Christmas for the Destitute

First, my disclaimer:  I’m not destitute.

However, I’m trying to spend Christmas acting like I am a pauper.

Why, with small children and beautiful-and-more-than-deserving wife, would I want to deprive my family of a bountiful holiday?

Before we get into the reasons for being a horrible grinch bent on depriving my children of their god-given right to rampant consumerism, let’s look at the Philosophy of Destitution.

The primary reason to pull back and tone it down is basic frugality.  Excessive anything is not frugal. I am training my children–and for that matter, my wife and my self–in the finer arts of personal responsibility and frugality.   Accumulating debt for a fleeting holiday is insane.  If we can’t afford to buy it, we certainly can’t afford to give it.   Anything else would be setting a bad example and children learn best by example.

Another piece of the Philosophy of Destitution(when I read this word, I hear a deep, booming voice in my head, like a 30s radio superhero voiceover)  is “green”.    I consider myself a conservationalist rather than an environmentalist, so don’t read too much into that color.  I try to be responsible, instead of destructive and I try to avoid being wasteful.  Toys that won’t be played with are wasteful. A garbage can full of packaging for those same toys costs money.  It is much cheaper to avoid the landfill here.

Back to “Why”. Why would I be willing to deprive my family?

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Rebates Suck

About a month ago, I bought a new laptop.

A Picture of an Staples, Inc. easy button

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The old one still works, but it’s kind of slow, and kind of in demand, especially when Kid #1 has friends over. When I need to get on the computer and whip up some side-hustle money, I shouldn’t have to fight with kids and deal with the whiny “Are you done, yet?” every 10 minutes.

This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Since the old laptop still worked, we had quite a bit of time to find the new one, so I started watching sales. And I waited.

Eventually, I found a great deal.   I got a much bigger/faster/smarter/nicer laptop for about $375 with tax.  There was a sale, a coupon code, and a rebate all in play to make that happen.

I don’t mind coupons and sales.  In fact, I am a fan.

Rebates, however, irritate me.

It shouldn’t have been bad.  After all, I was going to Staples, home of the Easy Button®.  I should have been able to go home, fire up their website, fill out a form, and get my money in a couple of weeks, right?


Apparently, the easy rebate doesn’t apply to the good rebates.   If you’re getting $1.05 back on a $100 printer, you can do it in a few clicks.   But if you’re getting $50 back on a $400 laptop, watch out.   Then, Staples has the same horrible rebate process as everyone else.   Print the forms, peel off the UPC label, snail-mail it to the middle of nowhere and wait 4 to 100 months for a gift card.

Double grr.

Obviously, they are hoping a statistically significant percentage of their customers forget to claim their money.

Shady rebate garbage.

Rebates are a marketing ploy to convince customers they are getting a sale, while hoping the customer forgets to ask for the sale price, thereby paying full price and being happy about it.

Ethical businesses would just have a sale and be done with it.   Treating your customers right is good for business.  Really.

Now, where did I put that receipt?

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Ten Easy Ways to Cut Spending at Home

With the sorry state of the economy over recent years, most home-owners are looking at ways to cut down on monthly spends without being frugal. These are ten simple steps to save your household £100s without missing out on home comforts;

  1. Invest in ISAs. Taxes are becoming a bigger pain than ever before, the only way to avoid the sting in the governments tail is to invest in ISAs. Although there are standard cash ISAs, Stocks and Shares ISAs offer the opportunity to invest for less. This can be risky so only invest what you could afford to lose in the worst case scenario, however if you invest wisely you could potentially bring in a handy amount of cash at the end of your ISA investment term. [Ed.  For my American readers, ISAs are tax-sheltered savings or investment accounts.]
  2. Do the weekly shop online. A site like offers up all your regular shopping goods but compares the price from all major supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Ocado and Sainsburys) to make sure you pay the best price for your weekly shop. It saves you the time and effort of battling through supermarket crowds and paying over the odds for your weekly shop.   Sites such as Topcashback offer money back on your total bill (up for 10%), giving you something for nothing, which these days can’t be ignored!
  3. Homemade not Homepride! It might be the easy option, but ready meals come with a large mark up. By ditching the meals in favour of freshly prepared food you can save yourself a packet and learn a new skill to capitalise on in the future perhaps. Visit local markets for your produce at a far lower price than the local supermarket. So overall, you’re saving money and benefiting from the best, freshest local produce.
  4. Satellite vs. Freeview. When it comes to your TV package you must choose wisely. Packages range from around £50 a month for those who demand all the sports and movie channels, to £13 one off cost for Freeview, dependant on what box you chose. Weigh up if you really need most, hundreds of channels you never watch or an extra £50 a month. [Ed.  My basic currency conversion is £1 = $2.  It’s not perfect, but it is close enough.]
  5. Household insurance shouldn’t cost the earth. Although this is a safety net, not a legal necessity, most households prefer the security of knowing that if disaster strikes, it won’t strike your bank balance. With sites like it is simple to find the cheapest policy for you, only taking a few minutes but potentially saving hundreds.
  6. Ditch the DIY bodging. With the majority of households carrying out regular DIY, hardware stores are raking in the profits when it all goes wrong. We can’t all be natural born handymen and women but with the help of local courses you can be trained in the art of household maintenance for around £100, a bargain when you compare the costs of getting in the professionals to fix DIY disasters. [Ed.  Youtube is also a great resource to learn DIY repairs.]
  7. Auction your clutter. If we’re being honest, we all have that cupboard at home filled with things we really don’t need and will never use! It’s time to be cutthroat and unemotional, get the laptop out and auction everything that hasn’t been used for a year. Don’t use the excuse of ‘it might come back into fashion’ or ‘that’ll come in handy one day’, it won’t and by getting rid you benefit from extra cash and extra space – win/win.
  8. Swap top brands for own brand. I’m not saying settle for foods you dislike, but often you can benefit from supermarket own brands without your taste buds suffering. Items like tinned fruit and veg, bread and butter all taste extremely similar, weather you penny pinch or splash the cash. So trade in your £1.25 loaf of bread in favour for one costing 20p and see if you notice the difference.
  9. Stick to a shopping list. By shopping for a list and sticking to it, it cuts out impulse buys that are responsible for the shock you receive when you get to the tills. Plan your weekly meals and simply buy what you need, cutting waste and potentially cutting your waistline! Also try to avoid 3 for the price of 2 deals on products with a shelf life, as often this results in a bin full of gone off food!
  10. Invest in Skype. To cut down on costly phone bills, use Skype where necessary. An internet let service, it allows you to call and video call people with Skype for free, or phone normal phone lines for a fraction of the cost of using your usual phone line. With free to download software, you would be silly to throw away money on costly phone bills.

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4 Ways We Keep Wasting Money

DENVER - NOVEMBER 22:  A traveler undergoes an...
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MSN Money has an article up on common ways money is wasted.    Here is my spin.

We(as a species) tend to do a great job of wasting money.   Between inertia and the emotional pain of cutting off something we have gotten used to–whether it be Netflix or a 3rd arm–it’s hard to kill wasted costs.  As Robert Heinlein said, “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.”

MSN listed 4 ways to make your money go bye-bye:

1.  Credit cards

According to the article, in the US, the average rate of interest is 15% for a total nation-wide debt of $850 billion-with-a-B.  That’s insane.   I lucked out and quit using my cards before the CARD act forced all the issuers to send their rates to the moon.   I’ve opted out of every agreement change since then, while I pay off the remaining balances.   15%! If you buy something for $1000 and pay it off in a year, that’s $1150.   What could you do with an extra $150?   It’s time to get out the torches and pitchforks and drop by Mr. Debt’s house.

2.  Overdraft fees

I set up an overdraft protection account years ago, because it was a heckuva lot cheaper than bouncing checks.   It came with a 25% interest rate and a $2 fee per use.   A couple of months ago, they boosted the fee to $10 per use.   Jerkface, you’re already cashing in on my interest, do you have to touch me like that at the beginning of the date, too?   Thankfully, we haven’t used our overdraft protection since we went on our debt-killing crusade in April of 2009.   Oh, Mr. Debt!  You’re going to have a really bad day when I get to your house.   There will be a smoothie à la Otis when I get there.  Side note: If you’ve got a dark sense of humor, rent Otis.    Not only will you love it, you’ll get the smoothie joke.

3. Unused memberships, gift cards and rebates

Gym memberships are the big example here.   People buy a membership because they set some awesome New Year’s resolution, use it for 2 months, then spend 6 months telling themselves they’ll start using it again soon before they finally cancel.   At $30 per month, that’s $180 that could have been spent sending me presents.   If you must get a gym membership, wait until spring.  That’s when people tell themselves they don’t need a membership because it’s so nice out, they can just exercise outside.   When people tell themselves that, the gyms cut membership costs to lure people in to start their own 6 months of denial.

Take a look at your other recurring costs, too.  Do you use the cable package you have, or could you be just as happy with the next one down?  Do you need the donkeys-and-kneesocks-around-the-world channel?   You’ve gotten your 10 CDs for a penny, can you tell Columbia House where to go with their $20 per CD commitment?

4.  Airline fees

This one is easy.   Forget the 3 hour lines, fees for showing up, Pervo-Scan™, and minimum-wage molestation agents masquerading as cops.   Drive whenever possible.    If it’s not possible, show up in a kilt, regimental-style(assuming you are a guy!).   Don’t check a bag, just ship if overnight to your hotel.   Most of the time, that’s cheaper than $50 per bag, anyway.  Avoid the fees as much as possible.

What other ways have you wasted money?

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