Category Archives: Spending

Smartphone Addiction: Does it Apply to You or Someone You Know?

First off, I have to say: I’ve had a smartphone for a few years now.  About 3 years, actually.  I enjoy it, and do think that it’s become something I count on to a degree.  It’s one of those things that once you have become accustomed to having it, the times in the past with a flip phone seem like the olden days.  Days without a cellphone seem like the stone ages!

Nevertheless, I’ll draw a line at a certain point.  For example, when thinking about how often to upgrade a smartphone, many people want to it as quickly as their agreement will allow.  Some even go faster than the ubiquitous 2 year agreement, and upgrade even sooner.  They can’t help themselves! Addicted to new technology, perhaps?

Well, for me it’s worth waiting that extra year.  I’m in year 3, and am thinking about replacing it in the next few months.  It certainly didn’t hurt me over the last year to have a smartphone that was cutting edge back in 2010!

Another phone addiction that many people seem to have is, well, using the phone itself! Not just buying a new phone, but using the one you have all the time.  As in, checking your phone constantly, no matter what the situation.

This came to mind recently when I was at a local restaurant and saw what appeared to be a teenager and his grandmother out for lunch.  It seemed as though the grandma was taking her grandson out for his birthday.   Kind of neat to see something like this, actually.

Of course, aside from all the goodwill that comes from going out for 1:1 time with a grandparent, is the reality that the kid must actually pay attention to the grown-up as well.  This is where the kid wasn’t quite being fair.  I just couldn’t help but notice that periodically while his grandmother was talking to him, he would be looking down at his phone.  He kept the phone under the table, out of sight from her.  However, it doesn’t take a whole lot of awareness or common sense for the other person (or anyone else around) to notice what you’re doing.

As an observer, it was clear that there is no way the person on the phone was paying attention to his dinner companion.

I’ve noticed this in professional situations as well.  In long meetings, people might periodically check phones.  It’s not just checking – it’s talking too.  Or perhaps I should say communicating, as they’re either emailing or texting.  For all I know, people could be tweeting.  Januarybe if they’re crazy, they could be blogging :)

This phenomenon is something I’ve noticed at a park too.  A mom with her kids saying “Mom! Mom!”, trying to get her attention, were met with silence.  She was busy on her phone.  Not doing anything important, I’m sure, as it was on a weekend.  But she was very distracted, not even able to pay attention to the kids who were asking for her.

Anyway, when you step back and watch someone ignore another person (or people), it makes one wonder if you do this on occasion yourself.  And, it’s eye opening just how disrespectful it looks.

It sure doesn’t feel disrespectful when I check email, or text someone.  What’s 30 seconds to send a message or two?

Well, when we watch others do it in that type of context, it just doesn’t look good all the time.  It almost seems like the person on the phone is addicted to the smartphone.  Am I addicted to my smartphone?  I don’t think so, even though I like it.  But the line between liking the phone and being hooked on is probably more gray than meets the eye.

Readers, if you have a smartphone, are you addicted to it? Have you seen others that are hooked on smartphones? What are your thoughts on this phenomenon of people always checking their phones seemingly constantly?

Why Pay for Bottled Water?

It seems like a lot of things we really need in life cost money.  Okay – most things do.  Shelter – where you live – costs money.  As does transportation, clothing, insurance, and many other things that are needed in day-to-day life.  One of those “other” things includes food and water.  Can’t go too long without either, particularly water!

Speaking of water, this is one area where some people spend a good deal of money.  Now, of course water isn’t totally free for us, since we usually have to pay a water bill each month.  However, a glass of tap water is not that expensive at all.  Even if it cost you a couple of pennies, that’s next to nothing for a glass of water.

That’s right – something we absolutely need is that cheap!

Despite this, there are people that will spend money on buying bottled water outside.  That might make sense for some people living where tap water is of poor quality, but probably not for most people living in technologically advanced nations.  Certainly, here in the U.S., we can say that mid-size or larger cities should likely have good enough water that we can drink.  Januarybe we could filter it, but that’s not overly expensive.

All this being said, why buy bottled water?  I think it might have limited use, such as if you kept a bottle or two in the car for emergencies, or even at home for that purpose.  Buying in bulk, perhaps one could pay $0.10 to $0.15 per bottle.

But for day-to-day life? Why spend that kind of money on water? I’ve seen people buy bottled water daily at work (in a prior workplace), at quick-serve restaurants, out of vending machines, and many other places.  I’ve even seen people buy water at coffee shops – when they could just ask for a cup of water for free with their other purchases.

The savings one could earn by cutting out such purchases could be significant, depending on their habits.  It’s sort of like that commonly known (in personal finance circles, anyway!) concept of cutting out that expensive coffee drink each day, and watching the savings add up.  The difference with water is that you can get an alternative – tap water – that probably has very little difference to what you would pay for.

So, why buy water? One could always bring a refillable container, or simply use a water fountain, right?

Readers, what do you think of the concept of buying bottled water instead of just having tap water? How often do you buy bottled water?


Do You Buy Organic?

Many of us care about being responsible with nutrition.  Because of that, the reality that there are so many claims that people might make about food makes it easy to let yourself believe a lot of them.  They might not guarantee that the food is healthy anyway, no matter how much you might pay.

Terms such as the following come to mind:

  • Light
  • Low Fat
  • Low Carb
  • Natural
  • All Natural
  • Healthy

When you think about it, just because something is “low fat”, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good for you.  Plenty of candy is low fat, yet loaded with sugar that makes it less than healthy.  Also, big mound of greasy bacon strips might be low in carbs relative to other options, but that doesn’t make it supremely healthy. Not by a long shot.  The same principle applies to the other descriptors.  The “natural” label is one that I find humorous sometimes.

Anyway, if these labels don’t necessarily guarantee that something is going to be healthy, then would they be worth a premium? In other words, would you pay more for food with them?

One label that I didn’t mention above is one that I think many people would pay a premium for.  That is, food that is labeled organic.

I know of a few people that would swear by organic food choices, to the point of seeming obsessed.  Stores seem to oblige by offering many organic options, though quite naturally (there’s that natural word again!) there is often a nice surcharge for the privilege of buying organic.  I’ve seen things like strawberries and spinach for $1 more each, for an organic container versus or non-organic option.  If you want to buy something like organic macaroni and cheese (yes, I’ve seen this), you can knock yourself out and do this too.  The more you buy, the more it adds up the expenses for you, and the revenue for someone else.

Organic is almost a way of life for some people.  It seems like it’s expensive at times, and often I wonder just how much benefit one really gets for the extra money spent. Perhaps there is some, but I’m guessing it varies by product.  The ROI – or return on investment of funds spent on organic food, is somewhat unclear to me.  I don’t doubt that there could be some benefits, it’s just the notion of quantifying them and making sure that they’re worth the extra money that’s the question.

These days, I might go out of my way to buy organic dairy.  Perhaps organic spinach or kale.  Not much else though, at least not that I can think of offhand.  Though some other things I buy happen to be organic, but it’s not a matter of me going out of my way to do so.

What about you?

Readers, do you regularly buy organic? If so, what types of items and why? If not, what are your reasons?

Finding a Way to Get Things For Free

Free = good.  Well, not always, as sometimes we do get what we pay for.  But if you can get something of value for little or no cost, it’s pretty cool.

Januarybe I get a bit more excited that some folks do over such things, but sometimes it just feels great to score a deal.  It’s even more fun when it’s something that required a small bit of resourcefulness to make it happen.

I had one of those situations recently, when I was – of all things – planning to see a movie.  It was an evening of going to dinner and movie, and the latter wouldn’t involve any matinee prices.  Rather, we’re talking about full price theater tickets.  In this suburban locale, they weren’t going to cheap, despite prices at this theater being somewhat reasonable.

So, we were at dinner, and it hit me that a few years ago I had earned some “Fandango Bucks”.  Basically, these are dollars that can be applied to a purchase through Fandango, where you can get movie tickets in advance.  I had earned $15 of credit via a work function from 2.5 years ago, a place where I actually no longer work.  Anyway, it was a “reward” for members of the winning team in some type of strategy team building sessions.  Yeah, we were in a big conference room, divided up into groups, trying to brainstorm a strategy to solve a business issue.

Anyway, I recall that my team had won, and they gave us each this email with a code that we could use to get $15 in credit toward use on Fandango.  The thing is, that was a few years back and I had forgotten about it.  All of a sudden, at dinner, I remembered that this was out there.  I then recalled that I had actually sent my self an email (personal email) with that code, just in case I lost it or left that job.   So, I quickly used my smart phone to check my personal email and guess what – I quickly found the code!

Next step was to go onto Fandango, apply the code, and get my free tickets.  Which, I did! The code was STILL valid after a few years!

The whole thing took Januarybe 6 or 7 minutes.  Don’t’ worry, I wasn’t being a rude dinner companion :)  It was all good.  Actually, it was great.  Thinking of a credit from a few years ago, then being able to utilize it via smartphone in just a couple minutes was cool.  Always nice to see a free movie!

Readers, have you ever been resourceful in getting goods or services free? Is there a recent example of when you’ve gotten something free that was pretty cool to you?

Is it Worth Getting a Safety Deposit Box?

Lock It Up!

Lock it up!

Sometimes we have important documents and possessions that we want to keep safe.  They might be things that we need but don’t reference every day.  In that case, we could choose to keep these things laying around the house, or we could find a secure location for them.  This is where getting a safety deposit box enters the picture.

I happen to have one.  It came with my bank account, as I have direct deposit and keep a minimum balance in there.  No annual fee for the safety deposit box, so it works for me!  That being said, even if it cost a reasonable fee every year, I think it would be worth it for me.

Is it worth it for everyone?  Well, I think it would depend on each person’s situation, and the need to keep certain things safe.  Again, we’re talking about valuable items or documents to keep safe in a separate place.  Along those lines, here is a balanced list of 3 pros and 3 cons of getting a safety deposit box:

Reasons to Have a Safety Deposit Box

  1. The bank should (one would hope!) be safer than your home.  No guarantees, of course! But to access a safety deposit box, one has to show an ID, along with actually having a key to the box. At least, that’s how it works with mine.  The box is in a seemingly secure vault room.  Do you have such a room in your home?  Probably not, and I don’t personally know anyone that does!
  2. Thieves can find and remove your home safe.  You January be good at hiding things, but let’s be real – if a bad guy wanted to search for a safe, he could probably find it.  Further, it’s not like most home safes couldn’t be carried out.
  3. Insurance savings.  In some cases, insurance on individual items might be lower if they are housed in a safety deposit box versus at home.

Reasons to Not Have a Safety Deposit Box

  1. Items are not with you all the time.  If you need to access those items, you’ll have to go through the trouble of going to the bank. Additionally, you’ll have to deal with going during your bank’s open hours, which aren’t always friendly to the schedules of working folks!
  2. Not FDIC Insured.  This applies to those in the U.S, but those elsewhere can check on local policies.  Anyway, from what I understand, if funds are in accounts, they could be FDIC insured.  However this doesn’t apply to contents in safety deposit boxes.
  3. They cost money.  Yes, we discussed this up front.  However, depending on the bank, the costs January be reasonable or on the expensive side.  Let’s say you keep items worth $3,000 in a box that costs $60 per year.  You’re really paying 2% of the value of the items each year.  Do this over 5 years, and you’re looking at 10% of the value.  Just an example of how costs add up.

Readers, do you have a safety deposit box? Why or why not? Any other reasons for or against that you would like to share?


I’m Cool With “The Joneses” Looking More Successful

Image matters to all of us, to some degree.  If anybody says that they genuinely don’t care about what other people think about them, on any dimension for any reason – I won’t believe it.  We all care a little bit about what others think about us, at least for some things.

For each of us, that could mean different things.  Some people want to appear better looking than others.  Others want to be seen as funnier.  Some want to be seen as nicer, or of better character.  To a lot of people, being more “well traveled” is something they really want to be know for.  Yet others really want to appear more financially successful.

That latter group is one which I’ve tried to distance myself from.  Not in the sense of disassociating with such people, because that’s not the case.  Just because someone is competitive in that way, it doesn’t mean that they are bad people in any way.

Rather, what I mean is that I’ve tried to become less and less like that.

For one thing, there are some people I know who have truly become very successful financially, and now have more means than me.  Trying to worry about keeping up with them would just get me to spend more money that I should.  If I spend that money, then I’d be keeping up appearances and would be even.  However, I’d be paying the financial price for it.  These people aren’t overly materialistic anyway.

There are also folks who simply don’t have the means to buy some things they do, but they buy them anyway.  These people, in contrast to those who I mentioned above, are materialistic.  They desperately want to appear successful, and will spend their money to keep up an image.  They are always mentioning new things they bought, and you can see their desire to feel important just dripping from their mouths as they speak.  It doesn’t make sense to spend money to “compete” with such people.

To me, what’s most important is living within my means, having a chance to retire someday, and Januarybe achieve a financial freedom goal - at least to some degree.

Along those lines, I don’t think it matters too much how other people perceive us financially.  If someone thinks you’re moderately successful but not have not achieved great success, is that a problem? Not for me.

I’d rather fly under the radar :)

Readers, how much does it matter to you how successful others think you are? Do you ever get motivated to buy things to keep up with others (and thus keep appearances), or would you rather deliberately stay low key?

How Do You Save on Travel Expenses?

Everybody likes to travel, right?  Well, Januarybe not everybody.  I’ve met a few folks over the years who expressly stated that they didn’t like to travel and would like to stay at home instead.  But for most of us, traveling has some value.  For some, it’s a huge pastime.

Personally, at one time I traveled a ton.  Been all over the US and Canada, as well as through Europe and a few countries in Asia.  These days, I very rarely travel and simply do not have the time to do so.  Also, I watch my money a LOT more, and have a lot more necessary expenses than in the past, given that I have kids.  Until you have them, you don’t appreciate A) what an incredible blessing they are, and B) how much it really costs to raise them.

Back to traveling though – it’s often an expensive endeavor.  This is why I really try to save money on traveling if I ever choose to do it these days.  Along those lines, here are 5 Ways to Save on Travel Expenses:

Travel Off-Peak

This isn’t always the most fun option, as it’s nice to travel during certain times the year that are convenient, or offer the best weather.  However, if you travel during times that aren’t the most popular, you just might be able to save money.   For example, let’s say you’re in a cold weather locale.  Traveling to a very warm climate around the winter holidays, or around Spring Break, might be more difficult in terms of finding flights and accommodations at a price that fits your budget.  Simply traveling at different times that don’t have the same rush, or general appeal, would be a way to cut the costs while enjoying a visit to the same place.

Airline Miles

For some years now, I’ve had a credit card with no annual fee which has given me airline miles.   Now, I pretty much never think about the rewards when I’m considering making purchases, and often forget that I even earn miles.  Literally, I’m only reminded of it when I get a periodic email giving me a summary of miles earned.  Thankfully they send those :)  Anyway, this has helped me with travel costs.  For example, in the last trip I took, I used mileage to book 2 round trip tickets for us for free!  That made the trip much more manageable from a cost perspective.

Shopping Online for The Best Deals

There are so many sites out there to search for the best flights and hotel deals, that it can be dizzying.  You can simply google the terms and find a variety of options.  The thing is, it’s worth taking a little bit of time to look for great deals.  They can be found.

I’ve enjoyed getting hotel room through Priceline that have been incredible deals.  I’ve done this on a few trips, and came away really glad I took that approach.  The hotel rooms ended up being at a big, big discount from the listed rates.  Which is great since I don’t want to pay listed, full price – and with some searching, we don’t always have to.

Use Alternate Airports

This January not be an option where you live – but if it is, you should consider looking at alternate airports.  For example, I’ve booked a few flights that were at an airport about an extra 1 hour further away than the major hub I would normally fly out of.  This smaller airport didn’t offer the direct flight I wanted, but through connections I was able to get to the destination cheaper.  Just one stop, flying from the smaller, alternate airport, and I save some decent money.  Not to mention that parking was less too!

Pack Smartly

By this I mean, keep in mind the checked bag fees that have become normal in recent years.  It really pays to travel light, and really analyze whether or not it’s worth paying more to take more.  Often, you can get away with taking less than you might think you can.  Backups and alternate outfits aren’t always necessary.

Also, packing food for the airport or road trips is a good idea too.  I once had to pay over $12 for a sub sandwich at a regular, U.S. airport! Now, I was traveling on business so I didn’t care as much as I would have otherwise.  After all, they made me travel!  However, imagine a family of 4 doing that.  It would be almost $50.  Simply packing food from home can save a TON of money.

Readers, what are your tips for saving money on travel? Have you used any of these?  Any others?


Don’t Pay Cash – Just Charge it on a Credit Card Instead!

Charge It!Cash is king, as the saying from the world of finance goes.  Ultimately, if you have it, you’re at an advantage over a situation where you offer up promises to pay.  After all, wouldn’t you rather sell something to someone paying in cash, instead of the next person who tells you they will pay the same price but pay you later?

When it comes to buying, and being on the shopper side of things, there are many people who prefer to pay in cash.  The notion of using a credit card to buy things gives some people cold sweats, shivers, and other assorted fun reaction.  To some, credit cards represent a path to potential financial problems.  To the point where it might even seem unusal for a personal finance blog to actually suggest using a credit card!

Personally, I don’t see it that way.  Instead of paying cash, I will just put it on a credit card.  Yep, don’t worry about having the money on you at that exact moment of purchase. Just pull out the card and charge away!  Buy now, pay later.  Isn’t that so much easier?

Here’s the trick though – I will pay off the credit card bill in full, every month!  Without fail.  I think it’s been at least a decade since I carried a credit card balance from one month to the next, and even then it happened because I was on vacation out of the country.  It wasn’t on purpose.

Here’s why I like to charge instead of using cash:

Easier to Track Expenses

Paying cash, one needs to specifically record each transaction manually, if you choose to keep track and categorize expenses.  With a credit card, this can be done automatically.  There are platforms available, as many of us know, to simply automate tracking to some degree.  Not that you’re guaranteed that all expenses would automatically be allocated to the perfect categories right away, but there can be significanly less work for you through automation.

No Need to Carry Change

Want to buy something that costs something other than an even dollar amount? In that case, be ready to carry change around.  Let’s say you buy something that costs $10.63.  You’ll probably hand over a $20 bill, and get back $9 in some combination of bills (either $5 bill and 4 $1 bills, or 9 $1 bills), as well as 37 cents.  That could be in whatever combination is convenient for the merchant.

After multiple transactions, this loose change can add up.  After a while, you’ll want to take all your accumulated loose coins, and cash it in for – well, cash itself, as in bills.  Or Januarybe a store credit, depending where you redeem.  Perhaps it will go to the bank.  Either way, you might pay a fee, in addition to dealing with the minor inconvenience of dealing with all those coins.

By charging, you don’t have to deal with any of this.

Rewards Points

Credit cards can have different rewards points systems.  For me, it’s airline points.  With no annual fee, I’m simply accumulating points with purchases!  Of course, we should NOT be tempted to buy things for the side benefit of the points.  Getting them shouldn’t have any role in influencing what we buy, but they’re a nice side benefit if treated as simply a small bonus.  I’ve bought two round trip tickets this way.

Additional Reasons:  There is also the avoidance of going to ATMs to get cash, some level of theft protection, and Januarybe even purchase protection.

Overall, I have been going with credit cards lately.  My cash purchases have generally been only when credit isn’t an option.  A big key is that having a credit card does not tempt me to buy any more than I would buy with cash.  If that is the kind of discipline a person has, then there can be a lot of advantages to using a credit card instead of cash!

How Often Do You Upgrade Your Phone?

Ancient Phone

Januarybe this was a “smart” phone in its day?

First off, I’m NOT talking about a landline here.  Just to get that clarification out there, up front :)

In terms of buying a new phone – smartphone at that – there seems to be a culture here in the U.S. where replacing it every 2 years is the norm.  Januarybe not among all people, but people who can feasibly afford a smartphone seem to look to replace it every two years.

Why? Well, there’s the little aspect of a 2 year agreement that many folks seem to have.  I’ve had a few people tell me that as soon as their agreement was up, they immediate sought out a new phone.  That 2 year time marker was the signal to go phone shopping.  Apparently, everybody “must” upgrade phones at that time.  Or so some people say.

I had this conversation with some friends a few months back, and the people are really solid, sensible folks.  They’re good with their money, and don’t overspend much.  Yet, they’re a lot of fun.  That’s a good combination!

Anyway, I was good-naturedly teased a bit for not wanting to upgrade my phone right away.  You see, my 2 years have been up for many months – to the point where soon, it will be 3 years since my last upgrade.  They simply couldn’t understand why I would use such an “outdated” phone when I could instead go pick up a new iPhone.  To them, it was almost incomprehensible that I would be so hesitant to do that, and instead use a phone well over 2 years old.

Here’s the thing: just because a 2-year agreement is up, it doesn’t mean that you need to get a new phone.  Besides, a new phone that’s cutting edge isn’t likely to be free anyway with another agreement.  Additionally, if the phone you have still works well, what are you truly missing? So why spend when you don’t have to do so.

Let’s say you replace phones every 2 years.  This means, through 6 years, you will have used 3 phones before your next upgrade.  If you upgrade every 3 years instead, it will mean 2 phones are used in 6 years before your next upgrade.  You’ll save on the cost of a phone, just by stretching out each purchase by a year.

To me, it’s a case of wants vs. needs.  Yet, for many, any new technology within a product category might be perceived as a “need”.  I think at some point in time it might eventually become a need, but an immediate upgrade is usually a “want”.

Readers, what do you think about phone upgrades? How often do you replace your phone? Do you get very tempted to upgrade as soon as possible, or do you prefer to use your existing phone for as long as feasible?