Sunday, September 27, 2009

Unexpected Gifts

There is a store here in Stillwater called Wall's Bargain Center that sells closeout merchandise at discount prices. It's a little like Big Lots but they tend to buy stock from stores that are closing, going out of business, had fires, etc. more than "the manufacturer changed the box design" type stuff.

I got word from one of the students at work that Wall's had recently acquired a large batch of inventory from a Best Buy that had experienced an extreme heat incident with rapid incandescent oxidation and gaseous residue followed by liquid deterrent application (a fire). Said student had picked up a new Dell computer and a flat screen monitor for under $500. It wasn't a fantastic discount but it was a good price nonetheless.

I decided Friday night that I wanted to go see what they had and just how good the discounts might be. I entered the section where they had concentrated the stock and began to drool look around. I saw many shiny things and lots of blinking black boxes but they were all beyond my price range. Wall's was only offering a 25% discount (which ain't bad, really) but was using the original Best Buy pricing as a baseline which is inflated anyway (i.e. a weather radio you can buy @ WM for $29.99 marked at $39.99). Many of the objects were originally over $200 so I stuck my hands in my pockets and continued to drool profusely "window shop."

The wife, who has been wanting a digital SLR for a couple of years now, wandered over to the display case filled with cameras and camcorders. She had spied some Canon Digital Rebel models but even with the discount they would end up over $500 (except for one but we ruled it out since it didn't have a box). As I was scanning the various camcorders available I saw a Sony Digital Alpha tucked unobtrusively in the back of the case. If you didn't know what it was, it would be easy to overlook. Heck, I knew what it was and almost overlooked it myself.

It was a Sony Alpha DSLR-230L with an 18-55mm zoom lens. The price written on the side was $549.99. With discount and after tax, we figured it would cost about $450.00. The wife asked to see it and looked at the specs on the side of the box. She took the body out of the package to see how it felt and to examine all the buttons and ports. She was suitably enamoured with it and we considered buying it since her birthday is a week from Tuesday. In the end, we decided to sleep on it. First, we didn't know much about the camera itself (the best I could come up with via my smartphone was that it was released last May). Second, we didn't know where the money was going to come from. We could fudge $450 but it wouldn't be a wise thing to do.

After dinner, we both retired to our respective computers and began researching the Alpha 230. The first thing I figured out was that current selling price is $499.99 (via Best Buy, Amazon and Sony). The wife read the reviews on Amazon and felt the camera would be a good fit for her. At that point, I put into action a plan I had hatched on the way home from the store.

First, I called my mother. I explained the situation to her and asked if she would be willing to contribute $100 (or more if she wanted to) toward the Wife's birthday gift. She thought that was a splendid idea. [Side note: Mom informed me that my brother had won $2,200 at the riverboat casino... on a penny slot machine. Of course, he was playing a dollar a spin (the bonus came up all wild). I never win that much because I never risk that much.]

Next, I called her mother. I again explained the situation and she agreed to contribute $150 to the cause. We were now going to be responsible for less than half the cost of the camera (an amount we could justify without too much guilt) and had current cash on hand to float what was being covered by The Moms. Because of the nature of the business and there being only one on hand, I told the wife about the contributions, said "happy birthday" and we agreed to go to the store as they opened on Saturday to give the camera a final inspection and purchase it if it passed muster.

We got to the store and went straight to the display case with the cameras. The same lady who had helped us at closing time on Friday was in the general vicinity and came around to greet us, "You came back for the Sony, didn't you?"

The wife opened the box and removed all of the contents to take inventory. Everything was present except for the battery which we quickly located as being installed in the camera. We agreed to purchase it and the attendant filled out some paperwork for the 30-day store return warranty. We then found a suitable bag (that we later discovered was too small for more than one reason) and checked out. The camera came out to $449 and some change. With the bag, we walked out about $468.00 lighter and one camera heavier than when we walked in.

But wait, there's more.

The wife charged the battery and fiddled with the camera some to get a feel for it. I had been wanting to go to the fair in Oklahoma City all day so I struck out on my own. After visiting the ATM and grabbing a bottle of water at the gas station it was almost 3pm. I was driving toward the highway when a prominently displayed garage sale sign caught my eye. The street it pointed to only has 3 or 4 houses so if it was still going on it would be obvious. although it had been picked over quite well, they were still open for business so I dropped by.

There really wasn't much left. What they had most of was bundles and pieces of fabric they had bought for their sewing business but ended up with too much inventory and not enough time. I wandered into the garage itself and spied upon a box for a Minolta Maxxum film camera. The Sony takes the same lens mount as the Minolta. The kit had a 35-80mm zoom lens with it. It was a cheap lens. It even felt cheap. Almost every bit of it was plastic except for the optics. But it was a different lens than the one that came with the camera.

"How much?" I asked. "We were asking $40 but we're trying to get everything gone so we're doing half price. $20"

I texted the wife: Do you want a 35-80mm Maxxum kit lens for $20?

Without hesitation, the answer came back a simple "yes." I bought it but it meant that the camera bag which barely fit the camera if she took the lens off was no longer suitable.

So, in the span of a day, we had managed to get the wife a new camera with a kit lens, a bag that was now too small, and a second lens for a very reasonable price. It was a happy early birthday for her.

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