When Free Means Free

Who doesn’t like getting things for free? And I’m not talking about stupid things you’ll never use, like the neon 1980s style sunglasses they were giving out at a Chicago Slaughter arena football game.
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No joke.

I’m talking about things like a free appetizer from Chili’s, a free one year subscription to Martha Stewart magazine, or a free $25 gift certificate from Macy’s. Free stuff you actually want and can use.

Have I piqued your interest yet?

Of course, I started with the super awesome stuff I’ve received. More often, I get freebies mailed to me like extra coupons and samples for everything from mayonnaise to face moisturizer to Kashi cereal. Nothing that would be considered really exciting, but small amounts of everyday goods. I do enjoy the sample sized toiletries which pack up nicely when we go on vacation though.

The good free stuff usually requires a bit more time spent getting the item (rather than just entering a name and address for the free samples). Here’s how to do it:

1. Sign up for birthday clubs.
Go online and enter your email address to enter yourself for birthday clubs at different restaurants. Most will give you a free appetizer or dessert for signing up, and then you get something bigger, like a free meal, around your birthday.

Free birthday stuff is actually what gave me the idea to write this post. My birthday is on August 20, so I’ve been getting my birthday free stuff for a couple weeks. 

I’ve gotten:
$10 gift card from Kohl’s
$10 gift card from World Market
$10 off the bill at Maggiano’s
Free Philosophy Vanilla Cake Shower Gel from Sephora
Free entree from Houlihan’s
Free dish at Noodles
Free brownie sundae from Chili’s
Free dessert from Buffalo Wild Wings
Free meal from b.d.’s Mongolian Grill
Free chocolate fondue from Melting Pot

Free drink from Caribou coffee

Pretty good haul for only a few minutes of time spent entering my email address.

Sometimes, nail or hair salons offer birthday clubs too. Every year, I receive a $10 gift certificate to my hair place. Just used it to get my hair cut last night.

Be advised, most birthday gift certificates can only be used in your birthday month, or you lose it.

2. Sign yourself up to receive communications from your favorite stores.

You know right before you finish a payment at a store when you’re asked for your home phone or email address? If you give it to them, you could be saving big.

For example, every few months, I get a mailer from Victoria’s Secret offering me a free panty. I stop in to get a pair when I’m nearby, like I was on Monday night.The ones available now are pretty fancy for being free.
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I’ve also gotten coupons for free items from Bath & Body Works, without having to make a purchase.

Just recently, I got my hands on a $10 off a $10 purchase from Pier 1. Many of their items are priced at exactly $10, which made them absolutely free – not even tax to pay. I was especially excited about that one, since Pier 1 coupons are few and far between. I showed my family and friends how to get it (liking Pier 1 on facebook) and we for some pretty nice stuff. Here’s a look at all of my free swag, which includes two chalkboard glass jars, a cow creamer, a kitchen timer, and three different candles.
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The best place to get free stuff for signing up for emails is Kohl’s. I got a $5 gift card for signing up, and now, every 4-6 weeks or so, I get a random email giving me a $10 gift card that I have to redeem within a week. A free $10! And I can still use any coupons I have for the store as well. With my $10 gift cards I’ve bought a dog bed, jewelry, a rug, a dress, table linens, and a large quantity of candles – all for free or very close to it.

Signing up saves money on restaurants too. Every once in a while, I’ll get emails for free food items like free salads, free appetizers, and free desserts both from big chains like Chili’s and smaller, more local restaurants and pubs.

3. Join rewards programs.

You already do it on your credit card, so why not at local restaurants and stores?

Many places have loyalty programs where after you buy a certain amount of items (like cups of coffee), you get one free. Ask if your local store had any kind of program like this.
Ulta is a good place to join their rewards club too. I don’t ever usually spend enough to get a really good item during their rewards time (like a straightener), but you do get free samples when you make a purchase. Last time I went to Ulta, I bought a Stila eve shadow/bronzer/blush combo and I got great goodies for free: Almay eye make up remover pads, blackberry moisturizing lotion, lip gloss, and hair spray.

4. Take surveys.
Stores love it when you take their surveys, and they usually give you an incentive to take them. I tend to skip the ones where you’re entered into a drawing to win something (they aren’t worth it), but I do take the time to answer questionnaires for coupons.

A couple years back, a friend and I had our once a week out to lunch discount down to a science. We’d head over to Baja Fresh, where they would ask you to fill out a survey on the receipt. We’d fill it out and get something like $5 off our next meal there. Since we went weekly, we were regularly paying only about $2 for lunch each time we went. On top of that, they had a loyalty program (see #3 above) and after ordering ten meals, you got one free. Pretty good deal there.

Bath & Body Works, Victoria’s Secret, and Best Buy print out an survey opportunities right on the receipt. Take the survey, get a discount code, and you’ll get some money off your next purchase there. 

Don’t forget to pair your discounts with sales! Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret have huge sales twice a year – once in June, once in December/January after Christmas. I’ll go and make a small purchase at the beginning of their sale, do the survey which usually gives you $10 off a $30 purchase, and then go back to get more items I saw and wanted on my first trip.

Surveys are also what gets me those $25 Macy’s gift cards. I belong to e-rewards, which is an online survey company. They email me surveys a few times a week, and I get e-rewards money based on how many surveys I complete. I then take that e-rewards money, and “buy” things with it. For example, a Macy’s $25 gift card costs $45 in e-rewards money. There are also other things you can get like free pizzas from Pizza Hut, airline miles, or rewards points at various hotels.

When stacking the gift cards, coupons, and sales, you can really make out like a bandit. I bought a BCBG dress from Macy’s. It was $118 at the store, but was cheaper online (about $80). Using an online discount code and the 25% off promotion Macy’s website was running over the weekend, I ended up scoring the dress for $52 and free shipping! I used two of the free $25 Macy’s gift cards I’ve gotten and spent $2 out of my pocket for the dress.
 

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Unfortunately, it didn’t fit. I heard the world’s smallest violin playing when I tried it on. Oh well. Luckily, when I returned the dress, I scored two Martha Stewart cake stands and a cast iron skillet for using store credit, and even had some money left over on the gift card.

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5. Subscribe to couponing blogs.
As I mentioned this in my (Not) Extreme Couponing post, I subscribe to both the Krazy Coupon Lady and Raining Hot Coupons blogs. They let you know the coupon match-ups at each store every week, and sometimes they’ll show you how to get something for free with the coupons that are out there. I have gotten Sharpies and Scotch tape for free this way.

They also let you know of small give aways here and there, like the samples I often get in the mail, but sometimes they tell you about some pretty great free stuff, like free note cards from Pear Tree Greetings, a free year of Martha Stewart magazine, a free year of Women’s Day magazine, or free downloaded songs from Amazon. Those deals run out really quickly, so you have to sign up pretty much as soon as you get the email.

What’s the best thing you’ve gotten for free? Can you think of any freebies you know of that I’ve missed?

 

I’m Not Too Young to Antique

You may have noticed my posting has been a bit sporadic lately. Well, for my birthday, Dan took me on a winery trip up through Michigan and we spent a lovely weekend in Saugatuck. Last week was kind of crazy catching up, but now I’m back up to speed and back on track.

While in Michigan, we spent a quality 3.75 hours at the Blue Star Antique Pavilion, near the B&B where we stayed.

I didn’t take any photos inside the store, but I was amazed at the rows and rows of booths with antiques. We saw everything from old maps to cast iron boiling pots to wedding dresses to Pyrex mixing bowls from the 1960s. I was surprised at how interested I was in looking through every last nook and cranny of the store. What surprised me even more was how much Dan was into it too. I think it was the WWII advertisements that did it. 

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I found such wonderful treasures. It was hard picking out what could come home with me and what had to stay. Finally, we settled on these items:

(1) A map of Chicago. Not sure of the year, but it was made by Standard Oil Company (now Amoco). I’m thinking of making the map into wall art, but I’m not sure of the details yet.

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(2) A postcard sent in 1957 with an image of Belmont Harbor. It’s a special place for us, since that’s where we got engaged. I added it to our office frame gallery.

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(3) A well-used mini loaf pan. I love how you can see all the scratches in the metal where slices of bread were cut out and eaten. I won’t be using this as a loaf pan though. Instead, I have it earmarked for a fun DIY project. Stay tuned for more.

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(4) A large blue-tinted Ball mason jar. It has the flip top, which I thought was way cooler than the standard lid. I’ll use this as a rustic vase.

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(5) A kitchen scale – my favorite find. It sticks and probably doesn’t weigh things properly anymore, but I fell in love with it the second I saw it. I want to eventually have a big open, kinda rustic, kinda antique looking kitchen. This will be front and center. For now, it hangs out on our kitchen shelves, near the chalkboard jars.

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Grand total spent on all items: about $30.

Can’t wait to get crafting with my new (old) items!

“Woof” Means “I Love You” in Dog

Phoebe girl had a habit of pushing around her food and water dishes when she’s chilling in the back sun room while we’re at work every day. I’m not entirely sure how she does it, since those bowls are super heavy ceramic, but she finds a way.

In case you’re wondering, she has the White Large Bowl  for her food and water bowls from C&B.
 

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Yes, they were expensive. Yes, she broke the water bowl one of the first days we had her. Yes, I almost brought her back to the shelter for it (just kidding).

Dan was able to super glue it back together since the broken off piece was so large. (Almost) good as new.

Pheebs doesn’t really slide the bowl around anymore, but I thought that the bowls should have a little something under them. Now, mostly to soak up some of the drool Phoebe leaves on the floor when she drinks. I decided this was definitely a DIY project.

I had seen this dog mat from Ballard Designs before, and thought it was super cute.
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Not really sure about the personalization though. Kinda weird if you ask me.

Then, a few weeks later, I saw this doormat on apartment therapy.
 

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How fun!

I thought I would create a combination of the two. Here’s what I ended up making:
 

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They say that “woof” means “I love you” in dog. Kinda like “roar” means “I love you” in dinosaur. Look it up.

How’d I make it?

I started with this dog mat from Kohl’s. It was free, since it was on sale for $7.19 and I used a $10 gift certificate I had received in my inbox.
 

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Next, I played around on Word until I found a font I enjoyed. FYI, this one is Britanic Bold in size 175 font.

I cut out each letter and created my own stencil. I used regular computer paper, but it might have worked a little bit better had I used card stock. Something to think about for next time I guess.
 

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I spaced out the letters using a piece of paper I printed out with the letters, but had not cut out.

Then, I pinned the stencil to the mat itself.
 

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I squirted some paint in a cup and used my trusty dabber brush. I only did one letter at a time, waiting for each letter to completely dry before starting the next letter. This avoids smudging.

Here’s a close up of the finished stenciled letters.
 

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I couldn’t decide if I should do another coat, to make the letters stand out more, or if I preferred the more worn look. I left it at one coat.

Grand total money cost for this DIY project? The $0.50 + tax it cost to buy the paint at Michael’s. Grand total time cost for this DIY project? About an hour.

Totally worth it.

Grilled Salmon and Asparagus

Making this dinner could not get any easier. And it’s good for you. Doesn’t taste so bad either. Try it out.
 

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Just like we buy a huge bag of frozen chicken at Costco, we do the same for salmon. The hardest part of this meal is remembering to thaw it in the morning for dinner that night.

Start by making the marinade:
 

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1 chopped green onion
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ginger powder

Once it’s done, pour about 3/4 of the mixture into a large freezer bag and add four pieces of salmon. Shake it around a little bit, then put it all in the fridge. The best part is that the salmon are ready to grill in only fifteen minutes. Talk about a quick last minute dinner!

While the salmon is marinating, I washed the asparagus and cut the ends of off each of them. I put them all in a different freezer bag and drizzled in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. No measuring, just pour it in there. I shook it around and let it sit for about ten minutes, turning them after five.
 

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Next, fire up the grill!

Dan cooked the salmon for about fifteen minutes total.

The asparagus cooked pretty quick, you’ll only need about five minutes, so put that on the grill last. Just put it directly on top of the grill grates.
 

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Once the salmon and asparagus are done, serve immediately.

A Lovely Book Club Brunch

Every two months or so, my sorority sisters and I meet for book club. I’ll admit that at first, I was skeptical about our ability to keep up our book club meetings. But, it’s been almost a year since we started, and we’re still going strong.

Last weekend, it was my turn to host. The day that worked best for us was a Sunday, so we decided to meet for brunch. I usually end up making a ton of food for get togethers, so this time I tried to keep it low key.

The Menu:
Summer Pizza
Trix Treats
Mini Pancake Skewers
Bacon and Egg Cups
Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Pita Chips (made by the fabulous Ms. Erin)
And juice, coffee, and cucumber water to drink
 

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You remember the summer pizza from the multiple celebrations shindig Dan and I threw for his family back in June. Same summer pizza recipe, different veggies. This time, we used red bell pepper, green onion, celery, and carrots.

The Trix Treats was a new recipe for me, which I found here. It’s made sort of like Rice Krispie treats, except these are in ball form. They were pretty cute, though I did have some trouble with some of them staying together.

The Mini Pancake skewers were nothing difficult. This dish was all about presentation. I whipped up about a cup of pancake batter and made teeny tiny pancakes. Then, just stick through a skewer and drizzle with syrup.

The trickiest dish was the Bacon and Egg cups. Dan had seen the recipe and knew he had to try it.

Start by frying up some bacon. We used the whole package. Pheebs ate the three or so leftover pieces.
 

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Once the bacon’s done, spray some muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray and line them with bacon. We used one piece on the outside and a small piece on the bottom.

Crack an egg (try not to break it) and put it in the center of the bacon lined muffin tin. Top with your favorite kind of cheese (we used a mix of goat and cheddar), thyme, salt, and pepper.
 

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Bake at 400 degrees for about fourteen minutes, turning the pan at seven minutes.

Immediately take the cups out of the tin. If you’re using a non-stick pan, be sure to use a plastic knife to avoid scratching your pan. Serve hot.
 

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I almost forgot to serve these! Dan to the rescue. That’s why, in the shot of the table that my fellow book-clubbers told me to take (for my blog post, of course), the Bacon and Egg Cups are missing. Oh well.

I didn’t forget about the fruit salsa. It was really yummy. A big thank you to Erin for making it!

And finally, a quick note on the bunting I made. I cut some squares out of a piece of newspaper, hold punched a flower on each, then strung the paper onto some twine. Easy, and very book club theme appropriate.
 

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Looking forward to the next meeting, ladies!

Wait, I Can Use That!

It’s something that I say a ton around our house.

An old shirt with a hole. An empty wine bottle and its cork. And especially any type of jar. It will serve its purpose and right when Dan’s about to throw the item into the trash, my spidey sense tells me to go running to the kitchen and yell out, “Wait, I can use that!” It’s gotten so bad that now, Dan just leaves items on our kitchen island until I’m home to sort through it and determine what is actually garbage and what I can use for a future project.
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This Nutella jar turned scissors holder was an item that was rescued from the garbage.

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This handy little toothpick dispenser was too. Didn’t cost a dime.
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It originally held the organic rosemary we purchased from Target. Doesn’t it look like this actual toothpick dispenser?

I’ve come to see that everything may have another use, so I’m extremely hesitant to throw anything away. Truth is, I’ve always been a little trigger shy in throwing away items that I may need someday. Dan is not-so-secretly afraid that I’m turning into a hoarder.

In any case, we’re short on storage so I know that I really do have a limited window of time of when my keeping stuff is tolerated and when it’s strongly suggested that I throw it away. That’s why I try to assess what I have accumulated every so often, and I actually do toss stuff that I no longer think I can use.

The other day, I was going through my decorations box where I store seasonal holiday-related items that are frequently switched out depending on the time of year, to see if there was anything I could toss. I was given these votive candle holders as a decoration for the summer months.
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They are pretty, but just not my style. What else could I use it for? Just to hold stuff like change, thread, or other small items. No, it seemed to me these were not items I could re-use.

I wasn’t really sure how to go about donating such an item, so the general thought was to toss it. I walked over the the kitchen garbage and right before my hand released the first votive, I thought, “Wait, I can use that!”

What was I doing? What is like the one thing DIY blogs teach? With a new coat of paint, it could be a whole new votive!

I looked around online for a little at different kinds of candle holders. I fell in love with this silver-plated look from Pottery Barn.
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I wasn’t sure if that silver tone would look good on such a small votive, but once I saw these discontinued Antiqued Mercury Glass Votives from Ballard Designs, I was sold.
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It occurred to me that our bedroom already had some silver accents, like the curtain rods and the lamps, so the votives would match the room nicely. Maybe these could finally finally decorate my new dresser!

Enter the silver spray paint.
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After a quick spray and dry, here’s what we have.
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Not sure I love where I put them, but I do love the way the votives came out. Maybe I should put them on a white charger or something so they are more of a focal point on the dresser.

I think they will get much use come the holiday season, where they likely will find a spot on the food table at my annual holiday party. Until then, we’ll see how they work out on the dresser. If they still aren’t catching my fancy in a few weeks, I’ll find a new home for them.

Lazy Weekend Blueberry Pancakes

Weekday mornings, from the time I wake up until the time I get to the office, are a complete blur. I’m tired, stumbling around, and trying to get ready as fast as I can before traffic gets too terrible. Half the time, I call Dan to ask him to check and make sure I’ve closed the garage door. More often than not, I don’t actually remember driving to work. Not good.

On the weekends, I cherish the slower pace. Everything we do is at a crawl. We make coffee. We sit and read the Sunday newspaper. We stay in our pajamas well into the afternoon. Showers are optional, and we usually opt not to take one. Our days consist of time at the pool, the dog park, the farmer’s market, a craft project or two, a wine tasting at the corner wine store, and an easy to make dinner. Of course, that’s the ideal weekend, when we’re not running around like crazy people with more plans than we can handle.

On those relaxing kind of weekends, Dan and I love to take the time to make breakfast together. My favorite weekend breakfast is this recipe for healthy blueberry pancakes.

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Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk, plus a little extra
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup blueberries

Mix the flour and baking powder together. Next, beat together the egg, milk, salt, and sugar.

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Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Mix in the berries.

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Pour over a hot griddle and cook until slightly brown.

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Surprisingly, these pancakes are quite sweet on their own. I usually eat them with my hands when they are cool enough to touch. Dan prefers his with maple syrup.

Make extras and freeze them. You’ll be able to enjoy your lazy weekend pancakes during the busy work week.