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more than just food: items you can and should buy in the shuk

Back in the old country, I would search websites and stores in order to find a bargain, but here things are different.  In a country where means nothing and price tags are only a suggestion, shopping is less about making an informed decision and more about finding your prey and going in for the kill.  As any Israeli knows, the best place for aggressive energetic shopping is the shuk.    But while most people think of the shuk when buying food, there are tons of bargains to be had on other items as well.  For example:

(1) Children’s toys:  I know, I spoil my child, after all, everything I ever bought for my son was imported all the way from China and/or Vietnam.  Lead paint and child labor jokes aside, if you’re looking for something simple like a toy truck or a doll for a young child, there is no reason to spend 5 times as much on an identical item in a toy store.  There may be some toys which are worthwhile to get in the store, but the overwhelming majority of toys for your children (and their friends’ birthdays) can be bought in the shuk.

(2) Linens and clothes:  If you’re looking for a nice suit, I wouldn’t recommend beginning with the shuk; but if you’re looking for socks, undergarments, towels, sheets, t-shirts and shorts, there is no point in spending tons of money in the mall when the shuk offers the same thing for less than half the price.

(3) Electronics and Kitchen utensils:  While fancier electronics should be bought at a place with a suitable warranty, simpler household items such as an iron, kettle, space heater, toaster oven, bug zapper, hair curler and telephone are significantly cheaper in the shuk.  Also, common kitchen utensils such as pots, pans, knives, tenderizers, silicon tins and more are usually available in the shuk for very cheap.

Alternatively, these items can be found at bargain prices in Haredi neighborhoods as well.

What other items do you buy at the shuk?  Is there an alternative place you go to buy some of the items mentioned above for cheaper prices?

the best time to buy

Sometimes getting the best deal isn’t just about where you go, but when you go as well.  Once a year, puts together a list of the best time of the year to buy everything.

I think most of the items in this article apply here as well.

What items do you think have a different best time to buy in Israel?

yad2 – another man’s treasure

A few months before we got married, my wife and I began searching for some furniture for our new home.  Luckily, we had friends and family with an extra computer table and even a dining room table.  The only thing we had to pay for was our bed.  Unfortunately, the only decent bed we could afford was a child’s bed with a second pull out high-riser.

Or so I thought.  Like most Americans of my generation, I was taught that giving your old stuff to charity is a great thing, but buying second hand is just not done.  So we bought a new bed, even if it was bottom of the line.  I didn’t have the ₪ 3,000 for a brand new pair of beds, and certainly not enough to get actual mattresses.

As the years began to pass, a lot of the furniture we received broke, fell apart, and even just wore itself out.  The first to go was our computer chair which, due to a pipe bursting, got wet inside of the material and began to fill up with mold.  I looked around the internet for a chair until I somehow came across and saw that someone was selling a brand new black computer chair for only ₪ 100.

And so, my love for yad2 began.  When my dining room table broke, I found a second hand dinning room table and chairs for ₪ 200.  When my son’s stroller was stolen, I got the upgraded version of the same stroller for only ₪ 250.  And when my son celebrated his first birthday, I got him a full sized bean bag (פוף) for only ₪ 20.

Yad2 has more than just second hand bargains; it has a section for stuff being offered for free as well.  It was through yad2 that I found a feeding chair for my son, as well as several toys and books (in English and Hebrew).

After 4 years of slowly learning that second hand was okay, my wife and I came full circle and decided to get a normal bed.  After searching for a couple of weeks, we found a slightly used pair of beds (with הפרדה יהודית) and mattresses for ₪ 550, a little more than a third of the original price we paid for our new bed 4 years ago.

If you need any furniture, I highly recommend using yad2.  Whether you are a student, a couple just starting out, or simply someone who likes to find a bargain, yad2 has a ton to offer.  The most important thing when using this site is patience.  You may not find your ideal dining room table the second you look, but it will very likely appear within 6 weeks.

PS – June through August is an especially good time to buy second hand items, as it is the time of year when many people move.  You can also check Janglo for lists of second hand goods from people moving back to the United States.

Do you know of another good site for second hand goods?  If so, please mention it in the comments below.

coupons in Israel


A few weeks ago, a reader asked me about coupons in Israel.  In particular, the reader wanted to know why coupons do not exist here the way they do in the USA and what alternative steps can be taken to reduce the cost of shopping.

To begin, I’d like to take a look at the reasons that companies offer coupons and see which apply in Israel:

(1) store bait – Many companies use coupons to bait you to come to the store.  Super Pharm is probably the best Israeli company at using this tactic; their coupons keep people coming as often as possible selling not only the items on sale, but the entire range of their products as well.  Many supermarkets such as Mega Bool and Shufersal take this even further, only offering their promotions if you spend beyond some a particular amount.  This more primitive method of coupon strategy is alive in Israel just as much, if not more, than in the USA.

(2) promotion – Another common marketing strategy is for a company to use a coupon in order to get you to notice or try something new.  When Muller brought all of their yogurts and cheeses into Israel, they kept a high price in order to market themselves as a high end product, but sent a number of coupons all over Israel, offering cheaper and even free yogurt and cheese.  The more extreme case of this is yoplait, which prefers giving out samples in the store for customers to eat on the spot.  The promotional coupon does exist in Israel, but is much more common in the United States, where more new products are introduced on a more regular basis.

(3) price discrimination.  Just like authors sell their books in hardcover to get money from the die-hard fans and then sell a softcover to other readers who would only be willing to pay a lower price, so too, coupons allow for regular shoppers to pay more and those who plan in advance to pay less.  A planned dollar (and shekel) gets you more; companies know it, and they want to make sure they can still benefit from it.

In my opinion, and I have only observation and speculation to back this up, it is in this area that Israel differs greatly from the US.  In the US, consumers tend to hunt for a good price; in Israel, they go to the shuk and bargain for it.  This explans why the Israeli businesses that I have seen offer the most coupons are the ones where people tend to bargain least – hotels, restaurants, spas and attractions.

How to get coupons:  Unlike the Sunday circulars of yesteryear, nowadays coupons are all about the internet.  In Israel, before going out to dinner or even ordering a pizza, a quick google search is likely to bring up a site with some sort of coupon.  Below is a list of sites that offer coupons for hotels, zimmers, attractions, and restaurants. 

Regular coupon sites:  (1) couponim, (2) coups, (3) coupon424, (4) rest, (5) cuponofesh, (5),  

Group coupons sites:  (1), (2) dealhayom, (3) baligam

In addition, lots of coupons are offered on the website of a particular restaurant or attraction, so the best thing is to google the attraction, find its site and see what they offer.

Unfortunately, this does not help very much with food shopping.  In my opinion, when foodshopping, it’s more about where you shop, not how you shop (see this previous post about where to go foodshopping).

Do you have any additional places where you look to find coupons in Israel?  If so, please mention it in the comments below.

when do you prefer used?

Welcome back, it’s been a while.  I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year, meaningful Yom Kippur, a happy Sukkot and a circularly dancing Simchat Torah.  I hope to be back on scheduling with new posts a couple of times a week.

I like new stuff.  A new couch feels nicer, a new shirt fits better and a new CD (do you remember CDs?) sounds more pleasant.  And don’t even get me started on new car smell.  But sometimes I actually prefer to get an item second hand, and not just to save money.  Besides being a bargain, sometimes used items can offer more certainty about quality.

Here are a few items I prefer used:

1 – an apartment – Everywhere I look I see advertisements for beautiful brand new apartments that will be built in the coming years.  And while the pictures are detailed, they cannot show customers about what will be built poorly and what work is to be expected to be needed in the future.  Appraisers cannot tell you how much it will cost to fix poorly built pipes if they have not yet been built.  If you want that new apartment look, consider changing some flooring and repaint the second hand apartment you buy.  You’ll be saving a ton of money and you’ll know what you’re getting.  (To be fair, I have been told by larger families that finding a penthouse to fit all of them is a rarity and the new building are the only way they can get these apartments.)

2 – certain pieces of furniture – While a new couch is always nice, I believe that pieces like a dining room table may be better off used.  When you buy a new table, it all looks beautiful and freshly painted, but you never know what it’s going to look like in three years with a bunch of scratches and dents.  By buying second hand, you can see which tables have stood through the initial two year test of time to see what the quality is really like.

3 – an iPod – Sorry Apple, I love your products, but they are not built to last.  Look no further than the iPod, which tends to break at least once every year or two.  Next time, instead of buying a new iPod, pick a refurbished one for about a third off the price (it is available from apple’s website.)  “Refurbished” means that it was actually fixed and inspected and stands a better chance of lasting longer.  Any if it breaks (which it will), then you can just bring it to the folks at your local iDigital store (two in TA, one in Haifa) and they’ll replace it with a brand new one.  Just be sure to buy the warranty.

(As a side note, there is a rumor that if your iPod was water damaged then a paper inside will turn a different color and technicians will tell you it is not under warranty and refuse to fix it.  While it is true that water damage is not covered by the warranty, no such paper inside exists.  The fact is that most people with water damage to their iPods are too impatient to wait for the iPod to dry before bringing it in and trying to lie about how it “just stopped working.”  If you drop your ipod in the sink, wait a week for the iPod to dry before bringing it in.)

What items do you prefer to buy used?

chickening out – buying culinary luxuries

I am not a picky eater.  I use מגה brand tomato paste and pasta, eat שפע שוק cereal, and only splurge on יכין chick peas and green beans when I can find them at ₪ 4 a can.  But instant schnitzel is an entirely different matter.  I have tried brand X schnitzel a number of times and I absolutely hate it.  I have probably thrown out nearly ₪ 100, ₪ 10 at a time, thinking, “well, it’s only ₪ 10, and it probably all tastes the same.  Sure the last one was terrible, but I am sure that was the exception, not the rule.”  

I no longer throw out my money on inedible food.  When I do buy schnitzel (not very often) I know that if I want to enjoy the food I buy, I will have to buy either מאמא עוף or עוף טוב, even though these normally cost an arm and a leg (or a wing an a drumstick, as the analogy would be…).  But these expensive brands don’t have to be so expensive, if you know where and when to shop.

A long time ago I discussed different types of supermarkets and what kinds of marketing strategies are used in different stores.  In the post, I advocated shopping in a both a shuk and poor man’s supermarket in order to get the best of discounts and genetic products  (if you need to buy in bulk, shop at a Charedi market as well).  But none of these stores will help me with my schnitzel.  The poor man’s market (ie מגה בול) wants me to buy substitutes and the shuk market wants me to buy different low cost items.  These stores live and breathe a marketing plan based on substitutes and alternatives, not luxuries.  Neither of these stores will go out of their way to offer the schnitzel I want because they are both attracting a clientele who is looking for the cheapest price overall, not the cheapest price of a luxury.

So who is offering the best price for my schnitzel?  Ironically it is exactly the place that normally offers the highest price for everything else, the middle-class and the rich man’s supermarkets.  These supermarkets are constantly trying to get their clientele to buy luxuries, so they are much more likely to get competative and offer a discount on my schnitzel.  This holds true for a number of other luxury items, including fancy ice cream, higher end dairy products, and expensive wine.

So while I do not shop at these places on a regular basis, I do stick my head in when I walk buy to see if an item I want has hit my magic price.

PS – my magic price is ₪ 18 – ₪ 20 for a 700 gram bag of high end schnitzel

PPS – There is an urban legend of a tuna manufacturer who was the only seller in the region to offer white tuna.  Many people would not buy his tuna, as they were all used to pink tuna.  Using his guile, the seller wrote “guaranteed not to turn pink” on the cans of his white tuna and ended up grabbing the market.  

While the American story is only a legend, Israeli manufacturers can actually take credit for taking this story seriously. Some schnitzel companies are beginning to offer lower quality schnitzel, less chicken and more breading, for a similar price to that of the regular schnitzel.  These companies write “extra thin” on the schnitzel in huge letters, transforming their lack of product into a delicacy.  Clever, huh?

eye level

Every week, as I put away groceries, I undoubtedly find something in the fridge that I was supposed to have eaten over the past week.  Maybe it was leftovers, or maybe some fruit, but now it is a complete waste.  And it’s not that I went out of my way to avoid eating it; if I would have remembered it, I would have eaten it.  But somehow, no matter how many reminders I make for myself, I never remember and somehow I throw something out every week.  But then, as I was going foodshopping, the solution suddenly hit me.

If you’ve ever paid attention when you go food shopping, you know the power of eye level.  Supermarkets go out of their way to place whatever it is they want you to buy at eye level, while moving some of the bargains to a more difficult to reach location (usually all the way on the bottom.)  The logic is simple and proven: people are more likely to buy what is placed in front of them. 

Take the following example from my local supermarket’s cereal aisle:


Notice that not only are the expensive cereals for adults placed at adult eye level, but the more expensive cereals for children are placed at children’s eye level.  All the way at the bottom are value size cereals, the kind that bargain hunters search out, but the average Joe passes by.

As I got home, I began rearranging my fridge.  I put perishable fruits on the top shelf and put the junk food in the fruit drawers on the bottom.  Leftovers are no longer allowed to leave the front and center spot when I open the fridge.  Now my fruit gets eaten, my bal tashchis is reduced, and my overall food bill drops a bit.  And don’t worry about my junk food in the bottom draw; junk food never goes to waste.

take your kids foodshopping

One of the most common money saving tips I see is for people to not take their children foodshopping.  The logic is that kids will want to buy excessive luxuries and will force their parents to stray from the shopping list and family budget.  Often, experts will refer to studies on marketing towards kids, pointing out how natural it is for children to be taken in by such marketing and how hazardous it can be on your wallet.

I respectfully disagree.  No, I don’t disagree about the potential dangers of marketing towards children, nor do I disagree to the danger it can pose to the family budget.  I disagree with the idea that parents should have to hide their children from marketing instead of teaching their children to deal with it.

Teaching your children to deal with impulses is one of the fundamental roles of a parent.  As children grow up, they will be bombarded with advertisements for clothes, electronics, even cars and homes, and if they do not know how to deal with this sort of marketing, God help them.

I grew up with a single mother who usually worked at least 2 jobs.  Between cleaning the house, cooking for Shabbat, studying with me and my sister for every single test until junior high, and doing everything else that being a single mother entails, I am sure that foodshopping was not on top of my mom’s list.  But my mom did not leave me home because she wanted to pinch a few more pennies.  My mom took me and my sister shopping with her to spend time together and do something as a family.  We talked in the car, saved some time by dividing the work (“you get the cucumbers and tomatoes; I’ll get the fruit”) and enjoyed spending time in each other’s company.

“But Jon,” you’ll politely interrupt, “what do I do if my kid throws a hissy fit in the middle of the store?”

You discipline him.  You teach that child that we are not animals and are not meant to run on impulse.  You teach him that such behavior is unacceptable.  And you teach your child to deal with impulses before your child falls into massive debt while leading a superficial life because he was never taught to say “no.”

This does not mean that my mom did not spoil me a bit when we went out.  Since some of the foodshopping had to be done in Monsey we would often get pizza for dinner (no Kosher pizza in my home town of New City).  Sometimes I would get a comic book as well.  While foodshopping, my mom would let me choose my own cereal (which is why I still enjoy buying cereal to this day) and would occasionally let me get other stuff as well.  But by no means did she let me get every single item I wanted.  My mom knew her limits and taught me to stay within them. 

My wife told me that she had a very similar story growing up.  Her father would take her and her two siblings foodshopping and would tell them that they could each get one candy each, no more.  They learned to enjoy what they got and learned to deal with marketing in a responsible way.

In short, parents who do not teach their children to deal with temptation are doing them a tremendous disservice.  And as hard as it is, teaching a child to skip on a shiny candy is much simpler than teaching a spoiled teenager that he or she does not need the newest mp4 device.  But I guess that is what real parenting is all about.

gaining perspective, the rule of three

Every so often I get one of those flyers in my mail from my credit card offering me “special deals” on various products.  And while once upon a time, these offers were somewhat tempting, it seems that over time the offers are becoming worse and worse.  Last month I was offered a generic brand of the “nicer dicer” with only one of the two blades on sale from ₪ 300 for only ₪ 45.  Additionally, I was offered a set of three pots on sale from ₪ 500 for only ₪ 200.

In reality, these prices, even the sale prices, are complete rip-offs  I can get the original nicer-dicer at a store in my shuk for only ₪ 15, and I can buy pretty much any three pots I want for ₪ 60 – ₪ 100, provided I am not looking for a pot made of solid gold.  (As an aside, I advise strongly against the nicer dicer.  I own one and can tell you first hand, any time you save cutting, plus a bunch more, will be spent cleaning all the little parts of the blades.  If you have the option, get a slap-chop instead).

By telling you what the retail price is, the company can tell you that what you are getting is a real bargain, even though it is a complete rip-off.  After all, the retail price rarely takes into account supply and demand and is usually some mirage dreamed up by a drunken MBA in the marketing department.  By using an unrealistic retail price, companies aim gain from the uninformed consumer who does not know the true market value.  The real trick is in knowing the market value of the skirt in the window, the book on the shelf, and the gadget in the electronic store while you shop.

One solution is to shop online.  Once you know what you want you can check out a bunch of websites in order to get the best deal.  But when you are dealing with different products that you need to purchase offline and you have no idea what you should be paying, things can get more complicated.

So how do you know when a deal is a deal?  Well, you need more information.  And the best way to get information is to get price quotes.  And when I need price quotes, I use the rule of three.

The rule of three is that when I want to buy something and I have no idea how much I should be paying for it, I get three price quotes and then go with the cheapest (or if I am in a combative mood, bargain one of them down.) And this rule has had so many applications and saved me thousands of shekels.  For example:

  • When I go on vacation, I look up the prices of three cab companies in the areas.  I call up all three the first couple of time I order a cab and quickly learn which is the cheapest.
  • When I bought a mosquito zapper (which is a fantastic investment) I walked into three stores and asked how much the item costs.  Within three minutes I learned that there are two basic types, and when to get the best deal.
  • When I book a tzimmer for my vacations, I call around three comparable tzimmers and get the one with the best price.
  • In my last post, I mentioned how I used the rule of three in order to secure the best pension fund.

The rule of three hold true because it is simple, relatively easy (you’re not getting 40 price quotes) and it gives you the knowledge you lack.  In short, the rule of three helps you gain perspective when you are without.

As an aside, the rule of three, is a huge topic in game theory, especially when you have to reject each offer you research (imagine once you got a price quote, you cold not buy the item there.)

These posts talk about using a similar strategy for all sorts of things, from finding the cheapest gas on the highway, to finding true love.

how I paid over ₪ 3,000 for a simple cell phone

A few days after making Aliyah I jubilantly went over to the nearest Orange store in order to open up an account and have my first Israeli cell phone.  Finally, I instead of listening to other people yell loudly into an inanimate object in public places, I could be the one doing the yelling.

So, off to Givat Shaul and into the closest Orange store.  I signed up for a plan that met my needs (which is marketing for “would be the cheapest given my situation”) and even got a free phone, well kind of.  The phone I got was a brand new, but simple Nokia that I could either (1) pay ₪ 1,080 for up front, or (2) pay in 36 easy payments of ₪ 30 shekels a month.  But here is the catch.  Any month when I would spend over ₪ 200 on my cell phone bill I would be exempt for paying that month’s payment on the phone.  So if I were to spend ₪ 200 per month on my cell phone bill for the next three years, my brand new cell phone would be free.

Over the next few years I did not pay too much attention to my cell phone bill, except I always made sure I spent above ₪ 200 each month, less I have to pay for that month’s cell phone charge and be considered a friar (remember in Israel – better death than being thought a friar).

Fast foreword almost three years.  A lot has changed in my life and reality has forced me to actually become financially responsible.  I began cutting back on my expenses, but still tried not to cut back on my cell phone bill; after all, I would be missing out on ₪ 30 free every month.  Finally, after a few months, I realize that I can be conservative with my phone and cut my phone bill down to around ₪ 70 a month.  It wasn’t even that hard; I just started using a landline when it became available.  In retrospect, I was throwing out money by overusing my cell phone.  The longest calls I had were to the US and the number I used to call the US is a 1-800 number, so when I was calling from a cell phone, I was paying for a call that would have been free from my landline.

In retrospect, I used my cell phone so much extra to save an extra ₪ 30 a month (or ₪ 1,080 total), that I probably ended up spending over ₪ 3,000 in extra calls.

Lesson learned: consider how a “deal” affects your spending habits and don’t give in

Post Script – Recently my sister bought an Israeli cell phone much better than mine, with the same simple features,  for only a few hundred shekels – less than a tenth of the price I paid.

Post Post Script – you can get the same phone she bought from orange for free, if you agree to spend over ₪ X every month for the next 36 months…