All of us are managing their households in very difficult financial times. As mothers, we can be very creative and resourceful when it comes to getting the things we need (and want) with limited funds. I've always enjoyed finding bargains and "loopholes" to enjoy perks for little or no money; it's not that I'm a cheapskate, but I've never understood spending more to have something when it can be had for less (even if I lose out on some of the frills). For instance:
I have a friend who has a Ford Escalade with a DVD player and other really neat bells-and-whistles. I have a bright-yellow Aztec bought slightly used for half the original sticker price into which I plug my laptop for the children to enjoy DVDs on road trips. I figured I saved $20K or so, not to mention some money on gas. (Although I do envy his four-wheel drive.)
We have internet service for $29 a month, but we don't have cable for another $40 a month. If we want to watch a particular TV show, we hook our computers up to the TV via a $10 cable and pull up Hulu. I save about $480 a year.
I bought a KitchenAid Professional 600 mixer (my second favorite gadget next to my iPhone) at the beginning of the year through Amazon for $269. I make pizza from scratch every week--two extra large size (one tomato and basil and one white "gourmet" with spinach, garlic, feta, onion, mozzarella, and Parmesan) and a small plain cheese--for $8.00 total. (Yup, I priced out the ingredients.) A year of pizza costs me $416. $416 + $269 = $685. Assuming I could buy the large pizzas for $8 each and the small pizza for $5 (and these are cheap estimates), I'd pay $1,092 over the course of a year just on pizza every week. This year I saved $407; next year (eliminating the cost of the KitchenAid) I'll save $676.
We no longer have a land line; we are 100% cellular. Just based on our local super-basic landline service, we are saving $420+ a year.
And society says mothers have no financial value...add up those numbers above for how much my research and efforts saved! (And that's only four examples.)
I'm not the only family manager practicing Guerrilla Economics; the extensive websites and blogs devoted to discounts, couponing, and do-it-yourself tips attest to that.
The problem is, while we're working to save, businesses are looking for new ways to survive the economic downturn as well...and some of their new "techniques" are not just bad for consumers, but just completely wrong.
I'm all for capitalism; that doesn't mean I support being ripped off.
For instance...AT&T exclusively has the iPhone market; if you want an iPhone, you can't use Verizon or Sprint for your carrier. AT&T service is far behind its competitors in terms of quality (signal strength, 3G network, voicemail access, etc.) and knows it. However, AT&T has come up with a solution to their poor service problems--but will charge you $150 plus an additional $20 a month if you want it fixed. Read more about that one at Gizmodo.com.
Or how about Dell, who, after numerous complaints about their poor-quality call centers in India, initiated a new help-center program that provides service from someone actually in the United States...but is now charging $12.95 a month for the privilege? (They still offer free help...from a call center in India.)
I don't even need to mention credit card company practices, but here's one of my "favorite" ones: credit card behavioral scoring. Apparently credit card issuers are reducing available credit/canceling cards for consumers who shop at discount stores or in areas where there is a higher percentage of people defaulting on their loans--regardless of your actual credit history. So, fine, shop at places with good deals...you'll just be penalized by your credit card company later.
The Senate Commerce Committee just issued a statement on the heels of Black Friday warning consumers to beware of websites tricking customers into committing to subscriptions. Internet companies Affinion, Vertrue, and Webloyalty have "agreements" with other popular internet sites that connect rebates and rewards to the shopper's original transaction, thus entering the shopper into a subscription contract that charges monthly fees. Sadly, a quick review of the senate report didn't list the reputable companies now doing business with these crooks.
This is just a very small sampling of the extent to which businesses are going too far looking out for their bottom lines. (Although you can add pushy salespeople to the list, too.)
As you all enter into the holiday shopping season, do be careful about your bottom line. The only one looking out for you is, well, you. As the economy becomes worse and businesses become more desperate to hold onto profits and generate business, you need to be even more vigilant in protecting your family's assets. Don't let businesses undermine your finances this season.