$10 Free for Amazon Prime Members

I’m not sure how long this have been offered, but today I noticed that on Amazon when Prime members reload an Amazon gift card with 100 or more dollars they get $10 additional dollars to use. *Pst– the digital gift cards are way easy to use. I reloaded an old card and my new gift card showed up right away under my payment methods. I didn’t even have to type in gift card numbers or do anything annoying to make it work. I wish I could say Groupon worked so smoothly . . .

10% off Amazon Home Purchases through USPS

If you’ve moved or are planning to move let Amazon know through USPS and you can get 10% off of home purchases fulfilled by Amazon. After you sign up, it automatically takes off the discount in your cart before you purchase. It will even let you have this discount on top of cyber Monday deals!

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Cheap Exercise- Free Couch to 5K Ap from Zenlab’s Fitness

Matt and I enjoyed living in the south and eating out, perhaps a little too much. Living in a hotel I did manage to cook quite a bit, but by our second long-term stay hotel I lost some steam and we ate out a lot. Throwing all caution to the wind when it came to food, both of us have gained some weight.

So being in an apartment and without the easy access to exercisde equipment our hotels used to offer us, I’m looking for inexpensive ways to exercise. This morning I decided to go back to using an ap I really enjoyed this last summer. It’s called the C25K ap from Zenlab’s fitness. It’s based on an exercise program called the couch to 5k, which was designed to help people who haven’t been active, “couch potatoes” if you will, to get active by following a step-by-step program done 3 times a week for about 30 minutes each week. The program prompts you to walk and run in intervals until over time you are in a condition to run a 5k. It’s designed to help non-runners work up to running longer distances over time. The ap I mentioned above makes this easy by cutting into your running music and prompting you to start and stop running and letting you know how many more runs you have to complete and when you’re almost done. You just listen to your music and follow the directions to run and walk when it tells you to do so. I’m not an exercise fiend or a runner so I was amazed that this ap got and kept me running. I have never trained for more than a 5k yet, and the 5k training portion of the ap is free, so it’s been a great deal for me.

So if you don’t have money for a gym membership or the stamina to run continuously for 30 minutes, this ap could be away to get back into good habits or help you maintain good habits you’ve built. I fall on and off the exercise wagon often, but have come back to this ap a few times, so I hope it can be helpful for anyone who’s looking for inexpensive ways to get healthier.

6 Steps to Finding an Affordable Apartment

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At the end of this month Matt and I will be moving to Oregon. We’re excited to be leaving our hotel and live in our own space again, but haven’t loved the ups and downs of looking for an apartment. We’re not from Oregon and haven’t ever even visited Salem where we’ll be living. We’ve felt overwhelmed and frustrated at times as we looked for an apartment and agonized over what we needed and wanted and what price we were willing to pay for our wants. Needless to say we learned a lot by trial and error and turn over our findings to you. We hope these steps will help you avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered on our apartment hunting journey.

1. Determine Your Must Haves

  • How many rooms and bathrooms will you need?
  • How important is it to you that you have washer/dryer hookups in your apartment?
  • How important is it to have A/C? In Salem we were surprised to find that a majority of the units we were looking at did not have A/C. 
  • What amenities are important to you? Is it worth $50-100 per month extra to have access to a pool and fitness center or would you be just as happy paying for a gym membership with that money? Or could you buy your own machine with the money you’d save and then re-sell the machine when you move?

If you want to keep your monthly rental cost down, you may have to make sacrifices. Even just $100 extra each month adds up. Just think–over the course of a year, you will be spending an additional $1200 for access to these amenities. If the you know you’ll utilize the amenities then these extras are worth their cost to you. But, if you don’t think you’ll use them, consider finding a less expensive rental. 

2. Break Down the Costs

It’s generally recommended that a person spend about 1/3 or less of their net monthly income on housing. This guideline gave us a solid starting point on figuring out how much we could afford to pay in rent every month. Also, consider you may have other financial goals or aspirations which limit that to a smaller percentage of your income.

Look at your budget before you begin looking for an apartment. You can adjust it later if necessary, but start with a dollar amount that you are willing to spend first. Now take into account the other costs associated with renting. As you look at listings take note of the following about each property:

  • Are some utilities included? Some landlords will pay for the water, sewer, and garbage. Does the monthly cost include Internet access?
  • Is there an additional cost for parking or HOA? 
  • What other costs will you have in addition to your month rental payment?
  • How far away is the rental from work? How much more will you be spending in gas for a longer or shorter commute?

Get the real monthly cost of your favorite apartments so you’re comparing apples to apples. Then stick to your budget. If you don’t, the nicer housing can make it easier to justify spending more. And if you do fall in love with an apartment outside of your budget it may help you to ask yourself a few of the following questions:

  • Am I willing to eat out less to be in a nicer apartment?
  • Am I willing to spend less money on traveling, movies, shopping, and other entertainment to live in a better apartment?
  • What could I buy with the money we save on rent every month by living in a smaller or less fancy place?

3. Go Beyond Google

In our experience classifieds and property management sites offered cheaper rental options that websites like Trulia, Apartments.com, or ApartmentFinder.com which come up first on search engines like Google. We found a lot of cheaper listings on sites like:

  • Craig’s List: It sounds super sketchy I know–thanks to news stories about Craig’s List Killers–but on classified sites you’ll find small business owners tend to post less expensive monthly rentals for housing. This is probably because referral sites like apartments.com charge fees for listing rental properties. So look at classifieds first and while they are not at convenient, you’ll find great properties at lower costs.  
  • Property management sites were also a great place to find discounts and similar properties in your price range! 
    • If you can’t find enough pictures or a sufficient description of a property that interest you on Craig’s List or a the property management site, google the property address and other sites are likely to have more pictures and information, including referral sites like apartments.com.
  • If possible, talk to people in the area who may have leads on better deals.

4. Research Safe Areas

Ask/Take a Drive

Even if you’ve lived in a city for a while, you may not know everything about each area of the city. If you’re local, drive to the area and look around, ask co-workers and friends about what the area is like, and use some of the tools mentioned below to find out as much about the area as you can.

Use Social Media

Starting out we knew very little about the safe and unsafe areas of Salem. Matt read about a few areas and then reached out via social media to see if he had any friends who had moved to the area. It turns out he did. He was able to ask our friends about the area, and they were even kind enough to walk through an apartment for us and videotape what it looked like. They were also able to tell us more about the surrounding area.

If you don’t have this luxury because you are moving to a new area from out-of-state or out of the country, and don’t know anyone, I recommend using a handy tool Matt discovered on Trulia.com listings.

Use Trulia’s Anything You Could Ever Want to Know About an Area Tool

Trulia may not have as many listings as other sites, but they put together a tool that is invaluable in your apartment search. When we began looking for apartments, we pulled up neighborhoodscout.com to look at crime rates and Google maps to calculate Matt’s commute time. These sites were helpful, but Trulia has managed to merge them into a handy tool that combines almost anything you could ever want to know about your area into one easy-to-use tool and it’s free when you sign up for an account on their website. I included a screen shot of the tool bar that superimposes the information about crime, schools, your commute, etc. over the map of the area you’re moving to.

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Trulia.com tool used to display invaluable information about the neighborhoods in which you’re moving

Here are a few examples of the helpful data we found on Salem, Oregon:

 

If you have a minute check out your area on Trulia.com and see what the crime stats and hazards are near you. Based on your experience, how accurate is the map of your area? Please let me know in the comments below.

Matt and I are not sure of the accuracy of the tool yet, but if the data is accurate, it is incredibly helpful. We’ll keep you posted on if our neighborhood is crime-ridden as soon as we get there. 😉

5. Look at Apartments One Month in Advance

If you look earlier than a month in advance, you’ll likely end up paying extra fees to hold the apartment. If you are particular, this peace of mind could be worth the extra fees. However, consider that most land lords only get one month’s notice that their current tenant is vacating, and may not even know if their units will be available two or three months in advance. Looking one month in advance allows for some flexibility and gives you a better idea of what units will actually be available in your time frame. It also gives you time to see how competitive the market is and snatch up a place if units are turning over quickly.

Watch the listings. You may find prices drop over time. If you notice listings are only up a couple of days call about a property as soon as you see it and then put in an application before looking at the unit and signing the rental agreement. Doing this will reserve your spot in line. Plus, many property managers are willing to refund your application fee if another renter’s application is approved before they get to yours. Just be sure their application fees are refundable before you take this approach.

5. Keep a Record

Use a Google or Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the places you’ve checked out, their prices, features, amenities, availability, and why they did or didn’t make it to the top of your list. If you don’t, you may find yourself looking at the same listings over and over again wondering why the unit wasn’t right for you the first time you viewed it.

6. Be Patient and Persistent 

Don’t get discouraged! It will take time, plenty of phone calls, and a few applications until you find the right apartment for you. But if you consider what you need in advance, break down the costs, research the area, give yourself a month, keep a record, and try to be patient, you’ll be sure to find an apartment with what you need at the right price.

1/8/17- Update- The neighborhood our apartment is in seems great, but unfortunately we don’t live in it yet because we are waiting for all our stuff from the storage units to arrive. But as far as crime goes, we met a cop at the church and he let us know that where we are living should be fine.

 

Two 99 Cent Deals from Kroger

Chicken for 99 cents a pound!

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I found these in the back of the store near the deli counter. Throw this pre-seasoned chicken in your Instant Pot on saute for a few minutes  to seal in the juices and then put your trivet  in the pot and dump in 1 cup of water. Now stick your chicken on top of your trivet and cook for 15 minutes. I put in two large pieces like the one above into my 6 quart Instant Pot. It made for deliciously tender chicken. I forgot how good chicken on the bone tastes!

Or store the pieces in bags to make later!

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 Twizzlers Chocolate Licorace

Only 99 cents!

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Do you like chocolate licorice? I grew up eating these on road trips or at the lake in the summer. They are  a sentimental snack I still love so it made my day to see them in the bargain carts at my Kroger grocery store marked down by more than 50%. I do have to wonder if part of my pleasure came from seeing something that reminds me of home. I do miss a lot of things about home but I’m still really glad we chose to take this adventure!

These Twizzlers probably didn’t sell too well here in Ridgeland, Mississippi if they went on clearance, and I’m sure some of your are thinking, yeah, they’re gross. But for your Chocolate licorice lovers these may be marked down in other Kroger’s too . . .  So go check it out!

I have been trying to eat less sugar lately and was doing pretty well until these derailed me a bit. The combination of a good deal and chocolate is a powerful force! But now that they’re  all gone I can get back on track! Yeah we finished the bag in a couple of days . . .

I was thinking with Halloween being close these licorice could be a fun and inxpensive candy to add to a decorative recipe. I know last year my husband and I made Halloween graham cracker houses. It was a fun. Check out some great ideas on making them on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe where I found this cute photo of a few she made:

So go get your candy house making skills on!

 

Making Your Home Away Feel Like Home: Extended Stay Hotel Cooking

Extended stay hotels can vary greatly in their offerings. I have now stayed in two different extended-stay hotels in the last four months. The first had a beautiful kitchenette that due to the circumstances, I didn’t need or use much. The second was very minimal, in that it only had a microwave, a fridge, a sink, and some paper plates and plastic utensils. Since my stay there was short and I wasn’t feeling very proactive we ate out and had left overs.

However, as those who’ve spent time living away from a convenient cooking space know, eating out can seem quite glamorous and convenient at first, but the excitement quickly dims as you realize how much you are spending between meals and tips and how much weight you are gaining. So if you know you will be traveling for over a week I would highly recommend finding accommodations with the best kitchen you can get for your money.

I am currently staying at the Home 2Suites by Hilton. It is comfortable and clean, but I have to admit I had assumed it would be more well-stocked with kitchen appliances and cookware.

When I arrived my cookware included:

  • a set of small, medium, and large corning ware bowls and lids
  • a glass cutting board
  • a serrated knife
  • A slotted spoon
  • A large plastic spoon
  • A spatula (yes!)
  • plates, cups, and utensils

Appliances:

  • Medium sized fridge
  • Microwave

I also found out I could check out the following items:

  • an induction stove top hot plate
  • a small 4-6” frying pan and lid

Not bad, but in order to be able to cook a variety of food I would need some spices and more cooking utensils. Thanks to globalization nearly every store I am used to frequenting in Utah is also here in Ridgeland so I decided to invest in a few things.

At Dollar Tree I purchased:

  • foil and plastic wrap
  • an italian seasoning spice mix with four different kinds of spices in one container
  • ground salt shaker
  • ground pepper shaker (way to be posh dollar store!)
  • a chef’s knife (it hasn’t been great, but it gets the job done)
  • cheap tupperware bowls for left-overs and to use as mixing bowls

All for less than $10!

Since the Dollar Tree didn’t have everything I needed I also purchased these items at Wal-Mart:

  • A pasta strainer for .98
  • A small laundry basket for $1 (There is a coin operated laundry here too)
  • Diced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Other groceries including pasta, flour, sugar, canned goods, fresh and frozen fruit and veggies, meat, etc.

I was elated with how much I could cook with a few staple ingredients and seasonings. I made the following meals with just a small frying pan and the microwave:

  • Sloppy Joes with ground turkey, zucchini, Ragu sauce and italian seasonings and a spinach and strawberry salad with raspberry vinaigrette.
  • Penne with parmesan cheese, minced garlic, zucchini, onions, and kale. (I’m trying to learn to like such a healthy veggie.)
  • Red Potato Salad with carrots and pickles in it. Cooking the potatoes and boiling the eggs in the microwave was an educational experience. Did you know boiling potatoes in the microwave actually takes longer than boiling them on the stove? I didn’t! My eggs were not quite all the way boiled through in the microwave, but they were close enough that I made the salad with the parts of the egg that came out completely cooked through.
  • Brown rice  with sweet chili sauce purchased from the store (with such few spices I thought I better purchase some sauce for more variety!).

Cooking this way for a week helped me appreciate what students trying to cook in dorm rooms must feel like. It was challenging enough that I decided to buy an Instant Pot and that has been a life saver.  I’ll keep you updated on how my Instant Pot adventures go but at least with some cooking supplies our extended stay hotel is feeling more like home.

Staying in a long-term stay hotel?

  • Buy a few things to make cooking and laundry easier including: spices, a few cooking utensils, and a laundry basket.
  • Don’t have a stove or oven in your room? Order an Instant Pot (we ordered ours using Amazon Prime) or pack a small one with you in your suitcase as you travel. You can cook healthy and inxpensive foods like brown rice, lentils, beans, eggs, and use it like you would a stove to saute veggies. You could purchase a 3 quart Instant Pot which weighs 12 pounds. Mine is the 6 quart instant pot and weighs 15 pounds, but it is larger than two people need. I know it seems like a heavy thing to pack around but isn’t packing a useful  12-15 pound gadget better than packing on an extra 12-15 pounds around your waist during your stay? I’ve used mine almost daily since I bought it a month ago. I was leary at first, but now I really do love it. It does things a microwave can’t like working as a stove to saute and boiling eggs perfectly without the dangers of explosion.

I freely admit there is a bit of a learning curve when using the Instant Pot but you can invest in learning how to cook healthy foods with the Instant Pot instead of watching hours of free cable tv. It’s an investment that will pay dividends as you save money and eat healthier while you’re traveling.

Do you have any tips for people traveling and living in extended-stay hotels? Please leave a comment below!

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