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Consumer

philadelphia-beverages-taxLast year, the city of Philadelphia decided to pass into law a “beverage tax,” which taxes the sugary drinks you consume at the rate of 1.5 cents per ounce.  At the time, there was some considerable outcry from residents of the city. Nevertheless, the government stuck to their guns.

Well, at the turn of this new year — on 1/1/2017, in fact — the tax was enacted. Consumers are quickly feeling the effects, and are none to happy about it.

What It Is

Taken directly from their city government website, Philadelphia lawmakers explain where the tax is to be levied.

The tax is not just on sodas. This tax is on any non-alcoholic beverage, syrup, or other concentrate used to prepare a beverage that lists as an ingredient any form of caloric sugar-based sweetener, including, but not limited to sucrose, glucose, or high fructose corn syrup.

Drinks considered “diet” or “zero calorie” are also taxed. Specifically, this tax is on any non-alcoholic beverage, syrup or other concentrate used to prepare a beverage that lists any form of artificial sugar substitute, including stevia, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), saccharin, and advantame.

A quick look at social media shows hundreds of posts today from people taking screenshots of their receipts to show just how much this tax will actually cost you.  You hear the details of 1.5 cents per ounce and might not think much of it. When you start to buy gallons, six packs, 12 packs of your favorite soda or sports drink, though, you’re going to pay quite a bit more than you expect.  Let’s have a look at an example.

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On the receipt above, you’ll notice a consumer purchasing a 10 pack of Propel Water (w/ Berry) for a retail price of $5.99.   These are just over 20 oz. a bottle, so the pack is a little over 200 oz. of total liquid. At a tax rate of 1.5 cents per ounce, the consumer ended up paying $3.04 just in the beverage tax alone.

Then, because democracy is so awesome, the sales tax is added AFTER the beverage tax. This means that the great residents of Philadelphia are paying 8% sales tax ON their beverage tax.  A $5.99 10-pack of Propel water (which actually doesn’t have any sugar, ironically), now costs $9.75.  This particular individual was stunned to see the cost, so they voided the transaction. And I don’t blame them.

Who Loses from the Soda Tax?

When you consider what the Philadelphia soda tax is meant to accomplish, there are two clear cut losers:

  1. The Sugar / Sports Beverage Industry – With the cost of everyday drinks like Gatorade and Pepsi being increased by as much as 150% (depending on the size of the container), the beverage industry is going to see a steep decline in demand.  There’s just no way around it. When you were paying $.30 for a 12oz can of Coca Cola at the grocery store and now are paying $0.48 cents a can, there will be a group of people that say “No, thanks.”   This decline in demand will, of course, be limited to just the city of Philadelphia. If the merits of this tax are well publicized in the coming months, though, other cities could join in for the added revenue.
  2. The Wallets of the American Consumer – I wouldn’t call myself an addict when it comes to drinking soda or sports beverages. But when they go on sale at the grocery store, I’ve been known to buy them in quantity (“four 12-packs for $10” happens a few times a year, and I like to buy just that many).  If there’s 144 ounces per case of 12 cans, that’s 576 ounces of soda in my $10 purchase.  In Philadelphia, my $10 purchase is now an $18.64 purchase… and that’s not good for my wallet.  The same goes for consumers who spend $1.99 on a gallon of iced tea (now with an additional tax of $1.92) or a liter of Mountain Dew (plus the new tax of $0.51).  Consumers will lose more money for buying the same everyday items.

Who Wins from the Soda Tax?

Once again I can find two clear cut examples of positive outcomes from the Philadelphia beverage tax:

  1. Early Childhood Education & City Programs – The city of Philadelphia anticipates that $91 million annually will be collected from this soda tax, and the majority of that money will go to fund early childhood education, parks, and libraries.  The remaining funds (roughly 20%) will target other city programs and employee benefits.  The sum raised is not as much as you might anticipate given just how much the cost of beverages will increase, but remember this is strictly for one city.
  2. The Health of the American Consumer – Allow me to speak from experience: the sheer amount of sugar in my beloved bottle of Snapple Apple is more than I should likely be consuming in a week, let alone in 15 minutes.  The reason these drinks taste as delicious as they do is because they are dripping with the sweet stuff. Philadelphia is not only looking at a new revenue source, but a way to tackle diabetes and obesity.  A “sin tax” has always been defined as a tax on things like gambling, tobacco, and alcohol, but it would appear we may be getting ready to add sugar and sports drinks to the list.  If this ever reaches Connecticut, the increased cost may just be enough to get me to start drinking water exclusively (or at least a LOT more than I do).

Grocery stores in the city are doing different things in order to inform consumers their drinks are going up in price.  Some list the full price on the sticker below the item on the shelves, some have sent out notices in their circulars, and others have decided to avoid the subject. The latter are just ringing up surprised consumers at the register, which I wouldn’t imagine going over too well for those not paying attention.

Philadelphia makes up roughly 0.5% of the entire US Population. So, while this is just one city, it’s a big one. This tax is now on the minds of 1.55 million people.

Keep an eye on this tax to see if your city adopts a similar policy and plan for a healthier lifestyle to keep your wallet and your waistline in check.

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Well, we’re less than two weeks from Christmas, which means the shopping pinch is upon us. If you’re like me, you’re probably nowhere near done with your Christmas shopping – still have three people to shop for, and we are coming down to the wire.

This year, though, I’m avoiding that last-minute, mad dash at the mall. How? Well, today, I am taking advantage of Free Shipping Day. I am getting all of my Christmas shopping finished once and for all, from the comfort of my couch.

What is Free Shipping Day?

Every December, hundreds of retailers participate in what’s known as Free Shipping Day. This year, it falls on Friday, December 16 (today!). On this day, online shops waive their standard shipping charges, with guarantees that any purchased items will arrive in time for Christmas.

It was founded in 2008 by the same people who brought us CouponSherpa. They noticed that online sales plummeted following Cyber Monday, as most consumers figured that their items might not make it in time for Christmas after that point. Therefore, it seemed that most people switched to in-store shopping for the remainder of their list, if they didn’t buy it on Cyber Monday.

Its founders, Luke and Maisie Knowles, noticed that many online businesses were offering free shipping around the holidays, with much lower qualifying order thresholds. FreeShippingDay.com was a place where they could bring all of these merchants together, and allow the average online consumer to find out who was offering to waive postage for their last-minute shopping.

In 2010, which was the third year that Free Shipping Day was held, online shoppers spent $942 million. This made Free Shopping Day the third highest spending day of the 2010 holiday season. That number continued to grow, even crossing the billion dollar threshold.

Beginning in 2013, the website mandated that all companies participating agree to waive all minimum order requirements, so that every purchase would qualify for free shipping. Of course, they also had to guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve for all orders placed on the promotional day. That year, sales dropped slightly (as some merchants were unable or unwilling to meet both stipulations). However, sales quickly rose back up and Free Shipping Day still hovers around the $1 billion sales mark each year.

So, Who Is Included?

For this 2016 holiday shopping season, there are a whopping 1,220 merchants participating in the promotional shipping day. You can view the complete list, and even search by category, on Free Shipping Day’s website.

These merchants include Barnes & Noble, Target.com, Lululemon, Cabela’s, Tommy John, aerie, and (obviously) many more. Again, all of these retailers promise that not only do they have no-minimum free shipping through midnight tonight, but they will also deliver by Christmas Eve.

So, hop on over to freeshippingday.com, browse the stores, and finish up that gift list tonight. Santa will thank you next weekend.

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ally-penny

Are you the type of person who picks up coins on the street? Even pennies? Well, I’d encourage you to step up the habit — and the rest of you may want to take up this hobby, at least for the next few weeks.

Ally Bank has a fun scavenger hunt promotion going on right now, called Ally Lucky Penny. They minted 100 special pennies and dropped them in each of ten metropolitan cities. Since doing so last month, Ally has been giving out little clues as to where you can find these copper coins.

The pennies were dropped in Washington, DC (so believe me, I’m also on the lookout) as well as San Diego, Los Angeles, Charlotte, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Austin, Miami. Each city had a total of ten coins dropped in random locations, but keep in mind that coins move. So, just because one of the town’s hints says it’s in a park somewhere, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been inadvertently moved across town (or even to another city!). It’s probably wise to go ahead and check your coins each time you get change, no matter where you live, just in case one of these pennies winds up in your pocket.

So, what happens if you end up with one of the special pennies? You’ll need to take it into an Ally Bank, and in exchange, they will give you a 100,000% return… or $1,000 in cold, hard cash. Not a bad deal, just for checking the jingle in your change purse.

But be on the lookout now, as this promotion only goes through December 31, 2016. For more information, rules, and city-specific clues, visit AllyLuckyPenny.com. Good luck!

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In 2006, I was receiving about five deliveries a week from online shopping orders. What can I say? I was an online shopaholic.

Amazon Prime was only a year old at the time, and I became tired of hoarding filler items in order to qualify for the $25 free shipping minimum. To me, receiving free two-day shipping on most Amazon items for $79 a year was a bargain. It was that “happy medium” between instant gratification and having to drive to a brick and mortar store, hoping an item was there, and waiting in line for checkout.

Since then, Amazon Prime has grown to more than just free two-day shipping.

Amazon Prime Membership

The standard Amazon Prime Membership is $99 per year and includes:

  • FREE Two-Day Shipping on tens of millions of items
  • Prime Music. Unlimited, ad-free access to millions of songs and thousands of playlists and stations with Prime Music
  • Prime Video. Instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime Video
  • Amazon Drive. Free unlimited photo storage
  • Prime Reading. Read unlimited books, magazines, and more on any device with Prime Reading
  • Twitch Prime. Ad-free Twitch viewing with free in-game loot and a free channel subscription every 30 days.

Most of my friends and family members who have Amazon Prime don’t take advantage of all the features or fail to understand all the features that are available. If you are looking for a Netflix alternative, the Prime Membership pays for itself. Plus, it comes with additional benefits — if you want to listen to ad-free music or read a book every now and then, you get that, too.

Let’s take a look at each feature.

Free Two-Day/Expedited Shipping

Two-day shipping charges for most items without a Prime Membership usually start at $6 a shipment. However, an Amazon Prime membership includes many shipping benefits in addition to just getting free two-day shipping.  Here are the other shipping benefits listed on Amazon’s website:

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FREE same-day delivery is also available in many metropolitan areas, an added value of about $32 or more for shipping costs. (I got this number by estimating Fedex same day costs for a one pound shipment in the same zip code).

Many of those metropolitan areas also offer Prime Now, which offers FREE 2-hour delivery. If you only need two or three items from the supermarket or drugstore, the convenience of Prime Now may be worth the small tip to the delivery guy when you consider the time and gas saved.

Prime Music

Prime Music includes over two million ad-free and on-demand songs in the Amazon library. As of 2014, Pandora had about 1.5 million songs in their library. Currently, Pandora One is priced at $4.99 a month. Amazon’s functionality and catalog (which you’ll access for free with Prime membership) is very competitive with Pandora One’s ad-free offerings.

Prime Video

Prime Video includes award-winning Amazon Originals, exclusive streaming rights to many TV series, and thousands of other movies and TV shows. In 2016, Amazon’s original series were nominated for 16 Emmy Awards, so these are quality shows and movies that can directly compete with Netflix, HBO, and Showtime’s catalogs.

In addition, you can concurrently watch Prime Video on up to three devices (as opposed to Netflix’s Standard Plan, which includes two devices). You can also download Prime Videos for offline viewing on mobile devices for when you travel. The Netflix Standard Plan is $9.99 a month — compare that to Amazon Prime’s membership rate in terms of months, and it comes out to $8.25 a month for Prime Video (assuming you don’t utilize your membership for anything else).

Amazon Drive

You’ll get free unlimited photo storage with Prime Photos, and 5GB on Amazon Drive for personal video and document storage.

Google Photos is a direct competitor with Prime Photos, and is free for high-quality (lower resolution) images. If you would like to store your DSLR-quality images on Google Photos at maximum resolution, you will more than likely go over the 15GB of free storage limit provided with your Google account. You may have to upgrade to 100GB of Google Drive storage at $1.99 a month, which will allow you to store more DSLR-quality images on Google Photos at original resolution.

With your Amazon Prime membership, you can store an unlimited amount of DSLR-quality images on Prime Photos as long as your Prime Membership is active.

Prime Reading

Last month, Amazon launched a new Prime Reading program which grants you access to a catalog of over a thousand books, magazines, Kindle Singles, and more. Many of these books are available for purchase on the Kindle app for around $3.99 to $4.99.

Twitch Prime

Are you a gamer? Do you follow other gamers on Twitch? One of the lesser known features of a Prime Membership is Twitch Prime, which gives you ad-free viewing, a free channel subscription every 30 days, and free in-game goodies for some of the most popular games.

With the exception of the aesthetic Turbo Badge and Banner, Twitch Prime is identical to Twitch Turbo subscription ($8.99 a month). Even Twitch recommends considering cancelling your Turbo account if you subscribe to both!

Amazon Prime Value Calculator: Adding It All Up

Your favorite games, online shopping habits, music streaming preferences, and video streaming routines will vary from family to family and person to person. Because of this, estimating the value of an Amazon Prime membership can be a little difficult.

However, by comparing Amazon Prime features to competing services and subscriptions, we can determine the value of all of the benefits of an Amazon Prime membership with our handy Amazon Prime Value Calculator.

If the value of your services are over $99, then it is worth subscribing to Amazon Prime. Even if you intend to just use Prime Video or Twitch Prime, those features alone makes it worth subscribing.

Purchasing Your Amazon Prime Membership: Discounts

  • From now until Black Friday 2016, you can get a free trial of an Amazon Prime Membership for 30 days.
  • For the past few years, Amazon Prime Memberships have been discounted during the week of the Emmys to celebrate their nominations in the 67th and 68th Emmy Awards. In the past, this has been a steal at $67 (2015) and $68 (2016), respectively. I’m guessing that when Amazon Prime Originals get nominated again next year, you can expect a $69 discounted membership rate during next year’s 69th Emmys.
  • If you’re a qualifying student, the Prime Student membership gives you a free 6-month trial and

“After your 6-month trial ends, your Prime Student membership makes you eligible to receive 50% off Amazon Prime, including all Prime benefits, for up to four years or until you are no longer a student.“

Extra Amazon Prime Benefits: Tips, Tricks, & Tools

  • You get early access to some Lightning Deals.
  • Itching for Black Friday deals in the middle of the year? Amazon gives you exclusive discounts on Prime Day.
  • Amazon’s acquisition of Diapers.com lead to the creation of Amazon Family, which gives new moms and dads 20% off of diapers and more.
  • You can share select Prime Benefits and your digital content with up to two adults and four children using Amazon Households and Family Library.
  • Use Chrome extensions. There are two great Chrome browser extensions that can help with your Amazon shopping experience: Camelizer will search CamelCamelCamel.com for pricing trends for any Amazon item and Honey will search for any relevant coupon codes or less expensive sellers on Amazon.

Amazon Device Tips

  • If you own a Kindle, you already have access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Kindle First. Prime Reading will unlock more free content to read, but Kindle Unlimited may be worth it for you voracious readers out there.
  • If you own an Echo or Echo Dot, you can get an Echo plan subscription of Amazon Music Unlimited (only available for play on your Echo device) for $3.99 a month. Prime members get a full subscription at $7.99 a month.
  • Check here to see if your current Smart TV or internet connected media device supports Amazon Prime Video. Don’t have a compatible device? Purchase a Fire TV to start streaming your Prime Video content.
  • Going on a road trip? Download Prime Video movies for offline viewing on a Fire Tablet.

Summary

The Amazon Prime subscription is definitely worth the price for most people. Uamazon2sing the calculator, it only takes about nine shipments under $49 and occasional use of both Prime Music and Video to utilize a total value over the $99 membership price.

For those new to cord-cutting, Prime Video will help with the transition and will also give you alternatives like Prime Reading to get you away from the tube.

Content has shifted from tangible mediums, to digital files, to subscriptions, and now as a service.

Amazon clearly understands this shift and has aligned their Prime Membership as a freemium model. They offer free shipping to everyone on orders over $49, or orders that include $25 worth of books.

When you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you are subscribing to their first tier of freemium services listed above. This introduces you to the Amazon ecosystem. With the purchase of Amazon brand devices, this can further unlock new features and functionality of your Prime Membership. The final freemium tier are the additional subscription services of Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Music Unlimited.

Whether you are a music enthusiast, book nerd, couch potato, computer gamer, student, or new mom, Amazon Prime has something for everyone. With our tips, tricks, and Amazon Prime Value Calculator, you will definitely find out if it is worth it for you.

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Telephone

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Holiday shopping

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It’s the height of home repair season, a time when established contractors are often in demand and unavailable. That’s a big opportunity for the fly-by-night operators to step in. Hiring a contractor to do work on your home, whether it’s a relatively small job or a major renovation, is a big deal. For most consumers, […]

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