We broke a 119 year old record yesterday when the mercury recorded at -1 degrees for April 2nd. The cold and accompanying snowfalls had cancelled most of the egg hunts in the area. Our neighborhood had an egg ‘handout’. It was fun, but not as good as the real thing. Frugal Boy and I made a giant snowman and other people accessorized it.
Frugal Boy had Spring Break last week and spent most of it at the grandparents house. He had a fantastic time and even got to visit Lego Land.
Shae, Frugal Girl, and I took advantage of the relative quiet to go out on a date. Frugal Girl really liked the crab tacos.
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!
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!
I have some more interesting blog posts in the works, but for now here are some pictures from our lives.
Here I am firing up the grill on the first nice day of Spring. I’m also imparting some wisdom to Frugal Boy who is perched on a five gallon bucket.
Later that night, Frugal Boy put together his very first banana boat.
A few days ago, we voted in a local election. Our mayoral race was not close, but the neighboring town was too close to call with only a 7 vote difference between candidates with 35 absentee votes still waiting to be returned.
Also on the ballot were school board members, the folks responsible for 62% of our property taxes. They probably have the biggest ratio of taxes to media coverage of any elected official.
Frugal Girl tried out a smile for size. It is hard to believe that she is almost a month old.
Frugal Boy and I went to see the circus. I don’t think he’ll be running away and joining them anytime soon. It was a bit of struggle to keep him interested.
The weather has been frightfully cold. I know because I spent 20 minutes changing a flat tire this morning in a parking lot. Before you travel for Christmas or New Years, double check that your spare tire is in good shape, a jack, and tire iron are included and in working order. It is also a good idea to have a blanket in the car.
On a different topic, Shae and I enjoyed watching the movie The Company Men, starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones. The movie follows several white collar workers who face downsizing during the 2008 financial crisis. It offers a great cautionary tale of living above one’s means.
Finally, after three and a half years, we have furnished all three bedrooms in our house with mattress sets and frames. The last acquisition was a $85 Craigslist bed frame made by the now defunct Cochrane furniture company.