Archive for January, 2016

January 28, 2016

Debt: The Good, Bad and Ugly

Back when I first moved to California, I was a bit overwhelmed with the start up costs of creating a new life on a new coast. I was sure I was going to exhaust my savings and need to carry a balance on my credit card. Naive in the ways of finance, I believed that credit card balance was to be avoided at all cost. I had learned credit card debt is bad debt.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally understood debt is not as clear cut as that. An acquaintance posed the question: is it better to drain the emergency savings account and pay of a credit card debt now, or keep the savings in tact and pay off the credit card debt over the course of a few months. The group consensus was to spend down the savings account. That didn’t sit right with me. Even with the large interest rate, the credit card would have only accumulated $30 of interest over those few months. Rather than thinking of the interest as wasted money, one could think it as the price of having that emergency fun. A pseudo insurance policy, if you will. Would it have been a good decision? Possibly. Being without an emergency fund carries it’s own risks.

It’s tempting to reduce complex concepts to simple sound bytes: Credit card debt bad, Mortgage debt good. But when we do, we tend to lose some of the nuances.

Good debt is debt on assets that appreciate, that add value above the cost of the debt. Bad debt is debt that doesn’t. Historically, mortgages have been considered good debt because homes tend to increase in value while student loans were considered good debts because education made you more employable, which lead to a higher salary. Recent history has shown us that neither is always the case. Revolving debt like credit card debt is usually considered bad because it tends to be spent on items that depreciate in value such as electronics or fashion. Even when credit cards are used to finance assets that appreciate, that appreciation is usually eaten up by the high interest rates.

It’s counter intuitive but a large interest rate on a small balance paid quickly still only generates little interest. My mistake when I first moved out to California was to not do the math, and see that for myself. I would have saved myself some unnecessary stress.

Each individual debt has a fixed cost. As a frugal penny pitcher, it’s tempting to avoid that cost at all costs. I need to train myself to compare costs, including opportunity costs. Sometimes, extra money is best spent elsewhere, like a high yielding savings account. The best way to make good decisions is to be informed. With that in mind I spent a little time the past couple of weeks working on some financial web apps. I can already see a little clearer.

January 23, 2016

Subscribing without Saving

I like to do as much of my incidental shopping on auto pilot. Who has time to research the best price on toilet paper every couple of weeks? Factoring in all the various discounts and reward points?

Apparently I should be keeping better track. I logged on to Subscribe and Save today and realized for the Gerbers’ Lil Crunchies (a kid favorite around these parts) the 15% off discounted price on a bulk purchase was more than twice as expensive as buying the same number of cans, individually, from Target before applying a red card discount. Twice! And here I am thinking Amazon is the cheapest. I went over all my subscriptions and I noticed that some were nearly three times as expensive. I know Amazon likes to raise the price on incidentals to help cover the cost of shipping but geeze.

There has to be a better way!

I’m dreaming of a new kind of product price monitoring service. I’d enter my monthly grocery list, and where I have loyalty cards. The service would then compute the optimal way of breaking up my purchase to maximize my total savings. No more manually checking each individual item at each individual store. No more busting out my calculator to figure out what the final price would be.

The service would be even more useful if I could indicate which products I’m willing to make substitutions on. The girls have a favorite Lil Crunches flavor (Garden Vegetable) but I don’t have a brand preference for paper towels.

So what say you, internet. Any interest in such a service?

January 20, 2016

Body Rider

The Body Rider Elliptical arrived, and I am super pleased with it. When we first moved I considered getting a machine five times as expensive. I am so glad I cheaped out!

It took about two hours to get the machine together. I was impressed by how sturdy and heavy duty it is, even though it was only $105 at the time of purchase. I couldn’t help but compare it to the Suncast Deck Storage Box, purchased for the same price at the end of summer. This machine is definitely worth so.much.more.

Aside, now I have a new trick to save money. Whenever I’m considering a purchase I’ll ask myself if it’s worth as much as a comparable sized purchase I’ve already made. That over priced deck box would not have passed that test!

The machine is compact, light weight and still super sturdy and super quite. I love that it doesn’t take up space and that it’s easy to move it around. One of the reasons we opted not to go for a more expensive unit is they can be close to 200 lbs! This one is only 56, but when you’re on it it doesn’t feel that way. We also needed a machine that Domingo could use when the kids were asleep and we wouldn’t be worried about waking them up. This is definitely that machine. I wouldn’t use it with someone sleeping in the same room, but it’s quite enough that you can’t hear it with the door shut.

The biggest con for this device it that the display sucks. It’s attached to the base near the front wheel and not back lit which makes it hard to read when you’re on it. It doesn’t always reset when you tell it too. And, most importantly, I question it’s accuracy. I have been on the machine for an hour and it says I’ve gone 10 miles and only burned 200 calories. At that distance and speed every online calculator I try says I should burn at least twice that if not more.

I don’t care that much about the poor display. I keep the machine close to the window and my phone on the window sill. I use my phone for timing since I can read it better. I don’t sweat the calorie count since it doesn’t matter what the machine (or the internet) says. I’m feeling better about myself, and that’s the important thing. I would have preferred a machine with an easier to read display, sure, but not enough to pay and extra couple of hundred dollars for it.

After a couple weeks of gang buster weight loss, the weight loss has stalled a bit. I’m sure it’s partially the new muscle mass. I no longer feel like my legs have turned to jello when I finish exercising.

January 15, 2016

We Have Words


I’m so used to thinking of Alexis as a baby that it only recently dawned on me that we haven’t had much in the way of words from our 13 month old. Oh sure, we had the “mama” (occasionally) and “dada” (all the time) but ‘da’ is such a key part of her jabbering vocabulary that “dada” refers to just about anything these days. “Da” can mean “give me”, “down”, or “I want mama.” “Da!” is her favorite response to yes/no questions, sometimes accompanied with a nod, but more often with a head shake.

Then, out of the blue, Alexis picked up one of the sponge balls and said “ball” clear as day. When Domingo came down stairs I told him about it, and, as if on cue, she did it again for him.

Check it, first word.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

When I told Domingo we had a first word, he corrected me. She’s been saying “here” when handing things to him, much like Nicole did. Well, shucks. When I told Daycare the story of Alexis’ pseudo first word, Alexis’ teacher told me she says “more more more!” all the time when she wants more food. Don’t I feel observant now.

So it turns out our little miss has a few words up her sleeve.

Then, while in the midst of her evening bath she picked up one of the toy buckets, held it up to me and said “bucket.” Well, really it was more like “bah-kit”, but I understood. Just to be sure, she waved the bucket above her head and recited “bah-kit!” Color me impressed.

There’s no denying it, we have a talker!

When we moved from our apartment to our home, we more than doubled the square footage. The trade off was closet space. We have one major closet, the one in the master bedroom. It’s huge. So huge, in fact, that I fit a desk in it and now have a crafting nook. A desk. In the closet. Along the narrow wall. Yet we have no entryway closet, no linen closet, no mud room storage. It’s a good thing we live in a temperate climate because our coat closet is barely wide enough for a door.

My mission right now is to find a way to organize everything so it doesn’t look like a preschool exploded in our home. Because, quite frankly, that’s a generous description of our home.

Getting rid of some media clutter

First up, is getting rid of those DVDs. Right now I have a 2 ft, by 3 ft by 1 ft stack of DVDs in the entrance way. I’m leaning towards Vudu’s DVD to Digital service. Basically you prove you own the DVD, and they sell you a digital copy for cheap. We have, by my estimate, around 300 DVDs. We’re unlikely to ever watch them, but I hate to part with things that are still functional, especially those still in the shrink wrap.

Yes, I realize I’m being somewhat irrational. Or at least not frugal. Those DVDs are a sunk cost, and it’s silly to throw more money at the problem, but it will make me feel better and I can donate the physical copies. I’ve convinced myself that by converting it to digital we’ll be more likely to actually watch them, and they’ll take up less space.

Speaking of DVDs, do you know it’s 2016 and Domingo and I still don’t own a device capable of playing a BluRay? We learned that (and fixed that) this weekend.

Those shoes!

Shoes. Shoes all over the floor. And not just our current ones but the ones Nicole & Alexis just grew out of. No entrance way closet means no shoe rack. This is another case of large space, no storage. We have a large enough wall that we can fit a storage bench.

I’d like to find something comfortable to sit on while taking off your shoes that has storage to hold said shoes. This isn’t the best solution, as we usually come in through the garage and not the entrance way, but it’ll beat leaving shoes strewn about the floor.

Toys, Toys and More Toys!

Finally we need to come up with a storage idea for the toys. What I really need is a way to easily separate and store the toys for both kids. There have been a few toys that Alexis would have enjoyed, but were buried and not unearthed until she had out grown them. We’re also now collecting quite a few sets of toys with multiple parts, (e.g. building blocks, puzzles, magnets, etc), which work best when you know where all the parts are. I had been using individual draw string bags, but they become difficult to see through and we tend to forget about some beloved toys that way. I suspect a toy purge is in order.

January 6, 2016

Not Looking

Revenue from my business is down. Way way down. Depressingly down. I’m now down to 46 cents a day. This is not a trend I like. Quite frankly, it’s one the scares me.

I have a couple of theories as to why this might be. Traffic is down overall, and especially for my most profitable app is the Writing Sample Analyzer. I do know from some past email exchanges with a few of my users that the app is often used for work purposes. With the holidays, it’s likely some of my regular users are vacationing, which could explain the dip in traffic. Revenue was even lower Thanksgiving week at just 41 cents a day, and it was coming back before diving again. Then again, Christmas was a long time ago.

I do wonder if the dip in traffic isn’t somewhat of my own doing. I did receive some complaints over one of my updates a couple months before traffic started to slow. Then there was also the snafu with the my terms of service. In it I maintained the intellectual property rights for all direct communications to me regarding my website and apps. I tend receive unsolicited emails with a suggestion for website improvements a couple of times a year. Occasionally those suggestions contained ideas I’ve already had myself. I wanted to protect myself from someone else intellectual property claims on good ideas we both had independently. (It’s happened before that someone wanted compensation from my website simply because we had the same name.) It was pointed out to me, however, that the language of my terms of service was vague, and could be interrupted to mean I was claiming the intellectual property for any supplied content to my webapps, such as the writing sample analyzer. Given that many of my users to my writing sample analyzer are in the legal domain, I could see how this belief would make them nervous. Nervous enough to find a different readability ease tool. Let me be clear: I take your privacy and property rights very seriously. I do not store such content on my servers and I absolutely do not claim any rights to it.

Perhaps scariest of all are the things about starting my own business are the number of factors beyond my control:
– Google may change the search algorithm, resulting in fewer eyeballs on my apps.
– Advertisers may decide to offer less revenue for those fewer eyeballs.
– Another developer may come along and write another labor probability calculator.

For the sake of my sanity I need to focus on what I can change: creating great content my users love. I am going to ignore Google Analytics as much as possible for the rest of the month. Hopefully when I do finally check back in I’ll see revenue has been inching back upwards.

January 1, 2016

Setting Targets

One area I want to focus on this year is my startup. Despite a good start, my metrics have been down the past two months. Users are down 15.9%, and revenue is down to just 61 cents a day.

To help me stay focused I decided to create some targets to shoot for:

– A dollar a day ($365/year)
– A paycheck a month ($1200/year, ~$3.29/day)
– Covering the girls extracurriculars at school ($2600/year, ~$7.12/day)
– Enough to get the full DCAP benefit ($5000/year, ~$13.60/day)

I knew it would be slow going, but to be honest I had hoped to already be at the second tier by now. After ad placement change, I was hoping November and December (typically good months for me) would get me to the first tier at least. Even without the dip in users, I’d only be at 74 cents a day. It’s hard not to be discouraged.

Whenever I get discouraged, Domingo reminds me that it takes an average of two years before a new company becomes profitable. I remind him that tech companies are usually boom or bust. I’m hoping to go “boom” before the two year mark. I’d really like to be earning more than $5000 a year. At a minimum I’d like to replace my grad student stipend. It would be wonderful if my business could cover the childcare costs. Small steps at a time.

With that in mind, I’m working on a few new apps as well as some major improvements for existing apps.

I’ve had to hold off on one of the major improvements to my writing tools as one of the javascript libraries I’m using – d3 – is incompatible with IE 8. Some of my apps actually pre-date IE 8. The readability analyzer was practically written in the digital stone age. I suspect I’m one of the few apps in that domain that actually still works with IE 8, which could explain why such a large percentage of my traffic uses that browser. I’ve held to hold of off on launching some of those improvements until IE 8 is no longer supported (which will occur on the January 12th.)

My goal for 2016 is 100 new apps, roughly 2 a week, and to reach the $100/month mark. Hopefully with the new apps will come new eyeballs and with them new ad dollars.