Why I Fought to Save Three Bucks (and Why You Should Too)

On Friday I visited Office Depot for school backpacks at the killer price of $2.99. Along with other loss-leader school supplies, they'll be donated to a local social services agency. At the checkout, I handed over a "20% off all backpacks" coupon from an Office Depot mailer. The cash register wouldn't accept the coupon. "These are already on sale so the coupon won't work," the sales clerk said.

I noted, politely, that the coupon did not say "not good on sale-priced items." The cashier tried again. No dice. "It's not letting it go through," she said, and waited. I got the distinct impression she wanted me to say, "Oh, that's OK." But I wasn't going to say that, because my belief is that a store should honor its published offers.

She called a manager, who told me the coupon wasn't intended for sale items. I again pointed out that nowhere on the coupon did it say that. This started off a 10-minute dance between manager and consumer over what would have been a $3 discount.

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Saving at the supermarket: 15 great grocery shopping tips

I Have Too Much OatmealKris and I went grocery shopping this weekend. We stopped at Bob's Red Mill — a local health-food store — to use some "buy one, get one free" coupons. "You can get anything you want," Kris told me, "except hot cereal."

"Why can't I get hot cereal?" I asked. "I love hot cereal."

"I know," Kris said. "But you buy it all the time. You buy it faster than you eat it. Just last week, you bought another box of that blueberry oatmeal from Trader Joe's. You never remember what we have at home. You need to shop with a list."

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Cheap vacation: Be a tourist in your own hometown

Last weekend, long-time GRS reader Vintek came to Portland. Kris and I joined him and his wife for a Saturday morning culinary tour. On our four-hour trek, we visited a bakery, a cooking store, and a brewery (where I drank beer for the first time — seriously). Along the way, I saw places and learned things about the city that were new to me. Afterward I realized how fun it would be to actually spend a weekend touring Portland as if I didn't know anything about it, as if I were visiting it for the first time.

With record gas prices and soaring airfares, a hometown vacation is a great option for frugal folks. Last fall, Mrs. Micah noted that hometown tourism can save money and sanity because:

  • You can save big on hotel rooms by not having any.
  • You can pack meals from home.
  • You save gas and other travel expenses.
  • You stay in your comfort zone.
  • You can use your knowledge of the area to pick cheap attractions.

But you don't have to pinch pennies if you don't want to. You'll still save money even if you stay in a nice hotel, dine in fancy restaurants, see a show, and take a couple of tours. Because you have no travel costs, and because you're familiar with the area, your vacation dollars go further in your own city. Continue reading...

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The art of frugal living

Christine just sent me a National Public Radio story about the frugal artists of New York City. Columbia University recently released a study of 213 visual artists over the age of 61. Their average income? $30,000 a year. According to the NPR story:

Most of them said they were satisfied with their lives. However, many reported that they also have had to make daily economic compromises. They don't eat out, buy clothes at flea markets and rarely travel.

Many of these artists manage to make it in New York through frugal living. All they seem to need is some food, a roof overhead and the time and opportunity to practice their art.

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The benefits of barter

This is a guest post from Andréa Coutu.

So you've got big ideas but no way to pay for them: a home renovation, weekend getaway, successful business, dream dinner date, leaner body, new bedroom suite...the list goes on and on.

Maybe your bank account has seen better days, or maybe you just don't want to tie up more money in pursuing a dream. Well, money is just one medium of exchange. By using barter, you can tap into a range of goods and services — all without spending a dime. Continue reading...

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Bargain Summer Vacation Destinations

My recent series of interviews with author Tim Ferriss has given me the travel bug. I find myself plotting grand vacations (or mini-retirements). But I don't have the money to spend on a trip to London or a cruise to Alaska. My sights are set a little lower.

Fortunately, several recent articles have addressed this subject. On Sunday, The New York Times published a list of 31 places to go this summer.

"The summer of 2008 is starting out like a cruel joke, with air travel increasingly a nightmare and with wildly escalating gas prices threatening to make the road trip all but obsolete," the authors write. "The summer vacation is still an inalienable right, however. And there is no reason to forgo it this year. It will just take a bit of creativity — and perhaps the willingness to stay a little closer to home this time around — to pull it off in 2008."

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How to save hundreds by playing the drugstore game

This is a guest post from Cathy, who writes about family finances, cooking, and parenting at Chief Family Officer.

I love the philosophy of getting rich slowly by doing the fundamentals: spend less than you earn, pay off debt, and invest wisely. One way that I save money is with what I call The Drugstore Game.

The Drugstore Game involves combining manufacturer and store coupons, and taking advantage of a store's best deals. When played at the highest level, the Drugstore Game requires only a couple of dollars out of pocket each week to keep you and your family stocked on necessities like toiletries, paper goods and even groceries.

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A real millionaire next door

Kris and I love our neighborhood. People are friendly and helpful, yet mostly mind their own business. It's a perfect combination. One of our favorite neighbors is the old guy next door. Let's call him John.

John is a 71-year-old retired shop teacher who lives in a modest ranch house on half an acre, the same house he's had for over forty years. He has an old barn filled with salvaged lumber, outdated appliances, and who knows what else. When he's around, he drives a junkie 25-year-old station wagon. But most of the time, he's not around.

He spends his winters in New Zealand helping friends on a dairy farm. His summers are spent fishing in Alaska. For a couple of months each year, he's home, puttering in the yard. Year-round, he rents his house to boarders. He leads a very active retirement.

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Wedding registries: A love-hate relationship

The practical side of me loves wedding registries, and the values-driven side of me has grown to loathe them as brides and grooms seem ever bossier. Registries are nothing new, of course. We registered for gifts in 1973, and as a result received two lovely sets of china and ten place-settings of silver. Beyond that, it was open season: we received all sorts of gifts we had not designated. Most we used, a few we actively hated, and many we came to appreciate and even love over time. (Regifting hadn't been “invented” back then.). From the point of view of the brides and grooms, wedding registries have many upsides. But let's look at it from the perspective of the gift-giver.

Pros and Cons

The pros of a gift registry are:

  • Efficiency. You can order the gift and you're done. The store ships it and you don't have to wrap it, schlep it, or even buy a card.
  • The couple picks what they want, and you know your gift is to their taste, which is especially helpful if you hate shopping or don't know the couple well enough to key in to their life style. Easy. Done.

From my point of view, the negative list is more extensive:

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