Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is A Hybrid For You?


I thought a hybrid car was in my future. I really did until I started looking. First, know before you buy this year that tax credits are only for electric cars and plug in cars. The traditional egg-shaped Prius or Escape Hybrid won’t qualify. In fact, most hybrids you thought qualify, don’t. The car must be new and capable of being plugged in. Check twice because the tax rebate still might not do that much for you. At the most, it might shave a couple hundred or even a thousand off your taxes. Is this worth paying at least seven thousand more than a fuel efficient car?

I wanted a hybrid because of the cost of gas.  That way I could save money. My first stop was doing research. Certain electric cars had some proto-type problems such as catching on fire. They had a limit how far you could drive them before they ran out of power. What do you do when you run out of electric? I am betting your work or the motel where you’re staying does not want you to run an extension cord to your car.  The natural gas hybrid totally baffles me since I have yet to see one natural gas station anywhere.

I was ready to buy my first new car in over ten years and I wanted a hybrid. I trolled the Internet and called dealerships. There were plenty of higher end models to be had. Problem with that was I would never ever recoup money spend.  One Honda salesperson walked me through a comparison study hybrid and non-hybrid. The hybrid sticker prices would always be 6-8,000 more than the regular model. All maintenance was more expensive, and they tended to break down more since they were new technology. The hybrid was starting to look less attractive.

The Honda rep asked if I was planning on driving over 180,000 miles in six years? No, I would be lucky to drive a little more than a third of that. Only people who planned to drive that much with gas at five dollars a gallon could hope to regain the extra money put out on a hybrid.  The Hybrid I had my eye on had 44 mpg for city and highway. The non-hybrid model had a mpg of 40 on the highway, and even up to 44 with the econo boost button. Okay, did you catch that? The same highway mileage. City mileage dropped down to 34-38 miles depending on how much I was stopping.

A friend of mine was ready to commit to an hybrid at the dealership. A quick call to his insurance company found his insurance rate almost doubled. Sure, new cars cost more his insurance rep explained, but hybrids more so because if they get in a wreck they are usually totaled. It isn't easy to replace parts on a hybrid, as opposed to your traditional car.

The item that decided me was color and style. Even though I was at a large dealership I was told currently there were two hybrids in the state. I could put my name on a list and when one came available I’d get a call. No choice what so ever I could end up with a black sedan with black leather seats.

Because hybrids are such hot items, salespeople do not have to deal or give you inflated value for your trade-in.  My deciding factor was my brother-in-law’s hybrid. I’d driven it and liked the quietness of the electric engine. My brother-in-law keeps cars forever because he maintains them in such good condition; however, his hybrid seemed to be self-destructing after four years. It wasn’t even lasting the time of an average six-year car loan. Hybrids are not great trade-in values because they tend to be more like laptops with their dated technology.

I went for the gas efficient Civic with econo boost. It is very quiet inside almost like having an electric engine. Now, if I opted for the hybrid, I would be on a waiting list.  I might get a call in a couple months and told what type of car I could purchase.

Still want a hybrid? Do your research. Many manufacturers are putting out brand new hybrids without any type of track records. Other manufacturers are putting out cars with horrible service and performance records. A car doesn’t do you much good if it is constantly being repaired.

 Sometimes you have to give up some options. Buying a behemoth of car even if it is hybrid will not result in great gas mileage. Paying over forty thousand for a hybrid is no guarantee of anything. Expensive hybrids break down just as much as the cheaper cars. They just cost more to fix. Then there is the plug-in problem. When will hotels start checking for extension cords being run out of hotel windows?

Consider how much you drive, plus original sticker cost, trade-in value, and maintenance fees to decide if you can afford a hybrid. Don’t buy it because you think it is cool. Remember those tiny, but cute, Smart Cars.  They get the exact same mileage as a Ford Focus according to the fuel economy site. Remember earth shoes were cool once too, but you never seen anyone wearing them now.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dating & The Gift Card Debate

Who knew a simple little thing like a gift card could strike fear in the hearts of men? A good example of this is a recent question on a dating advice blog, not mine, where a gentleman asked if he could use a gift card on a date. In his line of work, he receives several fine dining cards as a thank you for services rendered. He couldn’t imagine ever dining alone in the upscale locations and wondered if he could share one with a date.

Nine separate women felt compelled to tell him, “no way.” A few went on to say that he’s a cheap jerk to even think of using a gift card. Another went on to call him names that aren’t even printable. What gives here? If you are a meal whore (women who only go out on dates to mooch food), then why would you care if he used a restaurant gift card? Many people also give prepaid credit cards as gifts too. How would you know your date wasn’t using one of these? Would you demand to see the card, or just try to read it upside down to see if his name is on it?

The one word that jumped out at me from the responses is cheap. Women are afraid if a guy uses a gift card that he’s cheap. Even if you go out to a chain restaurant, a typical meal costs between $50-$60 for two.  Go to a better restaurant, double that price. If this is any date prior to number six, you can bet he’s dating more than one woman. The man may go out anywhere from eight to ten times a month spending from $400-$800 on dating meals alone. No matter how modern women consider themselves they still expect the man to pay for the date.

What if women paid? Gift cards suddenly seem appropriate. What is all this gift card nonsense about anyhow? It is more about control. I, the woman, can make you, the man, lay out so much money on me. Some women value their date by how much money he spends. If the man uses a gift card that negates some of the date value, it is also hard to tell how much money he’ll willingly spend on her, which makes it hard to decide on a second date.

If a woman uses this type of measurement, she uses money as a determiner if she’ll date him. Why not cut to the chase and ask him to list all his assets on a napkin or flourish his most recent check stub. Sounds rather crass put that way, but no more crass than being insistent on how much money should be spent on you during a date. A woman who eschews the use of a gift card is practicing this same behavior.

The gift card is also used to tell how serious a guy is. As I said before a man can be dating many women. He also may have a wallet full of gift cards. He could be in a profession where he is always getting gift cards. Women judge he’s not that serious about her because he’s using a gift card. That could be the absolute truth. Not every woman will be the answer to his dream; just like every guy a woman dates is not her dream man either.

It seems like there is no way a man can win when it comes to gift cards. Often a man, when in a quandary about what to buy for a woman, will resort to a gift card at her favorite store or spa. He’s accused of being an uncaring jerk for this behavior. Really, did the woman want an ugly dress, another terrycloth robe, or lingerie in a too small size? Women who have this reaction shouldn’t expect too many future gifts.

I used to work at an upscale women’s store. Whenever a woman would come in with a gift certificate, we assured her that someone must love her very much to know the perfect gift to get her, and also bless her with a shopping trip to pick it out. The woman, now excited she was so well loved, happily shopped.  She was a great deal better off than the woman stomping around declaring her man didn’t love her because he got her a gift card. Expect she’ll get something from the drugstore next year.

So ladies, and men, does it really matter if someone uses a gift card? Sometimes I think it is about setting a precedent. Men don’t normally like to drop a wad of money on someone they might not like. Expensive restaurants aren’t necessarily fast; do you want to suffer through a two hour meal with someone who doesn’t suit?

If you do have a gift card for a pricey, slow restaurant you might want to stow it until you find out the woman is actually worth your time. You’ll know by date three if she’ll freak out if you flash a gift card. It must be horribly humbling for a man to hear he is only valued for what he spends on woman. She’s not there for his company or his witty repartee.

On the other hand, these women who insist you can’t use gift cards, may not be going out that much. Some women have so many rules about dating them, it is almost like joining a new religion. Some men just aren’t eager or willing converts.  I’ll ask you once again. If a gift card is all it takes to tip a scales against a man, then you must be looking for excuses to stay home then.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Preparing for Winter

Maybe you’ve heard it will be a cold winter this year. That means different things depending on where you live. Here is the Midwest it means high utility bills. How do you trim these out of control bills? Is your house well insulated?  Unrolling a few rolls of insulation in the attic will improve your house’s ability to hold heat.

Are your windows the drafty single pane type?  The best deal would be to replace them, but barring that you can insulate them too. Once you’ve decide you aren’t opening them again, put up the storm windows. Don’t have storm windows, go for plastic sheeting kit in your local hardware store that will insulate you from winter’s cold breezes.

How well do your doors seal? Can you see a daylight underneath your exterior doors? If so you need weather stripping at the bottom. An old fashion draft dodger filled with sand and looks like a long dog will work on the interior side. You can make these out of old ties too. In that case, I would use rice or buckwheat since sand escapes easily. Some people even use these on drafty windows.

When gardening is over, remember to unhook your hose, and cover your spigots. Turn off the outside water to prevent leaks and pipes freezing. Walk the perimeter of your foundation and look for cracks. Better, you find it now than after water seeps in, freezes and widens the crack. You can repair this yourself with concrete. There are companies that will repair it for you too.

Inside your home, replace as many light bulbs as you can with the twisty fluorescent bulbs. Eleven percent of your electric bill is lights only. If you lower your thermostat two degrees you’ll save ten percent off your bill.  Another plus, being a little cold can burn as much as 700 extra calories a day. This is why we buy sweaters in the fall. Your outlets may be letting in cold air. You can buy for pennies insulators to stick in your switches and outlets.

Are you heating rooms you almost never use? Close the vents in these rooms until needed. Are you living in a slab with ceiling vents? If so, make sure you have ceiling fans to bring the heat down to you.  Turn down the thermostat even more when you go to bed.  Do not go under sixty because it will take too much energy to get the house warmed up again.  Electric blankets and mattress pads will keep you toasty through the night.

If you are only using a few rooms in your house, then only heat those rooms. Natural gas, despite experiencing a decrease in the product price, has raised their prices significantly. To battle this expense, you can resort to a space heater especially when everyone is in the same room, or even throws. Remember never leave a space heater running while you are asleep or gone. Unattended heaters are a major fire starter.

Sometimes the simplest things are the easiest ways to stay warm. Clean out the garage, so not only can you go to work in a warm car, but it extends the life of your car. Keep your doors closed. Change out the screen door panel for a glass one. Pets and children tend to want to run in and out.  Make sure children have what they need before leaving. Pets are problematic, you have to judge if Fido really needs to go out. Make sure before retiring, you close all the blinds, and curtains to add another buffer against the cold.

Never underestimate the power of a hot meal or a cup of tea as far as keeping you warm. Unlike summer, feel free to use your stove and oven. You can leave the oven cracked after baking to let the residual heat dissipate into the house. Don’t heat your house with your stove because it is a fire hazard and an accident waiting to happen.  Venting your dryer in your house will encourage mold besides leaving a sticky, linty residue on everything.

A little work now should cut your future utility bills. Some companies will even allow you to sign up for a budget plan. This is helpful because you don’t want to be hit with a huge bill about the time you get ready to go holiday shopping.