Save money by talking through purchases, big and small

It’s a good idea to talk through big purchases (with your spouse, or with a knowledgeable friend) carefully before buying.  The bigger the purchase, the more discussion there should be.  You can save money and avoid costly mistakes with discussion.

I learned a lesson recently about not doing this with a smaller purchase.  It cost me a couple of hours and $30.  Here’s what happened.

Frozen chickens don’t lay eggs

My wife has gotten a reputation in our local circles as being “the crazy chicken lady.”  We now have not one, but two coops for our eleven chickens.  She built the second one because the first was made out of plastic parts, and was difficult to keep at a reasonable temperature going into the winter.  (Egg production goes way down if the temperature swings get too big, as I understand it.  It stresses out the chickens.)

Overall, the chicken enterprise is stabilizing with regard to building things and with the process of maintaining the chickens.  Now we’re looking to find ways to make the maintenance easier.   As an example, we have a temperature monitor for the coop, but where it’s positioned requires someone to go outside to read it.

Last week I tried to make this part a bit easier by getting a temperature monitor that we could read without going outside.  It took me a couple of hours hunting around on the web to get something together.  What I ended up with was a combination of a small LED temperature gauge with a three-meter DS18B20 probe, a 12-volt, 2-amp AC/DC converter, and a CCTV female 2.1-millimeter terminal to connect them.

I put them in my Amazon shopping cart.  $30 shipped, should arrive Monday.  Boom and done.

My boom gets lowered

The next day, I showed all of this to my wife.  (She hadn’t been part of the process.  I worked on this to try to save some of her time.)

At this point, she tells me about a wireless temperature sensor from Walmart that works out of the box.  (Mine was wired, and required some putting together.  It does actually work, though.)

What made me go “ouch” was the price of this wireless sensor:  $10.

Oops.  Heck, I’d probably looked at that sensor at Walmart and had forgotten about it!  And for the life of me I can’t figure out why I didn’t catch these things in my search.

Oh well.  We have two temperature sensors that will work for each of the two coops, and my wife knows I have an interest in helping with the chickens besides just eating the eggs. :)

But I’ll run purchases like this past her first.  Even the little ones.  Because she may have seen something cheaper, easier, and better that I wasn’t aware of.  Something that will save money.

A better metric for comparing products on Amazon

A few weeks ago, my PC of a number of years began warning me to replace my hard disk drive soon. That in itself is pretty cool. (Not that my disk drive was failing, but that the operating system warned me before it actually did!)

Rather than replace the hard drive, I opted for an updated computer.  I have a daughter entering her teen years faster than I’d like, and I want to postpone her passing me with the tech as long as possible.

Customer Reviews:  More than meets the eye

As with most things on Amazon, there are choices.  Boy are there choices!  After doing a small bit of research based on what I had hoped to use the computer for, a gaming machine seemed to be a good compromise between cost and performance.  (My main use for the machine isn’t gaming, actually!)

So, now I start trying to decipher amongst a bunch of fairly competitive choices.  They were roughly all the same price for what you got, and the number of stars, and number of reviews, were similar too.

I began reading the customer reviews.  I usually start with the critical reviews.  Not that glowing reviews aren’t helpful, but they can be padded by the vendor.  Critical reviews tend to reveal more.

As I was reading the reviews for some CybertronPC machines in my price range, I noticed something.  It wasn’t so much whether or not the computer had issues or not, or even what the customer said about the computer.

It was CybertronPC’s response to the reviews.

It wasn’t even just that they responded to the critical reviews professionally, and made every effort to fix the problem.

I’m quite sure that they read each and every review — even the five-star ones — and take every opportunity to go above and beyond to fix any issues that may have arisen during the purchase.  One of the five-star reviews on the machine I bought (linked above) mentioned a missing wifi adapter, as well as the prompt response by the company to fix the issue.  (This was certainly a good customer!)

CybertronPC took the opportunity to apologize again for the already-resolved issue, and throw in another reminder about the technical support for their PCs (which is free lifetime support, by the way).

A sign of taking business seriously

Does it take a lot of time, money, and energy to monitor, and respond to, these reviews?  Not a whole lot.

Is it a good return on investment to take the opportunity to build up relationships with satisfied customers, and reduce collateral damage with unsatisfied ones, in a high-traffic, high-influence forum?  Of course.

Good, or even great, customer service isn’t rocket science, and responding thoughtfully to Amazon reviews is low-hanging fruit.

But a company engaging in this way with its customers it does leave an impression.  And it can’t be just lip service, either; the customers can respond to the response and call the company out if they don’t do what they said!

This care was the distinguishing factor for me.  It was a sign that they took their business very seriously and worked to uphold their reputation, and it’s why I dropped nearly a grand with them, sight unseen and never having owned one of their PCs before.

I was buying a computer, sure.  But I was also buying into a company that, by all appearances, stands behind their products 100%.

So far, it looks like I made a wise purchase.  Oh, and it looks really cool, too!

Black Friday 2014 hits the rebate sites!

In-store fights on Black Friday are becoming as much tradition as Thanksgiving.

Does the thought of scrapping it out with a stranger over a $9.99 DVD player appeal to you? Me neither.

Thankfully, no one is going to reach into their computer to overturn your Amazon shopping cart or sever your internet connection.  I’ve managed to stay out of the malls and big stores for a few years now, and I can’t say that I miss the craziness!

Remember to click through to spend less!

A hefty chunk of my email from businesses the past couple of weeks has been Black Friday and Cyber Monday related.

While the stores are building up their own excitement, rebate sites like Ebates and Cash Back Cat are doing the same.  The stores are knocking down their prices, and the rebate sites are boosting their rebates!

Spend less and … spend less.  It’s win-win!

Here are some of the site-buster deals that a few of the rebate sites have going on:

  • EBates (sign up free) has 500+ stores with extra cash back
  • Cash Back Cat (sign up free) currently has ALL stores with extra cash back
  • Swagbucks (sign up free) has double SB in all Shop and Earn stores today and Cyber Monday
  • Panda Cash Back (sign up free) has triple cash back on select stores, based on reader choice

Even better:  Compare rebate sites to spend even less!

With all of the savings going on, it’s easy to get a decent deal on holiday purchases.

But these rebate sites are businesses just like any other, and they compete against each other for your business.  They all know that you have options.  They also know that no one site has the best rebate for every site, all the time.

That’s why I developed my cash-back comparison engine — to make comparison of the rebates easy, so you can make an informed decision.  I’ve used it myself to track down the highest rebate for a number of purchases.

Yesterday my family and I had a quiet, but productive, Thanksgiving.  My wife and her parents built the majority of a winter chicken coop, and I settled in on the computer to beef up the cash-back comparison engine a bit:

  • Simply Best Coupons is now included in the comparison.  This site has over 3,500 stores with rebates and coupons, and now you can compare them side-by-side with over a dozen other rebate sites!
  • I’ve compiled the 169 most active stores on their own page.  Of the thousands of stores that have rebates and coupons available, these get the most attention from the rebate sites.

All of the rebate percentages are hours fresh now, so I invite you to compare rebates quickly, and easily.  This is all free!

What would make it even easier and more useful?

Like I mentioned above, I use this tool myself.

But I want this to be useful to as many people as possible — especially you!

So … if you’ve played with the engine, and have saved money, I’d love to hear about it.  Also, please either send a message or comment below with things you’d like to see, questions you have, or problems you’ve encountered.

Happy Black Friday! :)