Black Coffee: Gas, Bad Breath & Frugal Tips for a Romantic Valentine’s Day

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance. Here’s what caught my attention over the past week…

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I need to do some last-minute card shopping. So without further ado, let’s begin this very special Valentine’s Day edition:

Blogs I’ve Been Following This Week

Go Banking RatesSkip These 6 Valentine’s Day Ripoffs. Talk about Valentine’s Day excess. Who knew you could buy $55,000 cupcakes, and edible chocolate heels for $95? Unfortunately for me: the Honeybee does now, thanks to Paul Sisolak’s article. Good job, Paul.

Frugal Dad – At the Heart of Valentine’s Day (infographic). Says Jason: I echo the complaints of many that (Valentine’s Day) puts undue pressure on couples to spend on one another and to show affection in very specific, commercial ways. No kidding. Especially for fellas like me whose sweethearts really like cupcakes.

Wisebread14 (Mostly) Frugal Valentine’s Day Recipes. One person who definitely won’t be kowtowed into buying his gal anything expensive this Valentine’s Day is writer Mikey Rox. I know. And I thought Thursday Bram had a great name. Anyway, it looks like Mr. Rox plans on whipping up one of 14 fancy, but frugal, romantic meals at home. And while a bowl of Life cereal is not on Mikey’s list, “Steak with Brandy and Mustard Sauce” is. Psst. Personally, guys, I’d advise against trying that one; before I met the Honeybee I dated Brandy and it didn’t really work out too well for me. (In case you’re wondering, that sound you hear is thousands of readers unsubscribing from my RSS feed.)

Debt Free AdventureHow Much Toothpaste is Enough? Nothing turns off the romantic flame quicker than bad breath. I suppose that’s why my friend Matt put out this fun public service announcement right before Valentine’s Day regarding the correct amount of toothpaste that should be placed on a toothbrush. After seeing the illustrative photos Matt included in his article, the odds are you’re probably using way too much.

Ask Mr. Credit Card – Why Paying Gas with a Credit Card Is Better than Cash. Mr. Credit Card ran some numbers and discovered that those piddly discounts gas stations offer for cash are, in most cases, probably not enough to justify keeping your cash back credit card in your wallet. I know what you’re thinking: Hey, Len, what’s this article got to do with Valentine’s Day? Well, nothing. (And lest you get any ideas, although I once had the pleasure of cooking a simple dinner for Mr. Credit Card at my place, let me assure you: our relationship is purely platonic.)

The Way-Back Machine: Past Posts Of Mine You May Have Missed

From March 2009:

The Top 10 Signs You Could Be Headed to Debtor’s Prison – Ironically, Greece is one of only two countries that still has debtors’ prisons. This is a list of warning signs that suggest you may be headed for financial trouble.

Credits and Debits

Debit: This week, five major US banks agreed to a $26 billion settlement with the government over foreclosure robo-signing practices that were uncovered several years ago. Too bad only $1.5 billion from that pot will actually be used to settle with folks who lost their homes under such practices.

Debit: The vast majority of the settlement — $17 billion, to be exact — will instead be allocated to folks whose homes are currently underwater by reducing their principal owed by as much as $20,000. Whaaaa?

Debit: Of course, it won’t be the banks who will  ultimately end up paying that $26 billion settlement — among others, it will be the folks who didn’t buy more house than they could afford, and/or didn’t overpay for a home in an inflated market. Just sayin’.

Debit: What happened to the entire risk/reward paradigm that is a hallmark of a capitalist society? Where is the incentive for fiscally responsible people to do the right thing when the government continually rewards the irresponsible and the unlucky simply because they’re, well, irresponsible and/or unlucky?

Credit: I don’t think Warren Buffett cares; after the settlement was reached, his net worth jumped by $154 million, thanks to his stake in Bank of America.

Credit: Ironically, this settlement may result in another large wave of foreclosures which will further reduce home values. The good news is this will help hasten the unwinding that has to occur before the housing market can finally begin to recover.

Debit: Life is good when everything is “free.” Just ask the 12.5 million people who enjoy free cell phones and as many as 250 free minutes each month courtesy of the federal government you and me —  the bill came to $1.6 billion in 2011 alone. I know.

Debit: Next thing you know, the government will be telling us we’re all entitled to free contraceptives, courtesy of the insurance companies you and me.

Credit: The problem with all this “free” stuff is somebody you and I are eventually going to have to pay for it.

Debit: Just ask the folks in Greece, who have been consuming lots of “free” government goodies and counting on pie-in-the-sky future social benefits for years now. Now that the bills for the “free” stuff are coming due, they’re rioting in the streets.

Debit: Don’t think that won’t eventually happen here after those who have become addicted to all this “free” stuff have the rug pulled out from under them too.

Debit: Finally, Los Angeles County officials have updated an ordinance that makes tossing a football or Frisbee without a lifeguard’s permission illegal and subject to a maximum $500 fine. It’s also illegal to dig a hole in the sand that’s deeper than 18 inches. Hey; don’t complain or they’ll take away everyone’s “free” stuff.

By the Numbers

Who needs a Shamrock shake when, for a limited time only, Jack in the Box is offering their new Bacon milkshake. Here’s more on it, by the numbers:

0 Strips of bacon in each Bacon milkshake. According to Yahoo, the bacon flavor comes from a special syrup made with: “sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors, and a whole lot of salt.” Mmmm. Salt.

1 Maraschino cherries used to top each shake. The other major ingredients, in addition to that yummy bacon syrup are: vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. (Curiously, there is no mention of milk.)

1 Vanilla’s rank among the most popular ice cream flavors, according to the Food Channel.

1081 Total calories per 24-ounce cup.

108 Grams of sugar per 24-ounce cup.  

$3.99 How much you’ll need to shell out if you want to try one.

0 Probability of Jack in the Box’s bacon shake becoming more popular than McDonald’s famous limited-edition green mint-flavored Shamrock shake, which, according to CNN, went nationwide for the first time on Wednesday.

99 The percentage of readers who, like me, thought the Shamrock shake went nationwide a long time ago.

The Question of the Week

How many times do you eat at a sit-down (non-fast-food) restaurant each month?

View Results

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Other Useless News

Here are the top — and bottom — 5 states in terms of the average number of pages viewed per visit here at Len Penzo dot Com over the past 30 days:

1. New Mexico (2.53 pages/visit)
2. Arkansas (2.33)
3. Idaho (2.32)
4. Wyoming (2.20)
5. Montana (2.19)

46. Massachusetts (1.74)
47. Hawaii (1.69)
48. Nevada (1.68)
49. Delaware (1.67)
50. Maine (1.62)

Whether you happen to enjoy what you’re reading (like my friends in New Mexico) — or not (ahem, Maine, for the second month in a row) — please don’t forget to:

1. Click on that “Like” button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

2. Make sure you follow me on Twitter!

And last, but not least…

3. Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed too! Thank you. :-)

Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not!

After my daughter’s latest guest post, Dana passed this friendly suggestion on to her:

Nina, you might want to consider charging your dad for the blog posts … Just an idea. Keep up the good work!

I also received this note from Charles:

… I hope you’re paying Nina for her writing services.

Yes, Nina gets $15 for each article she writes. That may not seem like much, but trust me — her benefits package is absolutely boffo!

I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.


  1. 3

    DC says

    Re: Coffee spending survey

    My back-of-the-envelop estimate on coffee spending is about $5 per week. Ever since my employer stopped providing free “corporate coffee,” I always bring my own from home. I refuse to buy coffee from the on-site $$ vendor.

    It’s only as much as $5/week because I like to buy Guatemalan whole beans and typically use a brand-name half-n-half because that is what is available at the membership warehouse. I could economize further, of course, but I do like those Guatemalan beans! :)

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      I’m in a private coffee club at work, just a few of us guys in the lab. We’re not part of the “big coffee club” upstairs with 30 or so people in it. The best part is, our little private club uses better quality coffee for the same monthly price, as opposed to the club upstairs that uses Folgers.

      Funny you should mention half-n-half, DC. I’m a half-n-half guy when it comes to my coffee too. If I’m out of the stuff at home, I’d rather use non-dairy creamer than milk.

  2. 7

    Diane says

    Len: Just a question for you – You keep score of your American readership (ie. no. of pages read per visit by state) per 30 days – what about your Canadian readers – anyway to track that? (Just asking because I am a regular Canadian reader and subscriber – but you already guessed that, didn’t you???)

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      I have data on every country, Diane. I tell ya what: Next week I’ll feature the readership stats for the top and bottom 5 Canadian provinces and territories. See readers… ask and you shall receive! :-)

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