Apr 4 2013

Buying a New Car: Avoid the Hassle

Carlos Portocarrero

new car interior

Buying a new car is supposed to be exciting. Ask anyone that’s bought a car recently and they’ll probably rave about it and how much they love it.

The process of actually buying the new car? Not so much.

Car salesmen are notorious for being sneaky, manipulative, and making you feel like you’re being ripped off. That kind of takes the fun out of it, don’t you think?

So if you’re thinking of buying a new car, just follow these tips and it will minimize all the aggravation. They helped make my recent car purchase (the car is awesome!) as enjoyable as possible (it could’ve been a lot worse).

#1 Buying a New Car: The Basics

If you’ve never bought a car before, you need to know the basics:

  • You should never pay the MSRP price
  • There’s something called the invoice price. Your goal is to pay less than the invoice price
  • Sites like TrueCar can help with figuring out what the invoice price is
  • Shop for your own financing—going through the dealer limits your options
  • If you’re trading in your current car, find out what value it might have by using Edmunds.com and CarMax
  • Use a payment calculator to see how much you can realistically afford before you fall in love with any car
  • Don’t forget you’ll also need to add taxes, plates, transportation fees, etc. These can add up quickly

#2 Do Your Research

This goes without saying. There is so much information out there and if you don’t take advantage of it, you’re asking for trouble. Start by reading reviews (Consumer Reports is a great resource) and getting a sense of which car is good for you.

A simple search for “[car you want] reviews” will get you started as you try to decide which car you want to buy. Ask your friends on Facebook and you’ll get some honest feedback.

I also highly recommend going to the official site of the cars you’re thinking of buying—that’s usually the best place to view all the different trims and options that are available.

We created a spreadsheet with the features that were important to us and put in the 6-7 cars we thought would be a good match and compared them that way (FYI, our rows were price, trunk space, and leg room).

car comparison spreadsheet

#3 Test Drive First

Be very clear when you show up at a dealership that you aren’t buying a new car on that day—you’re only test driving. We left the door open to potentially buying “if we got a great deal” thinking that would improve the service we got.

Bad idea.

The dealer wouldn’t let us leave and called us several times trying to close a deal we knew would never happen. It ended up becoming a huge hassle.

When we were up front about not buying a car the dealers were very helpful and didn’t pressure us at all.

#4 Pick the Car You Want

What can I say? This could be the hardest part of the whole process. Pick a car you can afford, that meets your needs, and you can get excited about. You’re going to own it for a while (hopefully).

#5 Use the Power of Email

Once you’ve picked the car, it’s time to get down to business. Here’s what you do:

  1. If you’re trading in your old car, take it to CarMax for a quick, 20-minute visit. They’ll give you a number that’s good for 7 days and is great leverage once you show up at the dealership
  2. Find dealers within 100 miles of you that sell the car (use Google Maps or the car maker’s site)
  3. Send them all the same message/e-mail spelling exactly the trim you want with the features you want. Be VERY specific!
  4. Ask them for their best “out the door” quote (includes taxes, fees, etc.)
  5. Punch these quotes into your spreadsheet
  6. Once you hear back from all of them, email them back and ask them to match the lowest number you got, making it very clear that if any new numbers pop up later in the process, you aren’t going to do business with them
  7. Pick the dealer that gave you the best price and print out all the emails you had with them
  8. Got get your new car!

Our dealer tried to pull some funny business at the end, and I just kept pointing at the emails he and I had gone back and forth on. He still tried to interpret his words differently (so it’s important to be VERY clear in them), but inevitably that’s what got me the deal I wanted.

#6 Buy the Car

You’d think that once you do all that work, you would just show up to pick up your new car, right?


Now you have to face the actual dealer. There might be “complications” and meetings to “work out the numbers.” Just point at the emails you brought with you and say “I want the deal you promised me.”

If they resist, walk out the door and tell them you’re going to dealer #2, who also matched the deal you sent out.

They’ll try hard to keep you there, so stick to your guns and you should be OK.

Bonus Tip: Find Underground Sites

One of the best things I did was discover two sites specific to the car we were looking for: the Subaru Outback. One was a forum of Outback owners (Subaru Outback Forum) where owners and potential owners discussed all kinds of really useful things, and the other was run by an Outback dealer in Seattle that ran a “behind the scenes” look at everything you could ever want to know about buying one (Cars 101). Thanks to those two sites, I had a wealth of information specific to the car I wanted to buy:

  • How much others payed for their car, including which features they added
  • How they negotiated with the dealer
  • Different aftermarket vendors they used for things like leather or sound systems
  • Things they would’ve done differently when buying their car
  • Random tips to help you make your decision on which trim is right for you
  • Special deals in effect from the car maker
  • Insight from the dealers themselves on what they’re trying to get out of a deal

Image by NRMA New Cars

Apr 3 2013

Boost Your Career: Improve Your Company’s Website

Carlos Portocarrero

Storm trooper with clowns at office

One of the best ways to boost your career is to consistently go beyond your everyday duties at work.

While I still think that it’s great advice, I think a lot of people are a little confused because it’s not very specific. I’ve written about Google’s 20% policy and how effective it can be to use that mentality to stand out.

But, again, it’s not very specific.

So today I want to share one very specific way that anyone can stand out at work.

Duh, It’s Digital

Every Company has a Website

This is a fact. You can’t argue with it.

If your company doesn’t have a website, then you have it easy: kick your boss’ door down and be like “Seriously? SERIOUSLY? WTF???”

That should be enough to make your case.

For every other company that’s already online, here’s something you may not want to hear: your site probably has a lot of problems.

In fact, it probably sucks.

But we Just Redesigned Our Site!

Did you do any user testing before you decided which elements you wanted to change? Did you ask any of the people that actually use your site before you made the changes?

Here’s how most redesigns work: marketing and product get into a room and agree that the current site sucks. That it needs to be updated. That they need a “fresh start.” So people start throwing out ideas:

Make it like an iPhone app!

Change the color scheme!

Let’s do that cool parallax thing I saw on this one site!!

It has to be responsive!

HTML5 is a non-negotiable…it has to be modern!!

A few weeks later, some poor designer has to take all this noise and turn it into a few different designs for the new site. Everyone gets back into a room and fights for their favorite.

Eventually, whoever is the loudest and pounds their fist on the table the hardest gets his or her way, and the new website has been chosen.

That is not how to build a new site.

How You Can Help

  • Go to Usertesting.com and sign up
  • Run a usability test with five users (you’ll save $49)
  • Wait a day or two
  • Reap the rewards

What did you just do? You ran a usability test on your company’s website.

That means five people will visit the site and run through a series of tasks that you outline for them. It usually takes about a day, but in exchange for your hard-earned cash you’ll get five videos of each user navigating the site while they talk their way through the tasks you gave them.

The first time you do this, it’ll blow your mind.

It’s called usability testing, and it’s how you properly build a website.

What to do Next

Walk into your boss’ office and say, “Here are the top three things we need to fix on our site.”

“How do you know? You’re just a lowly copywriter.”

“BOOM!” And you slam a USB drive on his/her desk with the videos on it. “Here’s why.”

No arguing. No subjectivity. Just real results from real users. You’ll be the hero of the day for bringing some sanity to the otherwise chaotic process of trying to re-do your company’s site.

One More Thing: A Helping Hand

A lot of you won’t feel very comfortable following the steps I outlined above. And that’s OK. That’s why I started Make A Better Site—it’s a service dedicated to running these usability tests for you. You hire us and we’ll take care of all the details.

Not only that, you’ll also get:

  • An SEO review of the site
  • A PDF with all the issues that were uncovered and a series of recommendations on how to fix them
  • We can also create a splash video that sums up the 60+ minutes of video into a nice, concise 2-3 minute spot that you’re boss will actually watch

If you’re interested, you can reach me here and we can get you up and running in no time.

Image by Kennymatic

Jan 16 2013

Letting off Some Steam: The Most Boring Way to Spend $200

Carlos Portocarrero

two suitcases on a tarmac

I won’t lie—spending money can be really fun. Acquiring new stuff makes us feel good because it triggers the same chemicals in our body that make us feel good when we do a good deed, when we fall in love, when we eat chocolate.

Over the holidays, M and A and I flew to Guatemala to spend some time with my family. The sense of Zen I found there was for another post, but there was one other thing that happened: the airline lost our luggage.

We got it two full days later, which was NOT fun. Instead of being flooded with dopamine, my synapses were flush with (insert chemical that makes you angry).

I complained, I followed up, and I complained some more. Eventually, I held them to their own policies. And because I was civil and polite in my quest, I wound up with twice the amount of compensation I was entitled to: $200 in cash.

Was it worth the hassle of not having clothes for two days? Of course not. But you know what? I’m over it (for the most part) so I’ll gladly take a couple hundred bucks for my troubles.

And now that all the hard work of collecting my just reward, I have to figure out how I want to spend it.


Here is where I tell you that I’m terrible at spending anything over $100. That’s why I needed my wife’s permission to buy my first smartphone and buying a Wii. It isn’t about “permission” so much as I need someone to tell me it’s OK to spend serious money on something you don’t really “need.”

I just can’t seem to pull the trigger without an endless amount of hand wringing and internal debate.

It’s the curse of the cheapskates.


google nexus tablet

So I got $200 in what’s essentially found money. I’ve been wanting to buy a tablet for a while…one that costs $199. So this is perfect, right? Buy the tablet you’ve been researching for months now that you have this found money.

You won’t feel the pain of depleting your cash on a trivial purchase. Done deal, right?


I’ve already sent it into my ING “New Car” account.

Just like that, the excitement of having $200 to spend is gone. Do I feel great that our New Car account is growing and that eventually we’ll be able to buy a new car without dipping into our savings?

Sure. But it means I’ve repressed that instinctual urge deep in all of us to spend, spend, spend. And every time I do that I can feel the tension increase. Eventually, I’m going to want to blow off some steam and unfurl that compact little ball of repression.

Like when I bought a Wii. And a new phone. And my MacBook Air (which I’m typing on now and has been a fantastic purchase…that should be another post).

The MacBook air was the last big purchase and that was on Black Friday of 2011, so it’s been a while.

I need some unfurling…

Part of me wants to just say the hell with it and buy the tablet. And not just the $199 tablet but to go all the way up to the iPad Mini (retail: $329) to make up for lost time. There are tiny little voices inside me saying “Do it! You’ve earned it! You deserve it!”

We all know those voices.

Eventually, I’ll buy something. I know I can’t keep repressing this feeling forever—I don’t have the stamina to fight it for much longer.

Am I the only one out there that feels this way? How are you dealing with this constant feeling? Why do I feel so guilty spending money? I guess it’s better than the alternative but it’s still kind of annoying that I have to go through all this mental gymnastics and internal debate to just buy myself a stupid gadget…

Jan 15 2013

Finding Your Happy Place, Zen, and Hammocks

Carlos Portocarrero


There’s a scene in Fight Club where the guy constantly reminds himself to find his “happy place.” This place is different for everyone, but for him it was a cave with penguins in it.

The idea has always appealed to me. To be able to escape whatever stress or anxiety you feel and go to a “happy place” seems like a great way to handle the less pleasant parts of our lives.

It’s better than being as asshole to people.

Over the holidays, I spent 10 days in my native Guatemala. As usual, we all had a blast. My daughter got to play with her cousins, see her aunt and uncle, and catch up with her grandparents.

M and I got to hang out and relax while enjoying the natural beauty that Guatemala has to offer.

Then the trip was over and we headed back to the States. To work. To our routines.

Besides the gifts and the pinky swear to never fly Aeromexico ever again, I brought back something else.

My happy place.

Only I was lucky enough to actually be there. In it. I experienced it for real and now can trigger it at will whenever I need some peace.

Here’s where it was.

Picture a sugar farm. Sugar cane as far as the eye can see. No buildings. Everything is flat. Now picture a large, open space smack in the middle of all that sugar cane. It’s covered in lush, green grass. It’s sunny and warm, but not uncomfortably hot. It’s cool in the shade.

There’s a simple, wooden house with a wraparound porch on the second floor. Very simple, very country.

There’s a hammock on that screened-in porch.

We had arrived the day before and I had just put my daughter down for her nap. For whatever reason, I was exhausted. 
So I stood up, told my parents and my sister and M that I was tired and wanted to go lay down in the hammock.

I hadn’t laid in a hammock in years.

So I laid down, gave myself a push, and started rocking gently from side to side.

My eyes eventually gave way and I went into a light, relaxing sleep.

Over the course of an hour, I woke up a few times, turned my head, and gave myself another push.

Here I was, in the middle of nowhere, in a place surrounded by sugar cane, surrounded by my family, taking a delicious nap in a hammock.

It was awesome.

It made me realize a few things. Work can be stressful, yes, especially when you care a lot about doing it as best you can. But no one is going to die. No one is going to cry (maybe some will cry). Nobody’s life is going to be miserable because something does or doesn’t happen at work.

It’s just work.

Whenever I start to feel that impending sense of anxiety about how a project will go and how I can do a better job, I think of my happy place.

Me in a hammock in the middle of nowhere in the southern part of Guatemala.

Image by Meagan