Freebie(s): Week of May15

CVS Freebies!

Buy 1 Colgate Total Toothpaste, 4-4.2 oz $3.00, sale price through 5/21
Use $1.00 off coupon (colgate.com)  Or $0.50/1 – Colgate Toothpaste 3 oz or larger from SmartSource 5/15   ++use one $2.50/1 Colgate Toothpaste, CVS Coupon from CVS Extracare Coupon Center Week of 5/15
FREE

Buy 2 Pepsi , Mountain Dew 1.25 – 1.5 liter or Aquafina 20 oz 2/$2.00
Use $2.00/2 CVS App Coupon (download the CVS app, add you card and load the coupon to your CVS Card
FREE

 

Future Bookworms Unite!

If you’re not a bookworm like me and wondering “why should I be reading to my child”, here are some statistics for your contemplation:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) children who are read to at home have an advantage over children who are not.  Of those children who are read to 3-4 times in the last week by a family member, 26% recognized all letters of the alphabet compared to 14% of children who were read to less frequently.  In addition, children who are read to frequently are more likely to:

  • count to 20 or higher than those who were not (60% vs. 44%)
  • write their own names (54% vs. 40%)
  • read or pretend to read (77% vs. 57%)

There are so many ways to find physical books, PDFs, as well as ebooks for your little people to read without spending a fortune.  The below all offer easy options to give kids access to a wide variety of reading material — some without spending a cent on gas!

1. Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program

Kids in first through sixth grades can earn a free book by filling out the “Summer Reading Triathlon” reading journal.  After your kids fill it out, bring it to a Barnes & Noble store between May 17 and September 6 to earn a free book from a selected list.  If you have younger children such as mine, they also offer story time on Saturday mornings (varies by location)!  As a side note, the library near me does a summer reading program as well. My girls log their books over the summer and receive a certificate and free book if they reach their goal!    🙂

2. Read Conmigo

Immerse your children in preK-fifth grade bilingual reading by signing up for Read Conmigo.  If you live in California, Florida or Texas, the program will mail you a book every four months and the online resources like bilingual activities and educational tools are available to everyone, regardless of location.

3. Reading is Fundamental

Reading is Fundamental partnered with ustyme to allow free access to 50 classic ebooks including “Goldilocks,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs,”.  Kids can even read along with an adult using the ustyme app to make live video calls.  I plan on trying this with the girls and their Papa soon, but I haven’t tested it yet. Let me know if  you have!

4. Free Kids Books

Download free PDFs from this online library of kids’ books.  With picture books for toddlers, books with pictures and words for bigger kids, and chapter books for young adults (you can even get coloring books).

5. Goodwill

I can’t even tell you how many books we’ve bought from Goodwill. Most of the time I take the girls as a reward and let them pick out two-three a piece and I generally spend about $5.  There’s always a wide range to choose from and they’re rarely more than gently used.  I’ve even found some brand new cookbooks still in the plastic for me for $2!

6. Little Free Library

Little Free Library is trying to promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide. There are over 36,000 Little Free Library book exchanges around the world, bringing curbside literacy home and sharing millions of books annually.  There is a listing here of all addresses for these little book exchanges.

Little Free Library

7. Craigslist and Freecycle

If you’re looking for some kids’ books, don’t forget to check out Craigslist and Freecycle. Plenty of people have books they’re not using or their children have outgrown and would be happy to share.  Added benefit: you will be teaching your children about reusing/recycling at the same time.

8. Libraries

Of course, your local public library has plenty of books to borrow for free. This is a great option for families who like to constantly switch up their reading selections (not to mention renting audiobooks and DVDs).  Our library  has a for sale section that we buy from too.  Also note, both our current library and our previous library offered children’s story time in the evening and family night once a month.  Just another way to get your kids interested in books/reading.

9. Amazon Free Books

Amazon has a ton of free kids’ books available for Kindle downloads.  Just search for “children’s books, Kindle edition” and sort the prices “low to high” to see all the freebies.

10. Amazon Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon Prime members can borrow books for free through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allows users to borrow one book each calendar month.  The program offers a wide range of kids’ books to pick from, but you’ll need a Kindle (and a Prime membership which I LOVE) to read them.  I did splurge and use my rewards points to buy Cici a Fire Kids Edition (occasionally on sale for $79) for her birthday.  It’s a complete tablet with apps, camera, etc.  In addition,  you get 1 year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited (love this), Kid-Proof Case, and a 2-year worry-free guarantee (already used once) .

11. Project Gutenberg

While mostly for older kids, Project Gutenberg has a wealth of free downloads available.  Type “children” in the search field and classic kids’ books will appear from “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” to “Alice in Wonderland” and many others.

12. Imagination Library

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was created and 1995 and has expanded to send more than 60 million books to kids in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. To see if your area is eligible for free books you can register online to search for a local program. Unfortunately, my area in Texas isn’t available but I did sign up for future mailings just-in-case.

Do you know of any other ways to get free kids’ books?

FitBit – A Healthy Moneymaker

Did you know you could make money with FitBit? The fitness activity tracker is actually a great way to make some extra money and earn rewards and prizes.  Will you get rich? No, but being able to earn money just for walking is a great motivator and your Fitbit will pay for itself! Check out these helpful links and tips below on how to get started making money with FitBit.

Walgreens Balance Rewards

Chances are you already use a Walgreens Balance Rewards card that gives you points for buying items where points=money  (5000 points=$5 off). If you have a FitBit or other activity tracker,  you can earn even more points! Just sync up your FitBit or other device and earn away. For walking you get 20 points/mile with a max of 1,000 points per month.

Pact (previously GymPact)

To use the Pact app, you commit to exercise for a certain number of days by logging in at a gym.  However, this app can also be synced with FitBit so if you make your step goal of 10,000+ per day it counts as meeting your exercise for the day.  When you sign up for a pact, you select a certain amount ($5 or $10) that is deducted from your credit card or PayPal account for each day you miss. If you hit your goal, then you get paid a reward ranging from 30 cents to $5 per week.  When you accumulate $10 you can request a payout that comes from the pool of money from people who didn’t make their pact.

BlueCross BlueShield’s Well onTarget

If you have BlueCross Blue Shield insurance check the “MyHealth” tab and see if you have Well onTarget available to you.  If so, you can get 55 points per day for having your FitBit synced.  If you use your FitBit daily that’s more than 20,000 points a year.  I accumulate the points and buy movies and other items on clearance from their online store and use it for Christmas and birthday presents. For example, last year I redeemed Alvin and the Chipmunks: Scare-riffic Double Feature for 1,566 points for Milla’s birthday.  She loved it and it was free for me!

Leap4Life

After joining Leap4Life sync up your FitBit device, set goals, join events and challenges. You earn FitWell points, which can be redeemed for gift cards. As we mentioned before, If you compete in events and challenges and earn reward points, you’ll be able to quickly redeem them! You only need 2500 FitWell points for a $25 gift card! That only takes most users a few months!

AchieveMint

AchieveMint is a website that gives you points based on healthy activities.  It can be used either on a desktop or as an iPhone app and you receive points for sleep, steps, food logs, etc.  Earn 10,000 points to be rewarded with a $10 check!

The great part with all of these is all I have to do is connect my device, sit back, and wait. There is no real work or maintenance involved.  I’m accumulating money and rewards at all these sites every day and I just have to try to make my 10,000 steps which is great motivation to take my kids for a walk or play some tag at the park.  Seriously, when’s the last time you played tag?  You’d be surprised how quickly those steps add up!

Life Insurance – A Must for Single Parents

If your dependents require your financial support for their livelihood, then life insurance is a must. This is especially important for those of us who are parents of young children. We need to provide enough money to cover the costs involved in raising our “babies”.   Life insurance protects our kids from the unknown and helps them through an otherwise difficult time of loss.

Sure, no one wants to think about keeling over. It could be today, tomorrow or 50 years from now, but it will happen eventually. No amount of money could ever replace a parent. However, having life insurance coverage will bring you and your family some peace.  In addition to providing income to cover everyday living expenses, your family needs insurance to cover any outstanding debts (i.e. mortgage, credit cards, loans) and other expenses like your funeral and burial costs that can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. You don’t want your children or their guardians to be left with any extra burden in addition to the emotional and financial burdens they will already be suffering.

Except in special circumstances, term life is probably going to make the most sense for most people reading my blog. Why? It’s simple to understand and easy to compare across insurance companies. It’s much more affordable than whole or universal policies ($25/month vs $450/month), and the death benefit gives you the most bang for your buck. Term life doesn’t lock you into an investment that may not give you the best returns.  There are rare cases where whole or universal policies might be worth a look. If you’re wealthy and looking for investments where you can grow your money tax-free, these policies can be a solid option if you’ve already maxed out your retirement savings.

Due to financial restraints, I chose a term life policy.  Houston traffic is intense and God forbid something happens and I meet my demise on the way to work one day, I know my girls will be the beneficiaries of a $500,000 policy.  I am in good health and I don’t smoke so I was able to get a 20 year policy for $225/year when Milla was a year old.  This is one cost I don’t skimp on.  This policy gives me some peace of mind knowing that my little angels will be taken care of in the event I’m not around. When you’re a sole provider, nothing is more important.sleeping angels

Appeal Your Property Taxes!

If you think the market value of your property is incorrect, the appraisal district encourages you to file a protest. First and foremost, understand that when you are negotiating with an appraiser at the appraisal district that you are protesting your property value, not your property taxes. If your strategy for winning your protest is to convince the appraiser that your ever increasing taxes are a huge burden, your story will fall upon deaf ears. The appraisal district has absolutely no control over your tax rates; they simply determine property values.

In most cases, no appraiser will physically visit your property to assess the value. Counties simply do not have the manpower to cover the entire county on a yearly basis. I live in Harris County, where there are approximately 150 appraisers who are required to attribute value to more than 750,000 property accounts. It simply can’t be done. Do not consider your tax assessed value to be indicative of your true market value.

Preparing for your hearing is most crucial. As a property owner representing yourself you can greatly increase your chances of getting a value reduction if you apply the methods I’m listing here. Appraisers will actually appreciate your due diligence.

Pictures are worth a thousand words – Take pictures of any disrepair on your property and of any “negative influences” surrounding your property. Qualified negative influences could be busy streets, water tower looming over your house, sewer plant nearby, commercial property bordering your residential, etc.

Google Earth – I would recommend printing a satellite view of your property and the surrounding area. Probably 85% of the time you can find something negative to talk about on the image (i.e. construction, road issues). Get creative as this adds support to your argument.

MLS Sales – If you know a Realtor that can assist with evidence gathering, ask them to print some of the SOLD properties in your neighborhood. Many times you will see that the appraisal district’s evidence will suggest that a comparable house built in 1965 with no remodeling recently sold for $150,000.  This “never remodeled” house is jacking up your home value. However, you may be able to find the property on MLS and see that the pictures and description suggest otherwise and it sold for a higher price solely because it actually had a COMPLETE remodel recently.   Therefore, your value should be adjusted downward from that sale because your “comparable” home is in original condition and has never been renovated.

Estimate of the value – When you meet with the appraiser you need to have a number in mind and support that value with the evidence you have prepared. Saying you want a lower value without knowing what that lower value should be suggests to the appraiser that you haven’t done your research. Remember, you’re trying to prove your case for property value. It’s hard to prove something when you don’t have a theory built yet.

Short and Sweet – Appraisers may sit with 20-40 property owners every single day. They probably hate protest season and people in general by the second week. Limit your stories and stick with the facts. The appraiser will appreciate it and will hopefully return the love in the form of a value reduction.  Unless you are in a newer cookie cutter style neighborhood with a lot of recent sales you can almost always come up with a little something which can persuade them to nudge your value down. Never argue, complain or whine.

Chances are pretty good that you’re paying more in property taxes than you should be so present the evidence at hand and speak with confidence.. According to the National Taxpayers Union, as many as 60% of properties in the U.S. are assessed at a higher amount than their current value. I personally bought my home six months ago and recently received a tax assessment $10,000 higher than what I paid.  I have already protested and settled with my county and will save at minimum $400/year now on my property taxes.  Hopefully you will too!  If you decide to protest, let me know how it went for you.

Property Taxpayer Remedies from Texas Comptroller

Just Another Single Working Mom

I read a lot of financial and money saving blogs, books, articles (and I do mean A LOT).  I consume tips and tricks as if they’re water.  I’m a single, working mom of three kids under six and I am the sole provider.  That being said, a lot of financial tips are aimed at either the SAHM or two parent households. For those of you out there in my Other category trying to scrounge to provide the best for your kids, hope this helps.

 1) Daycare. Ouch.  It’s more than my house payment.  All I can say is if you qualify for daycare assistance – get it! In my case, I am just over the threshold so I’m constantly looking for the next best thing.  It so happens that my older children go to one place and my youngest goes to another.  Yes, it’s inconvenient but it saves me $400/month.  I had a friend whose mother is really ready for grandbabies, but her daughter is not.  She agreed to watch my daughter for HALF of what the daycare would charge me so she could get her “baby fix” and she makes some fun money. Win-win number 1. This summer my older daughters will be going to a neighbors house instead of their regular daycare because I know a teacher that wants to make extra cash over the summer.  Win-win number 2.  This works for me because my regular daycare owner knows my situation so she doesn’t charge me cancellation/holding fees as she knows I’m just trying to survive the daycare years.  A neighbor of mine even received a 40% reduction from her language learning daycare just by negotiating.  If one place says no, go to the next place the next week and see what they are willing to do.  People want your business.

2)  Extreme Couponing? Let’s be honest, I don’t really have the time. I get up at 4am with the baby to have some one-on-one time and then we’re off and running and out of the house at 6:30am so I can get everyone where they need to be and me to work at 7:30am.  HOWEVER, there are a couple of exceptions.  Target, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart with the help of a few couponing websites like  KrazyCouponLady.com and livingrichwithcoupons.com.  I check them out before I do anything else in the morning and see if there is anything good for the day (i.e. free, practically free, moneymaker).  If there is I grab what I need and hit the store on the way to work, or on my lunch break if we hit a snag in our morning roundup out the door. Let’s face it, they’re kids and our mornings don’t always go as planned–babies spit up, kids lose their shoes, keys get lost…you get the picture.

 3)  Credit Cards are only to be used for money back and to be paid off every month.  I have a Sam’s Mastercard to get the 5% back on gas (and they almost always have the lowest price on gas in my area).  I have a Chase card that gives me 1%-5% back on everything and they give you cash back, not options to buy giftcards etc.  An Amazon Visa because I shop there for reimbursable work expenses and also regularly for diapers (love Amazon Mom and Amazon Family) so I get rewards points to use back at Amazon.  Target card (they have debit and credit option) to get 5% back on all of their purchases. That’s it and I use them where I’d be using cash anyways (just getting rewarded for it).  I write down the purchases in my check register each time so I know exactly how much to pay off when I get home. My bank offers free BillPay so I don’t wait for the purchase to hit my card before I send the payment off.

 4)  The coveted Side Hustle.  Let’s face it, if you can’t save enough money you must make more money.  I was looking for an inexpensive babysitter on Care.com that I never found, but I did find a Sunday gig.  A church was hiring for an infant sitter so I let them know I was interested, but had my own children I’d have to bring.  They were reluctant at first but wanted to meet everyone. My kids became fast friends with the regular kids, and a few months later they offered me the Wednesday evening sitter position as well.  ALWAYS be on the lookout for a side job and don’t be afraid to ask if your kids can join, etc.  Extra bonus: it’s a weekly built in play date for my kids.

Basically, there are always ways to save.  Every time I think I’ve scrounged to the max I find something else I can do to cutback on costs or add to my budget.  You cannot get complacent.  My biggest advice is to stay calm and positive and realize “where there is a will there is a way”.  Talk to people, network, know the prices, know what’s a deal. If you don’t ask you’ll never know so ALWAYS ASK and DON’T BE AFRAID TO NEGOTIATE. Five years ago I would have said there is no way I could survive alone.  Now I’m not only surviving alone, I’m providing for three little people and we are all thriving. Life is good.

Welcome!

A little about me

Good afternoon! Welcome to Solely Surviving!

You can call me Meag , Meagz, Meagzee…I answer to all of them. 🙂  I’m a 30-something living in Texas with my three daughters (Milla, Cici, and J) and my favorite chihuahua, Danger. I grew up in a small town in southern Missouri and, although I was DETERMINED to leave the state upon high school graduation, I attended Missouri Southern State University for my bachelors degree.  However, I did move to the beautiful beaches outside of Destin, Florida for a few wonderful years.

I am constantly challenging myself to keep a healthy balance in our life. I frequently experiment with new recipes, local events, and play dates. I love trying new things and teaching my daughters to love fitness. I find ways to insert exercise and movement into each day. I enjoy running, hiking, walking, and yoga.

Outside of the kitchen and the gym, my major hobbies are reading and traveling. I love the excitement and unfamiliar feeling of a new destination and the ability to explore and discover new cultures, however, with three little ones it’s not as affordable as it once was to be a jetsetter. Most of my down time now is spent finding new and creative ways to save and/or make money to provide my girls with everything they need to become the best they can be.

I hope you enjoy Solely Surviving! If you have any questions or comments, please email me at: virtually.remembered@gmail.com.