Back-to-school software: The five best freebies

Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012 @ 10:25 PM
Updated: Thursday, August 23, 2012 @ 10:25 PM

You might also be interested in the following related deals:

You might also be interested in the following related deals:

Last week I told you about five awesome back-to-school apps and gadgets. Today let's go old-school on back-to-school and talk about software.

Chances are good you've already spent at least a few hundred dollars on a laptop for your high school- or college-bound students. Do you really need to spend hundreds more on an office suite, anti-virus software, and backup utilities?

No, no, and no. Let's take a look at the best free software for laptop-toting students.

Avast Free Antivirus

Effective security software doesn't have to mean expensive security software. Avast Free Antivirus is among a handful of products offering comprehensive protection from both viruses and spyware. It even supports remote control, meaning a more tech-savvy friend or relative can connect to the PC to help troubleshoot problems.  There are also coupon codes available for Avast if you have a need to upgrade to their paid versions. 

Again, there are other security freebies worth considering, most notably AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, but Avast routinely scores top marks from both CNET editors and everyday users. It's the single most popular download on CNET's


How much paper-writing time do you really have left before your laptop's battery runs dry? Windows historically does a poor job reporting a system's charge status, meaning you might suddenly find yourself staring at a blank screen even though Windows said you had 20 minutes left.

Enter BatteryBar, a free, easy, and so-smart-it-should-be-built-in power gauge that's compatible with XP, Vista and Windows 7.

The program adds a full-time, at-a-glance gauge to the right side of the taskbar, which by itself is handy. Mouse over the gauge, however, and you get a wealth of additional information, including total battery capacity, charge/discharge rate, AC status, and even a lifetime estimate based on historical charge/discharge data. 


Whether it's tweaking a photo to use in a school presentation, building a Web page, or creating graphics from scratch, perennial favorite GIMP rivals Adobe's budget-busting Photoshop in offering diverse, sophisticated image-editing tools.

Seriously, this is one of those programs that's so feature-rich, you can't believe it's free. But it is--and it's fabulous.

Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012

When it comes to productivity software, every student needs a word processor, and many need a spreadsheet manager and presentation builder as well.

Google Docs 

Google Docs covers the basics pretty nicely, and it can even work offline (i.e. without an Internet connection) when enabled within Google's new Drive service. But for those schools that require a more traditional office suite, many parents feel obligated to pay a small fortune for Microsoft Office. Instead, check out Kingsoft's Office Suite Free 2012, which offers file compatibility with Microsoft documents and an interface that's cool, colorful, and familiar. 


A good cloud-storage service is essential for students--not just for sharing files, but also for making instant and effective backups of hard-fought school papers and presentations. 

Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive are among the many available options, all of them offering at least some free storage, but I give the nod to SugarSync for one important reason: It allows any files/folders to be tagged for syncing, not just those placed in an umbrella folder. That's a big convenience.

Plus, SugarSync offers 5GB of no-cost space, while the more well-known Dropbox offers just 2GB.

5 items that are cheaper on Amazon

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 2:53 PM

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Amazon is the go-to online marketplace for many shoppers because of its low prices on everything from diapers and detergents to blenders and batteries.

However, not all Amazon deals are created equal. You need to do your research to determine when to buy from Amazon and when to take your business elsewhere. GOBankingRates asked top savings experts to check prices on several items you can purchase on Amazon to determine if they’re truly good buys. If you’re wondering what to buy on Amazon, check out these deals.

Leaf blowers

They call it “fall” for a reason — because all those leaves that start on your tree wind up falling on your lawn. If you ever want to see your grass again, you’re going to need a good leaf blower. Better yet, get a rechargeable cordless model so you aren’t choking on gas fumes.

Price Check:

Amazon: $92.45

Home Depot: 118.43

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Fall gloves

Fall — at least late fall — calls for gloves in much of the country. Sure, you probably won’t have to bust out the puffy, waterproof, snowball-fighting handwear until winter. But it’s definitely wise to have a thin but warm pair of cool-weather gloves in your jacket pocket just in case you need them.

Price Check:

Amazon: $9.99

WearWhatNow: $15


That nice new fall jacket looks great — but it’s pretty useless if the wind can whip down through the neck opening. That’s where a fall scarf comes in. Once the weather cools off you’ll have plenty of options, but Amazon is likely the cheapest.

Price Check:

Amazon: $14.89

eBay: $22.89

Fall candles

There’s nothing better than coming home to a nice warm house on a chilly fall day. But warmth is as much about ambiance as it is about temperature. Warm up the room both figuratively and literally by lighting some candles with classic fall scents — but do it for less by buying at Amazon.

Price Check:

Amazon: $14.99

Sears: $28.61

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Space heaters

Fall is the time when it’s cold enough outside to be uncomfortably chilly in the house, but not cold enough to crank up the big, expensive central heating system. One solution is to place a small yet powerful space heater in your room at night. Heat your room for less by buying from Amazon. The company sells lots of products that will help you save money.

Price Check:

Amazon: $24.99

Sears: $29.99

5 best and worst deals at Walgreens

Published: Thursday, October 12, 2017 @ 1:58 PM

FILE - This June 4, 2014, file photo, shows a Walgreens retail store in Boston. Walgreens and Rite Aid have finally devised a combination of the nation's largest and third-largest drugstore chains that will get past anti-trust regulators. The companies said Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, that they have Federal Trade Commission clearance for a slimmer version of a store-purchase agreement announced in June.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File
FILE - This June 4, 2014, file photo, shows a Walgreens retail store in Boston. Walgreens and Rite Aid have finally devised a combination of the nation's largest and third-largest drugstore chains that will get past anti-trust regulators. The companies said Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, that they have Federal Trade Commission clearance for a slimmer version of a store-purchase agreement announced in June.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

A cornerstone among drugstore food chains, Walgreens has 8,175 locations across the country, with 76 percent of Americans living within 5 miles of one, according to the company. The store offers solid products at competitive prices, plus a robust loyalty rewards program, making it a go-to stop for prescription filling, beauty products and photo printing.

We asked experts to share their shopping tips for finding the best deals at Walgreens — and how to spot the worst deals so you can steer clear. Here’s what they had to say.

5 best Walgreens deals


Want to look your best but don’t want to pay top dollar for makeup? “Be on the lookout for designer makeup swaps at Walgreens,” said Kerry Sherin of The drugstore offers numerous makeup products comparable to items you might find at higher prices at Sephora and other stores.

Over-the-counter medications

Got a headache? Don’t make it worse with high-priced aspirin. Teri Gault, author of “Shop Smart, Save More,” said Walgreens is a great choice for over-the-counter medication savings. And the generic counterparts of the name brands are even better deals. “They often run buy-one-get-one-free sales on them,” she said.

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Pantry items like cereal

You might not think of Walgreens as a great spot to pick up staples like cereal, peanut butter and other pantry items, but Gault said it’s surprising what you can do at the store with a few coupons. “I have been successful in asking if I can use two coupons and get the deal twice,” she said. “So, instead of a limit of three cans of salmon for $1.99, I got six.”

Paper products

Saving money on paper towels, napkins, tissues and more can be really nice. Perhaps that’s why the Walgreens brand of these products is called Nice and is a great deal, said Gault. “Nice brand paper products are good quality and frequently go on sale for 99 cents,” she said. Examples include Nice storage, freezer or sandwich bags, paper plates and napkins.

Photo printing

If you want to print a few photos, create photo books and more, Gault recommended Walgreens as a way of getting top quality at a great price.

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“Walgreens has my personal favorite photo services,” she said. “I’ve ordered prints online super cheap and picked them up within an hour. I also used their online tools to design books and photo albums at great savings, and I’m always happy with the result.”

For example, you can print normal, 4-by-6-inch photos at Walgreens for 19 cents each. And if you print over 100 photos, the price drops to just 15 cents each. Additionally, aspiring travelers can print passport shots for a mere $7.44.

5 worst Walgreens deals


Batteries are pricey, and Pavini said you won’t find many opportunities to save at Walgreens. “Though Walgreens had several battery deals (in their) ad, the price was still significantly more than when you bought batteries at a warehouse club,” she said. So, look for deals at Costco or Sam’s Club to stock up.

Gift wrap

Spend the money on the gift, not the bag or wrapping paper that it comes in. To do that, you might want to avoid Walgreens, said Pavini. According to her, you will typically pay a premium for gift bags, bows and wrapping paper at Walgreens.

“You don’t want a $10 gift to turn into a $20 one simply because of wrapping supplies,” she said. “One of the best places to find a bargain on wrapping paper is at designer discount stores.”

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Looking for some new stemware for that big holiday party? Or maybe some Tupperware for the leftovers? Don’t look to Walgreens, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing at DealNews. She said most housewares found at Walgreens will be much more expensive than at stores like Target or Walmart.

‘As Seen On TV’ Items

We’ve all heard the commercials: A cheesy voice says, “Wait, there’s more! Buy in the next 10 seconds, and you’ll get not one, but 52 hairdryers for the same price!” While these “As Seen on TV” items can save you money, don’t be tempted to purchase them at Walgreens without comparing prices at Amazon first. According to Sakraida, the online retailer is more likely to offer a discount on these types of items.


Just like those expensive batteries that power them, most electronics found at Walgreens are going to be pricey, said Sakraida. As an added insult, they’ll likely be low quality. So, unless you need one of these items right away, she suggests going online to find much better deals on tech.

How to spend $25 or less on one week of groceries

Published: Monday, September 25, 2017 @ 1:56 PM

Amazon Prime Members Will Receive Discounts At Whole Foods

Is it possible to spend only $25 for all of your food for a week? Two brave volunteers, Chase and Rowanne, proved that it’s doable by each spending $25 or less on a week’s worth of groceries. They’re sharing what they learned from their grocery challenge — including how they approached the challenge, what they bought, what they ate, and the grocery-shopping hacks that save tons of money.

How I bought groceries for only $25


Before I went to the store, I did some research and took note of what to buy. Even though I prepared a shopping list, as I was shopping I realized I had to adjust. I couldn’t buy sweet potatoes or spinach because they were too expensive.

I decided to go for pasta and quesadilla ingredients. I’m a vegetarian so I bought tofu for protein.

Chase’s frugal shopping tips

—Choose basic, versatile foods.

—Opt for store brands and items with price reductions whenever possible.


I thought staying within the budget would be easy because I usually spend less than $30 when I shop — but that’s just for the work week. For this challenge, I wanted to buy a variety of things so I could cook diverse meals. The challenge for me was coming up with different recipes and stretching out my groceries as much as possible.

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I had an idea of what I wanted to buy because I did some research on things that keep you full — sweet potatoes were suggested, so I made sure to buy a bag. I didn’t make a full grocery list so I could be flexible.

I went to Trader Joe’s for everything except meat, which I knew would be cheaper at my local grocery store chain. I had previously seen that Ralphs had great deals on meats, so I bought meat there. I looked for different deals, but for the most part, Trader Joe’s was more affordable. I’m familiar with shopping there so I know which things are cheap and which items are not worth buying.

Rowanne’s frugal shopping tips

—Pick filling foods.

—Research which items are cheaper at certain grocery stores.

What I bought at the grocery store


Because I ride my bike instead of driving, I chose to go to the grocery store closest to where I live.

Ralphs purchases:

  • Wheat tortillas: $1.79
  • Cheese: $2.99
  • Rotelle pasta: $2.79
  • Two cans of pasta sauce: 87 cents each
  • Eggs: $1.89
  • Romaine lettuce: $1.29
  • 0.74 pounds of red apples: 73 cents
  • Yellow bell pepper: $1.25
  • Orange bell pepper: $1.25
  • 1.31 pounds of Russet potatoes: $1.30
  • Haas avocado: $1.99
  • Tofu: $1.79
  • Beans: $1.00
  • A supermarket discount card provided $1.98 in savings.
  • Total: $21.80

Biggest splurge: One avocado for $1.99. I bought it to eat as a mid-week treat.

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Best buy: Store-brand tofu for $1.79. Tofu can be prepared in many ways, and it’s the perfect protein for cheap, vegetarian meals.

Item I wanted but couldn’t afford: Granola bars. I usually rely on them for a quick snack when I’m out and about.


I stuck to Trader Joe’s for most of my purchases and went to Ralphs just for meat.

Trader Joe’s purchases:

  • Two cartons of eggs: $1.39 each
  • Marinara sauce: $1.39
  • Brown jasmine rice: $2.99
  • Frozen broccoli florets: $1.49
  • 10-inch flour tortillas: $2.29
  • Linguine pasta: 99 cents
  • Spaghetti pasta: 99 cents
  • 2 pound bag of sweet potatoes: $1.79
  • Shredded Mexican cheese blend: $3.49
  • Ralphs purchases:
  • Taco seasoning: 49 cents
  • Ground turkey: $5.99
  • Total: $24.68

Biggest splurge: Ground turkey for $5.99. But I actually wish I had budgeted for more meat.

Best buy: Two cartons of eggs that lasted a long time. You can do so much with eggs — you can scramble them, make breakfast burritos, omelets, hard-boiled eggs and quiches.

Item I wanted but couldn’t afford: I really wanted snacks, though I did make chips out of the sweet potato.

What I ate every day


For breakfast, I would make something pretty basic like eggs or I would eat the free bagels we have at my office a couple of times a week. For lunches, I’d have a basic quesadilla with just cheese and tortillas, a meal that’s tasty and cheap.

In my research I found that grating your own cheese is cheaper than buying it already grated, so I bought the cheapest block of cheese from Ralphs, and I cut off a little square to grate for each meal.

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A typical dinner would be pasta with garlic and herb sauce with diced bell peppers and salt, pepper and paprika for more flavor, or quesadillas or burritos with black beans, bell peppers, cheese and egg or tofu. For a snack, I ate part of an apple. Apple skin is made of pectin, which reduces appetite, which I needed because I was eating a lot less than usual. Usually, I’ll have a Cliff bar during the day, but I couldn’t afford it. I usually have dessert, but even a bag of frozen berries was too expensive.

Chase’s cooking tips:

—Add different spices to basic meals to diversify flavors.

—Grate your own cheese to save money.

—Bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.


I made breakfast burritos for the mornings for the whole week using ground turkey, cheese and tortillas. For lunch, I ate fried rice using brown rice with fried egg, or leftovers of whatever I made the night before. For dinner, I usually ate something a bit heavier because I tend to get really hungry at night — that’s when I get my snack cravings — so I usually ate pasta or a brown rice.

On the weekends I tried to be a little bit more creative, like making a sweet potato hash with a fried egg or a broccoli omelet or broccoli quiche. The only snacks that I’ve had — aside from the free snacks at my office, which have been helpful, have been the sweet potato chips.

Rowanne’s cooking tips:

Make breakfast burritos ahead of time and freeze them for a quick, filling breakfast.

Take advantage of office snacks and other free food available to you like free samples at Costco.

The biggest challenges of surviving on a $25 grocery budget


The weekends were the most difficult for me. I usually meal prep on Sunday night and am out and about all weekend, so starting on Saturday was hard. It’s almost impossible to be social because you can’t go out at all. I’ve also been hungry. I ride my bike to and from work, which is a workout, so I’d get really hungry when I got home from work. I read that when you’re hungry, it’s usually because you’re dehydrated, so if I did feel hungry at all I would just drink water and distract myself by doing something else like going for a walk or reading.

Chase’s survival tip:

—Drink water to keep hydrated and stave off hunger.


My challenge was coming up with different things to eat every day. My meals were satisfying, but repetitive, which gets boring. I usually go out for tacos every week, so I really missed my tacos. I’ve been craving foods that I usually eat but haven’t been able to.

Rowanne’s survival tip:

—Research diverse recipes that use the same basic ingredients to prevent boredom and cravings.

Best advice to save money on groceries

After surviving on a shoestring grocery budget for a week, these were Chase and Rowanne’s biggest takeaways:

Chase’s money-saving tips:

—Buy pasta — a single 2 pound bag can make 16 servings.

—Make a definitive shopping list.

—Pay with cash so you are forced to stay within your budget.

Rowanne’s money-saving tips:

—Add the cost of each item in your phone calculator as you shop to see how much you are spending and weed out expensive items.

—Freeze your leftovers.

—Pick foods that you don’t mind eating every day.

Coupon deals of the week

Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

            Garnier Fructis shampoos and conditioners
Garnier Fructis shampoos and conditioners

Coupon availability and coupon values may vary within different regions or neighborhoods.

Aleve PM

This week at Rite-Aid, Aleve PM is on sale two for $13. Use two copies of the $3 off one Aleve PM coupon found in the Sept. 10 SmartSource insert. When you buy two, you will also receive 300 PlentiPoints, which is equivalent to $3 good off your next purchase. With these savings combined, you will pay just $2 per container when you buy two in total.

Always Discreet Pads

This week at Rite-Aid, Always Discreet pads are on sale for $11.99 each. Visit and print out two copies of the $3 off one Always Discreet pads coupon. When you buy two, you will also get 600 PlentiPoints, which is equivalent to $6 good off your next purchase. When you factor in these savings, you will pay just $5.99 per container when you buy two in total.

Colgate Toothpaste

This week at CVS, Colgate Total toothpaste is on sale for $2.99. Visit and print out a coupon good for $1 off one Colgate toothpaste. When you check out, you will also get $2 back in Extra Care Bucks good off your next purchase. With these savings combined, you will ultimately get this item for free.

Crest Toothpaste

This week at Walgreens, Crest toothpaste is on sale for $2.99. Use three copies of the $2 off one Crest toothpaste coupon found in most of today’s SmartSource inserts. When you buy three, you will also receive $3 back in Register Rewards good off your next purchase. With these deals combined, you will end up getting three containers of toothpaste for free.

Daylogic Men’s Razor

This week at Rite-Aid, a Daylogic Men’s 3-Blade razor is on sale for $5. Although you pay this price upfront, when you check out you will receive 500 PlentiPoints, which is equivalent to $5 good off your next purchase. With this savings factored in, you ultimately get this item for free.

Garnier Hair Care

This week at CVS, Garnier Fructis shampoos and conditioners are on sale two for $7. Use the $4 off two Garnier Fructis shampoos and conditioners coupon from the Aug. 27 RedPlum insert. When you buy two, you will also get $2 in Extra Care Bucks good off your next purchase. With these savings combined, you will pay just 50 cents per bottle when you buy two in total.

Pantene Hair Care

This week at Walgreens, Pantene shampoos and conditioners are on sale three for $12. Visit and you can get a coupon good for $5 off three Pantene products. When you buy three, you will also receive 2,000 Balance Reward Points, which is the equivalent to $2 good off your next purchase. When you combine all these savings, you will pay just $1.67 per container when you buy three in total.

Schick Razors

This week at Rite-Aid, Schick disposable razors are on sale for $6. Use the $3 off one Schick razor coupon found in most of today’s SmartSource inserts. When you check out, you will also get 200 PlentiPoints, which is equivalent to $2 good off your next purchase. With these deals combined, you will pay just $1 for your razor.

Softsoap Liquid Hand Soap

This week at CVS, Softsoap liquid hand soap is on sale for $1.99. Scan your Extra Care Card at the Coupon Center located inside your area CVS store and you will get a store coupon good for $1 off this item. Use this store coupon in addition to the 50 cents off one Softsoap liquid hand soap manufacturer coupon found in most of today’s SmartSource inserts and you will end up paying just 49 cents for this item.


This week at Rite-Aid, Zantac is on sale for $7.99. Use the $4 off one Zantac product coupon found in most of today’s SmartSource inserts. When you check out, you will also get 100 PlentiPoints, which is equivalent to $1 good off your next purchase. With these deals combined, you will pay just $2.99 for this item.