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.

Looking for cheaper gift ideas? Need to save money on Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, etc. ?

Unfortunately, I’m one of those organized people that you may love to hate. Yes, I start shopping for Christmas presents after Christmas is over.  I love the bargains, you can get so much more for your buck, but I also understand not everyone likes to shop a year in advance or can afford to do so.  If you are on a budget here are some things you may want to know… about some cheaper gift ideas.  

Organized Christmas    Looking for inexpensive holiday gifts to make? Try this frugal collection of gifts in a jar, stocking stuffers, or “just for fun” activities like Snowman Soup and Magic Elves.  Free printable gift tags, popcorn toppers and craft items add to the fun!

Better Budgeting – 63 gift ideas under $10.00

Gifts in a jar recipes –  Can you layer ingredients in a jar?  No cooking talent required.  They even include doggie treats.

A home made Christmas – Christmas gifts to make

Plus….

Coco’s idea for the hard to buy for person.  You can make a homemade gift basket.  Here is a photo of one I made  up with a water mellon theme which was set on a water mellon metal tray.  It included water mellon jokes printed from the internet, a real water mellon, water mellon gum, water mellon jello, water mellon jam spreaders/knives etc.  

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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)

Bought a lemon? Need a refund? What refunds are worth your time and trouble and which ones are not? Do you need a receipt to get a refund?

Refunds. Is it a matter of principle, a complete waste of your time or somewhere in between? 

Before you loose your cool at the customer service desk or just give up completely, there are things you may want to know…on what situations may be worth your time/trouble/effort and which ones may not.

Defective merchandise – If you are going to have to make a special trip and spend more on gas going back and forth than what the item is worth, then it may not be worth it.  If you drive to that store/area anyways, go for it.  

Food that goes bad before the expiry date – A lot of people are not aware that if your milk goes sour, your cheese goes moldy, etc. before the expiry date that you can return the item to the grocery store.  If you already threw out the receipt, don’t worry the store will give you a credit or replace the item. This is one situation where you can make a special trip to return the item that has spoiled and pick up a few other grocery items you need in the process of it all.

Foreign Objects/Insects in food – It is best to contact the manufacturer directly instead of taking it back to the grocery store. Large batches of food could be problematic and may have to be recalled by the manufacturer.  Keep the packaging/object/food as the manufacturer will want to see what the problem is and they will ask you for further information from the packaging itself, like the batch number, batch date, expiry date, etc.  One time I was eating soup and a hard piece of blue plastic got stuck in my molar. I contacted the manufacturer. It turned out the blue plastic was part of a broken plastic tie from one of their vegetable bags. The manufacturer gave me $150.00 worth of free product coupons for my troubles.

Lemons – If you have to keep taking an item in for repair several times while it is under warranty, you may have a lemon on your hands.  You may want to push to have the item replaced completely before your warranty runs out.  Even if your warranty has run out and the item is known to have specific manufacturing flaws, you can try to contact the manufacturer to see if they will accommodate the repair, but it is a roll of the dice on that one. 

Clothes/Material that falls apart at the seams – If you wear a shirt two or three times and it is coming apart at the seams or if that new area rug is totally fraying all around the edges after a couple months, then it may be worth it to return it to the store as a matter of principle. 

Garage sale items/used merchandise – Items are sold as is, so that means “no refunds” period, unless you have some guarantee from the owner in writing. Don’t be like the guy at my garage sale who bought a large new sealed tube of caulking for $1.00 used 1/2 of it and came back for a refund claiming it was all dried out.

Thrift store items – Since proceeds go to charity, items are usually sold as is and they have a no return policy.  Some thrift stores may offer you a store credit, but only if you have returned the item promptly. 

Furniture – A lot of furniture stores have no refund policies. Before you buy: Check the refund policy and measure the width of your front doorway and the width of the furniture.  Is the furniture narrow enough to fit through your doorway?  I’m always amazed at the number of people that are selling brand new furniture at a loss because store has a no refund policy and the furniture doesn’t fit through their front door/apartment hallways/stairwells or is too big for the size of their living room, etc. 

Cars – I have yet to hear of any dealership giving an owner a full refund without any further obligation to purchase another vehicle from their lot, unless a court is involved than that is another story.

Appliances – Refunds/exchanges are only for a limited time period like 30 to 90 days max. 

Dollar stores – Usually no refunds. May offer exchange only within 7 days. 

No receipt – You will not be able to get a cash refund in a lot of circumstances, but try not to let this deter you.  Many stores will offer you an in store credit or replace the item without a receipt. Smaller stores may even have a copy of your receipt on file.

Remember…

In general people who are respectful, kind and honest get better service/refunds faster than the ones that yell, swear and lose their cool.  If a refund is becoming a dead end saying “I can’t believe you won’t even exchange this brand new merchandise.  I will never shop at this store again and I will tell everyone about your no exchange, no refund policy.” (saying this in a loud voice so all the other customers will hear you, may get you some where)

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