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McD Monopoly Game: Mail-In vs. Hash Browns Epic Challenge

by Jim Wang on July 24, 2013

Hash Brown Challenge

Every year we write about how to win McDonald’s Monopoly Game, and we always reach the conclusion that the cheapest ways to play and get the most game stamps is by mailing in self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASE) or ordering the cheapest menu item: hashbrowns. So this year we thought we’d have a fun challenge to see which option nets the best prizes and best value for the money.

Last year, Brandon hand wrote 100 self-addressed stamped envelopes (so that’s two hundred envelopes for those of you keeping score at home) and mailed them into the McDonald’s Monopoly game. He documented the entire process in three posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). It was a fun little experiment, though Brandon couldn’t write for another two weeks, and we thought we’d up the stakes a little bit.


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Ten Common Money Mistakes, Part 2

by Jim Wang on July 23, 2013

BlindfoldThis is part two of our Ten Common Money Mistakes series that we started yesterday. You can find . In part one, we covered the following mistakes:

  • Carrying Credit Card Debt
  • No Emergency Fund
  • Not Monitoring Credit Score & Reports
  • Not Saving For Retirement
  • Using The Wrong Tools

Here is part two and the conclusion of the Ten Common Money Mistakes:

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Ten Common Money Mistakes, Part 1

by Jim Wang on July 22, 2013

Credit CardsIt’s been nearly ten years since I started Bargaineering and in those ten years, I’ve talked about and written about a lot of personal finance. To be honest, I’m amazed I’ve been doing it for this long and you might be amazed that I’ve had no formal personal finance education. I’m not a certified anything. I’ve taken no tests. I’m just a regular person like you and I make mistakes just like you.

That said, there is a class of “common money mistakes” that I see a lot and as a result of seeing them all the time, and their negative impact, I’ve largely been lucky to avoid them. A lot of these mistakes fall into the category of “mistakes because you ignore them.” By not paying attention, you commit the mistake but it doesn’t really hurt you immediately. It just impedes your growth or impacts your future in a way that’s nearly invisible. They are the most dangerous types of mistakes because by the time you realize you’ve made them, the impact has already taken hold.

Today, we’ll address the ten common mistakes, why they are secretly detrimental, and what you can do to avoid them. This is part one.

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Your Take: Do You Buy Generics or Brand Name Medicine?

by Jim Wang on July 19, 2013

AdvilI stumbled onto this NPR story about Matthew Gentzkow, an economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth school, and how he was trying to get to the bottom of why so many people bought brand name medicine.

What I found fascinating was that they looked at an enormous dataset (66 million shopping trips) and found that experts (nurses, doctors, pharmacists) were less likely to buy brands than average people. Pharmacists bought generics 90% of the time. Average people bought them 70% of the time.

They also asked people who bought brand name and it was all image driven. One guy didn’t want his wife to think he was cheap, one said Bayer reminded her of her grandmother, etc.

Personally, we buy generics all the time (OK not all the time, but pretty often). The price difference on some products is absurd. You can go into a Costco and buy a package of 365 pills of loratadine (the active ingredient of Claritin) for what seems like pennies. Go check out the price of Claritin in the grocery store, it’ll leave you gobsmacked.

That said, there are few medicines I use on a regular basis. If I’m not taking it all the time, does it really matter that much if I overpay a little? I don’t think so. I know we have both ibuprofen and Advil in our cabinet. So there was one day when we overpaid for ibuprofen… but that’s life.

Do you buy generics or brand name? Any reasons?

(Credit: An Nguyen Photography)


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Beware Real Estate Agent Buyer Contracts

by Jim Wang on July 18, 2013

Signed ContractsWe had some friends over the other night and they were sharing with us their home buying experience and how challenging it was for them. They were in a similar situation to ours – they’ve outgrown their home and were actively searching for their “forever” home. They weren’t in a rush to buy anything that fit, they were picky. They also knew that the home they wanted was outside their price range at the moment so they were happy to put in bids below asking price and hope they got lucky. Worst case, they would wait a year or so to build up a cash cushion for a larger down payment so they could get into a price range that fit their wants and needs.

As it turns out, the realtor they were working with wasn’t down with this strategy. There was some name calling, someone threw out the words “unethical,” and it came time for the two parties to go their separate ways. There was a catch – my friends signed a contract. I don’t know the exact details but it was a mess to get out of the contract and our friends have to wait a period of time for the term to expire. Until yesterday, I didn’t know real estate agents had their clients sign contracts. I’ve only ever bought two houses and both with the same agent and in neither case did the words “contract” ever come up.

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How To Win McDonald’s Monopoly Game, 2013 Edition

by Jim Wang on July 16, 2013

McDonalds SignIf you’re like me, you look forward to the McDonald’s Monopoly game every single year. If you thought this year’s game would start in the fall, well you’re in store for a real treat.

This year the McDonald’s Monopoly game will be starting a whopping two months earlier than last year. This year’s game started on July 16th and will run until August 12th. I don’t know why they started the game so early but it likely messed up preparations for so many Monopoly fans. (The last few years, the game started in September)

As we’ve done every year, we go over the rules and regulations to put together this guide to winning the McDonald’s Monopoly game. As is the case every year, it depends mostly on luck but with our guide you can have a better informed gaming experience. As was the case last year, the prize pool is bigger with two Boardwalk pieces, and McDonald’s is more transparent with the odds by publishing the probability you get every piece (even the common ones).

Overall, besides changing some of the prizes and the probabilities, the game hasn’t changed in many years. You can get game pieces by purchasing food from McDonald’s or mailing it self-addressed stamped envelopes. Those pieces will be a mix of instant win, for food, money, and other prizes, and game properties. Match up monopolies with the game properties and you win an even bigger prize. There are usually two common pieces and one rare piece.

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Why I Stopped Laddering My Certificates of Deposit

by Jim Wang on July 15, 2013

CD LadderFor years we’ve had our emergency fund in a certificate of deposit ladder at ING Direct, now Capital One 360. Then a funny thing happened a while ago (I don’t remember exactly when but it’s over a year now since all my CDs have matured), the interest rate on a savings account was higher than what you would get for a 12-month CD. If you look at yields today, the same holds true.

If you look at the rates at Capital One 360, you can get a 0.75% APY on your savings account. To beat that with a CD, you need to go to 60 months! Anything less than that and you’re better off keeping your money in a savings account. At Ally, the rates are better but not much better. Ally will pay you 0.85% APY on a savings account and a 12-month CD is only slightly better at 0.94% APY.

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Your Take: Oregon’s Attend College Now, Pay 3% for 25 Years Later

by Jim Wang on July 12, 2013

College Fund/LoanIt’s no secret that students graduate with a ton of student loan debt. It was front in center at the beginning of the month when Congress failed to do anything to stop a huge increase in the interest rate on Stafford loans. I relied heavily on subsidized Stafford loans (and other loans) in order to attend Carnegie Mellon and the favorable interest rate made the loan’s outsized balance manageable. And I counted myself lucky as my loan was under $30,000.

Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars up front for the cost of your tuition, what if you just paid a small percentage of your salary, say 3%, for the next twenty five years? That’s the proposal set forth by the state of Oregon. The Legislature approved a plan that would let students attend state colleges without paying tuition and instead the students would pay 3% of their income for 25 years.

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