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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!

Dr. Penny Pincher
 Dr. Penny Pincher 
Do you wish you had more money?  The easiest way to get more money is to spend less!

If you are looking for easy ways to spend less money, you are in the right place!  Penny Pincher Journal is a blog loaded with FREE articles and advice to help you spend less money and enjoy life more.  You can even get a free eBook here with 101 tips to help you spend less money.

Take a look around this site and get free money-saving advice and tips from Dr. Penny Pincher.  Stop back soon- new articles and blog posts are added frequently.

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6 Ways to Save Real Money on Coffee

Beyond the Latte Factor... 6 Ways to Save Real Money on Coffee

6 Ways to Save Money on Coffee
6 Ways to Save Money on Coffee

You have probably heard of the latte factor- this is an illustration of the concept that a small amount of savings or investment can add up over time.  A common example is investing or saving $3 dollars every day instead of buying a latte, thus the term "latte factor".

I think the latte factor is a powerful concept, and I think there are several ways you can save money on coffee and use that money to pay off debt and build your wealth over time.

1. Order simple coffee instead of fancy coffee drinks.  Save the lattes for a treat instead of every day.  This literally removes the latte factor from your budget, saving about $1.50 per day which adds up to over $500 per year.  Plus you can leave a lot of extra calories and fat out of your coffee.  

The coffee in the photo above cost me $3.14 at Starbucks.  Why did Dr. Penny Pincher buy a $3 coffee at Starbucks?  Here's the story behind this purchase...

2. Make great coffee at home.  You can make great coffee at home from fresh ground whole coffee beans for 60 cents per 16 oz. mug.  Coffee at a coffee shop costs about $2 per cup, so you can save about $500 per year by making your own coffee at home instead of buying it at a coffee shop.  If you drink two cups of coffee per day, this adds up to $1,000 per year in savings.

3. Cut back to one cup of coffee per day.  I used to drink two cups of coffee per day at a coffee shop.  Ouch!  Since then, I have started making coffee at home, and I have cut back to one cup of coffee per day.  

If you are drinking two cups of coffee every day and cut back to one, you'll save over $700 per year if you get coffee at a shop or over $200 per year if you make your coffee at home.  

When I cut back to one cup per day, I gradually reduced the amount of caffeine I got by mixing decaf coffee beans with my regular beans.  The key is to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption over a period of time to avoid caffeine headaches.  Here are details on how to painlessly cut back on how much coffee you drink.

4. Find cheaper coffee places.  McDonald's has coffee for $1.39.  This doesn't sound that much cheaper than $2 or more for coffee at Starbucks, but this adds up to a savings of around $150 per year if you drink coffee every day.

5. Go with a smaller size.  Generally, you can order small, medium, and large coffee.  People tend to order the largest size since it is the best value- for only 50 cents more, you can get nearly twice as much coffee.  But if you can train yourself to order the smallest size, you can save over $180 per year.

6. Don't buy scones, muffins, and other stuff at the coffee shop.  Coffee is expensive at coffee shop, but the snacks are even more expensive.  Just stick with coffee and save hundreds each year.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, November 28, 2015

How I Avoid Late Fees

Get Out of Late Fees!

No More Late Fees!
No More Late Fees!

So you have been hit by a late fee- what can you do to avoid paying it?  Surprisingly, you may be able to get out of a late fee with one phone call and about 5 minutes of work.

Back when I had satellite TV, my credit card I was using for autopay expired and I got hit with a $25 late fee.  I was able to avoid this late fee by calling in and simply asking for it to be removed.

Yes, it really can be as simple as just calling and asking for your late fee to be removed.  I was also able to call my credit card company and have a late fee removed just by asking.  The representative said that they will waive the first late fee you get if you call in and ask.  

You may feel that if your payment is received late that you did something wrong and deserve to pay a penalty.  I don't see it that way.  The cost of a delay of a few days in receiving a payment is almost too small to measure.  Late fees are pure profit for the companies that charge them, and I am happy to spend a bit of effort to avoid paying extra. 

Another strategy I have used to get out of late fees is to simply not pay the late fee.  My bank sends my bill for my safe deposit box late every year, and it has a $10 late fee added by the time I receive it.  I send in a payment only for the safe deposit box and leave off the late fee.  I sometimes add a short note that I received the bill after the deadline.  This has worked every time so far.

Sometimes you can ignore late fees and they will go away, but this strategy does not always work...

My Late Fee Battle With the Utility Company

Before I signed up for autopay a few years ago, the utility company once received my electric bill payment one day late and I was charged a $10 late fee on my next bill.  I though this was ridiculous.  The utility company had to wait one day for my $100 payment, so the $10 late fee on $100 for one day late is equivalent to paying 3650% annual interest rate to the utility company.

I thought this late fee was crazy and I simply did not pay it.  Every month, I payed for all of the electricity I used, but did not pay the $10 late fee.  About 9 months later, I got a call from the manager at the utility company.  I explained that I was not paying the late fee and that is why I had an unpaid balance of $10 every month.  I asked if the late fee could be removed  The manager explained that the entire balance must be paid.  

I continued paying only for the electricity and not the $10 late fee for a few more months, and then one day I found a pink letter taped to my front door.  It was a disconnect notice.  If I didn't pay my bill in full within 48 hours, my electricity would be disconnected and I would have to pay $150 to get it connected again after I payed my bill.

I gave up and decided to pay my late fee.  What else could I do?  In retrospect, I should have called the utility company right away to request having the late fee removed.  If talking on the phone didn't work, writing a letter would be my next step.  I would have had a better chance to have the late fee removed from my bill if I had contacted the billing party right away.

Dealing with a utility company is sort of a unique situation, because I had no options to cancel service or switch to a different utility company.  I had no leverage at all, so the utility company had no motivation to consider waiving the late fee.  Most companies you deal with on late fees will be more likely to be persuaded to remove the late fee if you request it.

How To Avoid Late Fees

Back in the bad old days, I paid my share of late fees.  I would sometimes lose track of my bills and end up paying a few days late.  Paying a bill late can result in a late fee of $40 or more, depending on the bill.  In the days before electronic bill payment options were available, I remember once paying nearly $20 to overnight a check to avoid a $35 late fee.

Of course, you can avoid late fees simply by paying bills on time.  I have put many of my bills on automatic payment, and I use electronic bill paying to pay my other bills, often the same day I receive my bill in the mail.  

When an occasional late fee mishap occurs, I have been able to avoid paying the late fee using the tactics I have described in this article. 

Here is a summary of tips on how to avoid paying late fees:
  • Use autopay to guarantee on-time payment and no late fees
  • Use electronic bill payer service from your bank to pay your non-autopay bills as they come in
  • If you do get a late fee, object right away and ask that the late fee be removed from your bill.  You can sometimes have a late fee removed just by asking.  It is worth a try!
  • If requesting a late fee be removed by phone doesn't work, try writing a letter.  The company may decide it is better to remove the late fee than deal with complaints and risk you moving on to a competitor.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Would You Wear Shoes With Duct Tape?

Why I Wear Shoes with Duct Tape

The other day my wife wanted me to wait in the car while she went in the store.  "Is it the shoes, or just me in general?" I asked.  After some consideration, she selected "the shoes" as the reason she wanted me to wait in the car...

Would You Wear These Shoes With Duct Tape?
Would You Wear These Shoes With Duct Tape?

When my shoes were dirty and foul smelling this spring, I gave them a bath and kept right on wearing them.

When my shoes got holes in them and my socks started getting dirty through the holes, I took action.  With a few cents worth of duct tape and a moment of my time, I may be able to get another year of use out of my tennis shoes.  Shoes with duct tape may not be the coolest fashion statement, but they work.

You may wonder why I patch up my old shoes with duct tape instead of buying a new pair.  The answer is simple: money.  I think spending money on a new pair of shoes when I have bills to pay is a terrible idea.  I would rather hang on to a little money for myself instead of paying $50 for a new pair of shoes.  There are so many things I have to spend money on, and new shoes is not one of them- as long as I have duct tape!

Wearing shoes with duct tape is not for everyone.  Most people would prefer to cut back on things that are less visible to others such as food or entertainment expenses.  Unlike most people I am ready, willing, and able to cut back on all of these expenses.

How to Extend the Life of Your Shoes with Duct Tape

Extend the Life of Your Shoes with Duct Tape
Extend the Life of Your Shoes with Duct Tape

Here are some tips from my experience using duct tape to stretch the life of tennis shoes:

The key to using duct tape successfully on shoes is NOT to wrap the tape around the bottom of the sole of the shoe.  This makes the bottom of the shoes slippery.  I learned this the hard way on a previous shoe repair project when I nearly slipped and fell down while mowing.

Duct tape does not stick very well to the mesh material of tennis shoes, so I try to use the hard material along the edge of the sole as a place to get some good adhesion.  I also try to use fairly long pieces of duct tape and wrap it around so that it sticks to itself.

Another tip to make your shoes last longer with duct tape- make sure the shoes are really dry when applying the duct tape.  Duct tape will not stick very well if the shoes are damp or dirty.  It works best to apply the duct tape at warmer temperature, this seems to make the adhesive work better.

You might not be able to bring yourself to wear worn out shoes repaired with duct tape.  That's OK.  There are tons of other ways to save money instead.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rent-to-Own Ripoff: Undercover Investigation

Investigating Rent-to-Own Store Prices

Disguise for Undercover Investigation of Rent-to-Own Prices

As a staff writer for Wise Bread, I was recently assigned to investigate rent-to-own stores.  Are Rent-to-Own stores a ripoff?

Following is a slightly fictionalized account of this undercover investigation.

"Great to see you, Dr. Penny Pincher," said my editor as I walked into his office.  He was seated behind a large mahogany desk with only a desk lamp and a mechanical typewriter on its vast surface.

"Likewise," I said cheerfully, removing my hat.  I hung it on the coat rack and closed the door.  I enjoyed coming to my editor's office because that meant a new article assignment, and that meant money.

"I think people are being ripped off at rent-to-own stores, but I can't prove it," he said.  I always appreciate how my editor gets right to the point.  He manages a lot of writers and has learned to be efficient.

"Interesting topic," I said as I sat down across the desk from him.   "But I have never bought anything at a rent-to-own store."

"We're going to send you undercover," he said.

"But undercover investigations can be risky," I objected.  "Maybe we should send in a private detective instead."

"I thought about that, but we need you.  This is going to require math," he said.

"I see," I said.  "But I still think it could be risky."

My editor opened his top desk drawer and pulled out a fat envelope with "rent-to-own ripoff" typed on it.  The envelope made a deep thump when he dropped it on his desk in front of me.  From its thickness and the sound it made, I couldn't tell if it contained more cash than usual or not.

After a second or so of deliberation, I scooped up the envelope and slid it into the inside pocket of my sport coat as I stood up.  "I'm on it," I said and started toward the coat rack to get my hat.

"Wait," said my editor.  "You can't go undercover looking like that.  They'll recognize you as Dr. Penny Pincher.  You'll need a disguise so you can see how they really operate."

"Roger that," I said as I put my hat on and headed out.

I realized my editor was right.  If I went into the rent-to-own store and they recognized me as Dr. Penny Pincher, they could change their deals so that they would look better in my article.

Dr. Penny Pincher- Before Disguise
I got off the city bus at a department store on my way to the rent-to-own store and picked up a new hat for $3 on the clearance rack.  My disguise was complete, and I was ready to begin my undercover investigation...

Dr. Penny Pincher- In Disguise for Undercover Investigation
One of the shocking things I learned is that buying a TV at the rent-to-own store would have resulted in paying an annual interest rate of over 140%!

I will post a link here to my article on Wise Bread when it is published in a few days so you can learn how much it really costs to buy something at a rent-to-own store.

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Used EVO CX Exercise Bike Review

Used EVO CX Exercise Bike Review

Used EVO CX Exercise Bike
Used EVO CX Exercise Bike

I am always looking out for cheap used exercise equipment that I can use to stay in shape.  I have been looking for an exercise bike for a year or so since my old 20 year old Schwinn Airdyne broke.  I wanted something much more sturdy and capable of providing a quick, intense workout.

Last week, I found what I was looking for- and more- at the 2nd Wind used exercise equipment store.

The store obtained some used professional grade exercise bikes from a fitness center and was offering them at a substantial discount.  The EVO CX can be ridden like a standard exercise bike, but it has a neat trick.  It has a sway mechanism that allows you to stand up and work your core.  This simulates the motion of standing up and riding a bike up a steep hill.  What a workout!  I feel like I could leap over a small building after doing this a few times...

This sturdy piece of gear is just what I needed.  It is a heavy item, I would guess it weighs around 100 pounds.  I had my teenage son help carry it to my exercise room upstairs.  The base does have wheels to make it easy to position in your workout room.

The EVO CX is quickly and easily adjustable since it is designed for heavy use by people of different shapes and sizes in a fitness club.  It has a nice handle bar assembly that holds 2 water bottles plus your cell phone.  The hand rest allows a lot of different hand and arm positions while riding.

This is a simple "spinner" exercise bike.  You don't need to plug it in, and it does not have automatic exercise programs.  There is a red resistance knob that you can turn to increase or decrease the resistance.  Pushing the button stops the pedals from spinning when you are ready to stop.

 EVO CX Professional Grade Exercise Bike
EVO CX Professional Grade Exercise Bike

This bike includes a built-in computer to track your time, distance, and heart rate, although I did not get the wireless heart rate strap with my used model.

Really, this is two exercise machines in one.  You can ride this like a standard exercise bike, or you can set the switch to allow sway and stand up.  The exercise you get by standing up and swaying is more like running or sprinting.  I am in pretty good shape from riding my real bike up hills all summer, but this exercise bike is able to challenge me with a good workout that takes only a few minutes.

If you are looking for a really solid exercise bike to add a piece to your workout, check out the EVO CX.

These are pretty expensive new, check out used EVO CX on eBay:

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Monday, October 12, 2015

Straw Bale Garden Harvest

Harvesting Vegetables from My Straw Bale Garden

One Day's Harvest From My Straw Bale Garden
 One Day's Harvest From My Straw Bale Garden 

I have started to write this "Straw Bale Garden Harvest" post a couple times now, but the garden just keeps on going.  We had a beefsteak tomato tonight with dinner and still get great cherry tomatoes every day.  Even thought the garden is still producing, I will go ahead and summarize the harvest.

If you want to learn all about straw bale gardens, you can learn everything from planning through harvest:


Watermelon from Straw Bale Garden
Watermelon from Straw Bale Garden

Last week, I had one of the best watermelons I have ever had.  Yes, I grew it in a straw bale!  Of all the things I planted in straw bales, I was most skeptical of the chances of growing good watermelons.  I usually have a hard time growing good watermelons in a regular garden, and thought it would be even harder planting a watermelon in a straw bale.  I don't know if it was the weather, or the soaker hose that I used to
provide regular watering, but the watermelon did well and we got 3 big ones.


Cantaloupe from Straw Bale Garden
Cantaloupe from Straw Bale Garden

The cantaloupes produced small fruit, and I am waiting a bit longer to try one.  Since they are small, I hope they will grow a bit more.

String Beans

String Beans from Straw Bale Garden
String Beans from Straw Bale Garden

We had string beans pretty much all summer long.  Having the beans raised up on top of straw bales made them easy to harvest.


We planted some beefsteak tomatoes that were started from seed, but they just didn't do very well.  From a single growing season, I can't tell if they just didn't do well in the straw bales, or if the weather in general just didn't work very well.  We got a few tomatoes, but far less than we hoped.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes from Straw Bale Garden
Cherry Tomatoes from Straw Bale Garden

I would say the cherry tomatoes were our best crop.  They started producing and just wouldn't stop.  I even had plenty of extra cherry tomatoes to share at work.


The broccoli grew very well and produced a lot of broccoli, but I didn't eat much of it.  We had tons of white cabbage butterflies and so we had lots of worms in the broccoli.  I could have sprayed it, but I didn't want to mess around with chemicals.  The butterflies got it this year.


Same story with the cauliflower- it grew well, but there were a lot of worms.  The problem with pests had nothing to do with the straw bales, we just have a lot of butterflies around.  Next year, I might try putting tents over the cauliflower and broccoli to keep the butterflies off, or maybe use some Sevin garden dust to keep the pests down.

Lettuce and Spinach

The lettuce and spinach grew very well in the straw bales, we planted both of these as seeds right in the bales and covered the seeds with a bit of soil.  I almost forgot about these crops- we finished harvesting these in early spring.  We had fresh salad a number of times.

Jalapeno Peppers

Jalapeno Peppers from Straw Bale Garden
Jalapeno Peppers from Straw Bale Garden

We got lots of jalapeno peppers and they were really, really spicy!

Bell Peppers

We harvested 8 or 10 peppers, which was OK for the small number of pepper plants we put out.  The peppers were on the small side, but this may have been due to the variety of pepper.


I would say onions were the only crop that failed.  The onions didn't grow very will in straw bales.  I planted about 30 onions from onion sets and we didn't get any at all.  I think I did not water them enough.  As I have mentioned, it takes regular watering to have success with a straw bale garden since the straw bales don't seem to hold water as well as the ground.


The potato plants grew very well in straw bales, and I look forward to a very easy harvest in a few weeks.  I'll simply pull the straw bale apart and scoop up the potatoes- this should be much easier than digging into the ground looking for the potatoes.  I like to harvest potatoes just before Thanksgiving and will probably use them in Thanksgiving dinner.


I almost forgot about the cucumbers since we pulled the plants last week.  They produced tons on cucumbers all summer long.

My Straw Bale Garden at Harvest
My Straw Bale Garden at Harvest
Thanks for following the straw bale garden this year!  Look for more gardening adventures next spring...

Copyright © 2015 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy