Retailing

Soon to be out of Stock

Staff WriterMay 15, 2011 

My last day at The News & Observer will be Friday.

And I'm finding that saying goodbye is even harder than paying full price.

But after 6-1/2 years of writing about shopping, malls and couponing for The N&O, it's time to move on.

Others here will continue to report about retail. The coupon database and Wednesday deals aren't going away, either.

But I can't leave without offering one more list of tips. These are my big takeaways.

Know what you pay. The No. 1 thing that will make you a smarter shopper is to pay attention to what you pay for things. That goes for everything from oil changes to dog sitting. If you don't know what you pay, you will never be able to know whether something is a good deal.

Coupons are not a waste of time. Fifty cents here and a dollar there will add up - to thousands of dollars a year. If you dedicate one to two hours a week to clipping coupons, reviewing sales fliers and making your shopping list, you can easily save $20 a week. And $20 a week is $1,000 in a year.

Ask for discounts. If you complain that all coupons are for junk food, write to the companies of the products you do use and ask for coupons. I'd say that about 40 percent of my requests result in coupons in my mail. Apply this principle everywhere. Ask for discounts in stores. Look at your discretionary monthly bills like cable and wireless and investigate ways to trim.

Have patience. Learn to control your impulses for both big and small items. Buy wrapping paper and Christmas cards in January. Wait until Black Friday or Super Bowl time when TVs are the cheapest to buy one.

Know when to pass up a deal. You do not have to getevery deal that's out there every single week. In fact, that's a good way to drive yourself crazy. If you already have 19 jars of mayonnaise on your shelf, you should probably skip this week's sale.

Similarly, I do believe there are times when you should pass up a good deal. Yes, you read that right. If you're hanging out with friends you only see once a year, don't fret over where your 50-cent coupon went. Enjoy their company.

Deal-hunting is a way of life, but don't let it rule your life.

My next venture

Speaking of finding balance in your life, that is the primary reason for my departure.

My husband and I have weighed the pros and cons and decided that this is the right move and the right time.

We would like to be closer to our families, which are in the Northeast and the Midwest. But our final destination is still up in the air.

Leaving a full-time steady job while the country is coming out of a recession is not something I do lightly. It's also something I know a lot of people daydream about doing.

If you are considering it, here are some things that you should think about before you commit. As with most things financial, the devil is in the details. Your success or failure - and ours - will be determined by good planning and a little bit of luck.

Make a financial plan. I cannot stress how much we thought about the money. I made all kinds of budget projections, balance sheets and estimates on what our cost of living will be. I looked at how much we will need to pay for health insurance, which bills will go away and which new ones will start arriving. Remember to add things that your company pays for or things you get at work for free. If you want to keep them, you'll have to foot the bill.

Also, look at what your options will be for 401(k), retirement, pensions, employee stock plans or any other equity you have built up with your current company. You should have a plan for those funds.

Outline the obstacles. I spent a good amount of time imagining all kinds of unlikely scenarios. What if one of us became seriously ill? What if one of us had a car accident and we had to replace a car? Could we handle a big expense like that? Where would the money come from?

Then I switched to more practical matters. If you rent, check your lease terms and find out how much notice you are required to give and what the penalty is for early termination. If you have a mortgage, you have to decide what you will do with your home. Check on other things that will be affected like gym memberships (which are often paid in advance) and car insurance.

Inventory your pantry. This is particularly pertinent for couponers like me. Even though I do not keep months and months of food in my house like people on a certain shall-not-be-named reality TV show, I do keep some overstock. I went through my fridge, freezer and entire pantry and wrote down everything. In all, I have enough food to get me through a month without buying much else except milk and produce. If you are planning a move, make sure you leave yourself time to whittle down your overstock. Moving thousands of pounds of food across state lines is expensive. If you don't have time to use it up, donate it to a food pantry.

Wait awhile. Once you decide you want to do this, wait - especially if you have a job now. Mull it over, think of all the possibilities and all the reasons that you should not make the change. Tell close friends and family what you are considering. Let them criticize and ask questions. Remember that it's not a decision to be made lightly, and there's no turning back.

New adventures

That means the only way to go is forward, and I am heading in that direction into a future unknown.

I will miss you, Triangle.

As always, I wish you happy shopping.

sue.stock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4649

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