Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How Krispy Kreme and Starbucks Gave Obama The Election (With Bonus Freebie Quest!)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 66 - ballot questions

Bear with me for a second while I spout some nonsensical conspiracy theories.

As most of you already knew from reading so-called “reputable news sites,” Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and various other retailers gave away freebies on Election Day to people bearing “I Voted” stickers. You might think such a move is a generous or perhaps foolish offer on the part of these companies, but in reality they’ll more than make up the loss from people who show up only for the freebie but end up purchasing something to go with it. However, these companies may have a more sinister agenda hidden deep in these promotions.

Think about it for a second. Who is most likely to take up Starbucks on the offer of a free cup of coffee? Rich people making more than $250,000 a year? No! It’s us retarded members of the lower and middle class who think that a $1.50 cup of coffee or an 89-cent doughnut is worth waiting in line for 20 minutes to get for free. And despite the fact that voting should be our proud patriotic duty, I’m sure there are a good number of folks who had no intention of voting until all of these freebie offers started popping up in the last week. Thus, thanks to companies like Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, there are more members of non-wealthy classes voting this election.

And while I won’t say something as scandalous as “Poorer, freebie-snatching people will tend to vote for Barack Obama,” I will say that there’s a small possibility that these promotions helped shape the course of history this election. At the very least, they helped make Election Day a little tastier.

I will gladly admit to partaking in as many Election Day freebies as was geographically possible, including stops to more than one Starbucks (even though I rarely drink coffee), and trips to Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerry’s, and Chick-Fil-A. In the end, I spent over 2 hours driving and in line and used a gallon of $2.50 gasoline to net about $5 worth of free food and beverage. It was a horrible time investment unless you consider that I feel it’s my patriotic duty to screw big businesses out of profits however possible. After all, it’s the American way, or something.

Not satisfied with my haul of two coffees, a cup of ice cream, a doughnut, and a chicken sandwich, I decided to see if any other businesses not actively advertising Election Day giveaways would nonetheless give me something for free. Thus, I spent an extra two hours on Election Day visiting various shops, going up to the front counter and simply saying, “I voted. Will you give me something for free?” Proudly displaying my “I Voted! Yo Voté!” sticker, here’s what happened at the 20 places I visited on Election Day requesting unadvertised freebies.

  • The employees at Bloom, a local supermarket chain, looked at me a little funny, suggested I go to the Starbucks down the street or down Aisle 1 for a free sample of cheese, but didn’t give me anything else.
  • The Fantastic Sams hair salon just said they didn’t have any Election Day offers. They also pointed out that I don’t have enough hair to warrant a hair cut anyway.
  • Aardvark Swim and Sport didn’t offer any freebies, but there was a hot lady there about to try on a swimsuit. I considered hanging around to help her decide if it was right for her, but I wouldn’t let myself be distracted from my mission!
  • Dunkin Donuts didn’t match Starbuck’s free coffee offer or Krispy Kreme’s free doughnut offer. It was pretty busy at the time, so I left without much fuss.
  • Blockbuster Video gave me a coupon for a free rental! I was the only person at the checkout counter at the time, and the cashier slipped it to me quietly, probably so that I would just go away. Too bad I don’t have a Blockbuster membership. I gave the coupon to my co-worker so he can rent all his favorite Hannah Montana episodes.
  • Classic Beer & Wine gave me nothing. I was really sad. I bought a beer and drank it in the parking lot as I cried.
  • And to local readers who recognize what shopping center I was in up to this point, yes, I hit the Forbidden Fruit adult goods shop. I’m sort of glad they turned down my request for freebies.
  • Down the road a bit, those crazy folks at FedEx/Kinko’s offered me a free color photocopy! I asked if I could photocopy the doughnut I had just gotten from Krispy Kreme. They said no. P.S. The girl behind the counter was really hot.
  • GameStop countered my request for a freebie with an offer to reserve the latest Guitar Hero title for just five dollars down. I countered with playing their Nintendo Wii demo station for free for ten minutes.
  • Panera Bread pointed me to some free samples they normally offer. I asked for an entire loaf of bread for free. The cashier joked that even Obama and McCain wouldn’t get a freebie like that. I replied, “Oh, so Panera Bread supports third-party candidates. Good for you!” and left.
  • Palm Beach Tan gave me nothing and tried to sell me a $300 tanning package. I jokingly replied, “What, I’m not dark-skinned enough for you?” The black saleslady didn’t really like that comment.
  • Wing Stop gave me one free French fry. “Times are tough,” the chef commented. I thanked him kindly.
  • The hostess at Cheeburger Cheeburger offered to buy me a free ice cream soda if I could name all five members of the Rockville City Council but said I’d have to buy her one if I was wrong. Apparently “John Britton, those three old ladies, and the crazy guy with the funny name” wasn’t good enough for her. I didn’t feel bad because three other people in line behind me couldn’t name them either.
  • Chipotle, which is usually pretty good about giving free stuff away once in a while, gave me nothing. I suspect things would have been a little different if this were the Mexican presidential election…
  • Long & Foster offered to provide me with a free market competitiveness thingy that included an approximate idea of the value of my home. Not wanting to know exactly how much value my house has lost since I bought it in 2006, I said thanks but no thanks.
  • Krispy Kreme reminded me that I had just gotten a free doughnut from them 10 minutes earlier. I asked if I could get another free doughnut if I voted again. They said no.
  • TownHouse Furniture indicated that they didn’t sell anything worth less than $50 in the whole store, but they said they’d throw in a free cup of coffee if I bought a thousand-dollar couch. I declined their offer.
  • Art and Framing Depot offered 15% off a custom framing job! I asked if they had a frame small enough for my “I Voted!” sticker. They said yes but added that it would be a special offer and quoted me $72 for it. I passed.
  • While I was hoping Bank of America would slip me a few Benjamins, they instead offered to set me up with a “free checking account.” When I said that I already had one, they pointed me to a dish of candy. I took eight pieces and left.
  • And finally, the employee cafeteria where I work offered me nothing. The chef said he hoped I voted for Obama.

Please note that I didn’t expect that any of these places would actually give me freebies since they didn’t advertise any, so the fact that most of them refused is perfectly within their rights—and it’s probably for the best as giving one person something for free would have meant having to give something for free at least to everyone else in the store at the time. In fact, those few places that actually did give me something for free, while they could be commended for their excellent customer service, probably shouldn’t have.

So my thanks go to Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerry’s, Chik-Fil-A, and the rest for helping me fill my belly on Election Day. And congratulations to Barack Obama for actually wanting to clean up the horrendous mess made by the current administration; you’re a much braver man than I.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Best and Worst Times to Go Grocery Shopping, Proven By Science

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 55 - 10 items or less

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve been conducting an informal study on when the best time is to go grocery shopping. The purpose of this study was to determine exactly when one should go grocery shopping in order to obtain the best combination of fresh produce, smaller crowds, fast service, and cheaper prices.

In order to make this a genuine, science-y study, we decided to make the comparisons between shopping trips as standardized as possible. So for each time period, our crack team of scientists (i.e. they were on crack at the time) went to a series of grocery stores and purchased the same five items at each location:

  1. A gallon of milk
  2. A loaf of bread
  3. A roll of toilet paper
  4. Five red delicious apples
  5. The trashiest news tabloid available

Today, the Punny Money Analytical Institute of Lasers and Mathematics is proud to announce the results of this study. Here is a sample of the results broken down by time of experiment.

Tuesday at 6pm

Tuesday at 6pm was determined to be the worst possible time to enter a grocery store due to a variety of factors. Tuesday evening appeared to be a popular time for homemakers to give cooking dinner from scratch the one-finger salute and instead opt for a trip to the nearby grocery store’s hot food bar.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, our scientists discovered that parking spaces were a rarity—scooped up by rabid soccer moms and agitated businessmen within 2/10ths of a second of becoming available. Three scientists and one Nissan Sentra received minor injuries on one trip during this testing period.

Inside the store was no better; check-out lines often extended back into the shopping aisles, making it difficult to locate and obtain the toilet paper and magazine. However, most fresh items were still relatively fresh, and dishes at the hot food bar were being continuously replenished.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 24 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $15.37
Average Product Quality: Fairly good, though most news tabloids were previously leafed through by customers waiting in long lines.
Pros: Hot foods were freshly made. Several dinnertime meal specials were available.
Cons: That bitch who had 14 items in the 10-item-or-less lane. Who does she think she is?

Thursday at 2pm

Most grocery stores were discovered to be eerily empty at 2pm on any given weekday other than Friday. Our scientists determined that this may be due to people who have real jobs (unlike grocery store scientists) typically are at work at 2pm on a weekday afternoon. The only exception to this rule proved to be people who work at grocery stores, as not only were the stores devoid of most customers, but it was pretty damn hard to find more than one employee in the whole place. This resulted in seven times the normal wait for assistance in locating hard-to-find items.

In some instances, as few as half a dozen customers in a store at 2pm proved to be overwhelming to the lonesome store clerk, sometimes resulting in multiple customers being queued in the only open checkout line for 15 minutes or longer. The typical customer shopping at this time was an 80-year-old woman doing her shopping for the next 5 years and paying by personal check.

At the same time, shopping aisles were easy to navigate, and most fresh items were still fresh from being stocked earlier in the morning. If anything, selecting the trashiest tabloid available was difficult because many new ones had just arrived at the stores only hours earlier.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 26 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.08
Average Product Quality: Decent, though that one old lady must have molested every apple on the stand before deciding to get oranges instead.
Pros: Empty store. Great time and place to have a laser tag fight if you could manage it.
Cons: Most of the store staff was likely in the back room watching soap operas.

Friday at 1am

Just 11 hours after the Thursday afternoon shopping excursion proved enough to produce an entirely different shopping experience. Of the grocery stores involved in this experiment, only two were open this late (24 hours a day, in both cases), so the results only take into account averages from those two stores.

Weekday late-nights proved to be just as futile a venture for those requiring customer assistance as shopping on a weekday afternoon but for entirely different reasons. That’s because late-night grocery stores are typically manned by stoned teenagers. In fact, in one instance, our grocery scientists determined that they could have walked out of the store without paying even after loudly announcing “I am stealing all of the items in my cart” within three feet of several checkout clerks, all of whom were busy gazing pensively into the lasers of their checkout scanners.

There was no such item as “fresh” food at 1am on a weekday night. After all, most stores restock later on in the morning, so pretty much everything had been sitting out for at least 20 hours at that point. Most produce shelves were bare, save for a handful of midget unripened bananas and bruised apples. The only available milk gallons typically expired within the next 3-6 days instead of the usual 10-12 days. And for some inexplicable reason, the toilet paper just wasn’t as soft as it is during the day. For this reason, several more marked-down items were usually available.

Fortunately the shopping aisles were all but deserted, and the stoned teenagers had some sort of pre-programmed, almost robotic ability to scan items twice as fast as normal.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 10 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.97 (or zero, if they’d gone through with it)
Average Product Quality: Miserable. The oranges were, in fact, browns.
Pros: A lightning-fast shopping experience.
Cons: Produce you wouldn’t feed a hobo. Plus, it’s one in the freaking morning and everyone else with any sense is in bed.

Saturday at Noon

This is not the time you want to go grocery shopping for five measly items, our scientists determined. In addition to the normal crowds of weekday evenings, most parents also bring their school-aged children along, and most of these children would have rather been in school than being dragged around looking at candies and toys their parents won’t buy for them.

Checkout lines were always horribly long because the typical customer on a Saturday afternoon is there to buy most of the next week’s groceries. Navigating shopping aisles was like tip-toeing through a mine field of screaming children and other once-a-week shoppers.

Item freshness varied, as some produce appeared to have been restocked that morning while many others would likely sit there unreplenished until Monday morning. Specialty departments, such as Meats or the Bakery, were unmanned. Most of the tabloid magazines were starting to look raggedy.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 27 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.52
Average Product Quality: Varied from good to awful.
Pros: Uh… none really.
Cons: There are a million better things you could be doing with your Saturday afternoon. Everyone’s children misbehave more than your own, especially in grocery stores.

Wednesday at 8am

Bingo. The grocery shopping jackpot.

Specifically Wednesday morning, more than any other weekday morning, proved to be the optimal grocery shopping time. Parking, shopping, and checking out all proved to be quick and simple. Grocery store staff were rested, friendly, and helpful. Most fresh items had been restocked in the previous few hours and were still at their freshest.

Perhaps another point worth noting is that most of the grocery stores examined started their new promotion week on Wednesday, so hitting the store on a Wednesday morning provided the best opportunity to stock up on sale items before they started disappearing from store shelves.

On occasion, the express checkout lanes would fill with people purchasing just one or two items—typically store-brewed coffee and a lunch item for later that day. In these instances, a person with five or more items was sometimes served quicker stepping into a standard checkout lane.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 11 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.12
Average Product Quality: Freshest and best.
Pros: Super-fast shopping time, and items as fresh as can be.
Cons: Most people leave for work at 8am, so this might not be the best time to go shopping for you.

Our scientists also made another shocking discovery during the course of their investigation. According to several of the grocery store tabloids they purchased, Bigfoot seems to have secretly married Keira Knightley in a wedding ceremony atop the Empire State Building. Stay tuned for more developments in this breaking story, just as soon as our scientists get back from the store.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

All The Free Magazines You Could Ever Want Without Having to Rob a Liquor Store

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

If it seems like I’m not popping up in your daily reading list as often this week, I do apologize. You see, I’ve simultaneously caught every virus and bacteria known to man which is making it slightly difficult to hold a pen for drawing comics, type on a keyboard to write articles, and resist the urge to rip out my own lungs and beat them with a shovel. Happy times!

So in the meantime, join me in enjoying a website which has entertained me for the last 24 hours or so with tons of free electronic versions of your favorite print magazines. The website is called Mygazines, a clever play on the words “magazine” and “gay,” I think. At this website, you’ll find lots of current magazine issues including popular ones like Money, Smart Money, Even Smarter Money, and Naughty Neighbors. Yes, that’s right, financial and pornographic magazines, all in one place, all for free. No need to thank me.

Tune in for more Punny Money programming just as soon as these 73 prescription drugs start kicking in…

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Fake Pregnancy So You Can Get Free Ice Cream on May 21st

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 26 - free ice cream

You people probably think I’ve really lost it this time. But it’s true! Baskin Robbins is giving away free ice cream to expectant women on May 21, 2008. Between 11am and 10pm, customers in select cities can pop by their BR for a free three-ounce soft serve cup or cone—but only if you’re preggers!

Now if you’re like me, you like free things. And if you’re like my wife, you like ice cream. So when Baskin Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s both had free or cheap ice cream events a couple of weeks ago, we didn’t hesitate to stand in line with a bunch of other cheap bastards to get some of that frozen milk stuff. This time, however, it’ll be much harder to claim our prize. That’s because my wife is not pregnant.

I don’t know about you, but I think this promotion is a little too sexist. For one, it excludes a really swell bunch of folks known as men. Plus it rewards rampant baby-making and overpopulation. Worst of all, it excludes the portion of the population most deserving of ice cream: adorable little girls. I can imagine poor seven-year-old Katie crying to her mom that Baskin Robbins wouldn’t give her free ice cream unless she had sex with a man and got knocked up. Also, unless they can finally figure out how to make their own sperm, lesbians are SOL on this deal too.

Notice that I said it will be much harder to claim our prize, not impossible. No no, I’m not going to impregnate my wife just to get her some free ice cream. (Try explaining that one to your future child. “You weren’t an accident, sweetie. You were a coupon!”) Because this promotion is so dastardly and devious, I feel it is my civic duty to find a way to take advantage of it! And if you’re like me and your wife won’t let you near her until this promotion is over is not with child, here are some tricks you can use to fool the folks behind the Baskin Robbins counter into thinking you’ve got a bun in your oven. (Note: All of these tips work best if you’re a woman.)

  • Bump it up. BR is calling it “Bump Day” for a reason: you’ll need one on your belly to cash in on this deal. If you’re already fat in the right places, you should be able to pull this step off easily. If not, there are a variety of bump simulation devices (BSDs) available on the market today. Rolled-up t-shirts, zip-lock bags full of pudding, and hot water bottles are just a few items you can use to pull off the necessary look.
  • Act pregnant. When you walk into Baskin Robbins, you should do all of the things a woman normally does when she is toting around a baby in her uterus. For instance, if you bring the baby’s “father” along, you can cuss him out for “making you that way.” Or you can ask the person behind the ice cream counter if you can get that order with a side of pickles and hot dogs.
  • Get your glow on. You know how pregnant women have a sort of “glow” about them? Yeah, you can fake the glow pretty easily with various lotions and other things you probably have in your make-up box right now.
  • Provide photographic evidence. A picture from “your recent ultrasound” (oh hey, what a coincidence: a Google image search for “ultrasound”) should be enough to prove that you’re with child, even if it doesn’t show yet.
  • Bring a pregnancy test. If you’re not pregnant, it’s going to be very difficult to pass one of those over-the-counter do-it-yourself pee-on-a-stick tests, even if it’s for free ice cream. So get one of your pregnant gal pals to help you cheat by taking the test herself. Then bring the pre-completed test to your nearest Baskin Robbins, wave it around in the cashier’s face (it’ll be more convincing if it’s really dripping wet), and claim your prize.
  • Break water. Step 1: Strap a plastic bag full of water to your upper thigh under a dress. Step 2: Go to Baskin Robbins. Step 3: Puncture the bag. Step 4: Scream, “My water just broke! Give me my ice cream so I can go to the hospital!” They’ll probably give you one of those 10-gallon buckets just to get you out the door.
  • Just lie. If you’re not interested in any of the above ideas, you could just lie and say you’re pregnant. After all, pregnancy doesn’t really show until a few months in anyway. Of course, if they start equipping Baskin Robbins with ultrasounds, you might be in trouble.
  • Free ice cream for sluts, too. Even if you don’t look or act pregnant, you might still be able to get your free ice cream simply by asking for it, especially if you dress like a whore. If the employees ask if you’re pregnant, simply wink and reply, “Why, are you offering?”

Fair warning: if you try to con your way into some free ice cream with a phony bump and you end up getting pregnant shortly after, you totally had it coming. That said, you might want to avoid Baskin Robbins’ experimental new flavor that it’s offering only during this event: Vanilla Sperm Explosion.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Five Stages of a Product’s Life: Saving You Money on Replacing Expensive Household Items

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 22 - product life stages

The end is near for my five-year-old laptop computer. I built this thing myself from parts just before my last semester of college. I’ve replaced just about every part since then at least once except for the casing and screen. Unfortunately I’ve just about reached the end of the line for what upgrades and repairs can do to keep it going. The keyboard is missing several key caps (I pulled off one of the “Ctrl” keys and put it where the “E” was), the power supply jack is wiggly, the memory capacity has been maxed out at 2GB, and the hard-to-reach internal Wi-Fi died long ago. Still, the laptop is capable of performing as well as a laptop you’d pay $800 for today, but it’s only a matter of time until a major component fails or more of the casing starts to fall apart and I’ll replace it altogether. My laptop is at Stage 3: Wait and See.

For a few years now, I’ve used a system of assigning ratings to expensive items I own in order to track where they are in their useful lifespan and make budgetary plans for items I may soon need to replace. For instance, a brand new item at the peak of its performance is in Stage 1: Good As New while that same item that just broke in half and no longer works probably belongs in Stage 5: End of Life (though it might only be in Stage 4: Obsolescence).

What exactly do these ratings mean, and how can they save you money? Let’s look at each rating and consider the circumstances under which you would use each of them.

Stage 1: Good As New

If you just went to the store and bought a product off the shelf, it should fall into this category. And if you properly use and maintain that item, it should stay in this category for a long time to come. Items that are Good As New are in flawless or nearly flawless condition and are as good as or even better than similar items currently on the market. Every feature of the item still performs as well as the day is was built. Good As New is obviously the best category of products to own, but it certainly isn’t the cheapest.

Product Examples:

  • A new car fresh off the dealer’s lot.
  • A refrigerator you just bought new at the appliance store.
  • A refurbished DVD player you bought for $100 less than a brand new model.
  • Your grandmother’s set of cookware, painstakingly maintained and better than anything you can buy on the market today.

Notice that Good As New doesn’t necessarily mean “brand new.” In fact, the age of a product is often irrelevant to its life stage. What matters is the condition. Some items, including many appliances and tools, can be kept in Good As New condition for decades with careful maintenance. (Others, like pretty much any consumer technology product or gadget, can be in perfect condition yet still fall out of Good As New status. More on that later.)

When to Replace: Items in the Good As New stage should almost never be replaced. Instead, money that would have been spent replacing the item can be used to repair and maintain the item to keep it in Good As New condition. If you’re in the habit of replacing items that are Good As New, you might as well take your existing products to the store, give them to the store for free, and then buy the items back from the store. Yes, replacing Good As New items is that dumb.

Less than 1% of new products you buy should be to replace items in the Good As New stage.

Stage 2: In Working Order

You probably think most of the items in your household right now fall into this product life stage. (And you might be right.) Products In Working Order still do the job they were originally tasked to do. They work well, they might be a little old, but there’s something newer or better out there. If you had an infinite supply of time and money, you would throw these items in the trash and buy some Good As New ones instead.

Product Examples:

  • A 12-speed whatchamacallit when they just came out with a 15-speed.
  • A fairly-equipped five-year-old car with no mechanical problems.
  • A basic toaster that still toasts toast.
  • Any functioning iPod that’s more than six months old.

Even without much maintenance or care, many products will stay in the In Working Order stage virtually forever. Unless something malfunctions or degrades due to wear and tear, that basic two-slice toaster could very well toast your great-grandchildren’s toast. Don’t try to tell them that though, because they’ll be using their 30-slice laser toaster while you’re still using Old Toasty.

When to Replace: If a product in your house is In Working Order, you should try to hold off replacing it for as long as possible. The toaster still toasts your bread like it did when you got it ten years ago; it just doesn’t toast the face of your child’s favorite Sesame Street characters into it like some of the new ones do. Or maybe it toasts 99 slices out of 100 properly, but it turns that unlucky one slice into charcoal. Instead of replacing In Working Order items with Good As New ones, you may be able to repair it or even enhance it with replacement parts (like I’ve done with my laptop).

Sometimes, though, it does make sense to replace In Working Items simply because newer versions with useful features or lower maintenance and operation costs exist. Since the current item is still doing the job, you should take your time to research newer versions and wait for a really good deal to come along. But only 5% of products you buy should be to replace items In Working Order.

Stage 3: Wait and See

Items that fall in the Wait and See stage of life are still quite useful and typically in fairly good condition, but they may have some problems or may be moderately out-of-date. You may be able to hold out for some time with an item that is Wait and See, but there are certainly a growing number of advantages to finding a replacement in Good As New or In Working Order condition.

Product Examples:

  • My good old 1991 Nissan Sentra.
  • A low-efficiency but working furnace that still keeps you warm during the winter.
  • VHS tapes, or any other entertainment medium for which players are becoming rarer.
  • My cell phone; it calls people and that’s about it.

Hanging on to items that are just Wait and See can sometimes be painful. Your neighbor certainly isn’t helping when he brings home a 10-speaker surround-sound entertainment system while you’re still watching TV on your 19-inch Sorny-brand tube.

When to Replace: Wait and See items belong on your Christmas list, even if Christmas isn’t for another six months. That said, you may want to replace the item yourself, especially if a newer item comes with great features that’ll save you time or money. But before you zip on down to the nearest big-box store, you’ll need to do your homework. Can your current product be repaired at a reasonable cost? (And if so, is there a good chance it will break again before long?) If repairs are out of the question, shop in-store and online for a replacement, comparing a variety of items and feature sets. Since your current item is still doing (most of) its job, you can afford to take your time here. Once you’ve found the right replacement product, consider selling the old one on your favorite internet market place or at a yard sale to help recoup some of the cost of your new purchase.

No more than 15% of products you buy should be to replace items at the Wait and See stage.

Stage 4: Obsolescence

You probably don’t have too many items in this category lying around the house; if you do, they’re probably gathering dust in the attic and you may have a bit of a pack-rat problem. Items in the Obsolescence stage suffer either from moderate to major mechanical failures that would be expensive to repair, very high maintenance or operation costs compared to newer versions, or incredibly outdated feature sets. Even if they still perform some of their original functions, you’re almost embarrassed to still own these products.

Product Examples:

  • The car you spend $4,000 to repair every year. And there goes the transmission…
  • Your desktop computer that can run Windows 98. Barely.
  • A two-slice toaster that only toasts one slice at a time, and it takes 15 minutes to do it.
  • Your 30-year-old vacuum that still sucks up 99% of dirt in your carpet… and redeposits 40% of it on your hardwood floors.

When to Replace: The typical item that has reached the Obsolescence stage in your average American household will get replaced inside of a week. That’s not always a bad thing, but it does mean that most people don’t shop around first for a good deal. Just because your washer and dryer are on their last legs doesn’t mean you have to replace them today. You might be able to bum a couple of loads off of neighbors, or you could always hit up your friendly local laundrymatista. For entertainment or convenience products, you may be able to wait quite a while for a bargain price to come along before pulling the trigger.

Still, you may not be in a position to wait months or even weeks to replace items you use frequently such as major appliances, automobiles, or computers. As usual, consider the repair cost and frequency before dropping a wad of cash for a Good As New replacement. If fixing the product isn’t possible and its days are numbered, start frequenting internet deal sites, keeping a close eye out for prices that are “good enough.” You might not be able to score the deal of the year based on your timetable, but you don’t need to settle for the first new item you see.

30-50% of products you buy should be to replace items at the Obsolescence stage.

Stage 5: End of Life

It’s over. Finito. Kaput. Your product has gone to that great junkyard in the sky. You might as well not even own the item anymore. (It might be cheaper that way for some things, since large appliances can be difficult to haul away.) If it’s a product you absolutely need right now, then you better hit the road (assuming it isn’t your car that bit the bullet) and do some serious shopping. Hopefully you saw the untimely demise of your product coming (i.e. it didn’t just jump from Stage 1 to Stage 5 overnight) so you’re already looking around for a replacement.

Product Examples:

  • The only thing coming out of your toaster toasted is itself.
  • Your car just exploded. A lot.
  • You now have two whole-house heaters: your furnace and your air conditioner.
  • You just burnt dinner, your whole house is smokey, and the smoke detector with the new battery just sat there silently.

When to Replace: As with items in the other stages, consider if repairs are possible and economical. If they’re not, determine your timeline for replacement. Much like items in Obsolescence, End of Life items may not need to be replaced right away if they’re products you don’t use all that often. If your portable MP3 player just played its last tune, you’re certainly not going to die if you wait a week or two for a good deal on a new one unless you have some sort of strange disease where you need to hear music all of the time or else your brain implodes, which you don’t. Even items you think you need to replace today—dishwashers, microwaves, televisions—can probably wait a bit… at least until you have a chance to scour the internet for a baseline of prices.

And if the idea of dropping a ton of money on a Good As New item makes your stomach turn, you could always look for an item In Working Order or Wait and See condition. Some products, like cars and electronics, are easy to find used at a good price and in good shape.

50% or more of products you buy should be to replace items at the End of Life stage.

By keeping your product replacement habits in line with the suggested budget percentages listed in this article, and by taking care of the things you already own, you can help control the natural consumer impulses to buy the newest, biggest, and best items available. And if following this advice means that you end up with a house full of items in Stages 2 to 5, don’t be embarrassed; be proud that you’ve resisted the urge to splurge needlessly.

As for me, I’m still on the lookout for a new laptop, so hopefully no more keyboard letters fall off until I can find one at a dcnt pric. Oh crp.