They're making a big comeback
Americans are crazy for coupons again -- clipping at rates not seen in years, and the attraction is not just the 30 cents off the canned corn, The New York Times reports. It's a psychological boost, a feeling that we're proactive and therefore better than those who pay full price.
As the Times puts it, "Because it takes more work to acquire them, the people who do so feel they have outsmarted other shoppers." It's kind of like that "delicious feeling of self-denial" inherent in frugality that our pal Frank Curmudgeon likes to write about at Bad Money Advice. We're saving money and feeling good in a way that's kind of creepy.
Our collective renewed love of the coupon is also good timing. Food prices have fallen by 2.5% since an ugly high point last November, with the biggest single decline between July and August.
Here are some interesting coupon factoids from the Times and other locations:
At a certain age, it's time to end the charade
We have decided not to dye our hair again, and all of our women friends have an opinion about it.
Strong opinions -- ranging from enthusiastic support to this comment from an older friend: "If you go gray, you will be a granola. Still interesting to me -- but invisible to others. Don't do it -- savor your youth!"
- Bing: To dye or not to dye?
That comment nearly stopped us in our tracks, but we're going ahead with this. It's not just the expense -- we color at home once a month for about $8.50, but if you have it done professionally, it's $40, $75 or even more depending on where you live. It's also the time, the handling of harsh chemicals (get that stuff in your eyes and you can go blind), the damage to our hair -- and the suspicion that we're denying the realities of age in a way that's not healthy or helpful.
At some point, this charade has to stop (I'm nearly 55), so why not now? (Plus, it's not like losing a limb. If we don't like what we see, we can always dye it again.)
What's the best way to proceed?
Going cloth-only is not a hardship
We have little kids. Kids are messy. Our daughter spills milk or juice on almost a nightly basis. Our son, who's a bit older, doesn't make messes as often, but when he does, they tend to be even more disastrous, such as a full jar of salsa knocked off the counter and shattered all over the floor.
For years, our solution to this problem has been a big roll of paper towels. It's simply what we're familiar with and, like many simple and familiar things in life, it's almost an automatic thing to have on hand. We simply have paper towels in the kitchen.
A few weeks ago, though, after we bought another batch of them at Sam's Club, I began to really question that purchase. Sure, we have a lot of messes, but did we really need to be dropping $5 or more a month on paper that we wind up throwing into the landfill? Probably not.
Air conditioning, free refills, comfy beds are draws
We're the first to admit that shopping as a form of entertainment isn't exactly unheard of in the United States.
Still, Ikea browsers in China may have taken the idea of shopping center as entertainment to a whole new level. The Ikea store in Beijing has become an entertainment destination for Chinese who have no intention of buying anything more than lunch.
The Los Angeles Times, reporting on this phenomenon, interviewed Zhang Xin, who took his wife, son and mother to Ikea for lunch and a break from the smog.
"We just came here for fun," the 34-year-old office manager told The Times. "I suppose we could have gone somewhere else, but it wouldn't have been a complete experience."
U.S. Census figures contain disturbing news
If you were born before 1955, you're part of a group that's enjoyed remarkable prosperity. Born later and you're among those who are losing ground at an accelerating pace.
USA Today analyzed U.S. Census data to track just how far incomes have fallen since 2000. The story said:
Household income for people in their peak earning years -- between ages 45 and 54 -- plunged $7,700 to $64,349 from 2000 through 2008, after adjusting for inflation. People in their 20s and 30s suffered similar drops. Older people enjoyed all the gains.
Why is this happening?
Customers can opt out of overdraft protection
Here's a small victory for consumers:
Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are planning to overhaul their debit card programs, changing the way they credit transactions and allowing customers to opt out of overdraft protection.
We'd like to think they're doing it because that's what the customers want, but they might have been just a teeny bit influenced by moves in Congress to crack down on overdraft fees.
The features are nice, but will they save you money?
Zut alors! Credit card companies are beginning to offer simpler, more consumer-friendly credit cards to the masses.
For instance, Bank of America's Basic Visa card, which debuts next month, will charge the same interest rate no matter how you use the card. It also comes with a set $39 late fee that won't fluctuate regardless of how large your outstanding balance is.
Also, Jack at Master Your Card said, the interest rate won't go up even if you make a late payment.
Even better, it seems, is Chase's new Blueprint feature, newly available for some 20 million existing credit card accounts. Blueprint allows cardholders to single out certain types of purchases -- say, groceries or gas -- that they can pay in full each month interest-free while finance charges accumulate on the rest of the balance.
What to consider if you can't say no
How many friendships have you lost (or almost lost) because of money? If money matters are a touchy subject to begin with, then how are we expected to navigate the murky waters of borrowing from friends?
We've all been there (on either side of the spectrum) before: A buddy asks you to spot him $20, but never seems to have the cash available to pay you back, or he continues to forget when he sees you. And when, months later, he buys a fourth round of beer in front of you without handing over the $20 that has been slowly eroding away at your sanity, you pop.
Your buddy has probably forgotten that he even owed you anything and immediately hands you the cash, but the damage has been done. Your friendship now faces trust and communication issues that may or may not be overcome.
Now, $20 is a fairly easy loan amount to forgive or forget about. But what if that $20 is $200, or even $2,000 or beyond? What tension will exist in the friendship as a result of an outstanding loan?
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