Category Archives: finances

What Won’t You Pay For?

I love reading magazines, from money to fashion/design to family/parenting, to the point that I could easily subscribe to a dozen.  However, in the interest of saving money and reducing temptations, I limit myself to 3 or less at a time.

Despite my love of magazines, I haven’t paid for a subscription in years, not since getting my first free subscription via expiring airlines miles.   After that, I realized that there are a few ways to get my fix for free.  This works for me because no magazine is a must-have for me.  I enjoy Real Simple and Self, but as long as I get any glossy lifestyle magazine, I’m pretty happy.

In addition to airline miles, which I can never seem to redeem for travel, I have also gotten free magazines via online surveys.  I don’t waste too much time on these but I’m part of a consumer panel and I actually enjoy giving feedback so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.  Over the years, I’ve gotten 15 – 20 free subscriptions from Lucky to Smartmoney to Martha Stewart Living.

Another way I’ve gotten free magazines is via purchases.  It’s not so common but Harry & David had a promotion — offering a free subscription with X amount purchase.   I had to email customer service but it was really easy and I think I got Sunset or Martha Stewart Living magazine. I also got a free issue of Dwell from an online furniture/decor store.

Right now I have 3 magazines coming in — 1 via surveys and 2 via Recyclebank participation.  I’m still not sure how Recyclebank works (or makes money) but I get points for reporting my recycling so I figure why not participate.

Anyway, this post wasn’t supposed to only be about ways to get free magazines. I was just wondering if other people had similar experiences.  One friend finds it hard to pay for designer jeans because she used to get it for nearly free via a work connection.  Another friend hates to pay for parking. Do you have something (or things) that you just can’t bring yourself to pay for?

Not Sure Delayed Gratification Is Working…

Part of the reason I’ve been so successful at saving money is my lifelong ability to delay gratification (check out this post on Grumpy Rumblings for definitions and comments, etc..), even in my more impulsive college years and early 20s.  However, lately, I wonder if this method works so well for me anymore.  I just feel like I’m delaying the inevitable purchase (and yes, I know that purchases/spending are rarely inevitable..)  Still, even if it takes me a long time to buy something, I usually end up doing it at some point.  I guess I know my tastes and needs pretty well by this age and it’s increasingly rare that I want something that is useless or frivolous.

That is not to say my ability to delay gratification is useless. Many times, I earmark pretty pictures in magazines or bookmark websites (saving items in wishlists or shopping carts). If I delay the purchase, I usually forget about the urgent “need”.  I may also consult my primary shopping list and remind myself that I have higher spending priorities.  Sometimes I completely forget about the item and lose interest.

With some things and experiences, however, my want usually remains so it’s just a matter of time before I buy those shoes or book that massage.  Of course the delay can mean months, even 1 year or longer, so I suppose this tactic is still working.  And there are times now that I let go of the “want” because more urgent basic and real needs crop up in the meantime.

So I guess it’s back to the inevitability of the purchase that is getting to me.  What difference does it really make if I buy something I want now rather than 3 months down the line ( besides new stuff often going on sale..)??

A Rebate Hack

Okay, this sounds totally crazy but I actually set up Google Alerts for a few of my favorite brands/products.  Since setting these, I’ve been notified of rebates from brands such as L’oreal and Olay.  These rebates are often $10 or higher and make a big difference if you stock up when there’s a rebate, sales and manufacturer or store coupon.   If you’re not a coupon master, you’ll save money even if you buy the product at Walmart’s regular low prices and then send in the rebate.  (Yes, you have to be willing to actually mail in a form!) Anyway, it’s super simple to set up and worth it for certain brands that regularly offer rebates.

A Simple Way To Give

If you’re a frequent online shopper like me, you probably heard of or use websites like Ebates that give you a percentage back on your purchase.   A few months ago, I also discovered a website called iGive.  Similar to Ebates, it tracks your online purchases but the money is donated to your chosen charity.   The best part is that you get credit for both Ebates (or Mr. Rebates) and iGive on the same online purchase.  When I shop online, I always go through Ebates first to see if my store is participating on the Ebates cash back program.  If yes, I go to the store’s website.  If you have the iGive button installed on your computer (an easy one-time process), all you have to do is  click on the iGive button and do your browsing/purchase as usual.  Those little amounts add up over time and it’s nice to get and give  something back!  Since joining, I raised $92 for my cause…

Lowe’s Blows..or Adventures in Customer Service

I just have to say this…Lowe’s Customer Service blows..and here’s why:

I had placed an online order on the last day of an appliance promotion.  For some reason, my credit card issuer blocked the charge. I had to call and confirm that it was a valid charge; however, they could not re-authorize the charge. I had to go back online and redo the transaction.  At 9:00 pm pacific time, I tried to re-do the order but the price had jumped back up because it was past midnight eastern time (where the business HQ or warehouse was located I guess?).  This makes zero sense!  The sale was supposed to end that day but I assumed, rightly so, that it would expire midnight at my local time.  No where on the site did it say the sale would end at eastern time! If anyone has ever experienced something similar, please let me know!

Anyway, I contacted Lowe’s customer service and explained that I would like to get the sale price. Plus, and more importantly, I had an additional 10% off coupon expiring in a few days.  That extra 10% off plus 10% off sale price had already been applied in my shopping cart earlier, and would have gone through if not for Visa blocking the charge on their end. 

The first service rep refused to honor the sale price but said they could accept my 10% coupon on the regular price. I responded saying that Home Depot had the same sale price and could they honor the price as a competitor match, plus honor my 10% coupon code considering that the price should not have changed before midnight pacific time.   Another rep replied that it was not possible to do both.  Since I’m pissed about their website pricing change, I’m going to order the same item from Home Depot instead.

Contrast this to Macy’s…I purchased a few things from them but used the wrong coupon code, getting a 10% discount instead of 15%. After placing the order, I emailed them asking if they could let me use the 15% despite it being an error on my end.  They quickly credited my account for the difference.  I wouldn’t have been mad if they said no but I was very happy that they were so nice!

I think most businesses are and should be much more accomodating to their customers, if demands are reasonable.

Living The Rich Life

I thought it was time for me to address the cost of moving to our new rental house.  We’ve had time to adjust and suck up the high costs associated with moving from movers to new appliances to starting up gas, trash, utilities and water.  We’ve benefitted from this move in countless ways that I feel it’s well worth the extra cost, to the tune of doubling our previous rent.  That’s right, doubling, while our income has stayed steady.   Fortunately, a welcome flood of freelance income has taken the sting out of the increase but I know that at some point we have to re-evaluate our budget.

I’ve been playing with numbers for months and the most obvious hit is to our savings, which should become zero if we don’t want to spend more than we earn.  However, I’m not cutting out the 401k contribution because it does reduce our tax bill and we do need to continue saving for retirement. 

To be honest, our move into a nicer neighborhood has me feeling like the family in the TV Show “The Riches” starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as crooks who assume the identity of an upper-middle-class suburban family.  The funnier thing is that this new neighborhood is not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. It just has better schools and nicer parks than our old area.  Both areas were / are safe and quiet.  Both areas probably had the same median income and were / are middle-class, although this one seems to be a tad more solidly middle-class.

I think what really makes me feel “rich” is that the house itself is bigger and newly renovated.  After many years in our old house, things get worn (naturally) and are not replaced.  I’m sure that if we stay long enough, this house would also look more worn-down; however, it still has better basic fixtures overall than our previous rental.  The old place had linoleum in the kitchen and bathroom, plus the cheapest windows you could possibly buy.  The new place wins out just by having tiles and nicer, new windows.  I guess I’m not too hard to please in the area of decor!

Truthfully, I don’t know how long we can manage on this higher rent.  We may have to downgrade in a few years, hopefully not too soon, and find a townhouse or apartment.  For now, we’re enjoying this new place. 

I also have a feeling that I will really appreciate every day here… I’ve read that  most people get used to their status/situation so happiness from things, including houses, diminishes over time.  However, I think I might be able to appreciate this place and all its advantages for a long time.  Here’s why and I hope you have the patience to read my washer/dryer story.  For many years, my husband and I did not have a washer or dryer.  We usually waited as long as possible before we hauled 4 – 6 loads of dirty clothes and linens, spending hours in a dingy, ugly laundromat on a Sunday afternoon.  Yes, we killed time with books or web browsing but we generally didn’t trek too far and the other restaurants near the laudromat were equally dingy and depressing.  At any rate, it certainly felt like we had to base our schedule that day around laundry, not the same as doing laundry at home.  And while I have said how much I hate doing laundry, I should clarify it’s more than I feel the division of laundry should be equal and not all on one party.   In spite of my dislike for this chore, I’ve always appreciated having our own washer or dryer.  What I’m trying to say is that while I might get used to this house, years of living in a tiny space and enduring a long commute will likely make me appreciate this new living environment much longer and even forever!

Things I Let Go When Low On Cash

With a newborn in the household, Grumpy Rumblings (#1) asked “What do/have you let go when something new takes a lot of your time?  Answers varied from socializing with friends to exercising to reading/writing blogs.   For me, lack of time often equals spending money as an attempt to gain back time, or just keep sane!

Here are some ways I spend more money during time crunches:

1) Hire house cleaning help!

2) Hire gardening help

3) Get car washed

4) Eat out more often (since I’m too tired/busy to make lunch or go grocery shopping

5) Shop online for convenience (although I still check prices)

6) Stop comparison shopping, counting on Target/Walmart to have fairly decent prices

7) We have also hired a nanny to help us during busy or transition times.

Although I would argue time is always scarce, there are times when saving money becomes more important.  It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition of course.  However, I think many of the things I let go are the direct opposite of my earlier list.  Here are things I give up when low on cash:

1) Eating out at work

2) Snacking at vending machine (bring my own snacks instead)

3) Online Shopping for clothing, shoes, purses etc..

4) Hair cuts (this gets delayed until I can’t stand it any longer)

5) Car washes (Dusty brown is the new black)

6) Netflix (or some kind of media/cable)

7) Expensive gifts (I really stick to my budget at times like this)

8) Going out with friends/family (I decline get-togethers or suggest cheaper options)

9) Less organic foods

10) Expensive fun like international travel, massages or amusement parks (truth be told, I haven’t had facials or massage or travel in years…but these are things that I gave up in my 20s/30s when necessary.)

11) Tech upgrades (computers, phones, etc..)

12) Gym membership (home DVDs are good enough…)

13) Mindless spending (like walking out of Target with excess stuff not on my list)

I do still stock up if I catch a really good sale on household goods or needs.  So far, I’ve never been at the point where I didn’t have a big enough cushion for stocking up but I’m sure that can happen.

What do/have you let go when you’re low on cash?