Archive for December, 2007

Spending Too Much at the Outlet Mall

Yesterday I headed down to the outlet mall. I didn’t initially plan on spending any money. I just wanted to poke around to see if the deals were better than I can find at local department stores. I imagined that most of the items would be priced well below retail, but in fact many of them were priced on par. I looked around at the Gap, Ralph Lauren, Eddie Baurer, and a few other places. I didn’t see any good bargains so I happily walked out of each shop empty handed.

That is until I ventured into the Tommy Hilfiger store. I am nearly impossible to fit. It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because on an average trip to the mall I can’t find anything that fits and therefore can’t spend any money. Bad because when I do find items that fit they often cost a lot of money. For some reason, the Tommy Hilfiger brand almost always fit me. My grandmother, who is quite a bargain hunter herself, is always searching the clearance isles of major department stores for Tommy clothing on sale. Over the years she’s used this technique to purchase the majority of my winter sweaters.

But yesterday in the Tommy outlet I found tons and tons of shirts and sweaters that fit. Most of the items that were already marked down had additional sales. For instance, a $65 sweater was on sale for $45 with an additional 50% off. I also found an additional 20% coupon at the customer service center. So I was able to buy sweaters that normally cost $65 and up for less than $20. I loaded up and my total came to approximately $150.

But as I got home and looked over the bill I began to feel a little guilty for my shopping giddiness. I noticed that two of the t-shirts I bought weren’t such good bargains, so I returned to the outlet today to exchange them. Of course, once back in the store I found a whole host of other items I didn’t see yesterday. So rather than returning the items and walking out of the store I ended up spending even more money. When all was said and done I spent roughly $180 on eleven items.

When I got home my husband was disappointed that I had even more bags with me. I told him the suggested retail price for all of the items totaled $388, but he knows I never would have spent full price for these items.

All in all I feel moderately guilty for spending so much money. On the other hand, because I am nearly impossible to fit I’m glad that I found new clothes. If I had to do it all over again. I would. But I am banning myself from shopping online or in the stores for at least a little while.

December 30, 2007 at 11:40 PM 5 comments

Receive Cashback for Purchasing Gift Cards

Ebates is currently offering cash back on gift cards at a select number of stores. I wonder if it makes sense to purchase gift cards for myself. I’ll not only receive cash back for purchasing the cards but I’ll also earn additional cash back if I use the cards to make online purchases via Ebates. In essence it seems that I could earn double cash back. I’m thinking of trying this technique at half.com where I tend to buy inexpensive used books from time to time.

It appears 39 stores offer cash back for the purchase of gift cards. Here are a few:

  • Zappos.com — 6%
  • Home Depot — 4%
  • Borders — 3%
  • Sephora — 4%
  • Kohl’s — 2%
  • Half.com — 3%
  • Buy.com — 1%
  • Cooking.com — 6%
  • RedEnvelope — 6%
  • Container Store — 4%

If you aren’t a member of Ebates yet you can sign up via this link and earn an extra $10 in cash back if you make a purchase by December 31st.

December 29, 2007 at 4:00 AM 3 comments

Let the Returns Begin

As usual my husband and I received a number of gifts for Christmas this year that need to be returned or exchanged. I absolutely despise the return process, it seems things never go smoothly. My husband who is the sweetest man on earth has a horrible habit of losing receipts. Two gifts had to be shipped back, rather than returned to brick and mortar stores, because he couldn’t locate the associated gift slips. Luckily the store accepts returns via mail as long as you can provide a copy of the confirmation email.

Two gifts had to be returned to Macy’s for store credit. One item didn’t fit and the other was chipped. We had to accept the current sale price, but we were happy to be rid of the items. I am always shopping at Macy’s so I know we’ll use this store credit.

We also returned a video game to Best Buy that I purchased on the Internet through a combination of payments including a gift card and credit card. When I returned the item to the store the cashier credited the original gift card. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this until after I returned home. I no longer have the gift card. I threw it out when the video game first arrived in the mail.

So I called Best Buy to have a new gift card mailed to me. Of course, after waiting on hold for twenty minutes I was told that a new gift card couldn’t be issued unless I could provide the entire gift card number. I didn’t know the number because I no longer owned the card. I searched for the card number in the confirmation email from Best Buy but it only displayed the last four digits. So in essence, I was screwed.

But as I was talking to the customer service representative from Best Buy I began to wonder whether or not my computer might have cached the gift card number. Sure enough when I logged onto Best Buy’s website and went to the ‘Check Gift Card Balance’ page I found the original gift card number. With that I should be able to get Best Buy to deactivate the old card and activate a new one.

Three stores down and three more to go. The rest of the returns will occur next week as I make rounds to Target, Kohl’s, and Brookstone.

December 29, 2007 at 3:15 AM Leave a comment

Thankful for Good Tidings

For the past few years I have been maintaining a list of gifts I purchase for friends and family throughout the year. Included in the list is a description of the gift, the store where it was purchased, the cost of the item, and at times extra notes like what the receiver said as he or she opened the item.

I started the list one Christmas night when I found it difficult to remember all the gifts that I had given. Somehow the weeks of preparation for Christmas, including searching for the perfect gift passed by in the blink of an eye on Christmas day. I started the list in an effort to reflect more deeply on the Christmas experience.

Around this time I also created a list of the items I received each Christmas. So many gifts are exchanged on Christmas day that I found it difficult to remember what I’d been given. So I started writing down a description of the gift and who purchased it. Maintaining the list helps me reflect on the love of those who gave each item.

This year as I compiled my Christmas lists I also took note of special moments that occurred on Christmas day. For example, the fact that my niece can suddenly speak in three and four word sentences when she could only say a few words on Thanksgiving day. Or that my three year old nephew grabbed my mother’s hand at grace and asked the rest of us to join our hands together too.

As we live the moments of our lives it’s often difficult to recognize life’s blessings. Taking the time to reflect on these moments ensures I find thanks in each year’s good tidings.

December 28, 2007 at 12:55 AM Leave a comment

Christmas Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance

I just finished wrapping the last of my Christmas gifts and noticed that somewhere between the hustle and bustle of holiday activities The Digerati Life hosted the 132nd Carnival of Personal Finance. I haven’t had a chance to pick out my favorite articles yet, but if you have a moment you should definitely check it out here.

Merry Christmas!

December 25, 2007 at 5:29 AM Leave a comment

How the Generations Differ

My grandmother recently told me that women today don’t realize how big of an impact modern day appliances have on our lives. She vividly remembers her mother hunched on her knees, leaning over the claw foot bathtub washing the bed linens and bath towels. Her mother crawled out of the third story window, (they lived on the third floor of an apartment building), and climbed over to the roof to hang the linens to dry. My grandmother said it would take hours for her mother to wash and hang all of the sheets and towels.

She went on to tell me about her own experiences as a wife and mother. How she boarded a bus early in the morning with her son, my uncle. She’d step off the bus and walk two blocks to drop him off with her mother-in-law, before walking back to the bus stop, and riding to work. From there she walked another three blocks to her office and then repeated the entire process in reverse each evening. When she arrived home she’d cook dinner for her family and straighten the house before heading to bed.

My grandmother seems surprised by the way today’s households spend their money. She can’t understand why people don’t use cloth diapers. “I did it and it worked just fine,” she tells me. And she can’t understand why women spend so much money on fast food rather than cooking dinner for their families. She seems shocked by the idea that anyone younger than seventy would spend money on a cleaning service or maid. She told me “older people can’t bend to clean under the sofa and table, but anyone physical capable of cleaning themselves certainly shouldn’t hire a maid”.

I’m happy my grandmother and I get to share these conversations together. They provide a glimpse into her life while reminding me just how blessed my life is.

December 22, 2007 at 8:00 PM 4 comments

Using Last Year’s Gift Cards to Pay For This Year’s Gifts

Last year I received a gift basket from Bath and Body Works with a not-so-pleasant scent. I was in a hurry on the day I arrived at the store to exchange it so I simply returned the basket for a merchandise credit.

On Sunday, I grabbed that merchandise credit and headed for the store. I arrived with $23.25 in credit and a coupon good for $10 off a $30 purchase. I purchased three body lotions and three shower gels for $30. All of the items were on sale for $5. They normally cost between $9 – $11 each. With the $10 coupon my total came to $21. Leaving me with $2.25 left to spare.

I think spa products make great stocking stuffers. They are a little too impersonal to be used as primary gifts, but at the right price they make great little ‘extras.’ Best of all they are consumable, which means they won’t create unnecessary clutter after Christmas.

December 20, 2007 at 4:38 AM Leave a comment

A Sad Realization: Selling My Digital Camera

In December of 2003 my husband bought me a digital camera for Christmas. He immediately opened the box and read the manual and less than thirty minutes later he used it to capture Christmas 2003. Although the camera was a gift for me I rarely used it. My husband, on the other hand, was always snapping pictures at family functions and events.

In fact, my husband became so interested in photography that I bought him a new camera, the Nikon D40, for Christmas three years later. Since the purchase of that camera he has gone on to become a semi-professional sports photographer shooting sporting events in and around the Washington D.C. area. As his passion grows so does his desire for new camera equipment. He’s purchased quite a few cameras and lenses since last December.

Despite buying new cameras we never got rid of the original camera, the one he purchased in December of 2003. He mentioned giving it away a number of times, but I didn’t want to give it up. I wanted a camera of my own and I fully intended to use it. But the truth is there never seems to be a reason to take it along with me. My husband’s photographs are better than ever and he always has his camera along to capture family events and occasions.

Finally, a few weeks ago I found a need to take photographs. I decided to use the camera to capture images for my recent eBay sales. I had been using the built-in-camera that comes with my phone but the pictures are really awful. I pulled the camera out of the bag and shot a few pictures but the camera wouldn’t work. No matter what I did the view finder and the image registered black. I figured it was a lost cause and left it at that.

Then just as luck would have it about three days later a warranty notice for my camera arrived in the mail. I had ten days to renew the warranty or it would expire. I rushed over to Best Buy the very next day to have the camera repaired and less than 10 days later Best Buy shipped it back to my home in perfect working order. I decided it was a shame to allow it to collect dust any longer. So I posted it on eBay where it sold for over $200.

I was excited about selling the camera until my husband said he was sad to see it go. In 2003 he hoped I would find an interest in photography. Clearly that desire never took hold.

December 17, 2007 at 2:35 AM 1 comment

Respecting a Gift Giver Who Sticks to his Budget

My brother-in-law is on a very tight budget. Due to numerous indiscretions throughout his late teens and early twenties he was forced, through poor decisions and lack of money, to live with his parents. This past summer at the ripe old age of twenty-five he moved out into an apartment of his own. To his credit he started pursuing a bachelor’s degree via night classes at a local college and has remained steadily employed for quite some time now, but without a degree his salary is limited and his expenses are high. Between paying for school, rent, utilities, and work related expenses, like gas and car repairs, his bank account is almost always running on empty.

Today as we were out shopping for Christmas presents, (a family tradition for my husband’s family), my brother-in-law mentioned his desire to purchase pajama pants for his girlfriend. My brother-in-law was thinking about heading over to Victoria’s Secret, but my husband, who has been trained in the art of conscious spending, convinced him to head to J.C. Penney. I don’t think my brother-in-law was particularly thrilled at the idea of buying his girlfriend an item that wasn’t name brand. When we arrived at J.C. Penney he looked through the racks then said, “maybe I’ll just buy her some sleep pants from the university store.” But my husband wouldn’t have any of that. He said, “pants will cost $50 at the campus store. Just buy her a pair here.”

My brother-in-law went back to the racks and found a pair of sleep pants that were super soft and super cute for $20 with an additional 50% discount. Plus I had a coupon for $10 off any $10 purchase. After applying the discounts the pants only cost $9.99 so I added a pink sweatshirt for my niece that would enable us to use the coupon. The total for both items was $8.38. The total for my brother-in-law’s gift to his girlfriend was $4.43.

As we were walking out of the store my husband asked my brother-in-law how much he made an hour and calculated how many hours of work his savings would allow him to forgo. Then just for kicks as we walked by Victoria’s Secret I took a peek at the price of flannel PJs. The average price was $36.50.

When we mentioned the incredible savings my brother-in-law made an interesting comment, he said, “this is great as long as my girlfriend doesn’t find out how much I spent on her.” I told him I couldn’t disagree more. I think a woman would want to find a man who is responsible with his money. I wouldn’t want a gift from someone if they couldn’t truly afford to give me. In fact, I would think a girl would have greater respect for the man who knows how much he earns and how much he can spend without blowing his budget.

I’m not sure my brother-in-law was convinced by the value of his savings. On the way home my husband and I joked that he’ll probably buy his girlfriend another gift. It seems he felt guilty for spending such a small amount of money.

December 16, 2007 at 4:04 AM 15 comments

We Don’t Refund Tax for Sales Made Over the Internet

I went to the mall today to return a few pairs of pants I purchased online from Ann Taylor Loft that did not fit. Women’s clothing stores are very odd. No two items fit exactly the same. I originally purchased a pair of brown corduroys. When they went on sale for much less than I paid I decided to return the original pair and reorder. But the second pair that arrived, (that were the exact same color, size, and style), didn’t fit at all like the first. So I reordered again. No luck. So I reordered a third time. No luck. I decided to try one more time with a different color. Bingo. Pants that fit like the first pair. Each time I reordered the price of the pants dropped. I started with cords that cost $43.20. I ended with cords that cost only $20.99.

Now I will admit that it’s slightly insane to purchase the same pair of pants four different times from the same vendor, but shipping was free and prices were falling, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I would return whichever pairs didn’t fit in person, thereby saving the return shipping fees.

Today I schlepped over to the store to return them. When I arrived there wasn’t another soul in the store. So I walked right over to the counter, pulled out the pants and matching receipts, and handed them to the cashier. First, she said she had to ring up every transaction separately. This surprised me because usually cashiers can handle multiple returns in the same transaction, but whatever, I wasn’t going to fight with her over it.

After she rang up the first return a customer walked up behind me. I offered to let him go in front of me, because purchases are always quicker than returns. The cashier rang his order and then I stepped back up to the counter. At this point the cashier asked me for the other receipts. I didn’t have them. I knew I had already handed them to her but she swore I hadn’t. So I’m searching all around the desk, on the floor, in between the pants, etc. I’m just about to head out to the car to make sure I didn’t leave them there, when she lifts up the pair of pants she already processed and finds them.

Now I’m frustrated. The cashier wasn’t particularly pleasant to begin with and she was ever so confident that I hadn’t handed her those receipts. When she found them she didn’t apologize. In fact, a few other people had gotten behind me in line by that point and she asked if she could take them first. I said, “No. I’d like you to finish returning these.” I was nice enough to offer the first customer to go ahead of me, I wasn’t about to wait an hour in the store while she took care of the other customers. Oh I forgot to mention there were four other employees in the store who could have easily opened a register by this point.

As she rings up the last pair of pants she informs me that the total doesn’t match the total on my receipt. She says, “It isn’t including the tax in your refund. Is that okay?” Is that okay? Did I hear her correctly? No of course that’s not okay. So she calls over the manager who informs me that Ann Taylor Loft doesn’t refund tax for sales that are made over the Internet. What?

That’s funny I tell her because I have two other receipts, (the two previous returns), in which the tax was refunded. She then informs me that she’ll refund the tax but that she’s only doing it because she’s so kind, because again she tells me, “we don’t refund tax for sales made over the Internet.” She seems upset that I am not more grateful for her ‘kindness.’

In the end the pants are returned and the money is refunded. I’m also informed that the store will start carrying long pants in January. So I’ll be able to try the items on in the store. Hooray! No more ordering pants just to return them.

December 14, 2007 at 2:50 AM 5 comments

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