My 50th Post Spectacular (Yes, That is a Play on the Title of a Simpsons Episode – Yes, From Back When the Show Was Still Worth Watching)

No, I’m not sure how this relates to the post. But it does strike me as one of those cool “only in Houston” sights and since I haven’t found an occasion to use it yet, I’m using it now.

With this post we’ve reached a milestone on Health, Wealth, Power. By my count, this is post number 50. So far, readership has been going up steadily and that has been very exciting. To those of you who have been coming here for a while, I’m glad to have you along on this journey. To anyone who has started reading more recently, welcome. Today I want to highlight both some of my most viewed posts and some of my favorites that haven’t been seen as much – in many cases because I posted them before many people were reading the blog at all. Thank you to everyone for reading and here’s to the next 50 posts (and many more) to come!

Most Viewed

How Do You Respond When Your World Comes Crashing Down (Again)?

A window into my raw thought process on a recent night when I got some seemingly devastating news about my career. I wrote this almost immediately when I got home so I would have a good record of my immediate reaction to look back at later. I’m still in the midst of dealing with this situation but I have a very exciting recent development that I’ll be sharing soon.

Bank Account Basics

A basic guide to how I use bank accounts to maximize income, minimize risk, and pay zero fees in the process

The Importance of Outlook – How I Still Struggle with the Scarcity Mentality of My Past

A discussion of how even though I am more financially fortunate than 99% of the world, I still haven’t been able to completely adopt that mindset over that of my much more difficult financial past

A Happy Night of Insomnia

This is one of my personal favorite posts so far. It is a nostalgic look at the way the most difficult event of my life so far has spawned so many wonderful changes. While I and my life will never be quite the same as before it happened again, that is mostly a good thing.

My New Diet Experiment

In this post I talked about time restricted eating and how I planned to implement what I had learned about it. It has been a very positive change for me and I wrote about that in a follow up post – Time Restricted Eating Update: There is Definitely Something to This!

My Favorites

The Most Important Investment

Health and fitness is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. Medical science is keeping people alive longer and longer today. But what is it worth? My argument is that we’ve long since passed the point where quality is much more important (and elusive in many cases) than quantity. This post is my attempt to lay out the basics for anyone who feels similarly and wants to do something about it.

The Opportunities in Life’s Challenges

I’ve written a number of posts on this theme now – the value of finding the positives in situations that don’t seem very positive at face value. But this was one of the first. As someone who has put a ton of work into thinking more positively and seen firsthand how dramatically that mentality shift can change life in often unexpected ways, it is very important to me to share my experiences in this area.

Today I’m Going to Challenge You

I wrote this post for people who struggle with depression or have in the past. It’s not comprehensive and I’m no mental health professional, but it’s a discussion of some tactics and information that have helped me in the past when the weight of the world seemed to be crushing me with no sign of relief. If it helps one person, it was worth far more than the time it took to write it.

The Internet Game and How You Can Win It

I’m trying to be less of a bastard in life. But I do tend to temporarily suspend that effort when it comes to fighting back against what I view as unethical tactics. In this post, I illustrate how I’ve been mostly successful at keeping the shenanigans of those damn ISPs from succeeding in robbing me blind.

How to Spend a Fraction of What Most People Do On Electronics Without Having to Sacrifice Much

Simply put, the methods I described in this post have saved me five figures by this point in my life. One of the many benefits of living in the richest country in the history of the world, particularly at a time when technological advancement has been unprecedented as well, is that extremely marginal compromises can result in enormous savings. There is an almost constant chorus in the media about the retirement crisis in the United States. That means that for most of us, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of opportunities like this to get so much in return for so little.

How to Get an Awesome Deal on a New Car

For starters, probably don’t buy this one… – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

If you had asked me to write this post ten years ago, I would have refused to do it since advising anyone to buy a new car would have been a huge disservice. Why buy new when that same car will cost a quarter less in a year and about half in four or five? However, since then, prices have skyrocketed (but so have incentives), people have largely caught on to both that trend and how generally undervalued used cars had been, and depreciation has slowed considerably as a result to the point that today, buying a new car makes sense in some, but still not all cases. But under no circumstances does it make sense to go in uninformed and let some car salesman hit a home run off of you. So let’s see what we can do about that. This is only one of many perspectives on the matter but it should at least give you a good start. The dealership model, much like that of credit cards, is set up to screw customers en masse. However, just as with credit cards, the rules of that exact same game can be turned around and exploited by a savvy customer as well. Let’s get you on your way to being one!

Much like in any sport, preparation is a huge part of winning. Don’t ever go to a dealership without having done your homework. How do you know if you’re ready? Before you ever step foot in a dealership, you should know all of the following things: which make and model you want, the differences between different model years if there are multiple new model years available (for example, today you could buy a 2020, a 2019, or a 2018 in certain cases) which options you want and don’t want, which packages you need to buy or avoid in order to accomplish that, what those packages cost, the average pricing (what people are actually paying) of any car you want, what your current car is worth, and what the terms of your financing approval are. Yes, that is a lot. It usually takes me a month or so, chipping away an hour or two at a time.

There are tons of research sites available now. Edmunds.com and KBB.com are two of the best and most venerable but countless competitors have popped up in recent years. Most of the information you need is widely available so the important thing isn’t so much where you choose to get yours as that you get it somewhere and verify it somewhere else. I recommend working through the process on multiple sites until you basically have everything memorized. But don’t be afraid to make yourself a cheat sheet of key figures to take with you. Your mind can do funny things in the heat of the moment. Whatever you do, do not rely on a salesman to educate you about cars, pricing, or especially finance. Why not? First, there is a very low barrier to entry in the job and many of them are awful at it and incapable of doing so. By educating yourself, you will ensure that weakness on the part of a salesman can only get you a better deal and will cost you nothing. Second, information is power, plain and simple. If the salesman knows more than you do about any of the items I listed above, he has an advantage that he can capitalize on from the word go all the way through the signing of a deal – and that’s going to cost you thousands of dollars.

You also need to know about your end of the transaction going in. KBB.com will give you a pretty good idea what your current car is worth, especially if you cross reference craigslist, autotrader, etc to see what cars like yours are actually being listed for. Pay attention to the type of valuation you’re getting. Private party (if you sell the car yourself) is almost certainly going to be higher than trade in. But know the difference between these numbers because it will be important. Keep in mind that in most states, you’re not going to pay sales tax on the trade in portion of the deal. So weigh things out. For example, if your state charges 5% sales tax and your car is worth $5k private party and $3800 as a trade, you would be better off by $1010 if you sold it yourself ($3800 + 190 less tax liability = 3990, 5000 – 3990 = 1010). However, if the dealer ultimately ups his offer to $4800, and you are confident in the $5000 figure, you are now better off trading ($4800 + 240 = 5040, 5000 – 5040 = -40). However, watch out for over allowance here. This is when a dealer offers more than your trade is worth but then juices the hell out of the sale price of the new car to more than make up for it. Remember, “there is no free lunch.” And also keep in mind that selling a car usually involves investing your time into dealing with at least some “interesting” people so you have to decide what that is worth to you as well and factor it in.

Finally, there’s financing. Some hardliners will say you should never finance a vehicle because it’s a depreciating asset. I would say that technically they’re right in most cases, but that the declining pace of depreciation and still nearly historically low interest rates have made things a lot less definitive than they used to be. For example, I took a car loan in 2014 at a rate of 2.9%. Cash wasn’t worth that much at the time but investments were worth a hell of a lot more. So since I was confident I would be able to cashflow the loan for the life of the term, I feel I was making a pretty good choice. I still recommend sticking to a 36 month term or shorter, just like I would never advise anyone to take out a mortgage with a term over 15 years. Why? The term becomes a limiting mechanism against both paying excessive interest and buying more than you can afford. As long as you can cashflow the payments at 36 months or less, you are pretty unlikely to get hurt. Are you dooming yourself with a 60 month term on a car loan? No, but you are stretching yourself thinner than I would prefer if you genuinely need a term that long to afford the payments.

Whatever you do with the financing, do not make it into yet another profit item for the dealership. Get your best approval option directly from a lender prior to ever looking at any cars. Credit unions usually offer the best rates. This part will involve a little more legwork but there are two big payoffs. One, the dealership finance manager isn’t going to mark your quoted rate up by a point (or three). And yes, if you don’t find the financing for yourself, that is exactly what will happen. The exception would be when the dealer or manufacturer gives you a subsidized rate. However, keep in mind that in those cases, you can usually have either the subsidized rate or the incentives on the car but not both and you are usually much better off taking the incentives, which have ballooned more and more along with the pricing in general. So you are always better off knowing what the best available non-subsidized deal is at a minimum. Two, you will spend a lot less time in a room with that same finance manager – and make no mistake, he is the smartest and most ruthless guy on the payroll or they wouldn’t force almost every customer to go through him before leaving with a new car. He is probably going to try to push extended warranties and other bullshit whether you finance through him or not, but if you take the financing out of his hands, you’ve taken away his best weapon. He loves to say things like “we can give you all this additional coverage and it will only cost you x per month” because it puts thousands of dollars in his pocket without some people even realizing what he’s doing. Before you walk into that office, remind yourself that the only way to walk out without losing money is to say no repeatedly until the finance manager accepts that you’re not a rube and gives up.

That brings me to another key point. Any time anyone tries to talk about monthly payments, stop them in their tracks by telling them you’ll be basing any and all decisions on the total sale price only. As a finance guy, I can tell you that from your perspective as a customer, nothing good can come from conversing in the language of monthly payments. If you are a lion in an epic struggle for survival with a crocodile, this would be the part of the program where the crocodile tries to pull you off of the river bank and into the water, where you go from having a fighting chance to virtually none. Don’t let it happen. Fight the enemy on your terms only. Negotiate on total sale price only!

Now let’s get to that most fun part! What? Negotiating isn’t fun for you? I get it. You’re a normal person and you don’t like awkward, high pressure situations. But unless you want to donate at least a few thousand dollars to some “no haggle” (in other words, “take the easy road and just pay us a lot more”) dealership, this is a necessary evil. First off, shop at the right time. There is no one best part of the year although there are several good ones. Late summer is good because business tends to be slow and dealerships are hungry. Different parts of fall and winter are good for a variety of reasons. But by far the most important timing related factor is to shop when it’s good for you. This means you have a functioning vehicle and are under zero pressure to buy anything now. This is crucial because indifference is your best weapon.

Only visit a dealership if you are 100% ready and willing to drive away in the same vehicle that got you there. I can’t stress this point enough. The heart of the negotiation process is the power struggle. If a salesman (and by extension, the finance manager, who you are actually negotiating with through the conduit of the salesman) has any reason to believe you are not going to leave without buying something, you are going to get soaked. This is not to say you can’t let him think you’re serious about buying a car. But make sure he has no illusions about you being unable or unwilling to walk away. Bottom line, if he gets you to the point where you have to have his car, he wins. If you get him to the point where he is ready to let you walk away, you win. And that is exactly the metric I use to determine if I’ve pushed the deal to the limit.

The battle is usually going to rage for hours. Go in mentally prepared. Like it or not, you’re in the game and if you want to win, you have to want it more than your opponent. The salesman will use whatever his favorite tactics are, often just lowbrow emotional manipulation, but the structure is usually about the same; he first tries to build up the value of the car and your desire for it. Ideally, he will succeed in making you feel that this is not a negotiable situation and he’ll have you paying premium prices for both the car and every bullshit add on that has ever been dreamed up. But of course you don’t let that happen and say you want a lower price so it goes into the negotiation phase. He goes to visit his manager, who coaches him on his performance, talks to him about a sports team they both like, ogles that hot new receptionist, whatever. This is a game, after all. But you can play too. If the salesman is gone too long, you can smile as say something to the effect of “if you’re gone that long again, I think I’ll go see what kind of deal the guys across the street are offering while I’m waiting.” Bonus points for a sarcastic wink at the end of it. The manager visits will usually yield a few hundred dollars or so each on the total sale price – assuming you’ve been smart enough to force the conversation to stay focused on it. Keep in mind that they want to toss in other things – undercoating, extended warranties at reduced prices, various subscription packages to all the tech bullshit the cars are loaded with now, and anything else that costs them a fraction of what yet another of those expensive price reductions will. Think of it like you’re trying to dig a hole and every manager visit is another time pulling the shovel up and dumping it. You want that shovel to be full of dirt every time or it’s going to take you forever to get the job done.

The forever part is the dealership’s goal. The longer it takes you to get them down on the total price, the more likely you are to just give up and settle. Have fun with the process. Engage in whatever mental warfare amuses you. The key is to send the message that you’re here for the long haul and that doesn’t bother you in the slightest. If you do it right, they may just give up and make a big cut in the hopes of convincing you it’s their bottom line. But remember, my metric is whether the salesman will allow me to leave. If he says something is the best he can do, thank him for the information, tell him you will compare his numbers to some other dealerships you’re going to be visiting (it helps if you know which competitors are nearby so you can mention a name and make the threat more real), and act as though you’re preparing to leave. Gauge the reaction. He may say “this offer is only good if you sign now.” That’s bullshit. You can easily come back and renegotiate it anytime you want – maybe even a better deal. Keep moving. He may say “let me go talk to my manager and see if there is anything else I can do.” You’ve just caught him lying since he already said it was the best he could do. The negotiation phase isn’t over and you would have left money on the table if you had believed what he said just moments ago. Or maybe, just maybe, he’ll have nothing to say for the first time all day. If that’s the case, it means he actually has done all he can do.

Now this doesn’t mean you immediately change your mind and take the deal. Remember all that research you did? As part of that, you will undoubtedly know what the average person is paying for this particular car. Some sites even give you a range from low to high. So all this time, you will have that in your back pocket and be well aware of whether or not what’s in front of you is actually a good deal. So when the salesman bows his head in apparent defeat, it’s time for you to make a decision. Are you at or near the bottom of the range? Or below it? You should probably have a change of heart about leaving and sign the deal. If you aren’t where you want to be, it’s possible that this dealership is just particularly greedy and you’d get a better deal elsewhere. You’d certainly be more effective at the negotiation process with this one just recently under your belt.

One other fairly new phenomenon is the internet price. There are sites where you can choose exactly the car you want down to the particular trim, options, and even color. Use an email address you’re ok with getting spammed at, of course, because the next step is that area dealers will spam you with quotes. It will keep coming, and coming, and coming. But last time I tried this, I noticed something interesting. Some of the dealers’ offers improved over time. When I got one that looked almost too good to pass up, I went in. Of course, I’m a crazy person, so I worked the whole negotiation process without telling anyone I had the internet offer in my back pocket. When I got pretty close to it and the salesman seemed unwilling to move any further, I pulled the offer up on my phone and told him it had made me think it might be worth coming in since it was “in the ballpark.” The salesman was pissed. But after one last conference with his manager, he came back with a slightly better offer than the internet one and an assurance that he would go no further. My leaving ploy confirmed it and so did various websites.

So the internet price was pretty dynamite in that case as I was only able to get a little bit lower through negotiating. And my final price was almost off the chart in terms of the range of prices being paid on the websites. But I never would have known that if I hadn’t verified it by working to arrive at it another way. And just because that one internet price was good, it’s no guarantee that any others are. Dealerships aren’t suddenly going to stop wanting to make as much money as possible because the internet is here. I’m sure they will continue to innovate.

I see by the word count that this has been a longer journey than I had planned on. But I believe everything I’ve said has been necessary and probably still didn’t cover absolutely everything. A successful car negotiation often takes several hours (although I did have a very quick one once) and although it may seem very straightforward at times, there is actually a lot going on. I will leave you with two more general tips to keep in mind. One, the salesman is only going to present options that benefit him. Don’t assume they are the only ones that exist. Two, you are not in this to make friends. The salesman and finance manager will most likely get very frustrated if you are well prepared to get an extremely good deal and it may very well come out in some sort of emotional response. In this narrow context, being their friends means paying them thousands of dollars more than you have to. I don’t know about you, but those are the kind of friends I can do without.

One Way to Turn $5 Into Meal After Meal

Happy Friday! There is no denying it; we’re living in an incredibly prosperous time. Just over a century ago, nearly 50% of a typical household budget, and I’ll wager a huge amount of its labor as well, was spent on food alone. Today, that number is just over 10% and time saving options abound. However, far too many people are still struggling financially and while it isn’t nearly the concern it was at one time, food can still be a big expense. We’ve all seen articles with lists of suggestions on the topic, which obviously all begin with some permutation of “stop paying $20 at restaurants for meals that would be $4 and nutritionally better at home,” and rightfully so. Today I want to show you an example of something I do from time to time. I’m very grateful to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want to, wherever I want to, and completely ignore the cost. However, I rarely take advantage of that privileged position because I’m not comfortable living that way and because I don’t have to in order to have meals I enjoy.

Today’s exercise starts with Costco’s absolute refusal to raise the price of rotisserie chickens, which it sells for a ridiculous, no way this can be profitable, $5. I can’t remember the last time I saw a rotisserie chicken (or even an unprepared one) for that price in a grocery store, but it was probably a decade ago. Every now and again if I’m in a hurry, I grab one of these gloriously underpriced chickens on my way home. In this case, I paired my delicious $5 fowl with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, and some crescent rolls Costco has been practically giving away (yes, I know they are garbage but at about $.80 per tube of doughy goodness, they are a very cheap treat when I’ve been working hard in the gym and have no qualms about eating some extra carbs anyway). This meal took no more than fifteen minutes to put together and most of that was just waiting for things to happen. My total cost was maybe $8. No, it wasn’t art, but it was cheap, it tasted good, it was healthier than most restaurant meals, and its preparation took less time than most restaurant meals take to order, wait for, eat, wait for the bill, etc.

I eat my favorite parts of the chicken, the breasts and the legs (yes, we’re still talking about chicken, you filthy degenerates – and yes, it takes one to know one) along with the side dishes for about three meals. But that’s when the real magic starts. While the side dishes are gone, there is still a ton of meat left on the chicken. So I put it in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours and spend about another fifteen minutes getting it all off the bones. I make that meat into soup – this time I tried the chicken tortilla from the Vitamix recipe book. I will note that this was a somewhat odd recipe but it had a ton of vegetables in it and while a little different from most tortilla soups I’ve made, and not necessarily something I’d make again, the resulting soup was more than edible.

Soup can take about a half hour of actual prep time but with the Vitamix recipe, it only took about half that. Combined with around $5 of additional ingredients, the remains of my original $5 chicken had turned into about five more meals. For those keeping score at home, that’s an investment of roughly $13 and an hour of my time (I added a little for reheating) for a return of eight meals – or about the cost of a single fairly low end restaurant meal in both money and time.

If you’re a single guy like me, it can get a little repetitive eating all those servings. But I intersperse a few other menu items in and it works out just fine. By itself, this isn’t going to solve anyone’s food budget problems. But articles dedicated to that purpose have already been written many times over. Instead of reiterating what has already been said many times before, I wanted to give you an example of a way to enjoy good, nutritious food at an extremely low cost. Hopefully it will inspire you to come up with ideas of your own. Consequently, if you have any, I would love to hear about them in the comments below or by email (admin@healthwealthpower.com).

I don’t always do things this way but I like to every now and again because I think it’s important to remind myself that I can. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what my net worth or bank account balance is, I will always be able to afford to eat this way. Maybe that’s why they call it comfort food.

How to Spend a Fraction of What Most People do on Electronics Without Having to Sacrifice Much

Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Technology can be amazing, but it can also be amazingly expensive. Beyond the direct cost of buying it, there are numerous indirect costs – the environmental costs of devices being thrown away, the opportunity costs of the materials and labor being dedicated to production, the health costs of the time people spend interacting with screens, etc. This post probably won’t convince anyone to be a technology minimalist. But hopefully I can give you an idea or two that will help you to slash the direct cost of your technology. And just maybe we can all reduce some of those indirect ones in the process as well.

Buy last year’s technology.

We’ve all seen people waiting in some ridiculous line for the privilege of spending a small fortune on the latest IPhone or some other gadget. That is pretty near the exact opposite of the behavior that’s going to make you successful in life. Those people are guaranteed to pay more than anyone else will for their technology and they are much more likely to have problems with it as well, since some companies are now using their most dedicated customers as beta testers (hell, it looks like Boeing just might be doing it with airplanes now…). If you wait a year (or longer), you will pay less for a product that has had most of its initial issues worked out. Plus, no matter what any marketing department or “fanboy” tells you, you’re not missing out on anything. When was the last time a new smart phone, tv, computer, or any other electronic device did anything worthwhile its predecessor from the prior year couldn’t do? Most of these are extremely mature products now and genuine innovation is rare.

For example, Microsoft Office hasn’t changed in any meaningful way in half the years I’ve spent on this earth. Microsoft just keeps rearranging things, adding bullshit features 99% of people will never use, and slapping an ever growing price tag on the resulting package. A while back, they even decided to drop the whole charade and just start renting the software to people so they can charge more and more, year after year, for the same thing, without even having to pretend that’s not what they’re doing. And while this particular scam may be totally out in the open, there are plenty of similar ones being run by companies that aren’t quite so brazen, particularly in the technology world. The Galaxy S27, or whatever number we’re on now, will be the Galaxy S26 with a few new gimmicks, an even bigger screen (Soon even NBA centers will need special tools to be able to hold the things since even their giant hands will be woefully inadequate – but then, maybe that’s just what the manufacturers have been working towards all along – more accessories to hawk!), and an even bigger price tag. Some people are catching on to this but way too many are not.

Keep it for a while.  

Phones have gotten so expensive that they’re now routinely being financed. Out of morbid interest, I once read the fine print on one of those “offers” and unsurprisingly, it was charging a credit card level interest rate. This is how addicted people are to having the latest, greatest thing – and as I mentioned above, there is usually almost no practical difference at all. If you treat your electronics like assets, as opposed to this year’s disposable fashion statement, like so many people seem to, you’re going to pay substantially less over time and you won’t have to enter into any financing arrangements that should only be available from guys who deal exclusively in cash and whose collection tactics start with thinly veiled threats and quickly escalate to physical violence. Every month you keep something, your denominator goes up and your average monthly cost goes down. I’d say good targets are five years for phones, ten years for desktop computers, seven years for laptops, and about forty years for tvs (possibly a slight exaggeration, but I do feel entitled to expect a somewhat extended lifespan given that mine operates maybe a couple hundred hours a year).

It definitely helps if you aren’t glued to these things 24/7, since the life of usually non-replaceable (in theory at least) batteries is the bottleneck with many devices and more use equals faster death. Maybe try talking to the people around you and, I don’t know, looking them in the eyes while you do it. Or at least give it a try while you’re driving. Seriously, have you ever been driving down the highway and really looked around you? Even for a cynic like me, it’s stunning how many people are staring down into their laps. You really can’t un-see something like that. It’s even worse in public places where people aren’t operating vehicles. It’s almost mind blowing.

Buy refurbished where it makes sense.

I’ve had pretty good luck with this stuff. I’m typing this on a computer I bought refurbished for roughly half what new ones with comparable specs were selling for. I bought a refurbished tv almost seven years ago that to my knowledge, my Mom is still using. I don’t always buy refurbished but when I have, it has worked out well and I’ve saved a lot of money. Yes, there is some amount of risk. But the survival rate of anything is zero on a long enough timeline. With electronics, that timeline isn’t long (especially if you factor in obsolescence) and most of the depreciation happens the second you open the box. My rationale is that if a refurbished item doesn’t fail right away, both future prospects and current value are about the same as an item that was bought new from that point on – except the cost was significantly lower. I tend to be a bird in the hand kind of guy. I don’t know if it still is, but newegg.com used to be a great place to find refurbished electronics. But you can find them just about anywhere now. I got this computer on Amazon. I always recommend shopping around – refurbished or otherwise.

Buy when it makes sense.

I’m no expert at this, but there are definitely better times than others to buy electronics. The deals usually seem to be pretty good at Black Friday and while I would sooner saw one of my legs completely off with a rusty screwdriver (yes, you read that right; think about it – the bits of rust become the teeth of the “saw”) than go to any retail establishment within about a week of that day since it seems to be expanding outwards, most of the same deals are also available online. As far as I can tell, Costco runs its promotions for a few weeks at a time, even during that part of the year, so you can go when it’s not so crazy. I’m no expert in this particular area since I don’t buy this stuff very often. But it definitely pays to do your research on this and act accordingly.

Don’t assume more expensive means better.

I have a Moto X cell phone that I paid $300 for and a Samsung Galaxy S7 work phone that probably cost more than twice that much. I may be crazy, but I prefer the Moto X all day; and it’s over two years older than the Samsung to boot. It just seems to be a more streamlined, smoother performing phone and it has certainly aged more gracefully. As a guy who has owned both Samsung and Vizio tvs, again, the cheaper tv was a better experience for me. While this is an admittedly small sample size and it may only prove that Samsung is an overrated brand, the point remains valid. The highest price isn’t necessarily indicative of the best overall quality. Do your research and you may find you don’t need to spend as much as you think – particularly if you care more about core quality and longevity than what I would consider more frivolous features that operate at the periphery of the product experience. For example, and this is more in my wheelhouse than a lot of this stuff, a BMW is going to offer more cutting edge technology features than a Honda, but the Honda is going to be a far more reliable and efficient car.

In general, technology is a tool that can be used to make life easier in specific ways. It is not a status symbol or a substitute for genuine human interaction. If you maintain that mindset, you should avoid throwing away a small fortune over a lifetime and it really shouldn’t involve much sacrifice. Consider this. If you started today, and you had to have a new IPhone every other year for the rest of your life, you could potentially spend over $25k on this habit where someone like me spent well under 20% of that (and no, I didn’t bother to adjust for inflation – so it will actually be worse than this for you Apple zealots). If you really think you’re getting more than 500% of the value I am, and you really, REALLY value this particular area of your life, then I guess go ahead – with the knowledge that you’re going to make sacrifices elsewhere in some form to compensate for the difference. But I really can’t see anyone making that argument successfully if they’re being honest with themselves. And if you follow one or more of my tips, you can cut the expense significantly even if you feel you would die without an Apple logo on your phone or other electronic devices.

How My Favorite Store Can Improve Your Bottom Line AND Your Life

Good riddance to the most crowded Costco I’ve ever lived near (I move next week and the one near my new place is MUCH better!)

I really don’t understand it but Costco seems to be one of those businesses that people either love or love to hate. I see hit pieces in the mainstream media all the time (oddly enough, the Reader’s Digest, in particular, seems to run one almost daily); although maybe they’re just trolling for clicks. But how could anyone hate a company that sells mostly high quality products for low to medium quality prices, puts service second to none, and treats its employees as well as any retailer on the planet in the process? I don’t see it. But today I’m going to tell you how this wonderful company has made my life better and saved me money at the same time to give you a better idea of whether it can help you too. And yes, I might be slightly biased, but no, I’m not selling anything or benefiting in any direct way from anyone deciding to shop at Costco.

Costco’s business model is pretty straightforward. Most of the profit margin comes from selling annual memberships and credit card sign ups. In other words, everything in the stores is sold at very close to cost. This results in some amazing deals. Of course, no store is perfect. There are items I don’t buy at Costco – mostly because as a one man household, I can’t consume them fast enough to buy them in bulk without wasting them. But there are still plenty of opportunities for the $60 annual membership to pay me back many times over.

I could write pages and pages about all the great deals. Clothes at Costco can be a steal and are usually high quality. For example, I’ve bought khaki pants for under $20 that are every bit as good as pairs I’ve paid triple for elsewhere. There are usually plenty of quality casual clothing options offered at very competitive prices. Decent quality athletic shoes are often $20-30, less than half of what you often pay at a shoe store. Athletic clothes are usually a comparative bargain as well. Two important tips are that Costco doesn’t have fitting rooms and inventory changes quickly. However, the antidote is the amazing return policy. If you see something you like, buy any sizes, colors, styles, etc, that you think might work for you. Try it all on in the comfort of your home and return what you don’t want. You want to buy anything that’s a possibility for you because it will probably be gone by the next time you visit. It’s not an ideal system but it works and it is worth dealing with for the awesome price/quality combination.

There is also a huge variety of other non-food bargains in the store. As a general rule, Costco won’t have everything but it will have a good option or two for a bigger variety of products than you might expect – kitchen stuff, tools/automotive/garage stuff, furniture, athletic equipment, Vitamix blenders (the best money can buy), paper products, prescriptions and other pharmacy related items, and the list goes on and on. You still have to use your head like with anything else but most of this stuff is going to be high quality and a lot of it at a better price than you can find almost anywhere else. Occasionally you will see some idiot write an article about how Costco is more expensive than Walmart. That’s like saying Cadillacs are more expensive than whatever automotive travesty Chevy replaces the Cruze with in its never ending quest to bore economy car buyers to death. In other words, these people are either trolls or they have the IQ of potatoes. Either way, their argument is way too stupid to be taken seriously.

Then you get into the food area. I’m a beer and wine guy myself and while the beer selection is middling at best, the wine selection is pretty extensive. As usual, the prices and quality in both categories are very competitive and I understand the liquor offerings are similar. I actually skip most of the produce (again, one man household) except for the organic spinach/kale/other substances that taste more or less like grass clippings, which I consume at a prodigious rate, after my blender has done its little trick of course. Some of my other favorite food items are: $5 rotisserie chickens, a variety of cheeses (shredded, block, and sliced), greek yogurt, eggs, a variety of good quality frozen items for when I’m in a hurry, tortillas, coffee, spices, and I could go on and on. The deli and bakery both offer great options if you’re looking for something to bring to some sort of group event and don’t want to be that person who brings yet another depressing casserole, only to bring most of it home and have to suffer through it anyway (those people have it coming by the way, trying to foist that crap on other people and then enjoy the good food someone else brought). And believe me, if I’m buying these items, you’re not likely to find a better deal elsewhere because I’ve looked. I could easily justify the membership buying just a few of them over the course of the year.

Costco tends to be about the cheapest around on gas and offers solid deals on tires. That said, due to their limited brand selection, I don’t buy them. I’m a Discount Tire man and if you’re anywhere where they have locations, you’d do well to give them a shot as well. Costco also sells cars although for someone like me who knows the ins and outs of the dealer game better than many of the car salesmen I enjoy playing it with, they are not a good deal. They also sell vacations, appliances, random stuff for houses, etc, none of which I’ve ever bought from them, and electronics, which I have. The electronics deals tend to be about as good as anything you will find but with the bonus of their additional warranty and amazing return policy. I don’t think they have Black Friday deals so much as just seasonal deals, but as a guy who bought a tv from them around that time, I can tell you mine was a phenomenal deal.

Nothing is perfect and Costco is no exception. But it offers products, service, and pricing that add up to an incredibly good overall value. It is definitely a cut above Sam’s Club in at least two of those three areas and light years ahead in my favorite area of all, which I’ve saved to highlight last. I think this is probably the most overlooked positive factor about Costco. At Costco, the average retail employee makes about $40k a year. Obviously no one is getting rich off of that but when compared to the $10 an hour or so that most retail employees make on a “work when it’s good for us” schedule (also relevant since Costco has reasonable hours of operation), that is amazing. You can see it on the employee’s faces. They are happy to be there because they are treated with at least a basic level of respect by their employer – something that is not nearly common enough. Their being happy makes me happy, and not just because it results in better service. I’m as big a capitalist as they come but I believe money can be made while also making the world a better place. I believe it is very important to support things I want to see more of by “voting with my dollar” and I am proud to do that with Costco. The fact that I get a great, consistent value and a great customer experience in the process is just icing on the cake.  

Car Maintenance Basics: Today’s $400 Investment and Why It Was a Great One

My current car having its oil changed in a freaking hanger by an absolutely fascinating man!

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea; I spend money, and plenty of it. But there are some key differences between how I spend that money and how most people do that allow me to live what I consider an upper middle class lifestyle for a lower middle class cost. One of these differences is that when I make a major purchase, I usually buy for the long term. I do a lot of research and I choose a high quality option I’m almost certain to love, both today and down the road. And then I take care of it so that I can keep it for a long time and it will stay in great condition. As a result, I’m able to own some very nice things while usually paying a lower overall cost than most people pay to own lower quality versions of them.

This is certainly my strategy with cars. It is not at all uncommon for people to buy a new one every three to five years. But that is an incredibly expensive form of vehicle ownership. For the last several years, used car pricing has been so stubbornly strong that one can make a pretty good case for buying new in many cases. I won’t argue with that and I’d be a hypocrite if I did since that is the conclusion I came to when I bought my current car – although even there I have some hacks – stay tuned. But regardless of whether you buy new or used, it is pretty indisputable that in general (there are certain exception situations), the longer you own your average car, the lower your annual cost is going to be. I owned my last truck for just over ten years and would probably still be driving it if I hadn’t failed to save it from a tragic end at the hands of black ice. Thankfully, it saved me in spite of this lack of consideration on my part. I walked away with barely a scratch from an accident that would have rendered most of today’s cars a pile of broken plastic, shattered glass, and twisted scrap metal. And in fact, the truck was still driveable. Built Ford tough indeed. Anyway, I’ve had my current car for almost five years now. However, and this is where it gets exciting, my vehicles are usually in as good of shape, both visually and mechanically, as just about anything else on the road and I almost never have any trouble with them.

How do I manage this when so many people start having problems before their loan is even paid off? Step one is to do the research and buy a quality product. For example, if you buy a Dodge, I can’t help you; you’re almost certainly going to pay a fortune to keep it on the road and the body is going to start coming apart and rusting before the new car smell is gone. I believe phrases like “you can’t polish a turd” or “trying to put lipstick on a pig” apply well here. This post I did about the best and worst brands is a good place to start and I will likely write plenty more about the ins and outs of car buying before long since it is a process I enjoy very much.

But once you own a vehicle, it is crucial that you maintain it properly. So today, at just over 60k miles, I spent a little over $400 on a handful of services: a brake fluid flush, a transmission fluid change (note the difference between the words “change” and “flush” here), new front brake pads, and the resurfacing of my front rotors to go with those pads. Before my minimalist, somewhat lazy new lifestyle, I would have done all of this myself and spent around a quarter of that much on parts and fluids only. And if you know how to work on cars or have an interest in learning, I highly recommend it as an extremely profitable hobby. But the important thing is that you get this stuff done, one way or another.

The day you buy your vehicle, I recommend you buy a repair manual for it as well. Haynes and Chilton are good options and shouldn’t cost more than $20-30, depending on the vehicle. If you spend even an hour or two reading that manual, it will more than pay for itself in the form of knowledge gained. And at a minimum, it will give you a comprehensive, realistic maintenance schedule. Don’t rely on the dealer or even your owner’s manual for this. The dealer will charge you substantially more than an independent shop for work that is no better than what a quality independent shop will do. Please note that I’m not talking about warranty/recall work here; that needs to go do a dealer. As for the owner’s manual that comes with your car, well, many of them now claim that transmission fluid is a “lifetime fluid.” Given that the transmissions in most modern cars are extremely complicated pieces of machinery that cost $5k or more to replace, I’m going to stick to changing the fluid at traditional intervals, thank you very much.

What is the payoff for the $400 and change I spent today? My brake system is now working as well as the day I bought the car – potentially a matter of life and death when you live in close proximity to as many attempted murderers horrible drivers as I do. My transmission will continue shifting smoothly for some time to come and is much less likely to develop any problems – any of which would cost easily several times what it costs to do the maintenance I did today. And I can continue to drive hundreds of miles from home without worrying about whether I might wind up stranded somewhere. Simply put, any money you spend on competently performed, fairly priced preventative maintenance is going to be a good investment.

What other maintenance do I do on my cars? Oil changes are a must. I am a big believer in Amsoil, ridiculously high price tag be damned. I have never had a problem of any sort while using it and I am confident that if I did, Amsoil is the kind of company that would stand behind its product. I only use K&N performance engine air filters and cabin filters. Instead of throwing them out, you clean/lube them and they will easily last the life of a car. So the $80-100 investment pays for itself in five cleanings (or roughly 100k miles) at most and provides slightly better performance every day the entire time you have the car. It is important to replace the coolant in your car at proper intervals as well to keep the engine running optimally. If you have a truck or an SUV, there is considerably more to be done – one of several reasons I don’t have a truck right now.

As for keeping a car looking great year after year, my program is pretty simple. I pay $20 a month for unlimited car washes at Mister Car Wash, a high quality local option in Houston, and I run my car through about once a week. These plans seem to be gaining popularity nationwide and can make even more sense in a climate that attacks car finishes with a hellish cocktail of snow, slush, salt, and more. But rather than opting for the more expensive upgraded plan, which costs about double, I spend about a half hour around once a month applying spray wax (any decent brand will do and it costs no more than $5 for at least a few years’ worth) using basic microfiber cloths (these are great to keep at home for other purposes as well since they are reusable and do a better job than paper towels at all sorts of things). And finally, I use those same microfiber cloths to apply Nu Finish, an awesome polish product, once or twice a year. As a bonus, the waxing/polishing process is a great way to routinely inspect every inch of your car for any potential issues, which are almost always cheaper to address if they’re caught early. The result? People often ask if my cars are new, even when they’re several years old.

They certainly look and run as if they were. But instead of spending $5-10k a year on depreciation (yes, it is still an expense if it doesn’t affect short term cash flow), I usually spend $1-3k and sometimes even less. Over a lifetime, that will save me well over $100k compared to what the average person does. And again, I still drive relatively nice cars. Right now I have only one – a 2014 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T Limited, which offers 274 horsepower, a synthetic leather interior, a backup camera, blind spot monitoring, heated seats, 18 inch rims, and much more. And while it is still occasionally mistaken for being new, it is actually better than that since Hyundai took a tragic step backwards with the model in 2015 in both design and mechanical engineering (2 mpg city/0 highway gained in exchange for TWENTY NINE FUCKING HORSEPOWER lost to the tune of a 1.5 second difference in 0-60 time? If that didn’t get some people fired – or executed if it had been North Korea instead of South – it should have).

My next car is going to be a Lexus, more than likely a certain “radical” coupe that, with the aid of a few minor corrections modifications, puts out over 500 horsepower and sounds like an unstoppable monster from hell. I will probably buy one around five years old due to the way luxury cars depreciate but I will still probably keep it close to ten years and operate the same way I always have. With the combination of legendary Toyota reliability and proper maintenance working in my favor, I believe I will do just fine. If not, I will go back to buying premium versions of regular brands like I have in the past. Either way, I’m happily driving a good quality car with almost no problems and spending much less than average to do so. Everyone is obviously going to make different choices when it comes to cars. But if you take care of yours the way I take care of mine and keep it a while, you are going to get the same kind of results.

Buy the Best and Save…Sometimes

Whether very expensive or relatively inexpensive, mindful purchases tend to produce happy results

I have to be honest; I despise the word frugal. Or more accurately, I hate the way people tend to use it. The exact definition is “characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources.” According to that definition, I suppose I am frugal – usually. But in order to define me that way, you have to think about that definition accurately. I’ll give you an example. When I was a child in a lower middle class, single parent household, washing the dishes included washing the little plastic lunch bags so they could be reused. I would say Ziploc but I can guarantee you we had the off brand ones. I still feel my blood boiling at the number of my living, breathing moments I spent doing this. The things cost a fucking penny. I don’t care how low anyone is in life; we live in the richest country in the world and even the most hopeless person’s time would be far better spent doing almost anything else. And I will prove it. Assuming the process of washing, rinsing, and eventually putting away takes ten seconds per bag, which is almost certainly an underestimate by half or more, the person doing it is valuing his time (or having it valued for him by someone who didn’t really think it through) at six bags per minute, which ultimately extends to $3.60 per hour when processing $.01 bags. Even a twelve year old can earn more than that delivering papers or mowing lawns. I know because I did both.

What I just described isn’t frugal. It’s insane. But hopefully now some folks I occasionally frustrate will have a slightly better understanding of why it can be difficult for me to spend money at times, even when it would be nothing to me. That scarcity mentality was drilled into me very young and I fight it every day. I legitimately believe it is a form of mental disorder. But anyway, that is an extreme example of the type of ridiculous bullshit people associate with the word frugal. Aside from the occasional extravagance I manage to grant myself as a man who is already on pace to be financially independent well before 40, I do believe in using resources efficiently. The infuriating lunch bag example above is actually the opposite of frugal since there are is an almost infinite number of better ways one’s time could be used.

When used correctly, frugality can make life better. One way is that it allows you to have better quality products. For example, I own a Vitamix blender that cost $500. After nearly six years of daily use, it still works like it did the day I got it, which means it could blend a boot into fine powder if I could fit one in. The thing is probably more powerful than some of those sad, go cart looking hatchback things some people call cars these days (seriously, why?!?). It is still under warranty for the remainder of year seven and that is irrelevant because less than 1% of Vitamix blenders are ever repaired under warranty. I will actually be shocked if it doesn’t last another decade. So what did my $500 get me? It got me a blender that blends a combination of fruits and vegetables into a very drinkable smoothie on a daily basis (and often blends other things as well since I enjoy cooking) in an incredibly efficient manner and will continue doing it long enough that by the time it’s on its way to blender heaven, I will have paid significantly less than a dime per use. There are probably only a handful of blenders on the market that can even do what this one can a single time. Most of the ones I’ve seen take much longer and don’t blend nearly as thoroughly. More time equals more strain on the motor and a shorter lifespan. Plus, more time equals more investment on your part with each use. Believe it or not, there are also blenders even more expensive than the Vitamix. I haven’t done the math and couldn’t without making significant assumptions that would render the exercise pointless, but I would be very surprised if there is another blender that can match the Vitamix in a true apples to apples, dollar to dollar comparison.

Yes, $500 is a lot to spend on a blender. But when you evaluate it holistically rather than on a simple cash flow basis, it was a frugal purchase. The key is to do your homework. For example, I was recently looking to make another “best money can buy” style purchase in the form of a coffee making apparatus. I used that word because for the kind of money that can be spent, I think a fancier word than “maker” or “machine” is necessary. I quickly learned that I could spend well over $1000 for a contraption that ultimately pours hot water through ground beans. And after fairly thorough research, I concluded that I shouldn’t. I couldn’t find a single high end option that didn’t have mixed reviews at best, with most of the bad ones referencing durability issues within only a few years. Apparently it is simply too difficult a task to produce a coffee maker that can match both the quality and durability of my blender. I ultimately ended up spending around $50 total on a solution that is producing great quality coffee and appears that it will do so for a long time to come – a handheld burr grinder and a French press, both in attractive stainless steel that makes them counter worthy. Oh. And an old electric kettle that probably cost $10 ten years ago is also part of the ensemble, although its appearance keeps it relegated to a cupboard. Had I spent 10 or 20 times as much on a setup that had ultimately let me down way too soon, I would have been making a terribly un-frugal decision.

So there you have it. Frugal isn’t quite the dirty word its colloquial use would have you believing. If you do it right, you get the best possible outcome in every situation and ultimately pay less for it, even if you have to put more cash into the deal on the front end. And to save you the analysis on one purchase, go buy the 7000 pack of high quality, Ziploc lunch bags at Costco for maybe ten bucks and don’t ever think about them again. That’s all for now. I have a morning workout to get to and business deals to discuss. Have a lovely day.

The Internet Game and How You Can Win It

Time to save some folks some more money. Since it’s that time of year for me again, today I’m going to do it by writing about how I play the internet game. Why didn’t I say the cable/internet game? Because cable is useless. You can get every show or movie with internet alone and as a bonus, there are no commercials in most cases. If live sports are your poison, those are often on over the air tv so you can get your fix in HD with a ten dollar antenna. They make fancy ones that cost ten times that much but if you read the reviews, you will likely conclude, as I have, that no one has ever topped the rabbit ears at any price point. You can even put them in your basement or attic, as I once did, so you don’t even have to look at them in your living room. If your live sports are not on over the air tv, you still have plenty of options – bars, friends’ houses, streaming, etc. In conclusion, no cable needed – and I didn’t even have to go into how the average person spends way too much time staring at a screen and should simply be doing it far less in the first place. Or Kodi for that matter…

Why do I call it the internet game? That’s all that most of life is. And that is certainly the case with internet service providers (ISPs). They lure customers in with a relatively reasonable rate, then double it a year later. The fewer customers fight back or do so successfully, the better the ISP does in the game. More profit equals winning. But you don’t want to fatten up an ISP’s profit margin and you don’t have to. Now in the internet game, there are only two basic scenarios – one easy and one slightly more difficult. But not to worry. I’ve experienced them both and both are beatable. You have scenario one if you live in a major metro area with more than one viable internet option. In other words, child’s play. Scenario two is when you have only one. And no, satellite and the like don’t count as options. Remember, we do not inconvenience ourselves in the name of saving money; we simply save money.

If you have options, as I do here in Houston, the game is already over the minute you show up. First, sign up for your “promotional rate” internet with AT&T. Bonus points if you negotiate an extra hundred dollar gift card out of them as I did last time to negate the unnecessary “installation fee” they charge for a technician to pay you an unnecessary visit. Remember, you are in the driver’s seat because there is competition. When they raise your rate a year later, look at what Comcast, or whatever other option you have, is offering. In this case, I’m about to save some money because they’re offering internet in my area for $30 instead of the $40 I’m paying now. Yay for me. Next, you call your current provider and tell them to cancel your account. When they ask why, simply tell them the truth; they jacked your rate up and there is a cheaper option available to you – so bye. They will probably transfer you to their retention department but that’s why you’ve done your homework. Stick to your guns unless they can beat your other option. There really is no more to it than that since your next call is actually going to be to your other option, which does exist. However, in this scenario, the retention department just might actually work hard to win your business because they know that. Going into the call, I know I’m going to save a minimum of $10 a month, but possibly more if their numbers are down and they’re feeling especially motivated today.

If you don’t have options, you can still win, but you have to be a little more creative. The game starts off the same way as above, but when your year is up, it changes. You can try negotiating with the retention department if you want to but again, they know the local market. So if you don’t have any better options, they are pretty unlikely to be in deal mode. But that’s ok. If you don’t get anywhere with them, simply cancel. Next, have your significant other call them and set up new service at the address. Don’t have one? Invent one. If they require a social security number or something over the top like that, have a friend call and return the favor for him or her. You get the point. This is war, people, so band together against the common enemy, which is anyone trying to rip you off. Once your alternate account name’s year is up, you can typically call and set up your own service again at the “promotional rate” since most ISPs purge your information from their system after six months.

That is the main game but here are a few other pointers.

1. If there is any kind of a modem/router rental fee charged, don’t pay it. You can usually buy a compatible setup for no more than $50-100 and they usually last at least a few years if not longer. Given that you’re avoiding a $10-15 a month rental fee plus taxes and fees being charged on top of it, this small “investment” pays for itself in less than a year.

2. Like all businesses, your ISP wants to make as much profit as possible. Its cost is whatever it takes to provide your service and its revenue is whatever it can get you to pay. Here’s the dirty secret: most of the cost is in setting up and maintaining the network. In other words, there is very little marginal cost between different speeds. And here’s another secret: most people need no more than 10-20 mbps – usually around the bottom rung of service that is offered. When they ask what you use the internet for, they’re listening for that magic phrase – streaming. That’s when they’ll say you need some ridiculous speed like 50 or even 100 mbps (depending on how gullible they’ve decided you are) and attempt to upsell you. If you let them fool you, you can quickly wind up paying way too much for internet. Go with the lowest speed that is offered and when they try to play the upselling game, tell them you use the internet exclusively for email and web browsing. At this point, they may try any number of low brow sales tactics and of course they would; the more they get you to pay, the more they get paid. Once again, stick to your guns. I promise the world will not end over this decision, no matter what they tell you.

3. Another note on speed is that sometimes the best deal isn’t advertised. When I was in Wisconsin, Time Warner (later acquired by Spectrum) used to offer a “budget plan” of maybe 3 or 5 mbps for $15. The next highest speed was about three times the price. As a bonus, it was somehow exempt from the “promotional rate” bullshit. I was able to keep it for years. I still fondly remember the day a sales woman from some company or other came to the door and asked what I was paying. I told her what I paid for internet and that I don’t pay for cable under any circumstances and she literally did an about face and headed for the next house without another word. Good times. But this plan wasn’t advertised on the Time Warner website. I happened to have heard about it from someone so I called and asked for it. After listening to a few minutes of the inside sales rep insisting I wouldn’t be able to do anything with my internet if I went with this horribly inadequate plan and ignoring it all, I was in business. And guess what. ISPs can’t perfectly control the speed you get. So even though 3-5mbps would have been adequate anyway, I often got double or triple the speed I was paying for – most likely a regression towards the mean situation. If you want to find out how much speed you are getting, you can find tons of online options by googling “speed test.” But in any case, it certainly doesn’t cost anything to try the slowest available speed and switch if it doesn’t work. Assuming it won’t work very well may cost you something. Assuming can do that in tons of different situations in life.

That should about cover it. If you’re paying more than $40-50 a month, you’re paying too much. By employing these three methods, you should be able to prevent that from ever happening. Adios for now.

Are You Wasting Hundreds a Year on Car Insurance?

While combing through a friend’s finances with him in search of savings opportunities recently, we struck gold with his car insurance. He is going to save hundreds of dollars over the next year as a result of making one minor change and at this point in his life, that will go a long way for him. In the process, I realized that car insurance is probably a large potential savings opportunity for a lot of people and I was inspired to write a post on the basics. Please note that I am no insurance expert and none of this, or anything in any other post for that matter, is intended as legal advice. But I do know a fair bit and I may be able to help point you in a direction that will save you some cash.

The first thing I tell anyone about insurance in general is that in many cases, loyalty counts for nothing. In my experience, the only reward for staying with a company long term is a consistent premium increase. This doesn’t necessarily apply to all companies but it also doesn’t cost you anything to get a few quotes to make sure your existing company is still competitive. I recommend doing so every couple of years or so. Companies seem to make fairly regular changes to the way they rate drivers, vehicles, etc, and the only way to find out about them is to shop around and see who is offering you the best deal today. Don’t assume that anything will be consistent from person to person or even from year to year for the same person. Numerous variables go into what premium is charged. Some agents seem to be very willing to shop around for you as a new customer but very reluctant to do so when you are already on the books. This has to do with their business model. However, just as with almost any other service, if you are less valuable as an existing customer than you were as a new one, become a new one again – for someone else.

Another important thing to look at with car insurance is your coverage itself. Liability coverage is required in most states now and is required by common sense and basic human decency everywhere. Sometimes the legal minimums are lower but I recommend at least 100/300 for bodily injury and 100 for property damage – and 200/400/200 wouldn’t be overkill either. Remember, if you run out of insurance coverage, you’re on the hook from that point on. And things can get expensive very quickly whether you’re paying to repair cars or people so skimping on this to save a few bucks on premiums could be a very painful decision in the long run. Liability coverage also benefits you in the form of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. There are simply far too many irresponsible people out there and as usual, people who make one bad decision, such as not having car insurance, tend to make others as well. In my relatively young life, I’ve already been rear ended by not one, but two uninsured drivers while stopped behind lines of cars at stoplights. It doesn’t get any more “not at fault” than that. In both cases, I was very glad to be covered by my own insurance company even though the drivers who hit me hadn’t had the decency to get coverage of their own.

So where can you save money on coverage? In the physical damage section. For this part, you need to consider both the car you’re driving and your financial situation. First of all, if your car is worth less than $5000, you may want to consider passing on collision coverage altogether. Of course, this means if you are in an at fault accident, you have to pay to repair the damage to your car. But most accidents are minor ones that involve little more than replacing a bumper, which is usually around $1000. Plus, if your car is worth that little, chances are you’re not going to repair minor damage anyway. So by not having the collision coverage, you’re really betting that you either won’t get in an at fault accident or that if you do, it will be a minor one. I like those odds. That said, if you don’t have a reasonable emergency fund of at least $5000, you may want to think twice about this.

Please note that if there is a lien on your car (in other words, if you have yet to pay it off), you cannot do this because it will put your loan in default status. You probably don’t want a visit from the friendly repo man anytime soon – even if your lender is likely to call and threaten you for a while before they go to that extreme.

If you want to follow a more minor version of the no collision coverage strategy that doesn’t put an auto loan in default, you can raise the deductible. Going from $500 to $1000 usually makes a decent difference in the premium. I have never seen going higher than $1000 do much of anything so I leave it there. This should pretty well confirm what I said above about most accidents amounting to a $1000 bumper replacement; insurance companies literally bet on it with their pricing.

Aside from coverage changes, there are a few other more traditional methods of lowering your car insurance premium. You can pay for six months at a time or annually if your insurance company offers that option. This usually saves you a little and offers the bonuses of both a head start on any credit cards you may be churning and locking in the premium for the full term you’re paying for. For example, I will only do a full year here in Houston since premiums are rising very quickly as insurers work to recoup their Harvey related losses. You can also get a discount for getting your car insurance from the same company as your homeowners/renters policy. You can talk to your agent to make sure you’re getting all the discounts you may be eligible for (good student, membership in certain associations, completed safety classes, etc). In the case of many insurers, you can also get a discount for letting them use a gps to monitor your driving habits. However, as a safe driver, but one who also likes to get where I’m going in a timely fashion, I’m always going to pass on that offer.

This obviously isn’t exhaustive of every possibility but hopefully it will give you an idea or two to try out. Good luck and safe travels out there!