How Much Do You Pay A Babysitter? Pt. 2

Recently, I went on a bit of a rant regarding how much some of my friends and neighbors pay a babysitter to watch their children. After asking around to discover the “going rate” in town, I learned that sitters were charging $10, $15, even $20 an hour to watch kids – an amount that’s significantly higher than I made in my first adult job! But I didn’t actually delve into my radical new theory about how much we, as parents, should actually be paying a sitter… until now.

I don’t pay them anything.

That’s right – not a dime.

Now hear me out…

First of all, I don’t hire anybody I don’t know personally. My husband and I are youth group leaders are our church, so we literally have about 150 good kids on speed dial. These are teens who know my husband and me, who know my children, and who have been to my home on multiple occasions as invited guests of the family; I consider them to be extended members of my family.

But ok, ok, then why won’t I pay them to babysit my kids?

The first time some of my youth group teens (I always hire in pairs of the same gender), it was during dinner time, so I ordered pizza, wings, and cheese sticks for both them and my kids. When my husband and I came home from our date, wholly intending to pay our sitters, they refused. And that got the wheels in my head spinning…

The next time we “hired” a pair of teens to babysit, I told them right up front that I would order in dinner for them – anything they wanted – but that I wouldn’t otherwise pay them to watch my kids. And they were ok with that. One even gushed, “Oh good! That means I can count this toward my service hours for National Honor Society!” (He had me sign a form at the end of the night verifying he’d spent four hours at my house.)

Now, it’s a well-known fact among the teens that my husband and I don’t pay a sitter, but that hasn’t stopped them from volunteering. (Ok, ok, I’ll confess – part of it might be because of the 60″ TV, the air hockey table, and the foosball table set up in our basement.) And I feel like we do pay these sitters, but in ways far more valuable:

  • I can write a killer college recommendation
  • I’ve been a confirmation sponsor – which always comes with a sizable cash gift after they receive the Sacrament!
  • We always remember our sitters’ birthdays, and make sure to get them gas, Starbucks, or movie theater gift cards
  • When they graduate, we give them a little something extra
  • If they’re stranded at a friend’s house (read between the lines), we’ll go pick them up – and give them a motherly or fatherly lecture on the way home
  • We’ve brought the best of the best on vacation with us – again, two sitters of the same gender at a time – and pay for their entire trip just like they’re a member of our family, provided they watch our kids each night so my husband and I can enjoy dinner at less child-friendly restaurants

So you see, I do pay my sitters – just in a different way than you. I don’t treat them as business partners, or as one side of a client-customer partnership; I work to foster a real relationship, not only between myself and these teens, but between them and my entire family. In other words, I treat them like family. And in doing so, I know I can trust these teenage sitters – who are coming over to help me out because they want to, not because I’m paying them the “going rate” – far more than I could a neighbor girl who wants to charge me $15/hour.

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Financial Wisdom from a Chinese Fortune Cookie

My mother and I have a Friday lunchtime tradition. Each week, one person picks a restaurant, and the other person picks up the tab. (However, being that I’m dining with my mother, she tends to pay more often than I do, regardless of who picks the venue.) Last week, we went to our favorite Asian restaurant; we both chose the Pad Thai, and happily gobbled down our after-meal fortune cookies. And when I cracked open my cookie, I got a little bit of financial wisdom along with my fortune:

“The more you give to others, the more you’ll get.”

I’ve always been a bit of an Ebeneezer Scrooge when it comes to my charitable giving. In theory, I really like the idea of giving back to non-profits and charitable organizations, whether they’re my child’s preschool, my church, or an organization that does a lot of good in my community. But when the time comes to cut a hefty check, I tend to balk, and end up writing down a dollar amount that’s significantly less than my lofty intentions.

But over the past year – as my family’s financial situation has improved – I’ve consciously made a decision to give back more often (and in larger quantities) to various charities. And the results, like the Chinese fortune cookie predicted, have benefited me in more ways than I could have imagined.

From a purely financial point of view, my charitable giving has helped my tax situation. All in all, we gave about $2,500 to various charities – including our church – in 2013; that helped cut down our tax bill (yes, we owed this year – I blame freelance work and multiple moves) in a big way. But the benefits of our donations have helped us beyond just the financial figures.

My husband and I chose to volunteer with a few local organizations, hoping to give back in terms of our time as well as our “treasure” (aka, our financial contributions). We put in probably 3-5 hours a week, not expecting to see any benefit to our family’s bottom line.

In this case, we were wrong.

Our volunteer work – primarily with teenagers – has had tangible financial benefits. We’ve been able to go to concerts, ski trips, retreats, galas for free, as we were acting as chaperons. These activities would have cost us several hundred dollars, but we didn’t pay a dime.

But I’ve found that the financial wisdom imparted by that fortune cookie has been especially true when it comes to the gift of our time. The more I “spend” time with the teens in our group, the more I realize how greatly they’re affecting my life in a positive way. This was never more true than on my birthday, when a group of four high school girls with whom I work appeared on my doorstep with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a heartfelt card. I hadn’t expected the overt display of affection (or flowers!), and told them as much. Their reply? This was their opportunity to thank me for all I’ve done for them.

All I’ve done for them???

I’ve really the one who has benefited from my volunteer work – and I’m not talking financially. My work with these teens has helped me give back to our community, making a real difference in their lives and “investing” – quite literally – in the future. And in this case, the return on investment has been absolutely priceless.

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My husband and I are what pop culture refers to as “millennials”: born in the early 80s, we’re too old to be Gen X’ers (much to my chagrin), so we’ve been tagged Gen Y. We’re the generation that came of age with AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook, and cell phones in our book bags. My husband and I are “vanguards” of this generation – the elder statesmen of the millennials, if you will – and often tell anyone more than a few years younger than us about how back in the olden days, it used to take our dial-up Internet connections minutes to log in; it’s the 21st century equivalent of my father’s tale of walking to school uphill both ways, in a foot of snow no less.

As for my parents, they’re baby boomers, who were both born, raised, and currently living in an upper middle class lifestyle. They worked throughout their 20s to buy their first “starter” home – a modest 3 bedroom, 1 bath house in a somewhat-dodgy neighborhood – before moving “up” in life to a larger place in the ‘burbs, where they remain today. My mother just got her “dream kitchen” about six years ago, when she was already well into her 50s.

My parents’ generation was one that was condititioned to wait. Wait to have sex until you’re married; wait until you’re financially secure before buying a house; don’t retire until you’re old enough to receive Social Security. Wait, wait, wait. They’re a patient generation.

And we millennials? We’re quite the opposite.

That notion was driven home for me just the other night, as I sat on my couch watching another episode of “House Hunters.” (Yes, I know the show is one big set-up, but I like it anyway.) Yet another young couple was bemoaning the lack of updated features and open floor plans in a mid-century neighborhood. “It’s ok,” one young, would-be homeowner lamented, “but it’s just not my dream house.”

I wanted to roll my eyes. Seriously, she couldn’t have been more than 30 (now that I’ve crossed that threshold, I do feel a sense of “been there, done that” with regard to my 20s and anyone currently navigating that decade). She and her husband had only been married a year; they didn’t have a dog, let alone kids. What could they know about their dream house? About life? I could feel myself chaffing at their lack of life experience.

But when you get right down to it, I’m just about as impatient as they come. My husband and I moved into our new house about a year ago now, and we did so with the idea that it was our “forever home.” We’ve reupholstered, refinished, repainted just about every surface we can find, save the kitchen. My mother, that incredibly patient woman who waited until her mid-50s to finally get her dream kitchen, told me that new cabinets and counter top – not to mention that farmhouse-style sink I desperately want – can wait, too; but I’m anxious to get everything in place, to get my home exactly how I want it, and so I, like that not-so-young girl I was scoffing at on House Hunters, couldn’t wait, couldn’t be patient, couldn’t put off til tomorrow what I could have now, now, NOW!

Millennials like my husband and I really epitomize a generation of instant gratification. We can find out sports scores, weather forecasts, and road delays at a touch of a button; we can log onto the Internet anywhere at anytime in milliseconds; there are more fast food joints than sit-down restaurants in our country; speed limits across the nation are on the rise as cars get faster and faster and drivers get more and more impatient. And young professionals, like my husband and I, can’t wait to get the keys to our dream homes.

We’re the millennials. And we’re a generation that can’t wait.

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Amazon Prime Membership – Worth The Higher Cost?

I’ve been a loyal Amazon Prime member for years – in fact, I enrolled in the program within a week of purchasing my very first Kindle (one of the black and white ones that didn’t even have a touch screen). Since Amazon Prime’s inception in 2005, the charge for the annual membership has been $79… until now.

A few months back, I received an email from Amazon concerning my Prime membership. The basic gist of the email is as follows:

“We are writing to provide you advance notice that the price of your Prime membership will be increasing. The annual rate will be $99 when your membership renews on August 18, 2014.”

At the time, I just filed the email away under “stuff to deal with later.” My membership was still 6 months away from expiring, and the extra $20 for the membership didn’t seem all that pertinent to me at the time. Now, as my Prime membership is about to expire, I’m seriously starting to wonder about whether or not it’s going to be worth paying $99 for the first time.

So just what are the benefits of Amazon Prime membership? Below are my top 3 reasons for renewing, despite the higher cost:

1) Free access to thousands of TV episodes and movie titles through Amazon Prime’s streaming service. This kind of operates like a pared down Netflix. I love this because it gives my kids the option to watch a lot of their favorite shows (just about everything on Nick Jr can be found for free on Amazon) without costing me anything. I use this service multiple times a week, if not daily.

2) Free access to Amazon’s Kindle Lenders’ Library. This is the place I go to get free books – just like checking the latest titles out of the library! A few years ago, when there was a months’ long wait at my local library to check out The Hunger Games, I was able to read the entire series for free thanks to my Prime Membership.

3) Free 2-day shipping on a wide variety of items for sale on Amazon. I don’t use this very often – maybe 1-2 times a quarter – but when I do, I’m always happy that I don’t have to worry about paying for shipping. Most recently, I bought my kids a bounce house for my youngest’s birthday and saved more than $25 dollars because of the free shipping.

Now my question is – do you think the $99 is worth it? I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth out of my Prime Membership, but I’m wondering what those of you who have also subscribed to this service over the years think of the price hike. Please let me know!

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Your choice of a point-of-sales (POS) system can identify the direction your business goes. Since POS is a critical phase of the sales funnel (this is where the customer takes the item and gets ready to pay for it) it is very important that you make the process seamless and convenient for your customers. Having the right POS system will help you do that.

It has numerous benefits: streamlines your operations, reduces operating costs, increases productivity, and keep customers happy. The last item is very important because dissatisfied customers may just decide to not push through with the purchase or never go back. So how do you find the ideal POS system for your online business?

Here are important considerations:

Nature of Your Business

Not all POS systems work the same. If you want to get the most out of your business, you have to find Woocommerce Point of sale software that meets all your requirements. Each POS varies in terms of features, and although most share the same basic features, it’s the little things that make a difference.

If you have multiple warehouses, the right POS system is one that will make inventory tracking easy. You need a software that can monitor stock in real-time so you’ll know when you need to place orders on a new batch without putting a “not available” sign on your website for several days. Certain POS systems offer inventory tracking, automatic order placement, and warehouse management. First check what your business needs and then study each POS system you come across to see which one meets your needs.

Reputation of the Seller

Do business only with sellers you trust. It may be the first time you’re going to do business with each other but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish trust. Do some research and find out what the company’s reputation is. You can search for testimonials, blog posts, recommendations, and even first-hand accounts of previous customers.

Cost of the POS

Budget is a major consideration when looking for a POS. The traditional point-of-sale hardware and software can cost as much as $3,000 and for many small businesses, this is too much. Fortunately, there are affordable choices for you. These systems typically charge a monthly fee, so you don’t need to worry about making huge upfront payments, which are common when using traditional POS systems. Shop around for companies that offer the best rates.

Flexibility of the System

Your business will eventually grow and when that time happens, you need to be sure that all your tools can easily adapt in case you decide to expand. Your POS must be flexible enough to accommodate upgrades and additional features that you can use to better manage your business.

Most on-the-shelf (OTS) systems come with features and add-ons that will make your transition from a small business to becoming a huge enterprise swift.

Backup and Recovery

Your business depends heavily on data—inventory, customer data, and sales reports. This is why you need a POS system that protects all of your information. Accidents happen and they can completely wipe out your information. When they do happen, expect things to become disastrous. The loss of data can paralyze your business. You won’t be able to check if you still have stock, come up with targeted marketing tactics, and assess your business’ progress.

Customer Support

Customer support is very important. Look for POS systems that provide easy access to technical support. You need something that can instantly provide assistance because you can’t risk having your site down for a long time as that will lead to lost revenues. One way to find out which companies offer superb customer support is doing research. Seek out other businesses that use the same POS system and find out the experience they’ve had.

Additional Features That You May Need

You may later decide to expand your business and put up an offline store. Having a POS system that works on both online and offline stores will save you lots of time. You don’t need to spend so much time trying to set up your retail store because you can easily integrate the inventory for both stores. Look for Woocommerce Point of sale software that offers additional features, like hardware (barcode scanner, printer, and card reader) that you can use in your store.

Go with a system that will allow you to start small and eventually grow. It has to be flexible enough to accommodate add-ons very easily so you don’t have to find someone to do it for you.

Ultimately, the ideal POS system should allow you do everything easily—from displaying products to order taking to checkout. It must take care of as much needs as possible so you don’t need to be hands-on all the time. It must be easily integrated to your business framework. Choose software like Woocommerce Point of sale systems must help you run your business more efficiently. Invest enough time in finding the one that best suits your (current and future) needs.

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How Much Do You Pay A Babysitter? Pt. 1

It’s a rite of passage for teenage girls: working as a babysitter. I did it, my mother did it, my aunts did it, and some day, my daughter will do it, too. When I was a teen, the going rate around town was $5/hour, per kid. So if you had two kids and were going to be gone for three hours, you’d end up paying a sitter $30. It wasn’t a lot, but it was some nice spending money for a 15-year-old girl.

So when I became a parent myself, I started to do some research on how much you should pay a babysitter. I went online to sites like Care.com and BabyCenter.com; I asked friends; I asked friends’ teenage daughters. And some of the dollar amounts I started to hear were astounding:

One teen told me she charged $10/hour, per kid.

One of my online resources suggested increasing that to $15/hour if the sitter will be in charge of an infant or a “problem” child.

I had a friend tell me she paid her sitter $20/hour not because it was the “going rate,” but because she knew it ensured the sitter’s loyalty to never drop her for a higher paying gig on the same night.

Now let’s get one thing straight. These teens are not professionals. Sure, they might have taken a CPR or First Aid class at the local Red Cross; they may have even attended one of those Saturday afternoon “Everything You Need To Know To Be A Reliable Babysitter” courses at the community rec center. But they are not early childhood education specialists; they are not on-call nurses; they don’t even have as much experience as you, as a mother or father, do with your kids. THEY ARE TEENAGERS. They specialize in texting 100 messages an hour to their best friends, sleeping in until 2pm on the weekends, and forgetting about a “big project” until the night before it’s due. Planning, troubleshooting, and problem solving aren’t exactly their strong suits, not should they be: research suggests the human brain is in a constant state of growth and development until roughly age 25 (which, coincidentally, is the age at which I got pregnant with my first child).

My first job in TV news paid roughly $20,000 a year. If you break that down into a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks a year, it means I was earning $9.62/hour for a job that required me to have an undergraduate degree. Oh, and I was required to pay taxes on that $9.62/hour, unlike most teenage sitters who get paid under the table.

Now, if $10, $15, $20 an hour is a rate you want to pay a babysitter who is still years away from understanding true responsibility and whose only true experience handling babies is carrying around a hardboiled egg in a basket for a week for health class, then be my guest; you obviously have cash to burn. But if you’re fed up with paying a sitter more than you made in your first (or second, or third) job as an adult, then stay tuned – because next week, I’m going to crack open my radical new theory on how much your sitter should really be making when she (or he!) watches your children.

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Eating Healthy: My Grocery Shopping Reboot

There was a time in the not too distant past when I did all my grocery shopping at Walmart. The reasons were twofold: first, Walmart was the closest grocery store to my house, so convenience played a big role; second, saving money was my main motivator, and no other store could beat their prices.

But, as the saying goes, that was then, and this is now. And now, I’m far less concerned with saving money while grocery shopping, and far more interesting in eating healthy. It seems like every day, I see a new headline about the dangers in our food system: antibiotics used in chickens are leading to resistance; hormones added to everything from beef to dairy products causing early puberty in girls; artificial colors increasing allergy risks. The list is endless, and although I’ve never been a hypochondriac, I’d be lying if I didn’t say the constant barrage of negative health headlines weren’t making me paranoid.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to do an about-face with my grocery shopping. I left the kids at home with my husband, and headed to our local store – no longer the big box chain – where I spent the better part of two hours reading labels, scanning ingredient lists, and asking the guys in the meat and produce departments where the food actually came from.

What I learned was shocking.

The “honey wheat” bread I’d been feeding my family had “enriched wheat flour” as its first ingredient. Ideally, you want to see “whole wheat flour” be listed first, not “enriched wheat flour,” which is just another way of saying most of the nutrients have already been pulverized out of it. The second ingredient was high fructose corn syrup. In BREAD.

I asked the butcher about the use of hormones and antibiotics in the chicken and beef I usually buy. He told me that most chicken farms use antibiotics freely, as it helps prevent the spread of disease when the animals live in such close quarters. He added that most feed lots – where cows are fed grain, rather than grass – use hormones to help boost the size of the cattle and ensure that farmers get the most bang for their buck.

I looked at the label for the cheese sticks my kids love; they included artificial colors to give the mild cheddar its yellow color. Real cheese isn’t yellow, of course; it’s white.

I’d been buying my kids yogurt packs that claimed to be “all natural” – only to really spend some time looking at the ingredients list to see that it was full of “natural colors” and “natural flavors,” which were (naturally) made in a laboratory from “natural” ingredients. So much for coming straight from the Mother Nature.

When it was all said and done, I realized that most of the processed foods I’d been buying for my family – and even some of those I didn’t realize were so highly processed – had processed anything healthy right out of them. Everything was enriched, blanched, or preserved to the nines; nothing was natural.

So I started buying new products.

Instead of the $1.25 loaf of honey wheat bread, I purchased the $2.49 loaf that had 100% whole wheat flour as its first ingredient; high fructose corn syrup wasn’t listed anywhere on the nutrition label.

Instead of the $1.99/lb chicken breast that had been exposed to antibiotics, I bought chicken for $2.99/lb that came from an Amish farm about 50 miles from my home – one that doesn’t use antibiotics.

Instead of buying any type of yellow cheese for my kids, I sought out white cheese sticks that had the organic seal on them, just like I’d been doing for my milk (previously the only item in my kitchen that was truly natural). I did the same for my kids’ yogurt cups.

Of course, when I went to check out, I was in for another shock. Eating healthy was going to cost us a pretty penny – I spent about 25-30% more for the organic, non-antibiotic, hormone- and dye-free foods than I had for my typical shopping list. I did some quick math, and realized that over the course of a year, that would probably cost me an additional $2000. It seems like a lot of money, especially if you’re grocery shopping on a tight budget, as I was back in my Walmart days. But I’m hoping that it will help my family in other ways that will save us far more down the road – by keeping us healthier.

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Moving On Up: How to Pay for Relocating

Whether you’re searching for a job in a new locale or are hoping to move up and away with your current company, moving for work can be an expensive experience. How much it’s all going to cost is definitely worth considering when you’re trying to decide whether or not to take a new position elsewhere, but if you’ve decided you’re read to make the move, you have a couple of options for how to pay for the trip.

  • Pay for Expenses Out of Pocket – Although it’s not the ideal way to pay for your moving expenses, paying out of pocket is by far the simplest. If you have the funds to pay for the bulk of it (moving truck, down payments, set up) use it to your advantage. You can always look to your company to reimburse you for the charges later – so keep the receipt! If you simply don’t have the funds and find yourself in an emergency, consider short-term loan options through a payday lender (we recommend the Wonga site.) When you fill the application out online and choose the amount you need as well as how long you need it for, they deposit the funds in your account the next business day so you’ll have the cash you need to pay movers and fees (not the recommended course of action of course but if you’re in a jam). Short-term loans are a great option when the job you’re moving for will be paying you large sums, allowing you to pay them back quickly.
  • Ask Your Work for Help – Many companies now have programs to help their employees when they move, especially ones that work within the company and are seeking promotions. Talk with your supervisor or human resources department to see if there are options like this available to you. Some will take care of the expenses outright under agreement that the money will have to be repaid if you leave the company within a certain amount of time. Others will reimburse you, leaving you to figure out the logistics but provide receipts to later be added to your paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with at least checking on the options your company has. It also doesn’t hurt to add moving costs to your salary negotiation – know what you’re asking for and let them work with you to figure it all out.
  • Write It Off – Depending on the expense, you may also be eligible to write off your moving expenses when you do your taxes as the end of the year. Consider going to a tax specialist instead of trying to figure it out yourself – you could find yourself in hot water if you do your taxes incorrectly or try to claim something you’re not technically able to. A tax specialist can also advise you as the best way to get the highest amount of money. Again, this doesn’t solve the problem of paying for your moving expenses up front but it can save you huge chunks of change in the long run.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you save all of your receipts. Keep them in a safe place during the move that’s not going to get tossed or lost during the confusion.  You’ll definitely need those later!

Cathleen Calabro is a San Antonio based finance blogger, she has written personal finance advice for numerous authoritative websites.

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Flash Sale Sites and My Personal Rant

Several months ago, my boss and I found ourselves in a posh NYC restaurant for a business dinner. She was wearing an amazing dress and shoes that looked like they cost a fortune. “Where’d you get those?” I asked with my mouth half-full of orzo pasta (bad manners, I know), gesturing to her shoes. I expected her to tell me they’d come from some high-end boutique.

She didn’t.

“One of those flash sale sites online,” she replied. When I looked at her quizzically – I had no idea what a “flash sale site” was – she continued. “You know, those websites that have daily flash sales. There are a bunch of them out there.”

Turns out, the shoes – from designer Lanvin – retailed for upwards of $400; she’d purchased them from a website called Gilt.com for $150. Gilt specializes in flash sales for women’s clothing, but also sells men’s clothing, children’s clothing, and housewares, all at amazingly low prices.

Inspired by her combination of trendiness and frugalness, I embarked on my own journey to learn more about these flash sale sites. Here’s what I found…

Flash Sale Sites Specializing in Apparel

My research uncovered three sites that specialize in apparel. The first was Gilt, the website my boss had used to purchase her shoes at a steep discount. The second was HauteLook; it’s affiliated with Nordstrom/Nordstrom Rack (in fact, you can make returns directly to a local Nordstrom Rack store, rather than returning by mail). And the third was Rue La La.

After browsing the virtual “racks” for about a week, I decided to make a purchase from one of these sites. I found a lovely cashmere sweater on Rue La La for $69 (retail price was $149). Thanks to a referral from the aforementioned boss, I was eligible for an additional $10 off my first purchase, bringing my pre-tax, pre-shipping total to $59. Rue La La didn’t collect tax on my order, and it was a flat-fee shipping rate of $9.95. Had I ordered anything else from Rue in the subsequent 30 days, I would have received free shipping on those orders. In all, that cashmere sweater cost me $68.95.

When it arrived, I was really happy with my purchase. The sweater was super-soft, well-made, and the color was an exact match to the picture online.

Flash Sale Sites Specializing in Kids’ Gear

While I’m sure there are flash sale sites galore for kids, the one I kept coming back to during my research was Zulily. This seems to be the one kids’-related flash sale site that’s really stood the test of time. And although they specialize in children’s wear and gear, they do offer deals for are more adult-oriented.

Although I didn’t purchase anything on Zulily, I learned that my mother had – and her purchases were hanging in my son and daughter’s closets! She’d earned referral bucks ($15 for each referral), and also told me that “I could get more money if I put my stuff on Pinterest, whatever that is.” (She was referring to an additional $15 credit you can earn for pinning your purchases and preferences to Pinterest; she’s not that tech-savvy, which is why I was so surprised she’d discovered flash sales in the first place!) The items available on Zulily weren’t always from high-end labels, as on Gilt and Rue La La, but they seemed to be well-made.

Flash Sale Sites for Home Wares

I’d already heard about one of these sites, One Kings Lane, from one of the home decorating magazines I read. Although I really loved the products on this site, they were often out of my price range – even with the flash sales.

Then I learned about another flash sale site for home goods called Joss & Main. I loved the products, I loved the prices, and I loved the shipping policy (very similar to Rue La La – pay once, good for 30 days). I ordered one item for my home, and it arrived on time and in awesome condition. I was a happy customer, so when I found another item I wanted for my home, I made a second purchase from the site.

This is where my personal rant begins…

The item I ordered from Joss & Main was supposed to ship in 7-10 days after I placed my order. A day or two after I placed my order, I received an email that the shipment would be delayed by about a month. I shrugged my shoulders, figured that was the risk you took when shopping online, and patiently waited for my order to arrive.

It didn’t.

The scheduled ship date came and went, with nary a word from Joss & Main. I contacted customer service, who told me they’d check with the warehouse to see what was going on. A few hours later, I received another email, informing me that my order had been delayed another month. So, again, I patiently (ok, not-so-patiently) waited another month for my order to arrive… and then that ship date came and went, again without any update from the company. I emailed, I complained, and was given a $5 credit to my account. Then a day later, I got yet another email, letting me know that my order had been delayed another TWO months.

I was livid.

Waiting four months from purchase to fulfillment was, to my mind, completely unacceptable. But what was even more unacceptable to me was the nonchalance with which the customer service representatives handled the situation. They didn’t seem to understand why I was so frustrated with my shopping experience. Maybe they were unphased by it because extreme delays like this happen all the time? Maybe they were desensitized to it? I’m not sure, but all I know is, I’d had enough. I cancelled my order, and vowed never to do business with this company again.

I’m interested to hear if anybody else has had a GREAT or a HORRIBLE experience with any of these flash sale sites I’ve mentioned. Are some better than others? Are there others I left off this list that I should consider looking at? Share your advice!

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Managing Your Debt: A Real-Life Example

I have a friend named Sam. Right now, Sam’s finances are in big trouble. He’s buried in debt, and wondering how to get out of it. I’m hoping all of you can help him when it comes to managing debt with some practical advice.

Sam’s Situation

Sam’s done the math, and expects to make about $29,000 this year. He’s also taken a good, long look at his expenses, and expects to spend about $34,600. That’s a deficit of $5,600 for 2013 alone, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his debt; right now, Sam owes about $167,000 on various accounts, like his student loans, mortgage, and credit card.

He’s not even thinking ahead at investments or annuities.

Sam’s Options

In talking to Sam, it’s pretty clear he thinks he can get rid of all his debt simply by cutting costs. I’m not sure that’s really all that feasible. Looking at Sam’s income, his annual expenses, and his debts, cutting costs would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul: ineffective. So much of his income goes immediately to paying down debt that he really doesn’t have all that much wiggle room in his budget in the first place – there’s basically no discretionary spending he could trim at this point.

I think Sam needs to take a different approach. If he could get a second job and bring in some more money, he’d be able to stop running his household each year at a deficit, plus he’d have extra money to put toward paying down debt. I think that would be the most effective use of Sam’s time and money.

Of Course, This Is An Analogy…

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not talking about my “friend” Sam, but about my “Uncle Sam” – aka, the Federal Government – and its current debate over deficit reduction. You have those on the right who think cutting costs is going to get us where we need to be in terms of managing debt; then there are those on the left who want to eliminate our debt by simply increasing revenue. Most Americans – myself included – think we need to do both:

“Overall, what do you think is the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit — by cutting federal spending, by increasing taxes, or by a combination of both?”

 
    Cutting
spending
Increasing
taxes
Combination
of both
Unsure  
    % % % %  
 

3/1-3/13

35 5 56 5  
 

2/6-10/13

32 3 59 5  
 

1/11-15/13

33 3 61 3

(Source: CBS News, courtesy of Polling Report)

I used this analogy – using the same ratio of revenues to expenses to debt currently estimated for FY 2013 by the Federal Government – to take the politics out of the equation. If your family was in a similar situation to Sam’s, how would you handle it? Would you cut costs and call it a day? Or would you try to find a way to bring in more money at the same time that you trimmed our budget? And would you want the government to do the same?

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