• Posts Tagged ‘finances’

    How to Configure Your Small Business

    by  • October 30, 2014 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    It can be easy to scan the newspaper headlines and see the fearful titles declaring businesses closing, mega-retailers declining, government incentives drying up. Unfortunately, some of these headlines truly do reflect the state of the economy. But fortunately for you, many others are blown out of proportion. They only reflect the failure of businesses that avoided a few simple steps to improve optimization and efficiency. By keeping your business in a healthy and well-managed state, you can ensure the longevity of your business, and keep your output at maximum. To do this, you’ll have to work with the tools at hand, which often means limited marketing, equipment, and employment budgets, unlike the massive corporations that tend to make the news. The modern small business, however, has more tricks up its sleeves than ever before, and you’re primed to take advantage of these features. Here are some of the most effective ways to whip your small business into shape.

    Stay Current

    The race to stay ahead in business often involves being proactive about what innovations and trends you embrace. No matter what your customer base is, or how diverse your selling model may be from your larger competitors, the need for constant overhauls and upgrades is essential. When designing your small business and its model for sales approaches, try to keep modern innovations and current designs in the forefront of your mind. Some of the latest technological advancements in retail include the rise of cloud computing, which enables you to store your data on centralized servers and grant access to any users you select. This can be a fantastic way to keep your business connected and on the same page, but it can also enable you to overhaul your business’s Point-of-Sale (POS) model, transferring from your standard desktop to a more sleek and mobile tablet system. As Business News Daily highlighted, businesses are rapidly replacing their older models with customer-driven POS systems and tablet platforms. Some companies, such as Shopify, have already created entire lines of hardware for the iPad tablet, including credit card payment terminals. These upgrades will keep you firmly attached to the modern trends, and allow you to maximize your efficiency in employee management, overhead costs, and inventory tracking.

    Set Priorities

    Often times, you might be pressured by advertisements and the waves of business articles that grace your favorite magazines. You might be tempted to buy each and every product on the market, praying that it will cause some miraculous upswing in your sales numbers. The truth is that every upgrade to your small business should be carefully weighed and considered before it’s implemented, and you ought to pore over your options to determine which upgrade will yield the most benefits. If your business deals with shipping, then upgrading your self-checkout stations will probably not be a primary concern. Be practical and judicious in what you choose to overhaul, and be sure that it will raise your profit margins, relative to its base cost. Some upgrades are completely free, but still make heavy use of the modern trends in today’s business world. Social media site like Facebook and Pinterest have become a prominent and powerful tool in the marketing sphere, and you can easily take advantage of these systems. American Express pointed out that 35 percent of small businesses are now utilizing Facebook to attract new customers and build their brand name; why shouldn’t you?

    Emphasize the Employee

    When asked what makes your small business truly small, you probably won’t think of your square footage or income first. Small business is generally defined by its employee numbers, and like most businesses in the United States, you probably employ a limited number of workers compared to the retail giants. To make up for this discrepancy in employee numbers, you need to really maximize the efficiency and role of each employee. All Business discusses the necessities a proper business leader must have, including the ability to aim for and focus on the positive trends in business while staying flexible in how you assign your hours. Most employees, if treated properly, will be more than willing to work with you and help your business grow. With their cooperation, you can have a healthy and sustainable business model, and work in tandem with your most precious and determined resource, your hard-working employee base.
    In today’s economy, the need to stay relevant and keep your business optimized is more crucial than ever. With a bit of know-how and the proper application of your funds and workers, you can have your business run as a tight ship, and rake in the subsequent profits. Staying optimized and organized often boils down to a keen eye in the workplace, and ensuring that you make the most of every asset in your small business. Follow these tips, and you’ll be competing with the big dogs in no time.

    Loan Shark Guide

    by  • July 3, 2014 • Tagged:   • Comments

    :shutterstock_143394364.eps

    With research suggesting that the number of illegal money-lenders operating in the UK continues to soar, read our handy guide to how to spot a loan shark and what to do if you fall victim to one.  Our guide covers the definition of a loan shark, how to handle a loan shark as well as the steps you may take to identify a loan shark.

    What is a loan shark?

    A loan shark is an illegal money – lender who will typically offer cash instantly, in exchange for poor repayment terms and may threaten violence if money is not repaid according to their expectations.

    Why loan sharks should be avoided

    Loan sharks will typically offer loans on very bad terms to their ‘clients’. As such, in repaying a loan shark you stand little chance of actually being able to repay the loan and you will usually end up paying interest and being in a perpetual cycle of debt followed by rising repayments.

    A loan shark will generally also exert undue pressure for ‘clients’ to borrow more money, for example they may suggest that another loan is taken out in order to repay existing debt.

    Perhaps the best reason to avoid loan sharks is the consequences someone faces if they borrow money and cannot afford to repay it. A loan shark will pursue debts relentlessly, engaging in underhand tactics to reclaim the money loaned.

    There is a sliding scale of severity in terms of the tactics some loan sharks will employ to retrieve money, with some resorting to mean intimidation tactics and invasion of privacy, to others who will resort to violence in order to scare people into making repayments. An example of intimidation tactics can range from ‘milder’ cases where debtors are threatened with ‘legal action’ and harsh legal consequences of non payment when in reality these have been made up, to loan sharks who threaten to ‘sell’ the debt on to people who will attack property and people in order to secure repayments.

    Check if your lender is registered

    All legal lenders within the UK need to be registered on what is called the Financial Services Register. Any lender who is not registered is an illegal lender and may be subject to prosecution or criminal sanction for operating an illegal money lending service. If you are in any doubt as to the credential of a lender, don’t take their word for it; ask them for proof they are a licensed lender, or check the Financial Services Register for free.

    Consider whether a reputable lender can help

    If you are in debt you may wish to think about approaching a licensed, reputable lender like Wonga. These types of lenders will display their credentials on their advertisements and will happily explain how you may double – check these. Our recommendation is to focus on the larger and substantially more ‘public’ loan providers as companies of this scale value PR much more than trying to hoodwink a few customers.

    Don’t let a loan shark into your home

    Loan sharks will frequently try to gain access to their victim’s home in order to resort to illegal tactics to recover the money. As such you should never let a loan shark into your home. You can install a ‘peephole’ on your front door, or a lock with a chain so that you can find out who is at the door without having to open the door fully, or at all. If you suspect that a loan shark or an agent of a loan shark is at your door you should remain calm and ask them to leave.

    Report illegal money lending

    Many people simply do not realise that it is an offence to lend someone money if you are not a regulated, registered lender. An illegal money-lender, or loan shark therefore has no legal authority to demand money to be repaid under any circumstances and if reported to the police an illegal money lender can be arrested and have property confiscated. There have even been some cases of loan sharks being asked to repay their victims or face being sent to prison.

    Get independent financial advice

    There are many agencies in the UK who offer free financial advice to people in debt. You should remember that being in debt is not a criminal offence and if you are in debt this is something that must be addressed responsibly. A debt counsellor can work out a budget for you and will advise you of legal procedures that protect your when under financial strain such as bankruptcy, an IVA or a Dent Management Plan.

    Your input: we would love to hear it!

    Why not post a comment if you feel you have been affected by any of the issues we have discussed in this blog?

    How to Avoid Fighting About Your Finances

    by  • March 19, 2013 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Money is a topic that can put strain on even the healthiest of relationships. When finances are tight, stress, frustration and fighting are all common side effects. But while we all experience concerns over our bank balance from time to time, money doesn’t need to damage the special bond you share with your partner.

    With this in mind here are some top tips to help you avoid fights and tension when it comes to managing your finances.

    couple yelling at each other

    1.      Keep it in perspective

    When we’re worried and stressed about money, it can be easy to take your frustration and fears out on the people closest to you. Instead, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in perspective. Keep in mind the fact that in today’s tough economic times, there are plenty of couples in a similar financial situation to you – not to mention quite a few that are much worse off. Money isn’t everything, and while limited funds can be stressful, they aren’t worth losing a loved one over.

    2.      Identify the problems

    If you and your partner fight about money on a regular basis, try and identify a pattern behind the arguments. Do they usually take place in the same week as your rent payments? Are you more likely to quarrel at the end of the month when funds are limited? Once you have identified the common problems, you’ve got a better chance of fixing them.

    When you empathize with your partner about the things that are stressing them out, there’s also a better chance they’ll go out of their way to return the favour. For instance, if your partner’s stressed about cooking meals on a tight budget, make a point of helping out in the kitchen to help carry the work load.

    3.      Keep communication lines open

    In a healthy relationship nearly all fights can be avoided through clear communication. It’s important not only to express your feelings, but also to be receptive to the issues your partner raises.

    Always try to talk through your worries about money rather than bottling them up. This way you won’t end up angry and frustrated at your partner, which usually leads to aggression and hostility.

    Worried man talking on cellular phone

    4. Have a plan

    If money is a constant source of tension, then it might be time to review your budget. Sit down as a pair and consider ways to cut back on costs.

    If you feel like your partner spends too much money on unnecessary expenses like socialising or fashion, this is a calm environment to raise your opinions – rather than shouting at them in the heat of the moment.

    5.      Find love on a budget

    Money not only puts a strain on maintaining relationships, it also adds stress to the dating game itself. For people on a tight budget who are looking to find love, wining and dining on ‘traditional dates’ can prove costly. It is for this reason that free dating sites have proven such a popular way of meeting new people.

    Relationship websites have helped thousands of money-conscious singles to find their perfect match. Instead of heading to pricey nightclubs and bars to meet people, dating sites allow users to view and connect with other compatible local singles for free. To find out more about your compatible matches, visit www.eharmony.ca today.

    images: hang_in_there, photoloni

    How Debt Around the World Affects You

    by  • March 14, 2013 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    You make think that you are alone in your struggle to get out of debt. The fact of the matter is that you are not. People all over the world, including many in countries you may not expect, have major debt problems. Unfortunately, being in debt is a global issue that many of us share. It is problem for individuals, families and countries. The root problems that cause people to go into debt seem to be universal as well. When you look across the planet and see how so many people are dealing with the same kinds of debt issues you are, you can see that managing debt is not an easy task. When you look at things globally, it helps give you a better perspective for handling your own difficulties.

    Household Debt

    If you take a hard look at household debt, which includes mortgages, installment loans and other consumer debts as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), the citizens of the United States are not the world leaders of personal debt. According to Time Magazine, the average household debt in the U.S. is 87%. While that seems fairly high, it is not nearly as outrageous as Australia’s 105% household debt. Yet, ironically enough, Australia’s government debt is only 21% compared to the United States’ 80%. Other countries with a big household debt ratio were the United Kingdom at 98% and Canada at 91%. Their total government debt percentages are 81% and 69% respectively. While the percentages of household debt compared to GDP are lower than personal household debt-to-income numbers, they give a good idea of how deep the country’s citizens are in debt as a whole.

    The Australian Example

    One would think that when the government is buried in debt, its people are deeply in debt as well. Australia is a perfect example of why that is not true. The country has very conservative fiscal policies when it comes to government spending and, publicly at least, has avoided the debt plague that many other developed nations are currently facing. Of the 10 countries Time Magazine examined, Australia had the lowest amount of government debt, but the highest amount of personal debt. The government may be restraining its expenditures, but the citizens of Australia are not cutting their spending back. In fact, they seem to be bucking the government’s trend by taking bigger financial risks. Obviously, consumer behavior has a lot more to do with personal debt than government spending and borrowing.

    Fast Growing Economies

    Economists often cite India and China as two of the fastest growing economies in the world. Even though both have lower average incomes than the developed countries mentioned earlier, both also have lower household debt to GDP ratio. On the surface, you may think that they have less debt because they have less income. That is not true when you are comparing percentages. When you examine what they earn compared to how deeply they go into debt, it is still a lower proportion compared to countries where the citizens have higher income levels. In other words, they are not just spending less; they are not borrowing money for what they do spend. They are using sites like debtconsolidation.com to effectively eliminate debt and then they are not creating new debt. Their “cash and carry” lifestyle keeps them out of debt. Restricting yourself to purchasing only what you can pay cash for is an effective debt-killer.

    The Case of Norway

    Because of their fantastic social program and low poverty levels, many magazines have named Norway as one of the best places to live in the world. This may or may not be true, but the citizens of the country are not doing well managing their debt. Thanks to a massive housing boom over the last few years, people are taking on far more debt. If you look back to 2007 – 2008 when the housing market bubble burst and sent the United States economy into a tailspin, most people owed 130% of their income in debt. In late 2012, that number was 210% in Norway with no signs of dropping. Granted, if interest rates remain low and the bubble does not burst, then that figure might be manageable for the average citizen. However, if things change then many Norwegians may regret their decision to buy a home before they were out of debt just as many people in the United States did a few years back.

    Government Stimulus Packages

    Despite being the world’s second largest developed country, Japan has face economic problems of their own in recent years. In response to their own flagging economy, Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is proposing stimulus packages similar to those U.S. President Barack Obama used to stimulate the economy the United States. The problem is that government stimulus packages do not always encourage wise consumer spending. For example, many people rushed out to buy homes when the U.S. gave new homebuyers a large tax credit. While that did help the housing market, it was not necessarily the best personal finance choice for consumers who rushed to take advantage of the credit without thinking about how it would escalate their bills and add to their debt. Many economists feel that stimulus programs encourage consumers to over-spend and get further into debt.

    Every country has their own economic problems in both the public and private sectors. The best thing you can do is to try to learn from their success and failures. Globalization is not just a media buzzword; it is a fact of life. Even if you do not directly notice the effects of the global economy on your own finances, you can be certain they are there. The countries that are best at dealing with debt are not necessarily the richest countries and even among the most economically advanced countries of the world, consumer debt levels vary according to personal decisions. There is no one “perfect” country that sets the right standard for accruing debt. It is up to you, as a consumer, to make the best decisions you can based on all the available information.

    Better Late Than Never – 2012 Financial Goals

    by  • February 27, 2012 • Tagged: , , , ,  • Comments

    goals

    Number #1 is REALLY important.

    image: JohnONolan

    The last time that we made publicly available financial goals was in 2009. That’s like, before the dinosaurs in internet time. Sure it’s almost March, but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to make goals for 2012. The goals this year won’t be too different from years past, which goes to show that we’re still struggling with the same things. Old habits are hard to break. Without further ado, here’s our goals for this year:

    1. Increase our savings to $30,000 to purchase a home.  If I ever get around to another net worth post, you’ll see that we have between $18K and $19K in the bank. Sad, because it around the same amount we’ve had for the last two years.  We’d like to put a substantial amount of money down on a home; considering home prices in Chicago, we’ll be able to make a 10% down payment with $30K. I still think that renting isn’t a bad deal, especially with our cheap $1,000 per month rent, but our family’s life situation has changed enough that buying a home makes more sense to us. I just hope that interest rates don’t go up too much in the next year.

    Stretch goal: Save $35,000. I may have to prostitute myself and Her and/or sell our baby.

    2. Pay off student loans that were transferred to a credit card at 1.99% for life, about $3,000. We made a transfer of $11,000 to a credit card that offered us a 1.99% APR for life  in 2007. We’ve been steadily banging away at the balance of the card, and we have a little under $3,000 remaining. This should be pretty easy and we could do this right away, but having it written down will help to ensure that we actually do it.

    Stretch goal: Get federal student loan debt balance to under $40,000. Truth is that it might be under that, I have no idea what the current balance is.

    3. Increase income by at least $1,000 per month. I’ve been diligently working my butt off in order to realize this goal. I’ve been making some crucial connections with people in my network and have been given some business opportunities from them. Ohmygosh that was so marketing-speak, so let’s try this again: I schmoozed with some people with crappy websites and they’re going to pay me to make them better. Also, this blog. It makes money. Yeah.

    Stretch goal: Increase income by $2,000 per month. I’ve done it before, I just need to do it again.

    So in the interest of transparency (which is the buzzword of the year, yeah?) I’ll post an update every month to let you know how these are going. Accountability, AMIRITE?

    Personal Finance Tag

    by  • February 22, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    So we’ve been tagged. No, not vandalized. The Budgeting Babe tagged me to answer some questions, and ruined a perfectly good 3-day weekend. (just kidding)

    Here are the rules:

    • Post these rules
    • Answer 11 questions from the person who tagged you
    • Create 11 questions for the people you tag
    • Tag 11 people and link them to your post
    • Let them know you tagged them.

    Okay, let’s move on to the questions:

    1. Big or small, name one financial mistake you’ve made. – This one’s easy. I got a payday loan. I wrote a hilarious story about it for ImpulseSave so that I could win a contest. I lost.
    2. What is the charity nearest and dearest to your heart? – I am a big believer in making high-quality education available to kid who don’t normally have the opportunity to get it. As such, I have tutored for and donated to organizations that further this goal (anonymity is kinda important, but you get the idea).
    3. What’s the best financial advice you ever got? – “It’s only work.” – My mom.
    4. If someone gave you $1,000 today and you had to spend it on something OTHER than paying down debt or investing it, what would you do with it? – iPad. It’s an irrational want since I have an iPhone and a MacBook, Her has an iPod Touch.
    5. What’s your favorite meal? – Whatever my mom cooks.
    6. What is the farthest you’ve ever run? – 13.1 miles. Before that it was probably 2 miles and away from the cops.
    7. Where is one place you’d like to visit? – Machu Picchu. South America seems so far but really isn’t.
    8. Name one item on your bucket list. – Sail around the Greek islands as a part of a flotilla (group of boats that help each other in the journey).
    9. Could you live on half your income? – If Her quit her job, then we’d be able to live off of my income. If I quite my job, I think we’d have to consider some severe austerity measures.
    10. What did you spend yesterday? – Nothing. But my wife, Her….
    11. Are you financially independent? – Nah.

    Now I have to pick 11 people to answer questions that I make up? Oooookay. Here goes: Newlyweds on a Budget, Couple Money, Fiscally Chic, Minting Nickels, Broke Newlyweds, Shopping Detox, Graduated Learning, See Debt Run, 3 Thrifty Guys, Don’t Quit Your Day Job, and Well Heeled. Tag, bitches.

    Answer these questions:

    1. Have you ever been ripped off and for how much?
    2. Do you have pets? Are they awesome?
    3. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
    4. Why are most childrens musicians terrible?
    5. What’s the most offensive thing about the $5 bill?
    6. Prior to Jeremy Lin’s current basketball greatness, he was staying on his brother’s couch because he didn’t have a definitive contract with the New York Knicks. Was the couch long enough to fit an out-stretched Jeremy Lin?
    7. What’s the least you’ve purchased with $100?
    8. What’s a reasonable amount of money to spend at a strip club?
    9. How much do you tip the bartender? Really? That’s it?
    10. How much would you pay for the perfect hamburger?
    11. Is an iPad worth it?

    Go forth and answer and entertain me!

    How We’ve Been Doing Financially

    by  • October 10, 2011 • Tagged: , , , , ,  • Comments

    In the past two years, we haven’t been good with keeping this blog updated. As we’ve said before, finances weren’t a primary concern for us; we treat it more like a chore. Sure money is important, but for us it remains a tool that we use in order to achieve our other goals. However, like all chores, unless we keep up with it or we’ll end up with a mess. Here are some highlights as to what we’ve been up to financially:

    • Employment: We’re still at the same jobs, and consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have them in this economy. A few friends of ours have been unemployed for quite some time now and I can only imagine the stress that they’re under while they try and make ends meet.
    • Salaries: We’ve made a pittance by sticking ads on this blog. Her’s salary has remained stagnant in the last few years, and she’s still not feeling good about it. Mine, however, has continued to increase. In fact, I have increased my salary by 100% since entering the workforce. The extra cash has made it easier to get by.
    • Retirement savings: We have both increased our employer retirement plan contributions. Her is now saving 10% of her paycheck, of which the first 6% is matched 40%. For those bad at math, the match bumps up the total contribution to 12.4% per year. I’ve increased my contribution to 7% with a 3% match, for a total contribution of 10%. After the new year I’ll probably increase mine to 10%.
    • Savings: Did you know babies are expensive? In addition to buying all sorts of baby stuff, we’ve also taken a few vacations in the last 2 years. Some of them have been “paid” for by my work, some were to lands down under. We’re on track right now to replenish our savings to 3 months of our take home salary. We thought that would be an easier target because our expenses always seem variable. We assume that we could live off of that amount of money for at least 6 months.
    • Spending: In our not making finances a priority, I’m sure that we’ve spent a little more money than we’ve wanted to. Surprise surprise, daycare is our #1 expense, at 30% of our take home pay. At a distant 2nd is rent, which is 15% of our take home pay.
    • Debt: Student loans remain. We’re still not carrying balances on our credit cards – we  pay off the credit cards every month. Still making love, not debt. Oh yeah.
    I would say that we’re been doing ok with our finances. How has the last year or two been for you?

    Financial Doppelganger

    by  • May 25, 2010 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    doppeldollar.jpg

    original photo: Photos8.com, modified in compliance with its Creative Commons License

    On last night’s season finale of How I Met Your Mother, we’re reminded that almost all of the gang has seen his or her corresponsing doppelganger roaming the streets of New York, except for one (Barney, of course, for all of the HIMYM fans out there, HOLLA).

    Anywho, at the end of the episode Ted compares the Robin of today with the Robin of 5 years ago. He says that the Robin of the past was great, but her doppelganger, the Robin of today, is AMAZING.

    That got me to thinking: As my doppelganger from 5 years ago, how have I changed financially?

    I think that the me of 5 years ago would be shocked at the current me. Not only because I’ve kept my boyish good looks, but because of all of the financial obstacles that Her and I have overcome. The me of 5 years ago had little financial knowledge, and had even less knowledge about our financial situation back then. I don’t know if the me of 5 years ago would even believe everything that has been accomplished.

    What about you? What would the you 5 years ago think about their doppelganger of today?

    (yes, this post doesn’t exemplify the best use of the word "doppelganger", but just run with it, ok?)

    Taking a Break from Monogamy

    by  • May 19, 2010 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    chaseatms.jpg

    photo: TheTruthAbout…

    It started, like all dalliances do, because I was having problems with my partner. My needs weren’t being met. My list of little dissatisfactions was growing longer — an irritation there, an annoyance there, and suddenly my eye started wandering off toward other options.

    Then Charles showed up. "Talk to me," he campaigned. It was tempting.

    So I did it. I snuck some money out of my bank account and handled it over. And it was great! So I kept doing it, on the sly, and suddenly there I was, months in, turning into someone I never thought I’d be: A two-bank-account gal.

    OK, I’m being melodramatic, but it’s also fairly true. Monogamy is our cultural default for marriage, and it was always my default for banking relationships. I like simplicity, and my financial situation is pretty straightforward: One income-generating job with biweekly paychecks, some scant savings, basic retirement accounts, and small bits of occasional freelance income. I don’t have investment accounts, multiple revenue streams, trust funds or any of the exotic complexities that would require more complicated arrangements.

    So it literally never occurred to me that I could split my everyday checking account up and store parts of it at two different banks. Until I accidentally did it.

    I’m a serial monogamist with banks: I go all-in with one and love it to bits until the inevitable smash-up. Things always end badly. Since college, I’ve opened accounts with three different banks. Two were shut down by the FDIC; one got bought by a rival and shut down. When my last bank, WaMu, got whacked, I was tossed to the wolves at Chase.

    I tried to make things work with Chase. I was tired of account-hopping. Chase can’t get shut down by the FDIC, I figured — I’m pretty sure that right before Armageddon it’ll be having a steel-cage match with Bank of America for dominion over the American economy. I liked having an ATM on every street corner. (Literally! Chase has ATMs in every Duane Reade drugstore in NYC, and there is a Duane Reade on the same street as every office or apartment I’ve inhabited.)

    And for a few months, Chase put on its best manners for us WaMu refugees. It was in full suitor mode, keeping our account terms the same and offering incentives to stay put.

    But then the fees started. And the half-truths. Just months after promising not to charge for outside ATM withdrawls — WaMu’s entire raison d’être for many customers — Chase slipped an "oh actually we’re gonna charge ATM fees" line into the itty-bitty fine print of my monthly statement.

    When I found out, I started planning the divorce. I always said I wouldn’t stay on those terms — I have an irrational hatred of ATM fees.

    So I went looking for someone who would treat me right, who wouldn’t charge fees, and Charles Schwab ended up on my short list. I decided to give it a whirl, and opened an account. My plan was always to get things set up at Schwab and then give Chase the boot. It would be cathartic, like showing up with the U-Haul and clearing out.

    But there was one tiny complication: My soon-to-be-ex had a few addictive qualities I kept wanting to take advantage of just one last time. Like those 14,000 ATMs Chase has plastering the U.S. ATMs that don’t even need deposit envelopes when they suck in your checks! And branches — branches every 200 feet!w

    "I won’t make the switch until we finish buying the apartment," I told myself. "I’ll keep two accounts open just a tad bit longer …"

    And then, like a lightening bolt, it hit me: I could keep both. As long as I wanted.

    Sophisticated money managers will laugh at this, I know. There are personal finance-bloggers who play bank-account arbitrage, strafing the landscape with new accounts to take advantage of minute differences in rates and terms. But I’ve never been like that; I like things simple, basic and traditional. So these past few months have been heady.

    Suddenly, I am a Sophisticated Financial Personage, with two accounts. I have choices. If I want to wire money, or withdraw cash, or even just talk to a teller, I can pick where I want to go.

    Here’s the practical details. (That’s how it always seems to be when you take the scary leap from monogamy to polyamory — first, there’s the big rush of excitement; then your life gets consumed by logistics.) This approach only works because of an unusual quirk: Like most banks, Chase charges monthly maintenance fees unless you maintain a set minimum balance or have direct paycheck deposits, but unlike most banks, Schwab doesn’t. So I can keep my Schwab account alive, for free, no matter how little activity it has.

    I’ve kept my biweekly paychecks going to Chase, but I siphoned off a few hundred dollars to keep parked at Schwab. That means anytime I want to withdraw cash from a non-Chase ATM, I can use my Schwab card to do it, fee-free. I’ve essentially turned my Schwab account into a savings account. I’m using it to isolate cash I’d like to keep stashed, and when I withdraw cash, I transfer money out of my Chase account to replenish the Schwab balance (free, but it typically takes 2-3 days to clear).

    Right now, this approach is working brilliantly. I’d be happy to keep it up indefinitely.

    But I’m also on guard against Chase making yet more changes to its account terms, in ways that will irritate me further. Most Chase accounts charge a monthly fee unless you keep a minimum balance on hand. If they start pulling that, I’m gone. My little feathered Schwab nest is all ready to become my main account.

    Like most people with a bit on the side, I’m casting a pretty critical eye these days on my primary partner.

    Finances and Family Review

    by  • February 22, 2010 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    This morning Her and I were featured on the Chicago Public Radio show Eight Forty-Eight. If this is your first time here, welcome! The portion of our interview that was broadcasted included our thoughts on how we deal with the relationship of finances and family. Here are some of the posts that go into more detail on that delicate balance:

    I talk about my parents (mom) at length in a few posts:

    How Much Do You Tell Your Parents?

    My Parents Keep Up With The Jonses

    Raise your children to rely on them – Asian Culture And Finances

    (Un)Happy Mother’s Day

    The situation with Her’s parents is nicely summed up in this post: Proactive Parent Protection

    …oh, and by the way, we’re not debt free…but we do have a positive net worth these days. We don’t have any revolving credit card debt, although we do still use them for the rewards but pay them off every month. We also still have about $50,000 of student loans to pay off, but ~$6,500 of that is at a 1.9% APR for life through a generous balance transfer, and the remainder of the balance is a federal loan with a low enough rate that we’re not freaking out about it. This is a far cry from the ~$18,000 in credit card debt and ~$130,000 in student loan debt that we had when we started this blog.

    Money’s in the Bank, and Then Some: Everything is Going to be OK (for now)

    by  • December 19, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    A few days ago Her posted about my company not being able to cover payroll.

    Since then I have been paid.

    I also received a bonus.

    Wait, what? Here’s what I think happened over the last week.

    Our clients have a terrible track record for paying their bills (us) on time. In order to cover that shortfall, small businesses such as the one that I work for used to be able to open up a small business line of credit/loan from a bank.

    Well, as we all know, banks aren’t really being so cooperative when it comes to lending money these days. As our clients fall further and further behind in their payments, our company has probably had to reach deeply into their own pockets to cover our paychecks. After their reserve was drained, they didn’t have any option other than to ask us to be patient.

    In comparison to our company in both size and revenue, our clients are GIANTS (hey that rhymes!). I have to wonder if they think that since we’re just a piddly little vendor that they can just NOT pay their bills on time, and everything will be okay. We play a pretty crucial role (in my opinion) in our client’s business and make them plenty of money, so I would think it would be in their best interest to keep us happy.

    All was made good this week as our clients FINALLY paid us. We were notified when the money would be deposited in our accounts. But the bigger surprise was getting a bonus this year – the total amount of it was equally unexpected.

    So Christmas wasn’t cancelled, we’re happy, and Tiny Tim still gets a goose for dinner.

    That doesn’t mean we’ve gone and blown our cash on hookers and blow. We’re extra skeptical about what the near future will bring us. It seems that my job is pretty safe for now, but polishing the resume is never a bad idea. And to answer a comment from the earlier post, I’ve already been reimbursed for the classes that I’ve taken. We’re going to continue to make sure that we will be able to come out of this time of uncertainty in good standing.

    Protecting Our Big Dreams Fund From Ourselves (and the Volatile Market)

    by  • November 21, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    Back in July when Her had a wedding shower, she setup an ING Direct subaccount named “Big Dreams Fund” so that we could stash our wedding gift money there.

    And that’s about how far we got. For the most part, our wedding gift money hasn’t moved from our checking account. While we’re pretty good with our current budgeting scheme, we’re worried that the longer we wait to move our money, the more we may be tempted to spend it on hookers and blow (or unicorns and leprechauns).

    We know ourselves pretty well, and we’re definitely out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of people. But because of the nature of this money, we thought instead of just sticking our money into an online savings account we’d go an extra step further to protect it from ourselves. To do that, we’re going to setup a certificate of deposit (CD) ladder.

    We’re going to do this for a few reasons. First, CDs can be found that have higher interest rates than most online savings accounts. Second, as long as the CDs are insured they are a relatively stable short to intermediate term investment – a very good thing in today’s market. Finally (an most importantly to us), there is a penalty for withdrawing the money before the CD matures. This last point is crucial for us to keep our grubby little hands off of it so that it can grow.

    Hopefully our strategy now will let us truly realize our big dreams.

    We’re not going to explain CD ladders because it has been done much better in other places. For more information, check out the following:

    Relationships and Finances: Please Give A Reader Advice!

    by  • October 31, 2008 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    If there’s something I love about you, our dear readers, it is that you always give solid advice (even if we don’t agree with it). I once again ask for your wise words to help out another reader. He writes:

    Before we got married, I asked my wife how much debt she had. She was very vague, but after some push and pull I got a rough number of “about $15K,” not counting her student loans and car loan. That was quite a bit compared to the nearly zero debt I aim to maintain. But I figured that probably wasn’t too extreme since the two of us make over $50K/year in salary each.

    Well fast forward to after the wedding and move to a new city for both of us. It took her a while to find a job in the new city, but she did find an entry level position just to have SOMETHING. A few months working there and she finally found a job in her chosen field making about the same as what she made before we moved.

    During this time, she kept asking me for money to help pay her bills. I lovingly helped her because I see the marriage as a joint venture. What affects her affects me. She’s been working at this higher paying job now for about 5 months and she’s still asking me for money.

    After the attempted calm and rational conversation escalated to a LOT of pushing and pulling, and then to a full on screaming from her direction, I FINALLY discovered the truth. Counting her student loan and car loan and ALL of her credit cards, she has almost $100K of debt! Her MINIMUM monthly payments on her credit cards alone are more than $1,000/month. All 5 of her credit cards are maxed out. Her paychecks go toward minimum payments and then whatever she has left over go toward frivolous purchases like knick-knacks, new shoes, clothes, and purses.

    She doesn’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing not only to herself but to me and US! I’ve tried taking her credit cards away from her and sitting down with her to talk budget but she absolutely refuses. Now we are losing money left and right. We can still pay the bills, but BARELY. I’ve had to dip into my savings and I also had to use all of the inheritance I got from my late mother just to stay afloat. Her only reason for not talking with me is “my parents fought about money and that’s why they divorced.” I would think NOT talking about money is worse than arguing about it.

    I’ve been making all the payments on the mortgage and utilities. She hasn’t contributed toward them at all because she can’t afford to. If I had known the extent of her debt, I never would have bought this house. I’ve been looking at debt consolidation and even bankruptcy and other means of trying to lower her monthly payments but everything I’ve seen says we have to fall behind in those payments and not be able to even make the minimum payments before any of that will even apply to us.

    Do you have any advice for me? I’ve tried getting her to talk to me or even a financial planner but the financial planner seminar that is coming to town that she did agree to go to isn’t for another 6 months. We will be flat broke by then.

    Newlywed Money Management

    by  • October 15, 2008 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    In the last post, Her did a good job of listing the emergency/insurance financial aspects of being newlyweds. In addition to those tasks, we also have many money management issues that need to be worked out. They are as follows:

    • With the very large student loan payment gift, we’re now left with how we should tackle the remaining loans.
    • We haven’t contributed to any non-employee sponsored retirement plans this year. Maybe we should change that?
    • What are we going to do with the cash we have saved?
    • Since we’re not saving for a wedding anymore, how should we divert the extra cash we have on hand?
    • Taxes! We’re definitely going to have to change our withholding and maybe have to take some last minute financial actions to avoid paying hefty taxes this year. I think I messed up my earlier estimate of our tax situation. We’re also unsure about the large gift we did receive and its tax implications. We’re definitely going to have to see a tax guy.
    • What are our short (1 year), intermediate (5 year), and long term (10+ years) financial goals?

    Ugh, lots to think about. We’ve already been answering some of these questions, but need to make some final decisions. I’ll be posting about the details of each decision in the next few weeks.

    We’re Newlyweds! Now What?

    by  • October 13, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Since we got married, we’ve realized that we have a huge list of financial tasks to complete. Now that we’re a family we need to take steps to plan for and protect our future. There is a lot to do and it’s pretty overwhelming, so we’re going to take baby steps and approach one thing at a time. Here is our task list, which will probably take the next year to complete:

    • Change Her’s last name on all our financial documents. Make sure we are the beneficiaries of each other’s existing insurance policies.
    • Review our current insurance policies. Determine what kind and how much coverage we need, and purchase new coverage if our existing policies fall short.
    • Write wills and living wills. Choose an executor and notify that person.
    • Rent a safety deposit box. Figure out what is supposed to go in it, and put those things in it. This has actually been on our to-do list for about three years, so we need to, ya know, do it.
    • Create a “Just in case” binder of information that would be necessary if one of us were incapacitated or killed.
    • Re-balance our investments to account for changes over the past year.
    • Create a family emergency plan and kit, and notify our families of our plans.
    • Discuss our burial wishes, and plan for the purchase of a plot.

    I got started today by blocking out time this weekend to go to the bank and open that safe deposit box. Baby steps, folks!

    What Financial Turmoil?

    by  • September 30, 2008 • Tagged: , , ,  • Comments

    We’re finally back from 2 weeks of a Mediterranean honeymoon, and apparently our country’s, even the world’s, financial foundation is in deep trouble. Admittedly, it was disconcerting to hear about the economic turmoil when we were abroad.

    But here at home, things couldn’t be better. We’ve received a generous gift of a student loan payment. We have received a boatload of cash gifts from the wedding. We’re enjoying wines and other delicacies from our honeymoon.

    When we returned, I looked at our account and noticed that my most recent salary deposit was higher than the previous ones. While we were gone I received my yearly salary adjustment – a nice increase of 9.5% For those of you who are counting, my salary has increased by 72.5% in just 4 years!

    In the upcoming weeks we’re going to work on a new budget and some new goals now that we’re officially married. Exciting times are coming!

    Depression and Finances: Socioeconomic Status

    by  • May 16, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    First off, I’d like to thank everyone for their support and warm comments regarding my newly diagnosed depression. I’m still learning much about it and how to effectively treat it, and welcome your stories and comments.

    My psychiatrist gave me a document that outlines depression, from the etiology to risk factors to complications to treatments. It is an interesting and eye-opening read, and is also available on the web. In it, I found an interesting tidbits on depression and social/economic status:

    The role of society and economics has specific implications for women. Being in a low socioeconomic group is a major risk factor for depression in anyone. Money, of course, allows greater access to good medical care, but this factor does not fully explain the higher rates of depression in impoverished people. People at any income level are likely to be depressed if they have poor health and are socially isolated. Some studies suggest that Western cultural attitudes that link income to social status may play a significant role in the connection between poverty and depression:

    • In one British study, actual poverty or unemployment increased the duration of any existing depression, but it did not appear to play any important causal role. Feelings of financial insecurity, however, both caused and prolonged depression.
    • Another study reported that Mexican adults who immigrated to America had half the psychiatric illnesses as did Mexican-Americans born in the U.S., regardless of their income. But the longer the immigrants lived in the U.S., the greater their risk for psychiatric problems. Traditional influences of Mexican culture and social ties appeared to protect newly arrived immigrants from mental illness, even when they were poor. Eventually, however, the consequences of Americanization added to poverty and led to feelings of alienation and inferiority.

    It is indeed interesting how finances and social/economic status contributes to mood. When Her realized that she was on the path to financial hell, she suffered from anxiety and loss of sleep. Since we’ve managed to clean up our financial act, she sleeps much more soundly.

    Her and I have seen how finances affects our moods both ways: Our finances have affected our mood, and our moods have affected our finances. Hopefully we will be able to get all of this in check.

    Depression is Expensive, Denial Much More So

    by  • May 14, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    I’m depressed.

    There, I said it. Not just depressed like in a bad mood or someone just kicked my puppy, but actually clinically depressed. This has actually been a recurrent theme in my life, and I suspect that it’s also tied in with Seasonal Affective Disorder as well, because this NEVERENDING CHICAGO WINTER has sucked the life out of me and the other few million Chicagoans around here. The thing that was different about this time is that it has never been as bad as it has been the past few months.

    Since this is a financial blog, I’ll go about how dealing with depression can affect one’s finances. Let me correct that: I’ll go about how trying to thwart depression by doing everything except getting treatment can affect one’s finances.

    One of the crappiest symptoms of depression is losing pleasure or interest at things that used to offer them normally. When I first started feeling pretty crummy, I thought to myself, “Maybe if I go out with friends/eat at a nice restaurant/buy myself something I’ve put off for a while now that I’ll feel better.” I actually chose all 3 of those routes: I went out with friends more, went out for more meals, and bought myself a used Nikon D200 and a nice new lens with my tax refund. I don’t even want to think about the amount of money I threw at the problem.

    A few months ago, Her and I agreed that my depression started to affect our relationship; there’s no money in the world that would be able to magically fix that. So I decided to go and see a therapist that I saw a few years back.

    Seeing the therapist isn’t cheap; when I saw her in prior years my out of pocket costs were about $75 a session, with the rest taken care of by my insurance company. Now that I have an HDHP/HSA I have to to take care of most of the fee out of my HSA account. Since there really wasn’t anything going on in my life that could have been causing my depressive state, I was referred to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist proceeded to prescribe an anti-depressant for me. Due to the way that payment is handled with the HDHP/HSA account, the costs of both seeing the psychiatrist and the meds will be revealed to me at a later time. I’ve just started on the meds, so only time will tell if this particular one is worth the money.

    Depression sucks. Other than the obvious joy-deflating and relationship straining properties, depression can have major financial ramifications as well. Therefore, if you’re feeling depressed or just not right, there’s no shame in going to a psychiatrist/therapist/someone who loves you to talk about it. My method of “self-medicating” by blowing all sorts of money got me nowhere (well, I do have a sweet camera). The depression also messed with my concentration and sleep, making it difficult to focus on my job, this blog, our finances, and my life in general. If went unchecked, a lot of stuff could possibly have been messed up.

    Right now I’m grateful for a few things: insurance for making all of this vastly possible without completely breaking the bank; the availability and acesss to great healthcare providers; and most importantly, Her, for sticking with me, offering her support, and remembering that we’re a team.

    MoneySmart Week in Chicago (and Michigan)

    by  • April 18, 2008 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    The other day I was at the library paying an overdue book fine (hey, it was cheaper than buying the book) and I noticed a bookmark with my favorite Benjamin on it (Franklin, duh). On it was information for MoneySmart week in Chicago.

    MoneySmart week starts this weekend, and runs from April 20 through April 26. It consists of hundreds of free classes, seminars, and activities. You can peruse the schedule day by day, or if you’re lazy, check out the whole week’s worth of events with this link I created.

    There are a bunch of cool events that I hope I have the time to check out next week. They include events such as touring the Chicago Board of Trade, sessions for those who are first time homeowners or those looking to purchase their first house, and even sessions for cooking at home within a budget. Anything personal finance – debt, credit, even identity theft – they have it covered. They even have a program with Terry Savage, a personal finance journalist, on what everyone should know about finances and retirement plans.

    Unfortunately I didn’t pick up the bookmark in time to alert you guys about other regions in the Midwest that were also having their own MoneySmart weeks:

    Iowa (Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City) – April 5-12

    Quad Cities (Bettendorf, Davenport, Moline, Rock Island) – April 5-12

    Illinois (Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, Champaign/Urbana, Rockford) – April 6-12

    If you’re in the Chicago area or in Michigan, you should check out the events. Happy MoneySmart week!