Check Auto Maintenance Schedule Before Agreeing to Service Add-Ons

Last week I took my vehicle in for an oil change.  Shortly after the service technician had driven my car into the service bay, he approached me in the waiting area.  He said I needed a power steering fluid service.  My power steering fluid was dark and that indicated it needed to be changed.  They would drain the power steering fluid reservoir and then fill it with fresh fluid.  It would take an extra fifteen minutes and cost $79.  I knew for a fact that I had never had the power steering fluid replaced, but I told him I wasn’t prepared to spend that kind of money.  Maybe next time.  He said if I had it done now with the oil change, he would take $16 off the total bill.  If I had it done later there would be no discount.  I told him no thanks.

It never fails.  I take my vehicle in for an oil change at my local quick lube, and a service tech tells me I need additional service:  transmission service, radiator service, power steering service, fuel injector service, air filter replacement, or windshield wiper replacement.  He’s just looking out for me, doesn’t want me to suffer the consequences of neglected maintenance.  Maybe, but this is plain old up-selling.  It’s an attempt to get more dollars out of each customer visit.  I don’t doubt that the service tech gets some kind of a commission for each additional service he can sell.

After making some costly mistakes with this kind of thing a few years back, my policy now is to decline all such offers.  That’s not to say I may not need the service that is suggested.  It’s just that I prefer to confirm the need by consulting my vehicle maintenance records first.  I may indeed require new wipers or a transmission service.  If that’s the case, I check with my regular mechanic shop to see what they would charge to perform the service and compare that to what the quick lube offered before I proceed with the service.  If I need an air filter or wiper blades, I buy them at Walmart and install them  myself for a huge savings.  Most of the time my records indicate that I don’t need the suggested service, and I avoid wasting money.

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When I arrived back at the house after the oil change, I looked up the maintenance schedule for my vehicle in the owner’s manual.  It tells me exactly what needs routine service and when.  I checked up to 100,000 miles on the schedule (my vehicle has 47,000 miles on it) and could not find power steering fluid service listed as scheduled maintenance.  A quick Google search of the web yielded no evidence that my vehicle would ever require a power steering fluid service.  I suspected as much because no one had ever suggested such a maintenance service in all of the years I have owned vehicles, and every one of them has had power steering.

You work hard for your money.  Protect it.  Don’t let yourself be up-sold at the quick lube or anywhere else.  Take the time to research your need for the suggested product or service before you agree to the purchase.  You will find, as I have, that in most instances there is no immediate need for it.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based LifestyleDouble-Dome Publications, 224 pages

Short-Term Savings Essential for a Successful Retirement Plan

Recent survey results that show a continued high rate of loans against 401k retirement accounts and account closures due to change or loss of employment underscore the critical role short-term savings play in a successful retirement savings plan.

401k plans:  easy and automatic

401k retirement plans are popular because they are easy and effective.  Just sign up and forget it.  Many 401k programs today are automatic opt in, so an employee doesn’t even need to sign up to participate.  No discipline is required; plan participants never see the money.  Retirement contributions are withdrawn automatically from each paycheck and deposited in the retirement account.  In most cases, employers match all or a portion of the employee’s contribution up to a certain percentage of annual earnings.

Slush funds instead of retirement accounts

Because they are easy to implement and require no discipline to maintain, retirement accounts are the only savings many Americans have.  When that is the case, retirement accounts become slush funds that are tapped whenever there is need for extra cash.

Retirement accounts are intended to be long term.  Retirement investment fund strategies are structured for a period of 20, 30, or 40 years or more.  Borrowing from retirement accounts or closing them when there is a change or loss of employment compromises the effectiveness of long-term investment strategies as well as reduces the amount of money invested.  Interest paid on program loans may not replace gains that could have been realized had the money remained invested.  This has been particularly true over the last few years as the stock market averages have soared.  A decision to close an account due to a change or loss of employment subjects the plan participant unduly to market swings.  Many who lost their jobs during the Great Recession closed retirement accounts when the stock market was at or near its low point, suffering huge losses unnecessarily.  In addition, money from retirement accounts that are closed gets spent and is no longer available for retirement funding.

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Short-term savings protects integrity of retirement account

Short-term savings eliminates the need to borrow from retirement accounts or close them when there is a change or loss of employment.  Money for down payments, medical deductibles and co-pays, living expenses during a period of unemployment or reduced hours, relocation, and such comes from short-term savings rather than the retirement account.  Short-term savings allows a retirement account to remain a retirement account invested for the long term rather than a slush fund that is tapped when ever extra cash is needed.

Save for the short term as aggressively as you would save for retirement.  It takes a lot of short-term saving to keep from accessing a retirement account.  You will need an emergency fund equivalent to 6 months of living expenses for use in the event of an interruption in income due to a layoff, accident, illness, or reduction in hours.  You will need to save for unpredictable expenses such as medical co-pays and deductibles, house and automobile repair and maintenance, and appliance repair and replacement.  You will need targeted savings for a replacement vehicle, vacation travel and expenses, Christmas gifts, room addition, swimming pool, big screen television, a down payment on a house, and so forth.

Short-term saving produces increased retirement saving

Unlike an employer sponsored 401k retirement plan, short-term savings requires discipline.  Money must be set aside every month to fund the various short-term saving accounts.  To do this consistently requires the use of a budget to plan spending in order live on less than you earn so money is available each month to save.  The discipline to save for the short term will make you a better saver for retirement, as well.  The control you exercise over your spending to save for the short term will allow you to increase the percentage of income you set aside for retirement savings.

Short-term savings make successful retirement saving possible.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based LifestyleDouble-Dome Publications, 224 pages

Big Lots’ Clearance Deals Offer Big Savings on Snack Foods

Rosa and I have become fans of the Big Lots chain of discount stores ever since we discovered how much we save on snack foods purchased from them.

We first started purchasing snack foods at Big Lots because of the discounted everyday prices.  Later, we noticed the clearance items piled into grocery carts parked inconspicuously to one side of the entrance doors.  The products sold at clearance prices are often snack foods that are very near the “Sell By” dates.  The prices of these items have been reduced for quick sale and typically range from $1.00 to as low as 50 cents per box or package.  Imagine, a 12.4 oz box of Sunshine Cheez-It crackers for 75 cents or a box of Nabisco Triscuit crackers (13 oz) for just 50 cents.

Freezing extends useful life

Does purchasing a snack food item that is near or at the “Sell By” date make you squeamish?  Rosa has found that freezing these snacks in their original packaging for 24 hours keeps them edible for a long time.  Just because a product has a “Sell By” date doesn’t mean it turns bad immediately upon exceeding that date.  Of course, we check the “Sell By” or “Use By” dates and avoid purchasing anything that is more than a few days past the date.  Most of the items we purchase from the clearance carts have not exceeded the “Sell By” date.

Damaged packaging doesn’t always mean damaged goods

Some items may have damaged packaging:  tears in a box or crushed corners.  We search for those items with the best packaging, but we have purchased items that have damaged outer boxes after determining that the inside packaging (bag) is intact and the product has not been compromised.

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Beyond snack foods

Big Lots clearance carts include other items in addition to snack foods.  We recently bought several boxes of breakfast blend tea for 75 cents a box (25 tea bags per box).  In the past we’ve purchased other food items such as an au grautin potato mix from the clearance cart.

Product selection is limited

When dealing with clearance items, we work with what is offered.  Our favorite snack food may never be marked down for quick sale, but there are usually plenty of interesting products from which to choose.  The prices are so low they tempt Rosa and me to be adventurous and try items for which we would have never been willing to pay full price on the off chance we might like them.  We have often been pleasantly surprised.  And if we don’t like a particular snack, we can toss it and only be out 50 cents or so.  Sometimes there is nothing in the clearance carts that appeals to us, and we walk away empty-handed.  But we always take the time to rummage through the contents of the carts just in case there is a good deal waiting for us there.

Big Lots isn’t alone in discounting clearance items for quick sale.  Rosa and I often purchase marked-down baked goods at Walmart and Albertson’s.  Keep an eye out for those shopping carts or bins loaded with clearance items.  They may look disorganized and unappealing, but many a good deal can be found in them if you have an open mind and take the time to pick through the merchandise to search them out.  It’s just one way we live well on less.

K. C. Knouse is the author of True Prosperity: Your Guide to a Cash-Based LifestyleDouble-Dome Publications, 224 pages