This one may seem like common sense, but sometimes the cheaper option is the less convenient option. (For a different perspective on the idea of convenience and saving money, check out this other musing on how to save by creating spending barriers.) It’s often easier to just go out and buy a replacement item than it is to hunt down customer service numbers, spend time on hold with customer service representatives and then wait for the problem to be fixed.

Some examples:
Swiffer: My WetJet is an essential tool in my apartment maintenance. After hacking it so I could refill the canister and replaced the disposable pads with a rag, I had an environmentally friendly cleaning product that was convenient and easy to use. When it stopped working, I was stuck. I could still clean it but throwing cleaner on the floor was inefficient and wasteful. After going online I was able to contact their customer service, explain the problem and days later, was contacted by a customer service representative who let me know they were sending a manufacturer’s coupon for a new WetJet.

Vibram FiveFingers: My friends alternately call these frog feet or monkey feet and while they look goofy, if you’re a barefoot aficionado, these shoes are great. All the sensation of walking barefoot with no concern about glass or dog poop (major concerns when living in a college town that probably has more dogs than children). Unfortunately, I wore through the soles of the shoes in an extremely short fashion, much more quickly than was reasonable. Again, some quick time online and I had the phone number for their customer service line. After a lengthy interval on hold, I was able to get clearance to return the shoes and have a replacement mailed to me even though the shoes were no longer under any warranty.

Tongue Scraper
: After buying a tongue scraper (remember, we’re an inclusive loving community and I have a hangup on oral hygiene: no judging), the product took almost a month to arrive, well outside the parameters of the original agreement which listed 5 days to 2 weeks. Email customer service and lo and behold, a replacement is sent and my money was refunded.

Take Away

As I mentioned before, it pays to be your own advocate. This goes along with the idea that no one cares more about your money than you do. And while I’m not suggesting you develop an insane Ayn Randian obsession with your money, spending a little time on saving dollars means more flexibility to do what you want in life and whatever that entails. Spending a little bit of time to get the most out of my purchases means I can go hiking with my dog rather than spend extra hours scrubbing toilets for minuscule wages to make ends meet. This is a really great way of getting the cost per use down, particularly since you can double or triple the life span of a product. (link to nina and other article by me) With just the three examples listed above, I was able to save over a $100 that would have been spent buying replacements.

Things to Remember
First off, be polite. The quickest way to have people ignore you is to be rude. Remember, the people you’re talking to aren’t the source of the problem. Customer service tends to be a lousy job since practically by definition people are going to be complaining to you all day long. Stand out by being polite and you’re much more likely to be taken care of.
Second, use your powers as a consumer. When writing the manufacturers of Swiffers I made sure to mention in my email that I was a loyal customer who had been using their products for over six years, buying a WetJet in each of the cities I lived in in that interval. If you’re not a loyal customer you can simply say that you could not recommend the product to friends given your experience. They’re not just losing your sales but a number of potential sales. For comparable products, the quality of customer service can make a difference.
Finally, follow through. This one isn’t integral, but I believe strongly in the power of good customer service as a defining characteristic of a company and practice customer loyalty by both buying their products over other companies and recommending their products.