As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Shopping

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.

philly-soda-tax

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.

{ 0 comments }

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.

{ 0 comments }

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:

amazon1

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.

{ 1 comment }

Does your New Year usually start with a resolution to pay off all that debt you racked up during the holiday shopping season? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Holiday retail sales increased 3% in 2015, and many consumers carried that extra spending into the new year in the form of new debt.

The key to avoiding debt during the holiday season is pre-planning. Even now, with the holiday gifting rush approaching like a freight train, you’ve got time to prepare for the pinch. Here’s how:

1. Look at last year’s spending

To keep spending under control, you’ll need to make a budget. It can be hard to make a realistic holiday budget, though, unless you know what you’ve spent in the past. Without at least some idea of what you’ve spent in previous years, you’re stuck flying blind. So, now is a great time to pull out last year’s bank account statements and see what you spent on various holiday expenditures.

Write down a few of the major categories, such as decorations, food, party supplies, and gifts. Then, total up your approximate spending last year in each of these areas. These numbers will give you a realistic starting point for this year’s budget.

2. Make a Budget

Once you know what you spent last year, work on creating a budget for this year. Your budget can be as detailed or as vague as you prefer. That’s really a style issue.

For instance, you can budget a total amount for all gifts, or assign different budgets to your children, spouse, extended family members, friends, etc.

The key here is to leave some room for flexibility, and to be realistic. If you love giving gifts, don’t restrict yourself so much that you wind up just blowing your budget in the end. Instead, find other areas where you can cut back. Host one less party, or have a pitch-in so you spend less on food. That way, you can spend more on gifts.

Of course, part of keeping the budget realistic is to not budget more than you can actually afford. So you may need to look forward at your probable income and other expenses in the coming months. Figure out what you can free up, and create a budget that reflects what you can actually afford to spend.

For more guidance, check out our guide to creating a budget that works.

3. Set aside money each month

It’s never too early to start setting aside money for holiday spending. In fact, the earlier you start squirreling away, the easier it’ll be to save.

One option is to open a free checking or savings account. Then, have money automatically transferred into it each month from your paycheck. This makes savings painless and easier to handle.

Another route is to just create a budget category for holiday spending each month. You can let the money build up in your regular checking account (if you’re disciplined enough). Or you can start shopping early using this budget line item.

4. Start putting together wish lists

If you just started making gift lists (now that we’re in November), you’ve missed out on some serious potential savings. Next year, I would definitely recommend starting in October, or even September. Heck, you could even have your kids put together their wish lists as a summertime activity.

This is helpful for a couple of reasons. For one, starting early helps those you’re gifting — especially your kids — think more in-depth about what they’d actually like to receive for the holidays. It eliminates a lot of the whim ideas and temporary wants. Plus, it gives you more time to think about great (and affordable) gifts to give.

But if you are just getting started, no fear. Have your kids make a list today, and then make them revisit their ideas in a week or two. See if anything has changed. Ask family members to set up Amazon wish lists, so they can pick out various things as they think of them. And you can buy online, instead of trotting from store to store in the middle of the holiday rush.

Plus, with Amazon, you can wait until closer to Christmas to buy and then utilize free Prime two-day shipping. My favorite part? I buy and Prime ship everything to my parents’ house, so I don’t have to fly with all of the presents in my luggage. It saves me a LOT of money on baggage fees.

5. Shop early, shop often

Making gift lists early gives you more time to shop, as well, which means more time to take advantage of sales and specials. Start shopping as early as you can, and you’ll be able to take advantage of online and in-person sales for items on your wish lists.

One easy way to do this is to create your own lists for each person you’re gifting on Amazon. You can create private lists, too, but check them often to see if there are price changes on the items. When you see a decent price drop, snag that one right away.

If you shop using credit cards, you could also take advantage of the price change guarantees that many have. With some credit card companies, such as Discover and Chase, you get a price protection guarantee. This basically means that if you find the same item for a lower price after you purchase it on your credit card (within a certain timeframe), the company will reimburse you for the difference.

6. Order ahead for free shipping

Loads of online retailers offer free shipping these days, which can save you a lot of money. However, not all retailers’ “basic” free shipping includes a two-day transit time, like Amazon. With many retailers, you’ll need to allow for longer-term shipping of a few days or even a few weeks.

Shopping earlier gives you time to save on shipping because you can opt for slower, cheaper options. Waiting until the last minute could cost you big bucks in expedited shipping costs!

7. Choose the best rewards credit card

The goal, of course, is to keep from going into credit card debt that you can’t pay off during the holiday season. However, credit cards with great rewards can give you cash back, points, or retailer bonuses when you use them. Before you start serious holiday shopping, check out which credit cards have the rewards that will best suit your shopping habits.

For instance, the Discover it card offers 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in purchases from Amazon each October through December. This can amount to some serious cash-back savings, if you do lots of your holiday shopping on Amazon.

Check out a variety of cash back cards to see which one will net you the biggest rewards on your holiday spending. Then, be sure to pay off the balance each month with that money you’ve been saving. Then, you don’t have to worry about carrying your debt into the new year.

8. Do some DIYing

Giving yourself time to gather up gifts can help you save in other ways. For instance, you can use that extra time to whip up some DIY gifts. Even if you’re not incredibly crafty, you can make presents for at least some of the people on your list. DIY projects are great options for saving money on gifts for extended family members, friends, and your kids’ teachers.

If you’re a more experienced DIYer, Pinterest is full of excellent ideas for in-depth projects. You can get ideas for all sorts of gifts, from clothes to quilts to woodworking projects. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your list. Many of these gifts are super thoughtful and time-consuming, but could also save you from holiday overspending.

9. Book travel at the right time

November and December can be the most expensive times to travel, since so many others have the same idea of being home for the holidays. When you book your travel can make a difference, though.

According to one news article, the best time to book Thanksgiving travel is a surprisingly-late October 31st. The best time to book Christmas travel? Near the end of November. You can also save up your travel rewards card points throughout the year to offset some of your travel expenses at the holiday season.

10. Buy decor, gift wrap, etc. ahead of time

Don’t wait until you’re wandering the aisles of Target midway through December to buy wrapping paper and tree trimmings. You can often get these items much cheaper before the holidays, at discount shops and local dollar stores. Another option is to check out craft stores. Large chains like Michael’s and Joann will start running sales on holiday decor and wrapping paper months before you’re ready to decorate.

While you’re at it, put a note in your calendar to shop for next year’s decor and gift wrap at end-of-season sales this year. It’s amazing how much you can save on Christmas tree decorations when you buy them just after the first of the year.

11. Cut back on your budget

If you utilize all of these tips, but are still having trouble meeting the holiday pinch, you may need to find ways to temporarily cut back on your budget. Consider instituting a meatless Monday, and kick your grocery savings into your holiday budget. Or give up your morning latte in favor of coffee brewed at home.

Cutting back on these small expenses for a few months can give you more wiggle room. You can then use that money to give back to those you love during the holiday season.

No matter how much, or how little, you plan to spend this holiday season, the keyword indeed seems to be that: plan. Putting a budget in place, making lists early, and shopping as far in advance as you can, will be a big difference in how much you spend. And, they can give you a leg up in your efforts to start 2017 in the black.

{ 1 comment }

Black Friday Was a Bust

by Luke Landes
Holiday shopping

The National Retail Federation has admitted defeat. Sales over the past holiday weekend dropped 11 percent over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013 according to the organization in a press release yesterday. The organization reversed course after being highly positive about the prospects for shopping leading up to the announcement of the estimated figures. Shopping traffic for the […]

11 comments Read the full article →

Black Friday Deals: Don’t Fall for These Dirty Tricks

by Luke Landes
Black Friday Dirty Tricks

For some reason, this year I’ve been bombarded more than any other year by advertisements for Black Friday deals. The marketing is coming from helpful people who just want to share the good news with their friends, people who are clearly paid to spread the messages, and retailers who simply want people to buy as […]

8 comments Read the full article →

Money Systems That Lead to Success: Food Planning

by Luke Landes
Money System for Your Meals

The diner is a New Jersey staple of the restaurant industry. Once you sit down at a diner, you are presented with a thick menu, enumerating more dining options than you could possibly handle. If there’s any indication that having more choices makes the selection process more difficult, it’s the diner menu. The story of […]

8 comments Read the full article →

Rescheduling My Life: Grocery Delivery

by Luke Landes
Groceries

On Sunday, I decided to take another shot at improving my time management skills. For as long as I can remember, time management has never been my strength. Always drawn to activities I find exciting, sometimes my responsibilities suffered. I’ve been through a number of programs and read a number of books designed to improve […]

19 comments Read the full article →

Ebates Review

by Luke Landes

There is more to maximizing cash back than just using the right rewards credit cards. Many card issuers also offer marketplaces or online shopping portals where, if you use your appropriately branded credit card, you can earn 1 percent to 7 percent cash back or more. That’s in addition to the 1 percent to 5 percent cash back credit […]

25 comments Read the full article →

When Does It Make Sense to Pay More For Quality?

by Smithee

My brain is slowly re-wiring itself now that I’m finally free of credit card debt, and I’m wondering about things that I never seriously considered before. I remember many years ago talking with a friend who tried explaining to me that it made sense to spend $600 on a pair of shoes, if they were […]

10 comments Read the full article →
Page 1 of 41234