I recently started bringing my own bags to stores because a) my cupboards were overflowing with plastic bags and b) frequent trade show attendance gets you lots of high quality cloth bags. I've been wanting to use my own bags for a long time now but I always forgot to bring the bags. Sometimes I'd bring the bags and then leave them in the car.
Anyway, I found out that Target will refund you a nickle for every bag you bring. It doesn't sound like a lot but I shop at Target a lot, mayb 2-3 times a month. It probably totals about 10 bags a month and so I'd save 50 cents per month or $6/year. So far my grocery store (Safeway) doesn't refund for plastic bags but other grocery stores do. I figure I could probably save about $20/year by using my own bags, help the environment, and cut down on the plastic bag clutter in my house. It doesn't sound like a lot but with a job situation in jeopardy, every little bit helps.
If you have AT&T DSL, watch your bill carefully; they just upped my rate from $25 to $35 without any notice. This is doubly outrageous when you realize that their top rate for ALL packages (sans one) is $25 and the other one is $19.99. Just insane -- I've been with them since 2004 when my DSL was $14.99 and now they just willy-nilly keep raising it $5 by $5 as if I wouldn't notice. So watch out for this one and call if you see your bill go up.
So I threatened in my earlier post to compare the operating costs of three Toyota vehicles, the Matrix, Corolla and Prius. I chose those three cars because I have firsthand experience with them. I still own a '99 Corolla (102,000 miles, baby, and still going strong!) and J drives a '04 Maxtrix (90,000 miles).
However, the April 2010 edition of Consumer Reports* makes the comparison pretty easy for me, and actually solved the problem of what category a Prius actually falls into. Right now, Consumer Reports classifies it as a family car with a price tag of around $26,750 and a cost per mile of 47 cents. This is comparable to a Volkswagen Jetta ($23,939, 48 cents per mile). A Toyota Camry has a price tag of about $22,850 and a price per mile of 53 cents. The cost per mile, by the way, includes depreciation, fuel costs, insurance premiums, interest on financing, maintenance/repairs, etc.
The Toyota Corolla LE, which is a more upscale version of the one I own (a CE) is $16,205 with a cost per mile of 45 cents. So yes, it would be cheaper for me to own an LE by about 2 extra cents per mile, but it would be a small car comparatively and that's not what I wanted. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports didn't provide a cost per mile for the Toyota Matrix, so I can't offer you that information right now.
Overall, the Prius has one of the lowest cost per miles provided by Consumer Reports. The really high costs -- over $1/mile -- belonged to cars most of us can only dream about such as the Mercedes-Benz S550 at a whopping $1.70/mile and the Porsche 911 Carrera S at $1.53/mile. The Mercedes-Benz, btw, is the most expensive car to operate. The cheapest looks like the Honda Fit at 42 cents per mile. The most expensive small SUV is the Land Rover LR@ SE at 83 cents/mile and the most expensive mid-sized SUV is the Jeep Commander Limited (V8) at $1/mile. The car that surprised me the most was the Honda Civic, which came in at 58 cents/mile and the Dodge Charger at 71 cents/mile. I always thought of the Civic as a more economical, fuel-efficient car, so it surprises me how much more expensive it is per mile compared to the Corolla. I think a Fit might be a better value and I anticipate (though I don't know for sure) it might be a bigger car.
I would probably have to redo my cost per mile for the Prius as mine was nowhere near the $26,750 price tag listed in Consumer Reports. I suspect my cost would probably drop 2 to 3 cents as a result. I was also pleased to find out that Consumer Reports has my model -- the 2009 -- selling at $20,000 to $24,000 used, which means given what I paid for mine, I could sell it today and actually break even or come out slightly ahead.** I don't think that's a bad deal. Maybe I should take back my earlier statement about cars not being a good vehicle for investment...
*I think most of you know this, but I'm using Consumer Reports as an independent reference; no money is changing hands here -- we pay for our subscription. Second, I'm not being compensated by Toyota in any way; after 10+ years of driving Toyotas and having 5 of them in the family, I'm just a very loyal consumer. **My Prius is not impacted by the recall as it was manufactured in Japan (vin number starting with J).
I've been having a problem with deodrant staining some of my blouses. I don't mean when you put on a blouse or dress and deodrant gets on the garment; that's easy enough to clean by dabbing a wet washcloth against the stain. I'm talking about the more insidious permanent stains that don't come out even after repeated washings. It's especially a problem with colored clothing because I can't use bleach and I hate when a nice blouse is ruined because I didn't want to be stinky at work. Anyway, I was doing some research into this very serious issue as my favorite button down blouse was so afflicted and I found a potential cure: white vinegar.
So Friday, I mixed water and vinegar in some unknown proportion and then used a washcloth to dab at the stains on the blouse (which is red, btw). Then into the washing machine it went (cold water, regular soap) and then into the dryer. When it came out, I found that some of the stains were still there but for the most part, the vinegar/water mixture had broken the stain to a point that it is now actually wearable on its own -- no need to cover it up with a jacket or sweater any more. I'm going to try the vinegar/water thing again and hopefully the stains will be gone for good. For it's worth, the blouse is cotton; I have no idea how this will work on other materials. I just figured it's a pretty cost-effective and simple solution to a vexing problem and I don't think there's a problem with a vinegar-treated clothing being in the washing machine with other clothes.
This article on the health benefits of soup came at the right time yesterday as I was deciding to experiment a bit in the kitchen. In December, I had made a green lentil soup the conventional way -- toss ingredients into a pot, boil, and then simmer. The result was good, if not a little bland, and I made a mental note to revisit this soup again in the future. The future arrived on Saturday and this time, with a whole afternoon stretching in front of me, I decided to experiment with a slow cook lentil soup.
Now I don't have a crock pot (well, a tiny one, but that one is reserved for oatmeal), only an electric stove. Luckily, the stove has a setting between 1 and Off called "Lo" and for the most part, that's what I kept the stove on for the 3 hours I was cooking the soup. I'm sure a gas stove would probably be better for something like that. The point is to avoid boiling the soup and to allow the flavors to seep in and also retain the nutritional value of the soup.
Anyway, the soup came out very rich, flavorful and the veggies were perfectly cooked. I would recommend checking in on the soup every 10 to 15 minutes or so to stir it and check on the "doneness" of the veggies. The recipe below makes about 3-4 servings or so. I served it over basmati rice for a hearty winter's dinner.
Ingredients 1 tbsp butter 1 small onion, dices 1 sprig fresh rosemary 3 cloves garlic 1 cup chopped celery 1 cup chopped carrots 2 small tomatoes, roughly chopped 6 baby red potatoes, diced 2 cups dry green lentils 4 cups vegetable broth 1 bay leaf 1 tsp red pepper flakes salt & pepper to taste
Directions Over medium heat, sautee onions in butter until translucent. Add garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and salt.
Still on medium heat, add celery, carrots, and potatoes. Stir. Add salt and pepper if needed. Cover for 3-5 minutes.
Add lentils and tomatoes. Stir well. Add vegetable broth and bay leaf. Stir well. Lower heat to lowest possible setting and cover. Stir every 10 to 15 minutes.
The soup should cook within 2 to 3 hours. Salt and pepper to taste, or add tabasco for additional spiciness if needed. Serve as a soup or over rice for a one-dish meal. Enjoy!
I mentioned the Starbucks habits in yesterday's post. I don't think I know anyone who actually has a hardcore Starbucks habit, but then I run in different circles than the people described in the article. That being said, I do consume Starbucks about 4 or 5 times a year, most recently about a month or so ago because we thought they were offering free cups of their new instant coffee. Alas, we were wrong and ended up buying highly priced house coffee.
I love coffee. It makes me go in the morning, it perks me up. I don't drink a lot of coffee, maybe 2 cups a day (1 cup today), but I do enjoy a good cup. So this last visit to Starbucks, when you're forking over more than $2 for a plain ole black coffee, you expect something good. But instead, it was what I've come to expect from Starbucks -- as if someone overroasted the beans and then used the burned parts to brew the coffee. It. Was. Not. Good. The only thing more disappointing about a bad cup of coffee is one that cost more than $2.
The Starbucks wasn't giving out free tastes of their instant coffee as advertised but they did give us a packet to try later. I had it one Sunday morning instead of my usual instant Taster's Choice and again, It. Was. Not. Good. I have no idea how much that instant costs, but I definitely won't be trading in my current coffee for it. A friend tried it recently and his verdict was the same as mine. Not. Good.
I do have to give a shout out to Nescafe though. I had some really good Nescafe packs in Budapest -- they come pre-mixed with sugar and creamer and great for on the go. It could be that I was so excited about non-shot glass style expresso that I found the Nescafe (purchased at a train station kiosk) absolutely wonderful, or was it was really that good? I might try again in the future. The problem with nostalgia is when you revisit, the memory is sometimes better than the reality.
This story in the WSJ re executives who got laid off and are still living large, even turning down job offers, seems so far removed from reality. It's hard to imagine keeping on with $130 haircuts or the Starbucks habit when you no longer have income to support it. It doesn't seem very smart to me, but then I get my hair cut at Haircuts for Less and similar ilk and I find Starbucks disgusting so my coffee habit is usually limited to Taster's Choice with the occasional splurge on McDonald's McCafe.
What's crazy is a couple of people in this article have turned down job offers. In this kind of economy, who knows when the next offer is coming? It just seems enormously irresponsible for people who are otherwise pretty smart.
Today we garage sale'd with some friends. Super early start to the day -- 5:30 am -- but by 11:30 am, we'd cleared about $247 and change. We then took the leftover books and CDs over to Half Price Books and got another $20. Not bad for a few hours of work for stuff we were planning to give away anyway.
The minute the signs go out, it's like the people transporter beam themselves to the driveway. It's amazing. The re-sell guys were first at our sale and walked around picking out things immediately, did not haggle our prices and probably gave us the biggest bang for the buck right away. The later buyers were more haggler-prone and wanted to bargain everything down. The craziest one was the lady who insisted that she couldn't pay more than $3 for a nice end table with a lamp and then had us load it into her brand new Lincoln Navigator.
People at garage sales will seriously buy anything. It's almost ridiculously comical. As a whim, I marked an empty diffuser bottle with used reeds in it at 10 cents, not expecting anyone to buy it. It sold. A big surprise were the clothes. We put clothes out -- all brand names like Ann Taylor, Anne Klein, GAP, the Limited, etc -- and didn't actually expect anyone to buy them. My friend and I probably sold about $10 to $12 worth of clothing. My friend said that she had tried to sell clothes at previous garage sales and had not succeeded. I suppose our combination of good quality merchandise and the economic conditions came together and we sold several dresses, skirts, coats and jackets between the two of us.
We found that the furniture really attracted people and we had a lot of it. So we put some at the end of the driveway and some of the beginning and people were pulled in. Our traffic reduced quite a bit by the time we sold almost all of our furniture. By late morning, given the sparcity of items, people would just drive by. Still, we got a second wind when we least expected it -- around 10:30 or so. By then, we told people to make us and offer and take the stuff. We cleared another $15 or $20 before taking down our signs.
You have to watch out for the scammers. We almost fell victim to one today, but managed to pull it together before we really lost our shirts (literally). This guy and his wife (?) came by, made idle chitchat and then expressed interest in certain items, especially an IKEA bookshelf marked at $50. Then, without buying anything, they spun us a story about how they were starting a non-profit. We then said if they came back around lunch time, they could haul off whatever was left for free. They said they'd be back then and then offered to pay us $25 for the bookshelf when they returned (they didn't give me the money).
In the meantime, I sold the bookshelf for $35 and was holding it for the lady who bought it (and gave me the money for it). The couple returned and when they found out that the bookshelf had been sold, they left without taking any of the other stuff for their alleged non-profit. The guy told us that despite his offer of $25, he was only willing to pay $10 for the bookshelf. In retrospect, we think that he was trying to get the bookshelf for free and he wasn't really shopping around for his non-profit.
The other lesson we took away is that we started cutting prices way too early. If someone offered us a ridiculously low price for something early in the morning -- say 7:30 am -- we took it. In retrospect, the bulk of our traffic came during 8:30 to 9:30 and we might have gotten better prices on earlier sales if we had waited. There were several moments when there were two or three people interested in a piece and invariably, the second or third person said they would have given us more for the piece than the buyer did. Who knows if they are telling the truth? After all a bird in hand is better than one in the bush.
In another case, I had a piece of furniture that garnered absolutely no interest but I wasn't aggressive in pointing out this television stand -- which was in good condition -- or in cutting the price. We were invariably successful when we chatted up a product and/or talked about the context it was used in or the value of the product in our lives. I didn't do that with the television stand or a glass end-table and the result was that these were the only two pieces of furniture left when we closed down the sale. In the end, we donated both pieces to a local charity, but I should have been more aggressive about it.
I also got frazzled because I was unpacking stuff and still pricing when people started showing up and that was just weird because in some cases, people were buying things I hadn't yet put a price on and it was just crazy that way. I wonder if people show up so early not only to get the best price but to also get those of us running the sale at a time when we're so frazzled that we just automatically quote them a price without thinking too hard about it.
Also, when you're doing a garage sale with three other people, you need to keep track of whose stuff is being sold, make sure you get the right price for it, and then get the money to the right person. It can get super confusing, but I'm glad we did it all together. It was a lot of fun and the camraderie was great. Also, pooling four people's things together created more buzz and traffic through our sale well past 11 am. Which is always a good thing. We sold more than $500 total, about $125/person. Not a bad day's work.
All in all, we think it was a success. We're thinking about doing it again in April when the weather is nice and hopefully have some more stuff to sell, especially things like roller blades or old bicycles which might do better in the spring months when demand is high. I had donated 7 bags of things to the Salvation Army about 1 month ago and I wish I'd saved it to sell instead. I figure, if you're going to donate the stuff anyway, try and sell it first either on eBay, Craigslist or at a garage sale. It's worth a shot, hard work as it is. And who couldn't use a little cash these days?
Back from another business trip and came across this article on how airline fares might be leveling off soon. I've been appreciating the lower fares lately. Even with the 2-week advance purchase for today's plane fare, it still came in under $200 and that was insane, especially on a sold-out flight. I was anticipating having to pay $400 to $500 for the ticket, but no -- paid $178 round trip two weeks out. So I guess the message here is, if you're going to go on a vacation and need airfare, buy soon!
Okay, so the title is a little bit of a misnomer, because if there's a way, there's a fee. But I ran into a little trouble with my bank last month as I was traveling and you know how it is when you cross time zones and borders; it's like all intelligence seeps out of your brain, slowly eroding memory. So one thing led to another and the next think I knew, I was looking at an Overdraft charge of $20. The kicker is, the bank pulled money from my savings account to cover my checking account; so it's not like the bank was out any money but *I* was out $20.
Anyway, that happened last month. On a whim today, I called my bank and asked them to waive the ODP charges. And -- they did. They're crediting me back the $20, which is essentially 10 breakfast tacos at my favorite taco joint, or 5 Starbucks coffees for those of you who drink those. It was fairly easy. I didn't even have to explain what happened, even though I had a ready story. I just said that I was charged $20 before the privilege of using my own money and that it didn't make sense. The representative went on and on about how the ODP was cheaper than Insufficient Funds, and my point back is, "You had my money. You used my money to pay the bill. You just had to take it from one account and move it to another." I was nice about it, and I was rewarded for my efforts. It was a total of 10 minutes work and the return was awesome.
I guess the lesson learned here is to ask. In the past, I've gotten late fees from credit cards waived, I've gotten cell phone charges for texting knocked off, negotiated down my internet bill, etc. People don't like to do these things because a) it seems confrontational, b) it takes time, and c) it's this whole idea of David vs Goliath. I mean really, who *is* Seema in the face of the Borg entity that is my bank? But nearly every time I've asked nicely, as Jack Nicholson would say, I've gotten the charges waived. And most of the times, you don't have to argue -- the customer representative usually has a bit of discretion to do what you ask and if you're a good customer and generally pay on time, they'll do what they can to make you happy.
A few months ago, I was tardy on renewing my cell phone contract on a new offer they sent me for two free months for renewal plus $15 off one month's service. So I just called up and asked them yes, I know the offer expired a couple of days ago, but can I get it anyway? And they said yes, and then I asked for the $15 off as well. They said yes to that. Total savings for about 10 minutes worth of work again was about $87. Again, awesome return -- better than you'd get in the stock market for sure.
Anyways, I'm pumped; I think I'm going to have a breakfast taco for dinner to celebrate.
True Car gives you values of what people are paying for cars in your zip code. It allows you to customize the car and then shows the bell curve of what a good price is, what a great price is, and you can deduce from that information when you're being taken for a ride. Just another tool to go along with the Kelly Blue Book, CarFax, Edmunds, and Consumer Reports, but this one really helps demystify what a good deal for a car is.
I've spent the last few months worrying a lot. It's like every little thing that happens seems to be 1000 times worse than it probably actually is. I don't know if it's the overload of the bad economic news that I translate and take personally. As a result, it's been difficult to make simple decisions like, should I buy a new computer?
This computer still works very well but is slow as heck and makes it difficult to really get much done; even with DSL, it's like being on dial-up again. But then I think about the $300 to $400 investment for a new PC and I shudder at the expense. Is it really the time to go out and buy something? What if we are indeed sliding towards the Great Depression and we reach 30 percent unemployment? A new PC won't help put food on the table. What if I needed that $300-$400 and it's wrapped up in a more technological advanced but depreciable item?
It's the dilemma. We need to spend to get this economy going but even those of us who are still employed (knock on wood) and should be spending are pulling way back. Two-edged sword. Don't know how to get out of this mindset and the media doesn't help with its constant barrage of reminders on just how bad things are. It makes harder to get to the point where you understand that it's the best time to buy certain items (car, house etc), but it's hard to part with that money. Having a monthly note for a new car or new house antes up the stress level if indeed you lose your job and then can't find another one for months.
Three must-haves I carry in my car trunk: a flashlight, jumper cables, and an air compressor for the tires. All pretty self-explanatory, and it just seems incredible to me to not have them. I once got stuck out late at night on a freezing winter evening (pre-cell phone days) with a dead battery because I forgot to turn off the car headlights. Luckily there was someone there who could jump my car and I was able to get home, no problem. Since then, I've always had jumper cables in my car and I've probably jumped about a dozen cars or so. They're not expensive -- maybe $20 to $30 -- but what they give you in peace of mind is so much better.
I also recommend an air compressor. These things are definitely not expensive -- I bought mine for about $20 at AutoZone. This is one of those items that you pay upfront for, but then really appreciate. Previously, I used to have to either go to the garage to get my car tires inflated or search out a gas station to fill my tires. I don't know about you, but the gas stations I always stopped at were either broken or missing a gauge (I have one of those in my car now too). Plus, you always had to have quarters if they didn't give you free air with purchase of gasoline. Now, with my air compressor, it takes about two minutes to fill up the tires in the comfort of my own garage.
I calculated it costs me about $1.50 to fill up all four tires at the gas station and when gasoline cost $4/gallon, it was about 70 cents to travel 4 miles to the gas station. So it's about $2.20/month to fill up my tires. I've owned the pump for more than a year now, so I've easily made that money back. Plus, it's just *convenient*. I can justify cost all I want, but really, it's just the convenience of knowing I can plug this thing into the cigarette lighter in the safety of my own garage and it's just all around better situation.
So, I definitely recommend just having jumper cables and air compressors for tires. It's an up-front investment, but I think worth every penny. Adding a flashlight and a tire pressure gauge for kicks isn't a bad idea either.
My computer has been plodding along lately. It's probably tired -- it's about 7 1/2 years old, which is something like 100 years old in computer years. But it works fine for my limited usage -- mainly surfing the internet, writing the occasional story/letter, and playing word games. So it's in my best interests to keep it running and this week, I took a stab at trying to reduce the recent sluggishness. The good news is, as far as I can tell, no virus infection. I ran several different programs and I do have some difference in performance, so that's good. The best part is that all the programs I ran are free for home use. So here's a list of free software that can make your life (and that of your computer's) easier.
Lavasoft's Ad-Aware - this program is pretty darn good for searching out malware and again, it's free for home use. One word of caution -- I had a heck of a time with the Anniversary Edition of Ad-Aware; it installed but then wouldn't run. It turns out to be an issue with the registry. If you've had a previous installation of Ad-Aware, it leaves behind some "junk" that the AE edition can't handle. Which leads me to my next piece of recommended software.
CCleaner -- Jerie recommended this to me years ago, but I admit to not being great about using it. When I ran into the aforementioned problem with the Ad-Aware AE, I remembered this program. It's basically a registry-cleaner. It goes in and finds orphan commands, files, etc., and cleans them out for you. In my case, most of the issues had to do with remnants of programs I had previously installed/uninstalled, such as an earlier edition of Ad-Aware. It's worth running. It was amazing just how much "stuff" the uninstallers leave behind to clutter up your system.
Avast -- I replaced McAfee with this free anti-virus software and I'm much, much happier with it than McAfee. I guess I believe its real-time protection more than I did with McAfee because Avast is pretty shrill when something happens -- either online or downloading email -- that it doesn't approve of. Its GUI is pretty easy to deal with and did I mention it was free? Note, you still have to register the software with Avast within 60 days of installing it on your computer.
I'm also running ZoneAlarm firewall on my computer instead of the built-in Windows firewall, however, I find ZoneAlarm to be kind of a pain. It is constantly nagging at me to update software (no more than 15 days apart each time) and with every update, you have to "retrain" the software to remember all the programs permitted to access the Internet. I guess this is how ZoneLabs gets people to upgrade to the paid version of their software. For free software, it's not bad if you're looking for a firewall. Just be ready to need to update every two weeks or so.
And then back to Ad-Aware. I ended up uninstalling Ad-Aware AE and re-gressing back to an earlier version of Ad-Aware (I still happened to have the *.exe file). That worked just fine. If I'm feeling really bold this weekend, I might try again with the Ad-Aware AE. Right now, due to the issues I had with the installation of Ad-Aware AE, I can't recommend it and would suggest, if possible, to keep your current, working version of the software, or find a *clean* site that will allow you to download an earlier version.
I got my piece of the stimulus package today -- the $40 coupon for the converter box for the switch from analog to digital. Actually, I don't know if the recent arrival was part of the extended funding for the switch (and was tucked in the stimulus bill) or if someone's coupon expired and I got another one. Either way, I finally -- after several months on the waiting list -- got my coupon. And perfect timing too. My free service, provided by the apartment complex, ended last week and now I'm back on local only. So getting the coupon this week so I can make the transition to rabbit ears was really good timing.
Incidentally, hulu.com is pretty decent when it comes to providing television shows. I recommend "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" -- very cute 3-parter from Joss Whedon and singing! Good singing! Good lyrics. So yeah, I don't actually miss cable because I can get Battlestar on scifi.com or hulu.com the day after, and the Daily Show is now on hulu.com so I don't have to deal with Comedy Central's funky player. All in all, not a bad deal. Definitely a good option if, in these tough times, you're looking to cut costs -- you can still get most of your favorite shows online for free with minimal commercial interruption.
You can buy special boot stretchers/standers at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $10 that will keep your knee-high boots from flopping over or cracking or creasing or you can do what I did -- take the cardboard roll from wrapping paper or paper towels and stick that in your boots. Voila. Cheap and easy fix for floppy boots!
10 Bank Breaking Money Myths -- interesting article. I've heard of a lot of these lately, especially those about home ownership versus renting and the ability to deduct mortgage. It's only been recently through my own home-search that I've realized that those were myths in fact, and that renting is by far the better option for me. Also, the carrying a balance to maintain credit score? Amazing how many times I've heard that one as well. The only thing carrying a balance does for you is rack up the interest so that you're financing that Starbucks latte for years and years.
This isn't the most exotic recipe around, but it's super easy and tasty to make, and fits three key categories: vegetable, grain, and protein. Well, the vegetable is a little stretch, but I'm counting the tomato sauce (which comes out of a jar) as a vegetable. Nothing here was homemade and I whipped this dinner up in about 15 minutes and it was perfectly proportioned and satisfying. I love that in a meal.
I started off by thawing two veggie burgers, broken into halves, in a frying pan on the stove. I used Morningstar mushroom lover's burgers, but any burger will do. Meanwhile, I was also boiling water on another burger for the pasta.
After the burgers were mostly thawed through, I removed them from heat and chopped them up into bite size chunks.
I put the chunks of veggie burger back into the frying pan and then added the tomato sauce. The tomato sauce came out of a jar, and for those of you interested in the details, I like the Classico brand and this time around, I used Sweet Basil sauce. One of these days I'll make my own tomato sauce, but certainly not on a weekday and definitely not after a tough workout when I'm absolutely famished! I let the tomato sauce and chunks of veggie burger simmer about 4-5 minutes while I finished draining the pasta. Doesn't this look yummy?
And finally, after the pasta was drained, I poured the warm sauce over the pasta, and enjoyed myself a rather quick, tasty, and healthy meal. Not inexpensive, because veggie burgers aren't really that cheap anymore -- about $4 for a package of four now -- but still, this meal probably cost me about $3, which is still cheaper than going out to eat, which is what I would have done in the past when I was starving after a workout. Much better for the waistline and the wallet!
Interesting post on renting versus buying: Why We Rent. I came across the link at The Simple Dollar which is a "frugal" blog I check in with now and then. The NY Times also has another buy versus rent story today: As Home Prices Drop Low Enough, a Committed Renter Decides to Buy. I just find it interesting that after years of advocating home ownership as the Bestest Investment Ever, people are actually saying, "Hey, wait a minute..." I shall feel vindicated when I write my landlord a check on June 1.
The US government has one of the best websites out there on energy issues and prices. Check out this link to learn what the price of a gallon of gas is composed of. It's pretty easy to read and understand. The bottom line is, if we see $70/barrel any time soon, I'll be surprised. It wasn't too long ago that I thought $50/barrel as the ceiling was crazy. Now I'm anticipating $110/barrel in the not-so-distance future. My concern is demand destruction if we see $105-$115 range for more than 6 months and the effect on the world economy. My suggestion? When you get your tax rebate, bank it or pay down debt. Don't spend it on things you don't need. The two things might not seem related to you, but the higher those prices go, the more likely it is our economy is going to slow down even more than it already has.
I bought a $320 suit for $54 at Macy's. And it's a classic style in charcoal gray, a quality brand, so nothing weird about it. Amazing. I needed a blazer and Ann Taylor had one on sale for $60 that was okay, but then I went to Macy's and the whole suit -- the only one left in my size -- was on sale for $60 and then I had them knock down the price 10 percent because it was missing a button (I can reattach it myself). Not bad, not bad at all. I love being a bargain hunter :-)
I really don't like the phrase "The more you spend, the more you save". Huh? It doesn't make any sense. Say you can buy one shirt for $5 and you can buy two shirts for $8 or three shirts for $12. You can say it's a good deal ONLY IF you actually need three shirts. Otherwise, if you go for the $8 -- spend more to save more -- you actually spend $3 more than you otherwise planned to and if you go for the three shirts, then you've spent $7 more than you planned to. You didn't actually save money; you spent more. You just got what you were looking for for less, but in more quantity and my guess is that most people don't actually need the quantity necessary to 'save more'.
My cable company just sent me a letter that said if I bought one of their packages for $56, I would actually be saving money. Which makes no sense because my current package cost me... $0. And it's even more nonsensical because I don't have time for 160 channels and so in theory, if I 'saved' by buying their $56 package, I'd actually be paying more because out of those 160 channels, I'd probably watch less than a quarter, so I'd be paying more for the channels I was actually watching (I have a whole theory on 'cost per use' which I'll tell you about another time). So it makes no sense. They try to package it as savings, but it's really not. If you're not going to use it, it's not a savings.
I have this crazy idea that you ought to be able to fly anywhere in the country for $250 or less. More than a few times, I've managed to head east for under $200 and once even got to Boston for $150 round trip. One of my favorite tools is on My Yahoo! which allows you to track flights to your favorite destinations and gives you a good idea of what the going rate is for a flight.
I've also started using farecast.com, which is essentially a forecast for airfares. It's a good guide since it shows you a trend, but I have yet to make a decision based on what farecast.com says. I also like checking what Southwest offers to a particular market because they tend to be the low-cost leaders in some, but not all markets. If you live in a hub city for an airline, chances are that airline will be the cheapest and most likely non-stop service to whereever it is you want to go.
I've also been using kayak and sidestep.com to get an idea. These are aggregate search engines that pull results from a variety of sources including the big guys at Travelocity, Expedia, Hot Wire, and a whole host of others. The good thing is, you put in one search and you get a whole lot of answers back. It saves you time and money.
Other tricks: * Try to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday * For international travel, book 6 to 8 weeks out * For domestic travel, book 4-6 weeks out * Try other nearby airports (within a 90-minute radius from your location, otherwise I'm not sure the savings are worth the hassle).
Airfares can change on a day to day basis. When I went to Philadelphia recently, the ticket price on a Friday was $350 and the following Saturday, the same flight had dropped to $176. I checked back on Tuesday and it was at $212 and four days later, it was at $165. So you never know. Just keep checking as your trip comes closer and when you see something you're willing to pay, just take it. The airfare may go up and it may come down. The key is to do your research ahead of time to make sure you're getting the best possible deal.