Monday, February 4, 2008

How to Buy Four Nintendo Wii Systems In Just Four Weeks, Part 3

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

wii r mine soon? please???

Photo by What Rhymes With Nicole

Last Time: Exploring the Perilous Intarwebs

January 17, 2008, 11:30 a.m.

Fresh from my Wednesday-night victory, I awake Thursday morning to find a peculiar e-mail awaiting me:

i here ur looking for a wii. meat me in the alley behind toys r us at 10pm and i’ll get you all the wii you could ever desire at retail.

All right! All the Wii systems I need in one shot! Plus, as bad as this guy spells, I can probably convince him to accept Monopoly money for them.

January 17, 2008, 10 p.m.

I pull up behind the Toys R Us just as The Eagles’ Hotel California finishes playing on the radio. The next song is the Bee Gees lesser-known single, Don’t Meet Strange Men Who Can’t Spell Behind the Toy Store Because He’s Probably Going to Steal Your Money and Not Give You Those Three Nintendo Wii Systems You Want from 1972. I start singing the lyrics…

Don’t meet strange men who can’t spell
Behind the toy store
Because he’s probably going to steal your money
And not give you those
Three Nintendo Wii systems you want
Ah ha ha ha…

After a few minutes, I spot a man with a goatee in a red vest and pink jogging pants standing by a dumpster. He comes up to the car as I roll down my windows.

Mr. Goatee: Joo haz zee mowney?
Me: Huh?
Mr. Goatee: I sez, joooo haz zeee mowneey?
Me: I’m sorry, I can’t understand anything you’re saying.
Mr. Goatee: That’s because you’re typing this conversation by exaggerating the tone of my thick foreign accent. How about now?
Me: Much better.
Mr. Goatee: Good. You has the money?
Me: Yup. [I reveal my money—a freshly-minted $750-dollar bill, enough for three Nintendo Wii systems.] Can I see the goods?
Mr. Goatee: [Lifts the telltale white box.] It’s quality merchandise.

I take a look at the box. Something’s not right. The “Wii” logo has an extra “i” at the end. And this “Wiii” isn’t packed with the usual Wii Sports game disc. That disc includes five sports games: tennis, bowling, baseball, boxing, and golf. The label on this box says that “Wiii Sportz comes with four great totally American sporting-type games: Cricket, Belly Dancing, Camel Racing, and Infidel Shooting.

Me: This game only has four sports on it. And I don’t think any of them are real sports.
Mr. Goatee: What? What do you mean? This—this is quality merchandise.
Me: And what’s that liquid dripping out of the box? Is that gasoline?
Mr. Goatee: Oh, uh, that—that is box crying because you insult it.
Me: Uh, I think I’m going to pass. [I roll up my window and start the engine.]
Mr. Goatee: Wait! Wait! Okay, I give it to you for 10 percent off! Is quite a bargain!
Me: [I roll my window back down.] 10 percent off, you say?

So now I am the proud owner of one Nintendo Wii and three boxes full of rags soaked in gasoline. Fortunately, thanks to the high price of gas, I end up making $17 in the end!

But I still need three Wii systems…

Next Time: Just How Far Will Wii Go?

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

10 Ways to Make It Look a Lot More Like Christmas For Just $12 Total

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

maybe if you had more than one ornament, it would feel more like christmas

You know the song It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas made famous by Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, and other people who we only listen to in December? If you haven’t been reciting the tune yourself this year, you’re certainly not alone. Despite Christmas being less than a week away, I’m having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Sure, my gift shopping is done and the Christmas Chia Pet has been decorated, but it simply doesn’t feel like Christmas for some reason.

Now, I’m sure I could make it feel like Christmas in a flash with the help of a few thousand dollars, a couple trips to my local electronics superstore, and a lap dance from a stripper in a Santa outfit. But this is Punny Money, so I have to find the cheapest way possible to do absolutely everything. So please join me on my tightwadded journey as I attempt to make it feel like Christmas for under $20 in 10 easy steps.

  1. Drive around looking at lights. I know some people are so obsessed with decorating their homes with Christmas light displays that they’ll actually say you’re “stealing” from them by not decorating your own house. Considering how much time and money it takes to actually decorate a house with lights, I’ll let everyone else do it while I grinch myself some free scenery. Cost: $2 for gas.
  2. Various cheap and free Christmas events. Most large cities have plenty of free Christmas events going on this time of year, including concerts, lighting displays, and waterskiing Santas. In the D.C. area, check out The D.C. Traveler’s holiday guide for some free holiday fun. Cost: zero, though some premium events charge a fee.
  3. Go to church. Even you non-God-fearing people may enjoy the music and pageantry of religious services around the holidays. Some churches also have free choir concerts this time of year. Warning: you may feel guilted into donating and/or repenting your sins. Cost: zero assuming you hide in the confessional when the collection baskets appear.
  4. Classic holiday movie marathon. Make a quick trip to the local video store (or just turn on the TV) for favorites like White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Cost: under $5.
  5. Other people’s Christmas parties. You could throw your own holiday party for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000 worth of food and decorations. Or you could be socially savvy and get yourself invited to lots of other parties. The bigger the party, the easier it will be for you to get lost in the “too cheap to bring the host a gift” group. Cost: zero for scrooges or maybe $10-20 if you’re nice instead of naughty.
  6. Volunteer your time for the needy. Like I said, you’re not the only one having a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. There are lots of homeless, hungry people out there who don’t even have a calendar to tell them Christmas is coming. Consider donating a few hours at a local charitable organization to make the holidays a little brighter for those less fortunate than yourself. Cost: nothing but your time.
  7. Make cookies. As a child, me and my family would make no less than 500 cookies each Christmas. I think not doing this anymore is the main reason it hasn’t felt like Christmas for years. You don’t need to crank out so many of them, but taking the Christmas cookie cutters to a wad of dough is cheap and tasty fun for the whole family. Cost: $10 for ingredients, plus $5 for postage because you’re going to send me some, right? Please?
  8. Write letters to family. No, not e-mails. Letters. You know, those things all of the sitcom families seem to write each other every year that get them into trouble for approximately 24 minutes. Tell of your personal and family accomplishments over the last year, reach out to rarely-seen relatives, or just brag about how you’re so much better with finances than the rest of your family because you read Punny Money. Cost: about $5 should cover the costs for letters to a dozen family members and friends.
  9. Sing Christmas carols to your neighbors. But only if you can carry a tune. Just make sure you stay away from Hairy Mel’s house at the end of the street because he’ll probably throw beer bottles at you and call you “Christmas queers.” Cost: zero, assuming you know the words.
  10. Lots of Christmas sex. It’s free, it’s fun, it keeps you warm during the winter, and it better be with your lawfully wedded spouse or Jesus is going to come flying out of Mary and kick your butt on December 25th. Cost: -$10 for utility savings.

There we go! I just put the “ho ho ho” back into my ho-ho-holidays, and I still have plenty of cash left over to buy every one of my readers a Nintendo Wii! Oh wait, the stores are still out of stock. Nevermind then. I guess you’ll just have to do with a hearty Merry Christmas from me to you! (Cost: absolutely nothing.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Seven Things That Barely Have to Do With Personal Finance, But That’s Too Bad Because American Gladiators Is Coming Back!

Author: Nick
Category: Money

contender READYYYYY, gladiator READYYYYY

Faithful readers of Punny Money will know that I have a mild, unhealthy obsession with NBC’s hit TV show Heroes. I mention it here at least every three or four articles, but I assure you all that will certainly stop now that the second season kind of sucked and the Writers’ Strike means the show will likely never return. Indeed, I forecast that the demise of television in the early 21st century that was predicted on that one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation is coming to pass as we speak.

But before TV goes the way of the Betamax, it will squeeze out one last hurrah this January with the return of the greatest televised action game show of all time, American Gladiators. (Put your hands down; Double Dare is number two.) For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of American Gladiators, I invite you to read two detailed Wikipedia articles on the subject: American Gladiators and American Gladiators events. Or be lazy and read my summary:

  • The premise. Normal, everyday people (most of whom take steroids in the weeks before the game) take on super-powered demi-humans with individual muscles bigger than your entire body. The winner is the normal, everyday person who manages to survive being pummeled with pugil sticks and tennis balls the longest.
  • The events. Without a doubt, the brightest minds in the entire world converged in a Hollywood studio in the late 1980s to dream up the most brilliant sporting events ever created. In one event, challengers must shoot various Nerfitized weapons at a target above a gladiator’s head while the gladiator tries to decapitate the challenger with a tennis ball launcher capable of exceeding 100 miles per hour. Other events include giant wall climbs, upside-down Velcro race tracks, human-sized hamster ball rolling, and one last event called The Eliminator.
  • The Eliminator. Probably the finest two minutes of television in history. The two contestants race each other through an obstacle course suited for God himself. Reverse treadmills, zip lines, hand bikes… just thinking about it makes me all tingly.
  • The production. The set design, host personalities, costume design—really, everything about the show was perfect. Let’s hope the upcoming remake doesn’t screw it up.
  • The video game. I had the American Gladiators video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was terrible. Let us never speak of it again.

At this point, you’re probably asking yourself one question: Has Nick finally gone horrendously off-topic with this post about the greatest TV game show ever made?

The answer is “almost.” I can still manage to salvage this article as on-topic by working in the following bulleted list which somehow ties together personal finance and American Gladiators.

  1. As a kid, I spent over $200 on American Gladiator action figures. And they’re all in the trash now. What a waste. Compare that to about $50 worth of G.I. Joe figures and around $40 for the complete Darkwing Duck figure set. Most of the expense was in the playsets; it ain’t cheap making miniature climbing walls and tiny human-sized hamster balls… though I suppose those would just be normal-sized hamster balls.
  2. Planning a trip to L.A.? Then stop by the CBS Studio Center where the original Gladiator Arena is still set up and available for tours.
  3. The biggest Gladiator prize during its original run? Just $30,000 for winning a later season’s grand championship. You could get more than that now being mildly retarded on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
  4. Worldwide popularity. American Gladiators was the chief U.S. export of the early 1990s, with versions running in Australia, the UK, and even Japan. Of course, it wasn’t called “American Gladiators” in those other countries… except for Japan whose show was named Gekitotsu Americane Kin-niku Battle.
  5. Kid’s version. In 1994, there was a version of the show called, of all things, Gladiators 2000 featuring teenage contestants. Events were similar but often incorporated lessons about nutrition and health. The show failed miserably after the producers realized you’re not supposed to mix education and American Gladiators.
  6. Set costs. The entire American Gladiators set for the original run, including all equipment and props for every event, only cost $12 because it was all made out of styrofoam and sponge. The skyrocketing cost of styrofoam in the last decade means reconstructing the set today would cost over $16 million.
  7. NBC putting all its eggs in one basket? With no end in sight to the Writer’s Strike, scripted television may be gone for good. You’ll see more and more shows like American Gladiators hitting the airwaves, but the most successful networks in 2008 may be those with existing strong lineups of reality programming. NBC has never been strong in reality programming. Case in point: right now, NBC’s top reality show is probably Deal or No Deal—a show that glamorizes the concept of “pick a number between 1 and 26.” AG could be NBC’s big hope for ratings in the new year, but it better make sure to stay true to the original series or it could alienate fans hoping for some nostalgic Gladiator fun.

To get you psyched for the upcoming American Gladiators series, here are some video clips from the original featuring plenty of ’80s hair and 100 mph tennis balls.

The Intro:

Assault: (my personal favorite event)


Hang Tough:


The Eliminator: