Monday, July 31, 2006

59th Carnival of Personal Finance

I'm taking part in the 59th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by JLP over at AllFinancialMatters, check it out!
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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


When I went to Augusta last week, I was pleased to discover that the closest gas station to my new apartment is across the river in South Carolina...... and the gas there is 20 cents cheaper. I always figured Georgia had a pretty low tax on gas, but I guess South Carolina has got us beat. For those of you not as privileged, there are some ways to find cheaper gas. is an easy and well-laid out resource. Just type in your zip code and find the cheapest gas around.

However, as my friend Gene points out, there are some people who will drive a long way to get the cheapest gas or sit in a line at the gas station waiting for the cheapest gas as their engine idles for minutes. That's just faulty thinking. If you drive 5 miles out of your way to get gas that is 5 cents cheaper, is it really worth it? Let's assume that the "average" car can hold 20 gallons of gas and gets 20 mpg (this is factoring in everything, from Hummers to hybrids), and that gas prices are $3.00. If you drive 5 miles each way, that's 10 miles total, so you use up 0.5 gallons, which equals $1.50. In return, you save 5 cents per gallon, and for 20 gallons, that's a savings of $1.00. You're 50 cents in the hole already, not taking into account the time you wasted driving there. Of course this varies according to your car, so here's a formula to figure out whether you should make the trip:

(total distance from gas station*cost of gas)/car's mpg = travel costs
difference between gas prices*gallons purchased = gas savings

If your travel costs are larger than the gas savings, then it's not worth the trip. Save yourself the time and energy and just go to the closer gas station.

However, there is a much easier way to save on gas prices: change the way you drive. Many drivers drive too aggressively and burn up more fuel than they need. Check out these articles which examine how to increase your fuel efficiency.

  • Consumer Reports

  • Edmunds

  • Note: Again, I apologize, I'm still on a Mac. Not that I have anything against Macs, but some things just don't seem to load correctly on this browser.
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    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Back 2 School

    If you are planning on making a big purchase soon (computer, printer, monitor, etc.), the heavens are smiling down on you. In preparation for back to school shopping, many states offer no sales tax holidays where there is no sales tax placed on qualifying purchases. This holiday falls around August 4-7 in most states, but Florida's is this week, so if you live there, go buy now! For a full list of participating states, check out
  • State tax holidays

  • Note: I'm on a Mac right now, and for some reason, I can't make an automatic link to these sites, so I'm inputting them manually, and I don't know enough html to work it into the writing, so I apologize for the sloppiness.
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    One of the biggest expenses of any person is food. Unlike many expenses in our lives - cell phone bill, gas, Maxim subscriptions - food is actually a necessity. We all need it to live, so food is an inevitable cost. However, there are ways to minimize these costs. Some of these are rather extreme, but they're all methods I've tried at one point.

    1. Colleges and universities: Free food flows like a fountain of fondue on many college campuses (and so does alliteration). If you're a college student, take advantage of all of the free food opportunities, and then some. If your dining hall is set-up buffet style, where you can take as much as you want, be sure to bring some Tupperware and a backpack (to carry all your books of course). Ditto for club meetings and final exam free food sessions.

    2. Jobs: If you work in the food-service industry, then you have no worries here. In fact, that's one of the biggest perks of working with food - the free food. If not, be sure to always pack your lunch. Consider the cost of going out to lunch. Even if you go out to lunch in a relatively cheap place, it's going to cost you a minimum of $5 or so. $5 could buy you two weeks' worth of PB&J or a week's worth of sandwich meat/cheese! As an added bonus, you don't have to socialize with those obnoxious co-workers!

    3. Home: Always cook your own food. If you don't know how to cook, learn how (or actually, it's more practice). Even the most expensive meal that you make yourself would cost no more than just an average meal eating out. Plus, it's healthier (generally). You may argue that it takes too much time, but I've found the best method is to cook a HUGE amount of food, and then, you'll have leftovers for a while. You can even take them into work the next day. To get you started on a healthy trend, I'm going to post a recipe for a nice little salad dressing:

    1 garlic (mashed)
    3 tbsp. wine vinegar
    1 tbsp. water
    1/2 tbsp. salt
    1/2 tbsp. sugar
    2 tbsp. olive oil
    1 tsp. oregano
    a big pinch of black pepper

    Mix it up or shake it in a bottle. Take out the garlic (or eat it), and it's ready to serve! Enough for one big bowl of salad. If you don't need all of it, you can stick it in a bottle and use it later.

    4. Grocery stores: Be sure to eat the free samples for a taste of the high life - which you do not live because you're living on a budget. Whole Foods is a great place to "shop." Don't go in with a shopping list unless you HAVE to get something. Buy whatever's cheap and cook using that. If you have the time, clipping coupons help lower the costs, but I've never been a big fan of that since I never use any of the items the coupons are advertising. Big chain stores, a la Kroger, Publix, etc. usually have weekly or daily deals. At Kroger, you can use the Kroger plus card, but I tend to shop at Publix for their fresher produce. While overall, their prices may be higher, I feel like Publix has more BOGO (buy one get one) free specials, which ultimately lower the cost. Since I eat cereal basically every morning, I buy a couple of extra boxes whenever there's a BOGO deal for cereal, which usually there is at least every other week. That way, I always get my cereal for less than $2/box rather than paying $3 something for each box, and if there happens to be no BOGO a particular week, I have a ready stock in my pantry. In the same manner, stock up on canned or frozen goods if they're ever on sale. Buy your spices from a whole sale farmers' market sort of place rather than coughing up a premium for a bottle with a McCormick label on it.

    Speaking of farmers' markets and other independent grocery stores, these are excellent places to buy things that are just about to expire. They'll be discounted 20-50% since some of their stock does not move as quickly off of the shelves, so this is a prime bargain opportunity. Especially look for places that prepare fresh foods, as you can get some great deals at these places. If you live in the Emory area, you may know of Rainbow Foods, located at N. Decatur and Clairmont. They have a prepared foods section in the back, and items expiring that day are half off. Even better is Eatzi's in Buckhead. If you go after 9 PM, food they prepared that day is all half off, and this is very high quality food.

    5. Eating out: As a last resort, if you absolutely HAVE to eat out, here are some strategies to employ. Much like "pre-gaming" before going out to some bars, you can "pre-eat" before going out to eat, so that by the time you're at the restaurant, you're not so hungry and will not be tempted by the quadruple-chocolate-caramel-glazed-Oreo cheesecake for dessert. Also, be sure to look for coupons in your local paper or mailing insert. In the Atlanta area (and maybe elsewhere), there is a monthly mailing called the SavvyShopper, which contains a bounty of valuable coupons. If you go to a Chinese restaurant, Italian restaurant, Mexican restaurant, or any other place that serves endless quantities of a staple, such as rice or bread or chips, be sure to fill up on those. That way, you can eat just a little bit of your meal and get a to-go box. You just got yourself two meals for the price of one. Depending on your pride or concern over hygiene, there are also other methods. One method is to order a small appetizer or plate, and then, eat the leftovers of your companions. Another method can be to do the same, but replace "companions" with "strangers at the next table who've paid and left their food." Of course this latter method requires some precise timing. There has to be a moment after they have left where you can sneak over to their table before the bus boy comes by.

    6. Closing time: Many food establishments (festival type places are especially good for this) will just throw out their food at the end of the day rather than reselling it the next day or donating it to charity. If you're there at closing time and can manage to sweet talk some of the workers into a private "donation," you can usually go home with more food than you can eat. While success rates on this are varied, you really have nothing to lose (except your pride).

    I hope the information from this post has given you a perspective on how to eat more frugally. Perhaps you think that I never eat good food if I live like this....... hahaha, en contrair, the economic side of my brain sends powerful endorphins rushing through my body, overriding any negative signals from my taste buds. Dealicious!
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    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Getting high..... interest rates

    When I was younger, I invested the little money that I had receieved from my grandparents in a savings account. A believer in the power of compounding interest, I hoped that my modest investment of a couple of hundred dollars would balloon into a nice sum, and I'd be set for retirement (or world domination). Unfortunately, my little brain did not take into factor inflation, so while my "investment" sat in my savings account at the bank, the actual value was decreasing because the interest rate was lower than the rate of inflation. Only in the past few months, in this brief period of my life where I had no obligations - outside of my jobs from 8-6 - I have become more financially savvy thanks to the information on this wonderful invention by Mr. Gore.

    While many regular banks have interest rates around 1-2%, online savings accounts have interest rates of at least 4%. How can that be? Well, online savings accounts cost much less for the banks because they do not require some person at the bank to give you an application, help you fill it out, transfer funds, etc. It is all done online, so some super smart computer can plug the numbers in and watch the money flow in. I've found two online savings accounts that I like to use. Neither of them have any sort of maintenance fee, and the minimum balance is only $1.

    The one I first started with is ING Direct. Right now, their interest rate is at 4.35%, which actually is one of the lower ones out of the online savings accounts. My more recent account is at HSBC Online. Their interest rate is currently at a whopping 5.05%. All of these rates fluctuate according to whatever some supersmart economist says, but interest rates seem to be going in an upward direction (good for my savings account, very bad for the loans I'm about to take out).
    I've kept my ING account because as far as ease of use, they have been very good and reliable, plus I can get a bonus for referring people. The deal works like this: if you start your account with at least $250, you get a free $25, and I get $10. If you want to get in on it, you have to be referred, so send me an email at Most of my money, however, I keep in my HSBC account just because of the higher interest rate. I also got in on a promotional deal with them where I'm supposed to receive a $25 gift card sometime soon. If you sign up with ING using my referral, I'll send you the link to the HSBC gift card too, for absolutely free! So that's $50 in your pocket for absolutely nothing (you can stick that $250 in and take it out in about a week or two). And you are in fact, buying my friendship. Start investing in these, and you'll be well on your way to beating inflation, saving for retirement, and just maybe, taking over the world.
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    Johnny Cash back

    If you have not discovered how much free money there is on the internet, now is the time to start. And I'm not talking about chump change where you get paid $0.10 per survey, I'm talking about real money. If you have a Citi credit card, you may be familiar with the Citi Merchants network where you can earn a certain percentage cash back when you buy something through that network. The same deal applies for these sites. You click on a site to buy something, and then, you get a certain percentage cash back because these sites make money for referring you. There's only one catch. You have to buy something (in most cases). So if you're not going to buy something, then you're hopelessly out of luck, but who doesn't buy things occasionally? I'm cheap, and I still have things I need to buy. Textbooks for example. You can even get cashback on textbooks. Usually, the percentage on cash back is not too high - although it sometimes is - but it's better than getting nothing back, right? And let's say you make a big purchase, something like a computer. 3% of $1000 is $30. Nice little pocket change with which you can buy me dinner. Here's a list of my favorites:

    FatWallet - You get $5 for signing up and their forum is great for finding deals.
    Ebates - You also get $5 for signing up AND you can even make some money for referrals...... so use my link please :-)
    InstantProfitz - You get $3 for signing up AND you can make money for referrals...... so again, please use my link :-) This site looks kind of ghetto, but apparently, it has some of the highest cash back rates (but be wary of the other offers on there).

    And to top it all off, someone came up with the ingenious idea of searching for which of these sites have the best cash back rates. It's at ev'reward.

    Another site I like to check just for deals and such is this one. I'm not sure if it's the best, but its' the first one I came across, and I've stuck to it: Passwird.

    The following is an article describing this phenomenon.

    MSN Money article

    Edit: Here are some additional cash back sites for your earning pleasure
    Big Crumbs
    Mr. Rebates
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    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Here come the men in black

    First of all, if you are in the market for a suit or are just interested in an social/anthropological study of how appearances affect your perceived status, check out Dress for Success by John Molloy. A rather quirky anthropology professor recommended it, but the fundamental topics covered in the book are useful for anyone who needs to make a good first impression.

    About this time last year, I was in the market for a nice, but cheap suit. I asked some friends who were in my position in years past. One of them recommended Men's Warehouse as a good place. I checked it out, and while they do have a pretty good selection, they did not have many in my size, and their prices were not as low as I expected for suits of that quality (not bad, but not great). After scouring most of the places I was recommended, I ended up buying my suit from the last place in the world where I should've bought a suit: the department store. While they have good suits, their prices are not the best, but I was also being very picky about the style and color of my suit, so I guess that's what I get.

    If you are less picky about the style and color of your suit, but you need it in a hurry, the best places to go would probably be the Burlington Coat Factory or the K&G Men's Superstore(if you live in Atlanta). I was recommended Burlington Coat Factory, and after having seen their selection a few times, they have fairly good deals on some good suits. Unfortunately, they did not have the particular suit I was looking for at the time. The original K&G Men's Superstore (they have other branches in metro Atlanta) located off of I-75 in Atlanta is another great place to find cheap suits. They had the largest selection of suits I saw anywhere, and the styles ranged from "pimp" suits to more conservative styles one could wear to an interview. Many were under $200 and one could even find some as low as $100, and the quality of the suits were surprisingly good for the price.

    If you want a very nice suit and have the time to wait for it, the best places to get the best deals on suits are Filene's Basement, and other discount stores such as TJ Maxx or Marshall. Filene's Basement has a selection of very high quality suits at rock bottom prices. This store literally started in the basement of a department store in Boston, but it has been slowly spreading to other cities. Think of it like an up-scale TJ Maxx or Marshalls. You can find suits from the best designers for $200-$300 when they could have been close to $1000 originally. The TJ Maxx and Marshall stores near large malls that sell many suits are also a great place to pick up a great deal. The only drawback is the selection is limited and can be hit or miss, but if time is on your side, these are the best places to buy.
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