Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Norm’s $35 Oscar Movie Roundup

Long time readers might know that I am a movie buff.  My first two jobs were at movie theaters. In high school, I’d take old movies out from the library, and I’d do things like go to see a movie by myself, then sneak into a second one immediately after. The things that have slowed my movie viewing these past few years is a lack of time and the cost. Enter the Oscar film festival pass!

For $35, you got a pass to see every Best Picture-nominated movie over ten days. There’s nine Best Picture nominees this year, so that’s less than $4 a movie! That’s an incredible deal, especially since these are all supposed to be great movies. And the stars aligned, dear readers. Over Presidents Day weekend, I had scheduled two extra vacation days which I was going to otherwise lose, and Marge was going to be out of town on a trip to Las Vegas. So with all the time in the world, yes, I saw every last movie. Here’s my rankings.

9. Hidden Figures
About three black women working at NASA in the Mercury program. Honestly, this one was too much of a crowd-pleaser for my liking. Just not my thing. You pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get. People actually applauded at the end of this one. The actors were great, but the film suffers from A Beautiful Mind-ism/Good Will Hunting-ism. That’s where we’re supposed to be in awe of a character’s knowledge because of how many numbers and complicated words they know or can put on a blackboard. So many scenes where one of the women will be writing a huge equation you don’t understand, and it’s inevitably followed by some snarky remark from a white guy or some reaction shot. I prefer a movie with smart characters that simplify it enough so that you can follow along over the two hours (see #3) instead of closing you off.
Also, if you do like the film, make sure you don’t read about the historical inaccuracies, unless you like to be disappointed. The best scenes and major conflicts didn’t really happen.
Key Scene: When John Glenn’s capsule is coming back from orbit, and cars are pulled over to the side of the road to watch the sky. Did that really happen? Could people really see anything? I don’t know.
Key Quote: “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.” Continue reading

The Average Day of Frugal Dude

So I was just on my way home from work and realized how much of what I was doing at that one moment, even though I was just “in transit,” was influenced by my frugal philosophy:

  1. I was riding a bus. Duh. I’ve given up driving a car to work and paying for a parking spot. The bus is much cheaper and less stressful. I can read a book or even watch tv, while someone else deals with the traffic and the ice on the roads. This particular bus ride cost $1.30.
  2. I was reading a used book. As a member of PaperbackSwap, I get free books in the mail in return for sending people books of my own. On this day I was reading a very old copy of Michael Lewis’ “Liar’s Poker.” I requested it through PaperbackSwap for $0.49.
  3. I was listening to a used iPod Touch. I love the maligned iPod Touch. It does everything a smartphone does, but without the monthly bill. I bought this on eBay for $74.
  4. I was listening to free mp3s. I like to pay for my music. I believe in supporting the things you like, because if you don’t, those things will die. But I like to listen to electronic music while I read, so I was listening to some Boards of Canada demos. Since these were never officially released, they are free online.
  5. My bag had my lunch container in it. Not only do I make my own lunch and bring it every day, but these were actually leftovers from Christmas. My mom had made it (eggplant parm). So even though bringing your lunch is always cheaper than buying, in this case the food was actually free.
  6. As to winter accessories I was wearing: My gloves? A gift. My coat? Another gift. My winter hat? Cost $1.50 at Old Navy.


These are all just little things, but every little thing adds up.

  • $13.50 saved on parking every pay period comes to $351 per year. If you think a car costs 59 cents per mile to operate, then by taking a bus instead of driving the 11 miles each way, I save $10.38 per day or $2,595 a year.
  • A 49 cent copy of “Liar’s Poker costs $8.50 less than a new or e-book version. My reading goal is 24 books per year, for $204 a year.
  • A $74 used 32gb iPod Touch is $176 less than a new 32gb iPod Touch.
  • Free mp3s obviously don’t cost anything, and don’t need a Spotify subscription for $9.99 a month ($120/year) or any kind of data plan if you were listening to that on a phone.
  • A typical homemade lunch costs $1 to $2 and is $5 to $8 cheaper than a bought lunch of $6 to $10. Based on 250 work days a year, that comes out to $1,250 to $2,000 per year.

It just goes to show, frugality is a set of learned habits, or something. It’s not something that you can just turn on and off, I guess. It’s a lifestyle or whatever. Huh!

What kind of healthy frugal habits to you partake in without even noticing anymore?

Financial Implications of the Election

Being that we all live in completely separate media bubbles now, I feel confident that I will find a receptive audience saying that the U.S. election results were not what I was hoping for. The night of the election and the next day, I was overcome by a kind of existential dread I haven’t felt since 9/11. Like we just crossed the brink of a much darker world.

I started thinking of officially moving to The Bubble.

As of this writing, my candidate is ahead by 2.2 million votes. That’s a full 1.6% lead. And yet, our antiquated electoral system says that she lost. Did you know that since 1988, only one Republican presidential candidate has won the popular vote? That was George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004.  And the electoral college was the only thing that put him into office in the first place. Combine this with a very gerrymandered House, and the fact that poll after poll shows that most people support a progressive agenda, not the Republican platform, and it’s no wonder people are extremely frustrated here. The minority viewpoint rules. As a person who values equality and just straight up math, it’s an unbearably dumb system.

 I’ve always been very “tuned in” with the news. I started reading the newspaper on daily basis when I was in sixth grade. (HYPERLINK ALERT: That’s why it was so hard to cancel my subscription last year!) But things got really depressing this past month. I was there in my liberal bubble, freaking out with everyone else. I considered deleting my Facebook account and replacing it with this:

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The Marie Kondo Test

I try not to be a packrat. I was raised in a pretty orderly, neat house. Everything had a place. Nothing was left on tables or countertops. My mom kept the house so that there were were enough personal affects and decorations around that you wouldn’t mistake it for a hotel, but it definitely came close. It felt lived in, but it was very tidy.

My bedroom was the only exception. There was stuff everywhere. It was organized, but there was just a lot of it. Lots of CDs, videotapes and books, notebooks, video games, and just the detritus of my interests.


Typical dining room scene

Over the years, I’ve tried to be more tidy. So I was intrigued to hear about Marie Kondo last year. The queen of tidiness, most people know her as the obsessive compulsive organizer who verbally thanks her possessions before throwing them out. Her methods involve getting rid of anything that does not “spark joy” in you. “What about the mixing bowls?” I would think. “Or the flathead screwdriver? They definitely don’t ‘spark joy’ but I use them.”

Here’s a clip of Mario Kondo helping an American tidy up on our favorite station, NHK:

Initially I wrote her off as a nutcase. But this year I came across the Danish concept of hygge. Basically it translates as “coziness.” This means valuing things like nice lighting, warm socks, reading a book, having a cup of coffee or a piece of cake. Whatever it is that makes you feel nice. And little things make a difference. (I read The Mezzanine this year, and there is an extended comparison of the different types of door knobs, because some really are nicer to grip than others!)

Hygge extends to your surroundings, like the fabrics on the furniture, and, big surprise, tidiness. Being a Scandiphile, hygge innately appeals to me. This focus on the cozy seems like a good way to live. The Danes are frequently ranked as the happiest people in the world, and they attribute this partially to the  hygge lifestyle, so maybe there is something to keeping your surroundings tidy. I’m on board now. I want to be hygge af.*

Better ask the queen how to do it.


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How Far Did You Commute? Our 2015 Commuting Methods By Mile

When you do something every day, it’s easy to lose track of how it factors into the big picture. That’s why so many people waste so much money on little habits. I wondered, what about commuting? How far did I commute this year, and by what mode?

Ever seen a Civic with two bikes and two kayaks loaded on it?

My preferred mode of transport years ago

Why, I commuted almost every day this year! By contrast, Marge didn’t commute at all. Unless you count walking the 60 seconds or whatever from our front door to her office as commuting. But she’s lucky like that. Most of us don’t live within shouting distance of where we work.

So how did I get to work this year? Through a combination of driving, riding a bus, and riding a bicycle. As I’ve said, during the winter, there is nothing more luxurious than getting driven to work by someone else in a pre-heated vehicle.  In my case, that’s a bus. But once the weather warmed up, I was able to ride my bike, Tad, to work. I tried to keep my car driving to a minimum of days when I had to be somewhere quickly either right before or right after work.

So how far did I commute in total? After subtracting holidays and vacations, I worked a total of…

237 Work Days

My commute is 11 miles each way. Take the number of work days this year, multiply that by 22 miles roundtrip, and you get 5,214 miles total!

What does 5,214 miles look like?


Starting in Boston’s North End (Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, if you’re curious), you’d have to drive all the way to Seattle, then south to Los Angeles, and then track back east to Texas, stopping just past Marfa in tiny Alpine to do my 2015 commuting in one shot.


Commuting just 11 miles each equals a 3/4 round-the-nation road trip every year! That’s 76 hours of continuous driving! Now doesn’t that seem like a hell of a lot? And I know many workers’ commutes are longer. The U.S. DOT says that the average commute by car is 12.6 miles each way. The average train commute is 12.2 miles, and bus commuters average 9.6 miles. So there are many, many people I’m sure making a nation-circling road trips every year just driving to work and back each day.

And I don’t know about you, but the prospect of a nationwide road trip is more appealing than driving the same 11 mile stretch of road 474 times.


Which method ruled the year?

Just to quench our curiosity, let’s see how I actually commuted during those many miles. Since I marked down every day I rode my bike to work, I know…

Bike Days = 60

Then, by dividing the total I spent on bus tickets this year ($312) by $2.60 (the roundtrip cost) I can calculate that I rode the bus on 120 days. But there were a few days when the ticket machine on the bus wasn’t working and I didn’t get charged. So let’s add three days and say that…

Bus Days = 123

On all of the remaining days, we can assume that I drove the entire way, so…

Car Days = 54

Bike Commute (8)I can drive door-to-door or take the bus door-to-door. But when I’m biking, I only bike 6 miles each way. I drive the first 5 miles to where I can park the car and then ride my bike on the nice, calm bike trail all the way to the office.

So if I do all of the multiplication out, I see that I used the following methods to get those 5,214 miles.

Bike: 720 miles
Bus: 2,706 miles
Car: 1,788 miles

That’s right, I rode my bike 720 miles this year, just commuting halfway to work. That’s the equivalent of biking from Boston to Toledo, Ohio!


Green = Bike, Red = Car, Blue = Bus

Compare this to Marge’s commute. She walks to work. I measured her commute by stepping out the door a few minutes ago and walking to her office. I don’t want to say how far exactly it is, but let’s just say it’s much shorter than my commute.


Over the course of a year, she’s basically walked a grand total of 6 miles. That’s like walking from the north end of Boston to Brookline! You could walk her annual commute in 2 hours!

Well, that was a pretty clear demonstration of how even a short commute by car can really add up over time. The other question is cost. How much did my commute cost this year?

Bus: $312 
Car: $1,054 using AAA’s 59 cents per mile rule
Bicycle: $0. Since I replaced no parts on my bike, it was free. Clearly driving would be a distant third when it comes to per-mile cost.

So my total commuting cost $1,366, while Marge’s commute cost $0.

How far was your total commute in 2015, and how did you do it?

Merry Christmas from Ridinkulous

Maeby Santa

Merry Christmas from Norm, Marge, and Maeby! We hope your Christmas is filled with love, laughter, delicious food, and scary hugs from Santa Claus.

We’ll be back at the end of the year with our 2015 Annual Expense report.

Frugal Failure: I Paid $40 For A Pencil

Today I come to your seeking penance and absolution. Oh great personal finance blogger in the sky, forgive me for I have sinned! I spent $40 on a pencil!

No, that is not some trick of math. It’s not some military contract gone awry where toilet seats cost their weight in gold. No, I paid gave someone $40 for a pencil.

And it’s not a special pencil either, made out of rare wood and embossed with gold. No, this is a genuine General’s Semi-Hex Number 2 pencil.

So why did this seemingly conventional pencil cost so much, and why did your boy Norm shell out $40, more than he’ll spend on a pair of shoes, for it?

Well, it came pre-sharpened.


This is David Rees.

You might be aware of David Rees and his passion for pencils from seeing him on CBS Sunday Morning a few years ago. Yes, it was a perfect storm of things Marge and I loved that morning. Sunday Morning was the only reason we were keeping our cable, after all.

Click here to see the story since it won’t let me embed it.

Basically, David had a job working for the 2010 federal census, going door-to-door, writing down numbers. This involved much pencil-sharpening. David discovered that he really enjoyed bringing a dulled pencil back to a perfect point. He loved it so much that he wondered if he could get people to pay him to do it.

I was vaguely aware of David from his odd clip art-based comic Get Your War On. So when I first heard about the pencil-sharpening gig, I was suspicious. How many had he done, like ten? Was he somehow just taking advantage of gullible people? Was this even real?

Well, his appearance on The Best Show on WFMU convinced me, his passion was real.  He had done his homework. Give him any question about pencil history, pencil construction, pencil materials, pencil companies… and he knew the answer. But still, charging people to sharpen a pencil by hand for them? It’s oddly impenetrable.

Then came David’s tv show.


Last year, David produced the most amazing tv show for the National Geographic Channel called Going Deep. Much like the pencil-sharpening business, with each episode of Going Deep, David studied something so simple, you would end up amazed at the depths he plumbs. Marge and I loved this show. It might actually be my favorite thing in years.

I’d recommend the episodes How To Make An Ice Cube and How To Dig A Hole, where David describes his perfect hole, the Party Hole.

And who can forget when a scientist explains to David that drinking ultra-pure water is actually very dangerous, and David drinks it anyway!!!

Which brings me back to the pencil-sharpening. Once I saw the tv show, I got it! I finally understood the pencil sharpening. It’s not even about the pencil! It’s about understanding a simple act and figuring out how to do it perfectly. I’ve seen enough documentaries about craftspeople on NHK World to know that there are people who make a thing, and then there are people who craft a thing. David crafts these pencils.

So I bought one and framed it as an inspirational object. It can serve as a message to you all that maybe we should all take care with our crafts, no matter how small, or whatever.

Rees Pencil (4) Norm

Yeah, it’s framed

Buying the pencil also had a double-sided effect. One of the things I hope to get across on this blog is that you need to Support The Things You Like. If you don’t support the things you like, those things die. I effectively watched Going Deep for free since it was on Hulu, but I like it and David so much, I want him to keep doing what he does.

Rees Pencil (2) Norm

By the way, did you know that season two of Going Deep with David Rees starts tonight? Yes, I did plan to post this entry today, and no, I’m obviously not being paid. If you can watch something called “Esquire Network,” you will be able to see it. Otherwise, hopefully it will show up on Hulu like the first season. David is just an absolute delight on tv, and I don’t see why he isn’t the biggest star in the country right now. This new season even features his female equivalent, Amy Sedaris, teaching him how to pet a bunny.

Would you pay $40 for a pencil?

Greetings, 1,500 Daysers!


If you weren’t aware, Ridinkuloids, 1,500 Days interviewed our corporate overload, Gygax! I normally don’t like to talk about what goes on behind the scenes here, but long story short, we are part of an intergalactic blog network ruled by a ruthless, but effective, demigod and his trained wolf.

Gygax really spills the beans in the interview… Not that I’m complaining! Gygax is a benevolent and kind leader, and also all-knowing.

If you’re new, here are some of our Very Important Posts.

The Hottest Cell Phone You Need To Own RIGHT NOW! The Nokia 2600 is the hottest cell phone on the market. Find out why!
For The Love Of God, Don’t Max Out Your 401(k) Contributing as much as possible to your retirement seems like a great idea, unless, well… click to find out!
How Much Did Our Trip to Peru Cost? Is Peru a cheap or expensive place to visit? You will never know unless you click on that link!
B-B-B-Bats! Question: What animal did we spend over $1,000 to eradicate from our home? Clicking that link will bring you closer to the answer!
Comfort, Style, Luxury – The Ultimate In Transportation If you demand only the finest in transportation, boy have we got an option for you. Click on the link to find the secret answer!
Camping! A Frugal Friend’s Favorite Vacation Question: What sleeping arrangement costs $25 a night and lets you sleep under the stars? You get ten guesses, and if you don’t figure it out, then you’re allowed to click that link!

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Thanks to Ali from Anything You Want for nominating me for the Sunshine Blogger Award! She gave me five questions, so you can learn more about Norm Gunderson, your friendly neighborhood blogger.

What is the last place you visited that took your breath away?
This is how bad my memory is. I’m scrolling back through my most recent photos on my iPod to figure this out.

“Took your breath away” is a tall order. I probably have to go back to our trip to Peru in April. CAUTION: CLICHED ANSWER APPROACHING.  I think it has to be Machu Picchu, and more specifically, hanging out with the llamas at Machu Picchu. We got there very early and visited with these llamas during the morning mist.  Something about being around these llamas with no other people around, and looking out over the valley was even better than the Machu Picchu “money shot.”

Machu Picchu (16)

What is your favorite thing to cook (or order in if you don’t like to cook)?
We’ve been watching the entire run of the Great British Baking Show starting from season 1. So I’ve been enjoying imitating the bakers on that show.  My favorite thing to make recently is this chocolate babka. It’s a little time intensive to just make one, so I’ll make three at a time and freeze them.

Chocolate Babka (13)

Would you rather wake up with the birds or sleep in?
Marge was just talking about this the other day and came up with a happy medium. She likes to wake up early, get something done, then immediately go back to bed for a nap. I honestly could go either way. Left to my own devices, I sleep really late. But I love to get a bunch of chores done really early, as soon as stores open, then have the rest of the day for myself. It just takes the wherewithal to actually wake up.

What was the last frugal choice you made?
There’s been a few recently, like cancelling our cable, but deciding to cancel my newspaper was probably the toughest. On the bright side, it’s been impossible to get them to cancel it, so even though I haven’t paid them in two months, they keep delivering it every day. Take a hint much, newspaper? It don’t sound like you do.

What is your biggest Netflix weakness?
That’s a good one. If I don’t feel like a movie, I’ll go for a tv show. Recently it’s been No Reservations and Ace of Cakes. I also add lots of bad b-movie horror and exploitation flicks and sometimes regret it. You would’ve caught me watching part of Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College the other day.  (You remember Ghoulies, right? The monster that comes out of the toilet on that VHS cover that scared me as a kid?)

But what show do I really binge watch right now? The Americans, which is not on Netflix. I’m just finishing the first three seasons. It’s a show you probably don’t watch, but really should.

Who wants to talk about The Americans?

Weathering All Kinds of STORMS, Get It??

It’s been a crazy week and a half here at Ridinkulous HQ. Here’s what’s been going down:

We Has A Storm

The weather this July was historically hot. Remember me writing about all the snow being dumped in our backyard back during this historically cold February? Well, now it’s reversed and we hit 100 degrees here a few times in July. We smashed one daily record of 97 degrees by seven degrees! Being Irish, that kind of heat makes my skin actually melt, so it has been pretty unpleasant. Weather this hot also begets thunderstorms, and we’ve had a few doozies.

Shed Rafter Work (3)

Rafter jig on shed floor

One Sunday two weeks ago, I was working outside on my shed project, putting together roof rafters in that blazing heat and it started to rain, which was predicted, and I was glad for the rain to help cool things down. Then it started to storm. Then it got incredibly windy and we watched the storm from inside the house. Then the power went out. Then we saw what caused the power to go out:

Neighbors Tree (1)


Yup, that’s the neighbor’s tree. The fence we put up. The shed I was building. The patio we finished. All of our work, ruined! Or was it? We had to take a few days to figure it out.

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