Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The countdown continues

Avoid Frugality Burnout from Frugal Village

I like to compare money management to things like weight management and exercise because they have similar principles. To save money, you have to spend less than you earn. To lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. In the short term, most people can simply eat less and exercise more, but many people burn out quickly and return to old habits. Likewise, people get tired of scrimping and saving all the time and feeling like they are not having as much fun as the next person. This article reiterates the focus on the long-term goal while celebrating small steps .

Monday, December 29, 2008

Countdown of great blogs from 2008

I have read and applied so much helpful advice this past year. I am not new to the world of saving and investing, but reading on the subject empowered me to take charge of my own financial future instead of consulting with someone will overcharge me for the same information. Over the next few days, I will post 4 more great blog articles from the past year.

Ten Things I Wish I'd Done Differently While Buying a House

From Trent at The Simple Dollar comes an almost Captain Obvious approach to planning for buying a home. His 20X20 hindsight makes for a great read. This article will no doubt be one that I return to in the future since I hope to buy a house in a few years when I have a significant down payment saved.

Here is a related article I recently discovered on MSN, I recommend printing out and saving for later because following the given advice could save you from buying a lemon of a house or save a lot of frustration.

DIY home inspector checklist

Friday, October 24, 2008

Great Reasons to Have an Emergency Fund

A friend's recent medical emergency reminded me that having an emergency fund can make a potentially stressful and expensive situation a lot easier to handle. If you do not already have an emergency fund in place, I urge you to start by setting up an automatic deposit into a savings account that you can easily access. Even having $20 in there will be able to help you at some point. Ideally, you would have enough to cover insurance deductibles at the very least. We've all heard about having 3-6 months of income available, which is a rather lofty goal, but every deposit should create a feeling of ease and lessen potential anxiety and worry.

1. A sudden medical problem for your or your dependents such as injuries, appendicitis, or an asthma attack can land you in the emergency room and chances are good your insurance has a hefty co-pay. Not to mention any prescription medicine costs and if you don't get paid if you miss work.
2. A car accident that causes damage of any kind will not be paid for until you meet your deductible. Just think what you would do if your car suddenly was not available. An emergency fund could help you pay for a rental or quickly arrange to have your car fixed if possible.
3. Theft of your your wallet, purse, or credit card means you will have a harder time accessing any money that you have. This is especially true if someone uses your credit card to make purchases. It can take several days and even weeks to reconcile your account and credit you with the money you lost.
4. A sick or injured pet can unexpectedly cost you big time. One of my cats had a seizure awhile back and the emergency vet charge was $74 just for a veterinarian examination.
5. Any household problem that results in filing a claim on your renter's/homeowners insurance such as a fire.

I can think of many other reasons but these are probably the most commonly-utilized reasons to take money from an emergency fund. Remember to only use it for emergencies.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nothing like a little identity theft

Today I became one of the millions of people every year that is an identity theft victim. I was just checking my balance online on my checking account and noticed a charge from Wednesday of $21.99 from "Big Loud Head" in Florida. I googled the company and it turns out they sell headphones, not porn (lol). So someone got my Visa debit card number and then bought some stuff. Great. I called the bank first to have my card canceled. The woman on the phone was not very helpful for some reason, usually they have excellent customer service at my credit union, and I also had to go to the bank to fill out some additional paperwork. They informed me at the bank that I would need to file a police report and let them know the number of the police report before they can credit me back the money that was stolen. There are a lot of hoops to jump through here but I was more than happy to do all of this to ensure my information would continue to be safe. They informed me at the bank that this happens all the time and there is really no way to tell how someone got my number. I am glad I am meticulous with my account! Also, it is a common practice for identity thieves to charge a small amount, then wait a week or 2, and charge a much greater amount in the hopes that you won't notice the initial small charge. Just a reminder to be wary and pay attention to your accounts, even for small purchases.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A great visual budgeting tool

I just discovered a great tool for comparing your current budget to expert recommendations.
CNBC's Carmen Wong Ulrich's Budget Calculator
Keep in mind this is very simplistic, but in my opinion, a great visual tool, especially if you're new to setting up a budget. Don't worry if your monthly budget does not match the recommended one, but it could be a good future goal to try and align your monthly spending more closely. I have heard various estimates like you should not spend more than 25 to 28% on housing, but the 30% here is a little more realistic and allows for a little more wiggle room if you are below the 30%.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How much do you spend on debt repayments in a year?

I just added up how much I have spent simply paying debts this year: car loan, credit cards, and student loans add up to nearly $7000 and it's not quite October. I am just floored! I knew I spend a lot on debt but never really thought of it in annual terms. My income increased quite a bit in August which helped me funnel some extra cash into debt repayment but looking at my take home pay so far for 2008, I spent right around a third of my money on paying debt. Just thinking what I could have done with an extra $7000 in mutual funds makes me a little bit sick to my stomach. Remember that every time you take on debt, you take on more monthly payments that can become never-ending until you break the cycle. I have not accrued much new debt in 2008 other than a couple random credit card purchases that got paid off right away, and I am very proud of myself because of that.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why I bought a new car instead of a "gently used" one

Just about one year ago, I bought my first new car. My previous car was a 1995 Oldsmobile Achieva that I had since my junior year of high school. I drove it for 8 years, and in the end it developed multiple problems including needing an a/c compressor replacement and head gasket work that I just was not ready to pay to fix. I had been planning for awhile on looking for another vehicle and had a decent down payment already saved. I ended up driving my parents' spare car, a 1994 Dodge Caravan, for 5 months while I looked for another vehicle. I had already had my heart set on used Honda Civic or Accord or a Toyota Corolla or Corolla somewhere in the range of 2000-2004 model years. I really was not willing to look at much of anything else mainly based on all of these cars' reliability record and ability to hold value. I was definitely not in the mood for having my next car stall on I-80 again. I checked multiple websites such as Craigslist and other internet classifieds such as the one my employer sponsors, the local newspaper, and local dealers. I definitely found cars I liked and were worth buying, in my price range (less than $20k), and got pre-approval for a loan from my bank at something around 6% interest. After doing some calculations, it ended up costing me somewhere in the range of $25-40 more a month to buy a brand new car with a full warranty and interest rates are typically much better on new cars. Toyotas and Hondas hold their value extremely well and the sellers usually get their asking prices. On a similar note, Toyota and Honda dealers definitely do not feel the need to offer specials like 0% financing because they have no problem selling cars. I ended up with a 2008 Toyota Corolla at a better rate of 4.9% for 60 months. I am aiming to pay that in 3.5 to 4 years, but at the time I purchased my car, my income was lower so I played it safe and went with the 5 year plan. I am confident that if I take car of my car and fix any body damage that may occur it should still be worth $10k in 5 years. I generally agree that buying a used car that has already depreciated significantly is a better deal in the long run, but one should carefully evaluate one's unique situation to make a good decision about buying a new or used vehicle.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A ridiculously early post about the upcoming holiday season

I have already heard both complaints and raves about the fact that stores have had Halloween displays out for a couple of weeks. Personally, I am glad to see it; I love Halloween and just autumn in general. I have even seen a few Christmas displays! Today's post on The Simple Dollar called Do You Overspend on Gifts provoked a very interesting discussion on its comments. In summary of that article, giving gifts at any time of the year, not just the holiday can cause feelings of guilt and resentment for both the giver and the receiver, especially if overspending is involved. We must remember that giving a gift is not a healthy means to signify love. There are as many different schemes to give gifts as there are types of people, and no certain way will work for everyone. I would just like to share my plan for the upcoming holidays. I have been saving for a few months in a separate account on ING Direct. I was saving $25 out of every paycheck (every 2 weeks) but will probably bump it up to $50 soon. This way I will have to wonder how I am going to buy everyone's present in a short amount of time with a limited income. I hope to have $350 to $400 by mid-November. I already have the luxury of being able to shop anytime since I have already been saving, but I will most likely wait several more weeks.

I like to buy presents for my immediate family members, some of my extended family members and 6-7 friends. I am lucky in the fact that I am really not obligated to buy a present for anyone; most people realize what my financial situation is since I am pretty open about it. Most of the time I spend $30 or less per person. I have made some homemade gifts in the past such as bath salts and jewelry, and plan to continue that this year. Last year I made homemade chocolate-covered cherries, thinking I could gift some of them and ended up eating most of them myself as they were fantastic! This will probably be the first year that I will not have to put any presents on a credit card, and that is a great feeling. With a little planning ahead and some careful bargain hunting, I should be able to have a debt-free holiday season and focus on enjoying the experiences instead of worrying how I am going to pay for them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Should you trade your gas guzzler for a more fuel-efficient vehicle?

In most cases, the answer is no. It will take several years, often more than 10 to even break even! Edmunds.com has a great little tool where you enter basic information about a potential new car and your current one. If you are driving a gas guzzler, it will be more worth it to run it to the ground then plan on buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle next. This is especially true if your vehicle is paid in full.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Leading by example

Today's post on Frugal Dad entitled "Don't Be a Self-Righteous Frugalist" really struck a chord. And I like the word "frugalist." :) I saw a lot of myself in the article. I get very excited about good deals and like to preach about the benefits of shopping online, using reputable companies of course. I feel like I am just trying to help others but perhaps, I am using the wrong approach. People close to me know that I just get excited and ignore the know-it-all attitude, but I am not sure about acquaintances! Ultimately, remember that it is one's choice how to spend money. The best thing to do is lead by example. I do this by clipping coupons, reading internet shopping forums, and putting a great deal of research into major purchases. I will probably always struggle with my critical nature, but the more aware of it, the better I can control it and eventually put it to good use like posting on this blog.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fun with financial calculators

Well I don't know if you'd call this fun, but for me, finding out how long I'll need to save for a particular purpose or how many months it will take to pay off a purchase is actually quite enlightening. You can find these nifty tools on most bank websites or just do a simple Google search. Some items you might want to know before some calculations are your tax bracket and interest rate. I'll leave you with a basic compound interest calculator.

Financial Calculator

Friday, July 18, 2008

Open communication about money

I am a big fan of communication. I talk a lot, and probably don't listen as much as I should. It seems that open communication about money is a rarity even in today's flailing economy. I have no problem sharing with my friends and family information about my personal finances. I am always surprised to hear about cohabiting or even married couples who do not have a clue about how the other manages finances, how much debt he/she has, or even how much his or her significant other makes! Money is often a source of conflict in a relationship. I encourage my readers to start opening the lines of communication about money. You can control how much information you actually reveal if you prefer to keep some information private. Start with simple questions: Do you have a savings account or emergency fund? Have you ever checked your credit report or do you know if you have good/excellent credit? Notice I did not include questions along the lines of HOW MUCH. Simply knowing these things about your significant other can be very revealing, and open the door to hopefully some important conversations.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A great opportunity to monitor your credit and credit score for the next six months

You may have seen or heard about a class action lawsuit against TransUnion LLC and the Acxiom Corporation. I will not go into too much detail that no one wants to read anyway, but the reason for the lawsuit is the alleged violators sold lists containing personal and financial consumer information to third parties for marketing purposes. You are eligible for benefits if you have opened a credit account in the US from January 1, 1987 to May 28, 2008. This includes student loans, mortgages, lines of credit for overdraft protection on checking accounts, as well as credit cards.

How to register:
Go to http://www.ListClassAction.com and register by September 24, 2008. There is also a mail-in option on the site.

What are the benefits:
1. File your own lawsuit - This is always an option, but it would be expensive to pursue. The potential benefits could be far greater than the class action settlement, but it is a gamble that I and most people are probably not willing to examine.

If you do not wish to sue the defendants individually, here are other options:
2. Sign up for six months of credit monitoring service and a possible cash settlement - This apparently retails for $59.75 and you can lock your credit report to third parties and view your credit report and score DAILY. This is a great opportunity because normally one has to pay to see one's credit score.
3. Register for six months of credit monitoring - I do not know anyone who would turn down a cash settlement so this option will probably be rarely chosen.
4. Sign up for nine months of enhanced credit monitoring - This option retails for $115.50 and does not include a cash settlement. The enhanced credit monitoring services include insurance scores, a mortgage simulator service, and the other services listed about in #2.
5. Register for a cash settlement - This option is great if you do not need any credit monitoring.
6. Do nothing - This option means you will not receive benefits and can not sue the defendants individually.

When will benefits be available?
The hearing will be held September 10, 2008 in Chicago to consider whether to approve the settlement.

For more information, call toll-free 1-800-416-3470 or go to http://www.ListClassAction.com

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Frugal activity of the week

Last night I attended the annual free concert for Omaha's "Young and Young at heart" in Memorial Park. The lineup included local Saddle Creek Records band The Good Life, an Argentinian singer-songwriter Juana Molina, and Canadian indie-pop outfit Feist. This show is one reason that makes Omaha cool and unique. Mayor Mike Fahey is interested in creative ways of drawing not only people from surrounding areas to visit but keeping the locals to stay in Omaha instead of moving to larger cities. I had a great time at the show, and the weather was perfect and not exactly normal for mid-July. The concert was a great opportunity to pack a picnic meal and have a nice evening with friends or family.

I found several pictures on Flickr from the concert:
Feist photos

Friday, July 11, 2008

A link to make up for lack of content

I was shocked to learn that several common practices are actually not right according to merchant agreements with credit card companies. For instance, unsigned credit cards or those that say "See ID" are NOT VALID and do not have to be accepted. Some people would argue that they are more protected from potential fraud. I think it is worse to show a clerk my driver's license, but hey, that's me. Additionally, merchants that post signs such as "$10 minimum purchase required if using a credit card" violate user agreements. If you see a sign like this, you can report the business to the credit card companies. I do not know anyone that would take the time to actually do this since most places with those types of signs are smaller independent businesses that have to pay the credit card fees like anyone else. There are lots of grey areas here, but the important point is to be aware.

Check out this article for more:

10 things you might not know about your credit card
from consumerist.com

What will be the focus?

Hi. Welcome to what I hope will become a fascinating wealth of information for my friends and hopefully others in cyberspace! I am working on developing what exactly my intentions are for this blog. I would really like it to be about frugality and personal finance, but I am the type of person that is interested in many subject areas like nutrition, cooking and baking, and healthcare reform. I will likely start out just writing about random things and hope that a cohesive theme develops later.