Why I Will Not Miss Blockbuster Video

If there was ever as stunning a fall for a retail giant as Blockbuster, I can’t recall.  At one time there was a store on every corner, it seemed like.

My first remembrance of a video store was not a Blockbuster.  My dad was always on the cutting edge of technology, and had one of the first VCRs ever made.  The thing was actually made of two pieces, and together had to weigh at least 50 pounds.  I’m pretty sure the remote control was attached via a wire.  (I do have to give my dad credit for picking the ‘right’ technology, as I’m reasonably sure there was still the VHS vs. BetaMax issue which had not fully resolved by that point).  Still, my dad joined a local store, though it was one of many that lasted but a few years following the later proliferation of Blockbuster and other chain video stores.

I was never a fan of Blockbuster for a variety of reasons.

  • Late Fees – It always seemed like no matter how you tried to stay on top of watching mb-201311tapesyour videos, you would find yourself seeing one and realizing that either the due date had already passed or you had 20 minutes to get that thing back to the store.
  • Rewind fees – I understand the logic behind not wanting all of their videos returned without having been rewound, but I always thought that this was petty.
  • Availability – No matter what movie you wanted, they seemed to be out of it.  Later on, I think they had guaranteed availability for new releases, but back in the earlier days, any new release was out of stock.  You could put your name on hold in case it ‘came back in’, but either it never did during the time where I wanted to watch the movie, or the phone just after I’d gotten into another movie.
  • The last straw – I put up with all of these things, but one experience swore me off from ever using Blockbuster again, a promise I was mostly able to keep.  It was probably around 2002 or 2003 when I was still using Blockbuster, and I returned a few videos.  Later that night I went to watch something of mine, and realized there was something in the machine.  Sure enough, it was a video from the store.  But I’d returned the videos, right?  Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that I’d stuck one of my movies in the case and returned it.  The reason this happened is because the movie I returned was one I’d bought as a ‘Previously Viewed’ copy, so it still had a Blockbuster sticker.  Though I can’t remember either movie, I remember that the movie I accidentally returned was one I liked, whereas the one I kept on accident was a real stinker.  I immediately drove the store and explained what happened.  Without even checking, they said that they ‘could not find’ my movie.  My guess is they probably repackaged it and sold it again.  And they were going to charge me late fees on the video I’d kept.  This was a double whammy that I was not going to take.  I knew that the credit card info that they’d taken when I signed up was no longer valid, as I’d closed the account.  I was so mad that I walked out, with their movie, and never returned to that store.  I was half expecting that they’d somehow try to track me down, but they never did. I just knew that store would always have me on record, and they probably did until they closed.

For the record, I went to another local shop that had recently opened.  I knew the place was doomed, as the decline of video stores had already begun, but I did get a few months out of them while I transitioned away from videos and to this new thing I’d heard about called ‘Netflix’.

Also, in fairness, I did rent from Blockbuster exactly one other time.  I did a temporary assignment down in Florida, and had some friends visit.  We got it in our heads to watch a particular movie (again, I have no idea what it was), but the only video store within 20 miles was Blockbuster.  So I relented and signed up, renting just that video.

It was surprising at how quickly things went south for Blockbuster.  They refused to believe that Netflix was a serious threat, and I believe that they simply thought that since they’d dominated the market and forced out so many, that they were entitled to their spot on top.

Not so.

And so with that, I say, so long, Blockbuster.  I sure won’t miss you!

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Use Your Network To Get The Best Deals

The other day, I was running our periodic file backup on our home computers.  What I do is back up all personal files (pictures, documents, etc.) from each PC onto an external USB hard drive.  I then back up each of the drives onto a consolidated drive.  I need to get a system in place where I keep the central drive offsite, in the event that something happens to our house, but for now, it does keep the data intact, and gives at least two levels of failure in the event of a computer or hard drive crash.

While running the backup, I noticed that we were starting to run low on space on the consolidated drive as well as the drive used to back up the laptop that my wife uses.  This makes sense because she’s recently started using a higher end camera, taking more photos, and storing them, all which are going to mean increased demand for storage capacity.

Knowing that my dad has a good eye for deals, especially on electronics, I asked that he keep an eye out for a good deal on a bigger drive.

Not more than 12 hours later, I got an e-mail from my dad with a deal on a 750GB drive for $39.99, marked down from $99.99.  I’d been estimating paying around $75 for that kind of space, so I instantly jumped on the deal.

Now, when that drive comes in, my plan will to use that as our consolidated drive, and use the current consolidated drive as the one to back up the laptop, and essentially cascade the lowest capacity drive out of the mix.

The point is that by asking my dad, I was able to accomplish two things:

  • Found a better deal than I had anticipated
  • Found the deal in a much faster time frame than I would have likely done on my own.

In other words, by using my ‘network’, I saved both time and money.  These, of course, are two valuable things to be able to save.

Here are some tips to building and maintaining an effective ‘deal’ network:

  • Know who the experts are – As mentioned, I knew that my dad had a good eye on tracking electronics deals, simply because he and I have talked at great length about this in the past
  • Ask when the thought crosses your mind – I have been watching the storage capacity shrink for the last couple of times I backed up the files and had thought about asking my dad, but then never thought of it.  This time, it worked because I happened to be talking to him while I was backing up the files.
  • Use your manners – If you’re asking someone to do a favor for you, make sure to (as we remind our two kids) use your polite words.  That will go a long way.
  • Follow up if necessary…once – I got lucky in that my dad spotted a great deal so quickly, but there will be times when you don’t hear back.  And that’s OK.  Use your judgement on whether to drop it in a conversation at some point down the line.  But only mention it one time before you drop it.
  • Set your expectations accordingly – I always treat networking in this capacity as ‘nice to have’.  Meaning that if I ask someone for a favor, and nothing comes of it, there’s no hurt feelings.  This seems simple, but I’ve run into situations where someone asks for a seemingly casual favor, it doesn’t get followed up on which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it turns into hurt feelings down the line.  Don’t let this turn into that.
  • Return the favor – If you’re doing all the asking for deal searching, then you’re probably doing it wrong.  It should be give and take.  You should be a resource for others if you’re asking others to be a resource for you.

So, with that said, we’ll soon be the happy owners of some additional drive space, all because of a little networking.

Readers, do you ‘network’ for deals?  Share your experiences.

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The Costco Rule of $10 And Other Bulk Buying Tips

If you’re given $100 to go grocery shopping, you can normally get quite a large number of items.  Of course it all depends on what you need for your shopping list, as a bag of chicken or other high priced item can take away part of your budget, but usually those are balanced out by smaller priced items.

A loaf of bread.  Some cups of yogurt.  Cheese.  Lunch meat, whatever you will, you can generally get a pretty good number of items at Costco.

Not so much at Costco.

I love Costco.  We’ve been members at Costco for many years and I truly believe that in spite of the $55 membership fee, we still come away saving money throughout the year.

Still, I’ve learned that there’s practically nothing in the store that we normally buy that is less than $10.  Understanding this has helped me reset my expectations.

We always make a list for Costco, and inevitably, we’d have what appeared to be a short list, and think that it would mean a small total, but would end up getting ‘surprised’ when 12 or 15 items cost between $150 and $200.

It was then that I realized that very few items we buy are below $10 and learned to reset my expectations accordingly.

Now, if I have a shopping list of 10 items, I know that I’m good for at least $100.  In the grocery store, 10 items can result in a bill of $25.

mb-201309cartsGranted, at Costco you’re getting a lot more than you would at the grocery store.  Your 16 oz bottle of ketchup for $1.49 at the grocery store turns into three 48 oz bottles at Costco for $9.  It still saves you money in terms of unit price, but the overall impact from a cash flow perspective can be jarring.

Budgeting.  Creating a budget is key.  As I mentioned above, when I make a list, I ballpark around $10 per item, usually a bit more, depending on the list.  There are still some items we can get for under $10, like a four-pack box of graham crackers or a container of feta cheese, but those are always offset by higher priced items, like 1120 baby wipes for $25.

Reality.  We very rarely fall into the trap of wasting food from Costco.  Even though we get larger quantities, we tend to buy stuff that:

  • we know we will use because it’s part of our everyday usage
  • lasts a long time
  • have ideas in mind for items that we haven’t purchased before.

Many people fall into the trap of buying something because it looks good, but when they get home, they don’t have a use for it.  So, they stick it on a shelf or in the freezer and there it sits until it gets pushed to the back of the shelf and is discovered way after it’s no longer useful.  We make sure that we have plans for whatever it is we buy.  In fact, new items often generate excitement because we’re looking forward to trying something new for the first time.

Rotation.  We have a shelf in the basement that’s a secondary pantry.  Most of our dry foods from Costco go on this shelf.  I do a couple of things here that ensures that we use all of our stuff:

  • Old before new.  If we have something that we’re buying more of, I’ll put the newer stuff in back to make sure that the older stuff doesn’t expire
  • Re-organize while putting away.  When I put away our stuff from Costco, I’ll reorganize the shelves.  I’ll slide things around to make room for new items.  I’ll pull stuff that got shoved underneath something else back to the front.  I basically come away knowing everything that’s on the shelf, and if it’s an item that has sort of been forgotten, the process of putting new stuff away gives me a reminder to take a look at the items and make note of what we have to use.

Costco and other warehouse stores can be a great source of savings, but only if you make sure you use what you buy, and also have a realistic expectation going in.  I’d have to think that the two biggest reason people end up quitting is because they end up wasting money or because they deem it ‘too expensive’.

Both of these can be properly managed with the tips I’ve lain out above.

Readers, what tips do you have to share for successful Costco shopping trips?

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How Much Crazy Black Friday Shopping Do You Do?

Tomorrow is a day of football, eating turkey and pie, and giving thanks for what we have.  The day after is when so many others give thanks…for great sales.

I’ve never been a big Black Friday shopper.  The extent of what I do can pretty much be broken down into:

  • Shopping Online – I will look around for online deals for gifts that I might want to buy.  I typically have had not much luck as the sales that I’ve come across either vanish before I have time to act, or aren’t appealing enough.  I know we bought my in-laws a comforter one year, and there was a gadget my wife wanted a couple of years ago that I waited too long to buy and never found that cheap again.
  • Waking Up Early – One year I woke up at some absurdly crazy idea and decided to go look for LED Christmas lights.  We found some at KMart, but have never been too happy with them, and they’ve been relegated to the back deck.  That was before kids because my wife and I both went, something that would never happen.
  • Watching the kids – My wife has actually gone out and braved some of the Black Friday craziness the last couple of years, leaving me at home to happily take care of the kids

This year, I’m not sure if Mrs. Beagle plans on heading out or not, but I know I certainly do not.  I might do some browsing to see if I can find some gifts, or what kind of deals on TVs pop up online.  I will probably watch one of my favorite movies, which I’ve turned into a tradition to watch every year during the Thanksgiving holiday (since it takes place over the same weekend).  That movie: Scent of A Woman.  Hoo-ah!

What are your Black Friday plans?

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