Saturday, May 30, 2015

Penny Pinching Post: Ibotta

My latest "nesting obsession" this pregnancy has been trying to become more frugal with our everyday expenses.  I've been keeping up an accurate record this year of where all our money actually goes, and not surprisingly, the most expensive section each month is our grocery bill.  Feeding two growing boys, one man that can still eat like a teenager, a dog, a cat, and a pregnant lady is expensive!  I'm talking $665 a month on average.  And that's not accounting for a meal or two each week from restaurants, ($57.50 a week on average).  Or, the fact that we get a ton of fresh meat from my parents for free.

After I spent a good amount of time comparing prices at stores during my "stock up" obsession, I started looking for ways I could get our grocery dollars to stretch farther, since almost 10% of our income is being spent in this category.  And I found... IBOTTA!  I love this app.  I'm talking, tell-everyone-about-it-because-it-is-awesome, LOVE IT.  I really love saving bits of money.  So, here is my first of several posts coming to you about ways to save a little bit of cash, in case you have the time and inclination to do so.

Ibotta is a simple app you can find for free in your app store.  There are three main steps to using the app:

1.  First, find products, unlock them, and add to your grocery list.  I check the app when I am making my grocery list each week, and I unlock any items that I would normally buy anyway, and consider stocking up on anything know I will use them in the future.  While lots of the items are "name brand" products that give you higher rebates, there are plenty of "any brand" items that you can purchase as well for smaller rebates.  To unlock the rebate, you will complete a simple task, like watching a video clip, answering a survey question, or learning a fact about the project.  Very quick, but can take a few minutes if you find lots of products to unlock.  Most products can be purchased anywhere, but Walmart shoppers will be especially pleased as they have many products exclusive to their store.  They seem to have extra specials and bonuses around the holidays, and I joined right before Memorial Day so I took advantage of many of them.

Some examples:

If your grocery is one of their preferred partners, all you need to do now is shop.  You won't have to do step 2 or 3, as your shopper's loyalty card will send the information on to Ibotta and you are done!  My store, Food Lion, works this way.  But, when I head to Target or Wegman's on occasion, the following steps are needed.

2.  Shop and scan!  While shopping, or after you get home, you will simply scan in the items that you want to redeem, using your phone.  I suggest doing it while shopping if you are by yourself, but if you're shopping with two little boys you may want to wait until you're home for this part.

3.  Send the receipt.  Using your camera on your phone, you will simply take a picture of your receipt and you are done.  Within a few hours I normally get confirmation that the rebate has gone through and the money is in my account.  Once you get a certain amount, you can cash out or trade in for gift cards (I'm redeeming for Amazon gift cards, as it's quicker and pretty much like cash to me).

Some of my receipts:


I just signed up for this a few weeks ago, and I earned over $40 back in my first month!  I'm hoping it's not just beginner's luck, and that I can continue to find products that fit into my family's diet.

Some tips from a new user:
 Bonuses:  Check the bonuses!  You can get extra dollars or extra rebates offers just by keeping an eye out for bonus offers.
Rebates Return:  The rebates come back!  I've noticed sometimes the rebates will reappear in my list after I have already used them.  Especially for the "any brand" items like milk, cheese, pasta, and produce.  So you can use them several times.  But do watch the expiration dates.

Coupons:  Add coupons!  Lots of the name brand items being featured also have coupons out at the same time, especially if they are new or seasonal.  I print coupons off from websites, and stacked with the Ibotta deals they are way cheaper than buying off brand items.

Beyond Food:  Going beyond food specifically, there are lots of rebates for non-food items too.  Some deals you can only get online, like spending over $100 at Nike, and getting $20 back!!  Hurry before that deal expires.

Some restaurants even offer rebates, like one of my favorites, Quiznos (and you can use coupons here!)

Since we're Potty training, I saw these Pampers Training Pants and realized I'd have to get them.  I found a coupon online for a couple dollars off, got $3 off using Ibotta, and found the best price for these at Target.  Ended up paying less than half price for them, and made my monthly bonuses!  And having Thomas on them is way better than the generic varieties in terms of motivating my toddler.  And cheaper in this case!!!  I used this rebate twice!

Teammates:  If you connect through facebook, you should find a list of teammates who already are using the app from your facebook friends.  Working together, you can earn up to $10 in bonuses each month with no extra effort (at least May was that way, we'll see about next month's bonuses).

So, go get money back on the food you're probably already buying, by following this referral link if you want to get started!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Change is coming, Theo's First Graduation

I can almost smell the changes coming to our life. Since we moved to Virginia almost two years ago, we've had a pretty consistent life. During the school year, I walked Theo to preschool and Elijah rode in the stroller.  We ate dinner almost every night with dada around 7 o'clock.  Whatever we did between those times was up to us.  Saturdays were ours to do with however we pleased (other than a few scheduled soccer or T-ball games), and Sundays were spent in church and sometimes shopping at the farmer's market.

Then this happened today:

This school year, with Theo in school an extra day and Elijah being mature enough for more activities, and since we had a second car, we added a bit more to our schedule (and took naps out of the schedule, sadly).  But it still stayed the same for the most part.  We got to explore a lot more of our local area, go to book club at the library every Wednesday, and I could join Mops.  I am happy to say we were not busy most of the time.  And I'm okay with that.  We were just (trying to) living in the moment and trying to thrive, rather than survive a hectic schedule (as I'm sure will come back to us in time, as the boys get older).  This has actually been a very peaceful time in my life, compared to the decade previously.  

With his family on graduation day!
But big changes are coming this fall. Elijah will become potty trained (fingers crossed) and start preschool. The new baby will arrive and Theodore will begin kindergarten.  Instead of Elijah riding in the stroller to the preschool every other day, it will be the new one riding and Elijah will be walking alongside, holding the hand-hold, checking traffic with me and pushing the crosswalk button.  We are hoping the bus stop time is convenient so we can drop Theo at the bus stop on the way to preschool two days a week.  Since he could talk, every day Elijah would pop his head into Theodore's classroom and yell "bye bye bubba!" and it's going to be so strange to have him instead waving good-bye to Theo as he gets on the bus and then kissing his little brother/sister good-bye as he enters his own classroom. 

But, I try not to think about it yet.  I counted, and we've got 101 days of summer to get ready for all this.  And, we've got quite the summer bucket list to keep us busy.  Coming soon...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Third Time Around Update: End of Second Trimester Update

They always say the second trimester is the best, because you have more energy and aren't so uncomfortable yet.  I guess that is true for me.  I gave up my afternoon naps that I'd been enjoying first trimester, and did some serious nesting in terms of stocking up on supplies, reorganizing the house, and doing some proper organizing of household matters like finances and important documents.  I also got Theodore all ready for kindergarten (registration and info night) and it's killing me to not be able to go shopping and buy his school supplies.  I can't wait for that list to come out.  I just know I'm not going to be excited about shopping right before the baby comes, and school shopping is normally one of my favorite things.  His first day of school is 9 days after my due date.  Good planning on my part.

Ultrasounds:  We had our ultrasound over a month ago, and against my better judgment, we took the boys with us, and they were actually great.  Eli slept the whole time, and Theo was really into looking at the images on the screen, so it worked out great.  The baby spent a lot of time with it's hands near it's face, and moving it's lips.  It wouldn't show us all the angles needed though, so we had a quick follow-up ultrasound two weeks later, and everything looks good.  Brian started thinking maybe it's a girl, but I still figure it's another boy.  We'll see on delivery day. 

Exercise:  Though I didn't exercise nearly as much this trimester, I was able to do a 5k run/walk in about 6 minutes under my normal time.  As the weather improved, we upped our visits to parks and playgrounds (I now am asked to be a dragon, as my little knights guard their castles and bridges), and the boys both really got good at their tricycles so we could take more walks with them.

Achy:  I feel so much more achy this pregnancy though.  I'm blaming it on being over 30, because I don't remember nearly this much soreness with the last two.  Even though I was teaching full-time for those pregnancies.  And went into this pregnancy in better shape.  For several days my belly button hurt so bad I thought there was actually something wrong, and anytime I walk too much my pelvic floor hurts so much that I have to really rest up.  Thankfully, I'm not swelling yet (other than my fingers while taking long walks) and I haven't gotten any heartburn.  Yet.  We'll leave those for the last trimester.

Food:  I pretty much want to eat all the time.  But I have been gaining so much weight that it is freaking me out, especially after I had lost so much before getting pregnant.  I have craved a lot of potatoes, green beans (canned, not frozen or fresh), mall pretzels, tomatoes, pickles, Izze drinks, and SWEETS.  And I really crave our favorite restaurants:  I would get Mexican, Middle Eastern kabobs, Chinese or Peruvian chicken everyday if I could afford it.  I've got the glucose test coming up this week, and I'm hoping all is well in that area.

Big brothers:  Theo has decided we will name the baby Peacock, unless it's a girl, then he wants to name her Pea Hen.  He is really excited about this whole thing, and gives my belly more hugs and kisses than he gives me.  Elijah is convinced it is a brother for sure, and will listen to the heartbeat with his pretend stethoscope when he plays doctor.  He will also get the saw out of his toolbox and try to cut me open to get the baby out.  That sure freaked me out the first time.  He has been to more of my appointments with me than brother or dada, and understands how this whole repeat C-section thing will go.

And my weekly pictures, since my last post:

Left to right, top to bottom, starting at 21 weeks through 26 weeks.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother's Day #6

Since teacher appreciation week ran right before mother's day this year, the teachers who are mothers to their own children (on top of the 12-100+ students they have, who probably feel like their kids) must have really gotten spoiled this year.  I hope everyone was able to feel as appreciated as my last school always made me feel, and as my little gentlemen are learning to make me feel as their mother.  For our pre-school teachers,  I sent in a teacher interview sheet from here, gift cards, and these appetizers for the luncheon.  Pinterest had some great ideas for this week.

But getting back to Mother's Day, my mother's day blessings/gifts this sixth year of my motherhood included:

A sweet mother's day tea earlier in the week with just my oldest child.  I loved the special time with just him.  And the surprises they made, including a pretty vase with a "blue camouflaged" butterfly on it.  No matter how "girly" the craft, Theo still managed to keep his personality involved in it.  And, he decorated two butterfly cookies and gave me the bigger one because my belly is bigger.  So sweet.

Bacon for breakfast.

Finding the paper flower Eli made at book club this week, and hid from me.  For four days!  I even asked what craft they made and they kept it a secret from me (my children are getting crafting).

Buying the first strawberries of the season at the local farmer's market.  Always exciting.

Getting a brand new church!  Well, not new to us, but our church officially organized from a mission congregation to an ELCA one.  We're officially Lutheran members again!

Celebrating the 50th anniversary day of a special couple at our church.  Golden anniversaries are so beautiful.

Scheduling the last payment toward our SUV, we finally own a car again!!  That rear-ender really messed up our plans back in 2010, but at least we're back on track now.

A few successful potty attempts by Eli.

Watching my husband deal with all the glue, plastic wrap, and tape involved, but still getting to see the excitement over the solar oven my pre-schooler created.

Teaching my son how to juice a lemon.  And making our first pop-sickles of the season.

Spending time enjoying the kicks and swirls of my 25 weeks along baby moving around in my tummy while the boys ran to the store.

Salmon, asparagus, and red potatoes for dinner.  (Though Theo really wanted to make me toast and cereal all my himself.  Bless his heart.)

More pretty blooms on my balcony that the boys picked out together at the "man store".

And a beautiful "chalk board card" that they worked together to make.

And as much as I may yearn for a daughter, I know I'll be okay if this next little one is also a boy because my boys have hearts of gold and I'm so appreciative that I get to be their mama.  And as kindergarten looms ahead ready to steal all my time with him, I'm especially glad I got to spend these two years at home with Theodore enjoying the excitement and wonder of life that only a pre-schooler can have.  And Elijah has been an awesome youngest child, and I hope he is this good at being a middle child too.  And of course, I'm thankful for a good man-who-made-me-a-mother who orchestrated most of this wonderful day for me.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Theo's First Chapter Book, Charlotte's Web Spoiler Alert

Theo has hit a new milestone- hearing his first complete chapter book.  He received the movie Charlotte's Web, but of course just like I always want to read the book before the movie I wanted him to as well, so we got out Charlotte's Web again.  We had tried it last year, but he just wasn't quite ready for a book without picture yet (unless, it was this book, which he loves to giggle at). 

He was ready this time.  And the few small illustrations in the book helped.  I was afraid he would be extremely upset when the spider died, as he is typically very emotional about such things, but he just said, "I'm not sad.  Spider's have to die.  There's a time to live, and a time to fade.  All animals have to die and some will have children to live on."

And he says he learned that on Dinosaur Train.  FYI.

Cinco de Mayo: Phoenix Mexican Restaurant Recommendations

So I'm throwing way back today for this post.  Something about Cinco de Mayo coinciding with me being ravenously hungry this pregnancy, is making me reminisce about all the great restaurants in Arizona that made this holiday so near and dear to my heart.  (And I'm awake at three am again.)  We actually have a large Hispanic population in our current town as well, and get to enjoy good South-of-the-Border eats like Savadoran pupusas and Peruvian chicken.  But nothing beats the authenticity and deliciousness of my Arizona Mexican food memories.

And although my AZ teaching license just finally expired 6 months ago, it's been almost 7 years since we set foot on the desert soil.  Places I would eat at in a heartbeat if I could visit (fingers crossed, Brian has a conference there soon...):

Los Olivos Patio:  This was our "fancy" Mexican restaurant.  It's really not that fancy inside, but it's location always made it feel that way. Located near the Scottsdale Mall (a park, not an actual mall) it was where Brian took me after we officially got engaged.  And many times before in our undergrad days.  They often had music (dancing, not that we did, but we enjoyed watching others), and delicious dessert.
7328 E 2nd St
Scottsdale, AZ

This donkey at the entrance somehow became a photo opp spot for us many times.  These boys could use some better expressions to convey how great this place is, but it's the only photo I could find on my computer. 

Downtown Phoenix:
Los Compadres: Cheaper lunch place, near where I did student teaching.  Everything you would want in an inexpensive, lunch place.  I learned to love tostadas here, and of course their salsa was great.
4414 N 7th Ave
Phoenix, AZ 85013

Ponchos Mexican Food and Cantina: This was the go-to place near the school I taught at for two years.  Wish I had found out about it sooner so I could have gone more often.
7202 South Central Ave
Phoenix, AZ
I snuck out during my lunch break and had lunch with my family there when they were in town for my graduation.
And while I'm no restaurant critique, these places have all been going for over a decade so other diners must like them too.  I'm sure there are even more restaurants around now to choose from, but these will always be the ones I'm attached to because of all the great memories I have in them.

Last trip to Mexico in 2008.  How lucky we were to be able to hop down there on a weekend trip.  Happy Cinco de Mayo!
The one recommendation I had that is sadly now closed was the Tres Margaritas on Rural Rd.  Nearest to our apartment, that place brings me back to our newlywed days.  We ate here quite often during those two years after being married while I was teaching full time and going to graduate school in the evenings.  I needed one of their delicious margaritas many a Friday night after a long week.  Mariachi bands would often liven up the atmosphere on weekend nights.  It appears there is now a Starbucks and Potbelly Sandwich spot on that corner.