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Be an Organized Consumer

What I Want
Okay, you have Gift Ideas – Others. Now make Gift Ideas – Me! People say I'm silly to suggest you would need to make a list to remember everything you want, but think about it: If someone wanted to know, right now, five things you would like for your birthday, you'd have to give it some thought, wouldn't you?

I'm not talking about the convertible Saleen Mustang – the fantasy stuff is always easy to remember (and, sigh, not likely to materialize). I'm talking about the smaller things you encounter day by day and you think, "Hmm, that would be nice to have," but then as Mother's Day approaches, you can't think of a thing you need, so in desperation they get you another lace-collared sweatshirt.

Start writing down those kinda-neat things you admire as you're shopping for someone else, flipping through a catalog, or watching TV. Include titles of movies you'd like to own on video or DVD, CDs of that band with the nice harmonies that you saw on The Tonight Show, clever gadgets and pretty candles from your friends' home-sale parties...anything you see that strikes your fancy but for whatever reason doesn't get purchased on the spot.

By the way, if any of my gift givers are interested, I'd love a Detroit Red Wings jersey with my own last name on it. (Stanley, get it? Hockey? Stanley Cup? Cute, huh?) And the only reason I can remember that right this moment is because it's on my Gift Ideas – Me! list.

What the House Needs
Depending on how needy your home is, you can make a simple, uncategorized list, or you can group items by room, by store, or by price. Thankfully, my list has gotten fairly short, but two years ago when I'd just purchased my house, there were at least five items for every room!

My list now includes items to replace occasionally, such as the furnace filter and odd-sized light bulbs. I note the brand I prefer, the model number, the size, the store that had the item for the best price the last time I bought it, and what that price was.

Some household purchases are so infrequent that they're easy to forget to include in a budget; a list like this not only helps you make a more comprehensive budget, but also gives you an idea of how much the budget amount should be – something you're not likely to remember if it's not recorded.

Get into the habit of adding items to your list whenever you acquire something with a part that will eventually need to be replaced. For example, if you buy a new halogen desk lamp, add the bulb size and model number to your list. Then, when the bulb burns out, you'll be ready to purchase the right replacement bulb on the first try.

For optimum efficiency and savings, your list should include measurements, colors, brands, model numbers, prices, and any other data that will allow you to buy without first running home to get more information. I'd much rather walk up to the plumbing guy at Lowe's and ask him to order me "the American Standard Cadet pedestal sink in white, model #0236.811 with three faucet holes, not just one," rather than ask him to help me find "a sink to match a toilet that kind of looks like that one over there...."

With this approach, a woman can talk to almost any hardware store clerk without having to hear that infuriating line, "Why don't you just send your husband in?" Considering what I would say in response, avoiding that conversation actually spares the clerk's pride more than my own.

Never Again Wonder, "Did I Get That?"
Okay, you have lists, you have a database – you're a super-efficient shopper! You've placed orders all over the Internet and now you can kick back and wait for your stuff to come to your door! And a week from now, you'll forget you ordered it and they can just keep your money!

Hey, wait a minute....

There's one more step to add to each mail-order transaction: the follow-through. You can make another list, but this chapter's almost finished and even I am sick of listmaking by now, so I bet you are, too. Let's do something even simpler:

  1. Print or write some record of the transaction.
  2. Post it with other transaction records.
This is one of those beautiful systems that is just so elegant in its simplicity. All you have to do is record each transaction and keep those records together somewhere. When an item arrives, pull its record from the group.

I like to use a clipboard hung inside my coat closet by the front door. I just print the order confirmation or scribble a note on a scrap of paper and stick it in the clipboard. If an item seems to be lingering on the clipboard too long, I'm prompted to open QuickBooks and see whether the payment has cleared or call the company and check the item's status.

Use whatever works for you to track online and mail-order purchases. Use sticky notes on the fridge, a message board by the mailbox, a reminder in your planner – anything, as long as you'll use it completely and consistently. Such a method ensures that you always get what you paid for.

Ah, one more contribution to your peace of mind!

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More on: Family Finances

Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.


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