Extravagantly Frugal: Friends In High Places

Some time ago, we wrote about how living frugally does not necessarily mean that we're missing out on all the fun. Quite the contrary! Frugal living does not necessarily mean doing without. But you may have to look past the mainstream to find a cost effective solution. We thought it would be good to spend a little time expanding on some of these concepts individually.

Our next topic: Friends in high places.

Blame it all on my roots, I showed up to move, and what appliances we had, were crap. The last one to know, the last one to show, it was the last thing I thought I'd see there. Then I saw the surprise, and the fear in her eyes, when I went to plug in the fridge. "It's toasted too." I said, "Honey, it may be through, but you'll never hear me complain!" Because I've got friends in high places, and likely, so do you.

Wanting to live frugally is not necessarily an anti-stuff stance. Even Dave Ramsey will tell you that it's ok to have stuff so long as the stuff doesn't have you - referring to debt that so many take on in order to get the stuff. It's ok to have nice things, even extravagant things, just so long as you can pay for them - at the time of the purchase, in full. And may I recommend not paying retail while you're at it? If you only knew how much markup there is in some items, you'd swear off of retail. But how do you do that?

How do you get these great deals? Especially when you want / need it to be new and not used? Friends and family.

Unlike Garth, it's the ones in high places that help get us by when the chips are down.

  1. Cars - I have a relative that works for a Big Three automotive supplier. Not exactly a great business to be in at the moment (hopefully heading for a turnaround), but she's been there a long time and has the highest discount available to employees. Back when we thought we needed new cars (as opposed to buying used), we at least didn't pay retail for the stupid things.
  2. Appliances - As stated in the ballad above, our current house came complete with 20-40 year old appliances - each in varying states of distress. The dryer didn't stop, the washer leaked a bit. The fridge was likely to use as much power as 10 new ones, and the dishwasher... well there wasn't one! No distress on our part though. A friend had offered their employee discount with an appliance manufacturer and we took him up on that. Some came out to be 50% off of retail, while others, like the dishwasher we recently put in, came out to be around 80% off.
  3. Doors and Windows - One that we haven't needed yet, but once these 40 year old windows start to give out, we'll be calling another relative who works for a door and window manufacturer.
  4. Electronics - The first TV we bought as a married couple, while maybe being slightly more than we needed, came at a hefty discount. A friend was working for a big-box retailer at the time and had offered his family discount, and also explained what items had enough markup to make them worth while. We were always close, but on that day we were more than friends - he was my brother-in-law.
  5. Electronics - That friend thankfully left retail long ago for a real job that he enjoys. But I still have a hook-up from a cousin working for a small-box electronics retailer. He keeps telling me about deals on GPS units that I don't really need, but would be pretty sweet...
Sources like these are great, especially when they offer it up. If they haven't, broach the topic tactfully and don't automatically assume that even if they get a discount, that they would let you mooch off of it. Every company has different policies about this, and some folks would rather not open the flood gates. After all, if they gave you a discount, then why not others? Either way, always thank them profusely and have some social graces - make it worth their while. Doing this isn't necessarily as simple as it seems from your end, and kicking some of that savings back to your source wouldn't kill you would it?

What deals have you netted through your network of friends and family?


Jin6655321 said...

I work retail management and, in most places, employers come down VERY hard on employee discount abuse to prevent people from doing what you are advocating. In companies where employee discount abuse is most rampant (electronic and appliance retailers, high end fashion, etc.) they will fire the employee for their first offense. One of my current employee was fired from Best Buy for letting his mom pay for his purchase.

While I've enjoyed most of your post, I find this one to be very distasteful. If my friend's office offered their employees free sodas you wouldn't suggest I ask them to give me a case every week to cut down on my grocery bills, would you? Employee discounts is a perk given to employees partly for compensation but mostly so they can attain product knowledge. What you're advocating is stealing. I know it may not seem like it since some money is given but the retailer is still taking a loss. Asking your friend to bend the rule is asking them to steal- please don't put them in that situation. I've fired people for employee discount abuse and it's sad- they're usually good employees who just felt pressured from their neighbors, friends, family, etc.

As for those friends who offers to use their discount for you... Do they stipulate that they can do this put you have to give them cash for it? If they demand cash, they're stealing from the company. Or maybe they'll get it for you, but you can't be with them when they buy it. If my friend told me not to worry about home office supplies 'cause he can just take it from his office- papers, toners, cables, whatever, I would turn him town. I guess it's a matter of personal ethics.

Most retailers offer "Friends and Family" events (usually around back to school and the Holidays) where employees can pass their discounts to those who normally wouldn't qualify. If you still want to take advantage of your "friends in high places" but not steal, ask them if you can have a Friends and Family coupon the next time their company holds that event.

Mrs. (not) the Jet Set said...

Thanks for commenting Jin, but I think that you misunderstood my husband's post. All (accept the TV) where through the normal family and friends discount programs. Mr. NtJS is NOT advocating stealing from your company nor doing anything illegal.

He was also NOT advocating pressuring your friends, family and neighbors into using their discounts. All the discounts he was referring to were offered to us from the employee.

The TV friend was a friend who lived with us for a long time and had stopped paying for his rent because of a lack of money. He was using the tv as since it was going to his home as well. As bad as this might sound, I honestly knew he could have been fired but did not really mind because of the amount of money he owed us.

Either way, he offered us his discount and until we went to pick it up we did not know that it had to be for a family member.

These days lots of manufactures and some retails have done away with the standard family discount programs because of discrimination issues (domestic partners, etc). Most have replaced it with a "friends and family" discount. What most do is set a limit to how many products a year can be purchased per employee. It keeps the company's from policing their employees and employees don't have to feel like they are stealing.

I hope that this clears up any confusion as to our stance on how to get this kind of discount.

Mr. (not) the Jet Set said...

To add to the Mrs's comments:

If my friend's office offered their employees free sodas, and my friend offered me one, I would take it. You wouldn't?

Uncommonadvice said...

Is it bad that I'd like my sons to be an Electrician and a Plumber when they grow up?

If they do I'll save money on my bills!

(If I have another two they'll be a mechanic and a TV engineer)

Anonymous said...

I was going to say about the same thing that Jin6655321 said about employees that use their employee discount for friends until I read your response. Then I went back and looked at the post - you never mentioned Friends&Family deals/sales, etc. Jin6655321 was justified in their reaction and their objection - I have the same one. As an owner of a retail business, I give my employees that perk for their work. It's another way I can 'pay' them and I have had to fire someone over the abuse. I understand being frugal and taking a discount as it is offered to you but realize it is a form of stealing. As for the coke thing, I'd take one if I was there in person, visiting the office. I'd draw the line at them bringing home a case for me. When something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Mr. (not) the Jet Set said...


Interesting. It seems that what we really have is terminology problem. In yours and Jin's worlds, apparently "employee discount" implies that it is for the employee only and does not extend past there. Our experience has been quite the opposite.

Also, you are quite right - we never did mention Friends&Family sales/deals. To us, that is something different altogether. Usually that is nothing more than a closed door 'feel-good' sale with minimal reduction in price - 10% or something.

In actuality, most of these 'employee discounts' we are talking about are coming straight from the manufacturer. Often times, they make more money on those direct employee sales despite being sharply below MSRP.

As for the one that has really been in question - #4, the TV. It was a family discount. Though we weren't blood, we were the closest thing he had to family at the time. And as the Mrs. pointed out, he hadn't been chipping in on rent or utilities in some time. It was a judgment call. And maybe we had made the wrong one. I'm not dwelling on it.

Besides, it's not as if we payed less than their cost of goods sold - Just below their typical mark-up. No, they didn't make as much on it, but they weren't taking a loss. If it is such that it were actually hurting the retailer, then they would be policing it, as the two of you have described. No-one in any of these instances have ever batted an eye. Stealing? Certainly not.

Thanks for your comments and for giving us another opportunity to clear up any confusion here.

Revanche said...

Can I just say that I love that you used the lyrics to this country song?

For my part, I didn't interpret that suggestion as one to abuse employee discounts when the employee is not allowed to share it, I've only ever taken advantage of such a discount when the employer had made it clear that the employees were allowed to share.

Rachael said...

I've been reading you blog for about 2 months and decided recently to go back and read some of your previous entries. This entry, particularly the comments has me a bit disturbed.

The comment from the Mrs.: "As bad as this might sound, I honestly knew he could have been fired but did not really mind because of the amount of money he owed us." really illustrates a questionable respect for another.

While I am all about frugality, if you're compromising a friendship/relationship with someone who legitimately cares for you as Mr says is the closest thing to a family member is unacceptable. If you want your friend to help pay, then why would you sacrifice their job--their potential at paying you for the living costs.

Also, as a neighbor/friend, would you exploit him for your benefit?

I just wanted to let you both know I enjoy reading your blog, but I do have to say I guess everyone is human from time-to-time not to imply that you were above that. I enjoy reading about your family and Christianity...as I am Catholic also and hope to live simply.

While I understand manufacturing discounts are a bit different from retail stores, the same can be said. Mr would you compromise your job for a friend so that he could enjoy the fruits of not only your labor but also the hardworking, perhaps even laid off fellow coworkers? I think not.

Mr. (not) the Jet Set said...


Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. Clearly this one has been controversial. I think what the Mrs. is was trying to say is that he made the choice to offer this to us. He chose to take on any risk that was out there. At the same time, yes, we chose to accept. Should we have declined? Would we make a different choice today? I don't know.

As for compromising the relationship.... well, just like real family members, relationships are not always what they should be, feelings can be hurt, and things can fall apart. At that point things were definitely not good and especially between he and the Mrs. Our friend was trying to do what he could.

Mr would you compromise your job for a friend so that he could enjoy the fruits of not only your labor but also the hardworking, perhaps even laid off fellow coworkers?
Would I do what our friend did? No. Like I said, he made the choice to offer, and we made the choice to accept. Don't sweat it, they also sold us an extended service plan, which was all the retailer was really interested in at the time anyways.

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