Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Catch a Gideon at NEW DOMAIN

Catch a Gideon has moved to its own domain!!

Check out the new site at http://www.catchagideon.com.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Save using discount sites

Most of us buy things online. Even if you don't, you should. While aimlessly searching for items on sites like Overstock is a good way to waste money, finding targeted items can save you a bundle. Why not buy last season's DKNY watch? (Yes, watches have "seasons" somehow.) You can Save up to 80% at Overstock.com! on these sites sometimes.

If you're looking for items like watches, gifts for Christmas, TV's or the like, take a look at Overstock.

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Study: Twenty-something women spend big on fashion

From National Jeweler.com:

Women ages 20-29 spend almost half (48.2 percent) of their disposable income on accessories, fashion and beauty, according to a new study from Jane magazine.

Of that, about 16 percent goes toward purchasing jewelry and watches, the study finds.

From Luxist:
many of these women are "children of the affluent baby boomers" and grew up expecting and appreciating luxury goods. 84% said that they had no problem with living beyond their budgets.
We hate to be the ones to break it to Mr. Lamadrid, but an appreciation of quality and style isn't worth all that much if you are living so far beyond your means that all of your "good taste" gets repossessed when you can't pay off your debt.

So they're spending a ton of money and not getting what they want. Good job. I love luxury items too, but pick a few and make sure you really want them. Create an identity and don't make it "the person who spends $2k a week on purses."

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An analogy

My concern is that there’s a big difference between buying new running shoes and actually hitting the road every morning. Big difference. One is really fun and relaxing while the other requires a lot of hard work, diligence, and sacrifice...

You can buy a successively more costly and high-quality series of claw hammers until you’ve reached the top of the line, but until you learn how to use them skillfully, you’re going to keep making ugly bird houses.

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How to be a total idiot

You might have seen this one. This 24 year old "aspiring real estate investor" bought 8 houses with no money down. He fixed and sold two of them and then ran out of money. Now the banks are foreclosing on the properties and, well he's screwed. Here's his site.

What's wrong with this?

First off, I don't buy it. I don't think it's happened and it's just a publicity stunt to generate ad revenue or something. Why? It's too out there. The author claims to have "taken some seminars" and read some books and then just started purchasing houses. WTF?!? I seriously doubt a bank would allow that to happen since he seems to have had no credit and no job or any means of paying off the mortgages besides selling the properties. Sine he bought the houses going into a real estate downturn, the banks wouldn't be dumb enough to think that was enough as collateral.

Even if they would for some reason...why would they let him buy 8! houses?

Besides how illogical it is for him to have purchased these properties in the first place, the guy admits to lying on his applications about income and other factors. Um, fraud anyone? The site is too public at this point for him not to get official attention for it.

One more rant...
Casey claims to have read the books most of us have by authors like Robert Kiyosaki, Robert Allen, and Loral Langemeier. Kiyosaki is great for learning general finance principles, and even to point you in the direction of investing in real estate. But if you're going to take Rich Dad Poor Dad and the others as an instruction manual for purchasing millions in property with no other knowledge then you're just dumb.

Finally, his posts today discuss his getting a job with "his rich dad." The post sounds far too close to the theme of Rich Dad Poor Dad to be real. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think so.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Save Money Ideas #1

Most people don't realize how easy it is to save some money. If you tell them they can save thousands every year they won't believe you. Each day decide on something you can save money on. Ok, that's pretty general, here's what I mean; today, make a decision that saves you money over a decision you usually make.

Today's idea to save money:

When you go to starbucks get the Grande instead of the Venti.

You can save 50 cents a day (I picked this from a couple drinks). Thats $15 dollars per month and $180 dollars per year, not to mention the calorie benefits!

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The Only Credit Card Guide You Need

JD at Get Rich Slowly has written an excellent guide on credit cards. If you are instead looking to choose a credit card see Index Credit Cards.

JD doesn't seem to believe in using credit cards. I do. I think they allow the use of a general finance principle: why pay someone today when I can pay them later with no interest. By that I mean paying the bill at the end of the month. You pay no interest if you pay your card off every billing session and you get a month's worth of interest at the bank.

Personally I recommend paying off monthly for most people. Personally I like to get 0% interest cards (usually a year with no interest). I accumulate the cash in a bank account (HSBC at 5.05%) instead of paying the bill. (I pay down enough of the bill that I have an adaquete amount of credit left.) Before the 0% interest offer expires I pay the amount in full out of the bank account, having earned a year's worth of interest on my spending. One caveat, if you don't have the restraint to actually move the money to a seperate account you should pay the bill monthly and each time you purcahse something either set it aside in a different account or at least keep track of it (in notepad or Quicken) so that you know your "real balance."

The Guide covers the important questions:

  1. What should I be wary of when getting a credit card?
  2. What do all of these terms mean? I can't understand the application.
  3. Is it safe to pay bills with a credit card?
  4. How do I cancel a credit card?
  5. How can I get a late fee waived?
  6. How do I stop credit card offers from coming in the mail?
  7. How many credit cards to people carry?
  8. How can I play the credit card arbitrage game?
  9. How can I get a FREE copy of my credit report?
  10. How do I dispute credit report errors?
  11. How does a credit score work?
  12. How can I improve my credit score?
  13. I have a lot of credit card debt — how do I pay it off?
  14. Where can I find more information on credit and credit cards?

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Friday, October 20, 2006

The problem with allowances for kids

Justin McHenry writes on The Personal Finance Weblog about giving his kids an allownce. He brings up a number of issues including: how much to give kids weekly, how much to increase this as they get older, should you tie payment to chores or just give it to them...

This article at Plain Dealer talks about the same issues.

I think there is an entirely different problem. I don't want to go into when kids should get an allowence at all. I don't have kids and don't expect to for a while.  But it seems to be when you simply give money to kids they will simply spend it all, 
both because they know they will get more next week and also because the money is entirely disposable income, they have nothing they have to spend on to maintain their lifestyle.

I don't think the money should be tied to chores unless you are giving the kids an option to do more chores for more money. If you give them the money even when they don't do the chores you're setting a bad example. Also, kids will expect to get the money regardless. I think it's a better idea to teach them they can spend their own money on things they want, and also that it is important to do chores. (I also think it's not a bad idea to teach them that they can do more work for a bigger benefit.)

So generally the whole model is flawed. My experience was that I got money (5 and then 10 dollars a week) regardless of if I did the chores, but my parents tried to tell me it was conditional on doing the chores. Occasionally they wouldn't pay me when I hadn't done something around the house, but that was rare. I remember feeling entitled to the weekly amount regardless of what I had done to "earn" it. Also, it was rare that I needed to use my allowance money to pay for things myself. It was used mostly when I wanted to buy things my parents wouldn't pay for: a "cooler" brand of shoes for instance.

I think it would be better to teach kids to be responsible for their own spending. I don't know at what age this idea might make sense (any parental experts reading?). What if you determined the cost of many activities your kids did during a month and gave them the amount of money to cover it, plus a little extra? You can gradually add categories to what your kid is responsible for.

Here's an example. Say you spend an average of $15 per week on lunch for your son, plus $10 per week (avg) on clothing. You also decide that you spend $8 per week on entertainment for your son. Currently, most parents pay all these costs directly ($33 dollars per week) plus say $10 in allowance ($43 dollars). What if you gave them the $43 dollars and taught them to budget these other costs? The net difference to you is nothing (you're paying these as a parent anyway).

The advantage is that you are really teaching your kids to budget effectively, and learn the value of money. Some things kids will learn:

  • the value of money
  • how much things really cost
  • that spending on one thing means they can't spend on another
It took me a lot longer to learn these things because I simple expected the money I got plus all the things (clothes, bikes, soccer club fees, etc) and didn't know what they cost.  Had I had to learn to budget the money and also learned the actual costs of living I'd be better off.  It is likely that kids will screw up occasionally.  They might spend all their lunch money on new shoes.  I'm not saying you should't help them out when they get stuck (getting stick is part of the learning process), but if they missed lunch one day because they budgeted incorrectly they would learn because of it.  If you never give them the opportunity how will they learn?

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Xevi discusses real estate in Spain

My friend Xevi studied at GW last year with me. Yesterday he made a post about real estate prices in Spain. Real estate there sounds much like I have seen in DC since moving here 5 years ago: prices are astronomical. DC is in a unique position vs. other cities due to it's small area (the city itself) and also the height restrictions. Eventually DC will probably be one large interconnected building that is 10 stories high. And rental prices will be $1000/sq ft, most likely. DC also has a unique position of having a significant portion of it's population change every 4 years (due to political changes and military rotations).

Xevi is originally from Barcelona but lives in Madrid while he is at school. He's got a blog about all the cool stuff he did while in the US, while traveling around Europe over the summer and all the hot spanish models he knows.

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Catch a Gideon expanding!

Catch a Gideon is proceeding nicely. We now have readers in 10 countries (Thanks in part to my friend Xevi) and 24 states!

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Housing Payments Calculator

This page at CNN Money allows you to calculate the total monthly cost of purchasing a home. You input the cost of the home, interest rate, down payment and taxes, and it calculates the monthly payment you can expect.

It is important to know how much you will have to pay monthly, as that is easier to figure out how it will impact your lifestyle. Most people cannot think of how much they spend over a year, but they can break it down monthly. (Perhaps because we pay bills monthly?)

CNN says we should spend a maxmum of 28% of our income on housing costs, and a max of 36% on debt. They also recommend that you find a home to purcahse that is 2.5 times your annual income. Unfortunetly I think for many of us that is wishful thinking. Here in DC I'd say most of my friends (recently graduated) make about $40,000 per year. Therefore the home they "should" look at would cost $100,000. I haven't seen anything at that price within 50 miles of DC since I moved here.

Are lower income people destined to rent? I suspect that over the next 5 years most of these same people will be making closer to $60,000. That puts their home price at only $150k, still rediculously low this area. Any ideas? I'm a little stunned as well since the average American household makes about $65k per year.

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Save or pay off loans?

I was lucky enough to get out of college and graduate school with no debts to speak of. This is almost entirely due to the scholarship I had as well as good spending habits and a relatively inexpensive lifestyle.

My previous post Save first, then spend said that you should automatically divert some portion (10%) of your incoming money to an account you will not frequently see (and therefore will not think you are able to spend the money). I'd like some feedback from those with student loans (or other debts) they are paying off. Do you save money or immediately try to pay off the loans any way you can? Is the save first strategy a good one for someone with debts?

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Save first, then spend

Before you pay your bills or buy things for yourself, PAY YOUR SELF FIRST! 
Put some money (I'd say around 10% is a good amount) somewhere you won't touch it for other things.  Ideally you should have it put there automatically.  Eventually you'll have a good portion of money sitting there.  It should be some sort of interest bearing account, either a high yield savings account, a money market account, or a retirement account (401k or IRA). 
I am not yet receiving regular pay checks, so I have not yet implemented this myself.  BUT, when I do, I plan to automatically divert 10% of my incoming pay check to my Fidelity account.  Fidelity currently has around 5% interest on money you have yet to invest in stocks or bonds.  So putting the money there automatically earns about the same interest as if I kept it in my Citibank account.  The difference is that I never think of it as part of my available money so I won't spend it.  Once it shows up at Fidelity I think of it as already invested and there is no reason to move money out of Fidelity since I still have money at Citibank.
I think mayking it automatic is important pyschologically.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Urban Wellness Spa

My web design company, Splendid Web Solutions, recently went public with a new site for Urban Wellness Spa, LLC in Washington, DC. Check out their new site here, a vast improvement over their previous Yahoo Site Builder site.

Urban Wellness is dedicated to deliver excellence in wellness therapies. We personalize each session to boost your energy and ease-away unwanted tension. We offer an array of results oriented programs such as personal training, massage, acupuncture, skin care and one-on-one yoga.

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Afraid of Making Money?


Maybe you could be more succesful if you settled some subconscious thoughts with yourself. This article by Patrick Chen discuesses some examples he has encountered with people being afraid of succeeding. They often believe they will be a different person if they have more money, or even if they simply accomplish their goals.

I have expereienced similar feelings at various points in my life. I first remember thinking I had the ability to entirely change who I was when I entered high school 9 years ago. There would be a whole new group of people to interact with.

I again experienced this thought when applying to colleges. Ultimately I choose a college far from home because I then understood that in order for me to change on my own I would need to isolate myself from influences that would restrain those changes. I ended up coming to GW (in DC) because it was far from home, but I had family nearby. I was close enough with the family here to have a good support system, but not so close as that they would interfere in my day to day life.

By essentially cutting myself loose from all expectations I was able to form my current personality. In a similar way, many people get into a rut of expectation from the people in their life. They need to realize that they can change (preferably for the better) even with onlookers. Those who don't support your reaching your goals and dreams don't need to be part of them anyway.

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Value Line?

I'm looking at investing with Value Line. Does anyone have any experience with them?

Valueline claims they have outperformed the Dow Jones average for nearly 40 years now at a rate of 17 to 1. Warren Buffet calls Value Line, “An incredible value! I don’t know of another system that’s as good.” Any information would be helpful. Also, you can try Value Line yourself if you like.

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