Monday, December 8, 2014

Where Are the Holiday Discounts?




Black Friday Let Down

Did you go out on Black Friday or did you stay home, tucked in bed, with your laptop? Statistics show that it wasn’t the blow-out Black Fridays of the past.  My daughter reported that she went into Target, got what she came for and was out in ten minutes. A friend went to Walmart for the advertised television and found out they were out and he was the fifth person in line. That’s part of the issue with Black Friday is very limited stock. Sometimes, you wonder how limited the stock is. They count on people buying the desired item when the price goes up the next day and they have, surprise, stock. The frustrated shopper also might buy a similar item, which isn’t deeply discounted.

Stores are trying to maximize their profit margin while shoppers try to stretch their shopping dollars. 

Where are the discounts?
1.       The Waiting Game. Hats off to Menards who readily announces in their ads how much of a discount they’ll take off on trees & d├ęcor depending on the week. If you’re willing to decorate the week of Christmas. You could save 50%. If you plan ahead, buy after the holidays for next year and save even more.

2.       Year round savings- This happens when you pick up items on clearance year around that would be good gifts. This doesn’t work for kids since their interests change. Items like wine, toiletries, collectibles, even candles work well. (Seal the candles in plastic bags to keep the scent.)

3.       Corporate Buying Sites- sometimes your company gets a better price than you would as an individual. I used my daughter’s corporate member buyer’s card to save 10% on her gift. Yes, this is legal.

4.       Coupons and discounts- We are now in the 2nd week of December and stores lure people in the store with discounts and coupons. Google where you’re going first, there may be an online promo you can print. Yankee Candles has a buy two; get two free offer right now.  My coupon came in the paper, but you can still get a discount online.

5.       Friends and Family Day- this is decent discount usually 20-25%  on certain days. Comes up more often the closer you get to the 25th. Know your prices because sometimes the prices are jacked up to cover the discount.

6.       Flash Sales- these happen online while you’re browsing a site and usually last a few hours in duration. Amazon will give you alerts on particular items you want to buy.

7.       Unusual items in unusual places. I grabbed a great deal on lawn chairs at Walgreens during the summer because they don’t normally carry them, which means they won’t go back into stock. I also had to insist on my holiday discount on Christmas decorations that I received an email about. Not all employees are aware of the emails that go out to Walgreens shoppers.

8.       Read the sales ads. Your Dollar stores often have the same product cheaper than your bigger box stores.

9.       Check out your TJ Maxx, Marshalls & Home Goods clearance. Often you can make a gift basket for the price you’d have paid for one item at one of the box stores.


10.   Shopping after Christmas. Attending a party after Christmas, seeing friends or family after the day, feel free to shop on the 26th and rack up the discounts. Inventory might be slim though.

11.   The Snow Guarantee- several jewelers offer to refund your money if it snows on Christmas. Check out the specifics on this. They aren’t just talking flurries. Remember jewelry has a 1000% markup. Less than 40% of the people who bought jewelry will cash in on the snow guarantee. (I followed last year’s snow promises in the news and noticed not everyone made good on them.) Don’t use this as an excuse to spend wildly.


 It might be a year you want to cut back on gifts. If you do, announce this now, before friends, or co-workers started handing you shiny gift sacks. They can give that bottle of wine or box of fruit to someone else.

Bonus: Big Lots has Hickory Farms gift sets in stock.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Tis the Season to Return


Are you one of those people who never returns anything no matter what? You reason it’s too much trouble. My husband is one of those too. Me, not so much. There is an art to returning.

·         Make sure you know what store it came from

·         Have the receipt with you if possible

·         Return on weekday mornings, possible Tuesday or Wednesday if possible.

·         Know the return policies. Some prohibit returns after 30 days, others as little as seven.

·         If it was a gift. Say so. Gifts are usually only exchanged for store credit.

·         Have an excuse. Didn’t fit. Allergic to wool. Unflattering color.

·         Some items break after initial use or shortly after. The product may have a guarantee that allows you to return it. I returned a gardening tool three times that had a lifetime warranty.

·         Items with warranties should have the warranty and receipt stapled together and kept in an accordion file. Warranty does you no good when you do not have proof of purchase.

·         If there is a possibility of someone returning your gift item, shop at a store with a good return policy such as Kohls.

·         Be realistic. Most stores will not accept anything worn or missing tags. There’s no way to resale it or identify it as theirs.

·         If you cut off the tags, you can bring them.

             
 Some items you can't return because it is past time. Anything bought with rewards, coupons, or other discount method can't be used for a cash refund, only store credit.

·         Regifting is always an option. Make sure to bestow it upon someone not related or wait a year before Regifting. This way your regifting is less obvious. My grandmother used to put notes on her various gifts who they came from to avoid regifting them back to the same social circle.

·      Donate them. Why allow the unused gift to take up space in your closet? You can also write it off a tax deduction.

·         Recycle it. A velvet smoking jacket isn’t something you always want, but it can make a nice throw pillow or tiny jacket for your dog.

In the end, it’s the thought that counts. Most people forget what they gave you a month later. Instead of storing the item, only to bring it out whenever the friend or relative visits, do something useful with it. In the end, a gift should make the person happy even if they have to exchange it for something they do want.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Stretching Your Meat Dollar


Did you read about the woman who ate dog food for a week? If not, here’s the link. Her objective was to save money because of the expense of maintaining her Paleo Diet, which is protein heavy. As an Atkins Life Style Change person, I’ve watched meat spike in price. How can a person deal with the rising cost of meat without consuming dog food?
·         Rethink your shopping and cooking habits.

·         Invest in a freezer. I picked mine up at a yard sale.

·      Watch for bargains at your local stores. This is where the freezer comes in handy. Turkeys after Thanksgiving showed up at Deals for $5 each. They take up a lot of room in the grocery stores and if they aren’t moving, they’re gone.

·         Seasonal meats often go on sale just like candy. Corned beef will be on sale during and after St. Patrick’s Day. Hams are usually a good bet during and after Christmas.

·         Sales. When chicken breasts are .99 a lb., stock up.

·    Coupons. Occasionally, buying a brand specific meat is beneficial when you have a coupon and it is on sale.

·     Kosher. Normally, kosher meat costs more, but it gets clearance too. Surprisingly, it is better quality.

·      Sales have a limit of what you can buy. You can put your purchases in the car and buy more.

·       Buy a ¼ of a cow, pig, or even lamb. Prices vary from region, but you could be at $3 a pound for both steak and hamburger. It also gives you control over the amount of fat in your hamburger too. Ask a friend or relative to go in with you.

·    Consider non-traditional meats such as bison, lamb, veal, ostrich, duck, even rabbit. Normally, these meats are higher, but when they don’t sell, they’re clearance. Krogers does the better clearance marking everything 50% off as opposed to Meijer’s’ 20% off.

·         Remember eggs, nuts, tuna, and even peanut butter are good inexpensive protein sources. Peanut Pan Peanut Butter has only 4 carbs per serving less than expensive natural PB.

·         Examine your portions. Often people eat more than a serving. Thinking somehow if one hamburger was good than three would be better. Overeating is still overeating. Your metabolism can only use so much food a day. Not losing weight, portions may be a factor.

·         Store your meat properly in freezer containers or freezer bags. Freezer burn wastes meat.

·         The cheaper, tougher cuts are great for the slow cooker. You can help tenderize by using a meat mallet first, then adding a cup of wine, which breaks down the tissue as it cooks.

·      Those who like to hunt and fish can add to their diet this way. Although hunting on the whole is not a bargain sport. Sometimes, it just helps to be friendly with a hunter.

·         Change the way you use meat too. Consider stews, soups, stir-fry, and salads. Instead of loading up on starches, use vegetables keeping the carb count down.

·      After the holidays, all those leftover meat sticks tend to go on sale too. There will be plenty of sales on cured meat during the holidays too. Know your prices. A one-pound summer sausage will between 2.50-3.99 at the grocery (Aldi’s, Kroger’s, and Meijer’s.) If it is on sale for 6.99, it isn’t on sale.

·         Jerky  and cheese are mobile proteins.  Jerky can be bought in bulk on Amazon for lower prices per pound.There is usually some type of sale on cheese and it can be frozen. The exception is cream cheese, which is edible after freezing, but crumbly.


The good news is you won’t have to resort to you and your dog eating the same thing. The woman who sampled dog food found most of it bland. The best dog food came refrigerated in a roll, but it cost more than buying hamburger when it wasn’t on sale. In the end, she returned a human diet with required less vigorous chewing.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

DIY Gift Baskets

Courtesy of Cherry Blossom Floral

It’s that time of year, when you are considering your Christmas shopping budget. You could be considering your lack of one too. Instead of a run to the mall or hovering over your laptop, you could make or assemble your gifts. I’m a big assembler.

DIY Baskets

       I save any decorative box, basket or tin for this purpose. I also pick up baskets at yard sales and thrift shops.

Coffee or Tea basket- Include a pound of coffee or tea boxes, cups, a box of cookies, and possibly a chocolate bar.


Cook’s Basket- Works as a wedding and house warming gift too. Group hard to find and essential tools together. Suggestions: garlic press, cheese slicer, cheese grater, bottle opener, corkscrew, pan scraper, vegetable brush, cheese cloth, dish cloth, dish towel, hot pad, egg timer, kitchen timer, meat thermometer, egg separator, whisk, wooden spoon, slotted spoon, measuring cups, butter brush, and measuring spoons. (Most of these items are available at the Dollar Tree.)
Couch Potato Basket- Think of the recipient’s favorite junk food. A universal remote, TV Guide, and a DVD is a nice touch too.

Emergency Kit- This isn't for your survivalist friend, but something kept in the car for personal emergencies as opposed to the end of the world kind. Contents can vary depending on the sex of the person. It is also great for the traveler. A small zippered pouch or even a pencil bag works great.
Contents: granola bar, water enhancer mix, gun, mints, individual packet of aspirin, antacid, bandages (2), wet wipes (2), small package of tissues, small deodorant, perfume or cologne samples, tiny sewing kit, comb, emery board, dental floss, Wisps tiny toothbrush, lip gloss or Chapstick, and a small bottle of hand cream.

Hot Chocolate Basket- This is the same as the coffee basket with hot chocolate tin or mixes, candy canes, marshmallows and a small stuffed animal. (This one could go to a younger relative or friend.)

Italian Dinner Basket- Spaghetti sauce, pesto, salami, breadsticks, Italian cookbook and pasta.


Movie Lovers Basket- This is similar to the couch potato basket, but it is heavy on DVDs. It should include popcorn and movie candy. (Walmart, Big Lots, even Amazon are great places for cheap DVDs.) You don’t have to get the latest movies, but stick to a theme depending on the person. A big fluffy throw can line the basket too.

Scrapbook Basket- Fill it up with multi-colored Sharpies, wooden stamps, stickers, craft scissors, and a gift card to the local craft store. A small scrapbook works too. (Scrapbooking is expensive, which means this might be on ongoing shopping project. Buy out of season stickers once the season passed. Dollar Tree has several of these items too. Michaels features a 40% off coupon in their weekly ad. )  

Teacher Basket- Teachers spend major dollars supplying their own classroom. They don’t need any more teacher-themed accessories for their desks. They could use a heavy-duty stapler, good scissors, Sharpies, large paper clips, pushpins, Post-it notes, yearly planner, colored pencils, dry erase markers, box of generic notecards for personal notes, and a calendar for the classroom. Depending on the age of the students, you might include aspirin, stickers, and wooden stamp and an inkpad.

Romantic Picnic Basket- A picnic basket with a tablecloth & napkins, plates, wine glasses and a bottle of wine. (I’ve picked up picnic baskets at yard sales and thrift shops. Check out the clearance section in home and discount stores for tablecloth and napkins.  A patterned tablecloth hides stains too.  Single wineglasses are available at the Dollar Tree or Goodwill.)

You can create all sorts of baskets. One of my standbys is the generic basket. It’s for when someone gives you a present you didn’t expect. It also works for people you don’t know well.
The Generic Basket- small to medium basket, which can include, but not necessarily all, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cups (2), cookies, chocolate, nuts, and an ornament.


Romantic Gift Basket 



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Winning Contests, Raffles, and Sweepstakes

Jumping for Joy

Let me start this out by admitting, I’ve never won the lottery jackpot.  I’ve won several other things including:
·         Grocery Shopping spree
·         Calvin Klein Wardrobe
·         Flowers
·         Tickets to movies, events, and concerts
·         Food
·         Chocolate
·         Books
·         DVDs
·         Gym membership
·         Trips
·         Amazon Gift Cards
·         Starbuck Gift Cards

What all of these things have in common is that I entered to win. I never got a mysterious email stating I won a contest I never entered. This is a phishing scam that will either solicit your credit card number or ask you to pay shipping.  A variation of this is they’ll ship the items, and then tell you you’re obligated to pay for them or you’ll be turned over to collections. If you didn’t order it, postal guidelines are you don’t have to pay for it.  If you want to avoid the barrage of threats, send it back.

Second secret to winning is enter when there is a small pool of applicants. That’s usually a local contest for a short time period. Publisher’s Clearing House or Powerball aren’t a good bet. People often spend chunks of money chasing after a winning number combination. There are commercials about how someone won forty million dollars. The flipside is people have gone bankrupt or to jail for writing bad checks in an attempt to buy thousands of dollars in lottery tickets. A couple dollars isn’t too bad, but when you’re skimping on other things to justify it, you’ve crossed the line.

Some effort is involved. On the grocery contest, I raced my grocery cart around competing against other shoppers trying to grab $200 worth of food and check out. The winner snagged groceries for a year. As a runner up, I got a $100 gift certificate. Not too bad, when you consider I didn’t win.

Enter contests that require some skill from writing a jingle to a cute photo of your pet. Often people will bypass a contest that expects something. Read the rules carefully. Occasionally, there’s a prompt to answer.   Disqualification happens because people fail to follow the rules. If you’re writing about using a product, mention the product by its full name.

Location is another item to consider. Particularly your location, this weekend I was at an author faire with a listed giveaway time. People entered and drifted away.  When no winner came forward, a new ticket was drawn.

Enter often. My daughter remarks that I win every time, but I don’t. I enter hundreds of contests, and every now and then, I win something. One of the easy wins for me is radio contests. I always have the radio on; it makes sense to enter a contest that involves listening to the radio.

Go small. It’s easier to win a quilt or a hanging basket at the local church picnic than it is the lottery. It’s still a good feeling.

Be careful of contests that are only building mailing lists. These are usually at big events including state fairs and concerts.  If you don’t mind getting a call about replacement windows or timeshares, then go ahead and enter.

Beware of spending too much time, entering contests. What’s too much time? My guideline is more than 10 minutes a day. Don’t enter a contest if you don’t want any of the finalist prizes.

Some contests don’t deliver. You may have won, but you never get the prize. Happened to me once. Wrote to the company, even copied my winning announcement letter. Nothing. As a result, I never entered any contest sponsored by that company again.


Your local lottery or casino plasters posters of winners holding up an oversized check to prove they actually give away the money. Go with contests you know have proven winners too. In the end, it is about luck, but believing you’re a winner helps too. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hotel Discount Website Secret


I recently discovered a secret when it comes to the travel discount websites. They’re no discount, really. Let me explain why. A hotel might go for $89 on Orbitz, Travelocity or numerous other sites. Good deal when the price is normally $115 a night.

As some of you’ve discovered when you click on the button and try to reserve the room for a desired night, the price might change. You’ve made the mistake of wanting a room on a weekend, or worse yet, a holiday weekend. The $89 jumps to, surprise, $115. The discount sites do not add taxes and associated fees that can be sizable in resort areas. So even now, that discount room is back to regular price, and then some.

My daughter works in the hotel industry for a major corporation; she gave me insights about website discounters. People assume their reservation happens immediately as they type in their credit card number. Not so, a third party at the website has to contact the hotel to make the actual reservation. This doesn’t always happen in an expedient manner resulting in no reservation. The disappointed traveler usually takes their anger on the desk clerk. The wrong number of nights, rooms, even hotels, especially when there is more than one Marriott or Holiday Inn in a city happen when a third party makes the reservation.

Your best bet is to contact the hotel yourself. Mention the $89 room special, most hotels will match the price or even offer a better deal. In the end, the hotel gets $89. If you go through a discount site, they may only earn $50. Direct booking benefits them.

If something goes wrong. Your reservation never occurred, you need to cancel it, or you want your money back, you have to go through the web discounter. Good luck with that! My cancelled flight I booked with a web discount site is a case in point. Drove to the airport, expecting to fly out on my vacation, but had to stay overnight nearby to avoid the long drive home.  The airlines told me if I booked with them directly they’d put me on the next direct flight. Since I booked with a website discounter that I’d have to work it out with them.

This involved a series of phone calls. Most of the time I listened to a recorded message before disconnection. Finally, I reached someone in a call center who insisted I fill out a travel insurance, which I did.

As for flying, my only instructions were to arrive early the next day and try to fly stand by. Ironically, the website service kept calling me and telling me my luggage was ready for pickup in Atlanta. Pretty weird, since I hadn’t even boarded a plane.

More than a year later, I received my reply from the travel insurance company. Despite all my documentation, they refused my claim deciding that losing a vacation day, flying standby, driving back and forth to the airport repeatedly, and staying at a nearby hostelry was not a hardship.

I book all flights direct now. As for hotels, I book direct too. Most hotels have loyalty programs; you can’t use points earned with discount websites. I recently redeemed a free night at the Marriott. It was totally free, no hidden charges. As a loyalty member, by going to the members reward site I receive a bigger discount than the public on room rates.


As for the discount travel websites, I do use them to read reviews, check out area attractions, and flight prices. After doing that, I often use the name of the place I want to go and Google it. I found several discounts that way on our recent trip to San Diego. Once there, I ask locals about good places to go or discounts. They’re able to tell me, which restaurants offer two for one specials, or the best beach to visit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Local Vs. Corporate

When we moved into our current residence, we had the furnace serviced. The man, who did it, not only charged us $600 for the service, but also talked us into a service plan. The service plan results in a technician coming to our house every couple of months and insisting a $200-$300 repair must be done or our house will self-combust.

This is odd considering we had a very thorough home inspection done and nothing appeared to be wrong with the heating and air system. They would need to be replaced eventually, but not just yet.  We’d signed with one of those national corporations with a catchy commercial. I noticed that none of the techs were never the same or even had the same diagnosis. When I would repeat what the last one said, the current tech would roar with laughter as if I were conducting a comedy routine.

This was all a bit unsettling.  A clogged dryer vent due to a bird nest would cost almost $500 to remove. I may know nothing about heating and air, but I knew that was too much. I decided to ask for a second opinion of a local contractor. He was his own company and charged only one-fifth of one my corporate tech charged.

When our air conditioning wouldn’t work, we decided to go with the local man as opposed to endless techs that worked for the major corporation. He came late on a Friday evening to examine our air conditioning and would only take a standard service charge for his visit that left our air conditioning humming.

The independent contractor gave us an estimate of $3600 to replace our furnace and air conditioning. Big difference from the $11,000 the corporation rep quoted us. Keep in mind; we have a small slab house that barely measures a thousand feet.


In the end, I’d rather go with the local guy than the large corporation and the endless army of techs.