Don’t always buy cheapest (The Walmart Syndrome)

It’s important to be frugal. However, simply ‘buying the cheapest’ is not always the best tactic. This works for some things like quick consumables, like a generic brand of yogurt vs the name brand. However, for other things- like appliances, tools, and clothing, it’s not. These commodities I refer to as durables, rather than consumables, because they are meant to be used over and over again.

Walmart Syndrome, more commonly known as planned obsolescence , is where you keep buying the same cheap products again and again- spending more money in the long run because you make the same purchase multiple times. Sadly, most people have normalized the concept of buying the same thing multiple times because there are so many disposable products- but this line of thinking is not sustainable for both consumers wallet and the environment.

The old adage: “There’s buying cheap and then there’s buying smart” is really what this post is all about.

When I was young, for example, there was a year I bought 3 pairs of flip flops in one summer. I kept buying the cheapest pair (trying to be frugal and naive) and they kept falling apart after a few weeks of normal use. I ended up spending $40 combined for the 3 shitty pairs, as well as $25 for a nicer pair which lasted much longer (years in fact). I ended up paying three times as much as I would of had I just bought the slightly more expensive version in the first place.

Note: This doesn’t always mean that there is a direct correlation between the cost of a product and it’s quality. Some products are blatantly overpriced. Some products that will last a life time are quite affordable, like this can opener

Durables can be anything from furniture to consumer electronics or from clothes to toys. When making these purchases there is either an upfront cost you must incur, or you can finance it. Naturally, whenever possible, you should avoid financing where it’s not advantageous (eg. 0.0 apr for 12 months and paid within 12 months is a good deal).

When buying durables, I think it’s best to take the total cost of the item and divide it by the number of years I expect it to work- because nothing last forever. This requires a little market research to estimate the life span of the item (there’s a way to get around the research I explain later). Although products with life time warranties still exist, they are becoming harder to find and often have many stipulations and limitations- so watch out.

A good example is a new phone or tv. How many years do you plan to use your phone/tv? How many phones/tvs have you had to buy across your lifetime? With that information, how many more do you think you will buy?

For me, I just purchased a new phone. With most phones in the past I expected about 2-3 years of life time (which I got with both of my android phones). A new phone cost about $400, so about $130 per year to use. That isn’t bad, but if I’m trying to minimize costs I can do better. I just got a Samsung Phone that is built very rugged. Albeit a little older of a model, it only cost me $100 dollars brand new and it should last me 5 years. $20 dollars a year is six times cheaper than $130 dollars a year.

In addition to thinking about the lifetime of anything you might purchase, i t’s also worth considering weather or not it’s worth buying used. There is slightly more risk, but more often than not the used item is still fully functional and you will get a good bargain.

Take advantage of refund opportunities. Many people I know think it is simply to inconvenient to go to the customer service counter and ask for a refund rather than to go to the same store and but the item again. A good strategy if your not so savvy with understanding the quality of a product (or researching it) is to buy cheap, and then return it if it’s not working out in exchange for the slightly more expensive version. This way you’ve mitigated your investment risk in the product.

Regardless, people need to actively try to buy higher quality commodities that will last them a long time rather than settling for cheapest. In most cases, you will find that over time you will spend more money re-purchasing the same item over and over again.

If your interested in learning more about planned obsolescence, I encourage you to check out The light bulb conspriacy.

Is investing in a Small Business VS a Franchise

A few weeks ago I made a post about investing in small franchises to add to your current income stream. Today’s posts goes a step further and explores the idea of buying an exiting small business that is not a franchise. No business is the same. There is often little or no documentation like that a franchise would provide when buying a small business. Buying a small business requires much more research and attention- but can be very rewarding. Another term investors use is investing in a ‘business opportunity’.

Similarities to Franchisees:

  • Potential to earn a living income
  • You can be very independent because you run your own business
  • Can vary in price from $30,000 to $10,000,000.
  • You’re usually also buying a clientele stream along with the business.

Differences from Franchisees

  • You don’t get a Uniform Franchise Offering Circular (UFOC). The UFOC is essentially a document that outlines the businesses performance history, profits, losses, etc. Some business can provide records, but not nearly as detailed.
  • Don’t have to deal with corporate rules or pay dues and fees.
    • And as such, you have the very real reality of managing the business with so support line.
    • As a positive, you have a lot more independence and control over your image and product/service.
  • There is no “Brand” per se, or at least not in most cases.
    • This provides the opportunity to build a brand, or to change it upon acquisition very easily.
  • You usually need to invest a lot more time in the image and upkeep of the business. Sometimes, you must even manage it full time yourself (which is a great option for some)
  • There is often seller financing.
    • Seller financing is great, because it makes it easier to negotiate the mortgage and down payment. In these scenarios you work with the seller directly as a lender instead of a bank. The catch is it’s a little riskier and you will want the contract reviewed by a lawyer.
  • They can be used as a “starter package” for a different business
    • You can buy out a small business to save money on buying various equipment they may already have.
  • Can vary in net cash flow, but you can often expect to make about 1/3rd the upfront cost of the business the first year. In some cases much more, or some less depending on the service. Franchises vary as well, but tend to have more stable profit projections with a lot of math to back it up.

Buying a small business usually requires more time and effort, but can often cost less money upfront. If you want to learn more about buying a small business I can’t recommend this guide enough: HBR Guide to Buying a Small Businesss. You will need to learn how to properly value the business as well as understand the market and clientele. Unless you have the assets to hire someone to properly manage your business, you better be prepared to figure it out for yourself- of risk losing it all. Often times, buyers will manage it themselves in the beginning and until they can train someone else to do it for them.

All in all, a small business is a good investment- but as an investor you need to be savvy and understand the product. Buying a small business is usually easier than buying a franchise, thus it is more accessible to potential investors.

I’ve considered recently what kind of starter businesses I could get behind. Pizza, I think, is my favorite. In high school and college I worked for a local pizza shop and I loved it. Usually, Friday and Saturday nights in the pizza kitchen were very exciting! Making pizza is actually very rewarding and fun. I even have a my own super secret recipes for delicious fluffy dough and sauce(s). Recently, I looked around Washington and found a few pizza places were for sale. I may jump in and just enter the restaurant business one day. I have the advantage of already knowing the business. That may be a quick way out of the 9-5 and on the road to independence. 🙂

You’ve gotta fight for your right

I recently moved from one apartment to another a few miles down the road. Until now, all visits to my previous landlord’s office were cordial and fair. Recently however, they sent me a move out bill of $50 because my security deposit alone was not enough to cover move out costs.

Now, I know for some $50 might not be a lot- but as far as I am concerned that’s a weeks worth of groceries. Also, there was one more problem with the move out costs: THEY WERE FRAUDULENT.

The property charged me for an apartment cleaning, a carpet cleaning, and drip pan (stove) cleanings. The total amount of $300 less my $250 deposit. I spent the weekends before I left meticulously cleaning out the place- very careful to take BEFORE and AFTER pictures of the process. This is something I’ve done with every property I have lived in, and this is the first time I needed it.

So, I go to the office to ask them why they made those charges. The manager at the office was hunky dory about it all as she navigated for my file on her computer looking for pictures her staff would of taken of my apartment while cleaning it. After twenty minutes of searching, she discovered there were no pictures. She then told me we would need to wait a few weeks to find the maintenance guy to see if he had them. I told her a week was all the more I would do because that was a bullshit excuse. They were just looking for ways to derail me from getting my money back. I asked her what she would do if I had before and after pictures- as well as video- of me cleaning the property. Her face went white as a ghost but she had no comment. I told them I would be back the following Friday.

I come back the next Friday and no one is at the office but the new front desk girl. Coincidentally, the management decided to be uniformly sick that day. By a streak of luck, the front desk girl was able to connect me to the corporate office. After relaying the same information, the corporate office was much less reluctant to process my refund and apologize about an ‘accounting error’. I received my full $250 back and left in a much better mood.

Moral of the story: Corporations will nickel and dime you, and a lot of people won’t think twice about the money they have been screwed out of. And those that do, will have to fight for it. It’s your right to fight for your money- you earned it. Don’t let some white collar corporate bozos steal it from you.

 

Starting a Frugal Balcony Garden

For the past 6 years I’ve been living in apartments. Until now, I’ve only tried to garden a few flowering plants- but not consumable ones. I’ve recently learned how easy it is to get a reasonable harvest of veggies and herbs on a windowsill or porch. It will be important for me to learn how to produce my own food for two reasons:

  1. To Save Money (now and later)
  2. Learning New Life Skills and creating the opportunity for Sustainability

Gardening is key to sustainability. It’s a venture I’ve never tried before. I don’t have much space, but could still potentially  grow a variety of veggies, herbs, and fruits on my 3rd floor porch. It’s early springtime, so this is a great time to start. I have a few plastic pots, but a may build a window box like this simple one at hgtv. I also may be extra frugal and recycle 32-128 oz aluminum cans as planting pots. A major disadvantage is my production will be limited due to the size of my porch.

A major advantage, however, is after some initial setup costs (~ $100 for dirt, seeds, and pots) everything I do will be more or less free. The seeds will last a very long time as there will be hundreds. Buying hundreds more will only cost a few dollars. There may be some fertilizer costs along the way that I need to add into the total costs of my garden. On the whole, I expect it will save me tons of money in the long run.

I am going to grow (links to seeds in titles) and perhaps some herbs:

  • Tomatoes
    • Tomatoes are awesome! I use them for all sorts foods and sauces I make at home.
  • Chilies (Hot Peppers) and regular Peppers
    • Peppers are excellent because when diced and saute’d, they can add a ton of flavour as well as a satisfying crunch. Chile and other hot peppers bring in the spice. >:)
  • Onions
    • I use onions is pretty much every thing I cook, I think I will prioritize this!
  • Potatoes
    • Hearty and filling- a staple crop! This may be best to grow in the less sunny months. It’s also super cheap to grow!
  • Spinach
    • Spinach is awesome lettuce. It has everything lettuce has plus way more nutrients. It’s expensive to buy, but cheap to grow!
  • StrawberriesBlackberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries 
    • Berries are much more expensive compared to veggies and other fruits…. but they are also more expensive to buy. In the long run,  it will still be far cheaper. And I can make a ton of smoothies.

If the weather is good, I will start this weekend! Wish me luck!

7 Reasons most people can’t Save Money

A few months ago I decided to dedicate my life to building personal wealth to attain financial freedom. I started this blog as away to share my experience and opinions as I go through the process. Right now, I am focusing on building wealth and in perhaps a year or so I hope to invest that money. For the time right now, I am experimenting with stocks with a small portfolio(<2k) as well as Writing books on the side in addition to my full time Software Job. The little time I have leftover I spend on this blog, researching, or with my lovely fiance.

While it’s important to look for things to invest in; it’s fundamentally more important to get out of the Rat Race Mindset. In doing this, you’ve already taken the first step.

Financial freedom is truly a journey, not a destination. Good Luck! -WW 

  1. You’re stuck in a cycle of debt
    • When you’re broke, you’re desperate. When you’re desperate and can’t find work, you will do anything for money. Payday loans and credit cards are your worst enemies if you are already in debt, as they just add to it.
    • You need to break the cycle of debt and get a head of your finances. This is not an easy task, but it can be done. This is not an optional task either. It may take you months or years, but you WILL BE BETTER OFF. How I paid off my student loan debt quickly!
  2. You feel like you don’t even have a chance
    • This is often the root cause to why most people don’t try to escape the rat race. They feel overwhelmed. They’ve gotten up and fallen over so many times that they don’t think it is worth it. This point is more or less a shout out to everyone I knew in High School. You always have a chance, but you need to take the first steps yourself to see it go anywhere.
    • I should know that you have a chance. Two years ago my income was less than $8,000 a year, now it’s much higher ($110,000). Albeit, the high income is subsidized by high taxes and high costs of living. Either way, I’ve moved up in the world in the past few years. I intend to keep moving up, too.
  3. You don’t know about personal finance
    • Did reading personal finance stress you out a little? That’s ok. Two years ago I knew NOTHING but basic budgeting skills. Now, I know far more. Knowledge is power because knowledge gives you options. When I was young and broke, I thought stocks were just.. well… stocks. Now, I know that there is a multitude of different types of stocks, ways to invest in them, and strategies at that.
  4. You put short term happiness before long term happiness
    • Stop eating out everyday. Stop buying Coffee at Starbucks. Stop buying energy drinks. Stop shelling out $500 to stand in line at Disneyland.
    • In general, don’t waste money on things that provide short term happiness. It’s ok to do this occasionally, but the average american does this EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIFE. All the money you don’t spend can be invested or saved for later when you just want to drink some tea and watch the sunset on a lazy afternoon.
  5. You don’t have an emergency fund
    • In general, it’s a good idea to save up 4-6 months living expenses. It’s an even better idea to keep this money liquid. Save up for emergencies before you invest. This money will act as a safety net if you loose your job or if there is an actual emergency. If you need this money, you will thank yourself later.
  6. You’re not making savings a priority
    • You think… “I can buy this shiny new thing now, and just save next months paycheck.”
    • What you should think is… “If I save up for 3 months I can buy the shiny thing and put money away. Holy shit I’m awesome.”
    • A great tactic is to decided before you get your  paycheck how much you can afford to put away and just do it. Once it’s no longer readily available, it’s far less tempting.
    • It’s also good to learn will power and avoid impulse buying. When you want something online, put it in your cart and wait a few days. If after a few days, you still really want it: buy it. You may find that you don’t need it that badly.
  7. You don’t budget
    • This kills me that people don’t know how to budget or even that it’s a concept. Even some of my younger friends at the Company I work for don’t budget. When you don’t budget, you can’t anticipate savings. You also have no idea how much your spending. Once you know how much your spending, you can learn how to save money more efficiently.

6 Simple Rules for Life Success

Sometimes you just need a basic framework for success. I haven’t thought about this directly in years, but this is a list I made back when I was in high school (2008!) and still figuring ‘life’ out. Least to say I live by these rules everyday and have been so for nearly a decade. I am a much more positive person because of it. Life is all about maximizing your internally derived happiness.

  1. Don’t compare your life to others, or feel where others are successful you’re are shortcoming.
    • Comparison is the thief of Joy!
    • It’s ok to constructively compare yourself to someone else, but only when learning.
  2. Make peace with your past
    • Similarly, if you dwell on past events you will never get passed them. Instead, use knowledge of your own history to learn from mistakes you’ve made.
  3. Time heals all wounds
    • Tragedies, financial loss, employment loss. This can all hurt, but there makes little sense in crying over it. Take some time to grieve, but also remember to get back up on your feet and that… in time… everything will be better.
  4. The only person responsible for your own happiness is you
    • And you should Maximize your happiness, while remaining humble. Spend time with Family and Friends. Enjoy experiences and life.
  5. Don’t worry about what other people think of you
    • Everyone has a right to an opinion. You’re better spending your time thinking about pretty much anything else than what someone else thinks of you. Be yourself.
  6. Smile
    • Smile as much as you can.
    • I find that if I smile more, the people around me also smile more. I also find that I am generally happier. Perhaps it’s the placebo effect… I don’t deny it could be. But if I do really feel happier what does it matter?

How to save money by going off the grid (sort of…)

For quite some time I have been researching what it really means to “Get off the Grid”. It turns out there are many ways to get off the grid, and various severities as well. The most extreme being Homesteading and providing everything for yourself- power, food, shelter, education, etc. While this lifestyle isn’t for some, there are many ways for people to save money and minimize their dependency on the grid. It’s all and all a win win. You learn to do things for yourself, which is empowering. You also will save a ton of money on bills. I’m going to use this post to share as well as be my checklist.

  1. [DONE] Stop eating out and learn to cook at home. Cook healthy and simple meals like hearty potato soups, red beans and rice, vegetable scampy, homemade burgers, and PB&Js. I pay about $25-30 per week average for meals I cook at home. Most meals I make have 6 servings and cost less than $3 per meal. Spaghetti and Potato Soup are normally about $2 per meal (with bread sticks and  meat of course!). Rice and gravy is also pretty cheap!
    • I do eat out on occassion, and sometimes at work because I don’t always have time to prepare lunch. For the most part, my eating out meals are more of a cheap entertainment expense rather than a weekly bill.
  2. [In Progress] Loose the internet, cable, and pick one phone bill
    • Internet [Thinking about it]
      • This one isn’t for everyone :/. The internet is an amazing tool! But it can also be a timesink… I have internet right now, and I am considering my options.
      • Most people think: “ok, I’ll just stop paying for internet and use public WiFi or my wireless data”. This is a great start and you will save a ton (depending on your phone plan), but at the cost of high speed internet.
      • Save common reference websites to your hard drive. This internal / external hard drive is 4tb and costs $122. That’s less than most’s monthly  internet and cable bill. Use a tool like HTTrack to download informational websites. You can also download all of wikipedia. This will not work on social media sites or sites that require javascript. It will work on php/html driven websites.
      • Use sites like Videater and KeepVid to download videos!
      • Share internet with a neighbor. Don’t do this with more than one or two, and always get it in writing. This will cut the cost drastically!
    • Ditch Cable! [Ditched]
      • I don’t really know if I have to make much of an argument here. Cable sucks and there is no way it will survive in it’s present form.
    • Ditch A Phone!
      • Landline [Ditched]
        • Handy to have for communication, net needed with a cell phone though.
      • Cell Phone [Have]
        • I have to have a cell phone for work mostly. It’s convenient to have for sure, but I could certainly do a home phone with an answering machine.
  3. [In Progress] Invest in Cheap Solar Power! You can still use broken Panels, and they cost a fraction of the price! You can also look into wind power for your home.
    • This is definitely a bigger challenge for some. Also, It’s only possible if you have a home or property. There’s also a large upfront cost, but the benefits are great!
  4. [In Progress] Grow your own food! Save on your grocery bill and grow veggies and fruits in a home garden!
    • I don’t own any property yet, but want to do this as soon as I have some land. When I was a child growing up my mom tried to grow in our back yard, but it wasn’t always fruitful. This is not as easy as it may sound and will require effort and much research, but it will save you a ton of money. Potatoes are a great vegetable to start with!
    • You can also grow on your apartment porch, but you won’t yield as much.
    • EDIT: I’m starting this weekend!