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Archive for December, 2006

Is the glass half full or half empty?

December 27th, 2006 at 06:27 pm

In my case it seems to be half full, but you can make your own determination. Last week on Tuesday my car broke down on the way to work. In goes the clutch to shift, the clutch stays on floor board. Ohhh boy, what do I do now?

Fortunately I was less than two miles from work, and only had two traffic lights between me and a parking spot. All I needed to do was keep the car moving. As I had been moving when I tried to shift, I was able to force the car into first gear and limp it to work. (I'm sure two miles in first gear really helped my car's MPG!)

I won't get into the towing bill fiasco (an EXTREME aggravation), but after getting the car to the garage I waited at work for the bad news. It turned out not so bad, a $330 bill for it. (ok, still bad, but that dealership is expensive!) But they had been after me to have the timing belt replaced, and after two years I gave in and had it done as well. My total bill was about $1,100. Yeah, a nice Christmas present.

But through it all I wasn't that upset (except for the part of catching a bus, and then riding with a co-worker to work for two days). In the past this would have stressed me something bad, but not this time. Was it due to my Ex not being around? Well that certainly helped. But here is what I think was the big difference.

For the past 6 months I have started making money with the 0% bank transfers using credit cards. And I estimate my earnings through the end of the year to be about $1,000.

So I guess I looked at the situation thusly: Have I lost all my earnings from the 0% efforts this year (glass is half empty), or through some extra easy work was I able to have the money ready to pay a bill that would have happened sooner or later, and not hurt my savings efforts (glass is half full)? I have to think I am seeing it as half full. And while I hate paying that money, it sure is nice to have something that bad happen and not stress about it. In my mind I was prepared for it and the pain was minimal.

Yep, that works for me.

Results of a little experiment

December 15th, 2006 at 06:14 pm

... or an idea single frugal guys should consider.

Based on my comment at the beginning of the month, I started the month with an unobtainable goal - no food expenses for the month. Of course I knew the food cost something, even if bought before the month, but I was looking to spend nothing new for the month.

It didn't last long, nor did I expect it to. I finally went to the store Thursday (the 14th) and spent $20, a little under what I used to spend weekly. The effect seemed to be I was able to do without one week's worth of grocery shopping.

OK, so what did I learn? Actually a number of things. As someone that tries to buy when on sale, sometimes things are put away and forgotten. No surprise, but my effort to do without groceries forced me to dig into things I had forgotten, and now wouldn't go to waste. Like the frozen loaf of bread I forgot I had. And the iced tea mix. Certain canned veggies. I even used the noodles from Ramen noodle packages my ex-renter left as noodle filler to help my pasta mixes go farther (I use them for lunches). While it wasn't a ton of food used, I am happy to use them when they may have just gone to waste.

Well, as I still have a lot of food that should be eaten and is sitting in the back of cabinets, I am thinking of making this a monthly event. Instead of buying food once every week, one time each month I will now try to go two weeks between store visits and force myself to dig into the back of cabinets and use what is there.

Save money and be less wasteful. Now that sounds like a plan.

I didn't know the cruise was free.

December 8th, 2006 at 06:25 pm

Also, this can be subtitled "or how I got tipjacked." Trust me, that does make sense, you just need to hear the whole story.

Last night, in the near hurricane winds of a cold front moving through (think 30 mph winds with below freezing temps), I went on a dinner cruise where I had won a cruise for two. The paperwork said "taxes and gratuities are not included", so its not like I wasn't prepared, but.... At the end of the meal I get the bill, and I give the man the certificate. He comes back a few minutes later with the bill, and very, very pointedly describes how I need to write down the gratuity for the bill, and the amounts have been calculated "for your convenience", and he would return. Well on the left are the what I thought were "recommended" tip rates, all calculated very nicely. When I am given recommended tips I am not a happy camper. If I want to be told what to do I can go back to living with my mommy, thank you very much.

The rates were 15%, 20%, and 24%. The calculated tip amounts are there as well, and they are based on the whole charge for the cruise and dinner ($80/person). Hmmmm, when you use percentages, isn't tipping supposed to be based on the charge for the dinner, not the trip? You mean the cruise was free??? (yeah, right) Anyhow, I am there with a bit of a quandary. I felt that basing the tip on the tax and overage ($15 total) wouldn't be right, but those amounts were exorbitant. While the service was nice, I get better service when I do my mystery shopping at restaurants. And that type of meal I could normally get for around $40 maximum, probably less. I talked with my date and she agreed what they are expecting is too much and so I put an in between amount for the tip, based on the realistic $40/meal amount.

Shortly after the guy takes the credit card, he returns very "concerned" that I didn't understand how to tip. He explained how the tip should be against the whole expense, not just a lower amount. He keeps this up and says something about not being able to put it into the computer that way. I ask him if he is saying that the computer won't accept a non-standard tip. Instead of answering he starts in again to explain how the tips are calculated on the standard charge for the cruise. Here I am, I have a Bachelor's in Mathematics, a Master's in Computer Science, and I'm having to listen to this drivel on how to calculate percentages. I was so tempted to explain to him I was willing to go and reprogram his computer so he would never have to enter tips into his system again if it would help him.

While I think my date would have liked for me to tell him that, I decided valor was the best part of getting the h*** off the boat, and just circled the 15%.

I hate to come across as someone that wants to find something to complain about. The trip was nice, the food was good, and they sure kept the boat warm. My date agreed that it was nice, but there was no way she would spend the amount they expect people to pay for that trip. And she was more than happy to leave as soon as possible after their poor performance. While its not likely, if I ever win this from them again, it goes onto craigslist for sale. Once was enough.

As a postscript, we had a fair amount in common, talked the whole time and really did enjoy it. She said she would be happy to go with me when I do my next mystery shop assignment. While I don't see us ever getting into any serious relationship, it is nice to have someone you can talk with and relate with in a casual setting.

I'm glad I passed on that.

December 5th, 2006 at 05:39 pm

Actually there may come a time I regret passing on it, but I seroiusly doubt it. What is it? Amongst the numerous insurance I could sign up for (well until last Nov. 15 that is) was a group rate on Long Term Care insurance. As I was cleaning my desk today I came across the paperwork, and saw the numbers, and thought "would it have been worth it?"

*** Long winded math analysis ahead ***

Math nerd that I am, I decided to see if I could determine if it was a good buy. There were a number of plans, but to make it simple I went with the numbers from the $100/day benefit plan. I assumed a 10% return if I invested the money versus giving it to the insurance company. My idea was to input all the monthly payments into a spreadsheet, work the average interest and see when I would get to a point where the amount could give me a return of $100 / day.

As I did the numbers for my age, I came up with I would need to get to almost 100 before the premiums could earn that type of money, so I realized something was wrong. Insurance companies are in the business of making money, not giving it away.

Away I went back to the paperwork. Ah ha. Some very important points I missed.

#1) You need to be fully employed, or you are dropped from this plan (this means it won't help you in retirement - the most likely scenario for needing this).

#2) The max benefit was for three years, not unlimited. (That means $109,500 is the max) OK, back to the spreadsheet. Hmmmm, I didn't hit that total until I was 84. Again, while this seemed more realistic, I must be missing something.

#3) After a return to the paperwork, I noticed a very, very important piece of info. While the max benefit is for 3 years, that only holds true if you need it when you are under 62. Each year you get older, the period shrinks until you are 69, and you get only 12 months of payments. So that is I would get max of $36,500. When would I hit those payments & interest to the insurance company? About when I hit 69.

#4) There is more (no surprise). Payments are at most 60% of earnings (that wouldn't effect me much), payments will be reduced if you get workman's compensation, early employer retirement plans, ... (and the list goes on and on).

So would it be worth it? Certainly not if I was disabled after I was 69. Well, I could get hurt before then. What about that situation? I can see four most likely scenarios. Car accident (car insurance would give me more than $36K easily for a major injury), accident at home (health insurance will pay some, but I would be behind for a while), accident other locations (most places will have insurance or be liable), or illness (extremely unlikely if you keep yourself in shape).

Sorry to bore you with this, but unless you don't take care of yourself, have a known family problem, are reckless, or have a ton of people dependent on you, I don't see how this makes any sense. Yeah, you could need it, but the odds of it are so small, and insurance companies are so good at finding reasons not to pay in any case. My employer was making this out to be a great thing. I think not. I'll put the money into investments and self insure myself.

No-cost food add-on

December 2nd, 2006 at 03:21 pm

Just a quick follow up. There is a free breakfast sign up site now available, you might want to try.

http://www.freebreakfastnow.com

If you have problems (like I was), if you check the box that says: Click here if you would like to receive future communications from Chick-fil-AŽ it may work. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but having this checked was the only way it seemed to work for me. Oh well... I can live with this.

A no-cost food month???

December 1st, 2006 at 08:26 pm

OK, now that's just impossible. That said, I am looking at my food bill for the coming week (or two) to be probably $10 (at most).

Here's the deal: First I got a turkey before thanksgiving very inexpensive ($5 for a large turkey). It came out great, and I have been eating lots of turkey the past week, and have enough to last another ?two? weeks (probably more). I also have plenty of drink (milk, juice) to last another two weeks. I am still working my way through all the soda I got for free with the Coke & Pepsi rebate offers a few months ago. They should last 'til the middle of January. I still have cereal from the buy 8 boxes, get $20 rebate offer from a month ago as well. And other things like ingredients for making my lunches are in plenty supply as well.

And now I have this: I just did a mystery shop of takeout food at a good restaurant tonight. That food will probably last me the whole weekend. (crab cakes, grilled chicken, ceasar salad, popcorn shrimp, more...)

And then next week is the topper. I have a free dining and river cruise certificate I will be using one evening next week. It is a five course meal where I will be getting rib-eye steak. I have set up a *mostly* blind date with a friend of a co-worker for the cruise, so I hope to have a good time with her (I say mostly blind, because I have a picture and talked with her on the phone).

If you add in a train show I will be working at the following weekend, where we will get basic food for free, and well, I think you can see my food bill for the near future is going to be scraping the bottom. And its not like I will be eating junk either. You gotta enjoy times like this.

Sometimes things work in your favor

December 1st, 2006 at 08:09 pm

If anyone has read here before, you might have caught how I was getting money from credit cards at their 0% promo rates, and investing the money. Well that is still going on for me, and doing well (almost $200 a month). About a month ago I got another card, and I called to transfer credit lines from other cards that had been sitting around and quietly had their credit lines increased.

With this card could you not only do a credit card balance transfer at 0%, but you could get a check sent to you as well. There was a 3% fee tacked on, but still, if you get the numbers large enough, the difference between CD rates and 3% is worth the trouble. (That plus I think I was bored and missing the thrill of getting money for free that week.) So I got the check sent to me, and as I was finishing the representative on the phone asked if I would like to tranfer balances from other credit cards. I said no, not with the transfer fee (remember, 3%, no max). I was told I could transfer the same amount I had already done, and do it with no transfer fee at all. After thinking for a minute, I realized I had a card coming due next April, and with this new card the money would not be due until Dec. 2007. OK, 8 extra months of the money for no cost. Yep, that sounded good to me!

After this latest transfer all the money I have from the credit cards (except for a few thousand) is now due next December 2007 at the earliest, and some not until mid 2008. The best short term rate I can get is 5.5%, which is doing good for me.

As a follow up, I just got another one (card that is), not for tranferring money, but for another $100 sign up bonus. Ok, maybe I am crazy with this stuff, but free money with little to no work involved is just too sexy to pass up.