Archive | December, 2012

Does Size Really Matter? Understanding Product Downsizing & Unit Pricing

29 Dec

ImageDoes size really matter? Yes, yes it does. Rather than raise prices, or raise them too much, manufactures have been downsizing products. I never remember this being so obvious as it has been since the economic downturn began in 2008. The most clumsy example is toilet paper. Manufacturers claim it is now thicker, and true the girth has increased, but did they not think we would notice the 2 inches they lopped off the width now exposing our unattractive toilet paper spindle for the world to see? Here’s a link to more of the most commonly downsized products.

Remember back in the 1970’s when the US government tried to switch us over from English Standard Measure to the Metric System like the rest of the world, citizens were up in arms fearing they would get cheated in their purchases and it would in turn decrease sales? The only ones who embraced it were the gun manufactures and drug dealers (including the pharmaceutical industry), yeah, really put them out of business, didn’t it?

So how do you spot a downsized product?

  • New & improved. New size for sure, improved profit for them, but any benefit to the consumer is negligible. Remember the “thicker” (but shorter) toilet paper example?
  • New package design. On the surface it just may seem they just want to update their image, au contraire mon frere! It is just a way to camouflage the size change by distracting you with shiny new toys. You can get great deals on products in the older packaging at deep discount stores because not only are they priced less, you get the larger size.
  • Sold at a dollar store. Believe it or not, manufactures create different size packages for different stores, the dollar store is just the most obvious. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you understand you are being charged less for less. Empty nesters, students, and anyone who has limit space or needs a small amount, welcome the idea of smaller sizes that save space and limit waste of unused portions.
  • Snack size. If you buy a box of individually bagged Cheetos, guess what? You are paying for your own laziness and extra packaging. If you can’t take the time to portion out food, whether it’s for kids lunches or your new diet, you are going to pay for the privilege of someone doing it for you and giving you less in the process.

More stealthy tactics to beware.

  • Unit price. While unit price info available at the store is a good place to start, it is better if YOU choose the unit you want to measure. Why? Not all states have mandate unit price, only grocery stores are required to post not other stores that sell food, the unit chosen for a product varies depending on the store. Depending on the store or the items, the same product may be priced by liquid measure, dry measure, English Standard, Metric, or the number of individual items in package. The size of the unit used for comparison is arbitrary as well. I find it easiest to convert to the smallest size available, usually an ounce, and let that be my unit price for comparison. Click this link to learn more about unit pricing.
  • Size shaving. It used to be that we used standardized containers, many of them reused continuously, now we have disposable packaging. Remember how the milkman used to deliver and pick up the glass milk bottles? Now imagine if the dairy was constantly changing the sizes of their containers, it would cost them a small fortune, that’s why they had the standard gallon, quart, and pint. Disposable packaging makes it very easy to deceive the consumer. Without standard one-pound containers, consumers don’t notice when they downsize from 15oz to 14oz or 10.9oz, because there was no real point of reference to begin with.
  • Same size package, less content. This one irked me the most. The package size is the same, but there’s less stuff: same size package of plastic wrap, but less on the roll; same size box of cereal, but more air and less cereal. Sometimes they add more packaging as filler like increasing the girth of the toilet paper tube to make it look like its still the same thickness, or stick deodorant that decreased the size product chamber inside the tube.
  • Changing package shape. If you lop off the corners, you’re going to get less, that’s just a fact. And while some of these new slick packages may be pretty, getting cheated out of your hard earned cash is not. Another way they do this is to keep the size of “the face” and decrease what lies beneath. You see this a lot with box products; the front of the package has the same width so it seems the same when you see it on the grocery store shelf, but when you grab the box you notice it’s skinnier.

So what did we learn today class? Disposable packaging makes it easier to cheat consumers, the Metric System would make it easier to comparison shop, only pre-packaged food is affected, and some tips to use to protect you as a consumer since the first two issues are not changing any time soon.

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Why You Should Buy Holiday Gift Cards…For Yourself

19 Dec

ImageTraditionally, gift cards have not been the value for your dollar; sure, they seem slightly less tacky than throwing some cash in a card, but you can only redeem them for face-value (less if you resell) and they usually languish in a kitchen drawer until they expire.

Things have changed a lot this year, especially with the holidays approaching. Why? The lagging economy, of course. Both online and brick & mortar retailers want to insure sales stay strong by offering great deals on gift card purchase that are well above and beyond the face value. And it’s not just on traditional merchandise; you can save on everything from phone cards to spa services, fast food to car washes. Another reason is because people have had their credit cards cancelled or reduced due to financial hardships, like foreclosures. Gift cards now have a lot of credit card abilities, like paying for online purchases and you can even swipe them at the gas pump. If you go to the same restaurant for lunch a couple times a week, why pay cash when you can save big by paying with a gift card instead?

Here’s some ways you can cash in:

  • Cash back credit cards. Most credit cards that offer cash back have highest rewards for grocery store purchases (usually 3-5%) vs. a paltry 1% on general purchases, so buy your gift cards for all your needs at the grocery store.
  • Customer reward programs. Although stores offering their own gift cards may also have store customer rewards that you can take advantage of, your best bet is still the gasoline discounts when purchasing gift cards at the grocery store, with or without a cash back credit card.
  • Retailer promotions. Many retailers are offering some very generous bonuses if you purchase their cards. Sites like Pocket Your Dollars shows you where to purchase these cards so you can take advantage of the special savings. Remember, many of these cards are used for purchases you make every day, so why pay cash when you can get a discount?
  • Third party vendors. Stores like Costco offer one-stop-shopping for all your gift card needs and you can purchase them online. Some are sold for face value, but many contain the same holiday bonuses you find at the retailers website.
  • Resale card vendors. You can save as much as 35% off the gift card’s remaining balance by buying partially used gift cards from sites like Giftcards.com.
  • Promo codes. If you’ve read my post “15  Super Tips For Shopping Savings Success”,  you know to get additional savings by using promo codes when you redeem your gift cards, but what you may not realize is you can also use promo codes to purchase your gift cards.

Don’t forget to combine offers whenever possible when purchasing gift cards, and use promo codes when redeeming your gift cards for added savings. Play your cards right and gift cards can practically pay for themselves, but you had better hurry before these holiday offers end.

Good news readers, you can now follow me on Facebook! Simply visit Real Penny Wise and click LIKE. Be sure to SHARE with your friends too.

Tips To Avoid The Pain At The Pump

9 Dec

ImageWe are spoiled in this country; really, really, really spoiled. Most of us were raised with Cold War superhighways and the attitude that we are entitled to car ownership, sometimes many times over, without a thought to the consequences to our health or the health of the planet. Even our kids are far too bougie to ride the school bus, instead insisting on be chauffeured around in home theaters on wheels. We don’t seem to mind all the hard earned tax dollars spent on subsidies, or that poor families are disproportionately deployed to fight wars in the Middle East to protect oil company profits, or that our pristine public lands are being destroyed while these companies can take our oil then sell it back to us; yet when gas prices go up we scream and cry as if someone were extracting one of our kidneys sans anesthesia.

So what can you do? You follow tips to reduce your gasoline consumption, maybe even bought a fuel efficient car, now its time to explore gasoline discounts.

  1. Price finding apps. My favorite free app available for both PC and smartphone is Gas Buddy, which can not only help you comparison shop, but you can earn free gas cards for reporting changes in gas prices.
  2. Credit card cash back. Credit cards can offer attractive cash back programs for gas purchases as well as other types of purchases. Compare credit card cash back programs including fees to determine which the best option for you is.
  3. Grocery store gas discounts. Many grocery stores offer discounts on their affiliated gas stations based on accumulated grocery purchases.  In my area, Giant Eagle Fuel Perks offers additional gas discounts on the purchase of selected grocery items. If you shop at these stores anyway, this is a good deal especially since buying gift cards are counted as grocery purchases.
  4. Gas station customer reward card.You earn points towards gas discounts, although they don’t seem to be as popular.
  5. Discount gas cards. You purchase these cards at a discount store the same as you would any other gift card, but they offer an automatic discount at the pump. These are harder to find but in my area you can find Speedway cards at Marc’s which offers a $.10 per gallon discount without having to make any additional purchases.

You can increase your savings by combining these methods. Remember if you have to make additional purchases to qualify, pay additional fees, or have to drive out of your way for a discount, it is no longer a bargain.

Personally I would love if gas prices were based on how much you conserve so people who wasted less would get charged less and people who are gas hogs would pay a higher price since it seems that would be the only hope of changing their wasteful ways; but that would be too much like right…

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Bye-Bye Boring Oatmeal! Tips To Make This Childhood Nightmare Your New Breakfast Favorite

3 Dec

ImageThe mention of oatmeal doesn’t exactly conjure up the most pleasant of childhood memories for most people. I had a mother whose idea of cooking consisted of opening a package, then burning or boiling the contents beyond recognition. So when it came to oatmeal, it was those packets that you add hot water to; which was better than when we ran out and she made rolled oats, which was scorched wallpaper paste without the sugar and salt to make it easier to choke down.

The first time I ate real oatmeal was shortly after high school, when I strapped on a backpack and headed overseas for the first time. The family in rural Ireland that took me in the night before, asked me in the morning if I wanted “porridge”. I had no idea what that was, but I always graciously accepted what anyone offered so as not to be rude. It was delicious! Turns out porridge is steel cut oatmeal. Believe me folks, there is world of difference; steel cut oats are chewy, nutty, very tasty, and firm instead of pasty and bland like rolled oats.

I know not everyone is in the same place when it comes to dietary needs and goals. People who are given viable options can always work toward healthier choices without being overwhelmed and quitting. The benefit to flavoring oatmeal yourself is that you control the amount of fat, sugar and salt.

Since most people don’t have time to cook in the morning, I suggest you cook a batch, portion it out, freeze and take out what you need the night before to defrost. You can even cook a batch overnight in your crockpot. Another way to save time is to have your combinations portioned and package ahead of time so you can just add them to your oatmeal in the morning.

To keep from getting bored, we need variety, but it’s not always easy to think up tasty combinations. An easy way is to think of combination in the follow terms:

  • Can you spread it on toast?
  • Can you stir it into or sprinkle it over yogurt?
  • Can you stir it into coffee?
  • Can you use it to top pancakes or ice cream?

Here’s variation of a theme to give you some great ideas:

  • 1 T apple butter + milk
  • Chopped apple + chopped walnuts + vanilla rice milk + drizzle of caramel ice cream topping
  • pat of butter + 2 T apple sauce + drizzle of sugar free butter pecan pancake syrup
  • Dried apples + raisins + fat free non-dairy hazelnut coffee creamer + Cinnamon + brown sugar
  • Cinnamon apples or apple pie filling + soy milk + 1 T almond butter

Now let’s talk about the health benefits. First of all, the less the oat is processed, the more nutritional value it will have. This is especially true when it comes to glycemic index; the more it is processed, the quicker it enters your blood stream, spikes your blood sugar then drops. Think of a whole oat as “time-released energy” that is absorbed slowly over a period of time, giving you sustained energy without being hyper then sleepy.

High In Soluble Fiber. Soluble fiber inhibits the body’s absorption of the bad cholesterol LDL. The fiber also attack carcinogens as well as lower levels of estrogen in the body and this can protect the body from the development of cancer. The fiber helps you lose weight by feeling fuller longer and controlling blood sugar so you eat less, and also cleans out all the poop stuck to your intestinal walls. Oatmeal contains a certain type of fiber called beta-gluten fiber, which helps immune cells fight bacterial infection.

Full of Antioxidants. Contains avenanthramide which fights off free radicals that attack good cholesterol  HDL and keeps LDL cholesterol from oxidizing copper, which reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. These antioxidants suppress the production of molecules that allow monocytes to adhere to the walls of the arteries causing hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure.

There is no limit to the creative combinations you can concoct. These combinations work great for brown rice too; I like mine with almond milk, nutmeg and cardamom. So as the temperature drops, treat yourself to something warm, filling, tasty and never ever boring!

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