Cutting Costs

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So I may have tripped up and become one of those parents that shows way too many pictures of their kids but I will never, I repeat, NEVER be one of those parents that takes my children to places that they can’t possibly comprehend or even enjoy because they are far too young…

Sorry, infants and zoos don’t really work well together… They just don’t.

So, while I may be on the sidelines for the next couple of years, you don’t have to be!!!

If you’re a Bank of America card holder, you can get into tons of museums and zoos and things for FREE this weekend!

Basically, if you have a Bank of America credit, check or ATM card, you can present it at any one of 100-plus museums across the country and your admission fee will be waived.

Apparently this is case on the first weekend of EVERY month, but this is the first I’ve heard of it.

Click here for all of the details.

In short — in another couple of years, you can bet I’ll be at the gates of the Bronx Zoo.

Or maybe on the deck of the USS Intrepid? Ooooohh. That sounds exciting.

Hmmmm…maybe we’ll pack the stroller up tomorrow morning…

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Just do it.One of my favorite blogs to read each day is the Happy Rock.

Yesterday, Frank put up a post about not flushing the toilet so as to save money on water or some such nonsense…

Most of his post was most certainly a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing as many of his “Cheaper than Cheap” posts tend to be.

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.”

It made me think of how Sheryl Crow insisted that people should only use one piece of toilet paper per visit a couple of years ago to save the environment or something.

It was obviously a joke though many apparently seemed to miss it.

Now I’m not saying that flushing the toilet less often is a bad idea but I think people need to put the savings aspect of it in perspective.

Water is freakin’ cheap!

My water bill arrived yesterday, coincidentally, and you know how much the bill was for?

$47.31

And that’s for three months worth.

Not that I usually measure out my water in cubic feet, but according to the bill, I used 1820 cubic feet of water over three months.

A quick calculation into a more common unit of measurement tells me that that’s 13614 gallons of water. Divide by three and that’s around 4500 gallons per month.

Now, I’ll admit that I take long showers. I take long showers often.

It’s a pretty safe bet that that’s most of the water was used.

And with a baby coming soon that’ll poop all over everything (that is what babies do, right?), can you imagine how much laundry we’ll be doing? Or how many additional showers I’ll feel the need to take as a result of all that pooping?

I guess my point is that for every three gallons of water that I use, my bill only increases by a penny.

In reality, it’s probably far less than that as I’m sure a good chunk of that $47.31 bill goes towards things totally unrelated to my water consumption.

Basically, flush the toilet…

And if you want some real savings… stop paying $1.29 for a little bottle of water.

The stuff is worth far less than 1-cent per gallon.

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PIAC Flashback Moment that Sorta Relates:

Chemistry is for the cool kids.One time in university, one of my crunchier classmates told me not to use so much water to wash out an Florence flask.

Thinking it was a joke and being a geology nerd, I deadpanned, “Seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered with water. I hardly think we’re running low…” as I turned on a second sink faucet.

They were somewhat miffed, understandably, but I stand by my statement to this day.

Water, in one form or another, is not a commodity we’re lacking. If it were, it’d cost more.

Seriously, it’s falling from the sky right now in New England!? For FREE!

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Today was one of those weird semi-holidays at work. I’d estimate that 50% of the male employees took the day off — and then another 25% left at noon…

I’d bet that tomorrow is much the same.

It happens every year around this time.

To blame? NCAA basketball.

Everyone, it seems, is all interested in the first round of March Madness and then, by next week, all but the most diehard sports fans have had about enough of college basketball.

I fall into that latter category. I could care less — I worked a full day today and I have full intentions of doing the same tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t fill out a bracket and kiss $5 goodbye this morning.

I don’t expect to win. I never do — especially when I’m betting on something I know very little about.

My final four has Louisville, Purdue, Duke, and North Carolina with North Carolina defeating Louisville in the final.

Now you might be wondering, hey, isn’t Brainy blogging from Connecticut? How come he didn’t choose the UConn Huskies, you know, the top seed in the West, to make an appearance in the Final Four?

Well, I didn’t pick the hometown UConn Huskies to go very far at all…

(In fact, I had them losing to BYU in the second round — an impossibility now that Texas A&M has already defeated BYU… D’oh!)

My reasoning is *mostly* personal.

It’s because I think their coach, Jim Calhoun, is an arrogant arsehole but also because it’s become apparent over the years that most of players on the team are nothing more than common criminals with little desire to actually graduate from the school I’m paying for them to attend for free.

Yeah — not a fan of UConn Men’s basketball, their rap sheet, or their 33% graduation rate.

They’re losers.

They don’t deserve to win.

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Canadian Fun Fact: Like ice hockey, basketball was created by Canadian James Naismith. Unlike ice hockey, Canadians by-and-large have very little interest in the game.

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My Cell Phone!This morning, Finally Frugal had nothing but positive things to say about their switch from Verizon Wireless to Virgin Mobile.

I too made that exact same switch back in October of 2007, following Frank from the Happy Rock’s lead.

And you know what?

I’ve got nothing but great things to say too…

My “service” hasn’t been any different since my days with Verizon but my bill certainly has — to the tune of a $900 per year savings.

Here’s how it works…

Every three months, I’m required to “top-up” my account. It’s simply a $21.20 bill that I have automatically billed to a credit card.

Yes, $21.20 for THREE months. Not per month, but THREE whole months.

My cell phone bill is $84.80 per year. Think about that the next time you pay your monthly cell phone bill.

The best part is that my $21.20 payment isn’t forfeited at the end of the three months.

I suppose it’s like those rollover plans that AT&T advertises on television — my Verizon plan never offered that (and cost more too!).

Looking back, Verizon was horrible.

I sent them forty something dollars each month and if I didn’t use the $40 worth of airtime, well, tough luck. I put up with that for years. It was stupid.

So I’m due to “top-up” with Virgin later this month, you know, for another 3 months of service. With all of the roll over from my previous payments, it will put my “balance” at over $120.

Obviously I don’t use my phone very often (which might be why this plan has worked out so well for me) but with $120 worth of airtime available for use, well, let’s just say that I don’t have to be concerned with running out of minutes.

And that peace of mind is only costing me a smidgen over $7 per month.

I’d bet most folks are paying 6 or 7 times as much per month.

Just something to think about if you’re looking to cut your costs.

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B.F.O. ThermostatWhen I was in 10th grade, taking geometry, our teacher took a leave of absence to have hair plugs installed or something.

I’m not kidding.

He left on a Friday with some whispy stuff on top and returned a month later with a scabby, yet fuzzy, scalp. By grade 11, though he wasn’t my teacher anymore, he had a full head of hair.

So, apparently, those Hair Club for Men commercials of the early 1990’s were legit…

Anyway, while our regular teacher was out, the substitute was a fellow that none of us has ever seen before, you know, not one of the usual substitutes that we’d grown used to over the years.

He was young, had a big moustache, he wore a shirt and tie every day, and he had a full head of hair. He even carried a briefcase. Basically, he was a lot different than our regular teacher.

Catherine Zeta-JonesUnder the impression that we’d be doing, well, nothing for an entire month in his class simply because he was a substitute, we didn’t give him a lot of respect.

I know I spent most of my time in that class daydreaming about every girl in our school that even slightly resembled Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Anyway, even through my steamy fog, it wasn’t long before it was blatantly apparent that he had NEVER taught in a classroom before. You could tell he was nervous and the troublemakers in the room were taking full advantage.

This lasted for nearly a week — and then he flipped out.

Gene Wilder as Willy WonkaHe turned into Tom Green. This, of course, was before Tom Green became famous.

He had a little bit of a Willy Wonka vibe too… The Gene Wilder version, NOT the androgynous Johnny Depp version.

John RamboOut of no where, when it was actually quiet in the room and without any provocation, he started doing that “bzzzzzzzz” noise (you know, the thing that happened in every high school classroom whenever there was a substitute teacher) as he loosened his tie and put it around his forehead like Rambo.

A few of the girls started giggling wondering what on earth he was doing.

The troublemakers were annoyed that he was stealing their “bzzzzzzz” joke.

I was confused.

Then he stood on the teachers desk and shouted, “Who wants to learn some geometry!“.

Um, okay? We were less than enthusiastic.

He then jumped off the desk, doing an aerial ski move, I think it’s called a backscratcher, before doing a somersault after the landing.

I remember thinking, “Wow, this dude is crazy… but that was awesome!”

From that moment on, he had our attention, no doubt about it, and he had our attention for the rest of his time subbing for our un-balding teacher.

Anyway, as he plowed through the curriculum, obviously refreshing his geometry memory along the way, he taught us something that I have never forgotten.

Without boring you to death or bringing back long forgotten math nightmares, high school geometry was the class where you had to do proofs.

You know, prove these two triangles are congruent using a side-angle-side argument or whatever.

I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but I do remember it being relatively simple but annoying at the same time.

This teacher, towards the end of his run, drew two triangles at the same time on the chalk board, one with his right hand and one with his left. Comedy in and of itself.

He then dramatically spun around pirouette-style asking if the two triangles were congruent.

(Yes, he was still wearing his tie around his forehead — but only during class. The guy was a nut, I’m telling you…)

The nerds, often so smart that they were stupid, were all busting out their protractors to get started, but he stopped them in their tracks — “No! This is a one line proof.”

Confused, we all wondered if he was serious.

The two triangles up on the board looked more like ovals than anything else, but they also looked pretty darn similar. Maybe he was ambidextrous?

Then, underneath the two tri-ovals, he wrote in big letters, breaking chalk along the way while calling out each letter as he wrote it, “B.F.O.”

What?

Blinding Flash of the Obvious,” he explained.

I never forgot that.

When our real teacher returned, it was like a big inside joke that he wasn’t in on. As if his new scabby scalp wasn’t already enough for us to laugh about?

Anytime you couldn’t figure out how to correctly do a proof on a test, you’d write “B.F.O.” in big letters. It never worked, for obvious reasons, but everyone in the class resorted to it at least once…

Years later, in university, on a chemistry lab that went dismally wrong, I told my lab partner, Derek, about “B.F.O.” and we decided that in our final conclusion on the report, we’d refer to a “BFO” as our reasoning for coming to the conclusion we came to.

Seriously, it was like a 40-page lab report with calculations, diagrams, and things all over the place. The last page, for our conclusion, contained 3 letters.

B.F.O.

The professor’s (or TA’s — we all know the prof’s never actually looked at our lab work) remarks still give us a chuckle to this day — next to our conclusion, they drew a big question mark, then gave us a “B”. Ha!

So, after all of this build-up, how does any of this relate to your heating bill?

Well, I’ll tell you…

Ten Cent DimeYou can read all you want about putting plastic up on your windows, installing draft guards on your exteriors doors, blocking off seldom used rooms in your home, or adding a humidifier, but there’s only one surefire way to lower your heating bill without spending a dime.

Turn the thermostat down.

B.F.O.

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Personal Checks WrittenIt only took a decade of banking online, but it appears that “paper” transactions are a thing of the past.

For me, anyway…

See, I always considered myself a check writer. I actually enjoyed sitting down each month (or week?) to pay the bills; writing check after check and finishing each one off with a crazy-cool signature…

If I happened to win something on eBay, yep, I’d write a check.

Last night, I wrote my very first check of 2009.

It hurt my hand to write that much.

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it’d been over a month since I’d written my last check — the one that paid the lawn care service to pick up our leaves.

When it comes to eBay, I won’t even bid if the seller doesn’t accept PayPal. If it’s not all electronic and nearly instantaneous, well, never mind…

But it became apparent last year that the likelihood of having to EVER buy another 1000 checks is pretty slim.

Fact is, e-bills and online transactions have made them, well, made them like record players. I’d bet that kids born today will never, in their entire life, have to write a personal check.

Anyhow, for the record, the chart over there displays how my check usage has progressed and recessed over the past thirteen years.

Pretty crazy how quickly it fell off.

Apparently I “peaked” in 2005.

Two car payments, 10 or so credit cards on the go, a few personal loans, and all of the other household bills will do that

And I should really make mention of all of the money that I’m now saving in postage, though, I can’t claim to have ever kept track of stuff like that — but just for fun, if every check in 2005 had gone out in its own envelope (a likely scenario), and postage was $0.39, well, that adds up to $69.03…

Hmmm… That’s not as impressive as I’d hoped…

Have I ever mentioned what a bargain snail mail is?

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$41.25This morning we headed to the grocery store at the crack of dawn to return bottles and cans.

Exciting times, let me tell you…

This was our first trip since August when we accumulated $45.40 in the span of an hour.

While there wasn’t any creepy old man drama this time, we had the place to ourselves, we didn’t come away with quite as much cash in our hands.

Total bounty was $41.25 (825 bottles and cans) and it took us about 45 minutes to feed the machines. Not bad when you consider that that’s a better reward than my credit cards offer!

But it’s frightening to think that we average over 200 cans of carbonation per month — that’s like a 6-pack per day?!

Holy crap — It’s a wonder that I still have my teeth!

(That last line was to remind myself that I have a dentist appointment next week.)

Lowered my Mortgage PaymentNo, it’s not what you think…

Each October, on the anniversary of my mortgage, Countrywide runs an escrow analysis to ensure that they’ve put enough of my monthly payments aside to pay for things like city property taxes and the premium on my homeowners insurance.

This past October was no different, in that they did an escrow analysis. Totally expected.

Unfortunately, the results weren’t in my favor like they have been in the past — not sure why I didn’t mention it back in October…

Anyway, the short of it is that my monthly mortgage payment increased $78 — due entirely to the assessment done on my house in 2007 which resulted in an increase in my tax bill. Lucky break for the city, you know, doing a city-wide assessments when the market was at it’s all time high…

Anyway, not that big of a deal, I mean, I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s just a little bit of an annoyance knowing that another $78/month (or $936/year) isn’t hitting the principle. Whatever — it’s not the end of the world.

It’s like I’m paying the cable bill twice or something.

The last time my payment went *way* up, the following October I received a check from Countrywide. It was an escrow overage check. Somewhere along the line, numbers were incorrect and they were collecting too much from me for an entire year.

While the check was a pleasant surprise, I was a little bothered by the fact that they had continued to over-collect for, well, 11 months when my property taxes hadn’t increased enough to justify the bill hike and my insurance premium had remained steady.

Though they paid me back, with interest, I still felt a like I’d been ripped off.

I just chalked it up as something where, once they do their escrow analysis, that’s your payment, set in stone, for the next calendar year. I dealt with it.

So this year, when I caught wind that my payment was going up, but knowing that I was going to be switching my homeowners insurance (and lowering the premium paid from escrow), I was a little ticked off.

Terrible planning on my part. I couldn’t believe I’d overlooked this…

My mortgage payment was supposed to go down this year, not up!

I paid the November mortgage bill. And the December bill.

But then when Countrywide paid my homeowners insurance premium when I’d asked them not so, I saw an opportunity to do something about making sure that my payments wouldn’t go up again next year — or ever, barring any tax hikes.

I wanted to pay my insurance premium myself — take over the responsibility from Countrywide and, in turn, lower my monthly mortgage bill.

I went back to their online customer service page, where I’ve had so much success in the past. Not.

Here’s the message I sent:

I sent a message yesterday asking Countrywide NOT to send out the premium payment for my new homeowners insurance, but today I noticed that my transaction history has been updated and the payment has already been sent (dated Tuesday).

That’s fine — I’ll call them and have them accept Countrywide’s payment instead of mine.

In the future, next year, I’d prefer to pay the premium myself instead of having it built into my escrow account through Countrywide. How would I go about changing that so that this double payment scenario doesn’t happen again?

Thanks!

And here was their (prompt!) response:

Thank you for your recent Internet inquiry addressed to the Customer Service Department.

Our records reflect that we did not receive an e-mail from you in November 2008, the last e-mail received from you was on September 22, 2008. This is to confirm that your insurance information has been updated with an annual premium of $633.00, effective from November 11, 2008 to November 11, 2009. A payment has been disbursed from your escrow account to your insurance company for $633.00 on November 18, 2008.

As per your e-mail we have reviewed your account, your loan meets all the criteria for the deletion of insurance from the escrow account. We have hence deleted insurance from your escrow account as you asked. We have analyzed your escrow account on November 20, 2008,your monthly payment effective January 01, 2009 will be $1,226.7. An Escrow Review Statement has been generated and will be mailed to you, please allow approximately 7-14 days for receipt via U.S. mail.

We have provided a breakdown of your monthly installment, which will be effective with your January 2009 payment:

Description
Principal and Interest Payment : $817.27
City Taxes ($1,912.09 semi-annually divided by 12) : $318.68
P.M.I contribution monthly : $85.15
Reserve 16.60% : $5.27
Total Monthly Payment : $1,226.37

The Reserve item is an amount equal to 16.60% of the total amount of your escrow payment for the year that is collected each month. The Reserve amount is collected to ensure that the account has sufficient funds in the event that your tax and/or insurance bills increase. When we analyze your escrow account we will adjust the reserve amount based on the actual bills paid.

Thank you for communicating with us electronically, we appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

Hmmmmmm… I love that they mentioned September 22. Too funny.

The PMI line still irks me, but what can you do?

And really, I’d love to know what “criteria” my loan met for the deletion of insurance from the escrow account. I never could get an answer on what criteria I had to meet to drop PMI

Whatever.

In the end, though, I got what I wanted (a lower payment — lowest since 2004!) and earlier than I’d expected, so that puts a smile on my face.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Can You Dig It?

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