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The Conspicuous Consumer

So Long, Farewell, etc. ... But before I go, a few final tips

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 4

Travelers’ Aid: Little-known websites that help you get away from it all

Even though TripAdvisor is my go-to website when I’m thinking about travel, there are more specific sites that I frequent as well. A quick rundown:  First, if you’re trying to figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B - does it make more sense to drive or fly to Nashville, say? - go to www.rome2rio.com. The site lets you enter your departure and destination cities, along with the dates if you know them, and then presents you with the cost, in 0

Go Figure: Want a bargain? Check out the kids department (for yourself)

I once complimented a woman on a Ralph Lauren sweater - the kind that go for several hundred dollars - and learned that she’d gotten it for a surprisingly low price, even though it hadn’t been marked down. How? She’d found the sweater in the boys department.   It wasn’t a fluke. Boys and girls departments can produce some big savings when you’re shopping for sweaters, jackets and fleeces that are loose-fitting rather than body-hugging. North Face, for instance, charges $140 for its Oso women’s fleece 0

Good-Time Gifts … that you can buy super-fast

If you’re a procrastinator - or just someone who thinks a teetering pile of presents under the tree is overdoing things - it’s not too late to prove the truth of that old chestnut about “the gift that keeps on giving.” Simply go online and buy a gift membership in an organization or attraction tied to the recipient's interests. Print out a certificate, add a ribbon and you’re all set.  Someone who loves exploring the state’s most beautiful spots, for instance, would likely appreciate membership in 0

Bullseye: Making sure you weren’t targeted in the Target security breach (plus, want a 10 percent discount?)

Like 40 million other people, I shopped at Target in the run-up to the holidays - and used plastic to pay for my purchase. Now, like 39,999,999 other people, I need to be extra vigilant about monitoring my charges. Target, as has been widely reported in the press, has announced that it was targeted by hackers who obtained data about the credit cards and debit cards used in the retailer’s U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15. Online purchases were not involved.  According to a 0

Shipping News: Order today, Dec. 18, to get free delivery by Christmas Eve

If you’ve still got items on your gift list and you can’t get out to stores, today’s the day to shop online: Hundreds of retailers promise to get your orders to you by Christmas Eve - with no charge for shipping (and no minimum order). The freebie comes courtesy of the annual promotion known as Free Shipping Day, now in its sixth year. Go to Freeshippingday.com for a complete list of participating retailers, along with the promo codes you’ll need. The offer applies to in-stock 0

Deal - or No Deal? Be sure to read the fine print on gift cards

As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is the time of year when you can get good buys on gift cards. Last week, at Costco, I bought two $50 cards for The Delaney Grill/The Mick in Holyoke for just $59.99. They’re usually $79.99 per pair, but Costco is knocking another $20 off the price until Dec. 24.   Some gift card deals, though, aren’t really deals at all. An area supermarket is currently offering $10 back on the purchase of two $50 Visa gift cards. 0

Bright Idea: How to get a great deal on energy-saving bulbs (by Dec. 31)

Q: If every household in the U.S. replaced one incandescent bulb with one CFL bulb, how many homes could be lit by the energy saved? A: 3 million  That’s according to a public service ad I just saw on the morning news. Quibbling about what exactly “could be lit” means - one bulb? every lamp in the house plus Christmas tree lights? - the point is obvious: If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to switch out incandescents for energy-saving bulbs. And if you happen to 0

Sweet Charity: The “giving season” has arrived for groups that do good

I make most of my charitable donations at the end of the year, and I guess the news is out: In the past week alone I’ve gotten 18 appeals via snail mail, and at least a dozen by email.   This year, though, marks a first for me. I’m making all my contributions to local organizations tomorrow, Dec. 12, through Valley Gives.   Hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Valley Gives lets people contribute via a common website (valleygivesday.org), to their favorite causes in Hampshire, 0

Hiding in Plain Sight? How to squeeze the most from a Google search

The Google search engine is an amazing tool … until it lands you in a swamp of random references that are useless to you. I’ve come up with a few tactics to counter that - including one that seems off-the-wall but actually works (see #5).   Let’s say you’re looking for a local snow plowing service. You enter snow plowing western Massachusetts in the search field, and a few local hits pop up among all the megasites that aggregate information. But you can do better.  1) Enter 0