MONEY Shopping

CONTEST: Are You America’s Smartest Shopper?

140724_FF_SmartestShopper_1

MONEY's fellow Time Inc. publication, ALL YOU, is launching a contest to track down the country's savviest shopper, sponsored by Samsung. Here's how to enter.

Visit allyou.com/smartestshopper to share your best shopping tip and a photo that illustrates that tip. You can also enter on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #aysmartestshopper. Entries will be accepted from July 25th through August 15th.

ALL YOU will select 25 semifinalists who will be given a new Samsung Galaxy S5 to create a 60-second video that explains why they deserve the title of America’s Smartest Shopper. Those entries will be winnowed down to 10 finalists; ALL YOU, voters, and a panel of saving-savvy judges will determine the winner. The big reveal will air live on NBC’s TODAY show later this fall.

How to vote

Visit allyou.com/smartestshopper from September 17th until October 3rd to cast your vote.

The prizes

The winner will take home $1,000, plus a Samsung prize package that includes a Tab S 8.4 Wifi, Gear Fit and Smart TV.

Two runners-up will each receive $50, plus Tab S 8.4 Wifi, Gear Fit and Samsung Level headphones.

All three finalists will receive a trip with a guest to New York City, where the winner will be revealed live on NBC’s TODAY Show.

 

MONEY freebies

Marvel Comics or The New Yorker: Choose Your Binge-Reading Bargain

To celebrate Comic-Con and the makeover of a literary journal's website, fans can binge on cheap (or free!) all-you-can-read deals.

If you’re looking to escape summer’s swelter by binge-reading about alternate universes, bizarre worlds, and fascinating people you’ve never heard about and didn’t think could exist in real life, man, are you in luck!

Not one but two binge-reading bonanzas have recently made their debut. First, The New Yorker announced that it is opening the entirety of its archives to all, free of charge, for the entire summer, to celebrate the makeover of its website. (Normally, much of the archive is accessible only for paid subscribers.)

Then, in a deal coinciding with this week’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Marvel Comics is offering a special “Marvel Unlimited” package, with one month’s access to more than 15,000 digital comics for just 99¢. (New subscribers must use the promo code SDCC14 when signing up for the service, which usually runs $9.99 per month or $69 per year.)

What might you read? Wired suggests that Marvel subscribers should check out some of the Infinite Comics that have been specially designed for the digital experience, such as the six-issue Captain America: The Winter Soldier (inspiration for the recent film). Meanwhile, BuzzFeed, Vox, Digg, and Slate are among the many publications that have weighed in with recommendations for New Yorker reading while the archive door is wide open.

The suggested free New Yorker readings from Business Insider are heavy on gripping but grisly tales of war, genocide, and evil, such as Seymour Hersh’s “Torture at Abu Ghraib” and Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” the latter about the trial of the infamous Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann. After reading some of these stories, it might be time to turn one’s attention back over to Captain America.

MONEY deals

Movie Ticket Prices are Going Up. Here’s How to See the Latest Blockbuster for Less

140724_EM_MovieTickets
PhotoAlto—Alamy

Planning to catch a summer blockbuster this weekend? Use these 6 tips to save big at the movie theater.

The average movie ticket climbed to $8.33 in the second quarter of 2014, up from $7.96 earlier this year, according to the National Association of Theater Owners. Why the price creep? Industry watchers blame big summer blockbusters like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which sold tons of tickets to expensive 3D and IMAX screenings.

Of course, in many parts of the country, an $8.33 movie sounds like a bargain. Take New York City, where it’s not unusual to pay $15 a pop for a regular flick, or $19 for 3D. But don’t let those nosebleed prices force you to settle for summer’s reality TV swill or drive you to—gasp!—go outside. Here’s how to get your movie fix for less.

Join a Club

Most of the big chains offer some sort of loyalty program. If you tend to go to a certain theater regularly, these clubs are an easy way to earn discounted or free snacks and tickets. One program that stands out: AMC Stubs, which costs $12 a year to join but lets members bypass those annoying “convenience fees” you usually pay when you buy ticket online.

Buy in Bulk

If you’re willing to commit to buying a stack of tickets (or, technically, “passes”), you can cut your price to $8 or less. Many theater chains sell bulk passes; Landmark Theaters, for instance, sells packs of 25 at $8 per ticket. Just be sure to read the fine print; passes will sometimes exclude certain theaters or types of screenings.

Go Wholesale

Wholesale clubs offer similar bulk deals and may have bargain options on a smaller scale. Recently, Sam’s Club offered a Cinemark gift card good for two adult tickets for $15.89.

Get a Discounted Gift Card

It’s pretty easy to track down cinema gift cards on eBay or card resale sites like CardCash.com and Raise. To get a quick sense of your options, try GiftCardGranny.com, which aggregates the deals offered by a variety of sites. A search for AMC Theaters, for instance, turned up 420 discounted gift cards.

Check Your Credit Card

Do you have Visa Signature card? If so, check out the deal the card company is offering through online ticket seller Fandango: two-for-one tickets to Friday shows.

Some cards also let you leverage your cinephilia for better cash back or points rewards. The US Bank Cash Plus card, for instance, will allow you to pick movies as one of your 5% cash-back categories.

Try Daily Deal Sites

While bargain sites are unpredictable, most of the big ones feature movie tickets relatively regularly. Both Groupon and Livingsocial have recently offered discounted Fandango deals.

 

MONEY deals

It’s a Great Day for Mas Cheap (Sometimes Free!) Tequila

Margaritas
Jonelle Weaver—Getty Images

In honor of National Tequila Day, bars and restaurants are offering deals like $2 shots and $2 margaritas—and in at least one case, margaritas are totally free.

Thursday, July 24, is being celebrated as National Tequila Day, yet another of what seems like an endless stream of fake, completely made-up holidays. Contrived marketing scheme or not, today’s holiday comes with a range of tequila-infused deals and promotions in bars and restaurants around the country—so, yeah, there’s good reason to celebrate.

Nationally, the On the Border restaurant chain is selling $2 house margaritas and $2 shots of Lunazul Reposado Tequila all day at participating locations. Other national chains with National Tequila Day specials include Abuelo’s, where hand-crafted margaritas are $5.95 all day, and Chevy’s, where deals like $2 house margaritas and $4 shots of Cuervo Silver or Cinge come with the added bonus of being available not only on Thursday, but every day through Sunday, July 27.

Individual bars and restaurants have National Tequila Day specials of their own, so it’s as easy as doing a “Tequila Day Deal + Your Town” search to find them, or just show up at your local watering hole and hope for the best. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find, thanks to the help of local bloggers and writers around the country:

New York City: Horchata, in Greenwich Village, is teaming up with Patron and is giving away free margaritas featuring the new tequila Patrón Rocca from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. A half-price happy hour stretches from 4 to 7 p.m. as well. Sources such as Metro list tons of other spots that are primed for celebrating National Tequila Day on Thursday.

Washington, D.C.: The options include $3 shots of Sauza Blanco at Agua 301.

Las Vegas: Cabo Wabo has had half-priced tequila shots since Monday, while Park on Fremont and The Salted Lime offer $2 drink specials.

Houston: Look for $2 tequila shots, $1.99 margarias, and $5 appetizers at restaurants throughout the city.

We’ve also come across National Tequila Day promotion roundups for Denver, Phoenix, and all over Connecticut, so suffice it to say: If you’re hankering for a tequila deal today, head to the nearest downtown bar-and-restaurant district and you’ll find one.

As an added unexpected bonus/justification for bar-hopping tonight, a recent health study has found that the sugars in tequila could help you lose weight. Cheers!

MONEY freebies

Free Jamocha Shakes at Arby’s on Wednesday

Arby's restaurant sign, Central Florida.
Arby's restaurant sign, Central Florida. Ian Dagnall—Alamy

The fast food chain Arby's is turning 50, and it's celebrating by giving out free shakes

In honor of its 50th anniversary, Arby’s is giving out free Jamocha shakes on Wednesday, July 23. All customers have to do for a free frosty 310-calorie beverage is follow that link, enter a name, and print out a coupon good for a complimentary 12 oz. shake at participating Arby’s restaurants.

The shake is listed on Arby’s low-priced Snack ‘n Save menu, and depending on the location, it might cost as little as $1.09 usually. But a freebie’s a freebie.

The shake giveaway is one of several periodically offered to Arby’s customers. The chain is known for handing out free curly fries on Tax Day, April 15, and customers are lured with the promise of a free Roast Beef Classic sandwich if they’re willing to sign up to receive news about the latest Arby’s deals and promotions.

And these and other efforts to please the chain’s biggest fans and bring in new customers are part of a campaign introduced two years that included a makeover of the company logo, and its image in general. At the time, consumer surveys ranked Arby’s among the worst fast food chains. Arby’s has tried to revamp its reputation by spending millions on restaurant renovations and adding more than a dozen new items to the menu. The chain has also been attempting to get hipper, scoring a big social media success earlier this year at the Grammys, when the company Tweeted about Pharrell Williams “stealing” the oversized hat on the Arby’s logo, launching a million laughs and retweets.

Rolling out the occasional freebie should put smiles on people’s faces too.

MONEY Food & Drink

It’s National Ice Cream Day!

140620_EM_IceCream_Moos_1
Cones from Maggie Moo's and Marble Slab Creamery. courtesy of Maggie Moo's and Marble Slab Creamery

On July 20, celebrate National Ice Cream Day with these additions to your sundae: a sprinkling of interesting and exciting developments in the world of ice cream.

Earlier this summer, our intrepid ice cream reporter, Brad Tuttle, brought you news of developments in the world of frozen confections. In honor of National Ice Cream Day on Sunday, we’re bringing back his post to help you celebrate by getting the most calories for the least amount of money.

As if developments in the world of ice cream could possibly be uninteresting or unexciting! Among other things, going out for ice cream this summer will be a bit …

Cheaper and Easier After realizing that consumers had begun to think that charging extra for “mix-ins” was a rip-off, sister ice cream chains Maggie Moo’s and Marble Slab officially introduced a new pricing structure this past spring, and as a result customers are a lot less likely to be surprised with a bill for $8 or $9 for a cup of ice cream. According to the new system, prices are set strictly by the size of the cup or cone (generally $3 to $6), and customers can request as many “mix-in” ingredients they want to be mashed into their personalized order, at no extra charge.

Swankier and Pricier Godiva stores recently began selling soft-serve ice cream in a choice of White Chocolate Vanilla Bean, Dark Chocolate, or a Swirl of the two, sold in a crunchy Belgian Waffle cone available with rimmed melted milk or dark chocolate, with or without pralines, or just plain. Along with the upscale cone comes an upscale price: About $6.

SONIC Blue Raspberry with NERDS Candy Slush Dan Goldberg

Slushier and Nerdier Sonic Drive-in, which is in the midst of a huge expansion around the country, has rolled out 50 special ice cream shake and slush flavors for the summer season. The shakes, made with real ice cream, come in flavors like Oreo Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate Covered Jalapeno, while several new super sweet slush varieties are on the menu this year, including Polynesian Punch and Blue Raspberry—made with classic Nerds candy. Bonus: At participating locations, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., slushes are half-price, and shakes are half-price after 8 p.m. every day this summer.

Weirder and … Sandier? Included in the summer 2014 lineup at Baskin-Robbins are curious flavors such as State Fair Fried Dough (cinnamon caramel ice cream with pieces of funnel cake and fried dough) and the Sand Pail Cake, which thankfully only looks like something you’d dig up at the beach: It’s a cake featuring crushed graham crackers as the sand, along with icing decorated to look like sea creatures.

Big Gay Ice Cream truck in Los Angeles Donny Tsang

Deliciously Gayer After years of successfully operating ice cream food trucks and two New York City shops, Big Gay Ice Cream—home of a rainbow-unicorn logo, flavors like the Salty Pimp and the Bea Arthur, acclaimed as the best ice cream parlor in the U.S.—is expanding in a big gay way in 2014. Its first non-New York shop will be open this summer, in downtown Los Angeles.

MONEY Tech

Should You Snap Up a (Cheap) Plasma TV Before They’re All Gone?

A visitor looks at a Samsung ultraslim plasma flatscreen television.
Jochen Eckel—Bloomberg

First Panasonic. Now Samsung. With the big makers dropping plasma, now could be a smart time to buy a TV.

Plasma TVs are going the way of the floppy disk, Walkman, and VCR. This month, Samsung announced that it would stop making plasmas by the end of November. Panasonic got out of the game last year. That leaves just LG to carry the plasma torch—and that probably won’t last. Indeed, by 2016, research firm IHS says plasma TVs will be completely vanish from the U.S. market.

So, with plasma on the way out, should you expect to start seeing killer discounts on TVs that use the technology? And, if you do spot a plasma bargain, should you buy it, or will you just end up with a 60-inch doorstop?

Plasma Prices

Let’s start with prices. No need to hotfoot it to Best Buy right now, according to industry watchers. Panasonic’s exit from the market didn’t have a significant effect on prices, says Ty Pendlebury of CNET.com, and Samsung’s move is expected to be similarly uneventful, at least in the short term. However, that may change “at the very end,” Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for the NPD Group. Eventually, retailers will be looking to move those last few plasmas to make room for newer stock and the markdowns will shift into high gear.

The average selling price for a plasma is currently $878, expected to drop 14% to $752 in 2015, according to IHS. On paper, plasmas seem more expensive than LCDs, which have an average price of $735. (A note: Some types of LCD TVs are often referred to LEDs. In this story, “LCD” refers to both types.) That’s misleading, though, because LCDs come in a range of sizes, while plasmas are only made in large (and thus expensive) sizes. When comparing TVs of similar size and quality, says Will Greenwald, who covers consumer tech for PCMag.com, plasma is cheaper.

The takeaway: If you’re in the market for a big TV, plasmas are a good deal and will likely get even cheaper. Just don’t expect to see fire-sale prices.

Is Obsolescence Really So Bad?

People who love plasmas–and they definitely exist–love them because they have great color contrast, a clear, sharp picture, and a wider “viewing angle” than LCD models, meaning you can sit further to the side of the screen without seeing a distorted image. However, they’re also massive energy hogs, and aren’t as thin or bright as other technologies.

The reason so many companies are dropping plasma has little to do with the technology itself. Rather, as LCD models have gotten better and cheaper to produce, it’s become less logical for manufactures to build and maintain factories capable of building only large, pricey plasmas.

Still, if you’re buying a technology that you know is headed for extinction, it’s worth considering what will happen if you need to get a new part for your plasma or have it repaired. Consumer Reports argues that TVs from the top brands are reliable and will continue to support their products. A Samsung rep echoed this, saying the company “will continue to provide support for our plasma TVs and our customer service policy will remain the same as before.” That said, it’s difficult to predict what repair options you’ll actually have.

So You Want to Buy

If you think a plasma could be the right buy for you, check out the Samsung F8500, which CNET dubs “the last great plasma TV.” Starting at $1,800 for the smallest 51-inch model, down from $2,700, “this TV is a very good value and will easily beat any LCD under $3,000 for picture quality,” says Pendlebury.

 

MONEY deals

3 Tricks to Live Like You’re Rich Without Paying for It

JetSuite
JetSuite Jessica Ambats

Private jets, swanky restaurants, and top-notch hotels can all be had without paying anywhere close to top dollar.

Okay, so you can’t afford flights on private jets and five-star hotel stays. Don’t sweat it. Few people can.

But don’t let the usually astronomical prices of “the good life” hold you back. If you want a taste of how the other half lives—and shops and travels and eats—a few smart strategies and good timing can bring the price tag down to a level within almost anyone’s budget. Here’s how to go about it.

Fly on a Private Jet … for a Coach-Class Fare

JetSuite, a unique flight aggregation service, sells seats on private jets that are about to depart for places like Martha’s Vineyard and the Bahamas. For travelers who can book at the last minute—with a few friends, usually—it’s an opportunity to skip security lines and travel like a CEO, at a price on par with coach. Recent deals, which had to be booked on the day of travel or at most one day ahead, include a one-way flight from North Kingstown, RI, to Vineyard Harbor (Martha’s Vineyard) for up to six people, and Oakland to San Jose, Calif., for up to four people, for $536.

MarketWatch pointed out that JetSuite is one of several services offering discounted private jet bookings. Others include Surf Air and Flight Air Taxi. In most cases, to get the best deal you’ll have to be extremely flexible with your schedule, and be ready to head to a private runway with a few buddies at the drop of a hat. That’s a small price to pay for snagging a cheap flight that otherwise would cost thousands.

Eat in a Swanky Restaurant … for Half Price

Even the finest restaurants have trouble attracting a crowd at the early bird special time of 5 or 5:30 p.m. To fill tables during these slow periods, restaurants have been turning to discounting services such as Groupon Reserve, which typically give diners 20% or 30% off for reserving a table before the peak dinner rush, or they simply offer their own early-dinner deals.

Recent Groupon Reserve deals with a 5 p.m. reservation time included 30% off at Italiannissimo in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Bissap Baobob in San Francisco, or Mela in Boston. Unlike the usual Groupon deal, with Groupon Reserve there’s no prepayment required, and no need to hand the server a printout or flash a smartphone screen. The discount is automatically factored into your reservation, and yes, it’s applied to the table’s entire bill—booze included.

This summer, the Wall Street Journal also called attention to high-end restaurants that have dipped into the realm of “early bird” deals without making them seem like only something your grandparents in Scottsdale would go for—and without bothering with any coupon site or online service. For example, Recette, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, has a Summer Supper special from 5:30 to 7 p.m. only featuring four courses for $40. Normally, the restaurant’s multi-course tasting menus start at $78.

Enjoy a First-Rate Hotel … for $25

Rooms at the Savoy Hotel in Miami Beach generally start at around $250 during the off season. But a summer special is being offered to guests for just $25. The catch? The deal doesn’t include a hotel room. It’s a promotion aimed at travelers—and locals in particular—who want a taste of high-end hotel amenities at a cheap price, and who are already set with accommodations. The $25 grants a guest access to the Savoy’s plush pool area, fitness center, and beachfront, with all the pool recliners, towels, and free wi-fi you want.

The Savoy’s day pass deal is one of several in South Florida highlighted recently by the Miami Herald. The “day-cation” promotions sometimes come with perks like spa treatments and lunch, though when those extras are included the package tends to cost a lot more than $25. On the flip side, daily deals for, well, day-only deals at hotels from sites like Travelzoo and Groupon sometimes mean that guests can take advantage of non-room hotel and resort amenities for even less than $25 per person.

Many high-end Caribbean resorts also welcome visitors to partake of their amenities even if they haven’t booked a room. Understandably, such resort day passes are often marketed to cruise passengers, who obviously have no need for overnight accommodations but who might enjoy kicking back at the pool, swimming on the private beach, and taking advantage of the resort’s buffet while the ship is in port. The cruise experts at CruiseCritic rounded up a long list of Caribbean resorts offering day passes, which cost as little as $12 per person.

MONEY Airlines

Tell an Airline How Much You Hate It and Get 8,000 Free Miles

140710_EM_IHateSpirit_1
courtesy of Spirit

The obvious downside of Spirit Airlines' new promo is that you receive 8,000 miles to use on an airline you hate.

The “Hate Thousand Miles” promotion, introduced by Spirit Airlines this week, couldn’t be attached to a more appropriate company. Spirit, known for selling low-cost flights that come with a host of pricey “gotcha” fees, is famous for being a magnet for traveler hate. The carrier is routinely referred to as the Most Hated Airline in the U.S. What’s more, in the recent past, Spirit has more or less taken the stance that it doesn’t care that it is hated by people. “We’re not for everybody, and we’re fine with that,” a Spirit spokesperson told Businessweek in 2013, after the latest survey placed the airline at the very bottom of consumer rankings.

With its new promotion, Spirit seems to be fully embracing its reviled status. Or perhaps it’s trying to bury the hatchet. According to the terms of the deal, anyone with a Spirit Airlines frequent flier account can go to hatethousandmiles.com, spew some ill will, and then collect 8,000 free miles. While it’s assumed most haters will hate on Spirit, you can actually register a complaint about any airline at the site.

“Hate on us – or any airline of your choosing – and we’ll send you 8,000 FREE SPIRIT miles. You’ll be well on your way to earning an award flight with us,” Spirit explains.

Reward flights on Spirit can be had for as little as 10,000 miles one-way, so indeed, with 8,000 free miles, you’re almost there. But again, the downside is that you’ll have to fly on the airline you (probably) just officially targeted with hate.

What’s behind this oddball promotion? Publicity, for one thing. Spirit Airlines is known for being outrageous, with a history of invoking trending scandals (Anthony Weiner, the BP oil spill, Richie Incognito) in ads.

More important, Spirit is trying to use the hate campaign as an education opportunity. Following in the footsteps of Ryanair, Europe’s hated airline that launched a friendly rebranding earlier this year, Spirit stepped up efforts to explain its pricing structure and customer service policies with a campaign that began in May. The Hate Thousand Miles promotion is being viewed as a way for Spirit to call attention to the ins and outs of how it does its hated business, thereby, hopefully, dispelling some of the hate.

“We see this as an opportunity to educate consumers about the differences of Spirit, and in return for their hate, we’ll give them a little bit of love in the form of free miles,” the airline said in a statement to the press.

Perhaps Spirit will also read what it is that customers are complaining about, and make some changes accordingly in order to make passengers happier–or at least less filled with hate.

If you’re in the process of booking or flying on Spirit and want to vent your hate right away, however, there’s a note in the fine print of the Hate Thousand Miles offer you should be aware of: “Submitting your hate feedback is not a means to submit correspondence to our Customer Support team.”

In this case, you’ll need to send your hate message twice: once to customer service, and secondly to the Hate site in order to get your free miles. If you want them.

MONEY freebies

7-Eleven Free Slurpee Day Supersized Into a Freebie Week

As usual, 7-Eleven customers get free Slurpees on 7-Eleven Day (Friday, July 11). What's unusual this year is what comes after 7/11: seven more days of freebies.

+ READ ARTICLE

In what has become a wildly popular annual tradition, July 11 is celebrated as 7-Eleven Day by the convenience store giant. The average customer probably refers to the day as something different, though: Free Slurpee Day. On that day, all customers are entitled to a free Slurpee, no coupon or loyalty program membership required.

Last year, when 7-Eleven increased the size of free Slurpees from 7.11 ounces to a regular Small (12 ounces), something like 7 million free Slurpees were slurped by customers. Even more are expected this year, when 7-Eleven has upped its game again, transforming its ordinary one-day giveaway into eight days in a row of freebies.

While 7-Eleven Day works like normal—anyone who shows up from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. gets a free Slurpee—the rest of the freebies require the download of a 7-Eleven app. Do so and show your smartphone screen to a 7-Eleven clerk on the appropriate day for these freebies:

Saturday, July 12: Big Gulp
Sunday, July 13: M&M’s Birthday Cake Flavor Candies
Monday, July 14: Grandma’s Cookies
Tuesday, July 15: Twinkies
Wednesday, July 16: Snickers or Twix Ice Cream Bar
Thursday, July 17: Quaker Chewy Yogurt Snack Bar
Friday, July 18: Pillsbury Cookie
Saturday, July 19: Small Slurpee

That’s a lot of freebies.

Why does 7-Eleven do it? One reason is that giveaways are good for business. When a consumer is handed something for free, it generates good will—and a sense of obligation to want to pay that nicety back in some form. So when a customer gets a free sample at a supermarket, he’s more likely to buy whatever it is he tasted, or at least to buy a little something extra. When the sample is little in size, there’s also a tendency to want a little more.

That’s why, historically, the day that 7-Eleven hands out free Slurpees is also usually a huge day for sales of Slurpees, as well as sales of other items. And what goes well with Slurpees?

As company executives explained to USA Today, stores will be pushing “Big Bite hot dogs for $1 on Friday (usually $1.99) to wash down with the free Slurpees.” The new Doritos Loaded cheese sticks, unleashed on the public in early July, will probably also be big sellers.

The requirement to download an app also makes a lot of sense for 7-Eleven. In today’s noisy, ad-splashed world, brands and retailers love the idea of having such a direct connection—and sales path—to consumers. But it’s gotten harder and harder to convince consumers they should download yet another app, especially one that’s going to spam them with news and promotions they don’t necessarily want. Few are going to download an app for, say, a measly 50¢ discount.

But a whole week of freebies? A lot of folks will say: Sign me up.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser