Thursday, January 29, 2015


I recently made several purchases from Amazon.  I didn't have a very positive customer experience.  On one purchase they offered me a $10 credit to sign up for their 'pay with points' program in which you can use credit card reward points to pay for Amazon products.  This isn't actually a bad idea as I have lots of reward points which I should do something with.  But when I signed up I didn't get the credit.  Amazon customer service did give me the credit when I complained but by that point I was so annoyed I had unsigned up.  So Amazon ended up paying me $10 not to sign up.  I also bought a TV.  Amazon claims to offer price protection on TVs, if they drop their price within 14 days you can get a credit for the difference.  But again I had to email customer service to actually get the credit although according to their help pages this should not be necessary.   On another item I was ready to buy but there was no buy button on the product page.  It showed up some time later but only after I had wasted considerable time.

A general complaint I have with Amazon is that if you get to the final page before buying and notice something wrong there doesn't seem to be an easy way to fix it.  At least I didn't see anything to do but abort and start over which is quite annoying if you had several items in your cart.  Another general complaint I have is about their numerous significant price changes (both up and down).  Perhaps these are somehow revenue maximizing (although I find that difficult to believe in some cases) but I wonder if they are properly accounting for how annoying this is.

My most recent purchase was TurboTax Deluxe 2014.  I ordered it Friday night (during a brief period when it was selling for under $40) and surprisingly it was delivered around noon on Sunday by the USPS much earlier the estimated arrival time.  This was kind of impressive but also seems sort of pointlessly expensive, why not just deliver it with the regular mail.

As for TurboTax, Intuit has annoyed a lot of people by removing a bunch of long standing features from the Deluxe version (in order to force upgrades to the much more expensive Premier version) but fortunately it appears I don't need any of them for my 2014 taxes.  I did have some trouble installing it and was worried when it first came up with the Basic version logo but this eventually changed to Deluxe and it seems to be working ok.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Snow Day

It appears that perhaps 6 inches of snow fell from Monday through Tuesday morning at my residence near Princeton, New Jersey. This is not nothing but is not at all unusual for a winter storm in this area and was nowhere near the alarming prior predictions. These predictions were bad enough to induce my employer to announce Monday evening that my work location was closed Tuesday. Perhaps this decision was a little premature but it is nice to get notice as early as possible.

It is not too surprising that the predictions of potentially record breaking snowfall totals did not materialize (at least not in New York City and areas south and west). For a record snowfall everything has to go just right (or wrong depending on your point of view) which means most potential record breakers will fall short.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Two Dollar Gas

On April 24, 2004 (when I was living in Ossining, New York) I bought gas and paid $1.939 per gallon.  A couple of weeks later I bought gas again and the price had risen to $2.039 per gallon.  This appears to have been the first time I had ever paid over $2 per gallon and I vaguely recall noting that at the time and wondering if I would ever pay less than $2 again.  For a while this seemed doubtful as the price bounced around but stayed above $2 and trended higher.  On July 26, 2008 I paid $4.499 per gallon.  But then the financial crisis hit and demand plummeted driving the price ever lower.  Five months later on December 26, 2008 I paid $1.979 per gallon.  This was more or less the low and the price had moved back above $2 at my next fill up (although I did pay less the $2 per gallon a couple of times in April 2009 in New Jersey where the gas tax is about $.35 less per gallon than in New York).  On July 2, 2014 (having moved to New Jersey) I paid $3.399 per gallon.  But then with growing over supply of crude oil prices began to drop, slowly at first and then more rapidly.  When I bought gas on Friday (January 9, 2015) I once again paid less than $2 ($1.959 per gallon to be exact).  It remains to be seen how low the price will go and how long it will remain below $2.

The lower price is nice in isolation but probably isn't really in my overall best interest at this point.  I purchased about 425 gallons of gas in 2014 paying an average price of about $3.20 per gallon.  So if I buy the same amount in 2015 and pay an average price of $2 per gallon I will save about $510 or just less than $10 per week.  This isn't too impressive and is much less than what I am likely to lose on my oil price sensitive investments if crude oil prices remain depressed.

See here for a graph of national gas average prices over the last 11 years.  When I was living in Ossining I seem to have been paying about $.40 per gallon more than the national average whereas now in New Jersey I am paying about $.10 per gallon less.