Monday, March 31, 2008

How's Your Net Worth?

I've found an interesting net worth calculator on Money Magazine's website. You put in your age and income. Then, the calculator tells you the median net worth for your age and for your income. I was shocked at how low the numbers were, especially for my age. People in their early 30s must be carrying more debt than I really imagined...or else they are spending nearly everything they make. The numbers are really pitiful.

My financial goals aren't anything out of the ordinary: house, family/kids, secure retirement, and some nice vacations (though nothing too extravagant). But when I look at my numbers, I often wonder if I'll achieve all of these things. However, when I'm looking at the median net worth for my age group (or even my income group), I think I must be lucky -- well, it's probably more likely that the thriftiness is paying off because mine is hard earned money not lottery winnings! So, for a minute I feel better...but then, I realize that other people's numbers (i.e. median net worth) has nothing to do with whether I'll reach my financial goals. I have to stay focused on my own savings and not on what the proverbial Average Joe or Jane is doing -- or not doing.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Giving New Life to Old Shoes

I spent some time today doing some spring cleaning. Actually, with the wedding coming up and moving and combining households, it's a good time to purge! In the next month or so, my sister/roommate and I are planning to have a yard sale as a way of getting rid of unwanted stuff and make some extra cash.

There are certain things that we know won't sell at yard sale. Shoes are among the things that people mostly likely won't buy even if they are marked at a low price and are in decent condition. However, we know just the place to take them: Art for Humanity (AFH)!

AFH is an all-volunteer non-profit based in Arlington, VA that helps the poor of Honduras help themselves. Children can't go to school, and adults can't get jobs without shoes. Shoes also help keep feet warm in the winter and help prevent soil-borne parasites and infections from cuts. So, we take our unwanted shoes to AFH to be shipped to Honduras for distribution to the needy.

My friend Glen who is the founder and president of AFH is down in Honduras now. He just sent me these photos of children from a family he's been helping. He noted, "Although the temperature is cold enough that they are wearing sweaters, you will notice they have no shoes."

If you are working on your spring cleaning too, think about donating your unwanted shoes to AFH. On their website, you can read about what types of shoes they can use and how to get them to AFH (whether you are local or are across the country or world). Hundreds of individuals and groups have gathered shoes from their friends, neighbors, coworkers, and family to help the people of Honduras, but there's always a need for more. Here's a tip if you aren't local and want to organize a group donation: ask for shoe donors to give $1.00 per pair to help cover shipping charges and/or to donate shipping supplies. If you end up with extra cash, you could donate that to AFH's efforts too.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

What Should I Do With Extra Cash?

It's a crazy time right now, financially speaking. Even the high-yield savings and money market accounts are currently only paying about 3% APY. The stock market is like a roller coaster lately, but even on its high days it's lower than what it has been in the past year and a half. But neither issue is causing me to pull out because my long-term investments will just ride it out. My short-term funds can just stay where they are -- although I'd love to think they could do better than 3% since the current rate of inflation is 4%. However, it is better than nothing at all.

So if you are fortunate enough to have some extra cash right now, what should you do with it? I'm not a financial planner, so you better do your own research for yourself before deciding what to do...but here's what I think:

For long term investing, you could take advantage of dollar-cost averaging and continue to put money into the stock market. Basically, I see it as a sale on stocks! Of course, you do run the risk of buying on sale only to find out that they've lower the prices even more. (So, you lose money until the share prices head north again, and you are assuming they will actually do that -- but of course, historically speaking, the over all market will rise again.) However, that is the whole idea behind dollar-cost averaging. And it's why the stock market is for long-term investing.

For the short term, you could look at plowing extra cash into paying down debt. More than likely, the interest you are paying on a credit card or car loan is higher than the 3% you could earn in your high-yield savings account. So, put the money into the loan instead. There will then be less time that you are paying that higher interest rate. If you want to see how much you could save by paying off your car loan early, check out this auto loan early payoff calculator. And here's a calculator for credit card payoff.

Remember: you have to look at your complete situation and consider things like whether you need to increase your contribution to your retirement fund or start or increase an emergency fund. But if you are set in all of your other areas and have a bit leftover (which I hope you do), think about what these calculators can tell you about saving. You don't have anything leftover? Think about ways you can lower your expenses and/or increase your income. Save 4 Fun gives you great ideas on how to get started!

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Smallest Hotel Room in Manhattan

This morning on Good Morning America they did a segment on the smallest hotel room in Manhattan. It's called the Pod Hotel, and GMA was reporting that their 70 square-foot single room is the cheapest room in the area. This teeny tiny room on the East Side has a twin bed, a sink, a 15" flat screen TV, and iPod docking station on a desk -- and a shared bathroom. It goes for $95/night, plus $16.21 in tax. That's insane! Of course, they did say that the average room is more than $260/night...so depending how you look at it, maybe it is a deal.

Granted, it was a couple of years ago, but Michael and I went to NYC and stayed at a 3-star Crowne Plaza for $106. I got it with an $80 bid on Priceline, plus taxes and booking fee. Seeing that a room at that same Crowne Plaza is going for $153/night if you book it out right on a weekend this April, I'm sure you could get an $80 bid accepted now. Okay, okay - it was in Queens near LaGuardia Airport, but it was for a room for two and was very spacious. Most importantly, it had it's own bathroom! Even when you calculate in commuting cost to Manhattan, it's going to be about the same price as the single at the Pod. To me, it would definitely be worth the travel time to be more comfortable in the room -- even if it's for nothing more than sleeping.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Live Entertainment Deals

I got an email today from Goldstar saying that Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas has just become one of their partners. One day I'd love to both go to Vegas and to see a Cirque du Soleil show. I'm going to have to keep Goldstar in mind for whenever I get to Vegas because you can get great deals on live entertainment through them in several cities across the country, including Las Vegas. And now Cirque du Soleil is included in their deals!

Right now through Goldstar, you can get a seat for the Mystere show in their best tier for 28% off. This price for their best seats is only $9.70 more than for the "nosebleed" seats.

If you aren't already a member of Goldstar, it's free to join. Michael and I have gone to a few local events for which we've gotten discounted tickets through Goldstar. In fact, I blogged about one event back in November.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Restaurant Deals When Traveling

I mentioned yesterday that we do some planning in advance of traveling partly as a way to stretch our vacation budget a little further. In addition to looking on the Internet and in tourist magazines for restaurant coupons, I will usually look to see if I can find a restaurant on Restaurant.com that interests us in the place where we are visiting. If you aren't familiar with Restaurant.com, you can buy a $25 gift certificate for a restaurant for $10 (or less if you can find a coupon code -- CouponMom.com usually has one).

We've had this work well for us two times -- in Hartford, CT and Oklahoma City, OK. I found a restaurant that looked good that offered a Restaurant.com certificate. I bought it and then printed directions to that place from our hotel. (We don't travel with a computer or a printer, so we have to do this in advance.) We'd never been to either of these cities, much less the restaurants, so it was done completely based on their websites and the fact they offered Restaurant.com certificates. Both places turned out to be pretty good.

Following the same steps, we've also had this not work out two times. The first time was in the Outer Banks, NC. It turned out that the restaurant was kind of like a bakery, and they no longer served dinner (and we would have never spent $25 on lunch at a bakery for two people). The other time it happened was in Waynesville, NC. The restaurant was permanently closed. There was no indication of these issues on Restaurant.com or the restaurants' websites. The good news is that I didn't lose the certificates. I just emailed customer service at Restaurant.com before the 90 day exchange period ended, and they issued me a credit that I could use for a certificate at a different restaurant with which they are partners. So, we didn't get those particular deals on the trips, but we also didn't lose anything either. It's worth a try again the next time we are going somewhere that has Restaurant.com restaurants.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Free & Low-Cost Activities on the Road

Today Coupon Mom had a post on her blog about a website called Free-Attractions.com on which you can find things to do for free in all 50 states. That's new to me. I'll have to keep it in mind when we start traveling again in the fall.

Michael and I have taken lots of trips together and are always on the look out for fun, interesting, and free (or at least, low cost) things to do. He's a master at searching the Internet for great attractions to visit during our travels. We also always request for the local and state visitors' centers to send us their packets of information before we go. (Their contact info is easily found by doing a quick Internet search.) We get free maps, brochures, and magazines about the area we are going to visit. They often include coupons for attractions and restaurants too. We usually plan several months in advance so that we have time to scour the brochures, tourist magazines, and websites to find the best things to do -- and to see if we can get a deal.

We love to experience a bit of local life when we go somewhere. Often those types of things are free. Here are just a few of the things we've done over the past few years: In Milwaukee we visited the Miller Brewing Plant and took their free tour. In Oklahoma City we, city folks, actually really enjoyed sitting in on cattle auctions at the Stockyards -- also free. In Kentucky we went on a couple of tours of distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail -- of course, they were free. We always make a point to take the free capitol building tours when we are in a state capital. We also got a great view of Hartford, CT by going to the top of the Travellers Tower -- which has an observation deck that is open to the public for free May through October.

Use your resources and do some research before you go. You can find a lot things to do for little or no money!

PSA: do plan to have a designated driver if you are visiting a brewing plant or distillery. Some of them (i.e. Miller's and Jim Beam) will give visitors who are of legal drinking age several full-size samples!

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Coupon Organizer

I have a coupon organizer -- you know, one of those little file folders to carry to the grocery store. It used to be my companion on every trip to the grocery or drug store. However, in the past few years I've used it less and less, even though I'm using coupons more and more. The main reason for this is that I now only clip and carry the coupons I need. I figure out which ones those are in advance with the help of Coupon Mom's website.

I use an old/used envelope (that is blank or nearly blank on one side) for my shopping list. (If I'm going to multiple stores, using one for each store works well.) Then, I tuck the coupons that correspond with items on that list inside the envelope. I'm all set when I get to the store. I know what I want to buy. I have the coupons ready. Shopping and saving are easy!

By the way, this system is great way to give new life to an old envelope that is otherwise trash!

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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Ads Are True to Life

Michael and I both got out of work early today, so we decided to swing by a jewelry store to look at wedding bands. They were having a grand opening in a new location downtown. While we were there, I had to laugh to myself because I thought I was in an ING or Feed the Pig commercial!

I don't need or want anything particularly fancy. Just a simple wedding band that will complement my very lovely engagement ring. It hasn't been easy since my e-ring isn't the standard solitaire. I want something nice since I will be wearing every day for the rest of my life, but not something outrageously expensive. Anyway, one of the designer representatives at this event was telling me that I "needed" something more fancy (read: expensive) than I was asking if they had available. "Oh, wow! Yes, that's lovely..."

No worries! We weren't planning to buy anything today anyway. But as I snapped back to reality, I had to laugh. It's just like this commercial on FeedthePig.org and ING's "Retail Therapy" advertisement.

I will be feeding my pig on the road to happiness! And a more modest wedding band will be just fine.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

How Much Could You Save by Packing Your Lunch?

I've discovered a fun new website about saving called FeedthePig.org (as in feed your piggy bank). The goal of the campaign behind this site is to encourage the 40 million Americans age 25 to 34 to take control of their personal finances. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and The Advertising Council sponsor/run the campaign as a part of their 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy program.

At FeedthePig.org, they have a lunch savings calculator. If you need some inspiration to bring your lunch to work, this could help! The numbers are amazing. A personal finance blogger called "Clever Dude" has a great article on his site that his nutritionist wife wrote about bringing your lunch to work. It will give you even more inspiration...and ideas on healthy, cheap lunch food.

This article and the calculator made me wonder: How much have I potentially saved during my adult working years by brown-bagging versus eating out? Let's do the math.

I've worked for my current employer for nearly 6 years, and I've brought my lunch nearly every day. (My previous employer had a free employee cafeteria, so there was no cost there. Hugh savings, but I'm not going to look at that right now.)

I've never calculated how much it costs for me to pack my lunch. I eat foods similar to what Clever Dude's wife suggests. So, I'm going to use her average of $2.20/day. I'm also going to use her estimate of $6.00/day for eating out. And I work roughly 20 days per month. I'll also use the default of 6% expected rate of return on the Feed the Pig lunch savings calculator.

Grand total of savings for 6 years: $6566!

Wow!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Stretching One Meal Into Three?!

Michael is a big fan of the Lone Star Steakhouse that's near his apartment. This past Saturday night he had a craving for it. I don't usually like chain restaurants very much, but this one is decent. The prices are average for that kind of food. What irks me is that I can never find any coupons for this place. However, I don't mind going there too much because I always have leftovers to take home.

I usually get the beef medallions (9 oz) and shrimp (5 of them), and the entrees come with 2 side items. This really is more food than one person needs at a meal. So, I ate my entire side salad (which is a decent size). Then, I ate all of the shrimp and half of the steak and half of the baked potato. I took the rest of the steak and potato home for lunch the next day. So, just like I've mentioned before, I could stretch one meal into two.

However, they also always give us a mini loaf of bread before our meal. We usually each eat a tiny bit of it. It seems wasteful to have them throw the rest away because we didn't eat it. So, I pack it up in my to-go box. And then I get my third meal -- bread for breakfast!

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Free Parking

Having to pay to park has always annoyed me. Nearly six years ago when I started working in the city, I had to start paying to park my car at work on a monthly basis. Due to the nature of my job, I was required to drive and therefore, park. I suppose for city parking it wasn't all that bad of a price. It was "painless" to pay because it was deducted from my paycheck each pay period. It was nice that that payment was taken out pre-tax. And then it was a pretty good deal that, because I was required to have a car at work, I was reimbursed half of the monthly payment. Better still, it ended up being more than half because they didn't take into account the pre-tax savings when issuing the reimbursement.

Then, last summer I got a new position at work. It no longer required that I have a car, which also meant I lost my monthly reimbursement. I did some calculations with the help of the Commuter Store's calculator, and I figured out that I would save quite a bit if I took public transportation to work. Back in December, I wrote about how indeed my new means of commuting was worth the try I gave it. I've stopped tracking my daily commuting expenses because I now know for sure that I am saving quite a bit with public transportation even after Metro raised their fares in January. To make me even more confident, the price of the monthly parking has gone up by $10 per month at work and the price of gas...wow!

Despite not technically being required to have to drive for work, occasionally I have to. I'm not reimbursed anything for my parking, so when I have to be at my office with my car, I have the option of paying the $8 daily parking fee or utilizing the free street parking that is a 10-minute walk from our building. (There is closer free street parking, but it is limited to 2 hours which won't do.) Even on days that have been cold, rainy, and/or windy, I've opted for the free parking. I figure it allows me to get two-thirds of my daily 30-minutes of exercise in addition to saving me $8. Last week, I had to drive 3 times. I didn't necessarily feel like walking from my satellite parking area all of those days, but I could do a lot more fun stuff with that $24 I was saving than parking at work!

Because I live in an "urban" suburb, there are quite a few places that charge for parking near my house too. Not everywhere charges, but many places do. I usually avoid the stores that charge for parking. However, one of the grocery stores where I like to shop validates parking for up to one hour. Perfect! I don't mind shopping there. Actually, I can sometime squeeze in a visit to another store in that shopping center within that free hour if I hurry at the grocery store. You just need a plan before you go so that you don't waste time.

Last spring when I was in Atlanta, I heard Clark Howard speak. He mentioned that paying for parking is one of his pet peeves too. Listening to him challenged me to continue to search out free parking. And I've found more!

There is a government-owned lot right across the street from one of my favorite shopping centers (which has a garage that costs to park). I've discovered that after working-hours during the week and all day on the weekends, anyone can park there for free! The bonus is that I don't have to wait in line to pay to get out of the garage -- and in December before Christmas, the wait can literally be between 10 and 20 minutes! Why was I paying to do that?

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A Few More Ways to Save on Wedding Gifts

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Comparison Shopping Between the Store & the Website. I was amazed to find some significant prices differences from the bricks & mortar store and the virtual version of the same company. This was mostly the case between a Macy's store and the online Macy's registry which is handled through WeddingChannel.com.

At the time I wrote that article, the fine china on our Macy's wedding registry was less expensive if purchased through the website. The sheets were less expensive in the store. However, that has flipped-flopped. Now, you would pay between 20% and 30% less for the china in the store than on the website. And right now, you will find the sheets are priced 25% lower online.

Of course, you do usually have to factor in shipping when thinking about buying something online. In the case of this set of sheets, the online purchase price savings is $20, but you would have to pay $11.95 for shipping. There's still a savings, but it isn't as great. For some of the less expensive, individual pieces of china, it would actually be a better deal to pay the higher price in the store than to get the discounted online price and have to pay shipping.

You also have to think about the sales tax when comparing your neighborhood store to the online store. You may pay less or you may pay more, depending on where you are shipping the items and where that company has stores.

Speaking of buying online and shipping, Target is offering free shipping through March 22, 2008, on select items in the following categories: furniture, patio furniture, bedding, bath items, slipcovers, rugs, window coverings, home d├ęcor, lighting, and kitchen items. Many couples register for wedding gifts in some or all of these categories at Target. See if you can save a trip to the store and get free shipping!

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Macy's

Continuing with the series on finding ways to save when buying from wedding gift registries, let's look at Macy's. They offer a number of ways to save in the store and online.

Macy's is a partner with WeddingChannel.com, and it is how they manage their online wedding registries. If the bridal couple has linked a charity to their WeddingChannel.com registries, your online Macy's registry purchase will generate a donation to that cause! I've already gone into detail on this topic in my post entitled Buy from a Wedding Gift Registry & Save for Charity.

Like Target.com and Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Macys.com is a Upromise partner. So, if you are saving for someone to go to college through Upromise, link to Macys.com through Upromise's website to make your purchase. Currently, they are offering 4% of your total price paid to go towards your Upromise account. The unfortunate part about this idea is that you can't buy directly from the online wedding registry and get Upromise credit. However, you can look at their registry to find out what they want. Then, purchase an item from their wish list without going through the registry (because it's actually linked through WeddingChannel.com). If you are buying the gift and giving (or shipping) the gift to the couple right away, they can go into the registry and mark it off as purchased themselves.

Discover Card is offering a 5% additional cashback bonus April 1 - June 30, 2008, for purchases at department stores when you sign up for the quarterly 5% Cashback Bonus promotion. Of course, Macy's falls into this category. That will be a good time to buy for your spring weddings if you haven't already done so. It will also be a good time to get a head start on buying for summer and fall weddings if the couples have already registered. Like Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Macy's is also a Discover Cashback Bonus partner. You could get your Cashback Bonus to stretch even further by trading in $40 of bonus for a $45 Macy's gift card. Gift cards may be used in Macy's stores or online at Macys.com and macysweddingchannel.com.

Finally, if you are shopping in a Macy's store, you really should never go without first looking in your newspaper for current promotions and coupons. They offer some kind of deal nearly every week.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Buy from a Wedding Gift Registry & Save for Charity

When buying a wedding gift, you may be able to help support the wedding couple's favorite charity. WeddingChannel.com is partners with a number of major stores and their gift registries. If you buy a wedding gift at one of these stores after linking to its website through WeddingChannel.com, up to 3% of the purchase price is given to the charity that the couple has designated.

Here's how it works:

The couple registers for gifts at one of the following places (in the store or online):
Macy's
Bloomingdales
JC Penney
Crate & Barrell
Williams-Sonoma
Pottery Barn
REI
Restoration Hardware
Amazon.com
Gump's
Tiffany & Co.
Neiman Marcus
Fortunoff
Barneys New York
Starwood Honeymoon Collection
Sandals Resorts
Charity Registry
Honeymoon Registry
Borsheims
Cloud 9 Living

Then, they go to WeddingChannel.com to select their favorite national charity to link to their registry at one or more of these places. There are about 100 different charities to choose from in the categories of children, youth, & families, community development, education, environment, health, and social justice.

After that is set up, each time someone uses WeddingChannel.com to buy you a gift from one of the registries linked with their site, WeddingChannel.com will make a donation to the couple's selected charity. There is no cost to the couple or to the gift-buyer.

If you know someone who has a gift registry at one of these stores but you don't see the name of a charity listed at the top of their registry online (accessed through WeddingChannel.com), let them know about this feature. Your gift purchased this way will generate a donation to a great charity!

You can read more about this program at WeddingChannel.com.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Target

This is the third post in my series on finding ways to save when buying from wedding gift registries. In the first two articles, I talked about Bed, Bath, & Beyond (20% off coupons and other ways to save). Now, let's look at Target, which is another popular, nationwide place to register for weddings.

If you have a Discover Card, you can receive an additional 5% cashback bonus if you link to Target's website site through the Shop Discover program which can be accessed through Discover.com.

The Entertainment Book offers discounts in their book and on their website for Target.com. Currently through the Entertainment Book's website, you can get $5 off a $50 purchase at Target.com.

If you are saving for someone to go to college through Upromise, you can save at Target.com. Access Target.com through the Upromise website and receive a percentage (currently 4%) of your total purchase in college contributions to your Upromise account.

If you have a Target REDcard (Visa), you can earn points for each dollar you spend at Target. Once you get to 1000 points, you get 10% off an entire day of shopping at Target. If you have earned one of these coupons, buying a gift from a wedding registry the day you use it is a good idea so that you'll get a 10% discount.

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More Ways to Save on Wedding Gifts at Bed, Bath, & Beyond

I've started a series on looking at ways to save when buying gifts from a wedding registry. First stop: Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Yesterday, I wrote about their 20% off coupons. Now, let's see what else they have to offer.

Upromise: If you are saving for someone to go to college with a Upromise account, Bed, Bath, & Beyond is a great place to consider buying a wedding gift because it is a Upromise partner. If you buy something from them in the store or on their website and use a credit card that you've registered with Upromise, you'll get 1% of your total purchase (including tax and shipping) in your Upromise account.

Discover Card Cashback Bonus: Bed, Bath, & Beyond is a partner in Discover Card's Cashback Bonus program. So, if you have $20 in Cashback Bonus with your Discover Card, you can redeem it for a $25 Bed, Bath, & Beyond gift certificate. That's a 25% savings! You can order as many of these gift certificates as you want, as long as you have enough Cashback Bonus in $20 increments to cover the number you want. For wedding gifts, you could either get the gift certificate(s) and go shopping yourself. Or you could give the gift certificate as the gift. (It's an actual gift card from the store, so they won't know you got it with your Cashback Bonus.) Gift cards from Bed, Bath, & Beyond do not expire and have no service fees. What's great about this idea is that whoever (the gift giver or the recipient) can also use one of those 20% off coupons and also use a Upromise registered credit card to get college savings. Here's an example: You want to get an item from the wedding registry that is regularly priced at $49.99. You go to the store with one of the Bed, Bath, & Beyond 20% off coupons, and the price is reduced to $39.99. You use a $25 gift certificate that you got with your Cashback Bonus, which brings the price to $14.99. You pay for the balance with a credit card you have registered with Upromise, and you save 1% (or approximately 15 cents, depending on the sales tax) for college. That means you get a $49.99 gift for $14.84 (plus tax)!

Gift Wrapping: If you order something from Bed, Bath, & Beyond's website, you can request to have it gift wrapped for free. They have nice silver gift wrap or gift bags, depending on the item.

Competitor's Coupons: Bed, Bath, & Beyond does accept unexpired competitor's coupons.

Price Match: Bed, Bath, & Beyond "will gladly match our direct competitors' price on identical items."

Gift Message: If you order something online from Bed, Bath & Beyond, you can request to have a complimentary gift message printed and put into a little envelope that they will attach to the gift.

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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Saving on Wedding Gifts at Bed, Bath, & Beyond

If I'm not careful, I can run up a big total for gifts. I've already written about some tips for Saving on Baby Shower Gifts. As wedding season is fast approaching, let's take a look at saving for bridal shower and wedding gifts.

With the rare exception, I almost always choose a wedding gift from a registry. It's easy, and I know they will like it because they asked for it via the registry. First, I figure out how much I want to spend. Then, I either look online or stop by the store and review the list of the couple's desired gifts. I find something that is within my budget, buy it, and I'm done. Like with the baby shower gifts, I love when I can find something on sale because I can either give a nicer gift and still stay within budget or I can give a gift that has a regular price that is within my budget but get it for less. There are other ways to save when buy wedding gifts too.

Let's start with Bed, Bath, & Beyond, which is a popular national store for wedding registries.

When I think Bed, Bath, & Beyond, I think 20% off coupon!

Coupon is good for: 20% off any single item*

Where to find them: in your mailbox, in the Sunday newspaper, Entertainment Book.

Where to use them: in-store only (not valid for online purchases).

How to get them in the mail if you don't already: sign up for their mailing list.

Do they expire? Fine print and the FAQ section of their website say they do.

How many items can you use them for? Fine print and the FAQ section of their website say one coupon per customer per visit.

Any exceptions to these policies? I have read and have talked to people who have found Bed, Bath, & Beyond stores to be generous around these policies. In fact, just yesterday a friend was telling me that she needed to buy a new set of towels. There were 20 towels that she wanted from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. She and her mom had collected 20 coupons, some of which had already expired. The store accepted them in one transaction because she had one for each item being purchased. So, she got 20% off her entire purchase.

Other ways to get around these policies: For wedding gifts, if you are buying multiple items, it might be worth asking your store if they will take multiple coupons for one transaction and/or accept expired coupons. If not, try to find one item from the registry that will fit into your budget and use your one coupon. Or if the store is convenient, make multiple trips over a few days or a few weeks to get several items from the registry.

Is the coupon good on a sale item? The fine print says, "Not valid with any other offer." However, some stores may make exceptions, so I'd say it is worth asking if you can use the coupon on a sale item.

*Other restrictions: Not valid on purchase of gift cards, All-Clad, Nautica, Tempur-Pedic, Wusthof, AeroGrow, Margaritaville, The Sharper Image, Wedgwood, Lenox, Waterford, Vera Wang, Nambe, Riedel, Orrefors Kosta Boda, Oreck, Capresso, Miele, kate spade, Swarovski, Versace, Alessi, Richard Ginori, iJoy, or Frette Home.

We'll look at more ways to save on wedding gifts from Bed, Bath, & Beyond tomorrow.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Save by Having Ready-to-Eat Food On-Hand

My favorite tip this month on Bankrate.com's Frugal Sense contest comes from Eric Barnes of San Francisco. He says that having food in the fridge is a good way to save on making unplanned trips to restaurants, and I agree.

When I'm hungry, I want something to eat right away. I don't want to have to go to the grocery store and buy ingredients and then have to come home and cook. It really is much easier to go out to eat at that point, but it will cost more. Even if I already have the ingredients on-hand, sometimes I'm too tired or hungry or don't have enough time to cook.

The one way to avoid this problem is to have ready-to-eat food on-hand. Stock up on your favorite frozen or very-easy-to-prepare foods when they go on sale. Or make more than what you need for a meal and freeze the leftovers.

Sometimes I just need a snack before I can begin cooking. This happens to me a lot after work. So, having good (and healthy) snack food in the cabinet or the fridge is usually just what I need to give me an energy boost to make dinner. Again, try to stock up on fruit (canned or seasonal fresh fruit), string cheese, granola bars, etc. when they go on sale.

One of my favorite snacks or light meals to have in the freezer are mini pizzas. I'm not a huge fan of store-bought frozen pizzas, but I do like ones that I make on my own and then freeze. If you haven't read it already, check out my post on Filling the Freezer. The fourth point tells you about my mini pizzas. If you have kids, I'd imagine they'd really enjoy having this type of snack/meal available to them as well.

So, thanks for the tip, Eric! Good luck in the Frugal Sense contest!

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Save on Parking Fees When Traveling

When I'm looking to book a hotel, I always look at the options that are available in different parts of the area in which we want to stay before making the reservation. I look to see if any of the hotels charge for parking. Especially in major cities, almost all of the downtown properties charge $10+ per night for parking. So, if it works with our itinerary, I’ll pick a suburban or airport property and drive a few extra miles in order to get free parking at the hotel.

Sure, we might have to still pay for daily parking when we get into the city, but not always. Many places offer free parking on weekends or at least on Sundays. Regardless, daily parking is almost always less expensive than overnight parking. Plus, just because we stay in the downtown area, it doesn't mean that every place we want to visit is within walking distance of the hotel. So, we'd have to pay daily parking anyway if we move the car from the hotel. And even with the high price of gas now, driving a little extra distance is usually cheaper than the hotel parking fee. Depending on the city, safe and reliable public transportation may be available from nearby a hotel that is farther away. That may be another more economical way to get around than staying downtown and incurring the overnight parking fee.

It's worth checking into what the parking charges will be before making a reservation. Especially if you are staying more than one night, those fees can really run up your hotel bill.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Saving on Rental Cars

In the last couple of years, Michael and I have had reason to get a rental car twice while on vacation. Like I've mentioned recently in Saving on Airfare and Saving More on Airfare - Priceline, we like to shop for the best travel deals. Both times that we've rented a car, we've found the best deal by far was through the Entertainment Book.

Here's an example from when we went to Milwaukee in May 2006:
Company: National
Type of car: compact (the smallest size eligible for this coupon)
Coupon from Entertainment Book: 1 free weekend day, in addition to the Entertainment Book discount
Price per day with all taxes & discount/coupon: $9.59/day

At the time I was looking to book this car, Priceline said said that no company would probably accept a $10/day bid (and that's before taxes & fees)!

Here's an example from when we went to Oklahoma City in April 2007:
Company: Alamo
Type of car: compact (the smallest size eligible for this coupon)
Coupon from Entertainment Book: $20 off a 4 day rental, in addition to the Entertainment Book discount
Savings over booking directly through Alamo.com: $43 (or 36%)

It's definitely worth taking a look at the Entertainment Book discounts and coupons before you book your next rental car reservation!

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Saving More on Airfare - Priceline

As I mentioned last week in Saving on Airfare, I recently got a good deal on tickets to my honeymoon destination. Beyond the good deal, I was also able to use a coupon for American Airlines that was in the Entertainment Book and get some extra money back from Discover Card's current 5% Cashback Bonus program.

Coupon Mom just picked up my tips for one of her blog posts today. (Thanks, Stephanie!) And in that post, she also mentioned that Priceline will give a contribution to your Upromise college savings account when you book a reservation. I love Priceline!...and I love that they are a Upromise partner! But why, you ask, didn't I use them for my honeymoon flight reservations?

There is a potential drawback to bidding for your airfare on Priceline: flight times. Their website states, "Domestic flights are scheduled to depart anytime between 6am and 10pm unless your city pairs require off-peak travel. International flights can depart anytime on your travel dates." In the case of this part of the honeymoon, we aren't going to be gone a full week, and we want to see, do, and relax as much as we can. So, for this trip, we opted not to go the Priceline route for fear that we'd arrive late and have to leave early, which would cut into our already short vacation. The savings wasn't worth the risk.

However, we have bid on airfare on Priceline in the past. Here are some of what I think are their great benefits (pulled from their website): "Your flights will be confirmed for the dates and airports you agree to. Your flights will have a maximum of one stop each way, unless you agree to two connections each way. If you have a connection, your layover time will never be longer than three hours for domestic flights. You will never be put on a red-eye or off-peak flight unless you agree to one. You will know the total amount of your purchase before completing your transaction."

So, if arrival and departure times and the carrier aren't important to you, Priceline is a great option.

Here's an example from a trip we took last spring:
For the flights we took, the airline website was offering $330 (total price with fees and taxes). Kayak.com found the best deal on these flights to be $321 (total price). Our winning bid on Priceline was $263 (total price). That was a 18% savings over the lowest fare we could find. At the time, Priceline was offering a 1% contribution to a Upromise account, which meant another $2.63 in savings for me. Currently, Priceline is offering a 2% contribution to your Upromise account when booking through them -- so check it out, travel, and save!

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Stock Up, But Don't Let It Go Bad

My mom, a faith Save 4 Fun reader, pointed out to me today after reading What's For Dinner? that you do have to be careful when stocking up on sale items: don't let the food expire. That's never really been a problem for me because I have limited pantry and freezer space. So, I do stock up on sale items, but I can usually very easily use them over the course of several months (before they pass their expiration dates). However, if you do buy a whole bunch of food on sale and then let it go bad, there's no savings there at all...in fact, there's a loss.

How can you prevent this problem?

Last year when Rite Aid bought out Eckerd, they had to unload all of the Eckerd brand products before Rite Aid hung their sign out front. For several weeks they offered 50% off on Eckerd products. So, I stocked up on calcium supplements and multivitamins which I take daily. However, before I bought them, I checked the expiration dates to make sure I could use 6 bottles before they were old. The vitamins had various expiration dates, so I chose the ones with the dates that were farthest into the future. I did a little mental math and realized that I would be able to use them in time. So, that's one way to work around this problem.

In my vitamin example, the ones I bought had different dates. So, I lined them up in my cabinet with the ones closest to expiring in the front and the ones with the far-away dates in the back. It's simply rotating your inventory just like a grocery store does with their food, so that the oldest products are sold/used first.

In the case of non-perishable and frozen foods, know what you have and how much longer you can keep it. If it's getting close to expiring, plug whatever you need to use soon into AllRecipes.com's ingredient search and find out what's for dinner tonight!

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Monday, March 3, 2008

What's for Dinner?

Good question. I didn't go to the grocery store this weekend, so as of this afternoon, the answer was "Not much!" I knew I had a few staple items in the pantry and freezer, so that gave me a starting point. I went to one of my favorite recipe websites called AllRecipes.com and put "chicken" and "cream of chicken soup" into their ingredient search. It came up with a huge list of options. I found one that looked tasty, easy, relatively quick to make, and that wasn't going to cost a fortune in additional ingredients. I also realized that I had another one of the ingredients at home already: black beans.

So, I picked up a few more items on the way home from work. I had a pretty good dinner and will have leftovers for later in the week too.

Stocking up on staple foods that are either non-perishable and/or that freeze well is great. Get them when they go on sale. Then plug a few of the items into AllRecipes.com's ingredient search and find something good to make for dinner. If you get a number of the ingredients on sale in advance, it reduces the over cost of the recipe.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

Comparison Shopping Between the Store & the Website

For some reason, I always thought that prices that a store offered online were the same that they had on merchandise in the store. Yesterday, while working on our wedding registry, I realized that isn't the case at Macy's.

Macy's uses WeddingChannel.com for their wedding registries. There's a fine print disclaimer that reads: "Prices, promotions and selections offered on MacysWeddingChannel.com may differ from prices, promotions and selections offered on macys.com or in Macy's branded stores." I found this is true on the all of the items for which we've registered. Some are higher online and some are lower.

Take a look at the difference!

Better to buy it online:
They are offering a sale on the website.

Gravy Boat, Platter, Serving Bowl, Soup Bowl
each 25% less online

Gravy Stand
24% less online

5 piece place setting
44% less online

Iced Beverage Stemware Set
43% less online

Better to buy it in the store:
(Note: these are not clearance items, but they are on sale in the store.)

Sheet Set
114% less in the store

Comforter Set
218% less in the store...not to mention you have to pay extra shipping for this item because it is bulky.

The wedding consultant at another store (not Macy's) told us to remember that we are spending other people's money, so don't worry about registering for things that we wouldn't normally buy ourselves. All of the stores have implied that we should pick higher end items. Well, we do want nice things, and people normally like to give nice things as gifts. But I "spend other people's money" just like I would my own -- very carefully! I really hope our friends and family will shop around and get the lowest price on what we would like to have.

Everyone should keep comparison shopping in mind when buying gifts from a registry. Be sure to have the store mark any items you buy as "purchased" on the registry -- even if they didn't register for the item you purchased at that store. That helps if they receive duplicate gifts. Also, enclose a gift receipt. These steps will help ensure you can get the best deal possible, and the recipients can get what they need/want.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Craft Store Savings

In preparation for the wedding, I've been frequenting craft stores far more than I usually do. I'm going to be make my own wedding invitations, programs, and pew bows. I could have just gone in and bought everything I needed at once. However, the two big craft stores in my area (Michael's and AC Moore) have 40% off coupons in their weekly sales flyers that come in the newspaper. At both stores, the coupon is only good for one regularly priced item. Doing a little comparison shopping, I've discovered that AC Moore has lower prices for the same products that Michael's has. So, of course, AC Moore is my new favorite store!

Here are some tips on how to make the most out of saving at the craft store, especially when you have more than one item to buy:

1. Plan in advance. Since these coupons don't let you take 40% off of your entire purchase, I've been only buying one item at a time. It's taking some time to get everything I need, but it's worth the wait.

2. Take other people with you to the store. Since you can only use one coupon per person per day, on some trips to AC Moore, I've gotten help from friends and family members who have been with me at the time. Everyone gets a coupon and an item to buy.

3. Gather coupons from others. Neither AC Moore nor Michael's offers the sales ad with the coupons in their stores. So, ask friends or family if they will give you their unwanted coupons from their paper.

4. Look online for additional coupons. AC Moore lets you print as many of their coupons that they have online as you want. They usually have the same 40% off coupon that you can find in the paper. So, if you need to stock up on items quickly, print as many as you need for one week of shopping. Of course, keep in mind that you'll still need to get other shoppers to help you or go over the course of several days because like the newspaper coupons, you are limited to using one per day per person. Here's the link to find the AC Moore nearest you and to their online coupons. Hobby Lobby also offers coupons online that you can print to use at the store.

5. Watch for additional coupons you may receive at check out. On several occasions, I've gone to AC Moore to make a purchase with a 40% coupon, and they give me a 50% coupon to use on a future purchase! These 50% off coupons have only been good for one specific day, usually a Saturday. A few weeks ago I was going to be out of town on the Saturday for which I had a 50% off coupon at AC Moore. I looked online and found the nearest store in the town where I was going to be. I printed off directions to get there, and I was still able to use that valuable coupon! This week, my mom had two of those Saturday-only 50% off coupons for AC Moore. However, she's going to be out of town and in a place where there is no AC Moore. So, she mailed me her coupons to use.

6. Watch for when the items you want are not on sale. Since AC Moore and Michael's only let you use these coupons for regularly priced items, having what you want go on sale actually isn't always a good thing. Sometimes they might run a sale for 50% or more, which would definitely be a better deal than using a 40% off coupon. However, sometimes the sale isn't the best bet. For example, the other week I wanted to buy the invitation kit I had been eyeing. However, AC Moore had it on sale for 30% off. I had a 40% off coupon. I could wait until it went off sale!

7. If you aren't looking for a very specific item at a craft store, check out their clearance sections. They often will deeply discount discontinued items. For the wedding invitations, programs, and bows, I have had very specific things in mind that I wanted. However, my future mother-in-law (who is also a bargain shopper) called the other night to tell me that she was at Hobby Lobby, checking out their clearance section. She found invitations that she will use for the rehearsal dinner for 80% off, and they even go with our color scheme. She also picked up a flower girl basket and a ring bearer pillow for 80% off. She said that even if I didn't want to use them for the ceremony, she would find a way to incorporate them into the decorations for a bridal shower or other pre-wedding event because they were only a couple of dollars each.

Happy saving and happy crafting!

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