Archive for the ‘Consumer Issues’ Category

Cookie Dough Review

I don’t have the patience to mix up a batch of homemade cookies, so I’m a huge fan of ready-to-bake cookie dough.  During the holidays, I baked the usual variety for the kids to decorate: gingerbread and sugar cookies.  Being in the midst of the magical season and wanting to do something different, I tried a new flavor: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut. They…were…heavenly!  Just the right amount of white chocolate chips (I’m not a big fan of any kind of chocolate chips, so this was a bonus) and enough macadamia nuts to taste in every bite.

So, as I was speeding through the grocery store a few days ago and picked up a package of dough, it didn’t occur to me to check out the brand label.  Big mistake!  I learned the hard way that not all refrigerated cookie dough is made of the same caliber.

What I ended up with was a batch of cookies that, according to my personal preferences, had way too many white chocolate chips and did not have enough nuts.  They were a huge disappointment.  The package should have been labeled “White Chocolate Chip Cookies” and in that case, I would have moved on…

The moral of the story is that, sometimes, brands do matter.  In this case, Pillsbury is the clear winner.  Sorry, Nestle!

Do brands usually matter to you?  What are some exceptions to your personal rule?

CC

 

Will Handmade Christmas Gifts Make A Comeback?

Decades ago, Christmastime was simple.  Gifts were handmade, families gatherings were much-anticipated, credit cards weren’t a billing option, and Black Friday hadn’t even been conceived.

Fast-forward to today.  In an environment in which the national unemployment rate hovers at 9% (much higher for certain segments of the population), poverty rates are at the highest level since 1993, household debt approaches a staggering $12 trillion (although it did decline slightly), and foreclosure rates of which we’re all vividly aware, I wouldn’t have imagined shoppers spending billions of dollars in discretionary shopping in the past few days.

So exactly how much was spent?  Black Friday 2011 sales hit a record $11.4 billion, a 39% increase over last year.  Add to that the $1.25 billion spent on Cyber Monday (another record-breaker), it’s almost inconceivable that unemployment rates could be so high.

In my mind, I imagined that there would be no time like the present (no pun intended) for a cultural return to homemade gifts for the holiday season.  (Disclaimer: I am a Christian and celebrate Christ’s birth, but do recognize that others celebrate holidays for which they shop during this time of year.  I am in no way referring to this time of year as “the holidays” for purposes of being politically correct.)  However, sales figures prove that my mental picture is wrong. 

Humor me.  What would Christmas look like if we turned a cultural corner and went back to the simple days of gift-giving and celebrating? 

  • Batches of baked goods would be exchanged
  • Families would gather to dine and sing carols
  • Scarves and mittens would be knitted with care
  • Stress level would decline
  • Toys would be built by the hands of loved ones

But who am I kidding?  Based on recent consumer spending, despite household debt figures, I don’t think we’ll make a return to simpler Christmas celebrations of old.  I’m not even convinced that consumer spending could go any lower without the proverbial bottom falling out of this already-dismal economy. 

Let’s face it.  Deal-seekers who camp out in front of electronic stores days before Black Friday, clickers who load and submit shopping carts on Cyber Monday, and a culture in which we want it all and we want it now, are both curses and blessings.  They are curses because they lead to rising household debt, but they are blessings in that without them, the unemployment rates would be much higher.

So, no, I don’t think handmade gifts will make a comeback anytime soon.  I still plan to bake a few batches of goodies though. ;-)

Merry Christmas!

CC

 

Family Christmas Gifts

The cold blast that parts of the country are experiencing and the advancing months on the calendar have me thinking about the upcoming Christmas season.  Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year.  Obviously, the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ, is the true reason for the season, and I feel beyond blessed that He was sent here to save us.  The gift of Jesus is immeasurable.  Along those lines, but obviously not of the same magnitude, the joy of showering my children with gifts is immeasurable to me.

While the joy that gifting my children brings is immeasurable, the amount of money that my husband and I spend to make their dreams of dolls, video games, other assorted electronics come true is very measurable.  In fact, the amount that we spend is set in stone.  Each child gets the same budgeted amount and must live within their means.  What a novel idea! 

In a household where everyone has what they need and most of what they want, I wonder how necessary it is to continue filling our empty spaces with material things just because there’s a budget for it.  My intent is not to be a scrooge, but to turn our focus from solely tangible items to memory-making gifts with some, or all, of our gift money.  Perhaps we can begin a new family tradition that would demonstrate an immeasurable love for one another and for others.

A few ideas that I’ve thought of so far are:

  • Adopting a family and sharing our blessings with them
  • Taking a family vacation for the holidays – the gift of time
  • Purchasing season tickets for amusement parks or sporting events
  • Buying several $5 or $10 gift cards and distributing them randomly to strangers based on the Spirit’s guidance

As I sit here typing this blog, a commercial for spending Christmas in Branson, Missouri is playing on the television.  Is that a sign?  LOL!

Our household is a democracy of sorts (parents can veto just about anything though), so any ideas must be presented at a family meeting where a vote would ultimately be held.  It’s a bit late to hold that process for this year as each kid has already mentally spent their gift budgets, so any decisions would not take effect until Christmas 2012.

Have you adopted a family gift tradition in your home?  If so, what is (or has been) on the gift list?  Any comments would be greatly appreciated!

CC

Dinnertime Chaos

Most of my family and friends know that dinner is one of the most frequent gripes that I post about on Facebook.  Whether I’ve forgotten to defrost meat for the evening, misjudged (again) how much time I would need to prepare it, ruined it while cooking, or just plain ran out of time, dinnertime is stressful in my house. 

Thank goodness I have a favorite go-to for help - Bob Evans!  Their online ordering tool and family-sized meals are lifesavers, indeed!

Bob’s came to my rescue again tonight.  I misjudged how much time I had to cook dinner and get everyone fed before taking my youngest to dance class.  Having just 45 minutes to spare between finishing my work day and needing to leave for the dance studio, my only option was to log onto www.BobEvans.com.  Since I already have a profile, I just logged in, made a few selections, and showed up at their doorstep less than 30 minutes later.

Now while Bob’s staff are good, they can’t make miracles happen.  Miracles like eating and getting to the studio in the span of 10 minutes.  I was on my own for this one.  My clever solution?  Pack dinner for my daughter and me. She ate in the car during the drive and I ate while sitting in the van waiting for class to end.  My dear husband took care of feeding everyone else at home.

All is well.  Thanks, Bob, for all that you do to make my life a little easier.

What are some of your solutions for solving dinnertime chaos?

CC

Mom, We’re out of…!

{insert household necessity here.}

In a house with six people, trips to the grocery store are frequent.  The four-to-five-days-per-week variety of frequent!  How can it be?  I’m a planner, and when I shop, I hit the stores with an Excel-based spreadsheet made up of dozens of staples that we couldn’t possibly use in the next year or two.  Before embarking on my skillful hunter-gatherer mission, I even update my spreadsheet to include items that my loving family so obediently adds to the handy dandy grocery list attached to the side of the refrigerator.  Oh, wait!  That last part was a daydream.  Sorry about that.

Back to reality.  Here’s an example of what really happens…

Last week when I passed through my kitchen on the way to a chore of some kind I’m sure, I noticed a kid squinting their eyes to double- and triple-check whether or not something was written on the list.  I took the bait and inquired about what exactly said child was hoping to see on the list.  The response was, “Trash bags”.  I don’t know why, but I asked, “Are we out of them?”  Did I really want to know the answer to that question?  No, but the question had been asked.  So, I held my breath and awaited the inevitable, “Yes”. Ugh! 

Why, why, why does no one write things on the grocery list until we are completely, utterly, entirely, totally out of something, thus setting into motion an emergency trip to procure something of immediate need?  This is what causes so many unplanned shopping trips. 

What other emergency items have the potential to send me running and screaming in the direction of my local market? Soap, bathroom tissue, deodorant, and toothpaste.  Pretty much personal hygiene products.  We can’t have body odor emergencies! 

To lessen the frequency of emergency shopping trips, I keep some of these items “in stock” away from the grubby hands of my children who refuse to alert me to an outage until the need is dire.  So, when I hear, “Mom, I’m out of deodorant!“, I’ve got it covered.  One stick of deodorant from my personal stash in exchange for an addition to the grocery list coming right up…!  My secret hygiene bank includes handsoap and toothpaste as well.

Bathroom tissue takes up lots of storage space, so I don’t stockpile much.  When either the girls or boys runs out of it, I ask them write it on the shopping list and tell them to borrow some from their sibings’ bathroom. 

Soap is small and doesn’t take up much space, but I use the bathroom-tissue method: send the offender(s) to borrow a new bar from a siblings’ stockpile and replace it when I buy more. 

I’m still trying to figure out the trash bag dilemma as it is one that can’t go unresolved.  I don’t take out the trash, so I rely on the children to update the shopping list, because each day of the week, one of them is assigned to trash duty in rotation.  That leaves seven opportunities each week to add the item to the list as the box goes from empty, to emptier, and dare I say – nothing but a cardboard box.  How could it be that a box of 90 trash bags disappears and no one noticed the emptiness until emergency status was reached?  

Never fear, this organizer had a plan!  I would buy two 90-count boxes and all would be well in the world!  Not!  The kids went through all 180 bags then cried out for more.  My next attempt at maintaining an adequate supply of trash bags will involve hiding away one of the boxes and magically producing it in case of “emergency”.

What items do I no longer consider worthy of an unplanned trip?

Milk.  Yes, milk!  I will no longer watch my children drink milk at every opportunity to fill their cups then react by racing to the store to stock up on more milk.  If two gallons of milk disappear in two days, so be it.  I refuse to buy more before my original plan calls for me to do so, because two gallons would turn into three gallons, which would turn into four gallons, which would turn into a problem that can’t be solved. 

Snacks are also on the “Do not rush” list.  Being out of Goldfish does not constitute a state of emergency.  Pick another snack – or not.  Either way, we have plenty from which to choose, so no one would starve.

Bread is also now considered a non-emergency item due to its hit or miss status around here.  Some weeks it sits around and becomes somewhat of a science project and other weeks it vanishes without a trace. 

Finally, cleaning supplies aren’t an immediate need either.  The borrow-from-another-bathroom plan applies here, but the list must still be updated.  Chores will be conquered!  No excuses!  Well, no good ones anyway.

In this circus that I call home, I have learned that no amount of planning will stop me from hearing, “Mom, we’re out of {insert household item here!}“.  Oddly, sometimes those words are music to my ears, because it reminds me of one of the greatest gifts in life!  Children!  :-)

Happy shopping!

CC

P.S.

In case of an impending snowstorm, all bets are off regarding the emergency vs. non-emergency list.  No one wants to be snowed in without bread, milk, or great snacks! :)

I’m No Coupon Diva, but…

I’m no coupon diva, but paying 72¢ total for two pairs of children’s shorts and two printed t-shirts is nothing to discount.  No pun intended.  These aren’t thrift store finds.  They are new items purchased at one of my favorite retailers, JCPenney.

How did I manage to snag four items for just 18¢ per piece, including tax?  Coupons!  Each month, I receive two JCPenney coupons that are good for $10 off purchases totaling $10 or more.  My game plan never changes: seek steeply discounted items, purchase them with the two coupons that JCPenney sends right to my mailbox, and keep my out-of-pocket cost at little to nothing all while ignoring aisles of very…tempting…merchandise.  Today’s mission was accomplished!

Back to the shorts and t-shirts.  Why am I excited about steeply discounted Summer apparel at the onset of Fall?  All four items are made of lightweight, knit material, which makes them perfectly suitable as pajamas.  Bright colors and words on one shirt and Disney’s Tinkerbell splashed across the other made it easy to decide that these clothes had alter egos as pajamas.

I’m eagerly awaiting next month’s $20 challenge!  In a household with six people, someone always needs clothing, hosiery, pajamas, or accessories of some kind, so these coupons will never go to waste.

Now if only I can manage to lower my grocery bill…

CC

The Evergrowing School Supply List

My, oh my, how they have grown!  Back in the day, my parents needed only supply my siblings and me with paper, one notebook with dividers, a pencil box, writing utensils, and an optional backpack.  Nothing more was required or expected.  Our schools provided glue, rulers, scissors (left- and right-handed), textbooks, and all the stickers a kid hoped to earn.

Fast-forward 30 years: my children’s school supply lists have sucked the excitement out the start of each school year.  Back-to-school shopping had become an Olympic sport of sorts. Dash here for that supply!  Fly to that planet for another!  Outspend the previous year’s list, but try to find the best deals in town!  It was exhausting and there were many rules.  Only send specific brands of crayons, disinfectant wipes, and pencils.  Only send certain requested folder colors (even if the demand was for six named colors, one of which no store seemed to carry).  Don’t buy small boxes of facial tissues.  Don’t label items.  Do send everything on the first day or expect to get a note from the teacher.

One hectic summer’s end, a few days before school was due to start, I dumped the contents of all of my shopping bags onto the floor, gathered the supply lists for each of my four children, and started sorting my “scores’ into piles.  Piles quickly became mountains and soon, I had to ask for help.  I suddenly got a glimpse of what it must be like to work in a distribution center.

After an hour or more of sorting supplies with the assistance of my little helpers, inserting items into newly-labeled and overstuffed backpacks, and putting everything else that wouldn’t fit into plastic shopping bags, this huge task was completed.  Mission accomplished!  I deserved a pat on the back and an “A” for effort.

The elation was short-lived.   The first week of the new school year, each of my four children came home with new supply lists from their “special” classes: art, foreign language, music, and physical education.  Really?!  More?!  Back to the grind (a.k.a. school shopping) for me.

I soon learned that every item I’d doggedly tracked down, purchased, sorted, and labeled was tossed into a “community bin” for disbursement as teachers saw fit.  With that knowledge, I decided that enough was enough.  No more would I spend hundreds of dollars on school supplies.  No more would I run to just about every store in town trying to find 2″ binders in our local school district’s colors, per demand.  No more would I send a half-dozen rolls of paper towels on the first day of school.  No more dozen red pens!  No more dry erase markers!  No more!  Enough was enough!  The next year, I sent what I wanted to send in the quantities that I decided and when I received notes from the school, I kindly explained that my children would receive their supplies per my distribution plan.  Problem solved!

How does your school supply list compare.  Check out these lists for the 2011 school year.  Find out which one requests “one used clean sock”!

Deerpark Middle School (Round Rock, TX)

Mitchell Elementary (Georgetown, TX)

New York Mills School ISD #553 (New York Mills, MN)

Paradise Valley Elementary (Morgan Hill, CA)

Paul J. Hagerty High School (Oviedo, FL)

South Forrest Attendance Center (Hattiesburg, MS)

 Happy New School Year!

CC

Improving Customer Service

For years, I’ve experienced a decline in the level of service at my local grocers and restaurants.  Long gone are the grateful smiles when I enter a place of business.  No longer am I greeted and asked if I would like to receive help.  Eye contact?  What’s that?  Doing business has become such a painful experience, I stopped looking forward to it.  Welcoming smiles and helpfulness are more the exception than the rule. 

Well, instead of complaining about how horrible service has become without telling managment about my experience and giving them an opportunity to address my issues, I recently decided to go on a customer service survey completion campaign.  It’s quite easy!  I simply began visiting web sites that are printed at the bottom of most receipts and spend 5-10 minutes answering questions and providing feedback.  They ask for it, so I give it to them.  It’s a win-win  (if they are truly committed to changing).

One such submission of feedback recently garnered an immediate phone call asking what could be done to improve my shopping experience.  The response was so overwhelming, I couldn’t have written a more perfect script to describe it.

Today brought about new opportunities provide feedback.  I’m happy to report that of three stores I visited today, I had nothing but glowing feedback to provide to all three establishments.  All feedback does not need to be negative.  If associates in stores care enough to provide a great customer service experience, I can provide feedback directly to them – I can also tell store management on the spot, complete online survey requests, and send direct messages to their management and corporate.  Who wouldn’t want to be recognized for doing a great job?!

Do you have a good, bad, or ugly customer service story you’d like to share? 

Love to all!

CC

Southern Hospitality

The saying is that if you experience bad service, you tell ten friends and word spreads like wildfire, but how often do we share good service experiences?

On a recent extended trip to a southern state, my family and I visited countless establishments for purposes of rounding up groceries, purchasing gas, shopping for clothing, and partaking in many of the local activities.  One thing that stood out in each and every transaction was how incredibly NICE everyone was.  Considering that most of the people who helped us weren’t in tipped positions, I felt that they were genuinely pleasant people with whom to do business. 

I don’t get that kind of service in my current hometown, which is why I’ve added tons of businesses to my “do-not-shop” list.  If my checkout clerk or attendant  is bothered by my presence, I simply “help” him or her by refusing to spend more time and money in a way that would benefit them.  In other words, I don’t support bad attitudes and customer service with my hard-earned dollars.  I spend them where I feel appreciated.

In my experience, the shops and restaurants in my area can take a few customer service (and human-kind) pointers from our southern neighbors.

Thanks for the truly great customer service to my southern friends!  I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Do you have a story you’d like to share about great customer service?  Post it here!

Love to all!

CC

My Coupon Binder Is Ready!

I’ve always been a thrifty shopper, never wanting to pay full price for items, but my coupon personality was casual.  I loved getting free coupons in the mail.  I’d put them into my wallet-sized coupon organizer that was purchased from the bargain bin at my local superstore and try to use them on my frequent shopping trips.

My coupon personality changed about a week ago when I decided that it was finally time for me to kick my grocery savings efforts into high gear.  While on vacation, I stopped by the local office supply store to pick up a binder and a packet of baseball card dividers.  All that was left to do was to add some coupons.   Yahoo!  I had a few in my purse, but wanted to get the latest weekly passports to pay less than the store’s advertised pricing.  Husband and kids in tow, I made a quick stop at Walgreen’s on the way back to our vacation retreat and here’s what stopped my efforts dead in their tracks.

Me: “Do you have any copies of the Sunday paper left?”

Clerk: (bewildered look – no response)

Me: “You know, the Sunday paper that has the sales and coupon inserts…?”

Clerk: (continued bewildered look)

Me: (Pleadingly looking at nearby Clerk #2 for help and understanding) “Do you have the Sunday paper?” 

Clerk #2: (Looking as if I’d asked her for a solution to bring about world peace)  “No. It’s Monday.”

Me: (Finally understanding the crazy looks from Clerk #1 and Clerk #2) “Well, where I’m from, I can buy the Sunday paper on other days of the week”.

Clerk #1 or #2 (I don’t remember): “Oh, really?!” (Now, the forehead creases began to smooth at her apparent understanding of my question about wanting to buy a Sunday paper on *gasp!* Monday.

Me: “What do you do with unsold newspapers?  Throw them away?”

Clerk whatever number: “Yes.” 

Now, it was my turn to gasp!

 
Vacation lasted 10 days and 9 nights and I began to lose track of what day of the week it was.  After all, there’s no calendar or timetable needed for vacation.  During week #2 of vacation, I suddenly realized that we’d exhausted yet another vacation day relaxing, having fun, and totally forgetting about buying the Sunday paper.  Now, I’d have to wait until I was back at home to make my post-Sunday Sunday paper purchase. Finally, on Monday, during the long drive back home from our vacation oasis, I realized that day I’d freaked out about forgetting to purchase the paper in fact wasn’t Sunday at all, it was Saturday!  The sinking realization that I thought Saturday was Sunday and Sunday was Monday led to yet another week of couponing delay.  Confused yet?
 
Finally, on Tuesday (back at home), I walked into a store and asked where they kept their copies of this week’s Sunday paper. Wouldn’t you know I got the same bewildered look that I’d encountered a week earlier…states away?  So much for beginning my full-fledged savings campaign…
 
I resigned myself to inserting my existing coupons into the binder along with a couple dozen internet coupons that I managed to scrounge together. Better luck next week!
 
 
In the meantime, I’ve discovered coupon matches for this week’s sales at two of my favorite local grocers. I’m excited about being able to buy a 2-liter bottle of soda for 53¢ and match a few cereal coupons to some excellent sales.

Do you coupon?  If so, any tips for a new binder girl?

Love to all!