Sunday, September 21, 2008

Supersaver man goes to school

I went to my daughter's school to pick up their mid-period grades. I'm glad that they are doing very well and so I feel it's money well spent.
Before going I had given thought that since we are now living much closer to the girls' school maybe me and/or my wife could drive them to school and have the school bus bring them back home and maybe there was a discount for that.
So after picking the grades I went to the administration office and asked about it. The accounting lady said "Sure! bus will be only 50% of what you pay now". With two girls pay for bus service if I only pay 50% it means about 900 lempiras saved. That is a whole tank of gas when it's totally totally empty! In my old car I get 300 miles for 10 gallons of fuel (about 900 lempiras at current prices).
It's a 5 minute drive from my house to the school with no stoplights or even busy street crossings. From the school back home it's almost the same. I'm total it's about 5 miles round trip. And it's 20 days a month, that's 100 miles.
So i'm seriously considering requesting only afternoon bus service for my girls starting next month (october). It might mean getting up at 6:30am to drop them off but I need to get up early anyway to make better use of my mornings, either to work more or to work out (something I badly need).
Do you think the savings are worth it?
Well at least this blog is free

Friday, September 12, 2008

The "If Honduras wins, you eat free" promotion fiasco

This is one of those times that "free" wasn't really free.
Remember the Foodcard ? the one that gives me 20% discount on several fast food restaurants ? Well, the company that owns the franchise in Honduras to all those restaurants came out with a promotion. If the Honduran soccer team would win against Canada (playing in Canada) last Saturday then the next day they would give out free food for just buying a drink.
Our team won. So the next day there were long ..I mean loooong lines on all their restaurants. I told my daughters to come with me to get some "free" chicken. Well after waiting about an hour in the drive-thru lane we got to the cashier and she laid down the conditions:
It was ONE piece of chicken per every LARGE drink. The drink was only Coke or Sprite and it was 33 lempiras per drink. That's not cheap, not free and not even close to free!! To put it in perspective a 3 Liter bottle of Coke is 28 to 30 lempiras at even the most expensive quickie-mart type place
I fell into the "throwing good money after bad time" trick and decided that since I had already waited that long I might as well buy 6 drinks and get us 2 pieces of chicken each. Well the fiasco was complete when they gave me three wings and three legs! no breasts or thighs! And these were probably midget chickens cause all 6 pieces were in a box that is normally used for a 2-piece combo. They did include 6 pieces of bread.
The final slap was that when I tried to pay with my foodcard, they gave me a mean look and took it. Then I asked for two more pieces of chicken (actually I asked for the drinks because 2 pieces cost 66 lempiras anyway). This time the lady said that I please pay in cash because the credit card machine was in the front of the restaurant. I reluctantly paid cash and went home. What a RIP-OFF!
My girls made remarks and laughed at how small the chicken pieces were. Then last Wednesday the Honduran soccer team played against Jamaica here in Honduras and our team won again. So right away they told me "Dad are we going to go tomorrow to get free tiny chicken ?" And then they just laughed to the ground. I tried to laugh too but still remembered how I had been taken.
Oh, well, I guess it's part of learning that most things are not really free.
Well at least this blog, so far, is free.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

May I interest you in some VOIP (Voice over IP)?

I'm sorry if this post went blank the first time around. It slipped out of my hands before I had even typed it. In one night of enlightment I came up with 5 topics to talk about and just did the sketches of each so I wouldn't forget them and this one got the send button instead of the save button.

Well, on with the show.

I've recently read several blogs about my debt situation. I'm glad to see that for the most part I'm doing what they advice to do. I'm failing in making a budget and with the extra income trouble I've had problem working on paying the smallest debt with all the money I could (because I don't have it in my hands yet).

One thing I read was about getting other income sources. Using my background on networking and Voice over Ip I've hooked up a few friends that have relatives in the US with VERY cheap voice over ip services in their homes.

Voice over ip is basically talking over the internet. The cool part is being able to use regular phones and be able to receive or make calls to and from regular phones or cellphones in the US.

Most of Hondurans living in the US don't have access to a computer, but most do carry a cellphone, the prepaid kind. Calls within the US are very cheap compared to calls to Honduras.

So I've acquired US numbers in bulk and re-selling them to friends. They way this works is that the person in Honduras has a little box called ATA (analog telephone adapter) that connects a regular phone (cord or cordless) to the internet. Obviously the user must have internet service in their house with at least 128kbps of bandwidth so that the voice works fine.For $60 for the box and a $10 monthly fee they get a US number in the Washington state area. This means that if someone in the US calls one of those numbers it will ring on the phone attached to the ATA, wherever it is located in the world.

This is different to the illegal practice in Honduras of "grey calls" in which a local US call is converted to an international call to Honduras because no Honduran telephone infrastructure is used. The phone in Honduras is connected "directly" to the internet. Cyber cafes in Honduras all work this way, except they sell outgoing calls, while I sell incoming calls.

The logic behind my sale strategy is that calling the US is so cheap for us from regular landlines or cellphones while calling to Honduras from abroad is so expensive that it merits spending a fixed amount of money to have a US phone number that only receives calls if you can expect a lot of calls from people in the US. So far my first 3 sales have gone very well because the people in the US have seen the savings. Great savings.

Calling cards to call Honduras usually charge $1 just to connect the call and about 20 to 40 US cents per minute. So a $3 dollar call is only good for $2 once the call is connected. Not to mention the troubles if the call gets cut off in the middle of it. Dialing again means another $1 just for connecting the call.

$10/mo for unlimited incoming calls is a lot better than paying $30/mo to companies like Vonage. Sure they let you have unlimited calls to the US, but again in this case you can just call the person in the US and say "call me back" and it's the same thing. Why is it the same thing?

a) There's a ton of studies that say that most people in the US now have a cellphone and use it instead of a landline.

b) incoming and outgoing calls to cellphone are billed to the cellphone user. So for the user it costs the same to make a call than to receive a call.

Even so, I had one friend that wanted to be able to make some business calls to the US. I was able to get him a service that for another $10/mo he could have 5 hours a week of calls to the US. That's comes to about 2 cents per minute. If he goes over the 5 hours per week, each minute extra is 2 cents per minute and comes out of his $10 pre-payment. In his case I set up the ATA's second port with another phone and so one phone is for incoming calls and the other is for outgoing calls. So he can receive a call one one phone and make a call on the other phone. Alternatively he could use a two-line phone and manage both from one device but that's up to him.

I also got a hold of a great virtual PBX . So if one business has offices in distant locations, and each location has internet access, I can set them up with dedicated virtual phone lines between the two offices. This can work anywhere in the world and it's simple to set up (if you know what I know) and the number of calls between offices is unlimited...really.

This is also allowed by Honduran telecom law because it's only calls within the same organization. Banks that have branches in several cities already do this. They do it thru their private data network. My proposal is much cheaper since it uses internet and doesn't require costly hardware to interconnect it all. We have one private telephone network here at my office and it was mildly expensive to say the least. I learned a lot from it and know it can be done for a lot less money.

I've tested this by putting virtual extensions in my office, my house, my parent's house and my friend's house in Missouri. They can all call each other by dialing their extension number and talk forever.

I've searched the net for a company that could something like what i'm proposing and found only one that was a little close to my price range for the same funcionality. They are

They are comparable to what I can do but I can give personalized service and I already have better prices and can improve on them depending on how much business is involved. Even if users eventually don't like my service they can take the same equipment and get service with them. I'm all for making the customer happy, even if it means happy with someone else. I checked that they use VOIP industry standards and they do, just like I do.

SO, if you know anyone that wants to reduce their international phone bill or someone with a business with two or more locations that wants to lower it's intra-offices phone bill, please let me know and I promise I can help them with that. I'll help myself in the process and you would've helped me to get out of debt. If you give me your contact info I will also help you with a "finder's fee" and we are all happy :-)

Oh well, at least this blog is free.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

supplier troubles, hopes and introspection

Well the problems with our supplier continue.
Remember that some of my extra income comes from sending Honduran stuff to the US for my ex-brother-in-law to sell in his stores. Well our main supplier has shipping problems and we've gone a whole month with sending very little over. That affects me much because even though I get paid monthly just to make sure that all related bills get paid, if there are none then I don't get any money.
Every time I call them they say they will get things straightned out very real soon now. Then I call the next day and someone else says some other story. A couple of days later they answer a question I am not asking and state that they thought I was complaining about that.
So i've had it with them. I found a new supplier and if things go well, not only will get a monthly payment from my ex-brother-in-law but since this new supplier will give the same items at about the same prices as the other one, BUT will refund me 10% of everything we purchase to him if we reach a certain amount. It's his way of saying thank you to me for buying from him.
With prices comparable, and some cheaper, than the other guy, a wider selection and with much better infrastructure and logistics I think I do deserve that 10% if I can get my ex-BIL the stuff he needs at a good price and with better quality.
Honestly, a few years ago I would've passed that 10% on to him, but knowing that i'm getting him good prices from the start and that he sells them at 100% markup, it seems like a no-harm way of getting some extra cash. I'm not totally comfortable with it, but I didn't ask for it, it was offered to me by the new supplier. As long as he does better than the other guy I will feel ok. Not great but at least ok.
Have you ever been in this situation ? Purchasing something that was the best of two options and it included some personal "gift" for you ? did you or would you take it ?
I will use this extra money to pay off the high interest credit card with the highest balance. The other extra incomes will be for other payments and to kill the smaller debt.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Breathing again and some concerns

We are back to sending goods to my ex-brother-in-law. Thank God!
They have told me that while we had a break in the supply they realized they need more volume shipped to them as the demand has increased. I hope I can get our supplier to meed our demands and so they can sell more and I can earn more.
My best friend came over from MO a few weeks ago. I went out with him a lot to do errands and talk about the old times. Eventually I got the courage to ask him for a loan. At first he was ok and asked how much. I told him I needed $8,000 (to pay my main credit card and cancel it).
He said he didn't have that money but that he could get me to use one of his cash lines. Unfortunately another friend of his back in MO had already used his $20,000 cash line, and is not paying him back. So I worried that he wouldn't want to put himself in the position of having to pay for someone else, again.
As he was leaving he told me he just couldn't come up with the money. However he knew there was a programming gig that was almost finished (it was a proyect from this other friend that wasn't paying him back). He would check if I could finish it. If it was finished the company expecting the software would pay $15,000. He talked with the other guy and he agreed to give me $8,000 to finish it and he would keep the other $7000 since he would handle everything else and it was after all his business.
Right now i'm in the process of getting set up and hoping I can finish that software in a couple of months. My friend said one month, the guy said two weeks. So i'm thinking it will take a bit more.
LG expressed her concern that it seems like I only pay debt with my additional income. Unfortunately that is mostly true. I have a loan with the company coop that is automatically deducted from my paycheck and it's at 12%/year for 3 years (refinanceable once I reach 18 months of payments).
A big chunk of my paycheck goes towards groceries. Food, clothing, and other house supplies. Plus money for my wife to keep her car running and her spenditures. Also cellphones and landlines, water, electricity, etc.
The other big chunk has been my taxes, which seem to increase more and more every time I get a payraise.
This past couple of months have been abnormal. I've had to pay the yearly registration for one of my cars, I had totally forgotten about that and it was a big chunk. I've had to pay money up front for some house repairs for which the landlord has given me credit towards the rent pay.
In general as i'm writing this I think I haven't done an important part of controlling my debt. I haven't made a budget and so I don't know exactly where my money goes. I should do that very soon, NOW!
Well, at least this blog is free