How cool would it be to get free iPhones for life?

Dream with me for a minute. Imagine brand new free iPhones every other year. And hey, if we are dreaming anyway, how about a free cell phone plan to go along with it? Pretty sweet. Since everyone likes free stuff, let’s add in $200 gift certificates from Starbucks, Lululemon, Starbucks and Chipotle. Even better. But is this really possible? And why would these companies give all of this away for free? More important, how can you get in on the deal?

Most personal finance writers would shoot down the idea of new iPhones every other year, fancy coffees, dining out and premium sportswear. I would too, if you actually had to pay for all of it. But what if there were a way to actually get it all paid for…every year…for life?

So what is the scheme and who actually pays for the free iPhones?

Over at Apple there are 147,000 employees. They are all working hard, dusting store fixtures, selling iPads, explaining nuances of iCloud and making all the boxes open slooowwwly. Meanwhile at Chipotle, people are opening stores, scrubbing grills and being incredibly patient while customers fuss over their exact burrito toppings. The Amazon folks are scampering around filling orders and whipping reindeer to get everything to your house on time (kidding on that last one). What are we doing while they are working so hard? Well, frankly not much. And therein lies the elegance of this approach to get free iPhones and other stuff.

As they are busy with all this ceaseless toil, they are growing their companies. Improving sales numbers, opening new stores and making their companies more money. The brands become more valuable and their success continues to snowball. The great products and experience keep the results coming and and their stock prices continue to grow. That stock price growth is what we can use to get their products for free.

Converting stock growth to free stuff

Ok. So far we have companies with products we want. Employees working like the Dickens. Stock prices rising. So how do we cash in and get all the free iPhones and the other cool stuff?

Imagine that we set aside $7,000 five years ago and bought $1,000 worth stock of each of 7 cool companies whose products and services we like. Let’s lay it all out in a table:

free iPhones
An initial investment made 5 years ago

On the left is the company, their stock ticker in blue and an initial investment in yellow. $1,000 per company. Adding up the growth of the stock over the last 5 years, including dividends give us today’s value in green. Finally, the purple column shows the average annual return for each of these stocks. Wow! An average annual return for the group of 34.39%. They are all great companies with big competitive advantages. Will they keep growing like that? I have no idea. And neither does anyone else.  But stay with me!

So our initial investment of $7,000 has grown to over $30,000. Not bad. There are lots of things that we could do with that cash. Usually, my counsel is to keep it invested, especially in an IRA or a 401(k). (TFSA or RSP for you Canadians). But this time, let’s assume that your debts are under control and you have a good start on your retirement savings.

Time for a little fun with our cash

Rather than spend the money in a lump, or invest it for the long term, what if we just pull out each year’s gains after that initial 5 year growth period and spend it on fun stuff. What could we buy and how long could we keep this up? Let’s take a look:

free iPhonesSo we will start with a new iPhone every other year for $1,000, or about $500 per year. Let’s add a cell plan and let it gorge on unlimited 5G data. Tasty. Tuck in a standard Netflix subscription. That adds up to $1,508. Then let’s spend $200 on gift cards from each of Starbucks, Lululemon, Amazon and Chipotle. That all ads up to $2,308 of fun stuff every year. Some nice lifestyle additions. Why those numbers?

They sum to $2,308 or about 7.5% of the value of our stocks. If our stocks grow at about 7.5% a year, we would be able to spend that much and not actually deplete our $30,691. In fact, we could enjoy free iPhones, cell plans, Netflix subscriptions and all those gift cards forever. $2,300 worth of stuff forever, all from a one time investment of $7,000.

But wait, it wasn’t free. We still had to invest $7,000 and wait 5 years.

Actually, you can get that initial investment for free. Or very close to free. Some careful re-shopping of regular bills can easily emancipate the cash for that kind of investment. All with minimal effort. Have a look at easy ways to reduce regular bills like energy costs, home renovations, housing costs, prescription drugs and even vodka expenditures. Want another $13,000 of monthly savings ideas? Check out Cashflow Cookbook.

What about the business of waiting 5 years for that initial investment to grow? Let me answer that with a story. When I was about 27, I started working on an MBA part time. People would often say “Part time? Are you kidding me? That will take you 4 years. You won’t be done until you are 31.” My answer was that I will be 31 eventually. I can either be 31 with an MBA, or without one. Life goes on, tuck away the money, go about your business and check your balance in 5 years. Hopefully you will have a fun account that spits out free iPhones and other goodies for life.

You can, of course set this up with whatever brands you like and nothing says you have to spend the growth and dividend money on the same companies you invest in. The investments are spread across 7 stocks which provides some level of diversification.

We got some free iPhones and some powerful learnings

A few things get reinforced with this example:

  • Compound growth really is the 8th wonder. It can even keep you in iPhones.
  • Great companies have brand power that fuels their growth and investment returns
  • A group of strong stocks can provide an ongoing stream of money to fund a lifetime of expenses
  • This is really a miniature version of the power of long term investing for retirement
  • Invest for the long haul. Markets tend to rise over the long haul, but may rise or fall in the near term

Some caveats

Readers should always do their own research on any investment. This example was for illustrative purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. The author holds positions in Amazon and Apple. Investment results are unpredictable and past results may not be reflective of future performance.

What companies and products would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit Douglas Bagg at Unsplash

How to retire richer the lazy way

Shopify Stock Chart
Ok I didn’t get that job at Shopify so no juicy stock options!

There are lots of ways to retire richer. You could start selling products in a multilevel marketing scheme (downside: annoyed friends and a garage full of creme rinse, vitamins and car polish). Perhaps you could just pick a new employer with a great stock option plan ( I came in second for a job at Shopify once. Bummer – see stock chart below). Or you could move back home with your parents (Father: “Honey, what’s that smell upstairs?” Mother: “I think it’s our 30 year old.”)

Not thrilled with any of those options? In a perfect world, you could just plant yourself in a chair, do some scrolling and mouse clicking and have a few hundred grand gradually added to your retirement fund. Sound a little too good to be true? In fact, not only is it possible, I just did it and you can too! No tricks, no clickbait, stay with me on this and I’ll show you how to retire richer.

Get rich without working or giving anything up? Ummmm…OK!

Last post I did some energy saving projects and laid out how we will save about $1,300 a year on gas and electricity right here at Cashflow Cookbook headquarters.  Which is not bad, but those ideas take some work. Insulating and weatherstripping and whatnot. What if we could save more than twice that without lifting a screwdriver?

Turns out, the answer was right there, hiding in our car insurance policy. Who knew?

Comparing car insurance is easy…and lucrative

It was hard to watch this year’s Super Bowl without seeing those Zebra car insurance ads. (Being a Browns fan it was hard to watch the Super Bowl anyway. Soooooo close, we coulda been there! Next year!) Seemed like they popped up after every Buccaneer touchdown. Could comparing car insurance really be as easy as it looks on TV? Turns out it kind of is!

Way back in the 2010’s, comparing car insurance rates was a painful process of making calls or reentering your car and driver data on multiple sites. Now it’s much easier with comparison sites. We looked at 2 comparison sites here in the USA, Zebra and Insurify. Both had a snappy interface and let you quickly add cars and drivers to suit. Even with 3 cars and 3 drivers it only took 15 minutes per site. Their results were similar, although Insurify had more options and two quotes that were much lower than what Zebra offered in their “displayed quotes”. In Canada check out and

I used our actual data for 3 drivers and 3 vehicles. Our current insurance is with GEICO and we pay $141.60 a month. Having that policy handy sped up the process of entering all of the information. Using the same policy parameters, Here are the results from Zebra:

Zebra quotes
Zebra car insurance rate comparison

Zebra quotes

The Zebra options were limited with just 3 companies showing actual quotes. The rest promised “one more click to quote”. Well that’s what they promised. The “get quote” companies dragged me through traffic ticket data, annual miles driven and even that accident where I hit a deer a couple of years back. I was hoping to forget that. Some of the companies require you to pretty much re-enter all of your data (Talking ’bout you, Progressive!). The good news is that after all the work, Progressive did deliver on their promise of being cheaper than GEICO. In fact, they were the cheapest overall at just $502 for 6 months, or $83.66/month.

The cheapest “displayed quote” on Zebra was $164 which was more than the $141 we are paying with GEICO. Not exactly a win. On Zebra the gold was in the undisplayed quotes. Still, who wants to do the extra work? On to Insurify to see how their engine works:

Insurify quotes
Insurify car insurance rate comparisons

Insurify shows us how to retire richer!

Over at Insurify we had lots more options. Have a look at all this goodness!

Huge swing in prices from a high of $331 to a low of $97. A difference of $234 a month. Worth a few mindful moments with your browser. One of the interesting options is Clearcover – a digital provider with a slick app. (They don’t even want to know from paper).  They claim that they can settle your, well, claim in as little as 13 minutes. Hello disruption! And with 489 Google reviews averaging 4.5 stars, apparently they are doing something right!

Although Insurify had the edge in my situation for the displayed quotes, it might be worth the extra 15 minutes to run your scenario through both of them. And check the “get quote” options just to be sure.

The remarkable thing is that the prices varied by almost 4x going from lowest to highest. That is even more than the 2.5x difference when we were trying to find out if premium vodka is worth it. So this is a pretty easy and painless way to save some monthly cash.


OK but how to retire richer and where is my $650,008?

If we take the $248 monthly savings between the low rate (Progressive) and the high rate (Safeco) seen on the two sites and invest it at 7% you would have:

  • $42,904 after 10 years – good news for you 55 year olds
  • $128,960 after 20 years – even better news for you 45 year olds
  • $304,048 after 30 years – you 35 year olds have got to be loving this
  • $650,008 after 40 years – if you are 25 shop your insurance NOW!!!

Given that the average American retires with just $200,000 of total net worth, here is a way to triple that with just 15 minutes of work. If you’re wondering how to invest those savings and earn 7%, you can learn about that here. People often ask how to get started with building wealth. Answer…This! Good luck and let me know how this worked for you.

Is there a rate comparison engine that you like better? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit Marcel Friedrich at Unsplash

Earth day – time to fight some home energy thieves

Welcome to Earth Day. It’s our worst one so far! The earth is heating up, oceans are rising and forests are ablaze. What a great blog post opening! Who’s still with me? It’s hard for us to totally solve these issues as individuals, but we can all do something. Let’s start by slaying some of those home energy thieves. Saving energy helps green the planet, and adds some green to our wallets. And while energy savings may not be the most exciting topic, some quick projects can improve your financial wellness without giving up anything important. Like a nice glass of Merlot, tickets to a Browns game or a new set of clubs. And now is the perfect time to tackle some of these projects while we are all locked down.

We saved 44% on electricity and 12% on gas bills. How ’bout you?

Well it’s great to talk about home energy thieves, but what about actually doing battle with them? What really works and is it worth the effort? We dug in right here at Cashflow Cookbook global headquarters. With a bit of sleuthing, and a few dollars in parts, we managed to save 44% on our electricity bill and 12% on our gas bill. How did we calculate that and what made the difference?

For the gas bill, we compared the heating season gas consumption in 2019-2020 to our consumption this past winter. Log in to your utility company account to check out your own info. After correcting for temperature differences (degree days for the technical among you) our consumption dropped by 12%. How did we get these savings?

Air sealing is usually the best return on energy projects

My basement workroom was freezing cold. After a bit of poking around, it turns out that there was a 3/4″ gap under the door that goes to the unheated garage. A bit of math tells me that is a 22.5 square inch gap or about the same as a 5″ hole in the wall. If you noticed a 5″ hole in the wall of your living room, might you fix it? Hell yah!

stop home energy thieves
energy saving door threshold from M-D building products

I bought a heavy duty threshold and weatherstripping for about $30 and installed it. No breeze under the door and the workroom is nice and toasty. Love that! I checked the other 2 doors that lead to the garage and they were leaking air as well. About another 5 square inches in total. One needed a door sweep  and the others had gaps around their door stops. I removed and re-nailed the door stops and muffled that breeze as well.

Up on the second floor, in our Harry Potter closet, our electrician had installed a secondary panel. The cables from the panel head up to the attic, but the hole left a 1″ x 14″ arctic breezeway. I filled it with foam and will build a wooden cover to finish it off.

All told, those changes totaled about 42 square inches of air gap. Whoa that sounds a bit nerdy!  Maybe a lot nerdy. For the less geeked among us, that is about the same as a 7″ hole in the wall. As a result of these changes our gas bill dropped 12% which saves us $150/year. Not a bad start, and a warmer, more comfortable home.

What is next for gas savings?

Here are the projects coming up for 2021:

  • More air sealing – We still have lots of drafty windows and doors to go. So we will check and replace weatherstripping and ensure that doors and windows aren’t leaking air. Should be able to save another $50/year
  • A programmable thermostat – great way to to save about 10% or $120 for us for a one-time investment of about the same. As a side benefit, a cooler room leads to better sleeping in the winter and a greener planet.
  • Attic insulation – our 1938 home could use an additional layer of attic insulation. Insulating existing walls can be expensive but most attics can be easily accessed. A few hundred dollars in insulation should save us another $250 a year.

So by next year, we should have saved about $570 a year on our gas bill. Not a huge deal, but once these projects are done, they keep rolling in the savings year after year.

On to some surprises in our electricity bill

We caught the home energy thieves red handed in our electricity bill. Those nasty boys! With a few simple changes, we dropped our bill by 44% vs the same period a year ago. On an annual basis, that will save us about $700 a year. How did we do that?

  • Turns out that our roof heaters (melt the snow around the gutters) were wired to a circuit that was permanently on. We installed a simple switch and turn them on only during heavy snowfall, saving about $25/month year round.
  • We swapped out our old fridge for a new one saving about $10/month. Bonus: the new one is wider and shallower – my spinach can’t hide behind the chocolate cake anymore.
  • Our lightbulbs were mostly incandescent so we swapped them for LEDs throughout the house. Great light, less bulb changing and and more greening of the planet. And savings of about $25/month.

What is next for electricity savings?

  • During our kitchen renovations, we will replace our ancient dishwasher with a new, more efficient one. The newer models use about 1/3 the water and will save about $5 a month vs the old one. And they have that nifty silverware rack.
  • All of the gas savings ideas about will also carry an electrical savings benefit as our furnace pump will run less in the winter and our air conditioner will run less in the summer, easily saving another $5/month.

So all told on electricity, with current and future projects, we expect to save about $800 a year.

Overall summary of our work on battling our home energy thieves.

Looking at both utility bills we expect to save about $1,400 a year. Once the projects are done, we will be able to realize those savings each year and the actual value will rise with the utility rates.

What to do with the $1,400 in annual savings?

$1,400 isn’t a massive game changer. Maybe head out for 4 or 5 nice dinners out? See what’s on sale at the mall? But here are some better ideas:

  • A $116 extra mortgage payment on a $300,000, 30 year mortgage at current rates will save $25,000 and 3 years and 7 months of payments. Nice!
  • Investing the $116 monthly at 7% would grow to $20,000 over 10 years or
  • $60,400 over 20 years or
  • $141,000 over 30 years or
  • $304,000 over 40 years. Boom! There’s your Lamborghini right there.

Other ideas to stop home energy thieves whilst greening the planet

  • Start by adding up your energy bills and compare them to national averages. As a quick guide, electricity bills average $110 a month, gas $72 a month. These vary a lot by climate and rates. If yours are way out of line, do some investigating.
  • Consider a 3rd party energy audit. There may be offers on these from your local utility.
  • Change your furnace filters regularly and clean the lint trap in your dryer.
  • Turn down your thermostat a couple degrees in the winter and up a couple in the summer. Adjust for the difference with your clothing.
  • Turn off lights as you leave a room. Teenagers do this naturally. Kidding.
  • Close the doors! Leaving them open while heating or air conditioning is a huge energy waster. There is an exception to this. In my part of the country there is something called a Midwestern Goodbye. A 20 minute farewell in the house followed by a 20 minute lovely-to-see-you-again at the doorway, then a 20 minute let’s-do-this-again-soon at your guest’s vehicle in the driveway with their engine running. Very warm and caring – not great on energy use – but a wonderful custom!
  • Check for phantom power loss – electronics use power even when off. Smart power strips can provide savings

Check in next week when we look at an opportunity for much bigger savings in a whole different category with much less work!

What are you doing to save energy and how are you investing the cash? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo credit Allesandro Bianchi at Unsplash

As the sands of time flow through that glass thing, we get creakier, stiffer and, well, older. Diet and exercise can do their thing, but sometimes we need to turn to chemistry for help. A routine doctor’s visit led to the discovery of my rising blood lipids and the need for some statin pills. The medication lowered my numbers , but the process opened my eyes to another set of numbers. The whimsical world of drug pricing. You get to benefit from my journey and learn some ways to save on prescription drugs.