Category Archives: Miscellaneous Tactics

Why my Shed is Full of 40″ Giant Soccer Balls

Kids play with giant soccer ballsEveryone knows that 40″ giant soccer balls are all the rage right now with today’s youngsters.

But the problem is: where can they find these hot, in-demand items?  Aren’t they sold out across the country?  Don’t you see empty shelves every time you stop by your local oversized sports equipment store?

That’s where I come in!  I’m cracking open my special reserve supply of giant 40″ soccer balls and offering them for sale on Amazon, E-bay, in person, and at my upcoming garage sale.

Why do I have a shed full of giant soccer balls?

Well, there’s a bit of a story involved here, but first let me tell you why you should care.  This isn’t the typical type of blog post for this site.  But as I describe in my “about site” page, being a value tactician isn’t all about credit cards and free travel. It’s about spotting valuable opportunities wherever and wherever they present themselves.

On to the story . . .

One day, a little over a year ago, my good friend Jerry calls me up and says, “Do you have room somewhere to store a bunch of huge boxes for a while?”

With 5 kids and a huge horde of free Menards stuff, I’m a little short on space.  So I says to Jerry, I says, “What’s in the boxes and what’s in it for me?”

Jerry then proceeds to tell me about how his dad’s acquaintance was using his dad’s pole shed to store a bunch of giant 40″ soccer balls.  Jerry’s dad had been looking at these things for years and decides he wanted them gone.  After trying unsuccessfully for several months to track down this acquaintance, he tells Jerry to get the balls out of his sight.  He tells Jerry he has 48 hours to do something with them or else he was going to drive them to the dump.

Now Jerry, he’s quite a value tactician in his own right.  He’s not one to let a bunch of humongous mutant sports equipment go to waste.  Seeing the value in these new, in-package balls prompts him to make that call to me, requesting storage space.

So Jerry and I look these things up online and they’re selling for over $80 a pop.  We were right to see the value in these balls!  We do some negotiating, strike a deal for splitting the profit, and before you know it, I got boxes and boxes of giant 40″ soccer balls crammed into my shed.

giant soccer balls

. . . And that’s how I ended up being an ad hoc giant soccer ball salesman!

The value in miscellaneous/opportunistic tactics

Obviously the “giant soccer ball tactic” isn’t really something I can teach to others, since it came about from a once in a lifetime scenario.  But you can apply the same strategy and principles I did to many different situations.

The key is to not automatically dismiss opportunities to make or save money.  Take a second to estimate if it will be worth your time and effort.  Do you think I jumped at the idea of storing, listing, and shipping a huge amount of jumbo soccer balls?  No!  It was only after some brief investigation that I discovered how much potential value the effort might provide.

If I had written off the idea based on my first reaction, I would have missed out on hundreds of dollars of relatively easy income!  And more importantly, children everywhere would be without their 40″ giant soccer balls.  And that’s a world I don’t want to live in.

Some inspirational examples

Spotting valuable opportunities for free money, free stuff, or money savings is something you’ve probably done your whole life.  What I would encourage though, is to open your mind to opportunities you may have ignored in the past.  I highlight a few of these on the Miscellaneous Tactics page.

Here are some other examples I have shown on the ValueTactics Facebook page or in various blog posts:

And don’t forget the $150 worth of free meat, booze, and gift cards I got a few years ago with Small Business Saturday.  (The program no longer gives you free stuff, but that’s part of the point here: take advantage of opportunities when they’re there!)
My 2014 Small Business Saturday haul: 5 bottles of wine, 1 bottle of rum, 6-pack of beer, some jerky and meat sticks, frozen brats and burgers, $50 in movie theater gift cards, and a kid's birthday gift (gift-wrapped, not pictured) ... all for about $11 in odd store totals.

Now your turn!

Notice three of those 4 examples were submitted by readers.  I want to hear about the valuable deals and tactics you have found!  Leave a comment below or interact on the Facebook page!



Order Contacts Without a Prescription

The Problem

Have you ever tried to order contacts without a prescription?  If you have, you already share my frustration.  If you haven’t, try it sometime.  You’ll run into a brick wall at every website or retail store you try to order from.  Most contact lens prescriptions expire after 1 year, and if you’re a day over that expiration, no one will sell to you.

contacts angry

This is by design, of course.  A huge portion of the population needs corrective vision care.  Vision care is one of those para-medical industries that is prone to monopoly and extortive business practices.  I’m not saying that every optometrist or ophthalmologist is a crook.  However, the system is set up so that the industry has all the power, and it’s at the expense of consumer choice.  Towing the party line, 1-800-CONACTS sums it up nicely in this FAQ answer.

Why would you want to order contacts without a prescription?  I can think of many reasons but I’ll tell you about my own situation.  A week before my trip to Europe in 2014, I realized I was on my last pair of disposable contacts.  I knew I was due for an eye exam, but it was a busy week and I didn’t have the time to see the eye doctor.  I don’t like starting a vacation with no back-ups, so I tried to order one box from Walmart to hold me over until I could make an appointment when I got back.

It turns out my prescription had expired a week before.  No dice at Walmart.  I called my optometrist and he refused to send over a prescription without seeing me first.  Let me guess . . . insurance won’t let him?  VERY FRUSTRATING!  But there’s hope.  Read on . . .

The Solution

Do you know what contacts work for you?  Is your current prescription still working great?  Do you want to buy those contacts without a prescription?  Do you want to float right over the top of the vision-industrial complex with their illogical rules and their profiteering?  Here’s how you can do it:

When I was first stonewalled, I searched the internet far and wide for an online retailer that would sell me contacts without a prescription.  Many stores didn’t mention the prescription requirement until I tried to check out.  Some even employed deceptive marketing (a shock, right?) to give the impression you didn’t need a prescription.  All my efforts ended in a brick wall, except one.
visiondirect
VisionDirect.co.uk is a British company that sells glasses and contact lenses online.  They ship to the U.S. and when you’re ordering there is an option to “verify” your prescription.  This allows you to write in your current prescription without showing proof that it’s up to date.  Orders to the U.S. will be processed through their sister company in the Netherlands, and shipped from the U.K.  (Here is their FAQ page explaining their policy on prescriptions)

My orders usually arrive in about a week, which is impressive from the U.K.

Contacts without a prescription

The order was fast, accurate, and even came with a bonus pack of candy!

Use code 3731198M to get a 10% discount when you place your first order!
(Full disclosure: I get a £5 credit when you use this code)
ORDER CONTACTS WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION HERE

The cost is usually a little more than buying from a U.S. based online retailer, but in some cases it’s actually cheaper.  Keep in mind the prices are listed in GBP (British pounds).  Your credit card company will use something close to the spot exchange rate, found here.  Some credit cards charge fees around 3% for changing the currency.  If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes on ValueTactics, you know there are many cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, that do not charge this foreign transaction fee.

The Value

I find it deeply satisfying to circumvent systems that stifle consumer choice.  For me, this is all the value I need to order through VisionDirect.co.uk.  But there is monetary value as well.  You avoid the cost of the eye exam, the costs to get to the office, and the time off work to get the appointment.

In my case, my co-pay at the optometrist and the fuel cost to get there are much higher than the little bit extra I pay for my contacts when I buy them through VisionDirect.co.uk.

Obviously if you are having vision problems or other issues with your eyes, you should go see your eye doctor before ordering new contacts.  But if you are simply past your prescription expiration and want to order more of the same contacts, this is the tactic for you!

Use code 3731198M to get a 10% discount when you place your first order!
(Full disclosure: I get a £5 credit when you use this code)
ORDER CONTACTS WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION HERE

Semi-Monthly Update (December 23, 2016)

In recognition of the art of last minute shopping, this update features some miscellaneous value tactics you can take advantage of around town.  When you read the following tactics, keep in mind one of the principles from the strategy pageIf you have to make a purchase to get something for free, it’s only really free if you were going to make the purchase anyway.

Everyone loves free chicken!

If you’re near a Raising Cane’s restaurant you can get a free meal by signing up for their Caniac Club.  You need to register the card and verify your e-mail address.  The free box combo meal will be loaded onto your account within 48 hours.  (For detail weirdos like me, here’s the official rules).  To get the free meal you have to opt in to receive e-mail promotions.  Like all of these deals, it’s easy to remove yourself from the e-mail list once you have received your free stuff.

Caniac Club cards

Each family member with a unique e-mail address can get their own free chicken meal. Thanks to ValueTactics reader Alex for the tactical reconnaissance!

Everyone loves free pop!

Mt Dew

Expires 12/24 – At Holiday gas stations you can get a free 12-pack of pop when you buy $50 worth of gift cards.  You can choose any Coke or Pepsi product.  As some of you know, I am usually loyal to Super America stations because of their rewards points program.  With free gas tactics I have saved over $1000 in the past 3 years at Super America.  But with the loss of double coupon Tuesdays my loyalty is waning.  I’m going to spend $50 on gas anyway.  And 12-packs are $3.50-5.00 nowadays, so this is a good deal to me.

Everyone loves free gift cards!

Many restaurants run free gift card promotions during the holiday season.  The deal is usually something like this: “Get a free $5 gift card with the purchase of a $20 gift card!”  The dollar amounts and the terms vary from restaurant to restaurant and year to year.  I have seen these at Taco Bell, Leeann Chin, and Raising Cane’s.  There are a lot more of these deals out there, and I’m sure a quick google search will bring up dozens of super spammy, pop-up riddled “deals” blogs that have complete listings.  A fairly up-to-date one I just discovered is here.

Some restaurants will let you use the free bonus gift card right away.  Others, like Leeann Chin last year, wouldn’t let you use the bonus card on the same visit.  Does it count if you walk out the door and go back in?  Someone didn’t think out these rules very well.

The nice thing about these deals is they are an automatic double dip.  With a $5 bonus GC when you buy a $25 GC, you’re basically building in a 20% discount to anything you eventually buy with the card.  Since the bonus card is just another payment method, you still get whatever deals or coupons you would regularly use when you’re using these to pay.

New ValueTactics Blog Posts

– Online Shopping: How to Avoid My Biggest Mistake this Holiday Season explains how you should be getting bonus points or miles on nearly all your online shopping purchases.  It’s easy, it’s quick, and I still forget to do it sometimes.  Don’t be like me; read the article and get the free points!

Travel Update

msp-lir
Nicoleen and I leave in 50 days for our Costa Rica trip!  I mentioned this trip in the last semi-monthly update.  It will be almost fully paid for with points and miles.  It was the quickest and easiest free trip we’ve planned.  We are excited!

Now you’re updated. Go employ some Value Tactics!

Map generated by ValueTactics using the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Geographically Specific Deals and Offers

I sometimes get comments related to the fact that some of the deals and tactics I outline on this site are not available in certain geographic areas.  While I can’t promise to cover all deals/promotions available everywhere in the world, I can tell you I feel your pain.

The Problem

No awesome in-branch-only credit card offers for me! (I live in Minnesota)

No awesome in-branch-only credit card offers for me! (I live in Minnesota)

On more than one occasion I have seen credit card offers only available at Chase branches, but I live in a state (Minnesota) where there are no Chase branch locations.  I once tried to execute a currency trading tip I was given and I ran into roadblock after roadblock.  It turns out the type of trade I wanted to do is not allowed using U.S. brokerages.  These and other are other examples of tactics I am unable to employ due to where I live, and it’s frustrating every time.

I’m sure many of you feel the same frustration.  Two of the free money tactics I promote on this site involve retailers only present in the Midwest (Super America and Menards).  And if you live outside the U.S you’re out of luck on most of the credit card advice on this site.  The credit card deals I post about are generally limited to U.S. customers.

Menards store locations are concentrated in the Great Lakes region.

Menards store locations are concentrated in the Great Lakes region.

Good deals are everywhere – The strategy

The geography of available coupon deals, credit card promotions, and other savings tactics is much like the timing of credit card sign-ups: you’ll win some and you’ll lose some.  The good thing is that the overall strategy can easily be exported to other regions with different tactical opportunities.  Once you start learning how to evaluate deals and sort through the spam, you’ll find it’s easy to spot what might be worth doing and what isn’t.




I don’t claim to be a clearinghouse of information on the best deals and offer around the country, but I welcome tips my readers have about similar tactics available where they live.  E-mail me or comment on the relevant posts when you know of non-Midwest, regionally specific tactics.  Let’s band together to capture and create value across the nation globe!

Flea Market Round Up

BACKGROUND

Earlier this summer, as I mentioned in the June 16 weekly update, I hauled my empire of acquired stuff to Swappers’ Meet flea market in Wright County, MN.  The goals were to reduce volume and make some profit.  I had some random items to sell, including the balls and pumps mentioned in a previous post, but the majority of my wares were the fruits of my Menards free stuff tactic.

Our display tables at the flea market. 90% of the items for sale were Menards free-after-rebate items.

Our display tables at the flea market. 90% of the items for sale were Menards free-after-rebate items.

Over the previous two years I had bought about $5000 worth of free-after-rebate items from Menards.  Of course the “street value” is quite a bit lower.  I priced most of the items at 20-50% of retail value.  My philosophy on second-hand pricing is to try to find the sweet spot where it’s high enough to make it worth my while, but where it’s low enough where price is basically eliminated as a factor in a buyer’s thought process.  To give you an idea on how much stuff I had up for sale, my dad’s Chevy Tahoe, a 4X8′ trailer, and the bed of my friend’s truck were all packed full.

SETUP

Swappers’ Meet is one of the biggest flea markets within easy driving distance and is open Saturdays during the summer.  I had only been to a few flea markets before this, so I did a lot of research online to make sure I didn’t break any rules, got their on time, got a good spot, etc.  We got there at sundown on Friday (July 14) and found what seemed to be a good spot right across from one of the permanent food buildings.  Apparently the regulars can get fussy if newbies like us “steal their spot,” but we never encountered anyone hostile.

We set up two 12×12′ canopies and half a dozen tables and started unboxing our items.  Since a lot of my stuff was new, in box, and from a retail store, having a pegboard to hang the packages on was a great way to display several items in a small amount of floor space.  Lesson learned: next time have more pegboards.
swappers-pegboard
We continued to set up for half the night, and tried to get 2-3 hours of fitful sleep in the back of our respective vehicles.  As soon as the sky began to lighten, cars started rolling in and early shoppers started perusing our mostly-set-up spread.  As the morning wore on, it got busier and busier.  We didn’t inflate one of the giant soccer balls until a little before noon.  Having something so huge and unusual out there really helped draw people in.  There were customers who probably wouldn’t have even stopped by if they hadn’t noticed the soccer ball. We also didn’t sell a single ball or pump until we had the display one inflated and up front.  Lesson learned: put unusual or interesting items up front to draw people in.
swappers-ball

RESULTS

It seemed like a busy day to me but according to some others we talked to it was a relatively slow Saturday.  Things really started winding down around 2:00 pm and most vendors were packed up and gone by 4:00.  We did $295.70 in total revenue, with the following breakdown:

  • 205.75 in Menards stuff
  • 74.50 in balls and pumps
  • 12.25 in my personal wares (non-Menards)
  • 3.20 in toys (my kids had sent some along)

The entrance fee was $15, which we split proportionately among all of the above-listed categories.  Because our revenue was almost $300, I consider the fee almost negligible.

As far as what sold well: some of my predictions were correct and some were wrong.  I rightly guessed that the kitchen supplies and plastic tumblers would sell well.  I thought more of the hand tools and LED lights would sell.  The paint brushes were popular as expected, but I sold almost no 3″ brushes and almost sold out of the 2″ angle brushes (opposite of how I had stocked up).  I was pleasantly surprised that I sold a few gallon jugs of deck wash, but I sold none of the driveway degreaser jugs.  Of course all of the American flags sold 🙂

All said I offloaded 6 boxes of stuff.  Not a huge volume reduction but a welcome one.  I consider the flea market a moderate success.  If there was no setup or tear-down involved, and I could simply drive out there every Saturday and start selling, it would definitely be a worthwhile method to get the Menards stuff sold.  As it stands though, with the effort of moving/unpacking/packing up all the merchandise, it’s probably not a very efficient use of time.  More analysis on this will be forthcoming when I write my Menards experiment analysis.