Brenden Schaaf / November 15, 2009

Most things are trivial — only do what adds the most value

A principle that applies to both professional and personal life is summed up nicely on a post I ran across on “The Rat Race Trap” blog.  In short, not every activity that you can perform should be performed by you…it may create value but if the cost of that value exceeds the benefit and/or if there are opportunity costs to you performing that particular activity (i.e. if there is something else you could/should be doing that would create more value) you should pursue another activity.

Check out the blog post for a much better explanation than others I’ve read before.  Additionally, there are some other great posts on the same site you might find useful:

Brenden Schaaf / May 8, 2009

Amazon Prime = easy living for busy times

amazonprimeAmazon Prime is a yearly subscription that Amazon offers at a price of $79 that allows you to receive 2-day shipping for free and overnight shipping for $3.99/item (sometimes I’ve seen $1.99/item on certain things — I’m guessing it is based on weight) during the subscription timeframe.  It has changed my life.  No longer do I need to hold off buying something until I have enough to get to the $25 minimum for “free super saver shipping” (FSSS) that Amazon offers (of course you can just pay shipping on each item if you are below $25 but that is often a deal-breaker for me because the shipping ends up being such a high percentage of the cost).  Or worse is the practice of tacking on something you really don’t need (using a handy service like SlickFillers that exists solely for this reason) just to bump up your $23.99 item to get free shipping because it is cheaper than paying the shipping fee outright.  Not to mention that sometimes the FSSS can take a couple weeks to get to you (sometimes not, but I found it very inconsistent).  With Amazon Prime, you don’t need to worry about any of this. 

I first got hooked on Amazon Prime a couple years ago when they had a 2-week free promotion.  I was planning to order something anyway so I figured I’d give Prime a shot and then I’d cancel after a couple weeks — well I found out I LOVED it so much that I signed up for that year and now I can’t imaging living without it.  Also, you can add other members of your household to your Prime membership so one yearly fee covers them as well (although at my house I serve the role of Procurer of All Things Online).  Have a gift to send someone out of state?  No problem, just order it from Amazon and have it shipped directly to the recipient with free 2-day shipping — your Prime membership allows you to ship to anyone in the country as if you were sending it to yourself. 

An example of where I used Prime this week was when the batteries in a remote control died…I was able to swap ones that worked from another device but I knew I needed to buy AAA batteries.  No sense running to Target just for batteries (and who wants to pay the price of them at a convenience store) so I popped onto Amazon, found some Duracell AAA batteries that would work, and placed my 2-day order.  For this I actually also did “subscribe & save” to save an additional 15% since batteries are something that we need fairly regularly (although you can cancel the subscription whenever you want to) and two days later the batteries were waiting on the porch when I got home from work.  Very painless, easy, and inexpensive. 

Without Amazon Prime I probably would have added on some other garbage that I didn’t necessarily need to get up to the free shipping threshold or I would have stopped at Target and bought a pile of other stuff that caught my eye (like Oreos or the latest issue of People).  So I figure Amazon Prime saves me money…maybe that is just rationalization but at least I save time!

It appears that the free promotion period for Amazon Prime is now a month long — so you have nothing to lose by trying it the next time you are going to order something from Amazon.  Then you’ll see how easy online shopping becomes and how often you use it before you decide if you want to keep the Prime membership long-term.

Brenden Schaaf / May 2, 2009

Easing the sting of buying a new car

truecar_logoA new website,, has launched with a goal of providing consumers with information about quoted prices at local auto dealers that will allow them to know if they are or are not getting a good deal.  They supposedly collect actual pricing information from public records, lenders, etc. and eventually will offer vehicle sales through their website.

I’m the kind of person that hates buying a car because no matter what I feel like I’m going to feel like I got ripped off.  At least with a site like maybe I’ll be that much more educated and at least feel like I came away with a deal.  A lot is going to depend on how reliable/accurate their data tends to be.  Sites like Zillow have tried to do the same thing with houses to mixed reviews.  I would think that crunching data with cars will be easier since there are more transaction and a 2009 Toyota Sienna XLE is the same whether you are buying it in Minneapolis or Bismarck.

Read more about at this link: