Sunday, August 16, 2009

Halloween Candy for FREE this year!!

Here's a blast from the past I think most of us can relate to: it's Halloween and you're 8 years old. You're all decked out in your awesome costume (maybe you were a pirate or a princess or in my case, a tube of toothpaste, thanks Mom!) and you're super excited to knock on all of your neighbors' doors and beg for some delicious candy! So you'd add a mini box of milk duds to your stash, maybe that dreaded box of raisins, and a pixie stick. And then you make a stop at the fourth house and your neighbor pulls out a tray of FULL SIZE candy bars!!!! Wow, you feel like you've just won a million dollar jackpot! This will be your first stop next year, for sure!

So with the help of coupons, I have managed to establish a HUGE stockpile of FREE full size bars to hand out on Halloween! I am excited to be "the cool neighbor" this year and see the look of amazement on the kids' faces when I pull out that impressive tray of giant candy bars! So here's a pic of what I have scored...75 name brand candy bars (give or take a few that have mysteriously disappeared) for FREE! Join the Brilliant Bargains program and you can create your very own stash of Halloween treats that are worth bragging about.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"Cutting Out Hunger" and Giving Back

I am proud to show you all of the goodies that I was able to donate to those in need in my local community last week. I was able to get over $400 in toiletries, baby items and non-perishable foods for free or almost free. I feel so blessed to have the skills to use my time along with coupons and rebates to not only feed our family for half of what we have budgeted but I am also able to share the wealth to those who have much less than us. Benz helped me unload all of the above donations to our local battered women's shelter. He seemed so proud to be giving back and I hope that we can continue to set a positive example for our boys and that they will open their hearts to those in need as they grow up.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mommy! Benz knows the key to my heart...

I had a wonderful 29th birthday and I am so thankful to all of my friends and families who made it a wonderful day (or actually week) full of cherished memories. I am determined to enjoy every last minute of my 20's this year! My dearest Benz made me a card for my birthday. He asked me what kind of card. I told him to pull out some old magazines and cut out some things he thought I would love and add them to the card. He was so busy clipping, cutting and coloring. I was excited to open his card on my big day and as I pulled it out of the envelope, something fell into my was a coupon for Kraft ranch dressing! Benz smiled and sweetly said "Mama, I wanted to get you something you love for your birthday, so it's a coupon card! Do you like it?" Of course I do, Benzie boy! I loved the homemade card even more, but both will be perfect for my scrapbook!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

When Brilliant Bargains became more than just a hobby!

One of the chapters in my manual includes a fun list that goes something like this: You know you're addicted to coupons and saving money when: you take pictures of your shopping successes and post them on your blog! To give you a taste of what I can do when combining store sales with coupons and rebates on top of it, here are my treasures from my late-night trip to Albertson's; just take a good look at the pics and then scroll down to see what my net price was:

12 jars of Ragu pasta & alfredo sauce
20 Sobe lean 20 oz. drinks
4 Fresh Gourmet croutons
3 Wish Bone Bountifuls dressings
3 large Rasin Bran Crunches
1 jumbo box of Rice Krispies
5 Pop-Tarts
2 cans of Blue Diamond wasabi almonds

Next up we have 5 boxes of Popsicles
5 pounds of bananas
5 pounds of grapes
4 store yogurts
10 Breyers yogurt and crunch
2 Silk chocolate soy milk
2 gallons of skim milk
2 packs of Yo-Plus yogurt

8 packs of Stayfree pads
10 Degree body mists
3 Dove body mists
3 Dove deodorant
11 Degree deodorant
And I almost forgot about the loaf of whole wheat bread I stashed in the freezer!
So with 2 carts full of stuff, after sales, coupons and rebates my final price was...
Yes, you read that right! And that included tax too! And if I hadn't already sent off for it, I could have gotten a $10 rebate on the Kellogg's cereal and they would have PAID me $8.78 to take all of this home!!! The coolest part of all is that I will donate at least half of it to a local women's shelter. Not bad for a day's work, huh? :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hi! My name is Melanie and I'm addicted to saving money!

I don’t think I can put a date on when I fell in love with shopping for bargains.
My mom has been ashopping for thrifty treasures since I was a wee little one and she’s been finding Brilliant Bargains ever since! I could always count on a trip to Walgreens after Sunday Mass; you could set your watch by it. I also recall my mom making her weekly purchases in a very organized manner. Her routine involved sitting down at our dining room table on Saturday evening (New Orleans received an early edition paper Pre-Katrina) and she'd cut out all of the deals she planned on snagging. She would gather up any manufacturers' coupons that she planned on using and paperclip everything together. At the register was where my mom showed off the rest of her money-saving tactics. She’d always split her order in two, so she could get one hot item for our household and one for my elderly grandparents. I remember being about 8 or so and mentioning that couponing seemed like a lot of extra work and Mom reflected back, “Well, Mel, I try to cut corners wherever I can so that we have extra money to buy the fun things.” And boy did that hold true! We had a freebie stash of toothbrushes, shampoo and deodorant that would have covered an entire neighborhood for a year! So that must have left room in their wallet to take us to the occasional movie, local fairs and other goodies throughout the year. I have to admit that I was quite embarrassed of my mom’s frugality as a pre-teen and young adult and would even go so far as to run out to the steaming car and wait for her to return with her bargain basement deals. Suffering from heat exhaustion seemed worth the risk to not have to stand in line with the rain check/rebate/coupon guru each week.

So it's safe to say that I was raised in a very frugal home. My mom was always saving things “just in case we ever needed them” (being a pack rat is her only downfall). And there were plenty of times we did need school supplies or a last minute gift for a birthday party. And sure enough, she would have the perfect thing tucked away in her craft/gift closet. The same goes for over the counter meds. I was always amazed that we never had to run to the store for anything when we were sick. She had our tiny bathroom stockpiled for any emergency you could think of; she could have set up her own triage center!

This attitude about saving money trickled down to clothing as well. My parents both valued our private school education (from preschool to college) so highly, that they were willing to give up fancy cars, a bigger house and extravagant trips to invest in our futures. But paying for tuition was always a challenge and it meant that we had to cut back on day-to-day things, like clothing. As much as we may not have liked it as teenagers, we had an understanding that name brand clothes and shoes were just not in the cards for us. Luckily we wore uniforms for the first 12 years of our school lives, so there wasn’t as much pressure to dress like the "in-crowd." I can only remember a handful of times growing up that I went with my Mom to buy clothes at the mall. We were regular shoppers at our local thrift stores and big fans of garage sales and hand me downs. We also seemed to end up with lots of copycat shoes and clothes from those big box stores that try to make their stuff resemble the name brands but most of the time the quality fell short (can you say LA Gear tennis shoes from Kmart, anyone?). And once my brother and I were old enough to start working, we were thrilled to be able to use our pocket change to buy the cooler clothes we had drooled over for so long! In fact, we both got jobs at clothing stores in the mall and thought it was so awesome to get an employee discount on clothing that we had to wear to work (but in reality we were just piping our paycheck that the store gave wrote to us every other week right back into the retailer....what a scam!). And I remember my first day of college, when I found myself staring at my closet in my dorm room with utter confusion, asking myself, “you mean I actually have to pick out something to wear to school EVERY DAY??” I figured it out pretty quickly and even though I have been working since I was 15, I never wanted to spend ALL of my hard earned money on just clothes.

So after I completed college and found myself in my own home as a wife and stay-at-home mother, I began looking for ways to cut costs so we too could have extra cash for “the fun things” in life. So when I found out I was pregnant with my first son, my mission became: "why not find name brand baby clothes for a cheaper price than the mall?" I was totally all over scoring some super cheap and ADORABLE clothes for him at local consignment & thrift stores. Sure they may have been worn by another child, but since babies grow so fast, they are usually only in a size for a max of 3 months. And most of us are so inundated with new clothes from baby showers that we’re lucky if our kiddos have a chance to wear each outfit more than once! I wash them well and I’m very picky about buying mainly name brands and clothes that have been barely worn (and I’m always careful to pass up the ones with pills, stains and tears). In fact, on almost every clothing hunt I make I usually walk away with clothes that still have the tags on them, for next to nothing! Sure the shirts or pants may be from last season’s line at Gymboree, but will your one-year old really know the difference? Believe me, there will come a day when my kids are only wanting to wear certain styles or brands from the latest trendy store and I may have to spend a little more out of pocket to keep them well dressed. So I vow to save some extra money for now by sticking with the second hand rule for clothing. & I'm enjoying the days of filling up my boys' closets with amazing wardrobes for next to nothing!

I've taken my mom's talent for saving money in creative ways and combined it with my sincere love of shopping (I can thank my grandparents for those genes). Over the last six years I have developed and tweaked my savvy and smart shopping skills; I know how to follow each store's unwritten "coupon rules." You may have to do a little digging, but most stores are so generous with their freebies that I now have enough toiletries and non-perishables to give a full box away to a women’s shelter each month. Looking back on how I was raised, I am so thankful for all of the tricks and tips my Mom modeled for me over the years. Her tenacity to save “a little here and there” has truly inspired me to continue the tradition of chasing those Brilliant Bargains, both for my family as well as yours. Now this is not to say that I haven’t encountered my fair share of problems and transactions that have gone south, but all in all the deals keep on coming so I keep on going back for many more "Brilliant Bargains." Won't you join me?