Wednesday, November 30, 2016

About those consignment sales...

When Pickle was born and people starting giving us bags and boxes of baby clothes, I just did not understand it. That stuff was WORTH SOMETHING. And they were it away! I cleaned, used, and then sold most of it at kids' consignment sales, after passing on the favorites to the other little babies in our family. I just could not wrap my mind around the fact that people would give away such great stuff with abandon.

I get it now.

Currently, I am staring at three boxes, three grocery bags, and a small pile of things too big to fit in those containers. That doesn't include the high chair and tiny potty on the kitchen floor or the two ride-on toys, the two baby strollers, the infant clamshell car seat, and the exersaucer thing in the basement. Nor yet all the rest of the toys and clothes that are scattered around my house, not being played with or worn or otherwise useful to anyone on the planet. Not only will I donate this to the next expecting parent, I come across, I would gleefully PAY someone to take it all out of my life.

That's how much kids' stuff multiplies as the kids get older and more numerous in a given household.

Last year, the consignment sales still seemed like a good use of my time but I just can't anymore. The time it takes to clean, repair, hang, catalog, price, tag, load, unload, inspect, and wait for payment on the stuff is just too much. My hourly rate at work is too high to justify taking time off to manage it, and my time not at work, I'd rather spend with my kids than trying to make money off of their used stuff.

This grates at me a little bit. I like to find efficient ways to use my time and effort, and giving away valuable stuff doesn't seem efficient (it is, of course, when compared with the frustration I experience during the course of doing all that stuff, but it's not efficient from a dollars-in perspective). I'm trying to look at it as paying forward all the generosity that was displayed towards us, which helps. I remember the delight I experienced going through a giant trash bag of adorable baby girls' clothing, and hope that someone will feel the same looking at Baby Bear's cute little newborn pajamas. I will try not to think about the $79.08 (or $1.21 hourly rate) I might have otherwise earned. And most of all, I will luxuriate in having no piles of baby crap anywhere in my vision for at least three or four hours.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Too Bad, Toys R Us

I get that the competition is fierce out there in Black Friday world. I really do; I run an e-commerce site as part of my job and make decisions about policies, promotions, and discounts on a daily basis. But one thing that I focus on both personally and professionally is customer experience, and Toys R Us just gave me a bad one.

Baby Bear's birthday is coming up, as is Christmas (in case you hadn't noticed?) so my mother-in-law and I went to Toys R Us to pick up some presents today. I checked the Toys R Us website before we headed out to make sure that the specific item I wanted was in stock there, and happily noticed that it was both in stock and on sale. I checked the website's price match policy to make sure that the online price would be honored in store, and saw that it was. We got there, picked up what I wanted as well as a cart full of other presents, and headed to the checkout.

At the register, the cashier confirmed that the store would match the listed price on their website. And he was able to do so for the first item he rang up. But the second item, the one I'd come for, he couldn't make the computer match it. So he called over a manager, who said that Toys R Us would not be price matching their own website this weekend, due to all the Black Friday sales. He said there was a sign near the front of the store that said so (which I never did see, though I looked for it when we left). I showed him the price matching policy on the Toys R Us website, which had no such disclaimer on it, but he shrugged and said there was nothing he could do.

Obviously, front-line retail employees have no ability to influence the corporate decisions that are made regarding things like this, and often no ability to force the computer to make an exception to a dumb rule that's been handed down. But come on, Toys R Us. It is not that difficult to update a page on your website when you make a major policy change like that, even when it's temporary. It's reasonable to expect that customers will look at your policy online while they are shopping in the store, rather than for a notice tacked to a random bulletin board near the door. Frankly, I think the policy change is a stupid one overall - if your P&L for a promotion only works if you force weird restrictions on it, plan a different promotion. The extra stupid thing is that if I had ordered and paid online but requested in-store pickup, the price would have been honored but the employees would have had to do even more work than if I went and got stuff off the shelves myself.

I kind of wish I'd thought of this option and bought the items through the website while I was standing at the cash register, but in the end we made a decision I feel even better about - I canceled the entire transaction and I bought the item I wanted from a different retailer. I don't do business with companies that create policies and promotions that don't have the customer experience first and foremost. The short-sighted decisions to temporarily invalidate the price matching policy AND to not appropriately notify customers of it wound up costing Toys R Us way more than the sale price of the item I was looking for - they lost today's entire sale and any future sales they might have made to me. Next time I need to buy a kids' present, guess where I won't be going?

And as a bonus to this story, when we got home and related this story to my siblings-in-law, we had a great discussion about consumerism in general and decided to scale back our overall gifting within the family. Now the little kids will get presents from Grandma and Grandpa (and Santa) but not aunts and uncles, which means that I don't even need to do any more shopping to replace the cart full of stuff that I didn't buy today. So...I won't even miss you, Toys R Us!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Black Friday Sale

We didn't go Black Friday shopping - or at least, we did go to some stores, but we didn't go in search of doorbuster deals or anything like that. We went in search of bread, milk, and grounded outlet covers - or, the kinds of things we might buy on any other day.

One Black Friday sale I DO recommend, though, is Plan to Eat's 50% off deal.

Simple Meal Planning - Plan to Eat

Plan to Eat is a meal planning and recipe collection website, which I started using last year when a friend posted a link to the 50% off Black Friday sale. I couldn't imagine paying for a service that I could do for free with Pinterest, Google Calendar and Google Keep - but she recommended it so strongly and is a frugal stay at home mom, so I figured it might be worth trying it out, especially given that the sale price winds up being only $1.62 per month. I figured I was wasting at least that much a month with failed menu planning.

And guess what - it IS worth it! Yes, you can gather recipes on Pinterest, plan meals on a Google calendar, and create a shopping list in Google Keep, all for free. But it's just not as convenient, easy, and - dare I say it - fun to use as Plan to Eat.

I put their "add to Plan to Eat" bookmark to my browser windows and voila - all those recipes I had previously been starring in my feed reader and adding to Pinterest boards suddenly wound up all in one place. I revised the standard shopping list to include those staples I prefer to have on hand. Weekly, I created a menu within Plan to Eat, which told me how often I'd made a given recipe and whose search tools quickly helped me organize recipes I'd been wanting to try. With one click, I could create a shopping list based on those recipes and the staples I currently needed. Bam! Menu planning to grocery shopping, done, in one step.

I'm not the one who does the meal planning in our house anymore, but I'm still going to renew my subscription to Plan to Eat, because I found it that helpful. I rarely pay for software tools when free ones exist to fill the same needs, but this is one that actually delivers.

(Disclosure: Links in this post are affiliate links, so if you sign up for Plan to Eat, I get a little something. However, this is not a sponsored post, and I really have been a happy Plan-to-Eater for the last year. )

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Five frugal things

1. Our dryer stopped working - it spun but had no heat. Peanut took the whole thing apart and identified a likely problem, ordered one part (even with next-day shipping, it was cheaper than buying it locally, sadly) and replaced it. That wasn't the problem, so he went on to the next small part, which he was able to get locally, and bingo! A $30 fix, and enough understanding of how our dryer works now that we might be able to keep it going forever. WAY better than a new $300 dryer!

2. We managed to be realistic about how many trick or treaters we'd have this year, and didn't overbuy candy to the extent that I have done in the past. I'll say it here for posterity: one bag is plenty. (There is a commercial district near here that does trick or treating, and maybe that's why we don't get many kids at our house - we had more than last year, but still under twenty, I'd say.)

3. I voted last week, at one of the early voting centers available in the state of Minnesota, where you don't need a reason to cast what is effectively an absentee ballot. I consider this frugal because I saved time (and time is money!). Also, if I'd had to wait in the lines today, I would have ended up eating my feelings in purchases snacks, so in a way, it saves me money too.

4. Working hard to bring my lunch every day - I usually get frozen lunches at the grocery store for about $2.50 each, or I take leftovers. Compared to $8-10 for a lunch downtown, it's not bad!

5. I control a large budget at work, and we are in budgeting season for next year. I am so thankful for the experience I have in being actively involved in managing my personal finances, because this would be a very difficult task if I didn't have that background. Pro-tip: take a personal finance class in college if you can; it actually might help you more than your general ed requirements!