Extreme Couponing or Just Plain-Old Couponing?

My brother, future sister-in-law and a few friends decided to start a couponing club. They’ll be sharing coupons and trying to get the best deals on the necessities for their lives. By pooling their coupons, they can buy items in bulk, which is great for non-perishable items like toiletries and paper products.

But will it work? Only time will tell.

Extreme couponing takes a lot of time and energy. You have to match coupons to sales, which can eat up most of your free time. It usually requires a number of trips to different stores. And what’s on sale isn’t necessarily what you need.

I used to be an avid couponer — nowhere near “extreme” level, but I paid a lot of attention and would go to difference stores to get what I needed more cheaply, especially cat food and litter. But since the birth of our daughter three years ago, my couponing time has dwindled. Partly because I’m working more and partly because I’d rather spend my free time with our little girl. Another variable is that there were fewer and fewer sales on the items we regularly use.

I still collect the Sunday coupon flier, but I find that I’m not cutting out as many as I once did. It’s difficult to match up coupons with sales prices lately. I just try to make smart purchases and use coupons when I can. But I’ll admit there’s a pile of fliers on our dining room table that I haven’t touched in a month, and I’m sure half of the coupons expired two weeks ago.

Has anyone else been having trouble with couponing lately? Is it that the deals and the coupons don’t match up, or that you don’t have the time to expend on couponing?

A Penny Floor: A Man, a Woman and 60,000 Pennies

Pretty incredible — this Chicago couple wanted to redo the floor in their bedroom, and decided to do it with pennies! Check out the story and pictures on their website, The Penny Floor, because they’re pretty incredible.

Ryan Lange and Emily Belden glued nearly 60,000 pennies to the floor BY HAND.

Ryan Lange, ThePennyFloor.com

Ryan Lange, ThePennyFloor.com

 

The pennies are worth more than the $600 face value — these folks actually glued down two rare pennies instead of cashing them in!

It looks pretty cool, but it’s not something I’d consider as a decor point.

Payroll Tax “Increase” Isn’t Obama’s Fault

I don’t usually get too political — it’s just not in my blood, I suppose. But after two weeks of hearing people complain that “President Obama raised payroll taxes,” I have to say my piece.

Maybe I’m too literal, but President Obama did not “raise” taxes.  Congress passed a “payroll holiday” two years ago, lowering employees’ Social Security contribution from 6.2% to 4.2%. It was a temporary measure aimed at injecting more money into the economy — the thought was that more spending money would equal more spending. It was supposed to help stimulate the economy. Did it do that? I don’t know.

Then the “fiscal cliff” came in December 2012, and it was only through bipartisan legislation, passed through both the House of Representatives and the Senate (both Democrats AND Republicans) that extra spending cuts and more taxes were avoided. Unfortunately, the so-called “payroll holiday” wasn’t extended as part of this legislation.

From a story by the Associated Press (not CNN, Fox News or MSNBC), Fiscal Cliff Avoided, Bipartisan Legislation Passed by U.S. House and Senate:

“A 2 percentage point temporary cut in the Social Security payroll tax, originally enacted two years ago to stimulate the economy, expired with the end of 2012. Neither Obama nor Republicans made a significant effort to extend it. [emphasis mine]

So yes, President Obama signed the legislation presented to him. While he may not have made the move to ask Congress to extend the temporary payroll tax cut, he didn’t directly restore the Social Security payroll tax to its original rate. Our elected representatives in Congress did.

I’m not a diehard liberal. I’m obviously fiscally conservative. I just don’t like when people jump to conclusions without looking at the facts.

Do you agree that it was Congress? Or do you think it’s the president’s fault? Comments from both sides of the aisle welcome below.

Tax Season Means Tax Refund (For Us, at Least)

It’s that time of year again, when many personal finance bloggers start telling folks that it’s better NOT to get a big refund when they file their taxes. While I agree with the theory, it’s not my personal preference. I’d rather let Uncle Sam hold onto “my” money and then get it back in a nice, big chunk that’s direct-deposited into our bank account.

But not all personal finance bloggers think getting a tax refund is a bad thing. For those who suck at saving money, it’s a way to automatically keep that money aside, then get it in one big windfall come tax season. Sometimes, you have financial needs that are better met with a little extra in your paycheck each week. Either way, there’s no real right or wrong answer. It comes down to personal preference.

Tax Refund – Pros

If you’re like me and work more than one job, you might want to keep the number of exemptions on your W-4 at “0” — any more than that, and you could wind up owing Uncle Sam come April. I pay my own taxes on my freelance gigs, so I don’t want to get caught short.

Others like knowing that they’ll get a “windfall” each year. Homeowners tend to get the biggest refunds, thanks to deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes. And here in New Jersey, those two costs can really add up. Getting about 1/3 of it back each year is a minor consolation for our high costs.

Tax Refund – Cons

Right now, savings accounts barely pay interest, but on a nice chunk of money, you could get $50-$100 a year on money that would otherwise be held by the government. Some people in this economy really need the extra funds in their paychecks to pay their bills, while hard-core investors prefer to take their chances on the stock market moving in their favor.

And then there’s the “don’t let the government keep your hard-earned money!” argument.

In the End

It’s up to you whether or not you want to adjust your W-4s to minimize (or maximize) your tax refund amount. But before you make a big move, gather some of your financial information and check out the IRS withholding calculator. It’s estimating that we’d get back about $7,000 as a tax refund next year. Since our salaries are holding steady for 2012, let’s see if this year’s refund will be about that much. In the past two years, it’s been a few thousand dollars less because of my freelance work. But I’m not complaining.

Do you like getting a tax refund, or do you adjust your withholding so your refund is minimal?

Bally’s Total Fitness Rep Lies About ‘Free Year’ of Membership

Today, a co-worker of mine, who I’ll call “Dee,” told me a crappy story about her experience at our local Bally’s Total Fitness gym, to which we both belong. Both of us had been members of the gym before getting pregnant, and now that we’ve had our little bundles of joy, we still go because it’s located very close to our office building.

About two years ago, Dee got another of our co-workers to sign up for a gym contract — and the sales guy told her she qualified for a ‘free year’ of gym membership once her current three-year contract was up. This perk stemmed from Dee bringing the Bally’s some new business. She asked how the gym would award the freebie, and the sales rep said it was automatically given at the end of her current contract. Sounds like a great deal, right?

Wrong. Turns out, it was a very shady tactic.

Now that Dee’s three-year Bally’s Total Fitness gym membership is up, she wanted to know when her free year would kick in. The current employees just looked at each other and flat-out told her that the sales guy lied — there was never such an offer at Bally’s. They claimed that the guy lied to a number of Bally’s gym members and say he was fired for his disturbing lack of ethics.

Unfortunately, she got nothing in writing from this slimeball. At least she wasn’t scammed out of money, although she thought she’d be saving a full year’s worth of membership dues (money she really could use now that Baby No. 3 has arrived).

A quick Google search finds a few other alleged instances of this happening at other Bally’s locations (check out this similar Bally’s complaint).

My advice: If you’re promised something by a company — especially if we’re talking about free stuff! — GET IT IN WRITING!

Tips for Staying Cool During a Heat Wave

We’re in the middle of a heat wave here in the Northeast. It’s been in the mid-90s for days now, and it’s going to top 100 degrees for the next three days, if the weather forecasters are to be believed. I know lots of folks deal with this hot weather for much of the year (Nevada and Arizona, I’m lookin’ at you), but that’s out in the fabled “dry heat” area of the country.

Come to New Jersey, and enjoy our famous high-humidity summers. July and August can make you feel like you’re in a sauna 24/7. For all the attitude we throw out at you, we’re total wusses when it comes to dealing with the heat.

Unless you don’t mind inside temperatures soaring into the 80s, scorching temperatures mean scorching electric bills. I don’t know anyone who refuses to put on their air conditioner once it regularly reaches the upper-80s around these parts (even a cheapskate like me). But there are a few things I do to stay cool and to keep from losing my mind when the electric bill comes in each month.

1. Keep the air conditioner on — but at a higher temperature. It doesn’t have to be set at 60 degrees all day and night. I find that I’m comfortable at night with the temperature set to 76 degrees (yes, you read that right). That’s because the air conditioner counteracts the humidity in the air, making it feel even cooler in the bedroom. The air conditioner in Baby Frugalista’s room is also at 76 degrees at night during these warmer summer months.

2. Close the blinds and curtains. Why let in all that unwanted heat? I draw the drapes and pull down the shades in my house most mornings in the summer to keep the sun from shining into our rooms. This works especially well if you have heavy and/or energy-efficient curtains that are better at keeping your home cool in the hotter months.

3. Skip hot meals. Don’t add to the heat by using the oven or the stovetop. Microwaves throw off less heat, but hot food makes you feel hotter. Stick with cold foods such as sandwiches, gazpacho, or fruit.

4. Go find some “free” air conditioning. Walk around a mall or a local big-box retailer and enjoy THEIR air conditioning while getting some exercise (just don’t spend a ton of money while you’re there, because you won’t be saving ANY money). Be sure to shut off your home A/C before heading out of the house!

5. Try a cool washcloth. Run cold water over a washcloth or soak it in a bowl of ice water. Put it on your forehead or on the back of your neck to temporarily bring down your body temperature.

Do you have any other tips for staying cool during a heat wave?

Little Bites: A Frugal Snow Day

Since I was stuck in the house after yet another snowstorm here in New Jersey (19 inches this time, on top of the foot or so that was still on the ground), I didn’t spend any money today. Instead, I worked from home and then spent some time mending holes in a few socks, followed by sewing up a rip in my favorite pair of maternity jeans (for, oh, the fourth time!).

Yes, the fourth time. I love these suckers, made by Motherhood Maternity, but the material is crappy and thin. First, I got holes at the corner of the pockets. But this time, it was a rip in the groin area — not a good look. I sewed it up tight since I really didn’t want to put a patch there. Just last a few more weeks, please!

As for the socks, Mr. NSF asked me what the hell I was doing. When I told him I was sewing up the holes made by my overly long big toe, he rolled his eyes, laughed, and told me to just buy new socks. I can only make the man so frugal, right?

Bedroom Renovation: (Almost) Finished

In other news, our bedroom renovations are now complete — I’m very excited about that! Mr. NSF and his dad will clean up the room this weekend and apply the primer coat to the walls and ceiling. There are 3 closets that need to be painted, which will be a pain. This time, I won’t be helping, though. My job is to get blinds and curtains. Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty helpless at this point. I was scraping spackle off the floor with a putty knife taped to the end of a pole — with one hand and minimal force — and I got yelled at. “You don’t need to do that!” No, I don’t, but I gotta do SOMETHING. Oh, and I may or may not have wired an outlet or two last night…

I’m getting pricing on wall-to-wall carpeting for the upstairs, and I hope that can be done in the next 2-3 weeks, because our bedroom furniture (and the baby’s) is currently all in the baby’s room, and it’s getting closer and closer to “go time.”