Tag Archives: shopping

Living in the Future: Mobile Gift Cards

A while ago, I posted links to my SwagBucks and MyPoints accounts because I was trying to earn enough points to get gift cards to use for our family vacation. I didn’t make my goals in time for that, but I did recently get enough points to order some gift cards to use for school supplies and household items. So I’ll be getting a regular plastic gift card in the mail for Staples, but for Target the only option was an e-gift card.

Now, I’ve gotten e-gift cards for Amazon before, and of course you have to use them online. You can do that with Target as well. But Target also lets you use e-gift cards in-store, via mobile phone!

What you need: a smartphone, the Target app for your smartphone, and the card number and access number for the gift card.

The Target app will ask you to enter the card number and access number to load the card on your phone. When you get to the checkout counter, open the app, go to My Gift Cards, tap the button for that card, and have the cashier scan the bar code. That’s it! Well, I suppose you could have the same problem I did – my phone completely lost its wireless connection somewhere in the store, and I had to get it to reconnect first.

This will work for both e-gift cards (sent to you via email) and for physical cards. Just add the numbers from your physical cards to your phone, and you’ll always have them with you.  You can even send and receive gift cards by phone.

I’ve been using bar codes on my phone for airline tickets, bus tickets, event tickets, and now gift cards. This is hugely convenient, and I look forward to using this method more often.


No, Target didn’t pay me or give me anything for this post. Just a happy customer.

Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

This morning I went to Fred Meyer and got some doughnuts for breakfast (it’s our anniversary!). I decided to also get $15 cash, because I still owed the two younger kids their allowance. But, I was in the self-checkout lane, and I forgot to give myself my cash! I didn’t realize it until I was out running errands after breakfast and stopped at the bank.

Well, Fred Meyer was on my way home, so I decided to stop and see if anyone might have been kind enough to turn in the cash.

The cashier asked for my receipt, and said (of the other cashier) “she saw the cash and picked it up.” She checked my receipt, and handed me three five-dollar bills. Yay!

And mind you, this was three hours later. I thought it highly unlikely that I’d get the cash back, but figured I’d give it a try.

That, I think, is part of my philosophy of being a customer: it never hurts to ask, as long as you aren’t going into it with a sense of entitlement. If the cashier had said “nope, sorry,” I would have been disappointed, and mad at myself, but it’s NOT the store’s job to cover for my forgetfulness, so I would have understood.

But if I’d just stuck to “mad at myself” and not bothered to ask, I would have missed out!

And I do this in other situations, too — asking for a discount on a damaged item, or a refund on a defective item (moldy sour cream, for instance), negotiating a price at a garage sale or on Craigslist. Or, getting something after a deadline has passed, or arranging a substitution. And sometimes they say no, but sometimes they say yes!

It’s really important to be gracious, though. For instance, businesses using Groupon often report problems with unpleasant customers – people who insist on redeeming expired Groupons, or who want half-price items directly instead of buying the Groupon.

Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you forgot about your Groupon, and you’re one day late, go ahead and ask! Maybe they’ll say yes. But they’ll more likely say no. And you need to accept that, not insist that you are entitled to a discount even though you are the one who made the mistake.

Asking isn’t easy for me, and I don’t do it every time, but I’m often glad I did.


Photo by bfishadow on Flickr, used via CC BY 2.0


Sustainability and Socks

I’ve been announcing ad nauseum recently that I would be attending the annual Fred Meyer sock sale. It’s held on Black Friday, for six hours, and all socks and tights are half price.  Many people stock up for the year during this sale. I’m not a fan of Black Friday, but this is the one sale I’ll usually go for.

This year, I found out some friends from Girl Scouts would be coming down the the Fred Meyer in my neighborhood for the sock sale, and I agreed to meet them outside the store at 4:00 a.m. (doors open at 5:00).  We were close to the front of the line, and the crowd was orderly and respectful, so except for the getting up at 3:30 a.m., it was a positive experience.

I’ve wondered, though, whether this is a sustainable practice? It’s certainly good for our budget. But should I be buying from a local business (Fred Meyer was once local, but is now owned by Kroger)? Should I be looking for used instead of new? Army surplus socks? Organic socks? Make my own?

Let’s see what the other options might look like:

Shopping local: As far as I know, I’d have to travel more than a mile or two to find a truly local business selling socks. For instance, I’ve heard good things about Sock Dreams, but they’re in Sellwood, 11.6 miles away by car.  They do, however, offer free shipping for online orders. The socks look gorgeous, but the prices are at least twice what I paid at Fred Meyer.  I might try Sock Dreams sometime for a gift; they do have all kinds of pretty and unusual items. They also have wool socks for babies, which aren’t widely available.

Used socks: I know, it probably sounds weird to some of you. And you won’t find socks at all resale shops; I don’t recall seeing used socks at Goodwill, for instance. But I have gotten socks and tights for the kids from a local children’s resale shop before. This particular store is only a mile and half away, and often has good-quality Hanna Andersson socks and tights available. These don’t wear out as fast as most socks, and are still in good condition. Some of the socks and tights I’ve bought there have been worn by all three of our girls. Unfortunately, they mostly stock clothing up to size 8, and our eldest is wearing size 10 (girls) clothes and size 7 (womens) shoes, and is nearly five feet tall.  And being the eldest, she’s the one who actually needed socks and tights the most.

Military surplus: I haven’t tried this, but have been considering it. I like wool socks, and have been wondering whether they’d be cheaper from a military surplus store.  I didn’t get a chance to visit one; the closest that I know of is more than a couple of miles away.

Organic socks: Socks made from organic materials are generally considered more sustainable; they’re made from organic cotton, wool from organically raised animals, etc.  They cost two to three times as much as socks from conventional materials.  Fred Meyer does have a section of organic socks for women, and I did consider them, but did not purchase any.

Make your own socks: Ha.  If we waited for me to knit socks for everyone, we’d be waiting a long time. It is a skill I’d like to learn, but I’d rather not be dependent on my ability as a sock-knitter.

Sustainability has several different components. For instance, AIGA’s Living Principles for Design divides sustainable design into four streams: environmental protection, social equity, economic health, and cultural vitality.  It’s not just about protecting the environment; it’s about making life livable for people, too.  So even in buying socks, I don’t just reach for the organic version, preferable though it might be.  I don’t automatically assume that buying locally is my best option. I also need to consider what’s sustainable for my family’s budget, and how much time I have for shopping, and how much gas I should use to get there.

I’m comfortable with my decision to shop the Fred Meyer sock sale. If we need more socks, I’ll probably check the resale store, and for gifts (or fun) I might try Sock Dreams. And maybe, one of these days, I’ll learn to knit socks.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Time to Make a Choice

Yesterday I test-rode an Electra Townie Balloon 8i Xtracycle at Clever Cycles.  Today I tried out the Madsen Urban Utility Bicycle and an Electra Townie 7D at the Hollywood Bike Gallery, and a Radish at Clever Cycles.  Now I’ve got to decide what to ride!

The Electra Townies are both good bikes.  The 8i has an 8-speed hub gear system, while the 7D has derailleur gears.  Both handled equally well for me.   The upright posture on a Townie does take some getting used to.  Upright really means upright!  It’s a whole different feeling. Also, the 8i has big, cushy balloon tires, and the 7D has slightly less cushy tires.  Tires, of course, are changeable. Finally, the 8i has roller brakes, and the 7D has simple linear-pull brakes

The big difference between the two for me is price.  The 8i is $850, and the 7D is $440 (not including Xtracycle conversion).  Another difference, according to Dean at Clever Cycles, is in the axle.  The 7D has cheaper axles, and the hubs are likely to need replacement in a year or so.  The axle also sticks out more on the 7D, so it’s more prone to bending.

The Madsen utility bike was at first attractive to the kids.  They liked the idea of riding around in a large plastic bucket. The price is comparable to that of a complete Xtracycle package — $1299.  However, a test ride quickly helped us decide against this bike.  I didn’t like the handling; it felt hard to balance even after riding it around empty for a while.  I also didn’t like the way the gears worked.  The levers were difficult to manage, and it constantly felt like the gears were clicking in and out of place.

When I tried putting the kids in the bucket, they didn’t like it any better.  They actually felt less secure than they did on the Xtracycle, despite sitting on a seat with a seatbelt on.  It was also much harder to get going fully loaded than with the Xtracycle.

Finally, the Radish.  This is a sweet bike.  The Radish is specifically manufactured to be an Xtracycle, whereas the Townie (or almost any other bike) has to be converted from a regular bike to an Xtracycle.  I loved riding this bike.  Body position while riding is more like a regular bike — in between totally bent over and fully upright.  The Radish has an 8-speed derailleur, which shifts by simply twisting the right handlebar.  It shifted smoothly, without clicking in and out of place while riding.

The Radish does have a few disadvantages.  First, it doesn’t have a step-through.  You have to be able to swing your leg over, which might be a problem if someone is sitting right behind you.  Also, it doesn’t have the flat-foot technology of the Townies.  On a Townie, you can actually put both feet down while stopped, and keep the bike upright rather than leaning over to put a foot down.  On the Radish, I did have to lean over to put a foot down flat, or else balance on my toes.  Finally, the Radish has different tires — they’re made with sharp edges, which can catch while turning (and, according to Dean, are more prone to flats).

As far as price goes, the Radish and the converted Townie 8i setup are pretty comparable.  Using the Townie 7D (or some other bike entirely) would bring the price down.  I did ask at the Bike Gallery what they would recommend for an Xtracycle conversion, but they were fairly vague about it.  The salesperson said that they stock the 700cc conversion kit, rather than the 26″, so it sounds like that’s the type of bike they work with more often.

As far as customer service goes, Clever Cycles rocks.  The Bike Gallery salespeople were helpful and attentive, but Dean at Clever Cycles really knows Xtracycles; after all, he rides one himself!  And Clever Cycles is getting some Townie 7D’s in, if that’s what I choose, so I’ll definitely be heading there to buy.

But before that…decisions, decisions.

Bicycle Commuting Mama: Bike Shopping Day

I’m going shopping for my new bike today.  I’m sure I won’t be bringing anything home right now, but it’s exciting anyway.

Some people would probably (if they were reading my blog) wonder why I’m going to do this.  For the amount I’m planning to spend on a new bike, I could go out and buy a very basic used car and drive to work, which would be sooooo much easier.  Why am I messing around with bikes?

Because it’s the right thing to do.  Because I really do believe bikes are the future.  Even if we develop plug-in hybrid electric cars, we still have to find a way to generate that electricity, and that’s not going to be easy.  We are going to need bikes, so I might as well be prepared, right?

Besides, I’m going to look way cool on my Xtracycle.

HFCS-Free Shopping

After hearing this week about mercury being found in high fructose corn syrup and in food products containing HFCS, I decided to be slightly more careful than usual about the groceries I bought. I normally try to buy more whole, healthy foods than processed foods anyway, and I often do read labels, but not on everything. Here are some of my choices and findings.

Yogurt: Although the Washington Post article I cited mentions yogurt as one of the problem foods, the store-brand yogurt I selected does not contain HFCS.

Granola bars: I was worried about these, but the cheap Sunbelt granola bars don’t contain HFCS either.

Canned soup and chili: My husband likes to have canned things around for quick lunches. On the cheap side is Nalley’s chili. It doesn’t contain HFCS, but I must be getting used to better food, because I just didn’t want to buy it. I chose some Healthy Request soup instead. Still processed, but less salty, and affordable.

Frozen pancakes: Processed again, but we usually keep some kind of quick breakfast item on hand because we’re going to have one of THOSE mornings at some point during the week. I looked at Krusteaz and the store brand, and in this case found that while the store brand did contain HFCS, Krusteaz did not. Score one sale for Krusteaz.

Snack crackers: Nabisco crackers were on sale for Super Bowl snacking. My kids like Wheat Thins, but it turns out that Wheat Thins contain HFCS, and Triscuits do not. Triscuits for everyone!

Bread: This was the hard one. Every traditional sandwich loaf of wheat bread (I didn’t even look at white) contained HFCS, except for a small, low-carb loaf of Sara Lee bread. I didn’t want that. Many of the other breads cost more than I wanted to pay. I ended up with a loaf of Franz San Juan Island 100% whole wheat bread. Hopefully the family won’t mind that it’s a different size and shape. I also got a loaf of cracked-wheat sourdough. And yes, I know that we could bake our own bread, too.

My big oops? I tossed a box of crisp rice cereal into the cart without checking the ingredients. It didn’t occur to me that it might be a problem until I had reached the car with the groceries, but it does contain HFCS. I guess one out of the whole shopping trip isn’t too bad. We also have a lot of fresh produce and staples like beans and rice on hand, so we’ll be doing well.

Holiday Budget vs. Holiday Values

My kids have plenty of stuff.  We could stand to get rid of a good portion of the stuff, in fact.  But what did I just buy for them?  Yep.  More stuff.

Why didn’t I make a better choice?  It’s about the money.  I’d rather give them something like good arts and crafts supplies or dance classes or basketball camp.  But these didn’t fit into our ultra-slim gift budget.  Toys and games from Big Lots did.

I think we made fairly good choices, considering.  But I’m realizing that this is one reason why even poorer kids in the U.S. have so much stuff.

Future Economy: Needs vs. Wants

After reading my previous post, @tylerinCMYK asked about my definition of a need, as opposed to a want.

We all know about the most basic needs of human beings: food, water, clothing, shelter.  Technically, anything beyond these could be considered a want.  But our ideas about what is a basic need have changed over time, too.  For instance, to many people now, health care is a basic need, or right.  It’s not something that you should have only if you can afford it.  Security could also be considered a basic need.  We expect our governments to protect us, rather than hiring our own security or buying guns.

Now, let’s think about computers.  Need?  Want?  It’s gotten to the point where at least part-time access to a computer is a need for most people in developed countries (and I’m sure they can be darned helpful in less developed countries as well).  But it’s hard to say who really needs a computer at home, and who should be content borrowing computer time at the public library or renting a computer at Kinkos.

We bought our first computer at a time when I was taking a writing class and planning to take my writing more seriously.  Email wasn’t ubiquitous in the writing world yet, but I did need to type my assignments, and computer time at Kinkos was expensive.  As time went on, we used the computer for more and more things, like paying bills and doing research, and gradually it became an essential tool in our lives.  Now I get cranky if I have to pay a bill using a check.  Email has also become my main mode of communication (which is great, because I hate using the phone).

Getting back to my original motivation for buying a computer, did I really need to take a writing class?  Technically, no, of course not.  That’s more a question of priorities, though.  If writing is important to me, then yes, I need to put whatever resources (time, money) I can into it.

So when it comes to needs vs. wants, I think it’s more about being mindful of what you spend money on than about drawing a line in the sand between the two.  And our economy will need to accommodate this, rather than relying on selling people more and more mindless stuff.