Talking about money issues can be hard enough with a partner or spouse, let alone a professional with as much tact and sympathy as Judge Judy.
That's why a free service offered by LSS Financial Counseling in Minnesota is a good, non-judgmental financial gut check. The first step is an online self assessment tool to help financial awareness in borrowing, budgeting, savings, home expenses and retirement.
It takes about 15 minutes. Users gets an immediate look at how they're doing in each area. If a person gets a "green" light for savings, for example, it means continue along the same path. A "yellow" light means proceed with caution and a "red" light means ignore your surroundings and play with your smartphone.
Okay, maybe the red light means something a little more dire like stop and make a change. But no matter the color, there are helpful links to minimize the need to call in a financial judge.
Should you decide to swallow hard and consider talking to a financial counselor, it's still free with one excpeption. If you enter a debt management program, the fee is 9 percent of your monthly payment or $50, whichever is less, said LSS financial counselor Jennifer Kaufmann.
To start the financial self assessment, called MyMoneyCheckup, go to SharpenToday. If you're considering a meeting with a financial counselor, call LSS at 1-888-577-2227. For more info, go to ConquerYourDebt.
Those who take the assessment and meet with a financial counselor are eligible to win a $100 Visa gift card. Weekly drawings will be held in November.
ShopperTrak recently predicted a growth of 2.4 percent in holiday spending, but that survey was released in mid-September, before the government shutdown. Now with another possible shutdown looming in February, consumers could be clamping down on holiday spending even more than ShopperTrak predicted.
But this is a prediction that many shoppers already guessed. Those who sign up online to receive a retailer's promotions knew there was trouble ahead this holiday season long before the official predictions started coming out.
Why? It's the high number of national retailers still offering storewide discounts. Today, Oct. 24, Banana Republic is offering 40 percent off the entire purchases at its website using BRFALL discount code. Banana frequently has discounts of 30 or 40 percent off one or all items on Wednesdays. Sometimes customers need a discount code, sometimes not. The sales vary between online only or online and in stores. Similar promos are available at the company's other brands, the Gap and Old Navy if a customer signs up to receive them online.
"These storewide sales are absolutely proof of a retailer selling off its inventory to get in line with expected sales," said Dave Brennan at the Instiute for Reatiling Excellence at the University of St. Thomas. "You don't liquidate like that unless sales are soft."
Other examples of storewide discounts offered recently include CVS offering 25 percent everything online (use discount code OCT25 TODAY). Sometimes the discount is as high as 30 percent. The best deals are often on its private label brands.
J. Crew is discounting everything 25 percent for customers buying $150 or more who use the discount code SHOPNOW. Free shipping is included for orders over $150, but the discount is also available in stores for this promo (mention the discount code).
West Elm's home furnishings are discounted 10 to 25 percent, based on the amount spent.
Pottery Barn put its entire stock at a 15 percent discount over Columbus Day weekend. Crate & Barrel offered seven different sales with 15-25 percent discounts during the same period. It recently mailed a postcard to existing customers giving them 20 percent off everything for one day of their choosing.
As the holidays get closer, expect the savings to increase as retailers get nervous. Consumers who can afford to spend should see even better savings.
Neil Marriott took a niche (HDMI cables and audio-video accessories), and transformed it into a $4.5 million business in just a few years. In Sunday's story, I explain that he recently added a retail store because he had so many Twin Cities' customers who picked up their orders at the warehouse to save on shipping.
Rypen, another online business started locally, took the unusual step of creating a furniture and home furnishings business online without the benefit of an establishing bricks and mortar store. Eighteen months ago, co-founder Peder Nyhus has tried to focus on unique products, including the Equilibrium bookcase ($1,390, shown below) as well as sofas, which range from $1,500 to $8,000.
So who buys a sofa without sitting on it? Lots of people in all age ranges, said Nyhus. "We just have to walk them through the process slowly and make them understand how it feels," he said.
Nyhus is considering a retail store, but for now he's enjoying the online biz without the retail anchor. Rypen sells about 3.500 products including sofas, solid steel desks in eye-catching colors, end tables, chairs and clever accessories.
A Minnetonka wholesaler of girls accessories will not be around much longer. Ms. Dee and its division Molly 'N Me, which made goods for pre-teen girls and women, is currently in chapter 11 and is holding a clearance sale at 6037 Baker Rd. in Minnetonka.
"The whole gift shop industry is struggling," said Dee Moss, CEO of Ms. Dee. "It was having trouble before 2008 and the recession didn't help," she said.
Moss' business sold to more than 3,500 small gift shops around the country.
Nearly everything at the sale is discounted 50 percent or more, including silver and pink sequin folding chairs for kids ($5, reg. $40), ladies costume jewelry for $2.50 each (reg. $20 to $40), tablet computer cases $5, lap desks $3, duffle bags $6, jeweled-toned chandeliers $65 (reg. $150), and $25 snuggle chairs. There is also a lot of smaller kitschy items for $3 or less.
The sale runs through Saturday, Oct. 12. Hours are 9-6 Wed. through Fri. and 9-2 Sat.
October is the lull between back to school and start of holiday shopping, said George John at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. That's one explanation for a boatload of bargain warehouse sales this week.
Thymes soaps and scents (Oct. 11-13). After taking a break last year from its mega warehouse sale in 2012, the big sale is back this year, but at the headquarters location (629 9th St. SE., Mpls). Save 50 to 75 percent on soaps, body washes, lotions, candles, diffusers, bubble baths and gift sets. Hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 11, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 12 and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 13.
Red Wing Shoes (Oct. 10-13). More than 15,000 pairs of shoes for men and women will be 50 to 70 percent off including the Red Wing brand as well as the Irish Setter and Vasque hiking boots brand. All of the shoes are first quality with previous and newer styles. This is the second year the company has done the sale, which is put on at its historical Plant One facility at 127 Main St. in Red Wing. Hours are from 9
a.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 10-11, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 12, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 13.
Stroke of the Heart (Oct. 8-11). Locally-designed greeting cards, notecards and kitchen magnets at 50 to 85 percent off. The sale runs from noon to 8 p.m. Oct. 8, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 9-10, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 11. The sale is at 3792 Williston Rd. in Minnetonka.
Angel's Foundation: This will be the last sale to benefit the Angel Foundation, a successor to the American Cancer Society's World's Largest Garage Sale. The large sale runs Oct. 12-16 at the Four Seasons Mall in Plymouth (4108 Lancaster Lane N.) with clothing, art, toys, antiques, furniture, furniture, electronics and sporting goods depts. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $3 on the first day.
Historic Studio (Oct. 12). Save 50 percent off all home furnishings, vintage and accessories from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 12 at 4950 W. 35th St., St. Louis Park. New for this sale: a shipment of furniture from IMS at wholesale prices.
Bill Collins, the managing director of Actors Theater in St. Paul, believes so strongly that theater goers will love the musical cabaret "Mrs. Smith Live" that he is offering a money-back guarantee for anyone who comes to see it.
You could take Collins' word for "the best night of cabaret you will see all year" or you could take the opinion of Bain Boehlke, the Jungle Theater director, who wrote that it is "not just another drag show, but rather a hilariously constructed journey that is absurd and ridiculous. He sings Streisand and Garland better than Streisand and Garland."
Mrs. Smith, aka actor and playwright David Hanbury, weaves "Cabaret, "One Night in Bangkok," and "The Ladies Who Lunch" into a surreal adult travelogue about her life and her missing cat Carlyle. Although Hanbury has also appeared at the Guthrie, Mrs. Smith also appeared in the Minneapolis auditions for "America's Got Talent" in 2011.
The money-back guarantee is unusual among theaters. While it's true that some theaters offer a "pay-what you-can" policy and the Mixed Blood Theater in Minneapolis divvies up free tickets to every performance, theaters rarely give refunds except when patrons find themselves shocked by a play's theme or content. And even those reasons are suspect unless the patron walks out mid-performance. At the Guthrie Theater, for example, refunds are generally offered only when customers have a misunderstanding about the play they were attending, and only if they complain on the same day of the show, not two weeks later, said Guthrie marketing director Trisha Kirk.
Mrs. Smith Live is playing Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 13 at Camp Cabaret (490 N. Robert St., St. Paul, 1-800-838-3006). Tickets can be ordered at www.brownpapertickets.com or 1-800-838-3006) for $20 to $32. Use discount code FRIEND to save $5 per ticket.