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#884 Pet Savings: Two Ways to Save Money On Kitty Litter

4 Jun

cat in window

Let me out!

I was excited when we could finally let our cats outside. Our kitty litter costs went from weekly purchase to zero. Previously, we had lived in an apartment four stories up, so there was no way to let the cats out. Then we had street level access in a car-free environment, but we hesitated to let our “indoor-only” cats outside. Once those cats got outside, they loved every minute of it. And they never used the litter box again. We could cross that expense off our shopping list.

I’ve known many people (including my husband and me) who worry about their indoor cat going outside.

“But he’s only ever been inside!”

“But she doesn’t know how to be outside!”

“But he’ll get lost!”

And then somehow those same people are amazed at how their cat loves to be outside, finds his or her way home and otherwise takes to outdoor life like a fish to water. Cats really are meant to be able to roam free and enjoy lying in the sun in the garden.

I realize that not all cats can be outside. If you live in a high traffic area (the cat will unfortunately most likely get run over) or in a high rise apartment then going outside is not really an option, but if there is no reason why a cat cannot go outside, don’t keep the cat indoors. The cat will be happier, and the litter box will go unused.

cat in sink

Mmm… the sink is nice too… just not for toilet training.

If you are in a high rise apartment or live on a highly trafficked street, you’re not doomed to forever paying for kitty litter. For the brave and thrifty, you can train your cat to use the toilet and be litter box free as well. The cat toilet training works best in a two toilet home so that one toilet can be a dedicated cat toilet during the training process. The process may take weeks, but then it will be years of litter-free living.

I had a co-worker once who was extremely excited to tell me all about his cat toilet training and show me the whole system. I was less than excited to hear about it, but it is a very good idea for cats that cannot go outside. (This particular co-worker’s cat was a country cat so I’m not sure of the point of potty training him was, but…)

Videos like this on YouTube explain the basics of kitty toilet training.

Other benefits of allowing your cat to go outside include:

  • Your furniture will not be clawed. You don’t have to worry about having furniture destroyed by crazy, clawing kitties. Cats that go outside will claw outside or be able to dispense their energy so they are not apt to claw when inside.
  • The cat will be less neurotic. Cats have a lot of energy and it’s hard for them to release it all being stuck inside, which results in neurotic cats. Going outside allows cats to positively get rid of their energy and reduce being neurotic indoors.
  • Weight issues might be addressed. If a cat is overweight, going outdoors may help address this problem as they will be getting more exercise and burning excess calories.

#890 Think About Your Money Like A Kid

21 May

baby playing

Mom and Dad couldn’t resist this toddler’s request for money.

She said it clearly with an expectant look on her face – “Money.” She had never said the word before. I thought maybe I had misheard. But she repeated it – “money” – with the same expectant look on her face.

Yikes! The kid’s not yet two, and she’s asking me for money. Clearly this toddler expected to receive some money. While I was scraping my jaw off the floor in shock after my child’s first request for money, my husband was dancing around with her. He was ecstatic at her growing vocabulary, impressed with her demand and handing her $1 from his wallet.

“Money, money, money,” my daughter repeated, clutching her dollar bill.

“We’ll have to save it, and you can buy something with your money when you go shopping with Mommy,” I said.

She and Daddy found an acceptable stash spot for safekeeping until the weekend. Come Saturday, which is shopping day, she requested her dollar and retrieved it from her piggy bank.

Now that she was requesting money and receiving some. I’d have to show her how to use her money responsibly.

one dollar bill

What can you get for $1?

“You have one dollar,” I told her. “Whatever you can find for your dollar, you can buy. Something you want. But it has to be a dollar because that’s all you have.”

I dreaded trying to find something for $1 (what about tax?). So we made a stop at Goodwill. I knew they had lots of $0.99 kid items. With my 10% discount card, it would take care of the tax question.

My daughter found a pack of Crayola washable markers and immediately said, “uh huh, uh huh, uh huh,” and clutched the package tightly to indicate that this was it. No need to look further. And it was the on sale color of the week, meaning it was 50% off of the marked $0.99 price. This girl could already spot a deal. I was proud. With my discount card, the markers were $0.47.

I had her get her dollar from her pocket and hand it to the cashier. She parted with the money in exchange for the markers with no protest, much to my relief. I told her the change was hers to keep.

As we progressed through grocery shopping, I had promised to get her a dog coloring book to go with her markers. “Wouldn’t it be nice if she could get it on her own instead,” I thought. We shuffled through the whole coloring book display to find the coloring book with only dogs. The last one left had a box cutter slash through the cover from when the stock clerk had opened the box. It was $1. I saw how this could work.

“Here’s the coloring book. Mommy will bargain so you can buy it with your money,” I told her.

At the register, I used my usual friendly and casual mention (with a hint of concern) to point out the box cut cover.

“I’ll mark it down to $0.50,” said the cashier.

Score! At $0.53 for the coloring book and $0.47 for the markers, it was exactly $1 for my daughter’s first purchase. No extra money from Mommy, just a little bargaining help to compensate for her limited vocabulary. I’ll never be so lucky again. But the whole process got me to thinking about how I thought about money when I was a kid, and how I want to teach my daughter responsible money habits.

Here are kid thoughts on money that would help anyone:

  •  The money you have is it. There is a $1 in your hand. There are lots of items out there that you want but only the items that are $1 are available to you to buy. No credit, no extra indulgences. Pick an item that matches up with the money in your pocket, and you’re done. This is perfect for daily purchases and everyday necessities.
  • Put the money away for safekeeping. You don’t spend your money right away. You put it in a safe place and retrieve it when you’re ready to buy what you want. You wait patiently. Occasionally you can take a peek at the money to make sure it’s still there. But no touching it until it’s time to spend it.
  • You can spend or save. You have money. You can choose to spend it, or save it. If you spend it, you don’t have any money left. If you save it, you can get something bigger once your money accumulates. Or you can keep saving like a squirrel storing nuts, planning for the long winter.
  • You have to earn your own. Even if parents give you money, it has to be earned. For chores, for working a “real” job or, when you’re not quite two, for impressing your parents with your vocabulary.

I can see a whole thesis being born based on this philosophy. All I needed to know about money, I learned in preschool…

#892 Don’t Get Rid Of Dead Batteries

15 May


Photo via flickr by Matti Mattila.

I have to admit this one came out of desperation… and then I realized it actually worked. When the battery or batteries die in a remote, toy or appliance, don’t assume the batteries are totally dead. Instead I put the “suspected” dead batteries into a zip lock bag to save for later use. What can these “suspected” dead batteries be used for? Items that don’t need much juice can use a battery that otherwise doesn’t “work.”

I started using suspected dead batteries in my wireless mouse. Turns out a wireless mouse uses very little power and can use the charge left in a battery that otherwise doesn’t power other items. I’ve run my mouse on “dead” batteries for a month or more. Once I use up my not-really-dead battery in my wireless mouse, I then put the “really” dead batteries in a separate zip lock bag for later recycling.

call2recycle logoNow when I’m caught with no fresh batteries in the house, I have a store of “suspected” dead batteries to try out. After success using the batteries in my wireless mouse, I started testing the suspected dead batteries in toys and other items before using new, fresh batteries. More often than not, the batteries will work. Sometimes for a longer time than others, but at least I get a little more life out of them. Other times, if a full set of suspected dead batteries doesn’t power the item, I’ll put in one or two fresh batteries (usually because I don’t actually have the correct amount of batteries needed) and one or two suspected dead batteries, and presto, it works! If I’m mixing and matching, I mark the non-fresh batteries so I know that when the item needs new batteries to only switch out the older one or two batteries instead of all three or four.

Getting the longest life possible out of a battery means spending less on new pack of batteries. Other ideas to save money on batteries include:

  • Buy generic. Tests by companies who test that rid of stuff show that generic batteries work just as well or better than more expensive brands. If the expensive brand does last a bit longer, the price difference does not make up for the performance difference.
  • Get rechargeable batteries. The electric cost to recharge batteries is much less than spending on disposable batteries and it reduces battery waste. Rechargeable batteries can be used many times over.
  • Keep batteries cool. Keeping batteries in the fridge, especially in hot climates can help extend the life of the battery. It’s a small amount, but if you’re storing batteries, why not keep them in the fridge to make sure they last as long as possible.
  • Take the batteries out. If you’re not using the item all the time or use it only seasonally, take the batteries out of the item when not in use.

Whatever you do, don’t throw batteries away! The chemicals they leak into landfills are serious contaminants. They should always be recycled. While this can be a challenge sometimes, Radio Shack or other electronic stores may have a recycling program if your local waste disposal does not recycle batteries. For rechargeable batteries and cell phones, look up a drop off service from Call2Recycle. You should always recycle your dead cell phones and laptop batteries as well.

#895 Use The Right Amount Of Soap

10 May

dishwahser dishes

Using too much soap will shorten the life of your appliances. Photo via flickr by David Locke.

No one wants to flush money down the drain. But think about how many household soaps you use that you may be overusing. Do you know exactly what the dishwater needs? The washing machine? Shampoo? Face wash? Hand soap? If you’re anything like me, when the bottle is new, I end up dumping out way too much. And then when the bottle is almost done, I’m scrimping the last bits to get out a drop to finish the job.

The best thing to do is make a conscientious effort to find out how much is an appropriate amount of soap for the job. Read the dishwasher and washing machine instructions. Or at least the back of the bottle or box of soap. Technology has advanced rapidly. High efficiency soaps and machines need a lot less product than you may have used in the past. It’s even the case that the recommended amount of soap can be halved in most machines. Contrary to what most of us think, lots of suds means way too much soap in washing machines and dish washers. If you don’t think you are using too much soap, run these tests to see what your results are. Most likely you’re using too much soap.

front loading washing machine

Front loading washing machines need very little soap. Photo via flickr by Editor B.

Not only is too much soap in washing machines and dishwashers wasting money on your soap product, but over-soaping wears out the machinery faster by gunking it up, creates mold and mildew (you wouldn’t think as it is soap!), wears out your clothes faster and leaves your dishes filmy.

As for shampoo and other liquid soaps, unless they come in a pump bottle, it’s too easy to dump out twice as much or more than you need out of the original bottle. I recommend getting a pump bottle for your shampoo and conditioner to be able to control the amount of shampoo and conditioner you dole out. Squeezing it out of a standard flip top bottle leads to a lot of waste. How much shampoo you need really depends on your length of hair. For chin to shoulder length hair, which is the standard for most bottle instructions, it would be a portion of shampoo the size of a quarter (2.5 cm). But for shorter hair than this, it would be less, closer to nickel size (1.5 cm) and longer hair would be a little more.

bar soap

Bar soap is cheaper and less prone to overuse than liquid soap. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

For body wash and hand soap, I would recommend getting rid of liquid versions altogether and using bar soap. Bar soap is cheaper, and you are much less likely to overuse the soap. Contrary to some thinking, using a bar of soap for a household doesn’t transfer any bacteria or germs. Especially if the bar is given a clean off rinse after use. The only drawback to bar soap is the filmy wet scum, which can be combated with a good soap dish. If someone in your household is really attached to liquid body wash or other liquid soaps, a pump bottle if it doesn’t already come in a pump bottle is a good idea. Don’t be afraid to use only half a pump if that’s all you need.

Once you start watching your soap use, you can make your soap products last twice as long or more by using the appropriate amount of soap for the job at hand.

#896 Stop Using Paper Towels

8 May

paper towel roll

Quit them cold turkey if you can. Photo via flickr by edkohler.

A friend joined a warehouse club and was excited about the savings, until she realized – where am I going to store my five billion rolls of paper towels? Instead of building a warehouse to store your warehouse purchases, try eliminating the need for many of the bulk buy purchases. First on the list to eliminate? Paper towels.

As a single-use product, paper towels are economically not a very good investment. Depending on the rate of use, paper towels can fly off the roll and into the trash faster than a weekly shop can keep up with. Instead of trashing your money and trees with paper towels, get rid of them altogether and replace paper towel use with things you already have around the house.

Here are some ways to stop using paper towels and save a little more from your grocery and supplies budget:

  • Go cold turkey. All smokers or other addicts know that one of the most effective ways to quit an addiction is to eliminate the  product and make it unavailable for consumption. If you eliminate paper towels from the house completely, you’ll be forced to adapt and find alternatives. Like any other cold turkey quitting program, the first two weeks will be hard and then it’ll get easier. Soon you’ll wonder why you spent money on paper towels to begin with.
  • Rediscover sponges.
    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    A better choice for cleaning up spills. Photo via flickr by Horia Varlan.

    If you have a dishwasher, you may hardly ever touch a sponge, but you probably have one at the kitchen sink. Sponges are perfect for cleaning up spills – the number one excuse to use a paper towel. A sponge will do exactly what a paper towel will do – soak up a spill and allow you to clean it up. The big difference is that a sponge is reusable. You can rinse and wring for later use or if the spill requires more than one go with the sponge, it’s no problem to rinse and wring until the job is done. Instead of using half a roll of paper towels, try one reusable sponge. I have a “nasty” sponge pile of old kitchen sponges that I use for toilet cleaning or other particularly nasty uses so that I can throw them out after a long life as a “clean” sponge.

  • Explore rags. What to do with those old t-shirts and cloth diapers? Turn them into cleaning rags for dusting, wet cleaning and other jobs that paper towels are used for. Like sponges, rags are washable and reusable. If you are reusing old clothes or sheets for rags, then cut them up into varying size rags and store them along with cleaning products in an easy-to-access place for all your cleaning needs. An old rag, can go into the “nasty” rag pile and used for a nasty job and then tossed after a long life as a t-shirt reborn as a cleaning aid.
  • Dry your hands on a hand towel.
    hand towel hand drying

    The proper way to dry hands. Hint: not with a paper towel. Photo via flickr by AlishaV.

    One of my pet peeve uses of paper towels is using them to dry hands. That’s what hand towels are for. Or dish towels. I like to keep two hand towels or dish towels in rotation so that when one gets really soaked, I can use the other while the wet one dries out. Have a well ventilated place where the towels can live in a spot convenient to where you normally do a lot of your hand washing and drying. Throw the towels in the weekly wash to keep them fresh. If you have family members who are paper towel hand drying offenders, remove any paper towels from easy reach or altogether, leaving only the hand towel available.

  • Wash with a wash cloth. If you use paper towels for messy kid hands and face, then keep a wash cloth handy as well and use the wash cloth to wipe them down after meals or before running out the door and into public view.
  • Keep a limited supply of paper towels. Buy a roll and make sure it lasts for a certain amount of time – say a month or more. This will make you think every time you reach for a paper towel, “can I use something else for this job?” The answer is most undoubtedly “yes.” The only tricky paper towel replacement is draining bacon. Paper towels are excellent for draining bacon, but if that is your only paper towel use, I think one roll could last a year or more.
  • Use silicone mats and products for baking. Another tough to replace paper towel use is greasing cookie sheets. Replace a paper towel and butter or oil with silicone baking mats, cups and trays that can be reused thousands of times.
  • Don’t use paper napkins either.
    cloth napkin

    Photo via flickr by jenny downing.

    Get classy and use cloth napkins. Growing up in my large family, we each had our own napkin ring with our initials to store our cloth napkin so the napkins would not get confused during the week. Then they’d be washed at the end of the week. Holiday dinners and company meant my dad broke out the ironing board and used the nice cloth napkins instead of our every day ones.

  • If you really need a transition aid… you can try the reusable bamboo paper towels made from renewable bamboo sources called Bambooee that can ease the transition to not using paper towels. Make sure the spouse and kids know not to throw them out. And after they are torn from the roll, they’re really just another reusable rag. But hey, they can drain bacon!

The added bonus of being thrifty and saving lots of money usually means your also being green and saving resources, which is never a bad thing. Eliminating paper towels is no exception.

#899 Buy Your Fruits And Vegetables Seasonally

3 May


I expect to see these in the store soon, or could forage my own. Photo via flickr by New Brunswick Tourism.

It’s nice that we can have tomatoes and strawberries year round, but they don’t taste the same for the majority of the year when the fruit is out of season, and they’re more expensive when they’re out of season. To get the most out of flavor and your dollar, buy fruits and vegetables when they are in season.

Following the seasons is not just for top chefs but for the thrifty as well:

  • In season is always on sale. When the market is flooded with a crop of fruits or vegetables that are ripe and ready to sell, the grocery store needs to move the inventory. The in season fruits and vegetables are always on sale because the produce needs to move off the shelves. This meaning savings for you and better quality and taste because the produce is naturally in season, which always taste better than year-round hot house varieties or produce that has been shipped halfway across the world to get to you.
  • It builds anticipation.
    rhubarb plant

    Rhubarb produces spring cooking joy after a root vegetable winter. Photo via flickr by MiikaS.

    At the end of winter when you can’t stand another root vegetable, strawberry season is like Christmas and your birthday all rolled into one. Throw in rhubarb for a fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie to celebrate May Day, and you may just swoon with joy. Fruits don’t get that kind of reaction if you have them all the time. Following the seasons has you looking forward to the next crop to play with in the kitchen.

  • You can buy local. It’s nice that you can get fresh produce that came from the area, which means your dollars are staying close to home. You can also take advantage of farm stands and deals on organic produce. Just because the produce is local doesn’t mean it’s more expensive, often you can get great deals on local produce.
  • Buy in bulk. If you’re ready to try some canning and freezing to combat those dull winter days, you can buy produce in bulk and save a lot of money. You can even split a bulk buy with a friend to benefit the both of you. It’s expensive to buy the quantities of fruits and vegetables you need for preserving if you don’t grow it yourself or buy in bulk when the crop is in season locally.
  • You can pick your own. I love going to pick your own farms. I’ve already discussed how it saves money and how much fun it is here.
  • A glimpse of the fleeting. Some crops have such a short in season window that if you blink, you’ll miss it. Local delicacies shine in this respect. Don’t be afraid to try a local forage or crop that is not seen elsewhere.

#900 Make A Pit Stop For The Roadside Farm Stand

2 May

fresh produce farm stand truck

Because buying produce from the back of a pick up truck is awesome.


The easiest way to score a deal on organic produce? Stop by a roadside farm stand to check out the seasonal fruits and vegetables. The key secret is that farm stands are often “organic” without the official label. Getting certified organic is a lengthy process, so a lot of casual farmers, neighborhood gardeners or even regular, small-scale farmers don’t go through the process to get certified. Lots of times there is no way to know that they are not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers unless you stop in. Some advertise “chem free” or “no spray” on their signs, but many will only tell you once you stop in that they don’t use chemicals or sprays.

As spring starts to yield the first crops of spinach, lettuce and rhubarb, roadside farm stands will start to pop up at the end of driveways and or in seasonal vegetable stands. If you live in a rural location, the farm stand is a common site, if you live in an urban environment, you don’t have to go too far into the country to start seeing them.

Here are some reasons why I love roadside farm stands and why they are a bargain.

  • Freshness!
    roadside farm stand

    Many farm stands offer unofficially organic produce at low prices.

    Most of the time you’ll hear things like “I dug them this morning” or “I’ll get you some more from the garden.” The quality of vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables are the best the fresher they are, and the vegetables are crunchier, tastier, firmer or whatever ideal quality you are looking for. Don’t waste the huge bonus of super fresh fruits or vegetables by waiting to prepare the produce. Prepare and eat it the same day or the next day if possible.

  • Cheap! Like I said, a lot of these stands are unofficially organic. That’s good enough for me. Most of the time the produce is 50 cents or more less than the conventional produce price at the grocery store. Plus you’re getting that freshness factor, which is priceless. If you regularly grocery shop with a budget, you should be able to identify whether the price of produce is cheaper than in the store. Even if it’s the same price and you’re not getting any savings, you’ll win with taste. In all likelihood, it is cheaper than the store. Especially organic produce.
  • Variety! The variety of produce that you can find in roadside stands is much greater than at the grocery store. You can discover new kinds of squash, potatoes, herbs and tomatoes that will make you wonder why anyone decided that mass producing only one kind of tomato was a good idea. People like to put labels like “heirloom” or “heritage” on fruits and vegetables that fell out of favor with the advent of agribusiness, but these small stands keep up the variety of produce with little pretension and lots of flavor.
  • It’s not the farmer’s market. I love farmer’s markets too, but usually only to look. Prices at farmer’s markets tend to be high, and it’s much harder to score a deal on organic or even conventional produce. At a farmer’s market, the vendors will be much more likely throw around words like “heirloom” and discuss the broodiness of a rare Chilean hen, which just makes me feel out of place if I’m not wearing vegan sandals and don’t know what my exact carbon footprint is. I like what they’re doing, but I prefer the more regular Joe feel of farm stands.
  • Trust. If you wonder about where the world has gone to today, stop by a farm stand that has a glass jar or wooden box as a cash drop and a thank you sign. I really hope these people don’t get their money stolen too often. I like to think everyone is honest and sees how awesome it is that you can leave money in a glass jar. On that note, most stands are cash only, so be prepared with exact change or bring a lot of dollar bills.

Farm stands get started in the spring and will run through the fall to around the end of October. Here’s a visual illustration of a roadside vegetable stand:

farm stand truck illustration

#910 Pick Your Luxury And Enjoy It

26 Mar

yoplait container

Yogurt as a luxury – it made my life easier. Photo via flickr by suzyq212.

For years I bought individual yogurts to take to work. My husband was always trying to convince me to buy the huge container of yogurt that was less money. When I told him, “it’s my luxury, let me enjoy it,” he understood and never mentioned it again.

Yeah, yogurt might not seem like a luxury, but it made me happy. I liked the little, individual yogurts because I could get a bunch of different flavors, they were easy to grab for breakfast or part of lunch and I didn’t have to scoop out yogurt from a big container into a smaller Tupperware container to take with me. Yes, they were more expensive, but I felt like they made my life easier. And it was worth it. Now that I work for myself, I get the big containers, but for a long time those individual Yoplaits were my little luxury.

chocolate cake

One piece at a time for satisfaction or the whole thing at once for illness? Photo via flickr by kimberlykv.

Sometimes it’s O.K. to make  a choice that doesn’t make sense financially, but it’s worth it because it brings a happy pleasure. The key is to pick the one thing that is a YOUR comfortable indulgence as a little luxury you afford. If you truly enjoy it, then it will pay for itself by warding off the feeling of being constantly denied and unable to fulfill yourself with some self-indulgence for your life comfort. Dieters know best that a life of constant denial can turn ugly. Like when a dieter is so deprived that he or she eats a whole chocolate cake and then is ill. Instead of eating a small piece of chocolate cake at the end of the day, the dieter made himself or herself crazy and ended up overindulging instead of indulging correctly. It’s the same thing with your budget and life’s pleasures.

Life’s pleasures don’t have to cost anything, but if a life pleasure does cost something, then make it your luxury you afford yourself to make sure you don’t overindulge in bad spending habits. Depending on the cost of the luxury, it can be a daily, weekly or monthly pleasure. Too long between intervals might lead to flagging resolve, however it is possible. If it’s a daily pleasure, than it’s something small, like a 60 or 70 cent yogurt. If it’s a weekly pleasure, it might be something like eating out for lunch with a friend. If it’s a monthly pleasure, it might be a massage or dinner at the newest restaurant in town.

The easiest thing to do is to decide on the luxury beforehand. If you don’t decide what your little pleasure will be, than you’ll be saying “yes” to everything that comes along, which doesn’t make financial sense. But if you know you have your reservations booked for the end of the month, than it’s easy to say “no, I’m looking forward to my self-indulgence instead.” The little bit of denial makes the later pleasure than much better and more satisfying.

#911 Know Your Triggers (And The Consequences)

25 Mar


Photo via flickr by Life Mental Health.

Do you buy stuff when you’re feeling down? Do you get a bonus and spend it all? Do you shop to spite your spouse?

Behaviors have patterns. Behaviors start with something that triggers an action that then continues in a predictable arc of one thing that leads to another as habits, rewards and brain chemistry spur on the behaviors to create a unique pattern.

Say Susie had a bad day at work, so to cheer herself up, she goes downtown to pick up something fun for her closet. Her brain likes the comforting, familiar action and making a purchase temporarily spikes her chemistry to lift her spirits. She goes home and adds the item to her closet full of “feel better” stuff. It makes her feel better only for a short time. She doesn’t feel better when she gets her credit card bill or bank statement. She doesn’t feel better when she goes to work and the same issues arise that made her feel bad in the first place. She doesn’t feel better even though her home is brimming with items that made her “feel better.”

cell phone

You always need more and then it’s outdated. Photo via flickr by David Chartier.

Or Joe gets a new gadget because he earned an extra paycheck. It’s a celebration gift to himself. But then he has to have the accessories that make it that much better. And the technology upgrades in a few months, and he has to upgrade too. It’s all a reward because he’s doing well and deserves to have what he wants. But he doesn’t have the money to repair his car when it breaks down. He’s not saving for retirement. And he’s too busy to take the vacation he can’t afford anyway. His gadget that brought him initial joy and awe, now has been upgraded two more times, has glitches and even though, he lived without it before, he can’t imagine living without it now.

Or Betty has a fight with her husband, so she shops online when he’s not around. She hides the purchases, but has smug satisfaction that he doesn’t know and that she can do whatever she wants. She’s adding to her marital problems instead of solving them. And it’s a task to intercept the credit card bill.

What ever it is, most of us have a trigger that sets off buying things as a justification to feel better, celebrate, feel like we’re in control or any number of any other emotions. If you can take an objective look at when and why you buy things, then you can analyze whether you’re doing it for the right reasons, whether it fits into your budget and whether it’s masking other problems or issues in your life that are not only not being resolved, but worsened by burying it in “retail therapy.”

You’re determining…why do I buy things? When do I buy things impulsively? Is it justified? Affordable? Does it solve problems or create them (however hidden)? Can I make better financial decisions on how to spend my money (the answer to this one is undoubtedly yes in 99% of cases)? Once you’ve honestly assessed yourself, which shouldn’t take a therapist, you can then start to tackle the behaviors that are triggered by an event.

poshmark logoSusie buys things to make herself feel better. Instead she realizes she has way too much stuff, and she’s still unhappy. So she sells everything in her closet (most with tags still on) on eBay or Poshmark, and feels really good about cashing in. She then resolves that the next time she feels bad she’ll figure out why she feels bad and what she can do differently to make herself feel better. She has a bad day at work. The next day, instead of dreading going to work, she figures out who she has to talk to and what she must do to make her work and work issues better. She does it and work is lovely. Yay! Or work still sucks but she makes so much money on Poshmark she can say sayonara to her job and reinvents herself as an online consignment shop.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Photo via flickr by Derek Keats.

Joe realizes he’s been sucked into the black hole of technology upgrades and headaches. His bonuses have yielded a worthless drawer full of old tech for which he paid top dollar. He’s tired of being surprised by bills and never feeling relaxed. He set a goal of a $1,000 emergency fund and to take a vacation for the first time in five years. He’s always wanted to go on an African safari. The next time he makes an extra paycheck, he puts it into a low interest savings account at a credit union and is surprised by how quickly he meets his goals. Now he know what the savannah smells like and how hot the African sun is at midday.

Betty’s forced to tell her husband about the hidden credit card bills when he loses his job. Her job isn’t enough to cover all their expenses. She’s so ashamed of her furtive behavior and knows that honesty would have solved a lot of problems. Her husband takes on the household budget while looking for a new job, and they take a class on martial communication. In the end, Betty discovers how share her feelings including anger with her husband, and her husband learns how to forgive. Plus he realizes he loves accounting, gets his CPA and finds a job easily. With money no longer tight, Betty can buy things again, this time openly through her monthly budget allotment for “fun” and without dreading the credit card bills.

happy girl

Photo via flickr by Public Domain Photos.

While all these situations are purely fictional and all characters are imagined (any similarities to real persons is purely coincidental), I’m sure you can see yourself in one of them or think of your own behavior that triggers buying to fill a need, want or desire. You can also see that buying something does not fix life issues, compounds problems and ultimately leaves you unfulfilled.

If you know your trigger and aren’t doing anything about it. Stop, and make a plan. If you don’t know your trigger, think about your life. Keep a journal about what you’re buying and how you’re feeling to see a pattern. If you know your trigger and are working on changing it, recruit help from a spouse, partner or friend to keep you on track and avoid moments of weakness. You’ll soon find your life more fulfilling, happy and less cluttered.

#923 Wedding Savers: Ditch The Diamond

26 Feb

I loved it as soon as I saw it when he proposed. Rubies are second-hardest after diamonds.

I loved it as soon as I saw it when he proposed. Rubies are second-hardest after diamonds.

Diamonds are forever boring. O.K. so this is more an engagement thing. I couldn’t make my point better than this guy, so read what he says.

I never wanted a diamond, didn’t dream of a diamond. My now-husband knew I didn’t want a diamond. And that spending a month or more salary was a silly financial choice when we were in our twenties (and even now).

So check out my Pinterest board for alternatives.


  • Aquamarines are actually the ancient stones of love/youth/happiness/good fortune dating back to B.C. times, not a 1950s marketing scheme. I love me a vintage aquamarine ring.
  • An heirloom from a family member is always more meaningful. It doesn’t have to be a diamond. Estate jewelers like where my husband found my ring offer unique choices.
  • Diamonds are from bloody and violent sources unless you get them from Canada (like my brother-in-law, yay, Canadians!)
  • Even the British royals and uber-wealthy people like Mark Zuckerberg don’t need diamonds for engagement rings.
  • You don’t need an engagement ring at all.

For this to work (at least in the US), you will need a like-minded partner, which is always best with financial decisions. Men, if the woman you are with attaches undue meaning to a diamond, explore what she really values and how that matches up with your views. I’ve heard things like “he’s just trying to be cheap,” “she picked it out because she knew exactly what she wanted,” and the like. A ring is a gift, so forget all the materialistic stuff and as they say “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”