The Shampoo Experiment

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Women collect a lot of…dare I say, crap to groom themselves. We use multiple hair products, a variety of makeup, paint our nails, spray on perfume, have a face wash regimen, lotion for our extremities, tweezers, nail files, and the list goes on. I just counted fourteen different types of lipstick in my drawer. Do you know how often I wear lipstick? Like twice a year. Compare that to a man like my husband, who just has…shampoo, and well, that’s a lot of stuff! I’m sure you could add or subtract to this list depending on your style, but you get the idea.

A few months back, a friend suggested a blog post idea where I test out different makeups and see which are more cost-effective: the cheap brands that a girl could run through quickly or the more expensive names that are made with lasting ingredients. I am not a huge makeup wearer–I avoid it when I can, dread it when I do and stick with the basics: mascara, cover up under the eyes, blush and an eyebrow pencil. I don’t know, but that’s basic to me anyway. Very rarely do I apply eyeshadow, eyeliner or powder and I never use foundation. So my need to replenish those things is sometimes only once a year. Mascara and eyebrow pencil are every few months. I guess what I’m trying to say is I am not the best candidate for said experiment, even though it sounded like a really fun thing to explore. Earlier this week when I was lying in bed and not falling asleep, I saw a Reddit thread where a girl asked for financial advice and gave a breakdown of her budget. She said she spends $400 a year on make up. I was surprised by that figure, but don’t really have a concept of what the norm is. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say I spend around $30 on make up annually, but who knows. I know I haven’t purchased blush or lip gloss since my wedding two years ago. And I know that the only reason I bought under eye cover up last year was because I left it at my father-in-law’s house by mistake. So maybe it’s even less than that. I should also mention I use brands like Lancome and Mac because they give me the results I want and I have found them to last a super long time. In this case, paying more gets you more.

My friend also suggested testing out salon level shampoos and their drug store counterparts with the same concept in mind: which saves you more money in the long run?. Now this is more my speed, as shampoo and conditioner are things I actually use every other day. I have not taken the time to track how often I purchase a new bottle, but my estimate is every two months. I buy big ones from target for $3.99 each. So that’s $8.00 total for both, or $4.00 a month–which is very, very cheap. But you know what? I always hate my hair! It doesn’t have the natural wave I know it can. It often feels weighed down, and I am so sick of the smell of the product. My friend explained to me that the drug store brands list water as their primary ingredient and you therefore use huge handfuls of it in one shower to moisturize your hair. But with the more expensive brands that use special ingredients (that’s my code phrase for “I don’t know what is in them”) you can put a nickel sized dollop on your hand that will cover your whole head. What an exciting opportunity for quality and frugality in one package!

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I got my haircut last week and decided it an opportune occasion to change things up. I excitedly went to my local Lush store… for those who don’t know, they are a salon quality handmade cosmetic company. Being the careful buyer I am– I read all the reviews on their website to try to figure out which shampoo would be best for my hair before going in. The one I settled on was about $26 for a fairly small container compared to the ones I buy at Target. But remember: you are using way less of this product and according to reviewers, it lasts about three months. Longer than what I’m currently using, but certainly more expensive no matter what. It would be about $8 a month for shampoo, which is double what I’m averaging now for both shampoo and conditioner.

Before going into the store, I decided I wasn’t going to make a splurge purchase without even more information because there was still the possibility that I would not like this fairly pricey product! That’s how the frugal roll, am I right? I asked the lady at the counter if I could take home a sample before purchasing rather than committing to it right then and she happily obliged–another perk of shopping at “higher end” places; they are often very accommodating because they can afford to be. She gave me this itsy bitsy little tub and claimed it would be multiple washes. After using it twice, I would say I have about one more wash in there and that’s pretty darn good considering how small the container is. And I love it! My hair is soft and  squeaky clean, feels light and voluminous, styles easily. I plan to purchase the full container next time I am in the neighborhood. Following my husband’s model, I am going to try to go sans conditioner for possibly the first time in my adult life to see if that is really a need anymore and to help with cutting the high cost that buying two would produce. I happen to hate taking showers, so one less step in the process sounds great to me.

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What I’ve discovered is a lower maintenance, higher functioning and longer lasting product can be the more frugal choice if you do your research. In my case, I am paying a little more than I have been previously, but I am also gaining more and saving time in the shower and in frequency of shopping. I am happy with the trade off and excited for the change. This may be the start of my simplifying my cosmetic routines even more and finding ways to go with quality over quantity in the future. What examples of this do you have in your life? Are there higher quality products you use around the house that may cost a little more but save you in the long run?

Strategizing Amidst The Craziness

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What is your first financial reaction to a hard week? To spend or save? I know for me, I want to spend to ease the difficulty. “Let’s eat out tonight, I’m too tired to plan a meal and cook”. Or, “we can make this easier by paying for that”. A few weeks ago my husband and I were tested by a series of events that made it so unbelievably tempting to escape it all by using money in flippant ways. As mentioned in my previous post, we were on a strict money diet due to over indulgence from a weekend away. September was our month to make it all back by being more frugal than usual.

We have known for months that at the end of the September we would be having two house guests for four days, followed by four house guests for five days the following week. I budgeted for this in my grocery shopping and made sure to include a homemade meal in the first couple’s visit and a hearty enough breakfast item to last the week and avoid spending three meals a day on restaurants. Eating out is the enemy when you’re trying to be good (and I think travelers would agree!). So, we were careful about where and how we chose to do that and I even bowed out of a couple of meal opportunities knowing that it would make the bill lower if I stayed home.

The evening they arrived, my sister (who is also my neighbor) went to the emergency room for stomach pains and it turned out to be a ten centimeter ovarian cyst that required same day surgical removal. Being the older sister, and her only family in town, I naturally wanted to be present for as much of the day as I could–full well knowing that I also had guests to entertain while my husband was at work. My sister has the same healthcare provider as us and one of the many advantages of where we live is that our hospital is within a few blocks of our apartment. I was able to dip in and out of there all day in between naps and surgery to check in on her, hang with her or wait to see her and get updates from the doctors and still keep our guests happy.

Blessing #1: Surgery went well and no emergency funds had to be pulled from in order to support the situation. Her insurance covered everything outside of a very small and reasonable co-pay and we were able to travel between the hospital and home with great ease and no cost.

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The weekend our friends were to arrive we woke up to a huge ant infestation in our kitchen two days in a row. I had a big morning of cooking planned for the following day in preparation for the guests. We called our landlord, who promptly handled it by sending a worker with supplies to try to remedy the situation. The ant traps and sprays didn’t really solve the problem, but it certainly helped and we didn’t have to spend a dime of our own money to make the fixes. It easily could have been a scenario where our landlord didn’t respond for days and made us go out to buy our own products. Instead, he also set up an exterminator for the following week which required us to pack up the entire apartment, pull out every kitchen drawer, take down the curtains, clear out the pantry, etc. We ended up compromising and only doing the kitchen, living room and bathroom which were the main areas where we have seen ants in the past. That meant everything went into the bedrooms and that I had to leave the apartment for at least eight hours. I took a short job that started the next day and spent my crucial time away from home prepping for it in a local coffee shop with my on the mend sister. For the cost of decaf latte I was paid a day of prep to get my house debugged. Also nice to have a boost of second income when trying to recover from a tight spot. Our second round of house guests had a change of plans and didn’t end up staying with us, so that took a little pressure off getting the house back in order right away for their arrival.

Blessing #2: Because we rent, we were able to handle a very ugly situation with little additional cost to us. I bought three very cheap painting drop cloths from Home Depot to cover furniture and our landlord allows us to take expenses like that out of our rent, so that is what I will do for next month.

My parents flew into town last minute to take over providing for my sister. My husband and I had insisted that she stay in our apartment (along with our house guests) for two nights while she recovered because she needed 24/7 care and still had trouble standing up or sitting down and preparing her own meals.We did end up going over our grocery budget by $30 that week because of the need to provide food for these emergency circumstances. As I’ve mentioned before, I have gone far over $30 in a month before and for far less important reasons.

I had my monthly prenatal check up with the doctor in the midst of all this and found out I tested high for pregnancy diabetes. In order to get a more specific reading, I would have to fast for ten hours (which could be done overnight) and then take a three hour blood test that consisted of drawing blood four times. So you know, ask a pregnant woman to not eat all morning while stealing blood from her system and slap a little boredom on it and what do you have? A very irritable pregnant woman at the end of a long week who may or may not have diabetes.

Blessing #3: The tests came back negative and as I listened to patient after patient come into the lab having to cough up a $30 co-pay, I thanked God that my coverage made the tests free.

Then to top it all off, my husband’s grandmother died! It was at this point that we looked at each other and thought, “what else could possibly happen this week?”. This wasn’t exactly expected, but also not a total shock because she was 98, almost 99–so we knew it was eminent. No immediate action was necessary on our part, but it was still another thing on a pile of others. What a crazy time.

I haven’t had a two week period that felt quite the way this one did in a long time. Juggling thing after thing–no time to think, let alone respond to a text–all while trying to maintain your normal weekly routines and provide for others. I love the feeling of being busy, and I believe I am someone who thrives under stressful circumstances. But I was a whole new level of tired. Sleep hasn’t been as good as it used to be with a little baby growing inside me, so there were days where I felt like a zombie. I even ran a stop sign at one point, which was (thankfully) funny to my passengers (we were in a very empty warehouse-y part of town), but that was a sign that I needed to hand the wheel over to someone else–probably in more ways than one!

The thing I am most proud of when I look back on this two week period is how well my husband and I were able to work as a team to iron out anything that came our way. As much as it felt like a crisis at certain points and hilariously inconvenient at others; we trusted that each hit that came our way would be overcome. We rolled with the punches and served each other and our friends and family as best we could–and special kudos to my husband who still had to work full time amidst it all. I think a great lesson which came from this is we can get through a very stressful time without using money as a crutch, while still continuing to save (and believe me, I considered skipping a week or two of saving contributions!) and coping with discipline rather than money. I now know if we can make it through hardship and not falter financially, then there is no good excuse for failing at any other time. These kind of experiences strengthen us emotionally, but they are a great lesson in economic discipline as well.

Slowing Down Saves You Money

For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on one of my worst features–a tendency to think too far into the future about any given thing. Sure, this can be a good quality when reasonably applied–but I’ve let it go so far that I’m mentally mapping out what next fall’s Tuesday nights look like. No joke. Someone turn this time machine off! It can also lead to unnecessary worry and even anger when I get too ahead of myself and anticipate events that might never happen. I have yet to figure out how to control this part of my brain, but I am prayerfully working on it. And while doing so–it occurred to me that this is a great application for financial success as well. Not only practicing self-control, but finding a way to slow down your life and quiet the noisy areas can help you hang onto cash where you otherwise might spend it.

How many of you have ever said to yourself, “I’ve had a hard week, I’m getting a pedicure”? Or “I deserve this ice cream because it’s been a long day”? There are countless examples of ways we pay money to reward ourselves for simply going through the motions of life. That’s not to say you can’t have a treat every now and again, but the point is…maybe eliminating the cause will lessen the effect? In my experience, the less I stress, the less I spend.

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Decluttering your friend world can be a very healthy exercise for someone who wants to lessen stress. I have long been a participant in the “big group of friends” gang–as far back as middle school. It has only been in the last year or so that I’ve truly valued the beauty of having a small inner circle of people who you invest most of your time in and it is incredibly freeing. How does this relate to finances? Well, over time you are looking at less commitments–anything from birthday parties where you’re one of twenty-five people, to seeing a person’s show that has a door charge and ticket. My husband and I went to a birthday party earlier this year where, unbeknownst to us, something like fifty people were invited and I swear every. single. one. came. We were split up into a million different tables, barely spoke to the person for whom we came and dropped $80 on the chain restaurant meal. Lesson learned. Now when we show up for something, it’s because we really want to be there to support and engage, not because we feel obligated by our (or should I say “a”) social circle. Quieting your social life saves you money.

Family planning–and I don’t mean the child kind. Having to coordinate any sort of family function– from visits here to visits there to group vacations–has kept me up at night in stress. No more. I have taken a step back from this sort of facilitating because it never changes the outcome. I’ve either relinquished control where I felt it fruitless to try, passed off responsibility to my better half, or simply left something untouched, which I wouldn’t haven’t considered an option in the past. It takes some serious discipline for this planner/thinker, but I’m doing it and it’s given me a peace of mind. I believe that clearer thinking leads to better choices and this absolutely applies to financial ones as well.

If you are a regular reader, you may have noticed my husband and I try to take a lot of small trips every other month or so. This has been an intentional, valuable part of our marriage in the pre-children era. As it’s coming to a close, we took one of our last getaways over Labor Day and even though it was fairly close to home; it cost us a lot. My next blog post might be, “A Free Day In Catalina: There’s No Such Thing”. September has been all about making up for that error in judgment. It feels painfully slow to get back to the comfortable place we were throughout most of this year.  Add to that the holiday season and a baby on the way… and you can convince yourself that the present is the new normal pretty fast. What I learned from this travel snafu was that we should have been more reflective on the need for a babymoon, considered the fact that August was already packed with travel obligations beyond our control and perhaps opted to hold off on that experience for a better time. Instead, we acted imprudently and here I am almost a month later dwelling on it. Not the way you want to end a vacation.

That’s where slowing down becomes such an important exercise. If I think too far ahead, I’ve created a tragedy in my mind where there isn’t one. I need to stop and reassess to realize that we are going to be just fine even if I feel stuck at the moment. We aren’t spending more than we have, our choices haven’t affected tithing, saving, retirement or any basic needs. We’ve just dipped below our comfort zone in terms of what we expect from ourselves. That’s not the worst thing that could happen. Plus I recently noticed that October has FIVE Fridays in it–which means FIVE paychecks! What a great opportunity to catch up.

Slowing down also means taking things as they come. Trusting that the season you are in has purpose. Not over anticipating, but not forgetting responsibilities all together. It can be a tough balancing act, but as I start to integrate this pattern of thought into my life–I find things to be simpler and more enjoyable. Even financially stable people have their tough months and that’s exactly why this blog exists–to lessen the impact of those moments. Hey! Maybe I’m developing some sort of resolution here. And maybe that’s a good goal for all of us for 2015. Try to see if you can have fewer months than you did in 2014 where you are stressed about money. I recall April being particularly bad and now I’d say September is too. That’s two so far. If it stays that way, then my goal for next year will be one month or less of stress. Sounds like a fun challenge. What are some ways you slow down in regards to finances?

Summer Savings Goals: How Did You Do?

Anyone who follows me on social media can tell that I am slightly excited about fall being upon us. To be exact, two weeks from today. Waking up to rain yesterday in Los Angeles was an especially nice surprise when all I can think about is how much we lack in season change! So, I figured now was the right time to follow up on my Summer Savings post. How did you do, readers? Did you bulk up that savings account or spend too much? Are you feeling proud of all you accomplished or a little guilty for money wasted? No matter which side of the goal you are on, you have something to gain. If you didn’t save a dime all summer; worry not, you still have another four months of the year to make up for that. If you overspent on vacationing or shopping, you now know what that feels like and will (hopefully) show some restraint next time around. And what better timing for that practice to begin than right before the holiday shopping frenzy? I went a little crazy last year, as we bought our first full size tree and hosted a Christmas party, so I’m looking forward to challenging myself to be more restrictive this season. 

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As far as my summer went, there were financial highs and lows, the most recent expense being our “babymoon” to Catalina on Labor Day weekend. We had Airbnb guests which helped soften the blow, but the trip was still quite pricey despite the extra cash. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still thinking about the ways we spent that could have been avoided had we chose another destination. For example, lodging there is steep because it’s an island and they know you are stuck with limited options. Same with food. And you have to buy bottled water in restaurants because of the drought. Then there is a ferry ride to get there and back (no frequent flier miles to cover the cost!), parking at the harbor for the weekend, eating out and any activities that we wanted to do besides lay out at the beach. I’m glad we did it because neither of us had been before and it was a wonderful new experience to end the summer. I snorkeled for the first time and we rented a golf cart and drove it around the island. We rarely indulge when we vacation; limiting ourselves to very simple and cost-effective activities/entertainment. We usually choose one fancy restaurant per trip and plan in advance so we get the best deals on rooms or travel expenses. At least that’s what my husband reminded me whenever I’d start to speak up. I guess I should enjoy it while it lasts before the baby takes over our travel planning and we naturally become more limited.

On the flip side, we’ve bumped up our saving habits in the last few months and that has felt really great. We set up a weekly automatic transfer from checking to savings that follows every paycheck, so it doesn’t even really feel like we’re missing the cash. It’s just enough money to make a solid impact, but low enough to where it doesn’t hurt. The total amount that will be in the account by December won’t meet our end of the year savings goal, so we’ll still have some work to do outside of the weekly transfers. But the point is, you should be thinking about these things year round and planning ahead for them. That’s why a quarterly (or “seasonal”) check-in is such a helpful discipline.

Another helpful change is I have officially gone on “honorable withdrawal” from my union until further notice as I am about to enter my third trimester of pregnancy. This will save us $185 in quarterly dues, or $740 a year depending on how long I stay away from union work. And as fate would have it, that’s just $32 over what our rent increase is. What do you know? There is our cutback to make up for the extra cost! 

I’ve stayed on track with my Roth IRA investments and even got my younger sister to commit to signing up for one. I’ve been contributing the appropriate amount for if I were on a twelve month plan–$458 a month. But that means my account won’t reach the annual limit ($5500) until April. My goal was to max out the account by the end of the year, which means I’ll have to make a big push in December or a series of smaller ones throughout the fall. That will set me up nicely for January through December contributions in future years rather than the April to April rush, like 2013. 

So as you can see, I’ve been keeping busy with my goals and had a few set backs in terms of vacation, an unexpected raise in rent and very little work on my part to contribute to the costs. I hope you find some motivation in this and and can get creative and disciplined in your savings goals before December. If you’re already on track, please share! Best of luck on gearing up for the end of the year– it will be here before you know it! 

 

The $59 Problem

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This past Monday I came home from a weekend away to find a notice under my door that our rent was being raised by $59 a month. As someone who has never experienced this before, my gut reaction was to fight it. A good instinct, but probably not an appropriate course of action in this situation–or a fight that I would win. Landlord’s have a right to raise rent, especially when it’s in smaller increments and law-abiding. And I have been in this place over three years and it’s never happened. I know the landlord could charge a couple hundred more than he does because the neighborhood has boomed in trendiness since I first moved in (note: I keep saying “I” because I moved in here a little over a year before my husband joined me).

How does a frugal person react to such an unexpected atrocity? Who would accept a deal that states “nothing is going to change, but we are charging you more”? Certainly not a savvy financial planner! Should we reconsider moving for the umpteenth time? Do we try to rent our spare bedroom out? No and double no. Sadly, in our case, the answer is, we just pay the extra amount and reevaluate in the new year. As I’ve chronicled on the blog, we have toyed with the idea of moving a lot–looked at many places and even put an application in for one. We know from the market that if we leave this neighborhood, we will upgrade to a house and it is unavoidable that it will cost more than what we pay now if we want to stay close to my husband’s work. So staying put is still the cheaper option, despite the increase. No upgrades, no third bedroom…just the same old place for $708 more a year. No fun.

But what about someone who really can’t take the hit? I decided this was a great opportunity to brainstorm ways one can save on an unexpected rent increase by cutting down in other areas. After all, I’m sure a lot of us use $59 a month for far less important things than cost of living.

Get rid of cable. This is a no brainer. Most finance blogs would call you out for having it to begin with. I researched it for our apartment and it would cost us about $70 a month more than we currently pay with just internet alone. I imagine that’s a ballpark rate for most of us, so right there you have your rent increase covered and then some. Besides, it is now easier than ever to replace the need with other affordable services.

Drive one less tank of gas a month. Yes, a tank of gas actually costs around $59 these days. Sigh. This one could be difficult for commuters, but I’m sure there are some of you who could cut corners in this area. I know living in a walkable neighborhood makes it easier for me to pull this off. And riding a bike is like, so in right now guys.

Get coffee a dozen less times than you usually do a month. I know it hurts. I know you love your iced double blah de blah blah. One finance blog I read says not to sweat the small stuff like coffee and only concern yourself with skimping on bigger ticket items. I disagree! But you ask two different financial experts and you’ll get two different answers. (By the way, I’m not an expert. I just couldn’t think of a better word to go there.) I believe we should all probably spend less on coffee. It does add up and it makes me cringe every time I check out our Mint account and see how much we wasted in a given month.

Just say no to dessert, appetizers or a drink when/if you eat out. You don’t have to cut out restaurant dining completely to be a frugal person. Just know when to indulge and when not to. A quality frugal life does not mean you miss out on all of life’s fun, it just means you are responsible about it.

Sell one $60 thing a month on eBay or Craigslist for as long as you can pull it off. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely have a good time with this one. Finding new and creative ways to sell books that I have multiples of or will never touch again. Old clothes. My husband’s blu-rays–I mean, my unused furniture items that are just taking up room in the closet.

Cancel your gym membership. This kind of/a little bit falls into the category of cable for me. Is it really worth it? Everyone’s neighborhood and living situation is different–and health is far more important than getting to watch reruns of Bewitched on TV Land–BUT–is there another way to be healthy that is free? Jogging? Home exercise equipment? Upgrades like that to your home or apartment could make the rent increase feel worth it!

Do you know what I spend $59 a month on in any given month? Coffee. Home decor from stores like West Elm or Pottery Barn. An Amazon order that combines books or gadgets for the house. Dinner out at a new place we want to try–easy. I could cut any and all of these if I needed to. We are frugal, but we also enjoy a quality life with self-imposed regulations appropriate to our tax bracket. We save the way we need to and spend the way we want. But a nice kick in the pants from your landlord is a good reminder to stay cautious and motivated in what ways you can be saving everyday to make your total load a little lighter.

 

How Far Would You Go For Frugality?

This week I had two money related things happen that are, in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. But being that I’m a frugal person, I am not usually satisfied until I know I got the best possible deal. So in the day or so since these transactions, I have been irritated in trying to find a resolution.

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The first was a visit to the dry cleaners. Seems simple enough. Not a place I usually stress about how much money I’m going to drop. I took in two throw pillow cases; in other words, something slightly fancier than the standard cotton thin material that one drools on in her sleep. They are from Pottery Barn, cost $79 for the pair and I waited over six months to buy them after careful consideration and online stalking. My husband and I returned from Alaska recently after hosting another successful round of guests through Airbnb. A few days later, I noticed there was what appeared to be a coffee stain on one of said pillow cases. Okay, fine. It was a family of five, younger girls, one slept on the couch; it happens. I read the cleaning directions and saw I could clean it myself in the washer, but being the freak that I am, I thought it would be better to dry clean them because the edges are a braided straw like material and I didn’t want to unravel it. After all, I said to myself “taking good care of your purchase is frugal in the long run because it will prevent you from having to replace the item too soon”. Made perfect sense in my head. And resale value is always a factor as well.

I go to the dry cleaners to pick up the cases and take them out of the wrapping to examine (see mention of “freak” above). I started doing this every visit because no matter where I go (yes, I’ve tried all four dry cleaners in my neighborhood!), someone messes up eventually. Sure enough, there was the very clear outline of the stain still on the WHITE pillow case and now a light pink dot in the middle that was not previously there. I pointed it out to the employee, who unsympathetically told me they could run it through again, free of charge, but to know that the pink dot means they already tried cleaning it at their maximum ability. Interesting that the indication of your best cleaning effort is to create a new stain…but I didn’t write the steam bath rules. Nor would this line of reasoning translate in conversation. She then tells me the total is $36.00 for the cleaning. Wait, what cleaning? If I were a cartoon my eyes would have popped three feet in front of my head while my limbs extended out to the sides as I floated in midair. “But the job is not done”, I argue. She explains, it is a common misconception when you bring your item to the cleaners, that it will be fully cleaned. Apparently! And get this…we are paying for their attempt to do the job right. No guarantees that they can do it. I would understand this policy better if we were talking about red wine or gum or some other notoriously difficult stain to remove. Every business has a disclaimer. But this? This was a standard, fresh, clearish-brown liquid that I may have been able to wipe out with a washcloth but I let the “quality” pull in me outweigh the frugal side of me. I was pretty peeved. I didn’t know what to do. Here I am in a mom and pop business, knowing full well that I am being way overcharged for something that isn’t even done right–dare I say damaged– and am left trying to argue my point to someone who isn’t directly answering my questions or acting like she cares. To be honest, had they completely removed the stains, I still would have been shocked at how expensive the job was. $36.00? That’s almost half of the price of what I paid for the pillow cases! Are they magical now? Do they fly through the air and grant wishes to little children? Will they cook me dinner? Collect my mail when I’m out of town? I begrudgingly paid the price, despite my hesitation (which in retrospect I wish I’d listened to) and felt defeated. I kept repeating how dissatisfied I was and that this should cost half of what it does; which was scary enough to say. If I had a second shot at that conversation, I would have refused to pay, asked to speak to a manager, tried to get a discount and then waited to pay until their second attempt to clean had been completed successfully.

Instead, I have to go back later this week to retrieve the maybe damaged/maybe cleaned pillow case that is already paid for on good faith (or pressure from the employee, “but it’s pick up day”)–and all I can do is ask if they will refund part of the price. I don’t know why they would. They have my money. But I don’t know what else to do to stand up for myself. I considered leaving an unfavorable Yelp review, but guilt got the better of me. I would have no problem doing that if we were talking about a bigger company, but I feel like it’s a harder choice when they are so small. What do you think, readers? Shouldn’t they be held accountable for poor customer service and an incomplete job that they tried to present to me as a polished package? Why wrap it all up like it’s done when you’re really hiding a stain under there? And what does accountability look like in a small neighborhood business? There’s no “higher up” to complain to in hopes of getting a gift card in the mail. Not to mention it’s family owned and operated, so even asking to speak to a manager is not exactly intimidating to them. I’m annoyed at the waste of money, but that’s not the point. You could hand me the $36.00 right now and that wouldn’t take away my frustration. It’s the principle of their business model and the fact that I messed up in a number of ways, rather than fight for what I believed to be the appropriate course of action. An important lesson here on the frugal side of things is maybe buying semi-expensive pillow cases was a mistake. Also in the shade of white. Or maybe I should have waited for a better deal so I wouldn’t care as much. If they were from somewhere inexpensive, I doubt I would be writing about this–or even had them dry cleaned to begin with. But my blog posts aren’t about great steals from bargain warehouse stores. They’re about buying quality products at an affordable price. Quality and frugality together–it is possible!

The second and less frustrating thing was with my normally great insurance company. Last year, my husband and I drove across the country and accumulated more miles on our car than usual. If you exceed 12,000 a year, you get a slight bump in your premium payments until your next odometer reading. For the last six months, we’ve been paying that increase of roughly $19.00 a month. I reported the odometer a few weeks back and we were well within our mileage limitations, so I expected to see our rate drop back to the old one starting this billing cycle. When the withdraw occurred this past week, I noticed it was still the exact same figure; so I wrote to the office to inquire. Perhapenny-pincher-225x300ps they’ve slipped up, or perhaps it takes a month for the new rate to kick in. Both reasonable answers I would have accepted. Instead, my agent’s assistant tells me there have been statewide increases and “everyone is feeling it”, so that’s why my premium remained the same. Oh? That’s CRAZY that the same month my extra charge for mileage should have fallen off, this generic increase with no explanation apart from it being “statewide” kicks in…and for the EXACT same amount of money! I mean down to the penny. I replied asking for written proof that this was a real thing, which she only provided after I requested it twice–and even then, it was vague as vague could be. To me, it sounds like they simply have found a way to keep my rate higher without having to think. Unfortunately for them, all I do is think about this kind of stuff. I have found the office I deal with to be unhelpful in this situation, so, because it’s a huge organization—I feel comfortable going to the corporate level and trying to see what I can accomplish there. And apparently the answer is nothing! “We are just an extension of your local office”, they say. Wonderful! No help at all! Next step: switch offices. Once that is done I will pursue this further. Someone, somewhere in that company has to be able to explain why my rate is the exact same dollar amount. Don’t challenge a passionate frugal lady and expect to get away with it. We live for this stuff.

So to wrap this all up, what did I learn from this week’s frugal trials that could possibly help you?

  • Poor customer service or lack of information does not mean the conversation is over, despite the fact that the employee wants it to be. Be bold.
  • Think twice, or maybe five times before making nicer home purchases that aren’t important enough to justify (or make them, but then hide them when you have guests stay over).
  • Pay attention to all of your bills. When there is even a slight change, pursue it until you receive the answer you needed.
  • Do not walk away from a transaction until you feel satisfied in the outcome.

Good luck on your money saving adventures this week, friends!

Practicing Contentment Will Make You Rich

contentment

So will the stock market, discovering gold or oil, creating a pyramid scheme, inheriting a wad of cash or inventing the next big cell phone app. See none of these in your future? Worry not, I have found the answer to all of your financial woes: enjoy the life and possessions you already have. The End. Just kidding, I have more to say. But if that’s all you take away from this post, that’s enough for me. Not only will this practice breed a more grateful attitude, you will spend less money.

As previously mentioned, I have been in a season where this idea has had to be put into practice day in and day out. Learning to be still and trust that the past few months have been rather boring is not an excuse to spend, (though everything in me wants it to be). It would be very easy to fill my days with needless shopping, eating out and pricey adventures. Instead I have tried to practice more giving, organizing the home in ways that make me more comfortable for the time being, spending time with people I care about and plotting out fun future plans. Can you imagine how much money you’d save if you enjoyed all that you have from relationships to the luxuries of your home without paying for new things all the time? After all, it’s only the past few generations that have even considered something like shopping a way to pass the time.

It’s easy to lose the excitement you once felt when you bought something new for yourself. How does one get that back? Or rather, is there a way to simply appreciate it again the way you once did? Waiting to buy is one way to ensure a lasting love for said object. A very popular exercise in the frugal stratosphere is to wait at least thirty days before making a purchase. That way you know that if after a month of waiting, you still want the item, it might be worth getting. I have practiced this effectively and not purchased many a gadget because of the time I took to think about it. Alternatively, I’ve had it backfire and watch things go on sale, then off sale, to then no longer being available. In the end, I wanted it more than I did in the first place! Of course that was more me waiting ninety days, so the problem was really user error. I recommend giving it a shot on the next want that catches your eye. This includes things like clothing or books, which most of us don’t usually give a second thought before swiping our money away.

My husband and I recently took a course at our church where a financial advisor came in and spoke to us for a few hours. One of the things he said that I thought was a very helpful reminder was “it took your parents twenty-five to thirty years to have what they now have”. I think it’s easy for my generation to forget that slow and steady wins the race. Many of us have little memory of the struggles our parents had when they were starting out and we were so young. All we see is them now; financially free, possibly retired and not stressed about money (hopefully). To imagine waiting another thirty years to “arrive” discourages me beyond belief, but I believe the principal at heart is very important. We have to be patient in our financial journey and can’t expect everything to fall into place with the snap of a finger. Everyone has their own mission that is specific to their circumstances. One of mine is not to be homeowners simply because we’re in the right life stage, have a stable a career and a kid on the way. We would be fools to use all we’ve saved that way before we know what lies ahead. Besides, the more time we spend saving, the less time (and interest) we will spend paying down a loan. And being that we live in California, not many people we know are even on this path yet. For others, this is the age you do that, and good for you. I especially admire when people know where they want to live and plant roots so early in their careers. For us, it’s a little muddier and that’s okay for now. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. ;)

This past week I’ve been feeling more happy than I have in a while and I wonder if it’s not because I am starting to get the hang of this contentment thing. It feels good to spend less and know I’m making money by not touching what we already have in the bank. Setting up an automated savings plan has trained my brain that there is a certain amount in our account that is now off limits every week. I’m looking forward to a lot of big and small plans that August has in store. I’ve said this before; it’s very helpful in one’s journey toward contentment to look forward to what lies ahead. I’m on the upswing from months of feeling like a prisoner in my own body due to pregnancy sickness. And the best season of the year begins next month! That’s what I am looking forward to most. What can you put into practice starting today to make a positive change in the way you see your future and present circumstances? It might be as simple as counting down the days until you can take out the fall decorations. What a fun activity for the whole family that doesn’t cost a dime! We frugal types have to get creative during life’s slow seasons and I’m interested to hear the ways you fight the urge to spend and even subsequently save. We can inspire each other!