Sunday, January 31

Think it's too hard to cook?

I used to.

I know that, for some folks, cooking is no big deal. (Some people even find it... fun.) If cooking comes relatively easily to you, you probably have no idea what all the fuss is about.

Chances are, though, that you know exactly what I'm talking about. It seems like, starting with Generation X, people just don't cook as much as they used to. It's not as much of a norm, these days.

Some of that probably has to do with the sheer number of takeout now available. You have hosts of fast food places, various kinds of cuisine you can get to go, and some restaurants will bring the food to you. What's not to love?

Well, the dent it leaves in your wallet, for a start. And it's rarely good for you.

But if, like me, food is a huge source of stress, what's the alternative? Well, to borrow a phrase from personal finance: Set it and forget it.

That phrase usually refers to automating your finances. By creating systems to automatically pay bills, you avoid late fees and finances charges. You can also save yourself some money by automating your cooking.

Don't get too excited. Robot chefs don't exist yet. I checked.

But you can get pretty close by using that ever-lauded kitchen device: the slow cooker. It's perfect for busy people or people who don't like to cook. Or busy people who don't like to cook.

You throw in the ingredients and walk away. Depending on the recipe, you have a meal 3-7 hours later. You don't have to wait for anything boil. No worries about something burning. You don't even have to keep a strict eye on the time. Heck, you don't even have to be home!

The first steps

For years, I have dreaded even the subject of cooking. I knew I should do more, in order to cut down our food budget. But I rarely had the energy. Tim took over for awhile, but he would try to get me to choose a dish for him to cook. And I never knew what I wanted. After awhile, he'd give up in frustration. It wasn't good.

Now that we're down in Arizona, though, I felt a stronger urge to get a coordinated cooking effort started. So I got out the slow cooker and started looking up recipes.

I ended up finding a few, very useful sites. Readers steered me toward A Year of Slow Cooking. I also did some searches and found good caches at All Recipes, Slow and Simple and Betty Crocker.

That still left me with a lot of options, though. I didn't want to get too overwhelmed, and I definitely didn't want to get too grandiose in my efforts. So I went through the sites with some very basic rules:

  • Nothing that required "real" cooking. By that, I mean anything that required you to pan fry/sear/etc any of the ingredients. I was looking to make my life easier, not more complex.
  • Nothing with too many ingredients. I preferred to keep it under 10. Closer to 5 was better. I wanted to be able to prep the the meals in under 15 minutes -- preferably under 10.
  • Nothing with specialty items. I tried to stick to items that we already had, or those we could get relatively cheaply. The point here was to save money, not to increase our grocery bill.

Stick to the plan

In the end, I had a long list of promising recipes bookmarked in our browser. But it was still hard to cook. I would get up that day and feel indecisive about what to make. Even when I started trying to plan the night before, it was just no good.

I resisted meal planning for a long time. I was worried that, when the time came, I wouldn't want to eat that recipe. Finally, I had a "duh" moment and realized that I could always switch things around. The plan doesn't have to be exact.

Instead, I sat down with my copy of Make It Fast, Cook It Slow and wrote down five meals. Each time I needed to cook, I chose something off that list. It was easy, and I wasn't locked into a schedule. What's more, that list lasted almost two weeks, thanks to leftovers and "fend for yourself days."

So far, this system is working well. By not scheduling specific days, I give myself some leeway. Some days, I just can't face cooking. So I put it off for a day and have leftovers, while Tim makes himself a burger.

The looser schedule also means I'm not stressed about getting the dishes done every night I cook. I have a day or two in between, in case I'm busy. Or just tired. Again, taking the stress out of the situation has really helped me manage better.


I've mentioned some good sites on here, but I'd love to hear about any of your favorite slow cooker recipes or websites.

The point is to know where you can go when you need inspiration. Make It Fast, Cook It Slow has tons of tasty-looking meals, some of which are available for free at her blog A Year of Slow Cooking. I'm definitely interested in some of her fondue recipes. I've already made her applesauce, which I then put on her applesauce chicken. I highly recommend both.

All Recipes and Slow and Simple both have user feedback, which is nice. But All Recipes seems to have more feedback. Slow and Simple had a lot of unrated dishes. Both sites allow you to save items to a recipe box, if you sign up. Betty Crocker also has this function, plus it will print you out a grocery list, based on the recipes you choose.

Be flexible about ingredients

This step can save you a lot of hassle and a lot of money. If you choose to follow the ingredient list faithfully, that's terrific. But many of us are going for ease and economy. In that case, we need to be willing to make substitutions.

Plenty of recipes call for diced onion or minced garlic. It's not all that expensive to obtain either one. But I can guarantee that the unused half of the onion will end up rotting in my vegetable drawer. And peeling, then dicing, garlic can be very annoying.

Instead, I reach over to my spice cupboard and get out the onion flakes and garlic powder. Each spice was $1, and neither will go bad waiting for further use.

Similarly, I was amused by a recipe calling for the juice of one lemon. There was no way I was going to squeeze a lemon myself. My hands get tired easily, and we don't have a juicer. We did, however, have a container of lemon juice around. A quick search on the Internet found me the tablespoon equivalent. (Two to three, in case anyone cares.) No fuss, no muss.

These little substitutions and alternatives make life a lot easier. They mean fewer trips to the grocery store, and fewer items going unused in the fridge. It's win-win.

Like most areas of frugality, cooking will save you money. But you'll see the best results when you concentrate on making use of what you have.

How do you deal with meal preparation? What are your favorite, easy meals? Anyone want to come and cook for me? Please?

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Thursday, January 28

Freebie Friday

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Wednesday, January 27

How much say should a spouse have?

I talked to a friend last night. She needed to vent some frustrations. She and her husband had just had a huge fight about employment -- or, rather, lack thereof.

He has been out of work for almost a year now. He, like Tim, has had some health issues and so unemployment gave him some time to get healthy again. The idea was to wait until he was able-bodied again and start looking. He's been able-bodied for two or three months now.

Every week or two, she'd mention that he should look for some part-time work. That would stretch out the unemployment. The urgency increased, though, when she found out that he's down to 3 months of benefits.

That might normally be enough time, even in this economy. But he is going to a wedding in late February. (A mutual friend of ours is getting married.) That means he can't look for long-term work before February 23. No company will hire someone who needs to take time off after only three weeks.

And the wedding travel is going to be costly. She's anticipating $400-500, which means they'll make very little progress on the cards for a month. Still, she understands it's a one-time thing. So she's willing to make it work.

They agreed that he would look for some interim work. Just enough to help stretch out the benefits, so that he's not down to eight weeks when he comes back from the wedding. They thought it was a good agreement, right up until she found what she thought was an opportunity.

He'd distribute fliers and would get paid based on people who called back. Allegedly an average of 3-6 per week, at about $75 per person. She understands that there is a chance he'll work hard and get nothing out of it. But then they still have unemployment. So they were safe either way.

The husband was not all that thrilled with the prospect. He argued that operators could put in the wrong number -- a typo or one of their friends' codes. Or what if the person who got the flier didn't refer to the code when ordering? He wasn't comfortable with that setup.

My friend freaked. She was already getting antsy about unemployment running out, and I completely empathize. Tim and I aren't that far off from where they are now.

As she sees it, they have two options: this or Labor Ready. She told him, as it became an argument, that he could take a week to see what else was out there and apply for various things. But she was terrified by how easily he was dismissing one of the two major options they had.

Apparently, he agreed to look into it. But he also declared that -- if the system was set up in the way he was predicting -- he wouldn't be comfortable taking the position. The problem is, once he gets a preconceived notion, he tends to block out any facts that don't fit. So she's worried that he's going in with the belief that it's not going to work out, which will influence him.

She was just angry that he wasn't willing to take the chance and, yeah, maybe do some work for free. Because, if it paid then that was great. If not, he knew not to go back the next week. And he'd spent plenty of weeks on unemployment, so what was the harm in one week of potentially unpaid work?

The whole thing blew up with both of them saying the same things over and over and not getting anywhere. He kept claiming he wasn't dismissing it and he was going in with an open mind. Except, she said, he would then follow it up with, "But I'm saying is that if this thing is the way I think it is, I'm not going to want to do it." Apparently that kind of shattered any reassurance he was giving her.

He also made the mistake of essentially telling her he thought she was overreacting -- never a good thing to say, especially if the person is overreacting. She admitted that she was getting more panicky, but she thought it was validated by circumstance. And that he just wasn't accepting the reality that he would need to be willing to take on any option that presented itself.

For the record, he later gave some good reasons to worry: The flier job would have no L&I. So if he stepped on a rusty nail, they'd be paying for a hospital visit. If a dog went after him, there was nothing to do about that, either. Still, she thought he was being a little dire in his "what if" scenarios.

In the end, his stance is that she can't tell him what to do -- not if he's the one who has to actually do the work.

She, on the other hand, believes she's been more than understanding and supportive. And his refusal to consider any and all options is going to endanger their financial future. So she should get a pretty big say. I think the other thing is that she's the CFO of the marriage. So she's used to having final say in financial matters.

It also doesn't help that her own job is probably ending this summer. There's a small chance they take her on for another contract job. But it's pretty slim. And she doesn't qualify for unemployment. So, as early as June, they could be looking at zero income. She'd rather deal with things before they get that bad.

So, as I said, she's freaked. And tired. And angry. Meanwhile, he's indignant that she's trying to tell him what to do; what he can and can't say no to.

In case it matters: She found out that the part-time work won't disqualify his unemployment claim. He just has to call in his hours worked/amount earned each week. The amount will be deducted from his earnings.

I mainly sided with her. Not just because she's my friend, but because I can empathize with her situation. Tim and I aren't that far from where these two find themselves. Also, I feel like the husband is choosing a path that creates extra stress on her, and then refusing to lighten it by being more open-minded about jobs.

In this economy, I'm not sure that eight weeks is enough to find any kind of job, even a lousy one. So his resistance to jump at any opportunity offered is unfair. And it endangers her financial future as much as it does his.

But she's my friend. I'm interested to hear some impartial opinions.

How much say should she have in the work she's not having to do? How much right does she have to demand he take the first opportunity available -- at least on a trial basis?

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Monday, January 25

Your parents don't owe you a wedding

There have been a few stories about weddings, wedding budgets and wedding money from families lately. I would just like to throw in my own two cents, here.

Ninja over at Punch Debt in the Face is feeling a little weird about his fiancee's family offering up a large amount toward the wedding. Personally, I think it's admirable to be hesitant to take someone's money.

Don't get me wrong: He should take it. Clearly, it makes the parents happy to be able to help. And, heck, it's free money. My mom helped out here and there, and I was immensely grateful for it. Still, we weren't given a wedding budget. We just sat down and figured out what we were willing to pay for.

The second piece about weddings was over at Free Money Finance. FMF wrote about couples' attitudes toward parents' wedding donations. In a survey, more than half of the 1,000 people said they would take money from their parents in lieu of wedding contributions.

FMF thinks that's pretty cool. Personally, I'm more concerned. Why do so many couples expect parents' help with their weddings? I'm not even clear why parents think they have to save up for/help out with weddings costs.

People, we're adults. We pay rent, we buy our own clothes, we shop for groceries. All out of our own pocket. So why do people assume that parents will pay for something as big as a wedding?

Listen, if your parents can help, great. Fabulous. Take it with all due gratitude. But what worries me is that it seems so natural to most people that parents have money to throw at a wedding. It's your big day, not theirs.

Of course, it's an important day for them. It's one they'll remember for ages. Then again, so is the birth of your child. But you don't expect them to shell out for hospital co-pays do you?

Here's my proposal (no pun intended):

  • If you can't afford your wedding without financial help from your parents, scale it down!
  • If you have to go into debt for your wedding, scale it down!
  • And if you firmly believe that your parents are somehow obliged to pay for your wedding, give the ring back. You're not mature enough to get married!

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Sunday, January 24

Super cool posts & giveaway

Before I get to the posts, I just wanted to let everyone know that Bargain Babe has got quite the giveaway going on. There are 45 prizes to be had, and drawings will start tomorrow, Monday Jan 25th and continue through Friday Jan 29th.

All you have to do is sign up for her email -- daily or weekly -- and you'll be entered to win. There are some great frugal books and plenty of gift cards. So go over there today and start an email subscription!

Okay, on to the posts of interest this week:

Beks over at Blogging Away Debt is wondering if this latest unemployment extension is a mistake. I'm not sure I agree, but it's an interesting issue.

Well-Heeled with a Mission discusses why saving for retirement is her biggest financial priority.

Revanche over at A Gai Shan Life talks about why you should use your sick days.

J from Budgets are Sexy poses the (sorta) age-old question: Pay off student loans or save for a house?

Over at Bible Money Matters is the last post in the series, Blueprint for How to Make with a Blog

Dog Ate My Finances had an interesting piece about Denial and Money.

There are probably tons more posts that I missed. But a girl's gotta start somewhere!

Saturday, January 23

Sleep and personal finance

We all know that sleep is important. We all know sleep should be a priority. And yet few of us make it one.

Sometimes it's an absolutely crammed schedule that is to blame. Other times, it's a night owl trying to deal with the working world's "normal business hours." For some people, it's just plain old insomnia. Whatever the reason, sleep gets put on the back burner.

Here's the problem, though: You can't be all that frugal without a good night's sleep.

First and foremost, if you're tired, you aren't going to feel up to those extra, money-saving steps. Frugality often takes a little extra work, and, when you're worn out, you just won't have the energy for it.

When you're exhausted, are you really going to shop at two or three different grocery stores for the items you need? Or will you just pay a little extra to get it all in one place?

While I know that cooking comes easily for some people, most of us can't face such a task when we're worn out. Instead, we'll probably just end up with takeout, delivery or some other convenience food. And we all know that you pay dearly for convenience in the retail world.

Okay, so maybe that stuff is obvious for you. These are things you already know, and they're just not enough to ensure you get that extra shut-eye.

But there are plenty of other ways that being sleep-deprived is going to affect your finances.


I already touched on this a bit: Tiredness means you're less likely to shop around for the best deals. So you lose a few bucks' savings from time to time. Hardly the death of your frugality.

But wait, there's more: Lack of sleep affects what our food intake. Ever wonder why you can't seem to stop eating when you're tired? It's because your body isn't producing enough leptin.

Leptin is the hormone that tells us when we're full. When levels are low, we're more prone to overeating. And when there are fewer leftovers from any given meal, the food budget suffers.

Maybe not a huge deal, to those who know how to cook frugally. Still, if you're deprived of sleep on a regular basis, less leftovers means more cooking. That's going to require more energy -- something you already don't have enough of.

So one of two things is going to happen: You'll have less energy for other frugal endeavors, or you'll eat more convenience food. Either way, you'll be spending more money. But if it's the latter, you're suffering in two ways. Not only are you paying more for prepared meals at the store (or getting pizza delivered), those meals won't go as far if you're eating more than you need to. In that case, the bang-for-your-buck really goes downhill.

Junk food

Lower leptin levels (try saying that three times fast) also means you'll experience an increase in carb cravings. In other words, you're going to eat more junk food. And that stuff is rarely cheap.

Okay, if you're lucky, you'll be able to stick to something that's on sale and that you have coupons for. But you're already less likely to shop around, so will you really be able to get all the junk food on sale?

It's also going to mean that whatever you have on hand will run out faster. Maybe you bought some ice cream on Tuesday, right before the sale ended. You're less likely to eat a reasonable portion, which means you go through it a lot faster. If you can't find another good ice cream sale, you're either going to have to pay (shudder) retail or you're going to have to do without. Neither is a very appealing option.


We all know that you can do some pretty stupid stuff when you're drunk. That's all thanks to lowered inhibitions. This also happens when you're deprived of sleep. (Probably the reason that the urban dictionary now has the phrase "sleep drunk.")

You probably won't go around flashing people or other social taboos. But it does mean you're going to be more impulsive. That can doom a budget.

Normally, you can talk yourself out of unnecessary purchases. When you're tired, though, your reasoning skills are impaired. So you're impulsive and you have a lower reasoning capacity. In other words, folks, get that card out; you'll be using it shortly.

You might buy that cool gadget you've had your eye on. Or perhaps it will be an apparel purchase. Maybe you'll end up at Gameworks or a bar or a full-priced movie. Whatever form it takes, you're far more likely to spend when you don't sleep.


You're also more forgetful when you're tired. You might get to the grocery store only to discover you forgot a couple of key coupons. You can either drive all the way back home, wasting gas, or spend a couple of extra bucks to get what you need.

A bad memory can also lead to you buying things you already have. Or you forget that an item is on sale elsewhere, so you pay full price.

Forgetfulness is pretty bad for your overall organization. And just about everyone agrees that you have to be organized to be frugal.

Memory is often a key component of a career. The more forgetful you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes at work. (You're also likely to be crabby or even overtly hostile.) That's going to affect future raises -- or even endanger your employment.


When you're tired, you do less.

Okay, that sounds obvious. But have you really considered the implications of that fact? We already discussed how you're less likely to cook or shop around. But there are a lot of extra, frugal steps that you won't be up to taking when you're exhausted.

  • That great sale on running shoes ends before you can get around to it. Normally, you'd find a style you like and get five pairs, so you're set for a couple of years.
  • You don't think about your growing kid's clothes until suddenly his sleeves no longer reach his wrists. Then you have to look around and hope for a vaguely decent price.
  • You never get around to sending off for that rebate because you're out of stamps. And somehow you just never have the wherewithal to get to the post office. (At the grocery store, you always forget to ask for some.)
  • You keep putting off going to the store for that great sale. Whether it's a grocery store deal on toilet paper or an office supply store on ink, you never get around to stocking up. So when you run out, you're forced to go pay retail.
  • You keep meaning to try out one of those coupon-clipping websites, but you never get around to it. So you pay $1 per box rather than getting it free.
  • You keep meaning to switch over a cash system, so you don't have to worry about overdraft fees. But ever since you got direct deposit, you never end up in the bank.
  • Since you keep using debit instead of cash, you can never quite seem to keep up with your account balance. You think you have more money than you do, and so you overdraft.
  • You don't have the energy to look for freebies. So you miss out on that free movie preview and end up paying to see it. You don't hear that PetSmart's animal hospital is offering a free vet visit, so you take your animal to another vet and pay the $60 fee.


We've all heard from, well, everywhere just how devastating medical bills can be. So it's only fitting that I mention this biggie.

Most PF bloggers have, at some point, covered just how much you can save if you are physically fit. Sleep plays a big role in that. It's linked to metabolism, which is a key component in burning enough calories to not gain weight. There is also some evidence that lack of sleep increases the likelihood of obesity.

Your immune system is much weaker if you don't get enough sleep. So you're more likely to get everything that comes down the pike. That means either missed days from work or, when more serious, doctor visits and prescription co-pays.

Some cancer researchers have speculated that sleep deprivation increases the likelihood of breast cancer. There have been proven links between women who work night shifts and the incidence in breast cancer. There are theories that it has to do with late night light, which can disrupt the melatonin production. Melatonin is secreted mainly at night, and it tells the body when to reduce estrogen. Too much estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer.

More concretely, a lack of sleep is a stressor on the body. This can increase your cortisol levels. That hormone can create muscle loss, high blood pressure, an increase in fat storage, loss of bone mass and a resistance in your cells to insulin. It can also create a hardening of the arteries, which can be a precursor to a heart attack.

So sleep already!

So much of frugality is about thinking ahead. And you just can't do that if you're perpetually exhausted. It boils down to a very basic fact: If you're sleep deprived, you're losing money. It may be in dribs and drabs; but, just like most things in personal finance, little amounts add up quickly.

I hope that this post gets you into your PJs! (Out of self-interest rather than boredom, of course.) There are just too many financial benefits to a good night's sleep. A little extra shut-eye can do wonders for your financial efficiency.

Have you noticed a difference in your frugality when you're well rested? How do you ensure a good night's sleep?


Friday, January 22

Freebie Friday

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Wednesday, January 20

Swaptree: It may be love!

Okay, so I know this is hardly new ground to a lot of you. But I only recently learned about this site. And I'm already smitten!

For those of you who aren't aware of it, Swaptree is a site that lets people trade books, CDs, DVDs and video games. It's pretty cool!

I sat down with a few games that Tim doesn't want anymore, along with a few books that have been lying around. Later, I'll go through and add in my CD collection.

Within an hour of making my account, I had a trade offer. A copy of Knights of the Old Republic II in exchange for a PC game I had hoped to get for Christmas. I was going to have to save up some Swagbucks for it (once Tim's iPod Touch is paid for). Now, I can get it... well... now!

Meanwhile, I've been meaning to get the third book in the Artemis Fowl series to read to Tim. For about a year now. Yeah. I ordered it from the Seattle library a couple of times, but kept not feeling well enough to pick it up when it came in. If I can trade for it, though, I'll have plenty of time to take the next step in that series.

As we speak, there is an offer out to someone on Swaptree. I'm trying to trade a novel I got for Christmas. Very good book, though I cried off and on throughout it. But I rarely reread books, so I may as well let it be the gift that keeps on giving.

The real hope, though, is that this could be a good trading spot for Tim with video games. After all, it's nice to be able to trade games in for credit at Game Stop, but it'd be even nicer to just make trades across the board.

There are a couple of titles that would be really great to find on there. One of the biggies will probably be Dante's Inferno, when it comes out in February. Tim has a rather pristine version of Tekken 6; so maybe we'll luck out.

Even if that doesn't work out, it would be a good way to check out some of the other games out there. Technically, you can do this at a video game store. But you have to trade in two or three titles, minimum, just to get a mid-range game. This way, it's always a one-to-one ratio.

That said, there are a couple of things to be careful about. They both concern mailing.

First, you have the time factor. I accepted the trade for my PC game. And found out it needs to be in the mail tomorrow. That's not a lot of time, even for people who are healthy and/or organized. So you need to have all the packaging materials in hand before jumping on a trade.

You should also be wary of the site-calculated mailing costs. I was told it would be $2.79 for a printed label. (The amount would be charged to a credit card at the end of the month.) Or I could use my own postage. In that case, I wouldn't get tracking, so the amount would be $2.41.

That seemed kind of high to me. So I went over to the USPS site and plugged in weight and zip codes. The post office says it'll be $2.07. Sure, that's only a 34-cent difference, but it still makes me wonder.

More importantly, I'm relatively sure the estimated weight is off. The rate assumes a shipping weight of 8 oz. Meanwhile, Amazon has the weight as 4 oz. (Is it weird that I looked it up? I miss my little scale! I left it back in Seattle.) So, taking the envelope into account, you're looking at about 6 oz.

The actual amount I expect to pay? $1.73. Compared to $2.79. Definitely something I'm going to keep my eye on.

Of course, I have yet to actually complete a trade. Hopefully, in a week or so, I'll have a trade or two under my belt, and I can speak about the whole process. But if you've had any experiences with Swaptree -- good or bad -- I would love to hear about them!

Has anyone considered this as another way to get presents frugally?


Monday, January 18

Should you correct others' mistakes?

Here's a question to ponder: If a retail store makes a mistake in your favor, do you correct the cashier, or walk away with the savings?

Today I walked away with $11 more than I should have. I ended up having to return the items I bought on Friday at Walgreen's. That transaction had been so confusing, the manager had a hard time understanding the receipt. So I pointed to each item and explained: full price for this one ($21.99 minus $3 coupon); half off for this ($9.99); and a coupon gave me the refill pack free.

I should have gotten $31.38 back, after sales tax. But I walked away with $42.20. The manager refunded me the cost of the refill pack, plus the full $21.99. I guess he didn't see the coupon that was used further down the receipt.

Point is, I profited off this employee's mistake. But I also purposefully tried to explain the situation to him. He did not ask me to repeat it; and apparently he wasn't listening all that carefully the first time.

Was I wrong to take the money? Should I have attempted to explain the situation again when I heard the wrong amount? Or was the onus on the employee to listen better?

My own conscience is a little troubled on this one. I think, normally, I wouldn't have accepted the extra amount. But I was tired. And annoyed that he hadn't listened to me. (He nodded while I talked, but he did not take his eyes off the receipt.) Still, it probably wasn't right.

What would you guys have done? Are these situations black and white? Or are there shades of gray? In other words, are there conditions when you would say yes and others when you'd say no?

For example, I correct cashiers who give me the wrong change. I don't want the person getting in trouble for the till being off. But when it's a case of the employee ringing up the wrong price (in my favor) I don't say anything.

Why this distinction? I have no idea. I guess I was raised to believe that it's the company's duty to make sure its employees are capable. If it doesn't properly train and supervise its employees, the company has bigger problems than one wrong transaction.

Of course, following that logic, I shouldn't correct the cashier if I am given too much change. It's just another case of an employee mistake. But it's harder to rationalize that because I've been a cashier before, and it completely sucks to be missing money at the end of the day.

I am sure there are plenty of people who will argue that it is never fair to take more than what you are owed. In theory, I agree with this. After all, I always make a fuss when an item rings up higher than it should. So why should I stay quiet when the error is in my favor?

However, theory and practice are two different things. I'm not necessarily proud of my behavior, but I cannot think of a single time I have corrected a cashier about an item being too cheap.

So what's your take on this? When would you be okay getting an error in your favor? When would you speak up?

Sunday, January 17

Frugality through polite insistence

Yet another anecdote about the power of (respectful) stubbornness.

On Friday, I felt well enough to make a trip over to Walgreen's, where there were some sale items I wanted to pick up. One of the main attractions, though, was a buy-one-get-one-50%-off sale. (I call it BOGO50, for short.)

Basically, when I went to the register, I had three BOGO50 items -- but I had a coupon wherein one was free with purchase of the other. Of course, when it rang up, the 50 percent came off that free item. Which was, of course, the cheapest.

I explained to the cashier -- who, I should point out, was wonderfully polite throughout the transaction -- that the 50 percent needed to be applied to the other two items only. She had to call a manager over.

He immediately tried to explain that I was getting the 50 percent off credited to the receipt, so I was still saving money. Uh, no. I'm not taking a $3.50 credit over a $10 credit. No way.

I politely pointed out that the two more items were rung up first, and so the 50 percent off should have come off one of those.

Ah, he said, but the computer will always take the 50 percent off the least expensive item. It's automatic, and that's how the sale works.

Honestly, I almost just quit then. I'm not good at confrontation, even polite versions -- at least, with men. It's an issue from childhood, no need to get into it here. Point is, I very nearly balked. But then I realized that an extra sentence or two was going to take a matter of seconds. Might as well try it.

So I smiled politely, but firmly, and looked the manager in the eye. I pointed out to him that the deal was that you get 50 percent off when you buy two participating items. And I wasn't buying the third item -- it was coming free with purchase. So the 50 percent needed to come off the item I was buying, not the one I was getting thrown in for free.

It was a total Hail Mary. I was, to use the vernacular, talking out of my ass. But it worked. I have no idea if he actually bought my argument, was afraid of making a customer unhappy or was just sick of the whole subject. And I don't particularly care. Point is, I got $10 off my purchase instead of $3.50.

Just another reminder that it never hurts to ask. And, if asking doesn't get you the answer you want, it can be downright beneficial to (politely) insist.

Saturday, January 16

Why are you frugal?

I think we forget to ask this question. It's assumed that we do it to get out of debt or otherwise out of necessity. But that's not always the case.

I was raised with a mom who knew frugal inside and out. We didn't live in penury, but she taught me to be careful with money, to stock up on sales and to find cheap entertainment.

Of course, I'll be the first to admit that I'm also frugal out of necessity. We have credit card debt. Even after that's gone, Tim and I will probably always have to be extra careful with our finances, to be sure we can survive.

Still, I cannot imagine a scenario where I wouldn't be careful. Even if Tim I could both work full-time, could pull in "respectable" paychecks, I just can't picture a life where money isn't watched and planned around.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be a little more relaxed about it all. I'd probably buy more clothes, eat out a little more, and maybe even buy some books. But I cannot imagine a life where I thought standing credit card debt was acceptable, or where we consistently lived beyond our means.

As they say: Momma didn't raise no fool.

Besides, I like the victory that comes from saving money. The smug victory of watching those coupons bring the total down by $20+, or seeing a movie without paying ludicrous prices for tickets.

And, when I have a child, I want to pass on the enjoyment of the smaller (or, at least, cheaper) things in life. I want my kid to be able to appreciate simple pleasures in life: to be happy going to the free day at the local museum, running around in the local park, marveling at the possibilities of the library.

What's more, I want him to be free from this society's belief that more is always better, that you have to have the latest thing (no matter the cost), and that the thrill of the purchase trumps all.

So, I suppose I'm frugal for all those reasons and more. I want to be able to enjoy life in all aspects -- from the occasional indulgence to the freebies that abound. I don't want to go numb to spending; I want to always feel the joy in simple experiences -- not always be beholden to the latest gadget to find fulfillment.

What about you?

Friday, January 15

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Wednesday, January 13

Pushing forward, throttling back

I know I was silent yesterday, and this post will probably not make it up until mid- to late-afternoon. Sorry about that. I've been wiped out lately. (Bear with me through til the end of this post, I promise the ensuing stuff does actually relate to finance.)

The fact is that I'm a very cyclic person. There's some evidence now that it's due to the Bipolar Disorder II that I was recently diagnosed with. (I guess I'm still working on swallowing that concept.) Either way, I tend to be in one of two modes: everything or nothing.

There are times when it's all I can do to keep myself from going whole-hog crazy on chores or errands. Other times, it's hard to get off the couch -- emotionally, physically or both.

In the past, it's led to a lot of problems -- mainly because I would push myself so hard when I was "up" that I left nothing for the other times. These days, I have a (slightly) better grasp on mellowing both extremes a little.

If I don't go too all-out on good days, the bad days are far more tolerable. Rather than barely leaving the couch, I simply barely leave the apartment. It may sound no better, but it's a huge deal.

If I'm stuck on the couch, I am angry about it, incredibly bored and also anxious from feeling caged. If, on the other hand, I can putter around the apartment, I can make myself a PBJ rather than order pizza; I can maybe do a task that involves light cleaning; I can play video games on the computer to distract myself.

So I work on ameliorating the extremes. By that, however, I do not mean that I am trying to even them out. I have spent a lot of time trying to find that happy median between go-go-go and crash-crash-crash. And, as I work to accept this latest diagnosis, I am coming around to the idea that there is no middle point for me.

Certainly, I will work with a mental health professional on medication. That will help. But I will probably always have cycles. I can choose to work against them, or I can save myself a lot of time (and feelings of futility) and work with them.

My new goal, then, is to push forward and throttle back, as needed. When I find myself in a small-scale manic stage -- usually, it coincides with a helluva lot of cleaning, so it's easy to spot -- I can make myself stop before I hit zero on the energy scale. This will make the days afterward a lot more bearable.

So, what on earth does this have to do with finance? Everything.

I think that most of us try to be "on" all the time with finance. Perhaps there are some folks out there who can handle this. But most of us have mixed results. Whether it's a family emergency, stress at work, relationship trouble or something else entirely, life gets in the way of perfection.

Meanwhile, though, we still want to be on top of things. We are so sure we can be on top of things, if only we try a little bit harder. So we want optimal results, and we get normal results. Most of us then spend time feeling bad about it.

We have this standard that we hold ourselves up to. It's a baseline, really, for a perfect world. You can budget in plenty of emergencies and unexpected expenses. But life will find something to trip you up. It's crafty that way.

Yet, even as our lives change and evolve/devolve, we expect our capability to remain the same. Not smart.

So, like me, you have a choice: Go with the grain, or go against it.

When things are relatively stable, or you simply have a good amount of energy, take some time to set up some safeguards. These solutions won't be particularly great, but that's not important. What is important is that they are better than the current way you do things.

For example, you cook and eat healthily. But you know that every time you're stressed, you crave only junk food and pizza. You could pretend that next time will be different; or you could accept that in suboptimal settings, you make suboptimal choices.

Either way, you're probably going to be eating pizza. But if you find a sale and stock up on DiGiorno, or simply keep your eyes open for coupons and specials, you'll spend a lot less when things get rough.

Or maybe you're the CFO in the family, but, when stress hits, you're incapable of coping. Talk to your partner about taking over the reins for a bit when these things happen. (Especially good if you know a big project or other stress-filled event is coming up.)

Sure, his methods won't be the same as yours. That can be hard to accept. He may make a smaller payment on debt in order to have a little more padding in the bank. Or he may not use coupons as religiously as you do. On the other hand, his methods are a lot better than overdraft fees that would otherwise pile up.

Here's one from my life. Right after we got here, Tim and I were barely functional. The stress of the move had worn us down. Because of this, we overdrafted a few times. I simply wasn't paying as close attention to the accounts as I should have been.

I argued our way out of a couple of them. But then a manager told me that they could attach our credit card to our bank account. So, rather than pay $35 in overdraft fees, we'd pay $10 and have $100 transferred from our card into our account.

Not great, by any stretch of the imagination. In a perfect world, I'd keep us from overspending. But this isn't a perfect world. I go through periods where I can't handle things diligently. Tim helps out by calling to check our account balance, but that's not always enough. So, we both agreed that $10 beats $35 -- even when you factor in interest on an extra $100. (Which isn't around for long, since we make weekly payments.)

I'm not saying you should go skipping out the door to the mall because you're having a hard day. What I am saying is that you should know your weaknesses and use your strengths -- just like any other aspect of finance.

When you are feeling good, push forward a little. Try new things; test your limits. But also plan for the times when you'll have to throttle back. You'll find it makes life a lot easier.

Monday, January 11

Is the new Domino's deal worth it?

Okay, okay: In an ideal world, we'd eat only at home. In this world, we'd all enjoy cooking and do lots of fabulous dishes that dazzled our taste buds.

But this is the real world. I was run down; Tim was in pain. And we were both starving. So I succumbed to those stupid ads from Domino's that have been playing recently. Personally, I just don't think it's ever a good idea to admit that people said your sauce tastes like ketchup.

Still, you have to admit that the deal was good: Two medium, two-topping pizzas for $5.99 each. If you don't like it, you get your money back. And, I'll admit it, the claims of new recipes had me curious.

So I ordered mine with chicken and roasted red peppers. Tim got Italian sausage and roasted red peppers. The total, after tax, tip and delivery charge ($1.75 on orders under $24) was about $16.

The results (drumroll, please) were... OK with strong gusts to pretty good.

The crust is still too flat for my tastes -- though Tim prefers it thinner. I definitely like the garlic they've brushed on the crust, though I'm sure it adds more calories than I want to consider. Despite the commercials' raves about the cheese, I personally didn't taste much difference between it and a frozen pizza.

But I will give credit for the toppings. The chicken came in good-sized chunks and didn't thave that slightly-off taste that frozen ingredients sometimes get. The roasted red peppers didn't add as much tang as I was hoping for, but they were tasty. (Tim thought they added plenty of tang, in case anyone cares for a second opinion.)

So, the verdict? It was good enough that I didn't ask for my money back. And I'll certainly eat the leftovers. But it still tastes like cheap delivery pizza -- just cheap delivery pizza a notch or two up from what it used to be. (I couldn't really taste the sauce, so I can't say whether the ketchup comment is still applicable.)

Much as I hate the cost of places like Papa John's, their stuff is higher quality than Pizza Hut or Domino's. The difference in cost comes from getting something that is actually tasty, rather than "not bad." It's the difference between choosing a sit-down burger joint over a McDonald's.

It's a personal choice, and both options have their pros and cons. You just have to decide whether you want to spend a little or a lot, because either way you're going to get your money's worth.

I think the main issue here is that most delivery food promotions are deceptively priced. They don't take into account the other fees, such as tax, delivery charge and tip. It's not that the company is being deceptive, so much as our brains' tendency to cling on to low numbers -- even in the face of very different realities.

Either way, Tim and I ordered a deal that promised pizzas for $5.99; we paid $8. Doesn't sound like quite as good a deal, does it?

So that's my two cents about Domino's deal. Hopefully, I save at least a couple people the trouble of trying it out for themselves. Or maybe now more of you are curious. In which case, Domino's totally owes me.

For what it's worth, though, I suggest just stocking up on frozen pizzas (or Boboli shells) next time they're on sale. It's significantly cheaper -- and there's no delivery charge.

Saturday, January 9

Sanity Savers IV: Mystery shopping

This "Sanity Savers" series is designed to explore the many ways that we frugalites avoid feeling deprived while we save up and pay down debt.

For me, one of the best ways to get out on a budget is mystery shopping. By and large, these shops don't pay much. However, you can get reimbursed for a night out with a friend or partner. I've gotten free meals, movies, gaming centers and even stays in hotels.

But maybe you don't feel like giving up potential debt snowflakes for a night of fun. You could argue that the money is better served going to debt now, rather than wait one to two months for reimbursement -- which could then go to debt.

Mystery shopping can still be for you. You can get a lot of normal, necessary expenses partially (or fully) reimbursed. You can also get normal expenses reimbursed. There are oil change shops, vision shops (up to $100 off), vet visits and plenty others.

The one caveat here -- as always -- is that you have to be willing to fork over the cash upfront. It will take 1-2 months to get the money back. (Most companies process payments on the last day of the month following the one in which you shop. The one exception I've found: hotels. You use a credit card, and the charges are reversed once your shop form has been reviewed and accepted.) And if you don't adhere to the rules, there is the risk of not being reimbursed at all.

It's not hard, though, to be sure you get your money back. I've always gotten reimbursed. The important part is simply reading through the requirements several times to be sure you don't miss anything.

So how do you do get started? I have two simple rules:

  1. Never, EVER, pay for mystery shopping information.
  2. Go to

Volition is a terrific site for anyone interested in extra income. It has information on paid emails, paid surfing and, of course, mystery shopping. There is an extensive list -- so extensive, in fact, that it has to be broken into several sections.

But that's not the only resource. There's a board for up-and-coming shops. You can even search by geographic area, so you don't have to wade through listings that are too far away. And there's even a forum, where people report on their experiences with various companies. This is a great way to get a feel for which organizations you want to work with.

Before you start to fill out applications, though, sit down and write about your most recent shopping experience. Most applications ask for a writing sample, and so you can cut and paste that sample into each profile you fill out. Be sure to mention things like eye contact, smiling, greeting, etc. Most companies provide a sample, so that you can get a feel for the overall style of what they are looking for.

Have you ever mystery shopped before? What was your experience? Any fun shops you've gotten?

Friday, January 8

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Thursday, January 7

Sanity Savers III: Loyalty programs

If you're going to buy something anyway, why not be rewarded for it?

That's the logic behind loyalty programs. These can take many forms, and some even cost money to belong to.

Once upon a time, Lamonts (anyone remember that store?) had a great loyalty program for bras and underwear. You got a card with several boxes in two rows: one for bras, one for panties. Once you filled up a row, you got a free pair. I think JC Penney had something similar.

Movie chains have taken up the loyalty program with fervor. Of course, this is only a good deal if you are willing to pay box office prices. Many frugal people aren't.

If you budget for the tickets, though, this is a nice little kick-back system. You work your way up the points chain (each ticket is worth 2 points, max of 4 points a visit) and receive concessions and, ultimately, a free movie ticket.

The concessions are pretty much always a "small" -- whether you're talking drinks or popcorn. On the other hand, you can get another size, so long as you pay the difference in cost between the two. There are also periodic special offers that print up with your ticket, such as $1 hot dogs or $2 candy.

Regal Cinemas has a similar program, but offer extra points for specific movies, usually for a one-week period. Unlike AMC, Regal gives points for concessions purchases. In addition, on certain days of the week, program members get cheap popcorn or soda.

Many stores have similar incentives to get repeat business. Customers are given a punch card to fill up for a free item (Auntie Anne's) or a discount on the next purchase (Hot Topic). Most of these are free, so it's really a no-brainer.

On the other hand, some loyalty programs cost money to join. That seems pretty obvious too: Why would you want to spend money to save it? In some cases, though, the benefits outweigh the initial cost.

For example, Tim and I have a membership to The Body Shop's program. It costs $10 a year and gives us 10 percent off our purchases. That's about $1.50-2 off each item we buy for Tim's skin. By the time we buy seven items, we've already saved more than we paid.

In addition, we get $10 off one item in my birthday month. (The employees argue that this more or less zeroes out the annual fee.) We also get rewards points for our purchases. Each $20 purchase is one point, $50 is two. After four points, we get $15 off any one item. After eight, it's $25 off. Then the system resets back to zero.

Between the freebies and the discount -- which applies even on sale items -- we have saved a lot of money in the last two and a half years. That said, the casual shopper probably wouldn't find much value in the program.

In fact, the average shopper probably needs to be careful about loyalty programs. They can be a great way to save some money. But they can also lead you to spend more than you normally would.

Businesses aren't creating loyalty programs out of the goodness of their hearts; they're doing it to keep customers coming back and, hopefully, spending more money. How do they do this? Well, they don't have to do a lot of work. Most people are so eager to save money that they'll happily buy more to save more.

But there's another method. Businesses will often set point levels or freebies at a threshold that is not easy to obtain. Every year, Clinique offers a free gift with $30 purchase. But you'll mainly find items in the $12-25 category. But if you buy a $20ish item, it seems silly not to spend a couple more and get the free gift -- so you spend more.

It's a completely irrational logic, I know; yet it works. The Body Shop does it, too. Most of its products are $20 or less. Since members get 10 percent off, it's really $18 or less. But, to get a point for the transaction, a program member has to get a second item. And there are very few items that are under $10.

So, best case scenario, you've spent $27 ($20 - 10% and $10 - 10%) to get credit for a $20 transaction. And, chances are, you didn't really need it. You just grabbed some impulse item near the cash register to make up the difference. It's pretty crafty, you have to admit.

I guess the point here is that loyalty programs can be handy. They can also be dangerous. The trick is to never buy more than you intended. Know what the program guidelines are and do the math ahead of time to see where you come in, price-wise. That way, you're prepared and not just dashing around the store to find something under $5.

It's sort of like going grocery shopping: Plan out purchases ahead of time, and stick to the list.

What do you think of loyalty programs? Any favorites? Any bad experiences? Have you ever gotten caught up in the rush and overspent?

Wednesday, January 6

Sanity Savers II: Coupons and Specials

This "Sanity Savers" series is designed to explore the many ways that we frugalites avoid feeling deprived while we save up and pay down debt.

Coupons are an essential part of most frugalists' life. So we're always hunting for good deals. Most of us love The Entertainment Book for its BOGO deals. It can be a more affordable way to go out for a nice meal, see a movie, or go to a local attraction.

But if the book doesn't interest you, a lot of local businesses will distribute coupons on their own. We regularly get a booklet of coupons to neighborhood stores, including local restaurants. In addition, I have seen a few stores carrying coupons for Castles 'N Coasters, a local family fun center. In the winter, most zoos and other outdoor attractions will have coupons and special offers on their sites.

As most people have noticed, spas and salons are getting pretty desperate with specials. Some have better sales than others, but the businesses are trying to lure customers back in with various offers. So you can get a good deal on an indulgence like a facial, massage or simply a nice haircut or color.

You can get additional savings by going through cash-back sites like Ebates or Mr Rebates. Through these portals, you can buy gift certificates to places like Salon Wish or SpaLook. These companies' gift cards are good at tons of salons throughout the country. Meanwhile, the cash-back programs will give you 4-6 percent of your purchase price back.

Personally, I intend to "indulge" in these sorts of things only through the local beauty schools. There, I can still get my eyebrows and lip waxed for a total of $9. Even if I did get this done every 3-4 weeks (and I never do), that's a pretty acceptable expense.

The fact is that most beauty schools offer all sorts of ways to indulge on the cheap: manicures, pedicures, facials and scalp treatments. Where else can you get a facial for $13? It would be a great way to pamper yourself, or to get in some girl-bonding time.

Perhaps best of all, even beauty schools tend to have specials and coupons. The Gene Juarez Academy is Seattle has monthly specials and coupons that get emailed to those who opt-in. Other beauty schools offer coupons, discounts and even referral bonuses.

Many frugal folks, though, find true nirvana with thrift store sales. We're all pretty familiar (I hope) with the fact that Goodwill and Value Village/Saver's have relatively regular 50-percent-off-everything sales. But around the winter holidays, Value Village offers calendars with monthly coupons.

Those are the the main coupons and discounts I can think of. Which ones did I miss? What are your favorite indulgences with these? (One of my favorites, by the way, is the occasional use of Cold Stone coupons. Still pricey, but worth it a couple of times a year!)

Tuesday, January 5

Sanity savers I: Rewards Programs

This "Sanity Savers" series is designed to explore the many ways that we frugalites avoid feeling deprived while we save up and pay down debt.

MyPoints, Swagbucks, Inbox Dollars, Surveyhead: Oh, how I love thee! Let me count the ways...

The latter two programs probably don't much apply for the purposes of this post. We're looking at ways to avoid feeling deprived -- sanity savers, if you will. But the last two programs give real money, rather than gift cards or other rewards.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with cash, but most of us take any extra money and put it toward debt or an emergency fund. So it's unlikely you'll be using those funds for a small indulgence that offsets your otherwise-frugal routine.

So, while I suggest you take a look at both Surveyhead and Inbox Dollars, this post will just feature MyPoints and Swagbucks. They are my two favorite (non-cash) rewards programs. They are the ones I've had the best results with, but they also have the best options for rewards.


MyPoints has a lot of gift card options that offer potential indulgences:

  1. Get a meal out with at one of over 20 restaurants.
  2. See a movie at a Regal Cinemas theater.
  3. Buy books at Border's and Amazon.
  4. Get lotions and other pampering products at Bath & Body Works.
  5. Get some new clothes, shoes, and jewelry at TJ Maxx, Kohl's, Bloomingdales, JC Penney, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
  6. Upgrade some technology at Amazon or Staples
  7. Get some household items at Target, Kmart, Overstock, LL Bean, Land's End, and Pottery
  8. Or get a Visa gift card and spend the money at whatever store you like.

That's a lot of ways to treat yourself. And, I think we can all agree, the occasional treat makes the day-to-day frugality far more bearable.


Swagbucks offers a very different set of rewards, though. Gift cards are a small section of the prize store. You can get band and movie memorabilia, comics, books, sports cards and a lot of other random items. You can also buy video games, consoles and electronics -- but these are invariably cheaper to buy through

And that's when we come to the main attraction of Swagbucks, for me, anyway: the $5 Amazon GCs. These take only 45 SBs, so they add up quickly.

Amazon has such a variety of merchandise -- including other stores' gift cards -- that the Amazon GCs are the obvious non-money focus for Swaggernauts. (If money is your goal, though, you can get $5 in Paypal funds for 70 SBs.)

My indulgences

I've already listed (most of) the things you can do with rewards programs. But that's not really how I use mine. Instead, most of my rewards program points go toward holiday gifts.

That may not be as obvious a sanity saver as a meal out or new clothes; but I count it as one without hesitation. I like giving presents. When you're being frugal, gifts are always difficult.

Holidays are when I come closest to feeling deprived. It's not just about seeing things I might want; it's seeing things that I want to get others, only to realize I can't afford them. The rewards programs let me give nice presents, even in limited circumstances.

There is one other major way that rewards programs allow us indulgences. That's when we reap the benefits of other people's reward programs. Several years ago, I introduced my mom to MyPoints. Ever since, I have been the recipient of many gift cards from the site. When Tim came into my life, he started getting them too.

Sometimes it's a Regal Theaters GC. In that case, we get to see any movie we want. A rare treat. While we get AMC tickets through My Coke Rewards, we cannot use them until the "no passes" admonition drops off the new releases. Additionally, a gift card means we can afford some popcorn to go with the film.

Other times, we get a restaurant gift card. A California Pizza Kitchen or Red Robin GC will just about cover a meal out for us -- and I'm a huge fan of any food I don't have to cook.

I'm sure you've noticed from the examples: My favorite sanity savers are ones that provide a night out. I firmly believe that the occasional date night can make a huge difference in a relationship. It can be particularly important when you're slashing expenses throughout the budget.

Money is one of the top arguments between people in relationships. A night out together -- one that doesn't wreck the budget -- can be more than just a sanity saver. It can be a relationship saver.

Which rewards programs do you favor? Why? Do you use these to avoid feeling deprived, or for some other purpose?

Monday, January 4

How do you keep from feeling deprived?

Most people associate frugality with self-deprivation. Most of us know that this doesn't have to be the case.

But it's also true that a lot of people do go into extreme frugality -- at least when they are winnowing down credit card debt. Other people live close to the bone out of necessity. Still others prefer a minimalist approach.

So this all begs the question: How do you live this way without feeling deprived?

I suppose the question is less interesting to people who are on a temporary crash-course in frugality. If you know that it will take exactly one year of being miserly, well it's probably a lot easier to stomach. You can just count down the days every time a rogue, materialistic desire washes over you.

But what about people who are running a marathon rather than sprinting? What do you folks do? Are there certain priorities that you're willing to budget for? Do you use your rewards programs as "fun money"?

Tim and I have a mix of ways we budget for sanity savers, as we call them: rewards programs, coupons, loyalty programs, and mystery shopping.

Honestly, this post was going to be an all-encompassing list of those items. But the more I look at it, the more each subject merits its own post. So I think I will, instead, do a series.

In the meantime, tell me what your priorities are. What are you willing to spend a little on? What's your ceiling for these so-called sanity savers? What techniques or programs do you use to get affordable entertainment or luxuries?


Saturday, January 2

Long-term savings, short-term spending

Little Miss Moneybags has purchased some laser hair removal services for $1,500. My first reaction was one of pure terror -- both because of the "laser" and the price tag.

Then I did a little research. The average price for regular waxing services -- at least, for these two areas -- $70. Let's not forget tips. I would say $10 is the least you'd want to leave. So that's $80 a session, with results lasting, in full, about 3 weeks. So monthly sessions would run you $960 a year.

Meanwhile, Miss Moneybags will pay $900 for her six sessions then $100 a year in touch-ups for 2-3 years. The other $300 presumably goes for tips. That translates to about $1250 for the first year, and under $150 for the next two years.

In other words, by June 2011, she'll have started to see savings. By the end of 2011, she'll have saved $570. By the end of 2012, total savings will be $1380. And, assuming that our world doesn't end ala Mayan predictions, her savings will increase by about $960 a year. More, really, when you count inflation.

Suddenly, that $1,500 price tag seems pretty reasonable, eh? (Though I still shudder at the though of lasers in certain areas.)

Of course, this, like waxing, is a luxury. If someone in severe credit card debt were considering this outlay, I'd hand her a razor and say God speed.

But Miss Moneybags has an emergency fund and has been putting aside money for this treatment. So I would consider this a pretty practical decision, especially for long-terms savings -- both in money and hassle.

It seems to me that there are all sorts of frugal measures that cost more in the short-term, while providing big savings in the future.

A small example of this would be stocking up on sales. You may go over your weekly budget, but grabbing up a particularly cheap item that you use regularly can be hugely frugal in the long-term.

Rebates are another way that we spend now to get savings in the future. It requires patience and careful monitoring (so that you know if you have failed to receive the check). But it can lead to significant savings in 1-3 months' time.

Or how about gift card deals? My mom took advantage of Albertson's tax special last year. If you bought $100 in gift cards you got an extra $20. Since that is my mom's main grocery store, she loaded up on them. She was going to spend the money eventually, anyway. But by chunking it all down at once, she got over $100 extra, if memory serves.

There are plenty more examples about taking advantage of sales. That's certainly the most common way to spend now and save later. But there are other routes, besides sales.

For example, many people pay for club memberships. It costs around $35-50 a year, but it can be well worth it. We only fill up at Sam's Club, which provides at least 20 cents/gallon savings. Since we use about 12 gallons every two weeks, that's $64 a year saved right there. We also save inside the warehouse, though we exercise caution: not all bulk deals are good ones.

On a more extreme level, there are clubs like Direct Buy. I don't know that we'll ever use this place -- the cost of joining is rather high. (Something along the lines of $3,000 for the first year and $2,000 for the next two? Then nothing again for 5 or 8 years. The details are hazy.) But, for that price, the company allows you to buy items at-cost. This includes everything from jewelry to appliances, furniture to home electronics and even renovation items like cabinets and tile. So there are a lot of chances to save, especially if you are refurnishing a house or doing renovations.

Finally, a concept we're all familiar with: extra payments. We make larger payments than are strictly necessary, so that we can pay less interest over time. That may mean anything from a few dollars extra on a mortgage to double or triple payments, from paying hundreds of dollars against current credit card debt to simply paying the balance in full each month. Whatever the case, we spend more now, so that we can save over time.

Are there other ways to spend now, save later? What's your favorite?

Friday, January 1

Freebie Friday

Apparently, I decided to sleep my way through the new year! So here is a (very) belated Freebie Friday, brought to you by The Freebie Blogger.

$15 Proctor & Gamble Coupon Booklet.

Snuggle Fabric Softener Sample.

Free Wings at Cheeseburger in Paradise

Home Made Simple Coupon Booklet

Pregnancy Journal

Barlean's Olive Leaf Complex Sample

“Artists To Watch 2010" Album Download

Lift Off Energy Drink Sample

Natural Nibbles Dog Treat Sample

Nature Made TripleFlexLiquid Softgel Samples