Tag: Life hacks

Building a Basic Wardrobe That Isn’t Basic

It’s autumn in the Midwest.  With falling leaves and dropping temperatures come scarves, sweaters and boots.  This weekend, I took the opportunity to pull out of storage my cold-weather staples and flip my summer wardrobe to fall.  Since I keep a capsule wardrobe my seasonal shift was as simple as putting away a few pairs of shorts and switching out tees for long-sleeved layers.

My creation of a capsule wardrobe was motivated in equal parts by my desire to save money and my love of sleep and the extra time this style affords me in the morning.  When literally everything in my closet coordinates, there’s no wasting time wondering if things go together.  Some of the world’s most successful people, from President Barack Obama to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have adopted a capsule wardrobe in an effort to make one less decision every day.

Here are my tips for building a basic wardrobe that isn’t basic:

  • Know what works for your body and what to wear that has you feeling your very best, whether that be powerful, put-together or pretty. I like skirts and dresses on others, but they just don’t work for me.  So as much as I love a pencil skirt in the store, I stick to pants.  And personally, ballet flats leave me feeling blah.  So along with my morning coffee (French press, please) I need at least a little heel to put a perk in my step.
  • Mix and match pieces that easily coordinate with each other. I work in a professional setting, so black and tan trousers are my go-to staples.  I like Nordstrom’s Halogen brand.  When a little more formality is needed, I can throw on a blazer.
  • For tops, I stick with neutral solid colors that can pair with either pant. The Tippi from J. Crew is a light-weight three-quarter length sleeve sweater that can be worn all year long.  This all-season piece is available online year-round and different colors are released – and go on sale – throughout the year.
  • Like pants, I keep it simple with two pairs of shoes for work – in tan and black patent. Do make sure all your shoes have the same heel height and will work with all the pants in your closet.  And don’t forget to invest in tailoring for a polished look.  Some stores even offer the service for free with purchase or for store card holders.  I’m a fan of Cole Haan 40mm wedges.  This 1.5” heel gives a little bit of height, but pants tailored to this length could still work with those old flats still lingering in your closet.
  • Buy high-quality pieces that will last years and take care of your investment. I look for pants I can wash and iron at home.  During summer months, I wear my sweaters twice between dry-cleaning and in the winter I add an extra day with Dryel.  And don’t throw away a pair of pumps because of a scuffed heal.  Adding an insole will keep the inside in good shape (and smell!) and a cobbler can keep your old shoes looking new.
  • Mix up your uniform with accessories. Skip the trendy choker and go for classic jewelry that will never go out of style.  Scarves are great for the colder months and you can rock statement necklaces throughout the year.
  • For special occasions, either keep an multi-purpose little black dress at the back or your closet or try Rent the Runway instead of buying something new for every event.
  • Don’t ever pay full price! Sign up for email notifications.  Use the Wish List feature on your favorite store app to save items you love and then check back frequently for sales.  And always use a shopping-portal – my current faves are MrRebates.com and Ebates, which even offers cash back in a few select brick and mortar stores.
  • Keeping your closet and drawers organized and clean will help fight the urge to shop. Avoid that paralyzing feeling of not knowing what to wear by having all your options visible and easily accessible.  Your days are stressful enough, make this first decision one that sets you up for success!

Adopting a capsule wardrobe can help you be intentional about how you spend both your time and money.  Use the changing seasons as a chance to make your life better by living more with less.

Wedding Planning Savings

Before starting this post, I asked Ryan how we thought we saved money planning our wedding.  His response:  We didn’t.  It’s true, ours was definitely not a budget wedding.  We looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I don’t regret a single dollar spent on those memories shared with family and friends.

But we didn’t burn Benjamins just because; we were thoughtful about how we spent money.  We were intentional to use it in ways that were meaningful to us or provided a great experience for our guests.

Here are a few ways we were able to save or maximize spending on our special day:

Save (on) the Date

Ryan took the leap on Leap Day and about five minutes after he dropped down on one knee, he also proposed a date in March the following year.  Giving ourselves a year to plan gave us an opportunity to take our time and shop around.  Like any shopping, last minute always equates to more expensive.

March is also considered off-season for weddings, which meant a savings of more than 25% off our reception venue as well as better deals from other vendors.  Choosing a date between November and March could mean more money in your budget for a top shelf bar or that swim-up suite on your honeymoon.

Spend Your Way to Paradise

Any big ticket spending is a great opportunity to churn credit cards for hotel points and frequent flyer miles.  Before you drop a single dollar on your nuptials, do some research on the right card(s) for getting you where you’d like to go on your honeymoon, for free.  In my post We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, I detailed my experience travel hacking my way to Oahu and Maui.

Ditch David’s

Since most of our wedding party came from out of town and out of state, we wanted to decrease their financial burden by picking up the tab for their attire.  By looking around online we were able to find a tailor who sold a quality suit for the same price as a rental.  With a little negotiation, we were able to get him to include ties, give us a group discount, and also have him provide on-site alterations the day before the wedding.

I’m already a J. Crew devotee, so that’s where we purchased my matron of honor’s dress.  She and I both looked on-line and identified our top choices.  Timed to arrive around her family coming for a visit, I ordered the ones we liked best using a portal for cash back (my current faves are Ebates and Mr. Rebates.com).  She tried them on while in town, and then I returned the rejects to the J. Crew store down the street.

Coupon, Lady

Be strategic about making wedding purchases around major sales.  I was obsessed with Hey Lady shoes, which are pricey but insanely comfortable and rarely on sale.  I followed the brand on social media, and then placed my order when they offered a great Cyber Monday discount.

And stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby regularly offer 50% off coupons that can be used on paper goods or wedding décor items.  And there’s currently a rebate for Jo-Ann on the Ibotta app.

Get the Most from Your Vendors  

Find vendors who multi-task or offer package deals.  Our reception DJ was also an acoustic guitarist who played before and during our ceremony.  And the salon where I had my hair and make-up done offered a complementary pre-wedding cut and color when you booked a bridal up-do and make-up with a practice session.  The same is typical for photographers.  Ask if they’ll include a free engagement session or throw-in an hour at the rehearsal dinner.

Early in our planning I had a consultation with a high-end florist.  During our conversation, they shared that they secure their rentals through BBJ Linen.  I used that information to order specialty linens direct, without the middle man mark-up.  I didn’t end up with that florist, but I was able to save additional money with our florist of choice by ordering vases online through a discount retailer.

Icing on the Cake

Add the word “wedding” to any purchase and it immediately increases the price.  One big way we saved but provided a high-end experience was by skipping the traditional tiered wedding cake and ordering party cakes in ten different flavors from a local gourmet bakery.  This shop advertises the base cost of its wedding cakes at $10/person, and we were able to serve our guests the flavor(s) of their choice for a fraction of that cost.

Don’t be afraid to skip the traditional.  We had a short ceremony without any readings, songs or crowd participation, so we didn’t bother with paper programs.  We also skipped toasts and tosses, so we didn’t spend money on special glasses or a garter.

Like every other way you choose to spend your money, your wedding day is a reflection of your values and who you are as a couple.  Whether it’s a full Catholic mass with 350 witnesses or a barefoot beach ceremony with only an officiant, make the day uniquely yours!

Wedding Season Savings

September seems to be month for weddings in my social circles.  I love fall, with its crisp, cooler temperatures; pumpkin-spice everything; a return to hoodies, corduroy and boots; and football (which I like for tailgating or napping to on TV, not for watching) – so I can totally buy-into the fall wedding trend.

But even for guests, weddings are expensive.  According to a recent study, millennials spend on average $893 to celebrate their friends’ nuptials.  Costs include multiple wedding-related events from 11engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners; plus attire and accessories; and transportation and travel accommodations.

While some of these expenses are unavoidable unless you decline to attend entirely, here are a few ways to save on or maximize on typical wedding-related expenditures:

  • While it’s best to wear what’s already in your closet, renting a designer dress and accessories can be far less expensive than buying something new. I’ve had awesome experiences with Rent the Runway, which offers $30 off a first time order and promotions throughout the year.  You can select 4 or 8 day rentals, which include a back-up size.  Everything arrives clean and ready to wear in a velvet bag, which you return with free shipping.  During wedding season and around winter holidays, dresses go quickly, so reserve your dress well before the RSVP deadline.
Gift giving
  • Bed Bath and Beyond is one of the most popular registry retailers. The store is constantly bombarding my mailbox with coupons, some for 20% off a single item and others for $5 off a $15 purchase.  Since they never expire and you can use multiple coupons per purchase, I hoard them.  If you’re not already getting these by mail, you can download the 20% off coupon at Groupon. In addition to the coupon, there are two apps that offer in store rebates at Bed Bath and Beyond: Ebates and Ibotta, and you claim them BOTH.
  • Ebates recently launched rebates for select brick and mortar stores. Bed Bath and Beyond and its sister-stores World Market and Buy Buy Baby are among the brands part of this program (others include Sephora, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Express and American Eagle).  To get this rebate you will need to connect your debit or credit card number to your Ebates account before shopping AND remember to link the offer on the app once in the store.
  • Ibotta offers an additional $5 rebate for any purchase over $50. To get this rebate, you’ll scan the bar code on your purchased item with your phone and take a photo of the receipt.  I’ve been doing this at the complementary gift wrap bar, which you should be using, if you’re not already.  Don’t love the tell-tale Bed Bath and Beyond branding on the wrapping paper?  Just flip it over and use the silver side on the back for a posher look.
  • Enjoy being able to toast the newlyweds with a glass or three of champagne by taking Uber. To make maximize this expense, make sure your Uber and SPG accounts are linked to earn points for free hotel stays to reward yourself for making safe and smart driving decisions.
  • For a destination wedding or any wedding that requires you to travel, check out my post We’re Not in Kansas Anymore for beginner tips on traveling for free using hotel points and airline miles.

Cheers to love, weddings and saving money!

Side Hustle Series

Part Three: eBay, Pawn Shops and On-Line Garage Sales

A great source of extra cash can be found hanging in your closets and tucked away in drawers.

Regular deep cleans of your home have several financial benefits.  You can help minimize the urge to buy new by being content with the things you already own.  Stay satisfied with your stuff by keeping it organized, easy to locate and see, clean and well kept.  And anything you no longer use, need or want, you can sell or donate to put money back in your pocket.  Here are a few ways to do this:

Pawn shops – When we were planning and saving for our wedding and merging two households, we discovered the pawn shop down the street.  Things we sold here included an old iPod, a well-worn gaming system, and jewelry from boyfriends past.  In addition to electronics and precious metals, we also saw home appliances and yard equipment for sale here.

Craig’s List – Use the same sales tactics for smaller ticket items as the ones I outlined in my post Selling Your Car On Craig’s List.

eBay – There isn’t much you can’t sell on eBay.  Just a few of our things that found new homes through eBay include collectibles and sports memorabilia (that bobble head you got for being one of the first 1,000 into the stadium might be worth big bucks online) and randoms like the new door locks I bought but was too lazy to install when I moved into our house seven years ago.

If you don’t already have one, create an eBay account and familiarize yourself with their website by browsing the site and looking at comparable listings.  Once you understand their fee structure, return policies and payment processes, start posting your stuff!  Many of the same suggestions for selling on Craig’s List also apply to eBay, but here are a few key tips:

  • Title your sale in a way to maximize search results.
  • Draft an easy to read, detailed description.
  • Be upfront about the condition of your item.
  • Include good, clear photos from a variety of angles.

Consider the seasonality of your items.  For example, I have a leftover stack of last year’s Christmas card (swoon-worthy Paper Source letterpress loveliness) that I’m holding back for listing in November.

Also, think about combining items into sets or packages.  One of my recent sales included the welcome banners, table centerpieces and other décor leftover from a baby shower I hosted in honor of a friend’s baby who is now in Kindergarten.  Marketed as a “party in a box,” it was snatched up super quick.

Be thoughtful about pricing your items and how you’ll handle shipping.  You can very easily negate any profit or even end up costing yourself money if you under-charge for shipping.  And don’t buy packaging materials.  Save the boxes and bubble wrap from your online orders or keep an eye out for old newspapers in the recycle bin at work.

After the sale, follow eBay etiquette by shipping quickly and giving buyer feedback.

Resale apps – I’ve yet to use them myself, but there are lots of new resale apps like Let Go.  If you have experience with these, please share your thoughts!

Brick and mortar consignment stores – For clothes, you can try Plato’s Closet or Clothes Mentor.  I’ve never had good success selling to stores like this.  I rock a capsule wardrobe with classic pieces that have been in my closet for years (future blog post!)  I love them, but my staple J. Crew Tippi sweater has never found favor at Clothes Mentor.

Selling textbooks can be much more lucrative elsewhere, but Half Price Books will take your used fiction as well as old CDs and DVDs.  Again, not the biggest of money makers, I’ve always been able to net at least $1 per item.

Online consignment sites – Another option growing in popularity.  I’ve yet to try them, but have heard positive things about ThredUp and Poshmark.

Donate – Don’t underestimate the financial benefit of donating the stuff you no longer need or want.  Not only are you helping others, but you can include donations of clothes, household goods and other items among the charitable deductions when you itemize on your taxes.  (Did I mention I’m the daughter of a CPA?)

I’ve prepared returns using both H&R Block and Turbo Tax online and have found adding these deductions to be straightforward and simple.  It’ll be shocking the amount you’ll be credited for a used pair of jeans or an inherited set of pots and pans.

Before drop-off, make a thorough list of the items you’re donating.  And before you part with your goods, be sure that you get a tax-receipt for your donation.  Staple your list and the receipt together and store it with your other tax-prep paperwork.

However you choose to do it, start fresh and help payoff old credit card or other debts by selling or donating the stuff that got you into debt in the first place.

Selling Your Car on Craig’s List

Get out of your expensive car payment and into a vehicle you can afford.

Even though I grew up with great role models, I made all the money mistakes before getting my financial stuff together.  Just out of college, I bought a brand new car (dumb) with the longest loan term possible (dumber).  After a few years of payments (my second largest monthly expense after housing), I was in an accident that totaled the car.  After insurance paid the loan balance, I was left with $5,000, which I put toward a reliable used vehicle with great gas mileage – paid for in full, with cash.

The next five years that paid-for car served as a reminder at the beginning and end of every work day of the financial goals I was working toward.  I took meticulous care of it and the odometer passed 200,000 miles with barely an issue.  But a few months ago, we got the first bill that gave us pause.  A new radiator.  After labor, the cost was nearly a third of the value of the car.  So we decided to sell it.

Trading a car in is easy, but you’ll get hundreds or thousands more if you sell it yourself.  With a little hustle, we sold my car in less than a day using Craig’s List.  Here’s how  you can too:

Preparation and presentation –

  • Check Kelly Blue Book and Craig’s List for comparable cars for sale to determine your listing price, and the minimum you’d be willing to accept. Price competitively but not too low, because a prospective buyer will likely want to negotiate.
  • Assuming your metro has an active Craig’s List, you could get a lot of calls or emails. Post your ad on a day when you’ll be able to respond and be available for showings.
  • Clean your car. Remove personal items, empty the glove box and console.  Wash it, and splurge on a detail.  After wiping it down inside and out, keep cleaning.  Get into every nook and cranny with a Q-Tip and Febreze the inside.
  • Gather your documentation. Find receipts and dates of maintenance that were more than routine oil changes (new brakes, tires, timing belt, etc.)  Record your current mileage and calculate the car’s mile per gallon average.
  • Take photos. Make sure the lighting is good and you have an attractive background.  Get shots from every exterior angle.  Capture the inside, including the odometer.  Take close ups of any body damage.
  • Compile and print the necessary paperwork. You will need the Title (clean and free of liens) to transfer.  Kansas requires an Affidavit of Purchase Price and a bill of sale.  For your specific needs, check DMV.org and your state’s Department of Revenue website.

Make your ad stand out from the rest –

  • If you haven’t already, create a Craig’s List account.
  • Format your ad to be easily readable and appear as if you’ve put effort into it. In checking the comps, I was blown away by the ads lacking punctuation.  If you can’t take the time to capitalize letters or put a period at the end of a sentence, how well did you take care of the car?
  • List make, model, odometer reading and price. Check the owner’s manual for information about the engine and other features to include.  If the car has a good MPG rating, point it out!
  • Provide ownership details, like “original owner” or “child-free home” (i.e. no cookie crumbs or bodily fluids in the back seat).
  • Be descriptive, include dates of major maintenance along with price paid.
  • Protect yourself by disclosing known mechanical or title issues and any body damage.
  • Edit (crop as needed and blur your license plate number) and add photos. Select the best side shot as your featured image.

Here’s how my ad appeared:

Craig's List ad sample

Once you’ve hit publish, be prepared for emails, texts or calls from an array of sketchy characters.  Trust your gut and read between the lines.  If they’re slow to reply to your response, immediately ask if you’d be willing to take a lower price or request you take a check in lieu of cash, move-on to the next interested party.  Be selective with who you’re willing to meet.

When arranging to meet, keep Craig’s List’s safety rules in mind.  Meet in a public place and take a friend.  If you’re in a state that requires a notary to transfer the title, meeting near your bank offers proximity to that requirement as well as the added safety of not having to Uber home with a purse full of Benjamins.  And don’t turn your keys over to a stranger, insist on coming along during any test drives.

Be prepared to negotiate.  Know the minimum you’d be willing to accept, and stick to it.  Once you’ve settled on a price, get started on the paper work, which you should have already printed.  Don’t forget to check on how your state handles license plates.  Before the car leaves your possession, make sure you have copies of all important documents.  For extra security, consider asking to take a photo of the buyer’s photo ID with your iPhone.

After the sale –

  • Protect yourself by filing any Release of Liability or Notice of Transfer forms required by your state.
  • If your state had you remove the license plate, surrender that to the DMV. Don’t forget to ask if you’re entitled to a refund on your registration and taxes.
  • Cancel your insurance, and check to see if you’re eligible for a pro-rated refund of your premium.
  • Take that cash money to the bank. Hold back $10 for a celebratory bottle of something red, white, rosé or sparkling.

If you live in a rural area, Craig’s List may not be an option.  Instead, create an ad using the above tips to share on social media.  Look beyond friends and family for buy, sell and trade groups specific to your state and county on Facebook.  Another option is a print ad in your local paper or auto trader magazine.  Or, get owner consent to park it in a well trafficked part of town.  If you do that, make sure to hang for sale signs that are attractive, include contact information and are easy to see from the street or highway.

Getting out of your expensive car payment and into a car you can afford is an easy first step toward a better financial future.  Don’t let anxiety about the process of selling your car be what stands in the way.  You can do this!