Free Birthday Swag

Hopefully, this blog, by explaining ways of getting free gifts,  is a gift in and of itself. #giftception?

Hopefully, this blog, by explaining ways of getting free gifts, is a gift in and of itself. #giftception?

When it comes to birthdays, the part that excites most people is the prospect of getting presents. Doesn’t everyone like knowing that someone thought about them on their special day and, in order to contribute to the festivities, got them something? Besides receiving gifts from others, you might feel inclined to splurge on yourself; your birthday comes only once a year, so why not? Unbeknownst to most people, companies want to spoil you, too. Instead of spending your hard earned money, you can receive many free gifts from a variety of places. Granted, the companies have ulterior motives. Nevertheless, you might as well take advantage of the incredible deals by signing up for them online with your name and birthday-after all, finding businesses that give away free goods is quite the rarity.

Admit it-you want to feel special on your special day. And doesn't a happy heart start with a full stomach?

Admit it-you want to feel special on your special day. And doesn’t a happy heart start with a full stomach?

The most common gift you can get from stores involves food. When you were younger, adults always wanted to fatten you up; nowadays, corporate companies want to do likewise. Almost all large food chains offer have a free/discounted meal or a complementary desert. You have large selection from which to choose. Do you want to dine on Mexican food to celebrate a spicy birthday, or have free pancakes from IHOP to symbolize a sweet celebration? Sadly, most people are unaware of their eligibility because they do not sign up beforehand. It is therefore imperative to do so before your birthday rolls around the corner.

If you want to splurge calorically on a birthday related dessert, head off to an ice cream store. Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins both offer a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday. These places also offer a coupon for $3 off a birthday cake, but I find it rather depressing to buy a birthday cake for myself. Call me selfish, but I like the old fashioned cake, made from scratch and frosted to perfection by my mother. If you feel parched after your complimentary meal and ice cream, you can head over to Dunkin Donuts. There, you can redeem a voucher you receive in the mail for a free medium sized beverage of any kind. It can be a Coolata or a coffee; it’s your birthday, so it’s your choice!

Now that you’ve gained about ten pounds from all of that food, it’s time to go shopping. Many clothing and shoe stores provide special deals for your birthday. For example, DSW sends a $5 gift certificate in the mail. While that amount will not instantly make any of the regular price shoes dirt cheap, it is still $5 off. Or, you can apply it to a clearance item (as I taught you in the Coupon Craze blog) and get a really great deal! Or, if you are looking to shop for more affordable shoes, you can go to Payless with a 20% off birthday coupon.

Clothing stores that give out birthday promotions include Old Navy, Banana Republic, Kohl’s and Gap; depending on their policy, they might provide a freebie or a substantial discount. If you want an entirely new look, including a fresh face, Sephora gives out a random makeup sample- the downside being that it is often trial size.  With all the food and clothing, you will feel like a different person by the end of your birthday, both inside and out.

 

When businesses see you enter the store, they don't see a Birthday Boy, but a Man with Money.

No matter the occasion  when you enter a store, you are one giant dollar sign. Even on your birthday. (Although nice employees sometimes will sing you a birthday ditty-I say this from experience!!)

Why do businesses provide you with all of these free products? Companies are, by nature, selfish and motivated by desire to increase their profits. In fact, these promotions and discounts are simply a psychological business ploy. They want you to think that they care about you, the customer, by contributing to your birthday celebration. In reality, they foster an artificial bond with the consumers, done primarily to gain your loyalty. If you think they treat you as a special person, you will be more inclined to seek out their goods and services in the future. Additionally, by coming in for your gift, you might browse the store and find something that you end up buying-something that, had you not entered the shop due to the promotion, you might not have seen and consequently bought. Businesses use the birthday gift as a loss leader in such an instance, as they lose money through the birthday item but earn money when you pay for something else. Suddenly, the businesses’ not so innocent tactic of attracting the naïve customer comes to light.

Businesses that provide birthday promotions are almost exclusively large companies. They can afford to take the hit by giving away a small item in order to gain a new customer. Small shops, on the other hand, do not have nearly as much financial leeway and must therefore be more careful. That is why Dunkin’ Donuts can give away a free medium sized beverage, while the quaint, privately owned café down the block cannot.

No need to be cynical about these deals. The business' claims of wanting to celebrate with you may be questionable, but your claim to their birthday gift, once you fill out the 100% safe form, is entirely legitimate.

No need to be cynical about these deals. The business’ claims of wanting to celebrate with you may be questionable, but your claim to their birthday gift, once you fill out the 100% safe form, is entirely legitimate.

I hope that knowing about all of these secret ways to get many birthday presents will help you celebrate your birthday. While the logic behind it is corporate greed, there is no reason as to why you should not take advantage of these deals businesses offer. After all, they are ultimately trying to take advantage of you. Two can play at that game! So remember: if your family and friends forget to buy you a present-or, if you forget to get your friends and family a present-fret not. There is always a store down the block with an available gift-whether you realize it or not!

Published in: on September 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm Comments (1)

Coupon Craze

Most couponers are not so anal that they require a binder to organize.

Most couponers are not so anal that they require a binder to organize.

I am known for my uncanny ability to save money, so here is my first blog teaching you how to do so. One of the best ways I have found to not spend a lot is through couponing. For some unknown reason, there seems to be a stigma attached to this practice. When people think of couponing, the first thought that comes to mind is that of a boring old woman who stays at home all day, clipping out of magazines in order to conserve every last penny. However, this stereotype is completely inaccurate. Exciting, fun, and easy, couponing can be done by anyone through a variety of mediums. It is no longer just considered a hobby, but often a lifestyle-one that has helped many an individual in dire financial straits stay afloat.

While this may look like a regular manufacturers' coupon, it is indeed a coupon for Nabisco that is exclusively issued by Shoprite, and can therefore only be used in Shoprite stores. (Also note: you can go online to Shoprite stores and download such exclusive coupons to your Shoprite savings card. You cannot print them; this is Shoprite's way of reaching out to the savviest of couponers, like you and me)

While this may look like a regular manufacturers’ coupon, it is indeed a coupon for Nabisco that is exclusively issued by Shoprite, and can therefore only be used in Shoprite stores. (Also note: you can go online to Shoprite stores and download such exclusive coupons to your Shoprite savings card. You cannot print them; this is Shoprite’s way of reaching out to the savviest of couponers, like you and me).

A coupon is a general term for the voucher that enables you to decrease your purchase price. When it comes to specific circumstances, however, there are many different types of coupons that can be used. One such kind is a grocery coupon.  Even that category can be broken down further, for they can be issued by either manufacturers or by stores.  The difference between these types is reflected by where the coupons can be used: manufacturers’ are issued by the specific brand for its goods and can therefore be used in any shop, while stores’ are also for specific goods, but valid only in that particular shop. (For example, a coupon I find for $1 off orange juice issued by Tropicana can be used in all supermarkets; the same type of voucher issued by Shoprite can only be redeemed in a Shoprite store.) The practical difference between the two kinds is that the manufacturers’ is issued with the intent to attract customers in every store to buy their brand, while stores use it as a loss leader-they are willing to lose a bit of profit on one product so as to entice shoppers into their store and buy more, especially now that they have saved elsewhere.

A quick google search of "Kohl's coupon" will yield you this valuable coupon. Never go to Kohl's without having coming with a similar 15% coupon-there is no excuse why you should spend more!

A quick google search of “Kohl’s coupon” will yield you this valuable coupon. Never go to Kohl’s without having coming with a similar 15% coupon-there is no excuse why you should spend more!

Another type of coupon is a retail clothing store coupon. Food is a necessity and will always be purchased, no matter the price; clothing shopping, on the other hand, is considered a leisurely activity and consumers might show more restraint depending on the prices.  Retailers have different approaches to issuing coupons and if you want to never pay full price, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with their policies. For example, Kohl’s almost always has a 15% off coupon online that you can print. Do not be fooled into thinking that you must take advantage of their “special” of $10 off every $50 you spend; unless you were previously planning on revamping your wardrobe and therefore spending a lot, this coupon is only there to trick customers into spending far more than they intended, in order to get what they perceive to be a good deal. Other retail stores that frequently issue coupons are Macy’s and Lord and Taylor. People are often hesitant to shop at Lord and Taylor because it promotes itself as a high class and expensive shop that is unaffordable to the masses; in reality, if you use their coupons at the right time, you can get phenomenal deals there.

Oil changes are necessary for prolonging the life of your car. So why not do something you will inevitably be doing, but for less?

Oil changes are necessary for prolonging the life of your car. So why not do something you will inevitably be doing, but for less?

I put the last major type of coupon under the broad category of miscellaneous. There are coupons that can be redeemed for random services, ranging from discounts on haircuts to $10 off oil checks. There are also vouchers issued by local stores, such as pizzerias. Ever wonder why they have a deal like “Tasty Tuesday” or “Wacky Wednesday” which offers a pizza pie at half price on those particular days? The reason is because in general, these days are the least busy days. Wanting to still generate revenue, the stores are willing to cut the price so as to attract customers who might not otherwise have wanted to have pizza that day. In fact, that is the main principle behind issuing coupons: to entice buyers to spend, specifically targeting those who otherwise would not have done so.

In order to attract these customers, companies put coupons in a variety of places. Nowadays, with the prevalence of the Internet and smartphones, one has even more options than a decade ago as to where to look. There are the classic resources, such as in newspapers and magazines; the former has retailers coupons in the special inserts, such as Smart Source and Redplum, and store coupons in the actual paper, while the latter-especially ones published by cities and counties-has coupons for local stores. The Internet, however, is by far the most invaluable resource. Unlike old-fashioned couponing, where the coupon comes to you, tech-age couponing enables you to seek out a coupon you want for a specific good or store. Internet couponing goes way farther than a simple Google search. You could visit a company website, check its Facebook page, or get emails for new promotions directly from it. In all of these ways, you can get special deals that are not advertised elsewhere. If you want to take advantage of technological deals while avoiding the paper clutter, you may opt to receive text updates about the deals. Do not worry about being bombarded by texts: once in a while, you receive a text deal. You simply show it to the cashier, who applies the discount code as if it is a tangible coupon. A final place to get coupons that is relatively unknown is from your transactions. You know how sometimes the cashier gives you something in addition to your receipt? Catalinas are special coupons that print next to your receipt; they represent special deals  that you won’t find anywhere else. Getting a catalina is contingent upon buying a certain, often arbitrarily chosen item. You could easily be qualified to receive a catalina without realizing it! (For example, if you happened to buy a Glade product, you could get a catalina that is valid for $5 off your next Johnson & Johnson purchase.)

To use coupons most efficiently, it is imperative that you know their respective policies in addition to the most auspicious time to redeem them. First and foremost, you must heed the expiration date; once the date has passed, the coupon is completely worthless. To me, not using a coupon for a good that you planned to buy is tantamount to throwing money down the drain. Another important thing to note about coupons is that often the potential savings can exceed the value listed. Stores have unique policies that can increase, double, or, in rare circumstances, triple the value of your coupon. For example, my local Shoprite will double up to a dollar- meaning that $0.20 off is now $0.40 off, $0.75 off is now $1 off. Pathmark, on the other hand, fully doubles coupon values.

Clearance of 80% is good. Combining that discount with an additional 20% off the remaining balance:even better. Lord and Taylor is known for posting coupons in addition generous discounts on sales.

Clearance of 80% is good. Combining that discount with an additional 20% off the remaining balance is even better. Lord and Taylor is known for posting coupons in addition generous discounts on sales.

Getting the best deal on an item does not only require knowing how the coupons work, but also when to use them. To maximize savings, you must use coupons when a store has a sale or, better yet, a clearance sale. In that way, you can reduce already lowered prices in order to pay the least possible amount. This is where knowing coupon policies comes in handy: while it might be tempting to use coupons in stores that truly double, it might be more financially worthwhile to use them in combination with a sale.

Stocking up when you can buy a good for dirt-cheap is also a good idea. Serious couponers are notorious for their stockpiles Of course, it is necessary to show some restraint by not being gluttonous. On the television show Extreme Couponers, there is an episode where, having found a way to get Aleve for free, a shopper clears the shelves entirely. In economics, there is a constant debate between efficiency and equality. While I will not delve into those issues here, I do find it morally reprehensible to take all of the medication and leave none for others who might be sick, simply because “Why not? It’s free”.

Couponing is a great way to save money. I can personally attest to the rush you get when, instead of paying full price, you pay next to nothing. While stealing is illegal, using coupons is perfectly allowed; I often say couponing is the legal form of stealing! I have heard many an excuse, ranging from logical (inconvenient to find them) to entirely absurd (they takes up too much space), as to why people refuse to use coupons. Yes, I acknowledge the fact that for some items, such as eggs, coupons are impossible to find because there is a constant demand from consumers. But if you are careful to use them for other things, I guarantee you will start accumulating immense savings!

Published in: on September 22, 2013 at 4:45 am Comments (2)

Buying Textbooks

While you might not have seen anything exciting going on in Queens College lately, I saw the exciting world of the market economy hard at work.

While you might not have seen anything exciting going on in Queens College lately, I saw the exciting world of the market economy hard at work.

On the surface, Queens College resembled a utopia-like campus in these first two weeks: students hugging one another and asking trite questions regarding their well being and respective summer activities (don’t deny it-you know exactly what conversation I am describing and you are guilty of having committed the crime of feigning interest multiple times), laughter resonating in the cafeteria, and people taking advantage of the beautiful weather by playing Frisbee on the quad. But, through my perspective, I saw the other side of Queens College. The dark side I am referring to is the cutthroat business of buying and selling textbooks. A highly interactive and competitive field, the textbook economy rears its ugly head at the onset of every semester. And almost all students will find themselves participating in it for all four years of college; I would venture to say that for freshman, buying the necessary material for classes is a rite of passage.

Before shopping, it is vital to first decide what to get. Some professors say that the textbook is optional and not necessary for learning the material that is tested. If indeed this is the case, it would behoove you to not get the book. The simplest way to save money is, after all, to not spend it! Furthermore, you only have a finite amount of space in your room dedicated to books that are required.  If you will not need it nor use it and it will just accumulate dust, such a purchase would be the epitome of a waste of money.

Another important decision when it comes to buying textbooks is to choose whether to rent or buy. Both have legitimate benefits and drawbacks. For example, renting enables you to return the book; this policy is a boon for people who have no interest in taking a class in a particular subject again, and will therefore not be stuck with the book at the end of the semester. Another benefit is, of course, that renting is significantly cheaper. The downside to this method, however, is that you cannot recoup the money you spent on the rental by resale and, in most cases, you are penalized for not shipping back on time.  Additionally, it is worthwhile to keep books that apply to your major because you never know when you will need to refresh your memory on the basics of that subject.

An example of prices listed on Amazon. While it might be tempting to rent simply because it is cheaper, in the long run you might be paying less by buying.

An example of prices listed on Amazon. While it might be tempting to rent simply because it is cheaper, in the long run you might be paying less by buying.

With buying, you have the security of knowing that this item belongs to you. While the cost may be higher, you can resell it and recoup some or all of what you paid. (Or if you are an excellent salesman, you can make a profit. For example, instead of selling it for, say, 75% of what you paid, you can rent it for 40% of its value for a semester. After renting it out for 3 semesters, you have already gained a profit! Then, you can sell it-granted for significantly less than what you originally paid, but nonetheless adding to your earnings. Who would have thought that a textbook could become a cash cow?)

Next semester, when more professors will be requiring the newer textbook, there will be a greater demand for my textbook. As you can see from the graph, as the demand increases (by shifting to the right) and the supply remains the same, the price increases.

Next semester, when more professors will be requiring the newer textbook, there will be a greater demand for my textbook. As you can see from the graph, as the demand increases (by shifting to the right) and the supply remains the same, the price increases.

Textbook editions also matter. Publishing companies update textbooks every year, but how different is the 25th edition from the 24th? Often it does not matter. Of course, there are always those professors who require the latest and therefore most expensive version, which unfortunately happened to me recently. However, instead of dreading the fact that I would have to shell out the full price, I looked at the positive side: at the end of the semester, I will have little competition when reselling the book because it is so new. With very little supply but a lot of demand, I will recoup most of what I spent. In fact, the New York Times a few years ago noted that students very often buy the latest and most expensive edition of a book, instead of an older, cheaper one, because the newer one will retain more of its value and will not become obsolete in the near future.

The markets for buying textbooks nowadays are extremely diverse, thereby giving buyers many options as to where to buy. The classic choice would be the Queens College Bookstore. The pristine condition of the books sold there does not, in my opinion, make up for the fact that the prices are retail and therefore exorbitant. Often you must place an order for your required material-you do not even get the convenience of immediately taking the book home. I was even speaking to a professor about the Queens College Bookstore and she said point blank “Do not buy from the Queens College Bookstore”. And she was not even an economics professor.

Canal Street is notorious for their black market of fake designer goods. The black market between students at Queens College, however, is much less structured.

Canal Street is notorious for its black market of fake designer goods. The black market between students at Queens College, however, is much less structured.

Another place to buy books is from fellow students. This market is essentially a black market, a term that often unfairly conjures up images of extremely illicit interactions. A black market is, by definition “a market in which buyers and sellers take place at prices that violate government price regulation”. Socially, unlike its definition and reputation connote, this practice is entirely innocuous and fully acceptable. To find people who are buying and selling, one can either search on Facebook for people publicizing what they need or, more simply, seek out the necessary books by word of mouth.  This type of market, while amorphous in nature, follows the economic concept of supply and demand perfectly: there is a supply of books that are no longer wanted and there is a demand for books by people in particular classes.  The benefit to this method is that the cost is often negotiable. Unlike in a store, haggling between the buyer, seeking the lowest price, and the seller, seeking the highest price, is common. Additional benefits include immediately receiving the book as well as hearing gossip about the class-a resource that no bookstore could ever provide.

The internet is a third sphere in which one can seek out rock bottom prices. On websites such as Amazon and Ebay, you can find your required textbooks at heavily discounted prices because they are used. The downside, of course, is that you cannot physically see what you are ordering and you do not know how long it will take to ship.

By joining Amazon as an Amazon student, you can get various perks including  free two day shipping, exclusive deals and promotions, and unlimited instant streaming. Buy beware: it is only free for the first six months; after that, you must start paying. If you want to take advantage of these perks without paying, you must be careful to quiz your account before the six months are up.

By joining Amazon as an Amazon Student, you can get various perks including free two day shipping, exclusive deals and promotions, and unlimited instant streaming. Buy beware: it is only free for the first six months; after that, you must start paying. If you want to take advantage of these perks without paying, you must be careful to quiz your account before the six months are up.

While the internet as a place to buy textbooks is an amazing resource that our parents’ generation never had, there is another new and developing market: E-books. E-books are on a tablet and are significantly cheaper than textbooks because they simply involve downloading. A boon to some while a bane to others is the fact that there is no tangible material to a textbook that is downloaded on a slim e-book. As of now, one cannot recoup what you paid for the E-book textbook, but it very well might be that technology will evolve soon enough to enable us to do so.

This information would have been helpful before you bought your textbooks, but do not worry: you will have next semester to apply this knowledge. If you are a natural businessman, then buying on the black market is for you; if you are comfortable always reading on a screen, the E-book textbook downloads are your best option. Whether you realize it or not, there is a great deal of business thought and consideration that goes into how you go about buying your textbooks. You look at things from a financial point of view and you do not even realize it!

Published in: on September 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm Comments (0)

Labor Day Sales

It is hard to believe that a mere week ago, I was basking in the sun, enjoying my last few moments of summer vacation-only to be thrust into work mode a day later for the Fall 2013 semester.  The transition into this particular semester is unusually rough because after barely three days of classes, Queens College was closed  for Labor Day. This holiday weekend served a double purpose. First, it enabled those who were already exhausted to catch up on sleep. The purpose that resonated more with me, however, was to exploit incredible deals and amazing savings in the shops. While I unfortunately was not able to hit the racks this year, I find it interesting to analyze the economics and psychology behind the behavior of firms and households during the Labor Day sales.

An advertisement for a sale at Sears. The red, white, and blue theme tries to express the notion that Labor Day is an inherently American holiday, thereby enticing you to promote your American spirit by shopping. In fact, it is just a way to clear out inventory.

An advertisement for a sale at Sears. The red, white, and blue theme tries to express the notion that Labor Day is an inherently American holiday, thereby enticing you to promote your American spirit by shopping. In fact, it is just a way to clear out inventory.

Before I begin, it is important to understand why we had off (Granted this is a financial blog and not a historical one. In the business world, though, the more you know, the better off you are). Labor Day officially is, according to Wikipedia, “ a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers”. Since it is a public holiday, shopkeepers keep their stores open so as to entice those who have off from work to shop. I find it rather ironic that a day intended to pay homage to workers ends up forcing many of them to work (often even for extra hours!) on a day when they too should technically have off. But I digress…

A Labor Day coupon I received in the mail. I received about ten variations of the same one. Why are they so desperate?

A Labor Day coupon I received in the mail. I received about ten variations of the same one. Why are they so desperate?

For both firms and households, Labor Day is a major boon. By firms, I mean companies and stores that sell goods and services; by households, I mean people like you and me who buy the goods and services from the firms. Knowing that it is the last official vacation of summer, firms recognize Labor Day as the last possible opportunity to grab the attention of shoppers who are off from school and work. More importantly, it is their final chance to clear the shelves of their summer inventory-items in stock that are to be sold. Getting rid of these goods is vital for stores because they want to bring out next season’s items and make money off of the remaining inventory. Often, stores do not even require coupons to benefit from these sales because they are that desperate to bring out the fall season items.

This desperation puts consumers in an advantageous position. The items that are put on the end of the season clearance rack must not automatically be disregarded. Often people assume that the damaged goods are the ones that are left over. This is most certainly not the case; there are a plethora of reasons as to why an item is still there. For example, people might have liked the item beforehand, but did not buy it because it was originally too expensive. Now, on clearance, it might not just be cheap, but a steal! Or, more simply, people might have genuinely overlooked the product and only you are now fortunate enough to find it. Of course, it is necessary to first consider how much use you will get out of the item. For example, if you buy something at a rock bottom price but end up never using it (gym equipment coat rack?), you have just wasted your money. However, it is  also possible that you do not need any of the things now, but come Summer 2014, you will be well equipped for the new season.

Especially in clothing stores, I noticed a pattern as to the type of customers that firms tried to appeal to. Since teens and young adults are on the brink of returning to school and college, respectively, this is their last opportunity to splurge. Additionally, parents need to buy school shoes and clothing for their children. Such purchases are guaranteed considering the fact that kids have outgrown their old duds and need new gear. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see a mall inundated with deals especially directed at younger consumers on Labor Day weekend.

Payless sells many children's shoes before school starts. Payless even started their sales earlier to get a head start on the profits.

Payless sells many children’s shoes before school starts. Payless even started their sales earlier to get a head start on the profits.

With the possibilities for incredible sales, it is easy to get carried away when shopping. But buyers beware: shops are not always charging the lowest prices when they advertise sales. They might indeed deduct a percentage off of the cost-but at what cost to you? Often, prices are “jacked up”-or increased higher than normal- so that once the discount is applied, the store charges the same amount as, if not more than, they did originally. It is a psychological tactic that frequently tricks the naïve shopper. For example, you might pass off buying a bag for $100, but if the tag says it was originally $200 but now, at 50% off, it is $100, you might think it is an amazing deal. A wise shopper is not one who can simply find bargain prices, but one who is shrewd and thinks before he/she acts.

Labor Day generates the second largest amount of sales in a year, only trailing Black Friday (which I will obviously devote a blog post to when the time comes). The difference between the two is that while Black Friday requires organized planning well in advance, Labor Day does not require that type of effort-it is significantly more family oriented and less violent. Labor Day may seem like only an insignificant, casual day off, but upon closer inspection, this day and its sales bear much financial and economic significance.

Published in: on September 4, 2013 at 5:42 am Comments (0)

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Welcome to Qwriting.org. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Published in: on September 3, 2013 at 1:24 pm Comments (1)

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