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4 Steps to Saving Money On Cell Phone Bills

The average cell phone bill in the United States has now reached $80/month. For a single line with unlimited talk, text, and data, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon charges between $60 and $80. Users on a family plan save some money, but not much. I do not believe you’re getting a great deal from any of those companies. They’ve formed an oligopoly in this market.

Listen, I don’t want you to be average. Being average is normal; being financially free is not. So keep reading, and you’ll learn how to cut your cell phone bill in half!

Know Your Needs And Usage

Do not simply see what cellular service plans are being offered right now and choose from those. Know exactly what you need and how much you use. You overpay by buying services you do not need. Think about your answers to the following questions:

  • Do you need this for daily use, work, or emergencies?
  • How many minutes do you call?
  • How many text messages do you send?
  • How much data do you use?
  • Do you need to call internationally?
  • Do you need international roaming? How often do you travel?
  • Do you care about customer service?
  • What about charitable or political donations?

Reduce Your Data Usage

Once you know how much data you use from the previous step, time to reduce your usage! There are ways we consume data without realizing it. By changing our settings and doing a few things differently, we can cut back on our usage. Today, the less data we use, the less we pay in cell phone bills.

Install Mobile Ad Blockers – Advertisements consume between 18% to 79% of your mobile data allotment. An average of 50% of your data, spent on your dime, used to load advertisements trying to sell you stuff you don’t need.

Turn Off Background App Refresh – They don’t need to refresh in the background. It’s fine to refresh only when you open the app and need to use it.

Fetch Your Email Less Frequently – Unless this phone plan is for work, do you need to be notified of your new emails constantly? Set it to fetch manually when the app is open or to every 30 minutes.

Disable Wi-Fi Assist – Wi-Fi assist uses your data to make up for a spotty Wi-Fi connection. If you have spotty Wi-Fi connection, wait until later! Do you really need to surf your web when you’re not at home anyway (assuming you have a strong connection at home)?

Set Photos to Backup Only When Connected To Wi-Fi – You don’t need to back up your photos immediately. It can wait until you get home.

Turn Off Automatic App Updates – Same thing. You don’t need to update your apps immediately. It can wait until you are home.

Download Media (Music, Podcasts, Videos) For Offline Access – People stream everything nowadays. It’s convenient and with unlimited data plans being ubiquitous, why not, right? AT&T, Spring, T-Mobile, and Verizon do not even offer plans without unlimited data. Everyone, stop it! Streaming consumes a lot of data.

Download Offline Maps – If you’re driving a longer route, why not download the route on Google Maps or Apple Maps?

Buy A GPS – Better yet, do what I do. I own a Garmin Drive Smart GPS (refurbished). You can buy a similar GPS for $100 to $200. It’s an upfront cost, but I will still come out ahead from paying much lower cell phone bills. My cell phone bill is only $15/month.

Determine Company With Best Coverage

This website shows a coverage map of the entire United States for each company, down to the very block. Amazing what you can find on the Internet with a little research nowadays. Look in your area to see which one has the best cellular connection and Internet speeds. Do not trust advertisements from service providers always claiming to be the best.

Buy A Prepaid Plan From An MNVO

MNVOs are telecom companies that lease their services from the big four. If the big four do not lease their towers to other companies to use, it’s a lost opportunity for them. They’re incurring costs of building and taking care of the towers regardless. The service is the same. Since MVNOs do not own infrastructure, they have lower costs of doing business. Those savings get passed onto the consumer.

Finding out which MVNO company to go with can get confusing. I’ve already done most of the research for you. Click here to get the list of MVNOs. Then go to the section that has your service provider from the previous step. Go on every single MVNO’s website. Start comparison shopping by making an excel sheet. If you’ve been following my blog, you’d know by now that I love comparison shopping with Excel tables. Once you have at least 10 plans, choose the one that had the best value (subjective opinion) or cheapest price. And then switch!!!

If you can’t switch yet because you don’t have an unlocked phone, either unlock it or buy an unlocked phone. Read my previous post on how to save money on brand name smartphones.

That’s all there is to it. Hope this helped.

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How to Get Paid Your Worth

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

How much do you make? How much does someone else doing the same job as you make? How do you know you are being paid a fair wage for your skill and for the amount of time you’ve been at your current job? Have you ever wondered this?

Because money isn’t something people talk about, especially not in the workplace, I’m certain plenty of people are curious but never say anything. Maybe lack of salary transparency is good in that it keeps drama out, but it’s not good for you if you are being underpaid without knowing it. If you knew just how underpaid you were, would you still work there, or would you aim higher?

I always wondered how people could afford their lifestyle, because we ourselves are middle class, we value thriftiness, prioritize saving money, and there’s not much left beyond small comforts that make our life more enjoyable. The answer is they can’t afford it. That’s what credit cards are for.

As a bookkeeper, I see how much money other people make. I won’t give any specific names, but I’m telling you right now that most of you are vastly underpaid compared to the market rate for the work you do. And some of your colleagues who are paid extremely well but are complaining about the cost of living are bullshitting you. My former manager, when combined with the spouse’s income, made enough to be part of the top 2% of household income in the United States. This manager complained about not being able to afford $4,000 on dental work yet sent the children to private school. I’m not kidding you. I’m not sure if this was to garner sympathy or if this person actually thought it was not affordable. The lesson is to not believe everything your colleagues say.

Companies can afford to pay you more. They’re just not going to do it because it impacts their bottom line and because you’re ignorant and therefore, you’re not going to ask for more. Understand that 70 percent of people who ask for a raise will get a raise. The problem is people don’t ask. Every year, expenses increase due to inflation, but is your income raising enough to match? Unless you’ve got an upper-class job, probably not. Understand that you’re not even maintaining your income. You are basically making less than last year because your money is losing its purchasing power!

Here is what you do. Don’t get emotional over your salary. Don’t try to find out how much your coworkers are making. You want to detach all your beliefs about your value and your worth and simple look at actual numbers. Do the market research and look at the statistics of what other people with the same title and level of education in your geographical area are getting paid. Find the bottom range, the upper range, the median, and the average. Go on PayScale and get your report. Find out how much you should be making and look at the list of skills that it says will give you the highest gain in salary. Learn the skills that would give you the highest return on investment first.

Sometimes though, you just have to put your foot down and stand up for yourself, especially if you are a woman, as women tend to get paid less doing the same job. A woman and her husband had a free financial coaching consultation with me. I looked at their lifestyle and expenses and saw that they were already very frugal.

The source of their problem wasn’t the spending—the woman was simply not making enough. She was making $15/hour as a teller. If she wanted their budget to work, she would have to make $18/hour. I told her to aim higher. Why? Because her husband didn’t speak English very well, immigrated to the United States this year, and worked a laborious job that was paying $18/hour. She had better English, more skill and advantages than he had, yet she made less. What was her objection? “But I don’t have a college degree.” IT DOES NOT MATTER. If you can come on time and do an amazing job for your employer, you are worth more than a lazy college graduate who lacks work ethic. Think about it from the employer’s standpoint. Why pay a smart person more money if they don’t show up and do the work?!

I’m happy to tell you that this woman asked for more and stood her ground. By the end of the week, she told me she’s getting promoted to a banker and will be making $21/hour. That is a 40 percent raise because she finally got it in her head that she could be making more money.

Please, go on PayScale and find out how much you should be getting paid. I hate the fact that wages in the United States have been stagnant for decades. Let’s do something about this. It starts with you asking for more money.

 

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If Insured, Sometimes You Should Pretend You Don’t Have Health Insurance

Hi everyone,

A couple months back, my friend had to get a Td vaccine to get some paperwork filled out. His university’s health center didn’t offer it, so we had to look elsewhere. The medical clinic filling out the paperwork recommended we go to the City of Lubbock Health Department, which is a community health center in Lubbock. The clinic personnel specifically instructed my friend to state that he did not have health insurance, even though he did, so that he would only be charged $15.00 for the Td vaccine.

I thought this was weird, but okay. We went to the City of Lubbock Health Department and told the employee at the front desk that my friend did not have health insurance. The department charged him $15.00 and we waited in the seating area.

While we were waiting, a young couple entered the building. The female was only 18 years old and the male was 19 years old. They both had to get the vaccine for Meningitis and they both had private health insurance. The employee then said, “Okay, that will be $120.00 from each of you.” I could tell the couple looked surprised, because of the high cost, but they had to pay anyway. They looked stressed.

Finally, we were called inside. While my friend was getting his Td vaccine, I got a bit snoopy. I wanted to learn more about the office. Maybe there were things I could learn just from looking around.

On the back wall next to the doctor’s desk was a laminated sheet of paper displaying the prices for vaccines. Here is a picture of that exact sheet:

Do you see what is wrong here? For every adult with no health insurance, every single vaccine cost $15.00. But for adults with health insurance, the vaccines cost between 166% to 700% more.

This is outrageous. The young couple in the waiting room could have saved $210.00 just by saying, “We don’t have health insurance.” They are young. The money could really help. To top it off, they have private health insurance. They pay monthly premiums, the health insurance doesn’t even cover the vaccines, and they also pay more for the vaccine itself, compared to someone without insurance.

Something is definitely wrong with the system. The community health center had the price list inside the doctor’s office, yet they didn’t hang it up in the lobby for patients to see when they walked in. I bet they do have a contract with the health insurance companies dictating how much they have to charge.

I want people to understand that while health insurance is can be a good thing, sometimes it pays to not even use it. This system is so complex though, that it’s hard to figure out when those moments should be.

I’ve read lots of stories on the Internet of people with health insurance getting charged more for surgeries and procedures than if they simply claimed uninsured and paid cash outright. Check out these articles:

How Paying Your Doctor in Cash Could Save You Money
Medical Bills Going Down If You Pay Cash – Way Down
Insured Patients Can Save Money By Pretending To Be Uninsured

The health insurance company is not on your side. They are in the business of milking as much money out of you as possible and paying out the least amount possible. Otherwise, they will go out of business.

I just wish there were more TRANSPARENCY about the prices each doctor/hospital charges for each exam/procedure with and without health insurance. Look, I went to Mexico in May. I literally shopped online for a dental cleaning the same way I shop for everything else! Why is it so difficult in the United States to find out the price?!

I don’t have the answer. I just wish the country could reach a solution that is both simple and effective.

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How To Retire With One Million Dollars

Hi everyone,

One of my blog readers, Kelly, encouraged me to start investing my money in an IRA a few months back. I was reluctant because I felt like a complete amateur when it comes to investments. I felt scared of losing my money, as I worked hard to make and save it. I worked four jobs, making an average of $9.00/hour. We were saving as much as possible for the interstate move, in which our funds weren’t even enough in the end. Where could I come up with the money to invest for retirement, and even if I had the funds, how would I know what to invest in?

After our discussion, though, I realized I work too hard NOT to invest my money. Sure, I could lose my money, but I could also grow my money. For those of you who know me personally, you know I work my butt off. If I continue like the way I am now for several years, I will burn out. I cannot work long hours forever. At some point, I will have to retire because my body can’t handle it anymore. I want to retire wealthy so that I can live comfortably.

With Kelly’s encouragement, I looked at the Roth IRA that I opened with a financial advisor two years ago but stopped contributing to after only half a year. What did this financial advisor invest my money in? I got statements every month but never looked.

I saw my portfolio had less money than it did two years ago. I didn’t understand. Why? Kelly told me the market did extremely well last year, so what happened to my money? My advisor invested my money in C-shares that charged 2% in fees every year, on top of the advisor’s annual fee. The mutual fund itself didn’t have a good return on investment either.

My coworker, Xane, was majoring in Personal Financial Planning for his degree. I asked him what was going on. He said if I lost money in the past two years, during the longest bull market in history, then financial advisor did not have my best interest in mind. He recommended I manage my own investments and to invest in index funds.

I did more research. All you need to know in this article is that index funds are a type of mutual fund constructed to match the components of a market index. One index is the S&P 500, which has had an annualized total return of 9.8% for over 90 years.

I plugged some numbers into a compound interest calculator to see how much I would have in retirement if I made contributions every month.

Let’s pretend I have $1,000 to invest initially, and then I invest $100 every month for 45 years, with an annual rate of return of 9.8%. Look at the chart. I will have contributed only $55,000 during my whole lifetime, but I will have $877,271.42 in my portfolio.

What if, the same thing, but I contributed $200/month instead? I’ll have contributed $110,000 but my portfolio would be $1,687,383.68.

Now, what if I contributed $300/month? My contributions would be $163,000 but my portfolio would be $2,497,495.94.

Looking at the results, I realized it was possible to retire wealthy so long as I invest a modest amount of money consistently. Two million dollars won’t have the same purchasing power as it does today, but it is still a hefty sum. I closed my account with the financial advisor and now I have an account with Schwab and do it myself. Keep in mind, I am a NEWBIE at investing and I am doing it just fine. You can do the same.

I haven’t considered the effects of inflation in this article because that would make it too long. All I want you to take away from this article today is that if you are in your early 20s, the best time to start investing for retirement is NOW. You CAN retire with $1m. It is DOABLE. If you start in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, it might not be doable depending on your income and your contributions, because compound interest hasn’t had enough time to work its magic yet.

Do you have $300/month to invest? If you tell me no but you are making a middle-class income, I bet you do.

If you track your spending, you would find areas where you overspend. Your $200 cell phone bill? It’s too expensive. You can cut it down to $30. Your daily $3 coffee before work? That’s $60/ month. What about ordering lunch every day for $10? That’s $200/month right there.

And those are only three easy ways to start saving money starting today!

Please buy my book 1001 Ways to Save Money: Quit Flushing Your Hard-Earned Money Down The Toilet for more. Definitely worth the $20 because you will save much more than that.

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How has our move been? Many people have been asking. Here’s my answer.

Hi everyone,

I haven’t written this newsletter in a while. For the past three months, Handrio and I have been on the road. We drove from Texas to New York to stay with my parents, and then went back and forth between NYC and Boston looking for an apartment and job. We never stayed in the one city for longer than a week at a time.

Once we finally moved in, I started my new job and spent my weekends cleaning the apartment, since it was filthy. We pay $1,750 for rent and the property management company couldn’t even spend $200 on cleaning service. I felt upset because I spent three weekends cleaning shit (literally, mouse poop)!

Okay, I’m done complaining about this issue now. I’m not upset anymore because it’s clean now, thanks to me and Handrio, and that’s all that matters at this point.

With so much change, it has been difficult for me to sit down and write. But starting today, I will be resuming my bi-monthly newsletter, as I’ve created a new routine. I might even write weekly, depending on my schedule.

Today, I want to share with you indirect expenses when moving. These are expenses that don’t even come to mind at first but hear me out because I did not think about these beforehand. A few newsletters ago, I shared our moving budget, which included transportation and first-month expenses. We saved $6,000 for this move, which we thought would be enough, but we were approximately $1,500 short in the end.

The big reason we were short was because of Massachusetts landlord-tenant law and Boston norms. Landlords can ask for first month’s rent, last month’s rent, one-month security deposit, and one-month broker fee. Basically, quadruple the rent. My moving budget only included first month’s rent and one-month security deposit—give or take $3,500 total. That’s how it was for us in Texas, so we assumed the same here.

No. That’s not how many apartment buildings work here in Boston if you want your own place. We paid triple the rent to move in, so there went $5,250. Technically, the last month rent and security deposit money are still ours, but we can’t spend it. With little money left, I had to ask my mom for money, a resource I’m grateful to have.

There were things we never considered buying because our old apartment had a great design.

For instance, our old apartment had cabinets in the bedroom to store our folded clothes. This apartment has closets—no shelves—so we had to buy hangers.

The old apartment floor was carpet, so we only needed a vacuum cleaner. This apartment is hardwood, so we need a vacuum, a mop, and floor cleaning solution too.

The old apartment had a kitchen countertop that doubled as a table. For this apartment, we must buy a dining table.

The old apartment had central air conditioning. This apartment has no air conditioning, so we bought a window unit.

The old apartment had enough storage space in the bathroom. This apartment’s bathroom is so small, we had to buy a storage rack for our toiletries.

The old apartment had a laundry washer and dryer in unit, so we had a hamper and paid for the electricity only. Now I have to bring our clothes to the laundromat. We had to buy a laundry bag, a dolly, and pay $6.00 per load, making the laundromat owner happy and rich in the long run.

I didn’t list everything. I’m sure you get the point and see how money here and there can add up to more than a thousand dollars.

Don’t get me wrong. I like our new apartment. The location is ideal and the layout is open, making it feel spacious. But the cost of getting settled in was much higher than expected. We moved from a low cost-of-living area to the third most expensive city in the United States. It’s been a real strain on us at first but we are doing okay now.

My advice now would be to make a budget for moving, and then save twice or triple that number! Think about these kinds of issues and plan even further beyond the cost of transporting your body and your stuff. You might have a different experience from mine, particularly if you move from an urban to a rural area. It’s still better to have too much money than too little.

 

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How I almost gave $1,400 to a Craigslist scam artist

Greetings everyone!

Several years back, my parents told me a news story that I still think about from time to time. A landlord had given a prospective tenant an apartment tour. The tenant signed the lease, paid one month’s rent and security deposit, and got the keys. A few days after the tenant moved in, the real landlord appeared, wondering who this tenant was and what was going on. The first landlord was a scam artist who disappeared after getting the money.

We all laughed at how foolish the tenant was. How could someone be so stupid?

Earlier this month, I could have been that fool.

There have been some issues in my personal life lately, so instead of moving to Boston, I planned on moving to San Diego. [By the way, I am not moving to San Diego in the end. I am moving to Boston, as it turns out.] With a job lined up, all that was left to do was find an affordable apartment close to work. I found a room on Craigslist for $700/month + $700 security deposit. It included utilities and private parking, was furnished and looked newly renovated. It was a steal. I desperately wanted this apartment.

I sent an email introducing myself and explaining that I lived in Texas and was moving to San Diego. The landlord, Nancy, emailed back with the address: 3948 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103. She said I could look at the outside of the building but not inside. She was currently in Texas renovating her house, which was damaged by Hurricane Harvey. She didn’t have an agent, as she fired the last one for dishonesty. But not to worry, the apartment was nothing different from what I saw in the pictures. The room was 300 sq ft.

 

Since I was not in San Diego and couldn’t look inside anyway, I looked at the address on Google Street View. There was a “Fifth Avenue Apartments” sign on the door of building no. 3948. There was a private parking garage across the street. The whole thing looked legit.

To move forward, I would need to sign the lease, send $1,400, and get the keys via FedEx. I was about to do that until my SO pointed out that the room in the picture looked too small to be 300 sq ft. It did look small, but I defended Nancy. She probably made a mistake in her email.

I thought some more and recalled the news story from my teenage years. Then I called the San Diego County Assessor, asking who owned the building on 3948 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92103. No such address existed. The building numbers only went up to 3946. Google Street View showed building number 3948. I felt confused and worried. Could this be a scam?

I asked Nancy to verify her identity first and she wrote back, “Good luck with your search.” SCAM!! Thank goodness I dug a little deeper. Otherwise, I would have lost $1,400.

My message for you today: conduct a landlord background check and search the county public records before signing that lease and writing that check. A landlord can ask for rental and criminal history, credit report, proof of income, references, and more. I say it is fair to turn this around and investigate your future landlord up to a certain point.

What if your investigation shows that the building belongs to someone else? If the owner’s name is correct, but there’s a lien on the property, can you be sure you will get your security deposit back? What if the property is being foreclosed? What if the landlord has a criminal history of murder or rape? You can never be too thorough, especially when signing a contract.

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Can I borrow that? How my friend, Robert Guddahl, got his pool for free.

Today I want to share with you an idea I got from my dear friend Robert Guddahl a few years ago. One day, Robert and I were talking on the phone. I asked him what he was doing. He responded, “Just swimming in my pool.” I thought he lived in an apartment. How could he own a pool? After I pressed him, he laughed and said, “Annie, I got my pool for free. It’s the Atlantic Ocean!”

Robert always has such a good sense of humor and comes up with the most unconventional ideas. Out of all our years as friends, his philosophy above has stuck with me most.

As Americans, our general pattern is to consume. We want to own the things that we use, even if we use the item only once before we get rid of it. Can we have a different mentality? The other day, my friend Janani talked about how she wanted to buy a grill. My friend Ivana had a grill. Instead of buying another grill, we borrowed Ivana’s and had a dinner night. Sharing with each other, rather than owning more stuff, has brought us closer together.

Three months ago, my 2011 MacBook Pro died on me. The Apple Authorized Service Provider diagnosed the logic board as the problem. It’s unfortunate that since my computer is over five years old, it’s considered vintage. Therefore Apple won’t repair it or provide any parts. It’s a shame how Apple’s policy encourages customers to own yet another laptop rather than fix what would otherwise be a good laptop.

My first thought was, of course, to buy another laptop or maybe even a desktop. I began researching models with a high repairability score and an affordable price. I wanted the HP EliteBook 840 G3. But to tell you the truth, I still haven’t bought a computer yet. I’ve been saving up for an expensive move the last few months. I don’t have any disposable money for something like this.

Somehow I’ve made do without. I use the computer at the school library instead, which is open 24 hours, 5 days a week—great hours for my busy schedule. I have also limited my workaholic tendency because I only use the computer for two hours. I need to come to the library with a list of things to do or else I’d waste time. With limited distraction, life has definitely slowed down for me.

I remember back in the early 2000’s, it was common for each household to own only one computer. Everyone took turns using the computer. A lot more people used the public library computer. Outside of the United States, people frequented Internet cafés. Today, people have personal computers, tablets, and smartphones. Personal computers have become a necessity in our lives. This experience made me realize that they’re not real necessities.

Going back to Robert’s free pool story, can we find ways to get the things we want without having to buy them? I definitely think so. What do you believe?

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Hola from Mexico! I got my teeth cleaned for only $21.63 USD out of pocket!

I drove to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and back earlier this month, and I’m alive! I went there by myself and am glad I made it back in one piece. I was not prepared for how scared I would feel driving alone. Going through the Guadalupe Mountains, there were no gas stations for two hours. Realizing I had enough gas to get to the next city but not enough to get to a gas station, I panicked. I made a detour to a gas station in the middle of nowhere. When I couldn’t get the gas to come out of the nozzle, I panicked even more! Someone helped me, but it was a close call.

Driving in Mexico itself is a whole other story—got lost at least three times every day! Many near accidents. Believe me, it’s not a trip for everyone.

I went to Mexico because I needed time away from home to reflect on my life, but I figured I should make the most of my trip. I wrote in my book, 1001 Ways to Save Money, to engage in medical/dental tourism but I never tried it myself before until now. I want to share my experience in this newsletter.

(Note: All prices have been converted to USD.)

Teeth Cleaning

I found my dentist through Dental Departures. They specialize in finding dentists abroad. I loved the price transparency that it provided for all procedures. Prices were listed like a restaurant menu and reviews were sorted like Yelp. Something I don’t like about dental care in the United States is how hidden the prices are. There should be a chart hanging on the wall displaying the out-of-pocket price. If this were a free market economy, I should have the freedom to shop around.

CostHelper says that standard teeth cleanings in the United States cost between $75 and $200. I chose DentalCare in Cuidad Juarez. Dental Departures listed the price for that clinic as $28, but when I got there, the price was $21.63. I felt thrilled to save even more money.

As for the cleaning itself, it’s the best one I ever had. (My last two dentists caused a lot of pain.) The dentist finished in under ten minutes and it didn’t hurt at all. I asked her if she cleaned under my gums because I didn’t feel anything. She did, but she wasn’t rough. Her English was great because she used to work in El Paso, TX. The clinic transferred her to Juarez because they needed an English speaker.

Hair

Before going to Mexico, I highlighted my hair purple at home. The products cost around $45. I did it myself because my local salon quoted me $160.

In Mexico, I got a nice haircut for $10. But this isn’t about the haircut; this is about the highlights. When the hairdresser washed my hair, the purple dye washed off onto her hands. She pressed me on how much I paid. Assuming she thought my hair looked bad, I hesitantly told her $45, leaving out the fact that it was DIY. She responded mucho caro (very expensive)!

What?! Expensive?! I thought it was cheap. Then she revealed that her salon charged only $20.

By the way, funny story—I spilled purple hair dye all over my bathroom sink and the stain won’t come off. I’m losing my security deposit, so this cost me more than $45. I’m better off highlighting my hair in Mexico in the future.

Eyeglasses

I got polarized glasses from Ópticas UV, which I found through Google and Facebook. The eye exam and lens came out to be around $132. I have no idea whether this is cheaper than in the USA because, again, lack of price transparency. All I can say is that the turnaround time was fast: ready for pickup the next day. Every eyeglass store I’ve been to in the USA had a turnaround time between one and two weeks.

Living Expenses

I had to pay for accommodation, food, gas, and auto insurance. My living expenses for five days totaled $244, around $48.80 per day. Not bad. I could have shortened my trip to three days and saved more, but I needed time to myself to reflect on my life.

I recently learned it’s common among immigrants to travel back to their own country and do this. My friend Janani went back to India last month for a wedding. She got everything health-related done while she was there. Janani told me extractions for four wisdom teeth would cost around $360. In the USA, expect between $1,000 and $2,600 for four out-of-pocket. With those prices, you might as well fly to India, get the procedure done, and have a nice vacation for less.

What do you think? Healthcare in the United States is not affordable, even with insurance. Would you ever travel to another country to get medical and dental procedures done? If you would never try this, what are your reservations? Hit reply.

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“The Best in the Industry…” Rip-offs in the Auto Industry.

Sauna. That’s what our Honda Civic sedan felt like in the Texas heat last summer. We used a windshield cover and parked in the shade when possible, but it still wasn’t enough to combat the heat. We’d been planning to tint the windows before the summer season starts. I got them tinted last month and wanted to share my experience shopping around.

Maybe you’re not that into cars. Me neither, but I also don’t like getting ripped off, and I’m sure everyone else feels the same. Last week, my coworker told me she didn’t want to fix her broken car horn. She wasn’t sure whether a mechanic would overcharge her. Even if you find cars boring, I hope you find this newsletter interesting.

In the automotive industry, prices and quality of work vary. How do you know you are getting the best value whenever you are purchasing a product or service? The answer is to research. With the Internet, it’s easy to be an informed consumer. The first page of Google search results about window tinting had enough information. To summarize, there are four types of films: dyed, metallic, carbon, and ceramic. I am listing the pros and cons of each so you know what I’m talking about in the rest of the article.

Film Material Pros Cons
Dyed Least expensive. Good for privacy. Least functional for heat reduction. Color fades from black to purple.
Metallic Scratch and shatter resistant. Reduces heat by reflecting it away. Interferes with cell phone, GPS transmission, and radio reception. Shiny appearance.
Carbon Blocks 40% of infrared rays. Attractive matte finish. Never fades. Does not block electronic signals. None.
Ceramic Blocks 80% of infrared rays. Never fades. Shatter resistant. Does not block electronic signals. Retains great visibility at night. Most expensive.

The dyed film was off the list, as it didn’t reduce heat. I didn’t want metallic film either because we rely on electronics. That left us with carbon or ceramic film. According to CostHelper, tinting a passenger car costs between $100 and $600. Any quote outside that range is abnormal.

It was time to call for quotes from every shop in town. I called Shop A first and was quoted $169.00. When I asked the person on the phone what type of film they use, he answered, “Llumar, the best in the industry.” Hmm, weird because Llumar wasn’t a type. I googled it and it turned out to be a brand. Llumar makes dyed, metallic, and ceramic, so his answer didn’t help me at all. Since he wouldn’t say much on the phone, I drove to the shop to ask more questions.

What happened there?

Me: “Hi, I called for a quote earlier. I wanted more information on what type of film you use.”
Shop A: “I already told you Llumar.”
Me: “That’s the brand, but what type? Dyed, metallic, carbon, or ceramic?”
Shop A: “Ma’am, it’s metallic.”
Me: “You don’t offer carbon or ceramic?”
Shop A: “No, we only offer metallic. I don’t see why you would want carbon anyway. Metallic is better than carbon.”
Me: “I read online that metallic film interferes with cell phone reception and GPS.”
Shop A: “Listen, Miss, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I know more about window tinting than what you can find out by reading on the Internet. I use the best in the industry. There’s not a single customer that ever complained about electronic signal interference.”

I walked away. “The best in the industry,” is a subjective claim. How can I trust his word, especially with that attitude? Plus, even www.Llumar.com states that their ceramic film eliminates interference with electronic signals, implying that the metallic film lacks that feature. They even label dyed as “good,” metallic as “better,” and ceramic as “best.”

There is nothing wrong with being an informed consumer. He might have been intimidated by my knowledge. It wasn’t personal because I wasn’t questioning his ability or skill; I was questioning the product he used. And to be clear, shopping around doesn’t mean I am cheap. I am willing to pay more money for quality, but I want to know exactly what I’m paying for. That was my first quote, so I hope the other shops didn’t treat me that way when I called.

Business Dyed Metallic Carbon Ceramic
Shop A $169.00
Shop B $165.00
Shop C $189.00
Shop D $225.00
Shop E $195.00
Shop F $150.00 $225.00
Shop G $164.00 $350.00
Shop H $179.00 $229.00 $419.00

They didn’t. They were surprised by how much I knew about window tinting. Apparently, most customers are fixated on price and never go beyond that. In the end, I went with ceramic film for $350 from Shop G. I am very happy with the result.

The best way to not get ripped off, especially in the automotive industry, is to do your research and shop around. This article was about an optional add-on to my vehicle, not even a repair. If it were a repair, you should apply the same process by getting a second or third opinion. Repair shops and dealerships can overcharge or suggest unnecessary or inadequate repairs. Don’t get me wrong–there are honest people out there, but there are some dishonest ones who ruin it for everyone. Arm yourself with knowledge.

Uncategorized

The Real Cost of Work

How great would it be if we could all make money in our sleep? Assuming Bill Gates slept 7 hours last night, he made $9.66 million in his sleep. Bill Gates makes so much money that if he were to drop a $100.00 bill on the ground, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up.

Unfortunately, not all of us earns passive income. Most of us toil away at our jobs for a paycheck that’s just enough to last until the next one. Have you ever calculated how much money your time is worth? It’s not as simple as dividing your salary by the amount of hours you worked, since work comes with hidden costs. Individuals at the same company with the same job making the same salary could have different real hourly wages. That’s because real hourly wage is affected by commute, child care, and other expenses.

Say you got a job offer from another company that pays $10,000 more than your current one. It’s salaried though, meaning you work more hours for a set pay. The commute is longer too. By calculating the real hourly wage, you learn that the real hourly wage of the new job is half of your current one. Of course, if you want the extra $10,000, take the job, but understand that the value of your productive time is lower.

A Personal Example

Here’s a real-life example. My first job, I made $8.00/hour as a part-time cashier at a nearby supermarket, around $640.00/month. Later I worked full-time at my (ex) boyfriend’s uncle’s massage parlor. He paid me a monthly salary of $480.00 and after tips, I actually made around $1,000/month.

Yes, I made $360.00/month more at this job. But I also worked & commuted 78 hours per week and paid $112.00 for an unlimited monthly MetroCard. This made my real hourly wage $2.84.

I was paid peanuts!

On top of that, I had no social life. And with little time to exercise, I gained weight. I bought sugary chocolate bars for $3.50 every day for the fleeting moments of happiness. I ate so much sugar that my doctor told me I was almost pre-diabetic.

Needless to say, I quit soon after and got a job at the grocery store down the block, making $8.25/hour. I was much happier, earned the same amount of money, worked fewer hours. With free time, I pursued hobbies and side projects, like pole dancing.

I have no regrets working at the massage parlor. I experienced the effects of real hourly wage first-hand. It was at this job I began saving 50 percent of my income, accumulating a whopping $13,000 in two years. Everyone wonders how I did it. In Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, money is something we trade our time (our life) for. This is time we can never get back. Thus, every time I was about to spend money, I thought, I make $2.84/hour, so how many hours did I have to work to pay for this good or service? This was the beginning of my frugality; today, this is my pride.

Real Hourly Wage Calculator

To calculate your real hourly wage, you can use the calculator I created here. Use annual numbers because everyone has a different pay period. Annual numbers are also more accurate, as you might travel for work some months but not others.

If you take a look at my calculator, you will discover easy ways to increase your real hourly wage. Quit buying work lunches and new work clothes. Decrease commute time by asking your boss if you could do four 10-hour days instead. Bike to work to cut down gas costs. Take public transit when possible, so you can do other things during your commute. If you pay for childcare, it might even be cheaper for one parent to stay at home or work part-time instead.

If you really want to go the extra mile, work toward creating residual income. Could you rent out a spare room in your house? Could you invest in stocks that pay dividends? Could you invent or innovate a product that continues to sell in your sleep? It could be something as simple as intermittent windshield wipers for your car, something that’s so standard today, but a man named Robert Kearns had to innovate that first!

I’ve got an idea for you… You know how manufacturers sell printers at cost and then charge an outrageous amount of money for ink cartridges? Invent a high quality printer that can be refilled with ink directly. It already exists on the market—the Epson EcoTank, but it’s a shitty printer in terms of function. If you could create something like that, you’d be an overnight multi-millionaire. I’ll write more about how to buy cheaper ink in the future. 😉

Wish you the best in increasing the value of your time.