Posted: 19 Sep 2011 01:00 PM PDT
Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar's Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I'm going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Erica said, I’ve been grinding my own coffee for years. I usually grind enough for a few days at once, then just use that and grind again. Recently, my mother-in-law got one of those Senseo pots with the small coffee packs that make it really easy to make a cup. The coffee was pretty good (good enough for me!) so I’m wondering how it compares price-wise with grinding your own coffee.
This is almost exactly the same question that Sarah (my wife) was thinking about recently after visiting some of our extended family. My cousin had a Senseo (or some similar brand) and Sarah liked the coffee it made and the convenience of it. Sarah also grinds her own coffee.
So, to run the numbers, I asked Sarah for help. I had her choose the usual kind of whole-bean coffee that she buys (Eight O’Clock Coffee in bulk at Sam’s Club) and grind it up. She calculated that 0.25 ounces of ground coffee is enough for her to fill up her coffee cup. She can get forty ounces of coffee for $18, so this gives her a cost per cup of about $0.11 for just the coffee.
Obviously, if you were starting from scratch, you would have to pro-rate the cost of the coffee grinder (she uses this one, which costs $19) and the cost of the coffee pot (she uses a small inexpensive one that cost her about $10) and the filters (about $0.01 per cup if you buy in bulk). I would estimate that her final cost per cup using her current setup is about $0.13.
Now, what about Senseo?
For the maker itself, the best bargain I could find on Amazon was this one for $65. I’m sure they can be found a little cheaper by shopping around, perhaps as low as $50.
What about the coffee pods? Again, from Amazon, you can get 96 Senseo pods for $24.73. That’s almost exactly $0.25 per pod.
If you used the Senseo machine 5,000 times, you’d prorate the cost of the pot down to $0.01 per use, giving you a cost of $0.26 per cup with the Senseo.
To put it simply, grinding your own coffee is almost exactly half the price of using pods. If you’re much of a coffee drinker, this is a matter of saving dollars, not cents.
Of course, there is the question of convenience when you’re looking at things like this. Senseo pods are more convenient than grinding and using your own coffee.
I had Sarah time herself with coffee pot setup and grinding that she would do in a week and it worked out to seven minutes. Assuming she’s saving $0.13 per cup over Senseo and she’s drinking two cups a day, she’s saving $1.82 for seven minutes of effort, or an hourly savings of $15.60.
Sarah is going to stick with her usual plan of grinding coffee for her morning caffeine fix. Unless those seven minutes a week are vital to you, I recommend the same.
Posted: 19 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT
What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
On most days, I’m doing the job of getting the kids out of bed and getting them ready for school and preschool solo. Wake all three of them up. Get them dressed (with different levels of assistance depending on their ages). Feed them a balanced breakfast. Help them find their shoes. Help them find their backpacks. Check the weather and dress them appropriately in terms of clothes and shoes and jackets.
It’s a good hour of chaos.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Q1: Self employment and taxes
Typically, you can’t deduct expenses for education for a future job. Usually, you’re limited to expenses for education for a current job. I think that, since you’re working as a dance instructor now, you may be able to deduct some expenses for the class.
You may be eligible for some combination of the Hope tax credit and the Lifetime Learning tax credit. This IRS document will help walk you through that.
My honest suggestion? Do your taxes using a good tax software such as TurboTax or take your information to a tax preparer.
Q2: Macs, PCs, and frugality
My experience has been that people often choose their computing platform (Mac, Windows, Linux) due to a number of factors, some of which include compatibility with what their office uses and what their associates use. If you’re networking computers in an office that’s primarily Macs, it can be a headache to bring in a PC.
Because this is a complicated decision, I usually encourage people to stick with the platform that they’re with for their primary computers. If everyone around you uses PCs, use a PC. If everyone around you uses a Mac, use a Mac.
In both cases, there are certainly a lot of ways to shave the expenses involved, but often the fundamental choice of platform is simply written in stone.
Q3: Can’t stand frugal apartment
Here is our issue: We picked our current second floor apartment (850 sq feet, 2 bed, 1 bath) to save some money. It was a frugal pre-job place which I hate and am absolutely miserable. The kitchen is tiny (and our exit/entrance), no closets, and no space for our two elderly dogs. I am pregnant with our second child so we’ll have to move again. This time I want to move into something significantly more spacious which would our rent to 1500 – 1800 without utilities. My husband and I regularly argue about our expectations for the future apartment. He wants to keep saving the extra money and is concerned about our increasing daycare expenses. I don’t think saving money like this is worth how unhappy our current living situation is making me. At what point is being frugal not worth it?
For me, the point at which frugality isn’t worth it is when it makes your current situation less joyful than not having whatever it is you are saving for.
So, let’s say I’m trying to decide whether or not I should buy a certain book. Which would make me sadder: not having this book or not having the house in the country that Sarah and I have dreamed about? Almost always, it’s not having the house, so I can put that book back without qualms (and usually just head to the library).
I can’t say whether or not you’re in that kind of situation with your apartment. It sounds like you might be and your spouse is not. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to talk it through, perhaps with the aid of counseling.
Q4: Buying a “forever” home
Question is: What do you think of this plan? Do you think this is feasible? Why or why not?
It seems like a reasonable plan to me, especially since a friend of mine is essentially doing exactly this.
The one suggestion I might make is to consider living in a trailer or something like that on the land for the first little while. Again, I know people who have essentially done this, mostly because they were really hands-on in the building of their home. They spent the time to serve as their own general contractor and they were on site every day.
I’d just make sure that you have a big emergency fund before you dive into all of this, but it sounds like you have that covered.
Q5: Prenatal college savings
I did this exact same thing for each of my children.
It’s simple. Just sign up for a 529 college savings plan with you as the beneficiary and start contributing. When the child is born, change the beneficiary information to the child. As long as you haven’t contributed thousands of dollars between conception and birth, there should be no tax implications to this.
You’ll probably want to look at the 529 plans offered by each state. I use College Savings Iowa, which has investments backed by Vanguard and is easy to use.
Q6: A major hobby “leak”
My advice is to figure out what it is about this hobby that you enjoy. Do you enjoy painting the figures? Do you enjoy planning the armies? Do you enjoy the actual gameplay?
When you figure out what it is that you actually love, focus in on that and toss the rest aside.
It took me a long time to figure this out about my hobbies and when I did, they all became more enjoyable and less expensive.
Q7: Balancing hobby and spouse time
Do what Sarah and I do: set some nights as “hobby” nights and set other nights as “together” nights.
I’ll spend some nights during a given week playing games with my friends, reading a book, or painting. Sarah will spend some nights crocheting or reading. Some nights each week, though, we spend time together watching a movie or playing a game together.
For us, it’s good to have a balance of both.
Q8: Investing after college
I have been following the advice on your blog by setting up a budget and planning a debt snowball once I start my full time job. I will be contributing 8% of my salary to my 401(k) right away (100% employer match for the first 4%, 50% match on the next 4%), and according to my budget, I can have all three of my loans payed off in full four years from my start date ($10,000 @ 4.16%, $20,000 @ 5%, $3,000 @ 5%. First payments aren’t due on the latter two until December and March, respectively, but I’ve knocked $5,000 combined off the principal already) by using a debt snowball. That four years increases to six if I were to move out of my moms house and get an apartment closer to work (currently an hour drive each way).
My question is this: The company I will be working for also offers a Capital Accumulation Plan (CAP) with a 100% employer match on the first 3% of my salary I contribute. Should I start contributing to this retirement plan right away as well, thus increasing the amount of time I am paying off my loans, or would the better investment be to pay my loans off first?
I would absolutely take advantage of this right off the bat. Whenever an employer offers that much of a match, you’re essentially looking at extra salary that you should be taking advantage of.
Yes, it might increase your loan payoff time by several months, but you’re essentially getting 6% of your salary at the expense of 3%. You’re doubling your money there, and that’s something you won’t do with the debt payments.
Another option to consider, if you really don’t feel right about that, is to contribute 3% less to your 401(k) at first and move that 3% to the CAP. Then, when your debts are paid off, bump up your 401(k) to the full 8%. This way, you’re maximizing the matching funds from your employer.
Q9: Earn money through social media
Usually, you’re not going to get offered a job in social media unless you can demonstrate an ability to accumulate Facebook fans and/or Twitter followers. You’ve got to show you can do this before anyone will pay you to do it.
Thus, your first step is to get involved. Create a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page for some specific interest that you have and try to stir up followers. To do that, you’ll have to learn how social media really works.
It will take time and it won’t be easy, but it’s something you can do in your spare time. If you really figure it out, though, you’ll become far more marketable than before.
Q10: Starting over with the piano
However, I am having a couple of problems.
If you’re looking to learn from a book, I would start with something like Alfred’s Teach Yourself to Play Piano. Work through those, then move on to other Alfred books.
I particularly find value in finger exercises, as the real challenge for me is just the finger memory – intuitively knowing where my finger should go when I see a note on the page. I can figure it out, but just knowing it cold is still elusive for me.
As for finding sheet music, I recommend using Musicnotes, which is basically the music store you describe in your email, except online. The prices are pretty good, and you just print the music on your printer.
Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I'll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.
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