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Archive for April, 2007

April ebay totals

April 30th, 2007 at 02:06 am

My last auctions of the month just ended. We didn't quite make our goal of $200 in sales for the month. Our total was $188.23 for 8 items. April was a bit off because of Passover, Spring Break and the fact that I was out of town for 3 days last week so I didn't list auctions to end during those times.

That makes the grand total $296.71 for March and April since I started selling again. I'm going to shoot for $200 again in May.

More thoughts from the casino

April 28th, 2007 at 11:42 pm

I'm back home from AC. I ended up pretty much breaking even on my blackjack time, which was fine with me.

One thing that did me in (as is true of most gamblers) was not quitting when I was ahead. Most people go to the casino with a set amount they are willing to lose, but they don't set a limit on how much they can win. It sounds kind of counter-intuitive to put a cap on your winnings, but if you are going to gamble, you need to set an end point. Otherwise, you just keep playing and playing and odds are you will eventually give back your winnings.

So how do you pick a stopping point? With our investments, we're all pretty satisfied if we earn 10% in a year. But somehow sitting at the blackjack table, earning 10% in 10 minutes doesn't seem satisfactory at all. I mean, if I sit down with $100, I'm just not going to get up and leave when I am up to $110.

My general rule (which I didn't always stick to this week) is to quit when I've doubled my money. After my losing sessions on Wednesday, though, I stuck to it on Thursday and Friday and that's how I got back to even for the trip. There is just some brain defect that makes you want to keep playing when you are doing well rather than taking your winnings and walking away. Oh well, hopefully next time I won't let greed get the better of me.

$95.70 surprise check in the mail

April 28th, 2007 at 12:02 am

I got a nice surprise today. I got an envelope from Charles Schwab, where I have one of my IRA accounts. I could see through the window that it said "Pilgrim & Baxter" which I thought was a little odd because I sold my Pilgrim fund shares a couple of years ago.

I opened the envelope to find a check for $95.70 for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Fair Fund Distribution. Apparently, this is a fund established by the SEC to compensate investors whose accounts were affected by some trading irregularities (market timing) that went on in the '98-'01 period and my account qualified.

I just need to look into any tax implications from this payment, but I'm sure my accountant will be able to figure that out. All I know is I've got $95.70 I didn't have when I woke up this morning.

A bad day at the casino

April 26th, 2007 at 12:20 am

I am currently in Atlantic City to attend a professional conference. I arrived this morning and plan to stay until Saturday (possibly Friday night unless my wife is able to join me Friday and stay over with me).

Anyway, I do enjoy playing some blackjack when I have the opportunity. Over the past couple of years, I've studied the game and learned basic strategy (something very few casual players bother to do). Although it definitely doesn't guarantee you will win (as was obvious today), it does nearly eliminate the casino's advantage, making it less than 1%.

I got off to a decent start and at one point had more than doubled my starting stake. I continued playing and ultimately gave back almost everything I had sat down with. I played again later and did even worse, losing all I sat down with.

I do plan to play more while I'm here. Hopefully, I'll have better luck next time around.

Cleaned garage; Scheduled yard sale; Listed on ebay

April 22nd, 2007 at 02:28 am

A very active day today.

I spent about 3 hours cleaning in my garage. I managed to consolidate a lot of stuff, stack things more compactly, fill two 30-gallon trash bags, fill 2 carton boxes with recyclables, put a couple more cartons on the yard sale pile and find a few things for the ebay pile.

When my wife came in to check on me, I asked what Saturday we had free in May to do a yard sale. She checked and we are free on the 19th, so that's the day. Last year, we never managed to have one so stuff has really piled up, even more so since we cleaned out my mom's house before she moved last June.

Until today, we had just enough of a path to walk through the garage. Now it is a few feet across and more open feeling even though I really didn't get rid of much.

Finally, I just listed 2 items on ebay and wrote up descriptions for a few more that I'll post tomorrow night.

Oh, and I also did another medical survey for $50 (see prior post about those).

Time to go crash for the night.

How to... Visit Disney World on a Budget

April 19th, 2007 at 11:49 pm

A family trip to Walt Disney World has become as common as a day at the beach when I was growing up. Many families, however, struggle to make a Disney trip happen and, in the process, spend far more than is necessary. There are plenty of ways to do Disney on a budget. My family of 3 spends about $2,000 for a 9-day trip. I've seen plenty of people spend 2-3 times as much for a 7-day trip. So here are some of my best tips for keeping the trip affordable.

Drive to Florida. This is a perfectly reasonable option for a large percentage of the population. It is a 17-hour drive for us from New Jersey. Doing so saves us about $1,000. We avoid airfare, airport parking, and a rental car.

Stay offsite. Disney has many wonderful hotels, but the rooms are small and expensive. The surrounding areas of Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista are filled with endless hotels, timeshares, townhouses and condos where you can get similar rooms or much larger properties for less than Disney charges. We've paid as little as $37/night for a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo. There are many websites where you can research options including vrbo.com, skyauction.com and disboards.com (a great discussion forum for all things Disney).

Eat breakfast in your room. Since you are driving, you can pack non-perishables like cereal, pop-tarts, granola bars, etc. Then you can visit the supermarket upon arrival and buy milk, juice, yogurt and other perishables. Breakfast can cost $1/person or less. Compare that to a restaurant where $6-8 is typical.

Stick to counter service restaurants. Unlike many amusement parks where the fare is limited to hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries, the Disney parks house many excellent counter service restaurants where you can feast on Asian noodle bowls, sushi, grilled salmon, rotisserie chicken and more. The advantage is the prices are quite reasonable compared to table service restaurants. You also get in and out more quickly leaving more time to enjoy the attractions. A great site that lists every menu for every Disney restaurant (with prices) is allearsnet.com.

Share food. Most restaurants have generous sized portions that can be shared. The 3 of us will often get just 2 entrees and an extra side. Saves money, avoids wasting food and discourages us from overeating. Another secret is that you can order things that aren't exactly on the menu. For example, if there is a burger and fries meal, you can order just the burger and save a couple of dollars. Then just share someone else's fries.

Drink water - tap, not bottled. We're always amazed how many people we see at Disney drinking bottled water, at $2.50/bottle. That, or soda, is a real budget buster. Tap water is free and plentiful.

Since you are staying offsite, it is easy to dine offsite occasionally. Routes 535 and 192 are loaded with every type of restaurant you can think of from national chains to local chains to independent places. If we take a break from the park mid-day, we may grab lunch outside. Or if we have a non-park day or cut out early one evening, we'll do dinner outside.

Visit the Disney outlet stores for souvenirs. Our favorite is the shop at Orlando Premium Outlets, just a few minutes from Disney property. They have overstock and discontinued styles at nice savings. It is all genuine Disney stuff, just cheaper.

As I said, we spend about $2,000 for our trips, and we could easily trim that if we needed to. We collect Disney memorabilia so have a larger than average souvenir budget. For everyone else, though, it would be quite doable on about $1,600 for everything, and that's for 9 days. Seven days would be even less. And a 4th person would only add about a few hundred to that total since transportation and accomodations wouldn't increase. Just park tickets and food.

Just ordered Broadway show tickets

April 19th, 2007 at 01:43 am

My mom offered to buy us Broadway show tickets for our anniversary this year so I went online to pick a show. Since it will just be my wife and I, I wanted to pick something adult oriented. Otherwise, our daughter would have been upset that we weren't taking her, as we all love going to the theater.

We chose Avenue Q which from what I know about it is definitely not a family show. We'll be going in July, the weekend of our anniversary. We're looking forward to it as we haven't been to a show for a couple of years.

Good week for surveys and stuff

April 18th, 2007 at 01:34 am

I have the opportunity pretty regularly to do medical surveys for which I receive cash honoraria. Honestly, I don't do most of the ones I get invited for, but once again I'm making a conscious effort to do them all because it is stupid to pass them up as it is pretty easy money.

Anyway, yesterday I got a check for $50 for one I did recently. Sunday, I did one for which I'll get $60 and today I did one for $55.

On top of that, I was recently invited to speak on behalf of one of the pharmaceutical companies. I didn't ask how much I'd make when agreeing to speak. I was guessing about $250 because I seem to recall that's what I got a couple of years ago for something similar. I got my contract the other day and it is for $625. I was very happy about that.

So all in all, a good week for side income.

The joys of home ownership - not

April 16th, 2007 at 02:22 pm

We got the heater serviced today (see previous post). Actually, I didn't call until today because it seemed to be fine all week, then went out again last night (in the midst of our Nor'easter storm).

Of course, the unit is out of warranty.

The repair was $361.60 including the service call. The other option was to extend the warranty for another year. That would be $369 and cover the service call and twice/year routine maintenance visits on the heater and AC, plus 20% off any needed parts. So including today's repair, it would come to $545.53. I don't normally believe in extended warranties, but in this case I figured it was really only costing us $184 to be covered for the year instead of $369. Plus we'll get the 2 service visits included for that price. So we decided to take the warranty just in case something else breaks. And even if nothing breaks, we'll get 2 service calls for $184 which isn't such a bad deal.

Heater not working right

April 10th, 2007 at 12:43 pm

We noticed Sunday night that our heater wasn't working quite right. It is coming on and it is blowing hot air but it isn't quite keeping up with the temperature it is set for. Last night, it was set at 70 but according to the thermostat it was only 68 in the house. I just put in a new filter and to my untrained eye, everything looks okay, but I know it isn't right. So I'll put in a call to the service folks today. Wonder what that will cost me?

Housecleaning can be very lucrative

April 8th, 2007 at 01:34 am

Ok, we weren't exactly housecleaning. We were searching for my wife's wallet on Thursday. She had put it somewhere while cleaning earlier in the week and couldn't remember where. She thought she had stuck it in a drawer or cabinet because we had guests coming and she didn't want to leave it out in the open.

Anyway, we were going through every drawer in the bedroom and hallway, among other places. While we didn't find her wallet (which did eventually turn up - at the bottom of the washing machine), we did find quite a few items that we agreed we had no use for. Three of those items have already gone on ebay. Two already have bids totalling $95.99 and they don't end for 5 more days.

So take some time and go through those drawers and closets. You never know what hidden value you might find.

Thoughts on a shopping mall visit

April 6th, 2007 at 07:10 pm

We hardly ever go to a shopping mall. We do most of our shopping at stand-alone stores like Target and Wal-Mart or a couple of large strip centers in our area.

Last night, we dropped our daughter off at Girl Scouts and didn't feel like just going home, so I suggested we wander around the nearby mall. This is a mall that I've been going to since I was a child. It has certainly changed over the years, as I think all malls have. It really struck me last night how incredibly upscale it has become. Very little to appeal to folks of average means, or folks like us of above average means who choose to live below those means.

Years ago, the mall had Woolworths and an independent book shop and a little cafeteria and a craft shop and such. Today, it is populated by Coach and Godiva and Abercrombie and Brooks Brothers and the like. Very few stores that we would ever set foot in and even fewer that we can afford to shop in. Other than the food court, there was very little there that appealed to us.

What also struck me was that the average customer looked to be no more than 25. Surely all these teens and young adults can't be earning nearly enough to truly afford the prices of these stores. It isn't hard to see how so many people get so deeply in debt if this is where they are choosing to shop.

I miss the simplicity and down-to-earth shopping that we had years ago. There was a great book a few years ago called "Trading Up" that talked about this phenomenon of how as our nation has become more prosperous, everyone has upgraded their normal level of goods. Instead of Maxwell House coffee, its Starbucks. Instead of a Buick, its a Lexus. Instead of vacationing at the shore, its Cancun.

I'm not sure what my point is, but I can tell you that I won't be visiting the mall again anytime soon.

My dollar store gamble that didn't pay off

April 3rd, 2007 at 10:35 pm

I admit it. I squandered $1.00 today. Actually, with tax, it was $1.07. We went looking for some things DD needs for the Renaissance Fair her class is doing. I came across compact fluorescent light bulbs. I figured the ones they are selling for $1 probably couldn't be as good as the ones sold everywhere else for 10 times as much, but I decided to gamble and buy one.

Guess what. They're not as good. First, it is a white fluorescent, so really can't be used to replace an incandescent bulb as it is a totally different type of light. Also, the package said it lights instantly. That isn't quite true. There is a couple second delay when you turn it on. Finally, it didn't seem very bright, though I didn't leave it on long so it might have brightened after a minute or two as some bulbs will do that.

Of course, it isn't a total loss as it is a working light bulb. I just can't use it where I was planning to.