Archive for December, 2006
If a cashier handed you too much change, would you keep it? Does the amount of money make a difference? For instance, would you keep an extra $5 but return an extra $100? ABC News Primetime ran a study to find out what people would do when faced with this ethical dilemma. Over the course of two days they staked out a restaurant and watched as a cashier handed out $10 to $20 in extra change to 46 different people. In Primetime’s study 18 of the subjects immediately returned the money, while 26 put the money in their wallets and walked away. Then Primetime ran a second study. This time the cashier handed out an extra $100. In the second study 16 of the 25 people returned the money.
When Primetime questioned those who had returned the money, most of the individuals emphasized their belief in karma and/or that stealing is a sin. Others mentioned that they didn’t want the cashier to be financially responsible for the mistake. Those who kept the money said that the mistake wasn’t theirs and had no reluctance in keeping the money. To learn more about Primetime’s study click here.
A few months ago I faced a similar ethical and financial dilemma. I bought a bike from a local bicycle shop for over $400. I ordered a black bike, but when I arrived at the store, one of the employees brought out the identical bike, only blue in color. The bikes were equal in price, and I decided I liked the blue one better, so we paid for some additional accessories like bike helmets and water bottles and went on our way. The business changed hands shortly after this transaction occurred and I received a phone call from the bike shop a few months later. The shop owner said the bike had arrived, and had been paid for, so I just needed to come pick it up. (It seems the black bike was still tagged with my name, so the shop owner just assumed we had never picked up the bike.) Had I been dishonest I could have taken the bike and walked away with an additional $400 bike for free. Instead I let the shop owner know that my husband and I had picked up a blue bike instead of the black one. Interestingly, when my husband and I mentioned this scenario to our co-workers many of them said they wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the bike, despite the fact that they hadn’t paid for it.
Since my surgery last November, it’s been difficult to lift anything heavy, so I’ve recently decided to start purchasing pet supplies online. After all, trying to lug heavy litter boxes and cans of cat food off the grocery store shelves can be a real pain.
This is another one of those examples, where I probably won’t be able to beat the in-store price, but not having to pick up heavy litter and cat food is worth the extra dollar or two. Nonetheless I researched my options and started purchasing gift cards online at a reasonable discount, usually 10 – 20% off the face value. Since cat food and litter don’t expire for months, I hold on to the gift cards until online coupons become available from Petco.com or Petsmart.com. Once I see a sale I stock up on supplies, buying cases and cases of cans, dry food, and litter. That way I only have to pay the shipping cost once, and I don’t have to worry about my cats running out of food or litter. Plus the delivery guy brings everything right to my door, where my husband can lug it into the house and down the steps for me.
I did have to pay a surplus charge during my recent purchase from Petco.com but the cost was only $8.00. I figured the 20% online coupon and 20% savings on the gift card made up for the $8.00 charge. Plus fatwallet.com was running a special rate on purchases through petco.com. Through fatwallet I received an additional 9% back from my recent pet food purchase.
I’m sure most of you out there in the personal finance blogging world use Ebates.com. The following is a chart showing my cash back during this holiday season. Unfortunately this chart does not display the amount of money I saved through online coupons, free shipping, etc, but receiving a check for $73.88, for items I would have purchased anyway, isn’t too shabby. If you don’t have an account with ebates you can sign up by clicking here:
This year I resolve to set aside 15 minutes each day doing something just for me. If I’m lucky I’ll figure out how to turn 15 minutes into 30 minutes or even an hour, but for starters I’m sticking with just 15 minutes. In 15 minutes I can meditate, stretch, write in my blog, take a short walk, daydream, listen to music, take a short bath, reminisce, pet my kitty, keep in touch with old friends or snuggle with my husband.
I don’t plan on being rigid with the time. I don’t have to spend 15 minutes in the morning, after dinner, or right before bed. I just need to find a way to sneak 15 minutes of quiet, reflective time into my day. It’s important to remember that time is a treasure that won’t last forever. So to make certain I stick with my resolution I’m creating a journal to document how I spend my 15 minutes each day.
Last year my husband and I held our first annual financial meeting. Some of our discussions revolved around large goals and dreams, like saving for retirement and pursuing our passions. But we also discussed smaller goals and aspirations. Out of the discussions came a very simple financial resolution… to cook five meals at home each week. My husband and I don’t have any children, which provides us with the luxury of waking up a little bit later for work. Of course, starting work later also results in leaving work later, so up until this year we spent a good deal of money picking up dinner on our way home from work.
Last year among our grand resolutions we created this very simple resolution to prepare more meals at home. I am happy to say that we have actually exceeded this goal. We usually cook between 4 to 5 dinners a week and the other two days we may resort to Pasta-Roni or grilled cheese sandwiches, but we are rarely forced to pick up food for dinner. In fact, we’ve even found ways to make our daily dinners even easier to prepare.
At a recent trip to Costco we were able to buy 16 chicken breasts for $14.74 to $16.14 a package. Broken down that’s only $.95 – $1.01 per chicken breast. In addition, I purchase bottled marinade at the grocery store whenever it goes on sale. You can find 2 for $4.00 sales about once a month. But even when it’s not on sale you can purchase marinade for $2.79 a bottle. When we get the chicken home we thinly slice it, place it in plastic bags, and add 1/3 to 1/2 of a bottle of marinade. Right after dinner we take a bag of chicken out of the freezer and place it in the fridge to thaw for the next night. Then when we get home we cook the chicken on the grill or stove top. At this point the chicken has had more than ample time to marinade. We make a quick salad, (buying pre-cut veggies), and usually another side dish like potatoes or veggies. For less than $5.00 a person we can prepare a healthy dinner in about twenty minutes time.
In addition to marinating the chicken in advance I am also making a number of pre-made freezer meals each month. I spend one day a month making five to ten meals that can be frozen in advance, and thawed just prior to eating. In addition to helping us save money and eat heathier, dinnertime has also become much less hectic in our house.
A friend of mine seems to keep the whole city employed. On a weekly basis she pays for a dog walker, a housekeeper and a personal trainer. Not to mention the financial advisor and accountant who she pays on a semi-annual or annual basis. She and her husband have recently purchased new cars and made major home improvements. In the mean time my husband and I mow our own grass, clean our own house, and file our own taxes. We drive cars manufactured in 1994 and 1999, and try to stash away every other, if not every extra penny.
I am not one to compare myself with the Jones’, but I know that in the future there will be comparisons. Of course, future comparisons won’t be about how large our home is or what kind of cars we drive. In twenty years, the question will be, how much money have our friends saved for retirement? When my husband and I begin contemplating retirement or starting second careers, where will our friends be?
At the growing rate I imagine that most of our friends will need to continue working for a very long time. For now we have conversations about the trips they take, the clothes they’ve purchased and the furniture they buy. But I look forward to the future, and wonder, will they be shocked when we initiate conversations about quitting our jobs, cutting back hours, and spending more time pursuing our passions?
I know, I know how can I blog about after Christmas sales when Christmas hasn’t even begun. This ones for a good cause though… When the after Christmas sales begin I plan to buy new LED Christmas lights for the tree. I found this chart comparing the cost of the old Christmas tree lights to the new LED ones.
|# of Lights||Type of Light||Energy Usage of Bulb||225 Hours*
(5 hours per day for 45 days)
|Average Operating Cost*|
|300||New LED Lights||0.043 watts||2.9 kW/h||$ .47|
|300||Mini Incandescent||0.45 watts||30.38 kW/h||$ 4.92|
Apparently the lights costs more but it seems you’ll make up the difference in price within a year or two. I love items that save the environment and the money in my pocket all at the same time. For more information: click here.
I made reference yesterday to Eric Tyson, the author of Personal Finance for Dummies. The following is a list of the author’s best tips for handling bills, investments, and balancing work with life. Here is the run down:
- A budget is not the best way to save more. Tyson says a budget is a like a diet: inefficient and unpleasant. In essence, creating one won’t get to the root of money problems. (I completely agree with this. I think budgets are simply too strict to stick too.)
- Do track each and every expense in a small notebook. Simply knowing where your money is going should help you identify and cut extraneous expenses. (Honestly I keep considering doing this, but have yet to do so.)
- Replace credit cards with debit cards. In essence, then you can’t spend what you don’t have. (I agree with this approach if you aren’t disciplined enough to pay off your credit cards each month. If you are disciplined, I think using a rewards card is still smarter than using a debit card.)
- Stop shopping as a means of entertainment or distraction. Begin to look at shopping as nothing more than a means to acquire a product you need. This should cut down on impulsive purchases. (I would also add, don’t go to the store unless you need something. And when you need something try to head right for the isle where the item is located. Walking through isles will ultimately lead to unexpected purchases).
- Pay off debt before saving and when you start saving put an automatic plan in action. (There is a definite peace of mind that comes from paying off debt.)
- Decide how to handle your investments by deciding whether investing is a life task or hobby. Discuss your investing philosophy with your family. (My husband and I have discussed hiring a financial planner on multiple occasions. As of yet, we have decided not to do so. In the mean time, we purchase mutual funds and stocks and hold on to them for the long term.)
- Pull back from stressful situations before making future financial decisions. (I couldn’t agree with this more, in the crux of stress the last thing you want to do is make a poor financial decision. If possible avoid making financial decisions until you are in a better state of mind.)
- Don’t follow on-air and on-line financial ‘gurus’ who urge individual stock picks that require rapid changes to your investment portfolio. Tyson specifically mentions, Jim Cramer, pointing out that there is no evidence that ‘gurus’ have beaten the markets over time. (My one exception would be the on-air personality Suze Orman. I think she provides generalized financial advice that is worth listening to.)
- Do not focus on promotions and pay raises. These are often achieved by workaholics.
- Choose employers who provide the flexibility to accomplish your personal and family goals. (I discussed this in detail in yesterday’s post.)
To learn more about Tyson’s tips visit Ten Ways to Make the Most of Your Money and Your Life.
Yesterday my boss informed me that he might take a new job in the new year. He said he’s working on a succession plan and recommended me for his position. Sometimes the stars align in ways that make you wonder. I mean, here I am, writing posts for the past two days about the importance of life outside of work versus the need for a big salary.
When my boss told me I’d been recommended me for his position I felt flattered and honored. After all, I know a number of other people in the company that have been eyeing management positions. But after a moment or two the reality of this decision sank in. If I take the job, I will have more responsibility, I will have to commute to work more often and work longer hours. For those increased responsibilities I will get a raise and a promotion.
At this point in my life, I am trying to build back my strength, and find a balance between the things I love to do, and the things I need to do. I have decided not to accept the promotion. There is a peace that comes with this decision. A lightening of my spirit, as I align my priorities, and put myself before my work.
It seems Eric Tyson, the creator of Personal Finance for Dummies, agrees that a big salary may not be the most important factor in choosing a job. (See yesterday’s post for my original post on this topic.)
In an interview Tyson said, “Don’t practice financial envy. Our culture too often focuses on getting ahead, promotions, and pay raises. But if you’re going to make time for the important things in life, you must resist the temptation to be envious of those with loftier titles and salaries at your place of business and in your field. You can begin that process by realizing that there are no free lunches. Although some people are blessed with extraordinary talent and luck, you’ll often find that the super-successful people in this world, with their mugs on the cover of every magazine, are workaholics. Don’t emulate these workaholics to get ‘ahead.'”
He also went on to say, “Over the years, I’ve seen many people with modest incomes make the decision to fit work into their lives rather than continuing to try to fit their lives into their work. So often, though, people twist and contort their lives and priorities to meet the perceived expectations and demands of their bosses and employers. Fitting work into the rest of your life often involves choosing employers and even careers that enable you the flexibility and ability to accomplish your personal and family goals.”