Walmart or Target: Which Store Do You Prefer?

prefer walmart or target?At which of these two retailers, Walmart or Target, do you prefer to spend your money?  I had a recent visit to each, one after the other, and my customer experience tells the story.

The Walmart Visit

Recently I had to go out to pick up a few things, and remembered that I had a Walmart gift card. I normally don’t shop there too often, but a gift card is of course a good enough reason to visit a store! So, off I went to tackle that mini-shopping list.

As I walked into the local Walmart, I was immediately struck by downtrodden appearance of some of the other customers walking in. Not that there is anything wrong with people looking one way or another, but it was a different scene than what you’d see at other stores in this area. But, I’m not there for a fashion show; rather, I was there to save money!

So as I walked around the store, looking for the aforementioned items on my list, I noticed that the prices at the store didn’t seem incredibly low. Maybe some things were at prices comparable to those at other stores, but a few were certainly a little bit cheaper. Sure, I could probably save a few bucks here!

But the selection wasn’t great, and I didn’t find everything I wanted. Furthermore, the place was dirty. Floors didn’t seem all that clean, and I saw misplaced merchandise all over the place.

In the checkout line, I noticed that the cashiers didn’t seem too enthusiastic to be there. Some of the customers seemed to have an “edge” to them too, as I noticed one giving another a really dirty look for walking in front of him. The cashier in my line seemed quite annoyed at the lady in front of me who asked for a price check.

Meanwhile, there was a grown man in his 40’s waking around wearing pajamas. You know, just to add to the character of the place.

So I bought a few things and took off. Next stop: Target

The Target Visit

As I walked into Target, the first thing I noticed was the very new looking shopping cart. Much nicer than what I saw at Walmart. This was representative of the rest of place, actually. The store was cleaner than what I saw at Walmart.

In terms of selection, I found there to be higher quality merchandise at Target. The variety seemed greater, and the merchandise was organized better. Now, the prices were not always the same. Some things were comparably priced to Walmart, but it seemed like a few things might have been a little bit higher priced. Not a scientific study we’re talking about here, just some observations.

But the people were distinctly friendlier. No angry glares, and the cashier was relatively friendly too. I did get the standard question about whether or not I wanted to save 5% by opening a card, and I declined.   There was even a pleasant reaction to that!

The Assessment

You know, I like saving money just like the next person. Ah, who am I kidding…..I probably like saving money more than the next person! But the shopping experience at Walmart is so dreary compared to Target, and for what I look for, the selection is not as good while price savings are not exactly drastic. I’ll take Target!

I’m sure there are some good quality Walmart stores out there, and in some less-populated areas they may be the only game in town. But customer experience matters, and that pushes me away from Walmart and toward Target or perhaps other alternatives.

My Questions for You

What are your thoughts about Walmart vs. Target?

Which store do you prefer?

Are you willing to spend a little bit more to have a better customer experience (cleaner store, better service, etc).

Making Mature Money Decisions: 3 Examples of Spending Less

In some ways, people don’t change. When it comes to our core personality traits, I’m convinced that most of us stay the same over the long-term.

That being said, sometimes our preferences and habits might change as we get older gain life experience. Some of this simply comes with maturity, and some of it might come via hard-earned wisdom.

One area in which we can make different decisions as we get older is spending money. Now, I think this can go both ways. Sometimes people spend a lot more money on things as they get older, but other times they might decide to spend less. There are probably very legitimate reasons for going in either direction, but what gets me most excited is the latter: spending less!

Here are 3 types of expenses for which I have grown accustomed to spending less:

Cars

Admittedly, I was never a big spender here.   However, I did buy an SUV about a decade ago. It really wasn’t needed, but it just seemed like the right thing to do at that point in life. When you become a parent, there seems to be – for many people – a sudden willingness to spend more money on things you think you need, but truly don’t. I call it first-time parent syndrome.

No, an SUV was not needed. Certainly not a nice, brand new one. You could just as easily do well with a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, or some other seemingly reliable, practical smaller vehicle. And you don’t need to buy brand new. That’s the route I ultimately took, and am now driving something less expensive and more practical financially.

I know one other person who has downscaled even more, going from a new BMW in his 20’s to a beat-up, 10+ year old car as he reached 40. And actually, his means greatly increased during that time, but his spending sharply declined. This is in sharp contrast with many (most?) others I run across, who ultimately decide to buy nicer, more expensive vehicles as they get older.

Clothes

When younger, I have to say that I dressed well! My professional wardrobe was almost entirely from Nordstrom. Really.

In days gone by, I would go to that very nice retailer, and buy everything for work from there. Some of my casual/weekend wardrobe was from there too. I rationalized it by focusing on shopping at a few of their big sales – I believe they were the Anniversary Sale and the Half-Yearly Sale.  Also, by thinking that dressing really well correlates to success.

Fast-forward to today. From buying really nice stuff, I’ve gone to buying simply pretty good things that are on sale. The difference in cost between really nice and pretty good can be quite significant. As in, maybe 75% less costly!

Honestly, I think that for most of us, it really doesn’t matter. Very few people in most jobs or walks of life need to be dropping big bucks on clothing. One can look good on a budget, and retail therapy is not a way to maintain self-esteem anyway!

Home Amenities

My first home purchase was a brand new condo with all the bells and whistles. The place had nice hardwood floors, granite countertops, and marble baths. Yes, marble.

I have no idea why I cared so much about such things back then. I guess I’m not really in the market to buy a new place at the moment, but I wouldn’t care about such features. Why I thought kitchen countertops needed to be expensive granite instead of something less costly like laminate is beyond me.

Don’t get me wrong: I like good quality stuff. However, I now recognize that just because I really like something, it doesn’t mean that I need it. Rather, we should prioritize and allocate our money to what’s most important.

And what is most important now?

Well, to me it’s a matter of taking care of the basics first and foremost – and that includes the basics in the present and the future. That means the ability to retire someday!

Aren’t retirement and financial freedom more important than working many more years grinding away to pay for an lifestyle escalation? I think so!

My Questions for You

How has your spending changed – if at all – on the 3 categories mentioned above (cars, clothes, home amenities)?

Do you believe in spending on nicer things as you get older, or would you rather save the extra money for future needs?

 

The Frugal Super Bowl Party

frugal superbowl partySo, what did you do for the Super Bowl?

All over the country, I imagine that people everywhere were of course watching the game at the very least. It’s basically an event here in the U.S. for which most things simply stop. Many of us are watching with others, and some are hosting or attending fun parties for the big game.

I had plans to go to friends’ house during the afternoon, and was looking forward to a good day in general. However, those plans changed – not the part of the day being okay though, because it was. More on that later.

Here in the Chicago area, we had a massive snowstorm that pretty much altered the plans of tons of people. In fact, there was a blizzard warning for much of the day, with people hunkered down at home instead of venturing outside. Driving was not recommended, and it was easy to see why, considering the snow and wind.

Needless to say, this type of weather made people cancel get-togethers and events. In the morning, I spoke to someone who said that his wife had a baby shower to go to, but it was canceled because nobody could make it. Super Bowl parties? Yes, many suffered the same fate.

So, what to do in that case?

Over here, we didn’t leave home all day. Instead, we got things done around the house – which is a good way to spend what amounted to a “snow day” for everyone. And the big game? Well, we just stayed in to enjoy what turned out to be a really good game and an exciting finish!

No big party, no spending lots of money on drinks, pizza delivery, or anything of the sort happened. It’s not like we could go anywhere with the blizzard, so it was just a matter of making do with what we had at home.

And you know what? It turned out to be alright. More than that, it was a lot fun! Yes, it’s possible to enjoy the Super Bowl without spending a lot. I’d guess it cost about $6 per person based on the food at home – dinner, snacks, etc.

It’s yet another example, albeit small, of how spending extra money does not necessarily lead to more happiness.

My Questions for You

What were your Super Bowl plans?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it doesn’t take spending a lot of money to enjoy a celebration, party, or other event?

Additional Note: Here’s something Super Bowl-related to check out for entertainment purpose – how the stock market performs after the super bowl, based on which conference’s team wins.

The “Forever Stamp” Concept Applied to Gas Prices

 

prepaid locked in gas pricesFirst off, I’ve written just recently about gas prices, and how low they have gone. A recent post on $2 gas discussed the topic of these prices that are low relative to recent historical gas prices, and how we might want to keep that history in mind when making big financial commitments going forward.

In other words, be careful when putting your budget together, and don’t make the assumption that gas prices will remain low. I say it’s best to assume they’ll go back up, and if they stay low we can consider it a pleasant surprise. Kind of a bonus, if you will.

Picking up on this theme, I came across an interesting article on Time’s Money site that discussed the concept of locking in gas prices at a fixed rate. This allows a consumer to hedge against the potential that gas will go up.

There were a couple of services mentioned, but one that caught my eye was a small regional group of stations that apparently has a plan like this. In looking at the site, it appears that you can pre-pay locked-in prices at around $1 or so above the current at-the-pump prices. Obviously there are additional details to the program, but this is a high-level summary of what saw.

The way I understand it is this: If gas is $2 per gallon, and you lock in prices at $3 per gallon, you could potentially come out ahead if prices surge back up over $3 as we has seen for quite some time.

It’s an intriguing concept, and it reminds me of the “Forever Stamp” model. Perhaps it’s not quite the same thing, but the idea that you can lock in prices is one that seems like an interesting option for consumers and a novel idea in commerce.

It also seems like one is paying a premium – like an “insurance” premium of sorts – to protect against risk of loss. In this case, loss of money when gas prices skyrocket.

This is something I’d have to really think about before deciding on whether or not to do that. I’m not aware of any local companies offering this sort of option anyway, at least at this time.

Could this idea be applied to other expenditures in our budget?

When it comes to one big ticket expense, housing, we can lock in prices by getting out of the renting cycle and buying a property. Though property taxes could always change, even if your mortgage payment stays the same.

But how about things such as coffee, produce, perhaps even heating oil? It would be fun to be able to “lock in” the price of a cup of coffee that normally costs $1.50 by paying $2.50. Maybe years down the line, when coffee is well over $2.50, we’ll come out ahead : )

Okay, that last example is a bit much. But you get the idea!

My Questions for You

What do you think of the idea of prepaying for gas?

Can you think of any other expenses that would be nice to have a pre-paid, locked-in price option?

Hooray for $2 Gas! Now, Be Careful.

two_dollar_gasGas under $2 per gallon is a welcome sight!

As of this writing, I saw gas for sale at $1.92 per gallon. Just one day prior, I filled up my car’s tank at $1.99 per gallon – and thought that was a bargain. Little did I know that prices would drop about 3.5% in just one day.

Don’t worry, I didn’t lose any sleep over it. I’m not THAT frugal, despite past forays into extreme frugality :)

These prices are at levels that many of us probably thought would never happen again in our lifetime. However, they’re at those low levels now. So, it’s time to celebrate, right?

I think it’s a good thing, and it’s nice to see.  Though as I wrote about several months ago when prices were closer to $3 per gallon, we should squirrel away that money saved on cheaper gas.

This might sound funny, but when I had the aforementioned gas purchase the day prior, I actually saw the $1.99 price on the sign and got a little bit fired up. It was irrational, I’ll admit it. You know, like an overly excited Black Friday shopper seeing a great deal at retail store.

Though I did have to laugh when at the pump I was asked whether or not I wanted a car wash. You know, when the temperature outside is literally 1 degree above zero, it’s quite the humorous question to ask a customer.

Anyway, back to gas prices. With prices at lower levels that in recent history, it’s a great time to remember that recent history. As in, remembering that those prices can go back to those levels at any time. As suggested in a post on Money Beagle, we shouldn’t count on prices being this low – and it might good to spend as if prices were that high.

This all came to mind in a very recent conversation where somebody was talking about buying a bigger house. These people live in a good enough house now, but for whatever reason they’re afflicted with dream home syndrome.   The current place is closer to the city (Chicago), which all other things being equal means that prices will be higher than in more outlying areas due to jobs and other factors.

And what came up as a reason to consider moving further out? Gas prices!

It’s one of those exact things I had hoped people wouldn’t think of, but it looks like some are doing so. Memories are short with some folks all of a sudden, and low gas prices are causing people to get enticed to get more for their money buy considering a home purchase in a far flung suburb.  Human nature, perhaps?

What will be interesting is if we see another wave of interest in such outlying, “exurb” type of places just as we did in the prior housing boom. You know, if gas prices stay at low levels for an extended period of time.

My take is that we ought to truly enjoy these low gas prices, but NOT count on them when making any budgeting decisions. So I’m doing just as I said in my prior post I referenced: suggesting that we save that extra money we have due to lower gas prices.

My Questions for You

How low have gas prices gone where you are?

Have you thought about how much you’re saving now in total, compared to how much you were spending before?

What are you doing with the extra money you’re saving?

2 Ways to Find Bargains in December

december bargainsThe holiday season can be a nice time to get some bargains. We all know about Black Friday, but what about deals in December?

There are two types of December deals that I’ve enjoyed in the past, and hope to take advantage of this year:

Bonus gift card purchases

Now, some people like gift cards while others don’t. To me, holiday season gift cards are nice, as they allow you to purchase exactly what you want to. While you know it’s the thought that counts when you get that ugly sweater or redundant kitchen gadget, getting what you want and need has its merits.

What I like about buying holiday gift cards is that you might get an extra bonus if you make a purchase. I’ve noticed this in particular with restaurants. A few have offered this type of deal: buy a $25 gift card, and get a bonus $5 gift card or certificate for free. It’s nice to get something back for yourself when buying a gift, right :)

Beyond that, if it’s a place you know you will personally visit anyway, why not just take advantage of the deal and buy it for yourself? It’s like an instant 17% off, just like that!

Post-Holiday sales

Once the holiday season has passed us by, there is naturally going to be a ton of unsold inventory at many retailers. Much of this might be items that they want to clear out, to make room for other products in the New Year.

So, if you didn’t get Black Friday deals, or have new shopping needs that have arisen, there could be a solution. Check out post-holiday deals to get some savings!

Some of these items might be highly discounted, particularly if seasonal. This would be a great time to get a new tree and save it for next year, which of course would mean buying a fake Christmas tree (which we have). Or, giftwrap would be another item that could be bought for a huge discount and kept for the next season

Beyond such seasonal items, more practical things such as clothes, small appliances, and the like might be had for a discount during this time period.

My Questions for You

Do you find ways to make some bargain purchases in December?

Do you have any tips or examples to share?

Save Big on Entertainment by Considering the Next Best Alternatives

save money on entertainmentSometimes we can save big money by considering alternatives.

I was thinking about this concept, which I’ve actually written about before, when I saw that one of my buddies was going to a football game recently.   Here in the Chicago area, that means he was going to see the Bears.

Before we get into the cost aspect of his day, I want to share a little bit of context. This guy isn’t making a ton of money, and has been impacted by divorce. From what I can gather, money is probably tight.

So, when going to the football game, it’s an exercise in indulgence. Here’s why I say that:

  1. There are much cheaper alternatives
  2. You can have many more experiences for the same cost as that one day

Now, I totally get the idea of splurging once in a while. Also, a day of quality time with your kid can be priceless. Bonding and making memories is what it’s all about. So to be clear, I think that part of it is totally cool and I’m not being critical of that.

The thing is, this isn’t the first game this year he’s gone to. So while it may be worth it for non-financial reasons, it’s also a worthwhile exercise to consider other options to accomplish the same goals.

Let’s walk through the costs:

  • Cost of the ticket is at least $80, so 2 tickets is $160. It could be more if the seats were good.
  • Parking must be at least $20, at the least.
  • Food at games isn’t cheap either, so let’s add another $20.
  • Total costs: $200.

This doesn’t include driving costs, or any souvenirs. Again, this is all for one day.

Here’s what I did for the game: watched it at home. Total cost: $0.00.

Yes, I know that it’s not the same thing, but it’s worth considering if that incremental $200 is always worth it, when you can still have fun watching at home.

The same concept of looking at alternatives can apply to other activities. How about movies as an example:

  • Alternative #1: Go to the theatre, buy tickets for two. Cost = $20
  • Alternative #2: Rent a movie from a kiosk, keep overnight. Cost = $1.50
  • Alternative #3.: Rent a movie from the library, keep for a week. Cost = $0.00

You could rent 13 movies for the cost of one visit to the theatre!

Okay, so I’m not all about finding the cheapest alternative at all costs. Actually, I really enjoy going to the movies. My point is that just like the football game example, there are ways we can still have fun without spending tons of money!

My Questions for You

Do you ever think about just how much we can save by considering alternatives?

When it comes to movies or sporting events, do you consider them to be splurges or normal expenses?

Squirrel Away the Money You Save With Lower Gas Prices

save on gasHave you noticed that gas prices have dropped as of late?

It’s about time! A few years back I wrote about how historical gas price increases outpace inflation by quite a bit, which really put into perspective how expensive gas has become in recent years. I’m old enough to recall paying less than $1 per gallon of gas, around 20 years ago. (Side note: Dang….I really am getting older!)

Anyway, I’ve noticed recently that gas prices have been relatively low by standards of the last few years. This has been corroborated by a recent article from MSN which detailed some news regarding Energy Department forecasts on gas prices. They noted that in 2015, gas prices are projected to be under $3.00 per gallon, which is quite a bit lower than a prediction not that long ago.

So if gas prices do in fact stay low, how would that impact your spending and overall finances?

The thinking among some people is that with lower gas prices, people will have more money to spend on other things. Thus, if more consumer goods are purchased, this could be good for the economy!

Perhaps. But on an individual level, what would you do if your gas expenses were considerably lower on a regular basis? That’s the question I come back to.

I think that it’s probably true that with less money spent on gas, people will have more money available to spend. Math would dictate that. I also agree that with that additional money available to spend, people will generally do just that: spend it.

So basically, this means that the average person out there will not do the prudent thing from a personal finance standpoint. Which would be this: take the extra money that you’re saving on gas, and squirrel it way.

For example, if you were spending $120 per month on gas, but then that dropped to $90 based on price decreases, you could use the $30 to buy other things, or you could increase your monthly investments by that $30.

That small amount adds up! $30 per month equals $360 for a year, and invested over time that could result in quite a bit more.

So I’d like to see Americans take the savings from cheaper gas, and boost their savings instead of spending it. Here’s to responsible personal finance!

My Questions for You

What do you think about where gas prices have gone recently?

When you save money due to regular expenses being reduced, do you offset that by spending more on other things, or do you consciously try to save more money?

 

Ask and You Shall Receive – A Discount, That Is

mattress discountsFor whatever reason, here in the U.S (and Canada, probably) we are conditioned to be cooperative shoppers. In other words, we play nice with the business at which we are shopping, and don’t try to negotiate. If there is an asking price, we’ll either pay it or move on.

Bargaining, apparently, is uncomfortable!

There are exceptions to this, as we know, and one of those is buying a car. If you’re buying a used car, that’s an extra special treat :) Beyond that, buying items on craigslist might be another venue where negotiation is fairly normal. But in most cases, it’s almost a faux pas.

Here is one situation when you should negotiate: buying a mattress.

I very recently had an experience where I was shopping for a mattress that our family needed. I went to a three local places, and found that it was relatively easy to compare their stated prices – and that there were some distinct differences. As in, $100 differences between high/low price for one item among the stores I visited.

So, the last store I went to had what I found to be the best overall prices for what I was looking for. After talking things through with the salesperson, and asking about prices, I came to a pretty good price. I was feeling pretty good about it.

Then, I mentioned that I would walk away. He didn’t come down in price any further, but as I made it clear that I wasn’t buying today, he hustled to give me his card and indicated that the price will hold. If I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t have had this leverage.

At that point, I asked another question: will there be a better price on this mattress soon?

He paused, then spoken in generalities about how that was a possibility. I asked if there was a specific date he knew about, and then he wanted his card back to write something. I gave it back, and he wrote a date on it when he said I should come back on that day. In other words, there would be a sale on that day.

I was pleased, and then walked away. Then, I thought: “why not just ask what that discount would be?”

The next step was for me to turn around, and go back to him asking about that future discount. He hesitated, then told me that it would be on sale for $130 less at that time. And, that I should come back then since it would clearly be worth my while to wait just a little over a week.

What did I do then? I asked him if I could just get that discount now if I bought it right away – in advance of the sale.

He said the most he could do was give me a guarantee of a $130 to be applied on that day – to which I agreed. So, I didn’t get the exact ultimate outcome I wanted, but came really close.

All because of the idea that sometimes we need to get uncomfortable and ask for a better price. There’s often very little to lose, and potentially a fair amount to gain!

My Questions for You

How often do you ask for discounts?

Do you enjoy bargaining, or could you do without it?

Do you find mattress shopping to be a little different than buying most other household items?