Thursday, October 4, 2007

Why buying online is better

Foreword: This post is neither sponsored nor endorsed by any companies named here. I'm writing this of my own experiences, because I want to, not because I'm being paid to or offered any discounts the general public can't get.

I just bought a stack of blank DVD+R discs. Normally I pay $25 or so at Walmart (probably $24.83 or something, you know how precise they are with their prices) for a 50-stack, which is a pretty fair deal. It averages out to about 50¢ a disc. Not bad for 4.45GB of one-time written storage. When we have kids, they won't touch our real DVDs - either they'll use copies or we'll have them on the computer somehow. A good friend at work stopped buying DVDs because his neice and nephews were trashing them - that won't happen to us. And, you know, you buy something, "they" don't like you copying it, but neither are "they" in a big hurry to replace them when your kids damage them, "their" answer is to just go buy another copy of the movie at $20 a pop. But then "they" have never had to worry about that next paycheck or where the money to buy diapers or milk will come from, so you gotta do what you gotta do, right? But enough of the social rant. $25 for a 50-stack of DVD+R discs is pretty good, is it not? Sure it is.. Unless you can get a 100-stack for $31.60 shipped at But, while Walmart is real precise with their prices, Newegg's fluctuate. Tomorrow it might be a buck more or less, Newegg is a very strange beast.

However, Newegg beats if not annihilates that "great deal" you see at Walmart or Best Buy or Circuit City wherever, all the time. And DVD media is just the beginning. Go price hard drives at Best Buy. Write down the brand, the capacity (80GB, 160GB, etc.), the speed (5400RPM, 7200RPM, etc.), the interface (IDE or SATA, etc.) and any other information - model number works great. Jot down a few. Oh, and be SURE to note the price. Then look the drives up on Newegg and see if the price isn't right around half. Same thing with DVD burners. Best Buy's prices do seem fair, for what you're getting. A DVD burner is something really special to have, right? Without shipping, Newegg lets them go daily for under $30! I never see them below $60 in Best Buy's printed ad.

With that in mind, when I say in March 2005 I ordered the parts to build this computer and spent about $1200 on, how much do you think those parts would have cost me at Fry's? (Neither Best Buy nor Circuit City, certainly not Walmart, sell the parts to build a computer, but Fry's does.) Yeah, you can bet this is a $2500 PC by retail pricing. Then you factor in what your average geek, independent or working for a place like that, is going to charge you to build it. To have this computer built for you in March 2005 would have cost you easily $3,000-$3,200 and I did it for $1200. That's some serious cash. And for what? For whom? Does stuff really need to be marked up that high?

Remember, Newegg doesn't just cover computer parts. They have all kinds of accessories. From blank discs to flash drives (and flash cards) to crap you just don't need. Watch the bundle deals, every now and then they'll throw something in for free. I've gotten 2 stickers and a shirt for free with stuff. And when I got my computer stuff, I bundled a motherboard, a CPU, and one of the sticks of memory and got a free digital download of the game Half-Life 2, at the time valued at $60 (and called "The Best Game Ever Made" by, I think, PC Gamer - although I disagree with it, it still means something).

I'm not done here - and computer stuff at Newegg is just the start.

You probably know that if you buy movies and music the first week they're out, you get a good deal, especially if it's a major album or movie. Best Buy tends to sell albums for around $10 and Walmart sells most new movies for $15.99, in both cases for the first week only. I don't think you can beat that buying them online. But after that first week, the price goes way up. Some CD stores have the audacity to charge as much as $22 for an album. At Best Buy it's closer to $15, and of course Walmart has to sell them for a buck or two less, but they only sell the "clean" albums, so unless you're some kind of 17th century prude, you shouldn't be buying music at Walmart anyway; supporting censorship is wrong for so many reasons. Look on Amazon, though, and you can find the same albums for $12.99 or $13.99. And same with DVDs, after that first week they can go for as much as $21-22, or right at $20 at Walmart, but they're usually a buck or so cheaper at So where's the break? Well, most DVD and CD sellers sell 20-year-old classics at the same price as current hits. Not so on Amazon - you can usually get movies that are just a few years old for right around $10. Add the fact that you get free shipping if you spend $25 or more, you're looking at some good deals. Maybe get a new DVD you want for $20, then browse their bargains and pick up an old favorite for around $10, $30 for 2 movies and free shipping isn't bad at all.

Now here's a way to really get a deal with Amazon, but it requires having a Coinstar kiosk at a grocery store near you with gift code functionality. Just approach the Coinstar, hit the button to start, tell it you have coins, and see what your options are. All Coinstars let you turn in your coins for cash with an 8.9% fee, and most let you donate to various charities. Look for a Gift Certificate option. You should get free coin counting this way, with the minor stipulation that you have to have at least $5 and no more than $500 in change. Out here, the two Harris Teeters in Greenville, NC, have gift code/cards (they actually spit out cards in some cases), but a couple Food Lions are strictly cash/donate. You'll have to look around some in your own area. Now what you do is, make a habit of only spending paper money and pennies - and nickels if you want to push it. You take your change and put it in a jar. Never spend dimes and quarters, or nickels if you want it to go a little faster. The thing about pennies, they aren't worth the space they take up in your jar, especially if the jar is small. Nickels really don't, either. The most space-efficient coin is actually the dime, but quarters aren't far behind. If I save dimes, quarters, and a few nickels for 3 months, I can have close to $50 in coins. That's 5 not-so-recent movies and I might have to pay a buck or two. Or if I don't spend it all, Amazon keeps the remainder of the gift amount for the next transaction, up to 2 years, I think. The trick with saving coins, though, is strategy. You don't want to throw pennies away, as a matter of fact you should have 4 on you as often as possible, so you can get your change back in other denominations. Do the math quickly in your head - if you would get a nickel back, give up another nickel to make it a dime. It's best to use self-checkout machines, like at the grocery store, rather than burdening a cashier with the hard math.

But yeah, I have over 300 DVDs - at full price that's about $6,000 in DVDs, and I know I didn't pay that. I have spent a lot on them over the years, enough to perhaps own some stock in the movie industry. My collection isn't nearly the biggest, possibly not even among working-class movie lovers. I've seen some nice collections, but you know people with collections like those aren't worrying about money. But I'm talking wall to wall shelves custom built, 2, 3, 4 copies of the same movie in different editions, pretty much every edition of every movie they don't hate, just because. That's just ridiculous, but you can get DVDs for a heck of a lot cheaper than in the stores.

And that's just new. If you're willing to accept nonremovable stickers all over your DVD case, maybe the disc itself, maybe some writing on the case or disc label, maybe a smudge on the disc, and the knowledge that someone else owned it before you, you can get some killer deals on used DVDs. First of all Amazon, which I already mentioned. Just look up the movie you want, and look for more buying options near the top, on the right. Note that buying from others through Amazon doesn't count towards free shipping, and shipping is often higher buying from third-party sellers, so you have to factor shipping in as part of the cost. Some sellers will sell some things for a penny because the shipping is marked up enough that they turn enough of a profit in the shipping that they don't care about getting more. So you might get lucky. In brick-and-mortar stores, of course your Blockbuster and Hollywood video stores have used DVDs, but did you know Gamestop (formerly EB Games) has them as well? They usually have quite a lot, at better deals than Blockbuster and Hollywood offer. And unlike them, Gamestop's are bought from real people, so the DVDs are the same ones you can buy, whereas Blockbuster and Hollywood only sell retired rentals. How many times was a DVD rented out before it was retired, you have to wonder. And then the case might be different, and it's possible the DVD will have different (often less, I think) special features than the retail one. After all, it's just for rental. Some rental places are ignorant to "original aspect ratio" and only sell "Fullscreen" (aka "missing 1/3-2/3 of the picture") DVDs, and most only sell the Theatrical cut of a movie if an Unrated version is available.

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