Internet Archive / Open Library: Borrow Hard-to-Find Books For 1 Hour

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

The Internet Archive (IA) is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of “universal access to all knowledge.” They have a lot going on, from the Wayback machine that archives websites (including this one) to old video games to TV shows to books (also through Open Library).

As a regular user of the local physical library, I often read a book but later recall part of an idea or quote but not the entire context. Since I don’t own the book, I can’t just flip through it and look it up. Recently I’ve often been able to scratch that itch by instantly borrowing the book for an hour via IA.

How can I do this? They operate under the Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) theory of copyright law. My understanding is that they obtain a physical copy of a book, scan it, and then lend out that digital copy on a 1-to-1 basis. Using encrypted digital files, they can ensure that only one person is actually “reading” that book at a time. Once that person returns the book, then another person can borrow it, and so on.

Controlled digital lending is how many libraries have been providing access to digitized books for nine years. Controlled digital lending is a legal framework, developed by copyright experts, where one reader at a time can read a digitized copy of a legally owned library book. The digitized book is protected by the same digital protections that publishers use for the digital offerings on their own sites. Many libraries, including the Internet Archive, have adopted this system since 2011 to leverage their investments in older print books in an increasingly digital world.

They either allow a 1-hour or more traditional 14-day loan period depending on their inventory:

Patrons now have a choice in selecting the loan period when they borrow a book. Patrons can choose a short-term access for 1 hour, or a longer 14-day loan. If we only have 1 copy of a book, it is only available for 1 hour loan. If we have more than one copy of a book, it can be checked out for either 1 hour or 14 days, depending on availability. If there are no copies available for 14-day loans, users can join a waitlist.

However, four major publishers are currently suing the Internet Archive over this practice. I am not a legal expert and can definitely understand how they wouldn’t want the latest bestseller distributed this way as they currently charge libraries a much higher price for lendable eBook versions than physical versions. I can also understand that some authors feel that they are losing book royalties. I certainly wouldn’t want unlimited, unrestricted free digital copies everywhere. But one-to-one for books bought when there was no digital version? Don’t traditional libraries theoretically cut into book sales too? Or do they actually help book sales? Or is the public benefit that makes it okay?

In my experience, every scanned book I’ve read on the Internet Archive would be rather painful to read over longer periods and the text is non-searchable, so the site does not replace my local library nor my regular purchases of new and used books. But I can see how if the convenience improves any further, it could soon make a significant impact.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Economics of Shared Living: How Much Money Do You Save With Roommates?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

For most households, the biggest expense is housing. A time-tested way to reduce your housing costs is to share a place with others, but usually we think of a bigger house as the result of a bigger nuclear family. However, even young professional adults can choose to boost their savings rate by embracing shared living past the college days, and families can save big money by embracing the multigenerational households that are popular in other cultures.

In the article The “N” Factor and Retirement Planning, Scott Burns focuses on the financial impact of having kids but also shares a interesting way to estimate how the size of a household affects how much it spends overall:

Here’s the algorithm: The cost of living for a household is the square root of the number of people in the household. So if you are single, your cost of living is the square root of 1 or… 1.

But if you are recently married, your cost of living is the square root of 2, or 1.414. Yes, two can’t live for the price of one. But they can live for only 42 percent more than the price of one. Economists call this “economies of shared living.”

The article is focused on families with children, but here I am shifting it to talking about individual adults. Therefore, I’d rather talk about it in terms of the amount you are saving through shared living as a percentage of your previous level

Theoretical savings from shared living. If you’re single and live by yourself, your total cost of housing may be $2,000 per month.

  • Get one roommate, save 29%. Your cost goes down to √2/2 = 1.414/2 = 71% of living alone, or $1,420 per month.
  • Get two roommates, save 42%. Your cost goes down to √3/3 = 1.73/3 = 58% of living alone, or $1,160 per month.
  • Get three roommates, save 50%. Your cost goes down to √4/4 = 2/4 = 50% of living alone, or $1,000 per month.

Does this match up with actual rental prices? Using rental data from Abodo.com, I found the average rents for a one, two, and three bedroom rental in four major metro areas from around the US: Austin, San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York City. For example, if a 1-bedroom costs $1,366 in Austin and a 2-bedroom costs $1,725, that means your per-person share is $862.50, which is 63% of the cost of a 1-bedroom. This should provide a quick check for this rule, even though we are just looking at housing. It turns out to be pretty close:

According to the √N Rule, the biggest relative benefit comes when you stop living alone, at a savings of nearly 30%. This magnifies the savings ability of a dual-income couple, with possible double the income and 30% less in housing expenses.

Burns applies this to the savings that parents can feel after their kids move out of their house. As a result, retirees may be able to survive on much less than might be expected based on other rough rules of thumb.

Bottom line. Shared living is a powerful way to reduce your housing costs. As rents rise, this may result in more single adults sharing a house, or increased rates of multigenerational family living. Consider shared living as an available option to save more money and increase your financial stability, as opposed to only a last resort. Put another way, “Cooperation is a wonderful but generally overlooked substitute for money.”

[Revised and updated from original post from many years ago. I’m cleaning up my archives and updating selected articles.]

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Planned vs. Perceived Obsolescence

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

The Story of Stuff (embedded below) is a short animated film about the lifecycle of material goods. Even though it was released over 10 years ago, the overall message of anti-consumerism and sustainability still applies to our current world. There are debates about specific statements from the movie which you can find on the film’s Wikipedia page, but I’m not here to defend the entire video. I believe that people should be able to watch something with a critical mind and not necessarily agree with every single point.

Here I am focusing on the discussion of planned vs. perceived obsolescence, which is approximately at 12:35 if you wanted to skip directly to that part.

Here are the definitions from the film glossary:

Planned obsolescence: designing and producing products in order for them to be used up (obsolete) within a specific time period. Products may be designed for obsolescence either through function, like a paper coffee cup or a machine with breakable parts, or through “desirability,” like a piece of clothing made for this year’s fashion and then replaced by something totally different next year. Planned obsolescence is also known as “design for the dump.”

Perceived obsolescence: the part of planned obsolescence that refers to “desirability”. In other words, an object may continue to be functional, but it is no longer perceived to be stylish or appropriate, so it is rendered obsolete by perception, rather than by function. Fashion is all about perceived obsolescence, and it could be said that perceived obsolescence is the number one “product” of the advertising industry.

Non-Consumer Alarm! In other words, companies have made easy it is to identify “non-consumers”, which usually comes with a negative connotation in our society. Let’s take cars. (Is it ever “cool” to drive an old car that isn’t a collectible?) Models change very often, even if just slightly, so it’s very easy to tell if you have an older car vs. a newer model. My wife and I have been half-jokingly told by our friends and co-workers that we need to buy nicer cars that better match our job titles and/or income levels. Yet even the newest cars pretty much do the same stuff. I could be driving a 15-year-old well-maintained Camry and add a smartphone for GPS/music/podcasts, and a blindfolded passenger probably couldn’t tell the difference.

The next time you are in public, look at the visible stuff that people own. Notice how easily you can figure out whether it was bought within the last few years.

Bottom line. I still buy stuff. You probably still buy stuff. However, we should at least acknowledge the pressure to own the most current version of everything, even if we are replacing something that still works. Cars. Cell phones. Water containers (Hydroflask). Headphones (Airpods). Kitchens that “need” remodeling because they are outdated. Shoes. Winter jackets. Purses. Clothing.

[Revised and updated from original post from many years ago. I’m cleaning up my archives and updating selected articles. Funnily enough, this post is getting increased attention because a lot of students have been assigned homework after watching this film as part of their “distance learning”.]

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Hertz Used Rental Cars: Good or Bad Idea? Big List of Pros and Cons

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

In better times, Hertz took out a big loan and put up their vast inventory of cars as collateral. COVID-19 caused the lender to worry about getting their money back, so they called in the loan. Hertz doesn’t exactly have much cashflow right now, so they are forced to sell off the cars in the hopes of surviving bankruptcy.

So, I found myself browsing HertzCarSales.com for the first time. I’ve never seriously considered buying a car from a rental agency, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t want a Dodge Caravan last redesigned in 1996. However, I did buy a cheap off-lease corporate fleet car from my employer, and it worked out great. Is buying a used rental car from Hertz a great idea, or a stupid idea? Here are some arguments from both sides.

Reasons why a used Hertz rental car may be BETTER than you think:

  • Check the in-service date and determine how much of the factory warranty is remaining; it could be a significant amount.
  • Hertz will let you bring it to a mechanic and do your own inspection.
  • No-haggle pricing will be appreciated by some, similar to CarMax.
  • All Hertz Certified vehicles include a 12-month/12,000-mile (whichever comes first) limited powertrain warranty.
  • Hertz has a better reputation of doing regular maintenance on their cars than lesser-known car rental companies. According to the Hertz website, while they do not provide copies of maintenance records, you can view the maintenance records in person.
  • Hertz is usually the most expensive option for a casual traveler. Most of their business is corporate and government workers. Business travelers tend to simply use the car as a tool to get from the airport to/from office/hotel, so the car will likely be in better shape than perhaps with other companies.
  • You can return your vehicle within 7 days or 250 miles after your purchase, whichever comes first. A cleaning and recertification fee of $200 will be deducted (unless prohibited by law), as well as any excess wear or damage to the vehicle.
  • Normally, used cars are subject to the “lemon” theory: people tend to sell the cars with problems. However, a rental agency does things robotically – all cars at a certain age are sold. They already bought the car at a highly-discounted bulk rate from the manufacturer, and they just need to get the car off their books in an expedient manner.
  • Some reports claim that the more “beat up” cars, especially cosmetically with dings and stains, never make it to the sale lot and are instead sold more cheaply via wholesale auctions.
  • Healthcare worker and first responders currently get $350 off with promo code HCS-HERO.

Reasons why a used Hertz rental car may be WORSE than you think:

  • Rental cars have a “fleet” or “rental” designation on the title, which stays with the car and can affect future resale value.
  • The reputation is that these cars are more “beaten up” given their mileage. I used to accelerate a little harder on freeway onramps in a rental car (it was usually the econobox version so not much excitement anyway), and was probably a bit more liberal with the air conditioning in those humid summers. However, I was still careful as I often skipped the insurance waiver on personal rentals.
  • You won’t get the “1 owner who drove it only on the freeway and was a neat freak with perfect maintenance records” car.
  • Anecdotally, cars that are made for “fleets” are of lower quality because the factory workers know these are fleet cars when they build them, and thus care less about quality control and more about pumping out 100 of the exact same car.
  • Some rental car agencies self-insure their cars and do repairs in-house, which means accidents are not necessarily reported on CarFax or other vehicle history reports.
  • Never buy “sports cars” as these are rented specifically so you can have fun going fast in them and do things you wouldn’t do in your normal car. Same deal with pickups, they are likely used heavily nearly every rental.
  • They will still add some sort of $200 to $400 documentation fee and attempt to upsell you various extended warranties, just as any other used car dealer.

Used car marketplace iSeeCars.com compared Hertz prices with their estimate of market value to find which models had the steepest discounts. I didn’t really find the results to be very useful though, as most models are rather rare with very limited availability (BMW 7-Series, MB A-Class, Buick Cascada?). The only Honda/Toyota/Mazda on the list was the Toyota Tundra, and I couldn’t find a single one within 200 miles of my location.

I tried to run some comparisons myself for a popular model with decent inventory like the Toyota RAV-4. This black 2019 Toyota RAV-4 XLE AWD (Hertz) with 22,000 miles was $23,587. This black 2019 Toyota RAV-4 XLE AWD (AutoTrader) with 22,000 miles was $21,689. I didn’t drill down into the options, but this shows that you should definitely do some comparison shopping first.

In the end, the process is similar to buying any used car and comes down to price. You need consider the reliability of the make/model, do your own personal pre-purchase inspection with an expert, and comparison shop across the same model, same options list, and similar mileage. Read the factors above and then add your own “Hertz adjustment”. Is the Hertz no-haggle price still the best deal?

Also see: How Much Car Can I Afford?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Live Cheaply and Invest In Yourself

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

The The Money Diaries series at Wealthsimple continues to offer periodic interviews with an interesting mix of people sharing about their financial lives. I’d never heard of Carson Mell, but I appreciated how he cared most about doing what he wanted with his time as a young adult, and how he lived cheaply in order to invest in himself. (His most well-known project is probably Silicon Valley on HBO.)

The power on knowing the cost of your minimum viable lifestyle. My advice to a young ambitious person would be to figure out exactly how little you can live on. Mell’s monthly expenses were on the order of $1,150 a month:

[…] after a few months, I’d saved up some money and I made a decision: I’d quit my job and live as simple and frugal a lifestyle as I could, so that I could invest my time and energy in my own work. I had my own small apartment and paid $700 a month for it. I found that beyond rent, I could get by on 15 bucks a day. A nearby taco place had a $2.75 special for huevos rancheros — I ate there every single day. While I prided myself on throwing myself into my art instead of filling my days working mundane jobs, I learned quickly that meant becoming a cheap bastard.

Once you establish at level at which “I know I can survive on $XXX”, that can create a certain type of self-confidence. For example, I once knew that having $20,000 meant that I could cover my expenses for a year, and thus once I amassed that amount, I could take all the risks with my TIME that I wanted for a year. I could start a new business, learn a new trade, change the direction of my life.

Maybe cheap eats is key too? Beside my apartment, there was a restaurant that sold two eggs any way, hash browns, and toast for $1.99. I lived in the same rundown apartment and ate those over-easy eggs when I made under $20,000 a year, and when I made over $60,000 a year.

I decided that the thing to do was to keep investing in myself — living simply, being a cheap bastard, and putting my time and effort into my work.

Finding the motivation. Some people equate spending thoughtfully with being caring a lot about money (bad). However, it can really extend from caring a lot about how you spend your limited time on Earth (good).

As for myself, I no longer have the headache of hewing to a budget of 15 bucks a day. These days, I don’t mind paying to park in a parking structure, or leaving my car at the valet if it looks like finding a free space will be a pain in the butt. Anything that saves you time is worth spending money on, because your time is an invaluable resource. But I’m extremely mindful of where I spend my money. Here’s the thing: In TV, you don’t know when the next job will come. And I never want to have to take a job just to cover the cost of an upgraded lifestyle. I want to continue to have the chance to invest in myself — my own ideas, my own projects.

I spend money very thoughtfully, and because I save money, I can be selective about what jobs I take or don’t take, and where I put my time and energy.

I forget the exact quote, but to paraphrase – Once you find your “why”, the “how” becomes so much easier.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Reduce or Pause Auto Insurance During Coronavirus? Insure Only One Car?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Many of us are driving less these days. Nearly all of the major auto insurers are providing some sort of refund – this detailed list suggests an overall average of 15% to 25% back on two months of premiums. But what if you don’t need to use your vehicle for an extended period of time? You might:

  • Reduce your coverage levels to the minimum liability coverage levels required by your state for driving, saving money on premiums but assuming some risk yourself (depending on how much you actually drive).
  • Suspend your coverage as if your car was in storage. This would include liability and collision insurance. You may consider keeping comprehensive insurance to protect against theft, fire, or other damage.
  • Something in between. If you feel like you are driving a lot less, you could do some combination of raising your collision/comprehensive deductibles, dropping only collision coverage, or changing up any of the various options to lower your overall premium.

A common situation might be that a couple owns two cars but only really needs one for a while. Reader Beth shared that she chose to drop the (more expensive) coverage on her newer car while keeping the existing coverage on the older car, thus saving more than 50% on her total bill:

Our family lives in Texas, and we own two cars. Right now because of COVID-19, my husband and I are both working from home and hardly leaving our house, so we do not need both cars. I called our insurance company and temporarily dropped coverage on our newer, more expensive car, which is saving us more than half our 6-month premium. Once the COVID-19 restrictions ease up, we’ll add the second car back on.

[…] We took our newer car off completely and left our older car with the same level of coverage it had beforehand. Allstate said they would happily add the newer car back on whenever we’re ready, and they will simply prorate the amount for however much is left of our 6-month policy.

We are only driving the older car (we drive a couple of times a week right now), and the newer car stays in the garage. Allstate even emailed us a little sign to print off to tape on the steering wheel to remind us to call and reinstate coverage.

I agree with her other advice that the best thing to do is to call your insurance company and explore your options. Mine has always been happy to help me compare a variety of options along with the resulting price changes. If asking about pausing or suspending coverage, you want to make sure it is treated differently than “canceling” coverage, as gaps in coverage can make you look riskier and hike up your future premiums.

As an aside, if you are not going to move your car for a long time, you should looks up tips to prep it for long-term storage. Otherwise, I’d worry that the damage might exceed the insurance savings. Ideally, you would start it up every couple of weeks and drive it for a while on a private driveway.

Note that if your car is under a loan or lease agreement, you may have agreed to maintain a minimum level of coverage that includes both collision and comprehensive coverage. Has anyone else had success in doing this? Or tried and run into problems?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Red Pocket Mobile: iPhone SE $299 with 2 Years Service (Starts At $10/Month)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

(One more iPhone SE deal! Apologies if these bore you; I have no more planned. They do also happen to be the cheapest MVNOs for anyone with an existing phone. Compare with Visible and Mint Mobile.)

Red Pocket Mobile is an MVNO with very competitive pricing that doesn’t stick with any single network. You can choose which one you want: AT&T (GSMA), Sprint (CDMAS), T-Mobile (GSMT), and Verizon (CDMA). They aren’t allowed to actually use the trademarked names on their pages, but it’s an easy conversion. Note that the pricing for certain plans differs by the network chosen, and they often shift the pricing around with limited-time offers. If bringing over your own device and you want to switch networks, use their compatibility checker first.

Their current front page deal is the iPhone SE for regular price ($399) but with 6 months of free 3GB service. At $14/month, this could be seen as a $84 discount. However, if you proceed to the iPhone SE purchase page and agree to a 12 month or 24 month term, you can get alternative discounts on the phone itself instead as well as long-term discounts on the service. If you commit to 2 years, you can get the iPhone SE for $299 ($100 off) and have a choice of several monthly plans.

Example: iPhone SE + 2 years of Unlimited talk, text, and 3 GB LTE data = $299 + $336 = $635 for 2 years. This works out close to $26.50 per month. Breaks down to $12.50/month for the phone and $14/month for service. GSMA network (AT&T). You can upgrade to 7GB LTE for $20/month, 15 GB LTE for $30/month, or Unlimited LTE for $45/month. You could also downgrade to 1,000 minutes, unlimited text, and 1 GB LTE data for $10/month. After you reach your LTE data allotment each month, you still get unlimited data at slower 2G speeds. Looks like a little bit more if you finance it over monthly payments. UPS Ground shipping is free.

iPhone SE 2020 quick take. Apple’s new $400 iPhone SE may be called a “budget” phone, but it is a “parts bin” phone that saves money not by using lower-quality ingredients, but instead by combining high-quality parts from other iPhones. If you’re okay with the older body style (might be what you already have), this phone is a great value at $400 (64 GB). Check out the review from your favorite tech site, but here are the basics:

  • Screen/Body: iPhone 8. Same outer shape as iPhone 6/7/8. Retina 4.7″ screen. Touch ID (no Face ID).
  • Latest CPU: iPhone 11 Pro. Same A13 Bionic chip as inside the current iPhone 11 Pro that costs $1,000. These fast internals mean this phone won’t be obsolete for 4+ years.
  • Camera: iPhone XR+. The hardware specs are like the iPhone XR which still costs $600 today. However, combined with the faster internals, Apple added software improvements to make it take better photos (better portrait mode, etc). Still an upgrade over the iPhone 6/7/8 cameras.
My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Mint Mobile Bundle Discount: iPhone SE $15/Month, Service $15/Month

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Mint Mobile has a new iPhone SE bundle promotion where you can get the new iPhone SE 2020 for $15/month + their $15/month cell service = $30/month total. You save $40 off the iPhone SE price and you lock in their bulk discount on data plans. Details below.

Apple’s new $400 iPhone SE may be called a “budget” phone, but I prefer to think of it as a “parts bin” phone that saves money not by using cheaper, low-quality ingredients, but instead by RE-using high-quality parts from other iPhones. Check out the review from your favorite tech site, but here’s a short take:

  • Screen/Body: iPhone 8. Same size as iPhone 6/7/8. Retina 4.7″ screen. Touch ID (no Face ID).
  • Latest CPU: iPhone 11 Pro. Same A13 Bionic chip as inside the current iPhone 11 Pro that costs $1,000. These fast internals mean this phone won’t be obsolete for 4+ years.
  • Camera: iPhone XR+. The hardware specs are like the iPhone XR which still costs $600 today. However, combined with the faster internals, Apple added software improvements to make it take better photos (portrait mode, etc). The camera is still significantly better than iPhone 6/7/8.

If you’re okay with the older body style (might be what you already have), this phone is a great value at $400 (64 GB).

$15/month for unlimited talk, text, and 3 GB of LTE data. We are in our second year of using Mint Mobile for cell phone service, an MVNO which runs on the T-Mobile network. One of us is on the $15 a month plan ($180 a year) for unlimited talk, text, and 3 GB of LTE data. The other pays $20 a month for unlimited talk, text, and 8 GB of data. You lock in this discount by paying for a year upfront.

In response to COVID-19, Mint Mobile offered their existing customers unlimited data (via free data add-ons) since March and going through May 14th, 2020.

New 2020 iPhone SE for $15/month. Mint Mobile combines these two into a new iPhone SE bundle promotion where you can also get the iPhone SE for $15/month for two years when you agree to also buy two years of service. This works out to $360 total for the phone, a $40 discount on the $400 retail price. You also get the free year of Apple TV+ streaming service included with all new iPhones.

End result: iPhone SE and unlimited talk/text/3GB data service for $30 a month total. Quite the frugal minimalist combo. You could also upgrade to the 8 GB data plan for $35/month total. This offer is for new Mint customers, although existing Mint customers can get 0% financing on the iPhone SE for $16.66 a month (you don’t save the $40 over 2 years).

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

My Unconventional Best Work-From-Home Gear Guide (What’s Yours?)

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

I’m quite familiar with working from home in my tiny 78 sq. ft. “office”, but after looking at some online WFH gear guides recently, it’s all about standing desks, latest laptop models, and USB hubs. Eh? My desk is a basic folding table and my laptop is a 2015 Macbook Pro (with real scissor keyboard and real moving trackpad) that recently underwent DIY battery replacement surgery (way too complicated, Apple!).

My favorite WFH gear is different. Maybe yours is too? These are real things that I bought with my own money and I would buy them again if I had to do it all over again.

Quiet, Please! – 3M PELTOR X5A Over-the-Head Ear Muffs

I wear these every day to help me focus. They have the highest noise reduction rating (31 dB) available on the market. You even have to certify that you are using them for “professional/commercial use” (which I am while working for money, as far as I am concerned). At ~$30, they are also about $10 more expensive than other similar models, but I think the extra $10 is well spent to know you have the quietest experience possible. If you have kids running around the house, you need all the help you can get. They are “over ear”, which means they don’t put pressure on your ears and I can wear them for a relatively long time without discomfort. (I try to take regular breaks anyway.)

Budget Noise-canceling Headphones – Mpow H5 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones

After a certain member of the house (ahem) stole my trusty old pair of wired Bose QC25 headphones, I decided to try out a budget pair of $50 bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. These over-hear headphones worked out quite well and I really don’t miss the old Bose ones. I’d say they are 80% as good while under 20% the price of new Bose QC35 headphones.

Note: I do own a pair of regular Airpods, which I got as a nice gift. I do like them and use them for phone calls around the house and outside, but I use the Mpow headphones while at my desk listening to music or editing things.

Dependable Printer – Brother Monochrome Laser Printer

This thing is the workhorse of my home office, and yet also the oldest electronic item here at over 10 years old. Which is rather crazy, given that it has moving parts and is used constantly to scan PDFs, make copies, and of course print. These Brother black-and-white laser printers are like the Toyota Corollas of the printer world – cheap yet reliable. The cost per page can be very low thanks to generic toner cartridges (that link is for two of them) if you don’t mind a slight decrease in quality.

Dry Erase Whiteboard – Magnetic Dry Erase Whiteboard

Another inexpensive but important addition for a variety of reasons. Sometimes drawing it out in real space is just better than the digital alternative. This one is lightweight and thus easy to remove from the wall and move it around. You can also put up complex equations or obscure drawings and put it behind you during those Zoom and Webex meetings and impress/confuse/scare your colleagues. I like these BIC markers as they are higher quality and have finer points.

Looking around my desk, other random things that I probably like more than I should are my TI-85 calculator, classroom-grade pencil sharpener, and an ancient Swingline stapler (sadly not the red 747). The only thing that I have been thinking about upgrading is my office chair. Any suggestions?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Sprint Unlimited Kickstart: Unlimited Talk, Text, Data For $35/Month

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

Sprint has an Unlimited Kickstart plan with unlimited talk/text/data for $35 per month, per line. No annual contracts. You can bring over your own compatible phone, or buy one from them. Online orders only. New customers only. Requires port-in of your existing number.

Pros of Kickstart Unlimited:

  • Unlimited talk, text, and data for $35 a month, per line.
  • You can bring over any compatible phone, or buy one from Sprint. Use their phone IMEI/MEID checker.
  • You can come over from ANY outside provider, Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile or even another cheap MVNO.
  • No expiration date. Price will not go up after a year.
  • No annual contracts.
  • No family plan or minimum number of lines required.

Cons of Kickstart Unlimited:

  • New customers only.
  • Online orders only. You won’t see this offer in stores.
  • No mobile hotspot.
  • Unlimited video in standard definition. Video streams up to 480p, music up to 500 Kbps, gaming up to 2 Mbps.
  • Data deprioritization during congestion.
  • Autopay required.

Sprint Unlimited Kickstart is best for those that want to lock in unlimited data direct from a major provider at a low $35/month price. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile Unlimited may have slightly better networks but they are also significantly more expensive.

I am not a huge data user, but it was still nice when I was on Sprint Unlimited. I could stream videos without worry and switched all my settings to “use cellular data whenever the heck you want!” instead of having to wait to sync or download things like podcasts over WiFi. There is also (slightly) better customer service at a major provider as compared to an MVNO. However, I would also consider the these MVNO alternatives as they can offer some significant savings.

Mint Mobile is another low-cost competitor with data caps. This is what I use. They are an MVNO that runs on the T-Mobile GSM network. You can get:

(Disclosure: I am a Mint affiliate and if you purchase a Mint plan through one of the links above, I may earn a commission. I am also a paying Mint customer. Thanks for supporting this individually-owned site.)

The thing about Mint Mobile is that you have to “buy in bulk”. Initially you have to buy at least 3 months upfront, and then after that you have to buy 12 months at a time to get their lowest price. After your LTE data runs out, you still get data included at slower 2G data speeds until your month resets. They do offer a 7-Day Money Back Guarantee (starts upon SIM activation) so you can test them out before making any commitment.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

How Many People Save, Even Without High Incomes?

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck, by definition you aren’t saving and buying any assets. The folks who do have assets, those assets keep growing and compounding away. Left alone, that gap just widens relentlessly. Meanwhile, building up assets from nothing can feel agonizingly slow in the beginning.

So if you don’t make at least six figures already, should you just give up? It’s not your fault, and you can’t do anything about it, so why bother? I worry that this is the underlying message of certain media articles. As a small antidote, check out this chart that shows the percentage of households with a positive savings rate, broken down by income quartiles.

The data is taken from a 2016 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Source: Personal savings: A look at how Americans are saving by Deliotte Insights.

Let’s use real numbers to add some clarity:

  • A household in the 20th percentile earns about $24,000 per year. Yet, according this chart, ~30% of households that earn less than $24k manage to spend less than they earn.
  • The 2nd quintile (20th-40th percentile) household earns between roughly $24k and $45 per year. A little over 40% of these households manage to spend less than they earn.
  • The 3rd quintile (40th-60th percentile) household earns between roughly $45k and $75k per year. Close to 60% of these households manage to spend less than they earn.
  • Let’s skip to the 80th to 90th percentile, where households earn between ~$120,000 and $170,000 per year. This is between 5X and 7X the 20th percentile and more than double the middle quintile. Yet even here, only a little over 70% of households have a positive savings rate.

It should not be surprising that households with higher incomes have a higher savings rate. Of course it is easier to reach financial freedom if you have a higher income. That’s just a mathematical fact.

Nearly 30% of households that earn between ~$120,000 and $170,000 per year spend everything they earn and then some. A higher income does not guarantee that you are not living paycheck-to-paycheck. When you look beyond the broad averages, you start to see the ability of households to differ. Everyone with a low income is not spending the same. Everyone with a high income is not spending the same.

This supports the notion that your actions still matter. Use your money to invest in yourself, increasing your skills and the ability to find more rewarding work. You can prioritize your expenses. It won’t be easy, and yes there will be setbacks and roadblocks in your way. In fact, it’s probably better to expect that it won’t be easy. As we should tell our children, success is not a straight line. “More often, a meandering and unexpected path is what leads to success”.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Do Not Buy List: Healthcare Sharing Ministry As Health Insurance Alternative

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards and may receive a commission. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned.

I am creating a “Do Not Buy” list as part of my estate planning to help my family avoid potentially dangerous financial products. These things are not illegal “scams”, but may have hidden risks where it is better to simply avoid them. In addition to equity-indexed universal life Insurance, I am also including health-care sharing ministries (HCSM). The bigger names in this group include Samaritan, Medi-Share, Christian Healthcare Ministries, Trinity/Aliera, and Liberty.

I’ve been reading about these off and on, and they are often mentioned as a cost-saving option for the self-employed and/or those in early retirement. Read this NY Times article It Looks Like Health Insurance, but It’s Not, this Seattle Times article Washington state orders ‘sham’ health-care sharing ministries to halt, and this Consumer Reports article to get some background.

I can definitely see the appeal of the lower monthly costs and the positive feelings from being part of a cooperative community. I can accept that many (but not all) require a strong religious affiliation. I might overlook the fact that they usually don’t cover and basic preventative care like screening exams (mammograms, colonoscopies), flu shots, and other vaccines. However, I cannot accept the following:

  • HCSMs are not health insurance. This also means they are not overseen by state insurance agencies. There no government oversight, nobody to appeal to and have them say “hey that’s not right, you can’t do that”.
  • HCSMs provide no guarantee of payment. Legally, they are just a charity. The ministry looks at each claim and has sole discretion as to whether they want to provide payment.
  • HCSMs do not have to accept or cover pre-existing conditions.
  • HCSMs do not have to cover prescriptions drugs. Read their rules very carefully.
  • HCSMs can cap lifetime payments at relatively low amounts like $250,000. Read their rules very carefully. ACA-compliant health insurance plans have no lifetime limits.

The problem is that by design, yes, MOST people will be satisfied by these programs. MOST people get their bills paid. MOST people can thus leave a positive review. MOST people won’t have an extreme event that requires $500,000 of medical care over time. However, that is not the point of insurance! Insurance is there to protect you from bankruptcy due to a catastrophic event out of your control. Insurance is based on strict contracts, and you should notice that all forms of real insurance (life, health, auto, homeowners, etc) are tightly regulated. What happens if they run into some sort of financial difficulty, perhaps in a recession or from a rogue employee or executive?

Think of the importance of only putting your cash in an FDIC-insured bank or NCUA-insured credit union. The vast, vast majority of the time, banks don’t fail. I’ve never had a bank fail on me. I don’t know anyone who has had money in a truly failed bank where the FDIC had to step in. But I still know that having the proper checks and backstops is important. Sometimes things are great for long time… until they aren’t.

Also, don’t forget that if a healthcare sharing ministry rejects a child’s claims and the family is bankrupt and desperate, they’ll likely end up falling back on taxpayer-funded Medicaid to cover their healthcare needs. Is this how we want the system to work?

My recommendation is to steer clear of all healthcare sharing ministries. I do not doubt that most have good intentions and happy customers, but things can happen that may even be out of their control. HCSMs are charities, not insurance. They can fail as much as any business. Yes, real insurance costs more, but at least you have a clear contract with defined rules and legal options as a backup. If you are my loved one and are reading this, please protect yourself fully and make sure you are buying true health insurance.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and Credit-Land for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.