you don't, see if you can remember where you bought it, what day, what credit card you used, and the exact time of day. The store can sometimes print you out a new receipt if you have all the info they need to find it. But it's a pain in the ass, so it's better to save your receipts. And it'll be handy for tax season.
  • The drawbacks: you will need to part with your money for 6 to 8 weeks. And, unfortunately, sometimes the rebates don't work. They get lost in the mail or your rebate check is stolen or you didn't checkmark some tiny little box that you should have or the company offering the rebate goes belly up. But whatever the problem is, the end result is the same. You didn't get back the money you should have. It doesn't happen often. But it does happen. So don't go buying hundreds of dollars worth of rebate stuff each month that you wouldn't normally buy and/or can't afford if the rebate doesn't come. The ideal rebates are for products you'd buy at that price even without the rebate. Like the beer rebates that pay for sodas are perfect for me. I buy sodas anyway. The rebate is just gravy.

Coming next... Step #2: Coupons

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen, Part 2

The Quick and Easy Guide to being a Coupon Queen in 5 basic steps.

Step #2. Getting coupons. Here's where to find them.

  • The Sunday paper, but don't just buy a single paper each week. Buy extras. Some people say to buy one paper for everyone in your family, even children and infants. I don't do that because newspapers cost money. I buy two each week, but I do it in the morning. Then I skim through the coupon inserts and if I see something really great I buy more later in the day. Some stores will sell you their leftover papers on Monday for a fraction of the cost, but I haven't had any luck with that. Never hurts to ask, though. And there are websites that post what coupons will be in upcoming papers. But I've found that the coupons in the paper vary from region to region and those previews are not accurate for my region. So don't buy extras based on what you think is going to be in the paper. Buy extras after you open it up and look. And always be sure to make sure your paper hasn't had the coupons stolen from it before you buy it. I usually grab mine from the bottom of the stack.

  • All You magazine sold at Wal-mart is filled with coupons. Again, buy extras if it has coupons you want. Some other magazines have them (although not as many), so key an eye out as you read.

  • Catalinas. These are the coupons that some stores print out at the cash register. They often have the name of the store that printed them on the coupon, but some of them can be used at other stores. Read the fine print and don't count on your cashier accepting them if it's from a different store.

  • Tear pads. Some stores have pads of coupons and you can tear one off to use. People usually just take a single one, thinking this is all they are allowed to take and that they have to use it right then. You can take more. You can use them on that trip OR you can take them home for later. But don't go crazy and take the whole pad. Leave some for the rest of us.

  • Blinkys. These are the same sort of deal as the tear pads, only these are the ones with the light that blinks and the machine that spits out a new coupon when you take the one sticking out. But like tear pads you can take a few for a later use.

  • Peelies. These are the coupons that manufacturers attach to the product for the cashier to peel off and scan. Again, for the most part these are just regular old coupons. The way you get them is different, but the coupon is the same. So there is no reason that you can't peel off the coupon to use later. I usually peel one side so that I can see the fine print and make sure that it doesn't say it has to be detached by the cashier. If it does, I leave it . If not, I take one or two. And no, cahiers don't usually care.

  • Friends and family. Seriously, hit them up for the coupons they're just tossing in the trash. Trade for them on coupon sites. Snag them out of your neighbor's recycling (assuming they're on top or you don't mind dumpster diving). Join a coupon exchange where you swap the coupons for stuff you don't want for coupons for things you do want. This works especially well if you're sharing with friends from a different area of the country. Sure you have to pay for postage, but the flip side of that is that you get coupons that aren't in your local paper.
  • The internet. You can print them out from the manufacturer's website, as well as from sites dedicated to couponing. My friend Tara just blogged about this. Great minds think alike, LOL. Check out her post here. You can even buy coupons on ebay if you want. Whatever works for you.

  • The drawbacks: You have to cut them out and organize them or you'll never be able to find the one you want. On top of that, printable coupons take paper and ink. Couponing takes time. It's not a full time job. But it can't be done in 15 minutes either. Plan on spending 2-3 hours a week on clipping and sorting and reading the store flyers. On the plus side you can have a conversation or watch a TV show while you work on it. It's not hard, just tedious.

Coming next... Step #3: Using coupons to your best advantage