Why I Buy So Much on Amazon

It’s all about quick and easy shopping.

I buy a lot of the things I need for my home and garden on Amazon.com. It’s gotten to the point that the UPS truck is at my place several times a week to drop off packages.

For a while, I felt kind of guilty about that. After all, the Wenatchee area where I live, has plenty of shopping opportunities. I should be supporting the economy by shopping locally.

Trouble is, the things I need aren’t always easy to find. Or they might take several stops to track down. Or — worse yet — I may simply forget to look for something I need while I’m out and remember a day or two later when I actually need it.

Hose Fitting
I went nuts looking for this $3.25 item in stores around town. Found it in five minutes on Amazon.

Here’s an example. I needed an irrigation fitting that would enable me to connect my automatic chicken waterer to my garden irrigation system. The idea is that when the timer starts up the irrigation system twice a day (for 10 minutes each time), it would pressurize the waterer’s water feed and top off the chicken’s water trough, which is shared by my barn cats. The irrigation hose already runs right past the waterer. Why run another hose across the garden entrance? One fitting and 10 minutes of effort and I don’t have to worry about water for my chickens or cats for the rest of the summer.

One fitting. You think I’d be able to track it down on one of my many visits to Home Depot or Lowes, right?

Wrong. Try as I might, I couldn’t find what I needed. In any of the four stores I tried.

Then I sat down at my computer and, in less than five minutes had found and ordered exactly what I needed. It would be at my doorstep in two days without any more driving or searching or frustration.

Do you know how many stores I visited, looking for a microwave that would fit on my kitchen’s microwave shelf without looking like it belonged in a dorm room? Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, Save-Mart (the local appliance store), and even Walmart. Basically, every store that sold microwaves. But again, a few minutes on Amazon and I’d narrowed down the search to the ones that fit and matched my other appliances. Then it was just a matter of picking the one I like best. A few days later, it was on my doorstep.

I bought the wrong vacuum cleaner bags for my old ShopVac three times (and returned them three times) before I did an Amazon search, found what I needed, and ordered them. I didn’t even bother trying to find the vacuum cleaner bags for my household vacuum; I just ordered them on Amazon.

I needed ghee — a clarified butter used in Indian cooking. Local supermarkets didn’t have it. Amazon did.

New battery for my Roomba? Where could I possibly find that locally? Found it on Amazon in minutes.

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And I think this is the reason online shopping poses such a threat to brick and mortar stores. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s affordable, and it often comes with free shipping — including return shipping if you decide you don’t like it.

It’s Friday and the UPS guy has been at my home four times (so far) this week. I’m expecting him today with that irrigation fitting. Yesterday, I apologized to him for so many trips down the two miles of gravel road to get to my home. He said he didn’t mind. When I jokingly suggested that it was people like me keeping him employed, he laughed along with me and agreed.

And I’m just happy to be able to save time shopping so I can get more important things done.

Online Store Launched

I’m now selling a few hand-made odds and ends online.

Just a quick note to let folks know that I’ve decided to start selling a few of my hand-made items online using Square.

Ornament
Here’s one of my recent ornaments. Sorry, but this one isn’t available for sale — I included it with a Christmas gift to an extremely supportive family member.

If you go to http://mkt.com/AnEclecticMind, you’ll find whatever items I’ve had time to photograph and put online. So far, that’s most likely to be a handful of fused glass ornaments that I’ve been making with my kiln out of recycled wine and sake bottles. Because each piece is hand-made and, thus, different, I need to photograph each one so they’ll be listed as quickly as I can photograph them. I’m just hoping Square doesn’t display items that are out of stock.

I’m still sitting on the fence about listing my honey, mostly because shipping it will be a bit of a chore and I really don’t have that much to sell this year.

Anyway, this is mostly for the folks who have been complementing me on my glass work. They’re telling me they want to buy these things so here’s where they can do it.

The Appliance Order

I order appliances for my new home to take advantage of Black Friday deals.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I went to Home Depot yesterday to order appliances for my new home. Although I’m not ready to take delivery of those appliances yet, I wanted to get my order in so I could take advantage of Home Depot’s Black Friday deals. I’d been told months ago by a Home Depot employee, during another appliance sale at Home Depot, that Black Friday was their best deal time and that if I didn’t need the appliances back then, I should wait for Black Friday. I waited.

Home Depot Appliance Sale
From Home Depot’s website; there were lots of good deals.

Refrigerator
Dishwasher
Range
Washer
Dryer
My appliances (not to scale).

The deals were — actually are — the sale doesn’t end until tomorrow — great. Not only were most appliances 25% or more off their retail prices — and yes, I know only idiots pay retail — but there were also additional savings when buying multiple items. For example, since I was buying 5 appliances — refrigerator, washer, dryer, range, and dishwasher — I could save an additional $300. And if I put the purchase on my Home Depot credit card, I could save another 5%.

I’d stopped in last week to take a look at what was available and get an idea of what it would cost me. I wound up going with Samsung products all the way: French door refrigerator, dishwasher with “Storm Wash technology,” and slide-in range with self-cleaning dual convection oven, and front loading washer and drier that could be stacked. I chose a stainless steel finish on kitchen appliances and white finish on laundry appliances. The only thing I didn’t buy was a microwave because I still have the one my parents bought me as a housewarming gift for my first home years ago and I really like it.

In every case, the appliance I bought was a huge upgrade from the Jenn-Air crap I had back in Arizona. Yes, I know that Jenn-Air is supposed to be good stuff, but I think it’s seriously overrated. The dishwasher was loud and didn’t do a very good job washing dishes. The oven had a loud fan that kicked in at temperatures over 325°F. The refrigerator was loud, too — I could hear it run, I could hear the ice maker refilling. And the idiotic electric grill on the range was better for filling the house with smoke than cooking anything other than grilled vegetables. (I made the mistake of grilling salmon on it just once.) Of course, I didn’t pick my old house’s original appliances. I lived in what had been a spec house and the builder had included what was considered “high end” appliances. I’m sure the next owner will be suitably impressed — until she has to live with it.

Samsung products are generally highly rated. The only thing I worry a little about is the dishwasher. Although Consumer Reports gave the one I chose a pretty good rating, reliability seems to be an issue with Samsung dishwashers in general. But I liked the styling, the feature set, and the spacious interior, which fit my rather large dinner plates and bowls without any problems. Since I plan to do a lot of entertaining when my home (and its deck) are complete, having a large capacity dishwasher was vital. This one fits the bill. Let’s hope I don’t have to test the warranty.

Yesterday, I went in to finalize the order and give them my credit card. With all the discounts applied, my appliance purchase, with free delivery and installation, was remarkably affordable. I’d originally budgeted about $8,000 for appliances, but wound up spending far less. Timing is everything, I guess.

And speaking of timing, I have about 3 months to get the place ready to receive all those appliances. This winter might be busier than I expected at the Flying M Aerie.

Get What You Pay For

Why bargain hunting isn’t such a bad thing.

There’s an old saying everyone seems to know: “You get what you pay for.” It’s normally applied to situations where you buy something at a low cost and it breaks. “You get what you pay for” is supposed to explain why it broke — you apparently didn’t pay enough money for it.

Lots of people use this logic when they shop. If something is cheap, it must be crap because “you get what you pay for.” If someone else is selling the same thing or something similar for more money, it must be better, right?

Not always.

My Hair

Yes, I’m going to use my hair as an example.

I dye my hair. It’s no secret. I’ve been doing it since I was in my 20s when those first few grays started making their appearance. I did it myself for at least 20 years, using a reddish shade of brown that got even redder when exposed to Arizona sunlight. The color looked at least somewhat natural — at least no one ever commented on it looking fake. I’ve since switched to a browner color that’s more in line with what I remember my hair looking like. It’s been so long, I’m not sure. And those few strands of gray now account for about 75% of my hair.

Last year, I began living in an RV full time after leaving my Arizona home and waiting for my new home in Washington to be built. If you know anything about hair dye, you know that good water pressure is a must-have for rinsing that crap off your hair. So is a good supply of hot water. My RV is weak on both counts, so I began getting my hair dyed “professionally.”

I put “professionally” in quotes, because I started going to the local Beauty Academy. These are highly supervised girls (mostly) who are training to become beauticians. They do everything, from hair trims to dye jobs to perms. They don’t mix a color without consulting with a supervisor. The “classic color” service I needed cost $28.

I went every 6 weeks for quite a while. There was a different girl doing my hair each time. Based on observations, conversations, and chatter among the dozen or so girls working there, most of them were under 25 and apparently had at least one kid but no husband. Young women learning a good trade to support themselves and their families. We had nothing in common so conversation was minimal. Each girl took a long time to get the color in — a typical dye job would take over 3 hours. But it came out good each time and the color lasted. I was satisfied.

Then I succumbed to peer pressure. (Can you believe it?) When I complained to one of my girlfriends that it took so long to get my hair dyed, she ridiculed me for getting my hair done there. She recommended her woman at JC Penney’s salon. So I figured, why not?

I went to Sally (not her real name) and she did my hair. Although she was closer to my age than the Beauty Academy kids, she didn’t seem interested in striking up a conversation with me. While the dye “processed” in my hair, she disappeared into a back room. I learned to read a book or play a game on my phone.

The first time I went, she insisted on cutting my hair and waxing my eyebrows. I was trying to grow my hair long, but when I came every six weeks, she’d cut off 5 weeks of growth. And I don’t usually mess with my eyebrows. I let them do their own thing. But after waxing, they needed maintenance, so I had to have them waxed every time. The bill? $90. When I cut out the hair cuts and waxing, it went down to $70.

And I didn’t feel as if I were getting any better service than those young girls practicing on my hair.

So yesterday I went back to the Beauty Academy. The girl who did my hair was young but she had a professional attitude and would be graduating in just two weeks. She already had a job lined up. She did a great job on my hair, matching my existing color so she only had to do the roots. Because it was Customer Appreciation Day, the dye job only cost $18.

That’s more than $50 saved. And I got a pumpkin muffin to snack on.

I don’t think Sally will be seeing me again.

As for my peer pressure friend — well, I don’t talk to her these days anyway.

Harbor Freight

I was out with some friends last night, all sitting around a big table in a restaurant. I got into a conversation with a friend who was telling me about a crane he’d bought at Harbor Freight and had attached to his cargo trailer. He’s been collecting and selling scrap metal lately and needed something to lift engine blocks.

Harbor Freight, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a company that sells “quality tools at ridiculously low prices.” That’s what it says on their website. I can confirm the low prices, but I can’t agree about the quality. Most of what they sell is pretty crappy stuff.

But not all of it. My friend and I chatted about this. The “you get what you pay for” phrase was thrown around a bit. We both agreed that you had to think about how you planned to use what you were buying when making that purchase decision. If it was something you’d use occasionally and rather lightly, Harbor Freight was probably a good source. But if it was something that you needed to use hard and frequently — something you wanted to last a good, long time — Harbor Freight probably wasn’t the place to go.

Walmart

Most of my friends hate Walmart. It’s a policy thing — low pay and questionable promotional practices for employees, an abundance of cheap, low quality merchandise, and an atmosphere that appeals to the kind of shopper that most of us simply don’t want to get too close to.

I hate Walmart, too. But I have to admit here that I do occasionally shop there. Why? Because it sells two things I use every day at a price too low to pass up:

  • Eight O'ClockThe first is coffee. I like Eight O’Clock coffee. It’s a medium or perhaps light roast Arabica bean. I grind it myself and brew it strong, by the cup. I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years, if not longer. I’ve tried other coffees over the years but always come back to this one. And if there’s one thing that’s important for me to get right, it’s that first cup of coffee in the morning. Trouble is, Eight O’Clock coffee isn’t easy to find. And when I do find it, it’s expensive. Walmart has it for $4.99/package. That’s $2/package less than I can buy it directly from Eight O’Clock’s website.
  • Penny eats Cesar dog food. Yes, it’s the foo-foo dog food that comes in tiny plastic containers. She eats one every morning. They come in many flavors and are easy to store and serve. And travel with. It just makes sense. Unfortunately, Safeway and Fred Meyer sell it for $1.29/container. Cesar Dog FoodSometimes, if it’s on sale, I can get it for 10 for $10 ($1/container). But Walmart sells it for 70¢/container. So let’s do the math here. Suppose I’d always buy it on sale at Fred Meyer for $1/container. Walmart saves me 30¢/container. 365 days in a year is $109 saved. And since I’m going to Walmart for my coffee anyway…

Yes, there is a point here. By buying these two things in Walmart, I’m getting exactly what I want for less money than it would cost elsewhere. Quality isn’t an issue — it’s the same exact thing I could get somewhere else. In this case, I’m getting what I pay for but I’m paying a lot less.

Is my monthly shopping expeditions to Walmart to buy two things is supporting Walmart policies? Maybe. But hell, I need my coffee!

More Examples?

I can probably spend weeks blogging about other examples, but I think you get the idea. You can probably even come up with a few of your own examples.

I think the point I’m trying to make is this: when shopping for what’s best for you, it’s important to not only consider price, but to also consider the quality of what you’re getting. Don’t assume that low price means low quality — often, it doesn’t. Often, you can get the same quality for a lower price.

But not always. A smart shopper — especially someone who wants (or needs) to save money — has to look at the big picture with every purchase decision.

A Trip to a Beekeeper’s “Candy Store”

I visit the California location of Mann Lake, Ltd.

If you’re a beekeeper in the U.S., you’ve undoubtably heard of Mann Lake, Ltd. They’re a major mail order supplier of beekeeping equipment for hobbyists and professionals. They have quality merchandise, fair prices, satisfactory delivery times, and free shipping for orders over $100 — which is pretty easy to reach, especially when you’re first starting out.

Mann Lake’s website is an odd combination of printed catalog pages reproduced page-by-page coupled with a back end database that makes searching possible. It’s not my favorite shopping interface, but it does work. It works best, though, if you have a copy of the printed catalog and can just enter item numbers to order. The printed catalog is a great reference guide, too, with lots of information about each product and plenty of pictures. (You can get one for free by filling in this form.)

Mann Lake is based in Hackensack, MN — a place I’m not likely to ever see. (Actually, Minnesota is the only state in the U.S. that I’ve never been to; don’t see that changing any time soon.)

Somehow, not long after I began shopping for beekeeping supplies last May, I discovered that Mann Lake had a Woodland, CA location. This really bummed me out — I’d spent a bit of time near Woodland just a few months before and, had I known I’d be a beekeeper soon, I would have stopped in to see what they had. Although I didn’t realize it then, I’d soon be back in the Woodland area on another contract.

And that’s where I am now.

So yesterday, my first full day based in this area, I drove over to the Mann Lake California location at 500 Santa Anita Drive. (Yes, it’s true. I went from being a computer nerd to a beekeeping nerd in only a few short years.)

Mann Lake's CA Location
Mann Lake’s CA location is in an industrial park; it’s mostly warehouse.

From the outside, the place didn’t look very exciting. The parking area out front was completely empty. But when I walked inside, I think my jaw must have dropped. Every single item in their extensive catalog was fully assembled and on display in neatly organized aisles.

Inside Mann Lake
Frames and foundations

Inside Mann Lake
Covers and bottoms.

Inside Mann Lake
Hive bodies.

Kid in a candy store, is the phrase that came to mind. I felt like a crazy tourist taking pictures, but I have some beekeeping friends who would really appreciate seeing what I’d seen.

I walked up and down the aisles, seeing firsthand all the equipment I’d seen in their catalog. While some of it wasn’t a big deal — after all, if you’ve seen one standard Langstroth hive body, you’ve seen them all — other items were great to see and touch: propolis collectors, queen cages, honey extractors.

When a sales guy — who turned out to be the sales manager — asked if I needed any help, I asked him to show me the pollen collectors. I wanted an easy solution but apparently there isn’t any. Still, I got to see how the commonly used pollen traps work. The catalog doesn’t really make it obvious.

I wound up buying a frame puller — which I’ve been wanting for a while — and a few other odds and ends that wouldn’t add up to the $100 amount I’d need for free shipping anyway. The sales manager checked out my purchase and looked me up in the computer system and offered to apply my “bee bucks” to the purchase, saving me $25. Sweet!

It was a good experience and I’m sure I’ll be back before I head home. After all, I was crazy enough to bring my beehives with me on this trip and I’m sure I’ll need one or two more things as they enjoy the early spring and start strengthening their hives. Who knows? I might even be ready to extract some honey before I leave.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Mann Lake chose this location for their California warehouse/store, I can guess. Woodland is near the heart of California’s almond country. My 5,000 or so bees, just recovering from a northwest winter, are only a handful of the 31 billion bees from all over the country that are here right now.