I took a half hour break tonight from studying to go through the paper and cut out coupons.  Now, first I should mention that the newspaper is my landlords – I’m not foolish enough to actually purchase a paper when I can read everything online.  Anyway, I went through and found a lot of good deals on food items.  When I go to buy fish this weekend, I’ll save $1.25 a pound.  For cereal, since I’m taking to eating that more and more, I’ll save $2 on the generic family sized box.  That’s a great deal.  Something I can get 50+ meals out of only costs me around $3.30.  Talk about good shopping!  Those were really the highlights of my experience, but I’ll keep at it.  Every bit helps.

Seasonal Shopping

The seasons have begun to change.  At least inside the stores they have.  While it remains frigid on the streets of Washington D.C., consumers are finding warmth inside shopping malls.  As I’ve said in earlier postings, I’m not a very big shopper.  I don’t really enjoy the process and I don’t usually have the money to waste on extra items, especially clothes.  I am very much a sale shopper and right now all of the winter stuff is on sale because the stores want to clear room for the summer collections.  I stopped by JCPenney yesterday and picked up three fall/winter skirts for $65.  According to all the original tags, I saved $75 over the prices before the sale took effect.  What a deal!

Going out of business sales

In my hometown, we’ve recently had quite a few businesses closing down.  When they do this, they often offer big blowout sales to get rid of everything.  My advice with these types of sales is to be careful!  Sometimes they actually do offer some really good sales.  We have a clothing department store going out of business right now, and everything is at least 70% off.  I picked up a skirt that was originally $140 for only $14…not bad!  The good thing about this store is that I can see the original price tag and actually see my savings.  I’ve been to closeout sales at furniture stores that have been very sneaky.  I knew for a fact that they had marked items up before “slashing the prices.”  The closeout sale prices ended up being the same or just slightly less than the original price because they marked them up immediately before the sale.  So just be careful at these sales.  Make sure you’ve done your research to know if you’re actually getting a good deal or not.  And don’t overshop – it’s easy to do when the savings are good!

Great clothes on a budget

It’s probably no secret that I love to shop for clothes, shoes, bags, etc.  I like to look nice, and I’m often drawn to some of the more expensive brands for good quality and fit.  Luckily, I can still do this on a budget.  You just have to learn how to shop smart.  I love stores like TJ Maxx and Ross – most towns have something similar.  These stores are just a collection of countless different name brands, but the prices are significantly less than the original full retail price.  Often they’re just selling overflow from stores around the nation.  This can be a great place to get quality items at great prices.  You can also pick up unexpected items like formal dresses and great suits for work.  Also, be patient – shop often but rarely buy.  This way you’ll learn what is actually a good deal and what’s not.  It will also allow you to keep an eye on a favorite item – you can buy it when the price hits rock bottom.  Also, think about the time of year.  I suggest doing the bulk of your shopping in September and January.  At the end of September, a season is ended and back to school shopping has just wrapped up.  Similarly in January, winter clothes are on sale to make room for spring lines, and stores have had lots of returns after the holidays.  You’ll find great deals this time of year.  Hopefully you’re learning that living on a budget doesn’t have to mean sacrificing style.  Just become a smarter shopper, and you’ll look great!

Building a wardrobe on a budget

I’m currently in law school looking for summer jobs.  I obviously can’t wear jeans to work like I do to school, so I’m having to slowly build a professional wardrobe that will work wherever I end up working this summer and beyond.  This isn’t easy to do on a student’s budget.  One thing I’ve tried to do is go back to the basics.  This is a good idea for any wardrobe – professional or every day.  I found a few great solid colored suits (and one with very subtle pinstripes).  These suits can go with anything, which is key to building a wardrobe.  Also, I found some that were three pieces – jacket, pants, and skirt.  These are a great idea, as they give you more versatility over time.  I found a few button downs and a few shells – I’ll be able to mix and match without feeling like I’m repeating too frequently.  With an everyday wardrobe, one key piece is a great pair of jeans that can be worn with anything.  From there, try to get some nice solid pieces that are basic cuts and high quality.  These will last you forever – as trends change, you can mix in cheaper pieces of jewelry and clothing to update the look without having to change your key pieces.  Good luck!

Holiday budgeting

Life can get hard around holiday time when you’re living on a fairly strict budget.  It can also get out of hand if you start your holiday shopping without a plan in place.  You don’t want to start off the new year wondering how to make ends meet just because you went overboard on gifts.  Holiday budget planning doesn’t start in December either – it should be a yearlong process.  It’s too late to do this year, but starting in January, make a list of the main people you’ll be buying gifts for during the next holiday season.  Make sure you count on a few extras for people you may meet throughout the year.  Next, think about what you’d like to spend on each of those people – this will obviously vary for each person.  Then, look at your salary, monthly expenses, retirement savings contributions, etc.  Figure out how much of each paycheck you can afford to put aside into a separate holiday account.  That way, at the end of the year, you’ll have a pot of money that will be enough to cover the gifts you planned to buy with a little extra for gifts that you didn’t expect.  Believe me, it will take lots of stress out of your holiday shopping!


When I think of bargaining, I think of flea markets and shopping in outdoor markets.  But, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you limit your bargaining prowess to only these circumstances.  One place to bargain is obvious – the car dealership.  Never ever trust the sticker price because they can always go lower.  In retail stores, you can bargain when you’re knowledgeable about deals at other stores.   If you’re buying a TV and you let the store know their competitor is going to get your business, often times they’ll match the other store’s deal and throw in something a little extra.  Finally, I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been looking for a new apartment.  The one I found was perfect (location, nice landlord, beautiful on the inside, great layout) but it was a bit more than I could spend.  So, I came right out and told him how much I loved the place and how much I enjoyed meeting him but that he’d have to come down at least $200/month on the price.  He took a few days to think about it, and he agreed.  So, never be ashamed to bargain a little, as long as your requests are reasonable.  You may be surprised how much you can save!

Cold Weather gear

As I’ve mentioned before, I just moved to DC from a small town in the south.  I’ve been in snow plenty of times, but I’ve never had to live in it without a car.  I’m quickly learning what I need to stay warm and dry.  Luckily, I have an amazingly warm jacket for the snow.  It basically looks like a sleeping bag with sleeves, and it’s supposed to keep me warm in negative 20 degree weather.  Jackets like this can be very pricey, but I got an amazing deal on mine.  Last year (knowing I was moving somewhere cold), I shopped the end of the season sales.  So in April, I was able to purchase this amazingly warm jacket for very little money.  I recently purchased rain boots which I’m told can also be worn in the snow – apparently rubber soles are the key to not slipping and sliding.  Target and Payless have some great rainboots for $20 – you don’t have to spend $60-$100 to get a nice, cute, functional pair.  Now I’m on the look out for snow boots.  Again – most are $100+, but they have some really good choices at Target and similar stores.  Just remember, to be toasty warm walking to work/school in the snow, you don’t have to spend a bundle!

Promotion Codes

If you’re like me, you enjoy online shopping almost as much as the real thing.  For most online stores, you can find general coupons by simply doing a google search.  These can range from as little as 5% (not terribly helpful) to 50% (extremely helpful).  But, don’t stop here!  When you get to the checkout page of most online retailers, they have a place to enter a promotion code.  Don’t think to yourself “I don’t have it…oh well.”  Go back into google and search for that retailer’s promotion code.  Sometimes these will get you additional saving, a free item, or free shipping.  Every little bit helps, so make sure you search before buying anything online!

Big families

Big families are definitely a blessing.  There is no substitute for a tight knit group that cares and supports each other.  Unfortunately, this blessing can become a huge expense around holiday time.  I have the perfect fix!  Suggest that your family has a secret drawing – each person will pick one name and will shop for only that person.  You can decide on a price limit as a group.  Then, when you all get together as a family, everyone will have great gifts to open and will actually be able to enjoy them without feeling the stress of spending too much.  It’s also great because everyone will actually receive something they want rather than small trinkets from 10+ people because that’s all that anyone could afford.  Or, instead of giving gifts at all, adopt a family in your local community and buy for them instead.  That’s what the holidays are all about!