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Showing posts with label Frugal Living. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frugal Living. 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 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


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


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?


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  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

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, 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

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

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

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Make Your Own Cereal at Home- Cheap!

Cereal Is Too Expensive- Make Your Own!

Make your own cereal- cheap!

I have complained here on my blog about how expensive cereal is compared with the cost of the ingredients of cereal.  If you do the calculations, cereal has an incredible mark-up.  I didn't think there was much I could do about this, other than choose the most cost effective brands of cereal available.

Then one day, I noticed that my son was making his own cereal, and it is much healthier than the expensive cereal you can buy at the store.

The alternative cereal trend at my house started when my son discovered that some caramel corn that we bought on clearance at the grocery store made great cereal.  Just pour some in a bowl and add milk.  It tastes like Corn Pops, only a little fluffier.

Of course, it is really cheap and easy to make fresh popcorn at home.  We decided to skip the caramel part and just put some popcorn in a bowl with milk.  If you like, you can put some sugar on top to make it taste more like store-bought cereal.

Photo credit:  Heather Lion (CC-SA-30)

Popcorn Revisited

The popcorn we are using for cereal is not like movie theater popcorn.  We are skipping the salt and butter.  Fresh popcorn has a nice flavor even if you don't add anything to it.  We use a little bit of Crisco vegetable oil (it's soy bean oil) for popping.  Peanut oil would also work well.

Fortunately I have my own movie theater popcorn machine that we got as a family Christmas gift one year for about $150.  We have made movie theater style popcorn with melted butter for movie night for years.  If you don't have a popcorn popper like this, you can use an air popper or even pop popcorn in a pan on the stovetop.  Using those microwave popcorn bags wouldn't really work for cereal since that stuff is so salty and oily.

My Popcorn Machine

It may sound weird to eat popcorn as a meal, but this idea has been around for awhile.  According to Alton Brown on his episode of Good Eats about popcorn, native Americans in the southwest popped popcorn by heating up sand with popcorn kernels in it over a fire.  The anthropologist on the show thought that the ancient people made a gruel by adding water to the popped corn and mashing it up.  Popping the corn allowed the nutrients to be obtained from the hard dense kernels.

Now, fast forward a few thousand years.  One of the first ideas for commercial breakfast cereal in the United States was to ship boxes of pre-popped popcorn. However the Kelloggs brothers decided to go with corn flakes instead since they were not confident that pre-popped popcorn would sell very well.

Popcorn is a whole grain with lots of fiber, and is really cheap to make.  If you don't add salt and butter to it, it is a healthy snack and even a healthy meal in the form of homemade breakfast cereal.  If make your own cereal, you know exactly what artificial colors and chemicals are in it- none!

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Starbucks vs a Free Water Fountain

Free Water vs $2 Coffee, Guess Which Wins?

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.  Let's start with the picture.  Can you see why I thought this scene was interesting?

Starbucks vs Free Water Fountain
What's Wrong with This Picture?

When I saw this, I thought it was shocking and I immediately reached for the cell phone in my pocket to take a picture.  What is wrong with this picture?  I added some notes on the version below to make the problem clear.

Starbucks vs Free Water Fountain- with caption
Why Are People Lined Up To Pay Instead of Getting the Free Drink?

I thought it was surprising that people were lined up waiting to pay for drinks at Starbucks when free water fountains were clearly available only a few feet away- and with no waiting.

It is not surprising to me that some folks would want to get a treat such as a $2 cup of coffee, $3 fancy coffee drink, or $3 juice drink.  I was surprised by how much demand there was for these expensive drinks when there was free water right there.

I watched this scene for a few minutes.  More people kept joining the line for the expensive drinks, but no one used the water fountain.  Why?

Why were so many people paying for expensive drinks when there was free water right there?

One reason is that coffee is "mildly habit forming". If you read my blog much, you know that I am a coffee connoisseur and have even written a book about making great coffee for almost nothing.  I understand that people need coffee in a way that they don't need water.  I used to buy coffee at a coffee shop every day, but now I make great coffee at home for about 60 cents instead of paying $2 at a coffee shop.

Not everyone was buying coffee, though.  They were also buying fruit juice drinks and... bottled water!

I think people are in the habit of buying a refreshment at Starbucks and don't even consider skipping it or getting free water at the water fountain.  Once a habit gets established, it is hard to break.  Routine expenses are not really noticed anymore.  I call this "The Starbucks Effect".

I still find instances of The Starbucks Effect as I look at my own spending and try to cut back on unnecessary expenses.

Does it really hurt anything to buy a $2 drink at Starbucks?  Not if that is the most important thing you want to do with your money, but I know I have more important things I would rather do with my money.  A few dollars here and there quickly adds up to real money- money you could use to get out of debt and be able to afford things that are much more important to your than drinks at Starbucks.

The lesson I take from this strange scene at Starbucks is to look for that "free water fountain" in different areas of spending to find opportunities to save money.

  • Are you paying for cable TV or satellite when you could get free TV over the air or Netflix for much less?
  • Are you buying fast food for lunch every day when you could take lunch for a fraction of the cost?
  • Are you paying a lot to drive a new car when an older car would be just as useful and much less expensive?

And finally, are you buying expensive drinks when free water would be cheaper and healthier?

If you want many, many more ways to save money, check out my free ebook with 101 tips to save money!

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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

How I Avoid Late Fees

Get Out of Late Fees!

No More Late Fees!
No More Late Fees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Late Fee Battle With the Utility Company

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

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

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

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

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

How To Avoid Late Fees

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Would You Wear Shoes With Duct Tape?

Why I Wear Shoes with Duct Tape

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Extend the Life of Your Shoes with Duct Tape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Why Pay Too Much For Bad Coffee?

"Most people drink bad coffee, and pay too much for it.  I'm not sure which is worse..."  Dr. Penny Pincher

Coffee Statue
Me and My Great Coffee (Only 60 Cents!)
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

You have probably heard of the "latte factor" that is described  by many personal finance experts.  The concept is that you can get ahead financially by saving or investing your money instead of spending it on buying a latte every day.  This is certainly true, but I don't think that many people are actually drinking lattes or other fancy coffee drinks that cost $3 or $4 dollars every day.

I do think that a lot of people buy $2 coffee at coffee shops or even pay $1.79 for bad coffee at convenience stores or fast food drive-thru windows.  Some people buy more than one cup of coffee every day.  I used to be one of those people...

I realized how much I was spending on coffee and decided to make coffee at home instead.  Over time, I figured out how to select whole bean coffee and grind it at home.  I learned a lot of tricks to make really good coffee at home for only 60 cents a day- I even wrote a book about it.

I also cut back from drinking several cups of coffee every day to drinking only one really good cup of coffee every day.  It can be a bit unpleasant to cut back on coffee since it is mildly habit-forming.  Here's how I was able to cut back on coffee and avoid caffeine headaches.

So even though I wasn't drinking $4 lattes, I was able to save a lot of money on coffee.  For the purposes of approximation, let's say I was spending $4 per day to buy 2 cups of coffee at a coffee shop.  Now I spend 60 cents per day on coffee.  This savings of $3.40 per day adds up to over $1,200 per year!

You might say that I have 60 cents more per day that I could cut on coffee, but I am not interested in cutting back on my one good cup of coffee that I make every day.  I think a great cup of coffee is worth far more than 60 cents, so I will make room for this in my budget and continue to enjoy my coffee every day.

If you have become stuck in a rut of paying way too much for bad coffee, consider learning to make great coffee yourself at home.  Not only will you save money, but you can get much better quality coffee as well.

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Sharing Economy: Getting By at the Office for Free!

Give and Take at the Office

My Sharing Economy

The other day, someone at the office offered me a piece of candy, and of course I took it.  For one thing I was starving, the candy was free, I wanted it.  For another thing, it is sort of a bonding event to share stuff at the office with coworkers and I wanted to participate.

Of course to really participate, I would need to share something too.  I looked around my office thinking about what I could share that wouldn't put too big of a dent in my wallet, and my gaze fell upon a bowl of cherry tomatoes that I brought for lunch.

Perfect!  I had way more tomatoes than I could comfortably eat.  I washed each cherry tomato carefully, removed the stems, and even tried them off with a paper towel.

I walked around offering cherry tomatoes and telling my story about how I grew the tomatoes in a straw bale.  This is actually true- you can read how I grew my entire garden by planting in straw bales this year.  I even put some tomatoes in paper coffee cups and left them for people who were away.  It became a game for people to figure out where the tomatoes came from while they were away from their desk.

Everyone liked the tomatoes- from what I heard, none of them made it home with anyone.  They got eaten almost immediately or in the car on the ride home.  I am starting to want more of those cherry tomatoes as I read this.

I picked some more tomatoes tonight to take in to the office.  Not only are cherry tomatoes from my garden free, but they are healthy for people.  Maybe they will offset the effects of everyone eating candy today.  I also like that I have a unique thing to share.  I guess someone could buy a bunch of cherry tomatoes at the grocery store, but this would be expensive and they would be nowhere near as fresh as mine that are straight from the garden.

For me, I enjoy sharing something that takes a bit of work rather than spending money.  I think most people would rather buy a box of donuts or a bag of bagels to bring to the office and be done with it, even if it costs $20.  I can grow a lot of vegetables in my garden with $20 worth of investment.

Sharing produce from my garden works great during harvest season, but what the rest of the year?  I have shown up at office events with canned salsa made entirely with produce from my garden.  Another neat- and cheap- thing to bring to the office is a fresh loaf of bread to share.  When I had chickens, I always had eggs to share- this was popular and cost me nothing since I had extras.

Protect your wallet by thinking about cheap ways you can participate in the "sharing economy"!

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fear of Muffins

Do You Know The Muffin Man?

Muffins for breakfast?  What could possibly go wrong?
Muffins for breakfast?  What could possibly go wrong?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Where I live, the muffin man works at the local convenience store, about 3 miles away.  He, or maybe it's she, makes the muffins every morning.  They are really big and sell for $1.49 alongside donuts and cinnamon rolls.

The other day over Labor Day weekend, by son wanted go get muffins for breakfast.  This was a pretty reasonable request.  It was breakfast time, muffins are a relatively healthy breakfast food option, and my wife was at work so buying muffins would have been an easy way for me to take care of breakfast.

So why did I say no?

Fear The Muffin Man

My first thought was that driving several miles and spending that much time in the car would be a waste of time and money.  Next, the cost of muffins would have added up to $4.50 for the three of us, and what if my sons wanted to get a bottle of milk or something else too?  The money envelope would have been rapidly depleted.  Finally, there are other things that could go wrong on a muffin seeking adventure.  What if we drove all the way there and the muffins were sold out?  What if we got a flat tire or my 10 year old car broke down along the way?

I told my son that I had an idea.  "Check the cupboard," I said.  He quickly found what I was remembering.  There was a box of muffin mix.  Instead of wasting time and money, we could have all the muffins we could handle for a fraction of the cost!

Make Cheap Muffins at Home!
Make Cheap Muffins at Home!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I put him in charge of making the muffins.  In addition to the powdered mix and can of blueberries that came in the box, he added water, oil, and eggs.  After some mixing, preheating, and baking we had a dozen muffins.  We munched on muffins all day and even had some left to give my wife when she got home from work.

I don't know exactly how much the box of muffin mix cost.  I would guess around $3 since they have fresh blueberries.  Considering the cost of other ingredients and cost of electricity, I would say the muffins cost about 30 cents each to make at home.

Making muffins at home was much more enjoyable than driving to a convenience store to buy some- and much less expensive as well.

I think my son is the muffin man now!  If he can make muffins at home for 30 cents each, we have little to fear...

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Dishwasher For Billionaires

A Dishwasher Fit for a Billionaire?

Dishwasher for Billionaires
Dishwasher for Billionaires
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
Yesterday, I was loading my dishwasher just after dawn on a beautiful August morning.  Light was streaming in from the sunrise, and my stainless steel dishwasher was glistening.  I have a bit of history with this dishwasher...

This is a dishwasher that I installed myself.  We tore out the old cabinets and removed the old plumbing- all that was left was 2 copper pipes and a drain pipe sticking out of the floor.  After installing a new sink base, I used a torch to sweat on new shut-offs and installed a new dishwasher all by myself.  I was so relieved when I turned on the water and in my plumbing installation was not leaking.

Then trouble struck.  After only running one load of dishes, the dishwasher would not turn on and reported an error code.  Not only that, but the tub of the dishwasher was leaking too.  The appliance repairman subtly suggested that we get a different one instead of trying to repair this brand new unit with so many problems.  If you want the whole story about the lemon dishwasher, I wrote an article about it at HubPages.

Anyway, I hauled the carcass of the faulty dishwasher back to Lowe's and got my money back.  I decided to go with a different brand from a different store.  I got an awesome Bosch dishwasher from an independent appliance shop.

The new dishwasher has worked perfectly for over 7 months now.  It is super quiet, has a stainless steel interior, a nice third rack for small items, and the middle rack is also adjustable.  I ran a lot of loads to "test" it before sharing it with the rest of my family.

So what does this dishwasher have to do with billionaires?  As I was loading it and it was glistening at me, reminding me of how it came through when I really needed a dishwasher, I thought to myself,

"Even if I were a billionaire, I wouldn't want a different dishwasher."

Below is a link to the dishwasher I got on Amazon.  Some of the reviews complain about the drying capability, but this is an energy efficiency feature.  You cam just crack the door while the dishwasher is still hot after running, and the dishes will dry without using any energy.  I would rather save money on my electric bill than pay to get the dishes dry quickly.

Bosch SHP65TL5UC 500 24" Stainless Steel Fully Integrated Dishwasher - Energy Star

What Else Is Fit for a Billionaire?

This thought of keeping the exact same dishwasher even if I had billions of dollars and could easily get any dishwasher I wanted to replace it made me think- what else would I keep, even if I suddenly became a billionaire?

I would keep my current house and vehicles.  The vehicles are well-maintained and do everything I want from them.  My wife's car absorbed the force from being rear-ended by a big Dodge Ram pickup truck and kept her safe.  My son really likes his first car, and I am just getting started owning my 10 year old Toyota Highlander.  I would replace the windows on my house and upgrade the floors, but the location and yard is great.  I can think of lots of nice places to visit, but I can't think of a nicer place to live.

One advantage of keeping my same stuff if I became a billionaire is that it would help me blend in and avoid attracting unwanted attention.  Being a billionaire does have some down sides.  I have always thought that fortune would be much better than fame if you could choose one.  Now you know why I use a nom de plume.

Sure, I might do some traveling and maybe even get a vacation home somewhere if I really had billions of dollars, but I already have pretty much everything I want.  OK, I would also get a Class A motorhome.  Not that I have thought about this much, but it would be 40 foot diesel pusher with 3 slide-outs and an outdoor kitchen.  Plus, I would go ahead and put in a swimming pool at home.  But I don't think I would buy that much more stuff.

I think the biggest change I would make would be how I spend my time- I would no longer be concerned about making money... or would I?  If I had billions of dollars, I would probably be working hard at keeping track of all of that money and trying to invest it wisely.  I could hire people to help manage all of that money, but I would still need to keep track of my people.  So, I suspect that I would actually spend a lot more time thinking about money as I do now.

Maybe being a billionaire wouldn't be that much better than my life now.  When I'm loading my dishwasher, I can't tell the difference.

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Save 50% on Coffee: Get Half Price Coffee All the Time!

Get Half Price Coffee Every Day!

Wouldn't it be great if you could get coffee for half price all the time?  I figured out a way to do just that.

No, the solution does not involve making your coffee at home- I do this already.  It is something else, and it is pretty obvious, really.

How to Get Coffee for Half Price
How to Get Coffee for Half Price
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

This morning, I opened my drawer where I keep my coffee beans this morning to reload my grinder.  I always grind whole beans just before brewing my coffee.  I had an open bag which had more than enough to fill the grinder, and I also noticed I still had a full bag in the drawer as well.

Loading the Grinder with Whole Coffee Beans
Loading the Grinder with Whole Coffee Beans
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I wondered, "Why do I have so many coffee beans left?"  My wife picks up coffee beans for me at the grocery store.  I like to have the freshest possible beans, so I don't keep extra bags around.  But I have an extra bag with a pound of coffee beans today.  Why?

I Had Extra Coffee Beans In My Drawer- Why?
I Had Extra Coffee Beans In My Drawer- Why?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I was drinking two 16 oz cups of coffee every morning.  I would brew a pot and pour two travel mugs to take with me in the car on work days, or I would drink the pot at home on weekends and holidays.

One time on a business trip when I was away from my coffee-making equipment, I realized that it was not practical to drink that much coffee every day.  I can make coffee myself for about 60 cents per 16 oz serving.  At a coffee shop, it costs over $2 per cup, which adds up to over $4 to meet my daily coffee needs.  Drinking a lot of coffee causes issues beyond the cost- it takes a long time to drink that much coffee, and it drives the need for frequent restroom breaks in the morning.

I decided to cut back to one 16 oz cup of coffee per day.  As I learned on the business trip, cutting coffee too fast can cause headaches!  Over a two week period, I gradually reduced my coffee consumption from two cups per day down to one cup per day.  At first, it seemed like I was missing something by only having one cup of coffee in the morning, but I quickly got used to it and it has become the new normal.

Is it obvious how to save 50% on coffee?  Drink half as much!  At first, this may sound like the punch line of a joke, but this is a reliable way to save 50% on coffee all the time.  My extra bag of coffee beans in the drawer reminded me that I am saving money on coffee beans, which is by far the biggest factor in the cost of making coffee.

If you are curious, here is an article I wrote that goes into a lot of detail on the cost to make coffee.

Get Other Things for 50% Off!

This concept of saving 50% by consuming half as much works on other things besides coffee.  Want to reduce your fast food bill by 50%?  Go out to fast food places half as much!

There are many areas of you budget where this concept will not work well- most people could not cut their utility bill of gasoline bill by 50% because they are already pretty efficient in these cost categories.  But some expenses have a lot of room to cut, and cutting an expense by half is a good goal.  A 50% reduction is significant enough to motivate you to put in some effort to achieve, and half is a simple amount that is easy to track when you have reached 50% savings.

What expenses could you cut by half just by consuming less?

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