Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Programmable Thermostat: How to Install a Replacement Thermostat and Save Money

Replace Your Thermostat and Save Money

Save Money with a Programmable Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Heating season just started here in Iowa, and last week I noticed a problem in the middle of the night.  I was hot, and the furnace was running.  The problem was that this meant I was wasting money.  Why was the furnace running when I was hot?  Why was it so warm in the middle of the night?

The problem was the old thermostat.  It was still working fine, but it was primitive by today's standards.  The old thermostat only had one temperature setting.  The reason it was hot at night, is because we turned it to 70 to warm up the house and forgot to turn it down for the night.  Sometimes we left for the day and forgot to turn it down then too.

Old Lennox Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Another problem with the old thermostat was that the temperature control was not very precise.  It had a sliding lever to set the temperature, and it was hard to make small adjustments.  Also, the old analog temperature sensor did not seem to be very precise.  This all adds up to wasted energy and wasted money.  I decided to look at a replacement thermostat options.

Programmable Thermostats

Modern thermostats are programmable and allow you to program different temperatures for different times of day.  For example, you can program a temperature you want the house when you wake up, and another temperature when you are gone for the day, another temperature when you get home, and another for after you are asleep in bed.  You can let the thermostat program run and it automatically adjusts the temperature for you.  You can override the program at any time if you want to adjust the temperature.

7-day Programmable Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

You can get thermostats that are 1-day, 5-2 day, 5-1-1 day, and 7-day programmable.  A 1-day programmable thermostat has a single program that it follows every day.  A 5-2 day programmable thermostat gives you a program for Monday-Friday, plus a program for Saturday and Sunday.  A 5-1-1 day programmable thermostat allows you to set a program for Monday-Friday, Saturday, and Sunday separately.  A 7-day programmable thermostat is the most flexible and allows you to set a different temperature program for every day of the week.

At our house, the schedule varies quite a bit, so I was interested in a 7-day programmable thermostat.  I wanted something that could automatically turn the temperature down at night and while everyone is out during the day.  With the old thermostat, it was too easy to forget to turn the temperature down.

Do You Need a Wi-Fi Thermostat?

 I looked at Nest and some other expensive thermostats that allow you to control your heating and cooling system using a cell phone through your home's wireless network.  This seemed like more than I needed, and thermostats with wi-fi capability cost $200 or more.  It may be handy sometimes to adjust the temperature while you are away from home, but I think a good 7-day programmable thermostat would cover almost everything I want to do.

I found some good programmable thermostats in the $80 price range from Honeywell and White-Rodgers.  The Honeywell model I selected is a 7-day programmable thermostat with a full touchscreen.  There are no buttons or levers on the thermostat at all.  It has an easy menu system to program it, and a nice backlight when you touch it.

How To Install A Programmable Thermostat

Finding and buying a replacement thermostat was the easy part.  Next, I had to install the thermostat.  The first step was to carefully remove the old thermostat.  I say carefully for several reasons.  First, the old thermostat was really old and brittle.  I wanted to remove it carefully in case I needed to put it back- for example if the replacement thermostat turned out not to be compatible with the furnace and central air.  Second, the old thermostat contains a mercury switch.  It has a drop of mercury inside- kind of fun to look at, but I wouldn't want the capsule to break and spill the mercury.  Mercury is a toxic substance and can cause neurological damage.

My old Lennox thermostat had 3 layers:
  1. A cover with plastic windows to see the temperature setting
  2. A layer with the mercury switch and a thermometer coil with bi-metalic strips.  The movement of the coil causes the mercury switch to tip and makes or breaks the circuit to turn the furnace off or on.
  3. The layer with a circuit card and wire connections to the furnace
Outer Cover of Old Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Thermometer Coil and Mercury Switch in Old Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Circuit Card and Wire Connections in Old Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I turned off the power to my furnace using the circuit breaker before working on the thermostat.  I turned the fan on so I could make sure I turned off the right breaker to the furnace.  When the fan turned off, I knew I had the right one.  Some furnaces have a light switch on the side that can be used to turn off power instead of the circuit breaker.

Turn Off Power to Your Furnace Before Replacing the Thermostat
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Now it was time to remove the old thermostat.  I had to carefully remove the first two layers to reveal the bottom layer which was attached to the wall with screws to mount it to a metal junction box.  The pictures above show the layers that I had in my old thermostat.  I separated the first two layers by snapping them apart carefully.  Since the mercury switch contains mercury, I'll need to find a place to safely dispose of it.  I don't want to let mercury get into the water supply.

With the circuit card exposed, I could find the wires to connect the furnace to the new thermostat.  Before removing any wires from the old thermostat, label the wires carefully.  My Honeywell replacement thermostat included stickers to label the wires.  The circuit card in the old thermostat had each of the 4 wires labeled: RC, Y, W, G.  I removed the screws holding the wires down and applied the labels.  I also took pictures before disconnecting anything.

Next, I removed the last layer of the old thermostat from the wall.  My unit had two screws holding it on the wall.  I straightened out the wires so I could easily remove the last part of the old thermostat.

Now it was time to install the new thermostat.  The directions were pretty clear.  The most important thing is to carefully label the wires and attach them to the proper place on the new thermostat.  The wires are connected using a terminal block with screws to connect the wires and hold them in place.  You'll need a small screwdriver to tighten these down.

Honeywell Programmable Thermostat Wire Connection and Mounting Plate
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Depending on how your old thermostat was mounted, you may need to install a couple drywall anchors to mount the new thermostat to the wall.  In my case, I got lucky.  The hole spacing worked fine to attach the new thermostat to the existing junction box.  That was easy!

After connecting the wires to the new thermostat, and double-checking that the wires are connected to the right spots, you get to install the front of the thermostat on the mounting plate.  Install the batteries, and then snap the front onto the mounting plate.

Honeywell Thermostat, Battery Installation
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

This Thermostat Has a Nice Touchscreen with Backlight
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Here's more info about my programmable thermostat:
Honeywell RTH7600D Touchscreen 7-Day Programmable Thermostat

Saving Money with a Programmable Thermostat

This unit worked right out of the box.  The touchscreen and menus are easy to use.  I adjusted the pre-programmed temperature settings a bit by lowering the warmest temperature from 70 down to 68.  I am starting with 62 at night and during weekdays when everyone is usually away from home.  I am sure we will make further adjustments to the temperature and also the time of day when the temperature program adjusts the temperature.  I think this thermostat will pay for itself within a few months, and it keeps the indoor temperature more comfortable.  Replacing your thermostat a good project to consider if you have an older thermostat.

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Garage Door Threshold Kit- Keep Water Out

Garage Door Threshold Kit

The garage in the house I bought about a month ago showed signs of water coming in- the bottom couple inches of drywall was damp in a few spots.  I removed the damp drywall to prevent mold and mildew.  My next move was to prevent water from coming into the garage again.

A garage door threshold prevents water from coming under your garage door
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I had a contractor come out to take a look and make recommendations.  The contractor thought the drainage to the garage would keep water from coming in since the garage was elevated relative to the driveway.  He thought that rain could be blowing up against the garage door and coming under the seal along the floor.  He suggested that I install a garage door threshold kit.  This should help with snow coming under the garage door as well.

The Contractor Recommended I Install a Garage Door Threshold to Keep Water Out
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Finding the Best Garage Door Threshold Kit

I read product reviews and did some research to pick the best garage door threshold kit.  I visited a couple stores to check out kits in stock, but the best kit was available on-line from amazon for under $50.  The problem with most of the kits that I looked at was that the strip of threshold material was not wide enough.  The space from track to track for my double garage was about 16 feet, 2 inches.  Many of the kits have a strip that is only 16 feet wide.  I did not want to leave 2 inches without a threshold.

Garage Door Threshold Kit From M-D Building Products
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I found a garage door threshold kit from M-D Building Products that has a 20 foot strip and is easy to cut.  Some of the reviews I read suggested using Liquid Nails instead of the silicone adhesive provided in the kit, so I picked up a couple tubes of Liquid Nails for about $2 each and ordered the M-D Building Products threshold kit for under $50.

Installing a Threshold on a Garage Door

The instructions say to use a degreaser on the floor where you are installing the threshold and let it dry overnight.  I swept the floor and then used some Zep purple degreaser and a cheap mop to get the floor really clean.  The next day, I swept the floor again and used a Shop Vac to pick up any dust that was still around that could interfere with the adhesive bonding the threshold strip to the floor.

You'll Need a Utility Knife and a Caulk Gun to Install a Garage Door Threshold
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Installing the threshold is pretty easy.  After cleaning the concrete, you lay out the threshold on the floor and cut it to length.  I cut mine so it extents fully from one track to the other.  I positioned the strip carefully so that the edge of the bumper on the bottom of the garage door fits nicely against the highest point of the threshold strip.  This required opening and closing the garage door a couple times to get it lined up just right.

Next, I marked the position of the threshold strip with a pencil on both sides.  I flipped the strip out of the way and applied 3 beads of Liquid Nails in the space marked with pencil lines.  Two of the beads were 1/2 inch from the edge, and the third bead was right down the middle. I flipped the threshold strip back into place and carefully positioned it again.  Next I closed the garage door to let the adhesive cure for at least 24 hours.

Use Adhesive to Attach the Threshold Strip to Your Garage Floor
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Garage Door Threshold Installed To Keep Water Out
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The Threshold Extends Across the Width of the Garage Door
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Although not in the instructions, I also used duct tape along the inside edge of the threshold strip to hold it tightly in place while curing.  The edge under the garage door has pressure from the garage door, but the edge of the strip inside needed a bit of pressure to hold it down tightly.

You Can Use Duct Tape to Hold Edges Down While Adhesive is Curing
Image Source: Dr/ Penny Pincher

The adhesive is curing now with the garage door closed- I plan to let it cure for 72 hours just to make sure it is solid.  Check back for a report on how the garage door threshold performs over time.

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Should I Buy a Newer Car?

Should I Buy a Newer Car or Repair My Old Car?

Here's a question from a PPJ reader:

We're talking about getting another car... Newer anyway.  Our car is 6 years old and has 70k on it.  So far it has been very reliable and has not had any repairs except for a rear wheel bearing replacement.  We're concerned that the reliability might decrease because of the age and that repair costs will increase as the car gets older.  One salient point is that we don't drive much these days. I think we only put about 5k miles per year. Does Dr Penny Pincher have any advice?  Also at the last oil change they Ford dealer marked caution on the brakes, tires and struts. The brakes are original and the tires were new about 4 1/2 years ago.

Thanks for your question!

It is hard to beat a car that runs and is paid off!  I drive a 13 year old Honda Civic with 205,000 miles on it and hope to keep driving it.  

Dr. Penny Pincher's Car: A 13 Year Old Honda Civic with 205,000 Miles
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Every year or two, I think about getting a different car- especially when my car needs repair or maintenance. However, if I get a different used car, that car could need just as much repair or maintenance in the near future.  If I buy a new car, it wouldn't require much maintenance, and the warranty would cover almost any repairs.  However, new cars depreciate so fast that this is an expensive option.

The value of your current car is about $10,000.  You could buy a 4 year old car that is 2 years newer and has about 20k less miles for around $15,000.  So the price difference for buying a car 2 years newer would cost about $5k.  You could buy a new car for around $25k.  So the price difference for buying a new car would cost about $15k.  Even if you only put a few thousand miles a year on a car, newer cars still depreciate rapidly.

New Cars Are Expensive and Depreciate Quickly.  This Lincoln MKZ is $43,000!
Image courtesy of Mariordo - Mario Roberto DurĂ¡n Ortiz CC-BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

Now let's consider how much it would cost to keep your current car.  New tires would cost about $600.  Brakes and struts could cost over $1000.  So, it would cost about $2k to keep your current car going.  Keeping your current car would almost certainly be the least expensive option.

Are Older Cars More Likely to Break Down?

Considering reliability and the chances of breaking down on the road, I have driven some older cars with over 200,000 miles and have encountered problems while driving.  Once my car started overheating- I pulled right into a shop and they repaired a valve in the cooling system for about $100 and I was on my way.  Another time, I had a dead battery- I was able to get a jump start and make it to a car parts store to get a replacement battery.  I have had flat tires several times.  

Even Newer Cars Can Have Trouble On The Road- This New Car Was Hit From Behind.
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Driving an older car with more miles on it does increase the chance of car trouble on the road, but any car can break down.  I carry a cell phone and have AAA to provide tow truck service when needed.  Also, taking your car in for an oil change and inspection every 6 months or so will help spot problems early, reducing the chances of breaking down on the road.

Should I Buy A Newer Car to Save Money?

In some cases, I think you can save money by buying a newer car.  If you car has depreciated and requires expensive repairs, you may be better off getting rid of it.  But it sounds like your car has a lot of life left in it if you feel confident driving it.  If you are going to sell your current car, the time to do it would be before you put new brakes, struts, and tires on it... Good Luck!


Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweet Corn- It Isn't a Dollar a Dozen Any More!

Sweet Corn Price

Sweet Corn Price- How much for a dozen ears?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How Much Does Sweet Corn Cost?

I remember when I was a kid, sweet corn was a dollar per dozen ears.  Apparently, those days are long gone...

This year, I noticed that sweet corn prices were pushing above $5 per dozen, with my favorite roadside stand now charging $5.50 per dozen.  In grocery stores, the price is 50 cents per ear, which works out to $6 per dozen.

Sweet corn price- sweet corn is going for $6 per dozen in grocery stores
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Is sweet corn at this price still a good deal?  I think fresh sweet corn is hard to beat for taste, and it is a summer tradition.  But how much would you pay for sweet corn?  If sweet corn cost $10 per dozen, would you still buy it?  At some price point, more and more people would either stop buying sweet corn, or grown their own.

I have grown my own sweet corn in my garden before.  It isn't hard to grow, but it does take some space in your garden.  Each corn plant produces 2 or 3 ears, so you need about four to six corn plants to get a dozen ears.  Some of the drawbacks I encountered growing my own sweet corn were 1) the ears were quite a bit smaller than the giant ears I get at my favorite roadside stand, and 2) since I planted all my corn at the same time, it was all mature at the same time.

I think fertilizer and watering more could help me get larger ears to address item one.  If I wanted a supply of sweet corn over a longer harvest window, I could plant seeds a week apart over several weeks.  So with a bit of effort, I could grow my own sweet corn instead of buying it.  I buy sweet corn maybe four times during the summer.  So this adds up to about $22 at current prices.  I could buy a pack of sweet corn seeds for about $2 and grow my own and save $20.

Is Sweet Corn a Good Deal?

But back to my question- is $5.50 per dozen a good deal?  I should mention that a dozen ears from my farmer where I buy actually means 13 or 14 ears- he throws in a few extra.  I think this is still a great food value.  What else can you get for dinner for $5.50 that is healthy and create such a great summertime memory?

Grow your own sweet corn and save money!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Since I recently moved, I have a new chance to plan a garden next year.  Although I think buying fresh sweet corn is a good deal, growing my own sounds even better.  I'll see if I can get a couple rows of sweet corn in this spring.

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Moving Expenses: Why is Moving So Expensive?

Moving Is Expensive!

Moving is Expensive!
Moving is Expensive!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

As I prepare to sell my house and move to another house, I am spending some time thinking about moving expenses and how to minimize them.  I think of moving expenses as an investment to a certain extent- you spend time selecting a place you want to live that will appreciate in value and then you spend money to buy it and move all of your stuff there in the most efficient way possible.  If you choose well and take care of your property, the appreciation will easily cover your moving expenses.  But as with other expenses, you are better off not spending money you don't need to spend.

Moving is expensive because it requires a lot of resources.  Some moving expenses can be reduced or eliminated if you are willing to put in extra time or call in favors from your friends.  However, the chaos of moving makes efficiency difficult.

There are lots of expenses associated with moving, and most of them are hard to avoid
There are lots of expenses associated with moving, and most of them are hard to avoid
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Closing costs

When you get a mortgage, you'll need to pay closing costs.  Typical closing costs are a couple thousand dollars, depending on the size of your loan and which bank you use.  The only way to avoid closing costs is to either pay cash, or rent instead of getting a mortgage.  The appreciation of real estate value has worked in my favor, and I like to fix up and improve properties, so buying has been a good option for me, even considering closing costs.

Real Estate Agent Commission

Most real estate agents, also known as Realtors, charge 6% or 7% commission to sell a property.  This amount comes off the top, so if your property sells for $200,000 and you have a 6% commission agreement, you'll pay $12,000 in real estate commission.  Your Realtor and the buyer's Realtor will split the commission.  You can avoid real estate commissions by selling the house yourself without a real estate agent.  Selling "For Sale By Owner" often takes much longer than selling with an agent, and most people who try to sell a house themselves end up getting a real estate agent eventually.

I once tried to sell a house myself, and I doubt that I will try that again.  It takes a lot of time, and you have very little information compared to professional real estate agents.  If you price your house too high, it won't sell.  If you price it too low, you are losing money.  When you sell your own home, it is hard to screen serious buyers from people just poking around who have no chance of actually buying your house.  Professional real estate agents have lots of leads and experience to sell a house as quickly as possible for the most money.  A good real estate agent is a good value.

You can find discount real estate brokers and agents- locally we have an agent who will sell a house for $990.  But if this agent is making 10 times less per house that he sells compared with a conventional real estate agent, he would need to sell 10 times more houses to make a living.  So how much time and energy do you think he would have available to spend working to sell your house?  For a big asset like my house, I am willing to spend some money to make the most money that I can from my investment.

Movers and Moving Trucks

On my last move, I paid about $1,000 for 3 movers and a moving truck for 6 hours to move my larger items.  I used my own pick-up truck to move boxes and smaller items.  This time, I no longer have a pick-up truck, so I'll probably rent a U-Haul truck.  You can avoid the expense of movers and a moving truck if you have lots of friends you can entice to help you move and if you can borrow a pick-up truck.  Sometimes a move needs to happen on a tight schedule, and recruiting friends may not be good enough.  If you are moving some distance, it may not be practical to recruit friends to help on both ends of the move.  Sometimes movers and moving trucks are necessary expenses.

Moving Boxes and Packing Materials

When I was younger, I would use free moving boxes- I would get banana boxes from grocery stores and liquor boxes from liquor stores.  The downside of using free boxes is that it takes time to find them, and they are various sizes, so they are harder to stack efficiently.  Plus, free moving boxes may be dirty or even have insects or insect eggs in them.

I have decided to spend a little money getting new moving boxes for about $1 each.  It is hard to pay for something you can get free, but being able to stack and move boxes more efficiently is worth something.  Other moving supplies include lots of packing tape and bubble wrap.  I save the bubble wrap for protecting expensive breakable items and use free newspapers that can be found at grocery stores to wrap most of the other items.  Buying moving boxes and packing supplies is a small fraction of the large expense of moving.

Postage Stamps for Change of Address Cards

Most change of address can be handled using a cell phone.  However it seems like some change of address is best handled by mailing a change of address card.  Last time I moved I bought a few sheets of stamps for this purpose and probably will again for this move.  I found it quicker and easier to drop a card in the mail rather than working through phone menus and trying to change my address via phone.

Several moves ago, I forgot to change my address with one of my credit card companies and actually missed a few payments while my bills were going to the wrong address.  This hurt my credit rating for years.  Make sure to change your address with all of your creditors.

Checks with your New Address

For an extra dollar of two, I doubled the number of checks I ordered when I moved to my current house.  Too bad I'll need to order new checks with my new address.  This is an unavoidable expense if you use checks.  I mostly use credit cards, debit cards, and on-line bill payer to pay bills, but there are still times when a personal check is needed.

Cleaning Supplies

As I prepare my house for showings and open house events, I am using a lot of cleaning supplies such as paper towels, Febreeze, cleaning chemicals, etc.  I also find that we run the dishwasher when it is not full to avoid having dirty dishes around at a showing.  If it helps sell the house, it is worth a bit of expense and inefficiency, but it is painful to watch if you are used to running very efficiently.

You'll use lots of cleaning supplies as you show and sell your house
You'll use lots of cleaning supplies as you show and sell your house
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher


There are things to prepare your house for showings that Realtors may suggest, such as packing some things, moving some of your furniture or clutter to storage, or painting and making minor repairs or updates.  These things cost money.  This may be a good investment if it helps your house sell for maximum value, but it feels like an expense as you spend the money.  As they say, "it takes money to make money".

Inspection Reports

You'll need to pay for inspection reports for the house you are buying.  I got a home inspection, a Radon report, and a wood destroying insect inspection.  The bank may require some inspections to get a mortgage.  Generally it is a good idea to find out what you are buying so you don't get surprised later.  My inspections on the house I am buying cost around $500.

Purchases for Your New House

You will likely find minor repairs that need to be done at your new house.  You may also want to buy or make curtains or window coverings.  You may find carpets or rugs that are dirty or smell bad and decide to replace them.  You may need to pay to dispose of trash or unwanted items after you move in.  Another example- you may decide to paint that pink bedroom a different color for you son.  You might find that the dishwasher is loud and barely works anymore.  Most people spend hundreds of dollars or more on purchases after moving to a new house.

Food Expenses: Pizza

As you pack up your food and pots and pans, you are more likely to eat out as your are getting ready to move.  It is difficult to plan and cook meals as the chaos of moving increases and also in the day or two following a move.  Another expense related to food is food that gets wasted during the move.  I try to pack my refrigerated and frozen foods in coolers on ice, but not everything fits, and the food can get warm if the move takes too long.  We had a period of 2 or 3 days between the time I sold my house and the time I bought my next house on my last move.  There was no good way to avoid losing some food.  We ate or gave away as much of it as we could.

You'll spend more eating out after your food and kitchen equipment is packed up
You'll spend more eating out after your food and kitchen equipment is packed up
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Time is Money

Moving takes up a lot of your time.  You spend time signing papers at the real estate office and at the bank.  You spend time house hunting and preparing your house to sell.  You spend time away from your home during open houses and showings.  Packing and unpacking takes a lot of time.  During your move, most of your possessions will not be available to you because they are packed up or in transit.  You may not be as effective at work during your move due to distraction and having less time available, and that could even cost you money with respect to raises or bonuses.

In my case, you may have noticed that I went nearly a month without posting to my blog.  You may have thought that I landed another book deal and was busy writing my second book, but the reason for my long absence from the Internet is that I have been so busy with moving-related activities that it has cut into my blogging time.

Moving is Expensive!

There are many positive things that can come with moving.  You have a chance for a fresh start with new neighbors in a new place.  You can take some time while packing to sort through your stuff and get rid of clutter.  I found a bunch of things I no longer needed and donated items to Goodwill, sold them at consignment shopssold them on Craigslist, gave them away, and sold them on eBay.

Moving almost always creates a life-long memory.  You can move somewhere that provides an opportunity to try new things or living in a different way.  I have lived in the city, in the country, and in the suburbs and have enjoyed the advantages of living in all of these environments.

But on the negative side, moving is expensive and it is hard to avoid most of the expenses of moving.  Even with good intentions, it is hard to avoid most moving expenses.  Try to think of moving as an investment.  Spend time picking a good property that will be a great home and that will appreciate in value with time and improvements that you can make.  Moving expenses are a step on the way to make a real estate investment that can help grow your happiness and net worth.  When you are making a decision to move, be sure to factor moving expenses into your decision.

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Overcharged for a Bissell Lift-Off! How to avoid paying too much...

My New Carpet Cleaner- Bissell DeepClean Lift-Off Pet

Yesterday, I bought a new carpet cleaning machine to replace my Hoover Max Extract 60 that had stopped working.  The hand tool still worked, but the large brushes and suction intake was no longer working.  The suction had been low, and I tried taking it apart to clean it, but it was still not working very well.  Normally, I would have spent more time trying to repair it myself, buy I have my house for sale and needed to get the carpets clean for a showing.

I didn't feel too bad about moving on from the Hoover Max Extract 60- my wife picked it up for $30 on a clearance shelf at Target.  I cleaned all of the carpets in our house using the hand tool last weekend- this took a long time and didn't work very well.  When you're selling a house, having clean carpets can translate into money.  If your house is clean, you are more likely to find a buyer and get a better offer.

Hoover Max Extract 60
Hoover Max Extract 60- My Old Carpet Cleaner
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

My new carpet cleaner is a Bissell DeepClean Lift-Off Deluxe Pet Full Sized Carpet Cleaner.  I found this while picking up some moving boxes at Lowe's.  The regular price was $259.99 and Lowe's had it marked down to $229.99.  I used my smart phone to check prices and ratings at amazon.com.  The price on amazon.com was also $229.99 and the Bissell Lift-Off had a 4-star rating, so I went ahead and bought it.  The one on amazon had a $30 shipping cost, so I figured I could save the shipping cost plus get the carpet cleaner immediately instead of waiting a few days.  After I got home, I assembled the cleaner by installing the handle with 4 screws, but did not put water or soap into the machine.

Bissell DeepClean Lift-Off Pet
Bissell DeepClean Lift-Off Pet- My New Carpet Cleaner
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Overcharged- Avoid Paying Too Much

Later that day, I was reading the ads in the newspaper and came across the Kohl's ad.  It had the Bissell Lift-Off on sale for $219.99.  Of course, I wanted to save $10, but I would have to take the shampooer apart, take it back to the store, return it, and buy another machine.  For me, this was about a break-even proposition considering that about 20 miles of driving would be required.  Then I realized that I had a 20% off coupon at Kohl's.  This changed the equation- I was now looking at saving $60 instead of only saving $10.  Plus I could get $30 in Kohl's cash for purchasing the Bissell.

This article explains how discounts at Kohl's work and how to get Kohl's Cash:

I got the Bissell Lift-Off for $60 less at Kohl's, plus $30 of Kohl's Cash!
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I got out my receipt from Lowe's to confirm how much I would save if I returned the Bissell to Lowe's and bought the one at Kohl's.  I found the Lowe's did not discount the price to $229.99- they charged the original price of $259.99!  I should have checked my receipt at Lowe's, but I just assumed the price that scanned would match the price on the shelf.  Wow!  I grabbed a screwdriver and loaded the carpet cleaner and all of the packaging in my car to make the exchange.

Good Thing I Checked My Ads- Kohl's had the best price on a Bissel Lift-Off
Good Thing I Checked My Ads- Kohl's had the best price on a Bissel Lift-Off
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How I Got My Money Back

My first stop was Kohl's to see if they had any Bissell Lift-Offs in stock.  I got the last one.  It rang up to $186.55 with tax.  Plus I did get $30 in Kohl's cash.  Looks like I'll be getting some free clothes or detergent for my carpet cleaner!

Pay less for your carpet cleaner
I got $90 back by returning my Bissell carpet cleaner and buying it at a different store!
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Next stop- Lowe's.  In the parking lot, I removed the 4 screws so I could take the handle off and get everything back in the box.  I hauled it in to the returns area.  They asked for the reason for the return.  I have learned to avoid giving a specific reason, in case that is not considered a valid reason.  I said, "my wife didn't like it," and that was that.  The amount credited back to my Citi Visa card:  $274.54 including tax.  My total savings:  $87.99!

The Bissell Lift-Off did a great job on my carpet- unlike my old Hoover Max Extract 60, the Bissell uses heated water and has a more effective brush.  The carpet looks- and smells- great now.  I considered renting a carpet cleaner for $25 per use, but this could add up over the course of selling a house, plus the house we are buying will need some carpet cleaning.

Here's what I learned from this experience.
  1. It is good to check on-line prices, but you should also check sales and coupons.  I almost always have a 20% off coupon at Kohl's.
  2. Keep your item in the box and don't open it or assemble it until you have checked sales and coupons to make sure you have the deal you want.
  3. Check your receipt at the check-out to make sure your item rang up at the correct price!  I was overcharged by $30.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Free TV- Save More Than Just Money...

My First Year of Free TV

Can You Survive Without Paying For TV?
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About one year ago, I reached the end of my tolerance for paying ridiculously high satellite TV bills.  I called up my satellite TV company and asked about lower cost plans.  I was paying about $120 per month and had been a customer for about 10 years.  I wanted to know what I could do to lower my bill.  Cable TV packages have similar ridiculous bills.

Dish Network had a few suggestions to cut back channels and change my TV package, but the savings weren't enough.  I decided to drop satellite TV.  I was worried about how my family would react, but the change has been positive- not just saving money.

Can People Survive without the NFL Channel?

When I cut the cable, football season was fast approaching.  On Saturdays, I often watched college football on ESPN, ESPN2, and the Big Ten Channel.  On Sundays and Thursdays, plenty of NFL football could be found on the NFL channel.  I was worried enough that I actually put my satellite service "on pause" rather than completely cancelling it.  That way I could resume without starting a new 2 year service plan in case I just couldn't make it without satellite TV.

57 Channels and Nothing On...
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As fortune would have it, I came into a bit of extra cash and bought an indoor HD TV antenna for about $45.  This seemed like a real bargain compared with $120 per month, every month, for the rest of my life for satellite TV or cable TV.  In my area, I can get ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and several PBS stations.  It is great to be able to get local news and weather reports.  The TV stations have been broadcasting in HD for several years now- the picture I get with my indoor HDTV antenna looks great.

I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of NFL football I can watch over the air for free.  Plenty of college games too.  For the games I can't watch, I can see highlights on Sportscenter and similar sports shows.

How Did My Family React to Cutting TV?

I was surprised how little reaction there was to the decision to cut satellite TV in my house.  My wife and kids watch Netflix, and we kept Netflix, so no change there.  I though it was really interesting that no one really missed getting all of those channels.  It mainly affected me since I liked having a lot of options for watching football, but I was willing to try something new to save $1400 per year.

Some of the Hawkeye football games were on the Big Ten Network, which I could no longer watch.  I ended up listening to some of these games on the radio out in the garage.  This was actually better in some ways, since I would work on my car or work on other projects in the garage while I listened to the games.  If I had the game available on TV, I would have been sitting on the couch watching it.

Another benefit of having free TV- it takes much less time to determine that nothing is on!  With hundreds of channels, you can spend an entire evening channel surfing.  When you only have about 5 channels to check, you can quickly determine that there is nothing on and then do something else.

When we had satellite TV, we often had the TV on from 7pm until 10pm every night.  Now, the TV is on only a few nights per week, and usually only for an hour or so.  With less stuff on TV, we spend less time watching TV.

We used to keep our Xbox video game system downstairs and had our main TV upstairs.  Since we don't watch TV much anymore, we moved the Xbox upstairs.  Instead of having two living rooms, we only really use one now.  It seems like a better arrangement to have everyone gather in the same area instead of having two gathering areas in the house.

How To Survive Without Paying For TV

My experience with free TV has been good so far.  The savings in money has been significant, but savings in time has been significant as well.  It seems like my family spends more time doing things other than watching TV and looking for something to watch on TV, and I think that is a good thing.

Get Free TV with an Indoor HD TV antenna
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If you are thinking about cutting the cable and not paying for TV anymore, here are some tips:
  • Get Netflix for $8 per month- you'll have access to tons of TV shows that you can watch whenever you want on your TV or on your computer.
  • Get an indoor HDTV antenna- get free high definition TV over the air.  Watch live news, weather, sports, and network TV shows for free.  Here is the HD TV antenna that I use:  RCA ANT1650F Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna

Recommended Reading:
This article has details on selecting and installing an indoor HD TV antenna to get free TV: Cut Cable TV and Save $1200 per Year

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy