5 DIY Projects Not Worth Doing Yourself

Today's post is a guest post by Isabella York.

In today's financial climate, it is often attractive to try to save money by doing things yourself that you would normally hire professionals to do. But is this always the best way to go?

To figure out whether to do it yourself, you need to figure out your opportunity cost or "the cost of passing up the next best choice when making a decision." (Investor Words) To do this, you will need to ask yourself some questions in order to decide if you should bring in the professionals. Here are several important considerations:
  • How much am I worried about the quality of the job? Will it cost me more in the long run than I will save by doing it myself?
  • Is there anything that I could be doing with the time that it will take to complete this project that would earn more money than it will cost to hire someone to do it?
  • What equipment will I need that I do not already have and what will that cost me?
With these questions in mind, let's look at some examples of things we may want to do for ourselves which may not yield the time or money savings we would like.

  • Replacing carpeting.   This may seem like a great weekend project, but consider the steps necessary to accomplish it:
    • Remove the old carpet and padding amidst a cloud of dust and dirt -- I hope you remembered to cover up your furniture.
    • Haul away the old carpet and padding.
    • Take care of any problems with the sub-flooring -- problems which a professional will likely be ready and equipped to fix.
    • Install the new flooring.
    • Don't forget that you will need specialized equipment like carpet stretchers to make sure there are no wrinkles in the carpeting, either now or in the future. Once you add up your time, equipment, and inconvenience, you'll wish you had called that carpet layer to begin with.

  • Legal documents.Inexpensive software packages abound that allow you to draft your own contracts, wills, and trusts. Lawyers, on the other hand, are expensive. But are the potential legal problems worth the savings that you may get by drafting these documents yourself?

  • Taxes.Using software or websites, it is easier than ever to do your taxes yourself, but nothing can replace the value that comes from working with a tax advisor who can help you find those extra loopholes and deductions you may not know about. A couple of hours with a tax professional rather than a couple of days of pouring over tax laws will save you money and frustration.

  • Car repairs.With the complexity of today's cars, it just doesn't pay to try to do many of yesterday's simplest repairs by yourself. One example is rotating tires. Many of today's cars have air pressure sensors, which can cause some aggravation when you are left trying to figure out how to turn off the dashboard light informing you that one or more tires has low pressure. An oil change is a similar situation in which your savings are minimal once you purchase the supplies, any tools you need, invest the time to do it, and wash all the oil off yourself! It’s probably worth the $19 you’d spend at the local oil change shop.

  • Home additions.Are you thinking of adding a room on to your home, either for convenience or to potentially increase resale value? Does the renovation involve more than a new paint color for your bathroom or switchplate for your outlets? Unless you are knowledgeable with electrical installations, plumbing, drywall, etc., it is wise to call a professional. There are so many things that can go wrong -- from miswired appliances to roofing issues. The cost of fixing the resulting problems from a bad job can easily be more than calling a professional builder in the first place.

    There are some cases where doing it yourself will save you time and money, but plenty of others where you are just better off calling the professionals in to do it for you. Don't mistake frugality for wisdom; know when to make the call that will save you both time and money.

    About the author of this guest post:
    Isabella York is a mother dedicated to living prudently but not giving up her life in the process. Along with raising her son, she works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of artificial Christmas trees.

     Creative Commons photo by Robert S. Donovan

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  • About 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Coupons

    Recently I had an article published called 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Coupons. Judging by the emails I received and the blog and message board posts that my article prompted, my article apparently touched a nerve with a lot of folks.

    First of all, let me say that my article was in no way meant to insult people who use coupons. My goal was simply to present an opposing view and consider a few points that maybe some people don’t consider when using coupons. Coupons are always presented as good, so I thought it would be interesting to look at reasons why they might not be good for some people.

    Some of you have done your research and noted that I have previously written in favor of coupons, and are wondering if something caused me to change my mind. Here’s that story: I saw Coupon Mom on Oprah about a year and a half ago. I had never used coupons on groceries before watching her show. For the most part, I shopped at grocery stores that did not accept coupons. I also did not have a newspaper subscription. So grocery coupons were really not a part of my life.

    I became intrigued by the concept of combining sales with coupons and store loyalty cards to get discounts of as much as 75% on my groceries. I love a good bargain. I had to try it. I bought a Sunday newspaper and it had a flyer for a year’s subscription at a discounted rate. So I signed up to have the newspaper delivered to my house so I could get the coupons every Sunday.

    For a year, I avidly followed the Coupon Mom method, and I wrote a few blog posts about my successful shopping trips using her method. I absolutely agree that there are a lot of good things about using coupons and that many people can save a lot of money using them. I also absolutely do NOT believe in paying full price at the grocery store. The regular prices just seem too high to me.

    But for me, overall, I felt that using coupons was causing me to buy foods that weren’t what I really wanted to be eating. I felt like I was spending a lot of time clipping and organizing my coupons, that my grocery shopping trips were taking longer than usual, that I wasn’t ending up buying the foods I really wanted to eat, and that my monthly grocery expenditures weren’t improving. Yes, I was saving money, but overall I didn’t feel like I was coming out ahead—the time I spent and the dissatisfaction with the food I was getting seemed to outweigh the dollars I was saving.

    That’s what sparked my article on reasons why you shouldn’t use coupons. I stand by that article—I feel that for some people it may be better to pursue other methods of getting discounts on groceries. Coupons might not fit their shopping preferences, or the limited amount of free time they have (for me, as a small business owner, free time is very scarce and valuable) might be a deterrent. So for the most part, I am returning to my old methods of saving money on groceries.

    There are lots of ways to save money on groceries without using coupons. These include shopping at international markets, shopping at farmers markets, shopping at discount grocers, and more. I’ve written about these methods in the past.

    I think there is an aspect of saving money on groceries by using coupons that goes beyond simply saving money—there is an element of pride in beating the system, in getting a great deal on something, in providing for your family for as little money as possible and being able to put the money you saved toward something else. I don’t deny any of these things. I’m as excited as anyone to get six tubes of toothpaste for 75 cents because I used coupons. And, despite what my article might have lead you to believe, I DO still use coupons—but I have been mostly using the coupons that come in the store ads, because it takes less time.

    I’m flattered that so many people read and responded to my article, and I thank you for all of your comments. Many of you pointed out things like internet coupons and other tips that have worked for you, and that might work for others as well. There was an overwhelming amount of response, much of it constructive, and I hope that you didn’t take my article as an insult to your couponing and shopping habits, because I didn’t mean it that way. I simply wanted to point out that for some people (mainly people who are pressed for time and people whose time is directly linked to their income, like self-employed entrepreneurs), the extra time and effort might not be worth the savings you can achieve with coupons.

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    9 More Ways to Save Money on Wedding Catering

    Catering is usually one of the most expensive components of a wedding reception. Part two of this two-part series will give you even more ideas for reducing your wedding catering costs. (Make sure to also read part one, 8 Ways to Save Money on Wedding Catering.)

    1. Say no to cake-cutting fees. Some caterers will charge you extra to cut your wedding cake. In some cases this fee is to encourage you (that's putting it nicely) to go with their cake, which doesn't carry a cutting fee. In other cases, it's just a way to charge you more. Yes, it takes time and effort from servers plus extra dishes and extra dish washing to serve cake. But not all caterers will charge you for this additional service, so why not go with one who does it for free?

    2. Cork the champagne-pouring fees. Equally avoidable are champagne-pouring fees, which seem especially egregious since they only require one extra glass (that you've probably already paid a rental fee for) and a few extra minutes of servers' time.

    3. Keep the cocktail hour food simple. It's true that tray-passed hors d'oeuvres can be less expensive because the servers are effectively limiting how much food each guest can eat by offering only one piece at a time. However, it takes effort to prepare hot appetizers and servers to pass them around. For less-expensive options, think cold appetizers like raw fruits and vegetables and cheese and crackers. Some caterers offer these for a very reasonable price; if yours doesn't, look into purchasing platters from a grocery store or putting them together yourself.

    4. Do it buffet-style. Buffets can be less expensive because they require fewer servers. Even a manned buffet may only require two servers to portion entrees; the guests can serve themselves the side dishes. A few additional servers can circulate the dining room, pouring drinks and clearing dishes. Compare this to the number of servers required to bring everyone multiple courses at the same time and clear plates between each course. And many guests actually prefer a buffet over a seated dinner because it gives them more options and lets them choose what they are hungry for at the moment instead of having to choose months in advance.

    5. Choose pasta or barbecue. These are two good options for feeding the masses inexpensively. The down side is that, well, most people know that these are inexpensive options, and especially if your guests are coming in from out of town, you want to treat them right. But if the food is delicious, they probably won't care. Wouldn't you rather be full on cornbread and brisket than craving McDonald's after eating a 4-ounce beef Wellington with a side of sautéed spinach?

    6. Use disposableware. Using paper and plastic instead of renting china and silver can cut your costs. It isn't as elegant, of course, and sometimes it just won't do, but you might be surprised by how nice looking some disposableware is. Just make sure you can see what you'll be using before you agree to it. Also, know that you may be able to rent low-end "real" plates for the same price or even for less than purchasing fancy disposableware (which can cost $1 per item—that adds up fast).

    7. Don't hire servers. This is an extreme measure that will only work for casual weddings, but if you can get by without servers, you'll save big. Many restaurants and caterers offer what is called "drop-off service," where they will prepare the food at their location and then drop it off hot at your wedding in disposable trays. Your guests will have to serve themselves, and your friends or family will have to clean up, so this option is probably only viable for a casual wedding, but you will save hundreds of dollars.

    8. Provide your own soda. A caterer may charge $1.25 per person for all-you-can-drink sodas. This price might sound like a good deal, but think about it. Not all guests will drink sodas, and how many sodas will the average guest who does drink a soda consume during a six-hour reception? Will your 100 guests consume $125 worth of soda? If you bought your own soda on sale at $2.50 for a 12-pack, you could buy 600, 12-ounce cans of soda for $125. Your 100 guests aren't going to drink 6 sodas each. Buy 25 cases of soda, spend $62.50, and you'll probably have extras that you can drink yourself later. You can also probably offer a wider variety of options than the caterer would, if you wish.

    9. Provide your own alcohol. You know how when you go to a restaurant you'll pay $7 for a glass of wine when you could buy the whole bottle of the exact same wine at the store for the same price? By working with a caterer who allows you to provide your own alcohol, you'll not only avoid paying a markup, you'll also be able to choose any price point that works for you—even wine that costs $2 a bottle. You can also choose whatever brands and flavors you want. Why pay $700 for 100 glasses of wine when you could pay as little as $34 (6 glasses per bottle, 17 bottles at $2 each)?

    Don't feel pressured to do your catering a certain way because of what you've experienced at other people's weddings or because a relative or caterer tells you "that's how it's done." Remember that you're really just buying dinner and drinks for a whole lot of your friends and family. Think about what they will enjoy, what will suit the tone of your reception, and what price per person seems reasonable to you. Then you'll be able to choose the best and most affordable catering option for your wedding reception.

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    Unclaimed Property--It's Not (Usually) a Scam

    Have to ever seen advertisements telling you that you may have unclaimed property that a state government is holding onto for you? Whenever I saw those commercials, I thought, yeah, right. If I were missing a bunch of money, I'd know about it! Also, as recently as last year, I looked myself up at one of those sites that I saw Suze Orman recommend. Of course, I didn't have anything to my name, though apparently my late grandfather was owed about 90 cents.

    Fast forward to the end of last year, and I get an email from my brother, who has recently checked one of these sites and found that I, in fact, have unclaimed property. I think, yippee, there's a $2 check out there somewhere with my name on it. But I go to the website and look myself up and sure enough, I have unclaimed property. And though the website won't tell me the amount, apparently it's in excess of $50! I do some poking around and notice that the highest amount the website will divulge appears to be this mysterious "in excess of $50." (And my grandfather still hasn't collected his 90 cents--what is he thinking?)

    To claim my money, all I have to do is fill out a simple form with my name and address--and include a copy of my driver's license and Social Security number. This is where you obviously want to be very careful that you're dealing with a legitimate source. I did some research online to cross check that I was, indeed, about to mail my information to the State of Missouri and not to someone who wanted to steal my identity. They said I would receive my check within 90 days.

    After a couple weeks, I received a notice in the mail that my claim had been received. Still no word on how much I was owed or what the money was from.

    After a little less than 60 days, I receive a check in the mail. Since I know it's going to be for more than $50, I'm expecting about $50.01. So imagine my shock and exhilaration when I see a three-digit number--I had $222 in unclaimed property, now all mine on this wonderful piece of paper.

    And still--no explanation as to what it's for!

    So I have no idea what this money is from. My best guess is that it's a state tax refund from when I was in college. I worked all through college, I moved around a lot, and I never had my mail forwarded when I changed addresses. I was also out of the country for a good six months while I studied abroad in Spain. So it's quite conceivable that I could have missed a tax refund check. It stuns me that I could have had that much money owed to me and not noticed it was missing, but even though I have always been diligent with my money (and even my parents' money, when they were helping me), I didn't always write everything down like I do now. Now I do things like mark my Outlook calendar with "should have received MO unclaimed property by today." I keep a detailed spreadsheet for invoicing my clients. I write down every penny I spend and every penny I earn. I even write down when I find money, as long as it's paper. How could I have not noticed so much money missing for so long?

    So what am I going to do with my found money? Well, my fiance, of course, wants me to spend it on something fun. It is, after all, found money and there's no reason I couldn't justify blowing it on whatever. But no, I am going to put it in the bank. The value of peace of mind is worth more to me right now than more stuff. Taken another way, I look at that check as X hours of work I don't have to do if I put it in the bank instead of spending it. The free time is also more valuable to me than more stuff.

    If you'd like to see if you have unclaimed property using the same website I used, here's the link: www.unclaimed.org. Click on your state and the site will take you directly to that state's unclaimed property webpage. Every state has an unclaimed property division, and you can also usually find a link to your state's unclaimed property division directly through your state's website (try looking for the state controller's page (sometimes called comptroller instead of controller) if you can't find the unclaimed property page). Make sure to look your name up through the state website of EVERY state you've ever lived in--otherwise, you might miss something.

    The New York State Comptroller's website provides guidance on how you might missing your money in the first place:

    "How do accounts become unclaimed?

    Did you ever...

    • Move without notifying everyone with whom you do business of your new address?
    • Open a school savings account as a child or for your own child and then forget about it?
    • Move without getting your utility deposit refund?
    • Forget to cash a health insurance check?
    • Neglect to cash interest or dividend checks on a security?
    • Leave a job and never go back to get your last paycheck?

    In cases like these, your money is eventually turned over to the State."

    According to the State of California, the most common types of unclaimed property are the following:

    • Bank accounts and safe deposit box contents
    • Stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and dividends
    • Uncashed cashier's checks and money orders
    • Certificates of deposit
    • Matured or terminated insurance policies
    • Estates
    • Mineral interests and royalty payments
    • Trust funds and escrow accounts
    Getting back to my post title, are there illegitimate unclaimed property websites out there? Isn't there an illegitimate version or twenty of everything on the Internet? (Yes.) So always use caution when working with one of these sites. Don't give out your personal information until you're sure it's going to the place you intend it. Also, if you receive an email advertising that there may be unclaimed money in your name, don't trust the email--it's probably spam. Definitely don't click on any links in the email. Don't allow a third party to "handle" the process of finding your unclaimed money for you, and definitely don't work with any site that wants a cut (like 15% of whatever unclaimed property they find in your name). Even if the company is legitimate, why give them a cut of the money when it's so incredibly easy to do the work yourself?

    Good luck!

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle

    eBay Is Changing Its Fee Structure--Again

    Is it just me, or are you tired of eBay changing its seller fee structure every few months? As an occasionally eBay seller, mostly of brand-name clothes that I find myself not wearing because they don't fit quite right, I feel like I've barely gotten used to one change when the fees change yet again. It seems like the overall trend is for insertion fees (the up-front fee you pay when you list an item) to go down, while final value fees (the fee you pay when the item sells) are going up. (I haven't carefully analyzed this statement, it's just my general impression as it applies to the stuff I sell most often.) This strategy seems designed to attract new sellers to eBay by marketing the site as a no-risk way to try to make some extra cash. Perhaps that's a good idea, but it's driving me, an eBay user of ten years, a little bit crazy.

    The newest changes will take effect March 30. It will become free to list up to 100 items per month using the auction format and a start price of less than $1. I know this is supposed to be the way to go when you sell on eBay, but I don't like listing my clothes for 99 cents, because sometimes they sell for 99 cents, and then I'm losing money. The final value fee is increasing to 9% with a cap of $50 per sale.

    eBay says that "For most sellers, the new fee options will bring significant savings with dramatically reduced upfront cost. Across the board, Insertion Fees are being dramatically reduced. Final Value Fees for Fixed Price listings are for the most part staying the same." Let's calculate if that will be true for me. I like to list items with a start price of $4.99 to $9.99 and they usually sell for about what I've listed them at.

    Here are the current fees:

    Auction-style listing fees

    Your first five single-quantity auction-style listings to be listed on the site in a 30-day period have an insertion fee of $0.00 for eligible categories.* (See Insertion fees for more information.) These $0.00 insertion fee listings also have a final value fee per listing of 8.75% or $20, whichever is lower. Additional listings within the 30-day period and multi-quantity listings are subject to the following insertion fees and final value fees.

    Current Insertion fees: Auction-style listings

    Starting or reserve price

    Insertion fee: Books, Music, DVDs & Movies, Video Games

    Insertion fee: Other categories

    $0.01 - $0.99**



    $1.00 - $9.99



    $10.00 - $24.99



    $25.00 - $49.99



    $50.00 - $199.99



    $200.00 - $499.99



    $500.00 or more



    Currently, I'm paying nothing on my first five listings per month and 35 cents per listing thereafter. I've been taking advantage of this fee structure by only listing 5 items a month and if they don't sell, waiting until the next month to relist them. (Maybe eBay doesn't like that.) If my item sells for $9.99, the final value fee is 8.75%, so my total fee comes to 87 cents per item if I list five items for $9.99 and they all sell for $9.99. This is an oversimplification, yes, but my real numbers are pretty close to these.

    Now let's see what will happen to me under the new fee structure:

    New Insertion fees: Auction-style listings (effective March 30)
    Starting Price Insertion Fees
    $0.01–$0.99 FREE!*
    $1.00–$9.99 $0.25
    $10.00–$24.99 $0.50
    $25.00–$49.99 $0.75
    $50.00–$199.99 $1.00
    $200+ $2.00

    Under the new fee structure, if I continue to list five items per month with a starting price of $9.99, I'll pay $1.25 to list them plus 90 cents for each item that sells (9% final value fee). Clearly, this new fee structure does not benefit me. If I keep my selling behavior the same, I'll pay an extra $1.40 a month to sell 5 clothing items with a start price of $9.99 and a final value of $9.99.

    Well, economics is all about incentives, so how might eBay be trying to use its new pricing structure to give me an incentive to change my behavior?

    -eBay would like me to list more than five items per month.
    -eBay would like me to list my items with a start price of 99 cents.

    eBay thinks I will be more successful this way, and that, therefore, it will also be more successful. The more I sell and the higher my final value fees, the more money eBay makes.

    But, since I don't want to list my clothes for 99 cents, eBay is instead giving me an incentive to hurry up and list all the clothes I want to sell before March 30.

    For complete details on the new fees, visit eBay's fee update page.

    What's your take on the new eBay fees?

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle

    Swaptree: A Great Way to Save Money on Books, CDs, DVDs, and Video Games

    Have you heard of Swaptree? It's a newish website that facilitates trading books, CDs, DVDs, and video games with people across the country. There's no fee to join and no fee to trade. The only thing you pay is media mail shipping costs, which are about $2.50 for most books and about $1.50 for most DVDs, CDs, and video games.

    I've been using the site for about two months now. It started off slow and I wondered if I had wasted my time listing about 20 books and CDs. Then all of a sudden it picked up and I've been completing about two trades a week ever since with only 20-30 items listed to trade. If you have more stuff available that other people want, you could trade even more. By contrast, it will cost you at least $3.50 to get a used book on Half.com or $4 on Amazon, and that's only if the book costs 1 cent and you choose media mail shipping.

    You can import your Amazon wishlist to Swaptree, and that's exactly what I did. Because of swaptree, I've gotten a lot of books that I've been wanting for months but haven't wanted to pay $8-$10 for. Occasionally you'll even find new items on Swaptree.

    So how does it work? The Swaptree site can do a better job of explaining the details than I can, but basically, you type in the UPC code or ISBN for each item you want to trade, select what condition it's in from a drop-down menu, then add any notes describing the item's condition (like "highlighting on some pages"). These all go in the "Items I Have" list. Then you create an "Items I Want" list. You can do this by importing your Amazon wish list or manually typing in the title of each item you want to acquire. The system then automatically finds matches between your two lists and everyone else's to create two- and three-way trades. Then when you log in to swaptree and look at your "Items I Want" list, you'll see a "Get it Now!" logo that you can click on to initiate a trade. Clicking that button notifies each potential party that a trade is available, and when all parties have accepted, tells each party where to mail the item. If any party isn't satisfied with the condition of the item they'll potentially be receiving, they can reject the trade.

    To learn more about how Swaptree works, visit this page.

    Hat tip: My Money Blog introduced me to Swaptree (and about a million other things that have saved me money over the years).

    (Disclaimer: I know this post kind of sounds like a plug, but I don't get anything from writing about Swaptree. I just think it's a great service.)

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle

    10 Reasons to Use Your Credit Card

    My latest Investopedia article, 10 Reasons to Use Your Credit Card, explains why paying with credit over debit or cash doesn't have to be a bad thing. Credit cards offer perks like signup bonuses, cash back, investment rewards, frequent flyer miles, and points that can be redeemed for a variety of items like gift cards and travel. Credit cards also offer increased safety, a grace period to pay for your purchases, universal acceptance and help you establish credit. Of course, all of these benefits assume that you pay your balance in full and on time and don't carry a balance that you have to pay interest on. Click here to learn more about how credit cards can help you as well as a few exceptions that make it better to avoid them.

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle

    How to Get a Good Deal on an Engagement Ring

    Yes, I'm a woman, so I guess I shouldn't know as much about engagement ring prices as I do. But I got to pick out my own engagement ring, and I'm a bargain hunter, as you know. Here's what I learned during two crazy weeks of visiting jewelry stores almost every day in search of the perfect ring at the perfect price. These tips might give you some ideas for getting a deal of your own. (This article is written for women who are also picking out their own rings on a budget, but if you're the significant other planning to give the ring as a surprise, these tips will still help you.)

    1. Don't buy diamonds. You have to be a bit untraditional to go this route. But remember, the finger you wear it on is just as important a symbol of your engagement as what the ring itself looks like. Diamonds are incredibly expensive--even the tiny ones. Compared to the cost of a diamond ring, you can probably afford pretty much anything you want if you choose a different stone. If even these options are too expensive, you can look at their lab-created counterparts (like lab-created rubies). If you want the look of diamonds, there's cubic zirconia and moissanite. If you don't want to go the fake route, there's rubies, sapphires, emeralds, aquamarine, you name it. However, if you want to use a nontraditional stone in your engagement ring, be aware that most of the rings jewelers sell with these stones do not look anything like engagement rings (you don't usually see a solitare emerald ring, for example) so if a certain design that mimics and engagement ring design is important to you, you may have to get a custom design. (Don't worry--custom jewelry is not inherently more expensive than pre-made jewelry.)

    2. Shop around. Many stores inflate their prices like crazy and then put everything "on sale." This can make it hard to compare prices across stores. At every store where you find a ring you like, ask the sales person to give you their business card and write on the card the specifications of the ring you're interested in (metal type, the 4 Cs, and the actual price) so you can accurately compare prices when you get home. (As an added bonus, asking for a business card gives you a polite way to exit the store if you're not good at saying no.)

    3. Don't obsess over color and clarity. Almost all diamond rings sold in the store are clear, sparkly, and beautiful. Only the occasional ring will have yellowy, dull stones. If you pick out one of these subpar rings, the jeweler will almost always tell you because they want you to buy something nicer (and more expensive). So it's not likely that you'll accidentally buy something subpar. No one who sees your ring will ask you what the clarity is, anyway, unless they're really rude. So as long as you can't see any imperfections with your naked eye, don't worry about it.

    4. Don't buy on the spot. Always sleep on your decision so you don't get sucked into paying more than you planned.

    5. Don't fall prey to high-pressure sales people. Certain stores are very high pressure and want you to make a decision immediately. Personally, I find this sales tactic rude and off-putting. If you really have the best quality stuff, don't you think I'll realize that and come back to you on my own?

    6. Don't go shopping with your significant other--go with your mom. The sales people know your mom isn't going to buy your engagement ring, so when they see you shopping with her, they will know that you're just looking and not going to make a purchase. While you'll probably still get some sales pressure, it won't be nearly as bad as if your fiance is there. (If you're a man, this tip still applies--pretend like your mom is looking for a new ring that she's going to ask your dad to buy her for their anniversary.)

    7. If you're on a budget, swallow your pride and say so. Why waste your time and the sales person's trying on rings you'll never own? Plus, you don't want to develop a taste for something you can't afford, as this can lead to dissatisfaction with what's available in your price range. No sales person is going to give you an inexpensive ring to try on unless you ask. And if you're too proud to ask for an inexpensive ring, say you're looking for something small and dainty, because smaller diamonds will usually be less expensive.

    8. Consider Walmart. Seriously. They have a huge selection of diamond rings and you can order them in almost any size to be delivered in just a few days. (By contrast, many brick and mortar jewelry stores will expect you to wait 6 to 8 weeks for a special order ring if you wear a size that's too far outside the norm, and on top of that, the ring won't be returnable because you special ordered it.) The only catch is that most of these rings aren't available in the store, and there's no way to know if you'll really like a ring until you've seen it in person and on your finger. But as long as you can return the ring, why not give Walmart's online jewelry sales a try? Their prices are excellent and some of their diamonds are even certified.

    9. Don't write off the importance of the experience. Shopping for an engagement ring should be a pleasant experience. It will become part of your engagement memories. So don't buy your ring from a place that makes you feel lousy.

    10. Ask your friends if they have a hookup. You'd be surprised how many people "know a jeweler" once you mention that you're shopping for an engagement ring. Some of your friends may have had their rings custom made and gotten a deal that way, but you might not know unless you ask.

    11. Look for jewelry stores that are going out of business. I can't promise that the economy will still be this bad by the time you read this post, but you never know when a jewelry store might be going out of business. Just be aware that some stores mark up their prices before they slash them for going out of business sales, so don't look at the percentage off you're getting, but at the quality of ring you're getting for the final price. In the case of going-out-of-business sales, it is true that there may only be one of the ring you're looking at, so the pressure to buy on the spot can be high. Also, any store that's going out of business will not offer a warranty or service plan on your ring, so your lifetime cost of owning the ring may be higher.

    12. Consider the total package. Established jewelry stores will often provide a free lifetime warranty with their jewelry. You'll have to take the ring in every six months to get it examined, because if anything is going wrong with your ring, the jeweler wants to fix it before your diamond falls out. The six-month policy might be a pain, but these warranties will often replace any stones that fall out of your ring, fix loose or worn prongs, size your ring, and replate your white gold ring (which will eventually turn light yellow because it is coated with rhodium to give it that silvery color). Yes, all of this stuff will be included in the price of your ring. Just remember that any store can go out of business at any time, no matter how long it's been around.

    13. Get a solitaire ring. You can get away with a lower total carat weight when you get a single stone than if you get a ring with three or more stones. 1/4 carat is an okay size when it's a single stone; when it's spread out, it looks kind of pathetic. Yes, most women want more than a quarter carat on their finger, and most men want to buy their women something impressive. But if you're on a budget, you might be able to make due with a quarter carat solitaire ring, whereas when you see a quarter carat three-stone ring, you'll think it was made for your baby niece.

    14. Try wholesalers. Their prices can be lower. I shopped at one wholesale store and they offered full lifetime warranties with all their rings, the prices were great, and the staff was very friendly and low key. The store was located in a nice shopping center; there was nothing sketchy about it. Shopping wholesale doesn't have to mean going to a bad part of town and shopping in a dingy warehouse from a fly-by-night operator.

    15. Try pawn shops. Personally, I wasn't comfortable with this option because I felt that I would have no way of knowing if I was buying a real diamond or getting taken for a ride. Also, I wanted a very specific style of ring that presented some sizing problems because I have very small fingers. But you can find plenty of stories of people who bought their rings at pawn shops and then had them appraised for much more than they paid.

    16. Don't buy individual stones. These are for people who are obsessed with the 4 Cs. Yes, the diamonds are nicer, but they're also dramatically more expensive than the ones that are already set in the ring. Plus, it's often hard to tell what the actual ring will really look like when you're buying the stone and the ring separately.

    17. Your ring is not an investment. Do you hope to one day sell your engagement ring to turn a profit? I doubt it. Then don't pay more for your ring or buy more expensive, higher-quality diamonds because you're thinking of it as an asset that will appreciate in value. It may very well appreciate, but if you don't sell it, you'll never benefit from that appreciation. At best, your possible children might benefit from it after you're gone, but you'd probably prefer that they hung onto your ring as a family heirloom, right?

    18. Perseverance pays off. Yes, doing all this legwork is exhausting, but engagement rings are so expensive that putting in the effort can really slash what you pay or get you a great ring for a killer price. Also, the ring is just the first of many expenses you will incur in the process of getting married, so you don't want to blow your budget when you've hardly started. That being said, remember--if all goes well, you'll be wearing this ring for the rest of your life! You might as well love it (though for some of us, loving it includes loving the price tag).

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle

    Save Money by Buying Clothes on eBay

    Wool, angora, cashmere--it seems like these materials make up at least 5% of every winter sweater, and they make me itch like crazy. Why is it so hard to find a nice cotton or acrylic sweater?

    After about two months of trying to expand my winter wardrobe with no success, I turned to eBay. Not only does eBay have a better selection of non-itchy sweaters than any other store I've found, the clothes can be a great deal since used clothing has little resale value.

    I ended up buying a total of nine sweaters at a total cost of $97.66, including shipping (in fact, the shipping was more expensive than a lot of the sweaters). That came out to an average price of $10.85 per sweater. It's hard to get a sweater at a store for that cheap even on clearance at the end of winter.

    Of course, when I buy clothes on eBay, I have to take into consideration that I can't try them on before buying them and I can't return them. In my experience, whenever I buy clothes on eBay, I end up only liking about half of them (I've gone on similar eBay clothing sprees with jeans and slacks). This time, I only liked and actually wear 5 of the 9 sweaters I bought. So I really had to spend $97.66 to get 5 sweaters, meaning they cost about $20 each. Not quite as good of a deal. But still worth it to me, given how hard it is to find a 100% cotton sweater.

    If you want to try buying clothes on eBay, I do have some tips for minimizing the number of bum purchases you end up with. I haven't always followed these in the past, and that's how I've ended up with some items I don't actually wear.

    1. If the seller doesn't list the item's measurements, request them. If you're buying pants, for example, take the measurements of your favorite pair of pants and compare those measurements to whatever pants you're interested in buying. Just because something is the size you normally wear and even the brand you normally wear doesn't mean it will fit. In fact, even if you buy, say, a different color of an item you already own, it might not fit. One of the sweaters I bought recently had shrunk in the wash and was too small. If I had asked the seller for measurements, I would have known that the sleeves would be too short and I could have saved some money.

    2. Immediately resell the items you don't like to recoup some of your money. eBay lets you list 5 items a month for free, so you have nothing to lose but a little bit of time. Do it while you watch TV.

    3. Don't buy an item with subpar photos. This is probably so obvious that I don't even need to mention it, but don't get so caught up in the idea of buying something that you put your better judgment aside, buy it anyway, and hope for the best. Either ask the seller to email you better photos or skip the item.

    4. Stick to familiar brands. It seems like no matter what size, some brands just don't fit some people. Maximize your chances of getting something that fits you on eBay by only buying brands that usually fit you.

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    Post by Amy Fontinelle