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News that caught my eye, the important stuff

Next I Bond inflation component is 4.83%

The Labor Department released the March CPI numbers last week which allows us to compute the next I Bond inflation component which is added on to the I Bond fixed rate to derive the composite (or total) rate. Thanks to the high inflation, the number tuns out rather high. In fact the only time it has been higher was in November 2005, right after the Katrina-induced energy price spike.

I am not a big fun of I Bonds but if you do invest into these, Jonathan at MyMoneyBlog has done some detailed analysis on what this new inflation rate means to you as an investor

Blockbuster offers to buy Circuit City

The news broke out earlier this week and pretty much puzzled everyone. A company A in dare financial straights and in a somewhat different market offers to buy a company B which has larger capitalization and even worse financial state. What do you get when A adds to B?

I hope Carl Icahn who owns about 16 percent of Blockbuster’s stock and backs the move knows what he is doing. He seem to be pretty successful taking Motorola apart.

Convert your stimulus check into Sears gift card + 10% bonus

Sears is luring customers into their stores by offering to convert their financial stimulus check into a no-expiration Sears gift card plus 10% bonus on top. The cards can be redeemed at any Sears, Kmart or Lands’ End retail stores, as well as sears.com and landsend.com

This might be a good deal if you plan some significant expenses for the upcoming season. Otherwise I would hold on to that cash and hunt for occasional Sears promotions instead since it sounds like you can’t convert just a portion of your check.

Netflix lowers DVD rental rates by $1

I did some research back in February on which service to use, Blockbuster or Netflix, and as the result I am a happy Netflix customer right now. The reasons I chose Netflix over Blockbuster? Here are some:

  • Netflix has better website IMHO;
  • All my friends are on Netflix so we can share favorites;
  • Faster DVD turnout rate;
  • Better variety of foreign titles

There is just one thing that I like with Blockbuster which Netflix doesn’t offer. For the same price you pay to Netflix for 3-DVD out subscription ($17.99 right now) you can get one free in-store rental a month with Blockbuster. This is very useful when friends drop in for a visit and you need to choose what to watch.

Netflix sure realizes the importance of this benefit. According to this Associated Press article starting tomorrow they are lowering price of their 3-DVD’s out plan from $17.99 to $16.99 and the price for 2-DVD’s plan (the one I currently have) from $9.99 to $8.99. Earlier this year Netflix lowered price on two other plans which now cost $13.99 and $4.99.

To counter-fight the measure Blockbuster has a set of plans which cost $1 less but exclude the option of free in-store movie rental and in-store movie exchange. What can I say, this looks like a war for on-line DVD rental dominance. ;-) And we as customers are the winners!

For current Netflix pricing information go to this page and click on “How much do the plans cost?” to the right. For Blockbuster follow this link and click on “See all plans” button.

Simple steps to reduce BlockBuster monthly rate

Someone at SlickDeals forums reports that they were able to lower their monthly subscription rate for BlockBuster Total Access online rental service by as much as 50% for the next two months by simply attempting to cancel the service. Others say that the options they were offered included a permanent reduction by a smaller percentage. Also, it seems that the options change when you click the browser back button and attempt canceling the service again.

It sounds to me like BlockBuster has implemented some automated customer retention mechanism to reduce the outflow of unhappy customers. Following my research on what is better between BlockBuster and Netflix, I personally subscribed to Netflix and this trick is of no use to me but hopefully if will work for some of you. If it does, let me know about it in your comments!

BlockBuster Total Access

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: what should I use?

I don’t watch too much TV. In fact I almost never watch it. For that reason I don’t even have a cable or a satellite receiver in my house. I do however enjoy a good movie once in a while and since we have two small kids all the movies we watch are rentals.

I have been contemplating for a while joining an online movie rental service. Partially to save on rental DVD’s and partially to organize and plan my movie nights. It is a rather sporadic event at the moment and sometimes we end up watching a low quality movie only because I didn’t spend enough time researching it.

Competition leveled the pricing plans

After WalMart pulled out of movie rental business in May 2005 there seem to be just two choices left: Netflix and Blockbuster. Both companies have the same pricing plans (with Netflix offering slightly more choices) and you really have to look at what other perks the companies offer.

Netflix vs. Blockbuster

Techcrunch covered it earlier and multiple Netflix users have recently reported that the instant movies announced by the company earlier in January are now available online. The service is free for Netflix customers and allows them to watch a selection of about 1000 movies and TV shows online on their PC’s using Internet Explorer.

Netflix puts a monthly limit on the streaming video to one hour for each $1 of service you are signed up for each month (so if you are signed up for the $14.99, 2 DVDs at-a-time plan, you get 15 hours a month).

On the other hand Blockbuster has such perks as one free in-store movie (or video game) per month and the flexibility to return in store the movies that you order online, thus reducing the turn-around time.

Extra perks make all the difference

One more thing to consider is the fact that Netflix reportedly has a better online software for organizing the movies you plan to watch. From what I heard it learns your preferences by looking at how you rank the movies you have watched. Another neat feature is that friends can share their movie lists.

Let’s summarize what we have.

Service plan pricing

Plan Netflix Blockbuster
2 DVD’s per month, 1 DVD at a time $4.99 Not offered
Unlimited rentals, 1 DVD at a time $9.99 $9.99
Unlimited rentals, 2 DVD’s at a time $14.99 $14.99
Unlimited rentals, 3 DVD’s at a time $17.99 $17.99
Unlimited rentals, 4 DVD’s at a time $23.99 Not offered

Additional factors

Netflix:

  • Instant movies and TV shows on your PC
  • Better movie rating/selection software

Blockbuster:

  • One free in-store movie each month
  • Return DVD’s in-store or by mail

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: what should I use?

Based on the information above, which service should I sign up to? I appreciate any comments and especially from someone who used both services and can compare the variety of offered titles and how fast the DVD’s come to your door after you order them.

10 things you shouldn’t buy new

Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN Money wrote a great piece full of tips regarding what you shouldn’t buy new. She has looked at things from practical point of view and also as investment.

I cannot say I totally agree with everything she says yet it mostly coincides with my opinion. Here is her list with my comments.

As you go through it keep in mind one more (side) benefit. By buying used things you prolong their life and therefore contribute to saving energy and environment.

Books, books, books

I get all my books from library. The only kind of books I buy are references and dictionaries. In addition — no periodic of any sort, well, except for PlayBoy of course. ;-)

I also like listening to books (while I drive) and Audible subscription works perfect here. My trip to / from work is the only time I afford to spare for listening to books for pleasure. I guess it is just me.

College student? For textbooks there are places where you can get them very cheap from other students like you. Absolutely have to buy them? Make sure you pay the lowest price!

DVDs and CDs.

Why do you ever want to buy a DVD? Subscriber to Netflix or Blockbuster and get access to thousands of titles. Only buy if you notice that you rent the same movie for the third time in a row. But then it is likely not new release and you will save again.

CD’s? This is so 90’s! Why not use digital media? For starters give eMusic a try. This is the largest independent DRM-free music distributor. DRM-free means you will be able to freely copy the music to all your digital devices as well as burn CD collections. Songs are 33 cents each or less and you get 25 free downloads for starters.

Little kids’ toys

All our little kid’s toys came from garage sales and also as birthday gifts. Believe me, at the age of 4 children don’t care less if the toy is shiny new or was used before. They just want more of them!

Jewelry

Jewelry is almost non-existent in our family. Even if we buy something (which mostly happens on a birthday or Valentine day) it is usually something within $100-200. As terrible investment as it is, I find it very hard to justify spending more. After all this is all inside you. Only you and your attitude determine how much of a value that gold ring has to you.

Sports equipment

I can’t comment on this. My taste is rather conservative and I don’t change sports very often. As the result my two tennis rockets have served me well for over 5 years and I only buy tennis balls, new of course. ;-) My other favorite sport is volleyball and the ball is the only expense.

Timeshares

In general my opinion is that timeshares are for geeks who enjoy the process of trading and swapping them (I assume you are not the type that goes to the same place several years in a row in which case a timeshare would probably suit you fine). The truth is you can get as good of a deal if you buy a discounted/last minute package.

Cars

My last two cars are 2 year old models. This is the perfect age to buy a car. It is still under manufacturer warranty and it has depreciated a significant part of the value (around 20%). If you don’t feel confident buying used, I have some useful tips here for new car buyers.

Software and console games.

I consider myself a tech savvy computer user and I tend to use free open source software whenever it is possible. Here is a great list for your reference. As for games, the more I enjoy the real life the less time I tend to spend in virtual world. So my advice will be — enjoy your life, you only get to live once. And save money on games as a side effect. ;-)

Office furniture

My office is my home. No comment here.

Hand tools

It takes many years for good tools to wear down and I should have bought mine from a yard sale of some sort. However with the approach I have — only buy what you need at the moment — I slowly built my tools collection over the past 3 years or so out of new tools. However these are mostly basic tools, the only advanced piece I have is a circular saw. I rent all other power tools — I just don’t need them very often.

Conclusion

Do you have anything else in mind? I would love to hear your tips!

By the way, one thing you should never buy used is safety equipment, e.g. a car seat for a child or a helmet for biking / skateboarding.




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