Use Gift Cards As Currency For Holiday Shopping

As holiday shopping starts winding down (or starts to peak for those who have not gotten started), one fact remains and that is that the holidays are expensive.  Have you had your first bill come in or checked your credit card statement for pending transactions yet?

As we look to complete (or start) our shopping, it’s helpful to think of different ways to make the holidays pack less of a punch on your wallet while still letting Santa cross things off his list.

My wife recently had a great experience where she was able to use gift cards for holiday shopping, and I thought it was a great idea that I could share, and can be a useful and effective strategy.

Two Cards, Two Approaches

My wife was doing some shopping for our son.  We wanted something from Toys R Us that they only stocked online.  She got everything ready in her shopping cart, then remembered that she had gift cards from items that had been returned on gifts for him when he received duplicate items in the past.

She entered in the gift card information and was able to get him some items at no cost.

She went onto another site and was able to take care of other purchases using a gift card for TJ Maxx from returned clothing items and such that she’d purchased for herself months back and had later changed her mind.

In both cases, she got items for gifts without having to make a big dent on our credit cards.  This was pretty cool.

Did Using Gift Cards Impact Overall Spending?  It All Depends!

There are some additional questions that came out of this.  Specifically, did it reduce our overall spending.  The answer for each case was slightly different.

In the instance of my son, we used the opportunity to flex our budget a bit.  Since the original intent was for him to receive gifts at whatever point in time he received the original gift, it didn’t seem right to simply reduce our budget.  Not that the original gift givers would know the progression, but all the same, it seemed the right approach.  So for him, we had a ‘cash’ budget going into the season and we used that plus the gift cards.

In the instance of the items from TJ Maxx (which went to multiple people), we had no problem using that money to reduce our cash outlay.  The reason being that the original purchases were made for items to be used within our household.  In the end it worked out that we’d basically spent the money for the gifts back when we made the original purchase.  In that case, we had no qualms about reducing our cash budget for the season.

Can Your Gift Cards Be Used To Buy Gifts?

This day, it’s probably more likely than not that you have an unused gift card laying around.  Can you use these as part of your gift purchasing and gift giving strategy?

I don’t see why not.

There might be limits on how far you want to go with this, but honestly, I think that depends on each person and their own scenarios.

A couple possible situations come to mind, and I’d be curious to get your feedback.  These are hypothetical:

  1. mb-2014-12mallYou have a gift card you probably won’t use – What if you got a gift card from somewhere, but you know you’ll probably never use it for one reason or another.  Is it OK to simply re-gift the gift card?  If you do this, you might want to make sure the original balance is still intact.
  2. You use gift card balance to buy a gift for the original giver – What if you got a gift card to JC Penney from Aunt Lorraine last year, then turned around bought Aunt Lorraine a sweater this year…using the gift card she gave you?
  3. Discounted gift cards – Every once in a while, you can get a gift card purchased for less than face value?  If you got $100 worth of gift cards for $80 and your balance was $100 for that person, would you call it good after getting the discounted gift cards or would you take the $20 in savings and buy additional presents?

Readers, do you use your gift cards as part of your shopping strategy and if so, what do you do?  Any dos and don’ts?  Ever been involved one way or another on any sort of gift card faux paux? 

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

I Was Right And Wall Street Was Wrong About Black Friday

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post lamenting that it didn’t seem that Black Friday had a lot driving it this year.  As it turns out, I was correct in my assessments as it was reported that sales were down over 10% for the Black Friday weekend.  Predictably, Monday was an ugly day on Wall Street, as investors worried that this indicated a slowdown in the economy.

While the sales figures are discouraging, I think that they are explainable by several factors and they are not an indicator to any sort of economic slowdown.

Why Black Friday Sales Were Down

There are several reasons that I believe explain the numbers this year.

  1. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALower tablet and TV sales – In my previous article, I wrote about how many of the items that had drawn consumers into stores on Black Friday past are no longer in demand.  The deals for tablets and TVs are still there, but compared to 2012, which was the peak of Black Friday sales, there just aren’t as many people who are looking for a tablet or a new TV, because they already have one.  Maybe even one that they bought on a previous Black Friday.
  2. Black Friday is no longer a day or even a weekend – I have one e-mail account that’s pretty much dedicated to signing up for store promotions.  Starting on Monday of last week, the volume of e-mails skyrocketed with every subject announcing that ‘Black Friday Sales Start Now!’  The sales no longer start at 6am or 4am on Black Friday, and even the Thanksgiving Day openings aren’t enough.  It’s more Black Friday week, and many of the sales offered throughout the week leading up to Black Friday were not captured in the sales figures.
  3. The sales themselves were, by and large, lame – There are traditionally two levels to Black Friday sales: The first is Door Buster deals that feature items sold at cost or at a loss, with the idea to draw people in.  The second are Sale items that offer lower prices that still allow companies to turn a profit but are enough to entice shoppers to buy.  This year, the Door Busters were there, but the normal Sale items that keep Black Friday shoppers moving from store to store simply weren’t there.  I looked through the Black Friday ads and was very impressed.  My wife went to a few stores and reported that Kohl’s was offering a bit of extra Kohl’s cash, but the prices were not any different than on a normal day, and Toys R Us barely had anything at a discount.  Bottom line, if shoppers aren’t going to get any better deal by going out on Black Friday as opposed to any other day between now and Christmas, many will choose not to.
  4. Black Friday is no longer new and exciting – Black Friday has really taken off just over the last few years.  When stores started opening up super early and lines started forming and talking about getting that new TV the next day was the big discussion over the turkey dinner, Black Friday was cool and an event all of its own.  Now that it’s been around for a while, and is now getting diluted with longer sales, and has less appeal due to less ‘must have’ items, a decline seems almost expected.  Wall Street and the media want sales and profits to grow every year, but in some cases, that’s just not possible.
  5. They might be comparing apples to oranges – Along the same lines, I look at the last couple of years, when TV and tablet sales drove the sales spikes, and wonder if the comparison numbers are skewed.  Many of the items purchased during the Boom Years of Black Friday had nothing to do with the Christmas season of which Black Friday is traditionally associated.  Instead, people purchased items for themselves, and just happened to do so on the day that traditionally kicks off Christmas shopping.

Why Lower Black Friday Sales Aren’t Concerning

In the end, Wall Street dropped big time on Monday after hearing the numbers.  I think this was a big mistake, and the numbers really won’t matter until the final sales numbers for the entire 2014 holiday season are released.  That’s going to take time.  I think between now and then, you’ll get a lot more people out there shopping, sales will get better as stores try to strike a balance between higher margins and higher volumes, and customers wait out the stores to see what deals can fall their way.  Without great deals or must have products to drive customers into stores, they may not have gone yet, but with a slowly improving economy and steadily improving employment numbers, I do believe that customers will show up.

Hopefully at some point, Wall Street puts in perspective what many shoppers already know, that Black Friday is no longer the day to do holiday shopping, but instead is just one of many days.

Readers, were you one of many who seemed to skip Black Friday this year?  What correlation do you see between lower Black Friday sales and the overall sales for the season?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

When Procrastination And Impatience Pay Off

Usually when you wait until the last minute on things, you either spend more money or miss out on an opportunity for something. Such a thing almost happened to me.

We had our first bout of winter weather recently here in Michigan, and as it hit, it became obvious that my wiper blades needed to be replaced.

While out running some errands, I decided to stop and pick some up.

First Stop: AutoZone

I get most of my auto supplies at a nearby AutoZone.  They have great service, what I’ve always felt are great prices, and they are very helpful.  I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of minutes and have always gotten what I’ve wanted and felt happy with the purchase.

This time, I was out of luck, or so it seemed.

True to their form, they did stop me as I walked in and offered to look up my car on the computer rather than have me run through the book or touch screen near the blades.  My car is a Pontiac G6 and for some reason GM inexplicably put a non-standard fitting on the wiper arms, meaning that most standard blades wouldn’t work.

AutoZone only had two model types that would fit, one which would be around $40 for a set and one that was around $50.  The $40 price actually represented a sale price, but they were out of both sizes that I needed.

Of course.

And, they couldn’t even order them and honor the price.

I didn’t want to pay $50 for the ones they did have in stock, so I figured I’d check around.

Second Stop: O’Reilley’s Auto Parts

Right across the street is an O’Reilleys.  I used to shop there…until the AutoZone opened.  I was never a big fan of their customer service, finding that I had to wait in line all the time, and nobody ever offered to look things up.

Still, I figured I’d give it a shot.

As usual, nobody offered to help, but I was fine with looking up the part on the little computer they have near the blades.  They actually had four different model types that would work, but only two were in stock.  Both were about as expensive as those at AutoZone.  I decided on the pair that would be about $42 after taxes and went over to the line.

And found that nothing changes at that store.  There were no workers and four people in line. Turns out that the worker was in back looking for something for the first customer in line.  She got back and you could tell it was going to be awhile.  She didn’t call for help (maybe there wasn’t any) nor did she even acknowledge the rest of us waiting.

I decided that I had enough so I put my blades down and headed out.

Third Time’s A Charm: Meijer

I had to run over to Meijer, which is a local (Michigan and a few surrounding states) supercenter, along the lines of WalMart, but….better.  I had my three-year old daughter with me, so we made the rounds through the Christmas stuff and toy stuff, and I figured I’d take a look.

Bingo!

They had five different types of blades.  The regular prices were lower than at either AutoZone or O’Reilley’s.  For Rain X blades, which I’ve used before and like, they were $17 each, or $34.

But, it got better.  They had an in-store promotion for buy one, get the second half off.  Meaning I got my set for just over $25.

Very rarely does it turn out that waiting until the rush, then getting impatient actually leads to better things.  I was actually prepared to order a set from Amazon equivilent to the ones I set down at O’Reileys.

Instead, I saved $15!  Now I know where I will look first for wiper blades.

Have you stumbled into any savings lately?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

What Will Drive Black Friday Sales This Year?

Since Black Friday became an official “thing”, I try my best to avoid the hustle and bustle associated with it.  I don’t like crowds, lines, the cold, and people shopping tend to annoy more so than otherwise.  All of that makes my home the best place for me.

But, I’m not going to lie, I still like looking at the deals.  It’s always fun to see what the stuff is that people are going to wait in line for.  Honestly, I haven’t looked at too many ads but the typical stuff that seems to draw people in just doesn’t seem like it would have appeal.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common Black Friday have-to-haves:

  • Flat screen TVs – Everybody loves a great deal on a flat screen TV and for many years, the allure of getting a big flat screen set kept people waiting in line for hours, sometimes even days.  Still, it seems to me that most people have now converted to flat screen TVs.  Yes, you can always get a bigger one or get one with more features or that can connect to more things, but it seems the buzz has really died down.
  • Tablets – Again, so many people have tablets now, it seems that while you can always get the bigger one or the fastest one, the allure of getting that first tablet that probably drove many into lines probably has leveled off.
  • Smartphones – It seems like the lines form for smartphones the day that they come out.  Does anyone wait in Black Friday to get a new phone anymore?
  • Computers – Do enough people buy computers anymore to make them something that would lure people?  I have thrown around the idea of a new laptop (or even a desktop), and most people look at me like it’s silly.
  • Video game systems – It seems like video game sales are still strong but have leveled off.  Are there still waits to get a particular type of console or the must have game on Black Friday?
  • Toys – The hot kids toys of the year always seem to cause a clamor.  My kids are getting close, but so far haven’t fallen in line with having to have that one item that will surely be gone from all shelves by 7am.

The common theme is that most of the items above are electronics.  I know that people buy lots of other things other than electronics, but the market on electronics certainly seemed to have driven Black Friday in the past.  While I know that electronics will continue to be a hot item, I’m sure, I wonder if the deals will have to be better or if you’ll have more people sleeping in rather than hitting the stores on the items above.

If so, what will be the hot items that will make it worthwhile to get out of bed and get shopping this year?

Readers, do you have any plans for Black Friday (or before)?  What are the hot items that will make it worth standing in line this year, and how does it compare to years past?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.