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3 1026

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.

1 808

Yes, I know I’m 3 weeks late with this…

What can I say? I’m in a funk. A $10k loss will do that to ya…

But really, things are going pretty well financially.

Sure, money’s tight, but this latest round of debt elimination is moving right along. I see the end of the tunnel already and I’ll be right back where I was the last time I was debt free.

Seven or eight more months is my guess…

Here’s the breakdown:

Cash:
It’s tight. I’ve been sending $300 per week (on an autopayment) towards debt and whatever’s left at the end of the month.

Savings:
This is essentially an account where I’m tossing $135 in per week to cover my property tax bill (due next in December) and anything else unexpected.

Gov’t Bonds:
This is my emergency back-up.

401k:
Ouch. Things are so volatile lately. One day I’m up $2k and the next I’m down $4k. This number totally depends on what the last day of the month looks like. I think the top and bottom value for this month were over $17k apart so, yeah, it’s all over the place…

Home:
Yep, I live here.

Auto 1, Auto 2, and Auto 3:
Evidently this wasn’t a good time to own a car in Connecticut.

Credit Cards:
Now we’re getting down to business. The HUGE drop last month probably won’t happen again anytime soon as I don’t really have anywhere else to pay it down in $10k chunks.

This pace is more like what I’d expect it to be from here on out and I’d expect that by the end of this month, the total balance will be under $10k.

Auto Loans and Other Loans:
Nothing to report.

Mortgage
Just another minimum payment.

0 1084

About a month ago on my way to work I noticed a billboard that seemed, well, out of place.

Dan Persa

In the past, it’s been Pepsi, McDonalds, or some obnoxious local attorney advertisement.

But this…”Chicago’s Heisman Candidate” seemed a little out of place in central Connecticut.

We’re a good 900 miles from Chicago…

Heisman TrophyAnd I’ve never heard of Dan Persa. If he were a local kid in the running for the Heisman trophy, you’d think there’d be some media coverage.

I mean, Connecticut isn’t exactly a football hotbed so a local kid in the running would be BIG news.

Then I began to think that maybe Northwestern University transposed a number when ordering the sign from CBS Outdoors.

Sign 1501 is probably located in Carol Stream, Illinois. Sign 1051 happens to be in Bristol, Connecticut.

Oops.

And then I referred to the trusty internet to find some answers.

Dan Persa is not from Connecticut.

He’s a 22-year old quarterback from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania that plays for the Northwestern Wildcats.

And the billboard?

It’s exactly where they wanted it… Seriously.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Northwestern is going into the heart of college football country — Bristol, Conn. — to promote Dan Persa’s Heisman Trophy campaign.

Make that the heart of college football opinion country. Bristol is home to ESPN, and NU officials have bought billboard space there on a key artery. Chicago commuters can see the ad next week on a Kennedy Expressway billboard at Kimball Avenue.

NU officials chose the theme “Persa Strong” after ESPN.com’s Bruce Feldman named Persa the 10th-strongest player — and strongest quarterback — in the nation. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Persa can bench-press 360 pounds and squat 520.

Persa has not seen the billboards but said, “Anything that can get more attention for our team around the country is cool.”

Well, I hate to tell them but…the sign isn’t on a route that many ESPN commuters will ever see.

It’s actually angled in a way where you can only see it while driving away from ESPN.

Making matters worse — it’s on a road through an industrial zone. A, how shall I put this… depressing and out-dated industrial zone. Yeah, it follows a seldom used freight rail line… you know the type of road…

Not a deadend by any means but certainly not a main artery for the influential on-air ESPN employees that they’re trying to sway.

Point being — I highly doubt Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, or Bruce Feldman have seen this sign or ever will even though they’re often just a couple of miles away.

The security guard for the lot they park in, well, he’s probably seen it.

But I suppose it got some publicity here on PIAC so it’s not all for nothing.

I don’t think that’s exactly what they were aiming for though.

Anyway, good luck Dan Persa!

2 1154

Open LetterDear Ronald,
Since the launch of your recent Smurf Happy Meal promotion, my family has visited McDonald’s restaurants in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut on ten occasions in search of a Smurf happy meal toy for our toddler aged children.

This specific promotion is what lead us to choose McDonald’s over other eateries and, as a result, spend well in excess of $100 with your company.

From these ten visits, though, only once has the location actually had a Smurf toy in stock to include in our Happy Meal.

Once.

One out of ten visits — a location in Pennsylvania being the “winner”.

That isn’t acceptable.

Problem is, we don’t want any more Return of the Jedi finger skateboards or leftover Disney movie promotions from over a year ago.

There are Smurfs adorning your windows, drive-thru menus, and Happy Meal boxes — but no toys. What gives?

I won’t even go into the quality of the food or service at a couple of the locations we visited.

Okay, I will.

Your Bethel, Connecticut location needs an entirely new staff.

You might actually want to consider bulldozing the entire building and just start over.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Annoyed,
Brainy

Oh, and if it’s not too much to ask — please bring back your Chicken Fajitas. I miss them.

4 1755

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…

3 1819

I was never “that” kid that always claimed that pizza was my favorite food. Sure, I like pizza but it’s not anywhere near the top of my list. Not even close.

I was also never that kid the put ketchup — and only ketchup — on everything. I’m sorry, that’s just disgusting.

Like pizza, I’m not opposed to ketchup. In moderation. On french fries. Or hot dogs — as long as it’s accompanied by mustard and relish.

Relating to the fries, I used to base my overall restaurant experience on the quality (or even availabilty) of french fries. It the establishment doesn’t offer fries as a side, well, chances are, I’m not going to like anything on the menu. It’s a good indicator, you know?

Anyway, I have an uncle who reportedly likes anything that comes on a bun. Even if he doesn’t like it, if you put it on a bun, he’ll eat it.

I’d never noticed this in the past and he hasn’t confirmed its validity, to my knowledge, but it got me thinking…

That’s just like me!

The restaurants that I prefer all serve french fries, yes, but in a more broad sense, they’re really just reatuarants that feature “bunned” food with french fries on the side.

Yep, I’m not longer counting on a side — the main entrée is what it’s all about.

And it’d better come on a bun.

Here’s a listing of my top 10 chain eateries, some regional, in three categories and in order:

  1. A&W (Fast Food — in Canada only)
  2. Famous Dave’s (Sit Down)
  3. Wayback Jakes (Quick Service)
  4. Roy Rogers (Fast Food)
  5. Swiss Chalet (Sit Down)
  6. Frankie’s / Big Frank’s (Quick Service)
  7. Steak & Shake (Sit Down)
  8. Checkers (Fast Food)
  9. Red Lobster (Sit Down)
  10. White Castle (Fast Food)

Oh, and yes, all of them have mighty fine french fries too!

Now, you’re probably not wondering but since you’re still reading, I’m going to tell you what I order and why I like each one of these establishments.

A&W:
I discovered my love of A&W back in university on a road trip to-and-from McGill in Montreal.

Since 1994, I’ve only ordered one item on their menu — the Teen Burger Combo. I’ve ordered it probably over 100 times now. On our most recent vacation to western Canada, we ate there at least once every single day. Duncan even dipped his first french fry in ketchup, all by himself, just north of Calgary.

To those stateside, I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, the root beer place — seen it a few places, might have even eaten there once, but it didn’t leave an impression.”

I’d agree whole-heartedly. But there’s a catch. North of the border, yeah, it’s still A&W Root Beer with the same old logo but, outside of that, it’s a totally different company, totally different restaurant, and sports a totally different menu.

A&W is a shopping mall food court staple in Canada. The stand alone restaurants now dot the country as well — I’d say it’s about as common as a Wendy’s is in the United States.

Anyway, the Teen Burger is essenitally nothing more that a bacon cheeseburger — except it’s freakin’ awesome. They’re seldom skimpy with the fries, they have vinegar to put on them, and who could pass up a heavy glass mug covered with frost?

I don’t even like root beer but I’ll make an exception at A&W. (They serve Coca-Cola too.)

One of the best burgers around — at it’s fast food, eh? Crazy…

Famous Dave’s:
It was probably back in 2006 or so that a new restaurant called “Famous Dave’s” opened up not far from where we live. It was connected to a hotel and plainly visable from the highway so, well, it seemed like a long shot but one weekend we headed there for lunch.

Turns out that it was a barbeque place. Always a plus, that. Anyway, on that first visit, I ordered the Georgia Chopped Pork Sandwich.

Holy crap — I’m usually more a fan of beef brisket sandwiches but this this was amazing.

Since then, that location has closed (it was never a good location anyway) so we have to trek up to Massachusetts every now and then to get our fill — and carefully plan our road trips around their other locations. The midwest is full of them. I always order the exact same thing.

It’s a sit down type of place with ribs and such but you can’t go wrong with this sandwich. Their fries are big crinkle steak fries, they have an assortment of barbeque sauces to try out (Devil’s Spit is the best), and the sodas are bottomless.

Unfortunately, though, they’re a Pepsi establishment. Bleh…

Wayback Jake’s:
We actually just discovered this chain a few weeks ago and…we’ve eaten there every weekend since.

My meal of choice is their signature Jake Burger with everything on it. Everything consists of ketchup, mustard, pickle, raw onions, lettuce, and tomato.

Again, there isn’t anything overly fancy about the food or even the menu — it just tastes great. And it looks real. Like if I had the equipment they have at my house, well, this is what I’d want my burger to look like. You know what I mean?

A better way of putting it, I suppose, is to say that, unlike McDonald’s or Burger King, their food actually looks like the picture. And it taste’s even better.

Still, though, it’s another Pepsi restaurant. I hope they get a great deal on it though cause, let’s be honest, Pepsi tastes like crap.

Roy Rogers:
Oh how I miss Roy Rogers.

There used to be one in town — long before I lived here — but it’s been a revolving door of restaurants for years since.

Roy Rogers is a roast beef and chicken fast food joint that’s on the decline. Over the past decade or so, they’ve all but withdrawn from New England and I can’t imagine why — they were always busy and their food was consistently perfect.

Not an easy task.

At Roy’s, I’d always order the regular Roast Beef Sandwich. Nothing fancy but *so* much better than anything rival Arby’s could offer.

See, Arby’s meat has that slimy mystery meat feel to it — it’s like brown ham or something. I challenge anyone to deny that.

And what’s with the bubbles in their meat? It’s like overcooked carbonated ham from a cow dipped in fake butter. Gross!!!

Roy Rogers’ meat actually has the consistancy of, well, roast beef that you’d get at the deli. Further, their barbeque sauce is the perfect compliment to roast beef. Seriously, I’d drink the stuff.

Sadly, I fear their days are numbered. Many have been replaced by Arby’s (ugh!)and those that are still in business, well, it just seems like a chain slowly riding off into the sunset.

They still have a firm grip on the rest stops on the New York State Thruway but, well, foot court style eateries are never as good as the stand alone buildings. Still… I’m thankful they still exist.

Swiss Chalet:
This is another Canadian chain. There are a few that dot the border on the US side but they’re few and far between.

Swiss Chalet is a chicken ‘n ribs themed sit down restaurant. Not all phony like a Chili’s or Outback but still a full sit down type of place.

Not being a fan of ribs, I’ve always ordered the “Chicken Carver Sandwich” where you get your choice or white or dark meat. I never offer a preference so I’m assuming that I’m always given the dark meat.

Totally fine by me — when it’s in the bun, I can’t tell the difference anyway. The fries at Swiss Chalet leave something to be desired — they’re not fast food style fries — but they have this gravy/dressing that’s unlike anywhere else. I used to hate it but now I dip my sandwich in it before every single bite.

At the conclusion of the meal — probably more for the rib eaters — they bring out a finger bowl with a lemon slice in it. Neat touch. Useless but memorable.

Frankies / Big Frank’s:
Frankies and the related Big Frank’s Big BBQ are a regional chain with locations in Connecticut and, apparently, Florida too. It’s a quick service hot dog serving greasy spoon type of place.

At Frankies I order something called a “Mondo Burger”. As you can imagine, it’s a super greasy double (or triple) patty covered in cheese with all of the toppings you can imagine. You know, the type of burger where, following the first bite, your palms are soaked in hot grease with some extra running down your forearms.

At their slightly more upscale BBQ themed place, Big Frank’s, I order the Beef Brisket Sandwich. It’s hardly beef brisket, more of a thick well done Steam ‘Um type of meat, but it’s served on an amazing fresh bun. I’d love to know where they get their buns — they’re like elongated Portugeuse rolls.

Their in-house BBQ sauces complete the meal. It’s not true beef brisket, no, but it tastes great!

Steak ‘n Shake:
Twenty-four hour dining at its finest. Having grown tired of Denny’s dated and, well, overly-breakfast themed menu, someone had to start serving better food at all hours and Steak ‘n Shake delivers!

I first ate at a Steak ‘n Shake in the wee hours of the morning somewhere in Ohio while making an overnight drive from Hartford, Connecticut to Lafayette, Indiana. Let’s just say that I was thrilled to be able to order a burger and a Coke at an ungodly hour…

Since that night, err, morning, I’ve always ordered one of their SteakBurgers. I’m not certain why they call it that — it ain’t steak, that’s for certain.

They have these tiny french fries too that you’d expect to be kinda limp and mooshy but they never seem to be. No clue how they manage.

Eitherway, it’s good food at an amazing price especially when considering that it’s still a sit down type of restaurant. Oddly enough, though, I’ve never had a milkshake there…

Checkers:
The first time I ate at a Checkers was back in 1997. I was on vacation in Florida and it was pretty late, we were sick of McDonald’s and Burger King, this place was open. I ordered two CheckerBurgers.

Well, let’s just say that I haven’t been to a McDonald’s or Burger King in the State of Florida since 1997.

Plain and simple, this is fast food. Most locations are nothing more than a drive through with a few concrete tables outside but, for whatever reason, their burgers are a cut above any of their competitors. You know, like Wendy’s, McD’s, BK…

They’re super cheap too. Oh, and I should also mention that unlike some of the other fast food places, their stuff doesn’t go right through you.

You know what I’m talking about…

Yep, a Big Mac attack generally leads to a Crap Attack… Not so with Checkers.

Red Lobster:
Okay, I know you’re thinking, “Wow — how can seafood make this list?”

Well, guess who’s fries are awesome?

My menu item of choice at Red Lobster doesn’t come on a bun — I *always* order a double portion of Alaskan Snow Crab legs — with fries as my side.

I’ve always managed to clean my plate and though a lot of seafood snobs rate Red Lobster about as high as Long John Silvers, well, they’re wrong and should give Red Lobster another try.

It’s just as good — and I’ve found better — than the more expensive (an imaginarily exclusive) seafood restaurants out there.

White Castle:
Laugh if you like but there’s just something about those tiny burgers… They shouldn’t taste good but they just do…

Yeah, the service usually sucks and the atmosphere is pretty McDonald’s like but there just something different about a fast food place with crinkle cut fries.

In some ways, it’s a shame that they’ve expanded their menu so much over the years but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, I suppose.

And thankfully they’re a Coca-Cola establishment!

3 1755

So while paying my utility bills this month, something I do online, I was for the first time nagged to sign up for their Budget Billing plan.

The idea is that your electric bill (or gas or water) will be the same amount every month so you can more easily budget.

Though it sounds like a relatively good idea, I’ve always had a negative connotation towards that sort of thing as if it’s for folks who are incapable of managing their money or for folks on welfare or something. I’m not sure why.

In short — it’s not for me.

But since both my electric supplier and my natural gas supplier (both actually the same company operating under different names) nagged me, twice even — or four times if you count the nagging on both sites while trying to pay my bills this morning, I decided to click on the little “more info” link for, well, more info.

Here’s the deal.

If I sign up for Budget Billing my monthly electric bill would be $133 and my monthly gas bill would be $132.

Taking into account that I was in the process of making payments of $183 and $301, respectively, it seemed like a pretty good sales pitch.

It was probably what triggered the nag screen to come up on both sites, actually.

But is it really a good deal?

I mean, why would they offer that?

What’s in it for them — besides a more reliable and steady revenue stream?

They’ve gotta be pocketing something along the way…

Unsure of where they reach their “budget” number, the “more info” link didn’t say, I have to assume that it has something to do with my usage history so I broke down the numbers by referring back to my most recent annual utility expense chart.

Crunching the numbers, in 2010, my average electric bill was $144 and my average natural gas bill was $133.

Wow.

I wasn’t expecting either number to be spot on but the gas bill pretty much was… Let’s ignore that one for now.

So, throughout 2010, I was paying an average of $144 per month for electricity.

Why on earth would they offer to “lower” my bill, upfront, by $11 dollars?

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, I’d bet that that’s why they’re offering it… There has to be a catch, right?

I thought about it some more…and then I remembered an article I’d read in the paper a few months ago…

Here’s an excerpt:

New electric rates that will result in lower monthly bills for residential customers of Connecticut Light & Power were approved Wednesday by the Department of Public Utility Control.

Under the new rates, which go into effect Jan. 1, CL&P residential customers will be charged 17.6 cents per kilowatt hour, down from 19.1 cents last year — the rate since 2009.

A typical CL&P residential customer using 700 kilowatt hours a month should save $10.41 a month. Next year’s average monthly bill should be $123.85 compared with $134.27 in January 2010, a 7.8 percent decrease.

Well, that explains it…

So I guess “Budget Billing” isn’t a scam and it isn’t a rip-off either.

Still, though, it’s not for me.

I’d much rather pay a $300 bill now and know that come August, that same bill will only be $30…

1 696

Well, it wasn’t as opulent as October (when I spent $18k+) but I still ended up spending a lot more than I’d expected to this past month.

Here are the details:

  • $1190.61 : Toyota (auto repairs)
  • $721.00 : Homeowners Insurance
  • $535.39 : Family
  • $498.72 : Mortgage
  • $211.12 : Electricity
  • $143.67 : Water/Sewer
  • $135.64 : Allstate Insurance
  • $116.14 : Cable/Internet
  • $114.44 : Natural Gas
  • $113.60 : Business Expenses
  • $91.70 : Gas
  • $85.00 : Connecticut DMV
  • $69.55 : PODs
  • $55.93 : Finance Charges
  • $23.30 : Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • $7.39 : Home Depot

All together, that adds up to $4113.20.

The car repairs were a budget killer, for sure.

The homeowners insurance premium was something that I’d forgotten about. It hurt the wallet too but I’m still so thankful to have conventional insurance finally. It’s been two years now since that whole problem kept me up at night.

The family expenses, well, there are a number of expenses that I combined into one heading that made up this number (and more to come in December) and, well, I just wish the circumstances that led to them were different.

Mortgage is the same old story — a great deal! Still can’t believe that I get to own this place for less than half of what a rat infested apartment goes for.

All of utilities were all up significantly since it’s gotten quite cold outside.

The POD storage container is finally out of the driveway — so this month’s bill was the final one.

And I have no idea what I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $23. I remember being in the store but can’t remember what I walked out with. The Home Depot charge was for an overpriced light bulb.

Can You Dig It?

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