An Illuminating Look At Retail Pricing

Something happened recently while we were in Boston visiting family that struck me so that I felt it deserves a post on this blog.
We were in downtown having just finished lunch, heading to a museum and to finish walking on the Freedom Trail that wanders thru historic Boston.
We were walking in a quite large mall plaza area connected to one of the bigger buildings in Boston. It had been a long time since we had been to a mall as we generally try to avoid temptation.
It was apparent this was obviously an upscale shopping area with high-end retailers such as Gucci and similar stores. They even had a Tesla showroom!

Even though it was mid-week, middle of the day, the place was bustling with shoppers.

We rounded a corner and saw a store that piqued our interest.  Not for ourselves, of course, but for Frugalbeach Jr.  It’s a popular clothing store he had ordered online from before.

This particular store emphasizes summer clothing which I would describe as a “preppy” look.  Lots of pastel colors, shorts, plaid shirts, all with a ubiqutious emblem.

Mrs. Frugalbeach immediately headed to the sale rack in the back looking for a possible bargain, while I wandered the aisles.

  • expensive looking fixtures…check
  • immaculately clean…check
  • compulsively neat and tidy…check

I randomly picked up a plaid dress shirt and casually looked at the tag (which was conveniently tucked into the shirt requiring you to pick it up).

The price…


After getting over the shock, I quickly put it back on the shelf like it was radioactive.

Mrs. Frugalbeach was not having much luck at the sales rack either.  Even at 30% off, items were priced waaay too high to consider purchasing them.

We soon went on our merry way, enjoying the beautiful afternoon sun.

A few days later, still haunted by the price, it hit me…go ahead…say it…I’m slow.

Checking the internet for mens plaid dress shirts, I found many examples available for $20-$40.  Some presumably ‘nicer’ brands were in the $60-$80 range.  Looking at them side-by-side no real difference was apparent.

Why would people pay such a huge premium for this stores particular shirt??

The cynic in me would break it down thusly…

  1. $20 dollars for the basic shirt-available for around $10 on eBay if you aren’t weirded out wearing pre-owned clothes
  2. $95 dollars for the inch long emblem attached above the pocket

What a business!  I can only imagine what their profit margins are!

I am certainly not fashion conscious, most of my clothes are pretty basic.  I like to say I’m not trying to impress anybody, and I’m succeeding beyond my wildest dreams. And I’m sure I am not this stores target customer.


Fashion changes all the time.  I remember the preppy look being very hot way back when I was in high school.  Then it faded, and the next trend (flannel, I think) took off.

Paying such a huge premium for clothes, even with the emblem, seems like a horrible financial decision. Especially for something that may be out of style before it wears out.

Now, I’m not trying to single out this particular company.  If they can run a successful business by providing a product that truly fulfills a need, more power to them. I’m all for paying up for quality if the value is there.  But the value must be there.

A little searching reveals most of their clothing is sourced from overseas as is their competitors.  If their competition can sell at $20 and make a  profit…

Personally, if I was in the market for clothes, I would buy the less expensive brands, which as far as I can tell, are just lacking the emblem, and use the difference for a higher purpose.  Namely, increasing my financial wealth.

What have you seen or bought (besides bottled water) that has seemed overpriced?


The Summer Of Free

Well, it’s been quite a while since our last post.  No excuses, but this humble blog kinda took a backseat to summer fun.

We thought going with our frugal theme, we would highlight some of the fun, free things we did this summer.

Without further ado…

Obviously, since we are located in a beach resort area, (we live less than 5 miles from the beach!) alot of activities involved sand and surf.  We enjoyed taking long walks along the beach, watching people play and swim, looking for dolphins, and building sandcastles (not bragging, but we can build some fancy ones).

We also love to do beachcombing looking for fancy shells and sharks teeth.  Usually after a storm, you can find some great specimens that have washed up.  Gotta give it to Mrs. Frugalbeach, she has better eyes than me, so usually her bag fills up much faster.

Next category of entertainment was totally free movies! We probably saw more movies this summer than in the last 3 years combined.  A local theatre chain does free kids movies all summer long, a new movie,  usually animated, every week.  Been awhile since we used to take Frugalbeach Jr to kids movies, but we had a great time spending some mornings seeing what the kiddies are watching these days.

A popular entertainment area also did free outside movies every friday.  These ran the gamut from Tangled, The Wizard of Oz, to the latest Star Wars movie.  Bring your chair or blanket and popcorn and enjoy the show. This was a great family activity swarming with kids who would dress up in costume.  A great time for all.

Many entertainment areas also provided free fireworks shows throughout the summer.  Sometimes if you desired, you could go see a fireworks show three times a week!

The same areas also had free live music, again multiple times a week.  Usually local musicians, but the ones we went to were quite good and ranged from pop to reggae.

The different beach areas also did awesome 4th of July firework shows shot off the piers.  We got to the beach with our blankets and were treated to a panoramic view of fireworks up and down as far as the eye could see.

I love reading.  Nothing is better than a good book.  I was able to finish several books that I had wanted to read.  Unfortunately, my list has just gotten a lot longer.  Some of the books I just added to it are Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini and the 4 volume Chinese classic, The Journey to the West (about the Monkey King!)

Ahh…may my list never be complete!

We also rode our bikes alot.  It was so brutally hot this summer though, we had to wait for it to cool off slightly once the sun started going down.

Sharing is caring!  We proudly helped a family member have some free fun this summer.  Our niece and husband with new baby in tow came down from Chicago and stayed an extra long weekend with us.  Free lodging, use of a free car and some meals were provided.  An almost free vacation except for very modest discount airline tickets.  It was great to see them and their supercute baby boy.  Maybe some of our frugality will rub off on them!

These are just some of the free things we did this summer.  None cost us a dime which was a huge bonus.

Many of our activities involved just getting out and enjoying nature in some form.  We just started another period of travel and will hopefully be enjoying all sorts of free fun things in the fall.

What free things did you do this summer?

Fun And Scary US Household Expenditure Facts

Every year the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases their survey of US average household expenditures.  If you have never glanced at these, prepare yourself for one scary statistical roadtrip.

We’re going to look over some of the information and see what we can learn about the average US household.  It should be fun to compare yourself with the government provided stats and see how you are compare to the average household.  I’ll also throw in some other scary fun facts from Google.

First of all, lets start with what most inquiring minds want to know…

how much does the average household make?

The answer is $66,877 pre-tax.

Not bad, this puts you in solid middle class territory for a good percentage of the country. High cost of living areas like New York, Washington D.C. or San Francisco would consider this to be on the low-end of middle class though. Bear in mind this is pre-tax.

Now moving to the next and more important number…

how much does the average household spend?


It’s not what you make, it’s what you spend

Hmmm…this figure is a little too close for comfort to the first number for us. Recall that the first number was pre-tax.  So out of that has to come Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, Federal income taxes, and state and/or local taxes unless you live in a state with no income tax.  (We never have, but it sounds awesome!)

Social Security and Medicare alone account for a 7.7% tax on income.  This would mean $5150 coming right off the top.  You haven’t even started on the other taxes and you are down to about an $8,200 difference.

$66.877 pre-tax income minus $5150 minus $53,495 spending=about $8,200. That’s a little too close to the precipice for us.

Breaking down the average spending…

The largest expenditure by far is $17,798 for housing.  This equals about 27 percent of pre-tax income.

  • The average new construction home has grown to over 2500 square feet.
  • In 1960, it was about 1200 square feet.
  • The average mortgage balance is $165.892
  • 25% of homes with 2 car garages don’t have room to park cars in them
  • 32% only have room for 1 car
  • The average household has more TV’s than people

Next up is transportation at $9,073

This number is actually worse because it only counts cash outlays and gas is temporarily too cheap.  It’s not counting the savage beat down depreciation gives your net worth if you own a car newer than 4 years old.

  • The average new car price is $33,543!
  • 85% of new cars are financed, including leases
  • The average new car loan is $29,551..gulp!
  • The average new car payment is $483/mo…double gulp!!
  • The average loan duration is 67 months, and 28% of loans are 73 to 84 months

Food-$6,759 which equals $563/mo

$2,787 of the above is eating out, or $232/mo which I’m calling BS on.  We know plenty of people who blow past that figure because we used to do it ourselves all the time.  We tripled that number before we got it under control.

A few drinks/snacks a week, a quick drive-thru for lunch, a couple of stops every week on the way home from work because you just don’t feel like cooking, not even counting weekend eating out…I just don’t see how that can be so low.

I have a strong suspicion households are underreporting this expense.  My evidence includes the drive thrus wrapped around the building at lunchtime of most fast food places, the long lines at Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, the casual dining places on the weekends where you have to wait for a table.

Before we wrote down exactly what we were spending, we would have guessed a little over $200/mo also.  As if!

Apparel clocks in at $1,786 or $149/mo

  • It’s estimated you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time.  Why are you buying new clothes?  Best argument ever for cleaning your closets out.  At the very least, organize it, then you can shop your closet instead of hitting Kohl’s.

Personal insurance and pensions-$5,726.  This is an unusual grouping to lump together.  All we’ll say is less stuff equals less insurance needed, and pensions (retirement?) is very, very weak even if the whole amount was retirement savings.

Saving 50% of after-tax income should be your goal.  Think you can’t do it?  Read this.

Healthcare $4,290  Wow, this seems pretty high to us.  I guess we were blessed to work at employers that had really low-cost health insurance.  We both had high deductible HSA insurance plans when working.  Mine was $36/month, Mrs. Frugalbeachs was about $22/mo.

Of course we pay more since retiring, $311/mo thru the healthcare exchange for 3 people.

Other fun scary facts

  • The average person will pay $280,000 in interest over their lifetime! (AARP estimates it as high as $600,000-YIKES!)
  • The average cell phone bill is about $73/mo.  iPhone users pay the highest bills, with the majority over $100/mo due to higher data usage
  • The average consumer spends $830 on Christmas shopping
  • According to American Express, the average person spends about $1,150 on vacations ($4,600 for a family of four)
  • The average savings rate is 4.4%, which is perfectly fine if your uncle is Bill Gates

Comparing your spending habits to the average household can yield some helpful insights.  It looks like the average household pretty much spends every penny they make.  Who really wants to be just average?  Take pride if you are already below average on certain categories, adjust your spending habits if you happen to be high on others.

Once you are better than average on the majority of the categories, congratulate yourself!  You have set the groundwork to rise way above the average American consumer mindset.

What are your strategies for being a smarter manager of your finances?

Choose Experiences Vs Things

Do you want to be happier? Do you want to live a richer, more satisfying life? As humans we all want to be happy. Our founding fathers thought it important enough to include the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable right.

The good news is that money actually can buy a certain amount of happiness. (We suspected this all along, in spite of the old adage).

The bad news is, only up to a certain point. A 2010 study shows the sweet spot is about $75,000 in household income. Above that level, money doesn’t seem to increase happiness much.  In the words of the authors, “After that, it is just more stuff, with no gain in happiness.”

First things first.  The vast majority of any money you save should be invested to achieve financial freedom. Wether it’s stocks, real estate, low-cost index funds or other investments, you should seek out vehicles which over time will grow your net worth.

The money you do spend can directly affect your level of happiness depending on what you use it for.  Behavioural studies have shown experiences increase happiness more than the temporary boost from buying things.

Buying both experiences and material things do increase happiness, but the happiness from buying a thing quickly fades. This seems counterintuitive as the experience, once finished, is over and done.  But they found vacations, travel, concerts, social events, and just getting out and enjoying nature all give greater and more sustained happiness.

We are all made up of our experiences and moments that have had an impact on our lives. An experience, (including not-so-good ones) becomes part of you-a memory.  Even a bad experience can become a funny story to laugh about later.

Why do experiences increase your happiness more than material things?

  • We are social beings and experiences bring us together
  • Anticipation-thinking about your upcoming trip is exciting
  • Experiences are harder to compare than material items (it’s annoying if someone pays less than you for the same item)
  • Over time, our memories tend to put a more positive light on experiences
  • Experiences become part of us, unlike material items

Happiness associated with material things usually fades pretty quickly.  Nothing material is intrinsically valuable, except in whatever promise of happiness it carries.*  Keep this in mind before you go out Black Friday shopping.

Curiously, in most studies, people knew that experiences would give them more happiness.  Yet they rationalized buying material things because they would have something solid to show for their money.  Blame manipulative advertising (all advertising tries to convince your brain that if you buy their widget you’ll be happier), social pressure or whatever.

You can form an emotional attachment to a thing, but it doesn’t become part of you like an experience does.  It is still just a thing.  An iPhone 5 may make you briefly happy…until they come out with the iPhone 6.

We have something called adaptation built into our conciousness. Adaptation also goes by other names, tolerance, lifestyle inflation and hedonic adaptation. A luxury once sampled becomes a necessity.  You tend to stop appreciating familiar things.

People actually rated experiences and new purchases roughly equal at first.  But as you adapt to a material item, and it depreciates, breaks, or becomes obsolete, your satisfaction plummets.  The decline in happiness is even faster with impulse buying.  (just say no!)

The opposite seems to happen with experiences.  Your memory usually views experiences thru rose colored glasses.  An experience seems to be like a fine wine, it gets better with age.

What can you do to fight the adaptation tendancy?  Never, ever, ever impulse shop!  You put yourself at the mercy of people who have scientifically sliced and diced purchasing behavior to the nth degree.  Impulse purchases show an almost immediate decline in perceived happiness.

In our own experience, it took us a while to step back from the dark side of consumerism.  While we never went to extremes, we can still pull the occasional item from the deep, dark bowels of our closets, and stare at it dumbfounded as to why we purchased it…if we even remember purchasing it.

We have tried to choose experiences (travel is our go to) over things more carefully since retiring, and have been pretty pleased with the results.  (and we were pretty happy to begin with)**

When you are older, (and hopefully wiser!) what will have made you happier in your life?  Will it be time spent with family and friends?  Travel? Vacations?  Great experiences you remember fondly?  Or will it be material things that probably aren’t even around anymore?

We’ll end this with a quote from Maya Angelou, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot—it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”


*Ask me about my vintage soda bottle collection…

**What can we say, a match made in heaven!

Frugalbeach At The Berkshire Hathaway Meeting

We were very excited to be able to attend Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting for the first time ever. Berkshire Hathaway is the sprawling conglomerate controlled and built to its current form by Warren Buffett, arguably the worlds greatest investor.

Anyone who is smart enough to have invested early with Mr. Buffett is now very rich.  If only my five year old self had been more interested in investing then!  Barring a huge inheritance or being born into a rich family, compound interest is the best way to real wealth.  And no one understands it better than Warren.  He has been able to compound ever-increasing sums of money at better than a 20% clip over 50 years and counting.

view from the Airbnb lakehouse
view from the Airbnb lakehouse

We arrived in Omaha a few days early and before stepping out of the car were greeted with tornado sirens. Ten minutes in town and a tornado touched down a few miles from us.  Hopefully, not a sign of things to come. Once again, a shout out to Airbnb.  Most hotels jack up rates with a vengeance during the Berkshire weekend. Airbnb to the rescue!

Old Town, Omaha
Old Market, Omaha

On friday, after exploring the charming Old Market area of Omaha, we headed over to the Centurylink center to check out the shareholders shopping day.  An array of companies under the Berkshire banner have booths highlighting their products and services.  When we first entered Centurylink, people were so loaded down with bags, we thought they were giving stuff away.  Mobs of people were taking advantage of shareholder specials and discounts like there was no tomorrow.  (dilly bars for a buck!)  You could even sign up for Geico home/auto insurance right there.

We saw some amazing displays for See’s candies, Borsheims jewelry, Precision Castparts (jet components), Geico, Bookworm books, Brooks shoes, and Forest River motorhomes (biggest one was bus sized on steroids).  The only slight disappointment was the Mars/Wrigley booth…c’mon guys, you can do better!  Gum and candy should be fun!

We really weren’t in the market for jewelry or precision machine tools, but it sure was fun looking around. Berkshire has their fingers in a lot of different pies.  They obviously love insurance, and seem to like specialty manufacturers and specific retailers also.

The biggest surprise was the shareholders themselves.

For some reason, we imagined that most shareholders would be older, more mature, retired people.  There actually turned out to be a widely diverse cross-section of humanity.  There was definitely the older crowd present, but also many young couples with kids, twenty-somethings, Asian investors, and European investors. Shareholders from all over the world were present.

Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge between Nebraska & Iowa
Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge between Nebraska & Iowa

Day two was the actual meeting and it was a full day. They opened the doors at 7AM for the expected 40,000 attendees.  People waited in line starting very early (crazy), not us!…it was 40 degrees and raining.  We arrived at a more reasonable 8AM and proceeded inside. The place was packed and they had to open viewing rooms where the meeting was broadcast to accommodate everyone.

They warmed up the crowd with a cartoon spoof of Trading Places, starring Warren, Charlie Munger, and the Geico gecko followed by several celebrity shorts poking fun at themselves.  It was kinda corny, but all in good fun.

The meeting itself then began.  Warren and Charlie seated themselves on the podium and started off with Berkshires 1st quarter results.  Operating results were somewhat lower while investment results were higher.  The next slide showed results over a long period which were uneven, but long-term up quite satisfactorily.

They then began the Q & A session.  Warren and Charlie (mostly Warren) effortlessly answered almost all the questions thrown at them.  Some specific questions on competition and other sensitive subjects were rightly not answered.

Our overall impression is that being 85 and 92 years young respectively, Warren and Charlie still have razor-sharp minds.  They really seem to enjoy working with each other, and are constantly cracking jokes (some hilarious) while sprinkling  financial witticisms throughout their answers. Warren truly seems to love what he is doing and what he has built with Berkshire.  He has one of the most genuine positive attitudes we have ever seen.  Charlie comes across as gruff and brutally honest, just ask the young rancher from Arizona who inquired what they thought of raising cattle as a business. Charlie just seems to have an exquisitely logical mind, and boy…I’m just glad he wasn’t my dad!

Just before breaking for lunch, Warren laid out his famous bet with the hedge funds demonstrating the futility of active money management with high fees. Most investors are better off with low-cost index funds.  Turns out about 3X better!

Berkshire Hathaway, the company, is somewhat misunderstood.  Many financial people look at Berkshire and think-conglomerate.  Conglomerates are generally thought of as a collection of boring, unrelated average businesses.  In the past, they were usually discounted by the stock market.

What Warren has built looks like an average conglomerate, but is quite different.  It’s actually a cash generating compound interest machine.  Warren buys businesses for Berkshire that can generate above average amounts of cash, and reinvests that cash in stocks or more cash generating businesses.  Do this long enough, and you eventually wind up with a river of cash.  Warren has stated that sometime in the future Berkshire may have the enviable problem of having so much cash piling up they can’t invest it all.

We’ll wrap up with the thing that touched us the most about the experience.  Warren was talking about how lucky he was to have been born in America.  He expressed total confidence that as a whole American business and America will prosper.  A person born today in America will have a lifetime of opportunities we couldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago.  (Young people have all the luck!)  In Warren’s lifetime, he stated that GDP has risen about 6X, an amazing statistic.  We currently enjoy a standard of living and luxuries that 100 years ago were unavailable to anyone, no matter how rich.

Totally contrary to what the media loves to report, America will continue to prosper thanks to our system of unleashing human potential.  Sure, there will be bumps along the way, but the trend will still be upward.

The future looks brighter than ever…

gorilla from the zoo...well, just because
gorilla from the zoo…well, just because


Seven Expenses You Should Look At Cutting

We’re not talking about clipping coupons and reusing paper towels here.  Nothing wrong with that if that’s what you’re into, but our philosophy is to follow the money.  Go where you get the biggest bang for the buck.

We’re going to look at the seven biggest expenses in most households budgets and see if there is an opportunity to save some major money. We will also grade ourselves on our personal experience with each category.
Lets get right to it!

Number 1
Mortgage or housing costs.  For many households, housing eats up the biggest chunk of money.  The percentage can be as large as 25% to 30% of their income. Ideally, we would look at this category as a case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.  Consider living in less expensive locales and importantly try to purchase as much house as you need…but not more.

The average new home is over 2500 sq. ft. and I guarantee this is too big for most people.

Case in point…

We built our current house we live in,  envisioning friends and family frequently coming down on vacation to visit. We do live in a resort beach area after all!  In 21 years, we can count on both hands the times people actually came to stay, in spite of having 2 unused bedrooms which were freely available to any and all.  Free housing five miles from the beach?!?  We thought it was a slam dunk. Eventually, both extra rooms wound up being used as junk storage. (don’t worry, one is now being used as a workout room and the other is a tea room)  We love our house, but fact is, it’s way too big for us.

From a rational financial viewpoint we should probably downsize. However, our property taxes and utilities are really low, so we don’t see this happening anytime soon.   Grade C+
Number 2
Insurance.  Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life, certain types of insurance are necessary.  Homeowners, auto, life (if you have dependents), medical, and if you have any assets to protect, an umbrella policy. These can all add up extremely fast.  Our advice is to shop around, different insurance companies can have vastly different rates.  You should probably check once a year to make sure you are paying competitive rates.

A few years ago, we were very frustrated with constant premium increases from our insurance company we were with.  We checked around and found significantly lower rates with Geico.  Not to gush over them, but they were eager to get our insurance business and their customer service is the best.

After a car wreck in September of 2015, we have been even more impressed with how they do business.  Wish we could say the same thing about our old insurance company. Grade before C-, currently A
Number 3
Transportation.  People pay way too much for their automobiles. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household brings in about $66,877 per year. The average price of new automobiles is $33,000.  (which strongly depreciate the first few years.) The solution is to buy used and forget you ever had a car payment.  Most cars can reach 200,000 miles or more with proper maintenance.

This should be a no brainer for most households and would save a bundle.  AAA estimates the average cost to own and operate a new car per year is $8,698.  It’s even higher if you drive over 15.000 miles per year.  

We get a mixed grade because before we left our employment we had 4 cars for 3 drivers.  We have since downsized to 2 cars, one of which is closing in on the 200,000 mile mark. Grade D before retirement, B after retirement
Number 4
Food.  There is huge room for savings here. Mostly from dining out and fast food.  How many times a week do you swing into the drive thru because you don’t feel like cooking something after a long day?

We were as guilty as everyone else when we were working. We spent an enormous sum each and every month when we finally added it all up. Before our early retirement, we made the decision to drastically cut this expense. (we ate out a lot!)  We started inviting friends and family over for birthdays and holidays instead of our default of expensive restaurants.  Now we only eat out occasionally.

Cooking at home saves a bunch of money, the food tastes better, and we are eating healthier too! Grade before F, currently B+
Number 5
Cell phones.  People love their cell phones.  This love comes with a large price tag.  Most people overpay considering there are great alternatives available to slash costs.  We’re talking Republic Wireless, Ting and others.  We have used Republic Wireless for over a year now, and couldn’t be more pleased.  They slashed our cell phone bill from $250 per month to $70 per month for three phones.

When we first got our new phones we excitedly told everyone we knew how inexpensive they were.  People we worked with were curious, but only a few switched even though they were paying up to $150 per month for a single phone.  One co-worker had a no data flip phone paying $70 per month but had little interest in saving up to $65 even though she pretty much lived paycheck to paycheck.  Grade before D-, currently A
Number 6                                                                             

Travel.  We admit it.  We love to travel.  Back when we were employed, we felt we had to get far away whenever our vacations rolled around.

Even though Mrs. Frugalbeach is an inexpensive travel ninja, we sometimes spent huge wads of cash on extravagant trips.  (For example, a  2 week trip to New Zealand and Australia totaling almost 15,000 grand!)

We now use Airbnb to book our stays and couldn’t be happier.  We stay longer, for way less money than the typical vacation week. Staying somewhere with a kitchen helps keep our food costs (number 4) low too. A two for one bonus!  Sign up for Airbnb now, and see if they can slash your travel costs.  Grade before C, currently A-

Number 7                                                                            

Mindless shopping.  This category entails shopping for entertainment or with no specific need in mind.  Once we did our exercise of adding up our monthly expenses, we quickly put a screeching halt to this activity.  We were spending wasting gobs of money, mostly to fill up our too big house with unnecessary stuff junk crap.

But it's all on sale!
But it’s all on sale!

We still shop of course, but we do it smarter, and only with a particular need in mind. Grade before D, currently A

How about you?  Let us know what expenses you have been able to slash.


Adventures In St. Lucia Land

As you probably know, we’ve spent the last two months staying on the beautiful island of St. Lucia.

This is actually the third time we’ve stayed, in as many years, but never this long.  The first 2 times were regular ol’ 1 week spring break vacations from work.

This really isn’t a travel blog, but we thought it might be helpful to review our stay just in case any readers are considering traveling there one day.  You actually can travel pretty frugally.

St. Lucia is in the West Indies chain of islands in the eastern Caribbean, near Martinique, St. Vincent and Barbados. About 180,000 people live on the island, mostly in Castries, the capital, and the north.

Everyone we met spoke English.  The other main language is Patois, a French Creole.  You can hear English words sprinkled in here and there in Patois. (especially the F-bomb.)

They use the Eastern Caribbean dollar, but almost everyone accepts US currency.  The exchange rate is $2.67EC dollars to $1US.  CAUTION: Due to counterfeit bills, no one will accept $50 bills or $100 bills US.  You may be able to exchange them at a financial institution, but no vendor or store will take them.  Also, bills with even the slightest mark, rip or tear will not be accepted anywhere.

Housing is pretty expensive, and normally a 2 month stay would be ungodly expensive.  Enter Airbnb!  We scored a 2 bedroom, 1 bath villa, with full kitchen, close to almost everything for $700/mo during high season.  Sweeeet!  God, we love Airbnb.

They have several all-inclusive resorts, if that’s your thing. The prices are astronomical (up to $5,000/wk/person) and all beaches are public, so why bother?  One or two fellow visitors with inquiring minds asked where we were staying and what we were paying to stay so long in normal conversation.  When we told them, they looked suicidal/homicidal so we decided going forward to just say “we got a really good deal”.

Vendors are a common sight up and down the beaches.  If you’re not interested, a polite “no thank you” will usually suffice.  Thankfully, they’re nowhere near as aggressive as some other islands we’ve been to.  Helpful pointer…if you are going to be purchasing items on the beach, it helps to have small bills or change.  Most vendors carry very little change, they’ll “catch you on my way back”.  Another slightly annoying thing is if you ask for a price, some will say $5.00, without specifying EC or US.  If you pull out $5 US, some will be silent and not mention it’s actually EC (about $2US).  Hey, they’re probably never going to see you again.  We had this happen several times.  Just be careful.

The food situation is interesting.  If you love fish, (meh) this is your place.  We saw fresh fish being delivered to houses straight from the boat.  We ate most meals in, or packed a picnic to save on food costs.  If you plan on eating out, it can get expensive real fast.  There are some reasonably priced restaurants like EI Pappa Trattoria for pizza, and Breadbasket in the marina.


Dessert plate from Hotel Chocolat...hint, almost everythings chocolate!
Dessert plate from Hotel Chocolat…hint, almost everythings chocolate!

Every friday night, the town of Gros Islet, right next to Rodney Bay, has a street party/fish fry called a ‘jump up’. Several blocks are lined with bars and vendors selling food and lots and lots of alcohol.  Early on, it’s more tame and family friendly.  About 10pm, the alcohol kicks in and it starts getting rowdy.  There are lots of tourists at first, but every local we talked to recommended leaving early between 9 and 10pm.  There have been robberies, pickpockets and other unsavory happenings.  Fair warning-stay to the main area and leave early.

In the grocery store, prices were all over the place. Some produce and fresh fruit-bananas-were actually cheap. Anything frozen or refrigerated was usually high, 2-3 times US prices.  We wound up going with unrefrigerated(!) boxed milk over imported US milk because it was about 4X less.  You refrigerate after opening, don’t worry.  Overall, we would say prices were somewhat higher than the US with non-local food being much higher.  A note about chicken.  It is locally sourced, but it had a strange gummy texture every time we tried cooking it.  Could’ve been the way we were cooking, but we never could get past it.  Helpful pointer #2-Try the roti wraps from Liz or Shirley on Reduit beach. Cheap-$6 to $8US and delicious.

We’re not boozers, so take this for what it’s worth.  Their local beer, Piton, is surprisingly drinkable and really cheap. You’ll pay about $1.20 US in the grocery stores per bottle. On the beach and in restaurants anywhere from $2-4 US.

Like most other islands, there are plenty of water based activities, some great places to snorkel, volcanic mud baths around Soufriere (you’ll be pretty fragrant for a day or two), waterfalls and botanical gardens.  If you only have a week, you should have plenty of activities to choose from.

A word about Gods little creatures.  Spending the last 22 years in the South has conditioned us to accept the presence of bugs.  South Carolina lovingly calls its state pest Palmetto bugs.  You’ll probably encounter mosquitoes and ants during your stay in St. Lucia.  Mosquitoes usually aren’t much of problem during dry season, bring bug spray just in case.  Ants are another story.  Part of it’s probably because we were on the ground floor.  Any crumb, any speck of food, even other dead insects left lying on the floor is like ringing the dinner bell.  It was a daily battle involving bug spray inside and out, constant cleaning, food stored away, etc, and they would still come in.  After a while, we learned to accept it and keep a tissue ready to crush the invading horde.  (St, Lucia is tropical, so expect bugs even in the fanciest places)


What we liked about St. Lucia

fresh fruit delivered right to the beach
fresh fruit boat delivers right to the beach
  • Almost all the locals are very friendly.  This is really important to us.  We’ve heard of other islands where the attitude towards visitors is-shall we say-less than friendly? The tourism industry is a major part of the St. Lucian economy and they do their best to make you feel welcome.
  • The weather is great.  We’ve had a pretty mild winter from what we hear back home.  But St. Lucia has it beat by a mile.  Days were usually mid-80’s, with an almost constant breeze, nights are comfortable in the high 60’s.  This was supposed to be their dry season, however we did have a few days of rain.  No worries though, it only rained steadily one or two days at most.  The majority of showers passed over in a few minutes followed by more sunshine.  It is fairly humid, but we’re from the South, so we’re sorta? immune.
  • The ocean water.  The western side, where most of the resorts and best beaches are, have some of the clearest water we’ve seen.  We’ve never stayed on the eastern (Atlantic) side, but, man, does it look rough.  Don’t know how much swimming you could do over there.
  • Climbing the Gros Piton.
call me Sir Hillary Frugalbeach!
call me Sir Hillary Frugalbeach!

My younger brother and wife stayed a week with us and we went to climb the easiest of the 2 peaks past the town of Soufriere, Gros Piton.  After paying a $35.50US fee, you are assigned a guide to take you up.  We arrived about 11:30 and I think we were the last 2 to go up that day.  Holy crap, was that a mistake!  Our guide was a 17-year-old local who barely broke a sweat.  Me on the other hand, would have cried if I had any fluid left in my body.


Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,,,the entrance to Gros Piton
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here…the entrance to Gros Piton

It was like climbing in a sauna.  2000 ft.  Almost straight up. The humidity was pushing 80% and it was HOT!  I thought I was in decent shape, but this kicked my butt.  I think the only way I made it was that it rained about three-quarters of the way up and cooled it down a degree or two.  Once we got to the top after 2 hours, it was all worth it.  You could see the whole north end of the island and blue ocean all around.  Great experience, and glad I did it, but trust me, go early!  (They’ve actually had a few tourists over the years die from heat stroke)

  • Pigeon Island national park.  If you go, plan on staying most of the day.  The admission is $7US, very reasonable.  There are many ruins scattered around the park, trails and 2 small peaks you can climb.  The smaller peak has Fort Rodney atop, an old British fort you can explore.  The taller peak, Signal Hill, is a tougher, hot climb.  From the top you can see Martinique to the north.  You might want to do that early before the sun heats things up too much. There are 2 beaches with snorkeling, a restaurant, and a bar in what looks like a dungeon called the Captains Cellar.  We visited several times, well worth the price.
  • You can drink the water.  We never had a problem.  Watch out for the tamarind juice, though.  Wouldn’t recommend straying too far from a bathroom, if you know what I mean.
  • We attended church at  the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries.  This is a beautiful, old church with some pretty impressive artwork.
view inside the cathedrel
view inside the cathedral

They even had a slide show set up which allowed you to follow along with the Mass.  Interesting observation, this is the only cathedral we’ve ever been to which had security guards posted.  They were old and didn’t look like they could do much, but…yeah…security guards.

What we didn’t like so much

  • There is a lot of garbage along the roads.  It’s kinda puzzling, but we saw trash pretty frequently along the main roads.  Mostly plastic bottles, plates, utensils, food containers, etc.  Kind of made us wonder if they just don’t care.  St. Lucia really is a beautiful island, seems to us like they wouldn’t want to trash paradise like that.  Our villa we rented had trash pickup twice a week.  The last few weeks, when I walked our trash down to the street, I would take an extra grocery bag and walk down the road, filling it with trash until it was full.  Usually, I only made it past 2 homes before I was done.  While we were there, they did set up several large trash receptacles on the path we took to the beach, so it seems like they are trying to do something in certain areas.
  • Crime.  Yeah, it’s a problem here.  Not as bad as most islands, but it’s still present.  You just have to be smart. Don’t even bring flashy, expensive jewelry or watches. Wouldn’t recommend waving cash around either.  If you go out at night, go with more than 2 people and stay to the main areas.

Note: If you are looking for certain substances, you will probably be offered them at some point.  Again, not as bad as other islands, but it’s there.  We would STRONGLY recommend passing.  On our second trip here, we witnessed a fellow US citizen being firmly escorted from the line waiting to get on the plane, by a very serious looking police chap with a drug sniffing dog.  Probably not the highlight of his vacation.

  • The roads, especially the west side of the island, south of Castries.  Driving is challenging to say the least.  We walked everywhere, except when we had family visit for two separate weeks.  They very obligingly rented cars and offered to take us to some of the stuff farther away from Rodney Bay, where we were staying.  St. Lucia drives on the left side, and cars are right hand drive.  As near as we can tell, speed limits are just a suggestion (along with functioning brake lights).  The main road from Rodney Bay to Castries, the capital, isn’t too bad.  It’s fairly well maintained and well-traveled, so just go with the flow. South of Castries, the road soon becomes so winding and narrow, you’ll be wishing you had upped your life insurance.  Cars, taxis and buses won’t hesitate to pass on blind curves, or play their evil version of chicken edging you into the concrete culverts which hug, and I do mean hug, the edge of the road.  Did I mention the potholes?
Car meet pothole-thats me on the right
Car meets pothole…thats me on the right

Cause they got ’em bigtime.  Tire insurance is a separate optional charge if you rent a car…the car rental places aren’t stupid.

  • Sidewalks are almost non-existent, except around the most developed parts.  There’s usually lots of foot traffic in and alongside the roads.
  • The biggest effing spider I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m scared of spiders to the point of sharting myself.  Don’t know why, always have been.  Of course, the first night we stayed, I rounded a corner in our villa and saw a huge blur sprint across the floor, into our bedroom towards our open luggage.  It moved so fast, at first I thought it was a large mouse or small rat.  On somewhat closer inspection, it turned out to be a monstrous spider three-quarters the size of my freaking outstretched hand.
for reference
for reference

After dispatching it with a broom, while chanting to myself “you’re in your happy place”, everything returned to somewhat normal.  I did have to check under our bed every night for the rest of our stay to keep my sanity.  Thankfully, none of its surviving relatives came seeking vengeance.


sunset at Reduit beach
sunset at Reduit beach

We enjoyed our stay overall, and are actually already planning to return in late 2016.  Friendly people, sunshine, great beaches, and warm ocean-what more could you ask for?

Do you have any specific questions or need more info about St. Lucia?  Drop us a line and let us know!

Personal Property Insurance And Louis XIV Antiques

In our frugal quest to keep expenses to a minimum, we will leave no stone unturned.  We have started a second round of reviewing our expenses to see if there is anywhere to trim some significant savings.

This post will discuss one area, our homeowners insurance. It’s coming due soon and is one of our larger expenses, so we thought it a good time to review it and see if there was any opportunity for savings.

Reviewing the documents, something stuck out as a possibility…the personal property category, or household contents insurance portion.

What exactly is personal property insurance?

This is the portion of your homeowners policy which covers loss of your personal possessions.  If you have a fire, theft, or other covered event, you may be able to receive payment to replace the items lost (minus your deductible of course).

Four main categories are covered…

  • furniture
  • clothes
  • appliances
  • electronics

Cash and coins, jewelry and watches, firearms, watercraft, collectibles, silverware, and gems* are also covered, but the dollar amount is severely restricted.  These will usually require a seperate rider with an extra premium AND an appraisal or receipt to recover anything near full replacement value.

Your policy can be either full replacement value or actual cash value.  Actual cash value can be tricky as the insurance company will calculate the value of your item on a “lifespan depreciation scale”.  That means if your fridge has an assumed lifespan of 10 years, and yours is 9 years old at the time of loss, you will receive about 10% of replacement value!  Guess which policy your insurance company wants you to buy?

Now for the fun part.  Let’s start with the dollar amount we are insured for…$145,750.  After I finally quit hysterically laughing, I thought…wow…I didn’t realize OUR HOUSE MUST BE FILLED WITH LOUIS XIV ANTIQUES!!!

I don't think so
I don’t think so

Anyone who peeked inside our house would be hard-pressed to find items that would equal 20% of that figure.

This seemed a likely place to look for savings as it seems we are grossly overinsured for this part of our coverage.  Let’s examine the above covered categories and see if we come anywhere close to that number.

  • furniture-the only furniture we ever bought brand new was our bedroom set 21 years ago.  All the rest is either hand me downs or well-used second-hand. With Craigslist, most of this category would be easily replaced at a fraction of retail.
  • clothes-still have a good bit of clothes, mostly Kohls or mid range department store stuff.  Mrs. Frugalbeach has a few “nicer” outfits but nothing super expensive.
  • appliances-nothing too expensive here either.  No high-end stainless steel, no front loader washing machines.  Several of our appliances are pretty basic, discounted floor models.
  • electronics-Ha!  An ancient stereo setup and several TV’s collecting dust maybe worth $100 to $200 each.  Oops, almost forgot our 3 cell phones…checking eBay, maybe $75 to $125 each.  Do antique (7 years old) computers count?…probably not.

(We probably would receive very little if disaster did strike. We don’t usually keep receipts.)

Nothing seems to come close to adding up to $145,750, so where do they get this figure?  Most insurance companies use a percentage based on the replacement cost of your actual house, usually 50% to 70%.  So in the insurance companies eyes, a house with a $200,000 replacement cost should have about $100,000 of stuff in it.

I’m assuming, they have done the math and this is their best estimate of the dollar value of goods in an average insured house.  What the heck is the average household purchasing?

It turns out I couldn’t save any money at all on the personal property portion.  A call to the insurance company explaining we were way overinsured didn’t budge them. Short of selling our house and downsizing to a less expensive home, there doesn’t seem to be a way to decrease that portion.

All is not lost though!  We noticed our homeowners deductible is a pretty low $2500.  We are going to check into at least doubling that to see if we can save some money there.

We’ll keep you updated on any future savings we find as we continue going thru our expenses.


*Unless you own the Hope diamond, you are probably out of luck.  For fun I took a few loose semi-precious gems from my modest collection to our local pawn shop.  They refused to make any offer on them at all.  What does that tell you when a place in business to loan money on items refuses?

Can You Really Beat The Market?

One of the funny things about the stock market is that every time one person buys,  another sells, and both think they are astute.-William A. Feather

The stock market can be a way to riches or it can be a graveyard, or any point between.

How does one go about investing in the market with a reasonable chance of coming out ahead?

Starting out

  • Learn about the market at an early age
  • Learn from someone who is a successful investor
  • It helps if you’re borderline obsessed with it

My background in investing goes back to when I was still in high school. At home sick one day, my mother, a careful and successful investor, explained what the market was and how it worked.  I was instantly and forever hooked. Stocks and the stock market are absolutely fascinating.  I have been investing since the early 80’s and will probably still be investing until the day I die.

Building the foundation

  • read and study extensively on investing
  • save money to invest
  • begin investing

I devoured every book the local library had on investing, every biography of market movers and shakers, every bookstore I entered, I headed straight to the business section.  Before the internet, I would send letters to dozens of companies requesting annual reports.  I began saving and investing before I was out of my teens.

Keep investing regular amounts

  • Take full advantage of any way to save and invest pre-tax to the maximum amount allowed
  • If you can save after tax also, GREAT…invest that too

Pre-tax saving is just the smart thing to do.  It’s one of life’s true win-wins.  Why would anyone refuse free money?  It’s like turbocharging your investing.

Monitor your investments carefully

  • Periodically check to make sure there aren’t changes which would affect your investments.  Even great businesses can falter over time.

So, the question remains, can you beat the market?

I’m solidly in the camp of yes you can.  Just because most people and fund managers don’t beat the market, doesn’t mean you can’t.  It’s harder than it looks though, if you take the path I took.  I still make mistakes and it costs me money.

I’ve spent all my adult life studying the market and investing because I love it.  The endless hours spent reading and researching stocks and the market never get dull.

If you want to follow me, here are my recommendations:

  1. Read the classic books on investing…
  • The Intelligent Investor and if you’re up to it, Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham
  • The Money Masters by John Train  The Craft of Investing is excellent also
  • Warren Buffetts letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders (We will be at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting at the end of April…can’t wait!)
  • The Essays of Warren Buffett by Lawrence Cunningham
  • Where Are The Customers Yachts? by Fred Schwed
  • The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias

Theres a lot of recycled junk out there, stick with these and you can’t go wrong.

2. Only invest in what you understand.  If you can’t reasonably see how you are going to make money with buying a stock, go to Vegas.  Your chances are probably better there and you get free drinks.

3. Dividends are a bonus, especially growing ones.  Be careful though, companies change.

4. Buy great companies at fair prices, let compound interest take over and watch them grow.

5. Don’t overpay.  No doubt Google is a great company.  But at a $519 billion market cap and 32X earnings?  No thank you.

6. Never, ever, ever use margin or debt to buy stocks.  Virtually guaranteed financial destruction.

7. Don’t daytrade or trade too often.  I’m *ahem* a little older and I have never met anyone who consistently made money daytrading.  Trading too often can eat up a huge chunk of your money.

I now realize there is an easier way to if not beat, at least match the market return, which gives a satisfactory result.

The way to invest is to use low-cost index funds to approximate the market return.  If you want a small portion of your funds to invest in individual stocks, this is fine too, but the majority should go to index funds.

The stock market over long periods has historically risen about 10%-11% per year with dividends reinvested.  No other asset class comes close to this return.  As long as America and American businesses prosper, you will be on the road to wealth.

Confession time…I used to think that index funds were for lazy people who didn’t want to bother putting in the heavy lifting needed for exceptional market beating returns.  I have since done a full 180 and for the last few years most of our money has gone into index funds.

If your savings are sufficient, and you invest regularly, receiving the average market return over long periods provides anyone making an average household salary a path to wealth.

Thanks to compound interest, every dollar you invest at the 10% historical return grows to $2.59 after 10 years…$6.73 after 20 years…and $17.45 after 30 years!

So, even though you are technically not “beating” the market, just matching the return gives you satisfactory results.

Are you an index fund fan or a stock picker?  Let us know why.

Republic Wireless Review…Still A Great Deal

Republic Wireless is a low-cost cell service provider pretty near and dear to our hearts.  They started up back in 2011, in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina with an innovative model to drastically cut your cell phone bill.


They use a hybrid technology that relies on Wi-Fi when available, and a major carrier-Sprint, as a backup.  When you are at home and within Wi-Fi range, the phones connect to it for data, talk, and text.  If no Wi-Fi is available, the phones connect to the Sprint cellular network.

Not having to build and operate a cellular network keeps their costs rock bottom, and the savings are passed along to you.



Republic wireless plans start at only $10/mo.  Extra cell data runs $15 per gigabyte. The price usually works out even better if you keep the majority of your surfing to Wi-Fi.  The best part is you are credited with any unused data at the end of the month.  Say you have the 1GB plan for $25/mo. You only use .5GB during the month. You are credited $7.50 off your bill, your monthly bill is $17.50!


Right now there are 2 phones to choose from:

  • 2nd gen Moto E at $129
  • 3rd gen Moto G at $199



The phones are both highly rated with many similar features.  The Moto G is available in a 16GB version for $30 extra and has a larger screen with slightly better resolution and a much better 13 megapixel rear camera.


  • no contracts -you’re never locked in
  • no extra fees
  • unlimited talk & text on all plans with unlimited data on Wi-Fi (except the $5 basic plan)
  • you can switch your plan anytime or cancel with no penalties
  • reasonably priced android Moto smartphones
  • you receive credit every month for any unused data
  • great customer service
  • majority of customers monthly bills are under $15!

The only drawback is you can’t bring your own phone to Republic.  The hybrid technology right now only works with their supported Motorola phones, although this may change in the future.  Sorry, no iPhones yet.


We have been with Republic Wireless for almost 2 years now and think they provide a great service for the price.

We heard about them from the frugal online community when we were looking to trim our high cell phone bills.  At first, we were reluctant to make the leap.  We even kept our old phones active for the one month trial period just to make sure.

Our cell phone bills went down from $250 to about $70 for 3 phones.  My monthly bill is $12.53 (less than my no-data flip phone it replaced)…ridiculously inexpensive.

Are they perfect?   No, we have had some dropped calls, but nothing worse than our old carrier.  Sometimes cellular coverage isn’t the best, especially in rural areas. (you can check coverage here)

Would we recommend Republic Wireless?  Without a doubt.  They have drastically chopped our monthly cell phone expense by over 70%.  People are shocked when they ask how much we pay for our phones.

One really nice feature is free calls and texts to the US from overseas as long as you are on Wi-Fi.  We have been in St. Lucia for almost 2 months and our phones have worked flawlessly during our stay.


We believe nobody offers a better deal than Republic Wireless right now.  They are constantly working to improve service and enhance their member experience. You can even sign up for beta testing on their website!  We encourage everyone to check them out.  If you are currently with a major carrier, check the link hereRepublic Wireless can save you a ton money.

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