8 Things You Should Avoid Paying Money For

26 Jun

Photo by Ryan Harvey via Flickr

Photo by Ryan Harvey via Flickr


The economy is recovering, but probably not at the rate you’d like. If you’ve got outstanding debts, anemic investments, and difficulties getting your monthly bills paid, your personal finances could likely benefit from a few freebies. We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch – unless it’s your birthday, of course – but there are definitely more than a few ways to get the things you need without having to pay for them.

1. Printer Paper
Office supply retailers with rewards programs sometimes run specials on computer paper. If you pay the full purchase price up front, you can get that money back in the form of a rewards certificate. Much of the time these deals only apply to a pack of paper, but occasionally you can get an entire case for free. Just be sure to use your certificate before it expires.

2. Batteries
If you have kids, you probably spend a lot on batteries, especially around the holidays. The same retailers mentioned above also offer batteries for free at select times throughout the year. Keep your eye out for specials and stock up – just note that the majority of programs limit you to two packs of either AA or AAA batteries per promotion.

3. Back to School and Office Supplies
Right around back-to-school time, office supply retailers also offer a wide variety of free supplies under the same program – just purchase the items you need and get that amount back (minus sales tax) in the form of a rewards certificate. Last fall, I got over $600 worth of school supplies for free, including Scotch tape, staplers, file folders, address labels, storage boxes, pens, pencils, and Post-it Notes during that promotion. And if there’s an item featured for free that you already have, snag it and store it for future use.

4. Select Computer Software Titles
Computer software can be pricey. If you need some programs but don’t want to pay out the nose to get them, check out the websites FileHippo and FreewareFiles and look for free computer software downloads. Generally, you can find programs for anti-virus protection, video conversion, and CD and DVD creation.

5. House Cleaning
Still paying for a housekeeping service? Keep that money in your wallet and clean your house yourself instead. If you don’t think you have the time, try cutting back on your social media surfing and clicking off the TV once a week. You’d be surprised how much you can get done.

Editor’s note: A friend of mine taught me a trick to keeping the house clean — do one thing every night. Whether it’s cleaning the bathrooms, straightening your bedroom or dusting the community living areas, doing one task a night is more manageable than doing it all at once.

6. Minor Car Maintenance
You can complete plenty of minor car maintenance tasks on your own, even if you’re not mechanically inclined. For things like spark plug replacement, installing a new air filter, or replacing windshield wipers, visit the professionals at your local auto parts store and pick up some free how-to tips. Or, check out YouTube videos – just about every car maintenance task you can think of is covered.

7. Food On Your Birthday
Tons of restaurants offer free food on your birthday. Investigate the websites of your favorite eateries for more information – if you sign up for email newsletters you generally get a coupon for free grub when your birthday rolls around. Subway, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and Perkin’s all have these programs.

Editor’s note: I love birthday freebies! My personal favorite is the Starbucks drink freebie, but I’ve also received free dessert at restaurants and discounts of $5 to $15 off items at my favorite stores. For a comprehensive list of birthday freebies, as well as links to sign up for newsletters and e-clubs, check out Coupon Sherpa’s birthday coupons page.

8. eBooks
Got an e-reader? There are plenty of websites out there offering free ebook downloads, including Project Gutenberg and KoboBooks. Take advantage of them. Also, if you’re an Amazon Prime member you can rent many ebooks for free.

For anything else you might need in life – whether it’s a computer printer, sofa, refrigerator, or any other item – check out Craigslist and the Freecycle website. Freecycle offers just about anything under the sun and Craigslist has a “Free” tab that can lead you to great finds, as well. You have to make arrangements to pick up these items yourself, but it’s well worth the effort.

What items do you know of that you shouldn’t be paying money for?

This is a guest post from MoneyCrashers written by Jason Moran, a frugal saver who shares his tips for saving more and getting the most value out of everyday purchases.  

Your Money: Cheap Date Ideas

18 Jun

I think dating is far more accessible during the summer, not to mention much cheaper. While the cold, gray days of winter keep dating activities restricted to indoor venues like restaurants and movie theaters, warm weather opens up a host of opportunities for canoodling on the cheap. I came up with several frugal summer date ideas which I shared with anchor Kirk Yuhnke during this morning’s Good Day Colorado broadcast.

What’s your favorite frugal summer date activity?

Decluttering for Sanity & Savings

11 Jun

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr


I have a love-hate relationship with decluttering. For the most part, I find it cathartic and rewarding since cleaning out my space helps me breathe better and think more clearly. On the other hand, it seems to be a never-ending process due in part to my shameless consumerism. For every item I get rid of, another one seems to take its place within a few months.

It’s for this reason that J. Money’s recent post highlighting his decluttering trick really resonates with me. Asking “Would I buy this again?” removes all other considerations and elicits an immediate “yes” or “no,” making the decision to keep or donate much easier. As a serial declutterer (not a word, I know), I’m always looking for new ways to amp up my cleaning routine. In addition to J’s sound advice, I discovered another strategy earlier this week.

Ultimately, my husband would like to own a bit of land and have a small home on the property. This is a BHAG and definitely not something we’re seriously considering right now, but it did get me thinking about the process of selling a home. It’s a big pain to be sure, but it’s a pretty awesome exercise in decluttering. Faced with the prospect of moving, items are suddenly stripped of their sentimental value and evaluated purely on the ease in which they can be transported and setup in a new space. This discerning eye doesn’t extend to the truly meaningful stuff like family photos and heirlooms, but that weird oil painting you purchased a lifetime ago (looking at you, J!)? Yeah, that one’s not making the cut.

So, another question might be, would you bring it with you if you moved? The more stuff you move, the more money it costs, and the more time it takes to get unloaded and moved into your new place. Knowing this, many of us host epic yard sales and sell or donate as much unnecessary crap as possible just to avoid the expense and hardship of having to move it.

After making this revelation, I looked at my space with fresh eyes. If I were to move today, what would I bring with me? Better yet, if I were to show my home today to prospective buyers, what items might they perceive as clutter? This gets complicated since most experts suggest you de-personalize your space so home buyers can see themselves in your house. However, I was amazed by how quickly my perception of my home changed using this approach. Suddenly, certain things stood out as just taking up space, and the desire to purge my home of them was overwhelming. I’ll have to do it in steps, otherwise my husband will come home to an empty space and a crazed, clutter-slaying wife.

How do you approach decluttering?

How to Get Fit Like Fido

3 Jun

According to the nice folks at DogVacay, this week is Pet Appreciation Week. DogVacay helps you find other pet owners willing to care for your dog(s) in their home while you’re away, representing a great alternative to kenneling. My parents are built-in dog sitters but I’ve always been a big fan of DogVacay, both from the user and the sitter perspective! It’s hugely comforting to know your dog is in good hands, plus what better way to make extra cash than hanging out with a cool canine for a few days?

In addition to alerting me to this week’s significance, DogVacay shared this infographic offering ways to mix up your workout routine with moves inspired by your dog. As an avid yoga practitioner, I’m familiar with my dogs’ intrinsic ability to rock upward and downward dog postures. They like to help me do yoga in the mornings by sitting on my legs, obstructing my mat, licking my face and otherwise distracting the zen out of me. But I love it!

Check out this fun routine created by Julia Chan, a Certified Fitness Trainer and Registered Yoga Instructor.


Disclaimer: DogVacay did not compensate me for this post. They just gave me some writing inspiration!

How to Smell Pretty for Less

29 May

Photo by Dottie Mae via Flickr

Photo by Dottie Mae via Flickr

My idea of a splurge is typically food-oriented. Every time my BFF visits from Vegas, I pick her up from the airport and we head to a fine-dining establishment for three hours of culinary bliss. When I’m out shopping with my mom, we typically visit our favorite froyo joint (Groupon or coupon in hand, of course) and enjoy several spoonfuls of fruit-topped goodness. And when my husband and I go on dates, we typically opt for lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant.

Given this theme of gastronomical indulgence, I surprised myself recently when I splurged on something non-food related. It’s also something I thought I’d never purchase again: designer fragrance.

I’m not much of a perfume girl. I dabbled in Clinique Happy when I was younger and until recently was satisfied with cheap Bath & Body Works fragrance mists. Despite a few attempts, I never found the right fragrance and was always looking for one by Yves St. Laurent that I thought was discontinued. It was given to me by my BFF in high school and since then, it’s been my standard against which all other scents are judged.

After a coworker walked by wearing a yummy scent, I decided to do a quick search to see if I could find my beloved fragrance. In less than 10 minutes, a 3.3 oz. bottle of Paris Babydoll was en route. I was stoked to find it on FragranceX for less than $40. While it’s still ripoff, it’s a worthy one: I smile when I see its diamond-shaped container on my counter and inhale deeply when I apply it to my skin. Totally worth the $39 in my opinion.

Since I know I’m not alone in my obsession with a favorite fragrance, I thought I’d round up a few tips for saving on this pricey indulgence.

Get Free Samples
Money expert Andrea Woroch laughed when I told her about my impulse buy. She told me she never pays for fragrance since you can get deluxe samples free when you order from Sephora. Since she gets much of her cosmetics there, she hasn’t paid for fragrance in years. These samples last forever and allow you the opportunity to mix things up when you feel so inclined. Well played, Andrea.

Avoid Holidays
The worst times to buy fragrance are when women apparently expect to receive them as gifts: Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Christmas. Since they’re an easy gift, retailers don’t put them on sale but instead offload less desirable products in sets to make you feel like you’re getting a good deal. In fact, most “gift sets” feature smaller eau de toilette containers along with lotions or body washes in the same scent.

Shop the Warehouse
In addition to economy-sized olive oil and toilet paper, you can find perfume at warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club for much less than retail. For example, a 3.3 oz bottle of Elizabeth Arden Red Door for women is priced at $68 at Macy’s, while you can pick up the same bottle from Sam’s Club for $35. The savings varies by brand: a 3.4 oz bottle of DKNY Pure is sold at Sephora for $85, while Sam’s Club offers it for $69.

Go Online
There are a ton of discount fragrance websites out there and I certainly haven’t explored them all. However, my latest purchase was from FragranceX and I enjoyed my experience with them. Checkout via Paypal made my impulse buy all the more seamless (not sure if that’s a good thing), plus they offered free two-day shipping. After reading reviews on my fragrance to ensure it was legit, I learned from several commenters that the site offers other scents currently unavailable in stores.

Shop Discounts
Ross, TJMaxx and Marshall’s all sell heavily-discounted designer fragrance. You’ll still pay $25 to $40 for a few ounces of product, but that’s half of what you’ll shell out over-the-counter at Macy’s. I’ve restocked my husband’s Calvin Klein Eternity from TJMaxx and always look for his mom’s fave: Beautiful by Estee Lauder.

Alright ladies, what other ways do you save on fragrance? (Cologne-loving gents are more than welcome to share their tips, too!)

Stories That Rocked My Week #7

23 May

Happy Memorial Day weekend! I love a good three-day weekend and look forward to a little backyard barbecuing with the fam. I’d also like to send a much-needed shout-out to all U.S. active, retired, reservist and veteran military — you brave men and women have my sincerest gratitude today and everyday for your service and sacrifice. Thank you!

Photo by Timo Kohlenberg via Flickr

Photo by Timo Kohlenberg via Flickr


Now, onto the shameless plugs…

6 Tips for Navigating Memorial Day Deals. Just in time for the big shopping weekend, I wrote my first guest post for The Dime Colorado, an awesome personal finance site with a hometown twist.

Budget Gifts for Mom: A Last-Minute Mother’s Day Gift Guide. I love finding fun gifts for my mom, so writing this post picked up by GoGirl Finance was a total blast!

…and without further ado, these rockin’ posts!

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents gets a virtual fist-pump for “Las Vegas Recap: My Most Frugal Trip Ever.” She rocked Sin City for less than $300 and treated her friends to heavily discounted plane tickets. Props, Michelle!

I should dedicate a section of my roundups to Erin at Broke Millennial since I seem to read everything she pens. I stumbled upon “How Staying in Shape Directly Impacts Your Wallet” at TaxACT and couldn’t agree more with her savvy points (as always).

I respect Kathleen at Frugal Portland‘s shared addiction to quality coffee, which is why I enjoyed reading “Conscious Spending: Morning Coffee Ritual” while sipping on my morning cup of Sumatra. I also relate to liking/buying/owning pretty, tasty and otherwise expensive things while still practicing a frugal lifestyle.

I LOVED “It’s a Marathon, Not a Race. Namaste.” from Debt Free Guys the moment I read the headline. It combines my two fitness faves: yoga and running. The moral of the post is an important one that not only applies to finances and debt but also to other goals and aspirations in life. Well done, gents.

I’m a sucker for any article offering ways to eat healthy, so “Eating Healthy on a Slim Budget” from April at Get Rich Slowly was an obvious read. I appreciate that her tips go beyond “use coupons” and “shop in season,” and can relate to spending a good chunk of my money on good-for-you food.

I love me some Club Thrifty, and Holly’s post “How to Deal with Online Criticism” offers great perspective on the ugly side of blogging. Her “I am who I am, bring it” attitude really shines in this post and serves as an inspiration for the more squeamish writers like me, who recede into the darkness of shame when criticized.

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?

What’s the Value of Your Time?

7 May

A little headstand action at the top of Gomez Peak in NM. Photo by awesome-sauce SIL Ida Holguin-Perez.

A little headstand action at the top of Gomez Peak in NM.

I’ve recently decided to make a switch in my yoga routine by attending a new studio. It’s much closer to my home and workplace and offers a fresh approach to my practice, which has honestly become a bit stale as of late. While it may seem like a no-brainer decision, the monthly cost difference for unlimited classes is significant: the new studio, we’ll call it Studio B, is $47 more per month than my old studio, Studio A. I can attend unlimited classes at Studio A for $60 per month, or pay $107 per month for unlimited classes at Studio B.

To help justify the switch, I calculated the cost of fuel to get to/from Studio A vs. Studio B. The average cost of fuel in my area is $3.79 per gallon, and my car gets around 25 miles per gallon. I attend class twice per week, or eight times per month. Given all that, it costs me about $39 to get to/from Studio A (33 miles RT) vs. $18.19 per month to get to/from Studio B (15 miles RT). While it costs twice as much in gas to get to Studio A, I’m still paying $25 per month to attend Studio B when you add membership costs.

Another factor in all this is the cost of my time. I’m on the road 25 minutes longer per class with Studio A, or two hours and 40 minutes longer per month. Putting a dollar amount to each hour of your free time is not an easy task, which is why I turned to a survey at ClearThinking.org to help me. It asks a series of questions to help you determine the unique value associated with an hour of your time. If you’ve ever wondered about the monetary value of your time, I highly recommend the survey (it’s free, but it will take you about 15 minutes).

After taking the survey, my results concluded that I value my time at $45 per hour. Since it takes about 50 minutes round trip to get from work to Studio A and back home again, it costs me an equivalent of $37.50 each class. Multiply that by twice a week for a whole month, and the added cost to Studio A’s monthly membership is $270. It takes me about 25 minutes round trip to get to Studio B from work and home again, amounting to $18.75 each time. My time adds $150 to Studio B’s monthly cost.

Adding the value of my time to the total monthly cost to attend each studio, including membership fees and gas charges, gave me a more accurate picture of just how much I’m spending on yoga between the two studios. It will cost $369.04 per month to continue classes at Studio A, while Studio B will cost me $275.19. That’s a savings of $93.85 per month.

While the monetary value of my time is subjective at best, this exercise does a good job illustrating the necessity of factoring in your time when making a decision. Even when I calculated all this using my hourly rate at work, I still come out on top by joining Studio B.

Do you consider the monetary value of your time when making a decision?  

Disclaimer: I suck at math, so if you notice any flaws in my calculations, please break it to me gently.

Stories That Rocked My Week #6

2 May

Happy Friday! After five straight days of relentless wind, it’s finally calm here. The weekend forecast is warm and sunny, and my BFF is flying in from Vegas and together we’re going to enjoy a not-so-frugal fine dining experience in the big city. As my friend of mine likes to say, life is grand!

The picture of calm. Photo by me.

The picture of calm. Photo by me.

I read a lot of amazing posts this week and it’s always a struggle to pick out my faves! Before I get to the stories that rocked my week, here are a couple shameless plugs for you to skip over:

5 Ways to Save Money Using Pinterest on HuffPost Financial Education — Karen Cordaway of MoneySavingEnthusiast fame helps me justify the hundreds of hours I’ve spent saving and organizing images by quoting me in this article. Pinterest shouldn’t be so entertaining, but it’s highly addictive and can also be a method for money savings.

10 Reasons Why You’re Still Living Paycheck to Paycheck on GO Banking Rates — Not only includes quotes from yours truly, but also from personal finance bloggers Stefanie at The Broke and Beautiful Life and Matt over at Mom and Dad Money.

Onto the good stuff…

Tackling Our Debt‘s travel tips are just in time for summer planning and helped inspire me to consider a separate savings account just for vacations.

Savvy with Saving explores why it’s so hard to split the bill at a restaurant and how to avoid paying for someone else’s dinner and drinks.

Color Me Frugal offers practical tips to prevent lifestyle inflation, an affliction I seem to have every pay day.

Clever Dude‘s wife gets a gold star for her persistence, and for inspiring Brock’s post about getting a discount just by asking.

Cash Cow Couple‘s frugal ways continue to amaze as they outline expenses from their first year of marriage.

L Bee and the Money Tree‘s Lauren celebrates her second blog birthday and deserves a shout-out: congrats chica!

Have a great weekend!

My Budding Obsession with 5Ks

28 Apr

Me and my 5K Running Budy, post-race.

Me and my 5K Running Buddy, post-race.

Stefanie at The Broke and Beautiful Life wrote a post earlier this year on how races are better investments than a gym membership. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’m excited to find that I’m becoming slightly obsessed with 5Ks. Some races are cheaper than others, to be sure, but I don’t like running enough to throw down several hundred dollars for the big marathons. Community and cause-oriented 5Ks are just fine for me, with a few trendy runs sprinkled in for flavor.

On Saturday, I ran my second 5k of the year with my sister-in-law. Running a 5k is on my “30 before 30″ list and so far I’ve completed three, including the obstacle-laden Mud Run I blogged about last summer. Saturday’s run was the first time I jogged the entire route and I’m pretty pumped about it. I’m in better cardiovascular shape than I realize since I did zero formal training leading up to the run. (Disclaimer: This is not advised. My knees were tender during the last half mile and to avoid injury, I really should train for these events!)

So far, I’ve spent $115 on three events. The Survivor Mud Run was purchased at a daily deal rate of $35; the Sharin’ O’ the Green 5K cost $30 plus $15 for a long-sleeved race shirt (which I wear all the time so it’s totally worth it); and this last one was just $25. The last two events benefited important causes and has helped me become more active in my community.

I’ve also learned something about myself during these 5K events: I thrive in group settings. As an introvert, this is a pretty astounding realization, but when it comes to being active, I feed off of the group energy and tend to push myself harder and enjoy myself more. This is true not only for running but also for yoga, my go-to fitness activity. I’ve done at-home practices here and there, but nothing beats an instructor-led group setting.

My next 5K is at the end of May and I’ll likely do one or two more before the year is over. There are a ton of opportunities in my community to participate in these events, which is great because I can be choosey and opt for cheaper runs without feeling like I’m missing out. However, I tend to overbook myself in these situations and I need to make clear-headed decisions before throwing down the plastic for a 5K every weekend. My challenge will be restraining myself so my budding obsession doesn’t become an un-frugal addiction.

Spill: What’s your latest obsession?