The Lost Art of TLC

18 Apr

Recently, my husband and I started shopping for ceiling fans. Riveting, I know; the process is just as mind-numbing as it sounds. The one in our living room ticks excessively, making tiny but repeated divots in our psyches until we’re both ready to launch ourselves out the window. In the past, cleaning the blades would either temporarily quiet the noise or make it louder. After 11 years in the house, we thought we could cough up the funds to replace it with something modern and quiet.

During its semi-annual cleaning, my husband discovered one of the blades on the ceiling fan was loose and likely the culprit of the incessant ticking. He tightened the screws on all the blades, dusted and cleaned it until it sparkled as it did when we first bought our house. It purred in gratitude when we turned it back on and it hasn’t made a peep since.

“Welp, that just saved us $200.”

I can see how this post will be forehead-slappingly obvious to those of you who’s first instinct is to inspect the heck out of something when it’s not working properly. And honestly, we’re not always this eager to throw down cash for a replacement. But the fledgling desire for a new fan clouded our better judgement and sent us perusing ceiling fans at Home Depot and Lowe’s. However, we lost interest quickly and are both relieved not to spend the money and time replacing something that works perfectly well after a few minutes of maintenance.

There’s truly a lost art to caring for things we buy, perhaps because most of what we purchase is cheap crap designed to be replaced repeatedly. Why bother fixing that unstable bookshelf when you can pick up a cheap and sleek replacement from IKEA? Who cares about a misshapen tee shirt when it only cost $5 to begin with? While there’s not much you can do about poor craftsmanship and crappy materials, you can opt to spend more on things you use or see regularly. Doing so actually saves you money in the long run, not to mention the time and potential tedium of researching replacements.

Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself scrolling through photos of ceiling fans on a Saturday morning, or craning your neck to compare blade color and style at your local hardware store. There are better things to do with your time, like fixing what you already have.

6 Actions That Save Me Big Money

16 Mar

Spending less is something we all strive to do, and each of us has different strategies for keeping our sticky fingers out of our bank accounts. I know better than to window shop when I don’t need to buy anything, and I try to avoid grocery shopping when I’m hungry. And while it’s easy to save money on products or services that don’t really excite me — fancy lattes, mani/pedis, and the latest gadget, as examples — my self-control is tested by fashion, home goods and See’s Candies. To avoid impulse purchases, I’ve taken the following six actions to keep myself out of trouble.

Unsubscribing from emails
This seems like a small, insignificant action, but I swear it’s made the biggest impact on my spending. I’m impressionable and impulsive, so seeing daily emails in my inbox advertising deals and sales from my favorite stores probably resulted in a purchase 20-30 percent of the time. The worst emails were the ones highlighting new arrivals; while I wouldn’t bite on the full-price purchase, I’d watch the item until a sale or deal came up and then make my move. This is bad because I fixated on this item over a period of time when my energy could have been better applied elsewhere.

Un-following fashion bloggers on Insta
I used to follow Extra Petite and Wendy’s Lookbook on Instagram, and found myself wanting to shop their looks whenever their perfectly-curated images showed up in my feed. Recognizing the influence these images had on my feelings about what I already owned, I decided to stop following them. Like retail newsletters, this “out of site, out of mind” strategy has done wonders for my impulse control.

Having a BHAFG
Never heard of that acronym? It’s a mash-up between a term used by my previous employer — Big Hairy Audacious Goal — with my addition of “F” for Financial. Having specific goals is an effective motivator for me and for the last two years, my husband and I have been funneling our money toward a big one. Since I want to put every last penny into this pursuit, I’m less inclined to spend money on stuff we don’t need because I’d rather reach our goal faster.

Adblock
Seriously. I’m astonished by all the ads on websites when I open a page in incognito or through a browser without Adblock. Like I said, I’m impulsive and if I see the same pair of shoes while reading a blogpost that I looked at an hour earlier, I’m likely to desire them more and make a purchase. Plus, ads are just annoying. 

Practicing yoga at home
I used to love me some studio time, but after a 108-day at-home yoga challenge last year, I realized I prefer the privacy and flexibility of my home practice. It’s less expensive and I can get my practice knocked out before the sun comes up. We live in a very small town about 30 minutes away from my preferred studios, so getting to class and back takes time and gas money.

Finding minimalism
Discovering the minimalist movement and incorporating some of its values into my day-to-day living has transformed my relationship with things. I’ve given away a ton of stuff (read about it here) which has made everything from tidying my house to getting ready in the morning much simpler and faster. While I still enjoy shopping, I no longer purchase things for the thrill of acquiring something new; I’m much more thoughtful about what I spend my money on, and spend a lot less overall as a result.

What are your strategies for spending less?

Don’t Go Into Debt for a Ring

24 Feb

While researching stats for pitch related to engagement rings, I came across a gem of an article (NSFW) on Thought Catalog about the engagement rings real women received and how much they cost their partners. Of the 13 people quoted, ring costs range from $0 to $30,000 – no joke, thirty-fricken thousand dollars.

The justifications some of these ladies have for the cost of their rings range from the poignant to the completely outrageous. Case in point, the explanation for the $30,000 ring cost: the recipient is a high-powered lawyer who feels anything less would have hurt her career and resulted in judgement from her professional peers. Seriously.

Far be it from me to judge anyone for the cost of their wedding ring. However, I am bothered by those who feel it’s not only necessary but totally normal to go into massive amounts of debt to purchase a ring. According to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, the average expenditure on an engagement ring is over $6,000. Ouch.

If you can afford a big rock, more power to you. But if you can’t, please don’t let the desire for one override your rational decision-making. After all, do you really want to kick off the next chapter of your life and relationship in debt? Identify what you can afford and shop for rings within that price range. Alternatively, you can purchase simple, gold wedding bands for as little as $40 on Etsy, and upgrade later when you have the means to do so. These are just two ideas — there are plenty of other ways to symbolize your commitment to your partner without maxing out your credit card.

What do you think? 

New Ways to Save Money on Shipping

20 Feb

Despite the appeal of online shopping, I still make the majority of my purchases in physical stores because I don’t want to bother paying for shipping or return shipping. One of my biggest pet peeves is paying for the pleasure of trying something on that doesn’t work out. When it comes to shipping fees, I’m too much of a bargain shopper to pay an extra $6 to $12 to have something shipped, and I’m too much of a minimalist to load up my online shopping cart with stuff I don’t need just to reach the minimum order requirement to receive free shipping.

That being said, you can avoid delivery fees if you shop during holiday weekends when many retailers offer free or reduced shipping. If you can’t time your purchases to match up with these events, here are two other (and relatively new) ways to save money on shipping:

Ship to Store: Ordering online and having items shipped to a local store is something that’s been trending for a few years now as brick-and-mortar retailers seek out ways to compete with online shops. While consumers miss out on the convenience of having items shipped to their doorstep, avoiding delivery fees can make this sacrifice worth it. Stores including Target, Kohl’s, Home Depot and Walmart all offer this service on the majority of their products. Just remember this service can tempt you to make more purchases while you’re in the store to pick up your online order. Tunnel vision, people!

Order From Store: If you’d rather have something shipped directly to your home but you don’t want to pay shipping fees, order the item directly from the store. Clothing stores and department stores offer this service, with retailers like Kohl’s providing kiosks from which customers can submit orders, complete with promo codes for extra savings. I recently ordered a pair of sale leggings from LOFT from the store, saving around $8 in shipping. The leggings arrived in the mail last week and I’m proudly donning them today.

How do you save money on delivery fees?

How to Save $1,300+ on Insurance

6 Jan

And no, it has nothing to do with a green reptile.

I consider myself a pretty conscious consumer. I know to compare rates between service providers regularly, and to question charges I don’t recognize on statements. It’s for this reason that I felt constantly frustrated and stymied when I compared auto and home insurance rates. Ours kept going up — significantly — despite zero claims. Every time I compared rates, I came up with the same result: other providers quoted us nearly the same, sometimes for even less coverage.

Last year, my husband finally upped our deductibles and dropped rental insurance coverage to save $250, something I bragged about in a post about recurring expense hacking. But those savings were pretty much obliterated when our latest renewal arrived.

In chatting with my parents about our frustrations, my mom was especially appalled by our homeowner’s insurance rates. She said our rate was the same they paid after a fire claim forced them to pay exorbitantly high premiums for a year. Since we had no such claim history, it was completely ridiculous for us to be paying the same rate. She suggested we look into AAA, a provider that hadn’t been on my radar.

This past week, I placed a call to our regional branch and was quoted on both auto and homeowner’s insurance policies. Though we have to pay a membership fee to receive access to insurance policies, it’s well worth the $112 annual price tag: we will now pay $150 less for auto insurance, and a whopping $1,300 less for comparable homeowner’s insurance. I’m absolutely floored. I had no idea we were overspending on homeowner’s insurance to that degree.

What’s more, I discovered an error on our homeowner’s insurance quote that could have cost us over $100. An unfamiliar claim from last May drove up our rates slightly, and with some digging by AAA, we discovered it actually belonged to my husband’s parents. My husband and his father share the same name, save for their middle initial, and insurance claims are pooled into one database to which all insurers have access. My in-laws’ claim was incorrectly applied to our profile because their insurer failed to include my father-in-law’s middle initial and birth date.

Interestingly, I called our former provider twice during this process: the first time, to inquire about the incorrect claim on our insurance. They never returned my call. The second time was to inform them of our change and to request cancellation of our policies, to which they put absolutely no fight despite YEARS of patronage. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but still — what gives?!

Ultimately, this experience is a good reminder about the importance of comparing rates and thoroughly reviewing quotes. It’s easy to let potential savings cloud your better decision-making, but taking the time to absorb the details is key to saving the most money.

When Paying Full Price Pays Off

15 Dec

fc-run

As a bargain shopper, it’s tough for me to pay full price for anything anymore. Eventually, everything goes on sale. But as an impatient person who wants what she wants when she wants it, waiting isn’t exactly my forte, either. So, when I stumbled upon some quality leggings and a tank top to outfit my cold-weather runs during a business trip last year, I chomped despite paying full price for both garments.

With any purchase, regardless of if you snag it on sale or pay full price, you should always calculate the cost-per-wear. You might discover a dress purchased on discount is worn far less than jeans you purchased at a premium, such that the cost-per-wear is actually cheaper on the pair of jeans. While this doesn’t change the initial cost of each garment, it does offer perspective when you’re deliberating over a high-quality item compared to several low-cost, low-quality items.

Within a few weeks of my purchase, I wore the tank and leggings on six runs. In addition to keeping me comfortable and warm, having these new items further motivated me to lace up my shoes in the morning, even when it’s less than 30 degrees. Last year was the first year I ever kept up with running beyond the warm fall season, so for me, this was a big win. From a cost-per-wear perspective, my leggings cost me a little over $13 and the tank is just over $6. They also helped me log over 22 miles in the month following my purchase.

So, the next time you’re out shopping and you’re trying to decide between an investment item and several low-cost items, consider your cost-per-use. Doing so will likely help you spend less and receive more joy in the long run (pun intended).

Frugal Win: Happy Halloween

31 Oct

Happy Halloween, everyone!

The Costumed Crew

I’m a big fan of this holiday and, as usual, went a little crazy with face “paint” this year. I’ve found face makeup and a good wig are all I need to make a statement without spending too much money on Halloween. My mom made the best costumes for us as kids, and as such I can’t touch the store-bought ones that are overpriced and poorly made. One year, I tried to put together a costume with clothing I already own and just a few inexpensive accessories, and ended up looking more like a talk-show host than the superhero alter-ego I was going for. So, I now focus my efforts on my face and hair!

This year, I opted for a deer — my company hosted a murder-mystery themed holiday party last year and I was assigned the role of Vixen, so I had the makeup, wig and deer headband already. My mom and I created the headband from sale items we found at JoAnn Fabric — easy peasey! The wig and headband lasted until just about an hour ago — they’re cute but very uncomfortable! I may be minimizing my Halloween look even more next year by just sticking to makeup!

img_1850

Decor-wise, my husband is hellbent on growing the biggest pumpkin possible, so we always have plenty of homegrown beauties to carve. We spent the afternoon yesterday carving four pumpkins, and we’re quite pleased with the results. Growing pumpkins from seeds is as frugal as you can get! Comparable pumpkins from Walmart or a local supermarket would cost us $7 to $15, while a pumpkin patch would be double that.

Pumpkins

Candy is my Achilles Heel during the month of October. Since I often contribute to articles about saving money, I start talking Halloween in mid-September, so images of candy corn and Halloween candy plant themselves in my psyche early. When candy corn was priced at two for $6, I caved. Twice. That’s right — I’m one of the few lunatics who likes candy corn.

I held off on buying candy for trick-or-treaters until last Wednesday, and have been munching happily on the bag ever since. I buy in bulk from Costco because they have all my favorites in a single bag and it’s EASY. I could save about 30% by comparing sales and stocking up on sale candy at big-box stores or even grocery stores, but I’m afraid I value my time more than the $5 it would save me to do so (right or wrong!).

So that’s it, folks. Another successful Halloween in the books! How frugal was your All Hallow’s Eve?

The Importance of Reading Reviews

18 Jul

Yellow Cab by Divya Thakur via Flickr Creative Commons

Yellow Cab by Divya Thakur via Flickr Creative Commons

By now, you’d think a savvy shopper like me — who goes on record as being a “savings expert” — would know the importance of reading reviews before booking a service for the first time. But alas, even I’m prone to stupid mistakes, and a recent airport shuttle booking gone awry served as a reminder to never trust anyone. Especially when it leaves you and your mom stranded at an airport at 1am.

My only excuse in booking this service without properly vetting it is that, um, I was running out of time. Thankfully, cab drivers were on hand to rescue us from our predicament. They warned us that Super Shuttle “never picks up past 11:45pm,” but I thought I was making progress on hold (and I also thought the drivers might be just a little opportunistic). After 30 minutes on hold and absolutely no sign of a shuttle, we took a cab and made it to Grandma’s in 20 minutes. Insert dramatic *face palm* here.

The next day, I called Super Shuttle to demand request a refund. (Who am I kidding? I’m too nice to “demand” anything, even when I’m completely within my rights to do so.) I was given a claim number and told the Customer Advocacy Department would be in touch, and that since it was a holiday weekend, it likely wouldn’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday. I waited that whole week without a phone call, and placed a call 10 days after the incident. When I reached someone, I was told my claim had been approved but for whatever reason hadn’t started processing, but would be finalized within 48 hours. 96 hours later, the refund was pending on my credit card, and this weekend it cleared. Phew.

Then and only then did I post a Yelp review about my experience, which echoes other reviewers’ sentiments. All this headache could have been avoided had I read the reviews in the first place. But alas, I was in a hurry, and taking three minutes for a little research wasn’t possible for this too-busy-and-important savings expert.

How to Budget Without a Budget

12 Jul

Pretty Smug by Simona via Flickr Creative Commons

Pretty Smug by Simona via Flickr Creative Commons

I recently drafted a response to a reporter query about how some people are able to “budget without a budget.” It took me very little time to whip up my tips, and I was feeling pretty confident about my chances of being included in the story. Then I re-read my advice and realized something:

I sound pretty darn smug about not having a budget.

While everything I drafted is true, it’s not the whole story and omits some important information. For example, I have a steady, well-paying job, very few debts, and a shared income with my husband. I also don’t have children or anyone else depending on me financially. So, while part of my budget-less success can be attributed to self-discipline and big-picture thinking, it’s also because I’m a lucky as heck to be who and where I am.

With that context, here are the ways I stay in budget without a formal budget.

I avoid common budget busters (most of the time). Often times, it’s the little things that add up to big money woes for those who struggle with overspending. I drink my coffee at work, bring my lunch from home, and dine out infrequently. I don’t have cable TV or a gym membership, and I don’t desire the latest tech gadget or designer labels on my clothing. These are not sacrifices because they’re not my priorities (though pricey cupcakes continue to be my kryptonite). Think about what your true priorities are and stop spending money on everything else. 

I don’t let lifestyle inflation level me. Lifestyle inflation is another common budget buster, albeit a counterintuitive one. Instead of celebrating a raise or a bonus by “buying” a cooler car or shopping at pricey clothing stores, I save the money. If I receive a raise, I put the difference into my retirement fund. If I receive a bonus, I deposit it into my savings account. This enables me to be more mindful about the best use of that money instead of impulsively spending it while I’m in a celebratory mood. (Disclaimer: My car is already really cool.) 

I work a side gig for “fun” money. I do occasional desktop publishing jobs for my former boss. I charge a rate that makes the task worth my free time, and I enjoy the work since it’s different than what I do at my current job. The money I make from this side gig usually goes towards travel expenses or splurges on food, which helps me from feeling deprived.

I’ve embraced minimalism. I used to love shopping. The high I received while spending money was addictive, yet I found that high subsiding faster and faster after the purchase was made. After cutting down the contents of my closet by two thirds and reading about those who live minimally, I realized how ridiculous it is to collect things that only provide momentary happiness. I’m more thoughtful about what I buy and still seek out ways to save on these purchases so I’m not overspending (translation: #Coupons4Ever).

We pay ourselves first. My husband and I set up an automatic transfer between checking and savings so we’re always squirreling away funds each week. This helps us afford vacations, home improvements and unexpected expenses without racking up credit card debt.

What’s your take on budgeting without a budget?

Saving on Cooling Costs: A Parody

17 Jun

When you write about saving money all day, every day, some topics are inevitably more compelling than others. I tend to get distracted on sunny Friday afternoons like this one, when I’d rather be feeling the breeze on my face with cocktail in hand than writing about saving money on summer cooling costs. So, at the suggestion of a most beloved coworker, I drafted the following parody as a much-needed diversion. Read these six tips at your own risk.

40+280 Heat by Bark via Flickr Creative Commons

40+280 Heat by Bark via Flickr Creative Commons

#IceBucketChallenge, all day, err day.
Sure, we all pretended the ice bucket challenge was actually a challenge at peak heat in July. In truth, it’s exactly what we needed, which is why conducting an #IceBucketChallenge every half hour between June and September just makes good sense. Don’t let those hippie environmentalists from California shame you into stopping, either; there’s no such thing as a drought.

Become a nudist.
When people complain about how hot it is, do you notice how much clothing their wearing? Vitamin D is good for us, people. The next time you feel the urge to complain about the heat, strip. It will cool you down while performing the public duty of distracting everyone else from the weather.

Spend your weekends at the mall (and sleep at the office).
To compensate for the unsavory summer conditions, retail establishments and office parks around the country set their thermostats to arctic-like depths. Simply change your summer plans so you can sleep at the office and spend your weekends trolling the malls like a moody, prepubescent teen.

Build a tent around your house.
Why anyone hasn’t thought of this before is beyond us. Simply closing your blinds in the morning isn’t nearly as thorough as building a custom tent made from solar-blocking fabric around your entire abode. Sure, it’s expensive, but this is an investment your comfort. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of building a tent yourself, import a bunch of termites into your home and commission a whole-house fumigation, then request the tent remain intact. You paid for it, after all.

Hire a personal fanner.
It worked for Julius Caesar, so why not you? Place a personal ad for a personal fanner or two and have them follow you around wherever you go. If anyone finds this arrangement curious, just tell them you’re creating jobs.

Attend a hot yoga class.
This one doesn’t sound right, but hear me out. Most hot yoga classes are between 85 to 102 degrees, plus humid as Satan’s armpit. For those living in the sauna that is the south, these classes will feel cool by comparison. For those whining about 80-degree dry heat, you’ll likely die of heat exposure 20 minutes into class and weather will no longer be a top concern.