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Go Gift Yourself

Published on August 15, 2014 by

The gift card industry has exploded over the past 20 years with annual sales of $118 billion in 2013 according to a recent CEB report. Back in the day it was a huge boom for businesses since 1 in 10 gift cards were never redeemed, however today that number is closer to 1 in 100.

Yeah, yeah, who cares. The important part of why I want to talk about gift cards.

Instant Savings!
Last week I mentioned buying flowers and lower my cost through the use of buying a gift card (Flower Power post). The site I used was Raise ($5 off referral link) which sells Bouqs e-gift cards for 20% off. Within 24 hours I received the gift card and was able to order the flowers for $25 instead of the list price of $40. Not a bad deal at all.

Pretty much every major retailer sells gift cards and there are numerous third party sites selling cards at a discount. Other than Raise the only other site I have used it GiftCardRescue.com. Use any site with caution and research the site to make sure it is a legitimate business before hand.

Save on your bad habits
Our other recent savings using gift cards is fueling Lady M’s Starbucks addiction, yes it is an addiction and I do not condone it; I sure as hell will try to find a way to lower our coffee budget though. Starbucks is pretty good coffee but definitely not premium. Starbucks gift cards are also available for 20% off. That is a significant savings if you are a regular Starbucks junkie. The nice part is you can add the gift card to your Starbucks account and just pay with the app, no need to actually use the gift card.

Estimated savings: $4.25 coffee X 4 times week X 52 weeks = $884 X 20% savings = $175 savings

A decent savings for taking one extra step in adding money to your Starbucks account. Luckily she only started going that often in recent months claiming if she can only have one coffee a day it should be good one.

You can even save around 5% buying gift cards for most grocery stores and Target. All it takes is a couple minutes to check out potential savings on purchases you plan on making.

Well just wanted to throw out a quick potential savings that everyone should use.

Until next time, Keep on Truckin’…   Watson

 
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First Year MBA Expenses

Published on August 3, 2014 by

I finally got around to tallying up my costs for the first year of school. It has been a busy summer, Lady M is preggers and I am interning on the other side of the country. Two more events I plan on tracking the expenses to help others prepare their finances.

Previous Schools Cost Posts:
Pre-MBA
Month 3
End of 1st Semester

1st YR expenses

1st YR expenses

Last semester was not too expensive, mostly due less networking events and no travel for conferences. However, I did have a big purchase for my China consulting trip. The $1800 airfare was categorized as supplies since I couldn’t finish the class without going to China.

I am expecting costs next year to be much lower since I will only be attending the Veterans MBA conference. Additionally, with the baby on the way I am hoping to be a stay-at-home-dad during the spring semester by taking night classes. If I can pull this off it will be a huge savings since child care in DC costs more than tuition at most colleges.

The GI Bill is by far the best perk to come from serving in the military. Having 100% of my $50,600 in tuition expenses covered by the GI Bill is huge, I would never have attended an MBA program with such high costs at this stage in my life without this benefit.

Be sure to stay tuned, I am looking forward to getting back into the blogging rhythm. With a baby, school and job hunting coming my way in the next few months there is plenty of opportunity to pinch a few pennies.

Until next time, Keep on Truckin’…   Watson

 
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Flower Power

Published on August 3, 2014 by

Recently I decided to ditch my usual flower delivery service. The price was good most of the time, I was  just not happy with the quality.

Yes, flowers are a complete waste of money in that they provide nothing for your money. Well if you have a lady friend she will certainly enjoy them and you get to collect some points with the wife should you do something stupid later on like forget to pick up milk on the way home.

Why am I mentioning flowers? Well, I am currently interning out-of-state for the summer and wanted to send my lady some flowers. That is when I stumbled upon The Bouqs. You may recognize the company from Shark Tank or if you are an online shopper you likely spotted an ad or two.

This start-up has grown rapidly in the past two years and currently has several promotions to pull in more customers. The link below provides $10 off your first order, a 25% savings on a standard $40 order.

$10 off referral link

The company is trying to leverage the hippie trends of “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” sources to sell the product. That is all great if you are in to that touchy feely stuff, I care about cost and quality. At $40 all in, the price is about average, but the quality is by far better than any other online delivery service I have used.

I liked the concept of the company and the flowers looked amazing in the photos. My wife received the flowers within a few days and they looked as good as the photos online. As you can see in the second photo below the deluxe order is huge. She actually had to bring half home to put in another vase. This means no need to pay an extra $10, the normal size is plenty.

Bouqs Roses

Bouqs Deluxe Order

After this test run, I signed up for a subscription service that gives me a 20% discount. At $32 an order this is a great deal if you send flowers a few times a year.

Just for comparison:

Old Service
Annual Fee: $40 (discounts and “free” shipping)
4x Orders @$30 each: $120
3x Orders @$45 each: $125

The Bouqs
7x Orders: $280 or $224 w/ 20% off Subscription

Total: $285 year  vs $280/$224

But more savings: I bought a gift card from a reseller site, saving an additional 20%. More to come on buying gift cards; saving before you even buy is sweet.

Until next time, Keep on Truckin’…   Watson

 
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Cost of owning a car

Published on March 18, 2014 by

As I was stumbling through the news this morning, I clicked on the following Wall Street Journal article about the annual cost of owning a vehicle. The info graphic is a great summary of the article.  WSJ Article

SJ-AH188_16LEDE_G_20140314185111

The reason I was interested in the article is my recent dealings with vehicle repairs. Last month I brought our car to the dealer for what I thought would be a simple fix on a small item. By the time I left the dealer I had a list of repairs suggested totaling  $1,400; so much for a small sub-$100 repair.

Rather than get the repairs, I researched the issues and realized I could easily do $600 of the repairs myself for about $120 in parts and a couple hours on the weekend. The rest required tools, skill and time I was not capable of without significant research. Lucky for us, the service shop sent a quarterly newsletter which included a coupon for $200 off $800+ in service. By waiting and being patient we were able to save over $700 which is great since my GI Bill monies are still “being processed” for the new semester.

After reading the information, I went to the AAA site regarding cost to own (link). The numbers should be convincing enough when it comes to buying your next car, see graph below.

The findings of the 2013 ‘Your Driving Costs’ study include (sourced from AAA):

Based on Driving 15,000 miles annually

Small Sedan

Medium Sedan

Large Sedan

Sedan Average

SUV 4WD

Minivan

Cost Per Mile

46.4 cents

61.0 cents

75.0 cents

60.8 cents

77.3 cents

65.3 cents

Cost Per Year

$6,967

$9,151

$11,248

$9,122

$11,599

$9,795

I could not agree more with point number one in the WSJ article, “Don’t buy more than you need.” Do you really need an SUV if a small sedan would suffice? It is costing you roughly $4k a year; yes every year, not the life of the car. This is a critical number for you young-ins during your early years in the military. You really don’t even need a car as a private since everything is walking distance from the barracks and you rarely head off base solo. Unless you already own a car before the military I would just tag along with buddies that have cars and save thousands a year.

Some excuses people may have for owning a larger, a.k.a. more expensive, car:

Safety
For the most part, smaller cars are just as safe as an SUV. This is a common misunderstanding, but technology has come a long way and several small cars are on the top of the safest cars lists. At the end of the day, an accident is an accident and the odds of your vehicle’s size be a factor in your safety is little to none.

Space
Unless you have multiple kids, more than two, or on a weekly basis travel with huge amounts of stuff the space argument is void. It is similar to people convincing themselves they need an extra bedroom for guests when buying a home. The extra room costs thousands more in mortgage, when guests likely only stay 4-10 nights a year. It is cheaper to buy a pull out couch or pay for a hotel room near-by.

Off-road Capability
Sure it is fun to go mudding, but is it a requirement, I doubt it. When it comes to snow, there are small AWD sedans that handle just as good or better than a larger vehicle. Also, outside of places that get real snow this is not a concern. Take DC, we had several “snow closures” this year and rarely were we stuck because of our car. If anything having a normal car forces you to drive safe when the roads are a little icy. Once it is bad conditions for a standard car, you shouldn’t be on the road anyways unless an emergency.

This being the case, there are reasons to own a larger vehicle. I would just say if money is tight, or you are saving for retirement, it may be a good idea to fully evaluate your driving requirements. Maybe you can rent or borrow a truck 3-4 times a year when required.

When buying your next car, think about future costs not just the price tag.

Until next time, Keep on Truckin’…   Watson

 
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