Category Archives: Saving

Sneaky Shopping Triggers

Back in my super-shopping days, the fall wardrobe was a prominent highlight of the year.  Fall shopping involved reading lots of glossy magazines, finding inspiration at Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus, scouring Loehman’s, DSW, and the mall for deals, and then splurging back at Anthropologie and Neiman Marcus.  The shopping cycle also involved an original list, purchases, returns, and new lists for things to match what I bought on earlier trips.  All this happened with good friends, so it was loads of fun.  I wouldn’t trade the memories, but I am a little relieved to have stepped off the shopping treadmill.

 

by pjinomaha

by pjinomaha

 

Here in Ohio, I haven’t given up shopping completely.  In fact, I am truly one of the luckiest girls in the world because I have a husband who LIKES to shop for clothes.  On our honeymoon, we had a total blast shopping, and he sweetly splurged on the most darling trench coat ever for me to wear this fall.  Still, it’s nothing like the old days.  I don’t read glossy magazines anymore.  I have a very small list of quality items to buy (new leather boots, a cream silk shirt, and a black cashmere turtleneck).  We have a set budget and are waiting until October to spend it.

Suddenly, though, this week, I have had serious, serious urges to shop.  They’ve been so serious that I DREAMED about shopping last night.  I’ve had to consciously remind myself what new-ish clothes I have in my closet because I’ve just felt generally disgruntled that I have nothing to wear.  What could be the trigger?  I watch the Daily Show online, but that’s it for TV.  Like I said, I haven’t bought one fall magazine.  At work, I’ve even been too busy to catch up on my celebrity gossip fix at lunch.  So, what gives?

This morning, I finally figured out the sneaky shopping trigger: “chick lit.”  I got Love the One You’re Withby Emily Giffin from my library “queue” this week and have been devouring it after work and before bed.  Now, by day, I am a literature professor, but by night, I shamelessly indulge my passion for “fun reading.”  I was an avid reader as a kid, not only of Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, but also of the teen series like Sweet Valley High and The Girls of Canaby Hall (about three unlikely roommates at boarding school; oh how I wanted to go to boarding school reading those!).  So, as an adult, when Bridget Jones’s Diary ushered in a new craze of copycats, I became quite a connoisseur. 

I now realize that, while they are technically ad-free, these books also let me shop vicariously.  Almost every one has a shopping scene or two.  Sophie Kinsella’s series, of course, takes the shopping motif to dizzying heights.  Even if there is no direct shopping, there are usually descriptions of adorable outfits and random allusions to trendy brands.  Griffin’s latest contribution was no exception.  Throughout the novel, we get one darling ensemble after another, and I realize I’ve been imagining wearing each one as I read.

So, sneaky shopping trigger: discovered!  Fortunately, my budget allows for some shopping soon, but until then, I’m pleased that I’ve identified where the urge is coming from.  Knowing is half the battle!

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Inventory vs. Cash

Over the long weekend, I’ve been reading Ahead of the Curve by Philip Delves Broughton.  Broughton is a journalist who fears that the doomsday for newspapers is fast approaching and decides to switch careers by putting in two years at Harvard Business School for an MBA.  The book is an interesting look at business school for non-business types.  Since Broughton graduated with a liberal arts degree and spent ten years as a foreign correspondent, his “outsider” perspective is readable for all of us who thought we were taking the high road by studying art, literature, ancient history, philosophy and the like.  I could certainly relate when Broughton described his Luddite relationship to Excel.  While I don’t plan to rush off to business school, I would like to learn more about finance, accounting, and marketing, both for my own work and to help the husband with his small business.

For me, the most interesting parts of the book are the case studies.  Harvard Business School, like most law schools, takes the case study approach to learning.  Students prep by reviewing real life situations and face the dreaded “cold call” at the beginning of class to explain the case to the rest of the class.  Broughton peppers the book with cases from eBay, Microsoft, small companies, even a medieval farm.  I learned the most from one case out of his first-semester finance class.  First off, Broughton gives us a layman’s introduction into what the study of finance actually is:  “finance is really about one thing: valuation.  How do you put a price on an asset?  From that basic equation flows everything else.”  For the world of finance, the first step is to figure out how much your assets are actually worth.

Through the comparison of one lumber company that keeps too much inventory on hand and must borrow money from the bank each month and Dell computer company, which keeps virtually no inventory and builds all its computers on order, Broughton realizes that one of the best ways to value an company is by how much available cash it has.  For most companies, he says, inventory is a big evil.  Instead, cash is an asset that is flexible and fluid.

Of course, I quickly made the leap here to personal finance.  In my own life, I’ve been all about the inventory.  For years, any cash I earned quickly went to books, clothes, and whatever else caught my fancy.  A savings account was a noble idea but didn’t seem necessary to a young graduate student.  Now that I’ve finally paid for all that inventory, I’m realizing that cash really is a more important asset.  At the beginning of this process, I promised myself a shopping spree for paying off the credit cards.  Now, like a reformed dieter who looses the taste for Twinkies, I’m not quite as excited about that spree.  I do still plan to buy a few nice things, but I think I’ll keep most of that money in the bank rather than sinking it into inventory. 

Even though the husband and I haven’t sorted through our financial goals yet, I know that money in the bank will never hurt us.  I plan to keep living the frugal lifestyle, selling off unwanted “inventory,” and looking for ways to earn more cash.  Then, in a few months, we’ll have a nice little pile to start our plans with.   How about you?  How do you balance between the “inventory” vs. cash equation for your personal finances? 

To Save, Play the Waiting Game

A friend of mine has had a series of status updates on Facebook regarding an iPhone. Every few days he lets us know that he’s successfully resisted the temptation to buy one again. I like that he’s put it out there because the longer he waits, the more likely he is to avoid the purchase. Of course, now, he’ll also get heaps of grief from all of us if he gives in. Having a frugal support network like that can certainly help us save money.

For new bloggers like me, reading everyone else’s successes helps keep me in line, most of the time. Since I started blogging, my (now) husband and I have been thinking about buying a new flat-screen TV. We even started a savings fund for it. All summer, my “snowflakes” from selling things went to my credit card debt and his went to the TV fund. We’re now at about $400, but I think, by waiting so long, we’ve actually talked ourselves out of buying the TV.

When considering a major purchase, I’ve seen the great advice to wait one day for every $100 you might spend. We’ve actually waited far longer, but by saving rather than buying on credit, we forced ourselves to really think about it. If we had rushed out and bought a TV when we first got the notion, we’d still be paying for it now, probably a little unhappy that we had that debt. Instead, we have a little money to play with now (we’re thinking about a new digital camera).

Now, before I pat myself on the back too much, I have to make a major confession. In the whirl before the wedding, I gave into a serious impulse buy. I knew that I wanted some new lingerie for the honeymoon, and was even inspired by Mrs. Micah’s post to just buy some nice Hanky Panky items that I could wear everyday and leave it at that. However, in the back of my mind, I also had Grace Kelly from Rear Window floating around in that lovely, flowing nightgown and robe, passing a glass of brandy to Jimmy Stewart. Faithful readers may remember that I even resisted buying a nightgown in San Francisco.

When I walked into the store, I found the nightgown of my dreams, plus a matching chiffon robe. Of course, it was ridiculously expensive, but I got so swept up in the moment that I bought that, plus some underwear, plus some really cool yoga pants. I absolutely love everything I bought, but let’s just say that my current credit card debt would be half what it is now if I had resisted.

I’m pretty sure that if I had just walked out of the store with the few pairs of underwear that I went in to buy, I wouldn’t have gone back for the nightgown and robe. Of course, it’s easy to justify. . .”our honeymoon,” “I love it,” “it’s so beautiful!” However, the truth is that I charged it because I did not have enough money to pay for it. That’s the problem with resisting! We can be so good about it 99% of the time, like my husband and I have been with the TV, but that 1% can really set us back. That’s also why having a support network helps. Knowing that I do have to fess up keeps me on track most of the time!

The Beauty of Savings

Last week, I shared how my poor brain has finally figured out why carrying credit card debt creates havoc with your budget.  Now that the new school year is starting, I want to share a few of my new ideas about savings.  Once a savings account replaces a credit limit in your budget, I think that life can go a little bit smoother.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Spending real money makes you spend a little smarter.  I’m giving myself a wardrobe bonus for paying off my credit cards.  However, I want to wait until the October sales to get the best bang for my buck.  If I were just spending credit, I’d be out there right now, charging up new clothes for the full retail price.
  • Spending real money makes you spend a little more slowly.  By saving up for things, you have the time to decide if you really want them.  We’ve been saving six months for a new flat-screen TV.  However, we’ve now decided that we don’t really want to spend all that money for something we won’t use very often.  Instead, we’re looking at new digital cameras.
  • No one can reduce your savings limit.  Unlike a credit card or a home-equity loan, a savings account can’t be called back when there’s a credit crunch.  You’re in charge of how much you save!
  • No unwanted phone calls from creditors.  In my twenties, I couldn’t answer my phone for fear of an uncomfortable conversation about my credit cards.  It’s a nice feeling to know that I won’t owe anyone!  Lately, I’ve been logging into the account with a zero balance, just to smile at that “0.”
Those are a few ways that I’m imagining my life will improve, starting next month!  Dealing with money is really a mental game.  By envisioning how turning my finances around will make our lives better, I’ve been able to resist all the little temptations to charge.  The cool thing is that saying “no” gets to be easier and easier.  As I untangle my needs from my desires, I feel much more in control when shopping.  Now, if I can focus that energy toward resisting salty snacks, I can knock off my extra honeymoon pounds as well!

By the way, my debt-reduction post was an editor’s pick this week at the Carnival of Debt Reduction. Be sure to stop by today for lots more inspiration on your own journey towards the zero balance!

Coupon Myths Debunked

It seems like with the rising price of food, lots more folks are clipping coupons.  I know that I’m one of those who started to help offset bigger grocery bills in the last few months.  At first, I my coupon clipping just helped me stay on budget, which was depressing.  It felt like I was doing more work to stay in the same place.  This month, though, I finally have the coupons working for me and am on track to end up about $50 under budget this month.  Remember, with little savings like these, it always helps to calculate how much your saving over the year.  At this rate, my coupon clipping will add up to $600 a year!  Certainly much more worth the hassle.  If you’ve been reluctant to start, perhaps these are a few reasons why:

“Coupons Aren’t Worth the Time and Effort.”

I know this is what kept me away from them for years.  Somehow, stereotypes of miserly women (always elderly in my brain) hunched over the newspaper carefully cutting, filing, and sorting coupons for dog food made me shudder.  Then, there’s the thought of inconveniencing someone in the grocery aisle or at the checkout by sorting through a big file of coupons looking for the perfect one.  I just did not want to be “that kind of person.”

Then, I realized, “get over yourself!”  Other people are getting great deals, saving money, and paying off their debt.  I DO want to be “that kind of person.”  I started out with the Grocery Game.  You could also start with a couple of great web sites, like Money Saving Mom and the Coupon Mom.  Now, though, I can handle serious saving all on my own.  On Sundays, I clip anything and everything that I might ever buy.  I do sort them into separate envelopes for categories on my grocery list like “frozen food” or “baking aisle.”  Before I go to the store, I look up their sale circular online and pull coupons that match anything on sale.  Since my grocery store also doubles coupons up to $1, I often save two or three times what the face value of the coupon is.  All told, coupon clipping probably takes me an hour a week.  On weeks where I save $30-$40, that’s time well spent!

“Coupons Won’t Save You Anything Because You Just Buy What You Don’t Need”

True, early on I got suckered into some great “deals” on things that now sit in my pantry.  Especially with CVS, I have to be ruthless about using the coupon.  If it’s not something that fits a category in our regular rotation like dishwashing soap or toothpaste, then I don’t buy it.  The way I catch myself is if I look at the ad and find myself thinking, “well, I could use that for X” or “I’ve always wanted to try Y.”  If I don’t think “great!  that’s something we use” then I don’t put it on the list.

“Coupons Won’t Save You Any More than Buying the Store Brand Will”

I often buy the store brand, especially when it comes to staples.  So, I thought coupons wouldn’t help me much.  I do always compare.  For example, I have yet to make a coupon for name-brand aluminum foil pay off.  The store brand is always significantly cheaper.  However, when you pair coupons with sales, you often can come out significantly ahead.  Last week, I got dishwashing detergent for 25 cents and toothpaste for free.

“Coupons Won’t Help Me Because I Cook From Scratch and Buy Local”

If you’re like me, you’ve already cut your grocery bills by using your local farmer’s market.  My mom keeps wanting to tell the farmers at her market that they could easily charge more!  You may also save significantly by cooking rather than buying pre-packaged things.  For me, my biggest coupon use comes for tolietries, soap, cereal, and dairy items.  Even though I bypass lots of coupons in my Sunday circulars, I have found lots that work for me.  My spending at Target has dropped from $200-$300 a month a year ago to $30-$40 a month because I now fit most of what I used to buy there into my grocery budget.

A final note: If you’re going to start clipping, give it three to four weeks to stock up enough coupons to be able to match them to the circulars.  Also, subscribe to your Sunday paper rather than buying it off the rack.  I’ve found that our subscription paper has twice the inserts that the newsstand papers have.  I’m not sure if that’s intentional or if people sneak inserts out of open papers, but I did really notice a difference.

Is it Worth Canning Berries?

When I clicked on my stats page today, the above phrase came up as a google search.  I decided to answer this random searcher’s question directly. . .

Yes, it IS worth canning berries!

In a recent post, I calculated how much my home-canned strawberry jam cost versus an organic strawberry jam at the grocery store.  By my calculations, canning a dozen jars of jam saved me $30 a year.

Now, how is saving a mere $30 worth a whole day’s effort picking berries and canning them?

What is important to remember is that canning fruit can save you on more categories than just jam. Sure, you may say to yourself, “I doubt I’ll even USE twelve jars of jam in a year.” However, check out some of the other ways you can save money by canning preserves:

  • Save money on yogurt.  Rather than buying all those little pots of yogurt, buy one big container of plain yogurt.  Then, stir preserves into your daily portion.  You can eat it at home or on the go.  I love it because I get a much fresher taste than from the regular “fruit on the bottom” variety.  Organic yogurt is $4.00 for 32 ounces while the cups are $1 per 6 ounces. That’s about $1.20 a week for me. Annual savings: $62.40.
  • Save money on oatmeal.  Here too, don’t buy those pre-packaged packets with dried-up fruit.  Buy the large container of oats.  You can make it in the microwave in three minutes (I use equal portions of oats and milk).  Then, at the end, stir in your favorite preserves.  I made a batch of spiced apples that are absolutely wonderful stirred into oatmeal.  Again, ten times better than what you’ll buy in the store. The carton I buy has 30 servings for $2.40 versus $10.50 for 30 packets. I go through a carton in about two months.  Annual savings: $48.60.
  • Save money on ice cream toppings.  No need to buy that artificial strawberry syrup from the store.  Top your ice cream with a serious dollop of jam and some whipped cream.  Heavenly! The good toppings are about $2.50 a jar at my store. Annual savings: $10.
  • Save money on Sunday brunch.  Rather than going out for a fancy Sunday brunch, whip up some crepes at home (Julia Child’s crepe recipe is perfect!).  Put out several bowls of preserves, some Nutella, and more whipped cream, and watch the happiness spread across the table.  We had a crepe extravaganza with rhubarbs, strawberry preserves, and mullberries.  It was amazing! Just do this four times a year, and annual savings: $120.
  • Save money on hostess gifts.  Everyone loves a homemade gift.  Especially if you do a batch of preserves that is rather uncommon, like the delicious rhubarb/grapefruit preserves I made this year. If I give away six jars, then annual savings: $120.  (figure $20 for a nice bottle of wine.)
  • Now, look at our annual savings: $391! That’s some hard-working jam!

I can for several reasons: to support local farms, to ensure quality ingredients, and to feel a connection to the generations of my family who did the same thing.  A few nights ago, the husband needed a quick late-night snack.  I have to say whipping up some oatmeal for him and offering him the choice of apple, peach, or strawberry preserves was pretty darn satisfying!  However, I also can local produce because it really does save some serious money!  If you’re considering it, don’t just consider an “apples to apples” comparison.  Think of the many other ways you’ll save money by running a more efficient, self-sufficient pantry!