Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Deal Alerrt: Women's Flip Flops

Bonton has a variety of women's flip flops for $1.49. Enter code ECM25SHSY11 to make it $1.12.  For free shipping enter the code 2011SIGNATUREGUEST or 2011SELECTGUEST.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Resources for Freelancers

As many of you may know I am big proponent of trying to increase your income. Even small increases can really help out in the long run. For instance my unexpected dental work will probably be paid for entirely through funds from my side job. This means I won't have to tap into my emergency savings or cease regular savings habits.

The best way I have found to bring in a little extra cash is by marketing my skills and talents. This usually means freelancing. Freelancing has been particularly great for me because it means 1) I work when I want to. If I have a committee meeting or a big experiment running, I simply don't take on freelance work. 2) I can do it from home in my spare time. My biggest skill was writing, and that is what I chose to market but the same paradigm can be applied to many skills.

This post will feature some freelancer resources I have been using lately. You've all heard of this site before. It is the old stalwart of the online services and calssifieds industry. Have I gotten any work from Craigslist? I responded to several job postings. One panned out and I made a decent chunk of monye for writing test prep questions for an up and coming test preparation company. I have not aggressively posted my resume or offered services. I hear some people get some leads that way. My craigslist advice is: be persistent and consistent, check the listings everyday and send in a resume to everything that looks good. Be wary of anyone that offers pay that seems way too small or way too large. Be wary of anyone who posts with bad spelling and grammar or lewd phrasing. It is not a bad idea to request at least partial payment up front. Do not meet anyone in non public locations.

Freelance Writing Gigs This site cruises the web and posts all jobs available for freelancer writers every day. It is a pretty comprehensive list. I have yet to find a good match for myself but I highly recommend this free resource. This is a website for Work at Home Moms. There are job postings as well as forums for women working in various fields, including writing, sales and graphic design. It is nice to have a supportive community to dicsus professional issues with and share advice. People are also free to share good resources, leads and extra work. I landed a small job from this site that paid exactly what was specified without any complaints or hassle. I was satisfied.

Elance and Odesk: Both of these sites allow those seeking work to post jobs. Freelancers then bid on these jobs by posting their resume, salary requirements and how fast they can accomplish the task. A lot of the jobs are locked and only paying subscribers can bid on them. I was not willing to pay that fee. I found there to be a lot of overseas bidders driving down prices and a lot of people who wanted to pay peanuts for good work. I tried one job just to see how it went and never got paid. Not shocking. When someone posts a ridicously low salary it is good odds they won't even pay it. The pay version may be better. Please share if you have experience with it.  This Website allows you to post services for a flat fee of five dollars. The site collects the money and pays you via paypal, after taking one dollar as their cut. Most writing tasks are not worth doing for 4$, but it is an interesting way to build contacts. I have made about 40$ so far on that site and had a lot of fun with it. This is also a great site for those who have services that are very easy and fast such as sending a link to a spreadsheet you created.

Any resources you like to use?

Getting Items for Less

When I was a little girl I remember going to buy "slightly imperfect" underwear with my mother. It cost about half the price and the imperfection was usually some small little extra stitch in the back. I never understood why it was so discounted.

The truth is that most manufacturers will rightfully not let a product that is not perfect get onto the shelves. Even if the defect in no way changes the properties or quality of the product. This is why every single M and M has a little "M" on it. It's just not acceptable to sell one without it. Yet I would be perfectly happy to eat it! Where do all those slightly imperfect items go? It would be a waste to throw them all out. Not to mention a hit to the company bottom line. Some companies offer these products for sale through non mainstream retail. They are heavily discounted and still just as great as their perfect counterparts.

My favorite example are "Belly flops". These are" jelly belly" company jelly beans that have some slight flaw - often they are a little misshapen or they are missing the "jelly belly" stamp. In some fun cases two jelly beans got stuck together creating a super jelly bean. At their online store these belly flops sell for less than half the retail of regular jelly belly's. Amazon carries them as well. Just see the link on the left. An Entenmanns cake outlet often has items that are 50-75% cheaper than store prices for expiration dates that are often the same as some found in regular store. Plus the cakes freeze well, extending their life. These days I make my own cakes which is an even bigger savings but if you are an Entenmanns purchaser you might want to check this out....

Appliances are another big ticket item that can be had for 30-40% off the sticker price if you are willing to settle for some dents. The Sears Outlet and other stores offer big discounts on slightly dented items. just make sure the manufacturers warranty is intact. I have scored huge deals on gifts from people's registries and items I need for the house by cruising the Bed Bath and Beyond "as is" section. Often these items are floor samples in perfect condition or items that are "part of a set" and one pice of the set is missing. Someone bought me a 250$ completer set for my wedding China. I returned it and found each piece in that section on its own as "part of set" at some point or another. I made about 150$ on that move.

If your Grocery has a slightly imperfect bin, give it a try. Often these are produce items that are still good but have a little dent that can be cut away. My super fancy area stores do not have such a section. To find a store that sells dented cans or other "substandard" yet perfectly good items try the listing at

Have you purchased slightly imperfect in order to save?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Freebie: 1 quart Glidden Paint

A couple of years ago Glidden had a deal for a free quart of paint. My husband and I each got one and I painted our apartment. It looked really great and we got a free paint job. It seems they are once again giving away paint.

The first 200,000 people to register on the Glidden website  beginning Monday May 16, will receive a free quart of paint in eggshell finish. You will be able to choose from any of their 306 colors. So mark your calendar and set your alarm for tomorrow morning!

Freebie: Aluminum Notepad and Pen

Rhein Klang studios is giving away a free notepad and pen. The notepad will bear their logo. Simply click here and fill out the form. While supplies last, they will be shipping to USA,UK, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden.

Good News for the Harleth Household

This time last year we got some bad news. Our student housing yearly rent increase is usually between 2-5%, and it happens every year without fail. These increases march on without regard to the general housing market or the economy at large. Moving out of student housing means great inconvenience and a chance that we would lose eligibility for the super nice and super economical student housing that we will get access to next year. So we put up with it. There are also few one bedrooms in the neighborhood with a decent price because they are all built as luxury style apartments.

Usually this rent increase is offset by a small increase in our salaries. Last year right around this time our program anounced that due to the economy, they were tightening their belts and asking students to make sacrifices. In order to avoid firing any office staff or having to accept fewer students they instead decided to slash our research budget and keep our salaries flat, no raise.

I was OK with that, because I did not wat anyone to lose their job or the program to suffer in quality. It was clear that our director was working very hard to find ways to keep the program running at its high level despite huge budgetary changes.

Housing, and other departments, did not such thing. Housing announced that the rent increase that year would be 3%. This was despite the fact that property value in the area was dropping. Had they tried to rent their dorm like apartments - in which all lighting is from renter provided lamps, all floors are covered by industrial carpets, maintenance can barge in at any time unannounced and we have to follow some pretty arcane rules - they would not have gotten anything near the price all students were then being asked to pay. No other cuts were being made - to meet their usual budget (which includes weird things like 500$ chairs for office staff because they want to order all their supplies from paper to chairs from the same supplier) they merely divide the cost by the number of apartments. Since the staff always get an annual raise and they don't want to lay anyone of or keep their salaries static the students had to bear the brunt of this cost. This meant we ended up with LESS take home pay than the year before despite being more skilled and more advanced.

In addition the medical school decided to cover its flagging endowment by increasing enrollment and charging students more. I don't pay tuition, but this was really hard on my classmates who were allready hundreds of thousands in debt. It seemed that everyone was looking to bilk the students for more money as a way to even out their rbudget, keep their staff and still be able ot get their raise. Things looked pretty bleak.

This year I have been holding my breath waiting to hear if we will or will not get our raise. Thank goodness, we finallly found out we will. It is small and does not make up for last years lost raise, but at least it will allow us to keep up with the rent increase. We will not have less to work with than we did last year in terms of our budget. For that, I am very grateful. Inflation and soaring food prices are bad enough. There is no word on what this years rent increase will be, but I am hoping they stick to 3% because it would take some real hubris to raise us 5% in this market. Our research budget still has not been restored, but at least baby steps are being taken towards getting things back to normal.

Thank god for small miracles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Yahoo Article on Ways to Save Money

An article featured today on Yahoo News claims that by following 22 tips you can save $100 a week. Here's what I got from reading this article: the people who write financial articles clearly have no idea how most of budget/savings minded people actually live.

Here are the tips withe my comments on how to actually make them useful.

1) "Buy a Water Filter" Instead of buying bottled water you are supposed to purchase a water filter and refill your own bottles. Who the heck was buying water? Not me. Not most of the people I know. That luxury went out the window for many people in 2009. What I would suggest is replacing a lot of other drinks with water - those diet sodas that are probably not all that great for you anyway. They also feed your sweet tooth in a very potent way, because they are often sweeter than sugar. I switched to mostly water years ago as a teenager. The first few weeks are rough but then you really get into it. I do not enjoy most sugary drinks anymore and my health thanks me.

2) "Take Advantage of Power Strips" If you unplug your appliances when they are not in use you will save money. Appliances that are not on still draw energy, known as "phantom power" and this is reflected on your electric bill. To make this easier the article suggests buying a power strip to make shutting things off easier. Now, I actually do not pay an electric bill since my rent is all inclusive and I have no incentive other than being green to do this. However, I would still like to address this point.

Buying a power strip will a) cost you money and b) likely lead to less unplugging. Because when you need one appliance you are going to flick the strip on and they will all then be plugged in. Just plug things in as you need them. It doesn't take much effort and is probably easier than fishing around to find the "on" button of a power stip in a tangle of wires. There. I just saved you $5.99 on a useless power strip. The only things you need to have on a strip are expensive electronics like TV's. Having these on a surge protectors can help them survive power surges and blackouts.

3)" Make Shopping and to do Lists" This way you won't impulse purchase and can do your shopping at once. This is not a bad idea. Most of us have been doing it for years. I would add that you should first make your list then go over the store circular before you go - do not add things you don't need just because they are on sale. Try and find substitutions for things you have on the list that are on sale or are loss leaders.

4) "Stay Away From Foreign ATM's" You get charged a fee every time you use an ATM that is not run by the issuer of your ATM card. Therefore avoiding those ATM's is actually a good idea. However, the subject of ATM's and credit cards and debit cards is something that is really dependent on the reader. If you are a person who tends to overspend or has been in debt (for something other than educational loans) or has filed for bankruptcy you probably should not have any kind of card. You should go to the store with exactly the amount of cash that you have budgeted and not a cent more. If you are a very conscious spender like myself you probably should be putting all your purchases on a credit card to earn the cash back and points.

4) "Buy Generic" Again, this a good idea but certainly not something new. Most of us have been doing this already. What would probably help you more is learning to coupon shop and bulk purchase. Take baby steps - look at the price per unit on itmes. This helps you realize that just because a box of something costs less does not mean it is actually cheaper - it all depends on how much is in that box. This helps people keep their bearings at stores like Costco (which can often trick you into overspending if you don't look at the unit price) and will help you find the best sales. For more on this go here.

5) "Cancel Your Landline" Been there. Done that. For my post on this topic go here.

6) "Utilize the Library" Wow. That's something I haven't thought of before. Seriously, is this new to anyone? For other ways to get free books and movies, that you can keep, and that you haven't known about since you were five, check out this post or this post.

7) "Bye Bye Gym Membership" There are exercises you can do at home so this article would have you stop paying for the gym. Sounds good, but I don't pay for the gym. It's free for my building. Lots of other people only have time to go when they are on their lunch break. If the choice is going to the paid gym or not going at all, I'd go so long as you have room for this in your budget.  Or you could consider running in a nice location like central park or biking. Governors Island has free bike rentals on Friday. That's a bit more exciting than staying home isn't it?

8) "Take Your Lunch to Work" I am beginning to think this article was wirtten by someone who is really rich and has been living under a really expenssive rock for their entire lives. If you haven't heard this tip before, you must be very new to the idea of having a budget and saving. I wish you well on this journey! However their suggestion - a sandwich - gets old really fast. I will be featuring some more interesting options and recipes on the site.

9) "Carpool" I'll do you one better - take the subway. It'll probably even out to the same amount of time once you factor in traffick and with todays gas prices it is way cheaper.

10) "Walk or Bike" Yes, also good ideas that most of us have all ready been doing.

11) "Avoid Convenience" I am going to put in a little piece of the article here:

"Wash your own car, cut your own fruits and veggies, and clean your own house. If you don't think you have enough time to wash your own car, remember that there are 24 hours in the day. Even if you spent 10 hours at work, 8 hours sleeping, 2 hours cooking, and 2 hours hanging out with the family, you would still have 2 hours to wash your car or clean your house."

This is another one of those moments when all this does is depress me. Who are these people that were having all this cleaning help and only buying pre-cut foods? I find the time breakdown cute but also a little naive. I think they are avoiding a big issue there. This means you work 8 hours because that is what you can do. however if you can find a part time side job and increase your income, it might be worth it to buy conveniences that allow you to free up that time. If you can make $50 an hour tutoring but it means you have to pay $2 more for your vegetables, then go ahead and buy those pre-cut vegetables. For more on why increasing your earning is so essential, go here.

12) "Pay Bills on Time" to avoid late fees. Ummmm..... hello? Who thought it was a good idea to pay bills late?

13) "Make Your Own Pet Toys" Sure, if you all ready have a pet. I don't have one and never intend to. Pets are great for lots of people but if you are not meeting your monthly bills and savings goals then you should not have a pet, unless it is a seeing eye dog. I know this sounds harsh, but pets are not children. If you are not in good financial shape you should not have a pet. If you are in good shape, then go ahead and make your own toys but you probably could earn more spending that time doing something else.

14) "Pre game" This means that if you are going out you should first eat and get drunk at home so you don't waste money on alcohol and food when you get to where you are going.  What's the point of going out if you are going to do it all at home first? Instead you might want to invite your friends over for socializeng and something fun like a potluck. Or you can get into free activities that allow you to go out without worrying about overspending. Many museums are "suggested donation", others have free nights. This way you can save up and actually enjoy the times you do go out. We have dinner in a fancy restaurant once a year for our anniversary. The rest of the time we cook at home. And you know what? We don't eat a bunch of food before we go to the restaurant. That's just unfair to the management. If you can't afford to go somewhere, don't get peer pressured into it. You're going to feel silly when all your firends are ordering food and drinks and you order a side salad.

15) "Cancel Cable" Who had cable? Check out hulu and websites like Or ask you parents for their netflix log in to enjoy streaming video of many movies and TV shows.

16) "Make Your Own Food" See my thoughts on number 11. These are practically identical tips.

17) "Stay In" Well, this is much better than their pre-game idea. But you can still go out and have a good time. Just find free events. I'll feature these as they crop up. Check out your alma matters alumni association - often they have free events.

18) "Make Your Own Coffee" Sure, if you drinnk coffee. I'd also suggest you stop being a snob and just use the darn coffee machine at work. Holding a cup from a hoity toity coffee place is not going to make anyone think you are any better than they or and does not mean your palate is anymore refined. It means you are a sucker who is willing to overpay for things. Personally I don't drink coffe. Why get hooked? And FYI ladies, if you have a major coffee habbit it might pay to start weaning yourself. Several physicians suggest avoiding excess caffeine consumption during pregnancy.

19) "Avoid Bank Fees" This is essentially a repat of 4 and 12. However if you do any foreign travel you might want to look into TD Bank and Capital One  - both have cards with no foreign transaction fee. (Other credit cards and ATM's have fees ranging from a percentage of each purchase, to a flat fee per purchase).

20) "Use Coupons" You should always try and get the things on your shopping list on sale. However you should not buy things you don't need just because they are on sale. Stock piling is an interesting method for getting the most of coupons and sales, and I will be talking more about it in future posts, but in general you shouldn't buy something you never use. You'll just end up having it sit on your shelf forever and that's wasted money.

If you are like me you only counted 20 tips in there. So the article is a bit disappointing in that regard too. Still if you are new to this, then it covers some of the basic measures you can take to cut costs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Deal Alert: Free Haagen Dazs

Today, May 10, Haagen Dazs will be offering a free cone between 4-8 pm. So head on over to yous nearest store.

This can make a fun outing with the kids, or a a cute and sweet couples night free!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Myth Buster: Why Tax Brackets Cannot Hurt you

Every time I talk to someone, either in person or online, about increasing their earnings I get some sort of comment about how they must first make sure they won't get bumped into a higher tax bracket. Everyone, including myself until a few years ago, seems to think that is possible to take home less money after getting a raise or a second job because more earnings means a higher tax bracket and thus more money going to the government. This is just plain wrong and is holding many people back from bumping up their income.

The phrase "tax bracket" is really a misnomer and has lead to misunderstanding of the way the U.S. tax system works. There is no flat tax bracket that is applied to all of your income. Instead, there is a marginal tax bracket system. This means that only your income above a certain level is taxed at the higher rate. So as you earn extra income you pay more per dollar of that extra income in taxes, but your base income is still taxed at the same rate.

Here is an example:
Let us say I eanred $100,000 of taxable income (I wish!) in 2009. This table does NOT mean that I pay 28% of my income, $28,000, in taxes.

On my first $8,350 I would pay 10%, $835.
On my next $25,600 I would pay 15%, $3,840.
The next $48,300 would be taxed at a rate of 25% for a total of $12,0775.
My final $17,750 would be taxed at 28%, $4,970.
My total tax bill would be $21,720.

People would refer to me as being in the 28% tax bracket when only a small portion of my total income was taxed at that level. Someone else who earned only $8,350, would pay the same $835 on that money as I did.

It is impossible for this system to lead to a decrease in your after taxes pay this year as compared to last year just because you increased your earnings.  So stop using this as an excuse! Get out there and get those extra earnings!

What the marginal tax bracket system does show is that sometimes there is dminsihing returns on your effort/earnings. As you earn more, you make less for each additional dolar. This means you may want to calculate if the effort needed to earn a given amount of cash is justified by the after taxes pay you will receive for it. That goes for any job you take - even if it was tax free. You must always calculate if you are being compensated adequately for your time.

Before someone's makes an irate post about how earning more is going to cost them their "programs" and thus it is irresponsible of me to advise them to increase their income let me address this issue: Increasing income can  boot people from eligibility for certain government assistance programs. In my opinion this is not a bad thing. These programs exist to help people who are either incapacitated due to severe disability or who are struggling to find work. As people find work they should no loner be eligible for assistance. If you are able bodied and can work and provide for yourself you should not be allowed to choose to stay home and live off others tax money. What if we all did that? There would be no money left for those struggling families dealing with a disability or a recent lay-off. Loosing eligibility means you have managed to to get back on your feet. It should be looked upon as a victory, not as a loss. I do not look down on any family that is struggling and seeking work but failing to find it. We live in tough times. But choosing not to work or to even try and look for ways to live frugally and bring in income because it is easier to live off "programs" is just immoral. If you are in that situation, and prefer to remain that way,  this blog is not for you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I Feel Validated

In yesterdays "NY Times" author Ramit Sethi argued something I have been advocating for a long time: The best way to increase your saving is to increase your earnings. Frugality can only take you so far and you can never save more than you earn. It's just common sense.

So why are we peppered with articles about saving money on toilet paper and skipping lattes (like I ever had the luxury of lattes!?)? Because it is much easier to write about frugality than earning money. Everyone can tell you to cut this and that. Not that many can tell you how to market your skills and find a job. Earning money is very difficult for those who do not know how to work the job market and very few people know how to point you in the right direction.

Sethi's approach is termed "conscoius spending", basically spending lavishly on things you love while cutting everything else. I support many of his claims, but I wouldn't just throw frugality out the window either. I don't necessarily "love" my Roth IRA, but I would like to retire someday. So I am not going to buy that iPad I have been hankering for because that money is supposed to go the Roth IRA.

A combined approach - where you live frugally but realize that sometimes you have to spend a little to earn a great deal more - is probably the most effective. Save on gas by not showing up to work any more? probably not a good idea. Using the office coffee machine? good idea. The quality of your offee should not affect the quality of your work. A vacation every now and then? Sure as long as you have first met your savings goals, and have an emergency fund. Go ahead and reward yourself for meeting those goals - but be sure to get the best deal on that vacation through planning and research.

The main point which I wholeheartedly agree with is that once the obvious luxuries are cut, it is much more effective to focus on earning more. Denying yourself is extremely difficult and making your own laundry detergent isn't gong to save you all that much anyway. Many of these frugal measures are time consuming and exhausting.  Finding a side job that you like and that pays will bring in far more. Plus there's no limit on how much you can earn. There is a limit on how much you can save - never more than you're earning, usually a heck of a lot less. This is why I try to mix in posts about earning more and increasing your earning potential.

To read the full article click here.