Wednesday, August 31, 2011
As some background, the person who came and inspected our condo before we purchased it told us that the air from the air conditioner was not as cold as he thought it should be, but that the difference in temperature was almost certainly a low-cost fix (he believed it just needed to be cleaned). He also told us, with a straight face, that he thought there weren't any big issues with the air conditioner, even though he did not go up on the roof to check the unit out.
Nevertheless, in his actual written report (that we didn't read as thoroughly as we should have due to what he had told us in person -- obviously a big, dumb, stupid-headed error) he was a little more severe in his warning about the air conditioning unit, to the extent that the warranty company refuses to make a payment to replace it as, per the inspection, the air conditioning had a pre-existing problem.*
In retrospect, it was a huge mistake on our part to not insist that the inspector check out the roof unit before we signed the paperwork buying the condo. What can I say? In my my younger and more vulnerable years, I was, well, younger and more vulnerable.
The cost of manpower, a new air conditioner unit itself, and (allegedly) the rental of a crane is going to set my wife and I back a "cool" six or seven grand.
Now, I'm not going to say that we wouldn't have purchased the condo had we had a better idea about the issues with the a/c; I just wish that we could have used the knowledge to negotiate a better price with the bank.
For those of you reading, if you've purchased a house, did you make any mistakes like my wife and I did? What advice would you give to first-time homebuyers?
*Other pre-existing problems? The termites and water damage that the inspector missed. Maybe we just had a crummy inspector. I guess that's what we get for doing business with somebody who still has an aol.com email address.**
**In our defense, our realtor recommended the guy.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Update 09/12/2011: I am pleased to mention that this post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #326.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Advertising is supposed to make me think about your product in a positive way. While I appreciate that you, Charmin, have attempted to bring an air of cuteness to a problem (apparently) facing a large amount of the American people, the idea that you are making me think about dangling detritus left over from digging* out dung is, at least, disheartening, if not deeply disturbing.
Further, this ad series kind of makes me want to hunt the Charmin Bears with a high-powered assault rifle from a helicopter (this being, of course, the American Way).
Please knock it off, and know that I go out of my way not to purchase your product.
Update 09/20/2011: Slate did an article on how bears came to be associated with toilet paper. It's an interesting read.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Last night, I had a hankering for a mixed drink with a name that is unwritable (unlinkable even!) on this PG rated blog. After checking my stash, I realized that I was missing two key ingredients for this Drink That Must Not Be Named (DTMNBN). After discussing dinner plans with my wife, we decided that I would go and pick up food and bring it back home. The only convenient place to purchase the ingredients in the vicinity of the restaurant was a convenience store that I am not fond of, as I believe their prices are high and they charge a fee for debit/credit transactions.
After considering how much time I had available, convenience won out, and I paid a premium for that convenience. While similarly sized portions would have cost, probably, $20 at the grocery store, I ended up paying north of $40 at the convenience store.
That’s gross, right? It cost me twice as much to get items I wanted just because the store was more convenient.* What kind of a personal finance blogger am I anyhow?
As a justification, all I knew is that I had a limited amount of time to get food (it was ordered before I left the house) and stopping at the grocery store would have added an extra ten or fifteen minutes round trip. I didn’t want to spend my time in that manner, so I chose to spend my money to save time. A general set of equations that can be seen from this are:
Time saved = extra money spent, and
Money saved = extra time spent.
As you can see, there is a tradeoff that can easily occur between our time and our money. This was a good reminder to think seriously about overvaluing convenience in our day to day lives. Some other areas that fall under this category are:
ATM Fees—Sure, it may seem like a good idea to take money out from an ATM that isn’t affiliated with your bank (if you need to split a check at a restaurant, for instance), but those $2 or $3 fees add up over time. It’s worth taking the time to get money out from your own bank for free.
Eating Out or Eating Takeout—It can be oh so nice not to have to cook, but you are definitely paying extra for the benefit (to say nothing of the nebulous world of tipping on takeout).
Paying for Parking—I live in San Diego, and anybody can tell you that the parking situation in any big city can get pretty hairy, especially on a weekend night. It can be tedious searching for street parking only to find a spot eight blocks away (if at all), but when the parking garage next door to where you’re trying to get is charging $20 for the night, I’ll gladly talk the walk.
Buying on Impulse—This has happened to all of us: we’re out shopping, and we find something that we can’t live without, and so we buy it without a second thought. A better option would be to either sleep on it to see if we really need the item, or, if we decide that the item is necessary, to spend some time comparison shopping online (where the price will almost certainly be better).
How about you? Are there items in your life that you’ll gladly sacrifice a few extra bucks for because the convenience is worth that much to you? Or, to look at it in the opposite way, in what ways do you consider your money to be more valuable than your time? Let me know in the comments.
*For what it’s worth (zing!), the DTMNBN was delicious.
*Update 9/5/2011: This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance.*
In some happy news, I received an email Sunday night that stated that they were going to give Borders Rewards members an additional 15% off on everything in their stores through Wednesday of this week.
Given that all of the performing arts books are already marked down by 60% (though, heaven knows, they'll probably go down further soon), it looks like I may be expanding my theatre library in the next day or so. I'll have to stop by and see if there are any books that I've been meaning to purchase.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
One area where I have a hard time knowing what to tip, however, is in the area of take-out. Tipping expert Steve Dublanica (who writes for a favorite blog of mine, Waiter Rant) believes that take-out orders should automatically receive a 10% tip. This amount is a little hard to swallow (no pun intended).
For me, when I tip, I am paying for the service. As such, I have something of a chip on my shoulder when I go to, say, a sandwich place, pay for my food with my debit card, and then see a line for a tip on the receipt.* While my bleeding-heart thinks that minimum wage is not enough to live on in California, and that I should therefore be more generous, my fiscal conservative brain thinks that a growing entitlement culture is imposing its will upon me. If there is a line for a tip, then what is being implied is that tipping at this restaurant is the norm, and if I do not tip, then I face the scrutinizing and disdainful gaze of the cashier.
So, as you can see, I’m a little torn.
As a quick Google search attests, opinions on tipping differ across the internet. Here are a couple of rules of thumb that I use.
1) I cannot think of a time when I tip a percentage of the total bill on take-out.
2) If I take out food from a restaurant frequently, I may leave a dollar or two.
3) If the restaurant offers curbside take-out (e.g., the server must exit and return to the restaurant multiple times in order to bring the bill and food to me in my car), I usually leave two or three bucks.
4) If the food is preparation intensive (like sushi), I try to leave the chefs a couple of bucks.
5) If it’s a drive-thru, I almost never tip, unless I go there frequently.
How about you? Do you tip for take-out? Am I an oaf for begrudging take-out workers a couple of bucks? Leave me a comment and let me know.
*One restaurant that my wife and I semi-frequently get take-out from is Pei Wei (which is the fast food branch of P.F. Chang’s). I am consistently pleased that Pei Wei does not have a line for tip on the receipt, and so I never feel badly about not leaving one.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
1) Fiverr.com - On this website, people post both what they're willing to do for five dollars and/or what they would like done for five dollars. One might assume that this sort of situation would devolve pretty quickly into some pretty grotesque, dehumanizing stuff, but my experience with the site has all been on the up and up. Many of the services people are offering to do have something to do with websites, such as designing logos or blog headers, getting traffic to websites, helping with SEO (search engine optimization), and so on. However, people with non-technical talents have their opportunity to post here as well; I've seen people offering to write songs or poems, or create bracelets from baseball seams. I have purchased through the site, and if you end up dealing with a bozo who doesn't do what she says she will, Fiverr will credit your five bucks back to your account (which is not as good as an actual refund, but at least you're not entirely out your money). To make money, you'll have to think up something that you are willing to do for five bucks that there's a market for.
2) Chacha.com - This is a site that I've just come across, and I'm intrigued by it. According to the site:
"ChaCha gives free, real-time answers to any question both online at ChaCha.com and through mobile phones by either texting “ChaCha” (242-242) or using one of our mobile apps. Through our unique “ask-a-smart-friend” format, ChaCha has become the leading answers service with more than a billion questions answered to date all in a fun, conversational format perfect for those in need of fast, free answers while on-the-go."
How do you make money from this? If you (and Chacha) consider yourself to have superior research skills, you can sign up to become a guide, and then you'll be a person to whom such requests will go. From what I've seen, you probably will not make enough to retire off of Chacha, but people can fairly easily make five or six dollars an hour (lower than minimum wage, but easy to do while watching television or browsing around online).
I'm not a hundred percent sure how Chacha makes its money (to me, it seems like a much more inefficient way of doing a Google search), but there are people who use this service, and the site needs people to research the questions.
I'd be interested to hear from you of any other relatively easy ways you've found to make a couple extra bucks online. Has anyone else tried either Chacha or Fiverr?
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
San Diego is a military city, with significant influence from the navy in our harbor and from the marines up north at Camp Pendleton. With the area’s ties to the military, there are frequently “fly-overs” before games, in which a couple of military jets loudly fly over the stadium. The game I went to had the jet fighters fly over, but it also featured another military aspect.
At halftime, a group of young veterans, some younger than I am, made their way to mid-field. These men were being honored as local heroes. All of them had received the purple heart for their service, and nearly every one of them was missing at least one leg. Their wounds were most frequently the result of IED explosions, though at least one man had been mutilated by a suicide bomber and another had been shot.
As we all remember, last week was (at least) an unpredictable week for the stock market. Many of us spent some time considering whether or not our investments were sound, whether and at what point we should consider selling, and how frustrated we were that partisan politics was affecting our retirement plans in a very negative way. Given how the market looks today, it seems those of us who held onto our investments were in the right. Still, last week with the S&P’s downgrade of the U.S.’s credit, there was a very real sense that the sky was falling, and all we Chicken Littles could do was watch it happen.
But as I stood there, watching the soldiers who were willing to give their lives for this country, my irritation melted, and I began to feel ashamed. All last week, I was frustrated at the government and the economy, when these men believed in America enough to put their lives on the line. How blessed am I to have both arms and legs? How blessed am I to even have retirement accounts? How blessed am I to not be in want?
In twenty-first century America, things are tough all over, and prudent spending and saving can go a long ways toward achieving goals that we set out for ourselves. But no amount of money can keep us alive indefinitely, and no amount of planning can entirely save us from the unknown. The only thing we are able to directly control is our own attitudes about what is happening. Seeing the veterans was a good reminder to me that it wouldn’t be the worst thing to be more optimistic in general.
Monday, August 15, 2011
If this is your first time here at Pinch that Penny!, here are a couple of my more popular posts.
Three Personal Finance Lessons from the Dodgers' Bankruptcy Debacle
4 Ways to Save Money in Las Vegas
How I Asked for (and Received) a Raise
Friday, August 12, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Two days ago, there was a Facebook deal for tickets to the Chargers pre-season football game that is scheduled for tonight. Seats were $40 a piece (for seats that are usually $80). Being the frugal dude that I am, I immediately x-ed out of the screen and didn’t give the tickets another thought.
Yeah, not really.
Actually, I bought three, knowing I could get a couple of buddies to pitch in (well, one was for a birthday present for a former roommate; it’s something of a tradition for us to buy each other tickets to sporting events for our birthdays).
Still, I didn’t need to go to this game. Pre-season football doesn’t count for anything, and so most of the A-list players will have little to no playing time. So why, then, as a logical, financially-minded person did I buy?
Recent research (from the university where I received my M.A., no less) has suggested that the happiest people are not those who spend money on lots of things, but those who spend their time and money investing in experiences. One of my favorite things to do in the year is to go to a couple of Chargers games, and getting to do so with a couple of good friends that I don’t get to hang out with nearly enough is worth the money to me.
An additional benefit is that I have spent my time since purchasing tickets looking forward to the event. The three of us are all Chargers fans (which eliminates the fun of trash-talking), but there’s still the fun and camaraderie that accompanies the texts and emails that have been exchanged speculating on who will be playing and for how long.
It seems like this has turned into a justification post, which I don’t know that I intended. Still, even the writing of this post has pleasantly increased my anticipation for the event.
How about you? Is the joy of anticipation a consideration when planning purchases?
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the work, Amadeus (fictionally) dramatizes the relationship that composers Salieri and Mozart had. The work dwells quite a bit on Salieri’s jealousy towards Mozart, so much so that Salieri starts out the play by suggesting that he had a hand in the untimely death of Mozart. Much of the dramatic tension focuses on Salieri’s systematic dismantling of Mozart’s opportunities towards composing work and Mozart’s subsequent inability to take care of himself or his family. At the end of the play, Salieri, in comparing his own middling music with Mozart's genius, declares himself the “patron saint of mediocrity,” and this pronouncement seems to play out in the real world as Salieri is largely forgotten while Mozart is certainly within the first few classical composers nearly any person can name.
This leads me to my personal finance point. Salieri is shown in the play spending much time coming up with ways to destroy Mozart, but he is never shown composing music. Contrariwise, Mozart is frequently shown scribbling away in efforts to write his next piece of music which he hopes will provide him with economic stability.
My point is that every dollar that you or I spend is a dollar that cannot be spent somewhere else. This is the basis of much financial writing, such as the Latte Factor (if I buy a coffee drink every day, that’s three bucks that I can’t save for retirement or other life goals).
Similarly, each hour we receive on earth is a gift, and each hour we spend on one task is an hour that we cannot spend on something else. For example, I have stated that one of my goals is to write and submit a play to a playwrighting contest by the end of the year. However, if I spend my hours away from work watching television and not doing any writing, then I’m not achieving my goal because I am choosing to spend my time in a way other than one that is personally fulfilling.
Had Salieri spent more time writing music, and less time hating on poor old Mozart, perhaps he could have been better remembered by posterity.** Instead, if Salieri is remembered at all, it is generally as a fictionalized character in a play.
Each and every hour of our lives is precious, and once these hours are spent, they are gone forever. One key difference between the economics of time and money is that while money can be saved, hours cannot be.
So, how are you spending your time? Are you a Salieri who complains while others forge pathways to their dreams? Or are you a Mozart, who takes what you’ve been given, and uses it in a mighty way?
*What a cast! What a production it must have been! I wish I could have seen it.
**While one might argue that propensity towards a skill is more important than just spending a lot of time on that skill, I’d argue that even all the propensity in the world won’t pay off without putting a butt in a chair and starting to work.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
We are excited to have a guest poster today at Pinch that Penny! More information about the author is at the bottom of the post. I think some of the points are arguable, and I'd be interested in any feedback. In the meantime, enjoy!
Being frugal is about controlling your pennies so that you can allow yourself to splurge in the future. If you don’t exercise control over money, soon money will start controlling you. This may sound easy for you, but leading a frugal life is not as easy as you may think it to be. If you avoid frugality, you are sure to land in high interest debt for which you may have to run to the various debt plans that can assist you in getting out of debt. Different debt relief options have different impact on your credit score and therefore it is much better to embrace the frugal life rather than run to professional debt help companies. Have a look at some habits of the most frugal people.
1) Be proactive while controlling your finances: The first habit of all the frugal people is to take responsibility of their own finances so that no one blames them for the financial mistakes that they might make. Make your own financial decisions without taking the opinion of too many people around you. The more you ask people, the more you’ll be confused about the right steps that you must take to bring your personal finances in track.
2) Start off with the end in mind: The people who are successful in achieving their goals will always be able to envisage the end despite the various obstacles that they come across. If you don’t visualize what you want out of something in life, you can never see yourself as a financially fit person in the long run. If you create a budget today, make sure you clearly visualize what you want to achieve through it and the exact amount that you plan to save through that budget.
3) Set your priorities: Frugal people set their priorities and are always sure about the things that they need in a particular month. They can distinguish between their wants and needs and thereby control the decision of spending their bucks on the things that they need rather than on what they want. Ask yourself about the things that are most worthy to you before you take the decision of whipping your plastics for getting them.
4) Synergize and form a team: To synergize is to creatively cooperate with a team so that you can learn more skills on frugality from others. You may work in a team with your friends, family members and exchange the ideas that you’re adopting to lead a frugal life. Surround yourself with frugal people so that you can mutually benefit from each other.
Saving money, following a budget, eating less out, carrying cash instead of credit cards are some other habits that most frugal people follow to stay on the right financial track. You too can follow if you want to lead a debt free life where you don’t require running to professional debt plans for getting financial help.
Author’s Bio: EHM is a regular writer for various finance related Communities including Debt Consolidation Care. She is a PG degree holder in Marketing and Finance and right now working in a reputed bank as a relationship manager.
Monday, August 8, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Flexo writes that Ignoring Bills Won't Make Them Disappear.
Couple Money has an article about inexpensive date ideas.
Budgets Are Sexy had a great article on working as a tutor.
Punch Debt in the Face writes about ways to lose weight cheaply.
Over at The Year of Shopping Detox, there's a post advocating the barter system.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Anyways, if you have glanced at a television today, you've probably noticed that the Dow is down better than 2 percent today alone.* In fact, over the last week, the stock market has kind of gone into the crapper (I don't want to point any fingers *coughcoughcongress*, but it sure seems like the financial markets aren't happy about the U.S. being on the brink of default earlier this week).
Now, as someone who has just recently started to invest in the Roth IRA, this is vexing news. In fact, that aspect of my retirement portfolio has dropped about 7% in the last week alone (it has dropped a little more for my stocks, and a little less for my mutual funds [God bless 'em!]).
As a note to any politicians who might be reading this site, are you aware of the most important factor in one's reelection? In the immortal words of Bush I, "It's the economy, stupid." Republican or democrat, if the economy's tanking, so also will your reelection bids. While I am jaded enough to question the value of just one vote, I am just unjaded enough to take my irritation with the markets out at the polls.
I'm just saying, maybe it's something to think about before the next time the debt ceiling gets close to the limit.
*Update: as of market close, the Dow was down 4.31%. Awesome.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
It's unreasonable, I know, particularly when I also know that I have been able to budget for the whole amount due. What can I say? At least I'm paying it all off.
Normally, my smaller payments work swimmingly. I make my smaller payments, my card's balance shrinks, and I finish the balance due off by the end of the month. However, a few minutes ago, I ran into a small snag.
My primary credit card is the Chase Freedom card because I like cash-back rewards combined with no annual fees. I made a small payment on 7/31, and I tried to make a small payment again today, but I received an error message that stated that I was unable to make my payment due to the fact that I had submitted another payment within the last three days.
I can't think of a good reason why Chase would implement this policy, other than they are trying to "catch" people, like me, who make smaller payments. While it's not a big deal for me not to be able to pay today (my billing period end date is 8/26), if I were facing this situation on the last day that payments were due (and thus, facing the prospect of getting charged interest on the balance carried), I'd be pretty upset.
The only logical reason I could give for Chase to implement this policy is that it must cost the banks something to send money to one another. However, Chase is my primary bank, so Chase is denying me the ability to move cash money from one Chase account to another Chase account! It's ridiculous!
Have you ever hit up against credit cards making it difficult to make payments, or otherwise hassling you in an (apparent) attempt to collect fees from you? How did you work it out?