This guest post is by Haley Drummond.
When I decided last May to leave my comfortable, full-time job and go to graduate school, I wasn’t thinking too much about finances. “It’ll all work out,” I said to myself. “Isn’t it more important to be happy and feel like you’re moving forward in life than to have extra money for premium cable?”
Ah, yes. But silly little me was not entirely prepared for the difference between having extra money to blow on things like a Blockbuster Online subscription or $60 boots you don’t really need, and finding yourself standing in Target mentally agonizing over prices on deodorant (Secret is over $4??? What??)
See, I had never had lots of extra money, and I’d never been a huge spender, but between scholarships for school and my family’s help, I had been lucky; money had rarely been at the forefront of my mind. Oh how things change when something you’ve taken for granted is no longer there!
Now I am going to grad school and working part time as the Promotions Manager for Affordable Style, a company that focuses on providing quality, fashionable accessories for amazing prices. When they asked me to write this post, I realized that in the past 8 months, I have learned more about being frugal than I have my entire life, especially in terms of shopping and fashion. Though I am sure most of you know more than I do, I’d like to share what I’ve learned as a beginner to this world of frugality:
Google is My Coupon Friend
I am a big fan of shopping online – no crazy crowds, no irritating traffic, and no need to change out of my pajamas. Now that I’m trying to be smarter about what I buy, though, I am using the internet even more. I started by simply going to Google and typing in the store name + “coupon” to see what would come up. You’d be surprised at how many coupon codes are floating around out there in cyberspace.
This helped me save $50 when I got a flat tire last month and also got me a couple free Redbox rentals over Christmas break. There’s really no excuse for paying full price for something when it only takes a couple minutes to Google coupon codes. Last week I also discovered the website Retailmenot.com, which collects coupon codes for you! Just type in the store name and up pops a list of coupon codes to try.
Use Internet Shopping Tools
Besides Google and Retailmenot.com, there are also websites specifically designed to help you find the best deals. Shopstyle.com is a great website to use when you’re looking for a specific fashion item, or you want to duplicate a celebrity’s look. The website compiles catalog information for hundreds of brands and stores, allowing you to cross-shop to find the best deals.
As a student, I am also a big fan of Bigwords.com, a search engine that helps find the cheapest textbooks. This semester I saved $120 by using Big Words instead of buying from the campus bookstore. It even automatically found coupons for me and figured out both the cheapest way to get all my books from one store.
All Stores are Not Equal (a.k.a “Plan Ahead!”)
Some things are just cheaper at certain stores. I quickly discovered that I had to plan ahead when grocery shopping; my favorite snack crackers are always a dollar less at Target, while Meijer often has deals on the juice I like to drink at breakfast. Now I know that when I’m at Meijer I’d better stockpile juice.
When it comes to fashion, working at Affordable Style has opened my eyes to the quality you can get for your money if you go to the right place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from customers and my own family (who of course had to thoroughly investigate my new employers) how surprised they are at the high quality of what Affordable Style offers and the low price it comes for. We have beautiful, beautiful handbags at Handbag Heaven (my current favorite: The Carrington Rhinestone Satchel for $50.95 ); why would you spend hundreds of dollars on Victoria Beckham’s bag when you could get one just like it for $56.95? Why spend way too much ($1,350) on a Marc Jacobs bag when you can get one from Handbag Heaven for $54.95?
I splurged on a new scarf from our store Affordable Scarves a couple months ago as a kind of personal reward for getting through my two 15-page papers for graduate school (the Reagan Striped Pashmina for a whopping $16.96!), and I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten on it. I love it so much I rarely take it off…it’s so cozy in this cold weather. There was one point last month where I was refusing to turn the heat up because I was perfectly content in my comfy scarf, though I probably looked a little strange sitting there on the couch typing away at my laptop with a scarf around my head! It’s been well worth the money, and because I got it at such an affordable price, I can get a different one in a different style in a couple weeks when it starts to get warmer.
You can still have beautiful things without spending a ridiculous amount of money. I’m also looking forward to making use of another one of our stores, Sunglass Warehouse, when it gets a little warmer out – and I won’t even have to feel guilty when I inevitably break my really cool new sunglasses by sitting on them or stepping on them poolside (it always seems to happen no matter what I do), because I’ll be spending $10-15, not $50-75. Where you buy really makes a difference, and it’s worth it to do some research and find the places where you can buy similar products for a better price.
It’s just money.
This is a tricky thing, because let’s be honest, it’s not just money. In the last year I have learned just how much comfort having money can give you in terms of security and peace of mind, and how scary it is when you’re not making enough to pay your bills. But when looking back, I also realize how much happier I am now than I was at this time last year, because I’m taking proactive steps towards having the life I want. I love my job, I love my classes, and I get to immerse myself in fashion every day while gorgeous new bags and scarves cross my desk. Money is nice, but happiness is nicer, and there are always ways to make the money stretch. Being familiar with Affordable Style was a life saver over Christmas, when I wasn’t sure how I was going to take care of everyone on my list with half the budget, and (Shh, Mom, don’t read this) I’m already planning on getting my mom a handbag from Handbag Heaven for her birthday in April.
So I’ve learned a lot in the last year – above all, I’ve realized that it pays to just be more aware of what you’re spending and where. Making small adjustments can go a long way in giving you the freedom to go after what you want in life – and what’s the point in being frugal if it doesn’t help make your life better?
Thanks for reading!