Is 7-11 Full Of (Cold) Air?

It’s summertime and that means that it’s time to enjoy frozen treats of all kinds.
One of my favorite summertime treats has always been the Slurpee, which is an icon and one of the things that instantly comes to mind whenever anybody mentions the 7-11 convenience stores.
However, experiences over the recent years have made me question whether 7-11 is full of cold air.
Let me explain.
If you’re unfamiliar with how the Slurpee works, you take a cup, put the domed lid on and fill it through the hole in the top. This ensures that you get a full cup.
What I noticed, a few times that I recently went, was that although I filled the cup to the top of the dome, that it was significantly lower by the time I paid and got out to my car.
Yes, of course I take a few sips while in the store, but was I really sucking enough down to where it was below the level of the plastic dome? It didn’t seem possible.
So, I tried a little experiment and didn’t take any sips to watch what happened to the level. Got my Slurpee, stood in line, paid, and went out to the car.
Took a look, and…..almost to the bottom of the dome!
What gives?
Well, after thinking things through, I determined that the Slurpee machines were most likely adding a bit of extra ingredients to our frozen treats:
Air.
If they add a bit of extra air, it fills the cup with less product, which can probably add up to quite a bit of less product used when you consider the millions of Slurpees purchased every year.
Still, air is free so why I am paying for it?
After I figured out their trick, I would actually fill my cup, do a quick lap around the store, and then add a bit more to fil up the cup after the air settled out. Only then would I add my straw and start drinking (so that I didn’t add any of my germs to the machine).
This is one alternative, but I found another that I like even better:
Get a ‘Speedy’.
If you’re lucky enough to have Speedway gas stations near you, you’ll find that they most likely have a frozen drink machine. They can’t call them Slurpees, but they do the same thing.
There’s a few reason I like them better:
First, they don’t add air. When we first discovered that they had the frozen drink machine and tried one out, my wife and I filled them up and did out quick lap around the store. When we went to fill up the cups, we discovered that we didn’t have to! There was barely any settling. This told me that Speedway is giving you what you pay for!
Second, they’re cheaper! The frugal shopper in me noticed right away that their prices are generally 10 to 25 cents less. Granted, this difference won’t make me rich, but the way I see it, I’m getting a better product and for less money. I think shoppers should give their business to the stores that provide this distinction whether it be for expensive items like TVs or cheap items like frozen treats.
Bonus: Speedway is running a summer special for the second straight year (that I’ve noticed anyway), at least in the Michigan area. All fountain drinks and frozen drinks are 89 cents, regardless of the size! So, the price difference is even greater during these summer months when a frozen treat is especially rewarding.
Oh, and in case you didn’t figure out from my opening sentence in this section, my wife and I have dubbed the frozen drinks from Speedway as the ‘Speedy’. Though maybe not as catchy and iconic as the Slurpee, I venture to say that you won’t be disappointed should you have the opportunity to try one.
Happy frozen drink hunting!

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Pack And Move Yourself To Save (And Make) Money

I’ve seen a lot of posts from fellow bloggers about moving. It does seem to hold true that summer is the most popular time to move, whether it be to a bigger place or across town or even across the country.
In a lot of discussions, I’ve seen various points or questions raised regarding whether to move yourself or hire movers.
I’ve done both.

  • After college, when moving from my parents house to my first apartment, I ended up enlisting the help of friends and my roommate to move my stuff. That was a pretty simple decision since I didn’t have a lot of stuff.
  • A couple of years later, when moving from my apartment to a temporary living situation, I hired movers. The justifications were that it was relatively inexpensive since I still didn’t have much stuff, it was wintertime, and I had a (at the time) very nice television set that I was afraid of anything happening to
  • A few months after that, I moved again when the temporary living situation expired. I moved into my own condo. Again, I hired movers (the same movers that had done the first move). The reasons were the same. Overall, I sort of regretted paying for movers twice in just a few month time frame, but they gave me a slight discount for the repeat business, and I also justified it because the reason for the temporary living situation was so that I could live rent-free for a few months.
  • Eight years later, when I moved from my condo to our home, I went back to moving ourselves. With the help of friends and family, we were able to handle everything. We were trying to save some money, we had people willing to help, it was spring/summer, and the TV (still with me) was now 10 years old and no longer a prized possession.

One of the things that I learned with the last move is that by doing it ourselves, we were able to save not only the money for paying the movers, but that I was able to get rid of stuff that I might not have had I not moved.
Let me explain.
When I was doing my own packing (something that I always advocate no matter what, even if you get re-location that will do this for you), I had to touch virtually everything that I owned. Whether it be clothing, knick-knacks, kitchen items, tools, paint supplies. I had to touch everything, and when I did, you tend to start asking yourself the same question over and over:
Do I really want to deal with moving this?
You start thinking about whether this is something that you will use. Whether it makes sense to pack and unpack it. Whether it makes sense to find a new place for once you get settled into your new place.
For most things, the answer is obvious. But, when you’re going through linen closets and basements and the back of closets, and junk drawers, you really start finding things that you can weed out.
So, you can save in a lot of ways:

  • Save money on packing supplies for the unneeded stuff – Less boxes, less packing material
  • Save time in having to pack and unpack items
  • Save space in your new place

Plus, if you’re really industrious, you can take some of that unwanted stuff and turn it into money.
If you have time for a garage sale or can spend some time on Craigslist or eBay, you can turn some of this stuff into cash in your pocket.
In a lot of cases, I imagine that this could even cover the moving costs of doing it yourself.
I couldn’t imagine not having packed all of my own stuff, because I know that if I hadn’t, I would have certainly moved a lot more stuff that would have turned into unneeded and unused clutter.
So, if you can, always pack and always move your own stuff. I guarantee it can add to lots of different type of savings in the end!

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Mid-Year Review Of 2009 Goals

It is amazing to me that 2009 is half over, but here we are beginning the second half of the year. Wow!
I thought it would be a great time to take a look at the financial goals I set at the beginning of the year and see where we stand:

  1. Pay regular payments on the mortgage. Admittedly this was sort of a gimmee, but we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  2. Avoid double digit declines in housing value. Unfortunately, we’re down 11% for the year and the Detroit market will need a lot of time to recover. So we have Not Achieved this goal and I can safely say we are Not On Track for the year.
  3. Sell my car and purchase a new family friendly car. We have Not Achieved this goal but I believe we are On Track for something to happen by the end of the year.
  4. We hoped for a 10% increase in the value of our mutual funds. So far, the market has been kind so we have Achieved Goal, but it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  5. Long Term Savings – We have avoided any unexpected outlays so our reserves are steady. So far we have Achieved Goal, but it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  6. Retirement – We had hoped for a 30% increase in our balance. Between market increases, regular contributions, and matching contributions from my employer, we have already Achieved Goal. Still, it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  7. Level Out Monthly Expenses – So far,we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  8. Transition to a Single Income Household – Again, we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  9. Dont’ Freak Out About Baby Expenses – Some close calls, but we had saved well and found some good bargains along the way. I’d say we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  10. Maximize our rewards for normal spending – We are using a Citi Dividend Card for grocery and gas purchases (paying us back 2%) and have rewards attached to our debit card that gives us nominal points for regular spending. We might be able to do better, but I personally do not enjoy chasing rewards/rates for things like this or for savings accounts, since they change so much. Since we’re getting a level of rewards I’m comfortable with for nearly all of our spending, I’m going to say we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  11. Reduce student loan balances by 30-40%. Right now, we’ve paid 18% of the balance off. With a single income, we’re not able to pay as much, so while we have Achieved Goal in terms of being on track, I do not expect that we’ll probably come up short so we are Not On Track for this goal. Still, I’m happy with how much debt we’ve paid down and that we continue to do so even in small amounts when we have the opportunity.
  12. Refinance the mortgage – We had hoped to take advantage of the lower interest rates, but unfortunately the declining value of our home has made this all but impossible. We would either have to put another 20% of our home’s current value into a down payment or face PMI costs. Neither of these is something we want to pursue, so we have Not Achieved this goal and I can safely say we are Not On Track for the year.
  13. Begin saving for major home repairs – We want to start saving for long term expenses such as new roof, new windows, new driveway, etc. Due to putting a nice chunk of our income tax refund towards this, we have Achieved Goal and are On Track for the year.

Overall, I think we’re doing very well and I’m pleased with our progress for the year. The biggest bummer is that the home value declines have erased most, if not all, of our equity, making any financial goals around our home pretty difficult until that decline levels out.
Still, given how things have gone for a lot of people this year, I’m very pleased with how we are doing in terms of our financial goals.

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Our War Against The Chipmunks

This is the third summer season that we’ve been in our house. I really don’t count the first one (2007) because we moved in late June, so we barely had a handle on things and I really didn’t know a lot of what was going on.
That year, I did the basics, mowing the grass weeds and pulling weeds from the beds. But, it was only last year that I really started working on really making the outside look better. I attacked the weeds that were filling in the grass and made it look like a real lawn again, mulched the beds, and we also got some flowers to adorn our deck.
The flowers themselves didn’t do so hot, and it turns out we weren’t getting the right type of flowers for the type of sun we got.
So, this year rolls around and we went to the nursery, armed with the knowledge of what flowers would thrive on our deck. We bought them, planted them, and watched with glee as they thrived.
At first.
Now, they aren’t looking so hot. Well, at least the yellow pansies that we have aren’t looking so good. The other flowers (mostly geraniums) are doing OK.
It turns out that the chipmunks are the culprit.
That’s right, chipmunks. Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and they’re host of friends and family.
After the winter thaw, I noticed some strange holes in the ground in the front planting ed under the tree. I figured something was underground, and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when the hole kept re-appearing after I filled it in. I even placed a rock that weighed a few pounds on top, only to find it moved.
After keeping an eye on things and consulting with my father and father-in-law, I confirmed that we had chipmunks.

I decided our property needed to be ridded of these beasts. Initially, I had done some research and found that an effective way of eliminating them is to drown them. A five gallon bucket of water with sunflower seeds placed over the water, and a small ramp so they can get to the top is a pretty effective way to get them. They love sunflower seeds, they go to get them, fall in, and that’s all she wrote.
Unfortunately, my wife made me feel so guilty about this plan that I decided against it.
Instead, my father-in-law loaned me one of his traps. The idea being that I would trap them and take them elsewhere. While releasing animals isn’t exactly legal where I live, it is more humane than killing them off.
So, I started setting the trap and caught eight of the little buggers (as well as one really annoyed squirrel) and released them a couple of miles away. Still, I knew that we weren’t rid of them as I still saw them around occasionally.
But, I got lazy as I got tied up with other projects, including staining the deck.
The deck staining involved me moving the flower pots out of the way underneath trees and what not. Apparently, this attracted the chipmunks to ’sample’ the flowers, because when we went to put the flower pots back on the deck, it was with sadness that we noted that our yellow pansies, which previously had been taking over the pots, were now largely wilted messes.
At first, we attributed this to the heat wave that we had last week, when temps were in the 90’s.
Still, the condition didn’t improve even with extra watering and fertilizing, and I couldn’t figure out the deal.
Until a couple of days ago, when I looked outside and saw a chipmunk reach up and yank on the flower, tearing pieces off and uprooting it from the soil.
I actually went outside and chased it off the deck, but either it or another one was back at it a bit later.
I have cayenne pepper spray repellent that is supposed to keep the animals away. I sprayed that on the flowers, and tried my best to replant them (though not sure if they’re too damaged yet or not).
After my wife saw this, she was finally understanding of why I wanted to rid our property of these pests. Prior to that, I think she watched with some level of amusement as I was catching and transporting them, but after seeing what they were doing to her flowers, she was all for the war to continue. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she opened up to the bucket idea!
So, I went back to trying to catch them last night. My father-in-law caught 25 or so before it slowed down, so I could have a ways to go.
Last night was the first time I went back to setting the trap, but was unfortunately not able to catch any. The reason, heavy winds in the area that kept tripping the trap.
I’ll have to try again.
Let’s hope that we can ‘re-locate’ the chipmunks and save our flowers!

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