Save money at Amazon with camelcamelcamel

Save money at Amazon with camelcamelcamel

If you like to shop at Amazon, you really should be using camelcamelcamel. This service tracks prices at Amazon and allows you to set alerts to tell you when prices drop on items you want to buy.

Here is a real world example: My wife and I wanted to buy some dishes that, at $76.48 per place setting, are quite a bit more than we are used to paying for dishes. We set a price alert and sat back to wait for the price to fall. Fast forward a month or so, and I got an email letting me know that the price dropped to $58.62, a savings of over $18 (counting taxes) per place setting. It took almost no effort on my part, just a few moments to copy and paste a URL to camelcamelcamel.

They even have a handy Chrome extension called the Camelizer. It adds a button to all Amazon pages that, when clicked, shows you price history and lets you set a price alert.

This works for pretty much anything that you know you want to buy, but don’t really need immediately. I’ve successfully used it to save money on new smoke detectors (the old ones still worked, they were just close to the expiration date), several books, a mattress for my daughter, a NAS, and more.

They also have a version for Best Buy. I don’t shop there so can’t really vouch for it, but looks like it works the same as the Amazon version.

Featured image is a creative commons licensed flickr photo shared by Ted.

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Bitcoin Faucets

Bitcoin Faucets

Need something to do while you are sick in bed? How about getting some free Bitcoins?

A Bitcoin faucet is a service that gives out tiny tiny bits of Bitcoins for free, typically 50 to 1000 satoshi at a time. A satoshi is 0.00000001 BTC, or about $0.000006557 USD (at the moment.. prices are always fluctuating), so it really isn’t much money. The owners of these services earn money by selling ad space.

To keep you from racking up the Bitcoins too fast, these services only let you earn satoshi once every 30 minutes to 24 hours.

You need at least 5500 satoshi to get paid due to Bitcoin minimum transaction size requirements, and some services require a little bit more just to make it harder to get a payout. Many faucets send micropayments to an aggregator, which then pays you when you get 5500 satoshi.

So here are a few of my favorites (some of these give me a referral bonus.. using these links won’t reduce the amount of Bitcoins you’ll get though..):

Bitcoin Zebra – If you are only going to try this once, then Bitcoin Zebra is the one to use. It lets you earn once every hour and has a Chrome extension that gives you a heads up when it is time to earn some more. They only pay out once a week, but you’ll earn more for doing less than you would with other faucets.

Bit Chest – This aggregator uses many faucets, including 8coin which gives 500 satoshi at a time. I really like this one because: A) it lets you know when you can earn more satoshi, B) it is easy to get to 5500 satoshi in a single day, and C) it pays out each night.

CoinBox.me – They have a bunch of little faucets that get aggregated into this one site. They have a full list of faucets on their homepage. They pay out daily, but it takes a LOT more work to get to the minimum 5500 payout because their faucets don’t give out much at a time.

There are PILES of faucets out there, but these are the best I’ve seen (particularly the first two).

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We moved to Texas!

We moved to Texas!

P1010888Becca and I finally bought a house! We’ve moved to San Antonio in the far north central area last Tuesday, in the Bulverde Village subdivision.

We think the location is phenomenal: 15 minutes from the San Antonio temple, 2 minutes to a Super Target, 15 minutes to church, 20 minutes to a major airport, 15 minutes to two different malls, and to top it all off we are on the end of a nice cul-de-sac far away from noisy traffic. It is going to be a dramatic upgrade from our noisy, cramped city living lifestyle in New Haven.

We love our home! It is brick on all sides, has lots of grass (0.29 acre lot), large closets in all the bedrooms, and a spacious kitchen. Anna loves having her own bedroom and bathroom (technically the shared guest bath). The yard needs some work but has been maintained enough that we have had a blast running around in it, blowing bubbles, weeding together, watering the plants together, and just generally having fun.

I woke up early the other day and took my new push reel mower for a spin in the backyard. There was something superbly satisfying about getting some early morning exercise while taking care of my home. I had considered hiring someone to care for my lawn, but the weather is so beautiful in the mornings and evenings that I think I’ll just handle it on my own.

I’ve still got a pile of work to do on the house though. The front door is warped and probably needs replaced. I don’t think I want to tackle that on my own so we’ll probably pay to get that fixed. The light switches are the old little switch style. I prefer the decorator style paddle switches, so I’ve slowly been swapping those out. I’m also going to swap out the outlets in Anna’s room with tamper resistant ones for a little extra safety. I’d love to paint the walls in the garage. And there is a list a mile long of other little things I’d like to do over the next few months.

Cost of living in San Antonio is drastically lower than in New Haven. We cut our car insurance bill in half without lowering our coverage. Gas is 45 cents cheaper per gallon. Electricity is practically free compared to New Haven.

Anyways, we are so excited to be in Texas!

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Starting a new company

Starting a new company

About two weeks ago I was happily drifting off to sleep when my cell phone rang. I hate getting voicemails more than I hate getting woken up in the middle of the night so I took the call. To my surprise it was a mission buddy, Jon, pitching me a business he wanted me to invest in. I’ve been trying to come up with a unique physical product to sell for years, so I was very excited to have one practically fall in my lap. I did some research, liked what I saw, and a few days later we signed an operating agreement for our new company. A few days after that (on my birthday!) we finalized a deal to purchase the rights to our new product from its creator.

So what, you may be asking, does this new company sell? SproutBoards. We aren’t a household name yet so you probably have no idea what that is, so let me explain. A SproutBoard is a sort of motherboard or breakout board for the popular Arduino microcontroller. This gives any SproutBoard user a slew of inputs that can be connected to sensors, outputs that can be used to control equipment, and the ability to use one of our acrylic chassis to mount their project on the wall or in a standard server rack. In addition to that we are developing software for the SproutBoard that will make it easy to tell your SproutBoard to take different actions based on the input of sensors.

sproutboard

So what can you actually make with a SproutBoard? Here are a few ideas:

  1. A server room monitor that can email, txt, or call you when the power goes out, it gets too hot, it detects flooding, or an unauthorized person tries to get to your equipment.
  2. An indoor greenhouse that turns the lights on and off as needed, maintains the appropriate humidity, and waters the plants when they get thirsty.
  3. A home security system that lets you use an RFID key fob to enter your home without a key, uses a low cost prepaid wireless service to alert you to problems even if the power is out, and lets you grant access to visitors even if you aren’t home.
  4. An aquarium control system that monitors temperature, pH, salt content, oxygen levels, and the water level, and lets you know the moment your fish are in danger.

Those are just a handful of the projects that we’ll be providing full tutorials and documentation for in the near future.

Well that is pretty much it for now. My partner and I have been working long nights trying to get the website moved over to our own server, getting documentation cleaned up, and doing all the tedious new business paperwork. We’ve been brainstorming new products and have a long (very long) list of products we plan on developing in the near future. It’ll be a few days before our inventory arrives so we’ve temporarily suspended sales but you’ll be able to place an order soon.

We are also gearing up for the Mini Maker Faire in Austin on May 5th. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend, but my partner will be there showing off a hydroponics system built using a SproutBoard. If you live anywhere near Austin, please stop by the Maker Faire and say hi to Jon for me!

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Free $100 AdWords promotional credit vouchers

I just got a new batch of $100 AdWords promotional credit vouchers if anyone is interested. They require you to spend $25 of your own money before you get to use the $100 promotional credit, and they are only available to new AdWords users. Only available to individuals and businesses in the United States.

If you’d like one, let me know and I’ll send it right over.

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Donations in kind to the LDS church

I’m a Mormon, and so I pay tithing to the LDS church. For me, this means 10% of my gross income. That is a lot of money, so I take advantage of any tax deductions that the government feels inclined to offer to those that make charitable donations. In the past I’ve just written a check, but I recently learned that donations can be made in kind. Back in the day that meant pigs, chickens, corn, things like that, but nowadays it means stocks and real estate.

I unfortunately do not possess any real estate, so I decided to donate some stock. Why not just write a check? Tax benefits! Lets say I bought stock XYZ a few years ago for $10 per share. It is now worth $50 per share. I could sell the stock and pay taxes on the $40 profit per share, or I could donate them to a charitable organization, avoid capital gains tax, and still get a deduction for the full value of the stock.

So here is a real life example from my portfolio: In 2010 I purchased some shares of VTI for a total price of $7,213.39. These shares are now worth $8,038.75, for a total increase of $825.36. My marginal tax rate is high enough that I’m required to pay capital gains tax on my investments, which is currently 15% of the profit, so if I just sold these shares then I’d be on the hook for $123.80 in federal taxes. By donating directly to the church, I get to keep that $123.80 and I still get a tax deduction for the full $8,038.75.

There are, as always, caveats. My understanding is that this only works for stocks that you have held for at least one year and thus qualify as long-term stocks. For 2012 you won’t pay any long-term capital gains taxes unless your marginal tax rate is 25% or higher, so you won’t see a benefit if your marginal tax rate is less than 25%. In 2013 everyone gets to pay long-term capital gains taxes regardless of your marginal tax rate, so this would work for everyone at that point. Of course I’m not a tax professional and I’m certainly not your tax professional, so you’ll want to talk to your tax professional before trying to utilize this part of the tax code to your advantage.

There are also a few other benefits to donating stock:

  1. Get rid of stocks without paying brokerage fees. The Church has accounts at many brokerage companies (including the one I use the most, TD Ameritrade), and most brokerage companies will do internal transfers for free.
  2. Keep your local ward from knowing how much money you make. The Church Donations-in-Kind office doesn’t report your tithing donations to your local ward, so they’ll never know how much tithing you paid, and thus won’t be able to multiply your tithing by 10 to get a rough estimate of your earnings.

Anyways, I decided I’d give it a shot. I have some long-term stocks that are worth more than I paid but I no longer want in my portfolio, so I decided I’d donate them as tithing. The LDSTech wiki says to start by calling the Donations-in-Kind department, so that is where I started. I dialed the number and was promptly greeted by an employee of the church. I let them know that I wanted to make a donation in kind and that I’ve never done it before. He asked what brokerage I use, I told him, and he quickly emailed the information I needed for the transfer. Maybe a 2 minute phone call, completely painless.

The email contained a form-fillable TD Ameritrade PDF and a Word doc with the Church’s account number and instructions. Filling out the form took maybe another 5 minutes (mainly due to triple checking it to make sure I didn’t mess it up). I dropped it in the mail on 9/26, then replied to the Church’s email with my name, address, and summary of my donation (per their instructions).

On 10/1 (5 days later, darn slow postal mail), the shares were transferred out of my account and into the Church’s, and today (10/9, 13 days after I started the process) I received my receipt from the Church. This receipt is vital to keep on hand for tax season, as the IRS isn’t going to be happy about you claiming you made a donation that you don’t have proof of. One odd thing to keep in mind is that the Church doesn’t provide a value for your donation. Instead, the IRS expects you to use the average of the high and low price of the stock on the day it was transferred.

Anyways, the process was really easy. I think I’m going to try doing this a couple times a year instead of paying tithing with a check to my local ward. I loathe checks and feel sorry for the poor ward clerks that have to count up the money. This just seems easier for everyone.

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