Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Day

I filed my taxes a few days ago, but today seems like an appropriate time to talk about them.

Because I had imputed income this year, I new that I would be owing taxes and estimated the amount to be $150 a month or $1,800 a year combined for Fed and State.

Unfortunately my estimates were a bit off. Due to dividends and capital gains I ended up owing $2,245 - almost $450 more then I thought. Ouch.

I also calculated that my average tax rate based on total taxes owed/AGI was 16.6% for Fed and 5.9% for State, or 22.5% combined. Because I didn't buy a house or a car the tax stimulous had almost no effect on me. Come to think of it, I don't believe I even know anyone that the stimulous helped...

Additionally, because I owed the Fed more than $1,000 I might owe a small penalty. I never new that rule existed, but I probably should have did more tax research knowing that I had imputed income. Sigh. Why is the tax code so complicated?

I hope everyone is planning on getting your taxes in - otherwise you could face big fines for filing late.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Zipline in SF

There is a temporary zipline in the plaza across from the Ferry Building!?!?

Yes, it is a collaberation between ziptrek and the British Columbia tourist industry. And the best part? It's free!

So of course I couldn't pass up the chance for free fun.

I got a little lucky in that the cloudy weather kept the throngs of people away and I only had to wait in line for 5 minutes to get my wrist band. Other people have reported waiting for an hour or more - some couldn't get a wrist band at all because they had already given them all away. To be safe, if you want to zipline, it's best to get there early.

So how was it? Awesome. After signing a waiver, they get you in a haness and helmet. From there you get to climb to the top of a 150 foot tower and clip on to the line. Once you're safely and securely cliped in, just lean back and off you go - 20 seconds and 600 feet later you land at the other side of the plaza.

It is a ton of fun, I spread my arms like I was flying, laid back horizontal, spun around and even got partially upside down. I don't think 20 seconds has ever gone by so fast before!

If you're in the area and have some free time, I would definitely recomend you take a ride down the zipline while it's still here. It's only here until the end of the week so don't wait too long.

It's fun, adventurous, thrilling and free! It's also a great promotion for BC, which I now kind of want to go visit - I've always heard good things about Vancuver.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Health Care Reimbursement Account

This year I opened a health care reimbursement account for the first time. These accounts let you pay for health care expenses such as doctor visits, dentist and eye care expenses with pretax dollars.

This is my first time with an HCR account so I started with a modest amount - $260 or $10 per pay period.

After enrolling I received what is esentially a debit card with a $260 balance that you use to pay for an allowable medical expenses. Each plan has different allowable expenses, so if this is something you are considering check with your HR department and read the literature they have available.

Because you pay pretax a HCR can be a great way to reduce the cost of medical expenses - so long as you can make a reasonable prediction of your yearly medical expenses. However, HCR plans are use it or lose it style plans, so if you don't spend as much as you thought you were going to there is no way to get the money back. This can also lead to people getting a lot of optional things (prescrition sunglasses, extra boxes of contacts, preemptive wisdom teeth extraction etc) in December rather then just lose the money.

I used it for the first time yesterday, charging a $20 co pay for an eye exam so I have roughly 7 and a half months to use the remaining $240 or I'll be one of those people ordering things I don't really need just so I don't completely lose the money I paid into the account.

Does anyone have more experience with a HCR account, or have any good tips for what to spend the money on if you have extra at the end of the year?

Opening Day

Baseball started this week. It may be 2 months early, but for me this is the unofficial beginning of summer. As usual there were some major player movements this year: Halliday to the Phillies, Lee to Seattle, Holliday resigning with St Louis, Bay to the Mets, Lackey to Boston - what does it all mean, if anything?

Here's how I see things.

AL East: Yankees - simply too much talent not to win

AL Central: Twins - the loss of Nathan won't be as bad as a lot of people think.

AL West: Angels - Scioscia still has enough guys to get them past trendy pick Seattle and into the playoffs.

Wildcard: Boston - they should have tremendous pitching and an offense that's good enough to get them past the Rays for the wild card.

NL East: Phillies - should we give Halliday the Cy Young now or do we have to wait until the end of the year?

NL Central: Cardinals - Pujols and Holliday back to back, wow. In a weak division that should be more than enough, never mind they have good pitching.

NL West: Diamondbacks - This was the hardest division for me to pick but I'm going with the Dbacks on the theory that Webb and Haren will be healthy (two big assumptions) and some of that young talent will flourish. I’d like to pick the Giants as the home team, but I don’t think they have enough offense to get it done.

NL Wildcard: Braves - the Braves always have solid pitching and Hayword will give them enough offense to grab the wildcard.

ALCS: Yankees vs Boston - I like Boston's better rotation in a head to head series.

NLCS: Phillies vs St Louis - again, I'm going with St Louis because of the better pitching depth. I'll be the first to admit there is no one outside of Linsicum that matches up with Halliday though.

World Series: Boston vs St Louis ala 2007 with Boston winning in 6 games, again relying on their pitching.

Now I get to sit back and watch as the baseball gods make a mockery out of my predictions.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter deals

I love Easter. Spending time with friends and family, the food, the drink, the good cheer - not to mention the candy.

I also love the day after Easter, aka the day everything goes half off. Stores don't want to clog their shelves with candy for a holiday that won't be back for another 364 days, so they mark everything 50% off and blow out the inventory. I went to Walgreens around 1:00 in the afternoon Monday and already the selection was pretty thin. Most of the good candy (aka the chocolate covered marshmallow bunnies and eggs) were all gone but I was able to score bags of M&M's and a few other goodies as well as an egg dyeing kit that was only $0.50 for some fun later in the year.

Did anyone find any especially good deals this year?

I'm sad to report but I experimented with a new candy this year, the brand new chocolate covered marshmallow peep, from who else but peeps. It was truly awful. The marshmallow was yellow, tasted funny and was oozing a weird sticky sap. I very much doubt I'll ever buy another one of those peep chocolate marshmallow monstrosities again. From a company that makes a marshmallow candy covered in sugar that has a nearly infinite shelf life, I wasn't sure what to expect but I was expecting something much better then what I got. That's a giant fail for you peeps.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

brand name vs store label: oatmeal

I like to start my day with warm oatmeal with brown sugar. It warms me up, fills me up, tastes good and is fairly nutritious.

As this is something I consume regularly I want to maximize the trade off between price and taste so that I am getting the best possible value. I tested the brand name oats (quaker oatmeal) and the store brand (safeway).

Shelf price:
Quaker Oats - $5.49 for 42 onces or 13 cents an once
Safeway - $3.99 for 42 onces or 9.5 cents an once.

The taste of both were pretty similar, especialy after the brown sugar was added - which makes sense as oatmeal is basicly a commoddity product.

Here is where things got a little interesting. The Safeway oats seemed to be smaller and have more oat dust/powder/residue vs the Quaker Oats and this seemed to give the Safeway oatmeal a more pasty texture. Adding more water seemed to take care of the issue, but it took some getting used to.


The brand name and store brand are very close. I slightly prefer the Quaker Oats, but not $1.50 more. However, Safeway often runs buy one get one free specials on Quaker Oats making them cheaper then the Safeway brand so the best strategy for me is to look out for these specials and pounce when I see them. Even better would be if I could find a coupon to combine with the sale! I've also noticed that walgreens has occasional sales on oatmeal, so I'll have to keep an eye out to see how much they are charging.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gen Y Marketing

There is a marketing survey of sorts making it's rounds on the internet how Gen Y is different than previous generations. Here is my take.

I do have cable, but only basic. This is augmented by dvd's from netflix and watching tv online. Considering there are only 4 or 5 shows worth watching, I don't think I'm missing much.

I don’t have a landline telephone. In fact, with the exception of work and calling my family on occasion, I don’t speak on the phone much at all.

I do text, a lot. If there were a plan offering unlimited text but pay extra to talk, instead of the current unlimited talk and pay extra to text phone plans, I would sign up immediately.

I do listened to the radio, but only for about 5 minutes in the morning. I do use pandora to listen to music at work though.

I don’t read a physical newspaper or magazines. Sadly, people give me magazine subscriptions and they just sit on the table unread. Even when I'm interested in the subject material, I have little desire to read the magazine.

I do read books though, and they are usually bought from Amazon.

I don’t ever text in for special offers/promotions, I'm worried it's a scam and I'll get charged or my number will get put on some list and I'll start getting text from them. I don't want either of those things.

I don’t try a new restaurant/salon/bar without reading the reviews on Yelp, and if the reviews aren't good I won't go.

I don’t play games on corporate/brand websites, really, why would someone do that? They make you register with all sorts of personal info and contact information so they can spam you forever and then after all that the games usually suck anyway. No thanks.

I don’t buy full albums of music, even on iTunes. Sometimes I get a CD as a gift but I really have no idea when the last time I bought an entire full length CD was - 10 years ago maybe?

I don’t carry much cash, usually less than $40. I put everything on my credit card. Why carry around a bulky wad of paper (linen more accurately) bills when a little plastic card is all you need?

I do multitask, maybe more than I should there is something to be said about focusing on one thing and doing it well.

I do get 99% of my information online. I love my google reader and get most of my daily news online. I love being able to go read the best content at each of the daily papers, though with most papers just reissuing AP news reports there are fewer and fewer quality writers anymore.

I don't like calling and waiting for customer support. Companies should have web chat based support or at least an automatic call back feature so you are called when a CSR is free instead of keeping you on hold. On the recent celebrity apprentice (a guilty sunday night pleasure) a Norton Antivirus exec complained that there was no phone number on the ad generated by the women's team: Note to Norton, we don't want to call you to order your product. You should have asked where your web page promo was. I'm assuming you can download Norton and the million updates that will come with it, so why not just send people to the web site?

I do find that companies/brands worth following in the social media space are few and far between. There are a lot of companies trying to get into this space and it's resulting in a lot of space being taken up without a lot of quality content. But:

I do believe that if you can engage, entertain, and/or teach me, I will value what you have to say, come back for more and buy your products. I look for value in anything that I do. If a company is providing me with a service that adds value to my life then I'm going to want more of it and be willing to pay for it.

What do you do or don't do and how does it compare to other generations?