Wednesday, April 8, 2015

10 Ways to Spend Less on Clothes

I was updating my budgeting spreadsheet for the year and realized that I have spent $172 on clothes this year. It kind of freaked me out. I spent HOW much in three months?? Ugh! Time for a spending freeze! But then I took a step back and realized that, actually, I've done a pretty darn good job at spending wisely. That $172 brought home a whopping 24 items -- so I spent an average of just $7.17 per item! How is this possible?

MY HISTORY IN NOT SPENDING MONEY ON CLOTHES. LIKE EVER.

 

In years past, I have had an extremist approach to clothes budgeting, purchasing new items only when they were a decent price (which in my mind is usually less than $10) and my wardrobe had a strong and specific need for a particular piece. If, on a whim, I decided I wanted an apple green cardigan to wear over a certain shirt, I would scour the internet and thrift stores for months and only buy once I had found the perfect one at the perfect price. If my jeans had trendy looking holes, they earned them through long lives of hard work, by golly! I wore clothes until they were no longer fit to be worn, pretty much. I'm sure certain of my acquaintances would argue that I still do. . .

However, my spending habits have loosened up a little in the past year -- reason: for better or for worse, it's because I have this super awesome boyfriend who seems to enjoy the "classy and well-kept" look better than the "grunge/I don't care" look. Combine this new motivation to look "nice" with some very legitimate wardrobe needs (socks and underwear. You can only put them off so long,) and I have spent the last few months on some very specific searches. . .

WANTED:

 

- A pair of summer sandals that looks nice but are also supportive and fit for a decent amount of walking.
- Pants! A couple pairs of jeans, at least another pair of casual shorts or capris, and another pair or two of workout shorts or capris.
- A blue shirt to pair with a certain white skirt.
- A maxi skirt, to scratch this itch I've had to jump on the maxi skirt trend.
- Swim cover ups
- Shirts in a greater variety of colors. Do you ever look in your closet and realize you have, like, fifteen purple sweaters and that's all? Because that's like the story of my life. For awhile all my shirts were blue, and now they're all purple. It's weird.
- A sports bra. A tricky proposition if you're as tricky a size as I am.
- Oh yeah, and socks and underwear.

HOW TO DO A TOTAL WARDROBE REFRESH ON THE CHEAP

Here are some of the principles I kept in mind as I searched.

  1. Know when to go for quality rather than price. Shoes are turning into my non-negotiable here. Ten years of food service and retail has been tough on my knees, and supportive shoes are an absolute must.
  2. Know when to go for new rather than used. This can be pretty subjective, but things I prefer not to buy used are shoes, socks, and underwear, obviously, for the gross factor! I also steer away from used workout clothes and white shirts. I don't know about you, but my white shirts turn grey fast enough without a head start from anyone else's use.
  3. Look for specific pieces in specific colors or styles. Idle browsing can easily send you home with things you don't need that don't really pair well with anything else in your closet. Confession: I probably bought more shirts than I really needed to. I was browsing. It is true.
  4. Have a price limit in your head for every type of clothing you're looking for. Decide ahead of time what it's reasonable for you to spend on a shirt, or pants, or dress. Looking at tons of clothes at prices like $39.99 can be really desensitizing. You may begin to think to yourself that $24.99 is a good price for a tank-top, comparatively. . . .But then you can jerk yourself back to reality: "Dude, no. I was going to spend no more than $9 on a tank top. This one's almost three times that"
  5. Shop used first. Whenever reasonable, hit the thrift stores to fill holes in your wardrobe BEFORE browsing new items. If you can fill some holes with $5 used items, you'll end up spending MUCH less than if you had bought everything new  even at cheaper locations like Target or TJ-Maxx.
  6. However, for the items you WON'T buy used, shop the cheaper "new" stores first, like Target, Walmart, or off-price retailers like TJ-Maxx and Ross. Off-price retailers are an especially good source for finding high quality items at reasonable prices (like shoes!!); you just have to be ready to sort through the junky stuff that's being offered at the same price.
  7. Do your research. If you're looking for a specific item, you can browse a ton of stores online in a fraction of the time it would take to browse their brick-and-mortar counterparts. This is a good way to compare prices and find exactly what you want with greater efficiency. To avoid shipping, you may be able to ship site-to-store for free. Or maybe the item's already available at your local store; most websites allow you to check individual store inventories for the availability of what you're looking at.
  8. Consider reward points. If you find you're going to purchase multiple items at a certain store, see if any of your credit cards offer bigger cash back for purchasing online. If you're a member of Swagbucks or another reward point, purchasing online through that platform may earn you extra reward points. If you were going to purchase the items anyway, and in a large enough quantity to score free shipping, you might as well maximize the cash back you can receive! I used my Discover card AND shopped through Swagbucks Shop & Earn Platform when applicable. Now I have reward points to put towards future Amazon purchases of necessities....like textbooks. (Gak.)
  9. Do not neglect the humble coupon code. When purchasing online, always check to see if you can get 10% off by registering for promotional e-mails; always check other sites like RetailMeNot or CouponChief to see if there's other deals lurking out there that aren't readily apparent. At the very least, it's often possible to find a code for free shipping.
  10. Have in mind the total amount you're willing or able to spend. I kind of failed here -- I was thinking I'd try to cap my purchases around $100 not counting shoes, but I didn't keep very good track of what I was spending as I spent it, and thus, I overshot my limit somewhat. Even if you don't stick to your budget, chances are you'll STILL end up spending less just by having one in mind than by going out without one!


WHAT I ENDED UP PROCURING:

 

- An amazing pair of Cliffs sandals for $24.99 at TJ-Maxx
- 2 pairs of jeans, including a pair of like-new Seven for All Mankind that was only $5.99 at Savers--score!
- A pair of khaki shorts and a pair of grey running shorts totaling about $10.
- Scored the blue shirt!
- After much deliberation, found an aqua colored maxi skirt. It was $25. :(
- Two swim cover-ups -- one, an iffy $5 one on Amazon shipping from China, and the other a neutral colored one from Walmart that was, I think, $14. . .
- LOTS of shirts in a pretty decent variety of styles from dressy to casual, including two new workout shirts and two basic white tanks/camis which were greatly needed. They all were less than $5 each at thrift stores with the exception of the two white tanks which were new from Target and about $12, I think.
- A sports bra for about $8 on clearance at TJ-Maxx.
- And yep, the socks and underwear, too.

All in all, I have ended up with 24 new articles of clothing, averaging $7.17 per item. And if we take out the two most expensive (the shoes and skirt were each $25), the total of $122 spread over 22 items averages just $5.55 each.

So yes, I spent more than I'm used to, and more than I intended. . . But on the whole, I am quite satisfied with all my purchases and their respective prices.

The least satisfying purchase was the maxi skirt. I was hoping for one that could be worn with black OR brown sandals, was of a sturdy material, and a fun print. I ended up getting a solid colored aqua one which I chose for the reviews which said it was of a heavier material. It's really thin, though, and I might as well have gone with the $8 skirt with the bad reviews instead of this $25 with good ones.  Lesson: embracing trends is often not as satisfying as you think it will be; if you really want to indulge, go for cheap.

What are your best saving tips when it comes to fashion?






Monday, February 16, 2015

Starting a Blog Income Report and other news.

It is my goal to get back into the blogging swing of things and bring you lots of great new content about frugal living, home-making, cleaning, and the works.

But I'll be honest -- it's a struggle at the moment. As some of you may know, I'm currently working on a BBA in Accounting (getting some money-managing cred!) and I will graduate this December. HOWEVER, to graduate on time, I'm taking a pretty heavy course load. 18 credits this semester, 16 over the summer, and between 12-16 this fall (have to double check how many electives I have left.) And I'm still working 25 hours a week as your friendly neighborhood barista.

(Yes, in order to bring this blog post to you I am procrastinating on something else. Heh.)

In case you're curious, though, here's what I've got brewing (barista pun, get it?) for the future of Finely Ground....

Upcoming Projects
  • I'd like to compile great DIY cleaning secrets into an e-book -- including some that have already been posted here and some extras! This may involve printables of some of the more popular content, like that Spring Cleaning Checklist.
  • Actually, I've made a prototype printer friendly version of that one already, so hit me up if you want an advance copy!
  • Maybe a series on launching and monetizing a blog -- because at the moment mine's providing me with some mostly passive income, and who doesn't want passive income? What do you think? Something you'd be interesting in reading?
  • Cat Litter. So many choices. I'm currently running a trial of about 8 different brands of clumping (sift-able) litter, and soon I'll be able to give you all the dirt on what's the most budget-friendly, which wins odor control for small spaces, and which ones will end up tracked all over your house. Stay tuned! I only have about two weeks of trialing left.
  • I may need to discover the secrets of budget wedding event planning soon, too. ;) Shh!
  • But as for today.....Doing blog income reports is trendy right and I'm finding them so interesting to read. Just how DO regular people like you and me work their way up to earning $20,000/month off their blogs???! So I'm going to put a beginner's blogging spin on this idea, and show you what "starting small" looks like. And hopefully you'll be able to watch the income of this blog grow and learn from what works for me!
Show Me Da Money!

At the beginning of this year I got more serious about record-keeping. I made $579 on this blog last year -- yeah, small potatoes -- and I'd really like to see it grow. I'm taking a class in income tax accounting this semester, and it's helped and inspired me to be more organized about how I keep track of my freelance finances.

I created a spreadsheet of t-accounts and journal entries, and as I'm a cash-basis tax payer, I'm going to record here my cash-basis blog earnings and expenses with a few summaries about traffic and the performance of key projects.

Without further ado, here's what happened at Finely Ground during January 2015.

Traffic Stats

  • 34,525 page views
  • Social Sharing drove 44% of those page views, and Pinterest in particular was responsible for 75% of that traffic.
  • Most of the search terms that brought people to Finely Ground had to do with cleaning (not surprised!) but I noticed that my post on getting glasses without vision insurance is also  commonly searched! Awesome! That means this information is helping people.
  • Weirdest search query: "Accidentally inhaled Ajax." Yikes, dude. I hope you're okay.

Events

  • The Lush Decor Giveaway! It was actually the first giveaway I've hosted here, and I wanted to make sure it went well. I was pretty satisfied with its performance. During the week it was live it received over 1000 views and at least 370 unique entrants.
  • Connected to this event, I did my first foray into paying for advertising. I ran a facebook ad which drove a lot of engagement and new "likes" (120!) to Finely Ground's page but not a ton of clickthrough, a pinterest promoted pin which received a lot of impressions but not a lot of click-through, and submitted to various free and paid giveaway directories -- the one that sent the most traffic to my site was Giveaway Promote, so I'm going to tuck that one away as a future resource.
  • In prep for the giveaway, I cleaned up the sidebar here a little, and added a new section for "recent posts" -- I used to just have one for "popular posts." I've found it challenging to direct traffic to my newer posts, though. The older established and popular ones tend to continue to receive more views than anything new I post, so I need to figure out how to improve engagement and get those readers of my old posts to stick around longer.

Revenue

  •  $48.28 - Amazon Affiliate Program (the deposit of November's revenue.)

Expenses

  • $25.99 - Advertising Expenses
Most blogger income reports have lists of different revenue and expense sources about a mile long. Clearly, I need to work on diversifying!

Net Income: $22.29

Woot woot! Don't spend it all in one place, self.

Next month's report should be a little more interesting because some non-cash compensation will hit the books.

Random tax fact -- did you know if you barter services or receive free product, you're supposed to recognize income for its fair value??

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

GIVEAWAY: $200 Lush Decor Gift Card!! ends 1/21


Have you heard of Lush Decor? I hadn't, and was surprised to realize that I've seen their products before. You probably have, too, in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Kohls, and Sears--however, their products are offered not only through other retailers, but through their own online store as well.

And how awesome is this: Lush Decor is going to give one of YOU, the readers of Finely Ground, a $200 giftcard to their store!

Daydream with me for a moment....What would you like to do with $200 at Lush Decor? Their offerings include bedding, shower curtains, window treatments. . .


Their styles range from opulent to whimsical, from simple and classic to feminine and fashion-forward.




Here are a few of my favorites:

Serena 3 piece Comforter Set
Lattice Throw

Darla Shower Curtain
Crinkle 3 piece Quilt



























So gorgeous! You want the gift card, right?? Gosh, me too! Here are the details:
  1. This sweepstakes will be open until 11:59PM (eastern time!) on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015. A winner will be randomly picked using the entries made through the Rafflecopter widget below. A maximum of 5 entries per person may be obtained through the Rafflecopter widget.
  2. Open to USA residents 18+ years old only.
  3. No purchase necessary to enter or win, and purchasing anything from Lush Decor will not improve your odds of winning. The odds will depend on total number of entrants.
  4. The prize will be ONE $200 giftcard code which must be used in a single transaction (no extra balance kept or change issued!)
  5. The winner will be notified via e-mail on Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 and must respond within 48 hours or their prize will be forfeited and a new winner chosen (who also must respond within 48 hours of notification, etc.)
  6. You MUST enter through the Rafflecopter widget included in the post. Comments on this post will NOT be counted as entries. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Good luck!

DISCLAIMER: The giftcard code was supplied without any cost to me, and I was compensated for this post with a free item from Lush Decor, however any opinions expressed are authentic and my own.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Your Blog and Social Account Monetization -- Simplified!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of IZEA for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Saving money is all well and good. . .But if you're going to save some money, you've got to make some first, right? I think a big part of frugal living is making the most of all your opportunities both to save and earn. If you have a blog or social media account, why not make it earn its keep?
Izea-logo

One of the tools in my arsenal is IZEA. I think I started to hear buzz about it as I studied other lifestyle blogs and the ways in which their authors earned a little cash. I began working with IZEA's subsidiary (which is being closed, and all members transferred over to IZEA) Social Spark about a year ago, writing fun posts like this and participating in their advertising programs. Over the past year, though, they've greatly renovated their offerings and you can now monetize not only your blog (if you have one) but your twitter, facebook, or youtube accounts as well.

It's a very user-friendly process, and once you register, you can start placing bids on earning-opportunities within hours.

Take for instance this post:
1) I logged into my account to check out the latest companies seeking bids. Right now, for example, I've got five opportunities I could bid on if I wanted, ranging from blog posts for V8's new protein shake to StraightTalk Wireless' economical cell phone plans.
2) To place a bid on this sponsored post for IZEA, I simply clicked "place a bid," named a price within their stated range, and included a pitch of a sentence or two about why this post would do well on my blog.
3) Within a day or two I logged back in and found my bid had been approved! I could go ahead and write my content, submitting it to the advertiser for approval through IZEA's platform. (A bonus here is relative anonymity. The advertiser NEVER is hooked up with your personal e-mail address or pyament information.)

Assuming all goes as planned, the advertiser will approve my post and it will show up at Finely Ground soon. (If you're reading this, hey! It worked!) Within another few weeks, my advertising fee will be posted to my account where I can withdraw it through paypal.

A pro-tip for you:

- On the free membership plan with IZEA, you get 3 bids per month.

I've never found this restrictive, but I'm also extremely choosy about what I review or endorse on this blog. If you would like to bid on more opportunities per month (and chances are you'll get quite a lot of opportunities to choose from!) you can upgrade to their paid plan at $1 a month and unlimited bidding.

I'll be honest: IZEA isn't my BIGGEST source of revenue on this blog. . . .But it was the first I delved into, and with its simple interface and implementation I think it's great for beginners--especially with the new social media integration. What could be simpler than linking up your twitter account and getting paid to tweet?

And every little bit counts. At this time of year, especially, couldn't everybody use a little bit extra for gift-giving?

So whether you're a blogger trying to get your feet wet in monetization, or a casual tweeter who wouldn't mind earning some extra dollars on the side, why not sign up with IZEA?

Visit Sponsor's Site

Friday, October 10, 2014

10 Ways to Save Money on Pets

If you're trying to save money, pets can seem like an unnecessary expense. . .But they're so cute and cuddly! Having something warm and furry to snuggle, being woken up at two in the morning by sandpapery kisses, having someone who's always happy to see you even when you're grumpy. . . Surely these things are worth a little expense, right?

I adopted Rogue (pictured) this summer after providing a foster home for him for a year for a local rescue society. (He just wasn't getting adopted in a timely fashion. I don't know why. Look at that face!) Initially, I hadn't planned on adopting a pet at this time because of my college expenses. But in the grand scheme of things, I have to admit his monthly maintenance isn't breaking the bank.

Here are some things to consider when adopting a pet, and further, some tips to help the money-savvy pet owner save some dollars!

  • It's obvious, but it merits repeating. Consider your lifestyle and budget. Animals come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and lifespans--and have a variety of needs! Fish? Cheap and unlikely to stick around longer than a couple years. Dogs, on the other hand, can be very expensive to maintain and require a lot of attention. I feel like cats are middle-of-the-roaders. They may live for twenty years, but they're pretty good at entertaining themselves. For weekends out of town, you may not even need a pet sitter. And for much of their lives, if they're healthy indoor cats, your primary expenses will only be cat litter and food.
  • Consider fostering if you're not ready for the lifetime commitment that comes with pet ownership. Almost every town has a humane society--if you search for local animal shelters on the internet you may find a handful of other independent or more specialized ones as well. When fostering an animal, you provide love and home for it until it is adopted. The organization is responsible for vet expenses, and will often provide food and other equipment, too, if you need. 
  • Even if your housing or financial situation doesn't allow for pets, you can still cash in on some furry love by volunteering at a local shelter. SOMEbody has to clean the kennels and play with their inmates. :)
  • Adopting adult animals is usually a lot cheaper than adopting kittens or puppies. Frequently, they are already spayed or neutered;, Their personalities are already formed, too, so it's easier to judge how they'll fit into your family.
Once you've taken the plunge....

  • Many pet supplies can be found at thrift stores -- fish bowls, hamster wheels, water bowls. Maybe even pet beds, although I would probably launder one before bringing it too far into my home.
  • Make your own pet toys. Sad but true: Fluffy will probably think a wadded up piece of printer paper is WAY more exciting than the deluxe wind-up catnip-filled scurrying mouse toy you got him. Your old slipper may delight Fido more than the entire pet section of Walmart.
  • Coupon! It seems like pet food is always on sale somewhere. If you coupon for nothing else, you could still save a bundle by doing it for pet food. Walmart has a printable coupon link towards the bottom of their webpage which I recently discovered, and it seems to provide a lot of the same coupons that newspaper inserts do. Additionally, if you watch for new products by your favorite brands, there are often high-value coupons associated with them--some even tucked into the products themselves for your next purchase.
  • Free Samples. Signing up for free sample mailing lists can be the start of a lifetime of spam, it is true. However, I subscribe to Sweet Free Stuff and they seem to e-mail fairly responsibly. I get two a day from them. And they almost always contain free pet food samples of one kind or another. I will note that cats are often said to have finicky stomachs and switching their food a lot can distress them. Personally, I have only had cats with seemingly iron stomachs. :) But even if you're worried about yours, you can use free samples to merely "stretch" your regular food a little farther by stirring them in to the usual.  Plus, you might discover a great new product that your pet loves!
  • Another thing, free samples usually come with high value coupons. Double win!
  • Finally, keep your pet healthy! Helping your pet maintain a healthy weight, and paying attention their hydration and nutrition will help them--and you!--out over the long haul. It's also a good idea to think realistically, up-front, about how you will approach end of life care. Sad but true: our furry friends won't live forever. If you think about this in advance, it may help later when, emotionally, you may want to treat and treat and treat your pet's medical problems past what is merciful both to their comfort and your finances.

How do you save money on pet expenses?