Tag Archives: Shopping

Teacher or Student? Great Time to Buy a Mac (Again)!

This is a repost from last year. Thankfully, Apple is running this promotion again this year.

Are you a student, teacher, or staff member of an education institution? Now is a great time to buy a Mac computer. Whether you want a laptop or desktop, not only do you get great educational pricing, you can get a free iPod touch ($229 value) between now and September 8th. This is such a great deal that I took part in last years deal. I didn’t really need an iPod touch but I figured someone else (on eBay) could. I bought a MacBook and took the $229 iPod to go with it. As soon as I received the iPod I immediately placed it on eBay and sold it for $199 a few days later. It’s like getting another $199 discount on the laptop! If you take all of those “discounts” into account, I got a $1299 MacBook (last year) for $1000 ($1199 education price minus $199¬†iPod sale). You can even get a free printer (up to $100) with the purchase!

I wasn’t really thinking about getting a new laptop at the time but my other computer was just acting possessed. It would turn on in the middle of the night for no reason! I would also be in the middle of typing a paper and it would say that it needs to shut down and then it just would. It was Windows Vista and I just couldn’t bear it anymore. I have always been a Windows guy and this new operating system just turned me off. So far I am rather happy with my Mac purchase (I have since went back to Windows because my finacee has a Mac).

Saturday Sneak-Peak: PFfirewall.com

Welcome to this weeks edition of Saturday Sneak-Peak! Every week I explore a personal finance blog and give a brief review of the site. My major intent of the adventure is to expose everyone to new and/or obscure blogs. Up this week is PF Firewall.

Firstly, I want to congratulate Jesse. He and his wife added a new bundle of joy this past week! If you don’t click on any of the links, at least leave a comment and congratulate him on this great blessing (they had a girl). ūüôā

Jesse has been blogging since February and has been know to have lengthy, well-thought out posts. He averages about 15 posts a month so those of you who do not like to be bombarded with posts, he is your guy!

Here are some of my favorite posts from him:

Selling Oil Changes Door-to-Door?

Shopping Out of Season

The Real Reason for Lehman Brothers’ Downfall

Now off to the questions!

YMR: Why did you want to start a personal finance blog and what blogs did you read before you started?

Jesse: I started my blog for several reasons. I am actually really new to the blog scene, I hadn’t even read any blogs previous to late 08 aside from The Consumerist, which I didn’t realize was a blog.

When reading The Consumerist, I read about a girl that paid off around $14k in debt by following some Consumerist tips. This led me to think about my debt which I was completely ignoring. One of the tips was to call credit card companies and ask for rates to be lowered, and if they didn’t lower the rate, transfer the balance to another credit card. While searching for credit cards with better rates, I happened on MyMoneyBlog.com, which led me to a few other personal finance blogs including GetRichSlowly.com, BudgetsAreSexy.com and BrokeAsASpoke.com and I was hooked on Personal Finance blogs. I started following blog networks and finding more and more blogs about personal finance to read.

So I decided to start a personal finance blog to track my finances. I also thought if my finances were out there in the open, I would be more accountable and wouldn’t be able to ignore my financial incompetencies.

A second reason, I have always felt like teaching is the best way to learn. By researching what I want to write about, I learn so much about finance from those out there that know more about it than I do, then I can share the information with my readers knowing it is accurate.

Yet another reason was that I am a pretty big geek, and having my own website is one of those things that I wanted to do, coded completely from scratch of course. I had started several websites from scratch but none of them really had a purpose so I would code them, put them up and never update them. I felt like this was holding me back from learning more about web development, so I thought if I started a blog that was really easy to update, using a blog engine like WordPress instead of coding from scratch, I could get the content rolling, get motivated, then be able to spend time coding and modding the blog. I am happy to say this is working. I recently released a new custom theme for my blog, I have been doing a ton of design work in photoshop such as logos, banners and icons, and I have even been hired to redesign someone elses blog.

I even started another site coded from scratch with a purpose/idea that I found while writing my blog. This new site hasn’t really gone public yet as I am still designing it but it fills my geeky void ūüėČ

YMR: Which post (on your site) has been your favorite and why?

Jesse: I think my favorite post was The Most Important Part Is Starting: Debt Recovery and the reason is I felt like the post, massive as it was, was really going to help people. The post was spurred by a friend that was having trouble getting started on the road to debt recovery. I realized there may be more people out there like her that have no clue on how to get started repaying debt so I was really happy to be able to help a friend out as well as anyone else that may read the post.

YMR: How would you describe your writing style?

Jesse: Another reason I started my blog that I left for this section is that I wanted to use my blog to start a writing portfolio. I have always loved to write and thought of doing some freelance writing but I have no public writing experience.

So my writing style reflects this desire. I write as if I am writing for a newspaper. Factual, informative and to the point. I try to hold myself to professional standards. I am known to be long winded but I want to make sure I cover all the facts and leave nothing out that may be important. On that same note I try and make the information more understandable as if I am talking to my readers versus writing to them.

YMR: Tell us something about yourself that some may not know.

Jesse: I am much geekier than I let on in my blog. I am a Linux user..I worked on the Geek Squad when I was younger..and even my TV is running on Linux. I even switched keyboard layouts to be more efficient when typing. I use the Dvorak instead of QWERTY layout and now type a few dozen words per minute faster than I used to. It took about a year to fully switch.

I am much geekier than I let on in my blog. I am a Linux user..I worked on the Geek Squad when I was younger..and even my TV is running on Linux. I even switched keyboard layouts to be more efficient when typing. I use the Dvorak instead of QWERTY layout and now type a few dozen words per minute faster than I used to. It took about a year to fully switch.

YMR: Tell me a little bit more about this financial highway adoption you got going on.

Jesse: Well, I started my blog to be more financially responsible yet I spent about a hundred dollars on hosting. I knew it was necessary especially on the commitment and motivation side but I felt bad about it. Even before I started trying to get my finances in order, I had a real hard time spending money on myself for any reason. Even my play sites that I mentioned before were hosted on my home computer, making them unbearably slow. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for donations in the traditional way because I felt like a hypocrite, telling people to save money yet asking them to give me money. So I started thinking of ways I could reduce the cost of my blog without asking for a hand out.

My adoption system does just that. When someone adopts my blog, they pay a small piece of my costs, roughly the cost of hosting per year divided on a weekly basis, and in return get recognition from my readers for doing so. They get a banner in every post of their week and a banner on a dedicated page, forever.

I also want my readers to feel like they are a part of the little community my blog creates. Through the people that have adopted so far I have made some great contacts and friends, and gotten to know some of the bloggers that read my blog much better.

Thanks Jesse! Have a great weekend everyone! I am heading off to PA so limited posting this weekend.

Thanks to AAA Travel, We Are Heading to Jamaica!

I am a pretty frugal guy so when it comes to travel, I like to shop for it myself. However, over the past few months, I just couldn’t focus on planning for our honeymoon (which is in July). We knew for sure that we wanted to go someplace tropical and that was about it. When looking for places to go, I always had questions running through my mind like these:

  • Is the local neighborhood safe?
  • Is it all inclusive or do we have to pay for food?
  • If we have to pay for food, how expensive is it?
  • Where do we need to fly out of and do we have long layovers?
  • Do they allow kids at the resort?
  • Etc., Etc., Etc

See how that can make someone like myself go INSANE! To help thwart off the straitjacket, we decided to go to a travel agent and couldn’t be happier.

Our Decision to Use AAA

As soon as I received my drivers license at 16, I joined AAA. It was a pretty easy decision for me as my grandparents were members for over 50 years (they now receive a free membership because of that) and my mother has been with them for quite a few years as well. However, when I moved to Texas for graduate school, I let my membership expire and I have not renewed.

When we were looking for a travel agent, I really could not find anything in the area that looked reputable. All of the local companies websites looked like they used a computer running Windows MS DOS to set it up. They also probably worked out their home which I wasn’t completely comfortable with. I then thought about my¬†AAA days and remembered that they offer travel services so we¬†decided to give them a try. The greatest part about them was that you do not have to be a member to use their services!

Our Travel Agent

When we got to AAA, we were immediately greeted by the receptionist. She told us that it would be about a 15 minute wait (there were only two agents) and we said that we didn’t mind. When the agent, let’s call her Pam, became available, she was was very professional and asked us the typical questions. What was nice about using Pam’s services was that she had been to most of the places we were looking at! She told us the places to avoid (ironically the ones we were looking at) and where the best deals were at. Of course, the best deals right now are in Mexico. We kindly said no thanks to that! Oink, Oink!

Overall, the experience was great and we are glad that we went. We ended up going with an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica that also has a “clothing optional” beach. Don’t worry, you won’t catch me there! ūüėČ She also helped us with the flight and got us a non-stop out of Baltimore. I would have never been able to do all of this on my own (without spending HOURS). The resort allows us to drink, eat, etc. as much as our hearts desire. The All-inclusive part just relieves the stress of having to watch every penny you spend on those things.

We didn’t make a decision while there (she didn’t pressure us at all) so we could go home and check stuff out on the web. I ended up searching for a lower price for the resort and could not find one. That was the deciding factor right there and I called back and booked. We even got a free one year membership to AAA out of it!

Have any of you had a similar experience with a travel agent? You like booking travel yourself? Tell us your story!

Weekly Roundup – May 3rd

Welcome to this weeks roundup! There were plenty of great articles this week and it was hard narrowing them down to some of my favorites. However, I did it and am very happy to share them with you.

On a side note, I wanted to mention that I have resurrected the Carnival of Money Stories. It is a weekly blog carnival where bloggers share their unique money stories/experiences. I am currently looking for hosts. It is a great way to get some recognition (and links) from other bloggers. If you do not want to host but would rather submit one of your articles, head over to the submission page.

Articles of the Week

My Life ROI give you 6 signs that the recession is ending. I hope #2 doesn’t end soon. We are shopping for our honeymoon!

Wealth Pilgrim has 7 steps to turn your college-bound kid into a financial genius.

Pinyo at Moolanomy says that college students should take responsibility for their financial situation.

Miranda at Yielding Wealth recommends not using your 401(k) as a savings account. I second that!

Matt at Stupid Cents has a great tip on how to get discounts at eBay.

Is it better to sell to an atheist or a virgin? Kevin at The Money Hawk lets you know the answer.

Baker at Man vs Debt compares Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey. Which one is right?

Hope you enjoyed this weeks great posts!

How to Choose Credit Cards With Rewards to Save Money – Part 2

This is the 2nd part of Mr Credit Card’s guest post. In the previous post, he focused primarily on how to choose a cash back card to save money. In this post, he is going to discuss more about reward cards that let you earn points. His site has lots of information and you can apply for a credit card there.

In this post, I am going to give a few tips on how to choose a credit card to earn reward points. The decision you have to make is what rewards you want to earn with your points. There are a few broad categories of rewards that are available with most credit cards.

Travel Rewards – These include airline tickets, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises etc.

Merchandise – Most credit card reward programs have partnered up with various retailers and brands to offer their products to their card holders who exchange them for reward points. For example, you may exchange a certain amount of points to get, say, a Nikon Digital Camera.

Gift Cards – You can also exchange points for gift cards. A typical example would be to exchange 10,000 points for a $100 Best Buy Gift Card.

Charity – Most reward programs also allow you to donate points (for cash) to charities (though I doubt that is the intention of most reward card holders).

Travel Rewards

Most people looking for a reward credit card want to redeem points for airline tickets. The decision they would have to make us whether to get an airline credit card or a credit card with reward programs.

This dilemma is probably the toughest to resolve in any credit card decision because it involves so many factors. You have to ask yourself the following :

1. How Often Do You Fly?

2. Do You Fly with Just One Airline or Many?

3. Do You Spend A Lot on Your Card?

If You Just Fly on One Airline

If you just fly on one airline, then it make sense just to get a frequent flyer credit card.

If You Have Fly on a Few Airlines

If you fly on a few airlines and are a member of a few frequent flier programs, there are a couple of alternatives. For example, the American Express Membership Rewards allows you to transfer points you earn on Amex charge cards to 17 frequent flier miles. This is very valuable and is the reason why Amex is so popular.

The starwood preferred guest program allows you to convert Starwood points to air miles on a one for one ratio for most frequent flyer programs and you even get a bonus 5,000 miles if you transfer 20,000 points. Many frequent travelers carry the Starwood credit card.

If You Are Not a Frequent Flier But Want to Use Points for Airline Tickets

For those do not travel but want to earn points for an airline ticket for a family vacation, most regular reward credit cards should work. These days, most programs allow you to book your own tickets and use points t0 cover for them. That is the advantage they have over frequent flier programs because there are fewer restrictions like blackout dates, etc. that come with regular frequent flyer programs.

Merchandise

Choosing a reward credit card for merchandise redemption is a little tough because it is very difficult to compare the breadth of products available in their catalogs as¬†they are always changing. Furthermore, some programs require less points for certain items but more for others. But generally speaking, after much research, I’ve found the Membership Rewards from AMEX¬†to have the best selection of merchandise in their catalog.

Gift Cards

For those who want to use points for gift cards, the best card to get is probably the Discover Card as it has over 100 partners. The Discover Cards allow you to earn cash rebates and if you redeem them for gift cards instead, you double the value of the gift cards you redeem for certain merchants.

Donating to Charity

If you are a charitable person and would like to donate to charities by your credit, most reward programs allow you to do that. Some have many partners while others have just a few. The better ones like American Express allow you to set up your card such that you automatically donate to charities every month.

Shopping With Your Credit Card

Most credit cards today have their own shopping site and partnerships with online retailers so that you can actually earn more points or get discounts when you use your card.

For example, Discover has this feature called shopdiscover.com. The way it works is that you can shop at say bestbuy.com (but going through the discover website) and you can earn 5% rebates when you use your Discover card to shop at their site. American Express has a shopping comparison site called shopamex.com, which lets you compare many items with different retailers. You can then shop at the cheapest online store and even use your reward points to shop.

Most card holders do not use this feature. But you should, since you can save quite a bit by doing so.

Other Considerations

When you are researching credit cards, other things to consider are:

1. Do reward points expire

2. Is there a cap to how many points you can earn?

3. How many points you do earn for every dollar that you spend on the card? For most, it will be one point, but many cards lets you earn more points for certain category in spending.

Final Note – While savvy frequent travelers have always used reward cards to their advantage, most credit card holders don’t. To fully take advantage of credit cards (rather than let them take advantage of you), make sure you pay in full, get a card with rewards (whether it be cash back or reward points). You will enjoy savings and perks in many interesting ways.

How to Choose Credit Cards With Rewards to Save Money – Part 1

This is a guest post by Mr Credit Card from www.askmrcreditcard.com. Mr Credit Card reviews credit cards on his site. He also has a blog and you can subscribe to his blog here. Mr Credit Card will post a 2 part series on how to choose a credit card with rewards to save money on your spending.

Hi everyone! Firstly, I would like to thank Adam for the opportunity¬†to guest post on his blog. Friends of mine inevitably ask me what credit card they should get when they find out that I actually run a credit card review site. This is a tough question to answer without first finding out about someone’s spending patterns. But the thing that always makes me shake my head is that fact that folks who pay in full every month carry a “vanilla” Visa or MasterCard. Worse of all, some even pay an annual fee to do so. If you pay your balance in full (or carry only a small balance occasionally), then you should be making money from credit cards by a getting a reward card, instead of letting credit card companies make money from you. It should be a two way street.

But how does one go about doing it? First, you have to be aware that there are two types of rewards. There are cash back credit cards that will pay you a certain percentage of cash rebates for every dollar that you spend on the card. Then there are rewards credit cards. These cards allow you to earn points or miles for every dollar that you spend on the card. You can then redeem your points for things like airline tickets, merchandise, gift cards etc.

Cash Back or Rewards?

The first decision you have to make is whether to choose a cash back card or a reward card. For this, the decision really comes down to preference. What sort of rewards do you prefer? Many travelers who fly frequently prefer to get an airline credit card with their favorite airline. Many folks who do not travel and do not want the hassle of redeeming points prefer to earn cash rebates instead.

How Do You Choose a Cash Back Credit Card?

For the rest of this post, I’m going to focus on explaining how I think one should go about choosing a credit card that pays you cash rebates. In part 2 of this post, I’ll focus on how to choose a reward card instead.

The first thing one has to understand is that different credit cards have different cash rebate formulas. And for someone who is researching it for the first time, it could be rather confusing. But here are the few features you have to be aware of:

Vanilla standard 1% formula – The vast majority of rebate cards fall into this category. They will pay you 1% rebate for every dollar that you spend on the card. While this looks like a decent deal and much better than a standard vanilla card, you can get better deals out there.

More than 1% on certain categories – These are the type of cards you should be looking at although there is less of them these days as credit card issuers cut back on the rewards they give. There are cards out there that pay more than 1% on certain categories that you spend. For example, a card like the American Express Costco Card pays 3% on gas, 2% on travel and restaurant spending and 1% on other regular stuff.

Rebates for online shopping – Some cards like Discover Card allows their card holders to earn between 5% to 20% if they use their card to shop at over 100 online retailers through their site.

Tiered Formula – Some cards also have a tiered formula. That means that you need to spend above a certain amount to earn more rebates. As an example, the Amex Blue Cash lets you earn 1% on gas, supermarket and drugstore spending for the first $6,500 of annual spending. Once you pass that threshold, you earn 5%. Having a tiered formula is not necessarily bad. It just means you have to use your card above a certain amount to fully make use of it.

How to Choose the Right Card For You

1. Figure out how much you spend on your credit card – Yes, go through your credit card bills and figure out how much you actually spend on your credit card.

2. Break down your expenses into different categories – The next step is to breakdown your spending into different categories. You should use the following breakdown as a guide:

Gas
Supermarket
Drugstore
Travel
Restaurant and Dining
Movies
Home Improvement
Others

3. Calculate rebates you can earn on different cards – Now comes the tough part. You have to do some research on the different cards available and use a calculator and figure out how much you will save from using each card. Then, once you are done with this exercise, you will know which is the right card for you. To make your life easier, I have actually created a cash back credit card calculator to save you time. All you have to do is to simply key in your monthly expenses in various categories and the calculator will show you the top 3 cards that will earn you the most rebates.

OK – that’s it for this post. In part 2, I will write about the different types of rewards that are available in reward credit cards, whether you should choose a frequent flier card or a regular reward card and other things to look out for. Remember, you should extract as much benefit as you can from credit cards and not the other way round.