Tag Archives: Shopping

Repair or Replace?

This past summer I had to make a very difficult decision:  repair or replace.  It’s a decision we face all the time.  Sometimes it’s an easy decision to repair, such as when you lose a button off a shirt, or a screw falls out from your glasses.  These repairs are very easy and inexpensive.  Most people can do these repairs themselves.  Sometimes it’s an easy decision to replace, such as when your cell phone charging cord stops working or your toaster won’t toast any more.  These things would be difficult to repair but replacing them is very inexpensive.

Things get more challenging when a repair is very expensive and a replacement would be even more expensive.  Like when your refrigerator stops working, or your laptop gives you the black screen of death.  In my case it was my trusty Subaru.  It was a 2004 Forester with nearly 170,000 miles on it.  Repairs to get it through inspection would have cost about $1,000.  That’s just shy of the value of the car. And within the next two years, two more scheduled maintenance issues would be at least another $1,500.  If I just drove it around town, I may have made the decision to repair.  But that was my camping car—the one I use to tow my teardrop camper to music festivals near and far.  At the time I had a trip to Wisconsin only a few weeks away.  The thought of being stranded in some random part of the flatlands of the Midwest with no way to tow my camper because something else went wrong on my ailing Subaru was just too much for me.  I started shopping.

I was not financially prepared to buy a car.  All I had for a down payment was my ailing trade-in and a few hundred from my savings.  And I had very specific needs as the replacement needed to be towing my camper within a short time.  I knew immediately that I wanted a Subaru Outback, and my price range limited me to a used car between 4 and 8 years old.  I scoured both the local dealerships and the Internet.  I test drove a few Outbacks that would stretch my budget too far.  I made a list ranking the cars that were in play as possibilities.  I made a spreadsheet listing the pros and cons of each car in the running.  And I found perfection at a Honda dealership near Pittsburgh.  A 2012 Subaru Outback, with a trailer hitch already installed, in the color my husband preferred, with a moonroof as a bonus.  And it had less than 60,000 miles on it.  Smack dab in the middle of my price range.

I didn’t get the best deal on financing because I was pressed for time.  I had to rely on the dealership to help me get a loan on the spot.  I’m currently in the process of refinancing that loan with my credit union, which will lower my interest rate by more than 2%.  Yes…you can refinance car loans.  Keep that in mind if you ever feel like your car loan isn’t your best deal.

Am I happy about the fact that I now have a car payment?  No way.  Am I happy that I now have a reliable car in great condition that will likely carry me through the next 8 years?  Absolutely!  It’s sometimes a very difficult decision, whether to repair or replace.  But I’m feeling confident that I made the right choice.

A Trio of Thanksgiving Tips

The week of Thanksgiving is an abundance of riches when it comes to topics for financial bloggers.  Travel…food…shopping.  These three things are all at the front of my mind and I’m having a hard time deciding.  So this week, you get a three-for-one.

Holiday travel is the worst…especially if you are flying.  Every time I fly, it seems like it’s less fun than the time before (and I assure you—it hasn’t actually been fun in many, many years).  But one thing remains constant when I travel.  I always throw an empty water bottle and travel coffee mug into my carry-on bag.  Most airports (including the tiny University Park airport) have bottle filling stations by the water fountains, so I can fill my water bottle once I’m through security and be set for the trip without buying expensive throwaway bottles.  And most places (including airport Starbucks stores) offer reduced pricing on coffee if you bring your own travel mug.  Carrying my own drinking vessels saves me a bundle when I fly!

Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around the family table.  But when the meal is complete and the dishes are done, my favorite part of the holiday is still to come:  the leftovers.  It’s so rare in today’s busy world that we prepare a large meal with lots of sides and a huge entrée.  But Thanksgiving usually means a full turkey.  Which almost always means leftovers.  So now is the time to make those turkey salad sandwiches and Google recipes for casseroles made with leftover turkey.  Freeze some for later.  And enjoy the fruits of the Thanksgiving meal for weeks to come.

And if you’ve been anywhere near a TV in recent days, you are more than aware that the busiest shopping day of the year is coming up on Friday.  I’m a sucker for a good sale and love early morning shopping on Black Friday.  But I never go at it blind.  I like to make a plan.  There are certain items I’m looking for as Christmas gifts, and there are some things I want for my home that I’ve been waiting for sale pricing on.  I’ll sit down Thursday night with the sale flyers from the newspaper and plan my attack.  Once I know what I’m buying where, I’ll compare store opening times and locations and make my list.  Usually I’m done shopping and back home by 8 am (and I usually don’t start until at least 6 am).  Shopping with a list is pretty efficient.  The key to not spending too much is to not stray from the list.  No impulse shopping means no overspending.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


An Easy App to Save You Money

I like cheap stuff.  This means I shop at big box stores.  This includes the controversial grand-daddy of them all, Walmart.  I know a lot of people choose not to shop there for a variety of reasons.  But I do shop there.  And one of the reasons I shop there is a part of their smart phone app.  Inside the Wal-Mart app is a little feature called “savings catcher.”

Every time I shop at the store often referred to as Walley World, I open the savings catcher and take a picture of my receipt.  Then Walmart compares the prices on the items I purchased against other stores in the area.  A couple of days later, I’ll get an email from Walmart telling me that either I paid the lowest price, or that they found a lower price elsewhere on a few items.  If they found a lower price, they refund the difference in price to me by way of “Walmart Pay.”  This basically amounts to a virtual gift card that I can use from my smart phone.

The effort on my end is minimal.  I shop as I normally would.  I take a picture of my receipt.  I wait a couple of days. Then I usually get a small refund via Walmart Pay.  It’s price comparison without the work!

I appreciate that not everyone shops at the big box stores.  But if you do shop at Walmart, it only makes sense to use the app’s savings catcher!



More Ways to Save Money in Happy Valley

Last week we got started on a few ways to save money in Happy Valley.  Since there were so many, I decided to continue the same subject this week.

  • Many of you have relocated from warmer climates.  And this week you got a little taste of the autumn chill of Pennsylvania.  The reality is that winter is only a few months away, so warmer clothes will be a necessity.  But you don’t have to purchase brand new.  A large part of my plan to “reduce, reuse, recycle” is to buy as many of my clothes as possible second-hand.  My primary supplier is the State College Goodwill store.  If you need to load up on cold weather clothing, this is a great place to do it on the cheap.
  • Another great place to find useful cheap stuff is at the campus Lion Surplus store.  On any given day you’re never sure what you may find.  Computer accessories, computers, filing cabinets, and old dorm furniture are regular fixtures.  But you may also find bicycles, sports gear, clothing (I got a Blue Band jacket just last week), musical instruments, or any number of other unusual things.  It’s just across the parking lot from the Katz Building so worth a walk to check it out!
  • Do you need to open a new bank account?  If so consider a credit union.  Credit unions typically offer more favorable interest rates and more free services than typical for-profit banking institutions.  The catch with credit unions, however, is that you have to qualify to become a member.  But by nature of being a Penn State student, you are automatically eligible to join the Penn State Federal Credit Union.
  • Do you like to go to the movies?  The movie theaters in State College not only offer student discounts, they have $5.00 Tuesdays.  All movies, all day, $5.00 each.  And if you also have their loyalty card, you can get a free popcorn too!
  • And finally, have you ever thrown away a pair of shoes that you wish you could have had fixed?  In State College, you can probably have them fixed!  While shoe repair is a dying art, there is an awesome little shoe repair place downtown where you can get your leather goods fixed up for a lot less than the cost of replacement!  I’ve had many a shoe and purse there for re-working, and I’ve always been happy with the work.

I hope you’re all enjoying being back in Happy Valley for the fall (IMO the prettiest time of year to be here!).


Saving Money in Happy Valley

Many of you are new to Happy Valley.  Many of you are just returning after a summer away.  Whichever is your situation, here is a refresher of the many ways you can save some money in the State College area.

  • Do you eat at any of the campus eateries?  Many of the dining options offer a discount if you pay with LionCash.  You simply add some money to your ID card and use it to pay, and the discount is automatic!  It’s also a great way to limit the amount you spend on eating out each week by setting a weekly LionCash amount that you won’t exceed.
  • The presence of the Sheetz gas station/mini market chain is pervasive in this part of the state (with their corporate headquarters only 40 miles away).  Since it is practically inevitable that you will shop there, you should make sure you have the My Sheetz Card.  With this card you will save 3 cents per gallon on every gallon of gas, as well as accruing loyalty points that can add up to free food and beverages.  And while you are there, you can do your banking.  Every Sheetz has a fee-free ATM!
  • While we’re talking loyalty cards, don’t forget about your grocery stores.  In State College you will find Giant , Weis, and Wegmans.  Each one has a loyalty card program.  Scan your card with your purchases and save money on select items as well as earning gas rewards at Giant and Weis.  But you have to sign up to bring in the savings.
  • If Trader Joes’ is more your speed, don’t forget to bring your own reusable bags.  Every time you shop there and BYOBag, you can sign up for a drawing for a Trader Joe’s gift card.  They draw a winner every week.

The money saving opportunities in town are endless.  So I’ll be back next week with even more ideas!


Food and Stuff: Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I went to three different grocery stores this weekend.  I hate grocery shopping.  And totally on purpose I did it three different times in two days.  But there is, indeed, a method to my madness.  And it’s all about getting the best stuff for the lowest cost.

My first stop was Trader Joe’s.  I know lots of folks love Trader Joe’s for nearly everything.  For me it’s really a one purpose trip.  It’s all about the canned cat food.  It’s no secret that I’m a little nutty about my fur babies.  And I’ve tried every canned cat food from Friskies to the ultra-high end grain free foods.  But I keep coming back to Trader Joe’s.  The combination of high quality and reasonable price just can’t be beat.  Worth adding a quick stop at an extra store?  Since it’s not far from my house (so I’m not putting any financial savings into my gas tank), I think yes.

Second stop was WalMart.  I know lots of people have ethical objections to WalMart, but I really love having a low price “food and stuff” store close to my home.

My mission there was dry goods, toiletries, and cleaning supplies.  Some of these I can’t find exactly the brand and size I want at my favorite grocery store, so I go to WalMart.  And for things like laundry detergent, it’s just plain cheaper there.

All of that was enough for one day for me, but Sunday morning I was out again, this time to Wegmans.  My mission there was produce and store brand products.  I’m a huge fan of Wegmans brand stuff.  Toilet paper.  Tissues.  Soda (which yes….I know I shouldn’t be drinking…but I have an addiction).  Soups.  Dairy products.  All Wegmans brand.  All cheaper than I can get name brands at either WalMart or Sam’s Club.  And in my opinion better quality than I’ll find in the more expensive name brand items.

So for someone who hates grocery shopping, why did I put myself through this?  Could I have just gone to Giant and gotten everything I needed there for just about the same cost?  Maybe.  Would I have been as happy with the items as what I got by making all three stops?  Definitely not.

For me, the three stop shopping weekend isn’t the norm…but a two stop weekend is not unusual.  This was a big one.  I was out of a lot of things and preparing to not be home next weekend.  But my reality is that the best product for the best price is important to me.  Worth going to three grocery stores in one weekend.

Are you a one-stop shopper?  If so, you likely know that your priority is getting the groceries quickly and easily.  If you’re a multi-stop shopper like me, you know that you’re more focused on getting the best price on the product you really want, without compromise.  Both are viable tactics.

How many grocery stores do you go to regularly?


Thanksgiving: The intersection of travel, food, and shopping

The week of Thanksgiving always make me think of three specific things:  travel, food, and shopping.  Since I already waxed poetic over leftovers last week, I’ll take the spotlight off the turkey feast, and instead focus in on the intersections of food and travel as well as food and shopping.

When you are getting ready to drive or fly or bus or train to wherever it is you may be going, start by eating a good meal and then packing some food for the road.  Travel food, whether it be airport chow, a roadside restaurant, or a Sheetz stop along the highway, is always going to be more expensive than food you prepare yourself.  So make a sandwich.  Fill a baggie with chips or  veggies.  Grab an apple.  Fill a travel mug with coffee or a plastic bottle with water.  And save yourself a fortune in travel food!

The same rules apply if you are braving the crowds at the stores on Friday morning.  Don’t leave home with an empty stomach that will lead you to a mall food court.  Make a plan.  Pack a snack or even a whole meal.  I’m a big fan of Black Friday shopping.  I sit down with the sales flyers from the newspaper Thursday night and plan my attack based on the items I am pursuing and what time the stores they are in open.  Last year I remember specifically having about 20 minutes in between when I was done getting a great deal on a frying pan at Macy’s and when Bed, Bath & Beyond opened.  This was my breakfast window.  I sat in my car in the parking lot enjoying the coffee I had brought from home and the granola bars I had in my purse for exactly this situation.  It would have been really easy to run to McDonalds or Sheetz for a breakfast sandwich.  But I didn’t need to spend that extra money (or consume the extra fat).

When you’re thinking about your Thanksgiving week adventures, plan ahead.  Take some food with you.  You’ll save a bunch of money.  And while you’re at it….don’t forget to think about all the many things you are thankful for.



Shopping Off-Season–Even Resale!

Everyone knows that shopping off season can save you some money. For example, this week is the best time to get a great deal on next year’s Halloween costume or decorations.  Or a giant bag of candy to satiate your sweet tooth and disappoint your dentist.


But what if your favorite place to shop is a resale shop (like my favorite shopping fix, the State College Goodwill Store)?  Do you still need to think about shopping off-season?  I think yes.

I made a journey to Goodwill yesterday (Sunday….because that’s the day they change the prices and you get the best selection in the 49 cent and half price categories) and found several things for the current season, but also got amazing deals on a couple of pairs of shorts and an awesome pair of REI convertible pants (the legs zip off and they turn into shorts) for camping.  Did these things cost less than if I had purchased them in the summer?  No.  But I did have a lot more to choose from because most people are not looking for summer clothes in November.  So I bought the summer clothes and they’ll hang out in my basement until May, and then I’ll have new (to me) clothes that I completely forgot about over the winter.

Shopping off-season isn’t limited to regular retail.  Think about it when you’re shopping resale as well!


How valuable is your time?

Last week, at the peak of Penn State undergrad move-in days, I found myself standing in line at a State College big box discount store, watching befuddled students and parents trying to figure out how to ring a giant plastic drawer unit through the self-checkout lane.  I knew it was move-in and I knew the store would be insane.  I had other options.  And I went anyway.  Why?  Frugality.

I was in need of a new sleeping bag for a camping trip in the State Forest last weekend (a frugal woman’s vacation!).  And I knew I had two options.  I could go to the sporting goods store and pay more than I wanted to.  Or I could go to the discount store, brave the move-in crowd, and save myself ten to twenty dollars.  My time and my sanity are valuable to me.  But in this situation, I would likely only have saved myself about ten minutes by going to the sporting goods store rather than the discount store.  My time is definitely valuable.  But “one dollar per minute” valuable?  I don’t think so.

When you’re trying to weigh out the frugal option versus the convenient option, you should definitely factor in the value of your time.  But be careful not to overvalue your time.  A lot of times the frugal option makes a lot more sense.  Besides…you wouldn’t want to miss out on the entertainment value of undergrads trying to run jumbo items through the self-check, would you?

Online Prices: Up and Down Like Horses on a Carousel!

I’m a frequent shopper on Amazon.  And I regularly put things into my Amazon cart and let them sit there unpurchased for long periods of time.  But recently I’ve noticed that the prices on these items in my cart can fluctuate greatly from day to day.  I noticed it first when I was getting ready to buy camping cots.  I had done the research a long time ago and put the cots I wanted into my Amazon cart for purchase closer to the time when I would need them.  But as soon as the weather got warmer, the price on the cots shot up.  One of them by almost 50%.  So I waited.  And eventually the price came back down.  And I purchased before it could go back up again.

Last week I noticed it with my dream treadmill (because I’ve been searching for a treadmill for some time).  Good quality treadmills aren’t cheap.  And the one I’ve been eyeing sells for about $1,300.  Then one day last week, the price dropped by 10%–$130.  It stayed there for just a couple of days, and then returned to its former norm of $1,300.  I have to wonder if it will ever drop down again.

This weekend it was running shoes.  I’ve been thinking about getting a new pair of running shoes since I started running outside more in this warm weather we’ve been having.  I picked out several pair I liked and just left them in my Amazon cart, marked “save for later.”  My favorite of these shoes was $46 when I first put them in the cart.  Then on Saturday I noticed they dropped to $42.  Then Sunday they dropped to $40 (and I pulled the trigger and bought them, because that’s a GREAT price on good running shoes).

If you like to shop online, be aware that prices can fluctuate from day to day.  You may want to take your chances and wait to see if the price on your item drops.  There’s always the chance it may go up, of course.  But what goes up must come down.  Watch your saved items in your online cart and try to buy when the price is at its lowest.