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Showing posts with label Ways to Save Money. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ways to Save Money. Show all posts

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Looking For Bargains at the Pawn Shop


Looking For Bargains At The Pawn Shop

The other day, my son and I took my wife to the fabric store.  After a few minutes, my son and I decided to leave my wife to shop in the fabric store (risky, I know...) while we went next door to check out the pawn shop.

High on my list of things to look at in the pawn shop was binocculars.   I have been looking for a good pair of binocculars for a few years, checking out every pair I could find at consignment shops and garage sales.

I was excited to see that the pawn shop had five pairs in a glass display case for sale ranging from $15 to $70.  I had the lady working in the shop come over and open the display case.  Unfortunately for her, she had to stay right there the whole time the case was unlocked.

I tried out the binocculars by looking out the window at nearby buildings and also by trying to read price signs across the store.  The binocculars I tried looked cool, but the optics were terrible- even the $70 pair produced blurry results.

The last pair in the case looked older than the rest and was a little beat up.  I figured I might as well try it since it was priced at $15 and it was the last one.

Much to my surprise, this pair of binocculars worked great!  It has an easy-to-use lever mechanism to adjust the focus.  I could read the price signs clearly from all the way across the store.  I could see bricks and small details in the building through the window.

My quest for a good pair of binocculars is over!

With spring fast approaching, there was a clearance rack of leather jackets displayed.  Some of the jackets looked really expensive, but were priced at $15.  My son tried one on and liked it, except it was a size too big.  He thought about getting it anyway, but I convinced him that it was just too big.

When we later met up with my other son and told him about the leather jacket deal, he said it is a bad idea to get the wrong size of something, "it's just not worth it."

They had lots of bikes for sale, but I thought the prices were too high.  This may be due to the spring season- I may check back around October 15 to see if they have any bargains.

They had a lot of power tools for sale, but these looked heavily used and well worn.  I would definitely want to try out the tools from the pawn shop to make sure they are in good working order before buying.  Some of the tools were battery powered, and I would worry about the battery being near the end of life and not being able to hold much charge.

The video game selection seemed to be for very old systems and seemed to be pretty well picked over.  They had a few old laptops, but they didn't look much better than the old laptop I already have, and these were priced at a couple hundred dollars.  I woud rather find a bargain laptop in the open box bargain area at Best Buy than take a chance on one from the pawn shop.  At least there would be some opportunity to return a laptop from Best Buy if there is a problem with it.

Here are some things I learned from my trip looking for bargains at the pawn shop:

1) You can't judge a book by its cover.  The oldest, most beat up binocculars were by far the best and quite a bargain at only $15.  I bet most people wouldn't have even tried them due to their rough appearance.

2) If you want cheap leather jackets, go to the pawn shop in mid-March.

3) If you want to buy a cheap bike at a pawn shop, don't go in the spring

4) I found power tools at the pawn shop, but they looked pretty well worn.  Maybe you could buy a cheap power tool at the pawn shop as an alternative to renting one for about the same money.

5) The good electronics and games get snapped up quickly, you would need to check frequently to find something decent.

6) If it doesn't fit, you must acquit...  This is a lesson I wish I had mastered long ago.  Many times, I have found a bargain coat or even shoes that didn't quite fit- but I bought them anyway because they were priced way down on clearance.  As son #2 said, "it's just not worth it."


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy


Friday, March 17, 2017

Why People Are Now Drinking More Bottled Water than Soda?

But You Can Get Water at Home for Almost Free!

An article on Fortune.com a few days ago announced that Americans are now drinking more bottled water than soda.  Why!?


Americans Are Now Drinking More Bottled Water Than Soda
Americans Are Now Drinking More Bottled Water Than Soda

At least drinking water is healthier than drinking soda, but it is stunning to me that so many people are paying for water- something you can get for almost free!  Bottled water has a high cost not only in the price you pay at the convenience store or vending machine, but also in environmental impact.  It takes a lot of energy to transport a heavy product long distances to the store and keep it refrigerated.    Even if you recycle the plastic bottle every time, it still takes energy to produce the plastic bottle in the first place and then to melt it down to recycle the plastic, not to mention the energy to haul it to the recycling facility.

This seems like an unbelievable business model- package something that costs almost nothing that people can easily get at home, and sell it with a huge markup.  If someone came to me with a business plan like this, I would probably shoot it down.  Why would people pay for something they can get at home for almost free?    I decided to dig further into this psychological puzzle.

Why People Buy Bottled Water (When They Could Get It For Free)

When people buy bottled water, it must makes sense to them in terms of economic value.  That 20 oz bottle of water with less that 1 cent worth of water priced at $1.39 seems like a good deal.  Why?

  1. Convenience.  If you are thirsty now and don't have anything to drink, a cold bottle of water may be just what you want.  But is it really convenient to drive to a convenience store or find a vending machine...
  2. Soda Replacement.  People are replacing $2 soda with something healthier and perhaps less expensive and see it as a good deal relative to soda.  But this is a false choice if you are only selecting from what is available on the shelf at the convenience store...
  3. Spare Change.  Many people don't think a few dollars makes any difference to their finances and are not concerned about spending a few extra dollars.  But those small daily expenses add up to real money over time...
  4. Social Factors.  Some bottled water purchases are due to the force of habit of buying a drink when you are out and about, or if you are with friends who are all buying a drink then you want to buy one too.  But you don't have to be like everyone else, being efficient with money and reducing your impact on the environment is a respectable choice.
  5. Status Symbol.  People feel they deserve bottled water.  They are smart, work hard, and make good money, so they should be able to at least get a bottle of water when they feel like it.  This is a good example of "lifestyle inflation".
  6. Perceived Quality.  A product that is sold in a bottle in the store must be better than what you can get at home right?  Most bottled water is sourced from municipal water supplies- in other words, it is tap water just like you can get at home!

How To Get The Advantages of Bottled Water-- Without the High Price

If you are ready to skip the bottled water purchases and save some money, here are some tips to get the advantages of drinking bottled water, but without paying the high price:
  • Bring your own water from home in a reusable bottle.  
  • Get a water filter at home if needed to improve taste/quality.  I use the water filter in my refrigerator.
  • How to keep it cold?  Freeze your bottle (or freeze a 1/2 full bottle and top it with water before heading out), use a cooler, or put your bottle in the fridge at work. 
  • Or simply use a water fountain for drinking or filling a cup with free chilled drinking water from the water fountain. 

I even added some new items in the Penny Pincher Journal Store to help you save money by drinking your own water from home in refillable bottles for almost free instead of buying expensive bottled water.


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Kill-A-Watt!



How much electricity- and money- does it waste to leave the TV on?  Too much!


Kill-A-Watt!

As a young child during the energy crisis of the mid-1970's, I remember seeing distinctive stickers encouraging people to save electricity.  The black sticker was sized to fit over a light switch and said "Kill-A-Watt" in bold white letters.  The stickers were meant to remind people to turn out lights when leaving a room.

I must say, I learned this lesson well.  I am quite good about turning off unneeded lights whether I am leaving a room or not.  My son once pointed out that he knew it was me coming down the stairway at night because I turned out the lights BEFORE coming down the stairway in the dark.  Who else would do that?

Tonight I was working on writing some new articles that are due in a few days.  I noticed that the TV was left on in the living room and no one was watching it.  I started thinking about how much energy- and money- that was wasting.  I knew from looking it up in the manual that the TV draws about 300W.  I also knew that the cost of electricity here is about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.  That is pretty good, the average in the USA is around 12 cents per killowatt hour.  If you are curious, you can find average electric rates for your state listed in this NPR article.

I figured it would take me about 15 minutes to finish the outline I was working on.  Since the TV was drawing about 1/3 of a kilowatt per hour, it would cost about 3 cents to run it for an hour.  This works out to about 0.75 cents if I were to leave it running 15 minutes while I finished my article outline.

But wait, there's more.  Not only does it waste energy to run the TV with no one watching it, it also burns up the useful life of the TV.  I could estimate the value of this by figuring out the typically lifespan of a TV.  But since the TV was only about 30 feet away, I simply walked over and turned off.  I pushed the "off" button by hand instead of using the remote control.  Might as well save some battery life in the remote control...

In this case I didn't save much electricity by turing the TV off right away, but I did save energy worrying about it.  Some people would say, why worry about wasting a few cents and a little bit of electricity.  I say, why waste any at all?

Kill-A-Watt!



Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Hard Would You Work to Get a Refund?

Who Wants The Money More?

How hard would you work to get a refund?  I have $450 at stake, but so does the other party...

I recently made a big improvement to my kitchen- quartz countertops!  After a couple years of using some mismatched old laminate countertops, and even a bar area that "temporarily" used boards nailed down to make a sort of countertop, I finally got real countertops.  These fancy countertops should last a lifetime, and will improve the value of my house quite a bit.

Quartz Countertop, Awaiting Tile Backsplash
Quartz Countertop, Awaiting Tile Backsplash

We ordered the countertops through Lowes (I had an offer for 11% off!).  Lowes works with a subcontractor in the area who handles measuring, cutting, and installing the countertops.  The installation went great, except for one minor change of plan.  The quote we got included installing a backsplash made of the quartz countertop material across the nearly 9 foot length of the main countertop where the sink is located.  

Since this is a long run, the plan was to take measurements for the custom backsplash piece after the countertop was installed.  Then the piece would be cut, and another trip would be required to install it.  This all made sense, except when we saw what the countertop looked like, we decided to go with a tile backsplash instead of a giant piece of quartz countertop.

The quartz backsplash would have been nice, but it would have been a lot of the same color and pattern to look at.  So I called the installers right away and told them not to cut the custom backsplash piece and to cancel that part of the work order.

Now for the fun part- getting the money.  The cost for the backsplash quartz piece plus the extra labor for a second trip to bring it out and install it was around $450.  The problem with this situation is that both the subcontractor and Lowes are happier if this $450 is forgotten.  I am the only one who comes out ahead if the bill gets corrected.

On my call to the subcontractor to cancel the backsplash, I mentioned a price difference.  The initial response was that the backsplash wasn't included in the total, so no refund was in order.  But I knew it was.  I had the person pull up the quote to find the extra amount for the backsplash and verify that it WAS included in the total.  She finally agreed and said they would work on correcting the bill and would contact Lowes with an updated (reduced) bill.

About a week later, I called the design department at Lowes to make sure the $450 was actually being removed from the bill.  Guess what the initial response was...  they had not heard from the subcontractor, and the backspash was not part of the quote, so no refund was in order!   I got the person to actually look at the quote and she agreed that I should have around $450 coming back to me.  She said she would contact the subcontractor to talk about updating the billing...

I am pretty confident that after a few more calls I will get my $450.  I am the only one that is going to benefit from correcting the bill, and everyone else loses.  This means that the ball will be in my court to follow up and make sure that this does not get forgotten.

I am also pretty confident that I would not have gotten the $450 if I hadn't taken some initiative to track it down and go get it.  

Sometimes it comes down to who wants the money more.

Update 1:  After 6 weeks, I think the battle is nearly over...  I called Lowes a number of times to ask for a price adjustment, but nothing was happening.  The latest response I received stated that they didn't think the backsplash was included in the original total, so there would be no price adjustment!  Talk about frustrating!  I decided to stay calm and friendly though and handle this like a problem that needs to be solved in the most efficient way possible.

I called the countertop subcontractor (again).  I confirmed with them that the backsplash WAS included in the total (again).  I asked them to send a letter to me with the total.  This was a problem, however, since they say they have to keep their rates confidential since they are a subcontractor.  I asked if they could send a statement (again) to the person at Lowes stating that the backsplash was paid for, and what amount should be refunded.

Then I called the person at Lowes and let her know that the countertop company is sending the amount to be refunded.  About an hour later, she called back and said the refund was being processed.  This sounds promising, but I want to see the money before I am convinced that this really did work out.

I knew getting this refund would be a challenge since I was the only one who would benefit, and I was right!

Update 2:  So on Friday morning, the person at the kitchen design center said I would get a $380 refund since I did pay for a backsplash and we did not install it.  She said she was taking the sheet to the head cashier and would email a copy of the receipt.  That sounded great!  But it is Monday now, and I haven't received a receipt and my account hasn't been credited...  I'm going to have to call again.  Like I said, I am the only one who loses if the refund paperwork gets misplaced of forgotten...

Update 3:  After a quick reminder call, the kitchen designer at Lowes took the paperwork up to the cashier.  The refund was processed (I verified the transaction on my Lowes card account) and I even got a scan if the receipt via email.  Victory!  I think we found out who wanted the money more :-)

Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Car Stereo Upgrade FAIL

Sorry for the false alarm, but I decided to return the car stereo I bought to upgrade my older car.  How did such a great plan fail?

Car Stereo Upgrade FAIL!
Car Stereo Upgrade FAIL!

The plan was that I would drive my wife's newer car (which had a modern stereo with bluetooth, XM, etc.) and she would drive my older car instead of buying a different (and likely newer and more expensive) car to drive.

The only problem was that she was not excited about the old school radio.  She would miss her XM satellite radio and streaming songs from her phone via Bluetooth.

Fortuately, the shortcomings of an older car radio are a pretty easy problem to solve by replacing the old radio with a new one.  For around $120 you can get a fancy new car radio with a USB port that supports Bluetooth streaming.  For about $80 more, you can add an XM satellite radio receiver.  Throw in about $100 more for cables and installation, and you can make an old car seem a lot newer.

So why did I decide to return the car stereo and get my money back?  The first problem was that the buttons on the steering wheel would no longer work.  It would cost over $100 extra to hook them up, so we decided to skip that feature.

The next problem was the total bill for the radio and installation was around $350 with taxes, fees, etc.

From my perspective, the new car radio wasn't really an upgrade since I listen to music on CDs:  the old radio had a 6 disc changer and the new radio only held 1 disc.  Plus, the steering wheel buttons would no longer work.

After further review, we decided to skip upgrading the radio.  My wife will continue to drive the newer car and I will continue to drive my older car.

This reminds me a lot of going with "Option 1" for my computer upgrade.  As you may remember, I decided to do nothing and not upgrade my computer.

Now I have decided to do nothing and not upgrade my car radio.  Do you sense a trend here?


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Avoiding a Fleecing at Sport Clips


I Avoided a Fleecing at Sport Clips!
I Avoided a Fleecing at Sport Clips!

As you may know, I went 8 years without paying for a haricut at a barbershop.  I bought a $25 pair of buzzers so I could get all the free haircuts I want.  My winning streak came to an end this summer when I paid $12 plus a $3 tip at the local barbershop.  In my defense, I was tricked into going to the barbershop.

After about 6 months and one more DIY haircut with the buzzers at home, I was ready to go to a professional again.  They can do things in the barbershop with scissors that I can't do myself with the #8 buzzers.

Ready for another sharp haircut, I went to the nearest shop- a Sport Clips- and gave my information at the counter to get in line for a haircut.  While waiting, I remembered that waiting was one thing I didn't like about getting a haircut at a barbershop.

Next, I spotted the price board.  The lowest cost haircut was $18.  This was before a tip.  Since this was a pretty fancy shop, I am sure a pretty fancy tip would be expected.  This would put the total damage north of $20.

Plus, since this was a sports-themed shop, I imagined that the barber would try to make small talk about sports during the haircut.  This would be rough since I don't get many TV channels and don't really keep up on sports.

Enough was enough.  I fled.

I quietly gathered my coat from the coat rack and slipped out the door.  I figured they would simply call the next person waiting a few minutes early.  No harm done, and I would save $20+ dollars and most of my lunch break.

This experience got me thinking... How much money would I need to have right now to get haircuts for life?  Let's say I get a haircut once every 3 months at $15 per haircut and I plan to get haircuts for 40 years.  That works out to $2400.  If I had $2400 in a "haircut envelope", I could get haircuts for the next 40 years.

What if I put the money in something with a better rate of return than an envelope?  Let's say I were to put a sum of cash into a fund that averages a 4% rate of return.  How much cash would I need now to get haircuts for life?  The answer is provided using a annuity calculator.  I used an annuity calculator from bankrate.com.  The total works out to $1191.69. 

Of course no one knows what the rate of return will be over the next 40 years.  Plus, the price of haircuts is likely to go up over time due to inflation.  As a matter of fact, the price at my local barbershop went up 50 cents after the first of the year.

Looking at big numbers like $2400 and even $1200 for haircuts makes me think I should stay on course and keep using the buzzers at home for free.

I am not sure if I will cut my hair at home every time, but I am pretty sure I won't go back to Sport Clips.


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy



Sunday, January 8, 2017

My New Car (Radio)

My 12 year old car has about everything I want- except for one thing.

It has 4 wheel drive, heated leather seats, sun roof, allow rims, rides great, and runs great.  What else is there?  It lacks a modern radio.  It does have a quality sound system with JBL radio which was top of the line in 2005.  But the OEM radio doesn't have a auxillary input, Bluetooth input, or XM radio.

My Old Car Radio Is Getting an Upgrade
My Old Car Radio Is Getting an Upgrade

Why does this matter?  My wife was looking at new cars that have a modern radio with these features, but has decided to drive my old car instead.  But what about the radio?  She wants to be able to listen to XM satellite radio and stream podcasts and music from her phone.

The good news is that you can buy a new radio with all of these features for under $200.  The new radio also has a USB port for charging and for receiving streaming music from a phone.  Add another $100 or so for installation and cables, and she's all set.

The Replacemet Radio
The Replacemet Radio with Bluetooth, USB, CD player, and Adjustable LED lighting effects



Of course, it would be less expensive to skip getting a new radio.  But spending $300 to fix the one thing wrong with the car seems like a good investment to make the old car more enjoyable reduce the risk of ending up buying a newer car which would cost over 100x more than upgrading the radio.

XM Receiver Module for Radio Upgrade
XM Receiver Module for Radio Upgrade

I haven't looked into this yet, but I might even be able to sell the old JBL radio with 6 disk CD player.  Why would anyone want to buy an old car radio?  Someone who has upgraded the radio in their car (like I am doing) may want to take out the upgraded radio when they sell the car.  I can use any proceeds from selling the old radio to offset the cost of the new radio.

I can't wait to get the new radio installed!  This reminds me of when I was 16 years old and installed a new stereo in my car with a cassette tape player and FM stereo.  This was a big upgrade to the original AM radio that came with the '81 Plymouth Horizon.

If you want to extend the life of your older car, upgrading the radio can be a cheap way to enjoy driving it for years longer and save money over buying a newer car.  The radio is one of the easiest tech items to upgrade.   I have been using my 10 year old Garmin GPS unit that attaches to the windshield with a succion cup, so it has a navigation system too.

Stay tuned for an update on how the car radio upgrade works out.


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Too Much Money- My Problem Today...

Today I had an unusual problem.  I had too much money.  Allow me to explain...

When I pay cash for something and get change, I put the change in the center console of my car.  So there is a small amount of change flowing in every month.  But I almost never take change out and spend it.  It just slowly accumulates and fills up the space in my car.

I rounded up the change and put it in a big jar to take to the bank.  Here's a challenge for you:  look at the photo and try to guess how much change is in the jar...

How Much Change Did I End Up With In My Car?
How Much Change Did I End Up With In My Car?

Thankfully, my credit union has an automatic change counting machine.  You just dump the change in and the machine counts it.  The entire jar of change took only about a minute to count, and it was fun to watch.

Automatic Change Counting Machine
Automatic Change Counting Machine

Turn Your Change into Bills the Easy Way
Turn Your Change into Bills the Easy Way


At the end of the process, you get a ticket printed out that you take to the teller window.  You can have the money deposited into your account, or you can get cash.

So how much change did I have?  $112.09!

If you are not a member at the credit union, it costs you a 10% fee for using the machine.  Fortunately, I did not have to pay the fee.  There are other automatic coin counting machines such as Coinstar at places like Walmart, but these machines also charge a fee to use if you want to get cash.  The current Coinstar fee is 10.9%.

My advice is to take your change to your bank and have it counted for free using an automatic change couting machine.  Hauling around about 10 pounds of change in my car wasn't doing me any good.  Now I have the change in the form of bills that I will actually use, and I didn't have to pay a 10% fee or spend a lot of time counting change.

Seeing the change build up over time and become a sizable amount of money is an interesting phenomena.  The flow rate of the change coming in exceeds the flow rate going out, so the total is going to grow.  This happens even without the benefit of compounding that you get from investments.

This is a nice reminder of the power of saving small amounts of money over time.


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Thursday, January 5, 2017

You Gotta Check The Clearance Rack...


Today I came home to find the doors to the solarium open after dark on a cold day.  That isn't how you use a solarium.  You are supposed to open the doors when the sun is shining to provide free passive solar heating to the rest of the house.  So why were the solarium doors open?

My wife was eager to show me something new in the solarium.  She had hung some very nice looking curtains alongside some of the windows.  They were extra long 96 inch curtains and looked great in the space.

"Looks awesome!" I said as I was facing her and looking at the curtains hanging behind her.  It probably wasn't clear whether the complement was meant for the curtains or for her.  That's OK, both looked awesome.

The next thing she showed me was even more awesome- the price tag!  The curtains were regularly priced at over $45 and were marked down to under $8.

Clearance curtains from Target!
Clearance curtains from Target!

"You gotta check the clearance rack," she said.  "You never know when you'll find something good."

Sound advice indeed.

There was another great purchase in the solarium- a lamp that Mrs. Penny Pincher found at a thrift shop for only $2!

This is a nice looking, sturdy lamp that is probably from a hotel.  I like that it has the button to turn it on and off on its base where it is easy to reach.  And it is really heavy duty and will probably last forever.  Plus it was only $2 on clearance at the thrift shop.  Did I mention that it was only $2?

$2 Hotel Lamp from the Thrift Shop
$2 Hotel Lamp from the Thrift Shop


"Beautiful!" I said as I looked at the lamp on the table behind my wife.  Again, it was probably not clear which I was complementing, but that's OK.

Gotta check those clearance racks!


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy




Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Go With Option 1


If you read my last post, you'll know what the following cryptic statement means:
I'm going with Option 1.


Bluetooth keyboard for cell phone
I Am Not Buying A New Computer...

My old laptop is nearing (or past) the end of its useful life.  I considered several options to replace it ranging from a tablet computer, a Chromebook, a Windows 10 laptop, and even a Microsoft Surface.  I threw out an other option just in case:  Option 1.  Option 1 means to do nothing.  While this option does not improve my computer situation, it is the least expensive.  That, of course, is the only reason to go with Option 1.

What does this mean for you, a reader of Penny Pincher Journal?  You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a few months.  I was pretty frustrated with my computer and I was planning to get back to work on the blog after I got a better computer situation.  I also got distracted by some paid freelance writiing opportunities and ended up getting articles published on places like Time.com, Kiplinger, Business Insider, etc.

But now my computer situation is resolved in a sense.  I have decided not to get a new computer.  I went to Best Buy about five times, and looked around on Amazon and Ebay many nights to check out computers, and decided that a Microsoft Surface would be just right for me.  But in the end I decided not to spend that much money.  I just couldn't bring myself to borrow money and make payments on a computer when I have so many other bills to deal with.

Typing articles on a cell phone is possible.  I timed myself typing a passage of text on my cell phone and found that I can type about 20 words per minute.  This is about half as fast as I can type on a computer keyboard.

Back in May, I found myself on the road with an article due and only my cell phone with me.  I bought a bluetooth keyboard for about $20, so I can type articles on my phone with a keyboard.  That gets me back up to around 40 words per minute.  And my old laptop still sort-of works.  So I have some options to keep working that don't cost anything.

I am going to try to get back to work on Penny Pincher Journal using the equipment I have.  Sure it would be nice to have a newer computer, but I am not going to wait for a year (or more) to be able to do anything.

I think the point of this post is not to overlook the benefits of Option 1 (Do Nothing).  I can avoid spending money and keep doing everything I want to do, even if it is not ideal.  But nothing is really ideal anyway.

When you face a decision of whether to spend money or not, don't forget Option 1 - do nothing...  Sometimes this is the best option, especially if you make the best of it.


Copyright © 2017 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy




Monday, October 24, 2016

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


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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 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 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

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.

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Audiobook Announcement: Pinch Like You Mean It

Pinch Like You Mean It- Audiobook Launch!

Pinch Like You Mean It:  The Audiobook is out!

I am excited to announce the release of my first audiobook!  It is the audio version of Pinch Like You Mean It! 101 Ways To Save Money Now.

This book works very well as an audio book thanks to outstanding narration from Peter L. Herrick.  This guy could read a list of names out of the phone book and it would be gripping and compelling...  just imagine how great my book sounds with Pete reading it!

It took about a month to produce the audiobook version, so I hope you will check it out.  I developed this under a cool program by ACX that matches book authors with audiobook producers.  I held some auditions to find the right narrator for this book.  I think you will enjoy the results from all of the hard work that went into this project!



When I got the draft version of the audiobook, I intended to take a few minutes and listen to a few tips, but ended up listening to the entire book non-stop!  I think listening to the book makes a bigger impression than reading it.

If you have an Audible.com account, you will be able to get this audiobook for free as part of your subscription.  Enjoy!

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