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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Giveaways!

The Bargain Queen is posting a little less than usual this week because:
  1. She's working on some technical stuff (new domain name, new hosting and a switch to Wordpress) to make this blog even better.
  2. She's setting up a second blog because she's addicted to fashion coverage and wants to blog about it, and...
  3. Her offline life is hectic. She's had to organise the mother of all fire inspections tomorrow, which meant consulting owners, tenants, the local Council, two fire engineers and too many other people to mention. Dull but necessary.
If she finds any great bargains online she'll post them immediately, but otherwise you'll have to console yourself with a great giveaway, courtesy of the lovely Julie Fredrickson from Almost Girl and Coutorture:

Contest closed.




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Thursday, July 20, 2006

What sells cheaply on eBay

Want to pick up a great bargain on eBay? Sean Blanda from College V2 says these things sell for far less on eBay than they do retail:
  1. Jewellery
  2. Computer printers and monitors
  3. Handmade items
  4. Antiques
  5. Records
You can read all about it here.

Just be aware that some of these categories offer riskier buys than others. When you buy jewellery or antiques from a reputable dealer, you get their guarantee that the item is what it's purported to be; on eBay there are no guarantees. Likewise, when you buy computer gear in a store, you pay someone to tell you if it'll work with your existing equipment. If you know a lot about jewellery, antiques or computers you can probably get some great bargains; if not then buying retail's a better idea.

As for handmade items and records, there's much less to beware of (and you're usually only risking $2-15) so take a look for some great bargains.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Real Prada handbags for under $50!

If you'd like a Prada handbag for under $50, Amazon.com have this Prada Women's Rectangle Nylon Handbag for US$49.89:



...or this Prada Women's Small Rectangle Nylon Handbag, also for US$49.89...


These are likely to sell quickly, so if you're interested, grab them while you can!


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Renovation adds 'delayed glamour' to life

The Bargain Queen posted a few months ago about her impending renovation, but hasn't talked about it since. It takes a LOT to make her shut up, so let's find out what's going on.

As everyone knows, renovating is very little fun until it's finished. There's not a lot of glamour along the way. Since I'm all about living the most glamorous life my budget allows, living in the mess isn't delivering a great deal of satisfaction. I don't even want to have friends over because our apartment's such a mess, so there's no way I want to post pictures of it online! I knew this would be the case before I started (I lived through two of my mother's renovations) but it's the best option we've got at the moment so we decided to do it.

I've also had moments of sheer desperation about the mess here. I'm normally a neatfreak but we have no storage yet so I can't keep the place tidy. This makes me crazy because losing things brings out the worst in me. First I get angry, then I'm upset, then I have idle paranoid thoughts about neighbours stealing my stinky jeans from the laundry. Yes, I know that's insane. (I guess that's why the therapist I asked about it told me I didn't need her help - apparently having one or two neuroses is normal.) I've lost more things in the two months since we moved than I did in two years in my old place, so I wanted to stay quiet about going slowly insane and find happy things to post about instead.

I realised today that I'm looking at this the wrong way. Living in an untidy, unappealingly decorated place for a while is the price you pay for renovating... along with many thousands of dollars. The upside is that the place will look amazing when it's finished. So this isn't really slovenly living, it's a temporary state on the way to something better. I've decided to call it 'delayed glamour' so I think about it more positively.

Stay tuned to see more of our dump renovation in progress.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jumping off the quack train

The Bargain Queen wrote about the alternative healthcare options she's tried and wanted to share some new information. This is probably most relevant to people with chronic, incurable health issues, although everyone uses healthcare services some of the time.

A couple of months ago, The Bargain Queen stopped using all the alternative therapies she was taking. This wasn't by design; it was simply the result of moving house, being disorganised and having too many other things to deal with. The result? She feels better than she has for months. While her pain levels are the same and her skin has lost that hyper-nourished glow, she also has an enormous amount more energy. She's gone from resting for 18 hours a day, to a manageable 10 to 12 hours.

Now all of this could be coincidence, or it could be due to the peaceful environment in her new house. But she's also very aware that whatever benefits all those herbs and supplements were giving, she's not missing them now they're gone - which makes her wonder a little about what she was paying for.

With each new 'miracle' treatment she's told about, The Bargain Queen gets a clearer sense that what they actually offer is hope. It would be wonderful if there was a cure for her illness. She'd love to be pain free, full of energy and able to go back to work. Every time someone says they can make that possible, she wants to believe them because she'd desperately like it to be true.

But there are two downsides to trying these purported miracle cures:
  1. The inevitable disappointment when yet another 'cure' doesn't work is psychologically harder than accepting the illness and making the most of the good things that are left.

  2. When you pay hundreds of dollars for a 'cure' and you end up feeling worse, it's easy to feel like an idiot afterwards.

    (Although compared to The Bargain Queen's last operation, which cost thousands, was terrifying, life threatening, very painful, took a long time to recover from and only gave a few months' good health, maybe it's not so stupid! ;)
This has made The Bargain Queen think very carefully about using any further alternative therapies. Her condition won't kill her, so her options are a lot broader than 'fight or die'. She's still happy in spite of the illness, because while the it's taken a lot (job, social life, super-athletic body) she's still got a wonderful husband, great friends and enjoyable hobbies. She's also fortunate enough that she and Mr Bargain Queen can survive financially, albeit on a tight budget, when she's not working - which makes her a lot better off than most people.

So for now, The Bargain Queen's giving up on herbs and supplements. That's not to say they're useless; maybe they do work for other people. But considering the improvement in her condition when she stopped taking them, The Bargain Queen's unconvinced that they were giving her value.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

10 Fashion Tips for the Newbie Frugalista

If you're new to looking fabulous on a budget, Frugal For Life has some great tips:
  1. Buy quality
  2. Shop sales
  3. Buy classics
  4. Buy secondhand
  5. Buy look-alikes
  6. Swap clothes with others
  7. Budget your wardrobe
  8. Choose versatile pieces
  9. Less really is more
  10. Accessorise
You can read all the details over here.


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How to op (thrift) shop

Style Space has some great tips on how to op shop (which is what Aussies call thrift shopping), including:

Don't be deterred by different sizes
Sometimes garments in op shops can be decades old, which means the sizing system of the garments is inconsistent with current sizing. Don't dismiss something just because it's not labelled in your size, or even because it doesn't have a size tag at all. Just try it on!

There are also some of The Bargain Queen's tips over here.


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Friday, July 14, 2006

Best places to go for an online bargain

She says from unblague writes:
Ladies and gents, if you are looking for a bargain, here is a list of sites where you can almost always find something interesting for a good price.
And here's a tip, whenever you buy something online -- especially for major retailers -- search first for a coupon. Fairly frequently, you can find an online coupon that will give you free shipping or some percentage off for purchases over a certain amount.
You can read the rest over here.


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Thursday, July 13, 2006

When in Rome, buy sandals

Warning: Cultural stereotypes ahead.

Where can you find exotic and elusive enoki mushrooms for $3.99 a bunch? At an isolated Mediterranean greengrocer who does not specialise in Asian delicacies.

Where can you find the exact same variety of mushrooms, from the same grower, with the same use-by date, for just $2.20 a bunch? One suburb away, in a bustling Chinatown, at an Asian grocery store, surrounded by competition.

Interestingly, that same Asian grocery store was selling tinned tomatoes, an Italian staple, for $1.20 a can, whereas the Italian greengrocer had the same ones for 50 cents a can.

What's the message? Buying exotic goods from local suppliers can save you a small fortune. Because believe it or not, coconut milk isn't "exotic" to S.E. Asians, and bocconcini isn't "exotic" to Italians, and sushi seaweed isn't "exotic" to Japanese.

Finding a shop that's popular with locals of the same, ahem, ethnic background, means you know the produce is authentic, and with the high-turnover, it'll be fresher.

And it turns your weekly shopping expedition into a mini-holiday.

Here are some indicative savings buying the same brands of the same products, but one in a big generic supermarket, the other in a local specialty store:
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ASIAN GOODS - Big supermarket vs. Asian grocer

100g dried shrimp: $5.40 vs. $3.20
10 sheets sushi seaweed: $2.99 vs. $2.00
Packet noodles: $1.20 vs. 70c
1/2 kilo fresh mangosteen: $10.99 vs. $7.00
Fish sauce: $1.80 vs. $1.20
Jar tamarind paste: $4.50 vs. $1.40
Lemongrass: $1.99 ea. vs. $1.00
Helping the little guy beat the big soulless supermarket chain: Priceless.
TOTAL:$28.87 - $16.50

With the $12.00 you saved, you can score a giant seafood laksa or a 10 minute neck message from those ubiquitous Chinese massage tables!


MEDITERRANEAN GOODS - Big supermarket vs. Con, the Fruiterer Barbarian.

Jar sliced Kalamata olives: $5.99 vs. $2.99
Big jar salted anchovies: $13.99 vs. $8.99
Goat's fetta cheese: $5.50 vs. $4.70
1kg Dried fava beans: $4.50 vs. $2.99
Premium-brand imported Italian pasta: $3.50 vs. $1.00
Wandering about in a fabulous-smelling continental deli with aromas of coffee, pancetta, pasta and cheese wafting about: Priceless

Total:$33.48 vs. $20.67

With the $12.50 you saved, treat yourself to a double espresso and canoli (or three).
----

It's worth getting to know your local stores, because they will surprise you with the range of treats they can offer. After a while, you'll find that the only things you'll buy from the big supermarkets are toilet paper and peanut butter, and anything that has a bit of personality will be cheaper and better quality from the little guys.

PS - Of course, Mr Bargain Queen is never tempted to blow all the money he saved on those delicious-looking red bean cakes from the Chinese bakery...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Top 10 cheap geek tips

The Bargain Queen has a confession to make: she's a closet geek. She lusts after the latest hot gadgets just as fervently than she does pretty shoes. She even occasionally convinces herself that buying something that allows her to, say, wirelessly stream mp3s to the speakers in the next room is way more practical than buying clothes, whose only functionality is keeping her warm and protecting her from public nudity.

Unfortunately, her tech budget is just as limited as her shoe budget so she can't always buy her latest dream toys. In 10+ years of geekery though, she's gotten pretty good at keeping up with technology while keeping to her budget.

Here's her top 10 tips for cheap geeks:
  1. Try to stay off the bleeding edge. In The Bargain Queen's experience, brand new and untested ('bleeding edge') technologies are a bad idea. The first time a feature is implemented, it will have some pretty major bugs - and counter-intuitively, you'll pay extra to have it while it's unstable. Plus, when a new technology doesn't live up to its much-hyped promise, it can disappear pretty quickly (e.g. WAP) and your expensive gadget becomes a useless souvenir of an ever-changing technological landscape. The only sure sign that a technology is going to survive is when people who aren't hard-core geeks start buying it and raving about it, which is usually months or years after it's first released - and by then it's well off the 'bleeding edge'. While you don't have the same geek credibility if you wait a while, you'll also save yourself from some expensive mistakes.

  2. Buy less hardware and more add-ons. While it can be tempting to buy one of every new 'must-have' device type, very few of them are really necessary. The Bargain Queen now survives with just a laptop, a mobile (cell) phone and a digital camera - no MP3 player, PDA, portable DVD player, wireless go-anywhere broadband or anything like that. She survives very comfortably and rarely feels like she spends too little time connected to machines.

    This works well because in most cases, buying new software or peripherals to add functionality to something you already have will be much cheaper than buying a new stand-alone device. For example, if you wanted to make digital sound recordings, buying a microphone for your computer is much cheaper than buying a digital voice recorder. But to do this, you have to plan ahead. Some devices make it easy to install new software and have vibrant developer communities; these are the ones you want. On others, it's near-impossible to do anything more than the manufacturer intended unless you pay them fistfuls of extra money, or re-write the operating system in assembler. And you really don't want to learn assembler.

  3. Don't buy multi-function devices. So if you want to buy fewer devices, what you need is a phone / palmtop computer / camera / MP3 player / voice recorder right? Wrong. The Bargain Queen's experience of these devices has never led to a glowing recommendation. The parts of the functionality that are new to the manufacturer or device type are invaribaly buggy and unreliable (see point one about bleeding edge technology), and the amount extra that you pay for them often exceeds the cost of buying a better stand-alone device to do the same thing.

  4. Do your research. In almost every space within the technology industry, there's a vast range of products on offer. If you find it bewildering trying to choose between them all, you're not alone - The Bargain Queen sometimes finds it puzzling too, and she has a Masters in IT. many people handle this bewilderment by talking to someone who does know... say, that nice young fellow at the local computer store. If you're still approaching your technology purchases this way, please stop! The internet has a wealth of information to help you in your technology purchases, which you'll find on blogs, news sites, user forums and newsgroups. If you're completely new to this, start at epinions, then Google the product name or type and the word 'review'. And while you're there, don't forget to compare prices online! Noone will convince you their $20-off special is a great deal if you've seen the product $100 cheaper on a reputable website.

  5. Buy the best quality you can afford. If you've done your homework, you'll know the best options at each price-point. So you buy the cheapest option that will do the job, right? Not always. In some cases, spending more will only get you a fancier brand name and packaging. In others, it means the difference between replacing it in a year or five years. In really extreme cases, the cheaper option won't actually do what you need because a crucial feature is missing. The extra money will probably be worth it if you get a more reliable, extensible product; customer support and a good warranty will also make a big difference if you have any problems with the product.

  6. Always get a free trial. Whether you're buying hardware or software, getting a free trial before you buy is really important. You don't want to be stuck with a lemon, and you generally don't know whether a product is any good until you've tried it.

    In the old days, software trials were easy: almost everyone offered a 30-day free trial. Many companies still do, although The Bargain Queen has found a few lately that don't. To get around this, she has an only-slightly-illegal solution: she gets a copy from a friend, or finds a password to turn a crippled trial version into a fully-featured one. In the majority of cases, she tries the software, finds that it doesn't do what she needs and deletes it promptly. In the rare case where she finds the software genuinely useful and usable, she pays the money and keeps it.

    Trying hardware can be more difficult because so many display models have no batteries, so you can only inspect the outer casing. If the store can't arrange for you to try it with the batteries, you'll need to do one or more of three things:
    1. wait until someone you know buys one and try theirs (easy if you have geeky friends)
    2. rely on online reviews to get more information on the product
    3. buy from a store with a generous returns policy, so you can return it if it doesn't fit your needs after all

    If all this fails and you do end up stuck with something you don't use, you can still re-sell it on eBay and consider it a not-so-free trial!

  7. Check the UI before you buy. So what do you look for when you're trying out a product you might buy? Apart from checking that it has the features you need and works reliably, you also need to check the user interface, or UI. The UI is the sum of all the controls and displays in the device, including buttons, screens, menus, prompts, error messages, touchpads, handwriting recognition panels, paper feeds and anything else you interact with. It's important because it determines how easy- or difficult-to-use your new purchase will be - and it doesn't matter how amazing the features are if you can't use them successfully.

    The easiest way to evaluate the UI is to try the most common things you'd want to do with the device. On a camera, this would mean taking and reviewing some photos; on a phone, you might make a call or send a text message. If you can't figure out how to do these things within a few minutes of fiddling, the device is probably too difficult to use.

    And if you think you can't use it because you're not very good with technology? You're wrong. People with advanced degrees in computing find it hard to use the same things that frustrate 'regular' people. A bad UI is impossible for anyone to use, no matter how smart or technologically savvy they are, so don't ever feel bad if you don't buy something because you couldn't figure out how to use it!

  8. Know thyself. For many years, The Bargain Queen worked with geeky males who made fun of her fashion obsession, but are actually bigger fashion victims themselves. Not when it comes to shoes, obviously, but when it comes to gadgets. When one of the boys came into the office with a new phone that recorded video, it was only a matter of time before most of the other guys had one too. Did it matter that they hated home movies, or that the picture quality was too dreadful to watch? Hell no. It was cool, it was new and you weren't geek enough without one. On the bright side, they all had well-paid IT jobs so they could do this and still pay the bills. If you're not an expensive ubergeek, or your financial priorities lie elsewhere, it helps if you only buy things you'll actually use - and to do that, you have to know yourself really well. Will you start listening to music when you go jogging each day if you buy that iPod? If you're tone-deaf, love the quiet and hate to sweat, probably not.

  9. Wait a while. A newly-released model is always harder to find for a good price than one that's been out for a while, and the the cheapest time to buy is when the next version is about to come out. Considering that prices may be reduced up to 50% within a year of initial release, it's well worth waiting a few months to get the must-have device. Even if the new price hasn't come down a lot, you might be able to buy from one of those serial updaters we talked about in tip 8. After a few months, some realise they're not going to use their latest toy (or just have to buy a newer, hotter one). They often sell barely-used devices for less than half price - and they're still under warranty.

  10. Never buy on credit. Many stores offer financing so you can pay off your new technology over a year or two if you don't have the money upfront. These are NEVER a good deal. The Bargain Queen has done this only once, on the afforementioned multifunction phone. It looked like a good deal at the time because the price over the life of the contract was only $200-ish more than the phone and includes $40 of 'free' phone calls each month for two years. The phone now costs a third what it did back then, the cost of phone calls has also come down significantly and it's still not paid for yet - and as far as financing deals go, this was one of the better ones on offer.

    If you want to avoid these traps, you need to save up to replace anything you depend on when it wears out - and factor in replacing all your software at the same time. As a rule-of-thumb, most devices last 2-3 years if you treat them roughly or 5-6 years+ if you treat them gently (more for TVs and stereos, less for DVD players). To factor it into your budget, total the costs of all your technology essentials and divide by 36 or 72 to come up with a monthly budget that will provide a generous amount if you can put it into savings each month.
And if you have any ideas of how to save even more money on technology, let The Bargain Queen know! ;)


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Monday, July 10, 2006

Livin' large is easier when your house is really small

Flowers

The Bargain Queen was given this superb bunch of flowers, and it got her thinking about the good side of living in a tiny apartment. The flowers look enormous in our compact dining room/study, which gives the whole place a giant lift. We feel like we're living pretty large with our home full of flowers and it's only taken a single magnificent bunch to do it!

In a 'luxury' house, it doesn't work like that. The Bargain Queen's own place is tiny, but she's been lucky enough to stay in a few big, expensive houses. Not quite movie-star mansions, but places with amazing views, expensive interiors, swimming pools, tennis courts, many bathrooms, rarely used formal wings and individual rooms that are bigger than our apartment. The first few times she was invited to lovely houses, she felt honoured and a little awkward. Then she slowly learnt how much is involved in running a huge house and developed a great deal of respect for those who can manage it (even if that's all they do).

Setting up a large house involves weeks of full-time shopping, which sounds like a lot of fun but rapidly turns into hard work. The Bargain Queen's seen a few big houses with empty rooms because the owners have neither the time nor inclination to furnish them, even if they know what to put in them. It makes perfect sense when you consider that having three separate dining rooms demands a mountain of crockery, dozens of glasses, at least three sets of flatware and accessories, three sideboards to store it all plus three tables and 18 or more chairs. Even if you have some of it already, it's still a big job to organise.

Then there's the matter of household maintenance, because the bigger your home is, the more there is to go wrong. At one friend's place, someone different comes every day to tend things: the cleaner, the pool guys, the security alarm people, the gardener and the builders who are always fixing something. Just coordinating the whole tribe is a part-time job, and there are still other unexpectedly large tasks that have to be done. For example, have you ever considered how much work is involved in keeping five bathrooms stocked with clean towels and toilet paper? The Bargain Queen hadn't either, until she walked around a friend's house for over ten minutes, going from bathroom to bathroom looking for loo paper!

On top of all that, renovating a small house is a breeze compared to a bigger house. We're stressing a little about replacing our kitchen and bathroom, polishing three rooms of floorboards and installing built-in closets in one bedroom... but imagine if we had eight bedrooms, four bathrooms and two kitchens to contend with!

When you understand how much work is involved in maintaining a big house, you realise why a 'luxury' house often doesn't feel very luxurious to its owners. No matter how much you love a place, working hard to keep it nice all the time becomes tiring - and if you neglect any of the basics, luxuries can't compensate the difficulties of living in an unkempt house. So in a roundabout way, living in a small place that requires little maintenance is a great luxury... especially if you have Mr Bargain Queen to do it all for you ;)

Best of all, little luxuries can be fully appreciated in a small house. Those flowers that feel so decadent in our house are scaled a little small for a grand foyer - and without $100+ of flowers, that foyer will probably look a bit empty, so they're more an obligation than a luxury. Plus, the more rooms you have, the more flowers you'd have to buy to get that divine lily fragrance in every room, while we get it in most of the house from one bunch of flowers!

So, sure, we'd love to live in an enormous luxury house one day. But in the meantime (or if it just never happens), a few small luxuries make our tiny apartment feel like a great place to be. Fresh flowers, nice sheets, good wine... heaven!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bargain birthday banquet

Where can you get a 4-course gourmet banquet, including seafood, for 6 people, for $50 (apart from Pizza Hut, I mean)?

Look no further than your own kitchen! It’s the best place to put together a high-class, low-cost gourmet meal. Parking is free, tipping is not required, and there’s no corkage.

This week, with some much-needed help from The Bargain Queen, I prepared a Thai birthday banquet for my step-sister and a few assorted family members. Those who declined the invitation (they know who they are), missed out on a very pleasant evening and a free gourmet meal!

Our menu included an appetiser of Tom Yum Goong (hot & sour shrimp soup) followed by red chicken curry and Pad Thai (shrimp noodles). For dessert, we served black sticky rice, which is a sweet and nutty rice pudding made with delicious dark-coloured rice grains from Thailand. The recipes we’ve linked to aren’t the exact ones we used, but they have some widely-available ingredients for you to try.

Everyone was too full to move at the end of the meal, so my step-sister scored the next day’s lunch and dessert from it all as well!

Total time required was one hour for shopping, 90 minutes of preparation and 90 minutes of cooking. Meanwhile, our guests relaxed around the table enjoying their wine, as guests should in all good restaurants.

Our shopping list included all the Thai staples, plus a few we added from our store cupboard: lemongrass, fish sauce, dried shrimp, fresh shrimp, Thai eggplant, coconut milk, galangal (ginza), black rice, palm sugar, tamarind, lime leaves, peanut oil, Thai basil, sprouts, rice sticks, and a generous helping of “sanuk” (that’s Thai for “fun). The next post will give you some tips for saving on these important exotic ingredients.

The total cost of all raw ingredients bought and used in the cooking was just A$50. That wouldn’t cover entrees for 6 in even a modest suburban restaurant.

OK, so we didn’t include wine in the bill – but when food for six people comes to $50, you can probably afford to splash out on a good bottle or three. Wine is not a traditional drink in Thailand – but the varieties that best complement its fieriness include a chilled sweet Riesling for whites, or a big flavoursome Shiraz (Syrah) for red.

So there you have it. When you have a skill or interest in something as basic as cooking, you can use to create a bit of glamour at home, with restaurant-quality meals for home-cooked price. Plus, there’s no hassle getting home at the end of the night when you’re feeling all “relaxed”!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ten steps to fixing service problems

The Bargain Queen recently made an amazing discovery: the world doesn't end if you complain about a bad haircut. In fact, she got a really good outcome by doing so. This follows hot on the heels of finding that when you eat out, if your meal's raw, overcooked, unacceptably wilted or in any way inedible, you can send it back. Not only does it stop you having to eat it, in places that care about their reputation you might get a free glass of wine as compensation.

Both of these discoveries have saved The Bargain Queen a lot of money. In the case of bad restaurant food, she used to meekly eat what she could, then buy a snack to fill her half-empty belly - and a bad haircut used to cost her much more. First, there was the money she'd paid the hairdresser to butcher her hair. Then she'd buy some new hairclips to try to make it look good, at a cost of around $20. Then she'd buy another heat-styling contraption (about $40) in the hope that would rectify it. By then, it's clear that nothing short of another haircut will turn it around, so The Bargain Queen would pay someone to fix it. She'd usually end up at the salon she stopped going to when they jacked their prices up to $90 for a haircut. That's a total cost of $150 to fix a poor haircut.

Now this might sound like uniquely female idiocy, because boys are rarely as upset about a bad haircut. But The Bargain Queen has seen grown men eat inedible meals and let dodgy tradespeople take advantage of them, so she knows that sometimes the male of the species needs some encouragement to stand up for himself too.

So what can you do if you've got bad service? Here's The Bargain Queen's ten steps to sorting it out.
  1. Get your facts straight. So your meal is awful. What exactly is awful about it? Is it overcooked? Undercooked? Are the ingredients not fresh enough? Was it already cold when it arrived? Before you speak up, make sure you know and can articulate exactly what you're unhappy with. For food, this is relatively easy; most of us know what fresh, well-cooked food looks like. In other areas (say, fire alarm installation) you might need to get a second opinion or learn some of the lingo before you're ready to talk to the service provider.

  2. Pick your moment. Some things are best handled quickly. For example, any complaint about food is more convincing if it's made before you've finished eating the meal. Likewise, if your haircut is going horribly wrong, it's best to stop them before all your hair is green. In other cases, taking the time to learn more about what's been done can provide a better outcome. Any highly skilled professional (e.g. accountants, tradespeople or medical professionals) should be happy to answer your questions about what they're doing and why. If you're not happy with their response, you're entitled to ask them to stop work and get a second opinion.

  3. Talk to the right person. If the service you're unhappy with was provided by an organisation, there's more than one person you could talk to about it. If you find the person with the greatest ability to solve your problem, you're more likely to get a good resolution. In a restaurant, ask for the manager instead of complaining to the waitress; for construction work, you want to speak to the builder or site manager; in a medical situation, a doctor or specialist can offer more options than a nurse; and in a big company, the complaints department are more likely to help you than anyone else.

  4. Be nice. Some people think that to be nice, you can't tell anyone you're unhappy with what they've done. Instead, they complain to everyone else for days/weeks/months afterwards. This isn't nice behaviour, it's passive-aggressive.

    So how do you behave nicely in this situation? Be polite but firm. There's no need to yell, call the other person names or make threats, and none of these actions will get you a good resolution anyway. The Bargain Queen opens these conversations by saying: "Excuse me. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm really not happy with the service I got here because..." If you can think of something similar that works to you, you're off to a good start.

  5. Stick to the facts. In step one we got our facts straight; now it's time to articulate them. So instead of saying your burger was revolting, tell the manager calmly that it was cold when it arrived, the bread is rock hard, the meat is a little green and there's a cockroach in the lettuce. This step is about establishing exactly what you're unhappy with, not about venting anger. If you sound like you've already passed judgement ("This place is crap! Your food is disgusting!"), you give the impression that you won't be happy even if they fix the problem, so they're less likely to try.

    If you want to express your feelings about the situation, do it after you've gone through the facts. Make sure you criticise the product rather than the people and try to stay calm. For example, you might add that you find roach-ridden burgers unappetising, but don't say they must be dirty people if there's a roach in the lettuce; there are other explanations.

  6. Ask what they can do about it. Once you've told them why you're not happy, ask politely what they can do to fix the situation. Negotiation experts say you should let the other side make the initial offer, but if there's relatively little at stake, this isn't always necessary. For example, in the scenario above, you might not feel like risking another burger, but if your friend's soup looked so nice you'd rather have that instead, ask them politely and you'll probably get it. If you don't know what you'd like, you can always say "I'm not sure what can be done to fix this, but I'd love to hear any suggestions you have", which will usually get them to make an offer.

  7. Don't go away. In some cases, the person you speak to will become defensive or make excuses rather than working to fix the problem. If this happens, stay where you are. Repeat that you're not happy with the service and would like them to fix it. Once you've established that you won't leave until you get an outcome you're happy with, sane people will start negotiating. You might also offer your sympathy if they're having a tough day and you're the kind of person who does that naturally, as this can help establish that you're a nice customer who shouldn't cop bad service. Just make sure you steer the conversation back to what they'll do to help you when the time comes.

  8. Accept their offer graciously. So the other person has offered to fix your problem by giving you something extra, be it another meal, a free fix-up haircut or some rectification work around your house. Tell them you'd really appreciate it and let them get on with it. Your work here is almost done.

  9. Thank them profusely. When they've provided you with what you need, thank them profusely for doing it. Sure, you've gone through a lot of extra hassle to get what you should have been given to begin with; but they've gone through the painful process of fixing their mistake to give it to you. While you were initially the aggrieved party, they've worked much harder than usual to keep you happy, so they deserve a pat on the back.

  10. Give them good word-of-mouth. If they did a brilliant job of fixing your problem, they deserve public praise. The best in any business make occasional errors and the ability to fix them is what separates fantastic service providers from those who are merely good. So if they did something great in the end, sing their praises!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Supermodel or sumo: you choose

Will the things you've eaten today help you look supermodel-svelte or sumo wrestler-squishy? Are you really doing enough exercise to make up for an occasional pack of chocolate bickies? And most importantly, are you getting the nutrients you need to be really healthy?

There's a site called FitDay which can tell you all that and more, and it's free! The Bargain Queen put in her height and weight, then entered all the exercise she's done for the last few days (including shopping ;) and everything she's eaten lately. Here's what she found out:
  1. She's right in the middle of the healthy weight range for her height, even though she's just outgrown a couple of pairs of jeans and feels like a hippo.
  2. Her calorie intake each day is about right and the couple of glasses of wine she drinks 3-4 nights a week aren't as fattening as she thought.
  3. On the days when she goes for a nice long walk, she burns 200+ more calories than she normally eats.
  4. The bad news? She doesn't get enough of a whole lot of nutrients, including zinc, calcium, vitamin D, a couple of B vitamins and folate!
The Bargain Queen now feels justified to stop stressing about her weight. It's the middle of winter, so what's a couple of inches anyway? On the other hand, she has to up her nutrient intake by eating more of the following (in rough order of how much of the nutrient they contain):
  • Zinc: oysters, mussels, scallops, red meat, poultry
  • Calcium: dairy (except The Bargain Queen's lactose intolerant so that ain't going to happen), canned salmon w bones, Chinese cabbage, kale, broccoli
  • Vitamin D: sunshine! Or if it's really overcast, fish
  • Vitamin B2: mushrooms, liver (ew!), green vegies, egg
  • Vitamin B3: liver, peanuts, chicken, tuna, salmon, turkey
  • Folate: liver, lentils, green vegies
(This isn't an exhaustive list of the foods that contained each of these nutrients; if you want more info, Google know all ;)

Now The Bargain Queen doesn't recommend this level of analysis every day (unless you're medically classed as obese and your weight threatens your health). She's always maintained that the more you think about food as calories and nutrient rather than flavours and textures, the less fun it is to eat - although she also eats what makes her feel healthy because if she went solely by flavour she'd eat mostly chocolate and then she'd feel ill.

But despite her aversion to calorie counters and weight-loss diets, The Bargain Queen found this fun and will probably keep doing it as an occasional check-up. It's a bit like those web quizzes that are so popular with the young people these days, only with a more meaningful outcome than finding out which Happy Days character you're most like. If you're procrastinating online right now, give it a go!

(Found via a link on I Wish I Were Buffy.)


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