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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 $1,400+ 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.

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 that 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.

Tipping: My Financial Bane

9 May

Photo by AberroCreative via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by AberroCreative via Flickr Creative Commons

Confession: I really, really hate tipping.

I’m one of those people who would rather pay more for restaurant meals, transportation and other tip-heavy services just to avoid it. It’s not that I don’t think people in gratuity-based industries deserve tips; they absolutely do. I just don’t have the capacity to calculate an appropriate tip on a whim, and I very rarely carry cash. I’m also often caught off guard, not realizing gratuity is expected until someone is looking at me expectantly. As a result, I’ve committed many a tipping faux pas which has further contributed to my distaste for the practice.

Big cities are where my tipping idiocy really shines. I accidentally gave a valet parking attendant $25 after a one-night stay in Denver, thinking I had to pay him directly for the service. After an impromptu networking dinner at a fancy restaurant, I had to borrow cash to tip the valet who brought me my car. During a business trip to Chicago last year, I watched a bellhop unload five boxes worth of props in my hotel room knowing I had absolutely no cash with which to tip him.

In all these cases, I righted my wrongs: I justified the extra big valet tip as a holiday bonus; I repaid my generous dining companion the next time I saw him; and I tracked down the hotel bellhop later in my trip to tip him for his services.

I’m nothing if not thoughtful.

There’s been talk in the media recently about restaurants that are increasing menu prices and doing away with tipping. While only time will tell on the effectiveness of this strategy, both for restaurant business and for waitstaff wages, I’m totally in favor of the change. In the interim of a successful nationwide rollout of this format, however, the best way I combat my issue with tipping is advanced planning. Preparing my budget for the added expense and bringing the appropriate cash denominations are instrumental in a) keeping me from seeming like a horrible human being, and b) avoiding unnecessary dings to my budget due to lack of planning. Case in point, I researched tipping etiquette ahead of a recent food and wine tour of Gettysburg, Pa., and brought the correct amount of cash to tip our host who was truly a gem and deserved every penny. No humiliation, no remorse.

What’s your biggest financial bane?

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.

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?

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!

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.