Thursday, October 16, 2008

Five Brand Name Products I Swear By (And Five I Swear At)

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

comic 63 - store brands

Those who know me well tend to describe my financial style using words like “frugal” and “budget-minded” and “cheap-ass tightwad.” And I will very readily confess to being all of the above. While my friends are out buying giant televisions and laser-guided hovercraft, I’m just as content at home playing with my ball on a stick. And while everyone else is purchasing the 12-dollar organic whole-grain cereals harvested by Buddhist monks, I’m totally fine sticking with the generic brand cereals like Fruity Rings and Marshmallow Remnants.

But there are a few cases where I’ve totally dedicated my wallet in an almost cult-like fashion to the following of a particular brand name item. I mentioned one of these brand names a few weeks ago—Shell gasoline—but there are a few others to which I am particularly loyal, as well as a slew of others to which I am so disloyal that, were they my wife and we were in a loveless marriage, I would not hesitate to cheat on them with a product a few shelves down the shopping aisle. Let’s take a look at some of the good and the bad items that have made their way into (and sometimes quickly out of) the Punny Money Family household over the years.

Razors

My brand name choice: Schick. It’s taken me nearly a decade to find a semi-disposable safety razor that lasts a long time and gives me a good, clean, comfortable shave. I finally found it a few months ago when I received a free sample of the Schick Quattro Titanium. I’ve been using the same replaceable blade for nearly two months now, and it still shaves as close as the first day. I know I’ll have to replace it eventually, and the nearly $20 price tag for eight more blades stings a bit at first until you consider that those eight blades will likely last me over a year at this rate.

I stay far away from… Gillette and store brands. Gillette, your safety razors just suck. They wear out after a few uses, they always miss spots the Schicks don’t, and they’re just as expensive. And don’t even get me started on store brand razors; you might as well just shave with a chainsaw instead.

Bug Spray

My brand name choice: Raid. Living in an old 1940s house, there are numerous tiny holes that equally tiny bugs sometimes manage to worm their way through to get inside. It’s by no means a big problem, but we are sure to keep a can of bug spray nearby anyway just in case. Raid’s slogan that it “Kills on Contact!” may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but it does seem to kill bugs after a minute or two of horrendous torture that’ll teach them terrorist critters to stay outta our home.

I stay far away from… Black Flag. This crap just doesn’t work. There could be a tiny little fly sitting on the wall and I could empty an entire can of Black Flag onto its diseased little butt and it would just sit there and act like it’s a refreshing summer rain.

Beer

My brand name choice: Sam Adams. I was not much of a beer drinker until a couple years ago because all of my previous beer drinking experiences were with crappy American beers. Then someone gave me a fancy imported beer and it tasted pretty good. One day, I tried one of Sam Adams’ seasonal brews and thought that it must have been imported from some country who also had a revolutionary war hero named Sam Adams. Fortunately I was mistaken, and now I’m a Sam Adams fan for life. I’m especially fond of their Oktoberfest brew, especially when it’s served by a sexy lady in one of those tiny beer girl outfits.

I stay far away from… any other American beer. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk enough to tolerate the taste of Miller Lite or Budweiser or any other domestic beer. I would sooner drink water or the girliest drink available than an American beer other than Sam Adams.

Chocolate

My brand name choice: Hershey’s. Hershey’s makes Kit Kats, Mr. Goodbars, and the best dark chocolate around. That’s all the chocolate I need.

I stay far away from… Store brands and “home made.” Sure, those store brand chocolate bars might cost 50% less than their Hershey’s counterparts, but I think that 50% cost savings comes from the fact that they use a blend of chocolate and crap. As for home-made chocolates… unless your home is in a chocolate factory, chances are you have no business making chocolate meant for people to enjoy.

Batteries

My brand name choice: Energizer. I’ve tried all of the other brands over the years as well as a variety of store brands, and Energizer always seems to have the best cost-to-life ratio. Yes, they’re pricier than all the rest, but their long life and reliability more than make up for the added cost.

I stay far away from… Duracell and store brands. Yes, those Duracell commercials say they’re what powers the space shuttle and Walt Disney’s cryogenic chamber, but they’re just not as long-lasting as Energizer in my mind. The difference is even more apparent when comparing Energizer rechargeable batteries to other brands of rechargeables.

I hope you’ll forgive me for indulging in a “Nick’s Favorite Things” list, but I also did this to strike up some conversations with you to see what some of your favorite products are. So please feel free to share with the rest of the class, and if anyone knows a particularly effective hair regrowth product… please share that with everyone else too. You know, for everyone’s benefit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How to Cure Obsessive-Compulsive 401(k) Checking

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 62 - retirement party

If you’re like me (you poor, depraved soul) then you’ve been checking your retirement accounts rather obsessively over the last few weeks thanks to headlines like “Dow Drops Below 10,000!” and “Is the Next Great Depression Right Around the Corner?” and “Lindsay Lohan Comes Out of the Closet.”

Some anecdotal evidence is suggesting that many people have lost 5-10% of the values of their retirement accounts in 2008. Others have been even less fortunate; some folks heavily invested in their own companies only to see them go under and take their nest eggs with them.

I’ve been moderately more fortunate than others as my own company’s stock is still in the vicinity of its all-time highs and is countering losses in the other parts of my 401(k). When I checked this morning, I confirmed that I’ve actually netted 13 big dollars on my investments this year. And that brings me to the point of today’s rant discussion: why am I obsessively checking my 401(k)? Is there something I think I can do about it by watching its value decline day by day? Perhaps my subconscious believes that by keeping a close eye on it, I can magically reverse its course.

Well, it’s time for me to come clean: today was the first day I’ve checked my 401(k) balance in over four months, and it’s at nearly the same value as it was four months ago. I realized early on that obsessively checking my 401(k)’s balance every day would only cause me needless worry. After all, I’m at least 35 years from the normal retirement age, and the balance of my 401(k) is relatively small enough that it’s hardly worth worrying about in the long run. If anything, I’ll only cause myself pointless stress checking it during this time of economic turmoil.

Unfortunately just about everyone I know has not been as successful in fending off the “401(k) OCD.” I frequently walk down the hallway at my work and see people logged on to our retirement account management website to check how their money is doing. And many of these are workers that are my age or younger! Even worse, there are those who have shifted most or all of their retirement funds to non-stock assets. If you wanted to sit on the sidelines while the market takes a nosedive, the time to do that was months ago! Now many of them will likely leave their 401(k)s parked in “safe” investments and will miss out on any rebound the market makes in the coming months and years.

Lucky for them and you, there are ways to fight 401(k) OCD. Talk to your doctor about prescription Cialis… oh, wait, that’s for an entirely different problem. Here are some ways you can keep yourself from obsessing over your retirement accounts that have worked for me:

  1. Lock yourself out of your accounts. Call the company which maintains your retirement accounts and change your access passwords. When they ask what you’d like to change them to, say “I don’t care. Pick something and don’t tell me.” Just make sure you have a way to unlock your account a few years down the road.
  2. Stop watching financial news. Call your cable provider and cancel CNN, MSNBC, and everything else that isn’t Cartoon Network and Playboy.
  3. Dump your company’s stock. If you still wanna stick in the stock market at this point, make sure your retirement accounts are diversified. Having 90% of your retirement wealth tied to the success or failure of your company is not diversified—it’s stupified.
  4. Make smarter investments. Perhaps when you first set up your 401(k), your friends told you which investments you should pursue. If your retirement account is down 30% this year, you may want to switch your investments around a bit to include a nicer variety of investments like commodities and foreign stocks. And also find new friends.
  5. Temporarily stop contributing to your accounts. This move probably only makes sense if you’re in the 50+ crowd. If you’re contributing $300 to your 401(k) each week, and your 401(k) in turn loses $3,000 a week, you may want to temporarily halt your contributions and stick your money into conventional savings. But if you’re young and/or your employer matches your contributions, you’ll need to do the math to see if contributing still makes sense.
  6. Mind your debts and cash savings. You’ll feel a lot better about your plummeting retirement account balance if your debt is also plummeting rapidly. Paying off debt quicker is one of the safest investments you can make because you’ll know exactly how much money you’re saving as you do it.
  7. Address the real financial issues in your life. Perhaps your obsessive 401(k) watching is merely a symptom of a much bigger personal fiscal problem. If you’re worried about your retirement funds drying up while you’re buying Mercedes and vacationing in Tahiti, then your priorities may be a little mixed up.

Follow those steps to relieve your retirement account stress and your 401(k) OCD should be cured in no time. And now that you have an extra 5 or 10 minutes a day that you aren’t watching your retirement funds crumble, you can put that time to good use by fortifying your house and stocking up on supplies for the coming Even Greater Depression.

Hmm, saying that probably didn’t do anything to ease anybody’s anxiety. Sorry!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Okay, Fine, I’ll Write About the Damn Financial Bailout

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 61 - united states of china

Today I found the following e-mail in my inbox:

Dear Nick,

How come you haven’t written anything about the horrible injustice that is the $700 BILLION DOLLAR bailout of stupid people? I’d love to see one of your cartoons about this topic too, but I’d also be interested in hearing what you seriously think about the bailout.

~Scott

Scott, you bring up a good point—I tend not to write about politics and so-called “important issues” very much. That’s because topics like the financial bailout (whose proper name is the Kick Taxpayers In The Balls Act of 2008) get covered on every other news site, blog, and cocktail napkin in the country, so I figured everyone wouldn’t mind reading about something more refreshing for a change, like ketchup theft and workplace drinking games.

But fine, I give up. I’ll give you all my two cents on the financial bailout. In short, it sucks. In long, it suuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. In fact, it sucks so much that, for the first time in history, I actually wrote to my Congressional representatives and told them not to vote for it if they still want my vote in November.

What exactly about the financial bailout plan has earned my boundless ire? Well, by default, I tend to oppose any federal legislation that would spend $700 billion on anything. You can spend a mere $85 billion to bail out an insurance giant and I might not bat an eye. And you might be able to get away with spending $500 billion on a war nobody likes anymore. But $700 billion dollars is where I draw the freaking line.


See? There’s the line, and I just drew it.

So why do I have such a problem with the government spending $700 billion dollars on what essentially amounts to a blank check to the financial industry to continue being a bunch of retarded monkeys? Well, for one, consider exactly what else could be done with that much money. $700 billion dollars can buy a lot of things, such as:

  • A check made out to me in the amount of $700 billion dollars.
  • $700 billion in cash in a suitcase for me.
  • 15 minutes alone with Hayden Panettiere to do anything I want.
  • Portugal.

The other problem I have with this bailout—and likely the only thing I’m going to say in this entire VERY SERIOUS ARTICLE that makes any sense—is that it doesn’t help the people who need help the most. No no, I’m not talking about homeowners struggling to keep their houses. I’m talking about midget helicopter policemen. Nowhere in the entire text of the bailout bill is any reference whatsoever made to midget helicopter policemen. In fact, at second glance, a whole lot of other people aren’t being helped by this bill, including:

  • You.
  • Me.
  • Us.
  • Everyone we know.

Indeed, unless you know someone who works in the financial industry or who somehow benefits from the merciless death of the U.S. dollar (e.g. terrorists—and I hope you don’t know any of those), chances are that you can’t think of a single person who’d benefit from a bailout bill whose text does not include the line “The Federal government will write a check to each American in the amount of $5,000” and instead says (and this is a direct quote from a paraphrase of someone I heard talking about the bill) “Neener, neener. Thanks for the bailout, chumps. Love, Wall Street.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to get off my soapbox which is really just a regular cardboard box because I’m too poor to afford a soapbox thanks to the economy. And hopefully this will teach you all never to request that I talk seriously on any serious subject ever again. Seriously.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Is One Gasoline Brand Better Than Another?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

comic 60 - favorite gas

Like many bargain-hunting Americans, I can’t say that I’m particularly loyal to very many brands. I’ll buy Ragu spaghetti sauce if it’s on sale, Prego if it’s not, or just eat a tomato if they’re both too pricey. Heck, I don’t even favor one particular supermarket! I’m even less brand loyal when it comes to clothes, cars, and computers. But if you look back over my expenses over the last five years, there’s one name that’ll keep popping up every couple of weeks without fail. That name is Shell, as in multinational oil company Shell.

But here’s the weird part: I don’t even feel particularly loyal to Shell. Probably the only reason they still have a monopoly over my gasoline dollars is because my mom insisted on only using Shell gasoline as I was growing up. That, and after I got my first car, the three closest gas stations to home were all Shells. Now that I live in a different city from where I grew up, I still get my gas exclusively from Shell. And the other day, as I passed a nearby Texaco station that was selling Regular for 10 cents less than the Shell station at which I’d just refueled, I asked myself a startling question: Why am I still buying Shell gas?

After that, I considered the following facts about the Shell stations in my city:

  1. Shell gas is consistently a few cents more expensive than Exxon, Texaco, and the no-brand gas stations like Free State.
  2. The three closest Shell gas stations are actually a little bit out of my way now. The closest one to “my way” is generally the pricier of the three.
  3. The Shell gas stations are not as well maintained as those of the other brands. Frequently the windshield squeegee liquid is empty or really dirty at the Shells I frequent, and either the air or vacuums are out of order half the time.
  4. If I ran a gas station, I would call it “Cheap Ass Gas.” But that’s beside the point.

Perhaps another reason I still maintain my Shell “loyalty” is because I thought it was a superior gas back when I first purchased my MINI Cooper. That’s because many MINI drivers on the internet recommended Shell’s V-Power premium gas over other brands and grades. Now that I drive a Mazda3 that only needs Regular, do I still need to get that Regular from Shell?

After presenting myself with these questions, I did some research on gasoline brands to see if other folks had thoughts or scientific evidence as to which gasoline brand was the best. About five minutes into my research, I stopped being an idiot and remembered that all major gas brands share refineries and pipelines. So while Shell might be refining that oil, Exxon and Citgo may be the ones selling it. And in the next state over, the reverse may be true. When it comes to gasoline, gas is gas.

What may make a difference, however, are the additives that each brand adds to its fuel. You may have heard of Chevron and Texaco’s Techron additive. In fact, some people seem to swear by Techron. Others favor Shell’s additives, and still others can be found who prefer virtually every other brand of gasoline because it’s supposedly better for their vehicles. And while I couldn’t find any scientific studies to confirm my hypothesis, I found no general consensus that one brand of gasoline performed significantly better than others.

I did, however, find several brands referring to themselves as Top Tier Gasoline because they use more than the EPA minimum recommended amounts of detergents to help keep your engine clean. But again, I found no scientific proof that more detergent keeps your engine more cleaner.

The only real difference between gas formulas that I found is that, quite consistently, those which are 10-15% ethanol provide much worse gas mileage that those that are 100% Made in the Middle East or Perhaps the Gulf of Mexico gasoline. Unfortunately pretty much all of the fueling stations around here have switched to some blend of ethanol.

Will I keep using Shell gas after discovering all this? Possibly, though mostly out of habit. I may experiment with other brands to see if there is any noticeable difference in performance. Don’t worry, I know not to buy from Citgo since the only additives they put in their gas are communism and anti-American sentiments.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Punny Poll #34: How About This Weather We’ve Been Having?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 59 - weathermen

Last week’s month’s decade’s Punny Poll was a quick little survey to see how everyone’s enjoying the comics I’ve been throwing up with each article. With a nearly 90% approval rating, I think it’s about time for the comics to run for political office! Almost 20% of you said I should go as far as to quit writing articles altogether and just do comics. While I admit that my ongoing battle with writer’s block often makes this tempting, I just don’t see Punny Money becoming a comic-only endeavor anytime soon.

In the wake of all this disastrous weather we’ve been having lately, and to go along with my recent anti-hurricane wall proposal (which I hear has been read by researchers at MIT on a placemat in their cafeteria), I thought it’d be interesting to see how everyone’s finances have “weathered” Mother Nature’s recent fury.
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