A new view on spending in December!

This is the first year I’ve used up all my healthcare pre-tax savings account. To be completely transparent, it was gone in August. And now it’s December. And I’m still spending!

I’m spending on healthcare this month like it was all I wanted for Christmas!

One might surmise that I’m not feeling well, or that I have some disease, but that’s not it. I’ve spent most of my money on wellness procedures to get some nagging aches and pains under control. And that worked. (insert smiley face here).

The new view on December spending is frankly this: I’ve met my deductible and can finally tap into my insurance.

Now I get why all the docs are so jammed in December. And I’m glad I had appointments booked in advance.

On my spending list this month is some shoulder therapy, which has helped my golf swing and is also prep work for a January trip that includes white water rafting and zip-line fun in Costa Rica. Today I go to pick out and pay for new glasses, that’s always an expensive treat given I’m now up to three layers of vision in the lenses!

And Monday the hubby and I are both off to the lab to prove to our interinst that our “number” are better and our health efforts have been worth it.

Too bad, Walmart, Target and the mall stores. Too bad Amazon Prime.  Our gift budgets are gone. But we’re making the best choices we can, given what our premiums and deductibles will be come January. Taking the long view has changed our December spending, but we are feeling like Santa came early!

Bye, Bye Kiwi

Kiwi, you’ve been replaced by a banana. A peel of a banana, no less!

I recently read (in the AARP magazine, OMG did I just admit that?) that you can use a banana peel (the inside part) to polish leather shoes. Smear it on and buff it out after one minute with a soft cloth. A weird smell, banana on leather, but not as toxic as a whiff of chemical-laden polish out of that metal container.

As a marketer of consumer brands I feel somewhat guilty when I find a sure-fire organic no-cost solution to a problem. In this case, it means I will stop buying shoe polish, at least in brown.

As a consumer it’s frankly odd to rub banana peels on your $200 boots. But my last date with Kiwi ended badly when the color of an expensive and favorite pair of Ralph Lauren loafers turned into a blotchy mess of brown awfulness.

My boots look amazing, so do the ten year old Paul Green loafers I still love after all these years.  Oh what one banana peel can do!

And guess what else? The banana itself was a tasty treat in my greek yogurt smoothie! Now all I need is a white fruit option for my golf shoes!

My Invisible Hand is choking me.

Last week I read about an extension for Google Chrome browser called Invisible Hand, which can inform me when items I am searching for online can be purchased cheaper on another site. Sounds like a good plan for a savvy shopper, right? I installed the extension and have been test driving it.

My experience in the first 48 hours was interesting. Without a doubt, Amazon is the winner of this shopping game. And most often, the lowest prices are from resellers that are in fact paying Amazon for the opportunity to undercut all the classic retailers websites. This is especially true in cosmetics and beauty care.  Note at the bottom of the picture below, the item is being sold by “BeingJoli” (WHO?) for $30.60 which is $7.00 cheaper than anywhere else.


Specialty beauty retailer Ulta has it online for $42.00, which is the same price as the Dermalogica.com website offers. Plus shipping.  I’m not sure of the in-store price at Ulta and the nearest Ulta store is a 20 minute drive from my house. My experience tells me the in-store price will not be less that $42.

My Amazon Prime membership offers me two day free shipping on everything I buy. I want this product, I use this product and I’m not really ready to pay $12 more.

But I’ve yet to hit the “1-Click” order button because frankly, because of my profession, I feel like I’m being choked by an Invisible Hand.

The traditional retail industry feels the same tightness around their throats. The time to solve is now.


Why is your refrigerator so empty?

I was asked this question by my 24 year old nephew yesterday.  It’s been bugging me, since just this week I made an internal promise to back off the amount of money I spend on groceries.

The easy answer is that I have a 48″ double wide built in refrigerator. It holds about as much as a small Kroger store.

But this morning I’ve been thinking about the real issue. And that is quality.

The four containers of yogurt are Fage greek, more expensive but more nutritious. The fruit and veggies are largely organic, and usually replenished at the farmer’s market. The eggs are Eggland’s Best, healthier, but pricier too. The R. W. Knudsen cranberry juice is pure, highly concentrated and mixed with water. The milk, however is Kroger’s new private label fat-free variety, which recently replaced Horizon Organic on the shelf, and by default, ended up in my cart. The meat we currently have on hand is fresh organic lamb from a local farmer friend of mine, Otto’s Chicken and some Boar’s Head ham.

You get the idea. I’m a label reader, and most of our food is fresh, healthy, low in sodium, fat and chemicals. It’s also budget busting, so we don’t really buy a lot of it.

And, really, even if I spent three hours a week (like most consumers in the country d0) looking for coupons online, I’m not likely to find coupons for the things I often buy. But in 2012 I’m going to give it a whirl.

It’s a conundrum, really. Am I a food snob living in an unreal world? Or am I faithfully watching the foods we eat to make certain they aren’t contributing to the load of disease-causing chemicals our bodies can’t process? The numbers of people I know with disease is slowly outnumbering those I know who are healthy, especially in the over 50 set.

So, while I do plan to cut food costs in 2012, I don’t plan to reduce quality. It’s likely my refrigerator is going to look even more empty the next time my nephew stops by. It will likely be minus a couple bottles of decent white wine.



Your brand has lost our mind. Can it get our hearts?

My friend told me a few weeks back that she somehow spent $7,000 last month on her Amex card. She was rattled by the depth and breadth of her spending, even though it did include a new furnace and some vacation airline tickets. But she paid it and then went back again the next day to Costco for supplies for a trip to her lake home. She’s lucky. She only spent seven minutes thinking about that seven thousand dollars.

Think again about that seven thousand dollars. That is the total amount of discretionary spending that 34.5% of U.S. Households have in a year. Over 50% have less than $10K to spend on non-essential items.

These stats from the 2011 Discretionary Spend Report (from Experian Simmoms) are troublesome for the economy, for retailers and especially for brands that used to command a price premium because they occupied some favored space or status in our minds.

Now, most of the consumer mindspace is crowded with fear. Not brands. And with math formulas that subtract from the weekly food budget the outrageous prices we pay for a freaking tank of gas for the car! And our minds are full of endless marketing, ranting at us to devote lots of time to online shopping before we go shopping because we must, we must, we must seek a discount or coupon for every single purchase we make.

Can you stop and think right now what brands really make a difference in your life when you’re in that crazy space of being on the edge of household poverty after twenty some years of prosperity? How many brands even have a tiny sliver in your mind anymore when all you have for discretionary money is ten grand for a whole year? Think of what Groupon has come to mean in your life. Is it meaningful or is it fearful?

What’s fearful to me is the fact that Groupon is now turning their monstrous machine to supermarkets. Classic brands should be sweating in the heat that is about to crank up to enable any growth, even growth with no margin, as the CPG brands clamor after share of wallet in the most aggressive way.

A surge in the endless round of discounting, some of it even disguised as “shopper marketing” is like getting out more nails to pound in the casket of the concept of classic CPG brands. IF HALF OF THE U.S. HOUSEHOLDS HAVE LESS THAN $10K TO SPEND IN A YEAR ON THINGS THEY WANT, WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO TO ENCOURAGE SHOPPERS TO SAVE A SPACE IN THEIR CLUTTERED, FEARFUL MINDS FOR YOUR BRAND?

Yes, brands could shout. And many do. But who’s listening? Plus, all the shouting is about deals. We run after them like mice on the wheel. So uninspiring.

I want to know which CPG brand is going hire ambassadors at retail to hand out hugs? so many of us need them. They can create just a moment of heartfelt empathy, or caring, of joy. Maybe a few brands won’t jump on the Groupon coupon wagon….. Maybe they’ll capture our hearts, which is really the path to our wallets.

(Note: as I wrote this, I started thinking about Coke’s open happiness campaign. They manage to find great high ground for branding and stick with it. And then the old song came into my head: “things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke.” I’m no soda drinker but suddenly I’m craving a Coke in a green glass bottle.  It might just feel like a cold, but warm hug that’s worth a couple of bucks.)


Is Holiday Spending at Risk?

This holiday season, retailers may have more to blame than weather for missed sales forecasts. An imminent rise in food prices could catch shoppers off guard just as they are trying to provide big family meals. Consider the turkey a luxury, as fresh “tom” prices are up about 15%, according to Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert. The price dam created by retailers over the last six months is about to break loose, and most major food companies are raising prices simultaneously. Even private label brands will inch up in price as commodity costs are behind the rise.

Let’s talk turkey. I decided to spend a few minutes online to check out my “tom” options. Mine goes on order today, from the Hilton Head Island Fresh Market store. $1.99 per pound, fresh, organic, raised on a vegetarian diet. Handy online order form! I tried the Piggly Wiggly website to comparison shop, but found no information on holiday turkeys. The local circular had only ground turkey featured. The BI-LO site featured no special information on Thanksgiving, but I did find a frozen Honeysuckle turkey in the circular for $.99/lb good until the end of this week. I checked Whole Foods, their closest store is in Charleston, SC. The home page featured an entire section on “Thanks” and quick navigation to an online order form for free-range fresh turkey at $2.29 per pound.

In the article, Mr. Lempert warns holiday spending could be lower than expected if fuel prices go up at the same time as food. Hmmm. Yesterday’s fill up cost $57.00. Regular gas was $3.06, premium $3.26. A week ago premium was $3.09.  The Costco gas lines were eight cars deep per lane, signaling shoppers have noticed and are willing to wait it out in line for better prices.

Any early bets on holiday sales?

Restoration Hardware Changes Mix, Raises Prices

Restoration Hardware takes the high road during a recession, raising prices and changing up its merchandise to offer even more exclusive designer items. Risky?  Sure. But I have to admire how they made sense of it for the shopper by including a full page letter on the inside cover of the catalog, from the CEO. It’s usually always a good move to lay out the plan for those whom you want to support the plan.

The announcement certainly caused a flurry of discussion on the Retail Wire BrainTrust website! I think there’s room on the high side of the market in many categories, including this one!