All posts by KPals

A Cheap Trick to Defeat Mosquitoes

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-fan-image16724790Mosquitoes live in almost every warm part of the world, and during hot summers like ours, they become terrible as they bring bites and welts—and sometimes infectious diseases—to backyard barbeques. While the threat of mosquito-born malaria has largely been banished from the United States, other mosquito-born maladies like West Nile Virus and dengue fever have begun to appear in parts of our country. It’s no wonder then that there are many products available—from mosquito repellent coils to mosquito repellent outdoor lanterns—to help us avoid these buzzy summer spoilers.

With so many options to choose from, it’s hard to know which products will actually work and be worth your hard-earned money. Is it a $10 spray? A $15 candle? A $74 light? A $160 bug zapper?

None other than the NY Times has opined on this issue, and this time the American paper-of-record offered a skeptical look at mosquito repellents and instead recommended a cheap trick: a common fan.

It turns out that a fan repels mosquitoes for two reasons: 1) mosquitoes will avoid flying into strong breezes and 2) strong breezes disperse the human scents that normally attract mosquitoes.

These reasons make sense, and the effectiveness of a fan in deterring mosquitoes has been supported by research conducted by Michigan State University’s Department of Entomology.

So while DEET, picardin and lemon-eucalyptus oil are still considered to be among the most effective repellents, you might find that the cheapest way to enjoy being outside this summer is to point a couple of fans where you plan to be and enjoy the breeze!

 

What cheap ways do you use to avoid mosquitoes? Share your tips in our Community Forum or in the comments below!

For more information on mosquitoes, their flying speeds and habits and mosquito deterrents, please visit the American Mosquito Control Association’s FAQ site at mosquito.com.

 

Financial Product Review: CardStar Loyalty Card App

loyalty cardsIf your wallet  or pocketbook is anything like the overstuffed suitcases that Janet and I carry around, it’s probably brimming with loyalty cards and rewards cards from the merchants you frequent. We have cards from grocery stores, pharmacies, hotel chains, airlines and even Amtrak. These cards help us get great discounts over time at the places we shop, so we think of them as important tools for smart spending.

Unfortunately, the number of cards we carry has only grown, and we’ve responded in different ways. Janet has opted to buy increasingly larger pocketbooks as her loyalty cards have split seams and popped pockets. I, on the other hand, have chosen to regularly cull infrequently-used cards from my wallet, but as a consequence, I don’t always have the right card available when I want to use it.

Thankfully, we’ve stumbled on a new app that solves our problems and brings a lot of extra value: CardStar.

cardstar barcode

An Easy-to-Use App to Consolidate Your Cards

CardStar is available for iPhone, Android, Nokia, Blackberry and Windows phone systems and can be downloaded, set up and ready to use in minutes. The interface is simple and its use is generally obvious. Having never used the app before, I downloaded it, explored the app in its entirety and even entered seven cards from our favorite retailers in less than five minutes.

There are two ways to enter cards: snapping a photo of the barcode on the card and manually typing in the serial number of the card. CardStar makes this process even easier by providing a list of participating merchants that you can quickly select and add. If the merchant you want in not on the list though, don’t worry – you’ll find it’s a snap to add.

Adding Cardscardstar merchant list

Just click on the “+” in the top-right corner of the screen and then then scroll through an alphabetized list of participating merchants. Once you find the merchant whose card you want to add, just tap on its name to select it and then tap “Next.” The next screen to appear allows you to enter the card number or capture it by snapping a photo of the card’s barcode using the smartphone camera. Tap “Save” and then you’re all set!

If you don’t see the name listed for the merchant you want, you just need to create your own listing. At the top of their list of merchants is “(Other).” Tap there, click Next and then manually enter or photograph the barcode and then hit “Save.”  On the next screen, simply tap on the name “Other” in order to type in the name of the merchant that you just added. Easy.

How to Use It

Now, when you go to one of your favorite merchants and you want to use one of your cards, you don’t need to reach for your wallet. Just pull out your smartphone, open the CardStar app, and then select the merchant from your list of pre-saved cards. Your barcode and card number will appear on the screen. (The app will automatically create a barcode for you–even if your original card did not have one.) If the merchant has a machine that can scan barcodes, they will be able to scan the barcode on your smartphone screen just like the barcode that is printed on the product being sold. (The machines in your grocery market check-out lane are the perfect scenario for these cards.)

If they cannot scan barcodes, the check-out person or the merchant should be able to just manually type the card number that’s displayed on your phone into their register in order to give your card account credit for the sale.

cardstar dealsBig Savings and Peace of Mind

CardStar has two other major benefits: coupons and online backup. Some merchants share information about coupons or other discounts with CardStar, so the app allows puts a deals icon next to the name of any of your merchants that is offering extra savings. Just tap on the deals icon next to the name and the screen will switch to a list of those coupons and discounts. When you’re ready to use one, simply show the coupon’s code to the merchant.

Finally, CardStar also knows that sometimes smartphones get lost, damaged or replaced and that CardStar users need to be able to transfer their card accounts from phone to phone. CardStar’s one-touch account back-up provides this feature and is available easily from the app’s main screen.

Now, with CardStar, you can consolidate all your cards into one app, access big savings with an easy-to-use app and have the confidence that you can throw away that stack of cards forever.

Five Ten Twenty Club Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Note: This is the first in a series of financial product reviews designed to help you select the best free or low-cost products for your needs. We only recommend those products we feel benefit a majority of our readers.

The $1 and $5-a-Day Electric Car

Falling prices for fully-electric cars are combining with incentives offered by the federal government and certain states to create some incredible deals on electric vehicles.

For example, if you want to lease the fully-electric 2013 Nissan Leaf’s basic model at the standard 24 month, 12,000-mile terms, you can expect to pay about $56 in fees at the beginning plus $290-per-month for the term of the lease. If you decide to not lease another Nissan at the end of the term, you would also have to pay a $395 disposition fee when you turn in the first car at the end. Thus, over the course of two years, including the disposition fee, you’d pay $7,411 for your car—or about $308.79-per-month or $10.15-a-day. My local Nissan representative Robert tells me that it should cost about $1.00 to fully charge the battery, so I calculate that it would cost at most around $11.15-a-day to be able to drive the Leaf (prior to any considerations about insurance). Maintenance costs during the lease term are also projected to be close to nothing, because the car does not have an internal combustion engine and does not use gasoline or motor oil.

Now you need to consider incentives. Since this is a leased vehicle, it would not qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric drive vehicles, but here in Georgia, I have the income level necessary to take full advantage of a $5,000 state income tax credit available for the lease or purchase of a zero-emissions vehicle. (Search for incentives in your state here.) Taken fully, this credit can knock about $6.85-a-day from the cost of a leased Leaf, so Georgia has turned my $11.15-a-day car into a $4.30-a-day car.

That’s already an incredible deal, because AAA estimates that the average cost to own a 2013 sedan is about $24.99-a-day.

The Leaf can get even cheaper when you consider the impact of owning another vehicle. I drive a Volvo C70, which AOL Autos says has a total cost to own of $25.54-a-day brand-new if I drive about 10,000 miles-per-year. Based on their cost assumptions, the cost to own a C70 includes about $118.92-per-month or $3.91-a-day in insurance.

I actually pay about $146 a month in insurance ($4.80-a-day) with a $500 deductible. My insurer has told me that if I adjusted my Volvo’s annual mileage estimates from 10,000 miles to 1,000 miles (because I would be driving the Leaf more than my Volvo), I should be able to get my combined insurance payments down to $176-per-month (about $83 for the Volvo and $93 for the Leaf) with a $1,000 deductible. That means that the new car could only add $0.99-a-day to my insurance costs, while moving my Volvo’s insurance costs down to $2.73-a-day. Using the AAA’s numbers, that would bring the daily cost to own a Volvo to about $23.47-a-day.

Now, we need to account for fuel. I cut my annual mile assumption for the Volvo by 90% so let’s adjust the AOL Autos calculations there. They estimate about $4.20-a-day in fuel costs for a C70 that drives 10,000 miles a year. If I cut that by 90%, that means I’ve reduced $3.78-a-day from the total daily cost-to-own, which is now $19.69.

After insurance and fuel reductions, I’ve essentially cut the daily cost-to-own my first car by $5.85 by adding a second fully-electric vehicle that costs $7.36-a-day. When you combine the reductions on the first car with the additional cost of the second car, it turns out that I get to use a fully electric car for the cost of about $1.51-a-day. And if I decide to lease another Leaf at the end, there’d be no disposition fee—knocking the daily cost of a fully-electric second vehicle down to $0.97.

In my mind, that’s a free car—and a no-brainer for everyone from earth-lovers to penny-pinchers.

How much $$ do you estimate that you spend on your car each day? What do you do to reduce that cost? Are you a driver with buyer’s remorse, a frugal driver-in-training or an electric vehicle aficionado? Share your story in the comments below or in our Community Forum!

Budgeting: Three Big Questions for the Beginner

budget2013-612x300

In many ways, budgeting is like dieting. Some people adopt an aggressive budget and stick with it (like the dieter who goes from carnivore to vegan overnight and quickly becomes a weight-loss success story), while other people adopt that same aggressive budget, but keep breaking it — like the dieter who keeps sneaking cupcakes. Other people adopt too loose a budget and never accomplish their savings goals — like the dieter who thinks that he should still be able to eat fried chicken every day. Finally, other people adopt a budget that works for them moderately and helps them save over time — just like the dieter that makes a few sensible changes to her food habits and starts exercising a little. You will need to decide what kind of budgeter you’re going to be.

That decision is largely going to be based on what you want to accomplish by budgeting and how well you understand budgeting. Here are the three big questions to help you understand these ideas.

Why do you want to budget?

First, you need to decide why you want to budget. Do you have something(s) that you’re trying to accomplish in the short-term or the long-term? Are you trying to stop going deeper into debt, pay off your debt or save? If you’re trying to save, what are you trying to save for–an emergency fund, a trip or a new child? Without having a clear sense of what you hope to achieve, reaching your goals is harder. Try to answer these questions for yourself:

  • What exactly am I budgeting for? - This will help you clarify a specific and concrete goal to focus on.
  • What am I willing to give up in order to reach my goals? – This will help you understand whether your goal is realistic. Maybe you aren’t ready to give up much, so a smaller goal might be better.
  • Is this a short- or long-term goal? Do I have both? Most of us can’t save enough for retirement in one year. On the other hand, you might be able to pay off a credit card in that time. Set realistic time horizons for your goals.

What’s your budgeting personality?

Like the dieters, budgeters come in different types. Some of us want the fast and furious approach, hoping to reach our goals in a jiffy while slashing costs left and right. Others prefer the slow-and-steady approach. But whatever your budgeting personality, it’s important to know two things:

1) Your habits – If you’ve been a big spender your whole life, hoping to cut costs dramatically all of a sudden might be too hopeful. On the other hand, if you’re generally frugal to begin with, you might be able to set more ambitious goals than you think. Make sure you understand what your habits are really like — and not just what you’d like them to be.

2) Nothing is set in stone — You can change your habits –and your budget– to meet your specific financial needs at any time. Whether you get a big raise or get laid-off, odds are your budget will need to change from time to time to reflect the changes in your life, goals and abilities. That’s where having a budget in the first place can help you adjust accordingly, since the budget will help you to already have a sense of what you earn and spend. It is okay if your budgeting personality evolves over time to reflect your changing life circumstances.

How well do you understand your income and expenses?

Just as a dieter can’t mindlessly eat what they want, a budgeter can’t successfully save without understanding their income and expenses. As with dieting and calories, you need to know how many dollars you bring in each month and how you spend them. Without accurate income and expense information, you will struggle to be successful at savings because you won’t be able to know how much you have left to spend or save. So how can you get good information?

The easiest way to get started is to sign up for a transaction and budgeting service like Mint.com, which imports your transactions from your bank accounts and credit/debit cards into one place so that you know exactly how and what you’re spending your money on. A free service, Mint also groups your transactions by categories like restaurants, gasoline, shopping, groceries, etc. so that you can more easily use its budget tools to set short term and long term goals. Mint is the service that we use here at the Five Ten Twenty Club, and we cannot recommend it enough because it is very easy to see your transactions by category, your progress toward your goals, and how much money you have left to spend on each budget category.

You can also use financial software or programs like Excel to export information from your various card, loan and savings, checking and investment accounts into a consolidated statement. This is the preferable method if you’re already a budgeting pro — or if tracking every last detail is super important to you (services like Mint.com are great, but don’t break down into individual items purchased on one grocery trip, for example). This level of detail isn’t necessary for everyone though, so don’t let it trip you up.

Finally, your receipts can also be tracked using apps like Expensify, ShoeBoxed or OneReceipt, which allow you to take pictures of your receipts using your smart phone; some of these apps will even pull your receipts directly from your email accounts and organize them by category or for tax purposes. This feature can help you with any other budgeting method you choose to use and is especially useful if you work for yourself or have significant deductions.

Do you make a weekly or monthly budget yourself or through a service like Mint.Com or apps like ShoeBoxed? What have been some of your victories or mistakes when budget-making? Share your experiences in our Community Forum!

The Great Grocery Coupon App Challenge

freeimage-10752841-webLike most people, one of my largest regular expenses is food, and I am convinced that I can probably save a lot of money each month if only I could just “crack the code” for how to eat more cheaply. However, I am also trying to eat healthier—a choice that seems to be considered a luxury lifestyle at the stores and restaurants in my city, Atlanta. Can I dramatically cut down on my food expenses while still eating the healthier diet that I want?

I don’t know, but I aim to try. And since this question suggests an experiment, let’s make it one.

I’ve been hearing a lot about how clever shoppers are using coupon apps on their smart phones. I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy guy, so this sounds like the perfect time to give a few a try.

I’ve done some research in apps stores and the blogosphere and a few names have risen to the top, thanks to popularity, ease of use, number of grocery stores involved, etc. But I haven’t found many reviews that I felt like I could trust myself, and I wouldn’t want to recommend any to you until I’ve really seen their quality for myself. So, over the next few months, I commit to trying the following apps:

  • CardCrunch
  • CardStar
  • The Coupon App
  • Endorse
  • Grocery IQ
  • Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper
  • Ibotta
  • SavingStar
  • SnipSnap

As I try each of them I will post a review on their ease of use, success at saving me money and tips on how you can use each to reduce your grocery bills and increase your savings!

I’ll also be sure to tell you which ones aren’t worth your time.

Stay tuned. This should be fun… and money-smart!

 

Do you use any mobile apps to help you save on groceries?

What are your favorites and which would you never use again?

Share your advice and experiences in our Community Forum!