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Black Friday Shopping Tips

Gather aroundthe table

A few weeks ago, I put up a post about Black Friday.  In it, I recommended that if you were going to do Black Friday shopping for any particular items, that you research the current sale prices of the items.  Not the list price, but what stores were actually selling them for.

Did you do it?  No?  Well, that’s okay.  You can still do some shopping and come away with some good deals.

1. Start now!

Black Friday has morphed into this giant thing.  It’s no longer just one day of sales.  Those sales spread into the weekend following, then they spread into the Thanksgiving itself, and now, the deals start the week of Thanksgiving.  Check out some of your favorite stores online and see what kind of specials they’re running.  I’ve noticed a lot of stores having “count down” deals.  Each day, there’s a new deal going.  Does that mean that you should be shopping at these stores every day?  Not necessarily, but you should check out the specials that are running.  Maybe something you’ve been looking for is on sale.

2. Shop online and shop smart

In this day and age, I think that shopping online is a given.  I know plenty of people who get very excited about Black Friday and they do all of their shopping online.   They spend the day after Thanksgiving sitting on the couch in their pjs eating leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner and hunting down the best deals on the web.  Will you get the best bargains this way?  It’s hard to say, but you get to avoid the crush of people, and for a lot of you, that’s a huge benefit.

But if you’re shopping online, make sure you’re making it worthwhile.  Check out shopping portals that give you cash back or rewards for clicking through their link (some that I use are Ebates, which gives cash back and Southwest Rewards, which gives miles on your Southwest account).  It might not be much, but pennies add up.

Shopping online also lets you do a quick cost compare.  Make sure that you really are getting a good deal before you buy.

3.  Be Prepared

If you’re planning to go to a store in person, check out the sale flyer before you go.  You can typically find these online using a quick Google search.  Look to see what’s on sale.  And don’t just look at the doorbusters on the front page.  Check out what’s buried inside the flyer too.

I also recommend bringing snacks and water with you.  Toss a few granola bars and a bottle of water or two into your bag.  I don’t know about you, but when I get hungry, I get very cranky.  So even if I have a lunch break planned in my shopping, I’m going to have a snack with me.  It helps keep me from getting irritated while I’m in line.  And staying hydrated will help you ward off a headache from dehydration.  Plus it’s just important to keep you healthy during the busy holiday season.

Also, bring your patience.  There are a lot of people shopping on Black Friday, and you just have to accept that it’s going to be busy, crowded, and that there will be some rude people out there.   Just breathe, smile, and wish those around you a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday or even just a simple Good Morning.

If you are thinking about shopping on Black Friday, you can find out everything you need to know at The Penny Hoarder.

Easy Ways to Save on Groceries Without Coupons

I hate coupons.

There.  I said it.  I.  Hate.  Coupons.

Okay, so that’s not quite right.  In general, coupons are a good thing.  They’re a way to save money.  I love saving money.  And if I look through my monthly expenses, one of the biggest and most flexible categories is my grocery bill.  House payment, car payment, cell phone bill, these sorts of things stay pretty standard.  But food is a category that can make or break my budget.

And seemingly, one of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is by using coupons.  We’ve all seen the extreme couponing shows where people buy carts full of supplies and spend less than five dollars.  There are also some great coupon sites online that tell you how to file away your coupon inserts and then which coupons you should use at which stores for the best bang for your buck.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I don’t know about you, but I frequent one grocery store.  Why?  Because it’s clean and convenient.  If I happen to go to a different store one week, that’s going to be where I do my shopping that week.  I don’t have time to go to multiple stores to make sure that I’m getting the best deals.  And I certainly am not going to be saving all of the newspaper inserts for weeks upon weeks.  I tried it once.  I don’t think I managed to save a dime.

(Side note – how many people even  get a newspaper anymore?  I do, but only because it’s the cheapest way for me to have unlimited online access to the newspaper’s website.  Quite frequently, the paper goes straight from the porch to the recycle bin.  Though the bag it comes in is great for kitty litter disposal.)

Every so often, I decide I’m going to clip coupons.  I pull out my handy coupon folder and I make a point to only clip the coupons of things that I use.  I don’t end up with very many coupons, and most end up being for cleaning supplies that I don’t need at the moment.

So clearly, couponing?  Not my thing.

Okay, so how do I save money on my groceries if I’m not going to do the coupon thing?

It’s actually pretty easy, but it does require a bit of planning.

Make a List

This seems like it should be obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t make a grocery list.  I keep a notepad stuck to my fridge and as I start running low on something, I write it down.  That way, I know what I need and I also know what I don’t need.  Before I go shopping, I pull down the list and do a quick mental check of what I’m going to eat this week.  Since I’m just cooking for me, I don’t do hardcore meal planning, but I do think “Okay, I need X number of meals this week, what do I want to cook?”  If you’re cooking for two or for a family, a bigger meal plan might work better for you.

Do you tend to forget your list on the way to the store?  Put it on your phone.  You don’t need a fancy app.  Put it in a notepad app.  

Check the Sales

Yes, I know this is part of couponing, but you’re not checking the sales to match your coupons.  You’re just looking to see what’s on sale.  Check the store’s weekly flyer.  If you don’t get a newspaper, check it online.  Is something you use regularly on sale?  Double check if you need it (if you already have five boxes of pasta, it’s probably not worth it to buy more, even on sale).  Is something you really like on sale?  Add it to your list.

Watch the Unit Price

Pricing is tricky.  Frequently, you go to the store and you can buy the same item in varying sizes.  Say you need dishwasher cleaning tabs.  They come in a pack of 20 or a pack of 50.  Buying in bulk is always cheaper, so you should go for the bigger pack, right?  Maybe not.  Check to see how much you’re paying per tab.  Frequently, the price tag on the shelf will give you the unit price.  If not, pull out your phone and use your calculator.  It just might be that the smaller size is a better deal, especially if the smaller size happens to be on sale and the larger size isn’t.  

Be Careful About Stocking Up

About the only thing that I ever stock up on is toilet paper.  Why?  It doesn’t expire, and it’s not like I’m going to stop needing it any time soon.

When something is on sale, it’s always tempting to stock up, to buy well more than you need and store it away.  This isn’t a terrible plan, but I think you should stock up in moderation for a few reasons.

For example, I kept stocking up on a particular brand of pasta I liked.  It was on sale frequently, and I found myself with ten boxes on a shelf.  The problem?  I recently decided to go on a low glycemic diet to try to improve my health, and pasta as a main dish is no longer part of my routine.  I still eat pasta from time to time, but now I really don’t need ten boxes.  Thankfully, my neighborhood had a big food drive this past weekend, so someone will be able to use that pasta.

Other times, I’ve stocked up and then forgotten I had something, and it ended up expiring before I used it.  That’s just throwing money away.

About once a month, I make myself go through my pantry and my cupboards and take mental note of what I have.  I make sure nothing’s been shoved back in a corner and is at risk of being forgotten.  I also pull everything out of the freezer and replace it in a much more orderly fashion.  If you have a chest freezer, this is very crucial, as it’s so easy to lose things in the back of a chest freezer.

Consider an Online Service

Do you live in an area with grocery delivery or online grocery ordering for pickup?  Check it out.  I use a service provided by one of my grocery stores and for a small fee, my groceries come right to my door.  Yes, it does cost more, but I have found that I actually save money.  How?  It prevents me from impulse buying for one.  I can also do easy cost comparisons, since all of the information is right there online.  My store also offers a service where I can order online and then go pick up the groceries for no extra fee.  I probably should give that a shot, but I’ve gotten pretty spoiled by my deliveries!

So there you have it.  Five super easy ways to save money without ever laying a finger on a coupon.  They seem simple, but I know that I occasionally fall out of the habit and just show up at the store thinking “Okay, what should I eat this week?”  It never turns out well for my wallet or my nutrition.


Black Friday – Shop Smart

Black Friday is still a few weeks away and already, people are talking about all of the great sales that are coming.  For a lot of companies, this is a huge weekend and they want to get your business.  But how can you be sure you’re getting the best deals?

First off, if you see that a store is having “doorbuster” deals, meaning that they’re selling some item for super cheap, be aware that this is not an indication of the other deals in the store.  No, this sale is designed to get people in the doors. A store might have 50 tvs to sell at a super low price, and the rest of their deals are nowhere near as good.

Don’t let yourself be swayed by something that seems like a great deal.  “25% off retail price!”  That sounds awesome.  But what is the store normally selling the item for?  Maybe they’re usually selling it for 15% off.  That added 10% is still a deal, but not as great of one.  If it’s something you wouldn’t have bought otherwise, it’s probably not worth your hard earned cash.

My best tip for you is to start your research now.  Are there things that you’ve been looking at but not bought because of the price?  For example, I’m looking to replace my vacuum.  I have an idea of what I want to buy (it’s between a few models), but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet.  I’m going to do a bit of quick research and jot down the current prices.  Then, when the Black Friday sales start, I’m going to see if any online retailers are selling one of those models for significantly less.

Does this mean you shouldn’t grab a bargain if you see it?  Not necessarily, just be mindful that it might not be the great bargain you want it to be.   If you see something that you want for a price you agree with (and one that’s in your budget), go for it.  I usually end up buying a few small things here and there.

I have done the in-person Black Friday sales and I hate it.  I don’t like the crowds and I’m not that in love with a bargain.  For others, it’s a huge adventure and they love it.  If you are in the latter group, by all means, go out and see what’s out there!  Personally, I will be shopping online, though I sometimes stop by places like Target later in the day to see what sort of deals they do have going. No doorbusters for me!

2016 Tax Benefits Increases

Did you know that your tax benefits change with inflation?  I didn’t, but I admit, I hadn’t put much thought into it.

The IRS recently released the full list of changes for 2016, and you can read the full list at Revenue Procedure 2015-53.  Here are some highlights that I found interesting and useful.  Please note, these are for 2016 tax returns (so the filing you will do in 2017).

If you file as head of household, your standard deduction has increased by $50 to $9300.  Not a huge increase, but it might be enough to make it worthwhile to take the standard deduction instead of itemizing.  For the rest of us, no changes.

The personal exemption also rises $50 to $4050.  This is subject to a phase out beginning with incomes of $259,400 (or $311,300 for married couples filing jointly).

The Alternative Minimum Tax exemption amount rises $300 to $53,900, and begins to phase out at $119,700 ($83,800 and $159,700 respectively for married couples).

The maximum Earned Income Credit rises $27 to $6269.  This applies to couples filing jointly who have three or more qualifying children.

The monthly limitation for the transportation fringe benefit stays the same at $130, but parking rises to $255.  It’s only a $5 increase, but it’s better than nothing.

The adjusted gross income amount for joint files to determine the reduction in the Lifetime Learning Credit rises $1000 to $111,000.

If you work (or invest) overseas, the foreign earned income exclusion rises $500 to $101,300.

And if you make a bit more money, the limitation for itemized deductions will begin with incomes of $259,400 or more ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly).

So what’s the best way to keep abreast of all of these changes?  One easy way is obviously to follow personal finance blogs.  But the best advice is always to read through all of your tax forms when you sit down to fill them out.  Make sure you know the rules and are getting the maximum credits on your tax returns.

As much as I love personal finance, I do not love paperwork, so I use a program to fill out my tax returns every year.  My program of choice is TurboTax, but there is a lot of great software out there as well as a number of great free options.  Do your research and make the best choice for you.

And don’t wait til the last minute.  It’s never a good idea.


Rookie Financial Mistake

I got a weird phone call the other day.  I thought it was a spam call, but decided to listen anyway.

It was a call from my electric company saying that my account was past due and it gave me the option to pay by phone.

Clearly, I did not choose the pay-by-phone option, as that is how a lot of scams happen.  But just to be safe, I went online and checked my account.  Which hadn’t been paid since JULY.

This is entirely my fault.  I can’t blame anyone else.  I didn’t have the account on auto-pay, instead relying on the email notifications that my bill was ready to view.  And well, I hadn’t received one of those notifications since July.  So I hadn’t gone in to pay the bill.

This might justify being late on one payment.  But in reviewing my budget, I should have noticed that I didn’t pay the electric bill in August.  Or September.  And yet, I didn’t.  Why?  Because I focused too much on the more flexible areas of my account, the areas where I have more control.  In general, I just try to be frugal with my utilities.

But I should have noticed.

I’m really kicking myself for this one.  Thankfully, the fees weren’t bad – only about $30.  Which is really a bargain, if you think about it.  I could have been hit for some massive charges.  But that’s $30 I didn’t need to spend.

It’s a lesson learned the hard way, and I’m definitely going to pay much closer attention to the numbers in all of the categories, not just the ones I have immediate control over.  No more missing bills.  This is not what someone with good financial smarts does.