The Chronic Consumer

I buy things — all the time!

Increasing my shopping budget

Recently there hasn’t been a lot of money left over after paying bills, so I haven’t been doing nearly as much shopping as usual. Obviously I want to rectify this situation because I NEED to shop like I need to breathe! But since my family’s budget is already stretched as far as it can possibly go, I have to look at other ways of generating income.

One thing I’ve been considering is buying an annuity. I don’t know much about these financial instruments, but they seem like a safe way of getting a guaranteed return — which would certainly be welcome in this day and age of financial uncertainty. I’ll have to check around to find the best fixed annuity and then compare it to other possible investments before buying, of course. At this point, annuities seem to be a good option — but I’m open to other suggestions as well.

Tax refund alternatives?

A lot of people “count” on getting a tax refund at this time of year, and plan to use the money for rent, groceries, and other normal expenses. I know very few people who use their refund to splurge on vacations, electronic gadgets, and other unnecessary things.

But what can you do if you’re not getting the amount you expected? I was talking to my cousin about this very thing because he’s in that boat right now. He lives out west, and the first thing he’s going to do is apply for the best car title loans Utah has to offer. If he can get money loaned against his car, he’ll be able to scrape by until his paychecks start rolling in.

If the loan idea doesn’t work out, he might sell his car and downgrade to a cheaper model. He owns the vehicle outright, so that shouldn’t be too hard to do.

After that, it’s going to be the usual round of asking relatives for money, selling stuff on eBay or Craigslist, holding a garage sale, etc.

What do you do if you need fast cash at this time of year and can’t count on Uncle Sam to cough up a decent refund?

Reducing Expenses

I am always looking for ways to free up some extra cash from my monthly household budget so that I can splurge on some fun items. These days, however, it takes some real creativity to do find a few extra dollars. After all, there are just so many times you can switch cell phone or cable providers to take advantage of lower rates, ya know?

I’ve been looking around online for additional suggestions, but that hasn’t been much help. I only find the usual advice, such as buy term life insurance online, shop around for lower auto insurance rates, stop going to Starbucks and restaurants, etc. I already do all those things, so what’s next? I don’t want to get extreme about it and get rid of my TV or anything like that. But still.. there has to be a way to shave another $50-100 off my monthly bills!

Getting ready for holiday shopping

Okay, even dedicated chronic consumers like me have issues with holiday shopping. Namely, the malls are so congested and there’s so much traffic everywhere that shopping becomes a chore rather than an enjoyable activity.

Fortunately, there’s always the Internet. Thanks to modern technology, few of us actually have to venture outside our homes for holiday shopping. Instead, we can just sit at our computers, browse through products at any time of the day or night, and order whatever we see fit. There are also sites that offer coupons to help add to the savings and keep costs under control.

As an example, I know my brother wants a big tool chest this year. I don’t know much about tools, but I know Craftsman is supposed to be good. So I’ve been keeping an eye out for sears coupons at DropDownDeals.com that I can use when I’m finally ready to make my purchase. Right now there’s a coupon that will get me an additional $70 off the Tools Deal of the Day, which I think is a pretty amazing number. It would be awesome if I actually got to use that coupon!

Electronic coupons really make online shopping worthwhile. They allow you to save even more money on prices that are typically already lower than retail, and that’s something that really matters in today’s economy.

Anyway, remember that you don’t have to let holiday shopping bring you down by adding to your stress levels. Just shop online, use electronic coupons, and leave the hassles and headaches to everyone else!

Shopping for insurance for Mom

My mom has been retired for almost two years now, which means she’s on a fixed income. Unfortunately, most of her savings is in various stocks and mutual funds, and her portfolio has taken an utter beating thanks to the terrible economy. So I’m going over her finances to help her look for ways to save more money while getting by on a lot less than expected.

My first task is shopping for a new insurance policy. Her premiums seem pretty high to me, and I’m relatively certain we can find better deals by looking around. Several companies out there claim to have the best term life insurance for seniors, so it’s really just a matter of doing some quick online comparisons.

After that, I’m going to go through her utilities and various service contracts, such as her cell phone, cable, and Internet. I’m sure I can save her a few hundred a month by switching providers or whatever. That money will be a welcome cushion considering the economic climate.

Most expensive auto insurance by state

Now that I’m almost finished with my Master’s degree, I am beginning to scour online job boards for potential openings in my field. I don’t even care if the jobs are within my own state at this point; I just want to submit a few resumes and sit through a few interviews to get my bearings again. I haven’t been on a job search in a long time, so my skills have gotten a bit rusty.

Anyway, as I was checking through a list of columbus jobs, I came across a link that led me to an article about resources for people considering moving to a different state. One of the articles was about how you need to carefully calculate potential living expenses because there is sometimes a huge difference between what you pay in your current state and what it would cost in the state you’re moving to.

As an example, the article linked to a blog post on CBS MoneyWatch about which states have the highest auto insurance. Here’s the list writer Jerry Edgerton came up with:

1. Michigan, $2,541
2. Louisiana, $2,453
3. Oklahoma, $2,197
4. Montana, $2,190
5. Washington, D.C., $2,146
6. California, $1,991
7. Mississippi, $1,896
8. New Mexico, $1,896
9. Arkansas, $1,836
10. Maryland, $1,807
11. North Dakota, $1,794
12. Connecticut, $1,786
13. Rhode Island, $1,747
14. Wyoming, $1,714
15. Hawaii, $1,707
16. South Dakota, $1,707
17. Georgia, $1,670
18. New Jersey, $1,663
19. West Virginia, $1,633
20. Kentucky, $1,629
21. New York, $1,627
22. Minnesota, $1,614
23. Washington, $1,584
24. Missouri, $1,563
25. Indiana, $1,518
26. Colorado, $1,508
27. Texas, $1,492
28. Delaware, $1,489
29. Florida, $1,476
30. Nebraska, $1,470
31. Pennsylvania, $1,468
32. Kansas, $1,461
33. Alaska, $1,454
34. New Hampshire, $1,334
35. Massachusetts, $1,328
36. Idaho, $1,325
37. Alabama, $1,306
38. Oregon, $1,306
39. Nevada, $1,300
40. Illinois, $1,290
41. Arizona, $1,280
42. Utah, $1,272
43. Virginia, $1,237
44. Iowa, $1,179
45. North Carolina, $1,154
46. Ohio, $1,152
47. Tennessee, $1,146
48. Wisconsin, $1,128
49. Maine, $1,126
50. South Carolina, $1,095
51. Vermont, $995

A $1,500+ difference between Michigan and Vermont is pretty significant, don’t you think? Obviously no one would move to a state based on insurance rates alone, but it is definitely something to think about when it comes to your household budget.

Late Payment Warnings

Do you have trouble remembering when your bills are due? I know some people like to use “AutoPay” agreements that allow your credit card company or cable company to automatically deduct your monthly bill from your bank account. I think that sounds convenient for folks that always have plenty of funds in their account, but can be dangerous for those of us without much of a buffer. So what I do instead is set up Google calendar alerts to email me when my bills are due. I set these up as soon as I get the bill in the mail or email. I check the due dates, input the alerts in Google and am ready to go. Since I pay online, I don’t need a three-day buffer for snail mail. I pay the day before to make sure the transaction posts properly and that’s that!

Medicine chest eval

I periodically go through my medicine chest to take stock of what’s in there and toss out expired products. Doing this gives me an idea of what my family is wasting money on and allows me to adjust our spending habits (via the budget) accordingly.

Yesterday I ended up tossing out expired ibuprofen, dried-out deodorant sticks, crumbly makeup, and acne treatment that I no longer need. I’m always surprised at what we accumulate in there. A lot of these products are expensive (relatively speaking), and shouldn’t be wasted like this.