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Archive for September, 2008

Will Fake Chocolate Flood Store Shelves?

September 19th, 2008 at 05:10 am


You may have caught on this morning's news how Hershey, trying to control costs and retain profits, has replaced the cocoa butter in many of its chocolate candy products with vegetable oil. The FDA says it's not real milk chocolate without the cocoa butter, which gives it its rich, creamy taste. So Hershey's has changed its labeling and wrappers. Will most consumers take the time to read the new labels that say "chocolately taste"?

Yesterday, I saw another interesting way that retailers are trying to save costs, and this idea, at least, wouldn't seem to hurt consumers or give them less product for their money.

I had a free-after-rebate offer (courtesy of this website) to try Arm & Hammer's Essentials Multi-Surface Cleaner. When I found it on the shelf, I was surprised because the plastic spray bottle was completely empty. Attached to it was a much smaller vial which contained a powder that is designed to be mixed with water in the container. You can then buy the small vial refills as needed, and continue to reuse that same plastic spray bottle.

Now this was a good idea. Just think how much Arm & Hammer is saving on shipping costs if their bottles are, well, filled with air rather than liquid. And consumers are actually helping the environment by avoiding the need to buy additional full-sized, plastic spray bottles. (Of course, one could help the environment even more by using a home-made vinegar mixture in your own reusable spray bottle.)

Have you come across other ways you've seen retailers trying to save some money?

My Garden Runneth Over

September 9th, 2008 at 12:04 pm

My garden is winding down. What with the cooler temperatures and shorter days, you can tell the growing season is coming to a close as the produce is considerably smaller.

But early on, i decided to track how much produce I harvested, in part to determine how worthy this undertaking was from a strictly financial standpoint.

Of course, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to walk down to the garden after a day's work and see what the day's pickings are. (Organic, of course, and noticeably more flavorful than store-bought veggies.)

So, without further ado, here's what I harvested this summer:

Enough lettuce for 2 large salads
Several servings of snap peas
3 zucchini (The zucchini rapidly got shaded out by everything else)
7 green peppers (Three plants)
33 cucumbers! (Just 1 or 2 vines)
108 tomatoes! (I had no more than 6 plants!)

I gave some produce away to family and friends. And when the tomatoes threatened to take over the kitchen, I chopped them up and froze them for later use this winter in soups and stews.

As for costs, I did sit down to calculate that as well. My expenses included seeds, tomato seedlings, deer netting, poultry fencing, wood stakes and Miracle Grow. I estimate all this came to about $50.

So, that's $50 for 108 tomatoes, 33 cukes and an assortment of other produce. I don't know what a tomato goes for in the summer, in the supermarket, but I think i came out ahead.

I'm planning a much larger garden next year to accommodate the same vegetables, plus more pepper plants and definitely string beans.




The Real Cost of Owning a Car

September 6th, 2008 at 10:04 am



Ever wonder what your car really costs you? Not just the purchase price, but the gas, repairs and maintenance, insurance, license, registration and, if you're lucky like me, car taxes?

I figured it out this morning, just for fun. I had finished reading an article in Kiplinger's about whether hybrids are worth the price, and they mentioned that the Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid are tied for lowest total ownership costs over five years, at $39,780.

So I decided to see how much my '99 Honda Civic HX has cost me since I purchased it. I track all my expenses anyway, so it was easy to do.

Here's the breakdown.

Purchase Price: January 1999: $14,500

Year Tax/Reg Gas Repairs Ins
1999 1175 639 200 813
2000 365 409 235 718
2001 507 516 507 874
2002 325 370 739 894
2003 302 520 466 719
2004 149 393 945 796
2005 214 377 614 655
2006 130 496 1020 393
2007 206 514 1029 388
2008 YTD 89 888 980 378

Totals 3462 5122 6735 6628
10% 15% 20% 20%

Total costs: $36,447
Minus sale of old car: 2,850
Balance: $33,597 divided by 10 years of ownership = $3,360 per year to operate.

Just think how much you'd save if you used your legs, bicycle or public transit to get to work.

A few interesting items to note:

1. Total costs for state taxes and registration, etc. fees was a substantial (10%) part of overall ownership costs.

2. Gas and repairs each accounted for 15% of total costs while insurance counted for 20%.

3. The cost of the car purchase itself represented 35% of overall costs over the 10-year period.

4. Gas, interestingly, didn't show a unilateral upward projectory leading to 2008. In the year I bought it, I spent $639 for gas, which is more than I spent in 2007. 2008 is already the year showing the most spent on gas for the whole time I've owned the car.

5. The cost of repairs has steadily risen each year. Guess that's to be expected.

6. Insurance, happily, has fallen, especially from 2006 on, which is when I dropped the collision/comprehensive on the car, in year 8.

So I spent less money to operate my car for 10 years than the new Prius and Honda hybrids will cost over 5 years. While gas costs for these hybrids will be lower than my costs, I don't think that alone makes up for equally high expenses for registration, insurance and repairs, not to mention the purchase price. Unless, of course, you really need a new car. But otherwise it's clear that coaxing an old car along is a great deal cheaper than buying a new one.

So while I grumbled a bit last week to pay over $650 for repairs to my car's emissions system, it's still a small price to pay compared to new car ownership costs. But you knew that already, didn't you?