Things I Like

Groceries & Retail:

  • Costco
    • We get 2% cash back through our executive membership. Executive membership costs $120 vs the normal $60, but we spend more than enough to pay for the entire $120 membership fee, let alone the $60 executive premium ($60/0.02=$3k to break even on executive upgrade; $6k to break even on entire membership). If you become an executive member and don’t get at least $60 back, you can ask them to refund the difference. This is by far my favorite store on the planet.
      • Here’s my tutorial on how to shop like a pro there (link).
  • Amazon:
    • What we don’t buy at Costco we get at Amazon. Amazon pricing is very dynamic and volatile. If you can be patient, set a price alert at Camel Camel Camel and have them email you when the price drops. I’ve saved at least a grand using this tool over the years.
    • You can share prime benefits with one other adult. Fine print here and here.
      • The catch is that the credit card of the secondary credit card user will be available as a payment option to the primary account holder. Amazon does this to prevent random strangers from sharing account benefits. However, purchase history, account login, etc. remain as if you had a single account.

Tech stuff:

  • Favorite Chrome plugins:
    • uBlock Origin ad blocker (link).
    • Sound Control Plus (link).
      • Enables me to listen to endless Pandora and mutes the adds for me.
    • Lastpass (link).
      • Free password manager with 2-step authentication enabled. Not the most user friendly.
  • RSS Readers:
    • Since Google Reader bit the dust, I’ve used feedly.com. Here’s my tutorial on how to do so (link). Being able to efficiently use RSS feeds is a superpower you’d be crazy not to utilize.

Phones:

  • For the past decade, we’ve paid no more than $1/month per phone. I document how we do so here: https://frugalprofessor.com/phones
    • We recently transitioned to Xfinity mobile. It’s $12/month for Unlimited talk/text up to 5 lines. The catch is $12/GB per data so simply use wifi and enjoy a fantastic plan on Verizon’s network. My review is here (link).

Internet:

  • You don’t need super fast internet. You need a decent router placed in an unobstructed centralized location. We have a Google Onhub Router which has some nice parental control features (i.e. no internet past 9pm for kids).
  • For a 5-year period in grad school we had 2Mbps internet. 2Mbps was sufficient for remote access to my school computers for research, VOIP, videoconferencing, and streaming 720p video. In other words, 2Mbps is good enough for most people.

Insurance:

  • I use Geico for car insurance, but shop around.
  • I use Esurance for homeowner’s insurance, but shop around. Quotes on our annual premiums ranged from $600-$2600/year for the same coverage. I could not believe it.
  • Self insurance through high deductible plans is the way to go. I don’t carry comprehensive insurance on my sedan. I carry high deductible insurance on our van. We carry very high deductible ($10k) on homeowner’s insurance.

Investing:

  • Vanguard is the pioneer in low-cost investing, but other firms have responded by offering low-cost funds. As a result, Fidelity, Schwab, etc. have competitively priced index funds that can compete fine with Vanguard’s. You really can’t go wrong with any of these brokerages, provided you chose a low-cost index fund. For a domestic index fund, expect to pay about 0.05% in fees. For an international index fund, expect to pay about 0.15% in fees.
  • DIY investment strategy:
    • Three Fund Portfolio.
    • Or pick a target retirement fund (link) and forget about it (though these often times have slightly higher fees which is why I avoid them).

Books:

  • If You Can. Summary: Be frugal and invest in index funds for the long run. It’s really, really, really well written. Read it. It’s short (14 pages). Do it now. Reread it until you understand the meaning of every paragraph. Each paragraph is packed with meaning and intent.)
  • Little Book of Common Sense Investing. Summary: Invest in index funds for the long run.
  • Millionaire Next Door. Summary: Millionaires are frugal.
  • Richest man in Babylon. Summary: Educate yourself, spend little, invest wisely.
  • Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Summary: Simplify your life by keeping only those possessions in life that bring you joy.
  • My “book”, which is a brain dump on how to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over your lifetime.

Blogs:

Podcasts (Podcasts make your brain grow):

Credit Cards:

Banking:

  • For years I banked with Ally and was relatively happy with them, though I grew tired of the 6/month transaction limit. I have since moved all of my banking to Fidelity and love it: https://frugalprofessor.com/cash-management/
    • I keep $5 in a checking account at a local credit union in the rare event that I need to deposit cash (which is subsequently transferred to Fidelity).

Identity protection:

  • Paying for credit monitoring is a mistake. The much better, and secure, option is to place credit freezes on your accounts through all three credit bureaus. Here are the links to do so:
  • Get rid pre-approved credit card solicitations in the mail (link).

Travel:

  • We’ve had great success with VRBO and Home Away for reasonably priced vacation rentals. We recently went to Disneyworld and had a great stay in a VRBO property inside of Disneyworld’s property.

Air Travel:

Online Money Management:

  • Personal Capital
    • Note that if you sign up for Personal Capital, they will call you and ask if you want to use their financial planners for a 1% fee. To avoid bothersome calls, I give them a phone number I don’t check and an email address I don’t use.
    • If you sign up with the above link, both you and I get a $20 amazon credit.
    • While I love their tools, I’m convinced they give overpriced and crappy financial advice.
      • A friend of mine deviated from the above advice and signed up for their advising services anyway. I was appalled at the asset allocation they dumped him into. They dumped him in dozens of individual securities rather than simple index funds. To unwind the dozens of positions, my friend had to incur non-trivial capital gains taxes. This is insanity.
    • Yodlee & Mint are decent substitutes but PC really excels in its investment analytics.

Kid Stuff:

Blogging:

  • When I first started blogging, I used Bluehost. They were fine but the performance wasn’t great and the renewal price was steep (intro offer of $3/month went to renewal price of $8/month). A few years into blogging I transitioned to a $5/month DigitalOcean VPS droplet, which gives me 25GB of SSD storage and 1GB of RAM. At the time of this writing, Linode and Vultr are similarly-priced competitors worth checking out as well. They are all pretty similar from what I understand. Dealing with a VPS is a bit intimidating at the beginning, but the one-click WordPress installation does the heavy lifting. Since transitioning from Bluehost to DigitalOcean, my load times were reduced by more than 50%.
    • A warning about DigitalOcean: you’re on your own. You have to maintain your own backups, etc. If the site crashes, it’s on you to fix it.
    • Even with the above caveat, I’d recommend first time bloggers to start with the VPS. The hardest part for me, by FAR, was learning how to migrate an existing site from Bluehost to DigitalOcean and not botching the transferring of the DNS, wp-admin, etc. Had I started from day 1 on the VPS, life would have been much simpler.
  • I use a free Cloudflare CDN because self-instruction told me to do so. Seems like a smart idea. Easy enough to implement.
  • I use the GeneratePress theme and love it.
  • I use Google Domains for domain name registration. $12/year with privacy included. I love the simple interface.
  • I paid a one-time $50 for the premium version of the WP Fastest Cache plugin. I like it.
  • I use the free version of Smush to compress images. I should probably compress before uploading to WordPress but am generally too lazy to do so.

Clothing:

  • Best dress shirt on the planet for a skinny dude (link). The Milano cut is a great fit for skinny/athletic dudes. Iron free, of course. I buy them on Black Friday / Cyber Monday for something like $50/piece. Horrible, I know, but better than the alternative of wearing a sumo outfit every day. I went though hell trying to find the perfect dress shirt. Costco is among the many stores that failed me.
  • These are my go-to dress pants (link). No iron. Nice.
  • The most comfortable pair of shoes I’ve ever worn (link). I wear these daily.

Totally Random Misc:

  • We use bidets (link). I’m baffled that we don’t use these things in the U.S. We have the Luxe Bidet Neo 185 model, but they all seem pretty similar.
  • My favorite watch (link).
    • Casio G-Schock, solar, atomic, simple, indestructible.
      • The atomic features is particularly helpful on new year’s eve, when I loudly count down my own atomic time that is fifteen seconds ahead of the TV broadcast countdown.
    • The non-solar non-atomic version is here for about half price (link). I’ve owned a few of these before I upgraded to the solar version. Having had both, I’d recommend the solar & atomic. They are great features.
  • Two of my daughters wear these Miraflex frames (link). They are a life saver. When my oldest got her first pair of glasses, she broke two pairs within the first week (head-to-head collisions with siblings). A week later a friend told us about Miraflex frames, and we’ve been fanatical customers ever since. The model we’ve had for years is the rectangular “new baby” model, which comes in a variety of sizes and colors. We’d be lost, and much poorer, without these glasses.
    • We also tried these frames from Zenni Optical which is also great cheaper option for those with very young kids. Same basic idea as Miraflex at a fraction of the cost. Something like $35 shipped for us (link).
  • Decades ago a dentist recommended a particular flossing tool to me and I love it (link). I’ve tried others and this is my favorite. Here’s a horrifically boring video of the product, but it gives you a glimpse of it in action (link).
    • Speaking of dental hygene, I like this water pick a lot (link). It has measurably improved our gum health.
      • The sink version is what we use several times a day because it’s a lot less cumbersome than hopping in the shower every time you need to floss.
  • I use a minimalist rubber-band wallet (link). Perfect for carrying the few cards I need: driver’s license, credit card, etc.
  • ReelGood is a website that allows for cross-platform searching of movies available and allows you to apply filters such as a minimum IMDB filter of 8.0.
  • We have used an electric pressure cooker for about a decade now (link). We primarily cook black beans or lentils in the thing. Dry black beans and brown rice cost nothing, and this is one of things we do to keep our food costs low.
  • We do a lot of dishes (a load a day) and for the longest time we would systematically sort utensils and dump them into the corresponding drawer. Then I had an epiphany that we should dump them all in a cup like this one from Ikea. Who knows why it took me over 30 years to figure out this life hack.
  • Innova “factory second” disc golf discs here (link).
    • Buy 10 and get 20% off. Free shipping over $75. Works out to $8.80/disc for their top-tier “champion” plastic.
    • This is a pretty handy tool to compare flight paths of different discs (link). You may filter by manufacturer.
    • There are surely many free and great disc golf courses by your house. Google “disc golf near me” to find out where. Such a fun an addictive hobby, particularly with a good group of friends. I prefer this a million times to real golf, a sport I grew up playing.

 

YouTube Channels:

I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that YouTube is the future of streaming entertainment, easily surpassing network television and maybe even paid streaming platforms (Netflix/Hulu/etc). Here’s a list of YouTube channels I follow:

  •  Climbing/Outdoor:
    • Adam Ondra
      • Best climber in the world. Super high production value.
    • Mediocre Ameature
      • Some dudes based out of Orem UT who do some pretty adventurous stuff. Probably my favorite YouTube channel.
    • Beau Miles
      • A really adventurous Australian dude who documents his crazy adventures. Probably my second favorite YouTube channel.
    • How Not to Highline
      • A dude who tests climbing gear to failure.
  • Exploring Alternatives
    • Really high production value channel that interviews people living alternative lifestyles (i.e. those not living in McMansions).
  • Last Week Tonight
    • John Oliver is brilliant.
  • Mark Rober
    • Former NASA/Apple mechanical engineer who makes videos about extreme science experiments. He graduated from my undergrad ME program about a year ahead of me.
  • Rob Greenfield
    • Earth loving hippie dude who I find to be pretty entertaining and educational.
  • Flying:
    • Mike Patey
    • SoCal Flying Monkey
      • A father of two based out of LA who got a pilot’s license and takes his family on fun excursions. It makes me irrationally want to buy a plane. A colleague of mine did this. I thought he was crazy until I watched this channel.
    • Trent Palmer
      • A professional drone pilot based out of Carson City NV who flies planes for fun.
  • Kid stuff:
    • Jelle’s Marble Runs
      • Pretty intricate marble racing with hilarious commentary. My kids love this channel. I first learned about this channel through John Oliver when he announced that This Week Tonight was becoming their first sponsor.
    • Dude Perfect
      • Five dudes from Texas who produce hilarious content for kids. I resented them for about a year because I was envious of their jobs, but I’ve grown past that. I’ve proposed some brothers in law to start a channel called “brother in law perfect” but nobody has taken me up on the offer and quit their day jobs yet.

 

The above is a 90-minute lecture I share with my students every year. Perhaps you may find it helpful.

 

Disclaimer:
This site is for entertainment purposes only, as disclosed here: https://frugalprofessor.com/disclaimers/

13 thoughts on “Things I Like”

    • It was on sale for $150 when I bought it without ads ($200 without sale) and available for everyone. You’re correct that the ad-based version ($150 without sale) is limited to Prime users. I still think it’s a bargain of a phone with or without the sale, but it’s the Ringplus service which makes it (or frankly any Sprint-compatible phone) an absolute no-brainer.

      Reply
  1. Hey FP,
    Can you do a write up on how and why you chose fit it? Was hoping to find it here. I just use my android phone now for walking and my Garmin bike computer when I road bike. Want to see whether a fit bit is worth it.

    Reply
    • My brother had the same model and I was impressed with it, so I bought it. It was only $90 on sale. Not sure how long it will last, but I’m pleased so far despite the fact that it’s a lousy watch.

      Relative to a phone, a fitbit will give you: sleep statistics and heart rate analytics. I thought those two features were worth the $90 relative to a biking or fitness app on a phone.

      Reply
  2. Thanks! Can you share the model, I will wait and see if I can get a good deal on it in the upcoming months (black friday). After reading “Why we sleep” I now understand the importance of a good sleep.

    Reply
  3. Fitbit Charge4 is avalible at Walmart for $69 now. I grabbed one. Charge 5 is out but Charge 4 is well liked! Got 3 year protection for 8 bucks, maybe I am violating my own rules about getting warranty, but as I am planning to wear this all the time, decided to buy it.

    Reply
    • Best of luck. I’m growing skeptical of the Charge 4’s longevity. Mrs FP’s broke but FitBit replaced it through warranty.

      Good luck! It’s a nice device when it works.

      Reply

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