Saturday, November 30, 2019

Snake Oil: Up to 70% off

A special price used to be...a special price. A once a year sale used to be...a once a year sale. Back in the day a product could outsell competitors on the strength of a good advertising campaign alone. There was once much less competition; much less choice, much less confusion and much less danger.

I recently searched for an NBN provider for home WiFi. Initially I used an online comparison website, but it only told me that each of up to a dozen companies offered basically the same thing for roughly the same price. I figured out exactly what I needed, and that NBN was available at my place. (FTP:fibre to the premises to be precise). I then called each of the companies to ask why I should sign with them. I'll give the two extremes. Company A answered with silence. Company B offered me $5 dollar off the advertised price for the particular plan I wanted, waived the delivery fee for the free modem, and offered me a month's free internet if I switched my mobile phone to them. Their phone offer was the same price as my existing plan, but included more data, unlimited SMS overseas, as well as 120 minutes overseas call credits.

To get more customers, companies offer all sorts of deals, but to do even better than the advertised specials, you just have to ask. It's totally worth a call. I do the same thing for my insurance policies. Various companies also run event sales: End of Financial year. Halloween. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Year. Australia Day. I'm writing this on December 1. Most of the Black Friday sales are winding up today and tomorrow. Black Friday is on December 13, but never mind. Close enough. Any excuse for another sale.

The fact companies can offer all these special prices and special sales indicates that by and large they are overcharging their customers. In bricks and mortar stores, crazy prices are often advertised. Some places are always having sales and perpetually offering special prices. You will never enter a shopping mall and not find most of the shops having sales. In supermarkets, the sale items rotate but there are always a huge number of items on sale. My supermarket of choice always sells a large variety of products at 20-50% off. Clothing stores boast of half price, or two for one offers. I've seen shops selling products at 75%. If all this is for real, they can't make money, but of course it isn't. It's snake oil: a barrage of clever marketing tricks which most of us have fallen for at one time or another.

The advertised special prices and sales are hooks, and we consumers are fish. Sales get you into the store or onto the website where hopefully you will see something you like, and spend more money than you intended. Companies rely heavily on impulse buyers; people who buy things because they are on sale irrespective of whether they want or need the product, or indeed if they had even given a thought to it previously. The bait is dangled and we bite.

Successful businesses know all the tricks and employ them strategically to maximize sales. Knowing this helps me to control the materialistic urges within me. Utilizing my own set of countermeasures, my advertising snake oil anti-venom, means that even if I don't always get the best possible deal, I will at least be satisfied that I haven't been duped. I'll also minimize the risk of PPR (post purchase regret) 

Here are my top five PPR prevention strategies.
  1. Shop around
  2. Negotiate as much as possible
  3. Use shopping lists
  4. never spend more than you planned to.
  5. Don't make spontaneous purchases.
Do you have any strategies of your own? Share them here.

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Dog's Eye: The Band-Aid Century

I sometimes wonder if people understand the cyclical nature of life. I don't mean birth, marriage, life and death. I'm not talking about the cycle of life because with minor variations here and there, it's basically the same experience for all of us homo sapiens. And people know that. Opinions about the purpose of it all only differ in limited ways. In relation to world views, there is a fairly basic dichotomy. There's nothing new here.

Nothing new. Exactly my point. I'm currently reading The Memoirs of Richard Nixon who is best remembered for the opprobrium of Watergate. What has struck me several times, while reading-skimming quite a bit actually-is how the names change but the issues don't. International tensions have always existed. Wars go on continually. We've never had world peace. Natural disasters. No solutions, just mitigation of consequences. Political shenanigans. Questionable integrity. Frustrating lack of vision and real leadership. Promising economic theories which don't work. Blah. Blah. Blah.

A couple of light examples will suffice to demonstrate my point. Richard Nixon was President of the United States from 1969-1974. coming to power when the US had to get out of Vietnam, but
couldn't. It was the single biggest issue. Protests were frequent and frequently violent. On one occasion, he called a university student protester a "bum". Immediate echoes for me of former Australian Prime Minster Paul Keating in 1995 telling a group of student protesters to "go and get jobs." Twenty years apart, in different countries, yet the comments of these national leaders grabbed the headlines; overwhelming the actual object of the protests.

Early in Nixon's presidency, just as television was flexing its muscles as a monstrous manipulator of public opinion, he wrote about how personalities and television performances were becoming more important than actual policy. Little could he guess, how truly bad it would get. In the US, as here in Australia, what passes for news, as delivered through most media in the 21st century, is an embarrassing collection of prejudiced half truths.

The funny thing is people are still complaining about this all the time. Talk to anyone who's alive and at least partially connected to society. They will say the same things. Finding an original idea is like searching for elephants in an ocean. People whine endlessly about all kinds of things, alternating between shock and outrage, always taken by surprise by the things which keep happening.

The results of a research project into children's attitudes to homework were announced earlier in the year. Guess what? Children don't like homework. There's a new diet guaranteed to shift the weight you lazily allowed to accumulate. No wait, it doesn't work. Shock. Horror. A person on Twitter called me a moron because I misunderstood her. Oh no. I've never been called an idiot by someone who doesn't even know me. I'm devastated. I drank too much alcohol last night. I feel sick today. I can't work. No. Really? I had sex with a guy on the first date now he doesn't want to see me again. I could give thousands of examples of how individual people, and society as a whole, seem incapable of learning from mistakes.

Everyone knows the tongue in cheek definition of madness: repeating an action and expecting a different result. Chuckle. Chuckle. But we all do it. Same mistakes by us. Same mistakes by others. Same problems. Same ineffective solutions, and round and round we go.

Blind and stupid. That's what we are, God bless us. Blind, stupid, and fragile, but loved immeasurably by God anyway. I'm calling the 21st century the  band-aid century because nobody wants to address the root cause of all our problems. Instead of highly qualified and experienced physicians we consult Dr. Google. Don't treat my cancer doctor. It's too inconvenient. Just put a band-aid on it, and I'll pretend it's okay. Nobody does that with their health, but what about the health of our relationships and our society. Don't like that question? Too hard? My apologies.

There's a new weight loss program out now which involves eating a balanced diet and exercising. Wow! Why didn't someone think of that before? Never mind. We'll be okay now. As we say Down Under: "She'll be right, mate." Pass the band-aids please. I just cut myself, and by the way did you know children don't like homework?

Friday, November 8, 2019

RelationDips: octopus balls

Every second Thursday, my friends and I get together for dinner. We call it Connect and Chill. On the alternate Thursdays, we meet to study the bible and to pray. These nights are called Connect and Grow. Chill nights are held in various locations around Darwin; a different restaurant or pub each time. The suburb of Parap was chosen on the most recent occasion, but it was  a toss up between Parap Tavern and Oka Japanese. We took a vote which ended up a tie.

Parap Tavern on Thursday nights has a special: two chicken parmigianas and a jug of beer for $30, but it's not special food. It's pub food. Whichever pub we go to, the menu is pretty much the same. You can get a steak, a parmy, a burger, or barramundi (fish). All of which come with salad and chips (thick cut french fries).The menu varies little, and neither does the quality. It's ordinary food. Safe food, Good food.

The first time I went to Oka for dinner, I saw octopus balls on the menu and knew I had to try them. They could have been testicles or just ball shaped pieces of octopus for all I knew. Either way, I had to try them because I love octopus, and every time I pick up a menu, I look for something I haven't eaten before. Japanese restaurants have standard menus too. Sure, they're more exotic than pub menus but Japanese cuisine is not new to Australia. A set of standard dishes, like chicken teriyaki, will be offered to mostly non Japanese customers.

Not everyone likes Japanese food. Others don't particularly like the uninspiring offerings of hotels like Parap Tavern. The thing is, going out to dinner is never about the food. Not for me anyway. The food I eat is only a side dish accompanying the people I'm eating it with. For that reason I never say no to any restaurant suggestion. I expect to find something I can eat, and probably enjoy-maybe even my next favourite meal, but even if I can't, I didn't go for the food, so I'm never disappointed.

Food and eating brings us together. Most cultures do this exceptionally well. Gathering together with family and friends to enjoy a meal. My wife finds the idea of a pot luck dinner weird, but she comes from a culture in which if you ask someone out to a meal, you are expected to pay. The person you ask can invite someone else along and you will be expected to pay for them too. The concept of ordering individual dishes is also strange to her, as it is to people from many other countries.

Australian's have learned how to share when we eat at Asian restaurants. We've learned to appreciate the finest flavours from across the globe. It is an indisputable benefit of the controversial multiculturalism doctrine that our palettes have been broadened. In culinary terms, our lives have been enriched, but for me, it is still not about the food; it's about the people.

Food should add value to our relationships, regardless of similarities or differences in our tastes and appetites. Food is not just fuel for our bodies, it is lubricant for families, friends and society on the whole. 

Oka lost the vote last time, but we are going to eat there next time. Mark the date: November 14, and join me for some octopus balls. Don't worry about what they are. Just try them, and let's enjoy the experience together. Remember, it's not all about the food.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Everyone wants a piece

There are 56000 charities on the ACNC Charity register in Australia. They are all competing for our money. If you'd like to know more about charities and not for profit companies in Australia click here

Just under half of Australia's registered charities employ no staff. In other words they are completely run by volunteers. That is great. Charities are great. People who donate money to charities are great. Whether it's time, money or expertise, giving and serving is good for individual souls and good for society. No question about it.

One such charity which operates under its own steam in Australia, but is in fact an international charity is the Movember Foundation. The Movember Foundation have a very clever gimmick to raise awareness of and money for men's health issues. I have known about Movember for many years, but have never participated; either by donating or growing a moustache. Last month, I decided that in 2019 I would, so I am currently growing my first ever moustache. I'm 51. I don't know what I'm going to end up with on my upper lip but it doesn't matter.

I have been seeking donations since registering two weeks ago. My friends, family and colleagues have all been hit up for a donation. I've never asked for such before, and because of that I was expecting more people to donate. The thing is most people don't donate to charities. Period. Those who do, usually have their favourites to which they regular make donations, and they'll usually do so, that is choose a particular charity because there is some personal connection. You would expect someone who lost a loved one to bowel cancer, for example, would, if they were the 'giving to charity' kind of person, donate to a bowel cancer charity. This leads me back to the issue of competition.

You will have received many cold calls from various charities. If you gave once you will forever be on their list. I don't have a problem with that. I usually say no. On one occasion I bought a Care Flight Bear (dressed as a groom). Later I bought a bride Care Flight Bear and gave the groom to my wife on our wedding day. I have no intention of buying anymore bears even though I think Careflight do a great job and I know how much they depend on donations. 

I can't say yes to everyone. I often miss these calls anyway because they usually come in while I'm at work. However, yesterday I said yes to the RSPCA, although I've never given them money before. Donating to animal charities is not how I choose to spend my money. My point is I'm in the middle of this battle for charity dollars, and am now contributing to it by asking people to sponsor my mo.

I'm okay with people saying no. I'm less okay with people always saying no to everyone and everything. People who can't afford to support charities other than the RSL by pushing bucket loads of money through poker machines...for example. People can do whatever they want with their money. I'm not writing to condemn anybody. Respect. Do what you like with your money.

The thing is I'm beginning to feel less and less like my money is mine. I've acknowledged that all I have is a gift from God including my money. My current job was literally a God send. I used to donate money and feel guilty because I couldn't afford it, or resentful because I could, but I didn't feel like I could say no. In the past 2 weeks I've made four separate spontaneous donations, and I feel great about it.

I think part of the reason for me doing Movember is to continue this process of letting go. Obviously I believe in the cause. Men have traditionally been terrible at looking after themselves, both physically and mentally. Suicide rates are terrible. I believe in the cause, but there's something about giving, about being involved in something greater than yourself, which is humbling and liberating.

If you're not a giver, try it out. You'll be amazed by the results.

Here's the link to my Mo Space if you'd like to make a donation.