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. RollDelivered.com keeps your toilet paper in stock for $8.99 per month while online pet stores like PetCo.com 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 InkjetWilly.com, 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: ,

Sep 22

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article Cash Hoarders QE3 Won’t Help, and sure enough, the Bernanke wasn’t listening, and has turned on the presses. The problem is not a lack of liquidity, it’s the lack of velocity, no one is spending.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Aug 27

A Guest Post from Joe Pawlikowski –

What’s the difference between someone who is cheap and someone who is frugal? A cheap person will scoff at any expenditure that seems unnecessary at the time and will spend considerable time and energy to save a few pennies. A frugal person will examine all available options, tally up long-term outlooks, and make responsible financial decisions. Sometimes a frugal person lays out some cash up front in order to realize savings down the road.

The old business cliche is that you have to spend money to make money. But for the frugal-minded, it’s oftentimes wise to spend money if we can turn that expenditure into savings down the road. Here are a few areas where you can lay out some up-front funds to realize savings in the future.

1. Water heater

When my wife and I bought our first house, we got the standard advice from long-time homeowners. Watch out for this, watch out for that. One thing that nearly everyone mentioned was the water heater. They’re notorious for malfunctioning at the worst possible time, we were warned. This called for a little research.

The term water heater probably brings to mind those by cylindrical tubs that most people have in their basements. But we found a relatively new twist to water heaters. Tankless water heaters not only consume less water than their tanked counterparts, but they also use less energy. That translated to savings we could see on our electric bill (though the water bill went mostly unchanged).

Yes, it cost us around $400, but with the savings we’re seeing on our electricity bill we’ll be in the black in a few years. Since we plan to be here for the long haul, that’s more than fine with us. Plus, we nipped in the bud a potential problem. We’re fairly certain our tankless water heater won’t be going on us anytime soon.

2. Cell phone

Have you considered a prepaid cell phone? My wife and I hadn’t. We were content with our family plan on Verizon, even though it cost us well north of $100 per month. It just made sense, we thought. When we needed a new phone we could use our upgrades and get a discount, too. The savings seemed to be right there. But recently prepaid phones have started to make a lot more sense.

It used to be that prepaid phones were for those who didn’t have good enough credit for a postpaid line. They were sold in packages at retail and convenience stores, and were often associated with drug dealers (much more so thanks to the TV show The Wire). But lately prepaid carriers have started to move in a more modern direction. You can get many popular smartphones, including the iPhone, on a few prepaid carriers. So we gave it a shot.

Virgin Mobile recently started selling the iPhone. The iPhone 4, which is still a perfectly acceptable smartphone, costs a whopping $549.99. That might seem outrageous, but the outrage starts to fade when you see their monthly plan terms: $35 per month for 300 minutes, unlimited text messages, and 2.5GB of 3G data. With our Verizon plans we were sharing 750 minutes with unlimited texting and 2GB of data each for around $130 per month.

Even at a reduced price of $100 per iPhone 4, that’s a two-year cost of $3,320 with Verizon — two years, because that’s the contract term. With Virgin, including the $1,100 for the phones, our two-year cost of ownership is $2,780. That’s over $500 we’re saving, despite the high up-front costs.

3. Bulk items

While the cell phone concept might be a bit complex and involve a bit of myth busting, the purchase of bulk items is pretty straight forward. Anyone who has a Costco membership will probably rave about how much money they save by buying supplies at a huge discount, because they buy a lot at once. Yet I often wonder if these mavens factor in their membership costs. Sometimes the savings just aren’t there when you boil it all down.

The best way to handle bulk purchases, my wife and I have found, is to bargain hunt at the big box retailers. Target in particular runs attractive sales on bulk items quite frequently. The trick is to find them and take advantage before the sale expires. We’ve found values on paper towels and toilet paper that were better than Costco’s prices, period. That’s not even considering the membership fee for Costco.

Of course, you’ll need storage space if you’re going to buy items in bulk. We use our basement. Yet that leads to another issue, one that we learned because a friend learned it the hard way.

4. Backup sump pump

For those unfamiliar — and there are plenty of areas in the country that don’t allow basement construction — sump pumps are the little gizmos that help prevent your basement from flooding. If your basement sits below the water table, it’s an absolute necessity. Without one, your basement will surely flood. Even if you have one, you’re still at great risk for basement flooding.

Many years back, while hanging out in a friend’s basement, we noticed a little pool of water developing in the corner. It had been raining heavily, but they had a sump pump running. Only, it had broken a few weeks before. They had no idea. We immediately tried to get all electronics and valuables to high ground, but we couldn’t get everything. It was as though the rain was coming directly into the basement. We used buckets to help bail it out, but it wasn’t until my friend got back with a new sump pump that we made any real progress. He lost plenty in the mess.

A backup sump pump might cost you $150 or so up front, but it stands to save you plenty. Basements make for great storage places, but that doesn’t come without risk. We store plenty of valuable items down there, and so we keep a backup around just in case something goes wrong. I wonder how much my buddy would have saved if he didn’t have to drive to Home Depot to get a new one that day.

5. Emergency fund

OK, this is stretching the definition a bit, but it’s important enough to mention. A few months ago Joe expressed concern with emergency funds, and reasonably so. But for homeowners, an emergency fund can be a money-saving tactic. It doesn’t have to be the three to six months’ salary that people refer to as the “rule of thumb,” but some sort of household fund should be in place.

Why? Because you never know when something’s going to break. Your pipes might burst. Your furnace might shut down. You might have a septic system overflow. Heck, your hot water heater might break. These can bring big costs, especially if you need to employ a plumber or other skilled tradesman to make the repair. Labor is expensive.

Unprepared households will have to charge this expense, and that means interest charges. But by keeping a thousand or two in a household emergency fund, you can ease that burden. This used to work a lot better, when savings accounts such as ING Direct offered 3% APY, but it’s still a good idea. The last thing you’d want is to put a new furnace on credit and pay it off with interest.

The examples can keep going. In so many instances it makes sense to pay a bit extra up front if it means savings later on. My wife and I might pay $30 for 48 rolls of paper towels, but that’s cheaper per-roll than a 12-pack. We might pay $1,100 for two iPhones, but it comes out to less than we were paying with our $100 iPhones on Verizon. If we’re looking at the big picture, these kinds of expenses can turn into savings before long.

Joe Pawlikowski has blogged about topics ranging from baseball to mobile phones. After years of credit card debt and horrible financial management he’s set himself straight. You can read some of his personal thoughts at JoePawl.com.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Jul 10

A Guest Post from David Rodwell –

It’s been demonstrated over and over again that businesses which accept credit cards bring in more revenue than businesses that don’t. While the underlying assumption here is that accepting credit cards brings in customers who wouldn’t otherwise patronize a given business, there is another factor at work here. According to some recent research by Professors Promothesh Chatterjee and Randall Rose of the University of Kansas and the University of South Carolina respectively, credit card customers actually spend more than cash customers.
Here are some of the findings in their research about why credit card customers were likely to spend more than cash customers:

  • Cash customers were more concerned about price at every level. In the research process, customers that were primed to use cash were more concerned about cost than they were about benefits. This extends to every area of cost, including things like delivery and installation costs, as well as warranty costs.
  • Credit card customers were more concerned about features. In contrast, credit card customers were more concerned about the features of a given purchase. As such, they had greater recall of a list of features, and relatively poor recall of cost-related information. They weren’t concerned with things like delivery, installation, or warranty costs.
  • Credit card customers were more likely to make a decision based on status and image. Brand became a lot more important to credit card customers. They were more likely to focus on the benefits of a given purchase, even beyond the actual product benefits. They were also more likely to make frivolous buying decisions, and buy high-profile products.
  • Cash customers tended to miss out on benefits. While it may sound like paying cash is always a better idea because you’ll get a better price, this isn’t always the case. Cash customers had poor recall when it came to understanding benefits in a product comparison. That means if you need to make a purchase of something that has to be effective, accurate, or durable, paying cash may actually impede that process.
  • Consumers can be primed to use credit. There are a number of ways that businesses can actually prime customers to use credit, thereby increasing transaction amounts. For example, placing credit card signage at the door and at the register, or offering store credit offers in the store can sway those people whose payment method was undecided toward using a credit card.

These findings are interesting on several levels. For one, the fact that your intended payment method actually affects your memory and ability to recall certain information is truly interesting.
Add to that the idea that the researchers put forward that the “pain of payment” – that is, the immediate recognition that a given purchase’s cost has reduced your money – is almost nonexistent with credit card purchases. The payment is often separated from the purchase by weeks, whereas cash customers immediately get to watch their reserves drop when they spend.
There are several lessons to be learned here, not the least of which is that a cautious consumer carefully chooses her payment method based on what she’s hoping to get out of a purchase.
David Rodwell is a seasoned writer in business and personal finance, taking a particular interest in payment processing. You can find more of his articles located at CreditCardProcessing.net.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,

Jun 25

If you’re struggling with debt and trying to dig yourself out, you need to eliminate as much spending as possible so you can funnel extra funds toward debt repayment. That’s especially true when it comes to credit cards. When you charge a new purchase you don’t just pay the amount on the price tag. You’ll actually pay a whole lot more in interest and finance charges, which is why you should stop using your credit cards as long as you are in debt.

Unfortunately that is often easier said than done. You know you shouldn’t be buying anything unless you can afford to pay cash for it, but you just can’t seem to help yourself. So rather than walking out of the store empty-handed you try convince yourself that it is okay to whip out the plastic just this once.

Here are five of the most common excuses people use to justify unplanned charges on their credit cards:

This is just too good a deal to pass up

You weren’t really planning to spend any money but you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. There’s a big sale on an item you’ve had your eye on and the timing is just too good to be true. It’s a sign that you’re meant to have it! It’s not in your budget of course, but you’ll never see another deal like this again, right? Right?

The rewards points I earn will make it worth while

Credit card companies don’t offer points and rewards out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it because it makes them a boatload of money. Earning rewards on purchases that you were going to make anyway (like gas and groceries) makes sense, but buying unnecessary items just to earn points toward free music downloads or a gift card to The Olive Garden is foolish. Also, if you aren’t paying your credit card balance in full every month then those rewards points are costing you a lot more in interest charges then they’re worth.

I’ll pay if off as soon as I get paid (for real this time)

How many times have you uttered those words with the best of intentions? How many times have you sworn to pay off your cards and never carry a balance again? Did you succeed?

Yea, that’s what I thought.

It’s an emergency!

Your car needs a new transmission. Your washing machine just died. Your water heater is leaking all over the basement floor. These are all examples of the unexpected expenses that everyone faces from time to time. If you have an emergency fund to tap into you could easily cover the expense. But since you don’t you end up charging it and paying finance charges for years to come.

I work hard. I deserve to treat myself once in awhile

Listen, we all deserve a treat now and then. It’s important to reward yourself once in awhile, especially when you’ve been making sacrifices and busting your butt to pay down your credit cards. But be realistic and don’t go overboard. Sure the $1200 flat screen TV will look beautiful in your family room, but it will seriously hamper your efforts to pay down your debt.

Have you ever found yourself using these common excuses for charging unplanned purchases? Are there any other little lies you tell yourself to justify purchases?

Mike Collins blogs at WealthyTurtle.com, a personal finance site that focuses on increasing income and building wealth.

written by Joe \\ tags: , ,