Saturday, January 31, 2009

Grazing (For Free Food) at Costco: A Frugal Way to Pass the Time

Yesterday afternoon me and two others commuted across Puget Sound to do a farewell dinner for somebody retiring from one of the detachments i'm in charge of. Commuting across Puget Sound, via ferry, always adds significant time to any trip. We left early and arrived at our destination a full one hour early. Needing to kill time, one person recommended we go to Costco. One of the three people in the car had a Costco membership. As a military service member, I get cheap food (without sales tax) at our military commissary. It's just me and my wife and we have little need for buying in bulk. I have heard that Costco has a great car buying service. I might join the next time I buy a new car. Other than that, I have no need for a Costco membership.

Once we got into the store, us guys spent an obligatory amount of time in front of the flat screen TVs. We walked amongst other sections of the store but ultimately ended up in the food section. I was a little hungry because it was about 430 pm and getting close to when I normally snack or eat dinner (after 5pm). I started coming across free food sample tables, sampling from each along the way. There must have been about ten free food sampling tables in that Costco! That's the most that i've seen at any store. I ended up sampling from most if not all of them. There were even a few sampling tables with a backed up cue of people waiting for the next batch of cooked/heated samples. Most of them had shopping baskets, but they obviously enjoyed taking the free samples like myself.

While sampling all of the free food, I thought about a term I heard previously called "grazing." Grazing aptly describes what I was doing.

I searched the internet but I couldn't find any entertaining videos on the subject. I suspect "grazing" could be an extreme frugal measure for some people to get calories. It could be frugal if you're already in the area of a store that puts out free samples and you decide to take a stroll through that store for free calories.

I suspect that it would be counterproductive to frugality if you have a large shopping basket with you. A number of people taking the free samples are already hungry and may be prone to impulse purchases of the sampled products. Speaking for myself, I know I would have bought at least one of the ten sampled products, joint juice, if I had a shopping cart with me. During my googling on the topic, I found that one of the highest grossing stores in the Giant Supermarket grocery chain actively employs the use of free samples and includes signage in front of the store encouraging "grazing."

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Just Turned Down Advertiser Money for a Text Link Ad (My New Screening Criteria)

As my website has grown, I have started to receive multiple requests to advertise on my site. This certainly helps my ego and wallet. However, I just decided to turn down my first ad placement. The reason for turning it down was because I was unable to confirm the identity of the advertiser with the Better Business Bureau, let alone the advertiser's record with BBB.

I lost out on about $120. I then noticed that some of my previously arranged ads are with companies registered with the BBB. Of those not registered, I intend to let their ads expire without renewal unless I later find that they have registered and have a good reputation with BBB.

The other techniques I have previously used is simply to do a google link search to determine which other bloggers already have advertising agreements with the new advertiser approaching me. You can do this by simply going to the google search field and typing "link:websiteaddress" You'll then get a listing of all sites that link back to the advertiser who has approached you. Of course, this isn't fool proof. It only identifies whether or not the advertiser is trusted by others.

I have noticed that a number of other personal finance blogs may not be applying the BBB criteria. Regardless, I think this is the best course of action going forward.

Does anybody else use other criteria for blogger - marketer arranged ad agreements?

CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge Daily Trivia Bonus Bucks Answers (1/23)

1/23 Bonus Questions:

(1.) Question: As of Jan. 19, how much bailout funding did HSBC request from the U.K. government?

Answer: no request being made

(2.) Question: On Dec. 14, we reported that Berkshire Hathaway raised its stake in Burlington Northern railroad to:

Answer: 20.47 %

(3.) Question: According to our slideshow, Behind the Scenes Look at the Death of Seth Tobias, where was "Tiger" the night in question?

Answer: Las Vegas

(4.) Question: In our slideshow, "Notable Sex Scandals," which disgraced figure is wearing a red pattern necktie?

Answer: Jim McGreevey

(5.) Question: In our "SPANX Million Dollar Girdles" slideshow, what archaic derogatory term is referenced?

Answer: “loose woman"

(6.) Question: According to our slideshow, Prostitution Scandals of the Rich & Famous, who revealed Sen. David Vitter's illicit secret?

Answer: Hustler magazine

(7.) Weekly Question: Jobless claims are reported

Answer: Weekly

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pledge 5 Volunteer Hours And Starbucks Will Give You a Tall Brewed Coffee

Starbucks will give you a 12 oz tall coffee from Jan 21-25, 2009, in participating U.S. Starbucks stores if you pledge to volunteer 5 hours of community service time. Offer not valid at airports or Barnes and Noble locations.

Additional details can be obtained at or via your local participating Starbucks. If you don't have time to click through to the Starbucks site for further reading, simply go to your local Starbucks and say "i'm in" to get the free cup of coffee. The only obligation is following through on your committment to volunteer in your local community.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The FULL SPEECH of Barack Obama on Inauguration Day 2009

Here's the full Barack Obama Inauguration Day 2009 Speech

Part I

Part II

Friday, January 16, 2009

Credit Card Losses at Citibank Expected to Peak in Mid 2010 (Plus Other Personally Related Commentary)

Economics is one of my favorite subjects. This morning on CNBC a host conveyed that Citibank is projecting that its credit card losses will peak in mid 2010. The key determinant for credit card losses is the unemployment rate. I suspect that there is some lag between peak unemployment and credit card losses since:

a.) Credit card billing cycles have a natural one month lag between accrual of debt and debt repayment.
b.) Accumulation of debt on credit card requires a 4% of balance due repayment. Unemployed personnel should be able to make minimum payments for 3-6 months while they collect state unemployment payments.
c.) If unemployment payments are not enough to sustain a household, some unemployed personnel have "emergency" funds that may sustain them until the end of unemployment payments.
d.) I wouldn't consider 30 days delinquent as a loss for credit cards. I suspect credit card payments would need to be at least 90 days delinquent, perhaps 120 days delinquent before factored in with peak credit card losses at Citibank. Let's stick with 90 day delinquent assumption.

Doing some back of the envelope math:

June 2010 minus "a" = May 2010
May 2010 minus "b" = Dec 2009 to Feb 2010
Dec 2009 to Feb 2010 minus "c" = Dec 2009 (firm, vice date range)
Dec 2009 minus "d" = Sep 2009

Using Citibank's statement for peak credit card losses, one may extrapolate a peak unemployment rate around Sep 2009. Now factoring in the U.S. agricultural growing season marked by last freeze in May and first freeze in October, one may infer that agricultural jobs will provide some employment strength up till October. Readjusting for this seasonal sector of our economy, I believe that U.S. peak unemployment could be around Oct 2009, assuming Citibank's projections are valid. The extent of Citibank's credibility in forecasting profits / losses is debatable, especially with their deplorable projections related to mortgage backed securities leading up to the real estate bubble.

The whole travel industry may get some of the traditional summer travel but should bank on significantly lower consumer travel in Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. Retailers will feel the biggest pinch during the next Black Friday and Cyber Monday in Nov 2009. Thus, I would stay away from investments in sectors involving discretionary income until at least 2010.

Yes, the Obama administration will likely provide significant economic stimulus. Even with this, American citizens will have grown to understand the impact of tough economic times. They will also realize that today's negative three percent household savings rate (an approximation) needs to be readjusted to the ten percent plus savings rates of the early eighties. This readjusted savings rate will offset much of the gains some people expect out of the upcoming Obama stimulus package. Even with the stimulus package, the financial sector has a number of emergency / TARP loans from the U.S. government. It will take these companies about 5 years (this is a SWAG) to either payoff these debts, or make significant progress allowing them to long-term refinance the debt. This 5 year period of time represents a period where there is less money available for lending. Those who qualify will naturally be those cases that have high FICO scores and present minimal risk to banks.

My best investments for 2009:
- Stocks: Bear Market mutual fund (BEARX). If you insist on going long on stocks, consider utilities, consumer staples and health care.
- Cash: Paying off mortgage early or saving to buy a house

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Glenn Beck Returns to TV Next Week

Glenn Beck returns to TV next week (Monday 1/19) on Fox News. His time slot will be 5pm EST. His new show is simply called "Beck."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Freudian Slip: President Bush Just Called Our Current Economic Situation a Depression

During President Bush's final press conference, he referred to our current economic situation as a Depression.

I believe it may have been a Freudian slip because in his same sentence he also mentioned the Great Depression.

The context was in reference to what his economic advisers were telling him about the present day economic situation and his tax cuts. President Bush was emphasizing how important his tax cuts were during his administration; that the people are the best people to spend their own money as compared with the government. In particular, during our present Depression.

Sorry. I don't have the exact quote, I wasn't expecting to hear it, but know that I did hear it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just Received Mixed News on One of My Rental Properties, Predominately Good Though

Our largest rental property is 3100 square feet. It was previously our primary residence until June of this year. We did get a renter to assume the property on June 1st but they promptly notified us that they were going to break the lease just 5 months later.


I'm trying to collect two months of rent as a penalty for breaking the lease. Unfortunately, they only paid for one. The outgoing tenants cut the power off to the house and even left food in the fridge.

Fortunately, we just found some new tenants who are willing to move in on the first of February, or as soon as we can get the current tenants fully out of the house.

I'm sure a little drama may go down over the next couple of weeks as we jockey for the new tenants to move in. However, in the long run, it looks like the new renters will be a great.

My last major concern on our rental properties is some delayed maintenance at the first house I bought. My property manager is working to get some estimates. Work will likely exceed $10k. Once this is finalized, we'll be able to get back on track with our accelerated payments on our rental properties. So long as the maintenance doesn't amount to anything substantially greater than $10k, we should be able to pay off one of our three houses within the next 15 months.

Small (Frugal) Household Investments With Major Returns

I came across a good article at Yahoo which details a number of things you can do around the house to save money. While there is an initial outlay of cash for each of these household investments, the return on that investment can be substantial.

$55 Bread maker. If you spend $4 a week on store bought bread, then you can save about $208 a year.

Credit Cards. Get a credit card with a sign up bonus. Then cancel the credit card after receiving the sign up bonus.

Libraries. Quit buying books and magazines and go to the library, if nearby. So long as your commute is short the return on investment can be infinite.

Cable. Replace your cable with a Netflix service. If you already getting the major networks then you might be able to tolerate losing the premium networks and still achieve an estimated 98% return on your investment (ROI) in Netflix

Herbs. Order a few bags of seeds and start growing herbs on your Apt balcony or in your back yard. We already do this at our own apartment. The Yahoo article alludes to an estimated 400% ROI.

Cell phone. Switch to a pre-paid cell phone and augment it with internet phone calls at home. Estimated ROI 500%.

Coffee. Start making your own coffee and save up to an estimated $1000 a year which could be a 1000% ROI.

Here's the full article by Brett Arends of the WSJ.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Download Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan Book For FREE on January 8th

Suze Orman has a new book out called "Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan." The book sells for $9.99 at

This morning she announced on CNBC that she will be on Oprah on January 8th and that viewers of that specific program will be able to download her new book for free.