Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Support Two Causes for One Super Low Price

One of the departments at my office is collecting books to give to an after-school program run by a shelter in Washington, DC. Many of the the children don't speak English at home, so they try to promote literacy during the after school program. They need new and gently used books for children ages 3 to 10.

I love a book drive for "gently used" books because I know just where to get them: the book sale at the public library.

My county's public library system has a nonprofit organization that supports it in a variety of ways...supplementing what they can do with the public funding they receive. I think most/many library systems have similar organizations. In my area, they are called the Friends of the Library.

The Friends of my library have used book sales set up in all of its branches. They sell gently used books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, etc. for super cheap prices. These are items that have either been taken out of circulation or that have been donated to the library but aren't needed for their shelves. They sell children's books for just 50 cents!

With this deal, I can make a donation – to two causes – and stay well within my budget.

It's December and a big time for collections and donations to charities. If you know of a place that needs books, now you know a great place to buy them!

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Coupon Code Success Story

A good friend and Save 4 Fun reader emailed me yesterday all excited about a deal she got on a baby gift. I do love a bargain, so I thought I'd share it with all of you too. Here's what she wrote:

Just had to tell you about the good deal I got...I was ordering a gift for a neighbor who just had a baby. It's her 2nd son, born in the same season as the 1st, so I didn't want go to the clothes or toy route. So, I thought of a brothers picture frame. I found one that I could personalize with their names. It was on sale online, but shipping was $8.95. geez...so I Goggled for a coupon code for that company, and sure enough there one was for $5.00 off. I never do go hunting for coupon codes on the web, b/c I rarely purchase anything online. I was so excited to save $5! Just thought I'd share my good savings with ya!

Hurrah for searching out a deal on a great gift idea! And this goes to show that you really should hunt for coupon codes before shopping online.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Remembered the Coupon I Got Last Year!

Last year when I went to the eye doctor, I read on my receipt about an opportunity to get $20 off of my next purchase if I completed a survey about my experience there. I took the survey and got the coupon. It said it didn't have an expiration date, so I saved it.

I only go to the eye doctor once a year. A year is a long time to keep a coupon. It can also be hard to remember to take it with you after 12 whole months! But I marked it on my calendar, and I remembered to use the coupon. So, I just saved $20. Yippee!

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Penny Pinching: Using the Water Saver Line

I have been mindful of my water consumption over the past year as a means of being kind to the environment but also to save money. I have put a half gallon jug of water in each of our toilet tanks to keep at least a little bit of water from going down the drain with each flush. I use water from the dehumidifier to refill the toilet tank after flushing. I also use leftover water in drinking glasses to water the plants.

Our shower water takes a while to heat up. So, another way we save water is to let the water run into a bucket until it is warm enough in which to shower. It's a 10 quart bucket. Depending on a variety of factors (i.e. whether the hot water has been used recently and therefore more quickly ready to go), it may only collect a half gallon or so. Other times the bucket may be completely full by the time the water is at a comfortable temperature. I use that water to refill the toilet tank after flushing too.

We rent a townhouse built in the early 1980s. We aren't in a position to make energy and water saving upgrades that a homeowner could. So, I look for other ways to save. In the case of our toilets, they aren't the new water-efficient models. But I've noticed there are two different fill lines in the toilet tank: the regular one (up at the top) and a lower one marked "water saver line." I couldn't figure out how to make it automatically use the saver line. So, I turned to Google.

I found a great video on ExpertVillage.com with a representative from the City of Santa Barbara's Water Resource Department explaining how to adjust the toilet tank's float to use the water saver line. I made the adjustments on our toilets earlier. It was easy!

So just when I thought I was stretching our water use as much as realistically possible, I found yet another way to save a little more. The adjustment I made today alone should save us about $40 to $50 per year. Again, not huge...but there's no point literally flushing that much down money down the toilet!

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Penny Pinching: Slaying the Energy Vampires

One way we have been pinching our pennies a little tighter is by reducing some of the "vampire energy." We have 4 power strips in different parts of the house that we use for electronics that use energy even when they are turned off.

We have one power strip for the computer. The monitor and printer are also plugged into it. If we aren't going to be using the computer for an hour or more, we turn the whole thing off and then flip the power strip to off. If I'm planning to come back to the computer in a short period of time, I'll put it in standby mode.

We have a stereo upstairs and one downstairs. We don't actually use either one very often, so they get power strips too and stay off the majority of the time.

And we also have a power strip for the TV, cable box, and modem. That one we have off unless we are watching TV, are on the Internet, or will be back to use one of those things in a short period of time. So, it goes off at night when we head to bed and stays off all day while we are at work. Because all three of those things have lights/clocks on them that stay on when they are "off," I know for sure they are energy vampires.

I'm not 100% sure how much we are saving on an annual basis with this tip, but based on Good Magazine's chart, it looks like it may be in the ballpark of $100. That's not huge, but I'll take it. Otherwise, it's like tossing a Benjamin right out the window. And who would do that? The only effort it takes is to remember to turn the power strips on and off.

Oh yes, there is the cost of the getting power strips if you don't already have them. Well, the good news is that you can get basic ones for free after rebate at various stores. I think I may have only paid full price for one of our power strips years ago. I got one of the others at Staples free after rebate one year on Black Friday. I've seen them advertised for the same deal periodically throughout the rest of the year too. I got the other two power strips free after rebate at Rite Aid.

Good news if you need a power strip now: the week of Sunday, November 23, Rite Aid has them free after rebate! (Don't forget to shop early if you want one because they sell out of their rebate deals quickly.)

Finally, this is not only a way to save money, but it's saving energy which is environmentally friendly too!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Is It Possible to Pinch Our Pennies Even Tighter?

As you know from reading this blog, I'm a regular saver. I'm always trying to stretch my dollars just a little bit further. I used to love watching the bars on my net worth chart in my financial software program creep higher each month. I felt a sense of accomplishment -- like my penny-pinching was paying off. Now, of course, my net worth chart seems to be plummeting nearly every day. Ugh.

I rationalize that the accounts that are tanking are nearly all for retirement, and we don't need that money for decades. All will be well. However, as this economic problem drags on and seems to get bigger daily, I get a little more concerned about the short term (meaning, our jobs).

We'd be okay for a few months if one of us lost our job. Survival -- paying the monthly bills -- is a slight concern, but it's not overwhelming at this point. But what is irritating is the thought of not being able to saving...of having to use our savings for every day expenses and not for the big dreams and goals we have. I have a great plan all mapped out. However, if the income part of that plan is pulled out in a significant way, it will completely fall apart. After all, we aren't financially independent.

So, over the next few posts I'll tell you about how I'm trying to turn our usual savings up a notch. It's nothing super drastic at this point. But I firmly believe the little things count. They add up to be big savings. We are fortunate in the fact that things are clipping along as usual. Actually, we both recently got raises! But I don't think we should take that for granted. We are staying pretty serious about saving...however, we are also still spending (goodness knows, the economy needs us to spend!). Stay tuned to find out where and how I'm tightening the belt a little more.

If you are doing the same, let me know. I'm always looking for new ideas!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

I Would Spend an Extra $100 Bucks

I was reading Clever Dude's blog today and saw a guest post by Donnie Gamble entitled What Would You Do with an Extra $100 Bucks? He is suggesting that you should invest it wisely - save it. What would you do with it?

I know what I'd do with "found money" - put it in our Travel Fund. I guess that is saving for the short term, albeit "very" short term. (We are usually going on a trip at least every 6 months if not sooner.) In fact, we're putting our "extra" income (i.e. Craig's List and yard sale profits, credit card cash-back rewards, etc.) in the travel budget now.

So, why do we do spend it on travel rather than save it for the long term or put it towards paying down debt? Well, our budget is set up so that we are plowing quite a bit towards long term savings goals as well as retirement of debt. But we still want to do fun stuff -- but that means we have to come up with extra cash.

We do have a small amount ($100 per month) in the budget for travel expenses, but the two of us won't get too far on $1200 for the year. Mind you, that money is supposed to cover everything from transportation (gas for the car, airline tickets, etc.) and food to attractions and lodging. Even using a travel budget and a lot of cost saving measures, one of our long weekends for a marathon can run (no pun intended!) several hundred dollars to more than $1000, if we are flying.

So, we use extra money to fund traveling, which we love to do. It makes us work harder to find those bonus dollars. It also helps us keep our main savings goals as the priorities with much larger amounts budgeted for them than for travel. So, I don't find putting found money towards fun stuff to be frivolous at all.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Upselling to Craig's List Customers

A major tenet of sales is upselling. That's when you try to get someone to upgrade or add additional purchases to what they were already intending to buy. I've tried it with some of my sales on Craig's List, and it's worked!

As we've been working on organizing our new "married" home, Michael and I have had to part with a fair amount of excess stuff. Some of it has gone to Goodwill or Freecycle. We've sold some of it at yard sales. And I'm trying to sell other things on Craig's List.

On Craig's List, I've put a keyword at the bottom of all of the postings for like items. Rather than telling the reader to search for that keyword, I've made a hyperlink. Let me give you an example...

We have 30 hardback and paperback novels to sell. I sorted them by author and made a separate post for each group. For the ones where we only had one or two by a particular writer, I grouped all of them together to make a posting for "assorted authors." I priced each book individually and then by lot (post) at a slightly reduced rate. So, three hardbacks by David Baldacci are $2.00 each or $5.00 for all three. Three hardbacks by John Grisham are priced the same but are listed in a different posting. Individual listings make it easy for someone looking for books by one particular author.

At the bottom of each posting I listed a keyword like "Books2008." Then, I do a search on Craig's List for that keyword. I use that URL and make a hyperlink in my posting. So, in each ad I end with "Click here to see the other books we have for sale." It makes it super easy for shoppers to find all of the similar items I have for sale. If they are interested in David Baldacci books, maybe they'd consider buying our other ones by John Grisham too. Maybe finding several items that interest them will make it worth their while to contact us and make the purchase.

When someone contacts me about buying an item we have for sale on Craig's List, I like to include the links to other like items that we have for sale in my email response to them. They may have already seen them online, but I want to make sure they have an opportunity to consider buying anything and everything that we have for sale. Also, if they come to my house to make the purchase, I will set out other items that we have for sale that might interest a buyer. If they see the things in person, they may be more likely to buy them.

These upselling techniques have worked. Just yesterday I sold 18 of our books. I initially had 25 of the 30 books posted on Craig's List. Someone emailed, interested in buying 13 of them. A few days ago, we set up a time to meet on Saturday afternoon at a Metro station. In the meantime, Michael gave me 5 more books to sell. So, on Thurday I emailed the buyer and sent her the link to additional books we were offering. She decided that she'd like to have those too. So, instead of getting rid of 13 books for $18, we freed our house of 18 books and added $22 to our Travel Fund (where we put all of our Craig's List proceeds)!

In September when I had some leftover wedding decorations to sell, a bride-to-be came to make a $5 purchase. When I invited her to make the purchase, I had all of our items setting out on the dining room table. The display actually looked quite nice. I told her that everything was for sale. I gave her suggestions on how she could use the items. It worked! Instead of spending $5, she spent $18.

Upselling and being a friendly, helpful salesperson will bring more cash in for your unwanted stuff just like they would in a retail store.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Free Tomatoes from Del Monte

If you are one of the first 50,000 people to respond to this offer on Del Monte's website (in the bottom right corner), you'll receive a coupon in the mail for a free can of Del Monte No Salt Added Diced Tomatoes! I just requested mine this evening, and it said they'll mail the coupon to me 4 to 6 weeks after the offer ends (April 30, 2009). As a consolation prize, they will give you a 50-cents-off coupon if they've given away all of the coupons for the free can.

Of course, there is a catch. You do have to sign up for Del Monte's monthly e-newsletter called The Dish. Actually, I found out about the offer through that newsletter because I was already receiving it.

I do try to at least scan all of those marketing newsletters that fill my inbox. They do often have news about special offers, coupons, freebies, etc. But I learned several years ago to have e-newsletters sent to an email account separate from my regular email. I actually check that email box as often as I do my regular email, but at least the messages are separated. It keeps my virtual mail more organized. And if I don't have the time or desire to read my "junk" mail, I can just quickly delete everything in that inbox.

If you haven't already set up a special email account to use whenever you register for something that requires an email address, do it now. Do it before you take advantage of this Del Monte offer. Get a free email account from Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, etc. Then, you can take advantage of special offers from companies like Del Monte without filling your regular inbox with spam.

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

What Social Security Means to You

I just got my latest statement from Social Security in the mail yesterday. Commissioner Michael J. Astrue wrote the cover article entitled What Social Security Means to You. In a nutshell for me, the answer seems to be"not much" unless something changes.

My full retirement age is 67 years old. That is in 2043. However, Commissioner Astrue wrote in his letter that, "Without changes, by 2041 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted and there will be enough money to pay only about 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits."

I'm not 100% sure what that means. "Exhausted" sounds like it will be out of money, but "78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits" sounds like I just won't get the full amount the statement is telling me that I'm eligible to receive when I'm 67.

Actually, inside the statement it has an asterisk by my estimated retirement benefit amount. Down below, it says, "Your estimated benefits are based on current law. Congress has made changes to the law in the past and can do so at any time. The law governing benefit amounts may change because, by 2041, the payroll taxes collected will be enough to pay only about 78 percent of scheduled benefits." That makes it sound like I could get something. But I'm still missing the full benefit by 2 years!

Either way, I'm not counting on it. I think of any money I will collect from Social Security at retirement as my bonus money. I've never been in a job that has paid a bonus, so that will be really nice -- to be retired and receive a bonus!

Commissioner Astrue also wrote in the statement that, "Social Security is the largest source of income for most elderly Americans today, but Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. You also will need other savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire." I believe that, and I'm acting on it -- socking away as much as we can for retirement.

It is frustrating when I think of all of the things I want/need to do with my money. There's just not enough to make everything happen perfectly...and that's for a relatively simple life. But there's one thing I know for sure: I want to be able to retire and live comfortably during retirement. So, I'll keep saving for it.

In the meantime, I'm off to the grocery store and Target now with my list of sale items and coupons. I'm continue to pinch my pennies pretty hard in order to stretch them further. I want to meet as many of my financial goals as possible...with lots of effort, hopefully I will.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

You've Gotta Love Free Underwear

Over the past couple of years Victoria's Secret has been sending Michael a coupon for a pair of their VS cotton panties. Thankfully (for many reasons!) he always passes them on to me. I've gotten 3 pairs of underwear so far, which is a retail value of $22.50. No purchase is necessary to get the free undies either. They are truly free.

Michael has no idea why he gets these coupons because he's never purchased anything from Victoria's Secret. They don't have him on their catalogue mailing list -- just for coupons. I think I've gotten one of those coupons over the past 6 or 7 years, and I've even purchased things from VS. It seems like they should send me more coupons. That's okay; I still benefit from the ones he gets.

Since we've gotten married, Michael has moved to where I had been living with my sister. He did a change of address with the post office, but I didn't think junk mail followed you. Well, a free underwear coupon really isn't junk, but I would think in the eyes of the USPS it might be. But good news Victoria's Secret found out his new address! Michael got another free panty coupon in the mail yesterday! I'll be heading to the store soon so they don't run out of my size before I get my pair.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Sign of the Times

My sister, a regular gym-goer, always complains how busy the gym gets in January and the early part of February. Folks have obviously made their New Year's resolutions to get fit/lose weight, and they pack the work-out facilities. By the end of February and into March, as folks start breaking their resolutions, attendance starts to peter out and just the die-hards remain.

It appears that this downturn in the economy has made people start their resolutions now to cut back on expenses even though January is still 2 months away. Like those exercise-resolution-makers who pack the gym, people who have resolved to save lately are packing my Rite Aid drug store at 7 AM on Sundays!

In the past 3 weeks, I've been in town -- and at Rite Aid -- on two Sunday mornings. Rite Aid has had some great deals, many of which are free after rebate. I've learned over the past 3 or 4 years of being serious about sales, rebates, and coupons that you do have to get to the store early to ensure you'll get items you want. The best deals go fast.

A Rite Aid that's not too far from my house opens at 7 AM on Sundays. Knowing there really is no other fool who is going to be there at that hour on a Sunday, I drag myself out of bed and swoop in to get my pick of everything during the first minutes of that week's sale. I may run into one or maybe two other people -- usually a senior citizen buying a newspaper -- but I rarely see anyone honing in on the sale and rebate items like me...until recently.

Three weeks ago there were so many people there after the rebate items that I thought it was Black Friday! I couldn't believe it! This past Sunday there was similar crowd. Now the store wasn't really packed, but usually it's just me. Now I have 4 to 6 fellow early-bird deal-finders.

Then on Sunday afternoon, I read an article in the business section of the Washington Post about Snipping, Clipping, Scrimping. Apparently, it is a sign of the economic times.

It's hard to say when, but the economy will one day get back on track. I wonder if people will continue going after the sales, rebates, and coupons -- continue saving money -- after the stock market works itself out. Or will they fall off the bandwagon like so many of the exercise New Year's resolution people at my sister's gym?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Traveling with a Budget

Believe it or not, I've never been too good with a budget. I think I'm too much of a literal thinker to make it work. Variable expenses (i.e. electric bill, water bill) frustrate me. It's high one month and low another month. Even grocery shopping is like that. Sometimes I want to stock up on a sale item, but that puts me over budget. I understand the concept. I've even had others explain it to me. But it's just never worked for me.

However, there is one budget that I actually like: our travel budget.

My husband and I take 2 to 4 trips a year for him to run marathons. He has a goal to run one in every state! It's a great way to see the country. This past Saturday, he just completed his 24th marathon (23 states plus DC). This time we were in Newport, RI. He only has a handful of states left east of the Mississippi, which means the cost of these ventures is going to start to really increase (when we add in airfare for two). But marathon trips are our "thing," and we have written the expense into our monthly savings plan.

We put a small amount of our paychecks toward our Travel Fund. Then, we beef it up with a variety of other sources (i.e. proceeds from yard sales/Craig's List sales, credit card cash back bonuses, savings account interest). It's a really good plan.

Then, before a trip, we think about all of the things we want to do while we are gone. We include budget line items for lodging, gas, tolls, airfare, car rental, food, admission fees to attractions, souvenirs, race entry fee, etc. Of course, I have a spreadsheet for our travel budget. I print it out, fill in the actual spending as we go and track our progress.

Thanks to a drop in gas prices, we did extremely well with our budget on our trip to Newport. We are leaving the leftover money from this trip in our savings account to put towards a future trip. Maybe this kind of budget works for me because it's over just a short period of time...

The budget actually helped us "live large" on this most recent trip without feeling guilty. I think it's because we had a complete understanding of what we spent and what we still had.

Michael's treat after a marathon is always a big steak dinner. This post-race celebration was no different. However, we were in the Ocean State, so we had to get some seafood too. We went for the $35 surf and turf -- filet minon and half of a lobster! We budgeted a decent amount for the steak dinner, but our big dinner choice put us $15 over the limit. No problem! We knew we still had money in the budget. We weren't looking to use up every penny just because it was there. However, this was a great way to treat ourselves -- guilt-free! And what a great dinner it was!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

It's Worth Shopping Around

We are still working on getting our "married" house in order. The other week Michael came up from the garage and declared that we really needed shelving down there to help get organized. I supported that idea. We were discussing what freestanding shelves would cost. I figured at least $50. He thought that was entirely too much and thought we should look for something less expensive or scrap the idea. My thought was that if it's something that we really do "need," and it could be used for a long time to come, we should go for it.

It just so happened that the next Sunday a set of shelves like I already have in a basement closet was on sale at Target for $50 (regular $55 -- not a huge savings, but a savings none-the-less). I already know that I like this shelving unit, so I suggested we get one or two more to put in the garage.

Michael suggested that we shop around. Ugh. There a bit of irony here, but when I get my mind set on something, I don't actually like to shop around. I know that seems really strange given my frugal-ness. But I knew it was a product I liked, and the price was reduced. What more could we need? However, I agreed to get other "bids."

I checked out the websites for Target (in case they had something better than this shelving unit), Wal-Mart, Lowe's, and Home Depot. We don't actually have a Lowe's or Wal-Mart very near us, so it would have had to have been a great deal for us to consider buying anything from either of those stores. But I needed to check them out. I also thought I should check out Craig's List.

As it turned out, we found a great shelving system that someone was offering on Craig's List. There were two sets, and each held more than the one I liked at Target. The seller was offering them for $25 each, so we could get two for the price that I was willing to pay for one. Home Depot sells them, and the description sounded great and the ratings from consumers on the website were nearly perfect. We went to check them out, and they looked great. They come apart and can be reassembled so easily. Best of all, the seller was offering them for 38% less than we could buy them new at Home Depot. (I doubt Home Depot would ever put them on sale with that deep of a discount.) They are in good condition...maybe a little dusty/dirty. However, they are going to be in our garage and probably get dirty anyway.

We got them last week the night before we were going out of town for several days. Michael put them together that evening and we started filling them. We haven't finished yet, but they are perfect!

Wow! I couldn't believe this deal. I was so glad that Michael strongly encouraged me to shop around, despite my resistance. Looking on Craig's List really paid off. We are on our way to having an organized garage -- at a discount. You can get much better than that! ;-)

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Friday, October 10, 2008

I Made $31 on Craig's List Tonight!

This evening I sold some leftover things from our wedding through ads on Craig's List, and I made $31 more for our Travel Fund! It's amazing because I didn't have a lot of things from the wedding that I could sell. I know so people buy lots of vases, linens, etc. But we didn't have any of those things. I'm also keeping several things (i.e. my dress, veil, flower girl basket, ring bearer pillow). However, so far, I've made a total of $51 on Craig's List with wedding leftovers. Not bad.

There is apparently a pretty big market for wedding stuff on Craig's List. I suppose it's because weddings can be expensive, so people are looking for ways to cut corners. I've sold my things for about 60% of their regular retail prices. Most of this stuff you can get at craft stores like Michael's and A.C. Moore. The biggest discount I've ever seen on wedding-related items at one of those stores is 55% off, but usually 40-50% is the best you can do. So, by just undercutting the regular retail price, I'm able to move this stuff on to a new home.

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Finding More Ways to Be Thrifty

"Goodbye, Money!" That's what I've been saying over the past week as I've watched my retirement savings shrink and shrink. Of course, I've got decades to go before I need to use that money. So, it's painful to watch, but I'm confident the market will be in good shape again one day...I'll be okay. In fact, we aren't changing our contributions to our 401(k)s or IRAs. It's actually slightly exciting to know that we getting stocks on sale. (Now, if I could only find a coupon for Target 2045!)

I suppose a lot of people who haven't been super thrifty are at least thinking about it now. As I mentioned in The Same Old Message, I still listen to all of the saving ideas out there in print, on TV, and on the web. However, it's becoming more and more challenging to find new ideas.

My friend Bryan and fellow Save 4 Fun reader emailed me about an idea he got from Clark Howard that he's trying this year. My dad told me about this one too...so believe it or not, it wasn't new to me. However, I haven't actually tried it. But I might now. Here's what Bryan wrote:

Late last year a caller to the on the Clark Howard Show was asking Clark about his shaving razors...Razors are something I bought frequently and aren't cheap (I like the Gillette Sensor 3, which , in my area, typically costs about $12 for 4 or 5 blades and I was replacing the entire pack every two months or so).

The caller and Clark discussed the reasons razor blades become dull. There are two main reasons: the obvious one where the blade gets dulled by contact with the hair follicles, but the other (and most substantial reason) is because of oxidation of the blade after it has been in contact with water. So, they suggested drying the razor after every use. There are three main methods that they mentioned and I've tried all of them: 1) the best, in my opinion, is to use the hair dryer - typically, it's right there on the counter for most people in the bathroom and it only takes about 10 seconds to dry the blade, 2) wiping it off on a towel - again, this is fairly easy, just make sure to wipe in the opposite direction of the blades - you don't want to cut the towel - and thus damage the blades or 3) dip it in rubbing alcohol - this makes the alcohol replace the water and then the alcohol dries out very quickly - I don't prefer this one because I'm just paranoid I'll forget to rinse the blade before the next use and then I'll be cutting my face with alcohol - not pleasant.

SO, the big question: does it work? I started trying it in January of this year. It's now October and I'm on the same blade! My shave this morning was as close as it was 10 months ago! One note: I don't shave every single day - typically every other day. Clark says it works with disposables just as well. This year, I've spent about $2.40 (for one blade) - compared to last year when I spent about $72 (for about 30 blades total). So, spending 10 seconds to dry the blade each day I shave has saved almost $70.


The next best thing to hearing a new saving tip is knowing someone who has made it successful and has actually saved using it. Right now, I have a basket full of razors I've gotten for free or a little bit of money (because of sales, coupons, and rebates). I'm not too picky on my razors. However, I might choose a good one and try this idea. I know it will take a little time for me to remember to do it each morning after my shower. But I'll eventually make it a habit, I'm sure.

This is also a good way to not only save money but create less waste!

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Making More Money in the Yard

Getting our new "married" home settled has taken quite a bit of time and effort. Especially after the arrival of all of the wedding gifts, we had so many duplicate items. In some cases, we had triplicates (his, hers, and ours). That called for another yard sale!

We did better than during the spring yard sale in terms of planning and the outcome. So, here's what worked for us this time:

1. We priced items as we found them. Last time, we made a huge pile of the course of several weeks and declared it yard sale stuff. Then, after it was all gathered, I priced it. That was one huge task that took forever. This time, before it hit the yard sale pile, it had to be priced. Come Saturday morning, we were all set to go.

2. I tried posting on YardSaleSearch.com this time, but I don't think it helped. I put a note on that ad about asking for an additional discount, but no one mentioned it. That leads me to believe no one saw the ad there. However, I did post it on Craigslist on Thursday and Friday and then again on Saturday morning. That required being a little creative because last time they flagged (deleted) our attempts to post after the first time because they don't allow duplicate ads. This time, I changed the heading and the wording in the body. All three were posted.

3. We put up more signs directing people to the sale from more intersections. I think that helped because we had a lot more traffic this time. I also made them on the computer rather than handwriting them like last time. During school supply sale season, I bought poster board and glue sticks for super cheap. They came in handy for the signs. We just printed out the text and then literally cut and pasted it on the poster board. They were easy to make and could be read easily on the road.

4. As things sold that were displayed on the tables, I pulled more things out of boxes and put them on the tables. As I emptied boxes, I turned them upside down to make little tables to display stuff. As more boxes emptied, I stacked them under the boxes that were serving as tables so that the items were in easy reach. Basic merchandising: People are more likely to look (and then buy) things that they can easily reach with little effort on their part.

5. I asked people to make offers if they seemed to like something but didn't buy it. It didn't work in all cases, but many people did buy after I said I was willing to give a lower price. It meant getting less money on some items, but if no one bought it, it was probably going to Goodwill for free anyway.

This yard sale, we made $225 and some change. That was much better than the last sale. Michael and I have already decided that proceeds from yard sales and Craigslist sales are going into our travel fund.

I'm already thinking about doing another yard sale in the spring. I know we have more things around here that we don't need/want anymore. I didn't have time to go through everything before this sale.

The stuff that remained from this sale mostly went to Goodwill (a whole car load worth). But I held a few things back that I'm going to try to sell on Craigslist. If they aren't sold by spring, we'll try them at the yard sale again. If they aren't sold then, they are bound for Goodwill. I even salvaged many of our signs to use next time -- with a new date. I'm already looking forward to the next spring sale!

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

What to Do When You Are Tired of Sandwiches

After The Same Old Message post, I received a few comments about taking your lunch to work. For one, Mom emailed to remind me that you are probably packing something that is more healthy than an inexpensive microwaveable meal. Kate posted a comment along those same lines and noted that knowing it's healthy is one motivation to eat yet another sandwich at work.

Michael could eat a turkey and cheese sandwich every work day between now and retirement (which is decades away!). Not me. I need some variety. I don't mind eating the same thing five days in a row for lunch, but I need to change it up the next week.

One of my duties in our marriage is the grocery shopping. That means, I have quite a bit over the control of the weekly menu (which I think for Michael is where that "for better or worse" part of our wedding vows sometimes comes in).

I choose the sandwich meat, cheese, and bread based on what is on sale and has a coupon available. That keeps a fair amount of variety in just the sandwiches. Sometimes I'll buy a little less meat and cheese than we need and then I'll eat peanut butter and jelly one or two days -- or maybe the whole week. That helps with the grocery budget too.

As regular Save 4 Fun readers know, I also am a fan of little pizzas in my lunch. I haven't made them in a while. I'm going to have to watch for English muffins to go on sale again. I already stocked up on pizza sauce the other weekend when Harris Teeter was doing triple coupons.

My sister told me that this week she is taking taco salad to work every day. She cooks the meat on Sunday night. Then, she packs a serving of it up along with all of the fixings. She assembles her salad at work, and ta-da -- something better than a sandwich!

Mom reminded me in her email the other day that taking leftovers from dinner to work makes a good lunch. In addition to the grocery shopper, I'm also the head chef in our household, and I only cook about 3 nights a week. So, we are usually eating leftovers the rest of the nights. However, tomorrow I'll be eating some leftover soup that I made the other night for dinner. It was supposed to last two nights, but it wasn't very good. It's edible but not great. Michael wasn't a fan at all. So, I'll have to come up for a new plan for what was supposed to be the second night of the soup. He won't eat it anymore. You know me...I'm not going to throw it away. But I don't like the idea of him getting something better for dinner one night while I'm eating that not-so-great soup. So, I'll finish it up for lunch.

What do you do when you are tired of eating sandwiches for lunch?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Calculating Your Tax Savings

*** Update: 10/3/08: It's been brought to my attention by a financial planner/Save 4 Fun reader that the Additional Annual "Catch-Up" Contribution for Employees Age 50 & Over function on this calculator is not up to date. For 2008, the maximum is $5000. However this calculator will only allow a maximum of $3000 for the "catch up" contribution.

I finally found a simple calculator that tells how much I will save in taxes now based on how much I put into my 403(b). (In case you didn't know, a 403(b) is the same thing as a 401(k), but the former is for non-profit organizations while the latter is for for-profit companies.)

So, if you are looking to put money into your employer's pre-tax retirement saving plan, check out this calculator. You will realize that you won't be parting with as much as your money right now as it seems.

Using the figures that the calculator has as its default settings, if you earn $50,000 annually, pay 5% in state taxes, are married and file jointly, and put 6% ($125/month) into your 401(k), you are really saving $25/month in taxes! That's $300 savings for the year!

In this example, increase your contribution to 10% of your gross paycheck, and you'll save $1000, annually. Better yet, put in 15%, and you'll save $1500 for the year! (And in the case of 15%, you'll have socked away $7500 for the year for retirement.)

You can use this calculator to figure savings if you use other pre-tax benefits too. For example, my husband just signed up with his employer to have his Metro fare taken from his paycheck pre-tax. He'll be saving $25.50 each month in taxes by using the pre-tax payroll deduction over going to the machine to buy fare for the bus and subway. That's $306 for the year! Trust me, we can think of far more "fun" things to do with that $306, than paying it to Uncle Sam for Michael to get to work.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Same Old Message

I grew up in a pretty frugal household. From what I understand, it runs in the family -- sometimes out of genuine need and other times because we believe there's no sense in wasting money when you could save it to use for something better.

Years ago, I remember the subject of Phil Donahue's talk show was pinching pennies, and I recall my mom saying that she wasn't learning anything. She was already doing all of the tips they were suggesting -- and more! "Why don't they tell me something new?"

I'm really a glutton for saving tips. It becomes more and more challenging to find a new idea because like Mom, I'm so tuned into these things, it seems like I've heard them all. However, once in a while, I find a new one that will really work for me. I love that!

But why keep repeating all of the tips it seems like everyone should know? Here's why: people don't always listen, and sometimes it takes several times hearing the message before we'll try something new. We may not all have been reading the magazine or watching the news report that told, for what seems like the millionth time, to pack your lunch for work instead of eating out every day. That's not "new" news anymore.

Wait a minute -- it is old news to me. However, recently I've been looking at what my neighbors are carrying on the bus to work in the morning. Very few (some days, none) look like they are taking their lunch to work. Sure, maybe their employer does like my previous employer did, and they get free lunch at work. Maybe there is a grocery store beside their office, like mine now, and they get a super cheap microwaveable lunch every day. But I'm willing to guess that a lot of them are going out to eat every day.

Perhaps one day they will tune into world of saving tips, start bringing their lunch, and socking the extra cash away for something better than a hamburger and fries on a daily basis. There's hope, but the rest of have to keep listening to the same old message that we already know and abide.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gift Bags, Gift Wrap Gallore

I spent a while yesterday working on organizing all of the gift wrapping supplies that we have. The volume of stuff is incredible! Michael asked, "Where did you get all of this?"

Well, I had a bunch -- bags, tags, wrapping paper, tissue paper, bows. I used to buy it when I found it on clearance (usually at Target). He also had some that he brought to our household when we got married. But the bulk is from the wedding.

I was pretty lucky in that I had several friends and family members who wanted to host a bridal shower for me. It wasn't really possible to combine any of them. So, I had three showers thrown in my honor. Then, of course, there were all of the wedding gifts. Many of them were shipped to us without wrapping. However, quite a few were delivered in lovely boxes and bags with ribbons and bows.

I'm not a hoarder, but I do hate throwing good stuff away. I want to either give it away, sell it, or use it...not throw it away. All of these wrapping supplies were no exception. In fact, that stuff can be kind of expensive if you buy it full price. So many people gave us gifts in such nice bags with beautiful ribbons and bow -- it seemed crazy to throw it away from an environmental and financial point of view.

As a result, we now have about $600 in retail value of wrapping supplies. Okay, I don't actually know the value of it, but it's a lot of stuff! In fact, after organizing it and boxing it up, I'm not sure I can all be stored under one bed.

If you get a gift from us in the next 10 years or so, it's probably going to be wrapped in reused tissue paper, in a reused gift bag, or tied with a reused ribbon and bow. I hope you'll be able to pass it on too.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Keys to Financial Success: Dedication & Perseverance

With all of the gloom and doom economic news lately, there are a lot of reports on how to save money, especially on the morning programs. I love watching those segments.

I was just watching this report on the Frugal Family Challenge on Good Morning America Weekend Edition. The financial planner who was helping the family that ended up saving the most said something interesting: "Saving money is more about dedication and perseverance than it is dollars and cents." I really believe that's true.

One of the financial planners we saw at the CFP Board's clinic the other week told us that financial planning and saving money isn't "rocket science," but it just takes "time, thought, and organization." I believe that's true too.

It's easy to just buy the first thing you see on the shelf at the first store you enter. It takes more time to shop around. It's a breeze to pay your bills but never think about the total you are spending. It takes thought to create a spending plan and stick to it. It's simple to walk into a store grab a few items. It takes more organization to plan a shopping list around sales and coupons.

However, if you persevere and stay dedicated to saving, you'll benefit a lot.

Here's my little secret: there are days I don't feel like making a grocery list (with sale items and coupons) or walking downstairs at night to turn off the TV, router, and cable box at the power switch or logging all of my receipts into my financial software. I can be so lazy. But I usually dig deep, suck it up, and just do it! And it pays off when I realize what we are able to do -- save for the future and do fun things now like travel, despite living in an expensive area on average salaries.

And that's my motivation: save for fun!

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cheaper Chicken

Today at Harris Teeter I was going to buy Perdue chicken breast which was on sale for $3.99. I knew that was a good deal, but I always like to confirm. So, I checked the price of the Harris Teeter brand chicken. It was $5.29/lb. (regular price). I was ready to load some Perdue into my cart when something caught my eye.

The large package of Harris Teeter chicken breast was only $3.29/lb. That was the regular price too. However, it was $2.00/lb. less than the exact same thing in a smaller package. It was also cheaper than the sale price for the Perdue chicken.

Wow! I guess when I was only buying for one person (before I was married), I never paid attention to those huge packages. Michael and I still won't eat $14 worth of chicken in one meal or even one week (thank goodness!). However, I have learned the value of freezing individual servings. So, I'm off to the kitchen now to prepare the chicken for freezing. We eat a fair amount of chicken, but this will last us several weeks.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Jump on Your Money Bus

It just so happens that a Certified Financial Planner reads Save 4 Fun, and he's also a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA). After reading about me going to the CFP Board's free financial planning clinic, Brian brought another fun event to my attention: Your Money Bus.

NAPFA's fee-only financial advisors will be touring the country in this bus -- telling Americans all about the importance of saving and how to do it. It's starts off in DC on October 1 and 2. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make it since those are weekdays, and I don't work very close to the National Mall. They are, however, doing a symposium on "Understanding Debt, Saving and Your Financial Well-Being" at the District of Columbia Public Library (G St NW) on the evening of October 1, which is free and open to the public.

It looks like Your Money Bus will be touring the East Coast at least through November. Their website says they'll be crossing the country, so stay tuned to their website to find out when it will pull into your town. If it's anything like the CFP Board's clinic, it will be worth checking out. (If it's not coming to your hometown, you can keep up with the Bus and even ask the advisors questions via the blog on their website.)

Take a look at their You Tube video.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Financial Planning

Yesterday, as scheduled, Michael and I headed downtown to go to the Certified Financial Planner Board's free financial planning clinic. It was definitely worth our time -- and it was free!

I drew up the draft of our new spending plan earlier this week and then got Michael's input before we both approved the final version. This morning, I printed it out along with a report of our current net worth which detailed all of our accounts (assets and liabilities). I drafted some questions so we knew what we wanted to find out from the financial planners. And after Michael returned from a 18-mile (marathon training) run, we ventured off to the clinic.

We talked with 4 different planners in 3 different topic groups: general financial planning, retirement planning, and income tax planning. I guess we spent about 10 to 15 minutes with each one. We wanted their opinions on our newly minted spending and savings plan, on priorities (saving versus paying off a high interest car loan), on retirement savings, on saving for a down payment on a house, and on filing joint income taxes.

It was helpful that I took our detailed information with us. Generalities really don't work very well in financial planning. In fact, the CFP Board's introduction to the clinic told us that. So, we were able to get some tailored advice. And like all of the planners told us, just knowing our net worth and thinking about financial matters puts us well ahead of the curve.

The good news is that we seem to be on the right track. Our natural instincts were in line with the professionals' advice. Now, we just need to stay the course.

If the CFP Board does a clinic in your area, I highly recommend going. But whether you go to a free clinic or pay a planner or do it on your own, just make sure you make a financial plan. You'll reach your goals a lot easier and faster.

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Give & You Might Receive

During the past week, I've been working on our "married" spending plan. On paper it seems like it will work. (But that's a whole other story.)

One thing that I put into the plan and that Michael approved was for giving to charity (including church). We have no intentions of giving with the expectation that we will personally gain something directly from our gifts. We just believe it's the right thing to do.

However, I recently received something because of a gift I gave...

In June 2006, I went to a Girl Scout Silver Award ceremony at the Pentagon and afterwards got to go with them on a tour. It was my first time to the Pentagon. I love tours, and I've always been curious about that mammoth building. So, this was great!

We got to go to the memorial room and chapel that were built where a conference room had been prior to September 11, 2001. For a variety of reasons (including the fact I live 2 miles from the Pentagon and felt my house shake the morning of the terrorist attacks), I've always felt a strong connection to that event despite not personally knowing anyone who was affected. So, while I was touring the Pentagon, I picked a brochure about the Pentagon Memorial Fund and decided I would give a little money to that cause.

Finally, in May 2007, I got around to actually giving a gift to the Fund. It was a mere $100 -- probably a quarter of a drop in the $22 million bucket. However, even if it was just a little, I wanted to give something. I wouldn't have my name printed or engraved anywhere. But I would just always know that I helped (even in a small way) to build that beautiful place.

Then, a few weeks ago I got a letter in the mail from the president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, thanking me again for my donation and offering me a ticket to the dedication. Wow! I felt so special. I like being a part of those kinds of things. And again, this one held a little extra meaning. So, I asked them to send me the ticket.

I took Thursday off from work and went to the dedication with about 16,000 other invited guests. I felt pretty honored to be there. After all, on 9/11/01, I was just the 25-year-old down the road who had the day off from my job as a hotel manager...who was literally shaking at the time of impact, not because I knew what had happened but because I knew whatever it was, was big. But there I was with all of these military people, first-responders (even search & rescue dogs!), victims families, people who had been in the Pentagon that day, the President and Vice President of the United States and members of the Cabinet...watching the dedication of this lovely place that will help with healing and help us to never forget.

I gave, and then as a surprise, I was included.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Getting Ready for the Free Financial Planning Clinic in DC

Now that the wedding is over, you'd think I'd have more time to blog. However, we've been trying to get the house set up and in order. We've made some good headway, but we still have a long way to go.

Another big project I'm working on is getting some kind of hold on our finances. I need to input all of my receipts over the past month (ugh) into my financial software. I normally do that every few days or at least once a week, and then it's not so bad. However, with the wedding planning, wedding, and honeymoon, I just didn't have time and/or wasn't home.

After I finish that, I need to look at our joint finances and figure out where exactly we are. Then, Michael and I both need to figure out where we want to be in order to set some goals. Considering his aversion to financial talk, that ought to be fun. But because of pre-wedding financial planning (I made him talk to me about all personal finances about 3 days after we were engaged!), I, at least, have some kind of understanding of how that conversation will go. He'll warm up to it -- after all, I save 4 fun!!!

Anyway, the big rush on getting a hold of the finances is because on Saturday, September 13, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is hosting a free financial planning clinic. Qualified volunteers from their organization will be available to talk to people about all sorts of financial topics. They promise no sales pitches and that they don't even take down your name or information. I figure that's a good place for us to get started before we consider paying someone to consult us.

So, I've already registered us. I got Michael's consent before I registered. The deal is that we just have to be home before 3:30 so that he can watch the UGA football game. No problem. We'll be there when they open at 11 AM and talk to as many people as we need/can and then head home to cheer on the Dawgs.

Now, I just have to get our money matters in order so that we can have some good questions at the clinic.

If I'm not posting as often as usual, you now know why...

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Freezing Individual Servings

As regular readers of Save 4 Fun know, I like freezing food. It helps to have ready-made meals prepared as well as a means of stocking up on sale items. However, I've found that sticking a whole package of meat in the freezer isn't always the best idea. Once you thaw it, you have to cook it. Maybe I don't want or need the whole package. Something I tried recently has worked well to help with this problem.

The first tip involves bacon. If you freeze a whole package, you can forget trying to pry one or two strips out until it's thawed. I don't always need a full package at once. So, the last time I bought bacon, I pulled apart the individual strips. Then, I laid them out on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer. Once they were frozen, I put them into a freezer bag. Now, I can just pull out a piece or two when I need it. The other night we had baked potatoes for dinner. I took two pieces of bacon out and cooked them. It was great on the potatoes. The rest of the bacon stays in the freezer until I need it another time.

The second tip is for chicken breasts. On Sunday when I purchased a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts on sale, I decided not to freeze the whole package. Instead, I cut the three breasts length-wise. That created six thin but good sized chicken breasts. I froze them in the same way as I did the bacon. I'm kind of picky about my chicken. So, I was able to clean it up even more than how it sold before freezing it. Now, it is all ready to be cooked - either one piece or a bunch of them, depending on what the need is.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Saving on Moving Boxes

When we moved my sister out and my husband-to-be in, neither of them had to buy moving boxes. That's good because that seems a little ridiculous to me to buy boxes.

Angie's friends had just moved and had lots of boxes that they had purchased from the moving company. They were nice boxes that both she and Michael used.

They also used the boxes that reams of paper come in too. Those are great sized boxes for carrying and for stacking. They work well for storage as well. We got those for free from our offices.

Another source of boxes was the shipping boxes in which many of our wedding gifts arrived. They were also good sized boxes because they were big enough to hold a fair amount of items but not too big to carry once filled.

If none of those sources works for you or doesn't provide enough for your needs, check out Freecycle and Craigslist. I see people giving away moving boxes all of the time on those sites. Actually, once we get settled, I'll give ours away that way too. It's better to give them at least one more use than to recycle them since they are all still in good shape.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saving on a Moving Truck

Last month when we got a rental truck to move Michael's large pieces of furniture into my place where we would live post-wedding, I found out a little savings tip. Trucks are often less expensive to rent on Sundays than on Saturdays.

We had waited until the last minute to book a truck. So, even though we wanted to move on a Saturday, there weren't any trucks nearby that were available. We had to do it on the following day instead. But we saved $20 on the truck rental at Budget by getting it on Sunday rather than Saturday.

In quickly reviewing the Budget website as I began to write this post, I noticed it seems that moving truck rental prices are much like airfare and hotel rates. They vary based on demand and the time (date/day of the week) of use. You can get the same truck today for $29.99 plus $.79/mile that goes for $69.99 plus $.79/mile next Saturday. Next Sunday, the price is $49.99 plus $.79/mile.

If you have flexibility in your dates, especially for a local move, it might be worth looking into the prices for different dates. If you are available today, you could save quite a bit by moving now. Or you might find that booking in advance will help you save.

One word of caution: like hotels and airlines, rental truck companies also overbook. We got to the pick-up place fairly early when we got our truck. However, the person just two spaces in line behind us was told that she'd have to go get her truck at another location because they had run out of all of their trucks that morning. Like the rest of us in line, she had a reservation. Get there early!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wedding Full of Deals

I'm back from the wedding and honeymoon. They were both fantastic! There is so much to do to set up our new house, but I'm going to try to find a little time for the blog.

Not to worry - I won't fill Save 4 Fun with all kinds of wedding things. However, the other day on the bus on the way home from work I jotted down all of the things for the wedding that I got on sale, on clearance, with a coupon, or for a low price. There actually may be more, but this amused me...so I thought I'd tell you about it.

11 candles on the altar in honor and memory of family & friends came from the Dollar Tree.

The beautiful wedding cake was from Wal-Mart. (This was an amazing deal...I will probably have to post a picture of it when I get one because it was lovely.)

We got the wedding bands online from two different vendors (Blue Nile and eWeddingBands.com). Of course, we had coupon codes! And Blue Nile is a partner with Shop Discover, so I got an extra Cash Back Bonus there.

My wedding shoes were on clearance (for $13 -- regular $80) at the Naturalizer outlet.

I thought I was going to wear Mom's pearl necklace that I like, but it was too short for the neckline of my dress. Not wanting to spend much on a new necklace, we got one at Kohl's on sale and with a coupon for about $13.

The dress I wore for the ceremony was my grandmother's wedding dress. It did require some repair work; however, it was still less than a new wedding dress.

The frames I used to display pictures as centerpieces at the reception were from yard sales and Freecycle.

The baskets that I used to hold the favors and for the bubbles (that guest blew for our exit) were from yard sales, Freecycle, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army.

The silk flowers and ribbon used to decorate the bubble baskets and gift card holder were on sale.

The ribbon we used for the bows on the chapel pews, doors, and outside railings and lights were purchased with coupons.

My custom-made guest book (a Kodak Gallery photo book of pictures of Michael and me from birth through our engagement) was purchased with a coupon code, and I got Upromise credit.

The flower girl's basket and the ring bearer's pillow were on clearance. They were white, but everything else for the wedding was ivory. That wasn't working for me, so a very talented friend covered them in ivory lace. They were beautiful!

The chocolate lollipops that my sister made for favors were not only tasty and cute, but we got the supplies on sale and with a coupon.

The photographer gave us a 10% discount for paying in full up front.

The glass platter that the wedding cake sat on was a few buck from the DAV thrift store.

The knives and servers for the wedding and groom's cakes were purchased with coupons.

Our DIY invitations were on sale.

Our matching DIY programs were purchased with coupons.

I wanted the flower girl to use silk flower petals. I couldn't see paying $9.99 at the craft store for them. Even on sale or with a coupon, they were too much. The Dollar Tree had packages of the same quantity (300 count), obviously for just a dollar. However, all they offered were white. I needed ivory. So, I tea-stained them, and they looked great.

It was simply good luck, but I found the perfect necklaces for the bridesmaids at Talbot's -- and they were on sale!

I got the flower girl a monogrammed silver locket from Blue Nile with a coupon code. And again, I got an extra Cash Back Bonus from Shop Discover.

In the end, I was really pleased how everything turned out with the wedding. It was by no means inexpensive. We were blessed to have a generous budget from my parents and from my own savings. However, it was far less than the national average for the cost of a wedding. I really didn't have to sacrifice anything that I really wanted because of a tight budget. In fact I even got my top choices on several of the vendors...and ones I still really liked even if I didn't get the top choice on other things. And then things like the cake that I didn't actually care much about turned out far better that I could have imagined.

I will eventually be converting my blog for wedding guests into a blog about the tips and tricks I learned along the way...as well as my comments on the vendors we used. It will be a while to do that. However, once that's ready, I'll let you know in case you or someone you know is planning a wedding.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

I'll Be Back!

Dear Save 4 Fun Readers,

It's nearly wedding time! I'll return to writing in two or three weeks. I've had lots of saving ideas lately on all sorts of subjects. However, I have little time to write because of all of the wedding preparations. So, I thought I'd officially let you know that I'm temporarily signing off.

I hope you will return mid-August and read the new tips.

Take care!
Betsy

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finally A Good Sale on Craigslist

I've read on other blogs and seen on TV ("Good Morning America," specifically) that people are making extra cash by selling things on Craigslist. I tried selling a few things that I thought may interest people, but I never got a deal to go through. I had a few bites, but they never materialized to finalize the sale.

My fiance and I are consolidating households in preparation for married life which will start in a couple of weeks. We needed to find a new home for his sofa. It was in great condition and looked good, but there is just no room for it in our new place.

He wanted to try giving it someone we know or a friend of a friend first. No takers. Then, he said, "Let's put it on Craigslist for $50." I decided to post it for $75 OBO ("or best offer"), thinking someone would bargain down to $50. For a sofa in good condition (albeit second-hand), it seemed like a really good deal. Of course, the catch was that the buyer would have to come get it.

I posted nice pictures of it and a little description. In less than 24 hours, I had emails from two different people who were interested in it. I was excited, but I tried not to get my hopes up since I haven't had luck with Craigslist sales in the past.

The one never panned out. The other one made an appointment to come that evening with her roommate to look at it. They were really nice twenty-somethings whose 3rd roommate recently got married and took her sofa with her. Needing extra seating and a deal, these girls contacted us.

I vacuumed the whole thing before they came, so it looked really good. (I wanted to try to maximize the amount they would pay.) They decided they wanted it! They were willing to pay $75 for it; however, the catch was that they were going to have to find someone with a truck to help them move it. Sensing a deal-breaker and knowing we had to get rid of this thing one way or another, I offered the use of the moving truck we were using this weekend if they paid the mileage. They left with the promise that they'd buy it -- and we promised to not sell it to someone else in the meantime. We were trusting they wouldn't back out.

One of the girls emailed me the next morning saying that they would offer us $100 if we could help move it in our rental truck. No problem. That extra $25 would more than pay for the mileage. And we were going to have to move it somewhere even if it didn't go to them because it had to be out of Michael's apartment. So, we struck a deal.

It was actually a great deal on both ends. We got rid of the sofa and made $100 cash even though we would have given it away if it came down to it. They got a great "new" couch, delivered to their home. They only had to move it from the parking lot into their townhouse. And we helped with that too.

The rental of the truck plus mileage and gas cost us about $85. Lunch today for Michael, my sister (moving helper), and me at McDonald's was $11. So, these roommates funded our move (with a few dollars leftover) by taking the sofa that had to go. What a deal!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't Forget to Send in the Rebate!

In all of my pre-wedding rushing around, I stuck Post-It notes everywhere to remember to send in the mail-in rebate for the printer I recently purchased. I did get it postmarked on the last date possible. I don't recommend doing that -- but better on the last day than afterwards or never.

Since it required sending in the UPC, I wanted to test out the printer to make sure it worked. I figured that if I sent that in and then found out the printer didn't work, it may be hard to exchange. I was going out of town for a bridal shower, but luckily, my sister picked up the slack for me and tested it while I was gone. She called me to say it was good to go -- and I dropped the rebate and related paperwork in the mail. What would have happened if it didn't work? I would have probably cried -- and been mad that I didn't find time to try it out earlier. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

Those rebate people are serious about the due dates, so don't even both if it's postmarked past the deadline. I tried once, and I failed. I thought I even had a really good excuse. It was the year that President Ford died. President Bush declared January 2nd (the postmark deadline) for the rebate a national day of mourning. That meant that the post office was closed. The rebate wasn't post marked until January 3rd -- and I was out $20. Ugh.

One company that has been kind is Rite-Aid. I do their rebates online. I'm good about putting them into the system after I make a purchase, but since you can only request a rebate check once a month, I have to wait until the end of the month to process it. A couple of times recently, they've sent me an email to say that the deadline to request the check had passed. But they were kind enough to go ahead and request it for me. Ahhh...I love good customer service!

So, again you ask, "Are rebates worth it?" I think so. Of course, you've got to stay on top of them and all of the paperwork, details, and deadlines. If you can stay focused (and aren't planning a wedding!), then all should be well.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trying to Make Quick, Cheap Meals When I Have Little Time

The wedding is getting closer, and my time is really at a premium lately. I don't really have a lot of time for looking for deals -- even visiting Coupon Mom's website which does make it really easy. Well, I guess, it's the fact that I don't have time to get to the store.

Luckily, I do have some foods and some necessities stock piled from when they were on sale. So, I'm still functioning well despite not really shopping in forever. I'm trying to use my time wisely too. I felt like I needed some vegetables for lunch, so I went to the grocery store that is in my office building and got a salad. Before I went, I took a quick peek at the weekly sale flyer online and found a few other things to pick up to help keep me a float between "real" shopping trips.

Dinner tonight will pretty good considering my lack of time and not really getting to the grocery store in a while. I'll have grilled chicken, sauteed zucchini, and baked beans. I had the chicken in the freezer from when I got it on sale several weeks ago. My parents gave me some zucchini from their garden that I cooked last night. I grabbed a can of Bush's baked beans which was on sale at the store today for $1.00. Another good thing is that it's a fast meal to prepare. More good news is that it will probably last me a couple of nights.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Coupons at Target

I love coupons -- and I love Coupon Mom for doing the work of figuring out the best way to use them.

As I've mentioned several times, I'm a bit short on time these days because of my upcoming wedding. (One month to go!) Yesterday, I realized that I was in desperate need of some breakfast and lunch foods. I haven't had the time or energy to really sit down and think about menus, sale ads, and coupons. However, I also can't just eat out for the next month either.

I knew Target had a couple of things on sale that I wanted and needed to get. So, on my lunch break yesterday, I took a look at Coupon Mom's website to see if there was anything else (particularly food) that I could get for a good deal while I was there. I wrote down what I wanted. I quickly grabbed the coupons between work and my final wedding dress fitting and spun by Target on the way home from the bridal shop. I got a few things to add to what I already have on hand, and I'm good for the rest of the week.

Here's what I got:

Pringles (25% extra in the can for no additional charge)
Sale Price: $1.00
Target coupon from their website: $0.50
Final Price: $0.50

Skippy peanut butter
Regular Price: $2.34
Target coupon from their website: $1.00
Final Price: $1.34

Classico pasta sauce
Regular Price: $2.39
Target coupon from their website: $1.00
Final Price: $1.39

Quaker Chewy Granola Bars (with 2 extra bars for no additional charge)
Regular Price: $2.19
Target coupon from their website: $0.50
Manufacturer coupon: $0.50
Final Price: $1.19

What's great about Target is that they will let you use store and manufacturer coupons on the same item. They will also let you print and use multiple store coupons (for the corresponding number of items) from their website.

I always forget to look at their coupons online -- so thank goodness Coupon Mom lets me know about the deals. Granted the prices in my area aren't quite as low as she has listed on her website. However, I realize that my area is probably more expensive than hers. These are all good deals for the DC area.

What I want to figure out is how to get on Target's mailing list. My sister gets great coupon books from Target every few months. She's not sure how she got on that list. She doesn't have their credit card, which is how I thought it might happen. Does anyone know about those coupons and how I can get them in the U.S. mail?

It's time to get back to my chores...

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Valuable Junk Mail

It might be an oxymoron, but valuable junk mail is how I would describe the Valpak. You know - that blue envelope that comes in the mail, full of coupons and advertisements, mostly to local establishments. To me, most of it is junk. However, I always open it because there are usually one or two good coupons in there too. It's worth looking.

This weekend I used two coupons from the Valpak. I needed to get my car's annual safety inspection done this month. The state regulated fee for this required inspection is a maximum of $16. However, a local service station offers a $5 off coupon for a safety inspection through their ad in Valpak. I took advantage of it and got the service done for $11. The guy at the register said he didn't need to collect my coupon. So, I passed it on to my sister who got hers done at the same place for the same deal too.

It's been moving weekend (roommate/sister headed out, fiance on the way in), so we decided to buy fast food for lunch today. When I got our food, I used the buy one burrito, get one free coupon for Moe's Southwest Grill that I also found in the Valpak.

So, the Valpak saved us a total of $15.99 this weekend on things we would have gotten anyway. It really is valuable junk mail!

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Baby Showers: Decorating with Gifts

Like I mentioned yesterday, when I hosted a baby shower a couple of years ago for a friend, I found some ways to stretch my party budget. Decorations are cute, but to me they are the "nice to haves" that usually get cut from the budget. Besides, I wouldn't want to store a bunch of crepe paper storks in hopes of hosting another shower one day. I also wouldn't want to throw them away after one use. So, when I hosted this shower, my sister had a good idea: decorate with gifts for the mother-to-be.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures of everything that we did. However, you can see in this picture that we strung up Onesies, receiving blankets, and baby socks to look like a clothes line. Then, I made letters to spell out "It's a Girl." I pinned those paper letters to the Onesies and blankets. It made for a cute, festive atmosphere, and at the end of the party, I pulled them all down for the new mommy to take home with her.
We also bought new toys and took them out of their packages to set on the food table and around the room as decorations. Those things also went home with the honoree as gifts.

So, this idea turned gifts we were giving anyway into the party decorations, saving us from having to spend money on stuff we probably wouldn't use again...but still having a cute and festive atmosphere.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Baby Showers: Cutting Corners but Still Looking Cute

Regular Save 4 Fun reader Kate commented the other day on Can You Tell It's from the Dollar Store that she liked the idea of my friends cutting corners on some things for my bridal shower and splurging on others. She mentioned that she'd have to keep that in mind for upcoming baby showers that she will be hosting.

I've done my share of economizing as a baby shower hostess, so I thought I'd share a couple of tips that I've used. I had searched the Internet for ideas, so these aren't completely originals. However, I can't remember exactly where I found them in order to give credit, and I have a tendency to mix and match my own ideas with ones I've found from various message boards and websites. I like to customize for the honoree, the occasion, and my own style.

The invitations I used were note cards from the Dollar Tree. They were blank inside and had a pink baby carriage on the cover. Cute since she was expecting a girl. I printed them myself at home. I've always liked adding poems about bringing a little something extra as a gift to go with the theme of the shower (bridal or baby).

For this particular one, I found a nice idea of having people bring books for the mother to read to her daughter either as a baby or as a young child. So, I printed that poem on the inside cover of the note card and then the details about when, where, for whom, etc. on the right, inside the card. Below was the how poem read:

Something special for Baby Allie Marie…

Although cards are nice,
With their sentiment and prayer,
They're read once or twice,
Then tucked away with care.

A book is a treasure,
Words and pictures unite,
Read over and over,
To teach and delight.

So instead of a card,
For the little baby and mother,
Please consider a storybook,
With your thoughts in the cover.

Your book will be cherished;
God will watch from above;
When it's read, they’ll remember,
Your kindness and love.


Just like it's shown here, I made the poem in a special font so that it would stand out and look special inside of the card. I also highlighted some of the lines in pink to dress it up a bit.

Most guests still gave her cards with their gifts even though the intention was that a message written inside of the cover of the book would serve as the card. However, she still got a bunch of nice books to go along with each gift. You can actually find nice children's books on discount racks of bookstores for about the same price as a greeting card (assuming you aren't buying it at a discount store where they usually sell for either half price or 50 cents). So, I don't think this idea broke anyone's gift budget if they had one.

Stay tuned for more thrifty but nice baby shower ideas tomorrow.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Can You Tell It's from the Dollar Store?

As you can probably tell from my lack of daily or nearly daily postings, I've been rather busy lately with pre-wedding events. Yesterday was the bridal shower hosted by two bridesmaids for my immediate family and some friends.

Early on, I told the bridesmaid who was in charge of the shower invitations to make sure she didn't spend a lot of money on things like invitations. To me, it's just completely unnecessary (as you may remember from my save-the-date cards). I told Whit that I had previously done some baby shower invitations with cards I'd gotten from Dollar Tree, and they turned out very cute. And they were super cheap. She said she'd look into it.

When it came time to mail the invitations, Whit mailed one to me too so that I'd have it for my scrapbook. I looked at the really nice card she sent and thought, "Why didn't she listen to me and go to the dollar store?" I didn't ask her about it because it was her business, not mine. I just hoped that at least she got them on sale somewhere.

Then, Friday Whit came up to stay with me the night before the shower. She saw the invitation hanging on the refrigerator. I told her some friends of my sister had seen it there and commented that they thought it looked really nice. Whit finally said, "I have to tell you a secret about those invitations." She proceeded to say that she did take my advice and went to the Dollar Tree. She thought I was kidding. She couldn't imagine she could find something nice there, but she went to look -- maybe to just prove me wrong. :-)

Whit said she was surprised to find some invitations that she really liked. Still hesitant and not wanting to look cheap (even though I gave her my permission to do so), she bought a pack and took it to work. She showed 5 co-workers and asked them if they liked them and where they thought she got them. They named a bunch of nice stationary stores but never guessed the dollar store. When she finally told them the truth, they couldn't believe it. Their reaction convinced her it would be okay to use them.

It turned out really cute because she got matching gift boxes for the favors (pictured), thank you cards for me to use, and stickers for the invitation and thank you note envelopes. Of course, I know it cost much more, but the other hostess, who was in charge of the cake, had one made to complement all of the stationary for the shower. And they spent money on other nice touches, but hopefully didn't break the bank since they took the less expensive route on part of the planning...except you couldn't tell at all. Now that's my kind of party!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I Tried Freecycle Again & Scored!

As I've previously mentioned, I'm working on a project for my wedding reception for which I need 4"x6" and 5"x7" picture frames -- lots of them -- probably about 50. It would be way out of my budget to buy them full-price, even inexpensive ones ($2.99 at Target). Goodwill has them at $1.99 each, but that's still out of my price range.

So, I've had to dig deep into the world of deals: yard sales. I've done rather well. My friend's mom and my future mother-in-law have also been collecting some from yard sales and thrift stores they've shopped in recently too. My collection of frames is growing, but I could use some more.

When I first had this idea, I posted a "wanted" ad on Freecycle to see if someone would give me some frames. I didn't get any offers. I did find a few on there in offer ads that I was able to get. However, the other night I thought, let me ask again. And I had two people offer me a total of 6 frames!

I figured it was worth asking the Freecycle group again. There's no way everyone is reading all of those ads all of the time. I just needed to catch the right people at the right time. And it worked this time!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Deal or No Deal: Mileage Reimbursement

My employer has a lot of positions that require the employees to drive their own vehicles for work-related purposes. We are reimbursed for mileage (current rate: 50.5 cents per mile) which of course does not include your round trip commute to/from your home and the office.

Recently, I spoke with someone who was considering applying for one of these positions, but she was concerned about the high price of gas. I explained the mileage reimbursement policy, but she still wasn't convinced that she would be fairly compensated. I continued by explaining that while our mileage rate doesn't increase nearly as quickly as the prices at the pump, they are reviewed at least every 6 months but sometimes more often. Personally, I believe it's a fair system.

There are a lot of other factors that could come into play here. For one, how far do you live from the office? If you are commuting 60 miles round trip daily, you are going to be putting a whole lot of your paycheck into your gas tank, and it's not reimbursed. However, that's more of an issue of needing to find a job closer to home or a home closer to your job. So, I'm not going to consider that factor in this discussion.

Another factor is the type of car that you drive and the gas mileage that it gets. If your vehicle is getting poor gas mileage, then you aren't in a very good situation. However, this is also kind of a personal problem. Maybe you should look at finding a new car or a job that doesn't require driving.

Yet another factor is whether you would have a car at all or if you got or are keeping the car just because of this job. In my case, I'd keep my car whether or not I needed it for my job -- I need and want it for personal use. Because I would have the car regardless of whether I needed to drive for work, I'm not going to factor in depreciation, taxes, car payment, or insurance as I look into whether mileage reimbursement is a fair deal. I'd have to deal with those expenses just because I own the car even if it were only for my own personal use. (Actually, in my case, I own the car out right, so I have no payment. Hurrah!)

The two factors that do matter to me when looking at mileage reimbursement are the price of gas and the cost of maintenance. Sure, I'd have to pay for gas and to maintain the car even if I didn't drive for work, but those two expenses would be a lot less if I didn't. They are also directly affected by the number of miles I drive.

To date in 2008, the cost of gas per mile for my car is $0.099. Just less than a dime a mile (which incidentally is 2.2 cents more per mile than in 2006). The average cost per mile for maintenance over the past 6 years that I've had this car is $0.074. So, that's a total of $0.173 per mile for gas and maintenance -- the two big factors that I need mileage reimbursement to cover.

We are currently reimbursed for 50.5 cents per mile. That means that my reimbursement covers an extra 33.2 cents per mile. I appreciate that extra money because it helps offset the cost of depreciation, taxes, and insurance...and the car payment when I had one. For me, the reimbursement is not the raw deal that the candidate made it out to be.

But I wasn't going to crunch the numbers for her because I didn't need or want to know anything about the personal expenses. Who knows...maybe she was thinking of getting rid of the car or she has a gas-guzzler. I couldn't help her make the decision of whether the mileage reimbursement is enough for her.

Plus, if she couldn't figure it out on her own, she'd probably be a chronic complainer about having to drive for work -- and goodness knows, I don't need that!

There is great power and knowledge in the numbers my gas mileage spreadsheet can generate. It gives me peace in knowing that despite the high gas prices when I do have to drive for work, it's going to be okay.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Carnival of Personal Finance #157: Third Anniversary Edition

Last week was the first time I have submitted an article to the Carnival of Personal Finance, and It Pays to Heed My Own Advice was chosen! I haven't had a chance to read any of the others yet for this week, but there are always great articles on the Carnival. So enjoy this edition! Thanks to Flexo over at Consumerism Commentary for including my article.

By the way, the printer came 3 days sooner than Circuit City's earliest estimated date of delivery. So, I didn't even have to wait but a couple of days to get my order!

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Say Cheese: Shredded vs. Block

I don't think I have a favorite Frugal Sense tip on Bankrate's contest this month. However, I did once try saving money on cheese as Ruth Neihart of Edmond suggests. I suppose it did save me a little money, but it wasn't something I really got into. However, if you think this is a tip you want to try, I suggest doing this kind of task in front of the TV. I did that the day I shredded a couple of blocks of cheddar. Being entertained while shredding made it go by a lot faster. One day I may give do-it-yourself shredding another shot, and if I do, I'll definitely be watching TV at the same time.

Another tip about cheese: I have a tendency to open a bag of cheese and not use it all up at once. (I suppose if you have a big family or are feeding a crowd, that wouldn't be an issue.) After the bag is opened, even if I seal it well and even if the expiration date hasn't passed, it usually will get moldy before I finish the leftover cheese. So, I now freeze the remaining part and use it another time. It thaws well, and I don't waste what I didn't immediately need.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

It Pays to Heed My Own Advice

Three months ago when I set up my wedding registry, I wrote about how amazed I was at the price difference I found between the store and online for the same merchandise from the same company. I'm amazed again -- and have saved!

I've been wanting a new all-in-one printer/copier/scanner for a while. I have plans to use it for some upcoming wedding-related projects...as well as to just replace my 10-year-old DeskJet which can no longer do a nice print job. As usual, I have been overwhelmed by all of the options, brands, and ratings. I haven't been able to find one that seems like it has the right features for a good price and with decent reviews by professional rating people and ordinary users.

I finally found what I think will meet my criteria, such as it is (after all, I don't know much about tech stuff). I was prepared to head to Circuit City to get it. But then I remembered my own advice: see if there's a better deal. What I saw in the Circuit City sales flyer was the best deal. Nearly satisfied and ready to go the store, I decided to check one more place: the Circuit City website.

Guess what?! It was $20 cheaper online than in the store -- and they offer free shipping! That means I didn't have to fight traffic or waste gas (even though it is only 2 miles away). It probably saved me at least an hour in time to drive out there, park, find the item in the store, stand in line, talk to the sales people who would unsuccessfully try to sell me the extended warranty, check out, figure out how I was going to get that 26-plus pound box into my car, drive home, and figure out how I was going to get that 26-plus pound box out of the car and into the house.

Plus, there's more! Discover Card is giving me an additional 5% Cash Back Bonus because I linked to Circuit City's website through the Shop Discover program. Woo-hoo!

So, I saved 43% off of the regular retail price. And I saved 16% by getting it online -- delivered right to my front door, where it will be easy to push that 26-plus pound box right into the house. I love it!

You can see this is also a lesson in delayed gratification. I didn't need to have that printer right away. I could wait the 1 to 2 weeks it will take to be delivered. And I'm so pleased with the extra savings and convenience!

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