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February 2013 - Posts - Live Like a Mensch
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Live Like a Mensch

February 2013 - Posts

  • The Pop-Tart Conundrum

     

    Image courtesy of Evan-Amos

     

    Of late, I have been experiencing a yen for Pop-Tarts. Not just any Pop-Tarts, mind you. I need the blueberry frosted flavor, lightly toasted, and eaten with a glass of ice cold milk on the side.

    The problem with this yen is that Pop-Tarts are a nutritional wasteland and they come in boxes of eight. Were I to purchase a package of the delicious treat, I would end up eating far more of them than I really want, just because they are there. (Mountain climbing and Pop-Tart eating have a great deal in common as far as I can tell).

    Thankfully, the Village Pantry just down the street offers my Pop-Tart preference in a 2 Tart pack that costs all of $0.99.

    Over the past month, I have made three stops at the VP in order to satisfy my Tart yen, thus keeping my home free of extraneous treats and my yen satisfied at the time that I feel it.

    However, as I ate my third set of Pop-Tarts this morning, I found myself wondering if there could be a better way. A package of 8 Pop Tarts costs a mere $2.49 at our local grocery store (and much less when on sale), so I am grossly overpaying for my yen when I have it. But were I to purchase the treat in bulk, I would be unable to wait for the yen to appear before finishing the box. It's a quandary.

    So, I believe I've come up with a revolutionary way to buy in bulk and still see the savings: an official food hider!

    I tend to be out-of-sight-out-of-mind when it comes to food, but I'm lousy at hiding things from myself. So, if I were to hire someone to hide my treats from me, and who would provide me with said treats when I actually want them, rather than simply when I am bored and the delicious Tarts are staring me in the face, then I would be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. Low-cost bulk purchases and only eating nutritional wasteland foods at appropriate times. I suspect I would have to provide some sort of password in order to get the treats from my food hider so I could show that I'm serious about my yen for delicious goodness.

    The only problem with this plan is the fact that I would probably spend a great deal more money hiring and employing said food hider than I could possibly save by buying in bulk.

    So, if there is anyone who would be willing to be my unpaid food hider, just give me a ring! I can thank you for your service with free Pop-Tarts.

  • Money, Men, and Women--Infographic

    Considering the recent brouhaha over Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg giving edicts and advice to women (and men) in corporate America, I found this infographic from Easy Finance very interesting. We women have a great deal of power over the economy, and yet we're still not feeling confident about money or even negotiating our own salaries. Here's hoping that changes as all of these roles evolve.

    Also, I can't imagine being married to someone who would lie about salary, spending, or bank accounts. Who does that? Makes this mensch grateful for Mr. Mensch.

    The Battle of the Sexes (Infographic)

    Source: EasyFinance.com

  • The Work-From-Home Performance Review

    If I were working a traditional job, I would occasionally be up for some sort of performance review. Since Tuesdays aren't hard enough, I figured I'd go ahead and put myself through one to determine what my coming year's bonus will look like:

    • Motherhood: Adequate to very good depending on the day, the amount of sleep I've had, and the precise decibels LO can reach with a tantrum.
    • Areas for improvement: television viewing. Today, the child was already watching Cars when he grabbed the iPad and turned on Shrek. When I turned off the television, because REALLY, he got up and turned it back on, and then resumed watching both movies simultaneously. What followed was 20 minutes of turning the TV on and off again. Thankfully, I eventually won. You know, except for the fact that he was still watching a movie rather than playing, reading, singing, jumping, etc.
    • Housekeeping: Abysmal. As my boss, I'd really like to re-assign these duties to someone with more aptitude for them who will actually complete them. Unfortunately, the talent pool in this particular establishment is relatively small.
    • Areas for improvement: All of them. 
    • Time managment: What is this?
    • Areas for improvement: Just not living according to the Douglas Adams quote would help: ("I love deadlines. I like the whooshing noise they make as they go by.")
    • Writing: Good, if spotty deadline-wise.
    • Areas for improvement: STOP SPENDING AN HOUR ON FACEBOOK EVERY MORNING YOU NITWIT!
    • Money Management: Good
    • Areas for improvement: Actually maximize your IRA contributions one of these years. You know, pretend like you're a personal finance blogger or something.
    • Cooking: Too good.
    • Areas for improvement: Not eating four cookies in one sitting. For breakfast.
    • Quilting and/or other hobbies: Wait, is this one of my things?
    • Areas for improvement: I need to bring the completion of quilts that commemorates major life events closer to the actual date of those life events, at least in geological time.
    • Book reading: Excellent!
    • Areas for improvement: Just put it down and walk away. You have other things to do.

    Overall, I think I get a passing grade. But no promotion this year. And no bonus, either.

    How would you fare from a home performance review?

  • Anchoring for a Good Cause

     

    Earlier this week, I received a message from an old friend from college, asking me if I would donate to a Great Strides charity walk she was taking part in this spring. Great Strides is raising money for Cystic Fibrosis, which is a cause very close to my friend's heart. Back when I was teaching, I had a student in one of my English classes who had Cystic Fibrosis, and so I've seen first hand the importance of medical advances for CF. So, for a variety of reasons, I was pleased to donate to my friend's walk.

    Generally, I have a basic rule-of-thumb amount that I plan to donate to any particular charity. Having that amount of money in mind is a way of using anchoring to my advantage. (Anchoring is a cognitive bias wherein our brains hold onto the first price point we come across and have trouble deviating from it. It's why a $50 bottle of wine sounds like a great deal when you see that there's a $100 bottle also on the menu. The $100 bottle gives you an anchor price of the maximum you could spend on wine, even though a $50 bottle is a pretty primo vintage itself.)

    In any case, I've been studying anchoring for quite some time, now. I understand that completely irrelevant numbers can affect how much we are willing to pay for something. I understand that credit card companies allow us to make minimum payments because it means were less likely to pay off the full amount of the card, meaning we owe the company the sweet sweet interest they live off of. I have somehow managed to make a bit of a career based on my understanding of things like anchoring and other tenets of behavioral economics.

    So, I am well aware of how important it can be to have a personal anchor--like my basic rule-of-thumb donation amount--already decided before any money changes hands.

    However, when I went to my friend's donation page, I found several suggested amounts larger than my rule of thumb. Since I am just as much a sucker for inertia as the next person, I found myself clicking on the lowest donation denomination before I even looked to see if it was possible to manually enter in my usual amount.

    If this had been for anything other than a good cause, I might have stopped myself there. I'm big on taking second and third thoughts when it comes to spending money.

    But this time around, I figured the anchors they were providing were for a great cause. I could certainly afford the higher amount, and I figured this was a really low-key way to add a little oomph to small mitzvah.

    This is one of those times when laziness and human nature can be used for the forces of good. Way to go, anchoring!

     

    If you would like to join me in donating to my friend's Great Strides Walk, click here. I know she would truly appreciate it.

  • How Much Are We Willing to Pay for The Daily Show and Archer?

     

    I lived without cable for quite some time. As my dear friend Megan once put it, "Let me get this straight: I give the cable company money, and they take away my free time. How is this a good deal?"

    Then, somehow, J and I became cable subscribers. For the past 7 years (give or take), we have had cable and enjoyed some fine programming.

    Earlier this week, I recieved a bill from our cable company. This bill seemed rather outlandish in its size and hugeitude. After several tense moments of reviewing the bill, I realized that Comcast had charged us for a month of premium channels, even though they had assured me that the premium channels which we were only receiving 3 months worth of for free would go away on their own after the said 3 month period was over.

    Of course, that wasn't the only change. The bill seems to be bigger each month, with no real explanation for why we are sending more and more of our hard-earned money Comcast-ward.

    So, while I had the customer service representative on the phone to clear up the HBO issue, I asked him how much we would save if we were to drop cable, and only keep the phone and internet.

    $80.

    $90+ with taxes.

    To recap--we are currently sending these folks about $150 a month total. Ditching cable would save us 60 bucks per month, which is nothing to sneeze at.

    Rather than jumping at the chance, which is probably what I should have done considering the fact that it is highly unlikely that any other customer service rep will be able to offer us the same price when I call back, I gave it a second thought.

    "What about The Daily Show?" my second thought whispered.

    I told the customer service rep to please send me that price via email so I have proof, which he did not, and I said I'd discuss it with my husband.

    When J came home, I saw a similar Jump at it/On second thought reaction from him. 60 bucks is 60 bucks, but we can't seem to get his favorite show Archer on Hulu or Netflix.

    Which means, J and I are choosing to spend $720 per year in order to watch a show that has 7-episode seasons about once every two years (Archer) and a show that airs four days a week for about 32 weeks of the year (The Daily Show)...

    Yeah, I think I need to make a phone call.

  • We Might Have Wasted Our Money on Childproofing Products

     

    That's an outlet cover, by the way. The kind that are supposed to be impossible to remove without adult motor skills. Apparently, he's also soon to be our go-to person when we can't open child-proof aspirin bottles.

  • Heart-Shaped Possibly-Tainted Hamburgers for Valentine's Day

    Image courtesy of Ericd

    J and I do not really go in big for Valentine's Day.

    Case in point: tonight's dinner.

    We will not be going out to a restaurant, partially because that sounds like our version of Hades on earth.

    Instead, we're going to finally use the ground beef that I bought sometime last week and which required the sniff test when it was removed from its styrofoam. (We were not entirely clear on whether or not it passed the sniff test, which to my mind means that it did. Failing is definitive. Passing can be ambiguous.)

    After being doused in Lea & Perrins, onioned up, and seasoned, I believe this ground beef will be edible. I suggested to J that we shape the patties into hearts in honor of the holiday.

    Mostly, though, I'm glad to be married to a man who is willing to eat questionable meat with me on national holidays rather than let good(ish) food go to waste. Hearts and cupids, my foot. What we have is real romance. (And potential food poisoning...together!)

  • An Ode to the Tax Code

    All of those forms, from the 1040EZ to the 1099-MISC

    Send a chill down my spine that really feels quite brisk.

    Trying to find which deductions I can obtain

    Is well-night impossible, since the tax code is completely insane.

    For instance, I've found the non-refundable child tax credit makes no sense

    As there is ALSO an alternative child tax credit which is refundable, so that filing for these credits involves an affront to common sense.

    These days J and I employ an accoutant to handle the red tape

    Since the yearly chore was something we desperately wanted to escape

    (Not to mention the fact that anyone could have done a better job than us, even a drunken ape).

    (Okay, that might be an exaggeration

    But one can forgive the poetic illustration.)

    What's truly weird is that due to my line of work, people think I understand

    A tax code that is weird and mostly unplanned.

    I may research deductions and credits and benefits, oh my,

    But the info goes in one ear and out the other, because I'm really not that guy.

    So despite the fact that each year I write about taxes

    I'm just waiting until after April 15 when I can finally relax

    And bore people at parties with money stuff I actually know

    Like how to budget and be frugal, and also how to run really slow.

    And here we come to the end of my poem.

    It's time to stop rhyming, because this verse truly stinks.

  • What Do You Splurge On?

    Photo of a food that was surely first eaten as a dare courtesy of THOR.

    As much as saving money is important, it's also good to remember that we earn money specifically so that we can use it. And one good use of money is to occasionally splurge on ourselves.

    For me and J, our splurges tend to be very modest or rather enormous--either a hunk of brie at Trader Joe's, or a big vacation to Seattle. We don't do middlin' splurges.

    This is problematic because I currently have $200 birthday check burning a hole in my pocket. It's enough to buy me brie every week for several months, but not nearly enough to vacation on. And because I tend to either go large or small with my splurges, I'm really stymied as to what I should spend it on.

    So I was wondering what The Dollar Stretcher community considers a good splurge. I'd love to hear from you all. Not only might this give me some ideas, but I also find it interesting to know what constitutes money well spent for other people.

    Here's hoping I'll have figured it out before my next birthday rolls around.

  • Worst. Birthday Promotion. Ever.

    Photo courtesy of Brian from Toronto, Canada

    I recently celebrated a birthday, the specific number of which shall remain nameless.

    Various companies are aware of the date of my birth, and they will often send me promotional offers in order to get me to spend my birthday money in their establishments. I'm talking about things like a free cup of coffee on my birthday, a free muffin on my birthday, a free scoop of ice cream on my birthday. (I seem to have signed up for a number of food-related promotions, haven't I?)

    Southwest Airlines, from whom I earn "Rapid Rewards," also sent me a birthday promotion. And it stunk.

    I received from the illustrious airline a birthday card with a cut out in it so that I can use the cheap cardboard as a picture frame. Inside the card, the airline wished me a happy birthday and invited me to use this frame for my own vacation photos. Which I will get by buying tickets from them.

    I spent several fruitless moments searching the envelope to determine if there was anything else in there. Because surely this was the worst possible birthday wish. In effect, Southwest was saying to me:

    "Happy Birthday! Why not spend some money with us so that you can end up with a picture you can display in a paper 'frame' that most people would probably not put on their desk for fear of looking cheap. Also, the frame is the yellow color from our logo that is guaranteed to make even the most attractive picture make you look bilious. Did we mention that you could spend money with us? For your birthday!"

    Don't get me wrong. For the most part, I love Southwest. They're a friendly and inexpensive airline that has taken good care of me over the years. I just think this promotion could have used a little more thought. Either just send me a friendly card wishing me a good birthday. Or send me a little something, like a drink coupon for my next flight. Don't send me a useless "gift" that will just end up in the recycling bin and that will make me feel like you really don't care about me at all.

    Not that I really expect you to care. It would just be nice if the "caring" gestures you offer to all of your customers don't come off as the marketing tools that they are.

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