9.30.2011

Saving Money in Med School: Swagbucks

Alright, here it comes, the last Saving Money in Med School post!  You can read the other posts here: Coupons 101, General Money Saving Websites, Daily Deals, Being Price Conscious and Meal Planning + Weekly Process.



I've mentioned Swagbucks before.  More than once.  And I'm about to again.  I adore Swagbucks!  It is such a great way to add a little cushion to the budget.  Swagbucks is, at the core, a search engine that periodically rewards you for searching.  Seriously, it's like Google With Monetary Benefits.  You all search for things, right?  Well, if you search through Swagbucks, you will periodically earn "bucks" that can be redeemed for various products and giftcards.  I've been using Swagbucks for about ten months, and have earned $75 in Amazon gift cards (my reward of choice!), with seriously minimal effort.  I kid you not!  All by searching, which we do everyday anyway...why not get rewarded to do it?!

Want to know how you can earn a $5 Amazon gift card by the end of October, and every month following it, with practically zero effort?  If you consider that a $5 gift card "costs" 450 Swagbucks, that means you need to earn about 15 Swagbucks a day to earn one in a month, which is easy as pie.

When you sign up for Swagbucks, you start with an automatic 30 Swagbucks in your account.  BUT, if you sign up through my referral link and use the code BIGTIMEBUCKS,  you'll be credited with an additional 70 Swagbucks, so you'll be at 100 total Swagbucks without doing anything!  (That's almost a quarter of the way to your first Amazon gift card!). The extra 70 Swagbuck code is active now and is good until 11:59pm PT this coming Monday the 3rd.

After you've signed up, download the toolbar.  It's the easiest way to remember to use Swagbucks instead of Google.  Plus, if you have the toolbar downloaded, you'll earn an extra Swagbuck every day just by opening up your internet browser.

Then start searching!  The best tip is to search normally.  You'll likely see that you can earn Swagbucks for searching once in the morning, once in the afternoon and once in the evening.  That's just kind of how it happens.  

To earn extra Swagbucks, you can do things like take the daily poll, take surveys or printing and using grocery coupons (just like from coupons.com).  Or you can simply search (like me)...normally earning between 7-15 Swagbucks per search, but sometimes up to 50!  It's super easy to earn 15 Swagbucks a day, which would earn you enough for a $5 Amazon Gift Card each month, or $60 worth of gift cards in a year.  And that's just with MINIMAL effort! Some people go all out and do everything they possible can with Swagbucks and rack up enough points to earn iPhones and to pay for Christmas!  My approach is a little more modest, but it's still great to save $5 almost every time we order something from Amazon!

For a great list of tips on ways to earn even more Swagbucks, see here.

Are you convinced yet?  Head over to Swagbucks using this link, sign up, type the code BIGTIMEBUCKS and start racking up the prizes!  But hurry...The BIGTIMEBUCKS code is only good through this Monday at 11:59pm.


Please don't hesitate to ask me any questions that you have about Swagbucks!

All of these words and opinions are my own.  Nobody's writing me a check to post this!  And, yes, it really is that easy, and yes, I really have earned $75 in Amazon gift cards! 

9.28.2011

Coupons to Troops

Did you know that our US military families who are stationed overseas are able to use expired coupons up to six months past their expiration date?  I had no idea!  Apparently, the commissaries on base have an agreement with the manufacturers that allow the use of expired coupons on overseas bases.

After doing a little bit of research on various organizations that work to help people here in the States get their coupons to the military personnel overseas, I landed at Coupons to Troops.  This amazing site matches overseas military families with generous families here in the US who are willing to mail their expired and unwanted coupons directly to them.  My favorite part about this is that YOU, the coupon sender, are matched directly to a certain, specific FAMILY, to be the coupon receivers.  Not only do the families get the coupons much quicker this way, as opposed to the coupons first being sent to a collection point and then being forwarded onto a base, but you get the benefit of knowing that your coupons are helping a real live family, not sitting in the corner of some collection point, forgotten about.  

In addition, many of the other organizations that I found require that you divide the coupons into category before you send them, put them in zip-top plastic bags (NO PAPER CLIPS!  NO RUBBER BANDS!), and tally up the total value of the coupons and write it on the outside of the bag.  Yeesh!  Can you imagine sitting and adding up the value of all of the coupons??  Hello, waste of time! 

My experience thus far with Coupons to Troops, albeit brief, has been so positive: Last Thursday, I signed up to receive a family to "adopt."  On Friday, I received an email from Coupons to Troops saying that I had been matched with a family stationed in Japan, and that they would be in contact with me.  By Sunday, the family emailed me with their address, so earlier today, I sent out my first round of coupons to my new gal pal in Japan! 

I did end up organizing the coupons into categories, because that's just who I am ;)  I packaged each category into recycled envelopes (read: ones I had gotten in the mail and dug out of our paper recycling bin) and put them all into a large envelope to mail.  It weighed just under 16oz, which meant two wonderful things: 1) I didn't have to fill out a much-loathed customs form, and 2) it cost just $5.95 to ship.  (My $6 spent on shipping versus potentially hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of savings for a family(ies) stationed far away from the comforts of home in a foreign country seems rather superfluous).  I'm thinking I'll send a package over once or twice a month, depending on how many coupons I accumulate.  My gal in Japan explained to me that their base, like many overseas military bases, has a "coupon train," so that any coupons that people receive that they personally don't use can be put to good use by someone else on the base.  So even though my family doesn't have any pets or babies, somebody on that base will be blessed by my sending those coupons!

Interested?  You can head over to the Coupons to Troops website and fill out the submission form on the left hand side to be matched to a family. Let me know if you do; I'm so pumped about this!

9.25.2011

My Husband, the overachiever

There's a slight chance that I'm married to a mild overachiever (I mean this in the most loving, proud and honoring way possible).  Not only is he a medical school rockstar, but he has piled on the extracurricular activities this year.

In addition to school, the Hubby is "blue-coating" anatomy this year.  I'm assuming that blue-coating is a term unique to our school, since I googled it and had no results.  Basically, the Hubby is helping to teach/proctor anatomy to the first year med students.  The instructor and students teaching in the lab wear blue coats, thus blue-coating.  In short, my assumption that I was finished with the Eau du Deceased after last year was a rather large mistake.  The Hubby initially wasn't going to take the opportunity to blue-coat when he was asked to at the end of last year, but when he hadn't signed up for an interview after the final date to do so, he was requested again to do it.  And well, the Hubby loves anatomy.  A lot.  He took all of the highest level anatomy classes offered at our undergrad university and did graduate work in anatomy before beginning medical school.  I would not be surprised at all if in 30 years when we are old and gray, the Hubby wants to teach anatomy at a medical school somewhere.   So, we succumbed (is that grammatically correct S?  Or maybe you, Anne?  My head cold is currently preventing me from caring, and you two are likely the only ones who will notice.  Why do I know so many editors?)...he to less study time, and me to more Eau du Deceased laundry.

In addition to school and blue-coating, the Hubby is on the leadership team for his school's Emergency Medicine Interest Group.  For EMIG, there are meetings and dinners, orientations and shadowing (one super sweet one coming up that involves a helmet and flight suit!).  There is also recruiting members and communicating with all of them the upcoming events and opportunities.  

In addition to school, blue-coating and EMIG leadership, the Hubby is on the leadership team for Christian Medical Association.  For CMA, there are picnics and dinners, bible studies and cleaning (the student lounge is apparently the only room not on the list to be cleaned by the janitorial staff, so CMA said they'd do it every week.  Aren't they sweet?).  [CMA actually takes up part of my time too, because I make dinner for their weekly bible studies.  Homemade, nutritious and delicious dinners.  For 14 or 18 or 22 starving medical students who are living off of fast food, ramen noodles, and thrice daily bologna sandwiches.  They appreciate it so much that my struggle to get that much food to them at the appointed time can be easily overlooked.  (Can I entice you med students to come tomorrow evening?  There will be grownup mac & cheese with homemade roasted tomato soup and carrot cake for dessert...come, eat, talk Jesus!]. 

In addition to school, blue-coating, EMIG leadership and CMA leadership, the Hubby is also doing research with a local fellow.  It's off to a mind-numbingly pretty slow start, but we're hoping to have the bulk of it over and completed by early spring, so that there can be more focus on that all too important Step 1 Exam. 

In addition to school, blue-coating, EMIG leadership, CMA leadership and doing research, the Hubby and I lead a small group bible study through our church, which meets three times a month.  Our church, which we need to officially join.  So you can add "taking church membership class" to this list too.

In addition to school, blue-coating, EMIG leadership, CMA leadership, doing research and leading our small group, my Hubby is an over-achiever because he is such (SUCH!) a great husband.  Does he always have time to take out the garbage?  No.  Has he ever Does he regularly clean the toilets?  No.  Do we go out on lavish dates every week, complete with roses and wine?  No.  

But does he love me more and better than I could ever imagined?  Does my heart still skip a beat when he gets home at 9pm  smelling like Eau du Deceased?   Is he the best husband for which I could ever ask/hope/dream?  Does he inspire me to be a better wife, a better person?  Does he honor me and cherish me, respect me and encourage me, reassure me and motivate me?  Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes!  

My husband, the overachiever.  What a blessing he is to call mine.

9.22.2011

Saving Money in Med School: Meal Planning + Weekly Process

Time for another "Saving Money in Medical School" post!  If you missed the other posts, you can catch up here: Coupons 101, General Money Saving Websites, Daily Deals and Being Price Conscious

Meal Planning
I’ve found that planning out a week’s worth of meals really helps me to save not only money at the store, but also time!  (It might be my biggest pet peeve to sit around saying, "What do you want for dinner?"  "I don't know, what do YOU want for dinner?" ...repeat x 20).  Each week, I simply sit down with my compiled recipe book and the weekly ad from the grocery store, beg the Hubby for at least one dinner suggestion, and list off the meals that I’ll make in the following days.  Each week, I aim for two things: 1)to try at least one new recipe and 2)to have at least one “meatless” night, since meat eats up a big part of a grocery budget.  As long as the meal is still hearty and has protein (normally from beans!), the Hubby doesn’t even notice (okay, maybe he notices.  But he doesn't mind!).  Enchiladas with refried beans, ravioli with spinach and goat cheese, soups filled with veggies and lentils, stuffed peppers with beans and rice...they're all delicious with or without meat, so it's easy to get away with "forgetting" to put in the meat ;)     

After I’ve made my meal plan, I can check my pantry and freezer to see what I have on hand (it’s so nice to have a little stash of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta, beans, frozen chicken, etc. so that you aren’t buying one portion of every item every week.  When they’re on sale next, stock up on the staples to have some on hand!).  Whatever dry goods and fresh produce that I still need for the recipes, I can then add to my shopping list (which may or may not be in an Excel spreadsheet in grocery store aisle order.  Yes, I am aware that I am a freak-o-nature).

Weekly Process
Each week on Sunday, I’ll go through my coupons and pull out any that are expiring within the next week to see if there was anything that I needed/wanted to buy using those coupons.  Then I’ll clip the coupons that I’ll use out of the inserts from the newspaper and check the online sites to print the ones I’ll need (this is explained in much more depth in the first post about coupons).  Once my coupons are in order, I go through the store ads to see what is on sale (and check those general money saving websites for their store match-ups!).  My weekly meal plan is normally based around those sale items.  When I’ve got all of my meals set, I make my grocery list! 

It seems like a lot of work – I know.  But being able to save an average of $45 a week, without doing anything "extreme" by any means…that’s over $2300 a year!  Definitely worth the little bit of extra effort, I’d say!  What would you do with an extra $2300 a year?  Take out a few less medical school loans, perhaps??

This might look overwhelming typed out like this, but I promise it will be second nature to you once you start. If you have any questions or need some encouragement shoot me an email at mdschoolmrs[at]gmail[dot]com!

9.18.2011

Dear Summer:

Dear Summer:

Please come back!  I miss you so much.  Two weeks ago, it was sunny and hot and lovely.  Last week, I wore my long janes to work. 
I'm just not ready for thermal weather already!  Now?  It's dark out by 8:00!  If you could please make one last stand, I would so appreciate it.  Preferably on a Saturday, so I can sit out on our balcony and soak up some of your glorious rays.

Until then, I'll be reliving one of my favorite days of the summer - when the Hubby and I took Isra up to Sleeping Bear Dunes and the surrounding beautiful region...perfect for a leisurely ride, photography and a few samples of vino...


Working our way through the scenic drive...



Stop #9...aka the Hubby's proposal location choice 26 months ago

While cruising....an old fishing village and a wine cellar

Home of the world's best pretzel bread...or so we've heard ;)

I fell in love with this barn.  Hardcore.  You'd think I was a country girl or something...
Looking at the positives...at least we don't have a freeze warning tonight!  Our plant babies can sleep outside again finally.  Pulling them in for multiple nights in a row was getting old!!

Preparing for hibernation,

9.16.2011

Guacamole (and how to cut an avocado)

It's football season....and that means it's guacamole season!  It's perfect for tailgating or to pair with the fajita recipe I shared last week. The following recipe will suffice for three to four normal people as a side (...or for the the Hubby and I by ourselves...).  It's so easy to double or triple for a crowd and is totally fabulous.  You can either take my word for it, or try it yourself ;) 

 


Guacamole 
Ingredients
1 ripe avocado, diced
1/4 cup diced onion (red, yellow, sweet...any!)
1 tomato, diced
1/2 to 1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, diced (take those seeds and white parts out, and don't touch your face until you've washed your hands!)
1 Tbsp. lime juice
Cilantro to taste (I like more than the average person, I suspect)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Throw everything in a bowl and mash it up with a fork!  Serve with chips...


I'm assuming you've all prepared an avocado before....so you know how much of a pain it can be.  This is the easiest way that we've found to get that good green stuff out without making a massive mess.  I hired a hand model named the Hubby for this avocado cutting/guacamole making endeavor. 


1: Cut around the avocado the long way (hot dog style!)
2: Wiggle wiggle the two halves of the avocado to separate them
3: Two halves!!  But one with the pit stuck in it...
4: Take your knife and stab it into the pit.  Carefully.  Because a knife is sharp, and if you miss the pit, it will go through the avocado.  I'd probably recommend leaving the avocado on a cutting board instead of holding it in your potentially life-saving hands, like the Hubby.  
5: Wiggle the pit out of the avocado and discard.  
6: Slice the flesh of the avocado into a grid, not cutting though the outer dark skin.  
7: Using a spoon, scoop out the flesh.  
8: If making guacamole, dump it into the rest of your ingredients and mash it with a fork
9: End result?  Clean hands and delicious guacamole!  

What is your favorite tailgating dish to pass, football fans?  


Linking up at these fabulous parties!
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9.14.2011

50 Rules

This is one of the most adorable things that I've read lately.  
Be prepared for many, many tears, unless you have a heart of stone (you know who you are!!).  


[I'll write a real post again sometime soon, I promise!]

9.08.2011

Saving Money in Med School: Price Conscious

Time for another "Saving Money in Med School" post...check out the first few posts here: Coupons 101, General Money Saving Websites and Daily Deals

Being price conscious is a vital part of learning how to save money in medical school (or whatever stage of life you find yourselves in).  Just because an item is on "sale" or "special" doesn't mean that you're saving the big bucks...it might just mean that the store dropped the price a nickel that week!

If you start to pay attention to the normal prices at your store, eventually, you’ll start to really KNOW what a good price is.  Good price on Skippy Natural Peanut Butter?  $1.67.  On Simply OJ?  $2.99.  Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts?  $1.89/lb.  It sounds weird, but you just learn!  This comes in very handy when shopping at places like Target and Walgreens, which may not have as low of prices on items as Meijer has.  I’ve found that quite often, Walgreens will have something on “sale,” but it is still more expensive than Meijer’s normal price.

Also, don't be afraid to go outside your comfort zone with stores.  I had driven past Aldi for years, but never stopped.  Now, I know that Aldi is a fabulous store (low prices without coupons!).  Their everyday prices are considerably lower than Meijer though you won't find twelve different kinds of ketchup on the shelf.  I routinely get certain things from Aldi when I know I can’t beat the price at any other store using coupons.  So tortilla chips ($0.99), hummus ($1.69), salmon ($3.69) and pita chips ($1.69) are my Aldi staples, plus whatever good looking produce they have.

Very rarely do I buy something not on sale or with a coupon, or both (aside from staples like produce and eggs!).  We’ve learned that if you aren’t loyal to brands for the most part (especially toiletries, cleaning products, toilet paper, etc), you can save even more.  One person in our family might have an easier time with this than the other.  Somebody is a bit particular….so when I can get a good price on that Old Spice deodorant, I stock up!  ;)

Speaking of stocking up - when you find a good deal on meat, take advantage of it!  I’ll buy the family packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts, take off all of the fat, dice some of them up and leave others whole, and portion them into freezer baggies.  It’s seriously so much better for your bottom line to buy something at a reduced price and freeze/store it than it is to buy something when you need it and it is at its’ highest price.  This goes for pantry items too.  Yes, I could buy a box of whole wheat pasta for $1.89, but I'd rather wait until it goes on sale for $0.99 and use a $0.50 off coupon.  Yes, I could buy a box of organic granola for $4, but I'd rather wait until it goes on sale for $2.50 and use a $0.75 off coupon.

You can easily start to see how knowing the price of items will help you save money and know when you're getting the most bang for you buck...which is the goal here, people!  (As a side note, I someday aspire to do things like this).

Hope you're all having a great week.  Everybody and their sister is talking about how they are loving these "fall-like" temperatures and expressing their excitement for fall, but y'all?  I'm not ready to give up the sunshine and heat quite yet...

9.04.2011

Differences between MS1 and MS2


So here we are, with the first week of MS2 under our belts.  It's already evident that the format for year two is going to be quite different than last year.  Not necessarily better, not necessarily  worse, just different.  Instead of being primarily lecture and lab based as the entire first year was, the Hubby's school moves into problem-based learning (PBL) for their second year.  

The thought process behind PBL is that students learn best when solving a problem.  Basically, the Hubby's class is divided into small groups and are given a one or two cases per month describing a patient with an illness.  Together, the group discusses the patient's condition.  After spending some time independently studying the topic (in some serious depth), the group reconvenes and determines what is causing the patient's symptoms and how treatment should progress.  

Additionally, while MS1 had classes (Pharmacology, Microbology, Pathology, every other -ology you can name), MS2 has PBL domains (Infectious Disease, Musculoskeletal, Disorders of Thought/Emotion/Behavior, Pulmonary, etc).  Fall semester of MS1 had 21 exams, while fall semester of MS2 only has eight.  Last year had a lot of hand-holding, structure and guidance, while this year is much, much more independent.

As the Hubby explained the difference between MS1 and MS2 to me: Last year was learning how the different systems in the body function.  This year is learning what happens when things go wrong, how diseases and symptoms present themselves and how to treat ailments. 

Sounds better than sitting in a lecture hall all day long to me...but what do I know?  I'm just the wife ;) 

9.02.2011

Fabulous Fajita Marinade

Has it been forever since I've shared a recipe with you?  It seems like it has been.  This fabulous fajita recipe has been a staple of ours this summer - it is quick, delicious and grilled (read: the Hubby does the cooking after I do the prepping).  I've tried a TON of different fajita recipes, and this one (modified from All Recipes) takes the cake.  



Fabulous Fajita Marinade
Ingredients
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 tsp. seasoned salt (I'm a Lawry's girl!)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper 
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano

Directions
Combine all ingredients and marinate meat of choice (I use two whole chicken breasts) for at least one hour.  Grill over medium-low heat so it stays nice and juicy.

For veggies, slice a bell pepper and an onion.  Spray lightly with olive oil spray and sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Place in a grill basket and cook to desired done-ness (the veggies will take less time than the chicken).  

To serve, slice meat thinly and place meat and veggies into a warmed tortilla with refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, rice, and whatever else your pretty little heart desires.  


Also - we do like to grill our tortillas to warm them.  But don't forget about them.  Because then, you will end up with one or two of these:

Mmmm....notice the reverse grill marks, where the grill was protecting the tortillas from turning into char.  Delicious! 

Whoops!  Yours should look a little bit more like this:


Delicious!  I'll be sharing this yummy goodness around a few fun places
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