5 Things You Really Don’t Need To Buy For Back To School

 

image credit: © Roman Sigaev– Fotolia.com

I’m a sucker for all the great Back To School supplies. OK, I’m a sucker for most office supplies. And glue and glitter and construction paper too. But when it comes to school supplies is it really necessary to replenish everything? As a kid my family didn’t have a lot of money so we rarely received a backpack full of new supplies. And to tell you the truth, within a few days no one has brand new things.

So what can you forgo? Here are 5 Things You Can Skip For Back To School:

1. Crayons– sure they may be cheap, but that box of 86,531 crayons you have tucked away is the perfect place to find perfectly usable crayons. They’ll be rounded down in a few days anyway.

2. Book Covers– there is really no need to spend several dollars per cover when you have perfectly good paper grocery bags or gift bags stashed away. Consider it recycling and going retro. All the rage in the 1980s, paper bag book covers are not only earth friendly but they also give you a canvas to decorate as you see fit.

3. Pencil Bag– Most of these things are made of plastic and will tear relatively easy. If you’re going for plastic why not just grab a zip top bag or two and put pens, pencil and crayons in a roomy place? And if they tear or get damaged they’re inexpensive and easily replaceable.

4. Pens– not all kids will need pens, but many high school and college kids will. Now I’m a pen junkie and love all the colors and types. But the fact is that I have hundreds of pens from all kinds of places – restaurants, real estate folks, drugstores, etc. Most are pretty decent and if I lose it I don’t feel bad.

5. A New Wardrobe– buying a few things may be in order, but just because it’s back to school doesn’t mean you should invest in a new wardrobe. Besides the fact that there is already a room full of perfectly usable clothing, styles might change or your child my find that she doesn’t want to be caught dead in head to toe pink any more or your son isn’t feeling part of the in-crown with those polo shirts. It’s one thing to buy clothing staples when they are on sale, it’s another thing to spring for whatever is the newest must-have.

Now it’s your turn! What have you determined is more an option than a necessity? Share your thoughts and insight below for a chance to win a $500 Back to School Shopping Spree from BlogFrog!

Want to exchange more tips and ideas with other moms about back to school topics such as healthy snacks, school supplies and saving money?  Visit the Horizon® Healthily Families Back to School Community!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon. The opinions expressed by me do not necessarily reflect the view of the Horizon Organic brand.

Sara

Reader Input: Thoughts About My Blog

Sale Poster image
My apologies if this image offends. I thought it was hilarious!

Recently I had a few people ask me why I don’t post all the deals going on at stores we all shop at, both online and around town. Yes, I have Saving in my blog name. I love to save and I love to talk about saving. When I started this site it was mainly to share the grocery and drug store deals that I was already sharing with friends and family. A few times a week I’d let them know about a great coupon code or other deal going on. But, in general, I would direct them to other sites that focused on posting deals all day.

I knew I couldn’t compete with their 85 posts a day. I homeschool and work part-time, in addition to blogging. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. And, honestly, I feel bad if I post a few deals because I don’t want people buying stuff they don’t want just because it’s on sale. Then again, I’m not a mind reader (although I pretend to be one!).

Occasionally I will post deals when I think they’re terrific and are for product or services that I would use or have used. But I’d like for you to let me know if you’re OK with me posting some deals on things like cute shoes, great kids’ clothes, games and books, household items or even beauty products. I know I’ve posted the Restaurant.com deals (where you can get a 70% savings using the code PLATE now thru 5/24!) and you liked that. So just let me know if you’re cool with me posting some deals and I’ll share some great sales with you. Sound good?

I save a ton of money on things I need. I want you to be able to do the same. If you’re fine with me posting a few extra deals a week, I’ll definitely do that. Seriously, there are some amazing deals on these interwebz! You can leave a comment or tweet at me, send me a message or even post something on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for coming to my blog and sharing my passion for figuring out how to live life fully!

Sara

What Does Saving Mean?

Blue Piggy Bank

So here I’ve been, blogging about my life and my somedays for the last year. As the calendar turned to 2011 quite a few friends (both in real life and online) began talking about getting a handle on their budgets so the could save money.

One of the first places people often start looking to save is on their grocery bill. But what does saving really mean? Does it mean putting money into a bank account or save a little each day in a piggy bank? Does it mean spending less so you have money for other things? Does it mean cutting out things and making due?

Saving means different things to different people. And my hope is that however you define it for you and your family that you find helpful and encouraging information here. I want people to know that however you define saving is all that matters.  If saving means spending less at the store, I’m thrilled if you’re able to use coupons and pair them with the weekly deals so you can walk out of the store with all you need for a fraction of the retail price.

If saving means being able to buy your child a new toy because there is a coupon code, that’s fantastic too! And so is buying groceries based on the sale and not dealing with cutting coupons but instead downloading eCoupons to your store loyalty card.

For me, saving is a little bit of all these things. I may need to buy a gift and can’t wait until some great super holiday day sale, so a coupon code giving me some savings (even if it’s just free shipping) is a welcome way to save a few dollars. Of course I head to the CVS and Grocery Stores weekly to take advantage of deals on items I normally use. Some weeks I know I’ll need those funds to go to lunch with a friend. Other weeks I keep the saved cash and use it for the next weeks budget. There are even times when BabyGirl gets a few dollars for being such a great shopping partner!

What does saving mean for you?

Sara

Bubbe Says: Save For a Rainy Day

We’ve all heard the old adage that we have to save for a rainy day.  Most financial planners encourage you to have a rainy day fund.  And, well, no matter where you live you know that one day it is going to rain (both literally and figuratively!).

Whether you rent or own, live with a roommate, have your own car or ride the bus you know that something will always come up that you didn’t originally plan on having to pay for.  It could be a medical situation that requires hospitalization or even a few rounds of antibiotics that set you back a considerable amount of money.

My bubbe always told me that even emergencies can be planned for if you anticipate that some day something might just go wrong.  Bubbe comes from a time where being prepared was a way of life.  And she’s continued with a variety of different ways to keep that going in her life.

Now that many health care plans have high deductibles, we could be saving a small amount each month ‘just incase’. There are also doctor and prescription co-pays that need to be paid.  Sure, we never intend to use them but what if?  By saving a few dollars along the way, you can be a little more prepared if the unintended happens.

But how do you save for a rainy day?  Here are three ways to get you started and help you be prepared.

1.  Save all your change every evening – At the end of the day take all your coins – even if it’s just the pennies, nickels and dimes – and put it in a jar.  You’ll be surprised at how quickly change can add up.  No, it won’t magically multiply into thousands of dollars over night but you’d probably be surprised at what you’ll have at the end of a month.

2.  Set up an automatic transfer with your current account – Even transferring $5 a week can give you $20 at the end of each month (on average).  You can use an online bank such as ING or HSBC if you want to keep the money from your immediate temptation.  Of course you can open up an additional account at your local financial institution too.  Just make sure you set up a weekly or monthly automatic transfer or keep a reminder to make the transfer.

3. Pay with cash – if you normally charge routine purchases to your credit or debit card, you may be spending more than you really want.  If you allocate a set amount for the week, you are more likely to stay within that budget.  Anything left over at the end of the week can be put in your savings jar.

By taking small steps, you can give yourself peace of mind knowing that there is a rainy day fund ‘just incase’.  And, of course, Bubbe has insight about making your savings tangible.

Do you have other ways you save for a rainy day?  I’d love to know, and I’m sure others would too!

Sara

Saving money doesn’t mean stiffing your real estate agent

Today I read an article on Yahoo! whereby Elisabeth Leamy, the Good Morning America consumer correspondent, is the expert being quoted about savings on big ticket items.  While I generally agree with her that it is best to try and save when you make those large purchases, I take exception to her suggestion regarding cutting real estate commissions.

I have a problem with Ms. Leamy’s suggestions regarding buyers negotiating with real estate professionals.  I agree with her that mortgage lenders/brokers often have ‘flexibility’ (my word, not hers) in some of the fees they charge.  I know this first hand having been involved in the real estate business for over 10 years.  I also know escrow companies are willing to discount their fees, in certain circumstances.

With regard to real estate professionals; however, there seems to be an assumption that they don’t do much.  In this day of the internet and online home searching it is very common for the public to think a real estate professional just shows up, opens the house, gets you to sign the papers and then walks away with a handsome check.  This is not how it works. With all the short sales and foreclosures there is a lot more work to be done.  (Note to Ms. Palmer who wrote the article: Realtor® is a trademarked term used only by those who are members of the National Association of Realtors. Not every person who sells real estate is a Realtor®)

Keep in mind, though, that the buyer does not normally pay the real estate commission.  Real estate commission is often paid by the seller, to the seller’s broker/agent who then splits it in some manner with the buyer’s broker/agent.  Negotiating with your agent, as a buyer, will not save you a dime if you’re not paying the commission.

I understand that Ms. Leamy was trying to make a point about saving large amounts of money in places that maybe you wouldn’t think.  Her point is taken.  However, if you’re not sure what the person is going to do for what you will be paying then ask what you’ll get for your money. You can’t just assume that because the final amount is followed by a few zeroes that it isn’t warranted or earned.  Most real estate professionals work very hard and if your house doesn’t sell they get nothing regardless of how much time or money they have already invested.

So, if you are going to negotiate your real estate sales fees, do so with knowledge and pay for the services you are getting.  In real estate, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you cut your agent’s commission you’ll be geting less services.  They may not want to tell you, but rest assured that you will get what you pay for.

I wish Ms. Leamy would have suggested seeking discounts for brokerage fees or other fees associated with the management of mutual fund, 529, IRA and 401-K accounts.  Like real estate professionals, they work on commission and often you as the consumer don’t really know what you’re getting for the fees you pay.  I wish she would have suggested shopping around for a mortgage before buying a house so you can get the best rate, which over the life of a 30-year mortgage would save tens of thousands of dollars.

Instead, I think she picked a group that while large and represented by a national association are often just sole practitioners trying to make ends meet.

So, now I’ll get off my soap box and put the horse back in the barn.  I hope my little rant did not offend anyone, especially Ms. Leamy. Nonetheless, if you’d like to share your thoughts please do.  Do you have suggestions on how to save on big ticket items?

Sara

Bubbe Says: Make your savings tangible

My grandmother dispenses wisdom, although now that she’s nearing 90 she often feels that what she offers might be out of date.  That’s a picture of her.  She was blowing bubbles with BabyGirl.  Isn’t she adorable?  Now that I’ve been blogging for a few months though, I’ve been asking my grandma (BabyGirl calls her Bubbe) more about how she’s lived so frugally but has so much and has been so many places.

She grew up at a time when there were no credit cards, personal loans were nearly non-existent and if you didn’t have the money in the bank you couldn’t buy it. So cash it was.

My grandma explained to me that being able to live the life you want is not as much about spending less, but more about actually saving the money you don’t spend. She’s always been a couponer, but I never knew that when she came home she would put aside cash in a special envelope equal to the amount she saved in coupons.

In one of our recent calls she shared the following – Five Ways To Make Savings Tangible:

1. Set aside the money you saved by using coupons.

2. If you go out to dinner with a friend, share a meal and set aside the money you would have spent on a full meal.

3. When you need to buy a gift, set a budget and if you can buy the item at a discount the money you saved should be put aside.

4. Send in for mail in rebates and when you get the check, deposit it in your saving account.

5. If you pay with cash and have coins, take out anything other than the quarters and put them in a jar until it is full then deposit it.

When you make an effort to save money, make sure you have something to show for it!

Sara

Sometimes You Have To Spend Money To Save Money

Sometimes You Have To Spend Money To Save Money

Many years ago my grandfather shared this phrase with me.  And while I love my grandpa, I was a teenage and thought he was out of his mind.  It sounded like double speak.  How do you spend money to save money.  Even thought I was a teenager I knew about saving money and putting it in an account and getting interest, and because of the fact that I was a teenager I thought I was smarter than everyone else, grandpa included.  So I lived with my ignorance for quite some time, blissfully.

Then I got a car when I graduated from college.  My first ‘real’ grown up thing to take care of.  I lived in apartments so I didn’t have maintenance or repairs to deal with.  But with my car it needed some TLC.  But I still didn’t understand the spend money to save money concept.  I was still naive and, well, regardless of that college degree I had, ignorant.  Besides, it was a new car and didn’t need anything special.

Then I bought a house.  To be factually correct, CycleGuy and I got married and then we bought a house.  My grandpa had passed away but when I walked in to my very own house that day I heard those words – Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.  I started to understand what that meant.  I didn’t really get it, but I was starting to.

My house was an unfurnished shell, it felt like Gilligan’s Island — no phone, no lights, no fridge, no washer, no dryer, no this, no that and definitely no other thing!  So in to the appliance store CycleGuy and I walked.  We now had to spend money.  But where was the saving part?  This was long before the internet and the concept of comparison shopping meant driving around town trying to compare apples to oranges.  There was no comparison shopping website.  I was left to my own notebook and long hand of what all the bells and whistles were.

I slowly began to understand the concept of spending money to save money.  My grandma suggested we look at a certain brand of washer and dryer, she said they last a long time.  STICKER SHOCK!  These Maytag puppies were almost twice the price of the seemingly-off brand that sounded more like a 1980s sitcom family than a brand of sturdy appliances.  My first lesson in spending money to save money.  Grandma was very generous and helped us buy the Maytag washer and dryer, which, by the way, we still have 15 years later and they work perfectly .  Other than a $25 repair, they have definitely been worth the price paid.

But, that was then.  How does it still apply?  Well, let me tell you.  About 6 months ago I kept hearing water run and it seemed like the water softener was working over time.  Maybe I was just going insane?  I’ve been accused of being hyper vigilant (that’s nice for ‘crazy’) before, so maybe I’m just hearing water in my head.  Then the water bill came.  It seemed high, but I’ve been washing clothes and CycleGuy was working from home now and BabyGirl seemed to have an urgent need to bathe her Barbies much more frequently.  It was fine!

And the water bill arrived the next month and was a little high.  Or so I thought.  But I didn’t want to call the repair guy because I imagined it would cost over $200 and, well, I could use that money on my vacation.  And then I didn’t call the next month because I didn’t want to spend the money since we had other things that seemed to be more of a priority (dare I say, Wii?).  And another month came and went.  I didn’t want to spend the money and be told there wasn’t anything wrong (I’d already done that on something else and this time I wasn’t going to be foolish!).

But I kept hearing that darn water softener running.  Here I am, 6 months later and I still was rationalizing not spending the money.  At this rate I must have had the softest water west of the Mississippi!  So I broke down and called the softener repair guy.  Super quick service and $120 later my water softener stopping running 24/7.  Ahhhh, quiet!

I got my water bill yesterday.  In one month I lowered my water consumption by 70% and my total bill was about 30% less.  If only had sucked it up and called the repair guy when the problem started I would not have (1) wondered if I was crazy for hearing water run all the time, (2) wasted so much water, and (3) wasted money.  At least I didn’t wait a year, right?

It taught me a very valuable lesson.  The reason I have a maintenance fund is not to spend it on vacation or other things.  I have it for a reason.  I should have used it after I investigated and determined the softener didn’t seem like it was working right.  In addition to being fiscally imprudent, I also wasn’t being a very good conservationist.  I live in the desert (although with all the rain the past few days you’d never know), I should know better than to waste water.  If only I had heeded my grandpa’s advice – Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.  It will take me about 3.5 months to recoup the cost of the repair by having lowered my water bill.  I can deal with that!

Next time something comes up around the house, or really anything for that matter, ask yourself if you’re being fiscally responsible in the larger scheme of your budget by choosing not to spend the money at that time.  This is something that will be especially important to consider within the next few months as the new round of government rebates for household ‘clunkers’ is rolled out.  Don’t look solely at what is coming out of your pocket.  Instead, take a more global view and factor in the long-term savings and remember, Sometimes you have to spend money to save money!

Thank you, grandpa!  It’s taken me this long, but I finally got it.

Why Is Saving So Difficult?

Blue Piggy Bank

When I was growing up, if you wanted something you had to save for it.  Sure, I’m dating myself back to the 80’s with my big hair and new wave music.  But, the reality is that credit cards were not ubiquitous and most people didn’t buy things on credit.  If you wanted to fly and see grandma you had to have the money when you bought your plane ticket.  Going out to dinner meant you better have cash in your wallet or a check that wouldn’t bounce come Monday.

About the only place you would get credit was at the local furniture store or a loan at the bank.  I remember going in with my mom looking for a new couch.  I was 7 or 8 at the time.  I also remember going in there every week and dropping off money to pay for our cool new couch that doubled as a trampoline when Mom wasn’t around.  There was always this urgency each week to go pay Mr. Daw at the furniture store.

It seems that there was no such thing as instant gratification.  Or maybe the definition of ‘instant’ has changed.  We now live in a 24/7, text-message, twitter, cell phone, all news-all the time kind of world.  We can’t even wait for water to boil in a kettle any more, thanks to the microwave.  Forget voice mail, that’s so 1980s.  We have two-way paging and texting and instant messaging.  People answer their phone when they are in the bathroom — is it really that important that it can’t wait a few minutes?

As a kid, I just had to wait.  Even now, as a parent, I’m trying to instill in my daughter that we can’t always have everything right now.  So when did it change?  When do we go from it being OK to wait to needing it right now?

Ah, yes, College!  All you needed was a student ID and they’d give you a credit card.  Job?  Uh, no!  Paycheck?  What’s that?  But the credit card companies were out in full force handing out free credit cards and T-shirts.  Who doesn’t need a free T-shirt?

But not everyone goes to college, so they’re great savers, right?  Not always.  Maybe they joined the military or got a job right out of high school.  Our soldiers are told they need to establish their financial history so credit card companies hand over the plastic as easily as saying ‘Yes, sir!.’  Soldier = job security, so why not.  New job at 18 means you qualify to get a credit card.

What no one ever really taught any of us newly minted credit card holders was what it meant to have a credit card and what responsibilities we had.  Of course you had to pay the bill when it came in, but they were so nice to let us pay in easy low monthly payments.  I’m establishing my credit history, right?  Wrong.  Debt, here I come!  Instant gratification is my BFF!

No one ever taught us about the value (and virtue of saving).  It’s not an intuitive process.  Our brains are not programmed to desire saving.  We want instant gratification.  We’re born that way.  Ask any child if they want one M&M now or a bag of M&Ms next week, what do you think they’ll tell you.  Yep!  One M&M now please (they use their manners because you taught them!).  But, a whole  bag of M&Ms next week is so much more.  Not to our brain.  Our brain wants it NOW.  And we’ve all seen the child having a fit because they can’t get what they want RIGHT NOW.  No matter how much mom and/or dad cajole the child or bribe with some sort of delayed gratification mechanism, the child wants what he wants and he wants it NOW!

So, we’re born not wanting to save.  That doesn’t mean that’s how it should be.  Saving is important.  We’ve all hear the saying about saving for a rainy day.  Most of us know that it’s sunny right now and that’s all that matters.

Add to this that saving is a drag.  Saving takes effort and work  Clipping coupons, watching sales, rebates, where to buy gas — that’s a lot to keep in our brains.  Yes, there are places we can get help and guidance (like right here at Saving for Someday).  But that takes time away from doing something cool and fun and buying stuff and hanging out with our friends.

Inflation and the job market and the ‘Great Recession’ have all contributed to the belief that saving is difficult.  They have also contributed to the reality of saving being difficult.  Prices have gone up faster than salary.  Our money just doesn’t go as far as it used to go.  Which is an even more compelling reason to look for ways to save.

Every year manufacturers and retailers spend billions (yes, with a B) of dollars on consumer promotions.  They’re trying to drive people in to the stores to buy more stuff.  Still, less than 5% of all coupons and promotions are redeemed.  It may seem like the whole world is using coupons and holding up the line at the grocery store.  But, truth be told, it’s only a small fraction of shoppers who are dedicated couponers.  It takes time and scouring ads and websites and clipping coupons just isn’t as fun as, say, playing Wii, going to the movies or out to dinner.  It’s not quick and easy, so we don’t want to do it.

The great thing is that we can change this mindset of needing immediate gratification and thinking saving is a drag.  By setting SMART saving goals, savings can become easy and natural.  Here is how you do it:

Set a SPECIFIC goal

Make it MEASURABLE

Make it something you can actually ATTAIN

Your goal should be REALISTIC

And it needs to be TIMELY, give yourself a target to work toward.

Saving goals are often HUGE and overwhelming.  It’s great to have lofty goals like owning your house outright or paying for your child to go to college.  They seem so large and out of reach, though, that after a short period of time we just give up.  Don’t give up!  Just set smaller goals so that when you reach them you’ve trained yourself to see saving as something rewarding.

We need to retrain the brain to believe that saving isn’t so difficult.  We need to impress upon ourselves that saving brings instant gratification.  We’re all Saving for Someday.  We just need to start now by defining what that ‘Someday’ or however many ‘Somedays’ you have really is.

We no longer live in caves and hunt/gather.  Food and shelter is not that scarce.  We don’t have to worry about not eating for weeks if we can’t find an animal to kill.  We are living in 2010.  We have evolved!  And now is the time for our feeling about saving to evolve.

Save Today for Freedom Tomorrow!

I’d love to know what you think.  Please share your thoughts and/or comments.

Free Downloadable Savings Tracker for 2010

New to couponing?  A veteran couponer who wants to track your savings?  Start the year off with this very cool, easy to use Excel Savings Tracker that you can download for free with compliments of The Coupon Project.  The spreadsheet is all ready to go.  All you have to do is enter the information from your receipts and you’re on your way to achieving your spending and savings goals for 2010.

Sara