Frugal Living 
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4 Things You Shouldn’t Be Cheap About

When I say you shouldn’t be cheap about something, I don’t mean you should pay through the nose. You should be prudent. Shop around, get several quotes or prices, and then buy at a favorable rate.

The tricky thing about pricing and quality is that they’re not necessarily correlated. We intuitively think that something that is more expensive is of higher quality (the Chivas Regal effect). That was probably true a hundred years ago until savvy marketers realized they could charge more for an inferior product because the higher price sent otherwise absent signals of quality. So while I say you shouldn’t be “cheap” about something, I don’t mean you should spend top dollar. You should be savvy and spent as much time as you need to make the smart purchase.

So, what should you avoid being cheap about?

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 Frugal Living 
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Frugal Ideas I’ve Always Wanted to Try

One of the really fascinating parts of the recession is the effect it has had on news stories. During the boom, mainstream media focused heavily on the excesses of those who had money. You had stories of the most expensive wine or the most expensive dessert. There were stories about luxury cars and of fantastic mansions on enormous estates. Nowadays, the stories are focused on more pedestrian subjects. They’re focused on people who grow gardens on their deck or raise chickens in the city. I find those stories infinitely more interesting because it shows our creativity and our resourcefulness, not our ability to write a check or swipe a card.

The stories that share tips on reducing electricity are great – I try to use as many of the tips as I can to reduce our own bills. The stories about how to drive more efficiently are even better, who doesn’t like saving money at the pump. However, there are some ideas out there that fall in the category of “cool I’d like to try that” but I have yet to try. This is a post about those ideas (and why I have yet to try them).

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 Personal Finance 
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PFBlogger Spotlight: Jason of Frugal Dad

I’ve decided to bring back an oldie but goodie, the personal finance blogger spotlight interview series. Long time readers of Bargaineering will recognize the PFBlogger Spotlight series as I’ve interviewed quite a few bloggers in the last few years. Today I have the joy of introducing you to Jason of Frugal Dad, a site “created for the average family to find financial resources with a [financially] conservative slant.”

I’m a fan of Jason’s blog because, despite its name, it is about more than frugality. Frugality is merely a tool towards overcoming debt and life’s other financial challenges. I hope, after this interview, you’ll gain a little more insight into what he’s about and why that makes his site so good.

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 Cars 
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Best Used Cars for College Students

Beater Used CarI never had a car in college and I never really wanted one because our student IDs doubled as free bus passes (the cost was rolled into our student fees). In fact, there were only a handful of occasions where I really wanted a car and those were cases where the bus ride would take an hour and a half (from CMU to Monroeville, which is really just a 20 minute care ride away!). I was fortunate to live in a city where public transportation was pretty good, but what about colleges where the public transportation isn’t as good or where you need a car just to get to class? You need a reliable used car.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: What Does Thrift Mean To You?

David Blankenhorn's Thrift: A CyclopediaDid you know that it’s Thrift Week?

In celebration of National Thrift Week, I want to know, what does Thrift mean to you?

To me, thrift always seemed like one of those old fashioned words from a bygone era. I always equated it to frugality, where you are smart about your money and trying to get the most out of every dollar. Thrift was virtuous and consumerism was evil. Since that era, which I think ended sometime in the 70′s or 80′s, we’ve replaced thrift with consumerism. Saving was replaced by borrowing.

I was especially interested to learn that thrift referred to more than just saving money and spending wisely. It also referred to working hard and giving back to the community, two points that are once again coming back into fashion (along with saving and spending wisely). I think we’re seeing the pendulum swing back away from frivolous borrow & spend and swing towards thrift. I think it’s a good sign. What do you think?

Templeton Press, the fine people behind this push to bring back thrift, have generously offered to give away three copies of David Blankenhorn’s Thrift: A Cyclopedia. Leave a comment sharing what thrift means to you and you will be entered to win a copy of the book. This contest will close at noon on January 30th.

The contest is now closed. Congratulations to the winners, Diane, Caitlin, and Audra, we hope you enjoy your new copy of Thrift!


 The Home 
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How to Get Rid of Ants Safely

Ant On A LeafMy wife and I started composted this year and one thing we learned was that ants love our compost. We keep an old 3 lb. coffee can (the same Folgers can in this post) with kitchen compost waste and ants seem to love the chopped up fruits we toss inside. We fill up that can and then empty it about every other week. It really reduces the amount of trash we discard and it will make for some good fuel for our garden next year. But, it’s also a nice little buffet for ants.

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 Cars 
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PSA: Double Check Wal-Mart Oil Changes

Regular oil changes, as defined by your owner’s manual, is one of the best ways to lengthen the life of your car and the efficiency of its engine. Don’t skip oil changes to save a few dollars, the thousands of miles you’ll add to the engine’s life will dwarf the cost. That being said, there really isn’t much difference in the product and service offered at a discount oil change place and your dealership, despite what your dealership may say! This PSA is anyone who uses discount oil change services like Wal-Mart or Jiffy Lube. After you get your $15-$20 oil change, double check their work before you leave or you might be in for a nasty surprise.

Wal-Mart Whoops!

A while back my wife took her 2004 Honda Civic to the local Wal-Mart for their famously economical oil change. With a price under twenty bucks for conventional oil, you couldn’t beat it. After the oil change, she drove home and it wasn’t until she left for work the next day did we see an oil stain in her parking spot. When we popped opened the hood, we saw the oil cap sitting on the engine. I should’ve taken a picture because my wife’s daily commute is about 40 minutes and it’s a miracle the cap was still sitting on top of the engine (it may have been wedged by the hood, we didn’t check but there wasn’t a dent).

Everything under the hood was covered in oil spray and she lost about a quart of oil. We couldn’t believe they forgot to put the oil cap back on (then we realized the technicians are probably pressured to do things as quickly as possible, so it’s not that surprising that they miss something once and a while).

Check Their Work…

So, the next time you get an oil change at those discount places, do a perfunctory check that everything is in order. Check that the oil cap is on (I know it sounds ridiculous but it happened to us), check the ground when you pull out for signs of oil leaks, check your oil level via the dipstick, and check the service work report for inconsistencies. You won’t be able to detect detect outright fraud but you can ensure there isn’t any carelessness.

… Or Do It Yourself

I change the oil in my own car because I prefer to use synthetic oil (mostly because you change it less frequently, but there are other benefits). You can get synthetic oil changes at the discount places but the price magically jumps up to $50-60 for the base oil change, a price point that makes it more economical to change it yourself. I also drive a car that offers very easy access to the filter (the filter was impossible to reach in my last car, an Acura Integra) so changing the oil is straightforward. The only downside is the mess, but you do get the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

But, if I forget to put on the oil cap or tighten the oil filter… I have no one to blame. :)


 Shopping 
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Beware The Monthly Payment Math Trick

If you’ve ever tried to buy a car or a house, you probably faced the Monthly Payment Math Trick. It’s a psychological trick salespeople use to get you to buy something that you couldn’t afford or pay an amount you weren’t originally comfortable with. A salesperson will try to convince you to purchase something based on the monthly payment you’ll have to make. It frames the purchase in a way that lets you begin integrating the purchase into your life, before you’ve actually made it and may even make it more likely you’ll make the purchase.

Here’s an example, let’s say you want to buy a car and you were looking to spend $12,000 on a car. You started looking around and found a nice used car for $12,000 but then the salesperson started talking about the benefits of their newest model. You figure you can get a loan at 6% for 4 years on the $12,000 and walk out of there paying $281.82 a month and feeling pretty good.

You start figuring your budget in your head, whether you can afford $281.82 each month for the new car, whether you’d trade $281.82 of other stuff in your budget in order to … see how you’ve already “made the purchase” in your mind?

That’s when the salesperson says, “Why not get the next model up? For the same monthly payment, we can restructure your loan so that you keep that $281.82 a month except we stretch it out only two more years.” Wow, not a bad deal right?

You think to yourself, “That is a nice car, I can afford $281.82 a month, why not?”

The why not is because your total original cost was $13,527.36. The total cost of the higher model is $20291.04, a staggering difference of $6,763.68! While the total cost increased, your monthly amount remained the same.

Don’t fall into the monthly payment math trap!


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