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Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

Buying

I almost bought a book today.

Used, old, gorgeous history of the Tudors. Table sale set up to support the History department.

But then I remembered the 11-volume history set — a high school gift — that I’ve never read. It’s really well done. I just… haven’t gotten to it.

Oh, and I have no space to store another musty book.

So I didn’t get it.

I kind of wish I had, mainly because it was pretty, and I like having pretty things. Then again, the apartment would be pretty if I took a half-hour to clean up.

Which is free — and saves space.

Sigh.

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$avings Site

I would consider myself a moderate online shopper. Clothing seems to have better deals in stores ($5 clearance sweater dress pushed into the dark corner, anyone?!), but I buy most of my new textbooks over the internet and order a lot of photo gifts and prints.

Ebates.com just cut me a quarterly check. I spent $222.70 through their site, and will receive a $17.50 check in the mail soon. I’ve been a member since 2006, and gotten back $74.29 since then.  It will never be a huge source of income, but is great if it’s something you’re going to buy anyway (symbolic logic text or rain boots, anyone?!).

source

I’ve gotten credits from stores like Barnes and Noble, the Gap, Overstock.com, Apple, Magazines.com, Fuji Film, and Gardener’s Supply Co. What I like best about the program is that you don’t have to earn points to then cash out — just get $5 cashback, and a paypal transfer or check will be sent on the next payment date.

The only problem with Ebates is that some purchases are occasionally excluded when using coupons. For instance, I used a $15 off any sized order coupon at Kodak Gallery on Black Friday that wasn’t credited; when complaining, I was told that it was invalid because of the coupon (which was, admittedly an excellent good deal already…) . I’ve successfully used 25% off coupons on orders from AE, Staples, Foot Locker, Gap, etc too. The key, of course, is to only buy what you need — if you’re ordering rain boots online anyway, getting 6% cash back is a nice plus.

If you’re interested, and care to sign up through me by clicking here, there is a $5 referral bonus which I would be absolutely willing to accept ;).  The only payment I received was my “big fat check” from Ebates as a result of my savvy shopping — I thought you might enjoy it, too!

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Want to see part one of my suggestions for saving while grocery shopping? Click here (link opens in new window).

You’ve clipped your coupons and made a list. What next?

Compare. If there are multiple stores in your area, try to compare prices. For me, milk is much cheaper at Walgreens than the local chain grocery — I go through both advertisements each week, and pick up the best deals at each store. Also compare prices between brand-name and generic products — if you use a coupon on an item that is already on sale, the brand-name item can end up being a lot cheaper.

Stick to your purpose: groceries. Avoid buying non-grocery items at the grocery. (Please note that this does not include super-marts that have dedicated departments, but rather retailers that focus on food with a limited selection of other products.) In my experience, toiletries, household goods like paper towels, and seasonal merchandise is priced much higher at grocery stores. You’re going grocery shopping — get groceries, not other junk.

Finally, convenience can be important. Consider the cost of your time, gas, etc. From my apartment, it takes me about an hour to walk to the grocery, shop, and take all of the groceries home in my grocery cart. The prices at the nearby Super Centers (Meijers and Walmart, in my area) are considerably cheaper, but taking the bus takes an extra hour or so. I value my time more highly than the  extra savings, so I choose for now to not make the extra trip; I’ll change my shopping habits after I buy a car in the future.

Waste not, want not. Use up what is in the refrigerator before buying more. Experiment with new entrees and try to plan meals that compliment what you have on hand, instead of adding additional items to your list. Finally, when shopping, avoid buying things just because they are cheap. Consider what you really need — is it even possible to use a gallon of yellow mustard?! It may be a few cents cheaper per ounce, but you have to use a lot of it to come out ahead. Remember, it’s never a good deal if you won’t use it or it’s not a good product.

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What’s the best way to save money?

Don’t spend.

If anything, personal finance has made me more aware of what and why I buy. It really strikes me how much little purchases add up, both on my credit card and in my closet.

In my opinion, the distinction between something being a good deal versus being cheap is key. For a good deal, the item is useful, either for a need or bringing happiness worth the price, which called “utility” in the world of economics.

Why is not spending one of  the best form of savings? In the words of the great Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Importantly, each dollar spent is post-tax money.

How do taxes tie in here? For each dollar earned through work, taxes eat anywhere from roughly 15 to 40%. If you avoid wasting $10 through careless spending, you get to keep 100% of the $10; if you work for an hour at $10/hour, you will profit approximately $7.50 (give or take, based on many variables such as overall income and location) Ouch!

Additionally, if a purchase is made on a credit card, interest rates are killer if you carry a balance. A buyer can end up paying over $20 for a $10 item if they carry debt, which is very stressful, in addition to expensive!

I must admit, shopping is one of my favorite forms of recreation, and I do just like having stuff.  I have been trying to tailor my purchases — some things, like more collared shirts for work, are useful since looking professional is important.

It feels surprisingly good to not-spend, however. Multi-utensil camping tool for this city girl? Pretty cool, but I think I’ll pass. :)

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Grocery shopping isn’t a hop-in-the-car-and-go process, or at the very least shouldn’t be. While it is definitely easiest to stop by the local store on the way home from work, it would be easier still to just order in carryout or go out for dinner every night, right?

For me, shopping is nearly a week-long process, which sounds very drawn-out and painful, but is much easier than realizing key items have been forgotten when unpacking. Broken down into a few steps, here’s a weekly process for some noticeable grocery store savings —

All week preparation. Keep a list of what items are running low that you’ll need to pick up in the near future. It helps to have a few weeks’ buffer to try to find a sale on items like plastic wrap and graham crackers. If you have way too much of a product, donate the surplus to a food pantry since there many families in every community struggle.

Saving on Sundays. If you get a paper, pull out the coupon circulars and clip coupons for what you use. Have some coffee, listen to the radio in the background, get your five-year-old to help — this shouldn’t be a high intensity activity. Go online and look at the weekly circulars to see what items are on sale. Pay attention to the dates of the advertisements, too. My local grocery store has sales that run Sunday through Wednesday, and Thursday through Saturday. If you will need to make two trips to keep fresh items like bananas on hand, aim to go once during each period to take advantage of all of the deals.

Print coupons online. You’ll need to download a small computer application (which regulates the number of coupons that may be printed per computer — there’s no way around it.) Even if you won’t be using it right away, print a coupon right away if you plan to use it — coupons have a limited number of prints, and popular coupons go quickly. Sites I use include Coupons.com, Redplum.com and Smartsource.com. If you can’t find a coupon for a particular product, you can sometimes find one on a manufacturer’s website.

Make a shopping list based on what is on sale and what you need. It’s never a bad idea to stock up on non-perishables like crackers and canned fruit, but avoid buying more than what your household will use before the expiration date.

Click to continue to part II!

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Oh, Shopping!

I love shopping. It’s almost competitive — getting savvy deals, finding perfect items. That being said, I hate having to shop, especially when my own mistakes create an immediate need for an item.

When I left my apartment to come home between semesters, I packed a lot of clothing, largely in the form of dirty laundry (paying $3 for a communal washer = not cool). I brought a few fancy items like skirts and dresses with some pretty heels, but tried to leave a lot of things in my closet to keep them clean and pressed.

Then a friend emailed me about a career conference. Dress is “business professional”. Gee, guess who doesn’t have a suit jacket in an 150-mile radius?

So, before hopping on the metra tomorrow morning, I’m off to buy a new jacket. I could get the same one I already have at the Limited which would perfectly match my suit, buy a completely new set to have two complete outfits, or try to find something cheaper somewhere like Target.

The most logical solution is to get a second outfit — I’ll need one for work fairly soon, anyway — but I hate to pay nearly full price when there were huge pre-Christmas sales. I have a couple coupons, gift cards from credit card rewards, and always try to get a student discount with university id, but still… ugh

While on the subject of shopping…  Well-Heeled, a wonderful personal-finance blog, has a great post about personal finance, life and love lessons from Sex and the City. I just started watching the series over the holidays, and have really enjoyed it. Charlotte is my absolute favorite — sweet and pretty, with puppy Elizabeth Taylor!

Well-Heeled is having a book giveaway — check it out here!

Edit: I did not spend $40,000 on shoes, nor did I even find anything I liked well enough to buy. I guess I will just go jacket-less!

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… for AT.

If he reads my list, it won’t come as a surprise — finance student that I am, most of my ideas for him to improve his money management are mentioned on a semi-daily basis. Don’t get me wrong — AT is a very smart and hardworking guy. His  school pays for the bulk of his educational expenses, and he makes a solid income working when not in school, at a job that will be very beneficial to his career.

The fact that he is a smart cookie makes it even more ridiculous that he lacks financial common sense; if anything drives me crazy, though, it’s his attitude towards money. For example,

Me: You’re ordering a third pair of speakers?

AT: Yep. Can I have them shipped to your house?

Me: Why on earth would you need a third pair? Now you have three!

AT: You’ll see when they come how much better they are!

In all fairness, he let me have pair #1 when buying the second set, which was a huge improvement over using the speakers built into my slowly-dying laptop. But then again, we have this conversation with a lot of purchases, especially things including “xbox” in the title and miscellaneous unnecessary purchases.

My suggestions for him in 2010:

  1. Make a maximum contribution to a Roth IRA. AT makes plenty of money to take care of living costs as a student and has enough left over to invest, yet is still in a very low tax bracket. There is no better time to start investing in a Roth IRA, since earnings can be withdrawn tax-free starting when he is 59.5 years old.
  2. Read. Go to the library and pick a financial advice and planning book. While he certainly isn’t planning to go into financial services, being a well educated consumer is wise. (I wonder if he’d appreciate a subscription to Money magazine for Valentines’ Day?)  AT would probably make better financial decisions if he learned about inflation, the big bite taxes take out of his income, and how much hidden costs like car insurance cost. AT always consults his dad before making financial decisions — good policy, but I’m afraid that it’s often to avoid making his own move and seeing reality.
  3. Save. I’m not too picky about how this is done as long as it does indeed get done. One of his current accounts  is at a credit union with a fairly high rate of interest, but hasn’t grown much since the initial deposit. Transferring money out of a checking account is smart — if you don’t see it, you don’t find ways to spend it. For his chosen field, he’ll spend 7 years in a grad program where he receives a stipend, then have a fairly low income for a few more years — making good decisions now could make his budget during those years go a lot more smoothly.
  4. Open a credit card. Credit cards are not inherently evil when used properly — amassing debt is the actual problem, at which point credit card companies wring money out of the users. AT’s a man who should be able to understand how much money he has — or doesn’t have — to spend, and he should probably start building a credit history. Earning reward points for purchases is an added bonus. One idea might be that he gets a card like my Citi Forward (5x points on books and entertainment), but only uses it for items like textbooks that he really needs.
  5. Keep track of the cost of entertainment. I think he’d be amazed to see how quickly each video game, meal out, and iTunes download adds up. Ideally, some conservative changes would be made — selling the used video games on eBay, putting CDs on hold at the library, trying to make more meals himself — but I’m not holding my breathe on this one.
  6. Take advantage of good deals. I’m always encouraging AT to shop through Ebates, get an opening bonus on an account, etc., but he rarely follows through. I’ve made a surprisingly large amount of money when small actions are taken into consideration, and he can do the same.

I’m not trying to create radical change, but instead try to promote a more realistic attitude towards AT’s (and my, by proxy!) financial future. Do you think I am being reasonable?

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