Picking up Nickels

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Free Holiday MP3's

In keeping with the "free stuff" theme, how about some free (and DRM-free!) holiday music downloads?

From amazon.com:

Amazon Holiday Sampler

From oprah.com:

Holiday Hits 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Free ZoneAlarm Pro firewall software today only (11/19/08)

Check Point Software is offering a free download of its ZoneAlarm Pro firewall software for free today. This offer is good until today only, to celebrate the 15th birthday of its firewall software:

ZoneAlarm pioneered the personal computer firewall and our parent company, Check Point Software launched the first comprehensive enterprise firewall 15 years ago. We know how to keep the bad guys out. It makes us proud to know that our firewall protects every member of the Fortune 100, and is trusted by over 60 million people worldwide.

To celebrate, we’re offering you ZoneAlarm Pro firewall absolutely FREE!

*valid 11/18/08 6am PST to 11/19/08 6am PST

Check out zonealarm.com for more info.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 2008 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on November 10th, 2008:

Asset Oct 2008 Nov 2008 Change
Checking 409 284 -125
Money Market 21,514 13,509 -8,005
Savings Bonds 14,899 14,962 63
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 107,639 118,104 10,465
Brokerage 88,753 92,354 3,601
401k 63,201 63,349 148
Roth IRA 21,127 21,318 191
SEP IRA 131,142 131,533 391
529 Savings 29,731 30,501 770
Total Assets $478,415 $485,914 $7,499

The S&P 500 index has continued to be pretty volatile over the past month, but at least it's in positive territory over the past month (up 2.22%):

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

Although we've had the excitement of an election over the past few weeks and have decided on our next President, the economic news doesn't seem to be getting any better. One bright note is that oil has continued to fall to below $60 per barrel, with gasoline prices below $2 per gallon in some regions of the USA. But on the other hand, we've got an abundance of lovely stuff like a second bailout for AIG, the American automobile industry on the verge of collapse, and a mortgage workout program announced by Citigroup targeting 500,000 borrowers (I'm guessing that I won't qualify).

Moneywise, I've continued to stay the course. In anticipating of my soon to mature E-Loan 3.61% APY 6 month CD, I did stick some cash in a E-Loan 4.36% APY 12 month CD prior to the FOMC meeting on October 28-29. Other than that, I'm hoping to continue to be gainfully employed and will keep cranking away with disciplined spending and savings habits.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Grocery price inflation update

It's been about a year since my last look at increasing grocery prices, so it's about time for a brief update.

After examining my spending data, I found that our grocery spending through October 2008 has increased by 4.1% over the same period last year, which is far more modest than the 14.2% increase I noted in my last update. Also (with a few notable exceptions), I'm still finding that the amount of aggressive sale prices, promotions, and "good" coupons continue to be below 2006 levels.

Let's take a closer look at my shopping habits over the past year. While that 4.1% increase in grocery spending appears modest at first glance, it actually reflects some pretty serious effort on my part to cut grocery spending. For example:

  • In May I bought $1320 worth of Shaw's Supermarket gift cards for $1200 as part of their economic stimulus check promotion.
  • I spent about $52 acquiring coupons to cut grocery spending this year, as opposed to about $15 during the same period last year.
  • We participated in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for the first time this year, buying a share of the crop at a local farm for $10 per week. For twenty weeks, we received an assortment of lettuce and salad greens, cucumbers, flowers, tomatoes, peppers, peaches, pumpkins, corn, etc. as each item was in season. I wasn't able to quantify much grocery savings with the CSA program, but if nothing else, we did like supporting a local business that provided fresh, delicious, and pesticide-free food for our family.

Now, how about another gratuitous look at using "creative" product packaging as a stealthy way to raise prices? The subject this time is Unilever's Skippy peanut butter. After doing a little shopping, I found that the 18oz jar of Skippy Creamy peanut butter at my local market had been replaced by a 16.3oz jar, with the price also increasing from $2.00 to $2.50. You might think that buying a jar that contains 9.4% less peanut butter doesn't seem like a big deal, but comparing the increase in the price per ounce (from 11.1¢ to 15.3¢) might change your mind since it works out to about a 38% price increase!. I don't buy Skippy at the full price of course, but that is certainly a sobering price increase.

Time for a visual. Check out the subtle packaging change that Unilever decided to go with (see below). Unilever designed the 16.3oz jar (below left) so that it has the same height and footprint as the 18oz jar. The new jars can be stacked to take up the same amount of physical shelf space as the larger jars, with the only visible difference being that the new packaging is slightly thinner in the middle than its predecessor:

Now one might think that since we're in the middle of a recession/economic downturn, we'd see some grocery price deflation, like we've seen with plummeting gasoline prices. That's not going to happen though, thanks to sticky prices, where prices are raised because of things like higher oil costs, but not lowered once the reason for the price increase is no longer an issue. That's obviously not great news for consumers like you and me, but I do believe that the recent drop in commodity prices and the slowing economy will put the brakes on the sharp grocery price increases we've been seeing over the past couple of years. Now we just need a steady supply of sales, coupons, and promotions to manufacture our own grocery price deflation. :)