I realized that I haven't posted here since the end of the year. Where has the time gone?
So to update....
2015 is off to a solid start with my medical surveys.
April promises to be a good month as I'm already at $610 as of today and it's only the 8th. So I should definitely break $1,000 again.
In other news, we've had an expensive few months. We replaced our refrigerator in January. A few days later, our heater died. That (the heater) cost us $4,000 plus a couple of nights in a hotel. The fridge was about $1,200 I think. Replacing the heater also led to replacing the AC, which we just did the other day, for another $3,000.
In the good news department, I was dreading filing our 2014 taxes because a couple of our taxable mutual funds paid out large capital gains distributions (like $20,000 worth). So I was expecting a 4-5K tax bill. As it turned out, thanks to some other stuff, like the college tax credit, we actually ended up breaking even, getting a small ($95) refund. That was a big relief.
I've been making more use of some online savings, specifically promo codes at sites like retailmenot.com and discounted gift cards at sites like cardpool.com and giftcards.com. We saved almost $100 on the fridge, $30 on a trip to the local aquarium, and $66 on a new suitcase for DD recently.
So that kind of sums up the recent stuff.
Viewing the 'Shopping Deals' Category
I realized that I haven't posted here since the end of the year. Where has the time gone?
Well my wife is officially unemployed. Her last day was May 30. I ran the numbers and her average monthly take home pay was $385. On top of that, a total (with match) of $480 was going into her 401k, so $865 total that we're down as a result.
We're addressing that in a few ways. We are tightening up the spending particularly in the area of groceries and dining out. We have typically averaged about $300/month eating out. For the past few weeks, we have cut that back significantly and have been doing a lot more cooking at home. For example, I used to go straight from my office to our synagogue on nights when I had meetings and I'd stop and pick up dinner on the way. Now, I've been stopping at home and getting dinner there instead so that probably costs $2-3 instead of $8-10 when I'd eat out.
We've also started using coupons which I haven't really been in the habit of doing for a while. It saves $2-3/week but it all counts and all adds up.
I've been more careful about where I buy gas and have been paying cash a lot more since many stations charge more for credit. I used to stick to stations that charged the same for cash or credit. The problem has become that those stations are charging more. So instead of $3.33 for cash and credit, I'm going to the station that is $3.27 for cash and $3.37 for credit and paying cash. Again, not a big savings but it's something.
The main thing I'm doing is really focusing on my survey participation. It's probably too soon to make a dependable prediction but I've started tracking my actual surveys done. Previously, I only tracked the money when it actually comes in.
For the week of May 27, I did $291 worth of surveys.
For the week of June 3, I did $210 worth of surveys.
For the week of June 10, I've done $185 worth of surveys and the week isn't over yet.
I also do an ongoing survey that pays me $150/month which works out to $34/week.
So for the past 3 weeks, that means I've generated a total of $788. That's a weekly average of $262.66. Multiplied out for a year, that's $13,659. I realize I can't really extrapolate based on less than 3 weeks of data but there is certainly a high probability that I will earn more in 2013 than I was shooting for originally (8K). At that rate, I could earn almost 8K just from June to December and I already took in $3,000 through March, so 10-11K for the year is certainly doable.
This also includes only online surveys. I regularly get invited to do in-person studies but don't usually get to them for scheduling reasons. I'm paying more attention to those and trying to find ones that I can work around to do. Even if I could only do one every 2-3 months, it could add another thousand or more to my total.
On my wife's end, she is doing the sewing/quilting thing and has already sold 20 or more items. A friend bought 9 $5 tote bags from her yesterday for teacher gifts plus a $60 patchwork beach bag for herself. Our neighbor bought an iPad cover for a gift and a Kindle cover for herself. And there have been numerous other sales so that's doing well so far.
I'll post at the end of the month with the monthly survey total as always. I'm at $322 so far so it should be good.
Why is an entry about an iPhone appropriate for a financial blog? Well, ultimately, everything we do has financial impact so why not. Besides, a device that simplifies your life and can even save you money definitely fits the topic.
Anyway, enough rationalization. I got an iPhone 3G in early 2009. At the time, I thought it was terrific. It could do all kinds of things - check email, get online, play games, take pictures, record video, etc.
The 3G had one major fault, though. It was agonizingly slow. Many of the apps available simply didn't live up to their potential usefulness because the phone was just too darn slow. Yes, it is nice to have a device in your pocket that can be phone, computer, camera, GPS, game player, movie viewer, and more, but if it is too slow to actually accomplish those things, it isn't quite as impressive.
Enter the iphone 5. I got this just before Christmas when WalMart cut the prices. A phone that is $199 everywhere else was $127 at WalMart. I was planning to upgrade anyway and that made the decision even easier.
This phone is GREAT! It is lightning fast and all of those apps that had great potential before have actually now become useful in the real world. I've even started seeking out new apps for specific tasks which is something I rarely did on the old phone. This week, I got a running log app to record my treadmill time. I also got an app called Money Monitor that I've started using to record all of my medical survey income. I used to do that with pen and paper in my datebook. Then at the end of each month, I had to manually add up the total for the month. Now, each time I get a payment, I enter it on the app and anytime I want, I can quickly see how much I've earned so far that month (or year to date as the year progresses).
Sorry to sound like an iPhone commercial but for anyone thinking about it, now is definitely the time to go for it, or upgrade if you have an older model like I did.
In the past month or so, I've really taken notice of the fact that we do not take advantage of many things that are in our own backyard particularly as far as inexpensive entertainment is concerned.
When I was off from work over winter break, my daughter and I rode the train into the city to do some sightseeing, lunch and shopping. We try to do that every year but for some reason, this year really opened my eyes to what is out there. We walked through the downtown area and passed endless shops and restaurants that would appeal to all of us, even if just for window shopping. Of course, there are also a ton of historic sites, museums and other places of interest within walking distance of the train stations.
Then yesterday, a school friend of my daughter's was performing in a play at a nearby college. This time, we drove into the city (not near a train station). For $10/person, we saw a very good show. We did pay another $13 to park plus the $4 bridge toll, but that's still less money than if we had gone to NYC to see even an off-Broadway show. The colleges in the area offer all kinds of entertainment - concerts, live shows, art exhibits, film festivals, etc. We never go to any of that stuff and we really should. It is usually inexpensive and sometimes even free. It is close to home. And it is not mainstream stuff so there is an educational/cultural/expand your mind aspect to it, too.
I'm going to start looking around online to see where they list upcoming events and make an effort to do stuff like that occasionally throughout the year.
I posted a thread about this on the forum but thought it would be a good topic here, too, as I know not everyone reads both.
We went out to lunch today at a local restaurant that we like. They were having a special deal on gift cards: buy $100 worth and get $20 free. So we did just that. Not only that, but I charged them to my Discover card which has a 5% cashback bonus at restaurants through December, so I'll get $5 back on the purchase. That means I actually spent $95 and got $120 worth of gift cards. Coincidentally, our meal today came to exactly $25.00 which means the meal was basically free. We spent $95 (after the Discover cashback), got lunch for the 3 of us and walked out with $95 remaining on the gift cards.
A local mall also has a deal on gift cards. Buy 3 $20 cards and get a $15 gas card.
A few years ago, we took advantage of a deal on Marriott gift cards. I don't remember the details but I think we got $50 free for buying $200.
So be on the lookout this holiday season for gift card bonus offers, not to use for gifts, but to use for yourself to save money on things that you would be buying anyway.
In the past year or so, I've purchased a new tuxedo and 2 suits at Mens Wearhouse. They have a rewards program and a couple of months ago (after I bought the suits) I earned a rewards coupon for $50 off my next purchase. The coupon has been sitting on my dresser ever since as I really didn't need anything else. I did pay attention, though, to the fact that the coupon expires on November 29, so I decided I should use it. Even if I didn't actually need anything, it was silly to pass up a free $50.
I just went to the store and picked up a pair of pants for $39.99 (a lot more than I usually spend for pants). I wasn't going to buy anything else and let the other $10 go to waste, but at the register, they had those sticky lint roller things. They sell for $4.99 so I got 2 of those and that took me within pennies of the $50. So I got the pants and rollers for free and didn't spend anything out of pocket. Perfect!
I realized I haven't posted for a couple of weeks. Nothing particularly exciting has been going on but I figured I'd give some updates.
1. Even though I stopped doing the Exercise Log entries, I have not stopped exercising. I'm still working out with Wii Fit. I think I did 22 minutes tonite.
Now that I've had it for over a month, I would still highly recommend it for anyone looking for a home exercise regimen. Much more convenient than a gym, not dependent on the weather and you can exercise on your own schedule. It is even portable if you go out of town and want to pack it. As long as you have a TV to hook it to, you're all set.
Not only that, but the other night, the TV was in use so I just went upstairs and did several of the exercises I've learned from Wii in our bedroom. You can't do the balance games but can certainly do the yoga, strength training and aerobic ones.
2. My wife and I visited a local casino (Chester, PA) last week. I won $93 and she won about $12. We had a casual dinner at their sports bar and just had a nice evening out. We're planning to go again on Saturday morning while our daughter is at a school program. We'll play a little and maybe do an early lunch or snack.
3. Got the van fixed today. It had failed inspection for an emissions problem. Repairs came to almost $1,500. I know I could have had it done cheaper elsewhere but the dealership is so convenient. They provide excellent service, a free rental and I trust that they know what they're doing. They did recommend some other work be done (like front brakes and tires) but I decided to shop around for those things. Now I just have to get it back to DMV to get re-inspected.
4. We had to scrub our annual Disney World trip. My daughter was hand-picked for a special school program that meets every Saturday for 6 weeks and that conflicts with when we were going to go. We're all bummed since we have been going annually for a long time (my daughter just turned 13 and has been there 14 times). We're talking about going next summer instead. We'd love to go for more than a week so we could do that then. Can't do it during the school year.
5. Since we can't go to Disney, we may just go away for 2 days that week when my daughter has no school. We're deciding where to go. Lancaster, PA is always on our list so that's probably where we'll end up.
6. As I mentioned on the boards, I got 2 books for doing medical surveys. I put them on Half.com and sold one within 24 hours for $7.99. The other one is still listed but hasn't sold yet. Since I got them for nothing, anything I make is okay with me.
7. Watching my portfolio dissolve right along with everyone else but keeping my cool. 18 years until retirement and 6 until college so time for things to turn around. I'm sorry that I already maxed our Roths for the year. I would have liked to have been putting that $10,000 in now instead of earlier in the year like I did. Oh well.
Can't think of anything else to report at the moment.
Last night, I returned most of the unused alcohol we had bought to stock the bar for the Bat Mitzvah. We had originally spent just over $1,100 using the recommended list the caterer had given me.
We were able to return any unopened bottles of liquor or wine or unopened cases of beer. We kept 8 bottles of wine for ourselves. We also had to keep, I think, 3 12-packs of beer because we had written on the boxes. And, of course, we couldn't return any opened bottles, so we have quite a few of them at home now.
End result was I returned $554.00 worth of stuff which I was very happy about. That means we spent about $566 for alcohol including all the stuff we get to keep. Knock off the 8 bottles of wine, which really shouldn't count as a Bat Mitzvah expense, and the total was under $500. Had we gotten the liquor from the caterer instead of supplying it ourselves, the charge would have been $15/person. We had 106 people so we would have paid $1,590, meaning we saved over $1,000 doing it ourselves. Plus that way we wouldn't have gotten to keep the leftovers.
I think what really kept the liquor bill low was that I make my own homemade Lemoncello. A lot of our synagogue friends are familiar with it and many others became familiar with it that night. I brought about 4 liters of it to the affair and we used about 2.5 liters. That only cost me about $35 to make but a lot of people drank that instead of the other stuff.
The other money back came from the balloons. We had changed the original balloon order but I realized after the fact that when I picked them up on Saturday, they charged me for the original order, which was more. I went back with the receipt last night and explained the error and they credited me $54 for the overcharge.
So I got back a total of $608 dollars last night which was a nice little bit of change.
I just redeemed $40 on my account and $20 on my wife's account for our Discover cards. We use them pretty much only to take advantage of the 5% cashback bonus offers. The past 3 months, that included gas stations so 5% back was helpful. I also signed up for the 4th quarter which is restaurants, grocery stores and movies. We won't use the movies but we'll definitely use the other two. Just have to remind DW to use the Discover card for those purchases.
All 3 of us wear glasses. We keep the costs down by almost always going to For Eyes. They have a good selection, good service and reasonable prices. I usually get mine with their 2 pair for $99 offer, getting my regular glasses and my sunglasses. DW and DD also got their current glasses there.
DW has needed a new pair for quite a while now as hers got dropped and the lens chipped right in the center some time ago. We went to For Eyes and she couldn't find a frame that fit that she liked. She has to wear kids frames and it is sometimes hard to find a pair that looks okay on a 44-year-old woman. The bright blue ones with Spongebob on them just don't cut it. Also, many of them are too narrow for a bifocal lens.
We also looked at America's Best, another discount chain in the area, and didn't find anything there, either. So she put off getting new glasses. We didn't want to have to resort to the outrageous prices at LensCrafters or somewhere similar.
Well, yesterday, we broke down and went to Pearle. They advertise that AAA members get a 30% discount. I realize that the only reason they can give such a big discount is because their mark-up is sky high to begin with, but she was tired of looking through chipped glasses. She actually found a good frame quickly. It was priced at $120, 20% more than we pay for 2 complete pairs at For Eyes, but such is life. With lenses, the total was going to come to over $400. Fortunately, the frames happened to be on sale when the tech pulled it up in the computer, so they were "only" $80. That and the 30% discount for AAA brought the total down to just under $300. Still an obscene amount of money for a pair of glasses, but since the discount places didn't work out this time, we were kind of stuck. Yes, I know you can order glasses online, but there is no way that would work for her since she is so hard to fit and measure.
I've heard a lot about Craigslist. I have a co-worker who is addicted and has bought and sold lots of stuff on there. But until now, I had never used it to buy or sell.
My daughter outgrew her bike last year and I've been promising to get her a "new" one ever since. All winter I told her that when spring came, we'd hit the yard sales and find a bike for her. Well, spring came and went and it is now the end of June and still no bike. I refused to pay $200 or more for a new one just on principle.
Last night, something made me think of Craigslist. I went to the site and they actually have a bike category. I clicked and checked the listings and someone right on the border of my town had listed 2 girls bikes just yesterday. The photos looked nice (as much as you can tell about a bike in a photo) so I e-mailed and asked what size they were since she hadn't mentioned that. I got a message this morning that they were 26", which is what I needed. I wrote back and told her I'd like to come see them and could probably do it after work tomorrow. Then, I ended up getting out early tonight so I called her and asked if I could come tonight. She said fine and gave me directions. I went there from the office and checked out the bike. It wasn't perfect but had no significant issues. Her father actually fixed a couple of things while I was there because I wanted to make sure they were easily fixable. Once I was satisfied, I gave her $50 and was on my way. I surprised my daughter with it when I got home and we went out for a ride.
It needs a little work - brake pads, lube, etc. I also told her I'd put on a better seat. But it works fine and is just what she needs.
So if you are ever looking to buy or sell anything, check out craigslist. It is a great service.
I haven't written an entry for a couple of weeks. Nothing particular to report on until now, so here's an update.
I just transferred another $445 to my wife's Roth. Mine got maxed at $5,000 with the money from the tax stimulus. After today's transfer, I need to send in another $1,085 to max hers. I'll do that in the next couple of weeks.
Our daughter's Bat Mitzvah is 4 months away, September 27th. We are meeting with the caterer on Wednesday to go over the menu, table linens, and other details. We will be making an installment payment to him of $5,300 also. That represents approximately 50% of the total bill. At that meeting, I'll get the suggested bar list so that we can start shopping for the alcohol needed. We will be saving hundreds by providing the alcohol ourselves instead of paying them to provide it.
We spent the day in Atlantic City yesterday. The 3 of us plus my mother went down. We had a nice lunch together and then my wife and I went to Caesar's to play for a couple of hours. Also, I had a $25 cash comp to collect. I ended up losing $50 at blackjack which left me down $25 counting the money they gave me for coming in. My wife lost about $46 and got a $5 comp for parking, so $41 for her.
After lunch, we did some shopping at the outlets. We picked up some nice stuff at the Disney outlet on clearance - a couple of Mickey vases $3.99 (one to keep, one for a pollyanna present for our collector's club), an Eeyore wall-hanging $3.50, and a couple of very nice stained-glass hangings $2.50.
I guess that's all for the moment.
The past week especially we've been making a serious effort at trimming the grocery bill. That means shopping the sales, clipping coupons, comparison shopping and visiting multiple stores to get the best deals (within reason given gas prices).
Some success stories so far:
Shop Rite had OJ on sale for $1.88 (normal brand is nearly $4.00 regularly and maybe $2.50 on sale; store brand is usually $2.29). So I bought 4 (that was max allowed) and froze them.
Shop Rite had pasta on sale $.74/pound box. Bought 5 boxes.
Genuardi's had bread on sale 1/2 price. That saved $1.75/loaf. Bought 2 loaves and froze one.
Genuardi's had store-brand frozen meals that I sometimes take for lunch on sale 5 for $10. Bought 5.
Shop Rite this week has strawberries 2 packs for $2.50 (usually $5.00). Also had a coupon for $10 off a $50 order so used that. Also a couple of other good sale items that I can't think of at the moment plus used other coupons.
All together, probably saved $20 or $30 since Friday between coupons and sales on stuff we'd be buying anyway.
My daughter will have her Bat Mitzvah in late September. For those not familiar with Judaism, that is a service/ceremony when a Jewish boy (Bar) or girl (Bat) reads from the Torah, the Jewish bible. It symbolizes them becoming adults in the eyes of the Jewish community.
Anyway, along with the service, there is typically a celebration party. Both to be creative and to keep costs down, we are doing a lot of the work ourselves. I've designed the invitations and place cards. We will be making the centerpieces. And we will be making some of the favors.
Today, we went in search of something to use as the base for the centerpiece. I had seen a metal planter at A.C. Moore recently that I liked, but it was $6.99 and I was hoping to find something a bit cheaper. We checked Michael's and found nothing. Then we went to the new Container Store and found something novel for $4.99. We bought one so we can play with it and make a mock-up centerpiece to see how we like it. I just searched online and I can get the same item for under $3.00 each from a few different vendors, so if we like the idea, I'll order them online and save a couple of bucks on each.
For favors, we want to do a chocolate mold related to our theme. My wife searched at Amazon and found just what we are looking for, so I just ordered a couple of those along with a few other things I needed from Amazon. I have nearly $400 in gift certificates with Amazon from doing surveys, so that helps limit the out of pocket costs.
In case you wonder why I'm being kind of vague on details, I want everything to be a surprise and you never know who might be reading your blog, so no specifics.
All of these little costs will keep adding up to a not-so-little total by the time we're done, but we're doing our best to find the cheapest way of doing things.
Yes, I'm serious. Since we had the whole thread about picking up pennies, I think this fits right in. We went to the pet store to buy some stuff for our hermit crab. One item was a new shell. The shelf tag indicated that the shells were $2.49. But the individual bags with the shells were marked $2.79. I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't have even noticed the discrepancy, but we did. I took the item over to an employee and explained the problem. She walked over to the display and confirmed what I was saying. Then she found the manager who met me at the register and did a price adjustment.
A lot of people (though maybe not those around here) might think we went to a lot of trouble to save 30 cents (plus tax), but I think mindset is the key to financial success. Frugality is a state of mind as much as it is a lifestyle.
We were, unfortunately, awake about 5:30 this morning. I've had a cold and was all congested which got me up. That in turn woke DW. Just as we were lying there talking, we suddenly heard a loud CRACK. One pane of the window next to the bed had cracked. I got up and looked outside to see if anyone was out there and had thrown something, but it was deserted. Plus, it was the inside pane that had broken. The outside pane was still intact. So it couldn't have been a rock or bird or anything like that. It just broke on it's own. Now I have to track down somebody to replace the window. We actually have another pane downstairs that cracked a while back that we never repaired, so that's 2 windows that need replacing. $$$
In a previous post, I told of my great laser printer bargain last week. The printer sat untouched until last night when I finally hauled it up to the computer room to unpack it. I also went online and ordered toner cartridges on Amazon. I proceeded to rearrange the workspace to accomodate the new printer, carefully unpack it and set it up. Then I put the CD in to load the printer software only to discover that HP doesn't provide Macintosh support for this model. I checked their website and it said the same thing. So this weekend, the printer is getting repacked and returned to the store. So much for my bargain.
Even though I'm pretty good at giving financial advice and talking about what we all "should" be doing, I'm often as guilty as the next guy about not actually taking action and doing those things we talk about.
This has been on my mind a lot recently. DW isn't thrilled with her job and may decide to go back to SAHM status at some point. Even though most of her income goes to savings, some of it still comes home and gets spent. We already took a big cut when she went from her last job to this one without really changing much but losing the current income will eventually have some impact.
A year or so ago, I met with my insurance broker and he ran quotes for me and showed that we could lower our life insurance premiums by switching companies, but I never followed through so have maintained the more expensive policies.
Then a couple of months ago, I got an online quote from another auto insurance company that would have saved us about $36/month, but never did anything with that either.
Now, we've had the discussions in the forum about mortgage rates falling and we will probably benefit from refinancing again if rates fall a bit more in the coming months. Maybe by summertime, it will make sense and save us somewhere around $50/month.
Add to that the fact that the last payment on DD's braces is in May and we'll have an extra $150/month free from that.
So if I get off my butt and redo the life and auto insurance, refi the mortgage and add in the braces money, we could see over $200/month extra in our budget. So I guess that's my goal for this year.
We had a very nice weekend, got to relax some, had some good meals, discovered a great hotel (it's not new, but we've never stayed there before) and bought some needed and not-so-needed stuff.
I did get 3 pairs of pants and one dress shirt, which were the main items on my shopping list. DD and DW each got some clothes. At the new Disney outlet, we picked up a few items for our collection and DD got some clothes. We also picked up a nice Royal Doulton Winnie the Pooh piece. They had a lot of their Disney items on sale for 70% off which made normally pricey items much more reasonable.
We used our Isaac's restaurant gift card toward lunch on Saturday. And my mom treated us to a couple of meals and paid for some of our purchases. She's been enjoying her much lower cost of living since selling her house and moving into an apartment. She also has been not feeling well lately and is finally doing better so was really glad to be able to make the trip with us. We all got along very well this weekend with only a couple of minor issues. DD (our almost teenager) behaved herself very well which made the weekend much nicer for everyone.
We decided to do a weekend get-away tomorrow. We're heading to Lancaster, PA for 2 nights. We'll do some outlet shopping, eat at our favorite restaurant (one of my patients gave me a gift certificate for the holidays), go swimming (hotel has an indoor pool) and whatever else crops up. My mom and cousin are joining us, too. We'll leave tomorrow after we're all home from work and come back Sunday night.
Hopefully, I'll come back with a few new pairs of pants. That's the main thing on my shopping list.
Our daughter is having her Bat Mitzvah in September. My plan all along has been to print the invitations, the placecards, the thank you notes, etc. Rather than paying a professional to do that, I reasoned that I could spend about the same amount, or less, to buy a color laser printer, do the work myself, and be left with the printer when we're done.
So for about 2 years now, I've been scouting the color laser printer market. At first, they were running around $499 - out of my budget. Then they drifted down to $399 - better, but still too much. Finally, they started showing up for $299 and recently those have been going on sale for $249. Since we are nearing the time when I'll need the printer, I was getting ready to bite the bullet and buy one.
Last Sunday, one of the circulars in the paper had the model I've been looking at. They are selling a factory refurbished model for $69.99!! So off I went to the store last night, expecting to hear that they only got one and it was sold already. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had several on the shelf.
One is now sitting in our living room waiting to be installed. They were out of the cable I needed and I did not yet invest in the toner cartridges as I wanted to search the best price for those online - they are costly (over $330 for a set of genuine HP or about $260 for a set of compatibles). I also need to clear off the space where the printer will sit as they are fairly large.
We have 2 light fixtures at our front door, 1 on either side. 1 bulb burned out a month or so ago and the other died this week, so it was time to replace them. I've tried various bulbs in those fixtures and found the Phillips Halogen bulbs seemed to last the longest. I went over to Home Depot today to buy a pair of those. After I found them, I looked at the CFLs to see how they compared. For the same price, I was able to get 2 CFLs instead. The Phillips bulbs are rated for 2 years of life at 4 hours/day. The CFLs are rated for 9 years of life at 3 hours/day. So assuming those estimates are accurate, the CFLs should last more than 3 times as long and use far less electricity. All for the exact same cost as the traditional bulbs. Sounds good to me.
My wife has been bugging me for a few months about rearranging our family room to put in a computer desk so that we could have a computer set up on the first floor. There were a few reasons for this. One, we use the internet constantly for all kinds of information, recipes, shopping, games, etc. and it is often a pain to have to run upstairs for every little thing. Two, our daughter is 12 now and spending more time online and we'd like her doing that in a common area so we can keep an eye on what she's doing. Also, when she is doing school work, we can be there to help her without running up and down the steps every time she has a question.
We finally found a desk we liked the other day and got it at staples.com. It was $30 cheaper online than in the store and shipping was free. It came yesterday and we assembled it this afternoon. I'm sitting at that desk typing this entry on our laptop which is now set up on the new desk.
This is only vaguely a financial topic, though I did post about how we saved that $30 by shopping online instead of in the store. Also, we often use the internet to save money in other ways and having even easier access to it can only help with that.
Now, we just need to buy a printer and a little desk lamp and we'll be all set.
I haven't posted this month (except the survey income) so thought I'd try and come up with something to report.
I bought a new microwave (see prior report). I spoke to my friend who fixes appliances and he said don't bother. It is 16 years old and not worth repairing. We'll probably save more in electricity conservation than it would cost to repair. So I went to Wal-Mart and got a GE unit for $55. The first one was damaged when I got it home, but I exchanged it yesterday and the new one works fine. I used it to cook grits this morning. We lost a chunk of counter space, but we'll manage.
I took my wife's van in for service last week. With a coupon, that came to less than $200 which wasn't too bad at all. It recently turned 100,000 miles and is doing fine.
Some guys at my synagogue play in a weekly poker game and have been inviting me to join them for years. I finally did 2 nights ago. Everybody buys in for $20 - it is more about having fun and socializing than making big bucks. We played for close to 4 hours (way past my bedtime) and I lost a total of $7.00 which was just fine by me as I had a fun time. I can't see myself playing weekly, but I will join them from time to time.
My wife's birthday is on Monday. I'll give her her gift on Sunday, probably, since I work late on Monday. I know she doesn't read my blog, so I can share what I got her. We tend to buy each other practical gifts, but good quality/luxury versions. She is always complaining about her bed pillow but doesn't want to spend the money to get a better one and isn't sure which to get. Anytime we travel and stay at a Marriott, she always loves the pillow, so I ordered one from Marriott's website. It was $65 which is extravagant for us, but if she likes it as much at home as she does at the hotels, it will be well worth it.
My wife has been stressed out this week because they have been doing a special project at work and she has had to work lots of extra hours. She normally works part-time, a few hours a week, but this week has worked every day and a few days were 9am to 6pm which she hated, but at least we know it was just for this week. After today, it is back to the usual. The only good thing, which I appreciate more than her, is the extra money those hours will bring in. 50% of her pay goes to her 401K, so this week will give that account a nice boost.
Nothing else comes to mind right now, so I'll stop here. I hope everyone has a great weekend.
DW and I agree that we haven't been eating all that healthy lately and need to get back on track with diet and exercise. I decided to take a trip to Whole Foods today and spend some time exploring some different options, particularly looking for some healthier snack options since that is often our downfall.
I picked up a number of new things to try, a couple of which we already sampled tonight and liked. I was mainly focused on items with little to no saturated fat, no trans fat and no high fructose corn syrup.
The one problem with those things is, of course, that they are more expensive than the crappy versions, but I'm willing to spend a little more for good health. Also, we are working to get back to cooking at home more and eating out less which will save a lot of money. I'd rather spend it on better quality groceries than on high calorie meals out.
I posted awhile ago about how I do surveys for one company that pays me in Amazon.com gift certificates. I get $30 each time I do one, and I've done as many as 5 in a month, so the money adds up pretty quickly. At first, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it all, but the more I browse, the more I've discovered that Amazon sells pretty much everything. And they have pretty good prices, too. My most recent order, a few days ago, was a scientific calculator DD needs for school, vacuum cleaner bags and an ink cartridge for my printer. After that order, I checked to see if they sell the filters for my aquarium, and sure enough they sell those too. So rather than ordering from the pet supply company I've always used, I'll start getting them from Amazon with my free credits.
The great thing about this particular survey company is I can do their surveys pretty much whenever I want. I don't have to wait to be invited. I log in to my account and there is a list of available programs. I can even do a program more than once, as long as it is still on my list. The only negative is I can only do them until 6pm Monday-Friday and, I think, until 4pm on Saturday. Of course, most of my free time is in the evening. I'd do one every night if I could.
I am not the kind of shopper that retailers love. I buy what I need, and I don't need a whole lot. I'd much rather save and invest my money than spend it on stuff just for the heck of it.
Occasionally, that poses a problem, like when my birthday rolls around and folks ask me what I want. Most of the time, I say I dont' want anything. When there is something I really want, I buy it. Otherwise, I've got all I need.
One of the survey companies that I do work for pays me with Amazon.com gift certificates - $30 for each survey. Well, I did 5 of their surveys last month so I've accumulated $150. Plus, I still had $12 left over from the holiday gift my staff gave me last December (see what I mean). That gave me $162 I need to spend somehow.
I've actually managed to spend $56 over the past couple of days, which is rather impressive for me. My wife and I went to Broadway recently to see Avenue Q, so I ordered the soundtrack. My daughter found out the school show this year will be You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, so I ordered that soundtrack so she can start learning the music. And we saw my MIL this weekend, and she mentioned a DVD she'd like as a gift for her birthday, so I ordered that.
And today, I went to Amazon to browse a bit and saw that they offer magazine subscriptions. The past year, I had been getting Smart Money and I liked it. I had somehow gotten a free 1-year subscription (don't remember how) but had decided not to renew it as I didn't want to pay for it. Amazon has it though. $18 for 2 years, so I ordered that.
Only $106 more to spend - until I do another survey.
We are planning to go to Clementon Amusement Park this weekend. It is a fun little park close to our house. We go every year or so.
I know they have discount coupons at some of the fast food restaurants, but since we almost never eat fast food, I didn't know which one.
So I asked. I mentioned at work a couple of days ago that I was looking for coupons and today one of my co-workers came in with them. Subway had them. So we will save $8 on each of our 3 tickets, $24 total. That should be enough for lunch and maybe a snack. Good deal.
We spent the day at Jersey Gardens. For those not from the area, Jersey Gardens is the largest outlet mall in New Jersey. We go there about once a year as we do get some good deals, much better than at local stores or malls. The mall occupies a plot of land about the size of Rhode Island, across the road from Newark Airport.
Anyway, I was looking at the directory while DW and DD were in one store and I couldn't help but think about why people overspend so much. There are just way too many choices of where to spend our money. Years ago, we didn't have such choice and variety. Shopping options were quite limited compared with today.
The directory of shops certainly reflects the typical differences between men and women. There are 33 women's apparel stores, 23 for kids and just 10 selling excusively men's apparel. Got feet? There are no fewer than 33 shoe stores at the mall.
For those who would argue that at least clothes and shoes are necessities to a point that we all need from time to time, the list doesn't stop there. Need some bling? Jersey Gardens has 22 jewelry stores. Want to smell better? There are 9 perfume stores with such creatively varied names as Perfume Boutique, Perfume Forever, Perfume Romance, Perfumania and the romantic French-sounding La Perfumerie. Do we really need all that? Perhaps your cell phone is on the fritz. There are 7 cell phone vendors on hand.
The choice and variations of what to buy and where to buy it, I think, just encourages people to spend more and more money on stuff they probably don't really need. And this isn't limited to clothing and accessories. The same thing is true at the grocery store. In 1970, the average grocery store carried about 9,000 items. Today, that number is well over 40,000. On one supermarket trip, I counted over 200 choices in the cereal aisle alone.
Or go to the toiletries department at Target or WalMart and see the variety of deodarants or toothpastes or shaving creams. They come in every imaginable color, style, fragrance, etc. Women, do you really care if your legs smell like mango/kiwi or strawberry/banana after you shave? Does it truly matter if your armpits evoke spring rain or summer breezes?
There was a great book a few years ago called, I think, The Paralysis of Choice, in which the author talked about how many consumers are completely overwhelmed by the options when they go shopping and are often unable to make a decision, lest they pick the wrong thing.
Oh, to return to a simpler time. Stores were smaller and more manageable. People were thinner (the overabundance of food choices is part of the problem behind the obesity epidemic). And shopping was far less stressful. Plus, shopping was done more out of need and less out of entertainment value.
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.
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.