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:

Phones:

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:

  • Sky Scanner
    • A friend of mine recently referred me to this website for air travel comparison. It’s phenomenal and does a better job than Expedia, etc since it queries Southwest alongside the other major carriers.

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 signed up for their advising services as part of a free advising trial they offer and I was appalled at the asset allocation they dumped him into. They put 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.

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, a dedicated CPU, 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.
  • 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.

 

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4 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

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