Posts Tagged ‘Bargain Hunting’

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?

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Our Amazon gift cards have arrived, and I’m distracting myself from my morning all-day sickness by thinking about baby gear, and bargain hunting.

I used my previous post as a starting point, and set up some price watches. Right now we’re leaning towards the Baby Einstein Neptune Ocean Adventure gym. I decided I wanted a change it up a bit with the gym theme. While I liked the water concept, and was very happy with our Lamaze Space Symphony Motion Gym
, the pond version just wasn’t as neat.

Of course setting up price watches didn’t take long, and I soon found myself thinking about other types of gear specifically for baby number two.

Additional Monitor

Hands down the best baby gear purchase I made was for a video baby monitor. It’s been useful at all stages, from newborn days to now in the toddler bed. We can hear Nicki just fine without any monitor – in fact, the audio has been off for over a year now! – but the ability to see what is going on is a sanity savor.

We have the Motorola MBP36 Video Baby Monitor which has an option for an additional camera.

Amazon’s lowest price for the additional camera ($79.99) does not beat Buy Buy Baby’s price with 20% off coupon ($79.20). Depending on what Amazon’s price is in November, I might be able to get a better deal with the registry completion code. The 15% completion discount would make the price tag on amazon $81.16. If the price in November is better than average, I win by waiting, otherwise I don’t. Roughly even odds, I’d say.

The other thing we’ll need is a new battery. The current re-chargeable battery doesn’t hold a charge for too long any more. Either that or a second power cord.

Second Crib

I’m kind of at a loss with this one. I like symmetry and the notion of having the same crib for each child is aesthetically pleasing to me but I’ve been really frustrated with Nicki’s crib, with the non-standard parts and all.

On the one hand I think I’m being overly critical. From what I’ve read and been told by folks at the hardware store, that’s pretty common across all furniture makers. So I’m not sure I will have a better experience with a different manufacturer. Besides, I’m partially to blame. I should have been more diligent about saving all the pieces. I just never thought I’d switch it to a toddler bed. I figured we’d get her a new toddler bed when it was time for the crib to have a new occupant.

Then again the price is up nearly 30% on the same crib! Looks like the price is all over the map! I’ll probably end up with the same selection process this time around as last time: add four acceptable cribs to the registry and see which has the best price when I receive my registry completion code.

Double Stroller

I think I’m going to pass on this one. If I was a stay at home mom, a double stroller seems like a necessity. In our current arrangement, I don’t really see myself taking the kids out on outings by myself. Two single strollers seems like a adequate solution when you have two sets of hands to push and are just out for an evening walk.

On the other hand, a double stroller seems much more convenient than two single strollers in crowded situations. My childhood zoo did not allow strollers inside the buildings, only outside when walking around. If we ever make a trip out to disneyland, we won’t be able to take the stroller(s) in the attractions. Having one stroller seems much more convenient when you have to check it. But these places also rent double strollers for very reasonable prices. The zoo rents them for just $10 a day! Going to the zoo will give us a nice try-before-you-buy feel for the value of double strollers.

March 13, 2014

Small Misfortunes & eBay

It feels like we’re running into a string of bad luck lately.

cracked

Last Saturday we took Nicki to the duck pound to get her out of the house. When we returned we discovered one of our refrigerator magnets had bit the dust. It was as though it had just lost structural integrity. The piece still attached to the magnet back end was still on the refrigerator. The base piece had slide down the refrigerator and was resting on another magnet a few inches below. The broken Caryatids were on the floor.

I was really bummed. The magnet was a souvenir from our honeymoon in Greece, and my favorite one at that. We visited Greece at the end of tourist season, when most of the souvenir stands were somewhat picked through. I broke our original Caryatid magnet on the last day of our trip. I remember wondering Monastiraki Square our final night looking for a decent replacement.

Alas, Monastiraki Square is pretty far away these days.

We did find a replacement on eBay, but it’s the colored version which I don’t like as much and five times as expensive. At least we found a similar one?

We also didn’t win that baby’s first Christmas ornament. Shortly after we placed our bid there was another person who bid over us, and then removed their bid. We figured they were testing to get a feel for our bid price. Sure enough, we were outbid again a few hours later. I told Domingo not let it go. At the time I figured we didn’t really need a spare, and another cheap one would come along at some point. I can’t imagine demand for “Baby’s First Christmas 2012” ornaments increasing over time. After the breakage of our Greece magnet (and the end of the auction) I had a change of heart. Rather than spend $6, we spent $13.

Here’s the dilemma: I’ve been using eBay a fair amount in recent years, especially for out of print replacements, but I don’t feel like I have a good handle on how to effectively shop on eBay. Does the magnet I want exist on eBay without color? Is there another cheap rocking horse ornament? How do I avoid other people bidding up the item I want?

Auction psychology is an area I know little about.

eBay uses a proxy bidding system, which is a second price auction. It’s provably mathematically optimal to bid exactly the maximum price you’re willing to pay. In other words, if everyone customer bids exactly once, and exactly the maximum price we’re willing to pay, then whoever wins the item actually pays the minimal amount needed to secure it.

Truthfull bidding may be provably optimal in theory, but there’s often a difference between theory and practice. Consumers are often not objective. I remember thinking to myself $25 was the maximum I was willing to spend on any ornament for our tree. When I was outbid for the 2009’s Season’s Treatings, I kept inching my bid upwards. After all, $27 isn’t that much more than $25. The final price tag? Just over $40.

I need to learn a little auction psychology and to be more objective.

December 1, 2013

Black Friday 2013 Recap

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Another Black Friday has come and gone. Much like last year most of my shopping was done online. The major difference this time around was more than half of it occurred before the Turkey even came out of the refrigerator, and it was one of our best years to date with an average saving of 48%! That is, assuming none of our purchases fall through. I’ll get to that.

Thanksgiving morning I got up with Nicki to give Domingo a chance to get a little more sleep. While she was eating breakfast I decided to check the websites of some of the stores whose deals we were hoping to snag, to see if any of the deals were live yet. The Step 2 Cottage was already on sale on Toys R Us matched by Amazon, as was another item Domingo wanted to get his father for Christmas. (Actually Amazon’s deal for Domingo’s dad’s gift was a few dollars cheaper on Amazon, a happy surprise.) In my cart both went. That’s my kind of shopping: in the comfort of my own home, at a leisurely pace, exactly what I wanted at the price point I wanted.

Alas, the Step 2 Kitchen, was not available online from Toys R Us, nor price matched on Amazon. I figured I would wait until 5pm eastern standard time (the time Toys R Us was opening it’s doors on the East coast) to see if Amazon would price match then. Nada. Okay, 5pm our time. Still nope. I was bummed, but hopeful for a surprise lightening deal.

I continued to monitor Toys R Us and Amazon’s websites throughout the day and Friday. To my surprise Friday morning the kitchen was suddenly available for shipping. In the shopping cart it went. While in the middle of the check out, right after supplying my credit card information, I suddenly found myself viewing my cart. I was confused. Did I click the wrong thing? Did I finished checking out? The kitchen was still in my cart, and I hadn’t received a confirmation number so I decided to try again. The checkout process failed at the same place the second time, with the kitchen still in my cart. The third time I tried to check out I was told my purchase couldn’t be completed because my cart was empty. I went back to the search page, but the kitchen was now listed as sold out. I was very bummed. Eight hours later the kitchen was once again available for shipping. This time, on the second try, I was able to confirm the purchase and received an order confirmation number, but an hour later I received an email saying there was a problem fulfilling my order. The kitchen is back ordered.

I am questing whether my order will be fulfilled in time for Christmas. My experience on toysrus.com reminds me of the bestbuy.com website glitches of 2011. BestBuy’s front end website had no notion of how much inventory was still available, and too many orders went through. BestBuy was ultimately unable to fulfill all those orders, and had to cancel someone of them. The constant fluctuations between in and out of stock could be due to a similar inventory accounting problem. Maybe my order kept failing because there wasn’t a product in stock to buy? Toys R Us’ original estimated delivery date was mid December. While my order isn’t canceled, I no longer have an estimated shipment date, and there’s not a lot of slack time between mid December and Christmas.

I am trying not to be too pessimistic. Domingo pointed out that the BestBuy shoppers had no idea there was a problem with their orders until a few days before Christmas because BestBuy had no idea there was a problem with the orders. This isn’t the case here, as I have already received an email from Toys R Us letting me know of the delay. From Twitter and Facebook it sounds like I wasn’t the only one this happened to, and some other folks had their orders out right canceled. Toys R Us didn’t cancel my order, which likely means they think they can fulfill it.

Fingers crossed.

Anyway, here’s what worked for us this time around:

Checking Early if the Deal was Live – For stores with a physical presence “Thursday, midnight!” corresponds to a single, specific time. A website, on the other hand, could have a physical presence in multiple time zones and receive visitors from all over the world. Do they mean Thursday according to where the website servers are located (which could be anywhere in the world and even multiple locations)? The company headquarters? The potential shoppers?

In the past two years I’ve found many retailers have soft start times, and the kind folks answering the help lines often don’t know exactly when the sales start. We discovered some deals went live when it was Thursday in Europe & Asia, but still Wednesday here in the US.

Keeping Multiple Tabs For Easy Deal Checking – I kept a tab open for each product/retailer combination I was considering. I had the play kitchen opened on Amazon’s website, Toys R Us, and Target. Periodically I’d refresh each page to see what the current offer price was. I found this worked better than price alerts websites which are usually restricted from crawling merchant websites too often.

November 26, 2013

Deals That Aren’t

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Behavioral economics is a field of study that explores the hows and why of consumer shopping; the social, cognitive and even emotional decisions that are in play during a purchase. As consumers like to think of ourselves as rational, but we can often be influenced by other factors that lead us to make irrational decisions. Consider free shipping. Consumers (myself included) typically hate shipping costs, and will pay more for an item with free shipping thinking they’re getting a better overall deal (not necessary). Another emotional decision influencer is the presence of sale signs. We’re more likely to make a purchase if we think we’re getting a better deal. Some retailers are marking up prices to offer better ‘sales’ without lowering the final price this holiday season.

My tips to avoid sales that aren’t sales:

Start with a list. Lists are great in general to curb impulse buys as they can keep you focused. Spend some time figuring out what features you like (and thus are willing to pay for) and what features you don’t mind (but won’t pay extra for). It’s probably too late for this season, but I recommend creating your list before looking at any holiday circulars to avoid any subconscious influence.

Get a baseline price. Once you have your list do some comparison shopping. I typically use CamelCamelCamel.com and Baby Cheapskate to get an idea how much the things I’m interested in historically have cost. I’ll also typically do a internet search to find out what other retailers are selling an item for. These datapoints can give me a base line price that help me distinguish if an item is actually on sale and how good the sale is.

For example, that Calphalon Unison Cookware Set? Amazon says the list price is $1000, and thus the $335 price was 67% off. Or so they claimed. CamelCamelCamel lists the average price from amazon as $537, and Bed Bath and Beyond list it for $599.99, ($479.99 after 20% off coupon). The $335 is still a good price, but more like 30% off, not 67%.

Realize There’s Often a Reason for a Price. Ever look at a Black Friday circular and wonder how any company can stay in business offering things like $2 waffle irons? Many of those rock bottom prices are on items manufacture specifically for the November/December shopping rush. They’re more cheaply made, with fewer features and lesser parts. If that’s what you want, great! But keep in mind it’s not the same item as the one that’s being sold for 10 times as much, and shouldn’t be used when figuring out the base line price.

I suspect the TV we purchased last year falls into this category. It was a very cheap price for the time (sub $400 for a 50 inch) and only came on the market June that year. The price never really rose to the level that you’d expect of TVs for that size. That’s okay for us. It’s our first flat screen TV and we’re unlikely to notice if it has sub par picture capabilities. Anything beats our old rear projection TV, even a cheaply made TV with fewer HDMI ports.

Remember, it’s not the % off that matters. It’s the price you’re paying (including shipping) to get the features you want.

Identify Multiple Alternatives One strategy retailers will use is to try and get you emotionally invested in the particular item they are selling. Last time I went to a car dealership the dealer kept using possessive pronouns. Let’s go pick out YOUR car, how about you drive YOUR car to the front lot? (emphasis mine.) If I start thinking of one particular car as ‘mine’ I’m likely to agree to pay a little more for it when we negotiate the price, or agree to extras/accessories I wouldn’t otherwise get. If I remember that there are multiple dealers with multiple cars of the same make, model and color, I’m more likely to remain objective.

It’s best to find several similar products that fit the bill. When that’s not practical, look for several retailers with comparable prices on an item. If you find yourself fixating on one particular deal ask yourself is it the item you really want, or the deal.

November 5, 2013

Upgrades Abound

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

I love this month. I love the whole holiday season, but November and December have got to be some of my favorite times of the year. Now that we’ve actually moved and the stress of finding a place is gone, it feels like the timing of graduation was perfect. Being able to get everything we need for the home at great holiday steal prices is a wonderful treat, but it get’s better. We’ve also made it my graduation present to upgrade some of our household items. (Have I mentioned I love to bargain hunt?) That means extra shopping this season. As such our Black Friday list is growing.

The Big Deals Thus Far

A Canvas Print – It’s time for a big family photo in the living room, afterall we can never have too many photos with Nicki! I was after another canvas print. Remember how I beat myself up about missing out on that last good canvas print deal? Not this time! I waited for the cafepress deal came around again and this time I pounced! I got it for about half (51%) of what I paid for the canvas print of Nicki as a newborn. The only trouble is I’m not sure any of my current photos work, but I have until the end of the year to pick a photo.

New Pots and Pans – I love the set of pots and pans we got for our wedding (Calphalon Contemporary) but I made the mistake of registering for the non-dishwasher safe ones*. We didn’t realize that at first, thus voiding the warranty. It was our first good set of dishes, and we loved the non stick coating and how evenly they heated. The trouble is washing them by hand takes up so much time – a precious resource these days – and, well, they were damaged from us not knowing how to care for them. We’ve been talking about getting the dishwasher safe kind (Calphalon Unison) someday when our current set wears completely out.

Someday is today. I was looking for a 1 qt pan for Thanksgiving on amazon.com and happened to notice that the Unison set was 39% off! That’s the lowest price ever on amazon. But it get’s better. Amazon’s also in the middle of their holiday sales, and are offering it at an additional 15% off. That makes for a total of 48% off! They’re sold out, but the deal price is still live and I don’t mind waiting. Backorder it is!

* The new contemporary line is reportedly dishwasher safe now. I stumbled upon this fact in the process of writing this blog post and after I made our purchase, otherwise I would have considered just buying the same pots. Our current pots are most definitely not dishwasher safe.

Deals I’m on the Hunt For

A New Computer – No exaggeration my desktop is seven and a half years old. My laptop is a lot younger, but has been on it’s last legs since I got it and nearly kicked the bucket the day of my defense. The laptop was a serious disappointment. I need a new computer stat! The dream setup is a new server with raided hard drive (gotta protect those baby photos!) that can also serve as a media center and a new laptop so I can continue to work lounging on the couch.

New Tools – Specifically I want a pair of really good screw drivers. Maybe just two philips head and two standard head. I’m not sure what qualifies ‘really good’ but I know we don’t have it. In assembling the furniture this past weekend I used not one, not two, but three screwdrivers. The tread had warn down on all three of them, and I was constantly switching back and forth between them trying to find one that could grip the screw. I got everything assembled, but not before giving myself a blister. While I hope there isn’t much furniture assembly again in my immediate future, I’m sure I’ll need a screwdriver eventually. The trouble is, since I don’t know what makes a good screw driver, I can’t really tell what’s a good deal.

Tools make a great stocking stuffer and Christmas list fodder for me. I love gadgets, especially useful ones! A few years ago my aunt gave me a handy screw driver magnetizer. I also love my Mini Screwdriver Set which is all the more useful for changing batteries in kids’ toys. I’m thinking of asking Domingo for a right angle screw driver to help with those hard to get at screws since he’s insisting we do stockings this year.

Nicki’s Play Kitchen or maybe A Play House – Someone is getting spoiled by Santa this year. Toys R Us has a great Black Friday deal on the Step 2 LifeStyle Dream Kitchen ($75!) as well as the Neat & Tidy Cottage ($100!) which I’m hoping that amazon matches because shopping from the couch is so much nicer than going to the store these days! I suspect these will be amazon lightening deals. I think that’s usually how they price match door busters. My plan is to stalk the various kitchens and play houses online and see which deal (if any) I can snag.

Domingo’s New Cell Phone – If Domingo upgraded his cell phone when he was eligible, he would be eligible again, his phone is that old. It’s also incredibly unreliable, and dies often in the middle of phone calls. You can guess how much fun that was organizing the move. The one he wants is advertised as free on Black Friday! Can’t get better than that!

April 6, 2013

Cheated

Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

We purchased Nicki’s Easter dress crazy last minute (last Saturday afternoon). The original price of the dress she wore was $39.99, but under the price scanner it came to $25.99. These days I always double check everything with the price scanner. I’ve been burned too many times with sales signs that were put up before the sale actually started, or left up after the sale ended. But I trust the price scanner to be right. I mean, it’s the same backend system as the cash register, right?

After Nicki went to bed I sorted through the day’s purchases. That’s when I was suddenly struck the notion that my receipt didn’t make sense. I purchased 6 items, three from the clearance rack. Aside from the dress I bought the next two most expensive items were $12 regular price. My three “big ticket” items totaled $50, how in the world was my total $90?! (Confession: I have a really easy time remembering individual prices, but I’m terrible at guessing the total. I’ve lost all ability to do simple math without a calculator.)

I went back to the receipt and was shocked. My $2.25 St. Patty’s day shirt (bought ahead for next year) rung up at full price – $8.99. The dress, $39.99! And I got charged for 3 Pairs of pants, not the two I purchased. I was livid. I remember both those prices precisely because I did not want the items at full price. But the store was closed for the day, and, of course, nothing was opened Easter Sunday.

My best guess as to what went wrong with the receipt was that I didn’t read the fine print. Babies r’ us was also having a buy one-get one free (BOGO) deal on Fisher Price toys. I started kicking myself from having bought two Fisher Price toys on Amazon earlier that day, and doing the mental math to see how much I could have saved. That is, until Domingo pointed out the super fine print that said the first item had to be at least $29.99 and the second item could not exceed $24.99. I wouldn’t have qualified for the BOGO deal. My guess is there was a similar fine print for the St. Patty’s day shirt (ie it was only 70% off if my total purchase exceeded some amount) as well as for the dress. So I probably wouldn’t have been able to argue the different prices. Regardless, I should not have been charged for that non-existent third pair of pants.

I was left with two options: suck it up, cut the tags off the dress and get the Easter photos I wanted, or go back Monday to attempt argue for a different price and/or return everything thus waiting until the following weekend to do Easter-style spring photos. Normally I would be cool with the latter option, but this time I was taking photos more for grandparents than myself, and I wanted to be able to send them somewhat timely. So after twenty solid minutes of fuming, I cut off the tags. I will still be irate about this for weeks to come, have no doubt about that.

Fast forward to today I went after Easter sales shopping at Target, Wallgreens, etc. I was specifically looking for an Easter book I could read to her next year but I was tickled pink that one store had such a huge college of not just spring themed books, but classics like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit in the Easter sale bin for 50% off! They were designed to be Easter basket filler (and were slightly smaller than normal print books), but I didn’t care. I picked up five books, including a ‘touch and feel’ baby animals book, Guess How Much I Love You and a glittery egg shaped ‘peel back and see’ book.

This time the price checker reported full price for all five books. Not a good sign, but I figured I’d ask the sales associate working the cash register. No dice, only the candy was on sale. Disheartened I headed back to the Easter display, but when I saw the big “50% off” sign plastered all over the books bin I decided to ask a second person. She wasn’t sure about the sale and thought only the egg shaped book, and maybe Peter Rabbit were on sale, but called over the manager to verify. The manager confirmed that none of the books were on sale and proceeded to remove all the sales signs. I was so bummed. But right before he left he looked back and said “Except hers, hers are on sale.” Score!

So I saved $18 on books, but was jipped out of about $21 in clothes this week. Still so so mad over the clothes. I guess now I’m going to have to check every item on the receipt before leaving the store. Everyone else in line are going to hate me.

March 10, 2013

Online Rebate Programs

Discount shopping is hard these days. I do my best with automated systems to alert me to sales, but I often find myself needing something and unable to wait until a good deal comes along. Like this weekend. A heat wave is hitting (yes, it’s only early March), the temperature upstairs is hovering around 75 °F, and the fan in the office died. I keep 20% bed bath and beyond coupons well stocked, but they weren’t selling any fans yet. Still, I hate the idea of not saving anything, so I thought I’d look into various cash back programs. I spent the afternoon researching the three main online rebate programs: Ebates, UPromise and Swagbucks.

I ultimately decided to go with Ebates (disclaimer: that’s a referral link). Ebates pays you cash back to shop online at BestBuy, Target, Amazon, Carters, JCPenney, Bed Bath and Beyond, Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby and many, many, many more. You click their affiliate link to visit the store you want to shop from and ebates splits the referral bonus with you. I signed up and used the link to buy a new fan. What else can you save with Ebates just in time for tax season? TurboxTax and H&R Block! The more time I spent on their website the more I kicked myself for not joining Ebates sooner.

I was instantly drawn to uPromise. Easy college savings? What’s not to love?! I had the impression that uPromise accounts were special high yield savings with tax benefits (like a 529 plan) backed by Sallie Mae. Not quite. While uPromise provide easy access to 529 plans, and is owned by Sallie Mae, it is basically just a loyalty program. The funds don’t even need to be spent on educational expenses. If uPromise can’t offer me a better savings plan than I can get on my own, there doesn’t seem to be any additional benefit to uPromise instead of Ebates. What uPromise does have going for it, is slightly higher cashback rates.

As I dug a little deeper I read that uPromise’s business model is primarily in profiling their customers for marketing purposes and were criticized as having some deceptive practices. I was beginning to feel more like the product being sold than the customer.

Then there was SwagBucks (also a referral link.) SwagBucks has a cash back system like ebates, with slightly lower rates. But that’s not the only way you can earn money with SwagBucks. Their pitch: earn money for doing things you already do online – surf the web, watch videos, play games. The reality: earn money by subjecting yourself to marketing pitches. Each poll is associated with some product. “Do you have amazon prime?”. (Guess what ad pops up if you answer ‘no’.) You can also participate in activities which, in my admittedly limited experience, have all been soft ball type pitches for products disguised as marketing research. “Which feature of my product do you like the most” Guess which ad then pops up. I earned 7 points by in 4 minutes. At 450 points for a $5 Amazon gift card that’s an effective rate of $1.16 per hour. At least in this business model products are being sold to me, rather than data about me being sold to other companies.

The Verdict: EBates for the win, followed by SwagBucks. I plan to do my shopping through Ebates, but will likely continue to do some searching through SwagBucks. It’s only a few extra ads on each search result page, after all. We’ll see if anything actually pans out.

It’s a good thing I decided to test our online strategy early. Monitoring tweets with tweet alarm just isn’t going to work, at least not how I originally set it up.

The first problem is that I’m getting alerts for tweets like “Fry’s Black Friday 2011 Ads Finally Revealed”. Yes, that’s a recent tweet from today! Most likely it isn’t a legitimate account. I’d link to it, but the shortened link in the tweet is most likely a virus. It made me realize that tweet monitoring may be bad advice. If you decide to use tweet monitoring, be careful not to click on links from accounts you don’t recognize. The second problem is that I’m getting too many tweets. I can’t find the legitimate ones mixed in with the illegitimate ones.

I’m not giving up on social media for Black Friday. In the past I’ve used the websites Black Friday Ads and BlackFriday Info, both of which have twitter accounts (@BFAds and @blackfridayinfo, respectively). It may take me longer to get notifications of good deals, but at least I can trust the information.

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