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A Case for Cost Comparison

15 Sep

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by The Busy Brain via Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve written a lot about comparing prices on this blog (here, here and here) and in the advice I give as a Savings Expert for CouponSherpa.com. In fact, I would go so far as to say comparing prices is my top tip for saving money. Why? Because you never know how the cost of a product or service compares between competitors unless YOU do the research to find out.

Case in point: auto repair services. My parents recently discovered the alternator in one of their vehicles needs to be replaced. My dad called our local Toyota dealership who told him it would cost $1,200 to replace and he’d have to wait two weeks to get it done. He then called a mechanic’s shop he trusted, and they gave him a bid of $750 along with a one-week delay. Finally, he contacted another local shop (with whom he’s worked with previously) and they told him it would cost $450. What’s more, they could get the repair done immediately.

Bottom line? 20 minutes of phone calls resulted in $750 of savings.

Dealership prices are almost always higher – that’s a given. But not everyone understands just how much higher these costs can be, so taking the time to find out for yourself could result in a significant cost savings. I mean, $750? That’s huge!

Another tool I discovered during this process is AutoMD’s repair cost estimator. It helps you estimate auto repairs based on your vehicle’s make and model, and the zip code in which you plan to have the repair. My dad tried it and found the tool’s estimate to be very close to the mechanic charging $450.

As someone who knows next-to-nothing about cars, having a ballpark understanding of what a repair should cost is invaluable. Same goes for any purchase, really: if you know a product or service’s price history, it’s much easier to shop around and negotiate. It takes more effort, but the payoff can be huge.

Spill: what’s the most you’ve saved by comparing prices?

Savings Tip: Mind Your Assumptions

26 Aug

Photo by Denise Kreb via Flickr

Photo by Denise Kreb via Flickr

When you’re in need of a new pair of athletic shoes, JCPenney isn’t exactly the first store to come to mind, at least not for me. The last purchase I made from JCPenney was a pair of sale slippers, which I found later for several dollars less at TJMaxx. It’s in those moments where my bias against department stores is reinforced, and I assume they never have the best prices.

Well, that assumption can be costly, as I learned recently during a shopping trip with my mom.

We met up at DSW recently in search of comfy, supportive sneakers. Her old New Balance faithfuls were just that: old, and leading to pain in her ankles and knees. She purchased them several years ago from Ross for a whopping $12. Those were the good ol’ days when our local Ross was a hotbed of incredible bargains. Now, it’s a hot mess of merchandising, requiring serious tunnel vision and absolutely no expectation of finding something.

She tried on several pairs of shoes – New Balance, ASICS, Ryka, Dr. Scholls, Saucony – and put them all to the test: pacing between mirrors, lightly jumping up and down, trying on different sizes to compare comfort. Turns out, shopping for athletic shoes is a workout in itself!

After some deliberation between a black pair of New Balance shoes and a lesser-priced pair of ASICS, she opted for the former pair. Priced at $65, the New Balance sneaks were higher than some of her other options, so I fired up my RedLaser app and started scanning. The ASICS could be found for $5 less online, but the New Balance was priced at $55 over at JCPenney. Encouraged, I went to JCPenney’s website to see if the shoes were available at our local store. My patience waned thin as my phone slowly loaded JCPenney’s page and navigated to the shoe page. My waiting paid off – they had a pair in stock.

We braved 5 o’clock traffic in pursuit of savings, and were rewarded with a well-stocked shoe department including the coveted New Balance kicks. At checkout, I showed the cashier a coupon for an extra 15% off, a bit of a gamble since the coupon only applied to “select items.” One of those items was athletic shoes, so no extra discount for us.

All in all, we saved $10 by taking a few minutes to compare prices. Even the cashier was impressed by the cost difference.

I never thought we would end up at JCPenney to buy athletic shoes, but I’m glad I didn’t let my assumption get in the way of savings. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it pays to compare!

How to Save on July 4th Supplies

30 Jun

I love me some Fourth of July festivities! Every year I join my extended family in SoCal and soak up the sunshine poolside while munching on seven-layer dip and my grandma’s potato salad. Carbolicious!

My nostalgia for this time of year is why I loved sharing savings tips for July 4th essentials with Brooke Wagner and the rest of the Good Day Colorado team. Plus, it offered an excuse to make cupcakes with my mom’s special chocolate frosting recipe. It doesn’t hold up well in the sun as you’ll notice, but it still made for an amazing breakfast. You heard that right — cupcakes. For breakfast. BOOM.

Mother’s Day Gifts & Savings Tips

8 May

I had the pleasure of visiting The Windy City earlier this week and sharing Mother’s Day gift recommendations and savings strategies with Chicago viewers. This clip is from the Your Money Matters segment on WGN-TV — enjoy the big smiles and head tilts exhibited by both me and the anchor.

There’s truly something for every Mom on this list, and I plan to use some of them personally before Sunday! Are you ready for Mother’s Day?

Your Money: March Best/Worst Buys

3 Mar

I barely escaped a snowstorm driving back from this segment today, making the topic all the more ironic. Even though Northern Colorado’s weather doesn’t want to admit it, spring is just around the corner, and that means a new season for deals! I talk best and worst buys in March with Good Day Colorado’s Brooke Wagner.

How to Cut V-Day Spending in Half

4 Feb

Photo by me.

Photo by me.

 

So…what the heck happened to January?

The first month of the year evaporated for me despite being totally relaxed compared to the hectic holiday season. It’s already February and I’m busy outlining travel plans for the year and stuffing my face with heart-shaped confections. Does anyone else get excited about holidays purely for the candy?

I was reading the spending estimates for Valentine’s Day the other day and am totally floored by the amount people dish out for Feb. 14 festivities. According to the National Retail Federation, guys will spend an average of $190 on flowers, candy, jewelry and dinner out. Women, on the other hand, will spend about $95. Overall, total spending is expected to exceed $18 billion.

I thought it would be fun to calculate how much typical Valentine’s Day gifts cost and offer ways to cut that cost in half. What do you think? Is this about right or am I totally off base?

FLOWERS
One dozen red roses in a clear vase runs about $55 on 1-800-Flowers. Get it delivered on Valentine’s Day and you’ll add another $17.99. Factor in tax and your total is close to $80.

Cut it in half: Opt for a bouquet of 50 Peruvian Lilies and deliver them on Feb. 12. This way, you avoid the Valentine’s Day delivery fee and provide public adoration for your sweetheart. Use a coupon code for 20-percent off and pay a little over $40 total.

CANDY
A 1-pound heart-shaped box of See’s Candy will run you $30. Add a Hallmark card and supermarket bouquet of flowers and you can increase that to about $45.

Cut it in half: Buy an 8-ounce heart-shaped box for $12.50 instead, which contains plenty of sweet treats and doesn’t sabotage your sweetie’s New Year’s resolutions. Add a dollar-store card for $0.50 to that supermarket bouquet and you’ll spend about $23 total.

JEWELRY
I’ll assume you’re not going to pop the question on Valentine’s Day and opt for something less significant, albeit thoughtful. A trendy bar necklace in white 14K gold, for example, runs about $350 from Jared.

Cut it in half: At Macy’s, a similar style bar necklace in sterling silver is currently priced at $120. Using a coupon code, you can reduce that by 15 percent to just over $100. Meanwhile, Nordstrom offers a similar style for $68, and Etsy offers several hand-made styles for less than $30.

DINNER
The Cupid’s Combo package at The Melting Pot in my area features a four-course dinner with a bottle of either Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet, plus a “Touch of Romance candle and petal package dressing the table.” Cost: $125 per couple, or $150 when you factor in 18-percent gratuity.

Cut it in half: My husband and I could share an appetizer, two premium sushi rolls and two local craft brews at our favorite sushi restaurant for $50 (including the 18-percent gratuity). We could then head to The Melting Pot for dessert fondue, which costs about $10 per person. Total damage: $72.

How much do you plan to spend this Valentine’s Day?

Your Money: Costs Rising in 2015

27 Jan

Happy New Year!

I know, I’m about a month late with that sentiment. What can I say, recovery from the holiday season takes time.

This year, I’m transitioning from blogger at Hassle-Free Savings to Savings Expert with Coupon Sherpa. That doesn’t mean I’m abandoning this blog — I still plan to make monthly updates and posts — but it does mean I’ll be spending a bit more time promoting the “Himalayan Haggling He-Man of Bargains” in upcoming media spots.

My latest segment on Good Day Colorado is a fascinating one, at least from a research standpoint. In addition to the products and services featured in this clip, prices on bourbon are also going up. Why? Hipsters. Egg prices are on the rise due to California’s requirement that hens get more space in their pens, and if you do nothing else with this topic today, read this incredible story about “blood” avocados in Mexico.

Conquer Fear in Customer Service

23 Dec

A not-so-scandalous experience.

A not-so-scandalous experience.

I had a great customer service experience recently and have been meaning to share it with you all. The holiday season had other plans. I’ve been go-go-go since October it seems, and I’m still scrambling to get ahead. I’ll be one of those poor schmucks shopping on Christmas Eve, desperately looking for that perfect gift for the remaining people on my list. Wish me luck!

My positive retail experience occurred after a Black Friday purchase of a truly extravagant self-gift — wine glasses. Specifically, Crate & Barrel wine glasses often featured on the show Scandal. Judge me if you will, but my husband and I both drooled after those glasses the first time Olivia took a sip while ruminating on the crisis de jour. With free shipping and a coupon code, I ordered both red and white wine glasses (though I’m really just a red girl).

I received the glasses and was happy to find the red ones as stunning in real life as they are on screen. The white glasses? Not so much. They seemed oddly small and disproportionate. The foot of the glass was the same diameter as the bowl, which for some reason made them appear poorly designed. Understanding the red wine glasses have a whopping capacity of 23 oz., I compared the white wine glass to the ones I have in my cupboard. Even compared to an average white wine glass, these glasses looked comically undersized.

Long story short, I wasn’t satisfied. And this left me in a pickle since I’m 60 miles from the nearest Crate & Barrel store, and my whole purpose in ordering during Black Friday was to dodge the $18 shipping fee. Return shipping fees would no doubt eat into my refund, and after complaining about it my money-savvy friend, she suggested I contact customer service and ask them to waive the return shipping fees.

My initial reaction was “yeah, right.” Why would they? After all, I’m not a regular Crate & Barrel shopper. This is the second item I’ve ever purchased from them, and I did so at a discount. I was afraid of having my plea rejected and feeling even more foolish. Despite my reservations, I placed the call and figured it would be a good example in future stories and segments if it worked out in my favor.

The first person I spoke to seem genuinely concerned that I didn’t like the white wine glasses. She immediately transferred me to customer service where another rep listened to my story and responded with a version of this:

“Tell you what. Because I’m feeling good today and because you’re likely a fan of Scandal, I’m going to send you a prepaid FedEx mailing label for you to return the white wine glasses.”

We then talked about the show and its ability to make us crave red wine and popcorn at inappropriate moments during the day. Apparently Crate & Barrel could barely keep these glasses in stock last year all thanks to their near-constant cameos on Scandal.

By conquering my fear of rejection, I was able to avoid exorbitant return shipping fees and have my faith restored in customer service. This experience is definitely a bright spot in an otherwise hectic holiday season.

You & Me This Morning Segment

11 Dec

I had the pleasure of visiting the Windy City earlier this week and offered some money-saving tips for the holidays during WCIU-TV’s You & Me This Morning. I also had the opportunity to meet Joe Minoso, who plays Joe Cruz on NBC’s Chicago Fire. Bonus!

Your Money: Shopping Secrets for Target Fans

19 Nov

In my latest segment on Good Day Colorado, I talk shopping secrets for Target shoppers with Kirk Yuhnke. I kind of blew his mind. And I must say: best. screenshot. ever.