AT&T and T-Mobile announced that a deal has been struck to merge the second and fourth largest mobile phone providers in the nation into what would pass Verizon Wireless as the largest provider.

I believe this is really not the best thing for consumers in America. In fact, I think it’s awful.

In general more competition is a great thing, and while T-Mobile has had issues in the past keeping up with technology, in recent times their data networks have been doing better than much of the competition. In fact, their recent upgrades have made data access as fast or faster than the other providers, and T-Mobile has long had a reputation for low cost and industry leading customer service (when I was with T-Mobile I could vouch for both, and I must say it was worlds better than what I received from Sprint). My belief is that those strengths of T-Mobile will end up going away if the merger is approved.

Speaking of Sprint, on the first trading day after the merger announcement, Sprint’s stock was down 13.61% on the day.

Sadly, the losers in this merger appear to be consumers and Sprint.

As news of the horrific Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami spread, my first thoughts were of protecting my family here, followed immediately by my friends in Japan. Many people I know are either working or studying there and it was frightening to think of what could have happened to them with the tragic pictures and videos coming from the area.

Fortunately, all of my friends and family are safe. How did I find out, especially with so many issues with telephone communication there and here?

Interestingly, through social media.

Through Twitter and Facebook I found out relatively quickly that all of my contacts in Japan were faring well post earthquake (although we were worried for a few hours on one of our friends who had to walk many kilometers home and wasn’t able to let us know she was safe due to mobile phone issues).

On the flip side of the coin, my buddy Eric “Sheppy” Shepherd (world famous Apple II programmer) checked in on me via Twitter, leading me back to the Internet relay chat for the first time in ages (talk about some old school social networking).

I’m grateful that my friends were all safe and I hope that they continue to be. Social media made this into less of an ordeal than I thought it might be.

If there’s any one thing to compare energy price increases (like the current spike in the price of oil) with, it’s a tax. We’re paying more for the same thing we got a few weeks ago, and unlike with a lot of other goods, we have to pay it, or we don’t get the energy we need.

Unless we’re willing to invest in large infrastructure changes (even on a micro level, such as installing a bunch of solar panels or going to an electric car), we’re going to end up paying more.

And, just like a tax, since we’re paying more there, we have less to spend elsewhere, in the areas that contribute to the economy, like retail goods and services.

My belief is that this is temporary, and once the unrest in other countries settles, oil prices will not only come back down, but the quality of life for the people of those countries will improve–over time.


How Much are the Movies?

I gave up going to the movies awhile ago, partially because they were getting more expensive, but I had a revelation from a friend the other day who stated that going with her boyfriend to the movies was, essentially, a $50 date.

Yes, $50 for two between movie tickets, snacks, drinks–and this doesn’t include parking (which is, at least here, usually free, or “free”) or dinner.

I can get a pretty decent dinner for two for $50 in Honolulu.

At those prices, I’ll keep waiting for streaming video or DVD.

I haven’t done this in awhile, but I decided to look hard through this month’s Costco coupon book and decided to find the ones I liked best.

As a reminder, with the large quantities that Costco provides, non perishables are the best to buy. If you can finish consuming the perishables before they expire or go bad, then you’re doing great; however, if they aren’t consumed, you’ve got waste, and waste is indeed the enemy of frugality.

Also, as stated previously, Costco often has coupons that list discount amounts but not total prices, resulting in incomplete advertising. While I realize their pricing is different in different regions, this is the kind of thing that drives me crazy and requires me to do more research for comparison shopping than I’d like.

With those important points made, here’s what I like best this month:

$2 off Bounty or Bounty Prints Roll Towels
$2 off Charmin Ultra Soft (I use this daily just like everyone else!)
$5 off Kirkland Signature Diapers
$2 off Greenworks All Purpose Cleaner and/or Pine-Sol
$2.50 off Q-tips Cotton Swabs (I use these daily!)
$3 off Centrum Silver Ultra
$11 off Sandisk 8GB SD Ultra Hi-Capacity 2 pack
$7 off Sandisk 4GB SD Ultra Hi-Capacity 2 pack

The last two don’t require the coupon. Happy shopping!

While February ended in a rather dismal way, for most of the month the stock market performed quite nicely, thank you.

Starting backwards this month in our fixed income area: the Vanguard Total Bond Market Fund (VBMFX) was up, a minuscule .19% while paying a 3.34% yield; its accompanying Vanguard GNMA Fund (VFIIX) was up an almost identically meager (”almost” but seems identical due to rounding) .19% while paying a 3.28% yield.

In the stock portion of our portfolio, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX) was up 1.86% for the month while paying a 1.59% yield, and the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund (VGTSX) was also up, a meager 0.56%, while paying a 1.53% dividend.

So despite the downturn at the end of the month, February was yet another positive month for our model portfolio. While March looks more difficult so far, let’s see how things go!

Just as I was starting to get some traction in my life (including blogging), a large earthquake hit Japan which resulted in a tsunami warning for Hawai’i. Destruction here was minimal, but we did have to evacuate from home to about a mile inland (we live less than 500 feet from the ocean and although we are not technically in an inundation zone, this is the second natural disaster in the over thirty years my family has lived here where we were asked to evacuate) at the unfortunate time of 1:30 am.

Fortunately, we just hung out in an elementary school parking lot and returned a few hours later, and we are all safe and sound, as are my friends in Japan whom I regularly communicate with on Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, many others are not. I’m sure by now you’ve seen tthe devastation in Japan and heard of the loss of life elsewhere.

I’m still gathering up how to help best–I have already pledged that my March blog and clinical supervision income will go to relief efforts in Japan–but in the meantime my friend Brian Dote is compiling a list at his Skip A Lunch blog.

I’m going to do what I can to help those in Japan. Just because my family, my friends, and myself are safe doesn’t mean it’s over.

While February was an up month, as we’ll see in an entry soon, since the last few days of the month and into March, the stock market has trended downward, at least somewhat coinciding with a rise in oil prices (and subsequent rise in gasoline prices).

Yes, we’ve gone through these kinds of things before.

I’m not believing that the rise in oil prices will be long term–eventually things will resolve and improve. And I’m thinking that will happen soon–soon enough I’ve been considering ways to short the price of oil, something I never do.

I don’t believe this will be a horrible downturn, more like a correction, which the market is likely to need, having been running upward for two years, almost non stop.


Back With a Limited Schedule

While my cousin hasn’t been buried yet (it’ll be a few weeks apparently), it’s time to get back on the blogging horse. Lots of unanswered questions remain; my cousin was an athlete (a surfer) who was young (in his mid 50s), so this is not a typical situation.

Still grieving, but needing to get back to work.

I came home on Friday afternoon from work to my sister’s car trouble continuing, my niece’s MSI Wind netbook no longer operating, and the sad, serious news of one of my cousins passing away unexpectedly.

Expect sporadic posts while this is sorted out. My apologies.

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