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Category: Earning & Managing Money

Reader tip: Ask for mark-downs

Susan emailed me yesterday with her experience in asking for a mark-down:

I went to Kroger today to get a few
things and I really needed some organic milk. I can often find some
marked down, but today there was none marked down. However, I found they had some
Horizon milk that had a sell-by date of Dec 12 (4 days away).

I found someone who worked at Kroger and asked them if they could tell
me what days they mark down dairy products. When they told me that it was no no specific
day but just every so often, I asked if the milk could/should be marked
down since it expires in 4 days. They said "sure"!

The nice lady
asked how many gallons I wanted, and marked them down and give them to
me, and then marked down the rest of them too! I was so excited that I
got my organic milk for only $2.75/gallon! It never hurts to ask!

Have any of you asked for a mark-down before on items which were nearing their expiration date or produce which was going bad? I have done this very successfully at Aldi before–sometimes even scoring free produce!

Guest Post: Saving Time and Money With Amazon.com

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Guest Post by Davonne Parks, executive editor of Pierce My Heart

With the holidays approaching, many of us are trying to figure out how
to purchase nice gifts on a limited budget. While there are many ways
to do this, I have personally found that Amazon.com
is a great place to save time and money.

Why Amazon.com?

I have yet to search for an item on Amazon.com which I wasn't able to find.
I've purchased books, bikes, a projector screen, and much more from
Amazon.com for a fraction of the price I've found in stores.

The items we
purchase most from Amazon.com are books. I'll regularly see a book at a
book store for $20, then go home and search for it on Amazon.com, and find
the same exact thing, brand new, for $6 including shipping. This is a
great way to make the most out of every dollar when purchasing gifts
for other people!

Start By Choosing An Item

Do a simple search on Amazon.com for the item you desire. After searching,
you will probably find several versions of the same item. The easiest
way to go through these is to right click on the item you’re interested
in, then left click on “open link in new tab.” This will open the
desired link in a new tab without moving you from the page you were
already on, so that you can continue opening the other items in a new
tab too.

When choosing between similar items, you will want to take special note
of the price, product description, and costumer reviews. Then you can
easily go through each tab, one by one, and X out of the items you
decide against, thus eventually narrowing it down to your final choice.

Amazon.com vs. An Individual Seller


Once you find your desired item, you will need to choose between
purchasing the item from Amazon.com itself and purchasing from an individual
seller who is listed on Amazon.com.

Many items sold by Amazon.com have free
shipping on orders of $25 or more (Super Saver Shipping). I usually
have a list in mind when I purchase from Amazon.com and I wait to purchase
until I have a $25 order so I can take advantage of the free shipping,
since that's generally a little cheaper than the seller price after
adding the seller's shipping charges.

If you do choose to buy from a seller, there are a few ways to ensure a
positive transaction. Click on “new” or “used” to the right of the
product image and browse those selections. They're usually listed from
cheapest to most expensive for buyer ease.

Some things to notice are the shipping rates (listed directly below the
item cost), and the seller's information. Their basic information is
listed to the right of the item price.

It's important to look at how
many sales they've had and their percentage of positive responses. A
rating, or response, is what the costumer gives after receiving his/her
product (this is similar to the eBay system). I generally only buy
items from sellers who have had several hundred transactions, and at
least 98% positive feedback.

You can click on “positive” underneath the
seller's name and read the reviews. This will allow you to see why they
received any negative responses, and you can decide if it's worth
buying from that particular seller.

Making The Purchase


Once you've selected an item to purchase, click on “add to cart.” From
there, you can continue shopping (repeat above steps) or click on
“proceed to checkout.”

Amazon.com will then guide you through the steps of creating an account and
completing your order. After you enter your information once, Amazon.com
saves it for future use, so after the first transaction the checkout
process will be much faster. (For a list of accepted payment methods, go
here.).
You can also set up one-step checkout at this time, which will save
time in the future by setting a default address and payment method that
will automatically appear the next time you place an order.

Additional Helps

The Movers and Shakers
page
on Amazon.com lists items that have been selling much faster than
normal, which usually means they're having huge sales on those items.
For more tips on maximizing your savings on Amazon, check out this post by Pro
Bargain Hunter
.

Amazon.com has great deals for every taste and budget, so learn to maximize your
savings by shopping online, and you just might find you'll rarely have to fight the crowds
at the mall again!

Davonne is the executive editor of Pierce My Heart, an online Christian magazine for young women. December’s Pierce My Heart theme is on giving. She also helps run her husband’s computer business while her daughter is in morning pre-school, and she is learning how to coupon and CVS efficiently.

It’s Frugal Friday!

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It's Frugal Friday and you'll want to stop by my other blog to check out all the great links from frugal zealots around the blogosphere. I'm sharing about how much fun my daughter and I are having with free Betsy McCall paper dolls.

Oh and speaking of having fun with my daughter, if you've not checked out my new blog, Mom of Littles, you might enjoy doing so, if you have a chance. I posted yesterday on a somewhat-typical day at our home and our homeschooling adventures.

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 2–Milk Your Money

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In continuing on with our series looking at Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips, here are some of her tips on milking your money with a few of my thoughts thrown in as well:

Go on the Cash System –One consumer trend I have seen revitalized is the idea of shopping with cash. When my husband and I were first married, we had $40,000 worth of consumer debt and sometimes didn’t have enough money for groceries. That’s when we went to the cash system by taking out the budgeted amount for groceries in cash and putting it in an envelope. We had a visual reminder of how much was left for the week, it helped us stay on budget, and we didn’t go further into debt by using our credit cards. –Ellie Kay

I can't even begin to tell you how much money we save by shopping primarily with cash. There's just something about handing over green stuff which makes you more aware of just how much you're spending.

We once did an experiment where we paid almost exclusively with our debit card for a few months all the while attempting to stick to our usual budget. We found, to our surprise, how much easier it was to spend a "little here" and a "little there" without even so much as realizing until it came to the end of the month and all of these little purchases were added up.

If you've never tried going cash only for purchases like groceries, clothing, gifts, eating out, etc., I'd highly encourage you to try it out for at least a few months and see if it makes any difference in how you spend and how you consider whether or not a purchase is necessary. You just might be surprised! Plus, it's a whole lot easier to stick to a written budget if you only have cash from an envelope to spend instead of a card to swipe!

Play the Price Matching Game –I’ve worked 40+ hours a week for years with a house full of kids, so I don’t have time (or energy) to drive all over town to shop various sales. I can benefit from all the sales though, by going to a store that matches the lowest price. I save gas, time and money by going to a store that will match competitor sales. –Ellie Kay

While I've found it's more cost-effective for me to shop at two stores (Dillon's and Aldi) rather than price-matching at Wal-Mart, I definitely think everyone should consider going the price-matching route–especially if you'd prefer to keep it simple and only shop at one store. 

As always, I think it is very important that you factor in the time involved in bargain shopping. After all, time is money, too. So be careful to evaluate the return on your investment of time as well as money. If you've been bargain shopping for a few months and you're taking four hours per week to plan your shopping trip, clip your coupons, and shop at various stores and you're only saving $20 or $30 for that time spent, it's likely not worth it. I personally think you should work up to saving at least $30-$40 per hour and buying things you truly need or have a good use for, for it to be worth your while. (Of course, you are free to do whatever floats your boat, I'm just sharing what my rule of thumb is!)

Go Beyond the List –Most families know that creating a list and sticking to it can save you as much as 30% on your grocery bill. But did you know that as many as 50% of the sales or price rollbacks for the week are not advertised in the sales circular? This means that there may be clearance items throughout the store that are not on your list. Give yourself permission to snatch these up if they are a super good value. One week, I found deodorant on sale when the store was remodeling the antiperspirant aisle. There were a variety of brands marked down to $1, including my favorite brand. I matched my “$1 off” coupons with those clearances to get 16 packages of deodorant for free! –Ellie Kay

I disagree with Ellie Kay a little bit here in that I think you shouldn't bust your budget in order to snag a good deal. My philosophy is that if you can't afford something it's not a good deal. However, if your grocery budget allows no wiggle room for stocking up on unadvertised sales, you might need to raise it a tad or learn to be creative in rearranging your plan of attack at the store.

For instance, I plan our $40 menu each week before going to the store based upon what we have on hand and what's on sale at the store. This way, I know we'll have plenty to eat for the week. However, I often will find a great deal on something while I'm at the store which was not on my list–be it an unadvertised deal, marked down meat or produce, or something on clearance. I often know that I have $3-$5 in wiggle room so I can snag the extra deals without needing to cross another item off of my list. But sometimes I don't have as much wiggle room or the items I found are more than the extra room I have to play with.

When this happens, I usually just consider whether I can re-work the menu a bit or see if there are any non-essentials on my grocery list that I can cross off. If not, then I remind myself of my rule of thumb (if it's not in the budget and I can't squeeze it in, it's not a good deal for me) and pass over the deal. There are always plenty of other good deals to be had later on so it's not the end of the world if I have skip over a few. (Of course, like I said above, you are more than free to disagree with my personal philosophy and do what works for your family.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts, if any, on Ellie Kay's tips above. Do you agree or disagree? What works for your family? To see all of Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips, go here.

Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 1–Brown-Bag It

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Oscar Mayer recently contacted me and asked me if I'd consider taking their two-week Smart Saving Value Challenge by implementing Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips for two weeks to see how much I'd save on my grocery bill. In looking over the tips, I realized that I already have implemented almost all of them into my grocery shopping–which is probably one reason our grocery bill is consistently $40 per week!

Since we have a number of new readers here, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to go through a few of Ellie Kay's tips in a two-part series over the next two days to give some ideas and inspiration to those of you who are just getting started on your journey towards being a better home economist–especially when it comes to your grocery budget.

For those who might not be familiar with Ellie Kay, she is a mother to eight, author of six books, and well-known "America's Family Financial Expert. I've especially enjoyed her book, Shop, Save, Share and would recommend it to you if you are just getting started with saving money at the grocery store.

Here are some of her tips (in bold) on cutting your food budget by brown-bagging it. I've included a few of my own thoughts along with her points:

Bag-up More Variety –“Brown bagging it” can be a great way to save time and money, but make sure you mix it up. You can save an average of $3 per person per day by taking a lunch to work or school, that can add up to as much as $260 per month for a family of four! The key to reaping those rewards? Choose a variety of lunch options your family enjoys—this will keep them brown bagging and keep you saving. –Ellie Kay

Since we've been married, we've saved thousands of dollars alone just by packing sack lunches. While Jesse was in law school and we were living on a beans-and-rice budget, brown-bagging it was a must as there was no way we could afford even eating off the dollar menu on a regular occurrence.

It's often the little things like this that can add up to big savings and doing the math by figuring out just how much money you are saving by taking a little time to pack a lunch can be a huge motivator in encouraging you to follow through with it.

“Big to Little” Brown Bag Tips –Any time you can divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you will save BIG! For example, I buy a two pound bag of mini-carrots, then divide them into snack size plastic bags ahead of time. In the morning, I just grab and go, knowing that I’ve saved as much as 40% off buying prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys! –Ellie Kay

One thing which has helped me in packing lunches is to divvy up serving-size portions of muffins and cookies in baggies and stick them in the freezer. Then, when I'm packing lunches, I can just pull a few of these baggies out to add to the lunch and round things out. Baggies of healthful muffins and cookies are also great to have on hand for when we'll be out and about running errands. Being prepared with our own food means we divert the urge to make a quick stop through the drive thru! 

Brown Bag Assembly Line –With the number of kids in our house, the morning ritual of getting ready for school often felt like a three-ring circus, so I developed a system that saved my money and my mind. When watching TV at night with the family, I got out all the lunch bags and labeled them with the kids’ names, then filled them with non-perishables like drinks and pre-bagged snacks. Then all I had to do in the mornings was create a sandwich assembly line to complete lunch! This also kept me from saying “why don’t you just buy your lunch today?” if I was too tired in the morning to make their brown bagged lunches. –Ellie Kay

I've found that doing sack lunch prep the night before is a huge
time-saver. For some reason, I'm much more motivated and creative at
nighttime than I am most mornings. So I try to take a few minutes after
dinner to figure out what I'll be packing the next morning and even
getting as much as possible ready.

And now I'd love to hear from you: Do you brown-bag-it at your house? If so, what are some of your best tips for pulling it off simply, consistently, and efficiently?

Free $10 bonus from Coinstar!

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Do you have more than $40 in cash lying around your home? If so, take it into a Coinstar coin counting machine by December 7, 2008 and turn it into a gift card or eCertificate and you'll automatically get a $10 holiday bonus! More details here.

Speaking of gift cards, if you've yet to try out Swagbucks, I'd heartily encourage you to check it out. I've earned some great gift cards in the last few weeks that I've been doing it. Read more details on how it works and how to maximize your earnings here. here and how to maximize your earnings.