Monday, January 31, 2011

More Angry Birds!

Who's excited for some new Angry Birds!!! ME ME ME...I finished the regular Angry Birds game and was a little bummed out, but much to my surprise two new versions are underway!

There will be a Valentines Day addition to the Holiday version and there is an all new Rio Angry Birds version which has ties to an upcoming Century Fox Animate Movie entitled Rio. The game will be coming out in March and the movie will be coming out April 15th.

Check out the trailer from the Angry Birds Rio game and info about the Rio movie. Woot!

Some other games I play pretty often are Euchre, Paper Toss, Slice It and Mouse Trap. I grabbed 'Play! Curling' today, which is the Canadian Curling game you might have seen in the Olympics. Good stuff!

What are your favorite phone games?

Friday, January 28, 2011

College Classes For Free Thanks To Uncle Sam

I've been starting in on our taxes via Turbo Tax, speaking of which don't forget to get your 30% off from Bank of America, and came across a pleasant surprise that I was unaware of. You can receive a tax credit for College classes. There are two different credits and TurboTax will ask you the right questions to make sure you qualify and if so, which one would be better. They are called the American Opportunity Credit and Lifetime Learning Credit. If you qualify, basically the government will be paying you to take classes and possibly for any related expenses such as books and supplies. If you don't qualify for one of those, there is an educational tax deduction that should apply and it sounds like you could even use that for training classes, such as certification classes or things of that nature that apply to your line of work.

If you're using a Tax software/online package such as Turbo Tax, they'll ask you all the relevant questions and let you know what would result in the best benefit for your specific situation. My wife Marla will be pursuing a bachelors degree in Health Services Administration at UCF. She is currently enrolled at the Florida State College at Jacksonville, taking care of prerequisite classes to upgrade her existing AA degree to a current FL AA degree which will meet the requirements for UCF.

For us it worked out that the American Opportunity Credit was the best option. As long as you are enrolled in a degree program for at least 1/2 time at some point during the year, that was the best option. Her current program has a minimum 12 hours for full time and she took 6 credit hours of online classes over the summer, so that qualified her for the credit. It is a maximum of $2500 per year for 4 years under this program, which covered the cost of all of her classes last year and her books/graphing calculator. So that was a nice surprise.

If you're considering taking classes at a University or even technical classes to get you further in your job, check out the links below and see if they would be of benefit to you!

Education Tax Credits - Better if you qualify, dollar for dollar increase in refund or reduction in amount you have to pay in taxes.

Education Tax Deductions - Available if you don't qualify for the credit and can possibly be used for technical classes, not specific to college classes, from the looks of it...

IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education

Thursday, January 27, 2011


When it comes to motivation, every person is different. What motivates me might be of no interest to you or vice versa. I came up with a plan to motivate the wife and I to do cardio more often. It was a simple plan, you earn $2.50 per mile and can do what you want with that $.

After getting further along in the Dave Ramsey plan and with the holiday season in full swing, the idea of giving more came up. It got me thinking about my cash per mile idea. I decided to bump it up to $3 per mile, but 50% of it was to go towards whatever charitable cause we would like.

In reality, if we need something we usually buy it and for the most part, we don't regularly buy all that much. If there is something big we'll talk it over, do the research and make sure we have the $ to pay for it and do it up.

So the likelihood that I'll actually use 1/2 of the $ from my cardio to purchase something is probably small. More than likely 100% of the $ will go towards whatever cause motivates us personally. As the saying goes it's a win-win! So far I've got 15.7 miles in Dec and 14.1 in Jan, so about 30 total. Not a bad start.

What do you use as motivators and for what?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Favorite Hometown Foods

This week's picture page will highlight some of my favorite hometown Rochester, NY area foods...I'm really hungry right now and these pictures are making it way worse! Mmmmmmm.....

The best pizza on the planet, PONTILLO'S! Last time we were in Rochester, we froze a large and brought it back with us on the plane. We recently found out that there is one in Sarasota, FL so we WILL be making a weekend road trip there sometime this Spring or Summer to stock up.

Bill Gray's, Home of the Worlds Greatest Cheeseburger! And it really is...The fries are so good too, in all their crispy golden goodness.

The Infamous Garbage/Trash Plate Not an item you normally eat all that often if you live there, but a must have item on short trips back up North. Legen...wait for it...dary

Honorable mention goes out to the Oswego Sub Shop Cheeseburger Sub. I didn't actually have all that many of these when I went to college at SUNY Oswego, but I have fond memories of the ones that I did have and could go for one now...Have never really found one anywhere that comes close... I would get one with I think just lettuce and melted cheese on top of the ground beef, maybe some mayo too..

What food items do you crave that you don't have access to on a regular basis? Post them here and include some links so we can check them out if possible!

To my immediate family: We're talking the best of the best here, so no mention of Mark's 'Inferior' Pizza is necessary. :o)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Over the weekend we had dinner at the home of some friends and I got to talking with Chris, the male host not myself, and he had some ideas for a smart phone App. One was a flashlight app, the other was a Starbucks locator app and unfortunately I had to burst his bubble on both counts. I had a few flashlight apps already installed and there were 4 Starbucks locator apps in the Android Market. He did have another good idea, being able to detect a certain liquid or solid substance by putting the phone in close proximity, but that's way beyond my comprehension at this point in time.

Yesterday I was using my flashlight app on my phone to look into my cat Stinky's ear while Marla was putting his ear drops in. There are two LED flash lights on the camera, the top one stays on fine, the second one started to blink after about 15 seconds. I checked online and found 2 similar cases where the person brought their phone in to Verizon and got a replacement due to a hardware issue with the LED. Bummer, but honestly the only time that would be an issue is if you are using the flashlight app for a while or recording an extended video where you need to have the light on continuously. I'm not in a hurry to bring it in, since I could either cover the bottom light with a piece of black tape first or just ignore the issue for now, but I will bring it in prior to the one year warranty being up.

Then I read this article about a 14 year old that created the iPhone app 'Bubble Ball' which is the most popular free iPhone app out there. One of the main points of the article is that there are lots of tools out there to make the job of creating an app much easier. As the article says..."The gist, proponents say, is that apps now can be developed by anyone -- just like Blogger and Tumblr let anyone author a blog..."

Sooo, after these 3 recent events and since I figured out how to get this blog thing going, with a little help of course, I figure I should be able to create a basic app. I have a background in computers and when the internet first came around I used notepad to code HTML to create some basic webpages. So that is what I'm setting out to do. I want to try and create a flashlight application that only activates one LED flash at a time, specifically the top one. In that way I could still use the flashlight feature, without having to have the second LED blink.

I'm hoping that is possible, since I can't see why you wouldn't be able to control each flash LED light independently, but will see what I find out. The 14 year old used a free Apple application called Corona, which isn't an option for me since I don't have a Mac. Google has their own free application creator app called App Inventor. I have no idea what kind of undertaking I'm embarking on, but should find out soon enough. Wish me luck!

Has anyone thought about trying to come up with their own application? Any tips or tricks to offer up? Why not try your hand at it too and see what you can come up with and we can compare notes. It can't hurt to try!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beers of The Tropics

I thought today I'd take some time to highlight some of the local beers we've enjoyed on our tropical travels. Since I'm sitting here now watching some football and drinking Presidente, I'll start there.

We stopped and picked up some Presidente from our beer/wine megastore, Total Wine Warehouse on Saturday. We've been researching resorts in the Dominican Republic the last few weeks, which is where Presidente is made. The company website describes it best: "Presidente Beer brings you the true essence of the Caribbean! Nothing else can compare to its refreshing, smooth and lively taste. That’s why every sip becomes a celebration!" You can't argue with a celebration in every sip!

I'm not sure if it was coincidental or not, but we ended up booking our next trip to the Dominican Republic later Saturday night! Ole ole! We knew which all-inclusive resort we wanted to go to and knew we wanted the adult-only club section, however hadn't decided on which room type. Marla was checking prices and noticed that Cheap Caribbean, Apple Vacations and even the resort website itself no longer showed any availability for rooms in the club section. A week ago, all room types were showing available. We were quite bummed out, since we had no idea that things might book up that quickly and we're not going until May. Luckily we were able to find one room left in the club section on Expedia and the price was good also, so it all ended up working out. We'll be at the Majestic Elegance enjoying an unlimited supply of Presidente, it's a great warm weather beachy beer! 5% alcohol by volume in the Dominican.

Next we'll take a trip to the Bahamas, for some Kalik. "Kalik" is the sound made by cowbells, a key instrument used by the bands in the Bahamas annual Junkanoo Festival held during the Christmas and New Year's season. Junkanoo is nearly 200 years old and those cowbells have been there since the beginning. Everyone needs more cowbell!

One ad for Kalik says that it is good with a slice of Pineapple? Can't say that I've ever tried that, but it could work, especially when chilling on the beach in the Bahamas...Although we can't stand Nassau, the beaches/water there are nice, if only they could keep the peeps that want to braid your hair, sell you jewelery or sell you weed off the beach, it could be a very nice place. Despite that, the beer is pretty good. 5% alcohol by volume in the Bahamas.

That brings us to Sol. An easy drinking light beer made in Mexico. It is often compared to Corona, since it's usually served with a lime slice, but I'd say it's slightly better. It goes down smooth, especially in draft form on a warm day at the beach or poolside in Mexico. You can drink this one with or without lime. 4.1% alcohol by volume.

Do you have a tropical locale favorite beer? Cheers!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Retro Arcade

The past few days I got to talking with my old buddy Dave about some of the old Atari computer games we'd play back in the good old days. We were probably 13-ish and I'd usually go over his house because he had the cool games and the slightly newer Atari computer. We'd usually slap in the Whitesnake cassette tape, crank it up and get things started.

Those were the days when in order to get a game you would either purchase it in a store or use your computer and modem to actually dial-out on the phone line to something called a BBS (Bulletin Board System). That was the precursor to places like AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve, etc. You would dial-out, connect up, sign-in and either post messages, similar to forums of today, send email, chat or download/upload software.

You'd actually be dialing directly into someone else's computer/modem that was setup to receive calls. If someone else was already connected up to the BBS, you'd get a busy signal, which happened quite often. It wasn't like the internet where everyone can connect up at the same time.

Unless they had multiple phone lines, you'd have to keep trying continuously or wait until their phone line wasn't busy. If you did get connected, you'd be tying up your phone line for hours TRYING to download a game. If you're old enough to remember using a modem, you probably recall that even if you did get connected to something on the other end, that any static on the phone line would kick you off or cause your download to be corrupt. This was more often than not.

If someone in the house picked up the phone, they'd hear that shrieking noise on the line and would yell at you to STOP USING THE PHONE LINE...and you'd yell back, DON'T PICK UP THE PHONE...cause you had just spent the last several hours downloading something and probably just lost it all! What fun those days were. It's quite amazing to think how far we've come with instant access to so much information. These days if you can't download a 50MB file in less than a minute you get annoyed, back then it would take you around 2 hours to download a file 100 times smaller and probably 7 times out of 10 it would fail. Funny how when you stop and think about it, we've got it pretty good!

Our favorite game of all time was M.U.L.E. on the Atari 800XL/130XE. It was like a barter/trading type of game that took place on a fictional planet called Irata (Atari spelled backwards). I'd describe it as like a cross between Sim City and Farmville with some supply/demand economy skills mixed in. It may not sound like extreme fun, but it really was. Dave mentioned yesterday that he was playing M.U.L.E. via Emulator software on his PC with his young kids and they were having a great time. I have it running via Emulator on my PC, the Wii and even my Android phone. So far it plays the best on the Wii on the big screen, I just got that setup last night. If you never plan to try it out yourself, at least go to this site anyway to see the startup screen and music. Catchy tune.

There is free emulator software out there for everything from the old Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo, Gameboy, Sega, old computers like the Apple IIe, Commodore 64, etc. etc. Anything that existed in the past is available as an emulator. Even all the old standup arcade games you would play at an arcade with quarters, like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, etc. If you're using your laptop as the place you want to play the games, you would download and install the emulator software for whatever game console you want, then you would search for and download the game ROM files online. Technically you are supposed to have a copy of the actual games, but if you're doing this for things like the Atari 2600, original Nintendo or old Arcade games that haven't been made in 15-20 years, I'd say you're good to go.

What were your favorite games growing up? Pac Man, Super Mario Brothers, Sonic the Hedgehog, perhaps M.U.L.E.? I'd be interested to hear your favorites. I probably liked them too and would like to download them and play em, so let me know!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rollover an Old 401k To Trade Stocks

Over the past few weeks I've been doing a lot of financial planning. If you've been following along with my blog posts you know that we now have our 401ks rebalanced, contributions bumped up to 15% and established new Roth IRAs. The only thing we have left hanging out there is an old 401k from my wife's prior employer. If you have an old 401k sitting out there also, or even if you don't, read on because you might find yourself in this situation one day and will hopefully end up better informed on what to do when the time comes. Bear with me on this, as it may be a bit lengthy of a post, but it is one of the best things I've ever done when it comes to stock market trading.

Generally speaking, you have 3 main options with an old 401k. You can leave it where it is, transfer it over to your 401k with your new employer or transfer the account into a Rollover 401k with another firm.

If the 401k company allows for it, you can leave your money where it is and do nothing if you leave an existing job. Many times if the account is under a certain amount, they may require that you move the account out. Don't be tempted to cash out the account, you will have to pay taxes, penalties and fees, not to mention losing any future long term growth and interest. Also, if you do keep your account there, make sure that you won't be charged any inactivity or low balance type fees due to not having any more regularly recurring contributions. I'd say this is an ok option if you won't incur any new fees, are satisfied with your current fund choices and rate of return and/or are in a transition to a new job and want to weight your options before making a decision. Additionally you may not have a 401k available in your new position, might be between jobs, or whatever the case may be. Just don't forget the account is there and keep track of it every so often to make sure all is well.

The second option would be to transfer the old 401k over to the new 401k, assuming you are transitioning over to a new position with a company that also offers a 401k. This is a good choice if you have a better selection of funds to choose from in your new account vs the old one. Additionally, if the fund choices have better long term rates of return, lower fees and wider variety, transferring the funds over to the new account would provide better opportunity for future growth.

The 3rd option is one that you might not be aware of. You can transfer your old 401k account over to a discount broker like Options House and open a Rollover 401k. With a Rollover 401k, you would first open the new account with the location of your choice and then call the 800 number of your old 401k and tell them that you want to do a '401k Rollover' to your new location. In that way you would not have to report the transaction on your taxes to the IRS and you would not incur any fees or penalties since it's just a transfer of accounts. Almost all of the Brokers will also reimburse you for any fees related to transferring an account up to $150, so there are usually no downside to moving your account where you want it to go.

The exciting part is that you would then be able to buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, futures, etc. You would no longer be limited to choosing from a small list of specific mutual funds that the 401k companies typically offer. For me that has been a great way to trade.

In a regular cash investment account, you normally have to keep track of all your buys and sells over the course of a year and have to record everything that you've sold and your gains or losses in a separate form on your tax return. If you actively trade, that could be pages and pages of transactions and quite a pain. For me, that took a lot of the fun out of things several years ago. With a Rollover 401k, that is not the case.

A Rollover 401k is handled the same way as a regular 401k. You are taxed on the money at whatever your current income tax rate is when you start to take withdrawals at retirement age. You are not taxed on individual gains and losses when you buy/sell stocks now. In other words, you don't have to keep track of anything throughout the year and come tax time you have nothing to record on your taxes. You still have to pay the commission fee to buy and sell stocks, but that just comes out of the same account and you have no administrative paperwork to deal with.

Of course before trading any $ of your own, I would highly recommend you try free Virtual Trading for a few months first. Most places allow you free Virtual Trading on their actual website you would use if you signup for an account, a good way to get familiar with a particular company and try things out first.

If you have any questions at all on how to get started or anything specifically related to trading, let me know. I usually trade a combination of options and stocks. If you're looking for a place to rollover your old 401k, I recommend opening a rollover 401k/IRA with Options House.  Stock trades are only $3.95 and they have a current promotion offering 100 free trades and they will cover any transfer fees up to $125 as shown below.  Find out further details here or click the image below. 

Open an IRA @ OptionsHouse Today.

Do you actively trade stocks or options? Do you have any good investment shows/websites that you enjoy? Please share some here, as I'm always looking to add to my trading knowledge!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Picture Pages - Pets

Here are some pictures of our boys...

Sage aka Doodie
Sage as a kitten

He used to hide in the sink when he was scared or bad or both

Zonked out!

Favorite from '02, Poker doing the old hand on the head trick to kitten Monkey

A few years later, best buddies

Posing for the camera....
Not amused, but taking it pretty well as always!

Sleeping in the sun, his favorite place to be....

Best buddies!

Monkey as a kitten...

Telecommute day lap Monkey

Ball fetcher and bug catcher

All 4 of them together...
Behaving for a minute or two, trying to keep warm on a cold day

Unfortunately, since this post was originally created our elder kitties Poker and Stinky went to the Rainbow Bridge.  They're playing together as we speak I'm sure!

It wasn't too longer afterwards, that we ended up with two new boys.  Four seems to be the magic number, since even with no plans to add more we end up with four.   

Our newest edition, Buddy!

And new kitten Wookie!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Roth IRA / 401K Update

As a follow up to my prior post on Roth IRAs, I changed my mind and decided to put my Roth IRA with Vanguard also. I made my initial lump sum contribution for last year and will be making recurring every other week contributions for 2011, to dollar cost average in as the market fluctuates. I decided that I wouldn't have as much $ as I wanted in the account short term to actively trade individual stocks without incurring higher fees and also did not want the confusion of actively trading multiple accounts at the moment.

Instead of the Vanguard 2045 Target Date Fund(VTIVX) that I set my wife up with for her Roth IRA, I decided to choose the Vanguard Extended Market Index Fund (VEXMX). I did not choose the 2045 Target Date Fund because I wanted to remove the exposure to bonds. The Extended Market Index fund also has a very good long term track record, with an average 10.6% since the index fund was started on 12/21/1987. Both are excellent choices, but the Extended Market fund is slightly more aggressive than the 2045 target date fund, we'll see who wins at the end of the year.

I also bumped both of our 401k accounts up to a 15% contribution level. It will probably be a noticeable hit to our take home pay in the short term, basically doubling what we were contributing to our 401ks, but since that also drops our taxable income it hopefully won't be too painful. That now takes care of Baby Step 4 from the Dave Ramsey Plan, which I mentioned in my first blog post. Woot! Steps 1-4 are now complete.
Like I had mentioned in the previous post, Step 5 doesn't apply for us and Step 6 we are choosing not to do, so it's onto Step 7! We started on step 7 towards the end of last year with the holiday season of giving upon us, but have a long ways to go in order to make that more a part of our every day lives. We're working on it and it sounds like a good topic for a future post.

Anyone out there follow a similar path and get to step 7 yet? Would love to hear the types of things you decided to do as part of this final step in the process.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dark Side of Compact Flourescent Bulbs

The push to adopt compact fluorescent bulbs to replace the existing incandescent bulbs irks me. I'm not in a hurry to have my home become a Hazmat zone. It just bugs me how something like this would be pushed so hard with hardly any discussion of the environmental repercussions and potential health concerns. We choose not to use them.

I included the info directly from the EPA website below regarding what to do in the event you break a bulb, in case you have converted over and are unaware of the potential harm that you could bring to yourself, your pets or children and the environment. If used bulbs are disposed of in the trash, they also enter the landfills, soil and contaminate the ground water as well.

The good thing is there appears to be more info being published detailing the potential problems. The downside is that it doesn't seem to be slowing the forced push to switch over. Another thing not well known is that almost all CFLs come from China, where almost all of the power plants burn coal. When you factor in a cradle to grave type carbon footprint of how the bulbs are manufactured, the hazardous content as well as the bulbs not living up to their estimated length of life over the existing bulbs, it's all looking like a big sham. Hopefully the Govt. will come to their senses prior to an all out ban on existing bulbs taking hold.

Until then, if you want to save the environment, do what your parents told you. Shut the light off when not needed. As long as you won't be turning the light on again very soon, that's your best bet.

Here is some info from this Blog post, good info:

The EPA claims that using compact fluorescent light bulbs leads to less mercury in our environment because they require less electricity and coal-fired power plants which are the main contributors to mercury emissions. However, that is preposterous. As professor Hui points out, we may be saving energy, have less greenhouse gases and mercury emitted during the process than we did in the creation of incandescent bulbs, but when manufacturing bulbs the mercury contamination is specific to the power plant itself. With CFL light bulbs, we have now brought the mercury into all our homes, city streets, soil and landfills.

Hui, also tells us that although we are under the impression that CFLs last longer than incandescent bulbs they are not as energy efficient as we have been led to believe because of a high failure rate within the electrolytic capacitor. However, the most scary piece of information to emerge from this interview is when Hui shares with us that the CFL is a very profitable business and manufacturers are not likely to pursue more environmentally friendly options, until the public becomes more aware and pressures the government to step in.

Even General Electric themselves have been quoted as admitting that the mercury in the bulbs may become a serious problem as sales of CFLs increase. Since it will soon be a mandatory practice, it is obvious we have a huge problem on the horizon.

EPA Website Info:

What to Do if a Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb or Fluorescent
Tube Light Bulb Breaks in Your Home:


These tips also apply to other mercury-containing bulbs, including:

  • Other fluorescent bulbs, including linear, U-tube and circline fluorescent tubes, bug zappers, tanning bulbs, black lights, germicidal bulbs, high output bulbs, and cold-cathode fluorescent bulbs;
  • High intensity discharge bulbs, which include metal halide, ceramic metal halide, high pressure sodium, and mercury vapor;
  • Mercury short-arc bulbs; and
  • Neon bulbs.

Fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. When a fluorescent bulb breaks in your home, some of this mercury is released as mercury vapor. The broken bulb can continue to release mercury vapor until it is cleaned up and removed from the residence. To minimize exposure to mercury vapor, EPA recommends that residents follow the cleanup and disposal steps described below.

1. Before cleanup
  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.

2. During cleanup
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

3. After cleanup
  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.

Did you convert any of your existing bulbs over to CFLs? Break any bulbs? Were you aware of the potential danger to health and the environment? What is your take?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Saving Money Online

If you're like me, you always search for deals, especially when buying online. Coupons and/or promotional codes are a must. There are a ton of sites that offer coupon codes, some are definitely better than others. I usually just search Google for 'Kohls coupon codes', for example, and several sites always come up towards the top.

The one I have the most luck with is Retail Me Not, usually followed by Deal Catcher and Tech Bargains. But I'll also click a few more just to make sure I'm getting the best % off deal. You don't have to type their address directly, Google search works fine. Kohls for example almost always at least 15% off and sometimes they allow you to stack more than one coupon.

In addition, I'll usually go directly to two other sites, and They are great places to search for deals on specific items, but you can also search there for coupon codes and general discounts as well. They have great forums on specific topics like Travel Discounts, Laptops, a Hot Deals section, etc.

In addition, FatWallet is great because they have a Cash Back section. You just go to their site, sign up for a free account and if you plan to purchase anything from a particular store, check their Cash Back section to see if they have that particular online site listed. Most are on there. And most times you can use any online coupon codes in addition to the cash back.

For example, they currently have 5% cash back for the Disney Store. To get 5% cash back, first I recommend you use Internet Explorer, even though I prefer FireFox. IE works better with FatWallet and be sure to enable pop-ups for FatWallet prior or when prompted. Then login to your FatWallet account, click on the Cash Back section, go to the Disney Store and click on Shop Now. If it worked right, you will get a pop-up window saying that you're on your way to getting cash back.

That pop-up window needs to be open to get the cash back. You can minimize that window, but do not close it. Then make any purchases as you normally would and that's it! After your purchase is confirmed, which usually takes less than a few weeks, the 5% cash will show up in your FatWallet account. You can request the $ at any time and there is no minimum if you want it deposited with a Pay Pal account. If you want them to send you a check, there is a $10 minimum. I use the Pay Pal option and it works great.

Just one more way to save a few extra $$'s! It looks like a few others are out there also offering cash back, including Ebates and Check em all out and see which one works best for you!

What tips/tricks do you have to save $ when shopping/conducting business online?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

Oprah has her annual favorite things day, so I can have one too! Only difference is unfortunately, none of you will be receiving the items for free, sorry. I was thinking earlier today how there are a few things I've felt that either are essential, can't live without or just plain fun! I'll include a few of those items below. People and pets aren't included, as the list only includes 'things', otherwise the wifey, our pets, friends and family would of course make the list also!

Pontiac G8 GT - Sometimes when you purchase a new, or new to you, vehicle the newness/fun wears off after a short period of time. That is not the case for me. I purchased my 09 Pontiac G8 GT in Jan of 2008 and still absolutely love it! It is so fun to stomp on the gas and hear that 6.0 Liter V8 engine roar and feel the car take off. My friends always had the rear wheel drive 8 cylinder muscle cars growing up, so now it's my turn to have some fun. I take on a whole new persona while driving, kinda like how Batman probably feels driving the Batmobile. :P

WDTV Live Plus - I like this so much that I now have 2 of them! One for our living room and one for the TV in our workout room. With the proliferation of downloadable movies, TV shows, and videos I was finding that playing them via USB key on my old DVD player wasn't working as well as it used to. The latest HD files are generally around 4GB in size and some can go all the way up to 10GB+ and the formats recently changed from mostly AVI files to MKV format. Well, fret no more. The WDTV Live or Live Plus players can play just about anything you throw at it and is very easy to update the firmware. You just plug it up to your TV via HDMI cable, plug in your USB hard drive loaded with videos to the player and you're in business! The player also has an ethernet connection so you can hook it to your network and stream video from a PC to the device if you so choose or vice versa.

Eureka Boss HEPA Vacuum / Hoover Carpet Steamer / Eureka Enviro Floor Steamer - These 3 items are a trifecta of essential items for us as a multiple cat household. The Eureka vac we got because it was one of the top rated vacs on consumer reports and was cheap!  I have to say, this thing really sucks! But that's a good has been phenomenal, definitely the best bang for the buck and it really picks up cat hair quite well. The Hoover carpet steamer is also essential, we generally steam clean the carpets about every 3-4 weeks and it works very well. It doesn't take too much longer than regular vacuuming and also does a great job. Also surprisingly inexpensive, a much better alternative than renting one from a local store. The Eureka floor steamer we use on the tile floors does a good job without the need for any cleaning products. If you've considered a Shark, don't...this one blows it away. We occasionally use a Swiffer Wet Jet also, but those 3 prior items are the main arsenal in our constant war against kitty cooties.

Garage Fridge - This was something I didn't even want or need, but it really has been great! Our neighbor across the street got a slightly newer one from a friend and offered us his old one. At first I was thinking we don't have room for that or a need for that, but on second thought I said ok why not. We put all the frozen items out there like frozen pizza, things that we make a lot of to freeze for a later time and of course beer, soda, etc. go in the fridge side. It has been such a big help and something we really enjoy having, can't beat that it was free!

Craftsman Tool Chest
- This was something I'd always wanted and planned to get someday, but that day finally came on my birthday last year. It has been such a HUGE help organization wise. Prior to getting this I had tools in a few small tool boxes, tools on shelves and all over the place and could never find what I wanted when I needed it. It was so frustruating to both myself and the wifey that I could no longer continue on without doing something about it. It has exceeded my expectations and I always know exactly where things are when I need them. Should have gotten one sooner.

Sennheiser Wireless Headphones - Wireless headphones are great for when you want to watch TV and someone else is either sleeping or studying or doesn't want to hear what you are listening to. They're also great if you want to listen to something on TV, but you're in another room. Sometimes when I work from home I'll just put the DVR on, put it on CNBC and put my headphones on. The TV doesn't need to be on, just the DVR and the volume control is right on the headphones and reception comes in perfect anywhere in the house. I have both the RS110 which is non-rechargable, but the batteries have so far lasted over a year, and the rechargeable RS120. They both have the same excellent sound quality. I also use them when I'm on the treadmill, but if you're jogging or running you will sweat too much with them on. They're fine for walking at a decent pace. They hook up to anything with a regular headphone connection, the larger size headphone connector or anything with RCA jacks, connectors are included.

Maverick Helicopter Tour - Our helicopter tour of the South/North Rim of the Grand Canyon was just plain awesome and would highly recommend it if you ever get the chance!

Logitech Harmony 700 Rechargeable Remote - I had done a bunch of searching for Harmony remotes a few months back and then kinda just dropped it for a while. The wifey ended up surprising me pretty well this Christmas, I had no idea what she was getting for any of the items she got me and normally I guess just about everything. One of the items was this remote and she didn't even consult me at all and picked a great one! It controls all our devices, was very easy to install the software and configure it and the customized features rock. Great job Marla!

Droid X - Love it, still addicted, can't get enough of it...DROID

What are some items that you either love, are essential to your everyday lives or just cannot live without? Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Picture Pages Wednesday - Warm Weather

Going to take an idea from my sister Jen's blog and turn Wednesday into Picture Pages Wednesday...My wife loves to take pictures and she does a great job, most of the pictures you'll see here were taken by her. With all the snow and cold temps all over the place, wanted to warm things up a bit...

Paradise Island, Nassau; Bahamas

Dry Tortugas State Park, 60mi West of Key West

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Guana River State Park, Ponte Vedra Beach FL

Sunset at Sea, close to St Thomas BVI

Caps on the Water, Ponte Vedra Beach FL

Bring on Spring and Summer!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Choosing an Online Broker For a Roth IRA

In case you're not familiar with what a Roth IRA is, Dave Ramsey explains it well here. If you are single and make under $105k or married and your combined income is less than $166k for 2011, you are eligible and can contribute a maximum of $5000 per person per year towards an individual Roth IRA. They have to be separate accounts in each individual's name.
You have until the tax filing deadline, usually April 15th, of the following year to make your contributions for that year. I'm planning to make contributions now for last year and then make regularly recurring monthly payments into the accounts going forward.  I saw two main potential options, choose a low fee, no load mutual fund company and sign up with them directly, or choose an online discount broker.
For our accounts I decided to go with Vanguard and the 2045 Target Date Mutual Fund (VTIVX). I did that because they have the lowest expense ratios in the industry, currently .2% and have a comparable rate of return to competing company funds of the same category.  Additionally, you do not have to pay any fees to purchase the fund, which is another main reason for going directly to Vanguard, instead of purchasing the same fund through another company.
The downside to Vanguard is that they require a minimum $3000 initial investment for that fund, and most of their funds in general. If you have less to start with, T Rowe Price came in a close second, they have slightly higher fees of roughly .6%, but they have a lower minimum $1000 initial investment for their similar target date funds.
Open an IRA @ OptionsHouse Today.
If you prefer to have a wider range of choices and would like to actively buy and sell individual stocks, I'd recommend going with Options House.  They charge only $3.95 for stock trades, they have a current new sign-up promotion of 100 free trades and they cover any sort of fees up to $125 if you are transferring in an IRA from another broker.  A great deal and potential option for those interested in a more active approach.  

Feel free to leave a quick note to let others know what online investment sites you utilize and whether you like or dislike them as well, the more opinions the better.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vacation Planning

At the start of the new year we typically begin to plan where we want to go over the coming year. The wifey usually takes the lead on that, reading various review sites like Trip Advisor and then narrows things down and we talk things over.

We typically do one week long vacation per year and other long weekend excursions here and there. For our week long vacations we typically like all-inclusive resorts in tropical locations with good snorkeling and beautiful beaches or a Cruise to similar locations. With a big factor being affordability.

We've been on 3 different Carnival cruises out of Jacksonville, Tampa and Cape Canaveral to Nassau/Freeport, Grand Cayman Islands/Costa Maya Mexico and Nassau/St Thomas/St Martin respectively. Our longer trips have been to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and the Riviera Maya in Mexico. We went to Florida Keys for our Honeymoon and took day trips on the way back in Cape Coral, Bonita Springs/Siesta Key beach. We also went to Las Vegas this past Thanksgiving and had a great time, with the highlight being our Maverick Helicopter Tour of the Grand Canyon.

Our favorite place we've been is Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. We went there in December of 2002, which is where/when I proposed to Marla. The picture on the left shows the area where I got on one knee and the rest is history.

We stayed at the Barcelo Bavaro Beach All-Inclusive Resort. At the time it was one of the top rated resorts on TripAdvisor and on Debbie's Dominican Travel, both great places to read resort reviews. It was the most relaxing place we've been, the beaches were pristine, snorkeling was great right at the resort beach and I think we just did 1 excursion to snorkel at another location. Only downside was having to use bottled water for all drinking and even brushing your teeth. If you didn't, you'd regret it, something I found out the last day and on the way home.

We really liked our trip to the Grand Palladium Riviera Maya in Mexico, we went with my sister Michelle/James in March of last year, but it was not as relaxing as we normally like. We had planned this trip to do more activities, so that was just fine. The resort was MASSIVE (too large), you could literally walk for miles and still not be where you wanted to go, but the grounds were immaculate along the way. There were shuttles available to just about anywhere and in the section we were in you could call for a private shuttle, but many times we didn't want to wait so by the 3rd day, whew, our legs could feel the pain. We did a bunch of excursions, trip to the Tulum Ruins, Playa Del Carmen and a Ceynote underground cave for snorkeling. Our highlight there was relaxing in the Bali beds around our pool area and having some afternoon drinks.

So this time around we're thinking of returning to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. We want to relive the experience we had last time and are leaning towards The Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana. We really liked our Oceanfront room we had at the Barcelo resort, but we're leaning towards a first floor 'swim-up' room in the Adult only section at this resort, the main reason being that you get your own private Bali bed!

What are the favorite places you have been? Any upcoming plans?
We're always looking for new ideas!

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