Raise or 401(k) Match?

A co-worker and I were talking the other day and we started discussing the pros and cons of getting a salary increase versus a 401(k) match.

Our company cut both in 2009 and there’s no shot that we’re getting both raises and reinstatement of the 401(k) match.  Frankly, I’m not convinced that we’ll get either.  We’ll probably find out in the next month or so if there is any benefit increase for 2011, though as I said, I’m not holding my breath.

I’m curious as to what the thoughts are as to which is better.  My co-worker was squarely in the corner of the 401(k) match, as the tax benefits and encouragement to save for retirement outweighed the benefit of having a larger paycheck.

I agree with him on these points, but he went so far as to say that a 1-2% 401(k) match would be more favorable than even a 3% raise.

This is where I’m not convinced.  I figure, even with the tax implications, I could get a 3% raise, dedicate 1% of that to increased contributions in the 401(k) and still end up with probably 1.5% more take home pay.

His argument (and again, it was hard to disagree with him) was that, while he and I would probably dedicate some or all of a raise to a 401(k) match, the majority of people probably wouldn’t, and would just take home the money (and spend it).

What do you think?

Ways We Conserve Water….And Ways We Could Do Better

Today is Blog Action Day, one day a year where bloggers unite to discuss one topic.  This year’s topic is water.

I thought I’d take a few moments to talk about ways that the Beagle household works to conserve water:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe don’t drink bottled water – Tap water is just fine for us.  Not only does this reduce our cost, but it reduces the footprint needed to create the plastic bottles, deliver them to the store, and recycle/dispose of them.
  • Watch our watering schedule – Many people set the sprinklers to run on a set schedule and forget about them for the rest of the year.  I hate driving around during a rainstorm and seeing lawn watering systems going crazy.  What a waste!  We monitor our watering schedule and manually turn the system off after it’s rained or when we know rain is coming.
  • Turn off our water while brushing our teeth – This is a small thing but I think of how many times we brush our teeth in a year and I realize that this can add up to thousands of gallons of water for our house alone.  Think if this was multiplied for every household in America.  The water savings would be astounding!

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What’s With Deadbeat Celebrities?

Not that the upcoming Anita Baker CD was anywhere near being at the top of the list as far as music I might consider buying, but this story makes me want to boycott it anyways.  According to this article, Anita Baker hired a painting company to do a bunch of work on her home, to the tune of $15,000 and change, and promptly stiffed them.  Now, the painting company is taking her to court, but since she seems to have no money, good luck to them to see a nickel.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of celebrities with lots of money getting sued for services not paid.  Now, I’m sure that in some cases the celebrities have justification for not paying.  Maybe the companies or individuals are trying to milk them or over-charge them, but it seems like this is happening way too often to make me think that there isn’t something to this.

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Our Homeowners Association Does And Does Not Impress

We moved into our neighborhood in 2007.  Our neighborhood has roughly 160 homes and was started in the mid-1990’s and finished right around 2000, so the houses are about 10-17 years old.

Since moving in, I’ve gotten to know some of the association board members mostly through e-mail. If I were grading the work of the association, I would have to give them a C.

I’ll start with reasons I grade them down:

  • Lack of enforcement, except if it affects the board members personally – There have been a few homes that have fallen victim to foreclosure and/or relocation, and have sat empty.  Many times, these homes start to fall into the state where it’s apparent that they’re not being kept up.  It’s subdivision policy that somebody should be taking care of the yards and such, even if the city has to be contacted (the charge for which is then levied onto the property tax).  When I’ve contacted the association on a few instances, I’ve found that they’re ‘already taken care of’ for homes near the board members, but for others that aren’t, it’s like they’ve never even heard of the issue.  In a couple of cases, I’ve ended up contacting the city myself.
  • Sporadic communication – There is only one newsletter published per year.  They have launched a website but I’m not sure how many people have accessed it or know about it.
  • Sketchy recordkeeping – I received a notice politely informing me that my dues for the year were in arrears.  I politely sent them back a copy of the cancelled check from four months ago showing that they were indeed paid and cashed.  That’s not a sign of good recordkeeping.
  • Lack of enforcement – I’ve attended two of the annual meetings that they have had.  I was amazed to find that they have never done anything about trying to collect dues for homeowners who are (for real) behind.  The by-laws and city code state that they have the ability to place liens on properties for which payment has not been received, but they have properties which have not been paid on in four years, yet they’ve done nothing except send notices.  I’ve heard that they plan on placing liens if they’re over one year past due, but I’m not sure.  That sets a bad example as people could just decide not to pay en masse if the ‘word on the street’ is that there are no consequenses.

Read moreOur Homeowners Association Does And Does Not Impress

Looking For Some Additional Side Income

Our neighborhood recently launched a new web site for the neighborhood, to inform residents about neighborhood happenings, improvements, news, and anything else worthy.

They have a couple of cool features.  One is an area where you recommend (or warn about) contractors that have performed work that you’d like to spread the word about.  Since so many of these places depend on word of mouth for their business, I like the idea.  It’s like a mini (and free) version of Angie’s List.

The other area that they have is for classifieds.  You can post things for sale or services offered.  One neighbor on the next street over is fairly handy, and has posted a couple of ads about things he can do.  It got me to thinking and I decided to post an ad of my own.

Read moreLooking For Some Additional Side Income

Costco Coupon Policies – Truth or Fiction? You Decide

We undertook our monthly trip to Costco last week to take advantage of some coupons specials as well as stock up on some items that we needed.  It was a good trip, and we had a friendly, chatty cashier that shared some Costco coupon information that I found interesting.  Whether these are true or not, I have no idea, but it’s interesting to note.

  • You only need one coupon from your coupon book – This is sort of true and has been a somewhat frustrating policy for me.  See, many people, myself included, observed a couple of years back, that all of the barcodes from the coupons were the same for the regular everyday products.  Many people, also myself included, surmised that you only needed one physical coupon, and saved clipping / tearing out.  This worked a few times, but at one recent Costco trip, the cashier insisted that she needed every one, so we had to stand there tearing the rest out of our coupon books.  Since then, I’ve been safe and have taken out the ones we needed.  The cashier said that it’s up to the cashier and sometimes a store policy on whether they need every one or not.  This store (and cashier) obviously had a loose policy as she didn’t even scan a single coupon that I had, instead scanning one she had sitting on her register.
  • You can’t exceed the item limit on a coupon in a single visit – This is true.  Many of their coupons have a limit on how many you can buy and get the discount.  I learned that the hard way once when I wasn’t paying attention, and bought two of something, only to see after I finished checking out that I didn’t get the discount on the second product.  I returned the product before I even left the store.
  • You can exceed the item limit on a coupon over multiple visits – According to our chatty cashier, this is also true, but you don’t want to do this.  If you present the coupon multiple times during multiple check-outs, she said that it will actually ring the discount through.  However, she also pointed out that their system keeps track of every single purchase (and coupon) you ever make, and that they have a solution for people that they find ‘game’ the system.  They will start skipping sending you coupon books in the future!  And, to get back on their mailing list, you have to get on your hands and knees, and beg and grovel to at least two customer service representatives while singing La Cucaracha.  OK, I made that last part up.  She really didn’t know if/how you got back on the mailing list.

I think Costco is great and has saved us a lot of money over the years.  I don’t think it’s necessary to try to scam them as I think they provide great value.  It encourages me to know that they combat people trying to scam them, because they realize that if they allowed it, this would mean higher prices for everybody, including their honest customers.

Again, I’m not sure if these Costco policies really are true, but I figure it was worth sharing.

Do You Drive Differently Depending On Gas Prices?

It’s interesting to see the ‘flavor of the day’ when it comes to spending and saving money, and the tips that go along with that.

Most of us certainly remember the days a couple of years back when gas was $3 – $4 per gallon.  It seemed that every other personal finance ‘how to’ article was about the best ways to reduce your gas usage.

Now that gas prices are (for the most part) in the $2 – $3 per gallon range, it’s interesting to see how few of these articles actually populate the personal finance blogosphere.

I know that I still try to keep an eye on fuel efficiency, though I will admit that I’m not as regimented about it as I would be when the prices go up.

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Make Your Home Feel Like New Again

Darwin’s Finance posted an article last week about how they recently sold their house.  The article was focused on a few lessons learned and bits of advice for others that might be selling.

I would definitely recommend it as it had some good tips that I think anybody currently selling, about to sell, or consider selling should keep in mind.

One thing that struck me, though, was when he started talking about ‘Quick Fixing’ up some of the ‘Eyesores’ by doing simple things like re-painting scuffed up spots, adding mulch, and replacing a worn out light fixture that had been driving his wife crazy for a few years.

It got me thinking that a good approach for people who aren’t planning on selling their home is to, every so often, pretend like they are.

Read moreMake Your Home Feel Like New Again