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Shopping at the Outlet Malls

12 Sep

We are back from our camping vacation. We actually cut it short a bit and stayed in a motel one night but overall, it was a great experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on the hot air balloon ride due to the weather but that saved us some money and allowed us to go do some much needed shopping.

I noticed that the clothes department in my own apartment was rather lacking. The clothing that I do own has been starting to look ratty. I do not buy clothing very often—in fact, it’s a pretty rare event. My sister even commented on how awful my socks were looking—socks! (To be fair, I don’t think I’ve bought a pair of socks in years.) The thing is, I am cheap and I don’t like spending money on clothing. On top of that, I find clothes shopping incredibly difficult. I am tall, so I often need long jeans, as regulars can be too short—but then the long jeans fit awkwardly in certain areas. Of course, that applies to shirts too—shirts look too short on you or you need to buy a larger size that is too big in some areas but not others. As you can tell, I love shopping. (Not in this lifetime!)

But over the years, I have found that buying “cheap crap” is exactly that. Clothes end up with holes very easily. The clothes get all stretched out and weird. The second hand stores around here are absolute garbage. Funnily enough, I have been to some nice stores with amazing clothing; unfortunately, none of these stores have been anyway near me. I decided to do the next best thing for me: visit the outlet malls.

I really had no idea what I was looking for when I got there but I decided that I could have used ANY type of clothing. I ended up buying four pairs of pants from the DKNY outlet that were $20.00 each. I bought a pair of jeans from GAP for $25. I bought a few other things but the pants were a definite win for me. Outlet malls can be fun but they’re easy to get sucked into and there are definitely ways to avoid overspending.

How Can I Avoid Overspending?

(1) Make a budget before you go. I did not do this because I had a general spending limit in mind but if you are really looking to buy things from the outlet mall without breaking the bank, you really need to make a budget first. If you need to, stick to cash and keep the credit cards away.

(2) Decide what you are looking for and where you want to go before you get there. It’s easy to find things you love once you get to the mall and just buy them immediately. In order to avoid that, try to narrow down what your focus is for the day. If you’re looking for pants and sneakers, avoid checking out shirts and dresses. Additionally, most outlet malls have tons of stores—the one we went to had over one hundred of them. Unless you plan on staying there all day, you should really decide what stores you want to check out. If you’re not looking for kitchenware, don’t waltz into the store “just because” — you’re just looking to spend money then!

(3) When you know what you are looking for, shop around first—go back and buy the items later. My husband was actually looking for a new pair of hiking sneakers since his boots, which have lasted for many years, are starting to fall apart and feel uncomfortable. We visited a few different stores that had these types of shoes and ultimately, he went back to the one with the best price for what he wanted. Don’t necessarily settle on the first thing you see or fall in love with—since you’re in one central place, it’s easy to walk back to the other stores if you don’t find anything better.

Do you like going to outlets? Why or why not? Any tips?

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Getting Ready for Our “Frugal” Vacation

12 Aug

My husband and I have been looking at co-ops for quite some time and have gone back and forth in terms of what we wanted and how much we were willing to spend. This meant that although we are dying to travel somewhere awesome, we aren’t ready to spend the money for a trip with that kind of price tag. This also means that we will be embarking on our budget-friendly vacation pretty soon—an incredible camping trip throughout an area of our state that we rarely venture to. I have already discussed a few things about making a trip affordable by:

  • Discussing a variety of ways to make your overall trip cheaper here
  • General campsite costs and how to make them cheaper here and here

Now with a few weeks left to go, we are going to start putting our general itinerary together and have a lot of different things to consider. Again, as I’ve discussed previously, you can definitely make camping trips even cheaper than we’re making ours, but these tips are still applicable to you.

Start off with a Budget

We love the outdoors. One might think the outdoors is frugal friendly but the cost of everything you may or may not need adds up really fast! If you’ve never spent any time outdoors before, you might not have any of the equipment that is necessary and that can cost a pretty penny. Budgets will vary quite a bit depending on a a number of factors such as:

  • Cost to travel (i.e. gas, tolls)
  • Cost of food (i.e. eating out and on the road vs. cooking)
  • Cost of campsite rentals (depends upon where you stay, when, for how long, with how many people, etc)
  • Activities you will participate in that cost money (i.e. rowing)
  • Purchases that may be required (i.e. tent(s), supplies)

Unfortunately, my cheaper vacation is adding up very quickly! This actually has to do with a major activity I want to participate in that is very costly but it is what it is. Remember, our trip is nine nights so it’s quite long and involves two people.

Budget: $1300.00

Take Care of Big Ticket Items First

Of course, my budget of $1300 might seem outrageous for a camping trip but remember:

  • There are only two of us splitting various campsite rentals over a period of nine nights. I discussed how to keep this cost down in my other posts. Cost: $209.00 ($23.22/night—extremely cheap if you look at it that way!)
  • Since we are driving quite a bit, we will be using quite a bit of money in terms of gas and tolls. Cost allotted: $300.00 (Though I sure hope it’s less than that!)
  • I have decided to do this because I really want to and I do not want my miserly ways to get in the way of an awesome thing—the hot air balloon ride for $235.00 a person or $470.00

As you can see, there isn’t much money leftover for anything else. This already totals $979.00, meaning I only have $321.00 left to spend!

What Else Do I Need to Consider?

There are still tons of things to think about when you’re camping such as:

Food: We eat a lot and I am a picky eater. Ideally, I would love to cook every day and night but I think there will be days when we want breaks from that. Budgeted: $150.00-$200.00

Additional Purchases and Activities: $121.00-$171.00.

We are extremely lucky that we either have or can borrow most of the things that we need for our trip. Remember: If you plan on going camping regularly, many of the items you may need or plan to use will probably end up being purchases that will last you for many years.  Keep in mind the following items that you may or may not take with you:

  • Tent(s) — make sure it has a rain shield and that you have a tarp for the ground
  • Sleeping bag(s) and pad(s) — you might want something softer to sleep on if you plan on staying long
  • Cooking supplies, food and something to store it in to prevent animals from getting to it
  • First aid and personal hygiene supplies

You can find a simple list here.

If you know you are going camping, it is easier to buy things over time than have to buy them all at once. If you do this, you can also look for sales, especially during the off seasons or holidays, that might allow you to pick-up some great deals. More importantly, if you don’t have the money for it, don’t be afraid to ask around! You may be able to borrow almost everything you need for your camping trip from friends and family.

It’ll Be Here Soon

Our camping trip will be here soon and I am so excited to go on vacation since I haven’t had off in nearly a year!

Have you undertaken a huge camping trip before? What are some ways you saved money on your trip?

Why You Shouldn’t Pass Up a Free Sample

29 May

Growing up, I always loved getting free samples. I mean, who doesn’t?

In the past year, however, I have really started to pay attention to whenever a free sample is available online. Various blogging sites, and even some company websites such as Target or Walmart make it incredibly easy to get free samples. Nowadays I very rarely pass up a free sample for many reasons.

Why I Always Try to Get Free Samples

There are many reasons I always try to get free samples. Some of these include:

  • Many items are travel-sized, perfect for either short trips or carry-on luggage if you’re flying. Considering that you can buy shampoo in the store for a low price, having to pay $1-$2 for something that is travel-sized is a huge mark-up.
  • If I just ran out of something that I haven’t gotten to shop for yet, it’s great to have the free sample available. It’s more cost-efficient than just running out to the closest store and buying whatever is available. In fact, I’ve been thankful to have free samples of soap, tooth paste and coffee for when I hadn’t had the chance to shop in awhile.
  • It allows me to try it before I buy it. For example, I would have never purchased Burt’s Bees lip balm before because it’s on the more expensive side. However, after receiving a free sample from them, I am a believer. The lip balm works so much more efficiently than the cheaper brands that I only need to use it on occasion, making it last a long time. (I have noticed that many of the cheaper brands have drying agents as part of their formulas.)

How to Find Free Samples

  • Follow some popular frugal websites, such as Money Saving Mom, in order to know when a free sample is available. Another site, which also offers a newsletter, is I Love Free Things. Many of these frugal bloggers will post something as soon as they know a deal is available. Generally, the sooner you know about the item, the better—many companies offer limited quantities and once they’re gone, they’re gone.
  • Some bigger companies, such as Target or Walmart, have pages dedicated to free samples and coupons. Once in awhile I will check on these pages for myself.
  • If you have a Facebook account, you can easily “like” or “subscribe” to certain pages, especially to larger companies that often have giveaways.

How to Get Free Samples Without Being Inundated With Crap

Many people do not want to sign-up for free samples because they feel it will lead to additional spam or junk mail. While this may be true, there are specific things you can do to avoid much of this headache:

  • Create an e-mail account that is just for “junk.” Do not start signing-up for samples, giveaways, etc with your personal e-mail; slowly, but surely, you will start to notice an increase in unwanted e-mail. Make your junk e-mail account simple and free of personal details.
  • Be sure to free the fine print. You may be able to “uncheck” the boxes that sign you up to receive e-mail offers from them and other advertisers.
  • Many companies offer freebies through Facebook. In order to get these freebies, you generally have to “like” their company page. You can always unlike the company page shortly after you get your free sample. Also, many companies will ask if they can post things to your page—always read everything through carefully as you sign-up for a free sample. You can click off these items.

The “Nicer” Vacation

22 May

I have been posting about my big camping adventure that is set for September. However, I am also in the midst of planning our October vacation.

In 2010, we embarked on a seven-night cruise. I really enjoyed it but felt as though I was done with cruising for another five or ten years. This year, however, the thought crossed my mind—cruises can be ridiculously cheap if you allow them to be, especially if you’re lucky enough to live on the coastal United States where you can leave directly from a port without having to travel to it first. Then I found myself considering an all-inclusive vacation but found the cost of flights to be prohibitively expensive. Ultimately, I decided that in October I would like to stay somewhere warm and perhaps even obtain some type of color, preferably something tan not red. Let the planning for Florida begin!

I have only flown a few times in my life and three of the four times I have flown have been to Florida. While it’s unfortunate that I won’t be going anywhere new this year, I am just happy to be able to go somewhere.

How to Try to “Cheapen” the Trip – The Beginning

The first thing I did, once I decided upon Florida, was to consider the locations I planned to visit. I knew that I did not want to be on the Gulf since that is where we traveled last time and as beautiful as it is, a beach without waves makes this girl sad. I also decided that I wasn’t interested in Northern Florida, the Orlando area or the Southern most areas of Florida. From this, I compiled a list of beaches that seemed reasonable and began my research.

After looking around online, I noticed some beaches were definitely more expensive than others. I started my search by just going through general travel sites, such as Expedia, to get a general idea of what the rates might be. This alone allowed me to narrow down my search. Other things helped me narrow down my search and that you should also consider:

  • Is there anyone nearby I want to visit?
  • Are there other activities besides keeping my body on the beach all day?
  • Is there an airport nearby?
  • Is it easy to get around?
  • Do I have to rent a car? If so, how much will it cost?

I’ve Decided on a Location – Now What?

I decided to narrow my focus to a few different areas that I was looking into — Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and anything else nearby. I looked through Expedia some more to get a general sense of the costs of different hotels. I also decided to pay attention to the following because these things can be huge additional costs that people do not take into account:

  • Do I have to pay for parking? When I do, I find this to usually be somewhere between $12-$20/day.
  • Do I have to pay for daily resort fees? These can vary greatly and depend on how many people are going on your trip. In addition to resort fees, do I have to pay additionally for beach rentals?
  • What is the difference in price between an oceanfront, a room with an ocean view and a city view?
  • Does the place include any extras — free breakfast? Discounts on activities? Credits to the room?
  • Does the place charge automatic gratuities and service fees for everything?

Don’t Forget to Look on Other Sites

Sites like Expedia, Travelocity and their various incarnations are great and all but they can be quite limiting. One of the best places I have ever stayed in was no where on any of those sites—it was a gorgeous B&B that I found on TripAdvisor. I find using a website like TripAdvisor to find places to stay is generally my best bet. Not only will you find very in-depth reviews about lodging but you will also find reviews for everything else in the vicinity. You will always find complainers but I have found that most people review things quite honestly.

Using TripAdvisor is a good place to find smaller motels and inns that might be in the area but don’t charge exorbitant rates. They are usually smaller, family-owned joints that might be right off the beach, just a block or so away, that offer the basics. Remember: You can always choose to stay at multiple places, although sometimes you will find certain places at certain times require you to stay a minimum amount of days. When we went up North for a vacation, we spent one night in a very, very nice hotel and spent the other night at a much cheaper motel.

Are You Getting Ready to Book Your Trip?

If you have decided on where you are going to go, keep these other money saving tips in mind:

  • Always check for discounts that may apply to you, such as a AAA membership. You never know—you might end up with a better deal.
  • Look around at different sites—some may offer extras, deals or even slight price variations.
  • Check to see if bundling will save you money—what would be the price difference if you booked a hotel with the flight?
  • See what the difference would be for weekday versus weekend reservations. The prices can vary a lot especially in the summer. Avoid taking trips around holidays or when big events will be taking place, such as conventions, in the area you’re interested in visiting.

Any other tips you have in mind? Feel free to share. Happy planning!

Why I Don’t Pay for Magazines (Anymore)

21 May

I used to subscribe to various magazines throughout my lifetime.

When I was a teenager, I probably subscribed to something like Seventeen or one of its relatives. When I was in my early twenties, which sounds awful considering I’m going to enter my late twenties this year, I subscribed to science magazines, such as Discover and Science News. I had entered a stage in my life, however, where I seemed to have completely stopped reading anything beyond a few hundred words. Thus, I didn’t want to find myself purchasing magazines.

Approximately a year ago I started to read blogs and decided to mostly stick to one in terms of freebies and deals called Money Saving Mom. I chose this one because it was easy to remember and because she seemed to list tons of deals via other bloggers as well. I began to notice that she even posted ways to get free magazine subscriptions as well.

If you’re looking to score some free subscriptions, keep the following in mind:

1. Beggars can’t be choosers: You will find that you cannot get every magazine for free. Some magazines will never offer free subscriptions while others only offer heavily discounted deals. Generally, I have found that very well-known magazines are more likely to offer free issues as opposed to very specific, smaller magazines. I have noticed that certain bloggers like Crystal at Money Saving Mom will post deals for these niche magazines that make a subscription substantially cheaper. Do not always expect to receive a subscription forever either—I have found that many of the issues I have received have been anywhere from 3-6 months, though they can be for up to 12 months.

2. Check on your deals regularly: If you’re following a blog or partaking in a forum, make sure to check on the deals you’re interested in regularly. Many of these free subscriptions are only available for a certain period of time or for a certain number of people.

3. Always check for terms: Generally, I have found that the frugal bloggers are pretty good about avoiding scams or things with specific terms and agreements. That being said, you should always double-check and see what you are signing up for when you find a free magazine subscription. Never provide a site with your credit card number or bank information. Generally, when a company has you do that, they will send you some issues for free and then bill you for an additional six months to a year. For all of the subscriptions I have received for free, I have never once provided anything other than my name and address.

What magazines have I received for free over the past six months?

  • Woman’s Day
  • Newsweek
  • Forbes
  • Bloomberg Business Week
  • Smart Money
  • Outdoor Life

You can easily ascertain that I’ve received quite the variety in terms of magazines!

My Love-Hate Relationship: Online Deals

6 Apr

I started using Groupon & LivingSocial around the time they pretty much launched themselves.

Now, I love a good deal. Since I live in a large city, there are multiple deals every single day. Tempting? Yes. But I have found that with a little self-control, making use of these sites can be quite advantageous.

The Good

(1) Since there are multiple deals throughout the city, and there are a lot, I have pretty much decided to have these deals e-mailed to one of my junk e-mail accounts. Do I end up with a lot of e-mails? Yes. But I would rather do that than be annoyed that I missed something I actually wanted, as opposed to one of the five hundred spa treatments offered through the website.

(2) Once I actually find a deal I want, I make sure that I go through it in my mind a bit. Do I really want this? Can I afford this right now? Will I actually use it? If the answers are yes, I will generally buy it. For example, I rarely ever go to the movies—usually I only go once a year. At ten or more dollars per ticket, it’s just not worth it to me. But if I know there is a movie coming out I want to see and one of these sites comes out with a deal, I will probably purchase it. For $12, I just purchased a Groupon for a movie theater near me that includes two tickets and bottomless popcorn. I also keep an eye out for places I enjoy eating at or want to try since I really do love eating out—it’s like a hobby to me. For $15, I purchased a deal for $35 of food from a healthy food place that we really enjoy. These will be used for a “date night.”

(3) Of course I realized thisafter my last purchase, but my credit card, which offers pretty decent cash back rewards, has 15% cash back on purchases for Groupon if you go through their website. All you need to do is log into your credit card website, for example, and click through the links on their site. Once you do that, you’ll get the cash back—you won’t get the 15% just buying it without going through the credit card’s site.

(4) Sometimes you will end up with free stuff—I got a credit of $10 once because someone apparently used a referral link to LivingSocial that I had put out there. If all of your friends want to go in on a deal, many times they have it set-up so that if you refer three friends you get your deal for free. If it’s something big, you might be able to all go in on a deal, such as a vacation, and then split it up so that four people are paying the price for three people—making the savings even greater.

(5) I find that the sites have pretty good return policies. My sister bought something she could not use once and they refunded her money relatively quickly.

The Bad

(1) Having your credit card linked to your account makes it all too easy to make a fast purchase. If I am waffling on a deal, within a few seconds and a couple of clicks, I might have purchased it. Whoops.

(2) Constantly being bombarded with deals makes me want more things in the moment. For example, I had been talking about going zip lining and literally the next day I had an offer for zip lining in my mail box. I was so excited I wanted to purchase it right away. I gave myself a little time and instead I decided that it wasn’t the time to do it. Also, I stated that I am always on the lookout for restaurant deals. I find that often times it is the case that there will be nothing I want for months and then all of a sudden there are a bunch of restaurants I want to purchase deals for in a row. Sometimes I really, really have to resist the temptation.

What I Try to Do

I decided, after purchasing two deals within the same day after not purchasing any deals for awhile, that I will just make it part of my budget. One of the descriptors in my budget is a “miscellaneous” category. If I don’t have the money for it, then I am not going to buy it. Of course, if it’s for some big purchase that I have decided I am going to make, such as a purchase for a trip, I will have a little more leeway.

How do you feel about these sites? Are they forces of good or evil?