Friday, September 28, 2012

4 Sources of Morals

As one travels through life, it would seem prudent to stand back and take stock of their surroundings; the   scenery, the auditory stimuli, and of course the mental composition.  Contemplating further, we start examining why we hold certain beliefs. From their, it only leads to the further questioning of ethics and moral virtues.  Where did these virtues come from?  Why do I know something is right or wrong, and why is there sometimes a grey area?  As someone who wants to better himself, I've taken some time to make note of where I believe most of our morals come from and how they were developed.

1.) Religious or Ethical Standards - this is probably the most recognizable source of societal morals.  Coming from a Christian background, I tend to appreciate the original 10 Commandments as the first source of religious morals.  These sources of revealed truths are some of the oldest ways we associate and link in becoming a moral being.  There is no (or almost no) grey area in religious ethical standards.  If someone were to commit a crime for the better good, it is still a crime and unacceptable.

2.) Kantian Ethics - Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher around the time of 1702-1804.  He established a set of duty-based ethical standards derived solely from philosophical reasoning.  Kant believed that human beings are fundamentally different from everything else in nature and carried the cognitive ability to make logical decisions.  Humans should therefore be universally treated with respect.  If ever a case were to come along in which a person were treated like an object, this would be treading on their universal uniqueness and constitute a wrongness.  Another central theme is that people should act and think about how their actions influence the world and those around them.  If everyone were to start acting in this way, then the world would probably be a better place.

3.) Principles of Rights - Strongly routed in Western culture and deriving much of its influence from the time of the Enlightenment, this concept focuses on the inalienable rights of all of mankind (generally life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness).  A wrong in this school of thought would be any action that violates the principle rights of another person (think murder or slavery).  In my mind, this seems the most libertarian of the previous 2 examples as it allows you to do whatever you want as long as you don't infringe on the rights of others.

4.) Utilitarianism - The most recognizable slogan from this concept is "the greatest good for the greatest number".  In this philosophy, one must remove themselves from emotion or illogical thinking and determine which action will have the best outcome for the most people.  An example of this would be if you have to kill one person to save 2.  Generally speaking, the killing would be justified so that 2 more could live on.  This theory was developed by British philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and slightly modified by John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).  Economists use this school of morals often in their analysis as it usually has some form of cost benefit in-bedded in its decision making.

I know you are a good person, but how did you become that way?  Learning about how we determine what is right or wrong in our society is very important in order to determine where you stand on the issue.  Take some time and ask yourself where you learned your ethics...the answers might surprise you.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Lost 15 lbs over the last 4 months and am now the weight I'd like to maintain.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Higher Education Bubble

It's no surprise to all of us that higher education is costing more each year than the price of inflation.  The news is filled with stories of students graduating from college with more than $100,000 in debt only to acquire a $30,000/year job.  At some point, people have to start asking themselves whether this debt burden is really worth it.

Increased price of tuition is something that I honestly struggle with when determining whether to give to my own collegiate institution.  It's really quite a scheme they have going on there.  Say for example, you want to be a good alum and donate some money that is strictly used for providing scholarships to other kids.  Well, that's just great.  The money goes into a fund that is designated to scholarships, and you are helping another student afford college.  The dirty secret collegiate institutions don't want to tell you is that they can just raise the price of tuition and thus making the price burden the same as before the scholarship.

The whole concept of school tuition is a function of supply and demand.  As the number of students who can afford to go to college (usually through the prevalence of scholarships) increases, the tuition will also increase to make it harder to attend.  In essence, the supply of college positions is limited and the spots go to the highest bidder.  This is why I don't donate to my college and never will.

Here's an interesting site I discovered recently:

It allows you to search for your alma mater, and input the year you graduated from that school.  It will then tell you how much tuition has changed since you left.  Plugging in my school, I can tell you that the price has gone up $838/year.  This just doesn't seem worth it, and I encourage high school students out there to search for colleges that provide the best value instead of the best name.  Unless you're going to make $80,000 or up after you graduate, there is no reason to rack up a bunch of debt.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Just realized I haven't missed one day in my 3 posts per week blog record.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Savings Plateau

I figured it would be a great way to start the week with a nice math exercise.  Awhile back, I had to take part in a new home owner's workshop.  The reason for my attendance was because I was part of a first time home buying program through my bank and the state.  In order to fulfill my side of the agreement, I had to attend an all-day first time home-buyer workshop which focused on the financial and upkeep sides of owning a home.  Topics such as paying for your mortgage, knowing when to fix up a problem, and developing budgets were all discussed.  As you can imagine, this stuff was all pretty boring to me.

One aspect of the whole program bothered me though; the idea of savings accounts.  The instructor insisted that savings accounts were the best way to save up for large purchases.  Being a dutiful P-Money, I raised my hand and pointed out that most savings accounts are earning around 0.25% interest per year.  Assuming the inflation rate is about 3%, you actually lose approximately 2.75% of your money's per year by keeping it in a savings account.  The instructor promptly laughed at me, looked around at the other folks in attendance and said, "I don't know about you all, but to me, a dollar saved is a dollar earned".  As you can imagine, I was a little miffed, and was frustrated that this type of information was being taught.

Let's look at this concept another way with the scenario of someone who puts $100 a month away in a savings account.  They are probably sitting back and thinking that they are in fact doing a really good job, being responsible, and saving for a big purchase or two.  Even worse, what if the person in this case uses the savings account as their preferred medium for retirement savings.  Will they earn enough for their future.  Unfortunately, with returns below the inflation rate, this money will eventually reach a value plateau in conjunction with the amount the save each month.  The below chart illustrates how your money will reach an eventual plateau.

Savings Plateau
The blue line represents the $100/month savings deposit.  The red line represents the maximum value of the portfolio.  Each month, an additional $100 is added and the previous balance is multiplied by 97.25% (the inflation rate of 3% minus the savings account interest).  As you can see, the impact of that $100/month savings slowly deteriorates until it is only making up for the loss due to inflation.  The most this portfolio will ever me worth is $3,636.  An easier way to calculate this is to take your initial balance and divide it by (1-net inflation rate).  Needless to say, my point is that savings accounts are pretty terrible for any sort of long term savings plan (greater than 1 year).  Even CD's are pretty paltry at this point.  Even though there is more added risk, your best bet to at least keep up with inflation is to invest this money in something like TIPS which I mentioned before.

Investing can be really frustrating especially when you think you are doing such a good job.  Don't fret too much, reevaluate your situation and find a better alternative.

Good Luck!

Wonderful Moment of the Day: September weather, cool, and sunny.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Fiction Reading - Waste of Time

I have a bit of a confession to make.  In truth, I'm not a big fan of reading.  I know, I know, if someone who is talking to us about maximizing our potential is not a fan of reading, what the heck kind of advice is he giving?  It's not that the actual act of reading bothers me, it is instead that I've rarely found topics that interest me enough to sit through hours of silence.  That said, let me put the disclaimer out there that reading in general is better than most hobbies or habits.  What I'd like to discuss involves maximizing your time in an efficient manner.

Everyday, millions of people are reading books that run the gamut of topics.  I personally believe that some of the topics are more helpful in your life than others.  For one, I think most fiction books are a waste of time.  Don't get me wrong, fiction writing has been used throughout history as a source of social change, cultural enlightenment, and thought provocation, but most fiction books don't do this.  Yes, they may take you to another world, experience another life, or think slightly different, but you can chalk this up to the same experience you would get watching a soap opera or movie.  In fact, you could probably watch about 10 movies for the time it takes to read one book.  Case in point, the 50 Shades of Grey series or the Twilight series.  These collections of books or entirely for entertainment reasons.

This brings up another topic...Entertainment.  All work and no play make P-Money insane, so don't assume I'm telling you not to have fun.  Without fun, life is miserable.  What the more fundamental question I'm asking here is how much entertainment time do you need, and why not try accomplishing two things with one act by using your entertainment to better yourself.  Let's take sports for example.  Some may argue that joining a local soccer club is a waster of time, but the exercise you are getting could allow you to live a better and longer life.  This same type of reasoning goes for books as well.  Instead of reading "Breaking Dawn", why not try to read a biography about an interesting person and learn from their life's story.  My favorite genre of books are the "skills" books that teach you new ways of doing things with your life.  Just think about all the learning you could do if you read one of those books!

My goal isn't for you to feel guilty about reading for pleasure, but if you are going to read trash, at least limit it to no more than an hour a day.  That way, you get to prolong your fun, and yet you can still use your remaining time to do things with your family or read something else.

I've probably angered a few of you with my views, but too bad!  I'm sick and tired of people telling me they're so happy there child is reading, but it turns out they are reading trash.  In the end, quality of reading far outweighs quantity.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: A perfect September day!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dishwasher Shopping

There comes a time in  man's life when he must admit defeat.  That time came last week when our dishwasher broke.  I know, I know, you must be asking yourself why an independent man such as myself needs a dishwasher anyway?  I have my good old fashioned hands for the job, but let me tell you that I spent my whole life without a dishwasher, and this luxury is amazing when it comes to time management and water used.  Believe it or not, the total water used by a dishwasher is less then the amount you would use washing by hands. <citation here>  But that's not the point of this post.  Instead, I want to tell you how I got a great deal on the product.  Let me also put the caveat that my wife and I did take apart the whole machine to see if we could fix it, read the manual, and even had a repair guy come over.  Turns out the part that needed replacement cost as much as a new machine.

Before you purchase something like a dishwasher, you have to ask yourself whether it makes financial sense. Given the aforementioned citation, it looks like I may save about $40/year in water and electricity.  Besides the tangible costs, the intangible include my own time, my wife's time, and also the value of my property.  Overall, if I buy a cheap-medium grade dishwasher, I believe that it will pay for itself in about 4 years or so.

Once you've done a basic financial analysis, you can start shopping around.  In my case, I looked at the mainstays (Home Depot and Lowes), but I also checked a few other online retailers, and even a couple local shops.  I read all the reviews on dishwashers, and even did some searches for "best value" makes and models.  This led me to a 24in Frigidaire.  Lowe's gave it a 3 stars, and Home Depot gave it 4.  That's about what I'm looking for, as long as it washes the dishes half way decent.

Next came a road trip to both stores.  Both offered the same retail price and were willing to match at around $259.  This is where the fun happens.  Now, I'm not recommending one store or the other.  In fact, I think they both have their pluses and minuses, but the Home Depot salesman was not willing to give us anything below $259.  So, we hiked on over to Lowes, and talked it up with the Salesman.  He was a genuine fellow who laughed along with us.  He said he would match the $259, and use our $20 coupon bringing the total down to $239.  As he was ringing us out, something amazing happened; with a few key stroke, he too off another $50, bringing the total pre-tax cost to $189!  He laughed, said we were good people, and also reminded us that he doesn't make a commission.  I don't know if he used some sort of employee pricing, or somehow over-rided the system, but I was not about to ask the questions.  We thanked him for his kindness and walked out of there.

I attribute only the first $20 of my experience to actual frugal discipline and smart consumerism, but there is something else to be learned here; that additional $50 in savings were the result of the salesperson liking us.  Granted, we got lucky, but we also had a good time with the salesman before any discount was applied.  Next time you're about to buy something, remember that the store staff are people too and treat them with a little alacrity.  Now for my own installation...

Wonderful Moment of the Day:  This didn't happen today, but my story above was pretty freakin wonderful!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Modern Day Muses: Music + Headphones

It's been awhile since I explored the concept of "Modern Day Muses".  The idea that something can cause you to become inspired has been around with mankind since the ancient Greeks.  It is my belief that these inspirational objects are still with us today in the form of everyday occurrences.  Today I'd like to explore the concept of music and your quaint headphone device.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that music will open new worlds in your mind.  That is something that I believe everyone knows, and doesn't really warrant repeat.  What I will tell you is that listening to music while working on a project (usually through the use of some headphone-like device) will allow you to become more focused, and complete the job at hand.

In my own life, circumstances occur where I have one deliverable after the other piled on top of each other.  Often times, this can become very stressful, and I begin to start feeling panicky.  In these situations, I become less productive as I start to think about balancing the workload or how I'm going to get everything done on time.  In simplest form, my productivity drastically decreases.

My solution to the aforementioned debacle is to strap on some headphones and listen to my favorite songs.  By distracting the mind with the insertion of music, I can stop focusing on how I'm going to get the job done, and instead focus on actually getting the job done.  It's really an amazing experience, and after my work is done, I marvel at how well that little process worked.

Often times, this same process works well when I'm strapped for ideas.  By using music to my advantage, I'm able to alter my surroundings in a more favorable light and better my overall situation.  There is also the added benefit of using headphones which is that you are secretly listening to something that nobody else is.  I even play a game and look around to see if life has synced itself to my song.  Most of the time it doesn't work.

The important point to consider with all this is that something as simple as removing yourself from the situation at hand by listening to music may be just the boost  you need to either achieve your productive potential or you creative potential.

Wonderful Moment of the Day:  Attending an NFL game with my Dad.

Friday, September 14, 2012

My Investments - TIPS

Someone just starting out in the world of personal investments may become overwhelmed with all the possibilities; stock, bonds, mutual funds, index funds, money market accounts, CD's, saving accounts, the list goes on and on.  Well, I'm hoping to shed some light on a few investments that I find very valuable for my own portfolio.  

Before you begin, you'll need to have a brokerage account.  Whether you use your current bank or an online brokerage, you need to make sure the company fits your lifestyle.  For me, Schwab was the best choice since when you link a checking account to your brokerage account you will get them both for free with no annual or monthly charges.  Plus, the brokerage account is very user-friendly and the trades are $8, however they are free if you decide to trade Schwab funds.  There are also added benefits in that you can use any ATM in the world for free, and you get free checks whenever you need them.  

After I signed up for Schwab's brokerage account, my wife and I both opened IRA's which allowed us to put up to $5,000/year each into a tax protected environment.  I'll get into the subject on why I chose a traditional IRA instead of a Roth in a future post, but for now, I just want to focus on the type of investments I use.  

For each of our portfolio's, I chose a 60/40 split between stocks and bonds.  This may seem a little less aggressive then some of our other investments, but the whole point of a retirement account is capital preservation.  Within this 60/40 split, I have 5 Schwab funds each making up 20% of the overall portfolio.  Once a year, I go in and rebalance the winners and losers so that I am at 20%/fund again.  Because there are no transaction costs for Schwab funds, I'm not too worried at the low amount of money I put in each one.  

Within the bond fund section of my portfolio, I have one fund called SWRSX (Schwab Treasury Inflation Protected Securities).  TIPS are issued by the federal government and like all bonds, pay a normal coupon rate depending on the length of the bond.  However, unlike normal bonds, the coupon rates are multiplied by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), thereby providing a protection against inflationary concerns.  I chose a Schwab fund for the reasons I mentioned earlier in that there is no transaction fee and the expense ratio (or cost to own the fund) is at .29% which is pretty good.  Besides the coupon payments, the fund increases in value whenever there is concern over inflation in the economy (like there is today).  TIPS are a great way to round out a portfolio and provide some inflation hedging, however they are less likely to provide a great return compared to traditional stocks or an index fund.

I'll review more of my own personal investments in time, however, consider TIPS the next time you are reformulating your portfolio.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Asking my cat a question and immediately receiving a meow as if he was answering the question.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Top 5 Favorite Blogs

A friend of mine asked me recently to list out the blogs I read on a regular basis.  Since the advent of the modern "Web 2.0", blogging has been all the rage (pretty obvious since even I'm doing it), and there are an infinite number of topics covered out there.  The blogs I tend to read our finance based with a early retirement genre.  By no means would I say that everyone would find these interesting, but nonetheless, I am incredibly entertained with their concepts and information.  Without further delay, I give you my favorite blogs:

1.) Early Retirement Extreme - This is the blog that started me on my journey to be financially independent.  Written by Jacob Fisker, he explores much more then the name would suggest; diving into concepts such as economics, personal philosophy, and overall macro-economic theory.  He offers a stage by stage process to get you to retirement earlier than you ever thought possible, while also promoting the "Renaissance Man" ideals.  While not as active as he once was, he still writes a post or two, but has since passed the early retirement torch to "Mr. Money Mustache".

2.) Mr. Money Mustache - Coming on a little more flashy than ERE, Mr. Money Mustache has taken early retirement theory into the mainstream with his forums, twitter, reddit, and facebook profiles.  If Fisker was the profit for early retirement, MMM is the evangelist preaching the good news.  I often find his writing pretty fun to read, and it makes for some thought provoking conversation.  Whereas Fisker lived off of $7,500/year, MMM lives off of a more reasonable $20-$30k/year with him, his wife, and kids.  This adds for a much more practical set of retirement instructions, and lends him to be much more legitimate in my view.  He even has a name for his many readers, calling them "Mustachians" which offers a community like atmosphere.

3.) Bogleheads - More of a forum than a blog, Boglheads offers its readers the chance to communicate on all things (mostly financially related).  This forum taught me much about investing and the "Boglehead" philosophy on markets.  Check out their wiki page for a deeper dive into their investment ideals, and feel free to make a post or two.

4.) BraveNewLife - I find this blog quite interesting because the author has some non-traditional investing strategies along with his more traditional securities.  More specifically, the author uses about 1% of their portfolio to experiment with peer-to-peer investing in sites such as Lending Club and Prosper.  It adds for an interesting read when all the other financial blogs start sounding the same.

5.) My Money Blog - I've actually started to read this blog much more than the rest just for the frequency of updates the author makes (sometimes 3 or more a day).  The author is surprisingly open about his financial status and uses it as a tool to teach the rest of us.  With the goal of early retirement in mind, he has a very disciplined and conservative angle which serves as a testament to the rest of us.  Also, he often informs us of current deals and bargains, so it pays to check back at least once a day.

So there you have it, my top 5 blogs I read on a regular basis.  If you even read one of them with some sort of regularity, you will be educating yourself greatly.  Do yourself a favor, and make at least one of these a topic in the future, and hopefully you'll continue to read mine.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Sweater weather is back!

Monday, September 10, 2012

P-Money Goes Camping

In everyone's life, there comes a time when one must prove him/herself to mother nature and endure the great outdoors.  Some people do this religiously and enjoy every chance they get to experience the wonders of this earth.  This past weekend was just that time for the Mrs. and myself, and we decided to take a trip and spend the weekend camping in a state park within 2 hours of our home.

Both myself and my wife had country backgrounds, and so camping was never really something our families did.  The common expression was usually "If you want to go camping, pitch a tent in the backyard".  Since there was literally nobody else around, this pretty much simulated camping.  Now we live in the city and were yearning to retry our country wit and experience the great outdoors.  Living on the cheap, we decided to go car camping with a tent and some basic supplies.  Renting the tent lot at the campgrounds was pretty cheap at $19/day and we figured 2 days was enough to wet our appetites and still be realistic on our experience.  We even managed to borrow a tent and some additional supplies just in case we decided that camping was not up our sleeves.  Total cost for the weekend when you include gas for the car, and food stuff came out to about $60 (with about $16 in wood).  So we set off Friday afternoon for adventure.

Right off the bat, we knew things were going to be difficult.  It had rained a little on the drive down, and I knew that some rain was in the forecast, but I figured that it would be some scattered thunderstorms (as the weather people said), and would pass after a couple hours.  We arrive, pitch tent, and start unpacking.  Everything was going well, and so we decided to take our bikes, ride to the nearest hiking trail, and do a 2 mile trail.  The trail was great, well maintained, and we even saw 3 deer.  Not too bad, except that it started to pour right at the end.  Luckily, there was a cabin nearby for us to wait it out.  It rained extensively for about an hour and when it cleared up we biked back to camp.

We were starting to get hungry and decided that we needed to try and make a campfire.  With everything so wet, we knew this would not be easy.  Luckily, our wood was dry in the car.  Always the ever cheapskate, I decided to forgo on the kindling and make my own via a hatchet and one of our logs which went pretty well.  For the first night of dinner, we had little foil packets of fish, veggies, and Italian dressing which we put in a pot and placed in the fire.  Since we didn't have a metal rack to place the pot on, we rigged up a makeshift stone stove top as you see below:
Our ghetto style camping stove
Boy we thought we were some pretty hot stuff.  The stove above was working pretty well, and food was an its way...that is until.....the stone blew up!!!  I have experienced this before, but I totally forgot that stones can hold moisture deep inside.  Well, apparently this top stone was just waiting to release its moisture and the whole thing blew up right in our faces.  By some miracle, nobody got hurt and our food packets, and pot were fine.  Not being too fazed, we through the foil packets into the fire, and continued along our merry way.  

After about another 45 minutes of cooking, the food was ready and all was good.  We decided to go to bed, and that's when the rain came.  Some severe thunderstorms hit our campsite for the next 15 hours.  You heard me right, 15 hours of straight rain!  Sleeping was difficult, but we managed to stay dry.  Finally, at about 10am the next day, I spoke to one of our camping neighbors who had a radio and he said it was supposed to be like this all day.  We didn't really want to just sit in a tent the whole time, and so called it a day, packed up and went home.  

Why am I bothering to tell you all this information?  Well, this is an important lesson on knowing when to cut your losses.  Just like in the stock market, if all the forecasts say things are going to be bad, why would you want to tough it out.  Sure, you could get lucky, but more than likely, you'll get soaked.  My wife and I saw the writing on the wall, and decided to make the most out of the rest of our day and went home.  I know it's tough, but sometimes, you just have to pull out of the market, take your losses, and readjust your portfolio.  This is easier said than done and people have spent their whole lives trying to understand when to call it quits.   It's more of an art form than a science, but once you learn this very important skill, you will be able to live a more maximized life.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Even though we got rained on, this weekend was a really important bonding experience for my wife and myself.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Garden Update 2

Our herb garden
You may have remembered my previous post on my garden and treating it like a small business back in July. I just wanted to give you a little update to how everything is panning out.

If you recall, I spent about $250 to start my garden from scratch and in July I only realized returns of about $23.  Well, here's the new talley:

1.) Pole beans = 78 = $5.35
2.) Baby Carrots = 47 = $2.34
3.) Cilantro = 2 bunches = $3.58
4.) Basil = 5 bunches = $9.95
5.) Sage = 4 bunches = $7.96
6.) Marjoram = 2 bunches = $3.98
7.) Oregano = 2 bunches = $3.98
8.) Cherry Tomatoes = 610 = $60.85
9.) Heirloom Tomatoes = 3 = $3.59
10.) Squash = 6 = $3.66
11.) Scallions = 10 = $2.24
Total Returns = $107.48

Not too bad, and it already constitutes a 43% ROI for the given year.  You'd be hard pressed to find an ROI like that in other forms of investments.  Like a portfolio of securities, you can see I hedged my bets with a diverse selection of plants.  Obviously the cherry tomatoes seem to be my home run, but I have about 20 green heirloom tomatoes just waiting to ripen.

Needless to say, over the course of 2 years, I'm hoping to really improve my return as I will not need to buy the materials to create raised beds.  Also, my compost pile will provide much of the fertilizer I need for next year.

Wonderful Moment of the Day:  Getting ready to go camping for the weekend!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Exploring a New Phone Plan

I'm always on the look out for deals.  If you haven't figured out by now, I'm pretty OCD when it comes to research, and I've been itching at finding a better phone plan since my current service with Verizon will be expiring on September 24th.  The coverage was great, however I only have 2 simple feature phones between my wife and myself.  Even with my company discount of 20% off the phone charge, I still pay about $68/month before taxes.  We only use about 200 minutes per month and even have texting disabled.  Needless to say, I feel like I'm getting slightly ripped off, and have made it my part time job to find a new phone plan.

Examining the main carriers of Verizon and AT&T, I've come to the conclusion that these companies have a virtual duopoly on the cell phone market.  Upgrading to a smart phone with either of these institutions will cost me between $100-$200/month.  That's likely having an additional car payment!  So lets examine my other options.  Note that each section includes a financial analysis which incorporates NPV.  A two year plan in today's dollars (assuming a yearly inflation of 3%) would cost me $1,632.

Operating on the Sprint network (as do the rest of these plans), Virgin mobile is defining itself as one of the best cheap alternative carriers on the market.  It has modern phones and cheap monthly plans with unlimited talk and text.  Before taxes, and buying the cheapest Android enabled smart phone ($40/person), I would be looking at  bill of approximately $1,709 over 2 years.  Not exactly a savings over time, however I would be upgrading to smart phones.

Net10 seems like a good alternative.  It incorporates the same basic features of normal prepaid phone plans and appears to have some decent phones.  I'm hesitant to jump into prepaid phone plans due to persistent attention needed in order to keep your phone service.  What I don't like about this plan system is that most of the plans are use it or loose it type deals.  If you don't use your allocated minutes within  30 day period, you loose them.  This seems like too much work.  Looking at the financials, I would probably have to use 2 $45 minute plans over 60 days which amounts to $45/month.  However, like most prepaid plans, you have to buy your minutes upfront ($90/person for their cheapest Android phone).  Total cost would be $1,227.  Not too bad, however I would have to go to the Sprint network and their remains questions about porting my phone number.

Page Plus Cellular
Pageplus is another interesting prepaid phone plan distributor.  Assuming I could only use 10mb of information per month (highly unlikely), then I would be fine with the $12 plan/month.  Their cheapest Android enabled phone is $80 (not sure if I would want a Kyocera), which would total a pretax cost to me of $718.  Now we're really getting in the savings.  Pageplus looks much more simple to use, and their coverage map is far more robust.  However, this still feels like I'm compromising.

This brings me to Ting.  Ting is a relatively new company with a quirky way of going about the phone business.  You sign up for recurring monthly plans on the Sprint network, and if you go over, you just get upgraded to the next highest plan for that month (which is also cheap).  Phone selection is very good and always expanding, and their blog is pretty interesting.  There are no overage fees, and Ting will reimburse you for minutes you don't use bringing you down to the plan that fits your habits.  This alone is something no other organization will do.  Total cost to me is about $1,051 for 2 years.  Not the cheapest option, but the service looks great, I could end up paying less, and I can have a family plan and port my old numbers.  There is even a possibility to keep my current phones in the future, but I would like to upgrade from a feature phone.  Ting looks like it will be my option and by switching over, I'll save about $531 over two years for a better phone.  Not too shabby in my opinion.

I'll write about my experience again in the future once I have a couple of months under my belt, but I just wanted to show you the type of analysis I undergo when completing a large purchase.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Saving big on phone service!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Getting Involved

The idea of Labor Day was first theorized in 1882 by a machinist in New York state named Matthew   Maguire.  From there, Oregon passed it into law in 1887, and from then on, it has been a source of many parades, pies, and garage sales nationwide.  On this labor day weekend, I didn't want to write a long blog post about some of the more personal items, but instead wanted to focus on some good you can do in your own neighborhood.  

Getting involved in your neighborhood is a crucial step towards maximizing your potential.  Taking the time out of your busy schedule to give back to the community is important not only to the welfare of the community, but also to your own persona.  For my own volunteer activities, I tend to stick with Church related events and projects, however the rewards and friendships have been priceless.  So without further adieu, I give you my top 5 reasons to get involved in your local community.

1.) It allows you to become more connected with your community:  You will have the opportunity to meet many neighbors you never knew you had, and you will be able to identify people who may be able to help you in different situations.

2.) Helps to build community:  This sort of plays on this first topic, but essentially means that you will be able to find new friends and contacts.

3.) Discover your passions: Volunteering is essentially a way for you to determine whether you like to do a certain activity.  Depending on where you are in your life, this could be an incredibly important point for you going forward.

4.) Potential resume builder: Having interesting volunteer and community building organizations on your resume is a great way to show your future employers that you care about your community and you work well in teams.  

5.) Staying busy will help you do better in other areas of your life:  Maintaining the discipline to complete volunteer activities will help you be more efficient with your time and allow you to accomplish much more throughout your life.

There are many more reasons to volunteer in your local community, but these are just  few that I find important.  Besides the overall joy you could bring to your community, you could end up improving your own life.  Use this Labor Day weekend to help your fellow man.

Wonderful Moment of the Day: Looking over the many photos of happy memories with my wife.