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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.

eBay: Better Late Than Never

20 Feb

You're welcome for this awkward angle.

You’re welcome for this awkward angle.

I’ve finally discovered eBay.

I know I’m a couple decades behind, but I’m lazy. And skeptical. I’m afraid of getting scammed so I’ve tended to avoid eBay entirely. That is until necessity and desperation forced me to discover the wondrous world of online auctions.

This past Christmas was an epic fail from a gift-buying standpoint. I put everything off until the last minute and found myself in a pickle on Christmas Eve, when the e-gift card function on TOMS Shoes’ website was malfunctioning. I tried to place an order several times over a three-day period, and then found the company eliminated the e-gift card option all together. Lame.

Before sending my sister-in-law cash for Christmas, I checked Gift Card Granny for any available discounted gift cards to TOMS. They had one, and it was listed on eBay. It happened to be for the exact amount I wanted to spend, so I decided to go for it. I was in a bidding war with someone else but ended up winning the auction for $2 less than face value.

And just like that, Christmas was saved — albeit a week late.

Fast forward to winter clearance time and I find myself in Banana Republic, falling head-over-heels for a hacking jacket that’s way overpriced. Even in the bargain section it’s priced over 50% higher than I’m willing to pay. As I’m ruminating over my options, the saleswomen are hounding me with credit card offers and new arrivals since they know everything I carried to the dressing room was from the clearance section. Come now, ladies — do I look like I pay full price?

I left Banana Republic empty-handed — actually, I ran to escape the clutches of the overly aggressive saleswomen — and turned to eBay out of curiosity. Sure enough, the exact blazer I tried on was available for $80 on eBay. Still more than I wanted to spend, but I started “watching” a few listings just to keep them in my radar.

After a few days, a gray/blue version of the jacket became available for $32. It’s not NWT and the seller describes it as “some wear,” but it looked decent in the photos and the seller also offered free shipping. I got an email earlier this week telling me the jacket was being offered for 15% less, totaling a little over $28. SOLD!

The jacket arrived in my mailbox last night and it is PURR-FECTION. I’m wearing it as a I type this, feeling super chic and way too proud of myself for finally getting on board with something frugal shoppers have been doing for years. Better late than never, right?

Conquer Fear in Customer Service

23 Dec

A not-so-scandalous experience.

A not-so-scandalous experience.

I had a great customer service experience recently and have been meaning to share it with you all. The holiday season had other plans. I’ve been go-go-go since October it seems, and I’m still scrambling to get ahead. I’ll be one of those poor schmucks shopping on Christmas Eve, desperately looking for that perfect gift for the remaining people on my list. Wish me luck!

My positive retail experience occurred after a Black Friday purchase of a truly extravagant self-gift — wine glasses. Specifically, Crate & Barrel wine glasses often featured on the show Scandal. Judge me if you will, but my husband and I both drooled after those glasses the first time Olivia took a sip while ruminating on the crisis de jour. With free shipping and a coupon code, I ordered both red and white wine glasses (though I’m really just a red girl).

I received the glasses and was happy to find the red ones as stunning in real life as they are on screen. The white glasses? Not so much. They seemed oddly small and disproportionate. The foot of the glass was the same diameter as the bowl, which for some reason made them appear poorly designed. Understanding the red wine glasses have a whopping capacity of 23 oz., I compared the white wine glass to the ones I have in my cupboard. Even compared to an average white wine glass, these glasses looked comically undersized.

Long story short, I wasn’t satisfied. And this left me in a pickle since I’m 60 miles from the nearest Crate & Barrel store, and my whole purpose in ordering during Black Friday was to dodge the $18 shipping fee. Return shipping fees would no doubt eat into my refund, and after complaining about it my money-savvy friend, she suggested I contact customer service and ask them to waive the return shipping fees.

My initial reaction was “yeah, right.” Why would they? After all, I’m not a regular Crate & Barrel shopper. This is the second item I’ve ever purchased from them, and I did so at a discount. I was afraid of having my plea rejected and feeling even more foolish. Despite my reservations, I placed the call and figured it would be a good example in future stories and segments if it worked out in my favor.

The first person I spoke to seem genuinely concerned that I didn’t like the white wine glasses. She immediately transferred me to customer service where another rep listened to my story and responded with a version of this:

“Tell you what. Because I’m feeling good today and because you’re likely a fan of Scandal, I’m going to send you a prepaid FedEx mailing label for you to return the white wine glasses.”

We then talked about the show and its ability to make us crave red wine and popcorn at inappropriate moments during the day. Apparently Crate & Barrel could barely keep these glasses in stock last year all thanks to their near-constant cameos on Scandal.

By conquering my fear of rejection, I was able to avoid exorbitant return shipping fees and have my faith restored in customer service. This experience is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise hectic holiday season.

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

Happy Halloween, dear readers! As I mentioned in my previous post, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and to be honest, I went a little nuts this year on the costume and decor front. Luckily, I didn’t spend much and had a lot of fun in the process. Here’s a glimpse of my efforts:


Chalkboard Art
I found this design on Pinterest and instantly fell in love. I actually did a whole Macbeth theme with the bottles I used for my props during this segment about saving money on Halloween, so this sign fit perfectly!

Halloween Entrance
Again, Pinterest inspired my entrance composed of floating witch hats. I found two at Michaels for 70-percent off, paying less than $1 for each. I found the remaining three at Target for $2 each, which isn’t as much of a bargain but at this point during the shopping trip, I was willing to overlook it. We had visited Party City where I nearly purchased a $4 hat, so the Target find is a win in my book! The enormous pumpkins were grown by my husband and were the hit of the evening with kids and parents alike.

Treat Table
These TV props make for the perfect accompaniment to my candy bowl display. I also used my trust black cat candle that I’ve had since junior high school and a couple pumpkins my husband grew in our garden. I also received the fabulous green heirloom pumpkin from my friend who harvested thousands of them for sale this year.

I’ve been wanting to try Dia de Los Meurtos for a few years now and finally cultivated the gusto this year. I’ve never worked with face paint before so I was a little nervous the morning of, and used Pinterest as my inspiration for the design. Half way through the HOUR it took me to do this, I realized winging it was better than trying to follow a specific design. I purchased the face paint kit from the grocery store of all places, since it was available for 50-percent off ($3). The wig was gifted to me by my cousin, and the floral crown is made from a headband and silk flowers I already own. Big thank you to my mom for crafting the headpiece! She still makes the best costumes.


Dining Table Decor
Using another free heirloom pumpkin from my friend (called a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin – yes, please!), I re-used stems and pinecones I’ve had for years and added small pumpkins and gourds that I purchased from Walmart ($10). I also purchased half-price styrofoam gourds and a few autumn berry sprigs from JoAnn Fabrics (>$10). It took some arranging and rearranging, but I’m quite content with the finished product.

Whew! All that for one night. Oh well – I had a blast leading up to the event and didn’t spend much at all, especially considering I plan to reuse much of what I purchased this year.

How did you stay frugal this Halloween?

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.


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?

Frugal Fail: Impulse Buy Edition

19 May

Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm via Flickr

Photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm via Flickr

Sigh. Just when I thought I was making strides in my personal spending, I went and sabotaged myself with an impulse purchase this morning. I’ve been eyeing a couple clothing items online over the past week and received an offer that seemed too good to resist — 40% off plus an extra 20% off $100+ and free shipping. Dang.

All in all I purchased four items for $85 including tax. Three spring sweaters and a pair of silver stud earrings. My receipt tells me I saved $86 on my order, but I know better: those items are not worth their price tags so that savings estimate is arbitrary.

The cherry on top? I totally spaved. I was really only interested in the two sweaters, but that extra 20% off was too tempting and I spent several minutes combing through their inventory to find things I kind of liked. Kind of? Really, Kendal?

In a last-ditch effort to save myself, I emailed customer service to see if I could cancel the order prior to it shipping without penalty. I received a response in less than 20 minutes — the order is cancelled and any pre-authorization charges will be dropped within three to five days.

Phew. That was a close one.  While I appreciate their stellar customer service, it’s time I unsubscribe from their mailing, de-friend them from Facebook and cancel my store card. This may seem like an emotional response to a vulnerable moment, but honestly I haven’t ordered from them in a while and I won’t miss being tempted by their ongoing sales. Bottom line: I don’t need their stuff and I need to free myself from thinking I do!

So let’s have it…what’s your latest frugal fail?

Frugal Win: Coffee Edition

7 Apr

Coffee at a B&B in Charles City, IA. Photo by me.

Coffee at a B&B in Charles City, IA. Photo by me.


Happy Monday, blogger friends! I hope everyone had a good weekend. My husband and I were busy with birthdays and home-improvement projects, but I had an opportunity to save MEGA BUCKS on gourmet coffee, the details of which I just have to share with you.

Last year, I wrote a guest post for John over at Frugal Rules about saving on java because good, strong coffee is a staple in our household. My husband and I especially like Starbucks’ bold blends like Sumatra and Espresso Roast. I stocked up on whole beans during Cyber Monday when they offered free shipping and additional discounts, paying around $7 or $8 a bag (compared to $14 per bag). That shipment experienced a delay in getting to me, so Starbucks sent me an apology email with a coupon code for 20% off my future order. Gotta love good customer service, right?

This weekend, I finally had the opportunity to use that code. Through today, Starbucks is offering 25% off most its coffees, teas and accessories, so I ordered 10 bags of coffee and used my coupon code for extra savings. I paid $78 for all this AND used a gift card I purchased at a 20-percent discount from to pay for it. In total, I scored nearly 50-percent off Starbucks coffee and have enough stock to sustain us for a year or so. We’re blessed to work at offices that value good coffee, so we only brew at home on the weekends.

I’m so pumped up about this frugal win that I really don’t need caffeine for energy this morning. Ha! Who am I kidding? I’m sipping on a hot cup of Sumatra as I type this.

What’s your frugal win for the weekend?

Frugal Fail: Gas Grill Edition

5 Feb

I have a confession to make: my husband and I recently made a big purchase and we did not get any kind of extra savings. We did not pass go and we certainly didn’t collect $200. While the purchase hasn’t put us in debt or created any financial burden, I feel pretty dirty about not exploring the savings opportunities that are now cluttering my brain.

Photo by hobvias sudoneigh via Flickr

Photo by hobvias sudoneigh via Flickr



My husband is an excellent cook and uses his grill pretty regularly. Rain or shine, blizzard or windstorm, he’s out there grilling up pork chops, chicken breasts and the occasional New York strip. The grill he’s had for the past 10 years was purchased at Walmart and put together lovingly in the living room of the condo we were living in at the time. It wasn’t a fancy brand but it did have a push-button starter and a side burner. It also had a wide upper rack which my husband used regularly to grill meat on less heat. This feature actually kept him from upgrading the grill since newer models all sported a much narrower upper rack.


After a decade of use and absolutely no protection from the elements, the grill has seen better days. That push-button starter was chewed off by our dogs during their puppy days, and the plastic side shelf is melted in the middle due to a poorly placed briquette. The last two meals prepared on the grill were undercooked, and it was at this point that I insisted my husband make a purchase. He’s been eyeballing a Weber grill for months. Every time he went to the store to purchase it, he left empty-handed feeling it was just too much to spend on a grill. I reminded him how often he uses the grill and how flaky his current one had been.


A couple weekends ago, I suggested we visit Lowe’s and finally commit to the purchase. He agreed and within minutes of walking through the door, we were leaving with 175 lbs of new grill. It took us about an hour-and-a-half to put together — a pretty fun project, really — and by the end of the evening we had a shiny new toy.


Since the purchase, my husband repaired the 10-year-old grill and gave it to one of our good friends. He feels better about the upgrade now that his beloved appliance has a new home. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of all the ways we could have saved money and kicking myself for it. My husband has gift cards to Home Depot but our local store didn’t have the propane version of the model we wanted. This should not have been a big deal, as we could easily have ordered the right model and had it shipped to the store. BOOM, gift card savings right there. I’ve always touted the benefits of using discount gift cards to save money but I failed to take my own advice here. I can find gift cards to Lowe’s and Home Depot for 10 to 12 percent off, saving us even more money on the grill. Basically, we could have saved a chunk of change on this purchase but because I was impatient and impulsive, we paid full price instead.


I’ve written a lot about time, and how it can be the biggest money-saver when making a purchase. I’ve also discussed how waiting is the hardest part when you’ve identified something you want. During each of these discussions I’ve highlighted how important it is to stick to your guns and not let impulsive desires overtake your common sense. I also know that regardless of what you’re buying, there’s usually a way to save some money on it with a little effort. I utterly failed in these simple goals during the purchase of this grill and now I’m paying the price (so to speak). What’s worse is my husband had the wherewithal to hold off on the purchase and I strong-armed him into it. I literally put down my plastic while he was in the bathroom at the store. 

So there it is. I should feel better having acknowledged my failure, but to be honest I feel a little worse now that I see it all in black and white! Eventually I’ll appreciate it for what it is — a learning experience.

Now it’s your turn — any purchase decisions you regret?

Frugal Win: Microwave Edition

6 Jan

Happy New Year, everybody! I’m thrilled the holiday season is behind us since it represents a hectic time workwise AND I caught a cold for the first time in several years. Though I coughed and sneezed my way through Christmas week, I enjoyed some down time and insanely good food with my husband’s family.

Looking ahead to the new year, I’m hoping to hone my discretionary spending and up my bargain-hunting game. Sometimes I get so caught up in a good deal or promotion that I fail to focus on what I really need. It’s with this in mind that I share my latest shopping conquest and tout the benefits of stacking deals.

My husband and I experienced a great loss last week. The microwave he brought with him from New Mexico 10+ years ago cooked its last morsel on Thursday, Jan. 2. Affectionately referred to as “Nuke-y,” the microwave saw some serious action during it’s long life, reheating leftovers and gently softening butter I failed to keep at room temperature for my many baking endeavors. Before putting it to pasture, my husband whistled the tune to Taps and we bowed our heads in mourning. It’s been real, Nuke-y.

Since a microwave is a kitchen staple, we immediately set out to purchase a new one, thinking we’d have to fork over close to $200. An over-the-hood microwave would block the awesome sign I shared with you earlier, so we opted for another countertop appliance. We headed to Best Buy first since my husband had $25 in rewards to put toward our purchase. After perusing their selection, we settled on this LG stainless steel beauty for $180.


We wanted to confirm the microwave had a quick-cook function like our beloved Nuke-y, so I searched the shelves for the boxed version to read the features. My search turned up an open-box of the microwave priced at $146. Score! Having perused my Coupon Sherpa app before walking through the doors, I knew Best Buy had a coupon for an extra 10% off open-box and refurbished items. Double score!

Here’s a breakdown of the savings:

Original Price: $180
Open-Box Price: $146
Savings: $34

$14.60 Coupon Savings
$25.00 Best Buy Rewards
Savings: $39.60


By finding an open-box item and stacking reward points and a coupon, my husband and I walked out with Nuke-y 2.0 for a little over $100. Even our cashier was excited about our savings and revealed another promotion running that day: we received 5 times the reward points for our purchase, earning $10 in rewards for a future purchase. Triple score!

This experience further motivates to focus on what we really need and do everything I can to find the very best deal.

What’s the first deal you scored this year?

Frugal Fail: Beer Shirt Edition

20 Aug

I have a very un-frugal confession to make: I’m obsessed with craft beer shirts.

My obsession beings innocently enough. Living in the Napa Valley of beer has its advantages, including easy access to some of the nation’s – if not world’s — most celebrated craft breweries. Try a pint of Odell’s latest session beer? Don’t mind if I do. Get a taster of New Belgium’s fall seasonal? Why not? Check out the latest merchandise on Brewery Row? Now that’s trouble.

I recently wrote a guest post for the charming Girl Meets Debt and discussed the “when in Rome” syndrome, a made-up affliction with very real budgetary impacts. It’s what you get while you’re on vacation or during girls’ night out, when suddenly that extra excursion or round of drinks becomes a legitimate expense. This same phenomenon hits me the moment I cross the threshold of a taproom, my clothing radar pinging loudly in the direction of the merchandise wall. I often justify my tee shirt purchase by envisioning a trendy ensemble that includes a blazer and skinny jeans.

The average cost of a woman’s tee shirt is $25, while men’s shirts are inexplicably $5 less despite being composed of more material. If I were shopping elsewhere, I wouldn’t give a $25 tee shirt a second glance. Give me a pint of good beer, a buzzing atmosphere and an overwhelming sense of local pride, and suddenly that $25 tee shirt is not just a want, it’s a necessity.

Photo by Jenni C via Flickr

Photo by Jenni C via Flickr


In total, I’ve spent over $100 on a handful of beer shirts that I rarely wear. What double sucks about this situation is that sometimes, the shirts I buy are not that flattering. They’re often made of organic bamboo cotton or some such hippie combination of material, making them undeniably soft but also terribly malleable.

Despite being acutely aware of how overpriced they are, I’m always tempted by the latest brew-inspired tee or tank. In fact, researching prices for this post has me longing for a cute v-neck offered by Odell Brewing Co. It would look super cute under my navy blazer.

What’s your frugal fail this week?