Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Your Next Cell Phone- Contract Versus Buying Outright

So unfortunately, the Frugal Rock Household just encountered the first unexpected large expense of 2016. My cell phone has been on it's last leg for a bit now. It's battery life has been waning for a while and would unexpectedly shut down when the charge was lower than 30%. Being a frugal lady, I just kept a charger on hand so that it was never low. In November, it fell out of an open pocket while biking and cracked the screen- but still worked! So I soldiered on- than recently I dropped it AGAIN (I know I'm still kicking myself) and this time the screen is truly done for.

I was not looking forward to this new phone purchase- I clearly have been putting it off for a while. I thought long and hard about going without a smart phone as I like the idea of being less attached to my electronics and the time-waster internet sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc. There are days that between work and home, all I feel that I have done has been stare at screens. While I seriously considered going back to 1995 and living without my smart phone; traveling for work and the need to check emails pretty consistently between meetings during my day led me to realize that my dream of being smart phone free was likely unrealistic. (Sigh)

I am a fan of the iPhone and so if I needed a new smart phone, wanted to keep all of my apps and contacts easily transferable. The big question for me was whether to a do contract of purchase the phone outright. Now we often don't think about this- but when you purchase a phone through a carrier it is often highly subsidized by the carrier. Most cell phones are expensive- which in a way makes sense when you think about all the things we now expect our phone to do. Our mini pocket computers make calls, but they do much more than that now. Cell phone companies and producers, like Apple, market the next big change in phones in a way that leaves many consumers rushing out to get the next phone.

To make the purchase more palatable to consumers, they will charge you an upgrade cost and tack on an additional monthly payment to your bill. This makes it much easier to manage for monthly payments- and helps consumers avoid noticing how much their phone actually costs. This is a time tested marketing trick used by car dealerships, furniture stores and the shopping network. $30 a month doesn't seem bad, but really it's a payment plan for your phone. To give you some perspective, the current base IPhone model, the 5s, with the smallest amount of memory, retails for $450, other phone varieties can sell for between $600-800 to purchase outright.

 Now does buying it outright save you money in the long run? Short answer is: it might. The answer varies depending on your carrier. As an AT&T user, they no longer do contracts, so I didn't have to worry about the need to avoid signing another contract. If I was with another carrier, I would have been even more likely to buy outright to avoid having to get locked into another round of contracts for services I may not need. By buying outright I did avoid a phone upgrade charge, but this amount, while saved money, was pretty small- I believe our sales person said $20.

Being aware of how much you are actually spending is one of the first steps towards being a good consumer. It also gave me a different perspective on taking care of my phone. I probably shouldn't feel this way- but I will likely take care of my phone differently thinking of spending hundreds for it, as opposed to just a few bucks a month.

Introducing: A Frugal Household Rule of Frugality:

If you can't buy it outright- you can't afford it. Yup- if you can't see spending $600 outright for a cell phone, due to draining a bank account, I would hold off on that new phone. Now there may be reasons to re-sign a contract or do a payment plan depending on your plan and your phone company's current specials. You may get a deal that way depending on the carrier/time of year, BUT if buying it outright would create a hardship for your monthly finances, it's time to reprioritize, possibly buy a cheaper phone or wait to upgrade.

 Have you ever bought a phone outright or found a good deal on a cell phone? Would you ever consider purchasing your next phone outright?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Get Your Green's- Can Veggie Gardening Save You Cash?


Me: It's March 1st- that means it's time to think gardening!
Mr. Frugal Rock: Wait, what?! In the snow?

Last summer, I had my first raised vegetable garden...with some mistakes. One thing I learned that broccoli isn't easy to grow well. From one avid gardener, I was told that I watered them too much- from another I heard that I planted too soon. Seems like every gardener has an opinion. Either way, I'm hoping for a rematch this summer: Mrs. Frugal Rock versus broccoli. I did learn that zucchini, and beans do well- not to mention beets and radishes. Even two watermelon grew...much to my surprise..

So why start thinking about summer gardens now? First of all, spring is coming fast. To help reduce costs, I grow seedlings indoors starting 30-60 days before they need to be planted outdoors. Buying seed packets only costs less than 2 bucks for a lot of seeds. It's also easier to find greater variety of what type of plants or vegetables you want to grow. In the summer months, if you go to a big box store, they may have 1-2 varieties of cucumbers, but online there are TONS of different seed varieties to choose from. Don't want to grow indoors? You can always purchase plants from any garden store in May or June, but prepare for a higher price.

Here in the Midwest, where the Frugal Rock calls it home, May 15 is the general rule of thumb (green thumb hopefully) for outside planting. That means March 15 is my first day of indoor planting for anything that needs a long germination time. Last year, while I grew a lot of veggies, I didn't pay any attention to the actual quantity grown or how much was saved on groceries during the summer months. Anecdotally, I believe that we saved funds during the summer months, based on what felt like lower grocery bills but alas, scientific it was not! At the very least, it was nice to grow food for ourselves confident that they were free of pesticides, but this year I'll have my spreadsheets ready to go to see how much it cost versus saved. I love me some spreadsheets!

On a side note, for anyone out there with gardening interest, I use the square foot gardening method to maximize my growing space. This technique is where you plant each vegetable in it's own square foot of space (some veggies like carrots you plant 10-15 in a square, where others take up the whole square, or even multiples). I had an eight by eight space last year, and this year, I'm hoping to drastically expand that. It didn't take too much convincing of Mr. Frugal Rock to get rid of more of our grass for garden space. We have been slowly decreasing our grass space since moving into our home by adding a patio/pergola, some bushes and a raspberry patch, but I love of the idea of eliminating mowing, and using our yard space for our very own garden.

Here's the list of veggies I want to grow this year:

Tomato's (hope to make salsa this year)
Lettuce (a few varieties)
Peppers ( a few other varieties)
Yellow/butternut squash

I plan to keep track of my spending all the way through, from the seeds I germinate, to the plants I buy. What I'm hoping to learn is whether the amount of vegetables I grow offsets my costs. Basically, if I grow enough that it saves me enough to justify the costs. Now of course there are other reasons that I began to enjoy gardening other than just trying to save money. I love spending time outdoors in the summer months and have always felt most content when working outside. The physical exercise is a bonus too, but I'm curious if an argument can also be made to garden for food to save money. Get ready for some veggie gardening- Frugal Rock style- as I try and answer the question, can a veggie garden save you money??

PS. I literally jut saw this garden bean tunnel online, and I'm in love!