Sunday, November 25

Nov 2007 MyPoints Update

Big Bucks, No Whammies!Well, as you can see, I haven't been applying myself very dilligently. It's a busy time right now and, frankly, I don't have the time to view and respond to all of the incoming email messages. So, slow progress on the points. Oh well.

For the rare person that hasn't heard of mypoints...

MyPoints is a rewards program (sign up) that lets you earn points in various ways. Earned points can be redeemed for gift cards from many brand name retailers. It is quite easy to earn points, even without spending any money, but of course it certainly helps if you do already buy things online.

Most people, unlike a Frugal Grinch like me, are probably buying lots of items online during the holiday season, and could be getting points for nearly everything they buy!

For the Grinchly, MyPoints will send you email messages outlining various offers and opportunities. For viewing the email and clicking through to the offer you will receive points -- no spending required. I've been doing this half-heartedly for approximately three months and you can see my "bankroll" pictured above...

EDIT: I should note that if you do already make purchases online then you'll want to consider MyPoints. You can earn points by finding your products via their affiliated retailers while earning any points that your credit card may already be providing. It's a way to double dip, assuming you find the right products at competitive prices.

Saturday, November 10

The Price of Oil

What's the price?If you have been watching spot market prices you might say the price of oil is approaching $100 per barrel. However, as someone interested in economics I can assure you that the price of oil is far lower than it's cost.

Wait, how can the price of something be lower than it's cost?

Simple, there are often hidden costs attached to products, or the use or manufacture of those products, that are not reflected in the purchase price. For example, consider a can of Raid. It's price might only be several dollars, but there is an environmental cost which is hard to measure. If someone in your family eventually gets sick because of the chemicals, the hidden costs are astronomical.

Unfortunately, we all play this game of russian roulette every day. We burn gasoline every day, spewing exhaust, while we drive to and from work. We send people underground to dig for coal so that we can light our homes and watch television all day long. We generally buy agricultural products that have been grown with pesticides, chemical fertilizers and so forth.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against technology and I don't regret advancements brought by science. That isn't where I'm going with this at all.

So, let me ask you again, what is the price of oil?

As well as the $100 per barrel, maybe less and maybe more, there are other costs we will be paying. Can you name one? Although it has become quite political in some areas, there is the potential cost of global warming to heap on top of this. To many people this cost is simply astronomical. You don't have to be an environut or even a tree hugger to understand that prices and costs are not equal.

Oil, especially cheap oil, with most of it's costs hidden from our view, is really the fuel that has allowed the world to flourish. Cheap and convenient, this portable energy has given us all a lot of freedom. We've become addicted to it, to the point that we can't even imagine a lifestyle that doesn't revolve around it. Until very recently, at least.

Finally, with oil becoming relatively expensive, we are beginning to seriously consider alternatives. It's about time!

It is getting harder and harder for large corporations, earning billions of dollars every year, to convince us that there are no cost effective alternatives. Wind power, solar power, bio-fuels, hybrid cars, LED light bulbs and other technologies are all starting to get serious attention. I'll say it again, it's about time!

Even if you are someone that has been swayed by the corporate sponsored messages that suggest global warming is a myth, surely you have to realize that clean alternatives to oil are a good thing? Surely the production of less chemical byproducts and the production of less gaseous waste is a good thing? You don't have to be a tree hugger to see this, do you?

If you aren't convinced by issues such as global warming, as many right wing people aren't, let me put the price of oil into terms that might reach you. What do you think is the source of funding for regimes in the Middle East? Nice going Einstein, depend on people that hate you and give them the money they need to wage war with you. No offence, but that is stupid. For you right wing folks who need a reason other than the environment, you can get to work calculating the costs of oil based on military costs, loss of life and strife in the world.

Anyway, with what might be good reasons to convince both left and right, let me get back on topic.

The price of oil, without even considering it's true total cost, is high enough to start changing the world for the better. There are hybrid cars appearing on the market. There are flexible solar panels being created by something similar to a giant inkjet printer. There are sources of ethanol other than corn. Not too long ago a white light LED was finally invented.

We have the technologies. People are starting to produce them in quantity. We are finally going to be able to buy them because they are priced competitively. This is what is known as a tipping point. Once we really start buying these products, so that economies of scale can be achieved, the prices will start dropping. Incredible amounts of money will be spent researching newer and better products as well as newer and better ways to manufacture them.

This new wave of green technologies will suddenly develop enough inertia to drive out the oil based technologies of today. Will it happen in five years, a decade, or a generation? I don't know the answer to that, but I will say it again, it's about time!

Friday, November 9

Frugal Home Winterization Tip

Knock KnockHere's a quick experiment for you to try. On a cold day move your hand around the edges of your door. I'll wait while you go and do this...

So, did you find a soft cold wind around any edges or corners? If you live in an older home, or perhaps a neglected rental, then the odds are good that you will.

Guess what, that cold wind may be invisible, but it's money! It might not feel like much, but with cold air flowing into your home 24x7, you are wasting a lot of heat energy. Maybe you haven't noticed but the cost of heating oil, or other alternatives, has not been getting any cheaper lately.

Anyway, the attached picture is an example of a recent home project of my own. You might not be able to tell but I'm using a thin plastic foam instead of a clear plastic film. If you look closely you'll see (yeah, sure you will) that I've cut small slices in the foam and used painters tape to hold it in place. This is surprisingly useful.

Tip: Cut a slice in the foam then sneak half a strip of tape through. Half the tape will stick to the object behind the foam while the other half will hold the foam. Be careful not to damage the material under the foam when you cut the slices into it.

Again, looking at the picture, you'll see that the foam covers the entire width of the door which allows it to block air flow around the door. Yes, the door does still open - the foam is flexible! Can you guess what I used?

Nope, it's not that.

It's hardwood floor underlay. You can buy rolls of it at your hardware store at a reasonable price since it isn't sold as a seasonal winterization kit. The painters tape will obviously be there too.

This door was the first project and I've since covered a couple of windows as well. Obviously, the plastic foam is translucent instead of transparent, so don't use it anywhere you'll want to look out of.

Finally, I'd give you another experiment, but you probably don't have any thin foam lying around the house. If you do, put your hand on a cold window and see how much heat it absorbs from your hand. Then, put a thin layer of foam over the window and do it again.

Ka-ching!

Want to see my other winterization tips?

Monday, November 5

Infused Oils

Confused oil? What?

While it might sound a bit fancy, infused oils have other flavorful ingredients mixed into them. Commonly, you will find olive oil infused with various herbs or spices. If you grow your own herbs or spices you can certainly infuse at home, but since you don't need to use much at once it isn't very expensive to purchase either.

Make your own instructions...

The flavor I'm most familar with is extra virgin olive oil infused with rosemary. While it's great for use when roasting sliced potatoes, perhaps with salt and pepper, you can also use it anywhere the flavor won't be completely overpowered.

For example, the other day while using up some leftover rice, I used a spoonful of rosemary olive oil while frying it. It added a nice delicate flavor to the rice. Another alternative would be to go for some type of hot pepper infused oil, which would go with just about anything... though I have fried chicken on my mind at the moment.