Is ethanol gasoline good for the environment or causing you to fill up more often?

Ethanol is consider a biofuel alternative to gasoline.  It is produced from the fermentation of sugar from foods such as corn, sugar cane, etc. and it also can be produced by the hydration of ethylene from petroleum production too.  Many gas stations advertise ethanol additives in their gasolines and that by purchasing their ethanol gasolines you are helping reduce pollution in the environment, that your car will run better, etc.  Is this true and what are the things you may want to know…

Not all vehicles do well with ethanol based fuel.  Your gas mileage could be reduced and unknowingly you could be filling up more often. People who have reported reduced gas mileage with ethanol based gasoline are some hybrid owners and people with older cars. 

Of course for you to know whether ethanol based gasoline is affecting your gas mileage or not, you will have to test your own vehicle for results.

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Waiting for falling prices?

As we enter into a recessionary environment many people are being cautious with their finances.  Recently, we have seen a lot of great sale prices, stores going bankrupt and some stores downsizing the total number of stores they operate.  Many people think if they wait long enough the price will just get lower and lower and lower and lower. What is the hazard of this type of thinking and what are the things you may want to know…

Currently 26% of U.S. retail stores are in danger of filing for bankruptcy. 

Approximately 12,000 U.S. retail stores will close their doors in 2009.

6,000 – 7,000 U.S. retail stores will shut their doors by the end of 2008.

Up to 40% of retail stores profits comes from Christmas sales.  

66% of the U.S. economy relies on U.S. consumer spending.

60% of U.S. commercial mortgages are in default (this is yet to hit the U.S. economy)

As excess inventory is sold off retail stores will get leaner and meaner. The total number of retail stores will shrink due to closures and bankruptcies.  There will be less inventory on hand due to slowing sales and some stores will not be able to get enough inventory in to stock their shelves unless they have cash on hand and/or access to credit. That is probably easier said than done in this credit crunch environment. Eventually deep discounts will be become harder and harder to find as inventory levels shrink down to manageable levels and there is less competition in the marketplace in general. 

So… for the best selection and deepest discounts you may only want to wait for falling prices to a certain point.

Think you are getting a good deal when a store goes out of business? What secrets are liquidators not telling me?

Lately we have seen some Circuit City stores and Linen’s n Things stores go bankrupt.  Once a store goes out of business many people flock to the store thinking they are going to get a steal of a deal, but are they really? What are the things you may want to know…about liquidators?

They change price tags – Most liquidators change price tags on all the inventory.  They raise the price on the items and then offer you 10%, 20%, etc. off those prices.  Sometimes they just put a new price tag over the old price tag, so if you peel back the price tag you may see that the original price maybe lower than the liquidators price.

Out to make a buck – Yes, liquidators just like any other business are out to make a profit, yet many people seem to think otherwise.

Discounts – Always start out small and then gradually increase closer to the date the store is actually closing. 

Bring in other stock – Liquidators may bring in leftover stock they have on hand and price it with that stores price tags.  You maybe purchasing items that were never originally sold in that store and are of lesser quality.

Gift Cards – Once the store is turned over to the liquidators gift cards are no longer honored. If you have a gift card and hear that particular store is having financial problems redeem your gift card as quickly as possible before the liquidators takeover. 

Exchanges/refunds – Liquidators do not offer any exchanges or refunds. Period!

Sold as is – Buyer beware. Liquidators do not take damaged/faulty items off the floor. All items are sold as is too.  Make sure you check that the item is working properly, not flawed, is the right size, not falling apart, broken, stained, etc. before you purchase it and walk out the door.

Remember…

A going out of business sign doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a screaming deal.  Shop around.  

Know your prices and be on the lookout for items re-priced higher, peel back price tags, watch for prices cut out of the shelf tags, etc. 

Phone the store to find out when they are actually closing.  You will get a bigger discount closer to the actual store closing date.

Why is Christmas shopping different this year? Do you shop on Boxing day or at the after Christmas sales?

Tis the season to be jolly.  Fa, la, la, la, la la, la, la!   With the economy in turmoil and retail sales slumping what are the things you may want to know…before you start buying all those Christmas presents?

Refund/Exchange policies may change – In uncertain economic times don’t take refund/exchange policies for granted even if you shopped at that store for years. Crippled with high inventory and slowing sales, new final sale – no refunds/no exchange policies are becoming more common place than ever before.  Double check the stores refund policies and especially so if the item is on sale.

Stores may go out of business/bankrupt  – Here today, gone tomorrow.  Shop at reliable stores.  More stores go bankrupt during the months of January to early March because sales basically drop off a cliff after Christmas.

Boxing day or after Christmas sales – With too much inventory on hand, deep discounts may occur before Christmas and less so after Christmas depending on inventory levels.  Pay attention to all those Christmas flyers, some items are already 50% to 70% off.

Prepaying or putting a deposit on a gift in advance – If you are ordering something that requires a deposit or prepayment, put it on your credit card for your own protection.  Credit card charges can be reversed back to the retailer in case of bankruptcy.  Cash/cheques can not. 

Gift certificates – If a store files for bankruptcy protection, a lot of times gift certificates become void and will not be honored.  By the same token, if you receive a gift certificate for an unique store you may want to redeem it as quick as possible. 

Shop early – For best selection and to get sales people to help you in general.  A lot of retailers have already laid off staff or are not hiring extra staff this Christmas.  Help may be limited and/or hard to find. Extra cashiers may be non-existent and lineups may be longer than usual. 

Comparison shop – In slowing retail environments stores slash prices and try to out do each others sale prices.  It pays to comparison shop beforehand as you may not be able to get a refund if you find the item for a much lower price somewhere else.  (read refund/exchange policies may change – above for further information)

Remember…

The best Christmas gift doesn’t have to be the most expensive, it is the thought that counts.

What do I need to know about gift cards and gift certificates? Are there gift card scams? Is it safe to buy gift cards second hand?

Gift cards or gift certificates keep growing in popularity.  It is not unusual to receive one or more as a Wedding gift, Birthday gift, Christmas gift or Anniversary gift.  They are considered an alternative to giving cash.  Sometimes the gift cards/gift certificates are welcomed and other times not so much if that person doesn’t shop at that store, eat at that restaurant, use those spa services, etc.  But, what are the things you may want to know… about gift cards and gift certificates in general?

Expiry dates – Check the fine print for gift card/gift certificate expiry dates. Sometimes they can expire in one year and other times they may have no expiry date at all.

Use ASAP – Try to use the gift card/gift certificate as soon as possible. That way you don’t misplace it or throw it in some drawer only to find it after it has expired.  Plus, businesses change owners, business owners retire, go bankrupt, etc., so they may not be around to honor the gift card/gift certificate if you hold on to it for too long either.

Buying second hand – Meet the seller directly at the business the gift card/gift certificate is for.  This way you can verify the balance left on the card at the cashier or customer service desk and make sure the card is genuine.

Fakes – Looks like the real thing, but is a fake.  Fake gift cards/gift certificates have been sold door to door, second hand and directly on bogus company websites.  When you try to redeem the company doesn’t exist and/or there is no cash balance on the gift card.

Internet scams – Includes selling fake gift cards, selling used gift cards with no cash balance left on them and phishing scams that send out letters randomly to millions of people telling them they have won a $500.00 gift card at major department store.  Unfortunately, a lot of these phishing scams were used on My Space, etc. and a lot of younger people gave these thieves their personal information for identity theft purposes thinking they actually won a contest.

In store scams– This can happen with gift cards that are on a display rack in the middle of a store away from the cash register or employees eyes.  Thieves can obtain the gift card serial number before it is even purchased.  Then they monitor the gift card serial number online and watch the balance.  By the time the person actually receives the gift card the balance may of already been depleted.

User fees – Some stores charge a user fee if a gift card/gift certificate has not been redeemed by a certain time period like one year, etc.  

Entire Malls – Gift cards/gift certificates for entire malls that are redeemable at many stores usually have expiry dates.  Even if your municipality has “no expiry” date laws on gift cards/gift certificates this usually only applies to “one” store only, not multiple stores.

Balance remaining – Gift cards/gift certificates are not redeemable for cash.  They can not be used to pay off your credit card balance with that particular store.  So, even if you have fifty cents left as a balance on your gift card you will have to use it towards another purchase. 

Sending by mail – When sending gift cards/gift certificates by mail request a signature and/or get the envelope/package insured.  Some express mail services automatically include $100.00 worth of insurance, so it may be cheaper to send it that way than insuring it through regular postal means.

Remember…

Before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate make sure the receiver has that particular franchise/business in their neighborhood so they don’t have to drive a long distance to redeem the gift card/gift certificate you sent them.

Read the fine print for expiry dates, user fees, etc.

Do not purchase gift cards that look like they have been tampered with. 

Try to find out what businesses the receiver likes to shop at, what restaurants they like to eat at, what services they like to use, etc. Consider what their taste is before purchasing a gift card/gift certificate, where you eat, shop, etc. may not be their style/taste at all.

Some municipalities have gift card/gift certificate laws or are in the process of changing them.  You should be aware of these laws and make sure businesses are following them when your purchasing gift cards/gift certificates.

If you are receiving a lot of gift cards/gift certificates, cash by regular post consider a locked mail box to avoid possible mail theft.  (read more on mail/identity theft on an older thread I posted here)

(BC residents please read comments for further information on new laws coming into effect in November 1, 2008)

Using Craigslist? Is Craigslist dangerous? What do I need to know before buying or selling second hand merchandise?

Perhaps, your saying what is Craigslist?  Craigslist is an online community forum partly owned by Ebay. Craigslist is in numerous countries, cities, states and provinces worldwide.  Basically you can consider it a gigantic free classified ad service.  Many people use Craigslist to sell their second hand merchandise, some even place ads to give it away. Others use Craigslist to find housing/accommodations, jobs or even a partner by placing a personal ad. You can even get involved in discussion forums too.  

But, before you use Craigslist or if you are currently using it, what are the things you may want to know…

Fraud – Even bank drafts that look realistic can turn out to be fake. Wire transfers, cheques and money orders also fall into the same category. Even counterfeit cash was passed at garage sales people advertised on Craigslist.  It is best to deal in cash and check the cash over.  If you are selling a diamond ring that is worth thousands, don’t meet the person in a public place or at your home, meet them directly at their bank, see the withdrawal or bank draft being made up directly in front of your eyes.

Scams – People who ask for personal information and/or personal financial information from you because they wish to wire you money from other city/country because they want to buy your item is a hoax. They are only trying to glean personal information from you for identity theft purposes.  

Brand new – People will try to pass items off as “new” and sell them as such.  Ask sellers questions.  If the item is new or nearly new the seller should have receipts, warranty information,know if the warranty is transferable, what store they purchased the item from, etc.  A seller should be able to answer any questions about the item in a timely manner.  Making excuses or not answering questions about these so called “new” items should alert you immediately to the following:  item could be stolen, reconditioned, damaged, written off, decommissioned, not new (older than stated) or someone could be trying to sell a cheaper version or knock off as a high end item to make extra cash.  

Thieves – Post only the photo of the item you are selling not the entire room.  Photos showing the rest of your possessions like your large plasma tv, computer, antiques, etc., can be enticing to thieves. If you are selling expensive items it is best that you are not home alone when someone comes to view them.  

Fake ads – Unfortunately, some people get a kick out of posting fake ads.  Usually other Craigslist users will flag the ad for removal and post an ad of their own telling everyone else it is a fake.

Fake pictures – Some people will post a photo of a item in perfect condition, but what they are selling is in poor condition or the item their selling doesn’t look anything like the photo they posted.  You may want to verify condition before going to see the item.  If a seller says it is hard to describe the condition, it has wear/damage/fading of some sort.

Stories – Down on my luck, etc.  It is hard to separate truth from fiction here. Be careful, you can be dealing with someone who is supporting a drug addiction, etc.  If you wish to be charitable then offer to drop the items off at the persons home directly with a friend in tow.

Anonymous – If a buyer or seller doesn’t want to leave a message on your answering machine, give you their name, telephone number, etc. beware.  Communication should flow freely, not be like pulling teeth. 

Vagueness – I lost the receipt for my six month old fridge.  I don’t have the warranty, I got it from my cousin, etc.  Don’t let a good price cloud your judgement.  Decommissioned appliances have been sold on Craigslist.  Decommissioned appliances are appliances that the manufacturer has deemed as non repairable and are supposed to be junked.  Unfortunately, someone picks up these decommissioned appliances at the dump or along the way and tries to resell them. Missing or scratched out serial numbers should be your first clue.  If you call about a fridge and the seller asks which one or has multiple appliances for sale in their garage these can be extra clues too.

Remember…

Although many transactions off Craiglist go off with out a hitch and you can meet some very nice people; you can also run into problems if you are too trusting. One only has to google Craigslist scams/fraud to see all the problems people have run into on these websites you will get over a million hits.  I have investigated this site myself and you can read about my findings in the comment section.

Is that really a good deal or too good to be true? What should I know about hidden costs?

We have seen them advertised:  the home renovation memberships with manufacturers prices too low to advertise,  prices so low that we can’t advertise them, 1 or 2 year no interest payments, etc., but in this world of so called “best buys” what are the things you may want to know…

No payment, no interest deals – may have administrative fees that may end up costing more than if you would of took out a loan and paid interest on it.

Home renovation memberships – advertise how much you save on your home renovations, but unless you are renovating extensively year after year, the initial membership fee of $3000.00 plus yearly maintenance fees after that could end up costing you more in the long run.  The downfall of these types of memberships is that very few items are actually on display and you are mostly looking at manufacturers catalog pictures instead. Personally, I don’t like to shop by photos only.

Higher Interest savings accounts – may require a minimum balance or may only offer that higher interest rate for a limited time period like 3 months and then pay out a much lower interest rate after that point compared to other banks, etc.  Most of these higher interest rate accounts are non-redeemable for a certain time period. In some circumstances you may be able to redeem them, but with high penalty rates for early withdrawal.  

Some insurance companies advertise higher interest rates and no fees, but require you to have an account at a bank anyway to use them. Since most banks charge fees on accounts, this save your money, no fees, advertising is kind of deceptive. 

Fitness memberships – various type of memberships require you to pay dues for a set time period whether you use the fitness center or not.  If you are busy with work, starting a New Years fitness resolution, etc. you may want to consider different options or paying a drop in rate before locking into a membership of any type.  I know a mother who is locked in paying for her teen aged daughters fitness membership for one year but, the daughter has only gone to the center twice in 6 months.  Needless to say, the mother is not too happy with that situation, but don’t teenagers change their minds about a lot of things in general?

Low mortgage rates – some mortgage brokers may advertise lower interest rates than banks.  These are usually only for a limited time period like 3 months, 6 months, etc and then the interest rate jumps up to a much higher rate.  The interest rate after the introductory rate is over is usually much higher than a lot of banks.  They don’t call these “teaser” rates for nothing.

Remember…before you lock yourself into any of these so called deals, you may want to carefully read the fine print for hidden administrative fees, terms, conditions, etc. That deal may just be too good to be true after all!

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