Monthly Archives: August 2012

Great fuel points bonus is back at Kroger

Now through September 8, get quadruple fuel points on each gift card you purchase at Kroger. Buy a $25 gift card, and you get 100 fuel points, which equals a 10-cent-per-gallon discount on gas purchased at a Kroger fuel station.

My strategy is to buy gift cards for myself for stores I shop at regularly. Learn how this can help you save big bucks on gas in this previous post. I stock up on cards for Target, Petsmart, Subway and other retailers during these special bonus promotions.

What’s the most you’ve ever saved on gas with Kroger fuel points?

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Finding running and athletic shoes made in the USA

In my last post, I explained why I’m trying to avoid products buying made in China. If I can’t find a particular item made in the USA, I hope to find a version manufactured in a country other than China. This is especially tough when it comes to running shoes.

Calling myself a “runner” might be a stretch–according to my mile times, I am more of a “jogger.” Either way, I need to wear shoes designed for running when working out because they offer extra protection as I pound the pavement. I learned the hard way what happens when you run in shoes not designed for jogging. The protection offered by running shoes subsides the longer you wear them, so I recently set out in search of running shoes made in the USA.

New Balance is the only company I could find that offers athletic shoes made in America. Not all New Balance models are made in the USA, but if you search for “made in USA” on the company’s website, you’ll get a list of its USA-made running and athletic shoes.
Update: A May 4, 2014, website posting by New Balance states that the company defines “made in the USA” as a shoe that has a “domestic value” of at least 70 percent, meaning at least that much of the shoe was made or assembled in America.

Unfortunately, New Balance didn’t offer shoes in my size, so I kept looking. I ended up buying a pair of Mizuno Wave Alchemy 11 shoes from Endless.com (a great source for hard-to-find sizes), which are made in Vietnam.  Not all Mizunos are made in Vietnam; a Mizuno customer service representative told me some are made in China. Looking on the back of the shoe’s tongue can tell you the manufacturing location. Mizuno delivered good customer service by answering my email within 36 hours.

I emailed the Nike Store to ask where Nike running shoes are made. Here’s the response I got: “Virtually all of our footwear is produced outside the United States. We also have manufacturing agreements with independent factories in Argentina, Brazil, India, Italy and South Africa to manufacture footwear for sale primarily within those countries. I cannot pinpoint which exact shoe are made in China and other countries.” The representative did point out one pair of Nike women’s running shoes made in the USA. I will give Nike’s customer service team a “thumbs up” for responding promptly and honestly to my email. I got a response in less than 48 hours.
Update: As of Dec. 31, 2013, no Nike running shoes (men’s or women’s) are made in America, according to a Nike representative.

I also emailed Dick’s Sporting Goods, a large online and bricks-and-mortar retailer, to ask which shoes it carries are made in the USA. The response from Dick’s staff was less helpful: “If you would like information on a specific product we would be more than happy to find out the country in which the item is made. We don’t have a way of searching for items made in the U.S.A on our website and therefore, are unable to suggest a specific product.” Dick’s staff does score well for customer service here. They answered my email on the same day they received it.

My last running shoes were Asics Gel Cumulus. The shoes’ tongue shows they were made in China. My husband’s Saucony Pro-Grid Ride running shoes (purchased recently) were made in Indonesia.

Have you found quality running or athletic shoes made in the USA? If so, please share information so others can buy shoes made in America.

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Where to find products made in the USA

I’ve never felt good about buying products made in other countries. Financially speaking, I prefer to support the economy and job market of my own country, not someone else’s. I don’t want to be part of subsidizing low-paying jobs and unsafe workplace conditions in other countries. My resolve to avoid products made in China was strengthened recently when I learned the country is kidnapping women and forcing them to have abortions (this Washington Post article offers details). Since then, I’ve decided to try harder to purchase product made in my own country and especially to avoid those made in China.

Finding products made in the USA is not always an easy task. Many retailers buy cheap goods manufactured overseas to maximize their profits. To help you find products made in America, I will be featuring some on this blog from time to time. Since I have a limited budget, these won’t always be products I’ve had the opportunity to purchase and test myself.

Up this week are broiling pans. The house I moved into last year didn’t come with one in that drawer under the stove, so I recently set out in search of one.
I found a couple of versions manufactured in the United States on this website: Chef’s Catalog. The company offers free shipping on orders of $25 or more, plus free returns by FedEx.

The Granite Wear three-piece broil, grill and bake set is what I ordered first.
I should have paid more attention to the dimensions provided for the item. When it arrived, it was smaller than I thought. While it would be adequate for broiling steaks, it wasn’t long enough to hold a full rack of ribs. Thanks to that free return shipping, I’m sending this back and ordering the larger version.

Before ordering, I checked out Chef’s Catalog on the Better Business Bureau website. I encourage you to do this and take other steps to protect yourself when shopping with unfamiliar companies. See my previous post on this subject for more details.

I invite you to share links to and locations of your favorite made-in-the-USA items. Post a message if there’s a product you’re having trouble finding an American version of, and I’ll try to help you track it down. Stay tuned for more products made in America

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Shop online to get the best prices on college textbooks

Back in the old days, a college’s on-campus bookstore represented your main option for acquiring the books you needed for your classes. Today, students have the option of buying books online from eBay, Amazon and textbook-focused websites. I’ve purchased textbooks on multiple occasions over the last few years, and I’ve found two websites that consistently beat on-campus prices for college textbooks.

The websites have similar names: Textbooks.com and TextbooksRUs.com. They also have similar approaches: each ships books for free, buys books back from you at the end of the semester and gives you the option of renting books. You can search for textbooks on the sites by title or ISBN number (a code number assigned to most textbooks that appears near the UPC code). The companies have similar pricing, but you can save a few bucks by comparing prices on textbooks you’re planning to buy. Last week, I purchased a book from Textbooks.com at half the price I would have paid at the college bookstore.

My customer services experiences have been great: I’ve found both companies deliver books promptly and ship the correct items.

When you’re ready to sell books back, check the buyback price on each site to earn the most cash. Both sites provide prepaid shipping labels to send your books back via Fedex or UPS. I’ve never had a problem getting paid by these companies for books I sold to them. You can even sell them books you purchased elsewhere.

College students typically need all the money they can get. Textbooks.com and TextbooksRUs.com allow them to get the books they need and keep more cash in their pockets.

Have you found reliable sources for textbooks other than the ones listed here? Share your experiences to help others save money.

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Get the facts about fuel mileage before buying a new or used car

An acquaintance of mine (I’ll call her “Sue”) recently complained about the shortage of money in her household, noting that she’d bought a new crossover sport-utility vehicle (SUV) in hopes of saving money on gas. It’s the first time in years she’s had a car payment. She’d previously been driving a full-size pickup truck that she is now trying to sell; it was already paid for. I don’t know Sue well enough to ask whether she “did the math” on how long it will take to recoup the cost of the new SUV when comparing its fuel mileage to that of the truck.

Before you buy a new or used vehicle, I encourage you to do some research to determine the projected fuel cost associated with the vehicle you plan to acquire.

Fueleconomy.gov is a good place to start. It’s a website operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, and it allows you to compare the projected fuel mileage of new and used vehicles side by side. You can also search by make and see a list of the best and worst vehicles for fuel mileage. The website’s power search tool allows you to set specific search criteria, such as market class (family sedan, minivan, etc.), model year, transmission type and manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Fuel mileage estimates are based on figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are available for vehicles dating back to 1984.

Let’s say Sue had been driving an eight-cylinder 2008 Nissan Titan with four-wheel drive and purchased a four-cylinder 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander with four-wheel drive. Let’s also assume she drives 18,000 miles a year, with 40 percent of those miles in city traffic. With gas at $3.55 a gallon, Fueleconomy.gov estimates she’d spend $4,550 a year on gas to drive the Titan and $2,550 a year to drive the Outlander. That’s a fuel savings of $2,000 a year.

A new 2012 Outlander with four-wheel drive costs around $25,000; Sue’s Titan was already paid for. So, it could take more than 12 years for her fuel savings to pay for her new vehicle. Granted, the Titan is older and may require repairs sooner, but her new vehicle will likely require repairs before it reaches the 12-year mark. While it’s impossible to pinpoint an exact “break-even” point, it appears Sue may not have made the wisest choice for her cash-strapped household.

But there’s more to fuel mileage than these calculations. When you hear all those commercials on TV touting the fuel mileage of new vehicles, listen for the phrase “EPA-estimated.” The projected fuel mileage calculations are just that—estimates. Don’t expect to get EPA-estimated fuel mileage when driving your car. The EPA tests cars in a laboratory (not in real-world traffic) to determine expected fuel mileage. A professional driver tests each car on a dynamometer. Fueleconomy.gov notes your mileage will vary due to differences in driving behavior and conditions, fuel variations and the vehicle’s age and condition.

During a car-shopping excursion in 2012, my husband and I seriously considered buying a hybrid. I wanted to know what mileage drivers in the “real world” were experiencing with these vehicles. Since they have a significantly higher price tag that traditionally powered models, it’s hard to justify the extra cost of hybrids without the promised fuel savings. I turned to automotive website Edmunds.com for answers. The website includes forums where vehicle owners report their real-world mileage for various types of vehicles (check out this Hyundai Sonata Hybrid section for an example). After further research, we decided the “break-even point” was too far away on a hybrid to justify its extra cost.

So before you set out to replace your vehicle in hopes of saving big bucks on fuel, do some research and calculations. Take advantage of the customization features of Fueleconomy.gov to compare fuel mileage of cars based on the number of miles you drive per year, your percentage of city driving and expected fuel prices in your area. Then, search the Edmunds forums to look for patterns in actual fuel mileage being reported by real-world drivers. You may find keeping your “gas hog” will actually save you money in the long run.

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