Author Archives: femmefrugality

Pittsburgh’s Housing Market

I didn't know Pittsburgh's housing market was so stable. Interesting on the affordable housing aspect.

 

Many of you know that I’m saving to buy a home. Well, kind of. It’s a long-term goal, but debt payoff is a priority at this very moment.

While I’m disappointed that progress is slow, I’m not all out freaking out. That’s because Pittsburgh is one of the most stable housing market in the country. Home prices are going up while I’m still renting, but they’re not going up astronomically. I have faith that I’ll be able to catch up.

And, hey, if this new tax bill passes both houses, there’s the real possibility that all the housing markets will be thrown into disarray. Maybe I’ll be able to snag a deal.

Kidding. I’d rather have a stable housing market.

Today I want to share with you some other fun facts about our local housing market–whether you’re looking to move here or just nerdily into personal finance.

We were okay during the Recession.

Remember when I told you that Pittsburgh has the most stable housing market in the country? That stability helped us weather the Recession better than a lot of other places.

I say this noting that if tragedy befell you, regional statistics don’t matter. I had people close to me lose a lot of money because of the crash–money that was directly tied to real estate. But in general, the region fared better than other places.

A major part of that is the fact that we’re not a boom city. People still judge us based on our past, skipping the city over for sexier alternatives.

Sometimes I take offense to that. But our housing market doesn’t. In fact, it hopes you’ll keep us a secret so it can go on quietly growing at a snail’s slow, but steady, pace.

We still have an affordable housing problem.

Rent has gone up since I moved into this place the better part of a decade ago. It’s part of the reason I’ve kept my family put; rent may have gone up, but because we’ve been here so long, we’re still paying less than the rates we’d find on the market.

I’m lucky enough that I can afford relatively healthy housing at this point in my life–even with the price increases.

Many people in my city can’t. As we slowly grow, we progressively gentrify. Our mayor was working on some innovative affordable housing solutions with the Obama administration, but since the turnover in the executive branch, that progress has come to a screeching halt.

Yet our housing is affordable.

If you’re coming from another city, you’ll be overjoyed when you check out the Pittsburgh rental market. We’ve got a relatively low cost of living, and housing is a major factor in that.

However, you have to keep in mind that while our housing is affordable compared to other metro areas, employers are generally aware of that fact. And they’ll pay you accordingly. Moving to Pittsburgh is unlikely to help you pocket the rest of a fat paycheck unless you’re holding onto remote work that factors in another area’s cost of living.

 

What is the housing market like in your city?

 

 

Save Tons of Money on Amazon with Vipon

I have been compensated for the writing of this post. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.

Dude. This site helps you save so much money on Amazon that you can literally get items for free. Definitely pinning for Black Friday usage.

This week we’ve started getting into the nitty gritty of holiday shopping savings. On Wednesday, we talked about using Ebates to get cashback on the shopping you’re going to do anyways.

Ebates is amazing. One thing I have experienced on there, though, is that there are only select categories where you can get cashback on Amazon purchases. I ordered a couple of hard-to-find books, and got nothing back.

To be fair, that’s not Ebates’ fault. Amazon’s affiliate program (which provides funds for the cashback) can be restrictive. Which is why I didn’t loose much sleep over discontinuing my own affiliate relationship with Amazon some years ago; they simply didn’t pay out for most of the purchases you guys were interested in.

How to Save Money on Amazon Purchases

Luckily, there are great ways to save money on Amazon purchases. One of those is by using Vipon.

Vipon is a 100% free site that gives you coupon codes for Amazon products. When you log on, you’ll be greeted by a myriad of deals for products in the following departments:

  • Books
  • Home
  • Outdoors
  • Beauty
  • Clothing
  • Kids
  • Pets
  • Electronics
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Jewelry
  • Musical Instruments
  • More!

They cover a wide range of categories, and using their coupon codes can save you 20%-100%. Yes, you read that correctly. Sometimes Vipon codes can get you an item for completely FREE.

Using Vipon

We’ve been leaving the hallway light on a lot at night to alleviate some fears of the dark in our household. Which is fine–our energy comes from green sources, so I don’t feel that bad about it. But it’s still good to conserve, and our electric bill wouldn’t mind us trimming back either. Not to mention all the light bulbs we’ve been replacing lately!

This led me to decide the kids need a nightlight for Christmas. I headed to Vipon to get my nightlight needs met.

To get onto Vipon, you can either pull up the site on your computer or download the app on your iPhone or Android.

Then, you’re greeted with tons of deals. I used the search tool to look for “nightlight”s, and found a ton of fun options.

Ultimately, I decided on an instant deal for this really fun nightlight. Normally $12.99, I was able to get this constellation projector for $6.50—or 49% off.

Save money on your Amazon purchases by using Vipon.

You click on the link, which then brings the item up in Amazon. Simply add it to your cart, and then use the provided coupon code at checkout. I was surprised at how easy it was!

Use Vipon promo codes to save money.

I currently have Prime and it was an FBA item, so I was even able to get it shipped in two days for free.

Best Ways to Use Vipon

Vipon is really great if you have a general idea of the product you want to buy, but don’t necessarily have a specific item in mind. For example, if I had wanted a Paw Patrol nightlight, they may not have had a promo code for that particular product at the exact moment I was shopping.

But because I came into the process open-minded, with just a general idea of the item I wanted to purchase, I was able to find my kids a really cool nightlight at a seriously deep discount.

Another way to use Vipon is if you’re shopping for someone, but don’t quite know what to get them. Because the site is organized into categories, you can pick an area that piques your giftee’s interests, and see what kind of savings are available. This is a great way to generate gift ideas and save money at the same time.

There is another great feature that allows you to see deals that are upcoming. If you’re not digging anything in the current instant deals after placing your search, you can click over to to the “Coming Soon” tab to find more. You’ll be able to find out when the deal goes live so you can be sure to come back to use it.

Holiday Shopping

Vipon is great to use with Amazon throughout the holiday season, but they’re going to be running a bunch of killer deals for Black Friday in particular. Be sure to check out the savings madness from November 24 through November 28.

Using Ebates to Save More on Holiday Shopping

This post is brought to you by Ebates and The Motherhood. All opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.

Fantastic! I can get cashback for the holiday shopping I was going to do anyways now. Plus a $10 signup bonus from this blog!

I’m not one of those frugal bloggers who advises against buying ANYthing for the holidays. More power to the people who celebrate giftless and save oodles of cash, but our family still treasures the tradition of gift exchanges.

I do a lot of things to cut back on costs and keep my budget from imploding this time of year. One of the most effective things I do is shop throughout the year. When I spot a good sale on something, I pick it up and put it in my secret Christmas gift box.

Another thing I do is comparison shop. I don’t just purchase the first thing I see. I look around to see if I can get it cheaper somewhere else.

Finally, I use cashback sites like Ebates. Ebates is a free-to-users site which gets a commission when you purchase after clicking through their link. They then share some of that commission with you as the consumer.

Before you go shopping, visit Ebates’ site first. You then find the store you want to shop, see how much cash back they’re offering, and click through. Then you just shop as you normally would.

Alternatively, you can install the Ebates browser extension. That way you don’t have to remember to go to Ebates’ site first. After you activate this feature, you’re good for all future purchases.

If you shop on mobile, you can use their app, too–which comes with exclusives you won’t want to miss.

Ebates keeps track of how much cashback you earn, and then cashes you out every three months through PayPal or a paper check.

You’re essentially getting paid for doing shopping you were planning on doing anyways.

Plus, if you sign up right now, they’ll put $10 in your account just for getting started. Ten dollars for free is always awesome.

How I Use Ebates

I recently did a little holiday shopping, so I’ll take you on a tour of how I use Ebates.

I needed two Disney items. One of my kiddos has “Hulk Fists” on their Christmas list. Earlier in the year, I found a talking Iron Man mask on super sale, so I picked it up. When I told their dad, he said we “needed” to get a full costume.

This child has also been asking for a dress up box, so here’s my plan:

  • Decorate a Rubbermaid container we already have.
  • Fill it with all the dress up items we currently have.
  • Throw in the Hulk Fists, Iron Man mask, and the apparently necessary Iron Man costume. Wrapped, of course. Because presents inside presents are fun.

To make this happen, I needed to get Hulk Fists and an Iron Man costume. First, I visited Ebates’ site.

Get cashback from your Disney shop using Ebates.

Both of the products I needed were from Disney, and Disney currently has a 4.0% cashback rate, which is high enough to cause a celebration. I clicked on the orange “Shop Now” button, and I was on Disney’s site like normal.

I found the Hulk fists for $29.95. And I chose to go with some PJs for Iron Man as we already have a mask and don’t need a full Halloween costume. Those were 19.95.  Paying $49.90 for two gifts isn’t horrific–especially when you get about $2 cashback–but I really don’t like parting with my money.

So I did some comparison shopping. I went back to the Ebates portal, and was able to find the Hulk Fists at Target for five dollars less. It was only 1% cashback, but that’s still a way better deal.

Ebates can be used at Target to get cashback on your holiday shopping.

Then I poked around to find cheaper Iron Man pajamas. I was able to successfully find some on eBay for only $9.99 with 1% cashback from Ebates. They’re not as snazzy as the Disney option, but they’re half the price and my child won’t know. Quite frankly, I don’t think they’d care. This pair is pretty awesome in their own right, anyways.

Using Ebates to save on eBay purchases.

I know it says $3.99, but it came to $9.99 after I selected my child’s size.

If I had gone the original route, I would have spent $49.90 and gotten about $2.00 back, bringing my total to $47.90.

Because I comparison shopped, I spent $34.98 and can expect to see about $0.35 back in my Ebates account, bringing my total to $34.63.

Using all of these methods, I saved $15.27.

With that $10 bonus, that’s $10.35 you could expect to see back in your pocket. And that’s only including one, small shopping order. If you use this tool for all of your holiday shopping, the amount you get back is just going to get larger.

It’s free money. And free money is the best.

Holiday Gifts for Children

Ebates literally works with 2,000+ retailers. Odds are, if you’re shopping there, it’s on there. Here are some of my favorites when I’m shopping for my kids:

  • Target
  • Disney
  • Walmart
  • eBay
  • Toys R Us
  • Carter’s
  • GAP
  • Snapfish
  • Shutterfly

And the list goes on. They also have super helpful shopping guides. For example, they have a compilation of the hottest toys for 2017. You can use it for inspiration or to find something on your kids’ list, and then navigate straight to the item’s page on the partner’s site without having to browse.

Get Shopping.

If you’re going to be doing holiday shopping anyways, get some cashback for your efforts. Also be sure to get your free $10 just for signing up!

Credit Card Management Tips for the Holidays

Please note that Femme Frugality does not endorse the use of credit cards when you’re not confident you will be able to pay off the bill in full every month. However, we’re also cognizant that in the real world, people will do it anyways.

If you’re going to make that decision, today’s post—contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker—gives you ways to limit the damage and optimize savings while you’re at it. Before you charge, be sure to read this post so you’re aware of the consequences.

Some good tips for managing your credit card spending during the madness of holiday shopping.

Tis the season for shopping, and if you’re like most consumers, by the end of the year you’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands of dollars’ worth of debt. While you may want to get the best gifts that money can buy for your friends and family members, you can’t let the holidays drive you further into debt.

This is especially true if you plan on using credit cards to purchase things this year. Below, you’ll find a few tips on how to manage your credit cards so that you don’t end up in the poor house by the time the new year rolls around.

Consider Interest Rate Promotions

When shopping with a credit card interest rates are what matter. This is essentially how much additional money you’ll have to pay for charging a product or service to your card. CreditSoup, a personal finance website, says that balance transfer cards are ideal for those who have cards with higher interest rates and can help you save money.

If you want to save on your holiday shopping, perhaps look for a credit card that has a low or zero interest rate offer. Not only could you transfer outstanding balances to one card, but you’d also have a few months to make purchases without having to pay interest on them.

Be sure to know what the 0% interest rate offer is for, though. Sometimes it applies only to new purchases, and sometimes it applies only to balance transfers within a certain timeframe.

Find Out About Rewards

Many credit cards today have rewards programs that run periodically or continuously as a means to draw in new cardholders. These rewards could be extra cash, a hotel stay, free airfare, and more. Find out about rewards offered by your existing credit card company and try to use them to your advantage.

Most rewards programs only require you to use your card – which you’ll be doing for your holiday shopping anyway. Some of the rewards could be given as gifts which could also help you save money on shopping. Give mom a free night stay in a nice hotel or use the cashback bonus to buy gifts for people you may have forgotten about until the last minute.

Check for Discounts and Promotions

During the holiday season, major brands and credit card companies will offer promotions and discounts to cardholders to get them interested in making a purchase. Such offers might include a percentage off of purchases made from a specified store within the required timeframe. Using the card in those stores could give you serious discounts which could free up some cash you can use to get someone else a gift.

Online Shopping Has its Perks

Online shopping is not only convenient for cardholders, but also one of the best methods for saving money on your holiday shopping list. Some major credit card companies like Discover and Mastercard, have online shopping portals or links that cardholders can click on and start shopping. By shopping from the portal and using their credit card, customers are able to double or even triple their savings as opposed to purchasing it in a store.

Credit cards are a common method of payment for holiday shoppers. It is a quick solution to affording everything you need for the holidays. Unless you want to start off the year in debt, it is imperative that you shop smart and take advantage of all the promotions, rewards, and offers available to you. In doing so you can save more money, and who knows, even get some things free.

The Unbanked Experience

Managing your money is seriously hard without a bank account. Loving these Fintech solutions.

A couple of weeks ago I went to this big annual conference for personal finance bloggers (or all independent financial media, as it has evolved into) called FinCon. I was incredibly honored and grateful to have the entire thing sponsored by CFSI after I wrote this piece for a contest they were having.

The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) leads a network of financial service innovators working to build better products for consumers. They do a lot of research, seed new ideas and expand points of view through activities like FinX.

What is FinX?

FinX was the very first FinCon-related thing I did while in Dallas. (Don’t worry–the tourist’s-eye-view of Dallas is coming up in a couple weeks!)

It was also the event I was most excited to participate in during my time there.

Essentially, we got together in teams and tried to perform a bunch of life tasks on a two hour lunch break. The catch?

We had to do it as unbanked persons.

Team Grey’s Fortunes and Failures

Crystal, Jen and I were on Team Grey aka Team Brystalifer. We were tasked with completing as many of the following as possible:

  • Cash a payroll check.
  • Cash a personal check.
  • Buy a prepaid card and deposit money onto it.
  • Buy some art supplies for our “niece”‘s birthday.
  • Wire money to our “sister.”
  • Get a money order.

And I’m pretty sure there were about 10 other things on the list that we didn’t even end up having time to consider.

We started off super optimistic. The neighborhood we were assigned had a Walmart, a bank where the payroll check originated from, a cash checking business, and a pawn shop—which we would have utilized had we made it further down the list.

We should have had everything we needed.

The trouble started when we walked in the door. The line to cash a check at Walmart was insanely, insanely long.

We found out that we were in less of a neighborhood and more of a retail mecca. That pawn shop was not happening; it was across a 4+ lane highway.

We continued on our journey to cash our checks.

The check cashing place wouldn’t do it.

While the traditional bank did cash the personal check, they wouldn’t cash the payroll check. They said that it was too new and that we should come back in a few hours.

The teller had already stamped the check, but did cancel the endorsement.

We headed back to Walmart and stood in that massive line again. When we finally got to the front, the woman working said she couldn’t accept the check because it had been stamped–even after being made aware of the visible cancellation of the endorsement.

We were stuck. We didn’t have time to wait until the check was cashable, and without the payroll check, we were limited in the other tasks we could accomplish.

Crystal bought the prepaid card, but couldn’t load it. When she called to try to put ten bucks on it, they wanted all kinds of personal information. Including social security number. To load $10 onto a fee-laden card.

We did manage to get some bananas as grocery shopping was on our list of things to do. But other than that, we failed pretty hard.

 

Frustration with the System

Afterwards, we all came back to sit down and talk about our different experiences.

I was in no state to be talking. I was mentally drained. I think that was the biggest thing that hit me; I expected the experience to be unpleasant and difficult, but I did not expect to be so exhausted afterwards that I would have a hard time forming a coherent sentence.

If I had had my wits about me, here’s what I would have said:

I think education is great. Truly. Give people knowledge and they can act upon it. I think it’s especially useful when structured as coaching to help an individual get through a specific situation.

But I don’t think the problem here is educational initiatives. The problem is that the system is horrible, and disproportionately punishes those who have the least. You can educate people all day about how they’re going to get hit with fees because they’re low-income. You could inform about the importance of emergency funds and linked checking/savings to avoid overdraft fees.

But that doesn’t matter too much if there’s not a bank in your neighborhood.

It also doesn’t change the fact that you can spend two hours trying to cash a check only to get turned down.

It doesn’t change the fact that because you were unable to cash that check, you might be hit with fees for being late on bills you were planning on paying later that day.

And it doesn’t change the fact that while I was going back to a meeting room to discuss the experience with colleagues, in real life Brystalifer would be going back to work, unable to cash the check until tomorrow. Hopefully.

This is my personal opinion, and does not reflect the opinion of any other person or organization, but I think we have to change how we regulate financial services–not just alternative financial services. But all of them.

To be predatory upon those who have the least is a disgusting way to get rich. I’m aware financial institutions are not fond of regulation, and that current regulation is what holds back a bunch of FinTech innovations in our country.

Which is why I’m not necessarily arguing for MORE regulation, but rather a complete overhaul of the system to berid us of these reverse-Robinhood-esque practices and open up the way to 21st century innovations.

Twenty-First Century Innovations

My solution may be completely unrealistic. The folks at CFSI recommended instead turning to twenty-first century innovations for solutions.

I’ve told you before about my love for apps like ActiveHours, and there are many more on the market. Some help you get a view of your overall financial health. Some serve as an alternative to traditional bank accounts. Some target extremely specific financial situations.

Ultimately, we can’t control regulation unless we really start pressuring our representatives. And we’d need a clear end game in order to do so. That’s something I simply don’t have.

But as consumers, we can control the ways we manage our money. If you have a smart phone anyways, find a few trustworthy apps that can help out with your current money goals. It won’t fix everything, but FinTech can be a huge help when traditional financial services have left you to slip through the cracks or simply don’t fulfill all of your money management needs.