Thursday, September 18, 2008

Punny Poll #34: How About This Weather We’ve Been Having?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 59 - weathermen

Last week’s month’s decade’s Punny Poll was a quick little survey to see how everyone’s enjoying the comics I’ve been throwing up with each article. With a nearly 90% approval rating, I think it’s about time for the comics to run for political office! Almost 20% of you said I should go as far as to quit writing articles altogether and just do comics. While I admit that my ongoing battle with writer’s block often makes this tempting, I just don’t see Punny Money becoming a comic-only endeavor anytime soon.

In the wake of all this disastrous weather we’ve been having lately, and to go along with my recent anti-hurricane wall proposal (which I hear has been read by researchers at MIT on a placemat in their cafeteria), I thought it’d be interesting to see how everyone’s finances have “weathered” Mother Nature’s recent fury.
[Read more...]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Five Easy Steps to Gauging Cost of Living Differences Between Big Cities

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 44 - cost of living

There may come a time in your life when you just have to pack yourself up and move to a new place. Sometimes that new place is just down the road from the old one. Other times, you may be looking to relocate to a new city, a new state, or even a new country. Some of you may even desire to relocate to a new planet; I get that feeling at least three times a day.

Moving long distance certainly carries along with it a variety of challenges—finding somewhere new to live (possibly without even looking at the new area first), navigating your way around an entirely different area, making new friends, and much more. But perhaps one of the difficulties many people do not give enough consideration to is cost of living differences between your current city of residence and your new one. For example, you might think you’re getting a 10% raise by taking that new job in New York City, but if you’re coming from Middle of Nowhere, Iowa, you’ll quickly realize that the NYC cost of living is far more than 10% above that of the mid-west. In general, moving from a small town to a big city means you’re going to pay more for just about everything.

But what if you’re moving from one big city to another? All cities are not created equal, and a commodity that is considered cheap in one city may cost a lot more in another. Say you’re a big fan of Florida oranges. If you live in Miami, those things are going to be a lot cheaper there than if you live in San Fransisco. And what about rent and housing costs? These are typically the biggest expense anyone carries, and while sheltering yourself in any big city is going to cost you a good amount, it might cost you a lot more in certain big cities based on factors like how much that city is still growing.

Fortunately computing the cost of living difference between Big City A and Big City B doesn’t require you to compare prices on every item you’ll ever need to buy. In fact, while recently helping a friend compute the cost of living difference between Orlando and Washington D.C., I’ve found that you only need to look at how much five particular things cost in order to get a pretty good approximation of how much more (or less) money it’ll cost you to live in your new city versus the old one:

  1. Apartment rental rates. As we discussed earlier, you’ll be throwing a lot of money at the roof over your head no matter which big city you live in, so knowing how much your monthly rent will run compared to what you’re paying now will tell you right away if that new city is even within your income’s grasp. And if you’re planning to stick around your new city for very long, you may want to check out housing price differences as well.
  2. A loaf of bread at the store. If there’s a single tell-tale grocery item that’ll help you compare cost of living differences, it’s that loaf of rye or wheat or whatever. Even if you’re not a bread eater, the cost of bread seems to be very closely tied to the average cost of other food items and will serve as a good indicator of what your grocery bill will be like in your new city.
  3. The cost of traveling from one end of the city to another. Especially with rising fuel prices, it’s important to know how much it’ll run you to get around in your new town. But just comparing prices at the pump isn’t enough. You’ll also want to take into account any available public transportation options, how bad traffic is, and parking prices. Gas might average 15% higher in your new city, but it might have a more extensive bus or rail system to help you get around for cheaper than driving yourself.
  4. A glass of wine at a restaurant. There are lots of different ways to gauge how much more or less it will cost to have fun in your new city. Even if you’re not a drinker though, a glass of wine at a decent restaurant will serve as a good indicator of how much other entertainment avenues will run you. You could also look at the cost of movie tickets, cover charges at clubs, or a hot dog at a major league baseball game.
  5. A haircut. This is just a good general measure of the cost of living difference between cities. Compare whatever your usual cut or do costs in City A to what it runs in City B and you’ll get a fair idea of how much of a price difference there is in things like clothing, toiletries, and household goods.

One other important thing to keep in mind when comparing cost of living differences. Thanks to the power of internet shopping, you can order a purple lamp shade in a South Dakotan town with a population of 200 at the same price that it would cost to buy it for your $3,000 a month one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. Geography is becoming less and less relevant to cost of living measures for many items, so just because you see a pair of shoes in downtown Seattle for three times the price as your shoe store back home in Cabin in the Woods, Montana doesn’t mean everything costs three times more in the bigger city. So be sure to do your pricing homework before committing to any big move.

Oh, and for those who’d like to join me in my extra-terrestrial residential aspirations, I hear that there are some nice three-bedroom condos for under 200,000 Intergalactic Credits just outside Alpha Centauri.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Make Sure Your Ceiling Fan Is Spinning The Right Way or You’ll Be Warm and Stupid Like Consumerist.com

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

Here’s some advice from The Consumerist website:

If the blades [of your ceiling fan] are spinning counterclockwise, then you’re doing it wrong, and the fan is circulating warmer air.

This would be great advice if it weren’t for the fact that it’s super-totally wrong. The vast majority of ceiling fans blow down air—cooling you—when they’re moving counterclockwise and recirculate warmer air down when they move clockwise.

If you’re paranoid that your ceiling fan might be special and should spin clockwise, just look at the angle of the blades. See, they’re tilted about 10 degrees or so. To cool you off, the part of the blade that is angled higher should be moving forward so that the back end can push air down on you.

Also, a real quick rant: The Consumerist is a really sucky blog. I mean, there are blogs less than three days old run by illiterate, one-armed orphans who only speak gibberish that get their stuff right more often. Please, Consumerist, as popular as you are, you need to do some fact-checking once in a while. You guys are very quick to take anything that hits your inbox as 100% fact just because it makes big businesses look bad and yourselves look cool and smart and sexy. Well, you’re not. Okay, Meg Marco is pretty hot, but that’s about it. Stop misleading people, and if you can’t do that, simply redirect your visitors here where at least I admit that everything you read here is full of crap.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Laying Down Ground Rules Before Entering Into A Roommate Situation

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

uh, some other good rules for your shared apartment, i think

If you’ve ever roomed in a college dormitory, you probably know what it’s like having a roommate. And depending on how things turned out with that roommate, you may either thoroughly enjoy having roomies, or you absolutely despise sharing space with random people.

Maybe you’re one of those folks who loves sharing a place with a couple of friends. But before you enter into any roommate situation, it’s important to lay down some ground rules to help govern the financial and social aspects of having multiple unrelated individuals living under the same roof. So before you ask your best friend from high school to take that empty bedroom in your apartment, consider implementing some of the following basic household laws to help the shared living situation be a smooth and murder-free experience for all.

Finances

  • Spell out rent and bill agreements in writing. While many roomie rules can go unwritten, you definitely need confirmation on paper from all parties regarding when their share of rent is due, to whom and how it will be paid, and how utility bills will be divided by each roommate.
  • Agree on consequences for missing financial obligations. It’s not just enough to get roommates to agree to pay their bills; they must also know what will happen to them if they don’t. I find that threats of Jell-O all over one’s bed is usually enough to compel on-time rent payments… unless they’re into that sort of thing.

Shared Rooms

  • Make shared and unshared rooms painfully obvious. Living rooms and kitchens are generally understood to be common areas shared by all roommates. Your closet, on the other hand, should only be shared by you and yourself. Make sure your other roommates understand this so you don’t come home one day to a wardrobe full of your roomie’s jammies.
  • Consider bathroom time limits. This step isn’t needed for most male-only homes, but if you’re in an all-women or coed roommate situation where each person doesn’t have his or her own bathroom, you’ll definitely want to set some reasonable time limits (or even schedules) for bathroom usage.

Shared Supplies

  • Agree on what to share and what to keep separate. If your roommate needs to eat 12 pounds of food daily, you may want to clearly distinguish your groceries from his. In fact, keeping consumables separate will just make life easier for you and all of your roommates. Good things to share: plates, small appliances, maybe laundry supplies (as long as you alternate who purchases them), and furniture. Bad things to share: boyfriends and girlfriends (unless you’re into that sort of thing), underwear (unless you’re into that sort of thing), and toothbrushes (unless you’re… eww, nevermind).
  • Determine how shared consumables will be replenished. When sharing things like food or laundry supplies, it should be decided who will replace those items when they’re gone. Alternating shopping responsibilities is a good method for this, so long as each roommate contributes roughly the same amount of money to each shopping trip. If you’re bringing home filet mignon and your two roomies only provide ramen noodles, you might want to reconsider the food-sharing situation.

Guests

  • Schedule guests in advance. Make it clear to roommates that everyone (including yourself) must schedule overnight houseguests making use of spare bedrooms or couches in advance. This way, you avoid situations where Roommate A invites Mom and Dad to visit while Roommate B is entertaining two Swedish exchange students and oh here comes Roommate C with the entire lineup of the 1997 San Francisco 49ers.
  • Define “guests.” Simply read the following statement to your roommates on Day One: “If they stay for up to 48 hours, they are guests. If they stay later, they are rent payers.”

Sexual Tension

  • Ties on the door? Agree on how to handle those special overnight friends. In the best of roomie situations, you won’t need to do anything differently because you already knock before entering your roommate’s bedroom. Make it clear that do-not-disturb signs on the front door of the whole apartment are not valid because you live there too.
  • For those lonely and desperate nights… If you’re in the situation of living with members of the sex to which you are attracted, there could be periods of time where neither of you is meeting his or her sexual quota (i.e. “not getting any”). You may be tempted to turn to each other to temporarily satisfy your hormonal urges like they do on TV sometimes. Just remember that you have to keep living with that person afterwards, so consider scheduling future rendezvous with that roommate for your mutual convenience what that will do for your rooming situation.

Other Rules

  • Don’t just assume house rules are understood by example. If you want to live by an “if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” rule, bring it up verbally with your roommates first before demonstrating it.
  • Make communication easy. Avoid those “oh, I told you about that three days ago” incidents by having a central communication hub in your shared home. A large whiteboard by the front entrance works great.
  • Spell out chores and responsibilities. You can also use that communications whiteboard to assign household chores. It’s best to rotate them each week so you don’t get a roommate who want to shove your head in the toilet they clean every single week.

What else would you consider to be an important ground rule roommates should establish?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dealing With Falling Leaves the Easy Way

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

leaf me alone! i cannot beleaf autumn is here! please leaf at my jokes!

Buying and owning a home for the first time can be a great experience, but it does come with some extra chores. Those same trees that keep our house 10 degrees cooler than nearby houses during the summer are now starting to drop their leaves on our lawn, driveway and roof. Last year, it took my wife and me about 20 hours of work total to rid our yard of every last leaf. (Of course, we didn’t buy a leaf blower until hour #15. Big mistake.) Like snow, one of our favorite childhood playthings (“leaf piles, squeee!”) is now a nuisance to be eliminated as quickly as possible.

If you’re in the same leaf-filled boat as us, here are a few tips that’ll help you make shorter work of those pesky falling tree-stuffs.

  1. Prepare yourself. No matter what tools you use, removing leaves from your yard will likely be an exhausting task, especially if you make heavy use of a rake. Wear layers of clothes that you can peel off as you feel warmer, do some stretching or warm-up exercises before starting work, and do any raking or lifting with bended knees and not a bended back.
  2. Get a wide, sturdy plastic or metal rake. Don’t cheap out on a flimsy wooden rake. Spend $15-20 and get a decent plastic or metal rake made of firm material that won’t bend too much. A wider rake will help you cover more area faster.
  3. Split your leaf clearing into sessions. Unless you only have a couple of small trees on your property, divide your work across several days to minimize the strain on your body. Maybe do one part of the yard one weekend and another part the next, or rake into piles and then save the bagging or pulling to the curb for later. The job will go much faster if you do it without bringing yourself to the point of total exhaustion.
  4. Check your local leaf-disposing regulations. It seems that every city has a different way of handling leaf disposal. As a kid, we’d see black garbage bags full of leaves piled at the ends of driveways. Now we live in a city that runs collection trucks equipped with massive vacuums; we just need to get our leaves to the curb and they’re whisked away—no bagging necessary. New homeowners: be sure to ask your neighbors or local government for the proper way to prepare your leaves for their final journey.
  5. Pay a neighborhood kid instead. You really should just disregard all of the above advice and outsource all of your yard clearing to some neighborhood kids. While the job is laborious, it’s also hard to screw up, so children are the perfect victims helpers here. Check the prevailing rates in your area for kid-leaf operations, or just find a big dumb teenager who will clear your six acres for $20.

For those do-it-yourselfers, aside from a rake, you’ll probably want to purchase a decent leaf blower if you have a decent chunk of leaf-covered yard. You can drastically cut your leaf cleanup effort by also investing in a good leaf vacuum that chops the leaves into tiny bits. Such a vacuum can turn many bags of leaves into far fewer bags, and it certainly cuts down on the raking you’ll need to do.

There’s a great deal at Amazon.com right now on a well-reviewed Toro Ultra 12 Amp Electric Blower/Vacuum. It does both blowing and vacuuming, and it has a strong metal impeller that can deal with sticks and small rocks while annihilating your leaves. It retails for $100, but it’s on sale for only $55 after a $10 mail-in rebate (PDF) that’s good through October 31, 2007. I just bought one to help make quick work of the three inches of leaves we’ll get in the next two months, so I’ll share my thoughts on it when it arrives.