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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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!

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What To Do When the Store Won't Accept a Return

You Can't Return That!

Difficult Store Return
Some Stores Make Returns Difficult!
Image Source: Dr. Penny PIncher

Yesterday after school, my teenage son went on a shopping trip without any parental supervision to buy some clothes for an upcoming school dance.  He also picked up a pair of casual canvas shoes for $15.

I thought the dress clothes were sharp, high quality items, but I was immediately skeptical of the shoes.   They seemed cheaply constructed and I wondered how much he would really wear them.

As my son was showing me the clothes that evening and removing the tags, I suggested he keep the receipts and tags from the clothes handy in case he wanted to return anything.

After he tried on the shoes again, he realized that they were a size too small and he didn't really need them anyway.

The next morning I took the shoes back to the store to return them for him since he was at school.

It was a small store at the mall, with a single cash register and no separate area to return things.  I pulled the shoes out of a bag, and the cashier said, "Footwear is not returnable."  She gestured toward a sign that said something to this effect to reinforce her point.

At this point, many people would probably accept being out $15 and being stuck with an item that is useless to them.

"I see," I said.  "Fortunately these haven't been worn yet."

The cashier sized me up and decided that a return was in order.  After explaining that she would make an exception to policy and do the return,  she took the shoes and gave me $15.

I think returning the shoes made sense for everyone involved.  The shoes were in new condition, never worn.  The store would be able to sell them again at a profit.  I had no use for the shoes and would have tried to sell them at a consignment shop and perhaps gotten a few dollars for them which would have been a waste of time and money.

Of course this experience made me think of a few lessons I could highlight for my son:

  • Double check the size of clothes and shoes before buying
  • Also check for any defects such as stains, rips, or missing buttons
  • Hang on to receipts and tags for new clothes in case you need to return something
  • Use common sense rather than following store policies that are designed to maximize profit and convenience for the store
  • Politely explain the situation about your return and find someone who has authority to make a decision

This store return actually went relatively smoothly.  I spent a lot of time this summer working to get replacement plants from a mail order garden supply company.  Some of the plants I received were dead on arrival and I asked for replacements.  The initial response was that I needed to have the original invoice from the shipping package to get a return.  Of course, I had thrown away the packaging from the plants long ago.  It took weeks of writing back and forth to finally get replacement plants.  It would have saved everyone a lot of hassle if the company had a more reasonable return policy...

A few years ago, I bought a tree from a local store that didn't make it.  Good news:  the tree had a 1 year warranty.  Bad news: I couldn't find my receipt.  After several attempts to take the dead tree back and even working with the home office of the store to search through transaction records, the store manager finally went ahead and refunded my money even though my receipt was never found.  I walked directly to the garden department, picked out a replacement tree, and carefully filed the receipt away this time.

I think a couple additional lessons for me about returning items are:

  • Keep track of receipts and invoices, especially for items that might be returned a long time later!
  • If you have a legitimate issue with an item, don't give up on trying to return it


Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Can I Do Plumbing Myself?


Can I Do Plumbing Myself?

Let's go to the mailbag today for a question from a reader:

Do Plumbing Yourself and Save Money!
Image Courtesy of Pixabay
"Dear Dr. Penny Pincher, 

Read your article on updating older home inexpensively. Interesting and informative article. 

One thing that we need to do in our older home is to replace the bathroom sink pop up drain. Ours is old and discolored while the sink is old but in good shape. 

Is it difficult to do for someone with no plumbing experience??? Our plumber has a minimum charge which is expensive. Thank you"

Thanks for mentioning my article on cheap ways to update an older home!  As you may know, I am a staff writer at Wise Bread and my articles are syndicated on sites including time.com, Kiplinger, Christian Science Monitor, Money Magazine, and other top sites around the nets.  You can read the article 19 Frugal (And Easy) Ways To Upgrade An Old Home at Wise Bread.

In this article, I mentioned a couple plumbing-related upgrades, including replacing a bathroom sink and replacing a kitchen sink.  These projects involved working with both plumbing supply lines and the drain lines too.  Actually, the kitchen sink was an even bigger project than I indicated in the article.  We tore out the cabinets and cut off the copper supply pipes about a foot off the floor and rebuilt everything from there.

I agree that plumbers are expensive.  I have been billed around $75 to $100 per hour for plumbing.  Sometimes plumbing companies send more than one plumber, and you get billed even more for that.  That is why I started figuring out how to do plumbing myself years ago.

The biggest problem with doing your own plumbing is leaks.  I think everyone's first few plumbing projects are likely to leak.  A leaky drain is less of a problem since it only leaks when you turn on the water.  A leaky supply is much worse since that can leak all the time.  The damage can range from water stains up to serious water damage.

The key to doing your own plumbing is to check for leaks and keep re-doing it until it doesn't leak anymore.  If you can't get it to stop leaking yourself, you'll need to call a plumber.  If you don't want to mess around with checking for leaks and re-doing things you might be better off just calling a plumber right off the bat.

But with practice and experience, your plumbing work is less likely to leak.  And if it does leak, it gets easier to figure out why and solve the problem.

The next biggest problem with doing your own plumbing is lots of trips back and forth to the store to try to find the right parts.  There are so many sizes and materials that it sometimes takes me a few tries to get the right parts that fit together correctly.  Often, it is hard to know exactly what parts you need until after you have taken apart what you are working on.

Even with all of the hassle of doing plumbing yourself, you can save a lot of money if you are patient and careful to do the job right.  I like to do my own plumbing whenever I can.

Changing a pop-up drain should be a pretty simple project.  This only involves the drain, so if it doesn't work out, you can avoid any leaks or damage simply by waiting to use that sink until everything is working right.

I would start by reading some articles about how to replace a pop-up drain.  I have an old Bob Vila home improvement book that I like to read before starting a new project.  You can also find articles like this one on the interenet:  How to Replace a Pop-up Drain.

It looks like you need to replace a bit of the drain assembly below the sink as well as the pop-up fixture that you can see from above the sink.  I would carefully disassemble the parts and then take the parts you removed into the home improvement shop to find suitable replacement parts.  If it doesn't work out for some reason, keep the receipt and you'll be able to get your money back or get different parts.

Best of luck!

Dr. Penny Pincher



Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Are You Headed For A Debt Crisis?

Guest Post

Today I am excited to introduce Gary Foreman who is the creator of The Dollar Stretcher.com.  The Dollar Stretcher is one of top personal finance sites on the internet in terms of traffic and prestige and has been running since 1996, which is basically forever in internet years!  Thanks to Gary for providing this wisdom on avoiding a debt crisis and finding the way out of debt.

I am proud to have one of the top personal finance publishers on the internet write a guest post for my blog.

Without further ado, here's Gary:


“I don't really have a debt problem. Right?”

Do You Have A Debt Problem?
Do You Have A Debt Problem?
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/photos/download/frog-1367440_1920.jpg

We all know the story about the frog and boiling water. If you turn up the heat gradually the frog won't pay attention and will eventually be boiled. The same thing is true of debt. You'd never borrow $10,000 with nothing to show for it. But adding $100 or so to your credit card balance each month doesn't seem like a problem. Until the water starts to boil...

So how can you tell if like the frog, you debt is slowly killing you? We've come up with a list of indicators that it's time to be concerned about your debt. Review the list below and see if any of these apply to you:

If your credit card balance is over $10,000 and rising
If, after paying your bills, you don't have enough for your day-to-day living expenses (i.e. food, gas, etc)
If you've been late paying your rent or mortgage more than once in the past 12 months
If you're afraid to total up all your debts because you don't want to know how much you owe
If you've been hiding some debts from your mate
If the amount you owe on credit cards and personal loans is increasing each month
If you use a cash advance on one card to make a minimum payment on another
If the interest rate on your credit card increases to the upper teens or higher
If you have to choose which bill you'll pay late this month
If your credit card balance is more than 50% of your credit limit
If you've been rejected lately when you applied for a new credit card or personal loan
If you've paid overdraft fees twice in the last 3 months
If your credit score has dropped more than 25 points in the last 6 months
If the total that you pay in credit card minimum payments, student and personal loans totals more than 10% of your take home pay
If your mortgage is more than 30% of your take home pay
If car payments are taking up more than 15% of your take home pay
If you find that you don't have any money left at the end of the month to add to an emergency fund or retirement account

The Price You Pay for Being In Debt

Before you decide to do something about debt, you need to recognize what that debt is costing you. We've listed a few of the prices you pay for being in debt.

Higher interest rate for credit cards and personal loans
Some loans are not available to you
Higher auto insurance rates
Money spent on interest cannot be used for other things
Higher rate for home mortgage or home equity line
Lower credit score
You can't control how much you spend for past purchases each month

Is It Time to Take Action?

If you checked any of the problem indicators or find that you've suffered any of the costs of being in debt you have a choice to make.  You can continue to pay an ever increasing price for your debt and hope that eventually you don't lose everything in bankruptcy. Or you can take action to free yourself from it.  You can improve your penny pincher skills, and prioritize your bills. The choice is yours.


About the Author:
The Dollar Stretcher has been helping people "live better...for less" since 1996. Their free Dollar Stretcher Debt Course will introduce you to the tools you need to get out of debt. Sign up for their free weekly newsletter “Surviving Tough Times”. Each issue will show you ways to save money that can be used to reduce your debt burden. You'll also find at least one article specifically related to getting out of debt.


Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My First Haircut in 8 Years... Why?

My First Haircut in 8 Years!


My first haircut in 8 years
My First Haircut in 8 Years!
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/en/hairdresser-haircut-kid-659145/

For most people, I don't think getting a haircut is very exciting, but for me it was a big deal.  Today I had my first haircut in 8 years!

I have been cutting my hair at home to save money since the big economic downturn in 2008.  I needed to find some expenses to cut and haircuts for me was one of the easy things to give up.  Actually, there are a number of advantages to cutting your own hair at home.  Of course there is the money savings.  I bought a hair buzzer kit for about $30 to get basically unlimited haircuts.  Cutting my hair at home also saves time.  I don't need to drive to the barber shop and wait for my turn.  I probably save at least a half hour in time every haircut at home.

So with all of these advantage of cutting my own hair at home, why did I decide to go to a barber and pay $12 plus a tip to get a professional haircut for the first time in 8 years?  The short answer- I was tricked.

How, you may ask, can you get tricked into getting a haircut?  This scenario makes a lot more sense if you know my son.  I had the day off and he came with me to run some errands on Main Street in our small town.  We stopped by the grocery store and also stopped by a small business to pay a bill.  On our way out, my son said, "let's go this way," and started leading me down the street in the direction of the hardware store.  This made sense since my son is always building something and often needs parts for various science experiments and projects.

As we neared the barber shop, he suddenly announced, "We are going to do something about that hair!" and led me inside.

I have to admit my hair did need something done about it.  I had not used my buzzers for the past few months because I liked having it a bit longer than the #8 buzzer guard that cuts to 1 inch length.  I have not mastered scissor skills, so if I cut my hair at home with the buzzers, it would have to be 1 inch or shorter.

As soon as we got into the barber shop, I realized that I had a way out.  I only had $2 with me, and I knew haircuts cost a lot more than that.  This small shop does not take credit cards.  I explained this to my son, who immediately hatched a plan to go home to get some money.  After we got home, my other son joined the cause and came with me to the barber shop too in order to help ensure that I actually got a haircut.

I had short buzzers, #2 I think, on the back and sides, but left the top longer.  It is a sharp looking haircut.  A bit of trivia for you on hair buzzer guards:  the guard number is in 1/8 inches.  So a #2 guard is 1/4 inch.

It was a nice treat to get a fancy haircut.  I don't know yet if I will pay for a haircut again soon or not though.  I could probably use my buzzers at home on the back and sides for a few months and maybe go in and let a professional handle the scissor work a few times a year.  Or I could go back to the #8 all over for free with my buzzers at home.  Sometimes free is hard to beat...


Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Monday, May 30, 2016

Make a Chromebook With Your Android Phone for $20

Making A Chromebook

I couldn't handle spending $150 for a Chromebook, so I made one using my Android phone for $20 instead...

I Made A Chromebook for $20
I Made A Chromebook for $20
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I was recently on the road and had an article I needed to write to meet a deadline.  I did not take a computer with me on the trip- I planned to use a computer at the business center of the hotel to type my article.  Unfortunately, the office center was closed due to flooding.

I considered typing the article on my cell phone using the on-screen keyboard.  This would have been possible, but would have been frustrating and would have taken hours to get done.  I needed a better way to type my article.

I walked to a nearby Best Buy and checked out cheap computer options.  I could get a Chromebook or a cheap Windows 10 computer for about $150.  I quickly decided that spending $150 was more than I could handle.

Studying these netbooks did give me an idea, though.  I realized that these inexpensive computers have solid state drives and small screens.  I realized that this was similar to the capability of my Android cell phone that I had with me, except unlike my cell phone the cheap laptops had a keyboard.

I checked out Bluetooth keyboards and found a nice solution.  With a $20 Bluetooth keyboard, I could essentially make a Chromebook that would allow me to type up my article just as fast as I could type it on a computer.  With my homemade Chromebook, I could work with Google Docs and do basically anything I could with a real Chromebook.

The Bluetooth keyboard can also be used with a tablet computer, so I could have a bigger screen by using a cheap Android tablet computer.

Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard I Used To Turn My Android Phone into a Chromebook
Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard I Used To Turn My Android Phone into a Chromebook
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Making a Chromebook using my Android phone and a wireless keyboard was a great solution when I needed a computer and didn't want to spend much money.  The screen size using my cell phone was pretty small, but I made it work.  An Android tablet computer with Bluetooth would make a better homemade Chromebook.


Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Effective Ant Control for Cheap

How Ant Poison Works

Ant Control: Liquid Ant Poison and Plastic Ant Bait Station
Ant Control: Liquid Ant Poison (left) and Plastic Ant Bait Station (right)
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Last year we had some small ants in the kitchen.  I put out a few plastic bait traps that I got at the grocery store for about $5, and the ants were gone after a few days and I didn't see any ants for a whole year.  You might wonder why I would pay $5 for some fancy ant bait traps when I could simply smash the ants for free.

Killing individual ants doesn't really solve the problem.  More ants will come to take the place of the ants you kill.  The same thing happens when you spray ants with bug spray.  It may kill a few, but the ant colony continues to produce more and more ants, and eventually some of those ants find their way to you.

You can use bug spray to make a perimeter, spraying it around your house to make a barrier to keep bugs out.  I have had some success with this, but ant trails can go places that are difficult to spray.  Plus the spray barrier breaks down after a few months and ants will start coming in again.

The best way to control ants is to take out the entire colony with a poison bait.  Ant bait stations use this approach, typically containing bait in granular form inside the plastic housing.  Worker ants take the poison bait back to the colony where it is fed to the larva and takes out the next generation of ants.

One of the nice things about using bait to take out ants is that you don't need to find the colony or even know where the ants are coming in.  The ants do the work of finding your poison bait and taking it back to the colony.

I don't like the idea of killing ants- I think they are neat little animals that have a social order and work very hard.  But I can't let ants take over my kitchen.

My Ant Problem This Year

This year, the little kitchen ants were back.  I put out some new plastic bait traps but they weren't working.  My wife noticed that the ants seemed to be ignoring the ant traps, walking right around them without bothering to climb up and explore them to find the bait inside.

The plastic ant traps are designed look decorative and have a flower pattern stamped into them.  It is nice that they try to make the ant traps look fancy, but it is still pretty obvious that they are ant traps.

Plastic Ant Bait Station
Plastic Ant Bait Station
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
I decided to go with an even cheaper ant control solution- Terro.  This is a sticky liquid bait, sort of the consistency of honey that you put on small pieces of cardboard for the ants to find.  I bought a small bottle of Terro for about $2.59.

Terro Liquid Ant Bait
Terro Liquid Ant Bait
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Ants Eating Liquid Ant Poison
Ants Eating Liquid Ant Poison
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
The little ants really like the Terro!  Within a couple hours, there were at least a dozen ants lined up around the drop of poison sucking it up- in the photo above, the ants are eating the bait on the card like crazy.  The worker ants take the poison back to the ant colony, where it starts acting and kills the entire colony.

As I said, don't like the idea of killing ants, but I can't really put up with ants in my kitchen.  Within a few hours of putting out the Terro bait, there are very few ants still wandering around.  I'll leave the bait out for at least a few days to make sure my ant problem is solved for this year.

It looks like I'm going to get away with not calling an exterminator, which would cost WAY more than $2.59.

Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy