Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Update on Swap.com Experiment

Earlier, I posted about my Swap.com experiment.

Almost a month later and I have earned $80 in profit.  I've sold about 18 items (a couple of which were sets).  The least expensive item I sold was $3.00.  The most expensive item I sold was $15.00.  Initially, the first week or so that my items were posted on the web site (they do the photographing and posting), I sold several items that were lower priced.  Then my selling rate slowed down and I sold an item here or there but the items were more expensive.  I have 8 items (include a couple of sets) posted and priced that have not sold.

I did much better selling maternity clothes that I did selling infant/baby items.  In fact, I have only sold one baby item thus far.

At present, I have another big box of mostly maternity items to send off now.  The items I am sending in this time are my high end, business and fashion maternity items.  I also had almost all of these items dry-cleaned so I will need to price the items high enough to recoup my dry-cleaning expenses.   These items will likely be priced at $30 or more to account for dry-cleaning costs of $10 and original prices of $80 - $130 per item (and many were only slightly worn).

Wish me luck.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Some Slightly Better News on the Rising Cost of College

Glad to hear that the dramatic rise in college costs is starting to slow down a bit.  As I posted previously, we have started a 529 fund for Baby Sam.  So far, we have contributed $2100 to the fund.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Windfall is Coming

As you can tell from the title of this post, clearly I'm a Game of Thrones fan.

So, I received news that I'm getting a bonus this year.  This bonus was unexpected for a couple of reasons.  First, I was on maternity leave for more than three months.  Second, I did not believe I was eligible for this type of bonus.

So money is coming our way and it is a decent size chunk of cash.  Of course, after Uncle Sam takes his bite and after the deduction for my 401k, the number shrinks.  But, I won't complain one bit.

My tentative plan for the money is as follows (final plan depends a bit on the amount).  First, 50% will go to our baby debt (which presently is $5421 at 0%).  Second, 25% will go towards our upcoming summer vacation (so, into our travel savings fund).  Third, 15% will go towards our 2015 IRA savings account.  And, finally, 10% is for me to do what I want with (spa, clothes, dinner out, or some other kind of treat).

How do you spend bonus money?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cars, cars, cars

Back in 2008, the first year of this blog, we saved up $17,000 and I bought a 2006 nused car.  While that feels like a short time ago, its been almost 7 years.  That car has served me well, but last year (and the prior year) it cost me a pretty penny in repair costs.

Now that we have Baby Sam, and I have to wiggle and wrangle that baby stroller in and out of my trunk (even though its very large) and as the car approaches the 10 year mark, I've started thinking that I need a new/nused car.  I'm thinking about a small SUV or cross over type of car.  Something with a larger back storage area (not a trunk) so I can more easily fit the baby stroller and all the stuff that goes along with a baby.

The length of time Americans keep their cars has grown.  On average, a new car is kept for 71.4 months (or just under 6 years).  On average, a nused car is kept for 49.9 months (a bit over 4 years).  In my situation, I've exceeded the average for both data points. since I've been driving my nused car for more than 6 years.

I generally do well with resisting the influence of friends and colleagues, but most everyone I know is driving a newish car.  In fact, I recently got together with a good friend and she has a newly leased SUV.  In the last 15 years she has had 5 cars and I have had 2.  In our family, I was the one with the nice car since Mr. Sam was driving an old 1998 truck.  But, that's not true anymore.

While I'm starting to pine for a new car, our financial situation is stretched.  We have the expenses of the baby, indeed we still have a little baby debt.  We have Mr. Sam's truck debt.  And, we've barely made any progress on our 2015 savings goals (indeed we've hardly started).  We also have child care costs and a college fund to feed.  So, if I can hold off on a new or nused car for a couple of years, we'd be much better off.

As a result, my tentative plan is to start a nused car fund now so I feel like I am working towards a goal.  I need to also spend some money to get my car cleaned and tuned up, oil change, tire rotation, etc.  If I do that, I'll feel like my car is in better condition and won't be so antsy for a change.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trying Out Swap.com

I am normally the type of person who simply donates rather than resells items.  For me, my time and effort is generally worth way more than any small profit to be made in reselling items at a garage sale or consignment, etc.

But, when it came time to re-purpose my maternity clothes I gave second thought to donation as my first option.  Specifically, because I work in a professional setting I had ended up investing a fair amount in some very good maternity clothes.  In particular, I had invested in several Seraphine maternity dresses (Kate Middleton is a fan) since I work in a field where I need to look good and present a polished, professional appearance.  And, I had at least three or four dresses that I had only worn two or three times.

I did a fair amount of research regarding on-line maternity (and baby) consignment stores.  First, I sure wish I had known about these sites when I was buying maternity clothes as I would have tried out some of these sites for my own needs.  I had thought about consignment stores when I first started my maternity clothes shopping, indeed I had even tried to find one.  But, I was thinking and looking for physical stores and not virtual.  Dang!  Second, a lot of these sites have very mixed reviews and reputations.

After doing my due diligence, I decided to go with swap.com for a couple of reasons.  Importantly, they seemed to have the best reputation based on my research (please note - I've not received anything in exchange for this review).  Also of importance, to me, they do almost all the work. They take the photos, write the description and they mail out the packages to folks who buy.  As I mentioned before, I don't have the time to be shipping out packages to customers since with work and a baby I can barely complete one chore a week.

So, this is how it works.  (1)  Sign up as a seller.  (2)  Order a UPS shipping slip.  (3) Pack up neat, clean and in good condition items and send them off to Swap.com.  You can also bundle items together so they sell as a set.  Swap.com then does the rest, taking photos, writing description, mailing to buyers, sending you the money (via PayPal).

As a test, I sent in a box of mostly maternity clothes (a few newborn baby items) consisting of mainly casual, lower cost items (not my fancy maternity work apparel).  And, I would say that it generally worked as promised.

Communication was good.  When Swap.com received my package they emailed me.  When my items were ready to price (about two weeks later) they emailed me.  While I am still learning the site, I found pricing to be relatively easy.  An error in a description and classification for an item was promptly corrected after notification.

And, so far, I have actually sold some items and money has been sent to my PayPal account.  I think the fees are generally reasonable since Swap.com does most of the work and they store the items for months with no charge (there are storage charges after a set time passes).  There is a charge for the in-bound UPS shipping and a $1.50 plus 25% sales commission for each sold item (or set).

With fees and competition, pricing is an art.  I set my prices by looking at what similar items were priced at.  So, I priced maternity t-shirts at $7 and sold several.  Not much of a profit at $3.75 but better than nothing.

I must say it was painful to price a skirt that I wore once at $12 when it cost me $70.  And my super expensive maternity jeans that cost $150 are currently priced at $15 (but they were worn many times).  With my next box, the professional maternity items, I will need to price so I can recoup drycleaning costs (since I had it all recently cleaned in preparation for consignment) and make a decent profit so that will be tricky.

I was somewhat befuddled by what was rejected and they don't really tell you why.  I had sent in a barely worn maternity maxi dress that was in the rejected pile.  You can choose to have rejected items shipped back to you, but there is a charge (of course).  I'm not sure what happens to the items if you donate them (which is what I probably will choose to do).  No idea whether they actually get donated or if the site simply sells them.  Inexplicable rejections was a very common complaint in my research regarding other sites.

I haven't yet bought anything from Swap.com, but I do plan to try it out for baby clothes.  I already know that with my baby there are outfits, especially the fancy ones, that get worn once (and some not at all).  One trick I've learned about recently is to leave tags on baby clothes until they are worn.  That way, if baby never wears them you can list them as "new with tags".  If you remove the tags, even if baby never wears that outfit, you can only list them as "good condition".  

Monday, March 30, 2015

College Savings Plan for Baby Sam

As I work on figuring out our 2015 savings goals, we know that college savings for Baby Sam is on the list.

We have settled on a 529 Plan rather than a prepaid tuition plan.

The next question is how much to contribute.  $28,000 is the current annual limit if you file taxes jointly, $14,000 if filing singly status before having to do gift tax analysis.

Mr. Sam is in favor of skimping to front load Baby Sam's college fund now and then once Baby is in school dialing back because there is a good chance we will be paying for private school.

I'm not sure where I stand on the issue, but because I manage the finances I prefer more regular and even contributions because its easier to manage.  But, if we contributed $28,000 a year for year one to year five we would end up with $140,000 and that is a huge chunk of money that would then grow over the next 13 years.

Start researching estimated college costs in 2033 and its enough to make your head spin.  $57,000 a year for public, in-state university up to $130,000 a year for private university.  Multiply that by four - five years and you get total costs from $285,000 to $650,000.  Yikes!

However, many experts say that the tuition increases that have occurred in recent years, 5% - 7% increases each year, are simply unsustainable.  So, its quite difficult to know what the real costs will be.  I guess its better to plan high and then be pleasantly surprised, but I don't want to sacrifice retirement savings or other savings to hit an inflated college savings number.  

At present, the 529 plan paperwork is filled out, I've sent off the check for the initial contribution and I have set up bi-monthly electronic contributions at $50.  Not much, but a start while we figure out how much we will be contributing going forward.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Amazon Mom?

After ordering a big box of Seventh Generation wipes and Diaper Genie refills from Amazon, up popped an offer to join the Amazon Mom program.

The Amazon Mom program is a spin off from the Amazon Prime program.  The basics of Amazon Prime are free two day shipping, access to films, t.v. shows, music and e-books as well.  The annual cost for Amazon Prime is $99.

Amazon Mom is part of your Prime membership so it costs $99 a year and includes the above Prime benefits.  In addition, it offers discounts on diapers, wipes and other baby related products.

Specifically you get:

5% off baby wipes. Get 15% off wipes when you subscribe to 5 or more items.
15% off Subscribe & Save:  Save items when you subscribe to 5 or more items.
20% off diapers (15% Amazon Mom discount + 5% Subscribe & Save discount).

Lets talk about subscriptions, that means that you sign up for automatic delivery of certain things, diapers, wipes, formula but also things like soap and toothpaste and non baby items too.  My research indicated that there are pros and cons to subscriptions for baby items including the fact that babies grow and change so you need to manage and update things like diaper sizes and formula preferences, etc.

Amazon Mom used to be a better deal, but I guess folks with fake babies triggered Amazon to close up the extra 5% discount loophole for Subscribe & Save.

I have friends and Mom friends who swear by Amazon Prime, it IS a lot easier to simply order what you need for baby rather than trying to run errands with a baby in tow.  But, Amazon doesn't offer these discount programs or free shipping and then lose money on it.  They know enough about consumer behavior and habits to know that many people will order more items (that cute outfit or toy) such that Amazon will make enough in profits if the shipping is free or if there is a discount.  Certainly there are people out there that are disciplined enough to only order the items they truly need and they make the program work for them.  I also think Amazon Prime probably makes great sense if you are located in a rural area or an expensive area such that you can't get discounted products in a quick and easy fashion close by.

So far, I've not signed up for Amazon Prime or the Amazon Mom program, I'm still thinking about whether it would work for us and whether or not I would truly come out ahead.  Back to my earlier Amazon order, I still obtained free shipping on all the items I ordered without paying for a Prime membership.  

What about you, do you have an Amazon Prime membership, what has been your experience with these discount programs?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Updated Net Worth and Housekeeping

I'm continuing to work on getting our finances back under control. I spent some time this morning working on updating our net worth numbers.  Our net worth is now above the $1.5 million number.

Net Worth IQ web site continues to be flaky, but when its up I prefer to keep my data there.  I've added entries for November 2014 - February 2015 but they are not accurate.  I will be working to add the correct data over the next couple of weeks.

Additional good news, our primary mortgage is now below $220,000.  I will be super excited when its below $200,000 although prepaying the mortgage is unlikely to be something we will be working on any time soon.

In baby news, I opened a savings account at Wells Fargo for Baby Sam for monies received as gifts.  We have been researching college savings plans and at this point we have settled on a 529 plan rather than Florida Prepaid.  More about that research later.

Finally, I am almost done with our 2015 Spending Plan which will influence and direct our 2015 Plan.  More about that later too.