Bargains

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Sky's the Limit Hiking Challenge
I’d originally heard about this “challenge” from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection back when there was still snow on the ground and put the idea on the shelf.

Basically, it’s a challenge to complete 14 hikes in the state during the calendar year — take a picture of yourself at the trailhead and then another at a location/landmark they specify somewhere on the hike.

As a reward, if you complete 10 hikes, you’ll receive a medallion and if you complete all 14, there will be a drawing for a fancy hiking staff.

Ahhh, the things the state government can afford to money on.

For me, it’s not really about the medallion or the walking stick and I’m in no way upset that my tax dollars are going towards silly (likely plastic) medallions or walking sticks.

It’s more about something fun, healthy, and inexpensive to do with my kids.

With our weekends being so busy, we’re a little behind schedule to get them all done but I printed out all of the “adventure maps” for the kids to carry on the hikes and plotted out the order in which we’d do them.

Yesterday, our first hike was to the Heublein Tower in the Talcott Mountain State Park in Simsbury, Connecticut.

We’ve been there before…but this time it felt more like a quest.

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Sharknado at WalmartSo, yesterday, we took a family trip to Walmart.

We don’t go there very often, partially cause of how busy it always seems to be but mostly because of the people that shop and work there.

I’m not one to judge but… Wait, yes, I am one to judge…

Really — you might think websites like “People of Walmart” are a gross exaggeration of reality for comedic sake but, I’ll tell you, there truly is no other demographic like the Walmart shopper.

Stereotypes exist because they are grounded in truth.

Walmart takes it to another level.

So, anyway, while I was digging through the $5 DVD bin with Duncan in search of Sharknado (don’t judge — where else would I find it?) an announcement comes over the loud speaker.

“Attention Walmart shoppers…”

Yes, it really started like that, but not all cool like it would have sounded at K-Mart. Imagine it in the voice of a barely literate 20-something male hillbilly lacking front teeth.

Yeah — somehow Walmart brings out the hillbillies of Connecticut. Really, there was a shopper in there wearing a cowboy hat. In CONNECTICUT!?

The message continued, in the cadence of a first grader reading out loud, “In two minutes, [insert sponsor here] will be giving away one razor sharp paring knife to everyone in the store over the age of 21. Supplies are limited. Please visit the red kiosk at the back of the store near the baby aisle. First come, first serve.”

Seriously?

First of all, a quick visual survey of the people surrounding me made it pretty unsettling that they we’re about to hand out “razor” sharp knives.

There might even be a stampede — the word “FREE” in Walmart is almost like “FIRE” in a movie theatre.

Further — they’re doing it in the baby aisle?

Are you kidding me?

I don’t know about your local Walmart, but in all of them around here, the “baby” section is in the back corner. The “kitchenware” aisle is usually part of that middle section where lots of just random household stuff is. In short — they’re not close to each other.

Why would *ever* you hand out knives to the gutter of society in an aisle full of diapers?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Making things even funnier, err scarier, while we were checking out, there was an announcement asking employees to do a “safety sweep” of their departments…

Hmmmm… must’ve been a report of someone wielding a “razor” sharp knife or something.

Back to Target we go…

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So, after a lot of questioning myself, I finally decided to cash the insurance check from Geico that resulted from my accident on leap day.

Just after doing so, I went online and mail-ordered the replacement parts that I thought I needed — a couple of special clips for the bumper trim piece that snapped off, a new light, and even decided on buying some new windshield wipers since they’ve been in need of replacement for probably 6 months now.

Grand total was $90.38.

So this morning, my sidekick and I put on our mechanic hats (figuratively) and got our hands dirty (for real).

Twenty minutes later, this is how things looked.

No, it’s not perfect.

The bumper is still cracked but for $1610 in my pocket, I’ll take it!

And I even got “free” wipers outta the deal!

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I wish I could claim that my lack of posting were due the to widepsread power outages here in Connecticut but that’d be a half-truth.

Halloween Obstacles

Anyway, after four freezing nights without power or heat and a pseduo gas crisis (gas stations can’t pump gas without power…), I almost miss the expectation of spending another cold night with the entire family huddled into one dark (and cold) room now that the power is back on and I’m 12 inches from two flat screen monitors with iTunes blaring out some random rock hits from the early 1990’s.

There are a lot of irate local politicians here calling for the power company’s head. Earlier in the week, 87% of Connecticut was dark. Halloween was even cancelled.

We’re talking totally dark.

No traffic lights. None. Not even blinking yellow or red. They were off.

Just think about how crazy that’d make the roads? For nearly a week?

On top of it, the temperatures were dipping into the 20’s at night.

In my house, we could see our breathe. Yeah, it was cold.

So the politicians might have a point. Sorta.

But my PIAC persona was thinking about things differently.

Electricity is a bargain!!!

My average electric bill is around $150 per month. That’s five bucks per day.

Our utility provider is routinely criticized for having some of the highest rates in the country. I don’t know that this is a fact — perhaps just something that an angry politician is throwing out there just before election day next Tuesday — but I do know that I’d have gladly paid $5 for just one working outlet for a few hours as my family froze each night.

Yeah, electricity for my entire house is just $5 per day.

I’m not going to bash Connecticut Light & Power for offering such a great deal.

It’s a miracle that electricity is so cheap.

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So I’ve kept everyone pretty up-to-date on my auto-repair expenses for the Land Rover.

We’re fortunate (or foolish?) enough to have 4 cars in the household so when one goes down, we’ve got plenty of back-up.

Or so you’d think…

My BMW Z3 hasn’t been out of the garage for over a year. Over the past two years, it’s driven maybe 30 miles. I couldn’t get it started months ago and didn’t even consider it as my back-up vehicle while the Rover was in the shop.

So, instead, I hoped in my wife’s Toyota Tacoma, turned the key, and heard the fabled “click-click-click-click” noise.

I’m no gear head but I do know that that means the battery is dead.

We hooked it up to the Scion (our only functioning vehicle) and it started right up.

Phew!

We let it run for an hour or so, you know, to charge the battery before shutting it down.

The next morning, I went out to take it for a spin, turned the key, and got nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Battery must *really* be dead.

And then a lightbulb went on!

Hey, maybe the only problem with the BMW is the battery?

Hmmm…

Needless to say, I went out to AutoZone and spent almost $300 on a couple of batteries and then spent an afternoon pretending to be a real auto mechanic.

I thought these were so cool.  When I was 5.For real, I looked like one of those guys who’s always working on his Trans-Am with the bird on the hood.

(I realize that changing the battery is a simple task — I have some great ideas on how this century old system should be modernized though…)

Three hours later, I had two more running vehicles.

How about that?

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Dunco in the DiscoOkay, so it’s hardly news around here that I recently purchased a used car.

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m on the side that thinks that having more cars than drivers in a household is utterly ridiculous — yet, we have four cars and only two drivers.

The main reason that we didn’t trade a vehicle in while purchasing the latest is because we feel that all of our cars are still worth more to us than we’d received in exchange for any one of them.

All of our cars are paid for so the only expense involved in keeping them all are the insurance costs and the registration renewals — relatively small stuff.

All four vehicles are also pretty unique and serve a unique purpose as well. I think I’ve said it before — it’s not like we have four Honda Accords in the driveway.

That would be truly ridiculous.

The 2-seat BMW convertible is a fun summertime weekend car. I bought it at a time when it was more practical. It’s not so practical now (with a family of four in a few weeks or so) but it’s worth more to me — and will always be worth more to me — than what I could sell it for.

The 2-seat Toyota pick-up truck came as part of the package when I married my wife. Same deal — a two seater isn’t really practical for a family but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thanked my lucky stars that we have a pick-up truck.

The Scion xA, while compact, can actually fit two adults and two car seats. We can even squeeze a stroller into the trunk. Best of all, it gets over 40 miles per gallon for us.

The Land Rover, as it’s set up now, can fit three adults, two car seats, a stroller, and a whole host of other things. It’ll be our road trip vehicle — and ensure that if one person is home with the kids, well, we’ll have at least one vehicle in the driveway can fit them all at any given moment.

That’s the low down on our fleet.

Now, for why we (I) selected this Land Rover and not something else — well, price, mileage, size, and condition…

We wanted to be able to pay cash which, naturally, reduced the number of options available to us. At the high end, the price tag had to come in around $10k.

I wanted low mileage on a car that has a reputation for going well beyond the 100k mile mark. This narrowed the field even more.

It had to be able to fit all of us — and maybe end a third car seat in the future should the car last that long. So much for sedans…

And lastly, it couldn’t be a gross used car. Once you dip under a certain price level, well, things tend to get a little messy. I was looking for a diamond in the rough.

Initially I had it narrowed down, in descending order of price, to a 2006 Honda Odyssey with 80k miles, a 2004 Land Rover Discovery with 50k miles, and a 2006 BMW X5 with 70k miles.

At the end of the day, I settled on the Land Rover Discovery because it won out on mileage and size.

The price was in the middle — the Honda was actually the most expensive and the BMW was the least expensive.

The condition was in the middle as well — it’s exterior has a few dings here and there but it just looks “right” on this type of vehicle. The interior is immaculate — previous owner obviously didn’t have young children. Same couldn’t be said for the Honda.

The BMW, well, it was nice but it just wasn’t big enough. And I didn’t like the colour. Okay, yeah, I admit, colour mattered too.

The final pricetag was just shy of $11k — before tax, registration, and all of that other nickel-and-dime junk that gets added on the back end.

Now, I know what you’re thinking — Land Rovers are notorius for being in the shop all the time…

Perhaps, but there are still an awful lot more of them on the road pushing the 200k mile marker. I don’t think the same can be said for your run of the mill minivan.

I suppose that only time will tell — it could die a few months from now and end up in the shop and I’ll have made a poor decision…

If it does last even just 50k more miles, though, it’ll have been one of my better moves.

To pay for it, I took a bunch from savings, a bunch from checking, and essentially the entirety of our tax return refund to the point that we were able to pay cash for the car. No lienholder. No car payments.

In addition, though, since that pretty much tapped me out financially, I wrote one of those credit card checks to myself for $7000 just to cover this month’s expected expenses and any unexpected expenses as well.

It was a zero percent offer that’s valid through Decemeber — and there wasn’t a transaction fee! When was the last time you saw an offer without a fee attached? Woo-hoo!

To pay it back down, though I could technically just send the money right back, I’ve set up an autopayment of $175 per week.

On that schedule (which kicked in yesterday), it’ll be paid in full before any finance charges accrue and I won’t be backed unto a shoestring budget at any time.

Now I just have to cross my fingers that there aren’t any super costly repairs between now and then.

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A couple of weeks ago I let everyone in on a decision we were facing — we needed a bigger car but couldn’t really afford one.

In our fantasy land where money was no factor, we’d pretty much set our minds on a brand new Swagger wagon — ‘specially after Angie’s glowing review.

Then, when reality set in, we started to look at used alternatives like what Scud recommended.

Able to find plenty within our budget, I still struggled to find anything that I could imagine myself driving. I’m not anti-minivan — I think they’re cool, seriously, but in the price range that we were looking at, well, let’s just say that most of them left something to be desired if even I was only judging them based on pictures posted on the internet.

So I went back to the direction I was originally leaning…used but high end. Connecticut has consistently been among the richest states in the country so we’re overflowing with snob-tacular used car lots.

I aimed lower than originally planned, skipping the Rolls Royce and Bentley places, and instead looked at the places with Jaguars, BMWs and Mercedes on the lot.

You’d be surprised at how quickly luxury cars lose their value, I mean, I was just talking to my mom the other day and my BMW is worth less than my Dad‘s Mazda Miata.

We bought them within a year or two of one another and one cost over twice as much as the other — it’s hard to fathom. I’m not knocking either car — I think they’re both great even when they’re over a decade old but still.

Anyway, so on Wednesday I locked a vehicle in my sights. Thursday, I took it for a test drive. Friday, I moved a bunch of money around. And Saturday, we officially became one of those Connecticut families with four cars.

Two drivers and four cars. I know, it’s ridiculous. The driveway looks like a parking lot.

Anyway, from the financial aspect, we paid cash for the car — no lien holder and no car payments — and I “borrowed” $7k (at 0%) from a credit card just to give us some wiggle room in case sudden expenses come up over the next month.

Here’s what we bought:

Not the actual vehicle or color — we got a few inches of snow last night so it’s currently buried in the driveway.

I’ll take a picture eventually and probably further explain the thought process that landed this in our fleet of vehicles…

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Looking for a few suggestions on what we should do — we’re in need of a new vehicle.

Here’s some background info… In roughly three fortnights, our family will be personally incremented by one — literally.

Together, that’ll make four of us.

If you’ve been a recent reader — or noticed that uterus bubble on the right — that’s hardly news.

Even still, back to the topic today: We need a bigger car.

Right now the largest vehicle in the garage is a Scion xA.

If you’re unfamilair with that model (or brand), imagine one of those Penny Racer toys from the 1980’s, you know, those little pull-back cars where you could jam a penny into the back bumber to make them do wheelies…

According to my registration, it’s categorized as a wagon (probably because it has 4 doors and a hatchback) but in reality it’s a sub-compact.

Sure, two adults and two car seats can fit — but nothing else can and that’s our dilemma…

We need something bigger.

NEW:
In a perfect scenario, we’d go out this week and buy a brand new Toyota Sienna (the swagger-wagon) or a Honda Odyssey. Both are minivans and would certainly get the job done.

But did you know that both of those cost in excess of $40k!?

I didn’t. Ouch.

I mean, I guess I knew that a minivan would cost over $30k these days but $40k? You used to be able to get a Porsche for that kind of money…

The Swagger-Wagon has, well, swagger but it ain’t no Porsche… you know, it’s not gonna get the hot moms to check me out in the day care parking lot…

And price (or pride maybe?) isn’t the only reason, though.

Well, maybe it is.

We’re still not finished paying for last year’s home renovation yet so we’re not exactly in the position to go out and spend even more than that entire project cost.

The other aspect that has me leaning against buying new is the fact that babies are messy. The back seat of my Scion has absorbed more, um, bodily fluid than I’m sure that I’m even aware of.

This might not help the re-sale value of my Scion but the air freshners wedged under the front seats are there to hide the acrid smell of vomit that coated the interior side of the rear passenger side door just a few short weeks ago.

That’s okay in a car that I’ve been driving for 5+ years. But if Duncan I or the forthcoming Duncan II projectiled all over a recent $40k purchase, well, I’m not sure a couple of Little Trees air freshners (yeah, they spell it that way) would be enough for me to “get over it.”

So a new minivan is out of the question.

USED:
Okay, so we can’t justify buying a new minivan only to coat the interior in puke. Here’s another idea — let’s buy one that’s already been coated in puke!

We spent a couple of hours last week looking at CarMax and AutoTrader for the puke flavored, err, used minivan of our dreams.

Well, it’s sticker shock all over again…

A late model minivan still costs in excess of $20k!?

These things have more miles on them than my Scion does right now but cost more than mine did when it had just 7 miles on it — and they probably have secret stank absorbers (known only to the used car industry) hidden somewhere to make them seem new.

Do we want to spend that much on a car with somebody else’s kids’ boogers all over it?

I’m not so sure. It kind of skeeves me out…

DISPOSABLE:
The internet is pretty neat. Having grown discouraged on my quest to find a suitable vehicle, I went astray and started to browse far less suitable vehicles…

I showed my wife, “Hey look — we can get a Bentley Mulsanne for far less than a used minivan…”

Less suitable?

I started to ponder…

Rolling into daycare in a Bentley would definitely turn some hot mom heads, I thought…

I should persue this…

And I did.

You can get a Rolls-Royce, if that’s your fancy, at a bargain basement price too — often for less than those late model minivans with similar mileage… Who knew?

Sure, some of them were manufactured in the 1980’s but you have to figure that anyone who could afford a vehicle of that nature new while managing to keep the total mileage low (relatively speaking) took care of it.

And for well under $10k, we could pay for it lickety-split.

It wouldn’t have to last very long — anything over two years would just be a bonus.

Best of all, the idea of boogers and vomit all over someone else’s old beater doesn’t seem to phase me much…

But, really, how many car seats have you seen in the back of a Bentley? It’d be more likely to find traces of cocaine in the glove compartment… For some reason, that doesn’t bother me too much either…

Anyway, more realistically speaking, I’ve been looking at older but more exclusive vehicles that will suit our short term needs — mainly a bigger car that we can afford right now and one that we won’t feel bad for essentially destroying…

Keepin’ it real, y’all…

What would you do?

(No, I’m not even considering a Chrysler 200…)

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PIAC Post Extension:
Hang on, Brainy, don’t you already have three cars?

Sheesh — are you a stalker or something?

I last mentioned that on May 7th, 2008

Yes, we have 3 cars. And here’s the crazy part — we’re not planning on trading one of them in for this next purchase.

Yep — family of four with four cars. Perfect example of American excess — except we’re Canadian.

Well, three of us are…

Anyway, it’s true that we have 3 cars — and we’re looking to add a fourth — but they all serve a unique purpose. It’s not like we have three Accords and a Jetta (all basically the same vehicle) in the driveway. That would be ridiculous.

We’ve got the two seater BMW that someday will, again, resume it’s role as the fun weekend vehicle.

We’ve got a two-seater Toyota Tacoma pick-up truck that’s come in handy more times than I can count.

And then we’ve got the Scion that can actually fit all of us.

They’re all paid for so they’re not costing us anything.

At the same time, they’re all relatively worthless regarding trade-in values so there isn’t really much reason to eliminate one.

Besides, the car on the chopping block is the Tacoma and it’s the most useful of the vehicles in our fleet…

It’s not going anywhere…

Can You Dig It?

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