Saturday, December 5, 2015

When Saving Money Costs More Money: A Sad Story

Greetings, cheapsters!
I'm writing this week with a sad tale of money saving gone wrong - a tale I'm sharing in the hopes that it will help prevent you from making a similar mistake!

Last week, I had a meeting across town. I thought, "hm, it's only 4.5 miles from my house. How about I walk home from there after the meeting, and save the $2.50 I would otherwise spend on bus fare?" To my cheap-obsessed mind, this seemed like a brilliant plan, so that is what I did.

Even though I'm not someone who regularly walks 4.5 miles at a stretch.
Even though I wasn't wearing running/walking shoes, but a pair of (of course very cheap) oxfords.
Even though I had a 35 pound backpack on my back - and not like a hiking backpack, but like a briefcase with backpack straps.

Suffice it to say, when I finally reached my house, just a little over an hour and a half later, my body was not happy with me. Not only did my knees and feet ache, but I found myself with terrible pain in my shoulder where my backpack had been, running down my entire arm. I thought maybe it would be a temporary thing.
It wasn't.
Three days later, my range of motion was still somewhat limited and my shoulder was in throbbing pain.

And that, dear readers, is when the irony of the situation appeared.
I called my doctor, who told me that yes, I needed medical attention.
So I spent, you guessed it, $2.50 on bus fare going to the doctor's office.
I got diagnosed with a pinched ulnar nerve up near the shoulder. Not the worst thing in the world, but still pretty irritating and painful. The doctor prescribed me some medicine. With insurance, my copay was $.50 for that.
And I'll still be getting a bill for my copay for the doctor's visit, which will run anywhere from $10 to $40.

In other words, my attempt to save money actually cost me somewhere between $10.50 and $40.50.


Saving money is awesome.
Having to pay money is not.
Having to pay money to recover from an attempt to save money is even worse.

The next time a brilliant money-saving idea crosses your mind, be sure you do what I didn't do - and that you consider your own limitations and the potential monetary cost for your savings when all is said and done.

Because that, it turns out, friends, is one of the essential secret ingredients to being a saavy saver.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Going Broke: From Desperation to an Invitation for Innovation

As someone who has lived under, or just at, the poverty line for most of my adult life, “going broke” means something really specific: getting down to $0 in my bank account. For you, saying “I’m broke” might mean something else.

But whatever it means to you in particular, the feeling is often the same for everyone in American culture today: Panic. Our first response to seeing “broke-ness” on the horizon seems to be the thought, “oh no; why am I panicking? This panic isn’t going to lead anywhere good, I need to stop panicking, why can’t I stop panicking?!” We become panicky about the fact that we’re panicking. Then we feel frustration at the fact that we’re broke, which has led to the panic in the first place. Finally, this turns into desperation. Desperation to find money so we don’t have to be panicky anymore. We begin to feel like we’ll do anything – sell our grandmother’s antiques to the pawn shop down the street! Sell plasma! – to get the money we tell ourselves we need. And sometimes those actions leads to more panic because the next day, when we come to our senses, we realize we’ve taken out a payday loan we will never repay, or signed over our firstborn child to the Mafia, and oh my goodness, now we’re even more broke than we were before!

It’s my belief that our panic and anxiety over being broke tends to keep us from the more positive sides of the situation. Sure, your credit may be going down the drain, and maybe they’ll shut your lights off, but if you can let go of the panic and anxiety, then it’s at this point, past the point of desperation, that things will start to get… interesting in your life. You’ll start to be amazed at your own creativity and brilliance.

Here’s a very small example: I recently cancelled my Netflix account because I can’t afford it anymore. Even though I’m not much of a TV or movie watcher in any case (mostly I just like having nature documentaries with good music on), it still felt like I was losing my “cool kid” status. At 2 AM the other morning, I sprang out of bed and logged into my public library’s website to see if I could at least put some DVDs on reserve or something. It was here that I discovered that my public library subscribes to Hoopla, a website that allows you to “rent” up to twenty movies or albums per month for free and stream them to your computer. It’s also a partner with Freegal Music, too, I found out, which allows all library patrons five free song downloads per week. Is it the same as Netflix? No. But do they have my nature documentaries? Yes. Plus, free songs from Freegal, too. And instead of $8 per month, I’m spending $0. Which, it turns out, is a perfect fit to my bank account!

Looking past the panic also allows you to look at what you already have more closely. “Hm,” you find yourself thinking, “what do I have in the freezer that can go with this couscous, instead of running to the store?” “What old sheets do I have that I could make into curtains?”
Since my mind so quickly goes into the panicky zone when I see that zero, I’m teaching myself to respond in the opposite of deficit. Instead of calling up the plasma clinic, I dig around the cupboards and see what I can scare up, and then start cooking up a storm, stockpiling the freezer with veggies, burritos, homemade muffins, granola bars, and more out of whatever I have on hand. That way, it doesn’t look like I’m broke – it looks like I have a lot of choices (which I actually do!)  I take my frustration at not being able to go to the store and turn it into innovation – creating my own little store of food until my next paycheck.

Of course, we all have our limits. A few years ago when a couple I was friends with got their electricity turned off for not paying their bill, they started using their propane barbecue in their front yard as a way to heat up bath water. This isn’t something I personally could handle for very long, especially not in the cold winter. But the trick is to find whatever works for you personally – different things work for different people.

But whatever you do, don’t let panic hog the spotlight; after all, innovation is probably just waiting in the wings.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Level Up" on Savings!

Ay ay ay, it's been quite a long time since you've heard from me, friends! Don't worry, though, I've still been busy scoping out great deals and ways to keep my - and your - wallet afloat!

Today, I'm writing to share with you two little stories. First, this one:

When I was growing up, my grandmother had a reputation in our family as being an amazing - sometimes shockingly amazing - Scrabble player. Some of us would sit in awe as we watched her racking up 50, 60, 90 point words. "How do you do that?" someone would sometimes ask. Her advice? Don't stop at one special square. She would explain how sometimes people would see a chance to put a word on a "double word score" spot and sit back, thinking it was enough to put them ahead. But her goal was always to try and get at least two special squares in a single play - say, a double letter square AND a triple word score square, or two triple letter squares. Or even better, to add on to an existing word and get those points, as well as one or two additional special squares.

Why am I telling you this story?

Because this advice also applies to things like coupons and sales.

One sale - say, an item being 20% off - might look very appealing, just like that old triple word score square. But in the end, that's really only one "special square." Instead, every time you're purchasing something brand new, try out my grandmother's advice, and round up at least two or more ways to save on the item and then "play" them all at once! This will take you from someone who stumbled on a sale to someone who is a shockingly amazing saver!

Here's my second story, about what this looks like in action. Recently, I tried this strategy out at, and I managed to reduce my cost from $104 down to just $30, by playing several "special savings squares" all at once. Here's how that went down:

Original Costs:
Microfleece zip up sweater, orig. $36
Dress shirt, orig. $14.99
Pants, orig. $39
Shipping, orig. $13.95

SAVINGS "SPECIAL SQUARE" #1: Sales and Clearance:
Microfleece on sale for $11.99
Dress shirt on clearance for $9.99
Pants on sale for $17.99
Shipping: $13.95
Total Reduced To: $53.92

As a Sears "member" (Not a Sears Card member -- just being someone who has signed up to subscribe for their e-mail list, which is FREE), I was eligible for a special "members only" sale on the pants, which brought them down to $9.99.

Because of my free membership, I had somehow received 6000 "surprise!" points from, which meant I got an additional $6 off my purchase.

My membership also allowed me to sign up for a free 90 day trial of "Shop Your Way MAX," which gives you FREE 2-Day shipping on many items. Two of my items qualified. That brought my shipping down to just $5.35.
Total Reduced To: $32.92

Last but not least, I also found an online coupon code to enter that took 15% off my entire purchase.
This code did not apply to clearance items, so I didn't get as much off as I otherwise would have, but still, it took off a few extra dollars once tax was added in....



Plus some extra perks: My free trial of SYW MAX means I'm getting my stuff even faster than if I had paid for shipping. AND I was able to earn additional points for this purchase, which I'll be able to use the next time I decide to buy something there.

As you may be able to tell, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself - this may be one of my greatest "cheap" accomplishments to date! (Especially considering that at the Goodwill by my house, just a pair of pants without holes in them usually runs about $20 with tax. )

But this isn't a lightning strike that will only happen once. The same thing can work for you, as well! Just remember: just like how anyone can put down a word on one "special square" on the Scrabble board, anybody can find a clearance rack. But by taking an extra minute or two to create a multi-level strategy, you can "level up" to being a truly saavy shopper.

Happy savings, friends!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Special Focus: Discounts for those 50 and older

If you're 50 - or older than 50 - be sure to take advantage of these awesome discounts! If you're NOT 50 yet, you might want to start taking an older friend or family member with you whenever you visit these businesses!

The lists below are organized by the minimum age you must be to qualify for the discount or deal. Some businesses only offer discounts to AARP members - AARP-only discounts are listed at the bottom of this post. There are also many other age-specific discounts out there that aren't listed here - be sure to ask around! ** Also, please note: Not all of these discounts apply to all locations. Please be sure to ask at an individual store or franchise before assuming that you will receive the discount. **

50 and older: 
Banana Republic - 10% off at many locations
Choice Hotels (Comfort Inn, Econolodge, Sleep Inn, etc) - 10% discount; additional discounts for those 60 and older
Kmart Pharmacy - Up to 20% off on prescriptions.
Krispy Kreme - 10% off

55 and older: 
Arby's - 10% off
Best Western - at least 10% off
Chili's - 10% off
Dairy Queen - Depending on location, either a free small drink or 10% off
IHOP - 10% off
Jack in the Box - up to 20% off, depending on the order
Popeye's Chicken - free drink or 10% off, depending on location
Ross - 10% off on Tuesdays
Salvation Army Thrift Stores - 15% to 50% off, depending on where you live
TCBY - 10% off

60 and older: 
AMC Movie Theaters - 30% off at most locations
CiCi's Pizza - 10% off a pizza or buffet ticket
Culver's - 10% off
Einstein's Bagels - 10% off on a baker's dozen of bagels
Golden Corral - 10% off
Great Clips - $3 off haircuts
Motel 6 - 10% off at 900 locations
Mrs. Fields Cookies - 10% discount
Radisson Hotels - 10% off
Supercuts - $2 off haircuts

62 and older:
Amtrak - 15% off of adult fare (some exclusions apply)
Burger King - 10% off
Greyhound - 5% off adult fare
Kohl's - 15% off total purchases on Wednesdays
Marriott Hotels - at least 15% off
National Park Service - Pay $10 for a senior pass and use it to get into all parks for free (pass never expires)
White Castle - 10% off (may need to sign up for a discount card)

65 and older: 
Boston Market - 10% discount
Carmike Movie Theaters - 35% off
Hardee's - Get a small drink for $0.33 when you purchase a meal
Taco Bell - 5% off

AARP Members: 
Avis - up to 25% off.
Budget Rent-A-Car and Truck Rental - Up to 20% off.
Denny's - $1 coffee; 20% off total bill between 4 and 10 p.m.
Dunham's Sports - 10% off
Enterprise Rent-A-Car - 5% off car rental.
Hampton Inn - up to 10% off
Hertz Rental Car - up to 25% off
Howard Johnson - up to 20% off
Ramada Inn - up to 20% off
Super8 Motels - up to 20% off
Teleflora - 20% off on flower orders

All of these came from:
AARP's Benefits Pages, like this one
and Gift Card Granny.

Here's to yet another money-saving week for those young and young-at-heart alike, readers!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Couponing: Quick Tricks and Shortcuts

Last February, readers, we looked at how to get started with coupons. Now, let's look at some quick tricks and shortcuts from coupon experts that will take your couponing skills to the next level! 

1. Wait to save. Trent at the Simple Dollar says that the best thing to do with newspaper coupons is to not use them right away. Instead, he recommends saving coupons for four weeks,  and THEN going and buying the products. This is because typically, coupons are released by manufacturers for products, and one month later, those same products go on sale at grocery stores as the second step of their marketing strategies. By saving your coupons for a month, you can cash in on both the coupons and the sale prices, multiplying your savings. 

2. Think twice about subscribing to newspapers to save money. Tamra over at Discount Queens recommends NOT subscribing to a daily paper for coupons. Instead, she suggests shopping for manufacturer's coupons online on sites like ebay instead. It sounds wacky, but it's actually very easy (on ebay, anyway)! From's main web page, just type in "____________ coupons" (filling in the blank with whatever you want to find coupons in.) When your results page shows up, look at the expiration dates on the listings, and choose the coupons with a "Buy Now" option in order to guarantee that they get to you in time for you to use them. This saves money and time, because instead of spending money on a paper that may not have any coupons that you will use - or time looking for them -you know that every cent you spend will go towards saving. 

3. Start a conversation. Stephanie Nelson (aka "The Coupon Mom") says that talking to someone at the customer service desk or a manager at the stores where you regularly shop is a key component to scoring on savings. The best part - She gives you a list of questions to ask here. 

4. Don't fall for the myths. Jill Cataldo,one of the great coupon masters of our time, has a great article here about how the "reality" show "Extreme Couponing" is not an accurate or honest portrayal of real life couponers or deals actually achievable by regular couponing. 

And with that, friends, here's to another money-saving week! 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Free Stuff Calendar - November 2011

In all the hubbub of Halloween, friends, don't forget to mark your calendars for all the free stuff November offers!

The first week of November (October 31-November 6): Get a free small coffee at any McDonald's location nationwide.

November 11-13      Fee free weekend for over 100 National Parks. Click here for more information and for a list of participating parks.

November 24th - 6 a.m. on November 25th Free AAA "tipsy tow" in participating states. You do not need to be a AAA member...You just need to have had too much to drink to drive home, and AAA will come and tow your car back to your house for free.

****Special Feature: Free Stuff for Present and Past Members of the U.S. Military ****

November 7-November 11  Free Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse

November 11: Free meal at Applebee's (choice of 7 entrees)  
                         Free meal at Chili's (choice of 6 entrees)
                         Free doughnut at Krispy Kreme
                         Free doughnut at Tim Horton's
                         Free six-inch sub at most Subway locations
                         Free meal at Texas Roadhouse until 4 p.m.
                         Free car wash at thousands of car washes around the country. Click here for a list of              
                             participating locations.

November 14 (5-9 p.m.):  Free dinner at Golden Corral Restaurants

(Special thanks to The Military Wallet for the list provided here. )

Here's to another cheap month, readers!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Getting in Shape Without Going Broke

Fitness can mean paying for a gym membership, then feeling pressured to buy "cool workout clothes" to wear to this gym, and more! In other words: It can be quite a costly venture! However, it doesn't have to. Here are some tips that can cut down on the cost to cut down your weight!

1. Try using a free online fitness plan like Couch to 5K or Stew Smith's 45-Day Beginner's Plan to plan your daily workouts. Both of these are designed to do at home - which means no gym membership fees, and no worries about looking dorky in your old sweatpants. (Before starting any fitness plan, check with your doctor and all that jazz!)

2. Make your own weights. Fill up empty Gatorade or two-liter soda bottles with water to do strength training workouts. As you increase your strength, you can replace the water with something heavier, like gravel.

3. Don't pay for workout videos. Instead, check out workout DVDs from your local library or stream them online for free on sites like ExerciseTV or 

4. Get support from other folks for free online. Websites like provide message boards, recipe sharing, newsletters, and more.

5. Get a free pedometer. has some great tips about how to do that here!

...Here's to another cheap -- and healthy -- week, friends!