Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to not be a Sucker.

I should be studying for my final exam in T-minus three hours, but I just opened my browser to do some online reading for my class, and stumbled across this article on the Yahoo News homepage that made me think, "Wow. This world is full of suckers." :

Why You Should Cut Up Your Credit Cards

We're all suckers when it comes to money. Some people have uncontrollable, ever-amassing debt, and others think that just having a credit card is a sin worse than murder and we should all just live out of piggy banks.  But, whatever we try to do, we all fall victim to bad deals and crappy money decisions at some point.  I feel like a sucker when I pay $16 for airport food, or $200 for an extended warranty that I know I will never use. I facepalm at my own suckerdom when I get a fee for letting my balance drop below the minimum, just because I forgot to cash my paycheck. Doh!

It seems like everyone from Dave Ramsey to Glenn Beck to that pretty, young, ethnically-ambiguous girl on the Bank of America magazine ad has their own opinion on what I should be doing with my money (not to mention the many retailers and service providers who just want me to hand some of it over).

I don't claim to have the solution for everyone, but Ryan and I have found a few hacks that help us make the most of our money. These have all worked great for us and maybe one or two will work for you as well. Should I even be sharing my best secrets? Here goes:

11. Mint.com. Tracks all of your expenditures, budgets, savings in one place. Awesome.

10.  Redbox Codes

9.  Using a single no-annual-fee credit card for basically all of our purchases, and then-- this is key -- always paying off the entire balance before it's due. Simply put, we don't spend more than we earn. We've never paid a finance charge, and we have earned hundreds in rewards. (We use an amazon.com credit card which allows us to collect our rewards in the form of amazon gift cards - which is perfect for us. It also gives us 1% cash back on every purchase.)

If you are getting deeper and deeper in debt, and are having trouble controlling your spending when you use a card, then by all means, please use a fool-proof method. No shame.

8. Interest-yielding savings or money market account

7.  UHF TV antenna + hulu.com + netflex = all the TV we could possibly want, without paying for cable

6.  Using the public library instead of buying every book we want to read. As with credit cards, if you are timely and organized, you will never have to pay for the service and can reap the benefits. When I find a good book I want to own, I can always get it cheap on amazon or half.com.

6.1.  Refusing to purchase school books at the University Bookstore. We purchase all of our books online or through BYU's campus book exchange, and then resell them online, in the bookstore, or using the campus exchange. (We have actually turned a small net profit on buying and selling textbooks)

5.  BigCrumbs.com  allows us to get a few cents back on every dollar we spend on eBay. All you have to do is access eBay via the bigcrumsb.com portal (we have it linked to our ebay favicon link, so every time we make a purchase through eBay ,our payments are tracked and we end up earning an extra few bucks here and there.) This probably isn't worth your time unless you make eBay purchases with some frequency.

4.  Using a continuous ink supply system instead of paying through the nose for ink cartridges. Just find the name and number of your cartridge type, eg: HP 60, Cannon 45 and type "CISS" followed by the cartridge type into google or eBay. A $30 system will keep you going FOR.EVER. When you eventually do have to get more ink, you can buy it by the bottle very inexpensively.

3.  Craigslist.com and local classifieds (in Utah we use KSL.com as well). This seems obvious, but I can't not mention it because it has been so good to us. We've gotten everything from furniture, and electronics, to my gym membership on craigslist.

I purchased a 2.5 year "VIP" Gold's Gym membership off of some dude who stupidly committed to a 3 year contract and never ended up using it.  Other people's suckerdom = your profit. All told, I'm paying about $12 a month for a gym pass that would've cost me $39 a month if I bought it straight from the gym.

2 . NOT purchasing extended warranties from the store,  but getting it from a third party like Squaretrade.com. I am a huge advocate of Squaretrade. They have been so good to me and their warranties are so much cheaper than retail. My current boss, who used to work at BestBuy told me how little markup  they actually make on electronics- all the profit comes from selling warranties.  If you get a Squatrade warranty, especially on a 30% off day (which happens about 3 times a month), you won't regret it. The one time I had to make a warranty claim, they simply refunded me the purchase price for my broken iPod and I was able to buy a new one. Squaretrade will even sell you a warranty for used electronics purchased on eBay. Amazing.)

ALSO, did you know that stores are required to give you at least 30 days to decide on purchasing a warranty?  If you find yourself at the cash register, being pressured into buying a $200 warranty and you can't make up your mind, JUST SAY NO. You can come back later and purchase the warranty from the store if you decide it's your best option (which it probably isn't).

And my personal favorite:

I've never shopped at babiesgalore.com, but this elephant makes me want to.

1. Grocery Price-Matching (Walmart, Target or other store with low-price guarantee)

Okay. I know this sounds like an embarrassing, annoying hassle. I know you don't want to be that person at the grocery store who wastes everyone's time trying to save 35 cents on toilet paper with a coupon that is "somewhere in my purse. Just hold on a sec." (Insert gun in mouth).

But, it doesn't have to be that way. For the longest time, I ignored all of that "savvy shopping" crap because it 1) wasn't worth my time and 2) would force me to be that lady.  But then I discovered a way to do it quickly and electronically. It suddenly became worth my time when I found a method that let me beat the system without constant maintenance and coupon-clipping.

You'll need:
- A stack of those local grocery store ads that would normally go directly from mailbox to trash can.
-Scissors (optional)
- A smartphone/iPod touch (optional, but oh-so useful)
- A Dropbox account
- Excel, or other spreadsheet program
- A local Walmart/Target or store that sells groceries and offers low price guarantee
- A binder/portfolio with 10 - 15 empty page protectors, (number each page front and back). I use a flexible vinyl binder so I can roll it up and put it in my purse.
- An hour to kill putting it all together. (I promise, it's not that bad. Ryan and I had fun doing this as an FHE activity. You only have to do this once.)

What to do:
1) Look through the ads and circle the prices that are better than what you're currently paying at your grocery store.  $0.25 a pound for bananas!  $.50 a pound for apples! You'll be surprised what's in there. Circle everything that seems like a good deal.

2) Cut/tear/fold up the pages with items you are interested in and put them in the binder. (You don't have to have every single item visible on every page; that's what the spreadsheet is for).

As you are putting the ads into the binder, enter items into your spreadsheet in this format:


3) Once everything is entered, sort by name or by category and save your .xls document in your Dropbox. (I actually made multiple tabs on my document, one sorted by name, one by page number, and one sorted by category).

4) Access the .xls  on your smartphone via Dropbox. Now you're ready to shop! (If you're not using a smartphone, just print our your excel spreadsheet and put it at the front of your binder)

At the store:  Bring along your binder. In my experience, the cashier is unlikely to force you to produce the actual ad, so I either leave it in the car, or stick it in my purse. The fact that you have a binder is enough to make them trust you.

5) When you're ready to check out, two simple tricks will make this experience painless. #1 Put all of your regular, non price-matched items on the conveyor belt first, followed by all of your price-matched items. This allows the process to go much more quickly and saves the cashier a headache.  #2 If  you have a large cart of items, be courteous and if someone gets in line behind you, let them know that you might take an extra minute or two. This gives them the chance to move to another line if they're in a hurry.

6) As the cashier is finishing scanning the regular items, let them know that you have a price-match for the rest of the items,  and with smartphone in hand, tell the cashier the price for each item one at a time. If they ask to see the ad, just pull out your binder and turn to the page. (I've only been asked to produce the ad once in my year of doing this).

7) Maintenance: As promised, your initial setup is the hardest part. Maintenance amounts to changing out pages when the ads expire or when you find an even better price. This can be done every week,  every other month, or every six months -- whatever you have the time and energy to do (though I've found it sort of addictive). Update your excel spreadsheet and save to Dropbox. Done.

Like I said, I've rarely had a cashier ask to see the ad, and have never been questioned as to the age of the ad. So, I put it upon myself to be as honest as possible. I'll always switch out the ad with something more current if I know the price is too much in my favor. ($.90 for a pound of strawberries in the middle of January? I'll be reasonable and switch it out for the current $2.49 ad).

Now, go forth and and shuffle off your mortal coil of suckerdom.

Okay, back to studying.

1 comment:

  1. compile this in a book, get published, and write the Oprah show ASAP. she loves this stuff. she'll fly you out, put you up in her swank hotel, and proceed to shake her head in astonishment over how “real” people do it.
    you'll sell millions and stop your method altogether. would that defeat the purpose?