Have you ever wondered how retailers can possibly afford to offer the no-interest, no-payments, no money down kind of deals you see advertised? That was the subject of a question I received recently.

Woman with hand to her chin wondering about no-interest no-payments retail offers

Dear Mary: There are several appliances, electronics, and furniture stores in our area that run television commercials offering nothing down, no-interest, no-payments until 2022. It sounds like I can just walk in and take what I want and not pay for three years! How do these companies really make money? Kate

Dear Kate: First, these offers are on approved credit and come with a lot of other fine print.  You need pristine credit to qualify for those attractive terms.

Good luck qualifying

One retailer told me only about 25% of the people who apply for these amazing no-interest no-payments offers,  designed only to get buyers through the door, can actually qualify. The other 75% are offered some other deal with horrible terms. People often accept these terms because, by the time they fill out the paperwork, they’re so emotionally involved and have their hearts set on that “free” absolutely awesome deal, they’re anxious to sign anything.

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When did you last hold a $50 bill in your hand? The new ones look strange … faintly colored, graphically random.

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You should pick one up some time to reacquaint yourself with something called U.S. currency. Look closely. It still reads: This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.

Here’s my question: Does pumping my own gasoline at Costco constitute a debt, either public or private?

Between the moment my gas tank is full and the moment I actually pay for the gas, I owe Costco some money. I have incurred a momentary debt, and it seems to me I should be able to pay it with my U.S. currency.

Just try. In fact, at Costco filling stations my only choice is to pay with plastic—even though there are plenty of human attendants readily available.

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It’s been more than 10 years now since I first looked into a membership service called “Amazon Prime.” Being the frugalista that I am, of course, I dismissed it out of hand for one simple reason—currently the $119 annual membership fee. For what, I asked? Nothing tangible, that’s for sure.

I wish I’d researched Amazon Prime more thoroughly back then. I had no idea what I was turning down. By not joining until two years later in 2009, I spent far more in shipping costs alone than I would have paid for the annual membership.

 

 

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Honestly, I am in love with Amazon Prime and my love only grows as the years go by. My life is busy and I am such a disaster-waiting-to-happen in a shopping mall environment. I rely heavily on Amazon for household needs, personal items, and business supplies and equipment, too.

Free shipping alone saves me hundreds of dollars in shipping fees every year, not to mention time, gasoline, frustration, and impulsive disasters.

Since I first posted about Amazon Prime, the benefits have increased tremendously!

How do I love Amazon Prime? Oh, let me count the ways: Read more

I could teach you how to be an extreme couponer. I’ve had a lot of experience including the time I demonstrated how to do it, on location, live on TV from a large supermarket.

It’s a great way to save money but it’s a lot of work and limited mostly to grocery and drug stores.

Imagine a world where you had the equivalent of a big stack of coupons for all the other places you spend money—like Target, Amazon and Kohl’s, Groupon, Old Navy, even LifeLock.

You do and it’s called Ebates.

Young man using internet computer and counting coins at home. Asian man relaxed and sitting on sofa indoor.

What it is

At Ebates, instead of presenting a coupon, you have a digital account that earns you cash. Think of it as the grocery store clerk handing you that 25 cents when you bought the can of soup with a $.25 coupon and you putting that quarter straight into a savings account.

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In the wake of America’s big economic wake-up call back in 2008, dollar stores and thrift stores saw, and continue to see, a big resurgence. And now another kind of retail quasi-lender is commanding all kinds of attention from sellers and buyers, too—pawn shops.

I admit to having grown up with a weird bias against pawn shops. To me, pawn shops were just one level above Vinny the Loan Shark operating illegally in some dark alley in the bad part of town just waiting to break some knees.

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Where did that come from? I have no idea really, but let me quickly follow by saying it is a most faulty stereotype.

Pawn shops are respectable businesses that offer a viable service in many communities. And these days, thanks in part to Rick Harrison, whose family owns the Gold and Silver Pawnshop in Las Vegas and stars in the History Channel’s Pawn Stars—one of my personal favorites— business is booming.

What it is?

A pawn shop, owned and operated by a licensed pawnbroker, makes secured loans on personal property left in the broker’s possession to be held as collateral. The property can be redeemed by the customer when the loan plus a finance charge (think: interest plus per-month service charge) is repaid.

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I wish I had a dollar for every stupid purchase I’ve made in my life. I’d have quite a stash. Regrettably, my financial faux pas have been remarkable in both quantity and quality. I’ve made some real doozies.

Young-woman-hitting-her-head-in-an-act-of-regret-for-having-made-a-very-foolish-purchase

Here’s one: Purchasing on credit an above-ground, 7,000-gallon inflatable swimming pool. On a whim. At a Home and Garden Show. For the kids, of course.

Its à la carte price was bad enough. Adding everything required but not included took it from barely reasonable to absolutely ridiculous.

First, there was a heater and filter. Then, a cover, chemicals, and test kit. We needed search and rescue equipment (this was one monstrosity of a pool) and a few necessary pool toys. Oh, and let’s not forget the cost of eventually getting rid of the albatross.

Let me put it this way: There is not a lively secondary market for this kind of thing. If I’d had the courage to consider the consequences of such a major purchase before making the decision to buy, we could have avoided a five-year industrial-strength headache and saved one huge pile of dough.

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You probably know that certain things are cheaper at certain times. Whether you’re shopping online or prefer a brick and mortar store, there is often a “best time to buy.” Check out the nine items below that are typically great bargains in February.

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Televisions

Most stores that sell televisions offer deep discounts on TVs during February because new TV models start arriving in stores in March. The pressure’s on for them to clear out last year’s inventory to make room for the newer models.

Your next opportunity for a killer deal on a TV will be in November as TVs are frequently included in Black Friday sales.

How about: TCL 55″ 4K HDR 120Hz CMI Roku Smart LED TV on Sale for $369.99 at Target.

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Over the years I’ve received thousands of money-saving tips from readers—many of which I’ve shared in books, newsletters and this column. And there are plenty that I’ve not shared for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they don’t work.

Some don’t work so poorly, they actually end up costing time and money, not saving anything. One of those tips still makes me laugh. It goes like this:

Toilet paper

“Start with two empty toilet paper tubes and a new roll of 2-ply toilet tissue. Carefully separate the two layers of toilet tissue, re-rolling each of the layers onto an empty tube to create—ta-da!—two rolls of paper for the price of one.”

Not only does this take an unbelievable amount time, unless you own a toilet tissue rolling machine of some kind, the result is a ginormous, ridiculous mess of toilet tissue that is so thin, it takes at least twice as much to get the job done.

Don’t do that, OK? Instead, learn how to comparison shop for toilet tissue. And when you find it on sale at a great price, which means much lower than its regular price—not simply a SALE sign, stock up.

No standard

Comparing prices on toilet paper is confusing because no two rolls or packages are alike.  There are no set standards for toilet paper (and I’m not suggesting there should be). We can’t compare roll-for-roll because roll sizes vary from one manufacturer to another.

Some companies offer double-rolls, jumbo rolls or even 1000-sheet rolls—all of which are pretty meaningless when trying to make a reasonable price comparison. Same with comparing the number of sheets per roll.

There is no set size for a sheet of toilet paper! To make things even more confusing, some rolls are 2-ply (layers), super ultra plush with 3-ply while others a skimpy 1- or sometimes referred to as single-ply.

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