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Netflix vs. Blockbuster

January 27th, 2007 at 07:47 am

In the on-going battle for DVD-by-mail supremacy, Netflix seemed to always have an edge over Blockbuster. As a previous Netflix subscriber, I was recently made aware that Netflix will soon be offering customers the option to download and view movies online. When this becomes available, Netflix thus becomes a "movies on demand" type of service. Compare that to Blockbuster, which at first had the advantage of "instant" gratification in that if you really couldn't wait, you could go to the actual store and obtain a movie by simply trading in your mailer. Now you can be an ultimate couch potato and just point and click your way to a movie on your computer via Netflix.

Blockbuster still has one slight advantage, but this applies only to gamers. You can rent video games for Xbox and Playstation at the stores. By being a subscriber to the DVD-by-mail program, you receive ecoupons which you can redeem in-store for a video game. Given the, ahem, episodic (re: addictive) quality of certain games, and depending on whether the "no late fees" applies, this could be a very good deal (though I have the feeling that is not the case). But if your thumbs were aching for a quick fix for Madden NFL 200-whatever, then Blockbuster could be your cure.

Pricewise, Netflix and Blockbuster are neck in neck. I don't know how prices will change when Netflix unveils the downloading service, but people may be willing to pay a little more for the convenience. Blockbuster would have to drastically lower prices to get people's attention.

I have personally tried both Netflix and Blockbuster and experienced no delays receiving DVD's in the mail from both services on a timely basis. There's no handy listing of the distribution sites, but perhaps some people in non-metropolitan areas have experienced shipping delays. My friends and I have received cracked/unplayable DVD's from Netflix a few times; can't say anyone really minded, though, because there were always other movies to watch and things to do. And WOW, Netflix let us return it with no problem or charge. Guess it's impossible to finger who's to blame.

Ultimately, the thing that draws me (and my friends) to Netflix are the 2-week Free Trials. For awhile, a group of us would take turns applying for the free trial membership, then we'd all get together to watch the movies. After three rounds of this, we did all chip in to pay for a subscription (we felt bad). When we canceled, Netflix offered ANOTHER free trial period to keep us, so we took that. Then we ran out of movies to watch =) But, my point is that FREE is always a big plus.

Still hesitant to give Netflix a try? Enter this code: 80004745 for a 4-week Free Trial Bring on the popcorn!

Use Autopay- but don't turn off your brain

January 26th, 2007 at 09:41 am

In this day and age, almost everything is automated- car washes, cappuccino machines, even sidewalks now move for you. There's even Auto Bill Pay, where you can set up financial transactions that will occur on their own on a regular basis. In the words of that rotisserie commercial, "Set it, then forget it!"

That's all well and good, but I've always eyed Auto Bill Pay with much caution, mainly because I feel that, if I sit back and let the utilities and other companies automatically take deductions (which could vary month to month) from my checking account, I might become lax about double checking the actual bill. There's always the possibility of a mistake, and, should an error occur, it's much harder to fight the company for a credit (once they have my money, they're usually reluctant to return it). There have also been many situations where automatic payments have still gone through despite having cancelled the service.

On the other hand, you could use Autopay to help in your investments. The whole concept of "pay yourself first" is simplified when you set up an automatic deposit from your paycheck into your IRA or savings account. You can also choose to deposit a set amount each month into investment accounts such as Sharebuilder or Buyandhold, which then purchases fractions of ETFs or stock. The drawback here, though, as I learned the hard way, is that sometimes linked accounts/brokerages are slow to transfer money, meaning that sometimes although it says they withdrew money on XX/XX date, the balance doesn't show up until day(s) later. I ended up not having sufficient funds in my checking account because I thought my brokerage had already taken out the amount. Grrrr.

In summary, automatic bill pay can be helpful but I wouldn't put 100% trust into it. You still need to put in the effort to keep track of when your billing periods end, so your scheduled payments fall within the deadlines. It's just like driving on cruise control; you don't have to keep the foot on the gas pedal but you still need to stay alert for the bumps on the road =)

The Festival of Under 30 Finances is Up

January 26th, 2007 at 05:43 am

This is my first time participating in The Festival of Under 30 Finances, hosted this week by Golbguru. Check it out at

Text is http://www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com/2007/01/26/207.html and Link is
http://www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com/2007/01/26/207.html. I haven't had time to peruse the extensive list of entries but the main topic of discussion was how to handle debt in our 20's. Judging by the short descriptions, it looks like there's quite an interesting variety of answers from all us *young* bloggers (weren't we once referred to as Generation X or Next?).

Since it's going to be a cold weekend (at least here in the Northeast) why not settle down for some good financial reading? And as a personal favor (and "shameless" self promotion, harharhar) let me know your thoughts on my entry- if there's any ways I could improve in my writing style or tone. Thanks, and Happy Weekend to All!

My mind is on investing

January 25th, 2007 at 06:25 am

It's strange; the other day I went shopping with a friend and though I saw some nice cashmere sweaters on sale, I talked myself out of buying them. And yet, a few days ago I contributed $1000 to my Roth IRA and also put $5000 into my brokerage account to purchase some mutual funds. That's $6000! It's not exactly pocket change (well, for me it's a huge sum).

Why is it I would hesitate so much on $100 worth of clothing but not think twice about putting $100 into an IRA? Either way, the money is out of my hands and spent, but I think with investments, I am pretty confident that money (and hopefully with added interest)will still be there for me to use at a later time. It's just money put on hold while a sweater is money gone bye-bye into the hands of Macys or whatever store. That money is gone. Poof.

While it's very noble of me to have a good sense of investing for the future, what I am slowly becoming more aware of is the negative impact it has on my spending for the Present. In one instance, I recall hesitating to buy toilet paper, of all things!, even though I needed it, because it wasn't on sale. Yes, call me a Stingy Scrooge because in that situation, I was being a Miser to the extreme.

Investing is great but sometimes you have to spend money for the present. There's basic living needs that simply must be met! Otherwise, it's like I'm thinking too much for the future and not living in the Present.

"2 for Tuesday" deal- Petco

January 23rd, 2007 at 05:40 am

For today's two-for deal, ebates is doubling the cashback at Petco, for a grand total of 12% cashback. That's gonna plump up your "Big Fat Check" quite a bit. In case you are an online shopper who isn't familiar with ebates.com, I highly suggest you check it out (that is, unless you like spending extra money on stuff)
*****

I wanted to thank everyone who commented on my long rant yesterday. It feels good to vent sometimes....

I do think that when I go to drop off my rent check this week, I'll casually inquire about the installation of satellite dishes, just to see what the real policy is (though that's really more for my own curiousity and vindication).

Would you have done differently? (long rant)

January 22nd, 2007 at 06:06 am

I think I may have made an enemy of my downstairs neighbor. We moved in around the same time (late August) but have just been "nodding acquaintances." She's also Chinese, though probably about 5-10 years older than I am. I initially made friendly talk but she didn't reciprocate so I left it at that. Her parents live with her and they also don't speak to me if we happen to run into each other.

A few weeks ago, my parents came to visit and I think my neighbors heard me speaking Chinese, because suddenly my neighbor began to speak to me, just a bit, but in Chinese. She still wasn't buddy-buddy or anything, but she'd say hi and how was your day? type of stuff. Until this weekend, that is. Unexpectedly she came knocking at my door and I invited her in. She seemed nervous and kept making small talk, so I tried to be extra friendly and offered tea and snacks.

Then she came to the heart of the matter; she asked if I would mind if she had a satellite dish installed, so they could receive Asian cable TV stations. I said that was a matter to ask the apartment complex people, not me. Then she said, would I mind having the dish installed off MY balcony?

My immediate reaction was, if she were a close friend or relative, then I wouldn't hesitate to say Yes. But she's a relative stranger, and to me, asking that sort of favor, which involves me as a third party including all sorts of responsibilities, is really pushing the "kindness to strangers" policy too far. I first asked her if she'd tried placing the dish just outside and seeing if she could receive signal. She said my balcony was blocking the sky; I told her to try moving it out from under my balcony. She said I was higher up so I should receive better signal. I then blurted out that no matter what, satellite signal comes from teh sky no matter what, doesn't matter if you're on the ground or the 6-10 feet higher up where I am on the second floor.

That sort of pissed her off, me being direct (and she probably thought I was being obstinate). Then I said I wasn't comfortable with having people enter my apartment to install the dish. She said they'd use a ladder and do it outside. Then I asked what things I'd be liable for. She didn't understand the word, and I couldnt' really get the point across because I was using Chinese; I was trying to explain possible legal issues and stuff, like if the dish broke or fell off my porch, what in the contract would prevent me from being blamed, stuff like that.

then she tried to appeal to me personally. She said her parents were bored and really wanted to have that cable TV installed. Sure, I felt badly; one of my priorities is to take care of my parents. Still, using that tactic was a bit sneaky, makes me look like a total bad guy. I asked her more about her parents and then she revealed they were returning back to China at the end of next month! So she'd only be having dish satellite installed for one month? Yes. I then told her there were options to download/watch Chinese broadcast TV and movies online, or they can rent videos from our local Asian grocery store and library. She then got angry and said I was not a considerate person.

Did I do the wrong thing? My main concern was the basic issue that, since my property (balcony) was being involved, then no matter what, I would have some responsibility of whatever was on it or attached to it. Never mind the fact I felt it was rude for the neighbor/stranger to presume she could pressure me into agreeing, and then for her to result to pity and then bullying tactics. Still, I tried to say No nicely and I still end up feeling like the bad person. Makes me just want to throw up my hands and scream (Aiya!!!).

Welcome to your "Twenties:" Big Financial Shifts Ahead

January 20th, 2007 at 08:35 am

So you've made it through your undergrad years and, if you're crazy like me, you went back for more edjumacation so you'd have some letters to stick after your name, but FINALLY you've emerged, blinking and confused, into the Real World. Time for your first test:

"Assume you are an average 25 year old with $25,000 debt (on account of your student loan) You have been given a lump sum $10,000 and the following four choices:

1. Invest it for your retirement funds.
2. Save/invest it for your future home.
3. Save/invest it towards your child’s/children’s future college education.
4. Pay part of your student loan debt."

Wow, is there a fifth choice- "Depends on your personal situation?" Take a look at your 20-something yr old buddies; some of them are married, some of them have kids already, and some are still chilling in grad school. Even myself, I don't fit in to the "average 25 year old" as defined since I don't have any student loans.

So how would I answer the question? To quote my parents, "No debt is good debt." I was taught at a young age that the big consequence of borrowing money is you have to pay it back eventually. And with interest rates and late fees, you may end up owing much more than you originally borrowed. Sure, loans such as student loans and mortgages are viewed by some as "good debt," predicting that the ends will justify the means (education will get you a higher paying job, a house will turn out to be an investment that appreciates in value over time) but there's still going to be that negative value hole in your financial balance sheet.

If I had $10,000, then I would definitely use it to repay any outstanding debts; though I have zero student loans, I'd then choose to pay any high credit card balances, since credit card APRs are notoriously high. But in the spirit of this question, I would choose #1. I'd max out my Roth IRA and 401K contributions, then spend the rest balancing my stock portfolio. My reasons? I feel that I should contribute towards my retirement, now, while I have less priorities in my life. I don't have kids and I just started a new job, so for now, to put it bluntly, I only have to take care of my monthly bills/expenses, and the rest can go towards investing towards retirement. Eventually, the time will come when I need to change my financial goals, to pay for my childrens' living, education, housing, etc.

Credits: Much thanks to Golbguru, for hosting the Festival of Under 30 Finances!!! Check out Golbguru's awesomely funny and honest personal finance blog,

Text is www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com and Link is
www.thetaoofmakingmoney.com to learn more. Sometimes there's cool giveaways, too!

My (secret) Money Saving Tip!

January 17th, 2007 at 05:54 pm

Sometimes, you can save money just by speaking up and asking flat out for a discount. Don't believe me? Try it out and you'll see. Don't just limit yourself to yard sales and flea markets; many brick and mortar stores may offer you a discount as well, especially on open-box items, high-price items, or items with visible dents/blemishes (of course, first check to see if it works). If you buy in bulk or you shop/eat often at that store, ask for a bulk discount or if there's a frequent shopper/diner card.

Still tongue tied? If you are a college student, ask if there's a discount for students. Belong to AAA or AARP or any affiliation? You might qualify for a discount as well.

Don't be mean or demanding! Ask in a nice, polite manner and remember to smile. Even if you get denied, don't take it personally. Thank the merchant and then go on with your business. In the end, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, so...just ask!

Whoops, don't forget the $20 challenge

January 16th, 2007 at 05:38 am

Old total: $56.70

Saturday: Laundry, did pilates with mom (seemed more stretching than the physicalness I'm used to from running- but my tummy hurt!), drank tons of water including at the restaurant, so I'll kick in $1.39

Sunday: Ran/walked 6 miles. +.54
Monday: 2 mile walk. +.18 and drank three thermoses of water! (I was being a desk jockey) +1.39
Tuesday: 5 mile run. +.45

New total: $60.65

Two for Tuesdays: Rite Aid Watch Continues!

January 16th, 2007 at 05:33 am

I'm starting to feel like a Rite Aid cop! There's one within walking distance of my office, so it has become one of the staples of my lunchbreak walk. I don't always go in with the intention of buying, but after perusing the aisles, I must say that there's great prices and sales to be had. And if you've been paying attention to my entries, my last one was a bit of a *rant* against Rite Aid....I take it back! Yesterday I noticed the confusing price tags had all been replaced. In fact, it looked like every sales item now had it's own shelf tag; all of them had the same wording/jargon. Even more eye-catching was the sales items were grouped together on the shelves, so you couldn't help but notice them. I did do a bit of policework and poked through the tags but nope, there was no case where the tags were hiding the prices of non-sale items. So good job, Rite Aid!

With that said, I will now kick-off my Two for Tuesday series by mentioning some of the deals I saw a la Rite Aid. The "2 for 1" sales expire 1/20/07, but the 50% Off (essentially the same deal) sales look to be running "while supplies last!" Some things worth considering:

-Finesse (my fav! yay!) shampoo/conditioners
-Aveeno lotion and body wash
-Neutrogena cleansing products (they rock)
-Cosmetics, though the 50% off nail polishes looked, err, crappy (ever see the layers separate? not a nice sight). Actually, I would hesitate to buy some of the foundations, too, since most contain SPF nowadays, and many sunblock ingredients lose potency over time. Those discount cosmetics have obviuosly been sitting around for awhile, so buy at your own discretion
-Banaids (I stocked up here)
-Certain L'oreal anti-aging products: though I don't use them myself, I did read an article/expose that revealed drugstore brand lotions are just as, if not more, effective than those department store brands. So don't scoff at buying anti-wrinkle cream at Rite Aid instead of at Nordstroms! (though the best best best skincare will always be sunblock)

And, of course, Christmas items were 75% off. Some cute stuffed animals that were tempting even for an "adult" like myself!

A Tale of Two Households

January 13th, 2007 at 07:10 am

Great weekend reading at MSNMoney. Two articles, one in which the author chooses to live below her means (12K income) and another that chooses to live above their current means (150K income):

Text is http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/SurvivingAndThrivingOn12000AYear.aspx and Link is
http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
A reporter choose to divorce, return to school, and reduce her yearly income to 12K. And yet she continues to donate $20/month to church because she realizes there are those who live on much less income than she does.

Text is http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/ScrapingByOn150000AYear.aspx and Link is
http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBu...
"Scraping by" on $150,000/year? Read about a family of 5 who have trimmed away the premium cable, the STarbucks latte, the soccer camps- but still want to keep the horse and the two vacation rentals. They seem a nice enough family, but to me, if they choose to keep those luxury items, then they should be prepared to make even more severe cuts in their other spendings. Still, an interesting comparison to the first article.

Confusion at RiteAid

January 10th, 2007 at 08:59 am

The other day, I was in RiteAid when I noticed some confusing sales tag in the aisles. Certain skincare items were on sale this week; to promote these items, there were yellow shelf tags reading "$1.50 savings" posted (more or less) below the item.

But what happened when they attempted to do double coupon savings? RiteAid often has clip-out coupons within their print ads; if you're lucky, your desired sale item might get this additional discount. This week, for example, Eucerin lotions price were cut by $1.50; there was also an in-ad coupon for additional $1.50.

You'd think RiteAid would print one sticker that read "$3.00 savings!" but instead, RiteAid got lost in confusion. I saw one sticker which read the following:

$1.50 savings
-$1.50 In-Ad savings
---------
0.00 total savings

Eh????

What it should've read:
$1.50 savings
+ $1.50 In-Ad savings
----------
$3.00 total savings

I saw yet another tag (on the same shelf, no less):

-$1.50 Less
-$1.50 Less with In-Ad Coupon
XXXXXXXX (no total "less")

Why all this tagging variation? Why the emphasis on being Good Student and adhering to the rules of addition/subtraction of negative numbers? Or is RiteAid following the strict rules of English rhetoric that say the words "less" or "savings" imply subtracting from a number?

It seems RiteAid is being a bit too smart for their own good!