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The best $3.00 I ever spent

When I was 20 I needed a new alarm clock.  I went down to Walmart and bought the cheapest one they had. It was $3.  It’s black with big red numbers.  It doesn’t do anything fancy at all… it tells time and has an alarm.  That’s it.  It’s honestly not much bigger than a deck of cards.   I remember the purchase very clearly.  I remember the packaging it came in (cardboard bottom with a clear plastic dome, and the price tag.  I wasn’t sure I could trust a $3 alarm clock and figured it would break fairly soon.

But here we are 12 years later…

I realized this because my 3 year old son is learning to tell time.  And by “learning to tell time” I mean being able to tell the hour on a digital clock and getting a faint understanding that certain things happen at a certain time.  The “certain thing” that I’m hitting hard is that 7 am is morning time and he isn’t allowed to get out of bed until 7:00.  So I did the same thing I did with my daughter, I covered up the minutes on the clock in his room.  So no more getting out of bed at 6:37 and then again at 6:47 and then again at 6:57.  Only 7:00.  But as I was pointing out the hour to him I thought back to when I was teaching my now 7 year old the same thing.  It dawned on me that I’ve had that alarm clock my entire adult life, pretty much.

That little $3 alarm clock is 12 years old and still going strong.  It’s woken me up for about 5 different jobs, including one where I had to be there at 4:30 in the morning.  (We had a real love/ hate relationship going back then.)   It’s moved with me across the country, twice.  And now has taught both my kids how to tell when it’s time to get up.

I wonder when Walmart’s cheapest alarm clock will give up the ghost?  Do you have anything that you have gotten way more than it’s value out of?

pic by: wan fauzan

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Biking to work

This is a guest post from My Fit Wallet.  Her blog chronicles her journey to become debt-free and financially balanced.  She says “I don’t need a fat wallet–just a fit one.”  Ha!  I like that.  If you enjoy this post make sure you visit her blog or subscribe to her feed to receive free updates.

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Save money, get fit, help the environment, increase your energy levels, and impress your friends! No, this is not an infomercial for a miracle product–I’m talking about commuting via bicycle. With gas prices rising, commuting on two wheels makes financial sense.

I realize that bike commuting is not possible for everyone out there. Maybe you work 30 miles from home, you’re not physically able to bike to work, you must travel on dangerous roads, or you have to drop the kids at school on your way. Fair enough. But I think many people who could benefit from bike commuting have written it off as too difficult, time consuming, or a logistical mess. If that last sentence sounds familiar, then this post is for you. I will attempt to lay out the basics and answer some frequently asked questions.

What equipment do I need?
You don’t need fancy clothes or footwear to get from point A to point B, though you can make cycling as expensive as you like. The below items are the basics.

  • Bicycle: You don’t need anything fancy, though I would not recommend picking up a Huffy at Walmart. Spend a little extra cash and get a decent brand that will last. There’s a reason I still see Raleighs and Schwinns from the 1970s riding around town! Visit your local bicycle shop and speak with someone knowledgeable, then check Craigslist before you buy. If you will need to take your bike on the bus or subway for portions of your commute, consider a folding bike.

  • Bag: Pick something comfortable and roomy. A proper bike messenger bag can hold the most stuff, though a backpack will do. My waterproof messenger bag can hold a change of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, my lunch, wallet, keys, bike lock, cellphone, and some papers from work if needed—with a little room to spare.

  • Helmet: Don’t even think about biking without one! Be sure your helmet is rated for cycling.

  • Lights and Reflectors: Every bike should have these. You will need both if you plan to bike through fog, rain, dusk, or dark. I recommend Frog Lights, which are cute little LED lights that attach to the bike frame without any hardware.

  • Lock: A lock is like an insurance policy for your bike. Don’t get a flimsy cable. Protect your investment with a solid, sturdy lock like the Kryptonite Evolution. You won’t regret it.

What about the weather?
Planning ahead is the best way to make bike commuting safe, comfortable, and fun. The night before, be sure you check two weather reports (always good to have a second opinion), and dress accordingly. If the weather isn’t going to cooperate, you can plan to drive the car or hop on the bus, instead.

Won’t I stink all day?
Not if you plan ahead! Not everyone is lucky enough to have a shower at work (me included), but that doesn’t mean your coworkers have to hold their noses through your morning meeting. Give yourself an extra 20 minutes to cool down when you arrive. You can answer emails, check voice mail, or have coffee and breakfast. Keep a washcloth, small towel, soap, deodorant, and a light perfume or body oil in your office to freshen up before the daily grind starts.  (Personally, I think Lush brand’s Olive Branch solid perfume smells amazing on a guy or a girl, even after a workout, without overwhelming everyone around you.) And this seems obvious, but don’t bike to work in the clothes you will wear all day. Take a change of clothes with you, including extra socks and underwear. If you plan to ride some days and drive others, you can even drop them at your office the day before.

Isn’t biking dangerous?
Yes, and so is driving a car. Careful planning and vigilance on the road will keep you safe. Check out your route beforehand and get to know traffic patterns. Determine when and where you will need to switch lanes, turn, or yield to oncoming traffic. If you’re not comfortable biking on a busy road, try a less direct route with lighter traffic. Learn and obey traffic rules, use hand signals, and always wear your helmet.

What if I can’t make it all the way to the office?
If your office is 10 miles away and you’re new to biking, don’t try to ride it all at once. Start slowly and build your stamina. Try biking half the route on a weekend and see how you feel.

How many calories will I burn?
This varies, but assuming you ride at a slow to moderate pace (10mph), you can expect to burn about 26 calories per mile. As speed increases, so does the number of calories burned. My ride to work is 6.5 miles, so that’s about 170 calories one way, biking at a moderate pace. Why waste time sitting in traffic in your car, then head to the gym? You could finish your workout by 5:30pm.

How much money will I save?
That all depends on your situation, but here are some potential savings:

  • car maintenance

  • car resale value (fewer miles)
  • car insurance

  • gas money

  • gym membership

  • health care costs

Add it all up, and you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year—just by hopping on your bike whenever possible. You don’t need to bike commute every day to reap the financial and health benefits. Think of the essential items listed above as an investment you will earn back over time.

If you enjoyed this article, I hope you will stop by My Fit Wallet and consider subscribing to my feed. Thanks to Ashley for hosting!

pic by: tinyfroglet

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  • Filed under: frugal living
  • Costco vs. Sam’s Club

    Have you ever wondered which is better, Sam’s Club or Costco?  Well I have.  So I put the two to the test to see which is actually cheaper.  I did a very scientific test of wandering around Sam’s Club with a pen and pad making notes of the prices on things I knew I’d seen at Costco.  Then I took my list to Costco and filled in the Costco price.  The result is this spreadsheet.

    Description Sam’s Price Costco price
    Nutrigrain Bars $11.84 $11.39
    Gillette razors twin blade $18.93 $20.99
    Crest mouthwash $17.73 $14.99
    Gillette Mach 3 $25.30 $25.99
    Gummy bears vitamins $8.95 $9.99
    Bounty paper towels $17.58 $19.49
    Wii Mario Kart $44.88 $43.99
    Miracle ball method book $10.38 $10.99
    LED nightlight $14.86 $13.99
    Spot shot professional
    $14.98 $11.89
    Febreeze air effects $9.02 $8.99
    Honeymaid graham crackers $6.60 $7.39
    Bakery Muffins $6.38 $6.49
    Swiffer Dry Cloths $11.92 $12.79
    Crown Royal $35.29 $37.99
    Sam Adams multi pack $22.14 $21.79
    Charmin $18.38 $19.59
    Ziploc double zip Gallon $9.14 $10.79
    Ball park franks $8.78 $8.99
    2% milk $3.59 $3.59
    eggs $3.27 $1.77
    Krusteaz pancake mix $5.69 $6.39
    Special K cereal $7.34 $7.99
    Daisy sour cream $3.77 $3.79
    I can’t believe its not butter $6.82 $5.99
    Cinnamon toast crunch $6.34 $6.49
    Quaker oats $6.87 $6.99
    Easy mac $5.70 $6.59
    Pepsi cans $9.10 $9.49
    Kraft Parmesan
    $7.88 $7.99
    chocolate chips $7.95 $8.99
    C&H sugar $4.75 $4.95
    Pam nonstick $7.32 $6.89
    Total $399.47 $406.41

    A couple of the items were sold in a smaller size at Sam’s Club.  I have adjusted the price to reflect a larger package.  For example the razors, Costco sold the razors 14 in a pack.  Sam’s Club sold 11 in a pack for $18.93, or $1.81 per razor.  So it would be $25.30 for 14.  Also, all comparisons are of the same brand except the milk and eggs, they were from local farms so they were a different brand.

    In true Walmart fashion, Sam’s Club is a tad cheaper.  I took a random sampling of 33 items and Sam’s Club is $6.94 cheaper, an average of 21 cents per item.  Sam’s Club also has cheaper memberships.  It costs $50 for a regular membership at Costco, while a regular membership at Sam’s Club is only $40.  Sam’s Club also has a clearance section, while Costco doesn’t.  But Costco mails out regular coupons, something I don’t think Sam’s Club does.  (If I’m wrong please tell me.)

    For me… I’m going to stick with Costco.  A few things sway me in this direction.  The first is that Costco is only 2 miles from my house while Sam’s is about 10.  Secondly, Sam’s Club is Walmart.  There is just no getting around that fact.  And the longer I live, the less time I want to spend at Walmart.

    pic by: brood wich

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  • Filed under: frugal living
  • 100 uses for Vinegar

    I saw a huge container of vinegar at Costco the other day for like $4 and I had to buy it.  I just knew there was so much I could do with it, even if I couldn’t think of a thing at the time.  So I came home and started researching.  “Wow!” is all I can say.  You can do just about anything with this stuff.  I’m half surprised it doesn’t just come right out of the tap.  Hot, Cold, and Vinegar.

    So here are 100 uses for vinegar.  Let the frugality begin!

    Your House

    1. Stainless steel: Wipe with a vinegar dampened cloth to clean.

    2. The inside of the dishwasher: Pour a cup of white distilled vinegar in the dishwasher and run a full cycle to freshen.

    3. Plastic food containers:  Wipe with undiluted white distilled vinegar to remove stains.

    4. The inside of the oven: Saturate with full strength white distilled vinegar and let sit for 10 or 15 minutes, wipe with a sponge to remove greasy messes.

    5. The microwave: Put 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a microwave safe dish.  Bring to a rolling boil in microwave.  Wipe clean.

    6. The garbage disposal: To freshen, make some ice cubes with undiluted white distilled vinegar.  Run a few ice cubes down the garbage disposal while running the cold water.

    7. The refrigerator: Clean the inside with a mixture of half white distilled vinegar and half water.  Clean the outside with full strength white distilled vinegar. To get rid of odors place 1 cup apple cider vinegar in a glass and set in refrigerator for two days.

    8. Faucets and fixtures:

    8a. To remove lime buildup use a paste of two tablespoons of baking soda and one teaspoon white distilled vinegar and scrub.

    8b. To remove lime buildup on the end of the faucet tie a bag with 1/2 cup of undiluted white distilled vinegar around the faucet so the end is soaking, let sit overnight.

    8c. To remove calcium deposits, soak a towel in full strength white distilled vinegar and wrap the faucet tightly with the towel, let sit overnight.

    8d. To remove soap buildup use a solution of 1 part salt and 4 parts white distilled vinegar, scrub.

    9. Sponges: To freshen, put them in just enough water to cover them and then add 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar.  Let soak overnight.

    10. Cutting boards: To disinfect and clean your wood cutting boards or butcher block counter top, wipe them with full-strength white distilled vinegar after each use. Never use water and dish washing detergent, because it can weaken surface wood fibers. When your wooden cutting surface needs deodorizing as well as disinfecting, spread some baking soda over it and then spray on undiluted white distilled vinegar. Let it foam and bubble for five to ten minutes, then rinse with a cloth dipped in clean cold water

    11. Remove odors from jars:  Rinse smelly empty jars with white distilled vinegar.

    12. The grill: spray white distilled vinegar on balled up aluminum foil.  Scrub with the foil.

    13. Grout: Soak with full strength white distilled vinegar for a few minutes.  Scrub.

    14. To make your own scouring scrub mix 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 tablespoon liquid soap.  Add just enough white distilled vinegar to make a thick paste.

    15. Shower door tracks: Fill tracks with full strength white distilled vinegar and let sit for a few hours.  Rinse with hot water and scrub.

    16. Shower head:  To unclog a shower head mix 1/2 cup baking soda and 1 cup white distilled vinegar in a sandwich bag.  Tie around shower head and let soak for an hour after the bubbling has stopped.  Remove bag and turn on the water.

    17. Toilet bowl:  To freshen, pour a cup of white distilled vinegar into toilet and let sit overnight.  Scrub.

    18. Linoleum floor:  Mop with one cup white distilled vinegar for each gallon of water.  For stains, let full strength sit on stain for 10 to 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with baking soda for extra tough stains.

    19. Retainers or dentures:  Soak overnight in a dish of half water, half white distilled vinegar.

    20. Eyeglasses: Wipe each lens with a drop of white distilled vinegar.

    21. White rings from wood:  Use a solution of half vegetable oil and half white distilled vinegar, rub with the grain.

    22. Fireplace:  On bricks, use full strength distilled white vinegar and scrub with a brush.  To clean glass fireplace doors use one part white distilled vinegar to two parts water.

    23. Hardened paint brushes:  In a pot, soak brushes in full strength white distilled vinegar for one hour.  Then bring the solution to a simmer.  Rinse clean.

    24. Window blinds: Put on a white cotton glove, the kind sold for gardening is perfect, and moisten the fingers in a solution made of half white distilled vinegar and hot water. Slide your fingers across both sides of each slat. Use a container of clean water to periodically wash off the glove.

    25. Remove candle wax: To remove candle wax from wood furniture, first soften the wax using a blow-dryer on its hottest setting and blot up as much as you can with paper towels. Then remove what’s left by rubbing with a cloth soaked in a solution made of half  white distilled vinegar and half water. Wipe clean with a soft, absorbent cloth.

    26. Cane chairs: Revive sagging cane chairs by sponging them with a hot solution of half white distilled vinegar and half water.  Place in the sun to dry.

    27. DVDs: If you have a worn DVD that has begun to stick or suffers from the occasional freeze-frame, wipe it down with white distilled vinegar applied to a soft cloth.  Let dry completely before use.

    Your Clothes

    28. Cleaner clothes: Add 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

    29. Whiter whites: Add one cup white distilled vinegar to a large pot of water, bring to a rolling boil and drop in items. Let soak overnight.  (I’m assuming not boiling all night.)

    30. No run colors: To prevent bright colors from running, soak your new garments in a few cups of undiluted white vinegar for 10-15 minutes before their first washing.

    31. Pantyhose: Add one tablespoon of white distilled vinegar to the rinse water when washing, and your pantyhose will last longer.

    32. The washing machine itself: Put one cup white distilled vinegar in the washer and run it.

    33. Barbecue, spaghetti, or ketchup stains: Use a solution of half water half white distilled vinegar.

    34. Smoky smell in fabric: fill the bathtub with very hot water and add one cup white distilled vinegar.  Hang clothes in the steam and close the bathroom door.

    35. Wrinkles: get the wrinkles out of clothes after drying by misting them with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. Once you’re sure you didn’t miss a spot, hang it up and let it air-dry.

    36. The Iron: To remove scorch marks from the bottom of your iron, scrub it with a paste made by heating up equal parts vinegar and salt in a small pan. Use a rag dipped in clean water to wipe away the remaining residue.  To unclog steam holes, pour equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and water into the iron’s water chamber. Turn to steam and leave the iron on for 5 minutes in an upright position. Then unplug and allow to cool. Rinse with water.

    37. Water and salt stains on shoes:  wipe them down with a solution of half white distilled vinegar and half water.

    Your Body

    38. Hair Rinse: Rinse hair with one cup of white distilled vinegar and warm water.  Brings out highlights and removes shampoo buildup.

    39. Hair protection from chlorine:  Keep your blond hair from turning green in a chlorinated pool by rubbing 1/4 cup cider vinegar into your hair and letting it set for 15 minutes before diving in.

    40. Acne: Use a solution of half white distilled vinegar and half water.

    41. Aftershave: use full strength white distilled vinegar.

    42. Fresh breath and white teeth: brush teeth once or twice a week with white distilled vinegar.

    43. Heartburn: Drink a mixture of vinegar and water to relieve yourself of the severe chest pain caused by heartburn.

    44. Backaches: Soak in a bathtub of hot water and 2 cups white distilled vinegar for 30 minutes. It will help relieve a minor backache and soothe sore muscles.

    45. Leg Cramps: Use a soft cloth soaked in full-strength vinegar as a compress to ease pain.

    46. Sinus infection and chest colds: Add 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar to vaporizer.

    47. Sunburn: spray with ice-cold white distilled vinegar will feel great, and may prevent blistering and peeling.

    48. Insect bites: dab them with a cotton ball soaked in undiluted white distilled vinegar.

    49. Cuts: use white distilled vinegar as an antiseptic.

    50. Bruises: speed healing and prevent bruises by soaking a piece of cotton gauze in white or apple cider vinegar and leaving it on the injured area for one hour.

    51. Sun and age spots: Pour some full-strength apple cider vinegar onto a cotton ball and apply it to the spots for 10 minutes at least twice a day. The spots should fade or disappear within a few weeks.

    52. Foot odor: wash feet well with antiseptic soap, then soak them in undiluted cider vinegar for 10 minutes or so.

    53. Corns:  Soak a crumbled piece of bread in a 1/4 cup of vinegar.  Let sit for 30 minutes.  Apply bread to the corn and tape in place.  Leave overnight.  Reapply if necessary.

    54. Hiccups: Swallow one tablespoon of white distilled vinegar.  Cures hiccups instantly.

    55. Colds: Mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup honey.  Take one tablespoon six to eight times daily.

    56. Warts: Apply a mixture of half white distilled vinegar and half glycerin.  Use daily until warts are gone.

    57. Arthritis:  Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water.  Drink before each meal. Allow three weeks to work.

    58. Lose weight: Drink some apple cider vinegar in a glass of water a few times a day.  Add a little lemon or honey for a nicer flavor. This will also help reduce your appetite.

    59. Longer lasting nail polish: Dampen your nails with some vinegar on a cotton ball and let it dry before applying your favorite polish.

    Your Food

    60. Tenderize meat: Use white distilled vinegar in marinades or when slow cooking any tough, inexpensive cuts of meat.

    61. Cheese: Cheese will last longer if you store it in a vinegar soaked cloth.

    62. Poached eggs: add a little white distilled vinegar to the water. The whites stay better formed.

    63. Pasta: Add a dash of white distilled vinegar to the water as the pasta cooks.  It will be less sticky.

    64. Salad dressing: use 1 part white distilled vinegar to 4 parts oil.  Add some cream for a creamy vinaigrette.

    65. Getting those last drops: When you can’t get the last bit of mayonnaise or salad dressing out of the jar, try dribbling a little of your favorite vinegar into it, put the cap on tightly and shake well. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ve been wasting.

    66. Wilted Vegetables: soak in cold water containing a spoonful or two of white distilled vinegar.

    67. Make buttermilk: Add two tablespoons of vinegar to a cup of skim or 1 percent milk; let mixture stand five minutes.

    68. Shiny rolls and pie crust: Brush with white distilled vinegar just before finished.  Return to oven to finish baking.

    69. Canned Soup: Add a teaspoon of red or white wine vinegar.

    70. Perfect rice: Add a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar to the boiling water.

    71. Jello molds: Adding a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar for each box of gelatin used will keep them from melting in the summer heat.

    72. Chocolate Cake: Add a spoonful of white distilled vinegar for extra moistness.

    73. Frosting: Add a drop of white distilled vinegar, it will keep white frosting white and shiny.

    74. Fluffy meringue:  Add a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar for every 3 to 4 egg whites used.

    Your Pet

    75. Dog’s Coat: For a shiny coat spray or rub with a solution of 1 cup white distilled vinegar to 1 quart water.

    76. Stop ear scratching: wipe them out regularly with a soft cloth dipped in undiluted white distilled vinegar.

    77. Control your cat:  Cats hate the smell of vinegar.  Spray white distilled vinegar on the item that you want to keep your cat away from.

    78. Litter box: Control odor by pouring ½ inch of white distilled vinegar in the empty litter box. Let it stand for 20 minutes, swish it around, then rinse with cold water.

    79. The birdbath: Scrub it often with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Rinse well.

    80. Fishbowl: Remove gross deposits by cleaning with white distilled vinegar.  Rinse well.

    81. Skunk odors: use full strength white distilled vinegar to get the smell out.

    82. Bird droppings: spray them with full strength apple cider vinegar. Or pour the vinegar onto a rag and wipe them off.

    Your Car

    83. Chrome: Polish with full-strength white distilled vinegar on a soft cloth.

    84. Bumper stickers: Remove them by covering them with a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar. They should peel off in a couple of hours.

    85. Windshield wipers: Wipe them with a white distilled vinegar-soaked cloth to remove grime.

    86. Frost free windshields: In the winter, coat your windshield with a solution of 3 parts white distilled vinegar to 1 part water.

    87. Clearer windows: Remove the hazy film that builds up inside windows by spraying them with white distilled vinegar.

    88. Odors: Leaving a bowl of white distilled vinegar overnight on the floor to remove odors.

    89. Carpet: Remove stains with a mixture of half white distilled vinegar and half water.  Remove road salt residue by spraying with a mixture of half white distilled vinegar and half water, then blot with a soft towel.

    90. Leather seats: Make ‘em shine by cleaning it with hot white distilled vinegar and rinsing with soapy water.

    91. Rusty bolts: Remove rust by soaking the bolt or screw in white distilled vinegar overnight.

    Your Garden

    92. Weeds: Pour full-strength white distilled vinegar on them.

    93. Cut flowers: Add 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar to a quart of water in a vase.  It will preserve fresh flowers and perk up droopy ones.

    94. Fresh vegetables: Wash with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar in 1 1/2 quarts of water.

    95. Ant hills: Remove them by pouring in white distilled vinegar.

    96. Moths:  To get rid of them, use a mixture of 2 parts white distilled vinegar and 1 part molasses. Place mixture in tin can and hang in a tree.

    97. Rabbits: To keep them from eating your plants, put cotton balls soaked in white distilled vinegar in a 35mm film container. Poke a hole in the top and place in the garden.

    98. Hummingbird feeder: Clean with white distilled vinegar—soap or detergent can leave behind harmful residue.

    99. Terra cotta pots: Clean off mold by soaking in a solution of 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1 cup chlorine bleach, and 1 gallon of warm water, then scrub with a steel wool pad.

    And my favorite:

    100. Freak out your kids: Turn a chicken bone into rubber by soaking it in a glass of white distilled vinegar for three days.

    mizkan
    Angelfire
    odyb
    ivillage
    Readers Digest
    Versatile Vinegar
    How Stuff Works

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  • Filed under: frugal living
  • Finding Frugality

    I often get the label of frugal.  I find this strange.  It surprises me that people see me that way, since I don’t really consider myself very frugal.  I suppose it depends on your point of view.  Compared to some I am exceedingly frugal.  Compared to others I am wasteful.  And that’s right where I like to be, between the extremes.

    There definitely is a scale of frugality.  Everyone lies somewhere between extreme spending and extreme frugality.  This blog as helped me move towards frugality on that scale.

    If you would like to be more frugal but can’t seem to get started, here are some tips.

    1. Track your spending:  If you are not tracking your spending then this is where you should start.  It’s the road map to good financial skills.  You can’t know where you are, where you want to be, or how to get there if you don’t have an idea of how you are spending your money.

    2. Start small:  You don’t have to wake up one morning and have a brand new set of habits.  Work on them slowly over time.  Pick one area of your spending to work on at a time.  I started with groceries.  And not even all my groceries, I started with meat.  I was never an ad checker, but I knew I should be.  But it was overwhelming.  So I started very small.  I would go through the ads and only look at the meats.  After a while I got an idea of what the various meats should cost.  When there was good a deal, and when it was all just smoke and mirrors.  Scoring a few good deals got me excited and gave me confidence.  Then I got curious about what else was in those ads.  Now I use them to plan my meals and stock up on all my groceries.

    You might not want to start with groceries.  That’s fine.  You can start with your laundry, or entertainment, or your car, or your bathroom stuff.  Whatever.  Just start looking for ways to spend less money in your chosen category.  Once you feel like you’ve made significant progress then…

    3. Branch out:  Once I felt like I had the grocery bill under control I started looking at other things.  I became a sale shopper, with coupons in hand.  Constantly looking to shave a few bucks off my total.  Always thinking, could I get this cheaper?  Will this make it to the next markdown?  Can I find a coupon online?  Can I get free shipping?

    4. Take it easy:  Don’t get so caught up in finding a great deal that you buy things you have no use for.  This is harder than it sounds because getting a good deal can be addicting.  Just because something is 90% off doesn’t mean that you need it.  If it’s not something you would buy anyways then you aren’t being frugal.  You can’t spend money to save money.

    Pic by: rogerwp

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    Price adjustments

    We are well into the thick of Christmas shopping now.  While you are out and about, check out the prices on presents you’ve already bought.  Some stores do price adjustments.  Price adjustments are when you buy something at one price, and then later it goes on sale so you get money back.  So if you bought a present and now it’s on sale, you can still get the sale price.

    If the store has a price adjustment policy then you probably don’t need the actual merchandise, just the receiptBut even if a store doesn’t do price adjustments, you’re not out of luck.  You can always return the item you bought and then buy it again at the sale price.

    I bought my daughter a really cool cupcake making kit from Costco a few weeks ago.  It was $26.00 with a $6.00 instant rebate.  I thought I was getting a good deal.  Then last weekend I noticed it now has a $10.00 rebate.  I checked with customer service and they don’t do price adjustments.  They said I would have to return the one I bought and then buy it again. I was bummed because I’ve already wrapped the one I bought.  I really didn’t want to unwrap it, just to return it, buy it again, and then rewrap it.  It wasn’t worth the 4 bucks.

    So instead I bought a new one and returned it using my receipt from the first one.  It worked perfectly fine.  I got my $4.00 and didn’t have to go through all that hassle.  I was pretty happy.

    *********************************

    It’s funny… I’ve always considered myself “good with money” but before I started this blog I wouldn’t have considered doing something like this.  But just the simple act of being aware of how I spend my money has made such an impact.  Money management is more than just budgeting.  Everyone’s level of frugality is different.  Some people would think going out of your way to save $4 is too much.  Others would do it for less.  But writing this blog as made me aware of more than just my budget.  It’s increased my frugality level.

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  • Frugal Tip: Buy spices in bulk

    Did you know that spices don’t spoil… ever.  They do lose their flavor over time, but that takes a really long time.  Years.  In fact, 4 years for whole spices, 2 to 3 years for ground spices, and 1 to 3 years for leafy herbs, depending on the herb.

    So buying them in bulk is totally the way to go.  And it makes a huge difference in price.  For example, at My Spicer a 4oz container of basil is $1.35 an oz but a 32 oz container is only $.82 an oz.   Or at Spice Barn a 4 oz container of cinnamon is $1.20 an oz where an 8 oz container is only $.76 an oz.  And if it doesn’t go bad, then why not buy the cheaper version?  You can get bigger than just 8 oz.  But I was trying to be reasonable.  I don’t expect anyone to really buy a 5 pound bag of Oregano.  But hey, maybe you make a lot of spaghetti.

    I like to try new recipes and sometimes I find one that calls for a spice I’ve never heard of.  I won’t be buying those in large quantity for two reasons.  One, maybe I hate it and will never use it again. (Caraway seeds anyone?)  Two, even if I do like it I probably won’t use it much.  After all, I have gone my entire life thus far and haven’t used it.  But I do plan to buy the common spices in bulk.  Cinnamon, Onion Powder, Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Garlic Powder… you know, the ones that always seem to make their way to the front of the cabinet.

    Here are some tips to get the most out of your spices:

    • Store them in an airtight container.
    • Store them in a cool, dry, dark place.  Like, say, the cabinet.
    • Don’t sprinkle the spice directly into a steaming pan.  The steam will get into the container and age the spices quicker.  This is a new one to me.  I do that all the time!  I should say, I used to do that.
    • If the spice has smell then it’s good to go.  If you crush it in your hand and it has no smell, then toss it.  The flavor is about as potent as the smell.

    I mentioned two spice sites, I have no idea if either of those places are good places to shop.  They just came up first in a Google search.  So if anyone knows of a good place to buy spices please let everyone in on your secret.

    pic by: Frenkieb

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    Gift Cards at Costco

    I continuously find things to love about Costco.  For example, did you know that Costco sells gift cards, and sells them for less than face value?  For some reason the one that always catches my eye is the $100 Starbucks gift card that they sell for $80.  Which is strange because I’ve never bought anything from Starbucks.  But I think of all the people out there who could instantly get a 20% discount on their coffee.  It comes in 5 $20 gift cards so they would also make great gifts.

    But I’ve seen NFL.com gift cards, tickets to the movies, all kinds of restaurants, Itunes, gym memberships, car washes, vacation packages, ect.  I could go on and on.  You have to poke around on the website to find stuff, and some things I know I’ve seen in the store I couldn’t find online.  So check in store too.

    But such a good deal!  Either to give as a gift or to save some money while shopping.  It’s definately something worth checking out.

    pic by: greenwenvy08

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  • Filed under: frugal living
  • The gift of coupons

    Something really neat happened to me this weekend. It was a very small thing but I wanted to share it. My son ran out of diaper cream. (fascinating isn’t it?) Anyways, I usually have a coupon for it, but I was at the store and he currently has a diaper rash, so I just went ahead and decided to pick up a tube. I was kicking myself for not being better prepared with a coupon, but it’s just a dollar. Hardly worth coming back for. I usually buy two tubes at a time, one for downstairs and one for upstairs. But since I didn’t have a coupon I figured I would just get one and grab the other one when I could save some money.

    I get to the diaper cream section and sitting right next to the cream are two coupons, each for a dollar off of the exact brand I usually buy. How fricken cool is that? How thoughtful (and frugal) of someone. I was able to get the two tubes I needed and use a coupon!

    Paying it forward with coupons is such a great idea. If you have a coupon you know you aren’t going to use don’t throw it away. Give it to someone else. Leaving it on the shelf next to the item is a guaranteed way to make sure it gets used.

    It reminds me of a time we went out for slushies as a family. I had a coupon sheet and it had two coupons for buy one get one free. We could only use one of the coupons and they were about to expire. I was going to throw it away but then in walked a woman and about 6 little ones. I handed her the coupon and she was so surprised. Hey it’s only a free slushie, but it sure made her happy.

    Or the time I was in line at the craft store buying something very small for my daughter. With tax my purchase was going to come to something like $2.10 and I only had $2 in cash on me. I was irritated that I was going to have to use my debit card for $.10. The lady in front of me in line was using a gift card and after she was done paying she had $.15 left on the card. She laughed and handed it to me and said, “Here, you can use what is left on this card.” and walked away. Wow, cool!

    While these aren’t life changing events, they are neat little anecdotes that show how paying it forward with coupons can really make someone’s day.

    Pic by: Bright Star

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  • Filed under: frugal living
  • We had to renew our Costco membership this weekend. They sold us on upgrading to the executive membership. See my fancy new black card! It costs an extra $50 but you get 2% cash back on everything you buy at Costco. Which is pretty cool. Plus I get to go at 10:00 in the morning rather than having to wait til 11:00 when it opens for all the “normal” people. Which is way easier for me.

    We normally spend about $100 a month just on groceries, so if we buy any big stuff, like stuff for my brand new Wii, it could put us over the $2,500 we need to make $50. We also buy tires and Christmas presents for the kids there. I bet over the year we could come pretty close to spending another $1,300. Especially if my husband gets his wish and we buy a new plasma TV for the living room.

    But the cool part is that the program is risk free. If you don’t get at least $50 back they refund you the difference. So if our check is only $40 then they give us $10 back from our membership. So really, might as well do it, because the worst you can do is break even.

    I can’t help but think, why do they offer a risk free cash back program. Where is the benefit for them? It didn’t take long for me to figure it out. I’ve been an executive member for about 5 days now and I’ve thought of several things I should start buying at Costco. Plus I automatically take 2% off the price of everything there. I need to stop doing that. The first $2,500 I spend there isn’t extra money anyways, so I shouldn’t be shopping with that in mind.

    What we really hope to do is earn $100 a year, that way we can get our entire Costco membership for free.

    If you liked this article I recommend the following articles:
    I didn’t know I was frugal

    Watch your staples! (part 1)

    Watch your staples! (part 2)

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  • Filed under: frugal living
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