Cancel That Gym Membership

28 07 2008

Did you know that there are companies whose whole foundation is based on taking your money while giving you nothing in return?  These companies exist, they are very real, and most people continue on paying them for nothing, you probably are right now.

The primary example of this that comes to mind is your Gym membership.  Some people are very good at going to their local gym daily to workout, but the fact of the matter is that big chain or “Globo” gyms earn their money on upfront fees and the premise that most of the people who pay are not going to go.  I know way too many people who pay for a gym membership that they don’t use.  What many people are paying for is the delusion that having a gym membership means that they do workout.

Think about how much you pay for your gym membership.  Now how much do you go to the gym?  Is it really worth it when there are literally HUNDREDS of things you can do for free to stay in shape?  Go run, do sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, run the local stadium steps, join an intramural sports league, all these things are more fun than staring at some meat head stare at himself in the mirror!

You could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year by going outside and using the world as your gym!  I’m not telling you to not workout, and some people use the “globo” gym everyday (good for you!), but most don’t.  If you are a “most” person, or even if you aren’t, breaking the gym rut would be good for your workout routine anyway!

Mary and I do Crossfit workouts on our own, and the money we don’t spend on a gym membership we are using to buy different pieces to build our own gym of homemade (medicine ball, parallettes, pull up bar) or used equipment found on craigslist.  Crossfit is a high intensity combination of Gymnastics, Aerobics, and Olympic Weight Lifting where all the workouts can be scaled to your own level of fitness.  Doing this we are in the best shapes of our lives, and we aren’t paying a dime for it in membership dues!

As a side note I have a recommendation to gym big wigs.  Why don’t you offer a punch card for workouts? Say $20 for 12 workouts.  Like a buy 10 get 2 free visits or something.  That provides more value to many of your customers, I can guarantee that it would be a huge hit (I’d probably buy one for a rainy day), however I do understand that it undermines your whole profit base.

Advertisements




Get Cheap Costco Gas Without the Membership

15 07 2008

Everyone loves cheap gas, but not everyone loves to pay for a club membership to get one, so have the best of both worlds!  According to Bargaineering (new window), it is possible to get Costco gas without having a Costco membership as long as you have an American Express card.

All you have to do is swipe your regular American Express card when it asks for you to swipe your Costco card, then swipe the credit card you want to pay with.  I have not tried this, but I have read numerous accounts of it working.

Apparently it works because Costco has a Costco Amex card, and that card can be used as proof of membership, however the machine is trained to only read the line of code that says it’s an Amex card and nothing else.  Therefore when you swipe a regular Amex card the machine thinks that it’s a Costco member Amex card.

Locate a Costco nearby, try it out and let me know how you enjoy your (roughly) 10 cent discount on gas!





Searching

14 07 2008

As many of you know, I started this blog to hold myself accountable for budgeting as my wife and I planned and budgeted to move into our new house.  Over that time, I successfully wrote and grew this blog to over 100 subscribers.

Now that we have moved into our house, I’ve found myself at a loss of ideas and motivation to post.  As I’ve been trying to analyze why I feel this way, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m beginning to feel like a hypocrite.  We live in a very nice new house, that we have worked very hard for, however we have had a great deal of help getting here.

First, we got a huge leg up from my wife’s brother and his wife.  They currently own two houses in the Dallas area and offered to let us live in one of them, rent free, as long as we maintained it and paid the utilities.  So far we have not been able to thank them enough for the head start they gave us on saving for a house.  We lived there for about a year, and by living frugally we were able to live on my wife’s salary while saving all of mine.  This enabled us to have a good sized down payment on our house and to fully fund an emergency fund.

Next, my in-laws gave my wife her mom’s old car for her graduation.  Which is a very generous gift by any standards, but when her mom’s old car was a mint condition Lexus SC 430 with low miles, it’s above and beyond.  We were able to sell the car for a large sum, which enabled us to put a very large down payment on our Volvo, and put the rest into the down payment on our house.

Finally, something that I have written about previously, but a check that my grandmother gave me when I was young.  I was able to invest and exponentially grow it.  This money paid for Mary’s engagement ring and our wedding rings.  It also paid off all of our debt after college, and for some of our furniture.

Living in our nice new house I have to say it is hard to feel like we are living frugally, in the truest since of the word we definitely are not.  We have a new 2500 sqft house (for 2 people), and we drive a new car that we make payments on (when we could have paid cash), but what I have really come to realize in the last few months writing this is that being frugal isn’t about being stingy, cheap, or not wanting to spend money.  What being frugal is really about is choices.

Mary and I choose to live in a nice new house, we choose to drive a nice new car, and we choose to make sacrifices to afford both of them.  We take our lunch to work.  We don’t eat out much.  We carpool.  We don’t have cable.  We use coupons. We don’t belong to a gym, instead we workout on our own…which will hopefully be a future post.  Mary made the drapes in our bedroom from nice fabric she found deeply discounted.

As you can see, although we may not be the true poster couple for being “young and frugal,” we like to think that we are wise with our money, and we are able to enjoy the choices that we make, while still saving for retirement.





Ten Tips for Saving Money on Gas

1 05 2008

As gas passes $3.50 per gallon and rapidly approaches $4.00 per gallon (or it’s already there…sorry CA), Mary and I can’t wait to move into our new house and cut our commute from 32 miles to 15. However in the meantime, we have taken measures to get the most out of our tanks of gas. So here are 10 tips that could help you increase those MPGs and decrease those gas bills!

1. Carpool. Mary and I are lucky enough to work at the same company, so it makes sense for us to carpool. By our calculation, we are saving at least $200 per month by this little step. Sure, it sucks sometimes when one of us has to work later, leaving the other with nothing to do, but we always remind each other how much money and time (Carpool lane) carpooling saves us.

2. Change the oil on time. Staying up to date on engine oil changes helps your car run better and get the most out of your gas. I make sure to change the oil in our Acura every 5,000 miles (Oil Co’s recommend 3,000 miles, car makers say 5,000), and every 7500 miles in our Volvo (synthetic oil).

3. Get a high performance air filter. K&N air filters are expensive, but they pay for themselves in the long run. They come with a 1 million mile warranty because you clean them instead of replace them, plus you can get up to 10% better gas mileage because they allow your engine to breathe better and give you better performance. I received 10% better gas mileage in my old Jeep when I put in a K&N filter. Note: Mr. Dave points out in the comments, that high performance filters are not recommended for some engines like the VW TDi engine.  Though if you have that engine you’re beating all of us on MPG anyway.

4. Inflate the tires. Making sure your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI will increase your gas mileage because a fully inflated tire offers less resistance when you are coasting.

5. Coast. If you have an onboard computer, have you ever set it to give you the instantaneous MPG? You will probably notice that when your foot is off the gas your MPG skyrockets. So if you see a read light ahead let off the gas, there is no need to speed to a stop, it’s just a waste of gas and you’ll have to replace your brakes sooner.

6. A/C or Windows Down? It’s summer, it’s hot, so what do you do? This all depends on what you are doing. If you are driving at highway speeds, roll the windows up and use the A/C, because the drag of the windows being down really hurts the gas mileage. Driving around town? Roll ‘em down!

7. Don’t carry around extra crap! Weight directly affects your gas mileage. The more stuff you have weighing down your car the worse MPG you get. So lose the golf clubs, toolbox, and other random stuff unless you need it.

8. Plan your routes. UPS saved millions of dollars a year in gas by rerouting their trucks to limit the number of left turns, and you can save money too! Plan your routes in the most efficient way possible. Generally right turns are faster and they use less gas waiting at lights than left turns, so why not try it out!

9. Get a gas card! Many credit card companies offer cash back on gas purchases, so why not!? You’re going to be spending the money anyway, so you might as well earn up to 5% cash back. Or even better get a gas company card, brand loyalty pays you in savings!

10. Don’t use E85. What? But the government said it’s going to be our saving grace and I want to help save the environment! I’m all for saving the environment when it is in my financial interest (like compact florescent lights that will pay for themselves), but if it will cost me more money, I’m less likely to do it. E85 is cheaper, and your car may run on it, but according to AutoTrader it contains 27% less energy than 87 Octane (the cheap stuff). That means you get 27% less MPG using E85. The only time it’s in your financial interest is when E85 is less than 73% of the cost of 87 Octane. At my local station, E85 is about 30-40 cents cheaper per gallon than 87 Octane. $3.20 / $3.50 is 91%… not in your financial interest.

I hope you can put these ideas to good use, and if you’ve got any more, feel free to leave them in the comments!

 





Trouble Getting Dates?…Try Haggling

19 04 2008

Note: At the suggestion of a reader I am splitting the post into two separate pieces.  Stay tuned for 10 Steps to Haggling!

When I was younger I had very low self esteem, there was no reason for me to be shy and scared to talk to girls, but I was.  I was scared of them saying no, or even worse, laughing at me.  I’m not a bad looking guy, but this fear was very real.  My older brothers would try to help me with this by bribing me to go up to girls and ask them out, but I only successfully did this once…and by successfully I mean I actually asked the girl out; she said no.

The only reason I met my wife is because she had a mutual friend set us up on a blind date after seeing me in a picture.  I would have never “sacked up” and asked her out on my own, but considering I was put in a situation where it would have been very awkward, and quite frankly rude, for me not to, I asked for her number and waited the obligatory 3 days to call her.  Ladies- for an insight into a guys mind during this “waiting period” watch the movie Swingers.

When I first started to haggle I would get the same knots in my stomach as I would when I would be scared to ask a girl out or tell her that I liked her.  I was scared, scared that the salesman or manager might think less of me, scared they would say know, scared they would be offended.  Why was I scared?  I really don’t know, I never had a situation that scarred me, but I think it all stems from my historically low self esteem (now practically gone thanks to my wife!).

Today when I was haggling for a new pair of over-priced running shoes, I happen to be haggling with a cute woman, and it all clicked!  The nervous feeling I would get when wanting to ask a girl out is the same nervous feeling I get when haggling…except haggling is way easier.  Haggling is a confidence builder!

I rarely get turned down when I haggle, and when I do it’s never a big deal, I leave with my pride, and confidence still in tact that I tried, so I have no regrets.  This has built my confidence up greatly.  That is confidence that I could easily turn around into “technique” and confidence for picking up women (not that I ever would, I am very happily married).  I will have to find someone to try this technique on, but I’m positive it will work.  Haggling is the best confidence builder I’ve had…besides getting married.

I implore you all to at least try haggling, whether you get a discount or not it ends up being a rush so it feels good afterwards, but when it does work and you save some money, it builds your confidence, and you get that rush.  Also, as an added bonus, if the salesperson is a member of the opposite sex you can subtly flirt and complement the person to help you haggle!  Pretty soon, haggling will be no big deal, and you can turn that confidence and flirting into picking up members of the opposite sex!

As a disclaimer, use discretion, it may hurt your chances if you haggle on a first date, you don’t want to come across as cheap, even though there is a distinct difference, not everyone understands it.  Later on you can show your frugalness.




Does The Size Of Your Image Equal The Size Of Your Debt?

31 03 2008

Our society has a perception complex. We are raised to judge and compare ourselves against others and our perceptions of other people become our own reality. We are trained from an early age in this regard. In school it didn’t matter if I got a “C” on a project as long as it was in line with the other students in class. Even on a set scale where everyone knows that an “A” is the best, we judge ourselves against our peers, not the scale. It only mattered that I was considered as smart or smarter than the other kids in the class.

By no means do I consider myself to be smart, but the fact that I am a clean cut, in shape, nerdy looking guy, who can carry a conversation on just about any topic, has really helped me out in life. My image allows other people to come up with their own realities of who I am, and I have found that for the most part, people consider me to be a mature young guy with a good head on his shoulders, though if you read young and frugal you already knew that (I kid). And for the most part I work at my image because I want people to walk away feeling that way about me.

Whether we like it or not, image is important in our society, and our society sees the things we appear to possess as extensions of who we are. Our friend who drives the BMW must be rich, and the guy down the street who drives a ’95 Civic with 225k miles on it must be poor (eww!).

Notice how I used the phrase “appear to possess,” I say this because if I’m leasing or I have financed a 3 series is it really mine? If it’s paid off like the ’95 Civic then of course it is, otherwise…? I don’t know, can you claim half a BMW?

All of this perception is human nature. As kids, we know that rich people drive nice cars, live in nice houses, and watch huge HDTV’s. As we grow up, and learn about money and responsibility we learn that just because we appear to possess these items doesn’t mean we are rich.

Mary and I listened to NPR on the way home from work today and we heard an interview with Moby. Moby grew up very poor, and he and his mother were on welfare and food stamps until he was 18. He knows and understands the merits of frugality, and that perception isn’t everything. He said on the radio today that earning a great deal of money hasn’t changed him and that he still shops at the same grocery store and does his laundry at the same laundromat. He says he still even has a little 13 inch TV.

When talking about his spending habits and his TV, Moby said “will watching Family Guy on a 42 or 50 inch TV make it funnier?” This practically stopped me dead in my tracks. For months I’ve been salivating over flat panel TV’s that I can’t really rationalize purchasing, but I always end up salivating and coming back around to wanting one. Mary and I even went shopping with her mother for one yesterday. I have had my dream home theater in my head for months (with a mac mini at the helm), and this one prompt by Moby made me question my motivations. Yes, Family Guy is hilarious, but A TV won’t make it funnier because it’s bigger, nor would Davidson have beaten Kansas had I watched in HD.

Why do I feel compelled to make such a big purchase? I could definitely put $1500 to better use somewhere else like an IRA/401(k) or paying down our car loan even faster.

I really can’t come up with a good reason as to why I want a new TV. We have two 20″ TV’s and they both work perfectly. Plus, I don’t really watch TV anymore! Yet, for some reason I want one that is newer/better.

Maybe I feel that our new and incredibly nice house is an extension of us and the TV is an an extension of the house that makes it that much nicer. Maybe I want people to perceive that we have made it, when we drive in our nice and practical new car to our nice new house and watch Nightly Business Report our big new LCD. But at the end of the day image is only as deep as the debt you (can) get yourself into.

Here is the anomaly on all of this, I don’t want my friends looking at our house and our car and being jealous. Sure it makes everyone feel good when other people are jealous of them, but Mary and I are in a unique situation where we are starting out in our lives and careers together. We are a dual income family with no kids (ok we practically treat our dogs like kids…but I digress). It is easier for us to afford this lifestyle. I don’t want any of my friends jumping into our lifestyle too quickly and getting in over their heads, I want them to understand that yes, we have nice things, nicer than we deserve, but we also have car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments, property tax payments, Homeowners Association Dues, and various other things factored in.

Hey, at least we have no credit card debt! 





How Scouting Taught Me To Be A Smart Shopper

26 03 2008

While I was at my parent’s house over Easter, I was looking through some of my old stuff when I found a stack of Merit Badge books from Scouts.  Sitting perfectly on the top of the stack was the book for Personal Management, a merit badge designed to teach teens about managing time and money.

The book is filled with very good information on everything from budgeting, to living on your own and debt management, but I’d like to focus in on the section titled: Being a Smart Shopper.  (Keep in mind that as I go through and quote this that it was written in 1996 for teenage boys, but the lessons transcend age and date.)

 Suppose you have your eye on a really special skateboard.  How much does it cost? (Don’t forget to include the cost of protective gear if you don’t already own such items.)  You count your money and discover that you don’t have enough.  What do you do?  You Might:  

  • Shop around.  Maybe another store or a catalog has the identical skateboard at a cheaper price.  A telephone can make comparison shopping easy.  Call at least three stores.
  • Earn or save more money until you have enough to buy the skateboard.
  • Wait for a sale.  A store clerk might tell you if the skateboard will go on sale soon.
  • Look for discount coupons.  These can be found in newspapers, coupon books, or the mail.

What if you still don’t have enough money to buy the skateboard, or you decide you don’t want to spend that much money, even if it is on sale?  You have other choices.  Shoppers can’t always buy exactly what they want.  Sometimes they must compromise.  Thats part of being a good money manager – knowing when to say no to yourself. 

 Wow.  I’d say those last few sentences are something everyone needs to remember!  Mary and I are in this situation with our house right now.  We really want hardwood floors in our living room, but we know that we just don’t have the money for it.  We are forcing ourselves to say no, and it’s hard because we need want them.  It is very hard to say no to yourself, and it takes a great deal of self control, especially when (once you get older) it’s so easy to put a purchase on the credit card.  Luckily for Mary and I, we are able to hold each other accountable and it really helps.  

The Scouts are essentially saying, if you can’t afford something you have a few options: shop around, save more, wait for a sale, and look for coupons.  Very smart advice for anyone.  It also reminds us all to consider all of the costs we will encounter for this item, like having extra money for protective gear for the skateboard.

The passage goes on to recommend that you buy a less expensive skateboard with a different paint job, buy a used skateboard, check classified ads, and it even brings up building your own skateboard (which sounds fun and easy to me!)

The book then offers a checklist for smart shopping some of which are (my commentary in parentheses):

  • Be wary of advertising…(Always!)
  • Before buying a product, talk to…others who may already use [it]…  (Also seek reviews from consumer reports or on the internet)
  • Try before you buy/demo
  • Consider quality.  Price isn’t everything… Why buy something, even at a low price, if it falls apart quickly or doesn’t work properly.  (I am obsessed with quality products, if there is a difference in quality and price, I will buy the one that has better quality)
  • Consider Service. (I’m usually willing to pay more for something if I know that the service behind it will be worth it.  For instance, I’ll pay a bit more for something at Costco in order to get their service and extended warranty)
  • Don’t Impulse buy.
  • If there’s a problem, take a product back right away (be sure to keep your receipt).  Don’t toss the item aside and feel sorry for yourself….Most stores…[will]…probably fix the item or give you a new one.  (I am terrible at actually returning items to stores.  It always seems like too much of a hassle.  But I’m going to make a point to return a broken glass bowl we got as a wedding present (in June) this week.  We have the receipt.  I hope they take it back!)

It’s not always easy to be a smart shopper.  Most people, myself included, aren’t good at the waiting part.  We impulse buy, it’s what advertisers and marketers try to train us to do, but we need to always remember to stop and ask ourselves if we need the item, or if we just want it.  We also need to ask more important questions… Can I afford this?  How long with this take me to pay off?  How long will it take me to save for this?  Those are the types of questions that should be going through everyone’s head when they see something they want to impulse buy.

Writing this has been very beneficial for me today, because Mary and I did our Tax return yesterday and when I saw the amount we will be getting back I got very excited.  I even caught myself drooling over Mac mini’s online today.  But I slowly moved my mouse up to the corner of the screen and closed the window, because even though a Mac mini is on my list of things I want and need (yes I do need a new computer), I want to achieve other Goals first.  Most of our Tax return will hopefully be going directly into savings to help us achieve higher goals.