Saturday, 18 February 2017

Beat the airlines at their own game

It sounds like a battle is being waged and all you are trying to do is take is take a vacation.   Airlines are facing the same problems as cruise ships in terms of pricing.  Many people travel regularly now, compared to a generation ago, and they want to keep  travelling.   They just want to pay the same as they did twenty years ago.

I took the same cruise last summer that I had taken twenty-five years earlier.   Same cruise line, same standard of cabin;   Vancouver to Alaska , return.   The 'catch'?    The price was the same:   $1250. CAD.    Competition is rampant in the cruise ship industry as many, many ships have been built or refitted over the past years.   Keeping the base price appealing means nickel and diming (not that a nickel or dime buys much these days) has become rampant.   I'll write more on this topic on a future post.

Airlines first brought in the charge for checking your luggage.   Quite a few people retaliating by travelling carry-on only, as I do.   Some carry-on size bags are quite large and if you've ever watched flight attendants trying to squeeze the large and numerous bags into the overhead bins on the aircraft you'll have figured out that the situation wouldn't be allowed to continue.   But it's not just the price, I and not a small number of others, have had checked baggage either lost, re-routed in error, or damaged.   Carry-on avoids that as well.   Win - win you might say.

United Airlines is first out of the gate in deciding to charge passengers for carry-on bags.  Now you can only bring on, for free, a bag that can fit under your seat.   Not much more than purse size.

This used to be economy

As a longstanding  carry-on traveller I have researched various ideas and methods that could be used to avoid checking your suitcase.   Some are amusing, some border on ridiculous and some seem downright clever.    Families can box up and send their vacation clothing to their tropical destination via UPS or some other carrier.  Or maybe you can send them General Delivery to the main post office at your first destination.   If you are staying at the same resort for one or two weeks or more this can save you money.   Four or five family members, each checking a suitcase would amount to $250 to $500.  ($25 - $50 each way x 5).   It seems it is cheaper to ship a box or boxes back and forth as long as you don't need to travel beyond your shipping destination.
Remember to put 'used clothes' as the content to avoid paying duty.

Then there's the suggestion of travelling with a carry-on bag (probably packed with your underwear) and upon arrival heading immediately to the nearest thrift store or charity shop.   For considerably less than the check luggage fee you and your children can purchase enough clothing to last a couple of weeks.   This reminds me of the character in Lee Child's book, whose title name escapes me, who bought a set of clothing, wore them for several days and then discarded them.  His busy life, tracking down notorious criminals, did not allow for time at the laundromat.

Tim Ferriss' blog (of 4 hour Work Week fame) which you can look at here   is pleased to provide a unique idea for avoiding ever checking luggage again:  Leave caches of clothing and even food at hotels you frequent. Seems to me it might require a large tip.

What about wearing all your clothes?    Check out this website, Jaktogo, for tips on how to wear all your clothes on your body when you fly.   Better hope the air-conditioning is working.  A more conservative version of this involves reversible clothing.   I suppose even the pants that zip off to become shorts and jackets that have sleeves that zip off to reveal a vest, reduce the amount of clothing required.

Will the day come when we pay our airfare by our body weight?  Wait, passengers from Samoa already enjoy that dubious pleasure.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Disruptive Innovation

What do you think of disruptive innovation?    I suppose it depends if you are a consumer or established producer.   Wikipedia defines it thus:

disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.

The innovation can be considerable such as when automobiles replaced horse and carriage.   That was definitely disruptive for the makers of buggy wheels and other assorted accoutrements.   

Someone finds a way to do things better and at less cost and consumers flock to them.  It may not be exactly the same but it's close enough.    Other times, an industry creates a need or desire in many consumers  to spend a lot more.   The wedding industry comes to mind here.

One industry that seems to be overdue for disruption  is the floral industry.   Floral arrangements are very expensive and they don't last long.    There's the artistic element;  not everyone has the ability to arrange flowers in a pleasing way although Youtube videos go a long way to remedy that.   Spending a hundred dollars to send someone flowers seems to be the norm  in the medium price range from my recent perusal of the situation.

I thought of sending a modest floral arrangement to an elderly  relative who lives at at a modest distance.    I set a budget of fifty dollars and searched the websites of florists within a few kilometres of her home.   Amazon will delivery a vast array of products to my home (with free shipping)  if I spend $50.   A local on-line organic grocer, SPUD, will deliver various grocery and produce items  to my door (with free delivery) if I spend $40.    Florists haven't caught onto this trend it seems.   After considerable searching I found one business that promised free delivery but after spending too long inputting information and composing an on-line card when I got to the part about paying I found a $30 service charge was added to the cost.   Seriously?   Maybe they hope that I have by now invested enough time to feel committed to proceed.   Sorry, no.

I abandoned that version of my idea.   I'm going to purchase and mail a book.  I just finished one that I feel my relative will also enjoy.   Fortunately, there's a week to go which is another example of the benefits of foresight and planning in advance.   I estimate this will cost me around $25.   

It's also an example of Think outside the box, of definite benefit to frugal and sensible people.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Banned List


Do you have a banned list?  This would be businesses/stores that have annoyed you sufficiently that you do not wish to patronize them again.   Privately you hope that this becomes a trend and the business achieves the fate they deserve--bankruptcy.   After you calm down you can take a more balanced view.   You are only responsible for yourself (and your family) and others can do as they please.

Small businesses can be prone to trading on their smallness or their small town vibe.   We should be forgiving because they don't have the scope, contacts, volume of a big box store.    Small shops/small store merchants and their staff can be so friendly.   I like that.  When I moved to a small town I had he goal of patronizing local businesses.   I was prepared to accept less selection and slightly higher prices to support local businesses that often support local activities.   But, I have to confess, it is difficult and in some cases I have given up.  

How many chances to do you give a business to deserve your trade?    Unless it is something heinous I would always given a business a second chance.   

Do you complain (otherwise known as advising them of the error of their ways)?   I do, sometimes.   I read once that for every person that complains about a product/service, a hundred people were of the same opinion but said nothing.   One business owner in the article stated that he wished people would tell him what was wrong so he could fix the problem, rather than having customers just go elsewhere.
When my daughter worked as a server in a family type restaurant, she told me that she rarely/never passed on complaints.   Her reason:   some complaints were something that she had no control over like whether the hash browns were of the chunky or shredded type.   Some wanted the hours extended.   Some people thought the restaurant was too warm, some too cool.   Basically, she was swamped just keeping up with things and it was a case of 'in one ear and out the other.'   

I went to a local drug store today in response to a flyer I noticed on line.   There were some good prices on items I use and 50 air miles for spending $50.   I decided this would work for me.  I checked the sale dates and made a list.   At the store, however, it turned out that small limits were imposed on quantity (four or less) and one of the main items I wanted hadn't been received and wasn't available.   I left the store.  For some reason I end up feeling like a sucker after such an incident, not a pleasant feeling.   

When I expressed my frustration to my daughter (the former server) she told me that was why Amazon was so successful (and why she mostly shops there) :   You know what you're getting, you know if it's in stock, the price is usually very good, they deliver to our door.  

I discovered a fruit and vegetable market last week, unfortunately ten kilometres away, but with good prices and quality.   That perked me up.   I guess the moral is to not put up with any guff but keep trying. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

New doesn't equal better

Do you ever hear senior relatives lament that things were made better in the 'old days'?   Do you have low expectations for the lifespan of products you purchase?   It's true and it's all by design.   Why would a manufacturer want to make a product that only needed to be purchased once  every twenty years or so?    Wouldn't it be so much better if you needed to re-buy every two years or stretch it to every five years.   The company's bottom line would improve.    Many of these products are made in locations that give less consideration to quality, value and even working conditions and product safety.    It's only about price the day you buy it.  

But that only works if short term profit is the main motivating factor for the business.   If the bean counters have taken over and short term gain has taken priority over long term reputation, not to mention business success.   Companies that spent a generation or more providing quality products and building their reputation are prime candidates for a buy-out when the owner retires.   The carefully honed product name will last at least a fair number of years before many people realize what has happened.   Kitchen-Aid wasn't the same after Whirlpool took over.   You probably have a lot of examples yourself.

Wedding gifts were meant to last at least until the Silver anniversary (that would be twenty-five years).   Today, all manner of large appliances are considered to have a lifespan of five years at the most and toasters and electric coffee makers come and go every two years or so.   Where I grew up, my neighbourhood  had a small appliance repair shop.   That's right.   You repaired your toaster  so it would last another decade or more.

If an item doesn't break down the company has other alternatives.    For some, a change in design and features can be made so appealing to a significant percentage of people, that replacement of a still working product will be justified.   For the remainder, it is a simple  matter to stop making the necessary components that make the product functional.   I've noticed that regular powdered automatic dishwashing detergent is receiving less and less shelf space, and even that is usually on the bottom row.     This must be how the last hold-outs from dishwashing pods (at triple the cost) are being dealt with.   First the carrot, then the stick.

The trick is to find work arounds or even do withouts for as many items as possible.   Don't be afraid to take offerings from frequent upgraders.    Cultivate an appreciation for 'vintage' items.  (Only don't call them vintage, that's a guaranteed upgrade in price).

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

It's not just about saving money

You will see that I've changed the template for the blog.   I was very attached to my dramatic tropical vision, somehow encapsulating the freedom that can come from dreaming about better ways to spend your money.   But I wondered if the background became distracting  and detracted from the blog posts.   Also, some find a white font on a dark background more difficult to read than the more common reverse.   I'll live with it for a while and see how it settles.

I've also added a blogroll to the right.   The list is quite diverse but there's a lot of interesting reading for a wide range of interests.     When you're reading you won't be making impulse purchases!

                                                                         * * *

Does it sound corny to want to save the planet?    I hope not.  Zero Waste Home is a blog that will definitely save you money while at the same time provide value and conserve the earth's resources.  I have to admire someone who can reduce their trash to one (small) jar a year.    It becomes a part time job and you spend time having conversations with store clerks and managers to persuade them to put the potato salad you purchased at their supermarket deli into the glass jar you brought with you instead of their styrofoam container  with snap on plastic lid.  Don't bring your teenage children; they would be embarrassed beyond belief by your actions.   I think my route would be to make my own potato salad since even on sale for 99 cents for a 100 grams  is more than quadruple the price of the potatoes bought in a 5 or 10 pound bag.

Then there's the floating ball of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas. 

That sounds like my version of a nightmare.  

Saturday, 21 January 2017



One of my life's mottos has always been to not re-invent the wheel.   Someone has faced this problem/issue before and has likely found a solution.   Many someones will provide you with various different solutions and one of them is sure to fit.   If the internet only existed for this purpose, it would be worthwhile.  

I would sincerely like to encourage you to take up cooking as a hobby.   If I suggested that you take it up to save money, it probably wouldn't have the same appeal.   Some might think it was a punishment.    But more than a few people have come to love the creative aspects of preparing food as opposed to . . . mopping the floor?   Just don't get carried away seeking out expensive spices or obscure ingredients.  (saffron!)  Learn to substitute (or omit).   Everyone loves the cook!

Here's a couple of links to get you started:

Living well, Spending less


5 dollar dinners

There is enough reading and  sufficient recipes to keep you engaged for a long time.   You'll think differently about food after a while.  

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Hockey for Kids

Lots of Canadian parents put their sons . . . and daughters . . .  into hockey.  What a commitment!  It's expensive and requires considerable transportation and attendance at practises and games.   There's the fundraising and the parental help with various activities like time-keeping.   There's no doubt it's good exercise but so is jogging.   Hockey goes most of the year now with summer 'dry land' training.

I sometimes wonder whether a secret hope thrives in the bosom of parents that their son is going to make the National Hockey League, become famous and make boatloads of money.   Having a son who is on that trajectory is looking at a stupendous investment in time and money.  First of all, be very certain that your offspring is as committed to the goal as you are.   And not just when they are starting out as a seven year old who goes along with whatever you're enthusiastic about.   Do they still want to get up at 5 a.m. for practices when they are twelve?

Can a future NHL prospect be spotted at an early age?   If both parents are of shorter stature is their son likely to be of the heft necessary to be a potential prospect?  Are other important aspects, like school and music or art,  of a child's life set aside to focus on hockey?   Is the family budget strained to pay for hockey?  Are the non-hockey playing members of the family short-changed to focus on the golden child?

It's a big commitment.