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Your Money: Save on Halloween

15 Oct

I interrupt my “Paradise Has a Price” series with an important segment about saving money on Halloween! Halloween is likely my favorite holiday, mostly because I get to dress up as someone else AND it doesn’t cost me that much. Americans seem to share my enthusiasm for Halloween, as overall spending has increased 55 percent since 2005, and the National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend over $7 billion on costumes, candy and decor this year. So, how best to keep those costs contained while still looking like you went all out? Check out my tips (and amazing DIY skills) on Good Day Colorado with the fabulous Brooke Wagner.

Paradise Has a Price: The Food

7 Oct

The one and only tropical chick drink purchased during our trip.

The one and only tropical chick drink purchased during our trip.

The primary way we save money (and our sanity) during vacation is having our own food to make and not relying on restaurant food all day, everyday. Having a kitchen in the rental house was a big selling point for the trip since it would allow us to store and prepare our meals.

When we finally landed in Lihue, we were exhausted and looking forward to reaching our final destination. We met our party at a sports bar overlooking the ocean, hoping to get a cheap bite before heading to the house. The bite was neither tasty nor cheap, costing us over $40 for incredibly bland pub food. The view was great, but we left ready to stock up on real food for the rest of the week.

After a detour to the rental car agency to exchange our vehicle, we were led astray by Google maps, who routed us in circles trying to find the Safeway. We settled for the Big Save Markets and were immediately slapped in the face with the reality of island pricing.

Here’s a little rundown of the first few items we saw:

  • Red Bell Peppers – $6.99 per pound.
  • Orange Juice – $10 per jug.
  • Dozen Eggs (white, non-organic, not cage-free) – $6.

It was like getting sucker punched, only worsened by the fact that we were still nauseas over the exorbitant price we paid for subpar restaurant food. We spent over $30 on six staples (eggs, bacon, coffee, cream, pineapple and butter), and then bought another $30 in wine and beer because at this point, we both really needed a drink. We found our way to the rental house and vowed not to make any more purchasing decisions until after a good night’s rest.

We found the elusive Safeway the next day and tooled around the aisles in search of more palatable prices.  Overall, Safeway seemed to have better prices than Big Save, albeit not by much. We decided to load up on essentials for the week so we could avoid the experience of shopping for groceries as much as possible. I left my husband in the meat department to find healthy produce that wouldn’t cost us our flight home. Here’s what I found:

  • Tomatoes – $4.99 per pound.
  • Avocados – $1.99 each.
  • Green Bell Peppers – $2.99 per pound.

I thought BLTs would make for a simple dinner, until I found the price of bacon was $9.99, and that was for the cheap stuff. At this point, I glanced back at my husband who was standing in the same place I left him, staring at two packages of meat in disbelief. He seriously looked catatonic, and it occurred to me he might need medical attention before this shopping trip was through. Every fiber of his being seemed to fight these prices, to the point where it left him powerless to make a purchasing decision.

By this time, the store was getting busy and we both have trouble focusing in crowds. We made quick decisions on our purchases and tried unsuccessfully to do self-checkout. After much frustration, we packed up our goods and headed to the regular checkout, leaving a queue of annoyed shoppers in our wake.

By the time we left the store, we were both ready to go home. Like, back to the mainland, where prices for basic tomatoes didn’t rival that of heirloom varieties that receive their nutrients exclusively from unicorn tears.

Despite these initial setbacks, we did finally find our groove when it came to buying food. I’ve created the following five-step plan to help you avoid the shock and dismay we experienced.

Step 1: Acceptance.
We struggled with this throughout our trip, but ultimately there’s nothing you can do about island pricing. The cost to ship fresh goods across the Pacific gets transferred to the consumer, and you just have to determine which high-priced items fit best in your budget.

Step 2: Co-hosting.
Each couple cooked for the entire party one night, essentially providing everyone with three free meals. My husband grilled tri-tip steak (the poor man’s ribeye) and russet potatoes, and I made a cucumber-tomato salad. In turn, we enjoyed sushi, grilled steak with kimchee and seaweed salad, and pizza on the beach from our party.

Step 3: Brown bagging.
With restaurants charging $15 to $20 for lunch entrees, we decided PB&Js would be perfect hiking and touring food. The initial cost of ingredients was hard to swallow ($15!), but we ate every last slice of bread and put significant dents in the preserves and peanut butter. Coupled with water and orange Gatorade, these on-the-go meals were 100 times more satisfying than our first lunch on the island.

Step 4: Loyalty.
We became loyal customers of Bubba’s Burgers, a fast-casual burger joint that sold delicious Kalua pork sandwiches. At $7 a pop, they weren’t exactly cheap but they were filling and highly satisfying.  We dined here three or four times during our stay.

Step 5: Sharing.
Share restaurant food as much as possible! At Bubba’s, we shared fries and a drink, and filled up our second sip for just $0.50 (compared to $2 for an additional beverage). We split an appetizer at the Mediterranean restaurant on Hanalei. We also shared the three-taco special from a food truck in Kilauea. In each instance, we both left satisfied and confident we paid as little as possible to get that way.

All in all, we spent about $350 on groceries for the week (not including booze), and around $250 on dining out (including booze). We figure you can take your typical grocery budget for the number of days you’ll be vacationing in Hawaii, and then increase it by about 30 to 40 percent. This will help temper the shock of island pricing.

Paradise Has a Price: A Series

24 Sep

“The only thing cheap on this island is us.”

This direct quote from my husband pretty much sums up our recent experience on Kauai. While the sandy beaches, tropical sunsets and fragrant air made for an overall great vacation, the high prices of everything from food to fuel to funsies was tough for two frugal people to handle. From the minute we ordered our first meal to the moment we crossed the threshold of the local grocery store, my husband and I knew we were in for a very pricey 10 days. And while it’s understandable that an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean cannot compete with mainland prices, we never really recovered from the sticker shock.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

Beach at Hanalei Bay. Photo by me.

 

To help others looking to spend a future vacation on the Hawaiian islands, I’m writing a three-part series on how to save on paradise prices. My intent is to help you better budget for your trip and learn from my experiences.

Part 1: The Car — Our rental car ironically represents one of the cheaper expenditures during our trip, but one that could have cost a lot more had I bit on any of the numerous upsells thrown at me during the checkout process.

Part 2: The Food — This will be eye-opening for some and will help travelers better budget their food costs since “everything is more expensive here” is a pretty vague form of preparation.

Part 3: The Fun — I’ll offer low-cost ways to experience the highlights of the island, based on what we did and what others in our party did.

Here goes…

PARADISE HAS A PRICE: THE CAR
Scooter McGoo: A Story of Rental Car Savings

Most savvy travelers know to avoid all the upsells associated with renting a car. However, it can be hard in the moment, when a persuasive sales rep can make you feel foolish for not getting the extra insurance coverage or prepaid gas tank. As always, knowledge is power, and the following specific examples from my experience in Kauai will hopefully help you avoid any future indecision while renting a car.

Tip 1: Avoid the rental car upsell. I reserved the economy car for $232, which amounts to a relatively inexpensive rate of $23 per day. Immediately the rep classified my reservation as “the smallest car we have,” and asked if I would be interested in a special discount rate on a convertible Mustang. Usually, the upgrade costs $70 per day more than my economy rental, but just because I’m special, that rate will be just $15 more each day. I declined. “What if I can get that down to $10 per day?” Listen, that’s nice, but there’s no way in hell the real rate is an extra $70 per day if you’re willing to part with it for 85-percent less. You have to keep this in mind when they offer you special deals on upgrades. It’s like the “compare at” prices from TJMaxx or outlet stores; the item likely never sold at the “original” price, so the difference between it and the selling price is arbitrary.

Also, the gas mileage on a Mustang convertible is terrible, especially compared to the whopping 41 MPG we achieved with our economy rental. You must always keep in mind gas mileage and expected use when considering an upgrade, as it’s typically a bigger car that isn’t as fuel efficient.

Tip 2: Deny the insurance offer. Naturally, I was pitched the Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) to protect myself against liability for damage or theft. After declining it and explaining our credit card offered this coverage already, the rep said our card’s coverage “probably didn’t cover” accidents that were not our fault. Scary, but I declined nonetheless. According to my credit card benefits, I am covered by a Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), synonymous with an LDW, when I charge the full amount of the rental car to my card and decline the rental company’s coverage.

I know some travelers who prefer to pay for peace of mind than decline extra coverage for the sake of savings. Obviously this is your call, but research what your auto insurance and credit card companies will cover so you don’t end up paying for redundant protection.

Tip 3. Decline the prepaid fuel pitch. The rep stated their company’s fuel price cost 10-percent less than elsewhere on the island, making us sound foolish if we declined. She even scrunched her nose and looked at me incredulously when I said “no.” The thing is, we’d be prepaying for a full tank of gas, even if we returned the car with half a tank. The company’s terms specifically state this: “There is no credit or refund given for any fuel in the tank at the end of the rental.” Did she mention that? No. Instead, she made me feel like an idiot for not prepaying for cheaper fuel.

And PS: her suggestion that fuel averaged $4.68 on the island was bogus! We got it for $4.42, and because we’re Safeway Club members, we received two fill-ups for 10-cents less per gallon than advertised. Where’s your scrunchy face now, huh?

Tip 4: Note any issues and make a change immediately. Upon leaving dinner, we felt the rental car stutter and make grinding noises. Rather than grin and bear it, we returned to the rental car facility and requested a different vehicle. We received a Mazda 2, even smaller than the Ford Focus, but it worked just fine. It did so well, in fact, that we named him Scooter McGoo, and offered words of encouragement and gentle pats on the dashboard as he methodically made his way around narrow roads and steep inclines.

In fact, opting for the small car actually helped us squeeze into tight parking spaces and navigate the exceedingly tight and often one-way passages around the island.

Tip 5: Avoid using the air conditioner. On day three of our vacation, my husband and I took a road trip around the island just to escape the heat. We stopped at several places along the way and getting out of the car was like hitting the brick walls of Hell. The contrast of air-conditioned air to the hot, muggy atmosphere actually made our experience worse. Once we turned off the A/C and traveled windows-down style, we found ourselves far more comfortable. The flow of air and occasional trade winds helped us from overheating and allowed our bodies to adapt quicker. Bonus: we nearly doubled our fuel efficiency by avoiding the A/C.

Hopefully this detailed account helps you better understand why all the upsells associated with renting a car are, by and large, a waste of money. For even more proof, check out Forbes’ contributor Roger Dooley’s experience with a rental car agency who tried to upsell him on a vehicle they planned to give him anyway.

How do you avoid rental car upsells? Do you think some options are worth the extra cost?

Your Money: Save on New Tech

10 Sep

With everyone talking about the iPhone 6 launch, it got me thinking about how early adopters save on new technology. Buying older smartphones is the best way to save money on mobile, but the techies among us want the latest and greatest — and they want it now. So how can they buy the next-best-thing on a budget? I offered some ideas to Good Day Colorado’s Kirk Yuhnke this morning.

My Fashion Face-Palm

3 Sep

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

Photo by Emily May via Flickr

 

I’m going through a pretty incredible style slump right now. Over the past several weeks, I’ve cut my wardrobe in half and given away garments I once considered closet staples. My friends couldn’t be happier as they’ve been the recipients of this major overhaul. Though I’m pleased my once-loved threads are finding new affection, I find myself completely unsatisfied with my current selection.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets about the items I’ve given away. In fact, the OCD Anti-Clutter Freak within is clapping furiously and rooting me on. I’m trying to breathe new life into the items that remain, but I find myself completely uninspired by my closet’s contents. In fact, two people in Starbucks told me they loved my blouse, and I felt like taking it off and letting them fight over it. Despite receiving compliments on my style from perfect strangers, I couldn’t feel more indifferent about my current wardrobe. The need to stay financially solvent is the only thing keeping me from emptying my entire closet and starting fresh.

You may think I’m finally growing up. You may assume this fledgling indifference toward fashion is making room for more substantial pursuits. You’d be wrong. In fact, you’re giving me far too much credit. The Great Closet Exodus of 2014 is simply creating a blank slate from which I can build an entirely new wardrobe.

What’s worse, I seem to have set my sights on better-quality items. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, as quality typically translates to longevity and can be a better investment in the long run. But since when have I wanted cashmere? Or designer jeans? Or anything from Banana Republic?

I also seem to have an aversion to color. I’m gravitating toward gray, camel and ivory, despite having a good complexion for teal, indigo and hot pink.

This past weekend, I stumbled upon a garment that must have heard my silent outcry to the cosmos and manifested itself just for me. It’s gray. It’s versatile. It’s Calvin Klein. It was also $59.99, a price I would normally dismiss as too expensive for a single garment. I mulled it over a bit while browsing other areas of the store with my mother-in-law, and eventually decided to buy it, assuring myself I could always return it if I decided it was a bad buy.

It’s still hanging in my closet as I type this. I’m still wondering if it’s a good purchase. My thoughts led me to the Internet, where I started searching for an image that could effectively convey its cuteness and practicality in this post, when BOOM: I find it on Amazon for $41.40. That’s nearly $20 less than what I paid at Marshall’s.

WTF cosmos?

I’ve never purchased clothing from Amazon and honestly never thought to do so (rookie alert). Ironically, my sister-in-law has been in my thoughts during this style transition, as she’s been known to try on jeans at Banana Republic and then find them on eBay for a fraction of the price. That’s smart and savvy, but requires a level of patience I simply don’t possess. For a brief moment, I thought “Nah…this Amazon offer is a better deal, but will I really order it and return the other one for the sake of savings?” “Well, YEAH,” was my ultimate response.

So…we’ll see how this plays out. Regardless of if I keep this jacket, I’ve learned a couple valuable lessons: comparison-shopping should happen with all purchases, including apparel; and just because you’re turning into a style snob doesn’t mean you have to spend like one.

Ever go through a fashion rut?

Your Money: Rising Costs for Fall

20 Aug

If it seems like everything on your shopping list is getting more expensive, you’re probably right! At the beginning of barbecue season (cruel timing), beef and pork prices were at all-time highs. Now, chicken is rising in cost as are breakfast staples like coffee and bacon. And if that’s not painful enough, chocolate now costs more now than it did earlier this year. I chat about the reasons behind these price hikes plus ways to reduce their sting with Good Day Colorado’s Kirk Yuhnke. PS: Enjoy my eyelids. You see a lot of them in this segment.

Money, Manners & Wedding Gifts

11 Aug

Photo by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

Photo by Caitlin Regan via Flickr

 

I saw a media request today asking for expert advice on how much people should spend on wedding gifts. For some reason, it set off a bit of a rant inside my head about how ridiculous it is to ask someone else how much you should spend on a wedding gift.

In fact, I’m weary of any “etiquette rules” that involve money, since finances are so personal and the amount someone can spend on anything depends on his or her circumstances. The idea that some outside source determines what amount is okay for you to spend based on societal expectations is absolutely ludicrous in my opinion. If Miss Manners is truly concerned about this, she’d be aghast to learn I bargain shopped for wedding gifts this weekend and actually told the recipient how much I saved.

My second cousin eloped in April but is still planning on a wedding-like celebration in September. I’ll be beachside at that time and won’t be attending, so I looked up her registry to see what gifts fit my budget. Typically, I try to keep wedding and baby gifts under $50. Exceptions are made when I feel like making them, and aren’t based on any predetermined list of factors, like how closely related I am to the recipient, or how much the recipient recently spent on me.

With this budget in mind, I found a knife block set for $55.99 on her Target registry. I searched for the exact set online and found it on Amazon…for a little over $32. That’s $23 I don’t need to spend on something she wants. Plus, getting this rate enabled me to gift her with a set of stainless steel measuring spoons that are a staple in my kitchen. Together, my total cost was $45.

Since I bought off-registry, I contacted my cousin immediately and told her to remove the items I’d purchased from her list so she wouldn’t end up with duplicates. She was impressed by my savings and pleased to be receiving her gifts soon.

As the brilliant Erin Lowry once said (in a US News & World Report article about weddings, no less), Miss Manners may disagree with my approach, but she’s not the one footing the bill.

What do you think? Do you consider etiquette when budgeting for a gift?

Save on Airfare: Book Separately

31 Jul

"Window Seat" by Kevin Gong via Flickr

“Window Seat” by Kevin Gong via Flickr

 

I’m a big fan of travel. I love exploring new places and trying local cuisine. Naturally, my budding affair with travel begins right when the airline industry is nickel-and-diming passengers for every service. Since I’m not a travel hacker (though you people get mad props from me), I take more traditional routes to save money.

For example, I’ve learned to suck it up and take the first or last flight of the day to score the lowest fare. I diligently book my flight around 1pm on Tuesday, the rumored best time to buy tickets. I’ve also learned to pack like a pro to avoid checked bag fees, and I skip the markup on airport snacks and drinks by bringing my own.

Despite my knowledge and experience in this area, I’m continually learning new tricks to save money. Recently, my husband and I were presented with the opportunity to visit Kauai for relatively cheap in September. We jumped at the chance and started researching flight prices this past week. Initially, I searched for two tickets to Kauai, and shared the per-person rate with my husband. He told me the rate was significantly less per ticket if you search for the fares independently.

Whaaaa???

Sure enough, the per-person rate was over $100 less when I searched for separate flights. I ran a few tests on other airlines with other flights, but I didn’t find the same phenomenon. Regardless, this represents one more step I’ll take on all forthcoming trips to ensure I’m getting the absolute best rate.

Originally, we planned to book the same flight out as our friends, but then decided to go with the first flight of the day since it represents a $130 savings. Hanging out in airports isn’t my favorite thing, but we basically covered the cost of our rental car by flying out early and booking separately. I call that a win in my book.

What tips or tricks do you use to save on airfare?

Your Money: Save on July 4th BBQs

2 Jul

July 4th is one of my favorite holidays because I always spend it with my extended family in Southern California. My grandma is 92 years old and still going strong, and one of her biggest pleasures is hosting a family reunion over the 4th. Before hopping on a place, I had to share my tips for saving on July 4th essentials with the awesome Good Day Colorado team!

You better believe I’m bringing those cute printables with me to Cali! Click here for a link to the roundup I talked about — http://www.inkjetwilly.com/blog/4th-of-july-printables/

How are you spending the July 4th weekend?

5 Uses for Leftover Paint Samples

1 Jul

Photo by John Loo via Flickr

Photo by John Loo via Flickr

 

Inspired by L. Bee’s beautiful living room and dining room, I purchased six samples of paint this past weekend to test out on my own living quarters. I’ve been living with Classic Taupe for several  years now, and while it works well with my chocolate and burnt orange accent walls, I confess I’m over the year-round autumn look of my abode and am ready for something fresh and modern. Having just installed wood floors, I think a warm gray will make for a great neutral. I’m a very visual person and seeing Lauren’s paint job really inspired me to get moving.

After bringing everything home, I realized I may have gone a little overboard. I spent $20 on six samples of paint, all of which were very close in color. (I guess six shades of gray isn’t as bad as 50? Sorry, had to go there.) The Valspar and Benjamin Moore samples come in pints, and I seem to be gravitating toward the Behr samples which are much smaller. So what to do with all this leftover paint? Here are some ideas I discovered on the Interwebs.

Home Decor
Naturally, Martha Stewart has lots of fun ideas for using up sample paint. I think numbers 1, 3 and 7 are my favorites in this slideshow of 9 ideas.

Doors & Shutters
More inspiration from L. Bee’s Starter Home Diaries (now part of her awesome blog L. Bee & the Money Tree). She enhanced her home’s curb appeal by painting her door with unused Benjamin Moore sample paint. She plans to paint the shutters, too, which I think will really make her darling home pop!

Furniture
This roundup of ideas from HomeRehabOnline got me thinking about a wooden chair I once tried to paint when I was pretty young and still living with my parents. I got as far as the primer or sealant and it’s had a washed-out look ever since (and not in a good way). Perhaps it will look better in gray…

Abstract Art
I’ll definitely have to be “in a mood” to do this one, but creating abstract art is an interesting idea. There’s a piece of art in the yoga studio I used to attend that I really loved — just horizontal lines of color in soothing tones that reminded me of the beach. Methinks some of the bluer-toned grays would do well in a piece like this.

Base Coat
Big thanks to DIY Life for this practical application of sample paint (and likely one I can do immediately). In addition to the main living area, I’d also like to pick new paint colors for my accent walls. I’ll have to cover up the rich chocolate and burnt orange with a base coat before I apply the new color, and my light-colored gray samples will work well for this purpose. They won’t go very far but at least I can use them up!

What are some of your ideas for using leftover paint samples?