Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Children's Place Monster Sale

Up to 80% off at The Children's Place Monster Sale. Awesome deals on super cute and stylish kid's clothes!

I love how they put together whole outfits based on "kid type" like "styln' beach boy" or "seaside sweetie" - so cute! Not sure when this sale ends...it just says "get 'em while they last!"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Best Frugal Cars: Hatchbacks

I'm continuing my best frugal cars blog series with a list of my favorite frugal hatchbacks. Hatchbacks are a great choice for frugal car buyers. They are practical, good for occasionally transporting stuff, get good gas mileage, and many are priced around $20K or under.

However, the more powerful hatchbacks get comparable gas mileage to compact SUV's like the Toyota Rav4 or Honda CRV both of which have much more room, additional safety features, and comfort. My 2 cents...a compact SUV may be the best choice if you have a family or need the room while a hatchback may be the best choice for city dwellers and single folks.

Here's a list of my favorite frugal hatchbacks:

Mazda 3: My Favorite "Performance" Frugal Hatchback

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! You will understand Mazda's jingle when you get behind the wheel of this beauty. It's a blast to drive with lots of...you got it...zoom. No other frugal hatchback turns heads like the Mazda3 with its great styling and gorgeous interior. It has excellent reviews from pros and my hubby and I absolutely fell in love with it. The cons? It has "zoom" due to it's larger 2.5L 167hp engine which gets 22/29 mpg...about the same as smaller SUVs. It starts around $21K but we found Mazda dealerships often had 0% financing and were eager to give deep discounts (ie. one offered us the top-of-the-line '09 Touring with leather and all options for ~$19K!)

Runner Ups:
  • Toyota Matrix - This is a good car and comes in several options starting at $16-21K. It's 132hp engine is ok but doesn't have the power and performance of the Mazda3. I also don't like its interior dash and small backwindows.
  • Honda Fit - This is a great car for people who don't need a lot of power. Its 117hp engine was fine for normal driving but lags going up hills and merging on the freeway. With less power, however, comes excellent gas mileage of 28/35 mpg! All in all, I think it handles nicely, is very spacious with large windows, comfy seats, and has some neat interior features. Starting at ~$16K is an excellent frugal hatchback.
  • Nissan Versa - This, like the Honda, doesn't have a very powerful engine but also gets good gas mileage of 24/32 mpg. This is the least expensive of the bunch starting at ~$14K but, as the price suggests, is more of an economy car.
Photo Credits: Mazda website

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Free Weekends At National Parks

Now that spring is here I can't wait to get outside and hike off those winter pounds. I was excited to hear that The National Park Service is offering three fee-free weekends this summer:
  • June 20-21, 2009 (Father’s Day weekend)
  • July 18-19, 2009
  • August 15-16, 2009
Find out more:
Image credit: National Park Service

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Best Frugal Cars: Honda CRV

see also: Toyota Rav4 – My favorite “Performance” Frugal SUV
Honda CRV : My Second Favorite Frugal SUV

The Honda CRV is another great choice for a frugal SUV. Many car reviews place the CRV and Rav4 neck-to-neck as I've done here. While I personally chose the Rav4 I think the CRV is still a great car and a excellent choice depending on your needs. In terms of handling and ride, it is more comparable to the Rav4 Base or Limited models with less aggressive yet excellent "car-like" handling and a cushy smooth ride. Its 4-cylinder 2.4-liter engine has 5-speeds versus the 4-speed in the 4cyl Rav4 engine which is nice. However, the CRV's 166-hp engine has less horsepower and torque than the Rav4's 179-hp engine and we could feel the difference in our test drives. The CRV just didn't seem to have the same power and pick up as the Rav4 and we could feel a more substantial drag in the CRV even when going up small hills. In terms of mileage the Rav4 actually gets better mileage 22 city/28 highway for the 4cyl 2WD compared with the CRV's 20 city/27 highway for the 4cyl 2WD .

In terms of looks, the CRV has a curvy and streamlined appearance. All in all, I really like the CRV's exterior which I think looks like a less expensive version of many Lexus SUV's. I especially like the back end which opens upward and doesn't have the spare tire like the Rav4. The only thing that I really don't like is the thick black underside of the bumper which comes up in the front and back. I think this looks cheap and clashes with the rest of the streamlined look of the CRV.

The interior of the CRV was beautiful for the most part but had some major drawbacks for us in comparison to the Rav4. The dash was nice and I loved the steering wheel which I found very comfortable to hold. The front seats where also very supportive and comfy. Another plus was the cargo space which has a slide out shelf which splits the cargo area into two spaces for more organized storage.

There were several drawbacks to the CRV interior for our needs. The most major drawback for us was the lack of a sufficient arm rest for the front seats. This was a big issue for my hubby who drives with one hand and rests his right arm on the center armrest. The Rav4 has a permanent center console with storage and a comfortable armrest. In comparison, the CRV has a fold-up console with drink holders and a very small fold-down armrest which is not comfortable for long journeys. If you don't use the center armrest when driving, this may not be a big deal for you and the positive point to this design is that you can fold up the center console for pass through (say if you have a long item in back or want to reach the front seats from the back.) A second negative we found were the back seats which we felt were overly firm and bench like in the non-leather models. Lastly, it may seem like a small complaint but I hated the interior door handles. I liked most of the CRV's interior and though it looked classy but thought the door handles looked too modern - like something out of Star Trek - and were made of cheap looking plastic. Check them out in the picture - they look even worse in person and I feel clash with the rest of the interior.

That said, many of the drawbacks we found to the CRV were based on matters of personal opinion and our needs. The CRV is an excellent SUV for many people especially if you want a smoother ride, good handling, and more streamlined appearance. With a starting price of only $21,500 it is an excellent frugal car choice.

Photo Credits: Honda website

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Best Frugal Cars : Toyota Rav4

Toyota Rav4 – My favorite “Performance” Frugal SUV

I’m breaking up my favorite frugal SUV review into two parts because I have a tie between the Toyota Rav4 and the Honda CRV both of which are great cars with excellent reviews but have different pluses and minuses.

The Toyota Rav4 is my personal favorite and the one we purchased. I call it my favorite "performance" frugal SUV because its 4cyl 179hp engine has more torque and, in my opinion, is noticeably peppier and sportier to drive than the 166hp CRV. For true performance you can also get the Rav4 with a V6 269hp engine (the CRV only comes in 4cyl). This V6 version is one of the fastest cars Toyota makes with excellent reviews for performance, speed, and gas mileage.

I think the Rav4 has a sportier more masculine look than the curvaceous CRV. As shown in the picture above, the Rav4 has a more traditional SUV exterior with some sleek curves and an exterior spare tire. I'm actually not a fan of the spare tire or side opening back door but love the rest of the Rav4's exterior. I also like the curves of the CRV but the hubby thinks it looks like an “egg” or “mommy mobile."

The Rav4 comes in 3 models – Base, Sport, and Limited. The Base model is the most frugal starting at ~$21K (you should be able to get it for ~$19K). This is a great deal if you don’t need a moonroof or other fancy options.

The Rav4 Sport model starting at ~$24K is my favorite for performance and good looks. The Sport model’s sport suspension makes this baby really fun to drive and great at cornering. It feels less like an SUV and more like a sports sedan. Really, it’s so fun to drive I seriously get disappointed every time I have to park and turn it off! It also has an exclusive Sport interior I love with a dark charcoal console and sporty black fabric. With a moonroof, 6 CD changer, and other options not found on the Base, it is a great choice for a little bit of luxury and performance.

The Rav4 Limited model, starting at $25K and going up to $31K with all the bells and whistles, pushes the frugal envelope. Personally, I prefer the interior and performance of the cheaper Sport model but if you like leather and a cushier ride (the Sport’s suspension makes it a tad bumpier) then check out the Rav4 Limited.

Photo Credits: Toyota website

Friday, May 15, 2009

Best Frugal Cars

My hubby and I recently bought a new car and did tons of research and test driving. I wanted to share with you some my favorite frugal cars in this next blog series.

And, yes, buying a used car is often a better frugal decision but not always. It’s a good idea to balance the risk of buying a used car with the difference in price, financing options, and upgrades between the used vs. new versions to decide what is best for you. Enjoy the ride!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Fine Art of Bargaining

My frugal tip for this week is to learn the fine art of bargaining. Many of us hate to bargain or think we can only bargain on a few items such as a car. Bargaining can be fun, however, if done right. Also, especially in this economy, you can often bargain for discounts on items or services you may have thought were at a fixed price.

Case in point, this week my hubby bargained for a discount on a smog check for our car. In our area smog checks go for $78-$100. This seemed ridiculously expensive since there is little labor involved so we were determined to get a discount. My hubby made a few calls, used his bargaining skills, and we ended up only spending $35!

What's the trick of bargaining? Honestly, I'm still learning myself and would love to get feedback from all of you. Bargaining, like any type of negotiation, is an art of relationship building. Sometimes you connect with the person you're bargaining with and it's easy while other times it can be tough or uncomfortable.

Here are a few tips that work for me:

1. Be nice.

Many people, especially men, think you have to be super tough when you put on your bargaining hat. Just remember, salespeople are just like everyone else. Nobody likes a jerk and people generally want to do business with others who treat them with respect. You can be firm in your price demands in a determined way without being rude which leads me to my next tip.

2. Act disappointed.

I often find this is the best way to bargain. A good salesperson wants the sale and wants to give good service and make their customer happy. It’s also human nature that we don't want to let others down. Saying things like, "Gosh, Joe, I really wanted to do business with you and was hoping you could do better than this price…" with a disappointed tone of voice can do wonders in the bargaining process.

3. Avoid yes or no questions.

I've read some other sources for bargaining tips that say to ask the salesperson "Can you give me a discount on this?" I, however, find this often doesn't work well because it makes it too easy for the salesperson to just say "No." In my experience, it works better to not ask this in a question format. Instead, I follow step #2 and act disappointed and voice my demand for a discount as a complaint not a question, for example, "Gosh, I really hoped there would be a discount on this" and then wait for the salesperson to respond. The salesperson may still say there isn't a discount but if they have to explain it instead of simply answering "no" it leaves the conversation open for more bargaining.

4. Give them some competition.

Never let the salesperson know that their product or service is the only one you are considering. Let them know there are other options and cheaper options out there. Sometimes, depending on your own conscience you may even find it helpful to fib a bit that a competitor is cheaper or has offered a lower price even when they haven’t.

5. Offer more business.

Depending on the product/service let the salesperson know if they give you a good price you may become a repeat customer and/or bring in your friends.

6. Be ready to walk.

The best deals usually come when you are about to walk out or hang up the phone. Sometimes, if you haven't agreed on the deal you need to just leave it. Give the salesperson your contact info and make it clear you are still interested and would like to do business with them if they can come down to your price. Depending on the product/service they may end up giving you a call back. This is another reason why you want to follow step #1 and be nice so even if you don't agree on a price that day you still leave the relationship open for possible future negotiations.

Bargaining is a fine art and skill and each of us may have different techniques that work. What are your bargaining tips or stories? I’d love to know!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Free Stuff : Redbox

I’m a huge movie buff and in addition to my Netflix membership visit my local Redbox frequently. If you haven’t seen one already, Redbox has movie kiosk dispensers in many grocery and drug stores around the country. They are a great place to get cheap movie rentals. Only a buck a night for a movie. Pretty good deal but I prefer, you guessed it, free!

Redbox has lots of coupon codes for free movies you can find on the Inside Red Box site. This site tracks all the Redbox codes and members post updates on which codes work, limitations, etc.

I have a secret as well to share with you. Most codes are supposedly for one time use. However, Redbox tracks if you’ve used the code by your credit card. That means that each code works once per card so if you have a lot of credit cards you have that many more free movie rentals! It even works for gift cards with a Visa/MC logo. Inside Red Box talks more about this trick here. And no need to feel too guilty. I’m sure Redbox knows about this site and the multiple credit card use by frugalites. I bet they actually encourage it to drive traffic to their kiosks so other paying customers get interested. And even us frugalites have limited credit cards so eventually you'll find yourself paying $1 for a movie once in a while. So be a walking advertisement for Redbox and have fun movie watching!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Free Stuff : Walmart

Bet you couldn’t imagine anything more frugal than shopping at Walmart. Well, how about getting free stuff at Walmart! Walmart is well known by frugalities as a great resource for free product samples. All you have to do is go to the Walmart free sample page, find the samples you want, fill out your shipping info and these little goodies will come straight to your door in the mail in a little blue Walmart box.

These samples are just that - samples, mostly toiletries, so don’t expect big ticket items or to save tons of money. However, it’s a great way to stock up on small pouches of shampoos, deodorant, and other toiletries for travel. Since companies are always coming out with new products, scents, etc. there is a never ending supply of new samples to choose from and collect. Thanks to these freebies I don’t think I’ve purchased deodorant in the last 4 years!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Free Stuff : Rite Aid

My next free deal resource is Rite Aid pharmacy. If you don't have a Rite Aid near you don't despair as there are other drug stores with free deal programs. Check out the coupon forum listed below which has info on Rite Aid and other stores.

If you are lucky enough to be in one of the 31 states that has a Rite Aid and have a store nearby then go every Sunday – early! This little drugstore has a good old fashion weekly circular which comes out on Sunday with many free after rebate deals. You can view it on the Rite Aid website or, even better, check out this coupon forum which posts the circular in advance so you can plan your attack. Planning is key as many items must be paired with newspaper coupons to come out free.

And I'm not talking about just some free toothpaste or junk you don't want or need. You can find great brand-name toiletries, shampoos, expensive beauty care products, over the counter medicines and more. Many of our Rite Aid freebie shopping trips adds up to around $30 a pop or more and that's just one week's worth. This can easily be a savings of $50-$120/month - times that by a year and you have some serious money worth of free products.

I love Rite Aid because they have the easiest, most organized, and dare I say, pleasant rebate programs I’ve ever encountered. All you have to do is register on their website and enter a few lines of info from your receipt online. A little postcard check comes in the mail a few weeks later. Super simple and I've never missed a check.

A few tips to remember:

  1. Stack coupons: Some free after rebate products must be stacked with the manufacturers’ coupons which you need to clip from your newspaper or get online. The Rite Aid circular will point these deals out.
  2. Move fast (literally!): You’ve now joined a secret club of sorts (well not so secret – the deals are posted all over their circular but the majority of shoppers don’t read it or care.) Every Sunday at popular Rite Aid stores is like a mini Black Friday with people-in-the-know going early and sometimes literally running through the aisles to get the good stuff before it’s snatched up. You’ll recognize the freebie Rite Aid regulars by the intense look in their eyes, clutching their flyers, and running around to find the best deals. It’s hilarious!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Free Stuff : Fat Wallet

There are a lot of free websites and companies on Twitter devoted to advertising free deals which you can easily find on Google. In the next few posts of my beginners’ guide to free stuff I’ll list a few of my favorite places to find free stuff and tips on using each.

One of my favorite places to find free deals is the FatWallet free forum. If you are not familiar with this site already, FatWallet is one of the web’s premiere deal website. What makes the site special is its large and highly involved community of followers, “FatWalleters,” who constantly post, rate, and comment on deals in the site’s many forums. There are people out there who practically live on FW so there is a constant flow of new information. If you are like me and too busy to search all over the web for deals then FW is a great place to go. Let others do the work, scan for highly rated posts, and grab those deals. Not only are there great deals but it’s easy to scan by rating as well as use the forum filtering tool to filter by free deal type (totally free, free with survey, etc.)

The only problem with FW is it's so popular that good deals with limited availability often go fast – and I mean lightning fast. If there’s a killer deal on an online product it could be sold out in minutes. If the product is sold in the store you have to go quick especially if you live in a techie urban area with a lot of potential fellow FatWalleters. Another thing to look out for are store workers who are FatWalleters themselves and may hide the product till they are done with their shift. I know, it sounds paranoid but it actually happens!

Case in point, once at Staples I was looking everywhere for a $80 laptop bag which was free after rebate. The salespeople said they were sold out but I was determined and wouldn’t give up my search. Sure enough I spotted one on the very top of the 15 foot display. I politely pointed it out to the manager who acted strangely, got mad at me, and argued it wasn’t the same bag. He practically refused to help me but I stood my ground and politely insisted he get the ladder to satisfy me. He grudgingly did it and sure enough it was the bag I was looking for. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t up there on accident!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why do companies give away free stuff?

You may be wondering why companies give stuff away for free. I wondered this myself and have even felt guilty at times getting stuff for free. Before you start on you free shopping spree, it helps to have a basic understanding of the most prevalent types of free offers out there so you know what's legitimate, what to avoid, and how this game works.

Legitimate Free Offers
  1. Free Trials: Most free product offers are provided by companies to get people interested in their products or services with the hope you’ll turn into a paying customer later.
  2. Double Offers: Double offers occur when the company who owns the product and the store selling the product offer discounts at the same time which can result in the product being so heavily discounted it’s free – or better yet, if the discounts are more than the product itself you may actually get money back!
  3. I'll Scratch Your Back If You'll Scratch Mine: There are also plenty of free with purchase and other “semi-free” offers in which you need to do something, like take a survey, to get your freebie.
  4. Extra Stock: Finally, companies may offer a product free in order to get rid of extra stock. This can be the pay dirt of free stuff as these offers often are on large, expensive items.
Non-legitimate or Grey Areas
  1. Fraudulent Coupons: Fraudulent coupons are among the most serious and should be avoided. There are con artists out there that hack coupon codes, create fake coupons and post them online. You should be wary of and avoid these types of "coupons" as the last thing you want is a free ride to jail :)
  2. Data Farms: Another thing to be wary of are some of the sketchy freebie websites which entice you to sign up for free products just to get your personal info to spam you. You can find a list of websites to avoid here.
  3. Marketing Mistakes: A common grey area is the world of marketing mistakes. This is an area which you may or may not want to avoid depending on how legitimate it seems and of course your own conscience. Since it is sometimes hard to tell if an item is heavily discounted on purpose or due to a mistake, if you think it could be valid, you may want to try to get the deal and see what happens. If it is a mistake and the company knows about it, then they will simply refuse the discount. Some online companies may even send you an email apology for their mistake with a gift card so you still may legitimately get something for free!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Nothing's More Frugal Than Free!

Let me tell you a little secret. For some people already in the “free club” this may be old news but for those of you new to frugal living I hope to amaze you with this little tidbit (hey I’m still amazed by it!) Get ready for the best deal of your life…a lot of stuff you never have to pay for, or that is, eventually after rebates :).

My hubby and I receive anywhere from ten to a few hundred dollars of free products every month from free sample toiletries and DVD rentals to expensive electronics – all FREE. There are a lot of resources out there to find free products – including some to avoid. This week, each day, I’ll outline my favorite tips and resources to help get you started!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Whole New World Of Grocery Savings

No matter what your background, shopping at so called "ethnic" grocers is a fabulous way to eat well on a budget while supporting local businesses. These stores are usually the best place to find low cost produce, spices, and other foods. I hardly ever shop at regular grocery store chains favoring my local Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and Middle Eastern markets for all of my staples.

In particular, you'll save serious money on items which are stereotyped as "exotic" in regular grocery stores (such as Basmati rice and Indian spices) but are staples for people from that area of the world. For example, I've seen small pouches of Basmati rice at Whole Paycheck for the cost of a 10 pound bag of it at my local Indian grocers! What's more I get a free Bollywood movie for every $20 I spend - gotta love it!

Try it. Not only will you save money on groceries but you're bound to open your world to new cuisines.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Learn To Love Craig

For those of you who snub your nose at CL and refuse to buy "used" furniture think about it. What are "priceless" antiques after all? If you are on a frugal budget but want to decorate your home in style you really should learn to love Craigslist. It can be a treasure trove of heavily discounted designer furnishings, artwork, and other high end items.

And for those who snub used furniture, take a closer look. Sometimes you can find unused items for a steal. For example, we purchased a gorgeous brand new (still wrapped in plastic!) sectional sofa for ~$1,500 off retail on CL. The seller just couldn't fit it in her new penthouse loft & it was too late for her to return it! Home stagers also use CL to sell their unused staging furniture but be wary of these ads as I've found most of the furnishings are cheap Chinese knockoffs sold for close to retail prices.

To find the best household furnishings, filter your CL search for urban and more wealthy areas. I also tend to search by brand name ("Crate Barrel" etc.) to find what I need. Also note that the "furniture" category defaults to "furniture-all" which includes lots of cheap furniture dealers which often sell junk & over post/spam. To avoid this just choose "furniture-owner" from the drop down.

Happy searching!

Don't Buy Cheap Stuff

Strange title for a blog on frugality but as I've said before, frugal is not cheap. I've found time and again that buying cheap junk ends up being a waste of money in the long run. This is especially true for "investment" buys like furniture which you plan to keep for years. I'm an avid home decorator and have learned to stay away from cheap veneer which scratches & peels easily. Instead, I invest in solid wood furnishings and purchase designer, quality pieces at bargain prices with the help of Craigslist, second hand stores, and good old clearance sales. Whether it's furnishings, clothes, a car, etc. buying quality items on a budget affords you the luxury of enjoying a fabulous lifestyle now while saving money in the long run.

Frugal Is Not Cheap

My hubby and I are often asked by friends how we afford to live so nicely with our modest means. We are a young couple, just starting our careers, and live in an area with one of the highest costs of living in the country. Yet, instead of an overload of debt, we have a pretty fabulous lifestyle - comfortable apartment, beautiful furnishings, the latest tech gadgets, new car, etc. Our friends, who know we are not making the big bucks yet, often ask how we do it.

The answer is simple. We live frugally but not cheaply. Sure, some people may think I’m cheap when I brown bag it to work everyday, but frugality and cheapness are distant cousins. Cheapness is never wanting to spend a dime on anything. Frugality is never wanting to spend a dime on anything you don’t need or really, really want. It’s about finding great deals and discounts and learning to plan and calculate your spending so that you save enough to live even more fabulously in the future.