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Showing posts with label Frugal Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frugal Living. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Decluttering: Get Money for Your Stuff, and Get Your Space Back!

Decluttering- Get Your Space and Money Back!

Taking Away a Load of Clutter
Taking Away a Load of Clutter
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Not so long ago, I saved almost everything.  If I had something, I didn't want to throw it away- what if I were to need it someday?  Why throw something away when I might need to buy the same thing again someday?

Broken items got saved- in case I got around to repairing them someday.  Even items that were not repairable got saved- in case I needed the spare parts for something someday.

I would even pick up free stuff that other people were giving away.  Actually, I still do that if is is something I will use immediately.  But I used to accumulate stuff- just in case I would need it someday, I would have it and I wouldn't need to pay for it.

Frugal thinking can tend to encourage keeping too much stuff.  This may sound like hoarding, but I think this is different since I didn't have any emotional attachment to the stuff.  I just didn't want to throw anything away that might be useful so I could avoid paying for it in the future.

Dumpster of Clutter at the Landfill
Dumpster of Clutter at the Landfill
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I came to realize that saving lots of stuff- even free stuff- has a cost.  My garage and even house was packed full with stuff I wasn't using.  Even if I wanted to use some of my stuff, it would be hard to find the good stuff since there was so much junk mixed in with the stuff.

Now, I don't have as much stuff.  I still have a small stockpile of boards, fencing material, landscaping fabric, hardware, and an impressive collection of tools.  But now all of the things I have are things that I plan to use and they are all neatly organized in my shop and garage.  Sometimes less really is more.  I can easily find items when I need them, and I can usually remember what I have and where I put it.

So how did I go from having so much clutter to having a nicely organized shop and garage with just the right amount of stuff around to handle almost any project?  The answer: "decluttering".

I still feel a little pain throwing stuff away, but it has gotten easier.  I realized that I didn't miss any of the stuff I threw away after sorting it based on whether I had any plans or need to use it.

Another Load of Clutter from My Garage and Yard
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Decluttering doesn't necessarily mean throwing things away.  I sell a lot of things on craigslist and at consignment shops.  Sometimes I sell things on eBay and am surprised by how high the bidding goes.  Selling things certainly is less painful than throwing things away.

On my trip to haul away clutter, I loaded up my SUV and first stopped at the consignment shop on the way to the landfill.  That way I could see which items the consignment shop would accept and take the rest to the landfill.  To my delight, the consignment shop took everything that I offered.  This is a win-win.  I get paid for the stuff, and I don't have to pay to throw it away at the landfill.

Here are some tips on how to declutter to take back control of your living space:

  1. Start working in a small space- pick a room or even a part of a room and start sorting into "keep" and "go" piles.  Don't worry at this point about where stuff will go if it is in a "go" pile.  Put stuff in the "keep" pile if you use it or plan to use it soon.  Put everything else in the "go" pile- even if it was expensive or you just got it recently.
  2. OK, now you can worry about what will happen to the stuff in the "go" pile.  Move the "go" pile out to the garage or other area where you can sort it further and not worry about it ending up in the "keep" pile somehow.  Sort the "go" pile into piles for "sell" and "throw away". 
  3. Haul the "throw away" stuff to the landfill, or put it out on the curb with the trash.  If it makes you feel better, you can put a sign on the stuff that says "free" and see if anyone takes it.  I have actually gotten rid of a fair amount of stuff just by putting it out with a "free" sign.
  4. Now, have some fun with the "sell" pile.  The easiest way to deal with it is to take it to a consignment shop, but you'll only get about 40-50% of the sale price.  You can try to make more selling some of the better items on craigslist or eBay.  Another idea is to have a garage sale, but there are usually a lot of unsold items after a garage sale that you will still need to get rid of.

My Shop, After Decluttering
My Shop, After Decluttering
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Now, repeat this decluttering process on another room or part of a room and enjoy the free space and extra money you are getting back!

Also important- don't buy extra stuff to replace the clutter you have cleared out...

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Friday, January 2, 2015

Penny Pincher Skills- Improve Your Ability To Save Money

How Can You Improve Your Penny Pinching Skills?

Improve Your Skills at Saving Money
Improve Your Skills at Saving Money
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

It takes skills and abilities to be good at saving money instead of spending it.  Some abilities are more at the innate end of the spectrum, for example you may naturally be a patient person, or you may naturally be impatient.  However even something like patience can be improved with practice if you work at it.  Determination is another example of an innate trait that can be improved with work and through your circumstances.

Skills that can help you save money can be learned and improved.  For example, when I bought my first house I had no plumbing skills at all.  Over time, I learned to do more plumbing work.  Last week, I cut off copper supply pipes, removed a kitchen sink and sink base cabinet, and sweated on new shut-offs and installed new drain lines for the new sink.  I bet I saved well over $500 on plumbing bills by using skills to do something myself instead of paying someone else.

What Skills Help You Save Money?

If I were training you to improve at basketball, I would teach skills like passing, dribbling, shooting, and defense.  What skills can you work on to become a better penny pincher?  Here are some that come to mind:

Negotiation Skills:  There are many situations where having good negotiation skills can save you lots of money.  When buying a house, car, furniture, or other big ticket items there is often a lot of room for negotiation in the price.  The keys to successful negotiation are to understand the realistic market value of what you are buying and try to understand how you can sweeten the deal for the seller in ways other than paying more money.

Budgeting Skills:  Are you good at keeping track of expenses and how much you are spending?  Do you know where your money is going?  Some people seem to be naturally good at doing this, while other people struggle with keeping track of expenses.  No matter what your current skill level at budgeting, improving you budgeting skill can help you become more effective at saving money.

Home Improvement Skills:  There is a lot of opportunity to save money on maintaining and upgrading your house if you develop some home improvement skills.  You can save money if you can do simple electrical repairs and upgrades such as changing a faulty light switch or replacing a light fixture or ceiling fan yourself.  Plumbing skills, such as being able to replace copper fittings and install new sink drains, can save tons of money if you are planning upgrades to your kitchen or bathroom.  Painting yourself- both interior and exterior- can save you lots of money if you are able to do this work yourself.  The more landscaping and yard maintenance you can do yourself, the more money you’ll save.

Improve Your Home Improvement Skills to Save Money
Improve Your Home Improvement Skills to Save Money
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Couponing Skills: Coupons represent a lot of planning and work that people put into saving money.  It takes some time, effort, and organization to use coupons effectively- but the payoff is well worth the effort.   I would say that I use some sort of coupon of money-saving program almost every time I buy something.

Improve Your Skill at Using Coupons to Save Money
Improve Your Skill at Using Coupons to Save Money
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

“Smart Shopping” Skills:  I describe this skill as being able to accurately identify things that you need and obtain them at minimal cost.  This may involve shopping at clearance sales, or purchasing used items at consignment stores and thrift shops.  For example, today my wife found a pair of dress pants she can wear to work for $7 at a clearance sale.  This is a lot better than waiting until new pants are urgently needed and then risking paying full price for them.  A couple years ago, we had no chair in our living room and picked one up at a consignment shop for $38.  We would have paid 10x more at a furniture store.

Cooking Skills:  I’ll admit this is an area where I have a lot of room for improvement!  Fortunately my wife is good at cooking and enjoys doing it.  If you get good at making food at home, you can save a lot of money on eating out and eat healthier as well.

Gardening Skills:  Growing your own food provides a great feeling of independence, as well as an opportunity to save money on buying groceries.  If you are good at gardening, you can produce a lot of food using few resources.  If you are lucky, you grew up helping in the garden and know how to do it.  If not, you’ll need to read books and get tips from others who are good at gardening to increase your skills.

In the past, car maintenance skills may have made the list, but cars are so complex now that it is hard to work on them at home.  You can find coupons and get an oil change for under $20 which is hard to beat even if you do it yourself.  The oil change shops like to get your car in the door with a cheap oil change so they can recommend other repairs you may need while you are there.

Improve Your Penny Pincher Skills

So how can you improve your penny pinching skills?  Practice to improve your skills by taking on small projects or tasks and challenge yourself to see how well you can do.  Get some books at the library or read articles on the Internet to get up to speed on the knowledge required.  Choose a problem and see how well you can solve it while improving your skills at the same time.

Copyright © 2015 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Are Expensive Jeans Better Than Cheap Jeans?

Are Expensive Jeans Better Than Cheap Jeans?

I had some Kohl's cash available today, so I went with my family to get a dress shirt for my son.  My son was sharing a dress shirt with his brother, and let's just say that doesn't work well when both have events around the same time.

While I was at Kohl's, I decided to check out some jeans for me.  The last time I bought jeans was in 2009, 5 years ago.  There was a clearance sale at K-mart, and I bought 4 pairs of Wrangler Jeans for $8 each.  I also got a pair of Levis for $13.  The Levis are nice and made out of sturdy denim, but are not the popular style like the 501 or 505 that most people think of when they hear "Levis".  These Levis were a low-cost version to compete at the lower end of the market and don't really look like Levis at all.

Expensive Jeans for Sale
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Kohl's had a sale going on a store brand of jeans: buy one for $55, get one free.  This works out to $27.50 per pair, which isn't too bad I guess.  But I was interested in Levis.  The last time I had a "real" pair of Levis was in the early 2000's about 15 years ago.  I walked over to the Levis, which were in a separate area of the store, and found all kinds of Levis styles.  I pulled out a pair of 34W 34L 505's and was hit with sticker shock- $58.

Real Levis!

Why Do People Buy Expensive Jeans Instead of Cheap Jeans?

The $58 price tag got me thinking about how much it costs to make jeans.  If Wrangler can make a pair of denim jeans that sells for $8 why are Levis 7x the price?  The answer is simple- because people will pay it.

Levis are perceived as a quality product
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

People like Levis and enough people value having a real pair of Levis at $58, apparently.  But what is the value of Levis over Wranglers and other cheaper jeans?  The Wranglers have lasted 5 years, so they are obviously well constructed.  In fact, the material and construction of Wranglers and Levis are almost the same.

People Like Expensive Jeans!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I think the value of expensive jeans is exclusivity and perceived value.  People who wear expensive jeans think they are getting something extra for the money, and they are.  Expensive jeans are perceived as superior- the brand and logo is enough to distinguish one pair of jeans from another even if the construction and materials are the same.  If Levis were sold for $8, some people would want to wear more expensive jeans to separate themselves from the crowd.

Expensive Jeans!
Another part of the value of expensive jeans is you can get something you know you will like.  I liked my old pair of Levis 505.  I even wore them as cut-off shorts for a year after the holes in the knees got huge.  Levis are consistent in fit and quality.  Once you know what you like, you can get it again.  I associate Levis with quality and know I would like them.

Should I Buy Cheap Jeans or Expensive Jeans?

I decided that I didn't really need new jeans.  My 5 year old $8 Wranglers are still hanging in there.  My cheap version $13 Levis, although very faded, don't have any holes and are still fine.  But I am still looking for that clearance deal on Levis 505s.  Since Levis are in such high demand, I doubt that I will find the kind of Levis I want selling for less than $40 or so.

Are Expensive Jeans Better Than Cheap Jeans?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Eventually, I will want to buy new jeans to replace my old jeans when they finally wear out.  Will I buy expensive jeans or cheap jeans?  Realistically, I will probably end up buying more cheap jeans.  If I try on enough types of cheap jeans, I will be able to find some that fit well and have the wash of denim that I like.  As far as exclusivity, I simply don't care what people think of my clothes.  So for me, there is not enough extra value in buying expensive jeans if I can find some cheap jeans that work.

Recommended Reading:
How to Find Really Cheap Winter Clothes at Clearance Sales

Guide to Kohl's Cash and Discounts

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Home Insulation: Save Money on Utility Bills

Home Insulation- Add Insulation to Your Home

Years ago, I bought an old farmhouse built in the 1860's era.  This was a big two story house.  When I bought it, it had 19 windows- all with single pane glass.  It had no insulation in the walls.  There was no insulation in the floors, either.  The attic had a thin layer of mineral wool insulation.

A Thin Layer of Mineral Wool in the Attic was the Only Insulation in the House!
Image Source: √ėyvind Holmstad CC-1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

We moved in over the summer.  As summer turned to fall, the furnace started running.  Then the furnace stopped heating the house, and we realized that we had emptied the propane tank already!  This was a 300 gallon tank, and propane was $1.29 per gallon at the time.  That first winter, there were times we had to fill the propane tank more than once per month.

I quickly realized the value doing a home insulation project.  Here are the home insulation improvements that we made:

Windows- Double Pane Replacement Windows with Argon

We replaced 18 of the 19 windows with double pane windows charged with argon.  The argon layer between the glass provides insulation value in the windows.  Heat easily moves through glass, but the gas layer between layers provides insulation value.  This was a do-it-yourself insulation project.  We ordered the windows 3 or 4 at a time and replaced a few on weekends until all but one had been replaced.  We used an interior plastic layer on the one large window single pane window that we did not replace.  I would estimated that installing each replacement window took a couple hours once we knew what we were doing.  We added fiberglass insulation to fill any voids and caulked around each replacement window.

Doors- Replace Wood Entry Door with Insulated Door

We replaced one old hollow core entry door with a steel door with Styrofoam insulation inside. The old door had cracked and had places where you could see light through it.  We placed large sheets of Styrofoam over two unused exterior door.  We kept one original solid wood entry door with a single pane glass window.  We added weather stripping to make a good seal around the two doors we kept as functional entry doors.  Improving insulation around the doors was also a do-it-yourself insulation project, this can be done in a few hours.

I Used Styrofoam Panels to Cover Unused Entry Doors, Saving Energy
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Blocking Drafts

Unused Single Pane Basement Window Covered with Styrofoam Insulation to Block Drafts
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

There were a couple small cracked single pane windows in basement.  I blocked these with Styrofoam from the inside and sealed them in with spray foam insulation.  I also applied caulk and spray foam insulation around openings for utility pipes, dryer vent, etc. that were letting air exchange directly between inside and outside the house.  Up next was caulking around windows from the outside to fill any gaps.  Blocking drafts is one of the most effective ways to lower your utility bill, and this is an easy do-it-yourself project.

Use Caulk to Fill Gaps in Siding and Around Windows to Stop Drafts
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

You can use an Infrared thermal leak detector to find drafts or cold spots on walls or around windows.  Just point scanner at your wall and view the readout on the IR scanner.  This will tell you where you need to add more insulation or stop drafts to save on your utility bill.  The Black and Decker model has a color-coded light that illuminates the area of your wall that is hot or cold as you scan your wall.  This makes it easier to find drafts and cold spots since you can concentrate on the wall and not focus on the temperature readout all the time.  When a red (hot) or blue (cold) spot is indicated, you can look at the temperature display to see the exact temperature of hot or cold spots.

Walls- Blow in Insulation

The interior walls of this house were plaster, and we wanted to keep the original plaster.  So to  insulate the walls, we worked from the outside.  We hired a contractor to install blow in insulation.  The contractor drilled holes through the siding and used a blower to fill the space in the walls with blow in insulation.  The holes in the siding can be plugged with wood plugs.  We just taped over the holes since we planned to replace some of the siding and paint in the spring.

The blow in insulation we used was made from recycled materials.  The main component was recycled newspaper which was ground up into small pieces.  Since paper is flammable, the insulation is treated with chemicals to make it non-flammable and suitable as a building material.  Hiring a contractor to blow in insulation cost about $2000.  I was upstairs playing with my kids on the cool day when they were blowing in the insulation.  I could actually feel the house warming up as they added the insulation in the walls!

Attic- Add Fiberglass Batts

The insulation in the attic between the joists was a loose fill material that I believe is called mineral wool.  The layer of insulation was only a couple inches thick.  I bought some unfaced R-30 fiberglass batts and added this over the top of the existing insulation.  Use unfaced fiberglass insulation when adding another layer of insulation if there is already a vapor barrier under the first layer.  The vapor barrier prevents moisture from condensing when water vapor moves from a heated space to an unheated space.

This additional insulation made a noticeable difference, especially since the bedrooms were upstairs and the thermostat for the furnace was downstairs.  It is often said that adding insulation in you attic is the most effective place to insulate to save on utility bills.  Adding fiberglass batts to the attic was a do-it-yourself insulation project that took a single day to complete.

Use Unfaced Fiberglass Batts to Add More Insulation Over Existing Insulation
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Floors- Add Fiberglass Rolls

This project was a little more challenging.  The old part of the house had a basement with easy access to the ceiling to install insulation.  However, the new part of the hose had a crawlspace underneath, and only a foot or so of clearance in some places.  Luckily, I like to save money so much that I didn't mind crawling under there in the dark to install some rolls of fiberglass insulation.  I used faced R-15 fiberglass rolls with craft paper vapor barrier.  The vapor barrier goes against the warm surface to prevent water vapor from condensing when it moves from the warm interior of the house to the cold exterior.  This was a do-it-yourself insulation project.  I worked on it a few evening a week for a month or so.  Since there were cold drafts blowing in the basement, this helped keep the floors much warmer.

Use Faced Fiberglass Batts or Rolls for the First Layer of Insulation to Provide a Vapor Barrier
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Home Insulation- How Much Can You Save on Utility Bills?

The good thing about doing a home insulation project is that it keeps paying back all the time.  In winter, you save money on heating bills every heating day after you install the insulation.  In the summer, you save on cooling every day after you install the insulation.  We spent a total of about $3000 on adding insulation to our old house.  Since our heating bills were so high, I would say that the payback period for this investment was less than 3 years.

Adding insulation to your house will save you money on utility bills, make your house more comfortable, and increase the resale value of your house.  Many insulation projects can be do-it-yourself projects, reducing the cost.  If you have a older house, an insulation project can be a good investment.

Copyright © 2014 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cheap Workout Equipment

Cheap Workout Equipment

I Got This Weider Crossbow Weight Training System for $50!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

It is amazing how much cheap- or even free- workout equipment you can find if you are willing to look around.  From my perspective, workout equipment doesn't need to be fancy or expensive.  The point is to find a piece of workout equipment that you can use safely and that gets the job done of keeping you in shape.

Workout equipment is one of those things that lots of people buy, but few people use.  Once someone decides they don't want their workout equipment, it has little value to the seller and they want to get rid of it so they can have room for something else.  This means that you can often find really cheap prices for workout equipment that is in almost new condition and has been used very little.

If you have money to spend, you can get the exact make and model of equipment you want.  However, if you want cheap workout equipment, you'll need to be flexible about the exact features you can get for a low price.  Sometimes, you'll see a type of workout equipment you weren't even considering and decide to give it a try.  If you find something that you might use and it's cheap enough, it may be worth taking a chance.

Timing is important when buying cheap exercise equipment.  If the workout equipment you are considering is for sale on eBay, craigslist, or a yard sale, you will likely need to make a quick decision about whether to purchase it or not.  If you don't buy it, someone else might.  This is one of those cases where impulse buying may be necessary to get the best deal on workout equipment.

Where to Find Cheap Workout Equipment

Garage Sales
I have had good luck finding cheap workout equipment at garage sales.  My best find was a Weider Crossbow system that I brought home for around $50.  This is weight lifting system similar to a Bowflex.  The Crossbow has flexible rods that provide resistance, and you can adjust how many rods you are pushing against.  This is safer than free weights, and can be used for beginning to intermediate workouts, which suits me well.  Here are tips on how to find great deals at garage sales.  You will want to arrive early at sales that have workout equipment, bring cash, and don't be afraid to bargain to get a good price.

You can find cheap workout equipment and sometimes even free exercise equipment on craigslist.  Buying workout equipment on craigslist is a little more difficult than shopping at garage sales- you need to arrange a time with the seller to look at the equipment.  An advantage to shopping for cheap exercise equipment on craigslist is that you can find out the make and model of the item for sale and do some research to see if it is right for you.

Used Exercise Equipment Stores
If you check on the internet, you will likely find that there is a store that sells used exercise equipment in your area.  Many of these stores are consignment stores.  The owner of the workout equipment provides it to the store to sell, and when it sells the store gets a percentage of the selling price and the owner of the equipment gets the rest.  The quality of items for sale in a used exercise equipment store is generally pretty good.  Stores do not accept items for sale that are broken or in poor condition.  However, it is less likely that you will find really cheap prices in a store.  The store has to sell the items for enough to generate enough money to meet expenses.  Another downside of shopping for exercise equipment in a store- the salesperson may try to move you up to more expensive models with features that you don't really need.

Thrift Shops
Most thrift shops or consignment stores have some exercise equipment for sale.  My experience has been that they don't have a lot of variety, but when they have something the price is usually very low.  Sometimes Goodwill Thrift Shops have some small exercise equipment items.

You can find cheap exercise equipment for sale on eBay, however shipping large items is usually expensive.  Sometimes you can find local items for sale on eBay that have pick-up as an option so you don't have to pay for shipping.  The way I use eBay for shopping for exercise equipment is to check prices and see what types of items are available.  If an item has cheap or free shipping, I would consider it.  Otherwise I try to find a similar item locally to avoid shipping costs.

I have purchased workout equipment from  Sometimes you can find new equipment at low prices.  When purchasing from amazon, be sure to consider the shipping cost as well as the purchase price.  Sometimes you can get free or cheap shipping offers.  You can often find items for sale at amazon that you cannot find in sporting goods stores.

The Best Cheap Workout Equipment

Here are my favorite cheap workout equipment items:
1) Weider Crossbow

 If you can find a Crossbow or Bowflex cheap, you can get a lot of use from it.  It is quick and easy to adjust the resistance and it never really wears out.  It does take quite a bit of space, so make sure you have room for one before you buy.

2) Cheap Treadmill

A Used Treadmill is a Good Way to Get a Cheap Workout
Image Source: Public Domain Image

Lots of people buy treadmills- and then use them as a clothes rack!  You can often find used treadmills much cheaper than the price of new treadmills.  It is nice to have a treadmill, especially during winter months where walking on slippery surfaces can be dangerous.

3) Cheap Exercise Bike

A cheap exercise bike is great to have to stay in shape over winter.  You can find nice recumbent models that allow you to get a cardiovascular workout with minimal impact on your back.  It is nice to stay in shape and start off the biking season in spring in good shape.

4) Pull-up Bar
Pull-up bars are cheap- you don't need to worry about looking for a used one.  You can buy a nice pull-up bar for around $30.  You can get in shape quick by doing a few pull-ups a day.

5) Pedometer

A Pedometer is Cheap and Helps Motivate You During Your Workout Program
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

A good pedometer can be a great motivator for walking to stay fit.  You can get a pedometer for around $20 that will last for years.  A pedometer allow you to track walking distance and can also calculate calories burned.  Here is a review of the key features to find in a pedometer.

6) Heavy Punching Bag

A Heavy Punching Bag Can Provide a Cheap Workout at Home
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I bought my Everlast Heavy Punching Bag new for under $100 including accessories, but you should be able to find used heavy punching bags for sale even cheaper.  A heavy bag takes some work to install if you plan to attach a punching bag to your ceiling.  You can also get heavy bag stand stands so the punching bag does not attach to your walls or ceiling at all.  Used heavy punching bags should sell in the under $100 range and provide a quick- and fun- workout.

Copyright © 2014 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cheap Winter Clothes: Find the Best Winter Clothes Sale

Cheap Winter Clothes!

Find the Big Clearance Sales and Get Cheap Winter Clothes!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Winter clothes are the most expensive clothing you can buy, compared with clothing for the other seasons.  Winter coats are expensive, sweaters are expensive, and fleeces are expensive.  In the fall, the winter clothes appear in stores for full price.  The prices remain high all winter, through February.  Some winters, a cold snap comes along and motivates people to buy warm clothes at full price.  Then, in the early spring, something amazing happens...

Winter Clothes Sale- Spring Clearance

Last winter, I got curious about what happens to all those expensive winter clothes and coats.  The stores seem to have a good inventory of winter clothes all season.  Then in the spring, the stores have spring clothes for sale.  Do they ship the winter clothes to a warehouse for storage? Do the ship the winter clothes to the southern hemisphere, where it is fall when it is spring in the northern hemisphere?

Cheap Winter Clothes!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

During the winter, my kids had some activities, and while I was waiting for them  I got to spend some time in the mall walking around.  I got in the habit of walking through stores and monitoring the prices and keeping an eye on some of my favorite items that I would like to buy if they weren't so darn expensive.  The weather was warming up.  The days were getting longer.  It was still cold, but spring was coming.  February turned to March- but winter clothes were still in stores, and they were still full price!

Then it happened.  I stopped by the Sears store in the mall over lunch break on Thursday, March 7, 2013.  The Spring Clearance sale had begun, apparently that morning.

Save at Winter Clothes Sales
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The Cheap Winter Clothes Bargains Go Fast!

This was the big one!  All of the winter clothes were suddenly on sale cheap.  Not just the odd sizes and weird styles, but the good stuff too.  There were racks of long sleeved Docker's dress shirts and high quality fleeces.  This was just what I was waiting for!  And the discounts were huge- there were racks of $50 long sleeved shirts for $5 each.  There were racks of winter fleeces and sweaters, most priced at $5.  There were also racks of winter coats on clearance.  Even though friends, family, and even complete strangers describe me as a penny pincher, cheapskate, tightwad, and other things- I decided to get in on this action!

I picked out 5 of the nice shirts and a couple of the fleeces.  This was a major shopping spree for me, even though I only spent about $40.  I used a couple of other tricks to save even more than the 80% off clearance prices.

Find the Winter Clothes Sale Early and Beat the Crowd
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How to Find the Cheap Winter Clothes Sale

Just after the sale started at noon on Thursday, there were no crowds and tons of selection.  I must have happened upon the clearance racks shortly after everything was marked down.  I came back the next day at noon to get a few cheap winter shirts and fleeces for my sons and most of the good stuff was gone already.  Timing is everything.  Here is how to find the big winter clearance sale to get cheap winter clothes:
  • Start patrolling in late February or early March- you don't want to miss the big mark-down.  All of the best winter clothes bargain can be gone in a matter of hours.
  • If you can, walk through your favorite stores around lunchtime every day.  Lunch break works well.  
  • If you go to the Mall, you can walk through several stores in only a few minutes, instead of focusing on a single store
  • The big sale will likely hit a couple weeks before Spring Break so stores can make room for the new spring merchandise
  • Be ready to pick up bargains when the big clearance sale starts- know what items, sizes, and colors you need for everyone in your family
  • Carry your coupons
  • Be ready to consider signing up for a store credit card to save even more- sometimes you can get an additional percentage off of your purchase
  • Be especially alert the first week of March in most areas

Not all stores have a big mark-down all at once.  Some stores walk the prices down gradually over a few weeks.  This does not work well for me- the prices are too high at first, so I won't buy anything.  By the time the prices get low enough to consider, all the good stuff is gone, and warm weather has arrived.  If your favorite store does the gradual mark-down strategy, look at other stores to try to find a big, sudden mark-down sale on winter clothes.

It is Worth Some Effort to Find the Cheap Winter Clothes Sale

Walking around the mall is good exercise and generally enjoyable.  As long as you can avoid buying anything at full price, hunting for the big winter clearance sale is a good sport for penny pinchers.  Even though I have a good supply of winter clothes after finding the big sale last year, I may try to find another big sale this year- just for fun...

Update: Kohl's Winter Clearance February 2

Kohl's must be expecting an early spring this year.  Today, I happened upon some great winter items marked down 80% already.  There was a great selection of winter sweaters and fleeces for $10, marked down from $40-$50 or more!

Kohl's Started Their Big Winter Clearance on February 2
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Recommeded Reading:
How to Survive Store Crowds at Clearance Sales

Kohl's Credit Card and Kohl's Cash

Copyright © 2014 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How To Save Money Fast

How to Save Money Fast

How to Save Money Fast
Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici,

There are lots of reasons you might want to save money fast.  Maybe you need to get a down payment together to buy a house or a car.  Maybe you owe someone money and need to pay them back quickly.  Saving money fast can work if you have a good source of income.  They say the easiest way to make money is not to spend it.  Most people can identify things they can stop spending money on and save the money instead.  Here are easy ways to save money fast:

Cut Cable or Satellite TV (Save $100/month)

Painful, I know.  But you CAN live without cable or satellite TV and you'll save about $100 per month.  You can even get free TV with an antenna.  I get ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and PBS over the air for free.  You can start saving money immediately by calling your cable or satellite company and cancelling your service.  If you want to try living with less TV for awhile first, some companies like Dish Network allow you too "pause" your subscription.  This allows you to stop getting TV service and also stop paying the bill for up to 9 months.

Pack Lunch (Save $165/month)

You can save $165 per month by packing your own lunch rather than eating out for lunch.  Packing your own lunch is not difficult and is healthier than eating out anyway.  If both members of a couple take packed lunch, you'll save $330 per month.

Cut Eating Out (Save $150/month)

You can further cut your food expenses by cutting down on eating out.  It is much less expensive to make your own meals at home rather than eating out.  Even if you continue to eat out occasionally, you can save up to 75% off of your restaurant bill by following these tips to save money eating out.

Spend Less on Coffee, or Reduce Caffeine Intake (Save $100/month)

Many people spend a lot of money on coffee. When you get used to having a Venti Starbucks coffee every morning, it is hard to due without.  If you have a couple cups of coffee shop coffee each day, this can add up to over $100 per month on coffee spending.  You can make your own great cup of coffee at home for only 60 cents, or you can make cheap coffee for only 11 cents per cup!  If you do this every day, you will save a significant amount of money every month.  If you are really serious about saving money, you can quit caffeine or reduce your caffeine intake and save even more.

Eat Less- Turn Extra Weight into Money (Save $700)

The average American is 23 pounds overweight.  You can save $700 if you convert 23 pounds of extra weight into cash.  How can you turn your extra weight into cash?  Reduce your consumption of calories, and save the money instead of spending it on food.

Take a Staycation Instead of a Vacation (Save Thousands!)

Another example of saving money by simply not spending it is to take a staycation instead of a vacation.  What is a staycation?  A staycation usually means that you visit local attractions while staying in your own bed- you'll save lots of money on transportation and hotel costs.  You can also stay at a nearby hotel that offers perks like free meals and still save a ton of money compared with a traditional vacation.

Other Easy Ways to Save Money Fast

  • Pay bills on time- No more late fees
  • If you are paying ATM fees, stop using the ATM or get a checking account with free ATM
  • Cut daily newspapers, read news online for free
  • Cancel magazine subscriptions- read magazines at a library for free
  • Consolidate credit cards to get lower payments, save hundreds on interest every month
  • Cut alcohol- reduce spending on alcohol and bar tabs
  • Pet savings- groom pets yourself, avoid boarding by traveling less or having friends watch your pets

Most people could save over $1000 per month by following these tips to save money fast.  The best part- you do not need to make any major changes to your lifestyle to save money fast.  You don't need to move to a less expensive place to live.  You don't need to find a job that pays more.  You simply need to find things you don't really need and stop spending money on these extras.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Friday, August 30, 2013

Why is Cake so Expensive When Cake Mix is so Cheap?

Buying a Cake is Expensive!

I was really wanting some cake the other day and decided to check out some cakes at the grocery store.  They had some really nice looking decorated cakes, but they were expensive!

Following are prices I found in the bakery for simple frosted cakes:

  • 7 inch round cake for $11.99
  • 1/8 sheet cake for $12.99
  • 1/4 sheet cake (9 in x 13 in) for $17.99
  • "cupcake" cake with 30 cupcakes for $27.00
  • 1/2 sheet cake (12 in x 16 in) for $30.99

Decorated cakes for sale at a bakery- expensive!
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Near the checkout, they had single pieces of frosted cake for sale in individual clear plastic boxes for $2.50.  Yes, $2.50 for one piece of cake!

Since I was at the grocery store, I decided to see how much it would cost to make a cake using cake mix, eggs, and oil and top it with frosting.

How Much does it Cost to Make a Cake?

Here are the raw ingredients in the typical sizes sold at the grocery store:
Eggs $1.45/dozen
Vegetable oil $2.59 for 24 oz
Cake mix $1.28 for 15.25 oz (makes 9 in x 13 in cake)
Frosting $1.77 for 16 oz
Dec-a-cake icing $2.29 for 4.25 oz tube

Pillsbury cake mix- on sale cheap
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Things you probably already have at home to bake a cake:
Cake pan $5.99 for 9 in x 13 in
Nonstick spray $2.49 for 5 oz can

Cost of cake ingredients: $1.78
Cake mix $1.28
1 cup water -less than one cent if you use tap water
1/3 cup oil $2.59/18= $0.14
3 eggs $1.45/4=$0.36

Cost of energy for baking a cake: $0.13
Let's consider the cost of energy to bake a cake in the oven at 350 degrees for 34 to 38 minutes.

It takes 2 kilowatt-hours (kW-h) of electricity to run an oven at 350 degrees for one hour.  At 10 cents per kW-h, this is 20 cents of electricity cost per hour to run an oven.  Since the cake only takes 38 minutes the cost of energy to bake a cake is 38/60 x 20 cents= $0.13.

Cost of frosting and cake decorations: $4.06
Frosting and cake decoration cost can vary depending on how much you want to decorate your cake.  Let's include 16oz of frosting and one tube of decoration icing.

Betty Crocker cake frosting- whipped
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Dec-a-cake cake frosting tubes
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The actual cost of making a 1/4 sheet decorated cake at home is: $5.97
This compares with a typical bakery or grocery store price of $17.99.  Your saving is $12.02 by making cake at home rather than buying a cake at a store.

The cost of $5.97 to make a 1/4 sheet decorated cake at home includes all cake ingredients plus frosting and the energy to bake the cake.  If you don't have a cake pan, you will need to buy one, but it is reusable for many years.  You could save money by not buying the Dec-a-cake frosting and using food coloring to make your own colored frosting for decoration.

Why are Cakes so Expensive at the Store?

So my choice between buying a cake at the store and making a cake at home was an easy one!  But why does it cost so much to buy a cake at the store when it is so cheap to make a cake at home?

Ingredient cost?  Bakeries can get ingredients at lower cost than I can since they buy in large quantities, so it can't be ingredient cost.

Labor cost?  I have watched the people working in the bakery- they can frost a sheet cake in a couple minutes, so it can't be labor cost.

I think the reason cakes cost so much comes down to logistics.  It is inexpensive to transport and store the raw ingredients for a cake, but once you bake and decorate a cake it gets expensive.  A decorated cake takes up a lot of space and you have to handle it carefully to avoid damaging it and making it worthless.  The cakes at the bakery I visited were refrigerated, adding to the cost.  Cakes have a limited shelf life of a few days once they are baked- there is risk that cakes will not be sold in time and will get thrown away, also adding to the cost.

Another reason cakes are so expensive- demand.   People are willing to pay for the convenience of picking up a completed cake.  This can be very handy.  You can pick up a birthday cake on the way home from work.  It takes at least an hour to bake a cake from start to finish if you allow the cake to cool before frosting it.  I have even used the shortcut of placing a baked cake in the freezer to cool it off faster.  If you frost a hot cake, the frosting melts and the cake can get torn up, making a mess.

You can order customized cakes, which is also worth the money to some people.  You can get custom designs and edible overlays that you probably couldn't make yourself at home very well.  If you have a kid that is really into Smurfs, you might want to buy them a really slick looking Smurfs cake rather than making a homemade cake and trying to draw a smurf with blue frosting yourself. I don't really care what a cake looks like, as long as it has plenty of frosting.  The rest of my family likes plain cake with no frosting- so that is even easier.  Homemade cakes are the way to go for me.

Elaborately decorated Smurfs cake
Smurfs cake- it would be hard to make a cake like this at home!
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Another reason people would spend lots of money buying cakes from a bakery is if they are serving a lot of people at an event like a graduation party or a wedding.  It is easy enough to make one 9 in x 13 in cake in your kitchen- this should serve 16 people with 2 in x 3 in pieces.  But if you want cake for 100 people, you could spend a lot of time and tie up your oven for a long time baking cakes.  Plus you will need to store the cakes somewhere if you bake them yourself in advance of your event.  If you order cakes from a bakery, they can be delivered all at once at the desired time and location which is really convenient.

Penny Pinching Tips
  • Make your own cake at home for under $6 and save $12 on a 1/4 sheet cake
  • Shop around to find the best deal from bakeries if you are buying large quantities of cake for an event

Recommended Reading
How much does it cost to make coffee?

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cable TV Alternatives- Cut cable and save up to $1200 per year

Cut Cable and Use Cable TV Alternatives to Lower your Bill

Most households pay about $100 per month for cable TV or satellite TV service.  That adds up to over $1200 per year.  We don't watch much TV anymore, so I tried to work out a different channel package with the service provider.  You can get cable TV packages for as little as $40 per month with limited channels.  Satellite TV service starts at about $70 per month after the special discounts disappear.  I was not able to find a package that saved much on the monthly bill and was worth having- so I cut the cord.  No more cable TV or satellite TV at the Pincher residence.

I did have some reservations about this decision.  What about watching Big 10 games on the Big 10 network?  What about watching Bloomberg TV for morning news instead of the fluffy "news" on network TV?  These are clearly luxuries, and I am sure I will survive just fine.  I will be turning to the internet for more of my news and entertainment.

Cable TV Alternatives

Free HD TV over the air
But even more concerning- what about local news and weather?  We always turn the TV on when a storm is coming to see if there is a severe weather threat.  What will we do now- there is literally nothing on TV with cable TV or satellite TV- right?  Wrong!  You can get several channels in high definition for free over the air.  All you need is a simple indoor HD TV antenna that you can purchase for about $50.  No more monthly bills and you can get free high definition TV.

I first tried a really inexpensive indoor HD TV antenna and did not get any channels- I live 30 miles or more away from the nearest TV stations.  I returned this antenna and found a much better one: RCA ANT1650F Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna

This is a great indoor HD TV antenna.  This RCA model includes an amplifier to boost reception.  The antenna pattern is claimed to be omnidirectional, however I do find that I need to adjust the antenna slightly to get some stations in my area. The antenna is a black square shape that can be placed behind your TV, or can be hung on a wall like a picture, or it includes a stand and you can set it up on the floor.  This antenna comes with all of the cables you need to hook it up and get free HD TV.

Black rectangular antenna next to TV
Get free HD TV with an indoor HD TV antenna
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Shows amplifier and cables hooked up to TV
Indoor HD TV antenna includes and amplifier to boost reception and get more TV channels
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Admittedly the selection of channels is limited compared with cable TV or satellite TV.  I can get CBS, FOX, and about 5 Public Television channels.  If I set my antenna in the window, I can also pick up ABC and NBC stations.  I am actually pretty pleased with these choices- considering they are completely free and I will never need to pay a cable TV bill or satellite TV bill again.  This will certainly provide local news, weather, and sports.  I'll be able to watch quite a bit of NFL football on CBS and FOX.

UPDATE:  In a desperate attempt to get NBC to watch preseason NFL football, I found a single antenna orientation that works for NBC, CBS, and ABC in my area.  I placed the antenna face down near the TV- see picture below.  I had previously assumed that the antenna would work best standing vertically, but it is working great laying face down.

HD TV antenna laying face down next to TV set
Laying the indoor HD antenna flat works great in my area
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How to Get Free HDTV with an Indoor HDTV Antenna

Streaming Video Services: Netflix/Hulu Plus/Amazon Prime
Another way we can still use our TV without cable TV or satellite TV services is to use Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Our Panasonic TV has built-in Netflix.  Netflix costs $7.99 per month and there is no limit to how much you can watch.  Netflix has movies that are a few years old, plus quite a few TV shows.  I like that you can watch an entire series on your schedule.

Our TV does not have a built-in app for Hulu Plus- we use our Wii or X-box console to play Hulu Plus movies and shows on our TV.  You can also use a video game console to get Netflix on your TV if Netflix is not built-in to your TV.  If you don't have a videogame console, you can get a Roku streaming media player for about $100.  A Roku player has a wi-fi receiver and high definition video output to connect to your TV set.  You can use services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime on a Roku Player.  Roku players also have a remote control which is handy.

How Much Can You Save with Cable TV Alternatives?

So what is our savings by cutting cable and satellite TV service?  Our monthly bill was $111.  Our HD TV over the air is free.  Our Netflix subscription is $7.99 per month.  We have a free trial of Hulu Plus- this will be $7.99 per month if we decide to keep it. So here's the net savings by cutting cable and going with free over-the-air TV and Netflix:

spreadsheet showing annual savings on cable TV alternative
Save over $1200 per year by cutting cable or satellite TV service and using cable TV alternatives!
Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

As you can see we are saving $103.01 per month which adds up to $1,236.12 in savings over a year by using alternatives to cable TV.  I can say that I have not really missed having all of those extra channels that much.  Using free HD TV with our indoor HD TV antenna and watching Netflix has filled the void.  For me, it is was certainly a good move to cut cable TV and use cable TV alternatives.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Kohl’s Credit Card: Get Kohl’s Cash and Kohl's Discounts

Kohl's Credit Card- The Key to Savings at Kohl's

Shows peeling to reveal a 15% off Kohl's coupon
How to Save Money at Kohl's
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Kohl's is where most of the new clothes at the Pincher household are purchased because Kohl's has some excellent savings programs. Applying for and getting approved for a Kohl's credit card is the place to start to get all of the discounts and savings programs. You can ask to apply for a Kohl's credit card at a Kohl's store at the checkout. You can get approved on the spot and be issued a temporary shopping pass if you want to use your Kohl's credit card for shopping right away. You'll need a Drivers License or other photo ID and you'll need your social security number to apply.

Kohl's store at night
Use Kohl's Credit Card to get bargains at Kohl's
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Kohl's Cash- Even better than Kohl's Credit!

A savings program with a name like Kohl's Cash gets my attention. Kohl's Cash is a special type of coupon that you get by shopping at Kohl's. You can get $10 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 that you spend. The Kohl's Cash is valid for a limited range of dates, typically 11 days. You can't use Kohl's Cash on the same shopping trip that earned the Kohl's Cash- the Kohl's Cash must be used on a future date.
One issue with Kohl's Cash is that it does expire. You must use it by a certain date, or it expires. I have had Kohl's Cash expire a couple times when I forgot that I had it, or simply didn't get back to Kohl's in time to use it. Since Kohl's sells many types of items from clothing to household goods to toys and even some food items like Keurig K-cups and Sodastream syrup, there is always something you can find that you need when you have Kohl's Cash.

Photo of Kohl's cash certificate for $10
Kohl's Cash- Free Shopping at Kohl's!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Why does Kohl's give away cash?

Why does Kohl's give away Kohl's Cash? The answer is to bring their best shoppers back to the store! If you spent $50 or more at Kohl's, they would love to have you come back since you are likely to buy more. Your potential as a shopper is amplified even more if you have a Kohl's credit card to tap into to buy bargains at Kohl's.
I recently went to Kohl's with $20 Kohl's Cash to pick up a pair of shorts. I ended up with 2 pairs of shorts, and my wife got 3 shirts. All good deals, but we spent $50 on a trip to Kohl's that we would not have otherwise made. This is a good strategy for Kohl's, and it is also good for shoppers- I did save $20 on my shopping bill.

Kohl's Discounts: 15%, 20%, or 30% off!

Now for even more savings- Kohl's Discounts. If you have a Kohl's Credit Card, you'll regularly get mailings with a peel-off sticker that reveals your savings. You can get 15%, 20%, or 30% off. The discounts are a percentage off of the regular store prices, which already seem pretty good compared with department stores like JC Penny, Younkers, Sears, Dillards, etc.
The Kohl's discounts are sometimes good for one day, or sometimes can be reused for a couple weeks before they expire, I always have a Kohl's discount coupon tucked away just in case we end up at Kohl's. One downside of getting used to always having a coupon at Kohl's is that it just feels wrong to go to Kohl's without one.
When you peel the sticker from the Kohl's advertisement and get a 30% off discount, it feels like you won something. Getting a 30% coupon is significant savings and I try to have at least a 20% discount coupon in hand before I go shopping at Kohl's.

Photo of Kohl's discount coupons
Kohl's Discounts: save 15%, 20%, or 30%
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Use a Kohl's Credit Card, Kohl's Cash, and Kohl's Discounts to Save Money

Here's an example of how using savings programs at Kohl's can save you money when you shop at Kohl's: I had $20 in Kohl's cash from a recent shopping trip to Kohl's to get clothes for my growing kids. I wanted a pair of shorts and my wife came along to help me find some that were not too embarrassing. I also had a 15% off coupon.
I bought 2 pairs of shorts for myself and my wife bought 3 shirts. Kohl's has lots of great stuff!
At checkout, the cashier will tell you how much you saved and it's printed on your receipt. For example, I had $20 Kohl's cash and a 15% off coupon. The cost was $53.12. I "saved" $93.89 with price discounts, 15% off, and Kohl's cash. My receipt lists this total saved, and the cashier circled it in red pen. I know the savings is somewhat inflated since almost no one pays full price, but it does make you feel good about shopping. I also picked up $10 more Kohl's cash that I can use on a future shopping trip.

Shopaholics Beware... Kohl's Bargains may be too good!

Kohl's is very good at offering great deals and getting you to come back to the store and see the great deals. They make it easy to charge on your Kohl's credit card- you don't even need to have the credit card with you. They will look up your account if you show them a photo ID and type your social security number in the credit card machine. If you have trouble overspending at stores, you may want to be careful. Kohl's got me to come in with $20 Kohl's Cash, and I ended up spending that plus $50 more!

Copyright © 2013 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy