Friday, August 26, 2016

First Visit to Virginia Beach, First Landing State Park/Research Trip

We've been pretty housebound since the move a few months ago, and I've been getting antsy.  After thinking about the fact that we really haven't explored much of Virginia at all, we decided to hit the beach.  In typical family fashion we decided this about 24 hours before our trip-spontaneity is kind of a family trait for us.  So we started South for what the map says is a three hour drive without traffic (haha!).

There is no such things as "without traffic" around here, but eventually we made it to the boardwalk.  On first impression, it immediately reminded me of other East coast beach towns (especially with the plains flying advertisements over the water).  We found some street parking and made it to the sand, which was extremely hot as it was probably over 90 degrees-perfect beach weather.  The heat drove us straight into the waves. The kids had a great time chasing the waves, Brian played marine biologist (which, to be fair, is one of his degrees) by rescuing a shark egg case, and I enjoyed the shade from the umbrella we rented on the beach.

After a few hours, we headed to our hotel (we love using priceline to find hotels now) and changed and rested a bit before heading back to the boardwalk for the evening.  After hearing the wait times at a few restaurants (I don't do more than five minutes now-a-days) we finally found a place that had some pretty good pizza, and gelato!  We then rented a family bicycle which was kind of perfect for getting around the board walk without our children dictating a slow pace.  We weren't sure we'd fit in the smallest size bike (but didn't want the weight of a large one with only two peddlers), but we did.  Elijah and Thomas sat in the basket the first half, until Thomas started wiggling and we traded him with Theo.  It was great to see all the street entertainment and we even stopped for a bit to watch a one-man play about the Dictator ship wreck that had my boys all captivated.

The next morning, we decided to go for an early hike at First Landing State Park, as we wanted to check out some of the swamps the area is famous for.  Like the nearby Great Dismal Swamp, this state park is come to a very unique bald Cypress swamp.  (Who ever thought I'd want to go to a swamp on vacation... I think I've officially come to terms with being a boy mom.)  We picked up a $0.50 trail guide (the older boys earned a quarter each for playing the quiet game earlier on the road), and enjoyed the very easy hike through this beautiful ecosystem.  Bald Cypress Nature Trail is located right behind the visitors' center, and is less than two miles making it great for the kids.  We tried to carry Thomas in his carrier, but he ended up just being carried in our arms most of the hike.  A good jogging stroller may be able to make it through most of the trail, but we didn't want to try that.  For families worried about the distance of the trail, at least walk back through the boardwalk and check out the beautiful swamp.  It is something.  The Spanish moss, and bald cypress trees with their knees was exactly what you think of when you hear the word swamp.  The boys claimed it was a little scary, but I thought it was perfectly mystical.

We headed back to the beach, this time traveling a little farther away from the crowds down past the oceanfront to Sandbridge beach.  Unlike the West Coast which is a rocky coast with lots of cliffs and tide pools, I remembered the East coast has many more sand bars with bay and ocean sides.  The coastline consists of marshes, swamps, and islands connected by bridges.  I had hoped we could just keep on going down the coast line and venture into North Carolina just a bit (I've never been to this border state of ours), but alas there is a Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the way that is the end of the road.  If any of our boys ever get really into airplanes though, we can take them to Kitty Hawk because we were so close to it, but needed to take a different route to get into North Carolina.  Nonetheless, Sandbridge was nice, with less crowds (but also less amenities, no bathrooms, umbrellas for rent, restaurants, or shops).  We had a hoard of ghost crabs that were torturing me (though no else seemed to be scared of them) and enjoyed our time, especially making a castle/playpen for the babe.

My husband, ever the scientist, actually brought some glassware down so he could collect some of the ocean water to use in his lab (and good news, he was able to make a marinobacter virus after working late all week after our trip).

(Written July 21, photos added a month later.)

Dress Up Play at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Since we visit the museum so often (free tickets through my sister!), I don't always add a blog post about it.  But this time, Eli was so cute dressing up as a dozen different characters that I just had to post some photos.  We actually ended up doing the entire day at the museum, and ended the day with the end of day parade (4:45, helps get your kids out the door).  This was the first visit Thomas really played, and he absolutely loved the baby zone in Playscape.

In this post, I mentioned most of my tips for visiting the museum, but I've got a few more:
  • Check out the paper they give you when you enter to find the times of all the interactive programs and cart demonstrations the museum offers.  My sister was doing one on all the weapons from the Painted Soldiers, which my children loved!
  • You can leave your phone and charger with the concierge to charge if needed.
  • There were some nice healthy selections of baby friendly food (grapes, cheese, boiled eggs, mandarin oranges, etc.), but of course they were expensive as all the food court is pricey. 
  • Many exhibits now have these neat family guides.  Take a look at them to get more ideas with how to interact with the exhibits.
Current temporary exhibit:
Pirates and Princesses:  Storybook Adventure
Family Guide

New Permanent Exhibit:
Beyond Spaceship Earth (Download the app before you go to get the kids even more excited.)

Family Guide
Other dress-up opportunities:
Aunt Erin dressed up as an archaeologist.
Eli in scuba gear.

My little dinosaur.
My dragonfly.
In a traditional Chinese costume.

 And there were a lot of other ones I missed (I had camera memory card and phone battery issues!).  Another great day at the museum!

Top 1% (At CVS)

Every year, CVS likes to send a little snapshot of their customer's yearly savings.  I had kept my card last year (total pack-rat, I know), and I had it to compare to this year's.  When I got this card, I just laughed pretty hard because the line at the bottom in red stuck out.

"You're in the top 1% of CVS Pharmacy savers in VA!"

Thanks CVS.  Not a recognition I ever dreamed of getting but I'll take it.

I have gotten a little too into couponing if you can't tell.  It is actually a bit of a fun hobby, and though it definitely saves us some money-the rush of finding great deals is what keeps me doing it.  I've picked up so many tips for how to "do" CVS though, that I wanted to share some here.

I originally was always a Walgreens girl.  I stopped there many early mornings in AZ while I was teaching for random school supplies (dry erase markers, sugar cubes, straws, chocolate, etc) mainly because I was a procrastinator and had to stop there because they were the only ones open early in the morning.  But once I started couponing, I fell in love with CVS.  And luckily there are a few stores within five miles of me.

Here are ten ways you can become a top 1% shopper too.

1.  First, sign up for the rewards card.  (Scan this card at the coupon station located near the front of the store each time you visit.  Multiple exclusive coupon offers will print.). You will also get 2% back in quarterly awards 4 times a year for any purchases made with your card.
2.  Download the app.  (You'll get special offers sent through the app and can use it to track your offers.)
3.  Make sure your online profile includes your mailing address (CVS likes to send paper coupons in the mail.). You can also go online and reprint Extra Buck coupons if you lose them!
4.  Make sure your email address is also on file (many of my best coupons come by email, and I simply click on them to "send to card".
5.  Becoming a member of the CVS panel.  I have gotten a few $5 rewards for taking some surveys through the panel.
5.  Buy a gift-card from or a similar site so you are already saving 12% or so by using a discounted gift card.
6.  Use a coupon matchup site, like Krazy Coupon Lady to help you narrow down the best ideas each week.
7.  Try and stack manufactures coupons, CVS store coupons, money-back rebates (like Ibotta), and Extra Buck offers.  I almost never buy an item until I have at least two or more ways to reduce the price.
8.  Look for the 25-30% off purchase totals (doesn't apply to sale items), and my favorite the $5 off $15 or $4 off $20 (does work on sales) or similar coupons.  These normally come to me by email, and they are one of the best way to save.
9.  Take advantage of the Extra Buck offers to get money toward future transactions just by buying certain items.
10.  Check out the weekly circular, and shop from a list.  The sales reset each Sunday morning.  You'll want to find the best items your family needs from CVS.  My favorites include:  nuts, cereal, diapers, deodorant, toothpaste, contact solution, holiday candy, occasionally cleaning supplies, etc. 
*Bonus*  CVS also works automatically with our flexible health spending account that is a pre-tax savings plan through Brian's work benefits, giving us even more savings on several health care items.

Here is a recent shopping examples:

Regular Prices:  $42.99 (CVS regular prices are super high!)

2 Aluminum Foil
On Sale:  2/$6
- $1 manufacturer's coupon (printed online)
- $1 manufacturer's coupon (printed online)
- $2 Extra Bucks
That's like $1 a roll!

Snickers Bar
On Sale:  $0.99
- $0.50 manufacturer's coupon online
- $0.75 Extra Bucks
That's a Moneymaker of $0.26! 

Renu Contact Solution
On Sale:  $7.99
-$2 manufacturer's coupon I printed online
-$2 store coupon for eye care printed from machine
-$2 Extra Bucks
That's like getting it for $1.99 (which should be refunded* through our health savings plan, so it'll be even cheaper)

Calendula Cream
On Sale:  $8.49
- $3 manufacturer's coupon from newspaper
- $6 Extra Bucks
-$3 Ibotta rebate
That's a Moneymaker of $3.51!

Organic Gummy Bears
On Sale:  $1.49
-$1.49 Extra Bucks
That's like getting it for FREE

Drum roll......

Total cost of $42.99 worth of products:  $0.22 (plus tax)

Obviously, not every trip will be this fantastic but every couple months the deals hit just right and I get a really nice trip like this (and several times around the winter holidays).  And after doing this for a year my closet is now packed with just about any health/beauty item we need.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Giant deals: 13 Ways I Saved at Giant Today

think the best thing about the kids going back to school in a couple weeks will be grocery shopping alone, or at least with only the baby.  Shopping with all three boys hanging off of one cart is a complete workout.  Nonetheless I had an excellent shopping day today at Giant and thought I would write about it.  Like always I went in with a very specific list (constructed over several days with the help of the weekly circular and checking rebate sites) and added a few deals I found along the way.  So, here are my 13 ways I saved today (and one way I didn't).

 My best deals today: all of this for about $36 all said and done after coupons, rebates and gas deals.

1.  Used their rewards card.  Simple but effective.

2.  Bought in bulk. Sometimes they offer special prices on meat if you buy three packages. Today it was on chicken breasts!  $1.39/lb is pretty much unbeatable around here.  14.1 pounds for under $19.46.

3. Used gas deals!  I have been using Giant gas deals for a while now.  If you buy specific items you can get $0.40 or $0.50 off a gallon. They have modified the program a bit lately and the new maximum is up to 20 gallons.  Buying these 6 items (all of which were on sale and half of which I had coupons/rebates  for) cost $14.64 Will give me back $8 in gas.

4.  Gas points doubler coupon.  I received these in the mail and they will double my gas points for the week.  One dollar equals one point. 100 points equals $.10 off gas. Looks like they did not double my bonus points but still an extra $0.10 off gas won't hurt. $2.00 in gas.

5.  Rebate apps.
Using Ibotta I got back $1.75 for the pancake mix and syrup (1.25 plus a bonus) that was part of the gas deal.  I got back a few dimes from Mobisave and Checkout 51 as well.

6.  Bought Driscoll berries.  I signed up to be a part of their survey panel so I get a $.75 coupon each time I buy a pack of berries and evaluate them.  Since giant doubles coupons and they were on sale I got these raspberries for $1.49.

7.  Used a category coupon from an email.  Giant sent me an email with a two dollars off a five dollar produce purchase coupon that I just had to click on to add to my card, basically giving me a bunch of bananas free and sale green beans free.

8.  Shopped the day-old bakery cart.  Found this naan bread package.  We love this stuff with my chickpea and turkey soup so I will just throw it in the freezer since it is near it's best before date.

9.  Shopped the clearance cart. I realize most groceries and even Target's grocery have a clearance section. Picked up some tea for Brian here.

10.  Added online coupons.  Giants website makes it easy to add coupons to your card, and has special offers and storebrand offers occasionally.  I had coupons for the Crisco and sausage already added to my card.

11.  Doubling coupons.  Giant doubles coupons up to a dollar. I actually only had  two paper coupons today for the cheese sticks and berries, normally I have more.

12.  Buy their's, get our's.  Speaking of storebrand Giant offers a " buy their's, get our's free" deal where you will get their product free for buying a competitor's product.

13.  Found manager's special pork.  I always look for these yellow labels when I'm shopping in the meat department. As long as the meat looks good (and I can tell because I was on the State winning FFA meats judging team) I don't mind buying meat close to it's "fresh by date" and freezing it.

Phew... That was a lot. But it's exciting to save and still get a pretty healthy cart of food.  The only other way I can think of to say at Giant is using the coupon in the circular. There are normally three offers for really good deals that you can use as long as you spend $25 or more.  I didn't need any of the products today though.

Any other ways I am missing for saving at Giant?