Category Archives: Economy

The Art of Buying in Bulk

Published / by Annie / 3 Comments on The Art of Buying in Bulk

I was taught as a child that buying items in bulk not only saved money when you purchased the items on sale or at a discount, it made life considerably easier because you didn’t have to worry about running out of stuff constantly.

I must confess that over the past few years I questioned that teaching. Minimalist gurus preach expansively against the practice and encourage you to buy only what you need when you need it. I watched my friends purchase just enough supplies to last until their next pay periods and questioned them extensively about the practice, hoping for some tips. While some of them touted the benefit of having the ability to switch brands on a whim and keep up with changing needs, I noticed that they all shared a common refrain: they only purchased what they needed at the time because that was all they could afford.

Despite the fact that this raised alarms in my head I decided to try it. I used up my stockpiles and followed the practice for several years. While it does make shifting brands easier and allow you to avoid large stockpiles of items that you stop using as your needs change, I discovered the hard way that it costs a significant amount more than my old method of stocking up. I also discovered that, on many items such as bathroom tissue and basic cleaning supplies, I didn’t switch brands near as often as some claimed to do. In fact, I realized that the primary reason many of my friends switched brands so frequently was due to cost. They would buy what they could afford at the time even if it wasn’t the brand they preferred.

More importantly, I discovered that it’s a pain in the ass to go shopping every single payday, especially when you don’t own a vehicle.

My current job allows me to see the differences between those who buy in bulk and those who refrain. I noticed that the ones who purchase large amounts of items on sale tend to be wealthier than those who do not. It breaks my heart to see a customer forced to count their pennies in order to purchase a single roll of bathroom tissue, especially when I know from my research that they would save money in the long run if they had simply purchased larger packages to begin with. While I know from experience that financial challenges strike all of us from time to time, buying in bulk when money allows simply makes sense.

The Art of Buying in Bulk

Stock up when money is plentiful. Income tax season is an ideal time to purchase stockpiles of things that you know you will use. Bathroom tissue, paper towels, feminine hygeine products, and cleaning supplies won’t go bad just sitting on a shelf so stock up on these items whenever you can take advantage of sales. I make it a habit to take advantage of back to school season to stock up on notebooks, office supplies, panties, socks, and other items that are offered at a discount then.

Keep money in reserve to take advantage of sales. You never know when you will stumble upon a good bargain so it pays to keep some money available to take advantage of these opportunities. For instance, just the other day the store I work at offered a 16-pack of paper towels for a dollar less than the regular price on two 8-packs of the same brand. While we don’t use a lot of paper towels (one roll typically lasts us a couple of months), the dollar I saved is a dollar (or more, if prices go up) I won’t have to worry about earning in the future.

Know what you need and use. Keep an eye on your stash so that you will know when you are getting low on something. This allows you to start looking for sales before the need is urgent. Few things are more annoying than to discover that you’re on your last roll of bathroom tissue or your last sanitary napkin while you’re sitting on the commode. Last minute purchases can eliminate your money savings.

Use caution when stockpiling perishable items. It isn’t a bargain if most of it will go bad before you use it. Watch your expiration dates carefully. For instance, it saves us money to purchase milk in gallon containers as opposed to half-gallon but there are times when we don’t drink it all before it goes bad. To combat this we buy the containers with the longest expiration date and never purchase more than a gallon at a time regardless of price. We also refuse to purchase milk on clearance since we know it will go bad long before we can drink it all. While canned goods can last for years past the expiration date, items like flour, milk, crackers, and cereal have a limited shelf life.

Stock up during clearance sales. My daughter enjoys giving gifts so after Christmas we stocked up on wrapping paper and related supplies when they were placed on clearance for half price. We focused on items that could be used for any occasion but also selected a few things specifically for the Christmas holiday season. We saved the equivalent of several hours’ wages by doing that.

Check the per-unit price. On some items it is actually cheaper to purchase several small containers of an item instead of a single larger one. For instance, the store I work at purchases four pound bags of sugar by the pallet to save money, passing the savings onto their customers. Since the demand is less, they actually spend more to purchase larger packages of sugar. The people I observe buying the larger packages don’t seem to realize that they aren’t saving any money in this case. While occasionally the larger packages can be offered at a savings, it pays to bring a calculator to verify.

Avoid stockpiling fads. Children are fickle creatures. While they may go through copious amounts of a certain item for a time, the day will come when they suddenly decide not to use it any longer. When my children were younger they would go crazy over a certain brand of cereal. I would stock up only to discover a few days or weeks later that they wanted to move on to something else. I ate a lot of super sweet garbage to avoid waste in those days!

Set aside a place to store your stockpile. It won’t save you any money if the items get destroyed before you can use them. I have spaces reserved in my cabinets and on a shelf to avoid this occurrence.

Never use credit to stockpile. The interest charges will eliminate any money you save.

That’s all there is to it. By taking advantage of sales and buying in bulk you will not only remove the need to purchase certain necessities constantly, you will be able to keep more of your paycheck in the end.

Do you buy in bulk? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Grocery Savings

Published / by Annie / 1 Comment on Grocery Savings

One of the things I have never done is factor the cost of food into my budget. Our spending varies too much based on bargains, bulk buying, and available finances for us to set aside a certain amount every month.

While some months we barely buy the basics like milk, other months we come across good deals to take advantage of or we use our available cash to stock up on staples. Our grocery store jobs have really benefited us in this area.

For instance, the grocery I work at had several cases of Manwich that were marked down to ten cents a can in order to liquidate their stock before the expiration date last year. Since I am well aware of the fact that canned goods can last for years, I bought a case of 24. I spent $2.40 as opposed to the $24.00 or more I would have normally paid (I can’t recall their everyday price but I know it was over a dollar a can the last time I purchased it).

My chest freezer has a tidy supply of Hawaiian Sweet Rolls–a treat in our house–that I purchased for a quarter apiece along with a nice stockpile of meat that was placed on clearance or on sale.

My most recent purchase was a case of Mac and Cheese. They were nearing their expiration date but since that stuff will last for ages past that I snagged it without hesitation. Katie loves the stuff so I routinely use it as a base to make other dishes when we have it available.

I paid $4.99 for a case of 24 boxes, which equals up to twenty cents a box. The current price for the stuff is 39 cents a box, meaning that I purchased it for roughly half-price. It will take us several months to use up this supply; I expect it to last us for most of the year. Even better I managed to save most of an hour’s wage by buying in bulk when I discovered the bargain.

Do you purchase food in bulk when you run across a good deal? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Bill Collectors

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on Bill Collectors

Several months ago I received a phone call. It was a debt collector, claiming that I owed money on an old debt.

Since I’ve been living and writing about the stupidity of debt for a decade, I was skeptical. Even if I did happen to owe something to someone that I magically didn’t remember, that debt would have fallen off of my credit report years ago.

“You do realize that you’re talking to a woman who preaches against credit, right?” I informed the man when I stopped laughing. “I’ve been writing books and articles condemning credit for a decade. Now, tell me just why you believe this debt is mine.”

He did. He claimed that I had opened a credit card over a decade ago and then stopped paying on it some time later. I asked him for the address where I lived when I had the card.

I hadn’t lived in that house for twenty years and I told him as much. “Unless you can give me an address where I’ve lived within the legal statute of limitations on debt, I’m going to have to conclude that this is a scam,” I informed him calmly.

He couldn’t. The man didn’t have a single address for me other than the original one he mentioned.

I didn’t take out a credit card when I lived at that address. I was far too broke at the time to even consider it.

The man huffed and informed me that the debt would damage my credit rating and haunt me for X more years. I laughed. “Do your worst. I don’t own a house, I don’t even own a car, so I have nothing you can place a lien on. So unless you can supply me with valid proof that this debt is mine, I’ll just take my chances. I don’t use credit anyway.”

The man promised me that he would send the information on. I gave him my current address and told him I would look for it.

That was several months ago. I’ve not received a single thing.

Since then I’ve done a bit of research on bill collectors. There’s a scam going on where companies will create completely false debts in hopes that the marks will pay. Here is one particular article that I found rather interesting on the subject.

This is just one reason why I don’t believe in using credit. Not only do you pay a ridiculous amount of money for the ability to live above your means, you open yourselves up to predators who steal your information and attempt to bully you into paying on debts you don’t actually have.

Be warned, folks.

Cash register

It Pays to Use Cash

Published / by Annie / 5 Comments on It Pays to Use Cash

How do you handle your money? Do you deposit your check every payday and then swipe your card when you want to buy something?

Every time you swipe your card in public you place yourself in danger. Not only do you put yourself at risk of having your card information stolen by skimmers, you also run the risk of spending more money. Studies have shown that people who prefer cash over cards spend less money. Even worse, some banks charge you a fee every time you swipe your card. My personal bank charges me a dollar every time I use my bank card as a debit card at stores.

Carrying cash can eliminate this issue. If you withdraw the amount of cash you have budgeted for gas, groceries, lunch, and other extras during that pay period, you eliminate the danger of overspending. You know you have so much money for the week, so you need to be careful with your money.

Paying cash also eliminates any chance that you will fall prey to a skimmer. They can’t steal your card information if you don’t give them access to your card in the first place.

If you’re worried about being robbed of your cash, place your money in a place where thieves won’t look for it. My father kept his stash in his sock; I keep mine in an assortment of places aside from my wallet (no, I’m not going to tell you where). It also helps if you don’t attract attention by driving fancy vehicles or dressing in clothing that indicates you’ve got money. It makes little sense to rob someone who appears to be broke just to get a few pennies. Dressing simpler also comes in handy when haggling for a lower price. Some sellers tend to charge more if they think you can afford it.

While you can’t pay cash when shopping online, you can do this for the everyday purchases you make locally. Food, fuel, and other everyday purchases can be made just as easily with cash as with plastic.

If you are not paying cash for your everyday purchases, you need to start doing it now. Your budget will thank you.

 

A Pillow for your Bank Account

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on A Pillow for your Bank Account

It’s happened to all of us. We spend more than we anticipate, a hacker steals our card info, even a mistake at the bank can lead to overdrafts. Just the other day a mistake at a local bank caused the accounts of several personal friends to appear overdrawn due to an accidental double-posting of charges.

Keeping a financial cushion in your checking account can help immensely. It can not only help prevent overdraft fees (without paying for another service), it can give you needed funds while you sort out the issue.

I keep a minimum of $500 in my checking account for this purpose. I never allow my balance to go below this amount. That way, if I ever do make a mistake while budgeting I know that I won’t have to pay outrageous overdraft fees. I call this my pillow since it cushions me if I fall.

It isn’t always easy to build up a financial cushion, especially when you don’t make a lot of money. I limit how much I spend each month so that I have a little left over to add to my padding. In time I plan to build my cushion to $1,000, the amount I kept in reserve for years but since times were lean a few years back I am still working towards that goal.

It may sound insane to some of you. You may be thinking “How can I save $500? I can barely pay my bills as it is!” but I promise you that it is possible. You may not be able to eat out as much or splurge on those little extras but you can do this. If I can build up $500 while earning minimum wage at a part-time job then you can do it no matter what your story may be.

More importantly, you should. My local bank charges almost $40 in overdraft fees per charge; a single mistake can cost you hundreds of dollars in fees if you use your bank card routinely.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago an attorney I hired cashed their check a week earlier than agreed. While there was enough in the account to cover it my balance was wiped out. I ended up owing over $250 in overdraft fees alone, on top of my other charges (which my bank thankfully paid). It took a while to climb out of that hole.

Ever since then I have insisted upon keeping a pillow of cash in my checking account on top of my regular savings. I refuse to be that stupid ever again.

How much of a cushion do you keep in your bank account? Please share your stories in the comments below.

I Hate Planned Obsolescence

Published / by Annie / 8 Comments on I Hate Planned Obsolescence

The other day a friend stopped by and announced that he had a surprise in the back seat of his car. Curious, I stepped outside to see what it was.

To my surprise, he had an ancient iMac sitting on his back seat. He explained with a grin that he had been visiting another friend when he saw their neighbors carry it out to the trash.

“I immediately thought of you, so I asked permission to have it,” he explained.

We carried it into the house. It lacked a keyboard and a mouse, but it fortunately still had a power cord, so I connected a spare Windows mouse and keyboard to the machine and plugged it in.

That old dinosaur powered on.

According to my research, this machine (iMac model M5521) came out around the turn of the century, which means that it is almost 20 years old. The hard drive is a bit noisy, the slot loading CD-ROM sticks, but it still works!

The more I played with that old machine the angrier I got. This computer cost someone $999 new. That’s the equivalent of two month’s expenses for me. The thought of someone tossing that much money in the trash just pissed me off, not because they discarded something they no longer needed or used, but because of the fact that this poor machine was obsolete just a few short years after it was purchased.

That’s the way it is with stuff anymore. You purchase a new phone, computer, gadget, outfit, or whatever only to be told it is useless or out of fashion before you’ve hardly managed to break it in, so what do you do? You go out and buy a new one, tossing the old one into a closet or—like this poor old machine—in the trash.

Heck, purchase a new appliance these days and you’ll discover that the lightweight gears and moving parts within the machine will fail within a few short years. Don’t believe me? Go to the store and buy a cheap fan. See how many seasons it will last you before it dies. Next, go to a thrift shop and buy one of those ancient fans with the old cloth-covered power cords. I’ll bet that thing still runs even if it is close to 50 years old. In fact, I happen to know a gentleman who uses an old percolator to make his coffee that is even older than that! He got tired of buying coffee makers every couple of years so he dug out the old percolator his mother used to make her coffee with.

Anyway, back to this computer. After tinkering with it for a while I decided to try an experiment. I’m going to see if I can acquire the parts needed to give this puppy an upgrade and make it useful once again. I want to get it set up with some simple games, configure it for printing, add a word processing program, and let my grandson use it to play and do his homework on.

This isn’t exactly a priority to me so I plan to spend as little as possible. I’m going to ask around for spare parts to upgrade the RAM and search online for a copy of the operating system that I can download and burn to disk. If I get lucky I’ll manage to score a new CMOS battery for it, since the original is long dead.

And piece by piece I am going to turn this ancient machine into something that can be used today, just to prove that it can be done. It won’t be the fastest but that’s not the point. The point is that we spend a fortune on items that manufacturers declare completely useless years before they actually are. We spend hours of our lives each week earning money to buy items like this old computer, only to discard them as worthless a short time later, when in fact, with a little love and a bit of work, they can last longer than Big Business wants us to keep them.

I’ll let you know when I get the old dinosaur running. I will also let you know just how much money I spent turning it into something that can actually be used (paperweight is not an option).

What was the last item you saved from the trash? Please share your stories in the comments below.

You Know You’re Poor When…

Published / by Annie / 4 Comments on You Know You’re Poor When…

During Christmas I found myself surrounded by family and friends when the subject of my cheapskate ways (and thus my website) came up. One of my companions made the comment that the majority of folks really don’t know what it is like to be poor and to do crazy (and sometimes illegal) things just to get by.

Time went on and we started discussing the crazy stuff we have done and seen others do just to survive. Some of the stories were simply mind-boggling so I asked permission to create this list so that others could get a glimpse of the other side of the fence.

To make this easier (and eliminate any potential identifying markers) I asked them to finish the phrase “you know you’re poor when…”

Here is what they came up with.

These items are in no particular order. For the record, some of these things are harsh and dark, but others are simply hilarious. I have done some of these things personally; as for the others, the only requirement was that it had to be something that they had either done personally or had actually seen done.

I make no judgment about the stories shared to me that night and I trust that you won’t either.

***

1. You know you’re poor when dumpster diving is an acceptable sport.

2. You know you’re poor when you never lock your door because you have absolutely nothing to steal.

3. You know you’re poor when $5 on the Dollar Menu is all you have to feed your entire family.

4. You know you’re poor when the neighbor’s fights are your version of reality TV.

5. You know you’re poor when you know how to use a box of Sudafed to pay your electric bill.

6. You know you’re poor when your grandmother celebrates every time she refills her Percocet prescription.

7. You know you’re poor when your whole neighborhood shares the cable bill.

8. You know you’re poor when you learn how to hack just so you can steal your neighbor’s internet.

9. You know you’re poor when sugar daddies are a viable source of income.

10. You know you’re poor when you envy your local drug dealers.

11. You know you’re poor when all of your tires are donut spares.

12. You know you’re poor when all of the DVDs you own are bootlegged.

13. You know you’re poor when you close your car windows with duct tape.

14. You know you’re poor when you really do live by the motto “duct tape fixes everything.”

15. You know you’re poor when all of your presents are purchased on an EBT card.

16. You know you’re poor when the most successful member of your family is a drug dealer.

17. You know you’re poor when you visit the website of your local jail to find out where your friends are.

18. You know you’re poor when you are more afraid of the cops than the dope fiends.

19. You know you’re poor when you look at the dope fiends as a source of cheap merchandise.

20. You know you’re poor when “reduce, reuse, recycle” also includes cigarette butts you pick up off the street.

21. You know you’re poor when you pray for snow so the landlord won’t come knocking.

22. You know you’re poor when a medical card means you can finally get a phone.

23. You know you’re poor when you catch a rat in the kitchen so your kids can have a pet.

24. You know you’re poor when you consider the stuff set outside after an eviction to be a free yard sale.

25. You know you’re poor when a happy meal is whatever you can buy with the change in your couch cushions.

26. You know you’re poor when you dig for change just to make it home.

27. You know you’re poor when you look at a fellow smoker and ask to share the wealth.

28. You know you’re poor when you can’t afford to eat at the restaurant you work at.

29. You know you’re poor when you steal ketchup packets so that you can make spaghetti for your kids.

30. You know you’re poor when you gather up extra napkins after you run out of bathroom tissue.

31. You know you’re poor when you call up your brother and ask him to reconnect your water meter.

32. You know you’re poor when you know how to make a pack of hot dogs feed your kids for a week.

33. You know you’re poor when you use shampoo and dishwashing liquid to clean your laundry.

34. You know you’re poor when you call your dog your official bed warmer.

35. You know you’re poor when the creek is your swimming pool.

36. You know you’re poor when you carry a fishing pole to hide the fact that you live by the river.

37. You know you’re poor when your phone is over 10 years old and you are still using it.

38. You know you’re poor when the pawn shop is on speed dial.

39. You know you’re poor when you give the scissors to your toddler and ask her for a haircut.

40. You know you’re poor when you use kool-aid to color your hair.

41. You know you’re poor when it takes five people to buy one 40-oz.

42. You know you’re poor when your second job is a phone sex operator.

43. You know you’re poor when you’re afraid to own upholstered furniture because you are so afraid of bedbugs and fleas.

44. You know you’re poor when 13 people live in a one-bedroom house.

45. You know you’re poor when the cockroaches move next door.

46. You know you’re poor when you have to take stuff back to the store just so you can buy your kids a birthday cake.

47. You know you’re poor when you have to use your dirty socks for feminine pads.

48. You know you’re poor when you are banned from getting money from the pop machines.

49. You know you’re poor when you have to pass around a 2-liter bottle because you’ve had to sell all of your glasses.

50. You know you’re poor when you go to Ruler Foods and ask to put away carts just so you can collect the quarter.

51. You know you’re poor when you exchange food stamps for cash to pay the water bill.

52. You know you’re poor when you grow your nerve medicine in the back yard.

53. You know you’re poor when you have to wipe your butt with a coffee filter.

54. You know you’re poor when you know just how far 50 cents worth of gas will take you.

55. You know you’re poor when you stick your own hair in your food to get a free meal.

56. You know you’re poor when a seafood dinner is what you’ve managed to catch in the creek.

57. You know you’re poor when you try to claim your pets as dependents.

58. You know you’re poor when you start smoking just so you can get a break at work.

59. You know you’re poor when you sell your dirty panties for gas money.

60. You know you’re poor when you raid the local tobacco field every time you run out of cigarettes.

61. You know you’re poor when you pimp out your daughters just to get the finder’s fee.

62. You know you’re poor when you count on your food stamps just to pay your bills.

63. You know you’re poor when you know exactly how long it takes for a check to hit your bank.

64. You know you’re poor when you know how to use the memo field on your checks to escape a debt.

65. You know you’re poor when you consider the weeds in your yard to be a food source.

66. You know you’re poor when you know how to make a tampon.

67. You know you’re poor when you know how to curl your hair using bathroom tissue.

68. You know you’re poor when there’s a tree in your town that everyone calls “the pooping bush.”

69. You know you’re poor when you eat dog or cat food on crackers.

70. You know you’re poor when you eat Kibbles and Bits as a breakfast cereal.

71. You know you’re poor when you’re still breast feeding your six-year-old because you can’t afford to feed them.

72. You know you’re poor when you smoke a cigarette every time you are hungry.

73. You know you’re poor when you drink a cup of hot water every time you are hungry and tell yourself that it is soup.

74. You know you’re poor when you decide to keep drinking because there is no food in the house.

75. You know you’re poor when everyone you know works at McDonald’s.

76. You know you’re poor when your job doesn’t cover your medical expenses.

77. You know you’re poor when you have to sell your dog to pay for dinner.

78. You know you’re poor when your commode sits at a 90-degree angle.

79. You know you’re poor when you have to reuse your bathroom tissue.

80. You know you’re poor when you stick stuff in empty soft drink cans just to increase the weight.

81. You know you’re poor when your cat adopts the neighbor because she’s hungry.

82. You know you’re poor when people judge you because your parents bought you an iPhone.

83. You know you’re poor when people judge you for wearing nice clothes even though you bought them at a thrift shop.

84. You know you’re poor when you are grateful that the wealthier members of your family purchase your children or grandchildren expensive toys.

***

Do you have anything to add to this list? Please share your stories in the comments below.

 

Sign of the times

Published / by Annie / 7 Comments on Sign of the times

While Katie and I forgo decorating our home to celebrate the holidays we still enjoy walking around our little neighborhood to examine the festive atmosphere. We may live in the ‘hood but several of our compatriots enjoy going all out for the season.

I wasn’t up for last year but since I’m feeling a bit better we resumed our little tradition this Christmas Eve. We anxiously awaited dusk to arrive, grabbed our coats, and started walking.

Our first stop was a pair of houses just a couple of blocks away. The folks who live there team up to create a fabulous display complete with music and the occasional light show so I was excited to be able to witness their annual offering.

As we approached I noticed that the lights weren’t on. “That’s odd, “ I commented to Katie. “They’re usually lit by this hour.” Disappointed, we continued our walk expecting them to be alight by the time we came back through.

The second house we approached was just as dark as the first. So was the third, the fourth, and so on. Slowly we realized something sad.

Only two houses in our little hood had even bothered to decorate. Even the brightest houses were dark and what displays we saw were muted.

It is a sad time when nobody decorates for Christmas, not even the ones who savor the season.

In my experience, people in this area don’t decorate when money is tight because they are afraid of the electric bill. It is a sign that jobs have been lost, income decreased, and fear prevails.

I wonder what next year will hold.

Were there any changes in how your neighborhood celebrated Christmas this year? Did you do more or less this year? Why? Please share your stories in the comments below.