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Category Archives: Retail Love

Happy $$$$’n Holidays!

First, before I start my little rant, let me make it very clear that I love to give my kids gifts for Christmas and when married was the one who had to be told to ease up a bit at times. I start thinking about their gifts in July and have been known more than once to be the last guy at the check out on Christmas Eve. That out of the way, here we go.

I came home yesterday to no fewer than 13 catalogues from various retail outlets in my mailbox. A good majority of them were targeted toward kids. When my own kids got home from school they proceeded to images-1pounce on them and started circling everything they wanted for Christmas. Add that to the hundreds of e-mails I get from every retailer on the planet offering “50%, 60% up to 120% off!,” along with all of the clothing trends they bring home from school and you start to feel like you’re an idiot if you DON’T go shopping when they open the doors at 4 am.

As parents we want our kids to have a great holiday. We see the gleam in their eye as they tell you about this great new robot Barbie app they just found and our heart melts. How perfect their Christmas would be if we got that “one” extra gift on their list. This is precisely when you need to STOP yourself dead in your tracks.

I could get into a long op-ed about the commercialization of the holidays, but honestly I don’t think it’s anything new. I remember as a kid dreaming of presents and “things.” Circling pictures in catalogues, dropping hints every second I got, writing my letters to Santa; and of course all of the big “sales.” All of it existed even back forty years ago. To me it’s simply about being smart. And it all starts with writing down a budget and sticking to it. Pay attention to what your kids are asking for and write them down, price them out and definitely look for 5-tips-for-holiday-budgetdeals. Just be realistic about what you can afford, plan it out and stick to it like glue. Do NOT go to the store without at least some number in your head of what you’re going to spend on gifts this year. Because like all parents, you’re going to be tempted, to buy twenty four one extra gifts. You’ll feel obligated to take advantage of that once in a lifetime sale that happens every Friday after Thanksgiving. The reality is, that despite what they’d like you to believe, just because Wal-mart has it at fifty-five percent off tomorrow night from 7-9 doesn’t mean you have to go buy it. Especially if it’s not on the list and you’ve already reached your limit.

Retailers would love us to forget that shopping is just one aspect of the holidays. (Yes I’m likely kissing goodbye potential sponsors, but honestly I’ve already turned down a couple who didn’t fit the purpose of this blog). Our goal, in my humble opinion, should be to create positive memories for them. To find ways to make it fun. Each year we celebrate the elves that visit our home during the holidays. We’ve got pictures of our annual sledding trips up north at the first sign of big snow. Videos of our now traditional hunt for the perfect tree that we cut down as a family. They are moments that are to me, the greatest presents I can offer them. Moments of being together enjoying the spirit of the holidays. I’ve come to convince myself that the presents come second to those memories and moments of adventures, laughter and being together.

Trust me, your kids aren’t going to remember all of the presents you buy them. Honestly, I probably remember two or three gifts from my first thirteen years. One was a rod hockey game (perhaps the greatest Christmas present ever). Another was my first stereo complete with build in cassette deck. Beyond that I really have to sitUnknown-2 and think. And don’t forget; you’re not the only person buying them presents. There’s their mom, their grandma(s), grandpa(s), aunts, uncles; trust me, they’ll get plenty. And there’s nothing wrong with a little coordination. Sharing lists and planning it out to make sure the staples are covered. This is another time when maintaining a good co-parenting relationship with the ex can be a huge plus. Working together you can make sure this part of their holiday is a huge score. And yes I’ll say it, it’s more about the kids than who’s right; so perhaps the greatest gift you can offer your kids is to suck it up and talk to the ex if at all feasible in your current scenario.

My point is, we get so inundated by so many entities telling us to spend, spend, spend that it’s easy to get ‘wrapped’ up in it and forget what it is that we’re supposed to be doing in the first place, which is being happy together on the holiday. So by all means go and shop. Just know you’ll have a lot more fun doing it when you give yourself some boundaries and a game plan. I mean, come on, don’t you think removing the financial stress of the holidays is one way to ensure that you’ll be much merrier and more able to enjoy the holidays with your kids? Now if you’ll excuse me if I order on-line by midnight I’ll save an extra 40% off my entire order AND get free shipping!

 

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Shop At Your Own Risk!

It is my 100th post and what better way to celebrate than with a progress report. A couple of previous posts focused on the subject of dads shopping for clothes with daughters. It is, in skiing terms, the double black diamond slope of parenthood. I barely made it down my first time, but by the grace of God managed to make it to the lodge without any bruised egos or broken dreams.caution-double-black-diamond

My daughter and I have hit the retail slopes a number of times the past year or two and we’ve made a lot of progress. We still hit our share of moguls, but have managed to avoid any major wipeouts. In hindsight, we probably should have considered starting out on a shopping bunny hill, like, going to CVS for some gum and then worked our way up. Because, like most things, it takes practice to grow accustomed to the environment and find your rhythm. And the reality is, as is the case with most parenting adventures, regardless of where you start, you’ll have your spills and avalanches and may even need a brace or sling after an excursion here or there.

Our own first time out was anything but smooth. I didn’t like her choices, she didn’t like that I was in the same mall. It was awkward to say the least. But over time, we learned to compromise (a LOT) and to focus more on the fact that we were out together having one on one time than the fact that we were shopping for clothes. And oddly enough, now we end up doing both. I had to give on a couple of things and in turn she backed off on others. We’ve worked our way up through green circles and blue squares and are pretty good at navigating the black diamond shopping trails now.

If you’re a dad, single or married, don’t wait until your daughter is sixteen to decide you want to spend time with
her on her turf. Start training now. Today. This very second. I’ve heard too many friends tell me, “and just like that they’re going to shopatownriskcollege and I don’t even know them.” That thought scares the hell out of me. When they’ve had a bad day in high school, I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me and saying, “dad, today sucked, wanna hit the mall?” Maybe I’m reaching for the unattainable, but I’m going to give it my best shot. And I believe it starts with stopping once in a while and making an attempt to create those moments now when they’re still young and frankly, need me to drive.

Listen, having your daughter grab a pair of jeans out of your hands and tell you, “no way dad, you’re not wearing that” is a gift. (btw, if you’re reading this daughter, thank you for not letting me buy that shorts / sweater combo. I owe you one) Having her share with you why she considers one blouse better than another, is a gift. Talking about her dreams over lunch in the food court, a gift.  And believe me, having her eyes light up over the perfect dress after trying on seventeen at five different stores; all of it, is a gift.

So I just wanted to encourage you to put down the remote, turn off the game, log out of facebook and ask your daughter if she wants to go to the mall. Or, maybe just suggest a trip to Walgreens for a Snickers bar. Thenshoppingsigns work your way up to Claire’s for earrings, and when you’re ready, Target for an “outfit.” The point is to make the effort now before she has friends with cars. And don’t feel like the point is to spend money. This can be a great chance to slip in discussions about budgets, value, needs versus wants etc. Now my daughter is the one telling me she’ll wait until she finds exactly what she wants.

So ask her. She may balk at first, but find a way to convince her to go. You may be a little wobbly at first, but at some point you’ll reach the base and look back at the mountain you just navigated. And what a thrill it’ll be when she’s the one who suggests you get back on the t-bar and head your way back to the top for another go.

 

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Hey Four Eyes!

When you have more than one child, life quickly becomes a multiplication equation. For example, “If one child wants to play soccer at $125 per registration and then her two siblings decide they want to play too; how many home cooked meals will dad have to prepare in order to balance the monthly family budget?”

When you consider something for one, your head automatically multiplies it by the number of children you have. So when my son decided he needed eye glasses (despite no suggestion from teacher observations or his annual physical) I immediately pulled out my Logarithm Table and began budgeting for three. Even if the
Snellen Chart.moo.Tweens.Teens.Fun.Ideas.other two had no interest they would quickly take note of the funds expended and find a way to subtly demand equal love.

So I searched out a reasonable eye exam, which ended up costing me $45.00. (We have health insurance, but I balked at vision). We took the exam and sure enough, while developmentally he was in great shape, the doctor suggested some reading glasses to help his eyes as they “developed” further. “I TOLD YOU DAD!” And off we went to pick a pair of frames.

I’m going to cut to the chase here and tell you that the grand total (frames, lenses, warranty, exam, non-scratch coating etc) was over $400! I was floored. How did a $69.00 pair of frames suddenly become $400? It was double what I’d paid for my own pair a year or two ago. Trying to hold in my distain for what felt like a con job, I advised the “sales associate” that I would pay for the exam and go “shop.”

We went to a competitor and found something very similar for well under $200.00 which got me scratching my head. That seemed like quite a difference. So I did a quick search on my phone and low and behold I found Web site upon Web site of eye glass options for kids that were in the $30-$50 range. This included frame, lenses, case and a money back guarantee.

So the question was, “how is this possible?” I did more reading and sure enough, more and more people had grown tired of paying $400 for a pair of eye glasses and were turning to the internet for other ideas. And from all accounts it had become a viable option.

So, my son and I spent an hour or so looking on line at different sites and he found several he loved. Some bluegummysites have measuring tools you can download, some have options to upload a picture to see what glasses will look like on you. Some even offer to send you samples to try on. It’s amazing. The site we worked with (coastal.com) had a chat option to answer questions and walk you through the process. It was easy. It meant waiting for a week, but we turned that into a lesson on patience and being smart with your money. Eight days later my son had his glasses and was beyond excited to receive them in the mail.

All told, and I’m not making this up; the grand total for EVERYTHING was $48.00. (Quite a difference from the initial $400 plus.)

As a parent we have to be smart and sadly, trust no one. I remember walking out of the first place we stopped feeling like we were being taken for a ride. It just didn’t make sense and I was immediately being charged for the mack daddy version without any consult. They saw the excited kid and subsequently saw opportunity. That was very disappointing especially when I discovered through some simple research that even 100 yards down the hall was an option that 50% less. Even more so when I found a perfectly fine option for 90% less.

It just shows you yet again, how a little time and effort, a little research and stopping to think for a moment can provide opportunities to teach your kids (and yourself) the value of being patient and shopping around. In the end we all learned some lessons and truthfully can see the world a little more clearly.

 

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On-Line Dating

Those who read LAADD know that I tend to avoid the topic of dating. It’s a tough one. And honestly I have limited experience in that area. But recently I’ve received several questions about on-line dating services so I thought I would break down and share my own, albeit brief, story and thoughts on the subject.

One day, not very long after my wife and I had established separate addresses and our divorce was final, my daughters started to promote the idea that I should get a girlfriend. The eldest then sent me a link to Match.com and both encouraged me to sign up. And of course as soon as you change your relationship status on Facebook, within minutes you’re inundated with ads encouraging you to find someone special along with links that can accommodate your heavy heart.

When your world has been shattered and the love of your life has grown to be, let’s just say, not so much the love of your life, the ability to search for new love on line is a tempting one. An irrational one, but a tempting one none the less. And of course, like many of you, I signed up for one of these services and gave it a shot. Forked over a good chunk of change and eventually went on a lunch date or two. I managed to meet one or two interesting people through the process, but for the most part I found the experience remarkably disappointing and disheartening.

I left with an opinion that on-line dating services were really just preying on lonely people. People who were searching for a sense of feeling attractive and loved. I personally have a problem with companies that take advantage of people who are vulnerable. And truthfully, my initial experience did nothing to change my mind, in fact it only reenforced it. Then, of course someone suggested the big daddy, e-Harmony. “They’ve got it down to a science” I was told. “They’re commercials are awesome!” And so, somewhat reluctantly, and against my better judgement I gave it a shot. Shelled out $60 for a month and gave it a look. And within 4 days I felt the same sense of being taken advantage of and quickly called for a refund. That’s when the fun started.

“Unfortunately sir you’re outside the 3 day trial period and therefore a refund is not an option for you.” I heard this not once, but about 50 times through four calls with six service representatives. I explained the circumstances and that I hadn’t noticed the three day requirement and eventually offered to pay for the time I was on, but felt $60 for 4 days was a bit ridiculous, thinking any rational individual would see that truth. But to no avail. They just kept selling and selling and sticking to their policy with no wiggle room. Their script was well rehearsed and their reps very well trained to refute any rebuttal. They had my cash and weren’t letting go. If I didn’t have a bad taste in my mouth before, I certainly did now. For me this just confirmed my belief that, while it may work for some and there are likely success stories, for the most part they’re just a business that preys upon the lonely.

Obviously, this was just my own experience and obviously I was skeptical to begin with. But then I looked around on line and started to find story upon story from people of all walks of life that sounded very similar. You may find success with these on-line companies, but my honest opinion is that they’re more song and dance than substance. It’s a game of percentages and for them apparently every penny is sacred. It’s a business after all and whether you find success or just spend a few days (more than three anyway) on the site looking around; don’t expect to get any money back if you’re not thrilled with the product.

When your marriage is in turmoil or when it falls apart completely, it’s natural to look to others for a sense of feeling attractive, worthy and wanted. There’s comfort in that. And perhaps these on-line dating services help in some way to provide that confidence again as you receive “winks” from other members who want to get to know you better. But before you pull out your credit card, first take a look on line to read about other people’s experiences. Then take a good hard look at where you’re at in your personal rebirth. Are you seriously ready for a new relationship? Are you prepared to move forward? Is your heart truly healed and your head prepared to focus on someone new? And by all means, be prepared for what you’re getting into and keep your expectations realistic. The dating scene is a tough one whether off line or on.

Personally I’ve come to believe you really need to first focus on being comfortable with yourself and feel good about being alone. Get to know who you are and how great it can be to be self sufficient. That’s not to say you shouldn’t lean on others. It just means the more you can be OK being alone, the less likely you are to put too much pressure on a relationship, which in turn will make it healthier and balanced.

Remember, there are people out there who see your vulnerability as a chance to make a quick buck. They’ll promise you love, riches, lower interest rates, a free i-pad, even hair if they think they can tap that insecurity of yours and get you to pull out your credit card. Am I cynical? Yup. I’m also a hopeless romantic. But experience has taught me that all good things take a lot of time, a significant amount of effort a little luck and most important of all, the right state of mind. That last one is key. I’m a passionate person, but have learned the hard way more than once, that a decision based on emotion can really bite you in the ass (and the pocket book).

Have you had any experience with on-line dating services? Would love to hear about it good or bad.

 

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Black Friday Virgin

I had always scoffed at those of you who got in their cars at midnight to hit the retail world after doing the Thanksgiving dishes. I’d seen some of the news stories and really never ever, ever, … considered that endeavor. But somehow, this year turned out a little different and with three kids, potentially getting a high ticket item at 50% off times three, made it a tempting proposition. And then of course there was the curiousity factor.

And so I put on my big girl panties, along with a bullet proof vest and made my way for Target’s 9 p.m. opening. I arrived around 8:45 and nearly turned around when I saw the line; pretty much convinced my odds of anything being left by the time I got in were relatively slim. But I told myself, “self, you drove all this way, it’s worth a shot plus it’s free entertainment.”

Not really knowing what to expect I just kind of floated along, watching and listening. There was one short skirmish in line between a couple of very, um, shall we say high class ladies; one of which was apparently not a fan of cutting in line. She eloquently got her $%#@ point across to the other who received this information in an equally bleeping lady like fashion at which point we all moved on.

Besides that, it was pretty much uneventful, which is kind of boring for a blog entry I know, but somewhere in
here I’m sure there’s a valuable point to get across. I’ll try to come up with something if you’ll keep reading.

So I went in not really knowing what to expect. From the stories I’d seen on television I was expecting some
hair pulling, a little Barbie tug of war, maybe a kidney punch over a TV, anything really. But what I personally
saw were a bunch of people excited about the holiday; most of them helping others and saying excuse me and “sorry” when they bumped into someone. On some level I was actually a little disappointed. I mean, come on, even you have to admit it would have been nice to have seen at least one purse beating over a Barry Manilow CD or something. But nothing. I even ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. We passed each other in the check out line, made fun of the candy and soap he’d bought and promised to catch up after the holidays.

So for those of you who were concerned that all of this nonsense over material things was going to take away from quality time with the family, I have to point out that most of the people I saw were, well, families. There were mothers and daughters enjoying a tradition they’d created. Fathers and sons checking some things off the list. Entire families loading up carts. There was a lot of laughter, smiling and I’ll say it, patience. Sure there
were way too many carts in the isle and it was at times difficult to get around, but for the most part, all I saw was a festive crowd of people wrapped up more in the joy of giving than they were in the need for saving.

The reality is, whether it’s a soccer match, a New Years party or a Walmart opening their doors at midnight the day after Thanksgiving, there will always be some idiots who have had too much to drink and take things WAY too seriously. And those are typically the ones that make it on the news. I mean let’s face it. Where’s the
ratings drama in someone saying, “no, you take the last Wii U, I’ll just order one on-line.”

Truthfully, all in all, I have to say what I was a part of was actually a lot of fun and full of holiday spirit. Even the sales staff was trying to make it fun and festive for everyone. Some were dressed up in holiday garb and doing their best to assist people. And most of the people I rubbed elbows with were all in it for the right reasons. And let’s face it, when you’re a single parent adjusting to a new household budget, if you can find a way to save a few hundred bucks around the holiday and give your kids a joyous Christmas morning, it’s kind of worth the crowds.

Now, I don’t think I would ever want to be at the front of the line, but from my vantage point my first experience with Black Friday actually gave me a sense of being a part of something special, if that makes any sense.  Just to share the pop culture experience with others was kind of gratifying. And the best part is, I owe the entire experience to my ex-wife who suggested one of us go. And considering the effort she’d put forth on the Thanksgiving feast (which we all enjoyed as a family by the way), I’d say I got the the real bargain.

Oh and to my daughter who may be reading this. I got you underwear and socks. (at a great price!)

 

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