Nov 27

A Pre Black Friday Guest Post –

Black Friday and its adorable kid brother, Cyber Monday, are almost upon us. In just a few days, consumers across the country will be lining up to stampede into stores and grab the year’s best deals.

If you’re the kind of person who tracks prices, it’s hard to deny that Black Friday deals are often mathematically advantageous. If you’re eyeing that shiny new MacBook Pro with the retina display, for example, Best Buy is chopping off $200 to sell it at $1,099.99. This year, electronics are essentially $200 off across the board, from expensive MacBook laptops to less expensive household speakers. (If you’re curious about specific electronic deals, check out CNet’s guide to Black Friday shopping.)

Taking $200 off, say, a Samsung 32-inch 720p LED television sounds like a great deal, the type of discount that’ll keep money in your pocket as you prepare for the new year and its associated financial New Year’s Resolutions. However, before you buy, you have to consider the entire cost of the product you’re purchasing.

First: let’s just set aside this assumption that Black Friday gifts are intended for other people. You know as well as I do that the majority of those MacBooks, speakers, tablets and 32-inch 720p LED televisions are going straight into the homes of the people who purchased them. (The gifts you give to other people are more along the lines of socks and scented candles.) So before you buy that giant TV “for your wife,” take a few minutes to figure out exactly how much it’s going to cost you.

Here’s a good starting point: those tablets, MacBooks and televisions all require Internet. Even many home stereo systems are networked these days. How’s your internet provider doing? If you think saving $200 on a television is a great deal, try saving on your Internet and cable bill every month. Luckily, most Internet and cable providers have Black Friday specials too. Look for deals on Internet availability; these types of presents don’t fit as well under the tree, but if you have the choice between saving $200 on a television and saving $30 every month on the cable and Internet required to run it, it should become absolutely clear which is the smarter financial choice.

Then consider the accessories. How are you going to carry that MacBook around? Are you going to sign up for AppleCare — and if not, what are you going to do when your new laptop suffers natural wear and tear? (Although I am resolutely against most warranty programs, AppleCare is one of the few good ones out there, and a must-have for nearly all Mac users.) Even if Best Buy’s MacBook price is $1,099.99, you’re going to spend probably $1,500 total on accessories and insurance — and that’s before taxes.

Yes, $1,500 on Black Friday is still better than the original retail price of ~$1,700, and it becomes even more attractive if you’re able to slice a few dollars of your internet bill. However, the real point of this conversation is to get you to understand the true cost of what you’re buying. A laptop on sale isn’t just a laptop. You also have to buy the case, the warranty, the software package that lets you run basic programs, and the internet you need to keep the thing online.

If you’re shopping on a budget — and you should be — the number you factor into your budget needs to reflect the true cost of the product, not the featured sale price they run in the Black Friday ads. Otherwise, you’re going to overspend this holiday season.

In short: should you take advantage of this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales? Sure, why not — IF you’ve taken the time to figure out whether you can truly afford it. Happy holidays, and have fun shopping!

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Apr 22
A guest post today from Andrea Woroch –
Budgets, investing and other methods of personal finance are at the forefront this April in honor of National Financial Literacy Month. Smart spending is another essential part of financial literacy, yet many of us continue to make blunders in pursuit of things we want or need.
Online shopping can compound these mistakes since a few clicks is all it takes to complete your desired purchase. What’s more, many eRetailers are using a marketing method called Dynamic Pricing to maximize profits which may be costing you more. For example, Amazon changed the price of a microwave oven nine times in one day, making a sucker out of whoever purchased it at the peak price. Being aware of this tactic gives you an advantage when finding the best times to shop, but there is still a lot more to this marketing and sales tactic to be aware of.  Happily, the following e-commerce trends actually help you make better buying decisions online and will improve your eShopping IQ.
1. Monthly Product Subscriptions
Despite the appeal of shiny new things, there are some daily necessities we all hate to buy and often forget to restock before it’s too late. Leaving us to a limited selection of pricey choices at the closest convenience store for those items like toilet paper, razors and pet food. Monthly product subscriptions are a great solution to maintaining necessities in stock while keeping costs down. Take the Dollar Shave Club, this inexpensive monthly subscription offers you replacement razor cartridges for just $1 every month. keeps your toilet paper in stock for $8.99 per month while online pet stores like offer free shipping with additional savings of five percent on repeat deliveries of pet food.
2. Specialized Comparison Sites
Speaking of items we hate to buy, is there any purchase more irritating than ink cartridges? With markups exceeding 2,000 percent in some cases, buying replacement cartridges is about as much fun as getting a root canal. Enter, a very specific comparative marketplace helping shoppers find the best price on printer ink. This comparison search engine even offers a coupon code for 10 percent savings at the sites it recommends for buying ink. We’ll likely see more of these specialized sites as consumers become more informed about product markups through dynamic pricing strategies and turn to the Internet for savings.
3. Tracking Tools
The Internet makes comparing prices much more accessible than it used to be. Unfortunately, the process can sometimes be overwhelming with all the products, reviews and websites available. That’s where browser add-ons like Hukkster come in, helping you nab a good deal without much effort. When you find something you like, “hukk” it and you’ll get an email notification when it drops in price or when the store is offering a sale. Similarly, Yapta alerts you when a desired travel itinerary is offered at its best price, and when airfare you’ve already purchased drops in price.
4. Site-to-Store
Free shipping isn’t as prominent as we’d like since many stores require a minimum purchase. So you may end up forking over an extra $8 to $12 to receive your online purchase. Luckily, big retailers like Target and Walmart offer site-to-store shipping options on several products, waiving shipping fees and sometimes enabling you to get your purchase faster. You may roll your eyes at the notion of driving to the store to get something you want delivered to your door, but you have to evaluate how much that perk costs you in the long run. Avoid shipping costs and get your item faster? No-brainer.
5. Peer-to-Peer Shopping
Ever coveted the clothes in your friend’s closet or wished you could shop the boudoir of a celebrity? Though Rihanna has yet to offer her personal style for sale to the masses, you can shop the closets of fashionistas across the country with Poshmark. Think of it as a combination of Pinterest and an online consignment store. Simply browse photos of items and chat with sellers directly to complete the sale. You can also create a profile and sell clothes from your collection, though Poshmark does take 20-percent commission.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who shares smart spending tips and personal finance advice to help transform everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. A sought after media source, she has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, Dr. OZ, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. Andrea is a dedicated smart money blogger with stories posted on popular lifestyle and personal finance sites and writes for the New York Daily News Dollar Stretcher as well. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

written by Joe \\ tags: ,

Apr 01

First, you know that in the US, April first is called April Fools’ Day, and (mostly) kids play small pranks on each other. I’m always on the lookout to not fall for this should a friend or coworker try to have fun at my expense. So in today’s email it was interesting that I saw an ad from Borders:

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time. BOGO means “Buy One Get One,” and that’s how I note it on a shopping list when the supermarket has a sale of this kind. But here, when I clicked through the email, I saw this, Buy One, Get One at 50% off. Sorry, you do the math and realize you have to buy 2 books and the deal is really 25% off. But wait, there’s more. My daughter’s wish list has trade paperbacks that are usually $15 or so, but books I’d buy are typically $30. This deal benefit is only 25% if the books are both priced the same. In the end this deal is less attractive than a straight 25% off of one book, and if I’m going to buy 2, the online prices are going to be far less than that with free shipping.

A you a BOGO fool? You ever get to the register and realize you didn’t quite get the deal you expected?


written by Joe \\ tags: , , ,

Feb 22

With so many people in the world, it should come as no surprise when an author writes a book on a topic that I’ve been thinking about for some time. It started with a scene in the 1984 Robin Williams film Moscow on the Hudson where he’s in a supermarket and is overwhelmed by the choices of coffee available for purchase. Fortunately, I’ve never passed out in the coffee aisle, but over the years I’ve felt myself a bit paralyzed by the shear number of choices that we have to make on a daily basis, the supermarket among them.


I took this photo a few months back with the thought of writing about this, and then came across The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz which made for an interesting read. The author who I suspect is a bit older than I am (I’m bad at looking at a picture and guessing one’s age, I am 47 by the way) starts with an anecdote about the purchase of a pair of blue jeans. He knows he’s a 32×28 (waist/inseam) but is bombarded with choices, slim fit, easy fit, relaxed, baggy, or extra baggy. Does he like stonewashed, acid washed, or distressed? Zipper or button fly? When I was a teen, I frequented a jeans store that hemmed for $2. So to get it just right, I’d buy the correct waist, but on the long side, wear them and wash them a few times, then go back for my $2 hemming. Barry remarks that what should have been a simple purchase somehow turned into nearly a day long process.

In this country a lack of choice would be unimaginable, yet the number of choices we have with nearly every purchase we make is not liberating but debilitating. We are offered examples of studies that confirmed the phenomenon of too many choices. In a number of different settings, potential customers are offered a few choices of a sample food item, and others, over a dozen. In every case, those offered fewer choices, made a decision and more frequently a purchase than the group that was overwhelmed with items.

I think that Costco hit the jackpot by recognizing this years ago. On my last visit to Costco I found myself chatting with another customer about how cheap the huge shrimp were, and the store manager happened to be within earshot. I asked him if he had heard of this book (he hadn’t) and told he that I now understood Costco’s success. It was the lack of too many choices. Almost no items are available in different sizes, except of course for clothing, and most items aren’t offered by more than 2 or three brands. This fills one’s cart with little in the way of time wasting decisions.

Further along in the book we are introduced to the concept of Maximizer vs Satisficer. The first group tends to try to make sure that every purchase decision is absolutely the best, or as near to the best as possible. The second group, however, will choose something that’s good enough and live with that decision. In my own life, I tend toward being a satisficer. When in my early 40’s, I had the unique situation of buying my first car (having had company issued cars ever since graduating college) I made a very fast decision. It so happened that my best friend and two of my coworkers all had the same make and model car. I asked their opinions and all three were happy with their choice. So, I made the decision to go with that car and spared myself the time and anxiety I hear so many people endure on a car purchase. A few hours on line and I was able to get an idea of dealer cost vs MSRP, to go in and just buy the car.

To be totally honest here, there were times and may still be the occasional time when I tend toward maximizing. In high school I scored a 770 on the math SATs (for those who do not know, this is an exam graded on a scale off 200-800 required by most colleges as part of the admission process) and was very upset not to have a perfect score. My classmates actually sympathized knowing that this was my goal and consoled me, even though it was the highest score in my year. Of course I studied more, actually ‘drilled’ is the right word as I prepped to take it again. The second time I aced it, got the 800.

Years ago, the company I worked for had 4 fund choices, Bond fund, Balanced, Large Cap, company Stock. Of course those choices don’t seem adequate, and the employees spoke out. Three years after bumping the choices to 12, 95% of the total plan value remained in the original 4 funds, and participation in the 401(k) actually fell instead of rising. This situation is repeated in the book as yet another example of more choice really not helping the consumer, only confusing them.

I hope you enjoyed this discussion. It wasn’t a random book I chose to read, as the topic itself had haunted me for years, and I had planned to share my thought on this topic before I was made aware of the book. I enjoyed this book and recommend it if you find the idea interesting.


written by Joe \\ tags: , , , ,

Sep 25

Today, I’d like to offer some more frugal tips, random ideas to help you save some bucks.

The Entertainment Book retails for $35, but is often available for half price. It’s a book full of coupons, regionally focused, targeting restaurants, entertainment and travel. You can easily save ten time the purchase cost by using this book on your next vacation.

Get a grip on your (grocery) shopping habits. There are a few aspects to this. The usual “make a list and stick to it” is a great start, as is “don’t shop when you’re hungry.” To these I’ll add, if you have a number of supermarkets nearby, plan your trips on the way to or from someplace else, this will help you save time and gas. My closest ones are close to each other, but nearly 5 miles away, so a round trip visit from my house is 10 miles and about 20 minutes. Stopping as I pass on the way home saves me both time and money. Tie this strategy to stocking up on the non-perishable sale items are there’s a lot of savings to be had.

Avoid the soda machine. I’d like to suggest you avoid soda altogether, but short of that, are you putting $1.25-$1.50 into the machine for every soda? Buy it in 12 packs (brand names, not even store brand) and you’ll pay about 30 cents a can. Do the math, just one soda per day and you just found $250/yr to save or use to pay off some debt.

More than just a tiny change to find a few dollars a roommate can make a huge difference in your budget. You may have a spare bedroom in your house or apartment, and whether it’s to help you pay the rent or mortgage, a roommate can be the difference between just getting by and really getting ahead. Of course this isn’t for everyone, and you’ll want to screen the roommate even more than you would a tenant as this will be a guest in your home. They will not only pay half your rent or a nice chunk of the mortgage, but also half the utilities, if that’s the deal you offer.

Many financial contracts have a three day “right of recision.” Sort of a three day cooling off period, in case you change your mind. How about you pick a level, maybe $100 or less, depending on your income, and decide that when you want to buy something, you’ll write it down, and wait three full days to see if you still really want it. You’d be surprised at how even after a couple days, the urge to buy often fades enough that you start to temper your impulses.

Five ideas today to help you save.

written by Joe \\ tags: , , ,