10 Things You Should Never Buy at Full Price

IStock
IStock

While major purchases like cars and homes are typically negotiated down to their lowest possible price, there’s no reason smaller transactions need to squeeze every last cent out of your pocket. The next time you’re shopping, keep in mind these 10 purchases can usually be found far below the ticketed price.

1. GIFT CARDS

If you’re in a hurry, a store-bought gift card might be your only option. But if you can plan ahead, services that act as marketplaces for unwanted cards can actually wind up costing you less than the face value of the balance. The exchanges buy cards from sellers, verify they're still good, then sell them below retail price.

2. PRINTER INK

While printer companies caution against recycling old cartridges or using ink kits to replenish them, doing so instead of buying brand-new refills can save you a considerable amount of money. If printing quality begins to suffer, then consider splurging for a new cartridge. Until then, you’ll save well over half the cost ($15 and up) of buying new.

3. CABLE AND INTERNET

If you’ve ever sulked at the rock-bottom offers your cable company offers to new customers, don’t despair. You can often get the same deal by calling and discussing your current plan with a service representative; expressing dissatisfaction with inflated rates or inquiring about promotional offers can usually lead to a discount.

4. TEXTBOOKS

Next to tuition and moving expenses, budgeting for textbooks can be a college-bound student's biggest financial hassle. Try to ignore the sticker price on brand-new books and search for the ones you need online. Putting up with a few tears or stains can slash as much as $60 off a $70 volume.

5. THEATER TICKETS

Slapping down money at the box office for a New York theater show won’t leave much left for other activities. If you’re still uncertain about which performance you’d like to see, official city resources have marked-down tickets for same-day shows available. You can also join rewards programs for discounts and other benefits (unfortunately, you won't find Hamilton tickets for less than face value).

6. CONTACT LENSES

While lens manufacturers often set minimum price points for contacts that prevent eyewear retailers from discounting inventory, they also circulate coupons that can offer substantial savings. Make sure you ask your optometrist if they have any rebates or other offers in circulation.

7. CAR AND HOME INSURANCE

While many people gather price quotes from different insurance companies, not as many bother to ask if “package” discounts apply, or if they might qualify for a reduction not found elsewhere. Not all will volunteer that information, so it’s always a good idea to talk to your insurance agent about possible savings opportunities without sacrificing coverage.

8. DINING OUT

So many discount offers exist from senior clubs, auto rewards, bulk coupon books, and community promotions that paying the full menu price for a meal is harder to do than ever. Check to see if your existing connections—credit cards, for example—offer promotions or consider signing up for memberships that do.

9. FITNESS EQUIPMENT

You can save more than 50 percent off the price of an expensive home fitness machine by finding a used dealer. While it takes a little inspection—you don’t want a health club’s worn out castoff—it’s easy to find gently-used equipment that will look and perform like new.

10. MATTRESSES

If you ever find yourself walking out of a furniture dealer having paid full retail for a new bed, something has gone very wrong. Mattresses are high profit-margin items that are typically marked down substantially in order to draw in customers for the “savings,” but you should be able to get even more off by negotiating the price. A mattress should have you sinking into comfort, not debt.

All images courtesy of iStock.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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11 Expert Tips for Carving a Better Jack O'Lantern

Maniac Pumpkin Carvers
Maniac Pumpkin Carvers

Forget two triangles and a toothy grin; this Halloween, take your jack o’lanterns to the next level. We asked Marc Evan, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers—whose crew carves everything from corporate logos for Martha Stewart and the Yankees to replicas of Escher, Klimt, and Van Gogh paintings on as many as 400 pumpkins a season—for a few tips. “We look at it as this new art medium,” Evan says. “For us, it’s this really fun material to work with, and we’re always trying to push the boundaries of what we can carve into a pumpkin.”

1. Get a pumpkin with a stem.

Pumpkins grow on vines and rest on the ground, so the stem is never meant to support the fruit’s weight; a pumpkin without a stem means it’s been handled—or more likely mishandled—a lot. To ensure you’re getting the freshest pumpkin, look for one with a greenish stem. “If a pumpkin has been sitting around, the stems will dry out and get brittle,” Evan says. “The greener the stems the better. We also like when they have a big, thick stem, which is an indication that the walls of the pumpkin will be thick as well. The thicker the stem, the heavier the pumpkin and the better it is for carving or sculpting.” Also avoid pumpkins with blemishes, soft spots, or bugs, as you would when picking out any other kind of fruit.

2. Don’t dismiss a weirdly-shaped pumpkin.

“Part of the fun of pumpkin carving is that pumpkins come in so many shapes and sizes,” Evan says. “We actually almost prefer some of the really awkward ones. They can inspire some unique designs.”

3. Have a pumpkin-carving plan.

Evan recommends drawing out what you plan to do before you ever make a cut on your pumpkin. “We’ll print out a bunch of references to get inspiration,” he says. “And then we’ll draw our design with a pen onto the pumpkin and start carving away.”

4. Wait to carve your pumpkin—but work fast once you start.

You can buy your pumpkin whenever you want—“they should last a really long time until you carve them,” Evan says—but wait until you want display to start carving. He and his crew at Maniac Pumpkin Carvers usually create a pumpkin just 24 hours before an event, and once they start carving, they don’t stop until a pumpkin is finished, which can sometimes take 10 hours. “We’re working with a perishable food item,” Evan says. “As soon as you cut into it, it’s starting to decompose. It’s unpredictable—we’ve had some carved that last three weeks but then others three days. At home, it’s kind of safe to carve it within two or three days of when you really want it for. But if you want it for Halloween, you shouldn’t carve it at the beginning of October.”

5. Keep a water bottle handy while you’re carving your pumpkin.

“Pumpkins don’t oxidize as fast as an apple or avocado would, but if you leave it out on the counter over the course of just one day, you do see the change in the structure of the pumpkin,” Evan says. “It’s losing a lot of moisture, so one thing we do while carving is we’re constantly spraying it, trying to keep it wet. That helps it to stay workable.”

6. Think beyond the typical pumpkin carving kit.

Evan and the Maniac Pumpkin crew will use whatever it takes to carve a pumpkin, including paring knives, lemon zesters, rasps, Exacto knives, saws, and clay sculpting tools. “Ribbon hoops that are normally effective on clay work great on pumpkins,” Evan says. “One of our favorites actually is a linoleum cutter, normally used in print-making—it’s great for doing intricate designs and line work. Really, anything that is sharp can be useful.”

Still, for scooping, you can’t get much better than what comes in a kid’s pumpkin carving kit. “We love those little plastic orange scoops,” he says. “But you can also use big spoons—we have a couple of big, wide salad serving spoons that we’ve snapped the handles off of, and those work really great.”

7. Leave the top of the pumpkin on.

Removing the top not only messes with the structural integrity of the pumpkin, it also cuts off the vine, which supplies the fruit with nutrients and moisture until it’s all dried out. “When you cut around it, you’re kinda cutting off that lifeline that’s keeping the pumpkin fresh,” Evan says. “So we like to keep that intact.” Likewise, cutting off the bottom is a bad idea because “pumpkins give off so much water when you cut them that all that liquid can start oozing out onto the table or whatever surface the pumpkin is on and really make a mess.” Evan favors cutting a hole in the back of the pumpkin instead.

8. Wear rubber gloves.

There’s no getting around it: You’ll have to get a little dirty scooping out the inside of the pumpkin. But if you find the goop that gross, Evan suggests donning rubber gloves.

9. Scoop everything out of your pumpkin. And we mean everything.

Leaving bits of pumpkin goop inside your jack o’lantern is a big no-no. “Those are gonna start getting moldy and then it’ll spread to the walls of the pumpkin,” Evan says. “When we scrape the walls really thin and get every last little stringy bit out, the walls are almost drier and seem to stay that way longer before they start to break down.”

10. Use an electric light to illuminate your jack o’lantern.

Evan recommends LEDs or CFLs. “They get really bright, but they don’t give off heat,” he says. “You want to keep the pumpkin as cold as possible, and if you have a heat source inside of it, the pumpkin is gonna start to cook inside. Which actually can smell nice, but doesn’t help with the longevity of the pumpkin.”

11. To make your jack o’lantern last, pop it in the fridge.

Nothing you can do will add weeks to your jack o’lantern’s life, but there are things you can do to add a few days. “Our favorite thing to do is, when it’s done with display, we’ll wrap it up really tight with plastic wrap and keep it some place really cool, preferably a refrigerator,” Evan says. “If it’s cool at night, near a cool window or in a garage will also work.”

Check out Maniac Pumpkin Carvers’ incredible work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

This post originally appeared in 2014.