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Archive for February, 2006

Taking Advantage of eBay's $0.10 Fixed Price Day

February 27th, 2006 at 09:32 pm

Previous Total: $55.50

Current Total: $55.50

Inventory: 1 book, 10 photos

I have been out of the challenge for a bit now working on these blogs and other things with the sites, but it's definitely time to start doing it again and get back on pace. I was going to let March bring me back into the swing of things, but I just received an email from eBay saying that 2/28 is a $0.10 fixed price day.

If you have things and you know what their worth, start piling them on eBay. Especially expensive items since this will greatly reduce your shipping costs. I plan to list at least 50 items including the book and photos I have in inventory, all the items I can get at the local hobby shop and I may make a quick run to see if I can find a few more things to put on.

I will also be moving all the items in my eBay store out and onto the fixed price platform as this is a method I've used successfully over the last few years. Going to be a bust night, but hopefully it will add a lot to the challenge by the end of next week.

How Smart Are TV Viewers?

February 24th, 2006 at 05:38 am

The TV Media doesn't think very - a quote from Geraldine Laybourne, the head of Oxygen Media, speaking out against the a la carte cable TV plan.

ďTV viewers often don't know what they want to watch until it's there for them as an option.Ē

Well, there you go. We don't know what we want to watch so we should pay more to figure it out. Did I miss some logic somewhere?

Bird Flu Virus Financial Preparations

February 21st, 2006 at 09:27 am

A new article in USA today reminded that I wrote about this a couple of months back - being in Asia when the SARS outbreak happened probably makes me a bit more paranoid, but with it spreading widely in Europe now, it seems just a matter of time. This is what the USA Today article recommends:



Food: Items that can be eaten without cooking (in case the power is out), such as peanut butter and crackers; canned meat, fish, fruits and vegetables; baby food and formula; dry cereals; protein bars; beverages; and a manual can opener.

Medical needs: Prescription medicines such as glucose and blood pressure monitoring equipment; anti-diarrhea medicines; a thermometer; and fluids with electrolytes (such as Gatorade or Pedialyte). Stock up on personal needs such as toilet paper, baby diapers, feminine supplies and hand-washing supplies.

Activities: Home-learning supplies, in case schools are closed, and toys, books, games and DVDs to keep people occupied.

Other supplies: Flashlight, portable radio, batteries, trash bags, bleach, paper towels and matches.


and what I previously recommended:

1. Buy a good supply of surgical masks: You can get these at your local drug store or home improvement store. Once the outbreak happens, there will be a run on these at your local stores and they soon won't be available. Supply and demand will cause their prices to rise quite a bit in second hand markets like ebay. How do I know? That is exactly what happened in Japan when the SARS outbreak occurred.



The masks are not so much for preventing people from coughing directly in your face as keeping your hands away from your nose and mouth. The virus is much more likely to be transmitted as follows than you getting coughed on directly in the face:

-- Someone with the virus touches his nose getting the virus on his hand

-- He opens a door leaving the virus on the door knob

-- You opened the same door after him getting the virus on your hand

-- you unconsciously touch your nose contracting the virus

Which brings us to number

2. Get in the habit of washing your hands regularly: As a former teacher with lots of kids running around with runny noses, you learn to wash your hands constantly to make it through the school year without getting sick. If you have kids, get them in the habit of washing their hands several times a day (the more the better). Once the flu comes, if they aren't in the habit of washing their hands often already, you aren't going to be able to teach them in that short period of time.

3. Wash thoroughly: From what I've read, bacterial soap in itself won't kill the flu virus, but the main reason to wash you hands isn't to kill it.

"The soap isn't meant to kill the bug, its purpose is to make your hands slippery, so the virus slides off under water."

That means taking the time to wash hands thoroughly so all the virus slips off.

4. When the outbreak occurs, change your habits: You're not going to be able to lock yourself inside when the outbreak occurs since it will last a full season (several months), but avoiding crowds will be a good habit to get into. Crowds are always an easy place for the flu to spread. If you have kids with play groups or other activities, you'll want to consider cancelling them for a season.

5. Get the vaccine immunization when available: I doubt the government will have enough medication to go around when the flu outbreak occurs and the limited supplies they have will go to high risk patients (elderly, children, those with compromised immune systems, etc). The fact is, antibiotics don't work on the flu virus (they work on bacteria), so there is little the doctor can do once you get sick. Since the virus will be totally new, even the drugs that doctors think may help in reality may or may not, so you don't want to count on these (thus prepare not to get it in the first place). Once the virus is identified, however, they will culture it to make a vaccine. As soon as that vaccine is ready and available, get immunized with it.

While nobody hopes that this happens, experts say it's only a matter of time - if not this avian flu, then some other. Preparing and stocking up now will not only better your chances of avoiding the flu all together, preparation will save you a lot if prices spike due to panic.

Tax Quotes For A Laugh

February 21st, 2006 at 01:20 am

One of the true joys (**sarcasm dripping all around**) of living in a foreign country is that you not only get to do your US taxes, but also the taxes in the foreign country. Japanese tax forms are actually a lot less complicated than US tax forms except for one teeny, weeny factor... they're in Japanese!.

I struggled with my Japanese taxes until 4:00 AM (made a promise to my wife to have them done) so I'm a bit sleep punchy today. At one point I just needed a few laughs to get me through the process and came across these tax quotes I had gathered a couple years back. If any of you are struggling with taxes, hope these can bring a smile to your face:

1. "I owe the government $3,400 in taxes. So I sent them two hammers and a toilet seat." - Michael McShane

2. "Day in and day out, your tax accountant can make or lose you more money than any single person in your life, with the possible exception of your kids." - Harvey Mackay

3. "There's nothing wrong with the younger generation that becoming taxpayers won't cure." - Dan Bennett

4. "I'm proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing isóI could be just as proud for half the money." - Arthur Godfrey

5. "Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you thirty cents?" - Peg Bracken

6. "Worried about an IRS audit? Avoid what's called a red flag. That's something the IRS always looks for. For example, say you have some money left in your bank account after paying taxes. That's a red flag." - Jay Leno

7. "If you get up early, work late, and pay your taxes, you will get ahead -- if you strike oil." - J. Paul Getty

8. "On my income tax 1040 it says 'Check this box if you are blind.' I wanted to put a check mark about three inches away." - Tom Lehrer

9. "What's the difference between a tax auditor and a rottweiler? A rottweiler eventually lets go." - anonymous

10. "It's income tax time again, Americans: time to gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta." - Dave Barry

It Pays For Itself

February 19th, 2006 at 08:23 pm

It's always a nice break when I come across a piece written about personal finance or saving money that has a bit of humor in it (I think that is one aspect of personal finance education that is almost non existent - if you could write a personal finance book that also incorporated humor, you'd have a great tool to teach plus make a lot of money)

In my daily reading I came across this article titled The Cost of Saving Money Is Adding Up: After a careful review of our household finances, I have come to the conclusion that we can't afford things that pay for themselves.

Once we have the new furnace installed, I consider having all the windows replaced, because it seems like a shame to have all that brand-new heat going outside. So I call a window company to come out and give us an estimate. The estimate is about 4,000 times higher than I expected.



"I know it sounds expensive," the salesperson concedes, "but these windows will pay for themselves."

"How soon?"

"Well, depending on various factors, no more than 20 years."

"I won't be living here in 20 years," I reply. "In 20 years I'll probably be living someplace where they come along every couple of hours and wipe the applesauce off your chin."


While the article takes jabs at investing in appliances that "pay for themselves" over time, it brings up a valid point and one where you need to seriously consider how you will be using the items you purchase. Buying the cheapest doesn't always save you money if it costs more to run while investing in an appliance that will "pay for itself" doesn't make sense if you're not going to be there to benefit from the savings (this is not taking environmental factors into account which would be a separate argument).

If you've been reading a lot of personal finance lately, take a short break to read this and put a smile back on your face before tackling more articles...

The $1.25 Store?

February 18th, 2006 at 12:25 am

I came across this post about a dollar store that is increasing its prices:

On my last visit (to my local dollar store), I saw a sign on the door, telling us customers that owing to the cost of things generally and energy specifically some prices would be raised to $1.25 and others to $2.

Part of the marketing that makes dollar stores work is the idea of a simple, low cost amount. It doesn't seem to work well when you start changing that. I understand that these stores must be under extreme price pressures with the increase in costs, but if they leave the original marketing approach, I think they will have even more trouble surviving.

Nice Mention

February 17th, 2006 at 11:57 pm

I think that anyone who writes hopes that those who read the writing find the information useful and worth their time. For me, often the best gauge on whether I have accomplished this is when others take the time to recommend one of my sites. It's the ultimate compliment when someone is willing to tell others that visiting here is worthwhile. I was recently informed about a nice write-up that I received from Harbor Credit:

Financial wisdom. Itís something that can only be gained through experience. And, it is that kind of wisdom that we at Harbor Credit want to make accessible to our customers Ė been there, done that kind of advice. Thatís why we've added PFAdvice.com to our Weblog listings. For more than a decade, moderator Jeffrey Strain has been writing about pertinent financial topics, from loans to taxes to investing, while only occasionally slipping into promotions and "entertainment value" quotes. For the most part, his PFAdvice.com Blog serves as a valuable forum for anyone interested in getting their finances straight.

With the huge number of personal finance writers out there from which to choose, I'm happy to see that my writing is useful enough to get the above recommendation.

Getting A Loan From Prosper

February 17th, 2006 at 07:36 pm

This post is from Liz from Everyday Goddess about her experience signing up with prosper.com to try and get a loan to pay off some credit card debt and I thought the information might be helpful to some of the people here:

As a personal blogger, I blog about my romantic life, my childhood traumas, my bad days and the band that's playing downtown this Saturday. I'm sure a whole lot of it seems really, really intimate. But what's truly the most intimate, what I find most difficult (read: terrifying) to blog about, is my finances.

See, I'm not in the best financial situation (read: debt-ridden). I struggle to make good choices and to learn from my mistakes. I have credit cards and loans and school debt. Sometimes, I screw up. Sometimes, I have a small financial success. And I blog about it because I'm betting that I'm not alone.

Sometimes, I blog about it because high-interest rate credit cards are evil. Oh, I've stood at the edge of the whirlpool. In fact, it's still right over there.

The trick, of course, is lower interest rates. You know, those great rates all those financially solvent people get? They make it MUCH EASIER to actually pay off debt. Ever so slowly, I've been trying to roll all my debt into lower-interest rate loans.

So I was particularly interested in prosper.com.

The premise being, individuals funding individuals. Adding a level of personal connection. Bypassing the corporate behemoths.

I decided to check it out, and I decided to give it a try. As a borrower, of course.

The first thing I did was extensively check out the site. It all seemed simple enough. Most important, I learned that the loans are all three-year loans. So you have to borrow an amount that you can afford to pay off within three years. I also did the basic site registration (just setting up a user name/password). And I learned that payments are made through automatic monthly deductions to your bank account. Cool.

Next, I explored the "groups" on Prosper. This is one of their basic concepts. That people will form groups, and overtime, groups will gain a good payback reputation and therefore earn lower interest rates. Also, groups will provide a personal connection which creates social pressure for people to pay back their debts.

That all makes sense, but I couldn't really find a group. First of all, it's not like I know anyone in any of the groups. Still, maybe if there was one for my school, or a professional organization that I belong to. But it's new, so there's not, and I'm not interested in forming my own either. Further, I thought, a good group leader would probably call me, and I didn't want to talk to anyone! A group that just accepted me without contact - probably destined to not be a good group. This is also why I didn't want to start a new group. Because to do it right, I would want to really talk to anyone before accepting them, and I don't want to deal with that.

So, I decided to stick my toe in the water on my own. Onto the real registration I went. Social security number. Driver's license. Income.

And before long, I had a big, fat "C" rating, and I was looking at my 27% debt-to-income ratio. "Wow. I totally suck," I thought.

To make matters worse, my highest financial priority is to roll a debt that is currently at 10%. There's an account opened long ago! See, it has an ex-boyfriend on it, and it's not his debt. But because my situation is much worse than it was back then, any opportunities I've had are at higher rates. They've closed the account for me, but they won't remove his name (read: his liability). So, I chip away at it every month. And I've got three more years to go.

I took my "C" rating, and my hefty ratio, and I decided to lead with that. I like to aim high.

Creating the listing was quite easy. I even went back and forth between the various steps a few times to change things. At first, I listed at 10%, but with the Prosper fee, it became more like 10.6%, so I went back and changed it to 9%, so that it's closer to 10% in actual. You're given the opportunity to add pictures, but I wasn't sure how I felt about putting a picture of myself up with it, so I used a dragonfly graphic. (I did wonder if pretty girls get better rates!) Best of all, you get to write out your request and talk about what you need and why, etc. I thought about linking to my blog - kinda like, hey, you'll know where I live - but, for this go 'round, I didn't. Honestly, it was a bit of wanting to stay more anonymous on the site. Of course, then I went and blogged about it on my not-private blog. That's personal bloggers for you!

So my dream listing is up. As of writing this, I have a nibble! And twelve days to go on my listing.

The site is brand new, and I really like that. Getting involved and jumping on and participating helps get it rolling. Plus, if I can get a loan at this early stage and start paying on it, as the site matures, I assume that my good payment habits will look good for me. I can build a history. Maybe join a group. And just like on ebay, I got my user name locked in. Yeah, baby!

Finally, it is my hope that someday I will turn the tide, and I will have the ability to be a lender on Prosper. Because it's brand new, and already it feels more like people than behemoth.

A New Way To Consolidate Credit Card Debt?

February 17th, 2006 at 07:21 pm

I received an email regarding my earlier introduction post about Prosper.com and whether it would be a good place to consolidate her credit card debt:



...I have a little under $10,000 in credit card debt where I'm paying about 27% interest on three different cards. The payments are killing me and I've been trying to consolidate them at a lower rate, but because my credit rating isn't good, I can't get a lower rate card to transfer the balances to.

I saw your post about Prosper.com and I think this would be a good way for me to pay off the high interest credit cards and be able to pay a lower rate. That is what Prosper is for, right? To get loans like this...


While you need to make your own financial decisions based on your circumstances and I can't tell you what to do, there are some issues that you need to seriously consider.

While Prosper may look like an easy way to consolidate high interest loans, it's important to run the numbers to see if it will truly help out with your current problem. If it is the current monthly payments that are "killing" you, Prosper may be the last thing you want to do. Why? Because prosper offers a three year loan. Depending on the percentage your credit cards are currently requiring for the minimum payment, getting a loan from Prosper may actually increase your monthly payment even if you get a better interest rate.

Let's take the following example. If your current credit card requires a 3% minimum payment per month and the credit card balance is $9,500, your minimum monthly payment would be approximately $285. Now if you get the same loan from Prosper at 14% (highly unlikely if you have high risk debt - you would probably have to pay more), your monthly payment would be approximately $325 or $40 per month more than you currently are paying.

Before you look purely at the interest rate, it's important to make sure that the monthly payments can be met and aren't going to increase your monthly costs.

Does Money Make You Sexier?

February 14th, 2006 at 06:14 am

Sorry, I couldn't let this one go and I'm interested in getting the opinions of others on this. Let's just say that my eyes were rolling a tiny wee bit as I read this article over at msn titled Why the Donald gets all the girls?

Why do beautiful women keep marrying Donald Trump?

Most people -- at least most people who aren't billionaires or supermodels -- will answer that question with an insult directed at the latest Mrs. Trump. It's an insult that probably can't be printed on this Web site, but it rhymes with "because she's a bore."

We know why rich men marry beautiful women: for the sex, naturally enough, maybe even the love, as well as the companionship and perhaps the social status that marriage confers on a companion. (Grown men, particularly wealthy ones, can have mistresses, but there's something childish about a billionaire with a girlfriend.)



No one cuts women who marry rich men the same slack. We refuse to believe they honestly find these men attractive -- after all, the men they're marrying are usually decades older, and long past their looks-good-naked-in-the-daylight expiration date. Models and actresses who marry obscenely wealthy men, everyone agrees, must be interested in the money alone, and the power and the status it brings. They get through the sex by gritting their teeth or thinking of other, more pleasant things. (Like, say, their new credit limits.)

Maybe I'm filled with the milk of human kindness, or perhaps I have a soft spot for supermodels -- I'm a gay man, so I have at least one soft spot for supermodels -- but I actually believe that it's possible for a beautiful, young woman to fall in love with an obscenely wealthy older man.


Hmmmm, I guess the way I feel about it is that if she really does love Donald for who he is, I would have less respect for her than if she was just after the money...

Japanese Valentine's Day

February 9th, 2006 at 05:41 am

While my counterparts will be spending well over $100 and deciding between candy, an evening out with their significant other, flowers, jewelry and gift cards (gift cards???? - even I know that is a sure to pour cold ice on a romantic evening - "here honey, a gift card just for you because I love you so much" - if you're a man and you were considering the gift card, time to step back and think again). Anyway, it doesn't matter because I don't have to do any of it!



I have no doubt that whoever brought St. Valentine's Day to Japan must have been a man. There's no way it could be any other way - the Japanese Valentine's Day is a dream come true for men. That's because there is nothing for men to do on Valentine's Day in Japan. Yep, you read that correctly! Men do absolutely nothing. It's the women that bring chocolate, candy, etc to the men. Speaking from a man's point of view, this is pretty darn hard to beat.

Now men don't get off completely free in all of this. I'm sure that Japanese women soon figured out that this whole deal was a bit backward compared to the rest of the world, but once it had been established, there was no way the men were going to make the switch. Instead of fighting men tooth and nail on this, women instead made up a new day - called White Day - celebrated a month after Valentine's Day. On White Day men purchase chocolate, candy, etc for women. While men would have preferred to have come out of the entire process without any obligation, they acquiesced on this one point figuring they still came out well ahead in the deal compared to men everywhere else in the world.



Men in Japan quickly realized the advantage of having White day a month after Valentine's Day because it gave them something every man needs - basic guidelines and time to prepare. First, men are only required to give chocolate back to those who actually give them chocolate. Even better, since men get to see the gift given to them first, they have a pretty good idea exactly how much effort they need to put in and what they have to spend on the return gift. This makes the entire Valentine's Day experience a lot more enjoyable (at least for men).

So while the rest of you are trying to decide whether to purchase that heart shaped box of chocolates or the teddy bear on your way home at the drugstore on February 14, I'll be sitting on the couch watching TV with a beer in hand wondering what nice surprise I'll get. Hmmmmm, maybe living in Japan isn't all that bad after all...

Saving Isn't Sexy

February 2nd, 2006 at 08:08 pm

This post has already gotten me in trouble with my wife, but I swear it was necessary research!

Big Mike was kind enough to inform me that:

"The problem with this (simple investing) plan is that itís boring, and if itís too boring people would rather spend their money on a new car than the investment plan, and theyíll never get to that $100,000."

Boring?!? Hmmm, obviously there are people who visit here that don't think that my writing is sexy enough and I wasn't going to sit around and do nothing about it. Research - I needed to do lots of in depth research (yes, you can now see why this post got me in trouble with my wife Wink ). What I found wasn't promising. According to this piece, saving money is just not sexy:

____________________


Weíre told money isnít everything. It canít buy love, happiness, talent or respect. But while we like to say we trust such ideals, popular culture suggests otherwise. After all, itís only after Scrooge opens his wallet that he obtains friendship and approval.

A silly dichotomy exists in our current culture of mass consumption. First, the stereotypical savers, who put on a sweater rather than adjust the thermostat and are afraid to have any fun, opt to squirrel away nickels and dimes for distant rewards Ė education, retirement, travel. As in Monopoly, personal wealth is itself the goal, and millionaire status can be obtained through a lifetime of pinching pennies.

Second, the suave spenders, who shop their way to glamour, thrill and status with carefree spontaneity, indulge in immediate pleasures like fast cars, fancy clothes and frequent excitement.

Itís true Ė saving isnít sexy. But the credit-based, material-girl lifestyle norm isnít healthy.


____________________


So obviously with my saving money as the best investment you can make theory, I'm up against some pretty strong stereotypes in trying to convince people that saving money is sexy. To solve this problem I decided I needed to embrace the tools that are used to create the culture of spending and apply them to saving money. If a commercial can convince bald, aging men that they can have sexy cheerleaders doing cheers just for them if they buy the right kind of beer, I can convince my readers that saving money is sexy by simply posting lots of scantily clad women among my writing! (you can see how this project was getting me in even deeper trouble with my wife)


Saving Money Is Sexy Association


Realizing that a good portion of my readers are women, I also needed to place a token scantily clad male subject within the writing too (for some strange reason, there was no complaint from my wife at this...)


Saving Money Is Sexy Association 2


I also decided that it was important to place in at least one sexy link to add to the sexiness of the entire post.

So there you have it. I have transformed my simple investing plan from a boring tutorial into one that will ensure that every person that follows it will have scantily clad women or men all around them (depending on your preference). It's amazing what you can accomplish with a little bit of marketing association wizardry.

Saving Money Is Sexy! (and for some strange reason, my wife now wants to go through my recently bookmarked pages...)

Not Quite Like Your Taxes

February 2nd, 2006 at 05:46 pm

As you can imagine, your taxes aren't quite the same as Bill Gate's taxes. According to a report I found here, Gates says:

"My tax return in the United States has to be kept on a special computer because their normal computers can't deal with the numbers," Gates told a Microsoft conference in Lisbon, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. "So I am constantly getting these notices telling me I haven't paid something when really it is just on the wrong computer. Then they will send me another notice telling me how bad they feel that they sent me a notice that was a mistake."

Nice to know that the IRS doesn't discriminate when it comes to causing people headaches with their taxes...

Smart Financial Move

February 1st, 2006 at 09:45 pm

I was reading the latest Millionaires in the Making and wanted to point out a smart money move that they made that most people would never consider:

"Most people move into a bigger house when they have kids. Not the Lees. To both give their two children a good education and continue saving for retirement, 13 years ago the Lee's downsized from a new 3,200 square foot, 5-bedroom colonial to a 30-year-old, 2,200 square foot four bedroom home...

The smaller house was in a better school district and thus avoided the need to send the kids to expensive private schools. Instead they plowed that money into their 401(k)s..."


With everyone always thinking "more and bigger" it goes to show how doing something a bit different can have a huge impact on your finances.