Wednesday, January 14, 2015

GIVEAWAY: $200 Lush Decor Gift Card!! ends 1/21

Have you heard of Lush Decor? I hadn't, and was surprised to realize that I've seen their products before. You probably have, too, in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Kohls, and Sears--however, their products are offered not only through other retailers, but through their own online store as well.

And how awesome is this: Lush Decor is going to give one of YOU, the readers of Finely Ground, a $200 giftcard to their store!

Daydream with me for a moment....What would you like to do with $200 at Lush Decor? Their offerings include bedding, shower curtains, window treatments. . .

Their styles range from opulent to whimsical, from simple and classic to feminine and fashion-forward.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Serena 3 piece Comforter Set
Lattice Throw

Darla Shower Curtain
Crinkle 3 piece Quilt

So gorgeous! You want the gift card, right?? Gosh, me too! Here are the details:
  1. This sweepstakes will be open until 11:59PM (eastern time!) on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015. A winner will be randomly picked using the entries made through the Rafflecopter widget below. A maximum of 5 entries per person may be obtained through the Rafflecopter widget.
  2. Open to USA residents 18+ years old only.
  3. No purchase necessary to enter or win, and purchasing anything from Lush Decor will not improve your odds of winning. The odds will depend on total number of entrants.
  4. The prize will be ONE $200 giftcard code which must be used in a single transaction (no extra balance kept or change issued!)
  5. The winner will be notified via e-mail on Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 and must respond within 48 hours or their prize will be forfeited and a new winner chosen (who also must respond within 48 hours of notification, etc.)
  6. You MUST enter through the Rafflecopter widget included in the post. Comments on this post will NOT be counted as entries. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

DISCLAIMER: The giftcard code was supplied without any cost to me, and I was compensated for this post with a free item from Lush Decor, however any opinions expressed are authentic and my own.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Your Blog and Social Account Monetization -- Simplified!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of IZEA for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Saving money is all well and good. . .But if you're going to save some money, you've got to make some first, right? I think a big part of frugal living is making the most of all your opportunities both to save and earn. If you have a blog or social media account, why not make it earn its keep?

One of the tools in my arsenal is IZEA. I think I started to hear buzz about it as I studied other lifestyle blogs and the ways in which their authors earned a little cash. I began working with IZEA's subsidiary (which is being closed, and all members transferred over to IZEA) Social Spark about a year ago, writing fun posts like this and participating in their advertising programs. Over the past year, though, they've greatly renovated their offerings and you can now monetize not only your blog (if you have one) but your twitter, facebook, or youtube accounts as well.

It's a very user-friendly process, and once you register, you can start placing bids on earning-opportunities within hours.

Take for instance this post:
1) I logged into my account to check out the latest companies seeking bids. Right now, for example, I've got five opportunities I could bid on if I wanted, ranging from blog posts for V8's new protein shake to StraightTalk Wireless' economical cell phone plans.
2) To place a bid on this sponsored post for IZEA, I simply clicked "place a bid," named a price within their stated range, and included a pitch of a sentence or two about why this post would do well on my blog.
3) Within a day or two I logged back in and found my bid had been approved! I could go ahead and write my content, submitting it to the advertiser for approval through IZEA's platform. (A bonus here is relative anonymity. The advertiser NEVER is hooked up with your personal e-mail address or pyament information.)

Assuming all goes as planned, the advertiser will approve my post and it will show up at Finely Ground soon. (If you're reading this, hey! It worked!) Within another few weeks, my advertising fee will be posted to my account where I can withdraw it through paypal.

A pro-tip for you:

- On the free membership plan with IZEA, you get 3 bids per month.

I've never found this restrictive, but I'm also extremely choosy about what I review or endorse on this blog. If you would like to bid on more opportunities per month (and chances are you'll get quite a lot of opportunities to choose from!) you can upgrade to their paid plan at $1 a month and unlimited bidding.

I'll be honest: IZEA isn't my BIGGEST source of revenue on this blog. . . .But it was the first I delved into, and with its simple interface and implementation I think it's great for beginners--especially with the new social media integration. What could be simpler than linking up your twitter account and getting paid to tweet?

And every little bit counts. At this time of year, especially, couldn't everybody use a little bit extra for gift-giving?

So whether you're a blogger trying to get your feet wet in monetization, or a casual tweeter who wouldn't mind earning some extra dollars on the side, why not sign up with IZEA?

Visit Sponsor's Site

Friday, October 10, 2014

10 Ways to Save Money on Pets

If you're trying to save money, pets can seem like an unnecessary expense. . .But they're so cute and cuddly! Having something warm and furry to snuggle, being woken up at two in the morning by sandpapery kisses, having someone who's always happy to see you even when you're grumpy. . . Surely these things are worth a little expense, right?

I adopted Rogue (pictured) this summer after providing a foster home for him for a year for a local rescue society. (He just wasn't getting adopted in a timely fashion. I don't know why. Look at that face!) Initially, I hadn't planned on adopting a pet at this time because of my college expenses. But in the grand scheme of things, I have to admit his monthly maintenance isn't breaking the bank.

Here are some things to consider when adopting a pet, and further, some tips to help the money-savvy pet owner save some dollars!

  • It's obvious, but it merits repeating. Consider your lifestyle and budget. Animals come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and lifespans--and have a variety of needs! Fish? Cheap and unlikely to stick around longer than a couple years. Dogs, on the other hand, can be very expensive to maintain and require a lot of attention. I feel like cats are middle-of-the-roaders. They may live for twenty years, but they're pretty good at entertaining themselves. For weekends out of town, you may not even need a pet sitter. And for much of their lives, if they're healthy indoor cats, your primary expenses will only be cat litter and food.
  • Consider fostering if you're not ready for the lifetime commitment that comes with pet ownership. Almost every town has a humane society--if you search for local animal shelters on the internet you may find a handful of other independent or more specialized ones as well. When fostering an animal, you provide love and home for it until it is adopted. The organization is responsible for vet expenses, and will often provide food and other equipment, too, if you need. 
  • Even if your housing or financial situation doesn't allow for pets, you can still cash in on some furry love by volunteering at a local shelter. SOMEbody has to clean the kennels and play with their inmates. :)
  • Adopting adult animals is usually a lot cheaper than adopting kittens or puppies. Frequently, they are already spayed or neutered;, Their personalities are already formed, too, so it's easier to judge how they'll fit into your family.
Once you've taken the plunge....

  • Many pet supplies can be found at thrift stores -- fish bowls, hamster wheels, water bowls. Maybe even pet beds, although I would probably launder one before bringing it too far into my home.
  • Make your own pet toys. Sad but true: Fluffy will probably think a wadded up piece of printer paper is WAY more exciting than the deluxe wind-up catnip-filled scurrying mouse toy you got him. Your old slipper may delight Fido more than the entire pet section of Walmart.
  • Coupon! It seems like pet food is always on sale somewhere. If you coupon for nothing else, you could still save a bundle by doing it for pet food. Walmart has a printable coupon link towards the bottom of their webpage which I recently discovered, and it seems to provide a lot of the same coupons that newspaper inserts do. Additionally, if you watch for new products by your favorite brands, there are often high-value coupons associated with them--some even tucked into the products themselves for your next purchase.
  • Free Samples. Signing up for free sample mailing lists can be the start of a lifetime of spam, it is true. However, I subscribe to Sweet Free Stuff and they seem to e-mail fairly responsibly. I get two a day from them. And they almost always contain free pet food samples of one kind or another. I will note that cats are often said to have finicky stomachs and switching their food a lot can distress them. Personally, I have only had cats with seemingly iron stomachs. :) But even if you're worried about yours, you can use free samples to merely "stretch" your regular food a little farther by stirring them in to the usual.  Plus, you might discover a great new product that your pet loves!
  • Another thing, free samples usually come with high value coupons. Double win!
  • Finally, keep your pet healthy! Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight, and paying attention their hydration and nutrition will help them--and you!--out over the long haul. It's also a good idea to think realistically, up-front, about how you will approach end of life care. Sad but true: our furry friends won't live forever. If you think about this in advance, it may help later when, emotionally, you may want to treat and treat and treat your pet's medical problems past what is merciful both to their comfort and your finances.

How do you save money on pet expenses?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How to Save Money on College Expenses

Here are some tips for going back to school without going broke!

  • Don't use your college bookstore if you can help it. In my experience, they all price-gouge like crazy. Whenever possible, I buy my textbooks through Amazon, usually at half the cost. Sometimes less, if there are loose-leaf versions available!
  • Consider e-texts. Something I've noticed since going back to school, is that with many classes migrating to online homework systems at the publisher's website, you may not even need to buy the textbook. If you purchase the online access code for the homework, you'll usually be able to access an online version of the textbook right there online. Even for classes that don't make use of the internet, many textbooks are available on Kindle now for a fraction of the cost.
  • Speaking of Kindle, what about just renting your textbook? Often, you can rent hard copies of textbooks even in your campus bookstore, but I've been wary of this because of the possibility of being price-gouged for any damage or wear that occurs to the book. If you rent an e-book, they're risk free! (Don't have an e-reader? You can download one to read e-books from your desktop or laptop computer. Bingo!)
  • Make money off your used textbooks. Personally, I don't do e-books -- I just need something with actual paper pages that I can flip back and forth. During my first college experience in 2007-08, I sold my used books on . .It was kind of labor intensive, and I had to pay to ship them to people, and if my asking price was too high I got stuck with them. . .Well, Amazon has been my solution to THIS problem, too. (I'm sorry if you're an Amazon hater, but it really has been crucial to my frugal college-going endeavors.) Check out their Trade-In Program! If you type in the ISBN for virtually any textbook you have, on the right-hand side of its Amazon listing you will see a trade-in quote right below the regular price/purchase buttons. If you elect to trade your books in for the quoted price, you will be able to print out a pre-paid shipping label, and Amazon will give you a virtual gift-card for the quoted trade-in amount after they have received your books and verified their condition. If you continue to purchase textbooks through Amazon -- hey, that's money towards next semester's books! Or maybe some Christmas shopping?
Okay, I'm done tooting the Amazon horn for now, but remember -- even if your tuition bill is the one giving you nightmares, textbooks are still a big deal, too! This semester, I spent about $700 on textbooks -- but if I had bought them through my campus bookstore it would have been more like $1200. That's not just pocket change!

Some other things to keep in mind. . .

  • Fill out the scholarship applications. Even if you don't think you're eligible for anything. Even if you don't feel like you have the time. Trust me, nobody feels like they have time to write scholarship essays. Know what that means? Most people don't. So if you do it, you automatically have an edge. -- And, hey, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. My college has a generic application that you fill out to apply to all of their university-wide scholarships. . . .I did that this semester, not expecting much -- but my efforts were rewarded with $1500 extra for this school year! And you know what? It only took me about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes for $1500 -- compare that to my $9.00/hr day job.
  • If you CAN pay your tuition in full, go for it! You'll save the interest payments on student loans, obviously. And even if your university offers a semester-long payment plan to stretch out the agony, those usually come with fees as well, so why not bite the bullet up front? If you're just a few hundred dollars short in cash on hand, would it make sense to put that amount on a credit card so you have a one-month reprieve to come up with the amount?
  • Exercise caution with your credit, though. Did you know if you regularly use more than about 20% of your available, it can take a toll on your credit score? It may be tempting to temporarily max out your cards, especially if you can justify it with cash back or points and know you can pay it off right away. . .But if your cards are often approaching their spending limits, you might want to think twice.

Last but not least,

  • Don't get so overwhelmed by the massive bills coming your way that you forget your regular budgeting! 
I made this last mistake. I've been back in school for a year now, and while I HAD been using Mint for my personal budgeting, I let it fall by the wayside. Partly because it was having trouble communicating with the bank I switched to when I moved up here, and partly because having $3000 go out the window in one lump sum every semester really messes up your monthly budgeting.

But I just got my Mint account back up to speed. Even if I don't feel like I can effectively "budget" when I'm showing a monthly deficit of thousands of dollars whenever tuition is due, it is at least INVALUABLE for tracking my spending and staying vigilant.

Yes, this frugal blogger has had a year of sloppy spending. Don't let it happen to you!

(If you're new to Mint, I wrote about it once before HERE. I'm thinking about writing another post on it, just because it's so awesome!)

Have you struggled with college student expenses? Share your stories here!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Liebster Award

Jocelyn at A Lil ol' Georgia Peach nominated me for a Liebster Award. :) How cool is that? Thanks so much!

Here are the rules: 

1. Post eleven facts about yourself
2. Answer the eleven questions provided by the person who nominated you, and then create an eleven-question set for the next group of nominees
3. Choose eleven people to nominate and link them in the post
4. Let your nominees know they've been tagged- and no tag-backs!
5. Nominate blogs under 200 followers (the goal is to promote small blogs )

I've got to say, figuring out which blogs to nominate has been a blast. I'm going to post them FIRST just in case you get bored reading my blather and don't want to scroll all the way to the bottom for them. These bloggers are a diverse crew who aren't to be missed!

Okay, for my eleven facts.....

1. "So where are you from?" A common conversation starter but it sends me into a kind of existential crisis. I stare blankly and say, "Um. . .Nowhere?" which catches people off guard so I stumble forth with something like, "Well, my family moved around a lot so I guess I'm not really from anywhere.". But if I WERE to answer it, it would sound like, "Well, my parents' roots are in Minnesota, but I was born in Ohio. I haven't seen the state since my first birthday, though, but I lived the longest in Wisconsin? I graduated high school in Washington. . .The place I loved the most, though, and would wish I were from is Colorado. . ."
2. My favorite color is green. But I wear more blues and purples.
3. Better Homes and Gardens magazine is my guilty pleasure. I got hooked a couple years back on a free year's subscription offer, and have been feeding my addiction with cheap renewal deals ever since.
4. I've been a barista since 2009....
5. And yes, I can do latte art on my good days. :)
6. That may be the coolest thing about me, actually.
7. I'm horribly trend apathetic. And waiting for skinny jeans to go out of style because I really don't want to buy any.
8. Though I've moved 13 times and lived in 9 different states, the furthest south I've ever been is Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Disney World doesn't really count as part of the south, right?) But next week I'm going to remedy that by vacationing in southern Mississippi. :)
9. A region of the United States I'd really like to visit someday is the Southwest.
10. I hate squash. The smell, the texture, the taste.....Nauseating.
11. I am totally in love with Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Rhubarb hand soap. (Yes, that's an affiliate link. Shameless.) It is beyond amazing. They need to make more rhubarb scented products because I would totally buy them all.

And here are Jocelyn's questions....
1. What's the first childhood memory that comes to mind right now? Because it's summer and it's hot, I'm remembering running through lawn sprinklers as a kid in Wisconsin.
2. How many countries have you been to? Which is your favorite? Just this one. Sigh. I was saving up my tips as a "travel fund" for an England trip, but ended up having to put it towards textbooks instead....
3. If you could be any age for the rest of your life, what would it be? Well, right now I'm 25, and I'm feeling like it's pretty much the best age I've been yet. :)
4. What's your favorite season? Autumn. For blazing leaves and crisp, cool winds and woodsmoke on the breeze.
5. Sweet or savory? Savory, hands down.
6. When you have free time, what do you do? I love to read! Especially fat English or Russian novels. But my free time has been so limited and those require such commitment that lately, more realistically, my free time has been spent on Pinterest. Sad. I need to get a life. Oh, when I have free time I also catch up on things like vacuuming my carpet and scrubbing my shower. Truefax!
7. What is your ideal mode of expression? Writing. It is both therapeutic and clarifying. And I'm so much better at it than talking.
8. What's your favorite thing to cook/bake? Hmmmmm. I'm going to be weird here and say baked spinach. Because I have this really tasty recipe for it.
9. Who is your favorite author? This is an impossible question....I used to have stronger feelings where I could eke out an answer....Hmm. Possibly Charles Dickens. Or Tolstoy. With a side of Willa Cather?
10. If you've got some extra cash what do you buy first: clothes, jewelry, crafting supplies, or dessert? None of the above? Most of my "extra cash" purchases seem to fall into the categories of books, plane tickets, and health/beauty products. Occasionally clothes, but only if I'm looking to fill a specific gap in my wardrobe--I don't clothes shop for "fun"....Oh, and cat toys. I buy cat toys.
11. What's your favorite flower? Lilacs have to top the list. But lily of the valley, orchids, tulips, ranunculus, irises, and sometimes peonies are also contenders. Does Russian Sage count? I love Russian Sage. :) What can I say, I LOVE flowers.

Finally, 11 questions for my nominees:

1. Is your blog more professional or personal? If personal, how do you keep motivated? If professional, what are your favorite tools, resources, and tips?
2. Describe a particularly vivid place or scene that means/meant a great deal to you.
3. What tunes have you been jamming to lately?
4. Where is one specific place you would like to travel to and why? (Not a country or town, but a specific site or attraction.)
5. Name a book near the top of your to-read pile.
6. What is one thing that you're really proud of yourself for?
7. If dreams came true, what would your life look like ten years from now?
8. What are your favorite beauty products?
9. What is a personality trait you admire and wish you had more of? 
10. What are five things you excel at?
11. If you could be anywhere doing anything today, where/what would that be?

Okay everyone, share the bloggy love! :)