New Orleans Rapper Dee-1 Raps About Personal Finance

Despite being a millionaire Dee-1 still drives the same car, his old 1998 Honda Accord with 300,000 miles on it.

I don’t care for rap music, but this is interesting coming from the rap genre…

Dee-1 Raps About Not Having a Car Note and Paying Off Student Loans

Dee-1 singing in New Orleans
Photo by kowarski / CC BY 2.0

According to an interview by Clark Howard when Dee-1 landed his first record deal instead of using the cash advance to buy a new car or other things he wanted, he paid off his student loans.  Even though he wasn’t wealthy growing up he learned from his dad’s example the value of saving money.  During the interview he said that after college he had to make a distinction between his wants and needs.  He wanted to buy a new car when he got his first job as a teacher, but instead continued to drive his old car.

Now, despite being a millionaire Dee-1 still drives the same car, his old 1998 Honda Accord with 300,000 miles on it.

With educational loans being given to students like candy and the pressure to keep up with peers people are often finding themselves in tons of debt with no easy path out.

Dee-1 – Sallie Mae Back

It’s great to see a good example from a rapper.  He was responsible and lived a frugal lifestyle that enabled him to slowly work at his student loans.  Some might say it’s easy for him.   He got rich and was able to pay it all off faster.  But becoming wealthy is not what made him good at managing his money.  He was frugal and on a path to becoming debt free before his big break.  It has been shown over and over that people who haven’t learned to manage the money they have are even worse at managing more.

Dee-1 – No Car Note

When your friends, family, and neighbors are buying new cars, houses, and toys, don’t feel like you need to keep up and buy a bunch of stuff that’s as new and nice as they have.  You might do well enough keeping up with a millionaire rapper.



Gridcoin Mining for Science

GridcoinA cryptocurrency that’s actually productive!  I came across Gridcoin (Ticker: GRC) the other day.

Gridcoin helps with cancer and malaria research as well as studying astronomy and solving math problems.

BOINC LogoIt caught my eye because Bitcoins and most cryptocurrencies require miners to spend a lot of computing power mining hashes that aren’t really useful.  Some argue that this is wasting gigawatts of energy each day.  Gridcoin mining actually pays miners to do useful computing by teaming up with BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing).  BOINC is a way for people to donate the idle time on their computer for various research or grid computing projects.  Gridcoin uses a DPOR (Distributed Proof of Research) mechanism to reward miners by paying out Gridcoin based on the work they do on approved BOINC projects.


Miners can choose to work on a variety of projects.  Solving math problems ranging from computing primes to cracking Enigma messages; researching cures for diseases like cancer and malaria and simulating protein folding; astronomy projects researching asteroids, searching for pulsar stars, mapping the milky way; and various other projects like monitoring wildlife.

Unlike Bitcoin which require specialized ASICS to mine efficiently, because there are a variety of BOINC projects they will most likely be better for general purpose computing hardware.  Some projects are better suited for CPU, some for AMD GPUs, some for NVIDIA, Android devices, etc.  You pick the projects based on the type of hardware you already have.

GRCWithTextOnBottomI don’t see Gridcoin as being very profitable (monetarily) for miners-however, this is a fantastic idea and I hope we see more projects that reward miners for doing actual useful computing!

If you want to get started mining Gridcoin start out by following the directions on the Pool.

I’ve been mining for three weeks with a VM (given 8 vCPUs) with the Xeon D-1540 and so far have around 430 coins.  With the current exchange that’s $2.67.  Enough to buy two cheeseburgers.

GRC: SDBycsHrreXXhFAm1nZiYa7SGobBzkVbSH



TracFone on Verizon MVNO Review

We’ve been using Ting for Kris’s phone the last 3 years, it’s been great (see my Ting Review)–but at our new house Sprint’s signal isn’t that good–it can’t really pull in a 3G signal consistently.  In rural North Idaho the best coverage is indisputably Verizon, so I limited my search to Verizon MVNOs which have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program and also only considered plans with access to LTE data.

SmartPhone plan < $10/Month on Verizon LTE

After doing some research and asking questions on HowardForums I finally settled on TracFone, which offers a great plan for light to moderate Android users.  Looking at Kris’s past usage over the last 2 years TracFone (at today’s pricing) would have averaged $7.82/month!  This is for a full SmartPhone service that includes voice, texts, MMS, and data on Verizon’s LTE network. If we use it more we pay more, if we use it less we pay less.

TracFone is very confusing actually–the idea is you buy an airtime card or refill plan (25+ to choose from!) which gives you one or a combination of voice minutes, texts, megabytes, and service days.  There are six types of cards you can buy–for the most part they provide the same service just with a different way and frequency of paying for them.

TracFone Airtime Cards


TracFone 400 minute card

  • 1-year cards.   Provides 365 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value of the minutes triples, and also provides an equal amount of tripled megabytes and texts.  So a 400 minute 1-year card provides 1200 minutes AND 1200 texts AND 1200MB (Could this be any more confusing?)
  • Pay As You Go Cards.  Provides 90 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value triples and you get an equal amount of minutes, megabytes, and texts just like the 1-year cards.
  • Auto Refill.  Provides 30 or 90 days of service.  For SmartPhones the face value triples and you get an equal amount of minutes, texts, and megabytes like the 1-year and Pay As You Go cards.  These can be set to auto-renew every 30 or 90 days.  I should note that they won’t auto-renew when you run out of something.  They just renew every x days.
  • SmartPhone / BYOD cards.  The face value does not triple on these cards.  Provides 90 days of service along with the minutes, texts, and megabytes printed on the card.  These cards are cheaper in terms of minutes and texts, but contain a little less data and only 90 service-days.
  • Monthly Value.  Same as auto refill but refills monthly instead of every 90 days…except for the 30 day auto-refill card.
  • Data only, Text only, and Service only cards.  Then there are individual bucket options–you can purchase data, texts, and also pay to extend service.  The only bucket you can’t purchase by itself is voice minutes.


Warning: I should also note, that some cards say “Double” but they are actually a worse deal.  As far as I can tell the 1-year 800 double minute card doesn’t double or triple on a SmartPhone but it costs more than the 400 minute card!  Also, bonus codes don’t work with SmartPhones–probably because tripling the value is already a great deal.  Also, if you use the monthly-value or auto-refill I’d suggest buying a buffer of at least 30 days airtime in case the refill or renewal fails.

All of the buckets on the cards: minutes, texts, and megabytes never expire.  They carry over and stack with each other.  So if you buy two 90 day cards your service end date will get pushed out 180 days. One great thing about TracFone is if you don’t use up a the units in a bucket you get to keep it–essentially let it rollover forever as long as you don’t let the service lapse.  You can build up your minutes, texts and data and keep them forever as long as you keep extending the service–which you can do by extending the service online for $50 to push the service end date out a year or by purchasing a card with service days on it.

I listed out the TracFone cards below and roughly calculated their value efficiency (far right column).  You can download my TracFone Pricing Spreadsheet (LibreOffice / OpenOffice format but it should open in Excel as well).  I make no guarantee to the accuracy of the spreadsheet.  I used the prices from TracFone or Ebay (whichever was cheaper).  Screenshot below:


Surprisingly the larger cards aren’t always the most efficient.  However, they /might/ be depending on your usage (see below).

I calculated the value based on the cheapest way one is able to obtain units in that bucket.  The cheapest way to acquire data is 4GB for $50, texts are 1000 for $10, Service is 365 days for $50.    It’s kind of tricky to value minutes, but the cheapest way of obtaining them is the 1-year 400 plan for $85 (if the card is bought off eBay) so after subtracting the value of the other buckets that leaves the value of a minute at $0.007.  This gives us:

Cost per Month: $4.17
Cost per MB = $0.0125
Cost per text = $0.01
Cost per minute = $0.007


On the Value tab of the spreadsheet I also added a multiplier.  The reason is some people may not ever use very much of a particular bucket so you can set that multiplier to zero to rank cards that favor that bucket lower on the Value Efficiency column.  Likewise you may at times find yourself with an excess amount in a particular bucket.  For example if your service-end date is 3 or 4 years into the future you don’t get much value purchasing service days so you can set the Service multiplier to 0 (or maybe 0.5 if you still want to give it some value) to lower the value efficiency of that bucket (which would make the SmartPhone plans or Pay As You Go more attractive than the 1-year plans).

This is not an exact science, but close enough for me to help decide on which card to purchase.

(also, I found a similar spreadsheet that Hands Henderson maintains on Google Sheets.  He will likely keep his more up to date.)

Cell Phone Taxes, Fees, and Surcharges

Cell Phone Taxes and Fees

One thing I should note is if you buy the TracFone Cards through TracFone’s website you’ll also pay taxes, fees, and surcharges.  If you’re in a high tax state You can save some money purchasing the airtime cards from other sellers such as Ebay (just make sure you use a reputable seller and complete the transaction through a safe method like PayPal).  Some sellers on eBay will email a pin number to you within an hour of purchase.

Okay… how is this better than a regular cell phone plan?

Because, a regular cell phone plan is a “Use it or Lose it” model.  You pay for a bucket of minutes, texts, and megabytes (sometimes for an unlimited bucket).  In practice you have to choose a bucket based on your maximum usage in a month to avoid a service cutoff or overages.  But anything you don’t use is lost.  Generally for heavy users you’re better off with an expensive monthly plan, but for light users pay for what you use makes perfect sense.

Analyzing the last 2-years of usage

Phone Usage Last 2 Years

One thing to note is the peak data usage was just over 1GB, and data usage comes close to the 500MB threshold regularly enough that the minimum monthly use it or lost it plan we could comfortably get away with is one that provides 1GB of data.

What-If  — Running Cost Analysis Over 2 Years With Various Providers

I looked at several wireless providers (also included Ting for Comparison).

  • Ting (Sprint MVNO).  Pay for the bucket you fall into.
  • TracFone (Verizon/AT&T MVNO) – Prepaid with rollover.
  • PagePlus (Verizon MVNO) – $29.95/month for 1GB data, 1500 minutes, unlimited texts.
  • Verizon Prepaid – $45/month for 1GB data, unlimited minutes/texts.
  • Project Fi (Sprint/T-Mobile MVNO)  – $20 + $0.01/MB.  Unlimited minutes/texts.  Fi would likely still have the same coverage issue at our house but it can also work on WiFi.

If I took the last ~2 years usage and put it on either of these plans at today’s pricing this is what the total running cost would be:

Total Cost Analysis Over 2 Years - Ting, TracFone, PagePlus, Verizon, Project Fi

I excluded government cell phone fees and taxes, depending on the state you live in this can be a significant portion of the cost.  Currently it is possible to purchase TracFone and PagePlus cards without having to pay taxes.  With Ting, Project Fi, and Verizon Prepaid you won’t have an option to avoid the tax. (Interesting to note how closely Ting and Project Fi are matched in price for one device.  For multiple phones Ting would pull ahead).

Also, I didn’t include the time-value of money.  On a pre-paid service like TracFone you’re probably pre-paying anywhere from a few months to a few years in advance depending on how much buffer you want.  However, the ROI is so quick (usually within 3-4 months) that the value lost pre-paying is trivial next to the cost savings.  There is also additional risk with pre-paying–for example, if you for some reason need to cancel service with TracFone you’ll lose any airtime that’s been purchased in advance.  Once again the ROI is fast enough I don’t think it’s an issue.

Monthly Price Variance

Price consistency almost never pays…


A light user that uses around 100MB, 100 minutes, and 100 texts / month will pay $85/year or $7.08/month on TracFone.  A moderate user averaging 600 minutes, texts, and MB will pay $290/year, or $24/month.  When you start averaging above $30-40/month on a consistent bases is probably the point it would make more sense to switch to a Use it or lose it model like PagePlus, Red Pocket, or Selectel Wireless.   It’s hard for me to see how people would use their phone that much though… 600 minutes is 10 hours on the phone every month!  I’m not sure my ear would be able to handle that much talking.  Certainly I can see using that much one or two months out of the year.  And that’s a great usage scenario with TracFone–it doesn’t matter if you use up $80 worth of service in a month–what matters is your average usage over long periods of time.  That’s where you will save over Use it or lose it plans.

Hotspot with TracFone

This seems to work fine.  The Nexus 5X will Hotspot without checking for a subscription on TracFone (unlike Verizon UDP plans which charge an additional $20/month hotspot fee).


TracFone partners with several networks, including Verizon Wireless and AT&T.  I opted to use Verizon’s network because of the better coverage in rural North Idaho.

TracFone Verizon BYOP Coverage Map

TracFone has a few limitations–it does not roam outside of Verizon’s network, and also there is no international roaming.  If you’re a frequent traveler outside the U.S. or in an area with poor Verizon coverage this wouldn’t work well.

Voice / Texting / MMS / Data / Shortcode messaging.

Voice, Texting, MMS, and Data all seem to work great.  There is a feature called short-code messaging that TracFone does not support.  I guess if you watch ridiculous shows on TV you can text to a number to vote or something of that nature.  If you like to do that this isn’t for you.

Google Voice Integration  / Conditional Call Forwarding

I don’t like normal voicemail, I prefer to have VM transcribed  so I use Google Voice for this.  Verizon’s Call Forwarding codes worked fine.  *71yourgooglevoicenumber sets your phone up to forward to Google voice if you’re on the phone, reject a call, or don’t answer.  This works as expected.

Website.  The horror

The TracFone website is really not that great.  It’s slow, you can’t do basic things like port a number in.  And often when you try to do something it errors out.


I had to engage support to port Kris’s number to TracFone since their website couldn’t do it.

They have a chat support on their Facebook page (fortunately doesn’t require a Facebook login) or an 800 number.  800-367-7183.  The chat often was down but I was always able to get help on the phone.  One thing I do like about support is if they need to escalate to another person the original person stays on the line with you (at least that was the case for me).

I found support pretty helpful but not as informative about the processes as they could have been.  However, support was polite and always got things moving in the right direction.  One thing support didn’t inform me of is when porting a number in to replace an existing TracFone number the airtime gets wiped out (I was suspicious that this may happen so I bought a very cheap airtime card to test with).  After the port completed successfully the phone wasn’t working and support told me we needed to wait up to 48 hours—however it wasn’t working because of lack of airtime.  My assessment of TracFone support is that if you need hand-holding or will get upset over a glitch this isn’t the best service.  If you have patience you should be okay.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

TracFone has a great BYOP program.  I activated with a Nexus 5X and it was simply a matter of activating with the instructions in the SIM card kit.  It was up and running in minutes.  The only reason I needed to involve support was I wanted to transfer Kris’s old number in.

ESN Number Issues with Carlos Slim

Carlos Slim owns a lot of pre-paid wireless MVNOs.  One issue is all of them share the same database–so if you activate an ESN number on TracFone it will be impossible to move it over to some of the other Carlos Slim owned MVNO provider (if you should ever want to move in the future) because it gets locked to that MVNO in their system.  However, because this is 4G LTE, the Sim Card will be used to activate the correct ESN on Verizon’s network, so if you have an old or broken Verizon Wireless phone you can provide TracFone that ESN instead of the ESN for your SmartPhone.

Getting Started

tracfone_sim_card_kitYou’ll want to buy or have a Verizon phone that will work.  I bought the Nexus 5X (read my review of it here).

Second, pick up a TracFone 4G LTE CDMA Activation kit (the 4G LTE without CDMA activation kit is for AT&T’s network).  You can buy it from TracFone or you may find it in a store like WalMart.  I followed the instructions that came with the activation kit.



Making sure you don’t run out

You don’t want to run out of a bucket or that particular service will stop working.  I really don’t want to babysit this, and I want plenty of units available in case they’re needed.  So to get started I purchased a 400 minute 1-year card off Ebay.   I setup a reminder to check the TracFone balance once a quarter (every 3 months) and if it falls below a certain threshold (say 800 minutes, 800 texts, and 1000MB) I’ll purchase the appropriate Airtime card to refill the balance and extend out the service-date.  I don’t mind pre-paying years in advance–compared to a $30/month plan (which is really the next best price on a Verizon MVNO).  Even paying a year in advance still has an ROI that beats the monthly use it or lose it plans at 3 months.

Final Thoughts

Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship. – Benjamin Franklin

TracFone is a very affordable service for light and even moderate SmartPhone users who have the patience to figure things out.  Also, it’s easy to make mistakes on TracFone (like buying the 800 minute card that doesn’t triple)–if you’re the type to get angry over losing a few dollars over glitches and stupid policies this may not be the plan for you.  TracFone users will also need the  discipline to check on the  account every quarter or so to make sure they have plenty of airtime and service left before reaching the expiration.  If you can deal with TracFone the cost savings are well worth it.   Consider a $60/month plan, a $30/month plan, and TracFone at $10/month.  Look at it over a 2-year period.  The first plan will run $1,440, the second $720, but with TracFone only $240!  It’s hard to beat that pricing!

With T-Mobile shaking up the wireless industry, Google Fi introducing a service that spans across multiple networks, and Ting offering great auto-adjusting bucket plan the wireless industry is finally starting to get competitive.  For the consumers this is nothing but great news and I hope that we’ll see more improvement to infrastructure and pricing in 2016.


Total Cost of Ownership for the Honda-CRV and Subaru-Outback

It’s that time a year again to report on the annual costs.  I was a little behind this year so “2014” is from June 2, 2013 to June 30, 2014.  In October of 2013 we acquired a 2003 Subaru Outback so I’ve started to track that as well.


So far it’s looking like an average cost around $0.50/mile for both cars.  Keep in mind some costs like Insurance and Depreciation and DMV fees are a factor of time as much as they are miles–but the benefit we get out of the cars is in miles so I think that’s the best way to look at the cost.


2003 subaru outback cost by mile



GPU Mining with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti Overclocked

Energy Efficient and Quiet

Trying to cut down on the noise and power usage of my old AMD Radeon 6870 (which uses about 130 Watts idle and 250 under load) I upgraded my GPU to the new NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 Ti (~$150 depending on model), I decided on MSI’s version which has a massive heatsync and dual fans …and it is dead silent.  Even putting a full load on the GPU I can’t hear the fans at all.  I also noticed the EVGA model (which may be slightly louder but still very quiet) is shorter so it would work in smaller cases.

Although I haven’t verified it at idle power consumption is supposed to be around 9 Watts driving two monitors, and 60 Watts under load.  Since I leave my computer on 24/7 that should cut down my energy costs by $80/year so the card could pay for itself in two years… but wait, there’s more!

Crypto-Currency Mining

600px-Bitcoin_euroOne thing in particular about this card is it is very low wattage which makes if efficient for mining crypto-currency like Bitcoins… which I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t because until now my GPU has had too loud of a fan when it’s under load.  The GTX 750 Ti is probably the best GPU for mining considering the Hashrate per Watt ratio.

To see what sort of performance I’d get I test mined a few currencies to get the hash-rates for various algorithms.  Some algorithms in use today are SHA-256 (Bitcoin), Scrypt (Litecoin), Scrypt-N (Vertcoin), X11 (Darkcoin), Kekkak (Maxcoin), Quark (QRK).  SHA-256 is what Bitcoin uses and it’s pretty pointless to mine coins with an SHA-256 algorithm because of the ASICs out there that provide an incredible hashrate compared to what a GPU can provide.  I think the best algorithms for a GPU to mine are Scrypt and Scrypt-N.  Scrypt ASICs are coming on the market so coins using Scrypt-N algorithms will probably be the best ones to mine in the future.

Hashrates of the GTX 750 Ti

  • Scrypt: 250 KH/s
  • Scrypt-N: 125 KH/s
  • Keccak: 2.5 MH/s

I found a few websites that show the most profitable coin to mine based on current exchange rates, in particular CoinWarz.  My cost per kWh is $0.0747 so I put those values and the hash rates into CoinWarz’s Crypto Currency Mining Profitability calculator and without trying to always mine the top coin it looks like it’s fairly easy to mine $0.50/day (or $15/month) after taking energy into account.  This may not seem like much, but consider the GPU costs around $150.00 that’s a 120% annual return (now this will likely go down as mining difficulty increases).  Unfortunately I think CoinWarz takes a little too long to update so I think what it shows you is what the best coin to mine would have been, but if you see a few coins that are consistently profitable you can target those.

My first mining experience…

(okay, so to be honest, this is not my first mining experience, I actually tried mining a few BitCcins several years ago but quickly discovered the energy and noise of the GPU fan wasn’t worth it).

My second mining experience… how to get started.

Pick a Coin

Execoin-64x64You can pick any coin you want.  I am most interested in coins with the Scrypt-N algorithm and they appear to have just been created this year so they’re relatively easy to mine.  So I started with EXECoin.  From the the EXECoin download page I got their Light Wallet (ExeLite) and their CUDAMiner (CUDAMiner is the program you want when mining with an Nvidia GPU).

Download the Wallet and Get a Receiving Address

Step One.  Open the Wallet and get a Receiving Address.  The receiving address is safe to give out, there’s a corresponding private key that you don’t want to give out.


One neat thing about this wallet is the ability to create a paper wallet and print it out for offline cold storage without creating it on your computer.  You can continue receiving coins at that address but you won’t be able to access those coins until you import the private key back into EXELite by typing it in or using your webcam to scan the QR code (just don’t ever lose that paper).

Here’s what a paper wallet looks like. Note: I am never going to use this address because part of the private key is shown.  You never want to show anyone your private key, it’s like leaving your debit card with your PIN number written on it right outside an ATM machine with a sign that says, “free money!”

Pick a Mining Pool


It’s possible to mine solo, but with a lot of currencies it can take days, weeks, and even longer to actually find coins.  What a mining pool does is allow several miners to pool their resources together and mine as a single unit.  When the pool finds coins it splits it up evenly  among the miners (usually after taking a small fee between 0%-2% which I’m sure doesn’t even cover the cost of running the pool).  Pools typically pay out daily but some pay out more often.

Most coins have a list of mining pools you can use, here’s EXECoin’s List of Pools.  The two things you want to consider when picking a pool are latency and node fees (I typically try to find the lowest fee pool with under 100ms).  I thought the P2Pools looked interesting so I did a quick ping and found the lowest latency for me was

Download Cudaminer (for NVIDIA)

After downloading and unzipping Cudaminer here’s the command I ran:

(the password doesn’t matter on most P2Pools)


(you’ll obviously want to change the receiving address to your own unless you want to donate some mining time to me).

The N factor will increase over time.  For example, on July 2015 you’ll need to change the N factor from 2048 to 4096.  This frequent change in the N factor is what makes EXECoin ASIC resistant which will help hold the value of your coins.

Receive Your Coins

Your address receives your coin, and you don’t need to be online.  At anytime you can view your EXECoin transactions at  Of course, without the private key which is stored in your wallet (on your computer or on paper if you made a paper wallet) you can’t spend your coins.  It’s a great idea to backup your wallet, and important to keep any media that you store the wallet on encrypted.

Other Coins

There are quite a few other coins, for now I’m sticking with coins that use Scrypt-N because I like having some ASIC resistance.  I also started to mine some Vertcoin, the process was pretty much the same.  Download the wallet to get a receiving address, find a pool, and run Cudaminer against that pool with my Vertcoin receiving address. The Cudaminer from EXECoin’s website works well to mine Vertcoin or just about any other coin, you’ll just need to change the algorithm if you’re not mining Scrypt-N.

Most Profitable Coins

Mining these ALT-coins is actually more profitable than mining Bitcoin.  In fact, you can mine ALT-coins and trade them in for Bitcoins for cheaper than you’ll mine a Bitcoin.  I’m not sure why this anomaly exists except perhaps that there is the expectation that some of these newer coins will increase in value more rapidly than Bitcoins so Bitcoin holders are willing to pay a premium for them.

There are actually mining pools that automatically switch to the most profitable coin based on their BTC (Bitcoin) exchange rate.  I looked around at a few and I think CoinSolver looks like a pretty good one, it has a Scrypt pool and is one of the few that also has a Scrypt-N pool.  I think it’s a little more up to date than CoinWarz for the most profitable coin and it mines whatever coin has the best exchange rate against BTC and automatically pays you out in BTC (so you’ll need to download the Bitcoin wallet to use it).  Once you get enough BTC–maybe after a year or so of mining you could exchange it to USD if you don’t want to hold Bitcoins.  Another strategy is to mine the most profitable coin and Exchange it into BTC, then buy other alt-coins.  I wouldn’t call this investing, this is mere speculation like buying Gold or Silver or trading other currencies.  But it can be fun.  I’d take speculating mining power on crypto-currency over gambling at a casino any day.  |:-)

* * *

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Nvidia GTX 750 Ti.  I don’t think I’d go out and buy a GPU just for mining but if I’m going to have one anyway I may as well put it to work.  And If you want my old GPU it will be on Ebay shortly.

And of course, if you want to donate some coins to me:

EXECoin: ELFXwvb3ikLqpXC9eUGsB4Zpdyr5ZpKaA3
Vertcoin: VgdMcbLG1jausNBeEym7Kr2kuuSQbyD5Mf
Bitcoin: 1H7ycbjt6EM4Uq9wbR5qrtJaiHTupjU2DG


Quicken 2014. Horrible.

Dear Intuit,

I’ve been a long time Quicken user, my dad taught me to use Quicken for DOS to track money in my “Bank of Dad” account. My current Quicken file which I started in college after opening my bank account has data back since 2001. For the last 12-years I’ve loyally purchased a new version of Quicken every couple of years.  Unfortunately Quicken has started going downhill about the time you acquired Mint and it’s getting worse.  When I bought Quicken 2013 it was pretty buggy, so I decided to give you a year and upgrade to Quicken 2014 which I assumed would fix most of the issues.  Boy was I ever wrong.

quicken_projected_balancesI’ve been so frustrated with Quicken that I have tried other solutions but they fall short. Mint, GnuCash, and MoneyDance don’t have nearly all the features I use. For example, Quicken’s Projected balances is unmatched by any competitor.  It knows I pay my credit cards in full every month, every recurring or future transaction is reflected in there so I can look out at the next 90 days and make sure none of the accounts are going to go into the red.  I don’t know of another tool that has cash flow management like this.

Another great feature is investment tracking, Quicken is pretty bad at managing asset allocation, but it does a great job at tracking performance and stock splits and cost basis.  I don’t know of another personal finance management software that can produce an IRR (Internal Rate of Return) report with a graph like this.


So, let’s get to the problems.  Overall there’s a lack of polish.  For example, QC didn’t catch this question.


Anyway, I tried to upgrade but it takes me to this page with a broken image and an “Add to Cart” button that doesn’t do anything.  (Did anybody even check this before it was released?)  I finally figured out how to get the Rental Property edition by going to another page but it wasn’t obvious.

quicken_expenseMy budgets have been wrecked.  Budgeting was very easy in Quicken 2011, since 2013 it looks like some sort of hybrid Mint/Quicken budget and the interface is very slow–I’m assuming because it has to render the red and green bars that I don’t really care for.  If all I’m doing is entering a number it shouldn’t take longer than entering a number on a spreadsheet. What is this Budget item for “Expense”?!  I don’t have an “Expense” category, I don’t want an Expense category.  When I right-click the Expense category there’s no option to remove it.  When I view the transactions in “Expense” it’s showing me items that are actually in other budget categories like Life Insurance, Travel, transfer to 401k, and Utilities!  Is the budgeting tool double counting my expenses?  I don’t know!  It appears to be some catchall category for every outflow of cash but I don’t want it.  There’s another one like it called “Office Expenses” that has no reason to be in my budget that seems to capture random transactions that have nothing to do with Office Expenses, and I don’t even have an Office Expenses category and I’d like it gone as well.  I don’t want these in my budget.

quicken_budget_optionsThe Budget Reports are broken.  One thing that’s important to me is I budget some transfers to make sure we maintain a positive cash-flow (or manageable deficit spending).  For example, if I regularly transfer money from checking to savings I actually budget the transfer because I need to know that the money isn’t available for spending.  When I run the “Current Budget” report I have ‘Non-Zero actual/budgeted’ selected but some (not all) of my budgeted transfers don’t show up on the budget report even though they are in the budget!  I can’t manage my budget with buggy reports like this!

quicken_sub_categoriesFortunately, I happened to have a saved custom budget report from a previous version of Quicken that still works… sort of.  I can run the report and it shows Non-Zero actual/budgeted items for transfers like it should.  However, I often like to run a report that fits on a single page to give to Kris and to do that I hide the subcategories.  Whether I’m showing or hiding sub-categories my Budget Net Difference should be the same right?  Nope.  Showing sub-categories I have a Budgeted Net Difference of $200 per month.  If I hide sub-categories I have a Budgeted Net Difference of several thousand per month.  Hidden Sub-Categories should roll-up into their parent categories on the report (and they used to in Quicken 2011).  Now the report is just wrong in 2014.  So right now the only way I can get an accurate budget report is to use the saved custom budget report I made in a previous version of Quicken, and it only works if I show sub-categories!  That is bad Intuit.  Bad.

quicken_syncAlso, the entire reason I upgraded from Quicken 2013 to Quicken 2014 is the latter version was supposed to fix a lot of bugs synchronizing to mobile devices that were in Quicken 2013.  However, things haven’t improved much for me.  Whenever I sync Quicken will do one of the following:  It will hang synchronizing to the cloud but never finishes (I even let it go for an hour).  Or it will say “Com Error” and crash or it will crash with error code 7237 while trying to send budgets.


I just want the software to work.  I’ve been in this mess for one year, and due to there not really being a good competitor I’ll try to tolerate some bugs for a little while longer.  My patience won’t last forever.  Intuit, get your software working!

Your customer since 2001,


Meet Ting. New cell phone service challenging Virgin Mobile

We switched to Ting from Virgin Mobile… here’s my quick review:

Ting LogoWhat is Ting?

Ting was started by Tucows in 2012, like Virgin Mobile it’s an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) backed by Sprint wireless.  Ting’s marketing point is that most people don’t actually use all the data, texting, and voice that they pay for.  So why not just pay for what you use?


Ting Buckets

Ting Buckets

With Ting You don’t pick a plan, you are automatically put into whatever bucket you land in based on your usage for each category for each month.  This is a nice change from traditional providers that make you choose a plan based on the most minutes you think you’ll need even if a smaller plan would have worked for you most months.

Ting charges $6/month per phone, and then you pay based on the bucket you fall into for Minutes, Texts, and Data.  Each bucket is shared across all your devices if you have multiple phones.  If you don’t use anything you get charged nothing in those categories.  There’s also a 5% grace on all the buckets so the 100 minute bucket is really 105, 500 minutes is really 525, etc.

Family using TingIt’s great for families with light usage,  say you have a family of four and combined you’ll use less than 1000 minutes, 2000 texts, and 500 megabytes.   You’re monthly cost will be: $6×4+$18+$8+$24 = $74.  I know people that spend more than that on one cell phone!


Free Roaming on Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular Networks

Sprint / Verizon Coverage Map
Dark Green = Sprint, Light Green = Verizon

Ting offers free roaming for voice/text on Verizon or U.S. Cellular when out of range of Sprint’s network.  This is advantageous in North Idaho.  On the map above dark green is Sprint coverage, light green is Verizon coverage.  Entire cities (such as Bonners Ferry) aren’t even covered on Sprint.  Unfortunately Ting does not offer data roaming.  At least there are several GPS apps that are designed to work without a network connection.

Bring Your Own Sprint Phone

Sprint Samsung Galaxy S3One major advantage Ting has over Virgin Mobile is you can BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).  Ting has a list of devices they support and Sprint is a large enough network there’s a large eco system on eBay so it’s easier to buy and sell Sprint branded phones.  I wanted to get Kris the Samsung Galaxy S3.  New this costs around $400 to $450 but I found a refurbished Sprint S3 on eBay for $250.  With cell phones I think the sweet spot is a year after they come out.  Everyone on Sprint is selling their S3 to get the S4.  Next year I can probably sell the S3 for $180 and get an S4 for $250.  Not only do phones lose half their value during the first year but it takes about a year for the bugs to get worked out and by then there’s enough reviews you’ll know what the best phone is.

Ting Community Forums

There’s a great community on the Ting forums where people have posted tips on porting, rooting, setting up Google Voice, etc.

Carbon Rom ScreenshotRooted Phones

While not supported, Ting does not frown on rooting your phone and installing custom roms, on Ting’s forum there are several threads on custom roms, and Carbon Rom supports Ting:

I put the LiquidSmooth 2.8 rom on Kris’ phone (I recommend activating with Ting on the stock rom).

Tethering works!

Tethering is allowed and included in the plans at no extra cost.

Data Not Throttled

Virgin Mobile’s “Unlimited Data” plans actually throttle you at 2.5GB, Ting will not throttle you but data can get pretty expensive.

Porting Phone Number from Virgin Mobile

The port from Virgin Mobile went pretty smooth, my port failed at first because I entered the phone number as the account number.  You need your real account number and the only way to get it is to call them up.  I called Virgin Mobile support and had no trouble getting the account number, called Ting support (who answered on the first ring) and was ported over a few hours later.

Customer Service

Ting has a no hold policy, in the one call I made I found this was true, the phone was immediately picked up and I was speaking to someone who spoke my native language (English).  Ting does not offer phone support on the weekends.

Ting DashboardWeb Interface, Control Panel, etc.

I found the web interface clean and useful, here are a few screenshots.Ting Web Control Panel

Ting Usage Alerts

Android App

The Ting Android App can show a summary, estimate your bill based on your current usage, and manage your devices.  It is not real-time, it seems to lag a few hours behind (and yes, you can set it to only update on wifi so you’re not using up your data).

Ting Android App

International Roaming

Ting can roam internationally although with extra surcharge fees which are listed on their website.  It’s probably not a big deal for most people but for me it’s nice to be able to drop into Canada for a few days and still be able to use my phone if I need to.  The surcharges are reasonable but I’d probably turn my data off most of the time and keep calls to a minimum until I could find a wireless hotspot to make a SIP or Skype call.

Google Voice Integration

Google Voice can be used for Ting Voicemail, here’s a setup guide:

The Cell Phone Tax

Be aware that you will be charged State and Federal tax on top of your cell phone bill.  Federal is currently 5.82% plus your state rate (see below).


Your tax rate doesn’t change if you’re traveling from state to state, most providers determine your tax rate from your billing address and that’s the rate you pay regardless of where you use your phone.

This is one advantage Virgin Mobile has over Ting since Virgin Mobile eats the taxes for you.  I believe Virgin Mobile is the only provider that does this.

Who is Ting For?

Ting is for the individual, business, or family with light to moderate overall usage and are okay without data outside of Sprint’s Coverage.  Where Ting excels is when you have multiple devices that can share the same buckets.

SAMSUNG M400Ting is a cheap alternative to Pay as you go phones, or would make a great emergency backup phone to your landline.  You can get a Samsung M400 dumb phone, and your monthly phone bill is $6.  $9 if you use it to text or a call, and $12 if you do both.  Plus if you need to talk longer you’re not concerned about having to refill your minutes, you just move up into the next bucket for that month.

Who is Ting Not For?

If your usage is so high that your phone bill with Ting will normally be over $60/month per phone you’re probably better off with a Verizon Prepaid Plan ($60 for Unlimited Text/Talk 2GB or $70 for 4GB).  Typically a heavy data user will get a better deal with Verizon or Virgin Mobile,

You need data and you’re not in Sprint’s coverage area, or you need 4G speeds and you’re not in Sprint’s LTE coverage area.

If you’re grandfathered into a great plan such as the Virgin Mobile $25/month plan, depending on where your usage falls this can be a better deal since Virgin Mobile offers unlimited text/data.  One thing to consider is Virgin Mobile eats Federal/State cell phone taxes where Ting does not, so cell phone taxes in the state that you live in may be a deciding factor.

Give Ben $25!

Okay, I guess you can have $25 too… if you use this link when you signup we’ll each get a $25 credit to our Ting accounts. $25 Credit for Signing up for Ting


Honda Total Costs 2013


For Year 2013 (June 2, 2012 to June 1, 2013).






  • I think $0.56/mile is pretty good for city driving.
  • Insurance went down (for reduced mileage maybe?), we ended up getting a credit so some of 2012 should be allocated to 2013.
  • Service has been our biggest expense.  This year was new tires, last year was 90K maintenance, and 2010 was a new AC compressor.  Still, I don’t think an average of $0.19/mile is bad.

DIY Hedging Gas Prices


Gas Price History from
Vanguard Energy ETF (VDE) History from Google Finance

Fuel prices at the pump are highly correlated with energy sector index funds (which invest primarily in oil since that’s the way the energy market is weighted) so if you want to smooth out your fuel budget you can do your own fuel hedging!

I would use the Vanguard Energy fund for the low expense ratio, if you open up an account with Vanguard you can trade commission free.   You have three options to buy this fund:

VDE (Vanguard Energy ETF)  ER: 0.14% – no minimum
VGENX (Vanguard Energy Fund Investor Shares) 0.34% – $3,000 minimum
VGELX (Vanguard Energy Admiral Shares) 0.28% – $50,000 minimum (for those of you with large SUVs).

First, open up a General Savings Vanguard account and figure out which fund you want to invest in.  If you don’t like trading on the market you’re better off with the mutual funds, but if you don’t have $3,000 to seed your mutual fund you’ll have to use the ETF or wait until you have $3,000.  You don’t have to start with an initial value, but the more gas prices go up higher than anticipated the better it is to have more funding there.  It’s best to start with an initial hedge of 2 to 3x your annual fuel budget.

From 2003 to 2013 gas prices rose roughly 10% per year, so we’ll count on that trend to continue.  Set your current year’s fuel budget 10% higher than last year (obviously adjusting for any differences in how much you think you’ll drive) and follow these four simple steps:

  1. Once a year transfer any leftover money in your fuel budget to your Vanguard account and buy the Energy fund.
  2. If you exceed your fuel budget, once a year or once a quarter sell enough shares of the Energy fund to cover the amount you’re over budget and transfer it into checking.  Don’t sell any lots you haven’t held for at least a year so that you avoid paying capital gains tax.

  3. If the market drops below your cost basis it’s time to do some tax-loss harvesting by exchanging it for a different fund (probably utilities) then exchange it back after 30 days.  Use the loss to offset future gains on your taxes.  If you have no gains to offset you can deduct up to $3,000 per year against regular income (check your particular tax situation first).

  4. Set your fuel budget 10% higher for next year and repeat.

I ran the numbers as if someone who consumes 1000 gallons of fuel annually started doing this in 2003.  With a $3000 initial seed into his Energy fund.  How did he do?  He would come out $4252 ahead (excluding taxes), saving roughly $425 per year on fuel in addition to the benefits of having a predictable fuel budget (hedging paid for $1920 of his fuel costs).

Energy Hedge Analysis

So why does this work?  Because Fuel and Oil company values are correlated it forces you to buy when the market is lower (and your price of gas goes down) and sell when the market is higher (and the price of gas goes up).  You are in effect putting in place an investment strategy developed by Michael Edelson called Value Averaging.  This is different than Dollar Cost Averaging where you put the same amount of dollars in regardless of the market, Value Averaging amplifies the affect.  Of course, there’s no guarantee it will always work.

Energy Hedging

And the end result is you have predictable fuel costs…

Backtest Hedging vs Not Hedging

Disclaimer: I don’t hedge fuel prices myself, but I don’t even fill up once a month.