MORE Do-It-Yourself Auto Maintenance

Photo credit: Infinite Jeff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Dear Readers,

In the original post, I was remiss by not mentioning another inexpensive, easy, yet essential maintenance task: changing your wiper blades.

Think about it. How many times have you been caught driving in a rain or snowstorm and…. the wipers are terrible. You can barely see out the windshield!

Plan on changing wiper blades at least twice a year; one of those times should be in the Fall, after the intense summer sun but before inclement winter weather. Mark it on you calendars.

A pair of wiper blades will cost $20 – $40 depending upon size and type. Bosch, Rain-X, Anco and Michelin brands get good ratings – you might also want to check a recent Consumer Reports review at the library. Don’t forget the rear wiper blade on your van or SUV. Granted they are not as critical and usually last a bit longer.

Blades are sold in 1′ increments. Google the blade size for your make and model. Alternatively, AutoZone, Pep Boys and Amazon have searches by year, make and model. Note the the driver side and passenger side blades may be different lengths.

Installation is usually straightforward. If you are unsure, find a YouTube video for your particular car. So there you have it. Do your car and yourself a favor by regularly replacing your wiper blades.

fotor.com

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

Do-It-Yourself Auto Maintenance

Photo credit: Infinite Jeff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Modern automobiles do not require significant maintenance. Meanwhile, the days of the ‘shade tree mechanic’ are over, as fewer maintenance or repair tasks can still be performed by individual owners. Nonetheless opportunities still abound to save on auto maintenance.

  • First and foremost, become familiar with your car’s maintenance schedule
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    This is usually found in the back of the owner’s manual. Don’t have an owner’s manual? You should be able to get a maintenance schedule for your make and model online. Even if you have a mechanic do everything on your car, you still need to be familiar with the maintenance schedule.

  • Cabin filter – modern cars have a cabin filter for the ventilation system. It is typically behind the glove box. Trust me. It does get dirty! Here’s a photo of one from our Subaru: So…. the Subaru dealer charges $60 to change it. A replacement filter from Walmart or AutoZone costs $15 – $25. It takes 15 minutes to change it: 5 minutes to watch the YouTube video on how to change it and 10 minutes to actually do the swap-out. Savings: $35 -$45! P.S. vacuum out the leaves and debris before inserting the new filter.
  • Air filter – generally quick and easy to change but it can be a bit messy in the engine compartment. Be careful not to scrape your knuckles. If you can’t figure out how to do it, watch a YouTube video.
  • Oil changes – oil changes are often a loss leader for auto shops (be on guard if the shop recommends a bunch of other repairs while you’re in for an oil change).
    Photo credit: swainboat via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

    The opportunity to save money by doing it yourself is not as significant. But maybe you want to bond with your car. Be warned: it can be messy; it’s often difficult to access the filler plug or oil filter without a lift. And it’s absolutely essential that you recycle the used oil, not pour it down the drain or gutter.

  • Other repairs – we once owned a 1994 Infiniti J-30 (list price new: $37,000). We bought it for $8500 when it was 9 years old and kept it for 11 years.) A power window motor went out. I bought a used motor assembly on Ebay for $40 and it took an hour or so to replace. I’m sure a dealer would have charged at least $500 for the repair!
  • YouTube is Your Shop Manual – not sure how to do something on your car? There’s probably a YouTube video out there that will show you the way! Even if you decide to take the car to the shop, it’s still worthwhile to have an idea of what gets done.
  • Subaru Window – building on the point above, the driver’s window on our Subaru lost its automatic function and wasn’t working properly. A YouTube video pointed out that it simply needed to be reset rather requiring repair. It was a 30 second fix.

A car is a major expenditure for most households. Yet, if a modern car that is well maintained, it should last 150,000 – 200,000 miles – or more. Keep yours in good condition and save a bit of money along the way by doing the simple tasks yourself.

Photo credit: ATOMIC Hot Links via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

Photo credit: ATOMIC Hot Links via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Kiplinger’s 70 Ways to Build Wealth

The April 2017 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine recently arrived. It is a special one indeed: celebrating the 70th anniversary of a venerable publication. To commemorate this occasion, the lead article is 70 Ways to Build Wealth. Definitely a worthwhile read for the Frugal and Wise. (Check for the issue at your local library.)

I am pleased to note that, of the 70 actions listed in the magazine, I have, to date, mentioned at least 19 of them on Frugal, Wealthy and Wise. Refer back to Twenty-five to Thrive, 31 Essential, Frugal and Wise Actions and Take These Five Actions Before Year-End.

I certainly cannot claim such ideas as original but neither did I merely copy them from other sources. Any number of fundamental, financial actions can lead to building wealth and living better on less. But there is the satisfaction in knowing what I mention on Frugal, Wealthy and Wise is also being espoused by such a prominent source as Kiplinger’s.

I have been reading Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for at least two decades. It has been influential in my journey towards being a savvy consumer, a shrewd manager of family finances and a builder of wealth. (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and The Economist are the only two magazines I read.) The introductory rate for a year’s subscription is $15 or less – worth checking out; see if it earns its keep for you.

Words from the Chief
The 70 Ways to Build Wealth article contains 10 saying from Knight Kiplinger, Editor in Chief (page 28). These sayings are comparable to words of wisdom from Warren Buffet, Jack Bogel – or even King Solomon in Proverbs.

1) Wealth creation isn’t a matter of what you earn. It’s how much you save.

2) Your biggest barrier to becoming rich is living like you’re rich before you are.

3) Pay yourself first.

4) No one ever got into trouble by borrowing too little.

5) Conspicuous consumption will make you inconspicuously poor.

6) The key to stock market success isn’t your timing in the market. It’s your time in the market – the longer the better.

7) Diversify, because every asset has its day in the sun – and its day in the doghouse.

8) Keep a cool head when others are losing theirs.

9) Money can’t buy happiness but it can make unhappiness easier to bear.

10) Sharing your wealth with others is more fun than spending it on yourself.

Cheers, Paul

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

31 Essential, Frugal and Wise Actions – 3

Part 3 of 6

Photo credit: kirstyhall via Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Here are Actions 12-16
  1. Review last year’s expenditures – when it comes to managing your finances, it’s difficult to know where you’re going, when you don’t know where you’ve been. Tally up your spending activities from last year using records and statements. Which categories of spending ‘jump out’ at you? Where are opportunities to cut back? How much were you able to save? Don’t have any idea where your money went last year? Skip Immediately to #13 and get this year off to a good start!
  1. Track expenses – tracking expenses is essential for taking control of your finances and planning for future. Do you need to keep such meticulous records that you know where every penny went? Well, no. But the more accuracy, the better. Recording expenses can take many forms: a notepad or journal, a spreadsheet, online (mint.com, budgetpulse.com), a PC program (Quicken, Microsoft Money) or any number of smartphone apps (Mint, GoodBudget, Mvelopes). Personally, I’m old school and use Microsoft Money. It was discontinued years ago but copies are still available on ebay and, it works fine installed on modern PCs. It fits my needs. I am also a little bit leery about keeping financial records in the cloud, or apps such as Mint that directly access accounts,. However, Mint is well regarded.
  1. Set a budget – not to worry. Establishing a budget does not have to be as tedious and painful as you fear. Step one: begin by recording on-going, necessary monthly expenses: mortgages, loans, tuition, phone and internet. Step two: estimate variable expenses based on last year: auto repairs, gas, utilities, house maintenance. Step three: estimate necessities where there is leeway for spending, such as clothing and food – these are areas where spending can range from basic to lavish, from Mac’n’cheese to Porterhouse steaks. Step four: estimate spending for purely discretionary items: vacations, dining out, entertainment, hobbies. Add it all up and adjust the items in steps 3 and 4 to fit your income. Allow (plenty of) room for saving and giving.
  1. Set goals for big-ticket items – some goals may have a timeline of decades (saving for retirement, attaining financial independence). Some last a decade or so (kids’ college education). Others are a few years or even months (replacing a car or appliance, home renovation, down payment on a house, a vacation.) Dream a little, but then prioritize. Evaluate the viability of your goals and what it takes to achieve them.
  1. Set up automatic bill payment to save time and postage, avoid late fees – this action is as much about quality of life as it is about saving money. Life is simply too short to spend it writing checks and stuffing envelopes. Moreover, the cost of postage and stamps can really add up. Say you write 10 – 15 checks a month for recurring bills and donations. A first-class stamp is currently 47 cents. An individual check may cost 10 cents, or more. Altogether, you could needlessly be spending $60 – $100 on stamps and checks every year! Worse yet, what if you overlook or forget a payment and get socked with a late fee? Late payments can also adversely impact your credit score. Set up as many automatic payments as you can for (1) charitable donations, (2) utilities (3) internet and phone (4) credit cards (5) mortgages and loans (6) insurance (7) rent, (8) IRA and HSA contributions, and more.

All for now. Look for Actions 17 – 21 early next week. Cheers, Paul

Photo credit: Universal Pops (David) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

 

© 2017 Paul J Reimold

 

My Favorite Things Part V

trainsThis is the final installment of the My Favorite Things series. Admittedly this episode has a definite home electronics bent. But then, with the Northern Hemisphere in winter, it’s a great time to stay home, listening to good music or catching up on shows and movies.

Note: most of the items below are discretionary purchases, not necessities. Please treat them as such in your budgeting.

  • Klipsch Speakers – in general, it’s hard to beat BIC speakers for their bangklipschs for the buck (refer to the BIC DV62si bookshelf speakers mentioned in My Favorite Things Part IV). However, Klipsch speakers are definitely a step up but still provide excellent price/performance. I happen to own ten Klipsch speakers: 5 for the home theatre, 2 for the living room stereo, 2 for the home office and this nifty KMC-1 portable Bluetooth speaker (atop the big speaker). kmc-1The KMC-1 is an incredible value at $130, outperforming other, more expensive, name-brand Bluetooth speakers.

Below the KMC-1 is my pride and joy: the Klipsch RF-5’s. Real cheery wood veneer, made in Hope, Arkansas, not imported. A pair of RF-5’s go for $1500 retail. I got mine on eBay for $450.

Fugal and Wise Take Away: save big on home electronic items getting them used on Craig’s List or eBay. Take advantage of all those audiophiles and techies who are continually trading up to the latest and greatest. Or snag an item the is being discontinued by the manufacturer at a discount.

  • Roku Streaming Players – I like Roku for three reasons: (1) They are ‘content agnostic’ unlike Amazon, Apple and Chrome/Google offerings. (2) Roku offers the largest variety of video content sources (3) A great value throughout the product line. Prices are comparable to Amrokuazon Fire, but a fraction of what cost Amazon TV costs. Meanwhile, Roku offers models which stream 4K Ultra High Def content, which Apple TV does not.

Cons: The Roku user interface and remote can be a bit clunky. 4K programming choices are still limited (but growing).

Fugal and Wise Take Away: Streaming players are a great alternative to costly cable services – refer to Cut the Cable! Cut the Costs!

  • yamaha-subYamaha YST-SW012 Subwoofer – the best subwoofer to be found for under 100 bucks! Mine is in the home office, rounding out the Klipsch RB-41 bookshelf speakers. The Yamaha provides that extra kick, whether you are listening to Copeland, Coltrane or Coldplay. Or Bach, Basie and Barry White.

Cons: Best in smaller space, may be under powered for larger rooms. No controls for cross-over or polarity, just volume (not a big deal for most folks)

  • A Patio Sound System for under $200!: Yamaha NS-AW150 outdoor speakers & Blue Fidelity Model 300 amp. yamaha-outdoor blue-fidelityFor being so inexpensive, this combo makes a pretty awesome patio sound system. I’ve received a lot of compliments on how great it sounds. The Blue Fidelity unit receives music via Bluetooth streaming from your phone, tablet or PC. Though only the size of a deck of cards, it puts out plenty of power – the neighbors occasionally ask me to turn it down (luckily, we share similar tastes in music.)

Cons: If I were doing it over, I’d get the Yamaha speakers in black rather than white so they’d hide dirt better.

  • Mazda 3 – we have a 2012 Mazda 3 sedan with the 2.0 liter Skyactiv engine and 6 speed manual transmission. It looks like allmazda3 the other nondescript compact sedans out there. But wait until you get behind the wheel! This is a driver’s car. Zero to 60 in 7.9 seconds. Top speed of 123 MPH, limited only by a computer chip. And how it corners! It pains me greatly to say this, but it actually handles a bit better than my 1996 Mazda Miata. Zoom. Zoom.

Cons: It takes a while to get over the 2012’s smiley-face grill (the 2013 and later models have better looks). Seats are not terribly comfortable for long trips. Around town mileage is so-so in the low to mid 20s in miles per gallon. And I really wish the redline was 500 – 1000 RPMs higher.

Frugal and Wise Take Aways: New, a 2012 Mazda 3, like ours, listed for just under $20,000. We bought ours used in 2015 from a private owner for $10,500. That’s a substantial savings even though the car had 43,000 miles on it at purchase. Another point: you don’t have to pay vast sums of money to own a car that’s fun to drive. A step up from the Mazda 3 but still on the reasonable side is the Honda Civic Si (although the Si requires premium gas.)

  • Lionel Trains – I saved the best for last. As I write this, there are sixty year-old Lionel trains circling the Christmas tree. trains2-2Prices for vintage model trains peaked in the early 2000’s. Since then, pricing on all but the rarest items have been steadily declining. Why? Model train owners are an aging demographic. More train collections are getting downsized or sold to settle estates.

Here’s a link to my trains in action.

Frugal and Wise Take Aways: With prices being more reasonable, this is a great time to get into the hobby. Check offerings on eBay or a local train meet. Here’s a schedule of train meets around the country – just put in your zip code to find events near you. But another point: don’t get caught up in a ‘collectables’ mania. Model train prices peaked about the same time as the Beanie Baby craze and the dotcom bubble: a cautionary tale indeed.

In closing, here’s the link to the last version of My Favorite Things: this time covered by Luther Vandross. Enjoy! luther-vandross

I wish you all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Happy, Frugal, Wise and Prosperous New Year!

Cheers, Paul

 

 

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Read Between the Stars: Make the Most of Online Reviews

Photo credit: Jonas B via Foter.com / CC BY
Photo credit: Jonas B via Foter.com / CC BY

Overall, online reviews, spawned by e-commerce, have been a tremendous boon to consumers. They are easily accessible and provide a significant advantage when it comes to making wise choices on what we purchase. Prior to the dotcom boom, one had to traipse down to the public library to read product reviews in the Consumer Reports.

But online reviews must be objectively evaluated. Merely counting the stars doesn’t cut it. Be aware of the shortcomings, pitfalls and gotchas.

To that end, I give you ten recommendations for making the most of online reviews. Continue reading “Read Between the Stars: Make the Most of Online Reviews”