I'm Famous!

Today, I'm a guest writer for one of my favorite blogs, Get Rich Slowly. Check out my article on how to get what you want simply by asking for it here. Many thanks to J.D. for this opportunity.


Self Employment via eBay

For the last year or so, I've had a vague notion of wanting to be self-employed, but truthfully, I don't have a good idea of how to go about doing it. I have a vast liberal arts background, but virtually no business education or experience. Since I live in an expensive city and have yet to buy a home, I have a hard time imagining making enough money on my own support the lifestyle I want to live. You could argue that since I don't yet have a mortgage, this is the right time to take that risk, but when it comes to money, I'm just not a risk taker. For me, money=freedom, and I have no desire to jeopardize my freedom.

I'm an extremely introverted person, so any business I run would almost surely need to be internet-based. Being introverted means that spending a lot of time around other people is exhausting, so sitting in front of a computer by myself all day strongly appeals to me. So one idea I'm currently toying with, which has crossed my mind before, is being an eBay Power Seller.

I've only read one chapter of eBay Power Seller Secrets so far. I've learned that a Power Seller is someone who makes at least $1,000 a month and has a feedback score of 98% or higher. I'm not sure if selling products is the right niche for me because I'm not a big consumer, but I know that whether I choose to pursue the power seller path or stick with my current tendency to sell an item on eBay every couple of months, I will learn some valuable tips from this book.

Here are a few key points I've picked up:

-Your customer feedback rating is key to attracting customers. Unlike the feedback you get as an Amazon seller, where you only get feedback ratings when you sell items, whenever you make a purchase through eBay (or Half.com), the seller has the opportunity to leave feedback on you. Generally, if you pay for your item quickly, you'll receive positive feedback. Customers often won't pay attention to whether your positive feedback rating came from buying items or from selling them. So if you want to quickly build a solid reputation for yourself, start purchasing everything you want or need through eBay or Half and pay promptly.

-Don't sell items you aren't familiar with. If you don't know your merchandise, you won't be able to accurately describe products and answer customer questions. You also won't price items correctly, which can leave you vulnerable to selling valuable items for less than they are worth or not selling less valuable items that you've overpriced. If you really want to sell something you aren't familiar with, the least you should do is check completed auctions to see how other sellers described items like yours and what they sold for.

-Don't sell items whose condition is questionable. You don't want your customers to be disappointed when they receive their purchase in the mail. This will lead to negative feedback, which will deter future customers from bidding on your auctions.


Saving Money at the Dentist

Dental hygiene may not be the most savory topic, but you only get one set of (adult) teeth, and they're awfully expensive to fix if you don't care for them properly. Unfortunately, I have a lot of firsthand knowledge on this subject, but with any luck, I can prevent you or your kids from sharing my fate.

My teeth have soft enamel, which basically means that by the time I was 20, I'd already had more than my share of fillings, plus a root canal and a crown, even though I don't think my dental habits were any worse than the average person's. However, I had braces as a child, and if you've ever had braces, you know how difficult it is to keep your teeth truly clean. (Of course, nowadays, there seem to be ways for kids to avoid braces altogether, like Invisalign and oral surgery.)

What I learned from my experience is that taking good preventative care of your teeth will save you a fortune. I brush my teeth a minimum of twice a day, more often if I've eaten a lot of sugar, and I never miss a night of flossing. Dental floss is incredibly cheap compared to the price of a filling.

If you have children, and particularly children with braces, teaching and enforcing excellent dental hygiene will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars down the line and will save your child hours of agony in the dentist's chair. I only wish someone had been stricter with me when I had braces. Flossing with braces is a time-consuming ordeal, but I'm sure it would have been better than getting over 20 fillings in the span of a few years (on a single visit I once showed up with 11 new cavities!), enduring the excruciating pain of an abcess for a week, and having a root canal. I even broke a tooth once while on vacation because cavities had weakened my tooth so much. Imagine having to wait a week to see a dentist and in the meantime having to patch a gigantic hole in your tooth with a makeshift product from the drugstore. Yuck! Despite never missing a regular six month dentist visit for a thorough cleaning and checkup, my daily habits, or lack thereof, really destroyed my teeth.

If that's not enough to convince you to take care of your teeth, consider that a single cavity can cost $160 or more to fill and a root canal+crown can cost $800 or more. Dental floss costs as little as $2 a pack at Costco and lasts for weeks. Also, not flossing can often be the hidden culprit behind chronic bad breath. If you have a significant other, they'll probably be greatly appreciative of your flossing and more likely to get cozy with you.

Since I adopted my new dental hygiene habits, I've spent a lot less money and a lot less time in the dentist's chair. When I was a kid, it was difficult to get the floss between your teeth and it almost always made your gums bleed. These days, dental floss is comfortable and easy to use--Glide is my favorite brand. If you start flossing regularly, your gums might bleed at first, but don't be alarmed--it's normal, and it will go away quickly as your gums get healthier.

I'm going to go brush my teeth now!


Toaster Ovens

A good way to save on your energy bills is to use a toaster oven. If you're making a small pizza or you just want to bake a few cookies, you'll save a lot of time using this method as well since you don't have to wait for a full size oven to preheat. I also like to use a toaster oven to reheat a lot of my food because microwaves can make things soggy or, in the case of bread, stale. Toaster ovens also serve the function of a toaster, of course, so you don't need to own both. You can purchase a basic toaster oven at Target for about $30. Make sure to purchase one with a built-in timer and automatic shutoff or you will end up forgetting about and burning a lot of your food (I speak from experience!).


Saving Money on Pet Ownership

Pets can be expensive. I've read articles detailing just how much they can cost over the course of a year or a lifetime, and the costs can be significant. It's all about balance, though. You can cut back on other areas of spending to make pet ownership affordable. Also, I think that any pet owner will tell you that you can't put a price tag on the amount of joy and companionship a pet can bring into your life.

The first step to saving money on pet ownership is to adopt. There are so many unwanted pets out there that need a home and are available for free that I don't think it makes sense to pay for one. Unfortunately, some top-dollar pets are produced by unscrupulous, unethical people who treat animals in a way that would horrify any animal lover. By paying for a pet, some consumers actually unwittingly contribute to animal abuse. When you adopt a pet from a shelter, you do exactly the opposite.

If you want more than one pet, getting two of the same kind (i.e. two cats) will help save you money because both pets can share the same food, supplies, and toys. You'll also give your pets a playmate and constant source of companionship.

Just like with any other regular purchase in your life (like toiletries), look for coupons and sales on items like pet food and stock up when you can get the items at a good price rather than waiting until you really need them and will likely get stuck paying the highest price. If you regularly visit the same pet store, sign up for their newsletter to receive special coupons.

I don’t buy my cats toys anymore since they are more interested in playing with the trash than the toy. Crinkly paper, bags, and empty boxes provide lots of fun for the cats. They also like Q-Tip sticks (I remove the cotton first) and milk jug rings.

Another tip: Shots are expensive for cats and most vets will tell you that they need them every year, but there is a strong theory that they only need them every few years (at least, if they are indoor-only cats). Don't take my word for it though because I'm not a vet--do your own research before making any major decisions about your pet's health.


The Cost of Being Sick

I've had a cold recently. Normally when I get sick, I do nothing but get extra sleep and wait for my body to heal itself. However, with the holidays so close at hand, I've felt compelled to get well so I don't disappoint anyone who is expecting to see me this Christmas.

It pains me how expensive just a simple cold can be. Here's a rundown:
Sudafed - $4
Nyquil - $4
Tylenol - $4
Cough Drops - $1
Sudafed PE - $4
Afrin Nasal Spray - $9
More Sudafed - $5
Mucinex - $13
Saline Nasal Rinse - $13
Doctor Visit Copay - $35
Parking at Doctor - $2

Total Cost: $94

As often happens when buying medicine, I ended up wasting some money. I wasted the Afrin because my doctor advised against using it (it causes rebound congestion) and I wasted the Sudafed PE because it didn't help me. Overall, I tried to minimize by costs by using up all my existing medicine before purchasing anything new and waiting out my cold for a good week before going to the doctor. I could have saved around $5 if I'd been willing to purchase store brands of Afrin and Sudafed.

I'm lucky that I'm a salaried employee and didn't also lose money for the days of work I missed.

Photo by zingersb


Saving Money on Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper is one of those items you don't need to ever pay full price for as long as you do some simple advance planning. Each year at after-Christmas sales, you can purchase what will become next year's Christmas wrapping paper for a fraction of its original price (as much as 75% - 90% off). Within the Christmas wrap you can also find discounted ribbon for both Christmas and the rest of the year (silver and white match almost everything) and wrapping paper that will pass as non-holiday paper (last year I got one that had a shiny blue and green striped pattern).

I also recently found some $1 gift wrap at Goodwill so I picked up a couple rolls.

Finally, when I receive a gift, I save and reuse any gift bags, tissue paper, ribbons, and wrapping paper that don't get destroyed in the process of opening the gift.

Christmas sales are just a couple of weeks away, so don't forget to hit the store and stock up!


Saving Money on Furniture

There's no reason to pay big bucks for furniture. While finding secondhand furniture can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, it can save you thousands of dollars.

The recliner pictured here cost me $50 at Salvation Army. It's a La-Z-Boy in nearly perfect condition that would have cost me a few hundred dollars new. I also found a nearly new couch for $50, and paid someone $40 to transport them to my apartment in their pickup truck and move them in for me.

Along the way, I had a near miss (a couch I wanted that someone else bought before I could find someone to move it for me) and many frustrating visits to thrift shops where there was nothing good available or the items I liked were overpriced (I couldn't fathom spending $500 on a couch at a thrift shop). It can be difficult to find items that are nice, cheap, and match your decor. In the end though, I'm glad I went to the extra trouble. Even the cheapest full sized couch at Ikea costs $400.

As an added bonus, when you make a purchase from a store like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or St. Vincent, your money will go to a good cause. That's socially responsible spending at its finest.


Saving Money on Frappucinos

I really like Starbucks’ frappucinos. But they cost almost $4 per drink (and most have 300+ calories, depending on what size and flavor you order and whether you add whipped cream). Though the bottled frappucinos that you can buy at the grocery store don’t have the same flavor or texture, they do stave off my cravings for the most part and get me four drinks for the price of one.

However, I’ve found an even cheaper way to satisfy my tastebuds.

Brew several cups of coffee, using 1T of grounds for every 6oz of water.

After the coffee has brewed, add 1T sugar and 1T half and half for every 8oz of coffee and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Refrigerate and enjoy! This recipe has a little less cream and sugar than the bottled frappucinos, but I always thought they were too sweet and creamy so I’m actually happier with my homemade version. This recipe has about 100 calories per 12 ounces, while the bottled frappucinos have 200 calories per 12 ounces and a long list of somewhat unidentifiable ingredients. With this recipe, you not only save money, you also make a healthier eating choice.


Best Personal Finance Primers

These are the books I read when I was just starting to learn about personal finance. I found all of them to be easy and fast reads and simple to understand.

The Secrets of Wealth by Fabio Marciano
A basic overview of everything you need to know about personal finance.

The Only Investing Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
A basic overview of everything you need to know about investing.

Mutual Funds for Dummies by Eric Tyson
If you're still confused about index funds after reading the two books above or just want to better understand what you're doing with your investment money, check out this guide.

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker
Learn about the false assumptions you have about money and wealthy people that may be holding you back in your own quest for financial security and freedom.


Does a Home Garden Really Save Money?

Genovese basil

I think it's a common conception that growing your own food saves money. After all, you can get 30-50 seeds for $2-4 and grow 30-50 edible items from that. That's practically free food, right?

First, you need to factor in the cost of gardening supplies. For a small container garden like the one you see here, the costs are as follows:

Garden spade - $4
Fertilizer - $6
Organic insecticide - $6
Four bags of dirt - $32
Three bags of Perlite - $24
Nine large containers - $0 to $90
20 small containers $0 to $10
12 packets of seeds $0 to $40
Watering can - $0 to $10
Gardening book - $25

In my case, the total cost of my container garden so far has been $195, and it has produced lots of basil, about 30 peas, nine cherry tomatoes, and one zebra tomato. You don't have to be a math genius to realize that my container garden has been a money pit. However, a lot of the costs are start-up costs, and if my garden is more successful in the future, I might get closer to breaking even. There are many ways to reduce your container garden costs, however, and I wasn't aware of all of them when I started out. Here are some important money saving tips:

Fertilizer and insecticide: not essential. In fact, these haven't helped me at all. I wouldn't buy them again.
Dirt: wait for a good sale and buy a bunch. Shop around to see if a small local nursery or a large chain has the better prices.
Perlite: Same goes for Perlite, though I'm not sure it's necessary.
Containers: Especially if you live in an apartment complex, keep an eye on the alley. Where I live, people throw out flower pots and large plastic containers all the time (you'll need to drill drainage holes in the containers, but that's easy. If you don't have a drill, borrow one). Also ask friends for containers and hit thrift shops. If you can't scrounge up everything you need with these methods, most nurseries will sell you cheap black buckets. There's no need to spend $10 and up more per container unless you're really concerned with aesthetics. I can't believe how much these new containers cost!
Small containers: These shouldn't cost much, but they can be free if you save yogurt cups and use those. Don't forget to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.
Seeds: You can save money on seeds by saving seeds. This doesn't always give you useable seeds though, so you'll need to do some research if you want to go this route.
Watering can: This one is easy. Just save a plastic milk jug and use that. If you don't drink milk, buy something else that comes in a jug and when the liquid is gone, you'll have your free watering can.
Books: Borrow from the library. However, you may find it necessary to have a book that's always around that you can refer to whenever you have a problem. That's why I bought one.


Experiment: Turning a Profit on Ebay

<I recently purchased these shoes at Goodwill. They look brand new, or close to it, are a designer brand (Kenneth Cole Reaction) (designer by my standards, anyway), and were only $6 for the pair (they probably cost $60 or more retail). I normally recognize that a good deal isn't really a good deal when you aren't going to use it (the shoes were too small for me), but this seemed like a good way to experiment with buying something at less than its value and attempting to make a profit reselling it.

Of course, only about half or less of the shoes listed on Ebay actually sell, as far as I can tell, and these shoes are not New In Box, or even New - No Box. They are Other. I'm listing them for $0.99 or $15.00 Buy it Now with a shipping fee of $7.00 so that at a bare minimum I will pretty much break even if I manage to sell them.

I am fully aware that reselling shoes on Ebay is not the way to riches, and that the time I'm putting into this is probably better spent on something else, but I feel compelled to run this experiment anyway. I also realize that these shoes may not even be in style which would reduce the value I see in them (I am pretty disconnected from the fashion world).

I have a love-hate relationship with Ebay in that I historically have only sold about half or less of what I've listed. Also, I only win a few of the items I bid on because someone, somewhere always seems willing to pay way too much for the stuff I'm interested in. Why is that?

Update: I ran my shoe sale from the Sunday before Thanksgiving until the Sunday after Thanksgiving--not necessarily the best time to list items. On one hand, people have holiday shopping on the brain. On the other hand, many people are traveling and away from their computers.

I was very happy with the result, though. My shoes sold for $18.50! That's quite the profit. I'm feeling inspired to try another experiment. I wonder what I'll find on my next Goodwill trip?


How I Saved $120 at CVS

Where I live, Savon Drugs, possibly the most wretched drugstore I've ever visited, has been switching to CVS. In the process, they've been cleaning up their stores, lowering everyday prices, and giving out tons and tons of fantastic coupons. If you haven't gotten any coupons in the mail or in-store, you may be able to snag some on eBay, especially the $30 gift card with prescription transfer coupons.

The first set of coupons I collected from CVS came in the mail. I got a flier for three coupons worth $5 off a $10 purchase and a coupon for a $25 gift card if I transferred a prescription or brought in a new one. I noticed that many other people in my apartment complex had tossed out these fliers, so I nabbed them from the mail recycling pile, giving me a total of 12 $5 off a $10 purchase coupons. For quite a few days (until I got sick of it and ran out of things I needed), I went to CVS and purchased exactly $10 worth of goods (before taxes, Extra Care savings or manufacturer's coupons. After the goods were rung up, I presented my $5 off $10 coupon, any manufacturer's coupons I had, and my Extra Care card, which is CVS's customer loyalty card that entitles the user to certain sale prices not available otherwise. On each trip, I came away spending only $3-5 for a bag full of loot that I would normally pay full price for.

I wanted to make this opportunity really worthwhile, so I stuck to purchasing essential items that I buy anyway (mostly toiletries and a few groceries), deciding to stockpile them while I could get them at a discount so I wouldn't have to shop for them or pay full price for them later.

A couple of weeks later, a new coupon came out for a $30 gift card with a prescription transfer. Since I hadn't picked up my prescription yet, I used the $30 gift card coupon instead of the $25 one. I also snagged a $5 off a $20 purchase coupon from the newspaper and some store coupons that CVS was handing out. I used all of these along with my gift card to get an unbelievable amount of stuff totally free.

All in all, here's what I got. At regular price, these items add up to about $165 before tax. By carefully planning each purchase to take advantage of sales, coupons, and my gift card, I acquired all of this stuff for $45, a savings of $120. Given that CVS sells many items for higher prices than I normally pay (I buy all my toiletries at Target), I'd estimate that I probably truly saved more like $100.

Additionally, as part of CVS's Extra Care program, you earn 2% back on all non-prescription purchases. Not including the purchases I made in December, I've earned $1.35 in cash back.

Prior to this experience, I thought coupons were a waste of time and effort. Now I've been converted and have started taking advantage of all sorts of other coupons that come my way.

My CVS Spoils and their regular, non-sale, pre-coupon prices:

1 Sunsilk conditioner - $4
29 zone bars (a type of protein bar) - $38
1 Package of 5 cloth headbands - $6
1 Herbal Essences shampoo - $4
1 CVS brand Pepto Bismol - $3
1 Box of 10 candy canes - $1
1 Large pizza - $6
1 Red nail polish - $2.50
1 Tom's of Maine toothpaste - $4.20
1 Pantene conditioner - $4.50
3 Dove deodorants, 2.6 oz - $10.50
1 CVS brand Cetaphil - $7
1 Half gallon ice cream - $6
1 Marshmallow pumpkin - $1
1 Loreal Vive shampoo - $4
1 package gummy worms -$0.50
2 bars Dove soap - $3
1 ten pack fun sized Kit Kats - $1.50
2 bottles contact solution $16.60
1 vo5 shampoo - $1
1 Garnier Fructis shampoo - $4
1 Herbal Essences conditioner - $4
1 twelve-pack Coke - $4
1 prescription - $10 (with insurance coverage)
1 Pantene shampoo - $4.50
1 large body wash - $7
1 package of 4 razors - $1

Grand total, before tax*: $165
Actual money spent, including tax: $45

For those of you who may take moral issue with this type of deal-getting, my advice is to not engage in it. However, my personal stance is that if CVS makes all of these coupons available, they have to assume that people will use them. Every coupon I used was a legitimate, original coupon.

*Calculating sales tax on these purchases is not worth my time because not all items were taxed and coupons affected the taxable totals. I've already tossed most of these receipts, too.


Saving Money with Coupon Codes

I recently purchased two domain names through Go Daddy. I know that they sometimes mail out coupons with Amazon packages, but I didn't have one on me, so I did a quick Google search for "Go Daddy coupon codes." I found quite a few codes, including the one I used for $2 off each domain name. A search that took me about 30 seconds saved me $4. That's $8 I don't have to earn.

Searching for coupon codes isn't always this fruitful - often the codes I find through a Google search are (very) outdated. When this method doesn't work, I find that Dealcatcher is a good site for finding up-to-date deals and coupon codes.