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black friday survival guide

Posted in Money, Style by

black friday

So you’re taking on Black Friday shopping for the first time. It does get a lot of hate: all these people who have to work rather than spend time with their families, the gross display of American consumerism, blah blah blah. There’s some truth to the arguments, to be sure – but Black Friday in my family is just as much of a tradition as the Thanksgiving day turkey. Lots of great memories from it as well – like the year I was sick with pneumonia and still insisted on going out, and promptly passed out at the outlet mall, or the year I was on crutches and wheeled around Walmart (full disclosure, these were the same year, but still.)

Over the past ten years that we’ve been attacking the stores, we’ve gotten pretty good at getting in and getting out with minimal damage – to ourselves, others, and our bank accounts. If this is your first year heading out, or even if it’s not, here are some of my best survival tips! Read more…

November 24, 2016
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Black Friday survival tips

Posted in Money by

blackfri

So you’re taking on Black Friday shopping for the first time. It does get a lot of hate: all these people who have to work rather than spend time with their families, the gross display of American consumerism, blah blah blah. There’s some truth to the arguments, to be sure – but Black Friday in my family is just as much of a tradition as the Thanksgiving day turkey. Lots of great memories from it as well – like the year I was sick with pnuemonia and still insisted on going out, and promptly passed out at the outlet mall, or the year I was on crutches and wheeled around Walmart (full disclosure, these were the same year, but still.)

Over the past ten years that we’ve been attacking the stores, we’ve gotten pretty good at getting in and getting out with minimal damage – to ourselves, others, and our bank accounts. If this is your first year heading out, or

  • Hydrate: if you’re just now reading up on how to prepare, you’re a little bit behind – you want to go into Black Friday with a clear, well-hydrated head. Spend the week before drinking enough water, and know where you can find coffee late into the evening. My protip for Black Friday: stop drinking water around 6pm on Thanksgiving. You want to have a fair bit of dehydration so you’re not jogging for the bathrooms.
  • Have a plan: when you’re going through the ads, triage your list store-by-store. When I shop for my grandparents, their list always goes first, so this year I traipsed through Walmart with their 32″ TV and tablet, then ran around in search of a inflatable air mattress for my house.
  • Go big first: this is perhaps an obvious one, but pick the #1 thing you “must” have, and make that your first stop and first target. Once you’ve checked that off your list, hit the rest.
  • Communicate: if you’re going out with friends or family, be sure you have a communication plan. Cell phones have always been fine for NP and I, but if other family members are joining you, be sure they share your philosophy. I’ve seen some hardcore (read: crazy) groups head out with walkie talkies – whatever works out for you, because you’ll want to split up in order to better conquer the deals.
  • Go off the beaten path: your best luck to get all your buys is to pick a store or shopping center that won’t be hugely trafficked. If you’re in a bigger city, pick a less popular store to cut down on the crowds. If you’re in a small town where Walmart is the only thing to do… get to a bigger city.
  • Ask for a map: at big box stores, doorbusters will be strewn about the store at random. Staff should have maps that will help you find your big scores.
  • Have a budget: it’s easy to go overboard on spending with so many great deals being thrown in your face. Be sure to steel yourself against any impulse buys, and you’re all set for success!

Are you a Black Friday shopper? What are your feelings on shopping as a family tradition?

November 21, 2015
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helpful holiday shopping hacks

Posted in Money by

holidaysave

Holiday shopping season is in full effect now, and it can be an expensive for last-minute shoppers. I thought I’d share some of my new and old favorite ways to save both online and in-store. These tips are great all year – no need to save just during a few winter months each year!

I’ve no doubt blogged about Swagbucks ad naseum at this point, but it’s because it’s my favorite way to save not only on Christmas presents, but on every day purchases all year. When you use them as your search engine (or take advantage of their other points-earning opportunities, like taking surveys, watching videos, playing games, or online shopping) you have the chance to win points, which you can then redeem for gift cards, cash back, or prizes. I almost always go for the Amazon gift card (although I do occasionally opt for a little Starbucks treat) and use my gift card balance to buy gifts or groceries (PrimePantry is a must-have, folks!) Start searching at Swagbucks now – when you sign up with a referral code, you’ll get additional points added to your account.

Paribus.co this is a newer one for me, and to be honest, I’d forgotten that I’d even set it up until they sent me a message letting me know that there had been a price drop on the laptop stand I ordered at Amazon. It works by scanning your email inbox to look for online prices, then reaching out to the retailer on your behalf when there’s a lower price available for a product you’ve purchased. I was a bit surprised that it took so long to see a refund because I order from Amazon fairly regularly (but maybe because I often use camelcamelcamel, I order when the prices are low anyway,) but hey! A few more bucks back in the Amazon gift card bank to churn somewhere else.

eBates is my first stop when online shopping, because it’s a super easy way to get cash back on purchases just by starting your shopping trip through eBates’ link, rather than the retailer’s direct website. Because they’ve started airing commercials on TV, this one isn’t such a little secret anymore, but it’s still a great one – I’ve gotten nearly $200 back over the few years I’ve been using it! They also display lots of promo codes for additional savings as well. (If you’d rather accumulate this to be wrapped up in your Swagbucks balance, they offer a similar “points”back system when starting your shop through their search.)

RetailMeNot has gone downhill a bit for me in the past year or so, or maybe stores aren’t offering as many discounts as they did previously. At any rate, it’s easy to whip out your phone while waiting in line to do a quick search on their mobile app or website for an in-store or online coupon!

What are your favorite ways to save, at the holidays or anytime? I’m always looking to pad that savings account!

November 9, 2015
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M.O.N.E.Y / April is Financial Literacy Month

Posted in Money by

april financial literacy month

April has been Financial Literacy Month, which is great timing as I’ve been focusing this month on “spring cleaning” my finances and getting my money back in order (and spending under control.) I’ve definitely been guilty of lifestyle inflation lately and it’s a habit I want to get out of. Especially since I’m traveling so much this year, I’d much rather save up cash to be able to have great experiences rather than impulse shopping because I’m bored at home alone.

Obviously, the most important thing is to budget your money and track your spending so you know where it’s going. Every dollar has a job, and you are your own CFO – it’s on you to make sure those “jobs” are getting done. I won’t pretend to have the best budgeting spreadsheet or system, but I really like the tools on Learnvest and Mint. They connect with all your financial accounts and do the hard work for you, so you can log in to one place to see all your money matters.

This year, I have worked hard to get comfortable being uncomfortable. When I moved, my living expenses more than doubled, so I’ve had to cut out and cut back some of my favorite treats like daily Starbucks or weekly mall trips. Things that were by no means necessary, but little things that I enjoyed that made me happy. Cutting these and making coffee at home and having clothing swaps with friends have taken the place now, and while it’s a little out of my comfort zone, it’s definitely been worth it.

Another good way to keep an eye on your money is to track your income. For people who have just one salaried job where the paycheck doesn’t change each week, this is probably not imperative or even helpful – in my old job, I was salaried, and didn’t have any side hustles, so I always knew every month precisely what I was going to take home. Now that I have multiple income streams, my income varies. I always budget based on the bare minimum I know I’ll be making from my full time job, and track everything that is extra in order to see what I have left to play with (aka save for travel or pay down student loans.)

trim the fat – Going along with spring cleaning, this is a good time to look through your credit card or bank statements and see what you can cut back on or eliminate totally. If there’s a recurring subscription you haven’t used in months, get it out of there. If there’s a credit card with a low outstanding balance you can comfortably knock out, do it. It might also be a good yearly reminder to get on the phone to your cell phone and internet providers to remind them what a great customer you are and see if there might be a reduction they can offer you or a new discount you can take advantage of.

SAVE YOUR MONEY. Do whatever it takes, set up your budget in whatever way you’re most likely to a) stick to it and b) save money and spend purposely. I have to trick myself into pretending it’s a game. (Because I’m an adult.) I track the number of no-spend days I have in a row and celebrate if I break a streak. Things like that really help me want to be mindful of my money and concentrate on the ins and outs of it.

The most important thing in my financial journey has been reading personal finance bloggers. Some of my favorites are Budgets are Sexy, According to Athena, Money After Graduation, brokegirlrichVanessa’s Money, and Blonde on a Budget. The Billfold is one of my favorite reads as well. They all have fantastic resources and advice, whether you’re a finance all-star or just starting your budget for the first time, and sometimes it’s just nice to read through other people’s successes and failures as well.

How do you “do” money? Do you keep to a strict budget and track your spending, or do you just hope to break even at the end of the month?

April 27, 2015
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so long, astoria

Posted in Living, Money, Personal, Travel by

The last few weeks have been a complete whirlwind. A brief recap:

June 20-21: jumped on Sixx’s tour, where I hit a deer driving home (and got a speeding ticket in the mail. I now hate the entire state of Maryland and never want to visit Hagerstown again.) 

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June 26-29: visited friends in Nashville, interviewed for a job.

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July 2-7: drove home to Michigan to exchange cars with my mom so my car could be repaired (it’s a long story as to why it has to be fixed up there, but at least I got to visit.) Spent quality time with Sixx again, went to a party in a lake (living the dream for a Michigan girl,) did some shopping with the family. I could say so much about this trip, it was EXACTLY what I needed, and we went back to our “ground zero” for the first time. I had always said that the only way I could go back was if he was with me, but I never thought the timing of us in the city again would work, but we were, and so we went. I’m very glad for that.

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And looking forward, I’m heading back to Nash for a conference from July 15-20, then August 6-12 I will be back in Sevierville for family vacation. I will be thankful when summer is over simply because I feel like I live in my car now.

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Which brings me to today: I was offered that position in Nashville, so I’m moving at month-end. I’ll have a week of family vacation between ending and starting dates, and I’m extremely panicked. About everything. But I’m trying to stay positive.

So now I’m a pile of nerves and plans and stress and sleepless nights, and second-guesses about everything. This is what anxiety does to you – it looks at the good things happening in your life and tries to strip them from you. “Sixx is on the road texting all these other girls, he’s just using you.” “You’re never going to be able to afford to move, much less live on your own in Nashville.” “You don’t deserve this job.” Anxiety just robs you of finding joy in great things, so I’m struggling moment to moment, but I’m managing. Today I’m excited, and this is the longest I have been excited without a moment of panic in the last two weeks, so I’m counting it as a win.

Any packing advice? It’s not an area I excel in by any means, regardless of how often I’ve done it!
July 11, 2014
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