Author Archives: Ravi Kashyap

Why you need MoviePass in your life – even if you don’t watch many movies

If you haven’t heard about MoviePass – it’s kinda like Netflix for movie theaters. You pay a moviepassflat rate of $9.95 a month and can watch a movie everyday in any theater. If you go to movies regularly, it’s a no-brainer. Easy Math: depending in the area that you live in, MoviePass pays for itself in 1 – 2 visits.

How about folks who don’t go to movies often? That’s where it gets interesting; I asked around and following reasons came up for not going:

• It’s Expensive: If you go to movies every weekend, the cost can easily add up. I am often willing to drive more to get to a cheaper theater. MoviePass solves that problem. I used to go to movies every couple of weeks, now this week itself I’ve already been twice and planning to go to 2 more; beats watching TV in night for sure.

• You may end up wasting money on something you don’t like: Even though internet has a lot of information about every movie – you can easily check IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, there is still a risk that you wouldn’t like the movie and would rather spend that $10 to buy yourself the Tiramisu you’ve been thinking about. Going MoviePass way, there is an option to explore different kind of movies and in the worst case, you can always leave the movie half-way through and not feel bad about it.

Invested in streaming ecosystem: Some folks are subscribed to every streaming channel that exists and would rather watch that instead of going to a movie because 1) they’re already paying for it 2) if they wait long enough, the movie may show up somewhere and they can stream it. This is no longer a problem – you can watch a movie on Day 1 too. If cost is the constraint, just get rid of a streaming subscription and buy this instead. You can thank me later!

• Is my favorite theater included? You get a debit card with Mastercard logo, so anywhere mastercard is accepted is good to go, which includes most of the movie theaters (3D & IMAX movies are not included though, read more about restrictions here)

Best comment I heard from a friend was, you can buy this for your kid who has nothing much to do for summer – at least he’ll be out of the house! There are some things in life you don’t realize were missing until you have it – moviepass is one of those things. It’s not only going to save moviegoing, but also potentially curb movie piracy!

Note: I’ve heard of some technical problems (buggy app) and customer service issues – since there is no contract (it’s month to month), you can always cancel if you don’t like either the idea of watching to many movies or their service.

What’s your excuse for not having MoviePass?!

How I save money by NOT doing Auto-pay [and in some cases from it]

I was looking at my electricity bill the other day and something caught my attention [Yes, I do look at my bills every month and in general if there is something that talks about saving money, it gets my attention] There is a difference of $2.5 depending on the option you choose for billing (see the image below for the available options) – say if the bill is $100, it’s 2.5% cashback, which is more than most of credit cards provide; it’s even more cashback in winter when the electricity bill is lower (assuming the heating uses gas).

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That was an example of how you could save money by autopay, which works well for necessities such as utility bills. I still have reminders in my calendar just to track when the payment is due, but not having to worry about opening the computer -> going to the website ->  looking up for logon info in Keepass -> entering the credit card or bank account number -> paying -> shutting down computer is great! Considering on an average of 5 – 6 bills every month and if each one takes 5 – 10 mins of your time, it’s a waste of almost an hour that you could spend watching “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

According to one statistic about 61% of Americans have at least one bill on autopay, which is great but what about the payments for discretionary items. Should we still set it to pay automatically? That’s the question we’re trying to answer. Tell me if any of the following sound familiar:

  • Only exercise you get from your gym membership is thought of going back someday, when you see the monthly charge on your card
  • You keep getting Rolling Stones in your mail and use it as mouse-pad
  • You hardly order anything from Amazon anymore, but continue to have prime membership thinking you may need something urgently that’s only available on Amazon and free 2-day shipping is the only way to get it

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You think about canceling the service next month, which turns into next month again then you move and the next person who rents the apartment gets to use those magazines as napkin. Where does it end?! Right there when you cancel the auto payment. I recently let go of my Amazon Prime membership and few others that I was still using but didn’t value anymore. It may not sound too much per month, but that’s the trick they play to make it sound less. That $19.99 membership doesn’t sound a lot until you calculate the yearly cost which is $239.88 and now all of a sudden you can afford the JLo concert you always wanted to go to! [not saying you should spend the savings, in fact investing is a better option, but at least now you got more options]

Also when you don’t care about certain specific things anymore but still like to use it sometimes, that $9.99 Spotify subscription for example, you can always look for cheaper alternative. Like most of the thinks in life, automating payments can help or hurt depending on how you use it. My advice: use it wisely!

Living in a non-Amazon world

After I lost my Amazon prime student, I missed it the most when I asked Alexa to play music. It played one song that I had downloaded long time ago (I don’t even like it anymore) instead of usual ones from prime music collection. That was a sad day! Reluctant to pay $99 for the renewal, I started looking for other ways to replace the prime features I use (Amazon has a long list of what comes with the prime membership, but I primarily used only three)

  • Free 2 day shipping: I haven’t bought anything from Amazon after my prime membership ended because I got so used to Two-Day Shipping that regular delivery times seem too loonnngggg. As economists would say, free shipping is not really free – the cost is embedded in the product. It may not be as evident on Amazon.com as it is on Jet.com (which was bought by Walmart) where you can get discount by opting out of free returns; the discount is essentially how much the “free return” is valued at.

My wife suggested to look at our purchase history to determine whether it would be online_shopping.pngworth renewing – I did and the statistic was biased because we bought a lot of stuff since we moved to a new city and also bought a house.

Alternatives to 2 day shipping: I look at things online and check prices at other websites such as Walmart, Target, or even jet.com; I have heard about Shoprunner, which offers free 2 day shipping and free returns, and even got a complimentary membership through American Express but haven’t used it much.

  • Prime Music: It doesn’t have the best collection, but it’s not bad. We mostly played music through Echo (Alexa) and it was good enough to keep you entertained while doing house stuff, cooking, or even when we had guests over.

Alternatives to music: I tried Pandora and iHeartRadio as alternatives but it wasn’t quite the same. Currently I am subscribed to Amazon Music Unlimited trial through Alexa deals and not sure whether I am going to renew. Also looking at other services such as Spotify. I am open to recommendations here.

  • Prime video: I liked House of Lies and few other shows (none of included movies that I liked were exclusive to amazon video) but not something I couldn’t survive without, specially since I am subscribed to other streaming services. Few shows that I liked such as: Suits and The Big Bang Theory are not included, forcing you to pay $2.99 per episode – talk about Bait-and-switch. This was the easiest for me to let go of.

Alternatives to prime video: Any other streaming service would do; I currently have Hulu and couple of free ones such as Roku channel, NBC app, CW app etc. For regular TV, I have a digital antenna which works great. Roku live TV pause is awesome if your favorite show is on and you still haven’t finished dinner yet!

Prime video, if bought separately, currently costs $8.99/month which is way overpriced, in my opinion, for what it has to offer. Also I recently got MoviePass and now I don’t have to worry about checking promos and ratings before I choose a movie; I figured if I don’t like a movie, I can just sleep and not feel guilty of spending money on it. For a flat price of $9.95, moviepass let you watch one movie each day in most of the theaters. I was excited to see Alamo Drafthouse in the list.

I am probably going to miss amazon prime a little bit, but not enough to shell out $99.

Bad debt, good debt & cost of borrowing money

Growing up, I never thought of borrowing money as a tool, rather it was a sign of not having enough money to pay for whatever you were trying to buy. It wasn’t until I started working that I learned more about it. Internet has a lot of information about types of debts, so I’ll skip that part. You can read about it on investopedia, bankrate, or cnbc to name a few websites.

What is considered bad debt may not be so depending on how you use it – it can be explained by considering the cost of borrowing money. Interest is what we pay to use other people’s money (OPM); there are several things to consider when borrowing, some of which are following:

  • Total amount borrowed
  • Fees associated with loan process
  • Interest rate
  • Length of borrowing
  • Early repayment terms

Looking at the bigger picture, this can be used to your advantage and possibly also help acquire good debt.

Bad Debt #1: Car Loan

Last year when I was buying a car, I had thought about paying cash since car loan is typically considered a bad debt – it seemed like a good idea until I ran the numbers:

  • I was getting a car loan for upto $25K at 1.99% without any other processing fee or extra charge
  • I was also considering buying a house in near future

I could pay cash for the car and figure out the house down payment later or, which I eventually ended up doing, take a car loan an put more cash towards the house. Our home loan had interest rate of 4% and we didn’t have to pay PMI because of the extra down payment I could afford. Considering that the interest for the car loan is half of that for the house, it turned out to be a good deal.

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Bad Debt #2: Credit Card

I always pay credit card bills on time and never carry any balance. In this one instance, I had to pay the bill on Thu and I was going to get paid, a day later, on Fri. I paid the minimum balance on Thu and waited to get paid to clear rest of the balance; total interest paid <$1. The high interest rate for credit card is the yearly rate and unless you plan to not pay for an entire year, the interest doesn’t accumulate much. Compare that with payday loan or bank overdraft fee, both of which cost more than $30!

Bad Debt #3: Store Credit card:

I am not a fan of store credit card in general, primarily because those can’t be used anywhere else. After buying the house, we still had to buy appliances and furniture. I did research on what I wanted to buy and compared prices at 3-4 physical stores besides checking online. Finally went to the one which had the lowest price for what we wanted (considered brand name, type of appliance, size etc.), they were also willing to price match.

I was going to buy from there for the lowest price alone, but they offered more discount if we used store credit card. The card also came with 0% interest for 18 months, which was an added advantage. That’s the only time I’ve used store card and didn’t think it was a bad debt because of the savings and not having to pay any interest.

When making a decision about using cash vs OPM, consider above factors and remember to do your own calculation not what the seller shows you.

P.S. My friend and I had this joke about me not willing to pay $500 to get my mustang’s broken window repaired. His exact words, “You didn’t want to pay $500 for the window, so you bought a new car for $15,000?!” I had my reasons. 

 

Chase Sapphire card annual fee [prorated] credit

If you have multiple credit cards with annual fee, you should review [at least once a year] whether all of them are still worth the fee; if not, downgrading to a no fee card is a good idea.

I was reviewing my cards few weeks ago and realized that I didn’t Chase Sapphire Preferred anymore. It was September already and they charged the annual fee in Jun, so I wasn’t sure whether I was going to any any prorated refund; but as I like to say, “you never know until you try.” I looked up online to see what other folks have experienced and found these articles from MillionMileSecrets.com and DoctorOfCredit.com. Knowing there was a chance, first I looked up on what card I wanted to downgrade to – I didn’t want to cancel the card and lose the credit limit. I figured I could take change freedom unlimited because it had no annual fee and unlimited 1.5% cashback. I could also transfer these points to other chase card using ultimate rewards. wallet_coins

I called the customer service and explained the situation, they were willing to do a product transfer (I had owned this card for 3 years, so I wasn’t just trying to use the card for points then get rid of it) but said they don’t do annual fee credit so even though I could do a product transfer now, it’s better to wait till next Jun so I can take advantage of the features that comes with Sapphire card. I wasn’t very keen on that but understood the point.

A week later, new statement generated and I paid the bill in full, like I always do. I decided to call again about the fee refund since I didn’t really like the idea of paying for a card I didn’t need. After going through the same story again, this time I was told that I would get prorated refund. Score! A week later (this morning when I checked), I had the credit in my account.

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Since it was a product change, they didn’t do a hard inquiry to my credit. The good thing is, while the other card is in transit, my current card still works!

Next time if you’re talking to a bank agent and are not satisfied with the response, it’s always a good idea to call back again later.