Thursday, June 14, 2007

My quest for savings - 1: Phone service

This is the first in a series of posts that I'm planning to make on my quest for the most cost effective and frugal method for things I use on a daily basis. I recently re-located to USA from India and thought it will be interesting to compare what I used to do/have in India versus here in the US.

Mobile Service: Cingular Pay as You Go

When I came over to US 3 months back, one of the first things I did was to search for a good mobile phone service. I'm not a heavy user of a cell phone so I did not want to lock myself in a long and expensive contract so decided to get a pre-paid "pay as you go" service. After asking around a bit, I decided to go with Cingular (now AT&T) as it had the best coverage in my area - and also because I could get the starter phone (Motorola) with 10 Dollar talk time for 18 dollars from the local CVS Pharmacy. I chose the "simple" plan which charges 25 cents per minute for incoming and outgoing calls. My average monthly usage comes to about 10 Dollars a month and so far, I'm happy with my choice.

The best deal for Cingular recharge PIN's that I could find was with – I consistently get about 2 dollars off from the face value of the recharge card and also get a credit for future purchases.

Back in India too, I had a pay as you go phone from Airtel which is one of the largest Cell phone providers in India. I paid around $ 25 for my Nokia 1100 phone. Call charges in India are one of the cheapest in the world – I used to pay around 3 Cents per minute for local calls and around 7 Cents per minute for long distance.

Home Phone: SunRocket

Best VOIP provider that I could find was SunRocket and I highly recommend them. It costs about $199 for a year (about $17 per month – with free calls anywhere in USA and Canada) – no contracts and no obligations – and you get your cash back for unused months if you chose to discontinue. Keep checking their website for deals – I got a GE 5.8 GHerz cordless phone free and they recently had a promotion which offered 2 years for $199 !!

VOIP is not legal in India – only option is to go in for a land line or what they call WLL (Wireless in Local Loop – which is a hybrid of landline and cell). I had a land line from BSNL – the government owned phone service provider. It used to cost me $20 monthly with local call charges of 3.5 cents per 3 minute call and 7 cents a minute for long distance calls.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Use your loose change to buy Postal Stamps

I keep a small box in my locker into which every now and then I throw all loose change that tend to accumulate in my wallet. Recently the box was almost full and i was looking for a way of using them without too much work. I had seen coin changing machines like Coinstar in my local CVS pharmacy but they charge something like a 9% commission for changing them. Moreover, I can only get back gift certificates for the coins exchanged and not dollar notes. I did not want to use these machines due to the commission charged and to the fact that i could not get dollar notes in exchange.

It was then i chanced upon a USPS Stamp Vending machine in my office cafeteria which accepts coins of all denominations - 1 cent, 5 cent, 10 cents etc. So I use my loose change to buy stamps I need - no commissions and moreover, saves me a trip to the local Coinstar machine. Some people may argue that they do not need so many stamps but I buy stamps almost every other month so that is not much of an issue for me anyway. For people who buy stamps infrequently, suggest that they buy forever stamps that can be used literally, forever !!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Conducting a "Moving Sale" in India

When we decided to move from Chennai to US, we were in dilemma as to what to do with our furniture, books and other stuff. We did plan to transport some of our stuff to our parents house but did not want to spend a lot of money on transporting all our stuff - neither did we want to leave them in the house and keep it locked.

We wanted to sell our furniture if we could and looked at the options we had. One way to sell was to advertise in magazines like free ads ( but we did not know how effective it was. We hit upon another idea - of conducting a "moving sale" of sorts and advertising locally in our apartment complex.

Here is how we went about conducting the "Moving Sale".

1. We printed fliers which listed details of all the stuff we were offering for sale with an asking price against each item. We also described the condition of the item in detail. We also explained that we were offering stuff at 50 to 60 % discount to what we paid for. Also offered discounts for someone buying more than one item.

2. We put up fliers in all the notice boards in the apartment complex (we have about 220 apartments in our complex).

3. We did not sell for an offer bellow what we asked for since this was more of a "restricted sale" open only to residents from our apartment complex, word would have gotten around and we could have ended up selling for much less than the offer price.

I was really surprised by the response. Except for the king size bed (which was also eventually sold), we sold almost all the stuff which we had for sale within a couple of days of fliers being put up. Lots of people commented us on our "innovative method" of conducting a "moving sale". Though garage and moving sales are very common here in the US (will write about them in a separate post) they are not at all common in India (especially in Chennai). The response that we got for our sale shows that the demand is there if one is willing to try it.