Donnabeth Leffler

To Your Door?

      I’ve always heard/read the grocery business is a low margin business looking for high volume.  I’m not talking about organic meat or baby vegetables; I’m talking about what I call staples: those items we always have in the pantry.           Big rolls of big rolls of paper products get me driving north to Costco but it is a haul and not always terribly convenient.  But I find when I don’t buy non-perishables in bulk, I feel guilty about paying more.  Yes, I factor in the gas price but Costco not only sells gas (usually more cheaply than many other places), but also the longer amount of time I can go without a return trip.           Believe it or not, this column is not an ad for Costco.  I just came across a new buying option that is fighting for those dollars:  Amazon is selling subscriptions to  bulk sizes.  If you subscribe for regular delivery, prices are lower and shipping is frequently free.  No gas (for me), no errand= little time, and I don’t even think about running out.          I’m not sure I’ll do this and I don’t know why not.  Maybe its time has come and I’m just not an early adopter.  I’ll tell you what I would do, however.  I would sign up...

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Government Spending

      I wrote in my bio that I chose to write a blog on spending because I’m fascinated by how this community approaches commerce as part of public policy. In the months since beginning $avvy $pender I’ve used that as my touchstone in veering from shopping and customer service over to college football and back.  This week’s post reverts back to my original intent but on a slightly larger scale.        From my very first job as a television news producer, I heard the axiom: “Weather affects everyone.”  This comment was designed to remind staff of both our public service (keeping people informed) and the business behind the ratings race (more viewers will be interested because more are affected).          I’m sure you remember the heat of the summer which was outpaced by the heat in Washington over raising the debt ceiling?  A quick reminder if you repressed it: a faction of the Republican Party demanded its way, agreeing only to cuts to lower the deficit before agreeing to vote to raise the debt ceiling so this mighty nation wouldn’t default.  Well, that affected all of us too, in ways we may not yet even know.  Some voters supporting that faction have called for government to stop helping people with cuts to entitlements that help the most frail among us.       ...

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Compare & Contrast

I’d like to begin by torturing Charles Dickens: “It was the best of service and the worst of service…”   Yes, I’m on my customer service soapbox again and before I tell you my latest Tale of Two Services, I want to explain why I harp on this topic:  It doesn’t take much effort nor money to earn my custom and my affection and yet businesses, even in these tough times, don’t seem to understand that they lose when they act as if it’s not worth the effort.   Business A:  I’m a multi-year client of a fitness enterprise.  It’s an expensive proposition but I have a terrific teacher who makes it worthwhile.  I’m suffering through an almost year-long recovery from two knee surgeries and returned to this business as soon as my surgeon cleared me to do so.    Unbeknownst to me (and this is my fault for being an unaware consumer), my purchased class packages expire after a few months.  My kind teacher caught it twice and knowing I wasn’t beaching on Bali instead of working out, extended the deadline for me.  The third time it came up I received an email from an administrative staffer telling me I owed $25 to extend my package.  I replied with a protest, explaining my reason for not using it.  She replied that it had already been extended twice and...

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Adding up Lo$$es at UNC

     In my previous post I confessed to little interest in sports. Just so I’m absolutely transparent on my lack of standing in this conversation: I graduated from a school with a terrific basketball program (not in NC) and I never got to a game.      That caveat remains for those of you willing to wade into my take on this UNC football madness enveloping us. After listening and reading to all this talk of fans angry enough about the firing of Butch Davis to call for the ouster of Chancellor Holden Thorp, I had to ask, “Isn’t the tail wagging the dog here? Isn’t the Chancellor in charge of the WHOLE university and we’re talking about one part of it, right?”      After the laughs of scorn and derision had subsided, someone took pity on me and explained that beyond the emotion of fan-dom, there is a knock-on effect that does affect the University’s coffers and therefore reaches well beyond the football field.      Ok, I get that. And while it’s probably difficult to attach real numbers to it, I’m sure it’s real.       Know what else is real, UNC fans? A budget cut of nearly 20%. Bet there’s a knock-on effect from that too. Savvy Spenders like myself are wondering why there aren’t UNC fans screaming in equal number for punishing terms for the NC Legislature.     ...

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$upporting UNC

The great debate of Summer 2011 was not just in our nation’s capital; Tar Heels are deeply divided over the firing of Butch Davis. I will tell you right up front that I don’t have fan fever. I root for my home team and this one’s it, but you should know I don’t have that hunger to know where a ball goes (to my husband’s great disappointment). I was a Cal Ripken fan though admittedly more for his work ethic and blue eyes than for his sports prowess. I am all for having a winning team and we all need something to celebrate these days. I do understand student athletics builds teamwork, strong bodies, a competitive spirit and, for some, a path to a college education. That said, you should continue reading this knowing I am writing out of fervor for academics, not athletics. “Wait,” you gasp, “I thought this was my trusty Savvy Spender column and would offer a respite from the football hue and cry.” Don’t worry, just stick with me here. What I thought was all about football has taken a turn. Just prior to the change in football leadership, another story about UNC appeared here on Chapelboro.com: the $100 million budget cut. The effects of that may have been lost amid the athletic controversy but it’s clear that an almost 18% budget cut will have to...

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Timing is Everything

When is $200 worthless? This is not about the current state of the debt ceiling talks. This is about a restaurant gift certificate I was given recently. Very recently. I was sad to learn the news earlier this week about the closing of Cypress on the Hill. I’d been a few times and had enjoyed the topnotch and frequently inventive food in its modern casual setting. I’m sad of course also for people who’d put their money and their dreams into the restaurant and for those who worked there. All of this sadness occurred this past Tuesday July 26th. In an email that day Executive Chef Alex Gallis and General Managers Jon McCallus and Greg Pfaender announced: “We had hoped to attempt to remain open through July 30, however, the issues surrounding the pending end of business became too intrusive to allow us to prepare adequately for dinner service.” My $200 gift certificate was issued June 24th. If you’re not reading closely you may have missed that those two events happened approximately one month apart. I understand businesses fail and restaurants more often than many other types. I can imagine the heartbreak and wreckage that must come with it. I know there are people hoping to get paid for their last week of work or their last delivery of vegetables and that my $200 is probably lowest among the priorities in terms of both amount and claim. In fact,...

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Federal Foolishness

             This is a special edition of my usually mild-mannered blog. I’m using the forum granted me to stamp my feet over how those who lead us in Washington are not Savvily Spending, nor are they Correctly Cutting, leading to Scary Stasis and, potentially Dangerous Default.              My vaguely cute reliance on alliteration is not the only juvenile behavior in front of us. We have word of elected officials not returning each other’s phone calls and supposedly walking out of meetings. As these leaders of the free world gather to discuss plans to avoid the USA defaulting on its debt, investors pale and millions of people wonder if they’ll receive their much-needed stipend.              I understand the talks around the debt ceiling and the deficit are critical and deserving of much thought and much discussion. In our community alone, one of the possible budget deal’s repercussions is already being anticipated by UNC Healthcare. This is serious business, folks, and I wonder if the men and women in Washington who are acting more like boys and girls know that?              Do any of them remember learning why we have both a U.S. House of Representatives and a U.S. Senate? My 7th grade social studies teacher taught me the two legislative bodies were born out of a compromise. What? A COMPROMISE? Washington, did you hear that word? Do you know what it means? If you don’t,...

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Good Service Alert!

Several weeks ago I wrote a bit of a rant. It was about a service company that didn’t bother to show up, nor to call. When I re-scheduled, there was a misunderstanding about the window of time and while clearing that up the business owner screamed at me. He screamed and told me I was trying to force his business into a model it couldn’t accomplish because he never knows how long a service call will take. Well I was angry then and it’s even worse now because I’ve just had the exact opposite experience. We recently needed a locksmith. One of our locks seemed to have something jammed inside. It wasn’t an emergency as we could still go in and out and could lock the door from the inside. Having read of nightmare experiences with choosing a random locksmith (of both the criminal and nearly criminal variety), I sent a request for a recommendation to our neighborhood listserv.  Before I continue this tale, let me offer a separate shout out to that listserv and those who answered. Never a bad recommendation from you people! Three quick replies sent me to Pete Gamble of Alert Security. I called and we made an appointment for a few days later with a scheduled start time of 2-2:30. At about 2:20, Pete called, saying he was concerned he’d be five minutes late. FIVE minutes. Turns out he wasn’t but he wanted to be...

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My $avvy Son

This week the next generation of Savvy Spenders was born. He’s not a newborn, but a 9 year old. The camp my son is attending this week offers the option of taking campers to a nearby grocery store to buy lunch. While he was welcome to bring his lunch, he was intrigued by the independence offered by the first choice. Disclaimer/Confession: I detest the drudgery of packing lunches so I will admit to urging pushing him to try the shopping trip.  Once I got past the glee of not rolling turkey for five days, I decided it was a good idea beyond my self-interest. We took a scouting trip to the store to see where items he might choose are located and talked about how much they cost. We talked about bringing water instead of buying it (though the heat midweek led to him doing both). As we left the store and headed home, it dawned on me that the confidence-building exercise could be even more: He could learn to budget and plan for a week’s worth of lunches. I suggested this while in the car and he was thrilled. We discussed potential overall amounts (getting in some extra math practice!) and settled on one.  I’m writing this at the end of the week where I’ve learned several things about this young savvy spender:  ·      My son can plan and budget ·      He made healthy choices (as...

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A Quiet and Prudent Holiday Sky

 While I do consider myself a Savvy Spender, no one who knows me would dispute that I have no problem spending money on fun.  Trips, parties, plays, shoes: all good reasons to open my wallet.  However I have to give props for Savvy Spending to the Town of Chapel Hill for deciding the town couldn’t afford an Independence Day party this year.     Disappointing?  Absolutely.  Responsible?  Also absolutely.     There are those who say difficult times are when we need to come together to celebrate what’s right with our country and, especially, to honor its birth.  I don’t disagree with either of those sentiments.  But these days are filled with tough choices: -Lucky people with jobs are facing losing some of their public transportation options.  -Library funding is ever tight with a tense battle over who pays what.  -High gas prices are likely straining the budgets of every department with a fleet of vehicles.   These few examples don’t even take into account state money that’s also contracting.  The brief  list also excludes the declining home values that will affect the property taxes that fill the coffers and/or dissuade potential home buyers because the cost of living here is just too high.   As the Chapelboro.com/WCHL news team noted in its coverage of the lack of the annual fireworks festivities at Kenan Stadium the holiday weekend coincided with...

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