May 30, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of May 30th

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 answers Are Dave Ramsey’s Investing ELPs Good for Your Wealth?

No Nonesene Landlord covers Renting to Family Members and Friends
My version is : don't.

DQYDJ made a A Dividend Reinvestment Calculator for EVERY Stock (Including DCA!)


May 29, 2014

Discount Pay as You Go Cell Phones under $5 a month

Long while ago I wrote about getting cell phone service for $5 a month.   But then for quite a while it seemed that such cheap plan rates had disappeared.  Nowadays (based on TV ads) it seems that an unlimited cell phone plan for $40 a month is a great deal.   But lately I've heard about some MNVO's that have some pretty cheap rates and minimum prices.

Here's a few cell phone service providers that I found that can get you service for $5 a month or less:

minute Text MB data min/mo Min Expire network
Ptel 0.05 0.02 0.10 $5 $10       60 T-mobile
Lyca 0.02 0.04 0.06 $0 $10  no  T-mobile
Spot mobile 0.10 0.05
$1.67 $5       90 T-mobile
H2O 0.05 0.05 0.10 $3.33 $10       90 AT&T
PagePlus 0.10 0.50 0.10 $2.50 $10     120 Verizon

Generally best for light usage

If you use your phone a lot then one of these cheap plans is not for you.   If you talk on the phone just 30 minutes a day thats about 900 minutes a month and that along will cost you a minimum of $18 for the plans below.  If you use a lot of data then you will quickly outspend one of these plans.    Heavy music or video mobile use will pile up data usage quickly.   You can use this calculator at AT&T to estimate your data consumption.    However you're only charged for mobile data so if you use a local wifi network in your home or public area then that data is not going to cost you.   One way to go is to look at your current plan usage levels and then find the maximum amount of phone, text and data you used for a single month in the past 6 months.   Add in a 10% margin to that and you could give get yourself a baseline usage need for yourself.

Expiration periods / minimum monthly rates:

Lycamobile has no expiration period on their prepaid credits.    So if you use it a very small amount in a given month then your monthly charges can be extremely small.    Lyca looks like the best deal in general based on their rates and the lack of an expiration.

Otherwise the providers offer minimum pay-go rates that expire in 60-120 days.    That results in a minimum monthly charge of as low as $1.67 for Spot.

Cheap SIMs on Amazon

If you buy the SIM from the provider then they charge $5-10.    But you can get the SIM cards on Amazon or eBay for next to nothing.   Prices I found on Amazon :

H2O Wireless for $0.01
Lycamobile for $0.01
ptel for $0.99
Spot Mobile for $0.01

Data rounding

If all you want or use is simple phone calling then data isn't an issue.  But if you do want to use a little data or have a smart phone that might do so then then how they figure your data usage can matter a lot here.

Big potential problem with Lycamobile is that they seem to round up any data usage to 200kb.   So if you send one byte a minute then you'll end up paying 200kb a minute and that can add up fast.   Apps which use occasional data for updates or status may do this kind of thing.   You'll have to be real careful there and its probably best to turn off data entirely unless you absolutely need it.   You can then just rely on wifi usage.

Ptel does not round up data and does not charge you till you accumulate 1 cent worth of data usage.   You'd have to check the details on the other plans to see how they handle data usage.


May 27, 2014

Beater Shopping - Borrowing Money to Buy a Car With Better MPG Can Make Sense

If you don't have a lot of money and you're shopping for a beater car you likely find that the cheapest cars usually have pretty poor fuel economy.   I believe people in the car market realize the value of better MPG and are willing to pay a bit of a premium for it and see the problem with a low MPG car and discount its value.   So the end result is that the  cheaper cars often have poor economy.     If you don't have a lot of money this puts you in a poor spot since it seems all you can afford is a car that will cost you more to operate.    I think in this situation it can make sense to borrow some money simply to buy a car with better fuel economy.

Lets look at some examples.   I looked on Craigslist and found a couple cars around $1000.   One was a 1994 Pontiac Grandprix that gets 20 MPG (17/26) and the other is a '94 Ford Explorer 4x4 which gets 17 MPG (15/20).    These are cheap cars and if you don't have much money maybe its all you can get.   But your gasoline bills are going to be pretty high.   If you drive 10,000 miles in a year at $3.50 per gallon then that Grand Prix will run you about $1,750 to fill the tank for just one year.   If you found a car that got 25MPG then it would be $1,400 and a 30MPG car would only cost $1,167. 

Paying a bit more can net you a car with decent mileage.  I found a 1996 Honda for $2000.   That car would get 25 MPG (22/29) and so the gas would run you about $1,400 a year.   So spending $1000 more on the car would save you about $350 a year in gas.  I also found a '99 Chevy Prizm for about $2000 which would get 29 MPG (27/34).   That car would run about $1,207 a year to fuel or about $543 less.

Note that I'm ignoring things like reliability here which of course you'd want to take into account as well.

Can you borrow $1000 somewhere?    Lets say the best you could do is a personal loan at your credit union at 12%.   Thats really high interest so hopefully you've got better options.    If you borrowed an extra $1000 to afford that Prizm with better MPG then your payments over 36 months would be $33 per month.   You'd save more in gas than your payments on the loan would be.     Or if you went with that Honda then your payments and gas savings would be about a wash.

Here lets compare the total cost of my 4 example cars if you look at what you'd pay over 5 years :

cost MPG annual gas 5 year total
Grand Prix $1,000 20 $1,750 $9,750
Explorer $1,000 17 $2,059 $11,294
Honda $2,000 25 $1,400 $9,188
Prizm $2,000 29 $1,207 $8,222

The last column with the 5 year total includes 5 years worth of gasoline and the cost to buy the car.  For the Honda and Prizm I'm counting $1000 out of pocket and then 36 months forth of $33 payments on that 12% loan.   In the end the more expensive cars with better MPG are going to cost you less even if you finance their purchase at 12%.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should borrow $25,000 to get a car with 40MPG.   The point here is that if you're looking for a beater car in the low end and have very limited funds than rather settle for the cheapest car you can find and pay out the nose at gas station, it can make sense to borrow some money to finance a car at the 2nd to bottom rung of the beater pile.


May 25, 2014

Are Solar Panels a Good Investment? (3rd look)

Apparently its been four years since I took my 2nd look at solar panels.    I've heard lately that the cost of solar panels has dropped so I'm looking again.

A calculator  [dead] at to get a rough estimate of the cost and savings.   They use a cost of $6 per W for the solar installation.

I figured the costs at $4.5 / W and then figured the federal, local and utility incentives myself.   I used a local calculator to figure my electricity savings.   The results for me are :

KW system cost incentives NET elect save ROI
1.5 $6,750 $5,925 $825 $217 26%
2 $9,000 $7,900 $1,100 $289 26%
2.5 $11,250 $9,875 $1,375 $361 26%
3 $13,500 $11,850 $1,650 $433 26%
3.5 $15,750 $13,175 $2,575 $506 20%
4 $18,000 $14,200 $3,800 $578 15%
5 $22,500 $16,250 $6,250 $723 12%
6 $27,000 $18,300 $8,700 $867 10%

One of the local incentives has a maximum pay out so the returns max out at about 3 KW installation for me.    A lot of the incentives we get locally are not available to most people.  My state and local utility are pretty generous with the incentives.   If you only get the 30% federal tax credit then your ROI would work out to only about 3.4%.  

For me at least in my area it seems solar installations are definitely now worth it financially.    Of course the math differs depending on local incentives from your state or utility.    If you don't have generous state or utility incentives then the ROI may turn out to be just 3.4% range which isn't a great investment.


May 23, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of May 23rdd

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

Planet Money tells us How Far Your Paycheck Goes, In 356 U.S. Cities

Retireby40 says Brand names ARE better after all

DoughRoller covers Marginal vs Effective Tax Rates–What You Need to Know



May 22, 2014

FREE - $23 in Amazon App Credit

OK here's the deal.   Amazon has something called Amazon Coins which are basically credits good towards purchase of applications for Android or Fire.    As a promo for some apps they will give free coins.  Right now 5 apps will give you 1,000 coins combined.

"Buy" these 5 free apps :
Food Network In the Kitchen
iHeartRadio - Free Music & Internet Radio
Strawberry Shortcake Bake Shop
Don't step the white tile
Dr. Panda's Restaurant

 That will net you the free 1,000 coins ($10 value).

Then if you also buy GTA San Andreas for 699 coins you get 2,000 coins.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Kindle Fire Edition)

That gives you a total of 2301 coins or $23.01 in value to use on whatever apps you may want.

You don't actually need to install the apps on your phone or Kindle and it doesn't matter if you actually have a Kindle Fire or not.  

Hurry, the deals will probably not last long.

I learned about this on

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

Money Making Rebate Deals

Lately while reading up on Fatwallet to find good deals I've seen some that are money makers.   Between rebates and coupons or other promotions you end up getting merchandise for free and netting cash after the fact.   Here are the 3 examples I've seen:

  1. This deal (here and later here) to make ~$9 buying 3x Paypal card readers.  
  2. Then a deal to get Mcafee virus total protection for free plus a $10 newegg promo card (here  and later here) You *might* be able to resell the unused open box product missing UPC  on Amazon for a few bucks too.
  3. Make $9-13 through CVS or Walgreens  using combination of coupons and a $20 rebate.  (here)
(By the time I get around to posting this those deals will probably all be out of date.)

Between these 3 deals you could make yourself $20 net in cash plus a $10 promo credit on Newegg.   Plus the merchandise in question which you may or may not want.  

Watching for these deals can be one way to pick up some extra cash on the side.   You can occasionally find such deals on forums or on

As long as everything is up and up and it doesn't seem fishy or you're not obviously abusing the system I see nothing wrong with pursuing these kinds of deals.   The merchants know when they're giving out deals like this and their purpose is to drive customers to their stores in hopes you'll buy more while you're there or come back.   Plus the rebate forms are not a 100% loss since a large % of people do not ever fill in and return the rebates.

There are some things you should keep in mind when looking for these kinds of deals.

Be aware of the costs.    These deals are not totally free.   It will probably cost you a stamp to mail in a rebate form.  Driving to a store will cost you some gasoline.  Don't spend $5 in gas and a 49¢ stamp to cash out a $7 rebate.
Rebates are not always dependable.    While I believe most rebate processors are legitimately trying to do their jobs, I think they have a very high error rate.  There is a risk that the rebate will not be processed right and you might get denied.   For this reason, you should make sure that you always keep copies of all your documentation and you follow up to make sure you're paid.
Read the fine print.   Sometimes you look at these deals and they seem great but then later you notice theres a 'gotcha' like a $19.99 shipping charge related to the $10 deal.
They do take some time.    I think most of these deals can be done in 15-30 minutes usually.   If you can make $10 then its probably generally worth the time but the time involved shouldn't be ignored.


May 20, 2014

Entertainment Coupon Book Annual Renewal Gotcha - Charges $5 to Cancel

Right now has their coupon books on sale for $5 with free shipping.   That seems like a great deal.  However they have an * that this is only when you sign up for their Annual Renewal Program, a typical marketing trick.   But usually when you sign up for auto-renewal you are told you can "cancel at any time".   Sure you can cancel the program with Entertainment but when you cancel they charge you $5 to do so.   If you don't cancel then they'll send you a 2015 book for $5 off the retail price.   Retail price is $35 (may vary depending on market).  

Entertainment coupon book's annual renewal program charges you a $5 fee to cancel.

If you still want a 2014 book then you can buy one for $5 and then cancel auto renewal and pay the $5 fee for a $10 total.  May not be a bad deal depending if you value the books at $10.

Below is a copy paste of the terms quoted off the website, (emphasis added by me):

*Annual Renewal Program Details:
  1. If you already have a book(s) enrolled in the annual renewal program, any book(s) purchased through this promotion will be added to your renewal order.
  2. Receive your 2014 Entertainment® book(s) for only $5 when you enroll in our Annual Renewal Program. The cost of future year's renewal book(s) will be $5 less than retail price (retail price varies by book) and shipping will be FREE. Renewal books are ready for shipment to customers in August. Coupons are valid immediately.
  3. Each year the latest Entertainment® Book edition(s) will automatically be sent to you. We'll send you official notification (via email or regular mail) approximately one month prior to shipping your Annual Renewal book(s). This notification will confirm your discount Renewal price, the approximate ship date, and instructions on how to update/cancel your Renewal order, should you wish to do so.
  4. If you cancel prior to receiving your book(s) through the Annual Renewal program (2015 Book) your credit card will be charged a $5 cancellation fee per book. If you do not cancel your Annual Renewal membership, Entertainment® will charge your Credit Card when the new book is printed and ready to ship. If you return your book(s) after receiving it, you will be charged a $7.95 return shipping and handling fee per book. See complete return policy on our web site.
  5. If your Credit Card reaches its expiration date, your failure to cancel after receipt of our notification will constitute your authorization for us to continue billing your card. The credit card you supply will be securely stored and will only be used for the Entertainment® Annual Renewal transaction.
  6. Annual Renewal Enrollment is limited to 10 Books per customer.
  7. Entertainment® reserves the right to modify this program.


May 18, 2014

Car Depreciation Based on Edmunds TCO has a measure of depreciation in their True Cost to Own data.   I figured their depreciation values must be based on some real data and should be pretty good figures.   So why not use their numbers to take a look at typical car depreciation?

I looked up the TCO information for several representative midsize sedans from nine different car brands to find the depreciation rates.  For the record I looked at a Toyota Camry, Buick Regal, Chevy Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Mazda Mazda6, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Altima.    Here is what I found :

Retained value over 5 year periods:

year 1 year 2 year 3 year 4 year 5
Toyota 82% 71% 62% 55% 47%
Buick 79% 69% 59% 51% 44%
Chevy 80% 70% 60% 52% 44%
Dodge 75% 67% 60% 54% 48%
Ford 89% 77% 67% 58% 50%
Mazda 68% 59% 52% 45% 40%
Honda 82% 71% 62% 54% 47%
Hyundai 77% 67% 58% 51% 44%
Nissan 84% 74% 65% 57% 50%
average 79% 69% 61% 53% 46%
median 80% 70% 60% 54% 47%

The depreciation in the first year in these new models is lower than what people seem to perceive.  The commonly held belief is that a new car "loses half its value' when you drive it off the lot.   But the reality seems to be closer to losing 20% in that first year.   And it takes about 5 years for new cars to lose half their value.


May 16, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of May 16th

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  

Financial Uproar compiled a list of 14 More Business Documentaries Worth Your Time

My Money Blog shares Free Credit Score Comparison: Barclaycard FICO vs Discover FICO vs Credit Karma vs Capital One 

DQYDJ looks at Personal Income Growth By State so we can all keep score on who's winning, (hint : its initials are N and D)

May 15, 2014

Amazon Subscribe & Save Filler Items under $2

Here's a list of cheap Amazon Subscribe & Save items to fill up a 5 item order :

Bull's Eye Original Barbecue Sauce, 18 Ounce Bottle= $1.27
Salutti Roasted Seaweed Snacks, Original Sesame Oil, 0.17-Ounce (Pack of 2) = $1.12
McCormick Bacon Chips Imitation, 4.1 Ounce = $1.43
San Miguel Japones Chiles, 3 Ounce=  $1.62
The Spice Hunter Allspice, Ground, Organic, 1.6-Ounce Jar = $1.67
Barilla PLUS Spaghetti Pasta, 14.5 Ounce Box=  $1.69  

Amazon changes availability on items so this list will likely grow out of date.

You can buy items above but you're probably better off doing a little searching on Amazon to find an item you actually want to buy.  For example you can find  breakfast cereal under $3.

I've discussed before how you can get a  better discount on Amazon Subscribe and Save purchases if you order 5 items at once.  However if you don't buy a lot of stuff then it can be hard to come up with a 5 item order.   However if your products are worth enough then it can be worth it to add some filler items to get up to 5 items to get the 15% discount.  Say for example, you want to buy a couple cases of Pampers Swaddlers Diapers  that run $45.97 each with a normal purchase.   With Subscribe and save you'd get a 5% get the price down to $43.67.    But if you have 5 items in your S&S order then it is only $36.78 or a $6.89 savings.   And if you're buying two of those then thats double or $13.78.    Adding the 4 cheapest items below to S&S order would only cost you $5.44 total so its worth buying those items to get you a net savings of $8.34.

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

May 14, 2014

15% Cash Back at Multiple Stores on Ebates

To celebrate their 15th anniversary Ebates has 15% cash back through multiple stores.

Select merchants on the list include :

Walgreens photo

Plus many others.

You can also get 45% back at and 30% on Angies list (non-gift memberships)

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.

Chase Bank CD Rates are Really Awful

We have a checking account with Chase.   They took over Washington Mutual some years ago after WaMU failed.   Chase has been 'good enough' for us so we've stayed with them.  However their interest rates are not good.   I've been meaning to put some of our savings into a CD to try and make at least a little bit of interest off them.   I know that Ally bank has decent CD rates and you can get 1% or more there.   But I thought, hey, why not just open a CD with Chase...  The answer is that Chase is currently paying 0.02% for 12 month CDs.   You lock your money up with them for a year and you get 0.02% out of it.   Let me put that another way.  A $1000 CD with Chase will make you 20¢ in interest.   Awful.     Interest rates are low but theres really no reason for them to be THAT low.  Chase could at least try to pretend to be competitive.   I mean they may as well make it 0.0000002% as far as I'm concerned, they'd still technically be paying interest right?    


May 13, 2014

Plink - Earn Rewards For In Store Purchases

I just ran across reference to a site called Plink.    Basically its a rewards program for shopping at certain merchants using linked credit or debit cards.

Here's how it works : 
1. Join Plink
2. Connect Plink to your credit or debit card
3. Add merchant offers to your Plink wallet, the wallet has up to 3 open slots initially
4. Shop at the merchants in your wallet to earn some Plink points
5. Cash in your points for rewards in the form of gift cards

If you follow my referral link you'll start with 300 bonus points.    Plus I'll get a 100 point referral bonus as well (thank you).

For example to earn points I see an offer at Panda Express to get 25 points if you spend $6 or 100 if you spend $15.  Then redeeming rewards you can get a $5 gift certificate for 500 points.   So that 100 reward for spending $15 amounts to $1 in value back.

Current list of merchants you can earn rewards at :

Panda Express,
Regal Cinemas
Red Robin
Longhorn Steakhouse
Advance Auto Parts
Vitamin World
Puritans Pride
Foot Locker
EStbay CCS
Champs Sports
United Artist Theatres
Edwards Theatres
Burger King
Dunkin Donuts

Note you have to pay attention for some of these to know if the purchases require in-store transactions or not.   For example Tigerdirect has to be in-store.

List of gift cards you can redeem points for :

Tango Card
Facebook Credits
Barnes & Noble

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

May 11, 2014

Avoid Buying Extra Services With An Oil Change

 I got my oil changed on my car today.   I pay to have the oil changed simply because I prefer not to do it myself and paying for it is generally almost as cheap as buying the oil.    However... the reason they're so cheap on the basic oil change is that those oil change places generally hard pitch extra services with a steep profit markup.    You can go in for an oil change and then they'll try to sell you an automatic transmission flush, new windshield wipers, cabin air filter change, a new kitchen sink, etc.

Don't Pay $40 for this
Lets look at one example.   The place I went to today wanted to change my cabin air filter.    They like to show you the dirty filter to help pitch the sale.   I asked him to check it, mostly out of curiosity.  He opened my glove compartment and pulled it out and showed it to me.   And yes it was pretty dirty.   I should probably change it.  But I knew from experience that filters are fairly cheap and easy to replace.   He confirmed how easy it is by pulling out the old one right in front of me.   I could do the same thing and pop in a replacement in probably 5 minutes total.    The price they quote for a new cabin air filter is "starting at $39.99".    I would hope my basic Toyota Camry wouldn't be more than the basic price but theres a possibility of spending over $40 on a filter replacement.

I found a FRAM CF10132 Fresh Breeze Cabin Air Filter for $11.75 plus $5 shipping on Amazon.   I found the same filter for about $8 with free shipping in a new opened box product on eBay.   I bought the $8 one from eBay with the intention of changing it sometime later when I've got a few minutes.

Wiper blades are another example.   I can install a pair of wiper blades in a couple minutes.   They wanted to charge $12.99 each and up  but I can find blades on Amazon for as little as $6.49 each like the ANCO 31-Series Wiper Blade.

They want $24.99 and up to do headlight restoration which is $50 or more for both lights.    You can use a DIY 3M 39008 Headlight Lens Restoration System kit for $15.18 and do it yourself.     Thats a savings of about $35 or more.  However the DIY work in doing it yourself can take a while.    Reports from users of the 3M kit on Amazon claim it takes 30-60 minutes each lens.  So thats 1-2 hours of work plus you need to own a drill to use the kit.

What about spark plug replacement?   Thats a big job isn't it?   Well the oil change guys want $59.99 and up to replace spark plugs.   This 6 minute Youtube video shows how to do it on my Toyota Camry and it looks fairly easy really.    You could do the 4 plugs in a 4 cylinder Camry engine in under a half hour.   The spark plugs run $2-6 each.   If you don't have the tools to do the job already you can buy those too for under $30.   The tools mentioned in the video are : 3/8-Inch Drive by 5/8-Inch Spark Plug Socket for $4.58,10mm Shallow Socket for $3.99, 3/8-Inch Ratchet for $14.95 and 6-Inch Extension Bar  for $6.04    All together you can buy the tools and the spark plugs for under $40 total and do the job in a half hour.

To sum up looking at the four examples above the costs that the oil change place wanted versus the parts cost on Amazon are :

oil change Amazon savings
Air filter $39.99 $16.75 $23.24
wiper blade $12.99 $6.49 $6.50
lens restore $49.98 $15.18 $34.80
spark plugs $59.99 $40 $19.99

Now to be fair if you went to the auto dealer and asked for these services you'd probably pay even more than the oil change places charge.  Its not as if they're the worst deal in the world.  Some of the services aren't too badly charged.   A few bucks to install wiper blades isn't that bad really.   But the worse oil change places will use dirty tricks to con you into services.    I've heard of examples of places that will show you a dirty filter that didn't come out of your car.  One place I used to go to would try and sell me services that my own cars manual said were not necessary.   I'm not saying that this is normal but you should be on the alert for scams.

Bottom line :   If you should generally decline any added services pitched at an oil change and can usually handle such tasks with minimal DIY effort.

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

May 9, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of May 9th

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

DQYDJ says Personal Finance is Personal! (or not)

PlanetMoney points out that Most Americans Make It To The Top 20 Percent (At Least For A While)

They also have What's Your Major? 4 Decades Of College Degrees, In 1 Graph
which is similar to an article I wrote a while back.

The LPA has 15 Reasons to Disqualify Prospective Tenants

The Big Picture talks about Tapping Your 401(k) ?


May 8, 2014

Several Services To Accept and Make Rent Payments

We normally get our rent paid via check.   Lately though, unfortunately, one of our tenants has bounced a check and we no longer will take checks from them.    They've paid with cash or money orders.    Because of this problem I decided to look into what other methods there are to accept rent that might work for us.    I found the different options below and decided to just present them as a list.   I have not used any of these yet myself.

Fees :  $1 per payment paid by landlord
Method : Electronic bank transfer
Guaranteed?  No

Fees : 2.95% of credit or $10 for cash, free for ACH paid by tenant
Method : electronic bank transfer, credit card, cash
Guaranteed? not sure

Fees : flat $3.95 fee per payment paid by tenant
Method:  Cash payment accepted at local 7-Eleven, deposited electronically
Guaranteed?  Yes

Fees : $9 per tenant monthly paid by landlord
Method : electronic bank transfer
Guaranteed? No

Fees : zero if billing goods/services up to $1000
Method :  credit cards via Amazon
Guaranteed?   not sure

Fees :  2.9% + 30¢ for goods and services paid by landlord
Methods : Credit cards or bank withdrawal
Guaranteed?  not sure

Fees : 2.9% for credit cards and $1.95 for ACH 
Method : electronic bank transfer or credit cards
Guaranteed?   not sure

Chase Quickpay
Fees : none but one person must have a Chase bank account
Methods: electronic bank transfer
Guaranteed?  no


May 6, 2014

How Often Does Macy's Have Sales on Items?

Recently we had to buy something at Macy's.   We had to buy a replacement for an item that we received as a gift which was damaged.   The item in question was on sale one about 33% off week and I delayed in buying it then the sale ended.   So I decided to wait and see if it would go on sale again.   A few weeks later it was on sale again for 33% off plus an extra 10% off.   

Given this experience seeing an item on sale, then off then back on I wondered how often stuff goes on sale at Macy's.  I decided to semi randomly pick 3 items from different product categories and track their prices for a few weeks.

Here are the prices I saw:

Polo shirt Kira Fabric Chair Kitchenaid Blender
Regular $79.99 $699 $219.99
3/31 $59.99 $699 $149.99
4/7 $59.99 $499 $219.99
4/14 $59.99 $499 $219.99
4/21 $59.99 $699 $219.99
4/28 $59.99 $499 $219.99
5/5 $59.99 $499 $138.59

As you can see sales are pretty frequent at least for this small sample that I looked at.
The shirt was on sale the whole time and I'm guessing it might remain on sale until they decide to put it on clearance.   The chair was on sale over half the time.   The blender only went on sale a couple times but as you can see there waiting might pay off since this week its on sale for the best deal.  

Macy's also has a price guarantee policy for 14 days so if you buy the item and then its on sale in the next two weeks for a lower price they'll refund the difference.   They do not have a price match policy to match other retailers however.

Bottom line : I'm expecting that if you want to buy something at Macy's then waiting a few weeks will pay off since they seem to put stuff on sale every few weeks.


May 4, 2014

You Should Buy a New Car Instead of Eating Organic Foods

Stop eating healthy food and go buy yourself a new car.    Serious, let me explain...

First a disclaimer:  This is pretty rough, ballpark estimates and I"m purposefully simplifying things by ignoring some factors, using simple numbers.   I could be off by a factor of 10 easily.   I'm not saying organic food is bad or that buying new cars is smart money.   But its all just to illustrate a point in how we should consider our spending and priorities and open to thinking differently.

 People buy organic foods because they are healthy.   Key reason is that organic foods are certified as being free of pesticide residue. I think we can all accept as fact that pesticides are not a good thing to eat. Lets then also assume as fact that eating organic foods is healthier than eating non-organic. We should avoid eating the pesticide residues on non-organic foods. But how much should we spend to avoid doing so?

Image credit : Some rights reserved by SummerTomato

If organic food was the same price as regular food then it would seem obvious that we should all eat organic foods. However organic foods are quite expensive so its a little harder to declare that everyone should pay that premium without a good idea of the risks and benefits associated with the choice. If you're rich and the money isn't a concern then I see no reason to not buy organic food.  But for most of us the difference in cost when buying organic is pretty noticeable chunk of change relative to our budgets. Some of us might say "I'd spend any amount of money to be healthy" and that sounds reasonable BUT you don't have unlimited money so how much you spend should be based on the actual value you get out of it. And you really do need to consider what other things could you spend your money on to safeguard your health?

Quantifying the impact of Organic foods

I'm going to say that key measurable health impact of organic foods is eliminating the use of pesticides.  Such pesticides could contribute to sickness that could result in death.  What is the risk of pesticides? The EPA regulates the amount of pesticides that can be on foods. The EPA defines a "negligible risk threshold for the amount of pesticide reside that they allow on foods. The "negligible risk" level is defined as a one in a million chance of getting cancer from the level of pesticides over a 70 year lifetime of eating that amount of pesticide. However there are a couple criticisms of this type of regulation level. First they don't look at the impact on a child versus the impact on an adult. A certain amount of a chemical will have a worse impact on a child since they are developing and their bodies are smaller. But the regulation applies equally to everyone. Another potential problem with the EPA definition is that it does not consider the compound impact of multiple pesticides. One in a million seems very small but what if you multiply that by 10 or 20 varieties of foods and then multiply that by 10 or more pesticides? You might eat 10 different foods that each have 5 different pesticides so you'd be looking at 50 in a million chance rather than just one in a million. If we start with the EPA's one in a million criteria and then assume that its compounded by 5 pesticides on 20 foods then that would make it 100 in a million or one in ten thousand risk of getting cancer from pesticides on food. Note this is obviously a ballpark estimate. I'm making assumptions here that there are 5 pesticide residues per food and you eat 20 food types. If you think those numbers are low you could double them both or multiply by 10 and rework the odds. As I don't know the exact numbers I'm picking some and using them for discussion sake.   But if we use this 1 / 10,000 estimate of cancer then we can estimate a fatality risk at about 1 / 30,000 as roughly 1/3 of cancer cases result in death.    So that gives us :  

Organic food benefit : 0.003% fatality risk avoided

I previously figured that organic costs about 80% more than regular foods.   An old NYTimes article said : "Organic food is typically 20 percent to 100 percent more expensive than a conventional counterpart"   I'm just going to 'ball park' this and say that organic food is 60% more expensive on average.   But a range of 20-100% is probably more accurate.
 Average household expenditures on food at home was $3,921 for 2.5 people in 2012. Thats $1,568 per person.    Organic would cost you then 60% more than that or $940 a year per person.   Or using the broader range the cost would be $313 to $1568.

Organic food costs :  $940 a year (or $313-$1568) per person

So if we take the cost and risk level and put them together then by buying organic food we'd be spending $940 a year (313-1568) to avoid a 0.003% chance of fatality.

How does this compare to other things we spend our money on?

How new is your car?   Is it a model with all the latest and greatest safety features?

The National Safety Council figures odds of dying from various causes. They figure the odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident sometime in your life is 1 in 112. So thats a 0.9% chance of dying in a motor vehicle accident in our life. Spending more to get a safer car could decrease that risk. A study in 1994 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that
"A composite NCAP score, based on the test results for all three body regions, has excellent correlation with fatality risk: in a head-on collision between a car with good composite score and a car of equal weight with poor score, the driver of the car with the better NCAP score has, on average, a 20 to 25 percent lower risk of fatal injury." So a safer car could reduce your risk of motor vehicle related fatality by 20-25%. That would be a 0.18% to 0.225% reduction in lifetime fatality due to motor vehicle accidents due to car safety. Or simply adding side airbags could help a lot. This article refers to a study that found that side air bags could reduce fatalities by 37%. A 37% reduction would be a reduction of 0.33% risk for the individuals lifetime fatality risk.

This Consumer Affairs article reports that Electronic Stability Control option in cars saves lives. They say: "The NHTSA study found a 35 percent reduction in single-vehicle crash risk for cars and a 67 percent reduction for SUVs. Fatal single-vehicle crashes were reduced about 30 percent (cars) and 63 percent (SUVs)." and "...widespread application of ESC could save more than 7,000 lives per year." There are currently about 34,000 auto vehicle fatalities a year so a 7,000 reduction in fatalities would be a 20% drop roughly. Starting with the 0.9% lifetime risk of fatality in motor vehicle accidents, the Electronic Stability Control feature will reduce your fatality risk by 0.18%. The cost and availability of Electronic Stability Control varies between makers and models. For example the Vehicle Stability Control system was a $250 option on a 2009 Toyota Corolla and is now a standard feature on a 2014 model.

The 2008 Toyota Corolla did not have stability control or side air bags as standard features.   You might have those as options but its not standard.   SO lets say you have a base model Corolla that lacks those options.
source :
  If you upgrade to a new 2014 Corolla then it will come with stability control and side airbags as standard features.   Those features decrease fatality rates by 37% for stability control  and 18% for side airbags.   Roughly speaking I'll estimate that adding both those features will cut your risk of fatality from motor vehicle driving in half.   I'm saying you avoid 37% of accidents with stability control to get you down to 0.57% fatality rate and then 18% of that is avoided with side airbags for a total of 0.46%.  

Upgrading to a new car with safety features can cut your fatality risk in half.

 Knowing how much it will cost you to upgrade your car to a newer safer model is hard to figure.   It depends on what car you drive now.    For illustration purposes I'll assume you drive a 6 year old Toyota Corolla.     The average age of cars in the USA is now 11 years.    However I don't have data on cost of operation for 2003 vehicles.  

Edmund's True Cost to Own calculation for a 2014 Toyota Corolla is $33,939 for 5 years or $6,788 a year.   The TCO for a 2008 Toyota Corolla is $29,350 or $5,870

Upgrading from a 2008 Corolla to a new 2014 model would cost you an extra $918 per year.

Spending $918 a year in this example cuts your fatality risk by 0.45%.

Now lets sum up:

Organic food reduces pesticide consumption which can cut your fatality risk by 0.03%
Organic food costs about $940 a year

New cars have better safety features which can cut your fatality risk by 0.45%
New car upgrade over a 6 year old model would cost $918 a year.

Bottom line :

You get about 15 times as much 'bang for the buck' in improved safety in terms of reduced fatality risk if you buy a new car over paying for organic food.


May 2, 2014

Best of Blogs for Week of May 2nd

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

Dougroller cites DR 058: 6 Reasons Gold is a Terrible Investment 
and explains DR 060: The Basics of Dividends, Stock Splits, and Buybacks

BLS has  An overview of employment and wages in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) groups

May 1, 2014

The Cost of Buying Pre Cut Prepared Produce vs Raw Produce

We sometimes buy a little cantaloupe at the store.   In the produce section they usually have plastic containers of pre cut cantaloupe.   I assume that its basically a huge markup to buy the pre cut melon like that versus just buying a whole melon then cutting it up yourself.  

I bought a whole cantaloupe for $1.49 /lb.   The cantaloupe in question was 2.49 lb and cost $3.71.    I cut up the cantaloupe and ended up  with just about 16 oz. of fruit.   Only about 40% of the melon was eatable fruit after getting rid of the rind and the seeds.   If I was more careful with my cutting I probably could have gotten more eatable melon but I got 40%. 

So I paid about $3.71 per pound of eatable melon.

Cut melon in a container at that store cost $2.99 for an 8 oz. portion.   Thats $5.98 per pound precut.

If you cut the melon yourself you save $2.26 per pound.    I don't know how long it too me to cut up the melon, but I'd guess it was around 5-10 minutes.   That works out to $13-27 /hr of time.

I'd say its certainly worth it to spend the extra time to chop up a melon.   Plus the freshly cut melon is better tasting as well.


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