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The Truth About LEDs

Saturday, December 7th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

A while back I wrote that Melissa and I had given up our expensive and ultimately unfulfilling fling with CFL lightbulbs. We must have spent a couple thousand dollars putting them all over the house, but as soon as the ones in the outdoor sconces die off, we’ll be done with them completely. I’ve been experimenting with different brands of LEDs, and Glenn Reynolds’ mention this morning of Cree’s bulbs reminded me to finally write up what I’ve learned.

The first lesson is: Brand counts. When it comes to incandescent bulbs, your better brands tend to last longer but they all produce the same high-quality light we all know and love. LEDs however vary widely. For the purposes of this column, I’m putting halogen bulbs in their own category, even though they too produce incandescent light. We’ll get to them shortly.

We’ve tried four brands of LEDs, with extremely mixed results.

PHILIPSMy least favorite — and keep in mind, these are subjective observations but I am very picky about the quality of light in my home — are the bulbs produced by Philips. They look super-modern, which is what drew me to their reflector bulbs for the ceiling cans in my studio. The R30 size looks like the Pan Am spaceship from the orbital transit sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Everything else about them represents the worst of LED lighting. The light they produce has that sickly feeling that screams “cubical” instead of whispering “warm and comfy living room.” The light doesn’t emit evenly from lens, which might not be so annoying if the bulb didn’t stick out from below the can — but it does and so it is. There’s also a good half-second delay between flicking the light switch and when the light can be bothered to come on. It seems to have a very broad dimming range, but the light simply becomes fainter and sicklier and less pleasant the lower you dim it. (We’ll talk more about LEDs and dimming problems in a minute.) The Philips bulbs were also the most expensive. I have one in the studio and two (R20 size) in the bedroom and I can’t wait to ditch them all.

Next up is Feit, which produces a astounding range of LED bulbs. If there’s a size, wattage, or application you can even just imagine, they probably make it. That part is great. The reflector bulbs light perfectly evenly (unlike Philips), and the light is more pleasant. Of all the brands I’ve tested, theirs seem to have the longest power-up delay. But the R20 reflectors produce good-enough quality light for the kids’ rooms, which is nice because little boys don’t always remember to turn off the lights. In fact, this one time one of them might even have remembered. Anyway, Feit’s bulbs are moderately priced and their performance is acceptable — if you can live with that on-delay.

We’ve put EcoSmart bulbs in the garage and in a couple of other rooms, and I’m happy with them. Screwed into fixtures with that mock alabaster glass cover, the light they emit is almost indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs. They come on instantly, too. They dim as well as any LED is able to. At full brightness, they produce a lot of light. We have two of those alabaster-type ceiling fixtures in our laundry room, which used to hold two 60-watt incandescents each. The LEDs are so bright, that I replaced them with two 60-watt equivalent bulbs and two 40-watt equivalents — and then still had to put the whole shebang on a Lutron dimmer. And then I rarely turn the dimmer up more than halfway. So instead of running 240 watts in there, we’re now running maybe 20 watts — did I mention they produce a lot of light? That’s some serious savings, especially for moderately-priced bulbs.

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How to Install a New Faucet in 7 Easy Steps

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 - by Builder Bob
Old Faucet - Lame.

Old Faucet – Lame.

I hate plumbing. I really, really hate it. Given the choice between doing a plumbing project or listening to a Miley Cyrus album, I would choose a root canal (at least a drill can stay on pitch). About the only thing I’m good at with plumbing is displaying copious amounts of hairy butt crack while working.

On the surface plumbing sounds relatively simple: pipes bring clean water in, and separate pipes take the poop water away. But with changing building codes and new developments in materials there is no standardized system, so you often don’t know if you’re going to be dealing with iron pipe, copper, pvc or cpvc, or new pex fittings, until you actually dig into a project.

There is a reason plumbers can charge $60+ per hour, and if you have more money than time or patience then I strongly recommend hiring one, particularly if you are dealing with a difficult issue. However, if you want to save a bunch of money and improve the look of your bathroom or kitchen, replacing a faucet is within the ability of most homeowners.

What You Need:


1. The first step in any plumbing project is to shut off the water to the area where you are working.

Most fixtures have shut off valves in the cabinet underneath. If yours are in good shape simply turn off the valves for both the cold and hot water, and move to step 4.  If however, you have ancient shutoffs from the 1970s and need to replace them you will have to shut off the main water supply to the house.  Most mainline shutoffs are located outside the house in an enclosed box underground. Beware if you live in the southwest like me; critters love the shade and moisture provided here, so look out for black widows, scorpions, and snakes. (Man aren’t you glad you decided to do this?) The other shut off should be located on top of the water heater. 

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Falling With Style Flying Into Economic Recovery After a Crisis In 5 Easy Lessons

Saturday, September 21st, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson


Well folks its been fun.

This is the final installment of our 13 Weeks to Family Financial Freedom After a Crisis series. Although I can’t honestly say, after just 13 weeks of effort, we are now flying high; I can say we are not in a financial free fall. We are gliding to freedom on the wings of God’s grace–and frankly, the view has been both frightening and exhilarating.

In “5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship” I rolled out my “13 weeks” goals: Track daily my progress on a Seinfeld calendar, write a new budget, assess our lifestyle, cut living expenses by 40 percent and increase our income by at least that much.

Tracking my daily progress on a calendar didn’t work out as planned. Turns out, my inconsistency is the most consistent thing about me. My failure could be attributed to my personality type or the fact that my stated goals for marking-off days needed to be more concrete (low-tech operator error). Did you do it? Yes is an X, no is a blank spot or a “broken chain.” Which is, of course, its original purpose.

It did serve as sort of an invisible timer constantly running in the background of my mind. The designated days combined with weekly progress posts certainly kept me focused. In that, I’m declaring it a success.

The new budget is still in flex, as 13 weeks is only three months of budgeting with an inconsistent and unreliable monthly income. However, it is in place and we are growing more comfortable living within its bounds. I found a combination of using the YNAB, and good old fashion pen and paper works the best for us. We already owned YNAB. I added the phone apps so my husband and I have equal access and responsibility in maintaining the budget.

The only downfall to using YNAB, is that it does not allow you to project income or plan for next month’s bills, that’s where pen and paper comes in handy.

Gone are the days of dining out regularly, recreational shopping and living comfortably under a mortgage. In assessing our lifestyle, I’ve realized the best safety net we can have is a mortgage free home.

In retrospect, the goal of cutting our cost of living by 40 percent is unattainable–expenses fluctuate and there’s no way to cut unexpected expenditures by any percentage. I held a misconceived presupposition that I could control living expenses. Control is almost always an illusion. A more accurate and obtainable goal– remove all unnecessary spending and reassess. Repeat as needed.

The real success of our 13 weeks together didn’t come in achieving my stated goals.

Instead, it was in the lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn.

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Is Being Married Always a Financial Advantage?

Sunday, July 1st, 2012 - by Helen Smith

You would think so if you watched Suze Orman’s show last week where she discussed gay marriage and the four financial advantages of being married. On her show, she mentioned that married people have all kinds of advantages in terms of health insurance, pensions, social security, and estate taxes. She says that you can leave your spouse 100% of your assets tax-free, get higher social security benefits if your spouse dies, and pension plans at corporations often let you leave money to your spouse. Employers often insure a spouse and not a life partner. Okay, fair enough but maybe that just says more about how our tax structure and employee benefits are set than about marriage. For example, your kids get screwed if you leave them your money too as part of your estate by high estate taxes. Why not change the estate law to make this more fair? But this post is about the other side that Orman did not touch on: What are the financial disadvantages of being married?

There are many. First, what about the marriage penalty? Two high earners who are married pay more than if they were single. Is this fair? Not in my book. Another disadvantage of being married is that spouses are often responsible for the other’s debt. If your spouse racks up a great deal of debt and bails on it, that can become your problem, depending on the state you live in. According to Nolo.com:

In community property states, most debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage are owed by the “community” (the couple), even if only one spouse signed the paperwork for a debt. The key here is during the marriage.

And what if you don’t want to leave your retirement account to your spouse? According to Nolo.com “your spouse–or former spouse–may have a legal claim to your retirement account, so proceed with caution.”

Finally, if you get divorced, you may end up giving most of your assets away, even if you earned them. And then, of course, there are the non-financial restrictions on you when married, especially if male. You often need your wife’s permission to get a vasectomy. Even your own body is no longer your own once you become wedded to a woman.

Can you name some more financial disadvantages of marriage that I missed?

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What’s the Best Way to Fix a Damaged Power Cord?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 - by Dave Swindle
YouTube Preview Image

One of the tasks that’s sat on my to-do list far too long: repairing our old TV. Somehow a heavy object landed on the cord not long after we moved to Los Angeles (more than two years ago!) and it hasn’t turned on since. We had an old back-up that’s served us well enough for our bedroom TV so I haven’t felt motivated to make the effort to try and fix it. But in rearranging the bedroom today it was time to move the now dusty, way-too-heavy old set that I’ve lugged from apartment to apartment since college. So now might as well take the time to cross this off the honey-do list.

YouTube Preview Image

Anybody else have any other suggestions on the best way to make the repair? Or is the top YouTube video the best way to go?

I wonder how much Google and YouTube have cut into the appliance repair business… How sweet it is to use the free information floating around online to save money.

PJ Lifestyle’s Megan Fox has written about money saving tips in the past and she’ll have more on the subject in the future:

I Saved $230 A Month at the Grocery Store with Extreme Cooking

Seven Last-Minute, Do-It-Yourself Gifts for Under $20


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