Tuesday, August 30, 2011

0% Credit Card Transfer Bait and Switch Trap

Your credit card finance charges are overwhelming, especially the department store cards. You find yourself paying $30 for t-shirts you bought on sale for $12 with your department store charge over a year ago after interest has been compounded. The simple solution is to take advantage of a recent mailing you received about transferring all your high interest accounts to a 0% credit card. Sounds good, but have you read the fine print. The fine print is usually small and incredibly boring. Here are a few items you should beware of:

1. Transfer fees-every account balance you transfer will be charged a transfer fee, which is usually between $60-$75 dollars per account. This usually doesn’t show up until you think you’ve paid off the balance. This can be pricey if you transfer several accounts.
2. Time limitations-in the exceedingly small print, your 0% interest may be applicable for six months, or as little as 30 days. As soon as the time limit expires, your interest jumps usually to 30%.
3. Penalties-one late payment usually cancels your great 0% great rate, which automatically jumps your interest rate up to the 30% rate plus the late payment charge.
4. Usage of the card-the whole reason you signed up for the card was to lower your debt, but the card issuer is counting on you using it for future charges. Your future charges WILL NOT BE AT 0%, they will be at the higher rate.
5. Hidden Charges-your intentions are good, you transfer your high interest account to a 0% rate charge and pay-off your debt within a year. Suddenly you’re hit with all sorts of odd charges, such as processing charges. I was even charged by Citibank for overpaying by 9 cents. They issued me a check for .09, which I didn’t cashed and charged me twenty dollars for issuing the check.

So, how do you get out of paying high finance charges to credit card companies? We’ve all heard about if we paid only the minimum payment on a $5000 credit card balance with standard interest rate, that we will be paying for the next forty years. The first step is to cut up your credit cards. If you don’t have them, you won’t use them. One card may be saved for emergencies or for car rental, but it is best not to carry that card on your person.

Your local bank will work up a consolidation loan with a fixed rate and fee. You know exactly how much you are paying in fees, which will be lower than the combined fees of the 0% credit card if you have more than one account to transfer. The monthly payment will be higher than if you went with the 0% transfer. Keep in mind, the credit card never wants you to pay off your balance. Usually within two years, you’ll be out of debt with a consolidation loan—unless you make the mistake of thinking you have all this extra money to spend.

So are 0% transfers to new credit cards ever a good idea?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Asking for the Bargain

Do you know you can make your own bargain prices? You probably already do this if you’re an avid yard sale shopper. Perhaps you ask the seller to go down on the price or combine item prices for a total lower price per item. If you already do this, you have the basic skills. If you don’t, you only need three things: a motivated seller, a reason to lower the price, and the ability to walk away.

Start with the ability to walk away, if you show up somewhere and babble on about how much you love something then You are the motivated buyer. The seller does little more than takes full price for his item. He doesn’t have to sell you because you’ve already sold yourself. He is sure of you. No matter how much you want something do not show it. Think of it as shopping poker. Before you even start looking for an item, set a mental price that you will not go over and stick with it. You can even use it as a bargaining chip. I often say I can only pay twelve dollars (you make up your own number) and pull out the cash money. Paying in cash is a powerful incentive. Actually seeing the cash pushes the bargaining power into your corner.

When you ask for a lower price, you have to have a reason. Maybe the item is damaged, out of the box, out of season, etc. Think of an appropriate reason, but be specific. I found three slightly soiled and ripped dresses at an upscale dress shop that I made an offer on to the manager. I pointed out that because no one sewed anymore and it was doubtful the stains would come out, the dresses wouldn’t sell. I probably couldn’t fix them, but I was willingly to try at $5 each. Now, I knew I could fix them, but most people couldn’t or wouldn’t and the manager knew this too. I bought three dresses for under $20.

Go to the top when asking for a discount. Salespeople usually can’t help you unless they’re on commission. Then they can choose to cut into their commission if it means a sale. Remember they are eager to make a sale with some money as opposed to no sales. Find the manager or owner of the store. Ironically, they are usually more willing to cut deals to encourage goodwill.

Think of why this would benefit the seller. The seller has to be motivated to deal. If it is the end of the day at an open-air market, street stand or even a yard sale, you can point out that the items would not have to be packed up again. With food and perishable items, a selling point is they will not be good the next day.

Suggest deals, you may not always get a lower price as you originally asked, but you can get other things. Getting a major appliance, ask for free delivery and removal of the old item. Ask for additional services if you are at a salon or buying salon products. Buying a phone, ask for additional apps. When I switched phone services, I received free phones and the employee discount when I mentioned checking out the competition. Buying at a local farm stand, ask for a baker’s dozen. What is the worst that can happen? Someone tells you no. You haven’t lost anything. Thank them politely and walk away. Let them see you walk away; they just might call you back.

I’ve left items I really wanted and came back days or weeks later and it was still sitting there unsold. The fact that no one bought it made me wonder about the value of the item. It was good I left it originally as opposed to giving into the impulse to buy it. The time apart from the item made me realize that I didn't need it, especially at that price.

In this depressed economy, will people deal? Yes, unfortunately every item is starting to become a luxury with less and less people buying. Online sites such as www.groupon.com and www.livingsocial.com that offer everything from dinner to golf at half price prove that companies want to deal. I guess the big question is why are you still paying full price?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Working the Mananger Special-Grocery Style

My daughter opens the refrigerator, pulls out a carton of milk, and looks at the bright orange tag and asks if we buy anything that isn’t a manager special. Not too often, I admit. The manger special is only good if you know how to work the manager special. Learn your grocery store to know where they place the manager specials.

When you enter the store, head for the specials first. You’re not the only one looking for a deal. Where I live the grocery ads start on Thursday, which means Thursdays are not good days to look for specials. Once the grocery blitz is over, the day before the next ad yields better deals as the store readies itself for the next shopping onslaught. Less people shopping means less competition for you.

With dairy items, especially milk, you can buy items with today’s date and they should have a shelf life of seven days. I often buy yogurt that is dated that day and freeze it. Cake mixes and cereal can be frozen to keep them fresh, especially since they are already past date. Remember to place them in plastic Ziploc bags first.

Meat can sit in the case for a couple of days, a week at the most. Meat that doesn’t sell can be dressed up as stir-fry, kebobs, even meatloaf with a brand new date extending the shelf life of the meat and raising the price. This is not a good deal. I avoid all the pre-made delicacies since I know it’s usually old meat masquerading as new. If you buy discounted meat and it’s bad, take it back. The store doesn’t want you sick or dissatisfied.

Frozen foods are usually always a good bargain because there isn’t much that can go wrong with them UNLESS the package has been ripped. Avoid any ripped packages. Most dinners and pizzas are on clearance due to the decision not to carry that item. If you like the item, buy all you can them, because there won’t be any more coming. This is when a small chest type freezer comes in handy. They run a little bit over a hundred dollars when you catch them on sale. Don’t overlook yard sales when looking for a freezer either, but always test it first.

Cosmetics and toiletries end up as clearance because the package is damaged or the item is discontinued. Check the box carefully. If it is a product that contains more than one item in a box, such as hair coloring, often one of the items is gone, which makes it unusable. Most of these items don’t have a shelf life, so even if they do have an expiration date, no worries. Avoid any cosmetics over a year old because they won’t work as well.

Pet products are usually clearance because the box or bag is damaged. Instead of getting a seventeen pound bag of dog food, you’ll get more of a 16.5 pound bag at half the price. This is a real savings if your pet will eat it. Canned food does have expiration dates. The food isn’t going to sit around your house long so go for it.

Canned goods usually appear as manager specials when they are dropped and get dents. No one wants dented cans because they remember vaguely that’s a sign of spoilage. Actually, it’s swollen cans and the food has to be pretty old. First, check the date to make sure it is current. Your grocer is not going to keep old cans on the shelf because making five cent on a rotten can of green beans is not worth losing his job and having a class action lawsuit directed at the store. Still, if the can is dusty or rusty, avoid it.

Dead ripe produce will often be bagged for clearance. These items must be used that day. Ripe bananas can become banana bread, smoothies, or banana pudding. Vegetables must be cooked because they won’t stand up well in a salad. Salads mixes need to be used that day and may need to be checked carefully before buying. The smaller leaf salads like baby lettuces or spring mix become wilted and bitter quicker. Coleslaw can get strong quickly too. Romaine or iceberg is your best bet.

Organic juices and bagged vegetables in the produce aisle do not contain any preservatives. You must use them in three days. You can freeze the veggies if you want to extend their shelf life. They are limp when they thaw, but work well in soups, stews, and casseroles.

If bread is on clearance it is stale or is a day away from being so. This is an item I usually avoid getting since most stores run bread specials every week The exception to the rule is the specialty rolls and bread. You’ll want to freeze these too. The fridge does not work because it allows the bread to go stale. On top of the fridge, where many people store their bread, speeds up the process of going bad.

Cleaning products are a no brainer. The only thing you want to check is to see if the applicator or spray nozzle works. If you can’t get the cleaner out of the container it is worthless. This is one of the few times, you might buy an open container. An example of this is those little packs you use for dish washing or the clothes washing can be bought for a fraction of their original cost is the package is missing a few packs. A wall air freshener that is missing the warmer, but still contains the scent bottle is great IF you only wanted the scent to begin with.

In closing, it isn’t bargain if you don’t need it, won’t eat it, or can’t afford it. Hair spray that was seventeen dollars and is marked down to twelve, stays on the clearance table. Happy Savings.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cheap is Good, Free is Better

If someone offered you something you wanted free, would you take it? Most of you are probably nodding your head yes. A few cynics will mumble something about nothing being free. Au contraire, I get free stuff all the time. Let me share my secrets with you.

First, many companies give out sample items just to get you hooked on a product. Beware any place that wants your credit card number because they will keep sending you the product and charging your card. A good place to check out these offers is http://www.totallyfreestuff.com/ The website posts the information you have to shift through and decide if the offer is genuine. Any offer that seems to be good to be true usually is. Avoid going to see timeshares, most people are unable to resist buying one despite saying they won’t. Also avoid extremely long surveys, you will not get a Target card or a iPod at end, but you will get major spam since they’ll sell your email.

Another way to get free stuff is take other people’s unwanted items home using Freecycle network. Go onto http://www.freecycle.org/ and find the nearest city near you. People list items they don’t want anymore and just want someone to come and get them. When I got ready to move, I listed several things I no longer wanted including an aquarium, a filing cabinet, and a trampoline. The first person who came and picked up the item, got it. That simple. Depending on the item, you may need a truck and some muscle. If you arrive and don’t like the item, then don’t take it.

Listen, be present, and ask are my three mainstays of getting free things. If I hear something is being giving away free, I’m there. A local library took old books off the shelf and offered them to anyone who would take them. No one did, except me, because they were old. I sold the out of print books online for over $3000. Sometimes you need to envision how you can use the product.

Most promotions, you have to be present, remember that disclaimer about your entry is void if you’re not present. I’ve been in various public places received free food, drink, Axe body wash and wrestling posters by being there. I also won free groceries by participating in a shopping cart race at our local store. Mine was a participation prize of $100 since I tore around the store like a madwoman. I won a Calvin Klein wardrobe by attending a fashion show at a local clothing store.

Asking has netted me several large items, usually furniture. We have an annual yard sale in our neighborhood and usually people do price furniture too high. The end result is it doesn’t sell. When walking my dog I may see the unsold item still in the yard or even labeled with a free sign. I’ve snagged a bookcase, bookcase headboards, a dresser, even an aquarium by simply asking for it. I also tell people what I am looking for and often they’ll have it in their attic, barn or basement and let me have it for free just to get rid of it. Currently, I’m on the hunt for a rocking chair.

Sometimes I trade things I have too many of or no longer want for something someone else has that they don’t want. A good example of this is firewood, when I quit using a wood burning fireplace and switched to gas I had a surplus of firewood that served no purpose. Ask for the deal, decide what you want or need, then propose a trade. Now no one has to take the deal, but most will.

Read bulletin boards in the library and the grocery, many people list things they would like picked up besides kitten and puppies. I get free plants all the time from people dividing hostas and irises. Plant groups are usually a good bet for this. Come this fall, I will harvest and bag all my sunflower seeds and give them away free. If your paper has a free section in the classifieds read it because you never know when something might turn up.

When you tell your friends about your free find, they’ll call you lucky. You’ll know better it is about being out there, looking, listening and asking.
Go to Google and put in free items and you’ll be amazed how many sites come up. Use your wits. If traveling to pick up something take a friend and directions. There is no reason to give out your credit card number for anything. Avoid long surveys that ask you to subscribe to different newsletters. Never ever do a timeshare tour even if you don’t buy, you’re still in a bad mood from the experience. If someone offers you something free, ask about any strings attached that’s your right. I’ve used one week free gym passes and never joined. If there is no obligation take advantage of it. Cheap is good, but free is better.