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Oct 292012
 October 29, 2012  Posted by  Budgeting and Organization, Money

Restaurant chains like Golden Corralhave carved out a successful niche in the restaurant world by promising as much food as you can eat for one price. It only makes sense that other industries would follow suit and dangle the same goodies.

But just as  you eventually realize you paid $11 for a chicken leg, roll and some chocolate pudding, it’s easy to overpay on these all-you-can plans. Before you buy, a little planning with a calculator will ensure you are making a savvy financial move. Here are three examples:

Amazon Prime: $79 buys you FREE two-day shipping for 12 months on any Prime purchases. That’s the first catch. The item you purchase must have the Prime symbol next to it, and occasionally another vendor within the site will offer a cheaper price even with shipping. So you need to continue price comparisons even with these magical powers.  Second, ask yourself what you realistically would buy from an online shopping site over 12 months. The average standard shipping price  per order at Amazon is between $3.99 and $4.99  (more, of course, for bulkier items like computers, which usually ship free from online sites thanks to their higher costs anyhow). That’s 15 items minimum you need to buy from Amazon to break even. That’s not a great deal if you use this outlet only to buy holiday gifts.

Video: How to Avoid Holiday Overspending

If you own a Kindle, the free lending library for Prime members might have some value. In our household, the ability to watch older movies and TV serieses on our laptops at no charge allowed us to replace a Netflix subscription. These additional Prime perks put the program in the “buy” category for us. Again, your mileage may vary.

Angie’s List: Angie’s List has, for all practical purposes, replaced the Better Business Bureau among consumers who want to know whether they can trust a service provider in their area. It’s paid for by membership dues, so the vendors can’t buy or influence a good report. But at $39 for an annual membership (Angie has been known to lower that price if you create an account and abandon the cart before actually purchasing), make sure you need to vet more than one or two services. In our first year, our household used it to vet a pool leak detection expert and a plumber. That’s a steep price — we would have come out ahead buying a $4.25 monthly access in the months we had a need.

Angie’s List does offer members what it calls The Big Deal, which is essentially a half price offer for services like duct cleaning or driveway repair in your city (it works like Groupon and Living Social). If you are in a full-blown remodeling phase of home ownership, this could mean the annual membership pays itself immediately. Otherwise, it’s also possible you won’t find a single deal to take advantage of during your membership. So far, we’re batting zero in our household.

Crimson Romance: It’s all-you-can read ebook romances for $12.99 a month or $59.99 a year. Because this new publisher puts out five titles a week acr0ss contemporary, historical, paranoromal, suspense and spicy categories, you could download 260 books, at 23 cents a book. It’s an amazing deal for readers who devour everything, and want their stories stored on the Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc. On the other hand, the category distribution isn’t even, so you if you read only historical novels, you’d have downloaded just 10 titles so far in 2012. That’s still an affordable $5.99 a book, but not the breath-taking deal you expected at purchase.

Know, too, that these are new authors. Discovering their talents can be fun, but if you follow a particular best-selling name, you’ll still have to shell out for those books through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Same with mainstream novels and self-help books. This likely won’t be the only purchase you make from your reading budget by a long shot.

Is all you can eat, read, ship, etc., a good deal? Analyze your habits and do the math before you buy.

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Julie Sturgeon

Julie Sturgeon is a serial entrepreneur, successfully working as a self-employed business journalist for 25 years. Today she owns Curing Cold Feet travel agency, and has been featured as a travel expert in Time magazine. She also runs social media management company CEOMarketer, where she has increased sales for companies that range from independent hotels to online retailers selling aftermarket parts for Nissans. Lastly, she works behind the scenes as a development editor at Crimson Romance. Julie doesn't sleep much, but she will drop work when IU is playing basketball. She owns and operates Indianapolis On The Cheap.

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