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Beware of geeks bearing gifts

“Order my product now, and you will get it free…” Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
In this day and age, very little comes free. If it does, then it comes with some other way to make the retailer money. Like my article of last Thursday stated, “As credit crisis grows, be vigilant.” As consumers, we have to be vigilant and aware of every angle in which we are marketed to.
With my mission to reduce my debt and be focused on everything tied to my own household, I’ve become more aware of marketing techniques that manage to get me to spend more money than I originally intended.
As human beings living in this whirling dervish of a world where our minds are stimulated by thousands of advertisements every day, it is very difficult for anyone to stay on top of what is coming into the household. I have found instances where I have inadvertently signed up for increased membership with a company, bought insurance on a credit card, purchased auto-ship items and been upgraded from the purchase of one item to a full set of products before I can blink an eye or realize what I’ve done. In speaking with other consumers, I have found that I’m not the only person beset by this. As consumers we are bombarded with advertisements, rush hour traffic, raising our families, keeping our households, fulfilling our own needs and trying to make everyone around us happy, to the point where we literally cannot take in everything that is tossed our way.
In canvassing friends and family members, I have found some of the following to be ideal examples of where we may have been taken advantage of and where we can be more vigilant:
• I purchase a daily devotional book from Guideposts Magazine each year – in fact, I give two of them as gifts every Christmas. I subscribe to Guidepost’s magazine, purchase other spiritual gifts from them and buy my Christmas cards from them. Yet, they have the worst customer service of any company I deal with. Their billing is never correct and they are slow to fix their mistakes, yet quick to send out the nasty reminders. They offer free throws to the first 50 people who respond to their ads for special book purchases, yet you never find out exactly who the first 50 people are and you never win yourself. I’ve enjoyed their products for years, but also subscribe, for free, online to The Purpose Driven Life daily devotional and Cross Daily devotionals. If you have a Bible in your home, you have another free daily devotional. Why should I continue to give my business to a company that gives poor customer service in an economic time where every single business should be bending over backwards to get my business?
• While supermarket coupons can be a wonderful way to save on your weekly bill, take it from someone who spent over 20 years in the business – buy what you need, not what you want. I saw many shoppers come through my stores who shopped by their coupons and not their needs, therefore purchasing more than they needed and not really saving money in the end. This also applies to sale items in the stores. If the sale item is something you regularly use – grab the bargain, if not, then spend the money on something you need.
• One person I spoke with mentioned that they had fallen for the following sales pitch: “order now and you will get our product free and you will enjoy it so much that we’re confident you will purchase products from us in the future.” This person ordered the product only to find that more products would be sent to them, every month, and THOSE they would have to pay for. Then this person had to jump through hoops just to get out of this wicked web of purchases, including paying for the shipping to return the “free” item, on top of the gas spent on taking it to the post office.
• Infomercials and the shopping channels are famous for getting you to call to order the one product they are featuring and after ten minutes on the phone, you find you’ve purchased not just one episode or season of an old classic T.V. show, but ALL the seasons. We once called to purchase one copy of a self-help book and by the time we had finished, we found we had purchased the book, plus several others by the author as well as all of the books on CD – and we had spent a ton more money than we originally intended.
• Free downloads – Buyer beware. With all the computer viruses, registry problems and spyware running amok between the Internet and our computers, it seems we have to have an entire inventory of programs to clean our computers from malware. While many free downloads are worth their weight in gold, others will allow you to download their software, scan your computer and when you want the software to apply the corrections – you find that you can only fix a few of the erros unless you purchase the software for $29.95 [average price]. Such a deal. Don’t be taken in by the sales pitch. It’s worthwhile to research the software before buying, no matter what the manufacturer promises. PC World and cnet.com are two places where you can find pretty good reviews and can make informed decisions about your computer needs.
• Be careful of promotions offered by credit card companies and online purchases – it is very easy to inadvertently sign up for auto-ship or find yourself upgraded from a basic program to a premium program. The same goes for things like membership clubs. I used to purchase a membership to a large bookstore chain for a five percent discount until I added up how much I spent on book purchases by the year and found the discount didn’t even begin to reach the amount of the membership fee.
There are many ways to become more focused on where our hard-earned money is going and it takes concentration to change the spending habits many of us have. I literally have to stop and ask myself “do I need this?” before responding to an offer and I carefully examine Internet and snail mail offers before discarding to be sure I haven’t received one that will ship to me unless I respond otherwise.
The goal I have set for myself that I find others are sharing, is to live life more simply…with the adage, “less is more.”

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