Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Despite not having a list, Domingo and I decided to go out black Friday shopping. We went out Thursday after the kids had gone to bed for some hot cocoa and to enjoy the atmosphere, and then took the kids out on Friday when the kids’ cabin fever forced us out of the house, but rain kept us away from the parks.

Turkey, Shmurkey

We arrived at Target about 2 hours after it’s initial opening. It was crowded, but not over overwhelmingly so. While we were waiting in line for those hot chocolates we couldn’t help but notice how many families were sitting down with sandwiches, pizzas and pastas. The barista commented that in those two hours since opening they had already sold more sandwiches than they sell in a typical day. I know that an early dinner on Thanksgiving day is probably more typical than not, but it appeared as though a large group of people may have opted out of the traditional meal altogether and in to a quick dinner at target once their shopping was complete.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been thinking about the class divide of late, but I couldn’t help but wonder if skipping the meal was less about desire and more about necessity. Popular culture likes to caste black Friday as rampant consumption on luxury items that aren’t needed, but for people of limited means it’s sometimes black Friday or never. Surely one can make the use case that a laptop or computer is not necessary a luxury item in today’s digital world?

TVs in Threes

The hot item this year was clearly the 50″ and 55″ TVs. We saw person after person walking out with two or sometimes three large TVs. Apparently Target was selling 3,200 televisions per minute nationwide. If TVs are meant to be gifts, these shoppers are way more generous than I am. If they’re meant to be personal, I’m amazed at the size of the houses they must have. Domingo’s hypothesis was a spare TV for elderly parents.

TVs weren’t the only thing we saw bought in, for lack of a better word, bulk. We walked passed one couple that was dividing laptops between their two shopping carts to get around the “2 per person” limit. (Large family looking for laptops for the kids, maybe?)

I know it’s been a while since I’ve visited a store in person on Black Friday, but I was stunned by all I was witnessing.

The good news if you’re looking for a deal next year: 2 hours after opening, Target was still bringing out TVs and laptops in shifts. It didn’t appear that anyone who wanted one was going without.

We are Black Friday Small Potatoes

I did end up with the Costco laptop a month ago, otherwise I would have done the replacement with the same specs and saved myself another $150. Sigh. Can’t control when these things break, I guess.

We took advantage of the $4 and $6 sale of DVDs, as well as half priced board games for the kids. We also bought their winter wardrobe at 30% off.

Our biggest purchase was a new Keurig ($65). The cheap ($35) off brand one I bought over the summer was a huge waste. After a few months it broke and would spew water allover our counter top. It was under warranty but I still had to pay $10 shipping to replace it. The replacement only lasted a few weeks. Domingo didn’t feel like spending (wasting?) yet more money on coffee machines. I can understand that sentiment, but I know how much he enjoys his coffee and I feel like a little guilty being so often the beneficiary of our spending. Domingo is always way more willing to spend on money for extras for me (like my new lens, which was way more expensive). I put the Keurig in the shopping cart joking I wanted to take up coffee. Don’t worry, he saw right through me. I’ve never had a cup before in my life, and likely never will, but he is enjoying his daily cup.

We would have saved an additional $15 had I been able to figure out the cartwheel app in time. We got stuck in line behind a two college age kids buying three laptops and an ipad who were also opening a credit card to get an additional 5% discount. I used the time to download the app, but didn’t realize I had to select the relevant coupons. I am still miffed at myself about that.

There’s a part of me that misses the Black Fridays atmosphere. Domingo and I used to take our time going to the stores, meandering in mid-afternoon, and still get deals we were after. These days it’s a lot harder to get away to go to the store, and when we manage it we rarely get the deals were after. So this year we’re thinking of just staying in.

Domingo and I started thinking about our list and came up rather empty. We went through most of our home setup costs last year, so there really isn’t anything on that front. We could use another rug, I guess. Additional ornaments are always a possibility. The kid tree was pretty barren last year (not that they mind). I also still need a new laptop (I’ve been needing one since 2013), but Costco’s every day price on the one I like is pretty good. Mobile and tablet sales have been eating into laptop sales, driving the prices pretty far down. I’m just waiting for this one to kick the bucket first. It’s casing is cracked and it’s missing a screw, but still chugging along.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s always on our list. What’s new this year?

I need to get Alexis’ baby book printed. We’ll probably do MyPublisher again for that, since that’s who I used for Nicole’s baby book and I like to keep things ridiculously even. I looked through my email inbox and it looks like the best coupon I can hope for is 60(ish) off. Last year it came in October and just before Christmas. (Score one for team never-deletes-an-email.)

I also have two large frames I want filled. mpix is the only place I’ve found that can print to the right size. They currently have a 10% off coupon, but I’ve found a 25% off flyer in my mail box from September. I’ve also found a 25% off your entire order flyer. I haven’t been a customer long enough to have a long mailbox history with them, so I can’t predict when that sale will come back again. At least I know the kind of sale to target!

We’re pretty settled on the idea of Santa bringing Nicole a toy camera this year. We’re less clear what he’ll bring for Alexis. One of the joys of being the younger sibling is there are always tons of toys for your developmental stage. (One of the drawbacks is that finding those toys can be challenging!)

Looks like we’ll be spending this year in. Depending on how those printing coupons line up, we may pass on Black Friday all together.

I have been price watching some furniture for our new home for almost a year. With the holidays approaching, and plans for get togethers, I was thinking of biting the bullet rather than keep waiting for a sale that might not happen in time. I started searching outside my usual retailers to find the best current price on the items I wanted. My searches once again landed me on

In my experience often price matches Amazon, but when it doesn’t it tends to be more expensive. For some of the items I was hunting, much much more expensive. However, if your eligible for new customer coupons you can still come out ahead. One of the unusual things about Jet is those new customer coupons can span multiple orders. Before this shopping experience I had two such offers still attached to my account. I’m not sure if these types of discounts will continue to be available for new customers when the dust settles from the recent buyout. If you’re thinking about joining Jet, I’d start now and lock in that deal.

The closet maid storage shelf I wanted. I was definitely being picky. Target had a taller one for cheaper, even after the discount, but I liked the fact that this one had a complete backing, and the left over shelf space was the perfect size for the cutting toy.
I still really need to paint the playroom.

In addition to the storage shelf above, I purchased end tables (so we can finally get those living room lamps off the floor), an entrance way bench with shoe storage and cushion.

I didn’t do enough research on the end tables. The original ones I wanted were 50% more expensive so I went with the secondary option I was considering. Turns out that was an accent table and not an end table, so it’s a bit taller than I would have liked. Good news, the table is of excellent quality so when ever the price does decide to drop on my first choice I’m sure I’ll be able to find a good use case for them.

Another way Jet is a little unusual is that when you add an item to your cart, the price on some of the items already in your cart may drop. It’s not much of a difference but watching those prices drop is addicting. Sometimes I’d add an item just to watch the price drop. I could see how easy it would be to spend more because you think your saving (spaving.) Admittedly I was guilty of spaving this time. I bought a Christmas Cd I didn’t realize I could get for free with Amazon Prime Music.

I know a home is never done – there’s always another project – but we’re getting closer to at least feeling fully furnished. I’m still looking for a bookshelf to turn into a toy shelf for the playroom. And living room furniture. As much as the kids like the big empty room, I’d like to fill it with something. Alternatively, photography studio equipment would be cheaper than a new couch. All I’d need is the lighting equipment. Decisions, Decisions.

June 4, 2016

Not So Savvy Shopper

Evidence that Sarah is not always as good a shopper as she thinks she is:

Christmas for me isn’t confined to December. I usually purchase new Christmas Ornaments year round. As of a month ago I had purchased four new ornaments. The smart thing to do would have been opening up those nondescript brown shipping packing boxes as they arrived and inspected the contents. In my experience “mint in box” and “never opened”, usually mean “used – like new” with the occasional “used – very good”. Rarely it’s “used – ok.” Once an ornament arrived with a break that could only have been during use, not shipment. Yes, opening the boxes would have been the smart thing. Life was busy. Some of the deals I was getting were very good – good enough to be worth it, even when the ornament in question’s condition wasn’t quite perfect. Good enough to not be worth the hassle of the return. So I let the boxes accumulate in the corner.

Today I sat down to open those boxes and discovered this.


It turns out I purchased Cozy on Ice once off ebay in February, and another time off Amazon in May. (Yes, that also means I had a package for 4 months before finally getting around to open it.) Oops. Neither purchase was an exceptionally good deal. I paid $13 and $15 including tax and shipping respectively. You can get it off of ebay right now for under $10, although the $13 price is more typical. While I generally don’t mind have a back up ornament, I prefer to only get a back duplicate if it’s a couple of dollars. An extra $15 probably won’t break the bank, but it’s still annoying. At least I really love the ornament.

Can’t Wait to Skate was ok. The pom-pom on his hat looked to be partially torn off. I can probably fix it, but I’m also debating about removing it entirely. It was a fine purchase at $5. I didn’t like Making Mom & Daughter’s Memories as much in person as I did online, especially after discovering this year’s version which I like much better.

Not my finest shopping moments. Oh well. Perhaps I should refrain from online shopping for a little while.

May 7, 2016

Hallmark 2016 Plan

Where did the time go? It’s already May! Time to think about Christmas ornaments.

All kidding aside, I think I forgot about Hallmark this year partially because I haven’t been enjoying collecting the keepsakes as much the past couple of years. I didn’t set foot in a hallmark store last year. Penguin Tales was the only ornament I wanted at the premiere, and I could purchase it off Amazon for the same price. I did get Cozy on Ice and Can’t Wait to Skate on eBay in an after Christmas sale. I spent too much time on eBay and purchased Making Mom & Daughter Memories which I don’t remember seeing in last year’s dreambook.

My current 2016 plan:

A Tasty Treat – That’s a big old yes. I was so disappointing Hallmark stopped the unofficial gumdrop series last year. They may have been mini ornaments, but they were my favorite. (Miniature prices didn’t hurt either!) This new series could fill the void. It has that same cuteness + sweetness combination. I’m a sucker for designs based on sugar.

That’s a Wrap – It’s cute, but I’m on the fence. My gut reaction was to want it, but I’m worried I’m letting the fact that I already own many of the other pieces in the series influence my decision. I don’t think I would purchase it if it was a stand alone ornament. My concern is that it looks less detailed than most of the other ornaments. Usually when the photo looks less detailed the ornament disappoints in person. I’ll have to wait to make the final decision.

Cookie Cutter Christmas – I’m going to pass on this one. I’m not a fan of the mitten shape. I think I’ll even pass if I see it in an after Christmas sale.

Playground Pals – I normally collect the penguins, and it’s a cute concept, but I think I will pass. If I didn’t know that was supposed to be a marry-go-round from the description I’m not sure I would have guessed it.

Comfy and Cozy – It’s adorable, but what’s with Mary Hamilton’s Bears series price tag? I bulked at the nearly $20 price tag last year, then snagged it for $5 shipped on Ebay back in February. I’ll wait for this one as well. I hope I can get it cheaply too. Then again, finding ornaments from a series cheaply on eBay is not a good sign for the series’ longevity.

That’s 1 yes, 2 no‘s, 1 most likely pass and 1 only if I can get it in an after Christmas sale. Not a lot of reason to go to the store, is there?

There’s another ornament I want! I somehow missed the 2016 Baking Mom & Daughter Memories, which I like way more than the 2015 Making Mom & Daughter Memories. The 2016 Season’s Treatings is finally a Cinnamon Rolls theme. Cinnamon Rolls have special significance to me, but I’m on the fence about the design.

My willingness to spend money has increased the past couple of years. I hemmed and hawed about purchasing the the wine bottle wall art that decorated our dinning room walls with when Domingo and I first moved in together. Domingo had to convince me that it really wasn’t that expensive to buy both the white and red pieces. A few years later I lamented not having purchased a backup set. Sadly, they broke in our move not two years after that, thank you movers who put them in a box without wrapping them first.

The ‘I should get a back up set’ (or ‘should have gotten’ in this case) is the good I-wish-I-spent-more feeling. Lately I’ve had a few of the not so good I-wish-I-spent-more feeling. The reading chair we purchased for the office came cheap from Amazon. Sadly it both looks and feels as cheap as it was. I wish I had purchased a different chair, a nicer one. The deck furniture was similarly disappointing. It’s already has some rust after just one season of use. I can’t really bemoan the purchase of the Ikea couch. We got it at a basement bargain price for the apartment. We weren’t sure where we were likely to move, and I didn’t want to spend a penny more than I had to on something that might not work in the new place. It was the cheapest couch I could find, and meant to only be temporary.

Then there were the good purchases. The Mainstays table for the kitchen was a steal. The initial table I bought that arrived broken, only had two chairs and cost more. Our dinning room table was another great purchase, though the shipping and handling surcharge eat into the discount a bit. And, of course, I ended up liking our Christmas trees that were a bit of a gamble. I’m glad I didn’t spend one penny more on those items because it’s hard to imagine a different table or tree that I would have appreciated measurably more.

Reflecting on past purchases has me thinking about price points, and whether mine is at the right point. The lower the price point, the greater the chance of being disappointed with the product. (In general at least, price and value may be interlinked but they’re not interchangeable). The higher the price point the less likely to be dissapointed, but the greater the chance that another product may have been equally good for less. The greater the risk of over paying. There’s a trade off between paying as little as possible, and being happy with one’s purchases.

dissapointed missingout
Probability of being disappointed as a function of price point, and probability of missing out on a deal as a function of price point.

Putting the two charts together to get an idea of overall happiness.
Minimizing the probability of being disappointed means maximizing the probability of over spending and vise versa. The trick is finding the sweet spot where the both probabilities are in the acceptable range for your sensibilities.

I could lower my price point, but it means more back and forth. More returning items I’m really not happy with. More accepting items I’m marginally happy with. I initially assumed my batting average wasn’t that great. I’m starting to think my price point might be just about right after all. I certainly wouldn’t go lower. I don’t have as much patience as I once did, or time, to handle more returns and more calls to customer service. But I’m happy I’m not spending more too. A penny saved, and all.

This weekend we purchased a new set of patio chairs. I spent a bit more than I typically do. Here’s hoping I don’t regret it.


I don’t regret it!

March 4, 2016

Wouldn’t it be Nice?

Despite the fact that I talk about shopping a lot in my blog, I don’t actually like spending money. That doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about products that I might wish to own if only we had unlimited funds. Here are the products I’m currently thinking about.

Purple We’re not in the market for a new mattress. Our mattress started showing it’s age (15 years) when we moved to silicon valley a couple years ago, but a memory foam topper helped extend it’s life. I think we’ve got another 1-3 years before we’d need to replace the mattress (or topper).

Last month I saw a commercial for the purple mattress, I love the concept but wondered how it compared to memory foam mattresses, our previous dream of what we’d own one day with unlimited funds. I started reading up on the company and was really impressed with everything about them and their product line. The reviews were pretty intensely positive, too, and seemingly from people who know way more about mattresses than I do.

From their marketing material is looks like they have all of the benefits of memory foam, with none of the drawbacks, and at a cheaper price point. It’s definitely the mattress I’ll be leaning towards, when I’m finally in the market for a new mattress.

Dishes We registered for the Concepts Eggplant dishware set for our wedding. That wasn’t the smartest decision. The flat dishes have a fairly large lip making them hard to fit in most of the dishwashers we’ve used. They didn’t fit in our townhome dishwasher, or our apartment dishwasher. They do fit in our current dishwasher, but barely and take up so much space we can’t fill the dishwasher up like we can when we use my cheap plates from college. You can guess which set we’re actually using.

I really like this set from Create and Barrel. The problem? Instead of $50 per 4 place settings, it’s $400. Even with unlimited funds I think I’m too cheap to pay that price.

I’m pretty sure if I looked I could fine something similar if I look around. It’s not a particularly unusual pattern.

A New Camera My camera has had 147,200 shutter actions, up 40,000 since August, on a three year old camera that’s only tested up to 100,000 shutter actions. At some point my camera will fail.

What type is something I often go back and forth on. Right now I’m leaning towards the 7200. I like looking at the higher end cameras, but I don’t think I’d take advantage of their extra features. What I’m most interested in now is less noise at higher ISO sensitivity. A larger buffer would be nice too.

Edited to add: We tried purple, it wasn’t for us.

February 16, 2016

The Deep Freeze

Domingo and I finally went ahead and bought a second freezer for the garage. We were primarily thinking of it as a time savor, so we could reduce our trips to the grocery store. The more we think about it, the more a second freezer appears to be a money saver as well.

Unlike Mommy, who could subsist a month off of PB&J, the kids will get bored with and stop eating even their favorite meals if we make them too often. This necessitates having a wide variety of meats and vegetables at the ready. We prefer not to repeat a dish twice in a week if we can help it. As for the leftovers that don’t freeze well, they become Mommy lunches.

Our current refrigerator/freezer combo is better than anything we’ve had so far, but we still can’t stock up from Costco (or any other store) the way we’d like to. Inevitably, we sometimes realize we’re approaching 5 o’clock and don’t have a dinner option. That means a quick run to the closest, but sadly not cheapest grocery store. It’s marginally more expensive for vegetables, and much more expensive for meats. Fish runs us nearly double. Meats are not only cheaper at Costco, but they come individually wrapped so it’s easier to just make the amount you want and save the rest. It’ll also save us some eating out dollars (and calories). Just last week I was going to make salmon for our dinner once the kids were asleep when I discovered we were completely out. I could muster the energy to cook, or go out, but not both.

After looking around I settled on the 10.6 Cubic foot GE Chest Freezer. It’s on sale ($359, down from $399) just about everywhere, which pushed the price below the “free shipping” threshold at a few different places. Of course the shipping cost was nearly double the sale discount. Of course. I ended up contacting BestBuy, and Home Depot to see if I could get the non sale and thus free shipping price before realizing Lowes had both the sale price and free shipping.

Initial Cost: $389.52 after taxes.
Ongoing Yearly Costs: $39.68 (218 kWh at 18.2 cents per kWh)

Assuming a super conservative estimate of $10 a week savings on food (equivalent of saving on just 1 dinner a week), we’d save ($10 – $39.68/52), or $9.24 a week. After 43 weeks the freezer will have paid for itself. A more optimistic guestimate savings of $20 a week on food means the freezer will have paid for itself in just 4 & 1/2 months.

February 6, 2016

No Longer a Subscriber

I still like Amazon, but I am no longer a Subscribe and Saver.

On the 2nd (Tuesday) I was looking at my past orders dealing with another issue when I chanced upon a $20 place holder charge on my account for Lil Crunchies. (What is it with those?). The crunchies were supposed to come in my February shipment, and not due until the middle of the month. I immediately went to the “Your Subscribe & Save Items” view to manage my subscriptions and cancel those darn crunchies. Low and Behold under my February shipment Lil Chrunchies was listed for just $9, a much more reasonable price. I still had until the 7th (tomorrow) to cancel the order so I decided to see what would happen. When the price I was being charged still hadn’t change as of yesterday, I emailed customer support to ask what was going on. Basically, once the order shows up on your account, that’s the price you’ll pay, regardless of any price fluctuations or what the “Your Subscribe & Save Items” view says.

I admit I’m not a huge fan of Dynamic pricing. I do my best to use it to my advantage with price watching and have it work in my favor so it’s just a mild dislike. I take a significant issue with bait-and-switch. For the past couple of years that I’ve been using Subscribe and Save I always assumed the price listed on the current month’s shipment, the page that’s billed for “managing subscriptions”, is the price I was paying. What indication is there that this isn’t the case? I’d log in the day before or the day of to make sure the price hadn’t changed. It never occurred to be to double check my order history as well.

I hope I’ve never drastically over paid. I’m afraid to look, to be honest. I will be so frustrated to learn that I have.

This discovery also creates a considerable hurtle for my new app idea. The place holder orders are not guaranteed to be done on any one day. The Lil crunches order was placed at the start of the week. The paper towels order only showed up yesterday. In order to get an accurate idea of how much one would be charged, I’d need to know which day he or she was going to be charged for each individual item. That either means access to their order history, or putting a considerable burden on them to supply the information.

I’m not giving up on the app idea, but it definitely needs more time to germinate. In the mean time, I’m canceling all my Amazon subscriptions. Amazon’s prices are usually good, but not always. I find the few extra dollars I save per month is not worth the risk of drastically over paying. Not when I have other options like Target and Costco that are just as convenient.

January 23, 2016

Subscribing without Saving

I like to do as much of my incidental shopping on auto pilot. Who has time to research the best price on toilet paper every couple of weeks? Factoring in all the various discounts and reward points?

Apparently I should be keeping better track. I logged on to Subscribe and Save today and realized for the Gerbers’ Lil Crunchies (a kid favorite around these parts) the 15% off discounted price on a bulk purchase was more than twice as expensive as buying the same number of cans, individually, from Target before applying a red card discount. Twice! And here I am thinking Amazon is the cheapest. I went over all my subscriptions and I noticed that some were nearly three times as expensive. I know Amazon likes to raise the price on incidentals to help cover the cost of shipping but geeze.

There has to be a better way!

I’m dreaming of a new kind of product price monitoring service. I’d enter my monthly grocery list, and where I have loyalty cards. The service would then compute the optimal way of breaking up my purchase to maximize my total savings. No more manually checking each individual item at each individual store. No more busting out my calculator to figure out what the final price would be.

The service would be even more useful if I could indicate which products I’m willing to make substitutions on. The girls have a favorite Lil Crunches flavor (Garden Vegetable) but I don’t have a brand preference for paper towels.

So what say you, internet. Any interest in such a service?

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »