Friday, July 31, 2009

Homemade Cracker Jack

Buying snacks at the movies and at baseball games can be really expensive. Last time we took the kids to a show, we spent more on munchies than we did on the tickets themselves! The solution? Take home-made Cracker Jack with you. Here’s how to make it: you'll need ¾ cup packed brown sugar, ¼ cup butter, 3 tbsp corn syrup, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp vanilla extract, 8 cups popped popcorn, and 1 cup shelled peanuts. Combine the first 4 ingredients in saucepan over low heat until the butter is melted, then cook without stirring for 3 minutes. Add baking soda and vanilla, then pour onto baking sheet spread out with popcorn and peanuts. Stir to mix evenly. Bake 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Break into pieces.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tightwad Tips for the Frugal Fashionista

If you are shopping for clothing and accessories at discount stores, remember that not all discounters are created equally. Off-price retailers - such as Century 21, Daffy’s, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Loehman’s - sell designer-label or other brand-name merchandise, at a significant percentage off the regular retail prices. But beware: some of the off-price merchandise you’ll find at these stores and in outlet malls isn’t the same stuff sold by Bergdorf Goodman. That’s because some name-brand fashions (including those from Polo Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani) are made in cheaper fabrics specifically for the discount stores. That's one reason that these days, we are now finding our best frugal fashions online (see related post). We also like the high styles and low prices found in some big box stores, like Target, which have hired big-name designers to create special collections. And knock-off houses like H&M and Topshop can also have great, trendy fashions at low prices.

Of course no matter where you shop for fashion bargains, it makes sense to follow these basic shopping tips:
  • Bring a calculator (or use the one on your cellphone) to compare prices, figure out prices w/percentage markdowns, calculate tax, etc. so you'll know the total price of each item well before you approach the cash register.
  • Make friends of salespeople and get on mailing lists for advance info about sales (why pay full price today if it will be an extra 40% off tomorrow?).
  • Be comfortable: wear comfortable clothes and shoes, bring snacks and a bottle of water.
  • Plan ahead: wear socks of the right weight for shoes you’ll be trying on; wear appropriate undergarments (don’t wear sports bra if you’re shopping for a formal dress); bring the skirt you want to find a blouse for.
  • Think fit first. If it doesn’t fit well (jacket doesn’t sit on the shoulders and close in front; clothes bind, pinch, or sag and droop) or can’t be fixed with simple tailoring (e.g. hemming the length) it isn’t right for you. If you will be taking a trip to the tailor, remember that it is always easier to take a seam in than to let one out, so it's better to fit your widest part, and make the adjustments where you are smaller.
  • Consider price per wear. Pricey pieces that you’ll wear again and again might be worth it; super trendy clothes you’ll wear once might not be, not matter how cheap they are.
  • Look carefully for stains, holes, make-up marks, snags, missing buttons etc. Even if a slight imperfection can be fixed, you can still ask for a deeper discount. And if the pen mark is permanent, you want to make sure it is returnable.
  • Think about the whole picture. If you’re going to have to buy a new sweater and accessories to match those great pants, they might not be worth it, even at 75% off.  And even if the skirt fits, if the shape doesn't flatter your body type, it's probably just going to sit in your closet.
  • Natural fabrics are often more expensive than synthetics and often require more care, but they may look better and last longer and so may be worth it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Live lavishly without breaking the bank

Make “gourmet” coffee by adding ground cinnamon or cocoa powder to the grounds in your coffee pot. Or, you can also add a drop or two of vanilla, almond extract, or other flavors (check the baking aisle in your grocery store) to each cup of home-brewed coffee for a gourmet coffee-shop taste.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chillin'

There was an article in today's New York Times about turning off the air conditioning as a way of saving money on utility bills. The piece offered some useful tips about keeping your house cool with fans and open windows that take advantage of cross breezes. It also helps to drink cold water and to eat less (thinner people have less natural insulation and cool off more quickly). Reader comments also offered some good tightwad tips about how to stay cool when temperatures climb. But overall, readers seemed to agree that moderating your use of the air conditioning (and in cold weather, the heater) is a more appropriate response to high energy prices.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Write it down!

Experts always suggest that if you want to lose weight, you should keep a log of what you eat, describing when you were able to stick to your eating and exercise plan, and what conditions caused an episode of binging. They say that dieters who faithfully write down their weight loss goals and the steps they take to achieve them (including the occasional falls off the wagon) are considerably more successful in meeting their goals in the long run.

So it makes sense that if you are trying to reduce your spending, you should also keep a log. Write down your financial goals – both what you want to budget for savings and for spending - and then track your progress. Just the act of having to note what you spend money on is likely to curb any excessive extravagances. You might also find spending patterns that you hadn't realized. And if the experts are right, you'll reach your financial goals faster.

Why is this so?  Often it is the little things that we don't realize we are spending money on everyday that keep us from reaching our long-term goals.  For example, that $4 latte that helps you get through the afternoon is costing you about $1000 a year - enough for a really fun getaway.  Perhaps this trade-off makes sense to you and you prefer a daily splurge to an annual one.  But maybe what you really want is an excuse to get up from your desk at 3 pm every day, and you'd rather take a short walk and save the $4.  Either way, tracking your expenses helps you make these decisions.

And really, that is what saving money is all about.  You shouldn't save just to have a pile of cash hoarded away somewhere(remember, you can't take it with you!), but you should save so that you have the money you need to do the things you really want to do with you life, be that buying a house, sending your kids to college, travelling the world, starting a new business, or enjoying your retirement.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Saving the U.S. Economy

There has been a lot of talk in the news about how the U.S. needs to stimulate the economy and get Americans to spend more money again. The evening news shows pictures of deserted malls and laments that no one is there buying more stuff. The New York Times complains about empty storefronts in the big city's major shopping districts and worries about the downward spiral they will cause.

So, is it true that individuals who try to save money are actually hurting the economy? I don't think so. What’s good for Americans is ultimately good for America as a whole. Right now many of us need to shore up our savings. In time, the money we set aside in the bank to assure ourselves a secure future will provide more capital for businesses to use to invest in expansion and for individuals to borrow for houses, cars, and such. Yes, this may take a while, but in the long term we'll all be better off.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More Tightwad Travel Tips

Finding really inexpensive accommodations when you travel can be a real challenge. But with some creativity, it is possible to see the world on a very limited budget. Here are some ideas:
  • Many colleges and university make their dormitories available to travellers for a modest fee. The Campus Lodging Guide is old, but the contact information it contains is useful as a starting point for finding college dorm rooms.
  • YMCA lodging
  • Hostels
  • Vacation home exchanges/Time share swaps
  • House sit or house swap
  • We also know couples who have offered to dog/cat sit and have thereby found the use of homes in wonderful vacation locations

Friday, July 17, 2009

Saving on Dry Cleaning Costs

One obvious antidote to the high cost of dry cleaning is to do it less. You can achieve this in three ways:

1) buy fewer clothes that require dry cleaning;
2) hand wash delicate fabrics and wool (and cashmere) sweaters in cold water with Woolite or a similar mild detergent instead of sending them off to the dry cleaners; and
3) getting a few extra wearings from clothing articles before sending them to the cleaners.

Remember that too much dry cleaning wears out clothes faster. If you don't wear the item right next to your skin (as with most suit jackets), it probably doesn't need to be cleaned as often as you think. If you send things out mostly because they are wrinkled, trying freshening them with a steamer at home (or have the dry cleaner do it - it is considerably less expensive than cleaning).

You might also try a home dry-cleaning kit (the best-known brand is Dryel), which sells for about $10 at drugstores and grocery stores. To use it, dab the stain remover on any spots and on the underarm areas. Then place the clothes and the cleaning pad into the special plastic bag from the kit. The whole thing goes into the clothes dryer for a half hour at the lowest setting. Clothes come out clean and smelling fresh.

Incidentally, I'm a big fan of hand washing (or even machine washing, on the lowest cycle using a mesh bag) white cottons and silk knits, which can turn gray or yellow after frequent dry cleaning. I've always hand washed my sweaters - they'll dry faster if you roll them out in a clean towel to squeeze out all the extra water (just make sure you have a well ventilated place for them to dry flat). I even occasionally wash white linen (since it can come back from the dry cleaners looking dingy), although linen requires intense ironing. In fact the only things that absolutely must go to the cleaners are tailored items that are lined, items that are heavily embellished, and most formal wear.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Top Tourist Attractions at Tightwad Prices

One way to save money when you travel is to find out if the attractions you want to see have times when the admission is free or discounted. For example, admission to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is free on Fridays between 4 pm and 8 pm. Since the cost is usually $20 for adults, these savings are quite significant.

To find out if the sights you want to see offer special savings, all you need to do is call them or poke around on their web site. Or you can check out the list of free museums in Boston, NYC, and San Francisco.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Escape Hotel Surcharges

We travel a lot. And as the recession puts pressure on hotel profits, we’ve seen an alarming uptick in the practicing that we call “nickeling-and-diming” – imposing phone surcharges, health-club fees, and mandatory valet parking – on the rise at many hotels. While a single fee might not seem like much, add a few here and there and your bill becomes outrageously high at check-out time. We think it is time to fight back – here’s how:

Join the frequent-guest program. Some programs include benefits like free health-club use, which can rid you of the fee altogether. But if you are still hit with those annoying surcharges, your membership card will give you additional status and clout when you ask the manager to have the charges removed from your bill.

Put things in perspective. Extras like parking rates and telephone access fees (typically $1 to $2 a call) are a gouge. But these fees are small in comparison to the other charges you’ve probably incurred. We always tell the manager, “Look, I've just spent hundreds of dollars at your hotel, and you're trying to charge me a two dollar fee for each local phone call. If you were in my shoes, would you think this was fair?" We have yet to have a manager refuse to remove the extras from our bill. Of course it is possible to avoid all of this by using your cellphone - so we do that whenever possible.

Use the # key. Remember that some hotels levy charges for any calls -- even those made with a calling card. If you call from your hotel room using your calling card and know the hotel is charging, plan on making several calls in succession. If you stay on the line after the other party hangs up, you can press the pound key to make the next call. This saves you the extra charge of making another call, as your hotel's telephone system will not recognize that you are making multiple calls.

Avoid the mini-bar. Do you really need that $6 Diet Coke or that $3 Snickers bar? The hotel uses the lure of convenience to lead you into temptation. Don't let them profit at your expense! If you are dying for a drink or a junk-food snack, hop on the elevator and pick up your goodies at the newsstand in the lobby. You'll save yourself a bundle and work off a couple calories to boot.

As in most other endeavors, it pays to be polite, rather than aggressive and confrontational when you negotiate waivers of hotel surcharges. We like to ask the front desk personnel if they can "help us out" and always express our gratitude when they do.

Incidentally, these tips are courtesy of TheInsiderTravelGuides.com, which is a good source of many other useful budget travel ideas.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pin Money

Years ago, it was common for women to find some sort of activity which they used to produce income for themselves. Often referred to as "pin money," this income provided for extras that they otherwise couldn't afford. I would suggest that many folks can find something they like to do (or at least don’t mind doing) on a regular basis. It should be something that is easy to combine with your other responsibilities. We’re not really talking about taking on a second job here – it's more like making money from your hobby, or taking an hour here and there of your spare time.  Here are some classic ideas:
  • Dog walking
  • Babysitting
  • Lawn/yard care
  • Selling garden produce
  • Raising and selling Christmas trees
  • Selling crafts
  • Selling Avon or Mary Kay make-up, Silpada jewelry, or Tupperware products (update: read more about direct sales opportunities via this article in Family Circle)
  • Tutoring (art, music, math, college essays, or to adults: computer, French, etc.)
Other possible sources of income including selling your excess books, DVDs and games on Amazon.com, selling old electronics (like your outdated phone or ipod) on Gazelle.com or at BestBuy.com, holding a yard sale, or selling items on Ebay, CraigsList or BackPage.  You can also get cash back for trading in many od your used items, like electronics, games, and sports equipment -- see our list of Tightwad Trade-Ins.

If you are online often anyway, you might also think about selling your time and opinions to one of the market research firms like e-rewards.comSurveyHead.com, SurveySpot.com, SurveyMonkey.com2020Research.com or Toluna.com which offer incentives (cash, giftcards, sweepstakes entry, etc.) for filling out surveys.   Marketers are not the only ones seeking opinions: you can also get paid for acting as a mock juror at eJury.com and OnlineVerdict.com and give feedback to web designers at UserTesting.com.  Incidentally, if you choose E-rewards, note that I've found that the magazine subscription rewards and dollar-for-dollar giftcards offer the best value, in terms of payment for your time.

Here are some other websites that can help you earn some pin money:
Want more ideas? Check out these articles:



Update: read more about online survey sites at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703509104576329110724411724.html?mod=ITP_personaljournal_0

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two Tightwad Telephone Tips

Here are two ideas for saving money on your telephone costs:
  1. Don’t pay for an unlisted number – instead, just use a name (any name you like) that’s not your real name since your billing name and listed name don’t have to be the same. Bonus: this trick will also help you identify junk calls and junk mail that are generated from use of the phone listing.
  2. Get rid of your land line – just use your mobile phone.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buying Books on a Budget

Of course the best way for frugalistas to save money on books is not to buy them at all - to borrow from the library or from a friend instead. But sometimes this isn't possible: for example, the book you want isn't available at your local library and you don't want to wait for it from inter-ibrary loan. In such cases, you can turn to the used book sections of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. We've often seen books selling for as little as a penny (plus shipping) - and since all titles are available via the sites' regular search engines, it is easy to find what you want. There are less expensive sources of used books - library sales, thrift stores, and yard sales all come to mind - but they all depend on happenstance and sifting through loads of titles to find what you want. The best thing about Amazon's used book marketplace? When you're done with the book, you can use the site to sell it and recoup the money you spent!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The True Meaning of Thrift

If there is one positive element to this recession, it is that many people are discovering that real frugality is not synonymous with cheapness. Being thrifty is not about cheating others, taking more than your share, running to the bathroom when the check arrives (or not tipping enough), or even taking that beautiful fluffy bathrobe from the hotel. Instead, it means finding the best deals, never paying more than you have to, and making meaningfuly choices about how you spend your money. It is not meanness; instead it is saving money whenever you can on the things that don't matter so much to you so that you can afford to be more generous - with yourself and with others (including the charities of your choice) on the things that DO matter to you. The ultimate goal of a thrifty lifestyle is to live within your means and by doing so, have enough money leftover to pursue your dreams.

With this blog, I hope to point out fun, clever and common sense ways to save money – but the point isn’t to feel deprived. I like to point out to my kids that it's all about making choices. We’ll eat at home rather than go out expensive restaurant meals, so we can spend those savings on nice clothes or a special vacation. I try not to spend money mindlessly – I always want to know that I’ve made the best spending choice. It helps to keep track of where all our money goes. One easy way I've found to do this is to annualize what can be mindless expenditures on things like Starbucks coffee, magazines, premium cable service etc. I ask myself if the total annual cost is worth it. Often it isn't. By cutting down the costs of these "unimportant" expenses, my family is able to spend more on the things we consider important.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Hand-Me-Downs

The New York Times had an article about today about the trend for families to seek out hand-me-downs and second-hand items even for their first child. The gist of the piece seemed to be surprise that even affluent families would choose not to go all out and buy brand-new stuff for their kids.

The truth is that educated consumers realize how gently used most baby items are -- infants grow so quickly that many of their clothes and accessories are only used for a couple of months before they grow out of them. Interestingly, when I was trying to give away many of my kids' baby stuff, I found that affluent families were the most eager recipients. Poorer families seemed determined to prove that they could afford the "best" for their little one (even if it meant new clothes from a discount store rather than worn-once designer togs).

Interested in second-hand baby things? Your best bet is to stick with hand-me-down clothes, blankets, stuffed animals, furniture and books. Note that antique cribs may be problematic if the rails aren't spaced properly, but this is easy to check out. Other items - like many toys - are probably also fine, but you should check recall lists first. Ditto for car seats, strollers, bouncy seats and the like. The web is full of resources that will help new parents determine if second-hand items are safe; one of the best places to start is the U.S. government-run recall site at http://www.recalls.gov/.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Insurance

Insurance is one of those things that many of us don't really want to think about much. But a frugal budget includes just the right amount of insurance - not too much (because you don't want to pay for things you don't need); but certainly enough that some sort of catastrophe won't disrupt your carefully planned budget and savings plan.

When you consider the amount that you need, think about raising your deductible for your medical insurance if you don't have ongoing health issues and therefore don't need to see the doctor frequently. Your annual savings may well exceed the increase in outlay for each visit. Similarly, if you are a safe driver, you might consider raising your auto insurance deductible - the savings on the premium might make it well worth it.

On the other hand, when you think about your home insurance policy, make sure that you buy replacement insurance -- if your belongings are destroyed by fire, you don't want to find out that all you get is money for their depreciated value.

Remember that Consumer Reports recommends that you don't buy extended warranty policies or service contracts for most appliances and electronic items. Any time a salesman pushes hard for these sales, you can be sure that it is a bad buy for you because premiums are priced higher than you are likely to pay for repairs.

Don’t waste your money on car rental insurance if your credit card or existing auto insurance already covers car rentals.

And finally, review your policies and prices every few years to see if your circumstances have changed (perhaps you’re eligible for new discounts) and to make sure you’re still getting the best price with current provider. For auto insurance, ask about discounts for nonsmokers, safe driving records, and military service. Car features like anti-theft devices and air bags can also earn you a discount. Have a teenage driver in the family? If your child gets good grades in school, you insurance company may offer you a better rate. And when your child goes off to college, your rate should drop even further.  Has the value of your car decreased considerably since you first signed up for the policy? If so, you might eliminate your comprehensive and/or collision coverage. And of course if you have mulitple insurance policies (including more than one vehicle) with the same carrier, it pays to ask for a discount.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Freezer Facts

Let your freezer be your friend! It is an important appliance for anyone who wants to save money because it allows you to buy in bulk when meat, fish, chicken, baked goods, and even some items of produce are on sale. The most important thing is to label everything that goes into the freezer -- it is hard to identify things in plastic bags once they are frozen. I also recommend that you date everything -- you'll want to use the oldest items first, whenever you can. Here are some additional tips:
  • Prevent freezer burn without expensive bags or gadgets by sucking all of air out (put food in freezer bag and seal it up almost completely, place straw in open corner and suck out air, as you do this, withdraw straw seal bag up).
  • Keep your freezer full so it works most efficiently and therefore uses as little electricity as possible. If it is half empty, fill it with containers of water - the resulting ice will keep everything else cold.
  • Mark Bittman wrote a wonderful article in the New York Times about using your freezer. You can read it by clicking here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Free NYC Summer Events!

Free is one of our favorite words, so we love the fact that pricey New York City positively teems with amazing free events every summer. From classic movies to modern dance; from Broadway musicals to Shakespeare, there are almost endless options. Below is a list of of our favorite free events taking place in NYC this summer.

Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. A series of free, outdoor, classic movie screenings, playing on Monday nights throughout the summer months.

Broadway in Bryant Park. Experience the glamour of Broadway in the great outdoors. Each week, several of this year's biggest hits come to the park for a dazzling afternoon song and dance revue.
NBC Rockefeller Plaza Free Concerts. Wake up early to enjoy NBC's Annual Today Show Concert Series at Rockefeller Plaza

Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. Lincoln Center Out of Doors celebrates summer with over 100 free performances.

Broadway on Broadway. It's the quintessential New York City event: 50,000 spectators at the Crossroads of the World, live numbers from Broadway shows performed on a giant outdoor stage, television cameras, a galaxy of celebrity performers, and a big finale with showers of confetti.

Central Park SummerStage. This season includes a wide range of music, dance, film and spoken word, by renowned and emerging artists. Note that while many are, not all events on the schedule are free.

Shakespeare in the Park. Shakespeare in the Park consistently draws big name talent and big crowds, but the time spent waiting in line is almost always worth it.

Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. A series of free concerts in Central Park. Folding chairs are provided; arrive early for the best seats.

New York Philharmonic Concerts. Don 't miss these open air New York Philharmonic concerts in Central Park followed followed by a fireworks display.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Quality Counts

Invest in quality – whether a well-made jacket, a classic leather purse, or solid wood furniture, items made with care and quality workmanship will last longer.

For clothing, consider the following, remembering that a designer label or high price doesn't always guarantee quality:
  • What is the fabric content? Natural fabrics like cashmere, wool, silk and cotton are the most luxurious and long-lasting.
  • Are the seams straight and free of stray threads? Be wary of seams that stretch or pull. Best are French seams, which are turned under and finished to hide raw edges.
  • Are the buttons securely fastened and are there extra buttons sewn inside or attached to the label?
  • If there is a zipper, is it the right weight for the fabric (too heavy and the garment won't hang well; too flimsy and it won't last long)? Does it glide easily?
  • If there is a pattern, like plaid or stripes, it should line up well at all seams. It takes more fabric to match patterns at the seams, but it makes the garment more attractive.

For furniture, look for solid wood (cherry, maple and oak are all good choices; pine is softer and will get nicks easily; fiberboard or pressboard is less expensive but won't last as long) and examine the way the pieces are joined together. If you see dovetailed joints, mortise and tenon joints, or doweled joints - the three strongest and most durable ways to put two pieces of wood together, you are more likely to have a quality product. Note that you can often see these joints easily by pulling out a drawer and looking at the corners.

For other items, consider click over to the Consumer Reports web site. Consumer Reports has long been a good source for shoppers interested in researching what products offer the best bang for the buck, so they are a good source to consult if you are wondering if your prospective purchase is worth the investment.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Top Tips for a Successful Yard Sale

Being thrifty is more than just doing without, it is making the most of what you have. So if you have a significant collection of items that you no longer use -- books you'll never read again, toys and other goods your children have outgrown, well intentioned gifts that just weren't right for you, etc. -- it is time to hold a yard sale. And since summer is the prime yard sale season, here are some tips to make sure that yours is a great success:
  • Make sure you place an ad in the classified section your local paper and on Craigslist and other sites like weekendtreasure.com, garagesalehunter.com, yardsalesearch.com - you want to attract buyers far beyond the number of people who are casually passing by.  Be sure to include the date and hours of the sale, your address (and directions if you are not on a main street), and a brief description of the kind of goods you will be selling.  You might want to list big ticket items separate from your "yard sale" ads, too. 
  • Create one-page flyers with the same info as your online ads to post at your supermarket, your local coffee shop, and anywhere else in your community where there are bulletin boards for sharing this type of information,
  • Create good signage throughout your neighborhood (as with your other advertisements, your signs should include the date and hours of your sale, as well as the address, and the words "Yard Sale" in big, bold letters).  We like to use cardboard or posterboard in bright colors with black lettering to attract the most attention.  If you are especially creative, you can create "Burma shave" type ads for the streets leading up to yours. Or if there is lots of foot traffic, create footprints on the sidewalk using chalk or water-based tempura that lead to your driveway. We also recommend a bouquet of balloons attached to the sign you place out in front of your sale – they will help grab people's attention.  Remember to take down your signs after the sale.
  • Write your prices on painters' tape. It is an easy and inexpensive way to price items and it won't leave any marks. 
  • Alternatively, you can use brightly colored dot stickers that are color-coded to match the price (all blue stickers are $1, all green are $2 etc.).  Make sure you have signs explaining your pricing throughout the display.
  • Before the sale, go to the bank and get plenty of change ($1, $5, $10, $20 some quarters) - you don't want to lose a sale because you can't change a $20 bill.  We have found it helps to keep prices rounded to a dollar - anything less than that is grouped with similar items and sold as a set.
  • Guard your money-box at all times.
  • Lock all the doors to your house.
  • Decide on an “early bird” policy prior to the sale. On the one hand, antique dealers and others who show up before the official opening of your sale are likely to be buyers, not lookers. On the other hand, it can be hard to finish setting up your sale if you have to content with sales at the same time. And shoppers who wait until the official start may be annoyed if everything is already picked over.
  • Be careful about selling recalled items - there are consumer product laws that prevent you from doing so. Wonder if that old crib has been recalled? Just to be sure, check http://www.recall.gov/.
  • Make sure all of your items are clean and displayed attractively - a jumble of dusty old stuff is enticing to almost no one.  Put like items together (e.g. all the children's toys in one place, all housewares in another).  Arrange taller items behind shorter items.  Hang clothing on hangers on a rack, or if that isn't possible, on a rope hung from two trees.  Put big ticket items like furniture closer to the street to attract passersby.  Think like a department store and put all "manly items" -- like grills, golf clubs and power tools -- towards the front of your sale.  And don't underestimate the effect that making the extra effort -- like putting a tablecloth on the table with dishes and filling a pretty vase with fresh flowers -- will have on your sales.
  • If something is cracked or broken, note the damage on the price tag, clearly indicating that you are selling it "as is." 
  • Create an ambiance that will encourage shoppers to linger with music, free ice water on a hot day (we've been to sales with kids selling lemonade and baked goods, which helped bring in shoppers), and plenty of room between tables for browsing.
  • 2-3 hours into the sale, begin to mark down your prices and be more open to haggling: perhaps you've overestimated the value of some of your items.
  • If your objective is to get rid of all your stuff, develop a “buck a bag” policy towards the end of the sale.
  • Give everyone working at the yard sale a specific job.  Examples:  cashier, negotiator (it's often good to have one person in charge of the haggling), worker to help to load stuff into cars, plus someone to answer questions, reload tables and box items that have been purchased.
  • Hold firm to the policy of cash only - even if you know the buyer won't bounce a check, cash makes the sale process easier.
  • Have plenty of boxes, bags and newspapers for packing purchased items.
  • Block off your driveway - better to have customers park on the street than all over your lawn.  Plus this will assure space for the vehicles of buyers who have purchased a big item that can't be carried far.
  • Consolidate the items on your tables as the sale goes on, keeping all displays tidy and attractive….if it looks like your sale has not been picked over, people are more likely to stop and shop.
  • Toward the end of sale group small ticket items together. (i.e. everything on this table for $2)
  • Have a plan for the items that don't sell -- for example, choose a charity and arrange to have them pick everything up the day after the sale.  Click here for a useful list of charities that take furniture, clothes and more.
  • When negotiating, try to throw in extra items instead of reducing price.  For example, instead of reducing the price of the couch, let them have a free coffee table - that way you get rid of two items and the customer gets a deal.
  • Have plenty of extension cords, power strips, and batteries on hand to show that things work; plus you'll need sharpies, tape, sign making material, labels and tags on hand.
Good luck!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Better Bill Paying

Tightwads hate to see money going out the door during monthly bill-paying sessions, so it is nice to know that there are even ways to save when you're paying bills. Here are some ideas:
  • Pay your bills online and save yourself the cost of the stamp, the cost of buying more checks, even the time and gas you'd ordinarily use to get to the post office. Your best bet is to pay directly from your checking account rather than having the monthly bills added to your credit cards.
  • And while you're online, why not sign up for the direct debit option? You’ll save all of the above, plus you will never incur late fees. And you'll keep all of your money earning interest right up to the due date.
  • But remember to make sure you have the option to "review before you renew" – that way it is easier to decide if you have really used the gym enough to justify another year of membership or if the magazine is really worth its annual subscription fee.