I was surprised to learn that even at the $200 retail price (or the $150 often discounted price), the Asus X205TA is a very useful engine computer. (Thomas the Tank Engine rubs off on you when you have a 1 and 2 year old.)
I had always assumed that a computer that cheap was just good for a half hour here or there if you didn't have a better option. However, if you have an efficient workflow and don't require too many processor sensitive applications (most people don't) you can get by.
I used this computer as my insurance policy while I ordered my next full-time computer. Without it, I would have had to buy whatever was available, which wouldn't have necessarily been a good deal nor would it have been what I'd necessary want.
It was time to look for a new computer. I quickly narrowed it to computers, the new Dell XPS 13. When it came out in January, I had to highlight it as a way to save money on your next premium windows laptop. Specifically, I wrote, "It took two years, but finally there's an increase in portability, battery life, and performance, at less money."
Can you tell I was excited for the computer? The only problem was that my current computer was working well. That's usually the case until it isn't.
Before I get into the pros and cons of each, I have to give a shout out to the Microsoft Store. They have a $100 off with coupon code "PCGRAD15." I couldn't find anyone else discounting either of the machines, making it an exceptional deal right now. In addition, computers from the Microsoft Store come without all the annoying crapware apps that you never use which simply clogs up the system.
I was happy to buy from the Microsoft Store, except their physical store near me was a mall kiosk. It only had 3 or 4 computers available to purchase and neither of these two which should be the most popular options. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggaio Circuit City?
Fortunately, Microsoft's online store offers extremely cheap shipping options ranging from $16 for next day to free if you can wait 4-5 days. I felt like I could afford the $16 for a few days with extra productivity.
I'll leave it to the big technology sites to compare and contrast the Dell XPS 13 and the Asus Zenbook UX305FA, but the general consensus of review on both is that they should be on your short-list. The Dell XPS 13 is very customizable, but alas is limited to 4GB of memory at the Microsoft store (unless you want to pay hundreds more for options that you might not want). It comes with 128GB of hard drive space, which for many people is very little. (I off-load most of my data to external hard drives.) Its strengths is that is has an extremely powerful processor and is extremely small due to the design. With the promotion at the Microsoft store, you can get it for $800, plus tax and shipping.
Alternatively, The Zenbook has a slower processor, but 8GB of memory and 256GB of hard drive space. It's not exactly the same space-saving design, but it is still far above average and weighs about the same. With the same promotion, you can get it for only $600, plus tax and shipping.
I went with the Dell XPS 13.
This is where I flash back to what I wrote about last week about getting by on a cheap computer. Here I am saying how computers are fast enough and you should save money, but I went out and did the exact opposite. I passed on a computer that could have been a better fit with more memory while saving me money.
It's not a big deal. The Dell XPS 13 is awesome and I am more than happy with it. If I didn't run a website that focused on these kinds of buying decisions, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought. It was only when I thought about writing about the purchase did it occur to me that I might have made the wrong decision.
Also, it was a good excuse to write about a great technology deal and how the quality of technology keeps coming up as the price is coming down.
It's not just the Bare Naked Ladies who play, "If I had a Million Dollars", I do too. Today, I enlisted the help of Saffery Champness Accountants who who came up with a few ideas on what they could be bought with $1 million. They decided to come up with some of the more fun things you could buy with a million dollars:
Things You Could Buy With a Million Dollars (Click for Larger Version)
Let's play a game. If you had to buy any of these items what would you buy? To make it interesting let's throw out the one practical item, the house in New York. I think you have to go for the island, right? After that I would go with the the submarine or the airplane. It's simple, you have to take the appreciating real estate over the depreciating vehicles. The parking space is an interesting combination of frivolity and real estate. It's still too frivolous for me to rank very high.
After that, I think you have to put the fishing lure, vacuum, bathtub, and necklace into a pile of items that are just ridiculous. However, they have a step up on the brandy that you could consume in a few sittings and have nothing to show for it. The perfume isn't too far different in that it can be consumed too. It'll just last a little longer.
The commercial didn't catch my attention because the guy wants to buy a 60" television and his wife is questioning it (I swear). It caught the attention because Rent-A-Center is suggesting that it is a good alternative for those with too many credit card bills that they can't pay off. How nice of Rent-a-Center to promote fiscal responsibility, right? Well maybe not.
Rent-A-Center's alternative is to rent you the television at $30 a week. Quick math in my head (more than 50 weeks * $30) shows that it would cost more than $1500 a year. And you can buy this LG 60-Inch Plasma at Amazon for $999 including free shipping. In just 34 weeks, or less than 8 months, you would have owned the TV and been free of any payments.
Rent-A-Center does have a rent-to-own policy. At least the payments won't continue forever. If you watch the commercial again there's some very small text at the bottom of the screen explaining the terms. It says that you'll own the television after 104 weeks for a total costs of $3,118.96. It also says that the MSRP of the television is $1429.
So you can avoiding putting more debt on the credit card by buying a $999 television for more than $3000. How does that compare to credit cards? I found this excellent credit card calculator from Ready For Zero. I put in $1000 in and it showed that at an average interest rate of 15%, you'd pay it off in 8 years and 9 months, paying a total of $717 in interest. Better to pay $717 in interest on a credit card than $2100 at Rent-A-Center, right?
I've always known that Rent-A-Center is a ripoff, but I had no idea the magnitude of the rip-off. It is sickening that they'd try to trick consumers to avoid credit card debt for an even worse one. Once I started to realize how bad Rent-A-Center's rates were I started to find more articles writing about regulation about their business practices.
Consumer Reports also notes that a high interest credit card is much better than Rent-A-Center. They have much better advice, "Avoid rent-to-own, even if it means postponing purchases until you can better afford them."
Also keep in mind that despite what the guy in the video says you don't "really need" a 60" flat screen TV, especially if you have credit card bills that you can't pay off. I showed the commercial to my wife and she said, "That commercial is wrong on so many levels." I couldn't agree more.
If you have walked near a television, radio, or a general news site, you probably heard that the Mega Millions jackpot for Friday is up to over $500 million. Winning the lottery is always worth some serious coin, but $500 million means you can buy your own sports team right?
How much would you get with $500 million? If you choose to take it as a lump sum instead of a 20-year annuity you'd get about half that amount. Let's call it $275 to err on the generous side of things. Then you'd pay taxes of about 35% on that money. This would leave with around $180 million left to spend. It wouldn't buy you much of a sports franchise. That also assumes that you don't have to split it with one or more other winners. The odds of winning Mega Millions is 1 in 176 million, but with all the attention this lottery is gathering the odds of multiple winners is growing every minute.
Let's go into fantasy world for a minute or two here. What if you did win? What would you do? The very thing that people suggest is to hire an attorney and a darn good accountant. That's sound advice. Hopefully they help navigate on of the bigger questions: Should you take the lump sum or the annuity? That website tells you how you can do the math for your own state's circumstances, but it looks to me that in most cases you are better off with the annuity. Personally, I'd like the annuity option because it forces me to not spend it all on a sports team. The next thing I would do with the $16 million in my first year winnings (after taxes) is buy another annuity that pays out over a longer term, something that will ensure that I'll be covered even after the 20 year lottery winnings. From there, I'd probably need some help in figuring out how to put that money to work for me, especially in making sure that I'm covered with FDIC insurance or something similar in the places I put it. You'd also see me start buying up real estate. There are a lot of foreclosures on the market and putting the cash to work on a few of them could be great investments in the future. This may even include perhaps buying a modest home in Silicon Valley (though it is much cheaper to rent here).
To answer my question in the title, I plan on buying 10 tickets for the lottery tomorrow. Is it a smart move? Nope. Playing the lottery is a tax on those who are mathematically challenged. If you don't believe me, simulate playing Mega Millions here. I just simulated 1,000 tickets and won $79. However, tomorrow is my birthday, so for those who believe in such things, perhaps I'll get a little birthday luck. So what about you? Are you buying a bunch of tickets?
In the past, I've written that I'm not one to celebrate the Sex and the City lifestyle. I have difficulty getting behind paying for a brand name without differentiating functionality behind it. I don't know if it's because I'm overly analytical or if there's something Y-chromosomey about it. I look around at most of the things I own, like say an Element brand flat screen and I am quite happy with its performance for the money. When it comes to fashion though, I have to admit that I don't get it. Maybe, I'm too much of a Maxxinista (wait, is that Maxxinisto for me?).
I'm reminded by this when I see stories about this $1,050 swimsuit that you shouldn't get wet. Let me repeat, over $1000 for a swimsuit that you shouldn't get wet. In my opinion it is also an unattractive swimsuit that will leave an ugly triangle tan-line. Nonetheless, I'm sure there are people with effectively unlimited money that will buy this. That article also gives a nod to the $500 pair of socks that you can't wash as well as the 8-inch high heels, that are hardly suitable for walking. (The toe-shortening surgery that the article is really about is an article for another day.)
I shouldn't pick on women's fashion exclusively though. After all, I could buy dozens and dozens of the swimsuits, socks, and shoes mentioned above for the $250,000 price tag of this Harry Winston watch. The key feature of the watch is, of course, giving you the time in hours and minutes. There appears to be no second hand. When it gets to a new hour, wow, it looks entertaining. Here's a video:
One of the most disappointing aspects of this is that the crazy spending can't even be blamed on the Price-Placebo Effect. People know going in how impractical the items are. They don't do anything better much, much cheaper versions. In fact, in most cases they perform their function quite a bit worse.
It saddens me to see money spent like this. I realize that some people have enough money that purchases like these are insignificant. I can't imagine being such a person without having a bit of guilt. In the back of my mind, I would think, what would the red cross, dog shelter, or Kiva.org do with that $1,000? Am I really going to get more out of watching all 566 parts of a watch fly together to form a number every hour, or knowing that I could have permanent changed the lives of hundreds of people in a third world country.
I love it when a blog post writes itself. I'm that Lazy. For instance, watch this commercial for Public Storage:
I saw this yesterday. Fortunately, through the magic of DVR, I was set it up for my wife to watch. I asked her if she could guess why I wanted her to watch. She said, "But you have dogs playing Blackjack, not poker." (Can I get a frugality award for having a reprint or a knock-off?) Once I gave her the raised eyebrow of "okay be serious", she knew I was going at it from the personal finance perspective... and she nailed exactly what I saw.
Public Storage doesn't solve this couple's problem as it claims. What it really provides is a way to pay a monthly fee or the rest of the their lives (assuming their marriage is forever) to ignore the problem. Is it just me or does this seem like an unusual marketing angle?
I was watching Tech Now this week and the technology show mentioned a scam that's getting the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) attention. I never really cared too much about these scams, because I assumed, like Nigerian princes, people were smart enough to avoid them. However, after realizing that a lot of people are getting scammed by MonaVie, I figured I should write about some other scams when I come across them. It might save some reader a little money someday - and that makes it worthwhile for me. Today's scam in question... iJango.
What is iJango
iJango bills itself as a "Membership Rewards Community." What does that mean? It means that you sign up to earn rewards and recruit other members. I love earning rewards. I even like recruiting other members for things I believe in. However, there's a problem with iJango... if you want to earn rewards for recruiting other members it costs $150, PLUS $20 a month. Tech Now showed this information on their broadcast, but I can't seem to find it on the iJango website. Several links appear to be broken on iJango's website, so maybe they are having some difficulty on their site today. In fact, the Vicky Nguyen of Tech TV says that iJango admits to often having a broken site as they are constantly upgrading.
What Tech Now and the BBB say about iJango
After fielding 3400 inquiries after their August launch, the BBB gave iJango an F rating. While iJango claims to be a Multi-Level Marketing website, the Erin McCool of the Silicon Valley BBB says "they have extreme suspicions about what they are doing."
According to McCool, "People have trouble canceling the service" due to the website's bugs. It's always a bad sign when you get stuck with a $20/mo. bill that you can't get out of.
McCool also said, "We can't shut them down and it's a pain staking policy for the government agencies as well." This is something that has come up in MonaVie discussions a lot. The logic of some distributors is that if they haven't been shut down, it must be legal. Because of the painstaking process, this is simply not true.
What Founder Steve Smith says about iJango being a pyramid scheme
Tech Now caught up with founder Steve Smith and asked him if iJango is a pyramid scheme. His answer was so hiliarious, I've transcribed it below:
SS: It's a little... it's a little... it's a little, different concept because we are bringing customer on who produce revenue for us. TechNow: How do they produce revenue? So you have partners with companies that pay you? SS: Yeah for what they do on... on... shopping... and... online TechNow: Who are those companies? Netflix? I saw you said Netflix... Pricegrabber... are those all companies you have a relationship with? SS: Those are all companies that we have a relationship with. It's probably not even a direct relationship. This development team that we brought on brings us a lot of relationships. So for us it would be a third-party relationship that brings the relationships with these people that help monetize the customers that we bring to the site.
TechNow: How is this NOT a pyramid scam? Make that easy for me. SS: Because we produce revenue from our customers. We get revenue, our customers use their tools and utilities, and we are paid part of that revenue share.
The BBB goes on to say that the relationships with Google, Pricegrabber, and Rhapsody don't exist. Here you could take argument with what the BBB is saying. I'm sure iJango has a relationship with these companies through affiliate programs like FlexOffers and Commission Junction. Founder Steve Smith is misrepresenting the relationship when he flashes a Netflix logo during a presentation as if to say, "These big companies are partnering with us, so you have to believe we are the real deal" instead of "No one at Netflix has ever heard of us."
What iJango Users have to say
When asked about how iJango is paying, Paul Bass, iJango user, said:
They haven't started paying out yet because of the problems with the servers. Even if I was dupped and even if they got my $149... [laughs]... that's not a lot of downside risk... and the upside potential...
That's exactly the kind of attitude that pyramid scams want to hear. A lot of $149 and $20 a month bills add up quickly for companies... especially when they don't really provide a product.
Another user Michelle was interviewed:
TechNow: Can you give me an idea, Michelle of how much money you've made with iJango? Michelle: Absolutely not, that's a private matter.
I suppose it is a private matter, but if it was signfiicant mone, wouldn't she be shouting it from the rooftops?
Why iJango is a scam
By becoming an iJango Community Director, you are basically becoming a salesman for them and their company. You are out there recruiting other people and earning commission on everything that they buy (if they buy anything). You wouldn't pay your own employer to work for them, so why would you pay iJango?
Update: I wasn't aware of iJango's founders' histories. Looks like they've bilked people out of millions before. Check out this iJango Pyramid Scheme story.
I don't know if it's because I wrote about what I considered a MonaVie scam in the past, but yesterday I had a new scam knock on my door twice. It would be understandable if it was related to juice or multi-level marketing... but it's not. And sadly, I feel "victim" to it the first time.
What is the Google Work at Home Scam?
You may see an advertisement on a web-page that says, "Google Pays Me $264.71 a day." I did a search and found such an add at Bucaro tec Help. That site might be a responsible, but the site it leads to A Work From Home Site is not. Open it up in a new window. It looks pretty good, right? Nice information... no sales pitch... nice mother with her child "working" from home... Well, let's look at the story under that Jodi's Story. I didn't read the story too much, but now I see this, "That is the biggest hang up that men have, if they cannot see some tangible evidence then its not real or its a scam." This is a hint to say to the reader, "You may be thinking this is scam, but since I'm telling you it's not, it's not."
At the end of the article you see a "Get Google Money Master Kit Offer" link. Hmmm, that's odd, I know Google has a lot of services out there, but I haven't a Money Master Kit offered by them. Surely Google must offer this though, because otherwise this would be trademark infringement, right? If you click through that, you go to a page on Bskytracking.com - doesn't sound like Google to me. I encourage to give it a click in a new window. There's a form there were you can "check availability" of the program. Why would the program not be available, it's "work from home" after all. They aren't going to run out of classroom space. They can always print up more books. It's neither of these, they want you to think you are special when you fill out the form. For "shiggles", I filled out that form with fake data. For only $1.97 they'd enroll me in some program that's going to show me how to make money with Google. However, the fine print says they are then going to charge you $60/mo. unless you cancel. Do you think it's going to be easy to cancel? Oh and as a free gift, you get enrolled in another program that will charge you $20/mo. unless you cancel. I bet that one is not easy to get away from either.
How was I a "Victim" of the scam as I said in the opening paragraph? A legit-looking advertising company Itsperformance.com contacted me about putting an ad up on Lazy Man and Money to "A Work From Home Site." A couple of months back I took the money and put up the ad. I hadn't clicked into Jodi's story and saw that "A Work From Home Site" is just trying look legit to fool people. It certainly worked on me at the time. I took their money and put up the ad for a month. When they came back this time though, I changed my tune.
What tipped me off this time? I saw that the ad promised "$264.71 a Day from Google"... the "A Work From Home Site" doesn't mention anything about that. So I asked them and they came back with a "Work from Home $264.71 a Day." That's better, but I still didn't see where they were pulling this magic $264.71 a day from. I would expect to see some math or something. At this point, I'm really skeptical. The real clue was looking at their Terms of Service, which included a line of "Before starting any weight loss program, you should consult a physician." in the opening paragraph. Hmmm, is this work at home or weight loss?
In the opening, I said that the scam knocked on my door twice. Well, I received a Tweet from user "Okgblqk" (obviously computer generated), saying "Have you read about Google hiring people from the net now? I read it at www.ajobwithgoogle.com It's Very Interesting!" If you check out A Job with Google, you see that it looks like a legit news site. I can't decide if it looks more like USA Today or New York Times, but I feel I've seen the layout before. Give the site a read and see how obvious the lies are to you:
Google has now officially released their new "work from home" system out to the public. There will be thousand of spots available that are expected to go very soon in the next few days.
The way this works is very simple, Google says.
There's a lot more, but I don't want to spoil the fun.
Almost everyone who creates content on the Internet is afraid of Google. They can make or break businesses in many ways by just de-listing a site. It certainly takes some nerve to infringe on Google trademark like that. I suppose that if Google tries to come after them, they'll shut down the site at that domain and pop up another one.
Is it just me or is getting this twice in the same day a sign that it's going to surpass that Nigerian prince who keeps sending me e-mails about banking transactions?
My wife and I are doing a little apartment shopping. Our place is fine enough, but we thought we might want to add little space... plus the rents have gone down a bit in Silicon Valley and we feel we can get more for our money. I particularly like Craig's List for this purpose because we can cyber-stalk a few places to get an idea of the market.
An interesting thing happened last Saturday night when I did my Craig's List search. A 2600 square foot, 4 bedroom house in Redwood City came up at $1700. This is in contrast to the two bedroom, 1100 sq. ft. place we have now at $2075 a month. The advertisement was simply too good to be true. Nonetheless, I figure it can't hurt to ask. Here's the response I got:
Thank you for contacting us about the property. The property is still available as of now. We are trying to find a tenant for this property ASAP, first-come-first-serve basis. Move-in date is negotiable.
We are a group of real estate investors. We have many rental properties available with great lease term. In order to handle large amount of inquiries as quickly as possible, we ask you to follow our process.
We only deal with possible tenants who can provide us with their own credit report. We have learned over the years that by doing some pre-screening up front we save great deal of time. This is how we can offer you lower than market rent and still be able to profit. We think this is a win-win for all parties involved. You will not be disqualified as long as you don't have any major real estate related problem on your credit report.
If you already have a recent report we may be able accept that, as long as it contains the information that we are looking for. It has to be taken within the last 30 days (no exception there) from a reputable company. Otherwise please go to our investor tools page at http://www.dsproperties.info/4694.html and follow the credit report link there. We prefer their report and it will process fastest with us. They have free trial.
Contact us back only after you obtained the actual report. Be sure to include the ID below in your follow-ups. Then we'll have the investor in charge of this property contact you. You are to bring the credit report and the rental application (which is also on the investor tools page) directly to the investor at the time of showing. Do not email or mail sensitive information for privacy/security reason.
Can you spot the scam? If you are a personal finance blogger, I bet you can. If you go to the link they provide, they are an affiliate for FreeCreditReport.com. That means that they earn a few bucks from everyone they can convince to sign up and join the service. How can FreeCreditReport.com offer this? In order to get your "free" credit report, you have to agree to sign up for some services at a monthly fee. If you are on top of things, you can cancel the services right away... but there's enough people who let it slip to make it profitable. It's a little bit like rebate breakage in that way.
I wrote them back with my Credit Karma score (which really is free - no strings attached). Funny, but they didn't respond to me. It's probably because the deal that was too good to be true actually was.
Sometimes I have an idea for a particular article and I have think twice, before broaching the topic. Today, I thought about it four times. What kind of ungrateful turd I must be to talk about getting bad gifts! I firmly believe in not looking a gift horse in the mouth. Still, we have gotten a collection of gifts over time that have lead to more stress than if we hadn't gotten the gift at all. With Christmas coming before you know it, I thought I'd share with you these gift-giving traps and the lesson I've learned for the gifts I give out.
Before we get started, you should know that my wife comes from an Irish Catholic family. Apparently there's some kind of tradition that says you must display every gift you've ever gotten. If the gift-giver comes by to visit and doesn't see you using, displaying, wearing the gift you might as well attacked their mother with a tire iron.
The Gift That Keeps on Taking - We once got a very nice print of a place that is near and dear to our hearts. Sadly, we already had an extremely similar print from a slightly different angle. I give the gift-giver a pass on knowing that we already had the similar print - I can't remember if we had it displayed at the time. Two hundred dollars in framing cost later, we had something that was very much what we had before. A $50 gift ended up costing us $200.
The Gift That Can't be Returned - Our friend actually received this gift. It was an engraved picture frame. Whether it suits your sense of style or not, you are going to have that forever. You can't put it on Ebay. At least the picture frame is timeless. Woe be the person who receives an engraved iPod. If you want to sell the old one and upgrade in a few years, you've got a bit of a problem.
The Figurine Or Anything from the Hallmark Store - Someday, you'll read about an arson at a Hallmark store, and you'll wonder where my wife was at the time. As a Patriots fan, I'd like to build a time machine and go back to stop Archie Manning from procreating... well, she'd take the time machine and stop the Hallmark store from ever existing. The biggest complaint we have here is that the items perform no function. They may look cute, but we'd rather have a minimalist design. After awhile you just get to a point where you have too many things to display.
Assuming That You Like Something - I don't know how to explain this other than to tell a story of a grade school friend of mine. He got a Garfield stuffed animal when he was little. Someone else saw it, said, "He must like Garfield. I'll get him a poster." Now he had a poster and a stuffed animal. Fast forward two years and he's go at least 15 Garfield things around his room. I said to John, "I can't believe I didn't know you liked Garfield this much." He replied, "I don't." Similar thing happened to me when I made an off-hand comment about how ridiculous it is that Bananas in Pyjamas is making someone rich. One joke gift lead to 4 people getting me Bananas in Pyjamas in a quick two years.
The Misplaced Gift - This is a rare one and I wondered if we are one of the few people who suffer it until I heard a friend mention it the other day. We have relative who got us this beautiful set of stoneware dishes. Awesome, we love them. The relative had the company ship it to her home in Massachusetts and she gave them to us when we were there. The problem is that we live in California. It costs almost as much ship the item as it cost to buy to the first place. Wouldn't you have just shipped the gift to the person's house? In this case, I guess not.
I really don't mean to bitch here. I know how that's how it's going to come out. However, if it really is the thought that counts, it would be nice if people put a little more thought first. That said, here are a few more tips:
Use Registries - If someone has a registry set up use it. My mother-in-law would sooner punch a baby in the face that use a registry because she feels it's impersonal. It's why the gift giver goes through the work of creating one. It's better than the alternative.
Use Gift Cards - I've mentioned before that there's a reason why I buy people gift cards. This is one of them. Yes, they have their drawback from good old cash, but they are still better than risking any of the mishaps above. The only exception is getting a gift card to the Hallmark store - it's just asking to be re-gifted. Consider Amazon gift cards. If your giftee can't find something to buy from Amazon, that person is plain weird.
Give Something Consumable - I think some of the best gifts we've gotten are wine, dinner gift certificates, tickets, etc. I like to call these, "experience gifts", though they must have a better name. You have fun, create a memory, don't have to display something in your home. It's fantastic all around.
What do you think? Please share your own bad gift story in the comments so I don't look like the biggest excrement tunnel in the world.
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