Sunday, December 19

Finding Deals at Groupon?

The latest thing being discussed at the place I work is Groupon. Apparently, until recently, they did not have deals available where I live.

The idea seems to be that they will get a price deal for a quantity purchase and then offer that quantity deal to registered Groupon subscribers. If you are planning to buy certain goods it certainly couldn't hurt to sign up and see if they offer what you want for a better price than you find elsewhere.

Is it worth giving it a try? I don't know yet. But, given that I'm not afraid of letting one more company have my email address I just signed up. Since the idea seems to be growing fast I'm guessing we'll see more companies trying this idea.

If you have experience with Groupon please leave a comment or review...

Update: I've bought my first groupon deal. For $20 I have $40 of in-store credit at a local brew at home shop.

Update: The following blurb about Groupon is from CNBC...

Groupon, a three-year-old online local advertising company, said Thursday it raised $500 million as part of an effort to generate $950 million in financing. It disclosed the funding in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The online discount coupon company, which specializes in local advertising, raised the funds after reports last month that it was in talks to sell itself to Google for up to $6 billion, in what would have been the web advertising giant's biggest ever acquisition.

Sunday, October 3

Accidental Frugality -- Good Neighbors

Not a Good Neighbor!During a recent windy storm the shed in my back yard suffered damage. A small piece of wood that held the door closed broke in half and pulled out one of its nails. My new neighbor saw this happen, ran out in the storm, and screwed the door shut. This probably saved my poor old shed from total destruction.

Yesterday afternoon when I saw my neighbor working in his own yard, finishing up before the colder weather starts to arrive, I remembered that I had a couple beer in the fridge that some visiting friends had left behind the other day. So, of course, I hauled them out and headed outside.

While my neighbor was finishing up what he was doing I picked up the piece of wood that had broken off of my shed. My neighbor hands his nail gun over the fence and ten seconds later my shed is as good as before. It's not a new shed -- so I certainly don't mind a crack line above the doors.

Good deal! Having a good neighbor, and being a good neighbor, can save a ton of time, money and effort. Most notably, looking out for each other can limit or ward off costs associated with damages -- but it's also great to lend/receive a helping hand from time to time when work comes around.

I'm not going to talk about Karma or anything like that. However, if you are a good neighbor and have good neighbors it can make your life a lot easier. I know this is not news to most but having only recently purchased my own home the truth of this has become direct and visible.

Be a good neighbor!

Monday, September 13

Fixing The Economy: Imported Oil

Throwing Away MoneyHow much oil do we import? Would you believe that we import approximately 10,000,000 barrels per day of oil? That's according to the EIA. Guess how much money that costs. At $75 per barrel this represents $750,000,000 per day. That's $273,750,000,000 per year. Perhaps we can just round it to $275 billion...

I don't know about you but I can't help wondering about how many domestic jobs that type of expenditure could support. For example, what if we stopped sending some amount of that money overseas and used it to provide incentives to promote use of domestic alternative energy sources? What if our cars were all hybrid vehicles? What if all that money was spent on domestic products, that our citizens were being paid wages to produce and service, instead of overseas to our friends?

I know. We can't simply stop using imported oil overnight. We also can't replace all of our oil usage with alternative energy supplies. I do know that. However, if we as consumers were spending much of this money on goods and services made right here there would be a lot more jobs. So, how can we at least start moving in this direction?

From time to time there are policy steps that might help. We have regulations that provide for the fuel economy of consumer vehicles. More efficient vehicles provide for more economic activity with less money being sent overseas due to imported oil. We've also provided some money for research activities. We may even subsidize the creation of ethanol.

However, I think we are leaving a lot of things off the table. Perhaps it's because our culture is geared towards all-or-nothing thinking.

Why don't we create our cities in a way that reduces the amount of transportation required on a daily basis? Doing this would involve putting a lot of effort into zoning regulations such that consumers would often be able to live closer to the places they work and play.

Why don't we provide serious alternatives to driving a car to work every day? Time and time again we hear about public transportation but nobody wants to ride on it. Make it timely and efficient. Keep it clean and safe. Then, make it difficult or expensive to find parking. Watch more people start using public transit.

Even better, give people the ability to walk, roller blade or ride bicycles. We often see a paltry bike lane or two and then deride the fact that hardly anybody uses it. If you want to seriously promote bicycle use, or other modes of exercise as transportation, you have to do much better than that. You need to provide a safe and clean place for people to change into and out of their work clothes. You have to provide a safe and secure place for people to put their gear. You have to create efficient routes that allow people to bypass traffic obstacles and dangerous traffic areas.

I can hear the skepticism. Who's going to do this? I guess that means you aren't willing to talk to your local politicians and ask them to focus on these long term issues? Perhaps we can do this via an incentive policy also. For example, states are already given incentives to set speed limits within a certain range. It would certainly be possible to offer increased payments to states or communities based on increased levels of public or human powered transportation.

Another interesting idea is the Pickens Plan. The idea here is that we replace some foreign oil use with domestic natural gas. It's not hard to replace gasoline with natural gas. It simply requires vehicles to be modified. A good place to start would be with the trucking industry. Something like this can be done with government legislation. I know, many people dislike government action in the markets -- however, if all trucking companies face the same regulations they will continue to compete with a new level playing field. For more information go read the Pickens Plans for yourself.

Big changes can come about from making things possible, convenient, or financially attractive.

For example, if you were sure you could sell excess electrical power back to the local utility, would it help you consider private wind generation? Overnight your small inexpensive wind turbine could generate and store enough electricity to provide hot water for your morning showers. Excess electricity, if any, would be sent through the grid and reduce your monthly utility bill. Of course, this doesn't seem to have much to do with imported oil... or does it? A home generator would be a great way to charge a hybrid car.

So, with good ideas this easy to generate, I have to wonder why we haven't really made much progress over the last decade or more. Is it politics? Is it lobbyists? Is it propaganda from big oil companies? Is it simple apathy? I don't know what it is but I do know we'd be a lot better off today if anybody were taking this seriously a decade ago.

Imported oil costs us $275 billion a year in direct costs. We'd better take it seriously.

Sunday, September 5

Fixing The Economy: Incentives

The Economy's Bumpy RideWe all know the economy is broken in some way. We only have to look at the jobless claims numbers to see that. The bigger question is why?

While there are plenty of theories around, some reasonable and some not, I've got my own and I'm not afraid to share it with you. Don't worry, this isn't going to be political in nature.

So, what's wrong? To put it simply our incentives are out of control. We provide incentives to decision makers that have them take actions that are against our own best interest.

This issue is present at all layers of decision making. Perhaps most striking is the level of payment made to the titans of business and finance. They are given incentive to take massive risk, generate short term gains, and then cash out before the inevitable negative consequences of such risks can come home to roost.

You've heard of the financial crisis, right? Guess who is paying for this mis-incentive? Yeah. You, me and everyone else.

Another area that is related to politics, but not directly political itself, is the process of lobbying. Our officials are given incentive to take actions based on the financial interests of individuals instead of the good of the public. If it was any other way these lobbying firms would not have to spend so much money. It wouldn't take so much convincing if the requests really were good public policy.

Anyhow, before I venture into the political realm, let's talk about fixing things as I originally promised.

In terms of the financial crisis one of the issues that is discussed is the fact that big business is finding it easy to raise cash and they are then sitting on it. So, they have wheelbarrows of cash ready and waiting but they aren't using it -- they aren't buying things and using them to generate jobs.

So, since my premise is that we have the wrong incentives, how can we change this? What about providing a tax break for companies that make capital investments within our borders? You know -- invest in plant, property and equipment and get a large tax break.

I know, the dreaded tax break. How can we afford tax breaks? Well, if we were to have large companies starting new projects then we would be hiring people to manufacture and assemble the items purchased. As long as this is the case we would find that the tax breaks are less costly than not creating quality jobs for our friends and neighbors.

However, it's also important that we don't sit around giving tax breaks to companies when the costs are not balanced by their effect on unemployment. We should scale the breaks back over time. They could be decreased by some percentage annually (e.g. 20% each year for 5 years) or they could be directly related to the national unemployment rate.

The idea is to give incentives to big business, those that have the money, to put it to productive use and create jobs. It's the lack of jobs and the lack of consumer confidence that is holding back the economy. So, we need to give the right incentives to decision makers so that they will change their individual actions and together help fix it.

Individually, we can also help. Yes, really.

How many of us are so anxious to get out of the grocery store with our goods that we'll use the self-serve checkout machines? Well, great, but you do realize you are helping the store fire it's cashiers? I'm not suggesting we all sacrifice conveniences but during tough times we may want to think carefully about our own habits and look for ways to make decisions that support local jobs.

If we can find ways to align our actions with our own long term well being, perhaps represented by low unemployment rates and economic stability, then we'll all be much better off. This applies to both the largest economic players as well as each of us individually.

Update...

As part of his emerging program to jolt the economic recovery from its stall, President Obama will call this week for allowing businesses to deduct from their taxes through 2011 the full value of new equipment purchase, from computers to utility generators, to increase demand for goods and create jobs.

The upfront deduction would allow businesses of all sizes to keep more money now and would give large corporations, many of which are sitting on cash because of uncertainty about the economy, an incentive to spend and invest.

Courtesy CNBC dated 07-Sep-2010

Well, now it looks like my idea will sink or swim in the light of public scrutiny. While I did originally outline these thoughts on CNBC's comment system over the last couple weeks I didn't really think the Pres was listening! ;)

Note: Image above lifted from this post on the QiRanger Adventures blog.

Saturday, July 3

Recent Events

Cat Pendulum ClockSince I last wrote my wife and I have moved halfway across the continent, started new jobs, and after renting a place for a short while we are now in the final stages of buying a new home.

On a financial note we've both set up self-directed retirement accounts that we'll fund via automatic payroll deductions. The mortgage we are getting will be paid back on a bi-weekly schedule and we'll be able to make small over-payments any time we want if we feel it's a good idea to pay down the principle.

If things slow down maybe I'll soon starting posting more often.

Hmm, with the depth of our downturn I wonder how many people that used to look down on those facing hard times have now faced hard times themselves?

I actually feel uncertain about posting about our own positive events given the level of hardship out there these days. It's where we are. It's what I can most authentically write about...

Saturday, February 13

Cutting Out The Carbs: 5 Food Tips

Say NO To High Fructose Corn SyrupIt's time to do another stint of low carbohydrate dietary adjustment.

As always, the big question is what to eat? Everybody knows you can turn to meat, cheese and certain vegetables, but that can get boring.

Here are five alternative foods that I've been turning to in an effort to mix things up:

  1. Lindt Excellence 85% Dark Chocolate: Dark chocolate is bursting with antioxidant phyto-nutrients. Also, it's reported that this may help with the production of serotonin. One serving has 4g of net carbs. You can opt for different percentages but check the labels as this will change the numbers.
  2. Sunflower Seeds: If you can find these hulled and non-salted they only have about 2g of net carbs in 1/3 of a cup. I see different values online so check your labels.
  3. Water Chestnuts: Generally available from the supermarket in a can these are great in a stir-fry or even on the side. A half cup may run you 12g of net carbs but you can get away with adding two or three to get their texture and flavor if that's too much.
  4. Sugar Free Jello: While you may consider this boring, once you are low-carbing it becomes a treat. Try making some orange Jello and once it is done add some (low carb) whipped cream or even just plain whipping cream. This is reminiscent of a Creamsicle.
  5. Salsa: Plain store bought salsa, keep an eye on the sodium, has only about 1g of net carbs in a two tablespoon serving. It's a convenient way of adding the goodness of tomatoes, peppers and onions without all the shopping and chopping.
Finally, I read something the other day that made sense. Some people eat poorly following a normal diet, perhaps living on pizza and chips, while others may eat poorly when following a low-carb diet. So, just because something doesn't have carbs that doesn't mean it's good for you from a nutritional point of view. Make good food choices, keeping junk to a minimum, no matter what type of nutritional lifestyle you are following.

It's been quite a while since I have dropped the carbs. In fact, I don't remember seeing any dark chocolate on the shelves that last time around. If you have some good alternative food choice ideas, new or old, please leave a comment. My stomach will thank you.

UPDATE: I've bought ketostix to monitor for ketosis. I can state for sure that the above foods eaten in appropriate moderation won't keep you from achieving ketosis. Please, no uninformed comments about the supposed danger of ketosis for those without existing medical conditions. In our natural state periods of low food availability would be common (causing ketosis) -- and it does not result in damage.

Saturday, January 30

Standing Back Up After A Life Crash

Did This Happen To Your Life?Is this what happened to your life during the recent financial crisis? No, I'm afraid I'm not being funny. Many millions of families have been and continue to live through incredible turmoil.

While this current crisis didn't slam me into a wall I have been there. This is why people are searching for topics in this blog so often. Notably, stealth living and stealth van living both show up in my traffic reports as common queries. Also, posts about extremely frugal meals are in much higher demand than they once were.

With that as the backdrop I want to talk about something a little bit more optimistic. Apparently, according to the economic numbers, we are at or near bottom with respect to unemployment. Yes, this is optimistic, because it means the next direction is up. More and more people will be able to find jobs, find self-esteem, feed their families, and rebuild their hopes and dreams for their children one step at a time.

What I want to talk about is the process of standing back up.

You see, what I notice a lot these days is anger. People are mad at what has happened to them -- which is understandable. However, if you spend any time watching the news, reading blogs, or following financial sites you will see that many people are flailing about for someone to blame. They are convinced that the financial system must be completely crooked. They are convinced the stock markets must be fixed. They are convinced that someone is at fault for their ills.

After all, surely nothing other than criminals and a huge conspiracy to fleece the public must be behind their downfall.

I'm sorry, but that's not how it is. Sure, bad decisions were made. There are plenty of things that were done poorly, by many different players, but we have to recognize that bad things happen to good people sometimes. There isn't always someone to blame. This is true both for natural disasters as well as for man-made disasters. It's not on purpose. It's something that we all got caught in.

Why I am focusing on this?

Those people who have suffered through no fault of their own, and are casting about for someone or something to blame, who are so negative and jaded, are broken. Life sucks. The world is out to get them. Everybody is a crook. They'll never be taken in again because there is nothing they will ever trust!

How in the world can somebody with this viewpoint begin to fit into society productively? You can't expect to be hired, to spread your misery and discontent, to wreak havoc on the motivation and productivity of your peers while you are in this state.

I'm serious. Blatant pessimism, dejection, hostility and depression are not hallmarks of successful job applicants. Would you hire someone in this state? If you are single would you let someone in this state into your life?

If you are one of these disaffected people I do have some advice. Speaking from experience I can tell you that as long as you continue to have food and shelter then there are many good things to reflect on. Focus on the good aspects of what you do still have in your life not the lack of things you used to have.

I know it's easy to say "so what" and dismiss the simple things but they are always there. Most of us have forgotten that we can enjoy them.

Fresh clean snow. Crisp cool air. Colorful leaves on trees. A big full moon. A left over newspaper with all of its sections. The return of grass and leaves in the spring. A good blog. A scenic vista and the time to enjoy it. Home cooked healthy frugal food. Exercise and the benefits of it.

I don't know what brings you pleasure and relaxation. I do know it's hard to give up the bitterness that comes from a life crash. However, to get back into the groove, to re-enter the race, you need to find a way to stop focusing on how unhappy you are and instead focus on the positives that are still available to you. All the rest? Let it go.

It's hard. It's damned hard. It's also one of the most important thing you can do to let yourself be swept up by the pending recovery. Don't let yourself push opportunity away... be ready to accept it.

Sunday, January 10

The Cheese Is Old And Moldy

Yummy CheeseWell, no, it isn't really.

However, while thinking about writing this post I was reminded of a couple Brendan Fraser movies. One is Encino Man. In this movie Brendan's character avoids a fight by suggesting that the cheese is old and moldy. However, this isn't what snapped to mind right away. What came to mind first was A Blast From the Past.

At this point, both of these items are in fact a blast from the past. The only real connection between these items is the non-sequitur they express by having characters so out of their element and yet finding a way to excel anyhow.

So, back to the cheese. You see, the last time I was shopping for cheese, it was on sale. I bought plenty of it, carefully checking the best before dates, and loaded it into our fridge. Sadly, a few moments ago, while making a nice toasted turkey sandwich I noticed that it is almost gone.

The moral of the story? The cheese is not old and moldy. I should have bought even more than I did. Also, I seem to be a sucker for silly movies -- especially ones where the hero succeeds against all odds.

Was this post too cheesy?

Sunday, January 3

Early Resolution Progress

Progress Already!I'm pleased to report some good progress on two of my New Years resolutions (see last post). Since not much time has passed I obviously haven't gotten in shape yet!

Where things have been moving is in positive communication and putting work into my pet projects.

In fact, Grokodile (a pet project) is now a community mashup. Each city will hold blogs, businesses, local videos, local tweets as well as a few other regionally significant items. Go find your own community, wait a moment or two, hit reload, and you'll see what I mean.

The odds are good that your own community won't have videos or tweets when you first arrive... but upon visiting the system will know it needs to go and fetch something. So, it does.

On the frugal front, Frugal Mom decided to make some homemade soup. I think it's the first time she did this. We boiled up a chicken carcass, removed anything that wasn't water or meat, then added vegetables and even a bit of pasta. I have it on good authority that it's tasty -- though I missed the first serving.

I'm looking forward to trying it.

Friday, January 1

Happy Frugal 2010

Scrooge McDuckIt's that time of year again. It's time to do some introspection, figure out what you do well, what you could do better, and then find the resolve to set some new goals.

Oh, oh. My improvement list is a bit longer than I'd like this year! In my own defense the trials and tribulations of raising a little one might have something to do with this...

Terrible Two'sMy resolutions will not be frugal related this year. I'm pretty happy with how that aspect of things is going. Instead, I think I'll focus on:

    - finding more positive ways to talk about
       work and home issues.
    - eating better and getting back in shape.
    - putting more time and effort into this
       blog and my blog directory.
The latter two goals are going to be a challenge! I have to find a way to generate the needed energy after work and family responsibilities have been looked after -- and I think exercise might be just the ticket.

Note: if you've posted resolutions please leave a comment and link to them so that I can read them.