Category Archives: saving

Amazon Student: great benefits for students!

When you write a few different blogs, it’s inevitable that topics will overlap occasionally. This is one of those times.

Frugal college students know how to save money on the things they need for school. Buying textbooks online, for example, is a great way to save a bundle. Learn how to save even MORE on your college textbooks at my other blog, here!

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I demand my dollar-fifty-two!

Back-to-school shopping time for Christine!

This week, OfficeMax has their 15%-off-everything-you-can-stuff-in-a-paper-bag promotion going on.

It’s a standard sized brown paper grocery bag, and on my shopping safari yesterday I came nowhere near filling it. It can hold a deceivingly large volume of small pricey impulsive things, which is the nefarious plot that lies below the surface of the promotion.

In fact, I only bought about $10.15 worth of various things– a package of highlighters, some index cards, two three-ring binders (good price on the Avery “Durable” ones), a pencil pouch (so I can easily find my stuff, instead of digging around in my backpack for my eraser or pencil leads), and who knows what else. Restraint was used, anyway.

I pay for my loot, and check the receipt before I leave.

And do the math in my head, just to be sure.

There’s no sign of my 15% discount!

The whole ritual of putting-things-in-a-paper-bag-and-get-a-discount was the point of my visit!

Still overpriced, even at 15% off… but oh well.

I went back to the cashier and (sweetly as can be) pointed out the error.

She apologized and gave me my one dollar and fifty-two cents.

I felt a little silly, but I lived up to my end of the contract– I put things into a bag as they required!

Besides, that $1.52 could buy me several ounces of gasoline.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

Always, always, always check to make sure you get any discount you’ve been promised!

Think about the big picture: If 100 people per store, times 1000 stores in the country, don’t get their  $1.52 discount, that’s $152,000 that Office Max has stolen from the people of America.

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Budget vs. Lifestyle

Let’s talk a little about budgets and income.

Your budget (and you do have one, right?) consists of:

  • Income
  • Expenses
  • Savings

In a zero-based budget, no income goes unaccounted for.

[ Income – (Expenses + Savings) = 0 ]

Let’s say you’re cruising along with your nice zero-based budget, and suddenly your income goes up? Let’s say you get a raise or promotion at work, or maybe you take a part-time job to make a few extra bucks. Could this actually be a potential problem?

But that’s a good thing! Well, sure it is, and congratulations! For smart people, things won’t change too much. The extra money will mean extra savings, a bigger emergency fund, a thicker cushion against the slings and arrows of life.

For others, however, that extra cash will represent a potential lifestyle upgrade. It’ll go directly into the expenses (new car, nicer home, more stuff, etc) portion of the budget, and the savings will stagnate. The frugal instincts may weaken, and soon it will feel as if the raise never even happened.

We see this a lot with recent college graduates in their first real jobs. They’ve been living like poor students for the past four years, and become intoxicated by their first decent paychecks. And so they jump right into a spendy lifestyle they really have no business having…. at least not until the student loans are paid.

Now, what about the folks lurching through life without a budget or any sort of spending controls? That extra money will fix everything, right? Not necessarily. Habits don’t change that easily. If your spending is out of control at $20,000 a year, it will probably be that much more out of control at $30,000.

The smart person will maintain the budget, increase the savings, and keep moving along according to their goals… you do have specific goals, right?

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Is your sense of entitlement making you poor?

I remember my dad often saying of my sister, “She’s got a big a$$.”

He didn’t mean that she literally had a large rear end, because she most assuredly didn’t. No, this was his vulgar way of saying she saw herself as a princess. You see, a lowly chair wasn’t enough for her; only a throne would do. Her delicate, royal tushie needed plenty of room, plenty of luxury.

A lot of people have a similar sense of entitlement. But where does it come from?

Sure, a person brought up in a wealthy home may be accustomed to the finer things, and then go through life trying to continue that lifestyle. On the other hand, a person who grew up in a poorer home may make a subconscious decision to have all the nice things he or she was denied as a child.

While these two people’s motives come from completely different backgrounds, they’re really two sides of the same coin: both have a sense of entitlement, a sense that the world owes them something.

Now, I’m all for self-esteem. There’s not much real self-esteem these days, but a whole lot of false self-esteem. That’s another rant for another day. Entitlement, really, has nothing to do with genuine self-esteem.

I recently read an interesting op-ed piece called The Unfortunate Age of Entitlement in America. The author, Anthony B. Robinson, views the entitlement problem as both psychological and spiritual.

Entitlement is the handmaiden of the ego, the sign of a neglected, malnourished soul.

The dangers here are real, if not immediate. Let’s say a person decides she wants a 2008 Lexus. Why? I don’t know. Because she wants people to view her as sexy and stylish and successful… you know, better… or dare I say it, of a higher social class. She works so hard, and she’s been through so much, and everybody at work has a nicer car than she does, and… and… and… well, she deserves it, by golly!

Now let’s say her financial situation is better suited to a 1999 Toyota. There’s nothing wrong with an older Toyota, of course, as long as it gets her to and from where ever she needs to go. If it’s paid for, even better!

Whoops! Too late! She’s just signed away her life to finance that new Lexus. Now she’s saddled to that huge monthly payment, higher insurance premiums, and other assorted costs. Her sense of entitlement has just put her deeply into debt.

How much status do we place on things? I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years now, and I often come across people who can’t believe I would intentionally eat a meal of rice and beans. To them, prime rib or steak is the ultimate meal, and anything less is for peasants.

Adopting a frugal lifestyle can be an incredibly difficult thing for some people. To a person who feels entitled to having everything he wants, when he wants it, the thought of scaling back must be terrifying. The way our economy is going, though, it’s becoming more and more necessary… and not always voluntary.

Think about your own lifestyle. Are there things you absolutely wouldn’t cut back on or give up… not because you couldn’t live without them, but because you’d be too embarrassed for others to see you “coming down” or “lowering” yourself? Are there things you spend too much money on (gifts, meals, entertainment), because others expect it of you?

A lot to think about, I know.

RECOMMENDED READ:

The truly wealthy don’t always live the wild, gaudy lifestyles that we’ve been led to believe. Check out The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley & William D. Danko.

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When worlds collide

My friend Troy snapped this gem recently.  It speaks volumes.

How the mighty have fallen.

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Rough times: just what we needed?

In one of my past careers years ago, I worked for a small company which also employed a delightful retired gentleman. He worked as a courier, making deliveries and pick-ups between our two stores and various local vendors and customers. In his working life, he had been a barber, and even well into his eighties his hands were rock-steady; out of love and friendship, he treated my bosses to free haircuts.

John had been around for most of the 20th century–  born during World War I, came of age during the Great Depression, and served in World War II. I always respected his wisdom, as crude as it might sometimes be.

Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, John had a very conservative attitude towards finances. He always deplored wastefulness, valued self-reliance, and saved every penny he could. John saw his beloved nation slipping out of control with greed and consumerism. He often told me that America badly needed a serious wake-up call:

“Sweetheart, what this country needs is another Great Depression. It’ll teach people how to live right.”

While I certainly hope things don’t ever get that bad again, I have to acknowledge the truth in his commentary. Many people do change their habits when times get tough. In the past few months, as our economy has gone into a recession, the lifestyle climate has definitely changed. Frugality, thrift, and self-sufficiency are definitely becoming hot topics these days.

I have to wonder, though: will a shift towards frugality last, or will it just be a temporary response to the economy? Will the scars need to cut as deeply into our consciousness as a full-blown Depression in order to create lasting change? Do we even want that?

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Coupons: Just cut it out

This will probably ruffle a few frugal feathers out there, but I have to say it.

For the most part, I don’t find manufacturer’s coupons very useful at all.

Success with coupon-clipping really depends on the mix of products you buy regularly.

With the exception of health and beauty products, I rarely find coupons for things I buy.  For things like shampoo, hair color (ahem… oh yes, I’m a natural blonde), and toothpaste though, I score big. Coupons + Wal*Mart = huge savings.

But as for food? Not so much.

I buy a lot of store brands, which (with a few exceptions) are just as good as the name-brands.

Most store brands are actually manufactured by the name brand company! Same stuff, less packaging fanfare. Not only that, though. Even when you have a coupon for the name brand, the store brand at regular price will almost always be a better deal. Always check the store brand.

Most of the coupons I come across are for things I don’t want or need.

They usually promote some brand-new product that is 3OP– Overly-Packaged, Overly-Processed and Overly-Priced.  Food manufacturers are in a frenzy these days to maximize profits by creating as many different new package configurations as possible. Keep in mind that 100-calorie packs, individual servings in itty-bitty plastic containers, microwave-in-the-bag veggies, anything labeled “To-Go” or “Ready” will jack the price upwards of 279%!

I stock my pantry with a lot of bulk dry goods, like beans, rice, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). While prices are going up, these basic commodities will almost always be less expensive than their prepared, processed, packaged counterparts. If you buy prepared rice, for example, you’re paying extra for the water they used to dehydrate the rice. I’ve never seen coupons for any of these things, but they’re priced reasonably enough every day.

Farmer’s markets are great for saving big money on fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables. As with bulk goods, you probably won’t find coupons for these things, but they are usually priced very reasonably. And even if they’re a little more expensive than your grocery store, you may decide it’s worth it to pay a little more for super-freshness.

You have to do the math if you really want to figure out what’s a good deal and what isn’t.

For example, the big 18-ounce box of Goldfish crackers at regular price is a vastly better deal than a box of the 100-calorie packs at virtually any coupon discount. Figure out the per-serving cost, and you’ll always score. (Yes, we will use this math stuff later in life.)

Coupons are best used on products you need, want, and/or regularly use.

Saving fifty cents on something you didn’t need in the first place is just silly. Don’t get caught up in the “I saved fifty cents by spending four dollars on this thing I don’t need!” If you don’t buy it at all, you’ll save four dollars and fifty cents! Wow, you’re a great shopper!

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Filed under food, frugal, groceries, saving, shopping, Uncategorized