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Save money by shopping smart

Many so-called "good deals" are scams. But there are bargains to be had if you know where to find them.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:43 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 10, 2008

Chelsea Jackson of Minneapolis recently hosted a “We’re Poor” party. She cooked up all the food dying a very slow death in the freezer: chicken legs, cheesecake, mystery soup, stir-fry vegetables and freeze-burned ravioli. Sounds like a good time. But going retro on the food menu doesn’t help our 2008 economy.

The government got us jump-started by dropping a trillion dollars to absorb free radicals from our financial system. It’s probably time for us to bypass the pomegranate juice. $4 for a vial of POM isn’t the most thrifty way to eliminate antioxidants. There are ways to save money by spending some, though.
Beware of “good deals.” They just try to trick you into buying a bunch of cheap products you’ll never use. A $5 case of Tab is a good deal. Skinny ties are months away from being great deals. Value purchases offset future spending. Health insurance, energy-saving bulbs and plain white T’s are all value purchases. Here are six value purchases that will motivate the economy and keep your checkbook in check.

Crocs Cayman — Everyone’s favorite ugly duckling. Peer pressure is the only reason Crocs aren’t wrapped around everyone’s feet. They’re comfortable (proven for 40 city-block walks), versatile (MKT trail? No problem), don’t get smelly (no socks!), protective (you’ll never hurt your toes) and snug (optional back strap). Buy some Caymans and eliminate flip-flops, water shoes, shower shoes, dozens of socks and a cycle of laundry each month. Your knees and heels will thank you for ditching those plastic Adidas slip-ons. Your wallet will thank you for buying kicks that last forever. Stick it out when the first friend of yours yells out the distinctly non-monetary deal-killer: “They’re so ugly!” Just turn around, smile and say, “You’re so broke!”

  • Crocs: $40
  • Flip-flops, slippers, six-pack white socks (2x), laundry load (10x): $120
  • You save: $80

Starbucks iced-coffee cup — A medium iced coffee is $2.37, but the cup is what matters. With this clear container, you’re entitled to 54-cent refills and a short wait. Official policy is that refills are only good within an hour of original purchase. I’ve never seen that enforced, and the cup lasts as long as you can keep it clean. Keep the volume up by providing your own ice when possible.

  • Iced-coffee: $2.37
  • 10 refills: $5.40. 10 regular cups: $23.70.
  • You save: $18.30

Clipboard — How clipboards escaped the clutches of marketers we may never know. But be glad about it. Brown and boring, they’re cheap; 97 cents at Wal-Mart. Clipboards are mobile tables, wind-proof magazine holders, sunshades and fly-swatters. Mapquest printouts stay in place too. Your lap is the TV dinner stand, table, vanity.

  • Clipboard: $1
  • Table: $50-$300
  • You save: $49-$299

Bicycle — The Cadillac Escalade movement of the early Primes kicked bikes to the curb. Who’s laughing now, right? A tank of fuel is $70 and gas-guzzlers are going to straight to hell — if they can find parking. An old-school Schwinn is $50 on Craiglist and a beautiful bells-and-whistled Carbondale is $3000 at Cyclextreme. There’s a sweet spot around the $200-$400 range that will fit your mountain, road or hybrid bike needs nicely. It will take longer to get around town, but enjoy the scenery. This recession isn’t going anywhere.

  • Bicycle: $300
  • Car, 12 tanks of gas, air freshener, oil change: $15,000
  • You save: $14,7000 + your salvation

eBay — eBay is the value-purchase mecca. Cut out the middle-men, the trucks, the office space and you’re left with great prices. Don’t be worried about getting scammed; it's a negligible risk. Most sellers accept PayPal, have links to customer feedback and show “satisfaction” statistics. Does it matter why lovewj2008 has an unlimited supply of headphones? No. They’re half Best Buy’s price.
eBay can quickly become a Pandora’s Box of “good deals,” so open carefully. The idea is not to end up with Land End’s Baby Diaper Backpack just because it’s $5. Instead, buy personalized gifts — two-tone election bottle of Maker’s Mark, fake Hunter Thompson press pass — for friends and family. Save money, get hugs and big love. Don’t be that girl holding a bottle of pinot from 7-11 or a generic fiction book.

  • eBay: 30 to 60 percent per item.
  • You save: Time and money. No searching around stores, no driving (gas), no crowds. Cheaper across the board. Watch the shipping and handling.

Flask — Flasks are rugged, durable and sneaky. They have a frontier magic about them and are deceptively useful. Save money at bars, clubs and that three-star Michelin restaurant by importing liquor. Shiny silver is out — too noticeable. Go with dark tones, plaid print or a flask shaped like a cell phone. From the comfort of your own home, a cheap four to eight ounces of liquor. Then, when you’re out, get a glass and voila: Chartreuse on the rocks. Stoli on the rocks. The Glenlivet neat. Beware of incredulous friends who just bought a $9 Grey Goose. Share with your wife.

  • 8 oz. faux-alligator flask: $2.50 on eBay
  • Stolichnaya: $25 for a 1.75 liter handle at Costco
  • You save: $40 every weekend in Columbia, $100 in New York

Greg T. Spielberg is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism and a former assistant city editor for the Columbia Missourian.


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Comments

Emily Sussman October 10, 2008 | 2:02 p.m.

Interesting___unorthodox___column. I need to absorb it.
EWS

(Report Comment)
Amber Hanneken October 10, 2008 | 2:43 p.m.

I've got something interesting to add. Many people know about sites like woot.com, which have awesome daily deals on items. I found http://www.bantler.com/, which compiles all the daily deals from sites like Woot, ThingFling and Amazon.
Pretty neat site for the bargain shopper.

(Report Comment)
crock dean October 13, 2008 | 1:32 p.m.

Does crock make dress shoes or business shoes? Running shoes or basketball shoes?

(Report Comment)
Greg T. Spielberg October 14, 2008 | 9:47 a.m.

Dean,
I guess it depends how fast you want to run. They do have the Santa Cruz, which could be worn to some places of work. And there's a whole new line of casual shoes like the hi cruiser.

(Report Comment)

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