Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Groupon How I love Thee


What is a Groupon you ask? Essentially it is a coupon, a deal, a steal, a magic cheese wheel. Companies approach the website (http://editorial.thepoint.com/) with a proposition that goes something like this, “If you guys can get 20 people to sign up to get LlamaRides©, we’ll give them 60% off.” Then the website puts this amazing opportunity up and waits to see if there are 20 people interested in riding llamas. Here’s the catch, if only 19 people sign up for the Groupon, the deal is cancelled, no one is charged anything, but they also don’t get their quality time with a member of the Camelidae family.

Unfortunately Groupon is only catering to Chicago, Boston, and New York. But if you live in one of these cities (and probably others soon, the Boston site has only been operating since mid-March) there are some opportunities to get awesome deals on activities and services you use anyway.

I find there are great ways to treat myself without breaking my budget. A haircut and mani-pedi for 70% off at a shi-shi salon? Comes out to about what I’d normally be willing to pay for just a cut at the place in the strip mall. I’m not paying more, but I’m vastly increasing the quality of services that I’m getting. Now, 40% off radial tires? Not my thing, but if you need radial tires I bet you’d be stoked.

As always don’t get caught up in the deal. Just because something is cheap that doesn’t mean you need it. If, however, you need it and it’s cheap then you’re golden. Happy saving!





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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Carnival of Everything Money: First-timer's Edition


Spring CarnivalImage by dreamagicjp via Flickr



Welcome to the April 28, 2009, edition of the Carnival of Everything Money. There were a ton of entries this week. Here are, in my opinion, the best of the best:



Editor's Picks

Travis presents Money for Time, or Time for Money? | personalwebguide.com posted at Personal Web Guide.

MDT presents A Macro Perspective: One way war keeps poor people poor posted at True Adventures in Money Hacking. A great article from my cohort, MDT.

Rob presents Learn a lesson with the Power Hog posted at Energy Saving Gadgets. Teach your kids a valuable lesson about the cost of energy.




credit

Raj Patel presents Credit Card Industry Providing Credit Help Websites? posted at DebtGoal.

The Dough Roller presents Citi Forward Review posted at The Dough Roller. Citibank has recently launched a new credit card called Forward. Unique in the industry, the card actually rewards members with bonus points and lower interest rates for paying their bills on time and not going over their credit card limit.

Mr Credit Card presents American Express Platinum Card Review posted at Ask Mr Credit Card.

apply4-credit presents New to Credit Cards? Here is What You Should Know posted at Apply4-Credit.

CreditCardAssist.com presents Understanding Your Credit Card Account - How APR is Calculated posted at Credit Card Assist.

Destroy Debt presents My Credit Limit Got Lowered Below My Outstanding Balance posted at Destroy Debt.

Credit Shout presents Best Credit Cards For Your Family posted at CreditShout. A well-informed list of Credit Shout's top credit card choices for 2009.


Carnival float in the Blacks and Whites Carniv...Image via Wikipedia

debt

nickel presents How to Get Out of Debt posted at fivecentnickel.com.



frugality

Billeater presents Beyond the Basics- Dig Deeper and Save Money posted at Billeater.

Savings Toolbox presents Squeezing More Savings Out Of Your Budget posted at Savings Toolbox.

Alison Storm presents Cell Phone Savings: How to Get Coupons on Your Mobile posted at CheapStingyBargains.com. If sitting down with a pair of scissors and the Sunday paper seems like an antiquated way to save money, then cell phone coupons may be a better way to go.

Vikki Lawrence-Williams presents Money Saver Menu #6: Rice posted at Survival Cooking, Gardening and Emergency Preparedness Info.

Joseph presents How To Save Money When Doing Laundry posted at How to save money.




investing

Steven@hundredgoals.com presents Invest Like Warren Buffett posted at Hundred Goals.

Adam presents How to Trade with Fibonacci Retracements posted at Pimp My Trade--an interesting method, but not one I think I'll try.

Investing School presents OptionsXpress Review posted at Investing School

The Smarter Wallet presents Technical Trading Indicators Predict That The Stock Market Rally Won’t Last posted at The Smarter Wallet.




saving

Brian McKay presents Savings Account Rates posted at MonitorBankRates.comRates on savings accounts, certificate of deposit accounts and mortgages have been going down the past year, this is the result of the economy tanking and the government programs in place that are trying to get the economy going again by lowering rates.

Patrick @ Cash Money Life presents Upromise Review posted at Cash Money Life.

taxes

Darwin presents 6 Prudent Uses for your Tax Refund This Year posted at Darwin's Finance. Good, simple advice.


car insurance

Michael presents Which Cars are the Cheapest to Insure? | VitalMotion posted at Vital Motion--a smart consideration for car buyers.

John Russell
presents Auto Insurance Quotes - What If You Wreck Your Car? posted at The Low Cost Auto Insurance Guru. If you are in a minor car accident, should you report it or not?

Steve Faber presents Get a Discount on Your Auto Insurance – You’re Probably Missing a Few | Secrets to Cheap Car Insurance posted at Cheap Car Insurance.

KCLau presents Bad Experience of Car Insurance Claim posted at KCLau's Money Tips, saying, "a story of bad experience with vehicle insurance claim."




other

Ryan Suenaga presents Thinking About the Economics of Pot Lucks posted at Uncommon Cents.

Tushar Mathur presents How to choose a financial planner posted at Everything Finance, saying, "There's retirement to plan for and college tuition for the kids. Insurance. Estate planning. And, oh, don't forget a wedding for your daughter. If all this sounds familiar, it may be time for you to start shopping around for a financial planner."

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Hapless Home Buyer's Guide posted at Mad Kane's Humor Blog.


That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of The Carnival of Everything Money using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

10 Ways to Have Big Fun for Little (or No) $$


Victoria Park picnicImage by mrlerone via Flickr

Spring has finally come to Boston. This weekend I ended my winter-long hibernation and spent as much time outside in the lovely weather as possible, which got me thinking about what fun stuff you can do outside for free (or close to it). Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Have a picnic. Grab some friends, make some sandwiches, and set out for your local park, riverbank, or other scenic spot.
  2. Go swimming. If it's warm enough, use a neighbor's or friend's pool, a public pool, or a nearby lake/ocean/river. No pool or beach nearby? Never underestimate the power of a well-placed sprinkler, a few rowdy friends, and a case of cheap beer. Recycle those bottles/cans!
  3. Ride your bike. Hit the trail or the road. Explore your neighborhood or new parts of your city. If you've got extra time and energy, pack some snacks and an overnight bag and make a road trip out of it.
  4. Go for a walk/hike. This is another great way to explore your city/neighborhood and get some exercise and vitamin D while you're at it.
  5. Fly a kite. Take your S.O. or maybe a young niece or nephew, bring extra string and some masking tape for inevitable mishaps, and hit the park or the beach.
  6. Visit your local botanical gardens, greenhouses, parks, or outdoor exhibits. Check the local newspaper for craft fair listings and other fun outdoor events.
  7. Play in the garden. Plant a vegetable or flower garden to share with some friends. Or better yet, look into volunteer opportunities to plant trees or do other gardening/landscaping work for a good cause.
  8. Organize a game. Gather some friends and wage a friendly game of Frisbee, soccer, kickball, or wiffleball.
  9. Have a BBQ. Get out the grill, light some tiki torches, and call your friends over for a potluck-style evening of kabobs and carousing.
  10. Hit the beach. Pack a towel, a change of clothes, a water bottle, and a favorite book and head to the nearest beach or sunny spot to catch some rays.
As always, don't forget the sunscreen when you'll be spending any time outdoors, even if it's overcast. Clouds are not UV protective.

Did I miss something? Leave a comment below and share your idea!

Update: Thanks to Credit Bum for including this post in this week's Money Hacks Carnival.
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Friday, April 24, 2009

Our First Carnival Hosting: 4/28


TAiMH will be hosting the Carnival of Everything Money on Tuesday, the 28th. Check back then to see the best of the best from the PF blogosphere.





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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Commute By Bike



Image by denali2001 via Flickr




Getting started
  1. Plan your route. There are several bike route mapping websites out there.1 Or you can buy a foldout bike map; you can get one for Boston here. Planning your route is important not only so you don’t get lost but also because you should know the kind of terrain you’ll need to negotiate before you purchase a bike. If you’ll only be on smooth roads, you won’t want a mountain bike (they’re slower than road bikes). Likewise, road bikes aren’t safe off-road. Hybrids (aka "comfort" bikes) are the best of both worlds, and I highly recommend them. Most of my day-to-day rides are on decent roads, but there are some crappy roads and a few gravel paths that I’m glad to have my hybrid for. The Sports Authority website has some good info about the different bike styles.

    This is my bike. I heart it.
  2. Related to above.... choose a bike! Craigslist will get you one cheap, but you can’t be sure that it’s in great condition. I bought a shitty mountain bike super cheap off Craigslist when I first started riding because I didn’t want to spend a ton on a bike if I decided riding everywhere wasn’t for me. After a few months, though, I sold that one (again on Craigslist) and got a beautiful, new Dutch hybrid (photo coming soon) that I adore. I got my bike at a great price from BikesDirect.com—but I just checked their site and it doesn’t look like they carry the Gazelle anymore. A good bike is vital to a good riding experience, and as much as I hate to spend money, I think it’s worth it to invest in a good bike. It’s also imperative to get the right size bike for your stature. Most bike shops will do a bike “fitting” for free, even if you don’t end up buying from them. Do not, I repeat do not, buy a bike (or anything else for that matter) from Wal-mart, no matter how cheap it is; the stock they carry, at least as far as adult bikes, is notoriously low-quality.

  3. Acquire the necessary accessories. There are tons of bike accessories out there; many of them completely frivolous. These are not:

    • a good helmet –Full-coverage helmets like this one are fine, but a helmet designed especially for cyclists, like this one, is safest. Nashbar.com has nice ones for $20 or you can just get one at your local bike shop. Proper helmet fitting is more important and more complicated than you might think. Almost any bike shop will help you adjust your helmet for the best fit and comfort, no charge. Yes, cycling caps are cute and stylish, but road rash on your face and a cracked skull are not. Wear a helmet over it while you’re riding.

    • a good lock—if you’re riding in a city, you’ll want a U-lock and a cable. The U-lock is for your back tire/frame and you use the cable in conjunction with it to secure your front tire, helmet, seatpost, etc., like this or this. The less space between the U-lock and the bike, the better--it's harder for thieves to get cutters in there. Many will recommend the mini u-locks for this reason, but I've found that a lot of bike racks make it nearly impossible to use those.

      If you’re in a small town or someplace you consider super safe, you could try using just a cable lock, but you’re taking a risk. Those are obviously much easier to cut than a 1” thick steel bar. See this article on C.I.C.L.E. for more locking suggestions.

    • lights—if you’ll be riding at night, you need lights. In addition to reflectors. You need a white headlight, red taillight, and orange reflectors for your spokes and pedals. The color-coding is standard to that people can easily and quickly tell in the dark which direction you’re facing and thereby avoid smooshing you like a pancake. If you’re not going to be riding at night, reflectors will suffice. Most bikes come with sufficient reflectors.

    • travel pump—you may not ever need this, but you’ll be really glad you’re carrying it if you do. ‘Nuff said.

    • rear carrier, baskets, and panniers—if you’ll be carting groceries, pets, or briefcases around, you’ll want to check into acquiring some sort of carrying system.

    • water bottle—You probably already have one that’ll work just fine. Stick it in your backpack, basket, or attach it to your bike with a cheap bottle cage. A word of caution: cages take up valuable lock space and often require drilling a hole in your bike frame. Consider this before buying one. If you still decide to go for it, bring your bottle when you buy it to make sure it fits.

    • If you’re game for riding in the rain, a cheap waterproof jacket and a set of fenders will make it much more comfortable. Your tires will kick up a lot of water. No fenders=soaked butt. And don’t be fooled into buying those cheap flat fenders that just attach to your seatpost. They’re useless. If you're hardcore, you might to invest in a pair of rain trousers also.

    • I’d also recommend a full-size pump for at home. It takes a lot of time and muscle to fill a new tube with a travel pump.

    • Keep in mind, a lot of this stuff can be made or improvised for little or no cost. I’ll be posting some DIY bike accessory tutorials in the coming weeks, so check back.

  4. Do a test run on a weekend and time it. This way you’ll know how long it will take you to get to work and you won’t be late. Bring a friend and a picnic and make an outing of it. Don’t forget to check for a safe place near work to lock your bike. Many companies, mine included, provide employee bike racks or garage space. Check with your boss or HR department to see if they offer anything similar. If not, suggest that they think about providing bike parking in the future.

[1] MapMyRide.com, Veloroutes.org, GMap's Pedometer, etc. For a list of city and regional maps, see BikeHacks.com





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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why Commute by Bike?


Image by Copenhagen Cycle Chic


You'll be glad to know things have improved since my last post; no more mush muscles, although they’re certainly not what they were. By end of summer, I should be back to normal, I hope.

Now, more on commuting by bike to save $ and the world!

Why commute by bike
I'm including this topic in the blog because it's a great way to save money. But the benefits of biking to work don't stop there—it's great exercise, especially for those of us who spend most of our day at a desk in front of a computer, and you get to be out in the sun and fresh air, skip getting stuck in traffic, and avoid crowded trains and/or buses.

Plus, TAiMH advocates environmental conservation, and biking is a wonderful way to decrease your eco-footprint. You're not consuming natural resources in the form of gasoline and oil, and not creating poisonous, ozone-depleting gases via car exhaust. Also, to be sure not to pollute your work environment (and possibly lose some friends): Bring a change of clothes and a washcloth to use once you arrive.

How Much Will I Save?
It'll differ for everyone, but here's my case:

Since public transport would be my only method of transportation if I didn't bike, I'll check my savings against that. A monthly pass (the cheapest option for a daily train rider) here in Boston costs about $60. That's $720/year.

Biking costs me zero day-to-day, but let's figure in start-up costs and maintenance. Maintenance includes replacement tubes (let's say $10/year, though the place where I bought my bike mails them to me for free) and periodic tune-ups. I usually do my own semi-yearly tune-ups, but if I'm feeling lazy, a little flirting with the repair guy at the local bike shop gets me a free professional tune-up. Don't judge me. You know you do it too. Maintenance total: $10/yr.

Initial costs include the price of my bike ($250) + accessories ($98; see the table below). I didn't acquire all those accessories before I started biking, but let's pretend I did. Initial costs total: $348.

Now, there are still nasty, stormy days when I'll take the train, but if it's just a light rain, I'll ride it. That's what fenders are for. But let's say the odd train ride will cost me $122/year; that's allowing for 3 bad weather days/month (2 train rides daily at $1.70/ride).

Assuming these costs, the first-year savings of commuting by bike comes to around $240. But for every year thereafter, you'd save about $585, since the bike and accessories have already paid themselves off.

But let's get back to me; that's most important, right? These calculations assume you can ride year-round, which I currently cannot (but I will soon!). Right now, I only bike about 7 months out of the year, which means I didn't save anything the first year, but the two years since then, I've saved $340/year over public transport only. Since I'm also helping the environment (and my figure), that's totally worth it to me.

Keep in mind that if you're switching from driving a car to riding your bike, you're going to be saving a hell of a lot more, especially if you get rid of your car completely. Just make sure you've got a back-up plan for bad weather days.


Bike accessories
(These are the ones I use; they'll vary somewhat person-to-person)
accessorycost
helmet$28
U-lock and cable$30
rear carrier$20
lights$15
travel pump$5 used
basket$0 (made it myself from a milk crate and some zip ties)
water bottle, cheap waterproof jacket$0 (got these free at my first Bike Friday 2 yrs ago)
reflective ankle ties, personal lights$0 (got these free at Bike Friday last year)
grand total$98


Have you made the switch to biking? Planning to? Leave a comment and tell us why.


Update: Thanks to Financial Highway for including this post in the Money Hacks Carnival Playoff Edition





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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Macro Perspective: One way war keeps poor people poor


Coffins draped in flags, Santa Monica BeachImage by Eleventh Earl of Mar via Flickr


I just watched a trailer for a documentary titled “Rethink Afghanistan,” produced by the Brave New Foundation. The documentary argues that the resurgence of the Afghanistan war will cost the U.S. $1 trillion. (Meanwhile we’ve already spent over $185 billion on it.)

I also just discovered that Obama plans to take another $17.75 from each of us to send more weapons to Israel.1 So all this got me thinking: How much do all these ongoing conflicts cost me?

Well, there’s a great website from the National Priorities Project called COSTOFWAR.com where you can break down the monetary cost since 2001--to your community or to yourself--of the Iraq war or the Afghanistan war (or both wars together). How much has each war cost you, the entire state of Alabama, or your favorite Rhode Island town? You can check the site to find out. Best of all, watch the total cost to the U.S. tick ever higher!

Anyhow, I found that the total cost of Afghanistan and Iraq combined, per taxpayer since 2001, has been $6,349--or nearly $800 per taxpayer per year. And this is only set to increase. Add to that the other military costs like the aid to Israel mentioned above, and, well, that’s too much for a person like me.

I want a larger tax return. I want my money back. Don't you?

[1] See this article, from U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.





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First Guest Post


Tulips are common in urban landscaping, as see...Image via Wikipedia



Happy Spring! Wren's first guest post is up at Converting a Spendthrift. Head over and check it out, leave a comment, and show Shai some love. You can follow us both on Twitter for updates and Freebie/Deal Alerts.







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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

First Bike Commute of the Year!


I was planning to post this on Saturday, but I've been so swamped by the end of the semester/graduation rush that couldn't get to it. I'm posting now only because my brain is too dead to actually work on my thesis. Three more weeks and I'll have my master's and be done with it all! I'm still deciding whether to go for a PhD or not. If I do decide to get my doctorate, it won't be for a while; I need a breather.

So I've been waiting anxiously all year to start commuting by bike again. There are those hardcore cyclists who bike year-round, but I don't know how they do it. Cold and I just don't get on well. Actually, I despise it. (Yes, I know I'm in the wrong city. I'm working on it.)

Last was the first week that the weather here hasn't been below freezing. Naturally it's f*ing freezing again today, but Friday was sunny and beautiful. Those of you who take public transport regularly know that there's nothing worse than being stuck in a noisy bus/train crammed between possibly smelly strangers in lovely spring weather. That was my case Thursday, the first really nice, nearly warm!, day here this year: there I was standing on the train breathing other people's halitosis and whatnot and gazing dejectedly out the grimy windows when a line of cyclists zooms past (yes, my train is ridiculously slow), wind in their hair, sun on their faces. I resolved then that I would ride to work the next day whether it was nice out or not. Then I went out that night and got drunk. Brilliant.

So Friday morning, very tired and slightly hungover, I dusted off my bike, aired up the tires, and headed out into the sunshine. It was great. Not only did I beat the train by 10 minutes, but I had loads of energy the rest of the day.

The way home was a different story. The ride itself was good, but my body decided to pay me back at the end for letting it rot all winter. (I hate to exercise just for the sake of exercising. I really have to get past that.) Apparently, my leg muscles turned to mush over the past few months because when I arrived home and dismounted (as usual, hopping off the side while the bike’s still moving a bit), they couldn’t support me and I sunk like a deflated balloon slow-mo to the ground. No joke. It would have been really embarrassing if anyone besides my senile, non-English-speaking neighbor had seen me. It was the wimpiest fall I’ve ever taken. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a fall. I felt more like the Wicked Witch of the West when she got water thrown on her. I just sort of melted to the pavement.

Then, naturally, as I’m still sitting sidesaddle on the curb and holding the handlebars of my now-horizontal bike, I picture said melting witch and start laughing, out loud, somewhat insanely. Classic.

The moral of the story here, if you must have one, is that you should not assume your calves of steel survived the long New England winter. In other words, take it easy in the beginning.

More about biking to work/school and other frugal, green ways to commute: here.

Update: Check us out on the Festival of Frugality.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Free car? This is a joke, right?


our brand new car!Image by donandcarol via Flickr

Not a joke, not a scam. A friend at work told me about this program where they give you a brand new car to drive for 2 years--all you have to pay for is gas--they cover insurance and there's no property tax because you don't own it. The car has an ad on it, but who cares? It's free! And you get to choose what kind of car you want and which of their advertisements you want on it. Not a bad deal.

The other option is to let them place an ad (completely removable, no damage) on your own car, and they'll actually pay you. I'm moving fairly soon, but I'm seriously considering taking advantage of this offer after that. I'll keep you guys updated. Apparently you can make around $700/mo, depending on what size ad you choose.

There are a few companies out there--I'm not going to plug any of them, but a Google search should get you what you want to know.

Have you done this or known someone who has? Leave a comment and let us know what you think about it! I'm dying to try it.


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Giveaway Winners: March


Copenhagen Train Station 4Image by cemre via Flickr

Thanks to everyone who voted and left a comment to enter the March giveaway. Congratulations to our three winners: Liza, 3boyzmom, and Kate Burton. They will receive a free copy of The 3-minute Balance Transfer, courtesy of this blog and TiredofBeingPoor.net. (Liza, I don't have access to your e-mail address, so please contact me for your book.)

Our April giveaway, which starts today, is for The Complete Newbies' Guide to Online Forex Trading. Again, to enter, just vote in the poll (if you haven't already) and leave a comment on any post from now until the end of April. Best of luck!


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Friday, April 3, 2009

Forget Coin Rolling: What I do when the piggy bank gets full


Coinstar rawks... made myself $157 Amazon.com ...Image by inju via Flickr

You know those huge green machines by the entrance at your local grocery store? The ones you sometimes see people dumping coffee cans full of change into? They're called Coinstar machines, and you can use them to count your coins and exchange them for cash. I'd never used them until about a month ago because I knew they charged for the service. I just waited until my trusty piggy bank filled up and then dumped it on the floor and listened to a podcast while I rolled coins. Then I lugged them to the bank.

But Coinstar now has a free option, so as much as I love my podcasts, my rolling days are over. If you want your coins turned into cash, you're still going to have to pay for it, but if you choose to have them turned into a gift card, there's no charge. There are several gift cards to choose from: Amazon.com, Borders, AMC movies theatres, Overstock.com, and even CVS. And there's no worry about wasting--you can use them up to the last cent.

I'm always on the lookout for time-savers like this, so if you know any you'd like to share, leave a comment below.
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