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Archive for the ‘Money Saving Chronicles’ Category

Money Saving Chronicles #9: Net Flix Revisited

Posted by Adam Graham on June 10, 2006

I wrote about Net Flix a few months and my conclusion was that Net Flix as a program didn’t make a whole lot of sense unless you were on the extreme side in terms of watching movies. It created a lot of comments. Net Flix now has a new program that makes more sense.

The new plan is cheaper: $5.99 a month instead of $9.99, and it comes with a new movie limit. While, I still think you can find better deals on 2 movies in your town, there are some bad buying habits the new Net Flix can help you break:

1) Buying New Movies

I bought my wife Shrek 2 and Spiderman 2 a couple years back. We watched them once and watched the special features once and have never touched them since. The movies would probably ebay for half of what I paid for them.

With the Net Flix $5.99 plan, it makes easy to check out a new release without having to worry about returning it until you’re done with it. This is particularly helpful with movies that kids will watch 20 times or if you just want to see a new movie and feel like you own it.

2) Returning Movies Late

We’re busy folks and so we pay late fees for returning items that just don’t fit into our 24 hours days, with no late fees, NetFlix avoids that.

3) Spending Too Much on Premium Cable:

Again a little bit of Net Flix can get you new releases without the extra expense of HBO. For older movies, visit a library, or if you have a cable, several regual cable channels such as TNT or TBS shows them.

Without the promise of “unlimited” movies, this new Net Flix program also can work well for the busy person who just doesn’t have time for 20 movies in a month.

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Money Saving Chronicles #8: Check Your Receipt

Posted by Adam Graham on May 14, 2006

It was the quickest $2.60 I ever saved!

I was standing in line at Wal-Mart. The checker rushed through checking us out. I looked at the receipt after I paid and my eyes caught a duplicate entry. My wife had bought a bottle of mousse. We were charged for two. The checker marked it on the slip, a quick trip to customer service and I had my money back.

This step is a no-brainer, but it gets missed and its a shame for people trying to save money. I’ve seen checkers make mistakes and then catch them. When they don’t, its a windfall for the corporation and a loss for the consumer.

Protect your money from clerk error and check your receipt.

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Money Saving Chronicles #7: Four Free Money Saving Tools

Posted by Adam Graham on April 24, 2006

The most important money saving tools aren’t in a software bundle or book. They aren’t found in a seminar. The greatest tools are found between your airs.

A well-known financial advisor has observed, “Personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% knowledge.” Its true. You will save more money if you utilize a few basic tools that cost no money, but are priceless.

1) Integrity

I’d submit a great number of financial problems begin with a lack of integrity or at least not taking it seriously. For example, someone who spends the rent money on something else has forgotten not only that they could get thrown out in the street but that they’ve made an agreement to pay rent at a certain time of each month.

We all have committments we’ve made, promises that have to be kept. Some will cost us legally as we’ll face likely lawsuits for failing to comply. Others will hit our credit report. Some people don’t care about these things at the time (particularly credit impact), but end up being haunted later on when it really does matter to them.

With a sense of integrity, you’re going to take an attitude of: “I’ve made committments and keeping them is my biggest priority.” By doing so, you’re going to pay your bills on time, avoid getting hit with late fees or higher interest rates. How much money can a little integrity save you?

2) Contentment

This is a huge one. We all remember inspirational stories of parents who scrimp and save to get their kids into college, even coming from a poor background.

Yet, there are other stories. There are those who buy huge houses and all kinds of great gadgets and when kids get to college age, they can’t count on anything from their parents.

There’s the same thing with retirement. How many people subsisting entirely on Social Security could be millionaires had they learned to live on less during their working years.

This is where contentment comes into play. Delayed gratification is something that you’ll hear about from most financial experts. Some needs are immediate, most can wait. Its important to know the difference.

Contentment is found in enjoying the things in life that are free such as a walk in the park, a neighborhood baseball game, or the love of your family. By building contentment you’ll be less at risk for huge impulse buys that can set you months and even years back on your finances.

3) Vision

Contentment and integrity are important, but without vision the whole thing falls apart. Most of the time when spend our money without a second thought, because we’ve not even given a first thought to what we really want in the long term.

The attitude taken by some is, “After I pay the bills, I can blow the rest.” When I first got married, judging by my spending, you’d assume that I was playing a game of chicken, getting the Checking account down to as close as zero as possible without going under.

Where do you want to go with your money? Get a vision in your head and mentally draw a road map of how you’re going to get there?

Without vision, you’re like a ship without a sail, merely being blown about by financial winds.

4) Diligence

I used to work in Customer Service for an Internet Company and on occassion I would receive calls from people who paid no attention to their finances. One man I remembered had paid for Internet access with us for 18 months and wanted a full refund.

Though, that’s extreme a lot of people end up spending money through negligence more than anything else. Many annual Magazine subscriptions renew automatically, as do annual charges for things you never use. Ironically, these began because the person something for free and planned to cancel after the trial period.

First of all, going back to integrity, its probably not a great idea to ask for a trial subscription you wouldn’t pay for. But if you are going to sign up for free programs or programs with annual fees, its important to keep track of what you’ve committed to, as well as when subscriptions expire (for websites, magazines, etc.) I’d reccomend keeping track of it in a spreadsheet. Look at this spreadsheet at least once a month. If you see a subscription coming up that you no longer need, get in touch with the company and cancel it. If you see one coming up that you intend to continue be sure to plan for it.

Also, never stop looking for better ways to do things. I’ve considered cancelling my landline phone and DSL to put everything on my Cell Phone and get a Wifi Connection. This didn’t make sense, so I didn’t do it, but I was diligent to check it out.

With some thoughtfulness and character, you’ll have a bright financial future.

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Money Saving Chronicles #6: Take Apart Your Entertainment Budget

Posted by Adam Graham on April 16, 2006

4 out of 5 Americans have Cable or Sattelite TV in their homes. Commercials talk about how they’ve got something for the whole family. The value of the package is built up as people often shell out as much as $60-$80 a month to pay for a cable bill.

Examining Your Budget

First of all, if you’re really struggling financially, the first candidate to go has got to be the Cable Bill. The idea of barely being able to make your utility payments while paying a bill to DirectTV is absurd.

Beyond that, its one of those things, that you have to evaluate in terms of the long-term sacrifice your making. Are you really getting the best value for your money? Are there alternatives that would work better. Its time to examine the whole entertainment package, get it to work best for you at the right price.

Are You Using What You’re Paying For?

Remember when you bought your Package and the Salesman threw in 3 free months of Showtime, HBO, and Cinemax? Or gave you a limited time trial on the football package? Limited trials and engagements tend to slip past you. Terms and conditions change. Take a look at your bill, make comparisons v. What the company’s offering and make sure you’re not paying for something you don’t need.

Taking Stock

Its fair to evaluate whether the amount of time spent watching TV is healthy. Are there things you’d really like to do that you don’t get to? You can use TV watching time as a substitute, which may limit your need, as well as opening other options.

When I had a TV, I spent a lot of time surfing channels. With a digital TV box, you can spend 20 minutes going from 2 to Channel 800+, stopping for a few minutes to watch something and then moving on. The problem with surfing channels is that its like impulse buying with your time. You often spending your time on something you never would have planned to spend it on, had you known before you sat down you’d end up watching what you did.

The question to ask yourself is, “If you could program your own Cable system using just what you like, what channels would be there? For example, here’s my AdamTV Network:

2-Baseball Channel
3-C-Span
4-Political News Channel
5-Christian Channel (showing Christian movies and talk shows.)
6-Movie Channel
7-Classic TV Channel

Once you figure out what you and your family really want then you can figure out, how to find substitutes.

Free Substitutes

There are many totally free Substitute for many things we want from Television. Take, my list for example.

First, lets look at online programming. There’s an increasing amount of content that’s available online at no charge. For example, take C-Span. You can watch or listen to Live Streams of all 3 C-Spans at C-Span’s website. Now AOL has introduced an In2TV service which gives you free streaming of TV hits from yesteryear. Many Christian Television channels have gone online with full streams.

If you’re into music videos, you can also find many music videos online. Also, you can listen to music on the radio.

For my Movie and Old TV shows wants, the answer is as close as my local public library. You may think of libraries as a place to get books, but its also a place you can find movies, and I don’t just mean PBS documentaries. The Boise Public Library, while still smaller than many ones in bigger cities still features numerous Video Cassettes and DVDs. Last year, I checked out 4 seperate videos from the Honeymooners Classic 39 series. Now my local library has full DVD box sents available from a wide variety of series, in addition to a pretty good video library with plenty of classic films in it, and quite a few kids films. In addition, if you’re into history or coulinary arts, interior design, and do-it-yourself, there are many free resources available at the library.

Cheaper Substitutes

There are some less expensive alternatives to what people use Cable or Sattelite TV for. For example, if you like TV 24 Hour News channels like CNN or Fox News, you could subscribe to XM or Sirrius Sattelite Radio. You can also listen to full seasons of major sports on the Sattelite radio, stand-up comedy, classic radio shows and much more is available for $12.95 per month.

For the occassional movie rental, a discount video rental store may make sense, as many video stores have days when you can pay a low price to rent a movie like 49 or 75 cents.

In addition, I’ve made it a habit to ask for DVD box sets on gift-giving occassions. Through such gifts, I’ve accumulated hundreds of TV episodes, enough to last me through next Christmas most likely.

You can also check a Discount Store such as Big Lots for family movies. I’ve purchased a series of discs with four or five movies on them for as little as $2. Thrift stores are also sources of movie bargains for less than you’d pay for a rental.

Make the Right Choice

Now, it may be that your budget’s doing okay and that there’s not a reasonable substitute for what you and your family are getting from cable or sattelite that’s not going to cost a fortune to replace in total. If so, that’s fine, but you won’t know until you start examining your options.

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Money Saving Chronicles #5: Prepaid Legal Examined

Posted by Adam Graham on February 12, 2006

This week I’m going to take a look at the popular: Prepaid Legal which may make sense for you or it may not. Prepaid Legal is legal insurance in essence, similar to Health Insurance. Is it good idea? In most cases, I’m going to say no, at least from looking at Prepaid Legal’s website. The Standard Plans do several things for you:

1) Give you unlimited calls to ask legal advice on various issues.

Nice service, but how much is the typical person going to need this? Not enough to justify the service fee.

2) Free Lawyer Harassment

Nothing is going to make someone who you’ve got a problem with jump faster than a call that begins, “Hello, I’m John Smith the Attorney for-” One Prepaid Legal member talked about how this got her a quick refund + $100 in credit for the company, who all things considered would rather do that than pay high priced corporate lawyers. However, unless you’re getting into spats with companies that will fold with a letter from an attorney, this is probably not a good reason to buy a policy.

3) Contract Review

-That’s nice, but how often do you sign contracts or need contracts reviewed? If its a frequent, recurring expense, this might be worthwhile.

4) Free Will

Nice service, but if all you want is a will, there’s a lot less expensive options such as the do it yourself will kits.

5) Motor Vehicle Legal Expenses

-This can come in real handy if you’re charged with Vehicular Homicide. You get free coverage under the plan. Which is something you can brag to your buddies in the Cell block about. This is one of those terms that makes me think the best idea may just be to avoid needing it, by driving carefully in accordance with traffic laws. That’s not to say that an accident won’t happen because things do happen, but the chances of you needing this are thin and are best handled by a good emergency fund.

In addition, if you want to be a frugal crazy idiot, the best solution is just to use the public defender. However, when dealing with your life, you may just want to go out and hire a full-fledged lawyer whose good at these cases. Because, saving a few bucks doesn’t matter much if you spend 10-20 at the State Pen.

For something minor, like a speeding ticket, a Prepaid legal plan really doesn’t make sense. Just because you have Counsel present doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the ticket overturned. Also, you may pay for more for the Plan in the course of a year, then you would speeding tickets that you get thrown out.

6) Trial Defense Services

This helps in Civil Suits or Criminal Actions that occurred in the course of your job. Now realize that the amount of hours covered by Prepaid Legal may not cover all the time involved, but it certainly helps. This may be a good idea for small business people, who don’t have some other type of insurance. After five years, they’ll cover up to 300 hours of time, but only 4.5 for pretrial services. That’s the main shortcoming of this coverage. Most cases filed never go to trial and those that do require a lot more than 4.5 hours. On the Extended coverage plan, you get 17.5 hours of pretrial time to start out with, going up to 39.5 after five years, which is a bit more reasonable. However, I couldn’t recommend this unless you’re in a line of business where you’re likely to incur a lawsuit in the course of your work.

7) IRS Audit Service

– With the IRS audits, they target returns where they see the potential for a lot of extra money. If you’re earning $20,000-$25,000 a year on the Gross, there’s just not going to be that much for the IRS to get from you to make this service worthwhile. In addition, Prepaid Legal only makes 50 hours available, and 46.5 of those hours are only available if the matter goes to court. Which means, if yours is a typical audit that doesn’t go, you have 3.5 hours of Billable Attorney time at your disposal.

8) 25% Discount

-You get a 25% discount on all other legal services. You may be able to get close to that just by shopping around.

Overall, the only people I could see benefiting from this service on a regular basis are those involved in work with High Risks of lawsuit or numerous contracts, or frequent trouble with the law. For everyone else, the least expensive answer is building up a good sized emergency fund and following all the rules and laws to the best of their ability.

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Money Saving Chronicles #4: Do Online Movie and Music Programs Make Sense?

Posted by Adam Graham on February 5, 2006

For this week’s Money Saving Chronicles, I decided to examine two different popular services that are huge online to find out if they actually save you money.

Lets go ahead and get started with Netflix the internet’s biggest provider of movie rentals by mail.

Net Flix offers you one of four plans, three with unlimited rentals: Their $9.99 Special with which you can get 1 movie at a time, their $14.99 package with two at a time or the $17.99 for three at a time.

The way the program works is simple. You rent a DVD, it comes in the mail. You watch it and then you send it back, then Net Flix sends you another movie. NetFlix gives an average delivery time of 1 day, but that’s not realistic. According to one blogger’s experience, 2 days from Net Flix to their house is common and 3 days is more typical for getting them back, so for each movie you’re looking at five days. So, if you were watching movies and then immediately shipping them back, with the Net Flix package, you’d be looking at around 5 movies in a month for $9.99. If you were renting all new releases, that’d be a good deal. Most people don’t do that. They’ll have the movie hanging around for a couple days before they send it back, thus eliminating any benefit from the $9.99 package. However, with one of the higher packages, if you’re a big time movie watcher, you can have a movie every night on the $17.99 program, and just keep them moving in and out of your house.

Now, I’ve read about some people renting older movies off of Net Flix. In general that’s a bad idea and here’s why. You can find cheap rentals in your own home town.

Every city has a rental store that has a special movie night where you can get any non-new release for a special deal. I’ve seen some places as low as 49 cents. You can grab any release that’s more than 6 months-a year old and watch it, or you can watch certain of their older films for the low price. In addition, to that many libraries have small film libraries that you can check out at no charge. Yes, it may mean not seeing the new release for a while, but the savings over time can be a bigtime payoff.

Now, if you’re really watching 25-30 movies a month, then Net Flix starts to make sense, but watching 30 movies a month doesn’t from a lot of different viewpoints. I’ll also add that there are comparable offers to NetFlix out there, I’m just not going to cover them all. If you decide this type of service is for you, shop around and find the best deal.

Moving onto music, services which allow you to download unlimited amounts of music are quite popular. These can be a good investment, depending on what you want. For me, it makes sense to have Yahoo Music Unlimited becuase I just listen to my music while writing and don’t take the songs anywhere. If you’re wanting to take your music with you, it may be a different story. Yahoo Music Unlimited offers their “To Go Service” is available for $119.88 per year, but that’s a tad pricy.

If you’re going to use a Mobile device, what I’d reccomend doing instead is going on Half.com(affiliate link) or a site like it to purchase CDs. You can find some good playable buys (generally anywhere from $3-7 depending on what you’re looking for) and then transfer those onto your computer and then to your mobile device. The only way buying a service like the “To Go” makes any sense is if you’re wanting songs off hundreds of different CDs. If you’ve only got a few you want, then a Mobile Device and a few CDs off Half.com makes sense.

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Money Saving Chronicles #3: Check Those Add-Ons

Posted by Adam Graham on January 29, 2006

If you decide you need some service, check with the companies you already do business with, you may be able to get it through them.

One key example is that last year, I got Roadside Assistance through my cell phone company for less than I’d pay for a AAA membership. I also got high speed Internet through my phone company with a discount.

Now, I won’t lie and say these savings were huge, but they are there. More importantly, I kept my life simple and that’s the big advantage of buying something through a company you already use. I have 12 companies that I pay regularly plus an annual membership in the NRA. Keeping all these bills in order is a challenge and even the most disciplined person will occassionally forget a bill with so many. If instead of having 12 bills to juggle, I go ahead and take on 18 or 24, my life becomes more complicated and I increase my risk of making an error in my finances.

Add-Ons like my cell phone company’s road-side assistance are generally offered for a lower price than you could get the products alone for a reason. The reason for this is that in the case of the Cell Phone Company, roadside Assistance is a sideline, they can afford a small profit or even a slight loss if it retains you as a cell phone customer.

Now, don’t construe this to mean you should take every add-on a company you do business with offers. I didn’t sign up for Direct TV, though my phone Company offers it, because honestly I don’t need it. Same thing with Internet for my cell phone. I could never see spending $7 a month to surf the web on a screen that can barely hold a phone number The worst thing to do is to get something because it sounds good. Ask yourself if you’ll get the bang for your buck. If you travel much at all, getting a program that gives you travel discounts is going to make sense. If you don’t, then it won’t. Think through the little extras the company’s you do business with offers and sign up only for those you need and will use. Who knows? A money saving opportunity could just be a phone call away.

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Money Saving Chronicles #2: The Frugal Mind

Posted by Adam Graham on January 22, 2006

Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half’s physical.” The same thing is true about saving money and frugality.

Its possible for anyone to run around to different stores and find cheap stuff online, but we rarely do it unless we understand WHY we’re doing it. Saving money is 90% mental and to save more money, you have to begin with some thought.

You Can’t Have Everything

First thing you have to do is get the idea out of your head that you can have everything. You can’t buy new cars every year while spending more than what you earn while putting nothing into your 401(k) and hope to retire at 40 unless you win the lottery. (And Financial Plans that include winning the lottery need to be rethought.)

Sacrifices must be made. The only thing you get to choose is what to sacrifice. Short-term sacrifices are required for long-term success and prosperity. So, it means living with less so you can save for retirement or for a child’s education. On the other hand, long-term sacrifices are required for many short-term pleasures. You can have the best of everything without saving, but if you do that, you may be stuck working longer and unable to provide for your children’s education.

The greatest thing you can do for yourself financially is ask two questions:

1) What do I want out of life?
2) What am I willing to do to get it?

If you want to retire at 45, its going to take doing without some luxuries, putting aside large amounts to save. It may also mean working overtime or second jobs to save and hasten that day of retirement.

If you want to retire at 75, its going to require less effort and sacrifice, because you’re working an additional 30 years, but you’ll still want to plan for providing for your children’s education.

Also, think of how little things can impact your ability to save and your financial health. If you buy 2 lottery tickets a week at $1 each and you give that up to save, by the end of the year, you’ve saved $104. Even if you can’t quit smoking, if you go from being a 2 pack a day Smoker to a 1 pack a day Smoker, if you’re paying $2.50 a pack for Cigarettes, that’s going to save you $912.50 a year.

Begin to look at your life, scrutinize your spending, and find the money you need to achieve your financial success. However, it all starts with thinking about your finances and dedicating yourself to getting where you want to go. Until you do that, any other advice you’ll read will be moot trivia.

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Money Saving Chronicles #1

Posted by Adam Graham on January 16, 2006

This is the first of a series I’m going to write on saving money. Now, I’m not rich by any means, but my wife and I live comfortably on my income, which is no small task. I can’t tell you how to get rich, but if you can avoid being swept away in the middle class, you’ll be well on your way. So, its the goal of this column to find ways to save you money.

The age old financial advice is to clip coupons to find great buys at competing groceries stores. For areas that have Wal-Mart Super Centers, this advice is becoming out of date. In my area, Wal-Mart’s normal prices often beat the prices of competitiors such as Albertsons and Fred Meyers even when there’s a sale. Of course, the goal of a store in holding a sale is to make up the price of what they basically give away in the sale with you purchasing other high priced items.

In addition, driving from store to store can be a quite time consuming process. How much is your time worth? Mine is certainly worth a lot more than 50 cents off a jar of pickles. If you try to hit a half dozen stores, you’re going to end up consuming a lot of gas as well as depleting your own energy.

Here’s what I did when I moved to Boise. I found the cheapest stores in Boise: Wal-Mart, Grocery Outlet, and Big Lots. I made my shopping centered around those three stores. In the midst of this, I got tired of how much shopping we were doing and decided just to focus on Wally World without going anywhere else. I found myself spending more money and stopped that.

I’ve worked out a system that works well for me. I go to a total of four stores for shopping: the three mentioned above plus Albertsons which has cheap Soda Pop. Occassionally, I may find a better deal on Soda at one of the other stores, so I go to Albertsons last. At the other end of the spectrum, I start with the stores I go to least: Grocery Outlet and Big Lots. The reason I do that is because both of these stories have sporadic bargains that may beat what I get at Wal-Mart.

For example, I went to Grocery Outlet and found some Cereal for 99 cents a box, which beat the $1.60 something I pay at Wal-Mart or the $1.40 something I pay at Big Lots, so I got my cereal at Grocery Outlet. I found Saturday Night Pizza for Andrea at Grocery Outlet for cheaper than I’d pay at Wal-Mart for a comparable pie. By putting my secondary sources of groceries first, I’m giving these stores a chance to compete with Wal-Mart for my dollars. In the end, I win because I opened my dollars up to athe marketplace.

Thus choose a primary grocery store that has consistently excellent prices and then find other stores that are often competitive and give them a chance to compete for your business.

Bonus Shopping Tip #1: Dollar Stores are often quite popular with many cheapskates. It sounds like a good deal, but you have to be careful. Occassionally, you find great deals at these stores. More often than not, you find substandard products, stuff you don’t really need, (Did you really go in there planning to buy a singalong track for Achy Breaky Heart?) or brand name products that for $1.00 are overpriced compared to Wal-Mart or more comprehensive factory outlets (like Big Lots or a Dollar Plus Store).

Bonus Shopping Tip #2: Don’t let a Merchant’s Rewards program control your buying. S&H Green Points is a popular program. If its available at a store you shop at, then by all means use it, but don’t purchase things just to get Green Points. Andrea and I were part of the S&H Green Points program in Montana and I bought a lot of junk I didn’t really need just for the points. In the end, we saved up enough points to get a George Foreman Grill and two Pillows, but I think we probably spent more in earning the points than the value of the merchadise.

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