Monday, May 26, 2008

Gas is >$4 a gallon

Every station I passed yesterday had prices of over $4 a gallon. Diesel was closer to $5. A year ago, we were pricing gas in preparation of our cross-country road trip. Prices were just under $3 a gallon, usually $2.75 or so, so we used $3 for our calculations to allow for variations. And just a year later, it's up $1.

I've been contemplating a California road trip. We live in Washington, so it's quite a ways. I grew up in California, and would like to take my kids to see the places I used to visit as a child. Other than Disneyland, we haven't taken the kids to California yet. Lots of planning still to do though.

But back to that $4 a gallon gas. Have you changed your driving habits? I have, in that I avoid unnecessary trips, plan my errands for efficiency and walk when we can. Those are things I already did though. Things I won't do? Take public transport. It just doesn't work for me when I have a kid or two in tow. I love to Rollerblade and Razor scooter, and have ridden my scooter to the market (fun fun fun and faster than driving). I don't love riding my bike, because gunk gets in my eyes even with shields on. I do drive the speed limit (and get tailgated which irks me to no end). I try to go easy on acceleration and deceleration.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When you really need a human

Like I did today. I got a strange email from my bank, about an address change on one of my accounts. Of course, I called them up right away to take care of it. Turned out it was for an account for a non-profit that I'm a signer on, but not currently an active user. The treasurer post must have moved to a new member.

Trying to get to a real person took FOREVER. I had to call back three times, increasingly frustrated each time. I finally came to my senses and looked up "get a human". I love it. I really do. Bookmark this site, because you will refer to it all the time. In just two shakes, by following the instructions, I had a real person on the line who helped me sort out the problem.

Once I actually reached a live human, she was pleasant and helpful. Kudos to the bank for that at least. Curses for forcing me to go through heck to get through.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A must read book

Anyone who wants to lose weight, improve their health or who has been told to use drugs or diet to lower their cholesterol should read this book. I warn you, it's a fairly academic tome. The author spent five years researching and writing this book. It's an eye-opener!

The simplest way to save money

Don't buy stuff. Stay out of the stores. When you do shop, go in with a list, preferably written. Avoid looking at catalogs--get off the mailing lists (check out Catalog Choice for an easy way to opt out of multiple catalogs at one time). Skip those aspirational magazines, like Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living and worse, the "shopping magazines" like Lucky. They're pits of desire just waiting to trap you in longing for more and more.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fun items from The Consumerist

This first one cracked me up. Want something? Send $10 to the Somethingstore and they'll send you ... something. They pick it from their inventory. Recent somethings sent include: gourmet tea gift basket, leather wallet, duct tape wallet, Zippo lighter, hair trimmer. The list goes on!

And on a more practical note, CNN Money has a short & sweet article on the only seven investments you need for a balanced portfolio. Ready? Here ya go!
  • A blue-chip U.S.-stock fund
  • A blue-chip foreign-stock fund
  • A small-company fund
  • A value fund
  • A high-quality bond fund
  • An inflation-protected bond fund
  • A money-market fund
    They provide examples of all seven. Grab a Zecco account and get started today!
  • Saturday, May 10, 2008

    Save money on postage

    First, get thee to a post office and stock up on "Forever" stamps. They cost $.41 until Monday (when postage rates go up). "Forever" stamps though, can be used for first class postage forever. Even if the rate increases, if you use the "forever" stamp, no need to add extra, it's covered.

    Did you know that stamps don't expire? If you find your childhood U.S. stamp collection, you can still use those $.15 or $.19 stamps as legal postage today. You'll probably get more value out of them that way.

    Some folks have gotten good deals on stamps on eBay. I haven't tried it yet; I stocked up on "forever" stamps and should be good for at least one more postage increase.

    Thursday, May 8, 2008

    What's up with the frozen yogurt?

    Suddenly, there's frozen yogurt all over! Pinkberry this and Red Mango that. Didn't we do the frozen yogurt craze already? Like, back in the late '80s & early '90s? Now it's the latest thing in Hollywood and spreading to the 'burbs.

    Frozen yogurt is dessert. That's all. It's not particularly healthful. If you want a healthy yogurt, try some plain Greek-style yogurt or plain organic yogurt. My personal favourite is Cascade Fresh. The fruity flavours have no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial sweeteners. The plain is tangy and light, with a slightly gritty (rather than creamy) texture. Serious yum.

    For an easy cheap dinner, marinate some cheaper chicken pieces in a cup or two of plain yogurt that you've mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons of Panak's mild curry paste (available at specialty asian & Indian markets or better grocery stores). Marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve with Basmati rice and a lightly cooked vegetable, like green beans, broccoli or whatever is in season and cheap.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Making Saving a Habit

    The Wall Street Journal has a nice little article on simple ways to make saving a habit.

    I'm a fan of automation--once it's set up, you can (mostly) forget about it. Most banks and brokerages allow you to customize your automatic savings, so you can choose a day and amount that works for you. Have your savings stowed in a mutual fund or a money market account, or choose to save with bonds. It's creating the habit that's key, more than the specific choice of where to stash the cash.

    I find that mindfulness is the key to keeping a handle on expenses. Make active, aware choices. Keep your goals and vision in mind. Once you've practiced that, you'll automatically run your options through a "goal filter" before making a decision.