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 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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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Vacationing with Coupons

I really enjoy traveling and going on vacation. A big reason why I work so hard at saving money is so that I can ensure I have some earmarked for fun stuff (i.e. vacation)! I've written about some of my saving tips for the road and a lot of them stem back to using coupons either while planning the trip or during the trip. I never take a vacation from coupons -- I vacation with coupons! (After all, it's never too soon to start saving up for the next trip.)

So, I was excited yesterday when I got my weekly email on travel tips from the Washington Post Post Points program. Christina Talcott from the Post's Travel section offered up some websites for nearby places to which DC area readers may be vacationing or taking day trips. Here are the links:

Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association's Deals & Discounts

My Richmond Region Rewards

Sunny Day Guide - Virginia Beach Coupons

Ocean City, MD Coupon Book
This book costs $15, so look at the list of coupons and businesses to make sure that it will be useful to you.

That last one sounds similar to the Entertainment Book. They have deal going right now where if you order your 2009 Entertainment Book, they'll give you this year's edition for free. Or you can just buy the 2008 book for any city (assuming they haven't sold out) for $9.99. They offer coupon books for a lot of popular vacation destinations. I just noticed that our honeymoon destination city has an Entertainment Book! Hmmm...let me go look into that...

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

I Made It Through the Storm

Wednesday afternoon, evening, and night some fierce storms passed through the DC area. When I got home from work, I found that the electricity had gone out during the afternoon. It also disrupted our Internet service. I called Verizon to try to have it restored, but the representative said our router must have gone out. So, he shipped us a new one, which arrived yesterday. I hooked it up, but the Internet still wasn't working. Finally, this morning another Verizon rep was able to reboot our system, and we are back online!

Before the storms blew through, I had plans on Wednesday after work to go to the grocery store to finally do some regular shopping. I haven't been other to pick up an item or two in quite some time. I've been trying to use some of the many odds and ends that I have in my pantry and freezer. It's been a good way to trim some spending lately, but I thought I had finally hit the end of anything that would constitute a meal.

There wasn't more than 15 or 20 minutes between storms on Wednesday. So just about the time I'd think it was safe to go out and get ready to go, the pouring rain, thunder, and lightning returned. This happened several times before my sister got home about 8:00. When she blew in the door, she said, "Don't go out there!" There were tornado warnings, and the sky looked terrible. Great - was I going to have to eat a can of kidney beans for dinner?

Actually, it turned out I did have more food in the freezer! I had some really great spaghetti sauce I had made several months ago that I thought belonged to my sister. So, we pooled our food resources and had a nice spaghetti dinner with garlic toast and broccoli and cheese.

Once again, hurrah for the freezer! I love having easy food on hand!

As a side note, after I get married and will gain full control of the freezer and pantry for the household, I shouldn't have the problem of not knowing which stashed food belongs to whom. Managing the kitchen will become a lot easier!

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spending is a Non-Issue

I came across a post about a "No Spend" challenge on the blog Budgets Are Sexy. This guy has some entertaining writing, and we have a few things in common besides both having a personal finance blog. He's about my age (I'm a few years older), he just got married on Saturday (I'll be married in 2 months), and he lives in the DC area too. However, I do not (thankfully) share his spending problem. Apparently, from reading this post and a few others that are linked from it, "No Spend" challenges are something people try hard to do.

Don't mistake this for self-righteousness, but that wouldn't be much a challenge for me at all. Somehow I'm just not much of a spender. I do on occasion spend what Budgets Are Sexy calls "discretionary income" on "random crap." (Seriously, I just took a whole car load of "random crap" to Goodwill after it didn't sell at the yard sale on Saturday.) But over all, I don't think that's a real problem for me.

I looked at my spending by category in Microsoft Money for the past 30 days, and it appears that I don't have much of spending issue in terms of random crap. In fact, I spent just under $5200 in the past 30 days, and 41% of that was related to the wedding (which at this point is actually money from my parents) or preparing for married life (i.e. helping break a lease). I did spend about $10 on a new pot and some soil for a big plant someone on Freecycle gave me. The rest was pretty much the cost of every day living (i.e. rent, food, gas, Metro fare, utilities, insurance, taxes, etc.).

Wow - that sounds pretty boring! No cool shoes or indulgent trips to Starbucks...just a plastic flower pot and some dirt. It's not that extreme every month, but it's also not like I feel deprived in anyway. However, I'm very thankful that I don't have a spending problem because we're going to need that money for more important things in the future, like a house.

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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yard Sales: My Turn to Sell

My sister (and roommate of the past 7 years) decided to hold a yard sale yesterday to get rid of some the many things that more than fill our house and make some extra cash. Not only am I new at buying at yard sales, I'm also new at having a yard sale of my own. In fact, while I've helped at other yard sales for friends, family, and charity organizations, I've never done one of my own.

We invited Angie's friend who had a bunch of baby clothes and gear to sell to join us. Michael also looked around his apartment and found some things he no longer wanted. So, we had quite a bit of stuff. Our yard is really small, but luckily our neighbors didn't mind that we spilled over into their lawn.

I don't know how much the friend with the baby stuff made, but we pooled the rest of the stuff and made $116. We were hoping to make more and get rid of more stuff, but I think it was the result of being novices. Since we had so much stuff already pulled out and deemed unwanted, I loaded most of the leftovers in my car to take to Goodwill. A few things I decided to keep just because I'd now like to keep them. A few other things that I figured wouldn't sell at Goodwill I put up on Freecycle. Several of those things are already gone.

I kept two boxes of other things that I'd like to try to sell again when we hold another yard sale in the fall. We already know we want to do another sale because once Michael, Angie, and I are all settled in our respective new places after the wedding, there is sure to be lots of surplus stuff.

Here's what I'm going to do to try to make the next sale better:

1. We only advertised on Craigslist this time because it's free to post an ad. I'd do that again, but I found another free place to post the ad too:

2. Depending on the amount of stuff we have, I may consider paying to place a classified ad online or in the print edition of the Washington Post in order to help increase the traffic. We probably should have done that this time, but I wanted to see how many people we'd get without doing it. It was a fair number, but we could have done better. It probably would have been worth the investment in the ad.

3. I will make and post more signs. I had them at two major intersections and then directing people from the main road to our side street. However, as I was hanging them, I thought of another busy road from which I could easily direct people to our house.

4. I will also try to get the signs up on Friday afternoon or even Thursday night instead of Friday night and Saturday morning. That means I can't wait until the last minute to make the signs again!

5. I may get some balloons from the dollar store on Friday night to attach to the signs on Saturday morning to draw some more attention.

6. We had 3 long folding tables and a card table to help display some of the stuff. However, next time, I think we need to do a better job of getting more things out of boxes and on display so people can see them easier.

So, was all the labor worth the $116? No, not in terms of dollars for the sale itself. However, the money was kind of a bonus that came along with starting to clear out for Angie moving out, Michael moving in, and me trying to thin down and reorganize what I have.

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