My Ting Test

Last month, I switched cellphone providers from T-Mobile to Ting. In looking at past reports, I had been paying T-Mobile around $63 per month (including taxes). This didn't seem bad to me, but I thought I could do better. A couple of days ago, I got my first bill from Ting. The total is $39.81 (including taxes). I'm happy with this. The image below shows the breakdown of all the fees.


So I'm saving around $23 per month. If I used the cell phone less, I'd save more. And if I used it more, I'd save less. This is actually one of the things I like about Ting. You pay for what you use. So you can conserve to save money. However, I had looked at around six months of bills to find out my usage. And I was pretty consistent. I'm guessing that on most months, I'll still be on the M plan, which will keep my costs pretty consistent.

Note however, the two services are not providing the exact same services. I have an iphone and one big difference is that T-Mobile had visual voicemail, where you could see who the voicemail was from without having to dial in. Ting does not have that. When you click on the voicemail button, it calls the service and you enter your pin to hear the voicemail. Visual voicemail is a nice feature, but I really don't miss it. First of all, I wouldn't have even noticed this except that I got one call that left a voicemail. Since I so rarely get voicemail, it seems silly to pay $20/month extra for that feature. The other thing I noticed and this is just because I happened to go to Canada during the month, is that I get no service in Canada. When I had T-Mobile and went to Canada, it automatically switched over to Rogers service and didn't cost me anything extra to use it. This was really handy and I definitely missed having cell service on this trip. But, how often do I go to Canada? Based on my last two years, it's been about once a year for approximately three days. Again, should I pay for something monthly that I'm going to use so infrequently? A better idea might be to get a T-mobile chip for a month and take that with me when I go to Canada. If I go again next year, perhaps I'll look into that.

Anyway, based on this month, those were the only two things that I noticed were different. Perhaps other things might come up in the future, but so far things are working as expected. I'm considering switching to Ting a complete success. Complete disclosure: I had already had an unlocked iphone that I was using on T-Mobile, so all I had to buy to switch to Ting was a new sim card that cost me $13. If you don't have an unlocked phone, you may have to buy one and that could cost you a few hundred dollars. Though you can buy refurbished ones directly from Ting.

If you'd like to switch to Ting, I'd recommend it. And if you'd sign up using this link, I'd appreciate it even more.

Not Casa Loma

My friend Ellen came to town for a vacation. Before coming, she had mentioned that she had a friend in Toronto that she wanted to see and I proposed a road trip to Toronto. I also suggested (strongly) that we take bikes and ride around while there, since this was my favorite activity when I was in New York.

The first thing I learned is the Toronto is closer than I thought. It's about the same as driving to Pittsburgh. However, there is one big difference and it's called the 401. The 401 is apparently the most traffic-jammed expressway in the entire world. And after I had just said that we were making great time, things slowed to a crawl and we spent a rather long time traveling at 7 mph. However, once we arrived, it was great. (Interestingly, I had no cell service as soon as I entered Canada and Ellen doesn't have a smart phone. So we managed to arrive without having a definite map. Somehow, Google Maps still sort of worked, even with no service.)

We stayed with Cara and Andy, friends of Ellen and their two cats. The cats freaked me out a bit, but after banning them from the room where we were sleeping, it was ok. We did a lot of talking about similarities and differences between Chicago and Toronto. And I got a good lesson in Canadian politics.

Ellen and I broke out the bikes and planned to bike to a Toronto landmark called Casa Loma. Cara gave us directions and told us that Casa Loma was not a castle but just a house. (This is because there is no royalty in Canada, which a castle requires.) We took off, also noting that this was the first time Ellen was going to be biking in traffic, so we went a bit slowly. We thought we were at the location of Casa Loma, based on my limited Google Map info and thinking we had followed the directions. We were at a really big house that had people working in front of it, so being a tourist, I parked my bike and took a picture. We then biked around a bit more before heading back to Cara's house. We told her of our adventure and after some time, I showed her the picture I took. She looked at me and said, "That's not Casa Loma". Ellen and I were like, sure it is, we went where you told us. A very, very long discussion took place to then determine where we were and to convince us that we truly did not see Casa Loma. We ended up not seeing Casa Loma for a few more days, when we drove by it. Below are the pictures that I took of "Not Casa Loma" and "Casa Loma". This pretty much established the theme of our trip, which we decided was "Not Casa Loma".

Not Casa Loma
Not Casa Loma
Casa Loma
Casa Loma

Andy is a regular bike commuter and was happy to give me a tour of Toronto. I greatly looked forward to this and we took a great ~17 mile ride all over Toronto ( The Pan Am Games were also happening in Toronto, so we got to see the bike race while we were riding around. We didn't plan on it, but as we were biking, we saw the race go by. We also rode on a new bike path which was great. And I found out that Toronto was a bit hillier than I thought it would be. (Side note, if you're moving uphill, you're probably heading north.)

Andy also plays trombone in a jazz band that had a gig on Sunday at the Beaches International Jazz Festival. So we got to see that and it was great.

So overall it was a great trip. And I hope to get back there again soon. My pictures are here.

Financial Independence

The past couple of weeks, I have been obsessing about becoming financially independent. When I was a kid, I would have thought of this as being rich. But now, all I want to do is be able to do what I want, without having to think about money. I'd like to have the option to do things for people or not, based on whether I think it's interesting or not, taking money out of the equation entirely.

By and large, since I've been working, I think that I've been pretty responsible with money. Aside from my mortgage, I don't owe anyone any money. I've refinanced my mortgage a few times, but have never taken money out. I've also always reduced the term of the mortgage when I've done this to make sure I get it paid off more quickly. Unfortunately, I just always assumed that I'd have to work until I was 65 or whatever the traditional retirement age would be. What I never told myself is "there is no speed limit". I could have saved so much more to become financially independent so much quicker.

The question I'm asking myself now, is this what I want to do for the next 20 years? Because I'm around 20 years away from traditional retirement. I actually love my job, but there's this voice in my head that pops up every so often asking if there's something else I'd like to do. For most of my working career, I'd often ask myself if I could be learning something that would help me make more money and have a better career. And I have taught myself many things that have helped. But now, what about the things that I enjoy but that won't necessarily make me money? If I didn't have to worry about having money to pay the mortgage or other bills, would I do more things that I enjoy?

Why am I obsessing about this now? The primary reason is that my house desperately needs a new roof. This is going to cost me about $17k, which is a little more money than I have saved up. So I'm going to have to take out a loan to cover it. This bugs me for a couple of reasons. One, I hate owing people money. Two, I can't do the job myself. My roof is very pitched and I work very slowly. So there's really no way that I could do this. I had been feeling pretty good about myself because I had a bit of money saved and that's going to be all gone. I've also been thinking about the house, which was built in 1888 and it also still needs to be tuckpointed. This is another very large expense looming. My question then is, should I fix this house up as best I can and then move? I always though that I'd die in this house, but I'm no longer sure I want to. If I did move, where should I go? This house is great because I can bike to work. But if I didn't have to go to work, that's something that I wouldn't need to worry about. Anyway, it'll take me a couple of years to pay off the roof and get the place into sellable condition. So I'm not desperate to do anything right now, but I'm starting to make a plan and these are the things I'm thinking about.

Poppyseed Dressing

There are few salads that I like. However, the poppyseed fruit and chicken salad at Portillo's is one I love. I've tried poppyseed dressing at other places and have bought different brands. They just aren't as good. I found a couple of recipes online that I've tried. The first one I tried used a grated shallot. I grated a pretty small one, but the result tasted way too much like onions, so that one didn't work at all. This one though sounded better. Though since I had just had the failure with the shallot, I left the onion powder out of it. I also left out the lemon juice because I didn't have any. The result though was great! So, since this is my repository of all things I want to save, here is the recipe I followed:

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp poppy seeds
4 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Mixed everything except the vegetable oil with my handheld blender, then added the oil. That's it!