Five Things I learned from Personal Finance Blogs & Books I wish I hadn’t

When I started this blog in October 2009, it was with Single Motherhood in mind. As it turns out, one of the cruxes of single parenthood is finances and so my blog eventually rambled in and out of personal financedom. It was never intended to be the focus of my blog but I have read up a lot on it and I have shared personal finance related stories on here. Sometimes, I learned some great information that has helped me evolve and grow tremendously. Other times, I learned things that started out awesome and promising but have gone completely wrong. So with that in mind, I now present you with:

Five Things I Learned from Personal Finance Blogs & Books I Wish I Hadn’t

1. Donna Freedman’s Coke Rewards Collection Methods

I love Donna Freedman. I admire her and respect her endlessly. I really do. That woman has been through some tougher than tough times and just came out sparkly like a diamond. And I’ve learned a lot from Donna, including about the pretty cool Coke Rewards program that she uses and abuses to earn free trips to the movies. But ever since I found out how Donna collects those Rewards points (hint: she doesn’t consume gallons of the stuff on a daily basis) my entire experience of walking to and from anything has completely changed. I see them everywhere. Sometimes I pick them up but sometimes I don’t. Basically it comes down to how many people are around me. Yes I’m ashamed of picking up trash in front of other people. But if I walk by the Coke Reward bottle cap, the inner war begins:

“Pick it up, it’s a COKE REWARD!”

“Dude no freaking way. I look adorable in my pencil skirt and heels, there are like a gazillion people around me, and there’s not a trash can right next to it. And I forgot the hand sanitizer. Again.”

“But hello it’s a COKE REWARD. If you saw a pile of three pennies, you’d pick them up!”

“Um, no I’m not sure I would.”

“Yeah right! Besides who cares what these people think of you picking up trash- I mean Coke Rewards? I bet most of them won’t even notice!”

“Excuse me but did you miss the part where I look fabulous today? Everyone notices me because I am amazing and fabulous and completely noticeable.”

“Oh get the hell over yourself, turn around, and pick up the trash- er Coke Reward.”

“Turn around? Are you out of your mind? I have to be somewhere like right now. And how crazy will I look then turning around and walking back… TO PICK UP TRASH THAT IS NOT MINE”

2. My FREE Credit Score thanks to CreditKarma

Almost every single personal finance blogger I know has at least mentioned CreditKarma if not dedicated an entire post to extolling its virtues. And sure, it provides information that is useful to know– if you plan on using credit in the nearish future. Which I don’t. But now that I know I can get this information, FOR FREE, I must know it. And it’s a downer of hangover proportions. My credit score is embarrassing and why shouldn’t it be? Ex and I let the house go to foreclosure a few years ago and this past December he allowed our co-signed leased car to get repossessed. My credit score is wrecked for the next decade or so. And CreditKarma reminds me of that– in two minutes and FOR FREE!

3. How to hold awesome garage sales

I live in the best location for a garage sale– right on a busy avenue directly across a park (traffic+parking). Once I started reading about all the money people made from them, I knew I had to have one. And I did and it was great selling all that crap from my stupidity of a marriage. And I even made a few hundred bucks!

But then I started wavering about future garage sales. When I want to get rid of stuff, I just want to get rid of stuff. But I knew I could probably sell it and make money. So where would I store it? Eventually I’d end up getting frustrated with the garage sale stuff slowly accumulating and I’d haul it to Goodwill instead. And feel bad about it. No money in my pocket so Goodwill could have some in theirs. And then I’d go through the cycle again.

I ended up having another garage sale when Stallion moved in and that was ok. Yes we made some money but it was seriously exhausting. When my grandmother passed away, it was generally assumed I would hold another garage sale. And I wanted to, I really did, but it felt like it’d be the biggest pain in the ass. So I wavered and hemmed and hawed and eventually just gave everything away again.

The thing is I keep not documenting what I’m giving away for tax purposes because I never intend to give it away and when I do it’s pretty spur of the moment. So recently I came up with a plan that is going to become my standard plan from now on and I’m going to say bye bye to Garage Sales. My grandmother often worked with Mother Teresa’s Sister’s of Charity here in Miami where they have a Women and Children’s Shelter and where they also manage the aid efforts in Haiti. The last couple of times I’ve donated to them have felt unlike anything I’ve ever felt before in my life. If you think giving to Goodwill feels good, wait until you start giving to something that has more of a direct impact.

4. How to coupon for groceries

Let me be clear, CVSing and couponing for groceries are, in my mind, two separate things. I love CVSing and I will CVS for a very long time. But couponing it up at the grocery store? I’m getting over this one in a big way.

It’s not even that I don’t have the space to properly coupon (I kind of don’t), it’s that bulk food buying has not made my life easier.

And now, we have Aldi. Not to mention, all of this coupons + sales math has really screwed with my sense of prices instead of improved them like most people do. Also, couponing and meal planning have never clicked together for me. I know they click for lots of people, just not me. And so I end up with lots of cans of tomatoes and not enough of everything else– especially meat. And the fruit and veggies? I buy a bunch because they’re on sale and we never eat them before they go bad. And I still end up caving in and getting take-out more often than I’d like.

I strongly considered experimenting with bulk cooking but that still gave me bulk food to deal with and didn’t appeal to me either so I’m going to try meal planning and food shopping on a weekly basis instead in a way very similar to what Carla’s recent interview with Simply Being Mum described.

5. Making Money from Blogs

Double-edged sword for me on this one. I go back and forth on this constantly. I really, really do. Right now, my WordPress blog is a free blog so outside of the occasional Amazon Affiliate link, I actually can’t earn money from the blog. I’d have to self-host it and then start figuring out just how to do this. And the thing is, when I first started blogging this was such an easy decision for me because I hated ads. So no ads meant no money from the blog. Simple!!

But since 2002, blogging has evolved and there are many ways to monetize a blog and actually ads have become the way I least despise because at least it’s authentic. An ad says, “Click me to earn this person some money!” and that’s it. You click it or you don’t. Where I really get all mixed up are things like Sponsored Posts and Giveaways, Product Reviews, Paid Guest Posts, and so on and so forth.

I used to do book reviews on here for free all the time and so I don’t think my reviewing a book I was given by a publisher would be out of character for me. And if I used something that I really really loved, I’ve come on here and told you so. But I was never given that stuff for free. Don’t we tend to naturally like things a little bit more when we didn’t have to pay for them?

And this is only half of it. There’s all that stuff about SEO and rankings and these people named the Yakezie that do something that revolves around something called Alexa that turns them into big money ballers. And there’s BlogHer and Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter and it feels like bloggy prostitution or something. But at the same time, it’s a sensible idea– get paid to do something you like doing. And so I go back and forth, back and forth.

 

So there you have it! What have you learned from personal finance blogs or books that you wish you hadn’t? Or just in general, is there something you learned thinking it would be super helpful to only have it backfire on you?

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Garage Sale Recap

It's TRUE!

There are so many ways to say it, and so many things to apply the concept to but you really have to clear the old to make room for the new. Change is such an inherent aspect of being human.

It seems having a garage sale is, for me, a great way to flush out my life and invigorate it with newness.

I don’t have garage sales often. And honestly, I strongly dislike prepping for them and actually doing them is a major strain on me as well for a number of reasons in a number of ways. But it just so happens both times I’ve done a garage sale have resulted in so much good coming out of them, they’ve been deemed Totally Worth It.

My first garage sale I did the year before last. And maybe a garage sale every other year is a good thing for me. Just enough time to accumulate enough stuff to make it worth the agony perhaps.

Yesterday was my second garage sale. I’ve been working on it for days. I’m pretty detail-oriented when it comes to garage sales and I always feel like I just don’t have enough time. This time, I felt way more prepared than the last time but it was still pretty taxing.

We cut the string and opened just after 9:00 AM. In my city, there’s a regulation that forbids beginning the garage sale earlier. But we had a ton of stuff and so we roped off the driveway while we set up. Some people were not amused and a couple were extremely pushy but thankfully I had a couple of friends who made awesome bouncers too. When we were (mostly) ready, we got going. The vast majority of the little to mid-size things went really fast, probably in the first couple of hours.

Those are the most tedious to deal with but my friend, The FacePainter, was on-hand and she was awesome. She loves garage sales and just knew what to do and how to make it work really smooth. I think most of the transactions that included the small things were handled by her.

The bigger items, furniture, went in the afternoon. And it almost all went.

Best part of the day, maybe even week?

A woman pulled up and was eying my dining room set. “How much for the dining table?” she asked. “Twenty bucks,” I said, “with the chairs.” She started crying and hugged me. She thanked me and told me I had no idea what I was doing for her. She then spotted a sofa I had in the back. “How much is the sofa?” she asked. “Also twenty bucks,” I said. The smile on her face was SO bright. I told her she could have both for $35 but she said no way and paid the full amount.

She ended up telling me the super brief version of her story. It was something along the lines of her being sick for a very long time, being unable to work consistently for years, and everything in her house becoming severely neglected as a result. The stuff she was buying from me was stuff that was her taste and that she could actually afford. She was so happy. She also ended up buying a nightstand for $5 and some clothes we were selling at a quarter each. She bought a couple of items for her granddaughter who was with her too and some of the avocados I had picked that day.

That’s the thing I like about garage sales. I was glad things I was letting go of were able to help her, to make her feel better. It’s amazing when you see the ripple of effect of charity or good deeds.

There’s a reason I was selling my dining set and for as cheap as $20.

On Saturday, I got a phone call from my Aunt. I had told her I was having the garage sale because in purging my closet to the bare bones, I found a bunch of clothes that I had barely worn which were way too small for me but would likely fit my goddaughter (who funny enough had just donated a bunch of shoes to me not that long ago). She was super excited about my having a garage sale because she was de-cluttering as well. She wanted to donate the items to me but she wanted to know if I was allowed to sell furniture at my garage sale. Of course I was.

Well, in that case, she wanted to know if we could think of a way to get her dining set to me because they wanted to change. They’d had it for years and they hardly ever used it because they had it set as the formal dining room and was too out of the way.

I told my aunt that yes my garage sale allowed furniture to be sold but if she was just going to give it to me to sell so I could have the money, I was going to keep it for myself. I told her to send me a picture because I wanted to be sure I was thinking of the right dining set and that I hadn’t confused it with something I had seen somewhere else. Sure enough, this is the picture that arrived in my inbox. Note: This is the dining room in her house, not mine!

It includes the table, the chairs, and the buffet. I love it. It’s so beautiful. And there’s no way I could afford a set like that any time soon. Just no way. The set I had was a $150 bargain from IKEA that I built all by myself. It was nice and modern looking but it was showing signs of wear. And that was fine, because I have kids and I know that’s just what they do, but this was too wonderful to pass up on. My uncle decided since I was going to keep it, he’d arrange one of his delivery guys to bring it to the house for me some time this week.

And that’s the way I ended up being able to sell my dining set to this woman who was so very grateful for the chance to improve her situation as well. Ironically, the sofa she bought was the same sofa my Aunt had donated to my Grandmother who then donated to me when I was between couches a couple of years ago. Good deeds lead to more good deeds somehow some way.

Clearing out the old summons in the new.

A new (to me) dining set isn’t the only stuff I received in the course of the garage sale. Funny enough, I cleaned out two closets: Eldest’s and my own. My friend brought a bunch of clothes to the garage sale– clothes from her sister and clothes from her boyfriend’s co-worker. The sister has a son slightly older than Eldest so I found heaps of clothes in Eldest’s size and a lot of it perfect for a Miami winter. I couldn’t believe it! And her boyfriend’s co-worker is a shopaholic who apparently runs the gamut in sizes because there was everything in there from size 0 to size 8. I’m in the size 6 to 8 part of the spectrum these days which was my closet was empty and depressed.

Not anymore! I got a gorgeous wool coat, some beautifully tailored suit jackets, a couple of great dresses, a beautiful top that is perfect for New Year’s, and sweaters (which I had purged very rigorously).

And I was able to keep the good vibes going forward. I found an absolutely stunning 100% silk blouse that I just knew was my grandmother’s style. I had her try it on and she loved it. She was so excited about her little garage sale gift.

We also got a free TV from the Boyfriend who moved in this week. It just became too difficult for him to continue paying rent and child support and car insurance and other bills on unemployment. So he’s with us until his situation improves. The TV is in the kids’ newly cleaned out and reorganized play room. They’re going to flip out when they see it today.

When everything was done, I counted out the money. I made $334.75. I dumped the $1.75 that was in quarters into Tinsel the Christmas Pig, put $4 into the Worlds Finest Chocolate envelope since we sold some of those, put $24 aside for field trip money, and was left with $305.

I promptly found a Christmas themed container and dumped it in there properly jump-starting my Christmas shopping fund.

I don’t think of myself as a Garage Sale Guru but I will tell you the Top Three things that worked for me:

  1. Price everything clearly. I found a pack of neon color dots at Walgreen’s that, paired with a black Sharpie, worked wonderfully.
  2. Price everything at your lowest price point. Remember, if you have an item for sale in a garage sale it is because you have made the decision this item no longer belongs in your life. The ultimate goal is to get rid of it. I don’t give items that don’t sell a second chance and I don’t think you should either. If it doesn’t sell, I pack my car and immediately deliver it to Goodwill. I immediately post the large items on Craigslist’s Free Section and put them on the curb. When I say, “Everything must go” I mean it, and you should too. It’s better to get the quarter for it at the garage sale than the zero you get for it at Goodwill. Besides, it also goes much faster when it’s priced super cheap. The less time you’re out there, the better. I actually didn’t do this for my furniture items and wish I did because I don’t think I would’ve been out there as long!
  3. Price things as uniformly as possible. For instance, you can have clothing split into four categories– 25 cents, 50 cents, 75 cents, and a dollar. Put all of the 25 cents stuff together and label it clearly. Do the same for each bin and put some separation between them so things don’t get mixed together too much. Maybe do the bin of 25 cent clothing, a bin of kid shoes, a bin of 50 cent clothing, a bin of purses, a bin of 75 cent clothing, a bin of adult shoes, a bin of dollar clothing, and a bin of belts, ties, and hats.

I know the rest of the United States is entering the unfriendly weather season but tell me about your past garage sale experiences or plans for future ones! I really want to become a garage sale shopper. I said it last time I had a garage sale and never did it. This time really reminded me how much I should at least try it, especially when I got the chance to shop my friend’s goods! What turned you on or off to garage sales?

De-Cluttering: Why & How I Do It

We moved four times in five years. Every move got harder and more frustrating. Finally, when ExMutant and I separated, I felt like I got the chance of a lifetime. There was so much crap in the house and I felt like it was just weighing me down. Many things were directly his that he just didn’t want, other things reeked of him (in a vibe type of way if that makes any sense), some things reminded me of “us”, and a few things I just didn’t want anymore.

I read Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and that is what got me going. Bags upon boxes and boxes upon bags went flying out of my house. I had a full trunk every week for Goodwill. It felt amazing, thrilling, addictive even. I felt freer and lighter every week. But, it wasn’t enough really. I slowed down for a little bit not really having a routine yet. Then one day I was having a conversation with my Grandmother and ended up going to the City of Coral Gables and getting my permit to hold a Garage Sale in three weeks (the Saturday of Easter).

On a weekend the kids were with their father, I basically did the equivalent of an episode of Clean Sweep in my house. And then every day I kept sorting and adding—mostly to my massive sell piles but also to my keep piles and of course trash bags. I know the garbage people probably cursed my name those weeks. I was ruthless with my sorting.

For kid stuff I realistically evaluated the usability of the item. For instance, I knew to keep entire crib sets was silly. One of the most exciting parts of being a parent is decorating the nursery. Why deprive them of that? With clothes I evaluated how classic of a piece it was and what kind of condition it was in. I personally love dressing my kids in clothes that belonged to my brothers and me and that has actually helped me decide what’s better for keeping and what’s better to toss. I raided the playroom and bookshelves too. I’m not having more children (at least not for a long time if ever) so I got rid of everything that was too babyish. Out went the broken toys too.

I raided my kitchen cabinets, my linen closet, my closet, the kids closets, the book shelves, the storage bins, the storage closets, the TV stand, the still-unpacked boxes, the dressers, the top of the fridge, the bathroom cabinets, everything. I swept out every shelf and emptied out every drawer. I basically kept telling myself, “This is MY life now and this is MY house. What do I want MY house to look like? What do I want MY things to say about MY life? How do I want my kids to remember their childhood home?”

I sold the couches that day. I sold the TV stand and let the TV live on the floor a few weeks. I sold the nightstands, the ottoman, the arm chair, the bookshelves, the garage shelves. Out went bed sheets, towels, dishes, glasses, mugs.  Goodbye craft supplies. The dress I wore at my wedding reception, clothes, shoes, purses all got put out. Everything that didn’t sell, didn’t stand a chance. Into my Murano it went and Goodwill was amused.

This was a drastic measure. It’s not necessary for everyone but it was for me. I used the money to pay my lawyer. I gave myself a fresh start and haven’t looked back once. The only thing I regret selling was a set of pillowcases I accidentally associated with a sheet set that no longer fit my bed when in reality they were from the brand new sheet set my mother had given me at Christmas. Oops but not remotely any sort of biggie. My kids never missed anything that went that day either.

And right after everything went out, other things started to fall into place. A friend of mine found out I sold the couches and asked if I wanted her gorgeous designer leather couches—for free. My Mother realized my TV lived on the floor and asked if I wanted her absolutely beautiful entertainment center my Father was itching to get rid of in favor of a wall-mounted TV.

The essence of that garage sale holds true even if you de-clutter just a bit every day. When you remove things from your home, you make room for others. In some cases, you might be making room for actual concrete items like my couches and entertainment examples but mostly you’re making room for more intangible things. Things like space to dance with your kids, the peace of mind of not tripping over something, peace of mind that piles have evaporated, less things to stress about having to clean or tidy, and so on.

De-cluttering is a very empowering action. We often find ourselves attached to objects and when that happens, the object gains a sort of control over us. De-cluttering restores the power over objects to you, the rightful owner. Think of your objects as at-will employees. They are in your home because you want them there. You chose them based on a myriad of qualifications and they shall remain in your employment at your discretion. You are free to terminate them at any time.