Cooking at home is a great way to save money even if does mean that your kitchen looks a little like this.
[UPDATE] See Bottom of post…
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.
We ordered the couch through appliancesconnection.com back on January 27th. It took about 3 weeks for it to arrive to our house and that was to be expected. The local brick and mortar said 45 days, so if anything, the internet store was faster. They used a shipping company called AM Trucking. There are plenty of negative reviews online about that company, but we had an excellent experience. Two men and a big box truck arrived when they the dispatch office said they would. They carefully unloaded the 215 pound sleeper sofa from the truck and carried it into the house. They peeled off all the packaging so I could inspect the condition before signing off and even got it into the approximate location in the living room that I wanted it in. If we paid extra for “white glove” service, they would have put the feet on the bottom of the sofa and finished setting it up.
Now that we’ve had a chance to try it out, we are very satisfied with our purchase. I would definitely order a sofa from the internet again!
I did spray two coats of Scotchgard Fabric Protector on it. I have no idea how effective that product is, but it was only about $7 a can so it was worth trying out.
Frugal Boy and I have each slept a night on it. The foam mattress is surprisingly comfortable for a pullout bed. It also makes a really good fort for Frugal Girl!
Shae, her sister (Auntie), Frugal Boy, and myself just returned from an 8 day trip to Costa Rica. We went horse back riding in the mountains, zip lined at 50 mph past a volcano, and forded a river in our 4×4. The frosting on the cake, we did it all for just $100! * Find out how at the end of this series. See Part 1 here.
* Auntie paid some of her share of the trip and that isn’t included in our Out of Pocket total.
Day 3 – Exploring Monteverde
On our third day, we woke up early to the deafening sound of howler monkeys. They sound a lot like dogs. Speaking of dogs, there was a large population of mutts wandering about Costa Rica. They were easy going and seemed fairly harmless, but it still surprised me a bit to see so many dogs just out and about.
Shae and I were eager to try out some local baked goods, so we hiked down the hill to Stella’s Bakery. To our dismay, the panaderia section was quite small. Instead it was more of a sit down restaurant. You may have heard of “Island Time”, well in Costa Rica, it is “Tico Time”. Tico time is the pace that things get done by the locals. From when we ordered, to when the food came out, it was about an hour. If you are going to travel abroad, get used to the idea that “XX Time” is a real thing and will likely affect your schedule. I took Frugal Boy outside to play while we let Tico Time happen inside.
We had #2 of our top 5 grossest moments at Stella’s Bakery when Frugal Boy lost the contents of his stomach on Shae’s breakfast platter. Sometimes you just really wish you left the kids at home with grandma and grandpa.
With half of our party fueled up and ready to go we made the short drive to Selvatura Park so we could walk on the hanging bridges and be among the canopy dwellers.
One of the big differences that Shae and I noticed on this trip from our Mexico trip was the handling of US dollars. In Mexico, we paid for almost everything in the local Pesos, and by doing so we got a better deal. In Costa Rica, prices were advertised in US dollars and paying by colones wasn’t advantageous. A prime example was Selvatura Adventure Park. The advertised rate for the hanging bridges admission was $30 per adult ($90 all together). I paid in colones and was charged 49,000 CRC, or about $92.45. After realizing there wasn’t much savings to be had by paying in the native currency, we used our IHG World MasterCards with 0% foreign transaction fees to cover most of the remaining tours. We didn’t have these cards in Mexico and only had credit cards that charged foreign transaction fees, so it was nice to have a new option. We did encounter some places that only took CRC, but they were few and far between.
The hanging bridges themselves were very cool. It was a self guided 2 mile walk that included 7 or 8 suspension bridges that placed you either above or among the forest canopy.
It was hard to capture on camera the full scope of your surroundings, but just think Jurassic Park and you’ll get an idea.
After completing our walk we ate some lunch back at the house and then moseyed down to the Monteverde Coop. The Coop is a group of café (coffee in Spanish) farmers who are trying to grow and sell organic coffee.
There are a bunch of different coffee tours in the area, but this was the one recommended by our host so we went for it.
After riding a shuttle out to the farm, we met our tour guide who gave us a brief history of coffee, how it relates to Costa Rica, and how plantations affect the rain forest.
I had never seen a coffee plant before. They look like this:
and the coffee beans grow on them like this:
About 20 years ago, the Costa Rican government mandated that all coffee plantations switch over to an Arabica variety. Arabica is associated with premium coffee, but it also has different growing requirements.
The farm was growing several different varieties of arabica coffee. Every 7 years, the plants get too large to easily pick, so they chop them down to the ground and the root system sends up a new trunk. There can be coffee bushes that are twenty or thirty years old with 5 or 6 trunks.
Different varieties are susceptible to different diseases and fungi. The farm continually grows replacements onsite.
Our tour guide talked about the evil cattle ranchers who were cutting down the rain forest, but didn’t seem to be bothered by other coffee farmers who cleared land for their crops. The farm also was touting how environmentally savvy they were for switching over to manure based fertilizer to replace the chemicals. They didn’t explain why chemicals were bad, it was just a dirty word. Instead, the tons of manure required to fertilize the farm necessitated that Nicaraguans be bussed in and housed in small dormitories to provide the labor needed to ‘go organic’. Obviously, you can tell that I am skeptical of the personal and environmental benefits of ‘organically grown’.
Moving on, we just finished walking through a field when we arrived at the roasting/tasting/gift shop building. It was fortunate timing as well, because it had just started to rain. Inside, a new guide explained the different drying processes for the picked beans.
On the right hand side is the entire coffee cherry picked and dried. To the left of that is the coffee bean with the outer husk removed. Left of that is the same thing, except washed, and finally the left most box is the fully peeled coffee bean. So each whole coffee cherry contains multiple beans inside and then there is a husk that can be removed and a pulp. Think of it like peanuts.
The top row are the raw un-roasted beans and cherries in their respective drying strategies. The bottom row is just the corresponding beans after they are roasted.
Now that you are as confused as I was, it was ready for the taste test challenge. Could we correctly identify light, medium, and dark roast? Could we identify whole dried versus washed dried?
I’ll prefix this with a, I am not a coffee drinker and probably never will be. To me, it tasted like this:
It turns out that I am not a light roast fan. We learned that there is only a minute difference between light and dark roast coffee.
Of course at the end of the tour you could buy ground or whole bean coffee from their little shop. We saw the exact same bags back at the Coop ticket booth for $4 less. The best place to buy your coffee is where the Ticos buy theirs, the supermarket! By the end of the trip, we had purchased 2.25 kg of genuine Costa Rican ground coffee to give to friends and family for a fraction of the cost.
Cafe Britt is probably the best known coffee to Americans, but we chose to buy what the abuelas were snatching up in great big sacks. Chances are good that it all comes from the same conglomerate of farms anyway!
Frugal Boy really wanted to drink some coffee. He settled for some dregs and fruit snacks.
With our shuttle waiting to whisk us back we donned our rain gear and left the coffee plantation behind.
That night we followed our other Host’s recommended eatery. An upscale Argentinian place (Cabure) that was right next door. I had a wonderful sea bass with almond topping for 8500 CRC. It was a splurge, but it was also my favorite meal from the trip.
Continue reading part 3 here.
Yes, the four horsemen are indeed coming. Hell hath frozen over. Aldi takes credit cards.
I had heard on the frugal grapevine that they were rolling this out and that many stores had secretly been accepting credit cards for months, but now it is official.
and not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse because I just bought eight more mouse traps. If you recall, we have a bit of a mouse problem in our house as they have set up shop in the drop ceiling above our bed. Ewwww. Anyway, while I was at the store I perused their selection of 50% off Christmas decorations. This year our various strands of decorative lights had all given up the ghost and I am way to frugal to pay retail. At 50% off though I caved and bought a few strands of Christmas lights to do some last minute decorating. I figure in two days everything will be at 75% off so that would be the ideal time to stock up for next year.
So far we have made a basic spinach & ricotta, butternut squash & gorgonzola, butternut squash & goat cheese cranberry, and our final most refined one was sweet potato & gorgonzola ravioli. We experimented with different dough recipes, rest times, rolling thickness, and cut out diameters before finding what we considered to be a tasty ravioli. I’ve made over 250 ravioli and at 2 minutes a piece it has definitely been a gift from the heart. Next year it may be back to easy and quick sugar cookie cutouts. Now that’s a sentence I’d never thought I would hear!
Here is one last frugal tip before I sign off and enjoy our traditional Christmas duck. If you are driving, make sure that your car tires are fully inflated. Under inflated tires reduces gas mileage and prematurely wears the tire. I checked all four tires on our car and found that they all needed some topping off.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night (except for those damn mice).