Raves


This Labor Day weekend I decided to stroll down memory lane and catch up with some personal finance bloggers that I enjoyed reading over the years and much to my surprise I find that most of them have either sold out and moved on or have left their blogs hanging out to dry in the Internet sun unattended.

I must admit that I’ve been a very infrequent blogger but I have very valid excuses:

  1. I have been traveling the world
  2. I am at my career peak and I am in very high demand
  3. I am trying to make the most of my time left with my teenage kids before they head off to college
  4. I am trying to make plans for the future (more global travel) over the next few years and that takes considerable planning

First up is My 1st Million at 33 which I read rather regularly a few years ago seems to be sporadically posting now.

I just clicked on Free Money Finance and see that his blog was abandoned about a year ago but seems to potentially be starting a new one.

Classics like The Simple Dollar and Get Rich Slowly have both sold out and posts are now more “advertainment” than anything useful.  There are many more but I won’t list them here since many are simply defunked.   It is good to see Lazy Man and Money going strong still though.

I remember the great debates around “frugality vs capitalism” or “buy new vs buy used” or “spend less vs earn more” and all that seems dead now.     I can only surmise that many of the finance bloggers were in a similar situation to me…started blog in 30s and is now in 40s and have better uses for free time than blogging.

Well it took forever but a few weeks ago I got my four brand new iPhone 5S’s for everyone.   The day I got them I had a flight out to Sweden and when I landed was greeted with a cheerful text message from T-mobile that all my web in Sweden would be “free” and true to their word, it worked like a champ.

T-Mobile has finally started doing things right….getting the iPhone in its device portfolio, offering unlimited data (on certain plans), and free web internationally in most countries.   I’ll be a solid customer for life as long as they keep this up!

And as much as I hated the thought of using that fingerprint scanner I find it quite useful and now find myself putting my thumb on my iPad which doesn’t have the scanner!

I opted to pay full price for the phones to the tune of about $3200 because I happened to sign up for a new Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card which gave me 40,000 in points (equivalent of $500).    With that and the $600 I’ll get by selling the iPhone 4S that I have I’ve reduced the price of my new phones down to $2200 and on a new lower data plan, I’m happy with the overall value.

 

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure you will.   Comcast has 25mb internet + HBO GO + Basic Cable TV for $39.99.   There is also an $8/month modem fee which brings the total price up to about $47 and I’m sure there are taxes and fees too.

But the bottom line is that it’s a great deal.  I currently pay $50/month for 12mb of internet on Uverse with no HBO and no basic cable so it’s a no-brainer for me.

I will now get access to the great shows on HBO, faster internet, and some basic cable for less than I’m paying now and I can’t complain because this is EXACTLY what I’ve been asking for: a-la-carte programming.

Sure it’s not 100% a-la-carte programming yet but over the next few years it will be and I’m ready to show that I’m eager to provide the demand if the supply exists.

What remains to be seen is how well the service will run since I had problems with Comcast many, many, years ago that I dumped them in favor of AT&T but quite honestly, AT&T has done nothing for me lately.

Good by AT&T, maybe someday you’ll have the wits to offer a-la-carte programming and internet.

I dropped by my local Costco to pick up my usual month’s worth of groceries and was shocked to see Halloween items all over the place but even more shocking were all the Christmas items stacked up.   Really Costco Christmas?    If Costco is selling Christmas in August (one month after July) the logically it should start selling bikinis and beach balls in the dead of winter right?

I love Costco except for the way they are always out of season.   Summer/Spring items are sold in Winter, Winter items are now sold during the summer and it’s just plain crazy.   Ironically, the stuff will probably fly off the shelves anyway because some people are just shop crazy.

 

The last time I had a long decent holiday in Europe was a visit to France almost a decade ago.   The euro was coming into play and at parity with the US dollar.   I remember my flight cost about $600 and the hotels for my entire stay was fairly affordable.  I visited the wine country in Angers.    We decided to take a European holiday this year visiting France, Italy and Spain and the price tag so far is over $15,000.    The air flight alone were about $6,000 and the hotels are pretty pricey in euros with the current exchange rate about 1 euro per $1.30 but still it will be worth it to enjoy a nice time in Europe.

The biggest problem Europe has though is that most hotels only accommodate 3 people and then require you to book a second room if you have four or five people with you.  European hotels are the most anti-family friendly places on earth!    Given that problem, we opted to rent a house in one spot and other accommodations elsewhere.

I am really astonished at how much going to Europe costs and reminds me why we’ve largely stayed away.   Of course I recently had my roof replace for 13k then my son’s tuition for school came due with first payment of 10k and now another 15k for Europe.   So I’ve easily spent 38k in about 3 months and that doesn’t include any of the extras for the trip like new digital camera to take great photos, the tux, or my upcoming MBA tuition for the Fall or the 20k I plunked down  on my mortgage to get down to less than 10k.  I decided I would take surplus cash and eliminate all debt by the end of the year.  Even with interest rates at 3% it doesn’t make sense to carry debt even at this low interest rate when cash is sitting not earning any real interest.

If all my goals hold, by the end of the year I won’t have a single dime of debt except for a student loan that’s now at 1.85% interest due to some fancy debt arbitrage.   I guess this time next year I’ll go on a really nice Australian/South Pacific vacation!

I got an email from Amazon to try out the new “college book rental” program and I thought I’d give it a chance.   Much to my surprise, I found the offerings quite beneficial to me.   I looked up all my books for the three classes I will be taking this fall and all of them are available for rental at significant cost reduction.    The list price of many of the books is about $150 to $200 but the rentals vary about $50 to $75 for most.

Since I will likely keep books of my major (finance) and quickly sell back or discard the other garbage I have to take (management, accounting) it seems like a worthwhile endeavor to rent the books.    In all honestly, I hardly use the textbooks instead relying on things like YouTube or other online lectures from high end schools to understand material when I get stuck.   Since I’m taking mostly online classes, I have become accustomed to finding my own answers on the web than relying on professors who aren’t ever around or too busy trying to impress noobs.

I am glad students now have at least a new option buy new, buy used, or rent.    If history is any indication, this will significantly drive down the cost of books over the long haul.   I can’t wait to start the semester, I’ll soon be done with the MBA program and ready to get back to blogging.

Amazon, thank you for moving things in the right direction perhaps this will be the start of the end of the college book cartel.

Rarely does a product satisfy me to the level that Roku has since I purchased it a few months ago.   To go back in time, my kids kept begging me for fancy smartphones and I finally broke down and offered them a choice phones or cable TV.  Much to my surprise, the kids chose phones over TV so I cancelled my AT&T Uverse subscription at the start of the year.

Having spent quite a bit of money on two large screen LED TVs the year before I didn’t want the screens to go to waste so I picked up Roku boxes and hooked them up to my TV.   It took a bit of getting used to but the kids finally adapted and have been finding show after show on the internet to watch without giving me any grief whatsoever.

As a primer, the Roku boxes cost about $60 each and then you subscribe to services (many are free).  So far the only paid subscriptions I have are Netflix ($8/month), HuluPlus ($8/month) and AmazonPrime Streaming (free with Amazon Prime).    I’ve finally been able to catch up on shows everyone talked about years ago.  I’ve managed to watch 7 seasons of “24” and the kids seem to like a variety of shows on HuluPlus including Grimm with limited commercial interruption.

It is becoming very obvious to me that cable companies are in real trouble when it comes to the internet.   The only thing missing is a “Steve Jobs” type person to put the pieces together and essentially bankrupt the cable provides like Amazon bankrupted brick and mortar book stores.    I think Roku is doing a great job but there are a few cons.
Con #1 – Organization.  There is simply so much content on too many channels that it’s difficult to organize, sort and find something.   There needs to be a “Genius” like feature to help find similar shows people like to watch.

Con #2 – Pay vs. Free.  The biggest oddity in the internet TV field is the odd mix of FREE shows vs. paid shows.   I have essentially stopped using my AppleTV box because almost everything on there is pay-per-episode and it’s FREE on Netflix or HuluPlus.    Why would I pay iTunes?    The only difference is that AppleTV has newer shows while Netflix and HuluPlus have older content but for someone that missed out on countless shows they’re all new to me anyway.

Con #3 – Navigation.  This needs to be improved on HuluPlus, Netflix and other channels on Roku but it’s functional just not exceptional.

I’ve watched great shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, 24, Downton Abbey and many others that I have queued up to watch when I get some free time.  We’ve reached the tipping point where there is so much content coming out of the internet that cable subscription services are obsolete in my opinion.

Give Roku a tray and you may be surprised!  You have nothing to lose except that high cable tv bill!   Btw…you’ll still need to pay for high speed internet but it’s still worth every penny!

 

Once again, Apple has blown away my expectations with the iPhone 4S and to be honest it’s my first iPhone.  I own all other Apple products including Apple TV, iPad, MacBook Pro, iMac and a variety of ipods but the iPhone 4s is my favorite.

I waiting years for my carrier to get the iPhone and it just wouldn’t happen so I finally broke down and switched to Sprint after 15 years of loyalty with another carrier.

My favorite feature is Siri although she’s a bit of a cultural maroon unable to understand anything but the most common English names.  If you have friends or associates with names in Spanish, Indian, Arabic, Chinese or any other language don’t expect Siri to understand them!

 

This is for all the people that keep ribbing me about my iPad 2.  With the help of a company called SquareUp, I have now officially turned my ipad 2 into a cash register.   The way it works is you hook up a little credit card reader (sent free) to the 3.5mm jack and swipe the credit card and voila money changes hands.    The app is fun and easy to use and a few days later, money shows up magically in your bank account.

I will say the tech support is a bit rough since there isn’t anyone to call and support is handled via e-mail at the moment but once everything gets set up, banking accounts cleared, and transactions flow it works great and I highly recommend it.

Now you may ask what will I use this for?

Well for starters, the next time I have a garage sale, I’ll be able to take credit cards.  The next time someone borrows money, I’ll be able to say, “just give me your credit card and I’ll swipe it on my ipad!”

I am also contemplating using it for community efforts to raise money.  It seems that the parents of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts always seem to forget to bring their cash or checkbooks when fees for camping or annual membership are due but now I can swipe that credit card!

My son has expressed an interest in wanting to start a little business and now if he does, he can take credit cards after mowing lawns.   If you have a daughter that babysits, now the magic of paying with a credit card is readily available.   By the way, you don’t need an ipad, it works with an iPhone as well!

There is a somewhat steep 2.75% charge for  using the service but with no monthly fees it’s way better than anything else out there.

Once again, the iPad is a marvelous device transforming the world and I applaud Steve Jobs for creating it.   I can’t tell you how many things the ipad has replaced in my household.  The power, the beauty, the utility, and the simplicity is what will make this world a better place to live!

I’m convinced that the iPad is the computing platform of the future.   I know there are some shortcomings to the device but we’re in the first few generations of them and if you can think back to when the first Desktop PC  or Laptop came on to the market then you’ll remember how far we’ve come.

I did an experiment on Friday at the office.  I have been increasingly frustrated by my Windows 7 computer at work and I couldn’t understand why my frustration was increasing so here are a few observations I finally made:

When I take my 5 lb laptop and hook it up to the docking station and press the power button, it literally takes over 4 minutes before I get to the point where my e-mail is open.    To be fair to Microsoft, about half of that time is booting from third party encryption software but once I get the CONTROL+ALT+DELETE screen, it still takes over two minutes to get to my e-mail.    Outlook 2010 is so bloated that I just sit there and watch at the machine tries to open the app and start pulling e-mail.

Contrast this with my iPad which goes from a cold start to operational and pulling e-mail in 30 seconds!   Not only does it take 30 seconds but I get my Outlook e-mail on my iPad much sooner and faster than on my PC!   I am using an external keyboard on my iPad responding to e-mails before they even get in my Desktop PC!

The time difference between 30 seconds and 4 minutes may seem trivial but imagine 10,000 employees wasting 4 minutes or how about 100,000 employees wasting 4 minutes each day?  That’s somewhere on the order of magnitude of 40,000 to 400,000 minutes wasted each day!

I continue to grow a huge disdain for anything Microsoft; With Apple, “it just works” and with Microsoft, “it’s just crap.”

I was the first one in the office to own an iPad and after showcasing it to co-workers, they all want one and a few have already trickled in with at least 6 new iPads entering the office in a 2.5 month time period and some of those guys waited weeks to get them.

I think the clincher for the iPad is the form factor.  Mobile phone screens are just too small and with an aging population and poorer eyesight increasing, the move will be to larger screens not tiny 3″ inch screens on cell phones which are pretty useless unless you have the eyesight of a 12 year old.  On a similar note, my blackberry screen is so small and the browser so slow that it’s garbage compared to the iPad.    I hardly use my blackberry anymore because my iPad is faster, easier to use, and more legible than blackberry crap.

I can honestly attest that my productivity has gone up at least 20% with the iPad and some of the great apps I use to manage my day.   Some people balk at the steep price but when you consider the real value, it’s a no-brainer.

 

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