Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How to Buy Four Nintendo Wii Systems In Just Four Weeks, Part 2

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

wii will rock you

Photo by Tasha Krivonozka

Last Time: The Journey Begins

January 7, 2008

With my first attempt to secure a Nintendo Wii a disastrous and chilly failure, it’s time to think smarter and not stupider. I’ll be turning to my old pal the internet to help me out of this bind.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one trying to get his hands on some precious Wii. An entire underground of Wii hunters has formed, some seeking to purchase them for resale and profit, others just looking to win back their children’s love.

To help them in their quest, many have subscribed to services like Wii Tracker or Wii Alerts that will e-mail them or call their cell phones in the event that an online store has Wii systems in stock. To some, cell phone alerts may seem excessive; but when a shipment of 1,000 Wii systems can sell out in less than 10 minutes, getting an instant call instead of an e-mail can mean the difference between finding a Wii and getting hit with an emancipation suit from your kid.

Unfortunately this Wii search will force me to do something I am loathe to do: keep my cell phone on me 24 hours a day. What if Wal-Mart has them in stock at 3 a.m.? What if GameStop gets a tiny shipment while I’m dreaming about that hot new princess from the latest Mario game? Now I’m covered.

January 9, 2008

Still no sign of a Wii anywhere, but I stumble upon the Wii availability thread at FatWallet. If a Wii is in stock anywhere in the United States, I’ll know… though chances are it’ll be in some far-away state like California or Alaska.

Do you think they have videogames in Alaska? I mean, they have snow like we do, so I suppose they would also have videogames. I guess we’ll never know for sure.

January 12, 2008

Week One is drawing to a close, and the only Wii I have is the one in my living room that I’ve had since Launch Day over a year ago. Lately I’ve been playing NiGHTS, the long-awaited sequel to the classic Sega game. I do enjoy the British voice acting, but the game itself plays like a coke fiend’s nightmare. I did not know this many colors could exist on one TV screen without it exploding.

January 13, 2008

The start of a new advertising week brings many flyers, but none advertising the Wii. Some stores are slowing getting in stock, but they’re being evil and bundling the $250 base system with an additional $500 of required games that nobody really wants to play. I’m tempted by one such bundle from Wal-Mart’s website; for about $600 plus $40 shipping, I’d get a Wii and five or six games. The games could be returned to Wal-Mart stores for a refund or store credit, but I’d feel a little weird returning 20 unopened games—including several copies of the same game—to the store…

Me: I’d like to return these 20 Wii games.
Wal-Mart Employee: Is there anything wrong with them?
Me: I just don’t want them anymore.
Wal-Mart Employee: You sure you don’t want these six copies of Barbie’s Great Adventure?
Me: No. I have three copies of my own at home.

In the worst case, I’ll break down and get these Wal-Mart bundles since they’re now coming into stock on a semi-regular basis. But I still have a few weeks before I have to make that decision.

January 16, 2008, Noon

During my lunch break, a hot tip comes in from the FatWallet gang: GameStops and EBGames nationwide are getting shipments of Wii systems today. Some scouters report their stores empty a few minutes after opening, while others still find them around noon-time. The shipments are coming in via UPS throughout the day, and stores are putting them on their shelves—rather, behind locked, bullet-proof glass cases—as they arrive. Nobody mentions specific availability in my area, but I make a few quick calls…

No Wii systems at any stores nearby.

I return to work after my lunch break, wondering if I should add a GameStop to my morning commute for the next few weeks.

January 16, 2008, 8p.m.

After a long day at work, I’m finally home. I see a commercial for the Wii—those two Japanese guys showing up at people’s houses and asking them to touch their Wii.

“I’ll touch your Wii,” I whisper to the television. “I want it badly.”

For fun, I make one last set of calls to area GameStops and EBGames. Nothing in Gaithersburg. None in Fallsgrove. Federal Plaza had some earlier in the day, but they’re gone now.

I’m about to give up when I dial the final number in the area.

“Yes, we have one new one left.”

I ask them if they can hold it for me. He says they can’t and reminds me that they close at 9 p.m. I look at my watch: 8:35 p.m.

I’m in the car 12 seconds later, back inside for pants 10 seconds after that, and on the road by 8:37 p.m.

January 16, 2008, 8:48p.m.

Somehow, I travel a five-mile stretch of busy Rockville Pike in record time. I park in a mall garage and jet through a Macy’s, or maybe it was a Lord and Taylor’s. The GameStop is 30 feet away. I run for the finish line and throw myself at the front counter.

Me: Hi! (*puff*) Do you (*huff*) still have (*puff*) that Wii?
GameStop Clerk: I’m sorry Mario, but your princess is in another castle.
Me: Huh?
GameStop Clerk: These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Me: What?
GameStop Clerk: I said we didn’t get any Wiis today. Did you mean to go to the store in the next shopping center?

Crap, I did. Turns out there’s another GameStop 1,000 feet away in some shopping center I didn’t even know existed. I look at my watch: 8:53 p.m.

January 16, 2008, 8:57p.m.

My apologies to that poor woman I shoved into the Christmas glassware clearance rack in the department store, though I did say “excuse me, giant woman” three times.

By some miracle of God and perhaps running some stop signs nobody really uses anyway, I’m at the other GameStop three minutes before closing. They have the Wii. I whip out my credit card, gladly willing to pay the $262.49—$249.99 plus $12.50 for our 5% Maryland sales tax.

“$264.99,” says the clerk.

“Huh? Shouldn’t it be $12.50 sales tax?”

And that’s when I remember that we’re now a 6% sales tax state. Maryland is charging me $2.50 more for this Wii today than it would have last month.

I swipe my credit card and leave with the Wii. On the way home, I try to figure out how to do $2.50 worth of damage to state property, but it’s late and I just want to play some Barbie’s Great Adventure before bed.

Next Time: Desperation

Monday, January 28, 2008

How to Buy Four Nintendo Wii Systems In Just Four Weeks, Part 1

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

this wii is mine, line starts over there

Photo by Random J

Ah, the Nintendo Wii—quite possibly the greatest invention God ever told Japan to make. If you’re one of the unlucky fools whose child put this on his or her Christmas list last year, then you may have your own horror story of hunting down one of these marvelous machines. You see, because Nintendo insists on making each unit by hand, meticulously crafting each transistor and microchip, they are only able to produce one Wii each day, five days a week. Because of this, only five million Wii systems have been produced to date, while approximately five trillion people want one. (In case my fictitious math is off, please assume that Nintendo also has access to a time machine.)

A number of internet entrepreneurs (French for “get rich quick scammers”) have made a pretty penny reselling the Wii, snapping it up at the retail price of $250 and offloading it on eBay or Craigslist for upwards of $1,000. A recent survey of Wii owners revealed that, in 2007, only 34 people actually purchased a Wii to play it; the rest simply bought one to resell it at a high price.

Despite the fact that the Wii was released over a year ago, there appears to be no end in sight for the Wii drought. Indeed, January 2008 has seen the worst of the shortage, even worse than the week before Christmas 2007. Many unfortunate upper-middle-class children found no Wii under their trees this past holiday season, and many parents who promised “you’ll get it in January” will end up being made liars.

When a DC-area anime convention for which I volunteer my time asked if I could help them find four Wii systems at retail price in just four weeks, I responded with a very emphatic “maybe!” With a deadline of January 31st, I set out on my perilous journey. Here is a log of my voyage… a voyage of untold agony, unexpected surprises, and plenty of scantily-clad bikini models.

January 5, 2008

Day One. My mission is simple, in theory: procure four Wii systems at retail price in 26 days. That’s, like, one Wii every 6.5 days. Surely I can find one Wii a week, right?

January 6, 2008, 2 a.m.

I’m sitting in front of a Best Buy in 18-degree weather. Rumor on the street is that they’ll be getting a shipment of 10-20 Wii systems today. Like at most stores, Best Buy is limiting Wii sales to one per person, so my wife graciously volunteered to come with me so we can knock out two Wii systems with one visit. No one else is in line yet, so our chances are looking pretty good.

January 6, 2008, 5:30a.m.

A homeless man came by and offered us some blankets and coffee. I called him a bum and threw a shoe at him; he ran away with my shoe. I… don’t think he’s coming back. Could really use those blankets right about now. The bank across the street has an electronic sign that displays the current temperature: 12 degrees, but I can open a new 5% CD today.

January 6, 2008, 7:15a.m.

I lost my wife a few minutes ago. She was a brave woman, but her fragile body just couldn’t survive in the harshness of a Maryland winter. She will be sorely missed.

January 6, 2008, 7:45a.m.

Found her. She was sitting in the car. Not sure why I didn’t think of doing that.

January 6, 2008, 7:55a.m.

No sooner did I embrace the relative warmth and security of my automobile than 23 people materialized in front of the Best Buy. Back to the line I go! Yes wife, you’re coming too.

January 6, 2008, 10:55a.m.

This is it! In five short minutes, those doors will open, and I shall meet my desti-Wii! Yes, seven hours in the cold and that’s the best Wii pun I could think of.

January 6, 2008, 11:30a.m.

Back home now, Wii-less. Turns out that store wasn’t getting any units, and everyone else was standing in line for the hottest DVD of the year: The Land Before Time 23: Find Out How We Worked Dinosaurs Into 15th Century England For Just $24.99.

Next Time: Taking the Search to the Interwebs

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Much More Awesome Economic Stimulus Plan

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

...right in your economy

I can hear the poor people partying in the streets over the announcement of an economic stimulus package which will include hefty tax rebates for low-income folks—both the genuine kind of poor people and the “I only have a 56-inch HDTV and 600 satellite channels” kind. Under the plan, various people making under $75,000 (or under $150,000 for couples) will get back anywhere from $300 to $1,200 in the form of a tax rebate. “Tax rebate” is a nice way of saying “the government is going to cut you a check so you stop complaining about how bad the economy is.”

Unfortunately, the wizard of economic analysis that I am, I have determined that this economic stimulus plan will not help ward off the looming recession for three very subtle yet painfully obvious reasons:

  1. Writing checks to stupid people is stupid. I promise you that 90% of the money issued by this tax rebate plan will go straight to drugs, booze, and hookers. And that’s just my share!
  2. $300 cash isn’t going to help anyone. Most people who get their check will blow through that money in 24 hours or less. Yes, the purpose of the rebate is to encourage spending. But really, how much spending can you do with $300? One iPod, maybe some Pokémon cards. That’s it.
  3. It includes too many not-so-poor people. In some parts of the country, a couple making $150,000 a year is considered filthy rich. The folks on the richer end of the rebate spectrum will likely put their money into savings or use it to pay down debts—something that’s not going to do anything for an economy that needs more consumer spending.

I spoke to President Bush about this earlier and offered some alternatives to this plan, but he wasn’t able to respond because I was talking to a TV broadcast of him. Despite that, I think I got my point across when I suggested one of the following options as a substitute for this economic stimulus package which is destined to miss its mark. I’ll share my alternatives with you now so you can judge for yourself.

Ten Much Better Ways to Stimulate the Economy

  1. Send all $150 billion of the package to me. I will use that money to buy every household in America a George Foreman grill and the thickest, juiciest steaks that $1.99/pound can buy.
  2. Cut out the rich folks. Save the tax rebates for the five or ten percent poorest people in the country. They are much more likely to re-inject it into the ailing economy with spending on things they don’t need like expensive jewelry, designer jeans, and fancy cars (Chevy Aveos for all!)
  3. Send gift cards instead. Give everyone a $300 Target gift card. They’d kill two birds with one stone—consumer spending would soar, and Wal-Mart would be driven out of business.
  4. Put on the biggest party in history. Use the money to host an annual Economic Stimulus Party that spans every city in America. It’ll make Times Square on New Years Eve look like your child’s third birthday party.
  5. Fund “Take a Penny, Leave a Penny” containers around the country. I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually seen a penny in one of these things. How about sticking a Benjamin in each one and renaming it to “Take a Hundred, Leave a Hundred?”
  6. Start another war. These seem to be great for our country. How about we go after a country we could actually use for once, like Sweden. Then we could import all those hot Swedish women into the U.S. and help make our country look pretty again.
  7. Instead of spending it on Americans, spend it on Iraqis. I think we could make Iraq a very peaceful country just by dumping a few plane-loads of cash all over it. Most insurgents are probably just angry because they can’t afford a nice pair of shoes. That money might help turn them from following a religion of hatred and violence to one of material goods and wealth, just like us!
  8. Subsidize the rising price of milk. People getting stingy with their money and grumpy in general because they’re not getting enough calcium. Fear of brittle bones and rotting teeth are driving people to stash their cash or spend it on cheaper drinks like bottled water and beer. Milk, it does an economy good!
  9. A Nintendo Wii for every household. I don’t know why; I don’t know how; I just know that doing this would turn the economy around instantly. Or it might cripple it irreversibly as people stay home and play videogames all the time. There’s only one way to find out for sure!
  10. Pay the Hollywood writers to get back to work. If I don’t get some new episodes of Heroes and How I Met Your Mother soon, I’m going to stop spending money out of spite.

Of course it’s likely that none of my clearly superior economic stimulus options will be exercised, but I’m still looking forward to spending my $300 to help rejuvenate the economy. Though I can’t help but think that $300 worth of beef jerky might not be the best thing for me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fed Cuts Rate By 0.75%! What This Means For You, And Whether You Should Be Hiding Under Your Desk Right Now

Author: Nick
Category: Money

warning, this economic news may not be suitable for children

Breaking News! Warning! Attention! Emergency Alert Notification!

Hopefully you’re reading this now, because what I’m about to say will have a profound impact on your life for the next 2-3 minutes. Are you ready? Okay, here it goes.

The Fed—a.k.a. Kevin Federline—announced today that it would drop its key overnight lending rate by 75 basis points, from 4.25% to some smaller number, possibly 3.14159. While the Fed has been known to raise and lower rates in the past, this latest rate change came as a total shock to the entire world for three very important reasons:

  1. It was on their day off. The Fed only works about six days a year, and then only for 30 minutes each day. The rest of the time, it plays pool in the basement of the Treasury building and debates whether or not a 3-dollar bill should be created so that Bill Clinton can finally be immortalized on our nation’s currency.
  2. It was a lot of basis points. Usually the Fed only changes the rate by 25 or 50 basis points. This is the first time it has been dropped by 75 basis points since 1982. The drastic drop was seen as a necessary step to prevent inflation, recession, and chunky thighs.
  3. The announcement was made during Judge Judy. While the early timing of the announcement was seen as required in order to prevent U.S. markets from responding to severe drops in foreign markets overnight, the Fed has apologized for making it during everyone’s favorite court show. It has promised to keep all future announcements restricted to the hours between the crazy Texas judge show and the angry Hispanic lady judge show.

Recent fears of recession were the primary fuel for the Fed’s rate-cutting fire. Other reasons for the cut included worries about rising consumer prices and a disappointing return when the Fed Googled itself and saw that it hadn’t been in the news much recently.

While the sharp rate drop has many people still worried that the economy has entered a tailspin, these people are the types who get all of their financial news from humorous personal finance websites, so they’ll believe anything anyone tells them. Well I’m here to tell you that you have nothing to worry about because the economy is indeed collapsing around you at this very moment.

Oh, I’m sorry, I meant to say everything to worry about. Specifically, you should be worried about these ominous bullet points:

  • Your 401(k) is in the toilet right now. This morning, you had about $50,000 in your retirement funds. Right now, that should be down to about $2.99. Go buy yourself a nice lottery number prediction book from the supermarket checkout, because that’s your only hope of retiring right now.
  • The major U.S. trade partners are hurting. Markets in Europe and Asia are bleeding profusely. Japan in particular is seeing its economy faltering. Most importantly, this means your chances of finding a Nintendo Wii on store shelves before August 2009 are now almost non-existent. But at least we’re taking the rest of the world down with us!
  • Jobs may take a hit. Interestingly enough, when businesses aren’t making a lot of money, they tend not to be able to pay their employees as much. If you’re at work right now, take a look at the person to your left and the person to your right. Odds are high that one of them is on the phone right now getting you fired for browsing the internet at work.
  • Food prices will continue to skyrocket. If you think $3.50 for a gallon of 2% milk is expensive, soon you could be paying $10 a gallon for 0% milk—that is, an empty plastic jug. Talks of a strike in the Cow Union will only exacerbate this situation.
  • The housing slump may soon be over. It seems the Federal government is doing everything possible to ensure housing prices remain at their miraculously high levels. This means your dreams of moving out of that cardboard box you call an apartment may just slip through your grasp as the two-bedroom starter home down the street that the original owner bought in 1995 for $50,000 goes on the market for $1.3 million.

Worry not, Punny Moneyans. Uncle Nick will take you under his wing in these troubling times and provide you with the financial guidance you need to weather the economic storm. Tune in next time when I’ll show you how to turn those worthless dollar bills in your pocket into delightful table centerpieces.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Punny Poll #29: When Will You File Your Taxes?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

paying someone to do your taxes is like paying someone to bulldoze all those annoying pennies that flooded your front yard

Last Punny Poll put your English skills to the test as you were asked to pronounce the word “Punny.” I’m certainly glad only 1% of you pronounce it the French way (POO-nay), and I’m happier still that only 4% say it PYOO-nee when there’s nothing small about the awesomeness of this website. But only 42% of you managed to correctly pronounce Punny as a word that rhymes with money, bunny, and chunny. What’s a “chunny?” you ask. You’re in no position to be questioning my word selection when you are statistically likely to be one of the 53% of people who said that Punny sounds like “SUI-SEI-SEKI.” Hopefully your math skills are better than your language abilities, because you’re going to need them for the subject of the next Punny Poll.

Now that we’re three weeks into 2008, you should be receiving most of the documentation from your employers, banks, and other sources needed to complete your Federal and state tax returns. But if you’re like most Americans, just because you can do your taxes now doesn’t mean you will. In fact, it definitely means you won’t.

Hopefully your procrastination is worth the price you’re paying. If you’re expecting a refund of $1,000 this year, you are giving away somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 cents in interest each day you wait to file. Of course, plenty of you will likely owe money this year, so your reasons for delaying your tax trauma may make slightly more sense.

This year, I plan to have my taxes filed by February 15th, so they should actually be filed by March 9th based on an analysis of my previous years of tax return attempts. What say you? Will you join me on the boat of procrastination this year, or will you sail off into the sunset of… uh, taxes being done?

When will you file your Federal tax return this year?

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