Recent Posts

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Common Myths About Starting Your Own Business

Owning Your Own Business Can Be Great- Or Terrible!

  Better Drink That Coffee!
Better Drink That Coffee!

Many people dream of starting their own business.  If you own a business, you can be your own boss.  You can decide when to work.  And you get to keep the profits!  This sounds great, and it can be.  I ran a profitable business for 5 years and enjoyed all of these benefits-- and I learned some of the harsh realities of what it really takes to start and run a successful business.

It seems like people who are successful in business are happy to talk about the glamorous aspects of launching a business while downplaying the gritty reality of what it is really like to start with nothing but an idea and build something.

I started my first business as a college student.  I went into business with one of my engineering professors who had previously started a business in Silicon Valley.  What an experience that was!  One of the lessons I learned was that starting a business "for real" is not a hobby.  Let me just say that 100 hour work weeks for entrepreneurs is not a myth!  When you have even a small chance at a huge multi-million dollar payoff, working pretty much every waking hour can seem like something you need to do.

After selling this business, I started my own venture in an unfinished basement and ended up with an office downtown and even a few employees and subcontractors working for me.

Check out my latest article on Wise Bread to learn some of the hard realities I discovered about starting a business:  8 Common Myths About Starting A Small Business

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How Hard Would You Work to Get a Refund?

Who Wants The Money More?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes it comes down to who wants the money more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Stop Telemarketers and Scam Calls

The other day, I got an interesing voicemail message on my phone.

Stop Telemarketers and Scam Calls!
Stop Telemarketers and Scam Calls!

I noticed my phone was ringing, but I have stopped answering when I don't recognize the number since I get calls from so many telemarketers.  I even double checked to make sure that my number is registered on the National Do Not Call Registry.  It is, but sometimes telemarketers call anyway.

Since this call was from a "866" number, I was pretty sure it was a telemarketer, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't leave a message.  But they did.

The message was a voice synthesizer that read a message.  It said that my Windows license on my computer was expiring soon and that I should call the toll free number to renew it.

I decided to get right on that.  Of course I wasn't going to call and pay to renew my Windows license- this was obviously a scam.

I'm pretty sure the scam involves convincing people that their computer is about to become a useless paperweight unless they give their credit card number over the phone and pay $99 (or who knows how much) to renew their Windows license.  Windows licenses don't expire like that, and I'm sure the folks calling have no idea who I am or what kind of computer I have.

I mentioned the call to my son and he was pretty excited about giving them a call to find out more about the scam and to give them a hard time if possible.  My son gives me a hard time sometimes, and he likes me.  If I were a telemarketer, I wouldn't want to get a call from him...

We went in my son's room and closed the door.  We put the phone on speakerphone and set up another phone with a voice recorder app to record both sides of the conversation.  We talked about maybe saying we have a Mac or Linux computer and seeing if they would still try to take our money for a "Windows license renewal".

With the recorder rolling, we dialed the number from the scam voicemail.  But the toll free number in the spam message had already been disconnected.  This scam was so blatent that it must have been busted quickly.

Since I wasn't able to bust this scammer myself, I thought I would at least publish some tips to help everyone avoid phone scams.  This is my way of giving him a hard time since I couldn't reach him on the phone...

Here are some tips on cutting down on scam calls and telemarketers:

  • Register your number on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) National Do Not Call Registry.  This doesn't stop all telemarketing calls, but I think it cuts down the number of calls significantly since it is illegal for telemarketers to call if you are on the Do Not Call List.
  • If you do get a junk call, tell them to put you on their do not call list and hang up.
  • If you don't recognize the number of an incoming call, let it go to voicemail.  Most telemarketers don't bother to leave a message.
  • If you aren't sure whether a call is legitimate or not ask the caller to send their offer or request to you in the mail.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Can You Get Rich Selling Used Skis?

Today I made my way to the used sporting goods store to sell some old skis I found in my garage.  In yesterday's post, I ran through my thought process as I decided where to sell the skis.  The big question for today is:  How much would I get?

Can You Get Rich Selling Used Skis?
Can You Get Rich Selling Used Skis?

The skis were made in Austria and seemed to be in good condition, but I had no idea how much they were worth.  I briefly searched on eBay to get some idea of how much they could sell for, but I didn't find anything similar.

So this was going to be somewhat suspenseful.  I realized that the skis were pretty old- but maybe that would be a good thing.  Maybe they were collectible, or maybe even antiques.  Perhaps I would get really lucky and find out that I was the owner of some really valuable skis...

I carried the skis into the Play It Again Sports shop.  The man at the counter had me fill out a standard form with my name and address.  While I filled that out, he measured the skis and checked out the locking mechanism on them.  It was clear he knew how the skis were supposed to work.

I finished filling out the form about the same time he finished examining the skis.

"Okay," he announced.  I knew that the big reveal of the value of the skis was about to happen.  It reminded me of Antiques Roadshow where people take old items in to be appraised and are sometimes pleasantly surprised when the value turns out to be really high.

"I have a lot of skis and there hasn't been much snow, so I'm going to offer you store credit," he began.

This was not very encourgaing, but I was curious to know how much store credit we were talking about.

"Okay," I said.

"I would sell these for $20.  They are an older style with a gravity-operated mechanism, but it still works.  I can give you 40% of the price, $8 in store credit," he said.

This was not the big payday I was hoping for!  I told him I wanted to think about it for a minute.  I walked over to the ski section and did in fact find similar skis priced at $20.

I decided that I didn't want the skis, I would never use them and they were taking up space in my garage.  It seemed that the price he came up with was reasonable based on looking at the other skis for sale.  If I could get $8 that I could use to pay for a birthday present for my kids, or bicycling gear, etc. then I should go ahead and sell them.

I walked out with a $8 store credit certificate in hand.

It pays to sell unneeded items instead of throwing them away.  I got something for the skis, someone else will get to use them, and the store will make a little bit of money and stay in business.  It seems like everyone gets a (small) win.

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Where To Sell My Old Sporting Goods?

How Can I Get the Most Money for My Used Sporting Goods?

Where Should I Sell My Used Sporting Goods?
Where Should I Sell My Used Sporting Goods?

When cleaning out my garage, I came across an old pair of cross-country skis that came with the house when we moved in.  These skis seem to be in good shape, but appear to require some kind of special shoes to use them.  Since I do not have this kind of shoes and have no plan to get special ski shoes, it is time to sell the skis.

So the question of the day is:  What is the best way to sell my old skis?

Of course, I want to get as much money as possible for the skis.  Also, I would prefer something quick and easy rather than slow and painful.  Here is what I am thinking-

I could list the skis for sale on craigslist, but I have no idea how much to ask for them and I couldn't answer any questions about them.

I could list the skis for sale on an eBay auction.  This would solve the problem of not knowing how much to ask for them.  But if they sell, I would have to deal with shipping a large item.  This seems like a lot of trouble.

I could take the skis to a local auction house to avoid shipping.  But it would probably cost me more to drive there than I would get for the skis.  Most people go to the auction to buy things such as tools, furniture, and antiques.

I could take the skis to my favorite consignment shop.  Again, the problem is that almost no one goes into the consignmet shop looking for skis.  Although there is a small sporting goods section in the store, most people buy housewares, furniture, and clothes at the consignment shop.  I fear my skis would sit on the shelf until summer and then sell for a very low price...

So a good place to sell the skis would be a consignmet shop where people go to buy sporting goods.  Fortunately for me, there is such a place:  Play It Again Sports.  They buy used sporting goods to resell.  And "skis" is on their list of desired items since it is still winter.  According to their website, they will pay cash for used sporting goods, or you can sell items on consignment.

I have the skis loaded up for a trip to the Play It Again Sports store that is not too far out of my way.

The best place to sell used sporting goods depends on the item and how much you know about it.  In this case, I decided to give a used sporting goods store a try.

Stay tuned to see how much I get for my old skis...

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