Picking up Nickels

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Showtime Free Preview this weekend on DirecTV

Showtime is offering a Free Preview Weekend starting today, March 25th and ending on Sunday, March 28th.

If you are a DirecTV customer like me, all programming on channels 545 - 558 will be free for the entire weekend, so fire up your DVR and record some free stuff. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hat Trick: I spent $1200 on groceries yesterday

For the third year in a row, I went to Shaw's Supermarket and took advantage of their Refund Rewards Program:

The program, which runs March 19 to April 15, gives shoppers’ grocery budgets a boost by adding up to an additional 10 percent value on a grocery gift card purchased during tax season.

Under the refund rewards program, customers who purchase a $250 or $300 Shaw’s gift card will get another $20 or $30 added to the card, respectively. The refund rewards gift cards are available at the customer service counter at local Shaw’s Supermarket stores. Customers can use their tax refunds or any accepted form of payment to purchase the grocery gift cards.

Unlike previous years, this program does not appear to be promoted very prominently for some reason. Heck, I even said that it didn't appear that they were going to have this promotion this year in my grocery spending update last week. You certainly could have blinked and missed the advertisement in the latest sales flyer which only contained a vague reference with a "See store for details" note. I even had a difficult time finding details on the Shaws web site, with the pertinent information buried in a link to this pdf file. In addition, the cashier at the service desk had trouble completing the transaction and told me I was the first person to request the deal even though the promotion had already been running for four days. Once the cashier figured out what to do, the same script was followed that I've seen in the past: she asked for my Shaw's reward card, filled out a form, loaded (4) gift cards with $330 each, charged $1200 to my Penfed Visa Platinum Gas Cash Reward card, and then handed me my gift cards.

I stopped at a Sunoco station for gas on my way home and was greeted by a "declined by issuer" message with the Penfed VISA I used at Shaws . I figured my large grocery purchase had once again triggered some fraud detection algorithm at ultra-conservative Penfed and came home to a message from Penfed's (apparently outsourced) Cardholder Security Department asking for a return call at (888) 918-7313 (a legit number on Contact Us at penfed.org) immediately after my purchase. I called them back and verified the last few purchases I made on my Penfed VISA. Once that was done, the CSR kindly released the "Protective Hold" on my account.

I pretty much look at this deal as a 10% tax free return on my modest $1200 investment, which should take me about five or six months to spend based on prior experience. It's certainly a deal worth doing to get yourself $120 worth of free groceries, that's for sure.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2009 Grocery spending down 12.0%

Now that I've finally recovered from my stint on Jury Duty, let's talk grocery prices. That 12.0% decrease in grocery costs last year marked the first time that my annual grocery spending has decreased since 2005, which is a tremendous feat for a family with growing children in the house. It also makes the prediction I made last year that my 2009 grocery spending would decrease from 2008 levels a winner. Perhaps it's time to buy a lottery ticket?

I had a little trouble maintaining the 13.6% year over year decrease I reported in my Fall update, but a double digit percentage decrease in grocery spending is still a pretty nice accomplishment. Unfortunately, I believe the major force behind that decrease was recession-driven and don't see it as being sustainable moving forward.

As the economy staggered through 2009, food producers and retailers offered more money-saving sales and promotions than I have seen in a long time. Those attractive deals did seem to slow down during the last quarter of 2009 and I have seen that trend continuing through Q1 2010.

Fortunately, the deals are not completely dead. A couple of weeks ago I doubled up on Conagra, Kraft, and Procter & Gamble promotions at Shaw's Supermarket and picked up a bunch of items for less than $10 out of pocket (after sale prices and coupons):

  • 10 bottles of Hunt's Ketchup
  • 2 cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli
  • 1 can of Pam cooking spray
  • 1 box of Capri Sun juice bags
  • 4 cans of Pringles Chips
  • 2 packages of Kraft shredded cheese
  • 1 (8) roll package of Bounty paper towels

For better or worse, I think we're looking at a continuing rise in grocery prices during 2010. While I believe the economy will continue to improve, that will be accompanied by increasing inflation and fewer savings opportunities offered to consumers (like the lack of the kinda sorta annual gift card savings promotion at Shaw's this month). Once you throw in the impact of freezing temperatures and earthquakes on the produce crop, I don't see how food will not cost you more in 2010 than it did last year.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 2010 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on March 10th, 2010:

Asset Feb 2010 Mar 2010 Change
Checking 502 515 13
Money Market 39,603 40,471 868
Savings Bonds 25,963 25,985 22
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 112,180 112,576 396
Brokerage 82,817 87,284 4,467
401k 81,166 87,393 6,227
Roth IRA 38,046 40,350 2,304
SEP IRA 187,979 199,342 11,363
529 Savings 41,008 43,378 2,370
Total Assets $609,264 $637,294 $28,030

I've actually recovered from my net loss last month as the S&P 500 index has gained 7.25% since the last update:

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

On a positive note, the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7% in February. Hopefully this is a leading indicator of the beginnings of economic recovery. The price for crude oil has continued to track the stock market, rising to $82 per barrel of late. With the warm weather on the way, it sure looks like $3 per gallon gasoline is on the way back.

My main priority of late has been getting my 2009 personal and S Corp tax returns wrapped up. My personal returns are good to go, although I had to file extensions for my business returns to give me a little more time to fully fund my 2009 SEP IRA contributions (due to lower revenue in 2009). Next up after a stint on jury duty is discussing a contract extension with my largest client. I believe that we're in a strong position to continue our relationship for another year, but my past experience has taught me that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to negotiating with clients. :)

Moneywise, I have a one year Bank of America CD @ 2.65% APY maturing later this month and will probably use the proceeds to max out on paper and electronic Series I savings bonds in April. With rates on savings accounts starting to trend toward 1% APY, I'm also considering putting some cash in another Penfed 5 year @ 3.50% APY CD once I have my contract situation ironed out. Other than that, I'm wondering if Shaw's Supermarket will have another gift card reward promotion for the third year in a row and hope to start blogging a bit more now that work has calmed down a bit and I've finished upgrading most of my home IT infrastructure. I hope to provide a 2009 grocery inflation update in the near future and plan on talking about the powerful (and frugal) networking technologies I now have running on my home network.