4/26/2011

How To Save Money Without Extreme Couponing

To Coupon or Not To Coupon

So the other night I decided to tune into the new TLC show, Extreme Couponing. I knew it wasn't going to be something I'd ever get into and I know it's a TV reality show that isn't exactly...reality. I was pretty annoyed by the hoarding tendencies I saw but I will admit that I was at least a little inspired.

Not what I bought this week!
I've used coupons off and on forever. More recently I had checked out services like The Grocery Game that show you how to pay pennies on the dollar for lots of stuff but I decided for various reasons they weren't for me. I faithfully shop at local grocery store HEB and SuperTarget and that's it. The TV show along with several other friends who are great at couponing and save a ton prompted me to put in a bit of extra work last week to see how much I could save.

The first step was one I took a few weeks ago. Someone knocked on my door and offered to sell me the Sunday newspaper for only 50 cents a copy. In the past I have often bought it on the way OUT of the grocery store for $2.50 in order to get coupons for the following week. That practice is nowhere NEAR as effective as paying 50 cents a copy to have it delivered to my door so I can clip the coupons BEFORE going to the store!

The second step was pulling out the weekly fliers for Kroger, HEB, Target and CVS. I did one big coupon trip to Kroger, the first time I'd shopped there...ever...and determined I hated it. They recently stopped doubling and tripling coupons in Houston so that destroyed the biggest reason all my friends shop there. I was highly unimpressed with their meat, seafood and produce. A few items were pennies cheaper than HEB, but most were actually more expensive.

Simple Couponing Techniques

So this past week I focused on Target and CVS. The great thing about SuperTarget is that they put out a huge number of store coupons, which can be stacked on top of manufacturers coupons. I find that for staple processed foods like cereal and frozen pizza, SuperTarget has the cheapest prices. So I carefully went through my coupons and combed the flier to see where coupons matched up with sale items. I compared prices of certain things that were on sale in both Target and CVS and made two piles and two lists. I refused to buy products we don't normally use and I focused as much as possible on household goods and non-junk foods.

Big Savings Results

My results? At Target my final bill ended up being $139 with $60 in savings. That totally amazed me. The biggest coupon was $7 off Zyrtec-D, a product I use literally EVERY DAY. Not everything I bought had a coupon or was even on sale, but I had coupons for clementines, fresh artisan bread, bagged lettuce, yogurt, and boneless skinless chicken breasts. That just goes to show that coupons are not all for junk food. I also used a lot of coupons on dog treats, a couple of beauty products, and paper products.

At CVS I focused on the upcoming Easter holiday but I also noticed they had milk and my Tide laundry detergent super cheap. I know it is not the cheapest method but I always by the smallest bottles of Tide because the larger ones don't fit in my cabinet. I had coupons for Tide, candy, and some haircare products. My total bill was $40, I saved $30 and I got $7 in CVS ExtraBucks, which I can spend on my next trip there.

All this really didn't take that much extra work on my part and I didn't even go online to lookup and print coupons like I have done in the past. I am definitely inspired enough to put in that tiny bit more effort each week to save money.

What's YOUR couponing philosophy? Got any east tips for me? (I'm all about easy.)

This post is linked up at the Works for Me Wednesday blog hop.

4/25/2011

10 Reasons to Use Video On Your Blog

You may have noticed that I occasionally incorporate video into my blog posts here. I really enjoy using video as an added media element to my space and I want to give you ten reasons why you should too!

Danielle
Danielle Smith doing a video interview
1. Video blogging is a game changer. It totally sets you apart, above and beyond the other 156 million blogs. I heard a stat recently that only 5% of all sites incorporate video.

2. Video allows your audience to get to know you better. You can read someone's emails, tweets, blog posts, FB updates and texts all day every day but if you've never met them, video adds a huge new dimension. The more your readers feel like they know you personally, the more invested they become in what you have to say.

3. Video makes you more believable. It can help you build trust capital which in turn makes it more likely that your audience will respond to whatever call to action you might present, whether it's getting involved with a cause, sharing a story, or buying something you recommend.

4. It makes complicated information more entertaining and more likely to be shared virally. Add a bit of humor to your tutorial and it'll go a long way.

5. It's awesome for SEO (search engine optimization). Did you know YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google? The right tagging and titling of your YouTube video can make your search traffic skyrocket. (Check out my YouTube channel here!)

6. Video can convey your passion about a topic much better than just text. Passion is compelling, it translates into charisma and people are drawn to it.

7. Creating and uploading videos is super easy. Anyone can do it. Most people have some simple digital video recorder, even if it's just an iPhone. YouTube makes video publishing and embedding on a blog a piece of cake.

8. Creating video blogs is also great for your presentation skills. Sure you may only be talking to a camera, but it requires many of the same skills as speaking before a live audience.

9. Another by-product of creating video blogs is that you become more comfortable on camera and more willing to jump at opportunities when they come up. This happened to me at Mom 2.0 with three separate opportunities to be interviewed on camera and promote my blog. One was a chance to talk about my heart for orphans on Johnson and Johnson's platform. Had I not been creating video blogs over the past year I might have turned down a great chance to talk about my mission.



10. Because it's FUN! I promise you, making videos for your blog is lots of fun.

So have you tried creating some video blog posts?

This post is linked up over at OhAmanda's Top Ten Tuesdays. Hop over and check it out!

Easter Weekend Recap

Wow what a wonderful and full weekend we had around these parts. Much of it is thanks to our church, which I can honestly say now feels almost like family. They had events Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Really though we did a lot of relaxing and enjoying each other at a slow pace. I'm a big believer in doing that once in awhile, not needing to fill the time with busy-ness.

Friday the kids had off school so we didn't do much other than go to the YMCA so I could get a quick 3 mile run in. It's getting very hot and humid outside so I opted for the treadmill, but I really dislike running for that long without getting anywhere. I start out a bit faster, which is good, but I get bored quickly and that affects my stamina. I might need to try running outside this week just to condition myself to the heat a bit more.

The evening brought a very powerful church service. John and Lori sang Beautiful Scandalous Night, a favorite of mine, and What Have We Done, by Mars Hill Seattle worship leader Joe Day. It was hard hitting and perfect for the evening. Then Pastor Jerry walked us through the events of Holy Week in dramatic fashion.

Saturday morning I was feeling photographically inclined, so I took the boys to a local nature trail, cameras in hand. They love taking pictures, each with their own camera. We searched for alligators but only found turtles, and I had a painful run-in with a bunch of fireants. I am an idiot for not wearing sneakers. The point of the adventure was to leave Mike at home in peace, during which he skillfully knocked out a 3200 word article for his We Are Penn State annual preview.


In the afternoon we headed back to church for the annual community egg hunt, with 10,000 eggs and a ton of kids and parents. Nathan was pleasantly surprised when his best buddy from school showed up, and I'm happy his family decided to stay for the kids Easter program after the hunt. That was fantastic, with an original script written by my friend Vanessa and amazing acting by another friend, Adam. There was also music, sung by John with dancers encouraging crowd participation. I think I enjoyed it more than even my kids did. I shot some video and you can catch the closing number (which has been stuck in my head all day) here.




Then of course there was Resurrection Sunday, when my boys woke us up at 6am sharp to see what the Easter bunny had left them. I dressed quickly and headed to church solo to serve in the baby nursery for our 7:30 service, but it turned out we only had one baby so they let me go and I sat through the service twice...once by myself and once with Mike. I don't mind, I could sing praise to Jesus all day long, and the sermon was pretty good too. I actually wrote a piece of a song during the first service, inspired in part by the message, which is cool because I've been wanting to write music for a long time now and this is the second song in a month. It's not done yet, but it's progress.


Most of the day today we literally chillaxed. My grandparents came over for a yummy ham dinner and I managed to get a little video of them chatting about their childhoods for posterity. They've known each other since they were five years old and now they are 91. They'll head up to their house in Boston for the summer in just a few weeks so we are enjoying their time with us now.

If you're still reading this...thanks! Sometimes I just feel the need to capture memories like this weekend before they disappear.

So how was YOUR weekend?

4/22/2011

Fashion Friday: Easter Shoes

This morning we have yet another episode of Ask Sarah! This week I got a question from my friend Lisa Stauber of MileHiMama about what kind of shoes to wear with this super cute Easter dress she got at Dress Barn.



I mean really, can you get any cuter for under $60? The best part is that she said it can be washed in her washing machine.

The obvious answer here is white shoes would match this dress, but she emphasized a need for comfort in her shoes and said she'd not found many options in white. Turquoise shoes would be very cute but harder to find. Nude or beige shoes are very popular right now and would work just fine as well. So I did a little looking around and here are some options I came up with.

First I checked Target because their price points are always pretty low. I thought these Target sandals would be adorable, but Lisa said she usually finds Target shoes very uncomfortable.


So then I found these Fabulaire slides at Rack Room Shoes. They are cute, very cheap, and I think the whole Fabulaire line is supposed to be a little more cushioning on your feet. We have a Rack Room Shoes store in the Katy Mills Mall and you can always buy online.
Then I looked in one of my standby resources for affordable shoes, Famous Footwear. You may remember the incredible deals I got there several months ago. Famous Footwear has a large selection of reasonably priced shoes, both in store and online. Keeping Lisa's need for comfort and affordability in mind, I found these LifeStride slides that are less than $30 and look cute and supportive.
As an added bonus, Famouns Footwear has a 15% off printable coupon available, expiring this weekend. Can't beat that right? 
So if you're interested in more Fashion Friday posts from my best blogging buddies, check out the link below and hop around. 

But I really want to know...do you follow the rule that white shoes should only be worn between Easter and Labor Day? Do you even wear white shoes anymore?

4/20/2011

Blogging Goodness at Mom 2.0 Summit

With now 3.5 Million mom blogs, you might think the community to be huge and impersonal, but the reality is that there is still a fairly tight group of bloggers like me who have been at this thing long enough to really get to know each other. We take the opportunity to get together face-to-face whenever we can and Mom 2.0 Summit was exactly what I needed to feel connected and buoyed and inspired to keep moving forward with this passion of mine.

Mom 2.0 Summit-0041
Rachel and I have a LOT in common
There is just so much to tell about the three days I spent in New Orleans, I can't even begin to try in a single post. In case you missed it, I posted a video recap earlier this week. Although I love the Big Easy like nobody's business, it wasn't about the city for me. It wasn't about the Ritz-Carlton where the conference was held, or the food that left me feeling unsatisfied and significantly poorer. There was a time when I very much enjoyed luxury, but these days it is wasted on me.

It was partially about the content of the keynotes, panels and workshops I attended which were heavily focused on the business of working with brands as a blogger. I was assigned to live-blog five sessions for the Mom 2.0 blog but the lack of good wi-fi and any power outlets in the rooms made that impossible so I took copious notes the old fashioned way...with pen and paper. Now I am carefully constructing summaries of the panels one at a time, the first three of which are up:
For me and I suspect for almost everyone there, Mom 2.0 was all about the people. The connections made, the friendships rekindled and the bonds between kindred spirits solidified. Believe it or not the most significant conversations of my entire weekend happened on the flights to and from New Orleans. 
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have run into Karen Walrond at the gate in Houston and I ended up sitting between her and Caleb Gardner, an exceptionally cool blogging dad and PR rep for Edelman. I previously knew but had taken for granted how much Karen and I have in common: a passion for people, photography and great music not to mention undergraduate engineering degrees. Never in a million years did I think I'd be talking about wastewater treatment with two bloggers on the way to a blogging conference. After having talked to Caleb a bit and checked out his online spaces I now totally feel like the big dork in the middle of an uber chic sandwich on that flight. 

On the flight home I was lucky enough to share a deep and reflective conversation with someone I consider a good friend and integral part of my blogging support network, Stacey Nerdin. She totally gets me (I think) and I am lucky she lives so nearby that I see her fairly often.  

Bloggers and Brands
Pam and her stylish panel

Then of course there were my awesome roomates and partners in crime, Pam, Ellie and Jennifer. Fellow fashionistas and enablers of my shopping addiction are those girls. The other thing the four of us share in common are very successful current careers that have nothing to do with blogging. That is a surprisingly rare perspective we bring to Mom 2.0.  

I'm also so happy to have made some new friends and gotten to spend a bit of time in person with old ones. This includes Rachel, Mir, Laura, Danielle, Gigi, Ilana, Kim, Janice, Lindsay, Savannah, Susan, Colleen, Audrey, Whitney, Cecily, Kristen, Regan, Christine, Renee, Christy, Ron, Leah, and Jessica.

Just to name a few. In no particular order.

Because life is not about the stuff you know or the money you make. It's not about where you live or what you wear. It IS about the people you meet and love and share with and teach and learn from and invest in every day. So try to remember that and be grateful...I certainly am. 

4/18/2011

Mom 2.0 Summit in Photographs

I have much to write about this weekend's incredible trip to New Orleans and the Mom 2.0 Summit. First I need to finish the five recap posts for the Mom2 conference blog that were supposed to be live-blogged but due to major technical difficulties at the hotel, they were not. The first recap of the session on Bloggers, Brands and the Post Review and Giveaway Era is already done. (Then I need to unpack and buy my family some food!) In the meantime, I have put together a fun little video of images from the weekend. Check it out.

4/12/2011

Ten Reasons to Fall In Love With New Orleans

Edited to add: This was originally posted last year after a wonderful business trip in the Big Easy, but I decided to repost it today for all my awesome blogging friends in anticipation of our fabulous trip there this week for Mom 2.0 Summit

New Orleans is one of my very favorite cities. My time there last week was no different, except that I always have gone for business and have never had time to see anything outside a small area. But I did take time for a little photowalk and I did partake of at least some of the incredible food.

Which brings me to ten reasons I absolutely love New Orleans.

1. The architecture. Intricate wrought iron railings. Rooftop gardens. Beautiful hidden courtyards. And that's just the French Quarter.  I've never actually been to the Garden District, which I hear is another kind of gorgeous.

2. The music. Jazz. Zydeco. Blues. Even the cover bands that play late into the night on Bourbon Street are pretty good! Everywhere you go there is incredible live music to be heard.

3. The art. There are artists on every corner and galleries down every street. I got a chance to enjoy a street festival called Art for Art's Sake, where there were street exhibits, open galleries and of course plenty of alcohol. It was delightful.

4. The spirit. The world champion Saints were in town on Sunday and the fans were out in force. Not to mention the fact that every building and wall in the entire town was decorated with their black and gold and "Who Dat?" paraphernalia.

5. The river. The mighty Mississippi is a big part of what makes New Orleans. Strolling along the water front is such a peaceful experience. I had a room on the 24th floor of a hotel overlooking the entire bend in the river and I listened to the steamers zip up and down the river all night.

Top Ten {Tuesday}6. The cemeteries. Seriously they are cool, all the graves are above ground because the water table is too high to bury them underground.

7 - 10. The food. Amazing jambalaya. Fabulous red beans and rice with andouille sausage. Gumbo and beignets. Emeril and  Brennen and countless other world renown chefs have restaurants in the Big Easy. You can't go wrong. I would dare say...best food in the whole country.

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What am I missing?

4/11/2011

Only In Texas...Armadillo Racing?

Time for a little levity this Monday morning on an incredibly busy week. After a crazy last week and a fun but full weekend I am READY to hit New Orleans on Thursday for the Mom 2.0 Summit blogging conference. Of course, I'm not actually ready...but you get me.

So on Saturday I took my boys to not one but two neighborhood festivals. The first one was called Summerfest and there were tons of booths with kid activities and I signed up for every chance to win a free week of summer camp I could find. There were a lot. Per usual at a Texas street fest there were not one, but two booths with snakes and/or other reptiles for the kids to pet. One guy had a dozen of the scary venomous kind of snakes we pray to never find in our backyard. There was also a small petting zoo and face painting.

The second festival was the Cinco Ranch Nature Adventure, designed for residents of the huge master planned community we live in. I had gone last year and had fun so I figured it was worth checking out again. They too had snakes and other animals for the kids to pet. They had championship frisbee dogs which were fun to watch. But what took the cake was the armadillo racing. You have to watch the video, the announcer is hilarious and the armadillos are kind of adorable, in that Texan way. I have yet to see one in the wild except for squished on the road...and those things look like they would damage your car if you ran over one.



God Bless Texas!

4/06/2011

Photography Thursday: Children of Spring

So it's been a little while since I've really talked photography here. Last night I got the fortunate opportunity to hang out with world renown author and humanitarian photographer, David duChemin, and I left inspired. I dreamed about photographer all night. I'll write more about last night soon, but in the meantime I just want to share some photos with you.

Isn't she precious? She was moving at the speed of lightning. When shooting little ones on the move, 
  • Wear jeans and sneakers so you can crawl around in the dirt
  • Get LOW
  • Open shade is the best light
  • 35 mm or 50 mm prime lenses are awesome
  • Aim for a wide open aperature, like 2.8 or so, and a shutter speed of at least 1/250
  • I actually tend to set my exposure compensation up a third or two. (Don't worry if you have no idea what I'm talking about) 


  • Don't forget to FILL the frame. It's really ok to cut off the top of the head. 
  • Make sure you focus is sharp in at least one eye

  • Great photos do not always mean kids smiling into the camera
  • Capturing movement (like wind in the hair here) adds a LOT to an image
  • With kids I tend to increase the contrast and saturation of some colors a bit


  • Window light is awesome. I am blessed to live in a house with phenomenal light. 
  • Big gigantic catchlights in the eyes of kids express life and innocence. Look for those!
Some of these tips are repetitive of previous posts, but I know I have new readers and I just want to help them really improve their shots!

Here's one last photo just for fun. 



4/04/2011

Total NCAA Bracket Domination!

A few times in my life I have put up a few bucks and joined an NCAA men's basketball tournament pool. I pretty much knew nothing about any of the teams and lost bigtime. Last year I didn't even bother participating in the totally free bracket challenge on ESPN.com with my husband's huge and awesome blog community, Black Shoe Diaries

This year was different because for the first time in a decade, Penn State made the tournament. Also because of Mike's blog I watched a LOT of Penn State basketball this season, so I was at least familiar with the teams they played. I figured this year since I'd be watching Penn State in the first round anyway, I might as well fill out a bracket. Then I saw that my pastor started another group bracket challenge for our church. Already had the bracket made, so I joined. Then I saw musician Robbie Seay tweet that he had a bracket challenge going and whoever won would get a tshirt and a copy of Miracle on vinyl. So I joined there too. 

Guess what happened?! 


Yes, I chose UConn to go all the way and win the championship. And last night they did just that! So I won all three groups! Check it out. 


That's me, PSUWifey1. That's my nickname on Black Shoe Diaries (BSD). Check that out, 99.6%. 

And just for posterity and satisfaction, the most important win for bragging rights purposes was the BSD group with more than 200 people participating. Most of them sports fanatics. 


Ok I'm done now...I just wanted to savor this moment. 

A Successfully Stress-free Week of Single Parenting

When my boys were much younger, not really so long ago, I used to dread when my husband would have to leave town on a business trip. He does help out around the house and with the kids a lot, not to mention the fact that I generally like having him around to talk to. I knew his trips were necessary but I whined about them none the less.

One of the things we discussed in our Love and Respect marriage class recently was how much it bothers him when I give him a hard time about business travel. It undercuts a man's need to feel appreciated for the work he does as provider. So I resolved to use my words and tone carefully when he left town last Monday for seven days on a trip to his favorite plant in Pennsylvania with a fun stop in State College for a meet-up with his blog community and a few days being spoiled at his parents' house.

One of my tools for shaping this resolve was prayer, specifically praying that the Lord would help mold my attitude in such a way that I was not only not resentful that Mike was gone, but that I would really get a chance to enjoy the solo time with my kids. Every morning in the shower I would pray this same prayer and start the day with a smile on my face. Even after Alex started throwing up in the middle of the night on Thursday and I didn't get to sleep till after 3am. It had to be God's work in me that kept me from even being cranky about the whole ordeal. Thankfully he was healthy as a horse the next morning.

The boys and I had a lot of fun this weekend. Friday night I attended our church's Ladies Banquet since they had childcare and I was really blessed by it. Saturday we headed over to the Katy Folk Life Festival where lots of activities and displays from pioneer days were set up. Alex got to try working a spinning wheel and both boys pet a snake and a baby alligator. Their favorite part by far was the farmyard where they were free to run around with chickens, roosters and turkeys.

Friday night we had dinner with my grandparents at Olive Garden, which went well enough that we stayed for dessert. They rarely last that long and I usually need a second parent with me to keep them occupied and in line.

Unfortunately my iPhone up and quit on me Saturday night, so after a long morning at church we headed first to the Verizon store and then to the Apple store. The guy at the Verizon store wouldn't even look at it, which was infinitely frustrating especially when the guy at the Apple store fixed it in 30 seconds without even taking it apart.

But I will say the Apple store was an experience I don't want to repeat...it was a zoo and when I walked in a guy at the door flipped out on my kids for gently touching a window display that he was guarding with his life because it was apparently falling apart. I saw him lecture many other adults about it too, my kids weren't doing anything inappropriate. Then he insisted I needed a Genius bar appointment for more than an hour later, so I hate to waste time at the mall. I have been avoiding malls like the plague because of exactly what happened to me when I just walked through Macy's on the way to the Apple store. I was overcome by the awesomeness of the shoes and clothing I passed. Not kidding y'all...I must be in shopping withdrawal or something because I wanted one of everything I saw.

Anyway I showed up for my appointment and had to wait around in the chaos of people till they called me. It appeared to be useless red tape as I saw several folks just step up to the counter and get helped right away.

My boys were awesome though, so well behaved. So little whining and complaining over this past week that I really did enjoy the time wasted at the mall watching ice skaters and getting  pretzels. I did get frustrated with my youngest pooping in his underwear all week, but I know potty training won't last forever. I didn't mind putting them both to bed every night. There wasn't a single tantrum that lasted more than about 30 seconds...and that was all God's work, in my opinion.

How do you handle things with your spouse is traveling? Any practical tips or creative ideas you can share?
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