Friday, January 20, 2012

Control Your Money - The Dangers of Penny Auctions


OK, I have to say this.  I've been seeing a lot of ads for these penny auction sites.  You know, the "get a brand new big screen TV ($800 retail) for $23.96" sites.  They make it sound so easy to get things so cheap - like it's too good to be true.  Well it is.

Here's how it works:  you pay to get bids.  The price usually comes out at about $0.60 per bid (you buy them in lots of 100 or so).  The bids only go up in one penny increments.  So that TV that sold for $23.96 required 2,396 bids.  At $0.60 per bid, that's $1,437.60 the site made on the TV (plus the $23.96 you paid for it).  Somebody's making out like a bandit, but it's not you.

Basically, these sites are gambling sites.  You pay money for a chance to "win" stuff.  However, just like all gambling places, the house always wins - even if you win the auction.  If you lose, well you're just out a few bucks - just like playing the slot machines.

So, here's my view of penny auction sites:  Their deals are not deals and there are far more losers than winners.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My eReader: The Kobo Touch


As you may know, I suffer from a malady called Gadget Lust.  I try to keep it under control and make sure when I purchase a gadget and have the means and I will actually use it.  Well, I love reading so it wasn't hard to justify an eReader although it did take some time to save up for it (I do have a strict budget you know).

Initially I wantedI a Kindle.  In fact, I've wanted a Kindle ever since they came out.  The whole eInk concept is amazing and I do get eye strain from regular monitors.  Unfortunately, I have since learned that they are limited to Amazon's store and little else (yes there are tools for getting other ebooks but they're not supported natively).  This put a real damper on things since I prefer to check books out of the library vs purchasing them, although, if they are really good then I might just purchase them.  The other thing I've become hooked on is the touch interface.  The Kindle currently does not have a touch interface and doesn't support checking out books from your local library.  These things were deal breakers for me and I decided I would have to look elsewhere.

I looked around at several and finally settled on either the new Nook Touch or the Kobo Touch.  They both have touch interfaces, they both support checking out ebooks from the library, and they both support loading ebooks from outside of their bookstore.  I read some reviews and comparisons and they all scored the two ereaders very close to each other.  I was leaning toward the Kobo when I went to check out my soon to be out of business local Borders store.  They had the Kobo for 20% off (just over $100) and I couldn't resist.  So, now I've had one for 3 days and here's what I think:

First of all, eInk is truly amazing.  It really is like reading a book.  No eye strain and no issues with sunlight.  The sunlight is pretty important as I live in Arizona and there is a lot of sunlight here :)  It is truly a joy to read.

The interface on the Kobo is simple and while I would suggest reading the included tutorial for some of the less obvious tricks, you can get started without any help (or, at least I could).  The Kobo store has a fair selection of free books as well as most of the ebooks that any other store has.  By that I mean that the titles I couldn't find on the Kobo store were also unavailable on the Kindle store and the Nook store.

I also found that checking out books from the library is very simple.  You simply have to get Adobe Digital Editions.  You download the book from the library, drag it into Digital Editions, and drag it onto your Kobo (plugged in via the USB cable) and you're done.  Simple.

The Kobo itself is lighter than most of the books I read so I don't have any issues with my arm getting tired from holding it.  It fits comfortably in my hand and is easy to use one-handed.  All in all, a very nice ereader.

That said, it's not perfect.  There are a couple of things that I was not expecting that disappointed me.

First, it treats non-Kobo ebooks differently.  It calls them sideloaded books and one of the first ebooks I downloaded is the LDS standard works (free from lds.org).  This has the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price all in one ebook.  It has a hyperlink-based table of contents which worked fine in the Adobe Digital Editions software but doesn't work at all in the Kobo Touch.  With over 4000 pages, the Kobo interface for finding a specific spot in the book is very difficult and time consuming.  That was my big disappointment.

Other things that would be nice are the ability to have collections (like labels for your books so that you can find titles easier) and the ability to share an account with two ereaders (so if my wife gets one we can share books we might purchase from Kobo but it would share our bookmarks, progress on books, etc.).

So, there are a few drawbacks but, overall, it's a very nice ereader.  I also would not be surprised if my list of gripes was shortened in the near future.  The Kobo developers are very active and have already improved the handling of sideloaded books (not up to where I need it but getting there) and continue to improve on things.  In fact they actually read the forums on MobileRead.com and respond to them.

In the end I have to say that I'm happy with my Kobo Touch.  It was a good price and it's great for reading books.

UPDATE (8/2/2011):  Kobo latest software update enabled hyperlinks in sideloaded content.  You simply need to double-tap the link.  Go Kobo!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Control Your Money - An Easy Way To Save


I'm always on the lookout for new ways to save money.  I recently ran across a great article about the fundamentals of saving money.  It's called How To Save Money.  It was a good article.  Nothing new (for me anyway) but worthwhile stuff.

What struck me (and inspired this post) was a question posted in the discussion section.  A person simply posted:  "I need an easy way to save".  Don't we all!  My first thought was, too bad for you - there is no easy way to save.  Then, I thought about it.  Perhaps there is...

The problem is that saving money depends very heavily on how you spend money.  Each person is different.  Each person has a different definition of what is easy.  About 10 years ago, I cut my cable.  At the time, I would have called that moderately to extremely difficult.  Now I would call it easy.  It has saved me a lot of money and I don't miss 300 channels of nothing on.

So, back to the question.  What's an easy way to save?  I think the real answer is to know how much you spend.  If you keep track of how much you spend and what you spend it on, you can almost always find a few easy ways to save.  Of course, keeping tabs on your own money may not be easy, but I still think it's the best way to truly know how to save.

Is there really an easy way to save?  Maybe, but I can't tell you what it is.  You have to find that answer for yourself.  Just ask yourself what you spend your money on and figure out a way to cut back.  It probably won't be easy at first, but if you stick to it, it will keep getting easier.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Control Your Money - Saving Money Takes Time


One of my problems with money is that I want to save a lot - all the time.  Unfortunately, life has taught me that it doesn't work like that.  For every person that touts getting rich by doing "this one simple thing", there are hundreds - if not thousands - that failed at the same thing.  What's the moral here?  Don't expect to grab a few tips on saving money and end up with piles of cash at the end of the month.  It takes time and the piles tend to be smaller than you imagine.

In fact, I would say that learning to effectively save money is like getting in shape.  In the beginning, it hurts a lot and you don't see much result from your effort.  The key to success is to stick with it.  You have to be frugal every day.  You have to be on the lookout for ways to economize.  As time passes, your dedication begins to pay off.  You start to see success.  Your debt starts shrinking faster.  Your savings slowly increases.  You don't stress so much about unexpected bills.  You start to feel more confident and have more self control.  You may never see piles of money but your healthy finances will be a blessing in your life.

The strategy that has worked best for me is to start really small - maybe only $5 to $10 per month.  Then, when you get a raise or some other addition to your income, add part of that to your savings amount.  This is a slow process but it hurts a lot less than trying to all of a sudden put a huge chunk of money into savings.  Slow and steady wins this race for me.

There are a myriad of good results from begin frugal and saving your money, but it's not a quick fix.  It may take years to really see the fruits of your labors but you will look back and be glad you put in the effort.

Remember, there are two kinds of people in the world.  People who spend more than they make and people who spend less than they make.  One of those kinds eventually becomes rich.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Control Your Money - Control Your Wants!


A little while ago, I wrote about Gadget Lust - that is, wanting to get the latest and greatest gadgets.  It sometimes seems to cause a constant battle in my head between wanting a cool new toy and knowing that it's not practical or, in some cases, not even very useful.

A recent event caused the conflict to flare up again.  The retailer Staples issued a coupon for $100 off any tablet in stock.  Ooohh - could I afford one now?  I went to the website and looked at what was available.  Then I started looking up reviews to see which ones were the best.  The more I looked into it, the more I wanted one.  I started justifying why I needed to get one and had myself pretty much convinced that I deserved it.  Then something happened.  I don't remember exactly when I had the realization - either while talking with my wife, or studying my scriptures, or some combination of the two, but I realized that a huge portion of my desire for a tablet had come from allowing myself to obsess about it.

That was my big epiphany.  The more I think about something I want, the more I want it.  Once I made that realization, I was able to drag myself back to reality and realize that, apart from the coolness factor, I really didn't know why I wanted one so much.  So, I still don't have a tablet but I saved myself a fair chunk of change (for me anyway) and I probably saved myself some disappointment at buying something that really isn't useful to my right now.

So here's my advice, avoid spending too much time thinking, wanting, etc. unnecessary things.  If you get your wants and needs closely aligned, you will find that your expenses become significantly less.  In other words, the best way to keep yourself from buying things you don't need is not to want those things.  If you can do that (and it's quite a bit more difficult to do than to say), you can save a lot of money.

I think it's human nature to spend a lot of time thinking about the things we want.  Conversely, we may find that the things we spend a lot of time thinking about become the things we want.  So don't let good advertising (or coupons) control what you desire.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Being Optimistic


It really is a wonderful time to be alive.  Sometimes we let our cares and responsibilities get in the way of appreciating that.  But here we are with the wonders of technology, a peaceful society (well, mostly peaceful), and indoor plumbing!  We live better now than kings did a few hundred years ago.  Pretty amazing.

A wise man once said, "We cannot control the things that happen to us, but we can control our attitude."  I don't know why I put that in quotes because it's probably not even close to what the actual quote is, but the gist is the same.  I can't stop work from being busy, or the bills from coming in, or the kids from being - well, kids.  But I can stop work from being stressful, or the bills from being depressing, or the kids from being frustrating.  That's where attitude comes in.

A negative attitude makes bad things worse.  A positive attitude can make bad things better (or at least not so bad) and helps to focus on the good things.

I choose to be optimistic.  It doesn't make my problems go away but it allows me to be happy anyway.