Jewish Tips to Save Money
Some of these are big, some of these are small, but all of them are simple and will help you get the most for your money in these difficult economic times.
This is part 1 of a series. Other blogs like this will follow in the coming months, covering other simple money-and-aggravation-saving tips.
Don't go prepaid. Prepaid phones are never a good deal. Avoid them as much as possible. Don't be intimidated by being on a 2-year-contract. The 2 years will pass faster than you think, and you can always get out by paying an early termination fee. If you use prepaid phones for an extended period of time, you are throwing away money.
When your contract ends, negotiate a better rate. Don't just settle for a discounted new phone. They have special deals reserved for existing customers that aren't advertised to the public. Ask for "retentions" or the cancellation department, and tell them you're about to go to another company that is cheaper. Don't accept their first offer -- keep pressing to get something better, and you'll often be successful. Don't worry, you aren't risking anything. You can threaten to cancel and then "change your mind".
Family plans are the way to go. In general, they're a lot better deal. Just make sure you trust all of the members on the plan (who don't need to be related to you) to both pay their share of the bill and not hog all the minutes.
Unless you break or lose your phones a lot, decline their insurance. It's usually a terrible deal.
If you are put through a hellish billing/customer service experience, ask for a courtesy credit. Usually they will give you $20-$30 just for all the trouble you went through, sometimes more. Don't feel bad about asking for this. If they waste your time, you deserve the credit!
Selling a Car
Meet in a public place during the day, and take only cash. Your goal is to get paid and never hear from the person again. Do not give them your address. Do not invite them to your house. Do not accept any form of check, including a cashier's check, as these can be fraudulent (and you won't know it for weeks). And never, never, never ship the car to a foreign country.
Go on kbb.com to get a rough value for your car. Sometimes kbb is wrong, but this will give you a ballpark figure. Price it on the upper end of what you're given, and then come down if you aren't getting response to your ad.
Fix the little things. If your car has small dents, windshield cracks, or makes funny noises, try to get these things inexpensively fixed. (There are discount body shops out there, such as Earl Scheib.) If your car has very little value, don't bother fixing these things, but in all other cases, you will get a lot more for the car if it looks and sounds good.
Buying a Car
If paying cash, don't mention it up front. It would seem like being an all-cash buyer would be an advantage to getting a good deal, but it's not. It actually hurts you, because they don't make money on financing. If asked how you are going to pay for the car, say that you haven't decided and will look at the options presented to you. Agree upon a price BEFORE agreeing how you're going to pay for it. Once a price is agreed upon, either tell them you're paying cash, or if you're financing it, start negotiating the rate at that point.
Do not buy extended warranties on new cars. You will have the opportunity to shop around for extended warranties when your regular warranty expires. You will get a much better deal by buying it at that point. Also keep in mind that an extended warranty doesn't add much to the resale value of the car, so you'll also be wasting money if you buy an extended warranty and then sell the car before that warranty is over. It's just better to wait.
If you see a great deal advertised in the newspaper, note the VIN and take it with you. They are required by law to sell that vehicle at that price. Do not let them upsell you to another vehcile that's "better". Demand the one advertised, and verify the VIN. If they tell you it's sold, walk out unless they match the price on an identical vehicle.
If buying a new car, watch for upcoming "body style" changes. You don't want to buy a car the year before the same model will undergo major changes. It will make your car look old very quickly, and will hurt your resale value. Always try to buy closer to the beginning of the "body style" life cycle than the end.
Be smart with restaurant.com. That site can get you a lot of near-half-price meals, but be careful with it. You're basically buying 2-for-1 coupons, NOT $25 gift cards. Therefore, you should wait until restaurant.com has one of their big sales (this happens every few months) where you can buy the $25 "coupons" for anywhere between $1.00-$2.50 each. If you pay anything more, it may not end up being worth it. Also, I'd suggest consulting Yelp to see what people are writing about the restaurants you plan upon visiting, because many in restaurant.com are terrible, and are resorting to these coupons due to lack of business.
Be fair with tipping. I know a guy who recently went to a restaurant, had a terrible waiter, got in an argument with the waiter, and was verbally insulted. He still left a 10% tip. I asked why he did it, and his response was, "To send a message." To send what message? That someone can do their job poorly, insult you and still get a tip? I believe in fair tipping -- not automatic tipping. If your server is blatantly rude to you, you should both give them zero tip and report them to their manager. If your server is "checked out" and vanishes for long periods of time, again, they should get no tip. If your food is wrong, try to determine if it's the kitchen's fault or the server's fault. If it's the kitchen's fault, don't penalize the server with your tip, provided he was apologetic and did his best to rectify it. Increase your tip if the server is extra good or attentive, or if they give you freebies that you don't necessarily expect. (For example, if you comment to your server that your meal isn't what you expected, but eat it anyway, and find that he still took that entree off the bill, give him a nice reward.) In short, reward good service, give a standard tip for average service, and give nothing for bad service. I think it's foolish to leave reduced tips for bad service. If it's bad enough to lower the tip, you should tip nothing.
Speak up when there are problems. For those that are afraid of their food being messed with, you can wait to speak up until after everything's already been served. But always speak up. Ask for the manager and air your grievance. Did it take 40 minutes between when you sat down and finally getting your salad? Tell the manager. Did they repeatedly mess up your orders? Tell the manager. Was your server rude and diffuclt? Tell the manager. Remember, you are supporting the business -- the business is not doing you a favor by existing. The manager will often give you a percentage off your bill if your complaints are legitimate. Also, you should always get what you pay for. If you order a dish you absolutely don't like, send it back. This happens all the time, and you won't be seen as an unreasonable problem child. Don't just force down 5% of it and pay for it.
Look at your bill. Restaurant bills are frequently incorrect. Especially watch for extra charges that you're not warned about. For example, if you asked, "Can I substitute a baked potato for fries" and you're told "Yes", but then find a $4 substitution charge, say something about it. Don't just pay it. The industry standard is to warn you about such upcharges, unless it's clearly printed on the menu.
You have more power at a chain restaurant than a mom-and-pop place. A small, independent restaurant has to be handled with care. They all have their idiosyncracies, and if you speak up about too many problems (even if they're legitimate), the owner will get sick of you and probably ask you to stay away. Your choices in a mom-and-pop place are to put up with the issues or stop coming. It's not the same situation at a chain restaurant. They have certain standards they have to adhere to, and managers that don't adhere to such standards will be fired. Always look to speak to the highest manager on duty if your problem isn't being resolved. If necessary, you may have to call and speak to the "store manager" later if he's not in, and if you still don't get satisfaction with him. there's almost always a "district manager" who will very frequently solve your problem. Obviously you can't bother the district manager every time a small problem occurs, but it's useful to know in case big issues come up.
Present your coupon at the end of the meal. No point to give it at the beginning, and possibly affect the service and/or portions. Always tip on the pre-coupon amount, so the server doesn't get screwed out of a tip just because you have a big discount on the base price.
Sit where you feel comfortable. If the first seats offered to you by the host are unsatisfactory, speak up immediately and ask for something else. Are you right next to a noisy party of 12? Ask for a different seat. Are you right by the door on a 25-degree night? Ask for a different seat. They will usually accomodate you if they have other tables available.
You should always be upgraded, not downgraded. Hotels like to "oversell" rooms on popular nights. That is, they sometimes sell more rooms than they actually have -- or at least of a certain category. They will never admit to doing this, but will rather make excuses that your category room isn't available due to "plumbing problems" or other BS. They usually offer to move you to an inferior room and refund you the difference in price. Never accept this. Tell them that you chose this hotel based upon the ability to get this room category or higher, and that if they're out, they need to upgrade you to the next category. Most will back down and do this if you speak up.
Always check for bullshit minibar charges, or other sneaky up-charges. You should pay the price quoted to you when you made the reservation -- not a penny more. Do they want to charge you a "resort fee"? Refuse to pay it unless that fee was clearly stated to you and agreed upon beforehand. Do you have minibar charges for items you never touched? Complain and they will always remove it. Is the rate higher than what you were quoted? Definitely say something, and have the confirmation e-mail (or the name of the person who promised it to you on the phone) ready. Always closely inspect your bill upon check-out, and never let them rip you off. A high percentage of hotel bills have errors, whether intentional or unintentional.
Never overpay at checkout with the agreement that they'll pay the difference back to you later. Sometimes, when a billing problem occurs, the manager isn't there to fix it, and they want you to pay the wrong amount first and get a refund later. Never agree to this. You will probably never see the money again. If they do not have someone on premises to take care of billing mistakes at the time you check out, you are legally entitled to pay the correct amount and leave your contact information to discuss the difference. Again, it is always helpful to have confirmation e-mails handy for this reason.
Tell the manager about any problems. Does the shower drip all night, keeping you awake? Did the heater break down at 3am, forcing you to wait in your pajamas while their grimy maintenance man fiddles with it for 40 minutes? Are you stuck in a room backing into the shaft of a noisy elevator? Always call the manager ASAP and report these issues. They will frequently offer you a surprising amount of credit on your bill, or at the very least will swap you to a different room if you desire.
Immediately ask them to replace the drinking glasses when you get there. This has nothing to do with money, but otherwise it's just gross. Hidden cameras have shown that 75% of drinking glasses -- even at super-luxury hotels -- are improperly hand-washed. For example, she'll sometimes use the same rag she just used for the toilet to clean the drinking glass from the previous guest, and then pass it on to you as "clean"! If you ask for new glasses, they will come directly out of the dishwasher. I am not a germ freak at all, but this is just nasty and I do this every time I check into a hotel.
Always ask for the AAA Rate. It's usually about 5-10% cheaper than the standard rate for the identical room. They also rarely check if you're actually an AAA member when you get there.
It's usually easy to get a late checkout for free. Do you enjoy staying up late like I do? If so, you probably DON'T enjoy having to be out of your room by 11:00am! Ask for a late checkout, and they can usually extend it by 1-3 hours at no charge. Also, very few hotels enforce the checkout to the minute, so you can easily check out at 1pm from a place with "12pm checkout" and not get charged extra.
Understand the limitations of Priceline. Priceline is great for getting a good deal, but you also have no power over where you stay. Sometimes the location is inconvenient. Sometimes you get a so-called "4 star" hotel that is barely a 2-star. And sometimes they earmark their worst rooms for Priceline customers, which is actually allowed! I used to use Priceline when travel review sites didn't exist. Now I won't ever use them, because I always want to stay in a well-reviewed property.
Research the hotel on tripadvisor.com and yelp.com before booking. These sites are very useful and will often give you an accurate description of what to expect. Throw out the "outlier" reviews (the worst and the best), and pretty much take an average of what everyone said. If 42 out of 50 reviewers liked the place, there's a good chance it will be a good experience. If 10 of 14 reviews are bad, STAY AWAY no matter what the price (or how good the other 4 are).
Part 2 of this series coming when I feel like it.
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