Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The real cost of AA batteries

Anyone who has kids, or even just a bunch of electronics, has felt the pinch of the cost of batteries.

In a google search today, I found a report from WWBT (NBC 12 in Richmond, VA) listing the reporter's data from a flashlight experiment where she tested many different brands of AA batteries.

Her report provides a table of the type of battery, the cost of each, and the length in hours each burned.  But that didn't answer my question:  Which brand of battery is the best deal?

So using her data, I created my own spreadsheet and got some answers.

It is important to note that this is pretty unscientific.  For example, I added the Sunbeam 8-pack (for $1) from the Dollar Tree.  This is what we typically use around my house for kids toys, wireless mice, etc.  I made the (hopefully correct) assumption that these are the same as the 4 to a pack sunbeam batteries from this reporter's test.  This test also completely ignores the fact that batteries perform differently in different types of electronics.  For example one battery may perform better in a device with a low energy consumption, and another may work better in one with a high energy consumption.

But even for an unscientific test, the results are pretty interesting.

Here is what I came up with -- sorted with the best deals at the top.

Store Brand Price # in Package  Cost per Battery Hours Lasted2 Cost per Hour
Dollar Tree Sunbeam (8 to a pack variety) $1.00 8 $0.13      4.50  $     0.03
Costco Kirkland $12.79 48 $0.27      5.85  $     0.05
Dollar Tree Sunbeam $1.00 4 $0.25      4.50  $     0.06
Dollar Tree Eveready Gold $1.00 4 $0.25      3.55  $     0.07
Dollar Tree Panasonic Alkaline $1.00 4 $0.25      1.98  $     0.13
Walmart Duracell $3.77 4 $0.94      5.93  $     0.16
Dollar Tree Panasonic Super Heavy Duty $1.00 2 $0.50      2.77  $     0.18
Walmart Energizer $3.77 4 $0.94      5.18  $     0.18
Rite Aid Rite Aid $4.49 4 $1.12      5.45  $     0.21
CVS CVS $4.39 4 $1.10      5.15  $     0.21
Walgreens Walgreens $3.99 4 $1.00      4.65  $     0.21

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fetching Stock Quotes with Excel 2013 and Windows 8

Unfortunately, the MSN Stock Quote tool that I have been using for years in Microsoft Excel no longer works for fetching stock prices in Excel 2013.  There are some alternatives out there -- namely this option to enable the PSQ function -- however, that solution doesn't seem to work in Windows 8.

Luckily, I have finally found a solution thanks to this blog and the little known WEBSERVICE function in Excel.  Using the Yahoo Stock quote API, you can easily write a formula that can be copied (or "Filled Down") to adjacent cells.

Assuming your ticker symbol is in A1, to fetch a price, a basic formula would be:
=WEBSERVICE("http://finance.yahoo.com/d/quotes.csv?s="&A1&"&f=l1")

Oddly enough, Excel returns this not as a number, but as text.  We can fix this easily by rewriting the formulas as:

=NUMBERVALUE(WEBSERVICE("http://finance.yahoo.com/d/quotes.csv?s="&A1&"&f=l1"))

The parts to pay attention to are at the end.  s="&A1&" tells it that the stock ticker is in A1.
&f=l1 tells it to return the last trade price.

To fetch the name of the stock, you would substitue l1 with n.

So for example, if you wanted to have 3 columns with ticker, name, price, you could accomplish this by doing the following.

A1=GOOG
B1=WEBSERVICE("http://finance.yahoo.com/d/quotes.csv?s="&A1&"&f=n")
C1=NUMBERVALUE(WEBSERVICE("http://finance.yahoo.com/d/quotes.csv?s="&A1&"&f=l1"))

So now just setup your spreasheet and use Fill Down (Control D) to fill the columns.





Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Get a Great Deal on a New Car

Everyone knows that the price of a new car can vary depending on your bargaining ability. Some people (although I hope not many) likely pay sticker price. And a the dealer sometimes even takes a loss on a few cars -- just to move them off the lot to make room for the next model year. The majority of sales fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve.

I want to take a few minutes to give you some tools to help you get as low as possible on the price of your next new car.

One nice thing about buying new is that all new cars are the same. If you look at a 2012 Toyota Camry LE at one dealership....it is exactly the same as the new 2012 Camry LE at another dealership (perhaps only differing in a few minor options). Because of this, it is very easy to get apples-to-apples prices. If you are shopping for used cars, this is impossible, because no 2 cars will be identical in milage, maintenance, and wear and tear.

So here are my steps to help you get the best deal:
1. First, decide on the make and model you want. Go to some local dealerships and do some test drives. This is not for buying -- this is just for deciding. Once you know which car you want, you are ready to begin.

2. Use edmunds.com to find the invoice price and the current incentives on the car. Invoice minus incentives will be our starting point. It is also important that you understand tax, tag, and title costs in your state. For my state, tax is 3% of the purchase price + about $140 for tag and title.

3. Next check o.co for the "Zag" price in your local area. Zag is a car buying service that serves as the back end for lots of car buying services like American Express, Overstock, and I believe even Costco. If the Zag price is lower than the price from step 2, that becomes your new starting point. Also check truecar.com to understand what people are actually paying for that car. (This is the price before tax and fees.) You'll want to target the price on the far left (hopefully even off of the grid).

3b. Check your banks and credit unions for the lowest car financing rate. For credit unions, this can currently be as low (as of Jan 2012) as 1.79%. Once they have approved you for a loan, they will send you a blank check valid up to a certain amount. (Sometimes dealerships will offer 0% incentives, but usually this is at the expense of giving up a rebate. It is almost always a better deal to take the cash rebate instead of the incentive offer.)

4. Use google maps or the auto manufacturer's site to find as many dealerships as you can in your local area. For my purchase, I used about 15, but you can use fewer. Remember, driving a few hours to get your car is a small price to pay to save thousands.

5. Go to each dealers website and either use their "chat now" function or email their internet department and ask for a quote on the car. Don't give your phone number. If the form asks for it, just fill in 999-9999 or something similar. When you ask for the price quote, insist on an "out the door" price. This is important to ensure that you are getting a real price, and that they can not add additional fees at the dealership.

5b. When you are at these sites, make a note of which ones have internet coupons that pop-up. Almost every dealer has these now. Sometimes they even go higher if you agree to make an appointment. These are typically anywhere from $100 to $500 off. Be sure to make a note of this, but don't register for any appointments yet.

6. These dealers will email you their starting price, which you should add to a spreadsheet or a table you draw on a piece of paper.

7. Once you have these bids, you can begin to email the dealers back, letting them know where the low bid is. This allows them to essentially bid against each other to earn your business.

8. As they say on shampoo bottles...now just rinse and repeat. Continue to email back and forth with dealers getting their lowest out the door price. As a courtesy to the dealers, it is best if you not reveal which dealership is offering you what deal. Keep that to yourself.

9. Once you have a deal you are comfortable with then go to their website and print the coupon and potentially sign up for a test drive if that increases the coupon value. Email the internet manager that you have the coupon printed and ask that he/she send you a new "out the door" quote with the coupon factored in.

10. Ensure again via email (so you have it in writing) that the car comes with all the features you have specified, including floor mats.

11. Go pick up your car. (The dealer may ask you to put down a deposit on your credit card to hold the car if you are driving from out of town or need to wait a few days.) Print out all of the emails from the dealership, so you have in writing the "out the door" price. Ensure that this is the price on the bottom of the sales form when you pickup the car.

12. Write a check using your credit union auto buying check.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Real Cost of Time Shares

My wife and I recently took a trip up to Williamsburg, VA (about a 3 hour drive from home) for a "free" 2 night stay in exchange for a timeshare presentation. We had been to one of these before (see my post from June 2008) and figured it was worth our time in exchange for free lodging + $75 visa gift card.

Overall, the place was reasonably nice -- although to call it a "resort" is a stretch. It was more like a 2 BR townhouse I would expect to see in a typical suburb. But it was a comfortable stay and didn't cost us anything.

Throughout the process, what bugged me most were the half-truths of the time share presentation. The salesman kept making his pitch saying that every year the vacations he takes only cost $140. My wife and I had agreed before hand that the way to get out of there the quickest was to just agree and let them keep going -- so we both had to bite our tongues several times.

I've done quite a bit of reading on timeshares -- and one of the best sources out there is a forum called tugbbs.com. So if you are looking to learn, that's a good source.

Timeshares aren't necessarily a bad thing, IF you know how and what to buy. I would only suggest only buying resale (not retail) since you can get most of them for free upfront for taking over the maintenance fees (as opposed to retail prices of $15,000-$30,000). So if you are considering it, here is the real cost breakdown per year.

Any amortized up-front expenses (If you buy resale, this should be near 0.)
+Yearly maintenace fees. ($500-$700)
+Points network dues. (~$150)
+Points network exchange fee. (~$150)
----
Total $800 -$1000/year.

If you know you will take a 1-week vacation every year, this may be a good fit for you. But you should also know that you can rent timeshares from current owners for almost exactly the same price as owning -- with all of the benefits -- and none of the downside. So to me, renting a timeshare is the way to go.

To find timeshare units for rent, check sites like http://tug2.com/timesharemarketplace/ or http://redweek.com.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Scams that make me laugh

I'm always amused by the latest in low-budget tv commercials that are obvious scams.
I saw one today that made me laugh outloud. It claimed that the information about the benefits of Vitamin D are being suppressed (by the government?) and that we should "join together in one voice" by joining the "Vitamin D Health Initiative." And, the commercial says, you'll get free vitamin D for life.

The funny thing is that when you go to the website, they charge you $6.95 per month "shipping and handling" for your monthly supply of Vitamin D. (30 pills of 2000 IU). That made me laugh outloud. A quick search of walmart.com shows 2000 IU Vitamin D is $9.00 for 200 pills, or about $1.35 per month. And of course, if you didn't know it, Vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight -- so you can get a healthy dose just by stepping outside!

I'm sure there are some unfortunate individuals out there picking up the phone and signing on to be part of the "initiative" -- but for the rest of us, it at least serves as entertainment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sell those unwanted games

Like a lot of folks, we have some Wii games that don't get played as much as they used to. So I decided to see where I could sell some games and come out the furthest ahead. All of the 3 major sites for selling your stuff have different fees. So I decided to calculate the amount I would pocket if I sold a game for $25+$4 shipping on eBay, Half.com (also owned by ebay), and Amazon Marketplace.

How much would you get to sell at $25 item with $4 shipping? This of course assumes that each of these would find buyers willing to pay the same price. Surprisingly, I found that Amazon was the most expensive and Ebay was the cheapest!

Amazon Fees

Sale price of the item $25
Shipping credit $4
- Referral Fee of 6-25% of the sale price -15% for video games
- Variable Closing Fee
- $0.99 Fixed Closing Fee (waived for Pro Merchant Subscribers)
-------------------------------------
Total deposited to seller's account = $22.91


Ebay fees:
$25 + $4
No insertion on
-9% of sales price
-2.9% + .30 paypal fee
----
= Total deposited to seller's account = $25.73


Half.com fees
$25+$4
15% commission
+.60 shipping commission
----
= Total deposited to seller's account = $24.05

Monday, November 15, 2010

How much does it cost to have a baby without insurance?

We had a difficult decision to make last year. I got hit by a layoff with my Fortune 500 employer but we knew it was our best opportunity to have a baby.

At the time, I called every hospital and doctor's office in the area to see if I could get an idea of price. That was a lot more difficult than it should have been -- as it seems that most hospitals have no idea.  After a lot of digging, my calculation was that it would cost $8,000 out of pocket.  This was also with the assumption that we would carry medical insurance on my wife (but not maternity) so any complications would be covered.

We had a relatively uneventful birth with no complications. After tallying all the bills, it turns out that was a pretty accurate estimate. Here is what we were billed for. I hope this is helpful to some of you out there who are in the same boat.

The first line is the "fake" price you see on the bill.  I hope that no one really pays this.
The second line is the insurance negotiated price.  This is what insurance uses to figure your co-pay.
The third line is the cash price.  This is a 50% discount on the retail price -- and oddly enough -- also cheaper than the insurance negotiated rate.

Location: Raleigh/Durham, NC, USA


Anest. Hospital Lab OBGYN Path Specialist Total Result
Sum - Retail $1,404 $9,223 $237 $3,677 $80 $2,874 $17,495
Sum - Insurance Negotiated Rate $1,123 $5,979 $92 $2,157 $60 $2,051 $11,463
Sum - Cash 50% $702 $4,612 $119 $1,839 $40 $1,437 $8,748