Picking up Nickels

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Amazon.com 10% Instant Discount in Lawn & Garden store

I noticed today that Amazon.com had a 10% off discount on Lawn & Garden products through March 5th. I took that opportunity to order the annual supply of Octenol bait for our Mosquito Magnet.

The full details of the deal can be found here. The primary details are as follows:

  • Enter code YARDSALE at checkout.
  • Promotional offer valid February 14 - March 5. Items placed in Shopping Cart overnight may not be eligible for promotion at time of checkout.
  • Promotion applies only to qualifying items displaying the offer message on their product information pages. Items that do not display the offer message do not qualify, regardless of the nature of the item.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Home Depot: You had me at 30% off

As I've held out for a steeper discount on an Ariens 926LE snow blower, I have seen the Home Depot clearance sale discounts start at 10% off in mid-January, rise to 20% in late-January, and finally hit my sweet spot of 30% off last week.

I stopped by my local Home Depot on Tuesday and saw that a good selection of snow blowers were now available at 30% off. I decided it was time to buy and planned on returning two days later with a car large enough to bring this baby home. I guess several other people had the same idea though, since the Ariens model that I was interested in was sold out! After a few futile phone calls to clueless employees of other local Home Depot stores, I decided to head out to these stores myself to see what they had in stock.

I lucked out at my second Home Depot stop, where I found a large assortment of models in the garden center which were (according to an employee) strapped to pallets for shipping to upstate New York. I cut the straps off of the one I wanted with the teeth of my house key, and wheeled it to a register at the front of the store. It rang up at $699.30 (30% off original price of $999), and I used the 10% off coupon I bought on ebay to bring the final price down to $629.37 before tax.

I had to take part of the blower discharge chute off to get the thing to fit in the car, but I was relieved to finally make this purchase. I'm definitely looking forward to tackling our next large snowfall with this baby instead of my tired old lawn tractor and assortment of snow shovels!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ebates.com $10 Double Signup Bonus Offer

Ebates.com has sweetened the pot by doubling their referral bonus to $10 through March 15th. Check out my earlier post about Ebates for the skinny on how you can get cash back by shopping online through Ebates.com.

Here's how to get your $10 bonus (and I will also get a $10 bonus) on your first purchase through Ebates:

  1. Click on the link below to sign up for an Ebates account:

    Ebates Double Bonus Referral Link

  2. Make your first purchase through Ebates by March 15th and earn the cash back offered by that vendor (like 3% off a Dell PC) plus your $10 bonus.
  3. Ebates will mail you a Big Fat Check on a quarterly basis as long as your account balance is greater than $5.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Penfed/NMFA side benefits

Kudos to FatWallet.com member kamalktk for starting the discussion about the financial benefits offered to members of the National Military Family Association (NMFA), which many of us joined to qualify for Pentagon Federal Credit Union membership.

NMFA Member Benefits page on their web site provides a nice overview of the financial benefits that they offer. Some of the more interesting offers are:

  • Get an 80-hour TiVo® Series2™ Dual Tuner DVR with one year of TiVo® service prepaid for $225.39: link
  • FREE 30 Day Jenny Craig Program and 20% off full-price OnTrack (Gold/Platinum) Membership: link
  • Join Costco Wholesale and receive a $10 Costco Cash Card: link to pdf
  • Get preferred pricing on the latest Apple products and accessories via The Apple Member Purchase Program (MPP): link
  • USA Florist offers all NMFA members a 20% discount on all flower and gift purchases placed through the Flower Provider Program: link
  • Discounts on Dell Products & Services in the Dell Member Purchase Program. Visit www.dell.com/ghc and use the Member Access Code: CS65272555.
  • Discount with GEICO Direct auto insurance. Use Member Access Code: 30224 for discount.
  • Receive money saving rates and discounts with the Avis Rent-A-Car: link
  • Receive a 15% discount with Choice Hotels: link to pdf

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My 2006 S Corporation taxes are finally done!

With a sigh of relief, I finally finished all of my S Corp-related tax filings and payments for 2006.

This is a bit of a tedious process, but I offload the heavy lifting onto my trusty CPA. Here's a rundown what I have to complete by March 15th every year:

  • Complete Form 1120S, U.S. Income Tax Return for an S Corporation.
  • Complete Form 1120S, Schedule K-1: This contains my share of the corporation's items of income/loss (100% as the sole shareholder), credits and deductions, and other information for tax year 2006.
  • Complete state tax return and pay annual excise tax.
  • Fund final 2006 pension/profit sharing contribution.
  • File 2006 corporate annual report with the state of residence: This documents things like the name and address of the corporation, its officers, stock issued, and a description of the business for the state I live in.

My personal tax returns are next on the to-do list. My S corporation turned a profit this year, so I will need to include the income from my K-1 statement on my personal returns. While I will probably have to write a check to the tax man this year, I should be fine since I will be able to take a distribution from my 2006 S corporation profits once the dust settles.

Friday, February 16, 2007

When banks fail: My experience with an FDIC takeover

Although I've been busy at work for the past couple of days, I've been itching to discuss the What Happens When a Bank Goes Out of Business post at The Finance Buff blog, which reminded me of my experience with a bank failure.

When I was in college, I had a checking and credit card accounts at the now defunct Bank of New England. I wasn't aware that they were having financial problems until I had my Bank of New England credit card rejected when I was making a purchase one day. Since I always paid my credit card bill in full each month, I attributed the rejection to a technical glitch and headed to the ATM machine at a nearby Bank of New England branch to withdraw some cash.

I began to realize that this wasn't just a technical glitch when my ATM card was also rejected and I had no way to get to my money. Once I got home, I saw the reports on the news about the collapse of the Bank of New England. To make things worse, this was happening not long after after the "
RISDIC" banking crisis in Rhode Island, which caused a lot of people to lose access to their savings.

Much to my surprise, a few days later my local Bank of New England branch became a Fleet Bank branch and my credit and ATM cards worked! The FDIC did its job by stepping in and protecting depositors and facilitating the sale of the Bank of New England's assets.

The FDIC has a
pdf document discussing the Bank of New England situation, which makes for interesting reading. What is particularly interesting is that the FDIC decided to protect depositors whose balances exceeded the $100,000 FDIC insurance limit:

In addition to being very large, the resolution of the BNE Corp. banks is notable because the FDIC, considering the region’s financial conditions, decided to protect all depositors (except those affiliated with BNE Corp.), including those whose total deposits exceeded the $100,000 insurance limit. Of the approximately $19.1 billion on deposit in the three banks, more than $2 billion were in accounts larger than $100,000. Then-FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman stated, “It was clear to us that to protect the stability of the system, we should protect all depositors.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I met my 6 month financial goal ahead of schedule!

Back in November, I accepted the challenge at My Money Blog to set a 6-month financial goal.

My goal was to
get my financial assets over the $500,000 level, which I accomplished in about three months due to the strength of the stock market combined with my final SEP IRA contributions for 2006.

My current goals are a bit more short-term, but I will have a lot on my plate until the second quarter of 2007:

  • Finish all S-Corp tax returns and annual filings
  • Finish personal tax return
  • Negotiate contract extensions with existing clients
  • Fund Mrs. Frugalson's 2007 Roth IRA contribution

Monday, February 12, 2007

February 2007 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on February 9th, 2007:

Asset Jan 2007 Feb 2007 Change
Checking 514 298 -216
Money Market 28,184 35,340 7,156
Savings Bonds 4,461 4,477 16
Treasury Bills 7,000 0 -7,000
CDs 56,629 56,923 294
Brokerage 88,777 87,330 -1,447
401k 94,408 96,964 2,556
Roth IRA 31,172 31,937 765
SEP IRA 152,753 159,826 7,073
529 Savings 31,420 32,282 862
Total Assets $495,318 $505,377 +$10,059 (2.0%)

With the notable exception of the Oracle Corp (ORCL) stock I hold in my brokerage account, the stock market gave me a nice gain over the past month. The last of my T-Bills finally matured, and I moved that cash into my HSBC online savings account to take advantage of their 6% APY promotion for new money.

I added my final 2006 SEP IRA contribution last week, and still hope to fund Mrs. Frugalson's 2007 Roth IRA contribution in Q1 2007.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt

By now, everyone has heard about the infant car seat safety report that Consumer Reports retracted after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found problems with the way these tests were conducted. While I do believe that Consumer Reports does have the best interests of the consumer in mind, this retraction is a good reminder that they do get it wrong sometimes.

I experienced this first hand a few days ago, when the freewheel clutch broke on my NordicTrack SL 728 exercise bike, a
Consumer Reports Best Buy in February 2006.

I tend to depend on Consumer Reports reviews when I am buying something that I don't have much experience with, as was the case with this exercise bike. My wife and I ended up buying the NordicTrack bike at Sears last year primarily based on the thumbs up from Consumer Reports. I didn't have a problem with it until recently though, since a couple of injuries (and general laziness) limited my use of it until last month.

Once I started using it regularly (3x per week), my bike broke down in 4 weeks. This breakdown surprised me since I am not terribly fit and am far below the 250 pound weight limit specified in the users manual. I started doing some online research and quickly found that I am not the only person to have this problem with a NordicTrack excercise bike. This excerpt from an
epinions.com review explains the problem in great detail:

The problem is that the freewheel clutch bearing is extremely weak and cannot sustain the torque of pedalling the machine and the inherent transient loads that it is subjected to as you turn the pedals (as each leg "strokes", load is applied to the freewheel device and then released, with the maximum at approximately half your leg's extension.) It WILL fail, and when it does, your machine is dead.

Mine survived originally for a week of daily aerobic workouts, about an hour's worth a day. Then with a loud "CRACK!" the freewheel bearing failed and the pedals turned with more "crack" noises - but no drive to the flywheel. This happened originally in one of the pre-set programs at resistance setting "9" - pretty heavy work (maximum is "10").

I called ICON, and they sent out a new crank assembly. Disassembling the bike's covers and parts to get to the bad assembly required a pair of snap-ring pliers and a gear puller for the crank arms - which I had, but many home users will not. Replacement was a 15 minute job with the proper tools; without them you'll be going back to Sears to buy them, or waiting for their "home service."

Unfortunately, the replacement crank assembly lasted TWO DAYS, and failed in EXACTLY the same manner as the original, in EXACTLY the same place on the SAME program!

Since my bike is out of the 1 year warranty period, I have decided against spending money to repair a problem that is likely to occur again and have chalked it up as a lesson learned. I have been able to jury-rig the problem so the bike is somewhat usable at low speeds, which I believe will at least allow me to get some aerobic exercise until it is warm enough for me to ride a real bike outside.

This $400 lesson taught me that I shouldn't weigh the opinions of Consumer Reports as heavily as I do, and hopefully I will remember that the next time we are planning on making a large purchase. :)

Update: Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dude, I finally got a deal on a Dell!

In December, I mentioned that I have been on the lookout for a deal on a Dell desktop computer since early November.

I finally found a decent deal on a desktop meeting my requirements yesterday in the
Dell Factory Outlet:

  • Refurbished Dell XPS 410
  • 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor with 4 MB L2 cache
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 320 GB RAID-1 array
  • Microsoft Windows XP Pro with Express Upgrade to Windows Vista Business

The outlet price for this system was $1,239, which is about $500 less than a similarly configured new system.

My final cost with a 2 year on site warranty, sales tax, and free shipping was $1,300.93. I was also able to save 2% of my purchase price (about $26) by shopping at the Dell Outlet through the referral link at
Ebates.com. As long as this system doesn't end up being a lemon, it should make a great replacement for the aging Pentium IV system I have been using since 2002.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Daylight Saving Time change = mini y2k?

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed into law in August 2005 to extend Daylight Saving Time (DST), which some legislators claim will reduce domestic oil consumption by up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day. Under the new rules, DST will now start on March 11, 2007 and end on November 4, 2007.

Although this sounds like a simple change, it has forced many organizations to assess the impact of Daylight Saving Time on their business that reminds me of the global y2k worry about the change from December 31, 1999 to January 1, 2000.

Any system that is dependent on timestamp-based data (airline reservations, hotel and car rental, ATM machines, shipping, appointments, etc.) will have to be assessed to gauge the impact of the time zone change. This could lead to a lot of late nights and crossed fingers as operating systems, databases, and application code are patched to address timezone-related issues. As an IT consultant, I have seen both ends of the spectrum with this issue. I have one client that has already addressed the DST issue, and I have another client that didn't even consider investigating impact of the DST issue on their business until I mentioned it.

In my opinion, this DST change will probably cause some minor disruptions, but nothing along the lines of the y2k scare. Even so, I will probably be checking out my bank and brokerage accounts on March 11th just in case...

Friday, February 02, 2007

An affordable Microsoft software subscription for small business

As a self-employed IT consultant, part of my job is to be up to speed with the latest and greatest software and hardware from a variety of vendors. While I take full advantage of the free enterprise-level Linux software and resources out there (CentOS is my current favorite distro), similar access to Microsoft Corp software isn't as readily available.

I did find a nice solution to the Microsoft issue a few years ago by subscribing to the Microsoft Action Pack. The Microsoft Action Pack Subscription is available exclusively to consultants, value-added resellers, value-added providers, system integrators, developers, system builders, hosts, and service providers who are enrolled as Registered Members in the Microsoft Partner Program and who distribute or influence the acquisition of Microsoft software and Microsoft-based solutions by end customers.

This subscription includes licenses for a variety of Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows XP or Vista, and a variety of Windows server products (see a full list here). Please note that the software included with the subscription can be used for internal business use, testing, evaluation, demonstration, training, and education only.

Although the cost of the Action Pack annual subscription has increased over the past couple of years (I paid about $300 for my annual renewal in 2006), it is still an affordable way for a small business to obtain legitimate copies of Microsoft software. The annual fee includes an initial Welcome Kit plus four quarterly updates, and I just received my latest quarterly update this week. The highlights of the latest shipment were the just-released Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Windows Vista Business products. Now I just need some decent hardware to run this stuff on...