Cabin Fever is at 200% at our house, so when the mercury rose to a balmy 44° on a sunny Saturday we did not hesitate to bundle up and go for an adventure picnic!
You cannot hike on an empty stomach, so the first priority was to make sure everyone was fueled up. We utilized one of the local school fundraiser coupon cards that we purchased last year from a neighbor to get a 16″ sub sandwich for free. Yay! Half of the card cost has been recouped so far.
With our bellies full, we set off in search of adventure and education.
Frugal Boy had fun crossing this little stream and then gave tips to his parents on how they could cross it.
Later on, he made a stream of his own.
And then he made two more streams later in the hike. He’s a regular Niagara Falls!
The hike was interspersed with teaching moments.
Frugal Boy learned that some plants have thorns to keep animals away from them. Thorns hurt. I thought that might be obvious, but sometimes you just have to learn from experience.
We also examined different footprints. Dogs, people, and deer were very common and easy to spot in the muddy conditions. An osage orange provided a nice distraction from tired legs as we kicked it, smelled it, and broke it in half to look at the inside. There were several mole tunnels. I learned today that the surface tunnels that you commonly see where the sod is lifted up is called a runway tunnel and are used for foraging/feeding.
The days are already getting longer and it won’t be long until flowers start blooming in our yard!
Before I begin, I am going to make one thing clear. I use the terms “sofa” and “couch” interchangeably. Purists out there on the interwebs will vehemently deny this blasphemy but I do not care. To me, a couch and a sofa are the same thing.
With that out of the way, let me tell you about an inside family joke. When either of our families comes to visit, no one wants to sit on our couch.
Why does no one want to sit on it? They are afraid they won’t be able to get up! The sofa is past broken in and you sink alarmingly close to the ground. The price was right though, Shae snagged it for free back in 2012 when our apartment neighbors upstairs were moving out. The picture above is from 2012 right after we cleaned it up a bit.
The couch has been through a lot of abuse since then.
It moved from our apartment to our house.
And two children have bounced, spit up, licked, and drooled on it.
Finally, Shae and I came to the conclusion that it was time to bid adieu to our beloved free couch. It was time to go sofa shopping!
The first choice was to check Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, and other online classifieds. We didn’t see much of interest unless your interest is in horribly dated patterns, questionable hygiene (bed bugs anyone?), or pet hair.
So next we went to local thrift stores. Their selection was very limited and consisted mostly of items that would be a step down from our current couch.
Alright, we might have to buy *new*. We have never bought a *new* sofa before. Before we set out, we set our expectations. This would not be a forever heirloom quality piece. It would not be made from solid wood and outlive us. It would most likely be made in China, last 5-10 years, and then quickly fall apart.
After browsing through three stores, two local and one national, we found a piece that we both liked, the Larkinhurst Queen Sofa Sleeper.
I wanted a sleeper sofa so we could accommodate more overnight guests during the Thanksgiving craziness as well as to give other guests the option of sleeping on the first floor. This particular one was comfortable to sit on in the store and we thought it looked nice (I have enough life experience now to know that what is pretty to one person is horrendous to another).
So we found it, time to buy it right? Wrong!
Time to Negotiate
The ever eager salesman had been checking in with us every three to four minutes while we were browsing. He didn’t take long to whisper to us that a super secret one day sale was going on right now. Ughh, we both hate pushy sales, but it comes with the territory. Okay, let’s play ball, but do it on our terms.
First things first, the ‘tag price’ in the store was $1,219.99. Ya, we aren’t going to be paying that. Mr. Helpful has already informed us that there is some divine sale going on that we have to act on right this second or miss out.
I looked the sofa up on the store’s webpage using my phone. It was listed at $1,449.99 but on sale for $942.49. Furthermore, I saw an Amazon.com listing for the sofa that had a price of $772.84 & free shipping. Okay. Time to call over Mr. Helpful and play ball.
Me: “Oh hi Mr. Helpful, I had some questions about this sofa. I would like it in the sleeper version. What’s the best price you can do?”
Mr. Helpful: <whips out calculator and a blank invoice> “Well, our 1 day sale price comes out to $914.99 + $231 for the four year protection plan, $80 delivery, and $80 in sales tax for a total of $1306.
Without skipping a beat, he went right into the 12 month 0% interest financing.
Mr. Helpful: <finishes calculating the 12 month financing> “That comes out to just $96 a month with just $160 down.”
Do you see what the salesman just did? He came in with a lower price, but instantly and without prompting started adding in expensive extras such as protection plans that we did not ask for. That brings the out the door price above the printed tag price but then he goes straight to financing. That $1300 sofa would only cost us $160 to sign right now. Geez, what a great deal. Except we know that Amazon.com is selling it for less. A lot less.
Me: “Do you price match?”
Mr. Helpful: “Sure we do, did you have a flyer or website?”
Me: <pulls up product page on phone> “They have it for $772.84 with free shipping.”
Mr. Helpful: “Hmmm… Oh that is Amazon, we can’t price match Amazon. It might be old and sitting in some warehouse somewhere.”
Alright. That was pretty slick. He replied in such a way as to 1.) backtrack from his previous statement that they would price match and 2.) discredit the Amazon.com listing by implying that it was an inferior product to what he was selling. Nobody wants to buy an *old* dusty sofa that is sitting in some warehouse somewhere.
Me: “Okay, thank you for your time, we are going to check a couple of other stores”
Walking away is always an option. You never HAVE to buy something and salesmen know that.
Mr. Helpful: “Wait, let me check with my boss and see what I can do.”
This has to be one of the oldest sales tricks in the book. Referring to a higher authority. It is not his fault that they cannot price match, but someone else’s fault. An invisible and possibly nonexistent ‘boss/manager’ that can give final say on a matter.
After five minutes or so Mr. Helpful returned.
Mr. Helpful: “Okay my Manager was able to bend over backwards and give you clearance pricing on this sofa. $853.99 ($62 reduction), the four year protection plan for $101 ($130 reduction), and delivery for $55 ($25 reduction).”
Okay, a $247 difference just by threatening to walk out of the store, BUT the total is still $1084, an over $300 difference from Amazon.com’s price.
Me: “Thank you for your time Mr. Helpful. We are going to get some lunch and think about it.”
This was my subtle way of saying, not good enough do better.
He/They chose not to do better, so we left.
That night, we ordered the couch from a random internet store for $729 & free shipping. Like all online stores, there was a place to enter a promo code. 30 seconds of searching the internet and we found a $5 off coupon to bring our total to $724.
The Death of Brick and Mortar Retail
I thought the entire experience was amusing and very telling. Had the B&M store matched Amazon’s price, we would have bought it from them, on the spot in cash. The markup on this cheap Chinese furniture is around 400%. So a sofa like this would cost about $300 for the store to procure. Selling it at Amazon’s price is still a profit. They chose to skip a profitable sale and earn a potential repeat shopper by trying to command a larger gross profit. It should be no surprise that B&M stores are failing left and right. Either adapt or die.
I am sitting at the mechanics garage right now waiting for a transmission fluid change to be finished. This ‘once every 100,000 miles’ maintenance ticket is becoming less DIY friendly because of how infrequently it needs to be done. In fact, our car does not even have a transmission dipstick or drain plug!
There are other preventative maintenance jobs that are in reach of even the most novice DIYer, such as furnace filter changes.
Your homes furnace filter should be changed every 1-3 months. Here you can see our 2 month old filter next to a brand new one.
I am replacing an expensive MERV 11 filter ($9.99) with a cheapo MERV 7 ($2.33). The answer I cannot readily find is which filter is better for my HVAC equipment.
Your furnace and central AC is like a lung. It sucks air in and that air passes through a filter. It then blows air out to the rest of your house. If the filter is too restrictive, the furnace has a hard time ‘breathing’ and the equipment has to work harder. If the filter is not restrictive enough, then dust and dirt can build up on the equipment and clog it up making it work harder. Somewhere there is a perfect balance, and it will be different for each setup.
The nice thing about the expensive filter, is that it lists the technical specs right on the filter. Details such as static pressure drop, initial resistance, and airflow are all printed right on the filter.
I could not find that information for the cheap filter anywhere. The expensive filter has 17 pleats to the 12 of the cheap filter. In theory, more pleats in the same rectangle means a bigger surface area. A bigger surface area means more ways for air to pass through. Without hard numbers however, it is impossible to draw any decisive conclusions.
Of course the decision on expensive or cheap filters might come down to health and comfort. The MERV 11 filters out mold spores and the MERV 7 does not. Keeping your body healthy might be the most important preventative maintenance you do!
How many jelly beans are in the jar? It is a classic head scratcher. Today I’m going to talk about how I approach these puzzles and share some numbers data because numbers are fun!
How Many Dice are in the Aquarium?
This was the challenge put together by the local game store. Over 800 people guessed. Do you have a number in mind? It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Here is a breakdown of how everyone else guessed.
Click on it for a bigger more readable image.
My own guess was 4780.
Here is how I reached that conclusion.
First of all, always try to get more information! I knew this was a yearly challenge so I went back and looked at the past two years.
Here was the previous year picture. There were 2,813 dice in the aquarium then.
That is a huge data point and potential advantage when making a guess. I drew in some lines on the current challenge.
We now know a big triangle has about 2813 dice. We can clearly see two big triangles in the current aquarium, but they have some overlap. The challenge is to figure out how many dice are in the intersection of the two triangles so we can math it up. Triangle 1 + Triangle 2 – Intersection = # of dice in aquarium.
2813 + 2813 – intersection = ???
By drawing a line straight down in the middle of the intersection, we can make two right triangles. That makes the math a bit easier. Then we need to start counting. I counted length and height for both the big triangle and the little intersection triangle. My count of the big triangle was 22 dice wide by 12 tall. We don’t need to worry about the depth because it is all the same depth.
From the previous year, we know that 2813 dice occupied 22×12 triangle. Convert that 22×12 triangle into area (multiply height x base and divide by 2).
22 x 12 / 2 = 132 area. 2813 total dice divided by area (132) = 21.31 dice for each cube of dice volume.
Now count the little triangle. I got 10×4. Each little triangle would have an area of 10×4/2 = 20, but there are two little triangles so it is just like a rectangle.
We now have enough information to make an educated guess.
The intersection is 40 area x 21.31 dice per area unit = 852 dice in the intersection.
2813 + 2813 – 852 = 4774 dice in the aquarium.
There is one more thing that we can do to get a competitive advantage. That is look at everyone else’s guess! By finding the biggest available range of non-guesses we can maximize our odds of winning. If someone guessed 1 and someone else guessed 3, you wouldn’t want to guess 2 and lock yourself to a single number.
Since this challenge was posted publicly to Facebook, it is really easy to grab all of the other guesses and put them into a spreadsheet. I used a free tool called FacePager. It lets you quickly dump all of the posts, comments, etc. from a public page into a spreadsheet. Then you can massage the data as you like. For instance, the simplest way of finding a big gap between guesses is to create a second column next to the original column. Do a simple A2-A1 formula and extend it all the way down the second column. The bigger the number, the bigger the spread in guesses. Look for the biggest spread near the estimate we arrived at above (4774). In my case, someone had already guessed 4779, so I simply did 1 more than that at 4780. That bought be about 20 possible numbers to win. All of that guesstimating improved our odds of winning from 1/800 or 0.125% to about 1/100 or 1%. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is nearly a tenfold increase in the likelihood of winning. Not to shabby for a few minutes of work!
So there you have it. Now that you know my secret, I’ll have to off you.
Oh, you’re asking how many dice are actually in the aquarium? I don’t know yet, some unlucky bugger is still counting them!