April 17, 2018

PSA : Amex Blue Does NOT Count Fred Meyer as Groceries

The American Express Blue Cash Preferred card has a nice 6% cash back reward for groceries.     The card carries a $95 annual fee but if you use it for groceries this can more than pay for the annual fee.   Except at Fred Meyer...

Amex Blue does not register Fred Meyer as a Grocery and thus you don't get 6% back from Fred Meyer purchases.    This is true even if you buy only groceries at Freddy's.

I just wanted to put this out there in case I can help keep someone else from making the same mistake as me by assuming Freddy's would count as grocery.

I'm not sure but I would assume that all Amex don't report Fred Meyer as grocery, not just the Blue cards.   But the Blue cards are the ones that have extra cash back for grocery as far as I know.

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April 12, 2018

Hulu + HBO for $13 for 6 months plus possible $15 cash from Ebates

Hulu is currently running a discount deal to add HBO for just $5 per month for 6 months.     You can add that to the $8 basic Hulu subscription for a total of $13 per month for both Hulu and HBO.    Thats a $2 monthly savings versus HBO Now alone and you get Hulu for free. 

Here's the link with the info on the Hulu deal

On top of that if you're a new Hulu subscriber you can also get $15 cash back via Ebates for signing up for Hulu.

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

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March 19, 2018

Community College is Free

I apologize for the clickbait lie title.     Community college isn't actually "free".     Well not exactly.   The average net tuition for community colleges is actually NEGATIVE.    That means that after paying for tuition and fees on average students end up with extra cash in their pocket. 

The College Board Trends in College Pricing data  shows it :

source : College Board, click image for full size

Right now as of the current 2017-2018 school year the average cost for students for tuition and fees is : -$330.   

In other words community college is free.   On average.

Well OK its more accurate to say that the average financial aid and grant package and tax incentives for community college students exceeds the average cost of tuition and fees.   But who would have clicked on an article with THAT title?   Boring!

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February 27, 2018

If You're Buying Prescription Drugs Via Insurance, Also Ask About the Cash Price

Just saw this article posted from the New York Times :

Why Your Pharmacist Can't Tell You That $20 Prescription Could Cost Only $8  (paywall)

The article exposes a practice by which pharmacists are gagged from telling customers that drugs would be cheaper with cash purchases.      Now I don't know how common those gag orders really are.   But it seems they happen.     It also highlights the fact that cash prices for drugs may be less than the negotiated insurance rate.   

In any case, the take away here for me is that if you're buying a drug at a pharmacist then you should ask them what the cash price is.

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February 21, 2018

Cord Cutting - Mediasonic HOMEWORX : Is A Good Basic $30 OTA DVR

Just after Christmas I bought a Mediasonic Homeworx HW220STB*  DVR.   Right now they sell for $29.99 at Amazon.   My verdict on the device is that its a good value and works well.     However the interface is fairly simple and a bit clumsy.

I've found that we watch less and less cable television while our cable TV bill goes up and up.    The value we get out of paying for cable TV has dwindled.   At the same time the different choices and ways to watch TV has increased.     I've been testing out OTT (over the top) streaming TV services.   However most of the OTT options have limited broadcast network channels.   For example, Sling TV is pretty good but they only have ABC, NBC and Fox in select markets and where I live I can only get them on demand.   Of course you can watch the broadcast networks via an antennae but I've come dependent on a DVR.    Hence the personal desire for a OTA DVR.

So how well does the Mediasonic Homeworx HW220STB  work?     The main points good and not so good :

- Works well
- Cheap
- Did I mention its cheap?
- Also functions as a karaoke box.  (programming not provided)

- Only watch or records one channel at a time
- Very limited program guide based on info within the broadcast feeds.
- Requires USB media bought seperately
- Clumsy, crude interface and remote control
- Needs reliable TV signal to be effective as a DVR

If you want a well working OTA DVR for cheap then this is a good device and I'd recommend it.    The very reasonable $30 price tag makes this thing a great value.    However I would point out the limitations.     

The box records fine and I've had no problems other than signal issues (see point on that below).    Reception is good and it tunes networks as well as my TV does with the same antenna.    
The interface is functional enough but its not fancy looking and reminds me of something from 20 years ago.    Some of the controls on the remote and the functions are't intuitive.     It will take a bit of getting used to and I still find myself searching on the remote for the right button sometimes.
The program guide only gives you maybe 24 hours of information and its totally dependent on what the broadcast network imbeds in their signal.    If you want to set a few recordings days in advance before you go on vacation you'll have to look up the air times somewhere else and set them manually.   
The box comes with no storage and you need to provide a USB drive to store your shows on.   I used a USB hard drive that I had handy and it works fine.     The maker recommends using a HDD with it but it does support USB flash.   Users report mixed results with USB flash so you might want to make sure you've got a better speed device if you try USB flash.    And lastly a big point: 

You need a good and consistent TV signal

I figured out after buying the DVR that a poor or unreliable TV signal makes an OTA DVR  worthless.    Well not exactly worthless but not really good enough.     As much as people praise cord cutting and the great channel selections now available OTA I don't recall anyone pointing out that TV reception can be unreliable.    Some of us will remember having to get up in the middle of a TV show to adjust the TV antennae.     Well that hasn't changed in the 21st century with HD TV.    TV signals are still variable and you can still get random interference that causes your signal quality to fluctuate.    This isn't so much of an issue if you're watching a show live.   It may be an inconvenience to have to adjust your antenna a little but its just that - a bit of an inconvenience.    However if you're recording a show via DVR and your signal goes bad you're not there to adjust the antenna and the DVR records a pile of digital garbage instead.  If your TV signal is prone to random fluctuations then it could make recording programs with a DVR a pretty frustrating and unreliable experience.      To be clear this has nothing to do with the DVR box itself of course.   It can only record the signal it gets. 

While I recommend this box and do think its a great value the last point really hobbles its usefulness for me.  I don't know about you but I really don't want to sit down hit 'play' to watch a recording, get 10 minutes into it and then get hit with 50 minutes of a screen full of recorded digital garbage because the TV signal went wonkey two nights ago in the middle of the show while it was being recorded.

* yes thats a commission link, if you like my articles and decide to buy one of these please follow my link.   The commission isn't impacting the nature of my review at all. 

February 5, 2018

Stocks in Roth and Bonds in 401k To Minimize Taxes

Most people have a mix of stocks and bonds in their retirement accounts.      Stocks are expected to grow faster than bonds in the long run.    If you put your stock investments in a tax free account and your bonds in a pre-tax account you'll come out a bit ahead in retirement. 

Lets illustrate this with an example.   Pretend you've got $100,000 split evenly between Roth and 401k accounts with $50,000 in each.   Now say you've got a 50 stock / 50 bonds allocation.    That would give you $25,000 in stocks and bonds in each account.   Now say your stocks grow 10% over 20 years and the bonds grow 5%.    Assume you've got a 33% tax rate on your 401k withdrawals.

Roth 70/30 410k 70/30
stock $25,000 $25,000
bond $25,000 $25,000
10% for 20yr $168,187 $168,187
5% for 20y $66,332 $66,332
total $234,520 $234,520
tax $0 $77,392
after tax $234,520 $157,128
TOTAL $391,648

Now instead put all the stocks in the Roth and all the bonds in the 401k and you get :

Roth 70/30 410k 70/30
stock $50,000 $0
bond $0 $50,000
10% for 20yr $336,375 $0
5% for 20y $0 $132,665
total $336,375 $132,665
tax $0 $43,779
after tax $336,375 $88,885
TOTAL $425,260

In the end you've got about 8.5% more money simply due to allocating your investments per the tax advantages.

Note:   I'm not saying that you should *only* have stocks in the Roth and bonds in the 401k.    In the above example its set up that way just to illustrate.  If you had a 70/30 split allocation then you'd still need some bonds in your Roth.    Further, reallocating periodically to keep a specific % asset allocation isn't possible if all your stocks are in one and all the bonds are in the other.

Admittedly this is pretty contrived example, but I did that to illustrate the point.    Its more likely you'd have money invested periodically annually over a long period rather than starting with a lump sum and its also likely your effective tax will be lower. 

I didn't come up with this idea, but I can't recall where I saw it.

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January 26, 2018

It Should Not Surprise Us that 1 in 6 Millennials Have Saved $100k

Recent headlines are telling us that Millennials: 1 in 6 now have $100,000 socked away    And when reading that I wonder 'why is this news'?        Will it be followed by reports that 1 in 50 Millennials are millionaires or that 1 in 2 millenials have over $50k in their 401k?   Cause I suppose both those are true too.

I don't think its any surprise at all that 1 in 6 millennials have over 100k saved.   Theres a few reasons why it should be expected.

Net worth and savings balances increase with age and millennials are aging.   

As millenials get older it is really just a given that their savings will grow on average.  This isn't any kind of generational phenomenon its just a simple reflection of peoples savings growing over time.

In the survey of consumer finances the mean holdings of financial assets by age in 2013 was :

Age of head (years) Mean  $k
Less than 35 38.3
35–44 148.8
45–54 253.1
55–64 411.2
65–74 566.1
75 or more 314.6
Note this is just among households who have financial assets but >90% do for every age group.
This kind of distribution has held over time too so you could see similar growth of assets by age in previous years.    As you can see there the jump from the under 35 to the 35 -44 age groups crosses the $100k mean.   

If you make a decent amount its not so hard to pile up $100k over a few years. 

I used one of DQYDJ.com's nifty calculators to find the income ranking for people age 18-35 and it shows that ~18% of households with heads in that age group make $100k or more.     If you are in your late 20's or early 30's and make 6 figures then its not too hard or unusual to have piled up $100k across your savings.   A 5% 401k investment and employer match would get you there.

People also inherit money.   

I found this interesting BLS paper with a lot of data on inheritances :
Inheritances and the Distribution of Wealth Or Whatever Happened to the Great Inheritance Boom?
Its a bit old but the figures give us a reference on how common inheritances are and how much people receive.   From 1989 to 2007 about 12% of people under age 35 inherit or receive gifts that average ~$146k.  The average skews high and the median value was $28k.     But still thats a sizable chunk of people who receive large gifts or inheritances.    If the median is $28k received by 12% then 6% of people got over $28k.   I'd assume that 1-2% of people inherit over $100k but that is more an educated guess.

I think that instead of proclaiming a sense of surprise that the younger generation has saved money they should have honestly stated 'hey we shouldn't generalize entire generations'.

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