Picking up Nickels

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Updates to my grocery shopping strategy

One of my first posts for this blog was an overview of the strategy that I use to cut my grocery expenses (How to Save Money on Groceries). I made a few minor updates to that post today to reflect some of the additional things I have been doing to cut my grocery spending:

If you're looking to save some money in the current environment of rising food costs, give my updated shopping strategy a read for my take on some money saving techniques.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I spent $1200 on groceries yesterday

No, I'm not throwing a party for 200 close friends or anything like that. :)

Last night I went into my local Shaw's Supermarket and plunked down my credit card to take advantage of their economic stimulus check promotion:

Customers can exchange their tax refund or economic stimulus checks by presenting their check and a government issued I.D. at their local store’s Customer Service center. Customers may purchase a store gift card in $300 increments not to exceed $1,200. Each gift card will be loaded with an additional 10% dollar amount. The additional amount cannot be used for the purchase of alcohol, fuel or tobacco. Customers are allowed to purchase gift cards less than the total amount of their refund with the difference to be given back in the form of cash. The program is limited to one offer per household. Offer is available May 1, 2008 through July 31, 2008. Copyright © 2008 SUPERVALU INC.

The entire process was surprisingly simple. I went to the service desk and said that I wanted to do the economic stimulus gift card promotion for the maximum amount of $1200. The cashier then filled out a form, loaded (4) gift cards with $330 each, charged $1200 to my rewards Mastercard, and then handed me my gift cards. Interestingly, they never asked for my name or Shaw's reward card and didn't even verify that I had actually received an economic stimulus payment.

This deal means that I basically prepaid $1200 for $1320 worth of future grocery buying power at Shaw's (a 10% tax free return on investment), which should take me about five months to spend since I shop for groceries at multiple stores. And being the cheapskate that I am, I also waited until the first day of a new credit card billing period so that I can defer actual payment for this purchase until July.

I think this is a great deal that everyone who is eligible should take advantage of. Heck, even in the most dire of economic scenarios, we will (hopefully) still be buying groceries. It certainly makes great sense for us, since groceries represent our second largest expense and I do whatever I can to try to minimize costs (Strategy: How to Save Money on Groceries).

All SUPERVALU stores (Acme, Albertsons, bigg's, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher's, Jewel-Osco, Lucky, Shaw's/Star Market, Shop 'n Save and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy) are offering this deal through July 31, 2008. Kroger is offering the same deal, although it appears that they are limiting it to one offer per household.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 2008 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on May 12th, 2008:

Asset April 2008 May 2008 Change
Checking 631 476 -155
Money Market 35,447 16,571 -18,876
Savings Bonds 4,701 14,718 10,017
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 89,125 99,520 10,395
Brokerage 98,465 102,901 4,436
401k 96,658 102,564 5,906
Roth IRA 31,635 33,445 1,810
SEP IRA 181,450 190,033 8,583
529 Savings 36,964 38,585 1,621
Credit Card 0% Balance Transfers 0 0 0
Total Assets $575,076 $598,813 $23,737 (4.13%)

We've had a nice rally in S&P 500 index since my last update, which is up 5.67% during that time:

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

The market had a nice gain over the past month leading up to the FOMC meeting on April 30th. Oil prices continue to rise as it hit yet another all time high today of almost $127 per barrel. I bought my $10k limit of April 2008 issue I Bonds and also stashed some cash in a now extinct one year Patelco CD @ 4.07% APY that will be freed up when my 6 month E-Loan and E*Trade CDs mature in early June.

As I had mentioned earlier, my relationship with the largest client of my IT services S Corporation ended last month. I landed safely with another client a couple of weeks later, so I' not ready to declare the IT business to be in a recession as of yet.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The conspiracy to kill the U.S. savings bond

There's been a lot of talk about the good deal that April 2008 issue I Bonds represented, but today the U.S. Treasury has outdone themselves and announced a 0% fixed portion for May 2008 issue I Bonds. Based on the prior low of a 1% fixed rate portion in November 2005, I figured that we would see a sub 1% fixed portion this month, but ¡holy frijoles! a 0% fixed portion seemed unthinkable.

I'm not exactly sure what the Treasury wants us to read into this. On one hand, I suppose it could be argued that the Treasury is expecting an extended period of high inflation, and decided to cut the fixed rate portion to cover their hinies.

However, I believe that this is yet another step toward the eventual elimination of the savings bond program, where savings bonds have been sold continuously since 1935. To begin, I would like to reference a January 2003 San Francisco Chronicle article by Kathleen Pender, Screws tightened on savings bonds:

"I don't think you should be using taxpayers' money to advertise, promote and market something that is the most expensive way for the Treasury Department to borrow," says Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Treasury, Postal Service and General Government.

Istook, R-Okla., who authored the bill, won't say whether he wants the savings bond program shut down entirely. "That is not a yes or no question," he says.

A little evasive there, Representative Istook?

From my perspective, here's the sequence of events that have documented the death of the savings bond to date:

Sadly, we can only speculate about the next step that the venerable U.S. savings bond will take as the U.S. Treasury gradually lays it to rest. Stay tuned...