American Girl – Not Frugal At All (Or What’s A Smile Worth)

Last weekend we went to the American Girl store in Manhattan to buy my daughter a doll.

Have you heard of this place?

It’s a doll store that specializes in making the doll purchase a full experience for your child. Among the doll choices you have is their Just Like You collection where you pick out a doll that has features similar to your own (or my daughter in this case; I would make one ugly doll).

From the site:

Just Like You dolls help girls share their stories with the world. Every girl can find a doll to match her spirit and look—inside and out. The hair and eye color, skin tone, and outfits and accessories help bring their story, and friendship, to life. These 18-inch dolls are for ages 8 and up.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

Each comes with a story book and a music CD. You can buy girl clothes that match the dolls'; there’s a theater; a cafe; a hair salon; even a doll hospital! Yes, you can already imagine it isn’t cheap! The doll we bought (left) was $90!!

Let me go back a sec and explain how we got here.

Last Spring my daughter went to the American Girl store with her Girl Scout troop. They were able to get a doll’s hair made up and had lunch at the cafe. If you didn’t own a doll they gave you a loaner.

Well, my daughter immediately wanted one of her own!

It wasn’t too hard to say no to her since the dolls are so expensive. But we did strike a deal with her: If she behaved (as best she could) and tried hard in school we would get her one for her birthday. She agreed. Keep in mind we didn’t go overboard for the holidays knowing we would be getting this doll for her birthday. Also, besides the party at home, this would be her only gift from us.

Did I mention the place has like three floors?!?

I went in with strong resolve, vowing to buy only the doll! But man do I have ADD when I walk into a store. They have accessories and dolls everywhere. It wasn’t long before I was asking my wife if we she get another outfit or an accessory too. We came real close but my wife, having more sense than me, said we came only for the doll and that’s what we’re getting!

Yes, it was expensive for what is essentially a trumped up Cabbage Patch kid.

But did my daughter smile when we got home!

I took a picture with her and the doll and it’s one of the most joyful smiles of her I’ve gotten on film. I know this is no excuse to spend money. I don’t think we’re spoiling her since she waited so long for it and we made sure to explain to her that this is an extra special gift, the likes of which she shouldn’t always expect.

Here’s a few justifications for buying it:

  1. We made her wait a while before buying it to make sure she not only deserved it but would still want it and take care of it.
  2. It was the only major gift she’s getting from us for her birthday. We got her small gifts for the holidays but nothing expensive.
  3. Our son is turning one two days before her birthday. Although we do our best to give equal attention to both of our children it’s inevitable that the little guy gets a bit more attention since he’s a baby. The doll is a special present for her for being so great with him this past year.
  4. We had the money in savings and will not be in debt because of it.

If your daughter has friends that own an American Girl doll now might be the time to explain to her she can no longer be friends with them. Unless you want to buy her one too. (Just kidding of course).

What do you think? Are we spoiling her? Are we guilty of “keeping up with the Joneses?”

Emotions Got The Best Of Us At The Picture People – Review

Baby pictures at The Picture People

So this past weekend my wife and I took the kids to get their pictures taken at The Picture People at the mall. We had a coupon for a free 8×10 portrait and since we hadn’t had pictures taken of our children together we thought we’d go (the little one is an infant).  We figured we’d go in, get our picture and get out.  Far from it!

Baby pictures at The Picture PeopleThey have some marketing plan set up there! We got there and checked in.  When it was our turn we were brought to a curtained off area to take pictures.  The photographer is a young guy with a digital camera.  He took all sorts of pics with each child separately as well as together.  When the picture taking was over we told to wait a bit and we would be helped.

Here is where they get us:

  • They show you about 20 pictures, all which make you say “awwwww.”  Now we want all of the pictures.
  • The sales person says “wouldn’t this be nice” and takes out a large, vertical, black and white portrait already framed.   It looks amazing until we’re told it costs about $150. He also produces a large horizontal frame with three photos.
  • When we seem like we’re not so sure he tells us there’s a way he can get us the three pic frame as well as some others in a great package that will save money. Sounds interesting. Oh, the package costs $249!!
  • When we’ve finally decided what we want (much more than what we planned) and we’re ready to pay we’re told about a membership club we can join that will make one of our pics cheaper and entitle us to some free pics throughout the year.
  • They also ask for your email address so you can view your photos online. They encourage you to send the site to friends and family so they can see if there’s pictures they want to buy (you can put a picture on anything from a mug to a mouse pad or just order copies).

Suffice it to say we spent way more than we intended to. The pictures do look great (including the three picture frame we got) and they have everything done for you within an hour.

Pros and Cons About The Picture People

Pros

  • Convenience – We made an appointment and went to the mall. We didn’t have to schedule a photographer to come to the house.
  • Ease of Service - The people were friendly and you walk out with your photos within an hour.
  • Price – Although we spent more than we wanted to it would have cost more to hire a photographer.
  • Quality – The pictures really do look great!

Cons

  • Atmosphere – It’s a bit of a mad house there with all of the families coming and going, many with small children.
  • Price – Yes it’s relatively inexpensive but the photos and packages still come out to a hefty amount (at least to our liking).
  • Emotional Factor – It’s really tough to say no to all these great pictures of your children. You see them and want them all.   I jokingly told the sales person that it would be on his conscience if we couldn’t afford to put our kids through college.

Overall we’re happy with the product and we will be going back to get our free pictures (yeah we signed up for the membership). Since we now have some nice photos we won’t be needed large packages and we intend to only go for our promotional photo.

The big lesson here is that spending is emotional and we have to be careful not to let our emotions get the better of our budget!

Buying A Car – Know Your Credit Score And Get Financing Before Hand

Monster+Car+Sale

A few years ago I set out to buy my first car.

This was a big deal for me, it was to be my most expensive purchase as well as my greatest debt.  Thankfully I was able to get a lot of advice from the site The Motley Fool (check out their steps to buying a car).  Even if you don’t follow each of their steps I think you will find their information useful.

I don’t want to go into what my whole car-buying process was like.  That might be too long a post (there was much drama but that’s for another time).

What I want to discuss is knowing your credit score and getting financing before-hand.

I knew I needed to check my credit report and score before making a big purchase.

 

I purchased all three reports and my score online.   I was surprised at what I saw!  I expected to have a mediocre score due to past late fees and debt but what I found was that my score was actually very good.   I guess my efforts at reducing my debt and transferring balances to 0% cards helped.

With my credit score in hand my next step was to secure financing.

Included in my credit score was a description of how the score was determined as well as what kind of credit I could expect.  I applied for financing through an online bank and received a check to fill out when the purchase was made.  Due to my credit score my interest rate on the financing was favorable and below the average for a car loan.

Credit_report_history_225I don’t know how many of you have purchased a car but you may not know that you aren’t done negotiating after you have figured out the price of your car-to-be.

Oh no!

You spend your time and effort haggling over the car price with the sales person and maybe the sales manager and you finally come to an agreeable price and you let out a sigh of relief.  Finally, all I have to do is pay for the car and it’s mine!

Well at this point the sales person brings you into the office of the finance manager!  Sitting in the manager’s office, he looks over my forms and tells me I can get financing for X percent and goes into what I need to sign (it’s in his interest to give me a loan with as high a rate as possible).   “Whoa,” I say.  “I know my credit score can get me better financing” I tell the manager (keep in mind I already have financing in place).   The manager looks at my credit report and tells me I do have a good score and offers me a lower interest rate.  This rate is still higher than my outside financing!  It’s then I tell him that I already have financing so I don’t need to finance through the dealership.  Wanting to have my debt through his dealership he then offers me a rate about half a point below what my outside loan was.  I accepted the new rate and was finally able to buy my new car.

If I didn’t have a loan already and didn’t know my credit score before hand I would have paid significantly more for my car!

It would have been very difficult to negotiate at this point without those two pieces in place.   Having my credit score and a loan in place allowed me this:

  • I knew what kind to interest rate to expect.
  • I was able to get a rate lower than the financing I already had set up.
  • I saved money.

Finally

Remember, the price you negotiate with the sales person is not what you are paying for the car (unless you’re paying in full of course).  You have to add in the cost of your loan.  When you go into a major purchase you need to have as many tools and as much information as possible because you can be taken advantage of and you might not even know it.

Make sure to check your credit score and know your financing options before-hand!