Friday, December 11, 2015

Shutterfly Surprise: Some Fun, Free Christmas Gifts

So, I was walking down the sidewalk and I saw a plastic red bottle cap.  I picked it up, and yes, it was a Coke cap - one with the Coke Reward Points code underneath.  I put it in my pocket and continued on my way.

When I got home, I signed into Coke Rewards to enter said cap code.  I received 3 points. At Hip2Save they had mentioned a wall calendar offer for 3 points.  So I went to Rewards, and sure enough, there was an offer for a free 8.5"x11" wall calendar from Shutterfly, one per user.  I thought - a photo calendar is the perfect gift for mom!  So I called up my big sister and told her to start sending me some photos to put it in.

Paying postage on the calendar was the only cost, as well as the time to use their impressive little program to assemble great photos into the calendar format .  I got a one-of-a-kind gift for mom that is both practical and sentimental. As a new Shutterfly member, I also scored 50 free 4x6 prints and a free magnet photo and address labels! I plan to use my band's logo over some snapshots of us and our web info to turn the prints into free promo materials!  

The magnet I selected a photo of family so I can see them with every food raid.  The labels I put Big D and my name on, so we can use them for cards, rent checks, etc.  It was so cool to see our names together (getting engaged, this is becoming more and more common, but it still is a reminder of how we are joining our lives together.)

Also, they are running a promo on Shutterfly for a free photo card (CARD4U). The card I found a nice snapshot of me and I plan to send it to mom next time she calls and says she misses me.

Want to try Shutterfly for yourself?  

Here's a step-by-step to score the free stuff I did.  Score these goodies before December 28, 2015 (though some promotions go longer). By the time you get them all, you can make a really good decision on Shutterfly's quality and products and decide if you want to use them for future printing.

1. Go find a Coke 20oz bottle cap (or Powerade still has codes on them, as well, I believe.) 3 points is all you need, so you just need one cap. You know SOMEONE who drinks Coke, right?

2. Go to MyCokeRewards and Sign in. If you don't have an account yet, SIGN UP here. Once you are in, click on the text box where it says "Enter Code" and put in the long string of letter and numbers under your cap to get your 3 points. Make sure to enter codes in all lowercase letters, and anything round like a 'zero' enter as "zero" and not the letter "o". Hit enter, and you should now have at least 3 points.

3. Still on the MyCokeRewards site, go to "Rewards." At the left side of the window, select the 1-49 point range and the page will refresh - the fourth or fifth item to pop up should be the Shutterfly Print Calendar. Select it and click on "Claim Reward". Make sure before you do this you can access
the email your Coke Rewards goes through. They will send you a promo code right away via email.

4. Check your email and copy the promo code for the calendar. You can click on the link or just go to Shutterfly and set up/sign in to your account.

5. If you don't have a Shutterfly create a new account: CREATE ONE HERE. If you have an account already, skip to step 6.

You automatically get the promo - Get 50 free 4x6 prints, one free magnet and one free set of address labels - when you sign up for Shutterfly.   (This is just for new customers.) Offer ends 1/3/2016. Must be all redeemed by 1/4/2016.

6. While logged into your Shutterfly account go to "My Account"There will be a text box under the heading "Promos / Gift Certificates / Gift Cards"  where it says "Enter code" - paste  the code from MyCokeRewards here.  Hit enter, or click on the orange arrow after the text box, and it will apply your code to your account.  You should now have a calendar showing up in your list of promotions. The calendar must be ordered by 1/31/2016 to be free.

7. While you are there on the promo page, enter the Promo code "CARD4U" into the Redeem Promo box, You will have free card added to your list of promotional freebies. This code is valid until 12/28/2015. Put your picture on this and have a card ready to mail to a distant loved one who may like to see your face!

Using Shutterfly:

The hardest part of all these goodies is gathering up and uploading your photos to the Shutterfly site and setting up how you want your products to look.

The actual uploading of photos is dead simple - you can upload from various online sources or your computer, and you can upload multiple all at once. I recommend gathering all the photos you want to use in one place, and uploading them all at once, as the program lets you drag and drop photos to where you want them.

The editing/designing tool shutterfly offers is actually impressive while staying simple.  For the calendar you can change sizes of pictures, text, borders, 'stickers' and backgrounds. You can drop photos or text into the squares of the days on the calendar to mark birthdays (pretty sweet) or anniversaries of people. Really, how much time you put into is up to you. You can be pretty creative. Just be careful which stickers and other options you choose, as some will charge you for the use (e.g. for certain special 'stickers' there is a $0.25 fee to use it as much as you like.)

When you finish your masterpiece design, go and check out your cart with your final products all selected, and the promo codes will automatically apply. You should just have to pay shipping and handling for your goodies (though all but the 50 free prints appear to qualify to be 'available for pick up' if you'd rather.)

Bonus Freebie Round:

And for any mom's with babies or those planning on having a baby (or anyone wanting info on Similac products and promotions, I suppose!), you can sign up with Similac "Strong Moms" Rewards and receive a free 8x8 Photo Book from Shutterfly when you register your email! They send you an email with the promo code, and you enter as you did the CokeReward promo code.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cleaning (Not-so) Disposable Earplugs

Well, he won't admit it, but my Big D happens to snore at night.  While I usually sleep through anything, sometimes I need a little help drowning out the noise - so I pop in some foam ear plugs.  The problem is I only have disposable ear plugs at the moment, and I hate throwing them out after a use, but want to keep them (and thus my ear holes) clean.  The answer?

Well, there are a few.  I found a great article here all about it, but for a quick overview, this is what I did:

For the dirty plugs: 

Soap and Water, Clean toothbrush (bleached or just ran in the dishwasher)

I had a pair that had sat out and gotten a little dusty.  For these, I first washed them with soap and water, scrubbing the surface a bit with a clean toothbrush.  For the toothbrush, just run it with a load of dishes, or if you used it for something not so pleasant, make sure to give a bleach soak.

For the waxy plugs: 

Hydrogen Peroxide Bath (or Witch Hazel less often)

For the waxy ridden ear plug, I put my pair in a small container of hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes.  To keep them submerged, I just found a heavy round item smaller than my container and set it on top.

After the soak, I rinsed, rinsed, rinsed in water and let them fully air dry.  This got the surface gunk off and they felt clean again.  I've heard of people using witch hazel, as well, though I've read that witch hazel may faster dry up/make brittle some foams when used often over time.  The hydrogen peroxide you get at the store is 3% concentration, usually, and hasn't been noted to have a reaction with foam ear plugs (PVC or polyvinyl chloride/memory foam) at less than 10% concentration.

For the "clean quick" plugs:

Throw In Laundry

I've actually accidentally washed some ear plugs in the pocket of pants before, and they come out surprisingly clean!  I'd say to put them in a pouch of some type- a small drawstring bag, a clean sock, pantyhose, a mesh bag - just so they don't clog up the washing machine or get lost. Between the detergent and rinse cycle, they come out clean and wax free (much like your chapstick will disappear inside a tube if washed.)  If you are still worried about bacteria, just give them a quick hydrogen peroxide bath.

Although they won't last forever, and PVC in my ear all night probably isn't the best, until I find the 'perfect plugs', this is one way I don't have to spend money and still get my beauty sleep.

Places to get earplugs:

Hospital or Hotel Stays - sometimes the foam earplugs are offered gratis as part of your stay - even if I don't use them during the stay, I tend to grab them to keep in my guitar case or to include in gifts for people.

Airlines - Big D made my day by grabbing his and his family's sets of complimentary 'sleep aids' from the airline they flew (Jet Blue, I believe.)  Each contained a sleep mask and pack of ear plugs, and they are the most comfortable foam plugs I've worn!

Cheapest Otherwise:
Harbor Freight - if you go through ear plugs a lot, like I did when I was in a metal band, buy a big box at Harbor Freight.  With a 20% or 25% coupon, you can get about 50 sets for $3-4.  They also have a fair reusable rubber style for $1.60 after your coupon.

The Dollar Store - for $1 you can get 1-3 sets of the foam, and sometimes a not-half-bad reusable rubber style.

Clearance aisle in the fall (from swimming area) - Although meant for keeping out water, you can get reusable ear plugs for $.25-.50 after the swimming season is over.  I've seen them at grocery stores and Walgreen's on clearance for less, sometimes!

Money Saving Tip:

If you have one set of plugs that are rather large, cut each one in half.  Now you have two, and they won't stick out of your ears like little orange wingnuts!  In the band where I had to wear ear plugs, this was a great tactic to make my stash of earplugs last longer and have me looking a little 'cooler' while maintaining my hearing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Good Reasons To Get Reusable Towels

Paper Towels versus Reusable Towels:

So how can you save money and the planet?  How about switching from using paper disposable towels to reusable cotton ones?  Reusable towels gets things cleaner with less effort, require little effort to clean, and cost less to buy than a 12 pack of paper towels if you are doing it right.  Need more incentive?  Here is some (estimated) math.

Name brand 12 pack of paper towels will cost you up to $20.93.  You will use them up in approx 8 weeks (the average family goes through 1.5 rolls per week.)

A good supply of cotton towels will cost as little as $11.98.  These should last at LEAST a few years with just a little laundry time put in.  (Pictured is 10 flour sack dish towels at $7.98 (Walmart) and 16 heavier washcloths at $4.00 for 2-8pks (on sale at Target), all 100% cotton.)

Price Breakdown: 
Total 2 year cost of paper towels = $272.09 PLUS: approx $156 waste removal 
(2 years of paper towels weighing approx 78 lbs, and at $2 a pound (as in Europe, where trash is by the pound) this comes to a whopping $156!  In Mesa, AZ, this would be about 4 extra 'black' barrels of trash to be removed, which is a month's worth of trash removal cost, which is much less, but still expensive for trash.)

Total 2 year cost of reusable towels = $11.98 PLUS: approx $36.48 in laundry expense. 
(Towels equal an approx. extra load of laundry every month over 2 years, which using hot water/top loader machine/ name brand expensive soap would cost $1.52 a month, or $36.48 over 2 years.) 

So - for 2 years of wiping up messes and drying things off, do you want to spend $428.09 or $48.46?

Reusable Towels in Action:

Now, I will always have a few paper towels lying around for that unfortunate bloody/stinky/greasy mess that arises that you just can't bring yourself to clean up with something you will later wipe dishes with.  Those messes happen.  But the other 99.9% of the time I'm cleaning up with my reusable towels.

For drying needs, the flour sack towels are great on dishes.  They also fill in elsewhere in the kitchen: I lay them between the lid and bowl of a salad bowl to keep the lettuce from getting soggy and brown.  I use them to wrap up baked goods to keep warm/soft,  I lay them out to use as temporary dish drying racks for large items.  I use them as pot holders when the oven mitt is too far away.  I drape them over the oven rail to use as a finger towel if my hand towels aren't around.   

The washcloths are more absorbent than any paper towel, and infinitely stronger.  I use these as dish rags, counter sponges, pot polishers, and any other 'wiping' tool in the kitchen.  With so many, I use a new one every day or more, and get more washed before I ever run out.  They sop up water easily, and ring out with ripping.

Aside from the towels I just bought, I have been using cloth napkins (a pack of linen napkins I picked up at a thrift shop, 8 pack for $2,00) so no paper towels are used at the table, either.

For storing your reusable goodies, I can show you what I do.  I've never been a stickler for a 'perfect' looking house, and prefer practical/easy over pretty/complicated.  So I don't mind letting my tools hang out - in this case, I used a wire under-the-shelf bin hung sideways on a cabinet door under the sink.  I hang out my vinegar spraybottle, rubber gloves, and the most recent dish towel off the ends and stuff my washclothes and towels inside.

This works great for me, as I use these items constantly throughout the day and don't have to dig under the sink for them, but they aren't on my counters, either.  And no one ever asks where the towels are! It may not be the prettiest part of my kitchen, but I value the no muss, no fuss functionality.

For anyone going the reusable route for clean up materials, I highly recommend going to the Dollar Tree or a thrift shop and finding a poly-coated mesh metal waste basket for throwing in dirty towels.  Shouldn't be more than a buck.

The rubberized metal holds damp rags without rusting, it is easily washed up with a = you guessed it!=  reusable washcloth, and the mesh design allows air flow to the entire bin allowing rags to dry out without molding/smelliness until you bring it to the laundry to throw in the wash. I just plopped mine down next to my little trash can and I toss in the towels as they get 'less-than-fresh'.

Have you made the switch yet to reusable towels?  How is it going for you?