Side Business Idea For Geeky College Students: Hacking iPhones

WaPo has a story about a college student who makes $50,000 a year from jailbreaking iPhones for strangers. By opening up the operation system to tweaks, “jailbreaking” allows iPhone users to do some cool stuff like share 3G connections, switch to T-Mobile, and install non-Apple-approved apps. I can see how non-techy iPhone owners would happily pay money to enhance their iPhone, given that they are already paying $70-$100+ a month for service.

The article doesn’t provide proof or details, but with some simple reverse math, here’s how it might work. $50k a year is about $1,000 a week. If he says he can do 40 unlocks a week, that means he had to charge $25 a pop. Not bad for a cash business with zero overhead besides having an iPhone. Now, there are some risks of data loss, but I’m pretty sure that with some careful reading any college student could figure it out. There are plenty of sites that will guide you through it. In case you’re wondering, in July 2010 the courts ruled that jailbreaking was legal.

This reminds me of when I was in college, I supported my gadget desire by taking advantage of the dot-com boom and the emergence of eBay. A new start-up would offer up stuff with a “we-lose-money-but-make-it-up-in-volume” discount, and I would sell them on eBay for a profit. For example, a Palm Pilot (remember those?) might be on sale for $100, and I could sell it for $150. If I bought three, that meant I could sell two and keep one for free. If I was more motivated by actual money then (I wasn’t) I should have bought 10 or 20, and made some real money.

The main problem with this plan? Supply and demand. Just one day after this article hit, a guy is offering to jailbreak your phone for just five bucks in San Jose. I guess that’s where you’ll have to start using stuff like marketing and finding a good location to stand out. Hello real-world experience!

XKCD Remix: The Secret Life of Personal Finance Bloggers

XKCD is a popular online comic strip, and recently there was a funny one about what really goes on behind time management and productivity blogs. I decided to take advantage of their creative commons license and adapt the original comic to personal finance blogs.

Sometimes it just seems like we just compete on how frugal we are. Sometimes I like to imagine in reality we’re squatting in McMansions and driving our leased luxury SUVs to buy shiny toys with our Kardashian-themed credit cards. Hey, somebody has to do it.

Why Does Everyone Love Groupon?

Cartoon site Oatmeal released their State of the Web a while back, and it included a bit about the deal-a-day site Groupon.

So true! But who doesn’t like a deal. :) Their customer service is solid too, I had a problem with a local Groupon recently and they refunded it immediately without hassle. I don’t quite get how they’re worth $15 billion, but who knows. Here’s another spot-on Oatmeal observation about websites for restaurants.

Dilbert and Bogart On “F#(& You” Money

Trying to think of a good name for your retirement fund? Here’s a funny Dilbert comic about a colorful option:


In fact, the origins of the term “F— You Money” can be traced to actor Humphrey Bogart. The following quote is attributed to him:

The only good reason to have money is this: so that you can tell any SOB in the world to go to hell.

There is also this story from some biographical accounts of his early years:

Long before he was Hollywood’s most famous tough guy, Bogart began his acting career on the stage. After serving in the United States Navy during WWI, he got his start playing a handful of very juvenile roles in drawing-room and country-house comedies. In 1920, he scored a leading roll in the comedy “Cradle Snatchers” and received a bevy of positive notices. It was during this time that he was said to have kept $100 dollars in his dresser drawer at all times, calling it his “F” you money. Instead of taking a part he didn’t want, he could just say “F” you.

I looked it up and $100 in 1920 was about $1,000 in today’s dollars.

I like Bogart’s definition better. He basically says “I’ve now got the financial independence to be picky in how I spend my time.” You don’t need a million bucks. Even a smaller sum of money tucked away can make a big difference in your mood and outlook on life. The first $25,000 I saved up freed me up to pursue my real passions and make the next $250,000.

Magazines Decoded: Best Mutual Funds of 2011

I’m catching on some personal finance magazine reading and find myself again rolling my eyes at their respective “Best Mutual Funds” lists. I’ve had subscriptions to all the major magazine for about 5 years now. Here’s how I translate them through my jaded eyes:

Best Mutual Funds of 2011

Here are our picks for the best mutual funds. We don’t chase performance like those other guys. We put tons of hours into finding the best mutual funds with good management skill and experience and other things that sound good in theory. Oh, and they have to have really good performance over the last several years. But again, no performance chasing here. Nuh-uh.

Where were we? Oh yeah, so to start we had to drop some funds from our list this year, due to their recent drop in performance. I’ll also add some other tangential reasons to hide this fact a bit. We really don’t know how that happened, sorry about that. It was completely unforeseeable.

Oh, but not to worry, we replaced them with other excellent funds that did some really smart things during the last crisis/boom/cycle. Now, if we could just have told you before they did awesome, instead of recommending those crappy funds we dropped in the last paragraph…

Finally, we decided to add more low-cost index funds to our list. For some reason, they keep performing well over long periods of time and are gaining customers as a result. The Vanguard Group recently became the largest mutual fund company in the world by assets, surpassing even Fidelity with their 401k monopoly and their famous Magellan and Contrafund-style active funds. Shh… here’s the secret that nobody else knows: low costs are important.

— Love, your favorite personal finance magazine.


Any magazine with a Top Stocks or Top Funds list should always have to include the same list from 10 years ago. So with the Top Funds of 2010 you’d have to see the Top Funds of 2000. That would be interesting.

I just realized I was similarly disillusioned a few years ago and wrote Anatomy of a Personal Finance Magazine Article.

California: You Can’t Afford It

It’s my third day of being sick, so I will simply wish you a great weekend and share an amusing t-shirt I found in Target.

It would be more funny, except it’s kind of true for half of Californians:

More than half of the state’s homeowners with a mortgage—51.4 percent—spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs, according to 2005-2009 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Renters in California are in the same boat, with 51.8 percent spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.

The 30 percent threshold for housing costs has long been a conventional marker of affordability.

Time to suck down more Ricolas…

Quantitative Easing Is Printing Money

You’ve probably heard the term quantitative easing. You might even have read news or blog articles about what it means. I’ve always thought all that blah-blah-blah about the Federal Reserve buying Treasury Bonds sounded a lot like printing money. How else do you explain a government essentially buying it’s own bonds? Think about it…

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s have Ben Bernanke explain it himself. Once while covering his butt, and once when it was okay to tell the truth. Via The Daily Show:

Hey, maybe it’ll turn out to be a good idea, but at least tell us the truth. Increasing the money supply is as you said Ben, “effectively” printing money.

Bumped On Thanksgiving Eve

Somehow I thought it was a good idea to fly on Thanksgiving Eve. No TSA nightmares. Flight was full. Volunteered quickly for the bump (you can ask to put your name on the list when checking in), and got $400 each in transferable flight credit for the two of us, plus first class re-booking on the next flight 3 hours later. Now I’m pecking away on my smartphone. I hope everyone else has safe travels.

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s still my favorite holiday.

The Rat Race: Does This Cartoon Look Familiar?


Let’s get out of the race!

Image credit to artist Polyp. There’s also an animated version that made me nauseous (perhaps that was the point?).

Take Comfort in Rituals – Starbucks Propaganda

If you’ve walked by your neighborhood Starbucks recently, you may have noticed this new sign on the door:

I guess I was cranky – coffee withdrawal? – but I immediately blurted out:

“Translation: Even though you probably can’t afford it and may even be unemployed, please continue buying your $4 coffee.”

Too harsh?

Photo credit to timstock via Flickr.

My First Shares Of Stock Ever Purchased

I was going through some old financial files and came across an old E-Trade statement which was my first brokerage account and found my first shares of stocks ever purchased in August of 2001. This was after the dot-com bubble burst, and I was still in grad school. I had managed to save up $1,000 and promptly invested it after pretty much zero research:

  • 11 shares of Budweisder (BUD) at $43.04. Budweiser was bought by foreign conglomerate InBev in 2008 at $70 a share, but after that I’m not sure how to evaluate performance.
  • 12 shares of Pfizer (PFE) at $38.31. As of yesterday 9/2/10, PFE closed at $16.40 with about $0.75 to $1.25 a year in dividends.

People were pretty depressed about the markets back too, so I guess I figured beer and happy pills was a growth industry. :)

Do you have any special memories attached to your first stock purchase?

How To Sue a Telemarketer (Book Summary)

I’ve been getting an increasing number of telemarketing calls recently, so I readily agreed to a review copy of How To Sue a Telemarketer by Stephen Ostrow, lawyer and judge. I had a vague recollection that you can get $500 every time a telemarketer violates the Do No Call list, and was hoping there would be a quick form or template to fill out and slam these annoying folks. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that, but the basic steps are outlined below.

Before you do anything else, you should confirm that your phone number is registered at the National Do-Not-Call Registry. While you can file a complaint at the same website, that doesn’t have nearly the bite of a lawsuit with financial penalties.

Step 1: Data Collection

When an unsolicited telemarketer calls and you think they are in violation of the law, don’t yell at them. In a conversational tone, try to extract as much of the following information as possible:

  • Name of telemarketer
  • Name of company
  • Company website
  • Company telephone number
  • Company address
  • What they are trying to sell you

Writing it all down is probably the most simply, having a recording is easier but you can’t tape a telephone conversation without notice in many states. (Here’s is a list of states with one-party consent.)

Step 2: Research and Lawsuit Initiation

Using this information, you can then research the legal names of either the company employing the telemarketer and/or the telemarketers themselves. Now you know who to sue. Next, you must file a complaint through your state’s Small Claims Court. The form is relatively simple to fill out and some templates are included in the book.

Here’s a list of potential violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), each of which are separate. You can have been a victim of any one or a combination. Federal law allows for $500 per violation, which can be increased to $1,500 per violation if deemed” willful and intentional”.

  • Violation of Do Not Call list.
  • Pre-recorded messages (robocalls)
  • Failure of solicitor to identify themselves.
  • Failure to send the company’s Do-Not-Call policy within 30 days after demand.
  • Blocking a number on CallerID by a telephone solicitor

A third party must then serve the complaint to the defendant, usually via sheriff or process server. You’ll also need to file a Proof of Service to show that the accused was served.

Step 3: Your Day in Small Claims Court

Now that you have filed the lawsuit and the defendant has been notified, a court date will be set and you’ll actually face your defendant in court. The person who actually called you won’t be there, just some representative. Some tips about how to present your case to the court are given, but basically you want to document all the details of the call. Since this is a civil court, you just need to prove that it happened more likely than not.

While searching online, I found another success story for suing rogue telemarketers. In his case, the telemarketer actually called him up before the court date and offered him $500 upfront to settle out of court. Nice.

The most depressing part of the book was the part where I found out what calls are not covered under the Act:

  • Calls from organizations with which you’ve established a business relationship
  • Call by, or on behalf of, tax-exempt non-profit organizations including political compaigns.

So if I get service from Comcast, they can still bug me. And I’ve already decided to vote against any politician who robocalls me. Grrr.

There are many more nuances in the book that aren’t covered here. If you aren’t turned off by required footwork above, then this book may be worth a read. It does try to keep a humorous edge to it, hopefully the energy will encourage you to follow through and get some justice.