Friday, December 12, 2008

Higher Returns with Online Savings Accounts

Looking for a higher return on your savings. Visit www.savingsaccounts.com and check out some of the top rates currently available. 


Etrade, Capital One, and HSBC all offer savings rates of 3.0% or higher right now. This will most certainly beat the tiny return you get from a standard bank, yet still offer rock-solid protection for your money. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Should you Cash Out of the Market?

If you're thinking about cashing out of the market, here is an article from cnn.money that may help you make a decision. 


5 Ways to Tame your Market Fears

  1. Keep your eye on the prize - We have had 7 bear markets since the mid-1960s. Focusing on daily fluctuations can lead to unnecessary anxiety. 
  2. Figure in Risk - Reasess your risk tolerance. 
  3. Make a Statement - Put your long-term investment strategy in writing.
  4. Shut your Eyes - Don't watch tv and check the markets every day. 
  5. Consult a Third Party - Consider using a financial planner. 

Depending on how old you are, you may not be able to touch your 401k without penalty for many years. So try and remain focused on the long term as much as possible.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Where Do I Put My Short Term Money?

Short term interest rates have certainly dropped over the past year. But there are still some decent rates to be found. Here is a list of current interest rates available from online banks. Etrade is still offering a rate of just over 3%, down from over 5% last year.

Its clearly a better option to stuff away cash for the short term than a traditional bank savings account, which can pay less that 1%. If you haven't examined your short term funds recently, now is a good time. Its important to make sure that all of your money is working for you in some way.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Don't Forget to Sign Your Tax Rebate Check Twice if Filing Jointly

Just a little reminder for your tax-rebate check. I just received a $1,200 check last week because my wife and I filed our taxes jointly. I signed the check myself for deposit but did not get a signature from my wife. Apparently, this is not acceptable by my bank (U.S. Bank). The check is being returned to me in order to get two signatures, even though I deposited it in a joint account.

For those of you who received a joint economic stimulus rebate check, get two signatures before you deposit it, it will save you some hassle. Also, try to use it for savings if you can. Unexpected income is always a great opportunity to boost your savings.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Looking for a Cheap Cell Phone? Try Amazon

I'm currently in the market for a new cell phone and I've stumbles across the cell phone store at Amazon.com. Amazon offers a lot of great rebates on phones that are purchased with a service plan. My service plan with T-Mobile has recently expired so I am able to shop around with other carriers.

Looking for a Blackberry Pearl? Virtually every pearl is either free or comes with a $50 cash rebate upon activation. Pretty good deal right.

The only caveat is that you must sign up for a 2-year contract and if you cancel or don't pay on time you have to repay $250. You also must choose a carrier that you do not already have an account with.

Now, I'm no fan of contracts. But with certain services I don't mind signing them in order to save money. The reason is, I see virtually no reason why I would need to cancel my cell phone over the next 2 years. But you have to make your own decision on whether or not the contract is worth the savings. I've signed multiple cell phone contracts and its never been an issue thus far.

Unless you plan on moving to Indonesia in a year and you're concerned about cell phone service in Indonesia, you might want to consider Amazon.com for your next cell phone purchase.

2 Great Ideas For a Cheap Vacation

Gas prices are reducing America's bank accounts just in time for summer vacation season. If you are feeling squeezed but still would like to take that summer trip, you may have more options than you realize. Sometimes creativity and an open mind are all that is needed to have some fun.

Here are 2 great ideas for a great summer vacation.

  1. Go Camping - I like posh hotels as much as the next person, but I've had some great experiences in the past on camping trips and the price can't be beat. If you sleep in a tent, there are lots of great campgrounds that charge around $25 a night. You can stay for 5 days for less that $150. You can also try to find a park that is in or near your home state to save on transportation expenses. Have you explored everything your state has to offer? Transportation and lodging are typically the top 2 travel expenses and if you can cut those down, you can have a great trip without spending a ton of money.
  2. Share a cabin with 1 o 2 other families - This is a little pricier than camping in a tent, but you still can get great lodging at a relatively low price by renting a cabin and sharing the expenses with another family. A 3 bedroom cabin provides great space at a lower cost than a nice hotel. I recently stayed in a beautiful and spacious cabin in the Smokey Mountains with a hot tub, air hockey and pool table for about $170 a night. With 3 bedrooms, there was plenty of room for 8 people. Split between 2 families the price was around $85 a night (hard to get a decent hotel room for that price). The game room kept the kids busy for hours.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When will I receive my economic stimulus check?

The economic stimulus check of $600 per person is currently being paid out to individuals and family's who filed a tax return in 2008. A few people that I know have received there payment but I have yet to receive mine.

To give you a better idea of when your payment may arrive, the IRS has a stimulus payment schedule based on the last two digits of your social security number and also on whether or not you are receiving a paper check or direct deposit. The payment schedule is based upon the last two digits of your social security number. The IRS also states that a small percentage of returns will take additional time to complete and may not match the schedule below.

DIRECT DEPOSIT

Last two SSN digits: Payments will be transmitted no later than (and received by the end of the day of):
00 through 20 May 2
21 through 75 May 9
76 through 99 May 16












PAPER CHECK

Last two SSN digits: Payments will be mailed no later than (and received a few days after):
00 through 09 May 16
10 through 18 May 23

19 through 25

May 30
26 through 38 June 6
39 through 51 June 13
52 through 63 June 20
64 through 75 June 27
76 through 87 July 4
88 through 99 July 11


















Also, Consumerism Commentary is reporting that if you filed your taxes using a third party software like turbo tax, were owed a tax refund, and had your filing fees deducted from your refund and qualified for a stimulus payment, then you will not receive direct deposit. You will receive a paper check.

How to Use Debt Effectively

Debt typically has a negative connotation in our society. Usually it's associated with financial stress and insecurity. American's have a bad habit of running up too much debt and not saving enough money. As a result the debt to savings ratio is typically poor.

But I often argue that debt can help you financially if used properly and with discipline.

I make a rule for all debt that I obtain. I must have cash to back every penny of debt that I take out. This is a key decision making principle that I follow. It forces me to save enough money before I make a purchasing decision.

This begs the question, if I have the money, why do I need debt?

The answer is cash flow management. I use debt as a financial tool and I look at my personal finances in the same way as I would look at finances for a small business. Many times debt can be obtained very cheaply. In fact, at times it can be obtained for so little that you can use your freed up cash to earn more money.

For example, if I am able to obtain 0% financing on a line of credit, I can use the freed up cash to earn 5% in a CD and then pay off the debt slowly with no penalty or interest paid.

Some may criticize this line of thinking because of an overall distaste for debt, but from a purely financial perspective it is safe and correct.

Here are a few guidelines that must be followed:

  1. Make sure you have the cash to back your debt. Don't spend what you don't have. You are using debt as a tool, not a crutch.
  2. Keep a minimum purchase amount in mind for using this method. It may not be worth it to take out a line of credit for only a couple hundred dollars.
  3. Debt does affect your credit score. If you are looking to take out a mortgage soon, you may want to avoid any additional debt.
  4. Never pay interest or late charges. If you are paying for the debt, there is no use taking it out. If you have a promotional interest rate, make sure you pay off the balance before that expires or you may have to pay back-dated interest charges.
  5. Make sure you earn money off your freed up cash. A CD is a safe and easy way to earn a decent interest rate.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Want to Track Expenses - Learn to Use Microsoft Money or Quicken

As I began to mature financially, one of the things I learned was the importance of keeping track of all of your accounts. This can be done manually, but at a certain point it pays to invest in some software to help you manage your financial life. Not only will it make you more efficient, but you will gain access to powerful tools that will help you understand your financial health in a new way.

Microsoft Money and Quicken are both great programs that allow you to create and organize all of your accounts and group your transactions. For example, you can put all of your checking and savings accounts in one area, credit accounts in another, followed by investment accounts, loans and liabilities, and asset accounts. If you keep everything updated, you will always know your net worth at any given time, and you can keep track of whether it is growing or not. Get Rich Slowly writes about setting up separate accounts for different needs that you may have....emergency, new car fund, vacation. These programs will help you keep track of those various accounts quickly and easily.

Grouping your transactions is one of the most important things you can do. Each time you buy something you simply select a label such as gas, groceries, electric bill....etc. The more specific you are, the more you will get out of your information.

You can then set up budget parameters and Money will let you know when you are in danger of going over budget. This is a great tool.

Want to know how much you are spending at Starbucks. Simply run a quick report and you will see how much you are spending each month. The results may scare you, but its a great way to get an understanding of areas where you may be overspending.

I encourage you to demo a copy of Microsoft Money for free and try it out for 60 days. If you want to upgrade to a full copy simply purchase a code and you won't lose any information.

10 Secrets of Breakthough Businesses

There are two ways to increase your personal equity. Earn more or spend less. Sometimes the easier of the two to control is to spend less. Usually your spending decisions can be analyzed and cuts can be made.

However, some people build equity by earning more, and one of this quickest ways to do this is to start a new business. Keep in mind though, only the top 10% of entrepreneurs make more than those working for others.

But if you do still want to jump out there with a great idea and start a new business, here are 10 secrets of breakthrough companies by INC.com.

  1. Sexy businesses don't always win.
  2. The company is more important than the entrepreneur.
  3. Entrepreneurs don't always take risks.
  4. Founders don't need to let go - they need to refine their roles.
  5. Be prepared to change as you go along.
  6. You don't need other people's money.
  7. Its not all about hiring the right people - make the people already in the company more productive.
  8. Your school doesn't matter.
  9. MBA's are optional.
  10. Strategy is the job of everyone, not just the CEO.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maximizing Your Food Resources - Dinner By Design

About 6 weeks ago my wife and I started using a company called Dinner by Design for most of our meals. Since then, I have noticed considerably less waste from the food we purchase.

Dinner by Design allows you to prepare about 1 month's worth of meals for 2 people. They do all of the shopping and portioning and provide great menus for weekly dinners. You simple arrive and assemble the meals. You then take home 24 meals in a couple of laundry baskets and freeze them until you need to use them. When my wife and I work together, we can put together all of the meals in about an hour. The current price is $219 (about $3 - $5 per serving).

Last month we used every bit of food that we purchase. Zero waste. This is a great improvement from doing our own grocery shopping. At Dinner by Design, you only purchase what you will use for each serving. No more, no less. No need to buy bag of carrots when you only need a few.

The meals are tasty and healthy and we've enjoyed the variety. We're hooked at this point and intend on visiting the store every month.

Credit Score Myths

If you are planning on applying for a mortgage or car loan soon, you may want to take some steps to boost your credit score in order to qualify for a great interest rate. There are some items that have absolutely no effect on your credit score at all, but many people are under the impression that they do.

These are 3 common credit score myths.

  1. Closing accounts does not help your score and may hurt it by damaging your debt to available credit ratio.
  2. Checking your FICO credit score multiple times will not lower your score if you are checking it for yourself. If you are applying for credit, FICO treats all inquiries within a 45 day period as one inquiry.
  3. You actually have 3 different credit scores depending on which bureau you run your credit report from. Equifax, Transunion, and Experian all have different data on your credit history that does not get shared. Make sure you check your score with each of these bureau's to ensure that there are no errors. I've had to correct errors before from a credit report medical bill on Experian that did not show up on Transunion or Equifax.
Remember too, you can run a free annual credit report online each year from each of the bureau's. However, if you want to see your credit score it will cost you extra.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Want to Save Money on Gas....Slow Down!

Its a pretty simple principle. Drive slower, use less gas. With gas at $4 a gallon, driving slower can literally put a few extra bucks in your pocket. Earlier I wrote about gas saving myths that save you very little in fuel consumption. This is no myth.

In a test by Edmunds.com, accelerating more slowly can cut fuel consumption as much as 35% driving and Land Rover and 27% in a Mustang.

Let's translate that into some real numbers. If you car gets 22mpg, slowing your acceleration would get you almost 30 mpg. That's about 100 extra miles per fill-up in a 13 gallon tank or about $14 saved per fill up. Not bad.

Don't slam the accelerator when you see a green light and save $14. Pretty simple. Although, maybe this style of driving will be harder than it seems.

Travelling: Try a Prepaid Visa Travel Card

Years ago travelers checks were the currency of choice for vacationers. These days though, you may find more convenience in purchasing a prepaid visa travel card. Cards have become a much more common currency than checks these days, and they offer a high level of convenience and great features.

Here are some of the great features.

  • Use the card to get local currency at ATM's.
  • Emergency card and cash replacement.
  • Reload from anywhere.
  • Zero liability
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Purchase security
  • Travel and emergency assistance.
Remember, always read the find print for details. Also, keep the card for a while after the funds have run out in case you need to return something.

It looks like a great option for traveling, especially overseas.

Steel Prices Increasing Worldwide

There has been a lot of discussion about rising gas prices lately, but steel prices are also rising fast. The average consumer notices gas right away because we buy it often, but steel is also an important commodity that can affect the consumer's wallet in other ways.

The cost of steel is up about 40-50% since December. Toyota recently agreed to a 30% cost increase for steel purchases.

These costs will certainly be passed onto the consumer and result in higher prices on products ranging from automobiles to appliances. Automobile import prices have risen 3.3%, the largest rise in a dozen years.

Steel price indices us$