Posts filed under ‘save money’

Free Books: I Am in Love!

book

One of the best things about blogging is revisiting old posts. Reading my own words helps keep me accountable to myself. As a result of recent home renovations I created a little note to myself called A Few Things I Learned While Nesting, Purging and Streamlining.

Lesson #7 including the following:

Books are a huge waste of money if I never find the time to read them. I am not allowed to bring any new books into the house until I read the ones I already own. After I read them I will pass them on to someone else. I almost never read the same book more than one time so why on earth am I putting them on a bookshelf for later.

When I was a child I absolutely loved visiting the library. I remember exactly how that building was configured. How the long checkout desk stood at the entrance and how many steps it took to reach the children’s section after walking through the front door.

I’ve written many times about my love of reading and about my strange habit of buying books, but never setting aside the time to read them.

For years friends, family and readers of this blog have recommended borrowing books from the library, but I’ve always been against the idea. Our local library is dark, dingy and quite frankly a bit disgusting.

Before my son started preschool I began taking him to story hour once a week. Every Monday we walked straight to the children’s section and then straight back out to the car from there. My experience in other parts of the library haven’t been pleasant so I avoided going back there. The books I want to read are never available and the ones I find interesting are typically stained, ripped, written on or water damaged.

So every week despite being inside the library I refused to check out any books for myself. I continued to buy books unnecessarily and worst yet never found the time to read them.

That is until a few months ago when I began reserving library books online. When my son was younger we read books three to four times a day. In the morning we read between six and ten books, before his afternoon nap we read another handful and before bed he chose another three.

Although we own boxes full of children’s books, (primarily gifts and hand-me-downs), I began to get bored from reading the same stories and rhymes day after day and week after week. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on books he may outgrow quickly so I searched for the best books for three and four year old children and searched the catalog at our local library.

While most of the books weren’t available immediately I submitted a simple online request to reserve them. A few days later I received an email alert that the books were all ready for pickup.

Every two to three weeks I pick up a new set of books and return the ones we checked out earlier in the month. The books I reserved are all waiting for me on a long shelf right next to the checkout desk. I simply walk in, search for my name on that shelf, gather up my books, scan everything and walk out the door. It typically takes less than five minutes from start to finish.

I find that the books are in much better condition than the ones I see on the shelves at the actual library. I can’t account for this discrepancy, but in the past three months I’ve only received one book with ripped pages and children’s scribbles.

My only regret is that I didn’t start using the online reservation system earlier. While I typically purchase used books from eBay and half.com I’m pretty certain that I still spent hundreds of dollars on books over the past few years. From this point forward I don’t intend to spend a dime.

Photo Credit

March 25, 2015 at 11:07 PM Leave a comment

Amazon: How to Track a Product to Get the Best Price

While I have most of the items I need for baby number two there are a few odds and ends that I need to buy again. On the list is a light weight stroller that will hold an infant car seat. I gave away the one we used for my son, because it was much too short for my 6’1” frame.

After being frugal to a fault and holding on to it for much longer than I should have I passed it on to a good friend of mine. When I gave that one away I knew if I ever got pregnant again that I would need to buy another one.

With a few months to spare before the arrival of our next child I drove to Babies-R-Us and tested out strollers. I wanted to find the tallest, most light-weight option and ultimately decided on the Graco Snugrider. I searched around for the best prices and found that the going rate was roughly $89.

I didn’t need this item right away, so I set up Amazon tracking via CamelCamelCamel. It’s extremely simple to use. Just create an account, copy the URL for a particular Amazon item and paste it in the CamelCamelCamel search box. Then set your desired price and click the Start Tracking button.

My favorite part about this website is the historical price chart it provides for each Amazon item.

Amazon Tracking

With a quick glance you can see the highs and lows over the course of one month or one year. This helps you gauge the current price and decide whether or not it’s a good deal to buy now or wait a little while.

I decided to wait awhile and received an alert on January 26th that the price had dropped to $63.99. That’s a huge difference from the $89 high: a $25.01 difference to be exact. The moment I received that alert I became an instant fan!

This won’t save you money if you need to purchase an item immediately, but if you have time to spare it’s definitely worth a try.

Note: I did not receive any compensation for this post. I just think it’s a really great website and wanted to share!

February 8, 2015 at 11:31 PM Leave a comment

Grocery Store Policies: Inaccurate Pricing

jam

This morning, while I was out running other errands, I dropped into a nearby grocery store to purchase jelly for my son’s school lunches. I visited this store once or twice before, but I’m not particularly familiar with the store layout or the brands available for purchase.

The jelly jars were actually segmented into two different sections of the aisle. For the record it took me a little while to figure this out. The first set of shelves contained the common brands like Smucker’s and Welch’s. The second area, which was located a shelf or two to the right, contained more specialized jars of organic and all natural jams and jellies.

I stood in that aisle for a few minutes longer than I would have liked. I settled on a non-organic product, before realizing that other options were available. Although organic products tend to be more expensive I am willing to pay more for them. This is especially true for food that my son will consume on a regular basis and although I hate to admit it; peanut butter and jelly top the list of things my son eats regularly.

I wasn’t familiar with any of the available brands, so I read the labels on a number of jars, checked the prices and ultimately settled on a brand that was on sale. The final price: $3.99. A similar product with the same flavor and size was also available for $3.99, (regularly priced), but I settled on the more expensive brand because it just looked tastier.

When I reached the self checkout lane I noticed the register didn’t reflect the sale price. There was a long line growing behind me and I chose not to hold up the other customers by trying to figure out the problem. It was only 50 cents more per jar, (I bought two), and for one dollar it didn’t seem worth the hassle.

I began to walk out of the store, but I felt irritated by the whole scenario. I wasted time comparing sizes, flavors and prices. If the little sale flag hadn’t been hanging off the shelf I would have purchased the other brand of organic jelly without any question.

In general I have a rule about approaching customer service; since time is just as valuable, if not more so, than money I will not wait an inordinate amount of time to save a dollar. I glanced at the customer service area and found only one customer standing in line counting out change. I just happened to approach the counter as she pushed forward her last penny and the cashier asked how she could assist me.

I explained the situation and the cashier stepped out without saying a word about what she was doing. I immediately wished I hadn’t approached the counter. I didn’t want to wait ten minutes for the clerk to find the item, look at the price tag and make a decision on whether or not I was owed one dollar.

But as I waited in line I noticed a large sign hanging on the wall that said pricing errors will result in the first item being provided free of charge. Lucky for me the cashier returned within two short minutes, (yes I kept close note of the time), and offered to refund the full cost of the first item plus provided fifty cents back on the second.

Those two minutes, (probably three or four by the time she actually refunded the money), resulted in a $4.99 refund. In essence, I received one jar of organic jelly for free.

It certainly helps to know and understand a store’s policies. I am much more likely to take the time to resolve issues with customer service if I know a two minute wait could earn a $4.99 refund instead of $1.00.

Photo Credit

October 30, 2014 at 4:49 PM 1 comment

One Reason It Pays Not to Be Size 6

mannequins

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, is a perfect size 6. You know the cute little sizes all the store mannequins wear? Yup, a size 6. She can walk into any store and find a plethora of shirts, dresses and sweaters that mold perfectly to her build. When we went wedding dress shopping she tried on half the gowns in the store and found they all fit like a glove, almost no alterations needed. You know the cute, little shoes that sit on top of the displays in department stores, yup, those all fit her too.

I always thought those size 6 women were so lucky. How amazing would it feel to walk into a store and walk out with bags full of clothes that fit so perfectly? The same is never true for me. I am rather impossible to fit. Although the fashion industry employs models with super long legs, there are actually few stores that make clothing for tall women. For years I shopped in the men’s department at the gap. It was the only place I could find pants that would fit a 36 inch inseam.

Needless to say shopping has never been fun for me. I’m not the kind of girl who owns fifty pairs of shoes or wears a different outfit for every day of the year. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t want to own a lot of clothes, but rather that I could never find any to fit me. I can walk into a dressing room with 50 articles of clothing and not find a single item that fits. I can’t tell you how often I leave a store empty handed.

In the past I dreamed of being a perfect size 6!

These days I have a different outlook on things. A medical crisis transformed my notion of what’s important in life and fitting into everything I try on is certainly not high on my list.  I now try to lead a minimalist lifestyle and I’m happy that my dressers are moderately empty. Although it’s probably not a good sign when your husband comments on the fact that you wear the same five shirts week after week.

In fact, as I look at my friend’s closets I see a bunch of stuff. Stuff that she couldn’t resist buying. Stuff that she is literally running out of space to store. Stuff that she spent a lot of money on. Perhaps it’s good not to be a size 6 after all. If nothing else my lack of clothing options has saved me a significant amount of money over the long haul.

*Photo Credit: Eran Bendheim

October 4, 2013 at 5:03 PM Leave a comment

How Decadent Chocolates Are Helping Me

Chocolate

Photo Credit: Godiva.com

I lost all of my baby weight after my son was born, but over time an extra five to ten pounds has crept back onto my body. According to the height-weight projections I could easily stand to lose at least fifteen pounds, possibly twenty. It turns out I had a little extra junk in the trunk before I got pregnant.

I’ve been focusing on removing needless calories from my diet. I started juicing in the morning and fixing myself some form of protein, typically scrambled eggs. I also place vegetables on the top shelf of the refrigerator and clean all of my produce when I come home. That way it’s staring at me, clean and ready to be eaten. I literally have to move them out of the way to get through the rest of the fridge.

Overall I think I’m eating really well. I’ve cleared the cupboards of processed, packaged foods. I don’t feed these to my son so I decided not to feed them to myself either. I’m not perfect. I indulged in a bag of chips at Subway this weekend and still cook recipes on occasion that require heavy cream. It’s all about moderation not deprivation anyway.

My biggest downfall right now is my love of sweets. I think I inherited that trait from my mom who can’t seem to make a bag of candy last longer than a couple of days. I crave those tasty, sweet morsels of pleasure. My favorite indulgence is a bowl of dutch chocolate ice-cream smothered in chocolate syrup, whipped cream and sprinkled with M&Ms. Oh yeah that’s where that extra ten pounds probably came from.

In an effort to cut back on sweets I did something quite counter-intuitive. I bought an expensive bag of dark chocolate covered cashews. At first I was worried that I would eat the entire bag in one sitting, but for some reason I’m able to eat just one or two and feel completely satisfied. Okay, if they are really tiny nuts I might need three or four. The deeper grade of chocolate makes the experience seem much more rich and decadent. I savor the pieces because I know they are expensive, but they are also so tasty they make me want to savor them more.

I can’t say whether or not this technique will work in the long run, but for now it’s helping to fulfill the need for something sweet. I’m not foregoing ice-cream all together but I am limiting the number of times per week that I allow myself a bowl.

I’m also spending a lot less money on sweets. While the organic, dark chocolate covered cashews are expensive I’m eating very few of them. In fact, this bag has lasted me three weeks already.

Do you have tricks for avoiding the foods you shouldn’t eat but love?

September 24, 2013 at 6:42 PM 4 comments

How I Bought a Car Below the Invoice Price

Highlander

This weekend my husband and I purchased our first new car in over thirteen years. We bought a brand new 2013 Toyota Highlander Limited. I spent a lot of time researching the best ways to ensure a good price, so I thought I’d share my experience in case it helps anyone else looking to buy a new car.

We weren’t sure if we should buy a new car or focus on a slightly used one, preferably one that was only a year or two old. One sunny Sunday afternoon my husband and I visited CarMax where we wandered through the lot looking at various SUVs and Crossovers. It was there that we narrowed down our vehicles of choice to a Toyota Highlander and a Toyota 4Runner.

We asked to test drive each vehicle. While we both liked the 4Runner a little bit more we decided that the Highlander had much more comfortable seating in both the front seats and the second row. We also liked that the car could fit up to seven if necessary. We’re still not sure if our family will expand any further, but we wanted the option for more space if it was needed. If nothing else it will allow me to transport my son’s friends as he gets older.

I highly suggest test driving a couple of different vehicles before choosing one. I wish I had done this in 1999 when I bought my Honda Civic. I didn’t realize how small and uncomfortable the car until it was too late.

After narrowing down our vehicle of choice I researched prices and found that used cars weren’t that much cheaper than new ones. Plus many of the older cars had lots of options that we didn’t necessarily want or need.

Once we decided to buy a new car I began searching for the best possible price. I went onto Edmunds.com and ran a query to determine the True Market Value. I wrote down the invoice price of each option I wanted as well as the true market value, which indicates what other people in my area paid for the same car.

Next I started my inquiries online. I am fortunate enough to live in an area with a lot of different showrooms, so I pulled up the websites of various dealerships and searched for cars that met my criteria.

Next I weeded out any vehicle that included extra options I didn’t need. There is no sense in paying for items in a car that you don’t want. They will add unnecessarily to the bottom line. I ruled out any car that contained features that weren’t on my original options list. In essence, I ended up with the basic model of a car with nothing more than optional floor mats or floor mats and cargo cross bars.

If I found a car that met my criteria I reached out to the dealership via their online query form and asked for their lowest price. I ended up sending inquiries to four dealerships in my area.  Three of the dealerships in our area didn’t haggle, so I knew that there price was the absolute lowest I could receive.

I compared the numbers of each dealership on the base price of the vehicle and then started asking follow up questions. Toyota is currently offering a promotion that includes a $500 cash back rebate or 0% financing. Three of the four salesmen didn’t tell me that their lowest price included the rebate until I asked them. If I wanted the 0% financing I had to add $500 back to their lowest price. I found that kind of shady, but clearly a lot of places do that so it’s definitely something to be aware of when checking prices.

Once I narrowed down the lowest prices I asked each salesman how much it would cost to add extra options that were not included in the vehicle they had for sale. These included items like a tow hitch as well as remote engine starting capabilities. The prices of these add-ons varied greatly among the dealers.

For instance one dealership told me it would cost over $1000 for the tow hitch while another quoted me less than $700. While one place offered the base vehicle for less it was also the dealership with the most expensive add-ons.

My husband and I decided to try our hand at negotiating and visited the one dealership that didn’t take the no-haggle approach. We walked in with an email from the dealership offering the lowest price and asked if the salesman could do any better. It was the same person that had responded to my email inquiries and when he pointed out why his prices were valid I referenced the detailed information I previously found online.  I think I could have haggled a little more with him, but I felt good with the price we were offered.

Even if he hadn’t matched the price or offered us a lower number his prices were still the best after we factored in the add-ons we wanted. We came to an agreement on the pricing and were then sent to speak to someone else in the servicing department about the extra options. My husband was able to negotiate a little on those too.

Before the Internet individuals would spend hours negotiating prices. When they finally agreed on a price it was difficult to know whether or not they got a good deal on their vehicle. These days with the help of Edmunds.com and a little research from the comfort of your own home you can feel good about the price you pay.  You can start the ball rolling on negotiations before you even set foot in a showroom.

My best advice is to get the facts and start a bidding war through online inquiries. By the time you show up to buy the car you sit down, agree to the price and write a check. It took a lot of research and time to crunch numbers, but by the time we arrived at the dealership it couldn’t have been any easier.

May 12, 2013 at 10:51 PM 1 comment

Easy Ways to Keep Your Financial Goals in Mind

Do you find it difficult to stick to your financial goals? Do you find yourself tempted to buy things you want but don’t need? If so you might want to give these ideas a try. They seem a bit strange, but they have helped me curb unnecessary spending.

First, change the passwords on your online shopping accounts. If you are an avid online shopper you probably have accounts set up at all sorts of online stores. Log on to the sites that you frequent the most and update your account information with passwords that will remind you of your goal. If you want to avoid spending change your password to something like NoBuying2013. If you want to save for retirement make it NotTil401K.

Log on to as many sites as you can now, long before you get the urge to go shopping. While you are updating your password don’t poke around in search of the latest styles. Just log in, change your passwords and log back out.

Hopefully the next time you get an urge to spend you’ll change your mind after typing in your password. It’s an easy, in your face reminder of your long term goals.

If you find yourself spending money in stores take a picture of your goal, print it out and wrap it around your credit card or place it in the front of your wallet where you typically hold your driver’s license or other form of identification.

Do you want to buy a new home? Find a photograph of a house you’d love to own. Do you want to become a stay-at-home parent? Place a picture of your children in the fold in front of your credit cards.

Whatever your dream find a photograph that represents that image and place it among the dollar bills or credit cards, so that you have to move it out of the way in order to spend money.

When you reach the checkout counter the picture may help you to pause and review your upcoming purchases. As you look down at the image of the beach you wish to visit or the home you want to buy you may think twice about purchasing something you really don’t need.

It’s often difficult to focus on long term financial goals. Hopefully these gentle reminders will prevent you from unnecessary spending.

April 25, 2013 at 11:12 PM Leave a comment

A Child’s Interests Change Quickly: How to Save Money on Toys for Small Children

In the short time my son has been on this earth our home has been inundated with an overflowing number of toys. It is absolutely amazing how such a tiny little boy can attain so much. I’m a bit of a neat freak so I bought a storage unit to hold all of the toys in our living room, but that filled up quite quickly.

Book Shelves

While it was cold outside I moved a bunch of items into our  sun-room. It doesn’t have central heat so we rarely step foot in there in the wintertime. I began rotating his toys by moving a couple of things back onto the bookshelf and removing others so that he had new toys to play with every few days.

What I found is that my son’s interests change quickly. One week he is interested in blocks, the next he’d rather play with his toy kitchen or pretend to talk on the telephone. Some days he’ll pull out and complete all of the puzzles in the house and other days he won’t even look at them.

Even though he’s only eighteen months his interests are constantly changing. While I know children who play with the same toy day after day, my son becomes less interested the moment he masters one.

A few months after my son turned one I wrote about the financial lessons I learned from his first year. In that post I mentioned the importance of hand-me-downs. Six months later I now believe they are more valuable than ever. Ninety percent of the toys in our house were hand-me-downs, another 8% were gifts from friends and family and the remaining 2% were gifts from either my husband or myself.

I can’t imagine how much money we saved by accepting gently used items from friends and family. Many of the toys would’ve cost well over $20 to $25 new. It’s tough to buy a toy for that much money and than realize that your child will only play for it for a short period of time. At this age you never know what might interest a child. My son has played with toys for weeks that I never would have imagined he’d be interested in and ignored toys that I was sure he would love.

With hand-me-downs you don’t have to pay any money. (A win.) You don’t add any more trash to the landfill. (A win.) And if your child gets bored of a toy easily you simply pass it on to another child without feeling guilty. (A win.)

If you do have someone in your life willing to hand down toys make sure you profusely thank them for their generosity. Send pictures of your child playing with the toys and if they provide you with a lot of stuff make sure consider giving them a small gift to show your appreciation.

Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends and family members with toys to pass on. If this isn’t an option for you try visiting local consignment shops, online auctions and co-ops for good deals. Remember that at this age your child doesn’t know that a toy isn’t shiny and new.

If you have friends and family who want to buy your child gifts tell them to consider buying used too. Remind them that children outgrow toys quickly at this age and that you’d rather have them save the money. Of course, if you can convince them to avoid toys and provide a monetary gift towards your child’s education or savings all the better.

If they do want to buy a gift try to encourage them to buy something other than stuffed animals. Unlike plastic toys that can be wiped down and disinfected stuffed animals are often difficult to launder. Once your child outgrows these it is difficult to pass them on to another child. This doesn’t mean children shouldn’t have any stuffed animals, but rather that you might want to keep the amount to a reasonable number. Once my son filled a small box I began asking close friends and family members not to buy him anymore.

Lastly remember that kids don’t always need or want to play with toys. Children often make toys and games out of the items around them. There are lots of every day items that can amuse them. My son has just as much fun with real pots and pans, toilet paper rolls and cups filled with water then he does with the mechanical toys that eventually bore him.

April 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM 6 comments

The ‘One Day’ Fund – Saving for Long Term Goals

Every so often my husband and I sit down to discuss our finances. Among our favorite topics is what to do with the money we saved.

Sometimes we save with a specific goal in mind. We may want to remodel our bathroom, save for a larger car or take a much needed vacation. Other times we save with absolutely no purpose other than to set money aside.

A year and a half ago we decided to forgo the bathroom upgrades and new-to-us car so I could stay home with my son. With money in the bank we thought that the transition to a one income household would be slightly less scary. It was nice to know we had money in the bank if we needed it to fall back on.

As time passes our priorities shift, but no matter how our day-to-day decisions change over the years we still keep ‘one day’ goals in the back of our mind. ‘One day’ goals are those aspirations that are too distant to focus on day in and day out. They are dreams that won’t come to fruition for at least ten or twenty years. You hope that they will happen one day, but there is no telling when that day will come.

Our one day goals sound so simple, yet seem so hard to achieve. They are as follows:

  • Pay off the mortgages of our two homes in less than 10 years
  • Build a waterfront property. (This will probably involve selling the vacation property we currently own and using the money to build a new one.)
  • Work fewer hours each week at a rewarding and interesting job. (This involves my husband working less, but also includes the understanding that I will return to work at some point in the next five years.)

In my dream scenario we would meet at all of these goals in the next ten years. By the ripe old age of 45 I would be mortgage free, living in a cozy house by the shore, working less and enjoying my job.

In reality I’m not sure what will happen, but regardless of how things play out it sure feels nice to dream about those ‘one day’ goals.

How about you? Do you set long term goals? If so, what are they?

March 8, 2013 at 7:15 AM 5 comments

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

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