Speak Up To Get What You Want

Do you ever notice that some people seem to have no trouble getting what they want?  What is it about them?  Maybe they’re more confident.  Or smarter.  Or lucky.  Who knows?  While some of those things may be true, it might be simpler than that.  It could be that they spoke up.  Could it be that simple?  Would it work to speak up to get what you want?  It definitely can make a difference.

The Job I Didn’t Get

I got this lesson pretty early in my career.  In my first job out of college, I was on a technical help desk.  There were quite a few younger people.  It was a great place to get your foot in the door.

I did well.  Very well.  Not to toot my own horn, but I quickly became one of the model help desk agents. Other people sought me out for questions.  They’d ask technical questions or how to deal with customers.  It was a great feeling, especially for my first real job.

A few months in, an announcement came out that one of my colleagues had been made a team lead.  He was also in the group of people that were doing really well.  He definitely deserved it.  Still, I was a bit bummed.  After all, how did he get this advancement?

Well, it turns out, he spoke up!

After a few days of being a bit down, I went to the group manager.  I explained that while I was happy for my colleague, I was disappointed that I hadn’t been considered.

The manager looked at me and said that he didn’t know I was interested, because I’d never told him as much.

Right then and there, I told him that I was interested.  And you know what?  When the next team lead opportunity came up, guess who was given the opportunity?

That’s right, yours truly.

I learned the lesson that you have to ask for what you want.  You can’t just take for granted that someone knows what you want.

How else can this apply?  Let’s look at a few recent examples.

Missing Coupons

We do a lot of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  They have a rewards program where you clip coupons electronically,

image from Morguefile courtesy of WalterWhite

and then redeem them by entering your phone number at the register.  Every so often they give you personalized coupons, based on your shopping history.  These ‘just for you’ coupons are usually pretty good, since they’re based on items you frequently buy.

My wife got an e-mail with a few coupons, some of which of course were great for us.  But, when she logged in to her account, they weren’t there.  We waited a couple of days, but they never arrived.

Now, in cases like this, you can often forget about them, or just let it go.  That’s the easy thing to do.  But I wasn’t going to do that.  Nope, I decided to speak up.

I sent them an e-mail and explained the situation.  They wrote back and said that they were aware of a glitch in their most recent batch of e-mails, and said that in order to make it up, they’d added a flat $8 coupon to come off our next shopping trip.

This was awesome.  Looking at the coupons we got, we probably wouldn’t have used enough to get $8 in savings.  Plus, we can now save the money without having to buy the associated item.  We have more freedom and more money.  And, the only ones that got anything are the ones that decided to speak up.

That Time I Asked For A Raise

A few years ago, I’d had enough.  Our company made it through the recession without a lot of layoffs, but the tradeoff is that we went for quite a stretch without getting a raise.  I accepted this for awhile, but after a certain point, enough was enough.

I waited until I was in the middle of a key project, and then asked for a raise.  Without hesitation, they granted me the raise and gave me what I asked for.   Now, I know that a few others spoke up and also got a raise, but those who didn’t never got one.  At least not until the next wave of raises came out, but I got that too.

All because I wasn’t afraid to speak up.

Be Careful

You have to know when to draw the line.  You don’t want to speak up when the occasion isn’t appropriate.  For example, I knew that I could speak up about wanting the job because I was a solid performer.  I knew I could ask for the raise because I had gotten good reviews.  I also knew that the company was doing better and could afford the raise.  Faced with a situation when a job wasn’t going well, it’s best to stay quiet.

You have to take such things into consideration, or you’ll end up not getting what you want.  Plus, you could get the reputation of being outspoken, which might not be a good thing.  Still, if you learn to read the signs and the timing is right, speak up.  You’d be surprised at how often you’ll get what you want.

Readers, when have you spoken up and had something go your way?  Have you ever misread such a situation?

7 Ways To Save Money At The Drugstore

My wife and I were talking about drugstores the other day.  We tried to remember if they were always expensive places to shop.  I thought that they used to be a little more reasonable on everyday prices.  But, she wasn’t so sure.  Regardless of who was right, there is one fact that’s clear.  Shopping at the drugstore can be very expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be a place to avoid.  You can save money at the drugstore.  Here are some tips.

Sign Up For Rewards Programs

Rewards programs will often give you money back after a certain level of spending.  You can even get bonus rewards on certain items.  Just keep an eye on their weekly flyers.

Figure Out How The Rewards Program Works Best

Many rewards programs are pretty easy to figure out.  But there are some that take some time to learn.  If you take some time to research the rewards program, you can gather tips and tricks.  These can help you know how to really use them to your advantage.

Check Out The Flyers

Speaking of the flyers, make sure to look them over. While I’ve found that everyday prices on most items are higher than other stores, you can score some deals.  Many times they’ll have B1G1 offers that can help you save.

Go Online

Many times you can clip coupons to your reward account by going online or using an app.  This can double up savings on top of sales.

Use Regular Coupons

Some stores don’t accept manufacturers coupons.  Drugstores do.  Take them along.  In fact, you can often stack a coupon on top of a store coupon on top of a sale.  These triple savings can yield you some items practically for free!

Use Rain Checks

Drugstores, like every other store, will often run out of items that are on sale.  Sometimes I think they hol

image from Morguefile courtesy of lightfoot

d back on stocking sale items on purpose.  But, fear not, as many drugstores will issue you a rain check for out of stock items.

Look For Pharmacy Deals

Drugstores really want you to use their pharmacy.  If you do so to either fill a new prescription or transfer a prescription, this can mean big time rewards.

Readers, do you shop regularly at the drugstore?  Do you ever find deals?  What are your tips and tricks to keep money in your wallet at the drugstore?

Why We’re Spending $2,540 On Gift Cards In A Single Week

Over the past week, we have spent $2,540 on gift cards.  You might think I’m crazy.  I’m not.  Maybe we’re going nuts for Christmas this year?  Nope.  We’re actually cutting back.

So then why are we spending all this money on gift cards?  Because….we’re going back to Disney World!

What does one have to do with another?  Well, read on.  I’ll first go over the trip, then make clear why we dropped some serious bank on gift cards.

Recapturing The Magic

Long time readers might remember that we went to Disney World in 2015.  We had a great time.  During that trip, we stayed for eight nights.  We stayed at a deluxe resort.  We dined with a Disney meal plan.  It was a fantastic time with all of our family.

My wife is our trip planner, and from the moment we got back, she was planning our next trip in her head.  She wanted us to go while both of our kids were nine or under.  Why?  Because tickets get much more expensive after they turn ten.

We went on a fantastic spring break trip to Tampa last year during the kids week off of school.  We loved it so much that we booked the same rental for the same week in 2018.

It was early fall when my wife brought up the idea of modifying the trip so that we could go back to Disney World.  We looked through the numbers and made it work.

We’re still going to our rental place, but for five nights instead of a week.  Then, we’re going to Disney World!

Trip Variations

It’ll be different than last time in a few ways:

  • Length – We’re staying at Disney World for five nights.  It’s still a longer total trip, but less time at Disney made it more affordable.
  • Resort – Last time we stayed at a deluxe resort to get the best experience.  This time, we are staying at a moderate resort.
  • Dining – Instead of using the Disney meal plan, we’re paying our way.  We’ll still be eating at restaurants around the parks, but we think we’ll save money.  We found that with the meal plan (which was free as part of a promo last time), we were eating all the time.  We ate meals when we weren’t hungry because we felt we had to.  This time, we’ll eat less frequently.  Plus the kids can split meals and such.
  • Driving – We flew down to Disney World on our last trip.  Since we’re going to Florida near Easter, flight prices were not affordable for us, so we are driving.

Where Gift Cards Come In

It’s the holidays.  For some reasons, holidays find great deal on gift cards.  They mark them down so that you shop at the store.  So deals are bountiful and we took advantage.

Meijer

We do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  Now, Meijer has a whole display of gift cards.  You can buy gift cards for just about anywhere.  Amazon, Home Depot, Applebee’s.  And also Disney.

Meijer is running a special where, for every $100 you spend on gift cards, you get a $10 credit on your next bill.  Each person registered in their in-store rewards program can spend up to $1,000 to get this reward.

So, we each spent $1,000 on Disney gift cards and each got $100 towards future shopping trips.  By spending $2,000, we are getting $200 in groceries for nothing!

Target

This was another great find.  One day per year around the holidays, Target offers 10% off their own gift cards.  Each person can buy up to $300 in gift cards at 10% off.  You can then use those gift cards to buy other gift cards, including Disney cards.  So, we each bought $300 of Target gift cards for $270.  We then each ‘spent’ those on $300 of Disney gift cards.

Grand Total

So, when it’s all said and done, we spent $2,540 and ended up with:

  • $2,600 in Disney gift cards that we can apply toward our trip costs
  • $200 in Meijer gift cards that will pay for 2+ weeks of groceries.

By spending $2,540, which was money we were going to spend regardless, we ended up with $2,800 in spending power.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Offset

The only downside is that we lost a little bit of money on cash back rewards.  Had we spent the equivlant $2,540 directly with our travel agent, we would have gotten 3% cash back on our credit card.  That would have given us $76.20.

Our card gives us 2% cash back at Meijer, and 1% at Target, so we’ll end up with $45.40 in rewards.  So, while we’re gaining $260 in freebies, it does, in a sense, cost us around $30.  But we still come out ahead.  Plus, I always look at the cash back as extra, in that we never count on it.  So, either way we’re still coming out ahead.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with how things turned out.  I love when we can find ways to save on spending that would happen no matter what.

Readers, have you ever used gift card promotions as a way to keep money in your pocket?  Let me know what works for you in the comments below.  Thanks so much for reading!

Make Investing a High Priority in Your Financial Life

Some people are afraid to invest their money because they are afraid of losing it. Others are completely unsure of what investing their money entails and what it can do for them. Investing is a building block for a healthy financial standing if done properly and with some education. Don’t worry, you won’t have to go back to school! Today we are going to talk about ways to invest, why you should invest, and who to talk to get the assistance and understanding you need.

Leave Your Legacy Behind

We don’t think all too often about what happens when we pass on. Who gets your belongings? Who’s in charge of your funeral? Who is paying for everything? What will happen to your kids?

If you think we are about to talk about estate planning, you are right. More specifically, estate and succession planning. Investing money into our homes means that we can pass that on to our loved ones when we pass on. Retirement accounts will also require beneficiaries so that not only can they pay for your funeral, but they can have some left over to take care of themselves. No one wants to leave their children with mountains of debts and headaches so an estate planner and tax specialist is who you should employ to guarantee easier transition of an estate.

Build Your Savings

If you check around at interest rates for savings accounts, you will see that they are pretty dismal. When we are actively attempting to save our money for a vacation, much-needed home repairs, college fund for our children, or saving for an emergency fund, there are some low-risk options that can help you put aside some cash that will grow faster than your standard savings account.

Money market accounts are a popular option that offers a higher interest rate to grow your money. Most banks require a specific amount of money that has to be maintained in the account at all times. The great thing, and also the worse thing, is that your money is still accessible should you face an emergency and need it.

Certificates of Deposit are your next go-to for investing. You can purchase a certificate for as little as $25 at a credit union or $100 at a traditional bank. This money is not available to you during the maturation period. That will range anywhere from 90 days to five years, the longer the better because the high rate of interest is compounded annually (in some cases daily) and you can earn larger sums of money over time. If you are brand new to investing, this is a great way to get started. Who can help you with money market accounts and certificate of deposits? The financial manager at your bank will be the one who can educate you and guide you to the right option for your needs.

Retire With Ease

Retiring without any financial planning is an incredibly scary endeavor and one that all of us should avoid. No matter how close you are to retire, make sure you are investing your money into some kind of retirement account so that you have it later.

If you are working at a company that offers 401K, by all means, take that option. With just a small percentage taken out of your paycheck, you can build money for later. Consult with a financial advisor at the investing company they are paired with to learn more about the risks involved. Since 401K’s are stock and bond investing, you will need to learn low-risk, medium-risk, and high-risk options and how they can work for you.

Also, ask if your company does a matching program! If you are self-employed, check out Roth or SIMPLE IRA’s to invest your money in an easier manner. They both come with different tax options so you must talk with a financial planner or your CPA to ensure you are choosing wisely.

Investing often leads to strange money myths, like it’s too late to start saving, that inhibit us from making the most of our money. If you desire more money, you can do it with investing!

When To Make The Switch To LED Christmas Lights?

We got our decorating done this past weekend. Usually, we go in full force the day after Thanksgiving, but we decided to start a bit earlier this year.  We have a mix of LED Christmas lights and regular lights.  Pretty much everything inside is regular and outside is LED.

Benefits of LED

According to the site Holiday LEDs, there are many benefits of switching to LED lights, which include:

  • Much less energy use – They say that LEDs use about 90% less energy than traditional light strings.
  • Longer life – They say that the bulbs last 50,000 hours, which is up to 20 times longer than a normal set of bulbs
  • Safer – LED bulbs throw off a lot less heat than normal bulbs, which reduces the risk of fire caused by overheating
  • Easier to use – Many LED light sets do not suffer from the frustrating problem of a loose, missing, or broken bulb causing the entire line to fail.
  • Brighter – The LED lights typically emit a more bright, crisp light, so you don’t use as many lights on the tree.

Drawbacks

  • Price – The price has come down for LED bulbs.  Still, they remain higher than regular bulbs

    Image from morguefile courtesy of earl53
  • Performance – We replace at least 1-2 lines of outdoor LED lights per year. The bulbs might last, but the lines don’t.  I expect being outdoor lights, they won’t last as long.
  • Availability – Last year I saw quite a few stores carrying them, but most had a limited selection or were sold out quite early.
  • Color – We use regular lights inside because they’re much warmer lights.  The LED bulbs have made some strides. Still, they’re much more harsh lights.

We definitely see a bump in our electricity bill during the holiday months.  I think this would be higher if it weren’t for our mix of bulbs.

So far, our mix of bulbs seems to work for us.  I would love to switch more of our internal bulbs to LED lights, especially since we have one pre-lit tree that now needs lights strung over about 80% of it, since other lines have burned out. I think it will take a while. Maybe in a few more years we’ll get there.

Readers, have you made the switch to LED yet?

The One Way Our Christmas Budget Fails

We have most areas of our Christmas budget down to a science.  Saving is pretty easy.  We estimate our spending, divide by twelve, and set aside an equal amount each month.  That works out great.  Sticking to the budget works, for the most part.  But there is one area that we still can’t get right.  Tracking our spending is the one area where the Christmas budget fails.

I Can Track Just About Anything

Every year, when Christmas shopping starts, I start off filled with hope. For what, you ask?  Well, hope that I can finally get the tracking down to a science.

This should be pretty reasonable, after all, considering I have a pretty solid tracking system.  I have a spreadsheet where I track all spending.  Want to know how much we paid for electrical service in 2011? I can find that out.  Curious about what our new roof cost back in 2013?  I can track it to the penny.

But what did we spend for Christmas last year?  Well…..that all depends.

Why The Christmas Budget Fails

See, tracking Christmas spending is just a failure.  It starts off good, but usually by 10am on Black Friday, it’s done. Why?

  1. Multiple People on the same bill – We budget our spending by person that we have to shop for.  This sounds easy but when we have multiple people show up on the same shopping trip, it’s difficult.
  2. Shopping within the household – You’d think that we could just go line by line and break things up.  In theory, this works.  But, in practice it doesn’t.  If my wife buys something for me on any other bill, I can’t see it.  In fact, she puts those purchases on a credit card that I’m not allowed to track.  Therefore, I can’t even match an actual charge to the budget.
  3. Returns – My wife loves to buy that perfect gift for someone.  And, then she finds something even more perfect.  So the original perfect item goes back.  Of course, when she returns the item at the store, she’ll sometimes buy something else for someone else.  Confused yet?  Yeah, me too!
  4. Non holiday spending – Unfortunately, we don’t just buy Christmas gifts every time we go out.  If we buy a gift for someone at Target, chances are good that we also bought something we need for someone in our family.  It’s not like we can just add up the receipt totals.  Nope, that’d be too easy!
  5. Amazon Purchases – We buy stuff from Amazon all the time.  This includes holiday gifts.  So, not only to do we sometimes have gift and non-gift purchases on the same order, sometimes we’ll have a bunch of orders that are charged that have nothing to do with Christmas.  And, since they bill as they ship, it’s not as easy as just checking against your orders list.

What We Do

In the end, I try.  Every year, I try for a couple of days.  Honestly, though, usually by Cyber Monday I’m done.  By then, things are already off the rails.  I try my best try.  But, in the end, here’s how it works:

  • Estimate – We keep running estimates of what we spent on each person
  • Total It Up – We total up these estimates, and track them against our credit card statements.
  • Give It The Sniff Test – If our credit card totals and our estimates line up within reason, we call it good.
  • Pay the bill – We apply the Christmas Budget savings toward the credit card bill.
  • Call it done!

In the end, this isn’t the best system.  But it is what we have come up with, and it works.  We always feel we’ve spent within our budget.  It’s just that we can’t exactly say how we did it.

I suppose that if we tried hard enough, we could get to the bottom of it and get that detail.  But, I’m just not sure it’s worth it to be truthful.  I’d say we’re probably 90% accurate, which I would have to chalk up as good enough.  As maddening as it can be the moment I ‘give up’ tracking, it ends up being OK.

And, honestly, having the money available is what gives us the luxury to be a little bit lax and feel OK with it.  Another reason I’m glad we save money throughout the year for Christmas.

Readers, how do you track your spending?  Do you track to the penny?  If so, how do you do it?