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How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist

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Ahh, Craigslist. How I love and hate you simultaneously! Craigslist is a land of extremes. One day, I’ll be saying things like, “Wow, I can really get things cheap here!” and “This is by far the most cost efficient way of selling product!” And the next… “Wow…these things are…really cheap…” and “I hope I don’t get shot”.

Unfamiliar with Craigslist? I don’t really see how that’s possible, but…it’s a free online advertising platform of goods and services. It’s also made its fair share of news stories. If you can imagine anything…ANYTHING…that someone might want to sell, people have undoubtedly tried. And / or died trying…yeah, really…if that bothers you, might as well just stop reading. However, as long as you make common sense actions to safeguard yourself, you should be fine. Probably.

Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve had my fair share of experiences interacting on the site, as both a buyer and a seller, both good and bad. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned throughout the years on how to make the Craigslist experience as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

Buying on Craigslist:

Pros:

  • You will not find a better vehicle for finding products at their cheapest possible prices; especially like new or barely used items
  • Great mechanism to find upcoming yard sales / estate sales in your area
  • Wide variety of services available: handyman, lumber delivery, hauling / moving, etc
  • Easy (relatively) to use website with simple account structure
  • Absolutely anonymous (this is absolutely the critical piece of information that makes AND breaks the site)
  • More personal communication – you interact directly with someone; normally a “regular” person
  • Only way to find “heavy” items; things that would not be sold anywhere else due to shipping costs; great place to find furniture

Cons:

  • Lack of accountability and trust (I’ll go into more detail later)
  • Safety concerns
  • High scam potential
  • Website itself is not feature heavy; very basic and lackluster
  • Absolutely no support

Buying on Craigslist has never been my main area of focus, but I have occasionally needed things from time to time. Things that could only realistically be found on Craigslist. Here are some things that are hard to find anywhere else, and are normally crazy expensive brand-new:

  • furniture
    • desks, bookshelves, end tables, lamps, coffee tables, dining rooms tables, etc (just don’t buy a couch…gross…)
  • antiques or vintage collectibles
  • boxsprings (don’t buy a mattress…gross…)
  • pool tables, hot tubs, retail signs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, TVs, etc

I’m sure you can think of some other things. Electronics, books, other media, or in general “small things” may seem like good things to buy too, but normally those can be had at comparable prices from traditional sellers. Again, some of the things you can find here are just not going to show up online. If they do, I would avoid Craigslist, it is not worth the hassle. When I need to buy something from Craigslist, it normally has to fall into these buckets:

  • Rare/Out of Print/No longer for general sale
  • Low-demand
  • Heavy or large (realistically unshippable, basically)

If you can find items that fit those criteria, you’ve got a good chance at leveraging the potential of Craiglist to get things you probably would not be able to otherwise obtain; with a goal of getting a good price as well, of course.

Cars are a good example here. If you’re going to buy a used car from a private party, this is probably how you’re going to do it, through Craigslist, and it’s going to be much cheaper.

Here are some general tips on being a good “buyer”:

  • Don’t contact someone unless you are serious about buying the item; respect a person’s time
  • Be as professional as possible and use complete sentences and real words in emails / texts
  • Don’t crazy lowball a seller, but haggling is implied on Craigslist.
    • 20% is not an unrealistic starting point.
      • Someone wants $100? Ask $80. $50? 40. This is a reasonable request.
      • Someone wants $300? Don’t offer $50. Don’t be that guy. You’ll just piss off the seller. Unless that’s your goal…to be a troll.
  • Want the item? Don’t beat around the bush. Lay out exact terms; how much you are willing to pay, where you would like to meet, how to contact you, etc. You have no idea how many people DON’T.
    • Here’s a fill in the blank template response: “Hi ___, I’m interested in this item. I would be willing to pay ___ for it if you still have it. I live in ____. The best way to contact me is _____. Thanks!”
  • Answer follow-up emails as soon as possible

That’s it. It’s really not hard. Follow that advice and both parties might actually have a pleasant experience.

One of the biggest issues on Craigslist is concerns with safety. Because the whole website is completely anonymous, has no concept of an “account” that is exposed to both parties, and has no support mechanism, you’re basically flying blind. However, it’s normally easy to “weed out” scammers through common sense. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that in life, that cliche rarely ever fails. If something seems sketchy or a person doesn’t “sound right”, just move on.

I once went to look at a Mazda 3 from a seller when I was looking for a car several years ago (side note: ended up buying a new car). Price seemed like a pretty good deal; well under Blue Book value. I got excited. I test drove it. It seemed great. I was going to buy the thing outright…and then, I ran a Carfax report on it. It had a Salvage Title on it; which was undisclosed. Here’s what that means. The moral of the story? People will scam you. Trust, but verify. Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying the car.

Why is corruption so pervasive here? Well, for one, I had no means of “reporting” my car example for instance. I have no way of telling the Craigslist community, “Hey, I had a bad experience with this guy, he tried to rip me off! Don’t work with this guy!”. I had no way of “banning” the user by telling Craigslist. Sure, maybe technically, they could, but the guy could just make another account. There is literally nothing from stopping anyone from doing this. Craigslist doesn’t hold any account information, other than an email address, nothing!

OK, say you have avoided all of the pre-transaction pitfalls, and have set terms and location to buy an item. What should you do to protect yourself? Here is a general list that should apply to most situations:

  • Rule #1: Always, always, ALWAYS meet in a heavily crowded public place.
    • Examples: Malls, Walmart, Police Station parking lots (yes, really)
    • I personally like meeting in a Mall’s food court
  • Do not meet after sunset.
  • Bring a friend. Or two.
  • Tell someone you know, that won’t be going with you, what you’re doing.
  • Do NOT meet at your house or their house…or anyone’s house!
    • Almost every time there has been a Craigslist incident it’s been because someone met in a private setting or were driven somewhere. Never leave yourself vulnerable.
    • Sometimes this is unavoidable though…use your best judgement! If you’re buying a refrigerator it’s not that crazy to meet at someone’s house.
  • Create a throwaway email address just for Craigslist
    • Never want to give someone your personal email address, that’s a bad idea.
    • Thankfully Craigslist hides this pretty well, but it’s still a good idea.
  • Do not give out your phone number unless they request it and are 100% sure a deal is imminent
    • There’s no reason to broadcast this unnecessarily.
    • People love to just go, “here’s my #, text me”. Ehh…not my style.
  • Until a deal is going to happen, use email exclusively

That should all be common sense, hopefully. Follow those tips and you should make it out alive. Probably.

 

Selling on Craigslist:

All right! So you’ve got an old TV sitting around and you just want to get rid of it. What about selling it on Craigslist? Sounds like a plan.

Pros:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s easy.
  • It’s quick.
  • When it’s all said and done, it’s the most profitable way of selling there is; there’s no middleman, and mostly cash only transactions.

Cons:

  • It can be potentially unsafe.
  • It can be cumbersome dealing with clients directly.
  • It’s exhausting chasing false leads / spammers.
  • Did I mention it’s exhausting? Craigslist people are the absolute flakiest people you will ever deal with in your life.
    • Why? It’s anonymous. All rules go out the window with anonymity.
  • Good luck getting your asking price!
    • Lowball galore. Whatever you’re asking price is, ehh…I want it for less.
    • Honestly…I’ve actually RAISED the price of items when they’re not selling and…then they start selling! It’s a mystery to me…

A lot of the “common sense” type advice for a Craigslist buyer applies to a seller as well, but there are some additional things to note that seller specific:

  • Make a good post!
    • If your post sucks, good luck selling it. You need to act like a salesman. Don’t think that you can just make a piece of junk ad and expect it to sell. You do have competition here. It’s doubtful your item is unique.
    • So very many Craigslist posts are absolute garbage one sentence blurbs with no specifics!
      • This either will lead to future follow-up emails / calls for more information (which wastes your time) or…
      • Lack of leads; people won’t even bother contacting you
    • Craigslist allows you to upload a crazy amount of pictures, leverage that! Take good pictures from multiple angles. A lot of my suggestions from “how to sell on eBay” apply here as well.
    • Note any defects or unique traits about the item. Full disclosure up front saves you time during negotiation phase.
  • Make a throwaway email address
    • Same note for a buyer, but SPAM and SCAMS are more prevalent on the selling side.
    • It seems to have got a LOT better, but it was not unheard of to get a half a dozen fake “buyers” a day asking about things.
      • Very easy to spot. Short responses, posts that don’t make sense to the item you’re selling, weird email addresses.
  • Make sure that you “refresh” your listing
    • One of the few “features” on Craigslist, and it’s relatively new. As a seller, you actually have an “account” with Craigslist. In your account (click “my account”), under “my postings”, if a certain amount of time has passed you can “refresh” it.
      • This will “bump” up your post to the top of the page. Effectively making it look like it’s new.
      • Without it, people just kept double/multi posting the same ad over and over.
  • Most responses will not lead to a sale
    • I would say, in my experience, conversion rate on Craigslist is about 10-20%. That means you’re going to have to talk to, on average, 5-10 people before you sell your item.
    • Why? People are stupid. People are flaky. People are…I don’t know, but you’re probably going to be disheartened through this process. It just happens. You think you’ve lined up a sale, and…nope!
    • I’ve had sales end from the 2nd email to the time when I’m waiting for them to meet me at a specific location.
      • My “favorite” experience was meeting someone at a mall 30 minutes away from me, and them not showing up because, “My mom wouldn’t take me”. Wait…what? That was unexpected…I didn’t realize I was talking to a 13-year old, I thought I was talking to an adult. Live and learn.
  • Don’t go out of your way to make a sale
    • It’s not worth it. You’re wasting gas. You’re wasting your time. If you need to drive more than 10 miles or 20 minutes to something, find someone else. See my experience above.
  • Avoid giving out unnecessary personal info
    • Depending on the item, I may or may not give out my phone number, but it’s always very late into the process. I don’t proceed to talk to someone on the phone until I know it’s going somewhere.
    • Don’t ever use your last name.
    • Don’t give out your address.
  • Set a realistic price and expect haggling
    • Realize the market you’re going after here: cheapasses. It’s mostly cheapasses.
    • If you absolutely want to sell something for a specific price, note that in the listing as “firm price”.
    • You should get an idea of what something is worth by searching other listings or searching eBay /Amazon and then taking off at least 5-10%
      • If you’re not “beating” other retail outlets, no one has any incentive to buy from you. And they won’t.
  • Realize that even though you may be selling something for less, you may actually still be coming out ahead
    • Say you sold something for $90, but could have sold it for $100 on eBay
      • After shipping and fees, you probably only “sold” that item for $80 – do the math, the great thing about Craigslist is there is ZERO overhead to the seller.

Selling is, by far, more frustrating than buying on Craigslist, but if you accept that you’re working in a different type of market, you’ll do OK.

 

Final thoughts

I really only use Craigslist as a last resort though, to be honest. It’s still a very niche angle. But, consider this scenario: you just bought a new dishwasher and nothing is actually wrong with your old one. Instead of letting some company “haul it away”, why not just sell the old one on Craigslist?! If this line of thinking has never entered your mind, then maybe it should. If you’ve never even considered thinking that someone may want to buy your old TV, refrigerator, box spring, stove, dishwasher, or whatever else you were just going to throw away…throw it on Craigslist. It can’t hurt (well, unless you die)! You’ll make money doing this. Someone, somewhere wants your crap (hey, that’s a good slogan!).

The beauty of Craigslist is that it’s free and really quite easy to post stuff and find good deals. The ugliness of Craigslist is you’re dealing with an anonymous person. Keyword: person. A person has the capability of being an evil, nasty creature, but there are plenty of things you can do to prevent that, it just takes a little common sense.

What would I do to make Craigslist better? Well, to be honest, I think there is a huge market opportunity here. People want to have the cost savings of something like Craigslist, but with the security of something like Amazon. There has to be a middle ground (and it’s not eBay)! I look forward to the day when a service like this actually exists…or my “business partners” want to seriously discuss venturing into something in this realm. I think it’s a huge opportunity and untapped market. Local item online transactions in a secure trusted environment for a good price. This doesn’t exist.

Would you pay a small fee to guarantee that the opposite agent you’re working with is reliable and vetted? What if the Craigslist person you’re working with had feedback? Would you be more likely to buy from Craigslist? What if a buyer had 200 previous verified purchases on Craigslist. Would you be more likely to sell on Craigslist? I would!

It’s a shame, I think Craigslist has a great opportunity to expand their model into a safer place that both buyers and sellers could enjoy, but…they don’t. They haven’t. They have expressed no interest in doing so. I guess I’m just going to have to wait until we get a “Craigslist Premium”. Maybe I’ll try to open up “Ndolger”, store for the people. I can dream…

Filed under Info
Jul 28, 2015

The Miracle of Sears’ Desperation – Retailer of the Year, 2014

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SEARS. You remember them? The mega-company of yesteryear? … What’s that? Not old enough to remember their heyday? That’s OK, neither am I, really. But back when people actually went to malls and shopped in physical stores, they were the king. To see the sad story of their fall from grace, I highly recommend reading this very informative blog.

In a nutshell, SEARS is dying a slow death. They have been hemorrhaging money for years. The final nail in the coffin was the merger with Kmart, which has been an absolute disaster. Kmart has no hope, but SEARS still has good solid brands. Craftsman. Kenmore. Diehard. I still think they make good products, and it’s sad to see a once great American retailer slowly dying. It really is painful to watch…they are a company that doesn’t know what it is. They’re trying to be a jack of all trades, but they’re a master of none. They are being eaten alive by the low-end players, such as Target and Walmart, and their core business (appliances) is being stolen by the likes of Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Best Buy. They literally do not excel at anything. Couple that with terrible customer service, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Sounds pretty bleak, yeah? Well, what does a company do when it has nothing to lose? Well, it tries some crazy shit! And this is what SEARS is doing right now. They are in the middle of a massive social media marketing campaign / reward program called “Shop Your Way Rewards”.  They also have a service called SYWR MAX, which offers free shipping on many items for a yearly fee of $79. So, in essence, it’s Amazon Prime + Best Buy Reward Zone. Not too shabby. Now SYWR has existed for a few years, but in 2014 Sears has really started to up the ante on what they provide.

I highly, highly recommend reading the fantastic FAQ put together by Ch3apSk8 (via Slickdeals), but here are the highlights on what makes this program so amazing, and what Sears has been doing recently to make it so enticing:

  • Points. Points. POINTS!

The crux of the entire program is POINTS! When I picked up an item at SEARS the other day, one of the associates was wearing a shirt that literally said ‘POINTS, POINTS, POINTS’ on the back. They must clearly know that humans love hoarding digital currency. Hell, I do! I love points! It makes you feel powerful. It’s a great psychological manipulation tool which incentivizes continual purchases. I love it! I wish more companies did this, it makes you feel like every purchase is building toward something. Now whether or not SEARS can turn a profit from this model, remains to be seen. I sure hope so, because I am gaming the hell out of this. I’ll elaborate on this as we go on, but this program has so many different facets, you can literally combine various things to get incredible deals.

From a market share perspective, it stole me away from Amazon, so there’s that. Couple this with Amazon starting to charge sales tax, raising the price of Prime, instituting the concept of “Add-on” items, offering no form of rebates/cashback, and just generally not having very good prices on things any more, I have no incentive to shop there any longer. I just want to have free shipping! I could care less about Amazon’s streaming services; that’s why I have Netflix. SEARS’ MAX program is just a free shipping program…and that’s all I want! But I digress…

Anyway, back to points. Anyone can sign up for a basic SYWR membership. You get 1% back in points on all purchases. SYWR MAX members (think Amazon Prime) get 2% base points back on all purchases. However, there are some deals where I’ve actually earned more points than what the item cost! O_O; … Points expire in one year; unless there’s a specific promo (which normally expires sooner). For more information on points, this is a helpful article.

  • Coupons

Here’s where it gets interesting. SEARS has been going nuts with all kinds of crazy coupons this year. Things like “$20 in points when you use $25 in points”…WHAT?! And the fantastic reusable “10POINTS” coupon which gives you an extra 10% back in points. I bought a mattress. That was a lot of damn points!

But, there are plenty of coupons that just give straight up cash. $5 off $35, $10 off $50, etc.

And what SEARS is doing, which is really smart, is it’s offering new coupons every week, which have very short expiration times, requiring you to continually keep checking on what’s new. It’s a very smart ploy to keep an engaged customer, and I will admit, it’s totally worked on me.

Coupons are distributed either digitally or through targeted email promotions. Every time you buy something, you normally get a new unique coupon. There are also common non-unique codes that are active for months. Again, see Ch3apSk8’s Slickdeals guide for the latest coupons.

  • Cashback

I’ve covered this in other blog posts, but a quick recap. Do you like free money? You should! SEARS has many relationships with different affiliates that give significant cash back just by buying through their links. Discover card defaults at 5% and during many times of the year, it can go up to 10% cash back. This stacks with coupons!

  • Free Shipping

SEARS has a fairly high minimum free shipping threshold at $59, but there are several ways around this. The first is to just do in-store pickup. The second is to become a MAX member and this minimum is waived. Not all items are available for free shipping though. Almost anything heavy is pretty much guaranteed to have some form of shipping added on, unless there is a special deal going on.

  • In-store Pickup / In-store Details

Did I mention in-store pickup? This is a great competitive advantage SEARS has here. They’re closing stores left and right, but if you have one (or more) in your area, this is a great option. You get bonus points for picking up in store, it is guaranteed to be ready for pickup in 5 minutes after you arrive (otherwise they give you coupons for your inconvenience), and now if you use the SYWR app, you can have it delivered to your car without ever going into the store. That’s pretty compelling if you ask me…

Also, it’s important to note that the entire SYWR program works in-store. You can either print out a membership ID and have them scan it, or you can provide your phone number or account number at checkout. If you do regular shopping at Kmart, this is important to note (I don’t; there are no Kmarts left near me).

  • Free Trial of MAX / Special Offers

SYWR MAX normally starts at $79 a year, but it comes with a 90 day free trial (which doesn’t automatically renew; that’s crazy!). When the trial lapses, most likely the trial will either be extended another month (or 90 days), or you will be offered a discounted rate. I was first offered $39. I didn’t bite…a couple days later, I was offered a year of MAX for $19! That’s crazy…I couldn’t pass that up. YMMV here, but SEARS really wants you to sign up for this service. They are obviously trying to grow the business and need customers. They are willing to give it away for free, basically. For more information on the MAX program, you can find details here.

  • Instant Pricematching

SEARS has begun to attack Amazon by actually posting in ‘big in-your-face font’ on certain items, “price lower than Amazon”. And if Amazon has a sale, it’s matching Amazon’s prices. No one does this!

I love it. I have so much more incentive to buy from SEARS over Amazon. I have the convenience of free shipping (thanks MAX!), and the flexibility of instant gratification with in-store pickup (more points if you go this route!). Plus returns are waaaay less complicated. Amazon returns are not fun. SEARS is crushing Amazon, I have absolutely zero reason to ever shop there any longer.

  • RoeBuck Rewards

OK, so this is pretty confusing, but I’ll try to explain the best I can. SEARS has a kind of  hidden ‘game’ you can ‘play’, which in the end, gives you more points. You start off with a 5×5 grid of empty squares. Before you buy something, you need to add the item to one of these squares. When you’ve made a purchase, it will get marked as “complete”. Fill in a row and you get additional points added to your account. Each row you fill out escalates in point potential. The first row is 1x points, the second is 2x, the third is 3x, the fourth is 4x, and the fifth is 5x.

The point potential here is pretty compelling if you work this correctly. It’s a long game, but if you fill out rows with cheap items and save the last rows for expensive things (like appliances, furniture, grills, tools, etc), you’ll end up getting a pretty significant return (I’m going to make at least $50 here). Not bad for playing a game that’s free!

I love stuff like this. This is an innovative and engaging way to interact with the customer.

Finally, this page also has a hidden exclusive coupon on the left panel. The only downside here is that you can forget to add items to the board (I have), and it doesn’t work for any items purchased in store, so…it makes me have n0 incentive to ever go to the B&M store to shop. I buy everything exclusively online. Is that the point? I’m not sure, but that’s the effect this game has had on my shopping (not like it mattered, I don’t shop in store anywhere, but this just ensures I never will).

This game can be found in the header, at the top of the site, next to your login information. You can directly link to this game here.

  • Surprise Points

SYWR MAX members get $3 a month ($36 a year) in points that can be applied to any purchase, which expire midway through the month.

There is currently a Craftsman Tool of the Month promotion where, if you buy tools over $199 in one transaction, you will receive $10 in surprise points each month for a year on the 1st of every month. That’s $120 in free money every year.

Finally, there are just random points given out by SEARS throughout the year (and it’s been a lot this year) for absolutely no reason. No one has any idea why certain people get more than others, but it normally ranges from $3 to $10 in no questions asked money. Only catch is that is normally expires very quickly. But SEARS has been doing this promotion almost every week for months now!

The great thing about surprise points is that it is not a coupon. You can stack coupons, use surprise points, and any other points you have on one transaction! Surprise points have made SEARS the retailer of the year for me. This is literally free money, and I wish more retailers would follow this model. Why spend money on advertising? Just give it directly to the consumer. I love it, and I hope it will have an effect on revenue and profits for them; I really do. It’s certainly driving a lot more traffic from me, personally. I get excited thinking about what kind of free stuff I’ll get next.

Only thing to note here is that SEARS is playing a dangerous game getting people hooked on free stuff. Who knows how long this will continue? If the gravy train stops and people get addicted, you may just end up having pissed off customers, we’ll see how it plays out, but for now… Yay! Free!

  • Local Ad Events

There are random events that occur throughout the year. It seems like it’s every one or two weeks. Here’s the basic premise: At 9AM EST if there is an event going on, there will be a “Local Ad Point” reward going on in the right hand panel of the main website. Simply click on this banner as soon as possible (on both Kmart and Sears), and you will get free points to use (normally at a later date).

It varies on what is given out, but it’s normally in the $2 to $4 range, but has been higher than $10 in some instances. Normally, the event lasts for a few days, and you only have a chance to do it once per day, but sometimes, there have been glitches (on purpose?) where you can cash in on multiple days.

Again, this is free money. No forms to fill out, no stupid Facebook posts to like or anything. You just need to have a SYWR basic account, which is free. You can’t beat free. These events seem to be specifically crafted to target the deal communities throughout the internet, such as Slickdeals. These always turn into “Hot Deals” and get a lot of interest. Again, who can say no to free money?

  • Craftsman Club

Want better prices on Craftsman tools? Special events? Just want to join a manly community? Craftsman Club is free to join, with no catch. You literally just “join” and you now get better prices. Pretty simple. Details on this program can be found here.

  • VIP Membership

Pretty much like Best Buy, SEARS also has a VIP program, where the more you buy the more perks you get. Spend $2,500 a year, and you get a Silver membership, $5,000, Gold, and I believe $10,000 is Platinum (who spends $10k a year on…what exactly?).

This isn’t mind-blowing stuff, but Silver is definitely attainable, and one of the nice perks is that you get bonus points on your birthday month. Since mine is during BLACK FRIDAY, I’m going to actually try to achieve this. POINTS!

For more information on VIP membership, you can consult this page.

  • Deal Heist

Sort of like Amazon’s Deal of the Day, but…a whole bunch of stuff. Changes daily. The first few items are normally 24-hour items, everything else might be weekly.

  • Other Random Events

Post a picture of somebody with a weird mustache? $5 in points. Play a weird bikini matching game? $5.

SEARS / Kmart continually run these “social media” type events where you perform some innocuous action and you get free money. OK!

SEARS has also been pretty aggressive in the pre-order sector for video games and other media. They are normally offering $10-$20 in points for ordering early. Best advice I can give to find events like these is to create a “deal alert” on Slickdeals with “sears” as a keyword.

OK, well, there’s probably more to say, but I think that’ s enough. I just wanted to make people aware of great deals you can find at SEARS, as they have significantly strengthened their online presence in the last year or so. They have knocked off Amazon as my go-to internet retailer for the convenience of in-store pickup, a rewards program, and some wicked deals with multiple layers of coupons / cashback. The only thing they’re lacking is the customer service…which is hit or miss.

Or…maybe you should just avoid SEARS altogether? Looking for deals has become a daily…almost hourly job. But, I really can’t complain. As someone who just bought a new house, I’m on the lookout for all kinds of random things, and this boon couldn’t have come at a better time. Now if only I could find some use for that tablet I just bought for $100 that I got $90 back in points for…

Filed under Deals, Info
Jul 10, 2014

Black Friday Recap 2013

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black_friday_2013

 

aaaaHHHHH! AHHHHHHHHHH! BLACK FRIDAY! BLACK FRIDAY!! … … …

OK, well, yeah…it’s over. I guess we can’t get too excited, huh? Speaking of not getting too excited, this year had many things to not get excited about. For one, we are getting ever closer to having the name Black “Friday” cease to exist, what with 80% or so of all retailers opening on Thanksgiving day (and online deals starting on Wednesday), and unlike last year, it was *early* – many retailers opened at 6pm or earlier.

Look, I’m not a big “family” guy, but this is ridiculous. Stop opening up so early guys, no one wants this to takeover Thanksgiving (although, to be honest, it was a hell of a lot more convenient, I’ll explain later)! Thanksgiving and Black Friday represent two very opposing modes of thought. Can we avoid some conflict and give them some space? A scant few hours isn’t good enough. Anyway…

Without further ado,  here’s this year’s recap. You can check out last year’s here.

What changed from last year?

The timing of it all

Well, like I previously mentioned, the fact that many stores opened up much earlier was kind of a paradigm shift for BF. It certainly made planning a lot more interesting than normal. Walmart opened at 6pm, as did Best Buy and Toys R Us. Target opened at 8pm, and stayed open for 72 straight hours.

OK, let’s stop for a second. Before going any further, let’s get one thing straight: 95% of my Black Friday purchases are done online. I will try to avoid the B&M (brick and mortar; i.e. retail store) scene if I can help it, because 95% of the time, you can get the same or better deal by shopping online. The fact that people continue to fail to see this is astonishing. I imagine one day (maybe 10-20 years from now) this will shift, but I don’t see it happening for a long time.

That said, there are just some things you cannot get online. This year, Target was the only place I went, as it had two items I was looking for that could not be replicated anywhere else.

The atmosphere

What do I mean by this? Well, things just felt…off. You know how it is when you find some great niche band / videogame / book / insert art of your choice, and you felt like you have found the most wonderful thing ever, and no-one else knows about it? Then they make a movie out of that book, or that video game you loved gets watered down through pointless sequels (stares at Resident Evil), or that rock band you love sells out, and it’s just not the same any more? Yeah, well…this felt like a sell-out year. I think Black Friday as we knew it died this year. I’m not kidding…

The people that I encountered didn’t know what they were doing. They had never been Black Friday shopping before. There were children, lots of children this year. People showed up at store open and were *shocked* that there was a line. This was a noob Black Friday, there’s no other way to describe it.

So were the changes worth it?

Advantages

With a watering down of the day, it does bring some advantages. Since nobody knew what they were doing, I was able to get in and get out of Target within five minutes. That’s never happened before. I loved it. You don’t know the torture of having to stand in line during BF…missing out on all those online deals, missing out on being to go to other stores. Missing out on family time? Yeah, uh, that too.

Say what you will about stores opening up early, in terms of convenience, I don’t think I’ve had a better B&M Black Friday. I was able to get in and out and hit many stores…before midnight! I literally was able to go to bed at a decent time! That hasn’t happened in a decade!

Gone are the days of waking up at 2am to stand out in the cold for an hour or two. Not only that, Target was open for 72 hours! Unreal! Do you know how nice it was to walk into a Target past midnight and have it be completely dead? I could get anything I wanted – save for the obviously limited top items on sale (look, if you’re going for the *doorbusters*, you’re doing it wrong; that’s the wrong approach).

Disadvantages

Even given the unique advantages this year had, I think I still prefer last year’s scheme. These time changes were just too much. What’s next? Opening in the morning (sorry, Kmart, nobody cares about you)?

Last year, Best Buy opened at midnight, Target opened at 11pm (if I’m not mistaken). That was nice. That’s good enough, and doesn’t dig into the Thanksgiving holiday *too* much. Can we scale it back next year, please?

From a retailer’s standpoint, how are they not bleeding money by opening up early? The labor costs alone should be staggering. Keep in mind that most of these companies need to pay time and a half (at least) to open up this early. I find it hard to believe they made much profit… I really hope this year was a one off, simply because Thanksgiving came so late this year. We’ll see…

Other notes

OK, so the big one for me was the fact that because the Black Friday store opening encroached into Thanksgiving directly, that meant…most everything was going live online mid-afternoon Thanksgiving day! What the hell guys! Look, I can’t just blow off my family to search for stuff online all day (well, I sort of did anyway, but…still!). Can you cool it? Many, many things went on sale Wednesday and Thanksgiving morning / afternoon. Not cool.

I was literally shopping for four days straight. Four days. Slick Deals + F5 could describe my entire Thanksgiving break.

There were some great rebates / cash-back opportunities this year (as always)! Bigcrumbs doubled its cash-back bonus for a few days, Discover also doubled its cash-back bonus (10% for Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, etc), and American Express had some killer rebates. A good week for the smart online shopper. If you went through Black Friday this year without utilizing these amazing credit card deals, I strongly urge you to read the “Using and Building Credit” section here.

Final note: Don’t be fooled into thinking the best prices on items are to be had on Black Friday / Cyber Monday. You just have to keep an eye out all day / every day throughout the holiday season. I highly recommend the combination of Slick Deals, camelcamelcamel, and gemmit (shameless plug) to determine whether you’re getting a good deal.

OK, that’s enough preface. Let’s see what I snagged this year:

AMAZON

  • Rank: 5/5
  • Notes: A mixture of fantastic customer service, cheap video games, interesting lightning deals, and just a wide variety of things I never knew I needed was enough to propel Amazon as the winner of Black Friday 2013 (dethroning  last year’s champ: Best Buy). Not to mention I could do this all from the comfort of my own home. Hard to beat that. Didn’t actually get much on “BF” proper, but picked up a ton of stuff afterwards.

What did I grab?

  • Video Games under $10 – Soul Hackers (3DS) ($10), Scribblenauts Unlimited (3DS) ($8), Skyrim (PS3) ($8), Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition (Wii U) ($8.50)
  • Video Games under $20 – Scribblenauts Unlimited (Wii U) ($15), Tales of Xillia (PS3) ($19.99)
  • Acer Aspire V7-582PG-6673 15.6-inch Touchscreen Ultrabook (Cold Steel) Laptop – $200 (Cyber Monday): Oh man…easily the jewel of the year! An i5 processor with a touchscreen display, 8GB of RAM, hybrid SSD + HDD, steel book laptop! For $200 freakin’ dollars! This is a $850 laptop! Lightning Deal baby! Except…well…price mistake. Cancelled. Gah?! Amazon, et tu? What are you, Walmart? I’ve never seen Amazon make a mistake like this. However, after some, ahem…complaining, they ended up giving me $125 in credit, for my inconvenience. I’ll take it. Remember, this is why Amazon is the best. They go above, and way beyond what any other place will do to satisfy their customers. Outstanding.
  • Killer is Dead – LE (PS3) – $19.99 (Cyber Monday): I think I’m becoming…oh hell…I know I’m a hoarder. This game proves it. I have yet to play a single game from Suda 51 (No More Heroes, Killer 7, etc). I own a bunch that he’s made, but I have *never* played a game by the man. This was either a good or a very bad decision. I’ll find out when I play one five years from now… Probably could get this cheaper, but they’re still selling the LE version, might as well not gamble on it.
  • Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition (PS3) – $11.99 (post Cyber Monday): GH Edition, but I’ll live. I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game since 1994?! Wow, I’m old…I’m going to go cry now…
  • Proform 505 CST Treadmill – $449.99 (post Cyber Monday): Whenever you can get a treadmill for more than 50% off, delivered to your door with free shipping, you have to do it. Especially if you actually want one. This was actually only $390 after some “thank you for complaining” credit I got from the aforementioned laptop issue.
  • + Much More (don’t you judge me!)

NEWEGG

  • Rank: 1/5
  • Notes: Pretty lackluster year. From all the freakin’ spam emails they sent me this year, they really didn’t deliver. Yeah, I got two decent prices for games, but…I literally got a new INSANE DEAL email from them every hour (i.e. junk). Pathetic. Newegg really pissed me off this year.

What did I grab?

  • Dead Island: Riptide (Special Edition) (PS3) – $10 (pre-Black Friday): Not much to say here…good deal!
  • Ni No Kuni (PS3) – $15 (post-Black Friday): Meh, it’s another Greatest Hits edition (which I despise), this is an OK price.

BEST BUY

  • Rank: 1/5
  • Notes:  What in the hell happened Best Buy?! Was it because Amazon occupied all my time looking for Lightning Deals? Did I miss something? Really, really disappointed. Best Buy has had the absolute best deals for 2-3 years. They just totally dropped the ball here. Did I mention I was really disappointed?

What did I grab?

  • Some 20% off Nintendo eShop cards. Whoopie!

TARGET

  • Rank: 5/5
  • Notes: The undisputed winner of B&M Black Friday. Not only did they open up at a relatively convenient time (8PM), I had no issues getting what I wanted and getting the hell out of there, they were open all night, AND they gave out 20% off your entire order coupons for the week of Dec 2nd after spending $75 on Black Friday! This coupon worked on your ENTIRE ORDER! Your. ENTIRE. ORDER. Lets just say I got my money’s worth with that coupon. I hope they do that again next year, I love that coupon!

What did I grab?

  • It’s a secret! Most of the items were gifts.

WALMART

What did I grab?

  • I didn’t die by having to go to a Walmart on Black Friday.

HOME DEPOT

  • Rank: 3/5
  • Notes: Hit and miss with Home Depot this year. I bought two major appliances: a dehumidifier and a dishwasher. The dehumidifier has broken already after using it (barely) for only a few days. Returning that sucker… The dishwasher was a pretty good deal! $500 for a stainless steel Samsung dishwasher with free delivery and $60 installation (it’s hard to find much cheaper than that).

What did I grab?

  • Dehumidifier that is a piece of junk
  • Stainless Steel Samsung Diswasher (can you tell I’m getting lazy now…I can’t be bothered to find links anymore…)

LOWE’S

  • Rank: 0/5
  • Notes: After some great prior experiences with Lowe’s (famous for being able to order online during Black Friday and instore pickup the next day), there was just not much to say for this year. Surprising.

What did I grab?

  • Nothing.

Overall: 5/5 – Even though just Amazon and Target had anything to be excited about (for me anyway), I…still got excited for what I got this year, and that’s all you can ask for. This is my favorite time of the year. The one time of year where my cheapassery can shine, and my frugality goes out the window. I love it! Time to go into hibernation…until next year!

Well, that’s about it! Questions? Comments? What was your best find on Black Friday / Cyber Monday?

Filed under Info
Dec 14, 2013

How to Use the Internet for C-C-COMBO!! Deals!

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Black Friday is coming up in only a few scant weeks! Are you excited yet? ‘Tis the season for getting insane deals for lots of crap you may not need or want! But…it’s on sale! As a training exercise for the big day, I’m going to show you how to take advantage of all that the internet can offer. I’m going to show you an example of how to multiply your savings using different tricks. Keep in mind this is just an example, and doesn’t apply to all items you’d purchase online, but this is what you should be trying to achieve every time you buy something! Behold! *

* Item shown not expected to be available past 10/12/13. It’s merely shown as an example.

 

Finding an Item

OK, so let’s use an expensive item to drive home the point more aggressively. I’m in the market for a new electric range. There happens to be one on sale at SEARS for $674.99 (originally $899.99).

example_deal

 

Hey, not too shabby. But we can do better than that!

 

Affiliate Rebates

Did you remember what I told you about affiliate rebates? Well, let’s go check it out!

bigcrumbs_example

Bigcrumbs is offering up to 4.9% for all purchases (however, in this case appliances only give 1.4% cash back). Still, every little piece counts.

 

Coupons

OK, still with me? We’re not done. The next thing you should do is check to see if there are any additional coupons that you can use. I use retailmenot.com because…they are the best coupon site I’ve found. Used them for years with no problems, and they normally have up-to-date and exclusive coupons.

So what coupons do we have available…hmm?

retailmenot_example

Well, that looks good! An extra $50 off! In this case, the coupon code is: 50OFF300 (if you wanted more than one appliance, that 10% extra doesn’t seem so shabby either). So how does it look now?

coupon_example

Sweet, that drops it to $624.99 (remember it was originally $899.99). Phew…the sad thing is, we’re just getting started! There’s still a lot more to whittle down.

 

Merchant Points

The next step is POINTS. Depending on the retailer, you may earn proprietary points that can be redeemed for cash or other goods. In this case, Sears has something called “Shop Your Way Rewards” where they essentially give you 1% back in points. You can see it in the picture above. By purchasing this particular item, you get 6250 points. This translates to $6.25 off of a subsequent purchase. For this example , I’m going to count this as a portion off the price.

OK…another $6.25 off. Still got more to do!

 

Online Specific Deals

Now this particular item has something even better…stackable deals! Not only is it on sale, you can apply a coupon, but it’s also eligible for additional offers! Check this out:

  • Members get an additional $10 back in points when you purchase this Kenmore cooking appliance! Offer ends 15-Oct-2013 
  • Online Only! Extra Savings Event! Extra 10% off appliances over $399! Sold by Sears. Offer ends   12-Oct-2013

Boom! Another $10 and another 10% off! *

* Yeah, to be honest, I’m not sure about the extra 10%. It doesn’t show up for me when you try to checkout. I may need to call Sears and complain. I imagine the $10 would just post later to your account. If not, again, call and complain normally works.

Stop asking. We’re not done.

 

Invitation Rewards

I’m sure you’ve seen this before. Perhaps you’ve had a falling out with a company and haven’t shopped there for some time? What do they do? They normally send you some targeted promo offer. Check out this Slickdeals thread.

Sears gave away random points to most customers. I ended up getting $7!

Congratulations!
You have been awarded $7 worth of surprise points (7,000 points) to your account for being our valued member.
HURRY! These points are valid 10/10/13 – 10/16/13.

You can redeem them towards any Sears purchase, in store or online.

Onward!

 

Credit Card Bonuses

OK, last thing, I promise. If you have a Discover card, Sears offers 5% cashback. *

* Note that if you use this, results are guaranteed to work because their offer notes state, “not available with other offers”, I assume this means because you used a coupon it won’t work. Worth a shot though. Also, if you do this, you cannot use BigCrumbs/eBates. You can only use one “affiliate” rebate per item; Discover is an affiliate rebate.

This is additiion to the 5% off all online shopping from Oct-Dec ’13!discover_example

 

 

Total Deal Breakdown

  • MSRP: $900
  • Sale: $675 ($225; 25% off)
  • Coupon: $625 ($50; 7.5% off!)
  • Invitation Rewards: $618 ($7; 1% off)
  • Affiliate Rebate: $609 ($8.65; 1.4% off)
  • Credit Card Bonus: $578 ($31; 5% off)
  • Merchant Points:  $572 ($6.25; 1% off)
  • Online Bonus: $562 ($10; 1% off)

That’s 38% off MSRP now! By doing all the little tricks, you can save an additional $113…for doing NEXT TO NOTHING EXTRA! Behold the power of stackable deals! Heck, if you complain enough, you might be able to take an extra 10% off…because that’s what the website says…

Hope that helps! See you on Black Friday!

 

Filed under Info
Oct 12, 2013

New Super Mario Bros Wii U – Challenge Mode – GOLD

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gold_mario

OK, so…the Wii U has been out almost a year and…and…well…there are less than a handful of games that are actually worth a damn. However, New Super Mario Bros Wii U is one of those games. This is an incredible game for many reasons, one of the main ones being…the amazing CHALLENGE MODE! This is some hard, HARD content! This is the type of thing that used to define “old-school”…I love it!

These videos are from me and my two friends playing Mario on the weekends. It was incredibly fun. It was incredibly frustrating. And I still have a lot more to do (Edit: All done!)! You’ll notice how in the early levels we’re pretty noobish, but by the time you get to the final levels, you will need to have near flawless runs! My favorite mode was probably Boost Mode…mainly because it required two people and made great use of the Wii U Game Pad. Someone should make an entire game around this…I’d play it.

Anyway, here are the Youtube videos I’ve uploaded of Challenge Mode. There’s still two more sections I need to add…and man, they’re almost impossible. I hope to add them soon though! (Edit: All done!)

OK, without further ado, you can see the videos here.

Filed under Info
Sep 21, 2013

How to Make Money on the Internet by Clicking a Button (Affiliate Rebates)

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rebate

OK, OK…it’s not that simple. You have to make an account first, then you click a  button!

Seriously. I’m not joking. That’s it. Free money (normally 1-10% cash back).

Got something you want to buy on the internet? Follow these steps and you can get a portion of the payment rebated to you:

  • Go to BigCrumbs
  • Make an account (need an email address  / PayPal account)
  • Search for a store
  • Click on the affiliate link to the store
  • Buy something on the website, check out like normal (don’t close the window until you’ve checked out!)

In a few weeks, you’ll see money transferred to your Paypal account (once they’ve made sure you didn’t return it / they get paid themselves through the website you’re buying from). These companies are essentially sharing the referral proceeds with you!

I don’t know how long this is going to last, but “affiliate” websites like BigCrumbs have been around for a looong time (at least for the past 5-6 years; ancient in internet years)! However, this site gives really good rates, and they give you CrumbShares (which at like a share in the company). If they get bought out by another company, they’ll give you a portion of the proceeds! How cool is that?

Here’s an example, let’s say you wanted to buy something from Target.com. Simply search for “target” on the site, and you will be presented with an affiliate link. Click on it and checkout and pay (again, make sure you don’t close the window!):

bigcrumb_example

Sometimes the rebate will be up to a certain dollar amount, sometimes it is a percentage. In this case, if you shop at Target, you can get up to 3.5% cash back. FOR DOING NOTHING!

There are a number of other competitors in the space: FatWallet and eBates are two of the bigger names.

So, seriously…again, that’s it. You get paid for doing normal shopping. Stack that with normal rewards points by paying with a credit card, and you’ll end up getting a decent % of the cost of the item rebated!

Why do companies do this? Beats me…weren’t you going to buy that thing-a-ma-bob even if I didn’t tell you about it? I suppose they believe the content on their site will yield you to buy things you normally wouldn’t. Don’t do that. Just shop like you’d normally would, and check one of the sites I mentioned above and see how much cash back they’ll give you. I would recommend signing up for the big three: BigCrumbs, eBates, and Fatwallet, and comparing the cash back yields. Again, my favorite is BigCrumbs, merely because they give you a share of the company with every purchase!

One caveat: You should always check to see if there’s a coupon available, but depending on the company you’re buying from, doing so may void your ability to get a rebate! So you need to compare the coupon you’re getting with what the rebate yield would be. Make sense?

If not, ask away in the comments below! I hope I just blew your mind.

Filed under Deals, Info, Websites
Jul 19, 2013

How to Make Good Financial Decisions

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finance

In what seems to be a recurring topic, let’s continue with the series of “How to” articles I’ve published recently. Today’s topic is: finance… …

Thrilling, I know…I’m sure you’re really excited. Hold on now…don’t leave just yet! Give me a chance here. I guarantee you’ll find something interesting here or your money back. I promise.

I’m still basically a young whippersnapper, but I’ve had my fair share of experiences through life thus far to know what is good and what is bad for your financial health. Most should be common sense; some, aren’t as obvious. Still, there should be something to glean from this post regardless of your age; that’s my hope any way. Without having a good solid financial backbone, you’re pretty much crippling any prospect of being able to buy a car or  buy a house (or whatever else it is you fancy).

In no particular order, here are the topics that will allow you to get control of your financial situation and put yourself in a great position to be able to go through life not worrying about the financial hassles that come with it. If you’re one of the 76% of Americans that life live paycheck-to-paycheck, you might want to take some advice from someone who doesn’t.

Get a Good Career

A career. Not a job…a career. Absolutely the most critical thing you can do. If you nail this, most everything else will fall in line (even if you stumble here, it’s not the end of the world, but…it sure helps). This is probably the most important thing you can do in your entire life. The problem here is, well, it takes years, sometimes over a decade to achieve. The sad thing is most people are completely focused on the short-term, no one looks at the long-term. Start small. Take low-paying jobs in your field. Work hard. Distinguish yourself. Move up the ranks.

So how do you do that?

  •  Choose a career that is in demand or will be in demand (engineering, healthcare, science, technology are safe bets).
  •  A field that innovates, makes something, provides a vital service that requires actual honed skills (scientists, doctors, lawyers, programmers).
  • Work hard, don’t slack off, don’t be tempted by short-term pleasures.
  • Learn. Don’t memorize. Don’t study. LEARN.
  • Be interested in learning. READ. Better your mind.

Education is the easiest thing I can recommend here. With the internet, huge amounts of knowledge are at your fingertips. There is no excuse! NO EXCUSE!

Notice how I say nothing of  “formal” education here. You’re going to need a good education, but not falling for the pitfalls that come from the journey are hard to avoid (student loan debt, not knowing what you want to do at first, doing stupid college things, etc). The best I can recommend is the following:

  • Go to an in-state college
  • Go to a university that is economical (whether that’s a community college, or community college to university after two years program, it just depends)
  • The goal is to have as little student loan / other debt that you can possibly have and obtain an associates or bachelor’s degree coming out of college
  • Major in something that makes a difference in the world and society wants; tread carefully liberal arts majors
  • Utilize college work-study, internship, and / or co-op programs; just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you don’t work…

Let’s elaborate on that last point a little further. If you don’t get experience in a field of interest while you’re in school, you might as well just have wasted your time. Why would anyone want to hire you? You’d better have connections, some great luck, or outstanding academics. People and businesses in the real world want results. Not pieces of paper that say what you might be capable of achieving something. 

That said, in the end, it doesn’t make one damn bit of difference what you did in college. Not a single unit of damn. Which is why the love of learning, and the love of growing your intellectual capacity is far more important of a “skill” to have. All that piece of paper that you got for graduating says to an employer is, “hey, this one might work out”. It doesn’t entitle you to anything.

Until you’ve got a real job in your career, you mean nothing. Throw away the trophy you got for getting 3rd place in the science fair in high school. Until you do something that someone will pay you for, you haven’t done anything. The earlier you realize this, the better off you’ll be. Understand that the piece of paper (i.e. diploma) you got means almost nothing. It only allows you to get your foot in the door and your initial starting salary, that’s really it. If you prove that you’re capable while you’re on the job, that is far more important to your overall career. Which is why it’s so critical to work as hard as you can early on and never stop growing and learning.

Now, of course, if you’re innovative enough not to need to join the “work force” and you have a great entrepreneurial spirit, great! I’d have to say that’s pretty hard to do though as a young adult. You’re probably going to need to experience the corporate world before understanding how much it sucks.

You’re going to end up falling into one of these buckets, most of America these days seem to fall into the lower left quadrant. Which one do you fall in to?

Real Life
Hate Your Job Love Your Job
Pays Well the_american_dream lep
Pays Crap passed_out_drunk hippie

Good luck becoming a leprechaun (psst…they don’t exist)! Your best bet is probably “The American Dream”! Just try to steer clear of the drunks and the hippies.

 

The Waiting Game

There are two ways of living life: deferred rewards or immediate gratification. If you knew exactly when you would die, I suppose the latter could conceivably be the better alternative, but since you probably don’t (and expect to stay around awhile), I would highly suggest start deferring your short-term expectations.

You want to know the secret of long-term success? Take your hits early. Otherwise, financial pain will be compounded the rest of your life. What do I mean by this? Well, I could go through some examples, but it’s basically this simple, ask yourself this question:

  • Can I buy X without needing a loan or a payment plan? (where X = car, house, TV, computer, etc).

If the answer is “no”, then you should not be purchasing X. That simple.

Of course, life doesn’t work on such idealistic terms, sometimes you don’t have a choice. If you follow the other suggestions I’ve outlined though, you should put yourself in a better position to minimize the potential for this scenario.

Nobody owes you a car, a house, a yacht, anything. If you want it, you have to work for it. If the utility that you provide through said work is not good enough, hey, guess what? You aren’t getting it. You can try to put it on that credit card, but you will always fail in the long-term, if this isn’t a rare event.

 

Avoiding Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

1000_needles

Remember, even if that cactus looks harmless, he can beat your ass with 1000 tiny needles! Ahem…

I see a lot of advice from people that say, “don’t sweat the small stuff; focus on the big picture”.

I have to tell you, that’s the most ridiculous nonsense anybody could ever say. Your entire life is the small stuff! Don’t underestimate the power of the small stuff being the biggest piece of your financial life! It’s a pretty big damn piece of that big picture if you add it all up. What am I talking about?

  • How much do you spend on food and drinks? 

One of the deadliest killers. You’d better not have a vice, or you’re pretty much screwing yourself. If you drink (I don’t even care if it’s coffee or alcohol) or smoke, you might as well just shoot yourself in the foot.

  • How much do you go out to eat? Where?

Are you eating out with your co-workers, friends, and / or family every night? Every other night? If you’re doing this more than once a week, you may want to add up your bills and see just how much money you’re wasting. Have you ever considered…gasp…making your own lunch?

  • How much do you go out to “party” or go out to bars?

Yep…anything that forces you to “tip” someone is pretty much a cancer on your wallet. Enjoy paying 200-300% markups on items you could get at the grocery store? You’re crippling yourself here. Watch out.

  • How much do you pay for entertainment (e.g. cable TV, movies, video games)?

If you’re paying more than $100 a month for these services, you’re doing it wrong.

Right way: you shouldn’t have cable to begin with, leverage the internet; use Netflix/Redbox for movies; buy used and / or games that have dropped in price. Simple.

  • How much do you pay for services like phone, internet, wireless?

If you’re paying more than $100 a month for these services, you’re doing it wrong.

Right way: do you even need a landline, if so, there are some cheap alternatives with voiceover IP; there’s a lot of competition in this space, don’t stick to a particular company, go with the one that gives the best deal; probably the biggest killer, I pay $25/mo for unlimited data and text. You probably can’t beat that, but you should get as close to it as you can.

  • How efficient are you at using water and electricity (or gas)?

Do you really need to have your house at 72 degrees all day, every day? Do you need to flush the toilet 10 times a day? Could you speed up your shower time just a tad? There are small easy ways to conserve here. Some do it for the environment, I’d just rather not pay for it. Turn off the crap you’re not using when you’re not using it!

  • Do you use coupons (physical or digital)?

No? You’re dead to me.

  • Anything else?

Think really hard here. What are you doing that’s wasting money every day / week / month? Don’t just go off of memory, look at your checking / credit card statements. Where is the money going? Do you use that gym membership? Did I really need to buy that thing off of eBay? See how much money you would save if you cut back all of these expenditures by 30 to 50%. Scale it out a year. What does it look like? I think you’d be surprised. Note: Some people swear by “budgets”; I’ve never found the micromanaging helpful (although I’ve never had problems with spending). There are plenty of free budgeting apps / tools that can help you narrow down just what is siphoning your money. I’ll talk more about that shortly.

 

Don’t Overpay for the Big Things

Want to know a sure-fire way of crippling your future? Overpay for a house or a car. Did you just drop $30k+ on a car when you make that or less than that from a year’s pay? Did you happen to account for depreciation? By the time you pay the thing off (I assume you took out a loan), you will have paid a hefty premium for it; after that interest portion bleeds away your money. And then…surprise! It’ll be worth nothing on the open market in a decade or less. That’s depreciation folks! A foolish move. Why not buy a used car, outright, instead? People’s love affair with automobiles seems to be the #1 contributor to financial ruin. Guys…it’s a metal box that gets you from point A to point B. Don’t over-complicate this. 

Even better. Did you just drop half a million dollars on a house, but you only make a fraction of that a year? Shame on the loan officers that let that go through, but what were you thinking? I have no sympathy for people in this situation. That’s just bad management, and is the definition of short-term satisfaction over long-term stability.

If you need to have a car or a house as a status symbol, then…look…you have to take a real good look in the mirror and figure out your values. Stop trying to impress people that don’t care. Don’t add months or years of conflict and pain for short-term benefits.

What should you do instead? Save. Save until you have the money to buy the item outright. Or in the case of a house, a significant down payment. At the very least, 20%. 40-50% if you can. Ideally, no financing. I realize that can take a lifetime of working. Slow and steady wins the race though. Do not buy into the lie that it’s impossible. It can be done. You are the owner of your own destiny.

 

Account Management / Budget

Sometimes it’s hard to see how the little things are damaging your finances. I get it. People just don’t do a good job at seeing the big pictures sometimes. What can you do about this? I would recommend mint.com.

What is that? Well, first…ask yourself this question. How many accounts do you have that have some form of “payment” tied to them? Electric bill? Gas? Phone? Wireless? Cable? Credit card? Home loan? Car insurance? Home insurance? I’m sure you can think of more. It’s a lot of stuff man. It can be hard to keep track of it all.

Well, what mint.com provides is a free service that let’s you aggregate all your services into one interface so you can view all your account data at once. I will say it’s not for everyone, some people just aren’t comfortable giving one company all that info. That’s fine, I can dig it. All I will say is I’ve been using their services for over six years now, and I’ve not a bad thing to say about them. They’re extremely helpful in letting me see my big picture. It’s a very powerful tool.

That said, you don’t really need something like mint.com. You can always do this yourself. They provide easy tools to view what you’re spending on a month, but whether you use these tools or not, you should be creating some form of a budget.

How do you create a budget? Well, here’s the basic breakdown for a short-term budget:

  • What is your total estimated weekly / monthly (after taxes and fees) revenue stream (per household or person)?

This shouldn’t be that hard to calculate. Unless you have some significant secondary revenue streams, this is most likely just going to be what you make from your job (after taxes).

  • What are your total estimated weekly / monthly costs?

Little more complicated, and this is obviously where people get lost in the weeds. As this is an unknown variable, a lot of people just don’t bother because this is too hard. Hint: Not really that difficult.

Most likely, you probably have a checking account and a credit card that you pay bills with. Get the average monthly expenditures for both and add them together, don’t forget to add any interest (if you pay things with cash…gah, you just made it a lot more complicated, read the next section…).

Almost all major credit cards or banks have some sort of software tools that make this very easy to obtain. If not, you may need to do some simple math! Oh no..not that!! I’ll wait until you’ve calmed down… … … you good? Great. Let’s keep going. I’ll wait…

  • Subtract what you make vs what your average costs have been per month

You crunched the numbers? If you’re finding that you’re paying more in bills than you’re taking in…you’ve got major problems. You’d better start cutting something, otherwise, you’re going to drown. Nothing should be off the table to get rid of. You’d probably at this point want to break down things item by item to see how they’re impacting your overall budget.

Obviously emergencies or unforeseen complications…complicate this process. You can budget in a disaster and see how that affects your situation or just bake it into the average (let’s say the last 24 months).

Was that so hard? Creating a budget doesn’t need to be that stressful. You should at least know whether or not you have the ability to save any money per month (if not, well…you have some greater systemic problems that need addressing).

That said, the most important piece of this entire section is: online bill-pay. My heart literally goes out to all the old people out there that needed to “balance a checkbook” (if you still do…you’re doing it wrong). With online bill-pay, you should never have to manually pay a single bill ever again. Ever! I can’t remember the last time I wrote a check for something… Almost all major credit cards / banks offer automatic monthly bill payments for no cost at all. For those that do charge a fee…find another service.

 

Using and Building Credit

You know what the credit card companies despises most…? Seriously, give it some thought. I’ll wait.


People who pay their balance on time every month, without exception. Which is what you should be doing, without exception.

First of all, you should never, ever use cash. Ever! Unless the merchant is giving you a discount for using cash (and more than 1%), you should, never, ever, ever use cash. Unless you have insanely bad will power to resist the temptation of using a credit card  (i.e. going on a buying spree), I assume you’re an adult, and you understand the value of a dollar, so you won’t. There is not one argument that you could try to use to convince me otherwise.

You want to know why?

  • Using credit cards and keeping the monthly balance low (read: none) improves your credit score; one of the most critical things necessary to get good rates if you want to buy a car or house (or any other type of loan or services)
  • Using a credit card normally has no fees involved for having it open (if you have a credit card with an annual fee, call and get it waived or close it)
  • Using a credit card correctly will net you 1% or more in cashback; that’s at least $1 for every $100 you spend…for doing nothing, but using the card!
  • Using a credit card gives you much more power over the transaction by being able to dispute charges if a merchant has wronged you
  • If you’re worried about theft…you really shouldn’t be, there are a number of safety mechanisms in place to prevent unauthorized access, and almost all credit cards have fraud protection services…for free; you won’t have to pay for any of the illegal purchases
  • A credit card actually gives you a greater time window to pay for purchases than straight up through cash / debit

Why then, would you not use a credit card? If you’re using a debit card, I presume you have the funds in a checking account to cover the purchase?? Well if so, why not just use the credit card for that? Almost all major credit cards have very easy ways to set up automatic payments. You simply set up a rule to pay your credit card balance, in full, every month. That’s it. You literally have to do nothing at all, and you get a bunch of free services and improve your credit score in the process. You just have to follow one simple rule:

DON’T CHARGE IT, IF YOU CAN’T PAY FOR IT TODAY!

As long as you follow that one critical piece, you’d be a fool not to do so. You’re literally being paid for no reason. Tax free.

 

Deferring Children Until Financially Ready

What’s arguably the biggest drain on the finances of an adult? A child. What’s worse than that? Children. On average, a child will cost over $200,000 to feed, cloth, and amuse over 18 years. Even more if you feel you are obligated to fund their college education 100% (I don’t).

Consider this to be the equivalent of buying a house. You’d better be damn sure you have all your ducks in a row, eggs in one basket (oh wait, sorry…you aren’t supposed to do that), err…house in order (oh, that’s much more apropos!) before embarking on this strange journey (can you tell I’m not exactly thrilled to start this…don’t tell my wife)?

What’s the best way to avoid this cost? Pretty easy. Vasectomy!

 

Save and Invest

OK, so you’re actually “in the black” every month, what should you do? Well, you should be looking to get paid. Whether it’s a savings account, CD, stocks (mutual funds, ETFs, index funds), bonds…whatever!  Find something that meets your needs. Huge topic, and well outside the scope of today’s rant. Don’t forget your retirement account! Do you have access to a 401(k) or 403(b)? Put as much as you can in it (at least employer matches).

Do not underestimate the power of compound interest. Do not underestimate the tax savings one can yield by deferring taxes on contributions to things like a traditional IRA or a 401(k). My advice is to save as early as you can.

Did you just get a raise? Never let yourself be tempted by money. Assuming you were functionally “OK” prior to the raise…save it. Save it all. The more you detach yourself from these temptations, the less likely you will find yourself in financial ruin.

There is soooo much more to talk about here, but the takeaway is this: save something, anything, today. It will look so pathetic in the short-term (is this $100 really doing anything for me…?), but again over the long-term, you win. Here’s one piece of advice I’ve heard over and over again, from multiple sources: no one has ever complained about saving too much money. Future self: Man…why did I have to save soooo much money!? Not happening. Pay your future self, they’ll love you for it. There’s not many guarantees in this world, but this is one of them.

 

Secondary Income Streams

This is an “advanced” suggestion. It may not be possible for you to achieve, depending on your situation.

So, you’re saving money, you’re cutting back on expenses, you’ve got some capital to play with (this may not even be necessary). Well, you may want to consider doing something that can make you some money on the side of whatever your primary income stream is. It really can be anything:

  • Are you creative? Can you create something of value? Try selling it on Etsy or Ebay.
  • Got a bunch of junk? Sell it on eBay or Craigslist.
  • Like going to yard sales? Why not sell things that you find deals on?
  • Have something that’s maybe not common? A truck? A riding lawnmower? A special tool? Why not rent out its use to someone in your neighborhood?
  • Start a small business; doesn’t have to be anything crazy, some of the best companies in the world started from someone’s garage; my mantra in life has been, get a job that pays well so you can funnel in that money to do what you really love
  • Think of something else!

 

Read More “Oatmeal”
The man is a scholar. I’m not sure how it fits in with the financial angle of this piece, but…it’s funny, informative, and free. Free things are good.

 

That’s all I got. I’ll summarize really quick:

  • Don’t buy things if you don’t have the money for it
  • Don’t let little things eat away at your savings
  • Understand what your costs and income are; make a budget if you have to
  • Don’t overpay / get started on the big things too early
  • Use credit cards, but pay them off immediately
  • Do something you’re good at; that makes a lot of money
  • Always have a backup plan, have hobbies that keep you sane
  • Don’t make stupid decisions

That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. I have plenty of fun. I just do it in much more economical ways than most people. To each his own…just don’t come to me for a loan if you don’t follow my advice!

Filed under Info, Life
Jul 13, 2013

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