Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recycle and get free stuff

I just did something today that I had forgotten about before.

Occassionally I treat myself to some MAC makeup. I love this brand because they have an excellent assortment of colors and products. They are all high quality and have great lasting power. But did you also know about their "Back to MAC" program?

Yes, MAC makeup has a recycling program which I wish more companies would mimic. Here's how it works:

  • Purchase MAC makeup

  • Save your plastic containers

  • When you have six (6) of the empty/used containers, you can return them to a MAC counter or mail them to MAC and you'll get a FREE tube of MAC lipstick! That is a $14 value. Here's the return form with information: http://www.maccosmetics.com/pdfs/back_to_mac.pdf

Not only do you get the tube of lipstick, but you are also doing your part for the environment! Now if only we could get more brands on board with this neat idea! I was actually thinking that it would be neat if, for every 6 Starbucks cups you recycle, you got a free latte!

What brands could you benefit from?

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's better than frugal spending? Free stuff!!!

I just have to share my latest little victory in the shopping world.

Over a month ago I went to Victoria's Secret (which I'll refer to as VS for the rest of this entry) because I had one of those "Free Panty" cards. Whenever I get these, I always use them because, well, they are free. So I went in and I got my free panty. Since I was there and they had their other panties on sale, I bought some of those. When I paid for my purchase, I received a promotional card that said:

Come back to VS between December 1- December 24 and use this card on your purchase. It's a secret, but you'll get $10, $25, $100, or $500 off of your purchase.

I dutifully put the card in my wallet with my other "coupon cards" and went on my merry way.

Yesterday I went to the mall with my husband. He wanted to get me a little something extra for Christmas and wanted me to pick out what I wanted. I said "well, I love a particular parfume VS sells and I have this gift card, so lets check it out."

We went into the "beauty" side of the store only. (As a side note, I don't normally buy my lingerie and undergarments at VS because they are above my "priceline" for those items. I will buy undies if they are on sale, but I've literally never owned a VS bra because it is hard for me to palatte the price tag.

I looked around for a gift set of my favorite parfume, but I didn't see any in that area. I decided that I didn't want my "coupon card" to go to waste, so I selected two tubes of gloss, on sale for 2 for $12.

I went to the cashier to pay for it. She rang it up, I gave her my card, and she swiped it. It didn't say that I owed anything. I thought that was strange because I figured it was $10 and that I would have a balance of a little over $2 to pay. She looked funny too. She checked the balance of the card and low and behold, I had received a $100 card!!!! I was very excited and so of course went on a mini shopping spree. We went to the other side and I found on a table a gift set of the perfume I wanted (Yay!) and as an added bonus, it was 40% off!! Then I bought two bras (buy one, get one 1/2 off). After I used my card we only owed $25.

So, for $25 out of pocket, I got two beautiful bras (retail $48 each), a parfume gift set (retail $58), and my two tubes of lip gloss.

Moral of the story - always check into the deals that are presented to you. While some may seem like cheap marketing ploys, some may earn you money!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Frugal Holiday Advice

My wonderful co-worker and I were having a conversation yesterday and she urged me to blog on what we were discussing.

I'm all for cutting corners: With your money, with your time, etc. But there is one area that you must NEVER cut corners on, and that's with your friends and family.

With all of the demand that we have on our time, it is often really easy to blow off friends and family because we always figure that "they are our friend/family, so they'll understand."

I've often catch myself debating this: I have a busy week. I've had to work overtime, be at committee meetings for a group I'm in, run to doctor's appointments on lunch breaks, run umpteen different errands, etc. I'm supposed to drive up to my parents for the weekend, but all I really want to do is go home and veg out. What do I do?

Part of me says: Just tell your mom and dad that you have had a rough week and that all you want to do is chill.

But the part that wins out says: Life is too short. One day you won't be able to spend time with them and you'll regret it.

Now I understand when something else happens and you just can't do something - I felt terrible this past week because my friend was graduating (getting her PhD!!!!) on Friday about 4 hours away. I really wanted to see her, to be there for her. But, alas, there is so much going on at work that I just couldn't take the whole day off on Friday. Even if I had blown off work, I'd probably be way too preoccupied with what all I had to do that I'd have an anxiety attack. So unfortunately I just couldn't physically make it.

But when you can, splurge on time and activities with your family. Those are great investments to make! And I can guarantee you that you'll get a healthy return on investment from it!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Home Made Gift Idea: Coupon Books

Coupon books aren't just for Mother's Day any more.

I love making little coupon books. I know that they may seem cheesy to some, but for me they are an old standby.

People have a lot of stuff. By stuff I mean all of the physical possessions you own. While sometimes I may think to myself "man I really need this new XYZ product", I really don't. I have tons of "stuff" sitting around my house. That's why I am constantly rummaging through things, clearing out, and getting rid of items (via yard sales, donations, and freecycling). Of course then I turn around and either buy or receive more "stuff" and thus the cycle continues.

However, throughout the year I can recall countless times where I've thought "wow, I could really use some help doing _______." That's where coupon books come in.

To the right I have two items that I created: the cover for a coupon book and then the actual certificates. Feel free to print and use these to make your own coupon books.
What makes a good coupon?

If you are a kid, it is cute and easy to include coupons that are "good for one free hug". However the grown-up version has plenty of other options. Here are some suggestions for good coupon vouchers for grown-ups. Keep in mind that you should always customize your coupons to the recipient. Personalization is what really makes the gift special:

  • One free night of baby sitting: Only include this if you would actually feel comfortable baby sitting.
  • One day of baby sitting (or a few hours): For the purpose of running errands, etc.
  • Hassle-free lawn care: I just imagined this being a good gift for a husband to give his wife - she could just hand in the coupon and he would just go do the lawn, no fussing allowed!
  • No strings attached back rub: Self explanatory if you catch my drift...
  • Girls (or guys) night out: A coupon for staging a girl or guy only get together.
  • One hour of down time: Good husband/wife coupon where the recipient can just have one hour of down time where he/she can just close the door and not be asked to do anything. You could include multiples of these.
  • Guilt-free nap: Same principle as the above.
  • Dinner's on me: This one ultimately costs money, but this is a nice one to include for spouses or friends.

There are actually many more ideas that you can pull from. You can get very abstract like "a shoulder to cry on" pass. You could also go for humorous ones like a pass to get you out of answering the "does this make my butt look big" question. You can also use them to refer to personal jokes, like a "don't judge me because I bought that" pass.

You'll have fun making them. The recipient will have fun receiving them. And they'll have even more fun redeeming. Plus the gift has a nice throw-back charm to childhood.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home Made Gift Idea: The Perfect Pedicure

I have the perfect gift for the girly-girl in your life: The Perfect Pedicure. This idea is a two-for, as in you can use it as a gift giving guide AND you can use it for yourself. I've been doing my own nails/pedicures at home for years and years. It started off because I was in college and wanted to have cute nails, but couldn't afford the trips to the manicurist. But as I've grown older, I've come to make this a ritual that I enjoy more than getting my nails done professionally. And, it is a heck of a lot cheaper.

I'm going to go through and number the items to go into the kit and then explain how to use each one of them. Just an idea, but you may want to do the same (add a cute instruction card with the gift) to really show how to use these:

The Perfect Pedicure Ingredients and Instructions:

1. 1 Box Herbal Tea: Let me suggest Yogi Tea Meditative tea (http://yogitea.elsstore.com/view/category/559-mind-tea/?items_page=9&page=2=2). This is a delicious tea that helps you relax. On the site it is $4.39 per box, but I've actually seen it cheaper in health food stores and even recently in the tea aisle/section at Walmart! How to use it: I suggest brewing a small pot of tea before you begin your pedicure. Place the tea pot and mug somewhere close to you so that as you relax, the tea is by your side for enjoyment. Do not toss the tea bag...I'll explain in a moment.

2. Wide, Shallow Plastic Container: First of all, this will be the perfect container to put all of the goodies in. Secondly, it will be used for the soak. The container that I use I actually got at the dollar tree. It looks similar to the item at the right, but is wider and a tad bit more shallow. It is the perfect size and cost $1. They also have just basic clear plastic containers that work well too. Check out all of the areas for possible items to use. How to use: Fill this tub about half way with very warm/hot water (as hot as you can take it). Now add the left over tea bag after your tea is ready. By the time the tea bag has been used and it has been put into the larger container of water, it is diluted enough to where there isn't much of a chance of it staining your skin. I got this idea from a spa I went to and I really liked it. It's a nice way to soak your feet. I'm a firm believer in the healing power of tea, both when ingested and even when used topically.

3. Foot brush/pumice stone: One of these combo brushes (example here: http://www.sallybeauty.com/Pumice-Foot-Brush/SBS-177215,default,pd.html) is perfect for double duty. It allows you to scrub your feet after they have soaked for a while. Then use the pumice stone side to wear down any rough spots or calluses. I showed that one, but the one that I have is actually from, you guessed it, the Dollar Tree, for $1. Yay.

4. Nail Buffer Block: I love these! I'm sure you've seen them, but if you haven't tried them, I think they are the best! The one I have is similar to the one on the right (though not exact). I just replaced mine with one I got at Target. I can't remember if it was $1.49 or $1.97 (weird amounts to remember, right) but I know it was less than $2. Look for the blocks that are labeled on all sides. Mine is actually numbered too, so that you know to use which ones in which order. By the time you gently use each side of the block on your nail, it is shiny and smooth. Use the filing edge to file the edges of your nails into the shape you'd like. When you are finished with your nails this way, you can choose to leave them "blank" as I like to call it (no polish) or you can use this base as the perfect way to start your polish job.
5. Cuticle Pen: I just came across these from one of my favorite little splurge sites (www.eyeslipsface.com). I do mean little splurge too, since most items are $1. When I feel like I want to try a new color or something different with my makeup, I hit ELF and will probably refer to it frequently on my site as I've found some great bargains there on products that are definitely worth more than what I paid for them. This particular product, http://www.eyeslipsface.com/nails/nourishing_cuticle_pen, is a cuticle pen. Simply take off the cap and use the sturdy, treatment filled tip to push back your cuticles and run it around the edges to soften the skin. It contains nourishing oils which are perfect for your skin and cuticles. No cutting required! (Which by the way, I read somewhere that cuticle cutting is bad for you, so I try to never do this!)
6. Toe Separators: Again, at ELF, I found bargain toe seperators for $1 (http://www.eyeslipsface.com/nails/toe_separators). Regardless of whether or not you are planning to paint your toe nails, I suggest using these babies for at least a few minutes. There is something completely relaxing about putting them between your toes, feeling that little bit of stretch there, and then taking them out and feeling the relief and relaxation. I actually will use my toe separators even if I'm not doing the full on pedicure. Put them on, sit back for a few minutes and relax.
7. Foot cream. If you are going to splurge on any part of this, a good foot cream can go a long way. While you can find some items that are less expensive at drug stores, I really like the Mentha Foot Tingling Foot Cream from the CO Bigelow line at Bath and Body Works. It runs $14 for a tube, but that will last you a long time as a little will go a long way. Rub this on your feet and sit back for a while. It tingles a little, giving you this really neat sensation. And again, a little goes a long way. If you aren't polishing, you can stop right here. If you are polishing, go ahead.
8. Cute nail polish. ELF has a lot of cute nail polish colors for only $1 each: http://www.eyeslipsface.com/nails/nail_polish. If you are getting for yourself, get what you like. If you are getting for a gift, I'd probably stick with one of the french manicure sets found here: http://www.eyeslipsface.com/nails/nail_polish_sets. ($3 for the set of three). Before you polish, I suggest swiping nail polish remover over each toe. You can get nail polish remover pads at ELF as well (for $1 of course). You can add those to the gift set if you'd like. I swipe the nail polish remover over the nails at this point because if you've used the foot cream, you'll want to get rid of that from the tops of your nails. Now, if you normally keep your toes painted (as I do) then skip doing a base coat. I never let my toes go naked (without polish) so if a dark color stains a tad, I'm not worried. If you do go without polish though, use a top coat of clear polish first to protect them. Then do your color. I prefer dark on my toes In fact, I usually use my toes to go crazy. I'll use bright colors, purples, greens, blues on my toes. It's a fun little way to go a little crazy, but without losing my professional appearance. I try to be more conservative on my finger nails.
Nail polish application technique: I have a quick and easy nail polish technique - which is to use three simple strokes. One wide, flat stroke against the left edge of the nail. One wide flat stroke against the right. One down the middle. If you do it correctly, that's all you'll need. It reduces room for mistakes. If you do get it on the edge of your nail bed, I usually leave it. Once it dries, you can scrape it off pretty easy.
Apply 2 coats of your color polish. Any more is overkill. Let several minutes (5) pass between coat applications.
Apply 1 coat of clear polish.
Sit and relax.
9. Here is where you can get creative. Personally, during the whole process, I like to use it as girly time. My pedicure used to be my Sunday night ritual, that I would do all while sitting back and watching Sex and the City. Now I tend to time it around other shows I like to watch that are girly, like the Real Housewives of...whatever, Project Runway, or even Grey's Anatomy. If you are giving as a gift, feel free to add in a girly movie, DVD series, etc. Or if the person is a music lover, throw in a relaxing CD of some sort. Book lovers? Throw in a book too! If they are relaxing with their tootsies propped up, what better time is there to get in some reading.
Well, that's my solution to the perfect pedicure. If you want to get a little more involved, you can do things like using a "shaver" for extra rough feet. Or you can use a scrub on your feet. They also have special treatments that you can put on your feet and then wrap them up to get them nice and moist.
But whatever you do, I suggest that you make it special. People spend the extra money at spas and salons so that they can feel pampered. If you try to do your nails in between loads of laundry and dishes, then it is just another chore. But if you sit back, relax, and block of an "appointment" time of your own at home, then it is more of a treat.
Plus, if you want an even more frugal way of looking at it, you can "tip yourself" at the end of your pedicure and put $5 or $10 in your savings account. If you give yourself a pedicure each week, that's $40 a month right there! You'd tip a manicurist wouldn't you? So tip yourself instead! Or if you really want to start saving, put the entire amount (including tip) that you would have spent on the pedicure into your savings. All of that will add up over time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Shopping Diary

This is probably way too much information, but I thought I'd share my Black Friday experience. My dad went with me this year,, which was his first time going on on Black Friday. He was a great companion shopper as he was pretty much just along for the ride. And he kept offering to carry bags. So yay!

Let me also preface this with the fact that my husband knows I love to shop myself (and he doesn't, which is fine with me). So he and I talked the night before and I asked if I could buy some stuff for myself that he could wrap and put under the tree. I know some of you may scoff at this idea, thinking it uncaring, unromantic, whatever. But it was a win-win situation for both. I get the joy of shopping, getting good deals, and picking out exactly what I want. He gets to get me exactly what I want and make me happy. Win, Win.

Or as Michael Scott would say: Win, Win, Win.

3:15 AM : Wake up and get ready.

3:40 AM: Leave the house.

4:00 AM: Get to JC Penney right as the door is opened. Dad and I each get our cute snow globes (for free) to add to my collection. Shop around for goodies. Got a gift for my hubby (won't go into detail in case he reads this). Stand in long line and pay.

4:40 AM: Wrap up at JC Penney. We get a tip from another shopper that the first guests into Belk get a gift card. We head to Belk.

5:00 AM: We are in fact in the "first" to get in. Dad and I each get a $5 gift card. I also have a 15% off coupon. I eye a gorgeous sweater that another woman is carrying. I track down the location. The sweater is on a 50% off rack. Was $44. Now is $22. Plus I have the 15% off coupon. Then I have the gift cards. I love the sweater so much that I pick out two colors. For a little more than $30, I get two gorgeous sweaters (from hubby to me). We got upstairs. I buy my dad (who was with me and actually picked them out) three Van Heusen button down shirts. They are Buy ONE, Get TWO free. So I buy one, get two free. And I got to use my 15% off coupon again! Score! Dad's gift down!

5:45 AM: Consider buying moisturizer from Lancome. I need some more and figured I could again use my 15% off coupon. Then I remembered that I was going to save and get a drug store brand. Skip out on the expense. (I was saving, right?)

6:00 AM: Other stores in the mall begin opening. Went to Williams Sonoma with my dad. Went to Champs with my dad. (Both of these stores were his idea).

6:30 AM: Bath and Body Works. They have all of their regular line on sale, buy 3 get 2 free. They also have this cool tote with full size products, a $106 value for only $15 with a $40 purchase. I get some stuff (for gifts), he gets some stuff (for gifts), and then he treats me to the bag of goodies (thanks Dad!). I will say that this bag was a great value, as I got two full size shower gels, two full size lotions, headache relief aromotherapy, new bath pouf, a bag, and more. Not shabby for $15.

6:45 AM: My dad stands in line and finishes up our purchases and Bath and Body Works (awwww) while I go ahead over to New York and Company. I find a cute handbag for 50% off that I like. I pick it up as a gift for me, from hubby. Unbeknownst to me, I get a free watch. Yay!

7:00 AM: Head to World Market. Get a few little goodies for today.

7:15 AM: Get scratching post present for cats for Christmas.

7:30 AM: Get video game for my brother at Best Buy, using some reward certificates ($10 worth). Yay.

8:00 AM: Finish up the morning with a breakfast (treated by dad) at IHOP. How sweet.

I still have to run out to Walmart later on this weekend and see if I can get that vaccuum for my grandma. That wasn't a doorbuster though. Hopefully Walmart will have more in stock. I just couldn't do Walmart this AM.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Homemade Gifts: "In a Jar" mixes

One thing that I am probably notoriously famous for in my family is my use/love of home made gifts. I have a close family, therefore all of my extended family likes to give gifts to each other (aunts, uncles, cousins). I love my family and love giving them gifts, but often it is hard to decipher what they want or what they already have.

Because of this I started making some home made gifts, reasoning that whatever I made would be unique and surely they wouldn't already have it!

Of course this philosophy also translated into some savings as well. That being said, leading up to Christmas I will post several home made gift ideas with instructions and how-tos.

Gifts In A Jar

Gifts in a jar are always fun. You can get very creative in the presentation and make it very personal to the recipient. And of course they are extremely useful.

I actually recently prepared one that I received that was sitting in my cabinet and adored it!

Rainbow Bean Soup In A Jar

3/4 cup dried red beans
3/4 cup dried great northern beans
3/4 cup dried split peas
3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup dried black beans
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules (sold in soup section)
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons sweetened lemonade drink mix
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Lookfor red lentils or yellow split peas for a real rainbow of colors in this mix, if you can't find use regular brown lentils or pick a colorful dried bean of your choice for this layer.
2. Mix and place in a thin zipper sandwich bag.
3. Use a Quart Jar that has a wide mouth,but if you can't find one you can use a regular Quart jar.
4. Place each type of bean in jar in order listed above. Try to "settle" the beans by wiggling the jar around so that each layer is flat.
5. Put a lid on the jar and close tightly.
6. Decorate the jar.
7. Affix with ribbon, string, etc. the seasoning bag.
8. Either use a peel and stick label to attach the recipe, or affix the recipe card to the jar itself using the ribbon.

What to put on recipe card:

Additional ingredients needed: Water, 1 can crushed tomatos

Remove seasoning packet. Set aside. Rinse beans place beans in larg microsafe dish. Cover with water 1" to 2" over top of beans. Cover dish loosely with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 15 minutes, rotating after 7 minutes. Drain and rinse beans very well. Place beans in very larg pan. Add 8 cups water and 1 can crushed tomatos and seasonings from packet. Cover, bring to boil.
Lower heat, cover pan and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. STIR OCCASIONALLY.

I also like to personalize the gift with a serving suggestion. Handwrite in to make it special. Something like "Mac and I really enjoyed this with a dollop of sour cream mixed in to each bowl! Hope you and Henry enjoy this on a cold winter night!"

For more ideas for gifts "in a jar", visit www.recipezaar.com and just type in "in a jar" in the search field.

Here are some other tips that I'd like to provide:
  • As much as people like sweets, I've been tending to stay clear of them as gifts lately. You never know who is dieting or watching their weight. Soups and dips are great ideas.
  • If you want to "enhance" the gift, why not add another item to the gift? Giving a soup mix? Add on some cute soup spoons. Brownie mix? Add a small wisk. Cookie mix? Add a cookie cutter. Or include a nice bottle of wine to go with it.
  • Keep the recipient in mind when you are selecting which item to give and the ingredients. Obviously if the recipient is a vegetarian, don't use anything that even remotely resembles meat (ie, leave out the beef boullion - use veggie boullion instead!). If the recipient is lactose intolerant, make sure your recipe doesn't call for milk or cream to be added.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Black Friday Shopping Strategies

I love shopping. I love the thrill of shopping, the hustle and bustle and overall just looking at STUFF!

Of course, shopping and being frugal don't always go hand in hand.

That said, I know that Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is one of (if not THE) biggest shopping days of the year. Every year I get up super early (and generally do minimal grooming - aren't you glad you know that) and head out with the early crowds to get the best deals.

Over the years, I have found certain tips and strategies that I would like to point out when it comes to saving money and getting the biggest bang for your buck!

  1. Make a List. That means you need to plan ahead. Never, ever, ever venture out there thinking "I wonder what I'll find." That would be the perfect way to fall victim to advertising schemes galore (as well as end up in the longest lines ever). Kind of like Santa, you need to make a list (and check it twice). Write down all of the people you need to shop for AND have an idea of two things: What you want to buy and what you're willing to spend. Even if you only have one or the other, it is a good start.

  2. Do Your Due Dilligence. After you make a list, then go ahead and start looking online or in stores to see how much something is going to cost. Actually, this is probably better to do a couple of weeks in advance, but as long as you do it before you even look at Black Friday ads you should be good. You need to have a general idea of the regular retail value of the item.

  3. Research your BF Ads. Even before you get the paper on Turkey Day to check out those lovely little inserts, you can look online for the deals. Sites like BFads.net have scanned versions of the ad available to glance over ahead of time. And of course, on Thanksgiving itself, go out and get your paper! The small change it takes to purchase the paper is worth it. Now, I know that you can get a lot of this stuff online now, but for some reason I still feel those paper inserts are better to work from.

  4. Know the Deal. Look for deals on the items you have on your wish list. If there is something that you are thinking about getting, circle it or flag it and move on.

  5. Don't Fall for "Bargains". Sometimes the bargains you find on Black Friday are just too good to pass up, or so they seem. Don't fall into the trap of "well it's only $10 for a toaster - I'm sure that would make a good gift for SOMEONE." That's a sure fire way to spend more than you wanted to and end up without the gifts you want to give. And then you'll spend extra time trying to figure which second aunt thrice removed wants a toaster. Unless someone on your list wants a toaster. Then by all means, get a toaster. Disclaimer: I have no hate for toasters. They just happened to be my widget of choice for this example.

  6. Make a Game Plan. After you've looked through all of the ads and figured out what you need to get, make your game plan for the am/day. Of course plan to hit any stores that have doorbuster items as soon as possible. Be prepared to wait in line though, and also be prepared to not get something in lieu of something better. For example, if you want to save $10 off of a memory card at Best Buy but also really want to save $50 on a comfortor elsewhere, both of which you must get by 10 am, be prepared to sacrifice perhaps the lower savings for the greater savings. Keep in mind that lines are very long at some places (especially Best Buy, Toys R Us, Target) so you should account for that in your game plan. Try to map out your shopping to maximize your time and increase efficiency.
  7. Double Team It. If you can go with someone else, you may end up saving more. Being able to "divide and conquer" will definitely save you time. Someone can stand in line while the other grabs what needs to be bought. I know this sounds like a war time strategy, but time is precious and deals are sometimes scarce.
  8. Don't Buy Into It. Sometimes stores will post very misleading signs to catch the unsavvy shopper. They'll bost "Only $29.99 Now - Regularly $59.99". This is where the prep comes in handy. Sometimes stores will post these signs and prices, even though they pretty much always have the item on sale close to that price.
  9. Time is Precious. Never discount the fact that your time is a precious commodity. Don't stand in line for two hours to save $5. Yes, your pocket book won't have as big of a dent, but your time is important too! I always try to figure out the break even point if there is a long line...with the breaking point being at least minimum wage. If I have to stand in line for an hour, I better be saving more than one hour's worth of minimum wage work.
  10. Have Fun. Don't forget to have fun. Make a treat of it! Some places even hand out coffee and snacks to early shoppers, so make sure you treat yourself. Don't forget that it is the holiday season - and at the heart of the season isn't the gifts, it is the fun, family, and friends that you hold dear!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to BUY things on Ebay

I always see cool posts with tips and tricks on selling things on Ebay, but I rarely see anything on how to BUY on Ebay.

I've been selling and buying on Ebay for years. I'd like to think of myself as an early adopter of Ebay - using it before it became mainstream and as big as it is.

Having bought on Ebay for several years, I've noticed one huge issue with Ebay: It is becoming harder and harder to find good deals on Ebay. When I first started out, pretty much anything that was traded on Ebay usually ended up being a good deal. Things were often bought well below the retail value of the item.

But now, due to the traffic on Ebay and also due to many people trying to "exploit" Ebay to earn money, it seems much harder to purchase things on Ebay at reasonable costs. In this topic I'm going to delve into how to use Ebay to make frugal purchases.

Saving Money With Ebay Purchases:

1. Always comparison shop! Before you even begin to look at Ebay, I strongly suggest that you evaluate the actual retail cost of getting the item elsewhere. Visit places like Amazon.com or other online outlets and check out the going rate for these items. Know what the item is really going for. I think this is imperitive because I've seen Ebay sellers make statements that are misleading, like "Suggested Retail Value: $200!" and then try to get $150 for the item, only to see that a local store has the same item on sale for $130.

2. Know Your Limit (And Stick To it). Before searching for an item, also know what your absolute highest limit is to pay for an item. Make sure to include in your limit price any shipping and handling fees associated with it. Even if you don't put your limit as the highest you're willing to go on the auction bid, make sure you mentally know where you are going to stop. Nearing the end of one auction, I made the mistake of getting caught up in the bidding process. I started wanting to win the item and outbid the other person, that I ended up paying more than I wanted to (and also more than I should have).

3. Be Careful of Shipping. Always check out the shipping cost of the item and factor that into the price. Yes, that $.99 table and chair set looks appealing, but did you also notice the $600 shipping and handling fee?

4. Read the Fine Print. Read the entire auction details. Some will mislead you with the information. For example, I recently looked for a bottle of Estee Lauder perfume on Ebay. Frequently I saw the picture of a full size bottle, under the listing title that says "Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise Perfume!" for only $9.99 including shipping. Many inexperienced buyers may think that's a steal - but when you look at the print in the description it says that you're bidding on a small sample size. You could probably get that for free at a counter yourself.

5. Don't Get Caught Up on Things You Don't Need. It is easy to get caught up on Ebay. I for one have been suckered into nostalgia items ("Wow! A mint in package She-Ra doll???? Let me bid on that now!"). Or I've also been caught up on great deals ("Only $2 for a set of dishes? I can't pass that up, right?"). Even if it is a good deal, if you don't need it, then any money spent towards it is a waste.

6. Pay With PayPal. This may be controversial to some. I know that for many who are afraid of internet fraud or ID theft that making monetary transactions online is scary. But I can tell you from experience that PayPal is the way to go when paying. Unfortunately, not all sellers are good people. Though I've been Ebaying for year, I had my first "issue" with Ebay recently. I bought some shirts from a seller for my brother on Ebay. I paid with PayPal and assumed the transaction would be completed. The shirts never came. I contacted the seller several times and got no response. So I filed a complaint with PayPal explaining the transaction and then after doing their own due dilligence, they refunded my money. Had I paid with a cashier's check, personal check or money order - I'd be SOL or up a creek without a paddle.

Ready, Set, Save!

So this is my first official blog for my Frugal Fairy site. I thought that to kick it off I'd just share my reasoning behind WHY I started the site.

For most of my life I have been frugal. Sure, there were years as a child where I didn't know the value of money. But for the most part, I have been very conscious of how I spend my money.

To give credit where credit is due, it started with my parents. I would get a modest allowance for doing housework (teaching me that I had to do something to get money). I would save all of my earnings in the United Federal Bank of Mom (which unfortunately didn't earn any interest - I think I'll have to talk to her about that). When we'd go to a store and I'd see something that I wanted to spend my money on, I would look up at my mom with puppy dog eyes and say "Mom, can I get that Super Pretty in Pink Veterinarian Barbie?" This would lead my mother to respond with one simple comment: "It's Your Money." Of course, even though the words were simple, the undertones were always the same: "It's your money - but I really wouldn't waste money on that if I were you. You don't need it."

So being the goody-goody child that I was, I'd generally put it back (unless I really really REALLY wanted it) and then save up for something bigger and better.

I learned a great deal about dollar stretching and getting creative from my childhood as well. My parents had me at a young age and at a point in their life where they were just getting started with their lives together. That meant that while the love was definitely flowing in our family, cash was not. And for my family, being as wonderful as they are, that never meant I had to go without. It just meant that we had to be creative about things.

Instead of going out and buying packs of Barbie clothes, my Barbie had Barbie coutoure...my grandma and my mom would sew and crochet original pieces for my dolls!! My mom would bring back leftover worksheets, work books, text books and more from school (she is a teacher), which would bring me endless hours of fun playing school. My dad would bring home goodies from his work with a food systems company (I got a bunch of promotional Pound Puppies once and thought I'd hit the motherload!). I remember using a cardboard box, crayons and markers, and scissors to make a Barbie house and a My Little Pony stable. We had an entire box of markers, crayons, etc that I would use to make little arts and crafts projects with and create my own paper dolls and such.

Anyway - as I got older and got my own job and money, I've kept that same philosophy. Just because I don't have money for something, it doesn't limit me. I just have to be creative about it. This means that yes, sometimes I have to be flexible. I have to make concessions. I cut back on things that I don't care about to enjoy things I do care about.

Over the years I've created certain shopping habits and rituals that have saved me large amounts of money but have given me even more satisfaction. I've learned how to make do with some things, create my own fun, and really enjoy my lifestyle.

And as I've done this, I've continually shared with others my savings and creative ideas. My friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers are constantly suprised with my findings and at least "seem" to love suggestions that I provide on saving strategies.

And I do love to write. So I figured this blog would be perfect for that outlet. I'll share tips, tricks, and stories about saving, being frugal, and being "crafty". Sit back and enjoy!

Oh - And of course I tied it in with another "love" in my life - fairies. I've loved fairies for a long time now. They are fanciful and fun and always make me feel like a creative kid.

If you have any suggestions, ideas, or questions for me, please feel free to comment or email me at gamecockjen@yahoo.com.