Friday, April 27, 2012

You've Got to Use Your Head, Son!

In my wife's department in the company, they work a lot. I mean, everybody at our company does a lot of work, but her department really pushes it every day. Because many people in her group were up against a big deadline a few weeks ago, they were asked to put in some overtime and to fill roles they don't normally fill. Everybody was stressed, but they muscled through.

After the deadline, the manager of the department wanted to do something nice for the group, so she invited those who had worked hard out to a happy hour, and she said that the first drink would be on her (well, the expense account, but still, I thought it was a pretty nice gesture -- events like these don't happen all that often). Some people had two drinks, and the manager was fine with that.

What she wasn't fine with was getting a bill that had five drinks priced at $75 a piece.

Needless to say, in the last few days, there have been some unpleasant conversations. From what I've heard, it sounds like the folks who bought these drinks were fully aware of how much they cost, and they "bought" them anyways.

You've got to use your head, son! Do you like having a job at a good company? Maybe it's best not to make your boss look foolish when she has to file her expense report.

I can't even fathom a scenario in which I would think it would be a good idea to put a ridiculously expensive drink on my boss's tab. Shoot, when I get to travel for my job (on the company's dime), I often worry about whether I should get the burger or the chicken, given the few dollars difference between the entree prices.

To me, it feels like the manager was just trying to do something nice for her employees, and the employees ended up throwing it in her face. On the other hand, I suppose you could make the argument that when the manager said that the first drink was on her, people assumed they could order whatever priced drink they wanted.

I was complaining the other day about an $8 beer, so perhaps I'm being a little too harsh. What do you think? Is this behavior justifiable? Let me know in the comments.

P.s.: To put the drink cost in perspective, I was at an upscale bar last night, and I asked how much a drink of Johnny Walker Blue would be (as it was the highest-priced drink my feeble mind knew about). The bartender said $35, which is less than half as much as the drink these folks got at the happy hour.
P.p.s.: If you're curious what the drink was, here you go.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Links

Daisy asked "What's your deal breaker?" For me, it's no kissing on the lips. Well, for me and Julia Roberts, that is. Well, for me and Julia Roberts as Pretty Woman in Pretty Woman, that is.

There's a great post here with 10 secrets to a happy marriage. The secrets are just delightful.

Where's Waldo? WHERE'S JASON!?

Erika gave some very timely advice to me when she wrote about the Comparison Trap. I just got a list of my upcoming classmates for the fall, and they're all pretty amazing; my jaw actually, physically dropped open a couple of times. All I can be is who I am. All I can do is what I can do and what I can learn to do.

On the topic of grad school, Slate had a thoughtful opinion piece.

So, you want to do a Phd?

The New York Times provided an insightful piece on how Facebook can make you feel left out.

The Billfold posted a positive piece on how this person's life was better because he saved money. Who'da thunk it? Also, a piece on girls and the hot mess dilemma that I don't feel like I can recommend without sounding sexist (although, to be fair, I feel like it applies to a lot of guys too, which is why I enjoyed it).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Want to Save Money? Lower Your Standards

Last night, a buddy and I went to go see the very meta horror film A Cabin in the Woods. If you have ever enjoyed a horror movie (or, if you think that all tropes in horror films are overdone), I encourage you to see it. I can't say too much more than that without the risk of spoiling it, so I'll leave it at that.

After the movie, we decided to go get a drink and catch up. We were at a mall that had an allegedly Irish-themed bar (inasmuch as waitresses in short plaid skirts equals Irish), so we went in. I ordered a draft beer, and my buddy ordered a whiskey; our tab came to $17 for our two drinks.

I'm not going to say that I was shocked at the price, but even as I ordered, I knew the price that was being charged was going to be ridiculously high when compared with the actual cost of the goods. I don't blame the bar (a for-profit organization) for setting its price point high either; after all, those plaid skirts aren't going hike themselves up. In fact, I'm not going to blame anyone for anything.

All I'm going to say is that my buddy and I probably would have had as good of, if not a better time, at a more reasonably priced bar. Because of their cheapness, I have an unreasonable fondness for dive bars. Their price points tend to be what I hope to pay for my adult beverages.

What can I say? Paying $8 for a beer just isn't in my wheel house. Based on how the franchise I went to is expanded its locations and growing as a business, apparently a lot of people are willing to frequently overpay for their drinks, and I say good for them. They must be a lot more financially secure than I am.

Of course, in the above story, the choice of bar was more of a choice of convenience than anything else. That said, for my friends out there who enjoy the occasional drink responsibly, if the bar that you're at has any sort of theme (unless that theme is darkness and pitcher specials of Miller High Life), you're probably going to be paying too much for drinks*.

What do you think? Does the perceived niceness of a bar make you want to pay more for the same alcohol you could get elsewhere? Let me know in the comments.

*A notable exception to this rule is when you drink for "free" in Las Vegas while you're gambling. While you'll be indirectly paying too much for the drinks when you lose Junior's inheritance at the blackjack table, getting "free" drinks in and of itself is a hard price point to beat.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Some Great News

I finally heard back from the Ph.D. program, and I was awarded a great financial aid package which will include full tuition as well as some additional funds. For this fundage, I'll be working as a TA and on the school's theatre journal.

So, with this news, it looks like I'll be a Ph.D. student come the fall! Here's to higher learning!

What isn't as obvious, still, is the total time commitment work as a TA will take up. I'm hoping to continue working at my current job for at least a while. I'll need to work on figuring that out, because I don't want to leave my boss in the lurch.

Still, I'm pretty ding-dong happy right about now. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lending Club Update - April 2012

Behold the figure!
That figure that you see to the right of this text represents what my current returns are from my Lending Club account.

A negative return? Why is it so low, you might ask? The answer is simple: one of the people to whom I lent money decided to stop paying, and that person's loan was just charged off. The change is so dramatic from this point because I only have 16 total loans, so any one default is going to affect me enormously. As Lending Club itself has suggested, the more loan notes you own, the less any individual default hurts you.

See the print screen from the site describing Lending Club's efforts to get the person to pay.
"Recovery unlikely," eh? So you're saying there's a chance...
This person's default was a bit surprising to me as he (I assume it was a he) had one of the higher credit scores available on the site (the best credit score that someone can have on the site is an A1 -- this guy had an A5). His loan was also relatively meager (approximately $6,000); loans under $10,000 have tended to be my lifeblood at Lending Club due to the fact that I believe that they are safer loans to take as smaller payments are theoretically easier to make.

In retrospect, it seems like this guy was probably applying to Lending Club as a last-ditch effort to stay afloat financially. I'm basing this assumption on the fact that his credit score (which you can monitor on the site) has basically gone into the crapper the last few months. It seems like the last thing he needed was more debt.

In short, investing in Lending Club in the minimal fashion with which I have invested is an especially high-risk/high-reward enterprise. I'm positive there are plenty of other folks out who have a comparable number of notes as I do who have no defaults; conversely, I'm also fairly certain that there are those who have more defaults.

The only real way to lower the volatility in your Lending Club portfolio with some certainty is to own more notes. Even so, even easily explained double-digit losses give me pause. Still, the truth of the matter is, I'm only out about $23 and change; this wasn't the sort of loss that means I'll be stuck eating cat food in my retirement.

What do you think? Have you invested with Lending Club? What have your experiences been? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coupon Codes and You

That's right; all the coupons.
Just about every time I make a purchase online, I tend to do a quick Google search to determine whether or not there are any coupon codes available for me to save some money. It takes seconds (unless you're still signing in through AOL via dialup, grandma!), and it can save you some serious cash.

The website that I do this the most with is Their coupons are already discounted ($25 certificate for $10? Que bueno!), and I've seen coupon codes that take up to an additional 90% off that discounted price ($25 gift certificate for $1? Sign me right up!). In fact, if you look at the banner for down towards the bottom of this page, you can easily see what the coupon code is for whatever day you're looking at.

What can I say? I'm a helpful son of a gun. You're welcome, America (and Canada ... no one else, though).

Of course, a definite problem with is that it doesn't cover all restaurants (it tends to promote local restaurants at the expense of chains), and there are some areas in the country that it doesn't cover at all (I'm looking at you, Fargo, North Dakota).

Another couple of website that I like to use when I'm looking for deals on things are Slickdeals and Woot. What I like about Slickdeals is that it provides a lot of different discounts that users have submitted. As the site has a devoted base of users, the deals are updated constantly. Woot has more of a deal of day feel to it, although Sellout section of Woot reminds me a bit of Slickdeals (and there is some noticeable overlap between the two sites.

A problem with both of these sites, however, is that it takes more of a long game view on spending money. That is to say, if you've been holding off on buying a flat screen tv, and Woot eventually offers a discounted price on one, you can buy what you were going to buy anyway at a discount (this is called being a crafty consumer, like Dr. Zoidberg fancies himself). It becomes a problem, however, when you start viewing the deals as something that you have to buy, without really needing the item (see my post on my problem with clever/nerdy t-shirts).

Recently, I came across an additional website that provides coupon codes for both local and national stores, so you can always search for what you need when you need it. The site is called CouponCodes4U.

The national stores include places like Lowe's. There are also pages where you can get Crutchfield coupon codes (for your audio speaker needs wants) as well as Dick Blick art materials coupon codes (which is a local art supply store here in San Diego.

In short, I think the above websites are pretty handy, albeit for different reasons, and I think that it could be useful for most everybody reading this site (read: people who like to save money).

Do you take time to search for coupon codes before you buy things online (or in brick and mortar stores)?  Let me know in the comments.

Photo by the Italian voice.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Links

The male half of Newlyweds on a Budget had to go to the emergency room about a week ago.  Here's to wishing him a speedy recovery, and kudos to him for the first words to his wife about the possibility of needing to go to the ER being, "How much does it cost to go to the Emergency Room?"

The Free Financial Advisor explained the difference between a certified financial planner (CFP) and a certified financial analyst (CFA).  What did you do?

Debt Black Hole compared Cylons and bill collectors for you (oh my!).

Bach at Adept Debt described how she sold her wedding dress, which is a really sensible thing to do to a piece of clothing you'll only wear once.

Finally, Grantland has a fun couple of articles you should check out: one on one of my new favorite tv shows ("Happy Endings"), and the other an interview/fancy meal that was shared with Aziz Ansari (which includes commentary from the person who was typing out what had been dictated -- META!).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are You Frugal or Downright Cheap? - Guest Post

If there is one positive that has come out of the Great Recession and the sputtering economy, it’s that people have become much more mindful of how they spend their money. People have discovered that they have far less control over how much money comes in, than they do over how much money goes out. Budgeting and belt-tightening have become the watchwords for families of all economic stripes, unleashing everyone’s inner-frugalness. It wasn’t long ago when you would have been scorned for being cheap. Now you’re praised for being frugal. Who knew?

If you’re still struggling with the concept of frugality for fear of appearing cheap, you need to understand the difference and why one is considered to be urbanely smart while the other one is considered to be, well, cheap.

Frugality requires a sophisticated approach to finding ways to stretch your dollars. Saving money is not necessarily the primary goal; rather it’s realizing more value for your money. In doing so, your money goes further. Isn’t that the same thing as saving money, you ask? Maybe, but what we’re really talking about is a mindset. No one wants to appear cheap, but if you are able to acquire roughly the same accoutrements of life as you did before you watched your money, that’s being smart, not cheap.

Being cheap, however, is simply another form of greed that pits you and your money against everyone else in the world. It’s not about how much money you can save; rather it’s more about how much you can keep from others. Cheapskates aren’t looking for more value; they’re looking for more victims.

A prime definition of a cheapskate is the character of Alan Harper, from the show Two and a Half Men. Here are some examples of his extreme cheapness:
  • He lives for free in his friend’s beach house, and never offers to pay rent.
  • He always leaves the table at a restaurant just as the check arrives, so that he can avoid paying the tab.
  • He sneaks deviled eggs in to the movies instead of buying snacks. Cheap and smelly!
  • He only puts $5 worth of gas in his car at a time in the hopes of being able to use someone else’s car to travel.
The airwaves are overrun with shows, blogs, books, and newsletters on living the frugal life. Some people have even elevated (or denigrated depending on your viewpoint) it to a sport (i.e. extreme couponing). Whole industries have launched to cater to the frugal lifestyle (Groupon, and some that were once spurned are suddenly en vogue (thrift stores, dollar stores).

There is no shortage of ideas, tips, and resources for living a frugal life style. But be careful. Some are impractical. Some are kind of weird. And some border on just being cheap. Here’s a smattering of ideas and tips taken from a number of blogs and articles on frugal living with our take on their frugalness.
  • Take your teen clothes shopping at a consignment store (Very smart – for $30 they walk out with a bunch of trendy and vintage shirts and jeans they pick out themselves)
  • Use certificates to dine out. (Why wouldn’t you if you could save 50% for a dinner out?)
  • Re-use coffee grounds for a second or third pot. (Really?)
  • For fast food places that only allow one coupon per visit, send your kid in first to order with one coupon and then follow him in with a second coupon. (Sounds pathetic, but what the heck.)
  • Getting together with friends: Suggest a potluck and BYOB. Wine tasting gatherings are always popular. (Your friends will appreciate it)
  • Take old or stained t-shirts and fashion them into underwear (weird)
  • Designate a no-spend weekend. Plan activities at or near your home that won’t require one dime to be spent (smart)
  • Go dumpster diving. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. (weird, pathetic and probably illegal).
You get the picture. The bottom line is that anything you can do within your range of comfort to squeeze more value from your money and your time, is the smart thing to do. Frugalness is a state-of-mind that, when practiced regularly, can only improve your finances and your overall well-being.

Aubrey Clark is an editor and writer for, a website that provides low interest credit cards and credit card information.