Have you ever been to a yard sale? They used to be quite popular 15 or so years ago, but since the Internet has stormed our households, suddenly yard sales aren’t as useful. After all, instead of spending 30 minutes making ourselves look presentable enough to go outside and peruse that sale, we could be sitting in front of our computer and finding a great deal with our pajamas on. While you can find some deals online, I still believe in the art of finding deals at your local yard sale.
Let’s think about our online purchases for a moment. I’d say that five years ago or so, it was pretty easy to scroll through Craigslist or Kijiji and find a screaming deal on something we were looking for. It was great! We called up the buyer, made sure they still had the item, and then we hopped into our car with our cash to go pick it up. Simple huh? But what’s it like today? With so many people online, here’s how the scenario typically plays out: You are looking for a new smart phone to replace your old one that recently took a dive in the toilet, and low and behold, there it is! It’s an iPhone 4S (it has Siri even!) and it’s only listed for $50. It was posted just a couple of hours ago, so you might still have a chance to pick up this sweet deal. Quickly, you dial the number on the ad and nobody answers. In fact, not only does no one answer, but their voice mail is full. There has already been so much interest in this phone that the seller has stopped answering her phone and her voice mail is full! You never had a chance.
With all of our interest flowing from the yard sales to the online sales, it is now much more difficult to find a deal with your computer. But, do you know where you can find the deals now? You’ve got it: the yard sales.
Fewer and fewer people stop at those yard sales, but the sellers still want to get rid of all their stuff! As the day goes on, prices start going down and down. The only difficulty is knowing what’s actually for sale in the yard. Well, the only way to truly know is to get down and dirty and take a close look at everything.
Typically, yard sales have exercise equipment, furniture, sports equipment, books, kid’s toys, and gently used kid’s clothing. Since the interest in these items is low, you can really find some sweet deals here. Furniture is often priced at less than 10% compared to store prices, and the same is true for that exercise equipment! If you’re looking to get back in shape, don’t head to the retail store. Take a trip to some yard sales! You’ll find some great stuff, and it will be priced so low that it might still be worth buying, even if you only work out for 2 weeks.
Not only is it fun to pick through these yard sales, but it can also be very profitable. Yes, you might find some great deals, but occasionally, you might also find some very rare antiques. If you have an eye for expensive, rare items, you could very well be one of the next surprised faces at the Antique Roadshow with your $25,000 vase. Who knows! There are surprises at every yard sale. Stop by and score a deal sometime soon.
Let’s start with a stock market analogy. I promise, it’ll be more entertaining than you think.
I am a somewhat odd investor. While most investors focus on big and well established companies, I tend to look at small companies that don’t even show up on anybody’s radar. There are a few reasons why I invest this way, but we’re only going to focus on one. Small companies have the potential to beat the returns of the S&P 500 or the TSX handily. They also have the potential to blow up, but they don’t do it as often as you’d think. Especially when you focus on buying assets for 50 cents on the dollar.
That wasn’t so bad, now was it? I think that I can get better results than most mutual fund managers if I do the investing equivalent of looking in closets and under rugs for stocks that I think represent good value. You are probably shaking your head like I am an insane person. You’re probably set to go buy some index funds right now, mostly just to spite me. And hey, you probably should. My method of investing is probably wrong for you.
Now let’s move the metaphor over to stuff you buy. If you’re a burger connoisseur, you’ve probably stopped in at a Five Guys at least once. Those burgers are like a little bit of heaven in your mouth. If I lived near a Five Guys, I would weigh 400 pounds. And yet, if you’re a vegetarian, you’d likely get no value at all out of one of their burgers. In fact, it would probably make you a little sick to your stomach.
What’s the point? Being frugal is all about getting the best bang for your buck, right? Being frugal is about spending more on something that’s higher quality because it’ll last longer. Being frugal is spending money on stuff that’s important to you, and eschewing the rest. All these things are true. There’s just one thing.
Not everybody values the same thing. Therefore, your idea of frugality is right, but only for you.
Say SPF and I go into the same store, and look at the same pair of shoes. Simon likes that the shoes are made in Canada, with recycled tires mixed into the rubber in the soles, and the manufacturer will plant a tree if you buy a pair of shoes. He picks up the shoes, even though they cost $199.
I look at the same pair of shoes, look at the features and then the price, utter a couple of swear words under my breath, and then go and find the nearest pair of New Balance sneakers. I love the environment and all (nose grows two sizes bigger), but I’m not paying that high of a premium for shoes.
I look at shoes as something that keeps my feet from getting wet. SPF looks at shoes as something that he can use to make a positive thing happen. Who’s right? We both are.
You’ve heard the adage that you get what you pay for? I’m sure you have, since people have been using it without thought for years.
Let’s keep going with the shoe analogy, because hey, at least half the people reading this really like shoes. I once went to Sport Chek and bought new sneakers. On my way out of the mall, I stopped at Winners, a popular discount chain in Canada. As I was browsing that store, I came across virtually the same pair of shoes. I used my phone to Google the shoes, to discover they were last year’s model. The only difference between the shoes were a slightly different design.
I picked up these shoes for half the price of the original ones, and then went and returned the old ones. I saved $60.
The underlying impression of the you get what you pay for statement is that value doesn’t exist. Everything is always priced fairly and efficiently. Anyone who has ever spent longer than two hours in a store knows value is everywhere around them, it’s just up to you to find it.
But here’s the kicker. Value will always be different for everyone, since different people value different things. I gladly took last year’s model of shoes to save $60. Would a hip-cool fashionista woman do the same thing? Maybe not. When presented with a Five Guys’ and a McDonald’s burger side by side, I would gladly pay a premium for the offering from Five Guys. The girl I know who doesn’t like hamburgers would probably run away from both in search for chicken nuggets.
When you think you’re being frugal and smart by spending extra for higher quality, but maybe you aren’t. Have you really exhausted all alternatives in a search for value? Have you even figured out why you place value on something in the first place? Hey, maybe you think you need the fancy pair of shoes because marketing has convinced you some extra feature will make your feet better in every way.
The next time you buy something, maybe keep this stuff in mind. And maybe you’ll figure out that the cheap pair of shoes isn’t so bad, and you’ll save yourself some cash. Sometimes we just spend more because we’ve been told higher priced items are therefore better quality. Become a smarter consumer. You’ll save some money.
Few can have failed to notice the rising cost of utilities in the UK over the last few years, with regular price hikes causing headaches for many Brits feeling the pinch. With the UK becoming increasingly reliant on imported natural gas, regulator Ofgem recently warned that price rises could continue for years to come.
With this in mind, anyone seriously looking to keep a cap on their monthly outgoings needs to think about how they use energy in their home, and what they can do to reduce it. The best place to start is with a home energy test, which you can complete online with various companies. It will identify where you use your energy and pinpoint areas where savings can be made. Then it’s just a case of looking at your budget and deciding how best to use the funds you have to make your home more energy efficient. For a relatively small initial outlay, you can be saving money on your energy bills for years to come. Continue reading Energy Efficiency and the Money you Could Save
Because I’m sick of Canada’s cold winter, I recently got into a plane and flew to Las Vegas. Once I arrived, there was the bonus of eating large amounts of food at the buffets, which I did with gusto. Plus it was warm, which was also an important part of this trip.
And yes, I gambled. (Gasp! Personal finance sin!) As I sat at the poker table, I watched one particular player’s unorthodox strategy. Whenever he was making money, he played significantly more aggressive. He’d be involved in more hands, and he’d bet fairly aggressively whenever he sensed weakness in another player.
After a few losing hands, his stack had dwindled to below his original $100 buy-in. Maybe his cards just turned cold, but his play turned incredibly passive. He only played in select hands, and even then he picked his spots carefully. It was a complete reversal compared to before.
Again, I have no idea what his cards were like, but I suspect they didn’t have as much to do about his play as his mental state. He was suffering from found money syndrome.
Whenever people get money easily, they treat it entirely different than money they worked for. They gamble with it, or decide to use it to treat themselves, or do something else similar to squander it. You probably have, I know I have. Why is this? Why do we separate our money out like this?
I think it’s because found money is unexpected, and for people unexpected money is money that isn’t as important as expected money. If you exchange hard work for money, that cash represents something. It represents the sacrifice of exchanging something tangible for money. Found money doesn’t have these feelings associated with it, so we treat it differently.
A perfect example of this are tax refunds. As someone who always owes each April, it always amuses me when I hear everyone else file their taxes with the enthusiasm of a Sustainable PF recycling run. They want their refund, darn it, and they want it now. I’d argue it’s probably more effective to not give the government an interest free loan, but that’s just me. I realize I’m fighting a losing battle when it comes to tax refunds.
So people get their tax refund, and what do they do with it? They buy stuff, of course. Wal-Mart recently reported weak sales in the first part of February because the IRS was delayed in sending out tax refunds. Most people spend their refunds frivolously. Sure, you wouldn’t go blow your whole tax refund on a big TV and a new laptop, but I bet you still put some of it aside to have some fun with. Why? Because it’s free money, and that’s somehow different than money you worked for, even though a tax refund is actually money that you worked for, albeit a while ago.
On the other hand, none of this really matters if you’re ultimately making smart decisions with your money. If you were going to buy a TV anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether the cash comes from your tax refund or from your side hustle – it’s still money that you could have saved or invested. Maybe it’s time to look at your finances that way, and treat all money as equally important.
It doesn’t matter what source your money comes from, all that matters is that you’re making smart decisions with it. If you can make smart decisions with unexpected money, you’ll be that much farther ahead. So go ahead and put that found $20 bill towards groceries this month. Or, better yet, give it to me. I’ll spend it on something smart.