Friday, December 26, 2008

2008 Happy Honda Days Instant Win Contest (Win $100 Gift Card While Honda Donates Up To $100k To Charity)

I stumbled across this $100 gift card contest while browsing Hondas online. I found this contest by clicking through a banner ad at Clicking through the banner ad gets you to the following destination site. Looking at the middle left of the page you can see the "instant win" tab. Clicking on this tab will bring you to the contest entry page (here).

Summary of contest:
* Up to 5 entries
* Contest open to entry through 5 January.
* Contest entrant has chance to win $100 gift card
* Honda will donate $1 per contest registrant up to $100k divided across three charities. Each contest registrant plays a role in determining what charities receive.
* Charities are:
- Keep America Beautiful® - Road to a Cleaner America
- Little League Baseball® - Urban Initiative
- Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation

I stumbled upon this contest because i'm constantly reading about new cars. I'll likely buy a new car within the next 1-3 years to replace my '98 Acura CL with 135k miles.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ten Mortgage Tips I Learned From Past Three Home Purchases

Bottom Line: I highlight some of my personal lessons learned from three home purchases conducted over the past six years.

1. Read “106 Mortgage Secrets All Home Buyers Must Lean – But Lenders Don’t Tell” by Gary Eldred, PhD. First third of book is dedicated to people that need help with credit or qualifying for expensive housing. Remainder is chocked full of level headed comments (AS APPOSED TO THE OTHER BOOKS ABOUT BECOMING A MILLIONAIRE WITH NO MONEY DOWN). The 106 secrets are summarized in the table-of-contents for a quick initial review.

2. Bad U.S. economy news is good news for you when you’re floating your rate (inverse relationship). For example: a high unemployment rate should help you get lower mortgage interest rates. Be mindful of economic news scheduled for release the week or two prior to your intended lock date and pay attention.

3. If you’re buying below fair value, a low appraisal may keep property taxes down but it’ll also make it more difficult for you to shed Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) later because it’ll take longer to develop an 80 percent loan to value ratio. Generally, it’s best to get a full service appraisal because you have the best chance for the appraisal to come back over your purchase price.

4. If you don’t put 20% down at closing, you generally won’t be able to shed PMI for at least the first 12 months. After 12 months, you’ll generally either have to order a full service appraisal showing that the house is now worth 20% higher than the current loan balance… or you’ll have to refinance. Make sure it’s clear what your mortgage company requires for removal of PMI.

5. Generally, you’ll find that your PMI rate will depend on your FICO score, type of loan and down payment (LTV ratio). Generally PMI monthly premiums reduce with every 5% you put down.

6. If you’re in a situation where it's not likely for you to build 20% equity quickly (to get rid of PMI), consider rates for an 80/20, 80/10/10, 95/5/5 loan (LOAN/Piggy Back Loan/Down Payment). If you can’t get a good rate for one of these loan combinations, ask your loan officer if you can pay your full PMI premium up front. This will allow you to roll the premium over to your home loan and deduct both your home loan interest and a portion of your PMI premium if you itemize taxes.

7. There is generally no difference in the rate you’ll get quoted between 10 yr and 15 yr fixed loans. A 20 yr fixed doesn’t significantly improve you quoted rate (when compared to a 30 yr fixed).

8. Closings via mail: Try and make sure the closing attorney’s office gets the package from your mortgage company no less than 5 business days prior to closing. This allows them enough time to reforward you the paperwork and still allows additional time on your end.

9. Settlement Statement:
a) If doing non-local purchase via mail: Wire fees are usually valid. Remember, closing attorneys are charged wire fees on each incoming wire transfer. It sucks that you have to pay a wire fee on your end and have to cover their expenses associated with receiving your wire and the mortgage company wire transfers.
b) Title insurance premium, refer to article wrote up below on subject

10. Closed on last house (24 Feb 06) with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. There loan officers are paid by the hour (not commission). They offer great rates and do 90 DAY LOCKS for no additional fee. They also pay a good portion of your buyer closing costs. Credit Union membership is open to everybody. I paid a $20 lifetime membership fee and did all paperwork via internet, phone and mail. Locked 15yr fixed at 5.0% (1 point, 20% down paid). Be aware, that some of the rates quoted on their site require 20% down.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

45 Frugal Yet Romantic Ideas For You and Your Mate

First off, this post is not directly related to finance. However, it can be useful to you financially, especially if you want a few frugal yet romantic ideas, or you simply want to stimulate an existing relationship/marriage.

Ideas are taken from a brochure that I kept from my early college years titled “101 Ways to Eroticize Safer Sex.” The brochure was handed out by my Alma Mater’s peer health advocates group.

56 of the 101 ways to eroticize safer sex were excluded because they were either specific to the area of the University or not as tame/clean as what I’d like to post on this blog. Listed, in no particular order:

(1) Dance together in your room
(2) Go horseback riding
(3) Comb each other’s hair
(4) Play Frisbee
(5) Give flowers for no specific reason
(6) Take a hot air balloon ride
(7) Go to a music festival
(8) Hang out at a bookstore or music store
(9) Play board games
(10) Kiss each other slowly
(11) Take a sauna together
(12) Wear each other’s boxers
(13) Build sand castles
(14) Finger paint each other
(15) Take a nap together
(16) Give Eskimo or butterfly kisses
(17) Go hiking together
(18) Play wrestle
(19) Share a lollipop
(20) Give each other a foot and hand massage
(21) Listen to each other’s heart beat
(22) Watch the sun rise/sunset
(23) Leave a rose on your mate’s windshield
(24) Bring your mate breakfast in bed
(25) Drink a cappuccino at an outdoor café
(26) Read Shakespearean sonnets
(27) Go to an aquarium or zoo
(28) Take a carriage ride
(29) Play putt-putt golf
(30) Go dancing
(31) Go bowling
(32) Make bread together
(33) Cook a candle light dinner together
(34) Go kite flying
(35) Stay overnight in a bed and breakfast
(36) Rollerblade together
(37) Take a stroll in the rain
(38) Surprise your mate with a bouquet of balloons
(39) Take a walking tour of area attractions
(40) Swing on a porch
(41) Go bicycling together
(42) Leave each other love notes
(43) Swing in a hammock
(44) Sip hot chocolate w/ marshmallows by the fireplace
(45) Flirt with one another

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recommended Articles From My Blogroll

Today is a snow day for my wife and I in the Pacific Northwest and i'm able to catch up on some new article posts. Please enjoy the following articles/posts from authors on my blogroll.

Dual Income No Kids: "Bail out for Santa"

Budgets are Sexy: "Am i a Grandpa if i get my nephew a Savings Bond?" Good article about something of interest to myself. All of his recent posts are relatively interesting.

Master Your Card: "11 Reasons Why The Economy is Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better"

Money for Military: "Get Your Free Credit Report to Start 2009"

Everyday Finance: "A Legitimate High Yield Stock you can Take to the Bank." The author writes about one of three stocks i'm investing in, Dow Chemical (DOW).

The Digerati Life: "Money Saving Ideas From The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to Riches"

Save and Conquer: "401(k) Match Being Reduced or Eliminated" Article covers one area of the economic down turn.

Fiscal Zen: "Four Tools to Help You Make the Most of Ebay"

Miss Thrifty: "How to clean wallpaper - with bread"

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sticking to Basics Eases Financial Stress

Gregory Karp of the Chicago Times writes an easy to follow article titled "Sticking to Basics Eases Financial Stress." The article makes sense and integrates well with my own developing financial philosophy.

Karp cites a Synovate survey and emphasizes that people who follow three basic rules of money management are less stressed. The rules are:

* Have an emergency cash fund. Of those surveyed who did not have a six-month emergency fund, 90 percent felt stressed. This compares with 78 percent of all people surveyed feeling stressed. Finally, of those with a six-month emergency fund, only 56 percent felt stressed.

* Pay off credit cards in full

* Use a household budget. Similar results were found linking credit cards and household budgets to stress levels.

Karp's article can be found here. The remaining is my opinion...

Many people waste time focusing on exciting money making ventures and focus less on the simple things. Take for instance credit cards, people who carry a non o% APY credit card balance have no business investing in the stock market. Pay off your credit card.

The importance of a household budget varies depending on whether or not you are naturally frugal. I don't use a household budget at all. But, I'm an inherently frugal person. If you're prone to overspending, work on developing a manageable budget that focuses on saving for lifetime goals.

As for investing, focus on securing your future. Is your house or car paid off? If not, a majority of your free cash flow should go towards paying off these items. Are you or your spouse in an upwardly mobile career? If not, some of your free cash flow should be spent on career related education and training to make you competitive for higher wages and / or more satisfying work. Finally, speculative investments should take up no more than 20% of your free cash flow.

I will likely have people disagree with my 2009 household financial goals. In 2009 my household does not plan on contributing to a ROTH IRA. Instead, we are focusing our extra cash flow to pay off one of our three investment properties within the next two years. We feel it is important to pay off our houses during a down economy. Our 6-8 year payoff plan is as follows:

* House 1 (1400 sq ft @ 5.875% 30 yr fixed): $50.6k in mortgage debt with an estimated payoff date in Dec 2010.

* House 2 (1900 sq ft @ 5.5% 15 yr fixed): $91k in mortgage debt with an estimated payoff date no later than Dec 2013.

* House 3 (3100 sq ft @ 5% 15 yr fixed): $151.5k in mortgage debt with an estimated payoff date no later than Dec 2016.

The primary reason for focusing on our mortgage debt is the fact that it's a sure thing and in this economy, good renters are not. The one thing that may complicate our house pay off goals is unforseen maintenance expenses. We remain open to selling any or all of our houses if we get the price we want. Otherwise, we'll continue to carry them and the remaining $293k in mortgage debt associated with them.

Despite my emphasis on paying off our houses, i'm still speculative in other areas. I'm investing all of my blog earnings in peer-to-peer lending site So far, i've invested $125 in blog earnings in a 11.43% net interest bearing loan portfolio diversified across five loans. One can establish a LendingClub account through the below ad.

Try it Now! Join Lending Club.

I'm also investing $150 a month across three dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPS): Dow Chemical (DOW), 3M (MMM) and Exxon Mobil (XOM). I started all three of my DRIPS through and corresponding agent companies Bank of New York Mellon, Wells Fargo Bank and, respectively.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bernard "Bernie" Madoff Ponzi Scheme Victims (Including Estimated Victim Losses)

Below is an initial list of victims of the Bernard “Bernie” Madoff Ponzi scheme orchestrated at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. Initial list adapted from Wikipedia article and expanded to show a total of $32.7 billion in estimated losses. Individual losses noted before each item listed below. Variance may exist due to round off error and currency exchange rates used in calculations at time of posting.

Feel free to link to this post. It will be updated periodically as additional information comes forward.

(7.5 B) Fairfield Sentry Ltd, a hedge fund run by Walter Noel's Fairfield Greenwich Group (Note 1).

(3.5 B) Kingate Global Fund Ltd, a hedge fund run by Kingate Management Ltd (Note 1).

(3.3 B) Tremont Capital Management (Note 2)

(3.21 B) Banco Santander, ticker STD, (through its “Optimal Fund”) Note 1.

(1.8 B) Ascot Partners hedge fund. Source: Diana Henriques and Alex Berenson at NY Times

(~1.8 B or slightly less) J. Ezra Merkin, chairman of GMAC, and founder of Ascot Partners hedge fund (Note 1).

(1.4 B) Access International Advisors LLC and clients (through its "American Selection" fund, traded as "LUXALPHA SICAV"). Source: Saijel Kishan at Bloomberg. Also, the fund manager, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, was found dead this Tuesday after an apparent suicide (Chicago Tribune source).

(1.4 B) Fortis Bank Netherlands (Note 2).

(1.08 B) Union Bancaire Privee and clients. Source: Reuters

(~1 B or less) HSBC, ticker HBC (Note 1).

(0.935 B) Benbassat & Cie, Swiss private bank. Source: Daily Intel

(0.633 B) Natixis and clients. Source: Guerrera, Sender at Financial Times

(0.624 B) Royal Bank of Scotland, ticker RBS (Note 1).

(0.484 B) BNP Paribas (Note 1).

(0.042 B) Fairfield Connecticut public employees pension fund. Source: Hartford Courant

(0.41 B) BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank (Note 1).

(0.4 B) Fix Asset Management (Note 1).

(0.36 B) Man Group and clients (Note 1).

(0.33 B) Reichmuth and Co’s Reichmuth Matterhorn fund (Note 1).

(0.302 B) Nomura Holdings and clients (Note 1).

(0.28 B) Maxam Capital Management (including Maxam Absolute Return Fund), run by Sandra Manzke; Manzke has stated that Maxam has been "wiped out" and will close as a result of the losses (Note 1).

(0.28 B) Pioneer Alternative Investments (Note 1).

(0.23 B) EIM Group (Note 1).

(3.3 B) Tremont Capital Management (Note 2)

(0.188 B) M&B Capital Partners. Source: Westbrook & Kishan at Bloomberg

(0.145 B) Carl Shapiro’s charitable foundation (Note 1).

(0.14 B) Axa (Note 1).

(0.137 B) Aozora Bank. Source: Reuters

(0.104 B) Unicredit. Source: Catan & Bryan-Low of WSJ

(0.1 B to 0.11 B) Yeshiva University. Source: Strom at NYT

(0.107 B) Dexia SA (Note 2).

(0.066 B) Nordea Bank AB (Note 2).

(0.05 B) Banque Bénédict Hentsch and clients (Note 1).

(0.05 B) Korea Life Insurance (Note 1).

(0.005 B) North Shore-Long Island Jewis Health System (Note 1).

(0.04 B) Royal Bank of Canada, ticker RY (Note 2).

(0.03 B) Mortimer Zuckerman Charity(Note 2).

(0.029 B) Avram and Carol Goldberg, former owners of the Stop & Shop supermarket chain. Source: Daily Intel

(0.021 B) Bramdean Alternatives hedge fund run by Nicola Horlick of London. Source: Ian King of The Times

(0.019 B) Madoff Family Foundation (Note 1).

(0.018 B) Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Source: Daily Intel

(0.014 B) Groupama (Note 2).

(0.014 B) Harel Insurance Investments and Financial Services (Note 1).

(~0.014 B, or less) Societe Generale (Note 1).

(0.012 B) Massachusetts state pension. Source: Healy & Syre at Boston Globe

(0.012 B) Phoenix Holdings (Note 2).

(0.011 B) Banco Popolare. Source: Catan & Bryan-Low of WSJ

(0.011 B) Richard Spring of Boca Raton, FL. Source: Urbina at NYT

(0.01 B) Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Source: Strom at NYT

(0.009 B) Korea Teachers' Pension (Note 1).

(0.008 B) Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation (Salem, Massachusetts) Charity founded by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg (Note 1).

(0.007 B) Technion (Note 2).

(0.006 B) Julian J. Levitt Foundation, Texas (Note 1).

(0.006 B) The Ramaz School. Source: Strom at NYT

(~ 0.005 B, or less) NPB Neue Privat Bank (Zurich) and clients (Note 1).

(0.004 B) The SAR Academy, a Jewish School. Source: Strom at NYT

(0.004) CNP Assurances (Note 2).

(0.001 B) Clal Insurance (Note 2).

(~ 0.001 B) Mediobanca (Note 2).

TOTAL: $32.698 B

** Below is a listing of others mentioned online or on TV to have losses but without losses disclosed. Inclusion of some individuals below in the above total should be carefully done since in some cases the losses may be from "client" interests in one of the above.**

(1.) The Chais Family Foundation, Encino, CA.

(2.) Elise Wiesal Foundation for Humanity, losses unconfirmed

(3.) Joyce Greenberg and family, losses in multi-millions. Source: CNBC, 16 Dec

(4.) Notz, Stucki & Cie – undetermined (Note 1).

(5.) Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie

(6.) Palm Beach Country Club

(7.) Sterling Equities, Inc. led by New York Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon

(8.) Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation

(9.) Stephen Spielberg’s charity, the Wunderkinder Foundation

(10.) Stephen Abbott (San Francisco lawyer) and family, hundreds of thousands. Source: Ross at San Francisco Chronicle

(11.) Norman Braman, former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football team

(12.) Englebardt family of Los Angeles and elsewhere

(13.) Leonard Feinstein, co-founder of Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.

(14.) Stephen A. Fine, president of Biltrite Corp.

(15.) Jerome Fisher, founder of Nine West

(16.) Helfman family of Miami and elsewhere

(17.) Robert Jaffe and family (see also father-in-law Carl & Ruth Shapiro) of Palm Beach and elsewhere

(18.) Saul Katz, co-owner of the New York Mets

(19.) Irwin Kellner, chief economist for, of Port Washington, N.Y.

(20.) Susan Leavitt of Tampa Bay, Florida

(21.) Loeb family

(22.) Ira Rennert (billionaire), mentioned by Vicky Ward of Vanity Fair on CNBC on December 12, 2008 as being "heavily, heavily invested" with Madoff Ira Roth and family of New Jersey

(23.) Vincent Tchenguiz, UK real estate investor

(24.) Thyssen Family (including Thybo International fund)

(25.) Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law

(26.) JEHTFoundation

(27.) Leonard Litwin

(28.) Mirabaud & Cie

(29.) Swiss bank Syz SA

(30.) Frontbridge

(31.) Lombard Odier

(32.) Gabriel Capital Partners' Ascot Fund Ltd.

Note 1: Jamie Dunkley at
Note 2: Westbrook & Kishan at Bloomberg

Monday, December 15, 2008

Lending Club: What I'm Using for my Loan Porfolio Performance Benchmark

I've blogged extensively about Prosper peer-2-peer lending in 2006 and have learned a lot from my experiences with the lending site. With Prosper in its quiet period, I have already funded four loans with LendingClub. My first impression with LendingClub was tainted by my unfamiliarity with it. Prosper has a far better search mechanism and better presentation of listings, but i'm beginning to think that this is all the PROS associated with Prosper. I'm beginning to warm up to LendingClub.

I'm using LendingClub to reinvest earnings from my blog. Later this week, I will roll another $25 of blog earnings into LendingClub. At Prosper, my loan portfolio has had horrible performance. According to LendingStats, only 73% of my loans are / were performing loans and my estimated ROI is 6.4%. At such a low rate, I might have been better off just paying off my highest interest rate mortgage (5.875%) and reinvesting my previously used Prosper Loan searching / funding time in some other area.

I must admit, I was pretty aggressive with Prosper lending. At sometimes, I was down right careless. Since 2007, I have regrouped into a more conservative lending style. I'm now implementing my more conservative lending strategy from scratch at LendingClub. I believe I will do better at this site. My initial two reasons to believe this reside in the fact that I can minimize risk at LendingClub by risking only $25 per loan vice the Prosper minimum of $50. Also, it appears that the LendingClub's vetting of applicants is better than at Prosper's site.

Now to the point referenced in the subject line... I was reviewing CNBC and found a great story about Capital One delinquency rates (article). LendingClub lenders should keep their eyes and ears open to all credit card company news on delinquency / write-off rates. At Capital One, the company is reporting a write-off percentage rate of 6.98% and a 30 day delinquent rate of 4.7%. At first, one might say it makes great sense to use these numbers as a yard stick to measure their own LendingClub account performance. Don't rely on this early on. Wait until your loan portfolio matures before you start measuring up to this.

I plan on using the Capital One write-off rate as a yard stick going forward. If I don't beat Capital One after one year at lending, i'll likely quit. My next goal after beating Capital One will be to have a net return of 8.4%. We'll see how things work out.

You can use the button below if you want to set up an account at LendingClub and test your lending skills.

Try it Now! Join Lending Club.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

U.S. Household Debt Drops For The First Time Ever

The Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that household debt decreased for the first time since the Fed started keeping this data over 50 years ago. For the period of July - September, households reduced their debt by an annual rate of 0.8 percent.

The Associated press reports:

"The decline in household debt levels is evidence of the severe credit squeeze that is occurring as banks, saddled by billions of dollars of losses in mortgage debt, have tightened lending standards and made it harder for people to get loans."

"Mortgage debt fell at an annual rate of 2.4 percent in the third quarter, the largest decline on record."

Additional details can be found the Associated Press article here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

GMAC Fails to Meet Conditions to Convert to Bank

I would be very skeptical of keeping any money in a GMAC bank account over FDIC insured limits. Check out this article from Bloomberg.

"By Ari Levy
Dec. 10 (Bloomberg) -- GMAC LLC, the auto and consumer lender seeking federal aid, failed to obtain enough capital to become a bank holding company and may abandon the effort, casting new doubt on the company’s ability to survive.

A debt exchange by GMAC and its Residential Capital mortgage unit designed to bolster the company’s finances didn’t attract enough participation, GMAC said today in a statement. So far, GMAC remains short of assembling $30 billion in regulatory capital that Federal Reserve requires, and the regulator has said the conversion won’t be approved if the requirement isn’t met.

GMAC has pinned its hopes for recovery on its plan to become a bank holding company and gain access to federal rescue programs. The Detroit-based company gave debt holders another three days to consider its exchange offer, adding that if it doesn’t complete the swaps and win Fed approval by Dec. 31, “it would have a near-term material adverse effect on GMAC’s business, results of operations, and financial position.”

Less than 25 percent of GMAC and ResCap’s existing debt covered by the exchange offer has been tendered, the statement said. GMAC needs about 75 percent participation for the plan to work, the statement said.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Real Unemployment Rate Rises to 12.2% (Not Seasonally Adjusted) at End of November 2008

A couple weeks ago I discussed the U.S. unemployment rate and its two overlooked components of "marginally attached workers" or "employed part time for economic reasons." Please see my November 24th article for additional background.

Turbulent Market for My Rental Properties

Last night I received news that my tenants at my newest and largest house will be breaking there lease early due to job relocation of both tenants. This comes just two months after filling my smallest of three rental properties, which didn't draw rent since January 2008 and required $15k in rehab work. I recently started making payments of $2300 over mortgage on my smallest rental property. This accelerated payment plan would have allowed for paying off the smallest property in only 5 years. Unfortunately, this will be placed on the back burner until my largest house is under a new contract.

My wife and I have three rental properties (3100 sq ft, 1900 sq ft and 1450 sq ft houses). We're in no hurry to sell them, but are nonetheless entertaining both sale and rental contracts each time our rental properties are empty. Our focus going forward is to pay off each of our rental properties ($296k balance due) and pay off our retirement home before I retire from the military. This goal isn't that lofty since it's likely we'll retire in the south east where properties are more reasonably priced.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Money Saving Hobby: Coupon Clipping

I came across an inspirational article related to coupon clipping. Coupon clipping? LOL, yes. The story is about Carol-Ann Mendoza a 31 year old stay at home mom. Carol quit her job 11 years ago to focus on raising her two children. Her and her husband now have four children.

Carol is described as a having OCD, obsessive coupon disorder. She runs a coupon clipping club that meets once a month for what sounds to be a fun event. At her meetings she has door prizes, ice tea, pies and what sounds like a great social atmosphere. Her coupon clipping meetings focus on combing through each attendees' reject pile as well as putting out tips and strategies to save money.

In addition to running "Frugal Mamas" club meetings, she also runs the website Frugal-Mammas. Carol is also known for random acts of kindness such as snooping others' shopping carts and handing them coupons for their items. Carol shares the following tips and sites for saving:

Tips to save

- Look for BOGO (buy one, get one) deals and couple them with two manufacturer coupons.
- Don't be embarrassed to ask your friends for their extra coupons. They are like money.
- Price shop. Wal-Mart will match any price if you bring in a competitor's ad.
- Stick to your shopping list so you aren't tempted to buy full-priced items.
- Check out Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie for discounted meat. The stores usually cut prices in the mornings on meat about to expire.
- Leave the kids and husband at home when you shop. They often sneak noncoupon items into the cart.
- Give your two cents about a product by calling the manufacturer. They'll often send you coupons or free stuff.
- If a store is out of a sale item, ask for a raincheck.
- Never try to pass an expired coupon. That's cheating.

Useful Web sites

The full article written by Susan Thurston of the St. Petersburg Times can be found here. While I didn't write it up in the main body above, here's another great but separate coupon clipping article.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Better Things Come To Those Who Wait-Avoid Tax Refund Anticipation Loans

The holiday season is in full swing and before we know it we will be ushering in a new year. After the excitement of ringing in the New Year on January 1st, many people turn their attention to the upcoming tax season. If you are one of the millions of Americans who is anxiously awaiting a tax refund to stimulate your own economic situation, you may be tempted to rush that payment from Uncle Sam by taking advantage of a tax anticipation loan. However in the world of high interest loans, this one is almost at the top of the scale, comparable to payday loans since they are often targeted toward the working poor who really can't afford to lose another dollar.

What is a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL)?
Basically a RAL is a third party loan offered by your tax preparer in order for you to receive you tax refund quickly. The reason this type of loan appears predatory in nature is the fact that unlike years ago when you had up to several weeks to receive you return via mail, most refunds presently can be received in as little as a few days up to two weeks. For some people who are desperately waiting for cash to pay bills or cover living expenses, the need for money will tempt them to accept an offer of receiving their cash almost immediately, but for that “convenience” they can expect to pay up to triple digits in interest rates for an extremely short term loan. Unlike payday loans (short term loans advanced to anyone having a checking account and a job) which are considered high risk, RAL loans are very low risk. You don't have to pay cash up front and all the fees are taken out of the refund which is guaranteed money as long as your taxes are filed correctly and you do not have any outstanding debts that may result in a deduction from your refund.

Who are the players in this loan game?
Tax preparers make up the large majority of businesses offering RALs, however they are not alone. Are you looking for another car or perhaps a new big screen TV? Many vendors offer incentives that include using your pending tax return in exchange for big ticket items. They prey on individuals that are looking for or are in need of money immediately. Anyone expecting a refund from the IRS can qualify for this type of advance. Most individuals that accept a RAL qualify for the low income Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Sadly, many of the individuals don't even realize that they are taking out a “loan” and either through misrepresentation or simply by not understanding the terms, think the process is part of their tax preparation. EITC qualifying families make up over half of the people receiving RALs from commercial tax preparers.

Alternatives to RALs?
Does it make sense to pay to borrow your own money? The resounding answer is NO! There are few cases where having the money just a few days earlier is worth the cost. The best alternative to get you cash quickly is to file your tax return electronically and opt to have the refund deposited directly into your checking or savings account. If you need assistance preparing your taxes, consider using the free tax preparation service through the IRS. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) offers free tax help for moderate to low income taxpayers (earning $40,000 or less) who would otherwise normally use commercial tax preparers for their tax returns.

Unlike the trillions of dollars the government is currently handing out in the form of bailouts, your income tax return is not money being given to you for free. It is money that you worked hard to earn that the government has been nice enough to hold for you in. You've waited all year for this cash. The high interest expenses of RALs really are not worth the cost to receive your money days earlier.

Trisha Wagner is a freelance writer for, a debt community featuring debt forums. Trisha writes regularly on the topics of getting out of debt and personal finance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dollar-Smart Santa

Brett Arends of the Wall Street Journal had a great article this past week titled "Dollar-smart Santa." I was looking for some Cheap Christmas party themes and stumbled upon Mr Arends article. Unfortunately, I can't find it at google news so I will share the highlights with you.

(1.) Feeling nostalgic? Then consider buying a stock certificate in Ford or GM. I personally would avoid GM because they're the worst off financially. Anyways, you can get the certificate via one of two means. Buy the stock via your broker and ask for it issued in certificate form and in the name of a specific recipient. Or, you can go to and buy most any stock for gifting purposes. I used OneShare previously when I bought a share of stock for my niece and it worked out fine.

(2.) Consider a Netflix subscription. "It costs as little as $5 a month, or $60 a year. Compare that with cable TV, which can cost more than $1,000 a year."

(3.) An internet phone, or an adapter. "Is grandma still paying $900 a year for her old-fashioned landline? If she has broadband internet, she could pay almost nothing. Consider a phone connected to Skype..."

(4.) "Buy grandma a webcam. Set her up with a google talk account that lets her make and receive video calls to grandchildren." Set up is about 1/2 hr. Cost about $70 for a good camera like the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000.

(5.) Can you bake? Then make somebody a pie.

(6.) Starbucks Gold Card. "Spend $25 on a 'gold' membership card, and you can get one free coffee - and 10 percent off everything for a year. That's a $100 saving on your latte a day."

(7.) Gift of labor

(8.) Gift card

(9.) Thermos jug. The user can bring soup to work and save about $700 or so over the course of year if they stop buying sandwiches at work. If they don't bring in soup, they can always bring in their favorite coffee blend and save money there too.

(10.) "Short on cash? Give frequent-flier miles. Some airline programs, such as JetBlue and United allow you to transfer miles directly. Others, including Alaska Airlines, will let you use miles to help someone else buy a flight."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Frugal Christmas Idea: White Elephant Gift Exchanges

White Elephant gift exchanges are a great frugal party theme for Christmas. This sort of gift exchange can be done at work or home parties. It's cheap and fun. Other names for this include: Yankee Swap, Barona Gift Exchange, Thieving Secret Santa, Selfish Santa, Nasty Christmas, Dirty Santa, Scrooge's Christmas, Rob Your Neighbor, Thieving Elves or Chinese Auction.

Picture a white elephant. It's big and because of its white color it stands out. In a household, it has absolutely no purpose but to get in your way. A lot of people hold white elephant gift exchanges around the Christmas holidays. I've done it once at work last year and have scheduled to do it and my new job.

You can google it and find a number rule variations. Here's the rules in a nut shell. Gift value should be capped at a predetermined value. We used $20. People bring in gift wrapped items from their house that they absolutely don't want. Some people will go out and buy a gift if they can't find anything good at home. Before the gift exchange starts, everybody picks a number from a hat. Now that you established the order, you can start the actual exchange. The number one person selects a gift from the pile of wrapped gifts and opens it. Now, the next person has the option to steal any previously unwrapped gift or unwrap a new gift. If somebody has their gift stolen from them, then they take a gift from the unwrapped pile and open it.

Each person goes through picking or stealing gifts until you're out of gifts. We used a cap of three on the number of times a gift can stolen, but this can be varied.

When I did this last year, I picked out what I thought was the best gift. It was an over sized Starbucks coffee mug with some coffee. Somebody obviously didn't have a white elephant gift to bring in from home and went out and bought this. However, somebody after me decided that they liked it and stole it when their turn came. This then happened two more times because others liked the Starbucks gift. I ended up getting stuck with a scented candle. While I ended up with a gift that I didn't like, I thoroughly enjoyed the event theme.

For other white elephant rules you can refer to this wiki article and this google search.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cyber Monday Shopping and Some Holiday Hacks

Retailer competition may grow this season in the face of decreasing consumer spending. Consumer spending was down one percent from last year, the largest amount since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Even if you’re not in the mood to spend, there are a number of retailers out to sweeten the deal to entice you to spend.

If you didn’t seize any deals on Black Friday you still have opportunities to find deals on Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is a term coined by the National Retail Federation in 2005 to describe online sales the Monday following Thanksgiving. According to CNBC, 84% of retailers will offer cyber Monday discounts. A quick search of the phrase “Cyber Monday 2008” yielded 9.5 million hits this Friday morning. Some of the deals available today and/or Cyber Monday include:

* One dollar ($1) doorbusters hidden on Ebay which include a 2009 Chevy Corvette and 65-inch Panasonic Plasma HDTV, each for only one buck. One dollar doorbusters can be found on Ebay from 24 Nov to 3 Dec. Here’s the Ebay promotional site. I'm unsure as to whether or not the "hidden" doorbusters can be found via Ebay searches. If they can, I've already formulated my techniques for looking. I have already favorited two pages in my web browser: $1 Chevy Corvette and $1 65 inch HDTV searches on Ebay. You also might find doorbusters using common letter seaches in the Ebay search box, modified for $1 items only. The letter "E" is the most common English letter (followed by t, a, I, n, o, s). This latter technique may be a little time consuming and may only suit you if you're bored. If any of these techniques nets you the Corvette or 65 inch TV, please make a small donation to charity on behalf of Plugged in Finance. Plugged in Finance prefers the “Fisher House” charity.

* According to CNN, PayPal is planning to promote its site by supporting five to thirty percent discounts at various retailers. I couldn’t find a full list of the online retailers providing this PayPal discount, but you may want to keep an eye open for it. A preliminary list of retailers includes American Eagle Outfitters, and Blockbuster Video.

* Amazon also plans on taking 65 percent off of watches and will offer a $157 knife set for $49.99.

If you prefer to avoid Cyber Monday shopping, you can always find a deal at Woot. Woot is an online retailer that sells one item a day at deep discount.

Do you consider the preparation of Holiday cards a bit mundane? If so, consider going to the
US Postal Service where you’ll find an affiliate known as At this USPS sponsored site you can personally design cards for any holiday and many religious faiths. You can insert your own personalized notes and also buy gift card inserts. The service costs $2.99 per card plus postage. Discounts up to 45% off can be achieved by joining “The Club Card.”

Last, but most importantly is toy safety. If you are skeptical of the safety of toys, you might want to check out a product of the Consumer Product Safety Commission titled “Which Toy for Which Child: A Consumer’s Guide for Selecting Suitable Toys.” This item can be found here. The commission provides the following safety recommendations:

* Check for sturdy toy construction, and when buying soft toys make sure the eyes, nose and other attached parts are secure.

* When buying for infants and toddlers, avoid items with small parts they may put in their mouth or long strings which could get twisted around the child’s neck.

* Arrows or darts used by children should have safety cork tips, rubber suction cups or other protective devices. Make sure these tips are securely attached.

* Electric toys with heating elements should be given only to children over age 8, and then only with adult supervision.

* Avoid toys that shoot or propel objects that could injure eyes.

I wish you the best these holidays.

You Can Win a New F-150 Pickup Trip or Tickets to BCS College Bowl Games Through This Online Ford Sweepstakes

One of my side hobbies is entering into contests for new cars or trucks. My wife and I have two high mileage cars. I recently got rid of our highest mileage car (98 Lexus, 160k miles) and bought a used 2004 Lexus for my wife last year. Her car has already racked up 30k miles since purchase, it now has 74k miles. I drive a 98 Acura with 134k miles and plan on getting a new vehicle within about two years.

Anyways, I'm watching FOX NFL Sunday and saw an advertisement for the Ford "BCS Roadtrip." If you go to you get the opportunity to enter for the following prizes:

*Grand Prize: All new '09 F-150

*First Place: A ten (10) day trip for two (2) from 12/31/08 – 1/9/09 to attend the FedEx Orange Bowl in Miami, FL (1/1/09), the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, LA (1/2/09), the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ (1/5/09) and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game in Miami, FL (1/8/09).

*Second Place: A six (6) day trip for two (2) from 1/4/09 – 1/9/09 to attend the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ (1/5/09) and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game in Miami, FL (1/8/09).

*Third Place: A three (3) day trip for two (2) from 1/7/09 – 1/9/09 to attend the FedEx BCS National Championship Game in Miami, FL (1/8/09).

Entry doesn't take long. Sweepstakes ends 6 Jan 2009. One entry per household. Here's the link for entry.

Funny Cure For Those Who Waste Money on Lottery Tickets

Yes, lottery tickets provide some hope and opportunity to dream. They have huge upside and low downside, if you control your spending. I think they are a reasonable indulgence if limited to one or two bucks per week. Some people may have a strong religious belief against anything gambling related... More power to you.

I first remember playing the lottery as a 14 year old. As a teenager I spent no more than $10 bucks on lottery tickets total. On one of my lottery tickets I picked all but one number correctly. Unfortunately, I threw the ticket away because I thought that you had to get all numbers correct to win. It wasn't a mega-million or powerball. I would really be kicking myself if it was! Today, I typically play the lottery only when the payout rises above 100 million and the local news is covering it. I normally don't track the lottery at all and would be oblivious to the prize pool unless the local news is covering it. I typically buy $5 to $10 worth of tickets when the lottery exceeds 100 million. I realize this is a bit overboard.

We all know that the costs add up. I recommend you watch the following Chris Rock video titled "Money Makin' System" if you spend more than two bucks a week on the lottery. The video will help remind you how stupid it is to waste money on the lottery with a little humor to boot. Warning: the video has two minor curse words (a-s and b-t-h) but is otherwise clean.

My reference to a cure in the title was simply done because the video aims to remind all of us how stupid wasting money on the lottery can be.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top Ways to Waste Money

I found this good AOL slide show on "Top ways to waste money." This slide how was generated from the feedback of AOL readers Here's what the slide show states as the top ways to waste money:

(1.) Paper towels. Use dish cloths.

(2.) Tanning salons. Accelerated skin cancer plan.

(3.) Government-funded space exploration. Use the money to fund health care & feed the poor.

(4.) Movie rentals. Check with local library first. If not there, wait till it reaches the library or cable / broadcast networks.

(5.) Disposable razors. Perfect solution, ask for an electric razor for Christmas.

(6.) Pet clothing & accessories. Crochet a sweater before you buy one.

(7.) Convenience stores. Shop in bulk and avoid convenience store visits.

(8.) Nail Salons. $60 for a routine visit. Get Real!

(9.) Eating out on lunch break. Brown bag it!

(10.) Leaving lights on.

(11.) Caring for lawns.

(12.) Insurance you don't use.

(13.) Death row inmates.

(14.) Duplicate spending due to disorganization.

(15.) Clothes Dryers. Use a drying rack.

(16.) Buying new (vehicle) or other things for that matter.

(17.) Designer handbags.

(18.) Children's birthday parties.

(19.) Huge houses.

(20.) The War in Iraq.

(21.) Swimwear. LOL, obviously from a nudist.

(22.) Alcoholic drinks at restaurants. For that matter soda too!

(23.) Overpacked items.

(24.) Organic produce.

(25.) Disposable diapers.

(26.) Using super unleaded.

(27.) Energy drinks.

(28.) Plastic cups.

(29.) Junk food.

(30.) Disposable cleaning supplies.

(31.) Playing the lottery.

(32.) The wedding industry.

(33.) Convenience store drinks.

(34.) Underwear. I have to disagree. It's cheaper to wash underwear after each use as opposed
to jeans or slacks.

(35.) Strip clubs.

(36.) Four-year Universities. I disagree with this one.

(37.) Designer skin care.

(38.) Extended warranties.

(39.) Brand names.

(40.) Luxury hotels. I agree, but I also avoid the econo-hotels. I prefer middle of the road
Holiday Inn Express.

(41.) Driving a gas guzzler.

Here's the AOL slide show titled "Top Ways to Waste Money."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday Online Coupons

Check out this site for some good Black Friday online coupons.

Here are some black friday adds. site.

Link Love: TheDigeratiLife, FinancialArmageddon, BreakingEven, MasterYourCard, MoneyCrashers, BudgetsareSexy, FunnyaboutMoney, FMF, MilitaryMoneyMight

Here's some good articles from writers of blogs on my blogroll:

Free Money Finance. Good article on winterizing your household.

Military Money Might. Getting a free Papa John's Pizza through Facebook.

Funny About Money. Introduces Tip'd, a personal finance network site.

Budgets are Sexy. Million dollar house being raffled off.

The Digerati Life. Top posts of The Digerati Life.

Money Crashers. Introduces a website you can use for making money at home.

Breaking Even. Introduces ways to find car-pooling commuters.

Breaking Even. Four things under $5 that save her a ton of money.

Financial Armageddon. No particular article. Whole website is great for those that are bearish on the markets and economy.

Master Your Card. 12 Side Hustles to Stay Afloat.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to Make Money From Your Blog

I've been blogging since early 2006 i've earned approximately $300 from my blog. This is paltry money. It looks slightly better when you take into consideration that I took a sabbatical from blogging in 2007 (was against regulations to blog from Afghanistan) and had to network with bloggers all over again to build my network rank.

I've found that the most important thing to make money is your page rank. I've used Technorati to monitor my page rank. I've also monitored the number of sites linking back to mine. You can go to google and do a "" to figure out how many link backs you have.

Over time i'm getting more interested in earning money from my site. Just recently I made the investment in a custom domain name. It will cost me $10 a year. Google blogger does the hosting for free. Anyways, my motivation for today's post is the Howcast video below.

Some highlights of the Howcast video:

(1.) Don't expect to get rich quick
(2.) Focus on your content
(3.) Don't be a sell out. You should strike a proper balance between your pay-per-posts and other site advertisements.
(4.) Google's Adsense is an easy starting point for inserting ads on your site.
(5.) Consider using a site like
(6.) Consider using a site like At pay per post you don't have to make a positive review, but you have to disclose that it's a paid for advertisement. I'm definately going to check this site out. Perhaps, I can make some good money after my page rank increases.
(7.) Consider selling merchandise.
(8.) Beg. You can use a site like Paypal to embed a donation widget on your blog.

Finally, the video provides some inspiration, stating that some of the most popular blogs earn greater than $40k per month. Here's the video.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Having Difficulty Finding a Job? Then Start Looking at Jobs Others Typically Don't Want! Three Examples With Potential Pay Between $30k and $100k+!

If you need a job, you should seriously consider those jobs that nobody else wants... Jobs that have a high turnover rate. Good examples are retail service, government customer service and military.

Picture this, it's Black Friday and you have to deal with stressed out and aggressive shoppers. Or, you're manning the phones as somebody yells at you because they don't want to pay the IRS their overdue taxes. Finally, picture yourself deployed to the Middle East on Thanksgiving, Christmas and your anniversary, all in the same year! These are examples of things people hate to do. But, if you suck it up, you can land yourself a decent paying job! Heck, if you're out of work, you stand a lot to gain by jumping into one of these demanding jobs.

I know one person who worked her way into a managerial job making just over $30k per year when she was 18. She had a store management job for a shoe store (Lady Foot Locker). Many people hate retail. The hours are brutal. You frequently work on most holidays. But, it's money in the bank. Even if you don't get hired on as a store manager, consider accepting a lesser position. If you are willing to relocate within a district, you can frequently promote up to a store manager position once you've proven yourself and your store manager vouches for you with the district manager. If you want a retail job, start at your local mall and check out

I know another person who works for the IRS. Jobs with the IRS as a customer service representative (CSR) are pretty demanding. If you're assigned to phones, you spend most of your day talking to people who owe money to the IRS or otherwise need assistance with their taxes. People that owe the IRS money typically aren't the most cordial to the IRS. Because of this, IRS CSRs have a high turnover rate. But, this type of work could be for you if you have a thick skin and don't take things personally. IRS CSRs are typically hired around July to September. It's to late for this year, but if you can stretch out your unemployment pay, the IRS may be a good fit for you next fall. As an IRS CSR, you get about 3 months of training and start off at the GS-5 paygrade. GS-5 pay ranges from $26,264 to about $32,176, depending on your locality. As a new hire, you get pay raises every year and top out at somewhere between $46,839 to $57,382. Even more money can be made if you accept overtime which is widely available early in the year. Finally, you will automatically get some 401k matching and can qualify for a pension amounting to 1% of your base pay for every year on the job (5 year minimum to qualify for pension). If you want a government job, check out Unlike IRS CSR positions, other government jobs are available year round at

Finally, if you're college bound or already out of college, consider becoming a military officer. In 1992, I accepted a full military scholarship worth over $70k. I completed a four year degree and was making around $30k when my peers were making $41k just out of college. Military work is demanding. As an officer, there's the potential for you to be away from home frequently. You also have the potential to move every 2-3 years. But, if you stick through it all. You qualify for a pension after only 20 years. An O-5 (typical paygrade for somebody in 20 years) qualifies for a pension that is worth about $46k per year, starting immediately after you retire. I'll be 41 yrs old when I can collect! If you're exceptionally good and get promoted to an O-6, and serve 30 years, you can retire with a pension of about $86k per year. I've been in the Navy for just over 12 years now and make about $96k per year. If you want a military job, go to your local recruiting office.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Citibank Gets $20 Billion Plus $306 Billion in Loans and Securities Guarantees

Robert Schmidt of Bloomberg News reports that:

"The U.S. government agreed to protect $306 billion of loans and securities on Citigroup Inc.'s books against losses, as it seeks to shore up investor confidence in the bank.

Citigroup will, as a fee for the guarantee, provide preferred shares to the Treasury and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the regulators said in a statement. The government will also inject $20 billion into the bank from the Treasury’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.
'We will continue to use all of our resources to preserve the strength of our banking institutions and promote the process of repair and recovery and to manage risks,' the regulators said in the statement.

The Federal Reserve, the Treasury and other regulators have been negotiating with Citigroup throughout the weekend. Citigroup lost 60 percent of its market value last week as the company’s prospects faltered, rattling customers, counterparties and employees."

Real Unemployment Rate 2008 (U.S. Figures, Numbers, Definitions, etc.)

Many people view the U.S. unemployment rate with cynicism. What people regularly see on the U.S. National News does not fully represent those people that are "marginally attached workers" or "employed part time for economic reasons."

(NY job seekers in line)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines marginally attached workers as persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want or are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. BLS defines persons employed part time for economic reasons as those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.

In October 2008 the BLS stated that the U-3 unemployment rate was 6.5%, up from 6.1% in September. The unemployment rate which combines the regularly publicized rate with both those who are "marginally attached workers" and "employed part time for economic reasons" was 11.1% in October 2008, up from 7.9% in October 2007. This composite rate is coded as U-6 in the following hyperlinked BLS table.

The BLS table shows both "not seasonally adjusted" and "seasonally adjusted" unemployment rates. Basically, the seasonally adjusted number attempts to smooth out seasonal variations in unemployment throughout the year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Extended Finance Blogroll

In the interest of minimizing the number of links on my main page, a few additional finance blogs can be found below:

Where Does All My Money Go

Frugality in the Making

Super Annuation Fund

Debt Free Living Guru

Military Money Might

Out of Debt Again

My Frugal Freedom

Paper Economy

No Spend Zone

Savings Account


Your weekly address from the President-Elect, Barack Obama, November 22, 2008 (Video and Transcript)

President-Elect Obama's weekly speech posted to the web today focused on the economy and his two year plan to reinvigorate the economy. The plan aims to add 2.5 million more new jobs by January 2011.

A transcript of the President-Elect's November 22nd weekly address follows the below video.

"Good morning.

The news this week has only reinforced the fact that we are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions. Financial markets faced more turmoil. New home purchases in October were the lowest in a half a century. Five-hundred-forty-thousand more jobless claims were filed last week, the highest in 18 years. And we now risk falling into a deflationary spiral that could increase our massive debt even further. While I’m pleased that Congress passed a long-overdue extension of unemployment benefits this week, we must do more to put people back to work and get our economy moving again. We have now lost 1.2 million jobs this year, and if we don’t act swiftly and boldly, most experts now believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year.

There are no quick or easy fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But January 20th is our chance to begin anew – with a new direction, new ideas, and new reforms that will create jobs and fuel long-term economic growth. I have already directed my economic team to come up with an Economic Recovery Plan that will mean 2.5 million more jobs by January of 2011 – a plan big enough to meet the challenges we face that I intend to sign soon after taking office.

We’ll be working out the details in the weeks ahead, but it will be a two-year, nationwide effort to jumpstart job creation in America and lay the foundation for a strong and growing economy. We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children, and building wind farms and solar panels; fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.

These aren’t just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis; these are long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long. And they represent an early down payment on the type of reform my administration will bring to Washington – a government that spends wisely, focuses on what works, and puts the public interest ahead of the same special interests that have come to dominate our politics.

I know that passing this plan won’t be easy. I will need and seek support from Republicans and Democrats, and I’ll be welcome to ideas and suggestions from both sides of the aisle. But what if not negotiable is the need for immediate action. But what is not negotiable is the need for immediate action.

Right now, there are millions of mothers and fathers who are lying awake at night wondering if next week’s paycheck will cover next month’s bills. There are Americans showing up to work in the morning only to have cleared out their desks by the afternoon. Retirees are watching their life savings disappear and students are seeing their college dreams deferred. These Americans need help, and they need it now. The survival of the American Dream for over two centuries is not only a testament to its enduring power, but to the great effort, sacrifice, and courage of the American people. It has thrived because in our darkest hours, we have risen above the smallness of our divisions to forge a path towards a new and brighter day. We have acted boldly, bravely, and above all, together. That is the chance our new beginning now offers us, and that is the challenge we must rise to in the days to come. It is time to act. As the next president of the United States, I will.

Thank you."

Friday, November 21, 2008

SNL Suze Orman Episode / Video

I love Suze Orman. I use to watch Suze every weekend when I was in debt. Everybody knows she's quirky. This Saturday Night Live (SNL) video knock off of Suze is pretty funny. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How To Feed Your Family Healthy Meals on a Tight Budget

This video highlights some essential items required for feeding your family healthy meals on a tight budget. Inexpensive food staples include:

(1.) Oatmeal

(2.) Evaporated milk

(3.) Bagged vegetables, when on sale

(4.) Seasonal fruits

(5.) Bananas

(6.) Apples

(7.) Popper and corn

(8.) Nuts

(9.) Inexpensive cuts of meats, eaten up to 3 times a week

(10.) Peanut butter

(11.) Chunk light tuna

(12.) Eggs

(13.) Beans

(14.) Brown rice

Here's the video, provided by "Stabbey" of Howcast:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Save Money at The Grocery Store

Below you'll see a useful video detailing how to save money at the grocery store. Some grocery store tips include:

(1.) Make a list

(2.) Have a plan. Learn the grocery store system / layout to minimize the time you
spend wandering between aisles.

(3.) Look beyond your eye level

(4.) Shop with cash

(5.) Always eat before you go grocery shopping. I use a similar rule before going to Movie theaters.

(6.) Oddly enough the video doesn't talk about using coupons. It goes without saying, use coupons.

Source:, posted at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Current Day Great Depression: What Would the Depression of 2008, 2009 and Beyond Look Like?

Mr Drake Bennett of the Boston Globe writes a beautiful / believable article on what the Depression of 2009 could look like if policy makers don’t take appropriate mitigating actions. The article does not state what the Federal government should do but details with exceptional detail what the depression would look like. Excerpts from Mr Bennett’s article include:

(1.) “Unlike the 1930s, when food and clothing were far more expensive, today we spend much of our money on healthcare, child care, and education, and we'd see uncomfortable changes in those parts of our lives.”

(2.) “The lines wouldn't be outside soup kitchens but at emergency rooms, and rather than itinerant farmers we could see waves of laid-off office workers leaving homes to foreclosure and heading for areas of the country where there's more work - or just a relative with a free room over the garage.”

(3.) “Already hollowed-out manufacturing cities could be all but deserted, and suburban neighborhoods left checkerboarded, with abandoned houses next to overcrowded ones.”

(4.) “And above all, a depression circa 2009 might be a less visible and more isolating experience... Instead of dusty farm families, the icon of a modern-day depression might be something as subtle as the flickering glow of millions of televisions glimpsed through living room windows… the cheapest form of distraction available.”

(5.) “To be worthy of the name, a depression needs to be more than a few years long - far longer than the eight-month average of our recent recessions - and it needs to put a lot of people out of work.”

(6.) “The Great Depression lasted a decade by some measures, and at its worst, one in four American workers was out of a job. (By comparison, unemployment now is at a 14-year high of 6.5 percent.)”

(7.) “In a modern depression, the swelling ranks of the unemployed would likely change the landscape of the country, uprooting people who would rather stay where they are and trapping people who want to move.”

(8.) “Renting an apartment - perhaps in a city, where commuting costs are lower - might be more tempting.”

(9.) “Many suburban areas have already seen upticks in crime in recent years, which would only get worse as tax-poor towns spent less money on policing and public services.”

(10.) “young families moving back to their hometowns to live with the grandparents when they can no longer afford to live on their own, parents moving in with their adult children when their postretirement fixed incomes can no longer support them.”

(11.) “Lean times might kill off much of the taboo around buying hand-me-downs, and with modern distribution networks - and a push from the reduce-reuse-recycle mind-set of environmentalism - we might see the development of nationwide used-clothing chains.”

(12.) “New technology would grow less seductive, basic reliability more important… The neighborhood appliance shop could reappear in a new form - unlicensed, with hacked cellphones and rebuilt computers.”

(13.) “specialty and organic food - which drove the success of chains like Whole Foods - would seem pointlessly expensive.”

(14.) “Among the green lawns of suburbia, kitchen gardens would spring up. And it might go well beyond just growing your own tomatoes: early last month, the English bookstore chain Waterstone's reported a 200 percent increase in the sales of books on keeping chickens.”

(15.) There will be more demand for “meals like packaged macaroni and cheese and drive-through fast food.” Basically, “cheaper, easier calories.”

(16.) “Dropping health insurance would be an immediate way for families to save hundreds of dollars per month.” Emergency rooms will see increased demand and longer waits at least in part from the increasing numbers of uninsured as well as consolidation of ERs.

(17.) “In their place people could rely more on federally-funded health centers, or the growing number of drugstore clinics, like the MinuteClinics in CVS branches, for vaccines, physicals, strep throat tests, and other basic medical care.”

(18.) “Students unable to afford private universities would opt for public universities, students unable to afford four-year colleges would opt for community colleges, and students unable to afford community college wouldn't go at all. With fewer applicants, admissions standards would drop, with spots that once would have been filled by more qualified, poorer students going instead to wealthier applicants who before would not have made the cut.”

(19.) “A depression would last too long for unemployed college graduates to ride out the downturn in business or law school, so people would have to change career plans entirely.”

(20.) There will be an “uptick in applications and interest is government work”

(21.) “The Depression was, famously, a boom time for movies - people flocked to cheap double features to escape the dreariness of their everyday poverty. Today, however, movies are no longer cheap. Nor is a day at the ballpark.”

(22.) “Much of a modern depression would unfold in the domestic sphere: people driving less, shopping less, and eating in their houses more. They would watch television at home; unemployed parents would watch over their own kids instead of taking them to day care. With online banking, it would even be possible to have a bank run in which no one leaves the comfort of their home.”

(23.) “Depression, unsurprisingly, is higher in economically distressed households; so is domestic violence. Suicide rates go up in tough times, marriage rates and birthrates go down. And while divorce rates usually rise in recessions, they dropped during the Great Depression, in part because unhappy couples found they simply couldn't afford separation.”

Here is Mr Bennett’s full article.

Monday, November 17, 2008

CNBC Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge Daily Trivia Bonus Bucks

I will answer the Trivia Bonus Bucks questions in this post (link back to or bookmark the page). Each of the six bonus bucks questions posted daily will give you a chance at an additional $2k per question for a total of $12k in bonus bucks for your portfolio(s).

*** I am no longer updating bonus bucks answers on this specific post. Instead, I will update bonus bucks answers via daily postings at or near the top of my sites home page. ***

Dollar Store Meal Deals

Dollar stores are already known for these top deals:

(1.) Shampoo
(2.) Snacks
(3.) Cleaning supplies
(4.) Gift wrap
(5.) Kitchen accessories

You may already frequent the dollar store for the above items. But, with some creativity and an open mind you can also score good deals on your meals too!

Here's some highlights:

Don't know what to do with the discount food ingredients you bought at the dollar store? Go to a site like Recipe Matcher and plug in the ingredients to get some recipe matches. Recipe Matcher also works if you're trying to figure out what mixed drinks you can make with the left overs from your bar.

Also, some pantry items from the dollar store can pull double duty. Consider using some of the following as ingredient substitutes:
(1.) Use evaporated milk instead of milk
(2.) Use bargain pancake mix instead of flour
(3.) Use reconstituted onions instead of onions

Here's the dollar store meal deal video:

The video was taken from Hulu but was initially posted at Howcast.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Saving More, Spending Less - Saving $1500 to $2500 a Month

Stretched thin financially? The Wall Street Journal has a good video of two financial advisers (twins) discussing tips on how you can save $1500 to $2500 a month. I think it will be a little tough for people to save as much as the advisers claim, but their recommendations are good regardless.

Here's some highlights:

(1.) If you drive less than 15,000 miles per year, contact your insurer and negotiate a low mileage discount.

(2.) Stop eating out. The average American spends $34 each time they go out to eat.

(3.) Stop paying for services you can do yourself. Examples include:
- manicures
- pedicures
- grass cutting
- hair coloring
- maid service
- oil change, basic maintenance (my addition)
- car wash (my addition)

Here's the video of Jonathan and David Murray (video).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Generic vs. Brand Name Products (18+ Items Reviewed)

Here's a great post comparing various generic and brand name product. A site by the name of Walletpop provides a 58 page slide show where it compares a number of products to determine if a number of generic products are worth recommending. The following comparisons favored the generic brand:

(1.) Nabisco Wheat Thins vs. Kroger Wheat Crisps
-Verdict: Tastes just like wheat thins, with less salt and $3.05 cheaper

(2.) Muir Glen Organic Garden Vegetable Soup vs. Whole Foods 365 Organic Vegatable Soup
-Verdict: Virtually the same as name brand, $2 cheaper

(3.) Nature's Path Organic PomengranPlus Granola w/ Cherries vs. Whole Foods 365 Organic Fruit & Nuts Granola
-Verdict: Cereals slightly different in contents, but stick with generic and save 90 cents

(4.) Cheetos Crunchy vs. Kroger Crunchy Cheese Curls
-Verdict: Kroger brand better and 26 cents an ounce cheaper

(5.) Walker's Shortbread vs. Walgreen's Shortbread Fingers
-Verdict: Stick with Walgreen's brand and save up to 38% when you buy two Walgreen boxes

(6.) Stoneyfield Lowfat Raspberry Yogurt vs. White Rose Raspberry Yogurt
-Verdict: Go with White Rose brand, save 30 cents per serving but get higher dose of sugar

(7.) Kellogg's Frosted Flakes vs. Pathmark Frosted Flakes
-Verdict: Go with generic and save about 33%

(8.) Huggies Natural Care Wipes vs. Safeway Mom-to-Mom Wipes
-Verdict: Safeway generic wins hands down, also save 25%

(9.) Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail vs. Target's Market Pantry Cranberry Juice Cocktail
-Verdict: Go with Target brand and save 10%

(10.) St. Ives Apricot Scrub vs. CVS Brand Apricot Scrub
-Verdict: Go with CVS brand and save 25%

(11.) Planters Whole Cashews vs. Kirkland Costco Whole Fancy Cashews
-Verdict: Go with Kirkland and save 38%

(12.) Cascade Dishwashing Detergent vs. Kirkland Costco Liquid Gel
-Verdict: Go with Kirkland and save 67%

(13.) Tropicana No Pulp Orange Juice vs. Wegmans No Pulp
-Verdict: Go with Wegmans and save 13%

(14.) Dimetapp Children's Grape Cold & Allergy vs. Wal-Mart's Equate Children's Cold & Allergy Grape
-Verdict: Go with Equate and save 66%

(15.) Slim-Fast Optima French Vanilla vs. Wal-Mart Equate Ultra French Vanilla
-Verdict: Go with Equate, save 34% and avoid 2.5 grams of saturated fat.

(16.) Fiber One Chewy Bars vs. Target's Market Pantry Fiber Chewy Bars
-Verdict: Go with Target brand and save 21%

(17.) Green Giant Whole Kernel Sweet Corn vs. Shoppers Food Whole Kernel
-Verdict: Go with Generic and save 56%

(18.) A&W Root Beer vs. Wal-Mart Root Beer
-Verdict: Go with Wal-Mart brand and save 43%

Check out the Walletpop website. It's worth a peruse. Here's the full Walletpop slideshow.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mutual Fund CEO Beats Michael Jordan in One on One (YouTube Video)

I guess this is personal finance related. John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments, displays his skills against one of the all time greats of basketball, Michael Jordan, at Jordan's high-end "flight school" camp in Las Vegas. Mr. Rogers was the Captain of his college basketball team at Princeton University. The Jordan-Rogers match up starts 39 seconds into this 3:37 minute video.

Here is John Rogers' website.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cost of Bailout $3.5 Trillion!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here's the link.

Our government is one step further in pumping up the national debt. The national debt was already a big albatross for the nation. It's difficult to fathom the full impact it will have on our kids and grand kids. But, it goes without saying that entitlement programs will have to be cut back. Dead weight being carried by the government through entitlement programs will have to be carried by families. Perhaps we'll migrate back to extended families living under one roof like in much earlier days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Federal Reserve Refusing to Disclose Specifics on Where $2 Trillion in Taxpayer Dollars Went!

Bloomberg News has requested that the Federal Reserve disclose where $2 trillion in taxpayer funds have been dispersed. These disbursements are actually "emergency loans" to financial institutions. The Fed has refused to disclose.

Two trillion is a lot of money. To put that into perspective one might ask what is the total value of all publicly traded companies in the U.S.. Using my good friend Wiki, I found that if you multiply the Wilshire 5000 index (DWC) by one billion you get the approximate value of our U.S. stock market, $9.009 trillion. Well, this $2 trillion equals about 22.2 percent of total U.S. stock market value. This percentage is significantly higher if you only apply the $2 trillion across all publicly traded financial institutions.

Bloomberg News has requested details of the Fed lending under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and filed a federal lawsuit Nov 7th seeking to force disclosure. Under FOIA, our government has 20 days to disclose and may elect a ten day extension. I don't know when the initial FOIA filing occured, but i'll assume that it was on Nov 7th also. Thus, one might expect the FOIA release to occur on or about 7 Dec if the Fed waits till the last moment.

Fox Business has also filed for details of the emergency loans.

So much for market transparency, at least in the short term. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for news on this subject. Once news hits, the companies receiving these emergency loans and the collateral they tendered will be scrutinized by Wall Street.

This information can't be kept secret forever. I would think that bits of the info may start surfacing in quarterly and annual financial reports.

The full Bloomberg News story is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Link Love (Breaking Even, My Good Cents, No Spend Zone, Forest on Finance, Dual Income No Kids, Blogging Away Debt, Military Money Might)

Here's some good posts from bloggers on my blogroll:

Military Money Might - "You Can Easily Search For Missing Money Online," Post details website which can be used to find potentially unclaimed money held in your name.

Blogging Away Debt - "Seven Things We Did to Slash Our Finance Charges from $400/month to $0/month," Tricia writes a good article about reducing her credit card finance charges to $0.

Dual Income No Kids - "Bankruptcy Filings Peaking," short article highlighting a 40% increase in bankruptcy filings year over year in the U.S..

Forest on Finance - "Using ING Sub-Accounts to Help Achieve My Goals," I like his idea of creating sub accounts. It sounds like ING direct is incredably easy for doing this. I personally have a philosophy of keeping $20k between our checking accounts. This covers our emergency fund requirements and ongoing bills. After I pay off our houses i'll likely do something like what "Forest" refers to.

No Spend Zone - "Lessons From Monoply," Interesting parallels are drawn between the Monopoly game and real world real estate.

My Good Cents - "Coinstar Holiday Promo," Details $10 Amazon Gift Certificate bonus offered by Coinstar for coin exchanges of $40 or greater.

Breaking Even - "Lobster Becomes Affordable: How Being Aware of Food Prices Pays Off," This posting clues you into how cheap Lobster is... A screaming deal.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Buying a Foreclosed House; Pitfalls Encountered Yet Successful Outcome Achieved

Here's a good article about buying foreclosed property. It is written by a reporter, Peter Hong, who sold his condominium in 2005 in favor of renting and recently snatched up a foreclosed property. For the full article click here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Free Flash Video Games

I stumbled upon this evening and found that it had some cool games that I was use to playing as a kid. It's a good time killer.

Here's one of my favorites, Galaga:


Click here to play this game

Friday, November 07, 2008


I used to find my new Apartment this past summer. I moved into the apartment this July. I notified my Apartment complex that I used to find them and filled out a $100 Visa debit card request at About two months later (today) my $100 card came in the mail. I plan on using it to treat some of my personnel from work out to eat tomorrow at Red Lobster.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Eureka! A Frugal Discovery in The Kitchen. Here's a No / Low Cost Air Freshener for the Trash Can.

I already use grocery store bags for my trash. Most stores give these out at no additional cost. I layer these trash bags to ensure that I don't get leakage through to the bottom of the can.

Today I discovered some orange peels between two of the bags in the trash can. I found that it adds a pleasant smell. I'll leave these peelings in place until I can reseed my bottom trash bag with new orange peelings.

The plastic store grocery bags are already small. I tend to take out the trash most days after my wife prepares dinner. The orange peelings should help offset any smell from trash that accumulates during the day and in some cases overnight, if I forget to take the trash out.

This frugal solution shouldn't be uncommon. There are already a number of cleaning solutions with citrus fragrances added.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Just Funded First Loan at Lending Club Peer-2-Peer Lending

With shut down for a significant period of time going forward, I opened up an account at to start originating loans. I transferred $100 into my new account via PayPal without any added fees.

The site is not as good as Prosper's. There are no pictures and the search / filter option at Lending Club is crude, relative to Prosper's filter tools.

Interest rates on loans at this site are also lower than that at Prosper. Lending Club charges a lenders a 1% fee on all payments received.

So far, I've only discovered two good things about

(1.) They are open, while Prosper is closed.
(2.) Minimum loan amount is $25.

I ended my user experience funding just one loan to a US Air Force service member who had orders elsewhere and had to move out of his house. Unfortunately, the member needs to make some improvements to his bathrooms to make his empty house marketable as a rental property. I chose this "D" rated loan because the member should have a secure job for the next two to three years. Generally speaking, the military won't move you to another job without you owing the government significant time at the new job to complete a tour. I've been burned in the past funding "D" rated loans. Unfortunately, this was the only satisfactory loan (meeting my criteria) that gave me a net return after fees > 10%.

I'll likely post a little more about in the coming months.