Outside!

Summer is so short here in Michigan it almost makes me sad. I love summer – being outside, no coats, sunshine, barefoot, bike riding, swimming…all of it.

To spend even more time outside, I fixed up my deck just a bit. Here is a photo.

Of course, I didn’t spend much:

Chairs: $12 each at Aldi’s

Table: $7 at Goodwill, $4 can of spray paint

Rug: $4 at Goodwill

Plant rack: $1 random thrift store

Plant: $4 at Meijer

Bobblehead bear: So cute! $4 at Goodwill

George Forman grill (because our city outlawed gas grills at rental): $14 at Goodwill

 

Never Assume

Sometimes I think I am making the most frugal decision and I’m not.

I have two adult daughters and a granddaughter who currently live in Montana so I occasionally send “care packages” out west.

I have determined that using the US Post Office is cheaper than UPS or FedEx. But I thought that wrapping a box of my own was cheaper than the priority mail shipping boxes you get at the post office. You know – the ones that have a set price, no matter how heavy the box is?

I even took this photo of my most recent box so I could share this little money saving lesson.

Then I went to the post office. This box – which I didn’t think was that heavy – would cost approximately $15 to ship to Montana and it wasn’t guaranteed to be there for at least a week.

The priority shipping box – which was slightly larger – would top out at $13.75 and would get there within three days.

I could’t do it. It wasn’t the price difference that stopped me but the time.

So, I took my box home, ripped it apart last night and re-packed it in the post office box.

I plan to stop back at the post office on my way to work this morning.

Elizabeth Street

I find myself in Brownsville, Texas once or twice a year. My elderly parents spend half the year there – the cold Michigan months – in a senior community. 

My brother escorts them west in the fall and I make the return trip with them in the spring which is why I was in Brownsville last. I also visited this past Christmas.

When I am with my parents, I am with my parents; I don’t do a lot of running around, tourist-y type stuff. Time with them is precious and not to be wasted.

But when I am in Brownsville, I do like to visit the Elizabeth Street shopping area. Elizabeth Street is the last cross street before you enter Mexico from Brownsville. It looks and feels very much like shopping in Mexico.

I don’t go into Mexico because (a) I don’t have a passport, (b) I don’t want to go by myself and (c) Matamoros – the border town “adjacent” to Brownsville in Mexico –  is not a very safe place.

During this most recent trip I visited Elizabeth Street for a couple of hours. I suspect I was the only person on Elizabeth Street that day who couldn’t speak Spanish. Many of the shops on the street feature super cheap products straight from China, not Mexico. Lots of shoe, perfume and trinket stores.

I took my time and wandered through several stores. I did spend some money:

New sandals – $16
Not leather but these are very comfy and seemed to be well-stitched. We will see if they make it through the summer.

A small, light pink purse – $12
I blame my good friend Sandy for this purchase. She mentioned that light pink purses were a “thing” this spring. No idea if she is correct but she planted a seed that somehow I “needed” a light pink purse. I went to the same little store that I visit whenever I am on Elizabeth Street. It is long and narrow and the floor is covered in big boxes full of purses. These are the same purses you find at Kohl’s, Target, Meijer, JC Penney’s – just way cheaper. This is guilt-free purse shopping, people! And the ladies who work there are extra nice.

Grandkid souvenirs – $4
There are knickknacks sold EVERYWHERE on this street, including numerous cheap, kid-friendly novelties. I picked up two coloring books and two cute little bouncy bugs on sticks that I suspect will be a big hit.

Sunglasses – $2
I don’t know where all my sunglasses went but they are not with me. The ones I chose had a retail tag on them for $18. I like them and had the salesgirl cut off the tag so I could wear them out of the store.

Certainly, none of these purchases were “needs,” strictly “wants.”  

And I wanted to have fun shopping… which I did ☺

Shoe Much Drama

So I returned the brand name sandals that I thought would be worth the high-for-me price because they would be so darn comfortable. In fact, they were terribly painful the very first time wore them..  Because I saved the packaging label –  I had ordered them for store pickup via Kohl’s.com – they were simple to return.

I jumped online later that evening and found a truly comfortable pair (I tested them in the store) on sale for 60% off. Hooray!

Now, if I had just stopped there…

Earlier that day I had passed by a stranger at work who was wearing the cutest blue sandals with a sturdy, two-inch heal. And, wouldn’t you know, Kohl’s had those very same sandals in my size on sale for half off.

Add to my shopping cart? Sure!

I am very happy with my two new pairs of sandals that totaled up cost less that the pair I returned. Happy Mother’s Day to me 🙂

Used Shoes

I mentioned that I had found two pairs of used shoes at Goodwill. One pair went almost directly into my “back to Goodwill” bag when I realized they were actually a size smaller than I wear. Kind of amazed my feet managed to squeeze into them when I tried them on at the store. I wore the other “previously owned” shoes today and, when I got home, I noticed they were basically deteriorating from the inside. No idea why. Into the garbage with those shoes.

I have had very good luck buying gently used shoes in the past, sticking strictly to quality, name brands. So I won’t stop looking for them in thrift stores or at garage sales.

For now, however, I have enough shoes. Done.

Garage Sales

It is finally spring in Michigan and there are garage sale signs everywhere.

I am a big fan of garage sales. I spent many happy Saturday mornings driving a van full of children, scouring my neighborhood for yard sale signs.

Garage sales are where you find the absolute lowest prices on pretty much everything. People just want stuff out if their house. Most people are like me when I hold a sale: what doesn’t sell is donated to a charity or thrift store. So I sell really, really low.

While Goodwill sells shirts for $4 each – their prices have been increasing steadily in Michigan – a garage sale shirt is more likely 50 cents.

The assortment of toys and household items is always abundant at garage sales. It’s also a great way to find sports equipment – I did really well when my kids were in tennis, football, lacrosse.

These days I can be convinced to hold a garage sale because they are organized by my townhouse association. All I have to do is price my items and display them in front of my unit. Still, my last attempt only netted me $20 for a day spent sitting in my garage. Again, I sell cheap.

I rarely stop at a garage sale these days because I am in the season of getting rid of things, not establishing a household or clothing children.  

Still, shopping at garage sales is my kind of fun. I am particularly tempted by neighborhood sales because it makes it so easy to hits a lot of sales in a short amount of time. I enjoy talking to the sellers and make sure to buy any cookies or lemonade sold by cute children. We grandmas support enterprising youth.

I may have to make time for some garage sales soon.

Oops, I did it again.

Well…I went shopping again.

Not the way I intended to spend this Sunday which, honestly, is the day of the week I really want to save for family, worship and peace.

Still, when my day when off the tracks (again) I decided I needed a new purse. Right now.

I spotted a decent sale at Target in the Sunday sale flyer and headed out. But first I swung by Dollar Tree for kitty litter to soak up an oil stain in the garage. I came away $8 poorer but happy with my $1 kitty litter, kitchen utensils, batteries and small tools. I love Dollar Tree.

Then I stopped by Goodwill on the hunt for a guilt-free purse. I came away with a super sturdy $7 wooden table that will work great on my deck with a coat of paint.

Next – Target, a place I rarely shop. There are only two items that tend to draw me in to Target – toilet paper and this lifesaving makeup.

The purses at Target weren’t great, even with a 20% off sale so I grabbed my wonder makeup and headed next door to Meijer.

Lo and behold, the purses at Meijer were 25% off (thank you, Mother’s Day sales!) I spotted an absolutely darling little one with sweet butterflies all over it (sounds awful but it was really cute.) However, even with the sale it would be $26 – a big amount for me. I walked all around the store with it, deciding. I remembered to pick up a can of spray paint for the table then I went back to the purses. To be honest, I need big purses. I like to carry a lot of “stuff” with me and I hate digging through a crammed purse.

The butterflies flew back to the rack.

I finally found the clearance purses and a big, tote-style bag. No pretty butterflies but exactly what practical me needed. It was originally $55, marked down to $10. A no brainer so hello, new purse!

When I got home I realized it was 100% leather. Sweet!

But, honestly, I have to stop shopping. Now.

 

So. Much. Shopping.

This past couple of weeks has been a blur of absolute shopping madness in my world.

I have made several purchases that I seriously had not planned on when I determined that this would be my year to seriously chunk away at my debt.

April turned out to be a very emotional and challenging month in my life. No need for details. Just more unexpected drama, trauma and expense.

So you would think that would leave me not willing to release ONE SINGLE PENNY from these old worn-out hands, right?

Wrong.

Instead, I think I got a bad case off the “poor me’s” which manifested in the following not-absolutely-necessary purchases:

Lola

Lola is a new-to-me Schwinn cruiser bike. It’s pink, which absolutely delights me. Did I need a new bike? Maybe, because I did really do go on bike rides with my friends and riding is a great stress reliever. Plus, the one I found for free at the junk yard last year isn’t shifting gears anymore and it seems silly to put any money into it.

I found Lola (that is the style name…and it fits) on Facebook Marketplace. She was $100 or half of what a new bike goes for and she is basically new. I think her previous owner – about a third my age – was embarrassed to be seen “cruising'” around on a sassy pink bike. Lola came with all her paperwork and the stickers still on her 🙂

Of course, then I had to buy Lola a pink bell ($5 – clearance at Walmart) and a pink bike lock (Amazon).

She does make me happy 🙂 

Watch

I like wristwatches. Last year I took six watches in to Batteries Plus and had new batteries put in. A year later, four of the watches no longer work. Sigh. So instead of buying more batteries that don’t last nearly as long as they should, I started looking for a new, name brand watch with good reviews that I could wear frequently. I decided on this one. I really like it. Thanks to discounts at Kohl’s, I saved $19. Not as much as I would have liked but I got a little impatient.

Clothes

I stand in front of my racks of clothes each day and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I bought most of these items. Probably that they were cheap, since almost everything came from thrift stores or clearance racks. Certainly, “Is it pretty?” or “Does it look good on me?” never entered my mind in my excitement to shop frugally.

Don’t be me. Don’t buy ugly. Those deals will hang in your closet until you bag them up and throw them in the car trunk to be dropped off at Goodwill.

All this to explain why I spent $122 on clothes at Kohl’s this past week. May not seem like a lot to some folks but that is a small fortune in my world. I bought a long skirt (sale) – because longs skirts are my new “thing” – a swingy red sweater/jacket (clearance), a black summer sweater (sale) and three tops (mostly clearance). As always when I shop at Kohl’s, I used a coupon for additional 20% off and I got $20 in Kohl’s cash.

I also made two trips to Goodwill this week and managed to buy more clothing items that I think could be considered “pretty.”

Sandals

Inspired by all this shopping, I continued  and bought some Sketchers sandals that I thought I really, really needed. Then I wore them to shop at Meijer today and my feet practically bled. Oh, the pain!

I will be returning the sandals to Kohl’s on Monday (always save packaging and receipts for a few weeks!)

I am determined to go straight to the customer service counter and then vamoose before spending any more money.

Time to thoroughly review my debts. And my goals!

Apologies

Hi, I’m back.

April was a rough month in my world.  But it’s May now. The weather forecast for today is sunshine and 75 degrees. Hooray!

It is time to get back to writing about how I am trying to save money and live frugally. Ironically, this past week found me shopping an inordinate amount.

Not sure what triggered this mad-for-me spending spree. Maybe it was that spring finally, finally came to Michigan. Maybe some physical evidence of positive change was needed in my life. Maybe both.

Anyway, watch for a full “confessional” of my spending “splurge” to post soon.

Find a Room

I leave in a few days, heading to Texas. My elderly parents spend half the year in a senior community in Brownsville – much wiser than trying to survive the snow and cold of Northern Michigan, where they live the rest of the year.

They are in wonderful shape for their age (88) – sharp as tacks – but too fragile to manage the cross country flight on their own. We learned this the hard way the year they were trapped in Dallas coming home when American Airlines’ computers went down for a day. My dad wasn’t traveling with his cell phone charger and we soon lost touch with them. Fortunately, while we were panicking back in Michigan, a young couple “adopted” my folks, bought them lunch, helped them book a new flight, stood in lines for them, etc. until they were safely back in our care. Angels in disguise, for sure.

So, our routine is that my youngest brother travels west with them in October and gets them all settled and safe in their place (he can fix anything). Come spring, it’s my turn to fly out and help them close the Brownsville place up and then trek back to Michigan.

They will spend the evening here before heading north – too expensive to fly into Traverse City. This provides the chance for family – kids, grandkids, great-grandkids – to visit with them after not seeing them for so long. Since I sold my house and now live in a townhouse with too many stairs, they stay in a handicap accessible hotel room for the night.

Before I head south (west), I wanted to have a room booked for them. Always looking for a deal, I started my hunt on Priceline but soon determined that it wasn’t very helpful because of my specific need for an accessible room. I couldn’t find a way to make that a part of my search.

Then I tried Trivago (those television ads worked on me) which also didn’t offer that filter, however, they listed not only the hotels but the specific rooms. This enabled me to directly book an accessible room.

My initial search came up with several Choice Hotels. I saw that I could pay a little less and earn “extras” if I became a Choice Hotel “member.” Since there was no fee to “join” and the “membership” required very basic information, I signed up.

I searched by ratings, fully aware that those can be inflated. I found an accessible room at Comfort Inn and decided to call them directly to make sure it was really available. It was and I booked it for $90 plus 15% tax. I wasn’t happy with the price and even mentioned that to the guy taking the reservation. It’s didn’t help.

Today, I decided to spend part of my lunch hour checking out the place, since I have never been there before. So glad I did! Although the staff was very kind and graciously showed me the room my folks would be staying in, the room itself was not impressive. The “accessibility” was limited to the bathroom door being slightly wider, handles round the bath tub and an elevated toilet seat. What I really needed was a walk-in/roll-in shower. Plus – the place smelled funny and looked like it was time for a makeover.

I came back to work, jumped back on Trivago and found a much better deal at Econo Lodge. The ratings were the same but the price for an accessible room was much better –only $64. The photos online looked pretty nice. I booked it and I will cancel my other reservation tonight.

Whether or not I get a chance to “preview” this room before I leave, at least it will be cheaper.

Pay Attention

I have made more than my share of financial blunders in my life. I think I will share a couple and the really important lesson I learned from them:

Pay attention.

Making a mistake simply because you weren’t paying attention to the situation is particularly painful. These are bad things in your life that could have been avoided. And you are the reason they weren’t.

Example one:  healthcare discount at work

My employer encourages employees to try to get healthier and maintain good health by encouraging us to sign up for a wellness program. If you sign up, your monthly contribution to your health insurance is reduced by about $50 a month. Then, if you participate in wellness activities throughout the year, you can earn rewards up to $300.

A great deal right? Yes, yes, it most certainly is.

The thing is, this program also requires participants to fill out forms and surveys throughout the year. If you miss the deadline for completing these forms, you miss out on the cash benefits.

Several years ago, I completely missed the enrollment deadline.  And no matter how hard I begged the folks running the program, there was no fixing this error.

So I suffered for an entire year, spending more than I needed to for my health insurance and being sad every time my colleagues celebrated earning the extra $$.

Example two: the stupid mower

Now, it wasn’t the riding lawn mower that was stupid; it was me. I lived alone at my house in the country for a couple years after my divorce. Mowing and lawn care suddenly became my responsibility. Who knew you needed to check the oil in a riding lawn mower? Certainly not me. How embarrassing…and expensive.

I didn’t have the money  for a replacement so I spent an entire summer mowing three acres with a push mower. That took at least four hours – sometimes five or six. But, hey, I burned a lot of calories, right?

I continue to make financial mistakes because I don’t pay attention to the situation. When this happens, I try to forgive myself and vow to be smarter next time.