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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of our friends!

Christmas Tree with presents
























May you have a joyful, peaceful, and happy holiday.


From The Fat Dollar











The Real Cost of Your Free Music

“Congratulations, your generation is the first generation in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo freak musicians!”
– David Lowery

Emily White wrote a post on the NPR blog where she matter-of-factly states that she has 11,000 songs in her music library, yet has only ever purchased 15 CD’s.  Her music came from swapping with friends, file-sharing, and ripping the music from the hundreds of albums at the college radio station where she was a DJ.  In her own words “As monumental a role as musicians and albums have played in my life, I’ve never invested money in them aside from concert tickets and T-shirts.”

Free Culture, aka free music, right?  Not according to David Lowery of The Trichordist.  His open reply to Emily is so succulent and informative, that it should be mandatory reading for anyone who believes they are saving a few dollars by ripping or downloading someone else’s music.

David’s blog post Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered has as of 6-20-12 received over a half million visits.  The post already has over  553 comments.  Clearly, this is something that strikes a chord (sorry, pun intended) with many of us.

I invite you to read both Emily White’s post as well as David Lowery’s reply.  Regardless of who you think is right, I think you’ll learn a few things about the music industry that you hadn’t fully considered.

Here at The Fat Dollar, saving money is a core concept.  However, saving money by depriving someone of well-earned income is not part of our philosophy.  It’s not fun to cause pain to someone else.  And saving money while having fun, well you guessed it – that’s The Fat Dollar way.





Your Household Was Cheated Out of $3400.00

Ace in sleeveA recent IRS Newswire newsletter held a startling piece of data:  According to the latest tax gap estimate (2006), The IRS estimates that the US burden of noncompliance (cheating) was $385 billion dollars.

What does this mean? This means that taxpayers who filed correct tax returns are paying a disproportionate share of the tax burden.  With 114 million households, that $385 billion dollars of uncollected taxes averages to a tax bill of $3400.00 per household.  Ouch.

Who is doing the cheating?  If research from DDB Worldwide Communications Group* is typical, 15% of the 6,400 of adults surveyed said they would be likely to cheat on their taxes.  From this 15%, a profile emerged:  the cheater was likely to be male, under 45, single, and one who spends every dime he earns. Tax cheaters are also quite likely to be willing to cheat in other important areas, such as insurance claims, unemployment benefit claims, applications for government aid, and employment references.  Somehow the DDB research even determined that the tax cheater was 10 times more likely to steal from a kid’s piggy bank.  They are also overwhelmingly more likely to keep the wrong change given to them by a cashier.

It seems safe to assume that the “15%” is probably costing each household more than just $3400.00 in tax burden each year.  We probably pay increased insurance premiums and end up paying higher prices on many goods and services.

What are some of the areas of individual income tax cheating:

  • not reporting all self-employment income
  • claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit when not eligible
  • claiming extra dependents
  • falsely claiming the First Time Home Owners Credit
  • not reporting the income from the sale of assets
  • overclaiming deductions for donations to charity
  • falsely claiming other tax credits, such as energy credits, and education credits

It’s interesting and uplifting to see that by far the majority of Americans are honest in their income tax reporting.

Take advantage of tax laws to legally reduce your taxes, but pay your honest share.  Maybe it doesn’t always seem fair, but the way to change unfair taxes is not by cheating, but by expressing your views with your representatives in Washington DC and with your vote.

That’s The Fat Dollar way.


Resource:  *The DDB Life Style Study ® Uncovers What Makes an American a Tax Cheater  



Saving Money on Gas at the Gas Pump

In an earlier post, Increased Gas Mileage …., I wrote about how a comment from my son had started my awareness of my driving habits and how I had used that awareness to change my driving habits and ending up increasing my gas mileage by 26%.  I think that the comment would be called a defining moment because of the effect it had on me and the changes that it caused. To read the details on the methods I used, see the article Save Money on Gas – Increase Your Gas Mileage Up to 26%.

My father was always very aware of the price of gasoline.  He knew the price of gas at every gas station within 10 miles of our house –  at least that’s how it seemed to me when I was growing up.

While I also notice the price of gas at nearly every station that I drive past (I think there must be some kind of family gene involved), I don’t obsess on finding the absolute lowest price of gas when I fill up the tank.   I’ve become familiar enough with the local prices that I know which nearby stations consistently sell gas at lower prices than others.  There are two main stations that I will stop at and sometimes a third.  All of these stations are on my regular route to and from the office and all tend to have their prices within a few cents of each other. Occasionally, when the price of gas is changing rapidly, one station will lag behind the other in raising or lowering prices. In those cases, if I notice on my way to/from work that one of the stations is temporarily $.03 to .04 lower than the others, then I will stop at that station for gas.  Otherwise, I choose the most convenient one.

In contrast, there is a trio of gas stations on the intersection of CR 17 and US 20 that consistently sell gas for $.04 to $.09 per gallon higher than my three stations.  I plan my routes and time my purchases so that I rarely buy gas from any of these stations.

Because I know from observation that the stations I use sell gasoline at good prices, I don’t find it worth it to spend time worrying about saving $.01 or even $.02 a gallon.  Why should I?  Even if my 15 gallon tank is on empty and I fill it up, I would only save $.15 to $.30 on my tank of gas.   That tank will last me up to two weeks.

Another factor in finding a low price gas station is how many extra miles you must drive to get to the particular station.  My car gets 24 mpg, so if gas is selling at $3.50 a gallon, every mile I drive costs $.15 in gas.  I’d be making a  mistake to drive 5 miles to save $.05 per gallon of gas because even if I filled up the tank, I’d save $.75 on the tank, while I’d spend an extra $.75 in gas alone to get there.

There are times, such as when you are going to be running errands in another part of town , or when you are traveling outside of your city, that it’s good to know the gas stations that have the lowest gas prices.  The internet gives us some good tools for this.

[Editor note: 03-12-18 Mapquest Gas Prices site is not longer operating and has been removed from this list]

AAA has a site,, that reports and compares gas prices across the United States. will give a list of gas stations and current prices, in order from highest to lowest.  For example, when I keyed in Elkhart, Indiana, it shows that the burger Dairy station on Franklin St. has gas at $3.38 a gallon and the 7-11 on old US 20 has gas at $3.49 a gallon.  GasBuddy seems to be a little more up to date, with most of the prices just 1 – 6 hours old.

Msn also has a comprehensive site for gas prices – –  I like the msn site layout  and it also seems to list more stations and prices in an easy layout. The Msn site displays a map with a marker showing each gas station and a side bar list of the stations and the latest reported price of gas per gallon.  Msn also lists the prices of plus, premium, and diesel fuel. had very outdated prices for my city, so it’s off my list, but I’m showing it here because perhaps it is updated more often for your area.

The federal government is even involved in listing gas prices and has a site run by the US Dept of Energy – that gives many links to current gas prices, as well as articles and information on fuel economy. has a currently updated site of gas prices that, for my city, were updated at least daily.

These sites will allow you to check gas prices from your computer, ipod, netbook, laptop or  smart phone.  Experiment  to find out which one has the most accurate and current prices for your local stations.  You can then find out which gas stations on your route consistently have the lowest prices and use those with confidence.  Once you have your chosen station or stations, you can relax and just compare once in a while.

Then again, you may be like my father and enjoy knowing all the local gas prices.  In that case, you’ve now got a nice list of gas price links and can check them as often as you like.  After all, saving money while having fun is the Fat Dollar way.








Know Your Yearly Costs

TV with remote controlWhen considering a recurring expense, such as an extra phone line, or an upgraded cable tv package, or even a loan, I often hear clients mention only the monthly payment.

If we can shift from short-term thinking to long-term thinking in regards to our spending, we empower ourselves to make much better decisions with our money.

For example, an upgraded cable service package might cost “only” $60.00 extra a month.  No big deal, right?  Not so fast. Before you make that decision, always look at the yearly cost.  $60.00 a month will translate to $720.00 a year.  If you are earning, say, $40,000.00 a year, then that $720.00 will be a little over a week’s take home pay.  Now make the decision.   Will having those extra channels for the next year be worth a full week of work?

You may still decide that it’s worth it.  You may start looking at alternatives, such as paying an extra $60.00 on your mortgage each month.  Or adding $60.00/month to your trip-to-Italy savings fund.

Whichever you decide, make an empowered and fully informed decision.  That’s The Fat Dollar way.




It All Started With A Bag of Stale Marshmallows

As I was cleaning out the kitchen shelves – part of my quest to declutter the entire house – I almost threw away a bag of stale marshmallows.  As I carried them across the kitchen, the image of the dried little marshmallows in the boxes of hot chocolate mix came to mind.  So I saved the bag and did an experiment by making myself a nice mug of hot chocolate and then putting a small handful of the stale marshmallows on top.  It was delicious!  I was so glad to have saved the bag.  I wondered what other uses I might have for these marshmallows. Thus began my quest for uses for stale marshmallows.

You can read more on the article I posted on The Fat Dollar – Uses for Marshmallows.  Did you know that stale marshmallows can be softened?  Yes – just put a piece of soft, moist bread with them in a plastic sealable bag for a day or two.  Or put the marshmallows in a dish and heat them in the microwave with a cup of water on the side for about 10 seconds.

I also found recipes for making your own marshmallows, and lots of other uses.  My favorite tip was to use them to keep the plastic wrap or foil from touching the icing when you are wrapping a cake.  (Put the marshmallows in strategic places on the cake and just remove them when done.  And yes, your stale marshmallows work just fine for this one. )

Marshmallows are inexpensive, so the savings are not huge – $.99 to $2.50 for using a bag of stale marshmallows instead of throwing them away – but it’s fun and the research was interesting and there was money savings, too – so that makes it the Fat Dollar way.




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