Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Quest for a New Camera, Day 1.5

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

Not even an hour into the quest and already a contender emerges!
[Read more…]

The Quest for a New Camera, Day 1

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

First, a preface: you should really read Free Money Finance‘s post entitled Money Saving Tip: Don’t Let a 7-year-old Operate Your Digital Camera. Read it? Good.

The original title of this post was going to be “Don’t Let Me Operate Your Digital Camera.” As you might quickly learn if you did, I have a knack for dropping them. Fortunately for my friends, it was our own digital camera that suffered the sudden vertical death this time around. Unfortunately for our next camera, I’m batting a thousand when it comes to dropping cameras.

This time around, our victim was my adorably bulky Vivitar digital camera that was approaching its third birthday. I only shed half a tear as I watched it smash against the cold, hard sidewalk after our return from the D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival; the camera had failed me a couple times before at important moments of my life. Perhaps I dropped the camera subconsciously, my brain having deemed it at the end of its natural lifespan. Accident or not, we now find ourselves in need of a new way to capture memories (at least until I perfect my Memory Extraction Laser).

As I’m sure you already know, I like taking the frugal approach to spending money. This usually entails getting the most value out of my money, and there will be no exception this time around. The only difference now is that I have all of you to witness my frugality in action!

My goal is simple: find a new, good quality digital camera for the best price possible. I’ve set no due date on this mission, so it could last anywhere from a single day to weeks and weeks. I will be documenting my quest for a new camera daily with my progress including cameras I might be considering, camera deals I come across, and ultimately news of a successful purchase.

Here’s what I’m looking for in a digital camera:

  • Around 3-5 megapixels. I almost never print pictures I take with my camera, so I don’t need some insanely high resolution. My last camera was 3 MP and did just fine. Of course, if there’s a great deal on a >5 MP camera, I promise to make good use of those extra pixels. Really, I do.
  • Optical zoom. I think I used it on every single picture with my last camera. Digital zoom I could care less about.
  • Video and sound would be nice, but it’s not required. I’m not looking for even VHS quality here, but I wouldn’t mind being able to share my fancy dances with the world.
  • Something small. I’d really like it if the camera could fit in my pocket. While it doesn’t need to be ridiculously tiny, I imagine a pocket would help protect the camera from sudden vertical death.
  • Something easy to use. I’m no camera pro. If I see something I want to take a picture of, I expect to take out my camera, press a button, and get the darn picture. So no need for crazy options like SLR or twin-action double-barrelled omni-directional rack-and-pinion steering.
  • Warranty. One year at minimum, in case the camera should break on its own.
  • Um, anti-break technology. If it exists, I wouldn’t mind getting me some of that.

With this series of posts, I hope to gain some insight into how the mind of a bargain hunter works. Please feel free to share on Punny Money any digital camera deals you may come across along with your thoughts on any particular cameras you’ve used.

And if you have any advice on how to prevent a 23-year-old from constantly breaking his digital camera, I wouldn’t mind hearing it.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Make $100 In Ten Minutes… Right Now!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

This is a basic personal finance exercise you can perform anytime. It helps you gain a better understanding of your spending and savings habits and shows you how simple measures can translate to big money.

The $100 Plan

  1. Consider these three categories of spending:
    Food. This is stuff you eat and drink either at home or out.
    Household. From utilities to pots and pans to personal care products, it’s all the things in your home that you don’t eat.
    Entertainment. Stuff you buy or do that makes life more enjoyable.
  2. Also consider a fourth category: positive income. This includes paychecks, gifts you receive, and anything else that makes your bank account balance go up.
  3. In the next ten minutes, find one specific thing in each of the spending categories that you can stop doing or do differently in order to save yourself money between now and the end of the year. For the positive income category, plan a specific way you can make money by December 31st that you wouldn’t otherwise have made. Your spending cuts and extra income should add up to at least $100.
  4. Optionally, share your $100 plan, either by commenting here, posting in your own blog or journal, or telling a friend. Then revisit your plan next New Year’s Day and see if you accomplished everything on your list. If you did, congratulations on becoming $100 richer in 10 minutes!

So let’s give it a shot. From 11:30pm to 11:40pm, I’m going to come up with my own plan to save or make $100 and type my ideas as I come up with them. Here I go!

My $100 Plan

Category My plan Expected
savings ($)
Food Skip the soda. We dine out with our budget-minded friends once every week or so. One simple change I could make to my dining out habits would be to cut the cola that usually adds at least $1.50 to each meal. 45
Household Disconnect unneeded electronics. Looking around I can see at least three always-on electronics that are constantly sucking out a tiny bit of power. Why leave a digital clock on when I have my laptop clock right in front of me? 5
Entertainment Get the game when the price drops. There’s a videogame coming out later this year I’d really like to pick up on its release day, but I can probably wait six months (and play all the other games I have) and pick it up at half price. 20
Income Sell that old TV. We sold one old TV at a yard sale last year for $20. We have another that goes unused and is slightly nicer than the last one. We’ll bring it to a family yard sale this Saturday and see what happens. 30
Total expected savings $100

I’m sure I could come up with many other ways of saving or making even more, but this exercise is meant to maximize the ratio of savings to time and effort. Now if only I could come up with a way to make $100 every ten minutes…

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Personal Update: I Sold Our Cow For Three Magic Beans…

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

…But then I traded those three magic beans to someone even dumber for two cows! Heh, you might say I made a lot of moooooooolah on that deal.

February was an eventful month for the financial holdings of Funny Munny Investment Company Incorporated LLC. We enjoyed our semi-annual vacation at the Katsucon anime convention in D.C., but that resulted in a slight hit to our savings. You’ll note, however, that my net worth figure jumped from $32,288 to $38,660. That $6,000 is thanks almost exclusively to the government being kind enough to return the interest-free loan I gave it last year. Once I tweak my W-4, that little snafu won’t be repeated next year.

Thanks to the savings rate war currently raging between the big internet banks, all of our cash savings are now out of Emigrant Direct‘s measly 4.25% and into HSBC‘s manly 4.80% for the time being. If this keeps up, I expect to be earning interest at a rate of one billion percent annually sometime in 2007.

I also diverted $500 into an account at Prosper.com, a new peer-to-peer loan website where people bid on personal loans. I’m still waiting for the funds to show up in my Prosper account after four days; the money must be traveling by stationary rock. I’ll be sure to post more about my experiences with Prosper… once I have some experiences with Prosper.

Thanks to a reorganized annual performance cycle, our next raises at work will come into effect this week. A lot of my co-workers have been a little dissatisfied with the amount of their pay hikes, but I’m perfectly happy with my 6% jump especially since I just had a 4% hike in October. I expect to be putting in loads of overtime over the next couple of months as we begin our transition to the next-generation version of our product, so that’ll mean some extra dollars in the paycheck. Of course, that also means I’ll be curling up with some light reading this weekend–a 700-page software design document. Riveting and pulse-pounding!

And finally, since I’m a goal-oriented person, I’ve set myself a goal for this month of working more on Funny Munny. That means more frequent updates, more efforts to grow my audience, and more funny stuff shooting out of my head and flying into yours like a big screaming ball of financial hilarity. Here it comes! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH$$$$$$$$$$$!!!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Personal Update: [30] Days Without A Financial Meltdown

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , ,

I’ve been so busy offering up some of the best financial content ever to grace the intrawebs that I’ve neglected to share our personal pocketbook progress. Let’s rectify that. Rectify!

I’ve updated our net worth data to include the latest figures fresh from the bucket of receipts and deposit slips on my desk. Somehow we went from $30,341 to $32,288 in one month. Where’d that $1900 increase come from? Well…

  • Savings up about $900. Between my paycheck and Tegan’s, we managed to sock away a bit of cash into our EmigrantDirect savings account. ED just bumped up their interest rate to 4.25% APY, so our money’s staying put for now. I considered transferring everything into our ING Direct account which has a 4.75% promotional rate on new money until mid-April, but since I don’t have the two accounts directly linked, the money would have a short stay in Bank of America Land (motto: “We thank you for your free money”). We might’ve ended up making a few dollars more rate-chasing, but I’m just not yet comfortable constantly moving around $20k like it’s a decorative vase. That said, I’ll probably put the next month’s worth of extra cash into ING for a bit.
  • 40l(k) up around $500. The automatic 8% payroll deductions and 50% employer match continues. As for my investments’ performance–up 1.35% since January 1st even with that rather nasty market bump last week. This doesn’t include the performance for today which was likely pretty spectacular thanks to some awesome 4th quarter earnings being reported by my employer. Yay for my ESPP!
  • Car loan down another $500. I don’t like this stupid loan. I’m tempted to just pay it off right now, but my money will make more being invested than it will avoiding the relatively low interest payments on the car. Still, I can’t wait until that “Debts” column goes to zero … and then I’ll want it to go higher again to reflect our eventual mortgage on our eventual house.

Despite suffering from Frugality Frustration, we’ve found a few new ways to save some more money or increase our quality of life at little or no cost.

  • Smarter grocery shopping. I’ve been taking my own advice to help cut costs around the house, especially in the food department. We’ve been planning out the week’s dinners on Sundays and then shopping only for what we know we’ll need. I was hoping to also plan breakfast and lunch, but we usually just stick with a few options for those meals, so I didn’t see as big of an opportunity planning those meals. As a result, our fridge isn’t quite so full of stuff that might expire before we get to it.
  • Smarter eating. Along with planning meals, we’re also wising up about our nutritional choices. We’ve dropped our meat-eating from six or seven days a week to four or five, and hopefully that will go down to three or four soon. The money we’ve saved on meat has been going to things that are better for us: delicious salads and soups, and even a few powerfully tasty yet inexpensive recipes.
  • Finally used our vision insurance. I’ve been paying a few cents a week for it for nearly two years now, so I figured it was time to put that vision insurance to use. Our provider gave us a nice variety of places around here where exams would be fully covered. We opted for the local LensCrafters and its “independent doctor of optometry.” The doctor was very pleasant and she told me I had 20-15 vision. Apparently I can see through walls my vision is so good–and this despite a decade of ridiculous computer use. Tegan, who wore glasses as a child but not since I’ve known her, was given a prescription for corrective lenses to be used as needed. It’s not a strong prescription at all, but we got it filled while we were there. We only paid a few bucks out of pocket for the part of the eyeglass frame that insurance didn’t cover, and Tegan reports a big improvement (especially in her videogame scores). As an added bonus, our bedroom life is better than ever now that she sometimes plays the role of the “sexy librarian.” Too much information? You bet!

I also have some goals for February ready to go…

  • Eye those grocery prices a little closer. I plan to put together a grocery price book to help track prices for our common purchases. Thanks to The Frugal Homemaker for this idea.
  • Plan our in-house food production. This mild winter already has us thinking about planting some porch produce in a couple of months. Jane Dough has me considering a miniature lemon tree or maybe a more practical lime or orange plant. Really, I’d love to ask our apartment management to consider opening this one patch of land on the property for a community garden, but who knows if that’ll ever happen. If you’re passing through the area this summer, you should be able to spot our apartment; it’ll be the one with the jungle on the balcony.
  • Don’t overspend, but still have a good time. Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and while I hope to make it a special one for my wife, I’m going to do so without spending an insane amount of money on flowers that die in a week. I think she’d be perfectly happy if I just got her a ten-pound block of chocolate, but I’ll figure out something a little more romantic and less artery-clogging. The other big event for February is our annual trip to Katuscon, a Japanese anime convention in Washington, D.C. While we’re close enough to commute daily, we’d rather just stay in the hotel where the convention is being held for convenience and to spend more time with friends. We’ve got a few of those friends to room with us, so the room price will be fairly reasonable for a couple of nights. The real place we need to watch our wallets is in the convention itself with its vast vending rooms full of the latest anime products. We’ll probably also load up on food to take with us so that we only need to eat out for dinner. All in all, it’ll be a nice three-day vacation for just a few hundred dollars.

Uh-oh. Here comes the sexy librarian. I’ve gotta go … check out some books. Goodnight!