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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 it’s semi-annual cleaning, my husband discovered one of the blades on the ceiling fan was loose and likely the culprit of the incessant ticking. He tightened the screws on all the blades, dusted and cleaned it until it sparkled as it did when we first bought our house. It purred in gratitude when we turned it back on and it hasn’t made a peep since.

“Welp, that just saved us $200.”

I can see how this post will be forehead-slappingly obvious to those of you who’s first instinct is to inspect the heck out of something when it’s not working properly. And honestly, we’re not always this eager to throw down cash for a replacement. But the fledgling desire for a new fan clouded our better judgement and sent us perusing ceiling fans at Home Depot and Lowe’s. However, we lost interest quickly and are both relieved not to spend the money and time replacing something that works perfectly well after a few minutes of maintenance.

There’s truly a lost art to caring for things we buy, perhaps because most of what we purchase is cheap crap designed to be replaced repeatedly. Why bother fixing that unstable bookshelf when you can pick up a cheap and sleek replacement from IKEA? Who cares about a misshapen tee shirt when it only cost $5 to begin with? While there’s not much you can do about poor craftsmanship and crappy materials, you can opt to spend more on things you use or see regularly. Doing so actually saves you money in the long run, not to mention the time and potential tedium of researching replacements.

Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself scrolling through photos of ceiling fans on a Saturday morning, or craning your neck to compare blade color and style at your local hardware store. There are better things to do with your time, like fixing what you already have.

6 Actions That Save Me Big Money

16 Mar

Spending less is something we all strive to do, and each of us has different strategies for keeping our sticky fingers out of our bank accounts. I know better than to window shop when I don’t need to buy anything, and I try to avoid grocery shopping when I’m hungry. And while it’s easy to save money on products or services that don’t really excite me — fancy lattes, mani/pedis, and the latest gadget, as examples — my self-control is tested by fashion, home goods and See’s Candies. To avoid impulse purchases, I’ve taken the following six actions to keep myself out of trouble.

Unsubscribing from emails
This seems like a small, insignificant action, but I swear it’s made the biggest impact on my spending. I’m impressionable and impulsive, so seeing daily emails in my inbox advertising deals and sales from my favorite stores probably resulted in a purchase 20-30 percent of the time. The worst emails were the ones highlighting new arrivals; while I wouldn’t bite on the full-price purchase, I’d watch the item until a sale or deal came up and then make my move. This is bad because I fixated on this item over a period of time when my energy could have been better applied elsewhere.

Un-following fashion bloggers on Insta
I used to follow Extra Petite and Wendy’s Lookbook on Instagram, and found myself wanting to shop their looks whenever their perfectly-curated images showed up in my feed. Recognizing the influence these images had on my feelings about what I already owned, I decided to stop following them. Like retail newsletters, this “out of site, out of mind” strategy has done wonders for my impulse control.

Having a BHAFG
Never heard of that acronym? It’s a mash-up between a term used by my previous employer — Big Hairy Audacious Goal — with my addition of “F” for Financial. Having specific goals is an effective motivator for me and for the last two years, my husband and I have been funneling our money toward a big one. Since I want to put every last penny into this pursuit, I’m less inclined to spend money on stuff we don’t need because I’d rather reach our goal faster.

Adblock
Seriously. I’m astonished by all the ads on websites when I open a page in incognito or through a browser without Adblock. Like I said, I’m impulsive and if I see the same pair of shoes while reading a blogpost that I looked at an hour earlier, I’m likely to desire them more and make a purchase. Plus, ads are just annoying. 

Practicing yoga at home
I used to love me some studio time, but after a 108-day at-home yoga challenge last year, I realized I prefer the privacy and flexibility of my home practice. It’s less expensive and I can get my practice knocked out before the sun comes up. We live in a very small town about 30 minutes away from my preferred studios, so getting to class and back takes time and gas money.

Finding minimalism
Discovering the minimalist movement and incorporating some of its values into my day-to-day living has transformed my relationship with things. I’ve given away a ton of stuff (read about it here) which has made everything from tidying my house to getting ready in the morning much simpler and faster. While I still enjoy shopping, I no longer purchase things for the thrill of acquiring something new; I’m much more thoughtful about what I spend my money on, and spend a lot less overall as a result.

What are your strategies for spending less?

Don’t Go Into Debt for a Ring

24 Feb

While researching stats for pitch related to engagement rings, I came across a gem of an article (NSFW) on Thought Catalog about the engagement rings real women received and how much they cost their partners. Of the 13 people quoted, ring costs range from $0 to $30,000 – no joke, thirty-fricken thousand dollars.

The justifications some of these ladies have for the cost of their rings range from the poignant to the completely outrageous. Case in point, the explanation for the $30,000 ring cost: the recipient is a high-powered lawyer who feels anything less would have hurt her career and resulted in judgement from her professional peers. Seriously.

Far be it from me to judge anyone for the cost of their wedding ring. However, I am bothered by those who feel it’s not only necessary but totally normal to go into massive amounts of debt to purchase a ring. According to The Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, the average expenditure on an engagement ring is over $6,000. Ouch.

If you can afford a big rock, more power to you. But if you can’t, please don’t let the desire for one override your rational decision-making. After all, do you really want to kick off the next chapter of your life and relationship in debt? Identify what you can afford and shop for rings within that price range. Alternatively, you can purchase simple, gold wedding bands for as little as $40 on Etsy, and upgrade later when you have the means to do so. These are just two ideas — there are plenty of other ways to symbolize your commitment to your partner without maxing out your credit card.

What do you think? 

New Ways to Save Money on Shipping

20 Feb

Despite the appeal of online shopping, I still make the majority of my purchases in physical stores because I don’t want to bother paying for shipping or return shipping. One of my biggest pet peeves is paying for the pleasure of trying something on that doesn’t work out. When it comes to shipping fees, I’m too much of a bargain shopper to pay an extra $6 to $12 to have something shipped, and I’m too much of a minimalist to load up my online shopping cart with stuff I don’t need just to reach the minimum order requirement to receive free shipping.

That being said, you can avoid delivery fees if you shop during holiday weekends when many retailers offer free or reduced shipping. If you can’t time your purchases to match up with these events, here are two other (and relatively new) ways to save money on shipping:

Ship to Store: Ordering online and having items shipped to a local store is something that’s been trending for a few years now as brick-and-mortar retailers seek out ways to compete with online shops. While consumers miss out on the convenience of having items shipped to their doorstep, avoiding delivery fees can make this sacrifice worth it. Stores including Target, Kohl’s, Home Depot and Walmart all offer this service on the majority of their products. Just remember this service can tempt you to make more purchases while you’re in the store to pick up your online order. Tunnel vision, people!

Order From Store: If you’d rather have something shipped directly to your home but you don’t want to pay shipping fees, order the item directly from the store. Clothing stores and department stores offer this service, with retailers like Kohl’s providing kiosks from which customers can submit orders, complete with promo codes for extra savings. I recently ordered a pair of sale leggings from LOFT from the store, saving around $8 in shipping. The leggings arrived in the mail last week and I’m proudly donning them today.

How do you save money on delivery fees?

How to Save $1,300+ on Insurance

6 Jan

And no, it has nothing to do with a green reptile.

I consider myself a pretty conscious consumer. I know to compare rates between service providers regularly, and to question charges I don’t recognize on statements. It’s for this reason that I felt constantly frustrated and stymied when I compared auto and home insurance rates. Ours kept going up — significantly — despite zero claims. Every time I compared rates, I came up with the same result: other providers quoted us nearly the same, sometimes for even less coverage.

Last year, my husband finally upped our deductibles and dropped rental insurance coverage to save $250, something I bragged about in a post about recurring expense hacking. But those savings were pretty much obliterated when our latest renewal arrived.

In chatting with my parents about our frustrations, my mom was especially appalled by our homeowner’s insurance rates. She said our rate was the same they paid after a fire claim forced them to pay exorbitantly high premiums for a year. Since we had no such claim history, it was completely ridiculous for us to be paying the same rate. She suggested we look into AAA, a provider that hadn’t been on my radar.

This past week, I placed a call to our regional branch and was quoted on both auto and homeowner’s insurance policies. Though we have to pay a membership fee to receive access to insurance policies, it’s well worth the $112 annual price tag: we will now pay $150 less for auto insurance, and a whopping $1,300 less for comparable homeowner’s insurance. I’m absolutely floored. I had no idea we were overspending on homeowner’s insurance to that degree.

What’s more, I discovered an error on our homeowner’s insurance quote that could have cost us over $100. An unfamiliar claim from last May drove up our rates slightly, and with some digging by AAA, we discovered it actually belonged to my husband’s parents. My husband and his father share the same name, save for their middle initial, and insurance claims are pooled into one database to which all insurers have access. My in-laws’ claim was incorrectly applied to our profile because their insurer failed to include my father-in-law’s middle initial and birth date.

Interestingly, I called our former provider twice during this process: the first time, to inquire about the incorrect claim on our insurance. They never returned my call. The second time was to inform them of our change and to request cancellation of our policies, to which they put absolutely no fight despite YEARS of patronage. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but still — what gives?!

Ultimately, this experience is a good reminder about the importance of comparing rates and thoroughly reviewing quotes. It’s easy to let potential savings cloud your better decision-making, but taking the time to absorb the details is key to saving the most money.

When Paying Full Price Pays Off

15 Dec

fc-run

As a bargain shopper, it’s tough for me to pay full price for anything anymore. Eventually, everything goes on sale. But as an impatient person who wants what she wants when she wants it, waiting isn’t exactly my forte, either. So, when I stumbled upon some quality leggings and a tank top to outfit my cold-weather runs during a business trip last year, I chomped despite paying full price for both garments.

With any purchase, regardless of if you snag it on sale or pay full price, you should always calculate the cost-per-wear. You might discover a dress purchased on discount is worn far less than jeans you purchased at a premium, such that the cost-per-wear is actually cheaper on the pair of jeans. While this doesn’t change the initial cost of each garment, it does offer perspective when you’re deliberating over a high-quality item compared to several low-cost, low-quality items.

Within a few weeks of my purchase, I wore the tank and leggings on six runs. In addition to keeping me comfortable and warm, having these new items further motivated me to lace up my shoes in the morning, even when it’s less than 30 degrees. Last year was the first year I ever kept up with running beyond the warm fall season, so for me, this was a big win. From a cost-per-wear perspective, my leggings cost me a little over $13 and the tank is just over $6. They also helped me log over 22 miles in the month following my purchase.

So, the next time you’re out shopping and you’re trying to decide between an investment item and several low-cost items, consider your cost-per-use. Doing so will likely help you spend less and receive more joy in the long run (pun intended).

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.

How to Budget Without a Budget

12 Jul

Pretty Smug by Simona via Flickr Creative Commons

Pretty Smug by Simona via Flickr Creative Commons

I recently drafted a response to a reporter query about how some people are able to “budget without a budget.” It took me very little time to whip up my tips, and I was feeling pretty confident about my chances of being included in the story. Then I re-read my advice and realized something:

I sound pretty darn smug about not having a budget.

While everything I drafted is true, it’s not the whole story and omits some important information. For example, I have a steady, well-paying job, very few debts, and a shared income with my husband. I also don’t have children or anyone else depending on me financially. So, while part of my budget-less success can be attributed to self-discipline and big-picture thinking, it’s also because I’m a lucky as heck to be who and where I am.

With that context, here are the ways I stay in budget without a formal budget.

I avoid common budget busters (most of the time). Often times, it’s the little things that add up to big money woes for those who struggle with overspending. I drink my coffee at work, bring my lunch from home, and dine out infrequently. I don’t have cable TV or a gym membership, and I don’t desire the latest tech gadget or designer labels on my clothing. These are not sacrifices because they’re not my priorities (though pricey cupcakes continue to be my kryptonite). Think about what your true priorities are and stop spending money on everything else. 

I don’t let lifestyle inflation level me. Lifestyle inflation is another common budget buster, albeit a counterintuitive one. Instead of celebrating a raise or a bonus by “buying” a cooler car or shopping at pricey clothing stores, I save the money. If I receive a raise, I put the difference into my retirement fund. If I receive a bonus, I deposit it into my savings account. This enables me to be more mindful about the best use of that money instead of impulsively spending it while I’m in a celebratory mood. (Disclaimer: My car is already really cool.) 

I work a side gig for “fun” money. I do occasional desktop publishing jobs for my former boss. I charge a rate that makes the task worth my free time, and I enjoy the work since it’s different than what I do at my current job. The money I make from this side gig usually goes towards travel expenses or splurges on food, which helps me from feeling deprived.

I’ve embraced minimalism. I used to love shopping. The high I received while spending money was addictive, yet I found that high subsiding faster and faster after the purchase was made. After cutting down the contents of my closet by two thirds and reading about those who live minimally, I realized how ridiculous it is to collect things that only provide momentary happiness. I’m more thoughtful about what I buy and still seek out ways to save on these purchases so I’m not overspending (translation: #Coupons4Ever).

We pay ourselves first. My husband and I set up an automatic transfer between checking and savings so we’re always squirreling away funds each week. This helps us afford vacations, home improvements and unexpected expenses without racking up credit card debt.

What’s your take on budgeting without a budget?

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?

A Case for Cost Comparison

15 Sep

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve written a lot about comparing prices on this blog (here, here and here) and in the advice I give as a Savings Expert for CouponSherpa.com. In fact, I would go so far as to say comparing prices is my top tip for saving money. Why? Because you never know how the cost of a product or service compares between competitors unless YOU do the research to find out.

Case in point: auto repair services. My parents recently discovered the alternator in one of their vehicles needs to be replaced. My dad called our local Toyota dealership who told him it would cost $1,200 to replace and he’d have to wait two weeks to get it done. He then called a mechanic’s shop he trusted, and they gave him a bid of $750 along with a one-week delay. Finally, he contacted another local shop (with whom he’s worked with previously) and they told him it would cost $450. What’s more, they could get the repair done immediately.

Bottom line? 20 minutes of phone calls resulted in $750 of savings.

Dealership prices are almost always higher – that’s a given. But not everyone understands just how much higher these costs can be, so taking the time to find out for yourself could result in a significant cost savings. I mean, $750? That’s huge!

Another tool I discovered during this process is AutoMD’s repair cost estimator. It helps you estimate auto repairs based on your vehicle’s make and model, and the zip code in which you plan to have the repair. My dad tried it and found the tool’s estimate to be very close to the mechanic charging $450.

As someone who knows next-to-nothing about cars, having a ballpark understanding of what a repair should cost is invaluable. Same goes for any purchase, really: if you know a product or service’s price history, it’s much easier to shop around and negotiate. It takes more effort, but the payoff can be huge.

Spill: what’s the most you’ve saved by comparing prices?