Sunday, May 31, 2009

Your Money: Avoiding Online Scams

Here's a good video which provides some advice on avoiding online scams.


* Be suspicious of unsolicited email offering assistance.
* Be wary of sites that are set up to mimic official government sites.
* Be wary of sites that promise free consultation or money back guarantee.
* Check for complaints against a soliciting biz with your state consumer affairs, attorney general's office and Better Business Bureau.
* Be leary of sites that contain only a page where you fill out personal information and submit it for a referral.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How To Buy a New Car Without Getting Screwed

Here's a good video on the subject of how to buy a new car and not get screwed in the process.

Here's another useful video

In my opinion, the car sales market is going to get even more favorable for buyers. A sufficient amount of pent up demand is being expended at the Chrysler dealerships that must sell their cars by 9 June. This blood in the water mentality for car buyers to go after steals is going to spread to GM if they in fact declare bankruptcy. Those car manufacturers that don't declare bankruptcy will have an even tougher time competing against the expected deals that others have grown accustomed to getting via the other ailing manufactures.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Great Potential Savings For Old Navy Shoppers (i.e. $75 off $100 purchase)

Thanks to Money Savin' Momma at "Engineer a Debt Free Life" for her post on special coupons at Old Navy's Website.

If you go to Old Navy's Website you'll find random coupons for $$$ off your total bill by clicking through the site's links. According to Money Savin' Momma:

The Old Navy Weekly coupons will reload on Sunday, 5/31/09. Check out the Old Navy Weekly website to get some of these coupons. This includes coupons like $75 off a purchase of $100 or more, along with other coupons! You simply click around the site and find coupons.

Keep a close eye on the site to catch the reloads, as the coupons may be reloaded at different times during the week, and they may be reloaded several times throughout the week! (And no, we don't know the exact reload times - Old Navy wants to surprise us, but they have said it will be Sunday, 5/31/09!)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Preview of ABC TV's Informative & Funny "UN-BROKE: What You Need to Know About Money." (Friday, 29 May, 9-10pm EST)

Thanks Smithee at Consumerism Commentary for his post on ABC's "UN-BROKE: What you need to know about money." According to ABC "It's an unconventional look at the fundamentals of everyday finance with all the facts about credit cards, mortgages, stocks and bonds, investing and 401(k)'s, in a fresh new format combining information and humor."

Here's a preview of Friday's program.

When the first video is done you can watch three other previews under the "related video" option that is displayed at the end.

Further details:

Hosted by Good Morning America contributor and President of Ariel Investments Mellody Hobson, the special features Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, the Jonas Brothers, Christian Slater, Cedric the Entertainer, Seth Green, Sesame Workshop's Oscar the Grouch, Rosario Dawson and the E*Trade Babies, among others.

Hobson said: "Financial education is critically important, and UN-BROKE proves that it doesn't have to be boring. The economic crisis was a harsh wake-up call that we can't keep doing the same thing in the same way. To me, that meant taking a fresh look at my own approach to financial education. This will make people laugh while they learn."

The special's take on basic money sense includes:

Will Smith, who gets down to basics with a boardroom full of corporate finance executives.

Samuel L. Jackson, who appears as a bestselling author of self-help books and who is "Broke as Hell and Not Going to Take it Anymore!"

The Jonas Brothers, who teach screaming teenage girls the mysteries of the stock market.

Seth Green, who explains the fundamentals of a smart mortgage from his "crib."

Cedric the Entertainer, who talks back to credit cards.

Christian Slater and Rosario Dawson, who visit an office workplace to explain the importance of investing in a 401(k) retirement plan.

The E*Trade Babies, who meet Mellody for an online chat from their high chairs.
UN-BROKE: What You Need to Know about Money is a co-production of Lincoln Square Productions and Overbrook Entertainment. The executive producers are Mellody Hobson and Rudy Bednar. A TV parental guideline will be posted closer to airdate.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Selling Gold By Mail Doesn't Pay

A useful video for anybody that has ever considered selling gold jewelry via the mail.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Seven Frugal Ideas Applicable to All

I stumbled upon a great frugality post at the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, IL. The article highlights some creative cost-saving tips which remind me of what you would typically find in the tightwad gazette series.

Here's a few highlights:
* Plants. Ask others for cuttings from their plants for planting at home.
* Toilet paper rolls. Cut a toilet paper roll and fold it into a mini-planter for your plant cuttings.
* Free samples. Save free samples you collect to create gift baskets.
* Magazine fragrance samples. Use to line the bottom of dresser drawers
* Curbside mall. Need furniture? Then cruise local neighborhoods on trash day or the evening prior to find furniture or other items that still may have usable life.
* Cereal box liner. Use to wrap your lunch sandwiches.
* Glass jars. Reuse glass jars instead of buying plastic storage containers.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Economy Watch (Bank Closures, FDIC Fees, GM Loan, Auto Appeal, Canadian Auto Deal, Commodities)

Here's a nice snapshot summary of news related to the U.S. Economy. News source is a 23 May article titled "Economy Watch" by Wisconsin State Journal. To preface the snapshot, my take is:

Commodities - Commodities should continue to show strength until President Obama signals an end to bailouts.

BANK CLOSURE : Regulators have shut down Strategic Capital Bank in Illinois, marking the 35th failure this year of a federally insured bank . The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was appointed receiver of the bank , based in Champaign, IL. The FDIC said Friday the bank 's deposits will be assumed by Midland States Bank, based in Effingham, IL.

FDIC FEES: Federal regulators on Friday adopted a new system of special fees paid by U.S. financial institutions that will shift more of the burden to bigger banks to help replenish the deposit insurance fund. The move by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. cut by about two-thirds the amount of special fees to be levied on banks and thrifts. It followed protests by small and community banks against a plan adopted in February that charged premiums based on the amount of deposits. The smaller institutions insisted they would be unfairly hit even though they didn't contribute to the financial crisis with reckless lending.

GM LOAN: General Motors Corp. said Friday that it has borrowed an additional $4 billion from the Treasury Department, meaning the automaker now has accepted $19.4 billion in loans from the U.S. government. GM started taking government money in December and said it intended to borrow $2.6 billion more by June 1 and an additional $9 billion after that. But in a regulatory filing Friday, GM said it needed $1.4 billion sooner than originally forecast.

AUTO APPEAL: Lawmakers appealed to the Obama administration on Friday to slow down the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, wary of shuttered car dealerships, job losses and the big unknown of a GM bankruptcy. Thirty-six members of Congress urged the White House to re-examine its work to stabilize the U.S. auto industry, prompted by sweeping plans outlined last week by Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp. to shutter hundreds of car dealerships. They said a pending June 1 deadline for a GM bankruptcy created more uncertainty for the industry.

CANADIAN DEAL: After two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations, the Canadian Auto Workers union has agreed to another cost-cutting deal with General Motors Canada in its bid to qualify for government loans to stave off liquidation, the head of the union said Friday. Specific details of the deal were not immediately available. Union leader Ken Lewenza said the CAW was pressured into a deal after the United Auto Workers agreed Thursday to a tentative deal with the U.S. government and GM Canada's parent company, General Motors Corp.

COMMODITIES REVIEW: Gold for June delivery added $7.70 Friday to settle at $958.90 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the highest close since Feb. 25. July silver jumped 25 cents to $14.6950 an ounce. July copper futures rose 4.65 cents to $2.0975 a pound. July wheat futures jumped 19 cents to $6.1250 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade. Corn for July delivery gained 6.25 cents to $4.3025 a bushel. July soybeans fell 9 cents to $11.66 a bushel...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review of "After the Fall: Opportunities and Strategies for Real Estate Investing in the Coming Decade."

I picked up the book "After the Fall" by Steve Bergsman about a month ago and have enjoyed reading it during my down time. The book is well rated at Amazon getting 5 of 5 stars averaged across seven reviewers. In my opinion, the book is appropriate for investors interested in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), developing a multi single family home portfolio, commerical and/or industrial real estate. Some of the points I gleaned from the book.

* Industrial market. I liked the author's analysis noting that "just about every major retailer and distributor in the United States has been shifting to a regional instead of a local model and that requires huge centers of distribution." He goes on to integrate references to the "Nafta Highway" (I-35) and railroad hubs in explaining strategies for investing with particular emphasis on distribution centers and also highlights supply chain location winners.

* Multi-Family real estate. The author explains why 2012 or 2013 should mark the switch from a "tenant's market" to a "landlord's market."

* Single-Family homes. I found the author's discussion of new household starts and annual house demolitions as useful in establishing an underlying need for 1.6 to 1.8 million in home purchases a year. In my opinion, this underlying need will work through the current 9.8 month supply of unsold inventory. The author goes on to mention that the single-family market "won't get back to normalcy at least until 2011." He then goes on to explain what he expects investors should expect for realistic returns from 2011-2015.

* The Condominium market. I found the author's use of valuation ratios similar to how I have previously used cap rates in valuing my investment properties. The author emphasizes that the time to buy is when construction starts grind to a halt and provides his estimated date for this to occur.

* Six year rule. Discusses this rule of thumb for the length of time between the start of real estate market crashes and when price stability arises.

* Discusses typical strong areas for real estate. For example, it is already known that beach front property is valued highly because of its scarcity. But, I never consider properties boardering State & National Parks as scarce. In my opinion/analysis, there is an element of scarcity in that if your property borders a park, you shouldn't expect people to build behind you in the park but at a further distance from the park where the scenic value trails off.

Other areas discussed in the book include:

* The Retail Real Estate Sector
* The Office Market
* Commerical Real Estate Sustainability
* Market for Distressed Real Estate and Loans
* Home Insurance and Property Taxes
* Urban and Suburban Infill
* The Market for Second Homes
* The Market for Vacation Properties

If you are on the fence as to whether or not to buy this book, I recommend you pick up the book at a bookstore and read pages 191 to 193 at the book shelf. These three pages are used as the author's cliffnotes on the book. While he doesn't divulge quantatitive info here, he discusses his general opinions on the major real estate sectors. After you see his opinions across these pages you can then determine how closely his views align with yours, or if you are still forming your own opinion, whether or not his comments grab your interest.

Below is an Amazon book carousel. Included in it are books that I have read and recommend ("When Giants Fall," "Complete Tightwad Gazette," "Exchange Up," "After the Fall.") and books on my Reading List ("The Bull Inside the Bear," and "48 Laws of Power").

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tax Assessor Agrees to Adjust My Rental Property's Appraised Value Lower (for Taxes Purposes) As Result of Successful Informal Review Request

In April I got a letter for the County Tax Assessor for one of my three investment properties. The letter advised that my property was being assessed a value of $246,400 for tax purposes and that I had about one week to request an informal review if I disagreed with the assessment.

Knowing that I bought the place for $219k in 2006 and the Tennessee real estate market has been soft since then, I argued that my property should be assessed for $218k (prior related article).

Well, I got a letter today with the results of my informal review request. It seems that my argument was well based and the assessor agreed to a lower appraisal of $230,500. While it's not the amount I argued for ($218k), it does result in a lower annual tax. I still have the option to appeal the new appraised value, but am choosing not to. I choose not to because I know that my odds of getting a $218k assessment are low and that all counties are hurting for property tax revenues, especially after the housing bubble deflated.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

For The Smart Car Shopper: Best and Worst Used Cars

In today's economic times, some used cars are commanding premiums. I personally have noticed that our two cars have actually appreciated in value. According to Kelley Blue Book, the Loan Values for my wife's 2004 Lexus and my 1998 Acura have increased in value. While the increase was marginal, it's nice to see that we're not losing value quickly like what people typically experience with new cars.

If you're like me, you might yearn for a new car, but you appreciate the economic sense of buying used. We bought my wife's last car used. It was a three year old Lexus ES330 with 45k miles which we bought for $18,200 (out the door price). My wife has since put 32k miles on it and we have replaced one tire, changed the brakes and replaced one gasket. Replacing the gasket was a surprise but the car has otherwise been low maintenance. Our last Lexus held up for 160k miles which is when we gave it to our son and daughter who drive it daily.

My 98 Acura CL is getting old and I prefer not driving it across country on our family's next military move. I have been studying both new and used car deals. On the new car side, I found that the cheapest car with five star crash ratings for side, front and rollover is the 2009 Mazda 6. The Mazda may not be a classy car when compared with our Lexus and Acura. If I'll be racking up a lot of miles at my next job I may get something like the Mazda 6. If my drive to work is relatively short, I will likely opt for a low mileage upscale car, something that I could get for about the same price as maxed out Mazda 6.

According a recent consumer reports article, the best used upscale cars to buy are:

* Lexus ES. I would prefer the 2006 since this is the last year that doesn't require premium gas.
* Lexus IS
* Toyota Avalon
* Acura TSX
* Lincoln MKZ, Zephyr (FWD)
* Infiniti G20
* Acura TL
* Infiniti I30, I35
* Infiniti G35 (sedan)
* Volvo S60
* Buick Lucerne (V8)
* Nissan Maxima

My personal favorites from this used car list are the Lexus ES, Acura TL, Toyota Avalon and the Nissan Maxima. The Maxima is thrown in the list since the new Maxima body style actually gets 5 stars in all safety categories, to include rollover.

Before buying any car from the above list I would specifically watch the crash test videos of it on YouTube and do research on its safety at and NHTSA (via and data carried at MSN autos).

If an upscale car isn't for you, you can check out the full listing of best and worst used cars here. The list includes the following categories: small, family, upscale, luxury, sport, minivans, small SUVs, medium/large SUVs and pickup trucks.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Geithner (not Geitner) Speaks About Bank Stress Test (SNL Skit)

Another funny Timothy Geithner skit at SNL. This one is Tim speaking out about the results from the Treasury Secretary's bank stress tests.

The skit starts off a little slow but gets pretty funny half way through.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New Stamp Prices Go Into Effect Today. One Ounce First Class Now 44 Cents

From USPS site:

On May 11 the price for a 1-ounce First-Class Mail stamp will increase from 42¢ to 44¢. Prices for other mailing services — Standard Mail, Periodicals, Package Services (including Parcel Post), and Extra Services — will also change. The average increase by class of mail is at or below the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

See Complete Price List (PDF)

Customers can use their Forever Stamps — regardless of when purchased — to mail 1-ounce letters after the price change, without the need for additional postage. Forever Stamps are widely available through Post Offices, commercial retail outlets such as grocery stores, and online. Prices for mailing services will continue to adjust each May. Prices for most shipping services, including Express Mail and Priority Mail, were adjusted in January and will not change in May.

"Vampire" Energy Costs Can Bite You in the Wallet

Kathy Kristof writes a good article about household "Vampire" energy costs that have been picked up by a number of papers. In her article she discusses how a number of household appliances/electronics continue to use energy even when not in use. Some of the key points and advice include:

* Use a power strip to service your entertainment system. That way, you don't have to reach behind the large TV to unplug the TV and supporting equipment.
* Cell phone charges are a common energy "vampire."
* Refrigerators use less energy when they are full.
* A rarely used refrigerator in the garage or basement can burn through about $300 per year. Consider unplugging it if you're not keeping it full.
* Keep A/C filters clean.
* Employ fans to help cool your house. Fans can make a room feel 5 degrees cooler.
* Use a programmable thermostat for home A/C so that you're not cooling your house when away from home.
* Inspect windows for heat/cooling leakage.
* Schedule your home for an energy audit by your utility company. A common house owner can cut energy bills 30% by taking all suggestions from an energy audit.

Here's Ms. Kristof's article.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

30% Off at Borders Bookstores Today

Here's the coupon.

Here's the fine print:
Valid with Borders Rewards membership only. Certain exclusions apply. Coupon cannot be combined with any other offer, including but not limited to “Buy 1, Get 1 Half Price” offers. Excludes previous and online purchases, non-stock special orders, gift cards, newspapers, magazines, comics, coupon books, eBooks, digital downloads, vinyl LPs, self-publishing programs, Smartbox products, Rosetta Stone® software, shipping, and all electronics, including but not limited to the Sony® Reader and the Zune™. May not be combined with other coupons, sale pricing, or corporate, classroom, or other group discounts. Original coupon must be relinquished at time of purchase. Single-use coupon. One coupon per customer during the valid period. Void if copied, transferred, and where prohibited by law. Any other use constitutes fraud. Cash value .01¢. Not redeemable for cash. Valid only in U.S. stores 5/5/09 – 5/10/09.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Eeeked Out $400 Net Worth Gain Despite it All

Our household finished the month with a networth of $395,800. During the month of April we had a number of expenses that represented a drag on our net worth. First of all, my wife traveled to Louisiana and spent about $1700 for her trip. Second, I had to spend about $980 on maintenance for our 2004 Lexus. Finally, I adjusted the values of our three investment properties further down from appraised value to fully account for local area broker fees that would be paid if the houses were sold.