April 29, 2014

Food Spending by Family Size

Last year I wrote about Grocery Spending by Income Group.    Yeah you guessed it, rich people spend more.    Today we'll follow that one up with the sequel and look at how much families spend based on family size.

I got the data straight out of the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey .   Specifically the numbers below are from the tables for Size of consumer unit.

First family size and spending on monthly basis :

Pretty obviously, bigger families spend more.

But what about the amount spent per person? 

There the trend reverses and for larger families they spend less per person.    I assume this is due to a couple factors.   First I'm assuming that the larger the family the more smaller children and I'd assume smaller children consume less food (usually).     So a typical family of 4 with 2 little kids isn't going to eat as much per person as 2 adults would.   Second I'd also guess that larger families are better at economizing on their food spending due to necessity.   Its one thing to splurge on the steak if you're a single person but buying 5 steaks is going to hit your pocket book a lot harder.


April 27, 2014

Affordable Electric Cars

Electric cars are starting to get affordable.

Photo credit mariordo59

A search on Edmunds shows 4 electric car models under $30,000.   However all 4 are in the sub compact class so they're small cars.   If you're looking at cars in that class then an electric might make sense.   The electric versions have limited driving range but its enough to meet the needs of most people for local city driving.

Here are the four cheapest electric cars and their base MSRP:

Mitsubishi i-MiEV = $22,995
Smart fortwo Electric = $25,000
Chevy Spark EV = $26,685
Nissan Leaf = $28,980

(note that some cars may not be available nationwide, I didn't check)

If you then also get the full $7,500 federal tax credit for EV's then that makes the cars fairly affordable.  You do have to have $7,500 in taxes paid for the year to get the full credit since the credit is non refundable.   But a lot of people don't pay that much in taxes to the IRS so they would not get the full $7,500 in credit.

MSRP w/credit
iMiEV $22,995 $15,495
fortwo $25,000 $17,500
Spark $26,685 $19,185
Leaf $28,980 $21,480

These prices are getting more affordable but they still aren't nearly as cheap as similarly equipped gas cars.    

The fortwo and Spark have gas equivalents so I can do a rough comparison of costs to buy and pay for fuel between the gas and electric models.

Spark EV Spark gas fortwo EV fortwo gas
Cost $19,185 $12,858 $17,500 $13,270
12 payments $4,140 $2,772 $3,780 $2,866
Fuel $307 $1,200 $278 $1,167
annual $4,447 $3,972 $4,058 $4,033

In both cases the annual cost is higher for the electric cars if we just look at making payments and fuel costs.     My estimates are based on driving 12,000 miles a year, paying 10¢ per kWh and $3.50 for gas.     I also figured just making payments and financing over 5 years on 3% loan.  Of course you could pay cash up front and then figure the opportunity cost.

Given that the electric cars should have higher resale value and lower maintenance costs I'd give the edge to the electric models in both cases.  If you happen to live in one of the states like Georgia or Colorado with Colorado with generous tax incentives then it can be a no brainer to get the electric.


April 25, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of April 25th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

Retired by 40 shares : I Saved 80% Making Baby Food!

DQYDJ asks How Long Should Debt Be a Responsibility?

DoughRoller has DR 057: 9 Things to Know About the myRA

April 24, 2014

The Marriage Tax Bonus

You've probably heard of the Marriage Tax Penalty.    Have you heard of the Marriage Tax Bonus?

Most married couples receive a Marriage Tax BONUS rather than a penalty.

My wife and I pay a lower tax bill then I would pay if I was single.   Since my wife doesn't work we get a lower tax rate and higher deduction and exemption.   This is generally the case for a married couple with only one income earner.   This gives us a Marriage Tax Bonus of several thousand dollars a year.

Lets look at a couple examples.

Say you make $50,000 and you're single.   Your basic tax bill would be $5,929.   If you get married and your spouse does not work then your taxes would be $3,608.   The Marriage Tax Bonus is the difference or $2,321.
If you make $100,000 then the single filer tax bill would be $18,493 and married would be $11,858.    Thats a Marriage Tax Bonus of $6,635.

 A single income couple is going to cause the largest Marriage Tax Bonus.   For married couples with two incomes there may be a bonus or there can be a penalty.  It depends on the income levels and resulting tax brackets before and after marriage.

The TaxPolicyCenter said :
"Before the 2001 tax act, married couples were already significantly more likely to get bonuses than penalties. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 51 percent of married couples received marriage bonuses totaling nearly $33 billion in 1996, and 42 percent incurred marriage penalties totaling almost $29 billion."

But note that is before the 2001 tax act.   The 2001 tax act changed things to remove the penalty for the lower tax brackets.   After that 2001 reform the % of people getting bonuses should be even higher.   So now the % of people getting a marriage bonus is above 51%.

To roughly figure if you have a Marriage Tax Bonus or a Marriage Tax Penalty you can use the calculator at the Tax Policy Center.


April 20, 2014

Cheap Photo Books via Deal of the Day Websites

I like using photobooks to create physical photo albums of our digital photos.   Normally photobooks retail for ~$20-40 for a typical 20 page hardcover book.    Through deals on Groupon, Living Social and Amazon Local I've been able to get a dozen photo books for under $7 each on average.  The most recent 7 books I've gotten were only $3.29 each on average. 

It seems there are a lot of companies out there selling photo books on the web and they often have deals.  If you go to the daily deal sites (Groupon, Livingsocial and Amazon Local) you can often find a deal on photo books from various merchants.    Just search for keyword 'photo' and something may come up.  I've gotten the best deals when combined with promotional coupons or credits.   I see those kind of randomly from the deal a day sites or 3rd party promotions.
To find the deals in general :  I've signed up for Groupon, Living Social and Amazon Local.   They spam you with email all the time and I don't always read all of it.   I also watch Fatwallet.com and Slickdeals.net for good deals.    Through the emails or watching the deal sites you should be able to find some bargains.   I've also gotten other promo deals like credits or freebies for something like liking a merchant on Facebook.

For example on Living Social right now they have a deal for a $11 photo book from York photo.
Amazon Local has a $14 photo book from Photobin.

Those are OK deals.   Do be careful to pay attention to whether or not the deal includes shipping or if shipping is extra.    That is a big deal here.  Shipping often runs $7-9 or more for these photo books.   So for example a $10 photo book at Groupon is really going to cost you $22 with their $11 shipping cost.    A different merchant on Groupon is currently offering a $9 photo book with shipping included.   Thats a big difference.

Another way to save is through the site Gathr.com.   I talked about Gathr.com once before.   You can get a bundle deal through Gathr.com to combine gift cards/codes.    One bundle you could make is $20 to buy a $10 Amazon card, $10 Groupon credit and $10 Livingsocial credit.   I could use this deal right now to pay $20 to get a $10 Amazon card which I'd credit to my account and use later on misc. purchases (good as cash as far as I'm concerned), then get $10 Groupon credit to buy a $9 photo book plus a $10 credit on Living Social to get a $11 book for $1 net.   In total I'd be spending $20 and getting 2 photo books for $11.   That does assume the $10 Amazon card is usable as good as cash, which isn't always the case.    I'd basically be spending $11 for 2 photo books.

You can even save a little more on top of these deals by buying your deal a day voucher/coupon through Ebates.   Right now Ebates gives 3% for Amazon Local, 2% for Livingsocial and 4.6% for Groupon.

Standard Ebates blurb:
To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates

-- This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

April 18, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of April 18th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

Doughroller gives 5 Factors to Consider Before Using a HELOC for Your Emergency Fund


April 17, 2014

Virtually All Vegas Casino Resorts Charge Daily Resort Fees of $10-25

I wrote Beware Las Vegas Resort Fees about how Vegas hotels charge resort fees a few years ago.

At the time not all hotels had resort fees.   In fact if my memory is right it seems that a good number of the major casinos did not.   But that has changed.   Vegas.com has a handy list of all the resort fees.

Now its pretty much a given that a Vegas hotel casino will have a resort fee.   

The charges range from $10 to $25 typically.    There are a handful of casinos that do charge less than $10.   Silver Nugget is only $5.      The average fee is about $17.   The only major casinos that don't charge a fee are Four Queens and Fremont.

A selection of major hotels and their fees are :
Bellagio, Ceasars Palace, MGM Grand, Palms, Treasure Island, Venetian = $25
Tropicana, Ballys, Hard Rock, Luxor, Monte Carlo, New York, NY, Rio = $20-22
Circus Circus, Stratosphere, Riviera, Excalibur, Harrahs, LVH = $14.50 - $18

Fees have gone up a lot in the past few years.   I don't have a full record from 2010 but in my previous article I did capture a few examples.   Comparing those hotels from 2010 and today we can see the average has more than doubled :

2010 2014
Excalibur  $10.00 $18.00
Riviera  $0.00 $15.00
Stratosphere $7.50 $14.99
Tropicana  $8.00 $19.99

One annoying part about these fees is that they are not included in the booking price of the hotels when you shop for rates.  For example if you search on Orbitz you'll get a list of hotels and prices.  But the resort fee isn't shown there and you have to click on the 'see details' button for each hotel to actually get the resort fee totals.    For example I just did a random search for later in April and Riviera came up at just $15 a night.  What a bargain!      And only when you go to the 'book room' option do they point out the $15 resort fee which doubles the cost.


Get a Free Flight With Airline Miles Credit Cards

One good way to cash in a promotional bonus from a credit card is to get a card affiliated with an airlines mileage program.   I've had one or two of these cards in years past and they can be a good deal if you have a good use for the miles.   I looked up and compared the credit cards offered through five of the major airlines.  United, Southwest, Alaska, Delta and American

Each card gives you 25,000 or 30,000 in miles.   Most will require you to spend $1000 in the first 3 months and then waive the annual fee in the first year.  Alaskas card is different in those respects and gives you the 25k miles up front but does not waive the $75 annual fee.    The Delta card is an American Express card, AA is Mastercard  and the others are through Visa.

United Southwest Alaska Delta AA
miles 30,000 25,000 25,000 30,000 30,000
annual fee 0/$95 0/$99 $75 0/$95 0/$95
spend $1,000 $1,000
$1,000 $1,000
time 3 month 3 month
3month 3 month
extras 1 free bag n/a $118 companion tick $50 bonus 1 free bag

What are the points worth?

United :  A roundtrip saver flight in the continental USA is 20-25k points. 
Southwest : They do not have a fixed amount for a flight but the points cost depends on the flight and has a rough relationship to the dollar value.   Points are worth around 1-1.7¢ of airfare each.    I can book a couple short flights for the 25k points.
Alaska :   A roundtrip continental USA flight is 25k /40k. 
Delta : The cheapest saver flights for continental USA are 12.5k points each way, so minimum spend for a flight is 25k.  From what little I've seen of it Delta points seems harder to use.
AA : roundtrip flights  start at 25k

So generally the miles bonuses are worth a round trip in the USA.    However how much thats actually worth to you depends on where you want to fly and how much tickets usually cost.      For example looking at Alaska flight costs for me range from $138 to $385 if comparing major city destinations on Farecompare.com    But they have more limited destinations.   Looking at United I see costs ranging from $130 all the way up to $1300.  However that $1300 ticket is pretty extreme and more typical costly tickets are in the $600 range.    If you live in a bigger city the tickets are not going to be worth as much.   If you live in a more remote city like Bismark, ND then tickets could easily be worth $700.

Annual fees

A big downside to all these cards are the annual fees that kick in at least in the second year.   Paying $75-99 a year is generally not worthwhile unless one of the perks of the card justifies it.   Free bags on United alone might pay for their annual fee and the $118 companion ticket on Alaska might justify their $75 fee.    Most people are likely better off cancelling the ticket within a year to avoid these fees.


April 15, 2014

How Much Severence Can You Expect If You Lose Your Job?

If I lost my job my employer would pay me a severance package.   At least that is what they normally do.  There  is really no promise or guarantee that I'd get severance but whenever I've heard of other people losing their jobs they've gotten severance.    In the past the company has had some large lay offs and they shared tables to estimate the severance amount you would get.   The severance here works out to roughly 1 week of pay per year of service.

I went out to find data on how much severance companies usually pay.  I didn't find a lot of information but I did find a couple sources.
This AARP article Read This Before Accepting a Severance Offer claims that "Slightly less than 50 percent of employers provide some amount of severance pay to workers whose employment is terminated."
An article in the CNN Money Ask Annie column How Much Severance Pay Can You Expect? says: "about half of employers offering two weeks' salary for each year you've worked there. Slightly more than one in three pay one week's salary per year of service; and fewer than 20% offer less than a year's pay per year of service."

If I add both those pieces of data then I estimate the following rough approximation for how much employers pay out in severance. :

Of course this is based on two unattributed data sources and I don't know how accurate either is so it should be taken with a large grain of salt.


April 13, 2014

How Much Will COBRA Cost You?

When you leave an employer you have the right to continue coverage under their health insurance by paying for COBRA.    If you leave your employer voluntarily or involuntarily for anything but 'gross misconduct' then you generally qualify for COBRA.    For more specifics on how COBRA works see the Dept. of Labors FAQ on COBRA.    COBRA premiums can be expensive and people often don't know how much it will cost until they're attempting to sign up. 

How do you find out how much COBRA costs?

I can think if 3 ways to find out how much COBRA costs.

1. First you can simply ask your employer.   They should be able to tell you.    Your HR department or whoever handles such things should know the premium costs.   I'm assuming here but I don't see any reason why they would not know.     My employer actually publishes COBRA rates internally and its possible yours does too, especially if you work for a large company like I do.   Simply asking your employer is the obvious answer but people may not think of it or they may have a reason for not wanting to ask.  For example if you're thinking of leaving your current job for another job you may want to keep that quiet for now.

2. COBRA cost is generally 102% of the actual cost of health insurance.   That includes both the employee and employer contributions.   If you happen to know the total cost of your health insurance then 102% of that that is how much COBRA will cost as well.  

3. Figure the cost based on W2 information and your premiums.   Lastly one trick for figuring COBRA cost is to find the employer cost of health insurance on your W2 form.   Now the government requires most employers to document the cost of health insurance on the W2 forms.   For information on that see the IRS page on reporting of health insurance on W2's.    Box 12 DD of the W2 will list the employer contribution.    This doesn't count the amount that you as the employee pays and it does not include any HSA contributions.   You can figure the total cost of your insurance by adding the amount from box 12DD on the W2 plus your current monthly premiums.   So for example say you have a family of 4 and your current premiums are $200.   On box 12 DD of your 2013 W2 it lists a cost of $9600.   Your annual cost is $200 x 12 months for the employee contribution plus the $9600 for a total of $12,000 or $1000 a month.   Your COBRA premiums are likely to be 102% of that or $1020.


April 11, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of April 11th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

Retireby40 gives 10 reasons why I’m not cut out to be a landlord
He hits a lot of the same points as my old article Are you cut out to be a landlord?

DQYDJ asks Is a Tax Refund Really That Bad to Receive?

and they finished their series Emergency Funds are Overrated: Part Three of Three

MyMoneyBlog discusses the Vanguard Managed Payout Funds and Safe Withdrawal Rate Strategy

TheBigPicture has a graphic on the 401k's history with The Accidental Success of the 401(k) Plan


$5 off $30, $10 off $50 or $25 off $100 at Living Social + 10% cash back at Discover

Promo codes for Living social :

$5 off $30 = 5OFF30
$10 off $50 = TENFOF50
$25 off $100 = 25OFF100

 These are good till April 13th at 11:59PM PDT

You can also get 10% cashback via Shop Discover right now.
You may need to use the link specific to the promos on Discover to get credit for both the promo codes and the 10%.  (note that Discover deal does not apply to some things like takeout or delivery)

Combined the discounts and 10% would give you :
$30 - $5 = $25 - 10% = $22.5 for $30
$50 - $10 = $40 - 10% = $36 for $50
$100 - $25 = $75 - 10% = $67.50 for $100

Or if you don't have a Discover card you can get 3% cashback at Ebates plus any cashback from any other credit card.

Some examples of potential good deals  on LivingSocial right now
$24 of product at LuckyVitamin for $12.   (I already bought this one myself)
1 month of Match.com, a $43 value, for $15
$50 worth of custom wall art at Photobin for $15   (Never mind this is overpriced)

$30 worth of flowers from Proflowers for $15

I don't know if all these deals are national or not, so you'll have to search for what you want in your area.

Make sure to read the terms and fine print on either shopping portal.

* Standard Ebates blurb:To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates

-- This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

5% Bonus at 49 Merchants at Shop Discover

Now through Mothers Day you can get an extra 5% cashback from Shop Discover with 49 merchants if you use their portal to do your online shopping.

There are some pretty significant bonus rebates here with some major retailers.

The only merchant below that I found with a better deal on Ebates* is Magazines.com which they currently have at 40%.

To find the list on the Shop Discover site, log in and then look for the graphic I picture to the right.   Click on that image and it will take you to the filtered list of merchants.

The terms generally aren't valid for purchase of gift certificates, taxes, fees or in combination with other promo deals.  Check each merchant for specific rules.

Here is the list of merchants and the current cash back including the 5% bonus :

1. 1800Flowers.com 20%
2. AllPosters.com 20%
3. Art.com 15%
4. Athleta 10%
5. Avon 10%
6. Banana Republic 10%
7. Bloomingdale's 10%
8. Bobbi Brown 10%
9. Brookstone 15%
10. Chefs Catalog 10%
11. Clinique 10%
12. Coach 10%
13. Darphin 10%
14. Dell Consumer 10%
15. Dell Small Business 10%
16. Estee Lauder 10%
17. Fannie May Candies 20%
18. Fossil 15%
19. FTD 25%
20. GAP 10%
21. Godiva 10%
22. Groupon 10%
23. Harry & David 10%
24. jcpenney 15%
25. Jewelry.com 15%
26. Kmart 10%
27. Kohl's.com 10%
28. Lancome 10%
29. Lands' End 10%
30. LivingSocial 10%
31. Macy's 10%
32. Magazines.com 25%
33. Neiman Marcus 10%
34. Nordstrom 10%
35. Old Navy 10%
36. Origins 10%
37. Panasonic 10%
38. Piperlime 10%
39. ProFlowers 25%
40. RedEnvelope 20%
41. SaksFifthAvenue 10%
42. Sears 10%
43. Shari's Berries 20%
44. Smashbox 10%
45. Sports Authority 10%
46. Starbucks 10%
47. Teleflora 20%
48. The Body Shop 10%
49. Things Remembered 10%

* Standard Ebates blurb:To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates


April 10, 2014

Grandparent 529 Accouts Can Hurt Financial Aid

When they figure out your financial aid eligibility for college they consider your income and assets.   529 plans held by the parents or students are counted as assets of the parents and they assume you can spend 2.6-5.6% of the parents assets.    529 plans owned by grandparents are not counted in financial aid.   That sounds great.  However money spent out of 529 plans are then counted as student income in the next year.   So the following year that student income goes up and that does impact financial aid.  They assume that you can use 50% of student income towards college.  

This means that money distributed from a grandparents 529 will cut financial aid in following years by 50% of the amount used.

The Smith family has two children and the older child is 18 and about to head off to college.    They make $60,000 a year total.   Their FAFSA says that the parents expected financial contribution is $10,000 and the childs contribution is $1000.   For their local state college costing $20,000 that means they have need of $9000.    Lets just say that the school's aid award includes $5,000 in loans and $3,500 in state grants. 

Ok, now lets say that the Smith Grandparents saved a bunch of money and put it into a 529 for their grandkids.   They have $20,000 total for each child.   When Smith Jr goes off to college the 529 is not counted in their aid.   But the grand parents pull $5,500 out of the 529 and pay $5500 worth of the students expenses thus keeping them from having to take out the student loans. 

However in the sophomore year Smith Jr again fills out the FAFSA but this time that $5500 from the grandparents 529 counts as income for the student.   The financial aid calculations assume that 50% of a students income is available for college.   That $5500 from the grandparents will increase the students expected financial contribution by 50% or $2750.    In the sophomore year then the students EFC will go up to $3750 and their need will go down by $2750 to $6250.    In the sophomore year as a result they will qualify for $5500 in loans and only $750 in grants.   The same thing would happen in the Junior and Senior years.   In the end the student would not have to take out student loans but their grants would only add up to $5750.

Its better if the grand parents use their 529 funds in the later years.  In fact its best to delay it all to the senior year if possible.   This way the money will not be counted in following year financial aid calculations and won't undercut financial aid eligibility.

Lets instead look at the above scenario and have the grand parents distribute $10,000 a year in the junior and senior years only.   This would not reduce grant funds for the sophomore and junior years since it would not increase the student expected financial contribution.

Here's how it might look if the grand parents dole out money every year :

Parents Student Grandma Loan Grant
Frosh $10,000 $1,000 $5,500 $0 $3,500
Soph $10,000 $1,000 $5,500 $2,750 $750
Junior $10,000 $1,000 $5,500 $2,750 $750
Senior $10,000 $1,000 $3,500 $4,750 $750
TOTAL $40,000 $4,000 $20,000 $10,250 $5,750

Now if instead the grand parents hold the money till the last two years it could look like this :

Parents Student Grandma Loan Grant
Frosh $10,000 $1,000 $0 $5,500 $3,500
Soph $10,000 $1,000 $0 $5,500 $3,500
Junior $6,500 $0 $10,000 $0 $3,500
Senior $10,000 $0 $10,000 $0 $0
TOTAL $36,500 $2,000 $20,000 $11,000 $10,500

The student has to take a little more in loans up front but they also save $2000 out of pocket and the parents save $3500 out of pocket.   If the student and parents took that money to pay off loans right after graduation then the net loan balance would be $5,500.

 Now of course this all hinges on the assumption that the student and their family's financial situation and the school aid program is such that the student could get grant aid.   Thats not a given.   If the family has a higher income or the college isn't very well endowed then grants may not be available at all.   However even if the student can't get grant aid then it may matter to help them retain eligibility for loan aid.    Subsidized loans are a form of financial aid.    If you can qualify for subsidized loans versus private loans then the subsidized loans are definitely better.


April 8, 2014

Can I Cut Cable and Watch All MY Sports?

One of the common themes in personal finance is the idea of cutting cable.   Cable is expensive and a luxury expense so its a natural candidate for cost cutting.    I've said before that I'm happy to spend a lot of money on cable.    We enjoy watching TV and even though it is pricey cable is really a pretty reasonable cost considering the amount of entertainment you can get from it.  Even though I have certainly looked at ways to cut that cost by going to cheaper alternatives like Netflix and Hulu.    One of the key reasons we don't cut cable is sports.   Live sports are hard to find anywhere but cable.  

Any time this discussion plays out on the net it seems that someone will step in and argue that you can cut cable and still watch all the sports you want.   The arguments go like this :

Just get an antennae and watch it over the air!   
Why don't you go to a friends house and watch the game there?  
I'm sure you can see those games at a local bar.   
You can use MLB.com or EPSN3 online to see all the games.

Now those can all be reasonably good solutions for some people.    But they really don't work for me or a lot of other sports fans.   My wife and I watch two teams : a football team and a basketball team.  The football team has 13 games a year and basket ball is 82 or more.

Over the air -  We could actually see 2 football games & 18 basketball games on the local networks over the air.    Thats actually quite a lot of games.   However I'd be missing 11 football games and 64 basketball games. 

Friends house - Its an imposition on my friends.  I don't always want to spend evenings and afternoons at a friends house away from my own home to catch games.    While I certainly do find watching sports with my friends its not always convenient and sometimes I simply prefer to stay in the comfort of my own home.  None of my friends are basketball fans so theres nowhere to watch those games.   Its also not totally free.  I'd have to travel to my friends house and to be a good guest I should bring snacks and/or beverage.

Local bars - I could absolutely see every basketball game at a local bar.     My football team is not a local team and doesn't get much if any playtime in local bars.   Bars generally expect you to spend money so I'd have to buy stuff.   Bars are not always convenient or comfortable.   I'd also have to travel to the bar and back which is extra time.    This is not a free option.   If I spend just $3 per game on a beverage to watch 64 games then thats $192.   If I travel 10 minutes to the bar each way then that ads up to 21 hours of travel time.   At $10 an hour thats $210.   Gasoline would cost me about $90 in total, not to mention the wear and tear on my car.   Altogether I'd be spending $300 - $500 in time and money to go to a bar and watch the 64 games.

Online games - There are NO ways to see our teams online.   None.  Trust me on this..   Yes you can often view many sports teams online, but our teams are simply not online.    NBA league pass online version would work if we weren't in the local market but since we watch the local team we can not see our games online.  My football team has no online viewing options.    If online options were available they generally wouldn't be free.     NBA's online pass is $65.

Honestly I could watch games over the air, impose on my friend to watch football at his house then spend dozens of evenings sitting in a bar nursing a drink like a cheapskate and catch all the games for our teams.   But I do not want to.


April 7, 2014

Is it Really That Hard To Get Rid of Student Loan Debt in Bankruptcy?

This is a fairly short article that mostly serves to point you to the article :

Bankrupt? How to get student loan debt erased

We've been told for a while that it is almost impossible to get rid of student loans during bankruptcy.   Thats kind of true.   You can't discharge student loans in a normal bankruptcy and you have to file an "adversarial proceeding" which is a big deal and expensive to do.

But as the article points out  about 2/5 of the people who try this path are successful.

"In one study of 170,000 student loan debtors who filed for bankruptcy protection in 2007, only 51 won full discharges of their debt and 30 received partial discharges.
The author of the study, which was published in the American Bankruptcy Law Journal, found that only 213 of the student loan debtors studied even tried to have their education debt discharged ..."

While virtually nobody succeded, thats moslty beause hardly anyone tried.

If you can get legal help or represent yourself then it seems the chances of getting loans discharged aren't all that awful and certainly not as bad as has been claimed.


April 6, 2014

Comparison of Cash Back Bonus Programs for Select Major Merchants

I decided to buy a Groupon deal today and I shopped around the different rebate sites I've used to see which had the best rebate for Groupon.   Turns out the winner was Discover card.   I decided to do a quick sample of major retailers to see where the best rebates were.  

I compared the following sites :

Citibanks Citi Bonus Cash Center
Discover cards Shop Discover
Chase's Ultimate Rewards Mall
Fatwallet Cash back shopping

For Citi, Discover & Chase you need to have credit cards with those companies to use their online discount sites.   For Ebates & Fatwallet anyone can sign up on those sites.

I found a list of the largest retailers in the US and grabbed the top few stores excluding grocery.   Each of the sites has several dozen if not hundreds of merchants signed up so thats way too much work for me to sort through and list all of them.  

Here is the comparison :

Discover Citi Chase Ebates FatWallet
Amazon n/a n/a n/a 0-3% 0-3%
Apple 5% 2% 1% 1% 1%
Best Buy 5% 1% 1% 1% 1.5%
Home Depot 5% 2% 2% 2% 2%
iTunes n/a 4% 4% n/a n/a
Lowe's 5% 3% 3% 2% 2.5%
Macy's 5% 3%* 3% 3% 5%
Rite Aid n/a n/a n/a 4% 2%
Sears 5% 3% 3% 3% 3%
Target 5% 2% 2% 0-2.5% 0-2.5%
Walgreens 5% 4% 4% 4% 8%
Walmart 5% 2% 1% 2% 1%

Discover is the clear winner with only a few exceptions.    7.5 of the 12 merchants have the largest rebate at Discover.   FatWallet has 2, Ebates got 1.5 and Citi and Chase only share the last 1.

 Note: the rates above are what I found at the time of writing.   The rates do change and each site might run temporary bonus offers.

One thing to keep in mind is that with Citi, Chase and Discover the bonus above stacks with their normal cashback amount.  Ebates and Fatwallet would also stack with the normal cash back on whatever credit card you use.    Sometimes the way this stacks can change the better choice.   For example, right now Citi has 5% discount at Macy's.  So stacking their 3% bonus above with the promo 5% rate makes them 8% and they win right now due to the extra cash back 5% promotion.

Standard Ebates blurb:
To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.


April 4, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of April 4th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

An article carried on Yahoo talked about  How much does a wedding proposal cost at a major league ballpark?

MyMoneyBlog shares their Frugal Mattress Shopping Tips and Our Experiences

DQYDJ finishes their series with Emergency Funds are Overrated: Part Three of Three


April 3, 2014

Have My Real Estate Investments Paid Off Better Than Simply Buying Stocks?

I bought my first house in 1999 with a low % downpayment.   My payments on the house including insurance and taxes have been roughly $1200 the whole time since then.   Today Zillow says the house is worth about 65% more than I paid for it.    That is roughly 3.4% annual rate of increase.  However I've had a leveraged purchase so my return is much better.    In fact I figure that my rough IRR on the investment is about 11.5%.   Thats a good return.    I figured that by counting the out of pocket cost at closing to buy the house plus figuring my mortgage cost minus equivalent rent and then considering the income tax impact as well.    My home has returned over 11% annually as a financial investment.   Thats a good return.

But what if I'd simply rented an apartment the whole time and then instead put the same amount of money into the Vanguard 500 index fund (VFINX)?   If I had instead put the same amount of money into VFINX annually I'd have a return rate of 5.1%.     The investment in my home has returned over double what I'd have gotten if I'd bought stock index fund instead.

Now lets look at our rental properties.

The first property was bought in 2001 for cash.   Its had positive cash flow since then.   All in that property has a IRR of 12.9% annually.    During that period investing in VFINX would have given a 7% return.

The second rental we bought in 2006.   For that one the IRR is 'only' 8%.    Putting the same amount of money into VFINX would have given me about 4% IRR.

Here's a summary of how the 3 properties have performed versus if I'd just bought the VFINX index fund  :

Home 11.5% 5.1%
1st rent 12.9% 7.0%
2nd rent 8.0% 4.2%

In total I've gotten 11.1% return from the house and rentals.   If I'd bought VFINX then the total return would have been 5.3%.

Yes my real estate investments have paid off better than simply buying stocks.


April 2, 2014

Target Now Available on Gathr - $10 Amazon, $10 Target + $10 Living Social for $20

I've previously discussed how you can get $30+ worth of Gift cards and subcriptions at Gathr for $20

Since then  Gathr has also added Target as one of the options for $10 credits.    Now you can get $10 from Amazon, $10 from Target and another option for $20 total.

Personally I like the combination of $10 Amazon, $10 Target and $10 LivingSocial but there are a lot of ways to combine the options.

I can treat Amazon and Target basically as good as cash since theres always useful stuff to buy at those merchants.   So this deal is basically like getting $10 on LivingSocial for free.

For the first option Amazon, itunes, Ticketmaster or Starbucks:

Second choice Target, Fandango, Groupon, Dominos, Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, Zappos :

The third option has Pandora, several magazine subscriptions and some other services.    In my opinion these options have lower value but theres likely something there you can make use of.

Fourth option LivingSocial, Restaurant.com or Amazon instant video:

I would really only recommend doing this is you are sure you can get good value out of the options in question.   Also make sure to read the 'details' tab on each offering to see how they work.  Some of the credits expire within a month.

Important Note :   Gathr is a monthly subscription service, so they will automatically bill you every month.    However you can cancel at any time so if you chose you can get the credits for just one month then cancel.

Plus if you refer a friend and they sign up then you get another $10 Amazon gift card.

My links to Gathr here are my referral link so if you sign up after following the links here then I'll get the referral bonus.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin