Category Archives: Catching Raindrops

Seven Things to Do Now to Save for the Holidays Next Year

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend approximately $700 on Christmas gifts and goodies this year. For some people, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But these days, I don’t have that kind of extra money to spend in one month. And I prefer not adding to my debt just to add to someone else’s material possessions.

My parents had to buy for six children plus each other. But I don’t remember so many “other people” expecting something simply because they happen to be in your life. I remember my mom putting something in a card for the mailman, and my dad would always get a bottle of whiskey or some other liquor for the guys who picked up trash. But even with all that, I can’t imagine they spent anywhere near $700! Of course those were different times. It seems now, we’re expected to give something to our kids’ teachers, coaches, babysitters, and our own co-workers, neighbors, hair stylist or barber; not to mention friends, and family members.

I’m single. I don’t have to buy for kids, and all but one of my 19 nieces and nephews are young adults; some starting families of their own. We live in six different states so I don’t feel the pressure to try to buy something for everyone. But when you add buying food for the parties, gas for traveling; gifts, wrappings, and decorations, the spending can still creep up on you, especially if you have a growing list of friends, business associates, coworkers, and church community groups.

So how do you make and keep a budget and still find ways to have fun and enjoy being with friends and family over the holidays? Planning!

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” 

So here are seven things you can do to save for the holidays now, and plan for the holidays next year!

1.  Join a Rewards Program. Better Yet, Join Several of Them!

I know some people don’t like reward programs. I’ve never really understood why. Maybe they think the business is tracking them. Newsflash. If you’re online. If you have an email, or are on social media. If you have a cell phone. You are being tracked. Joining reward programs now gives you coupons later. Not only do many businesses give free treats, discounts, savings on gas, or money to spend for things like your anniversary date and birthdays, but many have special higher discounts and giveaways during Christmastime. silver ornament

I got this ornament from World Market this year, just for being a rewards member. No purchase necessary! 

2.  Buy Hostess, Teacher, and Coaches Gifts Throughout the Year.

Nothing says you have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for Christmas. When you see sales or drastic discounts on items that would make a good gift, go ahead and buy it — in March; in July; in whatever month you discover it. The person receiving the first isn’t going to ask if you got it at the Labor Day sale! Spend time during the year also looking for store closing sales. With the right timing, you can find items for as much as 75-90 percent off!

3.  Host an Ornament and Decorations Exchange Party.

This one can be fun. You know how every few years you decide your tree looks boring or you want to change up the way you’ve been decorating the house over the years? Well, have some friends over with the directive for them to go through their Christmas boxes and collect the ornaments, wreaths, decorations — anything they no longer use year-to-year. Everyone brings the items they’re interested in getting rid of, and spreads them out across the table. Then everyone goes around and picks through things that the other person no longer wants. At the end of the night, not only have you managed to squeeze in another girls’ night, but all of you go home with new ornaments, different decorations, and fresh ideas to deck your halls!

bright-christmas-balls-christmas-decoration

4.  Have a Pot-Luck Dinner Party.

Instead of taking on the burden of planning and paying for a dinner party yourself, make it a potluck. Pick a theme, have everyone bring a dish that works with the theme, and you provide the Christmas atmosphere of music, lights, and smells. Don’t worry about buying a candle; just boil some cinnamon and cloves on the stove! By sharing the parts of the meal, no one person is footing the entire bill. And that also means less time in the kitchen cooking and baking.

5.  Save Christmas Gift Bags to Use Again.

Okay, I know most of you are probably already doing this, but if you’re not, you need to start! There’s no shame to reusing gift bags. Just remember to remove the name card from it. I actually save colorful tissue papers as well. Again, when you’re packaging it up for someone, they aren’t going to know or even care when or if you bought the bag that their gift is in. I think I’ve even returned the same bag to someone the following year. It was perfect for their gift. So why not? 

6.  Buy Christmas Cards, Wrappings, and Ribbons at the End of the Season.

The best deals on holiday items is right before the holidays (when they’re trying to get rid of last year’s inventory), and right after the holidays, (when they don’t want to store any remains of this year’s inventory). Make room in your attic, closet, or garage, and pick up items that are drastically marked down. That will be one less thing to worry about the following year, and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

Christmas snow flake packages

7.  Make a List. Check it Twice!

Create a list and put people’s names in the order of priority. Stick with your list of who you’re buying a gift for, and in what price range you’re spending. That way you don’t end up leaving anyone out, but also, controlled discipline of not adding more people to your gift list later. Budget even what you’re willing to spend on food items for those parties, and which events (movies, theater, light shows) you’re spending money on. Then try to find things to do with your friends and family that are free.

Cutting back and spending less, doesn’t have to mean not having a great time over the holidays. I think it forces creativity and thoughtfulness. But remember that the first step to not over spending is planning. The next step is sticking to your plan. Look for other ways to save money and still have a wonderful Christmastime!

 

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Why I Don’t Shop on Black Friday Anymore.

I woke up super early on Thanksgiving morning. It wasn’t by choice; it just happened. I tried to lay in bed in the hopes of falling back to sleep, but when it didn’t happen by 4:30, I decided I was suppose to get up. So I did, and started my morning routine. It had been a month since I was at the gym, thanks to a nasty cold that wouldn’t go away (remnants of which still remain). So out of the door I went just after 6 o’clock in the morning, with predictably almost no traffic, and only about a dozen of other early morning risers in the gym already working out.

I was happy to learn that the gym would be closing early so that the workers could be home with their families that evening for Thanksgiving dinner, and that they wouldn’t reopen until 7:00 on Friday morning. Though my intentions were to wake up early and get my workout out of the way, I actually overslept a bit after turning off my 6 a.m. alarm. Funny how that worked out. The morning I wanted to sleep in, I woke up super early, and the morning I wanted to wake up early, I overslept!

 I was expecting a larger crowd at the gym. While there were more people there than the crazy time I arrived on Thursday, there still weren’t as many there as I thought might be following all the overeating and high calorie foods from the day before. But the parking lots of Kohl’s and Walmart sure were full!   

I’m not knocking anyone who decided to get up early to shop, although I question those who camped out, given the temperatures last night. But I do wonder how many of the people out there have just gotten caught up in all of the buzz and “excitement” of the whole Black Friday phenomenon.

I’ve been part of that Black Friday frenzy in the past. If I were to be honest, I loved it! Back when my nieces and nephews were younger; at that age where they were expecting something from their Auntie, I would go out and try to find good deals. Sometimes I would even shop on behalf of my mom, who didn’t care for the Black Friday crowds, but liked the Black Friday prices; especially since she had so many grandchildren to buy for. Now, all but one of them are young adults in their 20s and 30s, and in general, sadly, we hardly ever get to spend the holidays together anymore.

But today, just as with the past four or five years, I simply asked myself, “Is there anything out there that you need that you don’t already have?”  The answer of course was no. When I calculated the fact that there was also nothing out there I was planning to purchase for friends or family that just had to be bought today either, it definitely wasn’t worth it to me to be out there. 

Moreover, I wonder how many people; namely, the early morning shoppers, even know the origins or meaning behind “Black Friday” and where the term came from? According to History.com:

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

The most commonly repeated story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping-related Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.

So basically, when you run out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, buying a lot of stuff for the holidays — often things you “want,” rather than what you “need” — simply because the items have been discounted, you’re basically supporting the retail industry making profits at the expense of your own bank account and personal budget taking a loss.

As I’ve said to many friends and family members, it doesn’t matter how great a sale is; if you’re spending money on things you don’t need, you’re still wasting your money.

Be careful that your Black Friday shopping doesn’t turn into Red Saturday regrets, and January depression as the credit card bills start to roll in.

When You’re Among the Working Poor

Thanksgiving is just days away. Other than the pressures of the regular end-of-the-year kind of things, this is actually my all time favorite time of year; the time period with the week leading up to Thanksgiving, through to the days after Christmas. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, even if it overshadows Thanksgiving. I know people get upset about those of us who like decorating early and planning holiday parties in October, and listening to Christmas music while the Harvestfest pumpkins haven’t even rotten on the porch. My all time favorite pastime — watching cheesy Christmas movies starting in November! It doesn’t matter that I can predict the plot of every single romantic holiday movie — because they’re mostly the same four or five plot lines, switching off lead gender roles and cities. I sit plop down in front of the TV when I need a break from the real world, and turn my brain off for two hours of entertainment!

There is one Christmas movie that I watched for the first time in the middle of July. It was during Hallmark’s Christmas in July features, about six or seven years ago. The movie originally aired in December 2006, but I don’t remember it back then. Maybe my life was too full to have time to watch many movies at the time. Or maybe it just didn’t catch my attention, back when I was gainfully employed, without a financial worry in the world. Whatever the reason, the movie, “Home by Christmas” not only caught my attention back in 2011, but it really resonated with me. It was that summer when I was 2 1/2 years into a new employment status I hadn’t really planned on — self-employment. It had been a real struggle, working 12-14 hour days trying to generate enough money to cover my bills, with little to nothing left over to re-invest into the company or even myself. Things were made more of a hardship trying to deal with some clients who didn’t pay their bills; others who took advantage of my generosity to help — and therefore, still didn’t pay me for my work; and a host of other things I, at the time, had not planned on.

This was the same summer when Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets was birthed. Maybe it was even by watching “Home for Christmas that I felt a sense of confirmation that some of the choices I had made over the previous two years were the right ones for me to adjust my life to my new normal. The premise of the movie was this:

A wealthy, stay at home mother discovers that her husband is having an affair. Though she’s willing to forgive him, he wants a divorce instead so he can be with the younger woman. Her attorney wants her to stay in the house and get both child support and alimony. She allows pride to get in the way (Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.) and gives up the house just to get away. Because she’s not been employed for years, she has a hard time finding a job, and therefore, can’t afford another home in the same area. Her daughter chooses to remain with her dad so she can stay in the same school district. Unable to find employment, eventually she can’t even afford the apartment, and finds herself homeless. At this point, her daughter is studying abroad, and has no idea her mom has fallen on such hard times.

Don’t worry, it’s a Christmas story, and starts to get better halfway through the movie. But the main part of the story that spoke to me is this. During the woman’s transition, she had to learn to do things differently. She had to learn to adjust to her new normal, and not allow pride to keep her from doing things differently. Along the way, she met a woman who became a friend (as you can guess, her old friends deserted her as soon as she was no longer able to afford to remain a part of their circle). The woman was a well-dressed, articulate, financial analyst. What caught her attention with the woman was after seeing her at the same coffeeshop multiple times, one day noticing that the outfit the woman was wearing looked just like a suit she had donated to a thrift store months earlier.

So as the story unfolds, we learn that this well-dressed, college-educated woman who had been hanging out at the coffeeshop working on her laptop, was herself homeless. But she didn’t talk like it or look like it. She looked like the businesswoman she introduced herself to be. As the story continues we learn that the woman had lost her job, but had learned how to survive while she looked for another one — how and where to eat, find a place to sleep, and continue to look her best while searching for another job.  This woman teaches our mom how to shop at discount places, where to go to get free personal services, type of places to find free food, and even finding safe places to sleep besides her car. A lot of other things happen during her to get back on her feet. But it was the things she learned to do along the way, to survive and stay safe, that did as much to change her as the luck that came her way, to help her pull herself out of the spiral she was experiencing. 

So what’s my point?

In part, it is the fact that looks can be deceiving. Too often we look at someone and determine their status in life by what they’re wearing, how well “put together” they appear, and whether or not they “look” like they’re employed at a “good” job. But there are many people sitting in coffee shops across America today who are working on job applications, or maybe just using the free wifi as they try to stay warm, if only for the day. Maybe they’ll strike up a conversation with someone who might have a lead on a job. They look well-dressed because they showed up at Goodwill’s 50% off Saturday sale to purchase that nice suit and shoes; and they went to the local cosmetology school to have students do their hair and nails for significantly less than going to a salon. And you may have no idea that the last time they had something to eat was one of the day old bagels that the coffeehouse donated to the homeless shelter the night before.

So when I read a recent tweet by someone in the media mocking new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit, suggesting that she can’t really be struggling too much if she’s able to dress a certain way, it really set me off.

“I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.”

There is a lot wrong with his full tweet, including why a journalist would even make such a statement. But his comments, and the ascertain by some of his followers who chimed in, line up with the unfortunate misguided judgements a lot of people make; the assumption being that if you’re dressed in what appears to be “high fashion” clothing, then you must be wealthy. And likewise, if you look like your clothes came off a store rack at a shopping mall department store, then the person is less well off, unable to afford a more professional look for their workplace. Some of his followers tweeted a response that she couldn’t possibly be as bad off as she’s suggested in the past, if she’s able to “wear clothes like that.”

I’m in no way suggesting that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lives at the poverty level or shops at thrift stores. But what if she did? Would that make her any less of the person she is; any less qualified to want to have a voice in how her community, her state, and this country is run? Politics aside. And whether I agree or disagree with any of her positions, why are we judging someone by what what they do or don’t wear; what they drive, or how they get around; where they can and can’t afford to live? Maybe that’s one of the problems with American politics. American people keep electing their government officials who don’t live anything like them; who have never struggled to keep things together between pay checks; who have to make hard decisions each month, for the sake of their budgets; who worry that they’re one hospital stay, or two paychecks away from losing it all. And then they expect these same people to actually work and pass legislation on behalf of them and other working class Americans!

But I don’t want to get political. What I do want to get is real. If you’re one of the many working poor, who go into work everyday, rotating the same five outfits throughout each month. If you’re one of those who’s working a full-time job with a check that seems like part-time pay; with more going to bills and just the cost of life, than anything that can be saved to build or help out later. If how you make ends meet is by shopping at thrift shops and discount stores; giving up cable and the fancy mobile devices; and limiting hair cuts and manicures to special events a few times a year. Take heart. You’re not alone. We’re sadly a growing majority, some who even went into debt attending college so that we wouldn’t become a part of this story. Living in a time where the housing market has priced you out of that homeownership dream, while apartment rent remains as high as a mortgage. The working poor. Making just enough to be priced out of most programs designed to help those living in poverty, but not enough to live upon those means. 

Everyone has a story. Don’t assume you know what it is. If you’re fortunate not be  among the working poor, be thankful instead of arrogant. And maybe instead of retweeting an ugly comment, or making up one of your own, think about someone at your own workplace, in your neighborhood, or at your school, who might be just barely hanging on. And then find a way to reach out to them and help.

 

 

The Cost of Higher Education

I was recently talking with two parents whose children are heading off to college.  One was dealing with financial aid issues and was concerned about the amount of debt his son might have to deal with after graduation. He acknowledge that he and his wife would be helping out, but that the costs of school exceeded what they’d be able to outright pay for. And since his son didn’t make high enough grades for any academic scholarships or grants, they would need to rely on various financial aid packages.

The other one expressed how happy he was to be dodging that bullet since his oldest had chosen to take advantage of a relatively new program in the state of Tennessee called the Tennessee Promise. With this program it provides FREE education at a community or technical college for two years, with the student graduating with an Associate degree. The advantage of this program is in not only allowing students a free education, but since most of the courses are General Studies classes, those wanting to go beyond an Associate to get their Bachelor’s degree, can apply to an in-state 4-year university to take the remaining two years of course work. This means they have two years longer to save up enough money to continue their education, if they’d like, or seek employment in the area of their two-year studies, and not have the burden of student loans to pay back.

To me, any parent living in this state, who doesn’t have $80,000 to pay for their student’s 4-year college tuition is kinda crazy for not to taking advantage of their kid receiving free higher education for two years; and cutting that financial commitment almost in half, should they choose to continue!

I understand a parents desire for their child to be able to choose where they want to attend school, just as much as they should be allowed to choose what it is they want to major in. But if the alternative is cleaning out your retirement funds, or having to prolong retirement for many years beyond your original plan, then I think looking at other resources needs to be on the table. 

The first guy was also struggling with the notion of his son declaring himself as independent. It seemed to bother him that a student could do that, or worst, that parents would want their kids to do that so that they don’t have to pay for their college education. So I interjected.

“You do know that there’s no law in this state that mandates a parent having to pay for their child’s college education?” I asked. 

Higher Education is a privilege not a mandate or a right. 

While I wish everyone who wanted to attend college could do so, and I wish our country could figure out a way to make it more affordable, if not free, it is still not a parent’s responsibility to empty their 401K, take out huge loans, or take on a second job just so they can pay for their kid’s education. Not only is it not their responsibility, but it can be dangerous for someone in their mid-50s, as was the case for him, to risk their financial future, especially being that close to retirement, in order to pay for their child’s education.

I went on to remind him that while some people can, and do pay for their children’s college; many parents don’t even have the luxury of choice in ever having had an education fund for their child, and they don’t make enough money even now to pay the tens of thousands of dollars tuition has grown to; even at state schools.

The other guy said his family fell into that group. “As sad as I am that I can’t, I just told my daughter that there was no way her mom and I could afford to pay for her college tuition. The money just wasn’t there. But fortunately for us, she was actually interested in attending a community college first any way. We were lucky.”

Sadly, I’ve heard too many accounts (and know of some personally) of parents trying to find money anywhere they can to pay for their student’s education, only for that student to not do well in school — either from not being ready for the demands of higher learning, or being away at school, or from just not caring or taking school seriously enough to try.

At the end of our conversation the first guy recounted a story of someone he knew who paid for her son’s first year of college, and after he managed to fail both semesters, she put the financial burden on him to continue forward and participate in the cost of his own education. The last time he checked, his friend’s son was doing quite well in school; even talking about the lessons he learned after blowing his first year, and the difference it’s making being responsible for it all himself.

student with books

I think if parents have the means, and the desire to pay for their children’s college education, then they should do so. For some friends of mine, it’s almost like an insult to them not to provide that for their kids. At the same time, I don’t think other parents who can’t afford it, should be made to feel bad about needing financial assistance, or having their student declare independence, in order to qualify for the various grants and loans they would have access to apart from their parents. 

It does come down to money, planning, and sometimes, just being able to adjust to a new normal, and being alright with it.

 

 

From the Garden to the Freezer: Making it Last

Saturday was a beautiful day; and not just because the weather cooperated and didn’t rain out my day. No, it was good because I spent it doing something I haven’t done in such a long time. 

I baked!

I used to enjoy baking, and even cooking a lot more. I haven’t had the time, or rather, I haven’t taken the time to do anything more than preparing a meal. But today, I decided to not allow the fresh zucchini and yellow squash given to me from a friend’s garden, go to waste.

The zucchini from Lisa’s garden was so large that I used less than half of it to make a full batch of the bread. I decided to get a little creative as well, using oat flour instead of white flour, and coconut sugar instead of white sugar. The texture was a little different, but they tasted just as good as any others I’ve made in the past. 

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Thinking ahead, I decided to bake them as small loaves so that I could freeze some for later. And with half the zucchini still leftover, I think I’ll make some time in my Sunday afternoon to make even more. They make the perfect quick breakfast; paired with coffee or a glass of milk and some fruit!

My friend blessed me with some yellow squash as well. And to be honest, I’ve been staring at them with guilt looking at them laying on the counter for over a week. I’d already prepared some for dinner on the stovetop, In my typical sautéed with onions and butter. And while that was nice, I just didn’t feel compelled to try to eat the rest of the squash in that fashion. But I also knew that the clock was ticking on their freshness. And I didn’t want to waste a gift of food, especially garden fresh food. So onward to a squash casserole I went.

From one large squash I was able to make two small casseroles. Of course, one headed straight for the freezer. The other one complimented the leftovers I had for dinner, with plenty still to enjoy later in the weekend. 

In between the chopping, preparing, and baking, I sat and vegged out on a marathon of another new, mindless reality show that I came across, stopping occasionally to play a word game on my phone; something I added recently to help sharpen my mind and help keep me focused.

Late afternoon found me outside cleaning out a car I’m preparing to sell. I made a promise to myself that any money I get from the sale will go straight into my savings account, after first paying off my dental bill.

By the end of the day, I at first thought I hadn’t really accomplished anything major, including the dishes still in the sink, the result of my sudden burst of domesticated kitchen goddess, I actually felt really good this evening. I’d been able to take vegetables from the garden and make some food for now, and some for the freezer to enjoy later. And since most of the items I needed for both dishes were already in the house, or things I needed for the house anyway, the cost was minimum.

My hope, dream, and future plan is to eventually buy a house with a reasonable amount of land where I can walk to the backyard, out into my own garden, and save money not having to go to the grocery store for vegetables, herbs; maybe even fruit from trees, while hopefully being able to bless others as I have been so fortunate to be blessed by friends over the years.

How fun would that be?!

Yep, It’s Time to Go Back to School

It’s that time of year — again. While many families in the northeast, midwest, and the west coast are celebrating the midpoint of their summertime, with backyard cookouts, trips to the lake, and the kids being gone for another week or two away at camp, many southern state families are spending these final days of July shopping to replace the clothes and shoes their kids grew out of since last fall, and hectically going through the school district’s mandatory shopping list, in preparation for a return back to school soon.

In Tennessee, as with most southern states, students return to school before the end of August. In the Middle Tennessee area, which includes Nashville, students will be back to school by the first week of the month! Can you even imagine?

For one of the neighboring counties of Nashville, the busses will start rolling out this Wednesday, August 1. And almost all of the other area counties will follow less than a week later, with returns on August 6, 7, and 8! So if you sense a little panic from your southern Facebook and Instagram friends with kids, now you know why.

Fortunately, this is also Tax-free weekend (July 27-29) for the state of Tennessee. For those whose states may not offer this, it is a weekend once a year when parents can stock up for the school year, buying clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even computers, and pay no sales tax. In a state where the sales tax is 9.75%, that shopping bill can add up really fast. But so does the savings, if you plan ahead and do most, if not all, of your shopping during this time period. I mean, imagine a college student being able to save almost $100 for that $1,000 computer they need, by just choosing to purchase it this weekend versus next!

And now that parents are tasked with buying supplies for more than just their own child, planning your shopping adventure is even more important.

This is an actual list of school supplies for one of the local elementary schools:
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Crayons – 24 Count
  • #2 Yellow/Wood Pencils Sharpened with Erasers, 24 Pack
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Ruler 12″ Standard/Metric
  • Protractor
  • Pocket Folders
  • Pens
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Spiral Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Package(s) of Sticky Notes
  • Box(es) of Facial Tissues
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Canister(s)
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled

A Middle school list in the same district looks like this:

  • Pens, Blue
  • Pens, Black
  • Pens, Red
  • Pencils, #2
  • Package(s) of Cap Erasers
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled
  • Notebook paper
  • Package(s) of Graph Paper
  • 1″ Binders
  • Write On Dividers
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Highlighters
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Hand Sanitizer – Bottle(s)
  • Canister(s) of Disinfecting Wipes
  • Box(es) of Kleenex Facial Tissues
  • Paper Towels – Roll(s)
  • Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue Gun Glue Sticks
  • Package(s) of Index Cards
  • Box(es) of Reclosable Storage Bags
  • Package(s) of Printer/Copier Paper – Colored
  • Masking Tape
  • Package(s) of Plastic Cups
  • Box(es) of Plastic Forks

So don’t just shop. Shop wisely.

  • Shop at the right stores.  Find the ones that have the lowest price on the things you need.
  • Use coupons. As you see, the school supply lists have grown way beyond pencils and paper. Look for store or manufacture coupons for those paper towels, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and Purell that many schools now require.
  • For your student heading off to college, check out yard sales and online sites where you can find inexpensive desks, chairs, bookcases, and other things for their dorm room and apartment.
  • And don’t be too embarrassed to shop at discount stores and places like Goodwill, where they also offer special discounts on top of their lower prices, including a 10% Student Discount on Sundays; a 10% Senior Adult Discount on Tuesdays; and 10% Military discount on Wednesday. Again, every little bit helps!

When it comes down to it, making the most of your time and saving the most of your money, requires some planning and preparation. But your bank account will thank you for all of the dollars you save. And you’ll thank yourself when that money comes in handy later; usually unexpectedly.

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Every Day’s a Good Day to Save Money

I love freebies! I know, I know. How can you tell? But seriously, I’m all about saving money, finding discounts, using coupons, and getting FREE stuff! Whether that’s birthday freebies, like I took advantage of last month. Or earned rewards freebie from several places I normally shop. I get a big rush when I see the register ring up items, and I don’t have to hand over any money. Sometimes, with taxes, I may have to reach for some pennies and nickels, but not dollars. That’s always my goal.

I actually wish I was more organized and more disciplined to really keep up with which store was running a sale at the exact same time that I’ve collected coupons.  I know I could be saving so much more money. When I do get lucky enough to do that, I love watching the register go in the negative direction. Just the other day I picked up a large container of laundry detergent, regular price of $6.99, but it was on sale for $4.99. On top of that I had a $1.00 off coupon for that brand, so I paid only $3.99! That’s a three dollar savings because of timing and coupons. With today’s increasing gas prices, $3.00 represents another gallon of gas to me!

One of the reasons I love shopping at Kroger so much is the earned points on gas, the in-store savings each week, and the coupons they send in the mail. Part of their rewards program that I’ve been enjoying taking advantage of is the Friday Downloads!  

For a while I thought it would be one power bar after the next, after a couple of weeks of candy bars (which I don’t eat, but shared with my students). I’d almost given up, until recently they’ve had more things that I’ve enjoyed and actually use, like Tic Tac gum and one of the flavored waters. Last month, the downloads included a full loaf of bread, and a regular size of the Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice.

Getting something for free each week is nice, but this week, I was able to get several items for (almost) free at a retail outlet.

At World Market, I had my eye on some wooden baskets that had been marked down several weeks ago. I used one a few weeks ago to put together a birthday basket for a friend. The marked down price was already nice. But using my own birthday rewards money to get the items was even nicer.

IMG_6690So when I returned there, I planned to grab a few more of them while they were on sale. I liked that they were wooden and a great alternative to the gift bag world we have turned in to . “Buy a gift. Stuff it into a bag. Maybe add some tissue paper. Call it a day!”  

I like that the wooden basket offers a second chance use other than just holding the goodies.

So much to my surprise, not only did they still have several baskets left, but they had been moved to a special SALES table — 50% OFF of the red tag sale price! Jackpot!

Suddenly my large $7.99 basket that had already been marked down to $3.98 earlier, was only $1.99! And the smaller ones that had been $4.99 before being marked down to $2.49 were only $1.24. But also, for some reason, the pink colored one was no longer an “in” color, according to what the sales clerk told me! So they had marked those down even lower! But wait! There’s more. Two days earlier I received a 15% off the total sales coupon! What a pleasant surprise.

Two large and two small decorative wooden baskets later, along with three speciality bars of soap, and I went back for a small glass lantern I’d seen on the table too. 

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I knew if my calculations were correct, it should come to about ten dollars. But my goal wasn’t just to go shopping to spend $10.00.My goal was to spend the exact amount of my rewards coupon — which was ten dollars. It was FREE money to be spent, and I wasn’t about to let it expire.

And exactly how did I end up with ten dollars in rewards in a non-birthday month?

Well after winning the search for the World Market golden Llama back in June, and winning money with that, I received an additional rewards coupon for being an Explorer member! I mean, basically they rewarded me twice for finding the golden ticket. Now that’s what I call a pretty good rewards program; one that gives you money just for being a member, as opposed to racking up mounds of shopping debt before earning anything!

When the register rang up, my total, with taxes? Forty-six cents! Yes, just 46 cents for stuff I’ll actually use. The pear soap has already found its way into the guest bathroom, and one of the small baskets is being used in the guest bedroom for guests to have a place for their keys, cell phones, and stuff. The large basket has found its place on the desk in my bedroom, holding books, journals, and notecards. 

You can live on a budget, and still shop for fun stuff, and find great gifts without running up your credit card, if you stop and take the time to join reward programs, search online (or for old school — in the newspaper) for coupons, and keep an eye out for when your favorite stores run sales.

One birthday month regret I do have is not getting to use my ten dollar Chico’s coupon. I went to use it one day but couldn’t find anything in that price range. I did find a pair of earrings that were on sale, but they wouldn’t apply the store percentage on the remaining amount after the coupon, so it left me owing $5.00. She tried to explain why it rang up the way it did, but all I thought about was the fact that I didn’t go in there to spend five dollars. I was there just to spend the money from the coupon, and couldn’t justify spending extra money just to be able to use the coupon. So I left with nothing.

If you’re shopping just to shop, and end up spending money you wouldn’t have normally spent just to use a coupon, then you lose. It’s not a saving if you spent money to get something you’re only buying because you have a coupon. Resist the temptation to fall into that trap.

Maybe coupons aren’t for everyone. And I’ve had a friend tell me she doesn’t sign up for rewards programs because she doesn’t want to get all the emails. I don’t mind emails from places I shop (and I don’t sign up for programs at places where I don’t), if it means saving money on things I need. But whatever you decide, if you want to get serious about saving money, then you need to get serious about making a plan for how you’re going to do it.  Saving is one thing. Spending wisely is another. You can do both. Just be strategic. It’s worth it. And you can still have fun while doing it!