Sunday, July 31, 2005

Splitting the bill

Today's Michelle Singletary column gives the winners of her annual Penny Pincher contest. She also talks a bit about people's hostility toward those who insist on splitting restaurant bills accurately, of which I happen to be one. One trick my wife and I have always used, if we're out just having drinks with friends, is to go get our drinks from the bar. That way, we're not involved in the tab at all, and we can avoid that fight altogether.

The contest's winner, by the way, is someone who washed out a soda bottle she bought in D.C. and took it home to Hawaii, where it was worth a five-cent refund. Frugal as I am, that contest's winners always outdo me.


For those whose clothing bears cryptic symbols instead of English instructions, this is an excellent key explaining those symbols. I printed the PDF version, laminated it, and keep it with my laundry supplies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Pocket change

Almost everyone struggles with their accumulated pocket change. Nothing makes this fact more apparent than that people are willing to pay Coinstar 8.5% to turn their coins into usable cash. There are alternatives, though. First, if you live near a Chevy Chase bank, they have Coinstar-like Change Express counters that turn coins into paper money, and they charge no fee - even for non-Chevy-Chase customers! Second, an idea from the pages of Real Simple: Use your coins to buy stamps from the vending machines at the Post Office. Finally, something I just discovered: Coinstar waives their fee if you turn your coins into gift cards at select merchants; right now the options are Starbucks, Hollywood Video, or Pier 1. If you spend money in those places anyway, that's probably the best alternative of all; certainly Coinstar can't be beat in terms of convenience. (The machines that can dispense gift cards don't seem to be widely deployed yet, but that's probably just a matter of time.)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Get rich slowly

Foldedspace posts an excellent set of very short summaries of a number of personal finance books.

One piece of common financial advice that always concerns me is to avoid credit cards. If you are the sort of person who gets into trouble with them, then by all means avoid them, but for those who can and do pay them off each month, they can be not only convenient but actually money-saving. My cards all pay 1% cash back, so they way I look at it is that paying for something on a credit card instead of in cash gives me a 1% discount. That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up to a few hundred dollars a year.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Cooking without heat

An article in Saturday's Washington Post described a very cool new stove technology called "induction burners." These use magnetic induction to heat the bottom of the pan - basically, electromagnets in the cooktop make the iron molecules in the adjacent pan vibrate and thus get hot. Advantages: They're far more efficient than a standard ceramic cooktop, and the cooktop itself doesn't get hot (which improves both safety and cleanup). Disadvantage: It only works with pans with iron in them, so no aluminum or glass cookware.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Clever note hack

I was supposed to let my neighbor's dogs out this morning. She unexpectedly came home late the previous night, but it was too late to call, and I was supposed to come let the dogs out very early the next morning. So, she taped a note to the outside of the window over my kitchen sink. I saw it immediately when I came downstairs in the morning. Clever!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

$50 rebate on toiletries, with free shipping

I believe this offer has expired.

Until the end of the month, has a rebate going on Kimberly-Clark and Unilever products: buy $100 worth, get a $50 rebate, and shipping is free. Covered brands include Huggies (but only half your $100 can be diapers), Cottonelle, Scott, Kleenex, Dove, Lever, and more.

I ordered a while ago, and the shipments (7 and counting) have started to arrive. It's quite surreal to have UPS deliver you a huge box that contains nothing but a case of toilet paper. Didn't retailers realize that this was a bad idea in, oh, 2001 or so? With free shipping, not to mention the rebate, they can't possibly be making money on this stuff (though I will note that the prices are quite a bit -- maybe 25% -- higher than you'd see at Target or Wal-Mart). If you don't use diapers, it's also a bit of a challenge to come up with $100 worth of toiletries.

Personal finance in Excel

Microsoft's Office templates page offers all sorts of cool stuff. What caught my eye today was a bunch of personal finance Excel templates, including family budget, mortgage refinance, 401(k) planner, and lots more along those lines.