Just Park the Car

As much as possible, I try to avoid going anywhere that has a crowded parking lot.  If I can, I’ll go to popular destinations sometime between Monday and Friday instead of during the weekend when they’re more crowded.  But sometimes it’s inevitable that I will have to park my car in a nearly-at-capacity parking lot.

Lakewood Center, Lakewood CAWhen this happens, my strategy is simple.  Instead of driving around searching for a “good” parking space, I just drive away from my destination’s main entrance, towards the farthest reaches of the parking lot, until I find an empty space.  If this means parking as far as possible from the entrance, that’s fine.

Here’s why:

My “just park the car” method probably saves time.  Instead of driving and driving, repeatedly circling the full spaces near the entrance, I drive directly to an open space, park, and start walking towards the entrance.  Quite often, as I’m walking in the front doors, I see a a driver who was looking for a space when I first drove into the lot still cruising past the parking lot’s “good” (but full) spaces.  Meanwhile, I’m inside starting to accomplish my trip’s purpose.

Even if it doesn’t save time, it saves gasoline, oil, and transmission fluid and avoids unnecessary wear on the brakes, transmission, and everything else on the car that wears out with use.  The less you use your car, the longer it will last.  It’s only going to go maybe 150,000 miles — why use them up driving around in parking lots?  “Just park the car” also reduces the amount of air pollution I’m making by driving a car.

My method reduces the chance of an accident.  Driving in a parking lot is distracted driving.  Looking for an empty space, watching people that might be walking towards their cars, scanning for brake lights and reverse lights, all while driving around among other people doing the same thing.  Why take the unnecessary risk?

My method is stress free.  When a large number of drivers are looking for a small number of parking spaces, it inevitably becomes a competition.  Psychology takes hold.  Someone is going to win, others are going to lose.  That’s stressful.  I don’t need to raise my blood pressure over getting a parking space.  I don’t engage in the competition and I avoid the stress.

Who doesn’t need exercise?  You park a little farther away and you have to walk a bit.  So what?  I see that as a benefit.  Some people pay to use a gym.  I get this exercise for free.  Sometimes it’s a nice day, but even if the weather isn’t ideal, I enjoy the walk.

For many of the same reasons, I never use a drive-thru on the occasions I buy fast food.  To my way of thinking: If you can’t haul your butt from the car to the inside of the restaurant, you don’t deserve fast food.


Buying a New(ish) Car, Saving $500,000

Some months ago, the driver’s side window of our minivan stopped working and wouldn’t go down.  Next, as it got warmer, we noticed that the air conditioning wasn’t able to do much to cool the air if was warmer than 75° outside.  And there was that self-inflicted damage to the car’s front grill panel, which occurred years ago, that I had fixed (literally) with duct tape and coat-hanger wire.

Then, a few days ago, came the straw that broke the minivan’s back, so to speak: the annual safety inspection.  The news wasn’t good.  The car wouldn’t pass inspection with a non-functioning window.  The inspection also showed that the headlight lenses were fogged up with road-wear scratches and needed restoration and one headlight had water inside the housing assembly.  All in all, it looked as if the car needed at least several hundred dollars worth of work to make it pass inspection (the window, the headlights) and more hundreds of dollars to make it comfortable (the air conditioning) and hundreds more to make it less of an embarrassment to drive (the front end grill).  It was a 2004 model, so it seemed reasonable to use it for a trade-in and buy another car.

Given that our time with this particular 2004 Honda Odyssey (“Redrock Pearl” a.k.a. “Burgundy” with “Ivory” interior, evidently) has come to an end, it seems a good time to get an idea what it cost.

car_invoiceWe bought our 2004 Honda Odyssey for $16,551 on March 9, 2010.  That price included a 2-year warranty (which was probably not worth what we paid for it).  It was a remarkably dependable car.  We had only two completely unexpected repair expenses, which totaled about $1,700.  (Of course, we did have the usual driving and maintenance expenses for gasoline, oil, coolant, transmission fluid, brake jobs, a couple batteries, and a serpentine belt.  But those would have been more-or-less the same regardless of which minivan we purchased.)  Let’s say that the cost of the car itself was about $18,250.

We drove the car regularly from March 2010 to May 2017, over 86 months total.

Considering the cost of the car and the time we used it, we spent about $210 per month or about $7 per day.  (Again: this is only the cost of the car itself plus major repairs, and not the total cost of driving, which would have to include operating expenses.)  Incidentally, the odometer was showing about 60,000 miles when we bought it and had reached 180,000 when we traded it in, so the cost of the car for 120,000 miles of driving was about 15¢ per mile.

Looking back, I am pleased that we purchased a used — ahem, “pre-owned” — car.  Had we purchased a new car in 2010, it would have cost about twice as much, meaning we would have spent about $400 each month on just the cost of the car itself.  In other words, over the past 7 years, we’ve been able to save and invest roughly $15,000 (which is, coincidentally, approximately the cost of the car itself.)

This method of saving money — buying used cars, paying for them as fast as possible, keeping them for a long time — allows us to save and invest over $2,000 each and every year.  This can easily amount to perhaps $100,000 ($2,000 per year for 50 years) worth of investments over a lifetime.  An extra $2,000 per year, with compounded earnings, for 50 years might grow to $500,000 or more.  A half-million dollars for driving used cars?  Sounds good to me!  Remember: In order to have at least $1,000,000 in your retirement account by the time you need it, you need to save several hundred dollars each month (more or less, depending on when you start investing and the returns you get on your retirement investments).  The savings you get from buying used cars can go a long way towards the amount you need to save each month.

We were so happy with our old car — the Honda Odyssey — that we decided to get another one.  And guess what?  It’s the new car that we could have bought 7 years ago!  Yep, we now own a 2010 Honda Odyssey that will probably be saving us money for the next 7 years.

Using $-Off Promo Codes

amazon_862A couple weeks ago, Amazon announced a special deal: $8 and some change off any order of $50 or more.  Pretty good — over 16% off.  But be careful.  If you’re trying to use money efficiently, then you need to remember that when you use a coupon you only save money if you buy something you were going to buy anyway (and of course, the Amazon price has to be as good as or better than price you normally pay).

I used the promo deal to buy the same kind of snacks I usually buy by the box to keep at work, thus avoiding buying anything from a vending machine.  Because the Amazon price was comparable to the usual price, I’ll save 16% over the time it takes me to consume the snacks.  Given that “a penny saved is a penny earned”, I’ve earned over $8.  Is there any other way to earn $8 on a $50 investment in just a few weeks, with 100% certainty?  No, there isn’t.

But what if I had used the promo code to buy something I just wanted, but didn’t really need.  Say, a fancy new shirt … when I have already have plenty of shirts, probably all I need for the next few years.  (And, I often get new ones for birthday or Christmas.)  If I had bought a new shirt for $50 and used the promo code coupon to reduce the price to $42, wouldn’t I have saved $8?  No.  Using the promo to buy a new shirt I didn’t need would not have been a savings of $8 — it would have been an expenditure of $42.

Beware of Amazon-eBay Arbitrage

If you’re a person who tries to spend money efficiently, you shop around.  You most likely wouldn’t see something for the first time and buy it immediately.  You’d look elsewhere and compare prices for the same or similar items.  Fail to do that, and you’re asking for someone to take advantage of you.

If you have shopped around, you might have noticed some items on eBay that are priced higher than on Amazon (or elsewhere) — for the exact same item, even when it’s a new, never-used, item.

ebay_amazonThat’s “Amazon-eBay Arbitrage”.

Basically this is what’s happening: Very sharp eBay sellers, let’s call them arbitragers, “sell” products on eBay for higher prices than the exact same products on Amazon.  Not only that, but these sellers “sell” products that they don’t actually have in their possession.  They don’t order the product from the legitimate seller (by legitimate, I mean the seller who actually makes or stocks the item) until you order it from them.

The process works like this: You find an eBay listing for something you want, you order it from the eBay arbitrager and pay for it.  The eBay arbitrager then orders it from Amazon and has it shipped to you.  As long as the price on eBay is higher than Amazon’s price, the eBay arbitrager makes money.  Some of these eBay arbitragers even have computers running software that continually analyzes prices on Amazon and eBay so as to find the products with the most profit potential.

Note that this only works if you, the buyer, fail to do a little comparison shopping.  Which might happen if you go to eBay without thinking, assuming that eBay always has the lowest prices.  That’s the assumption that gets you in trouble and makes “Amazon-eBay Arbitrage” possible.

Be smart.  If you don’t want to put your money into the arbitrager’s pockets, then do what mama said, as in my mama told me … you better shop around.

You Have 24 Hours

ticket_counterI recently learned that the Department of Transportation has a “24-hour reservation requirement” rule for airlines that, “requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty”.

More information:
Guidance on the 24-hour reservation requirement

I foolishly assumed that a teenager could find the best flight to get to a summer activity in another state and I allowed that teenager to make a reservation for connecting flights and and a long layover.  Then I found that Southwest had a less expensive direct flight.  But all was well.  I was able to cancel the more expensive flight, get a refund, and book the better alternative.

Thanks, Department of Transportation!

If You Absolutely Must Buy Something For Christmas

You don’t have to be an economist to know what retailers are going to do when they know you have to have something before December 25.  Shopping with an absolutely-positively-must-have-it deadline puts you at a distinct disadvantage.  Of course, retailers are going to charge the highest possible price.  If you choose to observe that December 25 deadline, you give them the power to do that.

If you want to save money, do as much of  your Christmas shopping as possible on December 26 or shortly thereafter.*  It’s something of a tradition at our house to head out to the uppity import shop and fancy grocery store and buy things that were outrageously priced just a day earlier for 50(or more)% off.  When the shopping season starts on December 26, you’ve got the advantage.

We always find lots of holiday foods at great prices.  We enjoy it just as much the week after Christmas as we would have enjoyed it the week before — and a good-sized number of dollars stays in our bank account instead of going to the merchant’s.

We did this with toys and games that we bought for the kids’ presents when the kids were younger.  You think they even noticed that a special gift came a day or two later?  Hardly.  Just buy the thing at the much lower post-Christmas price, slip it under the tree, and say, “Oh, look there’s one more thing under the tree that you didn’t see.”  There is some chance you might not get the exact thing you want (and it’s this fear that retailers are counting on to make you buy the thing at the extra-high full price before December 25), but you can usually find something good and keep the savings.

bayberry_candlesDoing as much of your Christmas shopping as possible starting on December 26 works especially well for decorations, wrapping paper, candy, and similar items.  And it works online too.  I just got some high-quality scented candles that we will use next year, for 50% less than I would have paid last week.

Of course, what’s best for the spirit of Christmas (and your bank account) is not to make Christmas a consumption frenzy.  The best Christmas purchases are the ingredients you need for special Christmas cookies and dinners that you prepare yourself in your own kitchen — and these things are often on sale at good prices before Christmas.

*Remember, Christmas season actually lasts until Twelfth Night.

Check the Prices and Quantities

I was at the local office supply store this past weekend to buy some shipping tape.  I automatically looked to the larger size of heavy duty tape: $6.99 for 43 yards.  Then I looked at the smaller size and noticed it was $3.29 for 30 yards.  I had to do the math in my head a couple times to be certain … and sure enough, it was cheaper (per yard) to buy the smaller size.

With a calculator, we see that the large size is about 16¢ per yard, while the  small size is about 11¢.

An easy quick check:  Double the price of the small size, $3.29 × 2, and the result is less than $6.99; double the quantity, 30 yards × 2, and the result is far more than 43 yards.  If you buy two of the small size, you pay less than the price of the large size and you get more.

It appeared that both items were being offered at their normal price.  Nothing to indicate that either was discounted for a special sale.

Which raises the question:  Did the store make a mistake, pricing the large size at too high a price or the small size at too low a price?  Or, maybe did they figure out that a lot of people reach for the larger size, assuming they are getting a better deal without actually comparing and checking, and knowing this, the store can make some easy extra profit by pricing the large size at a higher cost per unit?