If it seems like you just can’t seem to get anything accomplished later this week, it might not be your imagination.
Once Mercury enters retrograde on April 9, just blame it all on weird planetary alignment.
Many people believe Mercury’s little backwards phase can really play with our heads, leading to poor decisions, throwing a wrench into communication and messing with our judgement. When it comes to money, this can spell disaster.
Here’s a guide to surviving the next few weeks of planetary weirdness with your finances intact.
Retrograde means “moving backward”. When Mercury is said to be in retrograde, it means the planet appears to be moving backward when viewed from Earth.
In reality, it’s not actually changing its orbit -- the way our planet is going in relation to Mercury’s movement just produces a strange optical illusion.
This lasts for a few weeks, and then the orbits snap out of it and everything goes back to normal.
In astrology, certain planets are believed to be associated with various life events.
It’s not that the planets are controlling the events, it’s just that certain types of events tend to occur during the time frames assigned to particular planets.
The idea is everything associated with Mercury gets a little wacky when the planet is in retrograde.
And that’s problematic for our finances because Mercury rules things like communication, decision-making, judgement and (randomly) transportation -- all of which are closely related to managing and spending money.
When Mercury is in retrograde, keep a close eye on these aspects of your life.
Also, remember contracts are a form of communication.
Many people recommend avoiding any financial agreements when Mercury is in retrograde.
Obviously, this is not always possible. So at least quadruple-check those leases, contracts and other documents if you must sign during this unstable cosmic window.
If we’re not operating at full potential due to the swiftly tilting planets, that’s a problem for our bottom line. Therefore, you might want to hold off on any big financial decisions.
If at all possible, experts say you should take a few weeks to ponder big decisions and only act once things calm down in the solar system. No matter what the planets are doing, taking some time to think about big decisions is a good idea!
A lot! First off, travel is awesome, but disruptions in travel can be costly.
One blogger recalls taking a cab to the wrong airport during Mercury’s retrograde. That’s an expensive cab ride, plus the potential cost and headache of getting on a new flight.
Alternatively, your mode of transportation, like your car or bike, could be affected.
And don’t even get me started on the danger of trying to purchase a new car during this time. You’re combining a big decision, with signing a contract, all related to transportation.
Astrologers recommend using Mercury’s retrograde to take a step back and evaluate.
What’s working for you financially? Maybe you’re doing a good job keeping your grocery bill in check or bringing in some extra money with a side hustle. Congratulate yourself on the things you’re doing right.
What could you do better when it comes to money? Maybe it’s something small like saving money on your daily cup of coffee or planning an affordable vacation. Or it could be a big goal, like reaching an ambitious savings target or buying a home.
Use this time of flux to take stock of your current financial situation and set some goals
Whether you believe in the effects of Mercury’s retrograde or think astrology is nuts (although in that case, how in the world have you made it this far into this post?), these principles still hold true.
Decisions around money carry weight, and approaching them with caution is a good idea no matter what’s happening in the cosmos.
Your Turn: Do you believe in Mercury’s retrograde? Are you an astrology skeptic?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She’ll be spending Mercury’s retrograde in bed watching Netflix and not making any decisions, big or small.
Do you feel like you spend time and effort saving money... only to find your bank balance stagnating?
You might be faux frugal.
This serious condition affects even the most well-meaning Penny Hoarders.
Here are the most common symptoms -- and the necessary treatments to get you back on track to meet your savings goals and get smart with your money.
At first glance, a pair of shoes marked down from $50 to $24 seems like a great deal. You’ll save more than 50%!
But ask yourself, do you like those shoes enough to pay $50 for them? Or were you more excited about the deal?
Sometimes the thrill of the hunt influences how much we actually like (and will use) an item.
Some reports also call into question the trustworthiness of these markdowns. There’s a good chance those shoes were never sold for $50 and the so-called markdown is just to trick customers into thinking they’ve found a deal.
The treatment: No, you don’t have to completely swear off the clearance rack. But try to remove the deal mentality from your decision-making process.
Ask yourself: Is the item worth the amount you’re paying, independent of the original price? Will you use it enough to justify the price?
There’s no denying that cooking at home can save you serious money.
But the quickest way to sabotage your food budget is to choose recipes that call for obscure or expensive ingredients.
Paella is delicious, but your Wednesday night dinner isn’t saving you pennies if you’re paying $12 for a few pinches of saffron (which I’ve done, unfortunately).
You’ll also want to stay away from ingredients you won’t be able to use in other dishes. While $4 for a bottle of chili-garlic sauce doesn’t seem like a lot, if you’re only using two tablespoons on one dish, that’s not exactly cost-effective.
The treatment: Stick with recipes that use inexpensive ingredients and items you know you’ll use again. Save the splurges and specialty items for special occasions.
Just like finding deals on merchandise can tank your budget, it’s easy to waste money on deal coupons simply because you love the idea of a bargain.
But if you’re anything like me, sometimes the hard part is actually using the vouchers. I have a voucher for Bikram yoga I’ve been trying to convince myself to use for about eight months.
The treatment: Don’t swear off Groupon altogether. Sometimes you’ll find legit deals on there! But don’t go all “Supermarket Sweep” on it, either.
Before you hit “buy,” ask yourself one question: Am I excited enough about this deal to use it in the next four weeks?
If the answer is yes, chances are it’s a deal worth grabbing.
I’m ashamed to admit I signed up for a credit card in college just to get a free beanie. That seems like the lamest reward possible, but at the time I was excited about it.
However, these rewards often come with annual fees, high interest rates and other fine print.
You also want to keep on eye on how your number of credit cards is affecting your credit. And be careful about opening new cards if you’re planning to apply for a loan in the near future.
The treatment: Proceed with caution when it comes to rewards cards. Read the fine print to be sure you’ll be getting your money’s worth.
Does the reward outweigh the annual fee? Will you remember to use that card enough to benefit from the cash-back percentage?
Pinterest has brainwashed us all into believing we can handcraft any home decor item our hearts desire (and for a fraction of the cost!). And sometimes we can.
But too often I find myself spending a small fortune at Michaels.
Sure, it’s $10 less than it would cost to buy a similar item, but I’m a terrible crafter; I end up with a wonky finished product. That, or I never actually make the craft, and I end up donating the supplies years later.
The treatment: Be honest with yourself about your crafting abilities and the likelihood of actually completing the project.
Before you check out at the craft store, add up the cost of your items and decide if it’s still a good deal.
And don’t forget to factor in enjoyment. If you’re actually going to have a good time making the project, that matters. If you’re going to stress out, think about that, too.
We’ve all been there: As you’re checking out, the cashier asks, “Do you want to open a store card to save 15%?”
Sometimes I find this question hilarious. Like, when I’m spending $26 total, so my savings would be around $2.50.
But on slightly larger purchases, it can be tempting to open a card and save some money right then and there.
The trouble is, it’s easy to wind up carrying a balance on store cards, and interest rates tend to be quite high. While you may save a few dollars when you open the card, you’re more likely to pay back the rewards in interest over the long run.
The treatment: Avoid store cards unless the initial savings are significant (think, big-ticket purchases like furniture or appliances) and you can pay off the balance before you’re charged interest.
Your Turn: What pitfalls have you encountered in trying to be frugal?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C., trying to save her pennies and avoid making bad money choices for good reasons.
A couple of times a year, I open my mailbox to find a postcard-sized coupon from Kohl’s.
“$10 on us!” it announces. Challenge accepted, I say. My goal with these coupons, which are also known as Kohl’s Cash, is to get in and get out without spending a dime of my own money.
Since there’s no minimum purchase when you use the coupon, as long as your total is less than 10 bucks, you don’t need to take out your wallet to (legally) leave the store with merchandise.
Like all coupon distributors, Kohl’s sends these deals your way to get you into the store, where you’ll inevitably spend more than the Kohl’s $10 coupon on items you wouldn’t normally buy. And I’m not mad about it. It’s a legitimate marketing strategy that’s worked on me plenty of times.
However, these days when I get snail mail from Kohl’s, I know exactly which sections of the store to hit for items that’ll keep me under the $10 limit. Here’s my game plan for snagging a little something I actually want, using nothing but a coupon.
I know, it sounds crazy. But the clearance racks at Kohl’s tend to be pretty picked over.
And I’m not convinced there was much there to begin with. The items that find their way to clearance tend to be the more out-there fashion choices and the poorest quality options. I’m not willing to invest the time it would take to weed through all of the misses for a single bargain.
At back-to-school time, the little humans need gear to help them learn, and you can find much of that at Kohl’s.
For the under-$10 game, my money is on smaller supplies, like pencil boxes, lunchboxes and tablet cases. If your kids wear uniforms to school, you can get a handful of suitable polo shirts for under $10.
But in all honesty, if you take your kid to the store with you, you’re coming out with something related to a favorite animated character. For better or worse, Kohl’s carries merchandise depicting everything from the Minions to Minecraft -- and much of it comes in under the $10 mark.
Kohl’s has a pretty decent selection of activewear from some recognizable brands -- who knew they carried Nike?
When all else fails, you probably need a pair of track shorts or a workout tank top. I’m pretty sure my last two Kohl’s coupons resulted in new sports bra purchases (TMI?).
You’ll find lots of under-$10 choices in the jewelry section, either for yourself or to give as a gift. The majority of Lauren Conrad’s trendy line is coupon-friendly, and you’ll find tons of dainty earrings and statement necklaces.
Meanwhile, Vera Wang keeps it classy with more grown-up options. If all else fails, basic silver posts will never go out of style.
Sometimes it pays to have a few all-purpose items on hand for last-minute gifts. Kohl’s has a respectable selection of scented candles, bath stuff and pretty scarves. You’ll find coupon-able options in all of these areas.
Or consider getting a gender-neutral baby gift to keep at the ready. A good portion of the baby section is under $10, including baby-related trinkets to stick on top of a wrapped gift as you head out for the next baby shower.
A $10 coupon might be just the nudge you need to try something new. I’m only half kidding when I suggest testing out faux eyelashes.
On a recent trip to Kohl’s, I spotted smallish, under-$10 Bliss brand products (which are also carried by Nordstrom). They have Essie nail polish, too. For 10 bucks, you could also pick up a couple of those cute EOS chapstick balls.
Last year, I got a pretty sweet rag rug with my coupon. Those things are ridiculously cheap, washable and having a trendy moment.
Other options include bathroom accessories (soap dispensers, toothbrush holders, etc.), picture frames and smaller décor items for around the house.
One of these coupons will also cover all manner of small kitchen gadgets. Before you head to the store, scan your kitchen drawers for anything you might need to replace -- whisks, spatulas, wooden spoons.
Or maybe you’ve been pining for something super specialized and hard to justify, like a cherry pitter or an avocado slicer. Now’s your chance to live your dreams!
Your Turn: Will you take the Kohl’s Coupon Challenge next time you find that little postcard in your mailbox? What are your top department store picks for under $10?
Note: This post was not sponsored by Kohl’s, which is probably be obvious since we’re discussing how to maximize free stuff and avoid spending money in the store.
Lyndsee Simpson is an editor and writer living Washington, D.C. She’s wearing a pair of (free) Kohl’s earrings right now.
I recently caught up with one dad who’s taking an unusual approach to teaching his kids about money management. And as a new parent myself, I found his ideas fascinating!
About five years ago, Bob Helbig began negotiating contracts with his two daughters, now ages 15 and 13. And we’re not talking flimsy verbal agreements here.
“All requirements must be met to receive an allowance of $5 weekly, to be paid no later than the last Sunday evening of each month,” read the contracts. “Failure to do all of these things may result in withholding of said allowance.”
From there, the contracts lay out the specifics of what each child is responsible for around the house, how their allowances work, and who gets stuck with the most dreaded household chores. They also incentivize good money-saving habits through a creative, 401(k)-like matching system.
Of course, I had to talk to him about it. Here’s our interview, lightly edited for clarity.
On one level, I was inspired by those piggy banks that are divided among spending, saving and giving to charity. But the idea of the contracts stemmed from my background as a union contract negotiator and my interest in personal finance.
I guess I’m playing the management role here. In most everything in life, I see value in having conversations, planning and creating clear expectations.
The kids and I have an understanding that the money they earn from their allowances is their spending money, which they have earned. They know they aren’t going to get any extra cash from us beyond that.
They are welcome to earn money babysitting for neighborhood families or doing other work outside the house if they choose.
We generally renegotiate every year or 18 months. Over the years, the girls have gotten raises and sometimes the chores change. Also, the penalties have changed based on their ages and our expectations.
For example, one of my daughters had a habit of leaving her lunchbox at school, so we wrote that into the contract that year.
They are not afraid of speaking up for themselves. That in itself has huge value. They know that if they want more money, they better come armed with reasons why they deserve it.
There’s definitely value in having upfront conversations about what they are willing to do and what they feel their time and effort is worth. Some jobs are harder to persuade them to do than others. Neither girl likes the job of sorting and pairing the socks.
I have also been sensitive to the fact that not only do costs rise, but kids’ expenses rise as they get older. So they have gotten not only “cost of living” adjustments but also allowance increases based on their responsibilities.
Yes, we match the amount of money they save each month. There’s definitely been some back and forth around when or how much they can withdraw from their savings, but ultimately we’ve left that up to them.
The kids will sometimes talk about wanting to withdraw money to go shopping, for example. I urge them to plan long term about saving and to think of that money as not for everyday expenses or splurges.
My hope is that someday they will look back and realize: Wow, that discipline of saving really paid off.
Enforcement is up to me. It’s one of the perks of being the parent. I’m a stickler about some things, like forgetting to take out the garbage. That’s an automatic deduction.
Some things I might let slide, like forgetting to make the bed for a day. But if I see patterns of inattentiveness, I’ll make an issue of it. The same as any employer would do.
Our girls will sometimes tell us that some of their friends get more spending money from their parents. We just reply that’s not how we do things in our house.
The upside is when they see their monthly balance in their savings account. They know they probably have more money saved in their own name than their friends do.
My older daughter has saved more than $2,000 between her own money and the funds we’ve matched according to the contract.
Each week, the girls are required to set aside 50 cents of their allowances for charity. Every six months, they choose a charity to receive the $13 donation they’ve saved up. I kick in $37 for an even $50 donation.
It’s important for kids to understand that there are many people in need and many worthy causes. I want our daughters to know that there’s a world out there much bigger than themselves.
When it’s time to choose which charity to donate to, I encourage my kids to find a cause they care about and do some research on the foundations working to make a difference.
Once our kids are adults, how they handle money will be out of our control.
For now, they are finding motivation to earn money and some discipline when it comes to handling money. They see the value of a dollar, the importance of saving money and the need to spend within your means.
We hope it sticks.
Ready to draw up a contract with your kids? Here's a copy of Bob’s most recent contract with one of his daughters.
Your Turn: What would you add to this contract?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She should probably negotiate a contract with her cat to spell out expectations around chores and hairballs.
If you’ve ever talked with a career counselor or Googled “how to find a job,” you’ve probably been told to get out and do some informational interviews.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ve promptly cringed at the suggestion.
So what is an informational interview? Basically, it’s a short meeting with a person already well established in their field.
By getting together with the person, you have a chance to pick their brain about breaking into the industry, planning the next step in your career and understanding the future of the field.
“The individual in the field can give you the ‘inside scoop’ about what the field is really like and provide helpful insider tips you might not otherwise get,” says Katharine Brooks, executive director of the office of personal and career development at Wake Forest University and author of “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career.”
Like most forms of networking, informational interviews can be intimidating. Maybe you don’t know what to ask about. Or you dread asking for someone else’s time or coming across as fake or self-interested.
Whatever your hesitation, informational interviews are effective. Some research finds one in 12 informational interviews result in a job offer.
If that’s the case, sign me up.
So how do you decide who to ask? What are the secrets to setting up an interview? And what do you ask once you’re in the room? That’s what we’re about to find out.
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So you want to do an informational interview. Now what?
You’ve got to find someone to interview. And if that someone isn’t a good fit, you’re wasting their time and yours.
Be sure the person you ask is in a position to answer questions you actually have about the field. Don’t just set up interviews for the sake of having them. This is a sure path to making a poor impression without actually obtaining any useful information.
You’ll have the most luck approaching people you have connections with, even if it’s a few steps removed. Think: your aunt’s neighbor who works in your field or your professor’s college roommate.
People are generally happy to make introductions. You might also consider putting the word out on Facebook, or asking family member with a large network to see if anyone knows someone with a connection to your field.
When seeking people out, you might also have more success asking middle-level folks, rather than going straight to the top.
For example, you’re more likely to get some time with the marketing manager than the CEO. And the marketing manager probably has more recent experience with the type of job you’re trying to learn more about.
LinkedIn can also be helpful in showing who’s connected to you and how. Each company’s page shows your connections to employees in the company. If you uncover a connection, consider sending a note to the person in your network, asking if they’d feel comfortable introducing you.
Many people are more than willing to meet with someone new to the field. However, the people you want to interview are also likely among the busiest.
So you’ve got to make your request concise and explain why you want to speak with that person specifically.
Are you interested in their area of expertise? Did you read (and enjoy) something they published? Does their career trajectory intrigue you?
Tailor your introductory email to each recipient. If you’re copying and pasting the same note to multiple people, you’re doing it wrong. Start with a solid sample email and adjust it from there.
You should offer to accommodate the senior person’s schedule. Generally, a short coffee meeting is a good offer (and you should plan to pay). Or they might ask you to drop by their office.
You may get a response along the lines of, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time in my schedule to meet in person. However, I’m happy to answer a few questions over email.”
What now? For starters, don’t ghost them.
Send over a few thoughtful questions that will help you get the information you’re after. If you never reply, it will be clear you weren’t actually interested in learning from them and it could damage the connection.
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So what should you ask about? You better figure it out, because the onus is on you to steer the conversation.
Don’t show up and expect the more senior person to carry the meeting.
“Having been interviewed a time or two myself, I can tell you the most frustrating aspect of these meetings is an unprepared interviewer,” says The Muse’s Jennifer Winter.
Here are a few questions you might include:
You can find lists of sample questions across the internet, but be sure you’re showing up with questions you actually want answered. Edit your questions based on your own knowledge gaps and things you’re concerned about, as well as skills you might want to develop.
Okay, it’s meeting time. Treat it like a formal interview -- dress appropriately, arrive slightly early and conduct yourself professionally. However, don’t approach this meeting intending to land a job offer.
Yes, informational interviews can lead to later job offers. However, that’s for the more senior person to instigate (and it usually happens down the road).
“If you do get an informational interview, do not under any circumstances use it to pitch that person on hiring you,” says management consultant Alison Green. “Misrepresenting your reasons for meeting with someone is not a good way to get a job,”
Your meeting is not going to be productive for either of you if the person senses you’re there to ask for a job, rather than seek information.
Ask your questions genuinely. Listen, take notes and ask follow-up questions. Remember to direct the conversation, but adjust your approach based on the other person.
If they seem especially adamant about the importance of one aspect of the field, ask more about it. If they shrug off your more abstract questions or seem baffled at how to answer, stick with more concrete, day-to-day queries.
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As your time grows short, wrap things up on time.
“Don’t overstay your welcome,” says New York Times career columnist Marci Alboher. “It’s always better to signal the meeting is ending and let the other person say he or she is open to continuing the discussion.”
You want to show that you value the person’s time. Keep it short, and thank them for speaking with you.
Send a thank-you email after the interview. Be specific about information you covered and re-emphasize your appreciation for their advice.
Again, don’t ask for a job. If the person has an opportunity in the future, they know you’re interested.
Now, you might think that’s the end. But keep your eyes open for opportunities to connect with the person in the future.
Watch for articles related to their areas of interest, which you can occasionally email them. Include a short note about why the article might be of interest. When you attend industry events, skim the guest list in advance to see who you might know and want to connect with.
If all of this sounds like networking, that’s because it is. But, for me, networking isn’t so bad when you reframe it as making and nurturing professional friendships.
Your Turn: Have you ever set up an informational interview?
Lyndsee Simpson is an editor and writer living in Washington, D.C.
Just like any major life event, having a child is presented as a time (or an excuse) to spend money.
You need the latest this, the greatest that -- and everything in between.
One potential area to save is on baby food. While those little jars are adorable and the pouches are super convenient, you pay a premium for the cuteness and ease of use.
Homemade baby food can be much more economical -- and it’s not even that hard to make. And as an added bonus, you know exactly what your child is eating.
House Mix blogger Kate did the math. She calculated one serving of high-quality, store-bought baby food adds up to 60 cents per serving.
“Canned baby food is the same price per ounce no matter the flavor, whereas the price of produce varies greatly,” Kate says.
She found banana was the most economical homemade baby food, coming in at 12 cents per serving. Most homemade options range from about 14 cents per serving for carrots to 39 cents for apples.
Only one variety of homemade food, for which Kate chooses organic ingredients, comes in slightly more expensive than the pre-made varieties. Surprisingly, green beans work out to be 62 cents per serving when made at home.
But when Kate ads up her baby food expenses at the end of the month, it’s still far cheaper to make food at home for her daughter, Clara.
“I found that it costs about $8.30 to feed her [each] week if I make her food from organic produce,” Kate says. “It would cost $16.66 if I bought organic food jars. That is a savings of 50 percent.”
With savings like that, it seems worth a try.
Here are tips and tricks from thrifty parents around the web who skip the pouches and make their own baby food.
As with any changes to your baby’s diet, check with your pediatrician before you get started. The FDA also has some guidance for homemade baby food, so check that out too!
There are plenty of appliances made specifically to whip up a batch of baby food.
But most parents say you won’t need any of them.
Smitten Kitchen blogger Deb Perelman purees her child’s food in the food processor she already had pre-baby. While some nifty tools will do both the cooking and pureeing, Perelman just cooks in her usual pots and pans -- then pops the food in the food processor.
No food processor? A blender would work.
Super into your slow cooker lately? Use it to make some easy baby-friendly dishes.
Other parents are all about the immersion blender.
Yes, your baby eats every day.
But it doesn’t mean you have to prep food seven days a week.
Many busy parents set aside an hour or two each week to make baby food. Once you get in the rhythm, things come together pretty fast.
Once you’ve made all of your purees, freeze them in ice cube trays. That way they’ll keep for a few weeks (or longer).
Perelman suggests also covering the tray with a sheet of plastic wrap as it freezes. Once the food is solid, pop out the cubes and place them in freezer bags.
Pro tip: Label the bags so you’ll know if it’s spinach puree or broccoli goo.
Before you go to bed, pop a few of the frozen cubes into a bowl in the fridge to thaw.
Perelman also notes leaving the cube to thaw on the counter for an hour or two will also do the trick.
It doesn’t have to be all bland applesauce.
Teja, the mom behind Either/Or/And, started out with baby food and is now packing lunches for her kindergartener.
She added spices and flavor combinations that would be at home on the menu of a five-star restaurant. Think persimmon pear puree with cardamom or bok choy chicken.
By introducing spices and flavors early on, many parents hope to transition their kids to eating what the rest of the family is having -- rather than getting stuck in the cycle of chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.
While much of baby food production revolves around steaming and pureeing, you can also make non-goo foods for your baby.
This three-ingredient rice cereal recipe comes together quickly. You can store it dry for a daily batch, or keep it in the fridge for a day or two after it’s mixed.
And once those teeth start coming in, whip up a batch of whole-wheat teething biscuits, too.
If your kid isn’t feeling the carrot puree today, don’t chuck the whole bag of frozen cubes.
Many nutritionists suggest giving it another try (or even a couple more) to see if your child comes around.
This food is brand-new stuff for the baby, points out Kitchn blogger Cheryl, so it might just be a matter of time.
And if all else fails, you wouldn’t be the first adult to resort to baby food for sustenance.
Your Turn: Have you tried making your own baby food? What are your favorite combinations or best tips?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She’s currently expecting her first child and is probably overly optimistic about her future ability to concoct homemade baby food on a regular basis.
Finally, we’ve got a mole in Walmart -- someone to let us in on the scoop and show us the ins and outs of sales and coupons.
I can’t confirm the mastermind behind I Heart the Mart is an undercover Walmart employee selling secrets to the internet, but I see no other explanation for the downright insane tips and tricks the site has to offer.
In reality, I Heart the Mart is a blog run by a handful of deal hunters who share their Walmart steals with a bunch of strangers online.
Recent deals I’ve seen include $5.97 packs of diapers (those things really add up!), a Leaning Tower of Pisa Lego set ($29.99 is a lot cheaper than a ticket to Italy) and a strawberry-shaped cat bed (we’ve already established I’m a thrifty cat lady).
Here’s this resource can help you save even more money at the place you’re probably already shopping.
While many of the deals at Walmart go out in their flyers and on the website, plenty of others are just waiting on the shelves to be discovered.
Rather than trolling the aisles looking for goodies, head to I Heart the Mart to get the scoop on these diamonds in the rough.
Whether it’s groceries, personal care products or baby items, there are deals to be had if you know where to look -- and now you know.
While I Heart the Mart will thrill any die-hard couponer, it’s also a good resource for those new the money-saving game.
The Price-Matching 101 post walks you through the basics of price matching, with personal examples and tried-and-true tips.
I’ve always been reticent to try price matching. What if I do it wrong? What documentation do you need?
But this primer lays out the basics of how it works and even what to say and bring with you.
Wondering what to do with your loot? The site’s got you covered there too.
Meanwhile, if you’ve ventured into the craft section on your money-saving shopping trip, this blog has ideas for that, too.
Is it the night before Easter and you forgot to buy baskets? Make one out of candy! I’d do this even if I had an Easter basket.
Did you get a deal on 1,000 pipe cleaners for $1? Good news: The blog’s got 25 crafty ideas for you.
Most nights you’ll find a roundup post featuring the best deals of the day.
If you aren’t up for a deep dive into Walmart lore, just check this post for the highlights.
This is also a good place to check if you’re heading out the door and finalizing your shopping list. Many of the sale items are pantry staples or personal care items, which don’t spoil quickly.
Add a couple of deals to the end of your list and save some serious dough.
I have to admit: I’m not usually up on my couponing game.
I don’t have the patience to check the paper or online sources (though there are plenty of great ones).
Luckily, I Heart the Mart does the legwork and rounds up the best coupons for you, along with tips about any restrictions and ways to optimize your coupon use.
Most of the deals expire within a week, so check the site within a few days of your trip to the store.
The writers at I Heart the Mart have mastered the art of stacking discounts to get crazy deals.
For example, they’ll link to coupons to stack on top of current price roll-backs (temporary discounts).
Basically, you’re using coupons on sale items. And it’s just crazy enough to work. It’s also how you end up with 50-cent cans of Chef Boyardee and $2 tubes of toothpaste.
What is it about the magic of getting something for less than $1?
Whether it’s a trip to the dollar store or a steal at the megamart, shoppers love it.
Head to the Under $1 @ Walmart section for deals less than a buck. Some of the items even end up being free with a printable coupon.
Recent thrifty winners included hot dogs, baked beans and two liters of 7-Up. Is it just me, or is there a BBQ theme happening here?
Your Turn: Have you checked out I Heart the Mart?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She’s stocking up on strawberry-shaped cat beds and pipe cleaners.
Buying a used car is like navigating a maze. And the car you’re after -- at a great price -- is in the center.
Lurking around every corner are rip-offs masquerading as good deals. And it can be hard to make an informed decision with so many variables.
Kelley Blue Book is a trusted resource. But as prices change over time and vary by location, it’s not a foolproof way of finding a car’s value.
The last time my partner and I were in the market for a new car, we put together a spreadsheet to track prices and identify outliers. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but it was a game-changer for us.
Use this Google Docs template to plot your two top variables against each other. For us, those are price and mileage.
Generally, the cars we look at are of similar age and condition, so price and mileage are where you start to see differences.
The spreadsheet makes a fancy graph for you, helping you to quickly pick out both good deals and bad deals as you’re shopping for cars.
As you add entries to the spreadsheet, you’ll start to see a baseline for the average price. The real deals (both good and bad) will be the outliers on the graph, representing options that outpace the others in one or more areas (like price or mileage).
The decent deals will fall somewhere in the middle of the graph, showing they are in line with similar options for sale.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, my husband had his heart set on a Mazda Miata. But not just any Miata -- it had to come from a very specific window of time in the 1990s when the cars had pop-up headlights.
So he began scouring the entire mid-Atlantic region for tiny sports cars with retractable headlights. As he came across listings that fit the (very specific) bill, he added them to the spreadsheet.
We quickly realized the more cars we put into the spreadsheet, the more useful it became.
My husband put in all of the Miatas in the year range that were in acceptable condition. If the car was in good enough shape to purchase, it went in the spreadsheet. If the quality wasn’t where we wanted it, we didn’t include the car.
That way, we were holding that variable more or less stable by comparing cars that were in about the same shape.
At this point, we weren’t even looking at mileage or price (which seems counter-intuitive but stick with me here!). Once we had a decent number of cars in the spreadsheet, we were able to figure out a ballpark median price.
We didn’t want to go over $10,000 and were happy to find many options in our price range.
Looking over the spreadsheet, we quickly spotted a handful of cars we wanted to check out -- the outliers on our graph. My husband went out to test drive a few, and we kept filling in the spreadsheet and refining the median price.
We also used the spreadsheet to make notes about each car and save the link to the listing.
One day a black 1992 convertible showed up in Pennsylvania with just 36,000 miles. Our spreadsheet showed it as a crazy outlier for mileage (it’s a 24-year-old car!). Meanwhile, it fell pretty much in the middle of the pack for price.
So we drove the three hours from where we live to check it out. My 6’2” husband was immediately in love with the tiny little convertible with pop-up headlights. And, thanks to our spreadsheet (and an inspection of course), we knew we were getting a good deal.
For $9,000, we took it home with us.
Now, a vintage roadster is in our parking spot and we’re members of the unofficial Mazda Miata club. It’s hilarious to watch how Miata drivers wink their retractable headlights to acknowledge one another on the road and how people wave to us as we drive by in our little car.
Your Turn: How do you comparison shop for used cars? Would you ever buy a 24-year-old convertible?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She does think pop-up headlights are pretty cute.
Scrapbooking is all about the memories, right?
Wrong. It’s all about the clever layouts and the bells and whistles.
Putting together the perfect page of photos, mementos and design elements has been elevated to an art form (and sometimes a competition).
And those cute papers, fun diecuts and store-bought page accessories can really add up. By the time you stumble out of the craft store with a bag of supplies, your wallet can be significantly lighter.
So what’s a thrifty scrapbooker to do?
With a little bit of creativity, you can put together personal, stylish pages without spending a fortune.
Here are tips and tricks from savvy online crafters for locking down cheap scrapbooking supplies.
Once you start looking for scrapbook fodder, you’ll see souvenirs everywhere.
Yes, ticket stubs are great. But you can also hang on to maps, menus, brochures and magazines as materials to remember a trip, a night out or just a normal Wednesday.
Kim used souvenirs from the hospital as the base for her so-called Lazy Mom’s Baby Book. She saved all kinds of money by avoiding the expensive baby page add-ons and sticking with freebies from the hospital.
When it comes to filling real estate on the scrapbook page, photos are among the cheapest options per square inch. And if you’re in the business of preserving memories, a picture is worth a thousand expensive doodads.
If you’re looking to print from Instagram, I’ve had good luck with Fox Print, which lets you upload files straight from your photostream.
Mel used clever cutting techniques to get some serious mileage out a few photos on this page. Grab a pair of scissors and some glue, and you’ve got everything you need to make an artistic and affordable layout.
Scrapbookers are a friendly bunch, and they love to share. Online scrapbooking sites offer all kinds of free printables that are fair game for personal projects.
For no more than the cost of toner and few pieces of paper, you’ll have enough graphic elements to complement a bunch of pages in your scrapbook.
Seriously, it’s incredible what people can do with a few paper clips and a pair of pliers. And could you choose a cheaper office supply? I don’t think so.
I wonder if hardware store employees ever get sick of scrapbookers raiding the paint chip section… probably. But until they kick us out, we will continue to swipe these free craft supplies.
Grab those little cards in whichever colors strike your fancy and you’ll have little blocks of solid color to do with what you wish.
Emily Grace is on to something with the natural ombre effect you find on the longer paint chips. Punch out a repeating shape in different shades of the same color to make a trendy layout for zero dollars.
Think of cookie cutters as another stencil option. Use them as guides for cutting out shapes, drawing outlines and making cookies to eat while you look at your scrapbook.
Hannah used cookie cutters as guides for corralling blocks of handwriting. The well-defined outlines play well with the freeform handwriting, creating a fun, free low-maintenance element to add to your page.
Oh, the things you can do with pages and pages of text!
Or, get really tricky and lift the ink off old pages with tape for a collage.
Fresh out of old books? Hit up your nearest thrift store, estate sale or library book sale for good deals on old books.
Your Turn: What are your best tips for scrapbooking on the cheap?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living Washington, D.C. She’s on a quest to find some sweet old books this weekend.
Secret Santa is basically the Olympic Games of gift giving.
You’re generally restricted to a low dollar amount, limiting your options right off the bat.
There’s also a good chance you won’t know the person very well, so you might have to keep it generic (but not lame). Oh, and it’s also holiday time, when you’re already overwhelmed with shopping for the other people in your life.
So what’s a secret Santa to do?
We’ve rounded up 12 fun ideas to keep your gift exchange interesting, thoughtful and under budget.
Before there were fitbits and smartphone apps, we had Tamagotchis.
Who among us didn’t get way too invested in the health and happiness of their pretend pet?
Now we’re adults and have actual lives and people to tend to, but let’s remind ourselves of the simple days by gifting digital animals to nurture.
Now anyone can learn the ancient art of reading tea leaves.
This is perfect for the coworker who’s never far from his cup of Earl Grey. The set comes with a special tea cup and saucer, plus a book for interpreting your fortune based on the pattern of your tea leaves.
Apparently a heart shape near the edge indicates love in the future -- a cake shape hints at exciting events in the future. There’s probably a certain amount of subjectivity involved in reading tea leaves, though.
I don’t care how old you are, this crazy sand is a blast. It sticks together -- you can mold it, squish it and just get weird with it.
And it’s surprisingly easy to clean up. It’s perfect for a kids’ gift exchange, but could work just as well for grown-ups.
Aside from the shock value of the title, there’s a lot to love about this game.
First, it was the most-backed project in Kickstarter history. It also features illustrations by the hilarious Oatmeal.
This works for all manner of secret Santa participants: the game enthusiast, the cat lover, the cat hater, the web comic fan -- and the person you don’t even know.
Who doesn’t love a nice tube of hand cream? During secret Santa season, it’s nice to add a touch of the unexpected to your gift.
Fancy lotion in a banana-shaped dispenser ticks all of the boxes. Plus it’s easy to pop in your purse (or lunch bag) on your way out the door.
No one needs a stick of solid perfume shaped like a bunny. So the odds of the recipient already owning the gift is pretty much nonexistent.
This little bunny is the chapstick of fragrances and you can choose from a variety of scents. On second thought, I’ll just keep this one for myself.
This is the perfect gift for your office pal with a green thumb and a penchant for mixed drinks.
It’s the next best thing to growing a cocktail (can you even imagine?) -- this set contains everything you need to start planting cocktail garnishes.
Grow herbs like thyme, basil, mint and lavender today and garnish your favorite cocktail with the crops from your tiny garden.
If you’re going to be using oven mitts anyway, there’s no excuse not to make them bear claws.
This gift also subtly suggests to the wearer they should make you a batch of holiday cookies.
If you need a circular saw to cut your pizza, you’re doing it wrong.
But this is still a must-have in the kitchen.
The average smartphone has a pretty impressive camera, and this lens kit will help your favorite Instagram fiend up their photo game.
The fish eye, macro and wide angle lenses each offer a unique effect for your photos. And there actually isn’t an app for that (yet).
Your classy coworker will appreciate this one.
Who even knows what half of the cheeses are at any given party. She can jot down the names with the chalk to take the guesswork out of the the cheese at the New Year’s party.
Help your friend stay cozy this winter with a woodsy firestarter kit.
This handy gift helps them start a toasty fire in the fireplace, at a cook out or in a wood-burning stove.
But instead of the chemical smell from lighter fluid, the 100% biodegradable firestarters give off a nice, woodsy, pine aroma.
Your Turn: Will you be using any of these as Secret Santa gifts?
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true "penny hoarder" would be a fool not to take the company's money. :)
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. Her secret Santa gave her a collection of hot sauces this year.
On January 1, 2015, I was worried.
This was the year I decided to try out a health savings account (HSA) instead of traditional health insurance.
After years of moaning about increasing premiums and high copays, I decided to switch to one of these high-deductible plans. I’m fortunate that my company offers a range of insurance options, so I can pick what works best for me.
The hope was that I’d stop wasting money and only pay for the care I received, while also feeling confident I’d be covered in case of a serious health issue.
Here’s what happened during my first year on an HSA -- and how I’m deciding which plan I’ll choose for 2016.
“Health savings accounts (HSAs) are like personal savings accounts, but the money in them is used to pay for health care expenses,” according to Mayo Clinic.
“You — not your employer or insurance company — own and control the money in your health savings account.”
My employer contributes a set amount ($76) to my HSA each paycheck to cover my husband and me. This is instead of my employer covering a portion of a traditional insurance premium.
I don’t put any money into my HSA, although I have that option. If we expect we’ll need more, I can have a set amount deducted from my paycheck or I can put in a lump sum.
Money going into an HSA is not taxed and goes into a saving account, which we access with a debit card.
When we go to the doctor, we pay for everything with the debit card. Our insurance doesn’t kick in until we meet our $5,200 deductible.
But each HSA works differently, so check the specifics of your plan when making a decision.
There was a good chance an HSA would save me money.
My husband and I are relatively healthy and go to the doctor only a few times a year. It didn’t make a lot of sense to pay high premiums just in case of a major medical expense.
Last year, we went with a more traditional insurance plan. We had decent coverage and paid $220 each month to participate. We still had pretty hefty copays ($20-$40 each visit). Under that plan, we spent $2,640 just on premiums (not including copays).
We were willing to bet that we could save money under an HSA, so we decided to risk paying the $5,200 deductible if a serious health issue arose.
Would paying that be fun? No.
But considering our overall good health, it’s also unlikely we’ll have to.
I feel privileged to be able to choose my coverage and to have any health insurance. So, I wanted to be sure I was making smart choices about my money and health.
The money in my HSA has lasted me almost the entire year.
As of mid November, I still had $597 left over.
I was lucky that my medical expenses were evenly spaced throughout the year and I didn’t have any significant bills in the first few months, so I was able to build up a cushion before I tapped into my account.
We didn’t go to the doctor much this year.
Fortunately, that was because we didn’t get sick -- not because we didn’t want to use HSA money.
I went to my primary care physician once ($100). My husband got an eye exam and new glasses ($310). I also went to a specialist, who ordered a round of bloodwork ($762).
We also had physicals, but preventive care is 100% covered under our plan, so the HSA balance wasn’t affected.
Luckily, I get to keep any money we don’t spend during the year.
My 2015 surplus rolls over to 2016 -- the upside of an HSA.
However, I can’t just withdraw the cash and head to the mall.
If you withdraw HSA funds rather than spending them on approved purchases, you have to pay the taxes you didn’t pay when you put the money into the account.
A better bet is to let the money roll over and save it for future health care expenses. You can also choose how to invest your HSA funds to make the most of your money.
My insurance would have paid nothing until I reached my $5,200 deductible.
After that, insurance would cover 100% of my costs so long as I used in-network physicians.
For 2015, the HSA was a good deal. Choosing on HSA saved us money upfront by reducing the amount deducted from my paycheck each month.
Instead of paying $2,640 in premiums like we did in 2014 under a traditional insurance plan, we paid nothing. Instead, we will likely finish the year with $597 in our HSA (providing we don’t have any major expenses before the end of the year).
Plus, whatever we don’t use rolls over. For reasons other than my HSA balance, I hope our health care consumption in 2016 is similar to this year.
I’ll reconsider our options if either of us develops a chronic condition, requires long-term medication, or if we predict a big health event on the horizon.
But for now, an HSA works well for us.
Your Turn: Have you been covered by an HSA? How did it go? Would you do it again?
Lyndsee Simpson is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She should have switched to an HSA years ago.
Want to cause an uproar at the grownup table this Thanksgiving? Looking for a way to rile up other parents?
Casually bring up whether or not to pay kids for good grades. People tend to have pretty strong feelings about slipping Junior a few bucks for each A on his report card.
But, let’s start off by acknowledging that paying kids for good grades can actually work.
A 2012 study from “Freakonomics” researcher Steven D. Levitt and colleagues found that students did better on tests when promised money or trophies for good grades.
However, there’s more to the equation than Sally getting an A on her next math test. You want her to do well in school, but also develop self-motivation to work hard and a desire to learn.
There’s a long-standing fear that paying your child for good grades erodes the development of those important traits.
So what’s a parent to do? Let’s look into reasoning from both sides.
First, let’s get inside the mind of a parent who has a checkbook and isn’t afraid to use it.
Students who perform better in school generally do better going forward. So parents will take any opportunity to improve their student's grades.
“Actually, it’s more like a lingering incentive, hovering in the back of their minds when they might be tempted to slack off or to coast a bit toward the end of a class,” Khalfani-Cox adds.
Some parents argue this isn’t the first time children will be paid to do things they don’t want to do. That’s how jobs work -- and they’re going to be working for most of their adult lives.
“I don't see a problem with offering an incentive at the end of a grading period,” Erika Douglass wrote on the TODAY Mom’s Facebook page. “It's actually very similar to adult life in the career market. At the end of an evaluation period, there is an incentive to earning high marks; a promotion, a raise.”
Welcome to the real world, kids.
Levitt, the “Freakonomics” researcher, says his own parents’ offers of money for grades boosted his academic performance.
“One thing is certain: since my only sources of income were those grade-related bribes and the money I could win off my friends playing poker, I tried a lot harder in high school than I would have without the cash incentives,” he says.
And he ended up writing a best-selling book, so he seems to have turned out OK.
“The excitement and adrenaline of success are addictive, and if you get to experience it, whatever the motivation, you're inclined to seek it again,” writes mother-of-four Demetria Gallegos, who rewards her children with outings and shopping trips, rather than cash.
“I see my incentives as helping orient my daughters toward success,” she writes.
However, some parents hold tight to the other side of the argument. Here’s why:
So what then?
“One argument against this line of thinking is that kids do not understand the importance of earning money and often don’t really need their own money,” says Matt Breed, who writes about college and education.
“If the money does not matter to them, the grades won’t matter,” Breed says.
“It has short-term gain, but long-term pain,” says educational psychologist Michele Borba. “That love of learning goes out, and instead what the child loves is cash and not the subject of the learning.”
Remember Gallegos, the mother who rewards her children with non-cash incentives? Well, her husband, John, is firmly against student bribes.
"They must value education,” he says. “Giving them bribes is corrupting that value. They're going to live their whole lives and you're not going to be around to bribe them."
With strong arguments on both sides, it’s not exactly an open-and-shut case.
Like most things in life, this one boils down to following your gut.
“What works for some families just doesn't make any sense for others,” writes “Make Your Kid a Money Genius” author Beth Kobliner. “Beyond that, your decision may boil down to knowing your own kid.”
Your turn: Do you pay your kids for grades? Did your parents pay you for yours? (And did it work?) Let us know in the comments!
Lyndsee Simpson is a freelance writer and editor in Washington, D.C. Her parents never paid her for her grades and she’s still mad about it.