Tuesday, December 31, 2013
The Conspicuous Consumer is ending its run. This will be my last post on GazetteNET, and the final print column will appear in the Gazette on Jan. 6. It’s been a great assignment, made even more so by the feedback I’ve gotten since The Conspicuous Consumer debuted in 2010. Many of you have told me about the ways in which the column has been useful to you (and a few of you have even stopped me when I’ve been out shopping to give me your two cents’ worth - making me feel like a very conspicuous consumer indeed).I have a long list of topics that never made it into the column. But here are a few quick tips before I sign off:* When you’ve got a gripe, don’t complain to friends and family - complain to the company involved. I just had two half gallons of milk sour well before the “best by” dates, so I called Garelick Farms. The company is sending me a check to cover the cost of the milk - plus a little extra for my trouble, the phone representative said.* Don’t be too quick to toss out the packing material of items you've bought by phone or online. Often some advertising material has been tucked in, and it can be worth a look. Last week I ordered a $9.99 bamboo tray from West Elm (free shipping included). When I unpacked it, I discovered a bonus: a $10 Williams-Sonoma gift card. Be just as observant with cash register tapes. Today I came across $5 in rewards money on the bottom of a CVS receipt that I’d stuffed into a folder and forgotten about.* If you’re looking for reasonably priced souvenirs when you're traveling, head for a supermarket. There’s nothing better than local food to convey the flavor of a place. Drugstores have good finds, too. This fall, on a trip to Austria, Santa’s helper - that would be me - snagged a special stocking stuffer at a Vienna drugstore: a Super Mario Pez dispenser that’s only available in Europe.* Why is removing price stickers so difficult? My weapons of choice: Goo Gone, a single-edged razor blade (used with extreme care), a hair dryer, and my latest find, WD-40. When I’m armed with all four, stickers finally release their death grip.* Be on the lookout for class-action settlements that you might qualify for. Last month I got a check for $50 as part of a settlement for AOL subscribers. You can see a list of current settlements at www.classactionrebates.com, including one awarding $40 to individuals who bought early 3G versions of Apple’s iPad before June 7, 2010. * Standing in line at the supermarket checkout, I once met a man who made a game of tallying up the cost of everything in his shopping cart before he got to the register, to see just how close he could come. It’s good brain exercise - but it’s also a way of making sure you don’t get charged incorrectly. A couple of weeks ago my husband noticed that a cashier had rung up two packages of raspberries, even though he’d only put one package on the conveyor belt. So be on the lookout - and then speak up.* When you’re traveling, seek out docent-led tours of museums and other attractions. They’re almost always free, and almost always reveal nuggets of quirky information you won’t come across in a guidebook. The most memorable tour I’ve ever gone on was sponsored by the Grand Central Partnership in New York City. The guide, a dapper gentleman with a handlebar mustache, a walking stick and a voice trained for the stage, transformed a pedestrian walking tour in and around Grand Central Station into high theater.* Many retailers match competitors’ coupons. If you’ve got a coupon for 40 percent off at Michael’s craft store, for instance, you can use it at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores as well.* Be frugal - but don’t be cheap.