More than 2 million consumers in the Northeast are still without power after weekend snowstorms. But they’re far from powerless when it comes to getting cash back for the inconvenience.
Cable, phone and Internet providers often provide credit as a goodwill gesture when customers can’t access the service due to problems with their network or a more widespread power outage, says Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for advocacy group Consumer Action. Electric and gas companies may also be willing to refund a portion of the service part of your bill, she says. Such credits are typically prorated, based on your monthly bill and the length of time you were without access — meaning someone with say, a $120-per-month cable, phone, and Internet bundle and who was without service for 48 hours might save $8 to $10.
Want to save an easy $100 on your next Apple purchase? Just wait a few days.
A new pricing study from sale-tracking site DealNews.com found that deals start popping up within days. Apple rarely offers sales, so cutting prices even a little bit is online retailers’ best chance of luring customers away from buying directly from Apple.com or one of its stores. For example, when the MacBook Air launched in October 2010, MacConnection offered a $30 off deal the next day. Deals on other Apple product lines popped up within a week or two of their debut.
But price savings aren’t likely to be enough of a lure to deter Apple devotees away from pre-orders and lengthy day-of-launch lines, says Gary Singer, chief executive for Buyology Inc., a marketing research firm. “Apple understands ‘cool’ much better than its competitors,” he says. Functionality and price take a backseat for such early adopters, especially with Apple, whose buyers have traditionally had little to worry about on either count. (The rare bug is almost always easily fixable via software, and the company is notoriously sparse on new-model price cuts and sales, he says.)
If there aren’t enough hours in the day to make travel arrangements for your upcoming vacation, pick up the dry cleaning or finish your taxes, outsourcing the task to freelancing sites can get it done for as little as $5. But will it be done well? Only if you’re willing to do some legwork, too.
Even job hunters are now turning to such sites, which often rely on computers and workers based in India, to get their resumes in more hands, according to a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. One applicant paid JobHunter.com $80 over his five month search, during which the site sent more than 500 resume submissions on his behalf. (He ultimately landed his desired sales job.)
Outsourcing personal tasks can be a great use of time and money, but only cases where there’s a lot of work to be done, or the task in question is one you aren’t skilled at, says Kenneth Zeigler, a productivity consultant based in Denver, N.C whose clients have included The Federal Reserve, Fidelity Investments and Hertz. But it’s at best a wash and more likely a waste if you have to spend more time explaining what you want in say, a bargain Las Vegas hotel room, than it would to actually do the Expedia search yourself. There’s also the risk that your rep — who is often based overseas — will misunderstand. “You want to be very careful that you set it up correctly in the beginning,” Zeigler says. “Go in prepared that it may not work out perfectly and you have to go back and fix it.”
With frozen dinners, party balloons, shampoo and more priced at $1, the dollar store can seem like a great place for bargains. But that’s not quite true — and savvy shoppers are catching on.
Cash-strapped consumers have flocked to dollar stores — many of which defy their names by selling higher-priced items — since the recession hit, but now those stores are starting to see a slowdown, reports The Wall Street Journal. Several of the big chains said in quarterly earnings reports that they failed to meet expectations because customers are buying more low-profit items like food and cleaning supplies, and fewer high-profit ones such as clothes and home goods.
But coupon experts suspect at least part of the shift can be explained by the so-called “extreme couponing” trend that teaches shoppers to stack stores sales, coupons and other discounts to pay just pennies on the dollar for their purchases. “People are getting smarter,” says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. “Sales with coupons will almost always beat prices at dollar stores.” A shopper could get a 12-count box of Nature’s Valley granola bars for $0.79 at the grocery store with a sale and coupon, for example. On a per-bar cost, that’s 80% less than the dollar store price of $1 for a pack of four.
As competition among daily deal sites heats up, the half-priced offers consumers have become used to seeing in their inbox each morning could soon start disappearing.
Practically unheard of two years ago, there are now more than 600 sites offering a daily rotation of limited-time deals at local businesses, usually with discounts of 50% or better. The battle is fierce enough, reports The Wall Street Journal, that industry leader Groupon has been steadily losing market share, from 52% nationwide in April to 48% in May. In Boston, one of its bigger markets, Groupon’s revenue per subscriber dropped from $20 in the second quarter of 2010, to $15 during the first quarter of 2011.
Designers are betting that the economy has improved enough to support new jeans priced at $200, $300 — or more. Savvy shoppers, however, can easily save 50% on those same pairs.
Much of the high price tag on so-called premium denim comes from higher costs of manufacturing in the U.S. rather than abroad, according to a report in today’s Wall Street Journal. There’s also the allure of signature cuts or details, like elaborate shading that slims and elongates legs, and a hefty dose of brand reputation. “People are getting hung up on the hype,” says Kathryn Finney, the founder of TheBudgetFashionista.com. “It’s ridiculous to spend $300 on a pair of jeans.”
Earlier this week, Alicia Silverstone begged me to try her favorite vegan chocolate coconut bars. Kim Kardashian wants to help me pick out new shoes, and I have plans with Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen to go T-shirt shopping later this month.
It’s not the glamorous life of a SmartMoney.com reporter that’s keeping my inbox full, but rather, the growing trend of celebrity-curated shopping deals. Any consumer who wants similar celebrity attention need only hand over her email address — but although doing so may keep you on trend, it can also be hazardous for your bank account.
These sites started grabbing attention this spring and the field is only getting more crowded. StyleMint, which launches Friday with a collection of T-shirts designed by the Olsen twins, is the latest of more than half a dozen sites to let members choose an item monthly from rotating “boutiques” of clothing, shoes or accessories picked out by a celebrity stylist. (Among the other site-celebrity pairing, Kate Bosworth works with JewelMint, Kim Kardashian with ShoeDazzle and Christian Siriano with Send the Trend.) Boutiques are personalized to you based on your answers to an introductory style quiz. Another recent entrant to the celebrity-shopping trend, OpenSky, is trying a different model. Members get discounts on products recommended by its celebrity curators, who include Kristin Cavallari, Bobby Flay and Alicia Silverstone. You’ll receive deals only for the handful of celebrities you elect to follow.
Apples just became public enemy No. 1 to shoppers looking for pesticide-free foods.
A recent screening from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found pesticide residue in 98% of the popular fruit, the highest rate of all the produce it examined. That was enough to push apples to the top of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” shopping guide of items to buy organic. The free list, released today, aims to help shoppers on a budget figure out which items are best purchased organic. Last year, apples ranked fourth.
“Consumers should shop with an abundance of caution,” says Mark Kastel, the co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group. Although all of the foods screened meet government guidelines for acceptable pesticide levels, he says, studies have pointed to problems stemming from even minute levels of exposure.
Although buying organic may be desirable, it’s not always in the budget. At online grocer FreshDirect.com, regular strawberries — which placed third on the Dirty Dozen — are half the price of organic ones, while a half-gallon of organic milk at Safeway sells for a 27% premium.
But there are ways to make going organic more affordable. Try these five:
Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @SMPayDirt.