Monday, March 31, 2008

Why In Blazes Are You People Buying This Crap on Amazon.com?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 7 - online shopping

It’s no secret that I make a few bucks off running Punny Money. Most of it comes through unobtrusive means that nobody really objects to, like advertising and stealing your bank account information. But there is one slightly evil way that many websites, including this one, line their e-pockets with iGold—affiliate marketing.

Webster’s defines affiliate marketing as “scamming silly internet people into buying all sorts of worthless garbage so that you can make a few extra pennies while helping to drive the country into the poorhouse.” It’s really simple to set up, and today I’m going to share the secrets of affiliate marketing with you:

  1. Get a website. There are websites on the internet. They are sort of like carrots in a field; you harvest one, but you add your own spices before you serve it. Unlike carrots, however, orange websites are not very popular.
  2. Sign up for an affiliate marketer thingy. There are a lot of affiliate marketing services around. We’ll talk about one in particular in a minute.
  3. Retire. Congratulations! You just made 50 million dollars with no work.

I may have left out a step and any sense of reality, but you get the picture.

The only affiliate marketing program you’ll find on Punny Money belongs to Amazon.com, seller of virtually anything that can be shipped in little brown packages. Amazon’s affiliate program lets you link to its products catalog, and every time someone makes a purchase from Amazon.com through one of your links, you’ll receive a small commission. For example, if you purchase this $400 needlepoint kit, I’ll make $16. But that $16 of mine comes at a grave price—your $400. Sure, you get a lovely needlepoint kit, but it’s really not lovely at all—it’s $400 you don’t have anymore. Now Amazon has $386, I have $16, and you have a needlepoint kit you’ll work on for a few hours and then throw in the closet.

Amazon also lets you sell its products with fancy 21st-century internet picture links like the one you see on the right for its top-selling Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank. If you had a website and your visitors bought just 25 of these babies, you’d have enough money to buy all sorts of stuff, like a better life for your family or a Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank.

Partly because I don’t want the monetary basis of this website to influence its content, and partly because I feel a bit guilty trying to con random internet people into buying stuff, I don’t really use that many Amazon affiliate links around here. In fact, I’ve only used them two or three times in the last year and about a dozen times total during the entire life of Punny Money. But since lots of visitors to this website arrive here through links to older articles, there are still plenty of people who end up clicking through those rare Amazon affiliate links, and occasionally someone will make a purchase. Sadly, nobody’s ponied up for a Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank, but I’ve referred plenty of other sales for smaller items.

The best thing about Amazon affiliate links is that, even if someone clicks through your link for a Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank and they end up wandering around Amazon.com and buying a $400 needlepoint kit instead, you still get credit. In fact, about 90% of the product sales I’ve referred have been for items to which I’ve never linked. For instance, when I linked to this Toro Electric Leaf Blower/Vac (an item I actually own and love and highly recommend), two people bought the blower/vac, but someone else bought a cordless drill instead because it was featured as a “recommended item” on the same page as the blower/vac.

Remember when I said that 90% of my Amazon.com sales are for items I didn’t suggest myself? No? I just said it in the last paragraph. Are you skimming articles again??? Anyway, since Amazon provides detailed reports on every single item someone purchases from my referral account, I can see just what you crazy people are buying (but don’t worry, I can’t tell who’s buying what). And I have to say, you guys are buying some weird stuff. Here’s just a sample of the wacky crap that people have bought from Amazon.com who visited via Punny Money over the years.

High School Musical 2 (Extended Edition) Not satisfied with the regular, unextended edition of this movie, somebody shelled out 16 bucks to see a bunch of high school kids dance around and sing about serious issues like why Disney is stomping on Walt’s grave with crappy sequel after crappy sequel. I made 96 cents!

Seventh Generation Baby Wipes Refills, Chlorine Free and Unscented, 80-Count Packs (Pack of 12) (960 Wipes) What ever happened to the old days when people would just take their babies out back and hose them down after a diaper change? At least the person who purchased this product is giving some consideration to the environment as it is made only from natural ingredients like Polysorbate 20, tocopherol acetate, and other things with totally natural-sounding names. Now baby will be clean and less toxic than the other children on the playground.

Motomco #33475 Black Rodent Station Great, now I’m an accessory to animal murder, even if it is of the creepy crawly hairy variety. At least I can rest at night knowing that the purchaser got a pretty good deal on this—and I even managed to make 46 cents in the process.

Lg Chocolate Vx8500 Chocolate, Vx9900 Env, Vx8600, Ax8600, Lx150, Vx9400, Vx8700, Ax275, Vx8550, Vx8350, Rumor, Cu575 Trax, Lx160, Lx570 Muziq, Vx5400, Vx8800 Venus, Cu515, CU720 Shine Accessory Bundle Kit- Rapid Car Charger with Ic Chip + USB Data Cable I’m not even sure what this is. From the title, it’s either cell phone accessories, candy, or a hard math problem. Strangely enough, Amazon sells all three.

25 Opera Favorites I guess I shouldn’t say anything bad about opera music or I’ll come off as an uncultured jerk. Still, five bucks would’ve made for a great down payment on a Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank.

Shen Min Advanced Formula for Woman, 60 Tabs Apparently this product features “vital co-factor hair growth nutrients” which is industry code for “easy money from bald people.” Sadly, if my hairline and heredity have their way, I’ll one day be joining the ranks of the shiny-domes; but I’ll be employing a much more practical measure to deal with it—traffic cones hats.

Hopefully my exposé of people’s bizarre Amazon purchases won’t discourage you from shopping there in the future. And if you’re planning to take a stroll over there anytime soon—say, to pick up a Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank with your massive tax refund or rebate—don’t hesitate to do so through one of the many blatant affiliate links scattered throughout this article.

This post sponsored by the Badonkadonk Land Cruiser Tank: the most fun you can have driving around the desert of a foreign planet for under $20,000.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wachovia, My Arch-Nemesis Bank, Offers Very Tempting 5% Plus Bonus Savings Account Deal

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

wachovia is on the prowl for your savings

I haven’t been chasing savings account rates as much as I used to lately, mostly because the bulk of our savings is sitting in a nice 9%+ APY 7-month CD that still has a few months left on it. We have since picked up a few more liquid bucks that have been bouncing back and forth between savings accounts averaging only 4.5% to 5% APY, waiting for the next wild deal to appear.

It looks like Wachovia, my banking arch-nemesis, has decided to issue that deal.

I used to have all of my accounts at Wachovia—checking, savings, CDs, safe deposit boxes. Then I realized they were shafting me with sub-1% interest rates and horrendous customer service, so I jumped ship and took all of my loot with me. Now it seems they’re offering a crazy savings account promotion that may even be too much for this hardcore Wachovia-hater to pass up.

More details are available on this FatWallet discussion and this Bank Deals post, but I will summarize:

  1. Open a Wachovia checking account and the new Way-2-Save savings account. You need both. Existing checking accounts are fine (including their Free Checking option).
  2. The base yield on the Way-2-Save savings account is 5.00% APY.
  3. You get an end-of-year bonus of 5% of your balance, up to $300. (Second- and third-year bonuses are 2%.)
  4. You can’t just deposit money at will into the Way-2-Save savings account. In order to get money into it, you can: (1) deposit up to $100 a month directly, (2) automatically have $1 moved from your attached checking account into the Way-2-Save account for each debit card purchase, online billpay transaction, or other debit deductions.

So say you have 100 qualifying purchases or billpays or other debits on your checking account each year, and you put $100 into the savings each month. That would be $100 x 12 plus $1 x 100, or $1300. The 5% bonus on that would be just $65, but that’s still a very nice bonus. Even if you don’t do any debit transactions or billpays, you’d still get a $60 bonus just doing the maximum $100 monthly transfers. And don’t forget the 5% APY that $100 a month earns, though that rate could change at any time, in theory.

Just how good is this deal? Well, on a scale of 1 to 50 million, I’d give it a 39,194,942, which is pretty good! I deducted 10 points off the top just because it’s Wachovia, but the rest of my deductions are because of Wachovia’s attempt to get you to use your debit card more. As everyone knows, debit cards are evil and should not be used, even for what works out to be a 5-cent bonus on each transaction.

Wachovia does give you one extra option that could allow you to make up to $300 a year just doing the $100-a-month transfers: you can have up to 5 Way-2-Save savings accounts at once, each hooked up to a separate Wachovia checking account. I don’t know what kind of weirdo has five Wachovia checking accounts, but I’m told it’s possible.

The deal officially starts on January 15, 2008, but some people have reported success opening the Way-2-Save account already by calling their local branch and getting transfered to a call center operator who helped them open the account. I might give this a try with one or two checking accounts to put some miscellaneous funds to good use. I’m just hoping I don’t get the customer service runaround from Wachovia as they were so fond of doing to me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Did You Know That CVS Stands for Crazy Values and Sales?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

plus buy one, get everything else in the whole store forever free

If you’re familiar with one of my favorite personal finance writers, My Good Cents, then you know the author is in love with a little drugstore chain called CVS. At least once a week, you’ll see her shopping in her local CVS, loading her shopping basket full of mouthwash, razors, and cough syrup. Does she have some sort of over-the-counter drug addiction? No no, not at all. She’s simply taking advantage of some crazy CVS deals that allow her to purchase a variety of products for super-cheap or even free!

Take a look at one of My Good Cents’ recent CVS deals. For a net total of $3.11, she walked out of CVS with the following booty:

  • 3 Glucerna cereal
  • 5 CVS cough drops
  • 1 Gillette Fusion razor
  • 1 Cover Girl lipstick
  • 3 Febreeze products
  • Some Pringles
  • 1 box of South Beach Diet cereal bars
  • Assorted cookies and Band-aids

Obviously she won’t be feeding a family of four on this stuff; but considering the razor alone retails for approximately $8,000 (stupid rip-off razors that leave my face feeling sooo good), I’d say she got quite a bargain.

Inspired by My Good Cents and in desperate need of 72 AA batteries (but not wanting to pay money for them), I decided to set off on my own journey of savings to CVS. As I was first alerted to by this discussion on FatWallet, CVS is currently offering a $5 coupon on an 8-pack of Energizer AA batteries which are also on sale for $5.29. You might be thinking, “Ooh, 29 cents for batteries. That’s a good deal.” No it isn’t! It’s a sucky deal. As you’ll soon discover, if you don’t walk out of CVS with at least $15 of free merchandise and discounts towards your next purchase, you’re getting ripped off.

My adventure started at the CVS a few blocks from my workplace. I arrived armed with the following coupons that I easily printed from the CVS website:

  • $5 off a pack of Energizer batteries
  • Get one free box of CVS-brand facial tissue (my wife is sick and has been using about 900 tissues a day)
  • $5 off a $15 purchase
  • $2 off a $10 purchase

I pulled into the CVS parking lot and parked near the exit, in case I needed to make a quick escape. A few minutes later, I was in the store, carefully loading batteries and tissue into my hand basket. I was tempted by the cheap candy in a nearby aisle, but it would have cost me money, and I was not about to spend any.

I made my way to the checkout lane and was greeted with a pleasant “next in line please” from the lady behind the photo counter. She cheerfully scanned my Extra Bucks card (the Holy Grail of CVS savings) and my items—three packs of batteries and a box of tissues—and accepted my coupons. My initial total started at about $16. She scanned the first coupon—down to $11. She scanned the next—under $10. She scanned the third—knocking me below $5. She scanned the last one—leaving me at $3 total.

Then I realized I was out of coupons. The horror. The horror!

Oh but I was far from out of coupons. Indeed, the cashier noticed what I hadn’t: $1 off coupons affixed to the front of each battery pack. $3 turned to $2. $2 turned to $1.

I was overjoyed—24 batteries and a box of tissues, absolutely free. But she wasn’t done yet.

“You also get $5 worth of Extra Bucks back that you can use on a future purchase,” said the cashier, handing me a receipt printout proudly proclaiming “$5 off!”

“Thank you very much!” I replied, grabbing my CVS bag filled with goodies.

“Not so fast.”

I looked up at the cashier. My heart dropped into my wallet. That’s it, I thought. I’m going to deal jail.

“And you get these coupons for $4 off a future purchase of $20 or more.” More paper receipts were flung my way. “And this one for $3 off $10.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” I bowed, clutching my bag and slowly making my way to the door.

“Oh, and what’s your favorite number?” asked the cashier.

“Uh, two?”

“Then you also get this free jar of jelly beans. Plus it’s Monday, so you get 12 free Hershey bars and four tubes of toothpaste.”

“Uh, thank you–”

“I’m not finished yet, biotcha! And because you have brown hair, here’s a 1:16 scale replica of the U.S.S. Saratoga, three copies of the DVD Shrek, and 18 dozen eggs.”

“Uhhh. I just want to go home now.”

“You have a home! That means you get this free jug of Vaseline and two tickets to the Ice Capades. Plus this innertube that looks like Hillary Clinton. And since you’ve reached 10 free items, you also get 5,000 homemade chocolate chip cookies, a map to buried treasure, and the deed to this building!”

At this point, I ran to the car with my batteries and tissues, but the cashier was close behind.

“How dare you run before I can give you this free gift certificate for a two-hour Swedish massage.” The cashier leapt onto my car hood and transformed into a vicious monster with fangs for teeth and snakes for ears. “I just want to save you money,” came her blood-curdling voice.

As I put the key in the ignition, she punched through the car windshield. I reached into my CVS bag for something to fight her off. The batteries were ineffective. My only hope was the box of store-brand tissue. As I suspected, they were more than harsh enough to dry out her nose long enough for me to escape. In the end, I got away with my three packs of batteries, box of tissues, and $5 in CVS Extra Bucks for the low low price of zero dollars and one shattered, blood-stained windshield. Fortunately CVS has windshields on sale for $3 and a coupon for $6 off of that.

I repeated the same steps at two other CVS stores in my area and netted the 72 batteries I needed along with two more tissue boxes. All for more than free.

Does this mean I like coupons now? No, I still think they’re usually a waste of time, but I wouldn’t call what CVS offers “coupons.” They’re more like “free gift paper things.”

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kmart Gives Finger to Black Friday, Wants You To Shop Them On Brown Thursday Instead

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

sorry, i did mean to say magellan GPS navigation system

As if the hype around Black Friday wasn’t enough, some retailers are trying to get the jump on their competition by going against the time-honored tradition of the day-after-Thanksgiving human stampedes. As you’ll see on numerous Black Friday websites, this year’s Kmart flyer has been leaked and contains many noteworthy deals:

  • Magellan Maestro 3100 Navigation System – $129.99
  • Several Men’s shirts and fleeces – $9.99 and under
  • Polaroid 8MP Digital Camera – $79.99

The only caveat is that you’ll have to drag yourself into Kmart at 7am on Thanksgiving Day (or “Brown Thursday” as the retailers call it) to snag these items.

Of course, you’re also free to hit up Best Buy and Circuit City the day after for a more traditional Black Friday event. Check out some of the awesome deals they’re offering this year:

  • This space left intentionally blank.

Indeed, BB and CC’s BF offerings are total BS this year. Punny Money is officially awarding the Black Friday 2007 victory to Kmart.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Get FREE $20 Gift Cards For Every $200 Spent at Select Shopping Malls

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

for me? aww, you shouldnt have. oh, you didnt. fine, you SHOULD have

Here’s a deal I’m extremely surprised to see return: at select shopping malls around the U.S., you can show $200 in shopping mall receipts at the information desk and get a free $20 Discover gift card. This deal has been offered for at least the last couple of holiday seasons, and I hopped in on it last year.

You can earn up to five totally free gift cards by redeeming $1,000 worth of shopping mall receipts. Here’s how to get your $100 worth of gift cards in three easy steps.

  1. Spend $1,000 on stuff at participating malls with your Discover card. Feel free to buy something for me since I’m letting you in on this awesome deal. Be sure to hang on to your receipts.
  2. Get thee to the information desk. Some malls call them “customer service desks.” Whatever it’s called, get there with your receipts in hand. (If I recall correctly, you may also need your state-issued ID.)
  3. Show your receipts. The lady behind the desk (yes, it’s always a lady, except when it’s a man, but that never happens) will examine your receipts, log your name in an official-looking binder, stamp your receipts (to prevent multiple redemptions), and give you your five free $20 Discover gift cards. You’ll also get your receipts back.

This deal runs from November 1st through December 31st, or while supplies last.

The reason I was surprised that this deal returned for Fall 2007 is that some people last year included a slightly evil fourth step:

4. Return all the merchandise, keep the gift cards.

Indeed, there’s nothing stopping you from buying $1,000 worth of merchandise at the shopping mall, getting your free gift cards, and then returning your purchases. I’m not going to condone that sort of behavior, but I’ll tell you how to make it really easy to do: purchase a small, expensive electronic (like a super-powered digital camera) from a department store with a friendly return policy. Use a credit card, get your gift cards, and immediately return the item so you’re never even billed for it.

Wait, am I automatically condoning something by telling you how to do it easier?

Nah.