Christmas Shopping…Check!

Tonight, I did most my Christmas shopping. That’s right, and I did it all online. Jeff and I were sitting here trying to figure out how to get all of our shopping done with our busy schedule. It didn’t look promising. We always end up waiting until the last minute to shop and, therefore, can’t shop online. Not this year. I opened up the laptop and logged into Upromise. I hit a few stores and after about two hours, I was done with most of my list.

I did the majority of my shopping at Red Envelope. I got a ton of gifts and got a pretty good deal. My purchase was originally $403. The site was having a 20% sale if you purchased more than $125. That brought my purchase down to $325. My rewards from Upromise will be $52, bringing my total purchase to $277. Not bad.

When Christmas shopping this year, don’t forget rebate sites like Upromise and Ebates. They can really add to your savings. Ebates let you accumulate rebates and then receive the cash. Upromise allows you to do a number of things with your earnings. You can save them for college for yourself or a family member or you can use them to pay off a Sallie Mae student loan. Now you can put rewards into a Sallie Mae savings account which will give you a 10% bonus on your earnings each year. If you don’t like any of those options, you can also request a check. The rebates you earn vary by store but most major online stores participate in one of the two programs. Many sites participate in both programs.

What sites do you use to get the most bang for your buck when shopping online?

A new way to read for free

Did you know you you can get free e-books at your local library? Lots of libraries now allow members to borrow books from their website. Some libraries even allow patrons to checkout e-readers.

Even if you don’t have an ereader,you can still read ebooks. Nook and Kindle both have apps you can download for your computer, smartphone or tablet. There are also tons of free books through both services, as well as through Google.
At first, I didn’t think I would like reading ebooks but now that I’ve been reading them that way for a year, I won’t go back.Ebooks are so much easier to carry around. I can have multiple books with me on one device. Plus, when I do purchase a book, it I often significantly less expensive in digital format. Ebooks also help declutter my house and I never have to go searching for a favorite novel. All my books are stored in my digital library. I don’t even have to go to the store, which saves as. Ebooks are also ecofriendly. No books to print, ship or deliver to my house.

If you love books, give reading a try. Even my 72 year old mom has an e-reader and now she’s hooked.

Jackpot! (Or we score a leather jacket)

Today, my husband dragged me to an outlet mall. Yes, HE dragged ME to the outlet mall. An outlet mall that was an hour from our house. I believe he has lost his mind, or at least he did temporarily in the pursuit of a leather jacket.

As I said yesterday, he didn’t want just any old leather jacket. He wanted a blazer style jacket. He was pretty sure that the Wilson’s Leather Outlet would be the place. I didn’t realize how much Wilson’s had pulled back. There used to be a Wilson’s in almost every mall. Now the only one in the state is the one at an outlet mall an hour away.

When we got to the mall, we both commented on how quiet it was for Black Friday weekend. The mall I went to yesterday was also very calm. I’ll be interested to see the retail figures for this weekend. From my observations, people weren’t buying a lot. I also spoke with a number of sales associates on Friday to inquire about the sales. They all stated it wasn’t as busy as they thought it would be. When I was at Kohl’s on Friday, there was an announcement over the intercom that the early morning specials were being extended until 2:30pm. In the years I worked in retail, I had never seen that happen.

As we walk around the outlet mall, Jeff is excited about shopping. This is very odd since my husband HATES shopping. In the last 24 hours, we had been to at least seven stores looking for the perfect leather jacket, going in and out of stores and malls. Now, an outlet mall. We walked into Wilson’s and after 30 seconds found the perfect coat. It was exactly what he wanted and only $135. It fit well, looked good and the price didn’t make me choke. He waited in line as I walked around the store looking for other deals. I found a wonderfully soft scarf on sale for $16.

We concluded the purchase and walked the jacket out to the car. I wanted to do a bit more walking around and Jeff nodded. Apparently, the rabid shopper from ten minutes earlier was gone. He was done. We quickly went into a few more stores. I noticed that a lot of the prices weren’t that great. One of the stores was more expensive than Target for the same merchandise. Other outlets had sales that were not as good as the sales going on all weekend at the regular mall.
I did get a few good deals. We did well at the Hanes and Old Navy Outlets. I took the opportunity to stock up on things we needed.

Clearly, at this point, Jeff was done. Well, except for stopping at the pet store for more fish. I think we have finally replaced all the fish we lost in the storm. The tank is now buzzing with activity and the cats and the husband are happy.

Live is good.

My Black Friday

Jeff had to work today so I decided to go to the mall. Yes, I went to the mall on Black Friday. No, I didn’t go at 4am. No, I didn’t get sprayed with pepper spray. Yes, I did get some good deals.

I got to the mall at about 8:30am. I had no trouble finding a parking spot. That was shocker number one. When I got into the mall, it wasn’t really all that busy. I had a few things on my list, some things I needed to get and some things I would get if the deal was really, really good. I needed some new jeans and I knew Old Navy was having a sale. I needed a new electric blanket (but I didn’t want to spend more than $60). I wanted a roasting pan but wasn’t willing to pay much for that. Jeff wanted a leather coat. He needed a coat but really wanted a leather one.

First thing I did was go to Best Buy to see if they had any tablets left for $249. Nope. Hey a girl has to try. A few years ago, there was a great deal on a Gateway laptop on Black Friday. Jeff and I arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon thinking there was no way in hell we were getting one of those door buster laptops. Well, come to find out they did have them because someone messed up and forgot to put them on the floor so all the associates thought they were sold out. Always have to try, right?

Next stop: Old Navy. I had a great time in there. Jeans were on sale for $15 a pair. I got three pairs for myself since I just threw out a few pairs because they were tearing at the rear pocket. I also got a pair for Jeff. There were some great deals on sweaters also so I bought a few of those also and a couple thin long sleeve shirts I can wear under them. Four pairs of jeans, 2 long sleeve shirts, three sweaters and a pair of snowman pajama pants for $130. Yes, I know I didn’t technically need the snowman pajama pants, but anyone who knows me knows I LOVE snowmen and pajama pants so snowman pajama pants on sale for $7 was just too much for my brain to handle. I also got 1,000 kickbucks for my purchase.

With a huge bag of clothes, I headed to Macy’s. Leather jacket..umm, nope. Electric blanket for $60… not even close. I did, however, find a very nice roasting pan for $9.99. Win! The problem I had with the Macy’s sale was that the coupons weren’t very useful because you couldn’t use them on regular priced items and you couldn’t use them for many of the sale items because they were morning specials. Very annoyed, I left with my roasting pan and nothing else.

I put my purchases in the car, which was all the way at the other end of the mall (I should have planned that better). Now, I was on the full hunt for a leather jacket for Jeff. He wanted a specific style of jacket, one that looks like a blazer. I went to every store in the mall and only found a hand full of leather jackets. I even left the mall and went to Men’s Warehouse. They had one, but it was $450. Luckily, it had funny stitching on the collar and he didn’t like it. Phew!

My last stop was Kohl’s. I had my 15% off coupon and started hunting for deals. I found a heated mattress pad, originally $129.99 for $59.99 with an additional 15% off with my coupon. Final price: $50.99. I also bought a new rug for the entry from the garage. It was originally $54.99. I thought it was on sale for $32, then my coupon, but it was actually on sale for $24.99 then my coupon. It’s a really nice oversized rug and Thor loves it. He can’t stop playing in it.

Jeff and I went to Burlington Coat Factory, Jos A. Bank and even Brooks Brothers looking for a jacket. No luck. Tomorrow, we are going to try a Wilson Outlet store to see if we can find one. I can’t believe it is this difficult to find a leather jacket. I also can’t believe that Jeff wants a leather jacket so badly that he is willing to drive an hour to go to an outlet mall. I think I need to bring him to the doctor.

Did you go Black Friday shopping? What was your deal of the day?

College: No really, it’s full-time

I wish high schools and colleges would do a better job explaining to students why we call a five class schedule in college “full-time”. Many students believe that when they leave high school to transition to college that full-time education is over. I can understand why they believe this. Generally, high school is five days-a-week, while college is generally two or three days.

I have seen so many students perform poorly because they are not prepared for the transition to more independent learning. Some students see the limited class schedule and believe that they won’t have to work as hard before they are only in class a few hours a week. Others see all that free time and fill it with work or other activities. I have seen a number of students working full-time and taking a full-time course load.

When entering college, students must be realistic about their study schedules and how much time this is really going to take. For every course, professors generally plan that for every hour a student is in class, the student should spend 2 to 3 hours outside of class. This outside time is comprised of reading, homework and studying the material. We generally do not include projects or papers in this estimate. So for your average three credit course which meets two and a half hours a week, a student should expect to spend five to seven and a half hours a week outside the class.

When you include attending class, students should be spending seven to ten hours per week, per course. Taking five courses, that’s 35 to 40 hours a week. When you start adding work schedules to this, it’s easy to see why students are stressed, especially when trying to work full-time while going to school full-time.

So why am I putting this post on a blog about saving money? Every time a student takes a course and performs badly, having to take the course again, the student is wasting money. When courses cost at least $1,500 each, that’s a lot of money to lose. Also, I’ve seen a number of students taking on too much and seeing their GPA suffer. A poor GPA will make it more difficult to get a good job or even get a job at all after graduation.

I understand that most students must work while in college, some having to work full-time to make ends meet. When that is the case, consider how much time you can really devote to college and take a schedule that is realistic. While it will take longer to graduate on a part-time basis, it will take just as long to complete a degree when you have to drop courses each semester because you don’t have the time to do well.

If you have a student planning to go to college in the fall or a student who is currently in a college, talk to him or her about time constraints and expectations. We all must do what we can to help the students in our lives succeed.

Alternatives to the same stale gifts

As I start checking my list for holiday shopping, I want to get my family and friends cool gifts that are unique. This season, I will be doing some of my shopping at Fab.com.

 

 

 

The concept is simple. Bring artists and other creative folks together with millions of users who are looking for neat stuff at great prices. Exposure for the seller and deals for the buyer. There are all sorts of cool things on this site. Clothing, art, household stuff, even dog bowls. If you are looking for interesting gift ideas, check out Fab.com.

No payment or incentive was received for this post. In the interest of full disclosure, I did use my account refer link in the Fab.com links.

Do you Black Friday?

I have never been one to wake up at 4am for anything, especially Black Friday. It’s too early, too crowded and unless you are looking for the 10 laptops that Best Buy is selling for $3 each, the deals aren’t that great.

My husband, the techie, seems to think that Black Friday as a day is almost dead. I’ve been getting emails for the past two weeks about Pre-Black Friday, Not-Black-Friday Friday, and Super Not-Black-Friday-Black-Friday-on-a-Thursday Sales. It’s pretty insane. All these retailers trying to get your cash before the Black Friday sales begin. With the internet, most of the sales have already been leaked so other retailers can try to do better beforehand.

I also learned a few months ago that retailers have to order their holiday merchandise in April. In April of this year, the economy looked like it was growing at a good clip and economists had a rosy outlook for the rest of the year. Retailers, therefore, ordered a lot of inventory. The economy has cooled a bit and many retailers are now worried they are going to be stuck with excess inventory this holiday season. I think this is why we are seeing so many early sales. Retailers understand that the days of huge credit card Christmases are over for many people and there are very limited dollars out there this season. Those retailers are going to be scrambling for your business.

So what is my plan? I’ve put my budget together and I’m going to start my list. I will be checking Amazon’s deals on Thanksgiving via my smart phone since they generally have some interesting deals. I will then check the retail sales figures the Monday after Thanksgiving. If the numbers are worse than expected, the sales are going to get much better in the coming weeks. If the numbers are good, but not great, the sales will continue after Black Friday is over. If the numbers are somehow great, I’ll be doing most of my shopping online. I have signed up for emails from all the retailers I plan to shop with and I’ll be checking my ebates.com and Upromise.com accounts for bonus cash back offers.

I will be sleeping in on Black Friday and enjoying my day off. Where will you be? How do you do your holiday shopping? What’s your plan to be the best deals?

Funny how life works

I was just opening my laptop to compose a post about how terrible cable TV is. I was going to talk about the fact that there is absolutely nothing worth watching that I can’t get online or through Netflix. Just as I was forming this into a post topic, I got an error in my browser. My cable internet is down again.

Tomorrow, I will be calling to cancel my cable TV. I wish we had another viable alternative for high speed internet. The phone company is actually worse than the cable company.

The return of layaway

Layaway is a concept that a lot of younger people are not familiar with. When credit cards became popular, layaway programs started to disappear until they had become extinct. I am pleased to see these programs have returned.

Instead of using a credit card to pay for a purchase after making it, layaway allows you to select the items you wish to buy, pay for them over time and then take possession when you have finished paying for them. The first store I noticed that had brought back layaway was Bob’s Discount Furniture, which is a large chain in New England and surrounding states. Then I noticed larger stores like Wal-Mart and KMart reintroduced layaway programs. Tonight, I noticed that smaller chains, like GameStop, are giving people the option.

I commend these stores for allowing people this option. It’s a way for people who aren’t great at saving to purchase items without resorting to credit. While I would prefer to use a Christmas club account to pay for these purchases, layaway is something I am glad to see again.

Occupy your own financial life

One of the things I love about blogging is reading what others are writing about money. Carl Richards has a great post on his NYT blog called “It’s time to Occupy Your Checkbook.” While many people are focusing on the wrongs of the banking industry, big business and the government in the current financial mess, few people are looking at their own financial matters. Richards writes:

“Perhaps it’s time to talk openly about past mistakes we’ve made. Time to take responsibility for our own financial situations and make a plan to improve it. Time to stop buying crap and hoping it makes us happy. Time to stop pretending to be something we aren’t financially. Time to stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, since we all know they’re buried in credit-card debt anyway.

Occupy Wall Street may or may not lead to change. But I know for a fact that if you Occupy Your Checkbook there will be.”

Whether you agree with the protests or not, whether you want to blame business, banks, the government, all of them or none of them for the financial downturn, we still need to look at ourselves as consumers. Those of us without power in the Northeast have had time to reflect upon what is important to us. What do I miss? I miss my cats. I miss snuggling in my bed with my husband. I miss cooking a nice dinner. Even when I missed my internet connection, it wasn’t the gadgets I missed. It was the connection to friends and family that the internet has brought us.

I know it’s difficult to look at our financial lives when things don’t look so good. It’s just easier to go along and do what we’ve always done, hoping that it will clear up on its own. When Jeff and I decided to clean up our financial mess, it was a difficult process. Looking at the amount of debt we had was not easy. We had two major financial stumbling blocks in two years from 2005-2007. When we finally got back on our feet and looked at the mess we were in, it was not easy. But once we knew the magnitude of the problem, we could start developing a way to get out from under all the debt we had accumulated. We are almost at the end of the first part of the plan. It’s been a long road but we couldn’t have gotten here without taking that first step and addressing the problem.

I remember when we first made a list of all of our debt, the amount was shocking. I thought it would be impossible to pay everything off. I was ready to throw in the towel. Now, I have a sense of peace in my financial life. We have a plan and we are making huge progress. Are things perfect? No, but they are so much better.

Have you had to face your financial fears? How did you feel immediately afterwards? How did you feel after you starting making progress? If you haven’t taken the first step, what’s stopping you?