Jan 29, 2013

The problem with window shopping

I've been feeling broke in the past couple months. Buying Christmas gifts for my family, friends, my boyfriend, and secret Santa exchanges is enough to make anyone feel a little strapped. Let's face it, we're all feeling it. But coming out of the spending season, I think we can all recognize something about ourselves.

I went to the mall with a friend in early December. That was the first time in a long time I had set foot in a shopping mall. I've found that when you're used to shopping at discount outlet stores, and thrift stores, this type of shopping experience can be quite overwhelming. For a normal person I can compare this to the shock of going into White House|Black Market, Louie Vuitton, or some other outrageously priced store. I'm so used to spending half or even a third of the prices that real stores are asking that I just can't bring myself to buy stuff. And even though I'm not spending cash, I'm still being affected in other ways.

Whether you're used to shopping at high end stores or low end stores, I believe something magical happens when you go window shopping: You realize you need everything. You might not have known it before, but you sure know it when you step in the stores.

For me, it's like every piece of clothing, tablet, organizer, clock... it all looks better than what I have at home, and honestly, it probably is. It's newer, it's shinier and the dang packaging alone makes me think I will be more trendy and have more friends if I would just buy this product. I know that sounds ridiculous, but c'mon, we've all been there.

After Christmas, after the day-after-Christmas (probably the best shopping day ever) and now getting into February, the shopping season and post holiday shopping season is officially over. The sales are done and picked through. I recommend you go home, and stay away from shopping districts for a while. Instead of going to Target or Walmart to buy food items, go to the actual grocery store, so you don't have to walk by the aisles of clothing, purses, office supplies, home decor, and whatever that weakness is that you have. Just buy groceries.

For me, I realize how little I crave stuff when the stuff is not in front of my face. It's when I watch commercials, visit stores (physical and online), and look through catalogs, that I find stuff to want.

In a society where the average American is up to their ears in debt, but yet completely provided for, we don't need stuff to want. We need to stop wanting stuff. Avoiding shops is a good first step.

Jan 21, 2013

Discount Combos: how to save more money at the pump

Every time I go get gas, regardless of the station, there are always signs, banners, stickers bragging about how you can save money at their facility on the black, syrupy stuff. Sign up for our credit card, you'll save 3-5 cents off the gallon. Buy groceries in our partner groceries store, you'll save 10-50 cents off a gallon. Buy a Snickers bar and a coke, you'll save 5 cents off a gallon. I've seen it all.

All of these things sound REALLY good because gas stations know we HATE paying for gas, so they capitalize on it. They tell us to buy something from them to save money on gas, so we think we are getting a better deal. Here is the reality.

We are not saving very much on gas. Sure, 5 cents, 10 cents, even 20 cents off the gallon sounds like a lot of money, but do the math. I usually put about 12 gallons in my car when I fill up, 5 cents off is only saving me 60 cents total, 10 cents saves me $1.20, and 20 cents saves me $2.40. Sure, it's nice to save a buck or two, but that's really not that impressive considering I just spent $45 bucks filling up my tank, and in a lot of cases, I had to spend money on something else to get it. For instance, shopping at that grocery store to get 10 cents off the gallon is generally not the most frugal way to buy food. Discount grocery stores offer far more in savings.

The point is, these little discounts aren't much...but, what you can do is to put them all together. Here's what I mean.

I went to the gas station last week to fill up. I fill up at Sheetz in Hamburg because it's on my way to work and gas is usually about 5 cents cheaper there then it is in Reading.. I happen to get my prescriptions filled at Weis Markets which partners with Sheetz for gas discounts. And I use a credit card that gives me 5% cash back on gas for half of the year.

The other reason I choose Sheetz as my gas station is I can save 5 cents off a gallon WITHOUT using their credit card. It's simply a swipe card, similar to a grocery store card. What this means is, I can use discount combinations. I can swipe my Weis card, save 10 cents, swipe my Sheetz card and save 5 cents, and then, I can pay with my Chase Rewards card and save 5%. And by the way, saving 5% on gas is about 3-4x's better than saving 5 cents on the gallon.

So let's add up my discounts:
Gas was $3.45
-10 cents off for Weis
-5 cents off for Sheetz
-5% off from Chase
Gas final price = $3.135/gallon

That's a $3.78 savings for 12 gallons.   Now I'm not going to lie to you - gas is still expensive. But until we all get smart (or desperate) and start riding our bikes to work, combining gas discounts is the best we're gonna get. And by the way, I am totally open to riding my bike everywhere to save money, I'm just looking for someone to push me. Inquire within.

Jan 11, 2013

Ebook freebie until midnight

I always feel it is invaluable to consider the lives and the culture of those who have much less than us. It changes the way we view money and view the things that we have. 

When I was in college, I went on a cross-cultural missions trip to Egypt which ultimately changed the way I view giving to others. On the trip, I met a guy named Ted Oswald who immediately struck me as someone far more intelligent than me, and someone who had a sincere love for grilled cheese sandwiches. Another love of Ted's (besides food) has always been social justice and serving the urban poor. I was very excited to hear that he was working on, and has finished up a book based in Haiti. One Amazon book reviewer said it "takes the reader into the heart of Haiti's political, social, and cultural climate". 

Up until midnight, you can download a FREE copy of his eBook "Because We Are: A Novel of Haiti". Currently, I'm anxiously awaiting the physical copy of the book to arrive at my house. In the meantime, download your own copy. I have no doubt it will entertain you and challenge you.  

Book Description: When a mother and her infant are murdered on the outskirts of Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most infamous slum, two unexpected detectives emerge: Libète, a brash and headstrong girl of ten, and her brilliant but impoverished friend Jak.

Though made rough-and-tumble on the slum’s streets where gangs, police and UN peacekeepers have long battled for control, the murders stir Libète unlike anything she’s seen before. With the dead quickly forgotten as the community limps on in its grinding struggle to survive, Libète resolves to pursue the truth despite the costs, plunging headfirst into an insidious plot that will threaten her and everything she holds dear.

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