Shopping

7 Signs You Are Buying a Counterfeit Product

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | June 2017

 

You love the finer things in life -- designer clothing, precious jewelry and top-of-the-line electronics -- but can't really afford them at retail price. So you take to the internet or pound the pavement in a sketchy downtown shopping district in search of deep discounts. You, dear reader, are a counterfeit merchant's dream come true.

 

The counterfeit market is big business for scammers looking to take advantage of consumers by selling low-cost, low-quality replicas of luxury goods and brand-name products. Last year, the number of counterfeit seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) totaled 31,560 -- up 9% from 28,865 in 2015. The most popular product categories on the CBP's seizure list include apparel and accessories, electronics, footwear, watches and jewelry, and handbags. The total estimated manufacturer's suggested retail price for those items (if they were authentic) was $1.4 billion, according to the CBP.

 

Consumers who get duped by counterfeit goods aren't simply left holding a fake bag. You also expose yourself to identity theft by unscrupulous merchants now armed with your credit-card numbers and other personal information. Perhaps even worse, you risk allergic reactions to the unorthodox ingredients -- such as urine (in fragrances) and high levels of aluminum (in makeup) -- often used in counterfeit beauty products, warns Bob Barchiesi, president of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit organization that helps combat product counterfeiting and piracy.

 

We spoke with several experts about how to detect a fake product before buying it -- and possibly losing a couple hundred dollars in the process. Here are seven signs you're buying a counterfeit:

 

The Price Is Too Good to Be True

 

Before shopping around for the best deal, look up the manufacturer's suggested retail price on its official site or the site of an authorized retailer. Also evaluate the generosity of any discounts or sales. Then, as you navigate further to unverified sites selling what appears to be your desired product, you'll know what the real item should cost. A near-identical product that costs significantly less is likely fake, Barchiesi says.

For example, a Louis Vuitton Montaigne Monogram leather tote bag retails for $2,570. We found a merchant selling replica versions through online marketplace Alibaba.com for as little as $26 per bag.

 

The Product Is Imperfect

 

If you're contemplating spending a few hundred dollars on a luxury item, a quick glance at an online image or a once-over inspection at a brick-and-mortar consignment shop isn't enough. "Not only can the external appearance of an item be copied, but so can the internal serial numbers and authenticity cards," warns Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fordham University School of Law's Fashion Law Institute program.

That's why it's important for shoppers to research a desired item -- down to the exact shape of the hardware [for example, on high-end luggage] and the type of zipper pull on an interior pocket, says Scafidi.

As sophisticated as counterfeiters may be in replicating high-demand products, there's usually at least one giveaway if you look closely enough. Anything that looks sloppy, such as uneven stitching or sloppy edge dye, is a telltale sign of a fake, Scafidi says. Counterfeit products are designed to fool the eye -- not the fingertips: For instance, real "leather looks, feels and smells different than pleather," she adds.

Other features commonly found on fake goods, such as designer handbags, and rarely ever on authentic versions include hangtags, plastic sleeves on handles and masking tape used to protect the feet of a bag, says Graham Wetzbarger, authentication director for luxury consignment website TheRealReal.com.

 

The Product Doesn't Come With Official Packaging

 

Perhaps one of the biggest warning signs of a counterfeit operation is the lack of official branded packaging. You'll typically see this with third-party online marketplaces, Barchiesi notes, where the product listing may state that there's no packaging available with the item. This should raise a red flag immediately, because "legitimate brands spend a lot of money on their packaging," he says. For example, many high-end accessory brands will include a dust bag, which helps protect the exterior of leather goods, such as handbags, from dust and dirt when not in use.

Keep in mind that some counterfeiters will actually take that extra step to include packaging; you should request pictures of it so you can examine it, too. Often, the packaging that comes with fake goods will have misspellings, or the ink will be smeared or the graphics will be blurry, Barchiesi adds.

 

The Seller Won't Respond to Customer Inquiries

 

Manufacturers often publish lists of authorized retailers on their websites or include it in their packaging materials. For example, electronics brand Samsung's site provides a list of more than 100 online and brick-and-mortar retailers who are authorized to sell Samsung products.

Not sure if the cheap online vendor you've discovered is an authorized reseller? Ask a question. Legit sellers should respond to your inquiry swiftly and clearly. If you're dealing with a merchant who is unwilling to answer a simple question about, say, the source of a particular item for sale, use common sense and don't purchase it, says Michael B. Walsh, director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection intellectual property rights division.

 

The E-Commerce Site Doesn't Assure Product Authenticity

 

Reputable consignment sites and tech resellers that aren't necessarily authorized retailers -- such as TheRealReal.com, Portero.com and TechRabbit.com -- guarantee product authenticity or that products sold meet the manufacturer's specifications. Look for a site-wide guarantee on the home page or on the site's FAQ or About Us page.

"Many [fraudulent] websites will mislead shoppers with phrases such as 'guaranteed original' or '100% new'" [on individual product listings], says TheRealReal's Wetzbarger, "or may not mention anything at all."

 

The E-Commerce Site Doesn't Provide a Secure Checkout

 

When shopping online, make sure that you're buying from retailers that provide a secure checkout experience, such as Nordstrom.com and NiemanMarcus.com, which are authorized retailers for many popular brands including Ray-Ban and Fendi. If paying with a credit card, look for a small lock icon in front of the website address, followed by https (versus http for an unencrypted site). Sites that take this measure are helping to protect your personal information from scammers who may use it to open fraudulent credit card accounts or steal your identity. Or shop at consignment sites such as ThredUp.com and Tradesy.com that also offer a secure checkout process via PayPal.

"Websites selling counterfeit or pirated items will often not have secure checkout systems in place," Walsh says. These types of systems cost online merchants extra money to maintain. The lack of a secure checkout, he adds, is a red flag that the merchant may not be trustworthy.

 

You're Buying It on the Street

 

Many major cities have areas that are known as hot spots for counterfeit dealers. These areas are usually located in compact downtown shopping districts and have dozens of walk-up establishments that only accept cash. Some of the most notorious include New York City's Canal Street and Los Angeles's Santee Alley.

Year after year, unsuspecting shoppers -- often, tourists who don't know the shopping district's reputation -- flock to these areas thinking they are scoring huge deals on everything from fine jewelry to high-end skincare products to designer sunglasses, when in fact they're buying fakes. Remember, authentic items aren't sold on street corners, Scafidi says.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

14 Secrets to Shopping at Costco

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | Updated April 2017

 

14 Secrets to Shopping at Costco

 

A Costco membership opens doors, quite literally, to a vast selection of bulk-size groceries and household goods selling at discounted prices. But buying potato chips and toilet paper by the case is just the start. The warehouse club also stocks everything from tires and furniture to electronics and jewelry. With so many items to choose from, Trae Bodge, a consumer expert who specializes in smart shopping strategies, says it's critical to shop Costco with a list to avoid overspending.

 

List or no list, shoppers seem to like the savings and selection. Costco boasts 84 million card-carrying members worldwide, and the worldwide membership renewal rate is 88% (91% in the U.S. and Canada). The chain ranks first in customer satisfaction among specialty retailers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, comfortably ahead of rivals Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale.

 

Thinking of taking the Costco plunge? Here's what you should know before investing $55 in an annual membership.

 

You Don't Actually Need to Be a Member to Shop

If you’re not ready to commit to a year-long membership, there are still ways to shop at Costco. Members are allowed to bring up to two guests. So if you want to check out the warehouse club to see the selection and compare prices, ask a friend or family member with a membership if you can tag along. Want to buy something? The Costco member will need to make the purchase for you -- cashiers check membership cards at checkout -- but afterward you can simply pay the person back.

If you want to shop on your own without a membership, give that same friend or family member the money to purchase a Costco Cash Card for you. These cards are treated like cash and can be bought for as little as $25 (and go up to $1,000 in value). Non-members can use a Costco Cash Card to enter, shop and pay at any Costco location.

And if you prefer online shopping, anyone can make a purchase at Costco.com. However, the product selection is limited for non-members, and non-members also may face an additional surcharge on orders.

 

Membership Fees Are Going Up

You’ll soon be paying more to enjoy the perks of belonging to the warehouse club. Effective June 1, Costco is raising its annual membership fees between $5 and $10 in the United States and Canada. Fees for all Gold Star and Business memberships will increase by $5, bumping up to $60 from the current $55. A Gold Star card is available to anyone and can be used for personal purchases. The membership includes a free additional household card. The Business membership, available only to verified business owners, permits business purchases and bulk purchases for resale.

The annual membership fee for Executive-level members will see a $10 hike to $120 from $110. In addition to the basic privileges outlined above, Executive members can earn an annual 2% reward on most purchases (up to a maximum of $1,000 starting June 1) that can be applied toward future Costco purchases. Executive-level members also receive discounts on various Costco services including travel services.

Costco says the membership fee increase will affect about 35 million of its members with half of them being Executive-level members.

 

You Can Get a Good Deal on a Casket

Caskets are often the single most expensive item purchased for a traditional funeral service, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The average cost of a casket bought through a funeral home is more than $2,000, but depending on the finish the price can climb as high as $10,000. Costco offers a cheaper alternative.

Costco members in the process of planning a funeral can purchase a casket online through the warehouse club's website. Provided by Universal Casket Company, caskets at Costco range in price from $950 to $1,900. Those interested in buying one must first call the casket provider at the number listed on Costco.com to confirm product, pricing and shipping/delivery details before the order will be processed.

Standard shipping is included in the cost of the casket, but expedited shipping is available for an additional fee. Both the shipping address and the billing address must be in one of the 36 states (plus the District of Columbia) approved for casket sales.

 

The Store Return Policy Is Generous (Except on Caskets)

There isn't a time limit on returns or exchanges on most products sold at Costco. However, big-ticket items such as televisions, computers and smart phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase in order to receive a full refund.

That's still a much more lenient policy compared to other mass retailers that sell similar electronics. This includes Best Buy (most items must be returned within 15 days of purchase), Target (items must be returned within 30 days of purchase) and Walmart (most electronic items must be returned within 15 days of purchase). See our story about Retailers With the Most Flexible Return Policies for more.

Among the few exceptions are alcohol and tobacco, which can't be returned where prohibited by law. Diamonds over 1 carat must be authenticated before a refund is approved. As for the aforementioned caskets? All sales are final unless damage occurred during shipping.

 

You Can Even Return Your Membership

Shopping at a warehouse club isn't for everyone. If, after joining Costco, you decide you aren’t getting the best value on the products you buy or you simply don't shop enough to justify paying the annual fee, you can cancel your membership anytime and get your money back.

All you have to do is visit your local Costco, go to the membership desk and request to close your account. As part of Costco's "Risk-Free 100% Satisfaction Guarantee," your membership will be cancelled and you’ll receive a full (not prorated) refund of the annual fee on the spot -- no questions asked and no cancellation fee.

 

1 in 5 Products Are Costco's Kirkland Signature Brand

About 20% of the items found at Costco are from its Kirkland Signature private-label brand. The product line includes everything from home goods and apparel to food and liquor. You can even buy a 72-pound wheel of Kirkland Signature cheese. Costco strives to make its branded items as good as or better than national brands, going as far as manufacturing its products in the same factories used by national brands. According to Bodge, the shopping expert, you can often save a few bucks by opting for the Costco brand over a national brand. However, compare quality as well as price. In quality testing, Consumer Reports gave low marks to Kirkland Signature toilet paper and facial tissue.

We put prices on a few Kirkland Signature items found at a Washington, D.C., area Costco to the test against similar name-brand products. Here’s what we found: A 30-roll pack of Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Toilet Tissue (425 sheets) cost $15.99, while a 30-roll pack of Charmin Ultra Soft 2-Ply Toilet Tissue (231 sheets) was $21.99. A 48-ounce container of Kirkland Signature Arabica coffee cost $9.49, while the same size can of Folger's Classic Roast Coffee rang up for $9.99. A 12-roll pack of Kirkland Signature Premium Paper Towels (160 sheets per roll) was $15.69, while the same size package of Brawny Paper Towels (156 sheets per roll) priced at $15.99.

 

Some Kirkland Products Are Really Good Values

Many store-branded products appeal to shoppers because they are cheaper than national brands. But cheaper isn’t always better. In an effort to identify some of the best Kirkland Signature products to buy at Costco, we homed in on items that are not only less expensive than national brands but also on par in terms of taste and quality. Here are a few of our favorite Kirkland products.

Kirkland Signature bacon, for example, bested top national brands including Oscar Mayer in testing by Consumer Reports. In a quality study of olive oils conducted by the University of California, Davis, Kirkland olive oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards. Kirkland batteries might not last as long as name brands, but they’re a better value once you factor in quality and price, according to Consumer Reports.

 

You Can Buy Low-Priced Organic Foods

Costco may not be top of mind for many shoppers when it comes to buying organic foods, but it might be soon. The warehouse club surpassed Whole Foods as the top seller of organic food. Costco sold $4 billion in organic foods last year compared to $3.6 billion at Whole Foods.

We spot-checked Costco's prices on organic items such as milk, brown eggs and salad mix and compared them with prices at traditional supermarkets. Here's what we found: A 16-ounce container of Earthbound Farm organic spring salad mix cost $4.39 (unit price: 27 cents per ounce) at Costco, while a four-ounce bag of Whole Foods' 365 brand spring salad mix was $1.99 (unit price: 50 cents per ounce). That's practically double the price at Whole Foods.

A two-dozen carton of Costco's Kirkland Signature Grade A large organic brown eggs was $6.99 (unit price: $3.49 per dozen), while an 18-count carton of Safeway's O Organics Grade A large organic brown eggs totaled $7.69 (unit price: $5.13 per dozen).

If you're buying staples such as organic milk on a weekly basis, it may make sense to buy it in bulk since organic milk lasts longer than regular milk. Costco had a three-pack of 64-ounce cartons of Kirkland Signature Organic Whole Milk for $11.49 ($3.83 per carton), while at Whole Foods a single 64-ounce carton of Whole Foods' 365 brand organic whole milk went for $3.99.

 

You Can Buy a Car, Too

Costco members on the market for a new ride can take advantage of the warehouse club's auto program, which includes an online car-buying service. Members purchased 465,000 vehicles through the auto program in 2015.

Here's how it works: You search Costcoauto.com for a new or certified pre-owned vehicle. Once you know the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for your desired vehicle, you can then locate nearby dealers who sell it. You'll be prompted to input your membership information and then be connected with a participating dealer. The dealer will contact you directly to schedule an in-person meeting where they'll provide the Costco member price -- no haggling required. Costco estimates that their member price is typically $1,000 below the average transaction price and varies based on location, desired vehicle make/model, options and accessories selected.

Costco's auto program also allows members to save 15% on automotive parts and services on any of their household vehicles at participating service centers.

 

You Can Fill Up Your New Car With Kirkland Signature Gasoline

With gasoline prices on the rise, a Costco membership can help you score lower prices at the pump. Select Costco locations have on-site gas stations for members that carry store-branded regular unleaded (87 octane) and premium unleaded (91 octane) gas.

During a visit to a Washington, D.C., area Costco location equipped with a gas station, the price of regular unleaded was $1.97 per gallon. Premium unleaded totaled $2.45 per gallon. The cost of regular unleaded gas at a nearby Exxon station was $2.29 (an extra 32 cents), while premium unleaded cost $2.89 at Exxon (an extra 44 cents).

Costco's gas stations are self-service, and there's only one way in and out to speed up transactions. Members can pay using a debit card or Costco credit card. Anyone including non-members can fill up and pay with a Costco Cash Card. Cash and checks are not accepted.

 

Leave the Manufacturer Coupons at Home

Coupons offer shoppers a great way to save. Combining coupons from manufacturers with supermarket sales is a particularly effective strategy to lower your grocery bill. It's also a strategy that won't work at Costco. The warehouse club doesn't accept manufacturer's coupons or discount coupons from outside retailers.

There is some consolation for Costco members: The company issues its own coupons, which can be found in a monthly printed booklet sent in the mail or on Costco.com. Costco's coupons also can be viewed and redeemed either in-store or online via the warehouse club's smartphone app. Recent Costco coupons offered discounts on products ranging from toothpaste to televisions.

 

Leave Your American Express Card at Home, Too

For years, American Express was the only major credit card accepted by Costco. AmEx even backed a variety of co-branded rewards credit cards for warehouse club shoppers including the American Express Costco TrueEarnings Card and the American Express Costco Platinum Cash Rebate card. That exclusive arrangement is no more. Effective June 20, 2016, Costco switched to Visa as its only accepted major credit card.

Costco members who previously used the co-branded American Express card have been automatically transferred over to Citibank’s new Costco Anywhere Visa card. However, it’s up to individual members to decide whether to activate their new cards. Costco will now accept any Visa card, not just the co-branded card from Citi. In addition to Visa credit cards, club members can still use cash, debit or Costco Cash cards to make purchases.

 

Get Groceries Delivered to Your Doorstep

You can order some groceries online at Costco.com, of course, but you might need to wait up to five days for delivery. Faster express delivery in a day or two is available on certain items for an extra charge. But if even a day or two is too long to wait, then consider using an online grocery delivery service that will send a personal shopper to Costco to fill your order and rush it to your front door.

Just keep in mind that the speed and convenience don’t come cheap. A service called Instacart, which operates in 19 states and the District of Columbia, promises to deliver your Costco grocery order in as little as one hour. You don’t even need to be a Costco member. Instacart charges a delivery fee -– the amount varies depending on your order –- plus the prices you pay for your groceries might be higher than what Costco members would pay in-store.

Another service, called Shipt, offers unlimited home delivery of groceries from multiple retailers including Costco for $99 a year. The app-based service aims to be in 50 U.S. markets with more than 30 million households by the end of 2017. In March, Shipt started testing Costco grocery delivery in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, before expanding the offering to other cities.

 

Buying in Bulk Isn't Always a Good Deal

Buying household essentials in bulk seems like a no-brainer. Not only can you save money but you can also save time by avoiding frequent trips to the market. But unless you're shopping for a large family or group, paying to join a warehouse club solely to gain access to bulk-packaged products might backfire, says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com. If the items you purchase in bulk expire or spoil before you finish using them, that's money poorly spent.

In fact, in our story 12 Things You Should Never Buy in Bulk we highlight several staples to steer clear of at warehouse clubs. The two main reasons: Either they have a short shelf life or you can typically find better prices on them elsewhere. Examples of risky bulk purchases include liquid bleach (its effectiveness diminishes after six months), cereal (sale prices at traditional supermarkets are usually less per ounce) and skincare products (they lose effectiveness over time, plus the risk of contamination rises the longer a container has been open).

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

12 Secrets to Shopping at Home Depot

Here is a nice article provided by Bob Niedt of Kiplinger: 

 

By Bob Niedt, Online Editor | March 2017

 

Home Depot is probably the first retailer to come to mind when you’re thinking “ubiquitous big-box hardware store.” The rise of these orange-hued home-improvement centers was a revelation to those who grew up with small, neighborhood hardware stores in the 20th century and who became adult homeowners and DIYers in the 21st.

 

Imagine. Every tool under the sun, building materials, flooring, roofing, lighting, appliances, lawn and garden supplies—all in one cavernous warehouse. Amazing! Home Depot has been a boon to consumers but a bane to the mom-and-pop hardware stores of our youth, driving many out of business and leaving only Lowe’s Home Improvement as its head-to-head competitor.

 

What’s left to discover? Plenty. Here are 12 ways to get more value out of your next visit to Home Depot. Have a look:

 

Go Online Before You Head for the Store

Case in point: Recently, I was in the market for a few plants, some seed and mulch for the yard. Who knew I could land a 16-channel, Q-See 1080p 2TB video surveillance system to oversee my fine landscaping work, with eight bullet, two dome and two auto-focus cameras for only $700--a $500 discount from the full price? This happened to be the online deal of the day.

“These limited [daily] discounts are almost always the best individual deals that Home Depot offers,” says Brent Shelton of FatWallet.com, a deals website. “Shoppers will often get 50% off.”

Once you get to the store, check out the in-store overstock section, which can boast top-brand tools and more at discounts of up to 50%.

Says Benjamin Glaser of the deals website DealNews, “If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a coupon code that will stack on top of existing discounts.”

Hint: Lighting is a big selling area at Home Depot, so bounce over to that aisle. Promotions are often rampant.

 

Look to Price-Match

“Home Depot will price-match any major competitor that has the same item in stock,” consumer-finance expert Andrea Woroch notes. “What’s more, as long as the lower price isn’t a special or sale, Home Depot will beat the competitor by an additional 10%. So it pays to shop with them when you find a better deal elsewhere.”

Just bring in the print ad or pull it up on your smartphone at the register. This may entail Home Depot customer service checking out the competing price. And note: Online purchases are not eligible for Home Depot’s in-store low-price guarantee.

 

Check for Rebates

Before heading out to Home Depot to make your purchase, check the online rebate center to see if you can get an additional discount.

When I clicked on the rebate center, it was loaded with deals on home furnaces and Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostats.

Often, says Shelton of FatWallet, the rebate center features offers on remodeling and building materials, home appliances and Energy Star products.

“Some of the bigger rebates will get called out on the FatWallet Hot Deals forum, especially during seasonal sales, when Home Depot offers 30% to 40% off major appliance purchases,” says Shelton.

 

Lumber for Up to 75% Off

Handy Dans know a good deal on wood when they see one, especially for small projects.

Toward the back of the cavernous lumber section, Home Depot stores typically have a place for the castoffs: pieces of lumber custom-cut in-store from larger pieces that customers have bought.

You can often buy these castoffs for a song—up to 75% off full price, says Saeed Darabi of the money-saving website MoneyPantry. Check for cracks or warping, but you can often find a bargain.

“The good thing is that even the ‘bad’ pieces are usable because they are either not that crooked or cracked, or they are long and have a few feet of totally fine wood for smaller projects,” says Darabi, who salvaged enough good wood from one trip to the discount lumber section last year to build a flip-top tool stand.

 

Know the Secrets Hidden in the Price Tags

As with Kohl’s, there are secrets in the price tags at Home Depot, too. It pays to know the code.

Any item with a price ending with .06 means it is on clearance, says Darabi of MoneyPantry. A price ending in .03 means that’s the lowest final price for that item. If it doesn’t sell within three weeks, it will be removed from the shelves.

 

Yes, You Can Haggle for a Lower Price

Not every employee has the power to lower prices, but it’s worth a try. Consumer-finance expert Woroch said she scored an additional $50 off a washer and dryer that were already on sale at Home Depot. All she had to do was ask.

“The sales associates usually don’t have the power to give you a better deal, but if you ask to speak to a manager, he or she may be more willing to negotiate with you to seal the deal,” says Woroch. “Use tactics like reviewing [with the manager] recent sales that you missed or upcoming ones that you may qualify for.” Same with Lowe’s, by the way.

 

Already Bought Something at Home Depot? Track the Price

Home Depot stands by its prices – for two solid weeks. If you buy an item from Home Depot, especially something costly, and it goes on sale elsewhere, Home Depot will give you a price adjustment if the transaction is within 14 days of your purchase.

 

Coupons? Really?

Twice a year, customers who have signed up for e-mail notifications or text alerts will get coupon offers good for $5 off store purchases of $50 or more, or for $10 off a $100 buy.

Join the Garden Club, opt in for text messages with exclusive deals, and just by signing up, you’ll score a $5 Home Depot voucher, plus exclusive coupon offers all year round.

Says Darabi, “What I really like about it is that you actually get worthwhile deals. In the past few years that I have been a Garden Club member, I have received dozens of exclusive coupons that saved me anywhere from 10% to 50% on many items. I have also gotten a few free plants and flowers.”

 

Peruse the Paint Desk for Bargains

Just like the Island of Misfit Toys, Home Depot’s (and Lowe’s) paint department relegates mixing mishaps to an “oops” section. There, you’ll find paints that didn’t match expectations or were abandoned by customers who ordered but never picked them up.

So why would you want such rejected paint? Because you can get it for 25% to 75% off, says Darabi. The paints are perfectly fine.

It may not be exactly the color you want, but if it’s for, say, a spare bedroom, closets or other space that’s rarely used, the option just might work at a lower cost.

 

Take Advantage of the DIY Workshops

At every entrance to every Home Depot, there’s a chalkboard with a menu of upcoming workshop sessions in the store (and if you aren't old-school-chalkboard, find the workshops online). These 90-minute sessions provide how-to classes from remodeling pros on home repairs, installation, paint tips and more.

These can save you money or time by letting you know what to buy in advance and how to properly budget a home repair project. After all, it will be much more expensive to bring in a contractor after botching a home improvement project you informed your significant other you could do perfectly fine on your own. (Yes, I’m speaking from firsthand experience here.)

 

Get Free Online Shipping – to Your Home Depot Store

If you see something on Home Depot’s website, you can get it shipped to your neighborhood store at no cost to you. This includes finding something online when it’s out of stock in the store.

Also: “Home Depot sells some online exclusives, but you can dodge the shipping cost by selecting to have the items shipped to your local store for free pickup instead,” says Woroch.

 

Buy Expensive Power Tools at Low Prices

From time to time, Home Depot will offer display tools, or ones that are slightly damaged, at discounted prices. Perhaps there is a scratch or a dent, or perhaps a tool is missing a minor assembly piece. You can save 50% or more compared with fresh-in-the-box prices, says Darabi.

“A few months ago, I picked up a DeWalt DWE7480 contractor’s saw that sells for $399 for around $195,” Darabi says. “The only thing wrong with it was that it was a display item, so it was missing the screws that hold the included wrenches.”

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Secrets Trader Joe's Shoppers Need to Know

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | Updated March 2017

 

Trader Joe's is well-known to its fans for low prices on unique food items, ranging from cookie butter to turkey corn dogs. The chain is also known for its quirky culture. Employees, easy to spot in their Hawaiian shirts, go out of their way to be helpful, and plastic lobsters are used to decorate stores.

 

The unconventional touches make shopping at Trader Joe's a far different experience than shopping at a typical supermarket. Stores are smaller and selection is limited, so you might not be able to cross off every item on your list. Trader Joe's stocks about 3,000 products, versus the 30,000 carried by traditional grocers. However, you can find basics such as bread, milk and eggs, as well as some produce and meats.

 

This is just the tip of the Trader Joe's iceberg. If you've never set foot inside one of its more than 400 locations, here are ten things you should know before you make your first shopping trip.

 

1. Aldi Is Part of the Family

Trader Joe's was founded in 1967 in Pasadena, Calif., by entrepreneur Joe Coloumbe. It was acquired in 1979 by Aldi Nord, a German company that also operates Aldi grocery stores in Europe. Aldi Nord's sister company, Aldi Sud, operates Aldi stores in the U.S.

Despite the corporate ties, the two chains have distinct marketing strategies. Aldi is price-driven and undercuts competitors by selling cheaper private-label versions of the most popular items at traditional supermarkets, says Jon Springer, retail editor for Supermarket News. Trader Joe's also aims for affordability, but its driving force is uniqueness. It focuses on its own line of mostly prepackaged products in unusual flavor combinations that you won't find anywhere else.

 

2. There Are No Sales or Coupons

Most supermarket chains put select items on sale every week. But at Trader Joe's, what you see is what you get when it comes to price, says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com. That means you won't find any Trader Joe's deals listed in your Sunday circulars.

The grocer claims that because it already offers the lowest prices it can every day, there's no room for sales, specials or coupons. To test this claim, we compared the price of Speculoos Cookie Butter (Trader Joe's most popular item) with that of a similar cookie spread found at Target. At a Trader Joe's we visited in the Washington, D.C., area, the Speculoos Cookie Butter cost $3.69 for a 14-ounce jar. At a nearby Target, the same-size container of Lotus Biscoff Creamy Cookie Spread cost 30 cents more.

 

3. Eight Out of 10 Items Are Store Brands

Eighty percent of the products carried by Trader Joe's are store brands, says Alison Mochizuki, the company's director of public relations. These include items with the Trader Joe's, Trader Jose's and Trader Ming's labeling. The grocer says the heavy emphasis on store brands helps keep costs low because it buys direct from suppliers whenever possible (no middleman markup) and then passes the savings on to its customers. "Most stores charge their suppliers fees for putting an item on the shelf," Mochizuki adds. "This results in higher prices, so we don't do it."

Health-conscious customers should know that the company claims all of its store-branded food and drinks are free of artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, synthetic colors and genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

 

4. Its Prices Aren't Always the Lowest

To find out whether Trader Joe's really does offer lower prices versus other stores, we visited one of its Washington, D.C.-area locations to do some comparison shopping. We looked at the cost of everyday essentials such as milk, fruits and vegetables, and priced them against similar items available at Whole Foods, an upscale grocer, and Aldi, a discount supermarket.

Despite Whole Foods' reputation for high prices, a half-gallon carton of its 365 brand organic whole milk cost $3.99, the same as a half-gallon of Trader Joe's brand organic milk. A 16-ounce bag of Trader Joe's brand organic baby carrots cost $1.99, while at Whole Foods and Aldi the same same-size package of organic baby carrots was $1.49. At Trader Joe's, a four-pound bag of navel oranges rang up for $3.49, while the same same-size bag of oranges cost only $1.99 at Aldi.

Another thing to keep in mind, says Cindy Livesey, founder of LivingRichWithCoupons.com, is that a lot of Trader Joe's produce items are prepackaged, which doesn't allow shoppers to choose how much they actually want to buy.

 

5. Products Come and Go From Store Shelves

It's easy to get attached to your favorite snack. Just be warned that at Trader Joe's those snacks might not be around forever. Petits Palmiers -- puffed pastry cookies that had been on Trader Joe's shelves since 2003 -- were discontinued in 2015 due to declining sales. Last year the company also dropped round sweet potato tortilla chips, which had been around since 2011, but quickly replaced them with new and improved sweet potato tortilla chips that are triangular in shape.

Trader Joe's rationale? Because store space is limited and new products are introduced every week, items that don't catch on quickly with customers are wasting valuable real estate. Besides poor sales, Trader Joe's says a product might be discontinued if it's seasonal or if the cost of producing it increases significantly.

 

6. You Can Sample Anything Before Buying It

If you see something that piques your interest, but aren't totally sure you'll like it, Trader Joe's allows customers to have a taste on the house. Seriously. Simply ask an employee to open up whatever it is you're considering purchasing, so you can try a small sample before forking over your hard-earned cash. If you don't like it, you don't have to buy it.

Trader Joe's also has a no-questions-asked return policy. If you purchase something, try it at home and decide you don’t like it, simply bring whatever you haven't eaten back to your local store for a full refund.

 

7. Checking Out Can Take a While

You might need to set aside more time for a trip to Trader Joe's than you would a stop at your local supermarket. Depending on when you shop, you may very well experience an especially long wait in the checkout line, says Lauren Greutman, founder of IAmThatLady.com, a blog about frugal living.

While doing our comparison shopping, we made three separate trips to Trader Joe's. The first was on a weekend and, as you might expect, it was packed. The checkout line on a Saturday afternoon snaked through the store, and it took 25 minutes to reach a cashier. The second visit was mid-afternoon on a Thursday, and the wait at checkout was less than five minutes. We went back on Thursday night, about an hour before closing time, and again the wait was just five minutes.

The lesson: If you're in a hurry or need to do a big shop, go during off-peak hours. Trader Joe's tends to be busiest on weekdays right after work and on weekends. If you can, shop early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds.

 

8. A Ringing Bell Means Help Is on the Way

Unlike most supermarkets that use intercoms to summon assistance, Trader Joe's has a bell system. In keeping with its kitschy maritime theme (remember the plastic lobsters?), the grocer uses actual bells located near the checkout area to signal to employees that help is needed.

One ring lets employees know that another cash register needs to be opened. Two rings mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout area. Three rings signal that a manager is needed for further assistance. While this system may be a bit odd, shoppers seem to like the chain's eccentricities. Trader Joe's ranked number one in customer satisfaction among supermarket shoppers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index's 2016 Retail Report. Publix was second, Aldi ranked third and Walmart finished last.

 

9. Stores Donate Unsold Food to Local Charities

While offering customers quality products is a top priority for Trader Joe's, so is giving back to the community. On its corporate website, Trader Joe's states that its "long running policy is to donate products that aren't fit for sale, but are safe for consumption."

Each store has a donation coordinator who is responsible for working with local food banks and soup kitchens to arrange daily donations. "Store crewmembers evaluate products every day and if they feel something isn't safe for consumption, they will not donate it," says Trader Joe's Mochizuki.

In 2016 , the grocery chain says it donated $341 million worth of products to charities across the country, up from the $321 million in goods Trader Joe’s donated the previous year.

 

10. No Trader Joe's Near You? Ask for One

If you're now curious about visiting a Trader Joe's only to find out that there isn't a store near you, you have some recourse. Potential shoppers interested in bringing a store to their area should visit the Request a TJ's in My City page on Trader Joe's website and fill out the short questionnaire.

While Trader Joe's can't guarantee it will open a store in every requested city, if consumer demand is high enough in a particular area management vows to give it serious consideration. In 2016, the grocer opened 17 new stores ranging in location from Westfield, N.J., to Bellevue, Wash., and has nine more stores scheduled to open later in 2017 ranging in location from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Diego.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail  info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

8 Things You Must Know About Grocery Shopping at Publix

Here is a nice article provided by Rebecca Dolan of Kiplinger:

 

By Rebecca Dolan, Online Community Editor | February 2017

 

If you’re going grocery shopping in Florida, you’re probably headed to Publix. With more than 750 locations, the regional chain isn’t just ubiquitous across the Sunshine State, it is popular, too. The grocer ranks #2 (and has done so for four straight years) in research firm Market Force Information’s annual “loyalty index” that measures shopper satisfaction; in 2016, only Wegmans, which doesn’t operate any stores in Florida, ranked higher.

 

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Publix is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the U.S.-- it has more than 350 locations outside Florida, for a total of 1,100 -- and it is one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. If you’re not from the Southeast and have ever wondered what all the Publix fuss is about, you may soon get a chance to see for yourself. The chain is slowly migrating up the East Coast, with 12 new Virginia locations planned for late 2017 and beyond.

 

Find out what Floridians have known for ages. Here are eight things you need to know about shopping at Publix.

 

1. You Can Save Big With Coupons

If you’re a coupon clipper, you’ll get more mileage at your local Publix. “Publix has a very generous coupon policy compared with so many other grocery retailers across the country,” says Josh Elledge, chief executive of SavingsAngel.com, a money-savings website.

Manufacturer’s coupons, internet coupons and coupons from nearby competitors are good at Publix. (Look for a list of acceptable competitors at your local store.) Publix also allows you to “stack” your coupons, using more than one coupon per item, including a competitor’s coupon.

“The best deals almost always involve stacking multiple discounts,” says Elledge. “If you can stack a BOGO [buy one, get one] sale, a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon, you just might walk out of Publix with your groceries at 80% off or better.”

Filling a prescription? The Publix pharmacy also accepts prescription coupons from all local retail pharmacies.

2. It May Not Be the Cheapest Grocery Store In Town

Hold on to all of those coupons -- you might need them.

We compared prices for a basket of store-brand grocery items -- including a jar of peanut butter, a jar of pasta sauce, a box of spaghetti, a can of tuna, a half-gallon of milk, a cup of plain yogurt, one dozen grade A eggs and a bag of frozen corn -- at a Publix, Trader Joe’s and Walmart in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Total cost: $12.30 at Publix, $11.62 at Trader Joe’s and $9.24 at Walmart.

A similar exercise conducted by Charlotte Observer reporters as Publix expanded in North Carolina in 2014 revealed Publix to be about 2% cheaper than Harris Teeter but 20% more expensive than Walmart.

3. Publix Makes It Easy to Locate Items

There’s no need to wander the aisles at every location in town if you’re looking for, say, a specific type of cake mix for Junior’s birthday party. Publix, as do some other grocers such as Wegmans, makes it easy to see if your preferred location stocks a specific item before you leave the house. Check the Publix online product catalog, which lists products that are carried by each store.

Already at your local Publix? Use the store’s app to identify the aisle in which any item you seek is located.

4. You Can Return Anything

Yes, even if it has already been brought home and opened. Food, too. That’s the Publix guarantee: “If for any reason a customer is not satisfied with their purchase, he/she can return the item and we will cheerfully refund them the entire purchase price,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix.

5. The Shelf Tags Are Written In Code

At Publix, those little tags under each item are meant to do much more than simply relay the price of each item. Using a variety of icons – look for the colored circles – the labels will tell you such things as if the item is organic or made with organic ingredients; if the product is made without artificial preservatives, flavors or colors; if the item is eligible for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) funds; and if the item is eligible for flexible spending account (FSA) funds.

6. The Deli Will Make You A Sandwich Your Way

If there’s one thing that makes Publix so beloved among its devotees, it’s the made-to-order deli sandwiches. The menu of “Pub subs” includes typical cold-cut options, as well as subs featuring the store’s popular chicken tenders.

But the staff will make a sandwich out of anything in the deli area, including the vast array of prepared salads or cold cuts not listed on the menu. This sandwich-lover’s secret isn’t advertised in stores or online, but Publix’s Brous says: “Publix is all about customer service. And, yes, our deli associates are known to go that extra mile to make our customers happy.” So go forth and design the sub of your dreams.

7. New Parents and Pet Owners Can Enjoy Extra Savings

Whether you’re a new parent or a pet parent, there’s a savings club for you. Join the free Publix Baby Club to score coupons on baby products (until a child turns two), as well as a free copy of the book Caring for Your Baby and Young Child for first timers.

If your child is of the furry variety, there’s also the Publix Paws club. Members receive monthly coupons for pet food, toys, treats and more. You’ll also get a heads-up on sales of pet products.

8. There's No Savings Club

Unlike other grocers, Publix does not offer a loyalty card that triggers extra savings at checkout on select items. “We do not have a loyalty program, as we believe every customer should be entitled to the same shopping experience,” says Brous. “[Publix is] all about saving our customers money with our programs, including our weekly BOGOs… and competitive pricing.”

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.