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How to Stop a Spending Snowball

I have a not-so-frugal confession to make… I LOVE Black Friday. I shop ’til I’m ready to drop every year with my aunt and we get ALL our family’s Christmas shopping done in that one weekend.

It’s a long-time tradition in my family for adults to distribute envelopes to each other filled with our Christmas budgets for them on Thanksgiving. As a family, we grab the newspaper and comb through the Black Friday ads, decide what we want for Christmas and use the money in our envelopes to shop for for each other and ourselves in a fun, exhausting two-day experience.

This sounds crazy, I know. But after we’re done shopping, we give the things we’ve bought for ourselves to the people who gave us the money envelopes, who then wrap the presents and stick them under the tree for Christmas.

It results in a low-stress Christmas because:
  • We get all our shopping out of the way quickly.
  • Everyone gets exactly what they want and will love.
  • We get to spend the time spent shopping together, bonding instead of running around on our own trying to come up with the perfect gift.
  • After that weekend, we just get to enjoy the holidays.

 

The only problem is, that after a weekend of handing over cash constantly, it can be hard to stop spending. And once the budget is spent, if you keep spending, it could wreck your December budget or even have you accumulating debt that will follow you into the new year.

Here are three ways to stop the spending snowball in it’s tracks:

1: Keep out of the stores and off the shopping websites

There will always be more deals. Throughout the holiday, stores online and off will keep upping the percentage off offered, keep dragging out more showstopper deals and generally try to get you to buy as much as possible.

Once the budget is spent, you have to stop. Don’t fall for the ads or even the “perfect gift” that may suddenly appear in your feed. What you have is enough. You are enough and no gift will buy someone’s love.

2: Organize and wrap what you bought

One way to rekindle the joy of your purchases without spending more money is to “play” with what you’ve already bought for other people.

Now don’t unpackage their gifts, that would be horrible and tacky. But do pull everything out and organize it. Maybe spend some time carefully wrapping things and decorating them. Add loving touches like handwritten tags or messages.

Spending a couple hours making the gifts look great and stacking them under the tree will definitely get you in the holiday spirit and maybe let you feel like shopping time is complete.

Doing your wrapping early will also reduce last minute stress by eliminating one more thing off your to do list and make your home look more festive.

3: Volunteer

Whether it’s helping a family member or friend get ready for their Christmas, or helping a local charity, church or organization help your community members, giving back is an excellent way to make yourself grateful for what you have, as well as giving back to those in need.

A lot of people struggle at Christmas time, and even a small gift of time or your resources could be an enormous blessing.

Your Turn!

  • What are your holiday family traditions?
  • What is your favorite charitable organization to give to?

Things to buy that will save you money

While the old axiom “it takes money to make money” is sometimes true, but I’d argue that it often takes money to save money as well.

For instance, a small investment in money for equipment to do a service yourself that you usually pay for can save you a lot of money in the long term.

Here are a few things I’ve personally spent money on that have since saved me far more than the cost of the item.

Generic pet medication / grooming tools

I love my sweet dog, but costs associated with her can get extremely expensive. I use a sinking fund to pay for her annual shots and check up, but refused to pay for grooming or overpriced, brand-name flea and heart worm prevention medication while I was getting out of debt.

Dog hair clippers take a while to get the hang of, but with some practice, your pooch can stay stylish and trimmed for only the cost of a good pair of clippers.

I’d advise getting a quality set here that will last you for years to come. A $10-20 set may not be able to handle the hair long-term.

Cost: Around $30-40 for a quality set

Nail clippers are also cheap and easy to use. My dog hates having her nails clipped, but it’s for her own good and she hates it the same whether I do it or the vet does.

Cost: Less than $10

Websites like www.petshed.com allow you to order generic flea and heart worm prevention medication for a fraction of the cost of stocking up at the vets office. Websites like these do charge for shipping, so buying in bulk saves.

Cost: Around $30 for 1 year of pet medications, varies according to breed and size

Basic Car Tools/ Jump Box

I have a 5-n-1 power pack in my car that cost about $65 and has saved me time and money over and over.

The little rechargeable box not only makes me feel safer when driving because it contains an air compressor (quarters at the gas station to top off your tires adds up!), flood lights, power plugs capable of charging a phone or laptop, a radio and, most important to me, jumper cables capable of starting a dead battery.

I also keep a hydraulic jack, which is much more powerful, reliable and easier to use than the jack that comes with cars, and a basic emergency kit in my car that contains a tire patch kit, multi-tool, tire iron, first aid kit, water and other supplies.

Cost: Around $60 for a power pack, varied cost for car emergency supplies

Organizing Bins

When I invest money, even just a few dollars, in organizing my spaces, I end up knowing what I have and where it is – which stops me from buying things I don’t need.

When I need something and can’t find it, I end up buying multiples, which wastes money and clutters my home.

You can often use free containers (shipping boxes, empty food jars and product packaging) to organize things as well. Money never spent is money saved. Simple systems tend to be the best and the results don’t have to be Pinterest-perfect, they just have to work.

Cost: Free to $5 per container

Quality clothing

Having nice clothing that fits me well keeps me from constantly shopping and wasting time and money filling my wardrobe with disposable items.

But that doesn’t mean you should overpay or even buy the best quality on everything.

Check out our article on what clothing items to save your dollars, which to splurge on and how to get the best deal on them all. (link)

Cost: Varies (but less than MSRP)

Crock Pot/ Cooking tools

Crock pots (and now Instapots) are practically kitchen miracles, allowing people to cook in bulk, cook outside the kitchen, meal plan, manage their time and make cheaper meats and veggies taste amazing.

A lot of my generation eschews the trusty Crock Pot, but I adore it. It makes it so easy to plan dinner on busy nights and it’s already done when I get home. If I have something in the crock pot, I’ll never run through a drive-thru or pick up food. It forces me to eat what I have.

My favorite way to use the crock pot is to bulk-buy chicken when its on sale, separate it into plastic bags with different marinades on a weekend, and freeze them all. All I have to do day of is run some water over the bag to loosen (or put in the fridge overnight) and dump it into the pot. However many hours later, I come home to a delicious smelling house and a home-cooked meal.

Cost: $15+ (always on sale around the holidays)

Your Turn!

  • What have you bought that saves you money?
  • What’s one purchase you regret?

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When to spend: Quality versus cheap clothing

A key tenant of spending wisely is to know value. A $1 item that will last a month is less valuable than a $5 item that will last a year. Smart shoppers know that spending more and buying better quality is often a better deal than the cheapest item on the shelf.

But unless you’re very, very wealthy, you simply cannot afford to buy the absolute best of everything. Being frugal where you can and investing in things that will last you a long time and save you money, time, or your health in the long run is the wisest way to spend, but it can be hard to tell when you should invest and when you should cheap out.

Here’s my personal guide to wardrobe-related saving and spending, assembled after wasting a lot of money in the wrong places.

Save on Glasses

There are online glasses retailers where you can buy glasses for $10-$20. These are the same quality as brick and mortar optical stores’ wares but cost a tenth of the price. At this point, paying $100-$300 for prescription glasses or sunglasses is just nuts.

There is also no need to buy name brand glasses. No one will be able to read the tiny brand name or tell if your glasses cost $5 or $500.

Also, in recent years, the online try-on functions at these sites have become very advanced and there are tons of reviews of individual websites online that will help guide you to the cheapest, best specs.

Spend on work clothing

As someone who works in a professional office environment, I long ago learned to spend a little more per item in stores that sold higher quality items versus buying a large wardrobe of “throwaway” pieces that will only be able to be worn a few times before looking tattered.

Despite the single-digit price tag, stores like Forever21 and Zara are not your friends.

To keep costs down overall, I recommend a capsule-style wardrobe filled with better quality clothing that will look good, feel good and last, saving you money in the long run.

My best trick for high-quality on a small budget is to shop exclusively on sale and clearance during clear-out times for stores like black Friday and at the end of Summer. When shopping online, search for and stack coupons on top of sale events and watch for hidden shipping costs when calculating your total price.

Save on workout wear

Undershirts, layering shirts, workout clothing and other items that will get sweaty, nasty or not be seen can be bought more inexpensively because the aren’t going to last you as long. While office clothing might be able to be worn for years, workout clothing is often only good for a season. Consider cost per use in this matter and save your money.

Spend on footwear

Life is just too short to walk around with your feet hurting.

Shoes are pretty much the only category I’ll favor proven brands over generics. Some people have no problem wearing cheap shoes, but for mine I need arch support, padding, leather that will mold to my feet, get more comfortable with each wear and stand up to the elements. Too long did I limp around, blistered, in cheap, flimsy Payless flats as a young reporter only to have them fall apart every few months.

Now I buy quality shoes and only have a handful of pairs.

Partially as an experiment and partially because they were expensive, I wore one pair of brown Clarks boots 5-6 days a week for 8 months straight.

Not only did no one in my office notice that I only wore one pair of shoes, when I told them, they were impressed that they lasted that long.

The boots originally cost around $130 on the Clarks website, but the ones I bought were the previous season’s design (the current season’s design was the same shoe with a couple buckles.) To save money, I scoured Ebay for boots from previous years (I swear I don’t miss the buckles), and ended up getting a brand new pair for $70.

It was a lot to spend on one pair of shoes for me, but I’ve now had them for 2+ years, I still wear them several times a week and they look nearly new.

Quality shoes will last a long time. My cost-per-use for these boots is less than pennies per wear at this point. Invest in your feet.

For sneakers, I search Amazon for my preferred brand and size, and grab shoes in unpopular colors for a fraction of the price of the same shoes with different hues.

Save on costume jewelry and seasonal accessories

If you’re a jewelry minimalist and only wear a single necklace and/or earrings everyday, absolutely invest a little in good, long lasting metals and stones.

BUT, if you like to accessorize different outfits with colorful costume jewelry and scarves, absolutely don’t spend your whole paycheck on those items.

Baubles like these can so often be picked up at garage sales in nearly new condition or on highly discounted clearance as the seasons change at department and regular stores.

Statement jewelry goes in and out of fashion quickly and is more easily tired of than its simple, minimal counterpart.

It’s cost-per-wear will also be higher as that type of jewelry won’t be able to be worn with as much of your wardrobe.

Your Turn!

  • What do you spend more money on in your wardrobe and what do you save on?
  • What other subjects would you like us to do a “When to Spend” article on?

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5 Ways to Save Money During the Holidays

Christmas is just weeks away, but if you’re unprepared, there are still ways to save money this holiday season. It just take a little planning, honestly and self control Here are five ways to cut costs last minute.

1: Make a Budget

Whether you have $100 or $1,000 to spend on the holidays, you need to make a plan on how to spend it. If you don’t, you’ll inevitably overspend in one area or have unplanned expenses pop up and bust your budget. Learn how to set a budget here.

The way you make one for the holidays is exactly like you would for the month. Simply make lines for each person and planned expenses like food, travel, décor and events. Don’t forget stocking stuffers (like I did one year!) Allocate how much you want to spend in each category and shuffle until your budget is spent. If this is your first year making a holiday budget, make sure to have a miscellaneous category for things you might not think of.

Remember to reconcile your budget by either using cash envelopes for each area or tracking your spending in your phone or spreadsheet. A budget doesn’t work unless you follow it.

2: Cull your gift list

At this point, you may realize that you have too many people to gift for and not enough cash. It might be time to decide that you don’t have to spent $5-10 on every neighbor, teacher, coworker and friend.

Remember that gifts aren’t the only way to make someone feel appreciated. For years now, I’ve only gifted to an “elite” list of my family and friends who are closest to me. Everyone else gets handwritten cards, hugs and bags of homemade cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels and other yummy treats. Consumables are always appreciated, especially when made with love.

Don’t give into the temptation to buy cheap or gag gifts. Every woman has enough cheap perfumed lotion sets and probably shoves them into a closet or drawer as she buys herself the lotion she prefers. If you wouldn’t enjoy the item yourself, don’t give it to someone else.

3: Potluck it up

Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, not putting on the perfect Martha Stewart event single handedl, so if you’re feeding more than one person this holiday season, request help with meals. Too often we stress out about making our homes, food and décor perfect (guilty) and it ends up at least partially ruining how much we are able to enjoy the moment.

Tell people what to bring and if someone volunteers to help in the kitchen, hand them a whisk. Enjoy the time cooking with them and reject the stress that comes with trying to do it all yourself.

4: Tone down décor

It can be so tempting to decorate every nook and cranny of your home for the holidays and even easier to spend hundreds of dollars doing it.

Christmas décor is incredibly overpriced and the companies who produce it play completely into it, jacking up prices because they know you’ll be distracted by all the glitter and holiday cheer. It may not feel like it, but adding a few things for you or your home to your cart definitely adds up money-wise.

There are also fairly simple do-it-yourself décor options like holiday pillow covers, ornaments, wreaths and more that can be frugal alternatives to store-bought goods, just be mindful of material costs. Stores that sell trees often give away cutting

s that can be made into garlands, wreaths, tablescapes and more while also making your home smell incredibly Christmas-y.

5: Know when to stop spending

Once you start shopping, it’s hard to stop. We get a natural high when buying and the holidays are the perfect excuse to shop since we are obligated to purchase gifts for other people. Remember what is really valuable about the holiday and stop yourself. Once you’ve hit your budget, it shouldn’t matter if you find the holy grail of presents, you need to stop (or return the other stuff). Holidays are about family and love, not finding the ultimate gift or spending more than another person.

Whatever you do, don’t go into debt for the holidays- you don’t want to start 2018 paying off 2017. It’s okay to have a smaller Christmas you can afford.

 

Your Turn!

  • What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • What’s your favorite holiday memory?

8 things you should never do to save money

I’ve tried a lot of weird things to save money. A journalist and finance vlogger by day, I’ve gone dumpster diving, emptied fast food ketchup packets into a bottle, tried DIY beauty treatments involving food items (and more hours of clean up than I’ll ever admit on the internet), and even shared library cards with friends in different states to expand our e-book selection.

Some of those activities could be considered a little strange, a couple might be frowned upon in some circles, and only a few worked at all.

But despite my willingness to try “extreme” money-saving tips, there are some things that I would never do… primarily things that aren’t ethical, hygienic or legal. These would absolutely save you money, but at a very different cost, one that I think crosses a line between being penny-wise and being a tightwad.

1. Stealing

Stealing takes more forms than hiding an item under your shirt and walking out of a store or lifting someone’s wallet.

Filling a bag with more than your share of complimentary items at a restaurant, smuggling home office supplies or toilet paper or even getting a water cup and filling it with soda are all stealing. No crime is victim-less and these are not viable ways to save money.

2. Using services meant for the needy

There is nothing wrong with taking help when you need it. Services like food stamps, soup kitchens, food libraries and the like are meant to be used. But taking those services when you don’t need them in an effort to save a little money robs someone else of that resource.

Consider volunteering instead, charity event organizers nearly always plan to feed volunteers as a thank you for their time. I helped out at a church-run food pantry a couple of times a month where the church provided dinner for volunteers.

It was a free meal for me, provided by people who wanted to help who couldn’t spare the time. It both helped my food budget a little and I was able to help people in the community who were truly in need. It was a win-win.

3. Lying

I’ve heard countless times about people “pulling one over” on big corporations by taking unfair advantage of “Love it or your money back” guarantees. If you honestly didn’t like the product or service, absolutely take the business up on their offer, but using 90% of something and returning it just because you can is dishonest and shameful.

The same goes for people who argue legitimate charges on their accounts or claim their food is bad at the end of the meal after they’ve eaten most of it.

I don’t care how big the business or corporation is, lying like that is stealing.

4. Not washing my clothes or body

I’ve read tips more than once saying to step into the shower in your day’s clothing and wash them with you. I’ve read about people only spraying their clothing with air freshener or never washing their clothing at all. I’ll wear clothing items that don’t get dirty (office work wear and the like) multiple times but clothing that gets sweaty, smelly or dirty always goes straight into the wash.

Cleanliness is one of the markers of a polite society. No one wants to work with or spend time with people who are stinky by choice. This will eventually affect how people treat you and your future opportunities.

Wash your clothes, wash your body. Take some pride in your appearance. It costs very little, but has a huge return on your investment.

5. Getting rid of pets

A pet is a big responsibility and should be treated as such. Dogs, cats, ferrets, hamsters and moose (not judging), etc. all cost money for food, medicine, and care throughout their lives.

I’m always saddened and a little shocked to see tip lists that recommend getting rid of the family animal to offset costs. Unless you own a very expensive animal, and are jeopardizing your own ability to survive by providing for it, I would never say to kick your pets to the curb.

Instead consider shopping for the most affordable pet food and medications (generic heart worm and flea pills can be found at websites like www.petshed.com for much less money than at the vet’s office), learn to groom your own animals, and write a line into your budget to pay for monthly and annual pet costs to always have the money there to feed Fido.

6. Stopping tipping

If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out.

As a former waitress myself, I know all too well how many people choose not to tip and the percentage is completely unacceptable. Whether or not you agree with the custom, we all know that wait staff are often paid well below minimum wage and their tips are expected to raise their salary to a reasonable level (aka more than $2 per hour which will nearly all go to taxes anyway.) When you don’t tip, the service worker isn’t getting paid for their services. It’s an unfair system, but until it’s changed, don’t punish the person serving you.

If you don’t want to tip, feel free to take your food to go, park your own car, do your own beauty services and make your own drink.

7. Mooching

“Forget your wallet” at a group lunch often enough, and you won’t get invited to them anymore.

Friends and family should be joyous parts of your life, not vehicles to save a buck.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with letting your relatives buy dinner when you’re visiting for the weekend, but consider returning the favor the next time they visit you. Relationships shouldn’t be about who owes who and is soured when people take advantage of people.

If you’re often invited to expensive dinners or events by more affluent friends, consider suggesting more frugal outings where everyone can have fun and not jeopardize their individual money goals. Also don’t forget that everyone loves a welcoming invitation over for a home-cooked meal. Friendship doesn’t have to be expensive.

8. Miss out on life

The easiest and most effective way to save money is to not spend it. Saving money is important to me. It’s a key strategy in my long-term money goals. But I won’t decline every invite to do something fun with friends in order to save every possible cent.

Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. There are tons of free and frugal things to do and it’s also okay to spend a little more on occasion to have life-enriching experiences.

Your Turn!

  • What “frugal actions” are too far for you?
  • What will you do to save money?

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