Friday, February 26, 2016

5 Refreshing Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund

It's everyone's favorite time of the year again: Tax season!  For the majority of us, this is the time we get to discover how much of our money Uncle Sam has kept all year.  What's not to love about realizing we could've had more money each month to pay down debt earlier, invest, or just flat out spend?  Okay, I kid.  But it is true that most of us will be getting a refund soon...somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000.

average tax refund 2 map The Average Tax Refund in Every State
Credit for Pic

Conventional financial advice includes having a plan for your tax refund.  What you do with the money should not be decided on the spur of the moment.  If not already, you will soon see financial article after financial article push this sensible advice (for your tax refund) on you:

1.  Pay down credit cards
2.  Add to or create an emergency fund
3.  Save for retirement
4.  Upgrade your home
5.  Invest in yourself

I'm here to give you additional and fresh advice on what to do with that soon to come windfall of cash.  And it goes a little something like this...hit it!  (Hip-hop music in the background)

1.  Fix your ride.  You can't go anywhere, metaphorically speaking, if you don't have a reliable vehicle to get there.  Better yet, sell your old hooptie and with your tax refund, put down a better down payment on a used car at the dealership.

2.  Revamp your wardrobe.  If you are like me, a person who has taken slacks to get re-buttoned and sewn at the pocket with the hole, it's time to toss out those tired outfits.  Getting new clothes will make you not only look good, but feel good.  And that may be exactly what you need to get your confidence back.

3.  Buy two bicycles.  One is for you, and the other is for your partner.  You and your better half can cruise around and come up with a new game plan on how to approach the next five years.  Do you want your relationship to stale?  No!  Are you content with settling for what you already have?  Hell no!  Then get on those bikes and talk.  Exercising together is exactly what the two of you need.

4.  Take a much needed vacation.  Americans work too hard and don't rest enough.  Vacations help us recharge our batteries.  So with that tax refund, take a three to four day vacation somewhere in Mexico.  Cabo sounds about right.  Margaritas, sun, and relaxation!

5.  Take up a brand new hobby.  Something completely out of your comfort zone.  For me, it would be taking guitar or piano lessons.  I've always wanted to this.  My brother, Mario, is a professional Mariachi.  He can play the guitar and the tololoche like nobody's business.  I can't play a tune to save my life.  Instrument lessons would probably completely stimulate a new region of your brain if you're not musically inclined and this is good for creativity.

My brother, Mario, is on the left of the guy clapping.

There you have it.  I didn't regurgitate the same trite information here.  When that check comes in the mail, if you're tired of doing the same thing with the money, consider these five suggestions as alternatives.

I am outta here!  Thanks. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Best Way to Save On Major Car Repairs

Happy Love Day everyone.  I am soooo in love with saving money any way I can, especially on a day that traditionally breaks every man's budget like Valentine's does.  I can't stand this holiday.  It's incredibly commercialized.  Last year around this time I wrote a funny piece: 6 Inexpensive Latino Lover Valentine's Ideas for Men.  My wife, Jessica, is the opposite.  She gets into the Valentine's spirit like a believer at a Black church Sunday service.  To avoid sleeping on the couch, I've bought her a card, a lovely orchid (she prefers them over roses), and we got plans for a fancy dinner tonight, followed by a movie.

I'm in a great mood for that, considering I just saved $200 on a much needed car repair.  I bought my 2007 Honda Civic Ex new.  It has over 112K miles on it.  I've not had anything major replaced, fending off the advances of many a mechanic wanting a piece of my car at every oil change.  " need new struts and shocks...your rotors need's time for...blah, blah, blah..."  We all know how costly car repairs for major parts can be.  Just check out the quote I got from Midas for two new front rotors, parts and labor:

$237 for parts (the two rotors) and $130 for labor.

Skip that, right?  I've already had the rotors shaved/resurfaced so I couldn't use that trick again.  I could visibly see the burn on the rotors and the noise when braking (it's not the pads) worried my wife who sometimes drives my vehicle.  After getting two to three quotes for the job, most people resign themselves to having the job done at the lowest bid.  

I'm here to tell you that there is another way!  And it could save you up to 50% or more on any indispensable car repair.  A mechanic friend told me this is the best way to go.

It starts at eBay.  That's right...eBay.  You search for what you need.  In my case, I searched for "2007 Honda Civic Ex front rotors."  Bang, I got a hit.  A company out of Canada: Tutu Auto sold exactly what I was looking for.  I did my research online on the company and found no negative reviews so I pulled the trigger using the, Buy It Now, feature.  I bought two, drilled brake rotors with free ceramic pads for only $67!

Jan 28, 2016

US $66.42
Free shipping
Order C0130 FIT 2006 2007 2008 Honda Civic DX LX EX Cross Drilled Brake Rotors Pads F
1 item sold by tutuauto
C0130 FIT 2006 2007 2008 Honda Civic DX LX EX Cross Drilled Brake Rotors Pads F
Estimated delivery Thu, Feb 04 - Fri, Feb 19
US $66.42

 As you can see, it also came with a 1 year warranty.  If I had bought these from Midas or the nearest Honda dealership, I'd have spent an arm and a leg.  If you have a car that has over 100K miles, I recommend you buy your parts online.  Prioritize your repairs.  For example, I also need new tires, and shocks for my rear wheels.  Up next for me are the tires.  Safety first.  I was thinking of finding a used tire shop, but after hearing many friends out, used tires are never a good idea.  You have no way of knowing how long the tires have been sitting on the shelf.  They could have thinned out by atmospheric ozone, rotted on the inside, and though they may look alright, they could be on the verge of blowing out.  Unfortunately, shopping around for new tires is the best advice I can give you.

After saving on my rotors, I looked to save on labor costs.  I've made many friends at shops, waiting for an oil change.  Shooting the breeze with a mechanic on break is how you find your go to guy.  Some will be friendly.  Others will want to smoke their cigarette and be left alone.  Find the young mechanic who has bills to pay.  That's what I did.  My mechanic "buddy" does side jobs to make ends meet every month.  I told him Midas quoted me $130 for labor and asked him if he'd be willing to do the job for $100.  Of course he was willing!  Just be sure you get a guarantee on the work.  Tell the mechanic that you will bring more jobs to him if the job is done right.

So in all I spent $167 on a job that would've cost me $367.  I drove the car earlier today after the job was done.  The braking was freakin' awesome.  The ceramic brakes really stepped up the feel of stopping.  They are smooth and the best part is that there is no more of that cruddy brake dust coming out!

When I get paid next month, I'll be buying two front tires.  Not much savings here.  However, in April, I'll be buying two rear shocks online and having my mechanic pal put them on for a lot less than the labor rate at a shop.   Let's summarize:

1.  Find a young mechanic employed at a reliable shop.  Do small talk and ask about their economic situation.  Young people don't mind telling you they are broke these day.  Ask them if they would be up for doing side jobs.  If so, get their phone number.

2.  Shop online for the parts you need.  Make sure they are exactly what you are looking for, i.e., they fit your car.  Most online vendors have you submit info before allowing you to buy.  eBay is a great marketplace for new parts.  Getting parts from a dealership will be expensive, and let's face it, if your car has over 100K miles on it, does it really matter at this point that the parts are made by another manufacturer?  Euro cars this post is not for you.

I leave you with this picture of my newly installed rotors and brake pads:

Don't give in to the shop's sense of urgency.  You have time to look for what you need.  In fact, even if you don't have a mechanic friend, buying the parts and bringing them in to the shop will still be more cost effective then having the shop order the parts for you.  They don't care about your wallet!

Until next time.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

5 Reasons Why This Choppy Market Is Perfect For Beginning Investors

I'm back!  Where did I go?  Well, I was sick for about two weeks.  It's hard to stay healthy when close to 200 kids try to get you sick each day....sneezing and coughing all around you.  Oh, the life of a teacher.  You know what else looks sick these days?  The U.S. stock market, and China's, and pretty much every other country that has a market has a bad cold.

So we're ten percent down this year and the volatility has been stomach churning for many retail investors.  The tendency for many is to stay away and wait for the dust to settle, i.e., for there to be a conviction bottom to the selling.  Many believe this will take place once oil hits rock bottom.  That could be any time soon.  Barron's reported this past weekend that oil could drop below $20, but not go much lower than that.

I'm here to tell you why this is a great market.  In fact, it's a market that is perfect for beginning investors.  Here are my reasons:

1.  Stocks are no longer over-valued.  The flat finish to last year, and the recent 10% drop has given investors just buying-in a better margin of safety.

2.  You're employed!  Either you've left the workforce to start your own business, freelance, or you are employed.  So you have income coming in and if you budget wisely, you could be placing small trades at the beginning of each month with your monthly un-spent funds.

3.  There are great deals out there. can buy contrarian plays like Chipotle (CMG) if you like high risk-reward.  You can buy a great growth company like Facebook (FB).  FB is headed into outer doubt the next Netflix or Google for me.  Or you can get shares of a value company like Ford (F) at $11 and change, and get a hefty 5% dividend for your troubles.

4.  The repeated sell-offs make dollar cost averaging a winner's strategy for once.  It's been 7 years of nothing but bull and now the bear is here.  This means you can automate your investing, buying chunks of your favorite Total Stock Market ETF of Mutual Fund, and actually make some headway!  If you can get more shares of a fund at the end of each month, as the price drops in a declining market, you will have more upside once the market turns around.  It'll look nasty at first but don't fret.  Just keep saying to yourself: "My ownership stake in this fund is growing."

5.  It's easier to do and cheaper too.  Millennials can start trading on an app like Robinhood for free!  Robinhood is one of many apps that are currently out there vying for your subscription.  These new generation stock brokerage apps want to make buying shares of stocks easy and affordable. 

There you have it ladies and germs.  Market timing is for suckers.  If you're invested, stay invested.  If you're not in the market...what are you waiting for?  

Thanks for reading.  Until next time.  Peace out!