Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Plan to Get an Ugly Chair for 80% Off

Today I spotted an awesome chair and ottoman (matching footstool) for sale at the local consignment store.  It was in new condition and was very comfortable.  But the exotic animal print on the fabric would not match the decor of most rooms.  This is good news, because at the consignment store, prices are reduced by 50% after 60 days and reduced down to 80% off after 90 days.

Price Markdown Schedule at the Consignment Store
  Price Markdown Schedule at the Consignment Store

Due to the unusual fabric pattern, I think there is a good chance this chair could still be for sale after 90 days, and I could get this awesome chair and ottoman set for 80% off.  The full price today was $150.  Too much.

At 50% off after 60 days, the price will be $75.  Still too much.

At 80% off after 90 days, the price will be $30.  This works for me.  In fact, this is a bit less than price I paid for the other chairs in my living room.  I am planning to put the chair in a room with cedar paneling and nothing else that it needs to match, so it would be just right for me.

My plan is to stop by the consignment store first thing when it opens on the day that the chair will be marked down to 80% off.

For this plan to work, I'll need to figure out the exact date when it will be marked down to 80% off.  The example on the markdown sign for today on Dec. 30:  items placed on the floor on Sept. 30 are 80% off, and items placed on the floor October 30 are 50% off.

After checking out some duration between dates with an online tool to calculate the duration between two dates, it appears that items are marked down to 50% on day 61, and the markdown to 80% off happens on day 91.

So when will my chair be marked down to 50% off and 80% off?  It was placed for sale on November 19, 2017.  Day 61 (50% off) will start on January 19, 2018 , and Day 91 (80% off) will start on February 18, 2018.

I don't really care about the 50% off date since the price will be too high, except for the fact that someone else may decide to buy the chair when it gets marked down to half price.  That is a risk I'll have to take.

February 18 falls on a Sunday this year.  I see that the consignment store opens at 11am on Sundays.  So, I'll plan to pop in first thing when the store opens on this date and see if the chair is still there or not.  If it is there marked down to 80% off, I'll be loading it up at about 11:05am!

Wish me luck...

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Skipping Christmas- Am I A Grinch?

I hope no one calls me a Grinch, but I decided to skip Christmas this year.  Running around buying expensive presents, and dealing with returning duplicate and defective items after Christmas seems like such a waste of time and money.

Am I a Grinch For Skipping Christmas Presents?
  Am I a Grinch For Skipping Christmas Presents?  

Skipping Christmas would not work for everyone.  I can get away with this because my kids are older, with one in college and the other in high school.  If you have younger kids, you probably WILL be called a Grinch if you try to skip Christmas.  If you have kids under about 6 years old, you will have some serious explaining to do if you decide to skip Christmas...

By "skipping Christmas", I mean skipping the buying presents part.  We still put up the Christmas tree and we put up more outdoor lights than ever.  But we'll also skip the buying candy to put in stockings part.  Stocking stuffers are expensive, and everyone in my household has pretty much moved on from eating candy.

This year we plan to use the money we save from skipping the presents for a road trip instead.  I like the idea of getting an experience as a family instead of buying more stuff that we don't need.  With our youngest graduating from high school soon, this may be our last road trip as a family unit.

Not only did we save money on the cost of presents, but we didn't pay for gas to drive around buying presents, we didn't spend money on shipping for presents, and we won't end up making additional purchases sparked by presents.  For example, if you buy your kids a new video game console, you are setting yourself up to buy hundreds of dollars of games in the future.

Plus, by skipping the presents, we conserved natural resources that would have been consumed for manufacturing the presents, packaging them, and wrapping them to put under the tree.

How would you feel about skipping Christmas presents to save money, conserve resources, and reduce stress and hassle?

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Free Lunch (Almost)

I took my lunch to work like I do almost every day.  As usual, I carried it in my giant insulated lunchbox.

My giant insulated lunchbox!
  This lunchbox is HUGE- check out how big it is compared to the pen next to it!  

Today's almost free lunch menu:
1) About 1 cup of raw "baby" carrots, 30 days past the "use by" date on the bag.  I count these as free since they were basically rescued from the garbage.

2) A small container of guacamole with garden vegetables that no one at my house liked- including me!  My wife said to just throw it away, but I decided I would be hungry enough at work that it would taste good.  This trick worked.  Things do taste better when you are hungry.

3) A few corn chips for the guacamole.  I took a bag from home that was already open and brought it back.  The entire bag cost about $2.50 and I would say I took about 50 cents worth of the chips.

4) Office baked macaroni and cheese.  We had some leftover plain pasta noodles from dinner last night.  I added a pat of butter in the glass Tupperware container when I packed the noodles in my lunchbox.  I also brought a small hunk of cheddar cheese.  I used the real knife I keep at work (don't worry, it is only a bread knife and is OK to have) to slice up the cheddar on top of the noodles and butter before microwaving.  This turned out pretty well.  I am sure no one would have eaten the noodles.  The butter was probably 10 cents worth, and the cheese maybe another 50 cents.

So, the damage for my lunch today:
  • Expired carrots, let's call them free.
  • Unwanted guacamole, let's call it free.
  • Corn chips from an already opened bag, let's call it 50 cents.
  • A pat of butter and a small block of cheddar, let's call it 60 cents.

Total: $1.10

OK, so it wasn't a free lunch, but as they say... there's no such thing as a free lunch!

I have saved tons of money over the years scavenging stuff from home to take for lunch and snacks in my giant lunchbox.  I try to grab stuff that would otherwise get thrown away and have it for lunch, as long as it is not spoiled.

If you haven't developed the habit of packing and taking your lunch, you are missing out on an easy way to eat healthier and save some real money.

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

Monday, December 18, 2017

What Am I Selling Here?

The other day, I read a book about content marketing.  The point of content marketing is to produce articles or whitepapers that lead readers to buy something that you are selling.  For example, a blog may provide some free tips on how to be a blogger in order to promote the purchase of an ebook or training program about making a lot of money at blogging.

What Am I Selling Here?
What Am I Selling Here?

The author of the book on content marketing stated several times that if you are blogging and don't know what you are selling on your blog, then you're wasting your time.

This made me think: what is it I am selling on this blog?  Of course, I am promoting my e-book with 101 tips to save money.  I have sold 10's of thousands of copies.  The problem (for me) is that it is selling for the price of free!  Does it count if what you are selling is free?

Another thing I am selling on my blog is advertising.  Last night I loaded the Penny Pincher Journal homepage on my cell phone and I noticed there were 2 banner ads: one for Honda featuring their new minivan and one for CBS featuring new episodes of Big Bang Theory.  It's cool that international businesses like Honda and CBS are choosing to advertise on my blog.  The good news (for you) is that this advertising doesn't cost readers anything.

Now that I think about it, something I am selling on this blog is: myself.  By having a collection of published articles, I was able to land a nice freelance writing gig at Wise Bread.  This has brought in some money and has lead to syndicated articles at, Business Insider, Yahoo Finance, and a number of other high profile places.  I have also gotten to write some guest posts at other blogs due to my presence on this blog.

I did try making a few products that cost money:

Two things I learned from marketing both free products and products that cost money:
  1. You have to sell free products.  Just because it's free doesn't mean people will want it.  You have to convince them that it is worth their time and hassle even if it is free.
  2. Free products are a lot easier to sell than products that cost money.  Even if you are charging just a little bit of money, it is a quantum leap for most people to decide to spend money on buying something vs. a free download or viewing a free webpage.
But back to the original question: what am I really selling?  Sure, I would like it if people bought lots of copies of my ebook and audiobooks, but I'm not really pushing them.  I think what I am really selling here is free resources to help people save money.  I'll put up a few ads, and if there are enough people looking at my free resources, I'll make some money from the advertising.

I like this plan because it doesn't take money from those people who are here trying to find ways to save money!  The money comes from advertisers who make money from the sales leads that the ads produce.  Everyone wins.  The trick is to bring in enough readers to make the advertising pay.

And I'll keep writing articles as a freelancer to sell to publishers.  This gets my name out there, spreads my message, and brings in some money.  This allows people who can benefit from information on saving money to get it for free.  The publishers pay me for my articles and get paid from advertising revenue on their site.  Advertisers make money from sales leads.  Again, everyone wins.

So here's what I'm selling on this blog: I am giving away tips and resources on saving money for free in order to generate some revenue from advertising and to promote my ability to sell articles to other publishers.

For me, producing and trying to sell my ebook and audiobooks that cost money has been more of a waste of time than simply giving my stuff away for free.  I plan to focus on promoting my free stuff, producing more really great free stuff, and not worry about selling anything.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Advantages of Driving an Older Car

Why I Like Driving an Older Car

My $450 Pickup Truck
My $450 Pickup Truck

This picture of my $450 pickup truck still makes me smile.  I saw a classified ad in the paper (this was a few years ago) for a pickup truck for sale for $500.  I called the number and arranged to go and check it out.  The truck was owned by a young guy with a big bushy beard who literally lived on the edge of a dump.  He had built a homemade topper on the back of the truck, which seemed to be in OK mechanical condition for a 16 year old vehicle.

As I was checking the truck out, he mentioned he needed some money for the weekend coming up.  I offered him a check for $450 and he signed over the title.  I was the proud owner of an older vehicle!

The only thing this truck needed was a new gas cap.  I drove it for a year with no problems at all and then sold it.

The car I drive now is 13 years old.  It is in better shape than the old Dodge Ram pickup, but it has some quirks.  One window does not work, and I taped it closed with duct tape as a permanent repair.

Driving an older vehicle does have some disadvantages.  Reliability may be reduced.  Occasional repairs may be needed (or deferred).  But overall, driving an older vehicle has some significant advantages:

Low Cost

The most obvious advantage of driving an older car is cost.  Older cars are less expensive to buy, and it is much more feasible to buy an older car with cash instead of financing it and making payments every month.  I have made car payments that are more than $450 per month, but if you are willing to drive an older car, you can buy it outright for the cost of only one car payment.

No Depreciation

Another thing I like about driving an older car is you don't have to worry about depreciation.  Once a car has a lot of miles on it, the amount of value that is reduced by driving more miles is almost nothing.  But the cost of putting miles on a new car is very expensive in terms of depreciation and reduction of resale value.  When you drive an older car, you celebrate putting more miles on it instead of dreading it like you do with a newer car.

Cheap Insurance and Registration

Older cars are much less expensive to insure and registration fees for older cars are almost nothing.

No Worries About Minor Damage

Plus, with an older cars many repairs are optional.  I was just telling my kids a story about the time when I was in college and someone bumped into my car when it was parked on the street, scraping it.  The person left a note on my windshield offering to file a report with his insurance company to get it repaired.  I called him and told him not to worry about it.  If I had a newer car, I would have worried about it.  Another example of this is the broken window that I repaired with duct tape.  I wouldn't be able to save money and hassle by doing a quick homemade repair like this if I had a newer car.

Expensive Options for Almost Free

One of my favorite things about my current old car is that it is loaded with features such as heated leather seats, a sunroof, a towing package, and a 6-disc CD player and awesome stereo.  When you are buying an old car, it doesn't cost much more to get one that is fully loaded with the most expensive options.

You can always find a nicer, more expensive car with better features.  But it is hard to beat an older car that runs and that is paid off!

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The $4.11 Turkey (15 lbs)

The 411 on Bargain Turkey

Bargain Turkey after Thanksgiving!
Bargain Turkey after Thanksgiving!

The Saturday after Thanksgiving I was at the grocery store with Mrs. Penny Pincher to pick up a few things.  As I walked the aisles, I wondered if there would be an overstock of turkeys that could be had at bargain prices.  I figured that the store would not want to risk running out of turkeys before Thanksgiving and would err on the side of having too many.

I learned I was right about my suspicions of a turkey overstock when I came across a 15 pound turkey on sale for $4.11.  It was in a refrigerator case, so I wouldn't even need to mess around with thawing it out.  I could just pop it in the oven and gets 15 pounds of really easy and really cheap food.  Apparently someone had ordered this one (it had a name written on a tag), but had not picked it up.  There were 5 or 6 other defrosted turkeys of similar size and price.

Next year, I'll plan to go bargain hunting for defrosted turkeys on the day after Thanksgiving.  We ended up eating the turkey for several days, including lots of slices of turkey meat and even made a turkey casserole.

I wonder if I could pick up a cheap ham after Christmas?

Project time: Less than one hour.
Project cost: About $4.11.
Savings: Probably about $15 vs. buying a turkey at full price.  Having cheap food around instead of buying other things for lunch and dinner for a few days probably saved even more.

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

I Repaired My Car Window with Duct Tape (and It's OK)

I Repaired My Car Window with Duct Tape (and It's OK)

Broken car window held closed with duct tape
Broken car window held closed with duct tape

A funny thing happened last summer.  The rear driver side window in my car wouldn't roll up.  It was having some intermittent problems with the electric motor going up and down and would sometimes get stuck for a few minutes until it would move again.  Finally it stopped moving altogether.  Pushing the window up into the closed position didn't work.  The window would just slide about half way open and would not stay closed.

It would have been more convenient if the window would have stopped working in the closed position instead of the open position.  If the window had stuck in the closed position, I could have ignored it.  But with the window open, rain would come in and cause further damage.  Plus wind noise at highway speed is pretty loud with the window half way down all the time.  Clearly I would need to do something about the window not being able to close.

I thought about taking my car in to a shop to have the window repaired, but I have heard horror stories about bills of hundreds of dollars for repairing electric car windows.  Coming up with that kind of money was not going to work.  But I had duct tape.  Not every problem can be solved with duct tape - or at least that is what my wife tells me.  But I decided this was just the kind of problem that called for duct tape.

I didn't want my car to look too junky with duct tape all over since I drive it to work.  So I decided to tape the window closed from the inside with duct tape, and trim the tape neatly to make it less obvious that the window is taped closed.

Minimizing the amount of duct tape is a security enhancement too, since the window could be pried open from outside, and using a lot of duct tape would call attention to that fact.  From outside the car, the small amount of duct tape is barely visible.

Duct tape was a better solution than glue for keeping the window closed since the duct tape can be removed easily.  If I find either the money to have the window repaired, or the time to figure out how to repair it myself with salvaged parts, I will be able to remove the duct tape fairly easily.

I added a finishing touch to the project by placing some painter's tape over the window switch in the back seat.  This serves as a reminder not to try to move the window with the switch since it is taped closed.

Painter's tape over window switch
Painter's tape over window switch

The duct tape has been holding for over 6 months now without any problems.  As you can see in the first photo, I used some silver duct tape and some extra-strong "gorilla" black duct tape to keep the window closed.

Project time: Less than one hour.
Project cost: About $1.
Savings: Probably a few hundred dollars by using duct tape instead of repairing the electric window.

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!

Welcome to Penny Pincher Journal!

Dr. Penny Pincher
 Dr. Penny Pincher 

Do you wish you had more money?  The easiest way to get more money is to spend less!

It's a vicious cycle: you spend more money to buy more stuff, only to find that you are still not satisfied.  All of that spending in pursuit of happiness is keeping you in debt and limiting your lifestyle options.  I have found that there will always be at least one more thing you want to buy in order to be happy...  The way to break this cycle and find happiness is to spend less money, not more!

If you are looking for easy ways to spend less money, you are in the right place!  Penny Pincher Journal is a blog loaded with FREE articles and advice to help you spend less money and enjoy life more.  You can even get a free eBook here with 101 tips to help you spend less money.

Take a look around this site and get free money-saving advice and tips from Dr. Penny Pincher.  Stop back soon- new articles and blog posts are added frequently.

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How to Return an Item Without a Receipt, and Without Original Packaging

Return Without Receipt, and Without the Box!

Deboot, verb:  To return unneeded boots and get much-needed cash.  In extreme cases, this can be done even after the box is recycled, and without a receipt.

How to do a return without a receipt, and without the box
How to do a return without a receipt, and without the box

The other day, my wife showed me some boots she had picked up at Kohl's sometime within the past few weeks.  She mentioned that they pinched her feet and she wanted to return them.

On one hand, this was great news.  She got the fun of shopping and getting new boots, and it wasn't going to cost anything.  We could get the money back, plus we would regain valuable closet space.

But the bad news is that I remembered recycling the box.  I usually save boxes for a few weeks after a purchase in case we need to return an item.  But I knew this one was long gone.

"Do you have the receipt?" I asked.  Mrs. Penny Pincher said it was probably in her purse.  After a thorough search of her purse, her car, and the recycling bin, I concluded that the receipt was also gone.

So we had some unwanted boots with no receipt and no box.  But we knew what store they were from, and she knew she used one of the credit cards in her purse to buy them.  I was willing to give returning them a try even though I knew it would be a challenge.

I found a Kohl's bag to carry the boots into the store.  It wasn't as good as having the box, but at least it conveyed that the boots were bought from that store.  When I reached the front of the return line, I explained that I needed to do a return without a receipt.  They said they could look up the purchase if I had the credit card.

I started going through my wife's collection of credit cards from her purse.  We checked her Kohl's card, and it wasn't that one.  We tried a U. S. Bank card, and it wasn't that one.  We tried looking up her Kohl's reward card number, but this also failed.  We tried another U. S. Bank card and it was a winner!

The entire process of doing a return without a receipt and without the original packaging took only a few minutes.  It was well worth it to get over $33 back and avoid wasting a pair of boots that were not needed.

Here are the highlights of how to do a return with no receipt and without original packaging:

  • Make sure the item you are returning is clean and is in new condition
  • Take the item back to the store and ask to return it
  • Request to search for the purchase on a credit card transaction
  • Be friendly to the store employees in the return line, it might take some patience to find the purchase on a credit card
  • Bring all of the credit cards with you that could have been used to make the purchase
  • Keep track of which cards you have checked so you don't end up checking the same card twice

What if you paid cash instead of using a credit card?  Doing a return without a receipt is easier if you used a credit card since there is a record of the transaction that the store can look up.  You might still be able to return the item even if there is no record of the purchase, but you might get store credit instead of a refund.  Also, you might get the lowest sale price for the item instead of the price you paid.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

DIY Rear View Mirror Replacement

Today as my son was pulling out of the driveway, his rear view mirror fell off!

My Rear View Mirror Fell Off!  How Can I Fix It?
My Rear View Mirror Fell Off!  How Can I Fix It?

This is the same 13 year old Toyota Matrix that just underwent a door check strap replacement (details on how I saved $160 by doing this repair myself are in my post from last week).

So now, I had an opportunity to learn how to replace a rear view mirror that has fallen off.

The key to success is to remove the "button" from the rear view mirror assembly.  The "button" is a flat metal part that is attached with adhesive to the windshield.

The general procedure to re-attach a rear view mirror is:
  1. Remove the "button" from the mirror assembly.
  2. Using a razor blade, carefully remove the old adhesive from the windshield and the "button"
  3. Clean the windshield where the "button" will be attached
  4. Apply the activator to both the windshield and "button" and wait 5 minutes
  5. Apply a drop of adhesive to the "button" and press it in place against the windshield for 1 minute
  6. Wait at least 15 minutes for the adhesive to cure, then reattach the rear view mirror

Here are the tools and materials you'll need:
  • Screw driver to remove rear view mirror from "button".  Mine had a screw that took a star driver to remove.
  • Razor blade to remove old adhesive from "button" and windshield
  • Glass cleaner and paper towel or rag to clean windshield
  • Gloves to wear when applying the adhesive
  • And of course you'll need rear view mirror adhesive, I used a product from 3M that cost under $10, see picture below.

Rear View Mirror Adhesive
Rear View Mirror Adhesive
You can get rear view mirror adhesive at a car parts store or order it from Amazon.

3M 08749 High Bond Rearview Mirror Adhesive - 0.02 fl. oz.

The set includes a tube of activator and a tube of adhesive that are designed to attach the rear view mirror to the windshield.

Here is what the rear view mirror "button" looks like:

Rear View Mirror "Button"
Rear View Mirror "Button"

The button is a flat piece of metal that is glued on to the windshield.  The rear view mirror assembly has an opening that fits the shape of the button.  It very difficult to re-attach the rear view mirror without removing the button.  You'll want to remove the button, re-attach that to the windshield, and then hang the rear view mirror assembly back in place.

Rear View Mirror Button Back In Place
Rear View Mirror Button Back In Place
The photo above shows the rear view mirror button back in place after scraping the old adhesive off, cleaning the windshield, applying activator, and applying adhesive and pressing the button back in place.

Next, wait at least 15 minutes for the adhesive to cure.

Finally, hang the rear view mirror assembly in place on the button and attach it with a set screw to hold it in place.

Hanging the Rear View Mirror on the Button
Hanging the Rear View Mirror on the Button

With the rear view mirror attached again, the car was ready to drive.  This repair took about 30 minutes and was pretty easy to do.  I don't know how much a body shop would charge for this, but I would guess around $50.

Stay tuned to see what breaks next on the old Toyota Matrix...

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saving $160 on a Simple Car Repair

How I Saved $160:  DIY Replacement Car Door Stop Strap

The Broken Car Door Check Strap...
The Broken Car Door Check Strap...

The other day, we were saying goodbye to my teenage son in the driveway.  His suitcases were in the back, and he was heading out on his first real road trip, a 100 mile drive to a summer camp.  As he was closing his car door, something snapped on the driver's side of the 13 year old Toyota Matrix.

A small hinge in the middle of his car door had broken in half.  The door would now swing wide open, more than 90 degrees, but the door still seemed to close securely.  We didn't investigate this much at the time since he had to go to make it to his summer camp opening events on time.

After he returned, I took the Toyota with the broken door check strap to the shop and asked if they could repair it.  They could, but the cost would be $225.

I asked if they meant $2.25, but no-- the estimate was actually for over $200 to replace the little hinge in the middle of the door.  They said the part is specific to this model of car and is quite expensive.  This seemed like way too much, so I declined.

I checked out some videos on YouTube on how to replace this part.  It was held in place by 3 bolts, one in the frame of the door, and 2 more to hold the other side of the hinge in the door itself.  The only tricky part is that you have to remove a couple of screws and pop the door panel off of the metal part of the door.  I always worry that I won't be able to put something like this back together, but I decided that it would be worth the trouble if I could save more than about $50 by doing the repair myself.

My next move was to look for this part myself.  I could get a brand new part for this model of car for $90 from a car parts store.  This is still expensive, but better than $225.

Next, I decided to look at junk yards for a salvaged part.  I didn't think the door check strap needed to be brand new since no other part on the 13 year old car was new.  Plus, I had never seen this part break on a car before, so I thought a used one would be fine if the price was better.

I started calling junk yards and salvage yards.  The first two I called did not have this part.  It was often included with the door, and I didn't want to buy an entire door assembly to get the part.  I tried a third junk yard-- they didn't have the part, but could get it the next day.  The price:  $55.  I placed the order.

I assembled the tools I needed for the job: a 10mm socket wrench, a Phillips screwdriver, a small flat blade screwdriver to remove a screw cover, and a pry bar.  The instructions called for a plastic pry bar to carefully remove the door panel, but I used a small metal pry bar that I already had and wrapped a rag around it to protect the plastic door panel.

As with most projects, the disassembly part was quick and easy.  Installing the new door stop hinge was easy too.  But getting the door panel attached straight and tight when putting everything back together was a little tricky.  Luckily Mrs. Penny Pincher walked by at the right time and helped get the door panel lined up and snapped in nice and tight, just like new!  Tip: line up the door panel at the top, along the window first, and then work down from there.

Here's how much I saved by installing the door check strap myself:

Car shop estimate: $225
Salvaged part cost: $60 (including tax, etc)
Gas to drive to get the salvaged part: $5

Savings: $225 - $60 - $5 = $160

It took about an hour to track down and drive to pick up the salvaged part, and about 30 minutes to install it.  So my hourly rate of pay for doing this project was over $100 per hour!

Even if you don't have any of the tools for this repair and had to buy them, it would still be worth doing this project yourself.  I'm glad I gave this a try considering how much money I saved.

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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

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Tightening the Belt: Are You Measuring the Wrong Things?

Tightening The Belt
Tightening The Belt

This morning, I ran into a problem-- the kind of problem it's nice to have.  I put on my belt and found that it didn't work...  I tightened it up all the way and buckled it, but it wasn't doing anything.  It was time to tighten the belt.

I stepped out into my woodshop and removed my belt.  My cordless drill was standing ready for just such a situation.  I popped a drill bit in and laid the belt on a scrap of 2x4.  I picked just the right spot for a new hole so I could tighten the belt, and after a slight hesitation, I pulled the trigger.

Here's How I Made My Belt Smaller With A Drill
Here's How I Made My Belt Smaller With A Drill

An interesting thing about tightening the belt:  you might think I have lost weight and this resulted in the need to tighten my belt.  But I weighed myself first thing this morning before I even put on the belt and my weight has not changed lately.  So why didn't my belt fit anymore?

Measuring weight and measuring your waist size are not measures of the same thing.  I have been riding my bike (both my free 1972 Schwinn Super Sport and my EVO CX indoor exercise bike).  I have been crawling around my attic working on some projects.  Last weekend, I dug up a tree and moved it around to the front of my house.  This weekend, I dug into the side of a hill to install some terraced landscape timbers.  With nice spring weather coming in, my dogs have been insisting on longer and faster walks every day.

The reason I needed to tighten my belt isn't that I lost weight, it is that I lost some fat and gained some muscle.  I still have the same amount of weight, it has just moved around a little bit.  So my belt size is telling me more about my fitness right now than the weight reading on my scale.

This made me think about ways that people measure money and the progress they are making.  People tend to pick a number and focus on improving that number.  For example, if you are attacking debt you will focus on your debt balance.  If you are trying to build an emergency fund, you will focus on your savings account balance.  If you are trying to hit an investment goal to reach retirement, you will focus on your investment account balance.  If you are trying to reduce expenses, you might focus on your spending totals.  The reason I was focused on weighing myself is that my doctor "helped" me set a goal for my weight.

The problem with picking one number to monitor and improve is that it may be a precise measure of something that doesn't tell the whole story.  That is why my smaller belt size confused me at first.  I was thinking that my weight on the scale was the metric that mattered.  Tightening the belt reminded me that there are lots of measures of my health and fitness that matter as well, even things that go beyond numbers at all.

The most revealing personal finance number to focus on is your net worth, which is a measure of your total assets minus your total liabilities.  But even a comprehensive number like this may not tell you everything you need to know about your financial health.  Focusing on a number may be keeping you from thinking about how you are really doing.

Are you stressed out, or is your life satisfying?  Are you growing and on a path to reach your goals, or are you just trying to survive until something changes?  No matter what scale you are using to measure progress in your financial life, financial success only really matters if you are successful in life, whatever that means.  "Success in life" is hard to measure, so people tend to measure and track financial success instead.

So when my doctor asks me to set a goal at my next physical exam, instead of throwing out an ambitious number for a weight goal or blood pressure reading, I'll tell him I want to take my dogs for walks so long and so fast that they can barely keep up.  I want to ride my bike to reach remote places that few people will ever see.  I want to do whatever landscaping projects that my wife dreams up without even thinking about hiring younger guys to do the hard work instead of doing it myself.  To me, these goals matter more than tracking numbers.

Tracking your net worth and other key metrics can provide useful insights into your financial well-being.  But are you focusing too much energy on numbers that are easy to measure instead of appreciating the things that really matter to you?

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

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."

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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.

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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?


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