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Monthly Progress Report (#4)



I can’t believe it’s officially time to write the next monthly progress report! I’ve been kind of slacking  this week, and maybe some of last too. I don’t know what it is - I mean there’s been some changes in my life but that happened this Wednesday. So that doesn’t exactly explain it. Maybe because it’s Springtime finally and I just can’t get enough of the warmer weather. Maybe it’s because my long anticipated home renovations start soon and I really am bursting at the seams for the end result. Maybe it’s a mixture of school and work and all the other things going on. In reality, it’s probably some sort of combination of all of the above but one thing is for sure - I need to get my butt in gear and focus!

Hopefully the weather helps me with that. I’m writing this in 60 degree sunshine! Eek! I can’t remember the last time I sat out on this deck - by far my favorite part of the whole house. It’s really just perfect - and totally conducive to some productive writing.

Before we get started, maybe you want to take a look at last month’s progress report? It's been a while.

Alright, let’s get to the breakdown. As always, I have no idea how I did this month but I’m feeling pretty good. I think I made some progress in the right direction.

Here's the updated breakdown of my debt:

Mortgage: $149,200
Car Loan: $8,700
Student Loans: $4,600
Credit Cards: $2,550
Grand Total of Debt: $165,050

My student loan balances

But oh yeah, can’t forget my giant screw up underestimating how much money I would need for renovations.

Renovation fund requirement: $2,000
New Grand Total of Debt: $167,050

Thats an improvement of.. drumroll, please.. $1,900! I'm so happy to see that number. Also, really, really happy to see that number solidly below the $170,000 mark.

The bad news is my car still has a giant ding that needs to be fixed and could cost as much as $500! Just totally unbelievable to me. I'm still a little mad. Especially since whatever happened wasn't exactly my fault. Well, I still have no idea what actually happened. But I do know I didn't hit anything. At least then I'd have myself to blame.

Here's my updated savings totals:

Savings account: $2,000
P2P Lending account: $300
Investment account: $150
Grand Total of Savings: $2,450

Oh yeah, by updated I meant - the exact same numbers from last month. But to be fair, that renovation is so, so close now and that needs to be my focus for a little bit longer. Than hopefully, I can get my butt into gear and really boost up the savings numbers!

Overall, $1,900 to the black this month and I'm pretty excited. I'm beginning to seriously explore options for the renovation fund shortfall. More than likely I'm going to end up borrowing more money which definitely sucks but it could be worse. At least I've been including it in my debt total already. On the bright side, the total shouldn't go over that nasty $170,000 number regardless! So here's to making huge strides towards paying off that shortfall before the renovations actually start!

Now, no more excuses for me. I'm hoping April is a month of a TON of writing and lots of money saving for me. Actually, I hope that for you too! I can't wait to update you again in a month. Now, let's go enjoy some sunshine!
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How to Spend Less and Save More at Kohl’s



I love posts like this one. By that, I mean posts about how to save some money shopping. I’ve already told you how you can save money at some of my favorite stores - Macy’s, HomeGoods and JC Penney. Now let’s talk about how you can score a killer deal at Kohl’s!

If I'm being honest, Kohl’s has never been my favorite store. It's not that I dislike it but it always seemed to be skipped over in favor of other stores. However, recently it’s become an important stop on my monthly Christmas shopping adventures (check out all the neat things I bought on our more recent shopping adventure).

So why has Kohl's become a must all of a sudden? For one thing, they’re open later than other stores which is always a plus for a night owl like me. For another, you can get some serious deals.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

1) Get the most out of Kohl’s Cash. As Kohl’s says, “With Kohl’s Cash, it’s like getting paid to shop!“ Well dang, the folks in the Kohl’s marketing department know my weak spot. During specific earning periods spending $50 (actually, this is a lie, you really only need to spend $48) at Kohl’s will get you $10 in Kohl’s Cash to spend during a defined redemption period. The really good news? You can use Kohl’s Cash on anything. That’s right, no exclusions!

2) Sign up for Yes2You Rewards. With Kohl’s loyalty program - Yes2You Rewards - rewards you with one point for every dollar you spend (no matter how you pay!). Once you earn 100 points you’ll receive a $5 rewards certificate.

The latest Kohl’s sale in my inbox

3) Don’t forget the coupons! If you don’t have paper coupons, do a quick google search before checkout. Kohl’s offers percentage off store-wide and percentage off by department coupons, use both together to get the most savings.

4) Sign up for sales alertsSign up to receive Kohl’s emails and receive an additional 15% off coupon. Besides the benefit of the initial 15% off offer, emails are a great way to stay in the know about upcoming sales and promotions. And they send you a gift for your birthday. Who doesn't love a birthday coupon?!

5) Know the best time to shop! Seriously, there really are better days to get a good deal. As the Penny Pinchin’ Mom points out the best time to shop at Kohl’s is between 3 PM on Friday to 1 PM on Saturday. During this window is the time to get a great deal with door busters.

Tara checking out the clearance section at Kohl's


6) Don’t forget the clearance racks. For some reason my favorite clearance section is buried deep in the men’s department. And I came by it by chance one day. Moral of the story - make sure you hunt around for the good stuff! Clearance starts at 60% and will continue to be marked down to 70%, 80% and then finally 90%.

7) Look for a tiny square on electronic price tags. Ah those neat little electronic tags! According to the Krazy Coupon Lady,  a tiny square in the top right corner on electronic price tags means the item is marked down to the lowest price of the season. Meaning you won’t find a better deal until the item is put on clearance.

8) Know what the price tag means. They’re way more high tech than the plain old paper price tags you find in other stores and they can tell you a lot about the item it's advertising! The Penny Pinchin’ Mom advises to look for the letters in the top right corner of electronic price tags to see if the item is on sale or not. Here’s what those little letters mean:

PP - product placement (this is the regular price, the item isn’t on sale)
S - sale.
BGH - buy one, get one half off
BB - bonus buy
GV - limited time sales (think night owl and early bird sales)
NM - the item will drop in price again

Anyways anyone else trying to decode what NM really means?

9) Find a price checker. Sometimes you find something by it’s lonesome and you’re not sure if it’s on the right rack or shelf but you don't see it anywhere else. And there is a price tag on it, so that must be the price, right? Um, no. Not necessarily. Make sure to find a price checker and double check. Recently I picked up a shirt off a rack marked $27.99 and almost put it back before scanning it to learn the actual price was only $4.69 (which was 90% off!). Hey, sometimes you just luck out.

10) Don’t be afraid of price adjustments. Don’t you hate it when you buy something and it goes on sale the next day? It’s happened to all of us. But the good news is if it happens after you buy something at Kohl’s, you can request a price adjustment and you’ll be refunded the difference. You’ll have to keep the receipt and request the adjustment within 14 days, but it’s really free money right? You were willing to spend the original higher price on the item - any refund is just icing on the cake!

11) Get yourself a good cash back site. Rather you use Ebates, Upromise or, my personal favorite, Swagbucks (help a girl out and use her referral link :)), don’t buy anything online without using a cash back site. Make sure to check out the offers on each site and maximize your cash back. I’ve often found certain sites offer different deals for different merchants. Also, cash back percentages change during the year. Make the most of your cash back by shopping during the months of November and December when offers are the most generous.

Are you a fan of Kohl’s? Are you a recent convert like me? Do you have any tips to add to my list? Tell me everything in the comments.
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It's Time for March Madness! Here's My Bracket..



Ok, it's that time again. Time for epic upsets and Cinderella stories. Time for March Madness! You already know, I like to gamble. When $5 NCAA tournament brackets were handed around the office I was one of the first to grab one. $5 isn't bad and besides, you gotta be in it to win it!

I brought my bracket home with every intention of studying the teams and making smart picks but alas, I left it to the last minute and asked Mike to start filling it out this morning while I got ready for work. By the time I had to leave he only had his first round picks filled out with some ink on the second round. So there I was sitting at my desk this morning frantically trying to research teams and make some strategic picks.

I'm not the world's biggest basketball fan. And even though I prefer NCAA ball to the NBA, I don't pay much attention until March Madness.

Full disclosure here, I'm a Mets/Jets/Nets/Islanders fan. I couldn't pick a winning team if my life depended on it.

In similar fashion, with Division I sports I tend to root for teams that don't stand a chance. Here are my two faves, both of whom you won't be seeing on your brackets this year:

Binghamton My college basketball team is, of course, Binghamton. Because I went to Binghamton and I was there when they made it to the tourney in 2009. They didn't make it past the first round, but they made it. And it was an amazing experience I'll never forget. I will always be rooting for them but I won't set my hopes too high.

Indiana Since it's unlikely I'll see Bing back on brackets anytime soon, when it comes to March Madness I always root for Indiana. Again, this comes down to some sort of loyalty thing. I applied to Indiana for my MBA - it was my top choice because it was the best business school on my list - and by some miracle they accepted me. Ultimately I chose to go with a less expensive option, but I always felt a little loyal to Indiana.

So, I don't have anything invested in any of these teams and could care less who wins on an emotional level. That's at least somewhat of a plus for liking losing teams - championships games are no pressure whatsoever.

Back to the brackets and my struggle to fill mine out. I mean, it's not like like it's easy. If it were Warren Buffett probably wouldn't offer his employees $1 million a year for life to accurately predict the Sweet 16. Yeah, that's right - only the Sweet 16! Not even the full bracket. There will always be a Cinderella story to destroy the most carefully constructed brackets.

Actually, no one has ever filled out a perfect bracket. Back in 2014, Buffet offered $1 billion dollars to anyone who could. That's billion with a B. Spoiler alert: Buffett kept his billion and all brackets were busted by the time twenty five games were played.

The odds of filling out the perfect bracket is 1 in 9.2 quintillion. In case you're not familiar with the quintillions - let's put that into long form -  that's 1 in 9,200,000,000,000,000.

Alright, so the odds are against me. But I tried. It'll happen eventually right? Someone will one day construct the perfect bracket. Why not me?

My morning research led me to CBS Sports and their experts' picks and predictions. Mike liked Duke and, he's not alone. Four of the seven experts picked Duke. So I went with Duke. But I'm not convinced they're taking it all. If they're not ousted in some shocking manner, what will sports analysts have to talk about? Or maybe it's because my Binghamton was ousted from the tourney back in 2009 by Duke and I'm holding onto some long festering grudge. You can be the judge.

And since I had about an hour to complete my bracket I reviewed the seven expert's brackets and choose the one closest to Mike's original picks to base my next picks on. Turns out my boyfriend and bracketology expert (um, what?!) Jerry Palm were on roughly the same page.

Without further adieu.. here she is! My 2019 championship bracket:

C'mon Blue Devils!

Well, at least I'm only out five bucks if it all goes to hell.

Here's my secret bracket busting predictions for fun:

1) Murray State and NBA favorite Ja Morant make it to the final four.

2) Oregon magically makes it their second National Championship since winning the original in 1939.

3) Michigan falls to Montana in the first round.

I'm hoping you created a killer bracket if you made one. But whether you did or didn't, who do you think is taking it all? Do you think Duke is going all the way or are they overrated? Have some of your own bracket busting predictions to share with me?
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Celebrate the First Day of Spring with these Cool Freebies!



Oh my goodness. It's finally here! Mother Nature has been teasing up for a couple of weeks now but tomorrow it's official - IT'S SPRING, Y'ALL!

As you can imagine, I've been mentioning this fact to everyone I know. It seems like it's been winter for the last 9,658 days but it doesn't matter anymore because we are officially on our way way to BBQs, fireworks and ice cream!

Alright, alright, I'll admit it, I view spring as one step closer to summer. I adore 90 degree days. You won't be hearing this girl complain about the heat and humidity!

There's one other reason to celebrate as the calendar marks March 20th - first day of spring freebies! Yeah, that's right - I'm not the only one in the mood to celebrate the changing of the season.

Here’s the short and sweet (pun totally intended) list of freebies available for the first day of spring:

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen has declared March 20th Free Cone Day! Stop in to your local Dairy Queen to celebrate with a free small vanilla cone. The celebration is going on all day long, however the offer is limited to participating U.S., non-mall locations.

I know where Mike will be tomorrow since there's a DQ right by his office (I'm not saying I'm jealous, but.. well, fine, I am).

Rita’s Italian Ice

Maybe ice cream isn’t your thing, maybe you prefer Italian ice. Or maybe you're like me and don't have a DQ close by. Don't fret. Rita’s is celebrating the first day of spring by giving out free Italian ice! In fact, they’ve been celebrating spring that way for over 20 years! Last year alone they gave out almost 1 million cups. Can they surpass that 1 million mark this year? Get yours by stopping by your local Rita’s on March 20th between noon and 9 PM. Even better, it looks like your free to choose the flavor of your choice!

Your Local Ice Cream Parlor

Turns out a lot of local places also participate in the free ice cream/frozen yogurt/Italian ice giveaway. Check out your favorite dessert place to see if they have something going on! Unfortunately, if you live somewhere like I do, the chance of a frozen treat place being open this time of year is essentially zilch.

One more thing you'll need to know - Ben & Jerry's celebrates free cone day on April 9th from noon until 8 PM. Sign me up for some Phish Food please! I'm only a little bummed that I have to wait another couple of weeks.

Where are you headed tomorrow? Are you ambitious enough to make multiple stops? Is your favorite ice cream place already open for the season?
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Be Like Hank: Change the World for the Better



I’m taking a detour from the usual money talk today. Today wasn’t the usual and I feel this post deserves to be written for two reasons: 1) in recognition of a great man and 2) as a call to action.

I know this post may not seem like a feel good post and we could argue about the label. But what I want you to understand is it is a feel good post. Of course, I’ll admit this is a sad post for me to write but underneath that sadness is a story about a man who dedicated his life to serving others and making this world a better place.

At 1:11pm, normally when I would be out to lunch and away from my desk, I received a phone call from a colleague. I wasn’t surprised to see her name pop up, she touches base with me from time to time and we go to a lot of the same community events. I mentally calculated when the next Rotary meeting was to see if that could be what she was calling about before I picked up the receiver.

Unfortunately, instead of asking if I’d like to attend some meeting or calling to see if I was planning on going to some dinner, she delivered some sad news. A gentleman we served on a local nonprofit board with had passed away. I’ll call him Hank.

Hank wasn’t old by any means. He was in his sixties. And to be honest it was kind of a shock to me. I had just saw him recently.

I had always liked Hank. We lived in the same town (the same town that usually gets a bad rap) and that made us connect instantly. It's true, everyone in a small town knows each other. If they don't know them, they sure know about them.

Besides living in the same town and serving on the same board, he was a mentor to me during my time going through a program designed to get to know the community better. It was a great program that took us to various local businesses in order to gain a better understanding of the local economy. I graduated several years ago but they do an annual fundraiser I try to attend. It's a program I feel strongly about and it was a program Hank was heavily involved in.

When I recently saw him at a meeting I had made sure to stop briefly to talk to him on my way out. At the time it was nothing special, just a quick check in. I hadn't seen him in a while and I was genuinely happy to see him. Now I’m so glad I made it a point to say hello.

He was a staple in the community we had both grown up in and loved. I always admired how much he cared about our little town and how much he did. He’s the person I hope to become as I attend each fundraising event and board meeting. Someone who truly cares about their neighbors and community. Someone who never gives up hope. Be like Hank, take pride in your community and focus on the good that can be even in the worst of times.

The last time I saw him he had just run a successful food drive and he was so proud of his efforts. He had spent his whole weekend at the grocery store collecting canned goods for the local food pantry. Do you know how many weekends I decided I’d rather do nothing at home than volunteer my time? My face is burning with shame as I think about all the times I said I had too much on my plate. Hank never had too much on his plate. He’d attend every event he was asked too. Be like Hank, take the initiative and make a difference. I know you have a lot going on. I do too. But Hank had everything going on and still found the time.


When we were on the nonprofit board together Hank was always reliable. He attended every meeting, he made it to every event we organized and he was always there with a smile and helping hand. He never said no to standing out in the hot sun to sell raffle tickets or making baked goods for a fundraiser. Be like Hank, take joy in helping regardless of how unimportant you think the task is. He knew he was making a difference regardless of the task he was assigned, no task was too big or too small. We all have to start somewhere and that somewhere sometimes includes six dozen cupcakes.

I’m sure Hank would have continued on that board if it had not been for politics. It’s frustrating that small nonprofit boards are sometimes domineered by big personalities. After some conflict I can’t even remember, Hank stepped down. He did so to keep the peace. I know it wasn’t easy for him. He genuinely cared about the organization and our cause. He stepped down with such grace I always admired him for it. Hank taught me sometimes being the bigger person is the sweetest victory. He never complained about the board or the members, he was gracious and appreciative of his experience. Be like Hank, appreciate the opportunity and don't dwell when things don't go your way.

I wasn’t happy when Hank resigned. I knew why, I understood why but I felt it was all petty. I felt Hank was an asset and I regret not reaching out to him and offering my support. As I watched him do the right thing I decided not to. I’m embarrassed I didn’t reach out, I could have lent a word of support when he needed it most. If you know something is right, do it. Forget the politics, forget the status quo. Just do what you know you should. If I had done so, I would regret how I had acted all these years later.


But you know what? Hank was a better person than me. He continued to send me a Christmas card every year. I don’t send Christmas cards but Hank was from a better time, a time when you took the time out of your busy schedule to sit down and write thoughtful messages to friends and acquaintances. He never took me off his list even though we didn’t see each other often and we no longer had the nonprofit board as a common denominator. His card always brightened my day and was displayed on my mantle. I’ll miss having that little reminder that despite the chaos, Hank took time out of his day to send a reminder that he was thinking about me still. This year I’m going to send Christmas cards. It’s the least I can do - to let the people I care about know that I care and I’m thinking about them despite the hectic time of year. Be like Hank, take the time to make someone’s day better. A simple note can make a big impact even if others don’t return the favor.

Almost immediately after hearing the news I began to see posts about Hank from several people I know. It's amazing to see how many people one life can impact. Hank clearly had an impact on just about everyone he came into contact with. I don't think anyone could have a bad thing to say about him, he truly left a void in our community that will be nearly impossible to fill.

As my former high school principal wrote, "If the measure of a man’s greatness is the legacy that he leaves behind, then there are few greater. Hank’s dedication to improving the lives of others was truly inspirational."

With that, I implore you, be like Hank. Take a page out of a great man's playbook and do your part to make someone's day brighter, to make your community stronger, to make the world a better place. Smile wide, act graciously, take pride in all you do and make a difference.

In the end, you'll never know how many people you inspired to follow in your footprints.
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Adventures in Christmas Shopping: Hello Spring!



Living in upstate New York isn’t for sissies. You get three good months of summer and Mother Nature does what she wants with you the rest of the year. Come March that means a 50 degree sunny beautiful day followed by six inches of snow to make sure you know you have another month, possibly two until it’s really spring. But by golly, spring is peaking out and giving us hope!

Saturday was one of those faux spring days. And Tara and I - along with everyone else and their mother and brother - headed out to the stores. We were on our almost monthly (we missed February) Christmas shopping trek. In order to keep the amount of money we spend to a not so crazy level around the holidays we’re trying to go shopping once a month with one goal - find some Christmas gifts. Check out how we did in January and all the great deals we found in December.

Since we missed February and my goal is one gift a month I did end up purchasing a couple of puzzles for my grandma on one of my trips to WalMart. Anyone else like to grocery shop at WalMart?


The two puzzles came to $19.69 (which I'll include in my Christmas total).

Back to our almost spring shopping adventure.

Oh, and one other thing, we’re trying to do - keep the things we buy ourselves to a minimum. Not easy for two girls that love to shop.

Unfortunately this trip I didn’t go with anything particular in mind. I’m struggling to figure out what to get my mother and father like usual. I’m hoping something will jump out at me while shopping but spoiler alert, nothing did and I’m still struggling with ideas for mom and pops.

Our first stop was Marshalls. The first thing I saw was a pair of neon Nike running shoes. I’ve been debating for a while to get new running shoes. Not for running. Just because I don’t love the ones I have. I went through a purple phase a few years back. Tons of regrets. But my sneaks are still perfectly usable so I moved along.

Tara was on the hunt for Easter things and Marshalls didn’t disappoint. I’m hoping to go back soon after Easter to pick up some cheap decorations. Easter is one of those holidays I usually skip right over but I’d love to start going all Christmas decorating crazy on Easter in the future. But first I’ll need to stock up on some decorations!

Tommy Hilfiger Floral Tie
What a great springy floral print!

The only thing I purchased at Marshalls was a Tommy Hilfiger tie for Christmas. It wasn’t on sale but sometimes you find something so perfect you’re willing to pay full price. And hey, the whole point of this trip was to find Christmas gifts! Check!

I wish my dad wore ties. Well sometimes he does but it’s always the same old tie. It would at least be one idea for Christmas.

Total damage at Marshalls: $14.53.

Next we moved on to Old Navy which had a crazy jean sale going on. Like 50% off all jeans in the store. I was going to pick up a pair for Mike because his favorite pair is looking a little worse for the wear these days. We dug through hundreds of pairs of jeans and we could not find a single pair in his size. So much for that little surprise.

Instead I grabbed him two new polo shirts which were buy one get one 50% off. He loves Old Navy polos and wears them all the time. Besides, the pretty spring colors were too good to pass up. I ended up with pale pink and yellow. So much for Christmas.

Spring has certainly sprung in stores!

Total spent at Old Navy: $31.22. Total saved: $10.00.

The one thing Mike asked me to grab for him before I left was shoelaces from DSW which is in the mall. We don’t always go to the mall on our adventures and if we do we don’t go to many stores. But since we were going to the mall Tara wanted to look for Vans for her nephew.

Turns out I know nothing about what is hip these days. Apparently checkered, high-top Vans are all the rage. And either sold out or not sold at every shoe store in our mall. The only one we had any luck with was Journey’s but they didn’t have the right size. If I needed to confirm I was totally unhip Journey’s did that for me. I had no idea what songs they were  playing and the decor is a total turnoff now. Nothing about netting on the ceiling makes me think “cool.”

So I’m unhip and old and we left with no Vans but the conversation between a 35 year old guy trying to explain the Sandlot to a 17 year old kid who has never seen the movie made it all worth it. Somehow refraining from saying you’re killin' me Smalls even once. At least with age comes knowledge of the classics.


Seriously, go watch the Sandlot if you haven't seen it!

Even if we struck out on the Vans, DSW came through for me with the blue dress shoe shoelaces Mike asked me to grab. And they were cheaper than I had expected.

My big DSW purchase

I picked up two pairs of shoelaces for $3.06.

Since I finally bought the one thing I needed to buy, we moved on to TJ Maxx. I was doing good at TJ Maxx with nothing I wanted to buy until I ended up in the men’s clearance section. There they had a wireless PS3 controller for $8. I debated buying it for my dad since he loves his PS3 but the three people I asked and I had no idea if he already had one. I put it back but for $8 it was probably worth it.

I was walking towards the checkout line when I saw the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company shirt. It was the right size so I scooped it up for a good birthday gift. Look at me branching out.

Tara was even a little jealous. We looked for more but I had the only one. Even better, my TJ Maxx total was only $8.32.

Next we went to HomeGoods. And HomeGoods is where I got myself into a little bit of trouble.

The last time we went to HomeGoods, they had aqua and teal cookie sheets that I just loved. Of course I have cookie sheets, I have tons. But I've never bought myself a cookie sheet in my life, all of mine are hand me downs from my mom and grandma (don't get me wrong they've served me well for years). But you could bet anything, if I were going to buy cookie sheets they would be in fun colors.

So I said to Tara as we went in if they had the cookie sheets I liked from last time I was going to buy them. But they didn't. They had different ones in more muted colors and one in the original color from last time. I certainly needed more than one so I put it back and kept looking around.

Then I saw them! Two left over cookie sheets from our last visit now marked down and on clearance for $6 (they were originally $7.99). I couldn't believe they were still there. We all know how unlikely it is the HomeGoods item you pass up will be there the next time you go.

As soon as I saw the teal clearance cookie sheets I knew I had to buy them and not tempt fate to see if they'll still be there on our next trip. I scooped them up, grabbed the mint one I found on my first look and added a matching mint cake pan and a cooling rack that I found in the clearance section before heading to the register.


My HomeGoods total came to $30.26.

I've been carrying around a TJ Maxx (good at any TJ Maxx owned store - including HomeGoods!) gift card around in my wallet for ages. I almost threw it out a few weeks ago because I was sure there was nothing on it. Turns out I was wrong. The card had $24.99 on it! Thank goodness I didn't throw it out!

Updated HomeGoods total $5.27.

We stopped at Michaels to pick up a birthday gift for Tara's crafty little niece. Michaels and AC Moore have some pretty neat stuff and you can always do a quick google search to find a coupon. I didn't buy anything but I love looking at their decorations.

After Michaels we were both starving so we went to grab some food. Unfortunately the wait time was an hour so we decided to go to a few more stores and come back.

We headed to Kohl's and Burlington Coat Factory. I don't go into Burlington often but it seems like when I do I end up buying clothes. Which is exactly what I did. And is also exactly what I was trying to avoid.

But it's a cute shirt that I can wear to work or out and it wasn't so expensive.

My new top! That I wasn't supposed to buy...

I spent $13.53 at Burlington.


After that it was definitely time to eat. We went back and ended up going with the hour wait time. At least we got a little lucky and it was only half an hour.

My portion of dinner was $40.00. I know that's expensive but I don't eat out much at all. The last time I went out to eat was when I was with Tara at the end of January. Hey, sometimes you gotta splurge.

Total for the day: $115.93. $140.92 if it weren't for the $24.99 gift card that turned out to have money on it after all! Not so bad considering dinner was a big chunk of that.

Total for non-Christmas items: $93.08

Cumulative total for Christmas 2019: $179.46. I figured I'd include birthday gifts I'm saving too, they're interchangeable and some Christmas gifts may become birthday gifts and vice versa.

On Sunday I woke up to another six inches of fresh snow. I guess Spring wasn't here to stay!

But I should know better. I've been dealing with this weather my whole life. I hope you're experiencing better weather than I us! Did you go shopping over the weekend? What did you buy?
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An Open Letter to the Person Paying It Forward



Dear Kind Stranger,

You don’t know me. We’ve never met and we probably never will. You never intended for that to happen and I hope by some miracle you’ll read this so you know how appreciated you are.

Like me, you must be an eternal optimist. You must have thought leaving $5 would make someone’s day. I’m here to tell you, you have no idea. You made my week. I’ve told everyone I know about the awesome thing you did for a complete stranger. And now I’m telling everyone else.

You see, it was a snowy and cold day. I wasn’t feeling so hot so I decided to trudge myself to the store where I grabbed a few cans of soup and a couple of drinks.

When I went to the cashier, she took one look at me, scoffed and said she was done for the day. As she put out her closed sign, she told me to go to the other register and wait for someone else. I was annoyed but not all that surprised - you know what store I’m talking about and you know they aren’t exactly praised for their stellar customer service.

She saw I only had a few things and could have easily checked me out and we could have both been on our way. But, no. Instead, I lugged my basket to the other register mentally fuming about how rude the cashier was.

As I stood there waiting I saw the edge of the card you stuck underneath the credit card machine. When I took a closer look I saw writing on the inside of the card.

I couldn’t imagine what the heck it was. Was it a discarded birthday card? Was it something I shouldn’t be looking at? But I couldn’t help it - I pulled the card out to get a closer look.


The blue card said “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. - Zig Ziglar.”

I’m a sucker for quotes. All quotes really. But especially good quotes, which this one definitely was. And quotes I’ve never heard before, which this one also was. I was intrigued.

I made a mental note to google Zig Ziglar. I’d never heard of him but obviously the man had some good advice. After googling him, I found out he was quite the interesting guy. Did you know his first book “See You At The Top” was rejected 39 times before it was published in 1975? Did you know despite those rejections the book is still in print today? I want to thank you for inspiring me to learn something new.

Back to the card you left. I was now convinced it was a discarded thank you note. Curiosity killed the cat - satisfaction brought him back. Right? I needed to open it. I wanted to know the context. Why would someone leave a thoughtful note behind?

To my surprise this wasn’t an unthoughtfully discarded note. Instead it was a very thoughtful gift. To me. A complete stranger.

Happy Wealth Wednesday!

The inside said Happy Wealth Wednesday! Something else I would go on to google. Sadly, my search didn't give me a definitive answer (by that I mean Wealth Wednesday doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, oh the times we live in!) but the multiple podcasts and articles I read focused around one topic - building wealth.

I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of Wealth Wednesday before. Especially since I blog about correcting my financial mishaps and trying to right my financial ship. And here I am missing out on a movement about doing just that. I'm going to correct that - I'm joining the movement.



On the to line you wrote “the lucky person who finds this :)” and on the from line “someone trying to make the world a little happier.”

What sweet words. I want you to know that you have made the world happier. You turned my bad day into a good one. You made a difference.

I want you to know I plan to make a difference too. I’ll be adding my own $5 and sticking the little card somewhere with an added note from me. I hope that we can keep your small act of kindness going until the card ends up with someone who truly needs to have their faith in humanity restored.

Maybe we can make a difference and help a young mom struggling to pay rent or an unemployed kid fresh out of college trying to figure how to make their student loan payment or maybe we can inspire a child to start a savings account. At the very least, lunch can be on us.

The possibilities are endless. I’m going to imagine our $10 will multiply with each person that finds the card until it reaches it’s true recipient. It’ll be like that time everyone in the Starbucks drive-thru paid for the next person for some 300 cars. Or that time McDonald's customers paid it forward for over 150 cars. You could have started something just as brilliant.

You gave me that hope. And for that I thank you. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for making the world a better place. Thank you for forcing me to see beyond my own selfishness.

You made me realize one person can make a difference. All you have to do is take action. From now on I intend to take action and do my part to make this world a little happier.

Above all, I want you to know you’re not alone in your quest to make life a little better. You were the spark that can ignite a flame. I’ll do my best to stoke that flame, I’m hoping the next person will join us on our quest. We got this. We can do it.

You’re a superstar.  Please never give up on your goal. Even if the card makes it no further then the next person. You still changed the world for the better.

Very sincerely yours,
The girl who was lucky enough to find you card
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Broke Dolly
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Make Money by Selling Your Old Stuff Online: Mercari



I’ve told you all the ways I make money online. One of the easiest ways to make money online? Sell
the stuff you have laying around that you don't need. I’m really fighting the urge to call stuff junk because if you’re like me that’s exactly what it is.

Please don’t take junk as an insult. I live by the mantra one woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure (updated for 2019!). I live for garage sales and flea markets so I can find that perfect thing someone else is discarding!

All this talk of junk vs. stuff reminds me of George Carlin's bit on stuff. Caution: some foul language but seriously funny.


Oh, George! Now that we know where we all stand on the stuff/junk debate, let's take a look at how easily we can get rid of some of that stuff to make room for more stuff!

I sell on several different apps. But, hands down, my favorite app for selling online is Mercari.


There’s a few reasons I love Mercari but mostly it boils down to the following:

You can find anything you want on Mercari. That means you can sell anything you want on Mercari. There are exceptions like firearms and whatnot so not literally anything but almost anything. If you're curious, here's the full list of prohibited items.

Mercari is easy. It’s so easy to list things for sale on Mercari. I tend to get easily distracted doing one thing for long periods of time but I can list something on Mercari in about a minute. I know not everyone has the attention span of a goldfish but it’s convenient regardless.

Mercari is cheap. I mean this in two ways. First, I find the items on Mercari to generally be reasonably priced. That also means that things I wouldn’t bother listing on eBay, Etsy or Poshmark I list on Mercari. For example, books (you can read about my love of books here). They’re not vintage, they’re not rare, they’re just plain old paperbacks I bought a duplicate copy of. I sell them cheap because I bought them cheap and Mercari is the perfect platform. My average sale is about $6.50.

Second, the commission on sales is 10%. I think 10% is more than reasonable and the fee is a one-time fee deducted immediately when the sale is made so I don’t have to worry about monthly listing fees or invoices after the fact.


I make money! I love to make money and I’ve made a ton of it on Mercari. I joined Mercari at the end of 2015 to clean out some of my junk before my mom’s next big garage sale. And since then I’ve sold 277 items and have made over $1,800!! That’s not chump change.

Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love new and easy ways to make money?!

Like I said before, the listing process is simple and not time consuming. Plus, I have a few tips on how to amp up sales!

Mercari Selling Page
My most recently listed Mercari item -
The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Photos

1) Take a few pictures of your items. Take an many pictures as you want (well, as many up to the eight picture limit). The more pictures the better. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words. For clothing (if you’re like me your closet could stand to lose a few items you haven’t worn since college), Bexa Boss Lady recommends taking at least eight photos. So use all of the available photo spots.

I just want to highlight one of those eight recommended photos - flaws. Make sure to include pictures of any flaws. For me this includes any writing in books. I will always post a picture of what the inside pages look like because I hate buying a book online only to find out the previous owner highlighted every single sentence for some inexplicable reason.

2) Make sure your pictures are high quality. I’m not saying you need to be a professional photographer but make sure your image isn’t blurry and that it is an appropriate size. According to eBay, higher quality images increase sales 4.5%. Don’t worry if you’re using your iPhone, you can still take high quality images! But be mindful if you’re uploading an image from your camera roll - make sure it's not distorted or blurry.



3) Avoid clutter in your photos. It’s just distracting. Make sure what you’re selling is clear, ideally you shouldn’t have to say things like the necklace the third one in from the left. Try to find a nice uncluttered  spot and take photos there - make sure the item you’re selling will be the focus. I like to use backgrounds I can easily find in my home that are subtle and not too distracting but easily accessible. Some of my favorites are my guest room dresser (which is a pretty blue color and has a funky catch all tray for a pop of color as you can see in the above photo), in front of my bathroom door (I close the door and have the white door meet the grey walls - no nonsense and hangers fit perfectly on the door trim) and on my guest room bed (again, for the pop of color but sometimes I struggle to avoid wrinkles and they just don’t photograph well). Know what else works well? A simple white background. Pick up a piece of poster board and you have a beautiful clean slate!

4) Select your main photo wisely. The first photo in your lineup will be the photo displayed when buyers search Mercari. Choose one that shows exactly what the item is. That means a full photo of the item, not a closeup of the tag. Again, a picture is worth a thousand words! And this picture has the power to bring buyers in to read those words you’ll write.

Description

5) Write a descriptive title. Your title doesn’t show on the search page of Mercari. However, when someone clicks on your beautiful photo, the title description appears in big bold letters underneath your photos. Describe what the item is, include brand names and for the love of all things holy, use proper grammar and capitalization. For example, say you’re selling your grandmothers vintage Le Creuset stock pot - Vintage Orange Le Creuset 8 Qt Stock Pot looks better than grandma’s big old pot (which is still 1000 times better than just my favorite one word descriptions like pot, shirt, pants, etc). Know why this is a good idea? As Seller Think points out - Mercari’s search engine focuses primarily on titles. There is a character limit of 40 characters for the title - be descriptive but save the real description for the actual description.

6) Write a good description. I usually rewrite my title as the first line of the description. Why? Because I already wrote one good descriptive sentence for whatever it is I’m selling!  Include as much detail as possible in the description including any flaws. Mercari makes you write a minimum of five words but really no matter what you’re selling you should be writing a ton more. Include if the item is new or used, how heavily used, any flaws, color description, materials, size, whether it comes from a smoke free or pet free home. Better yet, tell a story. Where did that item come from? Why is it in your possession now? Where’d you buy it? You get the idea. A picture and title may draw buyers in but your description can close the deal.


7) Accurately describe the condition of your item. Make sure you select new only if the item is new in the package or new with tags. If the item has seen better days, that’s ok. Just make sure to say so.

8) Utilize hashtags. Mercari allows you to add three hashtags to each listing, make sure you do so. They’ve added them fairly recently and they may not be as useful in the search process as they can be yet but your items may be hanging out on the site for a bit. As Tough Nickel states, Mercari users are less active buyers. Your item may be up for several weeks before being purchased but those hashtags might bring more people to your listing. The more people that see your item the higher the chance is that it’ll sell!

Price

9) Price your item realistically. Let’s be real, no matter how great your item is pricing it too high is a turnoff for buyers. It’s easy enough to search specifically for sold items on Mercari to see what similar items sold for. Make sure you have an idea of what people are willing to spend. Mercari has a make an offer option for buyers but in my experience buyers tend to buy outright with few bothering to ever make an offer. On other platforms offers are expected so items are priced higher to begin with - Mercari is in a league of their own. The offer button is also fairly new so it could take a while for buyers and sellers to catch on. Only time will tell if I’ll eat crow and tell you you need to start with a higher price in anticipation of offers in the future.


10) Know the rules. Two things about pricing on Mercari you should know. 1) Mercari has a minimum list price of $5. If you have an item you think isn’t worth $5 you can bypass this by offering free shipping. That way the buyer isn’t paying $5 for your item and then paying shipping, they’ll pay $5 total. 2) Mercari takes a 10% commission from the list price. Whether you eat the shipping costs or not on that $5 item your profit is being reduced by $0.50.

If you do list $5 items with free shipping your profit will be minuscule. I try to stay in the $6-7 range if I'm offering free shipping. That way I at least make over $1.

Your item is twice as likely to sell on Mercari if
you offer free shipping


Shipping

11) Offer free shipping. Besides getting around the minimum list price, free shipping has another benefit: Mercari claims your item is twice as likely to sell if you offer free shipping. I have no idea why, I’m more than fine buying an item for less and paying for shipping but maybe it’s some sort of psychological thing? No one wants to pay for shipping. I get it. I don’t buy online from Target or Macy's unless I get free shipping but it doesn’t make sense for me on Mercari. Nonetheless, paying for shipping as a seller makes your item more likely to sell so it makes sense to price that shipping into your list price. Remember - Mercari doesn’t exclude the cost of shipping the item when they calculate their commission.

Mercari allows you to use their prepaid label (which I 100% recommend) or pay for shipping out of pocket. The prepaid label can be paid for by the buyer or by the seller. When shipping is paid for by the seller, a free shipping badge appears on the image in search results.

Mercari's Shipping Options
Mercari's shipping options -
USPS, Fed Ex and UPS, oh my!

12) Weigh your options. Weigh your packages. Make sure you correctly choose the weight of your packages. You don’t want to overpay for shipping and you don’t want to underpay because that overage could come out of your earnings. It’s only happened to me once and Mercari paid the extra fees but their message made it clear they were being nice only once. Now I’m much more careful about choosing the correct postage for my packages. To further complicate matters Mercari offers USPS, FedEx and UPS shipping. USPS shipping starts at $4.25 for items under a half a lb and increase from there. FedEx starts at $9.90 for items under 3 lbs. I use USPS because it’s the most convenient for me but FedEx is cheaper. Just something to keep in mind. UPS shipping starts at $20 but the UPS store will pack and ship the item for you.

My Mercari profile
My Mercari profile -
Five stars & look at all those fancy badges!

Feedback

13) Strive for 5 stars. Like other online marketplaces, seller feedback ratings matter. Unfortunately Mercari is not immune to scammers selling a $20 Apple Watch. However scammers are much more likely to be those with no feedback ratings. Besides quantity, quality matters. Buyers want to be reassured that they’re going to get what you say you’ll deliver. A solid 5 star rating proves you’re a reliable seller and will increase sales. You’ll also get a fancy reliable seller badge for your profile and who doesn’t like badges?!

Interestingly, on eBay being a top rated seller means your items show up first in search results and are more likely to be purchased. I’m not sure if Mercari is that advanced yet but it’s nice to know that maybe one day my feedback will pay off beyond that badge!

If you’re looking to start selling (or buying!) on Mercari, use my signup code to get $10 in buying credit. Full disclosure: if you use my code I’ll get $2 in credits and I’ll be forever grateful.

Do you use Mercari? How do you think it compares to other selling apps? Do you have any tips to add? I’d love to hear all about what you find works and what you think you can pass on.
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Broke Dolly
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