Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How to Avoid Double-Billing at the Supermarket: Another Tale of the Tape

It's an honest mistake, but we almost paid for it. At supermarkets, some cashiers accidentally, but frequently ring up the same merchandise twice. Yesterday, we were billed twice (a total of $7.10) for a container of Florida Brown Crystal Sugar. My husband caught the error and had the cashier fix the double-billing.



Here's what happens:



1. While making a gesture with her hands, the cashier accidentally waved the sugar over the electronic eye, which registered the price.

2. Unaware that the item had already been added to the tally, she rang it up a second time.



3. Bottom line: We were hit twice for a single item.



"I can't tell you how many times I've caught them doing that," my husband says of the double-scanning cashiers. "They don't do it on purpose. But it does happen a lot."

Everyone makes mistakes: People are busy; stores are crowded; mistakes happen. It's our job to watch the tape.

It's another entry for my $2 a Day Savings Challenge.





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Monday, September 24, 2007

Goodwill Operates eBay Style Auction for Thrift Shopping

Many of us love thrift shops, but lack the time to hunt for treasures at second-hand stores. Goodwill addressed that problem with http://www.shopgoodwill.com/, an eBay-style electronic marketplace and auction platform. The merchandise, including antiques, is posted with photos by 71 Goodwill organizations around the country, according to Joan Dornbach, vice president of marketing for Goodwill of Orange County in California.

''People don't expect Goodwill to be on the cutting edge of technology,'' Dornbach said.
Items sell anywhere from $1 to $165,000 for an oil painting by Frank Weston Benson, an American Impressionist (1862-1951), said Ryan Smith, the Internet database architect for shopgoodwill.com.

''My favorite thing to search for there is art,'' according to a post from Modern Roost, a blogger (http://www.modern-roost.blogspot.com/). ``You can really find some amazing stuff. I have to admit, it's a little bit of a crap-shoot. Luckily, for me, that's what makes thrift shopping fun. The competition for the goods is every bit as fierce as on eBay, but all of the proceeds go to a very worthy cause.''

In August, shopgoodwill.com posted more than 55,000 items and sold 45,000 from inventory that includes antiques, collectibles, clothing, electronics, books and musical instruments, which are arranged according to category. Online shoppers spend an average time of 20 minutes buying items on the site.

''You get to find unique items that you don't normally see on eBay and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting a good cause,'' Smith said.
As an online flea market, shopgoodwill.com has pulled in $46 million in revenue since January 2000, including more than $10 million last year.

Here are tips for using the site:
• Buyer registration is required but free.
• Purchases are not tax deductible. Review the shipping and handling fees.
• Know the categories. Auctions listed in the ''Going, Going, Gone'' category are due to end in five hours or less. Those featured as ''Ending Today'' are auctions with a 24-hour shelf life.
• Contact the seller. Buyers with questions about a specific item can contact the individual Goodwill store. E-mail links are posted with the description for each item.
• Payment is accepted in many forms, including major credit and debit cards, money orders and personal checks.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald



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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Grad Money Matters Bust 82 Financial Myths

Grad Money Matters has posted: Campaign Against Financial Myths: 82 Myths Busted! The series examines "popular myths and misconceptions on several different topics related to finances such as debt, credit cards, investing, mortgage, frugality etc. "

Here are a few of the myths that caught my eye:


"Myth: “Money = Happiness” While money can certainly make life a lot easier, several surveys have reported that rich people are not necessarily happier than the poor people.

Myth: “I could be hit by a bus and die tomorrow. So why bother to save?” Yes, you could be hit by a bus and die tomorrow – so make the best of today. But just in case you don’t get hit by that bus, make sure you have some savings to tide you along.

Myth: “I bought the plasma TV/designer boots/widgets during a sale, so I saved a lot of money.” Unless you really needed the plasma TV/designer boots/widgets, you are only fooling yourself by thinking that you saved money by buying these items - be it on sale or not. "


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Thursday, September 20, 2007

How We Saved $375 on a Digital Camera

After toting around a huge digital camera that is held together by tape, my husband and I were overdue for a new digital camera. (An important tool for both of us).


Over the course of one year, the Sony digital camera that we wanted to buy has dropped from the original price of $510 (in 2006) to the current price of $135.

My husband purchased the camera today at Office Depot, which was having one of its big clearance sales. It's pretty sleek and works better for us. Our old camera (purchased in 2002) is about the size of a brick and is now the property of my 9-year-old daughter, who is appreciative of her new gadget.

So that 's my entry for the $2 a Day Savings Challenge.
Today's tally: $375.




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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Almost Cheated by the Cash Register: A Battery-Charged Story

Cash register tapes can lie, deceive & cheat. Therefore, it's important to speak to the store manager when you need a price check. Those are the lessons I picked up from a recent shopping trip for double-A batteries, which my middle son needed for a project (don't ask). Of course, we were out. Even our life-in-Miami, hurricane-emergency supply drawer was depleted.



So I walked to CVS. Big mistake. Sometimes, that chain has great deals, fabulous deals on merchandise. But not on that specific trip. I thought I had stumbled into a gift shop in the lobby of a South Beach hotel or at a theme park! I was shocked by the prices for a package of AA batteries. Even the no-name brand batteries were a copper-coated fortune.



So I walked to Walgreens, which had batteries that seemed affordable. I found a package for under $3, but when I got to the register, the computer scanned in $6. I approached a manager, who kindly escorted me to the battery section.



The problem: I had picked up one of the store's "last chance" orange-ticket markdown items. Unfortunately, the discounted amount was not yet keyed into the computerized scanning system. So my bargain evaporated under the red beam of an inflated digital scan.



The manager escorted me back to the cash register and told the cashier to manually override the system. I thanked him and recorded another entry for my $2 a Day Savings Challenge.



Full price of the batteries: $5.99

Sale price: $2.79



My savings $3.20

The lesson: Priceless! (Sorry, Mastercard.)





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Monday, September 17, 2007

How to Buy Refurbished Products

When shopping for electronics and appliances, you can save 30 percent to 80 percent by purchasing refurbished products.


Robert Silva, a California-based electronics expert, recommends these tips for buying refurbished DVD players, televisions, computers and home entertainment systems, but they also apply to kitchen appliances.


Know your terms. Refurbished goods include returned items, new merchandise in damaged boxes, floor models, repackaged overstock or clearance items. The category also includes items that have been slightly damaged during shipping and assembly line rejects that have been repaired. The condition of ''refurbished'' appliances greatly varies, depending on the store.


Speak to the manager. The sales staff may not know details, but the manager or the store buyer may provide insight about a product's history, Silva said in a phone interview. He is the author of an electronics guide (hometheater.about.com) and the home theater expert for About.com, an affiliate service from the New York Times.



Look for authorized sellers. They may offer attractive warranties or return policies for refurbished products. In contrast, dealers who are not authorized sellers may sell refurbished appliances on a no-warranty, no-return basis.


Check the warranties. U.S. online buyers could inadvertently purchase refurbished merchandise with warranties that are worthless in this country. Silva recommends that online shoppers inquire about U.S. warranties (ask for 15 to 90 days).


Ask about extended warranties. It doesn't matter if you plan to actually buy an extended warranty. Your goal is to find out if the store or manufacturer has enough confidence to offer an extended warranty for a rehabilitated product.


Know your prices. Take note of the brand name and model number of the refurbished item. Go online and check out the price of a comparable model in mint condition.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How Saving $2 Fixed My Brain: Happy New Year

I've never been diagnosed as ADD of ADHD, but if I could still for the battery of tests, I'm pretty sure they'd declare me a poster child for adult attention deficit, hyper-style. Or maybe I just multi-task too much or move too quickly. I'm too busy to really evaluate those issues or to pay someone lots of money to tell me what I already know: My creative brain is organizationally-challenged and overloaded with commitments.



But my $2 a Day Savings Challenge has delivered a new order to my hyper-drive brain waves. Here's how:



1) Better housekeeping skills. I count the small change. In short, I've tapped into the value of hyper focus. Quite frankly, some days I'm not really sure if I have honestly met my $2 a day savings target.



So then I walk around my house trying to collect $2 worth of change and in that driven pursuit of loose metal, I also tidy my house. For instance, when I pick up a quarter near the bar, I might also straighten up the newspaper pile or toss out the old store flyers. On my dresser, I've collected dimes and put away the folded clothes.



It's like collecting small tips for housework.



2) Improved diet: Confession: I'm a size 2. But this summer after working on a book project (The Frugal Duchess of South Beach; Spring 2008, DPL Press), I've gained a small bit of weight. I still wear a size 2, but only the size twos that are sold in expensive stores, where they flatter you into thinking that you are a size 2, when maybe you're a 4 or a 6 or 8 & up.



Now before the $2 a day challenge, if you asked me how I gained this weight, I would have been clueless. I do yoga and I eat tofu. But I eat lots of donuts, chips and ice cream. And that's why I can't fit into my real size 2 skirts anymore and have to wear those bigger size twos. I spend too much money on junk food! Bottom line: By trying to save an extra $2 a day, I realized that I am a junk food addict and have improved my eating habits.



3) Better organization: We lost my son's dress pants before my parents' gala 50th anniversary celebration in late August, when relatives and friends from five states were in Central Florida to meet my kids for the first time. And my teenage son only had his below-the-no belt line, below-the-knees, hip-hop shorts (very cute) to wear and it was really my fault. If we were better organized, we would not have had to purchase last-minute black dress pants and shirt for about $40 at Target.



The push to save $2 a day has made me realize that my chronic disorganization has cost us a bundle. What's more, we almost broke my mom's heart because her grandchildren almost looked like poor orphans and thugs at a major family event. The story has a happy ending because we all looked picture perfect and happy at the party.



4) Self-edit: I talk too much. I should save more and talk less. And on that note, I'm going to hit the self-edit button and say that saving $2 a day has made me slow down, pay attention and keep better track of words and money.



I'm off this line through Saturday night to Celebrate Rosh HaShanah (The New Year!).
Greetings to all!



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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is it OK to Read Magazines in Stores? Companies Answer!

Is it ethical to go to a bookstore and read magazines in the aisles or in the store cafe? That's the question that was posed to me when I wrote this post about saving money on magazines.


A few people wrote in with tips and Financial Diva asked if free-reading (with coffee) at a bookstore is an accepted practise.


"Financial Diva said...
I find my local bookstore frowns on people taking magazines
into the coffee shop area and reading them for free. Do you just take them
anyway (I am always the good one!) or read them in other parts of the
bookstore?"

Good question. I usually sit down with my selection of magazines and read. I pay for the coffee; I might make a purchase. And I'm not alone; other readers are equally armed with coffee and periodicals. Are we wrong? I called around and asked a few questions and this is what I found.



"We encourage our customers to spend time in our stores," said Kolleen O’Meara, a spokeswoman for Borders (http://www.borders.com/).

Kolleen told me that the average Borders customers spends about one hour at the bookstore. And browsers are encouraged to retreat with magazines into the store-run coffee shop: "Usually our magazines are by the cafe," Kolleen said.



Likewise, it's the same story from the staff at Books & Books--a small regional and independent store in Southern Florida. Here's my conversation with a staffer from the Coral Gables branch of the Books & Books.



Q. Is it okay to read magazines in the store?



A. "Right now there are three people outside reading magazines. Lots of people come in and read.



Q. But what about retreating with magazines and coffee at your cafe?

A. Yeah, of course.



Here's a snippet of my conversation at another bookstore:

Q. Is it okay to read magazines in the store?

A. "It's hard to say yes or no. It depends. We have people who come in all day. They stay for a little while and that's fine.



Q. Browsing & reading magazine?

A. "People browse and look through magazines all day long and that's fine. But if they're here all day long and don't buy anything that's different."



During my own travels (Florida, Utah, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, etc), I've often chilled out at Barnes & Noble and independent stores with coffee & magazines in the lounge chairs in or near the cafe/newsstand.



But many drugstores have clear signs: "Do not read the magazines." So I guess the rules are store-by-store. It doesn't hurt to ask.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Homework Help: Frugal Organization for the School Year

During the school year, students often have special assignments that demand time, energy and money. Fortunately, with a few time-saving steps, homework duties can be less stressful and time-consuming.


Sort home supplies. Take the divide-and-conquer approach when stashing home supplies, said Suzy Wilkoff, owner of Tasks Unlimited (http://www.tasksunlimited.com/), which is based in South Florida. She recommends separating pens, pencils, erasers, tape and staples into plastic containers or storage boxes of different colors. Use labels. In my house, school supplies are sorted into clear, vertical drawers. Having supplies on hand reduces the need for late-hour shopping trips on deadline.


Use a bookshelf. These are ideal for storing supplies, paper, notebooks and tablets.


Create a homework center. Whether it's the dining room table or a formal desk, homework needs a designated site.


Make a file box for each child. Wilkoff recommends establishing a file box for each child with color-coded or labeled files for each subject and after-school activity. ''It is very important to continually go through papers and discard what is nonessential,'' Wilkoff said, suggesting a monthly review.


Use a bulletin board. School notices, invitations and other announcements can be posted in chronological order and removed after the event is over. A wall calendar and a dry erase board are also helpful.


Color code events -- games, tests, tutoring sessions -- with a different marker for each child. While computer calendars and electronic reminders are great, a large family calendar or bulletin board keeps everyone up to date.


Give each child a manila folder. Too often important notices and letters from school get lost in backpacks. A manila envelope is 'a great way to keep the `pertinent' paper-type items organized inside a book bag that may have a habit of getting messy,'' Wilkoff says. Just be sure to check the envelope weekly.

This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.
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Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Donut Downfall: $2 a Day Savings Challenge

The $2 a Day Savings Challenge continues, but I'm not sure how to count the coins today. We spent about $6 for breakfast: (Croissants, donuts and muffins). But after that expense, we were quite tightfisted:



Leftovers for lunch: rice & cheese: ( from the frig into the microwave, with olive oil, tamari and spices.)

Free food dinner: Come-on-over invitation from friends. ( no expense)



Bottom line: If it weren't for the breakfast treats, we would have had a zero expense day.

Lessons:

1. Menu planning should begin with breakfast. Don't start the day with a sugar rush.
2. Don't underestimate the financial power of a well-stocked frig.
3. Small-ticket expenses always slip under the radar. In fact, I had planned to write a post about my zero-cost, free-food day and then I remembered the donuts and had to re-write this post to reflect reality.






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Favorite Picks from Bean Sprouts' 90th Festival of Frugality

Bean Sprouts has done an excellent job hosting the 90th Festival of Frugality. Here are a few of my favorite picks:

BeingFrugal.Net presents One Must be Organized to be Frugal

car sharing clubs posted at plonkee money

Going Kosher... Naturally posted at Fish Creek House - INNside Innkeeping,

How’s Your Health Been Lately? posted at Wisdom From Wenchypoo's Mental Wastebasket

Frankendress: How to make play dresses from recycled t-shirts using only one seam posted at Juggling Frogs.

Voluntary Simplicity - The Path to Happiness? : Slow Down Fast Today! posted at Slow Down Fast Today!.

Renting versus Owning posted at My Wealth Builder.

McMansions and the Carbon Tax posted at Queercents.

Thanks to the host for constructing a great festival and for including my post (Feed Flowers Sprite & Other Frugal Tips for Cut Flowers) in the roundup.
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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cutting Costs on Magazines: $2 a Day Savings Update



I've hit the $2 a Day Savings Challenge target by cutting my reading costs by $21. One of my favorite magazines is Poets & Writers. With informative articles about the craft of writing and leads about grants, prizes and other income-producing writing opportunities, this publication is a must-read/must-have for me.



Bottom line: I pay $6 every two months for each edition. (There is a free on-line version, but not all of the articles are available online.) So as part of my daily savings challenge, I have paid $15 for a one-year subscription vs. the $36 ($6 x 6) for newsstand costs.


Here are other ways that I save on magazine expenses.

1) Go to the public library. Despite recent budget cuts, many neighborhood public libraries have a great selection of magazines and journals.

2) Visit bookstores. Many high-end bookstores have tables and comfy chairs for reading. Sometimes, I splurge and buy a cup of coffee. But for $3, I can hangout and read about $20 worth of magazines.

3) Accept hand-me-downs. My family, friends and neighbors often pass on their magazines to me.

4) Go on-line. Most publications have free websites. Not all of the print content is posted, but there's enough to enjoy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sales Insanity & Honesty: $2 a Day Savings Challenge Update

Don't borrow kiddie piggy bank savings! Don't count money like Enron. Those are 2 of the honesty in savings rules I've developed for my $2 a Day Savings Challenge. These rules, I've discovered, apply not just to my daily savings target, but also to my efforts to save for bigger goals. Here are my rules so far:


  • Don't count money like Enron: It's so easy to write down phantom savings. This dubious money plan works like this: I didn't really need two new printers, but I stumble upon a buy-one-get-one half off/free offer. But honestly, if I don't need new printers, I haven't saved money by taking the BOGO offer. In fact, I've wasted money. The same applies for clothing sales, shoe sales and office-supply sales. If I buy a sale item at a bargain price, it's a waste if I buy more than I really need. Therefore, my $2 a day savings plan will not include temporary sales insanity.


  • Kiddie Savings: My children have become excellent savers and shoppers. And I've helped them to figure out if a deal-is-really a good bargain. Through our joint efforts, we've saved money. But is it fair to count kiddie cash savings in my total? Nah! That's like a writing teacher taking credit for a student's poem. The teacher may have helped but the credit goes to the student. Bottom line: My children' s piggy bank savings can't be merged into my challenge total.


  • The stay-at-home shopper. I'm browsing through the Sunday paper store flyers and I'm clicking through the Internet. I've even made a list of every item I want to buy, but I wisely change my mind. So does this non-activity count as a savings? That depends: If I have my credit/debit/cash card out and I change my mind just before the transaction, I have really saved money. And almost daily, I have stopped myself--money in hand--before buying junk food, expensive coffee and other non-essentials. But If I'm just making a wish list, with no plans to buy, then those savings aren't real.
My $2 challenge, therefore, has made me a better shopper and saver. But more importantly, I've become more honest about how much I'm really stashing away.



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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bad Vitamins & Other Dollar Store Duds to Avoid

I like dollar stores, but there are some real duds in the bargain bins. In the Aug./Sept. issue of ShopSmart, a Consumer Reports publication, there is an informative list of items to avoid at dollar stores:




  • Vitamins: Consumer Reports found that some of the dollar store vitamins had truth gaps. Not every ingredient listed on the label was actually used and the vitamins weren't properly absorbed in a test. Best Buy: ShopSmart recommends name brands: Bayer One A Day or Centrum. "In our tests, those brands dissolved properly and had all the claimed nutrients," ShopSmart said. Or read labels for verification from U.S. Pharmacepia and NSF International.

My personal pet peeves: vitamins with artificial colors. I purchased one drug store brand and was surprised and annoyed to find Yellow and Red dyes on the label. Yuck. Now, I look for brands with no dyes or harmful chemicals. So it pays to read labels at standard stores as well.



  • Electrical Products: At some dollar stores there are electrical products (holiday lights, fans, and extension cords) with bogus safety labels. That's dangerous because "undersized wiring" could spark electrical fires. Look for: certification from Underwriters Laboratories and make sure the certification is real by checking for a hologram on the UL logo. UL also has a link (http://www.ul.com/) where we can check out product certifications.

  • Toddler Toys: Beware of imported items with small or sharp parts.

  • Name Confusions: For example, beware of "Dinacell" batteries, which are packaged like name brand Duracell. Bogus or almost-name brand products are usually counterfeits. And it's more than a name game, ShopSmart found some bogus batteries that leaked acid.

  • Vinyl lunch sacks: Some dollar AND DEPARTMENT STORES sell vinyl lunch boxes with traces of lead. Best Buy: soft sacks lined with nylon instead of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ShopSmart recommended.
I highly recommend ShopSmart. It's a smart read and very entertaining.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Feed Flowers Sprite & Other Frugal Tips for Cut Flowers

My 9 year-old daughter received beautiful, but short-lived red stem roses for her recent star turn in a Playground Theatre Summer Camp Production. Had we talked first to Donn Flipse, we could have extended their ''vase life.'' Chief executive of Field of Flowers, a chain of flower superstores, Flipse offers these tips:


Let them drink Sprite. Believe it or not, Sprite, a citrus-flavored soft drink, is good for cut flowers. The sugar supplies nutrition and carbonated water serves as an anti-bacterial agent. The drink's citric acid provides a low PH environment.
''Flowers like to be in a solution that is slightly acidic,'' Flipse said. His Sprite recipe: one part soda to three parts water. ``We've tested it and it works pretty well compared to the commercial flower food solution that we sell.''

Consider frugal solutions. Most cut flowers come with a free packet of flower food. Use it. Commercial preparations may be more economical than Sprite if you use cut flowers frequently. A bottle of flower food solution sells for $3.50 and can be used to make gallons of solution. Homemade or commercial solutions can double the vase life of your arrangement.

Buy long-lasting flowers. The following plants have a long vase life:
Two weeks: Chrysanthemums (mums), oriental lilies and carnations. To keep the lilies fresh for two weeks, carefully remove the yellow (and messy) pollen as the flowers open.
10 days: Hybrid delphinium, hydrangea and bouvardia.

Clean the water. After four or five days, most arrangements need a tune-up. The short cut: Empty the vase, then refill the vase with the correct ratio of water and flower food. But if you have more time: Remove flowers from vase. Rinse and trim the stems. Remove spoiled foliage. Clean the vase.

''You want the container to be clean enough to drink out of,'' Flipse said.
Then refill the vase with the water/flower food solution and enjoy.


This is from my latest column in the home & design section of the Miami Herald.
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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Have You Been "Scraped?" Seeking Advice

Thank you Mapgirl. In this comment she let me know that I had been "scraped." I didn't know what it was. Maybe, I thought, "scraped" was like one of those online tag games, which are fun. But noooo. I went to the link and was surprised to see my blog entry: Copied. Hmmmm? Is this flattery or just theft?

So I am seeking advice. What is this? Have you been scraped and what have you done about it?

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