Wednesday, May 25, 2011

30 Days To Go!!

Publix Penny Item Made Me Do It!

Of course I have my full coupon binder that I normally have with me if I am intending to go near any store.  However, my book needs some work at this point since we have a lot of craziness going on.  It's probably been about a month since I updated my book so at this point it will probably be an all day project.

Today I was taking my husband to physical therapy and then meeting up with a friend.  I had no intention of hitting Publix but when I found myself trying to kill time, I decided to go into Publix.  I was intending to get a couple of ears of corn which I had seen in the sale flyer.  As I wandered through Publix, killing time and heading for the corn, I came across a stray Penny Item coupon.  If you are not familiar with the Publix Penny Item, here is the quick rundown.  On their first sale day of the week (in some areas it is Wednesday and in some it is Thursday), the local newspapers print the coupon and it is good one day only for a mystery item.  Every week it is different and the coupon itself doesn't tell you what it is.  The idea is that you find out when you get to the store.  I used to run to Publix every Wednesday with my Penny Item coupon and then they started putting out generic items and frankly I felt that in most cases it really wasnt worth it for me to buy the newspaper to get s bottle of Publix brand ketchup, for example.  In order to take advantage of the Penny Item, you must make a $10 purchase.  The $10 is before all coupons but should not include the Penny Item. 

I had intended to buy the corn but what else was I going to get without coupons?  Having commissary privileges, in many cases, without a sale and a coupon, I do better at the commissary.  I remembered that Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce was on sale BOGO.  We love that sauce and while I may buy other brands for almost nothing for use on generic cookouts, there are certain things like ribs and pulled pork that just require a better tasting sauce.  The BOGO sale, without a coupon, set the price of the sauce just below commissary cost so I went for that first.  I then came across a display for Dixie bowls on BOGO and a coupon pad attached for $2 off a box of cereal WYB 2 packs of bowls.  Normally I only use paper plates for sandwiches or paper/plastic cups.  With the coupon for the cereal, this made a good deal.  I picked up my 4 ears of corn, my Penny Item, which happened to be Publix window cleaner.  Before I go on I would also like to point out that not all store brands are good in everything but I have to say that Publix store brands have been good in everything I have purchased.  The only items I was not thrilled with were their diapers and wipes but I know many people who love them so it really is a matter of personal preference.  I went to get my cereal and looked for a box in the $2 range.  Again I grabbed the Publix brand because my husband is not picky about cereal and the box was only $1.99 which after coupon made it free with a penny overage which applied to my other groceries.  I also picked up 2 boxes of Duncan Hines brownie mix which were on BOGO at a lower price than commissary regular price.  I knew that I had a coupon at home so this purchase sort of bothered me but hey, I was getting a free bottle of window cleaner.  Finally, I picked up a can of Bush's beans which were also on BOGO for a price lower than commissary regular.  All in all I ended up spending $9.76 after all sales and coupons.  My BOGO savings was 10.09 and my coupon savings was $4.19.  My total savings for this transaction was $14.27, which gave me a savings over 50%.  Not a bad deal at all!

Military Appreciation at JoAnn's Fabric & Crafts!

In celebration of military families and Memorial Day weekend, JoAnn's is offering military members and dependents 20% off of their total purchase from Friday through Monday (27-30 May).  The discount is on all regular and sale priced merchandise with the standard exclusion (no cricut, sewing machines, etc).  This is a great opportunity to stock up on scrapbooking, sewing, or other craft supplies!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

31 Days To Go!!

Trash day is always a good day to throw things away because you can't go back and change your mind.  I took advantage and did some good purging today.  I went through all of my son's clothes and put all of the small ones in a tote.  I can't get rid of them yet as we would like to have another child, if possible plus I want my husband to look through the tote and let me know which outfits have meaning to him.  They are at least out of his drawers and closet for now.  It was really sad to realize that the newborn clothes that were too big for him only 6 months ago are waaay too small for him now.  He is wearing 6-9 month (pushing the 9 month).  I wish I had really paid attention when people told me not to waste too much money on little clothes because they blow through them quickly.  Luckily we were smart enough to buy a range of sizes so we are still covered as he outgrows things but it still makes me sad to see the clothes that he never wore or maybe wore once.  On the flip side, it really made me feel good to make progress on this job as I have been avoiding it but not being able to easily find clothes that actually fit him has been a big pain. 

I also got more laundry done and put away.  We have had so much going on since we went on leave back in April and came back to find our house flooded, that laundry is a bit behind.  As long as I do a load every day for awhile, I should be done very soon. 

We also had our final New Parent Support visit.  For those of you not familiar, it is a program for new parents (not just first child...anyone with a new baby) provided by Army Community Service (ACS).  They do home visits periodically to see how things are going.  They also provide tons of information on developmental milestones and classes and playgroups on post.  It is definitely a great program especially for younger new moms or those with anxiety.  The person who does the visit is a nurse so it is nice to have someone to tell you things are ok in between doctor's appointment.  For military folks who have no family around, it is also nice to have someone regular, like family, visiting.

I had to wait in the house for much of the day today as my carpet strip was getting repaired from the flood and then I had ladies picking up tshirts for the Toby Keith concert as I am the RSA Women's Club Volunteer Coordinator.  Tomorrow I am going to get my flat iron from a friend and picking up my sewing machine.  I am hoping to make a quick stop at the Thrift Store in order to eliminate stuff and make a little cash.

We are very quickly approaching the 30 day mark and I am still hoping that I can get everything done as I would like.  I am pretty determined so I should have no problem!  I am still trying to stay very optomistic!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Are you a USAA Total Rewards Member?

I decided to throw a quick "deal" post in tonight before I get back to work. My husband and I opened our USAA account when we first got married, going on 4 years ago. For anyone who has the military affiliation to join USAA, I highly recommend it for many reasons. One that I would like to highlight now is the Rewards Program. If you already have USAA and your debit card says "TOTAL REWARDS" across the top (it's a bright blue card), then you are enrolled in the rewards program. If you haven't done so yet, log into your online account and find the Total Rewards link (should be on the links on the right side of the page...if you can't find it do a search of their site). Basically the way the program works is, you get points for payments processed as credit (when you make a purchase at a store, hit credit instead of debit...the only time you can't do it is if you want cash back because you can't get cash back on credit). There is no additional cost on your transaction and there should be no difference on your account except for the way it may appear on your statement. It won't cost you anything and it still processes immediately. The points can be converted to gift cards, which you can request from your online account. Normally, we take something generic like Target gift cards as we know there is always something that we can use at Target. We redeem a few times a year and this most recent time, we redeemed for a $25 Target card and a $25 TGIFriday's card. This weekend my husband and I went to TGIFriday's and we each ordered their $13.99 pick 3 (appetizer, entree and dessert), I had a glass of Sangria and he had a Coke. We used our gift card and had about a $10 plus tip balance to pay. Not bad for 3 courses and an alcoholic beverage! The Total Rewards program has all kinds of store and restaurant gift cards. There is also the opportunity to translate it into airline miles, etc. There is also a similar program with the credit cards through USAA. I am pretty sure that it works the same way but haven't redeemed any yet as we just opened the credit account recently.

The Countdown Continues...32 Days To Go!!

Wow! Time flies when you're having fun! I had a 50 mile list of things to do in the house this past weekend and got pretty much none of it done but sometimes you just need to take a break from the insanity. Saturday was intended to be a day of out and about. We planned to go strawberry picking, shopping and errand running. When my logical brain kicked in, the strawberry picking got crossed off. Realistically, the last thing I needed was pounds and pounds of strawberries that I needed to find something to do with. I really don't have time to cook and if I did some canning, that's just more to pack and carry (the brain sure works different once you have been down the PCS road before). Even though the military sends packers, there are items that they won't take (any food item that is not in new, sealed packaging is one of them and home canned items are probably on the line so it would totally depend on the mover...not worth the risk). We spent the day running errands and shopping. Last summer I was pregnant so I was wearing maternity clothes so my summer clothing is very limited. We hit Bridge Street, an outdoor mall and did some shopping and enjoyed the beautiful Alabama summer weather! We hit a couple of other places and had a wonderful, much needed, relaxing day.
Sunday was supposed to be an inside day, getting stuff sorted and purged but all of a sudden we realized that we had missed some errands. We started out and by the time we were done, so was the day. Those days are very frustrating but you just have to pick yourself up and get back on track. Sunday night I did lots of laundry, sorted/purged baby clothes and cleaned out some other things. Unfortunately most of my productive time happens late at night because getting things accomplished with a 6 month old awake is next to impossible! I may have gone to bed late last night but at least I went to bed feeling like I had accomplished something.

Today was a bit less productive but I am still up and as far as I am concerned the day is not over yet. We did take care of reserving our UHaul trailer for the DITY part of our move. When we moved from Virginia to Alabama, we got a medium sized trailer but decided that this time we would go for the large. A large trailer means that we carry more stuff but that also gives us a little more money as we are paid for the weight of the load we carry. We are still researching all of the options regarding shipping our second vehicle and that is starting to give me a little anxiety as the calendar pages flip but ultimately I am sure it will all work always does.

At this point I am just trying to wrap my brain around the fact that we are quickly headed to a month from our move. My mom is making one last visit before we head south and I am hoping that having her to take care of the baby during that week will give me some much more productive time during the day. Time to get my productive time in for tonight!

Friday, May 20, 2011

35 Days To Go!

Today was a crazy day but nothing related to the move. A move in itself is nothing but when you consider that while moving, life goes on, there comes the glitch. Making it more difficult, when you get down to the wire, everything feels rushed. A few weeks ago we had some damage to our house contents due to a leak and today I talked to the claims adjuster. Apparently insurance with replacement cost doesnt replace the rest of the set and other related items. Our dining room chairs got pretty good amount of damage but our hutch got none. Now we have to hunt down appraisers and repair people as we do this PCS. I also had an Optical appointment and a Women's Club Project to work on. Anyway, the day ended very nice with dinner out for my boys and I (oh at a great price as well!)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

36 Days To Go...

Some days feel very productive and some are downright frustrating. Today was a mix of both. I started off with one of the, in my opinion, best kept savings secrets...consignment. I have been consigning for about 4 years now and am completely hooked! The consignment shop here on post allows you to bring in up to 20 items per day (subject to other rules and limits). Today I brought in 20 items. I will make 70% of the prices that I set if my items sell at full price. This is a great alternative to simply getting a tax write off which, really only benefits you if you itemize. Thrift shopping allows people of limited means (or those who just want to save a little money) to purchase things that they may not otherwise be able to afford. The Consignment shop here on post gives the proceeds to programs for the soldiers and the community so by bringing your items in, you are still helping out while simultaneously helping yourself. Last month I didn't bring anything in but still this month I picked up a check for about $10 which was residual from the month before. Last month's check was almost $100. It's definitely not an income that you can count on but a little mad money never hurt anyone! So today I dropped off my 20 items which helped me purge a little more of my stuff and potentially will make me a little bit of money. A trip to the Consignment shop always makes me feel good all around!

Housing is one thing that we all start worrying about as soon as we get orders because frankly, it's a crap shoot. Some military posts allow you a choice of at least 2 or 3 houses and some don't. All of the houses are of varying ages and levels of reconstruction etc so you really never know what you are going to get. Here at Redstone Arsenal, we have a pretty good size house (1400ish square feet) with a fenced yard and a garage. Our neighborhood is pretty quiet. We have had some repair issues with our house but overall I think we were a little bit spoiled. Fort Hood has so many housing areas/types/neighborhoods that who knows what we will get. When you PCS you have about 10 days to find housing and get settled before the soldier goes back to work so you usually want an idea of whether you are going to live on or off post. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I generally prefer to live on post and my husband prefers off...can you see the difficulty here in this already difficult time?

Today I called the housing office and found out what housing area we will be in and that our new house will be about 1400 square feet. The leasing agent was great. She provided me with tons of info about the house and said that she would send me the floor plan. Of course being over 800 miles away, I am going completely by word of mouth. I have gotten some different views because when I found out where we were going, I "Liked" some Fort Hood spouse (and other similar) facebook pages. This is a great way to get the scoop on neighborhoods, housing issues and concerns, goings on, etc. It can also be a great way to start to meet friends before you even arrive. Just remember though, just like online dating, people online can be very different than they are in person. Anyway, after chatting with the lovely leasing agent and getting some info on facebook, I am feeling better about our on post housing possibility. Fort Hood does not give you a choice in houses so you get what they pick for you or you move off post. Period. One big selling point for us is that the lease is month to month. With housing now privatized this is an important thing to know. Where we are currently, there is a year lease and then you go month to month so if you choose to live on post, you are stuck there for a year unless you pay penalties. Fort Hood's policy is 1 month notice and you are free to your own expense, of course but it is definitely great to know that the option is available.

Taking these few small steps really helped ease my stress about the house situation. We may still end up going off post if we don't like what we are offered but I am much less anxious about it. One of the best recommendations that I can make is to talk about the possibilities. In my experience, most leasing agents will answer questions as long as you are nice and don't treat them in a crazy way. Also, if you make this inquiry phone call too soon in the process, chances are, they won't be able to answer your questions and the more you ask questions that they can't answer, the more frustrating you become to them. In the long term, you can end up making it more difficult to get assistance when they really can help you. Our waitlist application went in at the 90 day mark and we are now close to the 30 day mark. I called and asked a couple of generic questions and was able to determine that the agent had info that she could provide to help relieve me. Had I asked those questions and found that she really had no idea, no sense in pushing it. Of course, all information that I received remains subject to change but, as I said, the conversation helped ease my mind for now at least.

The more frustrating part of my day was dealing with the vehicle dilemma. When we purchased my husband's truck and my van, the intention was to be able to pack the van with our DITY items and tow it with the truck. Despite the fact that the salesman assured us that this would not be a problem, the other day when my husband went to reserve the car trailer, UHaul advised him that the van was too heavy (even empty) to be towed by the truck. Grrrr. Now the dilemma...RSA to Hood is about a 2 day drive. Having a 6 month old baby who needs lots of attention it would be much easier to all be in one vehicle (besides, who wants to sit in a vehicle alone for 2 days?). When you factor in this plus the rising gas costs, we decided to look into shipping the van. We went online and requested quotes. We are potentially looking at a cost of $550-750 to ship it. Considering 2 days of driving will probably cost a couple to a few hundred dollars in gas, and if we ship the van, we can rent a trailer and load up more stuff DITY (I'll explain DITY moves/partial DITY in a later post) which will increase the amount in our pocket, we decided that that may be the most viable option. But wait...there is another option...ditch the vehicle here and get a new one in Texas. We started looking into leasing a new vehicle in place of the van in order to keep our payments low. Seeing as I don't drive my husband's truck because it is too big, we can't go for long periods without the second vehicle. We got a quote the other day and had intention of signing all of the paperwork ahead of time so that the car would be ready for pickup upon arrival. Today I called to confirm some things and as car dealers often do, they changed the terms and have increased the down payment by about $1000 and the monthly payment by $50. They said the original quote was on the wrong vehicle so they spent much of the afternoon trying to get me to change my mind and get the other vehicle. As far as I am concerned, we will go back to the original plan of shipping the vehicle. There is no way that I am going to increase these payments or take a vehicle that I really don't want. I spent hours on the phone with these people for basically nothing because we both had our feet dug in the sand. It's a little disappointing because I started to get kind of excited about having a brand new car again but oh well. Really it is no big deal but with 36 days to go, wasting time is just not something I wanted to do!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Purging, Cleaning and Organizing...the Key to a Smooth Move

We have begun, and will continue until the day the packers come, the purge, clean and organize process. As great as it sounds to have someone else pack your stuff, when you actually have it done, you quickly realize that if you are not purged and organized, it can be a total nightmare. I think whenever we move, whether it is down the street or across the country, we like to start fresh and rid ourselves of extra clutter. It really is the best time to do it. For the average person packing themselves, they purge and organize as they pack. In the military, we must be all purged and organized before the packing begins so in essence you are taking everything out of the closets, rearranging and tossing and putting it all back in. If you dont purge before you leave, you will have to deal with that stuff when you get to where you are going and chances are, it will end up back in a box in the back of your closet. The other issue is that you always risk not having the same amount of closet space in your new location and who wants to rent a storage space for old junk that you dont use anyway?

Ever hear the term "One man's trash is another man's treasure"? I believe that is the motto for packers (and very understandably so but sometimes seems to be taken a bit overboard). Packers pack everything unless you have it segregated or marked not to be packed. This may include but is certainly not limited to full trash cans and ash trays. This seems like a ridiculous notion but you never know what people save or whether they are using a trash can for storage or trash. As an example, when I worked at Verizon, someone got upset because their blue prints were missing. When they were asked where they were stored, the person said that they had been in his blue recycle bin. Well guess what, corporate policy was that recycle bins got emptied by the cleaning crew. In your house, there is no corporate policy so you can use bins inside of your house for whatever you would like. If you have a considerate packer who comes across something that clearly appears to be trash, they may ask but don't count on it. To make matters worse, if a packer finds an ashtray on your desk, he may use common sense and ask you about it, pack it in a ziploc bag or he may just drop the whole thing (wrapped in paper, of course) into the same box as the rest of your desk stuff. As you unpack and unwrap paper, you don't realize that it is an ashtray know the rest. The short of it is, on the day before the packers come, do a final sweep for trash and save yourself the headache.

Organizing is crucial! Because you don't know where you will be living, you may have to go without your stuff (we call it Household Goods) for several weeks so you need to plan accordingly. You can't just plan for the days of your drive. You need to add to your drive time a week or so to find a place and a week or more until your goods are delivered. Your washer and dryer is in with your household goods so access to those types of appliances may be quite limited for awhile. The items that you are carrying yourself (DITY) must be completely separated away from the items that the packers will be dealing with or you risk something important getting packed. The other issue in organizing is doing the most to ensure that related items are packed together. If your cd tower is in the livingroom and you have 1 cd in your bedroom upstairs, that lone cd will be packed with the bedroom stuff. The packers will not take the time to figure that out. If you are not properly organized, you will never find what you need when your goods are finally delivered so do yourself a huge favor and deal with these things now.

**My intention is to do a daily PCS update with more info on the process as well as our progress. I will post deals and coupon info here and there but please bear with me as my coupon adventures will probably be slim as I am completely absorbed right now.

PCS Basics

PCS, for all of you civilians and new military folks, Permanent Change of Station is a concept that may seem foreign to civilians but actually, it is similar to taking a new job in a new city, usually far away but there are some vast differences.

Before I was married to the military, I worked for Verizon. After 2 years in my position as a sales rep in New York, an opportunity came up for me to move to Northern Virginia and a few years later another opportunity came up for me to move a little further south to Virginia Beach. Notice that I use the word opportunity. In my case, someone came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, would you like to go? This is a great opportunity for a better position, better pay, etc.". In the military it works a little differently.

In the military, we all know the day will eventually come when you get that proverbial tap on the shoulder but it is not a choice and it does not always include a better opportunity or better pay. Sometimes it comes with a deployment, a worse job, a better job,'s more like starting a new job with all of your records from your old job following you. That can be good or bad. Think about the job you had 20 years ago. Were you as responsible as you are now or did you slack off and show up late frequently? Were you a model employee or did you mouth off to your boss once too often? My husband has been in the military for over 20 years so when we approach a new duty station, all of his past follows him on paper so it's all a matter of who reads what and how they interpret it...could be good or could be bad.

We have been here at Redstone Arsenal, AL where my husband has been teaching new soldiers how to do their specific job (something related to ammo which I totally do not intend to bore you or myself with) for going on 2 years. The school is moving to Fort Lee, VA so we will be moving as well. We will not be moving with the school because we have been here for 2 years and seeing as this is a TRADOC (basic meaning=Training Post) 2-3 years is average stay at this type of post. We are moving to Fort Hood, TX which is a FORSCOM (basic meaning=Regular, deployable Army Post). Stays at a FORSCOM Post, especially a Divisional one like Fort Hood, can be years and years.

When I accepted the opportunity with Verizon to move, I got a chance to go to Virginia ahead, find a place to live and check things out. Ultimately, the move and all of the expenses were on me but I knew exactly where I was going, where I would be living, where I would be working and what job I would be doing. When I made my transition, I left my job on my last day at my old location and took whatever vacation time I needed to get my stuff moved and reported back to work at my appointed time. The entire process took almost no time or effort. The Army works quite different.

Initially, a soldier is told that he is going to be moving and he is verbally given the location. Usually this is done by the Branch Manager but in this case, because the entire unit is leaving, the Chain of Command provided that notification. We received our notification back in about December. Wait! Hold your horses though! Don't start counting your chickens until you have it in writing (We call it Orders). If you ever watch Judge Judy, you frequently hear her say, "If it's not in writing, it didn't happen". That is exactly the case because many, many changes are often made between the verbal notification and the Orders. We received our Orders in April so that should make it official right? Not so fast! The Army can change any orders at any time, up to and including the last possible second so make your plans but don't count on them.

My husband underwent the 3rd surgery on his right knee so we assumed that our Orders would be changed but we all know what happens when you assume. Long story short, we are planning our move to Fort Hood. Our report date is 1o July so we will be leaving Alabama on 24 June so that we can get to Texas, hopefully find a place to live and get semi settled before the long weekend so that my husband can sign in and not waste a 4 day weekend with leave (if you take leave...aka vacation time...during a holiday weekend, the holidays are still deducted from your available leave so avoid this move at all cost).

From now through our PCS process (it is definitely a process that must be followed meticulously as 1 misstep can have disasterous results), I will be updating and giving info on our daily progress and the steps that we are taking in this process. We have already completed some of the steps which I will give more info as we revisit them (everything gets revisited!) but as of now we have:

Met with transportation to set up our pack (yep, the military hires packers for you) and our pick up
Scheduled our clearing (checking out) from housing
Looked into prices for renting UHaul trailer for the DITY part of our move (will explain DITY move later)
Checked out options for shipping our 2nd vehicle
Guestimated our trip length
Got our paperwork completed to get on the housing waiting list
Looked into some options for off post housing
Started our "to do" lists which seem to grow by the minute...feels like every time we cross off 1 item, we add 4 more!

At this point we have 37 days to make this happen! Ready or not, here we come!

A New Beginning...

I started this blog a couple of years ago for friends who wanted to know how to save money. I posted some basics as well as some deals. My intent was to help with money saving but also to cover various happenings in day to day military family life as I see that much of what military families experience is not too far different from civilian families (we all need to live in the same world and we all gotta eat!) I also thought that maybe, as a "late to the community", I would be able to bridge some of the gap and help the civilians understand why your hubby going on a week long work trip to California doesn't even sort of align with our soldiers going to "The Sandbox" for 15 months and help military families understand that in the grand scheme of things, our healthcare system is actually probably better than what most civilians deal with. After a couple of very difficult years (wow, I can hardly believe it has been so long!), I am back to revive what I have wanted to do. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to formulate things in my head and finally decided that if I was going to get this up and moving, I need to just dive in. I am leaving my older posts up for now (some of the couponing basics and a couple of sample deals) but will most likely update or delete them...maybe some new pics. I'm still mulling that over but for right now...onward!!