...to financial institutions. This staggering figure is not taking into account all the other economic losses that can be attributed to the Credit Crunch.
If one assumes (I'm recalling from memory, not actual facts) that there are 140 million households in the country, this "loss" comes to over $4,000 per household.
That's a lot of dough.
Now, to make things fun, do the exercise that's bound to happen -- Double and even quadruple that number.
That's how much this will really cost. And, even if you don't own a home and lose it, you're going to pay for it, one way or another.
Be sure to check out the development of my free eBook, "Stock Investing Basics."
Want to learn how to sell anything online? Here's how.
...to financial institutions. This staggering figure is not taking into account all the other economic losses that can be attributed to the Credit Crunch.
This is a good one. Credit card companies seemingly are sending out credit cards already activated. This is a BIG problem! What happens if your credit card gets intercepted in the mail?
This exact thing happened to me once. I went places I never imagined. I did things I had never done before. Only it wasn't me! It was the thief who stole my Discover Card in the mail!
Fortunately for me, Discover was all over it once I called them and told them I never got the card. They canceled the card, disregarded all of the charges, didn't report any of my activity to the credit bureaus, and kept me in good standing. Things don't always go this way, though.
Complaints: "For Security Purposes, This Card Is Not Active" Is A Lie
Hot Credit Cards
I don't "trade" stocks or other financial instruments. On the contrary, I buy securities and hold them. I try to buy low and not ever sell, a modification of the "buy low and sell high" mantra so often spoken about in the financial community.
But when I do buy securities, it's always stocks, never options. I don't have the stomach for them. And I want to buy stocks with the lowest commissions possible. That's where TradeKing.com comes in.
Consistently ranked very high by top money publications, like Barron's and Smart Money, it's a deep discount broker that's worthy of its name. $4.95 per trade. Period. No minimums, no catches.
I highly recommend this broker.
TradeKing.com. $4.95 trades + 65 cent option contracts. Free real-time quotes. Find out why TradeKing is the King of online brokers.
Yep, it's the new old thing. Everybody's talking about it. It was "the thing" back in the 70s. Kind of like bird flu this decade and AIDS last decade. It's not pretty, but it's popular.
It's stagflation: Slow growth coupled with high inflation. The worst of both worlds. We lived with it through most of the 70s and part of the 80s. Stocks finished the 70s where they started. Literally.
Bonds and CDs were king, earning upwards of 15 percent, even 18 percent. But their buying power was crushed due to the rampant inflation that existed.
Real estate, however, flourished. But that was then, this is now.
Real estate absolutely, positively will not be the "market" that leads. It will be something else. Nobody knows. But look at things that are becoming scarcer and you'll get a good idea of where to look: Water, oil, precious metals, wood.
But that's another post.
Because housing will not lead us out of this mess, and the stock market surely won't, I think we may be in for a long battle. It's time to cut the fat out of our own budgets, rid ourselves of assets that are no longer productive (i.e., providing current or future revenue), and hunker down with a somewhat minimalist mindset.
There will be businesses in pockets of the economy that will take off, despite the stagflation. They might be businesses that provide the tools for removing inefficiencies from other businesses. They might be data encryption and data security companies. They may be water treatment plants. Green power. Who knows?
In response to Two for Tuesday's #5, a couple readers made comments suggesting some coupon and deal sites. I finally found some time to take a look at DealTaker.com and I can say without reservation that the site rocks!
There are dozens and dozens of coupons, coupon codes, and deals at literally hundreds of online stores.
If you cannot find a deal you can use, then you're living under a rock. Which, as a Money Hacker, might not be so bad.
Here's a great deal on TurboTax Online.
Last week we found out how to save some cash by enrolling in a free membership rewards dining program and by changing your furnace filters. This week, we'll keep it short and sweet.
Don't buy bottled water. Not only is it bad for the environment (think of all the trucks transporting it as well as the oil used to make the plastic bottles), it's bad for your pocket book. 20 years ago, I would have said your were crazy to pay for water. I still do. What's next? Air?
Buying water at the supermarket is dumb. Buying it a ballgame is downright idiotic. It's more expensive than gasoline, less tasty than beer, and it's just not cool. The trend is over.
Don't buy extended warranties. Back when I was in college, I worked for Circuit City. Their ESP plans paid me 20 percent of the total price you paid to buy the insurance. That's a hefty markup for a product you will never use. It's very likely that the salesperson will overpromise and when it comes time to use the warranty, the service department will point you to the clearly -- even if unbelievably small -- wording in the terms that you never read that tells you your particular problem isn't covered.
Plus, in today's throwaway and rapidly changing world, in 2 or 3 years, you won't even want that DLP Television or 3rd Generation iPod. Something with more capacity, more features, and a lower price will come out to usurp that gadget you paid too much for.
That concludes this week's Two for Tuesdays. Stay tuned for the next installment in one short week.
Click the link below to get a FREE eBook, authored in part by Pinyo at Moolanomy, that covers all aspects of personal finance from youngsters to retirees.
Free eBooks | Moolanomy
Here's a direct download.
As a member of the Money Hacks community at MyBlogLog, I sent out an offer to give away free "link love" to any members who replied to the offer, either via MyBlogLog itself, via email, or with a comment to a post, so here's the first of the free link love giveaways:
BobbyT Blogging To a T
BobbyT has a wide variety of posts, some about life, some about tech, some about movies and other miscellaneous topics. You're sure to find something there that interests you.
The site design is also very well-done. I like the look of the site. It has the look and feel of a Wordpress site, but it's Blogger all the way.
I've just discovered a social networking site with a twist: It's all about investing $1,000,000 in funny money and beating the S&P 500. If you do, you earn REAL money.
You're also compensated for bringing people into the network. And finally, you get paid based on your analysis of investments -- if a lot of people find your analyses useful, then you get paid even more.
How does UpDown.com make money? Well, since it's a startup, the short answer is they don't. However, that seems a bit flippant, doesn't it? Initial investors in the venture are paying for these outlays. The goal is to make money from the wisdom of its members. you see, they'll look at those individuals who consistently beat the market and learn from that, eventually turning that knowledge into a money-making machine.
I've decided to try it. Why don't you do the same?
There's outstanding news today from Stanford University that makes tuition effectively free for families that earn less than $100,000 and tuition and room & board free for families that earn less than $60,000.
This is terrific news! This move by Stanford should cause downward pressure on tuition and other expenses at other higher education institutions.
It's high-time college costs -- at the very least -- decelerated.
For those of you who make more, I'm sure there are ways to shield that income (gifting, anyone?) from the calculation. And, really, if you make more than that, you can still get financial aid, scholarships, and -- heaven forbid! -- your kid can get a job.
Anyway, thanks to Ramit over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich for the information.
Here's a link to a site that performs analyses based on your current energy habits. Worth a look. Lots of helpful advice.
Home: ENERGYguide.com - Lower Your Energy Bills
In Money Hacks #5, we discovered a web site that divulged online shopping coupon codes (retailmenot.com) and we talked about the American Express Blue Cash credit card that, if used wisely, could garner you $500 or more cash back in a single year.
This week, we're going to find out how to utilize an excellent dining rewards program and fill you in on a cheap alternative to a whole-house or portable air purifier that will also save you money on your energy bill.
I found the following rewards program through my favorite money journalist of all time, Andrew Tobias, author of The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. I've been reading Andy's work for over 20 years and he is nothing if not prudent, frugal, and kooky all at the same time.
(Look for a comprehensive review of the aforementioned book in coming posts. I've read several editions of this book, which Andy updates every so often to include the latest technologies, trends, tax laws, and economic and stock market outlooks.)
In his latest iteration of the book, Andy talks of a dining rewards program called iDine. Sign up is free. Here's how it works. Register up to 5 credit cards with the site after you sign up and each time you use one of those cards at a participating restaurant (it also works at select hotels), you earn up to 20% off your entire bill. You need not tell the restaurant that you belong to the program, nor do you have to carry any membership cards.
On your next credit card bill, you'll see a credit for up to 20% off your bill for that meal, including tax and tip!
The first $49 in rewards you earn is taken by iDine to cover their costs. So, at 20% savings, it will take you $245 in restaurant bills to start to accumulate rewards. I know it's not terribly frugal to eat out, but it is one of life's pleasures, in my opinion. My family eats out several times a month, so after a few months, I'm "earning" 20% on my restaurant bill, bills that I'd incur anyways.
So, if you eat out often, it behooves you to take a look at iDine. After all, it costs you nothing out-of-pocket to join.
Our household air is filthy and loaded with particles that can harm our lungs. Regular vacuuming helps a great deal, but so does a whole-house air filtration system.
Here's a tip that will cost you about $10 every few months, rather than the thousands of dollars in initial cost and hundreds in maintenance that a whole-house filtration unit would cost.. Your furnace can be used as a whole-house filtration system. Rather than using the really cheap air filters from Home Depot or Lowes, splurge and get yourself a "Filtrete" filter from 3M. They're about $10 and will generally last a season. So, for about $40 a year, you can filter your air of most allergens and other harmful particulates that a whole-house filtration unit would do.
If your air is especially dusty, you can run the fan all the time, creating a great filtration system as well as an air-circulation system. Doing so can also allow you to turn down your thermostat a degree or two, since the hot air won't just stay at the ceiling; rather, it will be forced to circulate throughout your house.
Make sure you change your filter when it needs changing, as these filters do restrict airflow a little when new but a lot when clogged with all the gunk in your air. You'll be amazed at how much junk these filters catch.
BONUS TIP: To lower your thermostat another degree or two, buy a humidifier. Moist air "feels" warmer than dry air because of the evaporative effects (your body stays warmer because it doesn't perspire as much in a humid environment).
This would be terribly funny if it weren't so terribly true. NYC Mayor Bloomberg talks about the "fiscal stimulus" package President Bush signed into law.
Deriding Rebates, Mayor Still Talks Like a Candidate - New York Times
Here's an article by David Bach, of The Automatic Millionaire fame. It's always wise to review your money market, interest checking, and savings accounts rates, especially during falling short-term interest rate periods (like now).
Check out WaMu for the highest yields going.
Last week, we covered two tips for saving money on car insurance and life insurance. Today, we'll delve into online shopping sites that endeavor to help you save your hard-earned dough as well as show you a credit card that can earn you $500 or more in cash rebates.
Online shopping, if you're not careful, can blow your budget big-time. It's so convenient to order from Amazon that it's easy to overspend or spend money you didn't plan on spending. I cannot help you with self-restraint, other than to tell you to keep your goals in mind whenever you pull out the credit card.
It's also easy to lose sight of the reason you're shopping online -- better prices (that, and convenience). Here's a site that can help you save money by using coupons that you may not know exist or that aren't widely available or publicized:
Type in the store for which you need a coupon, and RetailMeNot.com looks up all available coupons. It has a database that is populated by readers of the site. It's kind of a social networking site for online coupons.
You may not always find what you're looking for, but you'll be surprised by the number of times you use the site and get really great coupons.
We all know that credit cards, if not used wisely, can kill your finances. A late charge here, a missed payment there, next thing you know you can't pay your bill, your credit score has just taken a hit, and you're maxed out.
My take on the credit card companies is to beat them at their own game (if you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I work for a bank who makes a ton of money from credit cards). The industry is so competitive that you're bound to find a credit card that offers you just what you need without all the associated hassles.
Remember this, though: Pay off your balance each and every month. Don't get suckered by incentives the credit card company may offer you to carry a balance.
There are hybrid strategies for combining two or more cards that offer what I'm about to tell you so that you can maximize your savings, but remember that I want the money hacks that you use to be easy to implement. I certainly don't want you to have to keep meticulous track of each credit card transaction you make. I also don't want you to think too much about this. Remember, the $500 you earn in cash rebates from this card is the easiest money you'll ever make from a credit card company.
So don't complicate this easy money with a strategy that takes a lot of work. Oh, sure, you could save another $100 or $200, but at what cost in terms of time?
Finally, before I get to the punchline, I think you should carry only one or two cards in your wallet, firstly because I want you to maximize the utility of the cards, but also because of the real threat of theft. No need to complicate your life by losing your wallet and having to call 3 or 4 credit card companies.
Money Hacks wants to help you simplify your finances.
So, without further delay, go get yourself Up to 5% cash back with Blue Cash® from American Express.
Here's how it works. On every day purchases, like at supermarkets, gas stations, and drug stores, you get 5 percent cash back after you spend $6500 (up to this limit, your cash back rebate is 1 percent). On all other purchases, you get .5 percent to 1.5 percent (subject to the same threshold). If you follow my "Automate My Finances" philosophy, you'll easily spend this amount of money in a given year (after all, it's only a little over $500 per month, and with the price of gasoline and groceries, you'll spend this in no time).
Like I said before, there are hybrid strategies for maximizing your cash back rebate. Here's how you can make it work (though I think you still ought to try to simplify things as much as possible). Use the American Express Blue Cash card for "every day purchases" (gas, groceries, drug store) and another rewards card for everything else. You could, for example, combine use of this card with a frequent flyer card.
As icing on the cake, Kiplinger and Money magazines and a lot of other financial blogs (Free Money Finance, for one) have proclaimed this card as the best credit card to carry for cash rebates. American Express is highly-regarded as a credit card company.
One more thing: There is currently no limit on the rebate you can receive.
That concludes this edition of Two For Tuesdays. Come back next week for two more money hacks that will save you money.
Here's legendary investor Jim Rogers' take on the state of the economy, the stock market, the Fed, and commodities. Very interesting read.
Among other things:
- Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan are fools
- The Fed will fail. Just like the previous 2 central banks
- There is a long-term bull market underway in agricultural commodities
- Investment banks, now trading at 52-week lows, will fall even further when they're hit by the bear market in stocks
- The recession will come and go, but the Fed has made it worse than it needs to be
- Index funds are the best way to play sectors, rather than trying to buy (or sell) options and futures individually
Along with George Soros, Jim Rogers earned his wealth and fame through the Quantum Fund, one of the earliest hedge funds. His opinions deserve to be respected, even if you think he's wrong.
Resource Investor - Jim Rogers Interview: Where to Put Your Money
Here's a piece from the New Yorker on Blackstone's Stephen Schwarzman. For anybody interested in the financial markets -- and if you're reading this, you are -- this is a great article on one of the most influential players in one of the most highly-leveraged financial instruments.
Profiles: The Birthday Party: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker
In my quest to find a place to park my cash and automate my financial life, I've been seeking out online savings accounts. You've all heard of ING and Emigrant Direct. But have you thought about your local Washington Mutual (WaMu) branch? Better yet, they're offering online savings accounts that yield 4.25 percent!!!
There is a catch. You have to sign up for their free checking, which is a good deal in and of itself. It's a free checking account with virtually no fees and the checks are free for life, too.
It takes literally less than 10 minutes to open the both accounts and you can do both online. If you're an existing customer, you can open your online account in about 30 seconds. No kidding. I just did it.
In fact, I opened 2!
Like I said, I'm trying to automate my finances as much as possible, so I opened an Emergency Fund and a Non Emergency Fund, to which I will set up auto transfers from my free checking account on a bi-monthly basis, to coincide with my direct deposits to the free checking account.
This way, I can "set and forget" my auto transfers and build up 2 little accounts, one for emergencies and one for discretionary purposes (like vacations and car and home maintenance). In fact, I see no restrictions on the number of online savings accounts you can set up, so set up a 3 or 4 (one for emergencies, another for vacations, another for gifts, another for that cool flat screen HDTV).
This really is one of the best deals going. I have an ING account that is yielding 3.4 percent and an Emigrant Direct account that is yielding 3.6 percent. I'll keep them open, giving me the ability to switch when rates cross (like when WaMu's rates dip below one of the other's rates), but for now, my money's at WaMu.
Full disclosure: I work for WaMu. Except for their real estate businesses (home equity and home mortgage), I like the company and have worked for them for 4 years (i.e., in good times and bad). I'd be putting my money here regardless of whether I worked here or not.
WaMu is clearly attempting to grab deposits and acquire checking account customers. Retail is not only their cash cow, but the vast deposit base allows them to fund all of their other enterprises.
Open a free checking and high-yield savings account by filling out the WaMu Free Checking™ application. Learn more!
Technorati Tags: automate your finances | automation | autopilot | Money Hacks | saving money | investing money | earning money | WaMu
I am loathe to create a budget. Never have. Always start. Never finish...
But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't. Or that you shouldn't. So here's some really comforting and helpful advice from Zen Habits.
10 Ways to Simplify Your Budget | Zen Habits
Bank of America has given all of us a new reason to closely monitor our credit card accounts. It seems they've decided to raise rates on existing balances for no apparent reason, other than to separate you from your hard-earned money.
You see, they've sent letters to some of their customers, informing them that their interest rates are being increased, sometimes by more than double, and that they have to respond, in writing, within x number of days to opt out (of course, "opting out" really isn't an option, as the name would imply, because what you're really doing is agreeing to pay off your balance and close your account).
When customers who have received the letters have called in to inquire about the reason(s) for the change, BofA hasn't given them any answers.
The only conclusion to draw is that Bank of America has made a money grab. They so screwed up their mortgage and home equity businesses that they're trying to make up their losses with your money.
Most people with balances cannot afford to pay them off. Why else would anyone carry a balance? So, the bank puts them even more behind the 8 ball than they were before.
This all leads me to the following points:
- Read your credit card account Terms & Conditions. If you do, at the very least, you'll endeavor to pay off your balances each and every month, NEVER carrying a balance. Credit card companies can change your T&Cs whenever they feel like it. All they have to do is notify you in writing. They use the most nondescript ways possible, hoping that you'll toss the notification in the trash without reading it.
- Be on the lookout for changes in your T&Cs. READ THEM.
- Watch your statements closely. Better yet, view your transactions online. As soon as you see something that doesn't match your expectations, call the company.
- Review the Consumerist for stories like yours. Often, there's enough of a wave of negative pub that the companies fold and agree to new terms.
- Use one company's stupid terms to your advantage: Negotiate a better deal with a competitor. While it seems that all the credit card companies are in cahoots, they really do want your balance, if you're a paying customer. They'll often do anything to get you to transfer balances and book your balance. The industry is not immune to cannibalization.
A Credit Card You Want to Toss
Here's a great article on how the Fed is hurting the economy from a fellow over at PowerWealth.com called Let's Be Frank, Barney: The Federal Reserve Hurts We The People.
America’s economic problems are not due to market forces, laissez faire economic policies, or clever financial engineering. The pathogen that most afflicts the U.S. economy today is the Federal Reserve, which engages unwarrantably in the central planning of U.S. economic growth. By creating artificial growth instead of vigilantly protecting We the People from the ravages of inflation, the Federal Reserve engorges the U.S. money supply with a debased currency backed by nothing more substantive than the “full faith and credit” of a bloated U.S. federal government beholden to foreign lenders to pay its bills.I agree. If the Fed would just stick to Milton Friedman's easy rule (adjust the money supply to grow a fixed percentage per year, enough to grow the economy but not enough to turn on inflation), we'd all be better off.
In the short-run, the Fed can do a lot. However, it's often at the expense of long-term growth. We haven't had any substantive growth for quite some time (the 60s?)...
If you don't see the familiar stock ticker above this post, this is why: The folks at widgetbox disabled the widget. Bummer. I really liked it. So I'm off to find another one.
The purpose of the ticker is not to get up-to-the-minute results from the stock market; rather, it's to get people visiting the site interested in investing.
The price today of a stock you bought yesterday doesn't really matter. We're here to invest; we have an investing horizon of years, not hours or minutes. Anything less than months is speculation.
That's not to say that once we buy a stock we don't sell it. Sometimes the fundamentals go south and it's bad to keep the stock. There's no virtue in keeping a stock until it goes to zero.
But, for the most part, we buy stocks with the intention of keeping them for years.
I just liked the widget. Now, I'm sad :(
Last week we discovered ways to save money on gasoline and appliances. This week, we're going to explore ways to save with insurance.
Odds are, you will never use your auto insurance, or, if you do, you'll use it only once. In any event, most people carry a really low deductible. Doing so causes your auto insurance rates to be higher than they need to be. You can save up to 40 percent on your collision and comprehensive coverage by raising your deductible to $1000.
This is a surefire way to save a ton of money every year and this is a money hack you can put to work right away. Simply call your insurance company and ask them to run your policy at a higher deductible for both collision and comprehensive coverage. You'll find that you'll save thousands over your driving lifetime.
Your emergency fund (you have one, right?) will cover you in case you ever get in a crash and have to fulfill on your deductible.
Not everybody needs life insurance. For example, if you don't have any dependents, you don't need life insurance. This doesn't mean that you don't own some life insurance, though. Often times, your employer throws in some small amount as part of its group coverage. You can generally opt out of such an arrangement and take that small premium they pay on your behalf and choose to have it added to your paycheck.
Another way to save on life insurance, for those of us who actually need it, is to buy term life insurance, rather than whole life. Term insurance is simply life insurance that pays a beneficiary if you die. There is no other coverage. Whole life is term plus a savings plan. It sounds good on paper, but the savings plan is a whole lot worse than you could do on your own, even if you invested in a bond fund.
So do yourself a favor and get term life insurance and invest the difference in an IRA (either a Roth or traditional). Choose stock mutual funds and in a few years you'll be way ahead of your whole life plan.
That's it for this week. Stay tuned for two more money hacks next Tuesday!
Here's a link to 30 great books you can download for free, courtesy mint.com.
30 Free eBooks To Learn Everything You Want to Know About Personal Finance
John Paulson is the luckiest man alive. He's undoubtedly very smart, too. He's a hedge fund manager and, by definition, an opportunist.
Here's a story that tells the tale of how he got in on the short side of the mortgage meltdown and won.
BIG. As in Billions BIG.
Hedge fund managers make their money off realized and unrealized capital gains. This means that if a $100 million fund increases in value to $110 million, he just made $2 to $2.5 million (they typically take 20-25 percent of the gain).
Hedge funds are not something ordinary folks like you and me want to get into. Nor can we. They're for very high net worth people who can afford to lose money.
Most often, however, these hedge funds earn outsized gains because they can operate unlike mutual funds. They can short a security, they can invest huge percentages of their funds in one stock, etc.
This WSJ article gives some insight into the mortgage meltdown and the credit crunch. Paulson guessed right at the right time. Good for him.
Too bad that in these markets, big winners are matched by big losers (anybody who owned a mortgage or a house).