Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!
Before I answer some questions, I wanted to tell you that a post from my archives is up on BlogHer today. I’m so honored that they wanted to publish something that I wrote.
Now, onto some questions.
Hello! I am a new reader so I apologize if you have covered this…are your kids in any extra-curricular activities (gymnastics, dance, baseball, soccer, etc.)?? If they are, how do you budget for these, as they are seasonal and also registration, shirts, and equipment require different amounts of money? We have four children and they are all into something different at any given time of the year.
At this point, our kids aren’t involved in any formal extra-curricular activities, though that certainly could change in the future. Joshua’s starting to be interested in maybe playing a sport, and the girls all want to take string lessons too (after they get a good start in piano!). I also think that Zoe might like to take some dance classes later too, as she seems to have a natural knack for moving to music.
Anyways, I would deal with irregular activity expenses the same way that I deal with other irregular expenses like Christmas, and vacation. We handle expenses such as those by figuring out how much we’ll need for the year, dividing that number by 12, and saving that amount each month. For instance, we know we need about $480 to cover Christmas expenses, so we put $40 a month into our Christmas savings account. A Capital One 360 account is a great tool for this…I really cannot recommend their savings accounts highly enough!
My question is about getting rid of stuff. When I’ve got something to discard, I often debate whether I should be a generous giver and just donate it (usually Goodwill – I’ve not tried freecycle) or a good steward and sell it (garage sale or consignment store). Any thoughts?
Also, as a Thrift Shop shopper, could you give some guidance on what is too bad to donate to a thrift store? I don’t want to make excess work for the employees (volunteers) in sorting when I should have just thrown something out in the first place. For example, I’ve got running shoes that have enough miles that the insoles are shot for serious runners, but they still look pretty good on the exterior and would be fine for casual shoes. Or how about a shirt with a small bleach spot or stain?
Sell or Donate?
When I get rid of stuff, I either sell it, give it directly to someone, Freecycle it, donate it to Goodwill (usually in that order of preference!).
If an item is in sale-able shape, I usually make an effort at selling it. If the consignment store won’t take the item or it doesn’t sell, then I just opt to give it away. I lack the patience to do much Ebay and Craigslist selling, though I have had more success on Craigslist than on Ebay.
Honestly, though, most of the stuff I have to get rid of isn’t usually in consignment-store condition, so I don’t end up selling very much. The vast majority of the time, I opt to donate my excess stuff.
I definitely don’t think that it’s wrong to sell everything you can or wrong to donate everything you can…I think both are good options.
When is it too bad to donate?
I’ve wondered this sometimes myself, actually, and I’ve thought about talking to a Goodwill employee to see what their guidelines are. I don’t want to donate something only to have them throw it away. At least, I don’t want to do that if I could think of an alternate use for the item.
I personally kind of go by the sort of merchandise I see for sale at Goodwill. It seems like when it comes to clothing, they can sell most anything that isn’t damaged (holes, tears, stains), so I’d say that you could donate your shoes, but maybe not the shirt (you could cut it up and use it as a rag if it’s a knit shirt…I LOVE my old t-shirt rags). When it comes to furniture, they do sell pieces that are somewhat damaged, but they don’t sell chipped dishes or broken toys.
I’ll let you all know if I manage to glean any good info from my local Goodwill employees.
Since I’m pretty new to following your blog I’ve been reading some older posts… I just read a day in the life of frugal girl. You mention listening to music while you eat your meals. Do you have a frugal way to get music CDs?
I have checked CDs out from the library and burned my own copy. And like you I do a LOT of thrift store shopping, and there are always tons of cassettes and CDs for sale, so many that I rarely take the time to look through them. On the few occasions that I’ve dug through the piles, I have picked out music that I think I would like only to find out I don’t. Though they only cost a couple of dollars, I so dislike paying for something that I will never use. As I write to you about this I’m beginning to feel a little better. I’ve probably bought 10 CD that I don’t like, didn’t keep, unfortunately thrift stores usually have no return policies. I do have 3 that I LOVE. So if I think about it as spending $20 for 3 CDs that’s probably still better than retail. But I get a thrill out of dirt cheap not just better than retail.
Most of the CDs that we listen to during breakfast are from the library. I’m trying to expose my children to plenty of classical music, so most of our breakfast far is baroque, classical, or romantic music from the library (the library system here always has plenty of that sort of things available). We also get some jazz, pop, and Christian music from the library. (oh, and a LITTLE bit of country…my kids like some Shania Twain songs. Although, I think she falls under the pop category most of the time!).
I haven’t bought any music at the thrift store before, so I don’t have any advice there, though my readers might. I know that some people have a great time buying records there, though. If you own a record player and like using records, you can get lots of music for almost nothing at a thrift store.
If you really love owning CDs, I would suggest checking out half.com. They have a HUGE selection of music CDs available for purchase, and many only cost $.75 plus shipping. A while back, I wrote a post about half.com that explains how it works and why I love it so much, so you might find that helpful.
If you don’t mind not owning a CD, I think MP3 downloads are a GREAT option. Usually you pay about $.99 per song, and because you can buy songs individually, you don’t have to purchase a whole album’s worth of songs in order to get the one track you really love. I also appreciate that MP3s don’t take up any space (no clutter!) and that there is nothing to dispose of once you’re tired of the music. Plus, MP3s don’t crack or scratch and they don’t wear out either.
I would caution against obtaining music illegally, either by downloading it from sites that provide it illegally or by burning it from library CDs or from a friend’s CDs. This is a violation of the law, and though it certainly could save you money, I cannot advocate the practice. From the rest of your email, I gather that you are a believer, and I would urge you to consider whether you really think that burning music from library CDs is an activity that honors God. Whenever I am tempted to do something unscrupulous in order to save some money, I remind myself that God is not going to be honored by dishonest behavior on my part and that I can hardly expect him to bless it either. I so understand that temptation (oh, do I ever!), but I hope that you will reconsider, and I hope that the other options I’ve laid out here will be helpful to you.
Readers, as always, I’d love to get your input on these topics. I’m especially interested to know if any of you have more specific information about donation guidelines for thrift stores.