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A really nice mail! (Thanks, Kevin!)

We wanted to share a super nice email we received. This is from Kevin in San Francisco:

Three cheers for the Wings!

I think what you do here is terrific. Outside of Chinatown and the Mission, there are few bargains in San Francisco but you make it a lot easier for many of us. ALL of my pet shopping is done at the Pet Club and I live in the City! I've found handymen, movers, and cleaning services in the Advertiser at fair prices. It was a stroke of genius that you also make the paper available online.

Everybody wins here and I wish you continued success.       -Posted by Jen 8/9/2010

Independent Auto Shops

The old adage, “you pay for what you get,” is often true. But where do you draw the line between paying too much and paying for quality?

If your car is worth less than $10,000, or if your car is no longer under factory warranty, then you should seriously consider using an independent shop. Here are the reasons why:

1. Independent shops can cost up to 1/3 the price of dealerships.
Without the high overhead costs of large show rooms and huge pay rolls, the hourly rates charged by independent shops are usually much less.

2. You can build a relationship with the mechanic
Small shops usually have only a few mechanics and you can often build a relationship with the owner. Many small business owners will put more care into their service to turn you into a repeat customer

3. Option to use after-market parts (which are less expensive)
You have the option to use cheaper after market parts rather than being forced to use more expensive factory parts that dealers require (this can be good or bad depending on the value of your car).

The CONS of using an independent shop:

1. The fact that an independent shop is small means they are less likely to offer the same level of customer service. If there is a dispute with the repair, they may be less willing to redo a service if you feel it wasn’t done right.

2. Because small shops have fewer mechanics, you may be forced to wait longer to get your car back. Also, you most likely will not get a loaner

3. Many shops use cheap rebuilt or after-market parts that will not last as long as factory parts.

JEN & BRAD’S HOT TIP: Make sure to get 2 prices from the independent shop: one with factory parts and one with after market parts. (Side note: lower value cars are better candidates for cheaper after market parts. There is no point putting a $500 new factory part in a car worth $1500. At that point, you should start looking for a new car!)

WHAT WE DO: Jen and I go to an independent shop but we make sure they use Factory Parts. And for certain jobs we take our cars to the dealership (after shopping around for the best price and coupons!)

What about non-Dealer Chains?

Why we don’t like non-dealer Chains:

We don’t prefer non-dealer chains as they have an overhead higher than that of independent shops. The service writers also get paid on commission, they often use cheap aftermarket parts, and they don’t give loaners.

In a nutshell, you are exposed to much of the downside of the dealers and the independent shops and you don’t get much upside.

The only instance I would use a non-dealer chain is for an inexpensive and CONVENIENT Oil change. But beware of the commission based upsell!

WHAT WE DO: Jen and I NEVER take our cars to non-dealer chains!

Need to Service Your Car? 

Car Dealers: When to Hold 'em, When to Fold 'em...when to walk away and run. (Part 1 in a series)

Servicing your car can as involved as trying to choose a doctor or a dentist. We know it is important, yet we try to put it off as much as possible. In our minds, our cars, like our teeth need maintenance to avoid big costly fixes in the long run.

Dealers are widely used by many consumers but they can be very expensive.  Here are the pros and cons of choosing a dealership to service or fix your car:

The major PROS of using a dealer (that is the brand of your car) are:

-Getting A Loaner
You can often get a loaner car when you are having a major service done. This is a great benefit for those of us that only have 1 car and need it for work.

-Car Fax
Dealers report services done to car fax. This is a huge plus when you are trying to sell your car. Most buyers feel confident buying a car that has consistent maintenance and service records reported to car fax.

-Use of Factory Warrantied Parts
Dealers always use factory parts and their work usually has good warranties.

The major CONS of using a dealer are:

They can charge as much as 3 times the cost of a private shop.

-Service Writers Can Be On Commission
Many of their service writers are paid on commission so they are very motivated to get you to have work done that you do not need.

If a dealer has a geographic monopoly on their brand, they may be more inclined to upsell and overcharge, as they are the “only act in town.”

Here is an example of how Jen and I would go about using a dealership for car repair or auto service:

-Use Dealership Coupons!
When using a dealer, USE COUPONS. Call ahead so you can determine how much you will be saving and how much your final cost will be. It is also a good idea to see how long it will take them to finish the job and if you qualify for a loaner.

-It Pays To Get Ballpark Cost from Independent Mechanics
Call a couple of independent shops / mechanics to get a “ball park” price on how much the service will cost there.

-If there is no appreciable cost difference, then the dealer may be a good bet.
-If there is a large cost difference, ask your self if the benefits of turnaround time, loaner car, and convenience are worth the extra money

Jen's  & Brad's HOT TIP: If the value of your car is below $5k-$10k then we would seriously consider using an independent mechanic / auto repair shop to have my work done. The benefits to resale value and warranty are greatly diminished for older and less valuable cars.

Have a specific question for us or need advice? Email us!    -posted by Brad  5/21/10

Why Buying Building Supplies locally can save you $750, more!

Brad and I have been shopping around for building supplies in San Francisco. More specifically, granite countertop bathroom sinks for a bathroom remodel.

We priced granite sinks and marble countertops at Lowes and Home Depot. They had a small (literally 2 choice) selection of ready to install Granite Vanities with bathroom sinks that ranged in price from $1500 to $2000. Custom prices for granite bath sinks started at $3000.

So, how can you save $750 or more? There are a lot of independent building supply companies here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of them include: East Star Building Supply, Liberty Home Supply, and Modern Way Home Supply. Most of them import marble and granite directly from Asia, Italy, and South America. Because of their direct buying power and low overhead they have excellent selections (granite countertops, Marble, Onyx, Tiles) and wholesale prices.

The same granite top hardwood vanity with dual sink holes that cost $1500 at Home Depot cost just $750. That was a quick savings of $750!

The down side? Local show rooms are not as clean and commercial as the box stores.  The contractors they refer may not have as good of a warranty as the box stores.  But, independent building supply stores are a great bet if you have your own contractor that you trust to do the installation.

Jen’s & Brad’s HOT BUYING TIP:    After getting the price quoted (set), ask for the “CASH” price! Credit card companies usually take 3% from the store, so you should save at least that or even get them to cover the sales tax (almost 10% off)!  NOTE: This cash tactic does NOT work at Home Depot of Lowes!

Have a specific question for us or want a negotiating tip? Email us!   -posted by Jen 5/13/10

Why using local coupons is like a Quick & Dirty Pay Raise!

A lot of our friends thing we crazy for spending time looking for and getting discounts and deals. Yeah, for sure a part of it is the excitement of the treasure hunt for us. I know. Those same friends still think we nuts! 

But I say, using a local coupon and saving $10 off $100 is like getting a quick 10% pay raise. With average pay increases at 0% - 5%, getting 10% more pay is nothing to sneeze at!  

We'd love to know your thoughts on this! Are we crazy? Email me!    -posted by Jen 5/7/2010

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