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Be an Organized Consumer

Reducing Bulky Catalog Clutter
In this section, you replace your paper catalog collection with a weightless, clutter-free, online shopping system.

If you sometimes shop by mail order rather than in an actual store, you probably have lots of catalogs lying around. You might even have a system for organizing those catalogs. Kind of cumbersome, huh? Let's make this process easier.

A client of mine named Allison had a large file drawer of alphabetized catalogs, and she struggled to keep up with the task of replacing old ones with the new editions that flooded her mailbox every day. She was committed to making the system work for a number of reasons: She appreciates the time savings of shopping from home; she knows she is more likely to make impulse purchases when handling merchandise in an actual store; and, in building her catalog collection, she had learned which companies offer the best prices, best service, and highest-quality merchandise. So, for Allison, catalog shopping makes excellent financial sense. However, as her life became ever more busy, she found herself falling further behind in maintaining her system and the catalogs started to pile up.

We used the Internet to upgrade Allison's system. She had been keeping her catalogs for many years, before the companies also had an online shopping option, as most do now. What a relief it was when Allison realized she could keep a list of her catalog Web sites and toss the paper copies!

I knew Allison would resist the idea of simply pitching all her catalogs, even though more would eventually come in the mail, because she was keeping the paper copies for two reasons: to be able to see the products the companies offer and to remember that those particular companies exist. For her, the key to making an educated buying decision is to have an entire virtual mall at her fingertips, not to be limited to settling for whatever she can find in whatever catalog happens to be on the coffee table. I also knew she would not be satisfied with simply adding each Web site to the Favorites list in her browser because she wanted a way to include notes and to categorize what each company offers.

We created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and Allison used her accumulated catalogs to list the name and Web site of each. Next to these columns she added some categories for things she shops for frequently, such as clothing and gifts, and checked off the appropriate categories for each catalog. Finally, and with great satisfaction, she tossed the paper catalogs.

Occasionally, Allison found a catalog from a company that did not have an online store; she kept the paper catalogs for some of these and decided the others weren't that important anyway and could be tossed. Now, instead of an entire drawer of catalogs and the daily task of replacing old copies with new ones, Allison has a comprehensive Excel list that tells her at a glance which companies are best for any category, meaning comparison shopping has never been easier.

Allison has also gotten into the habit of telling companies that she no longer wants paper catalogs by checking order form boxes that let her opt out of mailings or telling the phone operator to take her off the mailing list. The number of new catalogs arriving each day is gradually dwindling, but the opt-out procedure is different with each company, so it's tedious. Until the law changes and consumers have to take special steps to opt in to receiving catalogs, Allison and the rest of us will probably never be able to escape them completely.

Want to lose the catalog collection and switch to an electronic list? Go for it! Scour your home for paper catalogs, enter their Web addresses into your list, and toss them!

You can create your list easily on paper, but if you do it in Excel you'll gain two additional functions: You'll be able to sort by category (so, for example, when you want to buy clothes, you can group together all of the sites where you shop for clothing), and you'll be able to set the Web addresses as hyperlinks that will open the site in your browser with a click from within the Excel sheet. This is better than simply adding them to your browser's Favorites list because you can add your own notes, such as item numbers and ideas for future purchases.

More on: Family Finances


Reproduced from Organize Your Personal Finances in No Time, by Debbie Stanley, by permission of Pearson Education. Copyright © 2005 by Que Publishing. Please visit Amazon to order your own copy.

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