Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Technology. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why I Got a Cordless Electric Lawn Mower

Oh Snap!

I Replaced My Broken Gas Mower With A Cordless Electric Mower!
I Replaced My Broken Gas Mower With A Cordless Electric Mower!

My wife sent me out to use the push mower to mow a small part of our yard that is on the side of the hill and is a bit tricky to mow with the riding mower.  This should have been a pretty easy assignment, but when I pulled the cord to start the mower.... SNAP!  I knew this was bad news, because the starter cord broke last year too.  I ended up buying a new starter coil mechanism for about $40 dollars and installed it.  Since the mower is about 10 years old, it was a tough decision to put $40 into it, but I figured this was cheaper than replacing it.

When the mower broke again, I had the opportunity to revisit this decision.  I decided not to put any more money into this mower.  It still works fine (except for the starter cord), but it was showing its age.  The wheels are worn down.  The plastic deflector for grass coming out has been broken for years and has been re-attached using some wire.  The blade is dull and should be sharpened or replaced..

So I loaded up the old mower and took it to the landfill for a disposal fee of $12.50.  That part was pretty easy.  Now for the hard part- getting another mower.

Why I Got An Electric Lawn Mower

When I had a small yard, I considered getting a plug-in electric mower.  With a small yard, it wouldn't be too hard to plug in an extension cord and reach the entire yard.  I like the idea on an electric mower because that means no gas, no oil, no spark plugs, and most importantly... NO STARTER CORD!

But my yard now is large and ranges from prairie to forested areas beyond the reach of an extension cord.  I mow almost all of it with a nice riding mower equipped with snow chains to help with traction in hilly areas.  The push mower is needed only for trimming and mowing some tight spots that I can't reach with the riding mower.

I decided to get a cordless electric push mower to replace the old gas mower.

There are some full-sized 22 inch cordless electric mowers, but these run around $500.  I found a slightly smaller 16" model from Black and Decker for about $250.  Actually, the small size is handy for reaching the tighter spaces I want to mow with a push mower anyway.

The first problem I had with the Black and Decker is the bag.  This mower is designed to collect grass clippings in a bag.  This is handy sometimes, but emptying the bag is tedious.  I used a wire clothes hanger to hold the rear door open a few inches.  I turned this mower into a rear-discharge mower, and it works pretty well.  I plan to use the bag sometimes, but most of the time I will use it in rear-discharge mode.

Here is a picture of how I used a wire clothes hanger to make the Black and Decker discharge out the back when I don't want to use the collection bag:

Make the Black and Decker a rear-discharge instead of bagging
How to Avoid Using the Collection Bag

A pleasant surprise about the cordless electric mower is how quiet it is.  I can mow comfortably without ear plugs or hearing protection.  It is quieter than a vacuum cleaner, and there are no fumes.  Plus, it is so light that it is easy to move around the yard with it.

I will say, however, that if you are expecting a cordless electric mower to be just like a gas mower then you are likely to be disappointed.  This mower is ideal for light mowing:  fairly short grass, fairly even terrain.  You won't be hacking through thick, overgrown weeds with a cordless electric mower.  That's OK, because that isn't how I use my push mower.

Another potential downside- it looks like a toy.  Black and Decker tried to style it up nice and sporty.  It was a nice try, but the small plastic push mower does look like a child's toy.  This doesn't bother me, but it may bother some people.

This mower comes with two 40V battery packs with 2 amp-hour capacity.  I like that there are 2 batteries included so you can always have a fully charged backup battery ready to go.  These high capacity batteries also work with other Black and Decker tools.  If the mower keeps working well, I will think about getting a cordless electric trimmer too.

Since the cordless mower already came with 2 batteries, I could buy the "bare tool" cordless hedge trimmer for around $50.  You can also get a cordless string trimmer and even a battery-powered snow blower and a battery-powered chain saw that use the same batteries and charger.

Overall, I think an electric mower will last a long time due to fewer mechanical parts to wear out, and it should require no maintenance other than sharpening the blade.  In the long run, I think I will come out ahead by upgrading to a cordless electric mower.

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Make a Chromebook With Your Android Phone for $20

Making A Chromebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

How AdBlock Could Break the Internet

Will AdBlock Break the Internet?

Will AdBlock Break the Internet?

A few days ago, Apple announced that its new iPhone will support AdBlock software.  Apple is always making innovative upgrades to iPhones, so something as simple as supporting AdBlock may not sound like such a big deal.  But this could break the Internet.

If you are not familiar with AdBlock, it is software you can install so that ads do not appear when you look at websites.  I first saw AdBlock in action a few years ago when I tried to look at one of my websites on my wife's computer.  None of the ads on my page were displayed and I thought my ads were broken. I mentioned this to my wife and she explained that she runs AdBlock software on her Mac desktop.

Even back then, I realized it would be a big problem if too many people started using AdBlock.

"What's the problem?" you say.  There is all this free stuff on the Internet that you want to look at, but the ads are annoying.  Why not just block the ads and make it easier to surf the net?  The reason that all kinds of free stuff is available to read on the Internet is that the people publishing it can make money from the ads.  If there is no money to be made, people will stop putting free content on the Internet.  This includes bloggers like me on up through sites like the New York Times.

Apple's announcement raises the level of concern since this brings AdBlock to the mobile phone platform, which is a growth area for Internet advertising.  Also, featuring AdBlock as an innovative feature will encourage more users on desktop and mobile android platforms to adopt AdBlock.

As someone who likes to get free stuff, I am concerned.  If Internet ads dry up, there will be less free stuff that I can access as publishers like bloggers and news sites reduce the amount of free material they publish.

Perhaps some of the best content from the large publishers will move behind a pay wall.  But I won't pay.  As I have cut back my budget, I stopped getting a newspaper and also stopped getting cable TV.  Free stuff on the Internet is a major source of news and entertainment for me, and I don't want to see the quality content and variety go away.

Of course, I am also a publisher of free content on the Internet and revenue from ads provides a motivation to keep publishing new material.

What Could Be More Annoying Than Ads?

It will be interesting to see how this will unfold.  I agree that some Internet ads are pretty annoying, especially the pop-over ads and video ads, but alternate ways to pay for Internet content seem even more annoying.
  • Imagine having to subscribe and log in to each your favorite sites, not to mention paying a monthly subscription.  
  • Imagine having to type in your credit card number and pay a small amount, even 10 cents, to read articles you find as you surf the Internet.  
  • Imagine having to launch a separate app to view each of your favorite sites.  Using custom apps from each publisher is a way to get around AdBlock that works on browsers.
  • Imagine if the distinction between content and ads is blurred- think product placement.  News articles may have product promotions integrated into the story to get by AdBlock.
I am still optimistic that AdBlock proliferation could end favorably- there is a lot of money in play, and technology can change quickly.  One of the most promising scenarios is that only the most obnoxious ads will get blocked and the good ads- like mine- can get through, and people can enjoy free content on the Internet.

This seems better than the alternative where all ads get blocked, and a different way for readers to pay for content must be established.

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

Malwarebytes: Free Anti-Malware Software Download

Malwarebytes: How to Remove Malware from Your Computer for Free!

See below for link to download Malwarebytes anti-malware software for free...

Malwarebytes anti-malware software- free download!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

If your computer is running slowly, it may simply be slowed down by extra plug-ins, toolbars, and other unneeded software and files that have been installed.  You can download SlimCleaner for free to clean files and extra programs from to speed up your computer and make it run faster.
If your computer is running really slowly, it may be infected with malware.  Malware is software that attacks your computer and may use some of your computer's resources for malicious tasks such as sending spam e-mail or trying to break into other computer systems.  You can download Malwarebytes anti-malware software for free to scan your computer and remove any malware.

Free Malware Scan with Malwarebytes anti-malware

After downloading Malwarebytes anti-malware, click the "Update Now" option to update the malware database.  Then click the green "Scan Now" button to start a scan.  Scanning a computer can take about 30 minutes or so, depending on the size of your hard drive and how many files you have to scan.

At the end of the scan, you can see how many malware items were detected and you have the opportunity to remove the malware.  My son was able to remove a really pesky malware called V9 from his computer using Malwarebytes anti-malware.  V9 had infected his Internet Explorer and Chrome Browsers and I was not able to uninstall V9 using windows tools.  Malwarebytes took care of V9 easily.

Malware Threats Detected During Malwarebytes Scan
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

On my computer, I noticed that Malwarebytes detected a few items that I would not consider malware, so it is important to review the list and make sure you are not deleting items that you installed and use that you are certain are not malware.

Malware Threats Removed After Scan
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Malwarebytes performs the following steps to scan your computer for malware:

  • Pre-scan Operations
  • Memory Objects
  • Startup Objects
  • Registry Objects
  • Filesystem Objects
  • Heuristic Analysis

Clicking the Scan Now button will automatically run through all of these steps to scan your computer for malware threats.  At the end of the scan, you will be able to review the list of all of the malware threats found and apply actions to quarantine and delete the malware threats.

How to Get Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Software for Free

Here's the link to download Malwarebytes anti-malware software for free from the malwarebytes website at
Download Malwarebytes anti-malware software

Recommended Reading:
Use SlimCleaner to clean up unneeded files and speed up your computer
How to Speed Up Windows 7 using Windows utilities
How to use a USB memory stick to Speed Up Windows Vista and Windows 7 with ReadyBoost

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

SlimCleaner: Speed up Your Computer for Free!

SlimCleaner: Free Computer Speed Up!

See below for link to download SlimCleaner for free from Slimware Utilities...

Use SlimCleaner to Speed Up Your Computer for Free!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

For years, I have used Norton Utilities to keep my computer tuned up.  My son's Windows 7 laptop was running very slowly and I had a chance to work on it.  I considered spending about $50 for Norton Utilities, but decide to check out free utilities to see what could be done for free to speed up my computer.

You Can Download SlimCleaner for Free
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I came upon a free program called SlimClean from Slimware Utilities.  SlimClean has several tools to speed up your PC by deleting extra files and software that seems to get installed whenever you download something. SlimClean also optimizes start-up programs and Windows services to speed up your computer.  SlimClean uses feedback from users to help determine which services and programs are not needed.

SlimClean also has disk tools including a disk defragmentation tool and disk wiping tools, and tools to find and eliminate duplicate files.  Other tools include the ability to review all of your browsers and remove unwanted toolbars.  This can make web browsers run much faster.  You can also scan for "hijack" threats based on input from users on the web to help identify malicious files.

SlimCleaner Start-up Screen
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How to Use SlimCleaner to Speed Up Your Computer

When you launch SlimCleaner, it automatically updates the software to the latest version and offers you an button that says "Analyze".  When you click this, SlimCleaner will search your hard drive for unneeded files including cookies and temporary files.  Next, you are offered a chance to defragment your hard drive.  This is a process that places files near each other on the hard disk, reducing access time and allowing your computer to run faster.

You can select the Optimize menu and review community ratings for drivers and plug-ins that are installed and decide whether to delete them.

SlimCleaner Optimization Menu
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

The Software menu provides a list of all of your installed software along with community ratings of each of the software items so you can decide which to keep and which to delete.

The Browsers menu shows all of your installed web browsers and allows you to easily uninstall  unneeded toolbars to speed up your web browser.  The toolbars have community ratings to help you decide which are useful and which to delete.

The Disk Tools menu allows you to analyze your disk drives, find and remove duplicate files, and wipe data from drives.

The Windows Tools menu provides access to built-in Windows tools to speed up your computer such as Windows Update, the Services Monitor, Performance Monitor, etc.

The Hijack Log menu scans your computer for plugins and other software that could hijack your system and provides community ratings to help you decide what to keep and what to delete.

How to Get SlimCleaner for Free

I tried out SlimCleaner on my son's computer and was impressed enough to run it on my own computer as well.  It did make the boot-up time significantly shorter and does seem to make my computer run faster.

If you want to try SlimCleaner for free, here's the link to download from Slimware Utilities website
Free SlimCleaner Download

Recommended Reading:
Free Malware Scan Software to Speed Up Your Computer
How to Speed Up Windows 7 using Windows utilities
How to use a USB memory stick to Speed Up Windows Vista and Windows 7 with ReadyBoost

Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cable TV Alternatives- Cut cable and save up to $1200 per year

Cut Cable and Use Cable TV Alternatives to Lower your Bill

Most households pay about $100 per month for cable TV or satellite TV service.  That adds up to over $1200 per year.  We don't watch much TV anymore, so I tried to work out a different channel package with the service provider.  You can get cable TV packages for as little as $40 per month with limited channels.  Satellite TV service starts at about $70 per month after the special discounts disappear.  I was not able to find a package that saved much on the monthly bill and was worth having- so I cut the cord.  No more cable TV or satellite TV at the Pincher residence.

I did have some reservations about this decision.  What about watching Big 10 games on the Big 10 network?  What about watching Bloomberg TV for morning news instead of the fluffy "news" on network TV?  These are clearly luxuries, and I am sure I will survive just fine.  I will be turning to the internet for more of my news and entertainment.

Cable TV Alternatives

Free HD TV over the air
But even more concerning- what about local news and weather?  We always turn the TV on when a storm is coming to see if there is a severe weather threat.  What will we do now- there is literally nothing on TV with cable TV or satellite TV- right?  Wrong!  You can get several channels in high definition for free over the air.  All you need is a simple indoor HD TV antenna that you can purchase for about $50.  No more monthly bills and you can get free high definition TV.

I first tried a really inexpensive indoor HD TV antenna and did not get any channels- I live 30 miles or more away from the nearest TV stations.  I returned this antenna and found a much better one: RCA ANT1650F Flat Digital Amplified Indoor TV Antenna

This is a great indoor HD TV antenna.  This RCA model includes an amplifier to boost reception.  The antenna pattern is claimed to be omnidirectional, however I do find that I need to adjust the antenna slightly to get some stations in my area. The antenna is a black square shape that can be placed behind your TV, or can be hung on a wall like a picture, or it includes a stand and you can set it up on the floor.  This antenna comes with all of the cables you need to hook it up and get free HD TV.

Black rectangular antenna next to TV
Get free HD TV with an indoor HD TV antenna
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Shows amplifier and cables hooked up to TV
Indoor HD TV antenna includes and amplifier to boost reception and get more TV channels
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Admittedly the selection of channels is limited compared with cable TV or satellite TV.  I can get CBS, FOX, and about 5 Public Television channels.  If I set my antenna in the window, I can also pick up ABC and NBC stations.  I am actually pretty pleased with these choices- considering they are completely free and I will never need to pay a cable TV bill or satellite TV bill again.  This will certainly provide local news, weather, and sports.  I'll be able to watch quite a bit of NFL football on CBS and FOX.

UPDATE:  In a desperate attempt to get NBC to watch preseason NFL football, I found a single antenna orientation that works for NBC, CBS, and ABC in my area.  I placed the antenna face down near the TV- see picture below.  I had previously assumed that the antenna would work best standing vertically, but it is working great laying face down.

HD TV antenna laying face down next to TV set
Laying the indoor HD antenna flat works great in my area
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

How to Get Free HDTV with an Indoor HDTV Antenna

Streaming Video Services: Netflix/Hulu Plus/Amazon Prime
Another way we can still use our TV without cable TV or satellite TV services is to use Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Our Panasonic TV has built-in Netflix.  Netflix costs $7.99 per month and there is no limit to how much you can watch.  Netflix has movies that are a few years old, plus quite a few TV shows.  I like that you can watch an entire series on your schedule.

Our TV does not have a built-in app for Hulu Plus- we use our Wii or X-box console to play Hulu Plus movies and shows on our TV.  You can also use a video game console to get Netflix on your TV if Netflix is not built-in to your TV.  If you don't have a videogame console, you can get a Roku streaming media player for about $100.  A Roku player has a wi-fi receiver and high definition video output to connect to your TV set.  You can use services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime on a Roku Player.  Roku players also have a remote control which is handy.

How Much Can You Save with Cable TV Alternatives?

So what is our savings by cutting cable and satellite TV service?  Our monthly bill was $111.  Our HD TV over the air is free.  Our Netflix subscription is $7.99 per month.  We have a free trial of Hulu Plus- this will be $7.99 per month if we decide to keep it. So here's the net savings by cutting cable and going with free over-the-air TV and Netflix:

spreadsheet showing annual savings on cable TV alternative
Save over $1200 per year by cutting cable or satellite TV service and using cable TV alternatives!
Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

As you can see we are saving $103.01 per month which adds up to $1,236.12 in savings over a year by using alternatives to cable TV.  I can say that I have not really missed having all of those extra channels that much.  Using free HD TV with our indoor HD TV antenna and watching Netflix has filled the void.  For me, it is was certainly a good move to cut cable TV and use cable TV alternatives.

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How to Sell your Old Cell Phone and Get Cash

How to Get Cash for your Used Cell Phone

If you have an old cell phone that you are not using, you can quickly and easily get cash for it.  It is easier than ever to sell a used cell phone, with more businesses buying used cell phones to sell in secondary markets.  Prices offered by phone buyback companies are competitive since they want to buy your cell phone and resell it for a profit.

There are four ways to get cash for your old cell phone.  The best method for selling your cell phone will depend on how quickly you want to get your cash .  Also, the condition of your phone and the local demand for your phone are factors to consider.  If your phone is in excellent condition, you may get more selling it yourself to an individual buyer through craigslist or eBay.  If your cell phone is in average or worse condition, you may be better off selling it to a buying company rather than an individual.  If your phone is a few years old, you may have trouble finding a local buyer unless it is a very popular model such as an iPhone.

Pantech cell phone
Sell your used cell phone and get cash!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Piincher

How to Sell A Cell Phone

Get Money for your Cell Phone from ecoATM

This is an interesting way to get money for your cell phone.  ecoATM machines are artificial intelligence kiosks that use automatic image analysis to examine the condition of your cell phone.  ecoATM uses electrical diagnostics to make determine whether it is in good working order- you are offered a connector so you can plug your phone into the ecoATM for evaluation.  ecoATM will offer you a price for your phone and you can decide whether or not to sell it.  As you might expect from the ATM part of the name, you can get instant cash for your cell phone.

ecoATM does use a remote human operator to compare the photo on your ID with the video feed from the ecoATM.  The identity of sellers is tracked carefully to allow investigation if stolen cell phones are cashed in at ecoATM.

a machine that evaluates your cell phone and dispenses cash
ecoATM: an intelligent kiosk that buys cell phones
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Sell your Phone at an Electronics Store

Electronics stores such as Best Buy and GameStop will buy your used cell phone at the store.  Best Buy calls their program a trade in, but you don’t need to buy a new phone in order to sell your old phone.  At the service counter, they will look up your phone in a database by make, model, and condition and offer you a price.  They will also power up your phone and check that it is good working order.  You can get instant cash for your phone by selling it at an electronics store.

Best Buy store sign at night
Electronics stores such as Best Buy will buy used cell phones for cash
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Ship your Cell Phone to a Buyback Service

There are a number of buyback services that will buy your used cell phone by mail.  Here’s how it works:
  1. On the website, enter the make, model, and condition of you phone to get an estimate.
  2. If you are satisfied with the estimated price for your phone, ship your phone to the buyback service
  3. The buyback service receives your phone and evaluates it
  4. You payment is issued

Many cell phone buyback services offer free shipping if your phone value is over a certain amount.

Some popular cell phone buyback services to consider:
Best Buy mail service:
buymytronics (part of GameStop network):

An advantage of using buyback services is that you can quickly check offers for your phone on websites and pick the best offer.  However, it may take a couple weeks to ship your phone, have it evaluated, and receive your payment.  If you are looking for fast cash, you'll want to consider another method.

I checked out the value of my 2 year old BlackBerry Torch 9800 (AT&T).  I expected the value to be around $100.  The phone is in good working condition and has no water damage.  Here are the offers I received to buy my used cell phone:
  • Gazelle: $40
  • Best buy trade-in: $70
  • uSell: $27
  • recellular: $61
  • buymytronics: $50
  • casholdphone: $85

As you can see, there is a big difference in the value of a used cell phone depending on which buyback service you get an offer from- it pays to look at multiple offers and pick one of the best offers.  

I took my phone to the ecoATM at the local shopping mall.  ecoATM examined the BlackBerry and gave me a generous offer of.... $36.  I declined the offer from ecoATM since I should be able to get $70 at the Best Buy store if the offer at the store is the same as from the Best Buy on-line service.  However, I learned that the offer from Best Buy is for store credit at Best Buy- not cash.

I checked out the highest cash offer from casholdphone again.  I found that Casholdphone received an F rating from BBB and has complaints listed.  Maybe a $70 gift card at Best Buy is the best of these deals after all... 

After considering my offers, I decided to sell my BlackBerry myself on eBay.  This brings us to another way to get cash for your phone.

Sell you old cell phone yourself on craigslist, eBay, etc. and get cash

You might be able to get the most money for your cell phone if you’re willing to sell it yourself.  However, selling your phone yourself is a lot more work than selling it to a buyback service.  You'll want to check the market price for your cell phone on a couple of the buyback service websites above.  For it to be worth the effort, you'll want to set the asking price higher that the offers from buyback services.

One drawback of selling the phone yourself is that there is no way to predict how long it will take to sell.  It could sell in a day, or it may take one week, or it may take longer.  

If you sell on a eBay auction, you will know when the auction ends, but you will not know if you will get any bids.  If you offer a Buy It Now option, your phone could sell at any time.  Check some listings for phones of the same model and condition that you are selling to get an idea of the market price.  You will be able to see how high the bidding has gone on auctions that are near the ending time.

I ended up listing my BlackBerry with wall charger and USB cable on eBay with a starting price of $51 and Buy It Now price of $100.  The phone sold within 2 hours for $100.  eBay turned out to be a good way to sell the phone myself.  The payment was received through PayPal and was very easy- the money just showed up in my account.  I printed my own shipping labels through eBay and dropped the package off at the post office.

Penny Pinching Tips:
  • Get at least a couple offers for your used cell phone to consider.  Check offers from mail-in buyback services on their websites so you can compare offers.
  • The convenience of getting instant payment makes selling your cell phone at a local store or ecoATM kiosk appealing.
  • If you have a relatively new phone, or a popular model, you may be able to sell it yourself on craigslist or eBay and get the most money for your phone.  But it will take some work to advertise your phone.  With craigslist you'll need to meet with buyers to close the deal.  With eBay, you'll need to pack and ship your phone.
  • My pick if you're getting a new phone: get a Droid RAZR M free

Recommended reading:

Penny Pincher Journal
Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved.  Privacy Policy

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cell Phone Plans for Existing Cell Phones

Can I get cheap cell phone service for my existing cell phone?

Store sign for Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile
Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile Cell Phone Carriers offer Alternatives to the Major Carriers
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

I have an existing Blackberry cell phone on AT&T.  My 2 year contract ends in June and I will be the proud owner of a Blackberry cell phone.  Can I take advantage of the fact that I will have an existing cell phone that is paid for to get a lower cell phone bill?

The payment for a new cell phone is included in the contract plan when you sign up for service when you buy a cell phone.  For example if you get a $300 phone, you’ll pay $300 over 24 months at $12.50 per month to pay for the cost of the phone.

Since my phone is paid for, it seems like I should be able to find a plan that is about $12 per month cheaper.
If I go with a smaller carrier, I would prefer to have a no-contract plan in case I am not satisfied with the service or coverage.

My current monthly usage:

  • 100 minutes of voice calls
  • 150 texts including some with pictures
  • 100 Mb per month of data

I would be willing to give up data if I could save $20 per month or so.  I can use wi-fi instead of the cell network for data.  What options are available to get service for an existing cell phone?

Cell Phone Network Compatibility

One limitation of using your existing cell phone on a different network is compatibility.  GSM and CDMA are the major cell phone network types.  Your cell phone will be compatible with only one of these network types.

  • AT&T  and T-Mobile uses GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)
  • Sprint, Verizon, and US Cellular use CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)
  • Sprint has a "closed" list of ESN's so Verizon or US Cellular CDMA phones cannot be activated on Sprint network.

So my best bets among major carriers for an AT&T Blackberry are AT&T and T-Mobile.  There are also smaller carriers that use cell towers from the major carriers to provide service.  Some of these may be options as well.

Major Cell Phone Carriers

Following are highlights of offers from major cell phone carriers:


AT&T cell phones in store display
AT&T Store Display
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

  • $39.99 for 450 minutes voice
  • $20.00 for 300Mb data
  • $20.00 for unlimited texts

Expensive, but definitely compatible with my AT&T Blackberry.


Verizon Wireless store sign
Verizon Store Sign
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

  • $50 prepaid plan: unlimited voice, text, data on basic devices
  • Blackberry won’t qualify since it is a smart phone.  
  • I was not able to check the price for a smart phone plan on the website

As mentioned above, Verizon is not compatible with AT&T phones.


Sprint cell phone store sign
Sprint retail store
Image source: Dr. Penny Pincher

Option 1:

  • $39.95 450 minutes voice.
  • $5.00 add 300 messages

Option 2:

  • No-contract: $50/mo for unlimited voice, data and messages (on Sprint network)
  • $70 for smart phone plans

However Sprint network is not compatible with AT&T phones.


Bring your own phone plan: T-Mobile's website has links to help you unlock your phone if necessary.

  • $70 for unlimited voice, text, data.  
  • T-Mobile will sell you a SIM card to use in your existing phone
  • Family plans for $60 per line.

T-Mobile uses GSM like AT&T, so my old Blackberry may be compatible.
This may be a good deal if you use a lot of voice minutes or data, but I don't really need much.  I would like to find a plan for under $40 per month.  iWireless is a T-Mobile affiliate in Iowa and offers T-Mobile cell phone service.

U. S. Cellular

U. S. Cellular store sign
U.S. Cellular retail store
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

  • $50 for unlimited voice and text, 1GB data
  • $65 for unlimited voice and text, 2GB data
  • $35 for 400 minutes voice, 400 texts, 400 pics ($20 activation fee)

The U.S. Cellular website noted that pre-paid plans were not yet compatible with smart phones and indicated that must U.S. Cellular customer's phones would work with the pre-paid plans.  I didn't find information that indicated whether or not existing cell phones from other companies could be used.

Smaller Cell Phone Carriers

The smaller carriers use cell towers and infrastructure from the larger carriers to create their own plan offerings.

Boost Mobile

  • $60 unlimited talk and messaging, 2.5GB data
  • Payments shrink from $60 to $45 gradually as you make on-time payments
  • Service on Sprint network.

Sprint network is not compatible with AT&T phones, so this won't work for my AT&T Blackberry.


  • $40 unlimited talk, text, and data.  
  • First 500MB is at high speed 4G speed, then you get slower rate data for the rest of the month.  
  • You can pay $10 more to get 2.5GB of 4G data before it slows down.  
  • For $60 per month, you get unlimited 4G data.

It was not clear from the website whether I could use my 3G AT&T Blackberry on their service or not.


  • No contract plans, $50 for unlimited voice, messaging, and unlimited data, 1st 1GB at high speed
  • $60 +2.5GB high speed data
  • $70 5GB high speed data

The Cricket web site explains that existing phones can be flashed to Cricket service, but not all Cricket network features may work.

Page Plus Cellular

  • $12 plan with 250 minutes, 250 texts,  10MB data
  • $29.95 1200 min, 3000 texts, 250MB data

The Page Plus website says that only the small set of phones sold by Page Plus Cellular for use on their network is guaranteed to work.  So bringing an existing phone would be at your own risk.  The Page Plus Cellular phone prices range from $50 to $150.

The $12 plan sounds great…  I explored compatibility further and found that the following phones are compatible with Page Plus Cellular:

  • Page Plus
  • Alltel
  • Verizon
  • AMP’D

Unfortunately AT&T phones are not compatible on the Page Plus Cellular network,

Virgin Mobile

  • $35: 300 minutes, unlimited messaging, 2.5GB 4G data
  • $45: 1200 minutes, unlimited messaging, 2.5GB 4G data
  • $55: unlimited talk, unlimited messaging, 2.5GB 4G data

Uses Sprint network, so not compatible with my AT&T phone.
Also, the website says that you cannot use a phone from another network.

Straight Talk

  • Bring your own phone, keep your phone number
  • $45 unlimited data, talk, and text
  • $30 All you need plan:  1000 minutes, 1000 texts, 30Mb data
  • Bring a T-Mobile 4G phone and keep 4G service

Straight Talk services uses cell towers from several major carriers, so can support many types of phones including GSM phones like AT&T and T-mobile.  Straight Talk is a promising option if you have an existing cell phone and are looking for a good deal on cell phone service.

Recently, Straight Talk sim cards for AT&T are no longer sold in Walmart stores- you need to order these on-line.  Also, the Straight Talk website no longer talks of compatibility with AT&T phones- instead the description talks about compatibility with GSM phones.  This makes me nervous about future support for AT&T phones from Straight Talk.  Perhaps AT&T is realizing that AT&T customers are leaving AT&T to use the AT&T cell network through Straight Talk for half the cost.

Republic Wireless

  • Uses Sprint network and wi-fi to provide phone and data service
  • $19 and $29 unlimited plans with phone purchase

Republic Wireless use specific phone models for wi-fi service- their web site suggests the Motorola DEFY XT, so my AT&T Blackberry is not compatible.

Net10 Wireless

Net10 Wireless uses GSM networks, so is compatible with T-Mobile or AT&T phones.  The Net10 website says you can bring a T-Mobile compatible GSM phone, or an unlocked GSM phone that operates on compatible frequencies (850 and 1900 MHz).  You can purchase a Net10 standard or micro SIM card to get your phone on Net10 Wireless service.  Net10 has a $45 per month unlimited talk, text, and data plan renewable 30 days at a time that sounds promising.

Penny Pinching Tips

  • Cell phones and cell phone service are expensive- so choose wisely.  Pick the lowest cost phone and plan that meets your needs.
  • Cell phone network compatibility limits your ability to take your existing cell phone and move it to a different network
  • Some no-contract cell phone plans are likely compatible with your existing phone and may save you money
  • The $12 plan from Page Plus Cellular sounds promising, but you'll need an Alltel or Verizon phone
  • Straight Talk with a $45/month unlimited plan looks to be a good deal for my existing AT&T Blackberry phone and probably for existing phones from most other carriers as well
  • Net10 Wireless with a $45/month unlimited plan looks promising for T-Mobile and AT&T phones

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