By Cody Wetmore on January 7th, 2009 • Budgeting, Food, Music

Here at the brass|BLOG, we’ve featured a lot of sites and strategies to get stuff cheap. But there’s a difference between getting something because of a low price and getting something you really want. Yea verily, in these tough economic times it’s important to know the difference between being cheap and being frugal.

Cheap is when you get as much stuff for as little money as possible. That’s getting two Alvin and the Chipmunks CDs for $19. Sure, you get two CDs for the price of one, but it isn’t a really good value unless you like setting up some kind of freaky Chipmunk surround sound.

Frugal is waiting for something you really want and getting a good price. Like when I waited to buy a certain soccer video game (two levels of nerdy). Instead of buying on impulse when it first came out, I held off for a month until I found a good sale, taking $22 off. It’s something I really wanted and will get a lot of use out of, but I waited until I could get it at a good price.

This division is made most clear at discount grocery stores like our local Grocery Outlet. There is a lot of cheap stuff there, but it’s not all stuff you want. “Mature” produce may be cheap, but it’s probably disgusting. Instead, you can be picky and buy things that you would buy anyway, like delicious Chili Cheese Fritos for only $1.79.

So, what cheap or frugal purchases have you made lately? What purchases do you make more often?

–Cody

The photo is taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

3090392251_911be4dfaf.jpg2008 was a rough year on all of us. It seems that everyone is having trouble making ends meet, including cash-strapped cities and towns across America. So what are money--challenged local government agencies supposed do to boost their revenue?

The answer, apparently, is to increase the number of tickets they give out for traffic violations.

While that may not be a fair solution, it certainly proves itself to be an effective one. An article from MSN Money concludes what we've always suspected, that "tickets are often as much about revenue as safety." When the economy takes a dive, tickets invariably go on the rise. Cities and counties are stepping up their efforts to catch and fine speeders and other traffic violators in hopes of filling up holes in their budgets. If you're not careful you might be one of the unlucky charged with patching up those gaps.

Beyond the original cost of paying for a ticket, getting caught committing a traffic violation has other ramifications. Most notably (and annoyingly) is the effect it has on your insurance policy. Even if you've had a clean driving record for years, a single ticket can still drastically increase your insurance costs.

If saving money is on your New Year's list of resolutions (and c'mon, who didn't put that on there?), then make sure to keep a close eye on your speedometer. Being cautious and aware while driving not only helps prevent accidents but may save you some serious cash as well.

The pictures are taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Erin Flesch on December 31st, 2008 • Holidays, Stats, Life

2154553904_cf2bd07e00.jpgThe holiday season is coming to a close, and as usual, it's gonna go out with a bang (or a whisper, depending on your celebration style). As of this moment, the handy new year's countdown ticker has informed me that there are approximately 14 hours and two minutes left until midnight. Meanwhile, I have informed myself that I have approximately six hours left until I get off work.

Seeing as it is the last day of 2008, I thought I'd bust out a few stats on the beloved New Year's Eve Ball that drops each year like clockwork (ha ha) in Times Square. Since 1904, the year of the inaugural drop, the New Year's Ball has gone through many makeovers. This year, they've made it bigger and brighter than ever before.

So get ready for some fascinating factoids about this iconic sphere:

  • The new 2009 Times Square New Years's Eve Ball is a 12 foot geodesic sphere making it twice the size of previous Balls.
  • It weighs 11,875 lbs (compared its original 200 lbs).
  • Decorated in 2,668 Waterford Crystals and powered by 32,256 LEDS, this ball is capable of producing a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of different patterns, sure to entrance and mystify bystanders and the world at large.
  • The Ball is 10--20% more energy efficient than last year and uses the same amount of energy per hour as it would take to power two home ovens.
  • $5 million was spent building a permanent perch for the Times Square Ball, so it could be displayed year round.

If you can't make it to NYC tonight or find something better to do that sit in front of a TV at midnight, don't fret. You will still have ample opportunity to witness the greatness that is the Times Square Ball. Starting this year, it will become a permanent attraction for all to revel in. That's all for now, folks. Happy New Years!

–Erin

The photo is taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

mint.jpgIn my younger days, money management was like a steady sleep pattern or basic personal hygiene: something I knew about in theory, but rarely put into practice. I lived by the “out of sight, out of mind” principle, debiting everything until I had racked up $150 in overdraft charges.

Fortunately I now live in the present with online services like Quicken, Pageonce, Geezo, Buxfer, Mint, and Thrive, which offer ways to oversee all my finances from one website. In October I decided to open an account with Mint, mainly because their logo is a dollar sign inside of a mint leaf, which I find clever. Here’s my review:

Mint, like those other services, automatically separates your debit and credit purchases into categories like bills, entertainment, and restaurants, and displays them in a nifty bar graph. You can set spending limits, get email alerts when you’ve been naughty, and compare how much you’ve spent with the national average.

For those worried about security, Mint is a great service because your account is anonymous. You never enter your name, Social Security number or address, and you can’t actually access your financial institution accounts from Mint. Also, it alerts you to any funny business, by sending you a weekly financial report on your transactions. Learn more about Mint’s security measures here.

But, Mint isn’t without its problems. First of all, for some reason I haven’t been able to input my student loans. When I try to enter my log in information, I’m greeted with an error message. After a few months of paying the loan from my checking account, I was able to budget my payments as an educational expense, but it would be nice to have the bill due date alerts that I have with other accounts.

Another issue I’ve had is that Mint seems to log in to my online financial institution accounts so often that I have been locked out several times. This requires a call to my institution, which means hanging out on hold for a half an hour in order to get access to my account again.

Despite these annoyances, however, Mint has enabled me to watch my spending more closely. You might want to consider a free online service to help you budget also.

–Cody

Check back later for reviews of more Modern Money Managers

By Cody Wetmore on December 24th, 2008 • Budgeting, Food, Taxes

With tax revenue from Wall Street taking a nosedive, New York has been forced to get creative. Governor David Paterson has proposed a variety of tax hikes and budget cuts to fill a $15.4 billion budget gap. In addition to eliminating 521 state jobs and cutting school aid by $699 million, an 18% tax on non-diet sodas and sugary juice drinks has been proposed. This has been suggested as a way to not only bring in badly needed revenue, but slim the waistlines of New Yorkers.

It isn’t the first time the state has taken such measures. In 2006, New York City banned trans fats in an effort to make the city healthier. It’s too soon to know whether this has had any tangible effect, but it has caused many to cry out that government has no place in the kitchen.

So, would a price increase like this keep you from buying unhealthy foods, or are you committed to filling your gullet with as much corn syrup and grease as you can handle, no matter what the cost?

--Cody

By Jens Odegaard on December 19th, 2008 • Life

It's that time of year. Every media company and their blog is doing a Top 10 list, so we put together our favorites. But we're not your mom's media company, so we decided to just go with our 8 favorite blogs from this year. Here they are in no particular order:

Well, there you have it. Our 8 favorite blogs. Go out and do good things. 

By Cody Wetmore on December 17th, 2008 • Auto, Budgeting, Economy, Stats

OPEC announced today that they will cut oil production by 2.2 million barrels a day starting January 1st. This is an effort to shore up prices that, due to declining demand, have fallen to $41.99 a barrel, down from $145 in August.

Sorry, but the days of $1.81 a gallon gas will soon be over. Chakib Khelil, president of OPEC, said their goal is to increase prices to $70 to $80 a barrel. The good news is that it shouldn't force the price to $3 per gallon.

Take advantage of cheap fuel while you can. It won’t be around for long.

--Cody

The photo is taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Erin Flesch on December 15th, 2008 • Giving, Life

This time of year it’s a common practice for many people to give donations to charity. Opportunities are abundant during the holidays, with local organizations holding food drives and enthusiastic bell-ringers positioned outside most major stores.

But what if you’re interested in doing more than just dropping off a few cans of green beans or unloading your spare change into a red pail? How do you know which charities are legit? Just like with anything else, we want the most bang for our buck. In charity-speak, this means having the most of our donation going directly to the people and causes that need it. To find out what charity is right for you go to charitynavigator.org, an independent website that works to “guide intelligent giving."

With the click of a mouse you can view ratings of thousands of America’s largest charities (view the methodology behind the ratings here). There are top-ten lists that group charities into different categories, such as 10 Celebrity-Related Charities (see what rating the Lance Armstrong Foundation recieved). Or go to 10 Inefficient Fundraisers and see what organizations you might want to avoid this year.

For more information, you can also evauluate charities with the Better Business Bureau.

It feels good to donate to charity--especially when you know exactly where your money is going. So give smart and sit back and enjoy a glass of eggnog. Your holiday karma just went up a notch.

--Erin

The photo is taken from this photostream and used with permission of a Creative Commons license.

By Jens Odegaard on December 12th, 2008 • Cost Saving, DIY, Internet, Video, Life

Sometimes I find myself just staring at my laptop, iPod, camera and USB drives wondering where it all went wrong. At first it all seemed so simple, but now photos aren't converting, my laptop (with a certain glitchy operating system) is acting up again, and my USB drive is super slow. You get the idea. It's times like these that make me wish there was a simple how-to guide for optimizing my digital life.

Say hello to lifehacker.com. It's like the Costco (or whatever big box store is in your area) of digital tips. If you're like me, it will definitely open your eyes to tons of ways to save yourself time and money and get the most out of your technology. The information can be overwhelming at first--just like that 5-gallon bucket of dill pickles--so start by checking out their Most Popular How-To Features of 2008. You can always use their search function to narrow down your results, too.

If your tastes aren't techie (I like to build furniture too) head on over to instructables.com. This site is awesome--what other place offers detailed how-tos on everything from making dill pickles to making things taller to making a cardboard cantilever chair? And if you're looking to make a unique gift for Christmas, check out the gift idea page. Personally, I think the pinball coffee table looks pretty awesome. Whatever you're interested in, there's probably a how-to website out there. Check out these other ones: monkeysee.com and if you're really crafty, cutoutandkeep.net.

With the economy the way it is, right now is the perfect time to save money by optimizing previously-purchased technology and by making some sweet gifts. One last tip, don't be afraid to do a little Dumpster diving (just don't trespass). My wife and I recently found a stand-alone cabinet out next to the Dumpster in our apartment complex. With $20 worth of materials (paint, brushes, wood filler) and a little time, we were able to refinish it and now have a perfect place to keep our books and magazines. Get your thrift on, make something yourself and inject a little originality into this name-brand world.

By Cody Wetmore on December 10th, 2008 • Auto, Economy, Life

Congress is about to pass a U.S. auto industry bailout, but it appears that American auto makers aren’t the only ones in trouble. Hybrid sales dropped 50% in November. This mainly affected foreign car companies like Toyota and Honda, who have accounted for the largest number of hybrid cars sold. Toyota’s Prius and Camry Hybrid sales dropped 48.3% and 57.5% respectively, while sales of Honda Civic Hybrids dropped 67.8% since last year, according to information posted on Green Car Congress.

The failing economy and falling gas prices seem to have tag teamed “green” cars.

--Cody

The pictures are taken from this photostream and used with the permission of a Creative Commons license.