Recurring Expense Hacking FTW

19 Apr

An alternative title for this post: Justifying My Cupcake Addiction. The reason will become clear.

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Creative Commons

Recently, my husband hacked our auto insurance renewal and saved $250 on our annual premium. Then, he reduced our Verizon bill by $15 a month. His successes led me to finally cancel a $30-per-month supplemental insurance policy I’ve had for over a decade and never used. All this happened over the last few weeks, but it wasn’t until I read Jim Wang’s recent Elite Daily article that I realized what we’ve accomplished.

We saved money without changing our lifestyle one bit.

Spending less is tough when you’re focused on reducing or cutting out specific expenditures. It’s especially hard since the first things to go are often experiences or indulgences we enjoy most. In my case, the areas in which I planned to spend less actually don’t represent hefty expenditures. I dine out infrequently, don’t have cable and spend very little on clothing.

Yet, my first idea for cutting expenses was reducing the whopping $4.50 average monthly cost of cupcakes. There are health reasons for that reduction too, of course, but really? I think I looked at an easy expense to cut and chose that one, because it’s so obviously unnecessary. However, reviewing recurring expenses and making cuts there has had a much bigger impact on our budget without affecting our lifestyle at all.

Obviously, consumers who want to save money should reduce daily spending AND look for ways to cut back on recurring expenses. Together, these pursuits will free up some cash to be applied towards financial goals. But focusing solely on daily expenditures as I initially did is shortsighted and, in some cases, cruel. After all, punishing myself for a $5 monthly indulgence is not going to help me achieve my financial goals.

2016 Spending Goals

19 Feb

Image by m01229 via Flicker Creative Commons

Photo by m01229 via Flicker Creative Commons

Last year, I spent $56 on cupcakes.

I reviewed my year-end credit card summary recently and noticed several charges from ButterCream Cupcakery, the hard-to-resist bakery cruelly located across the street from my yoga studio. This local shop has regular flavors and recurring daily specials, and Thursday’s flavor is the proverbial icing on the cake. To paraphrase Bogart, of all the cupcake combos, in all the towns, in all the world, salted caramel comes on Thursday.

So far this year, I’ve visited the cupcakery twice, kicking off 2016 by spending $8.70 on sugary deliciousness. At the time, the expense seems totally worth it: my teeth sink gingerly into the thick frosting, slowly cascading through the buttery sponge, rewarding my taste buds with a salty sweetness that lingers on my palate briefly enough to have me begging for more.

Sigh. I could really go for one of those right now.

But alas, my goal this year is to spend less on such indulgences. This is not to say I won’t enjoy another salted caramel cupcake all year; rather, I’ll make the experience less common. Ultimately, I’d like to cut my overall credit card spending by one third, specifically focusing on the dining and “merchandise” categories (though the latter is a rather broad bucket featuring everything from groceries to apparel to race registrations). As I aspire toward a more minimalist lifestyle, passing up clothing and shoes will be far easier than ignoring the siren song of salted caramel after a sweaty vinyasa flow. The sacrifice will be worth it, however, both to my budget and to my health-related goals, which include reducing my sugar intake and avoiding such self sabotage as eating sweets after a workout.

So goodbye for now, dear cupcakes. We’ll always have 2015.

Hello…it’s me.

11 Jan

I’m still here, I swear!

Photo by Tim G. via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Tim G. via Flickr Creative Commons

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity, as the holiday season typically is for those of us in the shopping and discount industry. While I’ve been radio silent on this blog since September, I promise I’ve been spreading the good word about bargains, savings tools, shopping strategies and more through other means. That said, I miss my Hassle-Free Savings posts and, in the spirit of joining all the other suckers out there in making ill-fated New Year’s Resolutions, I resolve to post more frequently to this blog in 2016. Am I instilling you with confidence yet?

My problem, like most maintaining a blog, is coming up with clever, captivating content that doesn’t revolve around TJMaxx as the ultimate shopping solution. I also struggle with creating content that doesn’t shove minimalism down the throats of readers seeking practical money-saving solutions to everyday expenses and splurges. That being said, something I heard Joshua Fields Millburn say during a recent podcast by The Minimalists inspired me to re-commit to this blog (and other pursuits I have in the hopper):

“Our affinity for perfection or getting it ‘just right’ prohibits us from actually doing it.”

How true is this? I think it’s the perfect statement right now, during a month in which many of us make lofty resolutions that inevitably lose steam in just a few weeks. As a perfectionist, I’m hesitant to start anything unless I know it will work out “just so,” which is completely ridiculous. In reality, my standards are made impossibly high so I can opt out of change altogether, even if change is what’s desperately needed.

I may be getting off track here but the quote was so inspirational that I had to share it with you! And I’m using it as a launching board to get back on track with this blog, however imperfect my attempt may be. I look forward to interacting with my readers again and learning about the ways in which you’re making your life, money-related and otherwise, more hassle-free in 2016. Cheers!

Seeking Savings on Sight: My Experience with Warby Parker

22 Sep

Disclaimer: Warby Parker did NOT pay me for this review, nor did they request it. 

Confession: I’m blind as a bat.

My first pair of glasses graced my visage in the second grade, during which time I distinctly remember wearing those funky black paper glasses they give you after dilating your eyes all. day. long. I failed to understand the glasses were only for the trip to school and maybe during recess if it occurred within two hours of my appointment. When I arrived home still wearing them, my mom greeted me with an expression of bemusement.

Fast-forward to today and I’m seriously wondering how much time my eyes have left. I’m hoping for LASIK surgery but that can’t happen until my prescription evens out, which it has yet to do. I required a stronger prescription YET AGAIN and now have to order specialized contact lenses not offered by the likes of Bausch & Laumb because it’s JUST THAT STRONG. In addition to poor eyesight, I also have astigmatism in both eyes, which could sabotage my dreams of laser surgery. And the final cherry on top: I’m at a pretty high risk for glaucoma.

Thankful for your eyes yet?

The point of this rambling is that eye care is expensive for the average person. For someone with my special needs, it can be exorbitant. Insurance only gets you so far, and since walking around sans either contacts or eyeglasses is not an option for me, I need both. Insurance doesn’t cover both, at least not in the same calendar year. So, I typically put off spending money on frames every year and instead spend my insurance money on contacts, since I wear those most of the time anyway.

The last time I purchased frames was about three years ago. Instead of carefully studying the “non-designer rack” –> i.e., the frames insurance pays for in full –> I opted for an exorbitant super-cute pair of Michael Kors frames. After adding all the bells and whistles that now come with glasses lenses, including the high-index option to keep me from looking like Urkel, I paid over $500 for those puppies.

From a cost-per-wear perspective, I’ve definitely gotten my mileage out of the frames. However, I know the expense is totally unnecessary, especially when you can find similar-looking frames for less. This time around, I decided to try Warby Parker. A close friend with whom I spent my 30th birthday weekend was sporting her WPs (I just made that up — clever, no?) and they looked very similar to my pricey frames. A few weeks ago I started the process, which includes a Home Try-On kit featuring up to five frames.

kit

All but one of these frames cost $95, including lenses. The final frame cost $145 with lenses, possibly because of the metal detail on the side of the frames. After trying each frame on, I narrowed it down to three contenders.

contenders

As a test, I wore each of the three contenders for 30 minutes to see if any of them slid down my nose like my current frames do. Two out of three did, including the pricier pair.

The winner.

The winner is a two-toned looker called Wilkie. With a base price of $95, I added high-index lenses for an additional $30. Total damage: $125. Already I’m about $400 ahead of the game with these frames.

Submitting my prescription was a cinch — I uploaded a photo from my smartphone. The next day, I received an email from Warby Parker saying they needed a measurement not listed on my prescription, something called a Pupillary Distance. To get this information, I was required to do this:

sb-pd-reading

While ridiculous, I commend Warby Parker’s creativity in acquiring technical information from people with absolutely no grasp of optometry. Throughout this process, I was reminded of just how difficult it must be to manage a mostly-online business selling products as personal as eyewear.

I received my shipping notice email Sept. 9 and was giddy (albeit surprised) to learn my glasses would arrive by Sept. 11.

Imagine my disappointment when they didn’t arrive. The tracking information didn’t update until the next day, and I received a quirky apology from Warby Parker and updated information on the status of my glasses. They arrived the following Monday, still just four business days from when they shipped.

When I giddily opened the package, I was disappointed again. The frames were way too wide. They fell off my face almost immediately, invalidating their original appeal. I decided to email WP to see if I needed to return them for a proper fitting, and then realized how dumb that was. Obviously they can’t adjust my frames remotely, so I took a quick trip to a nearby optometry practice with whom I’ve worked in the past and waited for my turn with the glasses person. During that time, I received an email from Warby Parker apologizing for the poor fit, along with this:

wp-fitting

Whaa? How awesome is that? They managed to exceed my expectations by actually elevating them to a practical level. What I mean is this: my expectations are often low when it comes to service transactions because it seems like EVERYONE wants to nickel and dime you these days. It makes sense that a eyewear company would want their customers to be 100% satisfied with their product, and a proper fit is a big part of that equation. Covering the cost of a fitting is the obvious right thing to do, and yet so many companies FAIL TO DO THE RIGHT THING.

I didn’t end up paying anything for the adjustment and couldn’t be happier with them. It’s only been a few days so time will tell if they wear as well as my pricey pair, but I have high hopes. As a marketing major, I also have to give mad props to the marketing people at Warby Parker – their communication is on point, offering levity without sounding juvenile and providing instruction without overdoing it. Case in point, this response to my survey:

warbyparker-survey

So, there you have it. If you managed to stick with me this far, remember that Warby Parker did not pay me for this review. I figured anyone toying with the idea of trying their service might find my experience helpful. Also, remember the company donates a pair of glasses through their nonprofit partners to someone in need. How cool is that?

A Case for Cost Comparison

15 Sep

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve written a lot about comparing prices on this blog (here, here and here) and in the advice I give as a Savings Expert for CouponSherpa.com. In fact, I would go so far as to say comparing prices is my top tip for saving money. Why? Because you never know how the cost of a product or service compares between competitors unless YOU do the research to find out.

Case in point: auto repair services. My parents recently discovered the alternator in one of their vehicles needs to be replaced. My dad called our local Toyota dealership who told him it would cost $1,200 to replace and he’d have to wait two weeks to get it done. He then called a mechanic’s shop he trusted, and they gave him a bid of $750 along with a one-week delay. Finally, he contacted another local shop (with whom he’s worked with previously) and they told him it would cost $450. What’s more, they could get the repair done immediately.

Bottom line? 20 minutes of phone calls resulted in $750 of savings.

Dealership prices are almost always higher – that’s a given. But not everyone understands just how much higher these costs can be, so taking the time to find out for yourself could result in a significant cost savings. I mean, $750? That’s huge!

Another tool I discovered during this process is AutoMD’s repair cost estimator. It helps you estimate auto repairs based on your vehicle’s make and model, and the zip code in which you plan to have the repair. My dad tried it and found the tool’s estimate to be very close to the mechanic charging $450.

As someone who knows next-to-nothing about cars, having a ballpark understanding of what a repair should cost is invaluable. Same goes for any purchase, really: if you know a product or service’s price history, it’s much easier to shop around and negotiate. It takes more effort, but the payoff can be huge.

Spill: what’s the most you’ve saved by comparing prices?

Savings Tip: Mind Your Assumptions

26 Aug

Photo by Denise Kreb via Flickr

Photo by Denise Kreb via Flickr

When you’re in need of a new pair of athletic shoes, JCPenney isn’t exactly the first store to come to mind, at least not for me. The last purchase I made from JCPenney was a pair of sale slippers, which I found later for several dollars less at TJMaxx. It’s in those moments where my bias against department stores is reinforced, and I assume they never have the best prices.

Well, that assumption can be costly, as I learned recently during a shopping trip with my mom.

We met up at DSW recently in search of comfy, supportive sneakers. Her old New Balance faithfuls were just that: old, and leading to pain in her ankles and knees. She purchased them several years ago from Ross for a whopping $12. Those were the good ol’ days when our local Ross was a hotbed of incredible bargains. Now, it’s a hot mess of merchandising, requiring serious tunnel vision and absolutely no expectation of finding something.

She tried on several pairs of shoes – New Balance, ASICS, Ryka, Dr. Scholls, Saucony – and put them all to the test: pacing between mirrors, lightly jumping up and down, trying on different sizes to compare comfort. Turns out, shopping for athletic shoes is a workout in itself!

After some deliberation between a black pair of New Balance shoes and a lesser-priced pair of ASICS, she opted for the former pair. Priced at $65, the New Balance sneaks were higher than some of her other options, so I fired up my RedLaser app and started scanning. The ASICS could be found for $5 less online, but the New Balance was priced at $55 over at JCPenney. Encouraged, I went to JCPenney’s website to see if the shoes were available at our local store. My patience waned thin as my phone slowly loaded JCPenney’s page and navigated to the shoe page. My waiting paid off – they had a pair in stock.

We braved 5 o’clock traffic in pursuit of savings, and were rewarded with a well-stocked shoe department including the coveted New Balance kicks. At checkout, I showed the cashier a coupon for an extra 15% off, a bit of a gamble since the coupon only applied to “select items.” One of those items was athletic shoes, so no extra discount for us.

All in all, we saved $10 by taking a few minutes to compare prices. Even the cashier was impressed by the cost difference.

I never thought we would end up at JCPenney to buy athletic shoes, but I’m glad I didn’t let my assumption get in the way of savings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it pays to compare!

Sunshine (On My Blog) Makes Me Happy

19 Aug

sunshine-blogger

I was surprised recently by a direct message from one of my favorite bloggers, Kristin Wong over at Brokepedia, telling me she’d just nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award. Whaaaa!? Warm fuzzies broke out everywhere, my friends!

What is the Sunshine Blogger Award, you ask? Well, I would try to top Kristin’s description, but why mess with perfection?

It’s more of a movement than an official award. The Sunshine Blogger Award is a networking tool to get bloggers to connect, support, and get to know each other. Nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot of solid, useful content out there, and the personal finance blogging community, in particular, is pretty stellar.

Well said, Kristin! As her post suggests, I need to:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated me. THANK YOU KRISTIN!!
  • Answer her questions.
  • Nominate other bloggers.
  • Create a list of just as many questions.
  • Notify the nominees.

Easy enough. Here goes!

Q&A:

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to save cash?

I once returned something within minutes of purchasing it. My hubs and I thought we wanted a Wii gaming system, but after swiping my card for over $400 in charges, we instantly regretted it. The electronics department at our local Target is located at the back of the store, and we walked directly to customer service at the front of the store to return it. We felt silly but realized the sick feeling we both shared was a strong indication of a bad buy.

What do you love most about blogging?

I love writing and engaging with people on shared topics of interest. Not everyone in my immediate social group wants to hear about my latest shopping and saving exploits (shocking, I know), so blogging offers an outlet to engage with others who enjoy nerding out about saving money. I’ve also always loved writing, and the ability to create stories and be inspired by others’ styles and experiences is a true joy.

On a side note, I’d love a space where I could not only write about money but also about other topics of interest, including minimalism, yoga, wanderlust and others. I’ve been mulling over a plan of attack for this and hope to have something in the works soon.

What’s the hardest part about maintaining your own blog?

I have several other writing-related responsibilities that keep me from updating my blog as often as I’d like. That’s hardly an excuse in this community, as I know several full-time freelancers who manage to keep their blogs up-to-date while also showing up practically everywhere else on the Interwebs sporting unique content. Props to all you hustlers – you inspire!!

I also struggle with coming up with new, interesting angles about which to write. There’s only so many times you guys want to hear about my exploits at TJMaxx, after all. When I feel like I’m in a rut, I visit my favorite bloggers’ sites and am often inspired by a post or experience which then leads to a unique story of my own.

What’s your favorite book?

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Before you roll your eyes for my lack of originality, hear me out. I read this book once every couple years and every time I’m struck by the language. Thanks to working on the Internet all day, I’ve become a skimmer – I have to consciously remind myself to slow down and absorb what I’m reading. With Austen, this is a necessity, not an option. To access the full value of the experience, it must be read slowly and with purpose. You’re rewarded with a beautifully constructed jab, reprimand or insight that more often than not brings a smile to your face. At least for me. I fall in the love with the English language when I read Pride & Prejudice: it inspires me to be a better writer, to expand my vocabulary and to create a more precise-yet-polished way to convey my ideas.

In essence, this novel “bewitches me body and soul.” Muah! Plus, there’s a lot more sarcasm and snark than you might expect, delivered with such eloquence that you can’t help but respect it.

What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received?

Hmmm…I’m going to break the rules and offer two. First, from my mom: earn your own money. Second, from my husband: debt is evil. The first lesson helped me avoid financial dependency, and the second helped me reign in my spendthrift habits. I’m grateful to everyone who has influenced my money habits and while I have a lot to learn, I’m incredibly blessed to be where I’m at financially.

Now, on to my nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award!

Questions:

  • What first prompted you to start a blog about personal finance?
  • What’s your top piece of advice for driving blog engagement?
  • Describe the best deal you ever scored, and how.
  • What was the last TV series you binge-watched?
  • What app are you using a lot these days?

Another BIG THANK YOU to Kristin for nominating me! I look forward to reading what my nominees create and finding new bloggers to follow.

That Time I Wore Alpaca

13 Aug

alpaca-show

I need to work on my model smile, apparently.

On my way up to the set of KDVR’s Good Day Colorado this morning, I was asked by a Colorado’s Best guest to help model her designer alpaca clothing.

Um…sure?

While I had back-to-school bargains on the mind, I thought it might be fun to do a little twirling in a material with which I have zero experience.

You can view my segment with Good Day here, where I discuss stocking up on loss-leader supplies, comparing prices, requesting price-matches (especially from Staples, who is currently offer a 110% price-match guarantee), and buying gently-used clothing and electronics. With school supplies increasing in price, it’s important to save as much money as you can!

Now, back to the alpaca threads. Northern Colorado dwellers can attend the second-annual Suri Strut Fashion Show at Embassy Suites in Loveland, Colo., starting tonight at 5:30pm. Admission is just $5 plus you can get autographs from this gorgeous Colorado celebrity. Interwebs, meet Cody the Alpaca!

I could never pull off those booties. You go girl!

I could never pull off those booties. You go girl!

 

Isn’t she fabulous? Apparently she is one of the smallest surviving alpaca babies, weighing in at just 6.5 pounds when she was born (compared to the average alpaca birth size of 15 to 20 pounds). She was very weak and very sick, but a dedicated ranch owner nursed her to health and eventual fame – she’s now a children’s book author! You can read more about Cody here.

Aaaaand that’s a wrap. I never imagined sharing the green room with an alpaca, but I’m pleased to have met Cody and hope the fashion show goes well tonight!

To Return or Not to Return?

23 Jul

Photo by Jenn Turner via Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo by Jenn Turner via Flickr/Creative Commons

That is the question (whether like it or not).

Despite the convenience of online shopping, I’m still primarily an in-store shopper. I like to touch and feel things, especially clothing. As I work toward changing my relationship with things (and having recently decluttered my closet), I don’t want to feel tempted to keep something I don’t like just to dodge return shipping fees.

And yet, it’s very difficult for me to swallow a $6 or $8 shipping fee when what I order doesn’t turn out as expected. Shipping it back and getting charged a fee is like paying a store for the privilege of trying something on. This is madness and further reinforces why I should stop shopping online for clothing.

What’s even more insane, however, is keeping a $20-$50 garment just to avoid an $8 charge. It’s like loading up your shopping cart with and extra $25 worth of crap to qualify for “free” shipping and avoid an $8 shipping fee.

Seeing that in black and white further proves how preposterous it is, and yet I can’t shake the feeling of being duped. It feels like a scam, one that this store successfully pulled off.

So, even though what I purchased was exclusive to the online store, I opened a live chat on their website and asked if I could return the item to my local boutique. To my surprise, I could return the item to the store and when I did, the sales associate told me they accept all online orders excluding maternity and swimwear. Good. To. Know.

In the end, I was refunded the cost of the garment sans the shipping charge I incurred when I initially ordered it. Returning it to the store only saved me from incurring return shipping charges, but hey, it’s better than nothing. I made it a point to leave the store immediately lest my savings be totally consumed by the clearance rack located strategically adjacent to check out.

The store may have won this round, but I’m getting stronger.

How to Save on July 4th Supplies

30 Jun

I love me some Fourth of July festivities! Every year I join my extended family in SoCal and soak up the sunshine poolside while munching on seven-layer dip and my grandma’s potato salad. Carbolicious!

My nostalgia for this time of year is why I loved sharing savings tips for July 4th essentials with Brooke Wagner and the rest of the Good Day Colorado team. Plus, it offered an excuse to make cupcakes with my mom’s special chocolate frosting recipe. It doesn’t hold up well in the sun as you’ll notice, but it still made for an amazing breakfast. You heard that right — cupcakes. For breakfast. BOOM.