Cheaper Care Packages

5 07 2011

For the soldier, missionary, or college student in your life:  care packages can be cost-effective, too.  When you ship Media Mail with the post office, you save 40-50%.  For example, a 10 pound package parcel post will cost you $11.35 whereas media mail it only costs you $6.04 (about 47% savings.)  How do you get the media mail rate?  Edit the contents of your package.  Media mail can include books, film, manuscripts, recordings, video tapes, and computer readable media.  At first glance you may be thinking, “Um…okay, so how am I supposed to send them a package with things they’ll like?”  Obviously sometimes its worth the splurge to be able to send your college student ramen noodles or send someone overseas their favorite American candy bar.  But here’s some ideas for media mail care packages that your loved one will appreciate and look forward to while keeping some cash in your pocket:

1. Soldiers

I’ve been in a military family during the current conflicts.  And the biggest thing I’ve heard soldiers saying is that they want things to keep their mind off the fact that they’re in a warzone during their off time.  Media mail is perfect.

Books!  There’s this great organization called Operation Paperback that collects gently used, paperback books to send to soldiers for this exact purpose.  I’ve organized a few book drives through churches and local libraries the past couple of years.  To see what they need most and figure out how to send a shipment through them, click on their link.  Obviously, you can send your own soldier books that fit their individual tastes.

CDs  Who doesn’t like music?  Most soldiers I’ve known have had access to computers and walkmans while deployed, but you know your soldier’s situation best.  Don’t send them things they can’t use :p

DVDs Whether from the $3 bin or a new release they can’t believe they’ve missed in theaters, movies provide a few hours of distraction.

Magazines Like books, a magazine targeted at your soldier’s interests can be enjoyed regardless of access to technology.

Letters Don’t underestimate how much words from a loved one can mean.  Little ones can draw pictures, more mature friends/family members can send words of encouragement, appreciation and uplifting news from home.

Video Letters!  You can use a burned DVD or a flash drive to send your loved one messages from home WITH YOUR FACE!  Flash drives can be cheap or expensive, but here’s an idea to make the cost worth it.  Record your message, and then have your soldier record a message to send back home on the same drive.  Repeat!  If you’re not video capable with your computer, you can use these same media devices to send pictures.

2. Missionaries

For all my Mormon friends out there, I know missionaries love care packages and you love sending them.  Remember when you’re sending items that they must meet mission standards.  Keep things clean and spiritual while sending fun and smiles.

Books!  To keep the costs of this area down, check out the clearance section at Deseret or Seagull.  Fun, spiritual, whatever.  You know your missionary best.  And clearance does not always mean crap.  It may just mean out of season.  And with them gone for two years, chances are they won’t notice.  Or really even care.

Magazines  Ensign, New Era, the norm 🙂

CDs  Like the soldiers, not every missionary has access to technology.  Be sensitive in sending things that your missionary can use.  In this case, also be sensitive to mission rules.  Send spiritual and/or clean music.  My favorite is Variations on a Sacred Theme by Lex de Azevedo.

DVDs Same rules as CDS.  Make sure they can use them and that they are mission appropriate.  Check out all the Mormon stores for Mormon movies (they have comedies, dramas, stuff that isn’t just stuff they’re showing investigators anyways.)  Keep everything else rated G and in compliance with mission rules.

Letters  Words of encouragement!  Uplifting news from home!  Gather letters from the whole ward if you want!

Journals Help them keep a record of these two unique years with anything from a blank notebook to a specialized Mormon missionary journal (again, check Deseret, Seagull etc.)  (For a blank notebook, check out your local dollar store.)

Video Letters!  Check out this idea under the “Soldiers” section.

3. College Students

With most college students downloading music and movies onto their iPods, iPads, or whatever the latest gadget is, this list is going to be a little different.  Your scholar has access to most things that our other two categories did not, but they still don’t have access to the most important thing in their life:  you.

Blanks CDs and DVDs  They can use these to burn music, homework assignments, pictures, videos, WHATEVER.  They’re not too expensive, but on a students budget, they’ll be much appreciated.

Magazines  Again, while they may have access to these, they may not be able to convince themselves to splurge on them.  Then again, maybe they like spending your money.  Spend here at your discretion.  🙂

Blank Flashdrives  These may be more practical than CDs and DVDs, especially when it comes to schoolwork.

Notebooks  Undoubtedly overpriced at their college bookstore, picking these up will be much more cost-efficient for you at home.  And they’re still used, even with that fancy new laptop.

Video Letters!  Again, same idea as listed under “Soldiers.”  Your college student will undoubtedly be able to use this with you, and hopefully will keep homesickness at bay.

Any other ideas from soldiers, missionaries, scholars, or those who love them??!!  Let us know!


How to be a not-so-extreme couponer

3 07 2011

As you may have guessed from the title, I am not an extreme couponer. But the show did inspire me to try. So I did a little research. And from everything I read, it’s more advantageous to take the realistic approach if you want to spend less than 40 hours a week at it. So in the past two months, I’ve spent a couple of hours a week at it and managed to save an average of 40-50%. And maintain my sanity.

First, you need coupons. Who would’ve thought? I started with a small amount, just using what I got in the mail. Which isn’t a lot. I’m lucky if my mailman comes every other day. But they build up. Another way I’ve gotten them is exchanging the ones I’ve already gone through with the ones my mom’s already gone through. She does the same with some of her friends, so not only does this lead to duplicates I can use on the things I already need, but it also gives me access to coupons and ads I wouldn’t otherwise receive. I’ve tried internet coupons, but haven’t had much luck. I’m pretty good at using google, but so far my searches end with more frustration than its worth. So if you run or know of a good blog that has printable coupons, please let me and everyone else know!

I try to only clip for things I need (or may need in the next two months, depending on when the expiration date is.) Sometimes a $4.00 coupon will find its way into my stash…I figure…what’s the harm in seeing if I can get something for free? Or for $.50? But I don’t go crazy. If I end up spending $3.50 on a product that was originally $8.00 that I’m not going to end up using or wouldn’t have “needed” originally, I haven’t saved $4.50; I’ve actually been lured into spending and losing $3.50. That can add up.

After I’ve got my stash in order (I’m still at an envelope sorted by expiration date, although you can go crazy and make a binder sorted by aisle or whatever works for you,) I look at my stores weekly ads. I do the ones that I can search through online first. Like Giant Eagle. Not only is their weekly ad on their website, but I can type in each coupon item and see if a sale lines up with my stash. I wish every store did this. But once I’ve searched and recorded all the savings for that store, I can move on to the paper ads and online non-searchable weekly sale ads with a bit of confidence that I’ll be able to identify an item I have a coupon for. Just because you find one sale that lines up, don’t stop! Stores will often put the same item on sale at the same time (competition!) so look for the best deal.

My current stash.

Now I have to find more coupons. Some stores’ websites (like Giant Eagle’s…I know I’m pimping them a lot, but I’m new at this and they’re the only ones that have made this easy on me,) have these things called e-coupons. You can use them in conjunction with the paper coupons you already have. You load them onto your store card via the website, and then compare them with the sales the same way you did with the paper ones.

So then I make a list. Of what I’ll be saving on this week and of the things I absolutely can’t make it until next shopping trip without. I have my coupons ready: organized by which store I’ll be using them in and in which order I’ll look for them in. I do not stray from my list. Unless my boyfriend comes with me. He likes to enjoy life a little more than I do. (Thank God.)

Maybe we should cover some cardinal rules before we go to the store:

1. In general, you can use one store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item.

2. Always check your store’s coupon policy before you go shopping. Most stores will double (twice the savings!) of coupons up to $.99, but this is not always true. I was very disappointed when I learned this the hard way on a recent trip to Target.

3. Being organized will save you a lot of time and potential embarrassment when you’re in the store. It only takes me about 20 minutes tops to get things all in order after I’m done with all the clipping and sale sleuthing. Well worth it.

So I’m in the store. I’m shopping. And I have this awesome coupon for fancy brand name cereal that brings the cost down to $2.50 for a box. Word. But then I see a bag of even more cereal that tastes exactly the same except it’s made by a parrot instead of a toucan. And it’s $2.00. I’m going with the parrot. A coupon is no good if it’s not saving you money. It’s up to you which things you HAVE to have brand name (because sometimes, it really does matter,) but don’t be afraid to at least try generics.

So I have everything I need. I go to check out. I give them my store card. I make sure all the sales come up. They ring up all my groceries. Then I give them my coupons. I make sure all of those ring up (and ring up properly.) And then I’m out.

This may be super dorky and over the top of me, but when I get home I look at all my receipts to review how I did. Remember that $4.00 coupon? It got me once. And I need to take the time to let that beat me up inside so I won’t do it again. Sometimes I get the toucan instead of the parrot. And I do it way too many times on one trip. The innocent $.50 splurge made ten times has cost me $5. Anti-productive. But then I look at all the stuff I did well. Like getting free pasta because I bought that parmesan cheese I was going to get anyways. Or getting my favorite shampoo for $.50 when it’s normally $3.50. And it makes me happy again. This way, I learn from my mistakes but still stay motivated for next time.

Kudos to all you extreme couponers out there. I’d love to learn from you. But right now, I’m 100% happy saving 50% for only a couple of hours of my time.

Kennywood, Sand Castle, and Idlewild Ticket Discounts

2 07 2011

CCAC has some discount tickets this summer for students!  Bring your student ID to the student accounts office (student life office for North Campus) to get Kennywood, Sand Castle and Idlewild tickets cheap for the rest of the season (through September.)

Kennywood- $24 (Retail-$37)
SandCastle-$22 (Retail-$31)
IdleWild-$26 (Retail-$32)


How to get what’s yours!

1 07 2011

So I’ve heard about this a couple of times over the years.  But I didn’t know the specifics or exactly how to access it.  Apparently state treasuries have a database of unclaimed payments to individuals just waiting for these people to come in and claim them.  You just go to their website, type in your name, and see if anyone owes you anything.  Unfortunately my name didn’t turn anything up, but I decided to check for some of my close family as well and found a check for over $100 for a family member.  After you find it, you print out some paperwork to verify you are, indeed, that person, file the claim, and receive the check.  Pretty amazing.

The great thing about this one…it’s not just for Pittsburghers.  Every single state treasury offers this service.  To check and see if you have an unclaimed paycheck, insurance payment, security deposit, long-lost bank account, or WHATEVER, you go to and click on your state. It will bring you to your state treasury’s website where you can start your search. I love that there’s a central website, too, as I’ve lived in a number of states over the years and it made it way easy to check all my different locales. It’s free and takes a couple of minutes.  With Pennsylvania alone holding $1.5 billion just waiting to be found, it certainly can’t hurt to take a look.

Question of the Day
What would you do with an extra $100?

Pittsburgh Movies in the Park

30 06 2011

Every summer a ton of parks in the Pittsburgh area host FREE movie in the park nights.  They’re spread all across the week at a ton of different locations…the city, North Hills, South Hills, East and West.  Just bring a blanket, snacks, and enjoy.   This year the County has a series at their parks featuring Classic Movies.  Wherever they are, they start at about 9PM or dusk.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you know of any that I have missed, please comment and let everyone know!


City Parks

Grandview Park

July 2- How to Train Your Dragon
July 9- Justin Bieber Never Say Never
July 16- Despicable Me
July 23- The Karate Kid
July 30-Shrek Forever After
August 6- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
August  13- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 20- Secretariat
August 27- Tangled

Riverview Park (Observatory Hill)

July 2- Rocky IV
July 9- Duck Soup
July 16- Iron Man 2
July 23- Karate Kid
July 30- In the Heat of the Night
August 6- Double Indemnity
August 13- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 20- Jurassic Park
August 27- The Twilight Saga-Eclipse

Schenley Park (Flagstaff Hill)
Sundays and Wednesdays

July 3- How to Train Your Dragon
July 6- The Other Guys
July 10- Justin Bieber Never Say Never
July 13- Iron Man 2
July 17- Despicable Me
July 20- Grown Ups
July 24- The Karate Kid
July 27- Takers
July 31- Shrek Forever After
August 3- Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
August 7- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
August 10- The Green Hornet
August 14- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 17- Jurassic Park
August 21- Secretariat
August 24- The Twilight Saga-Eclipse
August 28- Tangled
August 31- Clash of the Titans

West End Park (Elliot Overlook)

July 5- Justin Bieber Never Say Never
July 12- Despicable Me
July 19- The Karate Kid
July 26- Shrek Forever After
August 2- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
August 9- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 16- Secretariat
August 23- Tangled
August 30- Tron Legacy

Brookline Memorial Park

July 7-  Justin Bieber Never Say Never
July 14- Despicable Me
July 21- The Karate Kid
July 28- Shrek Forever After
August 4- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
August 11- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 18- Secretariat
August 25- Tangled

Arsenal Park

July 1- How to Train Your Dragon
July 8- Justin Bieber Never Say Never
July 15- Despicable Me
July 22- The Karate Kid
July 31- Shrek Forever After
August 5- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
August 12- Disney Nature presents “Oceans”
August 19- Secretariat
August 26- Tangled


North Hills

Pine Township Park
Every Other Wednesday

July 6- Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
July 20- Stuart Little
August 3- Despicable Me
August 17- Jurassic Park

*Deer Lakes Park*
Carp Field

August 1- Some Like It Hot

*Harrison Hills*
Soccer Field 1

August 8- Singing in the Rain

South Hills

*South Park*
Agricultural Hall

July 7- Wizard of Oz

*Round Hill*
Visitor’s Center

July 28- It Happened One Night



Monroeville Community Park
These show at the same time…dusk, but they are also preceded by
a live musical performance starting at 6:30 PM.

July 10- Dreamer
July 24- Akeelah and the Bee
August 7- Enchanted
August 21- The Princess and the Frog

*Boyce Park*
Four Seasons Activity Lodge

 July 14- Breakfast at Tiffany’s


*Settlers Cabin*
Gilbert Love Shelter

July 21- Duck Soup


*From the County Parks Classic Cinemas Series*

How to get the most out of your pregnancy health insurance

28 06 2011

Hey, everyone! Thanks for checking out my first post! I wanted to  start writing about something that was relevant.  That was helpful. So I decided to start writing about something that has become an ever present obsession in my life lately: saving money. That includes saving money doing awesome things like going to museums, shows, festivals, skiing, vacationing, and shopping. And also figuring out how to pay for the everyday necessities. Like groceries, books for school, and bringing a child into the world.

I found out some months ago that I was pregnant. I had this picture in my head that the only reaction I’d ever have when the positive lines came up on the stick would be uncontainable excitement. But when I saw the surprising confirmation on that thing I had just drenched with my own urine (the first of many disgusting realities of pregnancy,) the only thing I felt was fear.

I was with a great guy. Still am. Who supports me 100%. Who couldn’t be more excited about having a child. I am extremely lucky. But I was paying a lot of money for really poor health insurance just for myself and struggling to pay bills each month while working 40 hours a week at a job that already took a lot out of me. I had no idea how I was going to get through my pregnancy with all the prenatal appointments, hospital costs, baby gear, and then take care of the baby after all was said and done. I didn’t want to go on welfare. I’ve always had this social stigma against it. I confused any use of the system as all out abuse.

But you know what I learned after I saw those pink lines come up? HUMILITY. A child was coming into this world, and it was my responsibility to take care of them the best way I could. And if I had paid all those tax dollars to programs like these, I couldn’t allow my guilt and pride to get in the way of a program that could help take the best care of my child as I could. So I applied for state sponsored health insurance. And in this part of the country, it was confusing. And no one wanted to or could help me figure it out. After tons of phone calls and hours of sifting through paperwork, I figured a lot of it out. And now comes the practical part of my blog entry: sharing what I’ve learned about state-sponsored health insurance for pregnant women in Pennsylvania.


Step 1:  Apply

The first step is just applying. You can do it online or at your welfare office. PA’s compass website has links where you can find out if you qualify and apply. If you’re confused about whether you qualify or not, just apply. It can’t hurt. Shortly after you will receive a letter and/or phone call from the welfare office requesting documents proving your identity (two forms of I.D. unless you have something like a passport,) pregnancy confirmation paperwork (which you can obtain from a doctor, or someplace like Planned Parenthood or Adagio Health for cheaper options if you don’t currently have insurance,) pay stubs for the past month, rent/mortgage paperwork, and possibly current utility bills. If you’re applying in person, I would highly recommend bringing all this paperwork with you when you go down to apply.

Step 2:  Choose a Plan

Then you either get approved or disapproved. If you’re approved, they send you all this information that really tells you very little. They tell you to pick from these three plans: Gateway, United Health Care (although I am fairly certain they are in the process of changing their name,) and UPMC. BEFORE YOU PICK YOUR PLAN, MAKE SURE YOUR OB ACCEPTS IT! Not just your OB, but whichever hospital they deliver at. You should be provided with a list that tells you which of these plans are accepted at which hospitals in your county. If you’re not, just ask your doctor’s office. They know which insurances they accept. I chose Gateway because I knew people who had used it with no problems and my doctor and hospital accepted it.


I’m all about utilizing every aspect of my plan. My prescriptions have very low co pays. Like $1 low. The other two plans are very comparable. On top of that, Gateway has a program calls MOM Matters. Make sure you are signed up for this! Make sure Gateway knows you are pregnant! All you have to do is go to all of your prenatal appointments (which you’re doing anyways) and then they give you your choice of an infant car seat, a stroller, or a pack ‘n’ play. In addition, they provide you with a breast pump if you are breastfeeding. They either have forms at your OB’s office, or, if they don’t, you can call Gateway and request that they get one to you or the doctor. UPMC has a similar incentive program, only instead of being called “MOM Matters,” its called New Beginnings. I am not sure if United Health Care offers an incentive program for mothers-to-be, but I would call and ask.  You and the baby will be covered until six weeks after the birth.

Helpful Links & Numbers

Compass Website
Gateway Health 1-800-392-1147
UPMC 1-800-286-4242
United Health Care 1-800-414-5349