Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Always ask!

This is an unposted draft from a long ago. But I'll post it now. The advice has always relevance.

I don't have credit card debt and I only have two credit cards. One is a Chase Freedom card, and the other is my first credit card through my bank.

Since the bank credit card doesn't earn rewards as the Chase card does, I don't use it much. I'm not exactly someone who makes the banks a ton of money, but I still don't want to be charged needlessly either.

This year I hadn't used my bank card at all which meant I saw a $40 annual fee posted a couple of days ago. That fee is only charged if no purchases are made on the card throughout the year.

I was a bit annoyed that I'd forgotten to use the card this year and had actually paid the fee, ready to write off the $40 expense as "one of those stupid things you do."

Then, I thought, well, why not call up the bank's customer service and try to get it waived? If I'm completely in the wrong, I am loathe to beg, but even if you are in the wrong, they can only tell you "no." I figured my leg to stand on was that the year wasn't over yet so I made my case, calmly. And? A friendly customer service rep waived it, I made a small purchase, and all was mostly good again.

The moral of this story: And that's why you always ask! Companies do usually want to keep their customer's happy. Also, don't let banks pull one over one you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CNNMoney: Fed slashes key rate to near zero

link to full story: http://money.cnn.com/2008/12/16/news/economy/fed_decision/index.htm?postversion=2008121615

Wow, this is troubling. I know the point is to encourage banks to lend and people to borrow, but the first thing I think of is how my HSBC online savings account rate will surely also be lowered. again.

At the CNNMoney story, take a look the graphic on the right illustrates how drastically the rate has fallen since the end of 2007, when we now know the recession "officially" began.

A little love for Fortnum's

I recently received a jar of Christmas curd in the mail. Don't let the "curd" throw you off, it's a fruit spread, really tasty, and -- at $15 per jar -- down-right posh. But, coming from Fortnum & Mason's US mail-order service, you shouldn't except any less.

I love Fortnum's own description of the Christmas curd:
It’s the spicing that makes it Christmassy. That and the cranberries. And the being red.
Fortnum & Mason is a London department store. It's best-known for its fancy-pants food hall that is the official supplier of foodstuffs to the Queen. Gleaned from the store's Wikipedia page I also learned the fact that they invented Scotch eggs, which I happen to love! Next time I'm in London, I'll have to check out the store just for one of the original versions.

So, where's the deal?

The lovely Christmas curd? Free! On a tip from a poster at SlickDeals, I learned Fortnum & Mason were running a promo for $15 off and free shipping with no minimum. That was back in October, so it's expired now, I'm afraid.

SlickDeals only encourages rampant (and sometimes crass) consumerism, but it's useful for scoping out a great price on an electronic item or one-off deals, such as the Fortnum promo.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Conversation on buying locally

Does buying local really help the community?

December 4, 2008 9:38 AM
Buying local: Facts and fictions. Help me sort through the arguments about buying local as I get inundated with requests to do so this holiday season.
Discussion continues at AskMetaFilter: http://ask.metafilter.com/108400/Does-buying-local-really-help-the-community

I'm curious to sort through this post myself as I've held it is important to buy local to support the strength of the local community when you can, even if it isn't always the least expensive (See previous post re: the economic stimulus checks). I don't think it's a hard and fast rule but it is something that I am trying to make into consideration more when I make a purchase. Looking through this MetaFilter post, I'll have to see if those assumptions hold water.

Spending Smarts

I am an unabashed pun connoisseur and not very economical in my use of them. Hope that doesn't scare any of you readers off! It is cheap entertainment, remember.

This blog's title of Spending Smarts is not only a lovely alliteration, but it is also a pun.

1) First, smarts regarding spending. Smarts as in intelligence. Seems fairly obvious, no? In our consumer-crazed culture spending with some clear reasoning is an effort that usually pays off.

2) Smarts is additionally defined as a stinging pain after-effect. Spending choices certainly cause this feeling. Sometimes it's the buyer's remorse of being stuck on the bill of frivolous spending. Or in "damned if you do, damned if you don't" fashion, frugalness can also cause some "pain" in longing for something you give up in effort to save money. That pain is more superficial, but can by managed with some occasional splurges and affordable alternatives.

3) The blog title, $pending $marts, is just using and abusing the good ol' dollar sign but hopefully adds a little visual interest.

Are you an econnoisseur?

Econnoisseur was the Urban Dictionary word of the day a couple of days ago.

Defined: One who insists on the highest quality at the lowest price.

Being an econnoisseur I bought the ten dollar chilean wine instead of the fifty dollar french.

Poor grammar and punctuation in the sample sentence aside -- remember it is Urban Dictionary, not the OED -- I am enamored with the term.

A connoisseur on a budget.

Fifty dollars for a bottle of wine is more than I can see myself spending. Ever. Heck, if the hypothetical wine purchasing were at Trader Joe's, I'd mostly likely opt for the three-buck chuck. Part of being economical as a connoisseur is spending smart. As an example, because I wouldn't classify myself as wine connoisseur, I'm happy enough with the three-buck chuck for the most part, but will branch out to some other moderately-priced wines from time to time.

I'm much more discriminating about cheeses and if I'm splashing out for some classy casual dining, I'd rather save money on the wine to make room in the budget for some nice Roquefort.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Classic frugal moment

A small anecdote that I realized sums up a lot about being frugal.

Using my $100 gift card I won in a sweepstakes from my alma mater's alumni association I bought a highly-regarded book in the aptly-named bargain section for $7.50. (Retail price: $30, Amazon price: $20)

That may not jump out as you as particularly frugal, so let's dissect a bit further:

1) Always try to enter a sweepstakes when it's free, takes little time or effort, the prize is somewhat desirable and is from a legit source. You won't always win, but when you do this is fantastic essentially "passive income," no?

2) Frugal people look for the sweet spot of value and price -- even when they're spending free money. This means they may sometimes need to flexible to accommodate considerations. Case in point, I didn't go into the store with this book in mind at all.

3) Moderation is key. After some looking, nothing other than the book I eventually purchased caught my eye as much. So, rather than spend the whole card on a bunch of things that kind of interested me (even if they were also on sale) or blow nearly one-third of it on a new hard cover version of book I've been meaning to read for a while (but could also check out from the library), I bought the one book.

For me, the decision-making process was mostly second-nature, but for anyone trying to take a closer look at their finances, it's maybe helpful to slow down and consider your impluses when making a purchase.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Make a $5 donation AND get the new Walkmen album-- all for FREE!

I read today earlier on Stereogum that fantastic indie rock band the Walkmen have released their new album early on digital-download site Amie Street. What's more is that the album will only set you back a mere $5 and what's better is that for every download of the album the band is partnering to donate $5 to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center "in honor of Luca Vasallo, who is seven months old and doing a great job fighting a difficult disease."

Not convinced yet? If you don't have an Amie Street account yet you can sign up via this link. I found that link in June on the Slick Deals forum. You get a free $5 to spend however you want, potentially. (As long as it still works!)

So, to recap, the steps to a free album and a free donation:

1) Sign up for Amie Street here: http://amiestreet.com/_l/cdbaby
2) Download the Walkmen album at Amie Street
3) Enjoy the new tunes and your small good deed for people fighting cancer!

I had to top-up my account with a few more bucks to purchase the Walkmen album. Listening to it now as I type-- so far, so good!

I am a music lover, but one who really still prefers buying CDs and often buys them used. For digital downloads at Amie Street, single track downloads vary in popularity but the highest price is still only 98¢ so you can find some bargains in comparison to iTunes.

P.S. Apologies for my lack of posts on this blog so far.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How did you spend your stimulus?

It took a while, but I eventually did receive my economic stimulus check. While, admittedly, I am not an economist, only a citizen armed with common sense and a rudimentary education in Econ, I can't fathom that this initiative is/will be a complete panacea.

It has been interesting getting a look into how others are spending their stimuli by way of the blog-to-future book "How I Spent My Stimulus." One guy posted video of him burning his check in protest and others share how they spent there money on foreign vacations, which is likely more of a brazen act than the former.

As for me, I'm by no means passing judgment on what others do with their money, but I've decided to spend my stimulus money by supporting local businesses over time. I've put it in my HSBC account for now, but it's earmarked for future use.

Today, I went to a local co-op:
Santa Cruz-brand organic lemonade, 32 oz: $1.49
Santa Cruz-brand organic raspberry lemonade, 32 oz: $1.49
Healthnut chocolate chip cookies (not as oxymoronic as it sounds!): $2.49
Natural toothpaste (Never tried before, but I needed some anyway.): $4.59
Handmade birthday card: $3.59

Total with tax: $14.20

A bit pricey for the toothpaste and card as the other items were on sale, but not too bad, overall.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

First post!

Hiya! I've been reading a number of PF blogs for a while now and I've finally decided to take a dip into the blogosphere.

$pending $marts is meant to be another voice for how to navigate young adulthood not only making smart choices about how to save and spend while managing to have some fun, too.

I'm a midwestern girl and recent college grad who is present in the middle of the epic first-real-job-out-of-college search. With the current financial downturn, timing could have been better, but I'm trying to stay optimistic about it!

So, enough about me; let's start things off:

A Few Favorite Money-savers
  1. HSBC Direct - I've had my internet savings account for about two years now. If you don't have one, what are you waiting for? Whether its with HSBC, ING, or one of the others, online accounts are one of the easiest ways to make your money work harder for you.
  2. Hulu.com - Hulu is a new favorite. A good and continually-getting-better streaming selection of films and TV shows. The quality is very good and the ads are pretty manageable. If you haven't seen them, my top picks to watch free: "Arrested Development," "Twin Peaks," and Raising Arizona, to name just a few.
  3. A glass of water - Too old school for a hyperlink, but a glass of tap water is always smart. Accompanying a meal out at a restaurant by opting for a glass of water instead of a soda is an easy way to save a couple of bucks.