Tips

Fast-track your supermarket visits with these tips and tricks

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In-Store innovations

Supermarkets know you hate grocery shopping–so they’re speeding things up with new gadgets and services.

The handheld scanners at ALBERTSONS let you skip the checkout line entirely. Now available in its Dallas-area stores, and nationwide in the next 18 months, the scanners let you scan and bag as you select items. Then just swipe your credit card through the scanner to pay.

STOP & SHOP’s carts with scanner and touch-screen computer combos are like personal grocery assistants. E-mail your list to the store, then swipe your Stop & Shop card through the cart’s computer to call up your list. Scan and bag items as you go (the computer alerts you to sales), and check out by swiping your credit card through the scanner-computer. Three stores in Massachusetts have this technology; 150 more nationwide will offer it by the end of 2005.

WEGMANS has “helping hands” in all of its stores–employees on call to help with everything from pushing your cart if you can’t (screaming baby, broken leg, etc.) to loading groceries into your trunk , while you load your kids into the car.

Three PIGGLY WIGGLY stores in South Carolina have installed fingerprint scanners to speed up the checkout process (this technology will arrive in all 120 of the Southern supermarkets this year). Your fingerprint and credit card or ATM information are stored together on a secure server; after scanning and bagging items at the checkout, you can pay your total with just one touch.

Expert shopping tips

With a little organizing advice from Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game (grocerygame.com), you can cruise the aisles in record time (and save a few bucks, too!).

* Know your store layout. If you don’t already have the aisles memorized, ask for a map (some stores offer them or you can make your own). Shopping is a lot quicker when you know exactly where you’re going.

* Organize your list. Arrange your list by aisle. Grouping like items together will mean less doubling back for things you forgot. Put a “C” next to items with coupons.

* File your coupons in aisle order. Use a coupon file from an office-supply store and keep the front pocket empty for the clippings you’ll use that day.

* Shop for heavy items first. Cruise the inside aisles for heavy items like dog food before you hit the perimeter, where fragile things like eggs and bread are kept. Skip aisles that don’t have anything on your list–just passing through them will tempt you to buy the high-priced, unhealthy processed foods that lurk there.

* Bag items the way you’ll organize them at home. Putting groceries away is much quicker when your frozen-food, produce, and pantry items are each in their own bag.

Holiday shopping smarts: tips, tricks, and very clever tactics

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1 REGIFT

If you’ve received presents you can’t use (or, let’s be honest, just don’t like), put them back in circulation. Sixty-eight percent of women surveyed by Money Management International, a consumer-counseling organization, in 2007 had regifted or planned to, so ditch any pangs of guilt and throw a regifting party with friends. Each guest contributes, say, two or three new but utterly unwanted items (maybe an unopened DVD, bath gel, or a trendy scarf) and gets to choose the same number of castaways from friends. Best-case scenario: You score gifts just right for people on your list–think teacher, sister-in-law, or teenage babysitter. It’s a win-win: “I once received a candle set that I just never used, so I brought it to the party,” says Tanisha Warner, a mum from Houston. “The person who got it was thrilled.”

2 SWAP LOOSE CHANGE FOR A GIFT CARD

Turn those coins piling up in jars around the house into a gift card or eCertificate (starting at $5) that can be used at a favorite store or merchant. Wrap it up for giving, or use it for your holiday shopping. All you need to do is go to coinstar.com to locate one of 16,000 Coinstar machines at a store near you, and load in your loose change. When you exchange it for a gift card or eCertificate, you don’t pay any fees. Choose gift cards from–among others–iTunes, Starbucks, Old Navy, and Borders, and eCertificates for amazon.com, JCPenney, and more.

3 SNAG GIFT CARDS AT A DISCOUNT

At https://www.cardcash.com/, you can nab secondhand gift cards (brand-new or partially used) at low prices, and then either give them to someone or use them yourself to shop away. “Many people have gift cards that they don’t want or will never use, so having cash is the better alternative, especially in this economy,” says the site’s Marc Gendron. Inventory is updated throughout the day, with 1,400-plus merchants represented. For buyers, deals are sweet–up to 40 percent off face value. We’ve seen a $1,000 Tiffany & Co. card going for $750. The site guarantees all cards listed–value is vetted, and the expiration date of and conditions for each card are clearly posted–so you don’t have to worry about getting fleeced. And if you have a card with a minimum balance of $25 that you want to sell, the site will pay you up to 85 percent of the face value.

4 WRAP IN GOOD COMPANY

You want an array of beautiful packages under the tree, but trimmings can get expensive. Instead of resigning yourself to one jumbo roll of red paper, throw a wrapping party. Each guest spends a little but ends up with a lot of cheerily wrapped packages. Janice Benoit of Lisle, IL, a mom of three, has held one of these parties for years with pals. The how-tos: Ask each guest to bring a couple of rolls of paper, some ribbon, and other supplies–plus several gifts in need of wrapping. Set up stations with wrapping paper, scissors, tape, ribbon, tags, and pens; everyone rotates, taking breaks to savor no-fuss treats like cheese and fruit.

5 OFFER A TOAST

A nice wine goes a long way toward holiday cheer, but you don’t have to break the bank buying it. Every December, GHRI’s Carolyn Forte buys a case (12 bottles) of Italian reds so she can get a case discount of 20 percent at her New Jersey store. “I like Italian reds because they’re often a good value, have pretty labels, and go with everything from pizza to pasta to steak,” says the home-care expert. She chooses wines that cost about $10–with the case discount, that’s a quick and simple gift for about $8 a pop, perfect for everyone from neighbors to the mail carrier. Also try wine.com, which sometimes offers one-cent shipping on any 12 bottles sent to one address. (Check the site for your state’s shipping regulations.) Affordable wine picks to consider, from GH Food Director Susan Westmoreland: red Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese 2008, from Tuscany, $11; Spanish white Marques de Caceres Rioja Blaneo 2008, $8; and sparkling white Spanish Cristalino Brut Cava, $8.

6 SHIP FOR FREE

Of course you want your e-shopping delivered for free, and in this year’s softer economy, you are more likely than ever to get it. One smart strategy: Log onto paypal.com for a range of shipping deals and discounts if you pay via PayPal service at many big sites. Some e-stores, like beauty.com, offer free shipping on most items (if new customers spend $25; returning customers, $49). When buying gift cards online, seek out sites that send them at no charge, such as Lands’ End, QVC, and Nordstrom.

7 CHECK OUT SOLID-GOLD SITES

Quality matters, and so does a solid reputation, especially when times are tough, so check out these A-list retailers who are wooing your business: L.L.Bean (llbean.com) will offer a $10 gift eard (good through February 16, 2010) with a purchase of $25 or more. Well-heeled Brooks Brothers (brooksbrothers.com) will take $10 off your first purchase of $50 just for registering at their site. And at apple.com, you get two free lines of engraving on the iPod Nano, Touch, or Shuffle–for example, “You Make My Heart Sing,” when you treat your guy.

Online shopping – dos and don’ts

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One of the major buzzwords of the late ’90s in the press is e-commerce. Most companies, if they are not selling online already, are rushing to join the mass of online merchants. You can purchase virtually anything online – books, videos, software, CD-ROMs, CDs, tapes, downloadable music, posters, apparel, musical instruments and pro and consumer audio products. You can also book travel arrangements, send flowers, buy a car and have your groceries delivered tomorrow morning. All you need is a credit card and many sites will also accept cheques electronically. Of course you can also send in payment by snail mail or place a credit card order by FAX or phone.

So far, a very small portion of Internet users are shopping online although the numbers increase daily and onlineshopping now totals billions of dollars annually. Most of the hesitance is based on fears of having your credit card information stolen or getting ripped off by some far distant unscrupulous company. A lot of the fears concerning credit cards are greatly exaggerated – I would be much more concerned with the security of the mail system and many traditional sales channels. That said, some caution should be exercised.

First, as in any purchase, be aware of the reputation and business practices of any merchants online or not. When visiting websites, be wary of companies with no phone or address listed or just a post office box. The Internet has spawned thousands of basement operations, and although most are probably honest, they will be very hard to find if you have a problem. Look for their number of years in business and such things as money-back guarantees. Call them up and speak to the customer service people and satisfy yourself that they are a real company.

If you are using your credit card online, make sure they are using a secure server that delivers your order information in an encrypted format. If this makes you uncomfortable, place your order by phone or FAX.

If you are purchasing a high-ticket item such as a musical instrument or pro audio gear, you don’t have the chance to try the product, you will have little support or backup and you may have warranty problems, especially for anything purchased in another country. What seems like a bargain may not be if you have problems and need repairs, instruction or support later.

To find products you are looking for you can type product keywords into the major search engines or major music sites. There are also many online malls that connect you to a variety of online retailers.

Shopping the online galaxy galleria

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Log on and start shopping. Everyone else is.

People are making millions of dollars on the Internet (though you’re probably not one of them), and millions more are being lost on the Internet (with any luck, not by you). Stock valuations of “dot com” businesses are in the billions, but many of them are still unprofitable. Companies ponder how to make money from the Internet, and in the process online retailing has become a new economy. During 1999 consumers in North America alone bought some $33 billion of products via the Internet; this year, the total is expected to exceed $60 billion. Advances in software have made online shopping as simple as a few mouse clicks.

The holiday buying season provides an ideal time to check out Internet storefronts –so I did. Although dozens of astronomical instrument and accessory dealers have information online, they all aren’t “e-stores.” I examined only those that offered online ordering of telescopes, excluding those that required a phone call or fax to place an order.

  • Adorama Inc. | www.adorama.com
  • Anacortes Telescope & Wild Bird | www.buytelescopes.com
  • Apogee Inc. | www.apogeeinc.com
  • Camera Corner | www.camcor.com
  • Discovery Store | www.discovery.com
  • Eagle Optics | www.eagleoptics.com
  • Edmund Scientific Co. | www.scientificsonline.com
  • eHobbies | www.ehobbies.com
  • Focus Camera & Video | www.focuscamera.com
  • Hardin Optical Co. | www.hardin-optical.com
  • Lumicon | www.lumicon.com
  • Oceanside Photo & Telescope | www.optcorp.com
  • Orion Telescopes & Binoculars | www.telescope.com
  • Shutan Camera & Video | www.shutan.com
  • Stellarvue | www.stellarvue.com
  • Wolf Camera | www.wolfcamera.com

No comparative pricing was done. The “street prices” of products generally don’t vary much among retailers. Nevertheless, individual merchants can offer Web specials, such as discontinued items or discounts on accessories bundled with a telescope purchase.

The vast majority of these sites use a virtual shopping basket or cart. As you browse products, clicking on a Buy It button logs your choice. Click on a Continue Shopping button, or use the Back button of your Web browser to explore further. You can add and remove products from your cart as you wish. When done making your selections, proceed to the Checkout, where you enter payment, billing, and shipping information. Often your order will be confirmed with e-mail.

A deal-killer for me when buying anything online is not knowing the final cost of an order before entering my credit-card number. While a company may note that a shipping fee will be added, guessing how much it costs to ship a telescope –or any large, heavy object–may prove surprising. When I purchased a new computer monitor via the Internet two years ago, one company would have charged me $70 for shipping. The monitor itself was a few dollars more at the business I finally bought it from, but shipping it added only $20.

The shopping basket allows you to do as much browsing as you like without commitment. Nothing is finalized until you submit your order, and in fact many Internet users merely window-shop. Studies have revealed that consumers fail to finalize about one-quarter of their transactions in online stores. This could be because the person was just browsing, the buyer changed his or her mind (“Wait a minute, will this Dobsonian fit in the Yugo?”), or a technical problem caused termination of the session. Wolf Camera e-mailed me two reminders about my abandoned shopping cart.

Similarities and Differences

The shopping experiences at these online stores were similar. All of the sites were easy to navigate to find specific products. Of the 22 companies examined, all allowed shipping to alternative addresses (to a business or a friend) and all but one had a shopping cart. The exception to the latter was Apogee, which provided a form to fill out and submit electronically to the company. This was the least-convenient ordering method because filling out the form required you to write down (or remember) the name and price of each item.

If you’ve already done your research –perhaps by examining telescopes at a local astronomy-club meeting–and know exactly what you want to buy, it’s easy to do some online comparison pricing. However, what if you don’t know which telescope to buy? Where can you find online sales help? Numerous sites offer guidance on how to select a telescope. Diagrams explain the types of optical systems, and some sites list the pros and cons of each. In a less-rigorous method, EfstonScience and Hardin Optical divide telescopes into categories for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users.

I expected that every store would make suggestions for additional purchases. Although “Want fries with that?” tactics are mocked for their annoyance factor, add-on sales are nevertheless a lucrative tool of retailers. Some companies listed only model-specific accessories, others went farther by recommending tripods, carrying cases, and books. Display the full description for a telescope to check for add-ons. In all, only half of the surveyed companies had some type of accessory suggestions.

Buyer’s Angst

A growing concern about Internet commerce is privacy. Companies collect information about you when you buy online: address, phone number, e-mail address, and credit-card number. Customers presume that their information won’t be passed to mass marketers. To reassure prospective customers, “e-tailers” often display privacy statements prominently on their sites explaining what, if anything, they will do with the information they collect, and about other aspects of the online store, such as the use of “cookies” (data saved by your Web browser so the store remembers who you are the next time you visit). Thirteen of the companies offer privacy statements.

Nevertheless, some people remain uneasy about entering their credit-card numbers and having them bounce who-knows-where through the Internet. Secure transmissions encrypt information so that it will be decoded only by the desired business. While sending credit-card numbers online is of great concern, it isn’t very different from reading your card number to someone during a phone call. In September, American Express announced plans to introduce single-use credit-card numbers. Each time you want to make an online purchase, you’ll obtain a set of numbers that will be valid for only that one purchase.

Online shopping offers many benefits. You can research products, print specifications, compare prices, and find a bargain –and do it all at midnight while eating the last piece of cheesecake. There’s no wasting gas and no hard sell by salespeople. Log on and shop.

20 tiny ways to save big

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Who doesn’t want to save some dough these days? Try one–or all–of the smart ways, and get paid back with big bucks you can squirrel away into a savings account (or use for a well-deserved splurge on yourself!).

Savvy billing switches

1 “I noticed that my family’s favorite cable channels–my husband watches ESPN and the History Channel, my kids like Cartoon Network, and I watch HGTV–are covered under a basic cable plan. By paring down the extra channels we signed up for but never watched, I was able to shave off $42 from our monthly bill.” Saved: $504/year

2 “Instead of giving their grandchildren a few dollars when they come for a visit during the holidays, I asked my parents to buy phone cards for them. The cards inspire my kids to keep in touch with their grandma and grandpa a little more often, and I cut my long-distance phone charges by $17 a month.” Saved: $204/year

3 “To avoid paying extra ATM fees each week (the bank near my office charges nonmembers $2 per transaction), I take out $200 from my own bank twice a month and stash the extra cash at home. Then I take about $20 each morning before I leave for work–for free.” Saved: $144/year

4 “Since cleaning solutions are expensive, I found a way to make my own: I pour white vinegar into an old spray bottle and use it to wash tiles, mirrors, and even windows.” Saved: $36/year

5 “Snail mail can be expensive, especially if you’re sending about ten checks out each month. I save money on stamps by authorizing services I regularly pay (like day care, credit card companies, and even the electric company) to withdraw funds from my checking account. I save $40 in postage, and since the system is automatic, I’m never penalized with high late fees, which sometimes amounted to $200 a year.”

6 “I discovered that my favorite hair salon, like most, will trim bangs for a fraction of the cost of a full hair cut. Now, instead of spending $45 every two months, I stop in for a $5 trim and only go for a full cut every four months.” Saved: $120/year

7 “I saved $56 a month by bringing my lunch to work just twice a week. You’d also be really surprised how much easier it is to stick to healthy eating habits when you preplan your meals.” Saved: $672/year

8 “In order to compare interest rates between credit-card companies, I logged on to www.bankrate.com. Then I called my own credit-card company and specifically mentioned the 3 percent lower rate I was considering switching to. They agreed to match it, allowing me to save in interest.” Saved: $760/year

9 “Signing up for a free Internet-service provider, such as www.netzero.com, can save you at least $30 a month. The best part: You won’t deprive yourself of all the bells and whistles (like instant messaging and junk e-mail filters) that the other, more expensive services offer.”

10 “Since I rarely use my cell phone (and when I do it’s usually to call my husband), we decided to cancel our two separate plans ($50 a month for him and $30 for me) and sign up for a service that offered direct-connect minutes, meaning we could call each other for free. (Try the Nextel Shared Rewards Plan at www.nextel.com.) Instead of spending $80 on monthly service, we now spend only $55.” Saved: $300/year

Smart shopping strategies

11 “I buy jumbo bags of snacks (which cost half the price of those that come in individual sizes), and divide them up into plastic sandwich bags, which makes them easy to throw into each of my kids’ lunchboxes.” Saved: $52/year

12 “To create a lower-cost gift wrap, which can sell for $6 a roll, I spend $2 a roll on brown packing paper instead. Then I have my kids paint on them. This keeps them busy, and adds a sentimental touch to every gift.” Saved: $36/year

13 “A cup of tea costs $1 in our office cafeteria, but all the fixings–hot water, milk, and sugar–are free. So I buy a box of 100 Earl Grey tea bags (which is only $3), and then bring it into work to make my own tea, saving me almost $20 a month.” Saved: $240/year

Crafty cash stretchers

14 “My husband and I found that we can treat ourselves to a night on the town for a third of the price by eating dinner at’home and going out for just coffee and two top-notch desserts. The cafes generally let us linger around longer, so we feel relaxed and still have a great time.” Saved: $960/year

15 “To make an expensive shampoo last twice as long, I keep a bottle of generic baby shampoo on hand and use the luxury one every other day. In addition to allowing me to cut my yearly shampoo budget by about a third, rotating daily with this lighter alternative also prevents any residue from building up on my superfine hair.” Saved: $66/year

16 “I deduct 25 cents from my son’s allowance every time he leaves a light on in the house. It’s not the money I collect from him but the $15 decrease in my electricity bill that has really made a difference.” Saved: $180/year

17 “I cut down on dry cleaning my silk blouses from once a week to once a month by hanging them in the bathroom while I take my morning shower. The steam takes the wrinkles right out, making them look like they’ve been professionally pressed and helping me save about $50 a month.” Saved: $600/year

Swaps that save cash

18 “I save about $5 on postage and $12 on invitations each time I have a get-together by sending guests a link to www.evite.com. On the site, they can see the details of the bash–date, time, theme, and location–as well as the responses of other invitees. Reading personal notes from the people who are planning to attend generates extra excitement for the event and puts a modern, yet inexpensive, twist on all of our parties.” Saved: $102/year

19 “To encourage my kids and hubby to drink more water and less soda, I reuse water bottles with sports tops. I run them through the dishwasher, refill them with tap water, and put them in the fridge. My family is more likely to grab these bottles than fill up a glass with water on their own. Plus, it’s less expensive than soda (I save $6 a week)–and sugar-free.” Saved: $216/year

20 “I put an end to my $3-a-day latte habit (which totaled $60 a month) by purchasing a handheld milk foamer for $12. I put a thermos of black coffee in the fridge at work on Monday, then heat a mug of it in the microwave and foam my own milk each morning. It’s less caffeinated than espresso–and still a special treat.” Saved: $708/year

Softball Bat – 5 Important Factors to Check While Buying One

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Using the asa softball bats has its many advantages for players. With a good bat, you can score more runs and be able to get more hits and have higher number of wins while playing softball. When you are using good bats, you can lessen the number of ground outs and enhance the count of your single runs and even turn them into doubles. You need to consider a number of factors while picking your kind of bat. The length, weight, size of barrel, taper and grips are some of the most vital factors that you need to give importance to while picking a bat for your softball playing.

Length

First of all, you should choose a bat which is long enough to reach the level of your waist from the ground. When you stand straight with arms on your sides, the tip of the bat should be at your waist level. With a bat of a good length, you can get more runs.

Weight

The weight of your softball bat is another vital factor to consider. The weight of the bat actually depends on the strength of the player who uses it. Naturally, a thumb rule for players is to consider the weight of the bat while swinging it during trials. If you are able to swing a bat with great speed and use your hands in a comfortable manner without experiencing any strain, you should pick it. Whether the bat is light or heavy does not matter. Moreover, your decision should not be influenced by the price, material or craftsmanship of the bat. Your bat should be light enough in weight for you so that you can swing your bat easily and can strike your ball farther.

Barrel

The term “barrel” of a bat refers to the top section of a bat. The size of a barrel comprises of its diameter and its length. The standard barrel of any bat for softball playing has a diameter of 2.3/4 inch. As a player, it is actually a matter of choice whether or not you like a bat with a smaller or a longer barrel.

Taper

The diameter of the handle of a bat for softball playing is referred to as “taper”. Bats of a standard size come with a taper which is 31/32 of an inch. However, the taper can be larger or smaller on the basis of how much a bat weighs. Some players like bats with a larger taper. However, some players prefer a narrow taper which helps them to move around their wrist quickly and more easily at the time of swinging their bat.

Grip

The term “grip”, with reference to a bat for softball playing, indicates the covering on its handle. Some bats made of aluminum have a covering made of synthetic or leather. Some others consist of a covering made of rubber. Synthetic or leather covering provides players with a stickier feel and can ensure a stronger grip. A rubber covering, on the other hand, absorbs shocks from strikes in a better way.