Monthly Archives: September 2011

Paperback Swap: a great source for cheap paperback and hardcover books

I know e-readers are growing in popularity, but I still enjoy reading a book the old-fashioned way. Plus, paperback and hardcover books can be considerably cheaper than electronic ones if you take advantage of a service called Paperback Swap.

This Web site allows you to make available to others books you no longer need and to get books posted by other site users. The only cost involved is the fee you pay to mail your books to those who request them. If you use the media mail shipping offered by the U.S. Postal Service, you can mail most books for $3 or less.

Books must meet several criteria to be posted on Paperback Swap. They can’t contain any writing, highlighting, water damage or stains. The book must have its front and back covers, and no pages can be loose or torn. The book’s binding must be intact, and any CDs that came with the book originally must be included. Textbooks and former library books are allowed. In addition to listing hardcover and paperback books on Paperback Swap, you can also post and find audiobooks.

Each time a member receives a book you posted, your account receives a credit. Requesting a regular book from another member requires one credit; audiobooks require two credits. You get two free credits for listing your first 10 books, and additional credits are available for purchase.

Categories on Paperback Swap include cookbooks, children’s books, fiction and nonfiction. Paperback Swap offers a variety of search tools to help you find the books you’re interested in. If a book you want is not available, add it to your “wish list,” and you’ll be put on a waiting list for the item. If you only want books from nonsmoking or pet-free homes, you can create a list of conditions for your account.

The site assigns a “tour guide” to new members. This fellow member can help you navigate the site and answer your questions.

If you decide to sign up, please use this link so I can get a free credit for referring you. Look for the grey “Sign up” link near the top left side of the page to get started.


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Ebates: an easy way to get extra cash back when shopping online

One of my favorite ways to save money on online purchase is through Ebates, a website that gives you cash back on all purchases initiated through its website. When shopping, just go to Ebates, then use the search box or retail categories to find the store where you want to make a purchase. Click the link provided, and you’re done! Ebates sends you to your destination website and initiates a “tracking ticket” that automatically notifies Ebates of your purchase amount at the chosen store. Ebates converts a percentage of your purchase into a cash rebate, then sends your accumulated rebates to you on a quarterly basis. You can get your cash deposited into your PayPal account, request a check for your earnings or give the money to a charity or family member.

Cash back amounts range from 1 percent to 25 percent and are available at hundreds of stores and service providers, including Petsmart, Target, Kohl’s, Barnes and Noble, Toys R Us, Shutterfly, Travelocity, Nordstrom, Teleflora, Crate and Barrel and Vera Bradley. Ebates also gives you coupon codes that can help you save more money on your purchase when entered on the retailer’s website.

Membership in Ebates is free. Just fill out the simple registration form, and start shopping. Right now, Ebates is offering you a free gift card for a major retailer just for signing up.

Keep a few tips in mind to make the most of your Ebates experiences:

    • Make your purchase only in the retailer window opened by Ebates. If you accidentally close it, go back to Ebates and link to the website again to open another tracking ticket. Unless you go through Ebates to get to your store’s website, you won’t earn any cash back.
    • Take advantage of Ebates for big purchases you would normally make in a local store. For example, when if you’re buying a new appliance, buy it through the Lowe’s, Sears or Home Depot website. Purchase a new computer from Best Buy, Dell, HP, OfficeMax and other retailers to rack up more bucks. You can earn substantial cash back on large purchase like these and still apply any discount coupons you have for the retailer.
  • Ebates offers special promotions that increase the percentage of cash back available at select retailers. If there’s an item you aren’t in a hurry to purchase, monitor the cash back percentage to get the most bang for your buck. The Web site also offers a “daily double” feature on its home page that double the cash back for a different retailer each day.

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Don’t pay too much for cable and Internet service

I recently moved to a new city and signed up for cable television and Internet service from Insight Communications. I had a good experience as a previous Insight customer a few years ago, so I welcomed the opportunity to use the company’s services once again.

My feelings of goodwill went downhill after I received my first bill. I noticed the amount was higher than what I’d discussed with the agent who signed me up for service, so I reviewed the bill line-by-line in search of the extra charges. I quickly discovered the problem: Insight had added $16 a month to my bill for a subscription to HBO.

I never requested HBO service, nor did I want to pay for it, so I called Insight customer service to discuss the issue. The agent said the charge was added to my bill because I received HBO at no charge during my first month of service and, after that, customers get charged for the channel. She quickly agreed to remove the charge from my bill and discontinue my HBO subscription. The frustrating part for me is that I don’t recall anyone saying, “We’re giving you one month of HBO free, and then you’ll have to pay for it unless you call to cancel.”

In reviewing my bill further, I also discovered a $3 monthly charge for a modem rental. I own a modem, but the technician who installed my service didn’t ask if I had one; he just installed Insight’s device. I asked the customer service agent if this charge could be removed from my bill in future months if I return their modem and hook up my own. She assured me this would be no problem.

In light of this experience, I offer these tips for dealing with cable companies and other service providers:

Check your cable, cell phone and similar bills each month to ensure the amount you are being charged is the amount you agreed to. If you’re on an automatic payment plan, it can be easy to just file or toss the bill when it arrives, but be sure to check the total first.

• Use caution with “trial offers.” Although I don’t recall agreeing to a free trial, it’s possible I did. If you sign up for  promotions that require you to cancel within a certain period of time to avoid charges, make a note on your calendar so you won’t forget to cancel the service by the deadline.

• If you use cable Internet service, consider buying a modem of your own instead of paying a monthly fee to rent one from the cable company. You can buy a good, brand-name modem for around $55. This purchase would pay for itself in less than two years if you’re paying $3 a month to rent a modem. Before buying, verify with your cable provider that using your own modem is an option. You might want to buy your own router as well if you’re renting one now.

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Reschedule delayed flights yourself with help from the Delta Web site

It’s unlikely any airline will ever be known for its stellar customer service, but a visit by my stepsons over the Labor Day weekend revealed some tools that can improve your experience when you’re confronted with delayed Delta flights.

On their way home at the end of the weekend, my sons’ itinerary included two connections. Before we left for the airport, I checked the flight status on the Delta Web site and found their first flight was already delayed, making it likely they would miss one or both connecting flights. Next, I went to the “My Trips” link on the Delta home page and entered the name and confirmation number associated with my sons’ itinerary. Once their flight plan appeared on the screen, I used the “Find alternate flights” link to see what other flights they might be able to use to get home. Since their original departure flight was delayed, Delta offered me the option of rescheduling their flights at no charge. By doing this, I got them home four hours earlier than originally scheduled, with only one connecting flight.

The “Find alternate flights” tool is not perfect, however. On the trip to our home, my sons’ first flight faced a delay of more than two hours, causing them to miss their connecting flight from Minneapolis to Louisville, Kentucky. Before they left the starting airport, Delta rescheduled them on a connecting flight that would arrive in Louisville four hours later than the original flight. The “Find alternate flights” tool showed only this option, but I wanted to determine if any others were available. To do this, I followed the same steps I would to purchase a ticket, searching for one-way Delta flights between Minneapolis and Louisville. I found a flight that would arrive almost two hours earlier than their new connecting flight. By using the “view seats” link on the reservation screen, I could see 15 empty seats on the flight. The website would not allow me to rebook the ticket myself, since this option did not display under the alternate flights link. However, I advised my stepsons to go up to the gate agent and present him with the flight number for this earlier connection, along with the number of available seats. By doing this, they got rebooked on the earlier connection at no charge.

Lessons learned:

    • While airlines usually rebook you automatically when you miss a connection, they may not place you on the best replacement flight.
    • Don’t hesitate to politely advocate for yourself if you are aware of a better flight option than the one the gate agent gives you.
    • You can see all available flight options by following the steps to reserve a flight on the airline’s website.
    • If you don’t have wireless Internet access at the airport, a friend can change your flight for you if they have your confirmation number.

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Home improvement stores offer holiday savings on paint and supplies

paint brushYou probably associate Labor Day with cookouts, trips to the lake and the start of the college football season. But if you’re willing to put a little labor into the holiday weekend, you can also rack up substantial savings. Major summer holidays, including Labor Day, are traditionally a time when home improvement stores put their painting supplies on sale, and this year is no exception.

Now through September 7, you can save $5 one one-gallon cans or $20 on 5-gallon buckets of Behr, Martha Stewart Living, Glidden and Zinniser paints at the Home Depot. The sale includes primers, interior and exterior paints, stains and waterproofers. To realize your savings, you must complete a mail-in or online rebate form. Remember that paint is not a returnable item, so think carefully about your color choice before asking the store to tint a can for you.

Home improvement giant Lowe’s is also in on the paint-sale tradition, taking a slightly different twist. The company is offering $10 off every $50 you spend on paint and supplies. The promotion includes paint brushes, mixing buckets, tray liners, stain, primer, sandpaper, drop cloths and other items. You’ll receive your discount when you checkout. This sale continues through September 5.

Finally, Ace Hardware if offering 20 percent off all Ace-brand house and wall paint through September 5. The promotion includes quart- and gallon-sized containers. Use the company’s store locator to see if Ace has a location in your neighborhood.

Whether you’re painting, barbequing or sitting in front of your big-screen TV,
I wish you a wonderful holiday weekend!

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