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I've been reading a handful of personal finance blogs for the last six months or so and seeing the same advice over and over - clip the damned coupons. In particular, The Simple Dollar (favorite grocery/coupon posts: 1 2 3) and Get Rich Slowly (favorite grocery/coupon posts: 1 2) hit the grocery strategies with some frequency. I decided to pick up the Sunday paper today and find out if the coupons inside would actually save someone like me any money. There are a few factors I considered in this exercise:

  • The value of my time. There are a lot of factors that go into a valuation of my time, and that's perhaps appropriate for another post. I'm going to be very conservative for the purpose of this evaluation and say that my hourly rate is $25. If I don't save more as a result of the circulars than my hourly rate, I am calling it a fail.

  • The decisions I am trying to make about the food we (Sam and myself) eat. We've been making a concerted effort to eat less processed "junk". A great deal on Little Debbie Snack cakes - even one that makes them free - is of no benefit for me. There are places that we still often eat processed food (as opposed to making from fresh ingredients): salad dressing, broth, dips, spreads, cured meats, canned tomato products (when we run out of garden tomatoes), and occasionally soda. If we wouldn't have considered eating something without the coupon discount, I am not considering the coupon as something to clip.

  • The decisions I am trying to make about the home and hygiene products we consume. Sam and I are long-time LUSH fans - one of our biggest indulgence is their soap and solid shampoos - but we buy them for (green!) reasons that go beyond just enjoying them. Same with our house-cleaning products: I'm trying to back away from mysterious chemicals (Industrial All-Purpose Cleaner X) and excessive disposable products (wipes), and get back to basics (vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils). Just as with food, if we wouldn't have considered bringing a home and hygeine product into our home without the coupon discount, I am not considering the coupon as something to clip.

So what kinds of coupons did I clip? I clipped coupons for:
  • products I already use and planned to buy (bonus!),
  • products of a similar type to something I use and planned to buy (off-brand),
  • non-expiring products I use but had not planned to buy for some time (stocking up is fine).

The coupons I wound up with:
  • $1.00 off Ken's dressing
  • $1.00 off Ken's marinade
  • $1.00 off Ken's dressing spray*
  • $0.50 off Roberts Dairy, any gallon milk
  • $0.35 off Roberts Dairy, sour cream or French Onion dip
  • $0.35 off Eggland's Best eggs (any size)
  • $1.00 off two packages Farmland smoked sausage
  • $1.00 off one package Farmland ham or turkey
  • $0.35 off one jar Smucker's natural peanut butter
  • $0.35 off one jar Smucker's low sugar or sugar free fruit spread*
  • $1.29 discount price, 60oz. Clorox bleach (normally $1.99, for sanitizing garden tools)
  • $0.99 discount price, 3 pack Ivory bar soap (normally $1.39, for in-between LUSH orders)
  • $0.99 discount price, Carmex (normally $1.29, stocking up)
  • $1.00 discount price, 2 liter diet Pepsi (normal price estimated $1.29 - guilty pleasure)

Coupons for laundry soap, dish soap, paper towels and toilet paper were rejected even though they fall under "stocking up" - we're already stocked up on these, and the coupons aren't as good as the deal we get at Costco for these items.

Outside the coupons (in the ads), I found out Staples is offering a $40 "easy rebate" (you can submit them online instead of mailing) on a paper shredder, which we're looking to acquire.

So, what's the total score? The coupons are worth a total of $8.59. It took me about an hour and twenty minutes to go through the circulars. Why so long?
  • Inexperience. I haven't clipped coupons since I helped my mom when I was... oh, nine?
  • Thoroughness. Since I was trying to be semi-scientific, I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing coupons
  • Junk. There's a lot in the circulars that isn't coupons, and the Omaha World-Herald glossies are substantial. Also, the coupons I did find were almost all for highly-processed junk food that I wouldn't eat for free, or home and hygiene products that conjure World War II imagery for me.
In any case, to break even with an hour and twenty minutes of my time and $1.50 for the paper itself, I needed to find $34.83 in coupons I would definitely use. In order for the $8.59 worth of coupons to have broken even with the time and paper cost, I would have to be able to get through the coupons in less than 19 minutes 27 seconds. (This is what you get when you have a science nerd analyze these things.)

Was it worth it? I'm a little torn. I wouldn't have known about the deal on the shredder if I hadn't bought the paper. However, that isn't a coupon, and I was planning on visiting Staples to look at their selection anyway. My inclination is to say that the venture wasn't worth the cost (in money and time). It's a sunk cost, now, so I'll happily use the coupons I've clipped, but I don't think I'll be scouring the Sunday paper for coupons again, at least not until I can try some of the more sophisticated strategies from the posts I linked up top. In any case, $8.59 may not be worth an hour of my time, but the value of knowing that for sure leaves me feeling like my time was not wasted. It's science, baby.

My advice: see for yourself. If you eat a lot of processed or pre-packaged foods and use a lot of specialized commercial cleaners, I suspect clipping coupons makes much more sense. There may also be places and/or papers that have a more extensive selection of coupons for fresh produce, meat, and dairy. If either of these is true, you could save quite a bit of money on your grocery bill each week.

Nothing Like Free Money

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I decided to sign up over at Revolution MoneyExchange to nab the $25 sign-up bonus, which they're offering until May 15. The service allows you to email funds back and forth between friends. The sign-up process is quick; there is no hard credit-check against your credit report; they're backed by some serious financial heavies (Citi, Morgan Stanley, etc.). Google around a bit - they're legit. They want you to take this money, because it means another customer for them.

Hop on over and grab $25 - in the interest of full disclosure, they scoot me $10 when you sign up as well, but I'd be telling you to take the $25 either way. Like the title says: there is nothing at all like free money.
Refer A Friend using Revolution Money Exchange
A little over a year ago, a staff writer for UNO's twice-weekly newspaper (The Gateway) approached me to ask what I thought of some new federal funding for scientific research. My response, in the following clip:
"I am personally opposed to most government spending, particularly in the sciences," physics teaching assistant Erica Tesla said. "Government funding frequently comes with a lot of strings attached, many of which are inconvenient at best or crippling at worst. My opposition to government spending in the sciences is not meant to imply that I think the science should be a lower priority than other things-the problem is that spending implies control."
Full article: Pessimism follows federal science initiative announcement. Looks like research is backing up my opinion: Reason Hit & Run makes a mention of some research saying private research is better at making breakthroughs. Given that we can't get protection for scientists who expose manipulation, distortion, or suppression of their research, is that really any surprise?

Metro | Bistro

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Hey, Omaha boys and girls. Did you know that you can get a killer gourmet meal at roughly a regular steakhouse price by hitting up the local culinary arts program? Plus, you're helping local students learn their trade. The Omaha option is the Bistro at Metro. Tip via Wise Bread.


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Psst. I don't do a whole ton of pushing merchandise on here, but Kiyonna - which is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the best plus-size shops online - is having a special today because they're not shipping orders. (They're moving house.) Use the coupon code "CLOSED" at checkout to get $30 off an order of $150 or more. (And yes - their clothes are worth dropping $150 on. I'd be shopping today myself, if I hadn't blown all my cash on garden and sewing stuff.) Click the link:

Don't Get Mad, Get Even Man, I used to get so annoyed when someone would ring up one of my grocery items wrong. If I wanted to get money back - sometimes substantial amounts, like when someone mis-stickered some flank steaks as filet mignon - I had to run back to the store, wait in line, explain my situation, wait for them to confirm the error, and so on. What a nightmare. Fortunately, someone is using technology to make this less of a pain in the ass. If there's an error on your Target receipt, don't get mad - and don't go back to the store. Just call the phone number at the top of the receipt and ask for customer service. Explain what happened - in my case, Laura's Lean Beef was supposed to be on sale, 2 for $8, but rang up full price. They'll ask for your receipt ID and the VCD#, highlighted on the photo. Then they'll ask for the item number that was incorrect. If you paid with credit or debit card, they can issue a credit back to the card without you ever leaving home.
Sam and I, after much waffling this evening, decided to visit Firebirds for dinner. Sam and Jess recently had dinner there, and both seemed very pleased with the place. Which is great; at the price point, you should expect excellence. Firebirds lists prices for dinner as in the $12.95-$23.95 range. Our typical dinner out tops out at the bottom of that range, unless we're having top-dollar items (steaks, seafood), in which case we get into the $18 range sometimes (though I'll note that you can get a damned good steak around Omaha for $12.95 - you just have to know where to look). Seating and Service We were seated promptly upon arrival, though it became apparent after a minute or two at our table that our waiter wasn't notified that we were his very promptly; he seemed surprised that he was going to be serving us. He did take our drink orders quickly and deliver them as quickly. When he returned to take our order, the one concern I had was that he seemed put off that we were ordering non-appetizer items to share. I can chalk this up to imagination; the service we received was otherwise unremarkable, but also unobjectionable. Food For our appetizer, we selected the Lobster Spinach Queso at about $9. The claim:
A spicy blend of lobster, baby spinach, wood smoked tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese. Fired in our ovens, then topped with a chunky pico de gallo salsa made from scratch in our kitchen. Served with tri-colored tortilla chips.
The reality? First of all, it was not spicy in the least; the cheese was rather unfortunately more suggestive of melted Velveeta than pepper jack - perhaps a side effect of the other ingredients. (Velveeta has its place; it is not in a $9 appetizer. I'm not saying that's what they used, either - just that the flavor spoke nothing of the pepper jack cheese they claimed to have used.) The spinach merely seemed to make the cheese come out in stringy clumps, rather than adding real flavor. (Similarly, I've seen spinach used effectively in dips - just not here.) The lobster was fine, but as I'm not crazy about lobster, it seemed like an expensive ingredient put in a $3 dish to justify a $9 price. Speaking of which, it was a $9 appetizer; I understand that the menu clearly says that it's served with tortilla chips, but I think this is a serious mistake. Bring me some veggies or some thin-sliced, toasted bread - you pick what kind. (Joey's Seafood & Grill gets this exactly right with their Crab & Artichoke dip at a buck or two cheaper - charbroiled garlic toast, yum.) Moving on, we then split a Caesar salad (about $6). The claim:
With shaved Reggiano cheese and chile dusted croutons.
Reality: It did, in fact, have those ingredients, and others - though if the croutons were chile-dusted or not, I couldn't tell. Overall, it tasted like a Caesar salad I could easily make at home with one of those Caesar salad kits - even the dressing tasted like it was straight from a packet. Come on, guys. Surprise me. Astound me. Make your salad dressing in-house - it tastes better, and for $6, you'd better do that or put something more substantial on my salad than a single cheese shaving and some (maybe) chile-dusted croutons. I'm talking protein here, guys. Meat. Do it. Or don't, and sell the salad for a couple bucks less. Finally, the steak - a 14 oz. New York Strip at about $23. We elected to get an extra potato and split this, as well. The claim:
14 oz. hand-cut aged Black Angus strip steak trimmed extra lean, lightly seasoned and wood grilled. Served with a loaded Colorado Russet baked potato or seasoned steak fries.
Reality: Oh, boy. Where do I start? First of all, I was not at all impressed with the cut of meat we got. Not only was it not trimmed extra lean, it was easily the fattiest strip I've had in memory - not the melty, edible "flavor fat", either - gristly, tough, flavorless fat. (This is my favorite cut of steak; I'd say I put down two a month, on average, so I know my strips.) It was also the least tender I've had in memory, and the least juicy. I order my steaks medium rare, unless I know something about the place (like a tendency to under- or overcook them). It came out with the right colors - a warm red center, uniformly brown on the outside - so they were cooked right, which leaves me puzzled. Why didn't a nice, thick, aged Angus strip, cooked medium rare, leave my plate a juicy (but delicious) mess? The other unfortunate bit is that it was delivered to me lukewarm on the outside. The only times my steak should ever be served to me less than hot on the outside are if I order it rare, or if I paid $8 at a crappy diner. In both cases, they should both be considerably warmer than this one was. What was right about the steak? Well - it was cooked to the right level of done-ness. Also, the parts I could chew had an incredible flavor - my compliments to whomever seasoned it. I ate approximately four ounces of the seven ounce half steak on my plate. The potato was fine; I can't comment much on it, as I was already full from the other items and could only eat a few bites. All in all, the food was alright. Good, even, at a certain price point. Our bill came back at about $45 for two drinks (a soda and an iced tea) and the appetizer, salad, steak meal and the extra potato. That's steep for food that's alright - it's even steep for good food. My recommendation is to give Firebirds a pass. If you want to go out for a good steak, skip the dressing up and go to Texas Roadhouse. They've got a killer 12 ounce Kansas City Strip that I'd pay $23 for any day - and it'll only set you back $15. (And try the top shelf margarita with Patron Anejo, too. Best. Margarita. Ever. ...tied with Sam's.)
Takin’ Care of Business: An entirely different angle on what's going on with Sam and I. I had to dispute no fewer than five sources of credit on each of the three reports, on top of loads of personal information they had wrong. Grrr. Upside: Hopefully, moving into a house, this fall.
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