Picking up Nickels

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

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

Time for an update on my 2007 rant about my broken NordicTrack SL 728 exercise bike: Take advice from Consumer Reports with a grain of salt.

While my stance on Consumer Reports hasn't really changed much, I am happy to report that the freewheel clutch repair detailed by an anonymous commenter in my original post does indeed work! The funny thing is that I've had the parts to fix this thing on hand since early March, but I haven't bothered doing the work since I've been riding my mountain bike outside for exercise since then.

As for the details, other than common screw drivers and some combination wrenches, here's what I used:

Once I removed the right crank arm (using the Park crank puller) and front side shield (using Phillips head screwdriver), I could see the broken freewheel clutch identified below with the yellow arrow:

To get at the broken freewheel clutch on my bike, I loosened the nuts on the idler (belt tensioner) with a combination wrench to remove the drive belt. Then I was able to remove the flywheel clutch by removing the snap ring holding it in place with a slotted screwdriver.

Next, I pushed the old Torrington roller clutch (part# RCB-081214 was stamped on the side) out of the black cast metal pulley and used a file to roughen the inside surface of the black pulley to prepare it for the J-B Weld. Similarly, I used the file to roughen the outside surface of the new roller clutch. Almost done, I applied J-B Weld to the outside surface of the roller clutch, inserted it into the black pulley, and allowed it to cure for 24 hours. At that point, I reassembled everything and once again had a working NordicTrack exercise bike!

I've used it a few times and the bike has been working well so far. I've been keeping the intensity of my workouts down a bit, so hopefully this repair will hang in there for a while. :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Fun: Create a picture of Santa visiting your home

Check out capturethemagic.com, a site that lets you add an image of Santa (in a variety of poses) to an existing digital photo of your home.

Kinda cool!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Are you downsizing Christmas?

In November, the American Research Group reported that the overall average planned holiday spending is down almost 50% from 2007 and it is the lowest level of planned spending recorded by them since 1991.

What I find interesting about holiday spending surveys is that we always end up spending far more than the "average" person out there, while at the same time we seem to be saving more and incurring less debt.

For 2008, I'd guess we're still looking at spending around $2000 for Christmas gifts since we still buy presents for a menagerie of children on both sides of the extended family. And although we had no planned spending cuts, the "Christmas gift lottery" for adults that we've typically done has been eliminated on both sides of the family due to a lack of interest.

And even with the dismal economic climate, we've also kept up with our usual charitable donations and I'm still planning on holding a holiday party for my S Corp in January, so our ongoing spending, saving, and investing continues to march along as usual.

One thing I have noticed is a bunch of interesting sales and deals this year (I check dealighted.com daily), and I think I've spent the most money ever at Staples of all places, due to good promotions, coupons, and the 2% ebates.com bonus. On the other hand, one "old faithful" that has disappeared is the December weekly free razor deal, a favorite of mine that seemed to show up many times in the weeks leading up to Christmas over the past few years. Hopefully they'll resurface in June when Father's Day rolls around again.

So even though depressing news about the economy seems to pop up on a daily basis, my personal observations provide me with hope that we're not due for a killer recession. Heck, if my neighbor can continue to hire a company to set up their Clark Griswold Christmas light display, things can't be that bad, right? :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008 Restaurant holiday gift card promotions

Continuing with tradition, here's a follow up to last year's post on some of the chain restaurants offering gift card deals for a discount on future dining:

  • Bertucci's - Receive $5 thank you card with every in-store $25 gift card purchase through 12/31/08.
  • Uno Chicago Grill - Receive $5 bonus with every $25 in-store gift card purchase through 12/31/08. Gift voucher is valid 1/1/09 - 3/31/09. Combine gift card with coupons received when you join the UNO Insider's Club.
  • T.G.I. Friday's - Receive $5 bonus bites card with every $25 gift card purchase.
  • Applebee's - Receive $5 bonus card with every $25 in-store gift card purchase through 12/31/08. Bonus card is valid 1/1/09 - 2/29/09.
  • Friendly's - Receive $5 bonus card with every $25 in-store gift card purchase through (I believe) 12/31/08.
  • Smokey Bones - Buy a $25 gift card in-store through 12/28/08 and get $5 off your meal instantly plus $5 Bah, Humbug! bucks to use on a future visit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 2008 Financial Asset Roundup

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

Asset Nov 2008 Dec 2008 Change
Checking 284 622 338
Money Market 13,509 20,679 7,170
Savings Bonds 14,962 15,024 62
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 118,104 118,639 535
Brokerage 92,354 86,704 -5,650
401k 63,349 61,309 -2,040
Roth IRA 21,318 20,784 -534
SEP IRA 131,533 129,481 -2,052
529 Savings 30,501 30,846 345
Total Assets $485,914 $484,088 -$1,826

The S&P 500 index has pretty much reversed the 2.22% gain from the last update as it has inched back down 2.17%:

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

We're now officially in a recession (who knew?), Bailout Nation has moved on to the struggling "Little Three" domestic auto companies, and the economic woes don't seem to be showing any signs of letting up. Oil prices are currently hovering around $45 per barrel, with my latest gasoline fill up costing $1.57 per gallon (as opposed to a high of $4.09 six months ago).

Moneywise, I'm trying to get all of the end of year details buttoned up for my S-Corp, and figure to be in a position to max out my 2008 Roth and SEP IRA contributions. My E-Loan 3.61% APY 6 month CD is due to mature shortly, and I have decided not to re-up since their 6 month CD rates have dropped several times over the past few weeks from 4.15% to 3.25% APY. My thinking is that the downward trend in rates will continue, so I'll probably keep that money in liquid savings unless a compelling opportunity presents itself.

Christmas is only a couple of weeks away now, so I'm trying to focus on enjoying that time with family and friends instead of worrying about financial matters out of my control. I'll deal with 2009 in 2009. :)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Free TiVo cookie cutter

How about a small holiday freebie from TiVo?

Check out tivo.com/cookie for the scoop:

Provide us your contact information in the form below and we'll send out your very own TiVo® cookie cutter for Free! And, then send us photos of your delicious creations—can't wait to see your cookies! Email us a photo of your cookie creations at editor@tivo.com. For a special offer from TiVo visit www.tivo.com/cookieoffer.