The School Supply List And Gratefulness

My wife had with a conversation friend, that quite frankly, rubbed me (and her) a little bit the wrong way.

The two of them were talking about the school supply list that was sent home with lists of supplies that each parent is asked to get and send in.  Many of the items are shared between kids in the classroom, while some are kept individually.  I think this proportion changes as the kids get older.

My wife was a little taken aback when the other mom kind of laughed and said, “Well, you don’t really have to sendmb-2016-09-list anything in.  They’re just suggestions, and really, the school is supposed to make sure everything is supplied.”

Here’s the thing, actually a few things.

Thing #1: Our district, like many in Michigan, and probably many across the country, doesn’t get an excess of money.  Back in the days when the Great Recession hit the country, Michigan had already been in one for several years, and so the Great Recession battered an economy that had already been taken to the woodshed.  As such, our school funding levels were cut many a time, and the amount per pupil that is distributed is still at or below levels from the early 2000’s.  This doesn’t even factor in inflation, which probably puts them back to levels over 20 years ago or pretty close.

Point being, while funding levels have steadily been increasing over the last few years, it’s not like districts are swimming in money.

Thing #2: My wife’s friend can definitely afford to grab the list of supplies and send them in.  They’re not 1%’ers but they’re definitely not hurting.

Thing #3: There are some families who are hurting.  Our district is relatively small from a pupil count perspective, but it covers a pretty big geographic areas that includes a pretty broad mix of economic scales.  Simply put, there are a lot of families that simply do not have the means to supply that list.  Maybe there are some circumstances where refusing to subsidize people who might be too poor to afford to chip in is appropriate, you’ll never convince me that it is justifiable when it comes to children, especially when it’s a pretty nominal amount.

The whole conversation kind of bummed me out and I think actually helped contribute to my recent case of the money blahs.

See, we’d never considered, and even after the conversation my wife had, nor would we ever consider skipping out on the supplies.  We’re blessed enough to be able to afford them.

Would we rather spend the money on something else?  Of course we could.

Between the transmission problems on the car and laundry list of things we had done to the camper, we dropped over $1,000 just like that.  Would saving school supplies helped offset the sting of that?  Sure.  But would I ever go there? Not a chance!

In my last post, I talked about how I started to get out my money blahs by taking time to see how blessed we actually are, and I look at the fact that we can contribute the full school supply list as a blessing.  (Well, my son did leave two boxes of tissue on the bus so while it certainly ended up at the school, it may have ended up in a different classroom…but that’s OK *lol*)  We’re directly helping make a positive environment for both of our kids, and we may even be helping others as well.

That’s well worth the cost, in my book.

My wife never followed up on the conversation as far as I know.  It’s very possible that her friend sent in all the supplies anyway, in which case I guess it’s just sort of a moot point.

I just wish more people saw their sending the supplies as what it is: A blessing.

Readers, do you have a suggested list of supplies to send to school?  What is your take on the matter?

Copyright 2015 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.

Stockpiling Works For Us (At Least For Now)

One of my long time favorite bloggers, Funny About Money, is contemplating something that you rarely hear about: Quitting Costco.  She’s finding that, for her, not going to Costco is actually saving her money.

I think that many people don’t even consider such a thing.  They just assume that Costco saves them money by giving them lower pricing, with the tradeoff that you have to buy in larger quantities in order to realize the lower per-unit pricing.  So, the kicker is that you have to use more in order to really realize the savings.

After my wife took a recent trip and left me the pile of stuff to put away, as is our arrangement, I started taking a look at our stockpile in our pantry to see if waste was leading to us actually overpaying for items.

I’m happy to report that we went through our entire pantry shelf and found just two items that we threw out because they were past their due dates to the point where we no longer felt comfortable using them:

A can of cream soup and a half a box of taco shells, both which expired in early 2014.

And, what’s even better: Neither of these items was bought at Costco.

So, it seems that for us, the food we buy at Costco to take advantage of the lower per-unit pricing actually gets eaten.  This is a good thing.

We’re still keeping an eye on Costco, though, because I think there are factors that come into play that affect our ‘value proposition’.  For example, am I the only Costco member who’s noticed that they’re shifting more and more food items to organic options?  If you have this as your preference, then I suppose this is great, but for people who don’t necessarily have the budget and/or see the benefit in making every item an organic item, it gets a little frustrating when something that used to cost $7 now costs $12 because they switched to an organic option.mb-2015-03-checkbook

Every trip we take, we seem to find at least one item on our ‘regular’ list that we either have to choose to pay more for to get organically, or switch back to our grocery store to purchase the non-organic option.

Right now, we still save money with our Costco membership, but it’s started to occur to us that if Costco really wants to shape themselves as the Whole Foods of the bulk warehouse shopping category, they might very well lose us as customers.

But, as Funny points out, it’s always good one way or another to really take a step back and make sure that you’re getting value from your membership.  Although Costco memberships have become a way of life for many, she’s found, as I’m sure have many, that savings aren’t necessarily a guarantee.

Readers, do you save money with your Costco (or other warehouse) membership?  How often do you check and how do you evaluate your return on investment?  

Copyright 2015 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.

So The Item You Need Is Out Of Stock…Or Is It?

I had an a-ha moment at Home Depot the other day, and it made me want to share the experience.

We have a window fan in our bedroom that works pretty well, but it occurred to me that we need a second one.  We have windows on two walls, and our room also heats up in the late afternoon and early evening as we get full sun.  I figured that adding a second fan would give us some cross breeze, which would help cool things off faster in the evening.

I looked around and found that the best option would be to get an identical fan like we already have.  It has two fans, which can be reversed independently of each other, and each has three speeds, which are also independent.  It’s pretty quiet and it does the trick.

It’s only available at Home Depot.

The other day, I decided that I’d make a quick stop on the way to work.  It’s only a couple of miles out of the way, so I figured I’d get there early and avoid the hustle and bustle.

Before going, I went online, looked up the item, and checked the availability at my local store.  It said there were 16 available.  Cool!

I got there about ten minutes later, was directed toward where they keep the fans, and found…..none.

Now, I knew darn well that they hadn’t sold 16 of these things at 6:30 in the morning in a ten minute spot.  So, I found someone, which by the way is very easy to do at that time of day, and asked for some help.

That person was really not all that helpful.  He basically shrugged his shoulders, said that they’re probably somewhere in the store but that they didn’t have any.

I wasn’t ready to give up.

I went up to the customer service desk, hoping for some, well, actual customer service, and found someone a little more helpful.

She looked up the item and confirmed that they also showed 16 in the store.  She called someone over from the department that handles those items and they looked around.  Then, they admitted that they couldn’t actually find them and that they were probably up the top of the rack or back in a storage room.  They were nice about it, but basically told me two options, neither of which appealed to me:

  1. They offered to see if any nearby stores had it in stock – I wasn’t keen on this idea at all for two reasons.  First, the next nearest store is quite a ways away.  Second, what’s to say that any other store wouldn’t mb-2014-12-5r2have the same discrepancy?
  2. They said I could call or come back another time – I didn’t like this idea too much because I didn’t have the time or inclination to keep calling back, nor did I want to miss out in the event that they found them, put them out, and actually sold out.

Then, I had my light bulb moment.  In fact, it was right there on my phone.  The very phone that I had used to show them that they did have it in the store.

I stood there at the customer service desk and ordered the product online and selected Store Pickup.  It took less than a minute and I was guaranteed that when they found the stock, I’d get one.

Sure enough, about three hours later, I got an e-mail letting me know that my fan was ready for pickup.

Yes, I had to go back to the store to pick it up, which I wasn’t all that thrilled about, but considering the other options, I was OK with that.

Plus, I felt like I’d come up with a pretty good idea.

If they had been jerks about it while I was there, I might have, out of principle, avoided giving them the sale, but save for the first person that was a bit disinterested, everybody was very nice.  The woman at the customer service desk was really cool about the whole thing.  She called three or four different people, kept trying other areas and you could tell really wanted to make it work.

I wonder how often that happens, where an item is technically within the four walls of the store, but isn’t available for the customer to pick it up.  Now, I get that things happen and that stores can’t be expected to keep every item stocked at every minute, but in this case, I was able to still get the item that I wanted with relatively little heartache.

I thought it was pretty cool.  Just like our bedroom will hopefully be once we get that cross breeze going!

Readers, have you ever checked whether a store had an item only to find it not there when you arrived?  What do you think of my method to deal with this? 

Copyright 2015 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.

Amazon Must Limit Third Party Sellers

I had a pretty frustrating experience with Amazon recently.  By and large, I’m willing to forget about it for two specific reasons:

  • Amazon rocks more often than not.  They’ve built lots of goodwill points
  • It wasn’t technically Amazon’s fault

The Lost Fitbit Charger

It all started last November.  After we returned from our Disney World trip, I realized that I had left behind the charger for my Fitbit.  I have a Flex, and the charger is really quite simple.  It is about six inches long with one end holding a cradle for the Fitbit, and the other end a plug to a USB port.  It’s pretty small and I can see where it got overlooked during our packing.

I knew I’d probably rule out buying one directly from Fitbit, but decided to check anyway.  The charger was $19.95 and I was pretty sure that they would want to clip me for shipping, as well.

No stinking way.

So, of course my next stop was on Amazon.

I typed in Fitbit Flex charger and it turns out I was in luck!

I quickly looked and determined that I probably wanted a charger that was less common.  See, to do a reset of the Flex, you have to put it in the charger, and do the old ‘press a button with a paper clip’ trick.  This power cycles the
device and short of letting the power drain, it’s the only way to do so.  I have had to do it occasionally to resolve sync issues, so I determined that this was what I needed.  Many of the devices on Amazon did not have this feature, so I skipped past these listings.

I found a few listings, and found one that I really liked.  It offered the charger with the power reset button, and they offered a two pack.  Plus, it was $12 for the two pack, and it was Prime eligible.  It was sold by a third party seller, but fulfilled by Amazon.  Cool.  On top of that, they offered a one year replacement warranty.


So, I placed the order, and a couple of days later the new chargers arrived, just as advertised.  Prime is so awesome that it came before the battery even drained on my charger.  Pretty cool.

Good Thing I Bought Two

Everything went smoothly for a few months.  I loved the idea of having two chargers, as I kept one at home and one at work.  Typically, I charge at work a couple of times a week, but having the extra one at home was nice.

One day I dutifully charged it, and popped it out at the end of the day, only to find that it was dead the next morning. Uh-oh.  I checked, and sure enough, one of the chargers was no longer doing its job.

I was glad that I had the second charger as a backup and also glad that they offered a replacement option.

I went back through my order history, and from there clicked ‘Contact Seller’ and notified them that one of the Fitbit chargers had failed, and per their product page, could they please send a replacement?  They replied within 24 hours that they would.

Easy, right?

Well, it was a little too easy.

A couple of days later I glanced out on the porch and saw a package sitting there.  It was about the size of a shoebox.  I opened it up, not yet figuring out who it was from, only to discover that I was now in possession of a replacment Roomba charger.  And we’re talking the entire charging station that a typical Roomba would go put itself into at the end of a cleaning cycle.

It’s a pretty cool charger…except I have no use for it as we don’t have a Roomba!  Until recently, we had cats, and they would occasionally make messes (throw up) on the carpet, and the last thing I wanted was for the Roomba to dutifully spread around such mess, so we never had one.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I had this much larger charger.

The Run-Around

I contacted the company again, letting them know what had happened.  I once again contacted them from my order page, so I knew that they had the exact order information.

They replied back and pretty much said that it was impossible, and asked if I could send them a picture.

So, I sent them a picture of the box I had and the charger that I was looking for.

They replied back and asked for a picture of the shipping label.

So, I sent them a picture of the shipping label.

Then, they replied back and told me that I needed to contact Amazon since it was fulfilled by Amazon order.

Now, I was getting mad.  I haven’t mentioned that each e-mail took about 24 hours to reply, so we were working on a few days of back and forth.  All while I looked at this stupid charger sitting in the corner of my eye.

I explained (clearly but a little less politely) that although the *initial* order had been fulfilled by Amamb-2015-07-signzon, that the problem came with the replacement item, which was not sent by Amazon, but had been sent by them directly.

It took about 48 hours but they finally replied back and apologized for the misunderstanding.  They indicated that they would send me the correct Fitbit charger, refund my shipping fees, and also send me a UPS label to return the Roomba charger.

To their credit, they did send the correct Fitbit charger within a couple of days.  They did not refund the shipping costs…because there weren’t any that I’d paid since it was a Prime eligible purchase.  And to date, they still have not sent me any label or requested the incorrect item to be returned.

Now, just out of curiosity, I looked and the Roomba charger sells for $45, so I guess there’s a certain point where I could actually turn this into a money making deal for me.  You know, for my frustrations and all!

Why Amazon Should Limit Third Party Sellers

Now, this whole thing was a bit frustrating.  It was more amusing than anything else, but because it was a third-party seller issue, I really didn’t assign this as a referendum to Amazon.  Yes, I went to Amazon to buy the product, but in my mind, none of the issues that I had, whether it be from the product failure itself to the replacement process, really had anything to do with Amazon.  They were just the go-between.

Which is fine, so long as that type of transaction is the exception.

I looked through our purchase history and I’d estimate that less than 15% of our purchases came from third party sellers.  Most are sold directly by Amazon.  And, that’s the way I want to keep it.

So, I hope that Amazon realizes the value of keeping control over more of their transactions.  It’s easy to picture a situation where they could start farming out more and more transactions, or even partnering up with other sellers for entire lines of products.  This might make sense in a conference room somewhere where I’m sure the word ‘bottom line’ would be thrown about many a time, but the counter to that is that Amazon loses a little bit of control each time they do that, and it can be a slippery slope.

I think Amazon has worked and grown so well because they keep so much of that control.  By limiting the control over what others have access to ‘mess up’, so to speak, they can limit their risk of problems so long as they set and maintain their own processes.  And, to their credit, they do that very well.

I’ve even heard rumors that Amazon intends to set up their own delivery network, meaning that one additional piece that is handled outside of Amazon’s control, the carrier that brings the product to your door, could be brought within their control.  So, yes, you might very soon see an Amazon truck rolling up to your house, and an Amazon driver getting out and bringing the package to your door.

That tells me that Amazon seems to understand the value of keeping things in house.  Let’s hope they keep it that way!

Readers, have you ever had any problems with Amazon, and if so, was it an issue directly with Amazon or was it a third party seller?  What are your experiences with things like third party sellers, fulfilled by Amazon products, and other offerings?

Copyright 2015 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.