28 November 2014

Black Friday

Save money by spending!
We Americans have quite a short memory span. In addition to our Presidents continuing to pull the wool over our eyes, we sit around stuffing our faces saying how thankful we are to have that opportunity then immediately rush out to throw hard-earned cash at more Stuff. Some of the less (more?) fortunate among us don't even get the opportunity to properly follow that sequence of events because they were needed at work for Thanksgiving or for the sales that are creeping ever earlier into Turkey Day itself.

While many people are going through the ridiculous motions of trying to drive to a shop, others (like me) took to our computers, where our inboxes are brimming with email blasts from our favorite retailers with their offerings for the joyous occasion. As an added bonus, all the shopping can be done while still enjoying the football games and without getting crushed or trampled at a brick & mortar. Online retailers started early this year with promises of deals and online payment processors such as PayPal and Visa have been offering cash back for minimum spends at a select few of them.

Although some people, especially in the personal finance blogosphere, prefer to shun Black Friday, I rather enjoy the opportunity to get something or another that I was budgeting for or usually by at sometimes a substantial discount. However, I never waste my time standing in a line to get trampled to get 50% off a Tickle Me Elmo. In accordance with the way that I conduct a substantial amount of my shopping, I rely on stalwarts like Newegg, B&H, Amazon.com, and others to complete my purchases then wait for the doorbell to ring. Most stuff I buy online is pretty straight-forward anyway (e.g. memory cards), so there's no need to "showroom" items first.

As already mentioned, most online Black Friday deals start on Thursday and some companies run an entire "Black November", promising Black Friday prices all month long. Another popular day is the Monday following Black Friday, now more commonly known as Cyber Monday. This has grown in popularity for deals over the last several years, but the consensus seems to be that better deals as a whole are not being offered on Cyber Monday after all, a move that has managers worried what to do with all the extra productivity.

Finally, don't forget that this Saturday (but actually every single day), your local small business(wo)man is hoping that you stop by to actually patronize their business. Many times, we completely forget about our mom & pop shops. But those are really the lifeblood of the cities. American Express has an outstanding offer for its card holders to help inject some life into your local chamber of commerce: $10 back for a maximum of $30 total for shopping at a small business and spending at least $10 on Saturday. You just have to pre-register, so go do it now!

At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference. Most of us don't like waiting in lines, but the prospect of snagging a "deal" often sends people out doing crazy things that they would normally avoid. What do you do to avoid getting burnt out (or trampled!) on Black Friday shopping? What amazing deals have you found? Spread the love and share in the comments!

Image: arztsamui on freedigitalphotos.net.

19 November 2014

Hump Day Haiku: Strapped

The bank of uncertainty.
Image: Simon Howden on freedigitalphotos.net.
Well, it's certainly been quite some time, hasn't it. Let's not delay any longer.

Strapped
Money in the bank
Bills piling up higher still
Will it be enough?

11 July 2014

DIY: 4th Gen Toyota Camry Oxygen Sensor

Background noise

Here in the Golden State, we love our clean air! That translates into great things like the smog check that comes once every two years. It so happened that this year, the car that my roommate and I share came due for its biennial check, so it was off to the testing station. Since it had passed when she bought it, we had no reason to believe that it wouldn't do so again. However, other plans were in order and not all was well. The CA smog check consists of three parts: visual of all emissions equipment, a tailpipe "sniffer" test, and a scan of the engine's computer. Imagine my annoyance when it passed the visual and sniffer but still failed due to the ECU throwing a code in the background that wasn't even triggering the check engine light (CEL).

Anyway, time for the fun. I have a code reader, so I plugged it in and discovered what code was actually being thrown in the background (P1135 for those interested). Most auto parts stores (e.g. Autozone, O'Reilly, etc.) will also read it for you for free, though I hear that some complications may exist on that in some states. But if someone is charging $100+ (or really anything) just to read the codes, run. That money can buy your a decent scanner that you can use for years to come.

After getting the code, the best course of action is to immediately turn to Google. That's what I did and in 0.254 seconds, I had over a million hits for the code, including some relevant results on the front page. An intermediate first stop might include obd-codes.com to see what the code is, but in this day and age, an online forum exists for virtually every car produced and with a dedicated knowledge base of individuals who tinker under their hoods. Following the link to some of the top results (from several different forums) kept leading me to the same consensus: pre-cat oxygen sensor.

The best part about forums is that someone has done what you're wanting to do. They've also already bought the parts in question, including the OEMs, the aftermarkets, and the OEM-equivalent aftermarkets. Many manufacturers of "OEM" parts also sell the otherwise identical part unbranded for significantly less than the "OEM" part from the dealer. Between Google and the forums, I was able to determine that this Denso sensor (PN 234-9010) was the unbranded version of the "Toyota" sensor I needed. I wasted no time in ordering it as it was less than half the price the dealer was charging for the "OEM" part.

Oxygen sensor and wire
location in engine bay.
Once the part arrived, the real fun began. This is probably one of the easiest repairs on this car period, especially compared to some other cars I've worked on. If you can see into the engine bay, you can do it! I didn't even need gloves to keep my hands clean, that's how easy it was. Still, here goes. Maybe I'm too detailed, but that's alright.

Removing the sensor

First things first, you need to locate the sensor. Fortunately, this is so easy to do because it's literally right in front of you. It looks like the engine bay was designed for the V6 model, so there's a wealth of open space that makes the 4-cylinder model look extremely empty. Just open the hood and presto!, there it is. It's what the wire sticking out of the exhaust manifold heat shield is for. They sell special sockets for use on oxygen sensors that have cutouts for the wire, but you could make a plain 22mm socket work too or see if a neighbor/friend has one that you can borrow.

After locating the sensor, disconnect its wire from the wiring harness then use the socket to remove it. This may require the application of a penetrating compound (i.e. PB Blaster) and/or the use of a long bar on the wrench handle for torque. Also important is making sure the manifold is cool. This is not just to avoid getting some nice new scars, but also to make sure that you can remove the sensor. If it and the manifold are hot, it'll be much harder to remove. Breaking it off in the manifold would not be beneficial at all.

Installing the new sensor

Don't you just love instructions? "Installation is the reverse of removal" usually greets you on many parts packages for parts that require a degree in process engineering to understand. Fortunately, this instance of that is straight to the point. As it is, there're only two steps to remember: screw in the sensor and connect the wire. It really is that simple! Optional is applying the anti-seize compound to the threads of the new sensors. If you decide to do so, take care to not get any on the sensor itself. They don't take too kindly to be handled at all, much less to getting goop on them. After everything's all wrapped up in the bay, head back under the dash to clear the CEL. The code reader should have a button for doing so. Clear the code, then go drive for a bit. The goal is for the CEL to not come back on. (Of course, if it was on for multiple codes but you've only addressed one problem, it likely will come back on for the other stuff. But P1135 should be gone for good.) If it does throw P1135 again, check to make sure that the wire is plugged in properly before totally freaking out.

Today, the drudgery of owning a Camry just decreased a little. This fix is good for 4-cylinder Camrys from 1991-2001, all of which are well within the price point of a good Mustachian car by now. It's probably applicable to any other vehicle using the Toyota 5S-FE engine, but I'm not a Toyota guy so I couldn't tell you which ones fall into that category. If not, don't despair. Google and forums are your friend. Happy wrenching and I'll be back with other money-saving repair tips in the future!

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links. If you choose to buy from them, thanks for the support!

07 May 2014

Hump Day Haiku: The Ringer

How long will this go on?
Well, quite some time has certainly passed since I last posted one of these. Many things have changed in that interim in all our lives and the world in general. What hasn't changed is our love for poetry. Behold, without further ado, another piece by yours truly. Enjoi!

The Ringer
Ring, ring ring! Hello?
Your house is to be foreclosed;
Music to my ears.

Photo from phanlop88 on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

11 April 2014

The Lending Club Experience

So as I mentioned awhile back in my self-made raise post, I finally took the plunge and went over to Lending Club* a couple months ago. However, while most PF bloggers are there to invest, my mission was different: pay off my high interest debt. Lending Club is somewhat famous for this sort of mission, so I figured that it would be a good place to start. Since the overwhelming majority of the pieces I see about Lending Club come from said investors, I'm taking it upon myself to offer my experience with them.

It was basically like my computer giving me money.
Photo from jannoon028.
The process wasn't as easy as applying for some other types of credit have been (i.e. credit cards), though it wasn't pure drudgery either. The whole process took about a week, including fielding a call from a Lending Club agent to confirm information, the trial credit/debit to my bank account to make sure it worked, and setting up an actual account online. (By the way, you can't borrow and lend from the same account, but it seems like making separate accounts for those two functions would allowed. I've yet to experiment with that.)

Once the formalities were done, money made its way to my bank account and my interest-charging credit card balances quickly became zero. In addition to freeing up money from interest, it also simplified the whole debt repayment ordeal. Instead of having several bills to keep track of, I now only have a single payment for a single amount. No more juggling and constant checking to make sure several different cards all get their amount at the various times. And of course, paying it off also comes with the financial benefit of lower interest costs.

Eight months later, things continue to go smoothly. I guess perhaps the true test would come if I were unable to pay, but I don't see that happening. Lending Club doesn't wait for you to "forget" to send in the payment because they do a direct debit to your account for the payment amount. To further make sure that you're ready, they send an email reminder 5 days in advance to give the heads up and make sure the money is there.

All in all, I'd recommend an account with Lending Club* to anyone looking to get back on their financial feet but needing a little extra help. While some places offer "instant approval", Lending Club certainly isn't in that camp. They don't do payday loans. However, they may offer a decent opportunity to anyone looking to seriously wrest control of their financial ship. The lower interest rate as well as simplification are also welcome. As they say, "less is more". In this case, more in money your pocket and more peace of mind. Don't forget to cut up your cards!

*Note: If you choose to borrow from Lending Club via that link, I'll get a referral bonus. Thanks for the support!.