Comparing Costs for Canine Surgery

30 Aug

My dog needed oral surgery. Instead of saying “okay, schedule the appointment” to the vet who recommended it, I picked up the phone and called several other vets to learn what they charged for the procedure. This led me to find someone who actually examined our dogs a couple times when they were younger, and who charged nearly half of what everyone else quoted. 10 minutes of phone calls and one complimentary dental consult saved me between $400 and $900.

But let me back up a bit.

I love pretty much everything about dog ownership except the most crucial part: vet visits. Going to the vet for annual vaccinations and exams stresses me out because, despite being doting dog parents, we didn’t socialize them well. Walking our dogs within sight of another dog is the equivalent of having your toddler throw an epic tantrum in the middle of the cereal aisle. It’s humiliating. What’s more, it feels like I’m being sold on a myriad of services and procedures every time I go. I say “no” to pretty much every offer slung at me, and each time I feel like a bad mother. No, I don’t want to sign up for your wellness plan. Hard pass on getting my dogs microchipped. No, I’m not interested in scheduling a dental cleaning.

Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with relatively healthy dogs. Despite my aversion to vet appointments, we’re diligent about staying up to date on vaccinations, providing healthy, expensive-as-hell food, and ensuring they get plenty of exercise. Actually, our neighbors are to be thanked for that last one: our house backs up to a walking path and several times a day, our dogs race back and forth bad-mouthing anyone who has the audacity to take a stroll.

During our most recent visit, the vet noticed that our dog Diego had two broken teeth. Both would need to be extracted, and the rest would need a thorough cleaning. The process for scheduling an appointment required a pre-surgery blood panel to ensure he could handle the anesthesia, among other things. Worst case, I was told the procedure could cost between $1,600 and $1,800, with a $50 discount if I scheduled within one month.

So there it was, a procedure I couldn’t say “no” to. I knew immediately that I should contact other vets to learn what they would charge for the procedure and what their process was. (The vet tech’s description of the anesthesia they use as “the same kind that killed Michael Jackson” may have factored into my decision to ask around.)

I called three other vets, including my hometown’s university teaching hospital. One provider said they couldn’t offer a quote until they examined my dog personally, for a fee of $55. The university hospital said they’d provide a more accurate quote once they evaluated my dog, but expected the procedure would cost anywhere from $1,300 to $1,800. The last one I called offered free dental consultations and was managed by someone I recognized as a former Banfield vet, who had actually seen my dogs a couple times when we used to take them there.

The consult went well and the vet made the same recommendation as everyone else I’d spoken to. His quote came in at just under $900. As thrilled as I was to have found a better price for the procedure, I knew I had to read reviews before I could commit. Luckily, both Yelp and Google featured four and five-star average reviews for the vet and the practice, and I felt confident in my selection.

It’s been three weeks since Diego’s surgery and we couldn’t be happier with the process. In fact, I plan to make this vet our permanent vet going forward. Everything leading up to the procedure was stressful as hell, but I’m glad I took the time to compare costs and do my research.

To Fix / Not Fix? The $1,800 Question

31 Jul

Confession: I form emotional attachments to my cars.

My first car was a hunter green 1995 Saturn. It had wheat cloth interior. It was a wonderful first car and I was reluctant to give it up when it started to decline. It was replaced by a new Saturn, this time pale blue-gray and curvier than its predecessor. My husband named it Snow Cat for its ability to back out of our condo parking lot without getting stuck in the snow pack.

Around 2008, I crashed the Snow Cat into a guard rail en route to New Mexico. The insurance company declared it totaled and instead of paying to have it fixed, we decided to put the money we received toward my student loans and carpool for three years. When we drove away from the lot where it was parked, I sobbed. I felt so terrible for having harmed it, like it was a living, breathing member of my family.

In 2011, we purchased the car I drive today. It’s slate with leather interior and makes me feel like a million bucks when I’m in it. I beam with pride whenever someone compliments its roomy interior. It’s an object designed to get me from A to B but thanks to marketing’s firm grasp on my psyche, it’s so much more than that. It’s an extension of my personal style.

Earlier this season, Mother Nature decided to remind us frail humans of her unrequited strength and dropped golf ball-sized hail onto parts of Northern Colorado. In less than five minutes, every person’s car was customized with dimples of various sizes and depths. I had hoped that parking under a tree would save my sleek beauty from any damage but alas, the tree canopy was no match for Mother Nature’s wrath.

I went through the motions of contacting my insurance company and coordinating a repair estimate. My husband went so far as to schedule an appointment with the repair place since they were already booked with claims from other locals impacted by the storm. It took less than a week for my claim to be approved by the insurance company and all I had to do was give them approval to restore my baby to her former glory.

And then, I hesitated.

Aside from a few new beauty marks, my car continues to be totally functional. Other drivers do not recoil in horror when I pull up next to them at a stop light. In fact, enveloped in its perpetual robe of fine dust and dog hair, the divots are barely noticeable.

And yet, I paid GOOD MONEY for this car and keeping it looking sexy is (right or wrong) important to me. I pay insurance premiums so that when things like this happen, I can repair them at a relatively low cost. And while I have no plans to trade in the car before it travels its last mile, I have a rather selfish desire to keep it looking pristine.

I waffled on this decision for six weeks. Back in forth in my head, I deliberated my options. I can pay $500 to have it repaired or I can pocket $1,800 and feel a tinge of guilt every time one of the dimples catches in the sunlight.

The deciding factor ended up being a car wash. Despite my love for my vehicle’s appearance, I am not great at keeping it clean, especially during monsoon season when rain is a weekly visitor. If I noticed the hail damage when it was clean, I was going to have it repaired. If it didn’t bother me, I’d pocket the cash.


It doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t ruin that moment when I’m approaching my car after work and thinking, “Damn, what a fine-looking ride.” You don’t notice the dimples from a short distance away, and as such I can’t justify getting it repaired when I’d much rather save the cash for a rainy day.

(Though not the literal rainy day that occurred just 24 hours after washing my car).

Cheers to a Frugal Anniversary

20 Jun

On Friday, my husband and I celebrated 11 years as a married couple.

Every year, I think I’ll plan something big like a weekend getaway somewhere, and then the event sneaks up on me and it’s too late to do anything other than a local excursion. Despite my grandiose daydreams of seaside mornings with bubbly and benedicts, I’m learning that I find more joy in lower-key experiences. Thankfully, my husband has always been good at grounding me.

We deliberated over what we should do to commemorate the occasion and settled upon a bike ride and breakfast through Old Town. It turned into a progressive lunch/dinner and brewery tour, and it’s the most fun we’ve had among the living in a while. Plus, we stuck to cash and managed to enjoy our day together for less than $100.

Since I know you’re all dying for deets, here’s what our day looked like:

  • First stop, Odell Brewing Co. where we each had a pint.
  • Second stop, New Belgium Brewery to check out their expanded space and taster tray of seasonal brews.
  • Third stop, a local deli/butcher where we split a burger and brew. Our first choice was sushi, but our favorite restaurant wasn’t open for a few hours.
  • Fourth stop, Ben & Jerry’s, because Chocolate Fudge Brownie.
  • Fifth stop, billiards, hot wings and an IPA. I got my butt kicked three times but enjoyed the splendid combination of buffalo sauce and bleu cheese dressing.
  • Sixth stop, Equinox Brewing where we split a pint and a personal pizza with caramelized onions, local fungi and four kinds of local cheese.

Notice a theme here? Yes, we like craft beer, especially IPA. We live in the Napa Valley of Craft Beer, so it’s kind of a requirement. While it won’t win any points on the healthy scale, we had a really great time reconnecting over our shared love of food and beer. Plus, we got some exercise and gained some appreciation for the robust biking trails offered by my increasingly busy and congested hometown.

The moral here: you don’t have to plan a fancy weekend or spend a ton of money to celebrate a milestone. Finding joy in simplicity and connection is almost always a better idea. Beer helps, too.

How I’m Saving $1,500+ on Travel

23 May

I love me some travel. In fact, now that I’ve changed my relationship with things, most of my big spending is on travel. Still, given how quickly travel costs can spiral out of control, it’s important to find ways to save money on my plans.

Planning travel is almost as fun as the trip itself, and I typically have all my vacation days spoken for within the first few months of the year.

I’m no travel or credit card hacker since I’m all about hassle-free savings around here, but I give props to those who hack the system and travel around the world for mere pennies. Instead, I find relatively simple ways to save money through discounts, rewards and a few travel alternatives.

Me and Mom at Valley Forge a few years back. Cherry Creek is a bit less historical.

Mother’s Day Weekend in Cherry Creek

Booking with discounts: I’m a recent AAA member and am trying to use as many perks as I can. My Mother’s Day gift to my mom this year was a weekend in Cherry Creek, and I booked us a stay at a Hyatt near the neighborhood.

Total savings: $20

Not groundbreaking, I know, but I booked it last minute and was happy to find something near a ritzy part of Denver for less than $200.


Memorial Day Weekend in Silver City

My husband and I are road tripping to his hometown for Memorial Day weekend. It’s a small town in southwestern New Mexico, so flying there doesn’t make sense from a time or cost perspective. Still, driving is a lot less expensive than booking airfare and a rental car, something we’ve actually done once.

Total savings: $624 (two flights @ $267 each + $280 rental car for 6 days, minus $150 cost of fuel + $40 car maintenance)

I’m not including wear and tear on my car because a) I have no earthly idea how to calculate that and b) I figure the maintenance I paid for before our trip is a reasonable substitute. Plus, the calculation above was exhausting enough.

Mission Inn at Riverside. My parents were married here in 1970.

Cali Family Reunion in July

Track itinerary: Southwest is my preferred airline for several reasons, including the ability to receive credit toward future travel when booked airfare drops in price. The flight from Denver to Ontario originally cost about $288, but I dropped it to around $251 with credits from previous flights. Just this morning, I noticed my outbound flight was priced at $14 cheaper, so I rebooked and now have that $14 to use toward a future fare.

Take a shuttle: I live about an hour from DIA, so driving there is no small task, especially on congested I-25. A local shuttle service will drop me off for $28, which saves me on fuel costs and parking. My husband will likely pick me up from the airport when I return.

Total savings: $93 (Previous flight credits + parking savings + recent flight credit +  fuel cost, sans shuttle fee)

Not Boston or Salem. But I hope we see fall colors like these from Charles City, IA!

Fall Bestie Trip to Boston & Salem

Redeeming rewards: I’m using airline and credit card rewards to offset some of my travel spending this year. During the process of booking my return flight from Boston, I realized I had enough Rapid Rewards points to cover the fare.

I also covered the deposit for the hotel we booked in Salem with credit card reward points.

Using my feet: We’re not renting a car in Boston. I hear traffic is horrible and my friend booked us a hotel room in the city so it’s within walking distance to everywhere we want to be. Was it more expensive than a hotel off the beaten path? Sure, but I think we still come out ahead money-wise, and we definitely come out ahead stress and time-wise! Plus, we can take the free Silver Line via MBTA from the airport to our hotel, AND we avoid parking and valet fees, the latter of which runs about $50 daily, sans the tip. And you know how I feel about tipping.

Total savings: $940 ($132 outbound flight + $265 Salem hotel deposit + $486 car rental + $102 valet, sans $45 RT ferry between Boston Harbor and Salem)

Based on these very rough estimates and exceedingly poor math skills, I’m saving a total of $1,677 on travel this year.

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.

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

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).