Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to Effectively Shop Second Hand

Thrift and consignment stores as well as yard sales offer buyers a great opportunity to get amazing deals. Whether you are trying to reduce your spending budget or looking for things to resale, here is your chance to find fantastic items without watching your wallet cry in agony.

Have a goal.  It's perfectly okay to make a spontaneous purchase every now and again. That's how I ended up with a brand new ellipitical machine and a great art print for my reading corner. I certainly would have missed those opportunities. However, let that be your exception, not the norm. Random and spontaneous shopping can lead to a houseful of junk you're never going to use. Always have an idea in mind. A dear friend  always shops for furniture with great bones and lots of potential that she can upcycle and sell for a profit. Her shopping list is specific which helps her reach her shopping goals quicker.

Know your product. You don't have to be an expert but you definitely have to possess a fair working knowledge of what you're wanting to buy.  That piece of mercury glass probably isn't the rare one you want if it says 'Made in Wherever" on the bottom with smudged ink. A little working knowledge will save you money in the long run.

Carefully inspect the item.  You should not assume that everything you see is showroom quality. Bear in mind you are shopping at a second hand establishment and you're going to have to scrutinize everything. Look for stains, uneven seams, faux leather and damage that cannot be repaired. I promise you the little horse logo isn't supposed to have three ears. Make sure electronics work or the expense of repair still makes the item worth buying. Before purchasing my ellipitical machine, hubby and I scrutinized every nook and cranny. The missing manual wasn't an issue because we can just Google that information and the only repairs needed were the tightening of all the screws. Nobody wanted to be bothered with it so we purchased it for pennies on the dollar.

Watch your budget.  Just because it's a great price doesn't mean you need to buy it. Never, ever forget that. Buying a $250 print for $10 isn't a great deal if you don't have the wall space for it. You could have used that money for something else of even better value. Don't buy for the sake of buying.

Make sure you know where you're going to put this stuff.  Alrighty then, you've bought the best gun cabinet ever. You've carted it home only to discover this behemoth fits nowhere in your house. Okay well maybe it fits in the baby's room but that is both dangerous and weird. Now what do you do? Resell it for a loss? Give it away for an even bigger loss? Leave it outside in the rain? Keep some basic measurements with you when you're shopping. I currently need a new (or new to me) entertainment stand and I'm armed with the dimensions I need to get the best item possible.

Understand the pricing and merchandising schedules. Most second hand stores and consignment venues put out more merchandise on specific days. Price reductions work in the same manner. Get to know some employees and you may be able to reduce the impact on your budget. For yard sales the rule of thumb is simple: the earlier you go, the better the selection. The later you go, the better your chances of haggling the price.

Today's economic climate means more people are both buying and selling second hand.  Arm yourself with some knowledge and you will find success at every turn!

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to Improve Your Weekends

Friday rolls around and you couldn't be more relieved. No cubicle for two days. No clients, cranky coworkers or time clocks to worry about. Just doing whatever you want, whenever you want, any way you want.

And then you wake up.

We all have that dream and yet we all know that, week after week, it won't turn out like that. There's all the errands you couldn't do during the week you've now got to jam into those two precious days. And we can't forget to go to the gym, mow the lawn, repair one thing or the other, take the car for it's overdue oil change, chaufffer the kids (if you have them) to sporting events, sleepovers and club meetings. And when all that's done we can hang out with friends, try a new recipe/hobby, chill out by the pool, finally read the book everyone else read last year and get caught up on all that email and bill paying. Now you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, any way you want. No, not really. You still have to eat and sleep. The weekend is over and you're back to your weekly grind. There's a reason it's called a grind: it grates on our nerves.

Here's a few steps to help you change those weekends from stressors to stress relievers.

Prioritize. Quickly, decide what can be eliminated from your schedule. I'm not suggesting you eliminate the important things. You definitely need to pay the bills and change the oil. I am, however, suggesting you determine what matters most and work from that point. If you can postpone or even eliminate a few tasks without causing any hiccups to your schedule, you're going to clear up a lot of time for what you really want to do. Do the things you absolutely have to do and rework the rest into another day.

Reorganize your work.  You could potentially save a good hour or two by bundling some errands such as dropping off your dry cleaning on your way to the market. Consider carpooling and you will only be inconvenienced every other weekend. How about taking turns? If I cut both yards, would you rake both? Or you mow this weekend and I'll do it next time. Get creative and add some hours back to your weekend.

Schedule your down time.  You may not want to adhere to a schedule on weekends but it will alleviate some of your time crunch if you pencil in some down time on your calendar. Block out a few hours to go to a dinner party. Wake up an go straight to the gym. Make plans for that hour in the hammock. It's okay. I give you permission. Getting that down time is going to recharge your batteries.

Get your Zzzzs.  I don't like going to bed early on weekends either and I'm not suggesting a sunset bedtime. Still, going to bed a little earlier, say midnight instead of 2 a.m., may give you the energy you need to zoom through your weekend responsibilities without hitting an energy slump. Get the work done, have more time to play. See? It's a good plan.

Aside from the yearly vacations, weekends offer us the next best opportunity to recharge our batteries while having a little fun and adventure.  Take a little time to rework your thinking in order to reclaim some of that precious time.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Prepare for Cold and Flu Season

Once school begins, it's only a matter of time before somebody gets sick and brings home a germ or three billion. Now, add to that the fact that cold and flu season is right around the corner and it's better to be prepared than not.  Start now and by the time the sniffles hit, you will be well prepared.

Shop Wisely.  You don't need to go out and purchase everything today. Look in your medicine cabinet and assess what you already have. Look through your coupons and match them up to sales. Also look for gifts with purchases (free sample of vapor cream with purchase of tissues), buy one, get one free specials and back to school sales (great for sanitizer and tissues.)

Stock Up.  I guarantee you will need more than one box of tissues. Give your best estimate as to what you'll use and stock up. There's no need to overdo it, but the goal is to be well prepared.

 Here's a basic run down of what will work for most people.

Basic MedicinesIbuprofin, acetamenophin, aspirin, cold remedies, medications for stomach ailments, vapor creams, vapor tablets for the shower, cough medicine, saline spray, eye drops, hard candy/cough drops.

Allergy medication: Some allergies symptoms present themselves as cold symptoms. Keep these medications available also.

Paper goods.  Tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning wipes (especially if you have kids or are prone to vomiting.)

Cleaning supplies. If you or a loved one is very sick, you may experience a variety of 'accidents.' Be sure to always have available disinfectant, cleaning wipes, carpet cleaner, laundry detergent, bleach, etc. If you prefer natural cleaners keep items such as baking soda, vinegar and club soda on hand.

Simple foods. Juice or juice concentrate, low sodium soups, crackers, ginger ale, tea, lemon, honey, rice, plain pasta, applesauce. Remember everything tastes awful when you're sick, so stick with simple things that will 'stay down' and nourish you.

I always dread cold and flu season because if one of my darling kids gets sick, then at least two more of the household gets sick with them. If we're all laid up in bed together, it really helps to have the basics covered. That way you can just sit back and sleep, sneeze and sip your way to a speedy recovery.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How to Prevent Simple Financial Mistakes

No matter how savvy we get, there are those days when we if it isn't one mistake or headache, it's another. The financial ones really bother me the most because I'd rather keep the money in my pocket than give it away due to to my stupidity lack of financial accumen.

Here are a list of some very common mistakes we've all made (or are about to make) and how to prevent them.

Ignoring Time Limits on Introductory Offers.  It appears your new cable/satellite provider was very generous and offered you a free sports channel for six months. How thoughtful of them. Flash forward about seven months and you get an overdraft notice from your bank. Impossible, you think. You've been very good about watching those balances. How did that happen? Somehow you translated six months to mean forever and not only did you get hit with a $49.99 increase in your bill, you also got hit with a $30 overdraft fee, too. Oh, the pain. If you leave it alone, your soccer habit is going to cost you $599.98 your budget isn't prepared for, not including all the overdraft fees and hiccups that will cost you.

The fix: Make a notation on your calendar/ budget app for the fifth month. That will give you a little buffer for anything unexpected. Choose to add it to your budget or to cancel the Soccer Channel. Either way, you've given yourself time to figure out your next move and prevent any injury to your wallet.

Ignoring Your Natural Financial Instincts.  My good friend Hammond is very careful with  his money. He can tell you to the penny what's in the bank. Back in the day, checkbooks were balanced and statements were reconciled. Eventually, it all went awry and Hammond had a few overdrafts as well as one or twelve late notices from his credit card issuer. The reason? He hates (as in H.A.T.E.S.) online banking. Paying with a debit card and then checking the balance later didn't come naturally to him. He isn't the kind of person who scans over emails looking for bills to pay. It would take him a week or longer to round up all the stray receipts and compare it to his online balance. 'I feel like a dinosaur,' he complained, 'but I still use a checkbook register to record everything.'  Once he started using the tools he felt comfortable with, things improved. Hey, I'm not knocking it because  he hasn't caused an overdraft since President Clinton was in office.

The fix: Figure out what works for you and stick with it.   This step often takes a little thought to figure out what is most comfortable for you. Mobile alerts, spreadsheets, old timey bank ledgers, online services, etc. Stop using methods that rub your financial fur the wrong way.

Taking too Long to Pay off Balances.  Those 0 % offers are pretty tempting until the time runs out and you're hit with interest fees that back date to the original purchase. For the uninformed, seeing all that interest just suddenly appear on your statement can make you feel positively ill. It's incredibly painful to your wallet and you end up feeling like an idiot for falling for the oldest credit card trick in the book.

The fix:  This one takes a little bit of focus and a few minutes. Whether you've charged a new purchase or taking advantage of a balance transfer option, take that amount and divide it by the number of months until the interest kicks in. Don't forget to include some kind of time buffer to account for due dates not coinciding with pay dates.

Not Making Those Returns/Exchanges.  I committed this crime just a few days ago. I made a purchase and discovered the item didn't suit my purpose. Did I mention the part where it was a cash transaction and I've thrown the receipt away? Can you say 'you ought to know better?' Sometimes it's just a matter of scheduling. Maybe you're too busy to drop off that return to the post office. And who has time to go back to the store for the refund, anyway? You are now the proud owner of useless stuff and as a reward your bank account is much smaller.

The fix.  You are going to just have to bite the bullet and make yourself more accountable. But have no fear, it's not hard. Keep your receipts in a single location until you know you'll be keeping the item. Bundle your errands so make sure the post office trip isn't out of your way. Put the package in your trunk the night if your prone to forgetfulness.

For me the most irritating financial hiccups are the unnecessary ones that I've created all by myself. With a little forethought and a small amount of time management, many of our financial headaches can be completely alleviated.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Protect Your Budget in a Tough Economy

Did you notice anything the last time you went to the grocery store? Could you feel that stinging sensation as you handed over your debit card or feel that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realized you were just a little more broke than before you went shopping?

We can blame the  dry weather, the economy, whatever for the increase in prices but no matter what's the cause, the fact remains that meeting our needs is getting more expensive. And painful. We all have our little tricks and hacks that help us stretch our dollars. We eat out less, we only buy on sale (with a coupon) and even the Java Hut is getting less of our money. Been there and still doing that. I happen to have one more little trick up my sleeve that helps out on so many levels that I don't think I could manage without it.

I stockpile.

No, not the weird kind where I keep 200 bottles of syrup in the bathtub. That's just strange. I'm talking about the kind of stockpiling that helps when you're too sick to go to the store or during inclement weather. I'm talking about the kind of stockpiling that gets you from one paycheck to the next or helps you out until you find another job. I'm talking about stockpiling  just in case.

I'm not prone to excessive shopping but I do have a few guidelines that help me make stockpiling successful and easy. Here are my rules:

I set limits to what I stockpile. There's no need to hoard peanut butter as if they've quit making it. My oldest loves the stuff, so I'll keep about 5 jars or so, not 50. Never 50.

I use my available space wisely.  I preferred to rework my cabinets and closets rather than store food under a bed. It's also wise to store things as closely to where you may need it: Toiletries near the bathrooms, food near the kitchen, you get the idea. Sometimes it isn't possible, but from a time standpoint, it keeps you from wasting minutes trying to run down the location of something. And never store chemicals with food. Drain cleaner does not belong near the pasta.

I never buy everything all at once.  It's true I've got five jars of peanut butter, but I didn't buy it all at once. Let's say my budget is $100. I tend to keep a running total of what I'm spending on the same envelope that has my list written on it and coupons stashed inside. Now suppose I've spent $95. I'll try to find $5 worth of something to stockpile. No, it isn't a lot of money but at this point anything I buy is going to be extra so even the small dollar amounts will make a big difference.

I won't stockpile unfamiliar items or too many kids' favorites. Both of these are just common sense ideas. If I don't know if I like it, there's no point in buying a dozen and with kids, well, they just tend to change their minds a lot. That's why six cans of pineapple makes more sense than six cases.

I stockpile what will make my life easier. Here's my basic stockpile list and I try to aim for several month's worth, accumulated over time. Your list will probably look different depending on your wants and needs.

Household items: paper goods of all kinds, vinegar, bars of soap, batteries, furniture cleaner, baking soda, laundry supplies, dish detergent air freshener, tub cleaner, air filters, tape of all kinds.

Kitchen: soy sauce, pasta, rice, oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, canned goods, peanut butter, coffee, juice pouches, spaghetti sauce, cereal, paper plates and cups, plastic utensils (hey, some days they just work best), zip bags, aluminum foil, certain meat, condiments, honey, baking goods.

Personal: deodorant, shampoo, swabs, cotton balls, dental care items, lotions, wet wipes (not just for babies, works on a ton of surfaces), razors, soaps, lotions.

Medical: Basic over the counter medications including ibuprofen, expectorants, saline solution, cough drops, vapor ointments, bandages, and a variety of medicines to cover stomach ailments, heartburn, etc.

It's an incomplete list, but you get the idea.

Having extras on hand is easy to do and very affordable. It protects your budget during economic distress. Just ask yourself 'What things would I need if I couldn't get to the store for a while?' Whether you're snowed in, not feeling well or laid off, anything that would help you make some meals, get you through some sick days or until the next paycheck will be beneficial.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Take Five #6 Back to School Lunches

It's that time again, parents. The dreaded school lunch headache is back. Whether your kiddos eat at school or take their own, we worry about everything. Are they really eating what's on their lunch tray? Did they trade for the sweet stuff? Is that PB &J  good enough? It's enough to run you mad plus you start stressing out, which eats up your time....and who wants that?  I've got one kid who wants to eat breaksfast at school as a means of social time and both kids take their own lunches.  Here's a few quick tips on how we handle lunches every morning, which works just as well on the adults as the kids.

Take Five is geared toward taking a few minutes now to save you time, money (and headaches) later. It is quick wins that make things run much smoother.

Start the night before.  Get as much prepared in advance as possible.  After dinner, place empty, cleaned out  lunch boxes on the counter. Fill with anything that doesn't need to be refrigerated such as raisin boxes, chips, juice boxes.etc. Make sure ice packs are in the freezer. It's incredibly frustrating to realize somebody left the ice pack in their lunch box and you now need a Plan B. By the way, make sure to have an extra one in the freezer, just in case. Not that it ever happened to me. Prewash and cut fruits and vegetables, prepackage dipping sauces. Go ahead and place in containers/zip bags.

It doesn't have to be a sandwich.  Little Brother never would eat at school and he ran for the hills whenever he saw a sandwich. I took a cue from a friend who's little one had the same lunch affliction.
The answer: send the lunch meat, but not the sandwich. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? It got a few odd looks at first but then the folks at school realized that unlike a lot of the kids, he ate all of his lunch every day. All I had to do was chop up the Honey Roasted Turkey, put it in a tiny container and send a plastic fork.  If your kids like leftovers, go ahead and pack up lunch portions when you're cleaning up after dinner. Hey, if it works for the grown ups, it might work for the kids.

It doesn't have to look like a traditional lunch, either. Sometimes, kids prefer a sampling, rather than a full meal. That is a very good thing because you can squeeze in more variety. Because the portions will be smaller, there is always the chance your student may even be willing to try something new. Think bento box - style eating. If one isn't available just use a divided container or silicone baking cups placed in a container. Fill the little cups with fruit, crackers, vegetables, sandwich meat, home made nuggets, cheese cubes and mini sandwiches. Cutting things into shapes sometimes make them taste better, too. Just saying.

Don't overthink it.  Big Brother wants a sub sandwich every day. Every single day. It's always the same: Honey Roasted Turkey with spicy mustard, pepper and lettuce on whole wheat sub bread. Did I mention he eats it every single day? I finally quit worrying about it when I realized  at least he was eating. I add variety by changing up whatever else he takes. Fruits, yogurts, beverages all get switched up daily. Besides, breakfast and dinner provide a ton of variety. As long as it's healthy, I give you permission to stop fretting.

Finish in the morning. Just throw in the cold stuff with the ice pack and you're finished. If you're sending leftovers quickly reheat the meal before putting in a thermos and you're all done. You can do all of this in a minute or two without interruption to your morning routine.

 No one likes rushing around in the mornings. Getting lunch ready can be a snap if you take five minutes to think it through, get creative, and do a few minutes prep work.