Saturday, November 16, 2013

Christmas Tips & Tricks Part 2

In this new post, I'd like to address how to save money for college (or pay off your existing loans) while shopping for Christmas, eating at restaurants, or even buying everyday essentials such as groceries and toilet paper.

I was told about a website years ago called  It is an absolutely amazing way to save money.  The premise is simple enough; sign your child up for a college savings plan or attach  your current student loans to the plan.  Register your store shopping and loyalty cards as well as your debit cards and credit cards on your Upromise account. (yes, this might seem a bit scary, but I have been using this sight for almost 10 years, and I have never had a single issue or had any information stolen or sold.) After your cards are registered, you can save money three basic ways:

1.  Shop at your local stores and eat at your local restaurants as normal.  When you are at the store, look for a little blue and yellow Upromise sticker below the items.  When you purchase these items, a set amount of money is automatically transferred into your account by the store or company.  It is really that easy!  Want to know what products are eligible to help you plan your shopping trip? Visit the and find out!  And guess what!  For all you coupon-aholics, there are online clipable coupons on the site that immediately register to your account and offer "extra" savings on the items you are already purchasing (with or without coupons) in the store.  This is savings that will be  transferred to your Upromise account.  Have grandparents or parents that want to help?  You can send an evite to them through the site and they can register their cards to your account as well, (privately, you never see their card information, but you are informed of the amounts you receive through them)...effectively helping you save more money for college OR pay off your student loans!  Many restaurants and other retail/service establishments also participate. (You can find a detailed list by area on their site, or you can search by retailer.) In fact, one of my favorite local restaurants, Azteca, participates!  I usually get a rebate of about $2 every time we eat there, just for using one of my registered cards (my check card).

2.  Use the website as a launching board when you do any and ALL of your online shopping.  Upromise has thousands of corporate sponsors and businesses that offer huge discounts and rebates to your upromise account for purchasing through their links on the Upromise site.  Sound complicated? It's really not!  Visit and register.  Then look up your favorite stores.  Click on their link to launch to their website.  Buy as you normally do, and receive money back in your account from those stores!  For instance, Tuesdays are 10% Tuesdays.  Shop as you normally do, and receive 10% back from your purchase from participating online stores on those days! Check our a recent list here.|mcE6679_2&ax=mcE6679_2&cm_mmc=mc-_-email-_-OLM-_-mcE6679_2&CS_003=7914158.

3. Stack your savings!  ToysRUS is an amazing participator in this program.  I often get 10% back from them and free shipping by buying online.  (Target too!)  And what's even better about these two retailers is that I can actually stack my savings! How? Well, about 8 years ago I applied for and received a ToysRUs Upromise Master Card.  I get additional money back into my Upromise account for using this card, and an even higher percentage back for using it at ToysRUs.  So last year, I used my Upromise ToysRUs MasterCard, linked through the Upromise site to shop at, got free shipping, and ended up receiving over 15% back on all my purchases after I stacked all the amounts (again, by doing nothing but registering, going through the Upromise site, and using a registered card to purchase).  I also paid attention to the ToysRUs adds and noted that some HUGE savings and sales on the things I wanted were happening the day BEFORE Thanksgiving and others Thanksgiving day! So I made a list, used the link, used my card, purchased with free shipping, and got WAY better sales than I found the entire year, plus received my cash back into my Upromise account!  Now this ONLY works if you pay the credit card off when it comes in so that you don't waste savings on interest!  Target also has a credit and a debit card that give you an immediate 5% off of EVERY purchase, so you can register and use that card, too!

It may seem confusing, but I would be happy to meet personally with you and explain it in better detail. You will find there are a lot of other ways to save money using this site that I haven't even explored here, so definitely check it out! Since this was a little more detailed post, I will be doing a separate one on how I actually organize my shopping/purchasing chart next!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Christmas Tips & Tricks
Lots of people keep telling me I should really write down all my tips and tricks for things like traveling and Christmas shopping.  So here goes!
With the upcoming Christmas season, I decided to start my "Tips & Tricks" blogs with some information about early preparation.  With all the "worry" about preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, I know that many of you have an idea how important early preparation can be to "survival".  Well, staying on budget and getting things that your family could really use and want requires the same mindset!  Some of the things I will be writing about include; early "Wish List" prep, How to watch for and find "Best Prices", how to get money for college while Christmas shopping, preparing the ultimate "Gift Buying" chart, and more! So keep checking back!
Today, I'm going to start with a few simple tips.  First, it is not too early to start getting ideas from your kids, family and friends about what they really need for Christmas.  In fact, asking questions now tends to get more realistic answers as friends and family might not expect that you're digging for Christmas ideas!  I like to start by prepping my Christmas Notebook.  I make a page for each of my kids and place their name at the top.  Next, I take that notebook with me on a simple trip to a store.  It's the perfect opportunity to walk around with my kids in the toy/ clothes/ shoes/ electronic/ bedding departments.  When I see what they are drawn to and see their eyes light up, I'll write those items down and leave about 5-7 lines beneath to write how much they currently cost at stores and online as below:
teal wool scarf by Wentworth
(T) $19.99
(JCP) $24.99
The "T" here stands for target (the item is made up, lol).  As I go to other stores, I carry my notebook with me.  When I see the same or similar item at another store, I list it with the price. (JCP stand for JCPenney).  I also check online with those same stores because prices and sales online are often different, and many times I can save taxes and even get free shipping.
Don't forget to add room for teachers, music instructors, neighbors, Pastors, or anyone else whom you usually give a gift. Prepping a Christmas Notebook may seem like a lot of trouble, but the more time you take to plan now, the less time and money you will end up spending running around getting the gifts you "forgot" later, plus, it can really be a life and budget saver when it comes to finding great deals when purchasing  gifts you really want!
Another thing that is important is paying attention to adds and articles EARLY!  For instance, here is a great "Introductory" clip about planning the best times to buy.
I was really happy to see this add, personally, as I was ready to trade in my "not-so-smart" phone on a new model this week! After watching this, I know to wait a bit to get a lot better deal.
Check back next time to see how to set up a Gift Shopping Chart that will help you plan and keep track of individual gifts, what you purchased, how much you spend, when you have it "in hand" (if you ordered online) and even when it is wrapped! Also, I will let you in on a few great ways to save for college (or pay off our current loans) while buying Christmas gifts, grocery shopping, or even eating out!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Going Underground...

in Seattle!  My mom came to visit us from Arkansas recently.  Of course a visit from family would not be complete without a trip to Seattle on the ferry.  So on Monday, June 6, we headed off (without a plan, of course)...

Upon arriving in Seattle, we only had a few hours to spend there, so we decided to check on the Seattle Underground Tour.  This is something that before had only seemed vaguely interesting to me, but the timing was right, and so off we went!

What is the Seattle Underground?  Well, probably not what you think; not anymore anyway!  On June 6, 1889 (yes exactly 122 years ago that day) A boiling pot of glue in a cabinet shop got turned over and ignited a pile of kerosene-soaked rags...not too big of  a deal, but the cabinet shop was next to a munition storage on one side, a liqueur store on the other side, and there was a paint store directly above it...the result?  The entire town burned to the ground in 12 hours!

So what makes it an underground?  Well, I'm glad you asked!  Seattle was originally settled on tide flats...for you southerners...a tide flat is the area of land left uncovered when an ocean tide moves out.  (Not a big deal if you are right on the ocean, but in the Puget Sound, where Seattle/Tacoma are located, the tide can leave miles of land uncovered twice a day!)  Unfortunately for the original settlers, when they landed in the soon-to-be Seattle, the tide was out!  Not being discouraged, they built on the low land areas anyway, seeing a potential for HUGE profits from the 500 yr old trees growing on the ridge, and the benefit of 1 of the only 5 deep-water protected ports in the world to ship them out after they were lumbered... Yet twice a day, the tide came in and wet everything down. 

This continual "wetting" was a bother, but the merchants dealt with it in order to reap the profitable benefits.  In fact, there is a very good book written about these original settlers and the others who built Seattle.  Interestingly enough, it's called Sons of the Profits . (Not Prophets)

This inconvenience was tolerated until Seattle came in need of taking care of its poop.  Yes, I said it, Poop.  No use beating around the bush, because that's what the problem was all about.  Upper-scale houses had been built on the hill, and those houses had installed outhouses...but on the tide flats, you can't dig down, so what do you do with it?  Well, lets just say it was a beautiful day when the first toilets (yes, called crappers due to their inventor's name) arrived on the ship!  But as they began installing them, the instructions said to hook up to the city's sewer system...Sewer system?  Seattle didn't have one!  So they quickly created one, and the below 5foot x 5inch wood box was set up as the first sewer in Seattle.

Well, the system drained into Puget Sound...which worked fine until the tide came back in, and pushed pressure, and everything else in the water (including what had been recently flushed into it) backwards into the sewer...needless to say the whole situation STANK! reality, the fire was actually a good thing!  Because it forced the founders to rethink the whole city layout....nothing ever goes as planned, but, what eventually happened was that tons, and tons, and tons of land from the hill (which was actually a 45% grade) was hydro blasted and slewed down Yessler Ave to the lowlands to build them up.  The merchants didn't want to wait, however and began rebuilding anyway...yes, right on the tide flats...the city continued to build up the streets, themselves, which resulted in streets being from 10-30 feet above the sidewalks and building main entrances.  Here is is picture of the stone wall used to build up the street. (We are standing at the original ground-level door to a hotel)  The brick across the top of the picture is the "bottom-level" for the existing sidewalk!

Eventually, the merchants tired of loosing customers (literally) because of the resulting hazards including; Barrels, and crates falling from trucks, the ladder-climb up to the street level, and even drunks leaving bars and falling off the streets to their death (dubbed Seattle's original one-step program).  So they concreted the "underground" by building beams into the existing buildings (see pic above) used the original 1st floors as basements, and moved their "front doors" to the 2nd the street level.

Now there are so many, many, many funny, quirky and just plain fascinating facts about this and the ensuing "underground" that I would highly recommend for anyone in the Seattle area to make a point to take this tour.   We had a 11 yr old girl, 14yr old boy, Me, and my Mom there, and we all LOVED it!  We are still talking and laughing about it.  So here are a few more pics from our Underground experience...