Back-to-School Clothes Shopping

Your money is limited and time is short. Here is my best advice to make sure back-to-school clothes shopping doesn’t send you to the poorhouse.

Set spending limits. Time to get real. How much money (not credit) do you have available for school clothes? Write it down.

Take an inventory. Sort through your kids’ clothes and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones they don’t wear due to wear and tear, or because they no longer fit. This gives you a clear idea of what you have, and what you need to buy.

Sell the old to buy the new. If you have gently used clothes in good condition, sell them and use the money towards the purchase of back-to-school clothing. You can sell on eBay or on Craigslist, at a garage sale or by taking them to a resale consignment shop to sell or use as trade items.

Assess needs. Not every child will have the same needs when it comes to school clothes. What is reasonable? Now divvy up the money you have against the children’s needs then moving on to wants until all the money has been appropriated.

Start with new shoes. There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes to get kids in the mood for the first day of school. Shoes are so satisfying, this will take the edge off the raging case of the “I wants” that your children may have picked up somewhere. And a new pair of shoes even make last seasons’ clothes perk up. Read more

Five Ways to Get Out of the Supermarket Without Overspending

Grocery shopping is tricky anytime, but especially challenging when you’re on budget. On one hand, having everything you need in one place is convenient. But on the other hand, having so many options can sabotage every intention you have of sticking to your budget. Supermarkets are filled with everything you need and everything you don’t need, too.

Don’t expect a supermarket to help you avoid overspending. The place is specifically designed, decorated and arranged to encourage and increase impulse spending. They want you to spend more and they know how to persuade you to do it. With that in mind, consider these five ways to beat them at their own game:

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of the first rule of grocery stores: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

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This is What You Need to Know About Buying a Mattress

If you want to drive yourself nuts, go shopping for a new mattress. You’ll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.

What I know about buying a mattress I’ve learned from the best: Insiders now retired from the sleep product industry.

CONFUSION FACTOR

All of the major brands—Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc., make decent mattresses but if you’re planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.

SHOP BY LEVEL

Each company makes “levels” of mattresses: Very cheap, decently cheap, good and best. That’s not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer’s line of products. Expect several models in each price level.

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My Shopping Addiction Rehab Program

Shopping is my thing. I love the thrill of the hunt, that feeling of discovery and the joy of a bargain. I find it satisfying in ways I can’t fully describe. I want to experience the feeling as often as possible. Shopper’s high is no joke. It’s real, it’s palpable and it’s addictive.

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Shopping got me into a lot of trouble. In just 12 years I ran up more than $100,000 in consumer debt—most of it on credit cards. Eventually all of it came crashing down and nearly took me with it. Thankfully, that crisis became the catalyst to turn my life around.

It took 13 years to repay all of the debt. I learned a lot about myself in the process but mostly that the satisfaction I got from shopping was short lived. It was fake because it vanished in less time than it took me to get the stuff to the car. But that just set me up to do it again and again because the small bursts of  joy I got from shopping were worth the pain that always followed. Crazy I know, but absolutely true.

I could so easily go back to my old ways, and that’s scary. So, what keeps me on the straight and narrow? It’s you! You’re my shopping addiction rehab program. Paying off that monstrous debt and these past 25 years of writing, researching and communicating with you on a daily basis have become the best maintenance program I could hope for. And the best part? I get to use my shopping skills nearly every day, now in a constructive way.

A few days ago I got an email from Jeannine who asked simply, “What is the best inexpensive Bluetooth speaker?” Just like that, I flew into shopping mode—that thing I love to do because it brings me uncanny satisfaction. But here’s the deal: I’m not shopping for myself. I’m not spending my money or creating a bit of debt. I’m researching for Jeannine and that frees me from all of the personal negative stuff. I get to experience the joys of shopping that I love so much without any of the remorse or regret, guilt or shame. That’s authentic, lasting satisfaction. I love my job.

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3 Simple Ways to Beat Retailers at Their Own Games

Retailers work hard to get our money. They offer special promotions and put other tactics into play, even hiring human behavior specialists to figure out our shopping habits and how to get us to spend more.

By having a few tricks of your own, you can be a smart consumer, foil those plans and save big.

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GRAB THE LOSS LEADERS THEN LEAVE

A loss leader is something retailers sell so cheaply, they’re willing to lose money just to get you through the door. Once there, studies show that half of all of your supermarket purchases will be unplanned. That means this store is doing all it can to help you go nuts with unplanned spending—grabbing anything that looks good.

Know this going in. Concentrate on getting only the loss leaders and grocery-listed items you need, then make a beeline for the checkout so you can get out of there as quickly as possible.

BUY SEASONAL ITEMS AT CLEARANCE PRICES

Retailers are in the business to make big profits on full-priced items. And they know you can’t resist new items to decorate your home or outfit your family.

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Frugal Food Shopping 101

As food costs continue to soar, it’s a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Follow these tips and provided you don’t end up buying twice as much, you really will see your food costs plummet.

Oranges in a shopping cart in a grocrey store

GO WITH CASH ONLY. Shopping with cash—only cash—is one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your credit card. If you’re like everyone else in the world, take cash out of the ATM and don’t let yourself spend a penny more. If you’re out of cash and you have 10 days of the month to go, it’s time to start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, and so what? It won’t kill you.

PLAN IT OUT. Find recipes that fit your budget—recipes, as in cooking and preparing meals from ingredients. With very little cooking background, anyone can learn to make great soups and casseroles. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become your financial lifesaver.

SKIP PACKAGED ITEMS. You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, pre-sliced produce, chips or vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be rewarded well for the effort. And you’ll end up with a fresher, tastier result. Read more

Back-to-School Brings Out Shopping Lists and Fundraisers, Too

I been sleeping in a cave for a 100 years? Sure feels like it.

I just read that as a nation, we will spend (brace)  $78.5 billion getting our kids outfitted to go back to school. And by outfitted I mean with all the “proper” electronic gear, shoes with all the bells and whistles (I would like a pair of those sneakers with little wheels embedded in the soles), backpacks, and of course the ever popular school supplies.

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Yikes! That’s a whole lotta’ money.

Granted, I don’t have school aged children anymore, but come on! The average elementary schooler’s must-haves this year total $649; for middle school students, it’s $941; and for high school kids, $1,402 each, according to the ninth annual Backpack Index Survey from Huntington Bank in Columbus, Ohio.

Look, I’m open to being convinced that I’m wrong, but is this anywhere close to reasonable? Perhaps if you feel you must purchase an entire school year’s worth of pencils, pens, crayons, paper, notebooks, binders, calculators, printer cartridges; shoes, sneakers, jeans, slacks, sweaters, blouses, shirts, socks and undies. But I would find that to be a little ridiculous in that kids do grow, styles do change and, quite frankly, who wants to do all that laundry? Read more

Best Time to Buy a Computer, Where to Buy a TracFone and How to De-Smoke a Microwave

There was a time when grabbing the best prices was all about where and when you shopped. Savvy shoppers would wait all year to buy sheets, towels and other household linens during January White Sales. After Christmas Sales were notorious and reliable. But things have changed with the advent of online shopping and red-hot competition between retailers.

So, is there a best time to buy specific consumer goods? That’s the question posed in today’s first question from one of your fellow EC readers.

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Dear Mary: I’m looking at new computers. When is the best time to buy one? Stella

Dear Stella: There is something to be said for seasonal pricing of some consumer goods. For example, you will probably get the best deals on outdoor grills and lawn mowers in July and August as retailers are gearing up for Christmas and they need to clear space.

Our friends at Consumer Reports tell us that April is the month to get the best buys on computers, but I’m not completely on board with that theory because it is way too general.

The best time to buy a new computer is when you really need one. If your current machine is broken, or you need greater performance or it’s a gift, etc.,—there’s really no reason to delay the purchase. Research your options, make a decision and then shop around.

If you’re planning to buy an Apple product, by all means wait for the next big product announcement, if you can hold out. You might be able to get a deal on the model that will be going out of production.

If you’re looking at a PC, you might see some discounts in late summer and into fall, but I wouldn’t expect any major improvements in that technology that would warrant a big price drop anytime soon. Hope that helps!

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