My wife thinks I’m crazy.
OK, there’s nothing unique about that. But her reasons for thinking my bus doesn’t go all the way to the stop are probably uncommon.
You see, my wife thinks I’m daft because I’m constantly bringing home stuff that I find on our neighborhood Internet discussion board — items that are either ridiculously cheap or free. I’ve picked up furniture, appliances, electronics and so on. As I look around me, I realize I furnished my home office that way. We live in an area with decent disposable income, you see, so most of our neighbors don’t bother with eBay … to my benefit.
But my dear wife was raised in Africa, where secondhand goods carry the taint of poverty. She upbraids me for picking up pennies off the sidewalk for the same reason. “You’ll never get rich that way,” she says. Mathematically undeniable, but still: It’s a penny. All I need is 100 of them and I can go to Dollar Tree (107, if you figure in tax).
I admit it: I hunt bargains like cats hunt mice. And with the holidays coming up, you should too.
A Penny Saved
Sovereign Confidential readers know me as a guy who’s obsessed with wealth protection. But at any given moment, your wealth is a function of your income and your expenditures. So if you’re really interested in wealth preservation, you should be just as interested in saving money as in making it.
The holiday season is the retail sector’s last chance to make decent annual figures. It’s also a time when we’re supposed to be setting aside thoughts of wealth protection and focusing on selfless giving. That’s why retailers make it as easy as possible to spend more money than necessary to achieve both goals.
So here are my top personal holiday-shopping strategies … tactics that leave me feeling like a fine friend or relative and like I’ve found a bag of pennies on the street (note — these aren’t endorsements):
- Amazon Warehouse Deals: As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon sells a lot of stuff sight unseen. With that business model, it’s a given that Amazon gets a lot of returns. Instead of subjecting customers to a complicated process, however, Amazon typically issues a refund immediately and only charges minimal return shipping — nothing if there was a defect. Of course, once it’s been sold, it’s no longer “new.” So Amazon established an entire business unit that does nothing but collect these items and sell them again, usually at a steep discount. I always go to Warehouse Deals first before I buy a new item; I’ve bought everything from DVDs to garden machinery to computer hardware that way, and I’ve never been disappointed. TIP: It’s a good idea to have these items shipped to you rather than directly to your recipient, so you can tidy up the packaging if necessary, since they have usually been opened several times.
- eBay: Oh, eBay. What would life be like without you? If you haven’t tried it, you might think that it’s a place where individuals push secondhand goods, like a gigantic Internet yard sale. Hardly: The top eBay sellers are all virtual merchants who sell brand-new items. Auctions as a proportion of eBay sales drop every year, replaced by fixed-price sales of brand-new items by professional merchants. These are often at a discount compared to other online retailers, and always less than brick-and mortar stores. You have to search more to find the best deals here than on Amazon, but they are there: At least one-third of the Bauman family’s holiday shopping this year has been on eBay. TIP: Always check to see where shipping originates. Chinese sellers are huge on eBay and items typically take two to three weeks to arrive. If you need something in a hurry, look for a U.S. or Canadian seller.
- Overstock.com: My stepdad, who was a Navy supply officer and has bargain hunting in his blood, nerves and every other part of his being, swears by this site. Overstock.com sells all sorts of stuff — clothing, housewares, electronics, sporting goods, books … you name it. As their name says, they sell overstock items … inventory that others can’t move. Since they buy large amounts at low wholesale rates, they’re able to sell most things at very competitive prices (but not always: be sure to check the price against other retailers). In addition, they charge $2.98 for shipping, per order, flat rate. TIP: Factory refurbished items usually don’t fall under manufacturers’ warranties, and unlike Amazon, Overstock.com doesn’t guarantee these items. Be sure to buy the optional warranty coverage for electronics, appliances and the like.
- DealNews.com: DealNews is an “aggregator,” which means it trawls for discounts currently being offered by both online and brick-and-mortar retailers and dishes them up to its website subscribers in exchange for consideration from the retailer. In addition to physical items, DealNews also finds travel specials and keeps track of in-store sales events at major retailers. I just started using this site about six months ago and so far I’m impressed. I checked the site this morning and found at least three things that are significantly cheaper than the prices I paid for them before I knew about DealNews. TIP: Remember that you’re not buying directly from DealNews; they’re just redirecting you to the retailer. Be sure to practice good online shopping hygiene, as I recommended recently, at any retail site to which it directs you.
So there you have it — be a good giver, thinking of friends and family, and a frugal shopper, keeping wealth protection in mind, at the same time. Invest your savings, and who knows? You may accumulate enough to make your gifts to loved ones bigger and better … but not more expensive … every year.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor