5 Tricky Spending Traps

This was actually a pretty good movie, in a "girl's night" kind of a way.

This was actually a pretty good movie, in a “girl’s night, drinking wine while gossiping over the dialogue” kind of a way.

I recently took an online quiz called, “Are You a Shopaholic?” Thankfully my results were negative, but it might only have been because it was fairly obvious which answers the compulsive shopper would choose and I consciously avoided them. If I was an honest quiz-taker, I might have had to change a few of my answers because I do go shopping “just for fun” or buy things sometimes “just because they were on sale.” Obviously there’s a big difference between me and a compulsive shopper; my bad retail habits are occasional and mostly harmless, whereas their’s are habitual and life-ruining. But I think we all fall into the “spend more than you need to” trap retailers set for us every now and then. So here’s a reminder of a few common retail gimmicks to look out for:

1. “CLEARANCE!” = “Buy it!” –  Just because something is on sale, doesn’t mean it magically becomes a necessity. How often do we grab stuff we don’t need off the sale rack just because we think we’re getting a deal? If you don’t need it at full price, you probably don’t need it at sale price either. Avoid the clearance rack unless you’re on a specific mission.

2. BOGO – A.k.a. “buy one get one free.” BOGO is awesome if you were already planning to buy an item because you’re getting more bang for your buck. But if you weren’t going to buy just one of the item, why on earth would you buy two? Retailers know the power of a “bargain,” and they’re using that psychology to tempt you into buying stuff you don’t need just because it’s a good deal.

3. Multiple Purchase Price – You see this trick a lot at grocery stores. “Get 10 yogurts for $10!” or “2 bags of chips for $3.00.” Sometimes there really is a discount to buying in bulk, but not always. Check the unit price (or the price of buying just one of the items) before you grab multiples. Maybe the yogurt retails for $1.50 each, in which case the 10 for $10 deal will save you $5. But maybe each yogurt retails for $1.00, so you don’t need to buy all 10 to get the best price.

4. Point of Sale Add-Ons – Gum. Candy. A magazine. We’ve all made that impulse buy while standing in line at a register. That’s why stores strategically place those small, luxury items at the check-out. I don’t really need that issue of Comso magazine. If I did I would get a subscription. But when I’m stuck in a long grocery line and I spot it, I always end up buying it anyways. And doing that each month adds up to a lot of extra money spent. Think twice before grabbing that check-out line treat!

5. “FREE Shipping” – Free shipping is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but there’s usually a catch. “Free shipping when you spend $75 or more” encourages you to spend more than you planned just to save $4.99 on shipping. Similar to a lot of the “deals” listed in this post, free shipping is a great bonus if you were already planning to meet the spending requirements, but you should never buy extra stuff just to get the deal.

Advertisements

Mi Sweater Es Su Sweater

Sweater Swap! Just like April and Andy on Parks and Rec.

Sweater Swap! Just like April and Andy on Parks and Rec.

You know what I don’t do enough in my adult life? Borrow other people’s clothes.

My closet in college was 20 times the size of my closet now. Not because I had more money to spend on clothes or anything, but because I had a swim team full of girls roughly the same size as me whose clothes I could borrow (or let’s be honest, sometimes steal). If I was having one of those days where I hate all of my clothes and can’t find anything to wear, I would just raid someone else’s wardrobe. New clothes always look and feel better than old ones you’ve worn a hundred times which is why having a big group of friends with an open-closet policy is great – you have endless variety AND you don’t have to spend a fortune.

This week, a girl I work with asked me if I had a black cocktail dress she could borrow for an event she has this Saturday and I had a total flashback to my college days. She and I are roughly the same size, about the same age, and both have similar taste in clothing (although I admittedly wear much more animal print than she does). WHY have I never thought to swap clothes with her before? Why I haven’t I been raiding the wardrobes of every roommate, friend, or coworker my size for my whole post-grad life?

As you may have gathered from this post, I LOVE new clothes. I will use any minor event as an excuse to buy a new outfit. A date, a work event, a birthday party, a baby shower . . . nothing I already own is right for any of those occasions. If I don’t go to Forever 21 and buy something new, I will have to go naked. Nobody wants that. Although my budget is bigger than it was in college, I really don’t have enough extra spending money to drop $20,$50 or even $100 on new clothes every month “just because.” So if you’re like me and you frequently need new clothes in your life, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Sweater Swap! Trade clothes with friends who share your size and style. If you need a LBD for a cocktail party or are looking for a fun top for a night out with friends, ask around. It doesn’t hurt to see if any of your girlfriends have something they’re willing to loan you for the day. Worst case scenario, you don’t like or don’t fit into anything they have. Best case scenario, you get a new outfit without spending any money!

2. Consign It! If you’re a fashionista and you haven’t been doing regular business with your local consignment store, you’re missing out. Consignment stores will pay you money for your gently used clothes. If you have items in your closet that you’re tired of but that someone else might enjoy, bring them in to a consignment store and get cash or store credit in return. Each store will have its own policies on which items they accept, how much they pay per item, etc. so you might want to visit their website or call for details before you go. While you’re dropping off your old clothes, you can shop around for yourself; consignment stores usually have great, good-as-new items for much less than a regular retail store.

3. Accessorize! More often than I care to admit, I buy a new shirt or dress that looks exactly like something I already own. I see a shirt in the store, I love it and buy it, then I get home and realize it’s identical to a shirt in my closet. The new shirt just “feels better” because it’s newer and I haven’t seen myself in it yet. So before you go out and buy new, ask yourself if you have something already in your wardrobe that you could makeover. A dress can look totally different if you pair it with a chunky necklace or big belt. Or a blouse can look new paired with a different jacket and pants. Play around with jewelry, headbands, shoes, hair, makeup and see if you can make an old outfit look new enough to be fun again.

Happy new-to-you clothes shopping!

Seeing Santa in September: the Money-Saving Logic of Christmas Creep

If you’re a Christmas-enthusiast like myself, you are undoubtly familiar with the ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas.”  It’s an annual special the channel does where they play holiday movies 24/7 from December 1st all the way until Christmas Day.  Needless to say, ABC Family is the only channel I watch for that entire month; I love any Christmas movie, the hokier the better, and I am obsessed with the old Rankin/Bass films like Jack Frost and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I look forward to those movies marathons every year.  

Santa

But a week ago I saw a commercial for something called “the Countdown to Christmas” that starts on November 20th and I was a little confused.  Like me you’re probably thinking, isn’t the “25 Days of Christmas” already a countdown? Yes, yes it is.  And doesn’t starting it early and playing Christmas movies willy-nilly sort of make the real holiday season less magical?  It sure does.  To me, adding extra days to the “25 Days of Christmas” is like adding days to your Advent Calendar – it ruins the whole thing, it makes no sense, and you just don’t do itBut apparently ABC Family has decided that 25 days is not enough.  They will start the Christmas season before the rest of us sit down for Thanksgiving Dinner.

In recent years the Christmas-Come-Early schtick has become all too familiar to the American consumer.  We roll our eyes and change the channel when we see holiday commercials on TV during Halloween, but so many major retailers are advertising holidays deals in October now-a-days that none of these ads really take us by surprise.  In fact, the marketing phenomenon is so common that it has a name, Christmas Creep, which urbandictionary.com defines as a:

“Universally hated, market driven phenomenon that if left unchecked will eventually culminate in an uninterrupted decade of concatenated carol medleys, closely followed by a glorious moment of frantic arson destroying every Christmatastasized mall in America.”

This year, Kmart wins the award for earliest Christmas ad of the season; their commercial started running on September 9th, when most kids were still getting on the bus for their first day of school. The company aired a television ad featuring a gingerbread man sneaking up on a women while a voiceover stated, “Don’t let the holidays sneak up on you. Shop early with Kmart free layaway.”  You can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNbHHwaXhYg

So why is Christmas coming earlier and earlier here in the U.S.?  Turns out ad execs don’t encourage Christmas Creep just because they’re little elves who like to spread holiday cheer; there less lofty reasons for adverstising early.  DailyFinance.com and financial columnist Jean Chatzky list a few:

1. No Presidential Election.  Last year, political attack ads and endless news cycles about the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ruled the airwaves until early November.  This year, ad space is free for more cheerful messages about layaway programs and good deals on toys.

2. Late Thanksgiving/ Black Friday.  Thanksgiving is always on the 4th Thursday of the month, with Black Friday, the “official” start of the shopping season, kicking off the next day.  The 1st of November is on a Friday this year, which means Thanksgiving is a week later than usual (November 28th) AND Black Friday isn’t until the 29th. Instead of the usual 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this year only has 4.

3. Super Early Chanukah.  This year the first night of the Jewish holiday falls on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (November 27th) so Jewish shoppers can’t wait for Black Friday to do their shopping. Though only 2% of Americans celebrate Chanukah, the early holiday is prompting some retailers to start advertising sooner, especially in areas like New York or Florida with a higher number of Jewish shoppers.

4. Low Spending Forecast. ShopperTrak predicts that holiday spending will rise this year, but only by about 2.4%.  In a still struggling economy, consumers are keeping a close eye on their holiday spending budgets.  Retailers are hoping to boost profits buy advertising early and promoting discounts.

Santa Carrying Shopping Bags

Knowing there’s reason behind the early season might not have you humming carols and smiling about seeing Santa in September, BUT you might be pleased to know that Christmas Creep is actually very good for your wallet.  Starting your holiday shopping early (maybe not in September but October or November) can help you stay within your budget and still get you everything on your Christmas list!  Here’s 5 reasons to shop early:

1.  Aggressive Ads = Great Deals. You might think that everything goes on sale December 26th, but there are actually a lot of great bargains to be found early in the shopping season.  Retailers want consumers to shop early and often, thus all the ads in September.  Early bird deals are often the most aggressive/ lowest prices of the year.

2. More Time. If you are my dad, you do all of you shopping Christmas Eve, and you are forced to buy whatever is in front of you.  If you need presents for the next morning, you’ll buy stuff no matter how high the price because it’s there.  Shopping early allows you to compare between other stores and online retailers for the best price on an item.  It also lets you be more picky; if you don’t see something you really like at one store you’ll have the time to browse elsewhere.  No time crunch means less impulse buying.

3. Layway & Holiday Loans. It turns out, Kmart was doing you a favor with that Christmas in September ad.  Using financially smart products like Kmart’s layaway program help you pay for the holiday without racking up the charges on high interest credit cards.  If the stores on your shopping route don’t offer layaway, consider applying for a holiday loan.  Many credit unions offer low rate loans specifically for holiday purchases.  Mine is offering a holiday loan right now at 7.99% (which is way better than my 19% credit card) for up to $2,500.  Making payments on a holiday loan will keep your monthly budget on track and help build your credit. If you haven’t been putting a little money away here and there throughout the year for holiday spending, a loan like this is a super smart way to finance your Christmas shopping.

4. Online Shopping. If you shop early online, a large number of retailers offer deals on shipping costs (some even ship for free!).  Even if there’s no shipping discount, you won’t have to worry about paying extra for next-day shipping or wonder if your items will get delivered before the 25th.  And finally, you’ll have time to return things that got ruined in the mail or that don’t look as nice in person as they did on your screen.

5. Spread It Out. I don’t know about you, but my budget doesn’t really accomodate dropping two grand in one day during a holiday shopping spree.  I have a little wiggle room, but most of my money goes towards rent, food, and those pesky student loans.  If I start shopping early, I don’t have to buy everything on my list all at once.  Spreading the cost out over 2 or 3 months worth of paychecks makes holiday shopping a lot more manageable because my budget can handle $50-75 every few weeks. While I could just put that money in a Christmas Savings account, I know I’m more likely to spend it on other things if I have access to it.  If I already bought the items, I can’t buy shoes or coffee with the funds instead.  Shopping a little at a time makes my wallet and everyone on my list have a merrier Christmas.

Here’s a few other good reads about holiday shopping:

http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/105-days-til-christmas-kmart-airs-holiday-ad/244064/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/kmart-christmas-ad_n_3916000.html

http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/why-christmas-is-coming-early-this-year/

http://www.littleones.com/family-life/7-smart-reasons-to-start-your-holiday-shopping-early/

Happy Shopping and Happy Holidays to You!

Grocery Shopping For Dummies

I learned something new about myself this weekend: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GROCERY SHOP.

After 2 years of living at home with my parents, I finally moved into my own apartment this weekend.  It was super exciting – like I’m finally starting my Carrie Bradshaw years (my lifestyle will probably be more “Girls” than “Sex and the City” but a girl can dream).  But my moment of weakness/homesickness/panic came around 6:30 pm Sunday night when I realized I would have to make my own dinner! **GASP**

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks don’t scare me; I know how to shop for all of those things.  It’s dinner, the biggest and most complicated meal of the day, that I have no idea how to plan for.  In college, I ALWAYS ate dinner at the dining hall. Even when I lived in an apartment, I still bought a meal plan because I knew that 1. I would be too lazy/starving to cook myself a meal every night after swim practice and 2. I wouldn’t know how to cook even if I wanted to try.  When I moved back home after graduation, my wonderful mother just started including me in the meals she made for herself and my dad. Dinner is the one meal each day that I have never really had to think about.

Things got even worse when I headed to the grocery store just down the street from my new place to buy a few groceries for the week.  Not only did I go in without a clue of what to buy, but there where about a billion people in that store; it was super overwhelming to try to walk around so I could figure out what I needed with all that cart traffic. Needless to say, I think I came away with simultaneously too many things because I got nervous and just grabbed stuff, but also not enough because I forgot to get items I should have.

Image

I’m starting to feel like Hannah from HBO’s “Girls”

So today, I have done a lot of research and talked to my less domestically-challenged co-workers to come up with a GROCERY SHOPPING PLAN OF ATTACK! My budget is not huge (I hope to spend under $80 a week) and my cooking skills are non-existent, but I am determined to make 6 dinners a week all by myself (on Sundays I will give in and let my mom cook for me 🙂 ).  Here are some tips that I scrounged up that you might find useful for your own grocery shopping:

1. Make a Menu – For me, planning for breakfast and lunch is easy because I eat literally the same thing every day for those two meals.  I know what to buy because I know what I’m going to eat.  Following that logic, my first step to grown-up grocery shopping is to make a meal plan for each week.  You don’t have to be super strict and follow it exactly, but having an idea in advance is the best way to effectively grocery shop.  If you know what you’ll make each night for dinner, you’ll know what to buy.  You can also be thrifty and plan meals that will use some of the same ingredients/ reuse leftovers.  In addition, you’re less likely to buy stuff you don’t need or won’t eat if you have a plan ahead of time.  If you are like me and you only know how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, try searching for recipes online or asking friends.  I also found this great app on my iPad called “Meal Guru Free.”  It allows you to enter your food preferences (what vegetables you like, what meats you won’t eat, what you want to eat each night, etc.) and then it creates a weekly meal plan for it.  It shows you the recipe for how to make each meal.

Image

You can click a button if you don’t like the meal the app suggested and it will give you another option.  When you have a meal for each day, you hit the “Shopping List” button and it will make a list of the ingredients you need to buy to make your meals.

Image

It’s super easy and a great place to start if you’re a cooking newbie like me! What did we ever do without smart phones and iPads?

2. Make a List – It seems obvious, but making a shopping list is an easy way to make sure you get what you need and stay on budget at the grocery store.  Before you head to the store, review your meal plan and write down what you will need for each meal.  Remember – check what you have leftover in your fridge from the week before you go.  Maybe you still have enough rice for one meal or carrots left in the vegetable drawer; don’t buy more of something until you’ve already used up what you have.  If you go into the store aimlessly, you’re more likely to impulse buy and get things just because they look yummy.  It’s okay to get one or two treats, but otherwise stick to the list. It will help you stay on budget and you won’t end up throwing out stuff because it goes by before you can eat it.

3. Don’t Go on an Empty Stomach – The old adage is true.  If you walk into the grocery store hungry, you’re eyes are might end up being bigger than your stomach.  You’ll grab extra items here and there because they’ll look more appealing when you’re hungry.  Eat a small snack before you hit the store and you’ll do a better job sticking to your budget.

nut system

4. The Less Processing, The Better – When you can, try to opt for foods that have been processed as little as possible.  This is good for two reasons: those foods are normally healthier AND CHEAPER.  Soda in small bottles, chips in snack-size bags, individually wrapped cheese slices – all of these things cost more than their unprocessed equivalents because you are paying extra for the packaging.  Unless the convenience of these items is super important to you, doing a little extra cutting and prepping of your food can mean big savings for your wallet. For example, I love walnuts and almonds; they’re a great on-the-go snack, they’re easy to carry, and they’re good for you! You can buy prepackaged 100-calorie bags of mixed walnuts and almonds at my local grocery store.  Each box has 5 bags in it and costs about $4.59, which is around $0.98 a serving. A few months ago, my mom found these great small plastic containers that were meant to carry salad dressing or other condiments (as seen above).  She started buying bulk bags of almonds and walnuts for about $2.29 each, mixing them together in a big container, and then putting scoops of the nuts into the little condiment containers for me.  By doing a little of the packaging work ourselves, we get 15 servings of nuts instead of 5 AND each one only costs about $0.30.  It might only save me $0.68 a week, but over a year that’s $35.36. If you have 4 or 5 items on your shopping list that you could buy with less processing, you can see how the savings would really add up!

5. You Don’t Need to Be Extreme, but DO Try Use Coupons – I’ve always wanted to be one of those people on the TLC show “Extreme Couponers” who go to the store and get $650 of stuff for $6.50.  Realistically though, I don’t have 40 hours a week to clip coupons or the storage space to stockpile my non-perishables.  Though my dreams of extreme-couponing are on hold for the moment, using coupons in a more traditional fashion is still a must for smart grocery shopping.  Browse the fliers for your favorite store when they come in the mail or in the newspaper so you know what’s on sale this week.  Clip out coupons for items you typically buy.  For additional coupons, you can visit websites like http://www.coolsavings.com or http://www.smartsource.com; they allow you to select the coupons you want and then print them out from your computer.  Also, check out your store’s website.  Grocery retailers often post coupons or deals online that they don’t in store.  The key here is, only clip coupons for things you will use.  If you won’t eat it or don’t need it, there’s no sense in buying it just because you got it for a good price.  Use coupons as a tool to help you shop, not as the determining factor of what’s on your grocery list.

6. Buy Generic – Your mom was right when she wouldn’t let you buy the expensive cereal as a kid.  Generic brands of food items are often made with the same ingredients and taste just as good as the brand names, but cost way less.  At my local store this week, a package of Perdue Brand Grade A Chicken Breast is $4.69; a package of Grade A Store Brand Chicken Breast is $3.49.  When I compared labels, these two chickens were identical – same serving size, same ingredients, same everything. So where does the extra $1.20 come from? My only guess is that you’re paying for the name, which doesn’t seem worth it if you ask me.  So the next time you go shopping, buy generic!

7. Use Cash – Another simple way to stay on budget while grocery shopping is to pay with cash.  Before you leave, determine how much you can spend and only bring that amount of cash with you. A cash-only approach will force you to stick to your spending limit. When you have debit, credit, or even checks, you have the wiggle-room to pay a little extra.  If you go over budget, no big deal – you won’t be embarrassed at the register when you don’t have enough money to pay for everything.  But if you bring cash, you’ll be more conscious of those impulse purchases that tip your budget over the line and therefore more likely to stick to only the necessities.

8. One and Done! – Go grocery shopping once a week and then you’re done! No more stops for the rest of the week.  Maybe you’re someone who stops buy the store on your way home from work to pick up dinner for the night.  Maybe you stop at the gas station once a day to get soda or chips.  Every time you make extra stops at the store, you’re spending extra money!  Multiple trips to the store generally means that you buy bigger portions of food items, add extras like gum or magazines to your cart, and that you’re spending more in gas for the extra trips.  Plan ahead and bring extra snack or drinks from home with you for your day; it will make you less tempted to stop at 7-11 for that 2 o’clock power snack.

9. Buy Bulk – This is a tip you’ve probably heard before, but that’s probably because it’s a super important one!  When it comes to buying stuff like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning stuff, and toiletries it just doesn’t make sense to buy small quantities.  Bulk packages tend to cost less per unit than small packages, so overtime you are saving money.  Example: my store has a 24 pack of toilet paper on sale this week for $6.49, or $0.27 a roll.  A 4 pack of the same generic brand is $2.49, or $0.62 a roll.  Toilet paper doesn’t go bad and you know you’re going to use it – DON’T pay extra just because you don’t want to carry the big package around.  Buying in bulk it totally worth it.  Same goes for non-perishable food items.  If you need a staple like rice or pasta, buy it in bigger quantities.  Not only will it cost you less over time, but you’re less likely to run out and have to make an emergency trip to the store.

10. Take Your Time – One big thing I learned in all of my grocery research is that shopping frugally takes time! Don’t rush yourself.  Give yourself plenty of time to browse for items and compare prices if needed.  If you’re like me and big crowds make you nervous (I think it’s because I’m worried everyone can tell that I don’t know what I’m doing), plan to visit the store when you know it’s not busy.  Remember, you’re only going to go grocery shopping once a week, so you want to make sure you do it right.

I’m hoping that all this grocery knowledge I have acquired will make my next shopping adventure a little less hectic and A LOT less stressful.  Do you have any tips for smart grocery shopping that I missed? Let me know! I need all the help I can get 🙂

Bad Money Habits

Image

Today, I got totally called out on bad spending habits by a kid’s picture book.  Here’s how it happened:

We are working on creating a parent-child money program for the local Rec Department, so I was skimming through a book I ordered called “The Kids’ Money Book” by Jamie Kyle McGillian. Chapter 4 is all about “using your money smarts” and it includes a list of excuses kids give for their bad spending habits.  I realized as I read it that more than a few of them were things I’ve heard myself say.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • I bought it because I just felt like buying something.
  • I bought it to be cool.
  • I bought it because I’ve always wanted something like it for as long as I can remember.
  • I bought it because I saw a commercial for it on TV and I had to have it.
  • I bought it because everybody I know has one.
  • I bought it to make me better looking.
  • I bought it because I thought it would make me look smarter.
  • I bought it because it was on sale.
  • I bought it so people would like me better.
  • I bought it because I thought it would make my life easier.

Even though this list was made for kids, I’m willing to bet that shoppers of all ages have said one or two of these sentences recently. I know I’m guilty! I think on 99.9% of the shopping trips I have ever been on, I came back with at least one item I didn’t plan on buying and my explanation is always, “It was on SALE.”

We all make mistakes and there’s nothing wrong with occasionally treating yourself to something new; spending only becomes OVER-spending when you have to continually rationalize your money habits with excuses like these ones.  Buying one new shirt because your wardrobe needing pepping up or a new DVD once a month for movie night is okay, but constantly spending money on these sorts of trinkets can really eat into your budget and make it harder to pay for necessities.

The next time your out shopping and you pick up an item, ask yourself why you’re buying it.  If the answer can be found in the list above, it might be wise to reconsider the purchase.

The Thrifty Bridesmaid: Saving for a Special Event

Next June, my older sister will be getting married. I was super excited and flattered when she asked me to be her maid of honor; I think I said yes almost as quickly as she said yes to her boyfriend. But after my initial fantasies of having an elaborate Downtown Abbey themed bridal shower where everyone drinks from porcelain teacups and wears a fancy hat started to wear off, I realized that such an elegant affair might be out of my price range.  As anyone who has ever been in one knows – WEDDINGS ARE CRAZY EXPENSIVE! Here is a list of the things that I will have to pay (or at least chip in) for as the maid of honor:

– Dress & shoes for the wedding

– Hair & make-up on wedding day

– Dress for the rehearsal dinner

– Hotel room for the weekend of the wedding

– Gift for the bride & groom

– Bachelorette party

– Travel to bachelorette (since she lives in California)

– Bridal Shower

Although I would never want to miss out on my sister’s wedding just because it was going to cost me a few bucks, I definitely don’t have enough cash to pay for all of those wedding expenses without a little planning.  Luckily for me, my sister wanted to give herself plenty of time to plan her wedding so she wouldn’t be stressed out – which means plenty of time for me to SAVE-UP for the big day!

Back in January, I opened up at club account at my credit union to start saving.  For those of you who don’t know, a club account is a special type of secondary savings offered by most credit unions; it is typically related to your primary savings account and the money is designated for a specific expense.  For example, you may have heard the term “Christmas Clubs”, which is an account created to save up for holiday shopping.  Usually, your credit union will let you have as many club accounts as you want and you can label them for all sorts of different things; I have seen members with club accounts to save up to buy shoes, for traveling, to save money for college . . . the list goes on and on. These accounts are a great way to budget out your savings and they help you keep track of how much you spend on certain items.

My club account is called “Darcie’s Wedding.” Once a month I automatically transfer $25 from my primary savings into this club account.  I also add in change every time someone pays me back for a coffee and every time I have less than $5 in bills in my wallet.  It might not seem like a lot, but after following that saving plan for just a few months, I already have well over $400.

Image

This weekend I went shopping for bridesmaid dress in Boston.  We were lucky to find just the right dress (they only had one left in my size and it was on sale!).  Even better, I didn’t have to stress about how I was going to pay for it because I knew I had the money saved up.  Since I had been keeping my wedding funds separate from my regular savings and checking, I didn’t feel like my daily budget was taking a big hit when I splurged on the dress – I knew I had already been paying for it piece by piece for the last few months.

If this wedding had happened a year or two ago, before I became a budgeting wizard who works at a credit union, I probably would have paid for this dress a lot differently.  My first option would have been to try to convince my mom to pay for it (“Help me, I’m poor!”).  If she resisted my efforts, I might have had to resort to putting it on my credit card, which has an interest rate of approximately 1,875% and would have taken me a decade to pay-off (those numbers are not exactly accurate but you get the idea 🙂 ).

The lesson I learned is this: a little bit of planning goes a long way. If you have a big event to save up for, whether it’s a wedding, a vacation, or something else you’re looking forward to, create a club account a start saving money specifically for that purpose.  Labeling the account will motivate you to add to it – “General Savings” sounds boring but “Spring Break Cancun!” is something I would want to out money towards every day.  If your club account has a name and a special purpose, you will be less likely to take money out of it for things you don’t need.

Are you saving for a special event?  Tell me your tips for stashing up cash.

– Kelsey at Casco FCU

Back-to-School $marts

Hi Everyone! Happy Frugal Friday 🙂

Ready or not . . . fall is almost here! Back-to-school season is upon us once again. Although I am not heading back to school myself this September, I do miss the days when the end of August meant shopping for new school supplies, outfits, and stuff for my dorm room (not that I like to shop or anything . . . ).

Image

My bank account, on the other hand, doesn’t miss these shopping sprees – getting ready to hit the books is expensive! A study done by the National Retail Federation predicts that this year alone Americans will spend over $72 billion on back-to-school/ back-to-college shopping; that’s $634.78 per student. Here are a few tips on how to get what you need for school without breaking your budget.

1. Ask – “Do I really need this?”: Stores are packed at this time of year with all sorts of new, flashy back-to-school merchandise and everything thing has a “special price” to “save you money.”  It can be way too easy to walk out of a store with more than you bargained for in your cart. One easy way to keep your spending in line is to take a minute before you make a purchase to ask yourself if the item in your hand is something you absolutely, 100% need.  Is it something you will use everyday? Do you have to have in order to get your school-work done? If you didn’t answer yes to any of those questions, PUT IT BACK! You don’t need it! Spend your money on things you need, like textbooks, paper, and pens. Fun stuff like new shoes, gadgets, and other non-essentials can wait.  Before you even hit the store, sit down and make a list of the items you need to buy and stick to it once you get there. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it!

2. Be Social:  If you’ll be living in a dorm or off-campus apartment this fall, chances are you need furniture or appliances to outfit your new home. Chances are even better, a friend or family member might already have some of those things hiding unused in their basement.  If you are looking to buy a specific item, like a mini-fridge or microwave, try e-mailing friends or posting a note on Facebook.  Something as simple as changing your status to “Looking to buy a working, used mini-fridge for my dorm room. Inbox me if you have one you’d like to sell,” could mean the difference between finding a fridge for $10-20 or paying $100 for a brand new one.

3. Get Thrifty: Make Macklemore proud – go thrift-shopping! (I wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible . . .) Places like Good Will or the Salvation Army have all kinds of different great finds, from clothes, to furniture to home knick-knacks. Yard sales can also be a great source for cheap back-to-school finds.  Instead of buying new, save a few bucks and buy second-hand.

Image

4. Buy in Bulk: If you’re going to need a lot of it, you might as well buy it all at once.  Campus living means buying necessities like paper towels, shampoo, and ramen noodles (brain food!).  Often times items like these can be bought in cheaper in bulk; a campus convenience store may charge you $3 for 2 rolls of toilet paper, when you could get 12 rolls for that same price at a bargain store like BJs or Sams Club. Don’t get caught in a sticky situation where you have to pay too much for an item just because you ran out.  Stock up on the things you use the most at the beginning of the year and you will save money in the long run.

I hope these tips help back-to-school shopper keep a few extra bucks in their pockets.  Best of luck to all the student’s out there!

-Kelsey at Casco FCU