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12/12/17 Personal Finance , Saving #

The Best $10 I’ve Spent: Movie Pass

The Best $10 I’ve Spent: Movie Pass

My reporting instincts and wariness of questionable deals kicked in last summer when I heard about a movie pass that let you see a movie a day for only $10 a month.

In theory, you could see 30 movies in 30 days for 33 cents per movie. Just seeing one movie per week cost only $2.50 per movie. It has to be too good to be true, I thought, and I watched the mania over Movie Pass spread for a few months to see how it played out.

There must be a catch, and I was waiting for it. Would the company take customers’ money and not give that what it promised? Would their personal information be hacked from the site’s servers and sold to ID thieves? And, of course, could customers really see up to one movie per day for only $10?

The servers at Movie Pass were overwhelmed by the initial response of customers, and there were some reports that customer service wasn’t great and that the pass wasn’t working well.

After waiting a few months for the kinks to be worked out, I bought a Movie Pass in November, and so far it has worked great and is the best $10 I’ve ever spent. There have been a few problems, but nothing major, and I saw five movies in November: Thor, Murder on the Orient Express, Coco, The Justice League, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

December is about half over and this month I’ve seen Lady Bird, and Roman J. Israel, Esq. Saturday I’m going to see the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, with a Movie Pass ticket I bought earlier. I’m taking the last two weeks of December off and should see at least three more movies with the pass, especially with some top movies set to come out Dec. 22.

I don’t expect every month to be as full of top-notch movies, but just going to two movies a month makes the pass worthwhile. Here’s how it works, and what I learned about it during almost two months of usage: Continue reading

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08/30/17 Personal Finance , Work #

The Biggest Thing Holding Electric Vehicle Sales Back

The Biggest Thing Holding Electric Vehicle Sales Back

I bought a used electric vehicle (EV) three years ago. My Nissan Leaf has been a great car, and one of my top concerns when I first got it — range anxiety — hasn’t turned out to be so much of a problem.

Instead of worrying if I’ll have enough juice to get home, I’ve found that two other concerns have been more troublesome. One I don’t have much control over unless I buy a new car, and the other is a frustration that electric vehicle companies should deal with if they want to see more people buy their cars.

The first issue, which some car companies such as Ford and Tesla are dealing with well, is creating a better battery for electric vehicles that gets longer range. When I bought my 2011 Leaf in 2014, it had a range of about 80 miles on a full charge. That’s now down to 60 miles, according to the car charger, though in reality it’s closer to 40 miles.

EV batteries lose charging abilities just as phones and other electronics do. They can only be charged so many times, and eventually they’ll die.

Forty to 60 miles per charge is fine for me because I use my car for local-only trips: Picking up my daughter at school, going to the grocery store, and other errands. For trips outside of our immediate area, we use my wife’s internal combustion engine car.

But someday the Leaf’s battery will get so low that I’ll either have to charge it at least once a day, or buy a new battery or car. A new battery costs about $8,000. For now, I charge the car about twice a week.

The bigger issue

Losing range and being unsure if your electric vehicle will have enough power to get you to a charging station or home to charge are big enough problems that can stop potential EV buyers.

The bigger problem is a lack of charging stations. And I don’t mean charging stations along roads — though those are welcomed — but charging stations at everyday places people drive to: Continue reading

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08/11/17 Personal Finance , Travel # ,

Avoiding ATM Headaches in Europe When You Need Cash

Avoiding ATM Headaches in Europe When You Need Cash

With free lodging, many things already paid for and a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees, our vacation to Europe in July didn’t require having much cash on hand. Still, it’s smart to always have some local currency in your pocket when traveling, and a local ATM is the best way to get it.

Or so I thought.

ATM fees added up during our trip to nearly $200, mainly because I erred in figuring out which banks in Europe had a relationship with our bank in the U.S. That’s not a ton of money lost in fees, but it’s annoying because I thought I could get away without paying much in ATM fees.

ATM fees added up

Before getting into the ways I learned to get around ATM fees — beyond just using a no-transaction fee credit card during the entire trip — it’s worth quickly explaining how they work. There are different charges by different parties when you use an ATM:

  • Your U.S. bank will charge a flat fee of $5 or so each time you use a foreign bank’s ATM. This can be avoided by using a partner bank.
  • The foreign bank will charge a percentage fee on the amount withdrawn. I was charged from 3-8% in transaction fees, though when using a bank affiliated with my U.S. bank, the fee was 3%.
  • The foreign ATM sometimes charged a $5 fee also.
  • A $5 fee was also charged when using my U.S. debit card at a grocery store.

Continue reading

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08/04/17 Personal Finance , Travel # ,

5 Things I Love About How Europe Deals With Money

5 Things I Love About How Europe Deals With Money

My family recently returned from our home exchange in the Netherlands for most of July, and even though we saved a lot of money by not having many hotel bills to pay, we still needed cash each day on our vacation.

Cash is just a lot easier to deal with, especially with small merchants, and businesses seem to appreciate using cash instead of a credit card. The good news was that our travel savings account was pretty full before we left for Europe, so paying for our food, a few hotel nights and incidentals was easy. It was easy, however, until we had to find an ATM to withdraw money.

I’ll get to that mess in another post, but first I want to go over the good things I discovered about how Europe deals with money. Here are five things I found to be smart in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in how they deal with money:

Tax and tip included in the price

This was one of my favorite things about buying anything during our vacation: The price you see is the price you pay.

If the price says €7, you pay 7 Euros. Not €7.63 or some other odd amount because tax is added later. The price includes tax. At restaurants, it includes tax and tip.

You don’t have to do any math at a restaurant table to figure out a tip because it’s included in the price of everything in the menu.

The effect may be more psychological than anything, but it made reading a menu or seeing the price for anything — such as a €75 two-hour boat rental on a Dutch canal — easier to accept than seeing €60 and then adding €15 in taxes. At €60, I’d have my mind set on that price and would be unpleasantly surprised when it was upped to €75 after taxes.

No digging for pennies

There were a few exceptions to the above rule, and I never did figure out why. A few times I bought a bottle of water at a convenience store and the €1 price would become €1.09 at the cash register. I’d have to dig for pennies in my pocket when this happened.

But this rarely happened because most businesses didn’t add taxes at the cash register. Almost everything I bought didn’t require change because it was priced at the nearest Euro. Instead of €2.20 for a soda — orange Fanta was popular — it was €2 even. Continue reading

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11/07/16 Personal Finance , Saving # ,

My Stupid Impulse Purchase of the Week

My Stupid Impulse Purchase of the Week

No one plans on making impulse purchases. That’s what they are — an impulse. But it seems like every week or so I make a stupid impulse purchase that makes me wonder if I have any control over how I spend money.

My latest impulse purchase: Coffee.

It was $5 for a small bag of raspberry chocolate I saw by the checkout counter at Marshalls. Here are the reasons that ran through my head of why I should buy this wonderful sounding coffee:

  • I like coffee.
  • I like trying new things, including different types of coffee.
  • I like raspberries.
  • I love chocolate.
  • Raspberries and chocolate together sound awesome.
  • It’s only $5.

What makes it a stupid impulse purchase is that it was lousy coffee. And that I wasted $5. Continue reading

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Hi, I'm Aaron Crowe. Welcome to CashSmarter. I'm a personal finance freelance writer who enjoys spending my money wisely and using minimalism to make my money last longer while increasing income.