Monthly Archives: March 2015

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I dislike grocery shopping.  It’s one of my least favorite things I do every weekend.  Yet I regularly go to three different grocery stores every week.  While it’s kind of a pain, it saves me a lot of money…all in the name of getting the best possible product for the lowest possible price.

In order to make it more manageable, I usually head to Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s on Saturday morning, and hit Wegmans on Sunday morning.

At Trader Joe’s I get a limited number of items that I find are the best quality for the money (usually just coffee and cat food, but sometimes I’ll get some pasta sauce or snack foods).

At Wal-Mart I’ll get some of my regular grocery items that are less expensive there than at Wegmans.  Why do fat-free cottage cheese and Progresso soup have to be cheaper at Wal-Mart than at Wegmans?  I’ll never know.  But I get those things and several other items with lower price tags at the Walton empire every week.  I also browse through the meats and produce at Wally World to look for bargains.  It’s not my regular go-to spot for these things, but sometimes I find amazing deals.  For instance, a week ago I got an amazing deal on some strip steaks that were labeled “first cut.”  They weren’t pretty.  But they were delicious nonetheless.  And they were much cheaper than the rest of the strip steaks in the case.  And I regularly find great deals there on meats that are going out of code.  Look for the bright yellow labels.  They usually say to use or freeze by the current day’s date.  No problem.  I have a freezer and I love to get a great deal!

At Wegmans I get just about everything else I need.  Believe it or not, many things are cheaper there than at Wal-Mart.  A box of store-brand cereal is a full 28% cheaper at Wegmans than at Wally World.  And that’s just one of many, many things that are less expensive at the store where all the carts do not have at least one wobbly wheel.  And Wegmans is also my go-to for most of my produce needs (though I am thinking about turning to a CSA in the future).

While I don’t go there every week, like the other three stores, my local warehouse club is also a part of my regular grocery plan.  I get most of my meats at Sam’s Club in bulk and freeze them in individual serving sized packages.  The quality of the meats is great and the savings is significant.

Is it a pain in the neck to go to so many different stores for my grocery needs?  A little bit.  I have to take the time to go to a bunch of different places.  I have to have a general awareness of how much the items I use regularly cost in the different stores.  I have to be aware of quality issues (because sometimes the cheapest option has disappointing quality, making it not the best choice).  But going through this exercise helps me to get the food that I want at the best possible price.  To me, it’s worth it.  If I were to get everything in one store, I would have to make concessions on either quality or price.  And those are sacrifices I’m not willing to make.

How many grocery stores do you visit regularly?

Is It Ever Too Late to Return a Purchase?

At the end of October I bought the perfect white button-down blouse.   I carefully hung it in my closet with the tags still on it and stashed the receipt in a safe place.  And then it got cold outside and I started wearing turtleneck sweaters regularly, so the blouse stayed on its hanger.  Fast forward to March.  Since I bought the blouse I have lost a bit of weight and the blouse no longer fits.  It’s way too big.  A nice problem to have, but I was feeling awful about the $35 I spent on the perfect blouse that I never wore.

I started wondering how much money Clothes Mentor (my favorite place to get rid of clothes I no longer want in exchange for cash or for store credit) would give me for the blouse.  But I thought it might be worth asking at the store where I bought the blouse if I could possibly still return it.

As it turns out, despite the fact that I had purchased the blouse five months earlier, the store was still selling that particular blouse and was willing to offer me store credit since the tags were still on it and I still had the receipt.  So that store credit very quickly turned into the skirt for the new suit I needed (since the perfect black suit I bought last fall is now too big for me as well).

The lessons I took away from this experience:

  • Keep receipts until you are absolutely certain you are keeping something.
  • Don’t take the tags off a new piece of clothing until you are really going to wear it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you can return something.  Even if you bought it a really long time ago.

Did you ever buy something and then never use it?  You just may be surprised at your ability to return it!


The Power of Compound Interest

The power of compound interest never ceases to amaze me.

I’ve read countless articles about how important it is to contribute to retirement funds beginning with day one of employment.  They say the funds will grow and grow, so the earlier you contribute, the better.  But I didn’t really get it until I recently took a look at my own retirement account statement.

When I was in graduate school I received a small stipend from my graduate assistantship as an academic advisor.  During those two years, a percentage was held out of my pay and went into the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.  I remember being annoyed at the time because the $300 per year that was held out of my pay was a significant amount of money to me at that point.  But there was nothing I could do about it.

A few years later, when it became clear that my career was not going to be in the Ohio public university system, I rolled that small retirement fund into an IRA.  It was still a really small amount at that time.  Maybe $700…which is still larger than the $600 I had contributed.

Now fast forward 20 years to 2015.  That IRA that I started with just a few hundred dollars is currently worth over $3,600.  I never contributed another dime to that account.  Just the initial $600.  But it has grown to six times its original size.  And it still has many years to grow before I retire.  This is the power of compound interest.

When you leave law school and venture into full time employment, you should start saving for retirement as soon as possible.  It may seem like a better choice to wait until you’ve made a dent in your student loan obligations.  But it’s not.  The earlier you start saving for retirement, the more time your money will have to grow.  Contribute early.  Contribute often.  Retirement savings is never something that should wait until later.

Bumps in the Road

In January I started the Couch to 5K program, hoping that I could be ready for the Race Judicata to be my very first 5K run.  C25K is a nine week program.  And this week I am doing week 6.  For the fourth time.  I just can’t seem to be able to complete it.  I’ve talked to some runner friends and they tell me that I’ve hit a bump.  I just need to keep working on it and I’ll eventually get past it.

Life is full of bumps.  The week during your diet that you gain weight.  The class that you expected to ace that you end up with a much lower grade than anticipated.  The day your fun plans are de-railed by a snow storm.  Bumps happen.

Bumps happen a lot in the financial world.  The unexpected car accident.  The surprise medical bill.  The compromised credit card.  The bill that got lost and went unpaid until after the due date.  There are so many things that can play havoc with your financial life.  This is why it’s important to have some kind of contingency plan.  An emergency fund in a savings account.  A line of credit that you can tap into.  A relative who can float you some cash.  Having a contingency plan definitely makes it much easier to get past the bumps.

Life is full of twists and turns and bumps in the road.  And getting past those bumps will require some effort on your part.  You may need to work hard, back up, and try again to get over the bump.  You may need to make new plans to work your way around the bump.  But the important thing is to keep moving forward.  Bumps will happen.  But they don’t need to stop you.