Saturday, December 29, 2012

Maybank Credit Card My Thoughts

Since of late I've been posting alot on Value Tips, lets keep the ball rolling.

I've long been a Maybank customer. However main reason was that my pay goes through to Maybank and also my loans (mortgage and hire purchase) were with Maybank. Around 4 years back, I refinanced to Maybank since they had the most competitive rate. Same during my purchase of our car, I managed to get the best deal from Maybank, with my old MyVi getting Extended Warranty Program (EWP) and my recent Persona getting a good rate as well.

But recently I've come to view Maybank more then just my monthly payslip and loan bank. Its somehow transformed into my preferred mode of banking for nearly all my banking transactions. This happened early 2012, when I was travelling overseas, and my previous bank's credit card dissappointed me. I had reached my limit, but alas, I did not receive any SMS or call notifying me that I was near my limit, what more any courtesy to raise my limit. I was a platinum long term loyal customer. They were made aware prior to my traveling that I will be traveling. Luckily I was with a friend and he offered his c/card and I could pay back later. I obviously had a backup card from another bank but left it in the hotel.

Once I came back, I called the bank to voice my frustration and asked the Level 1 support to request their manager to call me to understand my frustration. Alas no one called me back. Then when I came back, it was the time many banks were coming up with alot of new credit card products, cash back or double reward points. I called my H bank, to request to replace my existing Platinum which had basic benefits with a cash back one, and was adviced 'why not apply for a new card with bank H and maintain my current card'. I said ok, as I can cancel my current card once I get my new card. And guess what, me being a loyal credit card customer with prompt (full) payment, for at least 8 years, was rejected. Well well, guess who just called Bank H to cancel the card. And when they asked why, they got a 10 minute lecture on loyalty.

I've come to realize that many banks focus too much on getting new customers, but way too little in retaining loyal customers. This to me is Marketing 101, which an MBA or business student would know, it is ALOT cheaper to retain customers then attracting new ones, but still many business fail to take the effort to retain a customer.

And with my cancellation of my H bank's C/card, it was time to look for an alternative. Frankly I never considered Maybank eventhough I've done many transactions there. And then thanks to genxyz's blog, which does a detail comparison of bank's credit Card, I came to the realization, that in reality, Maybank does offer the best credit card(s) in town. Here's a quick summary / comparison to credit card's that come close. Firstly OC.. Titanium card, you get 5% cash back on a number of key transactions including utilities, petrol, groceries (excluding Jusco though) and dining up to RM50 per month. So once you hit the RM50 limit (equivalent to spending RM1000 on 5% eligible transactions), any other transactions after you pass the RM50 gets you nothing. And then though not difficult to achieve you'd need to swipe 12x per year to avoid yearly fees. Besides the 5% capped at RM50 though there aren't many other benefits. And if you get a supplementary, your RM50 cap does not increase.

Then there are some other cards that offer 2x or 5x or 10x points, but usually with a catch, limited to very few categories, and a limited time. So here's where the Maybank 2 Card wins hands down.

Firstly and smartly they give you 2 cards, one American Express (AMEX) and another choice of Mastercard or Visa. So the concern that AMEX not accepted everywhere is not a big concern. Then they managed to make it into 1 set, meaning your government tax is also RM50 only instead of RM50x2. And lifetime fee waiver, no need to jump through hoops to be eligible.

Now here's the beauty, every swipe with your AMEX (this is a credit card ya, not charge card), except certain small limited vendors like city council and insurance e.g Etiqa - you will get 5x treat points! And its not a gimmick, sometimes when you get multiples of reward points the total reward point needed to redeem is usually ridiculously high. In this case they can't do that as they use the same system as other maybank cards, you just get 5x more. To put things into perspective, most banks require 10,000 to 14,000 points to offset your RM50 government tax. (OC.. Titanium offsets this free second year onwards if you use RM10k or something). So for most banks you'd need to spend RM10k to RM14k to get 10k - 14k points which you can offset. Where else for your Maybank 2 Card, you need to only spend RM2k on your AMEX, and you've garnered 10k treat points to offset your goverment tax. So same applies for collecting points to redeem the free gifts etc.

If you use your Maybank AMEX on weekends, all transactions are eligible for 5% cash back on top of the 5x treat points, up to a max of RM50 per month (shared with your supplementary). So yes there is a cash back limit here, but note that your points continue to accumulate, i.e no limit, so the cash back is a bonus.

Another thing is if you spend time reading the T&C, the travel insurance coverage and also purchase protection plan are pretty impressive, e.g buy a fan or electronic stuff, entitles you to an additional year of coverage on top of manufacture's coverage. Do read the T&C. I have not tried to make any claims yet so can't comment but its definitely a nice to have. Might even make me think that paying for SenQ's membership for extended warranty might not be that necessary??

Biggest question / concern is - AMEX is not widely accepted. True enough. That's why they give you a Master/Visa credit card as well. And interestingly AMEX is getting wider acceptance, e.g for Petrol stations; Esso, Mobile, Caltex and now Petronas. All major hypermarkets e.g Tesco, Jusco etc also accept. Dining some do some don't

Do note for overseas transactions, AMEX surcharge is slightly higher then Mastercard / Visa so that's when I use my Maybank Visa. I've noticed on average, Maybank does offer pretty good exchange rates when I've used cards from different banks. Best way is to call and ask what's the banks' current rates and then compare.

Happy swiping! You can also check out the Maybank FB App. For a suggestion on how best to utilize your cards and where and when to use if you own both the Maybank 2Card and OCBC Titanium, check out Pairing AMEX with OCBC Titanium

Monday, December 24, 2012

Last chance to reduce your tax in 2012


Yes, this are the last few days to reduce your 2012 taxable income. Besides the usual, this year there's additional tax reliefs you can go for. Personally some of the tax relief, thought meant to encourage certain lifestyles, e.g sports equipment tax relief to encourage healthy lifestyle, has a few things to consider:
  • Do you really want to just spend RM300 for sports equipment if you really don't need? So just buy what you need. 
  • The other thing is this sort of things is little open to mis-use i.e people just declaring but not really making purchases. They've got their ways to come up with receipts if being audited by LHDN, a simple borrow receipt from friend would work, as long as ALL you friends don't get audited for the same year, since so far I haven't seen receipts of sorts with NAME mentioned. There are also other ways...
  • The logic behind having this sort of relief among others is maybe after some detail ROI thought, e.g same thought process for vaccinations. As an entity or government, it is worthwhile to offer free vaccination (or subsidized) IF the cost of treating is (significantly) higher as it costs the govt a certain amount, e.g seeking treatment at Government / General Hospitals. So maybe its worthwhile to give RM300 relief so people are healthier and thus lower % of 'lifestyle' related sickness. 

Anyway going back to last call for 2012.
  1. Skim Simpanan Pendidikan Nasional (SSPN) under PTPTN. Used to be you can get tax relief for yearly net savings of RM3,000. This year it has been up-ped to RM6,000.  Now the savings you get obviously depends on your tax bracket. A quick calculation, if your tax bracket is:
    • 12%, you'd save RM720 in total (for RM6k net savings)
    • 19% : RM1140
    • 24% : RM1440
    • 26% : RM1560
    1. The interests / returns from SSPN itself haven't been that high, usually 3-4%, but reading some forum's its hard to 'see' this in your statement. Anyway, whatever you make, remember that've you've already saved e.g RM1440 (tax bracket 24%) in the first year. So thinking of it as compounding interest (year 2 savings are ON TOP of the RM1440 you already in-directly got from your tax relief) it is still good.
    2. You can open your account and do top ups at Maybank & Bank Islam. Top up can also be done thru M2U and PTPTN's website thru FPX.
    3. One question that keeps on coming up is for parents, if they claim separately can both of them claim for this relief. Per PTPTN's website - Yes if you fulfill the criteria below:.
      1. Ibu bapa yang membuat taksiran berasingan dan telah membuka akaun simpanan SSPN-i berasingan atas anak yang sama diberikan pelepasan sehingga maksimum RM6,000 seorang setahun;
  2. Private Retirement Scheme (Private Retirement Scheme)
    • This newly introduced scheme is to encourage additional savings on top of your EPF savings. Interesting that the gov would introduce this. Actually to me the top beneficiary are the trust fund companies given the approval to offer such a scheme. Obviously depositors and tax payers also benefit. 
    • I did a quick write-up some time ago about the options at PRS Options. Obviously there are new updates, and updates from PPA (Private Pension Administrator) is currently the most comprehensive - click here to see a summary.
    • Kudos to Hwang IM for coming up with options fast, and with 0% sales charge. I initially expected all the PRS provider to offer 0% (since most people's $ will locked in PRS once in) but as you can see in PPA's summary, this is not that case. The problem (for those little lazy) of 0% is that I'm guessing your trust fund agents won't be that 'eager' to promote this funds, unless there is another source of income for them instead of commission on the sales charge.
    • Again kudos to Fundsupermart for offering all Hwang IM's funds. I'm curious how the commision works out. I've always wanted to open an account with Fundsupermart since for most unit trust funds the sales chargers are lower compared to buying from banks, the unit trust company itself and agents. Btw, there is another online fund agency tha has got lower sales chargers as well eunittrust. The other thing is since I don't invest tens of thousands of RM, i find my agent not that 'responsive'...haha. And I seldom withdraw from EPF much for unit trust as well. 
    • Anyway, bottom line is, assuming the funds perform even average, you've already made savings of 9-26% on your RM3,000 investment with the tax relief, again depending on where your tax bracket is, and obviously this is significant. And you save on not having incurred any loss when you purchase the unit unlike typical trust funds where immediately when you purchase, you already loss ~2-5% on sales charge. 
    • Since I've already invested in Hwang, let me write a little about it since it'll take you some time to read thru the whole PRS thingy. 
    • Why I chose Hwang IM? Not that many options currently available, and also wanted to do thru Fundsupermart. Also 0% sales charge. Remember another possible option is like Great Estern's deffered annuity, where you invest a min fixed amount yearly, and after retirement get a yearly 'allowance' up to 10-15 years (with interest). Sounds good for safe players, my only concern is what if that year no extra cash to invest. At least in PRS if no extra cash that year just don't invest lor. Since you already have other commitment like your insurance.
    • Hwang IM's PRS offers 3 conventional funds and 1 Islamic Fund. The conventional are aptly named Conservative, Moderate and Growth. If you check out their prices already they stand true to their labels. (now the bigger qs is how they fare when a downturn is here). The Islamic fund is only 1 and is a feeder fund. PRS Aiiman Growth which feeds into existing Aiiman Growth. The plus point about this is that you can see and evaluate the past performance of Aiiman Growth for reference. 
    • You can buy Hwang IM PRS probably directly from Hwang IM or from Fundsupermart. 
    • REMEMBER, that there is a lock-in period - i.e till retire, expire or migrate permanently. The account 2 (20%?) can be withdrawn once a year with a 8% penalty.  
    • You can switch funds as long as it is a PRS from what I understand, so there is decent flexibility, except I've not seen an bond PRS funds so can't switch into bonds during worrying times?
    • The other concern I have is that the PRS funds offered were way to late for 2012, not enough time to educate nor to do Dollar Cost Averaging. Also would you say the market is currently already quite high? Remember buy low sell high? Well if your bracket is 19% , as long as the PRS doesn't de-value by 19% you still make profit. Ha ha. 
  3. Another option to reduce your taxable income is obviously giving to charitable bodies that have been approved by the Finance Ministry / LHDN. One option is Aman Palestin. 

Ok have a good 2012 and 2013 soon. Happy investing and donating.

By the way, if you're wondering 'What if I can getter better returns / dividend from other sources, does it still make sense to invest in SSPN? I did a comparison and explanation on what % of returns to expect from other sources that would make it comparable to SSPN's dividend + tax relief benefit, click here SSPN vs Higher Returns Outside

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Private Retirement Scheme PRS Income Tax Relief

As you would have heard, you can get up to RM3000 tax relief from 2012 up to 10 years for the amount you save in the Private Retirement Scheme. In other words save on your income tax payment, e.g which is ~27% tax that you'd avoid paying for your RM3k income which equals to a huge return on investment. Alas PRS is not capital guranteed unline EPF. Here's a link to the fund managers and their current offering (as of date blog published)
CIMB Principal & Details
Hwang Investment Mgmt
Public Mutual
RHB - nothing much yet

UPDATE: Please read PRS Update

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Buying Baby Stuff

Usually when we plan to buy things, sometimes frequently over some months or even years, we consciously make note of the price, and choose out shops that offer a good value, price or deal. When you have a child, you come to the realization that you will be buying some additional things on a frequent basis, and probably consider your nearest or favourite hypermarket as your solution and destination.

If you're lucky enough you'll come across shops or friends who bring in the realization, that on a normal day (meaning no sale), odds are that your daily baby items are in reality cheaper at Baby Stores versus the hypermarkets. Yes it is pretty hard to believe but that's the truth.

My friendly started me off, be indicating that there are several baby shops in Kepala Batas / Bertam that have prices that are alot cheaper then other places. Yup we drove all the way there and it was cheaper. Interesting. But that was too far. So what's the main purpose of this blog?

1. To indicate locations of baby stores that you'd want to go survey and decide for yourself which are cheaper.Things that we usually buy are diapers (lampin pakai buang), interestingly we used to call them pampers, but few people still use that brand, too expensive maybe. Also where to buy milk powder (from Frisco, Nestle, Dutch Lady, Enfagrow, all the basic to fancy stuff) and Nestle's baby cereal- Cerelac. There are other things that you'll be buying including Rusks (Heinz's Farley's, Milna)

2. To share some indication of pricing of the goods.

Shops to buy Baby Stuff (items mentioned above). 1. Choo Choo Train. There are two shops that I know of. Both seems to have the same prices. I've done some comparison in Bukit Minyak, Sungai Rambai and Bukit Mertajam and have found on average this shop's prices are the most reasonable.

The first shop is located at Bukit Minyak. Turn into the road where the new Carrefour is (previously another shopping outlet) and its in the row of shoplots facing Carrefour. You can also refer to the map on their website. Parking is decent. Choices and variety at both the branches are pretty comprehensive for diapers, milk, bottles (including Tommy Tippee, Medela), baby swing (Endoi) and little bit of baby clothes.

The 2nd shop is located in Bandar Perda. From Kapitan Nasi Kandar, you can see the shop across the road, however the sign board is faded so look closely. Or coming from Bandar Perda main entrance (where TNB and JPN are on your left upon entering) take the first right. You'll pass Bank Rakyat on your right go straight, and then take the next right into the row of shoplots, which is opposite Kapitan Nasi Kandar and Qasar Hadramawt Nasi Arab . Click here for a map.

Another plus point about this shops is on average I find them (workers / shopkeepers) pretty friendly and rather well informed about baby stuff. This is important, as you want people to give you honest USEFUL and correct information when shopping for stuff for your baby. But as usual, go google and also ask an expert to verify.

2. Now that we're in Bandar Perda, there is another shop of important mention, a baby clothes shop, where there's a good selection of baby clothes starting from RM3 (or RM6 per pair). I found the material pretty good and comfortable. This are non branded, good for daily / house wear. Understand that this shop has a factory so they offer it cheap (or maybe last seasons - but does it matter?). It is located in the shop row behind Maybank, click here for location.

3.Hock Lee Trading. This shop is located near Bukit Mertajam (BM). It is more of grocery store that sells Baby Milk Powder for a decent price. Its located on a 1way street, so you'd need to 'circle around to get there. Otherwise, on the junction (by the court) instead on turning left to Summit at the fork, turn right and then left before Alka Ria and go straight. Then turn left, go straight then run right, then left then park. The walk to Hock Lee. Click here for map.

4. There are around 2 shops in Sungai Rambai area. I found the prices average at best.

5. For those staying in Bertam, there's plenty of baby shops nearby, all competitively priced.

6. On the island, I would say Sg Ara is your best bet.

I was going share a price list as well of how much is baby stuff, especially those that you'd buy often, but slow internet and somehow the formating of this entry seems messed up since my paragraph is all continuous looks like a mess.

Looking for baby shops near your area, unfortunately I can't blog about all the shops, one coz that would be a really long blog, I wouldn't know all the shops, and my internet connection sometimes frustrates me to much. So what to do? Ask your friends in your area where the shops are, OR, check out links like which indicates its retailers so hopefully their prices are good.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Porch Swing Chair Endoi


Yes relaxation is very important in life. Finding activities that offer such to us varies among individuals, family and location. One of my favourite relaxation is sitting by this swing. I'm not sure exactly what to call it, I guess the most common name for it is endoi rotan. Which means a rattan swing. Might also be called a wicker porch swing. I'm not even sure if the main frame is built from rattan or bamboo (buluh). 

Anyway, having an endoi sure is a fine addition to your household relaxation options. The easiest way to get started is to buy a set from furniture shops. Which have the metal base and a rattan endoi attached to it. With this you wouldn't have to look for places to hang it as the base is usually a circular base - well balanced on your floor. Only thing if you plan to put it outdoors, the base could rust under rain and mess up your tiles / flooring. When our endoi from the furniture shop started rutting and 'mereput', we decided to look for a new one. And this time the plan was to hang it (outdoors) as well. We looked at the furniture shops and came to realize that even though the wicker rattan swings were so nicely designed, it was quite expensive. 

So started looking at rattan shops. In Penang, and probably around Malaysia, if you drive around you'll notice shops selling only rattan furniture. Most of this are located in quite warn down shops (a dying art) and then there are some ala boutiques. Well probably the prices will also differ accordingly. 

So here's the rattan endoi we went for. Its  lasted us well over 1 year now in rain and shine but don't expect too much since it is made of rattan. 

As you can see, one of the key changes we made is to 'hang' it instead of using the metal base outdoors. Obviously you need to pre-plan and 'renovate' your house accordingly to create such an option and place to hook and hang your swing.
From the above picture you can see the mechanism to create the 'hook'. Tip - when you are doing your house grill, gate or awning, ask the contractor to help add this type of wall plugs in places you think you'll be hanging your swing or other heavy stuff. This is not the normal wall-plug where you just drill a small hole, hammer in a plastic or wooden wall plug and screw in. If you look closely this has the nut screwed in to the reversed bolt which was something like 'riveted' into the wall / ceiling's column. Not sure what this is called, probably you can get it at the hardware store if you plan to do it yourself. Remember that you'll need identify structures that will be able to support your expected weight. The spring looking hooks I got from my old swing which had rut.

The metal chain is available at any hardware (HW) store. I couldn't figure out what's the weight or Newton rating that it can support though, so just 'tried' and risked it. If you're more hardworking you can spray the chain to match your preferred color, but not sure what's the best material to use, as a otherwise it'll flake.

So there you have it a nice swing in your porch or patio. Ok going back to where to buy. My recommendation is if you want something value for money go hunting for rattan decor shops, the old school type. If you want it quick and easy, just get it at the furniture shop. Here's some links to rattan shops around Penang and Mainland.

Rattan shop near Summit BM : there are two shops here. Summit BM will be on your right and slightly in front ~500meters you will see 2 shops 50meters apart on your left. I find the 2nd shop after summit to be more reasonably priced and friendly. Try finding parking at the parking lot right next to Summit, or drive slightly further you should see an open parking area on your left (by now you would have passed the 2 rotan shops).

Chulia Street : Coming from Jetty, once you cross the Kapitan Keling Mosque junction, drive on straight and you'll see a 7-Eleven on your right. You should see one rattan shop on your right. There used to be another one further down on your left, not sure if still open.

Bayan Baru Roundabout - There is a shop at the Bayan Baru round-about, Rattan de-Cor or something is the name. This one is a little more high end then the old school shops above. Its in the same row of shop houses as the clinic and Teratak Spa.

Giant Bayan Baru - After you park, right before you enter the Giant Hypermarket building, there is a stall selling rattan items. They didn't have the endoi last I checked though.

There are also 'mobile' bamboo / rattan furniture shops, and as the name implies they move around from places to places. I've seen / heard of them being around Sg Ara and Farlim, Penang. Probably try asking the hawkers around that area and they might know.

Among the many other furniture you can get from Rattan shops are rocking chairs, baby eating high chairs and some nice chair and table sets that won't cost you too much.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Acid Test on Point of Views

Referring to my previous entry, Point of Views, I mentioned that could we devise an acid test to see how our point of views would change (or wouldn't) if the scenario changed. This could help us (and help myself too) identify how impartial we are, or help identify that in reality, there is a certain amount of expectations shaping our reactions and like Mukmin mentioned : the mind forms a logical structure of those who read the comments, as long as they feel the same or similar "pain" or "are in the same wavelength" and when there's more of the same wavelength comments the mind tricks you to think "It must be true!"

Let's take the original article, Malaysia ranked 12th most business-friendly country: World Bank and test out the acid test I'm devising on the fly after much thought and ponder.

  1. When you first ONLY read the TITLE of the article, how did you FIRST react
    1. That's good news
    2. Great news, even world bank acknowledges Malaysia is taking steps to improve!
    3. What a joke.
    4. Cannot be la, maybe someone bribed World Bank to give us good rankings.
    5. Let me read the whole article.
  2. Did you read the whole article?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Scanned thru
  3. Did you google / search for the original World Bank article to understand the parameters used?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. Now, imagine if the headlines read " Malaysia's ranking has DROPPED in most business-friendly country: World Bank". How would you react
    1. That just one indicator, rest show we are doing good.
    2. Can't trust World Bank, they have their propaganda
    3. Expected 
    4. What a joke, it's confirmed even by World Bank that Malaysia is screwing up.
    5. Let me read thru the whole article.

So here's my thoughts, if Mr X chose
  •  1.2 and 4.2 : Mr X is contradicting himself. For something Mr X wants to hear, the news is good and World Bank is a reliable source. But when the report is negative, somehow World Bank became untrustworthy.
  • 1.4 & 4.4 : Very much same as above assessment wouldn't you agree?
  • 1.1 & 4.1 OR 1.3 & 4.3 - might have a level of inclination already, and usually sees what they want to see. 
  • For all the above, I'm guessing mostly Mr X wouldn't have read the whole news article. 
How about the other combinations? How many actually read the actual World Bank report?

How would you assess if Mr X chose 1.2 & 4.4 or 1.1 & 4.3? My thoughts? I would think they have the least preset of assumptions and expectations before reading the articles. Or maybe they managed to separate reactions from expectations.

Well, let's call the above the Lukman Iqbal Impartiality Acid Test V1.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Point of Views

I've recently been thinking about point of views. Why would just one statement look different to so many people. Like the adage saying goes, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is partly due to the 'effects of expectation' which Dan Ariely wrote about in his book Predictably Irrational. Among others, expectations shape stereotypes.

Why is it just one statement or a newspaper article results into many many interpretations and comments, sometimes 180' in contrast?

Here's one very interesting example Malaysia ranked 12th most business-friendly country: World Bank , which appeared in a few portals / news. Now just looking at this statement, how would you react? Please comment. Here's an examples of reactions I've seen so far.

Mr A: What a joke.... My tuition centre has been waiting the licensing support letter from district health office for 2 months
Mr B: Malaysia is actually pretty friendly to foreign investors (you are better off not being Malaysian to invest in Malaysia...). Japan has a particularly problem with opening up their domestic market.
Mr C: it means songlap (embezzlement) to da max.
Mr D:  over here, biz can move faster and everything can get done with money...
Mr E: Congratulation to all, we have achieved something good at international front. But, let us also remind ourselves that we have al ot to improve on our domestic ranking, likes Crimes index
Mr F: Good news... only from other news portals.. not from Malaysiakini...Malaysiakini only can do "FITNAH
Mr G:  I go to USA regularly and things are really bad there. I am so glad that I am a Malaysian and our economy is under control. go to USA regularly and things are really bad there. I am so glad that I am a Malaysian and our economy is under control.
Mr H: And there is another report on yahoo as well that Malaysia economy growth is the slowest among Aseans, at 4.4 2012 and 4.7 2013. Ask any business on the streets, and they will tell you business is slow and has slowed down significantly, . Sadly It has been under performing year , Now don't give excuse that our under performance was due to economy crisis in Europe cos Indonesia economy growth was published at six percent and Philippines..

AND SO ON... above are actual excerpts. So how? What's up?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Baby Stuff Price comparison

In my precious post, Things to Buy in USA, I mentioned among others is to shop on Amazon, where you can get plenty of deals. Here's more examples for this, you'll see and realize that either baby stuff is really expensive in Malaysia, or just cheap in States. Any yes, this even applies to USA branded but made in China goods.

Anyway, here's a few more price differences I've come across

What a difference. RM23.90 per pack in Jusco (and around similar price elsewhere), so for a pack of 8 ~RM192. At USA Amazon USD28.77 (~RM92) for a pack of 8. That is a HUGE difference.

For this its around rm199 here.

Come across anything else?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Things to Buy and shopping in the USA

Shopping in the USA

I've googled around to figure out what to buy when traveling to USA, or when a friend is going to the United States of America, and what to pesan (order). There are quite a few forums and blogs out there, mostly mentioning the most common items, namely Coach bags. I'm pretty sure there are so many more things which you can get a good deal, or which you can't find back home which you'd find in the States. So here's my list of To-Shop and also, a little of what not to shop.

This entry is part of a Travel Tips series.

1. Amazon
Yes, shop before you get to the States. The benefit of this is, usually you are on a tight schedule when you are in States (unless your main purpose of the trip is a shopping spree :) ). So there are a lot of stuff you can pre-buy on Amazon or other online sites, and get it shipped to either a friend's house in USA first, or the hotel you'll be staying. Make sure to inform the hotel you'll be expecting some packages. Most hotels (if you've got a confirmed booking) will be ok with this I'd say. Ok plan out for the shipments to arrive at the hotel when you've arrived in the States. With this you'd have completed alot of your shopping even before getting to States.

Benefits of Amazon - accepts international c/cards. They drop off at houses / hotels and don't require people to be at home (might be common in USA as usually in Malaysia most parcels are have to be signed by recipient). They have a good customer service and an excellent return policy.

I would say one of the hardest thing to find in Penang, or probably in Malaysia is a decent hammock. I've looked around, found one at Padang Besar, obviously cheap, RM5, but lasted 10mins before the first string broke. You can actually get a huge option of Hammocks from Amazon .

Basicallly I would say there are two main categories, one with a frame (usually wooden) so your hammock is already spread. More suitable for couples to easily sit together or elderly. Check the lenght of the wooden frame first, to find out if it'll fit into your luggage to carry home.

Another one is the basic string or canvas or cotton hammock that you'll need to spread before getting on it. This one would be lighter to carry back, and cheaper mostly.

You'd probably need to consider buying some straps or 'buckles' to tie your hammock to an anchor. I am not yet that familiar with this terms so can't explain much.

KitchenUtensils. This is one of the best places to perfect your kitchen accesories. Yes the utensils like the knives are a little more expensive then the basic knife you get here, but they are usually sharper and last longer. For exampleVictorinox 47508 3-1/4-Inch Paring Knife, a tomato knife (to cut soft fruits / vegetables) etc . Not the most romantic gift for your better half, but when they start using it, they'll appreciate it.

Handphone Mobile Pouches is another good thing to buy. Especially for brands or models not common home. Look also for your Samsung tab or iPad casings.

Also check out HDMI cables, you can get them for as low ~USD3, and back here probably the cheapest you'll get is for RM30. Amazon

Probably before you buy stuff (namely electronics), compare back home at websites like Mudah, Lazada, PC Depot, Lelong and the ever favourite (click on Lowyat PriceList)

2. Electronic Stores like Fry's and Best Buy.
Here you can get a plethora of IT gadgets and toys. Usually the latest stuff is a little cheaper in the states, and once it has become common, like a USB Thumb / Pen Drive the prices are not that much different. Another item alot of people buy back is Garmin GPS navigation with free world wide maps. Most of this shops do have good sales when it comes around, also a good return / exchange policy. If you are a collector of DVD or BlueRay movies and songs, the ones on sales are really cheap as well. Even sometimes PS3 or Wii games on sales are quite cheap, but you'd need to know your games well to find out if the ones on sale are highly rated or not. I did find though that some electronic stuff is cheaper in Amazon, especially if you are not paying taxes (depends on which state you are sending to - check your invoice before you check-out your cart from Amazon), things like this BT headset is quite cheap on Amazon.

Another plus point on Amazon is you can read alot of customer reviews for reference before you make your decision.

3. Outlet Malls
This is one of the places foreigners have as a must do / must go in their lists. Prior to going to the outlet mall, a few things to consider

-Go to the outlets website, one of the largest outlet mall franchise is Simon Group's Premium Outlet Mall. Register and get the voucher book coupon and download the related coupons. You can collect the voucher book at the outlet information centre. If you do not pre-download but go to the outlet counter straight to get the coupon book they'd charge you around USD5. Places like SawGrass mall only sell this.So do the math.

What to buy at the outlets. So many choices. The favs are Coach, Corningware, Gap, Baby Gap, Guess, Vitamin's from Vitamin World - Glucosamine, Fish Oil, B Complex. Also branded watches.  Probably weight gain formula as well. A heaven...with a costly impact to your credit card allowance.

Ps- The Simon's Group Premium Outlet is the same company that setup shop in Johor - Johor Premium Outlets (JPO). I haven't been there yet, but kudos that we have a Premium Outlet just down south. 

-Distance to outlet. You might have a couple of outlets at around the same distance you're willing to drive, then consider tax. Different states have different taxes, varying by a few percent. And then you have Oregon, Alaska, Maryland, Montana and New Hamspire with no sales tax if I'm not mistaken.

- Time : this places are mostly outdoor with some shaded walkways leading to each store. The places are huge. So if you have less then 1 hour to shop and are not sure what to get, it'll probably be a challenge.

Remember most stores close early on Sunday's and Public Holidays. Check before you go, as this outlets tend to be a drive away, just like our JPO.

You can probably compared prices with our Zalora which has a good variety of branded deals. Some brands like Aldo, where there is a sale back home it is actually cheaper (sigificantly) then the outlet price in the States. So take note to compare before you buy.

3. Baby Stuff
Two main stores are BuyBuyBaby and BabyRUs. Below things are usually cheaper

  • Stroller
  • Carrier
  • *Baby Camera (audio and / or camera).
  • *Breast Pump
  • Baby food. Here's a good example,
Below HappyMelts Organic Yogurt Snack is RM23.90 per pack in Malaysia. 

Now if you buy from Amazon, it is USD31.51 for a pack of 8. Which comes down to less then USD4 per pack, or less then RM13 per pack. So if you just buy they 8 pack, you have saved RM80. Ridiculous isn't it. 

*Most of the electrical / electronic items there come with a 110/120V power supply. So if you're from Malaysia (or similar countries) that use 220V, consider your cost to buy a power transformer that is not really cheap and could get quite hot. I've had friends who managed to buy products that cater for both 110/220V, but make sure you check.
Otherwise get a product which uses a common power jack or USB powered. 

4. Wholesale HyperMarkets 
COSTCO and Sam's Club are two very big retailers that require membership to enter / purchase, but is open to end / retail customer. They have their own homegrown brands, which are real value for money. Sam's club is owned by Walmart. I know Costco has expanded in Asia, but haven't heard of any news of Costco opening up in Malaysia. Costco's own brand Kirkland is REAL value for money, ranging for mixed nuts, to delicious relatively cheap chocolates and supplements. Costco on accepts American Express, so either get whoever's taking you to help pay first, of if you have the Maybank AMEX card that'll work as well (note AMEX is notoriously known for its higher FOREX rates I hear). If you did your MBA or related course, pretty sure you'd have read about them in how they do business, or enhance customer experience.

Things you'd consider buying
  • Luggage bags
  • Assorted chocs for friends and family (the fun size ones)
  • Nuts
  • Whatever you fancy.

 5. WalMart & Target 
Above are like our Tesco's and Giant. They do have a good selection. Clothes here are of good value and not overpriced but usually not branded.

6.Macy's and the likes
This is like our Parkson. Macy's does give discount for foreigners, so check with them. Hmm there's a Macy's in KL right.

Other things to consider
Luggage space ? Check you airlines allowance on number of lugagges and sizes. Flights thru the Americas and not usually have different allowance.

Which Credit Card to use? Some people say that rates are fixed by MasterCard and Visa. Usually hear AMEX is the highest (they might have additional chargers on top of the conversation rate) But I did read somewhere it is bank dependant too. My experience? I used UOB and Maybank, Maybank had a VERY GOOD conservation rate. Also google online, last I checked, other bloggers also agreed that Maybank currently has the best FOREX, at least for USD.

Foreign Exchange (USD $). Suggest change in Malaysia first to take along some FOREX, as you'd get the best rates in your home country. Need some info on where to change currency, click here


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