Archive for the 'General' Category
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
While catching up on some reading over the weekend, I found two articles that both dealt with large issues that we’ll have to face over the next few decades. Predicting the future is always difficult, but sometimes the numbers can seem very compelling.
Oil & Commodities
Jeremy Grantham is co-founder of GMO, an investment management firm with $107B in assets. That doesn’t mean he necessarily knows the future. But in his April 2011 quarterly letter titled Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever, he does manage to put together a convincing argument that we are using up our natural resources very quickly, and we can’t continue on at this rate. It’s mathematically impossible.
Will we find other energy sources to replace cheap oil? Will technology allow us to do more with less? Probably, but I doubt the transition will be a smooth one. I think learning to be less dependent on natural resources (read: be frugal, efficient, and less wasteful) will even more important financially than it is now.
Medicare & Taxes
Paul Krugman is a Nobel-winning economist with a popular blog at the NY Times. In a recent Op-Ed titled Seniors, Guns and Money, if you strip out all the political stuff, you’ll find this: In the coming years, there will be either significant cuts in Medicare, or tax increases to pay for the rising heath care costs.
One, our population is aging, with more retired seniors being supported by fewer workers. Two, health care costs keeps rising on their own. As he says, “It’s just a matter of arithmetic.” Either the government will raises taxes to pay for all this, or there will be major cuts in benefits. My guess is both.
Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Today, I find myself staring at a bunch of links that are mildly interesting, but nothing that inspires much additional research or spewing of opinion. Maybe I’m just tired and cranky. In any case, I think they are worthy of sharing.
Tiny Transformer Apartment
A fellow in Hong Kong has created an apartment with sliding walls that transforms what is basically one big room into many – a bathroom, kitchen, living room, or a bedroom simply appears with a bit of pushing. Quite cool in only 344 sq. ft. It’s easiest to watch the video to really understand it.
Lendle, eBookFling, BookLending
Apparently you can lend eBooks on Amazon Kindle now, but it’s not really built for easy sharing. If a publisher allows their eBooks to be sharable, you can lend out each book only once to another user for 14 days. If enough Kindle users sign up with a regular stream of books, it might actually be useful.
Mortgage Brokers Argue Over No-Doc Stated Income Loan For Stripper
Read the thread of emails from the bottom up. An exotic dancer in North Carolina applies for a stated income loan (no income or bank statements) based on an income of $140,000 a year. An excellent example of the keen underwriting skills shown across our great land in 2007.
Calendar of deals: What’s on sale when
Consumer Reports provides a general guide to what items tend to go on sale at the same time each year. For May, we’re looking at athletic apparel, camping gear, and lawn mowers.
Law Students Lose the Grant Game as Schools Win
The NY Times reports that some law schools are awarding more merit scholarships in order to attract better students. The catch is that the scholarships require you to be on the top third of the class, which if you give enough scholarships means some are guaranteed to promptly lose those scholarships and get hit with the full bill. Lesson to prospective law students: read the fine print.
Monday, April 4th, 2011
Kind of hidden at the bottom of my last post was that discovery that there are new ways to join Pentagon Federal Credit Union, known commonly as PenFed. There are several reasons to join this credit union, including at-times competitive certificate of deposit (CD) rates, a credit card that gives you 5% cash back on gas, and low interest rates on mortgages and auto loans. (Their 5/5 ARM mortgage is relatively unique.)
In general, membership is open to the military, US government employees, or the family or household of existing members. Previously, the most open way to join was with by paying $20 to join the National Military Family Association. (I didn’t realize this was tax-deductible.)
However, recently two new ways have popped up on their eligibility page. First, you can become eligible by joining the Voices for America’s Troops group for a $15 one-time fee (not tax-deductible). Second, you can join by being a Red Cross blood donor (blood or money). I’ve donated both blood and money to the Red Cross, and many of you probably have as well so it may be a good time to join. You’ll need to keep $5 in a share account. Maybe somebody new can apply and tell me how they verify this, but I bet they are using the honor system. Thanks to reader Paul for the tip.
American Red Cross Employees and Volunteers. A volunteer is defined as anyone who provides wealth, wisdom, or work. Wealth can include a blood donation or a financial donation.
Friday, April 1st, 2011
I’ve finally caught up to 2009 and created a Facebook Page for MyMoneyBlog.com, with a little nudge from reader Amy. With this page, my hope is to be able to share links and other quick news that might not make it into a blog post, as well as interact with readers. Additionally, if you are a regular Facebook user and “Like” the page you’ll get all these things plus new post updates fed into your regular news feed.
promote awareness for this bribe you into checking it out, I have set up a quick giveaway for a $15 eBay gift card that I bought from Groupon yesterday. Just visit the page and look on the left for the “Sweepstakes” tab. All you need is your e-mail. I am using the third-party app Wildfire to manage this giveaway, so you’ll need to approve a Facebook app. Contest ends Sunday night 4/3 at midnight Pacific.
You don’t need to “Like” the page to enter, but it would definitely provide me a nice ego boost.
Friday, March 11th, 2011
(As I publish this post, I see that California and Hawaii are on a tsunami watch after an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit Japan. Goodness.)
Earlier this week, my brother-in-law sent me a link to a post on the Art of Manliness blog on How to Make a Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Emergency Evacuation Survival Kit by a wilderness survival instructor. He knows that I have a fascination with survival gadgets in case of disaster or “revolution”.
From what I’ve read about governmental emergency response, in a real mass disaster, average citizens should not expect assistance for at least 72 hours if not a week. Chances are that it will be chaos and only the seriously ill will be attended to. You’ll be on your own for a while, so you should be prepared.
Ever since reading the book Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, I have been collecting bits and pieces of emergency gear. I went on a flashlight binge, buying a solar-powered flashlight, LED headlamps, big D-cell maglites, tons of cheap LED flashlights, and stocking up on batteries. I bought a couple big pump-style water filters, and small hiker-style water filters. I have other basics like a first-aid kit, and the standard case of water bottles on rotation.
But as a highly analytical person, I think I really just like spending hours and hours reading reviews and weighing the pros and cons of different brands of devices. As a result, I don’t actually have a fully equipped “bug-out bag“, and all my stuff is definitely not in a backpack ready to grab-and-go. Since the pursuit of perfection is often the enemy of good-enough, yesterday I went out and spent $100 on this pre-packaged Emergency Kit.
Yes, I already have a lot of the stuff inside already and yes, I probably could have made something better myself for cheaper, but I feel better already. (After I get the bag, I’ll see if I really can make something better for cheaper.)
Monday, February 28th, 2011
If you’re thinking about switching online stock brokers, perhaps due to a price increase, here are some low-cost options. To avoid the common $50 to $75 ACAT transfer-out fee for moving your entire portfolio somewhere else, you can sell all your positions, transfer out the cash, and then have them close the account. You may be subject to capital gains taxes. Otherwise, look for a broker that will cover your transfer-out fee.
Still want free trades? WellsTrade still offers 100 free trades per year with assets of at least $25,000. They may be feeling squeezed as well, but with the ability to cross-sell with other Wells Fargo products like checking accounts and credit cards, they are probably still making money. Bank of America also offers free trades, but with a $25,000 cash balance only.
If you’re looking to build a low-cost, index fund portfolio, I would recommend opening a Vanguard Brokerage Services account with their unlimited free trades for all Vangaurd ETFs. Indeed, many other brokers offer some sort of free trades on a limited list of ETFs including Fidelity, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade. I personally like the selection at Vanguard the best.
If you want to trade individual stocks, the rock-bottom low-cost broker appears to be Just2Trade at $2.50 a trade. They never seem to do any promotions.
I also have an account with OptionsHouse at $3.95 a trade which uses the same Penson clearing firm. A FW member TheHimalayas posted that they were allowed to switch over to OptionsHouse with no ACAT fees because of this, but I haven’t verified this myself. I am happy with my OptionsHouse account, and the fact that they grandfathered us existing members at $2.95 a trade doesn’t hurt.
OptionsHouse also has a bunch of promos going on. If you open a new account with at least $3,000 and use the code FREE100, you’ll get 100 commission-free trades for stock or option trades executed within 60 days of funding the new account. Alternatively, you can get up to $100 in ACAT fees rebated to you when you transfer your account with a minimum value of $3,000 with the promo code ACAT100REFUND. They also have a 100 free trades + $125 in transfer fee rebates offer for IRAs with the promotion code IRAFREE.
Finally, another solid option at the $4.95 price point is TradeKing. TradeKing will credit your account transfer fees up to $150 charged by another brokerage firm when completing an account transfer for $2,500 or more when you send them a copy of your account statement with proof of the transfer charge.
Friday, November 19th, 2010
Here’s another Groupon national deal, this time for $50 gift card for $25 at Nordstrom Rack, which seems like a nice name for Nordstrom Outlet. I think I’ve been to one before, it’s like a fancier Ross’s or TJ Maxx. Shoes, clothes, accessories, etc. List of store locations. This one is good until midnight 11/22.
Limit 1/person. Valid at all Nordstrom Rack locations. In-store only. Not valid for gift cards. Not valid with other offers or discounts. EXPIRES ON 12/31/10.
If you don’t have a Groupon account already, please use my sign-up link first. It’s free for you, and I’ll get some Groupon credit for future deals. Groupon is a popular group-buying site where in major metro areas you get one deal per day from a local retailer as long as enough people sign up for it, along with occasional nationwide offers.
Friday, October 29th, 2010
Leonardo da Vinci isn’t usually quoted when it comes to personal finance; I don’t think he really cared for the topic very much. However, I’ve been doing some reading about him and I really enjoyed these quotes attributed to him and wanted to remember them:
- “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
- “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
- “It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
- “He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year.”
Saturday, October 9th, 2010
I’m going on vacation for the next 3 weeks. I’ve got some great guest posts lined up, most of them are very long and in-depth. I think you’ll like them. The response was great, and I have even more great guest content for when I get back. There will also be some posts of my own that I’ve written ahead of time. Comment moderation and e-mail replies will be even slower than usual, so thanks in advance for your patience.
Even though purely financially this year has been one of the best, other than that it has been the worst. I’d happy trade the two. I’m looking forward to the break, and hope to come back with renewed energy and focus.
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
I received a notice about a class action settlement for AT&T Wireless Customers after March 1, 1999. This is the AT&T Wireless was that was merged out of existence in 2004, before it became Cingular Wireless and then “Wireless from AT&T”. To receive benefits, Class Members must submit a Claim Form (available at www.awssettlement.com or 1-866-249-8109) by February 13, 2011. Details:
Subject to Court approval, settlements were reached of class action lawsuits against AT&T Wireless Services, Inc. (“AWS”) regarding challenges to: (1) charges for mMode Data Service (“mMode”) and ENH Discount International Dial (“EDID”), if they were unauthorized or not understood; (2) charges for cellular telephone calls during a billing period other than the one in which the calls were made (“Out-of-Cycle Billing”), if not understood; and (3) imposition of Universal Connectivity Charges (“UCC”), if not understood (collectively, “Settled Claims”).
You may be a class member if you:
* live in the U.S. or its territories, were an AWS subscriber after December 20, 2001, and were billed and paid, but not refunded in full, for mMode or EDID;
* live in California, initiated AWS service under a “One Rate-type” plan after March 1, 1999, and were charged for calls during a billing period other than the one in which the calls were made; or
* live in the U.S. or its territories, were an AWS subscriber after March 1, 1999, and paid, but were not refunded or credited, for UCC charges.
You may be a member of multiple classes.
If the Settlements are approved, Class Members may receive:
* mMode: $8 check
* EDID: $10 check
* Out of Cycle Billing: $8 check or 250 minute AT&T Phone Card
* UCC: $7 check.
Saturday, September 25th, 2010
I am taking some time off in October, and am looking for some additional content for MyMoneyBlog. I’m not looking for the usual “5 Ways To Save Money” material though. I want unique, original content. By this, I mean I want something that only you could write, something I couldn’t replicate after spending an hour researching on Google. Perhaps you don’t have time to start a blog, but did build a house by yourself. How much did it cost? Was it worth it?
I want personal decision processes. I want to hear if you scored a great deal, got ripped off, or retired early and read this blog from the beach every day. Here are some more potential topics that I would love to read about (will add more as I think of them):
- My research for picking a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and Health Savings Account (HSA) provider.
- How I bought a used car off Craigslist
- How I worked a nice stable federal/state job for 20 years and retired early
- How I work only on an Alaskan fishing boat three months a year and take the rest off
- How I started RandomWebsite.com and it now earns me $1,000 a month in passive income (not a personal finance blog)
- Booking my around-the-world itinerary for under $10,000
- Paying for college in real time and finishing with no debt at all.
- How I retired to a country in SE Asia/Mexico/South America at age 45 (or 75)
- How I built a solar-powered house that is off the grid.
- How I built my own “go bag” or survival kit myself on the cheap.
Please contact me with your post idea. I’m flexible on length, but I reserve the right to suggest some edits. You will get full credit, an author byline, and a link to your website. If you want to remain anonymous, that’s fine too. As an additional push, I’ll even throw in a $25 Amazon.com gift certificate if your post gets published. If I get at least 10 guest posts, I’ll run a contest for the best one and that person will get $100.
I know there is some great experiences out there. Share it!
Update 9/29/10: I think I now have enough guest post offers for October, but may need some at a later time. If you’ve already e-mailed me, I’ll be replying shortly. Thanks!
Wednesday, May 26th, 2010
Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman performed a TED Talk this year about how as humans our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. Basically, he says that our memories of experiences differ from what really happened during the experience itself.
But what ended up being the catchy soundbite was in the Q&A session after his talk, where he tells us that while millions of dollars won’t buy you happiness, a job that pays $60,000 a year might help. This is based on a survey of 600,000 Americans:
“Below 60,000 dollars a year, people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat.”
“Clearly… money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery,” he said. But the real trick, Kahneman said, is to spend time with people you like.
I found this talk through the GatesVP blog, who offers this analysis:
In most parts of the US you already have access to a very good and healthy life at 60k. You’ve pretty much covered everything commonly deemed as a necessity and you probably have some money left over for “entertainment”. So the jump to 90k really just gives you a little more “entertainment” and maybe some bigger stuff, but that’s it.
And if you’re the type who’s not happy with being in the top 20%, then how much further do you need to go? Top 10%? Top 5%?
Really, 60k for one job is far enough “ahead of the game” to keep happy those that can be kept happy. And that’s probably why this is true.
According to the 2008 US Census, making 60k a year is in the top 20%. I pretty much agree, especially with the idea that humans are creatures of comparison. As long as we’re doing a little bit better than our neighbors, then we tend to be happy. What do you think?
You can view the entire TED Talk below. The Q&A session starts at about 17:15, and a transcript is available on the right sidebar here.
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