Listening to Dave Ramsey

I’m pretty sure if I took the time to think about it, there are a few things, especially things outside of personal finance, that Dave Ramsey and I don’t agree on.  In a few cases, I’ll say his financial advice isn’t good or at least it’s not good for me (which means I’ll admit it might be good for some people; I might write about this later).  I think his radio show often contains too much kitsch and silliness and not enough detail about financial topics that can sometimes be complicated.

dave_ramseyBut, I must say, there have been many times when I’ve been at work, knowing full well that snacks and cold beverages are readily available from vending machines and fast-food restaurants that are just minutes away from my desk.  But I have made myself the promise to eat and drink only things I have brought from home.  So I go to his website, click the button to listen to his radio show, hear someone do the debt-free scream and quick as that I’ve got an immediate boost to my willpower.  When I leave work and head home towards a delicious home-cooked meal, I think, Thanks, Dave Ramsey.


I Cut a Hole in my Washer

Front-loading washing machines have filters (sometimes called “coin traps”) to prevent solid objects from getting into, and possibly damaging, the pump that moves water out of the machine through the discharge hose.  These filters need to be emptied and cleaned periodically.  Some washing machines have a small door on the front that allows access to the filter.  On some washers, the filter can be easily unscrewed and removed.  On mine, the filter is inside a wide spot in a length of flexible hose leading to the pump near the front of the machine.  But it’s behind a solid front panel (no door) and the only way to get to it is to remove the front panel.  And the only way to remove the front panel is to loosen the top, move the control panel, and disconnect the door lock.  Because my dryer is stacked on top of the washer, loosening the top requires moving the dryer.  Just getting to the filter requires an absurd amount of time and effort, especially considering that the actual filter removal and cleaning takes only about 5 minutes.  Very bad product design, in my opinion.*

Because it was a “previously owned” washer when I got it, I cleaned the filter when I first installed it in my basement.  Since then, I’ve felt a little guilty about not having cleaned it for a long while, but I dreaded all the work required.  Thinking it over, it seemed that cutting a “filter-access door” in the front panel would be quicker than removing the panel as described above.  Not to mention all the work required to put it all back together.  Once done, I could clean the filter whenever I liked without all of work that would otherwise be required.

Just to be sure I would be able to cut a hole in the front panel without damaging anything inside the machine (like hoses and wires), I unplugged the washer, moved it away from the wall, partially removed the back panel and looked inside.  There was plenty of room, at least a few inches, between the filter and the front panel, enough to allow a drill or saw to penetrate without damaging any of the internal parts.

Using an electric drill, and being extra careful to penetrate as little as possible, I made 4 holes that would be the corners of my filter-access door, the dimensions of which would be about 6 inches tall and 10 inches wide.  I used the holes as starting points to make cuts connecting one hole to another.  First I used a hacksaw, but hacksawing was too slow so I switched to an electric jigsaw.  I held the jigsaw at an angle, allowing the blade to penetrate inside the machine as little as possible.  Using the jigsaw, I had the hole cut in about 5 minutes.  The edges of the hole were quite jagged, so I covered them with duct tape.  After all, I have to put my hands through it to reach the filter.

Removing the filter through my new filter-access door is still awkward work that requires lying on the floor and reaching into an area that’s difficult to see.  All things considered though, it’s a lot easier to do it through a hole in the front panel than to disassemble the front of the machine.

After a few minutes, I had the filter assembly in my hand.  Inside the coin trap (basically a plastic cup with several holes in it) I found a very corroded key, several coins, many bobby pins, and many other small bits of unidentifiable solid materials, plus lots of thread and lint.  Undoubtedly this mess of a mass was slowing the flow of water into the pump and out the discharge hose.  Also, it smelled bad and the smelly odors would have migrated up into my freshly laundered clothes as they sat in the machine after being washed.  After cleaning the filter, I reinstalled it.  Helpful hint: the hose assembly is easier to slide into place if it’s wet.

I did a load of laundry and ensured that nothing was leaking.  This was easy to do by just looking through my new filter-access door.  I can easily take a look at the machine’s insides anytime.

I used a piece of magnetic plastic whiteboard as a door cover.  Its magnetic force wasn’t enough to prevent it from sliding down as the machine vibrated when it was running, so I used two magnets (taken out of an old computer hard-drive) to hold it in place.

Overall, if you’re unlucky enough to have a washer without one, a DIY filter-access door might be something you should consider.  Of course, beaware that doing this probably voids your warranty (not an issue for me, because mine was an on-the-curb-first-come-first-served acquisition).  Of course, anything you do is at your own risk.  I assume no liability.  You definitely shouldn’t do this if you have young children in your house.  With a door like this, they could easily get into the machine’s moving parts and could hurt themselves or damage the machine.

* Seriously, take a look:

Final note:  It might be possible to access the filter through the bottom of the machine (its bottom panel has a couple large holes, perhaps for maintenance access), but this would require removing the stacked dryer, disconnecting the water, moving the washer away from the wall and tilting it on its side.  That’s almost as much work as removing the front panel.  I still like my filter-access door.

$300 Bonus for Opening Checking Account

bank_of_americaBank of America, where I currently pay my mortgage, offered me a $300 bonus if I opened a checking account and deposited a certain amount into that account within three months.  The required amount was about 3 times what I pay in my monthly mortgage payment, so to start earning that $300, all I had to do was open the account (which took about 10 minutes) and set up a direct deposit allocation on the intranet at work (5 minutes). That’s it.

Now, instead of logging onto the Bank of America website each month and paying the mortgage from my credit union checking account, I use the same BoA website and pay the mortgage from the new Bank of America checking account.  I’ve set up the direct deposit so that each time I am paid, which is every two weeks, half of the money I need for the mortgage payment is sent by direct deposit to the BoA checking account.  Over the course of a year, this will be enough for 13 payments instead of the required 12, so I’ll probably use the extra amount for additional payments towards the mortgage principal.  I can  make the mortgage payment every 4 weeks (every other payday) and I’ll be making 13 payments in 12 months.  I’ll put the $300 bonus towards the mortgage too.

Eventually, when it can be done without incurring any “account closing” fee, I’ll probably close the account (which should take another 5 minutes) … and wait for next time a bank is willing to pay me a bonus for opening a checking account.

$300 for 30 minutes work is around $900 per hour.  Nice work if you can get it.

This isn’t the first time and I hope it won’t be the last.  Given the amount of interest I paid due to unwise use of credit cards when I was young and stupid, it’s nice to be getting some of it back.

Olive the Truth About Saving Money

Avoid convenience.  Save a lot of money.  That’s all of the truth about saving money.  Here’s an example.

olivesLast week I opened the refrigerator to find olives … in single-serving packs.  I don’t know why anyone would buy such a thing, let alone my own wife.  Maybe, (I hope) they were on sale.

Even on sale, it’s a very dumb purchase.  $2.99 for 4.8 ounces of olives is about 62¢ per ounce.  At the normal price of $3.69, it’s over 76¢ per ounce.

Compare that to a can of olives.  $1.87 for 6.0 ounces = 31¢ per ounce.  (The can contains liquid, but the 6.0 ounces is the weight of the olives.)

You want the convenience of having a little pack of olives every day?

Get some food storage containers.  Purchased in quantity, they’re about $1 each.

Open the can of olives, distribute its 6.0 ounces of olives into 5 food storage containers so that each container holds 1.2 ounces of olives.   You’ve now got 5 DIY packs of olives-to-go at a cost of about 39¢ each (including 1¢ for the cost of the food storage container, assuming you can re-use it about 100 times).

Compare that to the pre-packaged olives which cost or 92¢ per serving.  (Regular price.)

DIY and save yourself $1.82.

Remember, $1.82 saved is $1.82 earned.  Considering how much time it takes to open a can and parcel out the contents, this is a DIY job that pays over $50 per hour.

Preventing Bathtub and Shower Mildew and Mold

I’ve written about how easy and money-saving it is to wash shower curtains and liners in the washing machine, which does a good job of removing mildew, mold (I can’t tell which is which), soap scum, and the dreaded serratia marcescens bacteria.  Then I got to to thinking: if only there were a way of preventing those gross nasty things!

Some sort of shower spray would probably do the trick.  A DIY homemade shower spray would probably be cheaper than a special store-bought product.

Several websites have recipes for homemade shower cleaners vinegarthat include ingredients such as vinegar, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, among other things, mixed with water.  I decided to start with plain vinegar, mainly because it’s the least expensive.  Costco sells a jug of vinegar, more than gallon, for about $3.  Regular (sometimes called white) vinegar is usually 5% acidity.  Cleaning vinegar (which isn’t intended to be safe for food use) is usually 6% acidity.  So far, I’ve been using the 5% food-safe vinegar, mainly because it’s more readily available.

All I do is fill a spray bottle with plain straight vinegar.  Once or twice a week I give the bathtub and shower area a thorough spray.  I usually do it after I take a shower and when I’m sure no one else will take a shower for the next several hours.  Before I spray, I give the shower curtains a quick shake to remove most of the clinging water droplets — I don’t want my vinegar spray to be diluted as soon as it’s applied.  I spray the entire tub area, the walls, both sides of the shower curtains and liner, paying particular attention to areas where I’ve seen mildew and mold in the past, which tends to be the corners and lower parts of the shower curtain, liner, and tub walls.  Then I just leave it alone.  I assume that prolonged contact with vinegar is bad for mildew and mold, which is good for me.

So far it’s working, and it’s cheap.  The only disadvantage is the smell of vinegar, which can be overpowering in an enclosed space (remember, bathroom ventilation is important), but I can put up with that for a few minutes each week.  You might want to wear rubber gloves, because contact with vinegar isn’t good for your skin.

Natural Gas Offer

In the old days, a householder just bought gas from the gas company.  The gas came in a pipe, the bill came in the mail.

gas_meterThese days, the gas company company can deliver not just its own gas, but also gas from other, “energy supply company”, providers.  You can choose to get the gas from one of the other suppliers.  This means you pay two bills: one to the alternative provider and one to your local gas company for the use of their distribution system.

A while back, I got an offer from one of the alternative suppliers that serve my area.  $90 per month for natural gas, with the commitment of a 1 year contract.  I wondered if that was a better deal than the usual pay-the-gas-company’s-current-rate on a month-by-month basis.  So I added up my gas bills for the past 2 years and divided by 24 to get my average gas bill.  It was a little something below $90, which made me feel pretty happy.

Waiting until late November to turn on the heat, wearing sweaters, sitting on the couch under a blanket, and taking cold showers, … seems like it’s all paying off.

Favorite Pieces of Classical Music

In no particular order.

  • Nights in the Gardens of Spain (Manuel de Falla)
  • Goldberg Variations (Johann Sebastian Bach)
  • In the Steppes of Central Asia (Alexander Borodin)
  • Romeo and Juliet Suites (Sergei Prokofiev)
  • The Enchanted Lake (Anatoly Lyadov)
  • Pines of Rome (Ottorino Respighi)
  • La Mer (Claude Debussy)
  • Daphnis et Chloé (Maurice Ravel)
  • Tafelmusik (Georg Philipp Telemann)
  • Chants d’Auvergne (Joseph Canteloube)
  • Nocturnes (Claude Debussy)
  • The Planets (Gustav Holst)
  • Organ Concertos (George Frideric Handel)
  • Scheherazade (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)
  • Many pieces performed by guitarist Andrés Segovia