Picking up Nickels

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Now that the shopping is done, the gifts are wrapped, and the cookies are baked, it finally feels like Christmas around here. I'd like to thank you all for stopping by and wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.

I hope Santa stops by our place pretty early in his journey this year. The young Frugalson's heads will explode if they don't get to open some presents soon:

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grocery price inflation update

I haven't looked at grocery price trends for about a year now, so it's about time for an annual update.

After checking out the numbers, I was pleased to see that our grocery spending through November 2009 has actually decreased by 13.6% over the same period last year, and in fact 2009 grocery spending is even down 3.7% from my 2006 levels!

Let's take a look at some of the reasons for the nice savings I've seen over the past year. Once again, I should note that my numbers reflect some pretty serious effort on my part to cut grocery spending:

  • In March I bought $1320 worth of Shaw's Supermarket gift cards for $1200 as part of their tax refund rewards program.
  • I spent about $38 acquiring coupons to cut grocery spending this year, as opposed to about $52 during the same period last year.
  • I've made much more use of printable coupons in 2009. I've found lots of great ones at sites like smartsource.com, redplum.com, kraftfoods.com, eatbetteramerica.com, coupons.com, and simpleanddelicious.com (to name a few).
  • Stores have been much more aggressive with sales and promotions, particularly with Catalina Marketing coupons that print out at the register and offer an incentive for your next purchase. For example, on Monday I bought the following items at Shaw's Supermarket for $1.64 out of pocket after sale prices, coupons, and the three "$5 off your next order" Catalina coupons that printed out after my purchase:

    • (1) 5lb bag of Gold Medal Flour
    • (2) boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
    • (2) boxes of Cocoa Puffs cereal
    • (6) cans of Green Giant vegetables
    • (1) box of Betty Crocker cake mix
    • (5) cans of Progresso soup
    • (2) boxes of Green Giant frozen vegetables
    • (3) bags of Green Giant Vally Fresh Steamers frozen vegetables
Even better, this savings has occurred despite a lousy yield from our garden due to the wet growing season we had, our not participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program this year, and stealth grocery price increases where package sizes shrunk yet continued to sell for the same price.

I have to admit that I've been very surprised by the amount of discounting I've seen over the past year. It appears that the economic downturn and resulting fall in commodity prices has really motivated producers and retailers to offer consumers nice discounts and incentives to shop in their stores and purchase their products. Hopefully the trend will continue over the next year and help everyone keep a few more bucks in their pockets during this recession.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

2009 Restaurant holiday gift card promotions

Once again, let's take our annual look at chain restaurants offering gift card deals for a discount on future dining:

  • Bertucci's - Receive $5 thank you card with every in-store $25 gift card purchase through 12/30/09.
  • Uno Chicago Grill - Receive $5 bonus with every $25 in-store or online gift card purchase through 12/31/09. Gift voucher is valid 1/1/10 - 3/31/10. Combine gift card with coupons received when you join the UNO Insider's Club.
  • T.G.I. Friday's - Receive $5 bonus bites card with every $25 gift card purchase through 12/31/09 plus an instant win entry card where you can play a spin and win game at www.fridays.com/giftcardgiveaway.
  • Applebee's - Receive $10 bonus card with every $50 in-store gift card purchase through 12/31/09. Bonus card is valid 1/1/10 - 2/28/10.
  • Friendly's - Receive $5 bonus card with every $25 in-store gift card purchase through 1/3/10. Bonus card is valid 1/4/10 - 2/28/10
  • Smokey Bones - Buy a $25 gift card in-store through 12/27/09 and get $5 off your meal instantly plus $10 to use on a future visit. Combine gift card with coupons (like this one for $10 off $20 through 12/20/09) received when you join the Bones Club at smokeybones.com.

Monday, December 14, 2009

December 2009 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on December 11th, 2009:

Asset Nov 2009 Dec 2009 Change
Checking 279 10,637 10,358
Money Market 39,035 45,489 6,454
Savings Bonds 20,781 25,865 5,084
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 120,585 100,520 -20,065
Brokerage 82,599 85,538 2,939
401k 84,709 84,117 -592
Roth IRA 33,705 33,966 261
SEP IRA 191,095 191,917 822
529 Savings 40,525 41,070 545
Total Assets $613,313 $619,119 $5,806

The S&P 500 index continues to touch yearly highs as it has risen 1.22% since the last update:

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

Unfortunately my update was a little delayed this month as I found that my main PC was infected with the Internet Security 2010 virus on Friday. Boy, was getting that cleaned up a PITA! I've been pleased to see the recent stock market gains have hung in there, and even better unemployment actually went down in November from 10.2% to 10%. Crude oil has continued to fall and is back below $70 per barrel on demand concerns.

As for money moves, I had two Bank of America Risk Free CDs (9 months @ 2.10% APY and 9 months @ 2.50% APY) mature since the last update and used some of that cash to buy myself some November 2009 paper I Bonds (I bought electronic ones at treasurydirect.gov in April 2009) as well as fund 2009 Roth IRA contributions for myself and Mrs. Frugalson (hence the large balance temporarily in my checking account). I do have a modest 1 year @ 2.90% APY CD maturing at Patelco Credit Union next month, but will probably just cash it out since their rates have not been competitive for quite some time. At least I can thump my chest about the fact that I've eclipsed my previous peak in financial assets for the third month in a row.

On the business front, I'm in the process of wrapping up 2009 for my S Corp. Ironically, the main thorn in my side right now is migrating to the new QUEST web site being deployed by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). Hopefully I'll get that situation resolved soon and will make a few final business purchases before December 31st. Once we hit 2010 I can focus on fully funding my 2009 SEP IRA contributions before tax time.

Other than that, I'm trying to finish up things like Christmas-related preparations and 2009 charitable contributions. I'll be relieved when that's all done and hope that 2010 will work out as well as 2009 has.