Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Best Deals on Diapers 11/28/2011

Here's a little exercise on coupon stacking, and an actual deal you can work on Pampers at CVS this week.

Coupon Stacking is combining various deals to your best advantage. Generally couponers -- extreme or not -- want to stack coupons on top of a sale price on top of another store coupon, or promotion such as Earned bucks or gift cards (GCs). These in-store promos are hot right now; I suspect retailers are hoping people will hoard the GCs and roll them together on some big holiday gift, hopefully after they misplace a few. These promos are like cash and should be used immediately, across several transactions at the same visit/check-out. Be sure to tell the teller how many transactions you have planned when you arrive at the check-out.

Sale Price
Store Promo

I have coupons for $2 off of 2 Jumbo packs (20 -23 per pack at size 6) of Pampers which expire 11/30, so I want to use them. Now. The best price I can find is at Diapers.com, where with coupons I can get them for 39 cents a diaper.*

At CVS, they are offering a free $10 GC for a $30 purchase of listed items, limit 5 GCs this week. They advertise Pampers at 2 for $19. They even generously advertise the MCP (manufacturer's coupon) offered by P&G in this week's paper ($1/2 jumbo packs Pampers). The effective advertised price is $18/2, or $9 ea. Which was their sale price two weeks ago before my coupons (45 cents a diaper at size 6).

BUT... I have -$2/2 packs coupons from a few weeks ago, bringing the effective price to $17/2. That's $8.50 a pack.

REMEMBER... They're also offering a GC if you buy $30 worth. Or two $10 GCs if you buy $60 worth after discounts and coupons.

AND you get a pack free if you buy at least 6 (B6GO).

What's a twins' mom to do? Math!

I have to buy in even numbers to use the coupons, and I want to use coupons on all the packs.I have $2/2 coupons from the 10/30 P&G coupon insert, which is double the savings of the coupon in the 11/28 P&G.

How to work the deal
Do two identical transactions:
Scan your Bonus Card
Scan 8 bags of diapers = $ 72 minus one free = $63 (over the $30 threshold twice)
Use Four ($2/2) in coupons = $55 paid

Repeat, using the first $20 on the second transaction

Total Effective Cost for 16 packs of diapers (factoring in the $40 in rewards) $110 -40 = $70
Price per diaper at size 6 = ($70/16 packs)/20 diapers per pack = 22 cents each.
Leave with two free packs and $20 in gift cards.

You can repeat this deal three times, get 23 packs of diapers (3 free; three transactions 8 packs/8 packs/7 packs), and max out the $50 limit in gift cards. You leave with one $10 GC.

Check your total before you pay; the register failed to give the free pack on the first transactions at two different CVS's.

Is it a good deal?
This is 16 cents cheaper than Diapers.com's regular price of 38 cents a diaper (my go-to best deal with a coupon and the Take Five off loyalty price).

Doesn't sound like much?

The Twoddlers use at least 16 diapers a day. A 16-cent savings per diaper is worth $935 a year. Also note that retail these diapers are usually around $11 a pack at CVS, or 55 cents a diaper. Compared to full price, we're saving $1927 a year at 22 cents a diaper. That's about the cheapest I've found the twins' current size.

What about the advertised deal?
Well, it's almost as good. It's 25 cents a diaper if you do it the way they illustrate, have at least four $1/2 coupons, and buy 8 at once. You'll need the coupons in multiples of 4, and diapers in multiples of 8. You leave with a free pack of diapers and a $20 GC to use later, but which you'll count as part of your "winnings" now. Try the math.

If you don't like math, just buy 8 diapers with 4 coupons, and take the $20GC and one pack free for 25 cents a diaper.

Even if you don't have any coupons, this deal will get you 27 cents a diaper if you buy 8 packs, take the $20GC and one pack free.

Don't forget to nab your free pack of diapers!

If only I had 2,920 more coupons, I could get a year's supply.... nah. They'll be another deal along shortly.

I do wonder why all the diaper deals lately; I can only figure retailers are helping people stock up on absolute necessities before the hoped-for holiday splurge. I'm sure they're also hoping I won't show up again tomorrow.

But I might.

* I exclusively use the size 6-- 20 diapers a jumbo pack-- to do the math here.
Smaller sizes will be cheaper by the diaper, because the packs are bigger. But t
he ratio of savings remains about the same, 15 or 16 cents each.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Savings Idea #2. Thrift Shopping

For many, shopping at thrift stores, consignment sales, and yard sales conjure images of the poor trying to get the basics of living, hoarders loading up their vans, or other people scoring hidden gems. Smart shoppers know that some great deals on fancy goods can be found at thrift stores. One of our friends frequently posts about her vintage finds at Goodwill stores, another scavenges broken jewelry for her jewelry design business, but you can save on everyday goods too. I used to hate the dank smell of a thrift store, but since they started Febreezing the clothes, I gotta say it gives me a little thrill. I used to be a little embarrassed, too, walking into a thrift store; we could buy retail; I felt like we were hedging in on other’s needs. But on getting pregnant, I realized spending $1000+ on a wardrobe for a few months was silly, so I put my squeamishness aside and braved the good bargain. Somehow it is more palatable to buy at thrift stores once you have two (or more) kids outgrowing a size every 6 weeks.

Google “thrift” or “consignment” and your ZIP code, and you’ll bring up several local hotspots. When I started, I researched thrift stores near wealthy neighborhoods; rich people’s giveaways include some very fine items. In Maryland, I like Value Village for their Monday 25% off sales; you can also get 25% off on Thursdays if you sign up for their VIP card. (VV claims to be a charity, but in reality they only donate 10% of profits to charity. I consider providing low-cost goods to the community another type of charity.) I’ve bought many items for the kids: Footed Pjs, onesies, jackets, shirts, pants ($1-$3 ea.), king pillowcases ($1.50 ea.) to use as covers for changing-table pads, and child-sized quilts ($5). I simply wash everything in hot water and Dreft before introducing it to the twins.

Once Upon a Child is a national chain of consignment stores which offer decent deals, but this store’s prices are at the top of post-retail shopping. I’ve seen some great deals, and I’ve seen prices so high I could buy a similar item new. They do however have a plethora of high-end goods year-round, and they tend to stock higher-end labels. I bought a pair of Polo boots (looked new) for $8 ($30 new), and Grandma bought two Redskins track suits for $7 each ($30 new).

Weekend consignment sales on baby and children’s goods are everywhere. In Maryland, www.totswap.net holds 8 or more weekend sales each year in various locations. Savings up to 90% off retail are not uncommon. Of course, it’s easy to go wild in these places, so I recommend going in with a plan, a topic I’ll discuss in a later post. I’ve bought large toys (plastic is easy to clean), books, entire kids wardrobes, a nearly-new changing table at half-price, shoes, baby bottles for cents on the dollar (steam sterilize and buy new nipples), a stroller for 75% off retail, and various items new with tags (NWT) for a few dollars each. On my first trip to Totswap, I spent over $200, but I got two exersaucers and two 13-gallon bags full of other goods for the price of the two exersaucers new.

There is a thriving Black Market in the U.S., which no one talks much about: yardsales are tax-free, rule-free and bargain-deep. I occasionally attend community-wide yardsales. It makes no sense to me to traipse all over the Metro area going to one-off sales, so I focus on area sales. But I’ve been burned more than once; a counterfeit $10 bill in change, a recalled item, a toy without all its parts, these are the dangers of hitting yardsales, but deals on books, plastic yard toys (like slides), and Pjs or pants for $1 apiece make it worthwhile.

Our next blog will break down an action plan for creating your list, strategizing, and getting the most out of your thrift shopping.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Today's best deal! 11/26/11

American Express is running a "Small Business Saturday" special on Foursquare today only. If you sync your AmEx card to Foursquare and buy $25 worth of goods at a participating business, you get a $25 credit (on your credit card) from AmEx.

Look for it on the specials tab of your FourSquare App.

You must purchase items with your 4Sq-registered AmEx, and check in on 4Sq.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday: When Everyday Shoppers and Saavy Shoppers Collide.

I did my first Black Friday shopping trip this morning. I hadn't ventured out on the weekend after Thanksgiving since an overwhelmingly bad experience in 1990. Seriously, I avoided shopping on this particular weekend for 20 years. Until today.

It was surprisingly fun, easier than I recall, and much calmer than I remember. Improvements in technology and people-moving are likely partly responsible for my improved shopping experience. People seemed cheerier, but I think delaying until the crowds thinned (just after the workday starts) saved me lots of hassles, bumps, and downright rudeness.

Perhaps part of it was the level of preparation I put into it. I reviewed ALL the sales papers, isolated five stores to hit today and Saturday, and made a careful list on a large index card. I logically grouped the stores, and got to sleep. Planning to hit the stores at 4 am proved to be ambitious, but I did make it by 7:30 am. Unfortunately, I hadn't looked up every store, and my memory of JC Penny's location proved faulty. I had to reassess right at the start, and head to Annapolis for Penny's and Toys R us before returning home to relieve Jon of Twins duty.

I've decided my readership can learn from my mistakes, so here is a primer on planning a big shopping trip to various stores, whether it's Black Friday or not.

1. Gather your papers, review them, isolate up to 5 stores you want to hit. Plan on an hour or so per store. Circle items you really want so you can flip to the correct page quickly when asking for help. (I ask for help constantly. Asking three clerks to help me find the Inflatable Bongo Ball finally got me someone willing to go into the back for two.)
2. Make a careful list on an index card, with the store name, wish list, prices, coupons (I use an "o" inside a "C" to note if I have a coupon for that item), and notations for any special deals (Ex: buy $100, get a $10 gift card). For Black Friday, I also put each store's "doorbuster" hours down.
2a. Don't focus only on gift items! Think about other needs. In addition to stocking stuffers and toys, I bought men's dress pants (buy 5, use coupons over 2 transactions to get one "free" at JCPenny's*), and simple, thermal drapery panels for our bald windows ($24 ea., JCP's).
3. Prioritize your top store, then group it with other stores on your list that are nearby.
Search online to locate your best stores. Always check the store's website to verify address; GPSs can often be wrong.
4. Prepare a shopping kit with your sales papers, any coupons you might use, a drink or two, some snacks, sunshades, eyeglasses, kleenex, other personal needs, and a shiv to protect yourself as you struggle to your car at 3 am.
5. Get Tip money for people who load your car. It's good karma.
6. Stick to the list. Of course, I did buy some items not on my list, but only as substitutions for items that were sold out, and for small items (Melissa & Doug puzzles) I have been eyeing for a while.

What to buy? Well, for the twins, whom I call "twoddlers," I bought Toys for 18 months (which they will be at Christmas) to 3 years. Yup, 3 YEARS and up, depending on the toy. Items with soft edges, which could be used for years, or which could be put into play with supervision (such as wooden blocks the size they've already played with, plastic furniture) topped my list.

I plan way ahead, and even at Christmas I keep in mind that they will be 2 years old in July, and plan to sock away certain goodies for then. I'm trying out a plan where I buy toys at the advertised "Lowest Prices of the year!" I'll hang onto the sales papers, and when their birthday comes around you better believe I'll be checking those prices! Generally I planned to save at least 50% off the MSRP. For things I really wanted to get (like the Melissa & Doug puzzles), I settled for a 25% savings, 10% more than the discount offered on the M&D website. I also found decent prices on items we regularly use (diaper pail refills at 25% off with coupons).

Note, too, that I buy toys of a type they already like (blocks) and which are multi-use. Blocks will last for years of creative play, and grow with them as their perspective and imagination grow.

Here's a sample TRU shopping list from today

Misc: Diaper Genie Refill 3-pack $16 -$1 coupon (norm. $20/3)

18mos & up:
Stacking cups: $3.99 (normally $12)
Neat Cottage Playhouse $99 (norm. $170)

2yo and up: (Their B-day is in 6 mos)
Imaginarium Building Blocks $20 (norm. $42)
Six plastic, mini yard tools $0.98 ea. on clearance, (norm. $7 - $23 for set of three)
Two Kid Galaxy Go-Go Soft, remote-controlled cars $15 ea. (norm. $28)
Melissa & Doug wooden letter puzzles $10 ea. (norm. $13)

3yo and up:
Castle building blocks $19 (norm. $38)
51-inch Inflatable Bongo Ball $25 (norm. $50)
Crayola Jumbo Banks $5 ea (norm. $8) for decor.

I think we did well, though I did have some sticker shock. It seems that I spend more per trip, but I make fewer shopping trips and hopefully, by saving a high percentage we'll lower our annual outlay for these types of goods.

Black Friday, Phase 2 tomorrow!

*The Dockers and Levi's were on sale for $38 a pair (norm. $55 - $70), and Jon needed several replacements for his fraying pants. And he's particular to Dockers. First transaction: $38*3=$114 minus $20 coupon allowed after 2 pm ($94). Second Transaction: $38*2=$76 minus $15 coupon ($61). Total cost for 5 pants = $155 + tx., or like getting one free ($35 off). It was actually cheaper to wait until the afternoon special to buy those pants, because they were not "doorbusters", but a weekend deal.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Savings Idea #1. Move.

We sold our house this year. In this economy that might not seem like a good idea, but people are still buying houses, and our “cozy,” 75-year-old, historic Cape Cod 5 miles from the Capitol was worth as much as a colonial with twice the land (and 50% more square footage) 25 miles out. Our new home also happens to be minutes from Jon’s job, saving time and money.

Consider your living space; could you save money and time by either moving to a cheaper place, a spot farther from the city center, or by moving closer to work or grandma’s house? In DC, the traffic is so bad that if you live 20 miles from work it can take you more than an hour to get there (eating up extra gas), meaning your stay-at-home partner is struggling an extra couple-of-hours-a-day with the twinfants. By moving 10 minutes from work, Jon is able to be home quickly for emergencies, as when I’m pulling my hair out over simultaneous screaming fits. Don’t forget to deduct the cost of movers and fees for selling your house (figure about 10% of the total sale price).

If you’re unsure about the value of your home, a reputable realtor can give you an estimated valuation and what your take will be after fees and liens. You can also research recent sales at various realty sites online for free (we liked www.redfin.com). I can tell you that if you’ve been in your home more than 10 years, you can still make a nice chunk of change in highly desirable areas, such as inside the Beltway, in DC, or in historic neighborhoods.

However, if you live in a rental, consider buying now. Prices for homes have plummeted even in recession “proof” DC, interest rates have never been lower, and you’ll definitely save by paying a predictable mortgage instead of rent which is hiked up every year. Warning: Avoid hassles and forget about short sales; it can take months or years to buy them. Foreclosures actually on the market can be a good deal if you don’t mind a fixer-upper (many of these have been closed up for years and may have major problems such as mold, or minor problems such as missing toilets and light fixtures).

If you don’t want to buy now, look into other rentals near work that may have introductory deals, such as one month’s free rent. These deals are especially popular at the end of the summer and in January.

Aside from getting a larger space for your growing family, moving might result in long-term savings. By moving 10 miles closer to work, you can save $10 every workday on travel costs by (50 cents[i] a mile times 10 extra miles each way; $0.50x20 miles=$10). That's $2500 a year saved. When we moved, our car insurance dropped a bit, too. We are also saving on heating; our old, oil-run boiler cost several hundred a month for heat and hot water. Before buying or renting, call the utility company and request a one-year average of electrical, gas, or oil costs. Hundreds a month in savings is thousands a year, or tens of thousands over the life of your mortgage.

We increased our mortgage by less than those savings, so we came out slightly ahead, if we ignore the incidentals such as movers. By deducting the costs associated with maintaining an old home, lower taxes, more efficient appliances, and the lower market-pricing at stores outside the Beltway, we know we’re definitely saving money.

[i] The IRS currently figures gas, wear-and-tear, and other travel costs for driving at 50 cents a mile.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Double the Expense, Twice the Savings

Having twins is the ultimate two-for-one deal. If, like me, you underwent IVF, you know this is true. We got our twins for a bargain price at Johns Hopkins, and took advantage of the insurance-covered diagnostics and low-cost meds sold by our insurer to keep our cost of making babies low.

About 8 months after our matched set arrived, we suddenly realized we had two children to educate, simultaneously. College tuition per kid per semester ranges from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands, and don’t forget room & board.

Look at these tuition rates for 2011 at University of Maryland College Park, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Harvard University[i].

Annual Tuition
Room & Board
Four years, Two Kids
If our kids were at UMCP today, it would cost $133,480 for both for 4 years. When we realized the enormity of the expense, we started a savings plan.

Saving for college using a 529 Plan sounds like a good idea, but in practical terms it’s impossible to save the amount you will need when you can only put away $2,500 per kid and still get a tax break. (In MD, if you invest in a state-sponsored plan, you can write it off on your taxes.) At that rate, in 17 years we would save about $42,500 for each twin, plus dividends, enough for half their education at a respectable university. You can expect annual dividends at about 3%, invested conservatively.

Clearly we had to do something else. Although I could return to work, it doesn’t make financial sense for me to work so we can put our kids in daycare. Daycare rates range from $4,000 (MS) to $18,000 (NYC)[ii] per child, depending on your location. For two, that’s up to $36,000 per year in NYC. One would have to gross at least $45,000 per year just to cover the cost of daycare fees for twins in NYC, not including the headaches of shuttling your kids there and back in rush-hour traffic. Unless you have free daycare from a grandparent or other trusted person, parenting twins usually means it’s cheaper to stay at home than go to a job and turn over your paycheck so someone else can raise your precious charges. As an Attachment Parenting proponent, I also think it’s healthier for the babies in their first years of life for a parent to be the primary caretaker.

Working from home may be an option, but twinfants don’t leave much downtime for typing jobs, or telemarketing, or other popular work-from-home jobs, at least not until they are old enough for preschool. Even if both parents do work outside the home, it’s likely that most of your disposable income is disposed of quickly.

Which leaves saving money on disposables.

Which is what this blog is all about: Saving money if you have multiple kids.

Your rent or mortgage is somewhat under your control, but once you’re locked in it’s a fixed number. You can only save so much on utilities before you’re living in the dark without a phone. What is under your control is the amount of money spent on groceries, clothing, and other needful things. Our twins have grown at a phenomenal rate, which we’re proud of; but having twins who have outgrown 8 sizes in less than a year-and-a-half means we need to shop for those extras every couple of months.

To begin this discount blog, I’ll let you in on a well-known secret: the Twins Discounts. Many stores, including Toys/Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby, OshKosh B’Gosh, and online retailers such as Preschoolians offer discounts to multiples parents. These deals vary widely, but are usually at least 10% off. BRU and Buy Buy Baby offer 10% off if you buy two identical (or very similar) items. Buy two cribs, two playpens, two pairs of identical shoes in the same size, and you’ll get 10% off in addition to any coupon savings. Always ask for a multiples discount at major retailers; take a picture of your twins with you; or take the twins! Preschoolians.com offers a 40% discount if you buy shoes in the same number as your multiples (two for twins, three for triplets, etc.). That is an unheard-of discount, and is almost a BOGO deal, but you have to prove your twins exist (photographic evidence will suffice) and call in for a special Internet code every time you buy shoes. Manufacturers will help you out too. Pampers, Luvs, and Huggies offer coupons to multiples parents for huge discounts on diapers, but you’ll have to provide copies of their birth certs to qualify.

Other lists of multiples discounts can be found at: http://multiples.about.com/od/dealsdiscounts/tp/aatpfreestuff.htm

Happy shopping!

[i] Harvard claims it grants most students scholarships in several forms, which brings down the cost substantially. ”More than 60 percent of Harvard College students receive scholarship aid, and the average grant this year is $40,000.”
[ii] http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-much-youll-spend-on-childcare_1199776.bc