black friday

Are Those Black Friday Deals Really Worth It?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Gear, Money Matters, Studio, Widgets 3 Comments

Black Friday at Best BuyAt this very moment, the retail powers that be, are working you left and right.

They’re preying on you, like a lion lures a lamb.

Unlike the lion (who will do his best to stay undetected until he makes his deadly move), retailers come at you in plain sight. They have no desire to rip you to pieces. They want you alive, so they can bleed you year after year.

Retailers won’t jump you either. Instead, they play a game of not so subtle seduction, with one or two pieces of masterful bait, the first one being (drum roll):

Low Prices.

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will soon be upon us, and credit card companies are already drooling over your looming debt increase.

We may all believe that we’re independent thinkers that cannot be manipulated, but psychologists know better. They know that one of the strongest human fears is the fear of missing out.

That’s why the time ticker at QVC and the Home Shopping Network is such an effective sales tool. It tells you how much time is left to get this incredible gadget you suddenly cannot live without. That’s why they throw in all these “but wait, there’s more” extras to sweeten the deal, but only if you BUY NOW.

Limited time offers and low prices are classic incentives to get weak and impressionable people to buy stuff. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the ultimate examples of these incentives, because they only come once a year, and some of the deals are truly incredible.

Supposedly.

You and I know that those heavily discounted doorbusters are meant to give you a shopping high, so you’ll buy more once you’re in the door. Besides, these deals will often come back in slower seasons.

If you’re still tempted to empty your wallet around Thanksgiving, I can’t stop you. But allow me to give you a few pointers, if I may. 

1. Distinguish between a WANT and a NEED

Every time you’re tempted to make a major purchase, ask yourself:

“Do I really need it right now, or is it just something I want?” “Is it a necessity, or a luxury?”

If you wish to experience sustained success as a for-profit freelancer, there’s one simple formula you must stick to:

Keep your revenue stream high, and your expenses low.

So, if you really, really want to buy this nice, new, shiny piece of equipment, ask yourself:

– Will it make me more professional, productive, and profitable?

– Will my clients experience an undeniable difference as a result of this purchase?

– Will this investment pay for itself within a reasonable period of time?

For instance, a few of my voice-over colleagues are already salivating over a new microphone this season. But a recording will only sound as good as the space it’s recorded in. So, rather than spending cash on a new mic, it’s often much wiser to invest in creating a better acoustic environment.

Most clients won’t hear the difference between a $300 microphone and a $1000 mic. They will hire you because you’re able to deliver clean and crisp audio, without the sound of the neighbor’s leaf blower in the background.

2. Choose High Quality over Low Price

If you must make an investment, do your research before you make that impulse buy. This means you have to overcome one of humanity’s eternal weaknesses: the need for immediate gratification when buying something that’s on sale. 

As a freelancer, competing on price is a losing strategy. You want people to pick you because of your added value, and that value is worth something. If you truly subscribe to this idea, you can’t just apply it to your own business. You have to “live it” in all areas of your life. So, stop buying things just because they’re cheap.

Only yesterday, I threw out all the heavy catalogues of the major pro audio retailers without even looking at them. Apart from being a waste of tropical rain forest, I have everything I need to run my business. I’ve carefully collected my equipment over time. I gave myself an opportunity to save up, to gather info, and to invest some of my profits in quality gear that will last for many years.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Buying cheap can be expensive. Buying quality saves you money in the long run, and a whole lot more.

3. Choose the Planet over Price

I already mentioned the catalogues I had to throw away. But that’s not the only thing that concerns me.

In the past few decades, there’s a growing tendency among manufacturers to make things that only last a few years, and cannot be fixed. As a result, we end up with landfills of trash, gradually leaking toxins into the environment. Nature’s resources are depleted, and people in low-wage countries are exploited as they make the shiny trinkets we end up throwing away.

This process will go on for two reasons. One: because the environmental and societal impact of a product is hardly ever a part of the price. Two: because people like you and me keep buying them.

I’m a strong believer in creating change through spending. If I want local businesses to grow; local farmers to go organic, and make a decent living, that’s where I’ll have to spend my money. If I want manufacturers to create products that are environmentally-friendly, that last, and can be repaired, I have to show them there’s a market for those products.

Now, if you believe that you alone can’t make a difference, talk to Tara Button. Tara is Founder and CEO of BuyMeOnce.com. She was so frustrated with our throw-away culture, that she went on a global quest to find things that are built to last, and that are made in an ethical, green way. Her website features kitchenware, furniture, clothes, shoes, beauty products, and other things. Yes, you’ll pay more upfront, but you’ll save money over time.

4. Don’t spend all your money on objects

If you’re still itching to spend (or borrow) Black Friday money, do you really have to spend it on “stuff”? How fulfilling is that, ultimately? Once the rush of owning something shiny is over, there’ll be a new void, waiting to be filled. And what void are you filling anyway, and for what reason? Do you want to impress your colleagues?

To borrow a phrase from a weight-loss coach:

“Until you know what you’re truly hungry for, you’ll never be satisfied.”

We’ve been shoving waste under the carpet for decades. Is that a legacy you can be proud of? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think mother earth would be better off if we’d shift from an economy of “more and more,” to an economy of “enough is enough.” 

As Thanksgiving is coming up, can we just stop for a moment, and be grateful for what we already have? Can we also spend some time giving, instead of getting? For so many charities, your (tax-deductible) donation is not a want, but a need.

If you insist on giving yourself a gift, why not buy a gym membership (and actually use it)? Why not enroll in a cooking class that teaches you to make healthy meals?

Treat your family to a trip abroad, allowing everyone to broaden their horizons, and to recharge those batteries that have been going non-stop.

Gift yourself to your community by volunteering! Science has proven that it is better to give than to receive. So, be selfish, and share your time and talent with those who need it. It will truly transform your life!

I’ll tell you one thing:

It will beat leaving Thanksgiving dinner early, so you can stand in line for Best Buy.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


Call Off Black Friday

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Freelancing, Money Matters 24 Comments

10-plus money-saving tips for the frugal freelancer!

My mother must have had a Master’s Degree in Money Management.

As a child, I hated it. At the supermarket checkout there was always some whiny kid in front of me, pointing at the strategically placed sweets.

“Mommy, I want a lollipop!” cried the boy.

The little brat was already digging into an open bag of greasy potato chips that had yet to be paid for.

“Mom, I want it now!”

As his mother was loading boxes of sugar-coated cereal onto the conveyor belt, the 3-year old monster turned up the volume to show the world who was in charge.

“Mom, give me that lollipop! You said I could have a lollipop!! I WANT IT!”

And sure enough, after thirty seconds of relentless begging, the little Prince’s wish was granted.

His mother turned to my Mom and said apologetically:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

“Why don’t you give him an apple?” my Mom suggested.

“Oh no, that wouldn’t work,” said the monster’s Mom. “I’ve tried that once. It was a disaster. “Connor isn’t really into fruit. He might be allergic.”

“Well,” said my Mom, “he seems to like strawberries” as she pointed to the lollipop sticking out of Connor’s mouth. But she had spoken too early.

“I hate this lollipop,” yelled the boy. “Give me a cherry one!”

As the appropriately named Dum Dum landed on the floor, I had only one wish: I wanted to trade my Mom in for Connor’s mother. My Mother never bought me any lollipops, or that colored cereal with a surprise toy in the box. And if I happened to be hungry, she gave me a carrot or a celery stick. Disgusting!

A few years later, we ran into Connor again at Toyland. Not much had changed, apart from the fact that he had put on a few pounds. He was the first six-year old with a double chin I’d ever seen.

“Mom, I want that race car!” he yelled.

Connor and I were both drooling over the same shiny Matchbox® model. It was a piece of perfection.

“Mom, I want it now!”

Connor’s presence somehow gave me the courage to ask my mother if she’d buy me the car.

“How much money have you saved so far?” asked my Mom.

This year I had started earning an allowance by doing small chores around the house.

“Fifty cents,” I replied.

“And how much is this car?”

“One guilder.”

“You get 20 cents per week, so if you really want this car, why don’t you save up for it?”

“Mom, I knew you would say that!”

“Of course,” said my Mom. “Now, let’s get your sister a birthday present.”

At the checkout, Connor had already taken his brand new car out of the box and was ready to destroy it.

His mother turned around and said:

“What can you do? He’s just so adorable, isn’t he?”

ACCOUNTABLE

The other day, I had a meeting with my accountant. He specializes in small businesses.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I came in.

What’s the difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer? If you had to boil it down to one thing, what would it be?”

“Well,” I said, “I can think of a few things. How about talent… connections… creativity?”

“Wrong,” said my accountant. “What do Jerry Lee Lewis, Tammy Wynette, Mickey Rooney and Lorraine Bracco have in common?”

“Brian,” I said, “You tell me. You’re the expert.”

He continued: “We’re talking about talented, well-connected and creative people. And at one point in their career, all of them had to file for bankruptcy.

Here’s my point, Paul: The difference between a successful and a not so successful freelancer lies in these two words: Money Management. And where does money management start?

“Well, Brian, isn’t that where you come in?”

“Wrong again. Money management starts between your ears! It’s about the difference between instant gratification and impulse control. Didn’t your mother teach you that? You see, there’s no secret formula to financial stability:

  1. Spend less than you earn
  2. Pay off your debt
  3. Invest, save and share

“That’s a great philosophy, Brian” I replied. “But you know as well as I do that it doesn’t work like that in the real world. The kids that have never heard the word “no” became adults driven by a sense of entitlement.

We might moan and groan about the economy, but all we really want is a big fat turkey for Thanksgiving and a big flat screen TV on Black Friday. People demand the latest and the greatest, if only to keep up with the Joneses.

If life gets hard, put it on a card.

After all: You’re worth it. That’s what this country is all about: prescription drug addiction, emotional eating and retail therapy.”

MODERATION NATION

“It feels good to vent, doesn’t it?” said Brian. “So, what’s your answer to the I consume, therefore I am mindset? Should we call off Black Friday and fire Santa?”

“How about moderation?” I said. “How about redefining what makes us happy? Happiness cannot be found in the ever-increasing accumulation of stuff. Isn’t life supposed to be about who you are and what you have to give; not about how much you have and can keep for yourself?

My Mom kept a tight rein on the budget, and at times I was jealous of some of my classmates who could literally be a kid in the candy store. She didn’t always give me what I wanted, but I always got what I needed. Thanks to her, I became a frugal freelancer. She taught me one of the most important lessons:

A rich life has nothing to do with an expensive lifestyle.

We never went to Disney World®. We hiked on nature trails instead, and for years I told the world I wanted to be a forester, protecting plants and animals. We rarely went out to dinner. Instead, my mother taught me how to make delicious, nutritious meals from scratch. Our kitchen never had a microwave in it, and somehow, we survived.

At the time I thought it was so unfair: all the kids in the neighborhood had a VCR. Meanwhile, it took years before we got our first color TV. But my best childhood memories are of the whole family sitting around the table playing board games. I paused for a moment…

Be honest, Brian: Am I getting old?”

“Definitely,” my accountant said with a smile. “But as your financial advisor, I like the way you’re thinking. Now, tell me again: what was that website you were talking about the other day?”

“It’s called Freecycle.org. Freecycle is a worldwide network of people who are giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. Not junk, but good stuff that would otherwise end up in landfills. A year ago, our stove decided it was time to retire and Freecycle came to the rescue.

Someone in the neighborhood was remodeling the kitchen and her practically new stove didn’t fit anymore. She put it on Freecycle and I picked it up. It didn’t cost me a penny. And if there’s stuff we have no use for, we put it on Freecycle too.

“Didn’t your TV set give up, last year?” asked Brian.

“You’re right, and guess how much I paid to replace it? Fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents. I found a TV at a local Goodwill store. The folks who dropped it off were going for one of these LCD-things. There’s nothing wrong with that old television. It’s just a bit… ginormous and you need five men to lift it. But the story gets even better…

Last month we cut the cable. I was getting tired of being forced to pay for all those networks we never watch. Cable companies are like a restaurant charging you for everything on the menu when you’re only eating a few items. Cutting cable alone saves us over $1300 a year. Now I can put that money into my new recording space.”

“Aren’t those prefab boxes expensive?” Brian wanted to know.

“You bet they are,” I said. “That’s why one of my friends is going to help me build a booth in the basement. And if we ever were to sell our home, the new owners will have the soundproof media room they always wanted.

SAVING GRACE

Spending money is just too easy. Saving money is a sport.

I spent hours and hours researching the web for the best materials and the best deals. I asked my social media friends for advice and I got quite an education. And at the end of the day, I believe that building something with my own bare hands is much more rewarding. I can also make sure that the materials I use are environmentally friendly.

I do the same thing when I am shopping for gear. Before buying brand new, I check out Sweetwater’s Trading Post, Craigslist and eBay first. A friend of mine just got a beautiful Blue Robbie preamp; retail price: $799. He picked it up for $500. It was barely a year old and the former owner had taken care of it as if it were his baby. My friend’s voice-over clients couldn’t hear the difference between brand new and “previously loved.” He recently bought a Mac Mini. Refurbished, same story.”

“Off course it’s not all about money,” said Brian. “My new-age therapist says that money is just an exchange of energy. She tells me I should move more. I spend my days behind a desk, staring at a screen. At the end of the day I just want to go home, be a slouch on the couch and… stare at a screen.”

“Do you know what you and I should do, Brian?” I said.

“What’s that?”

“I think both of us should become independently healthy.”

“Care for some carrots?” joked Brian.

“You’re funny! That’s what my Mom used to say.”

“Speaking of your Mom… how’s she doing?”

“She passed away on April 11, 2008.”

I took a deep breath. 

“My Mother really knew how to stretch a guilder. When she died, most of her belongings went to families in need and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to be buried. She donated her organs and the rest of her body to science. 

My Mom died on a Friday.

It was one of the darkest days of my life.

Not a day goes by, without me thinking of her, and wishing I could call that day off.”

SHORTLIST

 Now, before we get all teary-eyed and sentimental, let’s end with something practical. Here’s my shortlist of tips for the Frugal Freelancer my mother would definitely approve of:

1. THINK of the WHY before you buy. Separate the needs from the wants. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this something I simply would like to have, or do I absolutely need it NOW?
  • What would happen if I don’t buy it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Sleep on it (especially when buying mattresses). Build in a minimum waiting period for bigger purchases 

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK and use the internet for research and for finding deals


3. Invest in QUALITY that will last

  • Remember: refurbished products are tested and certified and offer big savings. I bought my Apple Time Capsule refurbished and it is doing its job without any problems. 

4. GO GREEN

  • Pick products that are good for the planet
  • Buy Energy Star products
  • Go paperless and recycle
  • Buy at a consignment or Goodwill store and use www.freecycle.org to get rid of good stuff you no longer need or to find things you’ve always wanted.

5. CUT the CABLE


6. BREW your own COFFEE and make your own MEALS

7. STAY HEALTHY

8. SELL YOUR SECOND CAR

9. REDISCOVER THE LIBRARY

10. BE ORGANIZED and keep track of your income and expenses

11. Add up all your savings and give at least 10% to a worthy cause, and

Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet: please retweet.


Only in America

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Money Matters 1 Comment

Active Bottoms. Buy one. Get one free.

 

“What kind of sign is that?” asked my friend Kees, who was on a visit from Holland. “Active bottoms… If I take 50 percent off my active bottom, I won’t be able to sit straight.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “But the world would be a quieter place!” Kees laughed. “By the way, I think TJ Maxx really means sweat pants.” “Really?” said Kees. People wear pants in a sauna?” “Well, you can take half off,” I said. This conversation was going downhill fast.

“Only in America,” said Kees. “Only in America.”

Bookstore“Alright, my friend. Let’s go to the store next door,” I said as I was heading over to the parking lot. Kees didn’t understand. “Wait a minute….. That store is no more than twenty steps away. Where do you think you’re going?”

I quickly hid my car keys and remembered that I had responded exactly the same way when I first came to the States. “No wonder you gained some weight, man! You’ve gotten lazy. Getting any exercise lately?” “Lots,” I said. “That Wii thing is absolutely amazing. It’s unreal.” “You’re right about that,” Kees mumbled.

We entered the bookstore. “Is that coffee I smell?” asked my Dutch friend. “Coffee, in a bookstore?” “You’re right,” Kees. “But it gets even better. You can pick a couple of magazines, buy a calorie infused mocha-java shake with lava cake, grab a chair and trash whatever you’re reading. And when you’re done, you just leave your mess on the table.”

“No way,” said Kees. “Don’t you have to pay for that copy of ‘Good Housekeeping’ and the ‘Parenting Magazine’?” “Are you kidding me, Kees? Of course not. People even leave their kids here while they go visit the rest of the Mall. In fact, I just heard one of those hockey moms tell her daughter: ‘Here’s twenty bucks. Now get lost.’ Yes, Kees,” I smiled, “This country is big on family values. No child left behind.”

An elderly gentleman walked up to us in the music department. “Can I help you find something?,” he asked for the two hundred and forty fourth time that day. “Well,” said Kees, “If you tell me what you are looking for, perhaps I can find it for you. That way, you sir, can take a seat and rest your legs a little.”

“Oh no, I can’t do that,” said the man nervously. “I work here.” “He must be in his late sixties,” whispered Kees in my ear.”Don’t people retire?”

Meanwhile, I looked around. Something was missing. “What happened to all your classical CD’s?,” I asked the music seller. “The only things I see are bargain DVD’s.”

“We have a few CD’s left,” said the clerk, pointing apologetically at two or three rows of ‘Music for the Millions’. “I used to be a music professor,” he sighed.”My wife and I loved coming here. There was Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok. Look at it now.

We have Andrea Boccelli and that Dutch fiddler, Andre Rieu. People don’t know what they’re missing. I just had a customer ask for the theme of ‘The Lone Ranger’. I said to her: ‘I can order the William Tell overture for you.’ ‘No’, she said. ‘I want ‘The Lone Ranger’. Didn’t you hear me the first time?'”

“Let me see if I understand you correctly,” I said to the seller. “You have to order a CD of popular overtures, but you can sell me the unrated set of ‘Saw’ on brilliant Blue Ray?”

“That’s right,” answered the clerk. “Teenagers love it. Saw, Hostel 1, 2 and 3 and that Twilight stuff. And it’s not exactly cheap either.”

Two high school kids walked in, drinks in hand. “Hey Pops,” shouted one of them. “Any good deals on Black Friday?”

“What’s Black Friday? Something African-American?,” Kees wanted to know. He was puzzled because there’s no such thing in Holland. “It’s the day after Thanksgiving,” I explained. “The busiest shopping day of the year. People get up at the crack of dawn. They wait in line in front of their local Wal-Mart, and when the doors finally open, they crush the doorman to death so they can be the first one to walk away with a flat screen TV. That’s all. No White Christmas without a Black Friday. Only in America. The land of the killer deal.”

“You’ve become quite the cynic, after you became a citizen,” observed Kees. “And stop sorting those CD’s”. “I can’t help myself,” I said. “I used to work here a few years ago. It’s the curse of retail. But let me tell you something. Most people who work at this chain have two things in common. They’re overqualified and underpaid.”

“So, why do they do it? It can’t be fun to stand on your feet for eight hours selling rap, rock and horror when you’re nearly seventy,” Kees asked. “Benefits, my friend. Benefits,” I replied. “This country suffers from a major preexisting condition. There’s no such thing as universal health care over here. Not yet. But on a more positive note: we just discovered that there’s definitely water on the moon!”

We walked out empty-handed. “And you know what?,” I continued, “More than a third of what they call the ‘working poor’ have jobs in retail. When I used to work here, most of my colleagues had a second job to make ends meet.

The average department store “associate” only makes about 18 thousand dollars per year. So, single moms were counting on their parents to take care of the kids, while they worked another shift at the International House of Fruitcakes. And the next day, they would do it all over again. Not exactly the American dream, is it?

They used to say: if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. Well, these people are doing just that and they’re going absolutely nowhere.”

“Let’s change the subject,” said Kees. “This stuff is depressing. What do people like to do for fun over here? Do they ever take a break?”

“I hate generalizations,” I said, “but some say that most Europeans work to live and that most Americans live to work.

My neighbors still don’t believe that I used to take at least four weeks off during the summer.” “So what does the average American like to do or see while on vacation?” asked Kees. “The Grand Canyon? The National Mall? MoMA?”

“Funny you should ask,” I replied. “I just finished reading a book by Ellen Ruppel Shell. She’s a professor of journalism at Boston University. It’s called CHEAP, and according to her research, America’s number-one tourist destination is… the factory outlet.

Not only are factory outlets the fastest-growing segment of the retail industry, but also of the travel industry. But as you can tell, even ordinary shopping centers are immensely popular. I read in the New York Times that the Mall of America in Minneapolis attracts more visitors per year than Disney World, Graceland and the Grand Canyon combined.”

“I thought you guys were in a recession,” said Kees. He continued, “I must admit one thing though…. Things like clothes are dirt cheap over here. I mean… take those active bottoms. Perhaps we should go back and get a pair.”

I had to interrupt, “Believe it or not Kees, I am convinced that there’s a link between the price of those sweat pants, the sweat shops where they were made, and the recession we’re in. This whole bargain basement outlet culture is one of the reasons why people aren’t earning wages that would enable them to keep their heads above water without maxing out their credit cards.

Speaking of credit cards… before we go home, I need to hit one more store today. My wife needs a new bra for her car and we’re not going to find it at Victoria’s Secret.”

Kees’ mouth fell open. “A bra. For a car? You must be joking!” “Haven’t you ever heard of a Car Bra?” I asked. “It protects the paint on the front of your car from things like bugs, flying rocks, and suicidal retail associates.”

“Only in America,” said Kees. “Only in America.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice