Archives For Money

Imagine how great it would be… you have your own personal jet that flies you anywhere you’d like. You can get tickets to the toughest venues, and most of your stress comes from deciding which summer house to visit (Hamptons or Aspen). Imagine…

No, WAIT, stop imagining that!

It’s our imaginations that are making us broke! We imagine living a life we can’t afford, but then we actually buy things that we can’t afford. That’s why people are house poor, or car poor or going out to eat poor. They want to see themselves in this lifestyle.

Note: this thought originated from the father of Economics, Adam Smith – so don’t blame me if you don’t like it!

In one of my favorite books, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, the author Arthur Herman presents many ideas of great philosophers from the Scottish enlightenment, and I think this is one of the most powerful passages in the book. In fact, I’ve reread it three nights in a row because it struck such a powerful chord with me. Here goes:

And here imagination turns out to be the driving wheel of that system as well. Our imagination, the inner picture of ourselves being as rich and comfortable as the Duke of Argyll or Bill Gages, spurs on our efforts, focusing and directing our energies toward a single purpose. “It is this deception”, (Adam) Smith adds, which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry of mankind. it is this which first prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths…”

This “deception”, as Smith called it, is major driver of our career ambitions as well. We want to leave a lasting mark on society and one of the easiest ways to do it is by becoming rich and famous. Or it might be the reason so many people willingly throw their current lives away in hopes of “making it to the top”.

I was well on the way after graduating college. I wanted to be a big, powerful CEO of a global company. In the first few years after I graduated, I worked tirelessly in this pursuit and small rewards starting coming. A promotion here and a raise there made me feel like I was on track to becoming what I wanted. But then, only five to seven years in, I found my career ambition waning, and I wanted out.

My deception was possibly identified as I realized what it would take to make it to the top. I realized I wanted to live my life now instead of sacrificing current time to chase bigger dreams that would only take me further away from what I wanted now – a lifestyle where I could enjoy my time and time with friends and family, and make a difference to others.

In the beginning, my imagination fed my ambition which in turn, fed my consumerism. I went $50,000 in debt two years out of school, and I felt like I was working just to pay for my crap and continue living the concept of the company store – even if it was through my own choosing.

I get it, we need jobs and we need careers. There are families to feed and babies to clothe. Also, some people really need the career pursuit to feel successful in life. But don’t make bad financial decisions that continue you down a path you don’t want to go. Don’t let a picture of success painted by society or the movies deter your way of life. Think about what’s most important to you and ask yourself if you’re working towards it, or if your deception is pushing you in the wrong direction.

As you might know, I quit my job a month ago and my wife is quitting soon as well. We hope to set off in a month or so for another adventure. We couldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for making sacrifices and saving and investing hardcore over the last 10 years. Maybe our imagination to travel with complete freedom will one day make us broke, but we’re willing to take the risk!

The TransMission

April 10, 2016 — 7 Comments

A few weeks ago my wife and I headed to Tulsa for a family Easter weekend. We left after we got off work in the evening and estimated an 11:30pm arrival at my parent’s house after the four hour drive from Dallas.

All was going well until around 11pm when we got hungry and decided to pull over at McDonald’s for a late night breakfast (that’s how a lot of bad stories start). As we were leaving, we heard a grumbling sound coming from underneath. I’m used to these kind of sounds after McDonald’s but typically they come after I eat it (my parents referred to this as the golly woggles, which was a new, and pretty awesome term to me).

The noise sounded like metal grinding but returned to normal after getting over 20 mph. We made it home and hoped the car would repair itself overnight. We woke the next morning and took a quick drive before filling little plastic eggs with money and sweets and unfortunately, the 4Runner had not self-repaired yet. The noise still stopped after 20 mph, so we decided it was safe enough for the long drive back to Dallas the next day – and indeed, we made it safely.

Now it was time to start investigating the issue. I took it to our local mechanic and he gave me a pretty dire prognosis – there was a 90% chance it was the transmission. Oh no, that doesn’t sound good. He said he didn’t do transmissions but figured it could easily cost $4,000+ to get it replaced. My gosh, our 4Runner with 192k miles is hardly even worth that much!

I quickly went through the cycles of despair and anger and blame (or whatever that cycle is) and decided I’d better take it to the Toyota dealership and hope they’d give me some better news, as they’re the experts. They called later that afternoon and confirmed my worst fears – it’s going to need a new transmission. They could get me a used one for $4,700 or a new one for $5,700. I told them no thanks and picked the car up.

At this point, it becomes a question of value. Should we spend $5,000 to fix a car that’s only worth $5,000 in working condition? Of course not.

I didn’t give up yet and decided to take it to Eagle transmissions to get a third opinion. I dropped off the car and debated with Jocelyn if we should try and get it fixed or just buy a new(er) car. We decided our spending limit to get it fixed would be around $2,000.

In what became my weekly routine, I dropped the car off in the morning, waited for the call from them and then listened with disappoint as he confirmed what the other two had suspected. However, he threw in a new variable – the transfer case. He said  the transmission and transfer case are right next to each other and are both metal so it’s hard to tell where the noise was coming from. His only next step would be to drop the transmission, open it up and also check the transfer case. He’d charge $500 to drop it and check. I asked him if I decided not to do the work after their investigation if the $500 included reassembling. He said no.

What the heck, at that point I’m all in if I decided to “investigate”. That sounded like a pretty crappy way to investigate. I told him I’d think about it overnight and asked what he thought the minimum would be to fix it. He said it’s too hard to tell because they only replace what’s broken, but after enough pestering I finally got him to give me some numbers – very minimum $1,500, but more than likely between $2,500 – $3,500. Risky… just sounded too risky.

I did some more research that night and found three interesting things:

  1. Toyotas are known for having great transmissions that can easily last to 300k miles (Eagle transmission said the same)
  2. You can buy a “salvaged” transmission for $500 on eBay
  3. You can find a smaller shop to install them, and somebody in Dallas recommended Gonzalez Auto Services

I called Eagle transmission shop the next morning and asked him if he’d install a used transmission. He said he didn’t and warned me that it’s pretty risky because you never know what you’re going to get or how long it’d last. However, I still thought his proposal was even more risky so I called Gonzalez.

Gonzalez (the owner of the shop, Juan Gonzalez but goes by Gonzalez) said he could install the used transmission for $350. Okay, that number sounded a lot better – maybe $1,000 all in to install the used transmission. I was ready to order the new transmission, because I’m impatient and eBay seems to fully exploit it, like when I almost bought a city bus, but I waited.

The next day I started the routine again – picked up the 4Runner from Eagle transmission, took it to Gonzalez and waited for the call. Well, it was a bit different because Gonzalez wanted to take me for a drive so we could listen to it. He listed intently and said the transmission shifted good still. He said he’d check it out when we got back to the shop and drop the pan to see if there were any metal shavings in it.

After I left, I started researching transfer cases and wondering why the Toyota dealership didn’t catch it. eBay had one available but it was about $500 more than the transmission cost. Estimate went back up to $1,500 to fix, but still a lot better than $5,000. Gonzalez called later that evening with some interesting news. He said the transfer case was bone dry. How in the world did three other places miss that? All they had to do was check the fluid level in it.

That meant it was pretty much the transfer case. I asked him to fill it with fluid and maybe we’d have a little miracle and everything would turn out okay. He said he’d do it in the morning and give me a call. I continued my research on transfer cases and found another really interesting tidbit – apparently this model of 4Runner is notorious for having leaky seals around the transfer cases! Once again, what the hell, Toyota dealership??

The next morning I woke up with a little bit of optimism and hoped it’d be okay. Gonzalez hadn’t called by noon, so I decided to give him a ring. The rest must be narrated to fully appreciate. Ring, ring, answer:

Gonzalez: Gonzalez

Me: hey Gonzalez, it’s Dan with the 4Runner

Gonzalez: …

Intentionally blank

Me: So, did you get a chance to put fluid in the transfer case?

Gonzalez: Yes

Gonzalez is more of a man of action than words. I waited for a good 5 seconds to see if he’d continue

Me: Ok, how did it sound?

Gonzalez: No noise, it sounds fine now.

Me: No shit?! That’s incredible!!! I can’t believe the Toyota dealership didn’t check that!

Gonzalez: Ya

I was clearly more excited than him

Me: Okay, I guess I’ll come pick it up and drive it around for a while to see if it continues to sound alright

I picked it up later that afternoon and paid Gonzalez $100 for his investigation and re-fluiding. We went from a minimum $5k for a new transmission or buying a newer car for $20k, to a $100 charge to fill up some fluid. It still leaks, but I’ll just have to occasionally fill it up.

The quest for 200k miles on the 4Runner is back alive!!!!

I was impressed with Gonzalez’s knowledge and honesty, and he’s definitely made me a long term customer. Now the Toyota dealership on the other hand (Toyota of Richardson), I was very disappointed they not only misdiagnosed with what could’ve been a $6,000 repair bill, but they also somehow missed checking a very known issue with 4Runners… so much for being the experts. I don’t want to assume they did it on purpose… but dammit, it sure seems like it!

If you made it this far, I commend you, I just had a full verbal vomit. I wrote it out in detail to remind me of the valuable lessons I learned:

  1. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion
  2. If that doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to get a third opinion… or a fourth opinion!!
  3. Remember, just because someone is an “authority” like a mechanic, doesn’t mean they’re always right
  4. Patience grasshopper. Don’t buy a bus on eBay and don’t buy a transmission until you absolutely know that’s the issue

It was a real test of patience for me. Usually, I’ll make a decision with the knowledge I have on hand and go with it. However, this one just didn’t seem right… and of course I didn’t want to throw away $5,000!! The 4Runner is back in business and while it does drop gear oil on our driveway, I’m okay with refilling every couple of months to keep her going strong.

Wow, $1.5 billion dollars, can you imagine winning? We all already know our chances of winning are beyond minuscule – like we have a 2x greater chance of getting stuck in an elephant’s butt – but that won’t stop many of us from playing. I tend to be a bitter old man about this stuff because I know it’s a complete waste of money, but even I went in with some friends for a ticket on Saturday night!

After we didn’t win I refrained from being that guy who no one likes who says “I told you so” to something already so obvious. However, my old man bitterness reached a whole new high when I read this article on how the rules were changed back in August to make sure this exact thing happened!!!

According to think progress:

Under the new rules you select five of 69 numbers, up from five out of 59 numbers. The choices for the Powerball was actually reduced from 35 to 26. Still, this decreased the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million

Sure, it went from “no chance of winning the big one” to “really, no chance of winning the big one” but it’s the plan behind it that makes me want to write a mean letter to the lotto commission (kidding, I’m too lazy).

They wanted exactly what’s happening right now to happen. They wanted to hit the billion dollar mark:

At the time the rule changes were first floated in July, FiveThirtyEight estimated that the chances of a $1 billion prize pool increased from 8.5% to 63.4% over a given five year period.

And why would they want to hit the billion dollar mark? Because people lose their ever-loving minds!! It’s the talk around the water cooler, is mentioned on every news outlet and has people throwing away their hard earned money. It’s a self-filling pot of hopelessness fueled ever higher by all of the free press. They wanted this exact thing to happen and now have all of our attention.

This shit should be illegal.

But hey, it’s a great way to buy a $2 thrill – where else can you get that kind of adrenaline rush for that cheap besides maybe Thailand?

Or you could view it how it really is – a regressive tax on the poor:

“People in households earning under $40,000 accounted for 28 percent of South Carolina’s population but made up 54 percent of frequent players. Uneducated people also made up a disproportionate share.”

“But people should spend money however they want! If they want to be idiots than so be it”. Ok, but idiots shouldn’t promote it:

By the way, if anyone wins, can I have a cut????????

We went to Las Vegas three years ago and decided to go through the “Timeshare experience”. Well, it didn’t disappoint and you can find the entire story here, but I had to share this comment with you!! I’m pretty sure it’s real, but it’s almost too good to be true. Here it is:

Jason the TimeShare Rep

Woww, what a response! I even have his email address if you want to get in contact with him to buy a timeshare. He seems like a great guy, and I’m sure his response would be even better than my “mean manager” if you don’t buy one!

I didn’t previously realize I didn’t have the right to tell people not to buy a timeshare, so sorry about that. Also, if anyone talks to Jason, please teach him grammar.

Yes, I’m one of those guys. I’m fully bought in on Apple products and too plugged into the “ecosystem” to escape anytime soon. I’m also one of those people who love to save money and shudder at the thought of throwing down $850 on a new phone, or worse yet, signing up for their new phone leasing program with unlimited monthly payments.

But I have to admit, I almost did the lease plan just because I wanted to pretend I wasn’t actually spending that much on a phone… but then…

I found a deal for a $650 credit when buying a new iPhone!!

As always, there’s a catch… and this one comes with a new credit card in your name. I’m largely over my absolute distaste of credit cards which was largely taught by Dave Ramsey, but I still only use them for the benefits and pay them off each month. That said, let’s get to the deal!

Here’s the plan:

  • Sign up for the citi AT&T “access more” credit card
  • Charge $2,000 within three months
  • Buy a new iPhone from AT&T with no contract
  • Maintain service for 15 days
  • Receive your $650 credit!

Here’s the catch:

  • Pay the annual fee of $95
  • Sign up for (or keep) AT&T service for at least 15 days

As long as you satisfy the requirements and play by smart credit card rules, you can get a $650 credit for the $95 fee! After I have the card for 10 months or so, I’ll probably cancel it just so it’s no longer alive. If you don’t have AT&T, you will have to open an account ($45 activation fee) and probably pay two months for phone service (~$90) before you could cancel and keep the phone. You can also get AT&T to unlock the phone… but basically this is the easiest if you already have AT&T.

I got the card today and will start the process shortly to replace my wife’s shattered-faced iPhone 5. I’ll update you after I get through the full process of ordering the new phone, activating, and getting my rebate. If you’re interested, check out this post which gets much more into the details.

You can apply for the card here. If I was smart and ambitious, I’d figure out how to get a commission for clicks, but I’m not, so rest assured I’m only recommending this because I like you.

A large majority of the traffic Google sends my way goes to the post, “How much car can you afford? The 20% rule”. If you’ve been around here for a while, you’re probably sick of me talking about this simple rule, which is to spend no more than 20% of your annual income to buy a car. I get quite a few comments, some supportive and others from people who think I’m deranged for thinking this way.

Lately, I’ve had a few commenters disagreeing with the rule because throwing away money on cars is their passion… oh wait, I guess that’s not quite how they put it. It’s actually a pretty convincing argument because they’re so passionate about the driving experience. This guy in particular is quite in love:

But its my passion_2

 

I think I have a problem with the undertone in his comment… mostly that it makes me uncomfortable with how connected he is to the “driving experience”. I’ve never seen someone so locked in while driving to the store to get milk!

That being said, I totally get where Joe is coming from. I like the driving experience as well, and I can imagine that the more you get into it, the more you’re tuned in to the subtleties of the drive.

But having a “passion for it” isn’t an excuse for throwing away all of your money on it!

Take my friend (who I’ve made up) named Jones. He’s incredibly passionate with keeping up with… well, his neighbors. He loves appearing to be the richest person on the block and there’s no way he’ll let anyone appear to get ahead of him.  Because of his passion for keeping up, he’s driven himself into loads of debt that will soon sink the nice boat he just bought.

But since it’s his passion, it’s all good right?

Let’s take a look at the next commenter “E”. He’s against everything in the article (wow, it actually makes me sound like a writer when someone calls my post an article!!).

But its my passion

Glad to hear that “E” can still afford food even though he’s spending 60% of his salary on a car. Holy crap, even when I was making bad decision on car buying, I still wasn’t spending that much!

In the end, E and Joe can spend as much as they want on cars, but they’re obviously somewhat concerned because they’re looking for answers on how much car they can afford (and subsequently disagreeing when they find answers). I wrote the original post to give people an idea of what’s not too crazy when buying a car. Mostly it’s intended for rational people who are looking to get ahead financially, but if that’s not your thing, then don’t Google it!

Work has been sucking up a lot of time lately and not only has it caused me to cheat on my wife, it’s also caused me to cheat on our personal finances! In both cases, it wasn’t a serious form of cheating, just a lack of time to fully focus.

When we traveled around the world, I kept a daily log that showed how much we spent and helped budget our trip, but now we pretty much pay the monthly credit card bill and only find out then. However, I have recently completed a retrospective by adding my debit and credit card info to a pivot table and confirmed what we suspected, our lack of attention has equated to a higher than needed spending (and I’m reconfirmed my nerdness).

Thanks to the hot Dallas summer our renovations have slowed with only the yard and two interior bathrooms remaining and it’s allowed us to refocus on finances for a while. We’ve made four not-too-painful changes that are now saving us $400 extra per month!

Here’s how our we’re saving:

Groceries – $150/month

Groceries are always one of the highest monthly costs, and a lack of focus can allow the bill to skyrocket. As you might have suspected after the whole the Whole Food’s animal welfare scale post, we’ve been yuppin it up at Whole Foods and other equally expensive grocery stories.

A few months ago a Trader Joe’s opened up close enough for us to bike to, so we’ve slowly started transitioning our shopping. We noticed a lot of items were cheaper, but it wasn’t until we started paying attention that we realized how much cheaper it could be overall. They only carry their own private brand so they maximize efficiency in the supply chain and minimize store size… which means – lower costs!

We’re currently saving about $150/month as we’ve fully transitioned over and save on some major items like coffee ($11.99/lb to $4.99/lb) and blueberries ($6.99 for a giant carton vs $4.99 for a tiny carton at our old grocery store).

Taking our lunch to work – $150/month

This was one initiated by my wife and reluctantly accepted by me. After the earlier mentioned spending audit, we realized we were spending around $200/month on lunch bills. Once she got a hold of that little piece of information, she decided it was time to put a stop to it so we both started taking our lunch to work. Okay, maybe not a total stop, but we cut it down to about $50/month.

Cutting Cable – $50/month

If you paid attention to one of my last posts, you already know we cut cable and are now depending on a combination of OTA (over the air) and Dish Sling TV. If you didn’t pay attention, well you deserve to pay $109/month for cable! We’re over a month in with this cost-cutting experiment and no major issues… we’ll see what happens during football season though.

Cell phone savings – $50/month

Over the years cell phones have evolved from much cooler than a pager to a technological must-have; and with it the cell phone companies have become very good at prying as much out of our pockets as they can.

My company offers a nice 28% corporate discount through AT&T, but we were still paying around $168 month for our two iPhones (yes, I’m an Apple guy, but to be fair, owning their stock for a couple of years has more than paid for those two phones). After a lot of research, I decided Wal-Mart’s smart talk plan at $45/phone all in was the way to go. I called AT&T to discuss cancellations costs, and they magically found a new plan that saved us $50/month! All of this without even having to call or visit Wal-Mart (my preferred option).

You may have already cut your expenses to the bone, but if not, I challenge you to spend some time on them now. You never know where you might find an extra couple of hundred dollars per month!

For most people, 401k’s are the best option to generate a large amount of wealth. They’re easy to set up and use, and many companies offer a matching contribution that makes it even more lucrative.

I’ve participated in my company offered 401ks since I started working in the corporate world 11 years ago and even though I was a Finance major and always hear about the dangers of high fees, I never really checked what I was paying. When I started my new job a few years ago, I basically selected an allocation that sounded pretty good and didn’t pay much attention after that.

However, now that I’m trying to figure out when we can retire (a later subject for another post), I’m really starting to understand the impact of half a percent! The common number people use when determining the amount they can safely withdraw from their nest egg in retirement (SWR = Safe Withdrawal Rate) is 4%. If you have a million dollars, that means you could pull out $40,000 per year with a pretty good chance of your money lasting 30+ years. However, if you’re paying a financial adviser or other fees of 1%, you’re automatically taking away $10,000 per year away from your retirement.

Anyway, that’s what made me think about my 401k and how much they’re charging. It turns out I was making some dumb decisions. Check out the table below which is the actual investments overview for my 401k. I’ve hidden some things and added the “FEES” column on the table because of course they wouldn’t make it that easy to find. Let’s take a look:

This is an actual screenshot of the funds available through my 401k

This is an actual screenshot of the funds available through my 401k

My biggest mistake was contributing to three funds that were charging .35%, .51% and .67%. Why did I even invest in those funds in the first place? After doing a little research, I think I know why. The area that is blacked out in each fund title is my company’s name… and yes, those are the four funds with the highest expense ratios. I probably put money into those funds because I was comfortable with the company name and it felt okay.

Ohhh, but no, it turns out they’ve created these “specialty” company funds so they can make more money off of us! Yes, that’s what really led to the HOLY CRAP moment! Check out the highest fee’d fund (SM/MID-CAP EQUITY) with the rate of .67% and compare to the similar fund (US SMMID CAP EQ IDX) with a tiny .05% fee and it has better returns over one and three years!

It may seem pretty tiny, but let’s see how these little HOLY CRAP fees add up over time. We’ll use two different starting investment amounts, $100k and $1 Million so you really see the impacts. To keep things simple, I used a future value calculator and estimated the value different of going from a .5% fee down to a .05% fee.

Basically, it’s a calculation to see how much bigger your nest egg can be by paying lower fees. I used an investment return of 7% annually. Let’s get to the chart:

Investment Fees Impact Table

HOLY CRAP! Yes, that right columns means if you cut your expense ratio from .5% to .05%, you’d have almost $45k more on $100,000 investment and over $440k more on a million dollar investment! That’s what these innocent sounding little fees will actually cost us! That’s pretty messed up – especially if you have similar funds available with lower fees.

So what should you do?

Log into your 401k or other investment account and check out your fees. You don’t have to make any changes right away, but at least make sure you know how much you’re paying. Then look at the table below and realize how these fees eat away at your investment annually:

Killer Fees

Now you might be getting angry enough to actually make a change. Your company determines the funds you can choose from in your 401k, so you should look through your list and investigate the fees on each one. These are still pretty hidden, but you can usually click on the fund name and it should be on that page. If you have any high fees, you should look at changing those investments to fund with lower fees if similar investment classes – you can exchange funds within your account.

If you have a stock account outside of your 401k, you should do the same thing. The best low cost funds are all usually from Vanguard. If you need something right away to put your money into, I’d recommend Vanguard’s “VTSAX” which is their Total Market Index Fund and charges a mere .05% if you have more than $10,000 to invest in the fund.

These little numbers can make a huge different in your retirement nest egg over time. So go on… you can easily do this in a few minutes while your boss gives that boring update in your conference call that you’re not really listening to anyway. If you need more investing help check out my post on how to start investing.

The time is finally here:  when technology, innovation and convenience catch up to the annoyance of paying high cable bills. It’s time to cut cable!

When we moved to Dallas a year ago, we signed up for a one year contract with AT&T Uverse (200 channels) and internet for $108/month. It wasn’t too painful as I need a good internet connection for work and we got most of the basic channels we watch. Admittedly, 90% of our cable watching was concentrated on three channels – ESPN, HGTV and Comedy Central, but luckily AT&T gave us 197 other channels to choose from too just in case we got experimental.

I knew our contract was up June 23rd, and I even put a reminder on my calendar to make sure I didn’t miss this important date when our rates were sure to increase. And increase they did – our $109/month jumped to $175 per month! Luckily, I had already been prepared to make the jump.

Here’s how we approached cutting the cord and finally moving off of cable.

1. Installing the OTA antenna

First, I’ve been working on my OTA (over the air antenna) solution for about a month. As we’re in central Dallas, I thought a cheap interior antenna would be enough, but it didn’t get us any channels. After some research, I decided to go with this outdoor antenna for around $100.

Come installation time is when cutting cable gets challenging, because you have to do it yourself! For me, this meant crawling through my itchy, insulated attic in the middle of a hot summer day and fishing cables through walls and through a roof vent. I should have planned better – like two months previous during spring.

Luckily, my chimney already had a bracket for an antenna so I didn’t have to install a new one. I got our bedroom television hooked up and when I originally tested it, we only received a few channels. It was pretty disappointing after nearly dying from heat exhaustion in the attic. I did some more research and found exactly where to point the antenna. This helped quite a bit, and I got most of the major networks.

We have a second television in the living room and after I saw the decent reception I ordered a splitter and a second coax cable. Then I crawled back up into the attic, installed the splitter and once again fished a new line down a different wall in the middle of a hot summer day. As before, it would’ve helped if I did this two months earlier and at the same time as the first one! I turned on the second television and the results were pretty disappointing – only half the channels of the first television. The second television was further away and older, so it wasn’t getting a strong signal.

I did some more research and bought an amplifier. After Amazon faithfully delivered it in two days, I installed it, hoping it would miraculously fix the second television and make all of my sweaty attic crawling worth it. It didn’t, and actually it made the only working channels worse. Apparently if you’re close enough to the towers, an amplifier can actually mess up the signal.

The next thing to check was if my antenna was high enough. So I searched around the house and shed and found a metal bar we intended to use as a curtain rod but haven’t installed yet (I hope my wife doesn’t read this). I crawled back up on the roof (in the evening, see I learn) and installed it. I came back in, hoping for a miracle… and… it worked!!! Both televisions now get all of the major networks over the air!

But what about ESPN and HGTV?

Good question, and my other major concern. Luckily, the good folks at Dish have it figured out. You can now pay $20/month for streaming television delivered over your internet! There are no contracts and they include a lot of good channels (ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Travel, HGTV, CNN, etc). We’ve had the service for a few days, so of course I have some initial thoughts:

  • The interface is just ok and takes some time getting used to scrolling through the channels
  • It can be a little slow and take a few seconds to react as you change channels
  • It has been a little glitchy and sometimes shows will cut out (inevitably, it will happen on ESPN during the biggest play of the year)
  • You need a streaming device to watch it (Roku, Amazon Fire, etc) and if you sign up and pre-pay three months they’ll actually give you a free one!

Are we actually saving any money?

Here’s what I spent:

  • Antenna (with a coax cable) plus a second 50 ft coax cable = $112.98
  • Splitter = $8
  • Amplifier (which I’ll return) = $15.99

Total = $136.97

Roku = $20/month

I’ll run two comparisons, one using my previous Uverse charge and one with my new charge:

  • Previous Uverse charge = $60/month
  • New Uverse charge = $108/month

It will take me 5 months to break even on the previous Uverse charge, even when factoring in the $20/month I pay for Roku. When comparing against the $108/month for my new Uverse charge, it will take less than 1.5 months to break even!!

It was more work than I thought it would be, but in the end it will be worth it. Also, we have Amazon Prime and sometimes we “borrow” my mother in law’s Netflix account, so we have a lot additional television and movie streaming options.

The only thing we’re missing still is a DVR. If it becomes too painful not having this, I found a DVR solution I can buy on Amazon for about $250 total. This would take our break even to 11 months, so hopefully we can live without it.

Little sacrifices like this are what enables you take take control of your money, and now it’s easier than ever. Have you – or are you planning to – cut the cord?

As more people in the US and other Western countries turn away from unhealthy things like cigarettes and sugary drinks, companies have been forced to move advertising dollars to places like Mexico and the Philippines where the negativity of their products can be overpowered by their advertising.  Instead of focusing on healthy products and bringing change to the world, they’d rather just keep selling the same crap but to a new crowd.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “Sales of soft drinks have been falling for years as consumers scale back amid concerns about health. Soda consumption in the U.S. slid 1% in 2014 to 12.76 billion gallons, the 10th straight yearly decline.”

One beauty of capitalism is companies and brands live or die by their ability to evolve. This evolution can either take the form of changing their products to better meet customer demand or by changing their customer demand to better meet their products. In Coca Cola’s case, they’re doing a combination of both. According to the same Wall Street Journal article, Coca Cola said, “It plans to cut its calories per liter 10% by 2020 as consumers continue a shift toward more healthy beverage options.”

The only other steps they’re taking in the US are to reduce beverages sizes and to continue to add additional healthier drinks to their portfolio. To me, it’s pretty obvious their main plan is to keep their soda the same and develop a new customer base.

This became apparent to us on our recent visit to the Yucatan Peninsula when we drove through tiny towns where small brick and adobe houses line the dusty streets. Commercialization was hard to find outside of the very popular Volkswagen Bugs (the cool old ones) and the occasional bank advertisement. However, evidence of a recent infiltrator has popped up in the form of giant advertisements painted on the side of the small adobe shops in each town.

There it was – a giant add for Coca Cola.Coca Cola Mexico

It seems innocent enough, after all, I enjoy a nice cold coke every now and then. However, it seems less innocent when you see a six year old hugging a one liter bottle of Coca Cola as he walks down the street smiling – with teeth that are already rotting away from the lack of hygiene and current sugar consumption. I’m sure dental hygiene was already a problem in these small Mexican towns, but thanks to the advertisements of Coke it will certainly propagate.

That, in my opinion, is why Coca Cola loves poor people. It works to their advantage to have under informed customers who aren’t aware of the negative effects of their products. That’s why they’re moving to less developed countries where information is easier to control and they can spend enough on advertising to keep their pipeline open and flowing. It will only continue to get harder for them in the US and other more developed countries where people like me can whine all day on blogs about the evils of Coca Cola!

This abuse of information used by Coca Cola to keep people doing harmful things is a very well developed practice by companies and advertisers. In fact, many companies currently thrive in the US by taking advantage of poor people. I know I’m quickly jumping to some dangerous conclusions by directly associating poor people with under educated consumers who are being taken advantage, but I do believe it to be one big reason for people staying poor. Of course, there are lots of other reasons like bad situations and bad luck, but many times we make our own decisions to be poor.

In my last post, I expressed my disbelief as new trucks have jumped into the $40,000 – $60,000 range, and found through further research that many people are buying these with 7-8 year loans. Do you think rich people are the people getting these loans or is it the people who barely have enough money to make the payments (and hence won’t be able to save money, and will lead to them staying poor)? Most rich people are rich because they know how to make smart financial decisions. They aren’t the ones who frequent payday lenders, pay credit card companies 18% interest rates on more stuff they can’t afford, or fall behind on bills triggering late payment fees.

It actually angers me when I see companies make the majority of their profits by taking advantage of consumers’ lack of financial education. I was poor when I went $50,000 in debt two years out of college, but now that I’m financially educated, I see the really bad mistakes I made. I’ve spent the last 8 years learning about money and how it works to make sure I’m never again labeled as one of the poor people funding CEO retirement packages. That’s the best news out of all of this, many people can quickly change their situation by learning how to control money.

I’ve often considered investing in Coca Cola, but I just can’t bring myself to do it for the same reasons I don’t invest in Phillip Morris. At the very best they are only harming people but at the very worst they are killing people. Coca Cola may not be in the same ballpark as cigarette makers, but when you see the long term effects drinking it has, it definitely contributes to a poorer life. Learn to take control of your money so these companies don’t love you!