Why Not Consider. . . Wednesday: Makeup Edition

makeup-powder-colorsBefore I had children, one guilty pleasure in my life was going to Bloomingdales, Bendels, or some other shopping mecca and investing in expensive makeup and skin care products.  I would often work long hours, and was just too exhausted to try on clothing or shoes.  However, I found I could get that same shopping rush I would get buying a new outfit if I bought cosmetics- and I would be in and out of the store in no time.

After I had my first child, I found it even harder to resist the siren call of buying something new that promised to make me look great.  For those of you who have seen the movie, Confessions of a Shopaholic, just substitute that green scarf for the bottle of La Mer moisturizing cream ($230 for a 2oz bottle).

So- I feel like the topic of cosmetics is something that I can address with some authority.  Indeed, my relationship with expensive makeup goes back to high school.  Could it have something to do with genetics?  Perhaps.  Let’s just say that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

However, just like the protagonist in Confessions of a Shopaholic learned that she didn’t need expensive clothing to make her happy, I too have learned that I can find happiness without the Chanel eyeshadow that comes in that pretty little black box with the double C’s on it.

Here are my suggestions for products you can buy at any drug store that and that I now use myself. Having the extra money in your pocketbook to spend on things like- ohh I don’t know- a college education for your child- might just make you feel even more beautiful.

Moisturizer, Cleanser and Sunscreen:
I went to a dermatologist and was told that in order to keep my skin looking young, I should always use sunscreen. So, my first suggestion for skin care is a broad spectrum sunscreen. The dermatologist did not recommend a particular sunscreen. I tried a few types and found I liked Neutrogena Age Shield Face Sunblock SPF 70 with Helioplex broad spectrum UVA-UVB. I bought Neutrogena Age Shield Sunblock SPF 45 Advanced Broad Spectrum UVA-UVB while we were on vacation (I couldn’t find the one for face only) and used it successfully on my face. Neutrogena hasn’t irritated my skin or caused me to have any breakouts so I will continue to use it.

The dermatologist I went to did recommend the CeraVe line of cleansers and moisturizers for my sensitive skin. CeraVe is designed to seriously hydrate your skin- not to give you a face lift in a bottle, so, if this is what you are looking for, CeraVe may not be the right product for you.  However, I love the CeraVe line and if, like me, you have delicate or sensitive skin, you may like it too. (All CeraVe items will be on sale at CVS from April 5-11th for $10.99.) I like the cleanser as it doesn’t strip my skin and leave it feeling dry and tight, but it does remove my makeup. I generally use the moisturizing lotion as it is not as thick as the cream, however, I do have the cream and use it sporadically in the winter or at night- when I need a little extra hydration. Note- I have only been able to find this product in CVS.

Foundation and Concealer:
Over the past month I have tried many different types of foundation. However, two types of foundation have stood out for me above the rest: 1) CoverGirl Aqua Smoothers with Acquacurrent science and 2) L’Oreal true match. I liked the feeling of the CoverGirl product but liked how easy it was for me to find my perfect match in the store with the L’Oreal product- I put my wrist under a piece of plastic with colors and actually got the right shade for my complexion as they said I would. I’m still not sure which is my favorite brand- I like them both.

With both the L’Oreal and CoverGirl products, I liked both the liquid foundation and the cream compact makeup- although I did not use the cream compact all over my face. I found that I had very good results achieving a natural look when I used the liquid all over my face and then used the compact makeup sparingly only on my cheek bones where I wanted a little extra coverage for my freckles. (Note that if you spend $20 on any CoverGirl Cosmetics at CVS from April 5-11th you get $10 Extra Bucks (Limit 1)).

I also tried and liked the L’Oreal True Match super-blendable Concealer (it comes with a brush) and the CoverGirl Smoothers Concealer (in a stick).

I have had problems with clumpy mascara in the past. I decided to try the L’Oreal Bare Naturale Mineral-Enriched Mascara in Black Brown because it was L’Oreal and I was having good luck with their foundation. I like a natural look and like this mascara which is fiber free and clump free.

Eye Shadow:
I tried L’Oreal wear infinite eyes hadow for hazel eyes and liked it. There is a 1,2,3,4 stamped into each of the 4 shadows in the container and they tell you where on your eye to put each number. How easy is that? The colors seem to work well with my eyes- and, as I recall, they have other options for those with brown or blue eyes.

Instead of blush, I like to use a little Bronzer. I have tried Physicians Formula Organic Wear Bronzer and I think it is a solid bronzer. It looks natural on my skin so I like it.

So far, I have liked L’OrealColor Juice in Raspberry Smash. It feels like clear gloss with a hint of sheer red.

Despite the fact that I tend to go for natural looking makeup, and a gloss on my lip during the day, I tend to favor a red lip when I go out with my husband. I have been having a very hard time finding a lipstick I like as much as Yves Saint Laurent- which is my go to lipstick. I’ll keep looking.

I am also on the lookout for a nice skin treatment. Right now I still have a supply of Bliss Triple Oxygen Instant Energizing Mask and Peter Thomas Roth Botanical Buffing Beads (recommended one year by Allure a few years back), so, I don’t have need to buy anything new. In the name of being a Recessionista, I will continue to look for suitable substitutes- despite the fact that there is a Bliss in the W Hotel that just opened in Hoboken.

Disclaimer: Please note that I have not been asked to write this article by anyone or received any compensation for making the above recommendations. These are just one real mom’s suggestions. If you keep your receipt and keep the packaging your makeup comes in, you can return your makeup for a refund at CVS in the eventuality that you try it and do not like it. I personally had to do this a few times before I found what I was looking for.  Rite Aid has a “Don’t Pay for Your Mistakes” Beauty Money Back Guarantee which allows you to return any opened/used beauty product for a full refund when accompanied by a register receipt. The Rite Aid guarantee covers not only makeup, but also the following: skin care/depilatories, sun care, bath/soap, hair care (shampoo, conditioner, styling and professional), hair color, cosmetics, ethnic beauty aids, fragrances, cosmetic organizers and personal care appliances.  Isn’t it nice to be able to try something knowing you can take it back if you don’t like it?

LaMer and Chanel- I may miss you every now and again, but my wallet won’t miss you. Thanks for the memories!


Why Not Consider…Wednesday: Application Tips for Independent or Private Schools

If you are planning on applying to an independent or private school, here are a few tips to make sure you do all you can to ensure that your child has a better chance of being admitted.

Start Early: Make a List of Important Dates and Note Key Pieces of Information
We recommend starting to look at schools and researching them at least one full year before your child starts school. Do your research on the internet and find out: 1) dates of admissions deadlines, 2) things that you will have to gather together for the school’s application that may take time for you to acquire (ie recommendations from teachers, a report from your current school, is there an admissions test your child will have to take and does the school need your child’s test results), 3) what kinds of essays you will have to write and how many (so you can plan your time accordingly), 4) the date of the school’s Open House and 5) when the school conducts tours and interviews. Paste this list to your fridge and look at it often. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to accomplish each task and call early to schedule tours and interviews.

Show Your Face at School Events and Network With Other Parents
If you start early, you can find out about special events that the school has that are open to the public and make a point to attend and be seen at these events. For instance, some schools have auctions. By attending the auction, you will be able to meet and network with other parents whose children already attend the school. While you are talking to them, you can get information about the school, how they like it there, and what their impressions are of the application process. You might even want to ask the parent if you can have their contact information so you can call them if you have any questions later on. Where your child is old enough to be applying for themselves, your child can attend events, in addition, like school plays or games. Both parent and child should be involved in the application process. During the interview, parents and children can make mention of events they have attended and any positive impressions the event made on the family regarding the school.

Alternatively, you can try to seek out parents in the community whose children go to the various schools in the park, at classes or at other activities. Your child can speak with other children who are students at the school to get information on how they like the school.

Many schools will have a section where they ask you to list parents or families that you know on their application. These parents may be asked for their impression of you and/or your child and what they say about you can help bolster your child’s application.

Show Interest by Contacting the School Early for a Tour
Waiting until the Open House is often too late. By then, most of the spots for tours may have been taken. Show that you are interested by calling the school in September or as directed on the website and requesting a tour.

Attend the School’s Open House and the HFA Open House Even if You have Already Gone on a Tour
Make a point to say hello to the Admissions Officer who gave you the tour and the Director of Admissions. Make sure that you say your name and try to mention something that really impressed you about the school when you went on the tour. At this point, you are trying to have those people who will be making a decision about your child’s application remember your name and face. Where the admissions department looks at the name of the applicant and the parent’s names, and does not do a blind read, you want that admissions officer to say: yes, I know this person and met them several times. They really were interested in the school. Let’s see what they/their child has to say. You do not want the officer to say: Applicant Smith. Let’s see. What do we have here.

Write the Best Essay You Can- Then Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite
Remember when you stayed up all night in school to write an essay that was due the next day. This is not what you want to do for your child’s application, and this is not what your child should do for their application. Start early. Write the best essay you can then set it aside for a bit and don’t look at it. Then, reread it and make changes. Show it to your spouse, your friends, your family and have them read it and give you their impressions. Make changes.

Make sure that you answer the questions asked on the application. Additionally, we know it is a lot of work but don’t try to write one essay for each school and then just send that one in for the next school. The admissions officers will probably know what you are up to and not be impressed.  Try to incorporate information about the school in your answer. For instance, if the school asks you why are you interested in the school- find reasons that you are interested in the school that match the way they market their school. For instance, if a school prides itself on being a progressive school, you would probably want to mention that you are interested in a progressive education for your child.

Get the application in a bit ahead of time.

Leave Nothing to Chance: After You Have Sent In the Application Follow Up
Make sure to send the application in a week or so before the deadline. Call the Admissions Director or department and check up to make sure that they received your application. If they haven’t you will still have time to get them another copy by the admissions deadline.

Take the Interview Seriously
Dress nicely- we might even recommend dressing like you would for a job interview. Arrive on time or a bit early. Be pleasant.  Firmly shake hands with the admissions officer.  Smile and make eye contact with the person conducting the interview.  Be aware of what your body language is telling the admissions officer. We recommend not sitting all the way back in your chair and getting too comfortable or crossing your arms.  Both child’s parents should be on the same page regarding why you are at that school and why you want your child to attend. Don’t get into an argument (with your spouse, ex or the admissions officer) at the interview.  Don’t say something in the interview that would contradict what you wrote in the essay.

Make sure you do incorporate the things you have done during the course of the year to get to know the school better and make a decision to apply in the conversation. For instance, one idea might be to mention what a lovely auction the school had last year and how you really enjoyed talking with the parents there. Another idea might be to comment on the school’s play and how impressed you were with the professionalism of the students involved.

Now breathe. . . and go to our schools page  if you live in or around Hoboken and/or go start checking out schools websites. 

Good luck!

Why Not Consider Wednesday: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending Part 2

Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending- Part 1 discussed using a spreadsheet to track your spending and to make projections about what you may spend in the months to come so you could have an idea of what your expenses might be for the year. 

In order to facilitate this process, we have put a link on the right hand side of this blog.  If you click on: Track Your Spending Spreadsheet 2009 you will be directed to a spreadsheet that has been uploaded as a google document so we can link to it here.  You can click on File, Export, .xls and the document will be saved on your computer as an excel spreadsheet. Once this has been done, you can start adding figures in the boxes and calculating your own spending.

Note: the areas highlighted in Grey, Yellow and Pink are formula driven.  If you enter something into these areas, it will destroy the formulas and the spreadsheet will not work properly.  We would recommend staying away from these areas completely.

I use a similar spreadsheet, not only to track my actual spending but also to track my projected spending.  Here is what I do to distinguish between those dollar amounts that I have actually spent from those that I anticipate I will be spending.  I highlight the ones still to be spent in red.  At the top right of the excel spreadsheet you will see a paint bucket. Make sure you are in the box you want to highlight.  Now, click on the arrow to the right of the paint bucket.  This will allow you to select the color you want to use.  Now, the box will become highlighted in the color you have selected.  When you want to remove the highlighting, for instance, when you have paid the bill and the figure ceases to be a projected one and becomes an actual one, make sure you are on the excel box you want to remove the highlighting from, click on the arrow to the right of the paint bucket and select no fill.  This will remove the highlighting. 

I like doing this, not only because I can see what I expect to pay for things going forward, but, it also helps me make sure I have not missed paying a bill.  If I get to the end of the month and I still have items in red, I know that those items have not yet been paid.

This spreadsheet has been separated into two broad sections.  Section 1 which has one Total includes items that we anticipate you would be paying for on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.   Section 2 has a Total Additional Costs for the year.  This section adds up items like insurance costs, doctor visits, clothing, one time costs (in other words, things that you don’t expect to pay every month but that you might have a bill for once a year or several times a year). 

At the bottom of the spreadsheet you will see a row entitled Total for the Year which has been highlighted in yellow.  This totals everything in the monthly categories so you can see how much you have spent in each of the categories at the end of each month. 

The very last row of the spreadsheet has an item entitled Grand Total for the Year which has been highlighted in pink.   This adds together the totals for section 1 and section 2 items in the spreadsheet to tell you how much you have spent for the entire year on all items.

There is a column at the end of the spreadsheet entitled Notes. I like entering notes into the spreadsheet to help me remember key purchases.  If after you have typed something in under notes you want to start a new idea (and put it on a new line) after you have finished typing the first note, hold down the Alt key while at the same time clicking on the Enter key.  This will take you to the next line so you can start typing something new.  Additionally, you can always make a short note in a box to the left or right of an item.  But this can get messy so be warned.

We hope this spreadsheet will be helpful and serve as a valuable resource.  Please note, nobody is perfect and although we tried to make sure that the formulas in this spreadsheet are 100% accurate, it is possible we made a mistake somewhere.  Additionally, it is possible that as you go along, you might change a formula by mistake.  So- we highly recommend doing some spot checks with a calculator at a minimum to make sure that the figures make sense, and/or just adding up months to make sure that the figures you have put in do indeed add up correctly- especially if you are relying heavily on this spreadsheet as a tool.

Now- you have the tools you need to succeed- so start tracking!

We have put a link to a partially filled out spreadsheet entitled SAMPLE under the Track Your Spending link.  I made up the figures in this spreadsheet and they don’t reflect reality.  The sample is really there just so you can see what the spreadsheet looks like when filled in.  You might want to take a look at the sample before you get started.

Why Not Consider Wednesday: Coupon Binder

coupon binderThose of you who have been following our posts on shopping- either at grocery stores or at CVS and Rite Aid have noticed that we like to use coupons.  Manufacturers coupons can be an invaluable tool to help you get items you want and use for cheaper, but you have to be organized if you are going to use them.  They can easily take over your life.  I recently decided to change my organizational system, because it required too much work. 

I used to have a binder that had sections for each type of grocery item (ie Frozen, Pantry etc) and I would clip the coupons I wanted and insert them into plastic inserts that kids usually use for collectible cards.  It worked great, for a while, but it was very labor intensive.

What I noticed, however, mostly from participating in the Grocery Game, and from looking at other sites, is that most people identify coupons based on what section of the Sunday newspaper they came from  (ie P&G 3/1/09 means the Proctor and Gamble insert in the March 1 Sunday paper).  Consequently, I have decided to change the way I organize my coupons, and I am starting a new binder this weekend.

Instead, I will mark each coupon insert with the date of the paper,  put a 3 hole punch in it and file it in my binder.  I will separate out weeks by using a page separator.   

My binder has a zipper and it also has a section with 5 tabs.  I will use that section with tabs for my fliers from CVS (weekly and monthly deals), Rite Aid (weekly and monthly Rebates), A&P and Shop Rite.  There is also a small pouch I can put a scissor (handy if I have to take my binder out with me and cut coupons while I am at a store) 

Hopefully, keeping everything together in one binder will help me be more organized.

I may keep one or two of my playing card plastic inserts for coupons I come across from other sources, ie while walking through the stores- sometimes there are magic boxes with great coupons, from the mail etc. 

Why not start a coupon binder too?  If you are a little embarassed about using coupons, don’t be.  Just in case you are- here is a link to a very intersting article posted on CNN.com.  “In a recession, cheap is chic.” 

In order to help you keep track of your coupons, should you decide to create a coupon binder like this one, we have created a link on the right side of this blog entitled Coupon Database.  When you click on the link, you will find a spreadsheet that tracks all the coupons from the Saturday Jersey Journal paper as well as the Sunday Paper (I get the NY Post).  We have sorted the coupons alphabetically by dollar value and expiration date. 

Here is how you can use the spreadsheet.  When you plan on going shopping, and know you want to buy an item, check the spreadsheet to see if there are any coupons for that item.  Because this is labor intensive, I will file items only by major brand name ie Gilette and then you need to take a quick look through your binder to the appropriate section to see if the coupon is for the particular item advertised on sale or that you need (ie Gillette Fusion Gamer Razor or Gillette Shaving Cream). 

We hope this will be a valuable resource.  We will keep the coupons up on the database until they expire- even if we have suggested using a coupon in a Shopping Saturday post.  We will shoot to update the coupon database every week to reflect the new coupons that came out in each weekend paper.  Assume that by Monday 6:00am the Coupon Database will be updated- but we may be able to get the database updated earlier so feel free to check earlier than that.

Why Not Consider Wednesday: Why You Should Be Tracking Your Spending

How I became a Recessionista Before the Recession Started.

Last January, I decided to create a spreadsheet to track how much money we spent. While my husband initially rolled his eyes at my project (especially when I asked him every day- how much money he spent in each of the categories I created) we both learned a lot about our spending habits by reviewing our totals at the end of the year. However, we didn’t have to wait until the end of the year to learn some valuable lessons about where our money was going. The numbers on the spreadsheet told us a lot

This year we decided to continue to track our spending again. Here are some of the reasons why you might want to consider tracking your spending too.

Tracking what you spend your money on allows you to:

1. See what you are spending your money on
2. Make projections about what you will owe and when it will come due
3. Reduce stress from not knowing how much you will owe and when it will come due
4. Stop making purchasing decisions based on impulses, but rather, make them based on what you truly value and appreciate

1. What Do You Spend Your Money On?
There are generally two categories that people spend money on: fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs include things like the rent, a mortgage or car payments. It is usually pretty easy to list these items and account for them. Variable costs are items that fluctuate depending on usage. These are items like utilities, groceries, dry cleaning, and one time costs. One time costs are things like an unexpected hospital stay or a broken hot water heater.

In order to determine what you are spending your money on, you need to create or find a spreadsheet you can use and then enter information into it daily, before you forget what you have spent your money on.

Additionally, you need to make sure you don’t just enter all your variable costs into a category labeled miscellaneous. Indeed, if you are going to go to track your spending, you want to be able to see exactly where all your money is going. To be sure, you will need to have a category labeled miscellaneous. However, the less you put into this category the better. Some of the items you might want to pull from the miscellaneous category include: Dry Cleaning, Gas, Commuting Costs (ie the Bus, Train etc), Groceries, Take Out, Drug Store Purchases, Kids Classes and Toys, Entertainment, Babysitting, Cleaning Service, Travel, Clothing/Shoes/Makeup/Hair, Charitable Donations, Gifts, Taxes.

2. Make Some Projections
After you have tracked your spending closely for at least one month, you can start to make projections about what you will owe and when it will come due. Granted, you might not have a high degree of accuracy using just one month’s figures, but at least you will be able to make an educated guess about how much you will spend for the year. Go ahead- fill in the spreadsheet for the upcoming months. Dry cleaning $x each month, utilities $y each month, taxes $z in April. Now make some adjustments to try to get things to be as accurate as possible. Do you use more energy in the winter when it is cold? Add a little something to the figures you have input for utilities for the months of December, January, February. Do you go to a lot of holiday parties in December- add a little something onto your dry cleaning bill for that month. Do you have reason to believe you will be paying more taxes this year? Go through this exercise for all your categories. Now add all the monthly totals to come up with a grand total for the year. Are you surprised by what you will spend for the year? Try playing around with the spreadsheet a bit. Reduce a few numbers here and there.

Ask yourself two questions. First, do you like what you see? Second, are you being realistic? If not- go back and fix things. When the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you have effectively created a budget for your household.

Perhaps when you have heard the term budget in the past it has conjured up negative feelings. Here is why it shouldn’t. Businesses have budgets and make projections about what they will earn and what they will spend. So, if it is acceptable for businesses to make decisions based on a budget, then why shouldn’t it be acceptable for you?

3. Tracking Spending Reduces Stress.
When you don’t know how much you owe and when it comes due, it creates a great deal of stress. Creating a budget allows you to figure out exactly what you can do to make sure that your expenses don’t add up to more than your income. However, if your expenses do add up to more than what you earn, having a budget allows you to see how long your savings will last. Moreover, having this type of budget allows you to show family members how certain purchases will affect your bottom line. Consequently, purchasing decisions can be based less on impulse and more on reason.

4. Tracking Spending Helps You Make More Informed Decisions About Purchases
When you are buying that tall skim no whip mocha at Starbucks every week are you really thinking about how much money you are spending in a year. Probably not. Assume you spend $10 on coffee every week at Starbucks. There are 52 weeks in a year. $10 times 52 equals $520. Now if you get a lot of pleasure out of that coffee, you may well determine that spending $520 on coffee is worth it. But maybe you won’t.

A lot of personal finance blogs will talk about budgeting and then get into a discussion of wants and needs. The problem is- human beings truly have very few needs. Food, shelter, something to cover our bodies with. So everything can then be thought of as a want and as unnecessary. This can leads one down a slippery slope where everything that is wanted should be denied and all money should be saved.  That’s just not practical.  Like the dieter who constantly denies themselves the piece of chocolate cake and then goes on a binge eating every sweet they can find, I worry the above practice can lead to a situation where the individual, tired of always saving every dime might just go out and binge on unnecessary purchases.  That’s why I think that getting that Starbucks coffee every now and then can actually be a good thing.    

To me, the issue really is more about what do you value and what can you afford. Some people want to save as much as possible for retirement, for their kids college, for an emergency fund etc. etc. etc. and other people are happy saving just a little less so they can experience different things that life has to offer. However, we all have very different ideas of what will make us happy and content. Additionally, we all have very different financial situations. Thus, just because someone values something very much, they may still not be able to buy it. 

Nevertheless, everyone can benefit from tracking their spending and creating a budget. So why not give it a try?