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Groupon offers an Angie's List subscription for $14/yr

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: July 18, 2014 - 4:25 PM

Angie's List, the service that helps Twin Cities consumers find a high-quality plumber, doctor, mechanic or roofer, is reducing its 1-year membership fee to $14 on Groupon, regularly $30. The fee includes access to all the reviews including health, online and live-call support, digital magazine, and a $15 rebate on one deal purchase. (Subscribers get emails periodically about a deal such as $99 for a garage door tune-up. Some of the deals are a better bargain than others.)

For $27, you can get a premium membership that also includes complaint-resolution support and a $50 rebate on a deal purchase.

This deal is slightly more expensive than the State Fair deal Angie's List ran last year for $10. But that didn't include the deal purchase rebate.

Paying $14 for a year of quick access to finding a decent electrician, veterinarian, tree trimmer or window washer is reasonable unless you can't even remember the last time you called a repair company.

One weakness in Angie's List is the lack of any consistent evaluation of price. Subscribers are asked to rate on price, but the user rarely knows if the subscriber only called one company to get a bid and do the work. Angie's List is much stronger on evaluating quality of work, in my opinion, especially when at least a dozen subscribers or more have evaluated a company.

This deal is supposed to run through July 21, but if you miss out, wait for the Minnesota State Fair. The Angie's List booth can usually be found in the Grandstand Building or Creative Activities Annex.

Why should I buy a light bulb that lasts 25 years? I'm 75 years old.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: June 18, 2014 - 8:53 AM

I don't know the origin of the green bananas joke, but I heard Joan Rivers say it first, probably 35 years ago. More recently, I think it was repeated in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." The one liner goes like this. "I'm so old I don't even buy green bananas."

I was reminded of that old joke when a reader left me a voicemail complaining about my article on LED light bulbs getting cheaper and better. I said that most LEDs last about 23 years under normal usage of about three hours per day.

That prompted the reader who did not leave her name or number to leave this voicemail. "I've never seen anything written about these new LED bulbs that take into account people my age in their 70s. We don't want to spend $10 or $20 on a bulb or a set of bulbs that are going to last 25 years, longer than our lifetime. It's a waste of money. I've never seen anyone respond to that. They should then give senior citizens a discount of half price off. I don't want to buy a bulb and then have a bulb last 25 years. It's a ridiculous thing. So maybe you could do an article about that sometime. It's funny that no one ever mentions that. That's just my opinion. Thanks."

What an eye opener. I had never considered that once a person gets to be 70, 80, or 90 that they start choosing items that won't outlast them. Assuming that they still drive, why would anyone buy a newer car, for example? If a grandchild or great grandchild is getting married, does an older woman figure that a new dress is a waste of money because it will still be good when she dies?

The reader sheds a whole new light on why we give senior citizens a discount. It's because they could die before the item is used up. Maybe we should give accelerated discounts based on age. Buying a new car in your 70s? Here's a 70 percent discount. In your 90s? Here's a 90 percent discount.

Honestly, at the risk of being insensitive, it shocks me a little that a person in her 70s thinks that anything she doesn't use up by the end of her life it going to waste. And maybe it will if her heirs want to throw away a perfectly good light bulb.

Heir #1: "Don't throw away that Sylvania. It cost $10 in 2014."

Heir #2: "But it's only worth 10 cents now."

I realize that some seniors live on limited incomes where a $10 light bulb is an extravagance, even if it will pay for itself in electricity savings in less than two years.

Thank you, 70's reader, for enlightening me to what lies ahead in old age. For now, I'm still buying $10 lightbulbs. And green bananas.

Are coupons on their way to extinction?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: June 5, 2014 - 4:44 PM

In my recent article about digital coupons, I wrote that even digital coupons (printed from the Internet or on a smartphone) are not taking the place in the freefall of overall coupon usage.

Digital coupons make up only about 10% of coupons redeemed and overall redemption rates have fallen by 50 percent since the 1990s. While rates are falling gradually (nearly 4 percent in 2013) it's alarming that even during the recession when redemptions increased, it didn't reverse the overall slide.

Keep in mind this freefall is happening at a time when the number of coupons being released is rising, making the disparity between what's available and what's being redeemed even more striking. The industry even has its own cheerleader of a show on TLC, "Extreme Couponing," but maybe that's scaring away more consumers than attracting them.

I have to admit that coupons hold less appeal for me too. Possibly it's because so many coupons are for junk food items or that I'm not trying new items as often. NCH's survey said that hair care, shaving needs and vitamins/supplements and skin care preps are the top distributed coupons, and I don't think I redeemed even one coupon for those items last year.

I'm surprised that I've let my own coupon usage drop as much as I have since I'm a bit of a cheapskate. Anyone else noticing that coupons hold less appeal for you?

Custom-fit $5,800 office chair features "floating back"

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 11, 2014 - 11:30 AM

I don't know how many versions Mies van der Rohe discarded before he was satisfied with his Barcelona  chair or how many Poangs-in-training Ikea had before it settled on its classic, but woodworker Robert Erickson is on the 60th version of a chair now called the Niobrara Office Chair.

Erickson, a Californian who is in the Twin Cities through Sunday, April 13 at the American Craft Council show in St. Paul, custom makes the office chairs to fit more than a dozen personalized measurements. Friday through Sunday at 1:15 p.m., Erickson and his son Tor demonstrate how each chair is customized to a person's back, legs, seat and height.

More than 60 hours of labor are required by the Eriksons to craft each bentwood chair, plus nearly a dozen  hours by the upholsterer and harvesting and drying the materials. The flexible slats that rest against a person's lumbar region are flexible, allowing more comfort.

Erickson's Niobrara chair, named after a river in Nebraska where Erickson grew up, is a melding of sustainable black walnut from California and leather from free-range Great Plains bison.

The chair is in its current form has been sold since February after it debuted in Baltimore. Three have been sold so far for $5,800 each. Expensive yes, but it's not a delicate piece of art. "It's extremely durable and very well-made," he said. "Ergonomists, dcotors and chiropractors love it."

Erickson will be able to custom fit the chair through Sunday. After that, fittings are done at Grand Hand gallery in St. Paul.

Tickets to show at RiverCentre in St. Paul (199 Kellogg Blvd. W.) are $11. Friday night only, tickets are $5 on site after 5 p.m.

Free paper shredding events throughout Twin Cities in April, May

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 7, 2014 - 9:15 AM

It's tax time. Purge your piles of sensitive data in a hurry instead of feeding a personal shredder two sheets at a time. Now through May, there are plenty of free or low-cost shredding options in the Twin Cities.

Louise Kurzeka, a professional organizer with Everything’s Together in St. Louis Park, said that finding a free or low-cost paper shredding event has an added benefit.

"It forces people to clear their file drawers," she said.

Sara Pedersen of Time to Organize in Shoreview suggests checking with your bank or credit union for any free shredding events. Some will accept a box or less of material at their branches.
Kurzeka and Pedersen came up with several other options.


Pioneer Secure Shred (155 Irving Av. N., Minneapolis, 612-381-2199) offers free shredding of up to 10 boxes of paper (banker’s box sized) on the first Friday of every month from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The next free shredding event will be May 2. If you can't wait until then, a box of paper costs $3 each with a $25 minimum.

Shred Right (651-621-1862) will offer free shredding events open to the public.

Saturday, April 12th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ US Federal Credit Union. 1400 Riverwood Dr., Burnsville, MN 55337.

Saturday, April 12th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ US Federal Credit Union. 2772 East 82nd St., Bloomington, MN 55425.

Saturday, April 12th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ US Federal Credit Union. 4290 Dean Lakes Blvd., Shakopee, MN 55379.

Saturday, April 12th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ US Federal Credit Union. 6303 Old Central Ave. NE, Fridley, MN 55432.

Saturday, April 12th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ US Federal Credit Union. 7644 160th St. W., Lakeville, MN 55044.

Friday, April 18th: 9am-2pm. Shred Right @ Washington County. 4039 Cottage Grove Drive, Woodbury, MN 55129. Open to Washington County Residents only.

Saturday, April 19th: 9am-11:30am. Shred Right @ Security Victor Insurance Agency to benefit the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau. 5357 Wyoming Trail, Wyoming, MN 55092. Donations received will benefit the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau.

Saturday, April 19th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ Secured Retirement Association. 5775 Wayzata Blvd., St. Louis Park, MN 55416.  

Saturday, April 26th: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ First National Bank: Honey Locust-Northfield. 1611 Honey Locust Drive, Northfield, MN 55057.

Sunday, April 27th: 10am-4pm. Shred Right @ Earth Fair LaCrosse, Recycling Fair. Emerson Elementary. 2101 Campbell Road, La Crosse, WI. (2 blocks from Earth Fair)

May

Saturday, May 3rd: 9am-11am. Shred Right @ Klein Bank. 8900 Highway 7, St. Bonifacious, MN 55375.

Saturday, May 3rd: 9am-noon. Shred Right @ Bloomington Rotary. Bloomington Public Works Parking Lot, 1700 W. 98th St., Bloomington, MN 55431. All donations benefit the Bloomington Rotary.

Check the website for addresses and additional dates. Box limits may apply.


At Shred Right's St. Paul location, the company will shred up to eight boxes for a fee ($25 plus $3 per box after eight) from 8:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays (no dropoffs between 11-11:30 a.m.). It will also shred electronic media (CDs, tapes) for 32 cents per pound and cellphones and hard drives (removed from computer) for $5 each at its St. Paul location.


OfficeMax, Office Depot and UPS stores offer paper shredding for about 99 cents per pound (a grocery sack filled with paper weighs 10 to 15 pounds). Check for frequent coupons and discounts through April in Sunday circulars, company apps and e-mails, and on their websites. Some UPS stores occasionally offer discounts for AAA members.


Those who have too much paper to haul on their own can hire a service for home shredding. Shred Right charges $65 to come to the home to shred up to 300 pounds or about 10 to 12 boxes. After 300 pounds, the charge is 15 cents per pound.


“Most people bring it to us, but people settling an estate or cleaning out a home office find it convenient,” said Don Drapeau, president of Shred Right.

Breaking free from cable's straight jacket known as "bundling"

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: April 1, 2014 - 1:22 PM

My nomination for the best invention of the 21st Century is "bundling," also known as utilities linking cable TV, Internet and phone service in one bill. Utilities offer lower overall prices to consumers who buy two or three services and then raise the price if they want to drop one or two parts of the bundle.

For some consumers it's a major tussle to break free of the bundle because dropping one part of the package raises the price on the remaining pieces.

In its May issue Consumer reports show ways to untangle the bundle. Consumer Reports suggestions include bargaining tactics that have been found to work. It lists five tips for hagglers, which are included in the link. The final tip is "be ready to walk." Once you reach the point where you want to bag your current carrier, take notes of whom you spoke to and details of the offer at the new company. You're probably looking for a lower price so don't be satisfied with a low price for only six months. A colleague told me that he rejected a two-year $20 a month ISP offer from Comcast Infinity for a higher price that lasted beyond two years.

He also said not to waste time with the former company once you decide to leave it. They're going to ask why you're leaving and try to get you to stay. If you're unhappy with the service and no low ball offer will get you to change your mind, save time by refusing any attempt to capitulate. Be a broken record, saying, "I just want to cancel the service, no questions asked."

Once you switch, make sure that you have the phone number of customer service handy because it's almost inevitable that a glitch will occur in the set-up. Ask if there is a shortcut to avoid all the prompts to reach an agent.

Check out the full article in Consumer Reports' May issue on the newsstands or a public library. The issue also includes ratings for the best bundles and providers of TV, Internet and phone service. Unfortunately, many of the top-rated providers (WOW, SuddenLink and Verizon FiOS) may be not available in this area.

 Got other suggestions for successfully getting out of a bundle? Please share. I'm fortunate to have a lower-rate contract price on a bundle, but I call the cable company to negotiate a lower price on premium channels such as HBO or Showtime. Sometimes I get a channel free for 3 or 6 months, sometimes I get it for $10 a month (reg. $20 a month), but my advantage is that I am firm about cancelling the premium channel unless it's $10 a month or less.

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