When we talk about bargain hunting and getting the best price on items that you need, it’s usually with the assumption that you have time to shop, compare models and prices, and wait for sales. Most of the time that’s the case. But there are times when you need something right now and you can’t wait. Think about what happens when the refrigerator conks out and the food is spoiling. Or the washer is broken and the laundry is approaching the ceiling. Or your computer goes kaput and you have a big presentation to finish. You need a replacement and you need it now. How do you avoid spending more than you have to in these circumstances?
First, investigate the repair option. Many things can be repaired rather than replaced. What you have to decide is whether or not the repair is worth it. If the repair can be made quickly and for a reasonable amount of money (i.e., not for more than the cost of a new item), then that may be the best option to get you back up and running. You’ve been served notice, though, that the item is on it’s way out so now is the time to start actively shopping for a replacement. The repair can buy you time to deploy your best bargain hunting strategies and get a good replacement at a good price.
If repair isn’t an option or if the repair will cost more than just buying something new, then you have to look at purchasing something quickly. You’re not going to have time to hit every store and compare every price, so you want to do the best you can with limited information. The first step is to gather up the current week’s sale flyers (or get them online) for the stores nearest you and see what’s on sale right now. If there are models that interest you, mark them down. Double check to see if there are any coupons available for that retailer that could lower the price.
Next, hit the Internet to see what’s available there. Most physical stores won’t price match an Internet retailer, but you might find the model you want for less on the Internet. Weigh whether or not the extra delivery costs and time are worth it before purchasing. Some physical stores offer different merchandise on their web sites, so look to see if there’s a better option there. If you find something you want, some retailers will ship it to the physical store for free.
While you’re on the Internet, take some time to read reviews of the models you’re interested in. Ideally you want to check reviews from regular consumers like yourself, as well as professional reviews like those from Consumer Reports or Good Housekeeping. This simple step can keep you from purchasing an unsafe or poorly performing item.
Now that you’ve got a short list of acceptable items, check to see if the stores around you have them in stock. Many stores have online inventory checking, or you can just call. This saves you from running all over town to discover that the item isn’t available. While you’re at the store, check the return policy. When you’re buying on the fly you want the best return policy you can get. If you don’t like the item or it does not perform as you expect, you want to be able to
return it. Ask about restocking fees and (for large items) pick up fees.
At the store, don’t make the mistake of telling the salesperson that you need it right now. This takes away all of your negotiating power. If the salesman knows you’re desperate, he knows he can get full price out of you. Act casual and try to negotiate. If your efforts are rebuffed you can always pay the asking price, but it can’t hurt to ask for a discount or for a discounted floor model, if available.
Once you’ve bought something, keep an eye on that store’s sale flyer for the next couple of weeks. If the item goes down in price, many retailers will refund you the difference. Some stores will only do this for a week after purchase, others for fourteen to thirty days. You might yet be able to shave some more off the purchase price.
Planning a little ahead can save you a lot of stress when it comes to buying things on the fly. You know that certain things will always have to be replaced. Cars, appliances, and electronics don’t last forever. You know when something you own is getting old, starting to make funny noises, or not performing as it once did. When you get these hints of the items’ impending demise, start your research. Get a feeling for what’s out there and how much it costs. Watch sale flyers
and see what some good prices are. Look at some models, even if just casually, and see which features you like and dislike. Start to get a sense of what you really want on your next item, what you want but could live without, and what you absolutely do not want. This way you’re not starting a search from scratch when you’re stressed and need to make a quick decision.
It’s not fun to buy things in a hurry. Most of us that are frugal by nature hate it because we’re always afraid that we’re going to get screwed on the deal. It makes us uncomfortable when we can’t use our full bargain hunting arsenal. However, it doesn’t have to be a completely awful experience. Following the steps above can take some of the stress out of the process and get you a decent deal.
Last week I was out walking my dog on trash day. As I was walking past my neighbor’s trash heap (I say heap because they always have more trash than will fit in the trash can and they just pile it up on the road), I noticed a cute wire basket that was decorated with painted wooden sunflowers. I knew that it would look perfect in my kitchen, so I picked it up to see what was wrong with it. It was in great shape, except it was missing some dividers inside that would have turned the space into very useful compartments. The holders for the dividers were still there, but the slats themselves were missing. I knew that I could make some little dividers to fit it, so I decided to take it home.
As I was walking away with my new find, the door to the house flew open and the woman came running out.
“You can’t take that,” she said.
“Why not?” I asked. “It was in the trash.”
“You don’t just take stuff out of people’s trash,” she said.
“Why not? Clearly you didn’t want it. What’s wrong with someone who has a use for it keeping it out of the landfill?”
“Well, uh,” she stuttered, trying to find the reason why this wasn’t okay.
Finally, unable to come up with a reason (other than she didn’t want someone else to have her stuff), she challenged me. “Well, what are you going to do with it? It’s all broken.”
“It’s not all broken,” I said. “It’s only missing these dividers. I can make some of those out of some old scraps of wood, paint them to match the basket, and it’ll be good as new.”
“Huh,” she said, realization dawning. “I lost those dividers when we moved. I never thought to try to make new ones. I just wrote it off as broken and unusable.” (I didn’t even point out that, even without the dividers, it was still a nice little basket.)
“A lot of people do that,” I told her. “Sometimes all it takes is a little thought and ingenuity and you can salvage things to be useful again. A lot of people write off things that still have useful life left in them.”
“Do you do this a lot?” she asked.
“What? Pick things out of people’s trash? Sometimes, but only if I see something I can really use and it’s easy to get to. I don’t dive into dumpsters or turn trash cans upside down to see what’s inside. Even so, I’ve found quite a few things this way that I’ve been able to get good use out of.”
“We always seem to be throwing out so much stuff,” she said, waving her hand over her trash heap. “We buy and toss so many things. Did you know our garbage rates went up because we can’t keep it down to one can’s worth a week? Maybe I need to think about things a little more before I throw them out.”
“Or you could at least have a yard sale and make some money. You probably could have sold this basket for a little money. Someone like me would have been willing to repair it.”
She stood there, thinking about what I’d said. I could see what was coming next, but I waited.
Finally she asked, shyly, “Can I have the basket back? It really did look good in my kitchen and I hate to get rid of it if I can fix it.”
“Sure,” I said, handing it over. “If you need help making the dividers, let me know and I’ll show you how.”
I’ll admit, I was a little sad to see it go. It would have looked nice in my kitchen. But I was glad to have shown her the frugal light. Hopefully she’ll think twice in the future before throwing something out that is still good. I doubt she’ll be out scouring trash piles for her own treasures, but if she repairs or repurposes just a few things as a result of our conversation, I will have at least kept a few items out of the landfill.
Sometimes people just need to see that things can still be useful. We’re so conditioned in our culture to toss out anything that is no longer perfect. We know that we can easily go to the store and buy a replacement, so we often don’t even attempt to repair or repurpose something that has been wounded in some way. Plus there’s a stigma attached to keeping “broken” items. Sometimes simply showing someone how something can be made new, attractive, and useful again is enough to nudge them along the less wasteful path. I hope my neighbor learns this lesson.
I didn’t tell her that a year ago I took a perfectly good, almost new, vacuum cleaner with all the attachments from her trash heap. It was a bagless vacuum and all it needed was a new $20 filter and it was as good as new. She might have asked for that back, too, and I’m not giving that one up.
This past weekend the battery in my cordless phone died. I thought, “No problem. I’ll just run out and get a new battery.” When I got to the store I was disgusted to find that a new battery cost $18.99. My disgust grew when I turned around and looked at the phone display. I could get a new, basic cordless phone without all the bells and whistles (which is what I already have) for $9.49. A new battery was almost double the price of a new phone.
So now the question in the household has become: Repair or replace? This isn’t the first time that we’ve faced this question. Several years ago the dishwasher went on the fritz. Replacement part: $250. New dishwasher, on sale: $500. Last fall the gear shift on my bike broke. New shift, installed at the bike shop: $50. New bike: $90. There have been many other instances, as well. Many times the price of the repair is less than the cost of a new item (unlike with the cordless phone) but so close to the cost of new that it makes you think about which is the wiser course of action.
In the case of the cordless phone and looking only at economics, it seems like the wisest course of action is to replace the phone because the repair is twice the replacement cost. But is the lowest cost decision always the right one? There are other questions that you should ask yourself when confronted with the repair or replace decision. Answering these questions may help you make the wisest decision, even if it isn’t the lowest cost decision.
Is the item under warranty or is there any sort of service bulletin on it that could get you a free repair? Obviously, if the thing is still under warranty your best bet is to pursue repair or replacement through the warranty program. But even if you think it’s out of warranty, you should do a little searching to see if there is some sort of recall or service bulletin on the item that might net you a free repair.
For example, a month ago the battery on my laptop stopped holding a decent charge. It didn’t have that many cycles on it, but the laptop itself was out of warranty. I was resigned to buying a new battery, but a quick check of the manufacturer’s support site revealed that my battery was part of a bad batch. A service bulletin had been issued and anyone with a battery from that batch who had a problem with it before a certain number of cycles was eligible for a free replacement, regardless of whether the laptop was still under warranty. I saved $130 bucks with just a quick look.
Will you save money by buying the new item? Replacing certain items will net you a savings in electricity or water use because many of today’s appliances are much more efficient than their predecessors. Even if repair is the cheapest option at first glance, take the time to crunch some numbers to find out if the amount you will save in other costs might outweigh the additional expense of replacement. How long will it take you to earn back the difference between the repair and the replacement? It might not be as long as you think.
What about the environmental impact? What stinks about the fact that many of today’s items either are not repairable or that repairing them costs more than buying new is that this contributes to the growing waste problem. We wonder why the landfills are filling up, but how can they not when you can buy and throw away three toasters a year but you can’t find someone to repair the first one so that you never had to buy the other two? If you’re like me and you don’t like adding to the waste problem, repair is the first choice when possible (and sometimes you have to face the fact that it’s just not) even if buying new might be cheaper. If I know the repair is going to work and that I will likely receive many more years of service out of the repaired item, I’ll probably opt for repair over replacement in many cases just to keep the item out of the waste stream. However, if the broken item can be recycled (or the manufacturer offers a “take back” program) and the newer item will reduce my energy or water usage (which is also kind to the environment), those factors also influence my decision and I might opt for replacement. It’s a careful balance to determine the best course of action for my wallet and the environment.
Is the thing you’re replacing so old that something else is likely to go wrong soon? If your item is old to begin with, repair may only prolong the inevitable death. You may find yourself pouring repair money into something that isn’t going to last much longer no matter what you do to it. In that case you’re better off replacing the item. Replacement may cost more in the short term, but it’s preferable to throwing money down the drain on repairs that won’t gain you much useful life out of the product.
What will you do with the old thing? If you replace an item, will the old one just sit around the house collecting dust? In that case, it might be best to opt for repair to keep from adding to the junk piles around the house. But there may be other choices. Can you sell or give the old one, “As is,” to someone who is willing to pay for the repair? Can you recycle the old one? Will the company that delivers the new one haul the old one away or is there a trade-in program? If you have a definitive way to get the old item out of your hair, replacement becomes an option worth considering.
Will the repair work? Some items are more difficult to diagnose and repair than others. It really stinks when the repair person tells you that, “All you need is widget X and you’re good to go,” only to find out that widget X doesn’t solve the problem and that you need widget Y and Z, as well. The job you thought would cost $200 ends up costing $500. If you aren’t confident in the technicians’ (or your own) ability to correctly diagnose and repair the problem on the first try, and the cost of repair versus replacement is close, you might be better off just opting to replace.
Will the repair compromise your safety? With certain items, if they break it’s best to let them go because opening them up or replacing their innards compromises the safety features, especially if you’re not a trained electrician or other specialist. Additionally, the use of non-standard parts may render an item unsafe. If you’re not sure, act with caution and simply replace the item.
How much is the repair going to inconvenience you? Do you have to ship the item to a distant repair facility (at your cost) and wait for weeks until it’s shipped back? Do you need the item on a daily basis and going without it is a hardship? Example: If your refrigerator breaks on Friday night and the repairman can’t come until sometime on Tuesday, this is going to be a big inconvenience for you. However, you can get to the appliance store on Saturday and, if you buy before noon, get same day delivery. Assuming you can find a model you like at the price you’re willing to pay, replacement might be the least stressful choice. However, if it turns out the repair would have only cost $100, you’re going to feel like an idiot. In a case like this you’re going to have to carefully evaluate how much inconvenience you can tolerate and what it’s worth to you monetarily. If you can get a ballpark estimate of the likely problem and repair cost you can make a more informed decision, but it’s still going to come down to how much inconvenience you’re willing to put up with in order to save money.
Working through these questions can help you solve the repair or replace dilemma. We worked through them in the case of the cordless phone. So what did we decide to do? For now, nothing. We hate the idea of throwing a perfectly good phone into the landfill and around here that’s the only choice. None of the recycling programs take telephones and the manufacturer doesn’t offer a “take back” program. I know no one will buy it because they can buy a new one for less than it will cost to get the battery. If we opt for replacement, we have no way to unload the old one except to throw it in the landfill, which annoys me. But if we replace the battery, I’ll hate the fact that I “wasted” money when buying a new phone would have been cheaper.
I’m undecided at this point what I will do, so for now I’ve just put up an old corded phone that I had in storage that does the job. As a plus, I’m not using electricity to power a cordless phone. It’s a little bit of a pain being tethered to the wall when having a conversation but I find that I’m more present for the conversation since my options for distraction are limited by the length of the cord. In the end I’ll probably buy a new battery, but I’m hoping to catch a sale or deal that will make it a bit more palatable.
It’s just a shame that goods have gotten so cheap that repair is no longer the “no duh” option that it once was. In addition to the space we’d be saving in the landfills, think of the jobs for repairmen that have been lost over the decades. In this economy, it might be nice to have those back.
I love my blue jeans. They’re a pain to find and when I do, I pay top dollar for something that fits and isn’t too fashionable. I then wear them till they’re holding on by mere threads. I do get good use out of my jeans, but the price I end up paying after a long hard search always comes to mind as I watch them fade away into tatters. I’d love to donate them when they’re gone, but when I can’t wear them, no one really can. Instead, I save my poor un-wearables, folded up on a shelf, until the right project comes along to recycle them. Here are some of the ways that you can use your old denim instead of throwing it out:
1. Make them into shorts. A good lesson from our mothers: any good pair of scissors and a bit of iron-on seaming tape and they’re now a comfortable pair of shorts after a long, hard winter.
2. Make the legs into pillows. I used grommets along the edges and laced the ends either with a fun knit-stitch with fun yarn or a straight lace-up with a belt. I then stuff with a pillow that has worn out its welcome on my bed, maybe with a bit of re-structuring to fit, and toss it in on the couch.
3. For kid-sized jeans, one leg and the waistband can team up to make a wine bag. I did this for a friend of mine by hacking the seat through the middle and one leg clean off, retaining the structure of the belt-loops and waistband for a handle. I turned the remaining leg inside out, folded it up on itself in half for layers, and stitched across the bottom a couple of times for strength. Righting it, I tucked a couple of re-freezable cooling packs between the layers and a pino grigo in the middle. You could also add the pocket from the removed leg as a place to keep a bottle opener.
4. Make a purse. Cut legs off in Daisy Duke-fashion. turn inside out, seam across the bottom. Take a strip of one leg that includes the seaming for strength and attach to the waistband with fasteners of your choice, or use a fashionable belt. There are great examples of this project on Etsy.
5. Make paper with your jeans. Take some time and cut your jeans into bits and strips (cutting with the long threads). Then shred them down using a wide-toothed comb. When you’ve turned your blue jeans into a pile of string and fluff, mix with the pulp made from shredded paper and water run through a food processor. Using a screen to lift the pulp, press the excess water out and lie flat to dry (iron for thinner sheets). Use as you would any hand-made recycled paper.
6. Denim coasters. Quick and easy: cut jeans into 3″x 3″ squares. Pour frosty beverage. Place denim between beverage and beautiful wood finish. For extra pizazz, cut denim into other shapes.
7. I love denim in the snow. If you turn a leg inside out, wrap with a layer of flannel or a fluffy fabric and stitch securely, when you right your project you have a beautifully recycled hand muff. Wear with your favorite denim jacket, or your white fur coat.
8. Somehow I missed when leg warmers came back in, but, you can make a pair with your old jeans’ legs. Cut to the desired length, then, for proper fit, up the inside seam and re-seam. Turn them inside out and embellish the ends with lace, a piece of t-shirt, or just hem the jeans neatly. Patch any holes in the jeans to match or contrast, and turn right-side in. Great with knit skirts, for a reversal.
9. Turn your jeans into a belt holder. With a leg of jean, rip out the side and inside seams. Sew horizontal lines across the leg making horizontal pockets in varying widths for the varying widths of your belts. Clamp the top of the jeans with a skirt hanger, and slide it neatly into your closet. This idea was inspired by a knitting needle holder.
10. Use your blue jeans for patches. Other clothes get holes in them, too. Patch your favorite sweater with denim elbows. To attach denim to knits, turn knit wrong side out and stitch twice around the hole before adding the patch. This will help keep the knit from unraveling, even when hemmed to another fabric. Add a pair of pockets to the sides of some pants for a twist on the cargo pant, or just add extra pockets to the cargos you have. And there’s nothing like shuffling around in a pair of jeans that are actually three or four of your favorite pairs of jeans patched together. (Note: Any denim sewing should be done with denim-grade needles and tough thread. Your machine will thank you.)
All over the crafting and recycling world, old jeans are a precious commodity. If nothing else, send your jeans to become Green Insulation, of the Blue Sort, by Bonded Logic. Where to recycle: GUESS by Marciano will have denim drop-off locations in select US stores during the month of April 2008 and in additional US and Canada stores during the month of May 2008.” In any case, your jeans can be worn, but good denim will never go out.
Image courtesy of aphasiafilms