THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- I may be cheap: Website offers holiday tips, savings
The other day I came across a blog that epitomizes the Internet's promise of empowering local consumers in these difficult economic times.
Just in time for Christmas!
Called I May Be Cheap (imaybecheap.wordpress.com), it's a running cavalcade of announcements of great deals, sales, coupon offerings, and money-saving ideas, punctuated by occasional reviews and trenchant commentary.
Community consumerism on the Web, particularly in airing consumer grievances and exposing corporate wrong-doing or hypocrisy, is not new. The biggest such site is The Consumerist (consumerist.com). And automated search engines abound on the Web to help folks search for low prices for practically any product.
I May Be Cheap is different, however, for two reasons.
First, it's local, created by Emmy Smith of Harrisonburg. And people might find the scale more approachable and comfortable than a large national site like consumerist.
Second, like most good blogs, I May Be Cheap reflects the enjoyably quirky personality and enthusiasm of Smith.
This is a woman who craves a good deal.
For example, she doesn't just list where one can get an Oster Two-Tier Food Steamer for a great price. She reports that while she doesn't personally know about it, it has "good reviews and a great price!" The Scrabble Game Folio, for only $4.99, "looks really neat," and for $15 "you can't beat the price" of the women's Wyoming low-heeled boots from Overstock.com.
Smith says she has stepped up her blogging for Christmas. Over the past few weeks, her site is filled with suggestions for great stocking stuffers.
"Times are really tough right now, and people really need this type of thing," she says. "I'm posting daily deals on hot toys."
In addition to great deals, Smith points readers to such goodies as a free shipping day from Target, and various online product giveaways. She recently highlighted a site that searches Amazon to find inexpensive products to help shoppers reach the $25 threshold for free shipping without spending more.
Then there's the kind of stuff Smith lives for, the Holy Grail of bargain hunting: the combination of sale prices, coupons, and rebates that Smith puts together to get free stuff.
Just recently, for example, she found that buying The Royal Travel Clock and Digital Frame together with a clip-on digital photo album from Circuit City would actually net the shopper two cents after rebates, prompting one of her growing cadre of regular readers to gush, "You are amazing."
Smith started the blog in June 2007. "The idea just kind of popped into my head," she says. "I've always tried to save money, but about four years ago, I was getting a divorce and raising two small children. It quickly became much more important to me to save money."
Smith says "watching a woman named Angela Henley on the Today Show" inspired her to start the site. "She was being interviewed about her frugal ways, and I realized I could do it too," Smith says.
"I thought starting the blog would help people locally weed through the scams and deals that really aren't all that great," she says. "Some people think bargain shopping is too much work, so I want to make it easy for them."
Smith says she spends about two hours a day working on the blog and considers herself particularly fortunate to hold a flexible day job so she can post throughout the day. She spends evenings going through emails and monitoring the websites and newsletters that serve as her sources.
Smith isn't certain how many readers she actually has, but based on the number of comments her posts garner and other feedback, she senses readers are increasing.
Other than appreciation and satisfaction, Smith earns no money for her efforts. "I've had a few people tell me they've tried a new product or got something for free," she says, "and it makes me feel good."
For the future, she hopes to post more personal commentary, and she hopes to do a better job of highlighting local businesses, not just online and big box stores.
If there's a downside to her bargain hunting, Smith says, it's her occasional stockpiling of items that she consider irresistible deals.
"I have enough toothpaste to last a lifetime," she laughs.
Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.