Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Being Poor

The Washington Post wrote an article entitled "The High Cost of Poverty" that outlines how poorer people have a much rougher time trying to do the very same things that slightly richer people take for granted. As an example, while the middle-class gets to shop at grocery stores where they pay $1 for a loaf of bread, because poorer people may not have cars or reliable transportation to get them to these grocery stores, they end up paying $3 for that same loaf of bread at a corner market. While $2 isn't a lot extra to pay in the short term, if they buy two loaves of bread a week for fifty weeks, that's $200 extra dollars they'll pay over that time. When many of these people's incomes are below $15,000, that is a significant amount of take-home pay wasted on these higher prices.

I really feel for these people, in part because I have gone through some tough financial straights myself. While I was never as bad off as the folks in the article, at some points in my life, it made more sense to go to a check-cashing place as opposed to cashing a paycheck in my bank account, and the rates they charged for the priviledge of cashing my check there made my head spin.

Around that time, laws were passed in California that said that these check-cashing places had to charge a much lower percentage on checks cashed and/or cash advances to military families. I believe the intention of the law was to make these establishments charge overall lower rates, but what ended up happening was the day the law went into effect, there were signs posted at the store I went to that said that they could not serve military families. This law that was supposed to help these families probably just made life more difficult for them.

There is a man in the article who says that he doesn't hold anything against these businesses because charging high fees is just "how they make their money." I can only imagine how difficult this man's life has been to make him docile to these ridiculous rates.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A New Direction

I did finally get accepted into grad school, and I am really looking forward to going. With that in mind, I am going to start, in addition to what I have already been posting about (finding deals and so forth), posting more about how I am going to make grad school a viable economic reality for me and the wife (and the puppy).

It looks like we will be making a pretty significant move in order to go to school, and so one of the first items on the agenda is the need to start paring it all down. I set up about twenty Ebay auctions last night, and I will be interested to see how much money I actually end up with. Ebay is pretty tricky for sellers, in my opinion, as you get charged to list your item, then you get charged some more when your item sells, and then Paypal charges you a percentage of whatever money you receive. As I figure most of these items will sell for a dollar or two, these ten and twenty-five cent fees add up pretty quickly as a percentage of money earned. Nevertheless, I am getting towards my goal of having (and therefore, having to move) less stuff.

This will be an exciting couple of months.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday Links

The Best Job in the World - Australia is willing to pay someone to live in a beautiful house on an island in the Great Barrier Reef and blog about the experience. They are paying $100,000 American dollars (roughly) for six months.

25% off Borders Gift Certificate - For Borders Rewards members only, expires 1/19/09.

$25 Restaurant Gift Certificate for $4 - Use coupon code "Exclusive," expires 1/19/09.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Saving Money Doing What You Like to Do #2 - Pot Luck Dinners

I'm going to let you in on a little secret about myself: I love food and drinks. I suppose you might have been able to guess that with one of my first posts being about wine tasting. However, eating out all the time very quickly uses up all your hard earned cash. What is a responsible young adult to do?

My wife and I hang out with two couples on a regular basis. We used to do this every Friday night, but over the last month and a half or so, it's been tougher to be consistent, but it is a goal that we all enjoy and for which we all make time. It has been said that food brings people together, and this is the case with our friend group. Generally, we all head over to one of our homes, and we have dinner and play a board game or two.

When we first started, there was a bit of stress that accompanied this venture. It seemed very grown up and proper to have the hosting party provide dinner, but this was quickly repealed as buying food for six people is a bit of a strain, especially when compared to the two people for which each of the couples normally buys. In addition, one of the couples each lives with different families, and so they wouldn't really ever be able to host, which seems unfair too.

So, like so many Southern Baptist churches, we decided to make our events pot luck style. While we certainly could plan it a little better (sometimes we end up with three main courses), this plan of attach is generally very preferable, at least for my wife and I. My wife loves it because when I cook, I tend to use a certain combination of spices that end up making most of my dishes taste similar. I love it because one of our friends used to work at one of the fanciest restaurants in San Diego (Bertrand and Mr. A's), and so I am always looking forward to whatever it is that she puts together.

Generally, each couple gets away with paying $10 or $15 dollars, and we all get to enjoy a three course meal. There have even been times when one of the couples brought a big bowl of ramen noodles because it was all they could put together in time, so they certainly got off a lot cheaper (and it was delicious anyways).

In short, food is good. Friends are good. When you put them together, it can be a fun and inexpensive way to spend an evening.

If you liked this post, you might also like "Saving Money Doing What You Like to Do #1 - Five Easy Ways to Save Money on Ebay."

Friday Deals

TV Series - Buy 1 Get 1 Free at Amazon

20 Piece Socket Set $7.99 - Today (01/09/09) at Woot

Get Great Tickets on!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Saving Money Doing What You Like to Do #1 - Five Easy Ways to Save Money Buying on Ebay

This is the first of what I hope will be a long and informative series of posts dealing with issue of how to do what you already like to do for less money.

Ah, Ebay. In fifteen years, you have gone from not even being a real word to a monolith in the American and global economy. Whether looking for tennis shoes or a shark's tooth, theatre tickets or croquet wickets, savvy shoppers the world over come to Ebay frequently to do business with normal folks and larger companies around the world.

Nevertheless, Ebay can be a daunting experience for newcomers, and one of the most frequent questions asked about Ebay is "How can I get the best value for my money?" In the five points below, I hope to give some helpful tips and tricks to ensure that you can know the excitement of finding that perfect deal. Some of my tips may be looked upon as obvious by veterans, but I believe that they bear repeating here.

1) Do your Research - All right, so you've fired up your browser, typed in, typed, say, "Hello Kitty Doll" into the search bar, and you are super excited at seeing the exact doll that you want for $25 under the "Buy It Now" option. You hurriedly click "Buy It Now" and proceed through checkout. Congratulations! After you've bought it, you peruse some of the other listings, only to find that many of the other auctions are selling the same dolls for only $10! Alas! Though you got exactly what you wanted immediately, you didn't get the best price.

Whenever you search for something on Ebay, it is a good idea to first make sure that you have the items sorted by "Ending Soonest." For some reason, Ebay tends to default to the "Best Match" option, which I don't find particularly useful; I can see that I have received a page of exactly what I was looking for: in what sense is one option better than another within this view?

Once you have them sorted correctly, I recommend looking over at least three or four of the search pages. What you should look for is how much of price difference there is between similar items. Once you see the price difference, you should evaluate why there is a price difference. As an easy example, the prices of items ending soonest are usually quite a bit higher than items just listed; this is obviously due to the fact that items ending soonest have received multiple bids while just listed items probably have no bids at all. An application of this principle is in my second point.

2) Watch Shipping Costs - I hate the feeling (I have experienced it, and I am sadder but wiser for it) of thinking I've gotten this amazing price on an item, only to realize that I actually paid much more due to a ridiculous shipping price. Sellers are free to charge whatever they want for shipping and handling, and it is not always reasonable.

In the month leading up to Christmas, Ebay ran this series of heavily discounted items that could be great presents for the family, and, as a cherry on top of the sundae, they offered free shipping. If there are two similarly priced items from sellers that you trust, use the shipping price as a tie breaker.

3) Wait Until the Last Minute - Ebay was built on the principle that you wouldn't have to be there at the auction's end. You could simply put in a bid of the price that you would like to spend no more than, and the bid price would go up incrementally as other people bid. When I have done this in the past, I find that my the final price ends up being curiously close to my maximum bid. I'm not going to suggest that all sellers (under different identities) bid up their prices to make sure they get the most money, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it does happen from time to time.

With that being said, I have found that I frequently am the most satisfied with the price I get in an auction if I sit and watch it for the last five minutes before the auction closes. With a minute or so to go, I swoop in and bid the price up a couple dollars. Sometimes I get it and sometimes I don't, but when I do, it is an exciting time.

I did this when I purchased my wedding gift for my wife; I saw a great price on a pair of diamond earrings in an auction that was ending in a couple of days. Fortunately, over those days, the price didn't rise that much. In the last couple minutes, another bidder and I got into a bidding war, and the price raised a couple hundred bucks, but I still came out ahead, and I ended up with a great deal on a pair of earrings. I paid about $800 for about 1 carat total weight of diamonds of vs2 quality, which, if you know anything about diamonds, is an absolutely amazing deal. In looking at these diamonds, however, I had to make a decision that relates to my fourth point.

4) Evaluate Risk versus Reward - One of the issues that affects price in an Ebay auction is the seller's rating. How credible is he? Does he usually sell what he says he would sell, or is the quality different than he listed it? How many people has he sold to? Do I trust a seller more who has 10,000 happy customers or one who has 15 happy customers?

In the diamond earring auction above, I realized the price was low because I was buying from a relatively new seller on Ebay. He only had around 200 people he had sold to. Most of his customers had been happy with his service, but a few were upset. Nevertheless, I knew I had about a thousand dollars to spend, and I knew that Paypal at the time offered about that much in buyer assurance (ie, if a seller ripped you off, Paypal would pay you back). With that in mind, I decided to give the guy a shot. I figured that even if the guy was a bold-faced liar, I would get my money back.

The earrings came quickly, and I hurriedly opened them in excitement to try to gauge just how excited my wife would be to see them on our wedding day. As I held them up at an angle to the light to see them shimmer and shine, I was a bit dismayed. The seller had advertised them as VS2 (which means that they should be absolutely eye-clean; that is, I should not with my naked eye be able to see any blemishes in the stone), but I saw blemishes. One stone was pretty good, but the other was really bad and, in my unofficial opinion, should have been rated as an I (four gradings below VS2, and, therefore, much less expensive). As you can imagine, there was an angry phone call placed. Fortunately for me, the seller was willing to correct his "mistake" (though I suspect he likely ripped other people off who hadn't studied jewelry as much as I had), and he sent me rings that were closer to what had been advertised. You can imagine how excited I was when I took them to be appraised and I found that they were worth, conservatively, $2,400! Obviously, the reward in that situation very much overshadowed the risk.

5) Be Patient - Please note that I didn't just jump at the first diamond earring deal I found on Ebay. I would say I looked for two months before I came across that opportunity, but when I found it, I was so happy that I had waited. Similarly, if prices seem high for whatever you're looking for right now and you have the gift of patience, you can rest assured that you will be able to find a better deal in the future. If you know that you need to buy an expensive gift for someone, try to give yourself some time to find the right price for your budget.

Phew! That was a lot more than I had anticipated writing! In any case, I hope that you have found the above tips useful. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment.

Google Is Your Friend

It is becoming second nature to me now, but whenever I plan on making a purchase, I always do a google search to see if I can find any coupons for what I am planning on buying. In the last couple of weeks, I have printed out and used coupons for Jiffy Lube, Borders, and Barnes and Noble to name just a few. It may only be five bucks off here or thirty percent off there, but if you are constantly saving money on purchases, you are easily stretching your buying power further and further (not to mention the extra money you should be socking away every month for a rainy day).

Here are a couple of good sites that have coupons to stores that I frequent (in no particular order) that I have come across in my own google searches:

Pocket Deal

Coupon Album

Tech Bargains

Coupon Cabin

Wow Coupons

Monday, January 5, 2009

Borders/Waldenbooks Coupon

I am an avid reader, and I buy more books than I probably should. However, Borders sends me coupons via email, and I will post them here (though they tend to expire pretty quickly).

Go to this website, and you can print out an in-store coupon good for 40% off of one book. Hurry though, it expires on 01/06/09.

A San Diego Recommendation

I was trying to come up with a fun place to go on a date with my wife a few weeks ago, and, while walking to Borders bookstore in the Gaslamp Quarter, I passed what looked like a quaint little place for wine-tasting. I told myself I would go back at my first opportunity.

This last Saturday, I took my wife to Bacchus Wine Market for a tasting. We were treated to 8 different mystery wines and were asked to guess which varietal they were. As my wife and I do not have, shall we say, very discriminating palates, we each were only able to come up with one correct answer a piece. Nevertheless, it was a lot fun, and at $15 a piece, it was definitely something we could afford to do again.

The man who ran the tasting said that they only did the mystery tasting every six weeks or so, so I am looking forward to going back and learning a bit more about the wines I will be tasting next time, as not much was said about them during this experience.

The Simpsons!

Amazon was briefly offering most of the seasons of the Simpsons on dvd for $14.99. It looks like that deal is now gone, but a couple of seasons are still being offered for $19.99. Here are some links to those seasons.

The Simpsons - The Complete Seventh Season

The Simpsons - The Complete Eighth Season

The Simpsons - The Complete Ninth Season

The Simpsons - The Complete Tenth Season