Saturday, March 30, 2013

Least Religious

Saw this in today's paper:

New Gallup Poll-Boulder One of the Least Religious Cities

I could have told you that a long time ago. It says something when I'm surprised to see a local family at church. There is a lot of worship going on here, though. I quickly realize that the locals here worship the body.  I'm so tired of the cult of the body! There is so much emphasis on exercise and eating right (and trust me, no matter what you do or what you eat, you're never exercising enough or eating right!), and not eating certain things. While I don't think that being healthy is bad, it's odd to feel excluded because you don't jog and have no plans on running a marathon for fun.

Oddly enough, even though many people here are so into the health of their body, so few are into actually looking good. With all the emphasis on being outdoors, exercising, cycling, running marathons, skiing, etc., people here tend to look a lot older at younger ages than I'm use to. Between that and no attention to fashion (and were not talkin' haute couture), it's an odd mixture. Here's proof, and not in my words:

Worst Dressed Cities in America

and again

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More Often

I'm thinking my family should go out of town without me for 5 days more often. I was 4 pounds lighter on the scale this morning than I was before they left. I can't recall doing a single thing special to drop 4 pounds, but there it was (or, there it wasn't). Happydance!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Giving a Shout Out to Coldwater Creek

Yes, I shop at Coldwater Creek sometimes. Don't judge. It's been a struggle in the last 5 or so years to find clothes that are appropriate for my age. I'm starting to think that most clothing stores think everyone is young, skinny and a size 4. I'm not 20, not skinny, and even at my optimum weight I will never be a size 4! The last time I wore a size 4 I was 4.

Anyway, I digress. Sometimes I shop at Coldwater Creek. Almost every time I go in there, I am the youngest person in the store. Sometimes by 15-20 years. At least 80% of the store is off limits to me. The clothes can be very loose fitting, too boxy, frumpy or far too bright. Sometimes when I try things on, I feel like I should be going on an AARP cruise to the Bahamas, or moving to Miami. Call me vain, but I don't want to look any older than I am! That said, there are always a few things each season that actually look good on me. So I shop. And I shop on sale, or with coupons, because Coldwater Creek is outrageously priced! What person in their right mind would pay $65 for a t-shirt? Or $99 for a very average sweater? Seriously? Do only older people have that kind of money? Coldwater Creek definitely caters to the older crowd. Still, I have found some wonderful things.

I've also found some not-so-wonderful things. I had to amp up my winter wardrobe when we moved here. It's much colder for much longer here than I was use to. Sometime in 2009 I purchased pair of black pants. Just plain black pants. And they were awful. After just a few wears and washings, they pilled, stretched, and seams came undone. I'd tossed the receipt, so I kept them. I repaired them. I mended the pockets that tore after the 2nd wearing. I'd worn them no more than handful of times, and then eventually stuffed them in the bottom of a drawer, never to be pulled out again. Recently I took them out to toss them, but instead put them in a bag to go through later (sometimes I'm weird that way). Same thing happened with two long sleeved shirts I bought in late 2011. Pilled up, faded, hardly worn. It was a disappointment. I liked what I bought, I'd paid quite a bit of money for them, and wanted to wear them. Not only did the items look horrible after a few washings, they were so rough they irritated my skin. Most of what I've bought at Coldwater Creek has been good quality, but not these!

So, last week I read about their quality guarantee. Bring anything back, any time, for a refund. Really? Here's their official policy (taken right off their website):

"At Coldwater Creek, we want you to shop in confidence knowing that your purchase is Always 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. If, for any reason at any time, you choose to return your selection, we'll cheerfully refund the purchase price, help you with an exchange, or credit your account." ***

And they are not kidding. 

I decided to gather up the 3 disappointing items that I somehow had not gotten rid of and take them into the store. I had no receipts, nothing. As I said, these items looked awful, even though I had only worn them a handful of times. Nothing else I own from Coldwater Creek looks as bad as these did. Even my heavily worn items. 

They gave me over $75 in store credit! Can you believe it? The store clerks kept apologizing that they couldn't give me a refund because I didn't have any receipts, but I didn't care. Store credit, for the full price I paid for each item, was more than enough. I now have an new pair of capris and shorts for summer, and several new tops. 

Even though I think the store is pretty overpriced, it is very nice to find a store that sticks to it's very generous return policy. It's pretty amazing, actually. I'm not going to randomly return other items without receipts because I've "changed my mind," but it was nice to be able to return a few poor quality items. Nice going, Coldwater Creek. Nice going.

***please note that these policies have changed. I am adding this because I've been fairly disappointed with Coldwater Creek as of late. I thought their return policy was extremely generous (probably too generous), and I've taken several things back that were a complete disappointment. The return policy has changed (as of September 2013) and now reads (as posted on their website) : "Valid on store, online and catalog returns: All regular, sale-priced and clearance merchandise that is unwashed, unworn or defective, may be returned within 120 days of purchase."  I am not surprised that they changed it. 4 months is still fairly generous, but it is not the same as it was. I am no longer sure about the 100% satisfaction guaranteed, either. As far as my experience goes, I did not discover how horrible the items I have returned were until after I had worn them or washed them. I also think that the calculations of dollar off coupons is very deceiving when merchandise is on sale. I went in with a $20 off card for my birthday. It just so happened that the entire store was all on sale for weeks. There was nothing I could do about that, but it also meant that anything I purchased during my dollar off coupon window was on sale. When my products were rung up, the $20 was deducted off of the ticketed price, not the store "that day" sale price, which applied to every item in the store (again, no fault of my own). My dollars off ended up being worth $10 off the final price instead of $20. There was no verbiage on the card to state that the money would be taken off of anything but the final price. No other store that I know of calculates prices on coupons this way. Customer Service inquiries have, at this time, not been returned. The quality and selection of clothes have also gone downhill in my opinion. Belts pull apart after a few months. Pants have far too much spandex/elastic in them and don't fit after an hour.  Shirts are thinner than they use to be, and don't last as long (which is a shame, really, since shirts from their store fit me and the sleeves don't shrink in the wash) I doubt I will be shopping there in the future. After advocating for them, I just wanted to put it out there that changes have been made, and that my opinions of the store have changed greatly in the last 6 months.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Number are In

About a year ago Brian wanted me to start using our credit card for grocery purchases so we could earn more airline miles. Because we live so far from our families, airline miles are essential in our life. Before that, I had been a cash-only grocery shopper. When I was out of money for the month, I was done shopping. That's not nearly as easy to see when using a credit card! So, in order for me to keep track of how much I was spending each month I started a spreadsheet. After every grocery trip I would record what I spent, what I saved, and the percentage of savings (if it was on the receipt). The numbers are in.

From March of 2012 to March of 2013 I spent $6,748.49 on groceries for our family of 4, and saved $2,214.59. In actuality, I probably "saved," or didn't spend, closer to $2,600.00 on my bill. Some stores, like Sprouts, Target and Whole Foods, don't tell you how much you've saved off of their regular prices. While I could easily track the coupon savings on the receipts at many stores, I didn't start tracking other savings from those stores until the last two months of my spreadsheet. In the stores that told me the percentage amount saved, I averaged a 50% savings. Sometimes it was only 13%, sometimes it was as high as 90%! Most of the time, it was 45-65% per grocery trip to conventional grocery stores. The average cost per month, if you like averages, was $562. Summer months were lower, under $500 each month, and the months before and after summer were high. I was probably in stock-up mode at stores that aren't close to my house. I tracked all food I purchased, even on vacations or when visiting family. I didn't track eating out or date nights, which we do about once a week (unless it's a vacation).

I am fortunate enough to get coupons from my neighbor, who gets 3 papers each weekend, but doesn't use the coupons at all. They truly are free for me. I also print coupons off the internet. I try to use the ones from the paper before printing anything, since that uses paper and ink. At Target you can stack coupons, meaning you can use a Target coupon and a manufacturer's coupon together for one item. I just bought some $3.00 eyeshadow for 45 cents.

In late April of 2012 my rheumatologist wanted me to go gluten-free for pain control. Gluten-free products are usually twice as much as the same, glutenous products on the shelves. A tiny box of crackers can be upwards of $4.00! That probably explains why in April of 2012 I spent $300 more in groceries than in March or May! I started shopping more at health food stores. I buy a lot of gluten-free products, organics, and minimally processed foods. Some of the local items I buy don't say they are organic, but I know that the farmers use organic methods. They don't certify because of the cost and required testing.

There's a huge difference in cost savings where I shop, too. I could just go to King Soopers, which has a huge selection of natural and organic foods, the best prices, sales, and doubles most coupons to $1.00. It would be my everything store if there was one close to my house. I also do a lot of my shopping at a local store called Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers. They only sell natural foods (and not the fake foods that say "all natural") and organics. I can get 2 pounds of organic flour there for $1.67 in the bulk department! Their whole milk and minimally processed yogurts are the cheapest, too, along with their refined cooking oils. I've found that Safeway is the most expensive conventional grocer around. I can get better deals at Whole Foods, and they aren't cheap, either! In the summer, when my life keeps me closer to home (and I can't justify driving 10 miles to go grocery shopping), I do most of my shopping at my local Safeway, Whole Foods, SuperTarget, and Costco (all within 2.5 miles of my house).  I can keep my bills low, but it's a lot harder.
     I follow coupon blogs for the conventional grocers, and use them judiciously. Unlike the people on the "Extreme Couponing" show, I buy real foods and produce. I buy my share of junk food, too. I like chips sometimes, and the kids like things like Cheez-It's. I don't admit to that, though, because I live in Boulder county. The fact that I don't buy organic foods 100% of the time and sometimes eat M & M's might get me shunned by the locals. I'm only partly joking.

    Other facts I learned about my shopping are:
    • I'm a poor trip planner. I went to the store many times a week! Mostly, I think, because I shop at a variety of stores.
    • I am a stock-up shopper. If something of us really likes is on sale (and it's not a perishable food), I'll stock up.
    • If I plan, I can feed 21 people dinner (8 adults and the rest kids) for $20-$25. We're talking good food, too. Lean proteins and veggies, plus a dessert!
    • I rarely purchase store-brand items anymore. With coupons and sales, I get the brand name for a much cheaper price. The exception to that is at Natural Grocers, where their store-brand bulk items are usually the cheapest, and usually organic. I use to buy a lot of Safeway Select items before we moved to Colorado. We have gone through lean times, and didn't always the money to just buy whatever we wanted. Safeway has a stranglehold on California, especially northern California, and there weren't a lot of other store options with better prices unless I was willing to drive all over (which I wasn't). The store brand was almost always cheaper, and in a lot of cases, better for you. I have more choices in Colorado. If I don't like the prices at Safeway, I can go somewhere else.
    • It's taken years, but I've learned to shop without Trader Joe's. We still shop there when we visit family, though. I'm glad that one will open up near us this year. There are so many unique things that I've missed. 
    • How I shop and what I shop for has changed over the years. I didn't use to pay a lot of attention to ingredients, and now I read labels. My choices of products has shifted greatly towards minimally processed foods and organic foods. I do my best to avoid artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup in the processed foods that I do buy. Instead of shopping for one or two, I now shop for a family of 4 with 2 growing children. Sometimes they eat as much as I do! 
    • We make most meals from scratch. I have a much easier time keeping ingredients in my house than an actual product. For example, if I make teriyaki sauce, I just measure and mix the tamari, miren, and brown sugar. Hot chocolate consists of milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and maple syrup. 
    I'm pretty pleased with my numbers. According the latest USDA Cost of Food charts, we are living below the "Thrifty" plan. I'm sure if I bought all organic foods, my cost would go up, but I don't think we'd even hit the USDA low-cost plan. When friends ask me about using coupons, they assume that I spend hours and hours each day figuring out what to buy. Not at all. I use the internet to my advantage. There are so many coupon blogs out there that you don't have to do the work. Just spend an hour a week, cut out the coupons, and you're done! I just scored 5 32-oz tubs of natural yogurt (no weird ingredients) for free at the grocery store! Normal price would be $16.45! I know, 5 tubs is a lot, but we can go through yogurt pretty quick in this house when the kids are home and when it's hotter outside. I don't understand the people I run into at Safeway who have a small cart of items, and pay $100+ dollars! I guess stores rely on those people to keep their sales up. I'm not going to be one of those people, though. A little planning really does go a long way!

    Friday, March 01, 2013

    (Not Deep) Thoughts

    Random First World thoughts that have gone through my head today ....

    I was at Dillard's today. Every now and then I see something I really like from the "Reba" line. I shake my head - I just can't bring myself to try anything on or purchase it! I'm not a little bit country (or a little bit rock and roll), not all that young, and not ├╝ber fashionable, but....but...but.... I still can't do it! Maybe I think I'm just not old enough yet!

    Why do the local Denver TV stations always start their programming a few minutes before the hour? First World Problem, I know, but it's still really irritating. I'm always missing the first few minutes of things.

    I think the national news is formatted for commercials, not actual news.

    I have several friends on Facebook who do nothing but share pictures from other FB pages. Not just a few pages, mind you, but lots and lots! One friend shares upwards of 25 pictures a day. I never really know what she's up to, but I am very caught up on weather and grocery prices in Alaska (her home state), current news, and sappy religious stories. Another "friend" only gets on FB occasionally, but when she does, she'll share 30 or more pictures in less than an hour. I've had to take these friends off my main page. I don't care if people share pictures or links, but these ones - it's too much! I know that FB is all about advertising, but I do like to see what others have been up to. Call me crazy, but that's the only reason I have an account.

    Speaking of Facebook, or of Boulder, but I am sick of the the FB "preaching" that I get day after day after day after day about the dangers of processed food, non-organic produce, and cleaning products. I know these things. Seriously! I know that "fat free" means there's usually more sugar in something, and that organic produce has less pesticides. All you Norwex sellers - not every household cleaner is toxic. Ever heard of Shaklee, or 7th Generation? What on earth were you using before? There are also other microfiber cloths, also, that cost way less. I can only "hide" so many of these people. It's one thing to occasionally share your thoughts on something, but the day-in, day-out posts are starting to drive me up a wall.

    Yes, I realize I can get off of Facebook at any time. I know that. But I do like it.

    I'm tired of listening to "Smoke on the Water," "Dynomite," and "Rock Lobster" over and over again. Brandon, however, is not. Is this a harbinger of his teenage years?

    I haven't hit my "winter wall" yet (in which I am absolutely ready for winter to be over and can't stand it any longer, but because I live in Colorado, I have to wait until mid-May for spring to start), but I am looking forward to daytime temperatures to be in the mid-40's this weekend. But it's suppose to be windy. Ugh. There are so many days in Colorado that you just don't want to be outside. Still, 45 will be warmer than the 20's and 30's we've been in for several weeks.