Thursday, August 9, 2007

Drugstore Rebates: Free Stuff or Con Job?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

rebates--letting people by useless crap for free since 1947

By L. Shepherd

You may have heard about the drug store chains that offer rebates, either through newspaper circulars, the rebate kiosks in the stores themselves, or from that friend who will not stop talking about the free deodorant and toilet paper she got from CVS. Seriously–will not stop.

Rebates are an alternative to coupons that a lot of stores prefer for several reasons. First, there is the obvious impulse purchase situation once they get some sucker into the store for the free shaving gel. Secondly, they expect a certain percentage of the population to buy the items, take the rebate forms home, and then lose them on an untidy desk piled with other crap. So, the rebate is never filled out and the buyer has gone out of their way to buy something they ordinarily would have ignored.

If the rebates are followed faithfully, which my friend always does, rebates can actually save Type A personalities a lot of money. The rebates offered from Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, and other national chains are well publicized through circulars. And if you don’t get those, check out the front of the store where there are rebate booklets you can fill out for each product you buy. If you can faithfully record each of the listed items you choose, make the notations on the receipt, and mail all of it back to the company, then yes, you’ve gotten free products. The only cost is the sales tax on the items and a little bit of postage.

I tried this only once, buying three 12 packs of Diet Coke with every intention of filling out the forms and getting my money back. Unfortunately, I immediately fell into Gen X slacker mode and lost the paperwork before I even got home. Based on this experience, I believe that coupon clipping is likely a better use of time if you’re looking to save on grocery and drug store items. Coupons are right there, in your hand. They are hard to screw up, and you don’t have to do anything else once you leave the store.

But, if coupons are too easy for you or you just have a love for pushing paperwork, most drugstores offering rebates will have a page to advertise items with rebate offers so you can check out the free stuff before you hit the store. Some sites will let you make an online shopping list of the items you can get for free. If you have the presence of mind to do this, you may do well at the rebate shopping game. And if you are of a seriously frugal nature, you will one-up the drugstore by being a double threat. You can use a coupon for the rebate items, getting it for less than the advertised price, and then get a rebate for the full amount. So, the store actually pays you to take their stuff. And for the well organized frugal shopper, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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L. Shepherd is a freelance writer and has been self-employed for six years. You can contact L. Shepherd at http://thewritersite.com.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Five Mistakes Twentysomethings Make With Their Money

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

twentysomethings beware

By Matt Busse

I don’t know what it is about people in their twenties these days. A frighteningly high number of us are simply terrible about managing our personal finances. Why is that? To hear our parents and grandparents tell it, when they were young, they grew their own tomatoes, made their own clothes, and bought their first cars for fifty bucks each, all while fighting wars on the other side of the world. By contrast, I know people my age who can’t even balance a checkbook, let alone grow a proper vegetable.

Worst of all, there are a handful of mistakes many, many twentysomethings make when it comes to personal finance. You can trust me on this, because I have personally made all of these errors–some of them multiple times–so I know what I’m talking about. In no particular order, here are five common personal finance mistakes to avoid if you’re in your twenties, plus tips on how to steer clear of them.

  1. Using credit cards. Scott Adams, creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip, says credit cards are the crack-cocaine of the financial world. He’s right. They trick you into ignoring how much you spend and pushing into the back of your mind the fact that you will, eventually, have to pay them off. And once you’ve received your first card, the sharks start circling. Other companies send you offers. They seem tempting. Zero percent interest for a year, one says. So you transfer your balance to that card instead of paying it off. Then you do it again with another card a month later. Soon, you’re playing hot potato, opening up one line of credit after another, racking up charges and flushing your credit score down the toilet.
    Solution: Use a debit card or cash for your purchases. If you absolutely must use a credit card, get a low-interest card and use it only when needed. Pay off your balance on time.
  2. Buying the latest and greatest. Why are some twentysomethings obsessed with always having the flashiest cell phone, the biggest television, the fastest computer? It’s an image problem, a consumption problem, and it’s a big waste of money. If you like luxury items, and you have the money in your budget to get them, that’s fantastic. Enjoy. Have a blast. But don’t do it just to have the hottest new thing. And don’t do it if you have more pressing expenses at hand, like paying off student loans or saving for your first house. Solution: Be satisfied with what you have. If you want something new and cool, make sure you can really afford it.
  3. Financing items that depreciate in value. This goes hand in hand with the previous item. That 52-inch television might look nice in your living room, but will it still seem as cool when you’re paying for it four years down the road? Even worse, four years from now, it’ll be worth only a small fraction of what you paid for it. Getting financing on big-ticket items can sometimes be considered necessary if it’s a washing machine or other appliance you would call a “need.” But for big-screen televisions, booming car stereos and other frivolous items, it’s just not worth it. You should only finance things that gain value over time. That includes not financing cars, if you can afford to always buy used.
    Solution: Save up your money instead and pay for what you want upfront. That way, not only can you avoid interest, but the extra time it takes to save up for a pricey item will force you to really think about whether you want to spend the money on it.
  4. Ignoring your 401(k). If your company offers a 401(k) retirement plan with a matching contribution, take advantage of it. Max out your investment to match the company’s contribution (in other words, if your employer matches up to four percent, you should put in four percent). It’s like free money from your boss. And you’re never too young to start thinking about retirement.
    Solution: Max out that 401(k)! Don’t touch it until you retire. You’ll be glad you did.
  5. Refusing to learn how to budget. I know a number of people in their twenties who just don’t want to learn how to keep a simple personal budget. They say it’s too hard, or it takes too much time and work. That’s ridiculous. There are a slew of books and websites available that can teach anyone to make an easy, low-maintenance budget using a computer spreadsheet. All it takes is a few minutes a day, or a little longer if you update it every week. If you learn to allot your money to different bills and expenses, track your purchases and save your extra cash, you’ll be much better off in the long run for it.
    Solution: Suck it up and learn. Go to Google and type in “learn personal budgeting.” It’s not difficult, and it’s definitely worth your time.
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Matt Busse is a journalist and freelance writer living in Lynchburg, Virginia. Since 2004, he has covered business, technology and government for Lynchburg’s daily newspaper, The News & Advance. He writes a
blog about writing at mattbusse.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

If You Don’t Buy Your Teenage Daughter $800 In New Clothes RIGHT NOW, You’re A Bad Parent

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

seriously, you are going to buy her all of this stuff, and it is going to cost you a lot of money, and she will not even thank you for it

It’s late July, and we all know what that means: back-to-school time is right around the corner… down the street about half a block… make two lefts. Here, let me draw you a map…

Today, Yahoo! Shopping tried to explain how to make back-to-school clothes shopping time less painful for you and your pocket book. Unfortunately for you, everything in the article is wrong. To start, the article uses the term “kid” when it is fairly obvious they mean “girl.” (How to shop for a boy: buy five t-shirts and two pairs of jeans. Let him wear them until the smell causes them to disintegrate. Cost: under $100.) Let’s look at the flaws in each piece of girl-shopping advice offered:

  • Yahoo! says to sort through existing clothes and throw out what is “outgrown.” Outgrown is simply a synonym for small or tight, which is exactly the size your daughter wants her clothes to be to accentuate the womanly parts she thinks she has. If you try to throw out that four-sizes-too-small skirt, your daughter will be highly unattractive to boys and could end up sexually conservative or even (gasp) educated.
  • Yahoo! says to identify your child’s favorite items to help avoid wasted purchases in the future. This won’t work because, as it has been scientifically proven, any clothes you buy today will be uncool and outdated three weeks later. Your child’s favorite pieces of clothes are, invariably, the ones you haven’t bought her yet.
  • Yahoo! says to talk to your kids about the latest clothing trends. You can try, but they will likely have changed before you finish your sentence. Nice job forcing your daughter to buy uncool clothes; she’ll be sure to return the favor by sticking you in an uncool nursing home. The same point also recommends telling your daughter that showing her belly button is not a good idea. Sorry, we’re way past belly buttons. You’ll be lucky if your daughter keeps her butt crack half covered.
  • Yahoo! says to explain the difference between wanting something and being able to afford it. Considering more than half of adults don’t understand this difference, you better get a second job before having this conversation.
  • Yahoo! says to have your child wear comfortable clothes while shopping. No no no! This makes it that much easier for her to try on 30 different outfits in each shop. Pile on the layers so she’s passed out by the second store.
  • Yahoo! says to let your kids window shop, then do the buying with you. Better idea: give them pre-paid credit or gift cards, let them loose in the mall, and when the money’s gone, they’re done shopping. Maybe they bought 10 outfits with the money, maybe they bought one iPod and will be stuck with last year’s wardrobe. This way, there’s no “Mommy, just $20 more.”
  • Yahoo! says save some of the shopping for later in the school year, particularly so you can buy winter clothes. This is no longer relevant since, according to your daughter, “winter clothes” means eight inch skirts instead of six.

In summary, home school, and don’t let your children out of the house before they’re 35 (cost: $30 every other year for pajamas).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Punny Poll #2: How Much of Your Pre-Tax Income Do You Save?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

Since there’s a good deal of people stopping by to check out the Blog Marathon, I thought now would be a great time to install one of them fancy polling scripts like they use in Hollywood.

(Where’s Poll #1, you ask? It was the sample poll that came with the plug-in. I deleted it, but not before someone voted this site “Excellent.” That makes me very happy.)

The hot topic of the day over in the Fatwallet Finance Forums asks how much money you save out of your salary. So far, there are results across the board over there, but I’m more interested in seeing what you say.
[Read more…]

For Some, Cutting Luxuries Not Enough to Escape Debt

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

empty pockets

One advantage of staying up all night is that you get to read the next day’s newspaper while other folks are still asleep. So it’ll be a good four or five hours before most people see this headline in their copy of the Washington Post:

Basics, Not Luxuries, Blamed for High Debt

The article shares some details about the rising cost of basics like housing, health, and education which the writer indicates are more responsible for the 33% rise in the average family’s debt load between 2001 and 2004 than splurging on unneeded items. Some of the figures provided are downright frightening: average mortgage and education debt each doubled in under 15 years, and the cost of living has climbed more than 11% in the last five years alone.

The author of the recent report showcasing these findings, along with a Harvard law professor, has this to say regarding the situation.

Families that can no longer realistically afford their single-family houses should move to condominiums, consider limiting their families to a single automobile, get second jobs to pay off debt, or move to less expensive school districts that may not have the highest test scores but where children perform acceptably well. … Otherwise, many families will lose their homes through foreclosure when bankruptcy law changes make it more difficult for households to escape debts.

That’s some tough advice to take. After all, if someone told you to give up your nice single-family home and move into a condo, you’re not going to be very happy about it. While it’s a possibility that more families may need to consider, they shouldn’t see such a setback as the end of their financial security. Continuing to accumulate debt and free-falling toward bankruptcy–that might have a bit of an effect on their financial security.