Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why in the World Are You Not Grocery Shopping Online?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

click and drag the tomato to test for firmness

…Or, How to Never Set Foot in a Grocery Store Again

When the internet was invented by Al Gore in 2003, we were promised amazing things like limitless knowledge at our fingertips, the ability to communicate instantaneously with anybody in the world, and—most importantly—the opportunity to buy lots of crap we don’t need from the comfort of our bedrooms.

For the longest time, there was one category of merchandise that precluded our pajama-clad shopping sessions: groceries. Some small services emerged in random locations that would deliver various fresh and processed foodstuffs to your door, but coverage of such services was spotty. Now, thanks to the advent of complex, money-saving ideas like “supply chain management” and “cheap illegal immigrant labor,” to-your-door grocery delivery is now available to a large percentage of American citizens. Simply visit a participating supermarket’s website, click the items you want to purchase, schedule a delivery, and bam!: groceries in your home like magic.

You might be thinking any number of reasons for why grocery shopping over the internet and home grocery delivery is not for you. Here are all of the ones I’ve heard:

  1. I have two legs or a good wheelchair or friends or some other way of getting to a grocery store and doing my own shopping, thank-you-very-much. Point taken; you probably can do your own grocery shopping, so why shouldn’t you?
  2. I want to grope my fruit. Unless you are physically in the store molesting those melons yourself, you’re going to get some horrid reject of a fruit that all the other produce openly mocks at night while the store is empty.
  3. I’ll get milk that expired last week. Not only will your fruit be sub-par and/or diseased, but all of your other fresh products will be picked from the damaged goods and expiring soon shelves.
  4. I don’t want some man handling my goods. Somehow, the grocery store delivery person will do terrible things to your packaged goods. Perhaps he’ll crack open your box of tampons and take them for a test drive… and then return them to the box afterwards.
  5. I have to pay extra for home delivery. You know how the internet works: for the convenience of delivery to your door, you have to pay a moderate shipping fee.
  6. I have to sit at home and wait for delivery. Instead of sitting at home, waiting for your grocery delivery, you could go to the store and take care of the shopping yourself!
  7. It’s just not the same. Browsing pictures of groceries on the internet is simply not a suitable replacement for roaming up and down store aisles.

I’m here to tell you that all of the beliefs above are absolutely 100% totally wrong, bad, and very wrong. And stupid. (Except for the one about two legs. Unless… you don’t have two legs. Then I’m deeply sorry.)

By the end of this article, you will be asking yourself “why the hell am I not already shopping for home-delivered groceries online?”

Debunking Online and Home Delivery Grocery Myths

mmm, yummy at signs, only 2.99 a pound

I’ll admit it: I was a non-believer like you for the longest time, even well after internet grocery shopping was available in my area. It wasn’t until I approached the idea of home grocery delivery with an open mind that I saw just how much time, money, and aggravation I could save myself while actually improving the quality of the food entering my home.

First, let’s look at why each of the common assumptions about home-delivered internet grocery shopping we mentioned above is incorrect. (The numbers below match up to the ones above.)

  1. You have two legs… but you don’t need them. At least not for grocery shopping. Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you should. Don’t forget to consider the value of your time before spending two hours a week at the supermarket.
  2. Home-delivered produce is superior. Your grocery delivery order is typically filled in the morning from produce that hasn’t even hit the store shelves yet. And because stores want home delivery to succeed so they can save money on real estate and cashiers, they mandate that such orders be filled with the best of the best produce they have in stock. That means you typically get better quality than you could ever find shopping in person at your local supermarket.
  3. You’ll get the freshest of everything else. Just like with your fruits and veggies, your other perishables will be picked from the highest quality and latest expiring lots. If you kept getting milk that expired yesterday, home delivery would die quickly, and stores don’t want that!
  4. Packers and drivers don’t have time to man-handle your goods. The whole packing and delivery process is closely scrutinized and randomly inspected. Workers get penalized for not making timely deliveries (so no time for hijinks), and packers get flogged for damaged or missing items.
  5. I don’t have to pay extra for home delivery. Some stores do charge up to $10 for home delivery, but there are many ways to reduce or eliminate these fees and bring your home-delivered grocery bill to the same exact price as your in-store bill.
  6. Delivery times are flexible and precise. Most home deliverers offer small delivery windows of two or four hours. For example, if you know you’ll be home Thursday evening 7-9pm, you can request that window and your groceries will be delivered during that time.
  7. You’re right. It’s not the same. It’s better. Ask nearly anyone who’s ordered groceries online if they prefer the internet or in-person shopping experience. I bet at least 90% of them will choose the internet version, and the reasons why are worth exploring in a separate section.

Internet Grocery Shopping is Better? (And Cheaper???)

my money is on the cart because it can roll over the mouse and break it

How can virtual grocery shopping be better than walking through the aisles and tossing cans and boxes in your cart? Well, let’s look at some of the reasons why shopping in stores sucks and what internet grocery shopping does to fix that.

In-store grocery shopping Online with home delivery
  • You have to drive there. And park.
  • If you have a laptop, you could shop from your toilet if you want.
  • You have to push a heavy cart.
  • Internet shopping carts weigh 0.003 grams.
  • You have to maneuver through crowded aisles.
  • Internet aisles can fit any number of people. Even really big ones!
  • It can be hard to find what you need on poorly-organized shelves.
  • Most internet grocery stores have a search function that takes two seconds to find any item.
  • Sometimes price labels aren’t always easy to find.
  • Internet groceries always have an obvious price tag.
  • It can be hard to compute unit prices (e.g. per ounce) for price comparisons.
  • Most online grocery stores have clear, easy to compare per-unit prices.
  • That woman just stole those great-looking apples from your cart!
  • Heh, this would be a funny “feature,” but it doesn’t happen during internet grocery shopping.
  • You need 20 boxes of condoms. In the checkout line with you: your five children, a priest, and your wife’s gossipy friends.
  • Only the packer and delivery guy will know of your amazing sexual exploits.
  • Checkout lines can last forever.
  • Checkout takes roughly three mouse clicks.
  • You have to load your groceries in the car, unload them at home, and carry them into the kitchen.
  • The grocery delivery person does all of this.
  • Crap, you left your purse in the shopping cart.
  • Nope, your purse is in the bedroom next to your computer.

As if that’s not enough, here are some other things that make internet grocery shopping with home delivery so awesome:

  • Better organization. At my internet grocery store, everything is neatly categorized and sub-categorized, so I can track down nearly any item I need in 15 seconds or less.
  • Sort by price. Wouldn’t you like to yell “Hey, which one of you is cheapest?” to the 15 varieties of spaghetti sauce on the store shelf and get an answer back? With internet grocery shopping, you can sort categories of merchandise by price with a couple of clicks.
  • Reusable shopping history. If you buy the same eggs, milk, bread, and toilet paper every week, many online grocery websites will remember these items and allow you to add them to your new order with just one click. You can finish half your grocery shopping in two minutes this way!
  • Same prices as in-store. I’ve never seen an online grocery item cost more than the in-store counterpart for the same grocery chain. Sometimes items are actually cheaper through the internet storefront! If that box of Hamburger Help Me is $1.99 in store, it’ll be $1.99 (or less!) online.
  • Delivery staff is friendly… much friendlier than your typical cashier or stock boy. They rely on good feedback from you to keep their jobs, and it’s easier to issue damaging complaints about them because they service fewer customers than your average checkout clerk. A recent example of a friendly delivery: on my last order, the driver actually called customer service on the spot to sort out a pricing error that I would normally have to handle myself.
  • Delivery staff usually doesn’t accept tips. Having to tip your grocery driver could turn this excellent deal into a slightly less excellent one. Where I live, most of the major grocery delivery outfits instruct their drivers not to accept tips. I’ve offered them before and they’re always refused.
  • Special online-only promotions. Remember how I said stores want online groceries to succeed so they can save money on expensive physical stores and employees? To draw and keep more customers, stores often offer discounts on their internet storefronts you won’t find in stores. Coupon codes for percents- or dollars-off your entire order are fairly common; I once used some to get $80 worth of groceries for under $30 without the need for clipping coupons. More on this below.
  • Customer service is actually competent. On the rare occasion that you’ll need to call the delivery service’s customer helpline, you’ll usually get someone who can solve your issue immediately and to your satisfaction. And they speak real good English too!
  • The whole process takes about half the time of regular grocery shopping. This number is from our actual grocery shopping experiences over the last year. Back in March and April (the last months we shopped exclusively in store), we spent an average of five hours a month on all grocery shopping activities (driving to and from, scouring aisles, checking out, loading/unloading, etc.). Now that we shop virtually always online for groceries, that figure is down to about two hours a month. The actual shopping takes less than half the time, and the hard parts (waiting in line, lugging grocery bags, and driving) are all completely eliminated.
  • Grocery delivery trucks are refrigerated. I’m guessing your car is not.

I would be remiss in my duties to you if I didn’t share the few minor annoyances internet grocery shopping poses. Most of these shouldn’t have any impact on your shopping experience, but I list them anyway (along with potential solutions) so you know I’m not a corporate shill for the internet grocery conglomerate.

  • Online inventory is not real-time. While grocery stores try to keep every item in stock all the time (and do it much better than, say, Wal-Mart) there’s a small chance that an item you order online will be out of stock at the time of your order fulfillment. In my experience, this has only happened when I ordered multiple varieties of a particular item (e.g. 10 different varieties of jelly) and one of those varieties was temporarily sold out. Solution: To avoid cases where an item you need isn’t delivered because it’s sold out, most online grocery sellers ask if you want to allow substitutions on a per-item basis. You’ll have to pay the actual, potentially higher price for any substituted item, but you’d have to do this anyway if you shopped in the store.
  • Online groceries can be bad for internet shopaholics. If you find yourself spending $100 daily on random internet purchases, you’ll want to be ready before embarking on your first online grocery shopping trip. Otherwise, you could end up buying lots of food you don’t eat just because it’s “on sale.” Solution: As with in-store shopping, prepare a shopping list ahead of time. Set yourself a time limit to “get in and out” of the online grocery store.
  • Paper coupons not always accepted. Very few online grocers accept clipped paper coupons. The technology just isn’t there yet, I guess. Solution: Most stores that offer their own coupons in flyers do offer online coupon code counterparts. As for the coupons from your Sunday paper, they’re usually a waste of time and money anyway.
  • Occasional missing/damaged items. Once in a while, an item may arrive damaged upon delivery. Solution: If you spot it while the delivery driver is still there, simply return it on the spot and your account or credit card will be credited for the price of the item. If you don’t discover the damage until later, you can return the item in store for a refund. There’s also the possibly (though it hasn’t happened to us) that an item that was said to have been delivered was actually missing from your order. Solution: Again, try to spot the error while the driver is still there for prompt and easy credit. Otherwise, call the customer service line as soon as you notice the missing item; they should take your word for it and credit your account or card.
  • Minimum orders required. No matter how much of a delivery fee you’re willing to pay, most online grocers won’t deliver an order of less than $50 worth of stuff. Solution: $50 of groceries shouldn’t be a hard total to reach. If it is, you’re shopping too frequently. Try once a week for internet grocery orders at the most. At some internet grocery stores, you can purchase $50+ and bring the total below $50 with coupon codes and they’ll still deliver your order.

Where to Grocery Shop Online

There are many local non-national grocery chains that have their own internet home-delivery service, but today we’ll just look at three of the biggest names in the online grocery business. Between these three services, much of the internet-literate country should have access to the essentials and more at the touch of a keyboard.

Peapod

peapod, monopolizing the snowpea delivery industry since 1999While Peapod isn’t a physical grocery store itself, the founders of Peapod pretty much invented online grocery delivery, and they dominated the market during the dot-com era. But because of various buyouts and partnerships, Peapod now only provides delivery service for the Giant and Stop & Shop grocery chains. That means you generally won’t find Peapod service outside of the northeast part of the U.S.

You can place your order by visiting either grocery chain’s website or simply jumping straight to Peapod.com.

Pros:

  • Excellent order interface. Peapod has the best internet grocery ordering interface around. You’ll be able to speed through your shopping trip with ease.
  • They accept manufacturer’s coupons. Simply give them to the driver on delivery.
  • Option for unattended delivery. If you live in a safe neighborhood, Peapod can drop your delivery at your door in special insulated containers, and you don’t even need to be there in person. Great for the psychos out there who work 24 hours a day.
  • View nutritional information online. Peapod posts snapshots of the nutritional labels off the backs of boxes and cans.

Cons:

  • Higher grocery prices. Around here, Giant grocery prices are typically slightly higher than other supermarkets, including Safeway and its delivery service (see below).
  • Poor coupon code offering. Peapod is stingy with the coupon codes, so chances are you’re going to pay for most of your deliveries after the first.

Safeway / Vons / Genuardi’s

safeway, unlike the other grocery stores which are the dangerouswayA newer contender in the online grocery delivery business, Safeway and Co. has proven a worthy challenger and grew quickly to provide delivery coverage to many metropolitan areas in the western and mid-Atlantic regions. While Safeway Inc. operates stores under several other names, only those branded Safeway, Vons or Genuardi’s currently offer internet ordering and delivery.

You can visit their sites and begin shopping at Safeway.com, Vons.com or Genuardis.com.

Pros:

  • Fantastic internet promotions and coupon codes. Six months later, and I have yet to pay a single delivery fee because there’s always a coupon code out there for free delivery. Safeway also offers crazy deals occasionally where you can get, for example, $10 off your order for purchasing 10 or more of certain products… and then some of the products only cost $1 each! We were drowning in free Snapple for a while back in August.
  • Convenient access to sale items. Just one click is all you need to bring up all of the buy-one-get-one items or club card offers within a particular category. This makes it much easier to spot sales on products you need.
  • E-mails when your regular purchases are on sale. I really like this feature. If you like to stock up on items when they go on sale, Safeway’s computers will recognize this and send you a weekly e-mail with your most frequent buys when they’re on sale.

Cons:

  • No manufacturer’s coupons yet. They say they’re working on it, but you coupon clippers will have to get your savings fix elsewhere for the time being.
  • Sometimes temperamental website. Once in a while, the Safeway ordering website will be down without any warning. It’s usually back up again in a few hours. The website also doesn’t want you to rip off its company too badly; while you can use as many coupon codes in a single order as the coupons themselves allow, I’ve sometimes had all of my coupon codes removed when I entered a whole lot of them that should have worked together. I tried again the next day and it worked fine though.

Amazon.com

amazon grocery, now with 50 percent more powdered goatsThey sell books, clothes, electronics, and everything else, so why not groceries? We reviewed Amazon Grocery when it premiered last year, and it has since grown to become a popular destination for folks seeking organic foods, diapers, and bulk products.

If you don’t know where Amazon.com is by now, then you have no chance of finding Amazon Grocery without a link, so there it is.

Pros:

  • Excellent substitute for warehouse clubs. If you don’t have a Sam’s or Costco near you (or even if you do), the bulk items on Amazon Grocery can save you some money over regular grocery store prices.
  • Interesting and sometimes really good deals. Amazon Grocery will offer a lot of promotions for new and different products. You’ll see many $X off $Y deals for things like candy, breakfast items, nutritional supplements and other strange but useful things.
  • Foods you didn’t even know existed. There are some crazy products for sale on Amazon Grocery. Organic lollipops, chicken made of vegetables, dried cherries—all sorts of weird crap you won’t find in normal grocery stores because normal people won’t buy it. But you will!
  • Makes baby-raising cheaper. Viewing the Amazon Grocery store by bestselling item order shows that most of the bestselling products are for your baby. Diapers, wipes, and diet pills (for you) are sold in bulk at discounts that usually beat supermarket prices.
  • Free shipping. As long as you spend $25 or more on your order, you’ll get free shipping automatically on just about every item on Amazon Grocery.

Cons:

  • Almost exclusively bulk items. Don’t go wandering to Amazon Grocery looking for a 16-ounce plastic bottle of maple syrup because you’ll get 12 quarts of mapley goodness instead. The same goes for just about every other item at Amazon Grocery. You’ll need a second home just to fit the four major food groups if you purchase them all from Amazon, though you won’t run out again until 2024.
  • Don’t expect your milk to come from a cow. Maybe a powdered goat, if you’re lucky. Multi-day delivery means no perishables from Amazon Grocery. They’re not a one-stop grocery store.

Some Advanced Tips for Making the Most of Your Internet Grocery Experience

pineapple van is coming your way, pineapple van is coming today, pineapple van yay yay yay, pineapple van driven by pineapple ray

Having done the online grocery shopping with home delivery thing for about half a year now, we’ve got it down to a science. Before logging on for your first internet food-shopping experience, review these money- and time-saving tips that the internet grocery stores may not want you to know.

  • Scour the ‘net for coupon codes first. Any of my online grocery trips start with stops at two websites: RetailMeNot.com for the latest grocery coupon codes and the FatWallet Hot Deal forums for advanced discounts and strategies. At the latter, simply search for the name of the store and you may find unadvertised promotions or detailed coupon code strategies that can save you big. That’s how I got those $80 worth of groceries for $30 delivered not too long ago.
  • Browse their paper circular for loss leaders. You’ll find the weekly sales flyer either in your mail or on the grocery store’s website. Skim through it for loss leader items (things sold at or below cost to lure you into the store) and add them to your cart if you need them.
  • Place bigger orders and shop less frequently. If you have the storage room, save even more time by combining multiple in-store shopping trips into a single internet shopping order. They can fit a ton of food in those delivery trucks—a lot more than you ever could in your vehicle. Free delivery coupon codes are also much easier to find if you spend over a certain dollar amount in a single order—usually $150.
  • Include directions if your home is hard to find. Do your friends typically get lost on the way to your place? While delivery drivers often have GPS navigation systems to get around, you can help ensure a timely delivery by including a sentence or two describing your neighborhood or distinguishing features of your residence. Many online grocery websites give you a free-form text box for such instructions, but it’s entirely optional.
  • Plan ahead. This means a few things. First, know when you’re going to want your next grocery delivery so it can coincide with a time when you’ll be at home anyway. (We usually aim for weekend mornings or afternoons.) Second, take a moment to check your cabinets for items you might run out of before your next order so you don’t have to make any in-person trips for one or two essentials. Third, allow yourself time to do the actual shopping. Sure, it takes half the time of in-store shopping, but this isn’t something you can do during the first commercial break of CSI: Miami.
  • Pick one delivery service and stick with it (usually). In our area, we have at least two major grocery delivery services to choose from. We went with the one for the store that typically has slightly lower prices for most items. Yes, there are a few good deals at the other store, but it’s generally not worth the time and the trouble of comparison shopping. There are exceptions though. Be sure to scour the various internet deal forums once in a while for hot promotional offers that make it worth your time to try the other delivery service from time to time.

I think it’s safe for me to say that switching to internet grocery shopping has changed our lives. We have more free time, we don’t dread grocery shopping trips full of screaming children and long lines, and we spend about 15% less on food now for better quality goods.

So now that you’ve heard about the wonders of internet grocery shopping with home delivery, go try it for yourself and let us know how it goes. Hopefully you’ll see just how much of a life-altering experience it can be.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freeze Your Butt Off to Save on Your Winter Heating Bills?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

save money on winter heating without feeling like this

Packed snugly in a recent local utility mailing—somewhere between the return envelope and that electrical extortion invoice our supplier calls a “bill”—was their monthly newsletter offering sound advice to help keep us safe and save us money during the upcoming winter. (Sidebar: I’ve always wondered why utility companies send newsletters with tips for saving you money on your utilities; shouldn’t they send you tips for spending more on utilities or perhaps saving money on groceries and health care so you can spend more on gas and electric?) One of the tips in this newsletter was a little startling because it runs contrary to every American home in which I’ve ever set foot:

Set your thermostat at 68 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night, if health permits.

First, let’s look at the 68 degrees during the day recommendation. Thinking of the homes of random family and friends, here’s a sampling of the various daytime winter temperatures I recall seeing on their thermostats:

  • 75 degrees
  • 74 degrees
  • 72 degrees
  • 72 degrees
  • 72 degrees

I cannot ever recall seeing any thermostat in any home set at below 70 degrees during winter days. The only exception is our own home whose thermostat currently sits at a cozy and warm 68 degrees. People who enter our house when it’s 68 often complain that it’s chilly. On the other hand, when we enter someone’s house at 75 degrees, it feels like a sauna.

So if you’re currently running your home at 70+ degrees in the winter, try dropping it a degree each week and be amazed at how well your body can adjust to the temperature change.

Now how about that 60 degrees at night recommendation? Once again, let’s look at a random sample of nighttime winter temperatures from the homes of friends and family.

  • 75 degrees
  • 74 degrees
  • 72 degrees
  • 72 degrees
  • 72 degrees

Holy crap, it’s the same list from above! For some inexplicable reason, these five households need their 70+ degrees while their bodies are in bed, asleep, inactive, totally unconscious. My utility’s advice to drastically lower the thermostat setting at night is a good one; it can save a boatload of money on heat your body doesn’t even need.

I’ll admit that the 60-degree recommendation surprised even us. We keep our nighttime thermostat set at around 64 during the winter months. We find that any colder than that is enough to wake us in the middle of the night.

If you’re a member of the 72 Degrees At All Times Club, you might be wondering how we survive in consistently sub-70-degree temperatures. It’s pretty simple, actually.

  • Lots of clothes. It’s not hard to pile on an extra layer or two. Each one seems to allow us to tolerate an extra degree or two below 70.
  • Mini heaters. We have a portable electric heater that we can set in whatever room we’re currently occupying. That way, we can keep that room as toasty as we like without wasting heat in other rooms. It’s fuel-free, simple to operate, weighs just a couple of pounds, and costs just pennies an hour to run.
  • Ceiling fans in reverse. Over the summer, we equipped our four most-used rooms with ceiling fans to keep rooms cool. When operated in reverse (clockwise motion), the fan blows the hot air that would otherwise rise to the ceiling and out the roof back down to the floor. Yes, it really works and can help maintain a room temperature a lot longer.
  • Smart thermostat use. While we have a programmable thermostat, we typically operate it manually, setting the temperature at 68 when we’re home and awake or 64 if we’re away or asleep. If you have a predictable schedule, you can use a programmable thermostat to boost the temperature just before you wake or return home from work.
  • Lots of cuddling. There’s nothing cozier in the winter than a warm body, and keeping one really close to you ensures you two are exchanging heat with each other rather than losing it to the air. Just be sure to ask before cuddling someone, though they’ll usually agree once you give a detailed presentation on the fuel savings cuddling can provide.

Now it’s your turn to provide your wintertime stats. At what temperature do you set your thermostat during winter days and nights?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Get FREE $20 Gift Cards For Every $200 Spent at Select Shopping Malls

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

for me? aww, you shouldnt have. oh, you didnt. fine, you SHOULD have

Here’s a deal I’m extremely surprised to see return: at select shopping malls around the U.S., you can show $200 in shopping mall receipts at the information desk and get a free $20 Discover gift card. This deal has been offered for at least the last couple of holiday seasons, and I hopped in on it last year.

You can earn up to five totally free gift cards by redeeming $1,000 worth of shopping mall receipts. Here’s how to get your $100 worth of gift cards in three easy steps.

  1. Spend $1,000 on stuff at participating malls with your Discover card. Feel free to buy something for me since I’m letting you in on this awesome deal. Be sure to hang on to your receipts.
  2. Get thee to the information desk. Some malls call them “customer service desks.” Whatever it’s called, get there with your receipts in hand. (If I recall correctly, you may also need your state-issued ID.)
  3. Show your receipts. The lady behind the desk (yes, it’s always a lady, except when it’s a man, but that never happens) will examine your receipts, log your name in an official-looking binder, stamp your receipts (to prevent multiple redemptions), and give you your five free $20 Discover gift cards. You’ll also get your receipts back.

This deal runs from November 1st through December 31st, or while supplies last.

The reason I was surprised that this deal returned for Fall 2007 is that some people last year included a slightly evil fourth step:

4. Return all the merchandise, keep the gift cards.

Indeed, there’s nothing stopping you from buying $1,000 worth of merchandise at the shopping mall, getting your free gift cards, and then returning your purchases. I’m not going to condone that sort of behavior, but I’ll tell you how to make it really easy to do: purchase a small, expensive electronic (like a super-powered digital camera) from a department store with a friendly return policy. Use a credit card, get your gift cards, and immediately return the item so you’re never even billed for it.

Wait, am I automatically condoning something by telling you how to do it easier?

Nah.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Stuff Worth Reading, Because Summertime Is Finally Here

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

suuuuuuunny days, sweeping the... cloooooouds away

You read right, folks! Summertime is right around the corner, at least according to the calendar in my office which is telling me that today is—without a doubt—June 19, 2004. Ah, the ocean breeze, the taste of lemonade, the short skirts, the… wait, why is everyone else’s calendar turned to October 2007? Pfft, some people around here need to learn how to tell time.

Anyway, with the warming season finally upon us, it’s time for another weekly roundup of awesome stuff written by equally awesome personal finance writers. Here are a few excellent samples to help you keep cool as the temperatures climb… (Wait, 58°F for a high today? Dumb weatherman doesn’t know what he’s talking about.)

  1. A Penny Closer reminds you not to forget to pry every last reimbursable penny out of your employer. Common things employers reimburse: travel expenses, internet connection fees if you work from home a lot, and water balloon catapults used directly in the performance of your job.
  2. You might have missed the birth, the first steps, and the conception, but Advanced Personal Finance suggests that you not miss the most important event of your child’s upbringing: her first credit card application. (I’m surprised he tore up the application. That little girl could have had a credit rating of 800+ by the time she’s 11 and be eligible for a 60-year, no-interest mortgage by 16!)
  3. Cash Money Life points out the similarities between credit cards and guns. Example: they can both be used like cash at any convenience store.
  4. Wanna make a bundle off stocks? The Digerati Life offers some excellent, can’t-fail stock market indicators. Personally, I rely on a system of catching squirrels and examining the tenderness of their eyeballs to help me predict market swings.
  5. The Frugal Law Student gives us 13 cheap cold-fighting strategies. Now you don’t have to sit there and ooze mucus on your co-workers for seven days just because you’re poor!

Have a great weekend and a safe drive for everyone planning to hit the beach on this gorgeous sunny June-or-maybe-October weekend!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Eight Financially Smart Moves When Your Whole Freaking City Burns Down

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

left: santiago fire by orbital246, right: santiago wildfire by Kevin Labianco

Photos by orbital246 (left) and Kevin Labianco (right)

It is my sad duty to inform you all that the great city of San Diego… is no more. Well, almost no more. I mean, pretty much everything’s still there and most of the city hasn’t been touched by the fires. But for all intents and purposes, San Diego has been completely and permanently destroyed.

Many former San Diegoerianites now find themselves asking “What do I do now?” With no home, no city to go back to, these people will have to find a way to begin new lives in strange foreign lands like Los Angeles or San Diego 2: The Sequel. If New Orleans can rebuild itself after a devastating hurricane and Denver can put itself back together after the Colorado Rockies’ upcoming defeat to the Red Sox, then I’m sure the people of San Diego will survive. For those people and anyone else ever afflicted by city-wide fiery destruction, here are some tips you can use to financially fix yourself and your family after such a tremendous loss.

  1. Sell off city-related merchandise on eBay ASAP. Unlike autographed pictures of famous people which skyrocket in value after their deaths, merchandise bearing the name or image of a city that meets an untimely end doesn’t fair as well. You know that t-shirt you have in your basement that says “San Diego: The Totally Fireproof City”—yeah, you might wanna throw up an auction for that while you can.
  2. Buy up properties in surrounding areas. If exotic mortgages allowing homeless people to buy million-dollar estates were meant for anything, surely it’s this. People are going to need a new place to live if their old home was reduced to rubble, so housing prices in nearby cities will go up.
  3. Open an art supply store specializing in black and gray paints. For some reason, artists like to pain things currently or previously on fire. There will likely be a huge rush on dark-colored paints and watercolors soon, so stock up now and sell at a premium later.
  4. Bake chocolate chip cookies for two million people. After a giant fireball envelops a city, there’s nothing that’ll ease the pain of being cityless like chocolate chip cookies. Buy 1,000 ovens and pour that dough as quickly as you can. And because you’re so kind-hearted, you’ll give those cookies away for free… and charge $800 for a glass of milk.
  5. Get in line for Federal disaster aid. You can expect the U.S. government to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty hundred dollars to help all of the people of San Diego rebuild, so make sure you know where to go to get your piece of the disaster aid pie.
  6. Look into tourism opportunities. For this, you’ll need a few things. First, a tour bus. Second, tires equipped for traversing smoldering rubble. Third, “Maps to Stars Homes Destroyed in the Fire.” Don’t worry if nobody famous lost a house to the inferno; no one will be able to recognize them to disagree with you!
  7. Consider starting a “salvage” business. As is written in the Bible in really small invisible letters, “Stuff destroyed in giant city-wide fires or floods belongs to whomever gets to it first.” Grab a burlap sack and some tongs, and head on over to what used to be the good neighborhoods. Rich people have all sorts of stuff that would survive in a fire like jewelry, gold bricks, and various fireproof gourmet foods.
  8. Start a new life somewhere really far away. If having your entire city obliterated by a massive firestorm teaches you only one thing, it should be that cities in your area are susceptible to being obliterated by massive firestorms. Consider moving to the East Coast where we already burned down all of the forests ourselves to make room for skyscrapers and Starbucks.

In all seriousness, I hope all of the readers of Punny Money will extend their monetary assistance to help the unfortunate victims of the California wildfires. Please give generously to the American Red Cross and the San Diego Foundation. I’ll match every dollar donated, up to a maximum of thirty-two dollars total because I spent the rest of my money buying up unscorched land in Chula Vista.