Monthly Archives: February 2015

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Winter has a firm grip on Central Pennsylvania.  It’s been snowing.  It’s been cold.  Brutally cold.  So how does one stay warm when it’s so very cold outside?  The easy answer is to turn up the heat a bit more.  But that’s not the smart answer.  The smart answer is in your closet.  The right clothing is the key to staying warm.

These are the things that I find important all winter long:

  • Long underwear.  Extra layers keep the core, arms, and legs extra warm both when you are inside and when you are outside.  I know…long johns aren’t stylish or cool.  But they sure do keep me warmer!!
  • Wool socks.  On the coldest days, wool socks make all the difference.  If my feet are warm, the rest of me is warmer.  I have several pair in assorted thicknesses.  The thin ones are great with ankle boots and pants at work.  The super thick ones are great under my snow boots when I’m going to be outside.
  • Snow boots.  Keeping the feet dry is the key to keeping them warm.  It’s a pain in the neck to wear my boots and carry my every day shoes around in a bag.  But warm, dry feet are worth the extra effort.
  • Hat and gloves.  Heat escapes quickly through uncovered extremities when you’re outside.  Covering the head (and ears) and hands will keep you much warmer than you would expect.
  • Scarf.  I wear turtlenecks most of the winter, but a warm scarf is about more than just keeping your neck warm.  When it’s extra cold outside, covering as much of your face as possible will add an extra layer of protection against the wind and cold.
  • Warm coat.  For the obvious reasons.
  • For the ladies:  fleece tights.  I just discovered these this year.  And after years of avoiding skirts for the winter months in favor of pants and long underwear, fleece tights have reopened the skirt option to me.  I find them just as warm as my long johns.
  • Blankets.  I keep them in my living room.  I keep one in my office.  If ever there comes a time that I feel a chill, adding a blanket helps to warm me up.

It has been a colder than normal winter.  But the right clothing makes it easy to handle.

Leveraging Credit Card Rewards

Credit cards

One of my new years’ resolutions this year was to maximize my credit card rewards.  Not by buying more stuff.  But by being careful about what card I use for what purpose.  For a long time I’ve been using one card that offers me 5% rewards on certain categories that revolve each quarter, and 1% rewards on all other purchases.  But I also have another card that offers me 2% rewards on all purchases, regardless of the category.  And I have an Amazon Visa card that gives me 3% rewards on all of my Amazon purchases, 2% on certain categories, and 1% on everything else.  Plus every time I fill my gas tank at Sheetz I toy with the idea of getting their credit card that would give me an extra 5 cents off every gallon of gas I buy and 5% rewards on the things I buy in their store.  Who knew that the world of credit card rewards–just the cards hanging out in my wallet–could be so complicated?!?

My biggest rewards on my existing cards come from the 5% categories on my old tried and true card.  This quarter those categories include groceries (which I buy all the time), movie theaters (which I do rarely) and Starbucks (which I do almost never).  So I’m using that card for groceries exclusively (next quarter when it flips over from groceries to restaurants, I’ll readjust).  My next biggest reward comes from the Amazon card used at  I admit that I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon.  So I have that card set up as my go-to card on that web site.  And I don’t use it for anything else.  For absolutely everything else I’ve been using the card that gives me 2% back on every purchase.

It is kind of a lot to keep track of.  Where am I?  What card do I need to use?  But I’m hoping it will pay off for me.  Last year I earned about $600 in cash back rewards…just by buying things I would normally buy and using a rewards credit card to do so.  I’m hoping to exceed that this year…and to spend less money doing so.  We’ll see how well I do with that.

Of course this whole thing would be a moot point if I were not paying my bill in full every month.  Accruing interest would wipe out any savings I would get from rewards.  But I use my credit cards not for credit, but for convenience.

Do you use credit cards for regular expenses but pay them off in full every month?  If so, is your credit card giving you rewards?  If not, you should possibly consider getting a card that does.  If your card is giving you rewards, are they as much as you could be getting?

Caveat Emptor: Let the Buyer Beware

Caveat emptor.  Let the buyer beware.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of buying things second hand.  Sometimes this works out really well…like the designer clothes I pick up at Goodwill and the barely used snow blower I picked up from a friend moving to California.  But sometimes things don’t work out as well as I’d like.  And with second hand purchases, there really isn’t a lot of recourse.  If you buy something new and it doesn’t work, it might have a warranty.  Or you may be able to return it to the place where you bought it.  But it doesn’t always work that way when you’re dealing with thrift stores, Craigslist and eBay.

I learned this the hard way a few weeks ago.  Just before Christmas I was in the market for a Fitbit Flex fitness tracker.  But I didn’t want to pay the $99 retail price.  So to eBay I went.  I got what I thought was a great deal.  For about $60 I got what was billed as a lightly used Fitbit Flex, complete with the computer dongle, a wristband, and a charger.  I got it and everything was great.  I used it without issue for a couple of weeks and left positive feedback for the seller.  And that’s when things started going badly.  One day I couldn’t get the Fitbit to sync with the Fitbit app.  I did a little research and learned that the answer was to reset the Fitbit using a special reset button on the charger.  And that’s when I learned that the charger that came with the Fitbit was not the original manufacturer’s model.  It was a cheap knockoff that didn’t have the reset button.  So I went to Amazon and ordered a replacement charger.  But before it was even delivered the Fitbit stopped working altogether.  My $60 was gone.  My Fitbit was dead.

Since the Fitbit was actually helping me with my New Year’s fitness and weight loss resolution, I bit the bullet and headed to my local big box electronics store and handed over $99 for a new replacement.  So the Fitbit I resisted paying $99 for ended up costing me $159.  And even the accessories that came with the second hand version aren’t particularly useful.  The charger is fine for charging, but not for a reset.  The dongle may or may not function…I’ve never used it since I prefer to sync with my smartphone.  And the wristband also turned out to be a cheap knockoff that I don’t like near as much as the manufacturer’s version.  All in all….I pretty much flushed that money down the toilet.  But I learned an important lesson about purchasing electronics second hand.  I likely won’t do that again without making sure I have an option to return.

Second hand purchases work out for me more often than not (along with the Fitbit only a Craigslist kegerator and an eBay smartphone stand out as “lessons learned”).  And I have no intention of giving up my second hand shopping habit.  But I’ll likely think twice before dealing in used electronics again.  Caveat emptor.

My Free Credit Score!

Excellent Credit Score

For years it’s been possible to access a free copy of your credit report each year.  And that’s wonderful.  You can see all of the different inquiries, all of the different accounts, and anything that may be good or bad about your credit.  All by visiting  But the missing piece of the puzzle has been the credit score—the number that most credit providers use to determine how much you have to pay to use their money…if they’ll let you use their money at all.  That score we’ve always had to pay for.  Until recently.

It all started with Discover.  It was about a year ago that Discover started providing their customers with a free credit score.  I was very hopeful at that point that other credit providers would follow suit.  And it has happened.  This week I got an email from Citibank telling me that I now have access to my credit score for free if I log into my account there (I am a customer there…this isn’t something they’re offering to everyone).  I logged in and was pleased to find a score that made me happy.  And Citibank isn’t alone.  Others are following suit.  Chase and Bank of America have announced that they too will be offering free credit scores to some of their customers.  Even student loan lender Sallie Mae has jumped on board, offering free scores to their private student loan customers.

Is a free credit score a good enough reason to choose one bank, credit card, or student loan over another?  Absolutely not!  But it sure is a nice perk if a money lender you work with is offering this to you for free.

Why is it important to know your credit score?  Because others are looking at your credit score.  If you apply for a credit card, they look at your credit score.  If you apply for a private student loan, they look at your credit score.  If you put in an application on a new apartment, they look at your credit score.  If you have car insurance, they look at your credit score.  If you sign up for a utility (for example, connecting the electric in your apartment), they look at your credit score.   It seems like everyone is looking at your credit score.  And if everyone else knows what your score is, shouldn’t you?  Luckily it’s now a lot easier to find out what it is!