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Superbowl Sunday: Productivity Opportunity

January 29th, 2007 at 06:20 pm

When I was living in the US, I loved Superbowl Sunday, but probably not for the reasons you're thinking. I didn't actually watch the Superbowl. Instead, it was by far the best skiing day of the year. There wasn't another Sunday during the year when you could ski up to a lift without having to wait for anyone in line. Superbowl Sunday was the best ski value day of the year.

While millions are glued to their TV sets watching the commercials (and occasionally the game), you can have one of the most productive days all year doing whatever activity you love to do. That is because while most places will still be open, there will hardly be a soul out in the streets. If there is some activity that you love to do that always seems crowded, this is the day to do it. Whatever the activity is, there will be a fraction of the people there doing it on Superbowl Sunday.

If you don't have a particular activity that is calling, you still have a perfect opportunity to be massively productive. If you have a list of errands that have been piling up, Superbowl Sunday is the day to do them. You will be able to accomplish what normally would take several days due to the light traffic, lines in stores and all around lack of crowds everywhere. Even the busiest of malls will look sparse come Sunday afternoon.

In the end, you won't be missing anything. All the highlights will be available in the news or on youtube. All the commercials will be available on the Internet so you can discuss them with others around the water cooler Monday morning. Nobody will even know that you didn't watch and in the process, you will have a squeaky clean to-do list.

And if you happen to be skiing, I'm jealous...

Black Friday Freebies

November 13th, 2006 at 07:23 pm

I explained earlier tricks to get Black Friday items without having to get up early and stand in line. If you decide to do any Black Friday shopping, here are the things that you can get for free. All the items listed below are "Free After Rebate" unless otherwise noted with an (*) which means they usually require a purchase of some type.

Ace Hardware

DeWalt Magnetic Drive Guide Set, 16 pieces.
PowerGlide Variable Speed Rotary Tool
Shimmering Driveway Markers 3-pack

Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)

$20 Gift Card (*Free For The First 200 Customers)

Circuit City

Digital Innovation Clean Dr. Vacuum
JVC 3-Pack of 60-Minute DVC Camcorder Tapes
Panasonic 2-Pack of Double Sided DVD-RW Discs for DVD Camcorders
Spy Sweeper
Sharp Teaching Calculator

3.2 MP Polaroid Camera (*Free With Any $249+ Purchase Friday 5 - 11AM Only)
EMachines Desktop PC w/Intel Celeron D Processor 352 + 17" CRT (*Free With Vonag)
Wireless Controller (*Free w/Playstation 2 Purchase)

CVS Pharmacy

American Telecom Pay N Talk Phone 2.4Ghz Cordless Phone

Kohls

$10 Kohls Cash Card (*Free For Every $50 in Purchases)

Radio Shack

256MB Secure Digital Media Card
256MB XD Memory Card
Home Video Patrol 4.0
Internet Security Suite
Tivo Single Tuner 40 Hour DVR

iTunes 15 Song Gift Card - (*Free w/iPod Purchase)

Staples

CA Internet Security 2007 3-User Edition
McAfee Internet Security 2007
Staples 6-Outlet Strip Surge Protector

Sam's Club

Continental Breakfast (*Free - Until 9:30 AM)

Sears

$10 Gift Card (*Free To First 200 Customers)

Walgreens

Revlon Fabulash Mascara
Schick Quattro Razors

Walmart

Scene It? Trivia DVD Game Assortment

Understanding Free After Rebate: This is where you initially pay for the product and then are able to send in some type of proof of purchase (this usually consists of the product's bar code with the store's receipt) to get your money back. While these are a great deal if you actually go through all the steps to get your rebate, a lot of people think they will, but don't in the end.

It's also important to read the fine print and terms before making the purchase. There is a good chance there are some restrictions which can make getting the rebate difficult. You want to take the time to know that you'll qualify for the rebate and can receive it with relatively little work before you purchase the item. If you don't, you may find that the freebie is not so free after all.

One issue to be careful about is whether the original receipt is required for the rebate. If this is the case, you want to purchase the "free after rebate" item by itself in a single transaction and not with other free after rebate items. (For example, if you get four "free after rebate" items, you'd want them each rung up separately at the cash register so that you had an original receipt for each)

How To Get The Best Black Friday Deals

November 12th, 2006 at 10:09 am

This isn't going to be a typical Black Friday article because Mark (who has asked me to change his real name so that nobody will know who I'm talking about, but which I find absolutely hilarious because any friend will instantly know who I am talking about even with the changed name) is not a normal Black Friday shopper. He lives for this day and prides himself (brags endlessly?) on coming home with all the best deals from the Black Friday fliers while the competition is left crying because they didn't get the things that they wanted. These are his strategies...

But before we get into those, I need to inject a disclaimer on my part. While I do admire Mark for his determination and cunning in getting the best Black Friday deals, I do disagree on one major point. Mark goes out and purchases anything which he sees as an outstanding deal. I, on the other hand, believe that if it is something that you wouldn't normally buy or something that you really don't need, it's a waste of money no matter how good the price. So while I will relate the strategies that Mark uses, I would encourage you only to use them if there is something that you were already planning to purchase. And onto the strategies...

"If you start preparing a week before Black Friday, you've already taken out 90% of the competition"

Preparation is key to getting what you want on Black Friday. The best deals are usually offered in limited supplies and most people don't decide where they will go or what exactly they want until the day before. As Mark said with a chuckle, "those people are lambs being lead to the slaughter." What will happen is they will go to the store wanting something that they saw in the ads, but by the time they arrive, it will already be gone. Not wanting to "waste the trip," they'll end up buying something else (this is why retailers love Black Friday) that isn't such a great deal.

The problem is that most shoppers start in the wrong place. They make the assumption that the Black Friday deals are found in the Black Friday advertisements. While this may seem like common sense, it's a convenient distraction that allows Mark to have much less competition. As Mark pointed out with emphasis a number of times during our discussion, "the Black Friday deals are found in the store's return policy."

Before you even begin to look at the Black Friday advertisements, you want to know the store policy on returns. The question you need answered is if they lower price on an item that you have already purchased, will they refund the difference? If so, what time period (usually a month) is this service in effect? If the store will refund the difference on an item purchased for more on a prior date, then there is no need to wait in line to purchase that item on Black Friday. Simply go to the store the week before Black Friday and purchase the item. When Black Friday comes along, stroll into the store (conveniently bypassing all the lines and crowds of people fighting for what you are carrying -- or even waiting until the afternoon when the crowds have thinned out a bit and all the items are already gone from the store) and ask for the difference. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder to get these deals. As Mark noted, "as more people have learned about this strategy, more stores are implementing a policy that price refunds are exempt for Black Friday even when they are in effect at other times." Still, it's worth finding out the policy because some stores do still allow this. Depending on how generous the stores are in your area, you can take care of quite a few items on your list this way.

The other problem that has arisen with more people learning of this method is that the items sell out quickly once the advertisements are sent out to everyone. There is an easy way around this mini stampede. More and more websites are placing up the Black Friday ads as soon as they are leaked. There are a number of sites that list these such as blackfriday.info. You can sign up and you will get an email notification each time a store's Black Friday advertisement goes up. This will allow you to get to the store long before the ads go out in the newspapers.

If you use this method, it's best to use a credit card that has a buyer protection clause. This will allow you to return the item within a certain period of time for any purchase you make. Sometimes stores don't honor what they say they will and the credit card can be a good friend if you need to return the item (many credit cards have this protection, but check with your credit card company to make sure yours does)

For those items that can't be secured by the above method, the next strategy is to utilize the power of the computer. While most stores don't open until their regular hours (or possibly a few of hours early), if the store has a website, the Black Friday deals will likely take affect at the stroke of midnight. Quick use of the computer will allow you to add some more items on your want list while those out of the know are lining up outside stores "freezing their butts off in hopes of trying to score what you just bought with a click of a mouse in your cozy house."

If there are items that can't be obtained in the above two ways, there is still a method you can use to get items without getting up early to stand in line. You want to find which stores will "price match" the competition's Black Friday ads. With so much competition on this day to bring customers in, many stores will agree to sell items for the same price that a competitor is advertising even if it is marked at a higher price at their store. The key to utilizing this strategy is to go to the store that has the highest advertised prices (or better yet, a store that has the item in stock, but chose not to include it in their Black Friday advertisement) which will price match. While everyone is pushing and shoving to get the limited supply at the store which advertised the rock-bottom prices after spending hours in line, you can stroll in at opening time and get what you want for the same price. You will usually have to bring in the competing store's advertisement to get their price matched.

NOTE: While I was going to leave out the following two methods, Mark insisted that I should include them so that people know what others are doing to secure Black Friday items and what they are up against.

If there is something that you must have and you don't believe that any of the methods previously mentioned will work, you can be ruthless (and the reason I believe Mark wanted me to change his name) by hiding the item you want within the store before Black Friday. While not something that most people would consider fair, it goes on a lot more than people would suspect. You take the items and hide it in some area of the store where only you will know where it is. Then on Black Friday you go to the hiding place and get the item while everyone else in the store is fighting for the same item it the area where they are regularly kept.

Another devious way to secure popular items is to bribe friends that are working at the store to place them to the side for you or purchase the item for you before the store opens to the general public. Since many employees also get a store discount, Mark pays the advertised price and the employee friend receives their employee discount in cash for their effort.

While I do not encourage anyone to use the devious methods, the above shows that if you play the system, you can increase the chances of getting the Black Friday items you want without getting up early and standing in line like you probably thought you'd have to.

Stockpiling To Savings

June 8th, 2006 at 12:09 am

Flash (with the help of her husband) has put together an extremely informative article on stockpiling groceries that is well worth the read. It explains why it's difficult to achieve the huge savings you often hear about in the beginning when you start to stockpile with coupons and sales, but becomes easier as you build your stockpile (because once you have a stockpile, you can purchase only when the deals are the very best which is not necessarily the case as you're building your stockpile). For those interested in getting the greatest possible savings in their grocery shopping, this is a good place to begin.

Vacuum Cleaner Buying Tips

June 1st, 2006 at 08:43 am

Placed a new article up on vacuum cleaner buying tips for those who are currently in the market (or soon will be) for one:

Match The Vacuum To The Job
Power Ratings: Fact or Fiction
Serviceability
Maintainability
Cost of Ownership
HEPA Filtration and Performance
Bagless or Bust
Warranty
Mass Market Hype
Add-ons You Need (or don't)

Currently going through packing and cleaning-up with the move, I can attest that a good vacuum cleaner makes a world of difference. This is one item I would pay more for to get quality and not opt for the least expensive unit you could find. There's nothing worse than a vacuum cleaner that doesn't pick up dirt...

Amazon Price Watch Tool

March 4th, 2006 at 06:20 am

For those of you that do shopping on Amazon.com, here is a nice little tool that can save you some money. Amazon policy is that if the price of an item drops during the 30 day period after you purchase it, you can claim a refund for the difference. The problem is, who has the time to monitor the prices of the items once they are purchased? That's where this little tool comes into play.

Called the Amazon Price Watch, it monitors the items you purchased for 30 days after you have made the purchase from Amazon. You simply enter the ISBN number (for books) or the ASIN number (for all other items) and you will automatically be emailed if the price of the product you purchased decreases in price.

The service is also helpful for those who want to purchase a certain item, but want to wait until it goes on sale or is marked as a clearance item.

The $1.25 Store?

February 18th, 2006 at 12:25 am

I came across this post about a dollar store that is increasing its prices:

On my last visit (to my local dollar store), I saw a sign on the door, telling us customers that owing to the cost of things generally and energy specifically some prices would be raised to $1.25 and others to $2.

Part of the marketing that makes dollar stores work is the idea of a simple, low cost amount. It doesn't seem to work well when you start changing that. I understand that these stores must be under extreme price pressures with the increase in costs, but if they leave the original marketing approach, I think they will have even more trouble surviving.

Shop With Your Finger

January 30th, 2006 at 09:02 pm

You have no will power and you know it. You have therefore cut up your credit cards keeping a single one frozen in a block of ice in the refrigerator just in case of an emergency. You finally gotten the monkey off your back that comes with easy access to money you don't have that a credit card provides. But wait. Retailers aren't going to let you off that easy.

It won't be that far off when you can pay with your finger. I started hearing about this a couple of years ago and it looks like it's a lot closer to reality on a large scale. Here is the part that will send shivers down the spines of all those that can't control their credit card spending:

Within three months of a pilot program at four Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, 15% of its customers who normally did not pay by cash enrolled in the Pay By Touch system. Those users increased their store visits by 15%, which translates into an additional 7,350 transactions a year. Not only did they come more often, those shoppers also spent 12% more on groceries.


The problem? It's not quite as easy (and a lot more painful) to cut up your finger and if you freeze it in a block of ice and leave it in your freezer in case of an emergency, the neighbors will likely call the cops on you...