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Archive for the ‘Organizing Money’ Category

I’m taking a break from regular programming today (Mission: Appliances), deal-chasr-logoto announce a great new site, called DEAL Chasr. The reason I’m taking time to announce this new website is because (shameless plug alert) it’s my husband’s! He is not only a lover of deals, but is also an expert computer whiz.  To summarize its function in a sentence, DEAL Chasr was born out of a desire to identify and capitalize on price drops on Amazon.com.

Amazon.com is an Internet shopper’s dream: it sells pretty much everything, boasts low prices, and offers an option for free shipping on most orders. However, if you’ve spent any time on Amazon, it won’t take you very long to notice that prices change constantly. DEAL Chasr chases down significant price drops as soon as they happen, allowing frugal shoppers (like us!) to cash in on some great deals.

deal-chasr-screen

Case in point, last week I was shopping for a birthday present for my brother. Even though DEAL Chasr wasn’t live yet, my husband and I were still monitoring it as we were making some final changes (I helped with design). I noticed that one of my brother’s favorite TV shows, Nip/Tuck, was being identified as an “amazing deal” by DEAL Chasr. The price was now listed at $23.99 and it had previously been listed (for some time) at $48.99.  I capitalized and bought him Season 3.  Brother, if you are reading this, I hope you liked your gift!

To say the least, I’m very excited about this new site! If you’d like to learn more about it, there is a helpful FAQ. Be sure to stop by frequently because deals change constantly. There’s also a handy option to subscribe via feed.

Happy deal searching! 🙂

2010 Update: DEAL Chasr now offers a very cool Ultimate Guide to Buying and Reselling Online if you are interested in not only finding great deals, but making a little extra money on the side!

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I love thrift stores. Lately I’ve been visiting them a lot more frequently. Maybe it’s the economy, or maybe I just love the idea of finding a great deal.

A few weeks ago I hit up a new thrift store in my home town. It’s small, but seems to have high quality items. I was getting ready to leave when I spotted the shoe section. I’ve never bought shoes from a thrift store—I’m not at all opposed, I just don’t tend to buy shoes very often in general and thrift stores obviously don’t always have the size I need.

Case in point, a pair of hiking shoes I narrowed in on were a size too big for me. But I decided to try them on anyway because it immediately became apparent that they were in great shape and were probably a fairly expensive shoe new. And I love to hike.  Here’s a photo of them:

hiking-shoes

The price tag was $5. I thought that seemed like a very good price for new-looking hiking shoes with awesome gripping soles. Then the store owner noticed me trying them on and informed me that all shoes were 25% off. At $3.75, how could I pass up that deal? The problem was, I was having trouble making a decision.

Here are some of the thoughts that were going through my mind:

These shoes are a size too big. They fit even with just one pair of socks, but are not a perfect size.

I already have a few pairs of hiking boots (did I mention I like to hike?), so I don’t really have any pressing need for another pair. At the same time, I only have high-top hiking boots, not hiking shoes.

I don’t want to clutter my closet with too many shoes. Shoe clutter is annoying.

What if someone else in the community really needs these shoes?

Is there someone I know who I could buy these for?

Come on, these shoes are only $3.75!!!!

I bought them. And I’ve worn them several times since buying them.  To be honest, my deciding factor came down to the amazing price on a high-quality pair of shoes.  But I still wonder if I made the best decision. For example, what should be more important: price, need, clutter control, or whether I’m preventing someone else from buying a great pair of shoes?  And that’s where you come in:

What would you have done in my shoes? (pun intended)

After voting in the poll, feel free to explain why you voted as you did in the comments section below.

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During these difficult economic times, families seem to flock to fast food restaurants because they somehow think they are saving money. Fast food is ‘cheap’ right? Well, my gut tells me it isn’t. It may just appear cheap because in the end, most people don’t take the time to calculate the average cost of a home-cooked meal.

Well, my husband and I have been curious lately about how much our home-cooked meals actually cost. I love to cook and I have a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of recipes. But when compared with fast food, does cooking at home really save money?

fast-food

McDonald’s vs. Hamburger Casserole

I don’t have too many guilty pleasures, but McDonald’s is definitely one of them. I especially love their french fries and apparently I have eagerly sought them out since I was a baby according to my parents. To be sure, my husband and I do not frequently dine at McDonald’s, or any fast food restaurants for that matter, because we understand that the food is just plain not good for us.

Health standards aside here, I would like to calculate the cost of an average meal from McDonald’s versus an average meal I cook for us at home. I want to find out what costs more and hopefully prove a point with some plain math.

  • Below you will see the cost breakdown for an average meal that my husband and I order at McDonald’s:

2 crispy chicken ranch snack wraps @ $1.59 each
1 large french fries @ $2.00
1 medium soft drink @ $1.90
1 Chicken Ranch BLT Extra Value Meal @ $6.00
Tax @ $0.72

Total cost= $13.80
Leftover potential = NONE

  • Now here’s the cost breakdown of a common hamburger casserole I make at home:

1 lb ground hamburger @ $3.70
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes @ $0.63
2.5 cups macaroni noodles @ $0.50
1 green bell pepper @ $0.50
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese @ $1.00
1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup @ $0.70
1 6.5 oz can french fried onions @ $2.50

2 glasses of milk @ $0.40

Total cost = $9.93
Leftover potential = 3 more dinners worth

The Verdict

Obviously my experiment here is in no way scientific or even 100% accurate because I had to estimate a few prices I could not find. But the results speak for themselves. The dinner at McDonald’s cost us $13.80 and we had no leftovers. The casserole cost us $9.93 to make and it lasts for 3 more dinners beyond that first meal. So that, in effect, makes each night’s meal cost about $2.50!

One might argue that it takes time to cook meals at home and fast food is easy. Well, what about your driving time, or the price of gas? All in all, fast food is not an economically sound way to spend your money during hard times, or even good times. A treat every once and a while is fine (hey, I’m not ready to give up my fries), but making a habit out of it is not a wise way to spend your money.

Reader Reflection

Do you eat at fast food restaurants to ‘save’ money?

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Last Friday I posed a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers: Do gift cards help us or hurt us? After a bit of thinking this week, along with some great responses from Autumnesf (from Autumn Asks Why), Christina (from Nifty Thrifty Homemaker), Kimm Boes (from Reinvented), and Michelle, I put together a list of things to consider when you receive your next gift card in the mail.

best-buy-gift-card

1. Try to spend the exact amount the gift card is worth

If you receive a gift card in the mail for $10, try to buy something that costs $10, or as close as you can get. The problem is, sometimes the stores make it tricky. Christina pointed out:

I received an e-mail from JC Penny in December for $15 off $15 or more. But almost everything I liked was priced at $14.99, meaning I needed to spend at least some money.

So if you can’t spend the exact amount, what can you do? See the next point.

2. Buy something for your children

It goes without saying that kids’ merchandise is considerably cheaper than that for adults. If you can’t find something for yourself within the price range of the gift card, then try to buy something for your children. Christina (from above) bought snow pants for her daughter. Autumnesf tried this tactic as well:

Luckily right now I have a 4 year old. This means when the JCP $10 comes I get her something and have yet to spend over $2 out of pocket. And she looks smashing in the dress or shoes I find. So, for me it is currently a plus. But when she gets older I have no idea what I would use those $10 for!

Michelle also spent her gift card money on her kids:

I have always had good luck with them [gift cards] because I have 2 young kids, so most of the time I get a cute outfit or pjs and only spend a couple of dollars.

So it definitely seems like the way to go is to use those tempting gift cards for inexpensive children’s items!

3. Use the gift card to get higher quality items

Have you ever bought a cheap pair of shoes because you were trying to be frugal, only to have those shoes fall apart a few months later? It’s in cases like these where gift cards could come in handy. You’re given extra money that can push you up to the level of being able to afford the more expensive shoes that last much longer. Autumnesf had a similar experience:

Once I was in need of bed pillows when I got the card. They had a sale of buy one get one for a penny. So with the card I ended up getting a higher quality set of pillows for the same price I would have paid anyways…so that one worked in my favor as I was already going to spend the money anyways.

4. Hold on to the gift card until you can spend it on something you actually need

My husband and I still have a Best Buy gift card (pictured above) that is now going on 2 years old. We just haven’t had anything we really need come along that we can’t get somewhere else for cheaper. So we’re waiting. Something is bound to come along at some point. Kimm Boes shared:

Lately, I’ve been saving gift cards until I NEED something (although that can be dangerous in today’s economy). This is part of my new focus on “look how little I spent”, instead of “look how much I saved.”

Just watch out for expiration dates! Sometimes gift cards last as little as one week.

5. Beware of compromising your price standards

It’s tempting to use your gift card on just about anything because it’s free money, right? But it wouldn’t really be wise to buy something that costs well above what you would ever agree to pay just because you can. Don’t compromise your frugal standards—you should still try to get great deals! And think of how much greater that deal will be using a gift card on top of it.

Reader Reflection

Kimm Boes said it best when she stated:

Gift cards are tricky little buggers. I’ve been guilty on many occasions of receiving a gift card and then immediately going to said store, determined to find something, ANYTHING to buy to use the card. Usually this results in a purchase that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. And that item almost always costs more than the value of the gift card, while I rationalize, “look how much I saved.”

I think we’re all guilty of this! So get out there and try to beat the stores at their own game…spend your free gift cards wisely and truly save.

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It’s likely that at some point during this past holiday season you either gave or received a gift card. Gift cards are increasingly popular gift options because of their convenience, flexibility, versatility, and small size. This year I received one gift card (for Kohl’s Department Store) as a Christmas gift. I also got a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in early December. I haven’t spent the Kohl’s gift card yet, but I did spend the J.C. Penney card. Let me tell you a story about how that went.

gift-cards

How three annual shopping trips add up

I my home town we have a very small-sized J.C. Penney. I almost never go there. It’s crowded, there’s not a huge selection, and frankly I don’t think the prices are all that great. But every year I’ve lived here I’ve received a $10 gift card in the mail from J.C. Penney in December. How can I pass up free money, right? So each December I make my annual trip to this store I really don’t like in order to spend this ‘free’ money with only a vague plan as to how I’m going to spend it.

Each year I’ve purchased one clothes item. The first year it was a lace skirt, the second year a pair of high dress boots, and this year a pair of black dress pants. The prices of each item before the gift card were $25 for the skirt, $40 for the boots, and $20 for the pants. How do I remember all this so well? I have a good memory. But that’s not my point. My point is in the math: $25 + $40 + $20 = $85, while $10 + $10 + $10 = $30. Now subtract $30 from $85 and you get $55. Wait a minute, I thought J.C. Penney was giving me FREE money? How did I end up spending $55?

Reader Reflection

Today I’d like pose a question to Lifestyles of the Organized readers. Do gift cards help us or hurt us in the long run? When we are trying to be frugal spenders, getting free money in the mail can be a great thing. But what happens when we spend over that free money amount? Would we have bought that item anyways with or without the gift card? In my case, I think the answer is no—I bought all three of those clothes items because of the gift card, not because I needed them or had a previous plan to buy them. But in hindsight I’ve gotten a lot of use out of those clothes…so was it a poor spending choice or not?

What do you think?

Coming up next week

After collecting some insight from readers this week, next Friday I will present some of my thoughts and yours and attempt to come up with sound solutions about how we can use our ‘free’ gift cards in a truly frugal way.

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Well now that the holiday season is official over, Lifestyles of the Organized will return to regular posting once again. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

What have I been up to? Well, my husband and I traveled 1,000 miles by car to celebrate 5 different Christmases with family and friends this year! It was hectic, but worth it. I’ve also been writing articles for eHow, I started selling homemade photo art greeting cards, my dormant Sophrolaeliocattleya orchid finally bloomed after 2 years, and I got a new cell phone. Did you get all that? Here’s one more: last night I bought 63 candy canes to satisfy my candy cane addiction. And that is what I would like to talk about today.

candy-canes

Cashing in on post-holiday deal bonanzas

My husband and I hit up Walgreens last night with the very purpose in mind to score awesome post-holiday deals on Christmas merchandise. Everything was marked at least 75% off and I expect that number to go up even more in the coming days. In fact, a lucky shopper posted to a Slickdeals forum thread yesterday that they landed 97% off wrapping paper (5 cents a roll!) at their local Walgreens.

Here’s what we bought:

  • 4 packages of candy canes (63 total candy canes) – $.25 for each package ($1.00 total)
  • 2 sets of 100-count white Christmas lights – $.99 each ($1.98 total)
  • 1 tree topper lighted star – $1.49

We didn’t end up buying a HUGE amount of stuff (clutter control!), but we definitely cashed in on some excellent deals. The best deal was the tree topper—we’ve been keeping our eyes open for a good topper for 3 Christmases now and we finally have one, at a super price. And although we didn’t need a fake Christmas tree, we were impressed that 6-foot fully lighted trees were selling for $5.00!

So get out there and shop the Christmas merchandise aisles before stores get rid of it all and move on to the next holiday, Valentine’s Day. Keep an eye out for wrapping paper, tags, ribbons, bows, candy, candles, tree skirts, stockings, fake Christmas trees, wreaths, stationary, greeting cards, ornaments, and much more! You’ll have to wait 11 months to use what you buy, but you can’t beat the prices!!

Reader Reflection

Have you scored any amazing post-Christmas deals you’d like to share?

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Today’s post marks the conclusion of the fun series I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas.  For the final installment I’d like to explore creative gift ideas that tap into services we can offer to others.  Last week we talked about using our words effectively to tell someone how much we care about them. This week we’ll look at how we accomplish the same goal, but through serving instead of saying. Not only does serving others really get at the heart of Christmas, but offering our services is an excellent last-minute homemade gift option (remember, Christmas is only a week away!).

Brainstorming ideas about how you can offer your services

Everyone has a service they can offer someone.  What’s yours?  Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Offer to shovel your neighbor’s snow
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who is sick
  • Offer to cook meals for someone who just had a baby
  • Offer to take an elderly person grocery shopping
  • Offer to clean someone’s housewalk-dog
  • Offer to do someone’s laundry
  • Offer to do someone’s dishes
  • Offer to take a friend out to a restaurant
  • Offer to babysit someone’s children
  • Offer to take care of someone’s home while they are traveling
  • Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog
  • Offer to give a loved one a massage or other special service

Brainstorming ideas about how to present your services in gift form

  • Write a letter describing your proposed service(s)
  • Explain your service in a creative Christmas card
  • Create special redeemable coupons for each offered service

An example of a homemade gift using services

There are really endless ways you can serve another person. I encourage you to run through in your mind all the people in your life and see if you can think of a way you could meet one of their needs by offering them your services this Christmas. And as I said above, since Christmas is only a week away, consider making a homemade service gift instead of tearing your hair out trying to buy a last-minute gift at the crowded mall.

Two years ago my Grandmother was remarking to me that she could no longer clean very effectively in her house due to her ailments. She specifically mentioned that she would love to clean her nice dishes set, but she could not reach the shelves safely, nor did she have the energy to thoroughly clean all those dishes anyway. This gave me an idea. I decided I wanted to help and Christmas was coming, so I described my proposed service in a special Christmas card that year. She was happy to oblige and the next time my husband and I visited, we spent the afternoon cleaning all her dishes. She was very thankful and a burden had been lifted.  That homemade gift was a success!

Reader Reflection

Have you ever made homemade gifts using your services? Feel free to share any ideas here.

A Look Back

Today’s installment of I’ll Be Homemade for Christmas marks the end of this series.  I hope you were able to benefit from it and think of creative ideas for homemade gifts this Christmas.   Feel free to take a look back at each week’s homemade gift idea topic: photos, arts & crafts, plants, food, words, and services (today).

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