Amazon Prime, the Netflix Killer?

Last May I signed my Mom up for Amazon Prime. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Prime is a service from Amazon.com that gives enrollees FREE two day shipping on their Amazon purchases, rental of one FREE Kindle book a month, and access to the Amazon Instant Video library. The annual fee for this service is $79, or about $6.58 a month. 

My mom loves Prime and now that The Bride and I are in our new place we joined. After the trial ended we signed up for a full year, we have yet to try the free kindle service, but we love the free shipping and the Amazon Instant video. 

I am particularly amazon-instant-videoimpressed by Amazon Instant Video. I access this service through my Xbox 360, the set up was simple and the interface is easy to use. For years I had used Neflix steaming and I found the layout to be too cluttered. I would often scroll past the genre I was looking for and have to keep clicking until it came back around. Amazon’s streaming is clean and easy. The Bride and I have started watching “Under the Dome,” we are half way into the season and everything has gone off without a hitch. The picture quality is good and many of the shows and movies come with 5.1 surround sound.

For me the Amazon Instant Video experience has been superior to Netflix in every way with one exception, selection. Netflix is still the king when it comes to title availability. Amazon is no slouch and I am sure they are doing everything they can to close the gap, but as it stands they are still behind the Red Envelope. 

From a price stand point, Amazon will cost you $79 for its service, plus the added benefit of FREE kindle books and FREE two day shipping. For just the streaming Netflix will cost you about $8 a month or $96 a year. You save $17 a year with Amazon. This is where I stand right now. I have Amazon Instant Video and a subscription to the Netflix 2 disc Bluray plan, it costs me about $16.00 a month.

If I dropped Neflix all together and used that money to rent films on Amazon I could watch 3-4 of them a month. I am an avid movie watcher and for me this just isn’t enough. Netflix still holds the edge in that regard, particularly with TV shows. To rent a season of a show on Amazon is very expensive. Netflix allows me to rent the series, one disc at a time, for very little cost. 

Amazon is gaining the edge on streaming, but as it stands Netflix holds a slight edge. Things can change fast, if Netflix raised its prices or if Amazon expanded it library in a meaningful way that could tip the balance.  Is Amazon Instant Video a Netflix killer? Not yet, but that could change pretty quickly. 

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – Natural Reflections Belts

Why are belts so expensive? Whenever I go clothes shopping I walk over to the belt section and I can’t find one for less than 80 bucks. I can buy a bluray player for less than that. I bought my vacuum for less than that. All I want is a black leather belt with a simple steel buckle. I know leather is expensive, but they’re not really using all that much of it on a belt. 

As is always the case if you are unhappy with the price of something all you have to do is search the internet. I did and to my pleasant surprise I found almost a dozen American leather manufactures.  I paired down the choices, based on what I needed, and selected “Natural Reflections” based out of Naples New York. Their website is a bit dated, but their belts look sturdy and their prices are very good.  

my beltI like this 1 3/4 plain belt in black with a silver buckle. It looks like it should get the job done and you really can’t beat the $24.95 price tag. Of course it’s made in America and that always good. 

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A Great Vacuum the Doesn’t Cost $500

When I was a kid no one cared about their vacuum cleaner. You either had one or you didn’t. If you didn’t you got one and if you did you never gave it much thought. Then, without explanation, every one started obsessing over their vacuum cleaner. They became status symbols, conversation worth topics at parties. Maybe the housing boom made us overly concerned about the cleanliness of our biggest asset. Perhaps we all turned into germaphobes? Personally I blame Dyson. Their vacuum cleaners are nice, but $500 dollars? Really?

The Bride and I recently moved into our new apartment and one of the things we needed when we moved in was a vacuum cleaner. The task was mine, we needed something good, but not too expensive. We’re saving up for a house, we can’t be dropping a months worth of groceries on some space age cleaning status symbol. I began my research.

I have two tools that I like to use when making most purchases. I start with Consumer Reports and cross check their ratings against Amazon customer reviews. I find this offers a very balanced critique of an item. I see what the pros say and weigh that against what the average customer thinks. As I searched I noticed that I had to pay extra attention to price. Many vacuum cleaners can sell for $300-500 dollars. I added a few filters to my search to keep the cost down. 

bissellAfter all was said and done I locked in on the Bissel Cleanview 9595 it scored very well on CR and has almost a perfect score on Amazon (with over 300 reviews). Rated favorably against vacuums that cost three times as much this device works on both bare floors as well as deep rugs. It has a hand attachment for stairs and furniture, a hepa filter, and an easy to empty canister.  Best of all it cost 79 dollars.  I was sold. 

I bought my Bissel and received it about a month ago. In that time it was performed just as advertised. It cleans hard wood floors and throw rugs, the hand attachment is easy to connect and use and is very powerful. I am completely satisfied with this vacuum and would recommend it to any one who wants a quality upright vacum cleaner, but doesn’t want to spend a weeks pay buying one. 

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How I Stayed in a Luxury Hotel Suite for 100 Bucks

Last May I went on my Honeymoon. My wife and I stayed in luxury accommodations that would normally be out of our reach financially. To make it affordable for us I used credit card rewards to cut the cost of the trip in half. We began in Paris at the Hyatt Paris Vendome, a wonderful  five star hotel. From there we traveled to Venice and stayed in another luxury hotel that was once a nobleman’s palace. After that we ended our trip in Rome, staying in two hotels, the first was a four star place that I wasn’t crazy about.

The second place was probably our favorite of the trip. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri, we were only there for one night, but we loved every minute of it. A room at this location normally cost around $1000 a night. I knocked this down to $100 by using our Hilton Honors reward points. hilton cardHilton owns the “Waldorf Astoria” chain. I had earned 40,000 reward points when I signed up for the Citi Hilton Honors Visa Signature card. All you have to do is enroll, if you are approved and spend 1000 in the first four months of membership you are rewarded the points.

Now for a thousand dollars a night you would expect the bar to be pretty high. Depending on where you stay, you could get a three or four night stay at a more moderately priced hotel. I can honestly say that staying at the Rome Cavalieri was everything you would expect it to be. Continue reading

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – True Temper Rake

Fall is here, the leaves are changing, and while they are very rakepretty they will soon become a chore. I don’t know about you, but  I like raking leaves. Raking is enjoyable, bagging not so much. Regardless of how you feel about law chores, its always a good idea to have the right tools. 

Based in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania True Temper has been manufacturing lawn and garden tools for longer then any other company in America. Their products are designed and assembled in the US and have a reputation for quality and durability. 

Often times when you are talking about buying American price is often a factor. This is not the case with True Temper rakes.  I found their “Greensweeper Poly Rake” for $11.99 on Amazon. You would be hard pressed to find an imported rake for less, and I can all but guarantee you that it will be no where near the quality of a True Temper rake.

So if that old rake in your shed or garage is on its way out you should grab at a replacement from True Temper

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“RetailMeNot” the Inside Track for Coupon Codes

Whenever I buy something online, which is my preferred way to shop, I will often see a section for “coupon code” at check out. Its safe to assume that if the box is there then a coupon code surely exists. No one wants to miss out on chance for a discount. In the past I would search the web looking for a current coupon code that applied to my purchase. In many cases this would take a considerable amount of time and would not always yield success.  

retailmenot iconRecently I discovered a solution to this problem, the “RetailMeNot” app. I have written about this program before and over the last year of use I have found it to be one of the best and easiest to use shopping apps that I have ever tried. Now when I see a coupon code I open my app, type in the name of the store or product and well often find a code. A nice aspect of this app is that it will list the success rate of the code based on other users experiences. 

The “RetailMeNot” app is a quick, simple, and easy way to find coupon codes and further reduce the price of your item. Something to keep in mind the next time you make an online purchase. 

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Made in the U.S.A. – The Tide is Turning

Any one who reads this site know that I am a big fan of “American Made” stuff. Over the last few years I have made a conscious effort to buy American and every Monday I write and article about an American made product that might interest my readers. 

I do this because I believe in American workers and flagI know that supporting them and the businesses that employee them is the best way to strengthen our economy and climb our way out of this recession. 

One of the great lies that is told to the American public time and time again is that our problems are complex and unsolvable. The goal is to keep us stuck in the situation we are in, a shrinking manufacturing base and frozen wages. The truth is simple and it is right at hand. If we all start buying American made stuff those companies will grow and thrive and hire more workers as they expand. The positive effects of your decision will ripple across our country and our economy. 

The other day I was please to find a CNNMoney article that suggested that companies are starting to consider bringing overseas jobs back to America. Here is a quote:

“The ‘Made in America’ revival is gaining momentum with a majority of manufacturing executives now ready to consider pulling some production back from China.”

What a few years ago was considered unthinkable is now a potential reality. Jobs are returning to America. People are making their voices heard and some companies are listening. It all starts with you us and what we decide matters to us when we go to make a purchase. Something to think about next time you reach for your wallet. 

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Simplify Your Life With Dashlane

“I know a guy…”. Whenever anyone begins a conversation or answers a question with that phrase they instantly have my full attention. Past experience has taught me that what follows that phrase is usually either good advice, some quality information, or an amazing story. In this case it will be some useful info.

I know a guy at the TV station I work at, he is our equipment manager. As his title suggest he is responsible for testing and buying almost all of the field equipment that we use. This guy doesn’t just see it all, he gets to see stuff that you can’t even buy yet. As you can imagine this guy is very hard to impress. In fact he has this annoying habit of shooting down things that I find interesting.

As you can imagine if something catches this guy’s eye then it probably deserves your attention. A month or so ago he was going on and on about this program called Dashlane.” “Have you ever heard of Dashlane?” “You have to try Dashlane”. On and on, for a few days in a row he kept mentioning it.  I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I was curious. 

dashlaneAs he would go on to tell me, in great detail, several times, Dashlane is a FREE password management program. It serves as safe secure place to keep all of your various website passwords. 

Over time I have amassed quite a large amount of passwords, many of them with different and unique requirements. Some sites want your password to have numbers and letters, others want you to have at least 8 characters in your password, while others still want at least one capital letter in your password. 

The whole thing is maddening. I often find myself having to reset me password via e-mail and go through the whole process that comes with doing so. Dashlane eliminates these headaches. It saves all of your passwords and in one click in links to the site and autofills your user name and password. Remembering all of your passwords can now be reduced to recalling a single password, the one you use to log into Dashlane with. 

I recently gave the program a try and it worked perfectly. I loaded me credit card password in Dashlane and with one click I was signed in and ready to go. Not only can this program store my password and autofill it into all of the websites that I visit, it can also generate complex highly secure password, further increasing you online security. Having unique complex passwords for each of the sites that you use will help prevent anyone from cracking your passwords and tampering with your accounts.

The reviews for Dashlane are superb, PCMag.com gave is 4.5 out of 5 stars and many sites and publications list it as their number one password managing program. The best part about it is that it is FREE. They offer a premium version, but the FREE program is so robust that I don’t see the need to upgrade. 

I have already loaded a bunch of my passwords into Dashlane. As time goes on I will add more and more and save myself the time and headaches associated with managing all of that information. Eventually I will have all of my passwords and login info in one safe secure place. If you struggle with managing all of your passwords and wants and easy FREE way to simplify your life, check out Dashlane. 

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My Big Stock Market Investment Idea (Pt. 2)

Picking up where I left off in Part 1,  I have an investment hypothesis that the best value can be found in stocks of good companies that have experienced some type of set back or obstacle. Companies that make a valuable product, but they need to overcome that set back to achieve their full potential. Here are two more stocks that have fit that pattern in the past. 

  • Netflix (NFLX) – I was a very early adopter of Netflix, netflixI have been a member going back over 10 years. While I will commend Netflix on an excellent product and fantastic service, over the years the company has irked me with price hikes, sometimes several hikes in the same year. Back in 2005  I was just about fed up with the red envelope and their price increases, when I discovered that Blockbuster was offering a competing service. I decided to jump ship and I hated it. Still the threat of Blockbuster entering the fray scared investors. Realizing that Netflix offered the superior product I should have scopped up a bunch of their stock and I could have gotten some for $14 a share with a $10,000 investment. Today those 700 shares would be worth $225,000! That’s a house! Continue reading

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Made in the U.S.A. Monday – 1888 Mills Towels

My journey into buying American started with my sneakers, spread through my wardrobe, made its way into my bedding, and is now moving into my linen closet. I don’t have a linen closet, but it sound nicer than bathroom. In the area of towel the choices for “American made” are thin. I only managed to find a handful of companies and many of them are in the “luxury” pricing category. The towels look great and I am sure they are exceptionally well made, but I am not paying $45 for one towel. I won’t do it.

1888One of the largest and remaining towel manufactures is 1888 mills based in  Griffin Georgia. They employ over 200 people at their facility and create a wide range of quality items from some of the finest materials.  The produce a towels in a wide range of colors and sizes from wash clothes all the way up to beach towels. 

I am personally interested in bath towels. My current crop of towels is about 9 years old and they look every bit their age. I need to bring in some replacements and phase out some of my rougher looking towels. 

I search for a good while, the companies website doesn’t sell their products directly. I found a few sites that carry their towels. The first was Amazon, they offer a set of 2 oversized 100 percent organic cotton towels for $59.99 . A little on the high side, but the reviews are strong. 

At a lower price point I found some of their Millennium line towels for $17.00 if you buy four of them from StricklyUSA.com. I am not familiar with their website, but I like their business model. I checked a few of the large online retailers and $17 is about average for a towel.

If the imported towel and the “American made” towel are the same price the choice is a no brainer. Check out some of the towels from 1888 Mills, you won’t be disappointed. 

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