Have You Ever Bought Second-Hand Clothes?

When it comes to clothes, I’ve changed my approach a bit over the years.

When younger, I really wanted to dress well.  Professionally, I bought good clothes for the office.  That’s not exactly a personal finance faux pas, as appearance can matter to some degree depending on the type of work you do.  At the very least, dressing sharply for work won’t hurt – let’s put it that way.  I enjoyed the Anniversary Sale from Nordstrom.  Really, the guy who has posted about picking up pennies was actually more than willing to pay up for clothes!  I even bought pretty good stuff for weekends too – that was probably where I cared the most, actually.

Since then, I’ve toned it down quite a bit.  I’m really not into shopping for clothes at this point.  When I do, it’s just a few times a year during sales, and I try to get in and out of the mall within a short period of time.  Stereotypical male shopping experience.  The places are more modest now, by the way.

That being said, I’ve never gone to the point of getting second-hand clothes.  The closest I’ve gotten to doing that was only once, and it was more of a joke than anything else.  I was going to a “70′s” party, where everyone was expected to show up in their tackiest disco-era outfits.  Of course, nobody actually owns such outfits (nobody I know, anyway!), so I imagine people just went out and looked for weird outfits.

This is where I went to a thrift store, and actually bought pants and a blazer for a grand total of $2.  Yes, I bought a gaudy, purple outfit for this crazy 1970′s party – and wore it.  But you know, $2 is actually a pretty good deal for a one-time funny event like that.  That’s less than the cost of buying coffee at some places!

But that’s the furthest I’ve ever gone in terms of second-hand clothes. At this point, I don’t care to buy any for myself.  My youngest kid wore a few hand-me-down shirts from friends kids when a year or two old, but that’s it.  I mean, clothes at that age are meant for the parents to think their kids are cute, the kids themselves couldn’t care less!

All this being said, while it’s not for me, I totally respect if people buy them.  I guess I’ve never given it much thought, but I’m curious if you’ve gone down the path of buying second-hand clothes for yourself.

My Questions for You

Have you ever bought and worn any?

What kind of deals have you gotten?

Am I missing out on a nice way to save?

The “Free” Movie Ticket That Was Not So Free

How would you like to see a movie in a theater, for the price of zero dollars and zero cents?  Yes, we’re talking about a free movie ticket, one that was handed out by an employee of the theater itself after a recent show.

Sounds pretty good, right?  It certainly couldn’t hurt to get a free ticket, given the cost of going to the movies these days.  I’ve written about how to save money on movies, and there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to going out to see a show.  That’s what makes getting this otherwise expensive option for free an appealing thing.

First, I’ll share how and why the free tickets were given out.  Recently, while seeing a movie at a nearby theater, the sound went out in the middle of the show.  For a few minutes, there was no sound at all.  The theater wasn’t crowded at all, with seemingly less than 30 people for a matinee show, and nobody got up to complain to the management of the place.  People were kind of looking around, looking at each other, and apparently just hoping that the problem would go away or get corrected.

At that point, I just got up and decided to tell the theater management what was going on.  On my way out the door, I bumped into an employee who seemed to sense there was an issue. I told him there was no sound, and he acknowledged this and left to presumably take care of it.  Which, he apparently did, because within 30 seconds we had sound again. 

Again, in total we missed maybe a couple of minutes of sound in the entire movie.  Not a huge deal at all, right?

After the movie ended, I was surprised to see that there was an employee of the theater standing by the door to the lobby, handing out a complimentary movie ticket.  Yes, for the inconvenience of missing out on a few minutes of sound, we could each get a free ticket for a future movie.  Hooray!

Not a bad move by the theater’s management, for a variety of reasons.  For one, it shows that they are interested in keeping their customers happy.  I liked getting that ticket! Certainly better than nothing, or no acknowledgement by them.  I sure wasn’t expecting anything at all, since I didn’t think missing a few minutes of sound was anything to get bent out of shape over.

But then I thought about it some more.  When you come back for a free movie, it’s not like you’re guaranteed to spend no money.  Actually, if you buy any concessions, you might spend a lot.  I actually spent $4.75 for a bottle of water on that hot day, which is outrageous but I was really thirsty.  The medium popcorn I spied was $7.00, if I saw correctly. Glad I didn’t buy it, as that I not cheap!

So, if you take them up on their “generous” offer, you’re a potential source of additional revenue from sales of overpriced concessions!

Just another example of how there is value to a business giving something away for free.  From the customer’s perspective, it’s also a good example of the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch!

My Questions For You

Have you ever gotten something that seemed free or really inexpensive up front, but had a lot of hidden potential costs associated with it?

How much do you usually spend on concessions at a movie theater?

This post was an Editor’s Pick in the Carnival of Personal Finance at Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance

Crazy Prices at the Grocery Store: The Citrus Example

tangerinesI happen to like freshly squeezed orange juice.  There is something about it that’s so refreshing and energizing, particularly on a warm day.  The sugar seems to go to work right away, which is precisely why I rarely get it anymore.  Oh, and it’s expensive to buy and takes some effort to make at home.

With that in mind, it’s only a rare treat for me to get fresh squeezed juice.  It might have been around 6 months since the last time.  This is why at the grocery store recently, a container of what looked like orange juice caught my eye.  As it turns out it was actually tangerine juice. Close enough, I thought.

It wasn’t freshly squeezed on the spot, but I wanted to get it anyway.  The packaging was nice, and it just looked good.  That is, until I took one look at the price, and then had to do a second and third look to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  The container which included just 8 ounces of juice was selling for $5.99.  That’s right – 8 ounces of tangerine juice for $5.99.

Think about that – that’s almost $0.75 per ounce of juice.  For many, that might be but a sip.  For $0.75? Seriously?  How could juice be that expensive.  For $5.99, that 8 ounces of juice had better make me into a superhero or something!

Clearly, that’s probably expensive for more than just a few people, and we can count me in that group.  Reducing food expenses is a goal of mine, or at least keeping these costs under control.  Now, I’m not one to sacrifice health for money, but I think that there are healthy alternatives that are also cheaper than spending so much on a small container of fruit juice.

Example #1: Buying Whole Fruit.

I recently bought a bag of clementines for $4.99.  Okay, clementines might not be the same thing as tangerines, but they are comparable enough to me.  It’s not like we’re comparing apples to oranges here.  Lame joke, I know :)

Anyway, this bag of citrus had at least 10 individual pieces of fruit in it.  Probably more, but let’s say 10 to be conservative.  This means each clementine cost no more than $0.50.  Doing the math, we can see what the opportunity cost of the $5.99 juice is: 8 ounces of juice, or 10 whole clementines.

The choice for me is clear.

Example #2: Drinking water

Okay, so maybe we don’t want whole fruit instead of juice. As an alternative, perhaps we use another drink as an example: water.  Clearly, drinking tap water saves money versus some other beverage options.  I would think it would save money versus this juice option.

Let’s say that an 8 ounce glass of water costs $0.05 each to have at home.  I don’t really know what the exact cost is, but it can’t be that much – at least where I live! So, just to be conservative in our comparison, we can overestimate the cost of water to be a nickel per glass.  In that case, using that price assumption, we could have 120 glasses of water for the cost of one glass of juice.

Bottom Line: we can save a decent amount of money by thinking of opportunity costs of expensive purchases, including those from the grocery store!

My Questions for You:

Have you noticed any surprisingly expensive items at the grocery store?

Do you ever think of opportunity costs with your food or drink purchases, comparing to what else you can buy for that same amount of money?

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Tip Jars!

tipsSo, I’m actually sitting at a local Starbucks as I type this, waiting for an appointment.  Since I had a little bit of time, I thought I would get a few things done.  Of course, I’m paying for the opportunity, based on my very non-frugal, nearly $5 purchase of a drink and a snack.

That’s $5 without a tip.  I have to add this comment because, you see, there is a tip jar here right at the place where you order and pay.  It was filled with a few dollars and quite a few coins when I noticed it was sitting there, so clearly there are people who feel compelled to spend more for their purchase.  Interestingly, soon after I noticed online that there was a story on CBS News regarding a controversy about tip jars at this very chain!

You can read the article itself to get details about that controversy.  Now, I don’t have an opinion on that particular issue.  But the idea that there is that story out there – along with my own observations about this and other tip jars I’ve seen at a wide range of different businesses – leads me to write this post unrelated to that specific issue.  My own topic I’d like to discuss the notion that tip jars are ridiculous!  I don’t see the need for businesses to have tip jars!

Really, I don’t recall them being so prevalent in days gone by.  It seemed as though tips were generally given at restaurants, where someone actually served food to you.  Or, perhaps at a bar.  But at a place where you ordered at the counter and picked up your own food, there wasn’t a tip.  You paid, got your food or drink, and went to sit down afterward.

It seems logical to me that for a job, there should be a set level of pay.  Why is there a tip jar at places where the people are simply doing their jobs?  It seems like quick-serve restaurants or coffee-shop type of places tend to have more of these, but here are some other places I’ve seen tip jars:

  • Ice cream shop
  • Shuttle bus
  • Bathroom (yes, there was an attendant)
  • Dry cleaners

What has changed, to make these jobs within the realm of tipping? Is the burden of paying their wages being indirectly shifted to the consumer?

I feel bad saying this, but I don’t want to contribute to tip jars anymore.  I’ve written about this before, discussing that how much you should tip in given situations has seemingly changed. As in, upward.

At restaurants, I’ve been tipping 15% to 20% these days.  I feel like that’s fair, and I realize that servers don’t have easy jobs and are getting paid very little.  I’m not jaded, despite my encounter with the crafty waitress some years ago! If their wages are set up in such a way that tips are really expected, then it’s only fair to comply.  But not every job warrants a tip, right?

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts on tip jars?

Do you think that what’s become “tip-worthy” has changed in recent years?

Squirreling Gone Wild #34: The High Cost of Being Cheap

It’s been a while since the last edition of the old Squirreling Gone Wild series, and a recent discussion with a former coworker – where we were recalling old stories – got me thinking of an episode of cheapskate behavior of one of our former colleagues.  I thought I would share it as the 34th edition in the series, and get your thoughts on it.

In reality, the idea that this person would engage in cheapskate behavior wasn’t a total surprise.  She is the person who was obsessed with free food in the office, to the point of claiming to spend only $100 per month on food due to taking leftovers from meetings and department lunches.  It was something that she could eventually laugh at a bit, and really she took pride in it.  Or, should I say, threw her pride out the window by hustling for free things more than she hustled to get work done.  Hey, it was entertaining if nothing else!

The Frugal Co-worker on a Business Trip

Anyway, there was a point in time where a few of us had to travel to Philadelphia for a business trip.  It would have been a fairly short trip, just one full day there, and two nights.  We would get in the night before the meeting, have the meeting the next day, then stay that night and fly back in the morning.

So, we often collaborated on booking flights, to see if we could travel together. That part wasn’t really something I needed to do, and frankly I had no problem traveling alone, but the culture in the office was to have people travel together.  No problem, I can do that.  Three of us got on the same flight, but then this other person – let’s call her “Jane” – booked an earlier flight to Philadelphia on her own.

Then, the day of the meetings, we were all going to go out for dinner later in the evening.  Jane tried to avoid the conversation, then said she was going to be busy.  We thought maybe she knew people in town who she wanted to visit, or maybe she was just tired.  Nope.  Ultimately, she said that she only had a short period of time to go shopping, and had a lot to buy.

Why? She said that she could save on sales tax if she bought things in Philadelphia.  Apparently, the sales tax on clothing there was much lower than it was in Illinois.  So Jane felt that she had to maximize her time that evening to rush to stores to buy clothes and shoes.  When our meetings ended that day, she literally packed her bags and rushed out the door without saying goodbye!  She also took a different flight back the next morning, so we never saw her until being back at the office.

Now, I’m cool with people marching to the beat of a different drummer. Conforming can be overrated. That being said, when you’re dealing with people with whom you work – and the culture associated with that workplace – sometimes you have to be cognizant of “expectations”.  In Jane’s case, she blew off those expectations and a dinner with coworkers just to save some money shopping.

Was the benefit of saving some money worth the cost of alienating coworkers? Again, not that I cared that much – and frankly, I smile when I think about it. It was funny at the time! Yet, in reality it was weird and it bothered the other people on the trip.  I don’t think it could have been worth it for her to save a few bucks on clothes, in the bigger picture.

My Own Business Trip

I actually had a somewhat similar situation present itself to me a few years before that.  I was on a trip to Boston, where a group of coworkers and I were at a conference.  My boss was there as well, and all of us had dinner plans for that evening.

During the day,  a supplier talked to me about sports, just making small talk.  I had mentioned that I had always wanted to see a game at Fenway Park, and would have really liked to do so if I had time.  At that point, the salesman in him pounced like a tiger – saying that he had tickets for that night’s Red Sox game, and that he could keep a ticket for me. FREE!

What to do? I enjoy seeing different ballparks, and especially appreciate historic venues.  We have one here in Chicago (Wrigley Field), had another one a few decades ago – the old Comiskey Park - that I visited often as a kid before it was torn down in 1990.  I made sure to visit the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit before it was shut down back in 1999.  As you can see, I like the old parks, and Fenway is one that would be a treat to see.

But what about that dinner with the boss?

One might think I was shortsighted in my own way, but I actually turned the guy down.  Instead, went out to dinner with my boss and coworkers.  Sure, it was a really nice dinner.  But I have to say, going to the ballgame would have been much more fun!

Of course, it would have looked very bad if I chose a great fun evening over dinner with the group.  Perceptions matter, and ultimately our income matters more.  I thought it would have been penny wise and pound foolish to go for the free tickets and the great memories, instead of prioritizing the norms of the workplace.  I chose the latter, thinking of the bigger picture.

Besides, who’s to say that I couldn’t go to Fenway another time in the future?

My Questions for You

If you were that coworker, would you have taken advantage of the opportunity to save money shopping? Or, would you have given that up and conformed to the norms of the group and gone out to dinner with coworkers?

If you were me on the other trip, would you have taken advantage of the opportunity for a cool life experience on someone else’s expense? Or, would you have done what was expected on the job, and gone to dinner with the boss and coworkers?

Have you ever seen anyone lose respect by being cheap in any situation?

TV Commericals Glorifying Materialism

Have you ever seen any of the State Farm “Discount Double Check” ads on TV?  The one that might come to mind is the original one with the Green Bay quarterback seeing his signature move being used along with the discount double check.  He gets hazed a bit from some customers who don’t believe he’s a real quarterback in this one.  There have been subsequent commercials as well, with other Green Bay players, as well as him in a school.  Pretty good commercials, I think!

Then, I came across a commercial where the discount double check is mentioned again, but this time it’s in the context of two women shopping at some trendy clothing/accessories store.  A far cry from a pro quarterback, right?  Well, in this one, the women run over to a few attractive purses that they spotted by a window, clearly impressed by the bags.  One of the ladies says the usual “like a good neighbor…” line.  Lo and behold, POOF! - out of the blue and agent show up.

She then asks the agent how much her discount double check saved her, and the guy tells her $150.  Her next move – to immediately and enthusiastically say “Done!”, while prancing over to the cashier to presumably buy the purse.  The message that some my get from this – save money on one expense, and then you’ll have more to spend on something fun!

Now, I’m all for having fun and getting things we want.  However, in this case the clear connection I made was that money saved was now available for a splurge.  I’m not linking to it here, but you can easily find it on YouTube to see what I mean. 

It reminds me of how some popular songs seem to glorify spending.  There was the song involving Katy Perry mentioning maxing out credit cards, and another artist bringing up music and money in the context of not paying rent.  Not exactly sending messages about the merits of frugality and personal finance!

I’d like to see a revised commercial, where the woman holding the purse drops it upon hearing about the $150 savings.  Then, maybe she could exclaim things along the lines of:

  • “Oooh…Emergency Fund!”
  • “Cha-ching! More for retirement!”
  • “Paying down that remaining debt, baby!”

You know, some excitement over having extra money – and how great it is to use it for personal finance goals!

I suppose that’s advertising that might not be such a hit with the masses.  But it would be a winner with me :)

My Questions for You

Have you seen this ad – or did you search for it to check it out? What are your thoughts?

What do you think of the notion of celebrating saving and financial responsibility, instead of materialism?

What would you think about doing with $150 you just found out you saved on another purchase?

6 Examples of When Not to be Frugal

Frugality gets a bad rap in some circles, and in a way, such criticism can be over the top.  There are people that simply think that it’s dumb to focus on saving at all, while one should simply aspire to bigger and better things with career or investments.  In other words, they say make money and enjoy it while you can.

Admittedly, I do like to save money.  Now, that’s no shock to those of you that visit here regularly.  After all, I’ve shared a story about how I’ve picked up pennies  on the ground below the window at drive-thrus, as well as a host of other tactics that can be seen as examples of extreme frugality.  Saving is fun.

Plus, let’s face it - we won’t have a chance to grow net worth if we don’t save.  It takes living within our means, and making sure our income exceeds our expenses, to allow this to happen of course.  Then we can take that difference, invest it, and improve our situation.  Bottom line is that saving money plays a big role in our financial success, and frugality can be a key part of it.

However, there really are times when we can’t be too focused on frugality.  While it has its place, we can’t be myopic and lose sight of the bigger picture.  Here are 6 times when we don’t need to be frugal:

When it Costs Money to Save Money

Sometimes, frugality addicts can go to great lengths to save a few dollars. Or, in some cases, pennies!  I have heard people suggest things such as driving 60 minutes round trip to visit a cheaper grocery store, or driving 20 minutes round trip to go to a gas station that sells gas for 8 cents less per gallon.  When you add up the cost in terms of gas, in order to drive to these places, it seems ludicrous to make those attempts to save.  Particularly for using gas to save money on gas!

When it Takes Time to Save Money

Clipping coupons can be a nice way to save money.  However, if we spend 30 minutes clipping coupons in order to save $4 at the grocery store, is it worth it? Would you want to spend your free time working at an $8 hourly rate? If so, maybe it would be worth it. But these are the types of calculations that make sense for us to make, determining the ROI on coupons, in order to see if we are truly spending our time wisely.

Food Choices

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of this one.  Did you see above, where I talked about plucking coins off the ground at the drive thru window, where people dropped them?  The drive thru isn’t exactly indicative of optimal nutrition :)  However, I’ve gotten much better with choices, and realize that it doesn’t help to buy cheap food just to save money.   Food that is healthy and cheap is a great choice, but unhealthy and cheap isn’t.  What we save up front we might pay back and then some in health care costs and lower quality of life later.

Necessary Health Care

Have you heard of people who avoid getting healthcare on purpose? By this, I mean people making a decent salary with decent benefits, but choosing not spend on insurance because they “never get sick”.  I have.  Plus, there are people who don’t want to make doctor visits due to copay costs and medical costs, despite the necessity of such things.  I get that some things aren’t truly necessary to do, but others actually are.  Don’t shortchange your quality of life to save a few dollars.

Maintenance and Repairs

This can take many forms, but the ones that jump out at me are home and car maintenance.  Like anything else, if we do the little things along the way, the long-term results will likely be better.  Delay the important expenses, or try to cut corners where we shouldn’t, and we could ulimately lose more money later.

Generosity

I know that many will disagree, but I think it’s rewarding to be generous in spirit and action where feasible. Now, obviously we can’t do this at all times and for everyone. But being willing to shell out a few dollars here and there to be a good sport or truly help someone in need are both nice qualities and can be rewarding.  For example, if someone you know asks if you can buy girl scout cookies, how could it really hurt to buy one box? Again, can’t do it for everyone, but sometimes we can.

More importantly, there are people in need.  Not all needy people are lazy bums or moochers, some folks have truly experienced misfortune.  A few dollars to help on occasion won’t break the bank.  To each their own though, of course.

My Questions For You:

Which of these 6 instances of when not to be frugal resonates most with you?  How have you applied it in your life?

Are there any you disagree with?

Do you have any more to add?

Here is How I’m Going to Get the Ultimate Black Friday Savings Experience

What could be better than lining up at 2AM outside a retail store, shivering in the cold while guarding your position in line? After all, you will be engaging in the the thrill of competing with other bargain hunters who are also trying to race into the store and grab some deals!  Who needs sleep, and who needs all that hard earned money you’ve managed to save?

No thanks.  Last year, I posted about the best way to save money on Black Friday, and shared how one can ensure that costs will be kept to a minimum.  Again, we want to have fun and enjoy ourselves without overspending, right?  Well, I plan to do just that this year, and not go shopping on Black Friday.

Sound boring? Well, I know that it will to many folks.  But the question is, are you buying what you need?  Or, in the case of many Black Friday shoppers, shopping for sport.  Yes, I think that some folks view shopping competitively, or at the very least as a form of entertainment.

Okay, we can all define what constitutes entertainment, so I’m nobody to judge that.  I just think that if that’s the case, just admit it.  Otherwise, there isn’t much need for people to be waiting in line in the wee hours of the morning, disrupting their sleep cycle just to stampede for savings.  In many cases, I really believe that some folks buy things that they don’t need or truly wouldn’t normally buy, but get caught up in the frenzy of great offers.

I’m not saying I won’t buy anything at all during the holidays. Of course I will, as I have quite a few presents to buy for others. And, when I see deals for things that I need for myself, I’ll jump in that way too.  The more it can be done online, the better. I do admit though that every holiday season I do like to spend an afternoon out and about, taking in the festivities, etc.  It can be a lot fun, of course.

However, Black Friday itself, with all the craziness of weird hours, frenzied crowds, and offers that tempt us to buy things we don’t need?  I’ll pass this time.  Call me boring, but I’ll have a great day anyway, doing other fun things! Oh, and it will be after getting a great night of sleep as well, keeping in mind the idea that the trade-off between sleep and money is to think about :)

My Questions for You

What are your Black Friday plans for this year?

Do you find it worthwhile to jump into the fray and hunt for deals on Black Friday?

Have you ever waited in any really long lines, or gotten to stores at odd hours, in order to get a deal?

 

How Much Do You Spend on Halloween?

The cost of Halloween can be downright scary!

Halloween has become big business.

Back in the day, it was a time focused on kids. You know, dressing up and going out trick or treating. It was a fun time, something that involved going around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, and getting some candy.  Some spooky ghost stories added to the fun.  All in all, good times, and a fun part of childhood.

Today, Halloween is practically a holiday for some people.  Or, at least to the extent that there has become a “Halloween Season” of sorts.

You’ll see not just kids enjoying this season – but teenagers and grown ups as well.  There are parties all over the place, and even some workplaces get into the fun in some capacity.  Halloween costumes have gotten more elaborate, and for the grown ups – quite expensive and even competitive.  People go to great lengths to revel in the festivities.

Oh, that’s not it. There are tons of Halloween-themed products out in stores.  Aside from costumes and related items, there are lots of Halloween season clothes, as well as food products out there.  It’s not just candy corn, but anything and everything that can be pumpkin flavored or have some kind of monster label attached to is leveraged in attempts to monetize the season.

That brings me to the following question: How much will you spend on Halloween?

Having kids, I look at it as a time where it’s all about them.  I guess I’m a bit retro that way.  But really, it’s also about – you guessed it – not spending a whole lot of money! Don’t get me wrong – we have other fun fall traditions that we take part in that do cost some money, such as apple picking and visiting the pumpkin patch.  So it’s a matter of choice where such spending will go.

So, how much will be spent on Halloween in this household?

Well, of course money will be spent on kids’ costumes.  Aside from that, in terms of spending on grown ups, here is the amount that will be spent: ZERO.

Yes, that might seem oh so 20th Century to not be going to a Halloween party and spending tons of money on getting dressed up, eating/drinking, etc. I last did that 4 years ago, and dropped $200 or so that evening!  Also, it might seem out of place to not be spending lots of money on Halloween-themed clothes, or decorations, or things of the like.  Rather, I’m letting this be a kids holiday.

Admittedly, I do enjoy giving candy to kids that trick-or-treat. To me, it’s a fun part of simply being a regular part of society here in the U.S.  Kind of like choosing to buy girl scout cookies – participating is just kind of wholesome and enjoying being a part of things.  That being said, this year we won’t have anyone home on that day, so no candy will be bought either.

Bottom line – aside from spending on the kids, I’m spending zero on Halloween this year.  And liking it!

My Questions for You

Aside from any spending on kids, how much do you spend on Halloween?

Do you think this is one of those times of the year that you just have to spend money, or not?

Even if you don’t spend much, do you still enjoy participating (as I usually do)?