Archive for the ‘Finance’ Category

Don’t Sell That Kidney!

Posted: January 27, 2010 in Finance

Money can be tight nowadays, but before you file for bankruptcy or take out a second mortgage on your home and sell your kidney on the black market, take a look at some of the money saving tips that my family has done.

Change Your Light Bulbs

Sounds pretty simple right?  It is.  A small investment with a big payout is changing your incandescent light bulbs with CFL, or compact fluorescent lights.  There are different designs to fit your decor, and different lighting types from warm lighting to bulbs that imitate sunlight.  Make the investment, it’s well worth it!  Keeping a room lit when you’re not in it is a big waste of money, so why light up the outside of your home if you’re not expecting company or actually outside?  I understand that many people keep the lights on for security reasons, so if you insist on keeping the outside lights on, at the very least change them to CFL’s.   Next time you drive around town at night, take notice how many outside lights are incandescent lights, a big waste of money for everyone.

Turn off the A/C

Growing up, I never had air conditioning and we actually went outside to play.  People leave an air conditioned building and it feels stifling outside, but if you let your body adjust for 10 minutes you will feel rather comfortable.  Most people only remember the initial rush of hot, humid air and not the fact that their body adjusted rather nicely, or they run to their car where the first thing they do is turn on the A/C there.  Now, when the temperature hits 80 degrees or more, people are locked up inside their house with the A/C running and wasting money.  Air conditioning is a huge energy user. Open your windows at night and let the cool air in and turn on a fan.  When the sun comes up and starts warming up, close all windows to keep the cool air inside and use a fan to move the air around you.  It costs roughly 1 tenth the amount of electricity to power a fan than it does to run A/C.

Daily Cup Of Coffee

How many of you get your morning cup of coffee from outside the home?  How much do you spend for that cup of coffee?  How many cups a day do you get?  How many cups a year?  Can you make an additional mortgage or rent payment in a year by saving money and making coffee at home?

The same goes for meals not made at home.  How much do you spend a month to eat at a restaurant or get take-out?  How much do you  spend in a year?  Could you make an additional mortgage or rent payment by bringing lunch to work and eating dinner at home?

High Speed Internet

It may sound a little contradictory, but for some big savings, you NEED to have high speed internet over an inexpensive dial-up.  Unless you plan on running many (more than 3) computers and doing a lot of bandwidth heavy gaming or watching video on every computer in your home at once, a 3 Mbps download speed should be enough.

Speaking of computers…  The computer that I currently am writing this article on is an old e-machines that is around 7 years old and was handed down to my kids from their wonderful grandmother.  Unfortunately, grandma was not the most tech savvy user and never had virus protection on her system.  She decided that it was time to upgrade to a new laptop when the e-machines was constantly having the dreaded B.S.O.D.  (or blue screen of death).  Not having the Windows recovery disc, I took the machine and have since installed Ubuntu Linux.  I still have the ability to watch videos on websites such as YouTube or my personal favorite, Hulu.  The kids can still visit the websites that they love, such as NickJr or Playhouse Disney or even Peep And The Big Wide World.  Can’t live without iTunes, Linux has Rhythmbox.  Install the free VLC Media Player, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any DRM-free audio or video that it won’t play.  Think you need Microsoft Word, think again.  Sun Microsystems makes a great free program called OpenOffice.  There are a few programs that won’t work on Linux such as Netflix (more on that later), and if you are a big gamer, you should stick with a Windows computer.  Also like the ever popular Mac, there is no need for extra virus protection as long as you keep your system up to date.  So to sum up, cost of computer and new operating system with essential programs…  Nada, Zip, Zero, Zilch, Free!!

Fire The Cable Company

Unless you need the ultimate sports package and can’t go without watching NASCAR and many different NFL games while also watching the Clippers play the Nets while you live in Miami, or if you absolutely need to see Hung and Mad Men the day that it airs, you might be able do what so many this day and age feel is unthinkable.  By dropping your cable or satellite provider you could save lots of money.  Do you really need to pay for 200+ channels of programming when you only watch a dozen or so.  There are many different legitimate websites that offer free streaming video programming, so you can still watch cable only programming such as Burn Notice or The Clone Wars, but usually on a 24 hour or 1 week delay depending upon each program.  Most network websites will have some shows available for free viewing.

These are a few that I use:  Hulu, Fancast, PBS, Star Wars, KidsWB, HGTV , Syfy Channel and Crackle.   There are many others, you just need to look around.

There are websites that you can go to to download and keep the episodes for a premium, but it could be worth it for you.  Amazon and iTunes let you download shows that you can keep forever.  So if you need to watch Mythbusters like myself, you can dowload it for $1.99 per episode or buy a season pass and essentially only pay for what you watch.  So for $8 a month I can get my Mythbusters fix, and still not have to pay a cable bill!

Netflix, if you are unaware, is a video rental service that sends you discs in the mail and lets you watch select streaming movies and television shows using your computer or Xbox 360, Playstation 3, many blu-ray players, Roku player or even some higher end televisions.  Prices start at $9 per month with 1 DVD delivered to your home and the ability to watch on a streaming device.  Pay for the 2 disc plan, and watch streaming on 2 devices.  3 Discs = 3 devices, 4 discs at a time = 4 devices.  Here’s a little thing that isn’t too well advertised about Netflix;  You get the pay channel STARZ for FREE on your computer!!

It’s fairly easy to connect a computer (even a laptop) to a modern television.  Hook up your wireless mouse and keyboard and you’re ready to surf on the big screen or watch a boatload of programming while sitting back on your couch.

Don’t forget that over the air programming is always free.  You can still watch all your soaps and local news, plus now that everything is digital, you probably have new channels that you have never seen before.

The Library

What many people don’t utilize this day and age is their own public library.  Most libraries belong to a “network” of libraries.  If you can’t find what you are looking for at your local library, it might be in the network.  Getting materials from the network has no extra charge to you.  The best thing about the library is that it is free.  Taxes that you already pay go to the public library.  Library use is reported to the town, which in turn in reported to the state.  The more use a library gets, the more materials the library can potentially recieve.   Many libraries have more than just books now.  DVD’s, Music CD’s, magazines and even Playstation and Xbox games are available at some local libraries.  With no monthly subscription to pay, why not support your local library.

Phone Service

I used to have a cell phone plan with a carrier that will remain unnamed (rhymes with mint), and two weeks into my 2 year contract my wife washed my pants with the phone in it.  Of course I didn’t buy the extra warranty and to replace the phone that I had just got for free would cost me 190 to replace, or 250 to get out of my contract.  It was a blessing in disguise.

My phone contract was 30 dollars per month, plus taxes for the one phone.  35 x 24 = 840 dollars for the life of the contract for ONE phone that was used maybe 4 times a week.  I should have done my research, but my general thought was that the only people with prepaid phones were people with little or no credit.  I ended up getting a new T-Mobile prepaid phone for 50 bucks and my wife one with a camera that also took video for 100 bucks with a $100 prepaid card per phone that lasts a full year with no additional costs.  By the way, T-Mobile also has their own limited internet for their prepaid customers which doesn’t use up any minutes.  Total cost for 2 phones with 2 years of service… $550.  (I must note that this was my particular cost for the service with me and my wife’s phone usage, the total cost for 2 years with the same phones could have been as little as $370)

Bottom line… know what your typical usage and needs are before committing to a contract.  If you plan on using a cell phone for emergency reasons only, or average around 3 minutes of talk time per day, prepaid cellular service could be a big savings.

But what about your home phone?

I have an internet phone, also known as VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) which have become increasingly popular over the years.  I’m now in the 3rd year of my service and total cost to me for 3 full years of unlimited phone usage is $635.63.  I have an entire year prepaid through a company known (rather appropriately) as VOIP.com.  The Service costs 19 dollars per month or 199 dollars for the year prepaid.  One of the nicest things about prepaying for an entire year is that there are no additional monthly taxes, and the company lets you see the savings.  One of the biggest and probably most famous of the VOIP providers is Vonage, whose monthly plans start at 25 dollars per month. Both have unlimited long distance calling included in the price and are more cost effective than a land line, but they also have their setbacks. If you ever lose power, you lose the ability to make calls. No electricity means no internet service, and no internet service means no phone service. Also they don’t use the traditional 911 service like the land lines. Instead they use an E-911 service which is not as reliable or responsive as traditional 911, but it is still effective. Also the voice quality is not as good as a land line, but those are the compromises that you make for saving lots money.

Both Vonage and Voip.com have the ability to work even when all your computers are shut off. As long as your modem (and router depending on your setup) are working, your phone is working.

Magic Jack is another VOIP service that costs a measly 20 bucks for an entire year of service. In my opinion, you get what you pay for. I have had mixed results with Magic Jack as far as reliability and by far the worst voice quality of the examples above. Also to make and receive phone calls, you need your computer turned on at all times, which means you need a compatible computer. But you just can’t beat that price.

Read The Fine Print

Just because you have the ability to get a package deal, does not necessarily mean your getting a good deal.  Many cable companies have bundles that you can buy that you get all in one bill, usually consisting of digital cable service, internet service and phone service.  They look like great deals up front.  99 bucks a month for all 3 packages sound pretty nice.  Now read the fine print.  Some companies require that you sign up for their high end HD digital cable,  sports packages, HD-DVR’s, High tier internet service and a 2 year commitment with an early termination fee, plus an added fee for the HD-DVR service, but they don’t tell you what the price is after the limited time offer.  Big Bucks, that’s what it’ll cost you per month.

So be aware of where your money is going.  Determine the difference between what you NEED and what you WANT.  I WANT that Lamborghini Diablo, but I don’t NEED it.  My Toyota Corolla is doing the same job just fine.  You may WANT the new iPhone so you can update your Facebook status every 30 minutes, but you don’t NEED it.  You may WANT that second serving of apple pie, but you don’t NEED it, and you may WANT all the coolest toys to impress your friends and tell them on Facebook, while using your new iPhone while drinking that 3 dollar cup of coffee and eating take-out in your nice and cool centrally air conditioned home, that you can’t pay your mortgage.