Hugh Chou, a systems network administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, is a hero in many financial circles for his free online devices: The ''Coffee Calculator,'' ''the Lunch Savings Calculator'' and the ``Gas Guzzling Calculator.''
Here's a link to Sharon's Muffin Calculator, designed by Hugh for this blog.
He calculates how much our little expenses cost on an annualized basis and how much we would earn if those funds were stashed in a long-term investment account.
I recently chatted with Chou and learned a lot. Ten years ago, he created a website that contained an online mortgage loan calculator. That service led to requests for more calculators from consumers and mortgage companies.
His calculators -- dozens of them -- are featured on his site, www.Hughchou.org. Click on Mortgage and Other Calculators.
Here's how the coffee calculator works: Plug in the cost of a cup of coffee, plus tax and your regular coffee-break snack. Input the number of cups you consume each working day. Based on $3 per day over a typical work year of about 250 days, the coffee calculator figures that your coffee break costs $750 a year.
Homemade coffee, Chou calculates, would cost only about 25 cents a day and over the period of a year, home-brewed coffee would save you $687. If you invest that amount in a 6 percent investment vehicle, and continue to do so on an annual basis, you would amass $9,061.80 in 10 years.
Chou's calculators enable you to plug in various dollar amounts, numbers of coffee cups and even the investment yield.
''I've always been pretty frugal,'' Chou told me. ''I've always brought my own lunch.'' Watching colleagues buying lunch each day led to Chou's Lunch Savings Calculator. The daily cost of a homemade lunch ($1.50) when compared to $5 takeout produces a savings of $875 a year. Over a 10-year period, skipping the $5 daily takeout could generate $11,000, based on a 5 percent annual yield.
Chou's Gas Guzzler Calculator lets you compare how much you'd save if your next car merely sips gas instead of guzzling it. You can plug in your car's miles per gallon and your commuting distance.
By the way, Chou donates a hefty portion of the proceeds from his calculators to charity. A portion of the donations also support his free site.
Here is his donations page: