Years and years ago, while I was working at a cosmetic store, my manager (a stunning twenty-something blonde with deep blue eyes who could pass for a Victoria's Secret model) summoned me via the loudspeaker to assist a customer with an ailment. Apparently our blue-eyed angel had never encounter such a mortal affliction herself so she turned to me for help, perhaps out of desperation. Truth be told, it was surprising to me then, and now still, that of all the people she would call for me, like I was some wise grandmother with the remedies to all of life's ills and whatnots. Never mind that I was just a fresh-faced teenager who wore too much cologne and used too much hair products.
The customer had painful canker sores and was asking for a remedy. However, we were a cosmetic retailer, we were into making people beautiful, and healing mouth sores was not on our mission statement. Lucky for her (and for me), just a few weeks earlier, a college roommate of a girl I was dating (who resembled a younger Elisabeth Shue) had boasted about a brand of oral gel that worked like magic on her mouth sores. The gel works by numbing the wound and forms a protective seal over it. Armed with this proven remedy from the sexy coed, I dispensed the advice to the distressed customer with the reassuring tone of an on-call pharmacist. I even gave her the name of the drug store that carried it. It must have worked for her I guess, because she never came back to complain about my advice, or to thank me, for that matter.
What I remember most about that day was the look of pure admiration on my blue-eyed boss' face when she said to the customer, "See! Told ya he knows E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!" while giving me a playful wink, no less. It was a defining moment for me. You see, what happens to a boy in his first summer job working for a beautiful female boss can mark him for life. My adolescence crush didn't last long however, as the memory of her blue eyes quickly faded along with the evening rays of that summer. Four months later, she was transferred to the big corporate office downtown to take on bigger and better duties. Right before she left, she gave me a big hug and let out a big chuckle when I joked (well sort of) that we should fool around a little bit before she left. She thought for a few seconds, perhaps just long enough to let my fantasy take form in her mind before replying, "Well dear, you'll have to ask my fiancé about that…" then she got in her blue Mazda RX-7 and drove off into the sunset. I never saw her again after that day.
From that day on, I was on a quest, a knowledge quest. I made it a mission to collect and store as many helpful tips as I could, even those that I would never use. Technically, I became a sort of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Martha Stewart - out to solve the secrecies of the world so that I could share them to anyone who'd listen, or if faith has it, another damsel-in-distress. Tellingly, notwithstanding the comical nature of all of my previous articles, most have centered on tips and advice.
With that in mind, and another new year upon us, I'd like to start it off by sharing with you four useful tips that can help make your life a bit easier to navigate or maybe even save you a few hundred bucks along the way. With the current stagnant global economy, you could say that saving money is now the new luxury.
1. Internet promo codes - How many times have you purchased something on the Internet and when you are about to check out, you see a box to enter a promo code and you'd promptly ignore it? Perhaps you thought that the discount was just for a selected few on their exclusive email list? You're right technically… but not so fast. What if there are Internet sites out there that tell you what those discount codes are? Wouldn't that be grand? Why not I say….'Tis the season after all. There are in fact many free sites like that on the world-wide-web and all you have to do is search for it. For example, a few weeks ago I was buying a bottle of perfume online from Neiman Marcus for a friend and since I rarely shop at that store I wasn't even sure if they gave any discounts. At check-out I was charged $11.50 for shipping and then state tax on top of that, yikes. But then I noticed a section for promo code. That was all I needed to see. I quickly opened up another browser and searched for Neiman Marcus coupon code. Several sites came up and I picked the code 'DECFS' from one site that boasted a 93% success rate for free shipping and entered it. The code was accepted and the $11.50 shipping fee disappeared faster than I could say "sweeeet!" How easy was that? To make things easier, sometimes the homepage of the web store would even display the coupon code at the top of the page for you to use, if you would only notice.
At other times, I've gotten as much as 20% off the entire shopping cart and free shipping at other online stores just by finding and using Internet promo codes. Flower shops are especially notorious for offering all kinds of discounts online and the money you save could be put toward an additional box of chocolate to spoil your loved ones! Of course it's not a guarantee that you will find a code every single time but more often than not, you will. Another trick is to call the store directly and ask them for the code for free shipping or discount and they'll give it to you if there is one, since those codes aren't exactly State Secrets.
2. Bargaining - Of course you know to bargain when you go buy a car or a house. That's a given. But did you know that you could also get additional discounts with any big-ticket items like sofas, TVs, mattresses, even if they are sold at retail stores? Some electronic retailers such as Best Buy even encourage it with their "Price Match" policy. It's a reality that brick-and-mortar stores can no longer compete with online stores when it comes to aggressive pricing. Think about it, the online stores have very little overhead, no premium rent to pay since warehouse rental costs only a fraction of premium mall locations. But of course, there are drawbacks with buying from a pure online retailer. First, there are scammers out there of course and it's such a hassle to get your money back even with fraud protection. And returning a big-ticket item is also a pain because you'd normally have to pay the shipping cost to send it back.
So how about this? Get the online price, or close to it, at your favorite brick-and-mortar store? I did it when I bought a flat-screen TV at Best Buy. It was already on sale but a quick search on the Internet shows that I could get from an online retailer for about 10% less. Even though Best Buy's Price Match policy states that only their online store will compete with other online retailers, I approached a sales person nonetheless and told him that if I could get an additional 10% off for my TV to match what I could get online, I would buy it right away. He pretended to act surprise that I would ask for another discount for an item that was already on sale but I knew he's heard it before. So he told me he'd have to check with his manager and get back to me. Sounds familiar? Are we back at the car dealership haggling for a deal again? Probably… because he came back in about 5 minutes and said his manager has ok'd the deal - because I'm a loyal Best Buy customer, because he's a nice guy, because I'm a Reward Zone member, blah blah blah….
A few weeks later, I took a family friend to a different Best Buy and also got a 10% discount for him on a different big screen TV, using the same method. It's a proven strategy, I'm sure of it.
Don't limit bargaining to just electronic goods. Any high-ticket item can be discounted. Years ago, when I was selling men's suits at a Macy-clone department store, we were allowed to discount suits as long as it's not below what it will be when it goes on sale at a future date. For example, if I saw a customer tried on a regular price suit and liked it but was about to walk, I'd tell him that the suit would go on sale 25% off in the coming weeks. If he reacted positively then I would go for the kill by telling him I could probably give him the sale price now so that he doesn't have to wait. Then I'd tell them in a hush-hush tone that if he waits until it goes on sale, his size might not be there anymore, which was probably true. This works more times than I can remember.
The same could be said for jewelries, expensive watches, and high-end clothing labels. If you find a must-have item and it's not on sale, don't be afraid to tell the commission-oriented salesperson that you would only buy it if you get a nice discount on it. Often, you'd get the "you can open a credit card account with us and get 10% off" deal but that also means they are open for negotiation even if you don't open an account with them. You'll be pleasantly surprise what salespeople would do to get a commission. I stress that this works only for high-ticket items because that's when you deal with commission salespeople. Don't try this at your local grocery store for a 10% off your frozen turkey, it's not worth the hassle and they have no incentive to give you the discount since someone else will pay for it full price by the end of the day anyway. Pick your battle.
3. Car fuel door - Ok, this tip is especially useful when you are driving someone else's car or a rental. Do you find yourself scratching your head as you pull into the gas station not remembering which side the gas cap is on? If you are like most people, it's a 50/50 ordeal. You'll pull up to one side and half of the time you're right and the other half, well…you'll have to back out and turn around and probably miss your turn since if there are other cars waiting behind you.
What if I told you that the car manufacturers have already thought about that and actually included a subtle clue for you to figure out which side the gas cap on? Well…if you didn't already know, they actually paint an arrow next to the gas tank icon in your dashboard to point you to which side it's on. In some cars, if there is no arrow, the location of the handle on the gas pump on the picture (left or right) tells you which side it's on…..Ta-dah!
While we're at the gas station, remember to use premium fuel (high octane) only if your car requires it. Otherwise, stick with regular, why pay for high octane when your car runs just fine with regular. In a way, it's like paying for Evian water to feed your canine companion. You think he cares where his water comes from? The same could be said for your car.
4. On/off - There is a remarkable fix for most electronic products when it goes haywire that anyone can do. It's called the On/Off button, or by simply unplugging the power supply and then plug it back in to reset the device if there's no on/off button. I'm not an EE major nor am I a computer geek, but I do know that when my internet service is down or when my computer malfunctions, I am often told by the helpline nerds to power off the device, wait 5 seconds, then turn it back on again to fix it. Amazingly, this solves the problem many times. Likewise, my iPhone freezes about once a month and to "fix" it is to simply to power it off (by holding down the home button and the on/off button at the same time) then on again and it will work 99% of the time. Of course, if there is a serious problem that resetting can't fix, you're still S.O.L. and would have to bring it in for repair. But for all other times when your phone freezes, your digital clock goes mad, or your internet goes kaput, you have a good chance of fixing it by simply unplugging the power cord and plug it back in to reset it.
That's all for now folks, but my quest continues for more useful tips and advice to share later. And by the way, feel free to share these tips with a friend or two; and if you run into a blonde woman, now in her early 50s, who says that the Cosmetic Center story sounds familiar to her, please tell her she forgot to give me her fiancé's phone number…
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