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September 2013 - SimplisticSaving.com

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Philosophy on value? Pay the Least Anyone has Paid.

I recently overheard a salesman tell a potential customer that for their budget they needed to lower their expectations.  This kind of mentality drives me absolutely crazy.  Obviously there are situations where people have champagne tastes on a beer budget.  In these cases it’s absolutely reasonable to lower expectations to be more aligned with your budget.  For instance, if I go to a car dealership and expect to get a brand new BMW for the same price as a used KIA, then I probably need to adjust my expectations with reality.  Usually though, if you do your research, you will realize that there is always a better deal to be found.

The couple that I observed were looking for the biggest television that they could get for their money.  From what I gathered they had about $1,000 to spend and did not want an off brand television, they also wanted an LED.  The salesman basically told them that the biggest they could get was a 50 inch.  They seemed to listen to him, but were disappointed.  He presented, as fact, that they either needed to lower expectations or raise their budget.  I knew from personal experience that this was just a blatant lie.  I just purchased a 60 inch LED television for $847 after taxes and everything.  I have seen cheaper televisions this size, but my goal was to maximize value.  On that particular day the salesman was not lying to the couple as there were no great deals going on, but the point is that the better deal will come to those who wait.

It’s easy to just assume that you could sacrifice quality at the expense of value, but this is a false choice to make.  If I go to the grocery store today and bananas are $1.90 a pound unless I cannot wait another moment to buy bananas I will forgo them because I know the price will fall.  The grocer will not come over and say, have you thought about dry beans instead?  I know what I want and I know what price I want to pay.  I will buy bananas at 38 or 48 cents a pound, but even at 58 cents per pound they are not out of the question.  I think the same holds true to many purchases.  If I am looking for a vehicle and want to spend $8,000 and find a used Honda Pilot that books for $14,000 on sale for $9,000 I will still consider this car even though it is 25% over my budget because that extra $1,000 will get me an extra $5,000 in value.  In this example I am making the assumption that the car is really worth 14k, but the seller is motivated.  My point in this exercise though is that even with a budget number in mind it’s good to stay flexible.

When I research prices for an item, my goal is to find a good price and then buy the item for a great price.  If I am looking at a TV I do not want to compromise, but I want the item I want cheaper.  Basically, I want to buy any item at the cheapest price anyone else might have paid.  It’s not that I think I am special, but I do think that if a company can sell a product to one customer at a certain price, and make a profit, then why shouldn’t I get it at the same price?

This is true of products where I use the MSRP and average price as a guide, but will research to find a better price.  Then I try to adjust my expectations accordingly and take advantage of sales.  This is especially true of hotel rooms and car rentals.  My wife and I stayed in a hotwire low priced hotel one night for 40 bucks.  We were not completely satisfied, but for the minimal price it was hard to complain too much.  The next morning at breakfast I overheard another couple saying that they had paid $90 per night and to extend another day would be $105.  This made me a bit angry.  I was certainly glad I scored the hotel room for such a low rate, but if I had been the person paying $90 and a guy next to me paid $50 I would be livid.  I actually let the guy know that if he booked on hotwire he could get the same hotel for $40 and he did just that.  The point I am trying to make is that a better price may be available and it may not even be too difficult to find.  It’s not that I am cheap, but I absolutely want to maximize value in every dollar I spend.

I look at it as a value ratio that would be measured by a simple formula of quality / dollar.  I want to get the most quality, taste, or value per dollar that I spend.  When I buy a car I want to get the best car that I can buy for the money.  When I buy a house I want to get the best $ per square foot, without skimping too much on fixtures.  If I can get a plane ticket for $150 roundtrip why would I pay $300 for the same trip?  These are all adjustable expectations and some are clearer than others, but the point remains that I want to stretch every dollar that I spend. I’ll spend a little more for a little more quality and sacrifice a little quality if it can save me a lot of money.  Overall, these are decisions that every individual makes, but if you are mindful of value maximization you are better off in the long run.

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Picking the Perfect Hotel

If I ask you to imagine the perfect hotel your mind probably conjures up images of grand chandeliers, baby grand pianos and beauties feeding you grapes on the plush mattress of a hand carved canopy bed.  Out the window a beautiful sunset begins to crest over the horizon of an unobstructed ocean view.  The salty air touching your skin only briefly before being dabbed away from the damp, cool, mango scented towel.  This sort of fantasy, multiple room palace probably exists for a price.

If I were to ask you to imagine the cheapest hotel what do you see?  Flicking on the light switch, causes the roach herds to scurry toward cover in the putrid motel room.  You pull back the sheets, which audibly crunch from whatever has hardened to their surface.  Through the fitted sheet you can see the stains on the mattress, although their origin is unknown, the evidence manifested clearly lead you to believe these are bodily fluids of some kind.  This kind of hotel certainly exists and the psycho running it would gladly accept your money.

When searching for a hotel I try to find some definite middle ground in these establishments.  I do not need to check into a pretentious establishment where I am expected to tip every person substantially for doing unnecessary tasks.  I am certain that if I lugged the bags of my entire family through the airport I’ll be fine taking them the next 50 yards or so.  I do not need people looking down at me for staying in their hotel.  At the same time I do have certain expectations in a hotel.  I want a nice, clean place where I can lay my head every night.  I will likely not spend much time in the hotel anyway.  Basically for my family a hotel is a place to store our things, take our showers and sleep until the next day.  So as long as the place is clean, quiet and comfortable I am fine.  All other things beyond that are luxuries.  Although having been updated in this millennium is a nice plus.  If your hotel is still rocking a big tube TV I am going to be a bit put off.

Keeping this criteria in mind I try to find the most affordable option, but I try to keep away from the lowest price option.  The last time I went with the lowest price option in an area was a few months ago.  I booked a room in a Howard Johnson, that was supposed to be a 3 star (out of 5).  It was a Hotwire hidden deal and cost about $40, which was very affordable for a 3 star hotel.  I arrived at the hotel and there was a very sketchy looking couple at the counter.  There was an old white Gateway Desktop in the lobby with a line 6 people deep waiting to use the computer.  The “couple” at the counter turned out to be two guys and a girl (sans teeth) who were fine with just one King bed.  I felt like I needed to shield my daughter’s eyes.  Walking through the hall I really felt like I was surrounded by shady characters.  This is not to say that money equals class by any stretch.  However, when you book the cheapest hotel in the area, it’s also the cheapest hotel for everyone else in the area.  So the guys scoring a three way with a tweaker are also booking that cheap room next door to your family.

I try to pick a moderate priced hotel with great reviews.  If possible I try to get a 4 star hotel at a lower price using a site like Priceline or Hotwire.  The problem with this method is that I have personally found that Priceline inflates the rating on some of their hotels.  So you may book a 4 star hotel for $50 and be pumped, but then when the hotel is revealed it is an old Howard Johnson that might generously be awarded 2 stars.  So you think you’re getting a room in a Hyatt or W and you are getting an overrated Ho Jo.  There are websites that exist to help make better decisions on hotels and reveal which hotels are available in an area at the particular star rating that you seek.

Over the next week I will be sharing more information about the hotels I decide to book for our upcoming trip and I will likely give a review of whatever hotel is lucky enough to be chosen by me.

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Life Tools (Fitness): BodyMedia Fit Review

The primary focus of my blog revolves around saving money, without sacrificing the pleasures of life.  Therefore, this type of fitness review might not be applicable to you or your situation.  I am of the opinion that the BodyMedia Fit is very much aligned with many of the tactics I follow in life.  As I have stated in prior blogs  there is no such thing as too much data.  From a financial standpoint you need to know where every dollar is earned and spent in order to make meaningful changes to your financial situation.  In the savings world it’s a simple equation of income – expenses = savings or debt.  So as long as I am making more than I am spending I am in good shape.  Ultimately you would like to have enough money left after expenses to set up a nice savings for emergencies and future, but it all starts with knowing your numbers.

BodyMedia Fit Simplisticsaving.comKnowing your numbers is what the BodyMedia Fit is all about.  It’s a small little device you wear on your left tricep and it tracks your daily fitness activity.  The equation is very similar for weight loss and finances.  Calories In – Calories Out = Fat or Not.  In this case the savings portion would be fat depositing itself to your midsection.  If you burn more calories through activity than you ingest through food then you will lose weight.  Actually every 3,500 calorie deficit should equal 1 pound of fat lost.  Knowing your numbers is essential to improving your health.  While there are many different excellent programs to track weight and log daily food intake, the options to show calories burned are not as abundant.  The best part about this gizmo is that you need not be a fitness guru to tap into its immense value.

My activity log goes back to February 2011, when I first bought my BodyMedia Fit.  Over this time I have gone some stretches without wearing it, but for the most part I have data for the past 2 years.  With this data I can see how my weight has fluctuated based on my activity level.  I have a very solid baseline so that I can actually see if any particular day is more productive than my average activity day.

Pros

The BodyMedia Fit, for me, is less intrusive than wearing a pedometer around and provides very accurate data on the number of steps taken.  The BodyMedia Fit acts as a pedometer on steroids though.  It not only tracks the number of steps taken, but the intensity of the activity.  The device sits against your skin to detect subtle changes in temperature, moisture and movement and analyzes all of these data points in some sort of proprietary magic.  The BodyMedia Fit website states that the device analyzes 5,000 data points per minute, while I cannot independently confirm this I do know that it just works.  When you are running around and being active this device will measure the number of calories burned.  Whether this number is totally accurate is difficult to say, but if the activity manager says I was active at a certain time, it coincides with my actual activity levels.

In addition to measuring your activity it is also a useful tool to measuring how many hours of sleep you get per night.  Again, I am not certain how this works, but it is very interesting to see.  Ever have a night where you go to bed early, but wake up the next day feeling groggy?  This device does an excellent job of calculating the number of hours you spend in sleep and also measures sleep efficiency using the number of hours laying down versus the number of hours asleep.

Cons

Reading the review so far, it should be obvious that I think the BodyMedia Fit is a great product, but that does not mean it is without its faults.  My primary gripe revolves around its subscription based website model.  Sure, many products are moving to cloud services, but that does not mean I need to like it.  I would rather buy the device and then load the data to my computer every day without the need for a monthly bill.  At $7.00 a month that’s pretty expensive and prohibits all but the most dedicated fitness gurus from sticking with the program.  Earlier this year they offered 1 year packages for $59 and 2 year for 89.  I signed up for the $89 2 year membership and find this to be much more reasonable.  However, it seems that they have gone back to their previous monthly fee which is disappointing.  I also have the Bluetooth version of the BodyMedia Fit and have found it difficult to connect to my Galaxy S2, but no problems with my Galaxy Note 2.  Overall though the Bluetooth is a bit buggy and not a great addition.

Conclusion

I definitely enjoy the BodyMedia Fit and actually own 2 of the units.  I bought the Core in 2011 and bought the bluetooth enabled device in 2013.  I do not feel like the Bluetooth model is worth the extra money because I find it annoying to have to pair the device on multiple occasions.  Overall I recommend this device for everyone as it tracks your activity and sleep throughout the day.  I wear mine around the clock and never run into any issues.  My sister bought the same unit and she finds it to be too noticeable on her arm and instead of embracing her healthy lifestyle she is embarrassed by the unit and wears it less frequently than I.  If you are interested in buying one of these units I would recommend doing so, but look into signing up for a yearly package to make it a better deal.

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Now until December 31, 2014 any Flight Booked on Southwest is Buy One Get One Free!

You read the title correctly folks, for the next 16 months any flight that I book on Southwest will include a free ticket for my wife!  Unfortunately, this does not apply to everyone, but only applies to very valuable customers such as myself.  As I have tried to make clear throughout every post of this blog, I am not particularly affluent.  I do enjoy traveling, but the fact is that I have not been on an airplane in about 8 years and my wife has never flown.  This makes having the ability to fly so inexpensively even more exciting for me.  Yesterday, I signed into my Rapid Rewards account and found the following:

Southwest Companion Pass Earned

 

As the above photo states there are two ways to earn a “Companion Pass”.  Method A, requires making 100 “qualifying flights” during one calendar year.  As I have already stated, I have made 0 flights in over 8 years.  The other method is slightly more attainable.  Method B, requires you to earn 110,000 rapid reward points over the course of one calendar year.  That is the one I did.  As you can see above, I have accrued 110,519 points.

 

How did I do it?

Obviously that sounds like a ton of points and it is, but there are definitely some shortcuts to take to get you there quickly.  The first thing that I did was sign up for two Southwest Credit Cards, each one had a 50,000 point bonus.  After meeting the $2,000 spending I had 104,000 points in my account!  Gathering the next 6,000 was not quite as easy.  I continued to use my credit cards to gather points at a rate of 1 point per dollar spent.  This earned me 2,116 additional points (I would have much rather signed up for another credit card and received a nice bonus).  I also used the Southwest shopping portal this earned me 303 extra points.  I could have really maximized this method, but it seemed that I always waited too long when a great reward came along.  Some of the best included 9 points per dollar at Staples and 6 points per dollar at sears.  I was going to buy a TV from Sears and that would have earned me the 6,000 points no problem.  I messed around waiting for a big reward total and then feared I would miss getting the pass in time for my flight.  Although transfering points from Chase Ultimate Rewards do not count toward the pass, transfers from Hyatt do count.  I transferred 8,000 points from Chase to Hyatt, then those 8,000 points turned into 3,600 Southwest points.  Not a great ratio compared to Chase’s 1 to 1 ratio, but still earned my pass.

I booked my flight for October back in June when the prices got very low.  With the 110,000 points in the account I was able to book flights from Louisville, KY to San Diego, CA for 18,000 points round trip.  If my wife and I were the only two flying we could fly across the country for 18,000 points total.  We spent another 18,000 points for my daughter’s ticket, but it’s still pretty amazing that a family can fly across the country for 36,000 points especially when those points all came from signing up for a couple credit cards.  Each card had a $100 fee, so we will be able to take 3 round trip, cross country trips for $200 bucks.  If we leave the kids at home we would get even more value.

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