Back to School Average Spending: $673

From an article I read in today’s Houston Chronicle:

“Parents expect to spend an average of $673.57 on electronics, clothes and notebooks this year, compared with $630.36 last year, according to the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group. In total, parents of kindergarten through 12th-grade students say they will spend $27.3 billion on school supplies this year, up from $18.4 billion in 2007.”

We have one daughter still living at home. We probably spent around that average. One surprise large purchase we had to make this year was a TI NSpire CX calculator, which set us back around $120. As long as she doesn’t lose it, she should be able to use it through college.

How much did you spend on back to school?

9 Ways to Save on Shipping This Christmas

The following is a guest post by Andrea Woroch (Twitter and Facebook).

With just two weeks until Christmas, holiday shoppers are running out of time to get holiday gifts to loved ones on time. While retailers offer expedited shipping for an extra fee, tight schedules and even tighter budgets can make this option inconvenient and unaffordable.

To avoid exorbitant delivery costs while ensuring your packages arrive in time for Christmas morning, following these nine savvy tips for saving on shipping this season.

Review shipping deadlines

For those shipping gifts through a shipping carrier like FedEx, ground delivery deadlines hit this week. In fact, the USPS deadline for Standard Post is Tuesday, December 15. Many retail ground shipping deadlines are approaching, too, so it’s time to get your shopping done so you don’t waste money on rush delivery! Review shipping deadlines for over 60 stores and set alerts on your calendar so you don’t forget.

Use a free shipping code

Free shipping is one of the most popular online promotions, especially during the holiday season. Search or free shipping codes for popular retailers like Kohl’s, Macy’s, JCPenney and more at, where you can also find rush shipping deals and discounts that may cover the cost of shipping and then some.

Sign up for a shipping club

Take advantage of Amazon’s free 30-day trial of Prime to get free two-day delivery or ShopRunner’s free 30-day trial of their expedited shipping service. These services are perfect during the holiday season, but it’s important to remember when you signed up so you can cancel before they automatically renew and start charging your account.

Choose payment with perks

You can get shipping perks depending on how you pay this holiday season. Customers who pay with their PayPal account will not only score free shipping but also free returns from any online retailer. VISA cardholders using VISA Checkout can also receive free two-day shipping from Lands’ End or special offers like $20 off $100 orders from Williams-Sonoma and Title Nine, or $20 off your next order from Shutterfly. Finally, American Express cardholders receive a complimentary subscription to ShopRunner for free expedited shipping and free returns.

Shop on Free Shipping Day

Mark your calendar for Free Shipping Day on Friday, Dec. 18, when hundreds of online retailers will offer free shipping with no minimum order and guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. In its eighth year, this event already has over 700 stores signed up, including Walmart, which currently requires holiday shoppers to spend $50 to receive free delivery.

Opt for in store pickup

Many big-box stores like Target, Kmart and Home Depot offer free in-store pickup, but be careful not to leave the store with more than just your online order! Both Sears and Target provide curbside pick up so you don’t have to deal with crowded parking lots, plus you get the added convenience of shopping online without paying for delivery.

Save on same-day delivery

Google Express just launched a new local service offering overnight and same-day delivery from such stores as Target, Costco, Kohl’s and Barnes & Noble (stores vary by location). Check their site to see if this service is offered in your area. Google Express members receive free delivery when their orders meet minimum requirements set by stores, while non-members pay just $4.99 for same-day or overnight delivery.

Shop wisely at the airport

While I typically refrain from buying anything at the airport because of high markups, there are some airport stores where prices don’t deviate much from their traditional brick and mortar locations. Stick with options like Brookstone or Best Buy so your gift recipient can easily make exchanges and returns if necessary. Stay away from books, jewelry and chocolates, however, as you can buy those items for less when you get to your final destination!

Send an electronic gift

If you’re looking at exorbitant delivery charges to send a gift in time for the holidays, don’t do it; it’s a complete waste of money! Instead, send an electronic gift card directly to the recipient’s inbox. You can even save by purchasing a discount e-gift card code from sites like Raise or Gift Card Zen. Otherwise, purchase an item online with regular delivery and email the gift description to your loved one. It’s the thought that counts!

About Andrea Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Consumer Reports, Forbes and many more. In addition, Andrea’s stories have been published among leading publications and sites such as Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, CNN Money, Huffington Post, LearnVest and New York Daily News.

Get Ready for Your Energy Bills to Skyrocket

From today’s WSJ:

The Obama administration plans to block the construction of new coal-fired power plants unless they are built with novel and expensive technology to capture greenhouse-gas emissions, according to people familiar with a draft proposal.


The person and others briefed on the rule said such stringent limits would ban new coal plants, which generally release about twice as much carbon dioxide as the proposed limits. Even the newest, most advanced coal-fired power plants in the world would fall far short of that revised standard, they said.

Someone stands to make a lot of money installing all this new technology. That’s what this is really about. It’s not about the environment.

The American people should be allowed to vote on things like this. There should be a rigorous objective study done that will show how much these proposed changes will add to our monthly electric bills. Then, we should vote on the bill. Better yet, it should be a STATE ISSUE!

Have a great day, everyone.

Question of the Day: I’m In Sales. Do I Need a Fancy Car?

The following question was published in this weekend’s WSJ:

Dear Dan,

I don’t care about cars, never have. But I’m a sales executive, and people tell me I should own a nice car (BMW, Mercedes, etc.) to enhance my credibility to both my customers and sales team. I can afford either but would rather save the cash and buy a Honda. Does it matter?


I’m curious what your thoughts are on this.

Here are mine:

I suppose the answer depends on the circumstances (what are you selling?). I, however, would gravitate to the one I wanted and not worry about what other people think. So, if I wanted a Honda, I would go for the Honda. There’s nothing worse than a flashy, cocky, salesperson. That’s my opinion.


New York Times “Backyard Paradise”

I walked out Sunday morning to find a copy of the New York Times in my driveway. Those of you who know me, know that I’m probably not a big fan of the NY Times. Regardless, I looked through the paper.

I did find a couple of things interesting. One of them was an article titled Make Your Own Backyard Paradise. They took an average backyard and gave it various makeovers based on different budgets. I’m glad I live in Texas because ALL of these ideas seem expensive to me.

A summary of their plans (you can click on the link above to see some pictures):

Starting Point: Wood-and-wire trellis ($450) + plants and gravel ($1,400) + Steel edging ($1,200) + Concrete planters ($1,500) = $4,550 total

“Middle” Ground: All of the previous ($5,000) + irrigation ($11,000) + tile ($5,600) + paint ($800) + lawn edit ($1,400) + kitchen garden with trellis and raised beds ($8,000) + perennial beds ($8,500) + lighting ($13,000) = $53,300 total


The High End: All of the previous ($50,000) + pool ($80,000) + poolside concrete planters ($2,500) + sound system ($6,500) + geometric fire pit ($1,675) + limestone-block work ($2,600) + fountain ($8,500) + shou-sugi-ban fence ($55,000) = $206,775 total

One thing I found funny is that each tier has a budget. The “Middle” Ground has a budget of $50,000 but comes in at $53,300, which is significantly higher than the budget. The High End has a $200,000 budget and comes in at $206,775 (see why I don’t like the NY Times?).

Now, the pool they recommend is on the high end. Here in Texas, a really nice pool and hot tub will run around $50,000 (but they’re not raised like the one the Times article suggests). Regardless, I think I could have a pool put in and the entire yard (front and back) landscaped for $75,000 (including new concrete). I’m thankful we live in a lower-cost area.

MSN: 12 Things That Will Cost You More in 2013

Oh goody!

MSN lists 12 things that will cost more in 2013. Some of them aren’t a big deal. Food, however, is a big deal. Their list:

• Cars

• Food

• Grain

• Health insurance premiums

• High-end TVs and home theater systems

• Computers

• Copper

• Smartphones

• Daily deals

• College tuition

• IPhone 5 accessories

• Shipping