Happy Labor Day

labor-dayHappy Labor Day!

According to Wikipedia, “Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.”

What this really means is that it is a day to celebrate trade and labor organizations (i.e., labor unions).

Neither my wife nor I are associated with any labor unions, but I feel that most workers in this country owe a debt of gratitude to some of the major labor unions. Collective bargaining between the unions and employers, as well as occasional strikes, led to decent wages, workplace safety, child labor laws, the 40 hour work week, lunch breaks, and paid time off for vacations and sickness.

The AFL-CIO, which is one of the largest labor unions in the country, lists the following 36 reasons why we should thank a labor union.

  • Weekends
  • All Breaks at Work, including your Lunch Breaks
  • Paid Vacation
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
  • Sick Leave
  • Social Security
  • Minimum Wage
  • Civil Rights Act/Title VII (Prohibits Employer Discrimination)
  • 8-Hour Work Day
  • Overtime Pay
  • Child Labor Laws
  • Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA)
  • 40 Hour Work Week
  • Worker’s Compensation (Worker’s Comp)
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Pensions
  • Workplace Safety Standards and Regulations
  • Employer Health Care Insurance
  • Collective Bargaining Rights for Employees
  • Wrongful Termination Laws
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • Whistleblower Protection Laws
  • Employee Polygraph Protect Act (Prohibits Employer from using a lie detector test on an employee)
  • Veteran’s Employment and Training Services (VETS)
  • Compensation increases and Evaluations (Raises)
  • Sexual Harassment Laws
  • Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Holiday Pay
  • Employer Dental, Life, and Vision Insurance
  • Privacy Rights
  • Pregnancy and Parental Leave
  • Military Leave
  • The Right to Strike
  • Public Education for Children
  • Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 (Requires employers pay men and women equally for the same amount of work)
  • Laws Ending Sweatshops in the United States

So when you enjoy this Labor Day holiday with family and friends, please take a moment to realize what the day is about, and how organized labor improved the lives of most all working people.

Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Floods – Where Is Your Emergency Kit?

There was a 6.1 magnitude earthquake late Saturday night near the city of Napa, which is about 60 miles north of us. We were woken up by the quake, and felt our bed move back-and-forth for about 15 seconds. It was nothing new for long-time residents of California, but it did have us thinking of the people who suffered damage and injury in Napa. It also got us thinking about the status of our home emergency kit.

napa-earthquake

My wife put together a nice emergency kit some years ago, but a can of chili exploded in the kit and covered everything with moldy chili. Everything had to be thrown out. This latest earthquake has us thinking that it is time to renew our home emergency kit.

A good home emergency kit should have

  • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Food—non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items
  • Multi-purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area

Additional supplies to keep at home or in your survival kit based on the types of disasters common to your area

  • Whistle
  • Dust or surgical masks
  • Matches
  • Rain gear
  • Towels
  • Work gloves
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Extra clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Household liquid bleach
  • Entertainment items
  • Blankets or sleeping bags

Besides having an emergency kit, the American Red Cross says you should

  • know what emergencies or disasters are most likely to occur in your community.
  • have a family disaster plan and have practiced it.
  • have an emergency preparedness kit.
  • have at least one member of the household trained in first aid and CPR/AED.
  • have taken action to help your community prepare.

We know that earthquakes will happen in California. We also know that fire, floods, and landslides may happen in California, as well as anywhere else in the country. Tornadoes and hurricanes typically occur in other parts of the country. Everyone needs to be prepared for the types of disasters that may happen in their communities.

Please check your emergency kit now to make sure the supplies are still good. And if you do not have an emergency kit, please purchase or put one together. (A search for “home emergency kit” on Amazon came up with 20 pages of kits and supplies.)

Another Appliance Repair

Back in March, I wrote about several appliances that went on the fritz and needed repair. Our most recent appliance to go out was our dishwasher.

The dishwasher is a Maytag Quiet Series 300. A replacement would cost on the order of $600, plus tax, installation, and haul away fees. The dishwasher has a touch button control panel on the front of the door.

Maytag-dishwasher-front-panel

The problem was that the Start/cancel button stopped working. All other buttons on the front panel seemed to operate–at least the correct lights would light up when they were pushed–but the Start/cancel button did nothing.

After some Googling on the problem, I came to the conclusion that the flex cable that attaches the front panel to the controller box was the likely culprit. It appears that some of the leads in the flex cable can experience corrosion after many dishwasher cycles. I took the dishwasher door apart and found that, sure enough, the leads on the flex cable that attach to the Start/cancel button were corroded.

corroded-flex-cable

 

There was one online description of a person scraping the corrosion off the leads and then using conductive glue to repair the flex cable leads. I doubted my ability to make a long-lasting repair using conductive glue on a flex cable, so I instead opted to purchase a new front panel with cable. (You cannot just purchase the flex cable all by itself because the end in the picture above  is soldered to the front panel electronic traces.)

The new front panel cost $170 after tax and shipping, but it arrived quickly and in good shape. I put a bunch of clear silicon seal over the part of the flex cable that could become corroded, and put the dishwasher back together the next day after the silicon seal had dried.

My wife and I are very happy to have the dishwasher working again. Of course we hand washed the dishes for the week or so that the dishwasher was out of service. We realize that many people do not have dishwashers and wash all their dishes by hand, but we have become spoiled with the conveniences that modern appliances provide. We are OK with that.  :-)

Have you had to recently repair an appliance?

5 Indicators a Home Buyer Can Risk Making a Low Offer

ChecklistBy Tali Wee of Zillow

Buying a home is an incredibly expensive purchase that all home shoppers hope to make with confidence. The best way for buyers to feel assured about their purchases is to get a great deal. So, house hunters should look for homes where they’ll get the most quality home for their money.

As the housing market recovers and home prices appreciate once again, it’s difficult for buyers to find affordable homes. Most markets are intensely competitive since inventory of for-sale homes remains low. Therefore, the current real estate market is a seller’s market.

House hunters looking to score homes below asking prices should watch for these five instances where sellers might entertain low offers.

1. When Listings Are Stale

price-reduced-againIn most cases, home shoppers completely overlook listings sitting on the market for numerous days. Even if properties fit all buyers’ criteria for their dream homes, the fact that no one has expressed interest tells buyers the properties are not wise purchases.

Maybe the home wasn’t staged properly for it’s first open house or perhaps the marketing photos exaggerated the spaciousness of the home. In any case, when a home doesn’t receive offers in a competitive market it indicates to buyers that something must be wrong with the home. Stale listings are nightmares for sellers. However, discouraged sellers become ideal opportunities for buyers to offer less than asking price.

2. When Comparable Homes are Much Cheaper

Another instance where home shoppers might gamble offering less than asking price is when homes are clearly overpriced. Part of a buyer’s due diligence is to understand the market value of properties. After months of reviewing homes’ sale prices, buyers begin to understand the current value of homes. Then, they can judge fair pricing and justify paying costly mortgages for potentially the next 30 years.

For-sale homes should list at prices similar to the selling prices of comparable properties. If a buyer notices the home he or she plans to purchase is more expensive than properties in the same area, built about the same time, with similar lot sizes, square footage and number of bedrooms/bathrooms, then the house is likely overpriced.

When homes are priced competitively, multiple buyers make offers. Buyers sometimes engage in bidding wars where sale prices end up above asking prices. Overpriced homes receive fewer offers, so sellers might be motivated to accept slightly lower prices. When listings are overpriced and stale they’re even better opportunities to risk making a low offer.

3. When Shoppers Are Unimpressed

House hunters should pay close attention to other shoppers at open houses. The quiet conversations between husbands and wives might indicate the overall competitiveness of a property. Are shoppers excited and interested? Or, are shoppers disappointed and complaining? Homebuyers should review properties with their own judgments first, checking off their lists of must-have qualities and then spend time watching for cues from other shoppers. If no one seems interested a property, the seller might not receive many offers, making it a good option for low offers.

4. When Properties Are Not Staged

In general, prospective buyers should avoid fixer-uppers that require loads of time, hard labor and money. However, house hunters should pay careful attention to the type of upgrades properties need. Homes requiring a few cosmetic improvements are great opportunities for buyers to make low offers. In many cases, sellers don’t have time to make upgrades, and proactive buyers can sometimes make minor updates during ownership for less than $10,000.

Busy or lazy sellers often leave chipping paint and overgrown landscaping on home exteriors and stained carpet or overcrowded layouts inside. These eyesores distract shoppers from the positive elements of properties, limiting the number of interested parties.

Additionally, shoppers should visit homes with poor-quality online marketing photos. Even though unprofessional images might make properties seem undesirable, many buyers will overlook these properties, leaving the door open for lower offers.

foreclosure-house

5. When Sellers Are Motivated

Lastly, bargain shoppers should look for desperate sellers. When owners are motivated to sell they tend to accept their first offers, even those below asking price. At open houses, buyers can eavesdrop on conversations between sellers’ agents and other shoppers to measure the sellers’ desperation. Socialize with other shoppers; sometimes neighbors peruse open houses and share details about the history of the community and sellers.

Did the seller recently relocate for work or a divorce? Is the owner juggling multiple mortgages? Did the owner recently pass away and his or her heirs are trying to offload the property as soon as possible? In many of these instances, the current owners are rushed to sell. These are the perfect scenarios for buyers to make low offers.

Since home shoppers are preparing to make the largest purchases of their lives, they want to feel like they’re getting the best bargain. When trying to strike the best deal, consider these circumstances to submit a lower-than-asking offer.

A Broken Sprinkler Head Coupling

We live in California where we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. Whether the drought has been caused by global warming, changes in off-shore ocean temperature, or is just some sort of harsh weather cycle is anyone’s guess.

In an effort to keep our property value and landscaping alive while saving water, we use an automated watering system. To get the best water flow, the system is split up into 6 zones. There are 3 zones in the front yard and 3 in the back. Some zones just cover lawn sprinklers, others turn on drip irrigation for bushes and trees.

The system runs at 5:00 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Each zone gets 10 minutes of water. We set the system to turn on that early so that the water has a chance to soak into the ground before it evaporates.

Every now and then, a part of the automated watering system will develop a leak. This can be due to squirrels gnawing on the drip irrigation lines, or a broken sprinkler head. A large leak, such as that from a broken sprinkler head, can waste a lot of water, as well as rob the other sprinklers on the same circuit from supplying water.

broken-sprinkler

Due to the drought, the local water provider is seeking to levy fines of up to $500 if a watering system is allowed to run with a broken line or sprinkler head, and excess water is seen flowing onto the sidewalk or street.

Imagine my surprise on Saturday morning when I noticed one of our sprinkler heads lying on the sidewalk in front of our neighbor’s house. It was pretty easy to see that the sprinkler head had broken off due to getting stepped on or run over a number of times by a lawn mower. There is a threaded plastic coupler between the buried pipeline of the sprinkler system and the sprinkler head that is a weak link in our automated sprinkler system. It’s actually a good thing to have a weak link, so that the entire underground line will not get ripped up if something, like a lawn mower snags a sprinkler head and tears it out.

It was already getting very hot when I noticed the broken sprinkler head on Saturday, so I put it off until Sunday morning. I don’t know if my wife woke up at 6:00 AM when I got up, but I know she was up when I turned on the watering system to flush out the bottom part of the sprinkler line that I had dug down to.

Over the years, I have assembled a bunch of sprinkler repair parts in a container in the garage. After removing the broken ends of the weak link from both the sprinkler system piping and from the sprinkler head, I cut a new piece of threaded pipe to the correct length. I then threaded the weak link piece into the sprinkler head, and threaded that assembly back into the underground piping.

The whole repair job took about 20 minutes, and I am assuming I saved us from a $500 fine, not to mention that our lawn will be happier. Now if only I can get our gardeners to avoid breaking the sprinklers in the first place.

Money May Carry Disease and Other Things

dirty-moneyHave you ever wondered if the very wrinkled and dirty money you receive as change may carry a communicable disease?

Researchers from the Wright Patterson Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, asked people standing in line at a grocery store checkout and at a high school concession stand to trade a $1 bill from their pocket for a new one. Then the doctors analyzed 68 of those old, worn bills.

Five of the bills contained bacteria that can cause an infection in perfectly healthy people, and 59 of them (that’s 87 percent) were contaminated with bacteria that could cause an infection in anyone with a compromised immune system, such as people with HIV or cancer.

Only four of the bills were relatively clean.

I used to stop at a bagel store on my way to do consultant work at Lockheed-Martin Missiles and Space. There was often a homeless lady in the store that the owners would shoo out after awhile. I was pretty sure that she kept her money and other treasures stuffed into the crotch of the old dirty long johns that she often wore. I suppose I took my chances every day that the money I received as change did not come directly from the homeless lady’s crotch. Yes, I know, ewwwwww. I never really thought about it at the time.

Drugs may also be found on paper money.

In a study reported in Forensic Science International, A.J. Jenkins, at the Office of the Cuyahoga County Coroner (Cleveland, OH), the author reports the analysis of ten randomly collected one-dollar bills from five cities, and tested for cocaine, heroin, 6-acetylmorphine (also called “6-AM”), morphine, codeine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and phencyclidine (PCP). Bills were then immersed in acetonitrile for two hours prior to extraction and subjected to Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis.

Results demonstrated that “92% of the bills were positive for cocaine with a mean amount of 28.75+/-139.07 micrograms per bill, a median of 1.37 μg per bill, and a range of 0.01-922.72 μg per bill. Heroin was detected in seven bills in amounts ranging from 0.03 to 168.5 μg per bill: 6-AM and morphine were detected in three bills; methamphetamine and amphetamine in three and one bills, respectively, and PCP was detected in two bills in amounts of 0.78 and 1.87 μg per bill.” The study confirmed that although paper currency was most often contaminated with cocaine, other drugs of abuse may also be detected in bills.

This is nowhere near enough drugs to adversely affect a person, but it is something to think about.

With the convenience offered by credit cards, I see little use for paper money any more. I charge everything these days, right down to a single dollar for two bagels at the Safeway store. Heck, I even get 2 cents cash back.

Do you still use paper money and coins?

Paying Bills for Adult Children

There has been much written in the media about sandwich generation, in which people are paying expenses for both their children and their parents. An interesting take on this is what to do about adult children who want to keep living with their parents. This was the subject of a short article at MarketWatch entitled, “Paying bills for adult children? Try tough love instead.”  It was also recently the focus of one of the forums at Early-Retirement.org.

The MarketWatch article noted that “Social norms have shifted so that accepting help from Mom and Dad well into your 20s is ‘OK.’” The article then went on to quote a paper by psychologists, Eileen and John Gallo.

Eileen Gallo and Jon Gallo note in their paper “How 18 Became 26: The Changing Concept of Adulthood,” for a certain socioeconomic set, growing up and moving out—permanently—means downgrading your lifestyle. The authors quote sociologists Allan Schnaiberg and Sheldon Goldenberg as stating:

“The supportive environment of a middle-class professional family makes movement toward independent adulthood relatively less attractive than maintenance of the [extended adolescence] status quo. Many of the social gains of adult roles can be achieved with higher benefits and generally lower costs by sharing parental resources rather than by moving out on one’s own!”

Parents Supporting Adult Kids-coins

I have to admit that I moved back in with my parents after I finished my 4-year stint in the Air Force. I always got along well with my parents, and they lived within easy bicycling distance of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The old GI Bill paid for my tuition, but little more. I am sure my parents would have kicked in for the extra cost of room and board at any other state university, but I was happy with the engineering program at UCSB, and living with my parents meant it was less expensive for everyone.

My parents recognized that I was fully an adult attending college full time. They gave me a lot of leeway in how I handled my schooling and friendships during the 4 years I was in college. I was on the dean’s academic list, but did not graduate with any outstanding honors. I still did manage to graduate in 4 years, which is pretty fast for a mechanical engineering major.

Since engineering jobs were in short supply in the Santa Barbara area in 1985, I immediately loaded up my possessions into my pickup truck, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived with my older brother and his family while I looked for my career job. I found that job within a couple months and I moved to my own place shortly after. I have been working with the same employer ever since.

I somewhat agree with the MarketWatch article, as well as many others, that there comes a point where parents have to show tough love and launch their adult children into the world on their own. At the same time, such as in my case, if your adult child or children have a plan for gaining professional success, such as completing college on an aggressive schedule while living at home, there should be room for parents to provide support, as long as it does not unduly reduce retirement savings.

I am not sure how we will feel if our son wants/needs to move back in with us after college. We have saved enough that he should not be in debt after college. We might still let him move in with us for a short term while he actively looks to gain employment. There would definitely be a limit to how long he could live with us after college.

Some of the responses to helping adult children on the early-retirement.org forum were interesting.

NW-Bound said, “I have given money to my children after they started working, but will not pay their recurrent bills. The have good jobs that make use of their degrees so do not need my help, but even if they had a lower paying job, they must learn to live within their means.”

Mulligan replied, “A buddy of mine had a classic line a few weeks ago…His son saw his and his wife’s paychecks and says ‘Dad I didn’t know we were rich.’ He replied to his son… ‘No, your mother and I are rich, you are not’”

Cobra9777 wrote a good post that sort of tied back to my college days,

During college, we paid tuition, fees, room and board. We also paid for cell phone service and auto insurance, but that’s it. We intentionally did not provide daily spending money, as a way to start educating them on money management. Our son was an engineering major at a very tough school. So rather than work during school, he worked full-time during the summer and started the school year with around $3000 in the bank. We also gave cash gifts for birthdays and Christmas, so he had a comfortable budget of around $300-400 per month for gasoline and other misc spending. He eventually learned to NOT spend it all by November. Our daughter was always able to work during school with several lucrative nanny jobs. She tends to spend a lot more, and had a less demanding major, so this worked out well for her.

I’ll add this… when the kids moved off campus (which is inevitable at some point in year 2 or 3), we continued to pay for housing cost, but not food and other bills, like utilities, cable, internet, etc. They both knew this going in, and had to adapt their working hours and spending habits to make it work. It was tough, but college kids are quite inventive when strapped for cash, like going to campus gatherings where there’s free BBQ.

For us, the answer was a balanced approach, both during college and after. No hard-line tough love, but no free ride either. We have friends who took one of the more extreme alternatives with their kids and it always ended badly. The balanced approach seems to have worked well for us, as both kids had the freedom to explore their dreams, finished college on time with no debt, and have a solid understanding of money management and the value of hard work.

How would you handle the needs of your adult children if they want to live at home while going to college, or move back home after college?

 

Beating Those Summertime Budget Blues

This is a post from Mrs. Save and Conquer:

Summer Time

As the long days of summer approach, so do endless hours of “Mom! I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” Some people pay thousands of dollars in expensive activities (camps at $300-$500 per week for 12 weeks! Holy cow- that’s up to $6000!) just to make those words go away.

Now, I know how frustrating those long, seemingly empty hours can be, and I am actually more likely to get cabin fever before the kids do, but I just can’t see paying thousands of dollars to find a little fun when I know it can be had for so much less. Here are some budget activities that we (my self, my son and my two nieces) have done in summers past:

Continue reading

Investment Policy Statement

Our IPSI was at a friend’s house last week when he asked if I was planning to sell any stocks since the market is hitting new highs. I told him that my asset allocation has become a bit biased toward equities, due to the recent market gains, but I won’t do any asset rebalancing until the proper time of the year, as spelled out in my investment policy statement (IPS). I told him I wanted to wait at least a year between rebalancing is so that I will only incur long term capital gains if I need to sell stocks in my wife’s and my joint taxable account (which is what we will probably need to do).

I also told him that I quit trying to time the market a long time ago, and am much happier for it. We max our retirement accounts with appropriate monthly contributions, and then push additional money into our taxable investments. Each month, we invest this extra money in the under-weighted part of our asset allocation. And that it’s all spelled out in our IPS.

My friend then asked why I thought I needed an investment policy statement. He also admitted that he did not really know what an IPS was.

I told him that an IPS is a written statement that “defines general investment goals and objectives. It describes the strategies that will be used to meet these objectives and contains specific information on subjects such as asset allocation, risk tolerance, and liquidity requirements.” The part in quotes is directly from the Bogleheads.org wiki.

The benefits of using an IPS are that “it provides the foundation for all future investment decisions to be made by an investor. It serves as a guidepost, identifies goals and creates a systematic review process. The IPS is intended to keep investors focused on their objectives during short-term swings in the market and provides a baseline from which to monitor investment performance of the overall portfolio. Someone who doesn’t have a written policy often bases decisions on day-to-day events, which often leads to chasing short-term performance that may hinder them in reaching long-term goals. Having a policy encourages maintaining focus on the long-term nature of the investment process, especially during turbulent or exuberant times.”

I happened to have my laptop with me, so I pulled up my IPS to show my friend.

Investment Policy Statement

Philosophy

The Portfolio consists of all family joint investable assets as well as individual retirement assets.

Our investment philosophy is based on the Boglehead philosophy

  1. Develop a workable plan
  2. Invest early and often
  3. Never bear too much or too little risk
  4. Never try to time the market
  5. Use index funds when possible
  6. Keep costs low
  7. Diversify
  8. Minimize taxes
  9. Keep it simple
  10. Stay the course

Strategy

Desired asset allocation (AA) is roughly 50% percent in bonds plus cash, with remaining 50% in equities. The AA is based on Fama-French Trinity Study in which they use a 50/50 AA as the optimum ratio for a safe withdrawal rate of 4% with inflation adjustments over a 30 year span. This is also a good moderate AA in the latter stages of accumulation (prior to retirement).

Taxable bonds should be held in tax advantaged accounts with 50% total bond market, 50% inflation protected (That includes TIPs and I-bonds). Note that I-bonds and tax-free muni bonds must be held in taxable accounts.

Equities are approximately 85% US, and 15% international. US holdings are split among total stock market (TSM) and small-cap value (SV) stocks, with other small additions, such as REITs. (Tax-inefficient REITs, like taxable bonds, should be held in tax advantaged accounts.) SV are roughly 30% of total US equities.

Discipline

The asset allocation is checked once a year on Bryce’s birthday. Rebalancing of assets to 50/50 will be done if the asset balance is 10% or more off (i.e., if the AA has changed to 60+/40- due to appreciation of equities, equities will be sold and bonds will be bought to get back to 50/50).

No matter the current AA, $20,000 in taxable savings should be set aside to purchase i-bonds at the April-May timeframe of each year. Previous year-end dividends and savings should be used. A high-interest savings account will be used to hold money earmarked for next year’s i-bond purchase. The expectation of the $20k i-bond purchase may be used to offset out-of-band AA on Bryce’s birthday, assuming $20k in bonds will make a difference.

New assets will be applied to either equities or bonds depending on which asset is currently low in the 50/50 AA. This will help to maintain the AA without having to sell any assets.

The AA will be maintained when there is a need for money. The asset class that is “high” in the AA will be sold first. Assets will not be bought or sold based on market movements. Cash may be used, even if it is in the low asset class, assuming it will be quickly replaced by monthly savings.

That is our IPS. It is pretty simple, yet it helps us to stay the course and keep emotions in check as the market goes through its typical gyrations. There are more and better examples of IPSs in the bogleheads’ wiki.

I Just Renewed My Tracfone for Another Year

TF_SAMS380C

Free Tracfone

I do not use a smartphone, nor do I have much use for a wireless phone other than in an emergency. To get the least expensive wireless phone and service plan, I turn to Tracphone.

Tracfone offers some phones for free, and plans for as low as $8.33/month if you sign up for a year. You do have to jump through a few hoops, however, to get the best deals. Most often this means entering a promo code at checkout to get additional minutes, and getting one of their phones with double or triple minutes for life helps to extend their time offerings.

I just ordered a one year card with 650 minutes. That got bumped up to 1950 minutes because my phone has triple minutes for life. The minutes go fast if you use data with a smart phone. But I am good for another year with my old minutes, plus an additional 1950 minutes, where I only use text and voice.

Our son has the same Tracfone that I have, but he is on a monthly payment plan of $9.99 for 50 minutes each month. 50 minutes may not sound like much, but his phone has triple minutes for life, and the minutes accumulate as long as no payments are missed. I think he currently has around 1800 minutes accumulated.

I would recommend something like Straighttalk for someone who uses a smart phone. My wife has the basic Straighttalk plan of unlimited voice, text, and data for $45/month. Her phone is a Samsung Galaxy S3 that she got from the Straighttalk website for around $350.

From their website, I see that Straighttalk is running their “bring your own phone” offer again, where you can use any GSM phone and purchase a Straighttalk SIM card for $6.99. Some CDMA phones (aka a Verizon phone) may also work with Straighttalk. Instead of purchasing a SIM card that you put into your phone, you purchase a Straighttalk network access code, after entering your phone’s MEID, MEID DEC, or MEID HEX code on their website to verify functionality with Straighttalk’s network (they specifically say that Blackberries will not work), you will be provided with an access code for a one-time fee of $6.99.

My wife seems satisfied with her Straighttalk phone and plan. She doesn’t have the latest version of Android, but she can talk, text, play games, and browse the internet to her heart’s content.

Do you use a no-contract phone plan, like Tracfone or Straighttalk?