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Banned Plastic Trash Bags

A few years ago, I purchased a small trash can from Target. At the time, I thought that the design was quite ingenious since it was a perfect fit for the ubiquitous plastic bags that all stores provided. The trash can even had two loops on the side to secure the handles of the plastic bags. Of course, I did not anticipate that many cities in the San Francisco Bay Area would prohibit stores from distributing these bags at check-out.

As our supply has dwindled, I’ve looked elsewhere for similar plastic bags. But, even this box of 4 gallon bags seemed expensive at 11¢ per bag. On a recent trip to Costco, I saw a box of T-Shirt Bags, those verboten plastic shopping bags. At 1,000 count, the price per bag was 1.5¢. Now, buying plastic shopping bags just to use as trash bags seems profligate. But, the only difference between shopping bags and trash bags is the handles.

Regardless of whatever new restrictions city government may present, I have enough plastic trash bags to last until my retirement. If I use one bag per week, I can last almost 20 years. Now that’s a smart buy. If I want to be even more economical, I bring them inside the store to use for groceries first before converting them to use as trash bags.

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Trident Gum

How can you teach math in a way that is relatable to young children? One approach is to look for math lessons within their daily lives. Our lesson was a study in the economics of chewing gum. Target sells a pack of Trident gum for 97¢. The Target website doesn’t show the price for Trident gum, but Google Shopping Express reports a price of $1.12 per pack. (Interesting!)

Costco sells Trident gum for 73¢ per pack, but you need to shell out for a 10-count box. Out of curiosity, I stopped by a Safeway, which was selling it for $1.49 per pack. Yikes! That’s more than double the Costco price. But, the Safeway website has it currently at 99¢ per pack for a limited time with a Safeway Club card.

Shopping at Costco is so much easier because you don’t have to think whether you are grossly overpaying for an item.

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Gasoline Prices: Debit v. Credit

A number of factors come to mind when the needle of the fuel gauge starts edging towards the empty mark. Of course, I prefer the closer gasoline station to the one farther away. I also prefer the lower cost station from a major brand of gasoline. Finally, I’ve timed the pumps and know that the Shell station dispenses gasoline faster than the Valero one.

But, today, the choices were between Valero and ARCO. I first pulled into Valero, but all the pumps were being used. Not wanting to wait, I headed across the street to ARCO. For regular unleaded, ARCO was selling it at 3.959 per gallon while Valero was selling it for 4.059 per gallon. From experience, I knew that ARCO did not accept credit cards and imposed a fee on debit card usage. The precise amount was 35¢ per transaction. So the quick calculation was that after 3 ½ gallons, I should be better off at ARCO despite their debit fee. Not a problem since I had to fill almost the entire tank.

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I ended up purchasing 16.538 gallons of regular unleaded gas at $3.959 for $64.57. Add the 35¢ debit fee and the grand total was $65.82.

If I purchased the same amount and type of gasoline at Valero, the cost of 16.538 gallons for $4.059 is $67.13. At first glance, ARCO is saving me $1.31 for the fill-up. However, I would not use a debit card at Valero. Instead, I would use a credit card like American Express Blue Cash which rebates 2% of gas station purchases. Including the rebate, the total cost drops to $65.79, or 3¢ cheaper.

So, paying for gas at ARCO with cash secures the lowest cost. However, you have to carry around quite a bit of cash just to top off the tank. The days of 79¢/gallon gas and a $20 fill-up are long gone. The next best option is a regular station with a 2% cash rewards credit card, which slightly edges out the ARCO debit card choice despite the 10¢ per gallon spread in gas prices due to the debit card fee.

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When worlds collide, it could be an epic disaster or the best of both worlds. In this case, a brand of ice cream that I occasionally buy shows up at Costco. Three 32-oz containers of Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream for $10.99. That’s $3.66 for each delicious container of sweet ice cream.

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Unfortunately, when I went back the following week, it was out of stock. I hope this will be a permanent item.

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I rarely set foot inside Safeway. However, I had to replenish the supplies of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls before breakfast one morning. And, Costco does not open until 10:00 A.M. So, Safeway it was.

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For the most part, Costco’s game is to sell in bulk. Now, if Safeway and Costco were selling the same quantity of the same item, would there be a significant price difference? 24 Hawaiian sweet rolls for $5.99 at Safeway, but only $4.49 at Costco. 25% cheaper, which probably explains why I go months between Safeway visits.

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Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream

As great as Costco’s prices can be, a manufacturer’s instant rebate, when available, makes the deal even sweeter.

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Amazon currently sells Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream for Dry, Sensitive Skin, Fragrance Free, Non-comedogenic (20 Oz) for $14.39, which is higher than Costco’s regular price. Toss in the instant $4.25 rebate, and it’s a steal.

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Zojirushi NL-AAC18 Micom Rice Cooker

The Amazon Mobile iPhone App is a great way to “trust, but verify.” I spotted the Zojirushi NL-AAC18 for “sale” at 99 Ranch Market, with an enticing $30.00 off label. However, just because a product is selling for less than the MSRP, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bargain if everyone else is selling for less.

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So, I opened the Amazon Mobile app and scanned the bar code, which revealed a $217.49 price with a $50.51 savings. Not sure how these have different list prices. So much for how bricks and mortar cannot compete with Amazon.

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Lifeway Kefir

We love Lifeway Kefir. Costco sells a 12-8 fl. oz. package for $9.99 or $0.104 per ounce.

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The question is whether a 12-8 fluid ounce package of kefir would cost less per ounce than a single 32 fluid ounce bottle of kefir.

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If a retailer was selling a single 8 fl. oz. bottle of kefir, I’m pretty sure that the 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would be cheaper per ounce. Likewise, a single 96 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would probably be cheaper than a single 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir. However, would 12 8 fl. oz bottles of kefir be cheaper per ounce than a single 32 fl. oz bottle?

I picked up a 32 fl. oz. bottle of Lifeway kefir from Milk Pail in Mountain View, CA for $3.99. The per ounce cost is $0.125.

So, a lot of small bottles purchased together costs less than one larger bottle, despite all the extra packaging.

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Verizon Jetpack MHS291VW

After using the Karma WiFi device for one afternoon, I purchased the Verizon Jetpack MHS291LVW instead. The big advantage of the Karma is the low initial cost. For those needing access to Wi-Fi once a month or even once a week for a few hours, the no commitment $14 per 1 GB Karma would probably suffice.

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However, once your usage level increases, you’re looking at $56 per 4 GB versus $50 per 4 GB on Verizon, provided your usage level remains steady month-to-month.

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The big difference though is the speed. On the Karma, I was seeing 1.34 Mbps download and 0.11 Mbps upload. The Verizon unit was a lot faster at 4.94 Mbps download and 0.93 Mbps upload, which was pretty close to my 6 Mbps AT&T DSL connection. Ookla Speedtest clocked my AT&T service at 5.07 Mbps download and 0.64 Mbps upload.

Update – August 29, 2013

I wonder if the speedtest.net numbers are valid. At one location in Palo Alto, the Verizon MiFi clocked in at 10.92 Mbps download.

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In Mountain View, speedtest.net reported the same unit achieving 27.15 Mbps download.

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Karma WiFi Review

Recently, I needed an occasional WiFi connection while away from home and work, so I started studying my options. I looked at the usual suspects; i.e., AT&T and Verizon mobile hotspots, but the monthly pricing on their websites is a bit opaque. Tethering might have been an option, if I didn’t have to surrender an unlimited data plan.

So, I borrowed a Karma social hotspot from Nicholas Moline for a trial.

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The big difference between Karma and the big boys is its no commitment pay-as-you-go model. If I don’t like the experience, I won’t be saddled with a 2-year contract. Considering that the quality of the mobile WiFi service is completely location dependent, being able to move to another provider if service is not up to par is quite important. Also, for a low-power user, $14 per 1 GB (which may last days, weeks or months) offers a lower entry level than the $50/month that the major services charge.

On to the review. The device is quite compact and light. I placed a quarter on the device for reference.

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Just press the power button and away it goes. To access the network, I selected it from the available WiFi networks. It did require a Facebook account or e-mail address to register. I’m not sure if this is the smartest design because Facebook freaked out and requested account verification details . Probably accessing the internet via an out-of-state IP address that geolocated to Duluth, MN tripped up some security settings.

I ran a broadband speed test, which took some time to spit out these numbers:

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On a browser, text renders pretty quickly, while photos noticeably lag while loading. So, it isn’t awesome, but depending on your individual usage, it may be decent or event acceptable. For browsing the news or chatting with friends, I had no issue. But. if your usage is any heavier, I can see how the WiMAX connection may not be enough. MailPlane (an email application for accessing Gmail accounts) struggled as well.

Karma credited me with an initial 100MB allocation for free. During about 45 minutes of work, I burned through 30MB of data, and I was really trying to conserve bandwidth. At this rate, I might get 25 hours of usage from a 1GB allocation, which may last 1-2 months for me. For not much more, Verizon offers a existing customers a $20 plan, instead of the $50 plan, which also features a faster internet connection. I have no idea how much AT&T charges additional customers on a Family Plan. I couldn’t find the information after looking on its website.

For the occasional, budget user, the Karma probably fills the niche quite well.

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