Category Archives: shopping

I demand my dollar-fifty-two!

Back-to-school shopping time for Christine!

This week, OfficeMax has their 15%-off-everything-you-can-stuff-in-a-paper-bag promotion going on.

It’s a standard sized brown paper grocery bag, and on my shopping safari yesterday I came nowhere near filling it. It can hold a deceivingly large volume of small pricey impulsive things, which is the nefarious plot that lies below the surface of the promotion.

In fact, I only bought about $10.15 worth of various things– a package of highlighters, some index cards, two three-ring binders (good price on the Avery “Durable” ones), a pencil pouch (so I can easily find my stuff, instead of digging around in my backpack for my eraser or pencil leads), and who knows what else. Restraint was used, anyway.

I pay for my loot, and check the receipt before I leave.

And do the math in my head, just to be sure.

There’s no sign of my 15% discount!

The whole ritual of putting-things-in-a-paper-bag-and-get-a-discount was the point of my visit!

Still overpriced, even at 15% off… but oh well.

I went back to the cashier and (sweetly as can be) pointed out the error.

She apologized and gave me my one dollar and fifty-two cents.

I felt a little silly, but I lived up to my end of the contract– I put things into a bag as they required!

Besides, that $1.52 could buy me several ounces of gasoline.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

Always, always, always check to make sure you get any discount you’ve been promised!

Think about the big picture: If 100 people per store, times 1000 stores in the country, don’t get their  $1.52 discount, that’s $152,000 that Office Max has stolen from the people of America.

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Shameless Verizon commercial (you guys don’t really believe this stuff, do you?)

Earlier this afternoon, I heard a radio commercial that made me shudder. I tried to find a clip of it online to post here, but couldn’t. I’d love to share it with you.  Maybe you’ve already heard it, or will soon.

And hopefully my fellow listeners were able to engage their critical thinking skills. A serious media literacy intervention is desperately needed here.

It was one of Verizon’s “man-on-the street” interview spots, which I generally find annoying. That’s another rant for another day. Now, apparently, according to the fellow interviewed in the new commercial, men who use Verizon Wireless have better luck with the ladies!

Women will just swarm around you if you use the Verizon network.

Huh.

The young man being interviewed sounds quite confident in his assertion that Verizon will make you breathtakingly popular with the ladies.

And why? Because, he explains, Verizon Wireless is a smart choice… and women like men who make smart choices.

Women like men who make choices based on believing stupid radio commercials? Really?

No!

We are to conclude that if you switch to Verizon, your lonely days are over. You are about to become a player, son. Bring that hot tub up to a boil. It’s party time, big guy.

It’s an admirable stretch, a courageous leap of logic.

But am I the only one who finds this really, really distasteful?

I’m not even objecting to

(a) the notion that women would ever possibly be attracted to something so inane as a man’s wireless service,

or

(b) even the assumption that men would be dumb enough to believe it.

It’s simply the blatant emotional manipulation that’s going on here that irritates me. This sort of advertising has been going on forever, but (aside from maybe the men’s body spray ads), it’s almost always been far more subtle– basically implied but unspoken. An attractive woman invariably appears, and it’s all because the man has used the product.

Sure, they may have meant the Verizon commercial to be funny and ironic… or, worse, cleverly presented as funny and ironic, which is an entirely different and far more dangerous animal. When an ad dances on this fine line, it throws the listeners into confusion– “Wait, are they serious, or is this a joke?”– and confusion is exactly where the advertisers want us. We’re more vulnerable there.

But, like the proverbial “lovely and talented” bikini-girl writhing on the hood of the sportscar, the time-honored advertising technique of associating a product with increased attractiveness still gets under my skin. Advertisers wouldn’t be spending their budgets on this stuff if it didn’t work, though, right? Sigh.

Okay, back to Verizon.

Facts:

  1. This particular radio station clearly targets male listeners age 18-24*
  2. Sex sells.

So, even if the commercial was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it may still be effective. I wonder how many guys paused long enough to actually consider switching their wireless network.

Well, then. Maybe Verizon Shameless Wireless has a winner here.

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* I’m a female listener, age north of 24, but I still like to rock.

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Is your sense of entitlement making you poor?

I remember my dad often saying of my sister, “She’s got a big a$$.”

He didn’t mean that she literally had a large rear end, because she most assuredly didn’t. No, this was his vulgar way of saying she saw herself as a princess. You see, a lowly chair wasn’t enough for her; only a throne would do. Her delicate, royal tushie needed plenty of room, plenty of luxury.

A lot of people have a similar sense of entitlement. But where does it come from?

Sure, a person brought up in a wealthy home may be accustomed to the finer things, and then go through life trying to continue that lifestyle. On the other hand, a person who grew up in a poorer home may make a subconscious decision to have all the nice things he or she was denied as a child.

While these two people’s motives come from completely different backgrounds, they’re really two sides of the same coin: both have a sense of entitlement, a sense that the world owes them something.

Now, I’m all for self-esteem. There’s not much real self-esteem these days, but a whole lot of false self-esteem. That’s another rant for another day. Entitlement, really, has nothing to do with genuine self-esteem.

I recently read an interesting op-ed piece called The Unfortunate Age of Entitlement in America. The author, Anthony B. Robinson, views the entitlement problem as both psychological and spiritual.

Entitlement is the handmaiden of the ego, the sign of a neglected, malnourished soul.

The dangers here are real, if not immediate. Let’s say a person decides she wants a 2008 Lexus. Why? I don’t know. Because she wants people to view her as sexy and stylish and successful… you know, better… or dare I say it, of a higher social class. She works so hard, and she’s been through so much, and everybody at work has a nicer car than she does, and… and… and… well, she deserves it, by golly!

Now let’s say her financial situation is better suited to a 1999 Toyota. There’s nothing wrong with an older Toyota, of course, as long as it gets her to and from where ever she needs to go. If it’s paid for, even better!

Whoops! Too late! She’s just signed away her life to finance that new Lexus. Now she’s saddled to that huge monthly payment, higher insurance premiums, and other assorted costs. Her sense of entitlement has just put her deeply into debt.

How much status do we place on things? I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years now, and I often come across people who can’t believe I would intentionally eat a meal of rice and beans. To them, prime rib or steak is the ultimate meal, and anything less is for peasants.

Adopting a frugal lifestyle can be an incredibly difficult thing for some people. To a person who feels entitled to having everything he wants, when he wants it, the thought of scaling back must be terrifying. The way our economy is going, though, it’s becoming more and more necessary… and not always voluntary.

Think about your own lifestyle. Are there things you absolutely wouldn’t cut back on or give up… not because you couldn’t live without them, but because you’d be too embarrassed for others to see you “coming down” or “lowering” yourself? Are there things you spend too much money on (gifts, meals, entertainment), because others expect it of you?

A lot to think about, I know.

RECOMMENDED READ:

The truly wealthy don’t always live the wild, gaudy lifestyles that we’ve been led to believe. Check out The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley & William D. Danko.

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When worlds collide

My friend Troy snapped this gem recently.  It speaks volumes.

How the mighty have fallen.

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Coupons: Just cut it out

This will probably ruffle a few frugal feathers out there, but I have to say it.

For the most part, I don’t find manufacturer’s coupons very useful at all.

Success with coupon-clipping really depends on the mix of products you buy regularly.

With the exception of health and beauty products, I rarely find coupons for things I buy.  For things like shampoo, hair color (ahem… oh yes, I’m a natural blonde), and toothpaste though, I score big. Coupons + Wal*Mart = huge savings.

But as for food? Not so much.

I buy a lot of store brands, which (with a few exceptions) are just as good as the name-brands.

Most store brands are actually manufactured by the name brand company! Same stuff, less packaging fanfare. Not only that, though. Even when you have a coupon for the name brand, the store brand at regular price will almost always be a better deal. Always check the store brand.

Most of the coupons I come across are for things I don’t want or need.

They usually promote some brand-new product that is 3OP– Overly-Packaged, Overly-Processed and Overly-Priced.  Food manufacturers are in a frenzy these days to maximize profits by creating as many different new package configurations as possible. Keep in mind that 100-calorie packs, individual servings in itty-bitty plastic containers, microwave-in-the-bag veggies, anything labeled “To-Go” or “Ready” will jack the price upwards of 279%!

I stock my pantry with a lot of bulk dry goods, like beans, rice, and TVP (textured vegetable protein). While prices are going up, these basic commodities will almost always be less expensive than their prepared, processed, packaged counterparts. If you buy prepared rice, for example, you’re paying extra for the water they used to dehydrate the rice. I’ve never seen coupons for any of these things, but they’re priced reasonably enough every day.

Farmer’s markets are great for saving big money on fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables. As with bulk goods, you probably won’t find coupons for these things, but they are usually priced very reasonably. And even if they’re a little more expensive than your grocery store, you may decide it’s worth it to pay a little more for super-freshness.

You have to do the math if you really want to figure out what’s a good deal and what isn’t.

For example, the big 18-ounce box of Goldfish crackers at regular price is a vastly better deal than a box of the 100-calorie packs at virtually any coupon discount. Figure out the per-serving cost, and you’ll always score. (Yes, we will use this math stuff later in life.)

Coupons are best used on products you need, want, and/or regularly use.

Saving fifty cents on something you didn’t need in the first place is just silly. Don’t get caught up in the “I saved fifty cents by spending four dollars on this thing I don’t need!” If you don’t buy it at all, you’ll save four dollars and fifty cents! Wow, you’re a great shopper!

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Shopping online without a credit card

As I’ve made the lifestyle shift to operating on a strictly cash basis, I’ve learned plenty about navigating through the world without a credit card.

Worried that you’ll miss out on great online deals because you don’t have/use a credit card?

The fact is, you CAN shop online without a credit card. The trick is, you need to have the cash to afford what you want to buy. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?)

Here are a few options for safe online shopping… without a credit card.

PAYPAL

Paypal is an internet service that allows you to make payments online. Ebay owns Paypal, so I consider it a solid and reputable . Aside from ebay, many other websites also accept Paypal for online purchases.

Paypal is basically an online bank account that is linked to your primary bankaccount(s). You transfer money from, for example, your checking account to your Paypal account, and then Paypal will release funds at your request to the online merchant(s) you do business with.

Unfortunately, Paypal has been targeted by phishing scammers who attempt to access customer bank accounts. If you get an email from Paypal that requests log-in information such as your password, NEVER give out that information! Don’t click on any links in Paypal emails, even if they seem legitimate. Always open a new tab/window and type in paypal’s web address.

VISA GIFT CARDS

These handy cards can be purchased in various denominations (such as $25, $50, $100) and used just like any gift card. But unlike a store gift card, they can be used anywhere that accepts Visa. They are especially handy for shopping online– they have the familiar 16-digit card number and expiration date. You are, of course, limited to the face value of the card. Remember that a giftcard is as good as cash, so protect it as such!

I buy all my college textbooks on Amazon.com (at a staggering discount), using pre-paid Visa giftcards. For just three of my classes, I saved almost $200 over the school bookstore!

You can also get a pre-paid Visa card from banks, credit unions, and other places such as Wal-Mart. You load money onto the card, and then it is available for purchases.

The reloadable Wal-Mart Money Card is a super alternative to the cards with fixed denominations, as I have recently posted here.

Still other bank-issued pre-paid Visa cards can be custom-imprinted with your name, and the activity on your card will appear on your credit report. There may be some extra consumer protection with this card, but I’ve had no problem using Visa giftcards.

With pre-paid Visa cards, you will usually pay a fee. A $50 card might cost you $53.95, for example, and a $100 card might cost $105.95. The $100 card is a slightly better value at $105.95, since two $50 cards would cost you  $107.90.

Of course, always protect your Visa giftcards and keep them in a secure place– they’re as good as cash to anyone else who might find them.

DEBIT CARDS

Debit cards can be used for purchases on virtually any website. You enter your debit card information directly from the card, just like a credit card.

Your debit card is linked to your checking account, so you are of course limited to the amount of money you have in your account. Think about it: you would have to write a check to the credit card company (hopefully) at the end of the month anyway, so use your debit card and save yourself the extra work.

It’s important to know that debit cards are just as safe as credit cards, despite what the credit card merchants would like you to know.

Personal finance author Dave Ramsey has written some excellent articles about debit cards, such as:

The Basics of Your Debit Card

There are ways of living in the world without incurring credit card debt. Hurray for cash!

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Saving money through mindful shopping

How many times have you gotten to the grocery check-out and been completely blind-sided by the grand total?

“How on earth did I spend that much money?!”

Actually, it’s pretty easy to do, if you’re not shopping mindfully.

What does that mean?

Students of Eastern philosophy, such as Buddhism, will recognize the idea of mindfulness. To practice mindfulness– to be mindful– is variously defined as being present in the moment… as being aware of the present… as being attentive to the present moment. You are fully paying mind to the task at hand. Your mind is fully grounded, present in the moment.

All too often, we’re zipping through the grocery store, rushing on our way to or from somewhere else. We’re mindlessly tossing items into the shopping cart. Our minds are focused on everything but the task of purchasing food to nourish ourselves and our loved ones. We just want to get out of that store as fast as possible. Even worse, we skipped lunch today and hit the grocery store with an empty, growling tummy.

So much for our carefully-crafted grocery budget.

No wonder the grand total at the check-out is a big surprise! I only came in for three items, and now I have half a shopping cart-full! How did I do that?

I can write about that sort of crazed grocery run from experience. These days, though, my check-out experience has zero sticker-shock. When I get to the check-out, I always know– within a dollar or two– how much I will be spending.

How?

Simple. With each item that goes into my cart, I make a point of noticing the price on the shelf. I keep a running total in my head, rounding up or down to the nearest full dollar. That just makes it easy to keep track. In the future, I may start bringing a little pocket calculator with me.

It’s also good to have your budgeted amount in mind while doing this, so you know when you’re getting close to the edge. It’s not an exact science, but it works. When the cashier wants my money, I already know approximately how much it will be.

This technique may slow you down, but that’s just the idea. Come back down to earth and shop mindfully. The Retail Powers-that-Be are counting on you to move through their stores like mindless little consumer-zombies. Beat them at their game. Reap the reward of no check-out surprises… and your budget shall prevail!

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