≡ Menu
If you are new to Money In The 20s, please consider subscribing to my RSS Feed and following me on Twitter.

Kitchen Makeover: How I Saved $5,000 (Pt. 2)

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

A few weeks ago, I shared how my husband and I had saved thousands of dollars by painting our wood cabinets instead of hiring a professional for our kitchen makeover. Now that the project is complete, I’m ready to share step-by-step details of how we made it happen!

Step 1: Deconstructing Your Kitchen

This may seem like the easy part, but if you cut corners here you’ll pay the price when your kitchen is ready to be put back together again. My husband started by mapping out our kitchen, every last cabinet door and drawer-face. We planned on reusing the hinges, so he packed and labeled those as well. This way, he didn’t have to drill any new holes when rehanging the doors at the very end.

Step 2: Prepping Your Surfaces

You may think your kitchen is clean, but think again. Those wood surfaces are magnets for oil, grease, and grime, particularly the areas near your cooking surfaces. We used Murphy’s Oil Soap ($4.99 from my local grocery store) and microfiber cloths to clean the cabinets – doors, drawer faces, frames and all.

You now have a choice: you can either use a stripper to remove the stain from your cabinets, or you can sand them down. We chose the latter option, because not only did we want to remove the existing stain, we wanted to minimize the oak’s natural grain as much as possible, too. We used 240 grit aluminum oxide sandpaper to get the job done – though it wasn’t a simple task! This step required a lot of elbow grease. My husband had read that sanders can be too intense on wood surfaces, so he actually did all this by hand!

If your wood surfaces have any damage to them, you’ll want to use a wood filler after sanding, then sand over them to help them blend into the rest of the surface. Fortunately, our wood cabinets were in good shape, so we didn’t have to make any repairs.

Step 3: Time to Prime

Our local Ace Hardware suggested Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer (we got it on sale for $35/gallon), because this helps to minimize the grain without going overboard on sanding. Why a water-based product instead of oil-based? While we’d definitely read about the benefits of an oil-based product, we had 2 key concerns about using one:

1) The smell. We knew this would be a long project at the outset (we both have full-time jobs, so we’d be working on our kitchen here and there over the course of several weeks… ok, months), and we needed our kitchen to be functional in the meantime. Quite simply, we found the smell of the oil-based products recommended to us to be a dealbreaker!

2) Longevity. We were concerned about an oil-based product cracking or fading over time, especially because of the colors we ultimately chose. I didn’t want my cream-colored cabinets to end up looking yellow a few years down the road!

Unfortunately, the Zinsser didn’t cover all of the grain, so in certain spots, my husband applied an oil-based primer (Benjamin Moore Fresh Start, $20 for a quart), but was careful to ensure that we could use a latex paint on top of it (some oil and latex products don’t work well together!).

Step 4: Adding the Color

Finally, it was time to start really “painting.” I’d fallen in love with Benjamin Moore’s Historical Collection, and loved their Advanced series ($48/gallon). We selected a satin finish, as I wanted my cabinets to have more of a matte look. My husband’s plan was to use a paint sprayer, borrowed from my father, and paint everything en masse in our garage. However, my dad hadn’t properly cleaned the sprayer and it was clogged! We tried unclogging it, and ended up breaking a key component in the process.

So my husband decided to paint by hand.

Each cabinet got 2 coats of paint. The key here was time. This particular type of paint is a slow-drying material, with a suggested wait time of 4-6 hours between coats. Additionally, it’s a heavier paint, so Benjamin Moore recommends keeping it on a flat surface – eg, not hanging it up or standing it upright – for 1-2 days, while the paint sets. Talk about time consuming.

Step 5: Some Reassembly Required

Once the paint was dry, it was time to put my kitchen back together. Because my husband had been so meticulous about disassembling my kitchen, reassembly was like putting together a puzzle you’d played with dozens of times before. I was actually shocked at how quickly this step went.

Step 6: Optional Steps

There are still a few steps my husband and I are entertaining. One is whether or not we want to “antique” our cabinets; we’d do this by using a smaller brush to apply a dark colored glaze to specific parts of the doors and then wiping it off. I want to get used to my new kitchen first before deciding whether or not to tackle this.

The second thing we may still do is apply a finishing lacquer. We want to on the antiquing first, though, as this final coat would go on top of the glaze.

That’s it!

If I said this was a simple process, I’d be lying – at least partially. While there aren’t many steps – and no single step is really all that difficult – this is a project that requires a HUGE amount of time and energy. But knowing that we’ve come in $4000 below the cheapest estimate (and a whopping $9700 below the most expensive quote we received) feels pretty good – it was all worth it.

 

0 comments

Kitchen Makeover: How I Saved $5,000 (Pt. 1)

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

My home is a sea of oak. And not a rich, dark oak; not a light, bleached oak. Nope, a honey oak color that screams, “I haven’t been remodeled since New Kids on the Block were actually new kids!” My floors are oak; the doors are oak; the trim is oak; and every last cabinet – from the kitchen to the bathroom – is oak. It’s oak overload.

Kitchen Remodel Thoughts

One day about a year ago, I visited a new friend at her house. Her home had been built around the same time as mine, but it was totally bereft of oak. Turns out, she’d hired a painter to not just paint the wood, but to minimize the amount of grain peeking through. How much had it cost her, I asked? Brace yourself: the total price tag was thousands of dollars.

But I was completely enchanted. I knew this was the way to update my home without completely replacing everything. Resurfacing, I believe is the technical term for what I wanted to do. I started gathering estimates – hoping there were cheaper options to my friend’s high-end finishes – and was sorely disappointed. One guy gave me a pretty bare bones quote at $4100; another gave me a thorough quote at $5600; yet another guy left me slack-jawed with his quote of $10,000. “It’s just paint,” I thought to myself. “It can’t be that hard.” My husband agreed; and that, more or less, is how he accepted responsibility of the job himself.

DIY Kitchen Remodel

Yes, we (errrrr, he) decided on a DIY approach to our kitchen makeover. He did all the research; he went to home improvement stores – big box stores and small mom and pop shops where customer service and an intimate knowledge of the products reigned supreme – to find out what materials he should use. He watched tutorials online, picked up old issues of This Old House at the library… and he waited… and waited… and waited. He waited for what seemed to be an impossibly long time, simply preparing and mulling this kitchen renovation over in his mind. Then one day, I came home from a business trip to discover all the cabinet doors in my kitchen had disappeared. The remodel had begun.

It’s been 3 months since that day. Technically, it’s been 14 weeks, which is a long time to have your kitchen in a constant state of chaos. Part of the hold-up was me; I had a devil of a time deciding on paint colors and waffled back and forth more times than I’d like to admit. We’re now about 80% of the way through the process… the finish line is within sight.

And we’ve done it all for a fraction of the cost we would have paid to an outside contractor:

– Sandpaper: $8

– Primer #1: $35

– Primer #2: $20

– Paint (3 gallons): $144

– Brushes, drop cloths, and other painting supplies: about $100

All in all, we spent just over $300. By now I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what we did to make this dream a reality. Don’t fear, I’m going to share it all with you (with some help from my husband). But you’ll have to come back in a few weeks for the step-by-step details!

0 comments

Is An Elite College Worth The Money?

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

I decided what college I was going to attend when I was 9 years old. Of course, it was another 9 years before the acceptance letter making my dream a reality arrived in my mailbox, but in my mind, it was a done deal at that point: my mind was set.

Elite College Cost

It didn’t matter to me that my school of choice – an elite East Coast university – came with a hefty price tag. At the time, annual tuition plus room and board was roughly $44,000. Multiplied by the cost of books, travel to and from campus (it was located a day’s drive away), and all the other ancillary costs associated with college attendance, it came out to closer to $50,000/year.

My parents, to their credit, didn’t shoot down my dream; they later confided in me that although the final costs of my collegiate experience were higher than they’d anticipated, that they realized to keep me from going – after nearly a decade of obsessing over this particular school – would have been cruel. They told me that if the costs had truly been too much for our family, that they would have shot me down before I ever got close to sending in an application.

Bumps

Along the way, my dad lost his job, spent 6 months out of work, and ended up taking a lower-paying job during my first two years of college. This significantly impacted our financial aid package – for the better, actually – and I ended up with just under $20,000 in student loan debt on graduation day. Although I went to grad school (which was FAR costlier) and initially into a relatively low-paying field, I was able to pay all my loans off within 10 years of graduation.

I’ve had friends and extended family argue that I could have gotten my degree (a BA in history) from a cheaper state school. It’s a tempting argument for people to make: why go out of state to attend a college with a prestigious reputation when you can save money while earning the same degree?

My View Now

It’s a question my mentee – a high school senior attending a local private school – asked me this spring as she ruminated over her own college choice. She was deciding between our state’s marquee public school, and the best private school in the state. While she felt pulled by the “lower cost, same degree” argument, she knew there must be more to the story. Knowing my history, she asked me for a candid response.

This is what I told her:

When I first got to campus, I was overwhelmed. I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond – everyone had come to campus with academic, artistic, and athletic accolades. For the first year, I seriously considered transferring home to a big state school, where I could get the same degree for less money, and lose myself in a sea of fish. But then my parents told me something that’s stuck with me ever since: college is about more than the classes you take. Over the next 3 years, I realized they were right. I started working with a professor on a research paper he was writing for a major academic publication; I joined a sorority, a campus dance team, and other university groups that gave me the chance to work with people from all over the world. I made contacts that have helped me to this day, both professionally and personally. Ultimately, your degree is a piece of paper; it is what goes on behind the scenes that maximizes your collegiate experience.

Could I have made those connections at a less-expensive school? Yes, I’m sure that I could have. But the name on my diploma might not have carried the same weight. When I tell people about my alma mater, it immediately affects how they see me. They make assumptions about me: that I must be smart, that I must be driven, that I must be a bit of a snob (all 3 are more or less true). But for prospective employers, the name on my diploma tells them that I’m willing to work hard and make sacrifices to attain the very highest levels of success, no matter what the cost. There are good and bad things to that perception, but it’s a perception that opens doors nonetheless.

There’s not a lot of hard data on earnings potential for students who attend prestigious schools vs less-prestigious schools (note: a prestigious school can be a top public school, like UVA or Berkeley). But for me, I know it was the right decision.

0 comments

Dikembe Mutombo, My Husband, and McDonald’s

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

It was the meeting all young couples both anticipate and dread: the first time you meet the parents. I was 21 years old, and bringing my then-boyfriend home from college to meet my parents for the first time. He’d recently experienced some academic struggles on campus, an issue my career-minded father was quick to zero in on:

Dad: I understand you failed a pair of classes last semester.

Boyfriend: Yes, sir.

Dad: That seems to suggest you don’t take your studies seriously.

Boyfriend: No, sir.

Dad: Well, if you expect to get serious with my daughter, you better buckle down and study, or you’d better start practicing saying, “Do you want fries with that?” (a reference to a McDonald’s ad campaign at the time)

That’s Just Wrong

I’d largely forgotten that conversation until a few weeks ago, when I heard an interview with Dikembe Mutombo, the former Georgetown basketball star recently elected to the hall of fame. He was recounting his experiences under Coach John Thompson Jr., whom Mutombo considers a father figure. He said that at one point, Thompson admonished him to work harder, lest he end up working at McDonald’s, rather than going on to an illustrious NBA career.

Upon hearing that interview, I thought back to my dad’s initial interaction with my then-boyfriend (now my husband). And, for the first time, I didn’t think it was funny; I didn’t think it was a good lesson, or a warning; I thought it was elitist and grossly unfair.

To tell someone that if they fail to work hard, they’ll end up working at McDonald’s – or any other place of employment – demeans the work of the individuals who actually do those jobs. It suggests that the guy taking your order at the local fast food drive-thru didn’t work hard; otherwise, he wouldn’t have to work where he does.

The fact is, there are plenty of hardworking people in every industry, just as every workplace also has its share of lazy, good-for-nothing employees. Some people weren’t afforded the opportunities to allow them to pursue certain career paths; largely, this is a failure of the system and society in which we live, rather than the individual himself. Other people did take advantage of opportunities for education, career advancement, etc, only to have live go awry; again, this is often a reflection of larger socio-economic forces.

Everyone who chooses to work – whether in a high-profile, glamorous job or a position you consider “beneath” you – deserves our respect. There is dignity in ALL work, regardless of what society sometimes leads us to believe. It’s a lesson I didn’t understand at the start of my 20s.

I do now.

0 comments

Low-Cost Airlines: Are They Really Cheaper?

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

A few months ago, our local airport – once a major hub of a major airline that lost out big time when carriers started to merge – did something impressive: it invited a handful of low-cost airlines to occupy a slew of gates in an otherwise unused terminal. I was thrilled! One of the carriers flew primarily to warm, sunny locations in the South; I had visions of my family taking weekend trips to Florida for $100 a person.

Then reality set in.

As I was planning our spring break trip, I decided to try out one of these so-called low-cost airlines. How much would I save? The answer was surprising.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines operates much like low-cost European carriers like Ryanair. You pay a basic charge for your seat (Spirit calls it a “Bare Fare”), but everything else – from luggage (even carry-ons!) to seat assignment is extra. I wanted to see how much it would cost my family (2 adults, 2 kids) from our local airport to Orlando, Florida (MCO, not Sanford). Here’s what I found

The “Bare Fare” was $63.09 per person, per way. So the total roundtrip airfare for my family of 4 was $504.72. Not bad. Then, Spirit bombarded me with options to add hotels, car rental, and admission to various tourist traps at my destination – even though I’d declared from the outset that I was shopping for “flight only.” Annoying, but since I wasn’t buying anything, it didn’t cost me anything… but time…

A “personal item” is included with each ticket, but beyond that, you’re on your own paying for luggage:

  • 1 Carry-on item: $35/person
  • 1 Checked bag: $30/person
  • 2nd Checked bag: $40/person (so TWO checked bags cost you $70)

Spirit does offer baggage discounts to members of its “$9 Fare” Club – though annual membership will set you back $59.99/year. The program’s baggage fees are reduced, though:

  • 1 Carry-on item: $26/person
  • 1 Checked bag: $21/person
  • 2nd Checked bag: $31/person (so TWO checked bags cost you $52)

I wanted to see what the fare would be without the “$9 Fare” membership, so I skipped that. Based on our last flight as a family, I planned for 3 checked bags and 1 carry-on item. That brought our grand total to $629.72. Then I realized those baggage fees were each way – make that a grand total of $754.72.

Next came seat selection. Traveling with 2 young kids means I can’t leave it up to chance – otherwise, some stranger will end up stuck next to my 3-year-old for two enlightening hours. Spirit offers several tiers of seating assignments, ranging from $10/seat all the way up to $35. Trying to save money, I went with $10/seat – but for 4 people each way, it was another $80 added on to our total, bringing it to $834.72.

Spirit tried to sell me some more add-ons (including priority boarding, so I could get to my cheap $10 seats before anyone else, I suppose, and travel insurance) before revealing my grand total. And that’s when things got really surprising.

All along, I’d assumed that the prices included taxes and fees – after all, other airlines (nowadays) usually show you that information up front. Not Spirit. After adding on the government’s cut (roughly $160 bucks), it came out to just over $994.

So how would that compare to another low-cost airline? Let’s find out.

Southwest Airlines

In order to ensure that I was comparing apples to apples, I searched for flights to and from the same airports on the same days (even though I knew Southwest flew out of a nearby smaller, regional airport at a lower price). Here’s what I found:

  • The cost of a roundtrip ticket on Southwest was $251.50 – a price they told me right up front, without all the rigmarole Spirit put me through. The total came out to $1006.00 for my family of 4.
  • And that was IT. I didn’t have to pay for seats (Southwest, for better or for worse, does group boarding – typically, the earlier you print your boarding passes during the 24-hour pre-flight boarding window, the sooner you’ll get on the plane – and the better your seats), nor did I have to pay for luggage – your first 2 bags fly free.

The Difference

When all was said and done, Spirit was cheaper than Southwest – by $12. If I had ponied up for Spirit’s $9 Fare Club, I could have saved an additional $200, though $60 of that would have been eaten up by the cost of the membership itself. So really, I would have saved about $150 using Spirit.

So in reality, which low-cost airline would I have chosen for this “test” flight?

Southwest. And here’s why:

  1. Spirit Airlines has consistently received poor reviews by travelers and industry experts alike. Southwest, by comparison, has fared better.
  2. Southwest offered about 8 flights on the days I chose to travel (full disclosure: I based my dates of travel off of when it would have been cheapest to fly on Spirit; had I slightly altered my schedule and done the same for Southwest, that airline would have been cheaper). Spirit gave me just ONE option – boarding at 7:15am on the way to my destination, and arriving home at 11:25pm. Neither is ideal with young kids.

I’m curious if any of you have had experiences – either great or horrible – with these or any other low-cost airlines? Which would YOU recommend?

0 comments

Mastering Your Closet: Stitch Fix Review

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

When my husband and I bought our house, one of the key selling points was the walk-in closet. It was bigger than some of the dorm rooms I lived in at college, and though it wasn’t equipped with all the high-end, fancy shelving that you see on an episode of “House Hunters,” it was just begging for me to make it my own. So we did.

And now, a full 18 months later, I’m realizing that although the closet may be huge, my wardrobe was relatively small. And that’s where Stitch Fix* comes in.

*Note* – This is not a paid review for Stitch Fix. I was not compensated by the company in any way for this post. I am simply sharing my opinions and experiences on the service and its products. I’ve used my personal referral link in this post.

Stitch Fix

If you haven’t heard of Stitch Fix, here’s how it works. First, you sign up for an account and fill out a style profile. They’ll ask you questions about your size, preferred style of clothes, and what in particular you’re looking to add to your wardrobe.

Need a lot of tops, but no bottoms? Looking to fill out your business casual wardrobe? Need help accessorizing? Stitch Fix can do it all.

Once you’ve filled out the profile, you’ll have the opportunity to schedule a “Fix.” Your personal stylist will use your style profile to hand select 5 items, which will be shipped to you for free. The cost for all this is $20 – but you’ll have an opportunity to get that money back down the road.

When your fix arrives, it’ll come with these fun styling cards. The cards give you an idea of how to wear the clothes and accessories you’ve received.


l Mastering Your Closet: Stitch Fix Review

Photo Courtesy: Hanger 731 on Polyvore – a great resource for finding what Stitch Fix has to offer! Photo Courtesy: Hanger 731 on Polyvore – a great resource for finding what Stitch Fix has to offer!

You now have the luxury of trying on the items you’ve received in the comfort of your own home. I really like the convenience of this – it means I’m always wearing the right undergarments/shoes/etc for the clothing I’m wearing.

Stitch Fix allows you to determine a price range for each type of clothing. So you can customize the amount you spend. For example, I’m ok with less expensive tops, but want bottoms that will stand the test of time (both in terms of style and quality) and am willing to pay a little more for them. This way, Stitch Fix won’t send you a $150 top if your budget only has room for $30.

My Fix

In my latest fix, I got a scarf, 3 tops, and a sweater. For a Stitch Fix newbie, my stylist – Paula – did a great job. I only ended up keeping the scarf (it was EXACTLY my style).

I sent everything else back; Stitch Fix provides a prepaid return envelope for anything you don’t want. Any time you choose to keep an item from your fix, you get to apply that $20 styling fee you paid up front – so the $32 scarf only cost me an additional $12 out of pocket. If your stylist hits it out of the park and you choose to keep all 5 items, you get 25% off everything – a pretty nice discount (in fact, if you like 4 out of 5 items, it usually is cheaper to just keep everything and get that 25% discount – I’ve had friends sell the 5th item they didn’t love for full price and make a nice little profit!).

I was intrigued enough by Stitch Fix to try it again – you can schedule a fix as frequently (or as infrequently) as you like. Lead time is about 2 weeks.

0 comments

3 Reasons Why I Cashed In My Savings Bonds

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

I was sick and tired of being stuck in a time warp from 1993. My kitchen was golden oak everything – cabinets, molding, flooring – right down to the golden oak trim on my forest green formica countertops. I’d had enough; it was time to join the 21st century.

But here was the problem: my husband and I were a little short on cash. Yes, we had our emergency fund, but granite countertops don’t exactly fall under a critical need. So we decided to search out some creative ways to pay for our cabinets. Ultimately, we chose to cash in savings bonds that my grandmother had bought for me as a young child.

Cashing In Our Savings Bonds

It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. Here are the key factors we considered:

1) The majority of my bonds had reached their maturity date. In other words, they weren’t earning me a dime – heck, even the cash in our savings account (with its infinitesimal interest rate) was making more money for us! Since these mature savings bonds weren’t doing any work for me, I figured it was time to cash them in.

2) One option we’d considered was temporarily reducing our 401(k) contributions. Then we received our year-end investment summaries, and saw that my account had earned 7% over the previous 12 months, while my husband’s had fared even better – earning 7.4%. Of the bonds that were still earning interest, most were bringing in a meager 1.3% (little more than you’d get with a CD account), while a select few were earning a strong 4%. Even so, it didn’t make sense to stop investing in our retirement accounts when they were significantly outearning the bonds.

3) President Obama made middle class tax breaks one of the keys of his 2015 State of the Union address. I know it’s risky to bank on anything in Washington these days, but I’m hoping that by cashing in my savings bonds now, I’ll be able to take advantage of those tax cuts and pay a lower rate on the interest accrued (yes, you do pay interest on savings bonds) than I would down the road, when my husband and I are in a higher-earning tax bracket.

Do you have any savings bonds? If so, are you saving them for a rainy day, or something else?

0 comments

Online Shopping at ThredUp

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

When I lived in the Dirty South, consignment shopping was a way of life. There were consignment stores for kids, for housewares, for high-end labels, for sporting goods – you name it, there was a shop in town that sold it. It made it easy not only to get great clothes at a great price, but to clean out my closet at the same time.

ThredUp

So when I heard about ThredUp*, I was intrigued – both as a potential buyer and seller. Since moving back to my hometown, I’d struggled to find a dependable place to sell my gently used clothing, plus who doesn’t like to save money when filling out their wardrobe? After all – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure – and that’s exactly what ThredUp is all about.

Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for an account. I’ve included my personal referral link in this post; if you use it, you’ll get $10 off your first order
  • Start shopping! You can set a variety of filters to browse, including tops, dresses, bottoms, formal, high-end labels (ThredUp’s “X Collection”), children’s clothing, by size, by price… you name it, you can set search criteria to search for (or particularly exclude) something!
  • Create your own “personal shop.” You do this by saving your search filters. This makes it easy to return to a particular size, style, or type of clothing with a single click – a huge time saver
  • Add items to your shopping cart. You can only “reserve” items for 24 hours at a time – after that, you can either covertly remove and re-add every item from your cart, or simply allow your cart to empty automatically
  • Once you’ve decided on your items, you can checkout just like you would on any other online store

After playing around with the website for several weeks, I decided to dive in, and have since experienced the shop as both a buyer and a seller, with mixed results.

Buyer’s Experience

My first purchase from ThredUp was a pretty hefty one – I bought 8 tops for a total of $114 and change. Because I bought more than $70 worth of items, shipping to me was free (more on return shipping later). Some of the tops were “Final Sale” – something that is clearly marked on the site – which meant I wouldn’t be able to return them whether they worked or not; everything else was returnable.

Of the 8 tops, only 3 worked. My grand total for those came to $35. ThredUp doesn’t cover return shipping, which means it’s up to you to pay. Ultimately, it cost me another $14 to send the 5 tops that didn’t work – some because the size was wonky, others because I just didn’t like them on me. So my total “out of pocket” cost for the 3 tops I bought was $49 – $35 for the actual purchase price, and $14 for the cost of returning the items I didn’t want to keep. I probably could have saved some money on the return shipping if I hadn’t added package tracking and insurance, but I didn’t want to be out for the entire balance.

ThredUp maintains that it meticulously inspects each item it receives in order to ensure it only resells items of the highest quality. However, after washing my new tops, I noticed a teeny, tiny hole in the armpit of one – an issue that was not disclosed at the time of purchase (ThredUp will let you know if an item has a minor defect; usually, prices on these items are further discounted than those that are in mint condition). I wasn’t 100% sure whether the item had a hole when it arrived at my house, or whether the tear occurred during the trying on/washing process, so I didn’t contact the company to complain – in hindsight, I probably should have.

ThredUp Buyer Grade: B-

Seller’s Experience

After receiving my purchase in the mail, I decided I had several items in my closet that would fit the bill of what ThredUp is looking to sell. So I went through my wardrobe and cleared out items that I hadn’t worn in a while. I was careful to inspect each item for any snags, tears, or holes, and paid attention to the site’s consigning guidelines to ensure I was only sending them items that they would accept.

ThredUp sent me a “clean out” bag – along with free shipping – to send all my items in to them. They don’t use any type of expedited shipping for this, so it took a long time for the bag to not only get to me, but for ThredUp to receive it once I’d sent it back to them. Add on the 2 weeks it took for ThredUp to process the contents of my bag once they received it, and the whole process from beginning to end lasted close to 5 weeks.

If I wasn’t impressed with the timeline of the whole process, I was definitely left wanting once I saw the results. Of the 15 items – just about all of which were brands like Gap, Banana Republic, and J Crew – ThredUp only accepted 4 of them (including a high-label dress), and paid me just shy of $19. I could have tried to get the other 11 items back, but I would have had to pay $12… again, it just didn’t seem worth my money.

ThredUp Seller Grade: D

My Overall Experience

After all was said and done, I would definitely shop from them again – my first experience gave me a clear idea of how to use this site to maximize my wardrobe. As for the selling experience, NEVER AGAIN. The timeline, combined with having to pay to get my clothes back (while, I can only assume, ThredUp got a tax write-off for donating my unwanted items?), really left a sour taste in my mouth.

I’ve heard there are other sites out there like ThredUp, but I’ve yet to try them. Are you familiar with any of these online consignment stores? If so, which ones, and what do you think of them?

*Note* – This is not a paid review for ThredUp. I was not compensated by the company in any way for this post. I am simply sharing my opinions and experiences on the service and its products. I’ve used my personal referral link in this post.

0 comments

5 Ways to Find Fast Cash Now

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

Last night, my husband was called to a bank robbery (he’s a police officer – an important part of this story!). However, it wasn’t your typical case. The robber arrived at the bank after hours to find the doors locked (yes, even criminals have issues with their local bank branch’s limited hours). Undeterred, he pulled around to the side of the bank where he tried to force money out of the ATM; at one point, he left, only to come back with some tools as he attempted to extricate the machine from the wall. The whole scenario was caught on the surveillance camera built in to the ATM… and my husband caught the guy a few hours later.

Why?

As my husband booked the suspect, he asked him casually why he’d been so determined to get money out of the bank. The guy’s answer? “I needed money.”

Don’t we all?

Whether it’s to fix your car, pay a medical bill, or simply buy something you don’t think you can live without, everyone – at one time or another – has needed money. For most of us, robbing a bank isn’t the solution.

Better Ways

So if you need fast cash or can’t wait until your next payday to get the money you need (or just really, really want), here are 5 ways to get your hands on some:

1)      Take out a home equity loan. Yes, this assumes that you (a) own a home and (b) have some equity in it. Typically, banks want to see the owner have at least 20% equity in a property before they’ll extend this type of loan or line of credit. Truth be told, this isn’t exactly a speedy solution – securing a home equity loan requires filling out paperwork, going through an underwriter, etc. But if you already have a loan in place, then this is an option to get some cash now.

2)      Pull from your emergency fund… but only if your situation qualifies as an emergency! Do you need cash now to pay for a new roof? That’s exactly why you put money into an emergency fund in the first place. Do you need fast cash to pay for a family vacation? Sorry buddy, keep saving.

3)      Cash in mature savings bonds. Most savings bonds issued in the past 35 years stop accruing interesting after 20 or 30 years. So if your grandmother was like mine and gave you bonds for your birth, baptism, and early birthdays, then you may already have some bonds that have matured. These savings bonds are no longer doing any work for you, so even if you don’t use them when you need fast cash, at the very least consider reinvesting mature bonds so they’re not just sitting there.

4)      Bring in more Benjamins. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to get a second job, though that is an option. But there are other ways to earn money quickly and legitimately. Many companies and industries pay consumers for their opinions, through online or phone surveys. You could sell your blood, plasma, or even participate in clinical trials of new medicines (though you might want to consult with your own doctor first). If you’re crafty, open an online store on a site like Etsy. Even taking a page from your teen years and babysitting or mowing neighbors’ yards can bring in cash fast.

5)      Minimalize. If you can’t get your hands on MORE money, then find a way to get the most out of the money you ALREADY have. Minimalism not only helps the environment, but it also helps your wallet. Selling items you don’t use or need; return prior purchases you’ve yet to open; offer to rideshare with a coworker, splitting the cost of getting to and from your job; rent out an extra bedroom. Even reevaluating your household budget can be a goldmine, whether it’s reviewing your insurance policies or canceling your cable – if you’re not willing to give up HBO for a few months, you’re not all that desperate for cash.

Have you ever found yourself in a tough spot where you needed money RIGHT NOW? How’d you handle the situation?

0 comments

Libby is a jack of all trades, master of… well, you know how the saying goes. Media consultant by day, mommy by night, you can usually find her with a glass of wine in hand, provided the kids are in bed!

My dad, who in our family is also called “The Tax Man,” raised me on 3 key financial principles:

1) Never, EVER get a credit card from the guys who hawk them in your college student union just so you get a free hat;

2) Shred every single receipt, tax form, bill, etc. that has your name or address on it;

3) As soon as you get married, enjoy the endless world of benefits that come with filing your taxes jointly.

I’ve clung to these principles, and have eagerly shared them with any financial novices I’ve come across along the way. So imagine my surprise when several friends announced this spring on Facebook that they’d decided to file separately on their 2014 FY taxes. “But that’s NEVER a good idea!” I immediately posted in response. What I got in return was a fast, fierce drilling down on why for some married couples, filing separately is the best way to go.

The Spouse Who Constantly Travels

One of my friends got married last summer, and fully anticipated filing jointly with her husband this year. But when they ran the numbers, the math just didn’t add up; they looked at what their return would be filing separately, and saw a modest benefit. But why?

Turns out, my friend’s husband travels a TON for work, and most of his travel expenses – some meals, baggage fees, transportation to and from the airport, etc – weren’t covered by his company. Those expenses that aren’t reimbursed can added to your Schedule A, provided they represent under 2% of your adjusted gross income. In my friend’s case, it took her husband from one tax bracket into a lower one.

The Spouse With High Health Care Costs

This is becoming increasingly common, thanks to a variety of reasons. First, many employers will no longer cover your spouse if they have a full-time job that offers health care benefits; second, health care reform means everybody has to have medical insurance, but doesn’t mandate or cap your out of pocket max. One of my friend’s chose to take a gamble on her 2014 health insurance coverage, and went with a plan that included a high deductible and out of pocket maximum. Then she broke her leg skiing out of state, and ended up in traction for ten days in a hospital far from home. Her out of pocket medical expenses were well over the 10% AGI threshold outlined by the IRS, so she was able to deduct them by filing separately from her husband, whose very high income would have made it impossible to reach that 10% zone.

The Troubled Marriage

I have a friend who has spent the last eight months in marriage counseling. She honestly doesn’t believe that she’ll still be married a year from now, so she decided to file separately, even though she’s still got a ring on it. Although this isn’t beneficial to her financially right now, she hopes that it could (A) expedite the divorce once she decides to file and (B) make it easier for her lawyer to draw up child support and alimony payments down the road.

The Complicated History

Another friend got married this year to a man who’d tied the knot twice before, and had children in both previous relationships. Between the alimony, child support payments, and the disparity between his income and his new wife’s, their tax attorney suggested they file separately. It wasn’t so much due to one single issue, but rather a compilation of issues.

Have you ever decided to file separately, even though you’re married?

0 comments