The Chronic Consumer

I buy things — all the time!

Mario Kart on Wii

I’ve had a Nintendo Wii gaming system for over a year now, but the only software title I have for it is Wii Sports. Tennis, golf, boxing, baseball, and bowling has been entertaining enough for me, so I never really felt the need to go out and spend money on additional games. But that’s all going to change next month when Mario Kart for Wii is released on April 27th.

Mario Kart is one of my favorite video games of all time. It has exceptional replay value, as there are enough character/kart combinations, tracks, cups, mini games, and battles to keep me interested long after the purchase date. And the Wii version looks positively stunning, which is why I’m adding it to the top of my shopping Wish List as of today.

The Wii edition features new and modified tracks, more characters to choose from (including the “baby” version of Peach, Mario, and a few others), great graphics, motorcycles as well as karts, and online/wi-fi play that is sure to lead to endless hours of fun.

I have watched previews of this game, and it looks like a total blast! Check out one of the YouTube trailers right here (it’s in Japanese, but I’m more interested in the screenshots anyway):

Discount Police Gear Online

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As I was browsing around the web today, I somehow managed to click through to a site called LAPoliceGear.com. Even though I wasn’t specifically looking for any law enforcement or military equipment, I couldn’t help browsing through the LAPG pages because all of the products that they have are so cool!

LAPoliceGear.com has just about everything that police officers, military personnel, or civilians would need for regular patrols, tactical missions, survival exercises, shooting competitions, or any other situation you can think of. They sell only quality products, such as 5.11 Tactical and SWAT gear, so you can be sure your equipment will stand up to whatever dangers come your way.

If you’re looking for the best police gear at the lowest prices around, you’ve got to visit LAPoliceGear.com. Their selection is unbeatable, so check out the site today!

Pentax DSMobile 600 Scanner

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As a self-employed freelance writer, I accumulate a lot of business-related receipts during the course of the tax year. It’s very difficult to keep all of these receipts in order and find things quickly, and I always worry about losing an important one — which would of course mean that I’d lose out on the associated tax deduction. So I decided to purchase the Pentax DSMobile 600 portable scanner a few weeks ago in order to convert my receipts to digital format.

The Pentax DSMobile 600 scanner is just 11 inches long and weighs a mere 12 ounces, making it easy to take on business trips or stow away in desk drawers. This was an important consideration for me because my workspace is very small, which is one of the reasons I didn’t want to purchase a flatbed scanner to begin with.

dsmobile600wcord_x2.jpg Anyway, the DSMobile 600 came with some software that had to be installed on my computer before I could scan any documents. This was easy to do and just took a few minutes. After that was finished, I connected the scanner to my computer via the included USB cable, calibrated it using a special card that came with the product, and was ready to go. The whole setup process took less than 10 minutes.

When preparing to scan a document, a dialog box containing several scanning options pops up. The user can then specify things like paper size (letter, legal, A4, A5, A6, business card, or custom), scanner settings (color scan, B&W scan, grayscale scan, single-sided, double-sided), and output format (Adobe PDF or JPEG). There are also advanced settings such as DPI (ranging from a low of 75 to a high of 600) and image compression quality.

I chose letter (8.5″ x 11.0″), color, single-sided, Adobe PDF, 600 DPI, and medium compression for my initial test scans, and then just fed some business letters through the DSMobile 600.

I was impressed by how quickly the DSMobile 600 scanned my documents. I didn’t time it or anything, but the device wasn’t slow by any means. I also loved that the output could be rendered in a PDF file, as that’s obviously the most convenient format for sharing documents.

ds600_button.gifThe only thing I don’t like about the DSMobile 600 is that you have to be extremely careful when guiding the document through the opening. There’s a paper roller/grip thingy (yeah, that’s the technical term!) only on one side, which means it’s easy for the document to become slanted or skewed as it goes through the feed. If you don’t hold it perfectly straight (and I do mean perfectly), you’ll end up with a crooked scan.

This isn’t really going to be a big deal for me since I’m mostly going to be using the scanner for receipts, but it’s something to think about if you’ll be sending your scans on to other people.

Overall, I think the Pentax DSMobile 600 portable scanner is a fantastic little device that is perfect for small business owners, students, and anyone else who does occasional scanning. If you intend to scan thousands of documents, you should obviously go with a flatbed scanner, but if you just need to scan the occasional receipt, letter of recommendation, resume, price quote, business card, etc., then the DSMobile 600 would be perfect.

I purchased the device from the Amazon.com marketplace for $117.70, and feel that I’m getting my money’s worth. I see that it’s now listed for $123.99, which is still a good deal, so go ahead and buy it if you need a portable scanner!

Fiber Optic Toys

fiberwands.jpg If you thought that fiber optic cables were only good for telephone, television, or Internet applications, think again. Fiber optics have been used in a wide array of consumer products for years, including everything from Christmas trees to wigs to toys.

In fact, some of my son’s favorite toys are various fiber optic wands that we’ve purchased over the years. He just loves waving these things around and watching the lights change colors and weave trails through the air. They actually are pretty cool, so it’s easy to see why kids would be mesmerized by these things.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a cheap, fun way to keep your children entertained, check out some fiber optic toys the next time you go shopping!

Luxury Vacations for Less

crvacation.jpg I often talk about how to find great deals on items that you use every day, such as food and clothing, but the same principles apply to big-ticket purchases as well. For instance if you’re interested in getting away, I recommend shopping online for luxury vacations instead of just going to a travel agency.

There are lots of websites that can help you plan your retreat from beginning to end, so you can tailor everything to meet your own needs. Moreover, cost comparisons are simple. Just a few clicks of your mouse is all it takes to ensure you’re getting the best available prices.

If you don’t want to do all the legwork yourself, you can use an online travel agency instead. They can put together a great package for you, and can often do so for far less than their bricks-and-mortar counterparts.

So the next time you’re ready to jet off to an exotic destination, stay in a five-star property, and indulge in the finest food and drink, just remember to arrange everything online. That’s the best way to make luxury more affordable!

Turbo Tax Online

turbotax.jpg After a bad experience with a CPA last year, I decided to go back to Turbo Tax for my federal tax returns for 2007. I used Turbo Tax once before (in 2005) and liked it, but had to go to a CPA for 2006 because of some complications that cropped up during the tax year. I wasn’t all that impressed with the service I received from the CPA (or with the $350+ price tag), so opting for Turbo Tax again was really a no-brainer.

This time around, I decided to use the online version at www.turbotax.intuit.com instead of purchasing and installing the software, and I’m happy to say that it performed beautifully.

Because I’m self-employed, I had to purchase the Home & Business edition, which is significantly more expensive than the Deluxe version that most people with straightforward returns can use. I paid $74.95 + Illinois state sales tax of $4.68 for a total of $79.63. The Deluxe version goes for a mere $29.95, but what can I do. I still made out a lot better than I would have with the same CPA.

Anyway, Turbo Tax Online works in much the same way as the traditional CD-ROM software would, except that you enter all your data online at the secure Turbo Tax site. I know a lot of people might be worried about putting that kind of sensitive information on a third-party website because of concerns about identity theft, but I’m not. Yes, identity theft is a major problem these days, but I feel confident about Turbo Tax being able to protect my info. After all, their business pretty much depends on this, don’t you think?

As I said, the online version is just as easy to use as the traditional version. Turbo Tax walks you step-by-step through whatever tax forms you need to fill out, points you to frequently asked questions if you get stuck, and of course does all the math for you so you know it’s completely accurate (as long as you’re entering correct info to begin with). I also love how the software keeps track of the amount of your rebate or tax bill in “real time”. In other words, with every applicable deduction you enter, the amount changes so you can see exactly how certain things impact your taxes.

You obviously don’t have to complete your taxes all in one sitting either. Turbo Tax Online saves your return and remembers where you were so you can pick up from the same spot the next time you sign in. When you do finish, you can file electronically or print everything right from the Turbo Tax site if you prefer to mail in your return. In addition, you can download and save a copy of your return in a pdf file or simply access it from the Turbo Tax site whenever you want to check it again.

All in all, I had a fantastic experience with Turbo Tax Online. This product is definitely deserving of its title as the best tax return software around, and I highly recommend it!

Nature’s Way DIM-Plus Supplements

dimplus.jpg I’ve been dealing with acne ever since I was a teen (I’m 34 now). Although my skin problems have never been severe, it’s still frustrating to have to deal with pimples and breakouts as an adult. So I’m always on the lookout for different products that might help improve my skin condition, and it seems that I’m always trying something new.

My latest experiment involves DIM-Plus supplements from Nature’s Way. These capsules contain diindolylmethane, which according to the packaging, is “a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, brussles sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale”. Nature’s Way markets DIM-Plus as a way to promote healthy estrogen metabolism — and I admit that I have no idea what that means.

The reason I decided to try it was that many people have reported improvements in their skin after taking DIM. I figured since these were natural supplements, it wouldn’t hurt to try DIM for acne to see if it helped at all.

I found DIM-Plus online and bought a bottle of 120 capsules for $17.68. That’s pretty steep as far as supplements go, but if it worked, it would be a bargain. The recommended dosage is two capsules with food once a day, so that’s what I did for the first week.

After just a few days, I noticed some slight improvements with my pores. Specifically, some blackheads started clearing up and my pores appeared smaller/less noticeable. I wouldn’t go so far as to say my skin was becoming smooth, but it was definitely getting better. Moreover, my skin no longer appeared red and irritated from regular washing and benzoyl peroxide products. It seemed that the DIM was helping in that respect.

However, after a week, I started getting a few full-blown pimples on my face. My acne usually takes the form of small bumps that never get red or inflamed. You can tell they’re pimples, but they’re not huge cysts or anything. But after a week on DIM-Plus, I started getting inflamed pimples — which obviously was not what I wanted.

So I cut back on my intake of DIM, and took just half the dosage every day. This seems to be better for me as I’m not getting any big pimples anymore. I would stop completely, but as I said, the DIM is helping with that red/irritated skin look, which is definitely a good thing.

The bottom line with my DIM-Plus experience? It didn’t clear my acne the way I thought it would, and in fact seems to make me break out even more when I’m on the full dosage. But a half dose per day (one capsule) seems to improve the appearance of my skin in terms of reducing redness and irritation. So while I didn’t get all the benefits I was hoping for, I’m still getting something worthwhile out of DIM.

Is DIM worth trying for your acne? That’s hard to say, as each case is obviously different. This is clearly not a miracle cure, but you could derive some benefits (as I did).

Saving Money

As someone whose portfolio runs more to penny stocks than blue chips, I’m always looking for ways to save money when I shop. Along with doing the obvious things such as buying items when they’re on sale, here’s another tenet that I absolutely live by:

Buy products out of season!

This is an oldie but goodie, and applies to more than just clothes. Everyone knows that if you want the best deal on a winter coat, you have to buy it in February or March when stores are making way for spring and summer inventory.

This kind of thinking applies to other seasonal products as well, such as patio furniture, barbecue grills, Christmas cards, wrapping paper, and more. If you have space to store these types of items for several months before actually using them, then you could end up saving a ton of money.

Shopping this way requires foresight (what will you need 6 months or one year from now?) and discipline (if you buy something now, will you still like it when it comes time to use it?), but is definitely worth it!