Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Best Deals on Non-PVC Yoga Mats

There's a reason that your average sticky yoga mat is so inexpensive. They are made with PVCs (poly vinyl chlorides), a common (but toxic) thermoplastic resin, that doesn't biodegrade and can off-gas or leech during use.

If you're looking to upgrade to a more eco-friendly type of mat, you have a lot of choices--but you have to be willing to spend significantly more than you would for a regular sticky mat. Thrifters know, however, that that doesn't mean you can't get the most for your money.

For Christmas, I decided to do my homework and buy myself an earth-friendly mat. I did tons of research and found that the best deal for me was at Barefoot Yoga. I paid $38.95 for a TPE mat (thermo plastic elastomer), a non-toxic plastic that can be melted down for reuse.

I chose this mat after narrowing my options to nine online stores. (Because of time constraints, I didn't feel I had time to call around or visit local yoga studios to see if they carried any perfect mats.) I found the nine online outlets by Googling and using shopping bots, such as MySimon.com. I also checked Overstock.com to no avail.

I decided to purchase some additional items at Barefoot Yoga, so I got free shipping.

Other options included Lotuspad, which calls PVC yoga mats "some of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. The site quotes Greenpeace as saying, " The manufacture, use, disposal, and recycling of PVC releases some of the most toxic chemicals we know of. Mercury, lead, dioxins and phthalates are all used or released in the manufacturing of PVC. In fact, PVC manufacturing is the single largest use of industrial chlorine. These compounds cause cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive system harm, immune system damage, and other serious health problems..." [Read the full Greenpeace quotation here.]

At the time I was shopping, Lotuspad was offering $5 shipping, which was better than competitors and was having a 25% off sale. However, the colors and sizes of its TPE mats weren't quite right for me, so I decided to buy elsewhere. If you're looking to buy kid-sized eco-mats, definitely visit Lotuspad and look around.

I also tried Natural Fitness, which sells "premium eco-fitness products." The mats were reversible, available in pleasing colors, and some included DVDs. However, after factoring in the cost of the mat ($39.99) and shipping ($7.95), I decided not to buy there.

Yogasite.com has an Eco-Friendly Yoga section with mats ranging from $34.95-$79.95, including bio-degradable mats. I found the color selection to be too limited, however.

YogaAccessories.com also sells ECO mats, but only in one color combination (blue/black reversible).

Last on my list was Target, which sells a couple of Gaiam brand natural mats at decent prices (roughly $38-$40) plus shipping. However, since the pricepoint was almost identical to Barefoot Yoga, I opted to go with the independent business with the earth-friendly business philosophy and specialty in yoga accessories, rather than the big box store (with a smaller selection).







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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Avoid Sneaky Late Fees

The credit card industry makes a large portion of its income on its exorbitant late fees. They want you to be late. Devising a system that works for you is essential. For instance, always putting your bills in one place when they arrive or always paying bills on the same day of the week works well for a lot of people.

I, myself, like to receive both paper and electronic bills--plus I have set up all of my credit cards to send me little reminder e-mails when my bill is ready and when it is approaching its due date.

It can be tempting to pay your bill at the last minute--to hang onto your own money as long as you can before you hand it over to them--but beware. Even if you make an online payment, which should be instantaneous on a business day, you are likely NOT protected from incurring late fees.

HSBC, for instance, a major credit card lender, warns its customers who pay online that standard payments "post in 1-2 business days, late fee may apply." For those paying by check through the mail, it's important to leave at least ten days--more to be safe--to allow for transport time and "processing" time.

Of course, if you want an instant payment, HSBC will let you, but at a premium.

In a nutshell, pay your credit card bills early, even if you are paying online. Make a note of your transaction number and print and keep a receipt. If you pay two days before your due date and are still charged a late fee, make a polite, but assertive phone call to your credit card company, provide them with the confirmation number that proves you paid on time, and see if you can get the fee refunded. If you are a customer in good standing, they will often do this. Sometimes, they offer to refund half the fee. Still annoying, but better than sucking it up.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

To Buy or Not to Buy: Renter's Insurance

I recently got to the point in my life where I felt it was important to insure my belongings. I've been a renter for 14 years and, in general, have been too cash-strapped to invest in renter's insurance. Instead, I invested in extra smoke detectors, a fire extinguisher, and used some common sense. (No burning candles left unattended; know where the shut-off valve for the water and gas lines are, lock the doors and windows at night or when I'm away, etc.)

Also, I've been thrifty about my furniture, dishes, and other belongings. 90% of my books are used and could be replaced easily and affordably. Same with my furniture. For instance, I'm currently living in a two-story, three-bedroom apartment with living room, dining room, kitchen, walk-up attic, and full (unfinished) basement. I've fully furnished the property--including stocking the cupboards with pots and pans, and an overabundance of linens--and hardly spent a dime. Most of what I own, I was able to come across free, cheap, or to receive as a gift.

However, now that I have a more stable income and I can actually afford to shell out a bit of cash to protect my possessions, it really does make sense. I know several people who have lost everything to fire. Four were apartment-dwellers; one a homeowner. It happens. I live in a duplex, which means no matter how safe I am in my apartment, if my neighbors (my horrid landlords) were to have an accident or cause a fire, I would likely also suffer damage and loss at my place--an event totally beyond my control.

While I've been thrifty in acquiring my possessions, it would be expensive, disheartening, exhausting, and incredibly time-consuming to replace them. It's taken years to accumulate my thrifty collection of stuff; it would take just as long to replace it using the same method.

Plus, I have a few nice things now. I invested in a delicious set of expensive sheets that make me moan a little bit with joy every time I slip between them. I got them on sale, but they'd cost almost $90 to replace. I have three televisions--all of which I got for free, but they're very nice and replacing them would be costly. Three computers, a printer, three digital cameras, MP3 players, my bed--you get the drift.

So, I went ahead and got a quote from a local insurance agency. I made sure to get replacement coverage, which means that if my house burns down, I can buy a new bed, television, printer, etc. and my insurance will reimburse me. If you don't have this coverage--which costs a little extra--then you'll only be reimbursed for the actual cost of your belongings. How much is a five-year old full-sized bed worth versus the cost of replacing it? Or a one-year old computer? If you don't get replacement value coverage, you may as well not buy insurance at all, in my opinion.

But, here's the catch. After choosing my policy and sending in my first payment, a few weeks went by and I still hadn't received a copy of the policy. I called my agent and she discovered that I had, in fact, been turned down by the insurance company. Why? All they would tell her was that it was my credit--and they sent her back my check.

This infuriated me. My credit score is very good. I'm gainfully and stably employed in the same field I've been in for 14 years. I don't have a criminal record. But you know what I do have? A bankruptcy on my record. It's been more than three years. My credit score is on the brink of being in the second highest range possible. My income is twice the median for my region. I have a savings account, an IRA, and a 401(k). I don't smoke or own a dog (things that make it harder to get insured), apart from a four-month period where I stopped paying just before my bankruptcy, I have never missed a payment on anything since my first credit card was opened 16 years ago. And I only took out the minimum--$15,000--on my policy. I'm 35-years old with no history of fraud or any reason for them to believe that I don't deserve their coverage.

But, they rejected me. The good news, I suppose, is that another company was willing to insure me. They don't look at a person's credit history, I'm told. Their rates are 20% higher, though.

Mostly, I'm angry that I'm losing money because of something so unfair. They didn't even talk to me. They just rejected me because of--I assume--my bankruptcy.

It's so odd that I was able to get a car loan with a competitive rate, but not renter's insurance.

At any rate, I'm switching my car insurance over to the same agency that got me the renter's insurance, so I'll save a little bit of money there and make up some of the difference between the first policy's rate and the second.

And, as a bonus, the company that rejected me has been covering me for free until I sign on with another company, so, technically, I'm getting about a month and a half of free renter's insurance from them.

In the end, I'm a little bitter, but at least I am insured. And if I took the time to shop around more, I might even find a more competitive rate. For now, there are just too many other things to take care of, so I'm going to fork over the dough ($175/year) for the company that's willing to take me on (Vermont Mutual).

The company that rejected me, by the way, was Merrimack mutual.

I wonder if this was a soft pull on my credit or not? If they dinged my credit by checking it for this, I'm going to be extra-special pissed off!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Save Money on Heating Oil

If you live in New England and heat your home or business with oil, before you buy your next batch of heating oil, visit NewEnglandOil.com. Click on your state to get a chart of local rates from various suppliers.

I tried this out recently and was pleased to discover that my supplier is one of the least expensive in the region. However, the rate indicated in the chart did not match what I paid when I ordered oil last week, so clearly the chart isn't up-to-the-minute. But, I think it still pays to check it out and perhaps call around to confirm prices.

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money This Year: Two

2. Shop with a list. (And don't shop hungry.)
  • This also falls under the heading of #3, Plan Ahead.
  • Peter and I keep a notepad on the fridge. It cost 79 cents and comes with a magnet that holds it up. One pad lasts almost a year. Whenever we run out of something or think of something we want, we put it on the list. Then, when we go grocery shopping, we bring the list, cross things off as we find them. This saves time and it saves money, because we buy fewer impulse items. It also helps to ensure that we have all of the ingredients for our planned meals.
  • Last week, I sat down with the sales circular from our local Big Y grocery store. I made a list of items we needed that were on sale. We drove three miles to the store, bought the items on our list, plus a few others, and saved over $50.

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Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money This Year: Three

3. Plan ahead.
  • Hallowe'en is my favorite day of the year. It's one holiday I feel is really worst investing in. So, I am constantly on the lookout for costume-related items and decorations. I've found almost all of the parts of my best costumes in May or February or some other time of the year when the last thing on most people's minds is Hallowe'en. I find them at yard sales, thrift stores, curb sides, or other free or cheap locations.
  • My stepmother decided that this year would be the last one in which she purchased a "real" tree for Christmas. Instead of going out and buying an artificial tree right away, though, she waited until after Christmas and saved 75%.
  • Every year, on November 1st, I go shopping for half-priced (or better) Hallowe'en decorations. I set a specific budget--say, $5 or $10--and I can usually find plenty of things. I have a plastic bin in the attic where I keep all of my Hallowe'en items, and these things go in there, until the next year. Over the years, I've acquired a great collection, almost all of it at 50% off the retail price (or more).
  • My college class has a reunion every five years. My friends and I always go. One of the important traditions is Ivy Day, when we all dress in white and march in a parade. Rather than scramble for something white to wear, I planned ahead and purchased a white dress at a thrift store for $2--two years before my next reunion. So long as it still fits then, I've made a good investment.
  • Planning ahead works for purchases, as in the examples above, but it also works for saving. If you check the weather and bring along a rain coat or umbrella, you won't be caught buying a cheap poncho for $10 at Disney World or Fenway. If you bring a snack or fill-up a bottle of water, etc. with you when you go out to run errands--or even commute--you'll save the money you would have spent on grabbing a snack or a drink at a store.
  • Sometimes planning ahead means accepting hand-me-downs that might not immediately be useful. I accepted a cake tray, for instance, that was beautiful and would have been expensive to purchase on my own. I almost threw it out once, but was glad I saved it when it was exactly what I needed to present cupcakes during a surprise party, or to hold a crucial item during a solstice ritual, etc.
  • Other plan-ahead items can be things like purchasing gifts ahead of time, when things are on sale, remembering to bring coupons when you go shopping, booking travel in advance, or checking the air in your tires before a long trip, or keeping a bottle of windshield wiper fluid in your car. You get the gist.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money: Five

5. Invest in a candle warmer. You can get one online for about $15. In my experience, they make your jarred candles last 200% longer, which, for a typical Yankee Candle candle, means you save up to $40 per candle. (Since new ones cost about $20.) They also reduce (or practically eliminate) the risk of starting a house fire, which is a very expensive proposition. And, they reduce waste.

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Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money This Year: Recap

Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money This Year: Six

6. Advocate for yourself.

  • In December, I bought a book via Half.com. The book should have arrived in two weeks. I took the time to read the rules, followed the correct procedures, and got a full refund. For an investment of about 15 minutes of my time spent searching for and reading instructions, writing e-mails to the seller and to eBay, I got all of my money back. The seller finally shipped the book, six weeks after I ordered it, but by then I had already gotten my refund. Sadly, the seller left angry feedback, which reduced my seller rating from 100% positive to 98.7% positive. Even though this buyer called me "stupid!!!!!!!!," I think it was a smart choice to go ahead and file the claim and post honest feedback about my experience.
  • In December, I also bought myself two CDs online from a yoga specialty store. They didn't arrive on time, so I began writing to the store. It took many assertive e-mails, but eventually I got both of my CDs (it took about a month), as well as two bonus CDs and my shipping refunded.
  • Last week, I went to my homeopath for a follow-up visit. He prescribed a remedy that he had told me at the last visit I could throw out because I wouldn't need it any more. The remedy cost $26 to replace. When I mentioned that he had told me I could throw mine away, he replaced it for free.
  • I switched to a new gynecologist. My new gynecologist wanted to perform a new cervical exam and pap smear (something I did not want to pay for--or experience if I didn't have to. Once a year is quite enough, thank you.) I was able to convince her to skip the procedure, even though it was protocol, by telling her I'd have my most recent exam records sent over to her office. It took about half an hour of my time to deal with the bureaucracy at the two offices--and 41 cents for a stamp--to avoid the (financial, physical, and emotional) cost of the exam.
  • I ordered a $1,000 piece of exercise equipment from Amazon.com. (Don't worry, I got it on sale for $600 and got free shipping.) When it arrived, one piece was broken. It still worked, but didn't look as nice with this piece broken. Even though I was dreading the inevitable phone tree--and also wasn't sure where to begin--I dug through the paperwork and started making phone calls. My first call was to the shipper. They were very nice--and picked up the phone right away--but directed me to Amazon. I called Amazon and got a human being right away. She was super friendly and helpful and offered to send me a whole new machine! Since that wasn't necessary, she put me in touch with the manufacturer. I navigated a phone tree, got a very friendly, helpful employee, and in three days, had the part I needed at no cost to me. It was worth the 20 minutes or so I spent on the phone and digging through paperwork to have a pristine machine. It will also help in terms of retaining some measure of re-sale value, should I decide to unload it at some point.
When advocating for yourself, it's best to be polite, but assertive. Take notes. Take names. And use the phrase, "Is there anything you can do for me?" You can also ask for specific things, such as a "courtesy discount" when you've been inconvenience, or a refund of your shipping charges if there's been a serious delay or some other shipping-related issue.

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money This Year: Eight

8. Try Before You Buy. I've saved a ton of money by trying things out before I bought them. Often, I'll hear about a book or product, or I'll hear a song and want to get it right away. But I've gotten in the habit of resisting these impulse buys, even though I'm really good at convincing myself that I should get it, get it, get it!

My best resource for trying before buying is my local library. Even though I live in a small town, I'm fortunate that we have a big library--made even bigger by the CWMARS feature, which allows residents of any MA town to borrow books and other resources from any other MA library for free. If I hear about a book, for instance, I can almost always get a copy from my local library. I simply go online, log in to my account, search the catalog, and order the book. A copy is delivered to my local branch, I get an e-mail, and I go pick it up. Nine times out of ten, the book I want is available. And, nine times out of ten, I decide I don't need to buy it after all.

Other resources are friends, who will often loan a book or CD or movie to me. I'm always careful to keep track of what I have, who I got it from, and to return it promptly.

Rhapsody (an online music subscription service) has a massive database of songs and will let you listen to every song they offer three times for free. If you hear of an artist or a song, you can listen before you buy.

In the case of shoes, exercise equipment, accessories, clothing, etc., I will often seek out a local source where I can try on, touch, or try out the item. If the local price is anything close to what I can find online, I buy local. But, sometimes, the price differential is so substantial that I shop locally, but buy online.

Recently, I wanted a Lexie Barnes bag. I did extensive research online and nearly bought a bag, which was originally $85 on sale for $40, with free shipping and a free gift (a smaller matching bag regularly $18)--the best deal online. However, I just couldn't quite tell if I'd like the pattern or the size of the bag. So, I found a local retailer where I could try the bag on for size. In the end, I loved it--and the salesgirl!--so much that I bought it there. I didn't get the free bag, which I'm still kind of bummed about, and I paid $4 more than I would have online. But, I got instant gratification and I supported a local business. Two things worth feeling good about.

And, for those Thrifters who are aghast at the expensive bag, I'll say that I expect to have this bag forever. As a woman who kept her first pretty bra for twenty years and owns four comforters with an average age of fifteen years, I can assure you that once I buy something I like, I buy it to last. This bag meets my Thrifting biggest rule of thumb: it was a conscious consumption. I thought long and hard about it. I researched my options. I tried before I bought. and this interesting, durable, waterproof, practical, gorgeous, (okay, trendy) bag makes me happy every time I use it--which is every day!

For years, I'd been using tote bags that I'd gotten for free and embellished with buttons, vintage fabric scraps, etc. But as much as I loved them, I also felt sort of dowdy and dumpy whenever I slung them over my shoulder. Now, I feel sporty and special and ready-for-anything. In my version of Thrift, this is what it's all about.

If you're looking for a good deal on a Lexie Barnes bag, by the way, the Lexie Barnes site's sale section has good deals on discontinued patterns. And ebags.com also has good deals and promotions.

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Ten Things You Can Do to Save Money this Year: Nine

9. Pay your bills online. If your bank doesn't offer free online bill pay, you can generally set it up directly through the company to whom you owe money (such as your phone or cable company).

The savings will vary, but include the cost of checks and the cost of stamps (roughly $25/year if you pay five bills per month through the mail). (Can you think of anything you'd rather do with $25 than buy stamps?)

Additional savings include late fees associated with lost checks, lost or misplaced bills, and late payments.

Automatic online bill pay features can also be advantageous if you are trying to pay down debts, such as credit cards, mortgages, or car loans. If you set a certain amount (above what's due) to go every month, it will definitely happen--and on time--versus the old-fashioned check-writing method, which is more fallible. Some months you may feel you can't afford the extra cash toward a credit card or mortgage if you are the one taking the time to physically write the check, but, if your checking account just does it automatically, you only have to make the decision once.
The one caveat here: if you are a person without a regular income, without direct deposit, with a shared checking account and a flawed system for managing it, etc., don't set up auto bill pay features. Remember, in order for auto bill pay to be beneficial, you have to have the money in your account. If an auto bill pay feature causes overdraft fees, you'll only be causing yourself additional stress, strain, and expense, so skip the tempting convenience and keep writing checks or using manual online bill pay.

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Ten Things You Can Do To Save Money This Year: Number Ten

10. Stop watching (commercial) television.
If you are a TV-lover like me, this might seem shocking and impossible-slash-obnoxiously-liberal-intellectual, but hear me out. Commercial television's primary purpose is to create desire in you. Unnecessary desire. To be different than you are, have more and different things; the primary purpose of commercial television, in short, is to get you to buy stuff.

According to Tom Bell, Staff Writer for the Portland Press Herald business section, "Consumer debt is at record levels, and the personal savings rate has fallen into negative territory at minus 0.5 percent. The savings rate has only been negative for a full year twice before, in 1932 and 1933, when Americans were struggling through the Great Depression."

I believe this lack of savings is due in large part to our near constant contact with television and other forms of advertising. It's everywhere! Football stadiums, magazines, tee-shirts, even in some schools. We'll get to those other things later, but for now, if you want to save a substantial sum of money this year, stop watching commercial television. Here's how:
  1. Invest in TiVo or another DVR technology and fast-forward through commercials. Become a conscious consumer of television. Choose your shows, make a schedule, watch the things you know you want to watch and skip all the commercials. You'll be amazed at how light you eventually feel! Without watching all the ads in between the segments of your shows, you are left only with the desire you create yourself (plus the desire created by the things in the show itself and the other ads you consume, but still, it's an improvement!). It feels really good to want only what you really want, not what someone is trying to sell you. On your own would you want an iPhone, or is it just the ads that make them seem irresistible? On your own, would you sit on the couch and feel that you needed a new Toyota/a Thighmaster/a freezer full of Lean Cuisine/a pair of jeans from Old Navy? Odds are, that no, you wouldn't generate that desire on your own. Spending on things that aren't coming from your authentic desire is a huge waste. Investing in a TiVo or DVR is a case where spending money can ultimately save you money.
  2. Stop watching altogether. Cancel your cable and listen to the radio, read the paper, and watch shows and movies on DVD or online. Netflix has an excellent selection and presents a good bang-for-your-buck. Choose this method and you can save money (by not spending on cable) and save even more by cutting out *even more* unnecessary desire than with the TiVo/fast forward solution. Yay! My friend Maria is doing this this winter and so far, it's been a great success for her.
  3. Go old school. I still tape all of my shows using VCRs. I have three VCRs. Two built-in to TVs and one separate. I have a complex system of taping and reviewing and I manage to tape and watch all of my shows without viewing hardly any commercials. This method is more affordable than the DVR version, but also takes more commitment.
  4. Cut back on your cable package. Are you paying for channels you don't really watch? In Massachusetts, most Red Sox games are on NESN, a network you have to pay extra for. But there's no rule that says you have to pay for that channel all year long. If you added a channel for a certain benefit--to watch Dexter, The Sopranos, the Red Sox, etc.--cancel it once that benefit is over. I don't need to pay for NESN during the winter. I don't need to pay for HBO or Showtime when none of the shows I like are airing new episodes. If you don't want or need any premium channels at all, you can call your cable company and ask for "reception" cable. It's the most basic of the basic, and they often won't tell you they offer it, but they are required by law to do so. The price should be about $5 per month, and it should give you all the major networks (ABC, NBC, PBS, CBS, FOX) plus some others. I've used this version of cable in Massachusetts and California and received as few as 13 channels and as many as 57. No matter what your cable operator tells you, they are required to give this to you, so if they give you a hard time, keep at it until they acquiesce.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Save on Candidate Gear

If you're looking to support Barak Obama, now is a good time to visit the official online store of his campaign. Through Sunday, December 2, enter coupon code "Fall07" to save 10% on your oder. Enter coupon code GFC to save 15%. I don't know if you can use the two together...

Also, the store is discontinuing some of its merchandise so there are some deals to be had, including $10 tank tops. Enjoy.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Furniture Shopping

I moved in May, and when I did, the old behemoth of a dresser I'd been using finally broke to the point where it was more satisfying to dispose of it than to find a way to repair it. I'd gotten it for free and used it for more than three years, so I felt that the $15 I gave the guy at the dump to take it off my hands was worth it in the end. (Although it really is sad to send anything to the landfill, isn't it?)

Since then, I've been living without a dresser. I've shopped around, but everything was super expensive, cheaply made, or not my style. For a while, my temporary solution was to use a plastic set of drawers that I bought on sale at Target. I don't like bringing more plastic furniture into my home. It's not attractive; you can't recycle it; it always breaks; the potential bad effects of the off-gassing make me nervous; and it's made from petroleum. But, one night just after I got my new job, I was so frustrated by my lack of storage space and the complete absence of drawers in my life, that I drove down to Target and bought the drawers.

Meanwhile, I continued to troll Salvation Army, yard sales, and other sources of inexpensive furniture with no luck. Finally, I asked a friend who used to buy, refurbish, and sell furniture where she might go for an affordable, attractive dresser and she sent me to the antique shops on Market Street (in Northampton, MA).

I had a great time shopping, so on its own it was a good, affordable way to spend time, but it also turned out to be an excellent source of quality used furniture.

Before I went, I thought about what I'd like. I measured the spaces in my room where I wanted a dresser to fit. I wrote the measurements down and I brought along my tape measure and as much cash as I was willing to spend.

I found two dressers I liked in my price range at one store, but didn't buy them that day. I went home and mulled it over. It was clear that I wanted the larger of the two dressers for sure, so on Monday, I went back and made the purchase. Two friends went by the next day with their SUV and picked it up and delivered it for me.

A couple of weeks later, I realized that I was still thinking about the other dresser, the smaller of the two. I was also still using the plastic dresser because the first set of drawers wasn't quite big enough to hold everything. I also had an extra motivation: I wanted to clear out one of my closets for my boyfriend who's moving in next month. So, today on my lunch break, I decided to go back and get it. It was still there. I never seem to have the courage to dicker, although I think in general it's expected. But, when I went to pay, I took a deep breath and then asked the woman if they gave a discount for paying cash. She happily took off $4, about seven percent.

By paying cash I saved about seven percent, plus the interest I would have paid if I'd used a credit card.

Altogether, my purchases cost about $110. I have two beautiful, functional antique dressers and I love them.

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Bankruptcy Advice

It's been a long time since I've contributed to my Thrift blog, and a lot has happened in the interim. I'll update you at some point, but for now, I wanted to share an e-mail I sent to the mother of a friend over the weekend. The mother, whom I'm very fond of, had written me for advice about bankruptcy, because her other daughter is planning to file. I'm sharing the e-mail here because I think it might be helpful to others. The names have been changed. **Please don't make a bankruptcy decision based solely on my advice. I am not an attorney and strongly urge you to consult one before making a decision this important.**

One thing to keep in mind if you find yourself considering bankruptcy: you are not alone. Personal bankruptcies are up nearly 50% this year. Collectively, Americans carry almost $980 billion in credit card debt. It's time for things to change.

Also, one thing I don't mention below is that I think it's possible that you may have to report the amount of debt discharged as income in the tax year in which it was discharged. This all depends on whether the creditors report it...and this is a matter for you, your accountant, and your attorney to sort out. The laws have changed since I filed, but this was the law when I went through it.

The attorney I mention below is Denise Shear of the Ostrander Law Office in Northampton, MA. If you are in Western Mass. and need a bankruptcy attorney, I can't recommend her highly enough.
Here's my e-mail:

Hi, Mary,

I'm so sorry to hear that Julia is in this bind, but I'm so glad
that she has the courage to make the right decision for herself.

My parents are visiting for the weekend, so I don't have a lot of
time, but wanted to get some thoughts down to you quickly. (There's
actually a lot here. Once I started, I couldn't stop!)

I filed before the laws changed, so some of what I know may not be
applicable, but most of it will be, I think.

I can say, right off the bat, that it's important to find a good
lawyer. And by good, I mean affordable, knowledgeable, and kind. My
lawyer was crucial to making my bankruptcy bearable. The hardest part
is the shame and guilt. She helped me to see that that wasn't
necessary or helpful. She cost $1009 and that was payable up front.

My attorney practices in Mass. and I think Julia is in California,
right? If Julia would like to contact her she may be able to
provide her with a good referral. I also have some attorney friends
with California connections who might be able to help. Just let me
know.

My second piece of quick, major advice, apart from forgiving herself
and getting a good attorney, is to open a new credit card before her
debts are discharged, if she can. This will give her a new line of
credit that can a) help her in an emergency in the next two years when
it will be hard to get a card and b) help her re-build her credit.

When she goes through bankruptcy, she will choose which creditors to
include. If she has a card with a zero balance, she should NOT include
it. Her rate will likely skyrocket, but the card should still stay
active, and this will be a vital part of recovery for her.

My attorney advised me to stop making payments on my cards as soon as
I knew I'd file for bankruptcy. I don't know if this is still an
advisable practice--and I think in the end it did more damage to my
credit history...but she should ask her attorney about this. If she's
already fallen behind in her payments, then it's a moot point.

I was careful to always pay my rent and my utilities, no matter what,
even if I had to use credit cards. This is wise because it will make
it easier to get apartments and utilities after the bankruptcy. I
would advise using her cards to pay these things off before the
bankruptcy, but again, she may want to ask an attorney if this is her
situation and is advisable.

I would also want to make sure that she understands that student loans
and back taxes can never be forgiven. If her debt is largely made up
of these things, it may not be the right choice for her to file
bankruptcy. These things will follow her to her grave.

also, if she has an IRA, she should NOT touch it. She is allowed to
protect up to $10,000 of her own assets, I think, and she should
absolutely NOT drain an IRA to pay for credit cards, particularly if
she's filing bankruptcy.

One important to statistic to keep in mind: more than half of all
people who file bankruptcy once, file twice. I know that Julia does
NOT want to be in that category. The reason this happens is that
whatever was wrong in a person's life the first time--if it doesn't
get fixed, it'll just keep happening. Especially since now they are
burdened with shame and a bad credit score.

Whatever has been the cause of her insolvency, she needs to face it.
No matter how hard it is. If she has health issues, depression, career
confusion. If it is the result of a bad relationship or reckless
spending--whatever is at the heart of the problem needs loving, brave,
honest attention.

I would recommend any and all of Suze Orman's books. Most importantly,
"Young, Fabulous, and Broke," which will give easy-to-digest practical
advice. I think she should immediately read that and either "Money and
Women" or "The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom" (or all three).

What she needs is a way to understand her relationship to money so
that she can get herself back on track. These books will help her to
understand her self and they will also help her to craft a realistic
budget and make a plan for moving forward, with or without bankruptcy.

Before the bankruptcy, she should do some practical things. She should
take care of anything and everything she can that she will need that
depends on a good credit score.

So, apart from getting a new credit card with zero balance, she should
get herself some health insurance. (I think Alice mentioned that
Julia didn't have any and is self-employed?) If she is going to
stay in California, then she has lots of affordable options. It will
be easier to get health insurance without a bankruptcy on her record.
And it will be easier to avoid future financial disaster if you have
insurance, and also it is an important step towards taking good care
of yourself, to invest in health insurance.

I suggest she start here:
https://www.blueshieldcaplans.com/(ykulyw45h25qigvz41ttxxvb)/default2.aspx?marketcode=00000203MC

Second, she should sort out her living arrangements. If she needs to
rent a room or get a new apartment, she should try to do that BEFORE
her debts are discharged. Same with a car. She will not be able to get
an auto loan for some time after the bankruptcy. (She may not be able
to get one now...but if she depends on having a vehicle, she should at
least consider her options.)

She should also come up with a solid plan for how she will live after
the bankruptcy. If she has been meeting her basic living expenses by
borrowing, the she will have to have a way to live once her credit
cards or other creditors are gone.

She should also check her credit score and print out her full credit
report now. She should keep this on file and then check it once a year
to be sure that everything is in order, and hopefully to watch her
score climb.

Once her debts are discharged, her job will be to a) continue to be
kind and forgiving with herself b) live within her means c) establish
good credit and raise her credit score to 760.

She can establish good credit and raise her score to 760 by continuing
to make regular payments on debts that didn't go away (student loans,
taxes). And by making small purchases on that zero balance credit card
she kept and then paying it off EVERY month in full. This card is
never, ever to be used for things she cannot afford to pay off
immediately, unless there is a dire emergency.

Six months after the debts have been discharged, she should apply for
one new credit card. Never accept a card that requires an annual fee.
Every six months, she should apply for a new card, based on offers she
receives in the mail or offers she finds online, until finally she is
approved for a new one. No matter how high the interest rate, she
should take it, and use it for small monthly purchases--a tank of gas,
her cable bill, etc.

It's important to only apply for credit once every six months because
applying for credit LOWERS your credit score, and our goal here is to
get her score UP. it's a balancing act.

She should never close a card, no matter how high the interest. We
want her to have a good debt-to-income ratio. And we want her to have
a good available credit to debt ratio. So, for instance, a person with
$25,000 of available credit (on cards) who is carrying a balance of
$5,000 will have a better credit score than a person with no credit
cards or a person with one $500 credit card and a zero balance.

But, all that stuff will come later.

For now, it's important to make a wise decision about whether
bankruptcy is the right thing, and then proceed bravely, gently, and
responsibly.

So, quick review of the most essential things:

1) Forgive yourself.
2) Get a kind, affordable, knowledgeable attorney.
3) Do not touch your IRA
4) Do everything you can to make sure you have one credit card,
active, with a zero balance at the time your debts are discharged.
5) Remember that taxes and student loans cannot EVER be discharged.
6) Get Suze Orman's books, read them, and do the work.
7) The Orman books will help her to do the most important thing (after
forgiveness), which is to understand why it happened and how you will
keep it from happening again. If watching is easier for her than
reading, I think there may be Orman DVDs...or she also has a TV
show...but, really, the books are vital.
8) Get health insurance. Blue Cross Blue Shield of CA is good and has
affordable plans for individuals.
9) Get an apartment or a car or anything else you really need squared
away before the debts are discharged.
10) Make a solid plan for how you will meet your living expenses
without credit cards or other loans available to you. If she's
thinking of going back to school, for instance, it's important to
understand that even though student loans cannot be discharged by
bankruptcy, a bankruptcy can make you ineligible to get new student
loans. So, if her plan is to start fresh with graduate school and a
new career, she should find out if she'll be able to get the loans
BEFORE she files. I was prevented from going to law school for this
very reason.
11) Print out a full credit report and KEEP it on file. www.myfico.com
is a good place to go. Re-check it every year, but not too often.
Inquiries into your credit score lower your credit score.
12) Immediately after your debts are discharged, begin working on
re-establishing credit.

I'll end with some good news. Bankruptcy is not the end of the world.
In fact, if you truly are insolvent, it is the most caring,
responsible thing you can do for yourself. Get the load off. Start
(sort of) fresh.

In my case, I was able to re-establish my credit relatively quickly.
Within two years, my credit score was back above 700, I was able to
get a car loan when my truck died, and I have lots of revolving credit
available to me, some of it at 0%. And, some mortgage lenders won't
consider a bankruptcy against you as early as one year after your
debts are discharged.

oh--that's one more thing. there is a lapse in time (I think it might
be a couple of months?) from when you file to when your debts are
discharged. you won't be free (or a person saddled with a bankruptcy)
until the debts are actually discharged.

I would suggest getting caller ID, if she doesn't have it already
and/or changing her number because the creditors will call,
constantly, at all hours until the debts are discharged.

It took a lot of very hard, very difficult work to climb back up. And
I'm still working on it. But it is possible if you're committed.

It may also be possible for her to do something OTHER than bankruptcy.
As I said, if taxes or student loans are the biggest problem, don't
file. There are also ways to negotiate payment plans that involve debt
reduction. She may not need to pay back ALL of her debt. She should
start with the debt counselors at the National Foundation for Credit
Counseling. www.nfcc.org, 18003882227. If they think they can find a
way to get you out of debt in five years, they'll sign you up for a
repayment plan. It will be better--SO MUCH--better than bankruptcy and
will resolve the matter more quickly, actually, because bankruptcy
lasts for more than five years on your record.

She may also be able to negotiate directly with the card companies or
other creditors. Or, if it's possible to get the money from a family
member or other benefactor as a gift or loan, that would be
preferable.

She may also want to consider other drastic measures--like moving back
home, if that's an option, or leaving California (which is so darn
expensive). If she suffers through a year in CT (or Massachusetts
where the state gives you health insurance, for instance), and could
live for free or cheap, then she might actually be able to
realistically reduce her credit card debt substantially. For instance,
if she could live for free or really cheap and could devote 50% of her
income to paying down debts for one year, could she reduce the debts
by $15,000 maybe? that's great progress! and maybe realistic. I would
urge her to consider that.

I had absolutely no where to go and no one to help. If she has
somewhere to go and someone to help, she should strongly consider
that. If that option is absolutely unavailable or unacceptable, then
she can choose not to do it, and choose bankruptcy instead. But it
should just be an INFORMED choice.

The new bankruptcy laws are pretty vicious. So, this is NOT something
to enter into out of sheer desperation. It should be carefully
considered and she should get good advice from an attorney and from
the NFCC. (Although, I think the NFCC is funded by credit card
companies, so they have a vested interest in making sure they get
their money...)

If any of this doesn't make sense, or if there's anything else I can
do, please don't hesitate to ask!

I hope you and Victor are well. I'm so glad Julia has your support.

I haven't talked to Alice since the baby's surgery, but I'm thinking of
them constantly and hoping all is well. You must have been out of your
mind with worry.

Much love,

Naomi

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Friday, March 2, 2007

A Place to Call 'Home': 3.2.07

Since I became clear that my main focus--the thing I want most in the world--is a home of my own, I have learned and done the following things:

1) Checked my credit score. It's up 40 points since this time last year! This moves me into a whole new realm of lending rate possibilities! Combed over three credit reports from the three major companies that produce them to make sure the information was correct. Devised a strategy for raising that score even more in the next six months. (Seriously pay down balances, in part by borrowing money from my mom short-term at 0%; increase credit limits; don't apply for or open any new cards; continue to pay on time and pay more than minimum payments; don't use the cards for new purchases; transfer balances to lower rate cards whenever practical.)

2) Sat with a friend and looked on the Internet at every single available house we could find in Greenfield (half an hour north of here) as well as the ones near my price range in Northampton and other towns. Found one near my price range that I absolutely loved, but by the time I got up the courage to call a realtor, the listing had been removed.

3) Asked a homeowning friend if her home-improvement wiz partner would possibly help me in my search by doing some walkthroughs or helping to answer questions or talk to realtors and/or sellers.

4) Investigated options at the USDA. Their rural development office may just have a program that could assist someone like me. Requested information via e-mail, but was told it would be better to come in person.

5) Instituted a new spending policy and budget method. I have alotted $50/week for groceries and I do not go over this amount. I have allotted $30 per week for entertainment and I keep that cash in my wallet. I re-up on Wednesdays. I do not go over. It's tremendously satisfying to still have cash in my wallet at the end of the week. And it prevents me from making purchases because I have to think--do I really want this? This way, I only get the things I really do want. This week, I only was able to give myself $10 of entertainment money because I didn't earn enough to do more, but I spent less on groceries, so the combination of food and entertainment money seems to be happening sort of organically. I can make choices about how to re-allocate funds on an as needed basis, as long as I don't go over. For instance, there was plenty of food in the cupboards, so I had enough money to treat myself to take out food twice, a coffee, and a soda so far this week--entertainment expenses that came out of my grocery budget.

6) Began investigating alternatives to traditional homes. For example, Tumbleweed Tiny Houses. Perhaps buying land and building a home like one of these will be the answer. I'm also interested in looking into Cob houses, and found a woman who does how-to workshops. She doesn't have a web site, but you can e-mail her at amlywig@yahoo.com. (Her name is Amber DeVoss.) I haven't contacted her yet, but if I do, I'll post the results here.

7) Got some information about local resources, including a lead on classes for potential first-time hoembuyers; a recommendation for a good loan officer at a local bank; and the name of a local housing organization (HAP).

8) Created a notebook where I can take notes, keep track of ideas, and form a coherent plan.

9) Read part of a book for first-time homebuyers.

10) Pursued work with higher-paying clients; completed and invoice for work more quickly.

11) Was conscious of every purchase I made--from underwear to coffee to gas--in terms of my home ownership project. Every dollar I spend on something other than a home is a dollar I spend on something other than a home. It's okay to do this; I just want to be really aware of and satisfied by my choices as I go. I don't feel deprived. I feel excited and alive.

12) Created this category at my Thrift blog.

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Saturday, January 6, 2007

Thrift: Great Find

Every summer, the Hospice Thrift Store in Northampton has a bag sale to clear out its inventory. This year, I got two vintage dresses, a pair of shoes, two sweaters, two pairs of pants, a night gown, a blouse, five bras, a nightgown for my niece, a book for my friend Jemma, some ribbon, and an assortment of sewing supplies. Had I paid full-price at the thrift store for them, they would have cost $48.50. I paid $6.00 for the whole bag.

Four months later, I can report that I've worn almost everyhing I purchased at the sale repeatedly. The shoes are cute and fit great. One of the vintage dresses is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to come out and show its stuff. And for a while I was wearing the nightgown every night. It was definitely money well spent.

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Food Budgets

In order to understand exactly how much I spend on grocery bills, I started keeping track of my receipts. The system is simple. I taped a blank sheet of paper inside a convenient cupboard door. Whenever I bring home groceries, I make a note of how much I spent, where, and when. About every three months, the sheet gets full and I tally it up and keep a running average in an Excel spreadsheet.

Because I don't want to take the time to itemize the bills, my food budget actually includes all items bought at the grocery store, including things such as razor blades and cleaning supplies. As of the end of 2006, I've managed to get it down to an average of $128/month. And I almost never eat out, so that pretty much constitutes my entire food bill for the month.

Part of the reason I can keep it so low is that I belong to a CSA farm, so for half the year, I get lots of fresh veggies that are dramatically lower-priced than they would be at the store. I also eat a lot of meals at home, always eat the leftovers, buy limited quantities of fresh foods so that they don't go bad before I can eat them (i hate that!), and I try really hard to plan ahead, so that I only buy what I'll actually eat. I also keep a good stock of emergency foods on hand, so that when sick, tired, or in a rush, I can feed myself without having to resort to take-out or some other pricey alternative.

There's also a store in Northampton called Deals N Steals where I can get great prices on organic and natural food products that are usually 25% more expensive if bought in a regular grocery store.

Trader Joe's also contributes to the affordability of my grocery bill.

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Good Deal/Gift Idea

Among my favorite magazines is BUST. It costs $19.95 per year for a six-issue subscription. Which isn't any kind of great deal, BUT, every winter, they offer a two-for-one subscription offer. So, if you subscribe for a year, when you renew, you and a friend can split the subscription and only pay $10 each for your very own year of BUST. Or, you can give a subscription as a gift, which I do every year.

BUST is a fun, indie, feminist magazine that screens its advertisers, which I really love.

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Know Where Your Money Goes

I confess: I don't balance my checkbook. I know I should; I know it would be the smart, responsible thing to do. I used to, years ago, when I was sixteen and had my very first checking account. But times were simpler than. There were no ATM cards, no direct deposits, no freelance accounts receivable or online banking or auto-debit bill pay systems. I've made valiant efforts over the years to balance my checkbook, but it never sticks. And once I'm behind, it just seems like a hopeless task to try to sort it all out.

If you're like me and can't bring yourself to deal with balancing that bottom line each month, take heart. Don't bury your head in the sand, just because you can't face up to the debits and credits and checks outstanding on your statement. Shame often keeps us from doing good things for ourselves. And while it may seem like a little thing, many of us are ashamed that we don't do a better job of balancing our books.

If you--like me--just CAN'T, then find something that DOES work for you, that serves the same purpose. Make sure you open your statement every month, for instance, and skim it for things that seem out of whack. Are there fees you didn't expect? Did your paycheck go through? Are there any charges you don't remember making?

And be sure to keep a rough idea of your balance. Check it online or over the phone or at the ATM, and maintain as much of a buffer as possible. Don't rely on overdraft protection to save you--it frequently comes with devastating charges.

You may not balance your checkbook to the penny, but by keeping an eye on it, you will be more active and alert about your finances, and less likely to bounce checks or make purchases you can't really afford.

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The Value of L.L. Bean

I'm from Maine, so perhaps I'm biased, but I love L.L. Bean. They make merchandise that you know that you can count on. They take their lifetime guarantee very seriously, so even though their products often cost more than comparable alternatives, the investment in Bean's items is always worth it.

For example, in 1990, I was given an L.L. Bean backpack by my grandparents for my high school graduation. Four years later, I ran over it with my car (by accident) and the zipper burst. On my next trip home, I stopped in at Bean's and they replaced the backpack with no hassles whatsoever. I even got to choose a new color that I liked better.

Several years later, I upgraded to a larger backpack in a different color. (I can't remember what went wrong with it the second time.) I paid the difference in price between the two packs and have had that pack ever since.

I also own a collection of luggage-like duffel bags in assorted sizes and colors. After many, many trips across (and around) the country, one of them had worn a few holes in the bottom. Last week, I brought it back to LL Bean. I had no receipt and couldn't even remember when I bought it. They gave me a gift card for the full price of a new bag. I used that money ($61.75) towards the purchase of a new winter coat, which I got on sale for $69.99 (saving $30.00).

The coat was on sale as part of Bean's annual winter sale, which I highly recommend you check out. I also returned a pair of gloves I had bought a few weeks earlier, that were too small, and used that money toward a new nightgown, which was on sale.

All in all, I spent about $20 and came away with $140 in new merchandise--merchandise that is guaranteed to last a lifetime.

If you live within driving distance, shopping at the store is great. I always stop on my way to and/or from visiting my family in Maine. If you're shopping via catalog, I recommend using the Web site. There are always items being discontinued or put on sale for other reasons. For instance, I had been wanting a pair of rain boots, and I found them (a pair of colorful jodhpur Wellies) for 76% off last month. I used SmartPost to get free shipping, so for less than $10, I got a $50 pair of boots. And if I ever have any problem with them, LL Bean will replace or repair them for me.

Whenever I shop for outdoor apparel, I stop by LL Bean's site first. I often also start there when shopping for gifts. The free shipping is great--and there's no sales tax, unless you ship your item to someone in Maine. In the lefthand menu at the home page scroll down to Also From L.L. Bean. The first item in this section is Sale.
Since items are grouped by category, you can poke around pretty quickly and see if there's anything amazing on sale for yourself or someone for whom you are shopping. Over the years, I've gotten presents for my younger sister (who's 11), my niece, my nephew, my dad, my stepmother, my mom, and my brother.

If you shop at Bean's frequently, and are good at paying off your balance each month, I also recommend the L.L. Bean credit card. It has perks that really pay off if you shop there frequently.

Thrift recommendations are the result of my own personal experience and are not paid endorsements. For more on my recommendation policy, see this post.

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Friday, December 1, 2006

This Day in Thrift: December 1, 2006

Today I...

...got $25 worth of free gas using a gift card I received from Verizon for switching back to their service from Vonage. I read the insert completely so I'd know how to use it, and put it in my wallet so it would be handy when the time came.

...went to my mechanic about an issue I was having with my headlights. It turned out it was something I could fix myself. He explained how and saved me about $40 in labor. This sort of savings is the happy result of fostering good relationships with people. Being kind, polite, courteous, respectful, and friendly to the people who take care of you is an investment, which usually rewards you with either direct financial dividends, or the less quantifiable but still satisfying emotional ones.

...shipped a DVD I had sold at Half.com. By selling it, I earned $10 back on a DVD I purchased for about $20 and watched once. I shipped it first class, rather than media mail, because the price was nearly the same. By opting for first class, I could ship my package from the automated postal machine, which saved me from spending my time standing in line. Using first class also gives me a competitive edge over other sellers who use the slower media mail option. I advertise the free upgrade to first class with all single DVD or CD orders, and it sets me apart from other sellers offering the same or similar prices for the items I'm selling.

...shopped at Deals and Steals, which my friend Tim calls, "the used food store." I remembered to bring my shopping list with me, which helps. And even though I was hungry--a "no-no" for any food shopping--I still made good choices. For those of you who've never been, or aren't local, Deals and Steals is where dented and scratched goods and foods from places like Whole Foods wind up. It's a great place to get organic foods, for instance, but at half what you'd pay for them at a fancy retail store--or even at your co-op. Today I spent less than $20 and I came home with the following:

2 Newman's Own dark chocolate bars, $.75 each, approx. savings: $2.49
32 oz Grapeseed Oil, $6.75, approx. savings: $1.25
Tom's of Maine Toothpaste, 4.3 oz, $2.25, approx. savings: $.45

I also bought several cans of organic foods that I use often, including diced tomatoes and prepared foods like soups and one of my favorite treats, Amy's spaghetti-o's with tofu meatballs. I saved more than a dollar on each canned product I purchased. These have the added benefit of saving money later because on days when I'm too tired, or busy, or sick to cook, instead of eating out or ordering in, I can heat up something easy and good for me without spending any extra money.

Deals and Steals also sells clothing, shoes, and accessories, and I was able to try on a pair of earwarmers ($25 retail) that I'd been eyeing in the LL Bean catalog. It turns out that they weren't as comfortable as I thought they were. If I wanted to buy them, I could have gotten them for $9.99 (saving roughly $15), but since I now know I don't want them, I saved $25.

...heard about a book on Oprah ("The Money Coach's Guide to Your First Million") that I was excited about. (I like reading the advice of money coaches and financial advisors.) But, I have a firm "try before you buy" policy when it comes to books. So, instead of buying the book, I went online to my local library's website. I searched for the book, found it, and requested it. When it comes in, I'll get an e-mail and go pick it up. I'm lucky to live in a state where the public library system is really strong, has an online presence, and is extremely well-integrated. I'm able to request books from all over the state, and they are delivered right to my local branch.

Because I appreciate and use this service so often--and it saves me so much money--I wrote a thank you note to the director of the library this summer. I am not in a position to make a meaningful financial contribution to the library, but taking the time to write a note of thanks to a person, business, or institution that serves you well is an important way to show your support and encouragement. It's always worth doing and I strongly recommend it.

...I made dinner in--one of the canned treats I got today. I am tired and there's a big thunderstorm happening, so I'm spending my Friday night at home doing things that are free. I'm catching up on work and volunteer projects, doing some comparison shopping for Christmas gifts and other things, and later I'll watch one (or two) of the DVDs I've got from Netflix, and/or read the book I started this week (a gift from a friend who owns a bookstore.) I may also take a bubble bath, with some aromatherapeutic bath suds that I got on a different trip to Deals and Steals, or may take an epsom salt bath, a good way to relax and reduce aches and pains. (I got epsom salts BOGO a few months ago, so I'm well-stocked.)

...protected my appliances and conserved electricity. This thunderstorm is a real doozy, with lightning cracking so close and so loud it vibrates inside my chest. The warnings were all over the news today. So, when the storm started, I went around the house and unplugged every appliance that I could. If there is a lightning strike, I won't lose my TV or my DVD player, my humidifier or my lamps, my printers or my laptop. These things would be very pricey to replace, and upsetting to live without. It's not likely that my home or these power sources will be hit by lightning, but the simple step of unplugging things tonight offers a great potential savings, so it's completely worth it.

...checked my lottery ticket to see if I won. The other day, on a whim, I bought a lottery ticket. I had run into my ex-boyfriend someplace so utterly unexpected (and got really upset about it) that I decided I should try and turn my "luck" on its end. If I could run into him against the greatest of odds, perhaps I could win the lottery! I didn't. But it still cheered me up to buy the ticket...so I think it was worth the dollar. :-)

…listed an item for sale on eBay. It's a vintage TV Guide issue with Dinah Shore on the cover. I used to collect women's sports memorabilia, but now I'm letting go of most of it because I just don't have the space to properly store it. I won't get much—if any—money for it, but since I don't know anyone who'd like to get it as a gift, attempting to sell feels better than just dropping it off at the Book Shed at the dump, or at Salvation Army. (The book shed is--well, a shed--full of discarded books at the dump. You can leave yours, and also take anything you like.

…found the receipt for an office visit to my physical therapist, for which the billing department says I didn't pay. Now I can write them and, for the price of a stamp and a photocopy, resolve the issue.

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Free LL Bean Shipping

LL Bean offers an option to its online shoppers called "Smart Post." It's provided by FedEx and can take up to 14 calendar days--but it's completely free.

To use Smart Post when buying online, you must have a coupon code. These codes change from time to time. The most recent one, 2324840, seems to have been discontinued. I haven't ascertained the new code yet. If you have, please drop me a line or post a comment.

If you're ordering via catalog, I think you can ask the customer service representative directly for SmartPost, although I've not yet tried this.

When I get the new code, I'll post it here.

If you have a SmartPost code, here's how to use it:

When checking out, click the Redeem button, then click the Promotions tab, and enter the 7-digit code in the box. Then click Continue Checkout. Your order total in the upper right corner (and in your shopping cart) should reflect the savings.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This Day in Thrift: Nov. 28, 2006

Today, I picked up a prescription at the Stop N Shop Pharmacy. It was a re-fill, so I had already researched the price. It was significantly cheaper to fill it at Stop N Shop than at CVS. And, when you factor in in shipping, it was also less expensive than at Drugstore.com. I haven't checked the price at the small, family-run pharmacy in town, but I plan to. I'd like to give them my business, if the price is right.

I also went to the pet store and picked up my favorite brand of cat litter, "The World's Best Cat Litter." (It really is.) I shop for pet supplies at Dave's Pet Food City because it is conveniently located, the staff is friendly, the prices are competitive, and with my Club Dave's Card, I earn coupons and free products simply buy buying the things I like to buy anyway. This week, I had a coupon for $5 off anything in the store, if I bought an 8lb or larger bag of Dave's brand cat food. This is my brand of choice, so I bought one and saved $5 on my cat litter purchase.

The Club Dave's Card is the most useful store club card I've ever used. If you forget yours, the employees are happy to look you up. There's no cost, no catches, no hassles, and while you lose some anonymity by allowing a store to track your purchases, the brands I prefer are part of the Club Dave's program, so after I've bought a certain amount of litter or food, I get a free bag, which makes it worth it to me.

I also went to see my chiropractor/homeopath. My bill for the office visit and remedies was over $200. I paid with my debit card, but asked them to run it as a credit card. I earn reward points for using my debit card as a credit card, and it costs me nothing--no interest, no fees, no charges. Unfortunately, the rewards are not very good. You have to accumulate a very large number of points to get anything worthwhile, but it still makes sense to accumulate the points rather than not. And by paying with my debit card, I essentially paid cash. I was tempted to put it on my credit card because it was such a large purchase, but I refrained because even if I paid it in full on my next statement, because I carry a balance, it would have accrued interest. It's always better to pay cash (with check or debit card) if you can, except in specific instances where purchasing with your credit card is beneficial. I'll cover some of those in the future.

Unfortunately, I forgot to eat before I left for the doctor, and I was headed for a serious blood sugar crisis. I stopped at a local market that was on the way and was going to by a Balance bar, for a little less than $2, but instead, I bought half a sandwhich for $2.75. I got some protein and felt more full and happy than I would have if I'd just gotten the Balance bar.

In the evening, I chose not to go to the healing clinic I usually go to on Tuesday nights. At the clinic, I receive alternative healing for about an hour for $10 (or less if you can't afford to pay). The healers are kind, gifted, and generous, and it's worth ten dollars just to be around them for an hour every week. They are students who use reflexology, acupressure, reiki, and other energy work to treat patients.

This week, for a variety of reasons, it felt right and made sense for me to skip the clinic. Instead, I did some yoga at home, had a good dinner (salmon and rice), got some work done, and then went out with friends. I spent $13 on drinks and food, danced until 2am, and had a great time. Since I saved $10 by not going to clinic, my night of fun really only cost me $3 more than any other Tuesday.

Since there's more to thrift than just dollar amounts, it's hard to quantify the value of things, or to make choices based only on the financial price of things. Everything also has a quality-of-life price that we each have to calculate for ourselves. Everyone has to use their own personal judgement to make the call. If trading the clinic for the night out would have made me sicker, it wouldn't have been worth saving the $10 (especially since they'll treat you for free if you need them to).

For me, finding and maintaining wellness is paramount. I wish I had remembered to eat at home, but since I didn't, it was worth it to spend $2.75 to avoid the physical and emotional effects of a blood sugar crash. And, in the evening, I really needed to get out and have some fun. I haven't been dancing in so many months--or years?--that I can't even remember the last time I went. There was no cover charge, and I didn't have to spend money on drinks, but I did, because I was happy to be able to. It felt like an important part of the experience.

You might have chosen to spend your money differently in this day--you may have different priorities, tastes, desires, and goals. But so long as you were conscious of your spending and making informed choices, you were living in thrift.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Living in Thrift

I've been on my own financially since I was 18. I put myself through college and have lived on modest to meager incomes ever since. My hope is that one day I will live comfortably. But even when that day comes, and my income far exceeds my cost of living, I will still practice thriftful living.

Thrift is a state of mind. A way of being. It is a practice of thoughtful spending and resourcefulness that is satisfying, rewarding, and socially and environmentally responsible. Like meditation, you can do it a little or do it a lot, and it will be beneficial either way.

When you practice thrift, you don't eat out just because you can't figure out how to eat in. You know how to stock your kitchen and plan ahead and feed yourself. And when you eat out, it's because you chose to do something special for yourself or someone you care about, or because it was necessary and/or more efficient to do so.

In thrift, we understand the connection between our life energy and our income. We don't spend blindly. We consider the source of our desires and find the best solutions to them. We are empowered by knowledge, and we try to make informed choices about what we bring into our lives, how we pay for those things, and what we do with them once we have them.

This blog will offer tips, guidance, and real life stories to help you increase and better enjoy your thriftfulness.

Yours in thrift,

Naomi Graychase
November 2006

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