How Far Will You Go For A Deal?

chairI’ve mentioned before that I can be a little crazy when it comes to stalking an item online to get the best deal. These past two weeks, Target has been pulling on my heart strings with this dining room chair. It’s base price is $59.99 and it’s been on sale (on and off) ranging from $41.99 to $50.99. I don’t know how they choose what days to have it for sale and what days to pull it, but it changes A LOT. They also offer a 10% discount on top of the sale price, but that comes and goes as well. I’ve seen it drop to 5% on some days, and disappear entirely on others. Needless to say, to keep up–you have to work it. To add to the complexity, this deal is only available in stores, but you can only get the discount if you purchase online and select “in store pick up”. Seems simple enough–and it would be–if any one store had the number you needed available. Unfortunately, I had to make five trips to four stores in order to get all the chairs I wanted. And this was spread out over a two week period. I’d check one day and they wouldn’t be in stock–the next they would. I’d order two online and show up to the store to find out they actually only had one in stock (this happened twice). I’d learn one was in stock in a somewhat convenient location–it was one of the days the discount wasn’t in affect.

I ended up buying a total of four, though I’d like two more at some point. The first two were at the sale price of $41.99 with the 10% discount. The third was at the less good, but still fine, sale price of $50.99 plus 10% off. The last one I ordered was at the same figure but I waited a few days to pick it up. Just because I like to be thorough in everything I do; before heading out to the store that day, I checked the price online. It had dropped back to the $41.99 sale! Since your credit card isn’t run until you actually pick up the item, I thought it should be no problem to show them the new sale price on my phone and get the chair for that rate instead of what I had reserved it under. Sure enough, when I got there, the nice lady and her manager helped me out and not only gave me the sale price on the one I was picking up, but on the one I had bought earlier in the week as well! I showed them that just two days ago I had purchased the same chair at a different location for about $10 more. I came prepared with the old receipt because I targetknow that price adjustments are usually honored in most stores if the item you purchased goes on sale within two weeks of buying it. So now both my $50.99 purchases were going to be altered to the lowest sale price I’d seen. Until…she scanned the box and told me the chair was ringing up as $17.98 instead. What on earth?! Why? I didn’t ask, I just handed her the 10% coupon I got for moving and told her I was a nut. Two chairs for less than the price of one. That’s a frugal find, my friends. More of a frugal accident, really.

I left that store incredibly satisfied. As I drove home, my excited mind wandered and started thinking about doing what I had just done with my receipt for the other two chairs I had purchased the week before. It is hard for me to accept paying double for something I know I just got for half off (well, a third of the price actually). I got home and dug through my purse, found the receipts I needed for the adjustment and decided to go to my local Target and give it a try. Pro tip: always save your receipts. For like, way longer than you think you should. Even if you are positive you won’t return the item (like I was with these chairs!). I fluctuate between doing this and not doing this and I am always, always grateful I did in times like these.

I get to the counter at Target to explain to the lady what was happening, what I did at the other location, receipt in hand as proof, and was met with immediate defiance and attitude. Everything from “we don’t do that here”, to “it’s not on sale here”, to “you don’t have the chair on you”, to “we don’t have that chair in stock”. All with a belittling and impatient tone as if I had just appalled her with my request. How unreasonable of me to assume that what one Target does at 11am, another would be able to do at 4pm the very same day! She acted as if they were some independent chain of stores–like they don’t all look identical when you walk in. I was flustered and slightly irritated but tried to keep my cool and correct some of the accusations being thrown my way. She brought over another woman, who backed her up and told me it doesn’t matter what another Target does, they couldn’t do it and that I should go back to the other location if I wanted help (despite the fact that the location that had helped me was not where either of my receipts were from). I started to gather my things when a THIRD employee came up to try to help. He was a manager and had a completely different tone–one you might expect from someone trained in customer service. Incredibly polite, understanding and a good listener. He quietly dismissed the other two and asked me to take my time in re-explaining what I needed and that he would make it happen. I guess I should add at this point I was in tears–partially because both the employees had made me feel pretty upset and partially because when someone is nice to you after you’ve been dumped on, it makes you cry more. Just me? Cool. As I was fighting back tears and trying to tell him what was going on–he interrupted me in a low tone and said “Ma’am, God is with you. You don’t need to worry about a thing because He has got your back.” I was totally blown away. Not accustomed to being in an environment where the majority of people are believers, it was pretty emotional to hear someone say that to you in public. And in a Target, no less. Then a lady with her daughter in the shopping cart walks up to me with a smile, slaps a $25 gift card into my hand and says, “This is for you. Being a new mom is really hard.” and walks away. I don’t think I even said thank you because I was so stunned. I actually think I looked her in the eye and went, “OH MY GOD” and that was it. She obviously saw my tears and that I had a baby in the stroller by me. I was grateful and incredibly humbled by the kindness and generosity of two total strangers. The manager took care of the situation and gave me the price adjustment on both chairs after I was done explaining. I should also add I got $6 off in coupons and a $15 gift card in the process for two different incidents prior to this day–the first being only one chair available instead of two, the second for a false charge on my credit card that was immediately reversed. All that money went toward the chairs.

In the end, that’s $60 a chair that I got for $18 a chair, or $72 (plus tax) spent instead of $240. I’d say it was worth the trouble, but I certainly didn’t enjoy any of it. I had to twice go to the same Target thirty minutes South of me and twice to two different ones thirty minutes North. As previously mentioned, two of those pick ups were disappointments in that I thought I was receiving two chairs and got one instead. And when I say thirty minutes, in Tennessee…that’s actually thirty miles. In LA that would be about five. Then there was the whole situation on my fifth Target outing–I was ready to run out until the manager came along. I wish I could give myself credit in saying persistence pays off, but I’m not sure that’s what it was this time around. Maybe a contributing factor, but there was more at work than what I could control. What crazy things have you done to score a good deal? Was it worth it in the end?

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Customer Service is A Friend To The Frugal

Something I have picked up from a few years of being a frugal person is that businesses want your business. Profound, I know. I went to college. But what this really means is they will often go to great lengths to keep you coming back. Why not get this to work to your advantage, even in the smallest ways? All you have to do is ask.

CLOTHES

I was in Banana Republic on my birthday last year, eyeing a dress I had seen a few days earlier and concluded would never be mine. For those who don’t know, the average dress there is over $100. I went back in to stare at it, only to discover it was now 40% off. Obviously I nabbed it and got in line–but my frugal mindset didn’t stop there. Upon checkout I asked if they would give an additional discount because it was my birthday. The cashier got permission from her higher up and kindly took another 10% off. Just like that, I was getting an expensive dress for half off. She didn’t even ask for an ID to prove it was my birthday. Waiting pays.

UTILITIES

Last Spring, my husband and I concluded we could not endure another hot summer in our non-air conditioned apartment and would need to buy two window ACs! Ouch. We paid for one with a Lowe’s gift card from credit card rewards and the rest in cash, with a small rebate for it being an energy saving model. The second one? I got for free. Around this time the apartment next door had been vacated and was under renovation. I noticed my former neighbor had left her window AC unit behind. I walked over and asked the workers if I could have it. They checked with the former tenant and property owner and I got the green light; saving me three hundred dollars that I would have spent on a new model.

I have been with Time Warner Cable for eight years and formed a very fun friendship with them. It works like this: my promotional discount ends, I call them and explain the situation, they transfer me, I explain the situation, they transfer me, I explain the situation, they say “there’s nothing we can do”, I threaten to go to AT&T, then they suddenly find another promo that lasts “only six months” and my bill is lowered. It’s EXACTLY like friendship. Our internet bill consistently hovers around $38, but in certain seasons I’ve got it down to $29. This takes some serious dedication as I have to monitor when the bill changes even slightly and be adamant about not hanging up until I have a discount. Plus they have records of when and why a customer last called, so they certainly know I’ve been doing this sort of thing for years. I like to think it makes us closer. In the end, they always oblige because they don’t want to lose a loyal customer. Don’t be deterred by long, annoying phone conversations–there’s money saved on the other end.

CELL PHONE

Until last summer, I had been with T-mobile for something like ten years. And that’s how long it took me to call in for a discount (don’t form this habit). I had a $98 package with unlimited everything and I was relatively happy with it. Then one day, I decided to try to my TWC method and see if they would lower my bill. The lady dropped it $20, no questions asked…actually, no explanation given either. Fine by me. My plan didn’t change and I enjoyed less of a hit every month.

BANKING

Is it weird to anyone else that checks cost money? It’s free to get cash out of the ATM. My debit and credit cards are sent to me without cost. Why should I have to cough up anything for this outdated form of payment? Guess what? I don’t! Wells Fargo charges $25 to order a new set of checkbooks. But rather than using the convenient options of ordering online or over the phone, I go into the fancy branch and sit down at one of their fancy desks and talk to a real live banker with a fancy tie. They are all about customer service, so every time I have ordered checks there, it’s complimentary. But if they tried to charge me, I’d probably say something like “Oh, the nice man here last time gave them to me for free…would you be able to do that today?”. Similar to cable companies, banks are scared to death of losing your business. They’ll say yes.

When it comes to customer service, you are dealing with someone who doesn’t have a horse in the race. That is to say, they don’t care if you ask for a discount. Most likely, it’s not the person’s company or money. The usual response is, “let me ask my manager”, so there’s nothing to be intimidated by. The examples here are specific to what I dislike paying for and what I’ve learned through time, observation and practice. How could you customize these concepts to save on costs that frustrate you?

 

My First Fan Letter

I received my first letter from a fan! Oh what a feeling! And by “fan” I mean friend and by “letter” I mean text. So, my first text from a friend! Wait…I mean, friends text me. Obviously. I’m cool. Anyway, here it is:

Dear Sara,

I love your blog and am a devoted fan. I was wondering if you’d consider an entry that included some of your best tips for those for whom time is tight. Many of your tips include watching, monitoring, calling and waiting. What is your advice on living on a budget when time is money? 

Your Avid Reader,

“Cora” (I made that name up to protect the identity of the innocent)

This had me thinking all week. Sure, I’ve been busy. Fourteen hour days on set can be grueling and leave you with little time for much else. But so busy that it prevented me from being frugal? Psh! No such thing! I tried to put myself in the shoes of my friend, who is an attorney. From what I understand, people in that world often pay for little luxuries because it’s more convenient than taking the time to do the thing (read: nicer apartment that’s closer to work, Starbucks every morning, house cleaning, eating out most days). But here are the things I know to be true about my friend: she pays low rent in a shared apartment, she’s hosted clothing swaps and garage sales, works for a firm that often pays for dinner or happy hour, uses money savers like living social and is actively chipping away at her law school loans. She seems to be doing so much right. Without a specific, “I have this situation, how could I handle it frugally?”, it is harder for me to advise beyond my own experiences. But here are some general things I came up with for someone who has no time to stalk the prey before the kill.

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Who here has heard of Hukkster, raise your hand? Hukkster is a website that does for you what I do for me. Huh? It allows you to bookmark items in your web browser that you want to keep your eye on and notifies you when the thing goes on sale! Right there you have saved yourself seven (or more) clicks a week of an item you would be checking back on. You don’t have to give it another thought. Not only that, but you will be one of the first to know it’s on sale and can grab it, because most people don’t have a fancy gadget monitoring this sort of thing for them.

groceries

Don’t use a brown bag, they cost $.10 a pop in LA

It is very hard to meal plan when you are working long hours, let alone find the time to scour the aisles of the grocery store for the right items. I know all of that goes out the window when I’m working on set and my husband has to fend for himself. I would imagine the “I can afford it” justification pops up when meal time rolls around in lawyer land. Don’t let these moments of weakness dictate your behavior. Look at them as the exception to the rule, not the standard. You should not be swiping that card for food or drink without knowing you were going to do so in advance. If I’m going to eat out, I almost always know it on Monday of that week. Of course this is not an absolute, but it is the goal. In general, I plan out my entire grocery expedition with the knowledge of when and what our meals are going to be. Just because you have the cash, doesn’t mean you spend it.

I’m going to say a bold word and I want to give you fair warning, because it is not appropriate for the weak or sensitive. You should stop reading if you’re uncomfortable. 3,2,1… Coupons. I know, I know, you hear that and it’s hard not to have a negative reaction. “Coupons? Aren’t those for old ladies? Or cheapskates? Or hoarders? I would never have the time to find the ones I Untitledneeded and it’s not even worth it for a $.50 savings.” If any of these preconceptions crossed your mind in the millisecond I gave you to consider, you would be wrong. As a recent convert, I can understand this way of thinking…that is, until I learned about digital coupons. All you do is download the app for the grocery store of your choosing. My favorite of the moment is Vons because they have so many items on sale everyday. I love TJ’s as much as the next girl, but let me tell you, I’ve been happier since the switch. Sign up for a rewards card if you don’t already have one and make an account, indicating the location you frequent. Go through each product category and add the coupons to your rewards card that you think you’ll need for the trip. Then when you’re checking out in the store, all you do is swipe the card and the discounts come off along with the rewards savings. If you’re really savvy (obsessive), you can actually tally these things up as you make your list and estimate the cost of your trip before you even enter the store. I guarantee that you can add these coupons to your card in the time it takes you to walk from your car and up the elevator to your corner office. No clipping, no hunting for newspaper inserts, no stack of coupons to hand the grocer. Try it this week and see if it works for you. I have consistently stayed within my grocery budget since adopting this habit, which was not the case before. It’s a time and money saver, but requires the discipline of someone willing to cook at home.

And now for a list of quick fixes you can start today to help get motivated:

  • Automate everything. Most do this already and it’s a huge stress saver (you also save on the cost of stamps!).
  • Sign up for credit cards that have a cash back incentive and then use them all the time–paying them off in FULL every month. You will earn money from doing something you’re doing with debit anyway. If you are recovering from recent credit card debt, then this suggestion is not for you.

cup

  • Make coffee at home and bring it into work. I know this one sucks. Who doesn’t love their fancy coffee in their name brand cardboard cup? That’s what the reusable ones are for! Trick yourself into having the experience of a fancy $4 coffee with the $.20 grounds from home. It will probably give you back ten minutes a day. Fake it ’til you make it.
  • Finally, get a Mint account. It is a budgeting device that keeps tabs on all of your accounts in one place so that you can better understand how you spend your money. I could not do my grocery budgeting without it.

An important component of a quality frugal lifestyle is and always will be planning ahead. No busy job will make that fact untrue. You cannot do most things in the spur of the moment and get the same satisfying financial results as the person who thought about it in advance. So that is a quality you need to develop if you don’t already have it. Consider it a muscle you are building and each of these steps as exercises. Just like weight loss, there is no magic button or special diet that will do the work for you.

To continue with the metaphor; consider me your personal trainer. And that this is a gym. And each drop of sweat represents a dollar saved… Juuuust kidding you guys! I swear I’m cool. What I’m trying to say is, I invite others like “Cora” to write me privately with their questions and I’ll do my best to help out. You can email me through the About the Author section. Thanks for reading!