Dollars & Sense: Grocery Trends

19 Feb

I read recently that the former owner of Trader Joe’s is opening a new grocery store in Massachusetts selling only expired food. Since “use buy” or “sell by” dates do not necessarily mean something is past its prime, he hopes to give low-income families an opportunity to purchase healthier food for fast-food prices.

It’s a tough sell but I applaud his attempt to reduce the ridiculous amount of food waste in this country, while giving cash-strapped folks better access to healthy food. I did some research and found a few other trends in grocery store shopping and saving, including an increase in online ordering and social media deals. I shared my findings during this mornings Daybreak broadcast with anchor Kim Posey.

Frugal Frustrations: Mobile Plans

17 Feb

After reading Mrs. PoP’s three-part post about saving $100 per month on her mobile plan, I was inspired to take a good, hard look at our current arrangement with Verizon. Ever since my smartphone experience with them a couple years ago, my husband has managed our account because just the sight of their logo makes me angry. This is the first time since that incident that I’ve shown interest in the details of our account, mostly because I thought I’d found a way to dump them for good.

It occurred to me that $125 per month for one smartphone and one “dumb” phone was insanely high. Over the weekend, I asked my husband to walk me through our plan details and together we logged into our account to review the usage stats. Our billing cycle was ending within three days, so this was a good snapshot of a month’s worth of plan use. He told me we were on the lowest voice plan possible (700 minutes) and that he’s grandfathered into the 4GB data plan, meaning we pay the 2GB price for two more gigabytes of data (score!). We don’t have a text plan because he uses Google Voice for texting and I just don’t do it often enough to justify an extra $5 per month. Despite a pretty practical approach to our mobile plan, our usage stats were eye-opening to say the least.

verizon-usgae

I’ll admit my temper flared a bit upon learning how little of our plan we’re actually using. However, our minutes usage is misleading because both our families are on Verizon and “free” mobile-to-mobile minutes are considered non-billable and not included. In total, our actual minutes used is 566, but only 59 of them go toward our voice plan. Our text plan (or non-plan, in this case) is still more competitive than signing up for the 250 texting add-on for $5 per month. Data is the only area where I thought we could save some money, since my husband averaged 1GB or less of usage per month for the last six months. I figured dropping from 4GB to 1GB would save us something. Survey says:

verizon-compare

Nope! In fact, doing so will actually cost us $10 more per month. Granted, we’d get unlimited talk and text with the new plan, but why bother given how little we currently  use either of these services? After seeing all this, I looked into Ting and other no-contract, no-nonsense options and was hit with another unwelcome reality: voice and data coverage in our area isn’t offered by any carrier except for Verizon. (Ting, for example, has only “voice roaming” in our area and absolutely no data coverage.) My fantasies of sending a break-up letter to Verizon and heading over to Ting a la Planting Our Pennies evaporated within about an hour of research. Even Verizon’s prepaid plans are not as competitive as our current setup: a 4GB smartphone plan costs $70 per month, while a basic phone prepaid plan for me is $35 per month.

So basically, I now know everything about our mobile plan that my husband has known all along. We’re paying for the most bare bones plan we can for the devices we have, and reducing our data plan would actually increase our monthly cost. As much as we’d like to leave Verizon for a pay-what-you-use plan, living in the sticks permits us from doing so unless we want to deal with spotty coverage and dropped calls.

Welp, at least I tried. I now know how all you cable subscribers feel — sometimes, you’re just stuck with what you’ve got. 

You’re up – have you tried to reduce costs only to find you’re stuck?

 

Stories That Rocked My Week – #2

14 Feb

What better day to share the posts I loved this week? Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! I’m sure you all have fabulous-yet-frugal plans to celebrate the loves in your life, whether it’s your partner, furry friend or, best yet, yourself!

Photo by photophilde via Flickr

Photo by photophilde via Flickr

Here are posts that I fell for:

A Budget Won’t Fix Your Problems by Jacob/CashCowCouple on SnarkFinance – Jacob continues to blow my mind with his practical approach to finance. This line, for example, eloquently summarized why a formal budget will never work in my household: “In reality, many people just have the wrong motives from the start. They try to spend as much as possible up to that budgeting line, then they make excuses if they fail and outspend the budget.”

Sell Your Junk: How to Make Money on Ebay by Mel/BrokeRICHGirl – I found this gem of a post after Mel commented on my latest story on consignment. I’ve always been wary about eBay but Mel’s detailed, easy-to-understand “how to” on the subject has inspired me to get over it and get on it. Thanks Mel!

To Kid or Not to Kid by WellHeeledBlog – I was hooked on this post from the headline, and WHB’s thought process parallels my own so closely that it’s downright eerie. It’s a great read for anyone contemplating the big question (and read the comments if you have time — some great stuff there, too).

10 Things You Could Do Instead of Buying This Louis Vuitton Purse by Jessica/Mo’ Money, Mo’ Houses – I’m a recovering (and recurring) materialist, so I love how Jessica compared all the truly meaningful experiences one could have for the same price as an exceedingly overpriced handbag.

I’m Not Having Kids (and That’s Okay) by Kali/Common Sense Millennial – Having kids is not an easy decision but what makes it worse is people who assume they know better than you on the subject. Kali offers awesome responses to the most ridiculous “advice” from presumptuous a-holes.

How We Lowered Our Cell Phone Bill By Over $100/Month by Planting Our Pennies — You must read the entire series to get the full benefit of this brilliant post. The first will make you laugh if you’ve ever dealt with nonexistent customer service from mobile carriers. The second will hopefully inspire you to take a hard look at your mobile plan (as it did me — more on that later).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Consignment: Is It Worth It?

12 Feb

I often suggest clothing swaps as a great way to get new outfits for free. I started swapping clothes with a particularly fashionable friend last year and it’s worked out great. I clean out my closet and get a couple new things I love at no cost. These exchanges were supposed to help us stay in contact, but lately we’ve been handing bags to our husbands as they walk out the door to exchange at work (they’re co-workers). As our face-time has faded, I’ve started considering other, more lucrative ways to offload my closet rejects, namely consignment.

Of the two consignment stores in my area, only one is targeted at my demographic. My boss recently tried to sell some items there (she’s SUPER fashionable) and did not recommend them due to excessive wait times and paltry exchange rates. So, like a modern little money saver, I went online and tried LikeTwice.com to consign a dozen carefully-selected items.

Props for fun packaging and good marketing.

Props for fun packaging and good marketing.

 

The service is pretty easy to use. I received a bag and prepaid label into which I was instructed to pack as many clothing items as possible. I stuffed it with a dozen garments I felt were in good enough shape to resell. Included in this haul was a pair of 7 For All Mankind jeans and a ton of Limited-brand items. I received an offer a few days later and was surprised to learn six of the garments were rejected due to “staining” despite my careful selection process. What  was I offered for the other six once-loved threads, you ask? 

$16.

I admit I’m pretty disappointed with this number. It amounts to a little over $2.65 per garment and includes that designer pair of jeans along with items I wore only a handful of times. Suddenly I remembered why I don’t love consignment — I only receive a fraction of my money back on clothing that collectively represents a $200 investment. Is it wrong that I plan on stalking LikeTwice’s website to see how much they’re profiting from my items? (UPDATE: A Limited-brand tank is currently selling for $11.95 on their site – wow.)

Granted, $16 is more than I would receive if I donated those garments to Goodwill. However, I’m not convinced it’s better than what I would receive in a clothes swap, since some of the things I’ve scored from my friend are worth at least $16 to me.

liketwice2

In LikeTwice’s defense, five of the six items I sent in were considered too stained to resell (the last one was considered “dated” — ouch). Had I paid closer attention I may have received more moola. Additionally, LikeTwice offered to increase my payout by $4 if I opted for store credit.

I’ve been thinking about selling my wedding dress but after this experience, I’m not sure it’s a good idea. What are your thoughts on consigning clothing — is it worth it?

Disclaimer: LikeTwice did not compensate me for this post. I just enjoy giving companies free publicity because I’m generous like that.

Stories That Rocked My Week – #1

7 Feb

Welcome to my first-ever blogger roundup! Since I read and Tweet awesome stories all week, I’ve decided to shamelessly copy other bloggers who have Friday roundups of their favorite posts. Imitation is the best form of flattery and all that, right?

Photo by Kainet via Flickr

Photo by Kainet via Flickr

 

Here’s a few articles that rocked my week:

Marissa at ThirtySixMonths had me OMG-ing after the second paragraph and face-palming after the first bolded sentence. Read her agonizing story of spending $1200 on jeans (which isn’t even the craziest part!) - http://thirtysixmonths.com/my-biggest-money-regret-aka-the-1200-jeans-story/

Trent’s post about using frugality as a life preserver is a fantastic example of how many people are first introduced to the frugal lifestyle — necessity. Check his post at The Simple Dollar – http://www.thesimpledollar.com/frugality-as-a-life-preserver/

Greg and Holly are a couple of my all-time favorite bloggers and probably my favorite blogger couple (see what I did there?). Greg’s epic rant about exceedingly bad customer service will have you thinking YGTBFKM during the entire read – http://clubthrifty.com/definition-of-insanity/

The fabulous Stefanie over a The Broke and Beautiful Life had me hollering “Amen!” after reading “Love and Money: The Most Romantic Gift.” I love me some practical, thoughtful gifts — http://thebrokeandbeautifullife.com/most-romantic-gift/

I’m new to Stapler Confessions and I’m excited to find this gem of a blog after reading “How to Have a Frugal Valentine’s Day Without Looking Like a Cheapskate.” I love how Rebecca thoughtfully tied in her experience during 9/11 to creating thoughtful, long-lasting Valentine’s Day gifts – http://staplerconfessions.com/index.php/how-to-have-a-frugal-valentines-day-without-looking-like-a-cheapskate/

FreeFromBroke’s “Frugal vs. Cheap: Which Are You?” reinforced my Ally McBeal-like behavior whenever someone uses the terms interchangeably. Instead of fantasizing about slapping someone silly, I’ll just direct them to this fantastic post. http://freefrombroke.com/frugal-vs-cheap/

John over at Frugal Rules put all men to shame when he offered easy, thoughtful and cost-effective Valentine’s Day gifts for wives the world over. Mrs. Frugal Rules found herself a catch – http://www.frugalrules.com/5-great-valentine-gift-ideas-wife/ 

Happy weekend, everyone! 

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

 

THE CONTEXT

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.

THE BREAKING POINT

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.

THE IMPULSE

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.

THE REMORSE

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.

THE LESSON

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?

It’s Not Me, It’s You

31 Jan

Photo by Dee via Flickr.

Photo by Dee via Flickr.

 

The Limited and I are taking a break. We’ve been together for several years but lately, I feel like I’m investing more in our relationship and receiving less in return. Since moving away from my hometown last year, our long-distance relationship has had its ups and downs. We keep in touch online, but mostly I receive a bunch of email asking for money. When we do connect, I’m increasingly unsatisfied with my experience. Ultimately, time away from one another is probably best for both of us.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had my eye on Everlane for some time now. Nothing has happened yet, but I can safely say I’m in the infatuation stage. It’s not just about looks, though the 100% silk button-ups and casual-chic tanks are extremely attractive. I feel like Everlane is really honest with me about their business practices and pricing strategies. I don’t feel pressured to be with them, and instead receive messages from time to time letting me know I’m special.

I guess I’m in a different place now than I was, and The Limited and I seem to be growing apart. I still like clean, classy and sophisticated, but I’m also looking for something easy, simple and straight-forward. I don’t want to be overwhelmed with options or have to play games to get what I want. I’m ready for something new, and I’m more excited than sad about this realization. 

I might have to make my move with Everlane soon. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Disclaimer: Everlane did NOT pay me for this post. You can bet The Limited didn’t, either.

Money-Saving Tricks Part II

28 Jan

I’m so thankful for the rockin’ personal finance community I’ve come to know over the past year of blogging. In addition to offering great advice, these writers also help inspire me during moments of writer’s block. This week’s post is influenced by an article I read from Myscha Theriault over at Financial Highway last week. She highlights a few money-saving tricks that keep her from spending needlessly, and it got me thinking about some of the things I do to avoid parting with my cash.

Photo by Allesandra Elle via Flickr.

Photo by Allesandra Elle via Flickr.

Repair shoes. I wear boots exclusively during the fall and winter, which means the heels get worn down pretty fast. As much as I’d love to buy a new pair every time this happens, my budget and common sense refuse to allow such frivolity. Instead, I take my boots to a local shoe repair and get them re-heeled for $15. This small investment increases the lifespan of my winter kicks and keeps me looking stylish for less.

Hang-dry clothing. During my amateur laundering days, I ruined many a nice garment by tossing it into the dryer. Reading the care labels on your clothing is key, and many of my work blouses and workout tanks are hang-dried. I don’t have a fancy drying rack; instead, I hang clothes from the top of doorways in my closet and laundry room. Undergarments are never run through the dryer, either; I put those around doorknobs, much to the amusement of my husband.

Create rags from old garments. As I was drying myself off the other day, I heard a huge “rip” and discovered my towel had torn apart. I could have trashed it, but instead I kept tearing (super fun, by the way) and put the pieces into the rag basket I keep in my bathroom closet. Similarly, I keep old socks for use in car waxing and ripped tee shirts as jersey rags. No need to buy something you’ll only soil when you have these items at your disposal.

Repurpose. In my post about redecorating for free, I shared a few examples of using wine corks as vase fillers and liquor bottles as decorative containers. I also used hemp necklaces lovingly created by my sister-in-law to hold back beaded curtains in my master bath. I even used part of a cardboard box to create a shelf in a kitchen cabinet to organize my spices (ghetto but effective). Ultimately, I’ve saved good money by finding things I already own to repurpose into what I need.

After reading this post, do you have any money-saving hacks to share?

5 Ways to Save on Good Beer

20 Jan

Odell yumminess. Photo by me.

Odell yumminess. Photo by me.

I’ve had a draft of this post in the queue since reading a humorous post about hipsters driving up the cost of Pabst Blue Ribbon (or not, as the article explains). While PBR doesn’t exactly meet my criteria for good beer, the brand’s resurgence would suggest some people find it refreshing enough to stay loyal amidst rising prices.

It got me thinking about ways to save on good beer, the kind that doesn’t come in packs of 36 or feature labels dominated by mountainscapes. As a late-bloomer in the craft beer movement, I never thought I’d be concerned about the cost of beer. I’m glad my tastes have evolved from Midori Sours to hoppy IPAs, but this transition is definitely a costly one. Here are a few ways I save on craft brew:

Compare prices – We buy most of our beer, wine and spirits from the liquor store adjacent to Sam’s Club. Warehouse club prices are almost always better – “almost” being the key word there. Our local liquor store charges $3 more for my favorite wine but $1 less for a six-pack of Odell IPA. Comparing prices helped us score a better deal on our favorite brew and support the local business. Win-win!

Make your own – I may get some flack for this, but making your own beer can be the thriftier option depending on your rate of beer consumption and the types of craft beer you favor. My husband recently calculated the per-six-pack cost of an IPA at $3.50. The initial startup cost is a few hundred bucks but after that, it’s just grain, water and good times. Hop heads should check out Freshop.com for good deals on Oregon-grown hops in several varieties.

Mix and match – Most liquor stores with a good beer selection offer create-your-own six packs where you load an empty sleeve with six beers of your choice. This is a great way to try several new beers at once. This is not to be confused with the mixed 12-packs created by the brewery, like the Folly Pack from New Belgium. These are typically pricey and always include one beer that no one likes.

Do the math – Beer math, that is. Sometimes, the 30-pack of 8 oz cans gives you more brew for your buck than the 12-pack of tallboys. (Disclaimer: I’m going outside the theme of craft beer on this one since you won’t find Fat Tire in 8 oz cans.) Feel like a poser drinking from beer’s equivalent to the sippy cup? That’s what chilled glasses are for!

Shop the outskirts – Anyone who’s tried to purchase beer on the Vegas strip or within Salt Lake City limits knows what a ripoff it is. Locals know the best places to buy beer cheaper, but tourists may feel trapped. In general, buying anything located adjacent to tourist areas will always cost you more. When in doubt, download the SaveOnBrew mobile app to find beer deals nearby. You can search by location or peruse a list of beer deals from specific stores.

I’m glad it’s close to the end of the workday because I’m totally craving a beer after writing this post! How do you save on your favorite adult beverage? 

Dollars & Sense: Cut Mobile Costs

15 Jan

Things are getting heated in the mobile industry, with AT&T and T-Mobile duking it out over their respective customers. Just one week after AT&T announced their offer of up to $450 in plan and device credits for T-Mobile customers, T-Mobile retaliated with an offer of up to $650 in credit for AT&T customers. Meanwhile, Sprint has done away with their annual device upgrade program, and no-contract plans are increasing in popularity as consumers become increasingly annoyed by strict agreements and erroneous fees.

With all the options available today, how do you know which plan is right for you? I stopped by the FOX31 Denver studio to chat with Good Day Colorado’s Kirk Yuhnke about ways to reduce mobile costs in 2014.