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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Think You Know the Cheapest Grocery Store- Think Again

There are certain things in life I just assume: the sky is blue, Grandma’s food is safe to eat, and Wal-Mart is the cheapest place to buy groceries. Last week my assumptions have been shaken to the core. No, my grandmother didn’t poison me, and the sky didn’t turn neon green; I found out that Wal-Mart might not have the lowest prices when it comes to groceries! All these year of thinking I’m saving money could be lies. A group in my supply chain management class did a study on pricing and grocery stores (only in Reno). As you would expect, most of the people in my class (including me) assumed Wal-Mart would be the cheapest. Once their presentation was over they did the big reveal, and their findings suggested that Safeway was the cheapest grocery store in our area. Some of the stores they compared were: Riley’s, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Costco, Whole Foods, and a local Co-Op. They got their results by making a large shopping list and going around to each of the stores to figure out how much money the groceries would cost when buying comparable items.

My first instinct was that they’re full of it. I’ve shopped at Safeway and Wal-Mart, and I truly believed Wal-Mart was cheaper (which is why most poor college kinds shop at Wal-Mart). I could see a lot of room for error in their calculations. I had no idea if the brands they bought were the same ones that I usually get. I brushed it off. They were wrong. The next class period I overheard everyone talking, and apparently an article came out in some big newspaper that reinforces their findings: Wal-Mart isn’t the cheapest grocery store. I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find the article (if you have seen this article please let me know where it is). I’m choosing to believe my classmates, because I doubt they plotted against me to change where I buy my groceries. I’m wondering to myself, how can this be? Have I been brain-washed by Wal-Mart? Please tell me I’m not putting up with their terrible crowds and lighting for nothing! Main goal has been to save money by finding the cheapest groceries, and I might have failed! 

I’ll probably continue to shop at Wal-Mart because I swear it’s cheaper, but there must be some truth to their findings. Maybe it’s time for me to do some research of my own (I do need to go grocery shopping today). I may have been making a huge personal finance mistake by assuming that Wal-Mart’s atmosphere is terrible so their prices must be the lowest. Have you done your research on where to buy your groceries? What did you find?

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Posted by on April 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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A Non-Negotiable Guide to Smart Purchases

Like most of you, I try to be frugal whenever possible. For some us it just comes natural and for others it’s hard work. I see myself moving away from frivolous spending towards frugal spending daily. I’ve been trying really hard to take care of my personal finances so it’s becoming painful to pay full price for something! Last weekend I went shoe shopping, and I found a pair that I really liked. I thought they made me look professional and laid back (I’m not sure how that happens, but it did). They weren’t on sale, and the store refused to give me a discount. Even though I really wanted those darn shoes, I couldn’t pull the trigger. I was able to walk away from them because, to me, shoes aren’t important. It’s crucial that we all take a minute to think about what’s important to us. I’m not talking about friends, family, and pets. We all find those things important. I’m looking at this from a purchasing point of view (most of us don’t buy our loved ones). If we know which purchases are important to us then we will also know which aren’t.

 I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long time, and it’s really helped me save money while being satisfied with my purchasing choices. Every time we buy something there is usually a name brand and a generic/off brand. Which should we get? Really frugal people might always go for the cheapest products, but most of us, even if we care about our finances, won’t be content if we practice that type of shopping. The following is an example from my past that will help explain this. A couple years ago I lived with my friend Jimmy. Jimmy ended up getting the flu, and he wanted to borrow some NyQuil from me. At the time I had two huge bottles of some stuff I bought that were generic NyQuil. When I bought them I thought I was getting a great deal. They were 2 for the price of 1! When I handed them over to him he looked like a dear stuck in the headlights. He reluctantly took some. When I got home a few hours later he had a bottle of actual NyQuil sitting on the kitchen table. When I asked him about it he said, “That generic stuff doesn’t work. I had to go get the real thing.” I was shocked. Here I thought I got a good deal on some disgusting tasting off brand NyQuil, but it wasn’t good enough for him. To me medicine is medicine. The brand doesn’t matter. I’m not going to spend extra money to get an actual bottle of NyQuil. To Jimmy all cold medicines are different, and even though they have the same ingredients, some work better than others. He knows he is going to pay more for the “real” stuff, but he is willing to do so because it makes him feel better. He cares about his personal finances, but sometimes we have to go with what we trust (even if it costs extra).

How can you save money by knowing which purchases are important to you? Follow these 4 steps and you can get your answer:

1) Make a list with 3-5 non-negotiable items that you won’t go cheap on.

          a. EX: medicine, food, and electronics

2) Memorize your list or carry it around with you.

3) Every time you buy something check to see if it’s one of your non-negotiable items.

4) If it’s not on your list go for the cheapest thing you can find that still fits your needs, and if it is on your list go with whatever you think is best.

The whole point of this is to keep your list short. If you have a list with 100 items it won’t help your personal finances. If you only have a few non-negotiable it will save you money, make shopping easier, and you can be proud with your purchasing decisions. Jimmy’s list has medicine on it, but it doesn’t have clothes. When he goes shopping he knows he won’t be frugal when buying Nyquil, but he also knows he should shop for clothes off the clearance rack. It’s important to remember that budgeting doesn’t mean always buying cheap stuff. It means you’re taking care of your money in a way that suits you best and enables you to meet your goals. This is just another tool to stay on track. My question to you is: Do you know which purchases are important to you?

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Personal Finance Mistakes- Watch and Learn

When the markets crashed in 2008 it changed a lot of people’s lives. For most, money was tight. People that were once making $100,000 a year selling luxury items were now cleaning toilets at their local McDonalds. At that point a paradigm shift started to occur in our society, and families everywhere started to pull their purse strings closed. They needed to re-evaluate their personal finances and save money. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t know anything about personal finances or being frugal. The door was left wide open for them to make mistakes when they thought they were making sound financial decisions. Luckily for us, we can use their mistakes as examples so we don’t have to make them ourselves.

Mistake 1: Using coupons they didn’t need- When the recession started to occur it became apparent that most of us needed to save money. Companies also saw this so they flooded us with coupons. It became so big that we even have TV shows about (extreme) couponing. Using a coupon is wonderful if it’s used to purchase something you really need. One dollar off a loaf of bread, I’ll take it!  The problem occurs when we use coupons to purchase items that we don’t need. Spending $10 dollars on a 30 pound bag of pop rocks might sounds like a great deal, but what the heck are you going to do with a mountain of pop rocks? That example’s ridiculous, but it happens to me all the time. I’ll think about buying something because I have a coupon even though I don’t really need it. Just because I’m getting a good deal for that product doesn’t mean it’s helping my checkbook!

Mistake 2: Making decisions based on emotions- We can all get emotional when it comes to our finances, and that’s why it’s important to keep an open mind. When the economy was collapsing everyone was trying to protect themselves in any way they could. People were selling all their investments and personal belongings. Others were taking money out of their retirement funds to try and save belongings they really couldn’t afford. Whichever way they were going, a lot of those decisions were rushed. Since 2008 I’ve talked to quite a few people that made rushed decisions and almost all of them regret their actions. Take the investments for example; a lot of them would have rebounded to where they were in 2007, but when people sold them on a whim they sealed their fate of a net loss. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I remember wishing I had money to invest when the markets were crashing. I would have bought B of A. If only…

Mistake 3: Not discussing financial goals- As I mentioned above, after the financial collapse families started to cut back on their spending. From what I’ve seen, most families have one person that deals with most of their finances. That can be a very effective method for money management. If someone is more knowledgeable in personal finance it’s good to let them take the reins. The problem occurs when this person leads their family in a direction that everyone hasn’t agreed on. Having common financial goals is the key to household success, and if you never take the time to set-up these goals you’ll run into trouble. Say, hypothetically, I thought it was important to save money for a family vacation. I mean this whole recession talk has really got me down, and I just want to lie on a beach sipping margaritas. My girlfriend, on the other hand, thinks it’s really important to save money so she can be a stay at home mom. To her, nothing’s more important than spending time with our future children. If I’m the one in charge of our checkbook, but I don’t have a clear understanding of what we both want, I am more likely to take our family in the wrong direction. Once she figures out what’s going on (they always do) we will have major issues. This was a silly example, but when you plug vacation in with keeping your house and trade staying home with the children with paying off student loans it becomes very serious.

 I think most of us read blogs so we can learn a thing or two. The mistakes above were just a few things I’ve noticed since the financial turmoil in 2008. Please share any mistakes you’ve noticed people making since then. If we can all share our observations we might actually be able to help someone!

        

   

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Make Budgeting Easier- Use Financial Software

I’m a late starter when it comes to using personal finance software. I’ve always viewed it as a boring spreadsheet that I could make myself in Excel if I really wanted to. Boy was I wrong! I was lucky enough to receive Quicken as gift yesterday. I had heard great things about it from family members so I was eager to get it installed. After starting the registration process, I realized that it was able to link directly to my bank account. I was very happy with this because I really didn’t want to enter everything manually. Once everything was in sync (not the boy band), I received a ton of information. It was definitely an eye opener! I don’t understand why there are so many blogs written about how to keep track of your personal finances when software like Quicken exists. Those blogs should all be titled “Buy Personal Finance Budgeting Software if You Want to Make Your Life Easier”. I suppose there is a lot to be said for someone that can do it by hand, but who has time for that nowadays?

I’ve only had the program for a day, but here are some good/bad things I’ve noticed so far:

Good:

            It syncs to your bank account which saves time: I was blown away by this. It gives you an automatic starting point. If you did this by hand you would either have to wait a month to get the new information, or you would have to dig through all your old bank records.

            It automatically sorts your expenses: My expenses showed up in a nice, color coded pie chart.

            If you set spending goals for yourself they are easy to follow: They just show up on the front page. Apparently I’m already ¾ the way to my monthly goal on food.

            It seems to be user friendly: So far I haven’t had any issues with it. It only took me 15 minutes to set up.

Bad:

          Some of the expense sorting is inaccurate: When I bought food at Wal-Mart it went into the shopping category instead of the food category. I guess you can’t expect it to know everything right off the bat.

          You can’t pay bills from it (that I know of): Quicken has you list all your expenses, but it didn’t offer me an option to pay them. It seems like that would be a huge time saver.

          I don’t know how to sync other billing information to it: For example, when I entered my Charter monthly billing expense I had to mark that it changed monthly. I think it would be helpful if Quicken could sync to my Charter account to know what my bill will be. This might be possible, but it wasn’t apparent to me.

What software like Quicken shows is that budgeting doesn’t have to be difficult. The information it has given me is so valuable. I’m pretty sure my copy was purchased from Ebay for $30, which is a great deal. I’m sure there are other useful things Quicken 2011 can do. If you know of any, please share!

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Feeding-Tube Diet: No Wonder Our Society’s a Mess

The older I get the more apparent it becomes that there are usually right ways and wrong ways to do things. It also becomes more obvious that the majority of people like to choose the latter of the two. I’m all for saving time/money, but only when the consequences of my actions make sense. Before I go any further, I need to share this story that I saw on the news with you. A soon to be bride wanted to lose weight before her wedding. Instead of dieting and exercising, she decides to spend $1500 to go on the feeding-tube diet. For those of you that haven’t heard of this trendy diet, it consists of shoving feeding tubes down your nose to get nutrients. The woman lost 10 pounds in eight days by doing this.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard of this was that the loss of her fat was worth $150 a pound. I don’t know about you, but that seems a little outrageous to me! When will our society realize that you can’t just throw money at your problems to make them disappear? The next thing that came to me was that all that weight will come right back. It’s like those people you used to see on the TV show Survivor. They would be skin and bones by the end of it, but as soon as they started eating again they fattened right up. My last thought was that this is what’s wrong with our country! People will spend $150 a pound to lose weight! Not only was she willing to spend it, but she probably preferred it to eating healthy and exercising. If this is the new trend for soon to be brides I should just call it quits now.

Okay, I’m done ranting. The point behind my rant is that we all need to think about the consequences of our actions. This is true in all aspects of life (but I’ll relate it to personal finance since that’s what my blog’s about) . I Googled “consequences” and it brought me to a bunch of parenting website. The pages were titled things like “The 10 Best Ways to Teach Your Child Consequences”. The funny thing is a lot of adults still need to learn about consequences. We teach children to put their b-day money in the piggy bank, but we spend it right away. Our society has accepted the fact that people make mistakes, but it’s almost like we hold ourselves to a lower standard because of that acceptance. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: we are going to screw up so it’s ok not to care about it. When people make purchases, they have the attitude buy now and worry about paying for it later. The short sightedness of our society will be our demise. Luckily for us, we still have a chance to change. I used to be one of those short sighted people, and if I can change anyone can. Do you agree with me on this, or am I totally off base?

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Would You Use Medical Tourism?

Last night we had to give some end of the semester presentations, and one of the groups in my class discussed medical tourism. Just in case you don’t know what medical tourism is (as I didn’t), medical tourism is when someone from one country opts to get a medical procedure done in another country. The first thing that popped into my mind was that this must be a cost issue. People are getting heart surgery in India because it costs $30,000.00 while it costs $180,000.00 in the United States. It turns out that was one of the main reasons for people to opt for medical tourism, but there were many more motives. Another motivator was that the treatment they needed wasn’t approved by the FDA. They couldn’t get the treatment in the U.S. so they went overseas. If there was a cure for diabetes in another country I might be interested in giving it a shot. This next reason is what I really thought was interesting; people are participating in medical tourism because their health insurance companies are incentivizing them to do so!

Now I’m not sure how I feel about this. If I need heart valve replacement, which is very expensive in the United States, my insurance company will give me presents to get it done somewhere else. It’s obvious they would be saving a lot of money so they better give me some darn good incentives. It turns out that they are offering different incentives ranging from offering you a check based on the amount of money you saved them to paying for your whole “vacation”. Some of the insurance companies that are offering these incentives are Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

I’m curious to know how some of you feel about medical tourism. I know I would be nervous about the quality of work, but apparently there is a U.S. based non-profit agency that accredits hospitals around the world. I think a decision like this, like so many others I’ve discussed, needs to be made by an informed consumer.

Would you ever participate in medical tourism if it was proven you would get quality work, or is there no way you would be interested?   

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Easiest Way to Save Money- Just Ask

Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of examples of the power of asking for something. My girlfriend’s father loves the quote, “The answer is always no unless you ask.” I can admit that I’m very introverted when it comes to this topic. For whatever reason, I don’t like to ask people I don’t know questions, and I frequently assume the answer will be no, and I know I’m not alone in this. I would even go as far to say that most people hold themselves back by assuming the answer will be no. This is such a huge mistake! There is a lot of power in asking people for something. I think this is true because the majority of people won’t ask. If 100 people want something, but only 10 ask for it, the 10 that asked will receive whatever they wanted before the other 90.

 I was recently reading a blog post (which I can no longer find) where the woman swears she gets discounts just by asking for them. What a neat thought. I would have never had the guts to just ask for a discount. I would just assume that if they wanted to give a discount they would have already attached a huge 10% off sticker to the item. I never ask about special discounts so I never receive them. There was another guy I saw on TV that tries to completely avoid spending money. Instead of using cash, he tries to barter with companies. Now I can’t see myself doing this very often, but he has great success with it! He’ll write you a poem for a doughnut, or pick up trash for a meal. Most of us won’t go out and do these things, but if companies are willing to trade a song and dance for their product I guarantee they’ll give a small discount.

 Why don’t most people (myself included) like to ask for things? I think it’s because it makes us uncomfortable. I personally feel dumb when I ask for something and the person tells me NO. We as a society don’t like to be told NO so we avoid it all together. Depending on the situation, there are different techniques you can try to change a NO into a YES:

1) The Power of Reciprocation- Do you get something for free? Give it away as a gift in the hopes that it will benefit you in the long run. When I worked in a restaurant, I would have definitely given a customer free drinks or an appetizer if they gave me a gift. The urge to reciprocate is very commanding.

 2) Talk Yourself Up- Companies are constantly giving influential people free things to help market their business. If you can persuade these people that you can help them they will most likely want to make you happy. I’m not saying go out and lie to people or scam them. All I’m saying is that if you’re at a book store, and you want a discount, you might be able to mention that it’s your turn to pick the book for your book club. You have 25 other people that would buy that book, but your book club rules state you can only spend $15 on a book and the one you want is $20. It’s worth a shot!

3) Don’t Ask for Too Much- Asking for a 10% discount might not be a big deal, but demanding 50% off is pushing it. If you asked your boss for a raise you would probably have more success asking for a $1/hr instead of $10/hr. Just keep it reasonable.

4) Give a Valid Explanation- Most people like to deal with reason. If something makes sense it’s hard to say no. If you want to purchase something that is a little damaged ask for a discount. I love the items that have exterior damage but work perfectly. They are always worth asking about.

 It’s time for me to get over my fear of the word NO. Please share any successes/failures you’ve had by asking a simple question. I think that hearing examples of how you saved money would help me with my fear.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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