Saturday, August 27, 2011

Advanced Renting

Summer is the season for partying.  Between just Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day there’s enough celebration to make up for the rest of the year.  This is usually through excessive amounts of food and drink, and this deadly duo of digestion often leads to blurred vision and slurred speech, followed by vomiting on the side of your parents’ house and blaming it on your friend while he’s still sleeping, and telling everyone not to bring it up around him because he’ll be too embarrassed. 

I digress.  The problem with summer parties isn’t that Jeff painted the house in Yuengling and potato salad (at least that’s the story Ian told me, and that I shouldn’t mention it to Jeff), but that these parties are too expensive.  After you buy yourself a cooler, extra lighting, classy outdoor speakers camouflaged as rocks, and a barbeque, you’re too broke to think about anything fun. 

I don't know what I was expecting, but the first Google Image search I did to fill this area was "vomit".  Anyway, here's some delicious Lebanese Potato Salad from

The solution is to know the return policies of the big stores in your area and exploiting them as much as your conscience can handle*.  For example, Walmart will accept most returns within 90 days with a receipt.  Without a receipt, you can still get a cash refund if the item is under $25.  Anything over that and you get a gift card.  In addition, your driver license information is recorded for receipt-less returns so that you don’t make a habit of buying things on Amazon and then returning them to Walmart for a profit.  In short, feel free to splurge on the 80qt Steel Patio Cooler Cart because you’re going to be returning it anyway. 

Before you go out and try to set up your ultimate free party, understand the limits.  No one is going to take back your hotdogs, even with a receipt.  Also, if you’re seen trying to return 20 tiki torches, a $500 grill and a Dewalt worksite radio to Home Depot, they’ll probably honor their return policy but they’re within their rights to blacklist you from the store.  You can also do what I do, and pay $8 for a six pack to bring to your friend’s party instead of hosting your own.  

"Here's the receipt.  I don't know if this is important but the ice melted on the drive over.  It's still in there, though."

*Do not partake in any activity in this post if you have a single care about the economy.  This kind of behavior contributes to higher costs and in general it hurts businesses.  See this article for more information.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Building an Incredible Tupperware Collection - For Free!

I hate going out to dinner.  While I appreciate the break from cooking, I can’t help but think that the $20 I’m spending on two entrees could have been used to purchase 20lbs of chicken (manager’s special, chicken thighs, with skin and bones: $0.99/lb).  However, there are just some times when I have no choice but to go out for a meal.  When this happens, I always make the most of the situation by getting for free what I would have otherwise had to hand out some serious cash for: reusable containers.

The method is simple.  Don’t finish your food and when the waiter comes, ask if you could take it home.  If you’re lucky, it will be returned to you in plastic reusable containers.  Likewise, ordering takeout will occasionally have the same results.

Calculating a cost savings from this is very difficult because it depends on several factors, such as the average price of dinner at a sit-down or takeout restaurant, the odds of receiving reusable containers vs. disposable containers, and the average price of new reusable containers, among other things.  Buying a modest set such as the Rubbermaid 34 Piece Easy Find Lids Set will cost about $20 from Target.  To get a modest set of containers from a restaurant will depend partially on a combination of luck and knowing which places give which types of containers most frequently. 

This is what gets me out of bed in the morning.  I live for this.
In terms of consistency, I get the best results from Chinese takeout.  Ordering soup by the pint or quart will yield a round plastic container of the appropriate size.  Entrees tend to be delivered in flat rectangular containers, usually about 1.5” tall and no smaller than 6” wide by 4” deep.  Occasionally I won’t be so lucky with a new restaurant and my food will be delivered in standard Chinese takeout white folding paper containers.  Once you know several restaurants that deliver reusable containers, Chinese food will almost always give the best container volume to food price (CV-FP) ratio.   

I generally have worse luck in Italian restaurants, usually taking food home in disposable aluminum containers, where the top edge folds down onto the paper-aluminum lids to keep it closed.  This hasn’t kept me away from Italian food altogether, though.  One time I received delivery in a circular plastic reusable container, 2” tall with a 10” diameter.  Unfortunately I don’t remember the place that I got it from but the container has nonetheless become a centerpiece in my collection.  Thus, even though Chinese food offers the better CV-FP ratio, the hope of receiving a second one of these containers has kept me on Italian food delivery for some time.  

Now imagine this with leftover egg salad in it.

After Chinese and Italian, other food is hit or miss.  Reusable containers work best on messy foods (Penne Vodka, General Tso’s Chicken, etc.) so choose a style that uses lots of sauces.  For example, you might have luck getting barbeque to go.  If you end up with Styrofoam, don’t get discouraged.  Stay with successful restaurants but don’t be afraid to risk something new.  You could end up with a collection that puts a store bought set to shame.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Health Series: Myths that Break the Bank – Exercise

This next health myth looks at building muscle, and shows you how to save time and money while maintaining a great physique. Normally this requires going to the gym. This step can be eliminated by understanding the processes in your body when you work out.

Muscle growth is caused by repairing damage to muscle fibers. This damage is the result of repeatedly straining the muscles, through the lifting of weights, or repeated movements. Luckily, there is another way to cause this muscle damage, without all the lifting, sweating, grunting and admiring yourself in the mirror between reps.

In about an hour, this man will be covered in a thin film of grease, accompanied by acute muscle soreness.  Unfortunately, it can't fix his face.  Image from White Castle.
The trick is to eat foods high in both saturated fats and protein. By itself, saturated fat will just make you gain weight. When combined with protein however, the fat cannot be properly absorbed into your bloodstream. It makes its way to your muscles where it just sits, producing strain and tearing up the muscle fibers till it can be released through the skin. The foods which work best for this include Taco Bell cheesy bean burritos and White Castle sliders. Anyone who's eaten one too many of these foods can attest to the previously unexplained muscle soreness, followed by a day or two of feeling greasy. As explained, that muscle soreness is the strain from the saturated fat and the greasy feeling is that fat being excreted from the body through the skin. If you were to replace your monthly gym membership and daily protein shakes with a Crave Case every week or two, you would find yourself putting on the same mass at just a fraction of the cost and effort.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Health Series: Myths that Break the Bank – Gum Disease

Typical dentist propaganda.  Image from
I chose to address this second myth because it saves me unnecessary trips to the dentist.  Any dentist will tell you that dark red gums are unhealthy and if left untreated, you will end up with periodontal disease, and eventually lose your teeth.  As you could expect, dentists perpetuate this myth because the more you worry about your mouth, the more you give them in co-pays and insurance.  The truth is the actually the exact opposite.  Your gums are at their reddest when there is a a healthy blood flow to the roots of your teeth.  This can easily be mistaken for a disease because at times, there is so much blood flow that the gums become swollen and will bleed at the lightest touch.  If you wait for a day a two however, the swelling will go down as the gums begin to harden in a process similar to the formation of calluses.  Ever since I first read the truth about gums, I've been going to the dentist far less frequently.  It's been almost four years since my last visit and as far as I can tell, I still have all my teeth.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Health Series: Myths that Break the Bank - Sneezing

As almost all people get older, they find themselves spending increasing amounts of time and money treating new health issues.  Many feel that there's not too much that can be done about it.  In actuality, there is plenty that can be done.  The problem is that there are many health myths that are perpetuated by various groups and industries, with the purpose of relieving you of your money.  This health series will address these myths, one per blog post, to teach you where you can afford to spend less.

Image Source: CDC Public Health Image library ID 11162
This first myth is my favorite, since it is spread by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an irrelevant government agency that needs to convince Congress that they deserve funds.  After every major viral outbreak in the past 10 years (SARS, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, etc), the CDC has advised people to wear dust masks and sneeze into their armpits.  The goal has been to prevent the further spread of the virus through sneezes.  This cannot be further from the truth of what's actually happening.  When you breathe in a virus through your nose, it is filtered through the nasal cavity.  Likewise, when you sneeze, you are again filtering out any traces of virus.  Sneezes are so sterile, in fact, that I'll frequently sneeze on kitchen counters, doorknobs, or even toilet seats.  Doing so means I spend less on household essentials such as tissues, bleach, and laundry detergent.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Making the most out of credit card rewards.

As of July 25, 2011, the United States is nearly at the debt limit of $14.3 trillion.  This problem isn’t isolated to just the country.  Millions of Americans, following the government’s lead, are spending more than they earn.  Increasingly, these people are finding themselves in massive debt.  Where some of these people differ from the government is that they are making progress with drastic steps to reduce and eventually eliminate the amounts they owe.  Unfortunately, one of these steps is to completely abandon the use of credit cards.  This is a costly mistake.

Once you abandon your credit card, you are abandoning rewards points.  My primary card is the Chase Amazon Visa Signature card.  I chose it years ago because it gave me $30 off on my purchase of a TI-89 calculator through Amazon, but the rewards are so good that I’ve been using it ever since.  Every 10,000 points I earn gets me a $100 Amazon gift card.  With some creativity, I've been earning these gift cards at an alarming rate.

"Unless they accept $5 Jiffy Lube coupons as payment, it looks like I'm be putting this one on my credit card again. Don't worry, I'll get the bill and you can just pay me afterwards."
A simple trick I've been using to rack up the points requires nothing but an appetite and some friends.  All you have to do is go out for a meal and split the bill.  For this to work, everyone but you will need to be paying in cash.  You will be paying with your credit card.  Instead of only putting your portion of the bill on your credit card, cover the whole thing and pocket everyone else’s contributions.  For example, if you're responsible for half of a $20 bill, put it all on your credit card and take the other $10 from your friends in cash.

You’re not done yet.  At this point it's easy to fall into a trap.  If you spend this cash, you’re giving up those rewards points that you just earned from your friends.  Instead, go to the bank and deposit that money.  You should be paying for as much as you can with your credit card.  There is an exception to this, which you should note.

I discovered this final trick while searching for the cheapest gasoline.  With gas prices reaching record highs, some gas stations have started a practice of discounting the price if you pay in cash.  Like most people, my first thought was that I’ll probably be getting a better deal through my credit card rewards than my savings with cash.  This isn’t always the case however.  A typical cash discount will be $3.40 per gallon, versus $3.50 per gallon with my credit card.  This $0.10 difference represents a savings of 2.8%.  Even with double gas points on my credit card, I’m only saving 2%.  This means that if I pay with credit, I’m only getting back $0.07 for every $3.50 per gallon.  To counter this, I found a credit card that specifically has a higher rate of return on gas purchases.    

In order to know I’m still getting the best deal, I’ll keep my TI-89 calculator in my glove compartment so I can calculate the percentage savings on the go.  Don’t make the same mistake I did, however.  Using a calculator while driving is just as dangerous as texting while driving, and will get you a $100 ticket in New Jersey.    Not only is this ticket embarrassing, it falls under the “other” category on most credit cards so it will only give you a 1% reward.  Instead, pull over before doing your algebra.  It’s hard to save for retirement when you’re serving time for vehicular manslaughter.  

"...The Texas Instruments model 89 graphing calculator was ejected from the vehicle at the time of the accident, striking a second bystander in the head, killing him on impact.  There were no other casualties reported."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eat Your Way to Bigger Savings!

Over the course of a decade, the United States has been transforming from a nation of fat, lazy, ice cream eating slobs to a nation of health crazed, frozen yogurt eating slobs. This new attitude towards healthy eating is having an unintended consequence for clothing retailers. As these stores are slow to catch up to new body size trends, extra inventory of unsold XL, XXL, and XXXL clothes are ending up on clearance racks.

How do you take advantage of this? Start by eating all those delicious foods that you try to avoid, like cheesecake, chicken-fried steak, and mayonnaise. For some more ideas, check out one of my favorite blogs.

Is eating all this extra food eating through your wallet? Stop slaving over the deep fryer, and check out McDonald’s dollar menu. I recommend a handful of McDoubles, with a few refills of coke. Try to avoid diet and caffeine free. Don’t forget dessert! While the 7 grams of saturated fat in the Hot Fudge Sundae don’t seem like much, that’s actually 35% of your daily recommended value.

Michael Moore is doing it right.
Depending on your starting size, metabolism, and how often you work out (cancel your gym membership immediately), it could take you anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to start fitting into the best deals that your local department store has to offer. When that magic moment finally comes, you’ll know it; you’ll wake up, remove your sleep apnea mask, and have trouble getting off the couch, since it will feel like someone’s sitting on your chest. By time you make it to the fridge, you’ll be sweating and out of breath. Make sure to eat all your leftover fried mac n’ cheese squares from last night. That carb boost will give you the extra energy you need to try on clearance rack after clearance rack of the fattest bargains you can find.

Disclaimer: I own stock in McDonald's Corporation because $1 Hot Fudge Sundaes are the best 7 grams of saturated fat that money can buy.