My Money Blog on FaceBook – Gift Card Giveaway

I’ve finally caught up to 2009 and created a Facebook Page for, 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.

To 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. 😉

Bought A Pre-Made Emergency Bug-Out Bag

(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.)

Low Cost Stock Broker Alternatives 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.

Nordstrom Rack: $50 Gift Card For Just $25

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.

Leonardo Da Vinci Quotes

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.”

Out of the Office

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.

AT&T Wireless Class Action Settlement

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 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.

Guest Posting Opportunities at MyMoneyBlog

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 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 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!

Happiness Is Earning $60,000 A Year?

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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Capital One 360 Apologizes

Capital One 360 apologized for shutting my site down without warning or cause via e-mail today:

Jon, I’d like to apologize for our recent actions regarding your website. Customer security is our number one priority, and it is not something that we take lightly. One of your readers and one of our vigilant Customers alerted us to what he felt may have been a phishing scam. When presented with security concerns — such as a possible phishing scam– that may affect Customers’ personal information, we act swiftly and decisively to protect them. In the case with your site, we may have acted too quickly. After further review, we immediately reversed course and resolved the situation. We’re sorry for the inconvenience it caused you and your community, and we are working to make sure this type of situation doesn’t occur again.

Thanks for being a valued partner of Capital One 360. We look forward to continuing our successful partnership.


Robert Weaver
Head of IT Security
Capital One 360

I suppose that is something. I only wish it could have been “When presented with security concerns, we actually visit your site and verify the accusation before hiring a large security firm to scare your web host into shutting down your revenue-generating website.” I also disagree with “immediately reversed course” because only after my begging my hosting provider was my site brought back online and given 12 hours to comply to the demands.

Oh, and here’s the long, scary e-mail that was sent from RSA Security yesterday morning (after the jump). I think you’ll agree it was very accusatory and pretty offensive. They even demanded an entire download of all the contents of my site and server.

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Capital One 360 Accuses Me Of Phishing, Shuts My Site Down, Then Apologizes… Kind Of was unceremoniously shut down this morning by Capital One 360 and RSA Security when they sent a long, scary e-mail to my web hosting provider accusing me of phishing.

The page, now still removed just in case, involved Capital One 360’s person-to-person referrals, which Capital One 360 offers users in order to promote it’s banking service. One user refers another user, and if a new user opens an account, both get a cash bonus. My page was a simple page where other readers could post up their referral links, and have another person come by and claim the other end of the bonus. Win-win, right?

I should also mention that this specific page has been up for about 4 years, with not a peep from them. I can confidently say over 1,000 people have gotten a new account at Capital One 360 through this page.

Was there an warning e-mail saying “Hey Jon, this page angers us.” or “Hey Jon, remove this page or we’ll shut your site down with our big bad lawyers.”? Nope.

Finally, all of the links directly go to a Capital One 360 page. There is no link on that asks for any Capital One 360 user information, least of which full name or login credentials, nor had there ever been. Their accusation is like Bank of America accusing me of phishing when I link to a $100 account bonus that they’re offering at (Don’t get any ideas, BofA!)

I’m also kind of disappointed with my web host, LiquidWeb. You’d think if I buy a dedicated server from them, I’d at least get a phone call before having everything shut down.

Conclusion. I called RSA Security directly to get this all straightened out. After checking their records, they said (over the phone, I’m paraphrasing somewhat) “There was a misunderstanding with Capital One 360. They first contacted us to shut down your site. Then they realized you work with them as an authorized partner. So a few hours later they told us never mind. Everything is okay. You don’t have to take down anything. We apologize on behalf of Capital One 360.”

Of course, neither my web provider nor myself got this “all clear” e-mail. Capital One 360 still acted like a big faceless corporation, and I haven’t yet received any apology from them directly. Being just a little peon, I’m just happy my entire site wasn’t shut down further because of this. Now please excuse me while I throw up from all the stress…

PSA: Possibly Hacked; Credit Card Data Stolen?

Although relatively new, has quickly become a very popular place to buy cheap but high quality audio/video cables and adapters online. I recommended shopping there if you’re trying to connect your laptop to your TV (and maybe drop your cable subscription?). I’ve probably bought from them five times in the last year, and I don’t even shop online that much.

However, if you bought anything from them recently, I would check your credit cards for any fraudulent charges. Monoprice shut down their site today and placed this message up:

A few of our customers recently reported to us that information from credit cards they used on the Monoprice website had been misused. We promptly began an investigation with the help of expert computer forensic investigators to determine if any card data had been stolen from our computers.

To date, the investigators have found no evidence that card information has been stolen from Monoprice’s computer network. As a precaution to ensure that our customers’ information is not at risk, we have taken our website offline temporarily while we and our investigators complete the audit of our computer network.