Category Archives: Finances

Fluorescent Light Bulb Almost Paid for Itself in One Month

In my living room, I have a halogen floor lamp that uses two 150 W bulbs. They’re also 3-way lights that could go from dim to bright level, except that my lamp can only handle two levels. It’s really hard to find 3-way 150-watt equivalent compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. When I finally found it at Target, there was only one left, although I needed two for the living room lamp. I have the same lamp in my bedroom but I am not in there that much.

Anyway, I got my Pacific Gas & Electric bill today. It is about $7 less than the previous four months! The bulb cost $8, on sale. Since the cold season was over, my bill was about $30 a month. Now it’s about $23. It’s possible it could have been less, too. The date range that the bill covered started one week before I used the new light bulb. I’m saving more than $1 a week, so it’s probable that the light bulb could have already paid for itself.

Maybe something else contributed to the lower bill. I don’t think I’ve changed anything else besides the one light bulb, though. I’ll see in my next bill if this is the beginning of a trend rather than a fluke. I’m also going to go to the store to see if I could find another CFL bulb.

Trick to Calculate Tax & Tip

My brain has been gifted with a pretty good spell-checker but not so good calculator. Instead of doing straight out calculations, I sometimes resort to some math magic. Let’s take going out to eat at a restaurant as an example. When going with a group, it’s more complicated if people want to pay according to what they ordered. I used to resort to taking out my mobile phone or PDA to use the calculator. I haven’t had to do that since I figured the trick to calculating tax and tip without a calculator.

To start off, I don’t try to figure out tax and then tip. I calculate them together. Where I live, the tax rate is 8.25%. Tip is 15%. The sum percent of tax and tip is 23.25%. To simplify matters in my simple brain, I round up to 25%. The tip will be more than 15% but that’s ok with me.

Twenty-five is a good number because it makes it easy to deal with subtotals that are factors of 4. For example, if a meal costs $12, tax & tip (t&t) will be $12/4=$3 . The total will be $15. A $100 meal will total $125.

How about when the meal cost is not a factor of 4? No problemo. What if it is $42? This is the thought process in my head to arrive at t&t:

Double 42: 84 (200% of 42)

Divide 84 by 10, or move the decimal to the left by one: 8.4 (20% of 42)*

Divide 42 by 10, or move the decimal to the left: 4.2 (10% of 42)

Divide 4.2 in half: 2.1 (5% of 42)*

With those pairs, you can do the decimal change before or after the doubling or halving, depending on which one makes it easier to do the math.

* Add the values: 8.4+2.1 =10.5 (20%+5% = 25%)

Cost + T&T = 42 + 10.5 = $52.50. This number could be rounded off to $52 or $53

It might seem complicated but it’s not that hard. At least it’s not as difficult as it would be to try to come up with exact numbers:

Subtotal: 42

Tax: 3.47 (8.25%)

Tip: 6.3 (15%)

Total: $51.77

It’s lower than the estimated cost, but it took more effort to go through, if one isn’t blessed with a built-in calculator.

I’ll try another example but with more of a stream-of-consciousness method to the walkthrough: $27

27… 54… 5.4… (20% of 27)

27… ~13… 1.3… (5% of 27)

5.4+1.3= 6.7

27+ ~7= 34 total including t&t

exact sum: 33.2775

Well, I hope that helps, and doesn’t end up causing confusion. :)

Dormant Account Fee by Bank Is Teh Sux0rs

For a number of reasons, I ended up with four bank accounts: free ipod (that I gave to my brother), high interest rate, convenient location. One of the credit unions lost its luster when it no longer had competitive interest rates and was at an inconvenient city relative to my current locations for work and residence. Since it was my college account, I couldn’t bear to part with it so I left it open with the minimum allowed.

For months on end I saw that it earned a few cents of interest when I checked the statements, which I eventually stopped checking since it wasn’t that interesting to see that I got a few cents.

Then recently, I saw that my account had gotten below the $50 threshold. Gosh dangit! They charged me a dormant account fee since I hadn’t used my account for a while. Because of that fee, it made my balance go below $50. That resulted in $4 fee every month. Since I didn’t check my monthly statements I lost almost half that money until I closed the account.

If I had known about such a fee, I would had closed my account. I was aware of the $50 minimum so I abided by that it.

So the tip of the day is to close those inactive accounts and check bank statements regularly.

2006 Tax Returns Due April 17, 2007

In case you didn’t know, taxes are due on the 17th of April instead of the usual 15th. Check out the IRS’s page on the April 17 Deadline (which was pretty hard to find at the time of this writing).

Taxpayers will have extra time to file and pay because April 15 falls on a Sunday in 2007, and the following day, Monday, April 16, is Emancipation Day, a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.

I usually wait until the last minute to file my taxes but this year I had motivation not to procrastinate. This was the first year I had vested stocks to consider so I didn’t want to deal with last minute questions/confusion. Also, I ordered Super Paper Mario for the Wii and I should be getting it by April 12. I don’t want to have tax returns hanging over my head and ruining my fun.

This was also the first year I paid $17 for e-filing each of the returns. It got really frustrating while I was printing, not sure if the formatting was correct. When I chose the print option, I got an alert to make sure that the option to print to fit page was not checked because it could cause the returns to be rejected. After printing 3 or 4 times, I still wasn’t sure which version was correct so I gave in and e-filed. Now, I don’t have to worry about formatting or going to the post office to make sure that I’m using the right amount of postage.

As usual, I used TurboTax, which I think paid for itself, and the e-filing. Initially, I was going to owe money but ended up getting a refund for both returns.

Deciding whether to pay off a loan early

I’ve reached a financial crossroad, where my car loan balance is something I could reasonably pay off 6 months early and I’ve recently gotten a windfall. I chatted with a friend who is much better with numbers than I am and he pretty much said that paying off the loan won’t save me that much money.

For those of you who aren’t as lucky as to have such a smart number-crunching friend, I found a couple of calculators that could help you make your decision on whether it is better to pay off a loan early or leave the money in a savings account for the same time period. I tried to find one good calculator that would calculate the savings of paying off early but couldn’t find one. I found two different ones that can calculate the two parts of the costs/benefits equation.

This will tell you how much you can save by paying off the loan early:

However, that is just half of the equation. You could save money by paying less interest, but you have to consider the opportunity cost, or lost interest, of not having that pay-off amount in a savings account.

Since my loan is over in 6 months, most of the savings calculator don’t work in my situation because they calculate the time in years instead of months. The calculator I found is for CDs, but if you resolve that you won’t touch the money in the time period, a regular savings account can be considered a CD. This calculator will tell you how much money you would have after x amount of time:

I calculated how much money I would save if I were to pay off the loan right now. I then calculated the amount of money I would have if I left that pay-off money in a savings account. The results showed that though I would save some money paying off the loan early, I could earn more money leaving that amount in a savings account.

At this stage of the loan, the difference isn’t so significant, but it’s nice to have more money than less. Also, for some people, the convenience of having one less payment per month is worth it. The scenario I have doesn’t necessarily match other people’s financial situation. This article gives more things to consider when making the decision: