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Money Links

April 1st, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Free Gmail Paper: This is a great idea from Google. Can't wait to try it out:

Yes. The cost of postage is offset with the help of relevant, targeted, unobtrusive advertisements, which will appear on the back of your Gmail Paper prints in red, bold, 36 pt Helvetica. No pop-ups, no flashy animations—these are physically impossible in the paper medium.

Free Broadband Wireless: I already have my set up kit and can't wait to install it.

Blogging Help: Need help with your blogging? Here is a great new system to help you come up with ideas:

Let's say you have a blog about Google, you wake up in the morning and wonder what to write. Now you can go to Google Writer, create a new project, enter some keywords and a small description and choose the default output (Blogger). Now when you create a new article inside this project, Google Writer gives you suggestions about the hot topics of the day, insightful articles about Google, news and popular queries that include "Google".

After choosing the topic, Google Writer suggests a title, some key quotes from other blogs and some interesting sites, images, and videos about the topic to facilitate your research. You can choose those that interests you and let Google Writer to create some context around the quotes. Google Writer has a big database of n-grams from web pages and it's able to create grammatically-correct sentences. It also learns your writing style from the previous articles, it knows your favorite authors, sites and your interests.

Now that you have the basis of the article, Google Writer suggests some concepts or portions of the text you should write about or expand. Google Writer has a smart autocomplete that learns from the web and is adapted to your style. It's also able to summarize text, to show interesting content from the web related to a text fragment and previous articles on the same topic.

Why don't they come out with stuff like this everyday?

Money Superstition

January 21st, 2007 at 03:35 pm

There are a lot of money superstitions out there, but I learned a new one when I went to the God of Wealth shrine the other day.

As we were taking a short rest and drinking sweet rice wine called amazake. I noticed there were a couple of money notes on the wall hanging upside down.

When I asked why this was, I received the following answer:

You should always place a bill with a person’s face on it with the person’s face facing down. If you leave the bills facing up in your wallet, they will want to peak out and leave while if they are facing down, the will want to stay buried inside your wallet. Placing all your bills face down helps you keep your money.

All the bills in my wallet are now facing downward - we'll see if this helps keep them in there Wink

Holiday Traditions: Where Your Focus Should Be

December 6th, 2006 at 08:49 am

Think back to your childhood and try to remember the toys that you got every year while you were growing up. While you probably can remember one or two over the years, you probably don't remember each one in detail. Now think back to some of the holiday traditions that you and your family had over the years. I'm guessing that these left a much strong impression on you (at least they did for me).

These days it's tough to avoid the continual commercialization of the winter holidays and the expenses that go with it. Although all the toy manufacturer's will spend millions of dollars trying to convince you that their latest gizmo is what the holidays are all about, when you sit back and think critically about what you (and your family) want, your common sense should tell you that it isn't the toys. One of the cruelest advertising come-ons that gets blasted throughout December is that without this or that hot toy under the tree, your children will have a disappointing holiday.

The fact is that money has little to do with creating a meaningful and unforgettable holiday season. For children, it is not the toys under the tree near as much as the entire process that is important in the long run. While children will tend to focus on the here and now, it's the traditions that you create that are done year in and year out that will have the lasting impression. It is to your benefit not to get caught up on this particular year, but create your holiday with a long term focus.

When you allow this year's TV commercials to dictate what your holiday is supposed to be, you can be assured that it will mean an unfullfilling and expensive holiday season. If you take the steps to decide what you want the holidays to be and what you want your children to get from them beyond the gifts, however, then you'll find that they actually will cost very little.

Before anything else, you need to sit down and take a critical look at what you want the holidays to mean to you and your family. Up to this point, you have probably let the TV and commercials become your default image. You won't be able to head in another direction until you know what you'd like them to mean for you, your spouse and your children.

One of the easiest actions you can take to make the winter holidays more meaningful is to create traditions. All it takes is a little imagination and you can create as many traditions as you want. It's these traditions that you and your family will fondly look back upon in later years. The best part is these traditions can be incorporated into every aspect of the holiday season from preparation to packing everything away. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:

Decorating Traditions: Decorating can easily be made into a family traditional event. Choose a day for the family to go on a hike in the woods. As you go on your newly created traditional walk, make it a point to gather all the wonderful natural decorations that you find: brightly colored leaves, pine cones and branches, nuts, mistletoe, holly, berries, etc. Once you return home, spend another day turning all your natural found treasures into your holiday decorations by adding sparkles, ribbons and cotton balls (snow).

Get out paper, crayons, scissors, glue and let the kids make holiday decorations. For older kids, go to the local library and check out a book on making intricate snowflake patterns or origami for them to make decorations. Let the family create the holiday decor.

Make decorating the Christmas tree a traditional family event. Start with making a tradition of getting a tree. This may be going to the mountains to cut your own or to a local lot. We started a tradition a few years ago to buy our Christmas tree at a local nursery (while it isn't a "traditional" pine each year, the tree ends up in our garden when the holiday season is over and the planting of the tree is part of the holidays) Decide as a family the type of tree you want to find and make a tradition of hunting until you find the perfect tree.

Once set up, make a tradition in decorating the tree. Whip up a big bowl of popcorn and let the kids make popcorn strings to hang over the branches (and fill their tummies). Have everyone create a new ornament for each year with each person placing their ornaments from this year and past years on the tree in turns. Turn out all the lights in the room and have a countdown before switching on the Christmas tree lights.

Cooking Traditions: There are a lot of traditions you can create with cooking that will be great memories and take some of the cooking load off of you. Make baking cookies for Santa a children's tradition without (or the appropriate amount depending on their age) adult help. Have the kids in charge of popping the popcorn for decorating the family tree. As one of the children's gifts, let them choose a special dish to eat on Christmas morning. The more you include your children in the preparation of holiday meals and snacks, the more involved they will be with the entire seasonal spirit.

Gift Traditions: While this is the area that worries parents the most due to the costs, starting gift traditions can be a low cost way to exchange memories that will last a lifetime. By doing so you can change the focus of the Christmas morning away from store bought presents to the yearly traditional gifts.

Have each person make their yearly memory album for all the other members of the family. Focus it as the crowning point of each Christmas by exchanging the albums last and discussing the memories from the past year together. Make one of your traditional gifts a letter to your children telling them how much you love them (a gift that can never be given often enough) and what you learned from them in the past year. These are gifts that they will treasured long after all the store bought toys have been broken, lost and forgotten.

Help your children create time capsules. Have them make several each year for different periods in the future for themselves and write the date on the outside of when they want to open them. Then in future years they have already made gifts that they created for themselves and will easily become the centerpiece of opening gifts. You'll be amazed at the happiness they will bring to even the moodiest teenager when they look back at what they wanted to give themselves when they were young.

Make giving away old toys part of the holiday tradition so that it isn't focused solely on receiving. Make the entire process a tradition from choosing the items, wrapping them and taking them down to give to the toy drive together. Not only will it help clear out their rooms of no longer needed items, it will teach them the joy of giving.

General Traditions: There are an abundance of general tradition you can create for this time of year. Pick a favorite holiday book. An hour before bed, turn down the lights, build a fire in the fireplace and light candles. Read a chapter of the book and watch as the kids anticipate the story each night as they become more drawn into it.

Make a tradition one evening to load everyone into the car and drive around and look at all the holiday lights on display in your town. Discuss what you like and don't like. You can even take it a step further and rate the houses. The next day, have your kids go the the house they liked best and give the owners a homemade award for being the best decorated house. Not only is it fun to discuss what each family member likes best, it also will be greatly appreciated by the people who spent a lot of time decorating their homes for the season.

Instead of defaulting to whatever is on TV, have family nights to watch holiday movies. This allows you to set up a viewing program that will teach the wonders of the holidays instead of its commercialism. Have the kids make the snacks for the movies, turn down the lights and take in the true spirit.

These are just a few ideas of possible tradition you might want to begin, but far from all the possibilities out there. The best way to get your creative juices flowing in starting these traditions is to think back to your childhood and what you remember most about the holidays. That is the perfect launching point for creating your own traditions and a good bet is that memories are not about the toys you received.

So You Want To Be Rich?

November 30th, 2006 at 08:57 pm

Here's the question I get asked most often when people learn that I write about personal finance: "So how can I become rich?"

Here's the answer: "Do what you already know." That's the secret. Your already know everything you need to know to be rich. The problem is, even though you know, you probably aren't going to do it.

Let's be brutally honest. Anyone who is writing about personal finance will be writing about something that you already know (but probably aren't doing) 90% of the time. There will be a small chunk of knowledge here and a new service there that you may not have heard about, but for the most part, personal finance really is straight forward and easy to understand. You don't believe me? Here is the formula to get rich:

1. Start saving early
2. Spend a minimum of 10% less than you make.
3. Invest the money you don't spend.

That's it. No secret formulas or hidden gems. If you want to be rich, it's as simple as that. Of course, there is some tweaking that you have to do. You can't invest in any old thing, but even that isn't difficult to figure out and you already know where you should invest the money (401k with matching funds, Roth IRA and stock index funds being the most obvious - see, you knew that too).

In reality, I shouldn't have a job (and I would gladly look for another one if everyone would do what they already know they should do) helping people with their finances. Somehow I don't think I'll have to worry about changing professions in the future. While it is easy to understand how you become rich and you know what you should be doing to achieve that wealth, it most certainly isn't easy for a lot of people to actually follow what they know they should be doing.

I blame it all on the lottery attitude. If you aren't rich (or aren't moving in that direction), it's simply because you have decided to ignore what you already know in favor of pursuing easy money. The problem is that even though some people do get lucky and win the lottery, the odds are better that you will die from a flesh eating bacteria than you will striking it rich that way. You have decided to go after the quick buck because you aren't willing to put in the work that you know needs to be done. You may think you have a valid reason for this, but it's nothing more than an excuse.

So there you have the secret. Once again you know exactly what you need to do to become wealthy. Odds are that you are like the majority of people, you will once again ignore the obvious and see if there is an easier way, but I'm hoping since you are visiting this site that you are one of those that proves me wrong...

5 Investments Everyone Should Make

November 29th, 2006 at 12:47 am

This will not be the typical list of investments you probably would think you'd find on a personal finance blog, but it gets really boring reading personal finance advice when it's the same everywhere that you go. That's not necessarily a bad thing. When doing research on the basics of personal finance, you want to get good, solid information that can help you and this quality information tends to be the same. That being said, sometimes it's nice to hear some financial advice that you haven't considered anyplace else. The following are non-typical investments that I think you should seriously consider for your finances that you probably haven't ever heard of from other personal finance bloggers:

Invest In "Your Name" Domain: There are other people out there with your name. All you have to do is Google "your name" with the quotations marks to see who else out there you share your name with. There are more than a handful of people with the name Jeffrey Strain and the question is, do I really want someone else owning my name? You should ask yourself the same question. Even if you have no plans to build a website or do anything else with a domain at this point, you should still claim your own name. As the Internet becomes a more prevalent place for people to contact one another and socialize, your name will have value both financially and on a personal level. You will want your own name as your space on the world wide web. The cost is only $6 a year. You will thank me 10 years from now for getting it and curse yourself for not doing it if you decide to pass.

Invest In An Exercise Program: The reason that you're working so hard today is so that when you earn enough, you can do all kinds of things that you really want to do in your retirement. The only way that you are going to be able to accomplish this is if you are still healthy and active when you retire. Invest in a basic health and fitness program that suits your style. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just as long as you commit to it so that you increase your chances that you will still be active and lively when it's time to spend all the money you have worked so hard for. it will also ensure that you have a more financially productive work life increasing your chances of retiring early.

Invest In Something You've Always Wanted To Try: If you've had an inkling to try something for years, but have never gotten around to doing it for whatever reason, commit to invest in it right now. Whether it is learning to play the saxophone or how to fly a plane, invest in it. No matter how it turns out, you won't regret doing so and you'd be surprised how often those things that you have always wanted to do can end up being a career or an additional income earner while doing something that you love.

Invest In Time To Think: With the way the world works, finding time to just sit around and think is something that a lot of people just do not do on a regular basis. Determine to invest in time to think. Having time to mull all the information before you gives you a much better chance of making the correct decisions when they need to be made. If you don't have time to think and consider, your choices won't be as reasoned or as well thought out when made. In addition, invest in some type of recording system of your thoughts and goals - it can be a blog, a journal or just scraps of paper that happen to be around when you think of something. This will keep a record that you can look back on to see how you have progressed and to help you stay on tract toward those goals that you want to achieve.

Invest In Someone Else: Take the experiences and wisdom that you have gathered over the years through your own learning and mistakes and pass those lessons onto someone else. Become a mentor to anyone that wants to learn from you and freely offer to help those seeking help. Take them under your wing and help them become a better person so that they too can mentor another person in the future.

while the above five investments aren't usually considered investments in your finances, all of them will reap a much larger financial benefit for you that any typical stock you may choose. Consider them all seriously and i encourage you to commit to each and every one of them. Your finances will thank you in the future.

Save Before You Earn

November 29th, 2006 at 12:43 am

Here is a simple question to ask yourself. If you were given the choice of earning an extra $115 a month or painlessly saving $100 a month, which would you choose? While the $115 more a month may appear to be more money, the financially savvy choice would be choosing the $100 in savings. In fact, the correct answer isn't even a close call.

Benjamin Franklin's famous saying "a penny saved is a penny earned" needs to be updated to the reality of today. The problem is that back when he made that statement, there weren't a lot of government agencies and programs claiming their share of your hard earned money. That is not the case today and why saving money is actually about twice as effective as earning money for your bottom line.

When you take into account all the costs associated with earning money, a dollar saved is actually worth $2 earned today. That means every $5 saved is $10 earned and every $100 saved is the same as $200 earned. It also means that saving any amount of money is 100% more efficient than earning that same amount.

What makes saving money so much more valuable than earning it? It comes from the fact that the money you save is from after tax dollars while the money you earn still hasn't had the taxes taken out. When you calculate the federal, state and local taxes your must pay in addition to social security and Medicare deductions, a large portion of every $1 your earn doesn't end up coming home with you. Add on the costs associated with work such as clothing and commuting and it ends up that you get to take home roughly $0.50 out of every $1.00 you earn. The money you save, however, has already had all those expenses taken out.

In addition, you need to take into account that saving money often takes much less time than earning it. Take, for example, the purchase of a new high definition TV. If you went down to your local appliance store on the day you decided to purchase a TV, it is likely that you would come home having paid full retail price. Simply spending an hour or two on the Internet or calling all the stores in your area to see if there were any sales or other discounts available to get the best price on the high definition TV would likely save you $200 or more. In this scenario, that hour on Internet or phone would be the same as earning $400 in you job...that's right, $400. If you make $10 an hour at your job, your hour on the phone was equivalent to working an extra 5 full days on an 8 hour shift. That is the power that taking the time to save can have.

Here is another perspective to consider. What would your answer be if your boss said, "I've been thinking a lot lately. You have been working really hard lately, but you come to work every day with that Starbucks coffee and it distracts everyone. So if you will simply make your own coffee and bring it to work in a thermos instead of buying it each day, I will give you a $2,400 bonus this year." Would you take the offer? You can because the amount you save would be equal to earning an extra $2,400 a year.

When you begin to view money in this light, taking a few hours to plot out ways to save money can result in a much higher return than getting a significant raise at work. If you are able to save $5 a day, you have done the equivalent of receiving a $300 a month raise or a $3,600 a year raise. Anyone can achieve $5 a day in saving with a little effort and with much less time and sweat than you would need to put in at your regular job.

Don't get me wrong. I am no way implying that you should not try to maximize your earnings. In fact, you should be attempting to do both your job and beginning a side business. But just because you're earning more doesn't mean that you should neglect any savings that you can painlessly achieve because those savings are worth twice as much as your earnings.

Static Electricity House

November 28th, 2006 at 10:50 pm

Looking for a completely new and original way to save money on your utilities? How about a static electricity house?

Courtesy of personal finance video log

Watch Money Go Up In Flames

November 21st, 2006 at 11:23 pm

With winter upon us, the thought of a warm, crackling fire in the fireplace is probably a quite appealing image to a lot of you. What you probably don't realize is that your fire will cost you a lot more than the price of a couple of logs.

Your fireplace is one of the most inefficient heat sources you can possibly use. Basically, you're sending money straight up the smoke stack. While the perception is that you are only sending up heat generated by the fire, the fire must consume oxygen to produce the heat.

Your nice roaring fire can consume and exhaust more than 20,000 cubic feet of air per hour. All that air being exhausted is replaced by cold air coming into the house. The cold air forces your heating system to work hard to warm it up, which is then sucked up by the fire and exhausted through your chimney again. It's an never ending cycle while the fire is roaring meaning that your heater will be working extra hard and costing you money the whole time.

The most energy efficient decision you can make is to not have fires in your fireplace. If you decide to take this approach, consider plugging and sealing your fireplace flue.

While that is the most efficient approach, it isn't a whole lot of fun. A winter fire is nice to have once in awhile. If you know there will be occasions when you will want to have a fire, there are still some things you can do to make the fire as energy efficient as possible. You'll want to keep your fireplace damper closed at all times except when a fire is going. Accidentally leaving the chimney flue open is like leaving a two foot square window open. You also want to make sure that when the damper is closed, it closes snugly and doesn't leave gaps where air can escape.

Most fireplace dampers are form fitting which prevents air leakage when they are closed. As years pass, however, the damper metal can warp due to the heat from the fires and moisture from the outside. This can cause the seal to loosen which will allow room air to escape up the chimney. Close the damper and light a candle to see if it flickers when placed near the damper seal. If it does, you need to either repair or replace the damper to close the leak.

When you do have a fire going, open the dampers at the bottom of the firebox if your fireplace has them. If not, open the nearest window to the fireplace about an inch and close all the doors to the room. This allows the fire to consume fresh air that hasn't been heated before exiting up the chimney again. You should also lower your thermostat setting to approximately 50°F while the fire is going to make sure your heating system isn't heating air that will soon be leaving up the chimney.

Making sure that your damper is always tightly closed when not using the fireplace and following the above steps when the fireplace is in use can save you hundreds of dollars in energy costs each winter that you probably didn't even know that you were wasting.

Turn Off Your Computer, Save $100

November 19th, 2006 at 09:40 am

Running your computer is pretty darn cheap when viewed at an hourly rate - approximately $0.02 an hour. This figure was obtained with the following assumptions: The typical desktop computer uses around 200 watts of energy per hour (with a 50% / 50% split of energy consumed between the computer and the display screen). We pay about $0.10 per kilowatt hour for electricity where I live (this varies across the US, so you can put in your actual rate here). From there you simply divide the watts used by 1000 (since electricity is charged at a rate in kilowatts - 1000 watts) multiplied by the rate charged: 200 divided by 1000 = 0.2 x $0.10 = $0.02.

With the cost of using a computer so cheap, many people believe that it isn't worth the time to bother turning it off. When multiplied over time, however, it can add up. That $0.02 an hour comes to $0.48 a day, $3.36 a week, $13.44 a month and $175.20 a year if you leave your computer on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

That means if you turn off the computer for half the day while asleep, you have saved $87.50. Add in a few extra hours it will likely stay off on the weekends, and you have reached $100 a year in savings by simply turning off your computer. If you have a small business with 10 computers, making sure they get turned off at night means an extra $1000 to your bottom line (and if you work for a business that rewards employees that submit money saving ideas that get implemented, you could even earn a bit of money by suggesting this).

You may have some other arguments for not turning off the computer like doing so will put extra stress on the computer's internal components. While it is true that there is a slight "stress" each time the power is turned on due to the heating and cooling, this stress is quite small. It can also be argued that it is balanced out by giving the moving parts of the computer like the fan a rest. Turning your computer on and off should not shorten its life.

I've also heard the argument that computers use much more energy starting up so that it makes more sense to leave them running all the time since this will cost less. I haven't been able to find any study that supports this (that you save more money leaving a computer on for 12 hours than turning it off and on again) and it appears to be a urban legend.

Those issues having been addressed, let's be perfectly honest - shutting down your computer can be a real pain. This is especially true if you typically run a number of programs at the same time which all need to be configured with certain documents. It can also be a pain if you leave your computer on at night to run timed tasks such as virus protection updates.

There are also a number of legitimate reasons why you may not be able to shut down your computer at night. If your computer handles network or Internet tasks at all hours (as a de facto server), you can't turn it off. If you participate in web based computing tasks such as searching for intelligent life in outer space then you may not want to turn off your computer.

If this is the case, there is still a step you can take to reduce the cost of running your computer (and if you can turn off your computer, this further reduce your costs). You can do this by placing your computer into sleep mode (there is a misconception by many that screen savers reduce the amount of energy the computer is using. Unfortunately, this is a myth and a computer running a screen saver is using just as much energy as one that is in use). While your savings won't reach $100, it can reduce the cost by as much as $50.

Either way, taking one or both these steps will save you some money with little effort as well as help save resources.

10 Simple Ways To Save $100

November 17th, 2006 at 01:15 am

Everyone wants to save money, but not if saving that money means they must give up something they like. The fact is, there is likely over $1000 worth of pain free savings right under your nose waiting to be taken if you want. That is savings where you are able to save money without having to give up any of the activities that you enjoy doing or changing your lifestyle in any significant way. Here is a list of ten that will save you over $100 each this year.

Call Your Cable Company: If you have cable TV, satellite TV or some other form of paid TV and you are paying the regular subscription rate, you're paying too much. This is an extremely competitive business and by calling with a competitor's advertisement in hand while threatening to switch, in most cases you'll get a much better deal than you are currently getting. For detailed information on how to do this step by step, you can read Saving 50% On Your Cable TV. The last time I did this for my mother, we saved $235.50 over 6 months.

Call Your Gym: Many people don't think about trying to get a better rate on their gym memberships, but this is another competitive industry where it is less expensive to keep you at a discounted rate than to let you go to the competition. Asking for a better deal on your gym membership is worthwhile if you are paying the regular membership rate. The last time my friend did this he was able to save $120 over three months.

Call Your Credit Card Company: If you have a credit card that currently has a balance on it, call your credit card company to try and get the interest rate lowered. Depending on how good of a customer you are, this can be easy or difficult to do. Always ask to speak to a manager (since they have more power to grant your wish) and you can follow this information to help you. If you can get your credit card interest rate lowered, you will save hundreds to thousands depending on your credit card balance and the time period it takes you to pay them off.

Call Your Car Insurer: If you are like most of people, you probably have the same auto insurance company that you had when you first signed up for your auto insurance policy. There are several steps that you can take to help painlessly reduce the costs associated with car insurance. 1) If you haven't been comparing rates on a yearly basis, you should compare rates to see if you are paying too much. You will also want to check the car deductible to see if you can get some savings there. Lastly, you want to make sure that you are receiving all the discounts that you qualify for (your agent may not have told you all that you do qualify for). Taking these steps should save you several hundred dollars at a minimum.

Call Your Internet Provider: Just like the other business mentioned above, the ISP business is highly competitive. Again, using competitors offers, it's likely that you can call and get the amount you pay for your Internet service reduced. It doesn't even have to be a large amount. For every $10 a month you can get in reduction, you save $120 a year.

Call Your Phone Service Provider: While I could break this category into two (long distance and cell phones), the principle is the same with both as with the others mentioned above. In addition to calling with competitors rates, be sure to have them analyze how you are using your phone. They may very well have a plan suited to your particular calling habits that can save you money. Between these two, it should be quite easy to save more than $100 a year.

Energy Audit With winter now upon us, call your local utility company to get an energy audit of your house. Many utilities companies offer these for free or at a very low cost. They will come to your house and do a thorough check to find out where the energy leaks are in your house that are causing your energy bill to higher than it needs be. They may even offer items to reduce your energy costs for free or at rates discounted more than you can find in retail stores. If you local utility doesn’t offer a free energy audit, you can do a free virtual energy audit at the government’s Home Energy Saver website which will also allow you compare your heating bill to others in your area. By finding out where you are losing money through energy waste, you will likely recoup more than $100 in savings during the year above any costs you have.

Wash Your Clothes In Cold Water: Simply walk over to your washing machine and move the switch from a hot wash to a cold wash. What people often forget is that it's not the electricity to run the washer that costs the money, but the energy needed to heat the water going into the washer. Unless your work can be featured on Dirtiest Jobs, a cold wash - cold rinse should get your clothes just as clean as a hot wash. Assuming that you average about a load of wash a day, running your washing machine with a hot wash - cold rinse setting will cost about $100 - $125 a year. Doing the same number of loads with a cold wash - cold rinse setting will cost about $10 a year. That's over $100 in savings and can be much more if you have kids and do more frequent wash loads.

Prescription Drug Coupons: If you have brand name prescription medication that you need to take, simple go to the website for that medication and sign up for their newsletter. Once you do, you will likely receive discount coupons for that medication which can result in hundreds of dollars in savings a year.

Mortgage: I debated whether to include this one as "easy & pain free" since there is more time and effort involved than with the others I have mentioned, but decided that it should be included due to the sheer amount it can save. If you can lower the interest by even a percentage point over what you are currently paying, that can mean tens of thousands of dollars in savings over the entire loan period. So while a bit of effort is required, the payoff is much greater than the others mentioned above. Just be sure that you don't confuse paying less on your mortgage with saving money.

The above options are all pain free meaning that you don't actually switch services or products. For example, there are a lot of discount options for long distance calling that you could use in place of what you are currently using. If you are willing to switch, you can save even more, but if you're not, these ten will still save you over $1000 without disturbing your current lifestyle.

Black Friday Freebies

November 14th, 2006 at 03:23 am

I explained earlier tricks to get Black Friday items without having to get up early and stand in line. If you decide to do any Black Friday shopping, here are the things that you can get for free. All the items listed below are "Free After Rebate" unless otherwise noted with an (*) which means they usually require a purchase of some type.

Ace Hardware

DeWalt Magnetic Drive Guide Set, 16 pieces.
PowerGlide Variable Speed Rotary Tool
Shimmering Driveway Markers 3-pack

Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES)

$20 Gift Card (*Free For The First 200 Customers)

Circuit City

Digital Innovation Clean Dr. Vacuum
JVC 3-Pack of 60-Minute DVC Camcorder Tapes
Panasonic 2-Pack of Double Sided DVD-RW Discs for DVD Camcorders
Spy Sweeper
Sharp Teaching Calculator

3.2 MP Polaroid Camera (*Free With Any $249+ Purchase Friday 5 - 11AM Only)
EMachines Desktop PC w/Intel Celeron D Processor 352 + 17" CRT (*Free With Vonag)
Wireless Controller (*Free w/Playstation 2 Purchase)

CVS Pharmacy

American Telecom Pay N Talk Phone 2.4Ghz Cordless Phone


$10 Kohls Cash Card (*Free For Every $50 in Purchases)

Radio Shack

256MB Secure Digital Media Card
256MB XD Memory Card
Home Video Patrol 4.0
Internet Security Suite
Tivo Single Tuner 40 Hour DVR

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Scene It? Trivia DVD Game Assortment

Understanding Free After Rebate: This is where you initially pay for the product and then are able to send in some type of proof of purchase (this usually consists of the product's bar code with the store's receipt) to get your money back. While these are a great deal if you actually go through all the steps to get your rebate, a lot of people think they will, but don't in the end.

It's also important to read the fine print and terms before making the purchase. There is a good chance there are some restrictions which can make getting the rebate difficult. You want to take the time to know that you'll qualify for the rebate and can receive it with relatively little work before you purchase the item. If you don't, you may find that the freebie is not so free after all.

One issue to be careful about is whether the original receipt is required for the rebate. If this is the case, you want to purchase the "free after rebate" item by itself in a single transaction and not with other free after rebate items. (For example, if you get four "free after rebate" items, you'd want them each rung up separately at the cash register so that you had an original receipt for each)

Energy Saving Light Bulbs

November 13th, 2006 at 03:58 pm

My mom asked me to replace a light bulb in the bathroom yesterday. When I went to do so, I was amazed to see that the light actually took four 100w light bulbs. This seemed a bit of an overkill for the bathroom that isn't that big.

Instead of replacing the light bulb, I I decided to take it out along with one of the bulbs that was still working and placed the cover back on. There was hardly a difference.

A bit later I found some energy saving bulbs stored in a drawer and went back and switched the 100w regular bulbs with the higher efficient bulbs. This worked so well that I went to the other three bathrooms in the house and did the same. I was able to eliminate 6 bulbs and switch 6 others to the high efficient models. My little step to save the earth for the day Smile

*This is a series of photos that shows money as part of our daily life.

How To Get The Best Black Friday Deals

November 12th, 2006 at 06:09 pm

This isn't going to be a typical Black Friday article because Mark (who has asked me to change his real name so that nobody will know who I'm talking about, but which I find absolutely hilarious because any friend will instantly know who I am talking about even with the changed name) is not a normal Black Friday shopper. He lives for this day and prides himself (brags endlessly?) on coming home with all the best deals from the Black Friday fliers while the competition is left crying because they didn't get the things that they wanted. These are his strategies...

But before we get into those, I need to inject a disclaimer on my part. While I do admire Mark for his determination and cunning in getting the best Black Friday deals, I do disagree on one major point. Mark goes out and purchases anything which he sees as an outstanding deal. I, on the other hand, believe that if it is something that you wouldn't normally buy or something that you really don't need, it's a waste of money no matter how good the price. So while I will relate the strategies that Mark uses, I would encourage you only to use them if there is something that you were already planning to purchase. And onto the strategies...

"If you start preparing a week before Black Friday, you've already taken out 90% of the competition"

Preparation is key to getting what you want on Black Friday. The best deals are usually offered in limited supplies and most people don't decide where they will go or what exactly they want until the day before. As Mark said with a chuckle, "those people are lambs being lead to the slaughter." What will happen is they will go to the store wanting something that they saw in the ads, but by the time they arrive, it will already be gone. Not wanting to "waste the trip," they'll end up buying something else (this is why retailers love Black Friday) that isn't such a great deal.

The problem is that most shoppers start in the wrong place. They make the assumption that the Black Friday deals are found in the Black Friday advertisements. While this may seem like common sense, it's a convenient distraction that allows Mark to have much less competition. As Mark pointed out with emphasis a number of times during our discussion, "the Black Friday deals are found in the store's return policy."

Before you even begin to look at the Black Friday advertisements, you want to know the store policy on returns. The question you need answered is if they lower price on an item that you have already purchased, will they refund the difference? If so, what time period (usually a month) is this service in effect? If the store will refund the difference on an item purchased for more on a prior date, then there is no need to wait in line to purchase that item on Black Friday. Simply go to the store the week before Black Friday and purchase the item. When Black Friday comes along, stroll into the store (conveniently bypassing all the lines and crowds of people fighting for what you are carrying -- or even waiting until the afternoon when the crowds have thinned out a bit and all the items are already gone from the store) and ask for the difference. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder to get these deals. As Mark noted, "as more people have learned about this strategy, more stores are implementing a policy that price refunds are exempt for Black Friday even when they are in effect at other times." Still, it's worth finding out the policy because some stores do still allow this. Depending on how generous the stores are in your area, you can take care of quite a few items on your list this way.

The other problem that has arisen with more people learning of this method is that the items sell out quickly once the advertisements are sent out to everyone. There is an easy way around this mini stampede. More and more websites are placing up the Black Friday ads as soon as they are leaked. There are a number of sites that list these such as You can sign up and you will get an email notification each time a store's Black Friday advertisement goes up. This will allow you to get to the store long before the ads go out in the newspapers.

If you use this method, it's best to use a credit card that has a buyer protection clause. This will allow you to return the item within a certain period of time for any purchase you make. Sometimes stores don't honor what they say they will and the credit card can be a good friend if you need to return the item (many credit cards have this protection, but check with your credit card company to make sure yours does)

For those items that can't be secured by the above method, the next strategy is to utilize the power of the computer. While most stores don't open until their regular hours (or possibly a few of hours early), if the store has a website, the Black Friday deals will likely take affect at the stroke of midnight. Quick use of the computer will allow you to add some more items on your want list while those out of the know are lining up outside stores "freezing their butts off in hopes of trying to score what you just bought with a click of a mouse in your cozy house."

If there are items that can't be obtained in the above two ways, there is still a method you can use to get items without getting up early to stand in line. You want to find which stores will "price match" the competition's Black Friday ads. With so much competition on this day to bring customers in, many stores will agree to sell items for the same price that a competitor is advertising even if it is marked at a higher price at their store. The key to utilizing this strategy is to go to the store that has the highest advertised prices (or better yet, a store that has the item in stock, but chose not to include it in their Black Friday advertisement) which will price match. While everyone is pushing and shoving to get the limited supply at the store which advertised the rock-bottom prices after spending hours in line, you can stroll in at opening time and get what you want for the same price. You will usually have to bring in the competing store's advertisement to get their price matched.

NOTE: While I was going to leave out the following two methods, Mark insisted that I should include them so that people know what others are doing to secure Black Friday items and what they are up against.

If there is something that you must have and you don't believe that any of the methods previously mentioned will work, you can be ruthless (and the reason I believe Mark wanted me to change his name) by hiding the item you want within the store before Black Friday. While not something that most people would consider fair, it goes on a lot more than people would suspect. You take the items and hide it in some area of the store where only you will know where it is. Then on Black Friday you go to the hiding place and get the item while everyone else in the store is fighting for the same item it the area where they are regularly kept.

Another devious way to secure popular items is to bribe friends that are working at the store to place them to the side for you or purchase the item for you before the store opens to the general public. Since many employees also get a store discount, Mark pays the advertised price and the employee friend receives their employee discount in cash for their effort.

While I do not encourage anyone to use the devious methods, the above shows that if you play the system, you can increase the chances of getting the Black Friday items you want without getting up early and standing in line like you probably thought you'd have to.

Britney Spears Saves Money!

November 10th, 2006 at 08:15 am

While Britney Spears and saving money aren't two images that usually pop up together (hey, it's not often a personal finance blogger like me finds an excuse to legitimately place a photo of Britney Spears in my blog - or even write about her Wink ), I found it interesting what some legal analysts are saying about the timing of her divorce filing.

It appears that Britney Spears filed for divorce from Kevin Federline on November 6 in order to avoid having to pay him an extra year of money in their divorce settlement. Legal analysts are noting that Britney filed the divorce papers at Los Angeles Superior Court exactly two years and one month from the time when they were officially married on October 6, 2004.

The rumor is that the pre-nuptial agreement said that Kevin Federline would receive increased payouts for every year the two remained married. While the two have been married for 2 years and 1 month, most pre-nuptial agreements of this type have a 30-day grace period. That means that November 6 would have been the last chance for Britney to get out of paying half of her income on the third year of their marriage (by filing on November 6, Kevin can now only claim half of Spears' earnings during the first two years).

I'm not sure financial reasons should be the determinant that you file for divorce, but then again, if financial reasons are behind the decision to get divorced, then the divorce was probably inevitable anyway...

Pharmacy Prescription Drug Coupons

July 30th, 2006 at 09:18 pm

Flash has put together an informative article on getting discounts on prescription drugs by leveraging the specials that pharmacies offer. For those that have prescriptions that need to be filled, Pharmacy Rewards is well worth the read. I especially found the paragraph about "new" subscriptions enlightening:

Some offers are valid only on “new” prescriptions. A “new” prescription is any doctor’s written prescription, however, even if you are already on the medication. If a pharmacy coupon or offer is available, consider asking your doctor for a new written prescription rather than a refill. Manufacturer offers for free trials, samples, or other “first prescription” coupons and vouchers can usually be applied to any “new” filled prescription.

There are a lot of quality tidbits like this...

Lights Out Saving Game

July 12th, 2006 at 03:13 am

Wixx has put together another saving game that you can play with your family called "lights out" to help you save money.

One of the best ways to save money is to know what will motivate you to accomplish the goals you have. Making a game of it is all the better. While not exactly saving money, the lawnmower diet exhibits a lot of the things you want to look for when creating a game to play to save money.

Money Saving Game

June 20th, 2006 at 04:47 pm

Wixx has put together a new money saving game for those who need a little motivation to make the calls to service providers that can save you a lot of money. Called the You Make The Call Game, you use a spinner to decide which service provider to call and try and get a better deal.

This is a simple way to save hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, on what you currently pay. I recently made a 15 minute call to the cable TV company for my mom and was able to save over $200. It's a great habit to get into and the worst that can happen for your call is that you pay the same amount that you're currently paying

Margot The Financially Savvy Baby

June 17th, 2006 at 04:04 am

One of the fun things of coming back to the US is that I have the opportunity to see my niece a bit more. You may be wondering what my niece has to do with money, but she is one savvy saver already. She's also a cutie!

That last photo is me with mom (my sister).

Cable Bill Reduced 50%

June 17th, 2006 at 12:24 am

My mom is one of those people that don't like to make phone calls to save money. I wrote last September that by making a simple call to the cable company I was able to reduce my mom's cable bill from $65 to $39.95 a month. Of course, that only lasted three months and I specifically told her that she needed to call back after 3 months to get a better rate again - something that she failed to do. In the meantime, she decided to upgrade her account to include some premium movie channels and on my return back to the US found she was paying $79.20 a month for cable.

Since there were other competing offers of a free month and $29.95 a month thereafter for similar service, I decided that I needed to make another call. I used the exact same strategy I have always used in the past. While I wasn't able to get them to match the deal, they did drop the rates significantly over what she had been paying.

I ended up keeping the exact same service that my mom currently had(including the premium channels my mom likes) for $39.95 a month rather than the $79.20. The deal is good for 6 months which equates to a total savings of $235.50. Certainly not bad for a 15 minute phone call.

While I know it is difficult for some people to call to try and get discounts, it's a skill worth mastering as it will save you literally hundreds (and most likely thousands) of dollars a year. I'm not sure that I'll be able to teach my mom how to do this, but I'll certainly give it a try since it is something that she should be able to do on her own.

Stockpiling To Savings

June 8th, 2006 at 07:09 am

Flash (with the help of her husband) has put together an extremely informative article on stockpiling groceries that is well worth the read. It explains why it's difficult to achieve the huge savings you often hear about in the beginning when you start to stockpile with coupons and sales, but becomes easier as you build your stockpile (because once you have a stockpile, you can purchase only when the deals are the very best which is not necessarily the case as you're building your stockpile). For those interested in getting the greatest possible savings in their grocery shopping, this is a good place to begin.

Debt Reduction - Small Savings

June 8th, 2006 at 05:35 am

Wixx has a new article up on small savings debt reduction showing that many people that want to reduce debt could do so at a quicker rate if they took the time to search for all those little savings.

More Gas Tips

June 2nd, 2006 at 08:14 am

I've decided on a goal of finding and writing about 101 gas saving tips along with some issues to think about with each one before going out and trying to adopt it. I listed Gas Coupons and Gas Discount Days as ways to possibly save and also wrote the first one where you're not likely to save money - Shop Around For The Best Gas Price - which is often given as a gas saving tip, but will likely cost you money in the long run. I'll keep adding these as I find time between my packing...

IRS Expands Direct Deposit Options

June 1st, 2006 at 04:06 am

Good news for those that get tax refunds and would like to direct deposit a portion of it into your savings or retirement accounts. Until this year if you had your tax refund directly deposited, you could only do so into a single checking or savings account. The IRS announced today that starting next year, you can have your tax refund deposited into up to three different accounts:

The IRS will create a new form, Form 8888, which will give taxpayers greater control over their refunds. Form 8888 will give taxpayers a choice of selecting one, two or three accounts such as checking, savings and retirement account. Taxpayers who want all their refund deposited directly into one account can still use the appropriate line on the Form 1040 series.

This is good news for those who are better at saving when they money never goes into their general banking account.

No Spend Days

May 31st, 2006 at 11:03 am

Wixx takes the concept of "no spend days" and shows how you can turn them into a family saving money game.

No spend days are an excellent way to figure out where all those little leaks are in your budget. They are a lot more difficult to accomplish than most people think, but just as with everything else, the more you practice, the better you get at them.

Gift Cards To Save On Gas

May 30th, 2006 at 02:06 am

if you're willing to do a little searching on online auctions and keep an eye out for special promotions, you can get gas gift cards at below their retail value. The better deal you get, the more you save on gas.

When I'm back in the US, I often purchase Costco gift cards off of friends at 95% of value. Since the Costco stations offer the best gas prices in my area, this works out quite well for me.

Gas Station Cards

May 29th, 2006 at 04:08 pm

If you frequent a particular gas station most of the time and that particular brand has a gas card or branded credit card, you should consider applying for it. Even if it doesn't pay as well as the gas reward credit card, there will likely be promotions and special offers that are tied to it that can be quite valuable. The two combined together will make it much more likely that you always get the best refund back when purchasing gas with a card.

Fuel Bank Gas Savings

May 28th, 2006 at 02:22 pm

This is actually a neat little concept call the Fuel Bank. Basically what you do is purchase your gas at today's prices and they are locked in at that prepaid price. So if you purchase 1000 gallons of gas at $2.75 today and the price shoots up to $3.95 six months from now, you still are only paying $2.75 per gallon every time you fill up. While there are a few issues to look at and the program isn't nationwide yet, it is something to consider if you think that gas prices will continue to rise.

Gas Savings - Cash and Credit Cards

May 28th, 2006 at 07:30 am

I've placed up a number of short posts about how you can save money with credit cards and cash when purchasing gas including some hints of what to do to make sure you're using the method that will get you the most money back.

Some gas stations offer a discount if you pay in cash rather than by credit card. There are also cash back credit cardsthat you can use to save money and now there are even gas specific reward credit cards to save you money.

Figuring out which of these gives you the biggest discount can save you quite a bit over the course of a year.

Gas For Advertising

May 28th, 2006 at 03:28 am

I posted about a newer concept that is available in limited areas (supposedly going nation wide this year, but assume it will take a few years to cover most big cities) where you can place advertising on your car in exchange for receiving gas cards. You have to drive quite a bit to qualify (1000 miles a month minimum), but if you already drive this amount, it could be a good way to shave a little bit of money off your monthly gas bill.

Saving On Gas Tips

May 27th, 2006 at 06:13 pm

I just spent the last few hours surfing the Internet looking for tips to save money on gas - there are quite a few of them. I need help if you know of any other tips (whether they work or not) that I may have missed. Thanks for your help in advance.

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