FTC Disclosure:

I am not paid or compensated in any way to write product reviews posted to this blog. There are affiliate links posted throughout this blog. So, when you click through on links and buy something, I may receive a commission. I pay for the products with my own funds. Product reviews always reflect my own experience with and honest opinion of the product as a consumer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How Do you Respond to Commercials and Other Advertisements?

Wheat thins -The Crunch is calling!
Yum, Yum.

I was reading a post in a forum a few days ago, and one of the forum members wanted to know if our perceptions of companies, influence the way we perceive the companies’ advertisements, and vice versa. Well, in my opinion whether I like an advertisement has little or no influence on my purchasing decisions. I can also enjoy a company’s commercials, yet have no interest in their products or services.

For example, I like AT&T wireless’s Flash mob TV commercial, but I would not buy their wireless service. I think the flash mob commercial is funny, and the underlying message is easy to understand. A guy shows up for an organized Flash mob dance in the middle of a busy bus station. The guy ends up making a fool of himself by dancing before he gets a text message too late that the flash mob was moved to 12:30 p.m. The premise of the commercial is that if the lone dancer had AT&T wireless services, he would have gotten the text message lightening fast (and saved himself an embarrassing moment).  I am almost ashamed to admit that I tried to learn the flash mob dance. Yet, no matter how many great commercials AT&T puts on the air, I won’t buy their products. This is based on a prior bad customer experience with AT&T wireless (Frankly, I think that AT&T is a rip-off, but that’s another story).

If I see an advertisement that piques my interest, then I would likely check out that company’s website, consumer reviews, and social media networks to get more information. I am the type of person that does consumer research before buying, even if I am familiar with a brand. I like to know everything from price, promotions, defects, and what other consumers have to say about the products or services offered before I buy. I trust the word of family, friends or other consumers over the claims of companies. Many consumers follow a similar philosophy with their shopping. People are not stupid, especially in this economy. Savvy shoppers do the research before shelling over their hard earned mullah.

I am not very easily swayed by clever commercials. I understand that these companies have millions of dollars to spend on product research and advertising. They know the demographic of their target audience and these companies know what the psychology of, as well as what the hot buttons are for their consumers. Therefore, I am aware on a conscious level, of the advertising games that are played by major companies.

With that said, I must admit that I have been “reminded” by a clever commercial how good a product is that I had stopped using. This is where subliminal messages in advertisements come into play. The advertisers can sometimes influence us on a subconcious level through repetition.  For instance, some of the recent Nabisco Wheat Thins commercials have induced me to go out and buy a few boxes after a long hiatus from eating Wheat Thins.

I draw a very clear distinction between good advertisements and good products and services. I buy products based on whether the company has a solid reputation for making good products and services. I am not one of those people that jumps on the bandwagon, either. I don’t have to be the first to try a new product or service. In other words, you would never catch me waiting in line outside of the Apple store at 2 o’clock in the morning, for the next edition of the iphone or ipad. It’s all craze and hype and when one fad ends another is there to take its place. Commercials can sometimes be entertaining and informative, but watching an ad is not the sole determining factor in whether I buy a product or not.


Copyright 2011- www.thewhimsicalmusingsofsusan.com

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thinking About Taking out Student Loans For College? Think Again.

The cost of college is skyrocketing at astounding rates, and despite the state of the economy, post-secondary education is a booming business. According to Trends in College Pricing 2010 and Trends in Student Aid 2010, published by collegeboard.com, the average cost of college for public four year colleges is $7,605 per year, for in-state students and $11,990 per year for out-of-state students. Private four year colleges charge an average of $27,293 per year. This is the cost for tuition and does not include the costs for room and board, books, supplies, etc. To make matters worst, the amount of free federal financial aid has not increased in tandem with rising tuition costs and other college related expenses. There has even been proposals to reduce the maximum amount of Pell grants that students are eligible to receive. Due to these facts it is very tempting for students to look to student loans to make up for the gaps in financial aid and to cover the costs of their education. Indeed, student loan debt in the United States has already surpassed credit card indebtedness. Student loan debt in the U.S. is expected to go beyond the trillion dollar mark by 2012. Here are some facts that you might want to contemplate prior to signing on the dotted line for that student loan.

  • Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. It does not matter whether you complete your degree program, find gainful employment after graduation, lose your job, or become disabled. The student loans must be repaid. Very few people are able to claim “undue hardship” in bankruptcy and get their student loans discharged. Of those who successfully had student loans discharged, it was due to very extreme circumstances, limiting the borrower’s ability and hope of ever repaying the loans.

  • Repayment on federal Stafford loans starts six months after graduation or when the student drops below half-time enrollment. Will you have a job that pays enough money to make your monthly loan payments affordable? You may be eligible for a hardship deferral or forbearance. Unless you are still enrolled in school at least half-time, you are responsible for the interest that accrues during the deferral (for unsubsidized Stafford loans) or forbearance period.

  • Massive student loan debt hampers your ability to do other important things in life like buying a home, funding a retirement account, start a business, or getting married and starting a family.

  • Anyone who co-signs on a student loan is equally responsible for repayment of the loan. So, whenever the original borrower dies or defaults on a student loan, the lender can pursue the co-signer for repayment of the loan.

  • Avoid private student loans like the plague. The repayment terms are often more stringent compared to the repayment terms of federal student loans. Like government backed student loans, private student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. The interest rates and other fees are higher for private student loans than with federally backed student loans. At the present, private student loan lenders are not required to disclose all of their fees upfront.
If you ever default on a student loan, there are severe consequences, including wage garnishment, seizure of income tax refunds, seizure of bank accounts to offset the loan balance, garnishment of disability and social security checks, negative rating on credit report, negative impact on your ability to get a good job, exorbitant collections fees, and the list goes on. The bottom line is that it would be best to avoid taking out student loans or at least minimize the amount of student loan debt that you incur. If you choose to borrow money for your education, please don’t borrow more than you can reasonably repay. Never borrow money to fund a lifestyle (partying, new car, shopping sprees, etc.).





Related posts:

Words of Caution For Anyone Thinking About Going to College

What Happens When you default on a student loan? Some of the Consequences of Student Loan Default

Is Going to College a Good Idea in a Bad Economy?

Copyright 2011- www.thewhimsicalmusingsofsusan.com

Friday, July 15, 2011

Re: Doctors and Customer Service

I was reading this interesting post at squirrelers.com the other day about poor customer service in the medical field. The question was posed whether doctors are considered service providers. My answer is a resounding yes! I think that part of the modern Hippocratic oath that doctors swear to includes an element of customer service to the patients.

Some people don’t agree with treating patients like “customers” or “consumers”, because they feel that a greater amount of importance is placed on how much money a patient garners for a medical practice with this model of patient care. I disagree to a point, since patients are consumers of the health or medical related services that they seek from doctors and healthcare facilities. The healthcare system exists to cater to the patient’s health care needs. Therefore, the patient is a customer and consumer of the healthcare system.

You have probably experienced it or you might know at least one person that has experienced poor customer service in a doctor’s office or other healthcare setting. Don’t get me wrong: I have had some very positive experiences with many medical doctors, and for that I am eternally grateful. However, a few negative experiences can sometimes cast a negative light on the whole of a profession. I am not sure how this all started, but somewhere along the way, stellar customer service has fallen by the wayside in the healthcare system.

Doctors could provide good customer care by making sure that their patients or customers feel as comfortable as possible. Patients are already on edge about a stranger prodding and probing them. It helps to allay some of the anxiety by making the patient feel comfortable. Courtesy and respect are some basic, yet powerful tools in helping the customer to feel comfortable. When doctors and their staff members display an impersonal attitude towards their patients, it doesn’t do much in terms of showing patients respect. For instance, medical doctors will sometimes enter the examining room without even speaking or introducing themselves. Some healthcare professionals start doing things to the patient without telling the patient what it is that he or she is doing. It’s just plain rude and impersonal.

Part of a good customer service experience is building a trust and rapport with the patient. If the patient has concerns about the course of treatment that he or she is receiving, then a good doctor would have no problems addressing those concerns. A patient should never feel as if their concerns are getting placed on the back burner, because the doctor is in a hurry or feels insulted by lots of questions.

My personal negative customer service experience with a doctor

I can write a book about the amount of poor customer service experiences that I have had with doctors. One of them is really prominent in my mind. Several years ago, I visited a dermatologist in Broward county for the first time. He was supposedly respected in the medical community amongst his colleagues. He had solid credentials and a considerable amount of experience in the field, however this particular doctor lacked in the area of “bedside manner”. I went in for treatments for moderate acne. In the past I was successfully treated by another dermatologist with topical medications, such as Retin-A. I was searching for a similar remedy. The doctor quickly told me that he does not prescribe Retin-A in his practice.

He told me that he implements different techniques and treatments. His methods entail treatments that didn’t resonate well with me such as injections to the face, and exposure to UV light to kill the acne-causing bacteria in the skin. He also prescribed his own formulation of topical medications that contains benzoyl peroxide. Well, I absolutely abhor benzoyl peroxide, because it leaves my skin very dry, discolored, and irritated. The thing that disturbed me most about this encounter, is that this doctor was not willing to listen to what I was saying; It was either his way or the highway. The other thing that bothered me is that this doctor seemed pretty much to be using me as a guinea pig to support his “research”.

At one point in our discussion, things got pretty tense. I refused most of his suggested treatments. I left this doctor’s office feeling that he could not provide me with a resolution to my problem. I paid him for the treatment that I did accept. However, I cancelled all subsequent appointments with this dermatologist, and never returned to his office again. If this doctor had been willing to listen to my suggestions, and take the stick out of his butt, then perhaps the outcome would have been different.

I respect doctors: They invested an inordinate amount of money and time in their education and training. Doctors use their expertise to help, heal, and teach people. Doctors are our friends, and not our enemies. So, I am not bashing doctors or the health care industry as a whole. I am talking about the doctors and other healthcare professionals who are in it for the wrong reasons and lack respect for patients.

It really does take a special type of person to have the patience, skill, and compassion that is requisite to be a great healthcare professional. People should not get into medicine or healthcare as a career if it is not their calling. Dealing with the public is a difficult proposition, and not for the faint of heart. I can say this as both a patient and a former healthcare professional. No matter how difficult a job or patient may be, respect and quality healthcare is due to the patient.

Copyright 2011- http://www.thewhimsicalmusingsofsusan.com/

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Coupon tips to help you save money on groceries

I commented in an earlier blog post on some helpful couponing basics. Here are some additional tips that I suggest to maximize your savings. Couponing is like a game. Once you learn the rules of the game, you can play with strategy and win.

1. Never use a coupon just because you have it. Remember, the main purpose of a coupon is to induce people to buy the advertised product. The best time to use a coupon is when the product reaches the lowest price. Most products go through sales cycles, so that the sale prices are easily monitored and timed. Products go on sale about every 6 -10 weeks.

2. Create a price list of all of the most used products in your household. In this way you will have a firm grasp on what your favorite products retail for, as well as the sale pricing. By creating a price list, you will also become more aware of the sales cycles for your favorite products. You can make a price list in an MS Excel spreadsheet format, in MS Word, or with paper and pen. Stick to whatever method works best for you. The most effective way to make sure you are getting the lowest price is to keep a price list going for each retailer you shop at.

3. Using the price lists on www.couponmom.com or www.thegrocerygame.com are a great way to track sales. This can be used in addition to your own price list. Registration is free at couponmom.com. From what I understand, there is a free trial for thegrocerygame.com, and afterwards there is a fee to use the service. At any rate, both websites track sales on products at popular retailers like Walmart, Target, Publix, CVS, and Walgreens. The price lists are designed to alert visitors to whether there are also coupons available for the products on sale, and how much you are actually saving as a percentage. Basically, the two websites do coupon match-ups for visitors. The neat thing about couponmom.com is that you can select the items that you want on your list and then print your list from the website.

4. There is another alternative, if you don’t want to be bothered with creating a price list or tracking sales on the internet. Pick up and look through the sales circulars of retailers, then plan your trip around the items that are on sale. Winn-Dixie and Publix usually advertise many items for buy one get one free. CVS and Walgreens offer instant rebates on products in addition to good sales. Sometimes Target rewards shoppers with free gift cards for purchasing select products.

5. Organization is key to success with couponing. How many times have you arrived at the checkout, only to realize that you left your coupons at home? How often have you let good coupons expire? With proper organization, these mishaps are avoidable. Plus, you will save yourself some time, headaches, and embarrassment. Organize your coupons in a coupon binder or index card file. Tailor your organized coupon stash according to your own personal tastes. Some people organize their coupons alphabetically, while others organize according the where products are located in the retail store isle. Take some time to sit down and think about what works best for your situation. Get creative.

6. Buy more multiple copies of the Sunday paper and use multiple internet printable coupons from reputable websites. In this way you can stockpile on items that are on sale and use a coupon for each item that you buy. I don’t like repeating at the risk of sounding redundant, but I mention how to get coupons in another blog post. You can read about it

7. Stack your savings. What is stacking savings? Well it is the practice of combining one or more coupons with sales and/ or promos. Many retailers will allow customers to stack a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon. One of the best ways to save money is to wait for the product to go on sale and then use both a store coupon and manufacturer coupon with the one item.

Another way to stack savings is to catch a product on sale, use coupons, and take advantage of any manufacturer rebates available. In a hypothetical example, Neutrogena has a rebate running on it’s line of Neutrogena skin care products: Spend $50 and get a check for $25. Incidentally, your favorite retailer has a sale within the same time period. Plus, you found some nice manufacturer coupons for each Neutrogena item you buy. You buy $50 worth of Neutrogena products and you use $10.00 in coupons. You send off for your rebate and get a check in the mail several weeks later for $25. Your net cost is $15. Not bad for an hour or so worth of work. This is just a hypothetical, but the possibilities are limitless.

7. Try and arrive at the store early and on the first day of a sale. If you wait until the last day of a sale, more often then not, the supply of sales items might be depleted. In the event that a store runs out of an item on sale, ask if you can get a rain check on that sale item. Rain checks are the store’s guarantee to sell the item to you at the sale price, even after the sale has ended.

8. Don’t get caught up in buying a product that is not on sale. Preferably, don’t buy a product if you don’t have a coupon for it. Retailers like to play psyche games with customers. They know what they are doing. Retailers print ads with sales, with the intent of getting customers in the door. The retailers are willing to eat revenue “lost” on items that are put on sale. In the same token, the retailers are hoping that customers will purchase other items that aren’t on sale. When customers fall for this tactic, the retailers recoup the lost revenue on the sale priced items. For example, CVS always has excellent sales weekly. I stopped in to buy something on sale, and started observing the pricing on other items which weren’t on sale. I noted that a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade that normally retails for $1.00- 1.05 at other retailers, was priced at $1.99. Nearly double! CVS is not the only retailer that does this, however.

9. Sign up for rewards cards at retail stores.  Membership cards are free for most rewards cards and it is very easy to sign up.  Retailers are more in tune to your spending habits when you regularly use your rewards card.  The retailer will alert you to special deals available on products that you normal buy.  Also, you will get the benefit of buying products at sale prices when you use the rewards card. 

I hope that these tips help you save some money. When I think of some other tips, I will make another post.

Related Posts:

The Basics of Coupons: What are They and Where do you Find Them?

How to Get Free Coupons in the Mail

I Got a Free Bayer Contour USB Blood Glucose Meter with The CVS ExtraCare Program

Thoughts on TLC's Extreme Couponing Series

Copyright 2011- www.thewhimsicalmusingsofsusan.com


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