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buying

Many consumers are finding that there’s power in numbers. Group buying sites, such as Groupon.com, LivingSocial.com, and BuyWithMe.com, offer steep discounts on local services that are being promoted that day. Local merchants get a burst of new traffic that will hopefully lead to new customers and consumers get great deals. You might have seen recent stories highlighted on CNN, USA Today and other media outlets, heralding them as a the new buying revolution, the Web’s latest retail craze.

But it’s not as simple as you might think to cash in on these deals. Group buying sites vary in their business models. Some require a certain number of takers before validating the deal, while others let you click to buy immediately until all the vouchers are sold. Some sites offer an incentive to share the deal. Others use the threat of losing the deal if enough people don’t sign up. The more you share, the more likely the deal will go through.

Many of these deals come with some fine print. Here are some things to watch for when using group buying sites:

  • Check Out the Deal – Sometimes merchants run different deals on different sites. Don’t settle for the first deal you see. Check out other coupon and group buying sites before committing.
  • Know the Restrictions – Some deals are on valid certain days or for a limited time. Tax and tip may not be included. Most of these deals do not give money back if you change your mind.
  • Read Reviews – A deal is only as good as the product or service sold. Make sure this is something that you’ll want to use, and check out the place using review sites like Yelp, Google Maps, or ConsumerSearch.com.
  • Make Sure that You Can Afford It – Sometimes you can buy deals, such as get $50 worth of food and drink for only $25, but after adding the entrée, dessert and drinks, you might find yourself above that $50 budget. Make sure you know what the typical dinner or service costs before signing up.

Most of these sites offer a “How It Works” section. Read the rules before you start using a group buying site. Because these are local offers, make sure that the site offers deals in your area. If they’re not, you can sign up for the waiting list and when they add your city, you’ll start receiving emails.

These deals change often so you’re encouraged to check back daily or sign up for alerts to see the new deal of the day. As you get more friends involved with your group buying, you start getting peer pressure to buy into their favorite deals. Remember, it’s only a deal if you save money, not spend it. If you weren’t planning to buy that product or service then you’re wasting money on services and products that you don’t need.

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Guess who has to pay out over $700 this month for being a complete and total moron. ME! That is right folks I F’d up in a hard way yet again in my life.0 It just goes to show you that letting your guard down when a salesman comes to your door is bad news.  The other half is just me being a complete and total idiot. I couldn’t have picked a better time of year to mess up either, it is Christmas time and I am tacking on extra costs. I provide this story as evidence that no matter how cautious you think you are, you can always mess up and cost yourself some money.

It Sounds too Good to Be True

I haven’t had a chance to explain my hatred of cable companies yet but lets suffice it to say my only option has been Satellite television do to some very large problems between me and our local cable provider. I will say that DirecTV was an awesome service to have and their customer service people were the best I have dealt with. Unfortunately I live in the south where thunderstorms are common and the mere presence of a thunderhead would cause the HD to go out and the heaviest rains would knock out the regular channels. I was willing to accept these inconveniences due to my storied past with cable, then there was a knock on my door.

The fateful knock came at around 8pm, that should have been my first clue. It was a guy from AT&T who had recently, using magic, installed fiber to my house and they were offering TV service, phone, and blazing fast internet. To me this was the ultimate jackpot because it wasn’t the local cable company and it wasn’t satellite. To be perfectly honest that was all it would have taken for me to agree to a switch, this guy however was offering me the first month free. To quote him “Our service is so new we want you to run both your existing service and our service for one month and let us know what you think. We will give you one month for free just to compare the two.” Holy crap I thought I hit the jackpot. This is where spideysense should have gone off but it seemed to make sense to me for some reason.

The internet they were offering was 18mb down, compared to my current 3 it was heaven on earth. We chatted about prices and if I wanted HBO et al. I didn’t need HBO or any movie channels I just wanted HD, a DVR, and super fast internet. The guy then explained how the AT&T DVR is a whole house DVR so if I had multiple boxes in the house I could watch my recordings from the DVR on any TV. It just kept getting better. The deal itself, he said, just required that I get the home phone (voip), internet, and TV bundle and they would give it for free for 30 days. After the 30 days if I wasn’t happy I could cancel at no cost to me. I thought damn this is a good day. I hastily agreed to the whole shabang, I mean it was 8pm and this guy was eating into my wifey time. We were locked and loaded for the next month.

They came out and hooked me up, I tried it out for a week and was happy with it so being frugal, thank god, I canceled my old service. They said I was under contract but it was almost up so I only had to pay an $80 fee which was the equivalent of one months service. I didn’t have a problem with it since I was getting a month free from AT&T so I ponied up the cash and went on about my business. Fast Forward to Wednesday of last week. I got my first new bill notification via e-mail. I wasn’t worried, I knew it would be expensive because I had bundled things that were previously separate. What I wasn’t prepared for was a $395 bill. Further examination showed I was being billed for the first and second months of my service. WTF! The sales guy said my first month was free.

It is never good to start your relationship with a  necessary call to the customer service department. I called them up and explained my situation, the first person I talked to said I would have to talk to the rewards department and quickly transferred me to them. I hate being transferred by the way. After going through my diatribe again the rewards lady concluded I was referring to the $200 reward they are offering. She said you only get the reward AFTER you have had the service for 30 days and then it takes 4-6 weeks to process. Holy crap my wife is going to kill me at this point. Add to that the fact my “reward” had never been input into the system and I am not a happy camper. She entered the reward and said it could take up to 4-6 weeks, meanwhile I am saddled with a $400 bill. I tried to explain my frustrations but the rewards lady said I would have to talk to Customer Service and she didn’t have the ability to transfer, WHAT!

So I called back, to make a long story short the customer service rep, who was very nice, couldn’t do anything for me and she politely offered to let me speak with her supervisor. I spoke with him for a bit and he concluded there was nothing they could do for me as I signed the agreement, he said he was very sorry and that he would make sure the salesperson was identified and dealt with accordingly. I then decided to reduce my services to cut my costs he not only obliged but offered discounts to cover my current cable service at the reduced cost. I appreciated that and I parted ways, still owing $400 but with the understanding of where I failed.

I should have known better than to accept the deal at face value. There were warning signs all over the place that this guy didn’t really know what he was doing. For the techie types he event tried to convince me that the upload and download speeds were equal. It if fiber he says, they can’t keep you from having 18mb up if you have 18mb down. Honestly I laughed in his face when he said that, but it should have been a clue that things may be fishy. I would say get the story on the deal and call the company directly to confirm, don’t buy from the door knocker because he is just trying to make a commission and will tell you anything.

For Those who do Math Well

For those of you who do math well you are probably wondering about the other $300. That is actually just my own utter stupidity. I was traveling for work last month and forgot to pay the utility bill. So added to my $400 SNAFU I now have a power bill double it’s normal size with a late fee added in. Sad thing is all they had to do was call me and say hey buddy you didn’t pay and it would have been paid in a heartbeat. I feel worse about the fact it went unpaid than I do about the cost.

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clunker

The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program, more commonly known as the Cash For Clunkers Bill, has been getting a lot of press lately so I thought I would give it a look and see what it is all about. Luckily this is the shortest bit of legislation I have read in a while and it is a relatively easy read. Essentially the aim of the bill is to encourage Americans to “trade in” their old less fuel efficient vehicles for newer more fuel efficient models.

The provisions in the bill allow for two different levels of voucher a $3,500 and $4,500 depending on the fuel economy of the vehicles involved in the deal. Both vouchers are to offset the purchase price or lease price of a new vehicle. The most important part of the equation is the “combined” fuel economy of both your “trade in” and the new vehicle. You can do research on both of these values at fueleconomy.gov

To Qualify For a $3,500 Voucher:

You must purchase/lease new passenger automobile (a car) with no less than 22 combined mpg and at least 4 combined mpg higher than your trade in vehicle. Or,

Purchase a new Category 1 Truck (pickup/SUV) with no less than 18 mpg and at least 2 combined mpg higher than the eligible trade in vehicle, or

Purchase a new Category 2 Truck (Large Pickup/van) with no less than 15 mpg and at least 1 mpg higher than an eligible category 2 truck trade in.

To Qualify for a $4,500 Voucher:

You must purchase/lease new passenger automobile (a car) with no less than 22 combined mpg and at least 10 combined mpg higher than your trade in vehicle. Or,

Purchase a new Category 1 Truck (pickup/SUV) with no less than 18 mpg and at least 5 combined mpg higher than the eligible trade in vehicle, or

Purchase a new Category 2 Truck (Large Pickup/van) with no less than 15 mpg and at least 2 combined mpg higher than an eligible category 2 truck trade in.

What is an Eligible “Trade in”?

To be eligible, under cash for clunkers, to trade your vehicle must:

  1. Be drivable
  2. Have been insured consistent with state law and registered to the same owner for no less than 1 year
  3. have been manufactured not more than 25 years ago
  4. in the case of an automobile, have a combined fuel economy of 18 mpg or less (does this include trucks?)

Is there anything I can’t buy?

Why yes there is, thanks for asking. You can’t buy:

  1. A car that is worth more than $45,000
  2. a passenger car with less than 22 mpg
  3. a Category 1 truck with less than 18 mpg
  4. a category 2 truck with less than 15 mpg

What Does the Dealer Do With My Car?

So this is why I keep putting “trade in” in quotes. You aren’t really trading your car in, essentially you and the dealership agree to shred the car and you get a voucher for the new one. The dealer is responsible for ensuring the purchased vehicle and engine block are recycled/scrapped. They are free to sell off the other parts of the car with the exception of the drive train. Unlike your usual trade in at the dealership you won’t see this one sitting on the lot, ever.

My Car the Example

My wife drives a 2004 Isuzu Rodeo which gets, according to fueleconomy.gov, 17 mpg. Because I am under the 18 mpg I qualify depending on what I buy. If I want to get a new SUV and $4,500 credit I would have to buy an SUV with at least 22 mpg. Or for $3,500 I only need one with 19 mpg. The kicker here though is that my vehicle is worth around $6,000 according to KBB so I would never do it, but you get the idea.

The Wrap Up

You could see a benefit in a couple of major areas, there would be an impact on the environment from more fuel efficient vehicles being on the road. You would have a benefit to the car manufactures because more people will be encouraged to purchase new vehicles fresh off the assembly line. Finally, there would be some benefit on the scrappers side from selling parts off of the old cars as well as scrap. One more item of note. The bill only applies to vehicles purchases between July 1, 2009 and November 1, 2009.

All in all if you are already looking to buy a NEW car then this could be a great source of some extra money to put towards that purchase. You are probably going to save more in the long run though if you just buy used and shop around.

Feel free to read the full text of Title XIII – Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program, aka Cash for Clunkers, at the GPO site. The Title starts on page 51.

Photo (striatic)

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