eagles parade on broad street

A free event for a priceless memory

Perhaps you wondered how I would find a way to brag about the world champion Philadelphia Eagles in my blog about being cheap.  Well, wonder no more.

While I spent a tidy sum hosting a Superbowl LII party, the total cost of attending the parade was only $10.  (My wife was kind enough to attain a one-day public transportation pass for me on her lunch break.) That’s it.  We didn’t spend any other money as she was able to use her monthly pass.  My buddy was willing to walk the dogs for me (Thanks, Tony!) We packed lunches and were able to visit some friends downtown to get warm for a while.

We did spend many hours waiting in line and standing in the cold, but it was well worth it to party for 15 minutes with my world champion Philadelphia Eagles and a million of my closest friends.

Cheapist Hall of Shame: I did not get my free Bud Light.  The bars, as you can imagine, were totally bonkers, even when they opened at nine AM.

jason kelce on broad street
Center Jason Kelce was the parade MVP in his snazzy mummer outfit.  Check out his epic, WWE-worthy celebration speech.

What does this mean for you?

If your city or region is having an incredible event, find a way to participate.  Just walking about can be immensely entertaining.  Another example comes to mind, my wife decided our thanksgiving party should go to the Philadelphia Christmas tree lighting with live music and holiday goodies; it was great.  The best parts of these events are the people watching, excitement, and positive vibes.  You don’t have to pay for a cruise, concert, resort, theme park, etc. to be included in a joyous crowd.

eagles parade float
Look at the spectators on the building.  No, the building on 13th street, in the far upper right of this picture.
doug pederson holding trophy
Doug Pederson looks pretty comfortable holding the Lombardi trophy aloft for a few hours.
spectators at eagles parade
“Let’s do this again next year.”

saving a wood floor

Is the wood floor worth saving?

Some people believe that they should save a wood floor no matter the condition.  My wife is one of these people.  Our oak veneer floor (only about 3/8″ thick) was installed (poorly) in 1925.  These thin, face-nailed floors cannot be sanded down very much or very often.  My floors have character.  If they had any more character, I would be writing this from the basement.  She wanted to save them, and I wanted to be cheap.

This guide will help you save a wood floor cheap, so long as you accept a rustic appearance.  They have a smooth finish and will perform beautifully under considerable abuse.  I have tried to keep the process as simple (and cheap) as possible.  I have done several floors in my home and have found a method that works great for me.

Prepping to save a wood floor

Remove the shoe molding.

If you try to work around it, it will make sanding more difficult and will look unprofessional.  I find a simple painter’s multi-tool works well for prying the base shoe loose. If you break some of the shoe molding during removal, it is cheap to replace.  In this particular room, I am replacing all of the shoe molding with door stop anyway as I feel it covers more problems and gives a sharper look.

Replace ruined boards.

Using an oscillating tool with a plunge blade or sharp chisel to remove parts of the floor that are beyond hope.  Consider cutting your replacement pieces first and using them to trace the cut lines so that there is less room for error.

Make sure to stagger the seams and avoid dinky filler pieces. (They are less secure and look terrible.)

If you can’t find the flooring you need at a lumber retailer, you might need to steal flooring from a closet that can have a different floor surface.  I am fortunate that my type of floor is common in my area, and it is on hand at Rittenhouse Lumber.

patching wood floor

Patch the small stuff.

To save a wood floor you will need to fill holes that you find with putty.  You can try to mix the filler with dye or sawdust to better match color, but I didn’t bother.  I like Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty because it is easy, cheap, fast, versatile, and it expands as it dries locking it in place.

Knock down any protruding nails and shoot some nails into squeaky areas (again, the final product will not be suitable for Buckingham Palace.)

using a nail set
This nail needs to be knocked down with a nail set.
fighting squeaky floors
I would rather see more nail heads and hear less squeaks.
wood floor to be sanded
As you can see from this room renovation, I like to do the floors last.

Sand in the place where you live.

(Shout-out David Picciuto)

Rent the right floor sander to save a wood floor cheap.

I don’t like drum sanders as they are too aggressive, and it is easy for someone like me to make a big boo-boo.  You will want to rent an orbital pad sander if you are a novice or if you have the thin, veneer type floor like I have.

Use a U-Sand (Cherry Hill Manufacturing) sander on thin, uneven floors where removing a good layer of material is not an option. These sanders have four orbiting pads and are very forgiving for beginners.  They are easy to operate as they kind of float around like an air hockey puck.

WARNING: Floor sanders are heavy; you may need some help to load, unload, or tackle stairs.  I got mine to the the third floor by hitching my dogs into a draft team and using a complicated system of blocks and tackles, but I’m a boss.

awkward dog moment
A well-deserved nap after hauling the sander up the stairs.

Have a plan so that you can get away with renting the floor sander for one day.

Make sure that you have more than enough sand paper for the big day. Order a variety pack of 6″ hook and loop sandpaper discs online in advance to save money.  You will go through a lot of sandpaper.  I went through 40, 60, 80, 100, and 150 grit, but some approximation of this will be fine.  After returning the big sander, use a hand sander to get the edges and corners.

cherry hill floor sander
The sandpaper need not have the holes, the dust intake port is in the center of the sander. This sander was $125 for 24 hours.

Make a reservation for the sander and make sure that you can do all of the major sanding on that day.  You will not be able to use the sander to sand between coats if you only have a twenty-four hour rental.  Sanding between the coats is not a big deal, it can be accomplished without the rented equipment.

The big sanding day

When saving a wood floor, do everything that you can to prevent the dust from consuming your whole house.  The dust collection system on the sanders can only do so much.  Blow a fan out of a window in the work area to create negative air pressure.  Close all the doors you can.  Put mats on the floor at the end of the work area so you don’t track dust all over.  No matter what you do, this is a messy experience.

WARNING: Don’t forget to protect your lungs and hearing! Wear a respirator and ear protection.

dust cloud
What it looks like when you spill the sander’s dust collection bag.

Go through all the grits with the big sander and don’t worry about the edges or detail areas until after you have returned the rental.  You will need to change the sanding discs often.

Use a detail sander like the one shown (random orbit to minimize scratch marks) to get all of the areas that you couldn’t get with the big machine.  I usually end up sitting on my butt when I do this.  Progress through the grits as before.  I even had to hand sand to get under the wall-mounted radiator. It is OK if the very edges are rough, the shoe molding will cover them.  With the rougher grits, don’t stray into the larger field because you might neglect these areas with the finer grits and end up leaving scratch marks.

sanding floor edges
Sand the edges following the same progression through the grits.

Applying finish (the fun part of saving a wood floor)

Save a wood floor with the right finish and applicator.

Water-based polyurethane is junk; don’t waste your time with it.  I did one area of the house with water-based poly and have regretted it ever since.  It looks terrible, requires a bazillion coats, and protects poorly.

For this project I used oil-based, high-gloss polyurethane (Minwax brand) applied with an applicator pad. (I have never tried using a polyurethane roller).  You just mop it on.  You will also want a detail brush for tricky spots that you can address as you go.

applying floor finish
This is the microfiber pad used to “mop” on the finish.  You can try to clean them or just buy several.
how to apply floor finish
This bin was perfect for loading the applicator. I keep the brush with me as I progress.

Prep the sanded floor for finish.

Get as much dust out of the room as possible so that nothing lands in your finish.  Dust, sweep, vacuum, and repeat.  I thought I was going to kill Roomba, but he survived.

Update: I actually did kill the blower motor on the Roomba soon after, but it was cheap and easy to replace. He survived the transplant.

When you are ready to apply the finish, clean the floors with mineral spirits.  It need not dry completely before applying the first coat.

prepping a floor for finish
Cleaning the floor with mineral spirits will help the oil-based poly adhere.

Plan your exit strategy.

Think about how the application will progress.  Where will you start and where will you end? How can you progress so that you are mostly going with the grain of the wood? I started in the closet and worked my way toward my exit the top of the stairs.  Think about how you will leave yourself a convenient path that you can mop as you exit.  Leave the stuff you will need to wrap up at your exit point.

planning to finish a floor
This will be my exit point.

Apply the finish.

Make sure you are strategic about mopping toward your exit.  Mop slowly and with the grain (as much as possible). Smooth out thick spots or drips as you go.  If you leave a glob of poly in one spot, it will dry that way.

If your are careful with the applicator, you don’t need to cut-in around the baseboards with the brush.  You can get close enough so that the edge will be covered by the shoe molding, but be careful not to slop the poly on to the baseboards.

Use the detail brush to get the little areas that will not be covered by the shoe molding. Do this as you go so that you have a wet edge and don’t leave overlapping coats.

detail brush for floor
The applicator pad can’t reach spots like this without slopping it on the trim.

Sand lightly between coats.

You will want to apply three coats to save a wood floor, and each coat needs to dry over night, so these areas will be off-limits for a while. Be advised, this stuff really stinks as it dries and cures.

The day after the previous coat, sand with 220 (see clip below), vacuum, wipe with mineral spirits, and apply the next coat.  This actually goes very quickly and you only have to do it twice.

This is my method for sanding between coats. A broomstick, paint roller, and duct tape can save your back and speed things up.

After the final coat, baby the floor for a few days as the finish cures.  You can still walk around in your socks, but don’t let the dogs scratch it or put furniture on it.

Save a wood floor cheap final result:

finishing a floor
Note the tennis balls protecting the new finish.

These floors look good to me. The new pieces of floor stand out a bit, but they will develop that same orange tone over time. Time to install the shoe moldings and fixtures.

The next time these floors need some attention, I won’t need to do nearly as much. I will just give a light sanding and apply more poly.

Any great tips to save a wood floor cheap? Please leave a comment.

stadium vendor

This post argues that before starting a side hustle, you should economize.

Side hustles are great when they are started for the right reasons.  A side hustle can be a liberating and empowering venture, or an additional source of stress and misery in your life.

“Before Starting a Side Hustle” summary

  • The growth of Side hustles
  • Positive side-hustles and negative side hustles
  • Growing your cheapness side hustle

Before starting your side hustle, think about why side hustles have gained such popularity.

Moonlighting is nothing new.  People have always used side jobs to make ends meet or pursue an interest.  However, there are certain factors in today’s job market that have led to a widespread side hustle phenomenon.

The gig economy

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake (to your employer). There is no doubt that what it means to be “in the work force” has changed.  The 1% have commodotized workers like never before.  Workers know that finding a stable company that is willing to invest in them and protect that investment over time is unlikely.

Many workers now find themselves in the nebulous gig economy where even advanced skills are only valued on a short-term basis.

Job insecurity

People who feel like a disposable commodity feel great insecurity.  They could be “re-structured” right out of job.  Your position, company, or even industry could disappear with the stroke of a pen.

With this insecurity comes the growth of the side hustle.  Under such conditions, it is only natural that people want to reduce their risk by diversifying their income.

Stagnant Wages

before starting a side hustle wages

This chart shows demonstrates how the middle-class share of the national income has declined over the decades.  The middle class is shrinking, and wages have barely kept pace with inflation despite increased productivity.

Creative expression

Many people want to start a side hustle to express their creativity and ingenuity.  For many of us, our jobs are just what we have to do pay for the rewarding and exciting experiences of life. If your job is not as fulfilling as you would like, perhaps a side-hustle will give you the outlet that you desire.

Before starting a side-hustle, think about your reasons

before starting a side hustle photographer

Why are you thinking about starting a side-hustle? Are your motivations coming from within or without?  Do you just need to make ends meet, or is there a more meaningful drive?

Intrinsic motivations (the right reasons)

If you are looking for a way to reach personal financial goals, express your creativity, transition to a new career, or conquer new challenges, you are starting a side hustle for the right reasons.

These reasons are coming from you, not from stacks of bills or social pressures.

Extrinsic motivations

If your motivations are coming from without, your desire to start a side-hustle is based on fear, disappointment, need, anxiety, or loss.  You are not starting a side-hustle because you want to.

A person driving for Uber might be doing so for the right reasons or the wrong reasons.  The right reasons might be getting out and meeting people, saving for a special reason, or simply to enjoy driving.  On the other hand, a person might be driving for Uber after a long day a work when they would rather be spending time with their family.

Case study: Former Eagles football player Jon Runyan drives for Uber.  After fourteen years in the NFL and two terms in congress, he does not need the money.  He explains that he gets bored sometimes and likes helping people out.  He gets a kick out of it when football fans recognize him.  

Spending what you earn

Before starting a side hustle for the wrong reasons, think about why you need to make ends meet.

As a society we share a compulsion to spend everything that we earn.  Afterall, you earned it. I recently heard a statistic that 83% of American retirees would not be able to come up with $600 on short notice. (Sorry, I can’t find where I read this).  We have moved from “you can’t take it with you,” to “whoever dies with the most debt wins.” Article link: “This Is What Life without Retirement Savings Looks Like”

Some people who make $30,000 a year are able to save, and some people who make over $200,000 a year are living paycheck to paycheck.  The difference is spending.  Living within your means means living below your means.

online shopping

Case study: A friend of mine, a young teacher, was still living with her parents.  I was bit surprised, but I figured she had her reasons.  She was one of those Disney-obsessed people, and she spent her summers in Orlando telling people when it was their turn to go down one of those big water slides. (She probably just needed a break from hanging out with her parents.)

After knowing her a few years, I was excited for her when I found out she had bought her first home….in cash.  Suddenly, everything about her made sense.  Her teacher’s salary will go a lot further without mortgage payments.  Now she probably spends her summers in Orlando riding the water slides.  Good for you, Ms. H.

Webp.net-resizeimage (82)
Creative Commons photo by Sarah Ackerman

Get your spending in check before starting a side hustle.

The person who earns a decent income should only think about starting a side-hustle for two reasons.

  1. First, the side hustle is a desirable pursuit, challenge, or activity.
  2. Second, the job security at their job is questionable, and they want to diversify their income.

The reason should never be to “make ends meet.”

If you make a decent income, but are thinking about a side hustle because you can’t make ends meet, you are walking into a trap.  It is entirely likely that you will be working harder, spending more, enjoying life less, and still be living paycheck to paycheck.  Further, your greater spending has made your security even worse should either the side hustle or primary employment suffer a setback.

Unless you are really excited about your side hustle idea, take a long, hard look at your spending before you start.  There are some costs of living that you can do almost nothing about, but think about everything that you can control:

  1. Reducing your rent or mortgage by moving or sharing expenses (I know, no on wants to here that.)
  2. Reducing your car costs
  3. Changing vacation plans
  4. Controlling shopping
  5. Reducing communications costs
  6. Reducing home entertainment costs
  7. Reducing monthly food costs (Eating out less is a huge savings.)
  8. Switching out expensive hobbies (e.g.  snowshoeing instead of skiing, or hiking instead of golf)
  9. Taking on home projects instead of paying someone else to do them
  10. Making homemade gifts instead of buying them
Webp.net-resizeimage (83)
Creative Commons photo by TaxCredits.net

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Live well and hustle less.

Cheapists put a high value on their time.  Better living on less might even mean living full time and working part time. For most side hustles, you are essentially trading time for money.  Do you really want to trade that time?

Case study: I have driven for Uber, so I will use this in my example.  After taxes, car maintenance, gas, etc…, I made about $10 an hour driving for Uber.  Perhaps I spend four hours a week driving and bring in $160 a month.  Wouldn’t it be better to find a way to save that money and get my Saturday afternoons back?  Could I save $160 by making trips to a bargain grocery store, cutting off the cable, using a more economical vehicle, eating out less, etc.?  How much are my Saturday afternoons worth?

Creative Commons photo by Stock Catalog

Conclusions on being cheap before starting a side hustle

A penny earned is a penny taxed. Furthermore, a penny spent (in most places) is a penny taxed.  A penny saved pays no taxes (we’ll table discussions of interest income tax and capital gains tax for now).

Think about reducing your spending like it is a side hustle.  This is a job that takes very little time, pays no taxes, and can keep paying you forever.  If you can crack the puzzle of enjoying life on less money, you are setting yourself up for a life of comfort and security. Once you are used to spending less and are able to save, your security has improved in two ways: you have an emergency fund, and it will go farther when you need it.

Featured image: Creative Commons photo by Timothy Tolle


bikers on smartphones

I may have been the last person in Philadelphia with a flip phone, because I was unsure of the cheapest way to have a smartphone.

I was mocked at work and on the street.  Little kids driving their big-wheels would stop to stare at me (and take pictures with their smartphones).  My neighbor thought it was a social services phone that can only call the hospital. My flip phone caused car accidents (because drivers would see me using it and laugh uncontrollably). When my wife called to me she would ask me if I was alone – not because she wanted to say something romantic but because she was concerned about my dignity.

But I stood against the tide. I didn’t need a smartphone for work, found them annoying, and thought the data costs unreasonable.  I had my small tablet, a decent camera, my GPS device, and my good-ol’ flip phone (which was indestructible, cheap to replace, and only needed charging once a week).

Every time I thought about getting a smartphone, my research on the cheapest way to have a smartphone was inconclusive.

old-fashioned phone
“Yes, I am satisfied with my current service.”

Finally, a friend who switches phones and plans compulsively clued me in to the cheapest way to have a smartphone.

Years of dissatisfaction with phone companies

Since I don’t really like talking on the phone, I have always been looking for ways to save on communication. For years my wife had a smartphone, and I had a basic phone.  I didn’t enjoy dealing with Verizon’s nebulous pricing and was frustrated that they they would not activate a smartphone with no data plan (I had read that AT&T would do this for a while but then stopped.)

Even though we had a Verizon discount through my wife’s employment, I wanted to see if I could do better. I bought a cheap, unlocked, basic phone and switched to Consumer Cellular (you know, the one in the AARP magazine), but was still stuck with extra devices. On the plus side, the phone I found on amazon had an FM radio and terrestrial TV antennae.  Believe me, this model got me a lot of attention from the ladies!

weirdest phone ever
Watching local TV on my phone with a terrestrial antennae? Yes, please.

When a friend told me about his new solution, Google’s Project Fi, I had finally found the cheapest way to have a smartphone. (Thanks, Tony.)  I could have a smartphone, clear billing, and simply leave the data turned off.  I haven’t looked back.  I pay $20 a month plus $5.72 in taxes and stuff.  This was less than I was paying with Consumer Cellular for a basic phone.  I usually only turn on the data when I am killing time or getting directions.  When I do turn on data, it only charges me for what I use.  I may pay $27.32 instead of $25.72. If I can convert my wife, I will pay even less (five dollars less for additional lines).

Are you right for the cheapest way to have a smartphone?

We are going to talk about the two cheapest ways to have a smartphone: TracFone and Google’s project Fi. However, there are some limitations that will be deal-breakers for some. Ask yourself some important questions before deciding what smartphone options are realistic for you:

  1. How important is having a particular smartphone model?
  2. How often do you travel internationally?
  3. Am I going to pay for the phone up front or have the costs dispersed into my monthly bill?
  4. Am I have heavy data user?
  5. Do I call or text a lot?
  6. Is wifi generally available to me?
  7. Do I live in or frequent areas with spotty reception?
  8. Am I going to want to insure my device?
  9. Is electronic billing acceptable to me?
people looking at smartphones
Creative Commons photo by Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería

The two cheapest ways to have a smartphone

Cheapest way to have a smartphone: Google’s Project Fi

This was the solution that my friend told me about, and I love it. My bill is $20 a month plus $5.72 in taxes and stuff.  I usually only turn on the data when I am killing time or getting directions.  When I do turn on data, it only charges me for what I use.  I may pay $27.32 instead of $25.72. If I can convert my wife, I will pay even less.  I can make calls through Wi-Fi and have the combined coverage of three networks.


PROS of smartphoning with Project Fi

  • Cheap (and clear) billing
  • Easy and cheap international use (Just use it, and don’t worry about it.  No notifications or changes required.)
  • Easily turn data off and on.
  • Share data with another device.  They will send you the SIM card for free, but make sure the device is on the list.  They are just happy to have you using more data.
  • Seamlessly synced to your google stuff

CONS of smartphoning with Project Fi

  • Automatic billing only
  • Paperless billing only
  • Coverage not as good as Verizon (on a recent trip to Canada, my wife’s Verizon phone won easily). Consider where you live.
  • Very limited phone selection (When I signed up the cheapest phone was the Nexus 5x.  Now the cheapest new phone is the Moto X4 at $324)
  • Android only

TIPS for cheap smartphoning with Project Fi

Pay for your smartphone up front.  If you can’t pay for it up front, you probably should not be buying it.  Paying up front will keep you from spending more than you should.  If you pay for your phone up front, you will probably take better care of it.

Buy a cheaper smartphone.  Now that Project Fi has been around a while, there are older phones that will work on the network.  The Project Fi website states, “Project Fi is available on the Pixel, Android One Moto X4, Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6.” These must be the North American versions of these models.  Click this link to see more detailed information about compatible devices.

As I write this, you can buy a refurbished (by LG) Nexus 5x for $150 on amazon.

Don’t buy smartphone insurance. I am a strong believer that most insurance is a scam, and smartphone insurance certainly is a scam.  Project Fi will sell you device insurance for $5 a month plus a $80-100 deductible depending on the device.  You are much better off buying a cheaper smartphone and buying a cover.  Un-filed claims are never denied.

Use a sim card to share your data with a compatible tablet.  For example, you could give a compatible device and the sim card to your mom so she could use your data when she was travelling.

Take advantage of calls through Wi-Fi: My father-in-law was shocked to see me recieving a call in his front yard.  His area (a forest near the Canadian border) has no coverage from any network.  He asked me about it, and I explained that the smartphone must have been going through his satellite internet connection.  However, I have noticed that this does not work well on the slowest satellite internet connections.

phone flirting

Low smartphone costs with TracFone

For some, a pre-paid smartphone through TracFone may be appealing.  They have many plans and some are very cheap.  You must buy the phone through TracFone, but they have some very inexpensive models.

You can achieve cheap smartphoning through tracfone, but it gets a bit complicated.  The details of the plans are complex.  The features are complicated.  The service area issues are complicated.  Tracfonereviewer.blogspot.com has an in-depth article explaining some of the complexities.

The main benefit here is if you are doing nearly all of your smartphoning through Wi-Fi. However, as far as I can tell, making calls and texts through Wi-Fi without using your minutes may not be possible based on your device plan, the device itself, device settings, or region.  You may need to go through an intermediary app like Google voice.

In short, if you enjoy exploring the intricacies of features, plans, specifications etc., then TracFone may work for you.  I tend to believe that anything that is made this complicated is out to get you.  I think that TracFone is the best option only if you barely use your phone for anything.

The Cheapest Way to Have a Smartphone conclusion.

Having a smartphone can actually save you money, as long as your bill isn’t too high.  Using electronic tickets, parking apps, digital coupons, E books, etc. can save enough that you offset your bill.

Related post: Get the Most from Your Public Library

For me, the choice was simple.  The TracFone option is all about using complexity to find an advantage where Google’s Project Fi is all about simplicity.  The bill is simple, the user experience in simple, integrating with google services (photos etc.) is simple, and the device selection is limited.

My takeaways:

  1. Get a cheap smartphone (maybe even used) that works on Google’s Project Fi.
  2. Get a protective cover and skip the insurance.
  3. Sign up for Google’s Project Fi.
  4. Put in the wi-fi passwords for your home, your gym, your work, your favorite coffee shop, etc.
  5. Turn off the data except when you need it.

I am by no means an expert on coverage, features, phone specs and the rest.  Was “The Cheapest Way to Have a Smartphone” helpful? Is my conclusion dead wrong? Did I miss an important factor? How do you use your smartphone to save money?  Please leave a comment.

dog listening to records

One of my Cheapist thrills is collecting vintage vinyl.  I enjoy hunting for albums and selecting which to take home (based on the nebulous and contradictory criteria understood only by the deepest corners of my subconscious).

I enjoy the artwork and the conversations sparked when others peruse them.  I enjoy discovering music that can no longer be found any other way; some recordings are simply not available in either print or download.

Collecting vintage vinyl cheap is great fun.  Here is how I do it.

Collecting vintage vinyl need not be expensive or complicated.

I am proof that you don’t need to be some kind of aficionado or savant to enjoy a vintage record collection.  There are plenty of guides out there if you want to go full A Beautiful Mind on this issue, but this is not that type of guide. I don’t spend much time or money.  I don’t obsesses over technology, cleanliness, or condition. Collecting vintage vinyl cheap is neither an investment nor a raison d’etre; it is an enjoyable hobby.

Don’t be this guy.

killer sound system
Creative Commons photo by Phil John 

Vintage vinyl cheap set-up

You can easily spend thousands of dollars before ever hearing a record.  Some people geek-out over their set-up and buy only the best, but you don’t have to. “How to Get Started with vinyl” by James Lynch of Popular Mechanics explains different options for players, receivers, speakers, etc., but spending thousands of dollars on a setup was not for me.

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My simple set-up

I wanted my set-up to be neat, compact, attractive, and cheap.  I wanted decent sound but knew I would never need it to be very loud.  I found a old, heavy record player at a yard sale, made sure that it would turn on and took it home.  Since this type of player sends a passive single, I needed a pre-amp bump up the signal so that the receiver would recognize it.  I combined the two RCA cords into a typical mini cord so it could plug into the little sound system.  That’s it!

Vintage vinyl cheap set-up cost:

  • Yard sale record player (United Audio) with ruined needle: $5
  • Cheap pre-amp: $20
  • New needle (Shure replacement stylus): $30 (This required a bit of research for my model, but a specialty store online helped me out.)
  • RCA cables and RCA-to-mini adapter: $5
  • Used “reciever” and speakers: $10 (It’s actually a clock radio; don’t judge me.)

TOTAL: $70

cheap pre-amp for record player
Cheap pre-amp

This vintage vinyl cheap set-up works great for me.  I love how small it is, and I can also listen to MP3s, terrestrial radio, etc.  The little speaker set-up actually sounds pretty good. I got lucky with the record player as it is old and very well made.  If it is heavy, looks like a Swiss watch underneath, and responds to electricity, it is a good bet.

Three issues with my record player set-up

1) You can’t plug the record player directly into the “receiver” as the passive signal sent by the record player is too weak to be recognized.  I didn’t realize this, but a friend of mine was able to see the problem immediately. A cheap pre-amp will boost the signal just fine.

2) The movement of the player creates a static charge that will interfere with the signal (pops and crackles).  You need to provide a way for the charge to get from the grounding wire on the player to the earth.  I fixed the problem by connecting wires from the grounding terminals (one on the player and one the pre-amp) to a radiator pipe using a random, copper wire from the garage.  I scratched the paint off of the radiator pipe at the contact point because I thought it would work better, but I don’t know if that made a difference.

3) I broke a switch off.  I couldn’t get one of the levers to move, and I tried to force it.  I later realized that it moves easily when one of the other settings is changed.  If a switch won’t move, try adjusting the other settings and try it again.  Don’t use the force.

4) You may have to make some adjustments.  My record player has an integrated strobe feature to adjust the speed of the platter; you just look through a little view finder and when you get a steady line reflecting off the bottom of the table, you are good.  You may need to use a strobe plate or even an app to check the speed.  You may also need to adjust the anti-skating setting if the needle is jumping groves.

How to grow your vintage vinyl cheap

Now that you have a way to play records, it is time for the treasure hunt. Depending how wide your taste in music is, finding vintage vinyl cheap is easy.  Once you start looking, you will find some great sources.  Different regions or neighborhoods will have different offerings, so be on the look out when traveling.

Make sure to give records a visual inspection before taking them home.  They may be scratched, warped, or even in the wrong cover.

Three main sources of vintage vinyl cheap

Don’t bother with buying new or ordering records online unless you have a special reason for doing so.  It is too expensive, you can’t check the merchandise, and it takes much of the fun out of it.

Record stores have great albums that are (usually) carefully checked before going in the racks, and you can find some good deals depending on your interests.  I usually only go to record stores when I am traveling, as the offerings differ by region and records make excellent souvenirs that fit easily in your luggage.  Buying Motown in Detroit or bluegrass in Kentucky adds to the fun.

record store
“Inandout Records” by murdelta

Yard sales and thrift stores are where I generally look to buy cheap records on my home turf (Philadelphia area). I would rather buy eighteen mysterious albums and discover them than spend eighteen dollars on one particular album on eBay.  I am not sure why, but I get a special thrill when I find albums that have carefully documented return information pasted on them. Turnover in record bins like the ones shown below is very slow, so I only go through them once in a while.

thrift store records
This thrift store (Heaven’s Treasures in Montgomeryville, PA) sells albums for one dollar on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
discounted vinyl records
New Life Thrift (Abington, PA) sells albums for a dollar every day.

People want to give their vintage vinyl a good home.  You will be amazed how many people have stacks of records squirreled away.  Records (even ones that haven’t been spun in decades) inspire a sentimentality that precludes chunking them in the garbage. Once people know that you have a collection, they will be thrilled to unload their vinyl on you and free up that attic space.

Related post: Thrift Store Tips to Become a Jedi Master of Resale.

Cleaning your vintage vinyl

There are many products out there to help you clean up the records that you collect. You can even spend $700 on a record washing machine, but a clean microfiber cloth and a bit of dish soap and water will do the job. If you are more of a stickler for clean records, there are many options for you.

  • Replacement record jackets
  • LP outer sleeves
  • Spin-clean record cleaning system
  • Record cleaning brushes

Being selective in collecting vintage vinyl cheap

Landmark albums

They are quintessential to an era, lifestyle, musical development, or point of view.  These are the albums you might have in several formats because they are that important to you.

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Grateful Dead 1971, artwork like this needs to stay in circulation.  I bought this record on a trip to San Francisco, so it made a perfect souvenir.
Tusk album cover
Tusk 1979, the mix of “I Know I’m Not Wrong” is fundamentally different from the download.  Shout-out to the USC marching band (The Pride of Troy) on this one.

A window in time records

I love albums that make me think about the weird parties that my grandparents must have attended in the 60’s.  What were they talking about? Why were they so obsessed with Luaus and singing along with Mitch? Any titles involving beer halls, Israeli folk songs, polka, or pipe organ (or all of the above!) are going in to my vintage vinyl cheap collection.

Knocker up! album cover
Knockers Up 1960, I haven’t dared listen to this one yet.
Hawaiian holiday album cover
Hawaiian Holiday 1957,  vaguely offensive,  pretty inauthentic, and extremely weird. You will find crates and crates of albums like this.
Persuasive percussion album cover
Persuasive Percussion 1959, This is the music Dave Draper uses when convincing his neighbor to pull out her bongos – actually a really good listen.

Albums that I like but that everyone else has passed over

You will not find pristine copies of Bob Dylan, Sam Cook, Joan Jett, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, or Janice Joplin every day.  Hopefully you also like something that is in less demand.

Here you come again album cover
Here You Come Again 1977, the cover art inspires so many comments I thought you could just insert your own: ____________________________________________________________________________________.
Faster than the speed of night album
Faster than the Speed of Night 1983. Don’t judge me.

Saving vintage vinyl for sentimental reasons

Shown below is one of my mother’s beloved (and abused) Beatles albums.  I just like the connection that it gives me.  She was pretty excited that I wanted them.

revolver album cover
Revolver 1966, a gift from mom.

Closing thoughts on collecting vintage vinyl cheap

I have had hours of enjoyment from this little collection, and it cost me very little.  You don’t have to be a serious archivist to derive pleasure from this hobby.  Now that you know how to collect and enjoy vintage vinyl cheap, get out there and find some gems.  Don’t be afraid to leave the Herb Alpert albums, I will find them eventually.

painting a room on the cheap

Painting a room on the cheap is not as easy as the Home Depot thinks.

It seems like every other home store commercial features a young couple completing an ambitious painting project.  They fold their arms, regard their freshly painted room with pride, and nonchalantly toss their spotless tools into an equally spotless bucket.  What will they do with the rest of their Saturday? Play with a puppy? These ads work because we are attracted to the instant gratification and the relative harmlessness of painting a room on the cheap. (You can neither flood your house nor burn it down – usually).

Anyone who has attempted painting a room on the cheap knows that it is not so easy.  It does not go quickly.  It is physically demanding and requires uncomfortable positions. You can damage your home – especially floors and moving parts like doors and windows, and poor adhesion can ruin a surface for future painting.

Nevertheless, you can successfully paint a room on the cheap.  I am too cheap to pay someone to paint rooms for me.  After several renovations, I can give you some painting tips to help you get professional results, but it will never be as easy as the home store would have you believe.

Tips for painting a room on the cheap

Prepping the room for painting a room on the cheap.

Do not even think about painting until you have carefully prepped the room. Good preparation will make the job easier and give better results.

  1. Think about the surfaces you are painting.  Are you painting over new drywall, raw wood, joint compound, or masonry (brick, stone, etc.)?  Is the surface stable enough to paint over or is it flaking and crumbling? If you are painting over paint, is the paint latex, oil, or even lead-based?  These issues will determine the methods and materials you need to use.
  2. Be safe.  Prepping can harm your eyes, nervous system, and lungs.  Use a lead test kit if you think some surfaces may contain lead-based paint.  Wear a respirator when scraping or sanding.  Wear eye protection, as a single paint chip can permanently damage an eye.  If you are using a an electric sander, wear ear protection.
  3. High spots and problem areas. Knock off any loose paint.  Cut off or smash down high spots on the walls or ceiling.  You may have to do some damage (like removing large chunks of plaster) to completely fix problem areas, and that is OK.  It is easy to repair voids.
  4. Prime problem areas to be filled.  If you are using joint compound to fill crumbly voids, hit them with primer first; it will glue the crumbly stuff together and allow the joint compound to adhere.
  5. Fill the voids.  Use joint compound to fix all of the low, damaged areas.  If you still have some high spots or ridges, feather them out (build up the edges for a less noticeable transition) with joint compound and a wide drywall knife (10+ inches wide).
  6. Sand the repairs and all glossy surfaces lightly with 220 grit paper.  Glossy surfaces can lead to poor adhesion, but the scratches made by the sanding gives the new paint a way to grab.
  7. Buy the right primers and paints.  There are two basic types of paint: oil-based and water-based (latex).  They are not compatible for re-coating. Do not apply oil-based paint on water-based (latex) paint. You can paint latex paint over oil-based paint if you prime correctly.  Read the cans before you buy.  The cans will tell you if you can use the product directly on oil-based paint, metal, raw wood, masonry, etc.  I often use Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer as it works on everything

Be safe! Remember that disturbing old surfaces can release harmful particles.  Keep yourself and your family safe.

Plan for one coat of primer and two coats of paint.

The home store is overrun with more expensive “paint and primer in one” options that supposedly cover in one coat.  Avoid these products when painting a room on the cheap.  You have to go way to the back of the aisle (by design) to find the less expensive paint used by people who know how to paint properly.

the paint aisle

Primer is more like glue than paint.  It sticks to glossy, dirty surfaces so that paint can stick to it, but it covers poorly.  Try to avoid leaving heavy brush strokes as primer will dry quickly and leave visible ridges (use a good brush that minimizes bristle marks). It can start covering up the color and stains you are painting over, so pick a white primer when prepping for lighter colors or a dark-tinted primer for rich colors.

Even if you have a “one coat” paint, do two coats. You will never have a perfect first coat; the second coat will help.  Two light coats will always look better than one thick coat.

Why not a third coat of paint? Three coats of paint starts to magnify problems with build-up, errant bristles, debris landing in the finish, etc.

Paint the room in the proper order: ceiling, trim, and then walls.

This is key to making your painting a room on the cheap easier.  Whenever possible, paint the ceiling first, then the trim, and then the walls.  This way you can be messy with the ceiling paint (overlapping a bit to the adjacent surface instead of carefully cutting in) and a bit messy with the trim paint.  Do the walls last, and carefully cut in (painting carefully around edges with a detail brush) around the ceiling and trim.  If you are carefully cutting in on all three phases, your life will be miserable.

Use the proper paint finish types: flat, semi-gloss, and eggshell.

There are different finishes for reasons beyond aesthetics.

Ceiling paint is extra flat (no shine) to hide imperfections on such a large visible plane. Ceiling paint is very cheap, so I recommend it. Flat paint offers good adhesion for touch-ups down the road.  It may be “on trend” to paint ceilings in bold or shiny paints, but I don’t recommend it.  The cool, almost gray hue of flat ceiling paint hides imperfections from the dry-walling or plastering.  Furthermore, if you slop ceiling paint on to the walls during the early stages, you will have not trouble painting over it with the wall paint.

cutting in around ceiling

Semi-gloss paint makes the trim and baseboards “pop.” It holds up to abuse (I’m looking at you, Roomba), and can be cleaned easily.  The tops of baseboards, casings, etc. always collect dust and grime, so you want something that can take some scrubbing.  You could use an even shiner and more durable gloss or high-gloss paint on the trim, but the higher the sheen, the more it will show imperfections.

For best results, apply trim paint by using a brush and following the direction of the wood grain. When the brush strokes do not follow the grain of the wood, it looks odd.

Watch out for doors and windows in older homes because excessive paint build-up can bind movement.  Look at the door edges and/or window sashes before painting and determine if the paint build-up is going to be a problem.  You may need to sand, plane, (or avoid painting) moving surfaces that are too close together. You do not want to finish painting a realize that something has to be fixed and painted again.

PRO TIP: You can give the appearance that any surface is painted wood.  For example, take a look a the reveal around my windows.  It is drywall underneath, but I used semi-gloss trim paint and a bristle brush to give the appearance that the windows are surrounded by wood.  This technique works well in making MDF trim, faux-wainscoting, etc. look like painted wood.

making drywall look like wood

Eggshell finish is perfect for walls that do not suffer under excessive abuse or moisture. Eggshell is toward the middle of the luster spectrum, but it is a bit more forgiving (roller marks do not show as much) than a satin finish. Eggshell paint looks sharp when applied with a roller.

Blue tape is for chumps.

There are very few instances where using painters’ tape will give you better results when painting a room on the cheap. Spraying paint or creating complicated patterns are the exceptions.  Most of the time, the paint will sneak behind the tape anyway.  Learn how to cut-in in properly and stop wasting time and money messing with blue tape.

PRO TIP: If you are painting around windows, slopping a bit of paint on the glass won’t matter.  (This does not apply to Plexiglas). It easy to scrape it off later with a razor blade (primer is a bit harder to scrape off).  Clamp a fresh razor blade into a pair of vise-grips and you have a comfortable, effective tool for removing paint from glass.

scraping paint off glass

Make yourself comfortable when painting.

I hate painting because it is often uncomfortable.  I always end up crawling around on the floor with aching wrists or trying to squeeze my fat behind into awkward corners.  Under these conditions it is tempting to do a crumby job just to get it over with. Make sure you have a good platform to stand on, comfortable shoes, a comfortable vessel for loading your paintbrush, and maybe even a set of knee pads.  I found the the painting cup shown below at the dollar store, and it was worth every penny.

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PRO TIP: If you don’t need knee pads very often, fold up some washcloths and duct tape them over your jeans.  I find this to be more comfortable than real knee pads.  If you do this with shorts on you will achieve a smooth finish (on your legs).

Learn to cut in like a pro.

“Cutting in” is not when you see an attractive person painting and offer to help. “Cutting in” is using a detail brush to paint around the edges that you know you will not get with the roller.

Cut in first so that you are rolling over some of your brush marks.

Buy a small (1.5 – 2.5 inch), angled brush that you can push, slide, and cajole into corners. Don’t be cheap on this brush. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

Be patient when cutting-in.  Don’t apply paint directly into the corner; you will go past the corner or put in too much paint.  Lay the paint on close to the corner (but not in the corner) and massage it in as you “lay off” (evening out and thinning the layer) with second pass.  “Swoop” the tips of the bristles into the corner where you want it to be and move it slowly down the line as you slide the paint (that you left on with the previous stroke) to the edge.

laying on paint to cut in
Apply the paint away from the corner with the first stroke.
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“Swoop” toward the edge with the second pass. At the proper angle, the bristles will find the corner and slide the paint into place.
painting an irregular edge
When held at an angle, the bristles can follow an irregular edge.

painting a corner

Use the tip of the brush to finesse the paint into corners.  Try different angles and don’t worry if you don’t get it all the way in to the corner on the first coat.  It is easier to be patient than to clean up a mishap in a corner.

Now you are rolling.

Don’t bother with pumping rollers or other gimmicks when painting a room on the cheap.  A cheap roller and extension handle will cover quickly and effectively. You can often use a broom or mop handle that you already have to screw on to your roller.  The extended handle makes the job much more efficient and comfortable.

Clean the lint off a new roller so that particles do not end up in the finish.  Rub your hands from the center of the roller to the ends and remove the fibers that collect.

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Use a kitchen-size garbage bag to cover your tray so that you won’t have to clean up every time.  It is a bit wasteful, but it reduces effort and reduces the amount of paint going down the drain when cleaning trays.

Cover the tray, tie a knot in the bag, and rip a hole in the underside so the bag will lay flat.  The wrinkles from the bag will not matter. When your painting session is finished, collect the excess paint, remove the bag carefully, and drop the bag in the garbage.

bagged paint tray

use a bag for paint rolling

Getting great results with a paint roller

A poor job with a roller results in poor coverage or nasty little ridges from the ends of the roller.  Use proper technique to avoid these issues.

Using a paint roller requires the same method as cutting in; lay on the paint and then go back to spread it out evenly.  Don’t roll near the edge of your selected area with your initial application, it will be harder to even out.  A roughly 4′ x 4′ area is appropriate for the amount of paint held by most rollers. Always move the roller in the direction of the roller’s metal bar.  The lighter pressure on the opposite side is less likely to leave paint ridges.

applying paint with a roller
This is the first pass where I am “laying on” the paint.  Note that I am going from left to right here so that the bar side is leading the way.
spreading out paint with a roller
Then re-roll the area to spread the paint out evenly and reach the edges.
using a paint roller with handle
Roll toward the side with more pressure (bar side).  Advance two or three inches at a time so every inch gets a couple of passes.
rolling paint near the edge
When you reach an edge, reverse the head of the roller so the lighter pressure is facing the edge.
debris in paint finish
Watch for debris landing in the finish.  Take a moment to pluck out little nasties and re-roll the spot, but don’t obsess.

PRO TIP:  Use a longer handle to make your job easier, but don’t buy one.  Most mop handles, broom handles, etc. are threaded the same way.

Keep a bucket of clean(ish) water on hand.

This will allows you to fix mistakes immediately and care for your painting tools. The larger it is the longer you can go before refreshing it.  Keep a large sponge and a small sponge in the bucket so that you can wipe off mistakes immediately with slow, heavy pressure.  Only wipe mistakes with a clean part of the sponge. Dunk brushes, rollers, cups, etc. immediately after use so that they won’t dry before you can clean them thoroughly.

Take care of your painting tools or pay more later.

Clean roller handles after each use so that paint doesn’t build up on the moving parts. I don’t clean and save rolls; I have tried, but I can never get them clean enough to re-use. I store the one I am using in a bag when between coats.

storing paint roller in a bag
You can extend the life of the roller by sealing it in plastic between coats. Some people even put the bagged roller in the refrigerator to slow drying.

Dunk brushes in your water bucket after cutting in and go straight to rolling so that you can have a “wet edge” and minimize brush marks and problems caused by finishing a coat on top of semi-dry paint.

Clean the submerged brushes after you have finished the coat with the roller using hot water. Quality brushes are not cheap.  When you wash brushes, squeeze and massage the bristles, but don’t damage them by bending them too much or scraping them. Allow brushes to drip dry in their appropriate shape.

paint brushes dripping dry
Allow brushes to drip dry in their ideal shape.

PRO TIP: Remember that primer is like glue.  It will adhere faster and stronger to your tools.

Painting a room on the cheap conclusion.


  • Attack problem areas
  • Buy the right materials
  • Repair and prep. problem areas
  • Prep the entire surface
  • Learn to roll paint and cut-in properly
  • Paint in order (ceiling, trim, and walls)

That’s it!  Painting a room on the cheap is not fun, but you can get results that will please you.  It won’t be perfect, but professional results are never perfect either.  Only you will see the imperfections.  I wish you the best in painting a room on the cheap.

painting a room on the cheap

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Thank you for joining me as we share ideas about living well and spending less.

So many of us find ourselves stressing about financial insecurity and wondering how we can get by in a world where the answer to every financial problem is “more.”  The home renovations will cost more.  I can improve my family life if I have more.  My job would be tolerable if I made more.  I will be respected if I can show that I have more.  We often fail to consider that we could be living well and spending less.

I offer that for many of us this anxiety is unnecessary.  For many of us, thinking about living well and spending less will alleviate the insecurity that makes us obsessed with “more.”  We may even find that the alleviation of our anxieties is the “more” that we have been seeking.

Conquering the drive to spend

We naturally (or perhaps pathologically) adjust our lifestyles to our incomes.  If we are living paycheck to paycheck, we are anxious and perhaps even unhappy.  If we get a better paycheck, we take on more liabilities and expenses until we are again living paycheck to paycheck.  Our anxiety and our unhappiness has followed. In the most extreme examples, studies show that just one year after winning the lottery, the winners reflect no permanent change in their level of happiness.

Living well spending less video
“Happiness” from Steve Cutts on Vimeo

Steve Cutts’ short film “Happiness” illustrates the pitfalls of consumerism in four devastating minutes.  The rat-race portrayed would be comical were it not so accurate.  The protagonist is frustrated in his fast-paced, contentious life where happiness seems just out of reach.  Advertisers,  employers, pharmaceutical companies, and society generally offer their solutions to his problems, but each solution fails to deliver.  Cutts ultimately offers no solution.

Breaking the cycle of consumerism by living well and spending less

The person who learns living well and spending less might be just as happy or unhappy as they would have been spending more, but at least they won’t have financial anxiety contributing to their woes.

I recently re-read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and although the book has an obvious bias against the working class, it provides a thoughtful exploration of our natural tendency to spend every penny of income.  The author offers that what makes a person rich is not their income but the fact that they spend less than they make.  Spending modestly (even with a modest income) ultimately leads to a surplus.

Related post: The Tao of Cheap: What Taoism Teaches about Money

Three types of people who want to live well and spend less:

  1. People truly in need:  Even in a society of plenty, some people are truly desperate financially, often due to circumstances beyond their control.  I sincerely hope that one or two of the ideas in this blog will help.  If one idea helps even one person to the slightest degree, I will be greatly gratified.
  2. People who are spendy: We are all guilty of convincing ourselves that wants are actually needs.  We tell ourselves that we must project success, or that we must “treat ourselves” to keep going, or that we must have what everyone else has to be validated.  We must keep our spending thoughts in check. Read more about how our minds mislead us to spendy behaviors.
  3. Cheapists:  People who are financially stable and want to keep it that way. Cheapists are living well and spending less  and are continually looking for ways to continue doing so. Cheapists have enough, enjoy life, and know that “more” is not really the answer.

Together we will explore both the mundane and the philosophical elements of being frugal. Some posts will apply to your life but many will not.  Some ideas will be dead wrong for you. Nevertheless, considering the posts will create a mindfulness that you can apply in creative or unexpected ways. It is my hope that I will be the true learner as you share your cheapist ideas with me.

Sincerely, The Cheapist

the cheapest man alive