All posts tagged Frugal

All the stuff we didn’t buy.

How to save a ton on Amazon without falling into the online consumption spiral.

By Brad Beckstrom

Is Amazon getting too good? We’ve been happy with Amazon Prime, especially the perks of membership like two day delivery, unlimited movies and music, even unlimited photo storage. If you’re going to pay for Amazon Prime membership, make sure you take advantage of all the included services.

Unfortunately, over time we’ve started to see Amazon creep up as a higher percentage of our spending, showing up more frequently on our credit card bills. Usually just as a single line without much information about what we purchased or which Amazon service we purchased it from.

Example
3/20 Amazon.com AMZN.COM/BILL WA 44.27

We use Amazon to price check most purchases, especially any household staples that we have dropped off at our doorstep using Amazon Prime. I usually compare against Costco prices I’ve saved in Evernote or on Google Shopper so we’re not only getting better price on many items, I get to stay out of stores that give me hives. Staying out of stores is a good way to avoid impulse purchases. This was always a problem for my wife at Target, or myself at the hardware store. We’ve dialed back on impulse purchases over the years.

The issue now with Amazon is that they’re making things too easy. They just started offering same-day delivery in our area on many items. They’ve gotten good at making recommendations based on our purchase history. I find myself jumping on the site to do a quick price check, or reordering a case of paper towels etc., and seeing something I remembered we could use.

Stop

There are a lot of these lately. At first Amazon was great, we could quickly reorder household items and simultaneously check the price, online. Amazon would also save all of our purchases so we could go back and remember what kind of furnace filters we used. For example, furnace filters should be replaced every three months. Years ago I remember actually running to the Home Depot and buying three overpriced furnace filters whenever I needed to. By doing some research and ordering a case of these filters on Amazon, I save about 30 to 40% and can switch brands depending on what’s the best deal. I also saved myself a trip to Home Depot. How much is an hour of time worth? Think about that on your way to and from a store for a single item, make sure you include, time to park, gas wasted, time searching for the item, and standing in line to purchase it.

It’s better on Amazon or is it? Read more…

Life in Spendy Town: Can Living in an Expensive City Sabotage your Dreams of Financial Independence?

By Brad Beckstrom

Who knew?  That’s what I keep telling myself. When I was in my 20s, I drew a circle around the Washington DC Metro area including Northern Virginia, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore, and surrounding areas. I said, “This is where I will live. This will be my zone of influence.” (I actually said that. Not sure why, maybe it was business related, or I was reading some Dale Carnegie books at the time). Little did I know that red circle I drew encompassed 4 of the 5 richest counties in the United States and 6 of the top 10.  Literally, all within a one hour radius of Washington, DC. This area really does make San Francisco and Silicon Valley look like chump change.  LA, New York, Honolulu, forget about it. Washington, DC is where (a lot) of the money is. Not convinced? Just take a look at the U.S. Congress and the money machine that supports it.  

There are some advantages to living in a wealthy part of the country:  jobs, great schools, museums, sports franchises, bays, lakes, rivers, beaches, mountains all nearby. So, it’s a great area to live right? Unfortunately, a lot of people feel that way. So, not only are we beating LA and New York in spendyness, we also regularly beat them with some of the worst traffic in the country. Real estate is equally ridiculous, along with property taxes. High-paying jobs and expensive real estate spillover into everything. Most restaurants are fancier and more expensive. Real dive bars and affordable local spots are getting harder to find, often being priced out of their locations even in the close in suburbs. Everybody, grocery stores, retailers, parking garages, jacks up their prices because they can (or need to.) Good deals become harder to find.

When I start comparing Arlington, Virginia to cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, Tampa, Florida or Boulder, Colorado using online calculators (links below), I start to see a trend. Housing is really driving the majority of cost-of-living differences on these these calculators. I’ve tried to use other online comparison calculators (see list) but once they add housing, it throws everything off. For instance, it might say something like a $100,000 salary in DC is worth $170,000 in Raleigh, but this has very little to do with the price of milk or taxes and everything to do with the fact that house in the DC area will cost you 3X.  

Arlington, VA. vs. Raleigh NC. From CNN Money, Cost-of-living calculator.

Real Estate Read more…

How To Prefer What You Have.

By Brad Beckstrom

Years ago I had a vision for what I’d like my future home to look like. It included stylish mid-century modern furniture, expensive rugs, artwork, and beautiful lighting. It doesn’t look like that and I’m happy about it. Instead of replacing and upgrading furniture over the years, we decided to keep the furniture we had. This included things like our original coffee table that’s been destroyed by kids, dogs, spilled beverages. I kept my furniture from my college dorm room, now in my son’s room and still going strong. We kept various IKEA classics from my various bachelor pads and wife’s early post-college years.The IKEA dressers had to be repaired and in one case reassembled. A few years back, we had a fun day running down to IKEA to dig through the parts bins for pegs, knobs, and brackets. I also grabbed a few Swedish meatballs. We’ve received a few pieces of furniture from relatives over the years, proudly displayed next to the IKEA stuff in the living room that we repurposed as a library.

With all this old furniture populating our home, something interesting began to happen. The furniture began to develop its own personality. Chew marks from pets that are no longer with us, wild rings, marks, and divots in our coffee tables that come along with raising two boys and having pets. I guess you could call them scars, but the good kind. We’ve actually created that distressed, weather battered look the people pay for. I like to think of it as sort of a slow motion destruction. Read more…

Living like a Lightweight.

By Brad Beckstrom

You still hear it occasionally. “That guy’s a lightweight.” When I was a kid, it may have meant you couldn’t hold your own on the playground. In college, this term was often used to describe someone who was a sloppy drunk or couldn’t hold their liquor. In business or politics, lightweight may be used to describe someone who can’t take a little heat, or bails out when the going gets tough. Today the word lightweight implies something very different. If you’re a lightweight who can compete or dominate above your weight class, then you have something. If you’re talking about a boxer like Roberto Duran, a legend like Bruce Lee, or the UFC fighter Conor McGregor then lightweight can take on a whole new meeting.

Look at any sport in the racing world, “lightweight” is the hottest thing going. Carbon fiber tubing is used to make incredibly fast racing boats to compete in the America’s Cup, and superlight racing bikes that weigh as little as 13 pounds. In a competitive world, lightweight can have great advantages.

If you’re not a professional athlete, or in the market for a $9,000 bicycle, you can still live like a lightweight. Let’s apply this term in three areas: Health, Life, and Work.

Health, Physical and Mental.

There’s a memorable scene from the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The movie is about Joe Cross who lost 100 pounds juicing. You hear stories all the time about people losing tremendous amounts of weight. What Joe did differently is he that he visually demonstrated how much weight he’d lost by carrying around six professional bowling balls to represent the weight. This really clicked with people and helped him kick start the green juice trend. Most of us could not imagine carrying around even one or two bowling balls all the time.

The bowling balls Joe carried around are a great metaphor. Think of all the excess stuff we carry around, garages and closets full of stuff we don’t use, those extra pounds, guilt and regret about things that happened in the past, huge SUVs to haul all this around, while sitting in traffic. It’s time to start looking at the benefits of becoming a lightweight. Read more…

Is that purchase worth it? Consider the cost per use, a simple strategy to help you decide.

 

panosmartappcomingjapanjt

Technology can be a pain in the ass. Smartphones, Game Consoles, DVRs, digital thermostats, talking cars, and home appliances. A lot of this technology is designed to improve our lives, give us more free time, maybe even help us save a little money.  Most of it falls short. In fact, when multiple technologies are combined, they can often have a negative impact on our time and quality of life. Multiply this by a family of four or more, and all this stuff can make you its bitch. Constantly beeping, demanding upgrades, presenting you with unrepairable failures, offering multiple support options, mostly paid ones, none of which actually solve your problem, and all of which require your time.

smarttv

Planned obsolescence has become a science, hurling consumers into a constant cycle of upgrades and repairs on items that didn’t even exist 10-15 years ago, taking time and attention away from more important matters. It in an affluent society we often just throw money at the problem, replacing the defective item with the new shiny model, while the old one often ends up in a landfill.

It’s possible to step off this treadmill, embrace simplicity or minimalism. I believe these are viable approaches that can change people’s lives. The problem most people have is that they been on this hedonic treadmill so long they are afraid to step off.  It’s the transition from having your life managed by stuff to a simpler path. That is the challenge for most people. I’ve been working to simplify my life for over three years: writing about it, working on it, giving stuff away, but still have a long way to go. Some progress is forward progress, and that’s what I’m focused on.

Something I found that has worked is evaluating any purchase, item you want to replace, or something you’re having trouble parting with, on a cost per use basis. Here’s how it works. Cost Per Use is the price of something divided by the approximate number of times you use it over the life of that item. So something you use many times per day may be a better investment than something inexpensive you use infrequently. Based on this formula, my iPhone is one of the least expensive things I own, and after I finish with it, I’ll give it to a family member, lowering the cost of use even further. As an added benefit, my iPhone replaced about 20 other items helping me lighten the load getting rid of everything from music CDs to handheld GPS units.

Some other cost per use examples

frug classic car

It’s best to start with the big stuff, so let’s start with automobiles. If you buy or lease a new SUV every three years you’re absorbing all of the depreciation and increasing your cost per use of that vehicle substantially. That vehicle loses most of its value in the first three years. If you buy a larger vehicle your cost per use is also higher based on gas and operating expenses.  To lower the cost per use, it would make sense to buy your next car like it’s your last. Purchase one high quality, fuel-efficient vehicle and keep it for at least 10 years. You can lower your cost per use even further if you know exactly the vehicle you’re looking for and can purchase a low mileage version just coming off lease, and keep that vehicle. Once those car payments end, you’ll find the maintenance costs required to keep the car in excellent running condition are a lot easier to swallow. I’ve also found that keeping a car in excellent condition, including the occasional carwash or detailing, makes me less apt to even think about replacing it. Read more…

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