Monthly Archives: March 2012

Great deals available on restaurants, gardening and home items this week

Be sure to check out a couple of sales going on this week:

You can get $25 restaurant gift certificates for $2 now through March 31 at Go through the, search for, and then use coupon code “BLOOM”. Ebates will give you 15 percent cash back on your purchase, too. Read this previous post to find out why I highly recommend Ebates.

You’ll find several special deals at Home Depot’s Black Friday Sale, which starts today. That’s right–Black Friday in the middle of spring! Here are a few of the great prices I spotted in the sale ad:

  • 6-pack of annual flowers for 93 cents
  • 5-inch pots of vegetables and herbs for $1.74
  • 2-cubic-foot bags of cypress mulch for $1.12
  • 10-inch hanging flower baskets for $3.84

You’ll also find deals on gas grills, patio furniture, potting soil and more. Offers are good while supplies last, so you shop early. The sale ends April 4.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Saving money

U.S. Bank offers gracious response to typo on credit card payment

I carry a U.S. Bank credit card because I like the rewards it offers. As with any credit card I use, I am careful to pay the balance in full every month and avoid finance charges. That’s why I was surprised when I discovered an interest charge on my current statement.

I called U.S. Bank’s customer service line for cardholders and pointed out that I’d paid my bill in full well before the due date. After reviewing my account, the customer service representative discovered what had triggered the interest charge on my account. Although I’d entered the dollar amount of my payment correctly, I made an error in the cents column: instead of paying the dollar amount plus 98 cents, I’d entered 68 cents when sending my payment electronically. So, I’d underpaid my bill by 30 cents.

Even though I missed the mark by a tiny amount, U.S. Bank was allowed to charge me interest on my average daily balance for the entire statement period. The total interest charge was more than a few dollars and a painful penalty for such a small mistake. Thankfully, U.S. Bank was gracious about my error. The representative could see that I always pay my bill in full each month, so it was clear to her the 30-cent shortage was the result of a typing error. She credited back the interest that had been charged to my account.

U.S. Bank’s decision to refund the interest charge is a mark of a company that cares about its customers. Instead of taking a hard line on its policies, the company gave its customer service representative the flexibility to erase my mistake. In doing so, it increased the likelihood it will keep me as a customer.

Please learn from my experience and triple-check your entries when paying bills online. While U.S. Bank was gracious to me this time, I don’t expect it to erase similar mistakes I might make in the future. In fact, I may just start rounding up my bill payment to the next dollar to minimize errors.

Have you experienced a gracious response from a creditor or other business who overlooked an honest mistake you made? Please leave a comment to share your experience.

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Filed under Customer service, Rewards programs

Snapfish to stop developing film

Still using traditional film to capture your favorite moments? One company offering low-cost development of 35mm film plans to shut down this service.

Snapfish will stop developing rolls of film and “disposable,” single-use cameras on May 1. The company recommends customers submit their remaining undeveloped film by April 15. Customers with prepaid film development credits remaining in their account after May 15 will receive refunds to their credit cards.

If you’re looking for a place to get prints of digital photos, Snapfish is a great option to consider. If you haven’t already, check out the details of my photo comparison test between prints from Snapfish, Shutterfly, Mpix and AdoramaPix.

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How to stop unwanted phone calls from unrecognized numbers

While sitting with a friend waiting for a meeting to begin recently, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. Since it was not from a toll-free number (which could indicate a telemarketer), I decided to answer it. A woman introduced herself and asked me how I was doing. Immediately, I realized she was someone I didn’t know, and she wanted to sell me something. I told her I was about to go into a meeting, so she said she’d call back later.

During the next couple of weeks, I got several more calls from this same person, but I never answered them, and she never left a message. Tired of running for my phone only to see this unknown number displayed, I decided to find out where she was calling from. I put her phone number (402-593-7107) into Google and found a Web page where other people complained of a similar calling pattern. They revealed the identity of the offender: Omaha Steaks.

I did order a Christmas gift from Omaha Steaks in 2011, but I am sure I never gave the company permission to market to me by phone. Normally, I consent to email marketing so I can receive promotional codes for future orders, but I would never give a business permission to call me in an attempt to sell me products.

I went to the Omaha Steaks website and sent the company a message. I included my name, the number at which I was receiving the calls and a request that they stop the telemarketing efforts. I also mentioned that my phone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response I got from Omaha Steaks. The company responded to my  email in about an hour and said, “We will be glad to honor your request to be removed from our phone list.” That was a week ago, and I haven’t received any calls from the offending number since. I appreciate companies that honor customers’ wishes immediately, and their action increases the chances they’ll keep my business. If I receive additional calls from Omaha Steaks, I’ll be sure to update this post.

If you’re receiving calls from an unrecognized number, try an Internet search to track down the source. If that doesn’t work, you can also try MSN’s reverse lookup tool. Keep in mind you may have inadvertently agreed to telemarketing if this is a company you do business with, such as a bank, insurance firm or credit card company. Politely ask the company to stop the calls. If they continue, warn the company you will move your business elsewhere if it can’t stop the telemarketing.

To protect yourself from telemarketing efforts by companies you don’t do business with, be sure to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Put your home and cell phone numbers on that list. If telemarketers call you after your name has been on the list for 31 days, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Filed under Customer service, Uncategorized

Create PDF files with free, easy-to-use software

For a few months, I’ve wanted the ability to create PDF (portable document format) files from my home computer, but I didn’t want to pay $300 for Adobe Acrobat X Standard. While it’s a great tool, I couldn’t really justify the price.

I found several lower-cost and free software options for creating PDF files, but I am always wary of downloading unfamiliar software. That’s why I look for recommendations from reputable sources. There are three main websites I turn to for software and technology reviews: PC World, PC Magazine and ZDNet. My research led me to PC World’s recommendation of a software called Cute PDF™ Writer.

Downloading and installing Cute PDF Writer from the PC World website was a breeze. The software adds Cute PDF as an option in your printer menu. When you use the File>Print command for a document or Web page, you simply “print” to Cute PDF instead of sending the document to your regular printer. This leads to a popup window where you can name the file and select the location where you wish to save it. The created file opens easily with Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader software.

Cute PDF doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of Adobe Acrobat X Standard. You can’t use it to edit files, create fillable forms or set up password-protected files. These features are available in the professional version of Cute PDF, which you can buy for just $50—that’s 80 percent less than Adobe Acrobat X Standard. I haven’t tried that product or read any reviews of it, but it’s definitely worth investigating if you need those functions.

I’ve been using Cute PDF for a couple of weeks and have experienced no problems. For those who simply want to create PDF files at home, it offers a great option.

What’s your favorite free software installed on your home computer?

Disclaimer: I am not a software engineer and cannot guarantee the safety or reliability of any software. You download, install and use any software suggested by me or users of my blog at your own risk. I will not be held liable for software failure.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Product recommendations, Technology and office equipment

Quadruple fuel points are back at Kroger

Now through April 7, you can earn quadruple fuel points at Kroger on the gift cards you purchase. Your total points earned will be four times the card’s value. So, a $25 gift card earns you 100 fuel points, and those 100 points entitle you to 10 cents off each gallon of gas you purchase in a single fill-up at a Kroger fuel center. A $100 gift card would net you a 40-cent fuel discount.

There are some important exclusions to keep in mind. You’ll find details in this previous post, along with the reason I stock up on gift cards for myself during these types of promotions.

Available cards at my local Kroger store include Lowe’s, Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, McDonald’s, Best Buy, Shell fuel stations and many more.

Kroger last ran this promotion at Christmas time, so it might be a while before you see it again. Consider what spring and summer birthdays are on your shopping list, and you could cash in on the extra points for those purchases now.

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Filed under Saving money delivers excellent customer service and amazing product selection

A key ingredient for a couple of my favorite recipes has become very hard to find—M&M’s® baking bits. I use them in a protein bar recipe, as well as some tasty dessert bars, but you can’t find this product on store shelves any longer. An Internet search reveals I’m not the only one having trouble tracking down this ingredient.

My search for the baking bits led me back to a family-owned company I’ve done business with before, and a recent order revealed it still has the same great customer service it did when I ordered from it last year. The company is undergoing a name change from Nuts Online to, but it’s under the same ownership and still has the same huge selection of products. The company is one of the only online sources for Mini M&M baking bits—it sells them in the milk chocolate variety. It also sells a “generic” version of the baking bits in a semisweet variety. These products are just the tip of the iceberg, though, when it comes to inventory.

You can find a huge selection of dried fruit, including blueberries, boysenberries, dates, guava, nectarines, pineapple, raspberries and strawberries. Many of these products come in multiple varieties. For example, the 18 types of dried strawberries include varieties with and without added sugar, organic and baby strawberries and a strawberry powder for smoothies.

True to its name, the company has a large selection of nuts as well, including 115 different products in the almond category, 34 cashew choices and 25 walnut selections. Hazelnuts, chestnuts, peanuts, soy nuts and macadamia nuts rank among your other options.

The website also sells chocolate, candy, coffee, tea and gift baskets. You’ll find a substantial selection of products for cooking as well, including decorations, fillings, toppings, flours, sweeteners and salts. offers you a choice of shipping methods, and you can even select the day you want your item to ship. Friendly emails confirm your order and let you know when it’s on its way. The company processes orders very quickly. I got a free sample of a product not on my shopping list included in my most-recent purchase. also offers a satisfaction guarantee.

I have not done extensive price comparisons, but I do know the cost of dates from was lower than those at my supermarket. I try to buy all the items I’ll need for the foreseeable future in one order to minimize my shipping costs.

Whether you’re looking for a hard-to-find item like M&M’s baking bits or just a wide selection of your favorite fruits and nuts, you’ll find it at You can also count on excellent customer service that will keep you coming back.

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Walmart offers cheap personal checks

While online bill payment is an efficient way to pay your utility company, mortgage holder and other debtors each month, chances are you still need a supply of paper checks to meet some financial obligations. Purchasing them directly from your bank can be costly business, but a host of online companies offers cheaper alternatives. These are often companies that specialize in address labels, business cards and other printed materials.

But you might be surprised to learn that one of the nation’s largest retailers also sells checks online—Walmart. Its checks are affordably priced, and a recent order I placed confirmed the company provides fast, reliable service.

Walmart check prices start as low as $5.96 for a box of 150 single checks and 30 deposit tickets. I chose checks with a decorative pattern in this price range, then paid $1.95 to add a fraud-protection package to my purchase. Shipping cost me $3.25. My total purchase with tax came to $11.83. I ordered my checks on Wednesday, Feb. 22 and received them on Friday, March 1.

Walmart emailed me a confirmation after I placed my order, then followed up with an email to notify me my order had shipped. The company’s correspondence included a picture of the type of packaging that would be used to ship my order. The company does not ship checks in a traditional check box, so would-be thieves would not easily recognize what’s in its packaging. A check register was included with my order, and the print quality of the checks was great.

In addition to single checks, Walmart sells duplicate checks, business checks and extra deposit slips and check registers. Available check patterns range from landscape scenes and floral designs to Disney characters and checks you design yourself.

Walmart’s prices are very competitive with other check-printing services. For example, Walmart sells a box of 150 single checks with a mountain scene for $5.96. Similar checks sold by Current cost $9.99, and you only get 125 checks in your order. A box of 125 mountain checks from Checks in the Mail is priced at $14.99.

I’ve ordered checks directly from online retailers for years and never had any issues with them being processed by my bank. Walmart claims its checks save you up to 50 percent off the costs of checks ordered through your bank. If your bank doesn’t provide you with free checks on your account, consider this retail giant when ordering your next box.


Filed under Saving money

Groupon offering these national deals this week

In my last post, I mentioned how browsing cities other than your own on the Living Social website can help you find bargains online, and I provided a list of current national deals. Today, I will share some national deals available right now on Groupon:

Head to the Billings/Bozeman, Montana page if you’re interested in a half-price deal on digital photo collages.

If you’re interested in finance, check out the 60-percent-off deal available for “The Economist” on the Tucson. Arizona page.

You can get $70 worth of custom printing from Vistaprint for $17 by visiting the Little Rock , Arkansas page. A similar deal from Mixbook can be found on the Fort Wayne, Indiana Groupon site. Head over to the Lexington, Kentucky site for a 70-percent-off deal on keepsake photo books.

Have your favorite photo printed on metal with an Abilene, Texas Groupon deal. Vinyl-art wall decals can be had on the San Angelo, Texas Groupon site. Another wall-art option is a framed, alphabet-photography keepsake available on the Ogden, Utah page.

I’ve found the bargains so you can enjoy the savings. What’s the most recent Groupon or Living Social deal you’ve purchased?

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Filed under Saving money