We recently took a day trip to an amusement park in Indiana where my brother decided he wanted to purchase a souvenir. As we browsed the gift shop, I couldn’t help but notice how tacky everything seemed and I wondered whether the souvenirs in this particular shop, which I’ve visited nearly annually since I was a small child, had always contained the same cheap junk and I only recently began to see it for what it truly was, or if they just didn’t care anymore.

When I got home I was still thinking about souvenirs in general. I think it’s pretty normal for people to want a memento from a place they’ve visited, but ever since I’ve gotten into digital photography (you can visit my photo site here if you’re so inclined), I feel like my photos are my souvenirs for the most part. My husband and I did start a tradition of collecting magnets from places we’ve visited. They cover our refrigerator and are a daily reminder of all the places we’ve been together. I like this because a) they’re inexpensive and b) they take up no additional space. In fact, the only other times I can even think that we’ve purchased souvenirs other than a magnet was when we got married in Florida and purchased two Mickey Mouse souvenirs and when we went to New York we purchased a commemorative coin at the Statue of Liberty for Joe’s son.

My point is, you don’t have to break the bank collecting souvenirs that will likely just clutter up your home.



Recently I saw a deal for a reduced annual subscription to one of my favorite magazines, ShopSmart, which is issued by Consumer Reports. I always find some great tips in that magazine and truly enjoy reading it. I was tempted to purchase the subscription when I stopped myself – I can read this magazine for free at the library; I don’t need to spend $15 on a subscription to something that will be quickly thrown into the recycle bin when I’m finished. It’s just going to create more clutter and waste not to mention cost me money.

I think this is how people get themselves in trouble financially as little purchases over time do add up, particularly subscriptions which tend to stick around far past their usefulness because it’s so easy to allow the company to keep deducting that amount from your account. This is why as tempting as it is I’ve been able to stop myself from buying a premium subscription to the streaming music services I like to listen to at work – Digitally Imported and Pandora. Sure, the semi-frequent commercial interruptions can get a little annoying, but is it really so bad I need to add an unnecessary expense to my budget? I don’t think so.

I think it’s worth it to evaluate what you’re spending your money on monthly that isn’t a necessity. This is particularly true if you’re struggling to make ends meet, but even if you’re comfortable. There’s no use in throwing money away that could be better saved.


Alternate title: How I got a $79 purse for free

I’ve been drooling over this particular purse (the Kipling Callie Crossbody in Pearlized Grey) since I spotted it at Macy’s weeks ago when we were shopping for towels for our master bathroom. I love Kipling’s products and own an awesome backpack I use all the time when we go on vacations or nearby excursions. They are made very well, but they are pricey.

Kipling Callie Pearlized Grey

Usually I’m pretty good about forgetting about the stuff I see that I “want” because I see a lot of stuff I wouldn’t mind having. I almost never buy anything over $20 immediately because more than half the time I completely forget about it in short order, meaning I really didn’t want it that bad. Honestly, friends have commented on my incredible patience waiting to buy something I want. The last point-and-shoot camera I bought was researched heavily and I waited a couple of months for a good price before purchasing it. Sometimes the hunt is half the fun!

Another example of my incredible patience is how badly I want to upgrade my phone. I currently have an iPhone 4S that I bought in October 2011 which means I’m eligible for an upgrade. I’m not sold on the iPhone 5, however, so I’ve been biding my time to see what the iPhone 6 will bring to the table. I definitely want something with a larger screen, so if Apple fails to deliver I might get a Samsung Galaxy phone instead. But I don’t want to jump the gun even though my current phone is starting to drive me crazy with it’s increasingly poor battery life and how much slower it’s gotten with each iOS update. That means waiting until October before being rid of my current phone but it will be worth it because I will be getting something I know I will love and use for years.

Getting back to the purse…

When I first spotted it I was willing to break my don’t buy it immediately rule because it appeared to be on sale (20% off the $79 tag price), but when I asked an associate they said it was ringing up full price. Back to the display it went. I didn’t care to drop that kind of money on a purse when I was making more money than I do now so there was no way I was going to buy it for $79 plus tax.

When I got home I started researching it online to see if I could find it elsewhere cheaper, but Macy’s was the only game in town so I figured it must be exclusive to them (it wasn’t even on the manufacturer’s website in that particular color). I tried to put it out of my mind but I kept thinking about it (a sure sign that I really wanted it).

Fast forward to this past weekend. I was browsing Groupon‘s coupons (say that 3 times quickly) and found a Macy’s 25% off coupon. After discussing it with my husband, I decided to apply for a Macy’s credit card to get an additional 20% off so the purse would only be $51.19 (including tax). Now, I don’t recommend this approach and have pretty much never opened a store card just to get a discount. However, we have excellent credit and no large planned purchases on the horizon so it wouldn’t be a big deal for us.

We were on our way to Macy’s when something told me to check Amazon again and wouldn’t you know it, suddenly they had it (I confirmed on CamelCamelCamel.com that it was a new item which is why I hadn’t found it before). Not only that but it was only $50.82! Obviously, I was all over that!

I almost opened an Amazon Rewards card (via Chase) as they were offering me a $50 instant discount, but the application was confusing as it asks for your annual income and it didn’t seem like I could add our total household income since the card would be in my name and they only wanted my employer’s name and phone number. So I logged in as my husband and was going to apply as him but they were only offering him a $30 credit, probably because we purchase more from Amazon on my account. Then I started reading the comments about how Chase rarely approves people instantly and sometimes they have to wait weeks to get the credit. At that point I was completely turned off to applying for a card and decided to forgot that route.

I logged back into my account and realized I could use my Discover card cashback bonus to pay, and since it was over $100, I ended up doing that and not having to pay one cent out of pocket. I opted for free super-saver shipping but the delivery period was when we plan to be out of town so I ended up signing up for an Amazon Prime trial so I could get the 2-day free shipping. The purse was out of stock, however, so the two-day shipping is based on when it will be back in stock. However, that will still get me the purse before we leave on vacation so there isn’t a package sitting outside my house for days.

So I gave into the want this time but I came out no poorer. I guess that only works, however, if you keep it to a minimum. Obviously my cashback bonus can only grow if I’m not constantly spending it. But I hope my story above demonstrates that you can still get things you want and stay frugal as long as you’re willing to be patient and keep your wants to a minimum.

Incidentally, I’m trying to see whether the Amazon Prime membership is worth the $99 annual fee. We don’t order from Amazon too often, so I worry that having the membership will just encourage us to spend more. However, I like that they have a lot of streaming video content, allow you to borrow one free Kindle book per month, and just started offering free streaming music with the membership. If anyone has an opinion on Prime, I’d love to hear it.


Sometimes trying to save money ends up backfiring. Let this tale be a lesson to all so you can learn from my mistakes!

I’ve been wanting to replace everything (rugs, towels, shower curtain) in our master bathroom for years now, but it was more a want than a need. It recently became a need, however, when I noticed the rubber backing on the rugs started coming apart. We had been using the rugs for over ten years so I felt like we had gotten excellent use from them. Now it was time to find something different. Our current color scheme had been mismatched for awhile – blue rugs and bath mat, white curtain with matching blue, as well as pink and purple, flowers, and faded purple-ish towels. It wasn’t sophisticated, but it worked.

At Target I spotted some eye-catching bright green (guacamole, according to the tag) towels and matching rugs. They also had a cute shower curtain that matched perfectly. We ended up buying everything one weekend and took advantage of a coupon where you received a $5 discount. After washing the towels I immediately regretted buying them. They were cheap ($5 for each bath towel and $4 for each hand towel) and it showed. Not only was there far too much dryer lint to come from such thin towels, they were fraying after the very first wash! Not only that, but they shed all over the place. A week later when I was cleaning the bathroom I swept up a thin layer of towel pieces. Ridiculous!

As for the rugs, when I finally got around to switching them, I was disappointed in how thin they were compared to the current rugs. There was no cushion to them, so we decided to return them and keep looking.

Unfortunately we had an extremely difficult time finding suitable rugs. We looked at many stores – Macy’s, Carson’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Meijer, Walmart, IKEA, and even Bed Bath & Beyond. While each store had many towel colors to choose from, their selection of rugs was paltry. Sears really had nothing at all and I’m pretty sure that’s where we got our original blue rugs that we loved so much.

We ended up going back to Target and re-purchasing the rugs. For the one in front of the sink I put a memory foam rug, purchased from Kohl’s on sale, underneath for cushioning. It’s not the greatest solution, because it’s smaller than the rug, plus because our bathroom is so small, I have to flip the rug over in order to close the door, but whatever.

This, my friends, is what happens when you try to spend the least amount of money on things. I have no doubt that these towels aren’t long for the wear, nor are the rugs. Had I just conceded to spend a little more upfront, perhaps I would have chosen a different color scheme that had better quality towels and matching rugs to begin with. On top of that, I had forgotten that I could have gotten a free gift card through my Discover card cash back for Kohl’s or Bed Bath and Beyond and not spent anything out of pocket! Lesson learned!

Oh, and on top of that we never found a matching bath mat so we’re still using the blue one that doesn’t match anything. We’ll probably have to get a white one.
In the future I’m considering getting white towels instead of any colored ones because I noticed that there’s a lot of products containing chemicals that damage the color anyway. That’s why our purple towels were nearly pink and had weird orange streaking in them, and one of the new green hand towels already has yellow streak marks on it. So frustrating!

Where do you buy your bathroom decor?


Two weeks ago I wrote tips on how to remember to do things related to one’s personal life. This week let’s talk about work. I’m going to make an assumption here that the majority of office workers use some form of Microsoft Office which includes Outlook. Personally, I like Outlook as it has a lot of great features, many of which people might not be aware exist.

Outlook Logo

One of my favorite things about Outlook is that you can customize the sort order of your inbox. Since the majority of workers get more email than they can reasonably handle, keeping it organized is paramount to success in one’s role. The first thing I do when setting up Outlook is pick a few standard categories and assign them a unique color, such as “* Follow Up” (red), “* In Process” (orange), “FYI” (blue), and “Waiting” (yellow). Notice the asterisks. These are important as I also set up my inbox to sort as follows: Group by Categories, Sort by Subject (ascending), then Received (descending).

Outlook Inbox Sort Order

Now when emails come in I can quickly categorize them if I cannot act on them immediately and they get grouped accordingly. This leaves the top of my inbox for new items that I haven’t read or taken action on.

Click the photo below to make it larger
Mailbox Sorted

Also, I should point out that while this method works great, it will fail if you don’t ever move or delete the emails from your inbox eventually. You should have a goal to only keep x number of emails in your inbox at a time and then make an effort to move unneeded mail to folders categorized by topic. I would advise against filing by sender as some people do as that breaks up conversations when there are multiple people responding.

Remember that Waiting category I created? Well, I put any emails that I’ve sent that are pending a response there. But I don’t go into my Sent folder and move them to the inbox, no. I have a rule set up that creates a copy of every email I send and puts it in my inbox. It appears immediately after I send my email, so if I know I don’t need to categorize it, I immediately delete it. I found this method to be helpful because then my Sent folder has all emails but I have a copy for keeping an eye on as well. Here’s a screenshot of what that rule looks like once it’s been set up in case you’d like to set something like this up. I highly recommend it.

Sent Email Copy Rule

In a perfect world everyone would respond to our emails in a timely manner and we wouldn’t have to keep an eye on what we’ve sent but I think anyone who has worked in an office more than a month knows that’s just not going to happen, and unless you have a visible reminder in your face you’re going to forget to follow-up which can cause lots of issues.

Now for the pièce de résistance – Tasks. That’s the icon in Outlook that looks like a clipboard with a check-mark inside it. You can create tons of little reminders so you can relax and not worry that you’re going to forget something. Sure, you could use the calendar in Outlook, but that can get messy, not to mention block out your availability when technically you are available (although it’s great when you really do need some uninterrupted time to work and I highly recommend you use it for such cases, as well as for your lunch hour if your role requires attending a lot of meetings so you don’t get stuck not being able to take a lunch at all).

Also, did you know you can add reminders to emails? Those come in handy if you have some emails waiting for follow-up and you know when you’d prefer to handle them. In addition, you can even set reminders to recipients when sending an email. Some people will probably not like it, so I’d only do it if the particular person has demonstrated in the past that they cannot be relied upon to reply by the deadline set in your communication and/or you’re emailing a large group of people who need to respond within a particular time frame. They need not read the email for the reminder to pop up at the designated time which works great for those who might preview the email and then set it aside without marking it as read.

For step-by-step instructions on how to do the things mentioned in this article, check the following links:

» Setting up categories
» Adjusting your inbox sort order
» Creating rules
» Using Tasks
» Adding reminders to emails


Do you have trouble remembering to do everything that needs to get done? I’d say we all do. It’s why many of us keep lists of some sort, whether it be at work or home. Personally, I love writing out lists and checking things off when they are complete, but they aren’t very helpful if I don’t keep the list on me at all times and I’m not constantly re-checking the list. This is where technology comes in so you rarely forget something again.


Next week I’ll touch upon keeping track of things at work, but this week I wanted to focus on personal things. Most of us now own smartphones, and one of my most-used apps, after Facebook (I love this time-suck way too much), is called Alarmed. This free app has tons of scheduled items in it so I never forgot to do something. I have recurring reminders to take my vitamins, and one-time reminders as well. I find the app so useful that I purchased the $1.99 add-on to allow me to set the app to nag me if I don’t mark a particular item as complete.

Anytime I think of something I need to do that I can’t do immediately, I open the app and set up a reminder. When I forgot to put garland on my Christmas tree this past December, I immediately scheduled a reminder in the app for next year around Christmas time to remind me to do that because I’m just that anal retentive on top of things. When I get things in the mail, like reminders to take our vehicles in for an emission test, I check my calender to see what day is most likely going to be good for that, and I set a reminder.

Some people may prefer to use their phone’s calendar app for tasks but I don’t really care to use my calendar for that purpose. I like to keep it free for events to make it less cluttered. It also makes it easier to glance quickly at a date to see what I have going on.

If you don’t mind forking over $4.99, Todo by Appigo is a great reminder app too and is more robust than Alarmed, although last I checked it didn’t have the nag option that I’ve come to love and depend on. It does, however, have the ability to tie checklists to reminders to really add to the experience. I have the app installed, so I will use it for those things, and I even use it to keep general checklists that have no reminder. For instance, when I was looking for a job I had a checklist of things I wanted to find out before accepting an offer. I also keep a general packing list for when we go on vacation – actually I have two lists: one for things to pack and one for things to do before locking the house and leaving.

I don’t think I would remember even half of what I have to do if it wasn’t for these apps. What do you use to remember stuff?


I went through a phase several years ago where I often bought candles whenever we’d go to the mall; mostly tea lights from Yankee Candle. For some reason, however, I didn’t burn a lot of the candles I purchased, so they sat in our hall closet for years untouched. In my mind I was saving them for… what exactly? I’m not sure, so recently I decided I should make a concerted effort to use and enjoy them before they get so old the scent fades away. Not only that, but they are taking up unnecessary space and lately the amount of stuff we have in the house is starting to get under my skin. Clutter is my kryptonite, so most of it is organized (due to my tendency to every so often completely reorganize the hall closet, bathroom cabinets, or what have you) and largely out of site, but just knowing it’s there is enough to trigger a bit of anxiety.

This same reason is why I recently decided to pay less attention to deal sites. I love a good deal (who doesn’t?) but I’ve stocked up on so many non-perishables that the garage is starting to look a bit ridiculous. We have a bunch of big packs of toilet paper and paper towels in there, not to mention countless bottles of shampoo and conditioner, among other toiletries, stashed away in the bathroom. We could go a good six months to a year on our current stockpile.

Taking advantage of stocking up when these things are on sale has definitely saved us money, but it’s starting to take a toll on my sanity. Therefore I have decided to make sure our stockpile is nearly depleted before taking advantage of any further sales. This is tough for me, because every time a sale comes along I want to jump on it, so I have to keep reminding myself that another sale will come along well before I’ve run out of whatever it is. Plus, once things look less crowded I will feel less like the things are taking over every inch of space.

Can you relate to this at all? How do you take advantage of sales, and do you find yourself stockpiling a bit too much?


Update Scanner

I’ve written before on how to keep on top of updates to your favorite websites utilizing a feed reader such as Feedly, but what if there’s a website that you want to keep tabs on that doesn’t offer an RSS feed? That’s where the Firefox add-on, Update Scanner, comes in handy.

With this simple little add-on you can control how often each site will be scanned and which level of changes you want to be notified about (i.e. if just a few characters are changed you can set the add-on to ignore those).

What kind of sites are best to use with this add-on? Well, for me, I like to keep tabs on job openings at specific companies or government locations where I may be interested in working. I also like to check out the newest potential pets at the local Animal Control. Basically any site that infrequently updates their content but doesn’t offer an RSS feed is perfect to track.

If you try out Update Scanner, or already use it, share what you like to keep tabs on in the comments.