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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.

Drumroll…

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.

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.

Saving on Cooling Costs: A Parody

17 Jun

When you write about saving money all day, every day, some topics are inevitably more compelling than others. I tend to get distracted on sunny Friday afternoons like this one, when I’d rather be feeling the breeze on my face with cocktail in hand than writing about saving money on summer cooling costs. So, at the suggestion of a most beloved coworker, I drafted the following parody as a much-needed diversion. Read these six tips at your own risk.

40+280 Heat by Bark via Flickr Creative Commons

40+280 Heat by Bark via Flickr Creative Commons

#IceBucketChallenge, all day, err day.
Sure, we all pretended the ice bucket challenge was actually a challenge at peak heat in July. In truth, it’s exactly what we needed, which is why conducting an #IceBucketChallenge every half hour between June and September just makes good sense. Don’t let those hippie environmentalists from California shame you into stopping, either; there’s no such thing as a drought.

Become a nudist.
When people complain about how hot it is, do you notice how much clothing they’re wearing? Vitamin D is good for us, people. The next time you feel the urge to complain about the heat, strip. It will cool you down while performing the public duty of distracting everyone else from the weather.

Spend your weekends at the mall (and sleep at the office).
To compensate for the unsavory summer conditions, retail establishments and office parks around the country set their thermostats to arctic-like depths. Simply change your summer plans so you can sleep at the office and spend your weekends trolling the malls like a moody, prepubescent teen.

Build a tent around your house.
Why anyone hasn’t thought of this before is beyond us. Simply closing your blinds in the morning isn’t nearly as thorough as building a custom tent made from solar-blocking fabric around your entire abode. Sure, it’s expensive, but this is an investment in your comfort. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of building a tent yourself, import a bunch of termites into your home and commission a whole-house fumigation, then request the tent remain intact. You paid for it, after all.

Hire a personal fanner.
It worked for Julius Caesar, so why not you? Place a personal ad for a personal fanner or two and have them follow you around wherever you go. If anyone finds this arrangement curious, just tell them you’re creating jobs.

Attend a hot yoga class.
This one doesn’t sound right, but hear me out. Most hot yoga classes are between 85 to 102 degrees, plus humid as Satan’s armpit. For those living in the sauna that is the south, these classes will feel cool by comparison. For those whining about 80-degree dry heat, you’ll likely die of heat exposure 20 minutes into class and weather will no longer be a top concern.

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.

Hello…it’s me.

11 Jan

I’m still here, I swear!

Photo by Tim G. via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Tim G. via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking Savings on Sight: My Experience with Warby Parker

22 Sep

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

Confession: I’m blind as a bat.

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

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

Thankful for your eyes yet?

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

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

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

kit

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

contenders

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

The winner.

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

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

sb-pd-reading

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

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

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

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

wp-fitting

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

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

warbyparker-survey

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

Sunshine (On My Blog) Makes Me Happy

19 Aug

sunshine-blogger

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

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

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

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

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

Easy enough. Here goes!

Q&A:

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

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

What do you love most about blogging?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

Questions:

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

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