Thursday, December 1, 2011

How I-Phones Are Monitored By Outsiders

It looks more and more like cell phone companies are out to destroy what personal privacy we all have left. This story links to several accounts of how I-Phone calls and texts can be monitored by outsiders:

Yet, while this is going on we have several large banks encouraging people to "bank by phone" which means entering in private account and personal information, along with checks and debit card transactions. So if "big brother" and most likely advanced hackers are watching and listening to your every move on your advanced cell phone, how long will you have all of your money and your identity?

Personally, I'm still not planning to use my phone for any transactions.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Malls Want To Track Our Whereabouts?

It seems that certain malls are going as far as to track visitors based on the locations of their cell phones within the mall, even though the shoppers were not aware of this.

To make matters worse, this story about the practice quotes one mall official as saying they will make it "easier to opt out" of this feature. Say what?,0,6644526.story

One "excuse" for doing this, according to a quote in the story, is to "make the playing field level with online shoppers". Yikes.

What gets me is that these malls have the time and money to spend in an effort to track, without authorization, the location of its shoppers, instead of putting their resources to better use.

What happened to simply and easily tracking the number of parking spaces in use within the mall's parking lot(s) on an hourly basis throughout the year? To tracking the amount of revenue brought in by each store or business during that same period? We, as consumers, can't stop them from doing that.

Many of the big malls should be using their resources to improve the experience for shoppers who go there, whether during the busy holiday period or any other time.

In much of the country, this time of the year, when malls draw their biggest crowds of the year, is during cold and wet weather times. Yet, few offer indoor or covered parking, and those that do generally suffer from overcrowding, thus leaving the process of parking to be an unpleasant experience.

The majority of shopping malls, including newer ones, continue to make the mistake of not providing easy access for cars to exit. They force drivers to head toward the stores and entrances, creating additional hazzards for pedestrians carrying packages and for the children with them, when these drivers are looking to exit the mall area.

Sure, the argument for doing this is to draw attention to the stores. However, the malls do not understand that doing this is not like grocery stores putting the milk and most commonly bought products in the back or further reaches of a single store.

Many malls fail to have enough directories, especially near the various entrances. Instead of tracking the cell phone whereabouts of patrons, perhaps helping them find the store(s) they are most interested in would be a better priority.

Worse yet, this story claims that major retailers such as J.C. Penney and Home Depot "have considered" using this technology. Whether for the sake of this story angle or as a matter of fact, each company seemed as if they are not ready to use this yet. The fact that it is a possibility is alarming. Suppose information that you are, at this moment, in the Home Depot by the home security devices, got into the wrong hands.

The Frustrated Consumer has an idea for the short term. Let's all turn off our cell phones just before we walk into a mall. With no data to show for their time and efforts, just maybe the malls and major retailers would consider checking inventory reports to see what sold and when. Not who bought them.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wrong Way Information

Shouldn't businesses spend more of their behind-the-scenes time and effort on improving relations with current and potential customers? And less on how they can benefit by sharing our personal information?

Two unrelated incidents this week bring this to mind. Recent researched from Stanford University shows how a lot of major companies are equipped to share our information without us knowing it (until now).

Granted, the report profiled in the link above is very technical. But even the basic parts of the article, such as showing how logging in to the Wall Street Journal web site (without using the true password) sent the user's e-mail address to 7 outside companies, tell us a lot of what is going on these days.

The other incident was having a question for a large company, only to go on to their web site, and not find any way to ask anyone or contact them easily.

This has me starting to check the web sites I use or would use to make a purchase or execute some sort of financial transaction. If I have a question before I purchase, I should be able to easily contact someone from that company, even if by a link to an e-mail, to get an answer.

Maybe I need to have better faith in businesses these days. After reading the above-linked research, I am instead worried that if it were as easy as it should be to contact them online, they would be selling my information to others before responding to my query.

The above-linked article goes on to show how Home Depot, NBC, and other companies are sending our user names and other information to other companies even though their privacy statements show otherwise.

There needs to be a better way for consumers to GET information from these companies instead of giving it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Restaurant Round-Up?

Thanks to reporter Darren Rovell, whom I follow on Twitter, we have documentation of this practice by a Denver restaurant:

Of course, I replied to him hoping he "rounded down" when it came to a tip.

But, c'mon with this. This ranks right there with restaurants that add a 15% or higher "service fee" for groups. I have canceled reservations over that bit. Or, on the couple of occasions I have been a part of finding this out when the group bill comes, that amount replaces any tip.

Yet, even replacing the tip can still be a ripoff. Maybe the service wasn't good enough to justify the percentage tacked on.

And, I point out that a professional restaurant should have enough experience and expertise to time 8 meals (or however many) to all be ready at the same time. And how they should be glad that a group of that size could all agree on eating there.

One of the times I pointed that out to a restaurant manager he appeared to be offended. So I pointed out that, if anything, they should DISCOUNT that percentage for large groups who eat there. "And if you consider that to be too hefty of a discount, how do justify sticking all of us with that same cost?"

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why We're Really Cutting The Cable

I found today's news story about how cable and satellite subscriptions are dropping to be quite interesting, but mainly for the reasons which are given. It's not all because of the economy.,0,5039580.story

Maybe, just maybe, this will give the cable and satellite providers and the TV stations and networks the long overdue wake up call that has been needed. After all, canceling seems to be the only way that consumers can be heard on this issue.

I'm here to tell you that it's not just the economy as much as it is the quality, or lack thereof. And there is a lot of blame to go around.

The cable and satellite companies need to realize that they are in business to provide us with a service. That service is to install and/or provide the facilities through which we watch the programming, whether via a dish or installed wiring. Once installed, these facilities need to be maintained and services, and upgraded as needed.

For some reason, the cable and satellite companies were given the right to determine what programming we can get and not get. That flat out stinks. Some of the companies providing these TV facilities also provide phone service. Yet, when I get their phone service, I can call into any area code I so choose with a plan that covers the level of service I seek. There are no restricted area codes and none that cost extra.

Yet, with TV, I am forced to pay for channels I don't want and won't watch. And I don't get all of the stations or networks I would like to watch. Why are there restrictions for TV that aren't there for the same company's phone service?

The cable/satellite companies tell me that the majority of these exhorbitant monthly fees I'm paying go to pay for programming on the channels I am getting, some of which are available on a tiered basis at a higher price option. I could live with that, but under one condition. I should decide which channels I'm paying specifically for each month.

Instead, I'm stuck literally paying for channels broadcasting in languages I don't speak, supporting religions I do not practice, and for programming I would never watch. I'm certainly not suggesting that any channel I'm not interested in should go away. Let them prosper. But let the people who want them support them.

My cable or satellite provider should exist to bring me only those channels I want them to send me. Period.

Those of you who are not sports fans should be outraged that ESPN's channels take the biggest chunk of your cable/satellite bill each month. And you're not watching.

However, the cable/satellite providers are not the only ones to blame. The stations and networks programming these channels could stand some improvement as well. It seems that many channels no longer do what they initially set out to do and consumers are stuck paying for something different.

MTV and VH1 were all about music. Now they have more "original" programming which has nothing to do with music than ever before. That's not what we were initially told, and I should be able to send them a message by dropping them.

TVLand was supposed to be "classic TV all the time". Now, they continue to show "original" shows and movies in prime time and on weekends instead of the reruns of true classic shows. I barely watch it now after constant viewing years ago. I should be able to send them a message by dropping them.

ESPN Classic was implemented to show true classic sporting events. During its first few years, they provided an outstanding lineup heavy on older baseball, football, and basketball games of note, taken from the original telecasts. Have you checked them out lately? It seems to be mostly crap such as poker. I should be able to send them a message by dropping them because they also severely reduced the quality of programming from what it first was.

CNN Headline News provided continuous 30 minute updated newscasts 24 hours a day for years. Now, they show more talk and interview shows, recycling them several times a day, than they spend giving current news headlines. I should be able to send them a message by dropping them because they no longer constantly do what they used to either.

What about the BIO channel? Created because of all the great A & E Biography shows from over the years. Try going through their current schedule for a 24 hour period and see if you find a day with more than 33% of their programming being actual "Biography" shows. That's not what got them started.

I could go on. Chances are you have thought of some other channels which have come to disappoint you and have been taken out of your "favorites" button on the remote.

My point is that many of the TV station and network programmers have let consumers down. They have gone away from what made them, reduced the quality, and become less appealing to viewers.

How dare they force us to pay to continue to receive them? These were supposed to be "advertiser supported" channels. If they want consumers to support them, they need to either listen to what their paying customers really want, or not require us to paying for what we don't want. And if they don't receive enough revenue to support operation, then let them go away. These channels should not be my problem.

Instead, consumers often suffer by not having choices. Within the past year, NFL Network has come to Charter Cable, and MLB Network has come to AT&T U-Verse. Both companies made a big deal about now having these. What a bunch of crap!

We the people should have been able to get these channels, if we want them, via whatever cable or satellite provider we are paying each month.

Now, let's get back to today's news. Record numbers of consumers are getting rid of cable and satellite. Sure, some of it is the economy. But let's tell the stations and networks, and the cable and satellite companies, that we are sending a message.

We want to choose what we watch, and demand the right to do so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Looking Beyond Borders - book it !

Now Borders is closing its remaining stores around the country and is about to ride off into the sunset. This should be a, pun intended, textbook example of why some big businesses fail. I’m not buying their “excuse” for leaving the marketplace. Then again, fewer people were buying anything that Borders has been offering lately.

Their closing up shop is more of a result of consumers acceptance of ‘big business policy’ than e readers and the rest of the excuses some PR people have put out there as if to justify this closing. What is unfortunate is that so many very capable employees have and will lose full and part-time positions doing what they love because of goofy policies. Over the years, I always found the Borders employees to be knowledgeable about the books no matter what the topic. That’s the one thing the company did right, across the board, over the years. Employees with knowledge of the product. Management seems to have been a different story, however.

An employee can know and love certain books and talk about them all day with eager customers. But if that employee can’t deliver the product, the consumer still suffers.

There was the time a new DVD came out that I wanted. Out of convenience, I went into a Borders store the morning of the release date. Didn’t find it on the shelves. I asked the Customer Service rep, who knew what I was talking about and looked it up for me. They didn’t have it “yet”. I said something like “thanks anyway, I’ll pick it up down the street later in the day”. The rep looked offended and said that she would order it for me. I said that I would get it somewhere else that same day, which I did, and for a couple dollars less.

A few months ago, I went into 2 different Borders seeking a new release book which wound up on the N Y Times best seller list. One store didn’t have it yet. The other showed it as “in store” on the lookup computer. Couldn’t find it. When I asked, the rep looked it up, then agreed that it’s “in store”, and went to check on this for me. She then came back and said that the book is in the store, but still boxed up in the back and that they wouldn’t have it on display until tomorrow. As if I would come back for it.

Not only are the more incidents like the above, there is also the checkout process. Granted, Borders wasn’t as crazed as Radio Shack in terms of “needing” your information to make a simple purchase, but they came close at times. I shouldn’t have had to give my phone number or e-mail address just to buy a magazine. When they had the most current one in stock.

Over the past couple of years, I found more and more instances of them not having items in stock, but you could order them via However, I, the customer who couldn’t find the item in their store, was asked to pay the shipping charges, which took away any discount.

Forward ahead to the past couple of years and their Borders online “membership” plan. The one where they e-mail you every day with some discount possibilities for which you had jump through hoops and still not always get your buy. You had to keep checking back during the course of the day to see how many people “registered” for their daily specials which would “open” when a certain number of members had done so.

Then, I actually got one of them, which wasn’t easy. Their discount turned out to be, in part, via something called WOW Points which turn into cash. In order to get cash back, Borders wanted my personal checking account information to transfer the funds, failing to leave me any other option to get the money. Ya, right. Like I’m going to give some retailer the information to access my personal checking account?

That one kills me. In this day and age of identity theft and personal information leaks, Borders expects us to blurt out our phone number or e-mail address to make a simple purchase, and to provide them with our personal account information to take advantage of a special discount.

All they needed was some capable management and a sense of what potential customers want in terms of convenience and price. They would still have over 1,000 stores in operation.

Like the little kid who spills his drink and yells “It’s not my fault”, Borders is blaming the e-books and the current marketplace for reading. Heck, a little kid would know to have merchandise ready on the shelf the morning it is released – and easily available at other retailers.

One can only hope that other retailers will see the real reason for the Borders decline and keep in mind what current and potential customers really want.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Improve The Local Political Focus

In the interest of trying to wake up our local politicians, I offer my personal response up to the general public.

Incredibly, Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk, whose e-mail list I'm on for reasons I don't know, e-mailed me and countless others looking for "input". However, the matter he seeks input on has nothing to do with his local territory.

This time, rather than ignore and delete as usual with political e-mails, I responded. This is the sort of response that should be e-mailed and forwarded to groups of people you know in hopes others will do the same.

First, the primary content I received from Kirk, reprinted without permission:

Dear Friend:

This week marks the 44th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. Before the war, Israel's future hung in the balance. After it, Israel began to plan for a more long-term secure future as a pro-western democracy allied to the United States.
Recently, Washington was confronted with a new debate. After backing Israel's security needs for decades, the Administration called on Israel to fall back to its pre-1967 lines "with swaps" with the Palestinian Authority. This happened in the same month that the Palestinian Fatah leaders announced a coalition government with Hamas, a terrorist organization. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu disagreed and said we should not sacrifice Israel's security in the creation of a new Palestinian state.

I would like to hear from you on this issue.

I strongly believe that we should support the security of our Israeli allies first. You can read more on my views after the jump.

Please feel free to call me at (312) 886-3506 or contact me online at if you have any questions or concerns about issues before the Congress.

It is an honor to serve you and your family in the Senate.

Very Truly Yours,

Mark Kirk
U.S. Senate

Next, my response, which, again, you are welcome to use in response to political e-mails you get stuck with:

Mr. Kirk,

Thanks for the information you provided.

However, I don't see how an international matter with no specific day-to-day impact on us citizens within your service area can be considered anything close to a priority for you at this time. That would explain why you are looking for input about this. It's because those who voted for you are, justifiably, concerned with things you can realistically help to control.

The only international matter you and your colleagues should be focused on is reducing the dependence of foreign oil. The people who voted for you, and who will be asked to do so again, continue to be gouged at the gas pump and now paying more than double what they should for every gallon. The impact is such that local businesses are closing, moving out of state, or forced to raise their prices to us.

Meanwhile, the government you represent wasted millions of our dollars to bail out the banks due to the real estate crisis they created. Just yesterday, three more major banks were reprimanded over their failure to assist shattered homeowners. And I am personally among those, who you will be asking to vote for you, who is stuck owning a house now worth well under the mortgage I'm am still paying on it, with no immediate hope of being able to move or purchase any property.

Now, I see how you and your government colleagues are "looking for input" on a matter that is thousands of miles away.

Unless you expect the people of Israel to help you get re-elected, I'd suggest you focus your efforts close to home.

Dave Kohl
Illinois Voter

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Rare Political Rant

Those of you who know me know how little time I spend talking about politics, and that’s not about to change. However, this is one time when a political rant is necessary as I see it.

These politicians have added more to my being a “Frustrated Consumer” than any group of politicians during my lifetime. And it’s not even about saving money by not making any political donations whatsoever.

Frankly, I’m furious at everybody commenting about how glad they are the Donald Trump for President talk is officially over, and how many thought it was a big joke. Please understand that I can understand that many people do not like Trump for whatever reason, and I’m not here to necessarily endorse him no matter what.

Right now, we could use more like Trump entering politics. The number of people making discouraging remarks like this is not helpful to our collective future. Whether you like Trump or not, you can’t deny his overall success in the business world, and his ability to get a deal done much of the time. He is NOT a politician either, and is not afraid to let his opinions and decisions be known to all.

We need him, or someone who also has a track record in the business world, to get the ball rolling and start running for office. The career politicians out there aren’t getting it done.

If you are among those who are glad that Trump is not running for President and ridiculed the recent rumors, I have questions for you:

Why aren’t you ridiculing our current politicians, who have us in an unnecessary war and paying more than double what we should at the gas pump every day? What did Trump do to us that was .1% that bad?

How can you not want someone who doesn’t need “our” money to run his campaign platform? Who won’t have to listen to and do “favors” for potential large donors?

Again, this is not a campaign plug for Donald Trump. If not him, we should be opening the doors wide to encourage people who have a successful track record to come into the political arena and help us get rid of what is in there now.

Don’t ask me for one red cent for anyone’s political campaign. When the e-mails and phone calls and people on the street start asking for political support and donations, my answers will start flying right back at them. I’m going to tell them that until gas prices go down at least 50%, the banks stop screwing up the real estate market (after the government bailout), and the troops are still in the middle east, they aren’t getting one red cent from me. When even one of the politicians, regardless of affiliation, comes through for us, then I’ll THEN consider supporting and/or donating to help him or her in the future. Show me.

Fine, if you don’t want Donald Trump to run for President, I’ll give you that. But to ridicule and trash him worse than any of our current politicians we were all dumb enough to elect, that’s another story. Trump didn’t cause the rise in oil prices, the troops to still be overseas, and the banking crisis. Why not ridicule and embarrass those who did?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Not Paying Twice For The Same Service

My line from years ago, “It’s not just the high prices, it’s the people that pay them”, seems to be coming back in style again these days. Thanks to technology. I’d sure like to know why so many people are so willing to pay for the same thing more than once.
People around me as well as millions of people I don’t even know are ruining it for others, right smack in the wallet. Because they are so willing to pay more than once for the same service, sometimes from the same company.
I’ll use what I call “pocket technology” as an example. “Pocket technology” is those devices that I and others carry with me much of the time. I contend it costs me a lot as it is. But it is barely a dent compared with what others are paying double for.
Granted, I carry an older cell phone because I like the features better than what I have found on many newer phones, including the phone I got “free” with my current service. But I don’t have internet on my phone. To my way of thinking, I should. After all, I am already paying a phone company a hefty sum for internet service. However, the company I am paying for my internet is currently only providing it for my home computers. In order to have internet on my phone, my phone provider (and others I have explored) seem to think it is justifiable to charge me a lot of money just for that. My contention is that I am already paying an internet provider, and they should be making it available to every possible device that uses it. I’m supposedly paying for the bandwidth, regardless of how many computers I have at home. Shouldn’t I be able to use my phone for this same purpose?
How dare they expect to charge me much more for the same service just because it is for a different device!
Separately, I carry an MP3 player during the week and at various times I’ll be able to listen to whatever I choose. The unit that I own has the ability to receive wireless internet, which has come in handy when free Wi-fi is available. (Although to me, it’s not really “free”, since I pay an internet provider the hefty monthly fee already.) This unit also holds up to 32 gigs of content.
Needless to say, I currently have more than four full days of music, audio books, radio shows, and the like in my pocket on many days. At times, it is not convenient to carry two separate personal devices with me (the phone and the MP3 player). But finances dictate.
Meanwhile, I already own a digital camera, a separate video recorder, and a pocket AM/FM radio for those rare days when I want to listen to something local, each of which work just fine. I got good price deals on each of those as well by shopping around. That sure beats choosing among a very limited selection from what is supposed to be a phone service provider!
I see no reason to spend literally hundreds of dollars for things I already have, or am entitled to. However, millions of people don’t see it that way.
If I’m already paying for cell phone service, have a MP3 player to hold up to 32 gigs worth of entertainment and information, and am paying for internet access, why should I have to pay again? If I were to “upgrade”, as some call it, I would need to spend upwards of $300+ for a new portable phone/MP3/internet/camera device. Then, I would be asked to pay a lot more in monthly service fees for the phone and internet access. While possibly not having as much storage for my music and other audio.
Why do so many other people have no problem with this? Why isn’t anyone else asking their internet service provider why their plan doesn’t also include the cell phone?
If others want to spend hundreds of dollars per year more for all of this in today’s economy, normally I’d be fine with that. But by doing so, there is no reason for the phone and internet providers to continue to gouge everyone with these duplicate charges for what is often a lower realm of capability.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No One To Call To Complain

Now the real reason that AT & T is trying to buy out T-Mobile becomes public, thanks to the digging of a reporter:

This makes it clear (unlike certain phone company connections). AT&T doesn't care about T-Mobile's better customer service and choices to make them a bigger and better company. What they do care about is eliminating a lower priced and better competitor. Plain and simple. Barring a miracle, this will be still another example of a large company buying out or supposedly merging with what was a competitor, and then making sure the customer base suffers for it.

Prior to this announcement, T-Mobile offered generally better pricing on most plans than AT&T, and unofficially had fewer complaints about its customer service than AT&T. As this article points out, if and when this deal goes through, T-Mobile customers will probably be stuck with higher prices for their next contract, and likely with more challenging customer service issues. All this while AT&T and the remaining larger competitors, already charging higher prices than T-Mobile, will have all eliminated their lower priced competitor.

Not nearly enough people are going to take the time to try and protest or challenge this sale. It would only be a small percentage of T-Mobile customers who would do so, and most of them don't realize the negative impact this "sale" will have on their monthly expenses. The government won't do anything to stop this. After all, this will likely result in a few million customers having to cough up an additional $10 or more per month for the same service(s) they are now getting.

Using a conservative 1,000,000 users at just $10 more per month creates an additional $10,000,000 each month to be taxed. At a tax rate of only 5% (and that is VERY low), it puts another $500,000 of tax money into our government. Money that wouldn't be there if this "sale" does not get approved. Trust me, that figure is more like 8% to 10% in tax money, and an increase of $10 per month might even be too low. It's not like T-Mobile would purchase AT&T and then lower the monthly cost for millions of AT&T customers. Never seems to work that way.

This will be even worse than the so-called "merger" of Sirius and XM Satellite approved a couple of years ago. Both services are now owned by one company, and most of the music channels are shared by subscribers of both. Never mind that the playlists have been reduced for those with Sirius Satellite compared to the past. There was not supposed to be a price increase. Technically, there wasn't. Yet, a Sirius subscriber wanting channels (such as sports and specialty talk) previously only available to XM has no choice but to pay an additional $3.99 (or more) per month IN ADDITION to receive them. Same for XM subscribers for some channels exclusive to Sirius. While the services share many channels among both. Again, millions of subscribers paying the extra money for the complete service (of the SAME company) are also adding to monthly taxes, so the government allowed this to happen as well.

There doesn't seem to be anything we as consumers can do, realistically. We can't stop the government from approving this sale. And the government doesn't want us to stop it. As you might expect, I have been a T-Mobile customer for the entire time I have had a cell phone. Their service has been as good (or bad) as the other companies, based on what I have heard and seen from friends and relatives, but their pricing has been consistently better. Now it looks like after this sale, I'll wind up paying more money for less customer service.

You can bet that with the addition of millions of customers, they won't add many (if any) more customer service reps. We'll have even longer wait times and more aggravation, and at an increased cost. My first reaction to hearing the news was to comment "I wanted to call AT&T to complain about this, but I couldn't get through". Weeks later, I still feel the same way. And there is no one to call to complain to.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Don't Go By "Their" Average Costs

Articles such as this one in the Chicago (area) Daily Herald always capture my attention, especially when they focus on the high overall cost of doing something that I personally enjoy doing.

The story focuses on how, for this new baseball season, it "would" cost a family of 4 more than $250 to attend a White Sox home game, with a Cubs game coming in at more than $300. For ONE game.

But before you expect me to go on about how we need more articles like this and how wonderful the points it makes are, think again.

As a Frustrated Consumer, I continue to not like these articles. Sure, the writer seems accurate and did her homework. Same with the articles about the costs of going to the amusement park, the movie theaters, and some tourist or family destination points. I understand that consumers want to know how the "family of four" is impacted financially.

Sorry, but I'm here to tell you that these writers (in general) in these stories are being way too kind to the entities which are, for the most part, getting away with charging such high prices. Just because people go to something with the "It's once a year and we know it is going to cost an arm and a leg" attitude doesn't mean we are all required to feed the system. Articles such as this one are the enemy. Even as much as I dislike high prices.

The figures they show (in general) include the expensive "extras", as if these are required costs. I'll get back to the baseball example later. For now, let's look at the movies, and I'll show you what I mean.

I don't have a link to the article, but I saw a similar (to the baseball one) story recently about how it costs "close to $60 for a family of four" to attend a movie. Obviously, that is an outrageous cost for just one movie. However, that figure is not realistic, because it includes "optional" expenses.

You see, we do not HAVE TO automatically invest in a $4.00 soda, $5.00 for a super duper large popcorn plus more money for butter (as if $5.00 won't cover their cost) for every person that walks through the movie theater door.

While the writers of these stories take the figures the movie theaters and chambers of commerce provide and make it appear that we all "have to" prepare for all of these costs, there is a more realistic way to look at it.

A family of four with two children doesn't need to wait until evening to all go to the movies. They can go AFTER lunch (when they are full, of course), or perhaps right before going to dinner right after, when they know a big meal is coming.

By paying matinee pricing, the typical family of four should be able to all see a movie for less than $30 per visit. Not upwards of $50. Keep in mind, we are not "forced" to be gouged for soda and snacks, especially since we are at the theater for such a short time. If some of the "families of four" still wish to indulge themselves and their kids and spend $30 to $40 on refreshments for all, so be it. But don't make it an "acceptable" average cost.

My "$30 per visit" figures $6.00 per person matinee, which is $24 total. However, some families will pay full price later in the day, or not know to look for a theater which charges reduced prices during the afternoon, and pay upwards of $9.50 per person, or $38 total.

To me, the $38 total is "expensive" for just one movie, especially when the theater visit is generally well under 2 hours, and when it can be done for $24. The article I saw should be reporting the "average cost for a family of four" as $31, splitting the difference of full price vs. a discount price. Either way, it's well under the "expected" $50 that the movie theaters want us to think it is.

Meanwhile, I happen to think that paying for than $6 - $7 for just one movie, at any time of the day or night, is quite high. I grew up during a time when most movie theaters had a "double feature" playing most weeks. Plus, they would show cartoons, "short features", or other forms of entertainment on the big screen prior to the start of the first feature, and sometimes in between the two movies. We used to easily be "at the movies" for upwards of 4+ hours. Going to the movies was what you did for an entire afternoon or evening.

Now, it has become what we do on the way to or way from something. Sometimes 100 minutes and you are out of there. No cartoons, short features. Instead, we have to watch commercials from advertisers and endless previews of other movies which will, of course, be coming to the specific theater you are at. And for this, the price keeps going up?

So, YES, it does cost a lot, in my opinion, for a family of four to go to the movies. Unless they can keep it well under $30. What and where they eat or drink is their option, not my "expected" expense.

Next, apply the same theory to baseball games. The above linked article, like others, "expect" people to buy souvenirs, food, drinks, etc. every time. They factor in parking, as if $20+ to park one car for less than 4 hours is an "accepted" expense.

The above linked article includes purchasing team caps for all four people. Say what? I would like to believe the parents would make certain the kids still have their team cap (purchased at a discount retailer for well under 1/2 of what they sell for at the ballpark!) before they go.

Baseball games in Chicago generally start after 1 in the afternoon (after lunch) and are over before dinner. Night games generally start after 7 PM. There is time to eat dinner before hand, at at quite a savings over the $10 - $12 per person a crappy hot dog, fries, and one soda costs at the ballpark. Even if that family of four all takes the bus or train to and from the game (at roughly $2 per person each way), the cost of transportation totals $16, which saves from the $20+ merely to park. That is, if they choose not to drive and park a mile or two away in a free spot and walk to save even more.

Again, anything beyond the ticket prices is an optional expense, unlike how this and other stories portray them.

Yet, even more than the movies, the cost of baseball (and other sports) tickets is outrageous. In Chicago, it costs at least $24 per ticket (other than the few bargain or special discount games) and often $40+ per ticket just to sit in the outfield seats. The ones with little to no protection from the sun and the elements, and the ones which are furthest away from home plate.

The "reporter" should be pointing out how a family of four could spend over $150 just on game tickets in Chicago again this summer. There would be enough of us to realize that even if we do this once per year, there may or may not be enough money left over to purchase any food or souvenirs during our visit.

I'll admit it's tough to stay away. I enjoy movies, but go to fewer and further between. And when I see one I don't enjoy enough or find fault with, I point it out to as many people as I can to try and save their money.

As a baseball addict over the years who has gone to literally 100 baseball games in person during each of several seasons, I now go 5 to 10 times per year when I can arrange for tickets at "enough" of a discount to meet my budget. We either park and walk, take the train, and eat before or after the games. Elsewhere.

To put it in terms of the above linked article, I may spend $258.68 on the White Sox this new season, but not for just one game. More like 10 games, with change left over. Yet, if only they were reasonably priced, I'd go all the time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One Man's Solution To Our Economic Woes......

Not quite the usual fare today. I'm not even sure this really was a response to a newspaper story as the first line suggests. I got this as one of those e-mails that groups forward all over the place, but it makes so much sense that it's worth including here.

Some additional thoughts follow. Here is what I received:

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There recently was an article in the St. Petersburg , Fl. Times. The Business Section asked readers for ideas on: "How Would You Fix the Economy?" I think this guy nailed it!

Dear Mr. President,

Please find below my suggestion for fixing America 's economy. Instead of giving billions of dollars to companies that will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan.

You can call it the "Patriotic Retirement Plan":

There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force. Pay them $1 million apiece severance for early retirement with the following stipulations:

1) They MUST retire. Forty million job openings - Unemployment fixed.

2) They MUST buy a new AMERICAN Car. Forty million cars ordered - Auto Industry fixed.

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage - Housing Crisis fixed.

It can't get any easier than that!!

P.S. If more money is needed, have all members in Congress pay their taxes..

Mr. President, while you're at it, make Congress retire on Social Security and Medicare. I'll bet both programs would be fixed pronto!

If you think this would work, please forward to everyone you know.

If not, please disregard.
+ + + + +

Back to me now. I'm sure you join me in thinking "Great idea! But it will never happen". So for my contribution to this I'd like to suggest what needs to be done to actually get this to happen.

Take a few million more and pay 6 or 7 figure bonuses to the active politicians who make this happen within their area of service. Since money seems to be what motivates them, that part could happen with the right incentives.

Put the IRS to work on determining who is eligible for this plan. After all, they have all of the financial information on all of us that pay our taxes. It would keep government workers and take them away from auditing people and going for blood for at least a few months.

Meanwhile, this gives me another idea. Someone should track down the guy who wrote this, and then get each of the 40 million people over the age of 50 who are now working to contribute just $1 each toward his political campaign for a prominent office. If only the politicians would think anywhere near this, but that's a different topic.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Coupons Are Not Always Helpful

When it comes to grocery and home supply items (paper towels, napkins, etc.), The Frustrated Consumer is actually not as bullish on coupon usage as you would expect. My secret is to let coupons assist with a purchase rather than drive it under most circumstances.

Everyone has some degree of brand loyalty. It may be the detergent that always comes through for you, specific brand and category of food, etc. This is when coupon watching is of most value to you, when you plan on purchasing that product regardless.

For any and all products that you purchase based on best value, I find that coupons should be nothing more than a consideration rather than an “automatic” when it comes to purchase time. From tracking coupons for items and products I regularly purchase (not limited to specific brand names), I have noticed over the past couple of years that manufacturers’ coupons are becoming more about marketing and less about saving money for us. The “50 cents off” on a specific brand might be for a more expensive version and/or larger quantity than you would normally purchase.

One important step, if you are not already doing so, is to track prices for what you purchase, especially during the shopping visits when you are not planning to buy them. Get to know what the store(s) you frequent sells them for so that you can spot a true sale. It gets interesting when you find an item you buy for $2.99 on “sale” for $2.95 with the “regular price” suddenly shown as $3.25 to make it look like you are saving 30 cents when in fact it would save you 4 cents. On the other hand, if that item really was 30 cents off and you could get it for $2.69, then you should make the purchase even if not on your schedule. If a coupon is involved, be especially aware of this “regular price” practice that some stores use. Do not “think” you are getting a better deal, know it!

I’ll use dry cereal as an example. There are a few brands I especially like, made by different companies. Aside from sale pricing, I know that one store sells one brand for at least 30 cents per box less than the store “across the street”, but the opposite occurs for another brand I like. Of course, I watch coupons and for store sales. But I realize that a 25 cents off coupon at the one store would still result in a 5 cents per box higher cost than I regularly get at the first store.

There have been many times when I have not used a 50 cents off coupon for a brand of cereal that I like because it still does not bring more value than my “regular” price for another brand. The other factor I monitor for cereal is the “cost per ounce”, which is usually found at the bottom of the price tag on the grocery store shelves. You might think the Rice Krispies box is less expensive than the Special K box on the shelf below, but a check of the “cost per ounce” tells a different story.

Ideally, you should have a pocket calculator with you (or perhaps your phone has one you can use) to determine whether or not a revised “cost per ounce” when you factor in a coupon will make a difference. Sometimes it will, but there are times when even a coupon does not make a brand a better value at the time.

Lately, it seems as though many manufacturers are issuing coupons on more expensive lines of a product. That’s where they get you, rather than help you. More expensive lines do not always mean larger. Detergent is a perfect example of this. Suppose a 50 oz. bottle is regularly priced at $10 ($9.99, but let’s use round numbers), and the 100 oz. bottle is $17. The manufacturer issues a $1 off coupon, but only for the 50 oz. size. A good deal? Actually, no.

This coupon knocks the 50 oz. price down from $10 to $9. So if you purchased 2 of them (and the coupons usually allow you to purchase up to 4), your $2 “savings” via the coupon gets you a total of 100 ounces of detergent for $18. Yet, if you KNOW that the 100 oz. size still costs $17, you “save” $1 by NOT using the coupon instead of $3 by purchasing the larger size. Plus, the additional $1 takes a few more cents out of your pocket to hand over to the government for additional sales tax.

And that is if the retailer hasn’t raised the 50 oz. “regular” price to $10.50 for the duration of the coupon period to catch consumers unaware. The crucial strategy is to know to only use a coupon when you know it really saves you money when compared to the “real” regular price and to the cost of the product from other manufacturers (unless it is a brand loyalty purchase).

The next key to successful grocery and related item shopping is quantity buys. Know how much room you have in your cabinets, pantry, storage areas, and with any luck additional refrigerator or freezer space. In many instances, you can save significantly by purchasing a 3-pack or 5-pack of an item, or a 24 pack of toilet paper for example. Other than dairy products or other food products for which the “use by” date is critical, be ready to stock up based on price moreso than need.

It always helps to monitor items you purchase occasionally when visiting different stores, in order to be ready to buy when the best deal is there for the taking. Often I will go down aisles which carry items I use, even when not planning a purchase, to scout for price changes and a true good deal. When I find one, I save money. When I don’t, it doesn’t cost me a thing while keeping me up to date on where to find the current best price in case I absolutely need to buy the particular item.

I like to think I save the time back from checking the aisles by the way I often do my shopping list. I’ll keep coupons I might actually use in my pocket. On my list, I’ll note that I have “50 cents off Brand X detergent 50 oz. size” so I’ll know to check that price against the others.

It also helps to check the flyer for the store(s) you shop at on a regular basis before going in. Sometimes check the stores you don’t go to. If you find enough truly good deals, it can be worth going to two or more stores to complete your weekly shopping.

Keep in mind that it is how much you save, and not how many or few coupons you use. Even if these practices help you to really save only $10 per week, that would be $520 saved over the course of the year on grocery and related items. For a family of four, you will find the true “savings” will come to a lot more than that.

Monday, January 31, 2011

I'll Soft Drink To That - Eventually

I will admit that I eat out a large percentage of the time, which is generally not the case for people so in to saving money. While I certainly understand that restaurants are in business to make money, it’s the drinks that are the big issue. And it is getting worse across the board, especially when it comes to soft drinks.

We as consumers should not be allowing so many restaurants, including many of the fast food establishments, to continue to get away with this. My pointing it out to wait staff and order takers, who are not the ones making these decisions, does not help. We all need to begin to point this out to management and to the decision makers.

Part of the problem is that hardly anyone has questioned why soft drink prices at restaurants have risen so much over the past couple of years even though prices have held steady at the retail level during the same time. Now, it’s time to start.

Last week, I wrote the following via e-mail, to Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Denny’s, to get this started. These are just 3 of the chains charging at least $1.50 for a mere soft drink:

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This is not just a ( Denny’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s ) matter. The price of your soft drinks has risen significantly over recent months, and it appears to be without justification.

I can still purchase a six-pack of the drinks you sell for around $1.50 paying retail price for 72 ounces of the soft drink beverages of my choice. That breaks down to about 25 cents per can. Again, at the retail price. As I figure it, allowing for double the markup at the wholesale level, a 12 ounce soft drink at your restaurant should be priced around 40 cents. More realistically, this would put a 16 oz. serving around 50 cents. There is absolutely no reason to gouge patrons for more than the price of a 6-pack for just one serving.

If your base cost for these beverages is above that, even though I am not an expert in wholesale food and beverage, it would mean that your people are not buying efficiently at that level.

While I’m sure you would respond that refills are free, I take issue with that. Your customers are being charged for more than the price of a 6-pack, meaning that the vast majority are forced to pay higher than retail for one or more additional servings they may not want.

My suggestion is to go with a 12 to 16 ounce serving in the 40 to 50 cents range, while providing the menu option of with free refills in the 75 to 85 cents range with any meal.

This is certainly a more viable option for patrons than going with tap water and not purchasing any of the soft drinks on the menu at current pricing. In addition, making this change in soft drink prices would allow many of us the ability to add a dessert, leave a larger gratuity to support the wait staff, and ultimately return more often for full meals. Otherwise, the wait staff would suffer in the long run as more people use carry-out service in order to have their soft drinks at a reasonable price.

May I hear from you on this?

+ + + + + + + +

You are welcome to use this e-mail yourself, and certainly to take the points it expresses to any and every appropriate restaurant’s management if you agree.

Since this is not a marketing forum, I will only say that of these 3 companies, I received one response that my “comments were forwarded” to the food and beverage people, an auto-response with a “ticket number”, and an “out of office” e-mail from the specific person I had as a contact name that she would be out of office until Jan. 28th (and did not follow up). However, after allowing 2 business days from my original correspondence, it is time to move on.

This type of situation is exactly what led to “The Frustrated Consumer”. Sure, I know there is no “explanation” for this, and that this is not a mistake in how these places “buy”. Nor is it only the 3 chains I sent that to. Yet, a big part of the problem is that literally millions of consumers are far too accepting of these prices. Maybe you never thought about it, or didn’t notice – until now.

Suppose you eat out an average of 4 times per week, and that is probably below average. Using that conservative estimate, you are NOW spending at least $220 per year more for that soda (or iced tea, etc.) while allowing these restaurants to charge approximately double the retail value. ($4 per week more times 52 weeks.) Double that if you eat out an average of 8 times per week, and that rises to $450 per year “extra”! Note that the latter amount is enough to purchase THREE HUNDRED more 6-packs of your favorite soft drink – at retail pricing!

Why am I making such a big deal about soft drinks? Because they are all the same. Some restaurants charge $2.00 for a hamburger, while others charge $10 or more. In the case of food items, the size and portions differ from one place to another. The toppings may or may not be included, along with a “side”. Some have better tasting food than others. Our decision regarding a future visit is based on how much we like the food, how it is priced, convenience, and other variables. In that regard, we do have a choice. The number of restaurants, whether fast food or slow food around the country, which have closed within the past two years, reflects this.

Yet, a Coke or Pepsi is the SAME drink whether in McDonald’s or the most expensive steak house in town. The same as you and I can purchase at retail prices for significantly less than the majority of restaurants are now charging us. We, the people, do not need to continue to put up with this.

We can make a difference. Those of you over the age of 40 probably remember Howard Johnson’s Restaurant, which was an almost national chain of family style restaurants. There were more than 1,000 of them from coast to coast in 1975. One of the long-standing comments was how that chain was charging for coffee refills, which at that time hardly any other restaurants would dare to do. By 1988, the entire chain had been sold (in 1985) and while many of the hotels remained, Howard Johnson’s Restaurant was gone. The people spoke.

Obviously, every restaurant and chain isn’t going to go away. And they don’t have to. Keep in mind that Howard Johnson’s showed the power of consumers. In this case, it is consumers who don’t plan on buying an extra three hundred 6-packs of soda.

For the past few years, I cut back on my personal soft drink consumption to reduce my caffeine intake, instead going with ice water at the majority of slow food restaurants. Now, I find myself just going with ice water even more often because of the soft drink prices. If thousands of consumers begin to do the same, and (more importantly) begin to complain about soft drink prices, maybe we can get something done. (Note that I mean ice water and not bottled water for purchase.)

Yet, reducing soft drink prices to a reasonable level is not the entire “battle”. We as consumers are also entitled to choices we are not getting. We as consumers are also far too accepting of this. A big percentage of soft drink customers (whether regular or diet) have a definite preference for Coke, Pepsi, or 7-Up products. Yet, we have no choice about that. You might prefer Pepsi, but your favorite restaurant only serves Coke. Why is that?

It’s not like you don’t have a choice of what type of salad dressing, cheese, toppings, or side orders. It’s not like you can only order one style of pizza, yet the somehow have the right to limit us to the only brand of soft drinks they carry. And at these outrageous prices?

It’s time for all of us to take a “hard” approach when it comes to soft drinks.

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's a Gas Gas Gas

If only there was reasonable pricing for gasoline. I'll get back to that. But I do need to address brand loyalty when it comes to filling up your car. Those who have it usually have brand loyalty for the wrong reasons.

Everybody is, justifiably, complaining about how much we are being gouged at the gas pump. Yet, many of those doing the complaining are standing there pumping gas at several cents higher per gallon than another brand has it for next door or right across the street.

We need to eliminate the "What's the difference at these prices?" mode. Chances are you drive the same routes during the week to work, school, shop, dine, visit family and friends, etc. Are you watching gas prices everywhere you go to keep track of which gas stations consistently have the lowest prices?

If not, you should be. You need to look at prices and apply it to your typical fill-up. For the sake of example, suppose you put in an average of 10 gallons on your weekly visit to the gas station.

You look across the street and now notice that the gas station over there is selling at 8 cents per gallon less. That would mean you are spending 80 cents MORE on this visit than you need to. If you do the math, you would find that this comes to over $41 MORE over the course of one year than you had to spend.

This is without using an SUV example of pumping 20 gallons per visit or paying ten cents more per gallon. You'd be overspending by more than $100 per year, and some people are doing just that.

Using either of the above examples, take the dollar amount (i.e. $41, $220) per week you could be overpaying. Next, look at the price of your typical fill-up under today's prices.

You'll find that you are probably wasting one entire fill-up over the course of the year while complaining about these prices.

In addition, one place where you live or work (or drive to) may be in a different county or state which, due to taxes, may have a lower average price. I know of several people who will drive up to 20 miles extra to take advantage of significant savings on a fill-up, but it has to make sense. There are areas where gas prices could vary by as much as 15 cents or more per gallon from one state to the next.

However, at these prices, the extra driving generally doesn't make sense. Your savings on a 15 gallon fill-up might only be about $2 - $3, but the extra 30 miles of driving take up on gallon (or more), which presently costs MORE than the attempted savings.

Believe it or not, my savings formula does not always mean that I automatically head for the lowest gas price in the area where I'm filling up. Fact is I very rarely do, and only use the "lesser brand" of gas as an indicator of if the price has gone up or down that day, and how close to that price I need to look for.

Most people don't believe me on this until they try it out. Many cars actually do perform better using certain brands of gasoline. But it is NOT one brand fits all. In a multi-car household, each car may have its own "best gas".

It's not only out of fear that the cheaper "off brand" gas isn't as strong and could impact the performance level of the vehicle. That is something to consider. I am among those who has had truly reliable auto mechanics show me how "cheap gas" has negatively impacted the car's performance. This is often another reason to avoid the "off brand", however. If you save it in gas money but spend it back and then some in repair and/or maintenance costs, you aren't really saving. This is a factor with the majority of vehicles.

When I purchase another car (I won't say new car because I have purchased a grand total of 3 "new" cars during the 40 years I have been driving.), I will try a few brands of gas, evaluate the performance, and then develop a brand loyalty which seems best for my car.

Then, it becomes a matter of finding the lowest priced (name of brand) station within the area(s) I buy gas at. Currently, gas is lower priced near where I live than where I work or where I go to visit family members, so I constantly monitor which of the 3 gas stations of that brand within 2 miles of home have the better price. Yes, it varies. I'll never understand why the same brand of gas in the same zip code can have up to a 3 cent per gallon variation, but it does so I keep tabs on it. Significantly, I have purchased from all 3 of those gas stations within the past 2 months as the prices between them all varies. One of them tends to have the lowest of the 3 the most, but not always. (I won't say which brand since I can't endorse any at these prices.)

This brand has generally been available within 2 or 3 cents of the lowball brand, and even I have no trouble with an additional 25 or 30 cents per purchase, since the car will make up for it on maintenance costs.

The brand I generally used was arrived at by testing a few brands for mileage in the car I currently own. I always zero out the trip odometer when I fill up so that I can better gauge the distance and mileage on a couple of tanks and take it from there.

Comparing brands of gas is easier than you think. Ideally, you should rotate among those you would consider in the early going. The best comparison is testing brands under the same driving conditions.

There are some people who think I'm being ridiculous about this and that "all name brand gas is the same". But they were not with me years ago when I made a one day road trip from Chicago to Detroit (about 300 miles each way). I made it to my Detroit area destination and part of the way back to Chicago on one tank of gas. Being down to empty, I filled up with at a Shell station for most of my return trip home. Imagine my disgust when I had to stop for gas in order to make it home (according to the number of gallons I took, I knew that for a fact) on the same trip!

Months later, I ran out of gas on another road trip, on which I had used Shell purchased in a different state. Needless to say, that car and others since never used Shell. I have put Shell in the car I have now, but it is no longer among the lower priced brands in my area.

Yet, if I had not been keeping track of brands, mileage, and pricing, I might still be among those people spending MORE per gallon and getting way less performance out of the car, thus costing me even more money at the gas pump.

Back to these unreasonable gas prices. There is nothing we can do but complain, and so far that hasn't helped, even with

Here is a question for us all to ask politicians, especially the ones who urge us all to "Buy American". I like to "Buy American" whenever the price and quality merit. So why is it that when the foreign oil companies jack up the prices even more for no reason that the American refineries must follow?

Let our politicians know that if they made sure that refined American oil and gas prices were at half of the price the foreign oil companies are charging THEN we would "Buy American". Ask them what they will do to make this happen for us.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Phone Carrier Improvements Because of a Football Game?

The phone carriers all weigh in about getting and being ready for the portable phone use by those at the Bears' NFC Championship Game this Sunday at Solider Field. Some carriers are adding improvements to handle all of the calls. And the reporter leaves it at that?

Since the reporter didn't ask the questions on the mind of us frustrated consumers, I will:

This is the final Bears game at Soldier Field until August, and they all sold out. Why are these companies waiting until the final game to address the usage concerns?

Why only Soldier Field for one afternoon and not downtown and major pedestrian locations where significant usage is an issue on a regular basis?

How come several carriers just announced price increases when it takes a special event to steer them toward "being ready"?

For us consumers:

Have you asked YOUR carrier about this yet?

If you are not attending the game on Sunday, will you let your carrier know if you have any problems?

Maybe if you do, they will hear us NOW.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I despise paying to park a car. Especially at these ripoff prices. The only exception is some parking meters, those few that remain reasonably priced, which to me is 25 cents an hour for up to 8 hours, and are within ¼ block of my primary destination. A business or restaurant that doesn’t offer free parking has to work even harder to even have a chance at my business.

If a restaurant “can’t" offer us free parking, then it’s up to them to make it worth my while. If I am asked to pay $5 to park so I can eat there, they should take off $5 from the total cost of my meal or visit. Then, it is really FREE parking, like it should be, since it would mean that the cost to park was not extra for me. Why should it be your problem as a patron if they can’t provide free parking?

Same with shopping centers that pull the “2 hours free with a purchase” crap. I should never be put in the position to either have to make a purchase or else pay to park to visit the businesses there. We should all be insulted by tenant stores all telling us “It will cost you to come here if you don’t purchase anything”. My response is “It will cost YOU potential business because you gave me that ultimatum. I won’t take that risk.”

Now, I don't condone ripping anyone off. However, charging me to park for a shopping center fits in that same category. At one such shopping center in California, a thoughtful patron provided me with a great idea. He obviously had been parked there for more than the 2 hours of "free" parking with a purchase in certain store. So he walked out to the garage entrance, took a fresh time-stamped ticket, and went back to one of the stores to have his "fresh" ticket stamped. Some will say what the guy did was not legal or ethical. Actually, it wasn't. But being charged to park to visit those businesses isn't ethical to me. Frankly, I would have hired the guy as an executive!

No way I’ll pay to park to see a movie. I’m sorry that so many people do so without thinking twice. Whatever the movie, it is playing somewhere else, and I’ll go see it where I can park for free, like it should be. Especially with the annual increases in the price of movies for the same entertainment we were getting at lower prices.

It so happens that I enjoy walking almost as much as saving money. It’s even better when you combine the two. In the vast majority of cases, there is free parking, even if it’s a few blocks away. Over the years, I have commented that the cost of the extra pair of shoes I might need because of the miles I walk to save on parking costs still save me a lot of money. I contend that I save at least $1,000 per year by doing what I do to avoid paying for parking. It could be a lot more. So as of Jan. 1, 2011, I’m keeping track on a daily and weekly basis of exactly how much I save by not paying to park. I’ll be passing that along each month.

However, it is so much more than being ripped off for parking fees when shopping or eating. For some people, it’s for getting to and from work. For almost everyone, it is the outrageous cost of parking for entertainment and sports events. Given the cost of owning a car and especially for gas to keep it running, I don’t see any reason why we should have to pay additional to NOT be in or using our car.

Sorry, but parking for customers should be part of doing business. What would you say if an establishment asked you for extra money to cover their electric bill for the month? Or the computer software they use to process your order? You would balk at this (hopefully) because it is a cost of them doing business. Then can you tell me why having a place for customers or patrons to park (at no cost to them) is any different? Why is this our problem?

Of course, I enjoy attending events, and often have to go to where there is no other option in terms of having to pay an outrageous amount to park, especially in the big cities. What you need to do is to weigh your options. The big cities also have public transportation and other options.

For example, I recently took my girlfriend to an event near downtown Chicago. I already paid a lot of money for the 2 tickets, which to me should have covered parking and then some. But it did not. The bastards were charging $20 to park in an outside parking lot (no protection from the weather or conditions) for less than 3 hours. At this location, the free parking was at least 2 miles away, and on a cold night that’s too far. We got to the event because we took the L train from about 10 minutes away. I parked FREE near the train station. Unfortunately, it cost $2.25 per person per trip, which made for a $9 round trip. That still stinks to spend so much traveling to and from an event I already paid a lot of money for.

Here’s how I look at doing that. We did not have to sit in traffic, and suffer the humiliation of waiting in a line to pay stinkin’ $20 to park in an outside lot before the show. Instead, we exited the train station about ¼ block away (maybe the same distance if not closer than the paying lot) and walked right into the venue. After the show, we left the venue and were back on the train before the people who spent all of that money on parking could get out of the row they were stuck parking in. I know we got back home much faster by doing this. More importantly, even at the high sum of $9 for our transportation, I SAVED $11 (and the extra time) by doing this.

This is how you need to think it through regarding avoiding event parking. If there are 4 of you going, splitting a cab 2 or 4 ways from a point where you can park for free a couple miles away can save you at least $10. And so it goes. Always explore every option.

I could see charging maybe $1 for parking at venues for big events, such as sports or concerts, but with conditions. The few thousand dollars collected must go toward making paying to park there a true convenience. (Not to walk over puddles, breathe exhaust fumes, and have to back up into a long line of cars waiting to get out of the aisle, burning up my expensive gas and taking up several minutes of my valuable time.) Those conditions are that they have people to keep watch over the parked cars during the event, and are around after to direct traffic out of the lot in an efficient manner.

One more thing to keep in mind. The next biggest ripoff is when communities have the nerve to charge people to park at the train station. This is an absolute outrage. The reason I am taking the train is so that I don’t have to pay to park. So why would I then pay to park to take the train?

As you can imagine, I have done my research in my area, and advise you to do the same. Some communities go as far as to restrict parking surrounding the train station to try and stick you with paying them to park. Forget it! If you can’t find free unrestricted parking within a few minutes walking time of the train station, try a different train station location. I am sometimes stuck with this. I either park in a housing development about 2 blocks further (beyond the restricted area), or drive to a different train station with even more unrestricted free parking. You will find a community that WANTS possible customers for its businesses, and if people are walking the area and parked free with no restrictions, it gives them the opportunity to eat or shop there as well as take the train.

When I do this for the train, I’m saving $1.50 in train station parking costs each time. Before you dismiss me as being “cheap beyond belief”, here is how to look at it. If I save this $1.50 per day an average of 4 times per week (out of a 5 day work week) and do this 50 weeks out of the year, right there I save at least $300 per year by not paying to park for the train.

That is $300 without counting parking money saved on shopping, restaurants, movies, concerts, festivals, and sports events. Start keeping track of what it costs to park everywhere you go. Even if you only save an average of $20 per week every week (and that’s less than $3 every day!), you will save over $1,000 each year. That’s how I can afford to go to the events I go to!

It's time for people to speak up about this. If there are not complaints, this practice will continue and likely get worse. I'm already paying a ton of money to own, operate, and insure my car. I shouldn't have to pay a fortune to NOT be using it.

Introducing The Frustrated Consumer

Some people call me “cheap”, but others call me smart. It’s all because I don’t want to pay any more than I have to, no matter what it is. After years of telling a few people here and there, it’s time to share. Out of this is born “The Frustrated Consumer”.

It will be a part of the web site to provide fresh content and insight for people who love saving money and doing the research it takes to do so. There is always money to be saved. You need to question every purchase, no matter how small it may be.

It also helps to have the nerve to ask questions or make seemingly innocent comments when at retailers, restaurants, or wherever you make purchases. In my opinion, a huge part of the reason that we all pay too much for a lot of what we purchase is because people are way too willing to accept the terms and conditions and not ask these questions.

Hopefully, over the days, weeks, and months to come I will help people get over the fear of speaking out and of making a thorough effort to save money. It can be a lot more than saving $5 at the grocery store because you had coupons. That’s only the beginning.