Archive for February, 2013

Unsubscribed: So Long Bargain Blogs

I recently cleaned out my inbox. I unsubscribed from just about every newsletter I receive and removed myself from a ton of unwanted junk that seems to wander across my path each day. I also unsubscribed from a huge number of RSS feeds to bargain blogs.

A lot of these blogs post multiple times throughout the day and my RSS reader quickly fills up with images of deeply discounted toys, clothing and other household items. While it’s great to get a bargain, it’s certainly not a bargain if you spend money on stuff you don’t need. After feeling tempted to buy things one too many times I decided to give the majority of those blogs the old heave-ho. (I did the same thing with magazines and catalogs a long time ago.)

It felt good to give them the boot. A lot of these blogs make their money from referral links to Amazon and other affiliate companies. Every time I take advantage of a bargain I’m dropping anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars in their pocket.  There’s nothing wrong with this model. In fact, I belong to an affiliate company and make money whenever readers print coupons from my blog. From time to time I’ve also included affiliate links in posts, though this is a pretty rare occurrence.

I just think it’s important to remember that many bloggers do make money from listing these bargains and that the real way to save money is not to spend it. For me, it seemed easier to remove the RSS feeds from my reader then to continue the daily bombardment of items that were deeply discounted but ultimately not needed.

February 28, 2013 at 3:01 PM 11 comments

What Would You Do: Spend More to Save a Little?

Last night a friend of mine asked me a money related question and I thought I’d post it here to see what my wonderful readers have to say. Imagine you are shopping for clothes. The store is holding a sale where you can save $20 if you buy $80 worth of merchandise.

You browse the racks and find a dress you’d like to buy for $50. In your head you know that you don’t really need this dress, but you like it and decide it’s worth the money.

Now you are faced with a dilemma. Do you continue browsing for additional items in the hopes of finding another article of clothing that costs $30 or do you forgo the $20 savings and walk out of the store with only one item.

You know that it will be next to impossible to find an item that costs exactly $30, so you stand in the middle of the store contemplating your options. Odds are that you will find something that costs more than $30 and so you will pay an additional $10 plus any additional cost over $80.

The $20 savings is tempting. You are already planning to spend $50, so adding another $10 to buy an additional item seems to make sense, but is it really the right move? Is there a minimum or maximum threshold for this type of thing? Would you feel okay spending an additional $10 or $15, but not an additional $20?

Have you been faced with this scenario and if so what did you do?

February 26, 2013 at 1:00 PM 11 comments

I Knew It Was Over Long Before It Ended

Now that I stay home with my son a lot of people ask me if I miss my old job. I answer them honestly. I do miss the problem solving aspects of writing code and I certainly miss my interactions with co-workers. (Well the ones I liked anyway.) But the truth is I knew my passion for work was over long before my last day.

When I started working for my former company I enjoyed an easy 25 minute commute. I was young and eager, (only 21), and had a lot to prove to myself. I spent many long nights working from home. This wasn’t expected or required. In fact, most of my coworkers had a hard and fast 9-to-5 rule. I was new to programming, (having been an English major in college), and I was fascinated by the very nature of computer science. My excitement and my desire to succeed spurred me on.

The world of an English major is very subjective, but in the world of computers a program either words or it doesn’t. It was the type of validation I didn’t know I needed, but once I received a taste I craved it more and more.

Six years after I started working I fell ill and stepped out of the workforce for five months to recover from an unexpected surgery. When I returned I found my passion for work had greatly faded. I suffered from a large pulmonary embolism that could have taken my life and from that point on work just never seemed quite as important to me.

My days at work ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I fell into old patterns of working long after hours. I got excited and intrigued by new technologies and difficult problems. Heck, even on my “lazy days” I seemed to work harder than the majority of my coworkers. I sat next to a man who did little to no work and read the newspaper from cover-to-cover each day.

Shortly after recovering from surgery my employer relocated my office. While my coworkers boxed up their belongings to move to the new office I started taking things home. At first it was just some books and training materials, but later it was personal artifacts like pictures. I took one or two items each day and on the day I transferred offices I had only one and a half boxes to take with me.

My 25 minute, 8 mile commute became a 30 mile, 1 1/2 hour nightmare. When I moved into my new cubicle I didn’t unpack. Another sign that I had little desire to be there.  Every so often I looked inside of one of the boxes and dragged another item home.

I endured that long commute for nearly five years, before finally relocating to an office closer to home. While I returned to a shorter commute I felt more miserable than ever.

I tried to throw myself into work, but by that point I had lost all interest in the job at hand. I still gave 110%, but it was hard to muster up any excitement. My new office was lonely, my team was located in multiple places and on most days I didn’t talk to anyone other than my manager, on some days I didn’t even talk to him.

Again I started taking things home, (I’d only moved half-a-box here from my former location), and by the time I was handed a pink slip, (not for my lack of effort, but rather because my entire department was obliterated), I had almost nothing left to carry home.

My heart hadn’t been in my job for quite a long time. I endured years of poor management and poor decision making. Whenever I tried to do things the ‘right’ way I was told to sit quietly. The managers I worked for praised those who were quiet and incompetent. I didn’t fit the bill for either.

I can honestly say that I do not miss my former job. In retrospect I believe I simply wasn’t a good fit for the company that employed me. I stayed because they paid me well, provided outstanding benefits and permitted telework.

This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t be happy at another place of employment. I’m sure I could find a job that would be a much better match for me. But as for the question at hand, I can honestly say I do not miss my job. I knew my passion for it was over long before it ended.

February 24, 2013 at 1:00 PM Leave a comment

Good Riddance Capital One!

No Capital One

When my husband started his business back in 2009 he registered for a Capital One business credit card. We use Chase for all of our personal credit needs, but we received an application from Capital One shortly after incorporating and decided to complete the form without investigating other options.

That was our first mistake. We were approved for a credit card with a limit of $1000. Being a new company the low credit limit probably makes sense, but let me tell you that $1000 does not go very far when paying for everyday business needs.

By the time we charged recurring monthly bills like Internet, phone and fax services we had only a few hundred dollars left to spend. Add on a few employee lunches, staples for the office like paper and printing supplies and we found ourselves reaching the max long before the month’s end.

I figured this was an easy problem to solve, so I called Capital One and asked for a higher credit limit. The kind customer service representative told me I could only request credit once a year and only after a full year had passed since the last time I requested it. When the year finally came and went Capital One increased my limit by a measly $500. A year after that I called again and received another $500 increase.

Last week when I called to ask for yet another change to my credit limit I was told to hold on the line while the request was being processed. A kind customer service representative explained that my credit would be pulled and that I would receive a response within 30 seconds or so. I waited and was told my request was denied.

A week later Capital One sent a letter informing me that they are having problem with their systems and cannot increase credit limits for any business accounts at this time. From the looks of the letter though it seems a credit request was initiated. So thanks Capital One for making a hit to my credit score even though you had no intentions of issuing me a higher limit.

Oh, I also forgot to mention that Capital One’s answer to my credit limit problems is to continually pay off my credit card mid-cycle. The customer service representative told me to check my credit card activity every week. If I get close to reaching the limit I should pay off the balance to free up the credit. Umm, thank you, but no I do not want to check my balance on my credit card every few days to make certain my card isn’t declined when I dine with employees or potential clients.

I thought I was angry enough with Capital One, but when I received this month’s bill I was really upset. It seems we incurred a $39 credit limit fee for charging above and beyond our limit. Hello? What did you say? If you give me a limit then how can I go over it? Well it seems Capital One allowed us to charge $40 worth of sandwiches which put us over and above our allotted limit for the month. Then they charged us a $39 fee for spending too much. Do you think my husband would have paid $79, ($40 for the sandwiches and an additional $39 for the fee), for a bunch of sandwiches? Um, no, he would have pulled out a different credit card or paid with cash.

After speaking to another kind customer service representative I was informed that you have to disable the credit limit override. Otherwise Capital One will let you spend more than your allotted amount, but will immediately assess a fee for doing so.

After all of this I decided that I was finished with Capital One. I contacted Chase, completed a form for a new business account, received immediate approval and a new credit card arrived in the mail less than a week later. My new Chase limit $8000.

So I am happy to say good riddance to Capital One! Although your customer service representatives have always been kind your services are abominable.

February 22, 2013 at 4:15 PM 2 comments

Debt Consolidation: Could It Help You?

I must start this post by stating that I myself have never been in debt. My parents paid for my college tuition and I’ve always paid off my credit card bills in full each month. When I graduated from college I lived in a 9×9 room, (really more of a sun porch then a real room in the house), because rent was tremendously cheap. With the help of that tiny rent check, ($310 in 1999), I bought a new car and paid off the loan in less than a year.

I’ve made good choices in my life, but I’ve also been very blessed. I found a job right out of college with solid benefits that enabled me to stay home and heal for five months after an unexpected surgery. Had I worked somewhere else my medical bills and time off may have resulted in a very different financial picture.

Others are not always been so lucky. When medical bills loom they are forced to use credit cards to pay their doctor and hospital bills. There are a number of ways to help pay off these debts. You can ask credit card issuers to lower your interest rates, you can try to borrow money from friends and family, you can take out a home equity if you own at least 20% of your house or you can turn to debt consolidation services.

Debt consolidation works to lower the interest rate on your existing debt. Rather than paying multiple bills at a high rate each month you pay just one bill. 

There are pros and cons to debt consolidation. It’s a bad idea to use a debt consolidation plan if you know that you cannot control your spending. This wouldn’t be the case for someone who has gone into debt for medical bills, but it could be a problem for someone who is prone to overspending. Also, debt consolidation services often extend the term of your debt, which means you pay less money per month, but may end up paying more over the long term. Still debt consolidation can be a good idea for someone looking to alleviate their current debt burden. It will provide more breathing room to pay for necessary daily expenses.

If you are looking for alternatives for dealing with your debt check out debt consolidation advice online. There is a plethora of information available.

February 21, 2013 at 2:22 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: A Good American

A Good American

At it’s root BlogHer’s latest book selection, A Good American, tells the tale of three generations of the Meisenheimer family. The story unfolds as a love affair between two Germans, (Frederick and Jette), who leave their home country in search of America. After crossing the Atlantic they ultimately land in a small town in Missouri where they settle down and start a family.

The 400+ page story details the day to day lives of Frederick and Jette and two generations that follow them. I swayed back and forth between really enjoying this book and feeling bored by it. Although the book tells the tale of three generations of the Meisenheimer family, it felt a bit disjointed to me.

In the first section of the book the reader learns of the love between Jette and Frederick, their need to leave their home country and the trials and tribulations they face as they try to settle in America. I really enjoyed this part of the book. The author steps you through Jette’s emotional turmoil.  She delivers a child in America and immediately regrets leaving home without saying goodbye to her own family. Frederick on the other hand loves America and everything about it. He immediately embraces the language and the culture. He strives to own a home and a business which is after all the American way.

There are interesting dynamics between the main characters, including Lomax, an African American man, who reenters Jette’s life mid-way throughout the novel. He has an interesting role in the book and his interactions with both Joseph and Rosa (Jette’s son and daughter) were very touching.

The second part of the book was less enjoyable for me. As Jette and Joseph age the book focuses more on Joseph’s children. Although the reader continues to unfold the daily lives of this third generation of German immigrants the story became less interesting to me. The characters weren’t as memorable and their interactions with each other weren’t narrated with the same zest as the first two generations.

As the novel concludes the author, Alex George, does a nice job of tying a neat little bow around the Meisenheimer family. George throws a curve ball in at the end that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Still I would’ve liked this book to end sooner than it did. I don’t think the second half of the book captured my interest nearly as much as the first half.

Note: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

February 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM Leave a comment

How Can I Reach Retirement Faster?

Back when I was working, (I now stay at home with my 16 month old son), I spent half of my daily commute dreaming about retirement. Traffic in the Washington, DC area is among the worst in the country and every day as I sat sandwiched between thousands of cars on the beltway I would dream about the morning when I woke up and no longer had to go to work.

I thought of all of the exotic places I’d love to visit. How I could waste the days away reading my favorite books and volunteering at the local elementary school. As I sat behind the steering wheel of my twelve year old Toyota Camry I would dream of a life without a daily commute.

During those three hour drives, (one and a half hours each way), I actually tried to calculate how long I needed to continue working. What could I do to reach that goal faster?

I contributed the maximum amount to my Roth 401(k) and also set money aside in non-deductible IRAs. My husband and I earned too much to contribute to Roth IRAs but we knew that the tax code would change in 2010 so we opened new accounts and waited for the day when we could roll them. We also invested heavily in stocks. At 35 years of age we can ride out the markets. It’s been painful to watch them fall at times, but hopefully with time on our sides the risk will be worth the reward.

We repeatedly refinanced our mortgage to lower both the rate and the term. Our mortgage is our biggest monthly bill and the rest pale in comparison. I figured once our house was paid off we could live on a much smaller income.

I stopped buying unnecessary stuff. I started to limit the number of times I stepped inside a clothing store and greatly limited my purchases. When I took a hard look at my closet I realized I was only wearing a subset of these items anyway. I stopped buying household items that weren’t necessities. This saved us money and freed up time and space for us to be together.

I also sold stuff we no longer needed. I registered for a bunch of kitchen appliances we rarely used and received gifts I never wanted in the first place. I listed these all on eBay and moved the money I earned straight to the bank. I used to feel guilty about getting rid of gifts others bought me, but I no longer let these feelings burden me.

I also turned to the Internet and read every article I could find on the subject. There is a lot of good information out there with tips and tricks to help you reach your goals faster. CNNMoney recently published 10 things you need to know as you plan for retirement.

I agree wholeheartedly with tip #2: set realistic goals. Start tracking your monthly expenses to get a better idea of just how much you spend each month. The fixed expenses, like electricity and natural gas are the most important, but don’t forget to track those expenses that change from month to month.

One day, a few years from now, when my son starts preschool or first grade I will return to work. Hopefully this time around I’ll be able to find a more enjoyable job, but even if I don’t I hope that the steps I take now will lead to a closer retirement date.

February 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM 2 comments

My Rule for Selling on eBay

I’ve received quite a few emails since I wrote the post Tallies from 2012: How Much Money Did My Blog Earn? A reader asked me what I sold on eBay and if I have any rules for selling. The answers to both of those questions are pretty simple.

While I sold a variety of items in online auctions I made the most revenue selling electronics. I sold a variety of items including speakers, iPhone accessories, routers, weather stations and unwanted video games and consoles. In most cases my husband updated an item and I sold the previous model we owned.

I only have one true rule for selling on eBay. I must make a minimum of $10. Before listing an auction I run calculations to factor in PayPal and eBay fees as well as all shipping costs. If my profit is less than $10 then I won’t list the item. Instead I’ll typically ask family members if they have any need for it or give it away.

I’ve seen people list all sorts of things and sell them for just a dollar or two. By the time they pay for postage they must make less than 10 or 15 cents in profit. While this may add up over time it is not something I’m willing to do.

I don’t want to waste time taking pictures, listing items, waiting to get paid, printing shipping labels and dragging items to the post office or UPS. If I don’t make a decent profit on selling something I’d much rather give it away.

I also find that the cheaper the auction the more difficult it is to get winning bidders to pay. You would think it would work the other way around, but strangely enough my most expensive items are often paid for the minute the auction ends. For smaller auctions it can take quite a few days to receive payment and on more than one occasion I had to file a dispute when the winning bidder failed to pay.

How about you? Do you sell items on eBay and if so do you have any rules for selling? Do you have a minimum profit threshold or are you willing to list anything on eBay?

February 17, 2013 at 9:43 PM 2 comments

An Update: That Involves Strawberries

On Wednesday I wrote about my husband’s decision to buy $400 worth of flowers for Valentine’s Day. My disappointment along with the extraordinary cost was that while flowers are pretty, they aren’t nearly as satisfying as a large box of chocolate covered strawberries.

 

strawberries

Well it turns out my husband knows me after all. Yesterday a dozen chocolate covered strawberries. We’ve known each other for seventeen years and been married for almost eight and a half and this is the first time he’s ever had strawberries delivered to my door. Now we’re getting somewhere!

My rule: Food over flowers. Homemade or store bought doesn’t matter, but I must say these were absolutely delicious. As you can see I’ve already devoured two.

February 15, 2013 at 2:57 PM 1 comment

$400. Say Again? You Spent How Much on Flowers?

My husband is adorable. Every year he remembers to order flowers for my mom and grandmother. What a good son-in-law, right? The trouble is he spends a lot of money each year shipping them out on Valentine’s Day.

Buying flowers online is expensive enough, but shipping and handling can often cost another $20 to $25, especially if you want your recipients to receive them on Valentine’s Day.

So I nearly passed out when my husband told me he spent nearly $400 buying my mom, grandmother, mother-in-law and I flowers for Valentine’s Day. Of course, each of us live at a different address and four deliveries quickly added up to over $100 worth of shipping costs.

Flowers

So what’s a frugal girl to do? I’m happy that my husband cares enough about me and the rest of our family to buy flowers, but I can’t get over that price tag.

My husband says it’s only once a year and it makes everyone feel special. When I told him we could pick up flowers from the grocery store and deliver them he said it’s not the same.

So I said next year he should ship me food instead. While flowers are pretty I don’t think they’d be as enjoyable as an equally expensive box of chocolate covered strawberries.

February 13, 2013 at 11:31 PM 6 comments

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