Tag Archives: Shopping

How valuable is your time?

Last week, at the peak of Penn State undergrad move-in days, I found myself standing in line at a State College big box discount store, watching befuddled students and parents trying to figure out how to ring a giant plastic drawer unit through the self-checkout lane.  I knew it was move-in and I knew the store would be insane.  I had other options.  And I went anyway.  Why?  Frugality.

I was in need of a new sleeping bag for a camping trip in the State Forest last weekend (a frugal woman’s vacation!).  And I knew I had two options.  I could go to the sporting goods store and pay more than I wanted to.  Or I could go to the discount store, brave the move-in crowd, and save myself ten to twenty dollars.  My time and my sanity are valuable to me.  But in this situation, I would likely only have saved myself about ten minutes by going to the sporting goods store rather than the discount store.  My time is definitely valuable.  But “one dollar per minute” valuable?  I don’t think so.

When you’re trying to weigh out the frugal option versus the convenient option, you should definitely factor in the value of your time.  But be careful not to overvalue your time.  A lot of times the frugal option makes a lot more sense.  Besides…you wouldn’t want to miss out on the entertainment value of undergrads trying to run jumbo items through the self-check, would you?

Online Prices: Up and Down Like Horses on a Carousel!

I’m a frequent shopper on Amazon.  And I regularly put things into my Amazon cart and let them sit there unpurchased for long periods of time.  But recently I’ve noticed that the prices on these items in my cart can fluctuate greatly from day to day.  I noticed it first when I was getting ready to buy camping cots.  I had done the research a long time ago and put the cots I wanted into my Amazon cart for purchase closer to the time when I would need them.  But as soon as the weather got warmer, the price on the cots shot up.  One of them by almost 50%.  So I waited.  And eventually the price came back down.  And I purchased before it could go back up again.

Last week I noticed it with my dream treadmill (because I’ve been searching for a treadmill for some time).  Good quality treadmills aren’t cheap.  And the one I’ve been eyeing sells for about $1,300.  Then one day last week, the price dropped by 10%–$130.  It stayed there for just a couple of days, and then returned to its former norm of $1,300.  I have to wonder if it will ever drop down again.

This weekend it was running shoes.  I’ve been thinking about getting a new pair of running shoes since I started running outside more in this warm weather we’ve been having.  I picked out several pair I liked and just left them in my Amazon cart, marked “save for later.”  My favorite of these shoes was $46 when I first put them in the cart.  Then on Saturday I noticed they dropped to $42.  Then Sunday they dropped to $40 (and I pulled the trigger and bought them, because that’s a GREAT price on good running shoes).

If you like to shop online, be aware that prices can fluctuate from day to day.  You may want to take your chances and wait to see if the price on your item drops.  There’s always the chance it may go up, of course.  But what goes up must come down.  Watch your saved items in your online cart and try to buy when the price is at its lowest.

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

I dislike grocery shopping.  It’s one of my least favorite things I do every weekend.  Yet I regularly go to three different grocery stores every week.  While it’s kind of a pain, it saves me a lot of money…all in the name of getting the best possible product for the lowest possible price.

In order to make it more manageable, I usually head to Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s on Saturday morning, and hit Wegmans on Sunday morning.

At Trader Joe’s I get a limited number of items that I find are the best quality for the money (usually just coffee and cat food, but sometimes I’ll get some pasta sauce or snack foods).

At Wal-Mart I’ll get some of my regular grocery items that are less expensive there than at Wegmans.  Why do fat-free cottage cheese and Progresso soup have to be cheaper at Wal-Mart than at Wegmans?  I’ll never know.  But I get those things and several other items with lower price tags at the Walton empire every week.  I also browse through the meats and produce at Wally World to look for bargains.  It’s not my regular go-to spot for these things, but sometimes I find amazing deals.  For instance, a week ago I got an amazing deal on some strip steaks that were labeled “first cut.”  They weren’t pretty.  But they were delicious nonetheless.  And they were much cheaper than the rest of the strip steaks in the case.  And I regularly find great deals there on meats that are going out of code.  Look for the bright yellow labels.  They usually say to use or freeze by the current day’s date.  No problem.  I have a freezer and I love to get a great deal!

At Wegmans I get just about everything else I need.  Believe it or not, many things are cheaper there than at Wal-Mart.  A box of store-brand cereal is a full 28% cheaper at Wegmans than at Wally World.  And that’s just one of many, many things that are less expensive at the store where all the carts do not have at least one wobbly wheel.  And Wegmans is also my go-to for most of my produce needs (though I am thinking about turning to a CSA in the future).

While I don’t go there every week, like the other three stores, my local warehouse club is also a part of my regular grocery plan.  I get most of my meats at Sam’s Club in bulk and freeze them in individual serving sized packages.  The quality of the meats is great and the savings is significant.

Is it a pain in the neck to go to so many different stores for my grocery needs?  A little bit.  I have to take the time to go to a bunch of different places.  I have to have a general awareness of how much the items I use regularly cost in the different stores.  I have to be aware of quality issues (because sometimes the cheapest option has disappointing quality, making it not the best choice).  But going through this exercise helps me to get the food that I want at the best possible price.  To me, it’s worth it.  If I were to get everything in one store, I would have to make concessions on either quality or price.  And those are sacrifices I’m not willing to make.

How many grocery stores do you visit regularly?

Is It Ever Too Late to Return a Purchase?

At the end of October I bought the perfect white button-down blouse.   I carefully hung it in my closet with the tags still on it and stashed the receipt in a safe place.  And then it got cold outside and I started wearing turtleneck sweaters regularly, so the blouse stayed on its hanger.  Fast forward to March.  Since I bought the blouse I have lost a bit of weight and the blouse no longer fits.  It’s way too big.  A nice problem to have, but I was feeling awful about the $35 I spent on the perfect blouse that I never wore.

I started wondering how much money Clothes Mentor (my favorite place to get rid of clothes I no longer want in exchange for cash or for store credit) would give me for the blouse.  But I thought it might be worth asking at the store where I bought the blouse if I could possibly still return it.

As it turns out, despite the fact that I had purchased the blouse five months earlier, the store was still selling that particular blouse and was willing to offer me store credit since the tags were still on it and I still had the receipt.  So that store credit very quickly turned into the skirt for the new suit I needed (since the perfect black suit I bought last fall is now too big for me as well).

The lessons I took away from this experience:

  • Keep receipts until you are absolutely certain you are keeping something.
  • Don’t take the tags off a new piece of clothing until you are really going to wear it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you can return something.  Even if you bought it a really long time ago.

Did you ever buy something and then never use it?  You just may be surprised at your ability to return it!


Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of buying things second hand.  Sometimes this works out really well…like the designer clothes I pick up at Goodwill and the barely used snow blower I picked up from a friend moving to California.  But sometimes things don’t work out as well as I’d like.  And with second hand purchases, there really isn’t a lot of recourse.  If you buy something new and it doesn’t work, it might have a warranty.  Or you may be able to return it to the place where you bought it.  But it doesn’t always work that way when you’re dealing with thrift stores, Craigslist and eBay.

I learned this the hard way a few weeks ago.  Just before Christmas I was in the market for a Fitbit Flex fitness tracker.  But I didn’t want to pay the $99 retail price.  So to eBay I went.  I got what I thought was a great deal.  For about $60 I got what was billed as a lightly used Fitbit Flex, complete with the computer dongle, a wristband, and a charger.  I got it and everything was great.  I used it without issue for a couple of weeks and left positive feedback for the seller.  And that’s when things started going badly.  One day I couldn’t get the Fitbit to sync with the Fitbit app.  I did a little research and learned that the answer was to reset the Fitbit using a special reset button on the charger.  And that’s when I learned that the charger that came with the Fitbit was not the original manufacturer’s model.  It was a cheap knockoff that didn’t have the reset button.  So I went to Amazon and ordered a replacement charger.  But before it was even delivered the Fitbit stopped working altogether.  My $60 was gone.  My Fitbit was dead.

Since the Fitbit was actually helping me with my New Year’s fitness and weight loss resolution, I bit the bullet and headed to my local big box electronics store and handed over $99 for a new replacement.  So the Fitbit I resisted paying $99 for ended up costing me $159.  And even the accessories that came with the second hand version aren’t particularly useful.  The charger is fine for charging, but not for a reset.  The dongle may or may not function…I’ve never used it since I prefer to sync with my smartphone.  And the wristband also turned out to be a cheap knockoff that I don’t like near as much as the manufacturer’s version.  All in all….I pretty much flushed that money down the toilet.  But I learned an important lesson about purchasing electronics second hand.  I likely won’t do that again without making sure I have an option to return.

Second hand purchases work out for me more often than not (along with the Fitbit only a Craigslist kegerator and an eBay smartphone stand out as “lessons learned”).  And I have no intention of giving up my second hand shopping habit.  But I’ll likely think twice before dealing in used electronics again.  Caveat emptor.

Shopping: How to Learn from Others’ Mistakes

A week ago my cable modem died.  No internet in my home.  And boy, oh, boy do you not realize how much you use the internet until you’re not able!  No streaming TV (because I still don’t have cable).  No wi-fi on my tablet to read the morning news.  No streaming music.  It wasn’t that many years ago that I didn’t have a home wi-fi network, but I sure am dependent now!  But that’s not what this post is about.

Cable modem

This post is about my journey to a new cable modem.  After work on the evening that my modem died, I spent some quality time at the local big box electronics store.  I picked out three modems in my price range that met my specifications.  The prices were all within about $20 of each other.  But then I sat down on the floor and consulted my smartphone (my only remaining source of internet).  Several blue shirted employees walked by without ever saying the words “May I help you.”  But that’s a different tale.  I was in my own world anyway.  I looked at reviews for the three modems I had picked out.  And it very quickly became clear that one of the modems was better than the other two.  Luckily for me, it was the least expensive one.

The internet makes it very easy for us to learn from the mistakes of other people.  If a product is no good, someone has probably written about it.  If a product is great, someone has likely written that too.  It’s all out there for us to see.  And it’s definitely best if you can look at a lot of reviews, to see if there are recurring themes.  There will be anomalies that stand out as being different from the norm.  But the more good reviews, the better the chance you’re getting a good product.

After a couple of days of watching old-fashioned DVDs for entertainment, we finally had enough ambition to hook up the new modem.  And it worked like a charm.  No problems.  No need to even interact with the cable company supplying our internet.  And this is exactly what I expected after reading the reviews online.

There’s a world of information at our fingertips.  It’s definitely worth doing a little investigating before making a purchase.  It may save you a lot of grief….and the need to write a negative review.

Oh Christmas Tree: Playing the Post-Holiday Sales to Your Favor

I love the holidays.  I’m a big fan of decorating for Christmas.  My Christmas tree is especially dear to me.  For decades I’ve been buying one ornament each year that truly symbolizes something that I did that year.  For example, in 2003 I added a Nittany Lion ornament because that’s the year I started working at Penn State.  Decorating my tree is like taking many different trips down memory lane.  It fills me with joy.

Tree farm

When I was a young child my family used to go out together and chop down a tree to decorate our home.  But as time passed and life grew more complex, my parents bought an artificial tree.  It still provided the joy of decoration, but lacked the magical odor and texture of a real tree.  I swore that when I grew up, I would have a real tree in my home.

But life doesn’t always go the way we plan.  I lived in a series of small apartments that didn’t allow for real trees.  Then when I finally bought my own house, I didn’t have anyone to help me with a real tree (and I just wasn’t up to the challenge of setting up a real tree without assistance).  So I’ve had a few smaller artificial trees over the years.  About five years ago, I accepted my fate and bought a really nice 6 ½ foot pre-lit artificial tree.

Now, finally, feeling that I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of my nice artificial tree and knowing that I have assistance for setting it up, I think I’m in a place where I’m ready to move to the world of the real tree.  So next year, I’m getting a real tree.

Why not this year?  Well…I could do it this year.  But I lack infrastructure.  A real tree requires a stand.  And lights.  And frankly, I’m just not willing to pay pre-Christmas prices for these things.  The single best day to purchase holiday items at a low price is December 26.  I’ve been doing this for years with my holiday cards and wrapping paper.  I go out to the stores the morning after Christmas and all of the holiday items are half price.  It’s a fabulous time to stock up on those holiday items I use every year.  Cookie cutters.  Holiday decorations.  Gift bags.  Bows and gift tags.  And this year my mission will be a tree stand and several strings of LED lights.  I’ll buy them at half price on December 26.  I’ll put them away with the rest of my Christmas items.  And next year I’ll be all set for my first real Christmas tree in decades.

Sure…I would have loved to have a real tree this year.  But the money I’ll save will make the wait worthwhile.

Shopping…sometimes without buying!

I love to shop.  Going to the stores.  Browsing online.  Comparing prices.  Reading reviews.  Deciding exactly which item is the right one.  Finding exactly the best deal on the thing that I need or want.  I love the whole process.  Unfortunately I’m not independently wealthy, so while shopping is a great hobby, I can’t purchase everything I’d like to.

You likely already know that I’m a big fan of shopping at thrift stores and other resale shops.  When I can get a great piece of clothing from the 49 cent rack, I’m beside myself with joy.  And if I pick up something that turns out to be less than perfect from Goodwill, then I’ve got so little invested that it’s no great loss.

But thrift stores are generally only good if you’re not shopping for something in particular.  You go in, see what’s there, and buy what you think fits your life.  But when I actually need something in particular, I turn to Amazon.com.  The online superstore has absolutely everything.  Generally complete with multitudes of reviews to help you compare quality of different products.  I’m pretty quick to find something that I’d like to have and put it into my Amazon cart.  But most times, it will stay in my cart for a good long time.  I’ll keep it there, knowing I can find it quickly if it turns out I need the item in short order.  Maybe I’ll have three or four different versions of the same thing hanging out in my cart while I try to make a decision.  And many times, after I wait for a day or two, the urge to actually purchase the item will pass.  I figure out how I can live without it.  I find something similar at Goodwill or on Freecycle or on Craigslist.  Or maybe it turns out I didn’t really need the thing at all.  Many is the time that something will go into my Amazon cart, it will stay there for days or weeks or even months, and then I will discard it.  It was clearly something I didn’t need.

By giving myself this cooling down time after putting something into my online cart, I’ve managed to save a lot of money by avoiding the impulse purchase.  Whether you’re shopping online or in physical stores, it’s always a good idea to give yourself a waiting period before you make the actual purchase.  This helps you to take the time to make sure you really need to make the purchase.  Once you bring an item home, it’s hard to bring yourself to return it.  But by waiting to make the initial purchase, you establish some certainty in the decision.

Maybe I don’t get instant gratification by following this plan.  But I avoid a lot of buyer’s remorse.