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Monday, October 24, 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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Cheap Computer Options: Laptop vs. Tablet vs. 2-in-1 vs. Chromebook

What To Do About A Slow Computer

Here I am waiting for the screen to update on my ancient computer...

Skeleton using a slow computer
My Computer is So Slow...
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

My first dilemma was figuring out how to spell "dilemma"...

But the real dilemma I am facing is what to do about my aging laptop computer.  I bought it in 2008, or maybe 2007.  It was so long ago that I don't remember.  It sports an Intel Centrino processor and runs Windows Vista.  I don't think runs is the right word, it is limping Windows Vista.  I have kept it going for so long by keeping the hard disk optimized, cleaning up the Windows registry, sweeping for malware, and keeping my anti-virus software up-to-date.

Recently I started getting warnings from my Chrome browser that Windows Vista is no longer supported and Chrome will no longer be updated.  This means that any newly discovered security vulnerabilities will not be fixed.

Even before this news about Vista no longer being supported, I was thinking about getting a different computer.  It takes almost forever to scroll down a page.  I sometimes get out my phone and read articles while waiting for the browser page on my laptop to scroll down.  I replaced the battery about 5 years ago, but this battery is now down to about 5 minutes of capacity after unplugging.

I mentioned that I look at web pages on my Android phone because it is a lot faster than my computer.  I even bought a $20 Bluetooth keyboard so I could use my phone as a sort of home-made Chromebook.  I have written several blog posts and even one of my articles on Wise Bread using my phone.  I like the portability and long battery life of my phone, but the screen is quite small.

Here are some options I am considering to solve my computer dilemma:

Option 1: Do nothing.  Sometimes not expending time and effort is the best option.  I have gotten this far with my old computer, why change now?  This option would cost nothing, but I would be left trudging along with a very old computer (see photo above).

Option 2: Switch to my phone.  I mentioned that my $20 Bluetooth keyboard with my Android phone works pretty well, except for the small screen.  I could just stop using my computer and use my phone/keyboard combo instead.  This is another zero cost option since I already have the keyboard.  But the screen on my phone is so small that I think my productivity would take a hit.

Details about how I made a "Chromebook" for $20.

Option 3: Get a Chromebook.  A Chromebook is a laptop that runs Android operating system.  It is basically like a tablet with a permanent keyboard.  Chromebooks have a small solid state memory rather than a spinning hard drive.  This makes Chromebooks better able to survive being dropped, but the storage capacity is much less than with a hard drive. The cost is under $200.

Chromebooks are also known as "netbooks" because they use cloud storage and apps running from the Internet in a Chrome browser window rather than having everything installed locally.  If you are interested in basic e-mail and web surfing, this may be the lowest cost option.

Option 4: Get an Android tablet.  For around $150, I could get a 10 inch tablet that would be a lot bigger than the screen on my phone.  I could use my existing Bluetooth keyboard with the new tablet.  My biggest concern with this option is that the relatively low memory and processing capability of an inexpensive tablet would quickly become obsolete.  My very cheap 7 inch Android tablet that I bought a few years ago ended up hanging on the wall of my garage running a clock app because it was too slow for much else.  It makes a nice clock, though...

Android Tablet Wall Clock
My Android Tablet Wall Clock
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Option 5: Get a 2-in-1.  What's a 2-in-1?  This is a relatively new computer form factor that is essentially a laptop computer with a touch screen that allow it to function as a tablet computer too.  You can use it like a laptop, or you can flip the screen completely flat against the back of the keyboard and use it like a thick tablet.  Some models have detachable keyboards- Microsoft Surface is one such model.

Many of these 2-in-1 machines have powerful processors, abundant RAM, and run Windows 10.  I like the idea of being able to run the same types of software that I can run on my laptop now, but the price tag runs $500 to over $1,000 depending on the processor, memory, and screen quality.  The surface has a stylus so you can write on the screen which is cool, but I am not sure how much I would really use that feature.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Option 6: Get a newer Windows laptop.  I could skip the touch screen and just get a simple Windows 10 laptop with plenty of memory and processing power for what I do for around $500.

So what is the best option to replace an outdated computer?

I haven't made up my mind about my computer dilemma yet.  As I was typing this on my old laptop, I wanted to open up one of my articles to find a picture, but gave up after 5 minutes of waiting for the screen to load.  Option 1 isn't looking good...

Since I do make income blogging with my computer, I wouldn't feel too bad about spending a little money to boost productivity.  Stay tuned to find out how I resolve my computer dilemma!

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Cheap Bike... Your Ticket To Great Adventure

Cheapcycle (Cheap Bicycle): Biking For Almost Free

Break Away with a Cheap Bike
Break Away with a Cheap Bike
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The other day, I had the day off from work with no particular plans.  I ended up going for a 4 hour bike ride along the lake near my house.  This was a really fun way to spend an afternoon, plus it was almost free!

My bike is a 1972 Schwinn that my father gave me.  I am sure someone paid for it somewhere along the line, but I was happy to get it for free!  I did spend about $25 to outfit it with off-road tires for riding on trails along the lake.  I added an LED headlight/tail light for $15, and I ride with my $15 bike helmet.

My son gave my some biking gloves for my birthday last year which are great for long rides.  I have some lightweight shoes that I wear for cycling- I got these for $25 for my son about 4 years ago, but I ended up wearing them myself.  Now that the shoes are wearing out I try to save them mostly for bike riding.  

I have a nice Camelbak water bottle that the team at Wise Bread gave me as a gift one time.  I paid $8 for a fanny pack to carry my keys and cell phone while I ride.  Me wearing a fanny pack looks as ridiculous as it sounds, but things tend to fall out of my shorts pockets while I ride and hike...

As you can see, I have some pretty nice biking gear for almost free that allows me to go on virtually unlimited adventures.

Even if you aren't lucky enough to have someone give you a classic bike, you can find good bikes for cheap or even free.  I bought a 1983 Schwinn Caliente that I found for sale on someone's front porch.  I wanted a cheap bike to keep at work so I could go for a ride at lunch time.  The asking price for the bike was $35, but I bargained the price down to $28 since this was how much I had in my wallet.  After riding the bike for several years, I sold it for $35.

Check out cycling as a cheap hobby and good way to get exercise.

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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why You Should Use Credit Cards...

Is Using Credit Cards a Good Idea?

Yes, if you do it right...

Why using credit cards is a good idea
Why Using Credit Cards Is a Good Idea

One of the most controversial topics I have covered on my blog or in my books about saving money is credit cards.  Apparently suggesting that people use credit cards seems like bad financial advice!

I agree that using credit cards to buy things you can't afford can lead to financial disaster.  Even if you can make the minimum payment on a credit card balance, it can take around 20 years to pay off a credit card debt!  Over this time, the interest charges keep on piling up and you end up paying a very high price for whatever it was that you charged 20 years ago...

But that is not how I suggest using credit cards as part of a smart personal finance strategy.  I merely suggest taking advantage of the perks of using credit cards without paying anything.  How can you do this?  Easy- just pay your balance in full every month (or actually more like 25 days with most cards now).

For example, I was at Target with my wife buying some grocery items.  My wife had enough cash in her purse to pay for the items.  I had enough cash in my wallet to pay for the items.  But I whipped out a credit card to pay.  Why!?

Because I could save 5% off my purchase by using my Target card.  When the Target bill comes, I will pay the balance using the electronic bill pay feature from my credit union.  The result is that I just saved 5% and it didn't cost me anything.

I do the same thing at Lowes by using my Lowes credit card to save 5% on everything I buy there.  As long as you don't buy more stuff than you otherwise were planning to buy and pay your balance every billing cycle, you really do save 5%.

I sometimes use a credit card with rewards to make other purchases.  With the rewards on my credit card, I can get pretty much anything I want from Amazon for free.

So when I say to use credit cards, I mean to use them to save money- not to spend money!

Here is one of my statements about using credit cards that caused a kerfuffle:
Tip 15: Use Credit Cards

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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, 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  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:

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