I love a good burger, a good pizza, a good beer, a good computer, a good TV show, and writing. One thing I find almost irresistible is a good bargain – which raises the question, What is a good bargain?
No matter how low the price, if you don’t need it, it’s no bargain. And if you have to go into debt for it, it may not be a good bargain after all. If it’s something at a good price and you can afford it, then you have to ask, Is this a real bargain?
At the Grocery Store
I’m working third-shift stocking shelves at a nearby Meijer store, and Meijer runs some really good deals in the grocery department. A favorite is 10 for 10 – and the 11th one is free. Goldfish crackers, Chex mix, 2 litre bottles of Pepsi Wild Cherry, and blueberry waffles are pretty irresistible at that price. Another good deal is Buy 5 Save $5, and that’s when I get a couple 8 oz. chunks of extra sharp cheddar cheese, along with a few other items. I don’t find it difficult to find 11 items to buy for $10 or five good deals to get that $5 price break.
There’s another kind of “special” that some stores run that’s no special at all if you don’t need a certain quantity. Maybe it’s Kraft 8 oz. chunk cheese at 3 for $6. But if you buy one or two, they ring up at $2.99 each. A lot of grocers do that, and I’ve always appreciated how Meijer doesn’t. If you buy two chunks of 3-for-$6 cheese, they ring up at $2.00 each. Just one more thing to love about my favorite locally-based chain of supermarkets.
Outlet and Clearance Prices
I like checking out the clearance rack at Aldi, walking the outer periphery at Meijer to find clearance items, and going to the Thrifty Outlet, Meijer’s clearance store. Sometimes I find a really good bargain, like a device that plugs into the electrical outlet and gives you one AC outlet and two USB ports. Old fashioned 1 Amp ports instead of the 2.1 Amp ports used for iPads and tablets, but a great way to have some extra charging ports for your phone, iPod, Bluetooth headset, Bluetooth speaker, or power bank.
One day I found my favorite brown ale, Bellaire Brown from Short’s Brewing, marked down at one Meijer store because they were reconfiguring their beer area and needed to move them out. I really enjoyed those brews!
At the Thrifty Outlet, I got a power bank with a Lightning cable for $4, less than the cable alone would cost, and another time they had $1.50 8 GB USB flash drives with Minions. I should have bought more, but four was enough to let me test different RAID configurations and report my results on Low End Mac. I got my 6200 mAh power bank (with a built-in USB plug for charging it and one micro-USB and two Type A ports for charging devices from it) for $6.49 on close-out at Aldi, which is also where I get a Fitbit-like device on clearance for just $14.99. (That’s another device that charges via USB.)
My one disappointment was the $4.99 set of adapter lenses for smartphones. I’d wanted a fisheye lens since junior high and figured it should be worth the price, but the chromatic aberrations just made it too fuzzy to be useful. Then again, at least I turned it into an article comparing wide-angle lens adapters and the iPhone’s panorama mode.
I’ve worked in a few photo shops where I could buy equipment and supplies at store cost. I ended up with a lot of nice camera gear, but some purchases were just because of my low cost, not their actual value to me. Then again, when I sold my camera gear, I did pretty well on most of it.
Likewise for working in the audio world. I had a great stereo system, my turntable was a close-out steal, and I even learned to design and build my own speakers. But deals would tempt me to get things I didn’t really need, like that (no dead) 60 GB iPod photo.
Keep in mind that impulse buying doesn’t mean you saw it and bought it immediately. Sometimes that impulse grows over time. Be careful.
Make It Last
The best way to stretch your budget is to buy things that will last. When you buy a TV, you should expect to get a decade or more from it. When you buy a smartphone, try to keep it as your current phone for 2-4 years – or buy last year’s model and get 2-3 years out of it. Your computer will probably remain useful long after its manufacturer considers it obsolete.
If you live somewhere with sea salt or where they salt winter roads, washing your car regularly is well worth the cost of the car wash. Also, most car washes have very reasonable monthly passes. After my previous car rusted through (it was a 1996, this is Michigan, and I drove it through the winter without “wasting” money on the car wash), I make sure to get the car washed at least once a week when the salt is on the road.
I don’t care if you’ve got one year interest free on a new credit card or deferred interest on a student loan, in the end it’s going to get you. If that weren’t true most of the time, banks and businesses wouldn’t be offering such lucrative credit. They’re in business to make money.
It’s positively criminal how deeply you can dig yourself into debt going to college for four years. Think long and hard before making that commitment. Maybe take the first two years at community college, get the basics out of the way, and then transfer to a four-year institution.
I am grateful for my liberal arts education, but the only place my English, history, and philosophy major has suited me for a job was this one – writing about tech devices and history. And this job doesn’t even provide a paycheck, although in a good month we receive enough donations to cover our costs.
Stretch those dollar, folks!
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