Sunday, July 6, 2008

Don’t Buy Computer, Video, or Board Games Unless You Have Time to Play Them

Ever since my parents bought me the second installment of King's Quest for our Tandy 1000 when I was 10 years-old back in 1987, I have loved playing strategy computer games. During college and law school, I didn't have time to play any PC games, so a few years ago, after the bar exam, I went on a major spending spree at Best Buy.

First, I bought The Sims. Omigod, was that ever a mistake! I loved playing that game so much, I had to buy all the expansion packs because my Sims needed vacations! They needed pets! They needed gardens! They needed magic!

After my Sims progressed up the corporate ladder, got married, had kids, and moved into the biggest house in the neighborbood, the game became redundant so I moved on to more exciting running my own farm in American own restaurant in Diner own coffee house in Coffee House Chaos. After I got bored with those, I tried to upgrade to The Sims 2, but fortunately my old, out-of-date computer didn't have a fast enough processor or else I'd probably still be controlling the lives of my Sims in Sim City.

My computer died last month so I had to buy a new one. My new computer has a really powerful processor and tons of memory so it would be perfect for playing games like The Sims 2, but I am not going to buy any more games. My PC game playing days are over, and I'm not remotely interested in Xbox games or Wii games.

While games are a great stress reliever, they're also a huge waste of time and money. The $150.00 I spent on PC games could have been put toward my student loan debt; furthermore, all the time I spent playing them could have been used for more productive activities like decluttering my house or getting my finances in order.

Oh, well. Play and learn.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Update: Received My Free Manicure Voucher, What a Joke

Remember how excited I was about getting a free manicure from TLC Marketing/Herbal Essences?

Well, I think I just wasted $6 and a stamp!

A couple of weeks ago, the voucher arrived with the address of the “top secret” website with a list of participating beauty salons. I visited the website, and it instructed me to enter my voucher code to view salon listings in my area.

I eagerly typed my code in, only to get a message telling me to call an 800-number for a "venue location" in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

I called right away because I was dying to get my free manicure. The person I talked with said she’d need my name, address and telephone number, and somebody would call me back in 3 business days with the name of a participating salon.

Me: Uh, somebody is going to call me back? I thought the whole point of getting the voucher was so I could get the address of the top secret website and find out what salons are participating. Now, somebody has to call me to tell me where I can go to get the free manicure?

Representative: That’s right, ma’am. There aren’t any participating salons in your area so somebody needs to find one and get back to you.

Me: Well, OK, but you hadn’t better be selling my name and phone number to anybody because this sure seems like a lot of busy work just to get people to buy two bottles of shampoo! What are you getting out of all this?

Representative: Nobody's selling your information, ma'am. We just need your telephone number so somebody can let you know where to go for your free manicure.

Me: (skeptical) Fine...

Three business days passed, and I didn't hear one peep from anyone at TLC Marketing.

I waited five more days, in case the representative was mistaken about someone calling back in three days. Nope. Nobody called.

So last Friday, I called again and talked to a different representative. She looked up my information and said the reason nobody called me back was because they didn’t have my telephone number. Apparently, the representative I talked to forgot to hit “save” after she entered my telephone number in the system.

I said I didn't feel comfortable giving them my telephone number again so could she just tell me the name of the salon the person had allegedly found for me in my area. She said she couldn't do that and that somebody had to get back to me so they would need my information. She said I could give an email address instead of a telephone number so I gave her one of my Yahoo email addresses. I asked her to read it back to me, and she had spelled "Yahoo" wrong. (Cripes.) After she swore up and down she had fixed the spelling, she promised someone would contact me within three days by email.

Well, either the "yahoo" I spoke with really didn’t fix the spelling error, or the whole free manicure thing is nothing more than a marketing SCAM because I never received an email.

I’m tempted to call again, but I’m sure it will more of the same old-same old. This time somebody will probably tell me the representative forgot to save my email address. What a waste of my time! (And a stamp!)

Free manicure and pedicure. HA!

Monday, June 16, 2008


I have limited internet access right now so no updates will be made to this blog for the next week. However, I'll be posting again after June 21st. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Foolish Purchase Friday: the Fold Mobile

When I think about some of the foolish (maybe even, stupid) things I've spent money on, I get nauseous. And when I add up the cost of all the foolish things I've spent money on, I get positively sick.

Lately, I've been doing a really good job of not spending money on foolish purchases; however, to make sure it stays that way, every Friday, I'm going to write about something I regret buying and the price I have paid for buying said item (which isn't always monetary). I'm hoping by documenting how much money I've wasted on foolish stuff through the years, I will get into the habit of always thinking long and hard before buying anything that's not a necessity.

Take for instance, the fold mobile.

Now, I know what you're all probably thinking -- What the hell is a FOLD MOBILE? (Well, technically it's called the mobilefold, but I like the sound of "fold mobile" better so that's what I call it.)

Basically, the mobilefold is an adjustable table with wheels, designed to "fold shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, pants, and towels quickly and easily, with a consistent fold every time." It's most commonly used in retail stores. In fact, I bought my mobilefold a couple of years ago when the Petite Sophisticate at a local mall when out of business.

I mainly bought the mobilefold because I thought it would help me fold my clothes nicer. Plus, I knew I was getting a good deal on it -- the mobilefold normally retails for $298, but the manager said "everything" in the store had to go, so she only wanted $75 for it. What a bargain, huh?

Uh...not really. While paying $75 for the mobilefold would have been a bargain if I ever used it to fold my clothes, to this date, I have never used it. Not once. Rather, it just sits in my loft, collecting dust and hogging up precious space (even though it folds up, it still takes quite a bit of space in my tiny townhome).

I'm thinking about trying to sell it or something. While I doubt there is a huge demand for mobilefolds, you never know until you try...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Learn to Save Money on Discretionary Items Like Cosmetics

Ever since my mother brought me to the Clinique counter at the tender age of 13, and the sales clerk poked my forehead with her pointer finger and inquired, “Oily or mild?” (it turns out, I was oily), I have been addicted to name brand cosmetics.

Unfortunately, department store cosmetics are very expensive, and usually one of the first things people cut from their budgets when times get tough. While I agree not purchasing expensive, name brand cosmetics is really the best way to save money, weaning yourself completely from all high-end products is not always realistic, especially if you have sensitive skin like I do. For example, I’ve tried using cheap brands like Cover Girl and Revlon many times to "save money", but I always break out because my pores get all clogged up.

So, if you’re in the same situation as I am, or just prefer using higher end cosmetics, here are some ways you can save money:

(1) Buy Cosmetics When There is a Free Gift with Purchase Promotion

It seems like major cosmetic lines like Lancome, Clinique, and Estee Lauder always have a promotion where you can get a free gift with a purchase of a certain amount (e.g., $29.50). I always try to time my purchases around the promotions so I can get the free gift. Unfortunately, most of the time, the free gift is a hideous looking make-up bag or tote bag filled with travel-sized samples and one full-sized tube of lipstick, usually in a terribly unflattering color.

However, the free gift item I most covet is the trial-sized mascara because I simply cannot justify spending $25.00 for a full-sized tube (especially, since I only wear mascara on special occasions.) Furthermore, mascara is a breeding ground for bacteria so it should be replaced every 3 months, and who really wants to throw away $25.00 every 3 months on MASCARA? If you have to buy a full size tube of mascara, you should use disposable wands to help minimize germs! Trust me -- disposable wands are your friends!

(2) Get Free Samples of Products

In just the last couple of years, I have managed to amass an enormous collection of cosmetic samples.

How did I get so many samples? Well, depending upon if I get a nice sales clerk when I'm purchasing something, he or she will usually throw a bunch of free samples into my bag for me to try at home, in hopes I’ll come back and buy more. Even when I've had the misfortune of getting a cranky or stingy clerk (i.e., one who doesn’t give any free samples), I always ask for some, and they usually toss in a bunch just to get rid of me. Yes, apparently, they really love their jobs...

Sometimes, the cosmetics companies will put tear-out cards in magazines for free cosmetics samples that you can bring into the store to get a free sample. I've done that dozens of times. Other times, there will be in-store events where you can get free samples and gifts just for stopping by for a free consultation or free make-over.

I used to love getting free make-overs, but after I suddenly became a germaphobe, I am much more selective about what I’m willing to do for a free sample because I cannot stand the thought of having make-up from those filthy, contaminated display testers put on my face! I mean, seriously, think how many people have stuck their dirty, germy fingers into that pot of lip gloss, the make-up artist is now applying over your lips! EWWWW!

The Clinique counter at Macy's currently has a free gift with consultation going on, but I really don't think it's worth the risk of getting pink eye or a staph infection, just to get a travel-sized eyeshadow in three of the fugliest colors I have ever seen -- – bright green, bright blue, and bright orange. (Good God, bright orange!)

(3) Use Up What You Have Before Buying New

Right now, I have a bathroom closet overflowing with expensive, department store products I just had to have but never used or only half-used. I also have two huge boxes of free samples to use. Considering make-up has a very short shelf-life, I have decided I need to use up what I have before buying anything new. In addition, by using up what I have instead of buying new, I am also helping the environment.

After going through all of my items and tossing out products that were old or expired – you can tell an item’s expiration date by looking at the symbol that looks like an open can of cat food with a number on it; that’s the number of months the item is good for from the day you open it -- I’ve come to the conclusion I could probably go at least 6 months (maybe longer, if I keep getting free samples) without having to buy anything. Clearly, this will have a very big impact on my checking account!

(4) Shop at an Outlet Like the Cosmetics Company Store

Most people don’t have a well-stocked mini-cosmetic counter in their bathroom like I do, so it’s highly unlikely, you will be able to go 6 months without buying anything.

So, if you MUST buy something, an outlet store is a great place to get new, overstocked or discontinued name brand cosmetics for less than retail price.

I’ve been to the Cosmetics Company Store a couple of times in Albertville, Minnesota, and I was quite impressed with its selection. Brands like Estee Lauder, Lancome, Prescriptives, MAC, Origins, Clinique, and Bobbi Brown lined the shelves.

Unfortunately, the two times I’ve been there, I have not been impressed by the staff at all. For example, last summer, I probably would have purchased quite a few items if I hadn’t gotten pi$$ed off at one of the teeny bopper sales clerks for trying to hit on my fiancé -- who was only about 18 years older than her! -- RIGHT IN FRONT of me.

AHEM...exact quote from one sales clerk to another -- “Like, omigod, he is so cute; like, what is he doing with her?” – unquote.

Oh, I sure hope those little twirps were on commission!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Clean Out Your Closet and Sell Your Old Clothes

You can get rid of clutter, plus make some extra money just by cleaning out your clothes closet.

Trust me, I know.

I used to be a total clothes whore -- I mean, horse. At one time (way before I got into student loan debt), I had so many clothes, I could go a whole year without ever having to wear the same thing twice. Unfortunately, after I graduated from law school, I really started packing on the pounds so none of my clothes fit any more.

As each year passed, it seemed like I always had to buy new clothes because I kept gaining more and more weight (e.g., I went from a regular size 2 to a vanity-sized 8 in less than four years). Pretty soon, my whole closet was crammed full of clothes that didn’t fit, and I had nowhere to put the clothes that did fit so onto the floor they went!

It didn’t take long before my bedroom was all cluttered up with piles and piles of clothes I refused to part with!

I have been trying to de-clutter my bedroom for years now – yes, YEARS – and it wasn’t until last January when I finally started seeing some progress after I made up my mind to start getting rid of things that no longer fit or things I had bought and never wore!

I used to like selling my old clothes on eBay to make extra money, but now that eBay has implemented a bunch of radical changes in its quest to be the next Amazon, it just isn’t worth the time or expense. Fortunately, there are plenty of other less time-consuming and less expensive ways to sell old clothes. For example:

(1) Have a rummage sale. Last January, I participated in an indoor community rummage sale and got rid of just about all of my size 2 clothes. I swear, fate was on my side that day because there were tons of size 2 buyers, all very excited to find excellent condition, like-new clothing in their size! Everyone who stopped by said my booth was the best one there, and I was so surprised to find out how much money I had made at the end of the day! It’s really amazing how $1 here and $2 there can add up!

(2) Consign your clothes at a consignment shop. In the late ‘90s, before eBay became a household name, I used to bring my clothes to a consignment shop. The owner took 60% of the sale price, and I got 40%. The consignment arrangement didn’t turn out to be very profitable for me, especially when the shop had a big “clearance” sale at the end of the season and sold my items for little or nothing. In the end, I got about $30.00 for a whole trunk load of good, name brand clothes so I would not recommend going to a consignment shop unless (a) you have absolutely no other alternative or (b) you just want to get rid of the items and don't care what you receive for them. If you fall into the latter category, you might be better off donating them to a charity so you can get a tax deduction!

(3) Bring your clothes to a resale store that pays cash on the spot. Resale stores differ from consignment shops because they buy your clothes up front before reselling them.

My first experience with a resale store during college was not very positive because the owner rudely told me that I didn’t have anything worth buying before he had even bothered to look through what I had just brought in! After that incident, I avoided resale stores like the plague.

Well, the other day, I loaded up a bunch of clothes and decided to bring them to a resale store to see if they would be interested in any of my items. (Ironically, I have unexpectedly lost 15 pounds so a majority of my clothes are too big now, but I’m definitely not going to complain, that’s for sure!)

The person going through my things kept remarking how beautiful my clothes were and bought just about everything I brought in! She thanked me several times for stopping in, and I was very pleased with the amount I received for my items.

Even though I’m very tempted to use the money to treat myself to something special, I plan to put all of the money toward my student loan debt because I want to see that balance fall below $70,000 by the end of the year!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Buy Yourself Gift Cards When Incentives Are Offered

Thanks to using our Speedy Rewards card, my fiancé and I just earned another free $25 Super America gift card.

While I was paying for gas yesterday, I learned that I could get an extra 1,000 points for every $50 gift card purchased so my fiancé and I bought 9 gift cards and earned an extra 9,000 points – just the amount we needed to get a free gift card.

Spending $450 for gas all at one time seems like a lot, but my fiancé will use up his share of the gift cards very quickly as his commute to work is very long. Right now, I’m fortunate to be able to take the bus to work so I’m estimating that my share of the gift cards will last at least 3 months unless gas hits the $5 mark.

A few years ago, I never would have considered purchasing gift cards for myself, but ever since retailers started offering incentives (e.g., buy a $50 gift card and get a free $10 gift card), I realized it was a great way to maximize my spending power at places I shop at on a regular basis. During the holidays, retailers really ramp up the incentives to buy gift cards, but they’re also doing it now in hopes of getting some – or all -- of your economic stimulus rebate money.

Originally, I had planned to put my $600 toward my student loan debt – I couldn’t wait to see my debt finally drop out of the $70,000 range -- but now I’m thinking about taking advantage of the “extra 10 percent” deals some of the grocery stores like Cub Foods are offering. I figure I have to buy groceries, anyway, so I might as well get an extra $60 if I can. I have until July 31 to decide what to do, but I’m strongly leaning toward buying a grocery gift card.

While buying gift cards to reap extra incentives can be a smart financial move, it can also backfire if you don’t do your research. Before buying a gift card, I always:

(1) Inquire if the card has an expiration date, or if a fee is charged for card inactivity;

(2) Access whether there is a possibility the store may go bankrupt or close before I use the gift card up because you just never know these days; and

(3) Determine if I can really afford to spend so much money up front because even though it’s a great deal, it will not be such a great deal if I have to pay credit card interest on the gift cards.