Tag Archives: saving money

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.


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.


Filed under cheap fun, frugal, money management, saving, shopping

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!


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

Saving money through mindful shopping

How many times have you gotten to the grocery check-out and been completely blind-sided by the grand total?

“How on earth did I spend that much money?!”

Actually, it’s pretty easy to do, if you’re not shopping mindfully.

What does that mean?

Students of Eastern philosophy, such as Buddhism, will recognize the idea of mindfulness. To practice mindfulness– to be mindful– is variously defined as being present in the moment… as being aware of the present… as being attentive to the present moment. You are fully paying mind to the task at hand. Your mind is fully grounded, present in the moment.

All too often, we’re zipping through the grocery store, rushing on our way to or from somewhere else. We’re mindlessly tossing items into the shopping cart. Our minds are focused on everything but the task of purchasing food to nourish ourselves and our loved ones. We just want to get out of that store as fast as possible. Even worse, we skipped lunch today and hit the grocery store with an empty, growling tummy.

So much for our carefully-crafted grocery budget.

No wonder the grand total at the check-out is a big surprise! I only came in for three items, and now I have half a shopping cart-full! How did I do that?

I can write about that sort of crazed grocery run from experience. These days, though, my check-out experience has zero sticker-shock. When I get to the check-out, I always know– within a dollar or two– how much I will be spending.


Simple. With each item that goes into my cart, I make a point of noticing the price on the shelf. I keep a running total in my head, rounding up or down to the nearest full dollar. That just makes it easy to keep track. In the future, I may start bringing a little pocket calculator with me.

It’s also good to have your budgeted amount in mind while doing this, so you know when you’re getting close to the edge. It’s not an exact science, but it works. When the cashier wants my money, I already know approximately how much it will be.

This technique may slow you down, but that’s just the idea. Come back down to earth and shop mindfully. The Retail Powers-that-Be are counting on you to move through their stores like mindless little consumer-zombies. Beat them at their game. Reap the reward of no check-out surprises… and your budget shall prevail!


Filed under budget, frugal, groceries, money management, saving, shopping, Uncategorized

Buy for longevity and make it last longer

I have a great pair of LL Bean hiking boots that I’ve had for eight or nine years now. They get more comfortable with each passing year, and still look almost good as new. Maybe the latter means I should get off my butt and go hiking more, but that’s another blog for another day.

Considering our modern world of planned obsolescence and disposable goods, eight or nine months is a good run for a pair of shoes. I should be thrilled that those sixty-ish 1999-2000 dollars have been so well-spent (cost of ownership: $60/8.5 years = $7 per year). LL Bean merchandise is generally made to last, which justifies the higher initial cost.

Imagine my disappointment when the rubber sole detached itself from the upper a few months ago! Not to mention I nearly fell on my face when the sole peeled back from the toe as I took a step.  Knowing Bean’s liberal return policy (I worked in their customer service department for a time), I knew they would cheerfully replace my boots with no (or very few) questions asked. I would of course feel very silly about demanding a replacement for eight-year-old boots, but bless old Leon Leonwood’s heart.

Since it’s taken this long to break in the boots to foot-heaven perfection, and they still look great, I didn’t want to give them up quite yet. Besides, a quick product search told me that my particular style was no longer available. I was fairly sure there must be a Bean-approved way of repairing the boot myself, and set this problem on the back burner for a while.

While wandering through their flagship store in Freeport one night, I did in fact find a product in their shoe department that solved my problem: Freesole, “a patented urethane rubber repair system”. Cost: about eight dollars.

A few days later, I had time for the boot repair project. I stuffed the toe of my boot with wadded-up newspaper (to retain the boot’s shape), and prepped the boot with a rubbing alcohol scrub. I applied the Freesole rubber cement to the area, and tightly wrapped the boot with duct tape. That would keep the sole and upper in contact while the cement dried. (Total prep/application time: 10-15 minutes. Drying time: 24 hours)

Now I have a perfectly good pair of hiking boots again! Let’s see if I can get another eight years out them.


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Filed under money management, saving, shopping, Uncategorized

College town bargains

Many personal finance and college blogs lament the marketing of credit cards to jobless college students. Young people often make foolish impulse purchases to support the lifestyle they feel entitled to. True, young adults tend to be big shoppers, and often fail to see the big picture of rampant spending and credit card use.

We can spend all day clucking “tsk-tsk” over their extravagance and wastefulness. Not to mention the reality of many students continuing to pay interest on discarded items for years to come. However, their consumerism can be to your advantage if you live in a college town.

Students tend to leave vast piles of stuff behind when they leave campus for the summer. Many colleges have big year-end sales to liquidate all that stuff.

In fact, I went to the annual Clean Sweep Sale at Bates College (Lewiston, Maine) this morning. Each year, Bates manages to fill an entire hockey rink with students’ abandoned belongings (and some donations from the community). The sale is completely volunteer-run, and all proceeds go to various local charities. Bates, by the way, is an elite college located in the middle of a very poor city. I think it’s a great support service for the community– great bargains for shoppers and needed assistance for charities. Not to mention all that perfectly good stuff being re-used instead of going into landfills.

At the Bates sale, you’ll find piles and piles of clothing, electronics, appliances, dorm/household items, sporting goods, furniture, books, and more. Sure, some of it is pure crap, and the early birds get all the good stuff. Still, there are always treasures to be found. I picked up a few paperbacks and a nice (practically new) purple v-neck top. Total purchase: three dollars. (I hemmed and hawed over one particular solid oak desk with a hutch selling for $25. It wouldn’t fit in my car.)

Anyway, if you live in a college town, it’s worth your while to find out if similar sales are going on. Also, check your local craigslist site for free and inexpensive student discards. It’s daunting to think about the waste involved, but you can help re-use and recycle these discarded items. Always try to take advantage of these opportunities in your area!

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Filed under cheap fun, frugal, shopping

Flip-flops: a guilty pleasure

The calendar still says “Spring”, but the thermometer ‘s telling me, “Mop your sweaty self up off the floor, ‘cuz it’s 90 degrees!”

For me, summer means living in flip-flops.

I happen to like Old Navy’s colorful flip-flops. They’re only $3.50 a pair ($2.50 per, if you buy more than two pairs). Sure, flip-flops are pretty standard in style and construction. Well, except for maybe those toxic Wal-Mart flip-flops. I trust that Old Navy will never disfigure me with chemical burns.

The Old Navy stores “nearest” to me are Augusta and South Portland– 36.5 and 36.7 miles away, respectively. (That’s what I get for living out in the middle of almost-nowhere.) Shipping from oldnavy.com is a flat rate of $7. I figured a 72+ mile round trip (in either direction) will cost me at least that much in gas, so I just ordered from the website. All things being equal, I score in terms of saving time and avoiding wear and tear on my car.

I bought four pairs, by the way– black, brown, “cerulean blue’ and “roasted eggplant”. I will be inexpensively color-coordinated with just about everything I wear.

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Filed under cheap fun, frugal, shopping