Enter some contests, you just might win!

Companies have sweepstakes and instant win games and contests every week.  Now, I enter the ones that have prizes I would be interested in, but when I started, I went a little crazy and entered every non-spammy contest I could find!  (Not a great idea, I know)

Winning is possible! Some of the contests have thousands of winners, so your chances are good.  For the best ongoing list of sweepstakes, visit Freebies 4 Mom; she frequently reminds readers what sweeps are going on, how many winners they will have, and who has won!

As for me, I have won free Hanes from Wedgie-free Wednesday, a Rachael Ray garbage bowl from a Nabisco contest, a free mp3 download from Dove, and third prize in a contest run by American Laser Centers ($300 for laser hair removal, cellulite reduction, or skin treatments).

What have you won? I know that Heather at Freebies 4 Mom likes to hear about who’s won what, so leave a comment here and then pop on over to her site to share there!

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Saturday Savings

Time for some weekly encouragement that I am taking the right steps to take control of spending and debt!

What did I do this week?  Just a few things, but every little bit helps!

  1. I used a gift card (that I’d been saving) for some random purchases that came up.  I’d gotten a Target gift card recently, but didn’t blow it right away on some candles like I originally wanted to.  Instead, last night I bought some things I need (packing tape, shoe inserts, sunblock) and didn’t have to spend “real money” on them!
  2. I put 10% into savings. I earned money from both my paycheck and house/dogsitting this week and right away, I put 10% towards my emergency fund.
  3. I sold some textbooks and made about $130.  Now is the time to list those textbooks if you haven’t already!  I would know because I recently bought my own!

How have you saved money this week?  Anything goes, as long as it’s helping to keep savings growing and spending shrinking!

Free FTD flowers for Good Neighbor Day

Mark your calendars! Wednesday, September 3rd is Good Neighbor Day and FTD florists is giving away free flowers! According to their website,

“FTD florists have celebrated FTD® Good Neighbor Day® since 1994, encouraging all neighbors to help create a friendlier, more caring and compassionate world through the gift of flowers. That’s why customers are encouraged to keep one flower for themselves and give the others away — brightening the day of many other people.”

FTD’s site says you can pick up a free bouquet, but as recommended, don’t keep it all to yourself! Check out this website to see if your local FTC florist is participating.

Financial empowerment

Well, recently I began part-time job #2.  So far, so good.  I hope I can make this work–two jobs plus classes.  I need the income.  At least I am feeling more in control of my money since I began trying to do everything right.  Several things have helped me feel more in control:

  • Writing in this blog
  • Reading others’ blogs
  • Making a budget
  • Outlining goals
  • Divvying up my paycheck
  • Donating a percentage of my income
  • Knowing exactly what I spend and where

This list is nothing new to those of you who are into your own PF situation.  These are all things I read about on others’ blogs, but I mention them here to affirm that doing things like those above really can make you feel more financially empowered–even when you’re tens of thousands in debt.

Reader Panel: Tell Harlequin

Looks like Harlequin has revamped their reader panel website. Since I am a reader who loves free books, I had to share this news with you. Previously We Hear You, the new site looks better than the old one (which I’ve mentioned before on this blog). The new site seems to work in a manner similar to the old one.

To join, go to the homepage and click “Join today”. You’ll complete a questionnaire about your reading habits and then they will ask for your address and other information so they can send you free books. The books they send will have corresponding surveys for you to fill out. If you hated the plot, say so. If you thought the cover was cheesy, you have a chance to share. If the hero was a well-written character, speak up. This program gives you not only free books but a chance to give the publishers your opinions of them.

It’s not clear what books you will receive, but keep in mind that Harlequin does not just publish “trashy romance novels”. It’s easy to equate “Harlequin” with “My Millionaire Boss’s Italian Baby Mama” etc. (No offense intended to Harlequin Presents readers.) The reality is that they publish a variety of fiction lines, including romantic suspense, chick lit, African-American teen fiction, Christian romance, fantasy, African-American romance, contemporary women’s fiction, Christian romantic suspense, African-American inspirational books, Christan women’s fiction, Christian chick lit, and Christian historical romance. Quite the variety!

No, I am not a Harlequin affiliate, author, or superfan. Though I have read a few pretty good books published by them. 😉

Comparison shopping (Or, how I saved big on textbooks this year)

I learned early on in my college career (though perhaps not early enough) that buying textbooks at the campus bookstore is rarely a way to get the best deal. The biggest reason to shop at one of these stores is convenience. If you want to pay for that convenience, that’s great! I, however, prefer to shop around for a lower price.

To get the best price, first, you need to find out the ISBN for each of your required textbooks. One way to do this is to go to your university bookstore’s website. Many have online forms that allow you to enter your classes so you can purchase or reserve your textbooks online. Instead of adding the books to my cart, though, I make a note of the textbook’s title, edition number, author, and ISBN.

Next, begin searching textbook sites, textbook meta-searches, and my favorite, half.com. Use the ISBNs to ensure you are searching for the correct edition, since each edition has its own ISBN. Note the best price of each book at each of the sites you visit, and don’t forget to include shipping charges. Keep in mind the used book condition you require. (This is your personal preference. Some people don’t mind “acceptable” books; others prefer “like new.”) I like to compile the pricing information into an Excel spreadsheet, but using pen and paper never fails!

After you make your mini-database, check to see which of the sites you visited are available through your favorite rewards and rebates sites. I used BigCrumbs, which offers rebates at half.com, eCampus.com, and other online bookstores. (BigCrumbs (that’s my referral link, btw) offers a % back on purchases at many other online retailers as well, including eBay.) I compared my books’ prices at eCampus.com and half.com, while considering their rebate percentages, shipping prices, free shipping offers, etc. You can add this additional info into your database to get the most accurate pricing.

For me, the winning combination ended up being half.com through BigCrumbs, which gives me 4.5% back. Your winning combination will vary because you will have different textbooks than I do–among other variables. Also, don’t do your research one week and go back the next week to purchase. You’ll find that your best prices will have changed as copies sell.

I can say from experience that I have consistently found the best prices at half.com for most books, most semesters. I still shop around, though. It really doesn’t take that much time, and each semester I have saved a significant amount compared to the campus bookstore’s prices. This year, the campus bookstore would have charged around $300 for my books and I paid approximately $248 after discounts and shipping.

(Sorry, med students, I know you don’t want to hear me whine about prices!:))

Saturday Savings

Here’s my report on the ways I’ve saved money this week. I’m trying to encourage myself (through documentation) that I’m starting to do things right.

  1. I said no to overpriced snacks. When I drive long distances, I often get bored and hungry. I used to make it a habit to get a couple of snacks from a convenience store when I gas up while on a road trip, but this week, my willpower won!
  2. I went to a thrift store. I need khaki pants for my job, and the pair I had were mysteriously and irreparably damaged. Instead of going to a regular store to pay full price for a new pair of khakis, I went to a local thrift store. There I found several pairs in my size that were in excellent condition–brand name pants, too.
  3. I baked it myself. It was my mom’s birthday recently, and she loves caramel cake and icing. I offered to make her cake this year because I love to bake. Instead of buying the caramel icing and cake mix that she always gets, I bought the icing and made the cake myself. I’d never used that recipe before, so the cake came out dry, but it had a good flavor otherwise. And my mom was touched that I made it myself, just like back in grade school! 😉

I hope I can show how saving money can be more than just using a coupon or hitting a sale!