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Black Friday Deals Without the Black Friday Mess

November 26, 2008 · Filed Under Spending Money · 4 Comments 

In my last post, I mentioned some tips for approaching the craziness of Black Friday to hopefully help you get some good deals while not overspending or wasting your day.  One important suggestion was to prepare yourself beforehand by doing the research necessary to decide what you want before the ads are officially released.  I also mentioned that I was going to be doing some pre-shopping on a new vacuum.  Well, we went out researching yesterday and now we own a new vacuum.

Why didn’t we wait until Black Friday?

On the surface, this sounds pretty silly to go out a few days before BF and buy something you would probably find on-sale Friday.  Though a very similar vacuum will be on sale on Friday, it actually isn’t all that crazy (at least I don’t think it is).  Allow me to walk you through the steps we took.  First, we checked out Consumer Reports and targeted a few highly-rated vacuums and went to the store to touch and feel them.  Before leaving for the store, however, I checked a BF preview site and determined that a very similar model is going to be on sale at Sears for $230 (from $350).

When getting to the store, however, the vacuum that we were looking for was actually on sale right then for $250.  After deciding we wanted to purchase this specific model, we asked ourselves a simple question: Is the extra $20 savings worth the hassle of making a special BF trip to this store to fight the crowds and (hopefully) get the vacuum?  The answer (obviously) was no.  We got the vacuum we wanted for $100 off and now I don’t have to make a trip to that store on Friday morning (I personally consider that worth the $20).

Some other ways to grab BF sales without the BF stress

Here are some other ideas to help you get some good deals on your shopping while avoiding the BF rush and crush.

Big sales have already started

Why wait until Friday when you can start getting good deals today, right now, as we speak.  Circuit City has been running Daily Doorbuster deals for a few days already (the last one is today, I believe).  Also, Amazon.com sent me an email telling me that Black Friday shopping has already started there as well.  They have daily deals and limited-time offers already up and available.

Don’t spend Black Friday jostling for bargains and parking spots. Instead, visit Amazon.com for Black Friday specials and great deals all week long from the convenience (and comfort) of your keyboard.

Amazon also has an interesting gambit going on…it’s kinda hard to describe so allow me to let them do it:

Amazon Customers Vote is back for 2008 and voting has already begun! Customers Vote is a special end-of-year promotion where you can vote for the deal you’d like to buy at an amazing discount. There will be six rounds of voting with three products in each round. Beginning Thursday, November 27, 2008 each day a new winning product will be announced, and randomly selected customers who voted in that round will receive an invitation to participate in the race to buy the winning product.

These are just two of many currently offering deals – check out this page on GottaDeal’s site to see a much larger list of BF sale items from various stores that are available online right now.

Look for Black Friday deals you can get online

BestBuy will be offering some BF items in-store only, but they will also make some available on-line.  And what could be more convenient than getting a great BF deal from the comfort and convenience of your own home?  Sure, you may have to stay up late Thanksgiving evening or wake up really early the next morning to get online and get these deals, but that’s much better than camping out in the cold to fight a bunch of other people for them.  Check here for other BF sales that will be offered online .  If there is a store you are planning to visit Friday morning, you might want to search their website to see if they will have the items you want online also.  Just remember to check each site to see when the deals will be offered.  I’m sure they are all "while supplies last" so you may need to get out of bed early to get the best deals (but at least you’ll be in your PJs instead of your parka).

Just wait until things calm down

Like I mentioned in my previous post , from what I’ve read there will be significant sales going on throughout the Christmas shopping season.  As a result, getting a great deal on something you want is probably not a once and done, BF-only proposition.  If an item is on sale on BF, there is a fair chance that you will see it on sale again before Christmas.  So, if you want a take a slight risk, then sit tight on BF and wait until you see some follow-on sales.  You may get lucky and see your item on sale and you can pick it up when the stores are not nearly as hectic.

My standard disclaimer

I have put something like this in all my BF posts….if you are going to venture out or online for BF sales, make a list and stick to it.  Remember, spending money is spending money.  Spending money is not saving money.  A good sale is not an excuse for irresponsible spending (and no, not even a fantastic sale either!).  If you really want to leverage Black Friday to save money, then just stay in bed and relax Friday morning…that shouldn’t cost you anything.  Better yet, get up early and make your family a special breakfast – that won’t cost very much and will start the Christmas season off for your loved ones on a great note!

Preparing Yourself for Black Friday

November 24, 2008 · Filed Under Spending Money · 2 Comments 

It’s almost here – that American holiday-unto-itself: Black Friday!  I have to admit that I’m behind schedule for my Black Friday shopping this year – and that’s too bad  because I actually have some stuff I’d like to purchase.  Besides some normal gift items, I have some slightly-bigger ticket household items that I’d like to pick up at a good price.  When you have significant purchases for Black Friday, you’ll want to get prepared beforehand in order to make a successful day of it.  Here are a couple tips for gearing up for Black Friday shopping.

1) Decide exactly what you are going to buy beforehand

Especially for more expensive items, I would recommend not being swayed by the ads.  Rather, decide what you want to get and then look for specials on those specific items.  For us this year, we want to get a new digital camera (the LCD no longer works on our current model), a new vacuum cleaner (our vacuum is currently in a few pieces in the back of our van), and a laptop for my dad (a fair one at a very low price).  I rely on Consumer Reports for most non-trivial purchases, so I have started my research there.

I have a very good idea of which digital camera I want to purchase.  I still have to complete researching the vacuums.  For the computer, the exact model doesn’t matter as much – I have a general idea of the specs that I want and will just choose the best one that meets the minimum requirements from the ads.  But for the digital camera and vacuum, even though I will have a good idea what I want, I still need to get out and actually touch them and play with them before purchasing one (don’t you hate the cameras that take too long to actually snap the picture after you press the button!). I am behind schedule, but my plan is to decide exactly what I want in a digital camera and vacuum by tomorrow and get out to the stores to confirm that before Thanksgiving.

2) Check out the ads as early as possible

Sometimes you can’t decide the exact model you want before seeing the ads.  For instance, if there are a few different vacuum cleaners that would be acceptable, the one I decide to buy will be the one (if any) that I can get for the best deal on Black Friday.  Thus I can’t wait until the ads are delivered with the Thursday newspaper since I won’t be able to get out and touch and feel them before Black Friday.  And the last thing you want to to in the stress and crowds of BF are to be playing around trying to decide which special deal you want to buy.  First, you just don’t want to deal with the hassle in the midst of the big crowds. More importantly, if you’re out to get a good deal but are still doing research that morning, the good deals might be gone before you are able to decide what you want.

In a previous post, I mentioned the value of black friday preview sites such as GottaDeal.com’s Black Friday site .  Using these sites is a good idea for you to be able to see if any of your prospective items are on going to be on sale.  Doing this early enough gives you time to get out to the stores and check out the specific items that will be on sale.  I guess I could go out and check out all the possible models that I would consider purchasing, but I don’t really have the time or inclination to do that.  So, I’ll pick a few options, check out the preview sites to see which will be on sale, and then get to the stores before BF to decide which one or two I really want.

3) Strategize

Next you want to plan out your BF shopping strategy.  If you really want to get some popular deals, you won’t be able to fool around browsing a bunch of stores – you’ll need to have a good idea of where you want to go and what you want to get.

There are two main criteria to consider during your planning:

  • How popular the item will be
  • How much you want to get that specific deal

I usually order the items I want to purchase by priority and then try to optimize my route to get as many as possible.  Even if you see a great deal that you want, you will need to be realistic about whether or not you are actually interested in exerting the effort necessary to secure the item(s).  For instance, if you are looking for that fabulous deal on the huge HDTV but there will only be a few in the store, that is obviously the place you will want to go first.

You can usually get a pretty good idea of which items will be the most popular via an educated guess or by checking out the BF preview site forums to see which sales are getting a lot of buzz.  For the really big deals, you’ll have to get there very early or maybe even camp out the night before.  If you are not willing to do that, you should be realistic about your chances of securing one of those huge deals.  Personally, I will not go that far (certainly not for a vacuum or laptop!).  I will still get up pretty early and head first to the store with the item I want to try my hardest to purchase.  After that, I’ll head the stores with items that I don’t want quite as badly as well as the ones with deals I expect to be available later in the morning.

Some other things to consider

Do not overspend in the frenzy of the day.  With all the people out early in the morning following seemingly unbridled consumerism, it is sometimes easy to get caught up and overspend your budget.  The best way to control this if, of course, to make a list and stick to it .

I mentioned above that you should not be swayed by the ads.  When it comes to big items especially, make your list before you start looking at the ads.  Just because something is a great deal, does not mean you should buy it (and it’s certainly a good bet you don’t "need" it).   Remember the old joke – how much money will you save by buying a $3000 HDTV at 60% off?  The answer, of course, is you haven’t saved ANY money – instead, you’ve spent $1200!

Of course, for smaller items I do not follow such a strict plan.  I will go ahead and check out all of the ads on Thursday to see if any smaller items strike my fancy.  But even small purchases add up, so make sure you keep track of what your overall expenditures will be.

Black Friday will not be the end of the sales this year

The economy is not doing so well this year (have you heard that?).  The stock market is down, housing prices are down, unemployment is up, and as a result people are not spending money like they have in years past.  What does that mean?  It means that retailers will continues sales up through Christmas to entice shoppers to spend.  In fact, you’ve probably already seen some really good sales before BF.  Walmart has been running big in-store and online-only specials for the past few weeks.  Circuit City is currently running Daily Doorbuster Deals through Wednesday as well.  And unless BF is crazy huge for some reason, I expect these deals to continue all the way up until Christmas.

So, I’ll be out there Friday morning, but I will certainly not be camping out or pushing and shoving to grab stuff.  I do expect the deals to be big, but as I also expect to see big crowds on BF and good deals up through Christmas, I do not feel the urgency to make all of my purchases on BF.

The Bible and The Bard Agree on this Financial Principle

November 21, 2008 · Filed Under Finances · 3 Comments 

Last summer my wife and I took off for an overnight getaway – just the two of us – and ended up in Staunton, VA near Charlottesville.  The draw to this particular place was the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Theater .  Here’s a blurb from their website:

The American Shakespeare Center is an internationally acclaimed theatre company that performs Shakespeare’s works under their original staging conditions — on a simple stage, without elaborate sets, and with the audience sharing the same light as the actors. Home to the ASC’s resident troupe, the Blackfriars Playhouse has been established as one of America’s premier Shakespeare destinations.

I was just searching for something to do and came across the town and the theater and was intrigued by them.  So we made some reservations and set off to Staunton to see Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice . I was blown away! The theater experience was amazing and I had so much fun that evening!  If you are ever in the area, I would definitely recommend checking it out.

At the end of the play, I turned to my wife and said, "You know what the takeaway from this evening is?  Never cosign a loan!"

C’mon – what else would you expect from a guy who has a personal finance blog!

As a reminder, here’s a brief summary of The Merchant of Venice from sparknotes.com :

Bassanio is desperately in need of money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress who lives in the city of Belmont.  Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan in order to travel in style to Portia’s estate. Antonio agrees, but is unable to make the loan himself because his own money is all invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. Antonio suggests that Bassanio secure the loan from one of the city’s moneylenders and name Antonio as the loan’s guarantor.  Antonio and Bassanio approach Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, for a loan. Shylock nurses a long-standing grudge against Antonio, who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews for their usury, the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest, and who undermines their business by offering interest-free loans. Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest. Shylock adds, however, that should the loan go unpaid, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s own flesh.

So not only has Antonio cosigned the loan for his friend Bassanio but he has also put his life on the line for it!  Of course, in the end things do not work out as bad as it could have been for Antonio…but if you want to know the entire story and experience it in a supremely entertaining way – go check out the Blackfriars Theater! (though that particular play is not playing there any more, I’m sure any of them would provide a wonderful evening)

The Bible cautions against cosigning loans also

I was amazed to learn that God actually talks about co-signing a loan in the Bible.

My child, if you have put up security for a friend’s debt or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger.  If you have trapped yourself by your agreement and are caught by what you said—
follow my advice and save yourself, for you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy.
Now swallow your pride;  go and beg to have your name erased.  Don’t put it off; do it now!  Don’t rest until you do.  Save yourself like a gazelle escaping from a hunter, like a bird fleeing from a net.  Proverbs 6:1-5 (New Living Translation)

Again, cosigning a loan for someone is not a good thing to do.  The Bible informs that you should "swallow your pride" and "go and beg" to have yourself removed from the loan.  And don’t even wait until tomorrow it urges – "do it now!"  This is serious and urgent advice!  It certainly does not appear to me that cosigning a loan is something you should do.

Why does someone need a cosigner?

Remember, the reason that your friend needs a cosigner on a loan is because the bank (or whoever) is fairly confident that your friend will pay back the loan. If they thought your friend was good for the money, they would not have required a cosigner.  And if you friend does not pay back the loan….guess who will be.  So, my advice is (obviously) do not cosign a loan for someone else.  And if you do consider cosigning a loan, assume that you will be the one who has to pay back the loan.  Make sure that your finances, your family relationships, and you relationship with your friend will survive the probable event that you will be paying for it.  It might be hard to say "no" to someone asking you to cosign for them, but that still might be a lot easier than doing serious damage to your personal finances and serious damage to your relationship with your spouse and/or family!

Photo Credits: ryanrocketship

Musings on an Efficient Afternoon

November 17, 2008 · Filed Under Random · 3 Comments 

I love efficiency.  I love doing tasks in such a manner as to reduce the overall time it takes or the effort exerted.  This manifests itself in a number of different ways depending on if the task in question is a household chore or home improvement project or shopping trip, etc.

I also love accomplishing things.  I am a list maker and I feel great when I get to cross items off the list when completed.  In fact, if I do something that wasn’t on my list, I will add it to the list and then immediately cross it off to get that feeling of satisfaction!  (Do other people do that?)

Anyway, so with those two things in mind, This is what I did one afternoon last week:

  • I returned some pillows we had purchased
  • I got four new tires put on my wife’s "ivic"
  • I had an eye doctor appointment
  • I bought some milk
  • I bought some compact fluorescent lightbulbs for my dad (he was along for the trip)
  • I filled up the car with gasoline

The interesting thing about this day was that all of this took place at the same store .  For accomplishment’s sake, I was able to do a ton of things in a very short period of time.  For efficiency’s sake, I was able to get them all done very quickly with no extraneous driving around from store to store.  I also was able to overlap waiting for the tires to be installed with the eye appointment and shopping.

What has the world come to where you can buy milk, get new tires installed on your car, and get an eye checkup at the same place? Though maybe this is actually more like how shopping used to take place years and years ago when a town would have only a general store to get everything you needed (or at least everything that was sold in a particular town)?

Though I do love efficiency and I do love checking things off my list, it is true that I don’t really love spending lots of money.  So, from that standpoint, it was somewhat of a downer of an afternoon as an eye doctor appointment and four new tires are quite expensive nowadays.

Photo Credits: Wrote

Where’s My Bailout?!?!

November 14, 2008 · Filed Under Finances · 1 Comment 

The US government is going bailout crazy.  Once they loosed the genie from that particular bottle, everyone and their brother is showing up at the trough hoping to get a bite.  Who knows anymore what the original intent was –  a banking bailout, a wall-street bailout, a bailout of AIG, isn’t it supposed to have something to do with a housing bailout, and now the domestic auto companies and even credit card companies are clamoring for a piece of the pie (I think that sets a new personal best in the category of "most cliches used in a single paragraph!").

Some people actually acted responsibly over the past few years…

All of this, as might well be expected, has a number of people up in arms.  Even in the midst of the housing craziness of the past few years, there were actually some responsible people who bought a house based on how much they could afford to pay for it as opposed to how much loan they could get (no stated income, interest-only, negative amortization anyone?).    These silly people actually eschewed irresponsible purchasing and did not buy a McMansion because they held to some crazy belief that you should be able to afford the things that you purchase.  And what do they get to show for it?  Nothing (maybe even worse than nothing!).

And now you get to pay for the people who did not

The government has swooped in to save the day and take care of those who overspent and overindulged while the responsible pay for it through their taxes.  Some of the responsible could swallow the original argument that it was for "everyone’s good" because eventually all the foreclosures and their resulting effect on the economy would bring down the value of their home as well and possibly cost them their job.  So, they swallowed the bitter pill and moved on.  But now they are talking about bailing out people who ran up too much credit card debt – this is getting ridiculous!

So, what can you do?

Well, nothing really.  Let’s be blunt: you are going to get screwed.  The government is handing out their candy to everyone else except you.  (Isn’t it interesting that if do something stupid and mess up, you have to deal with the consequences.  But if enough people do something stupid at the same time , the government will come in and clean up the mess). The obvious answer is to get involved politically.  Call you representatives.  Tell them how you feel.  Get involved in whatever way you can.

Your only consolation is that at least you did the right thing

I agree that it stinks that the foolish are bailed out by the prudent (and by "prudent" I don’t mean the government).  It is annoying how, in this situation, stupidity is seemingly rewarded at all levels (buying a $650,000 house with a salary of $55,000? Well, the bank wouldn’t let you do it if they weren’t confident you could repay it so you must be able to afford it!  You’re going to give a $650,000 loan to a person who makes only $55,000?  Sounds like a good idea to me – so what are you going to spend your commission on?  You really think buying a whole bunch of irresponsible loans will make all the risk go away?  You fancy finance guys sure are smart!  Better yet – why don’t you borrow a bunch of money so you can buy even more of those loan package deals and greatly multiply your gains!)

And you’ll probably try to do the right thing tomorrow too

Let’s be honest here…you, as a fiscally responsible person, will not learn your lesson.  Tomorrow you will go out and attempt to make more responsible decisions.  You will even try to learn from the borderline decisions you made yesterday.  And after you purchase big items, you will probably pay back the money that your borrowed, right?  For those of you making such "foolish" decisions, remember this:

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.  Psalm 37:21 (NIV)

Remember, it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing.  It doesn’t matter who is not paying for what they bought nor whether they experience any ill effects from it.  The Bible tells us to be responsible in our decision making and then to honor any debts or obligations we undertake.  While we’re on the subject, here’s another thing to remember:

In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.  Psalm 21:20 (NIV)

So, what have we learned?

When you were younger, I’m sure your mother told you not to do something just because everyone else was doing it ("If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you jump off one too?").  So, we need to continue to follow that advice now.  Continue on the path of financial responsibility because you know it is the right thing to do.  Continue to not spend more than you earn and continue to pay off any debts you have incurred (and try to stay away from any new debts).  It might not work out optimally for you in all cases (as current events are showing) but when you go to sleep at night, you can rest comfortably knowing that you are attempting to follow God’s mandates for living responsibly and being a good steward of your resources.

Do not be bitter that your neighbor has all those fancy toys that he put on a credit card and/or a home equity loan and now he might get some help from Uncle Sam to pay them off.  Bitterness will certainly do you more harm than good.  Do not covet what your neighbor has, for along with the mortgage and credit card help will come the trashed credit score – and I’m sure you don’t covet that!

Photo Credits: Mike Licht

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