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.

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!.

14 February 2014

Happy Valentine's Day! 14 Ways to Show Your Finances Some Love

Love your wallet and it will love you!
Legend has it that Cupid shoots arrows at the best deals in the grocery store. Today is Valentine's Day, a time to buy roses (or whatever the flower shop has left over), go out to dinner (better already have reservations!), and pretend you haven't been ignoring your significant other since Christmas. But your wallet is probably still suffering from Christmas! In acknowledgement of that fact, here are some things you can do to show your finances that you love them. At any time, really.

1. Track your finances
Garbage in, garbage out. But how do you even know what's going in and out (but sadly not In-N-Out) unless you keep track of it? Whether you use Mint, Personal Capital, Excel, or just a pen and some scraps of paper, make sure you know where your money is coming from and especially where it goes.

2. Stop driving
With the IRS allowing us to deduct $0.56/mile for business expenses,  that means that most people's driving costs a similar amount. However, driving is one of the least obvious drains on the wallet. Even if you drive a Volt that you got on a mythical $179/month lease, miles add up quickly because many people do not have a good concept of distance. I used to routinely drive 400 miles/week, and that was barely my work commute and a few errands. I hardly felt like I was driving. I've since reduced my driving by quite a lot. I suggest you also cut back somehow . The extra money is nice.

3. Stop paying interest
One sure way to make sure that you're sabotaging your progress is by sending portions of your money to others just because they let you use their money. The sooner you can stop that practice, the better.

4. Increase your income
Whether that means dusting off the résumé for a round of hiring manager roulette or just creating a debt snowball, more money never hurt anybody. Yes, I typed that with straight fingers.

5. Cut the leaks
Or in other words, make sure you're not trying to heat the state of North Dakota in the dead of winter nor cooling the Mojave during a Cali summer. You probably cannot have too much insulation. For starters, make sure your windows and doors are effective barriers against the elements. Expand into the walls if you can. Even with the HVAC system is up to snuff, keeping it from having to run by taking care of leaks will save lots of money.

6. Get out your bike
This is how you get around once you stop driving as much. You do have a bike, right? Take it out and ride it. Like yesterday. Don't worry if you don't have any Lycra, that stuff is overrated anyway and not necessary. But you can never have too much light. I roll with two lights on my bike to make sure that I see the potholes.

7. Cull your junk
One quick and possibly easy way to get the income figure increased (at least temporarily) is to sell any unneeded and unwanted items you have sitting around. If you can. There's no one good way to sell your stuff. Ebay works for some, Amazon for others, and yard sale for a third category. Unless you need the stuff gone tomorrow, you should have time to research and find out which method gets you the biggest payday. Do it.

8. Trace the money
How much is eating out costing each month anyway? With the monitoring you set up in #1, it will be much easier to figure out where exactly your money goes. Follow up to make sure that it goes where you think it goes and that where you think it goes is where you want it to go.

9. Learn something
Knowledge is power, you're never too old to learn. While learning never ends, the learning of school is rather limited. You don't have to go sign up for classes to learn, even if you want to explore the nuances of Schrödinger's cat and his equations for fun. (You can just buy previous versions of textbooks on just about any subject from Amazon or eBay for pennies and teach yourself.) But learning new skills can be a good way to help #4. Everything from getting a degree to learning how to properly track your mileage can be used to your advantage in earning a few more pennies.

10. Stay healthy
Historically a relatively minor portion of most people's expenditures, healthcare expenditures are set to explode for many. Sure, Obummercare is supposed to result in everyone getting insurance and "allowed" those who liked their plans to keep them. While healthcare inflation is no longer galloping along at multiples of the economy, many of us are still going to see higher costs in one way or another. Regular exercise can stave off diseases such as diabetes, improve libido and work performance, yada yada yada. With employers offering more carrots & sticks to promote health, those who are healthier will stand to benefit many times over. The recommendation of 150 minutes weekly can be easily divided into daily segments that are manageable to accomplish, so not having time is hardly an excuse.

11. Get rewarded
Companies like to pay you to do all kinds of stuff, hoping that you'll return the favor by buying stuff from them. So from the more obvious like frequent flier miles and grocery rewards to the obscure, the chance to profit from your spending exists all over the place. One way to ensure that you get rewarded even when a specific rewards program doesn't exist is to carry a rewards card to use for as many purchases as you can. Of course, pay it off monthly! We've already discussed interest and I've yet to find one that pays higher rewards than the interest rate it charges.

12. Negotiate your purchases
Prices usually aren't set in stone, not even in the big box stores. (Just last week, I successfully defended a UPC scan for a folder that didn't agree with the shelf for a $3 savings.) However, if you just roll over and accept them, then they are for you. I know, I've done it. Always find out if the price you're supposed to be paying is the best that the seller can do, and if it's not, send them back to the drawing board. Still not happy? Leave. You hold ultimate control over your own purse strings.

13. Embrace change
This one might seem to be at odds with the premise of this entire post. Change is generally associated with new, which is often combined with spending. But change doesn't have to require breaking out the wallet. There are plenty of changes that can be beneficial to your wallet. Some of them have already been mentioned, e.g. changing driving or health habits. All can have a positive effect on your financial situation, so embrace the change and the spare change that it brings! And unless you're Bill Gates, it's probably worth your time to pick up spare change too.

14. Pay off debt
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the topic that might seem to be the most obvious to be on this list. As such, I'd better not disappoint. This isn't just a tip from me, it's something that I'm also actively working on in my own life. I also carry financial obligations to several entities. They aren't currently anywhere near a absolutely crucial level, though MMM might disagree. However, if I were to become unable to work, they would indeed cause issues in quick order. Therefore, I am committed to erasing them as fast as possible using as many of the tools in this post (and others) to do so. If you're also carrying any debt, it's probably a good time to look at the terms (again) and get them altered.

Photo credit: Danilin on freedigitalphotos.net.