• Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

    Credit Karma’s Free Credit Report Monitoring – Great For Busy Parents

    by  • September 13, 2012 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Completely Free Credit Score - Credit KarmaAs you know, I’m a busy guy. I have a gregarious toddler running around and both Her and I work full-time. I don’t have the time to worry about any delinquent activity on my credit report. And now, with Credit Karma’s Free Credit Report Monitoring, I don’t have to.

    With identity theft being the most received complaint by the Federal Trade Commission in 2011, protecting your identity has become a hot topic. While we’re entitled to three free credit reports a year (one from each bureau from AnnualCreditReport.com), spaced out evenly there’s four months between check-ups. That’s a lot of time for someone to wreak havoc on your credit accounts. There’s other circumstances in which you can get a free credit report, but those methods are generally unavailable until something bad actually happens, and then it’s too late.

    I was admittedly skeptical at first when I first heard about Credit Karma. Free credit score? AND free credit monitoring? What was the catch? So far I haven’t found one.

    Credit Karma actually gives you three scores: a TransUnion Score, Auto Insurance Score, and a VantageScore. While these aren’t bonafide FICO scores, I can assure you that these scores are only a few points off from the real deal. For a free service, that’s more than I can ask for.

    If you’re a set-it-and-forget-it kind of guy like I am, they’ll send an email every so often telling you that there’s a new score available. If you want it your-way-right-away, then you can manually update your score on the website.

    The main reason I signed up for Credit Karma is for the free credit report monitoring. Imagine that I had the money and time to get a credit report everyday and check for any wrongdoings. Credit Karma does all that work for me. They’ll alert me by email if there’s been any significant activity on my credit report, such as a new account opened or if a creditor posts a delinquency. Fortunately I don’t know what that email looks like, and I hope to never see it. Getting notified right away allows me to take immediate action, instead of finding out whenever the next time I remember to get my free credit report.

    Protecting my family has become a big deal since I’m now a father. Credit Karma helps me to ensure that my family’s financial future are safe. What are you waiting for? Sign up for Credit Karma now!

    GoDaddy Outage Got You Down? Switch to Namecheap!

    by  • September 11, 2012 • Tagged:   • Comments

    If you were on the internet at all yesterday you may have noticed that some of your favorite websites were down. There’s a pretty good chance that they were down because GoDaddy was at the receiving end of a vicious hack. Not only were millions of GoDaddy websites down, but all of their services as well, including email and web hosting.

    When I first started making web sites, GoDaddy was the registrar everyone knew and loved. Over the years the GoDaddy website became slow and unwieldy, and didn’t easily allow me to do cool domain name stuff (of which there is a lot of, I assure you). The last straw for me was that they sponsored the now defunct SOPA, which was bad bad bad. I looked for another registrar for my domain names, and found one at Namecheap. At the end of 2011, I made the switch:

    Since I switched over to Namecheap, I’ve been very happy with their service. There’s a handy guide to transferring domains from GoDaddy to Namecheap that made the process a breeze. Transferring my three domains over to Namecheap was easier than I had expected it to be, and they were all completed in less than 24 hours. Transfer your domains to Namecheap now!

    Namecheap.com - Cheap domain name registration, renewal and transfers - Free SSL Certificates - Web Hosting

    The cost of having my domains registered with Namecheap is a little less than with GoDaddy. The base price at GoDaddy for a .com domain registration is $12.99, plus an additional $11.99 for “Privacy Registration” (to preserve whatever anonymity I still have) for a total of $24.98 a year per domain. The cost at Namecheap for the same product is $10.69 for registration and $2.88 for “WhoIs Guard”, for a total of $13.49 a year per domain. That’s a savings of $11.49 per year per domain! Since I have 3 domains, I’m saving $34.47 a year. I know there’s people out there with dozens, if not hundreds of domains, so switching could save a lot of money.

    Namecheap also offers various web hosting packages that are common to many web hosts. I don’t host my website with them, so I can’t give you any review on that. I personally don’t like having all my web property with only one vendor. I’ll save that recommendation for another time. But to start migrating your web properties away from GoDaddy, transferring your domain name registrations to Namecheap is a great start.

    Save Money With Us at ImpulseSave!

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

    Oink oink

    One of the financial skills that we’ve kinda let lapse over the last few years is saving money. Pretty basic, but we’re terrible at it.

    What we’re really good at is impulse spending. We should get a medal or award for it.

    Well, from here on out, we’re going to change that. And we’re going to use ImpulseSave to help us.

    What is ImpulseSave?

    You know how when you’re out and you see something awesome like a CHOCOLATE CHESS PIE WITH A WHISKEY RYE CARAMEL SAUCE and then you HAVE TO HAVE IT NOM NOM NOM???? Then you realize ohmygosh it’s $28 for a pie? But then you remember that you have some ice cream at home? Awesome, you’ve just SAVED $28!! But how do you really SAVE that $28??

    With ImpulseSave, it’s as easy as texting “Saved $28 on ridiculously tasty but expensive pie.” Boom! $28 is moved to a savings account. Not only can you save by text message, but also by Instagram (!), going on their website, and soon by an iPhone app! That’s how ImpulseSave makes saving easy and awesome.

    Goal-oriented Savings

    In addition to making savings easy, ImpulseSave also has features that make saving meaningful and even…fun. First, you can set goals like “Startup company fund to mine asteroids” or “Box of kittens”. When you save, you can specify which goal you’d like to put the savings towards. Then, you specify how much you want to automatically save per week, minimum of $5, towards that goal. Why autosave? Let’s face it, if you can’t put at least $5 weekly into a goal, you’re not going to get serious about saving. (Don’t worry, you can pause anytime, but you should only do so if you REALLY need to!)

    To keep you updated and accountable towards your goals, ImpulseSave will send you weekly updates on your goal progress. Each time you save, you’ll get a little cheer from ImpulseSave to keep you on your way. Also, you can save socially by letting other people know when, how much, and for what you’re saving! It’s pretty awesome and when you sign up for an account through our website, we’ll be ImpulseSaving together!

    Sign Up and Security

    Signing up is easy, and dare I say…fun. Everything is done electronically, including sending over a copy of identification to open up a savings account. It’s pretty cool that I could just hold up my ID to my laptop camera and be on my way – welcome to the future! There’s no fee to join, nor are there any pesky balance transfer fees. All of your information is securely stored under Fort Knox-like conditions, and the bank is FDIC insured.

    If you sign up and stall out somewhere in the process, you’ll get friendly reminder emails to get you to finish. To my surprise, one of the emails was the following from Alysa Seeland, the community manager at ImpulseSave:

    I noticed you haven’t finished opening your ImpulseSave account, so I thought I’d take a minute to share my story.

    My husband and I are newlyweds, aka newbies to this whole finances thing. Despite our lack of knowledge, we saved $2,800 in six months with ImpusleSave – ka-ching!

    The best part is, ImpulseSave is FREE, social and totally fun: you and I can share saves, challenge someone to a save-off, or just make like the Little Engine That Could while ImpulseSave encourage us all the way!

    I think that this is awesome. These emails could have been lifeless and boring, but it is a nice personal touch.

    A Video Is Worth A Thousand Words

    Don’t feel like wading through a review? Watch the video below to learn more.

    How It Works from ImpulseSave on Vimeo.

    TurboTax for Mac Review

    by  • March 16, 2012 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    I’ve said a few times that I was going to get a tax professional to do our taxes this year. We picked a guy from friends’ recommendations, and he gave us a worksheet to fill out. I would have had to get all of my paperwork together in order to fill it out. By the time I had everything together and looked at the worksheet, I realized that I was probably 70% of the way done and I just needed to pop the numbers in. So instead, I bought TurboTax Home and Business for Mac. I’m running OS X Lion, 10.7.3, on my 13″ MacBook Pro (early 2011). Let me walk you through it.

    Installation

    Installation is a breeze, like most programs on a Mac. You download the disk image, mount it, and drag the application from the disk image to your applications folder. I probably spent more time writing that sentence than it took for me to install it. Really.

    Getting Started

    When you first open the application, you’re met with the splash screen with the terrible simile of “TurboTax Guides You Like A GPS”. TurboTax doesn’t coo sweet nothings of “insert this W-2 here”…whoa that’s dirty. Nor does it say in a nagging voice “RECALCULATING” every time I miss a step. Anyway, it’s a splash screen with common actions. Wee. Let’s move on.

    TurboTax 1

    I’m assuming that this is the first time you’ve used TurboTax for Mac – if you’ve used it in the past, it’ll detect old tax returns on your computer and offer to import them in for you. It’s nifty. Even if it isn’t your first time using TurboTax, you’ll be asked if anything major happened in your life that may affect you tax situation.

    Turbo Tax 2

    Depending on what you pick, you’ll be given some brief information on what each category entails. TurboTax will then guide you through each section, asking you to insert data from your tax forms where appropriate. You’ll insert information on W-2′s, 1099′s, and whatever other forms you have. This is where having all of your documents together will really save you time.

    TurboTax 3

    Income Summary

    If you think you’re a tax pro and don’t need TurboTax to hold your hand, you can cruise each section at your leisure. When you click “Start”, you’ll be asked to fill in the information appropriate to that section. I often have to do this because I’ll find a miscellaneous tax document somewhere around the house and will have to fill it in. The list is quite comprehensive; I haven’t used many of the categories since our tax situation is not that complicated.

    TurboTax 4

    Deductions and Credits

    After you fill out all of your tax information, you’ll go through and see if you qualify for any additional deductions or credits. Again, you have the option of going through the “GPS” and go though each topic one-by-one, or you can scoot on over to the topic listings and jump around like a pro. Our tax life is pretty simple because we’re renters, among other reasons, so we have always taken the standard deduction. New to us this year is the Child Tax Credit, which was great since it directly reduces the tax.

    TurboTax 5

    Miscellaneous

    Finally, you’ll wrap up your tax filing by taking care of any miscellaneous stuff like AMT. Again, we’ve never had to really fill out any of this section, but you’ll have to go item-by-item to see if you need to take care of any of these.

    TurboTax 6

    Everything Else

    I’ve intentionally left out the business section, but it’s pretty much along the same lines of the personal taxes section. One of the awesome things about the business section is that you can import your Schedule C directly from Quicken. It eliminates the need to enter everything in manually.

    When you’re finished with your federal taxes, TurboTax for Mac will see if there’s anything you missed and alert you to any items that may be incomplete or may be an audit risk. When you’re good to go, then you’ll be able to proceed with TurboTax’s blessing. I guess this is an area where TurboTax is like a GPS – it’ll nag you if something not right. That’s a good thing.

    State taxes are done in the same manner of federal taxes. It’ll be a little less time intensive and time consuming since you’ve already entered in all of your information. Of course, every state is different, so I can’t really go through what exactly to expect.

    As you go through and enter information, you’ll see a running tally of how much you will owe or how much you will be refunded. It’s kind of fun to put in ridiculous numbers to see how this changes. You can see that we’re in the red this year.

    TurboTax 7

    Lastly you’ll review both your federal and state taxes, and see your risk of audit. You’ll also review how you did this year versus last year, and be given the chance to learn about ways to improve your tax situation in the upcoming year.

    A new feature this year is having the chance to get free one-on-one tax advice from a tax professional. I’m about 90% finished with my taxes, but there’s some things that I want to make sure that I’m doing correctly, so I may use that service. I’ll update this post if I end up using it.

    Overall, I’ve been happy with my TurboTax for Mac experience. It’s perfect if your tax situation is relatively uncomplicated, not much has changed from year-to-year, or if you just like to do your own taxes. I used TurboTax in the early 2000′s to do my taxes, but I switched to other software because it was better to use with the personal finance program I was using then. Now that we’re Quicken users, it made sense to switch back to TurboTax so that I could import business stuff directly into it. While I switched for that reason, I’ve been very impressed with the ease of use, look and feel, and features that TurboTax offers.

    SmartyPig Mini-Review and $50 Giftcard Giveaway

    by  • April 8, 2008 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    <Homer Simpson>
    SmartyPig
    SmartyPig
    Does whatever a SmartyPig does
    </Homer Simpson>

    If you’re a regular reader of personal finance blogs, you’ve probably heard of SmartyPig, a new online social savings service. There have been a plethora of posts that review SmartyPig; I could give a review, but I think I’ll let the other 40 posts that can be found on pfblogs.org do the talking for me.

    Now for the good stuff. We have a $50 SmartyPig giftcard to give away to one of our readers. To enter to win, leave a comment and let us know what you’re saving for. We’ll pick a winner by using the random.org’s random number generator. This contest will close next Monday, April 14 at 9:00 pm CDT.

    Good luck!

    Get Your Latte Factor On At The ING Direct Cafe

    by  • November 28, 2007 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    In October, Bird and Bills had a post about the ING Direct Cafe. I commented that I had been to the one in Chicago and would write a post about it. About 6 weeks later, I’m finally getting around to it…

    About six months ago I noticed that an ING Direct Cafe opened up just off of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. At that time I didn’t have a chance to run in. A few months later I was running errands and around that area and also needed to make a deposit into my ING Direct account. I decided that a visit to the cafe was in order.

    Before I went, I went to the ING Direct website to find out what it was all about. They have a page dedicated to the cafes, and I learned that there were also cafes in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Wilmington (that’s in Delaware). Also on that page is a coupon for a free coffee, just for being a member. Free coffee? How am I supposed to get my latte factor on?

    First off, here’s a view of the outside. It’s pretty hard to miss.

    ingcafe1.jpg

    On the inside, there’s what looks like a normal coffee bar.

    ingcafe2.jpg

    The weird thing about the cafe is that all of the baristas are also bankers! You can order a latte and make a deposit, and the people behind the counter can do both. Another weird quirk is that deposits aren’t really processed there…they are mailed off to a processing center in Minnesota (I think, it’s been a few months since I’ve been there). So if you deposited money there, they’d have to mail it off to the processing center, and you’d still have to wait to have it post to your account.

    They baristas were nice and friendly, and were indeed knowledgeable about all of ING Direct’s products. After hearing that they didn’t do anything I couldn’t do own my on on their website, I ended up getting my free coffee and taking a seat to relax a bit, where they had various finance magazines on display for customers to read.

    ingcafe3.jpg

    While I was there, I took advantage of their computers with internet access to check if there were any comments on this site. I also did the banking on their website that I wanted to do at their counter.

    ingcafe4.jpg

    All in all, it is a pretty neat place. For someone with above average financial knowledge, this place is pretty much a gimmick, as evidenced by their awesome ING Direct motorcycle.

    ingcafe5.jpg

    I think that their goal is to make people aware of their services in a non-traditional way. After walking by there the other night, I think it is working; there were many in the place who were enjoying coffee and reading. I think that this method of getting people to be more aware of their finances and saving is great. Since I practically lived at coffee shops when I was in college, it may have been what I needed to persuade me to start saving and paying attention to my finances at an earlier age. Or just drink more coffee.

    Debtfolio Alpha: Debt Management 2.0 – First Look

    by  • November 13, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    debtfoliologo.jpg

    A few weeks ago we got an email from Peter Glyman, co-founder of Debtfolio.com, asking us to check out his new service. The Millionaire Artist already posted about it, and not only that, she actually met the co-founders! Since all of the cool kids are doing it, and registration is open to everyone, we thought we’d review their site in some detail. A simple caveat before you read further: their site is in the alpha stages of production, so I already know that it’s going to be rough around the edges.

    All of the images below are thumbnails. Please click on them to open the larger sizes in a new pop-up window. Yes, pop-up window, so please allow pop-ups for our site. Thanks.

    First things first, registration.

    Straightforward? Sure, to experienced internet users. Please, please, let the user know which fields are required. I’m looking at you, “referral code.”

    Next you’re asked to choose between their two products: a credit card debt analyzer and a credit card chooser.

    The credit card chooser is exactly that – a place to choose from different credit cards. Pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t take the time to review it.

    The most interesting part of Debtfolio is the credit card debt analyzer.

    Here’s the tour. Match the numbers in the full-size to the numbers below.

    1. It seems like this site looks to grow to be able to track all of your debt. Only credit card debt can be analyzed at this time.

    2. These cards can be dragged to area #4 to see how having a card with 0% APR effects the debt repayment schedule. You’ll see what I mean.

    3. This area is where all of your current credit card information is entered.

    4. In this area you can change the payment schedule by either inputting a one-time lump sum payment, or by allocating an amount to be paid each month.

    5. These boxes tell you how much the modifications in payment effects your payment schedule.

    6. As you add credit cards and change your data, you’ll see changes on this graph.

    Ah, it’ll be easier if I take you through the process…

    First, I add my credit card info…

    Oh nos! A glitch!

    “Monthly payment should minium 2%” Uh, grammar police anyone? Minium? Do you mean alu-minium? Condo-minium?

    Also, what’s with my minimum payment having to be >2%?!? For some reason CitiBank’s minimum payment is less than that. Oh well, I guess I have to put 2% as my minimum payment…

    Finally, I got my card added. Apparently Debtfolio assigns a rating to credit cards, up to a maximum of 5 stars. This particular card only got three stars. You see on the right the graph is all filled in, letting me know that if I only pay the minimum amount on this card, it will take until July 2014 and cost $5,193. That sucks.

    This is the part that makes this service shine. You can see everything you need to know about your credit card debt. Nicely done.

    Let’s add the rest of our cards with balances…

    Holy crap, if we pay only the minimum, we will pay off the debt in…THE SAME AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES TO PAY OFF ONE?!?!? That’s weird. But it’ll cost us a buttload more, to the tune of a total of $13,835, or $1,612 in extra interest. It would be pretty useful if we could see how much extra on top of the total debt we would be paying. I know, I know, I can just subtract the total cost from the total current debt balance, but I’m lazy. And this is the interweb – I shouldn’t have to think!

    Let’s see what happens if I made a one time payment of $3,000 to our debt…

    According to the analyzer, we would save $726 and pay off our debt 10 months sooner, with a final payment date of September 2013. The graph now includes a green line beside the original blue line that tracks the new payment schedule. Nifty.

    I wonder what would happen if we decided to pay $700 each month (which non-coincidentally, we’re doing now)…

    WOW. Doing that saves us $1,142 and pays off our debt 77 months sooner, with the final payment date of February 2008. But wait, is that $700 in addition to the minimum payment, or is it just a total of $700 a month? There’s no clear indication, but it seems that it is the former and not the latter, so in essence this program does the debt snowballing for you. Some clarification would be nice.

    The last thing that I’d love to show you is how you take a 0.0% APR card from the top (#2), and put it in the “Work the Numbers Box” (#4), and see how the numbers and graph change. Unless you watch their informational video, that feature isn’t that obvious. Well, in order to get a nicer screenshot without the blurry text that says “Drag card here to save” (which is a bug), I closed my browser hoping to just log back in. When I logged on, lo and behold, NONE OF MY INFORMATION WAS SAVED. WTF?!? What was the point of registering?

    Okay, this was longer that I expected. To wrap up:

    Pros:
    - Easy interface
    - Great visualization tools
    - Good way to see the impact of extra payments

    Cons:
    - Minor technical glitches
    - Can’t save your information
    - Only does credit card debt

    The one thing that I disagree with this product is the promotion of credit card use. Yes, 0.0% APR balance transfers are a good tool to use to fight credit card debt, but this may be too great of temptation to some. Also, not all of the credit cards offered are ones that would necessarily help out. I understand that these guys need to get revenue somehow, and is apparent by their splash screen asking you to choose between the analyzer or the credit card picker, but in the end it almost seems like a conflict of interest.

    This product has great potential. I would love to see them activate the other options – especially the student loan analyzer. I wish them luck and will keep you updated when the beta version arrives.

    Bonus Whoring: A Critical Review

    by  • October 19, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with enticing bonuses/gifts/rewards for joining/opening/using a product or service. We’ve completed several of these offers with varying degrees of success. Here’s how the cookies crumbled.

    What we did:
    Opened an unnecessary checking account
    What we got:
    $125 cash, deposited into the account in $25 monthly increments
    Degree of hassle:
    High. Completing this offer required us to change our direct deposit at work, maintain two accounts at a bank with no local branches, tie up a hundred dollars a month, sign up for a complicated online banking access, and wait half a year for the rewards.
    Would we do it again?
    Maybe. But next time we’d make sure we have a use for the bank’s services and access to a real teller.

    What we did:
    Purchased a winter’s worth of canned vegetables (on sale and with coupons) in one grocery trip
    What we got:
    Two free movie passes
    Degree of hassle:
    Minor. The biggest challenge was hauling it all in from the car.
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely. The free movie certificates worked like cash and allowed us to have a guilt-free date night. And we made good use of the bargain vegetables too. Two movie tickets would have cost more than we paid for the vegetables!

    What we did:
    Transferred a big balance to a credit card that requires two monthly purchases (no minimum dollar amount required)
    What we got:
    Zero percent interest on the transferred balance and the new purchases until we completely pay it off (or forget to make two purchases a month)
    Degree of hassle:
    Huge. Keeping track of the purchases is tricky because you have to hit that sweet spot in between billing cycles to make sure they both get credited in time. The enormity of the consequences for missing a purchase is so great that it causes stress.
    Would we do it again?
    Probably not. In our case, it allowed us to save hundreds of dollars in interest, and we have a timeline of when it will be paid off. But even with careful management the stress level is just too high for my taste.

    What we did:
    Opened a low-interest, low-minimum-balance-required savings account
    What we got:
    $50 cash bonus
    Degree of hassle:
    Medium. Opening the account was easy, but shuffling money around at every payday was annoying. And after the initial bonus was awarded, the interest was too low to make it worthwhile and we had to close the account.
    Would we do it again?
    Yes. The bonus we earned initially offset the low interest rate. Because we closed it early and kept only the bare minimum in the account, we came out ahead.

    What we did:
    Spammed our friends with credit card offers and similar promotions through a referral website (one of those “get five friends to complete offers, and you get a prize! websites)
    What we got:
    An ipod
    Degree of hassle:
    Low. It didn’t take long to get five friends to complete offers, and we received the ipod shortly thereafter
    Would we do it again?
    Absolutely not. Even though it was easy, we felt kinda dirty afterward. It isn’t cool to ask your friends to sign up for crappy offers just so you can get a prize. Nobody seemed to mind, but we know it wasn’t the right thing to do.

    The bottom line: there are some things (like your time and some minor annoyance) that are reasonable trade-offs. But you should never sacrifice your relationships or morals for an easy buck.

    Book Review: 1000 Best Wedding Bargains (3 Stars)

    by  • June 30, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    I’ve been using 1000 Best Wedding Bargains as a constant reference for several months now, so I figured it was time to post a book review. I love this book. A good percentage of the ideas are things I never would have thought of on my own. For example, bargain #735 says to ask your liquor supplier if you can purchase their “dead stock.” These are vintages that have been removed from their menu, and the excess stock is sitting in their basement. They may let you purchase this stock at a deep discount.

    The book can be repetitive at times. Sometime the same bargain is re-stated four different ways throughout the book. They could have done a better editing job. Reading this book is kind of like listening to advice from your batty aunt – she’ll repeat the same sentence ten times, but then come up with something profound.

    The other dislike I have for this book is the way it was bound. The book is tall and fat, with a glued soft cover binding. Trying to hold it open is like trying to part the Dead Sea. There’s no way to do it without bending the binding, which is unfortunate since I like to take care with my books.

    Overall this is a great book that can really help a bride plan things inexpensively while creating an upscale look. One of my favorite upscale ideas, creating a wedding monogram, came right from this book. I recommend it for anyone planning a wedding no matter the budget, since this book will keep you from over-paying on everything. If it weren’t for the sloppy editing and poor binding design, it would earn four stars. As is, I give it three.

    Book Review: Shacking Up (4 Stars)

    by  • June 28, 2006 • Tagged: , ,  • Comments

    We shacked up a year ago, but not before I read Shacking Up: The Smart Girl’s Guide to Living in Sin Without Getting Burned, by Stacy and Wynne Whitman. I have to give it four stars for tackling complicated legal, financial and emotional issues and still being fun to read. It’s written for women, but it works just as well for men. I made Him read it, although he refused to do so in public. Shacking Up devotes an entire chapter to Money Matters, outlining the basic financial steps cohabitants should undertake before moving in together. Here’s a summary of what the book recommends, and what we did in real life.

    1. Discuss the meaning of Money. Talk about whether you are a spender or a saver and how you feel about money. What are your financial goals and fears? How are you alike and how are you different? What could be a potential source of conflict for you as a couple? We also talked about our values, and created a value-based financial plan for ourselves.

    2. Lay Your Dinero on the Table.
    Get a clear, complete picture of your own financial situation, then share and compare. It’s essential to be honest about debt here. Order credit reports together to make sure you haven’t missed anything. You don’t need to disclose any long-term assets that won’t affect your ability to pay the household bills, such as an inheritance from grandma. (You will need to share this information when you commit to marriage, however.) This was the hardest part for us. Her cried over huge amounts of debt, Him disclosed some ugly interest rates, and in the end we were better for it, I promise.

    3. Decide Who Pays What. There are two options: split everything 50/50 or allocate responsibility based on earning power. Whatever you choose, make sure you are comfortable with the agreement. Money is power, so be sure you feel like equals. We ignored their advice and picked a third option: Combine all our money except our “allowances” and distribute expenses and savings from the joint account.

    4. Create Budgets. They don’t recommend combining all your money, so instead of one budget you’ll have to make three: His, Hers and Theirs. This helps clarify what you’ve agreed on in step 3 and ensures you’ll never be overdrawn. We created an initial budget to determine how much we could afford to pay for housing etc, but do not maintain a regular monthly budget.

    5. Put Everything In Writing. This makes it official and protects you if things don’t work out. Plus, experts say that people who write down their goals more often achieve them. This works for money goals too. We created cohabitation agreements, which we (thankfully) have never had to use.

    Shacking Up is clear that they don’t recommend combining all your money, for a variety of reasons. They grudgingly suggest a joint account for joint living expenses only, with both parties retaining a personal account for all other expenses. They also warn against opening any joint credit cards.

    The only fault I can find with this book is that Shacking up recommends that just one person be the designated financial manager, a move we completely disagree with. We think it’s much better when both people are co-managers of the money and make all decisions and bill payments together. We do this regularly, in our State of The Union addresses. We also pay the bills together every weekend.

    The chapter ends with some good long-term financial planning tips for couples, such as plan for the future, set goals, be honest, build a cash reserve, pay off debt aggressively, save for the future (separately!), trim fat from the budget, and keep the dialogue open. Nothing new here, but solid information for everyone. If you’re considering shacking up, read Shacking Up first.

    Don’t Scrimp On Printer Ink

    by  • June 24, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    HP is running a new series of ads warning customers not to use off-brand inks in their HP printer. “Only original HP inks for your HP printer come in new cartridges with new print heads. That’s why they’re 35 percent more reliable than bargain ink cartridges,” claims the ad. And for once in my life, I have to agree with the ad. I recently tried an Office Depot cartridge in my printer and things could not have gone worse! First, the cartridge leaked ink all over the inside of my printer, messing up both the printer and my print jobs. After two weeks, the cartridge’s microchip ceased communicating with my printer. So even though there was a print cartridge in it, my printer kept repeating that the cartridge was missing. Awesome.

    I took the cartridge and my receipt back to Office Depot and requested an exchange or a refund. They treated me like a pariah. They kept repeating that they don’t accept returns after 14 days, and I kept repeating that it was obviously defective and they should stand by their warranty. They were mad that I didn’t bring in the box from the cartridge – seriously, who saves the box??? Finally, when I made it clear I wasn’t leaving without a refund, they grudgingly agreed to one. Then they made a huge speech about how they will only do this once for me – as if I have a collection of thousands of broken cartridges at home that I’m just waiting to unleash upon them. Sheesh! In the end, it was me who thanked them and wished them a good day, to which they did not respond. What ever happened to the customer is always right?

    I’ve had my printer for 3 years. In all that time, the only problem I ever had was with the off-brand cartridge. It’s not worth damaging my printer to save a few bucks on ink. I’ll never go bargain again.

    I Heart Lowes!

    by  • June 22, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    I am completely blown away by the fantastic customer service we received recently at Lowes. Get this: not one but SIX of their employees treated us like royalty, and all on a busy Saturday afternoon. Here’s how it went down.

    On a Saturday afternoon, we saw an ad for a great price on an air conditioner at Lowes. Not wanting to drive out there in vain, I called first to check if it was in stock. The phone rang and was answered on the first ring by a polite, articulate woman. She checked the inventory in her computer and replied that they had it so fast that at first I thought she hadn’t checked at all. I figured I had better confirm that she had really looked it up (I mean, seriously, it had taken her about a nanosecond) so I asked her what the price was. When she confirmed the correct price (again, in a nanosecond), I asked if they would hold one for us. She promptly transferred me to the air conditioner department, where my call was once again answered on the first ring. She man located the air conditioners and assured me there were plenty so there was no need to hold one. Fantastic! So we get in the car and go.

    When we got there, we found the giant air conditioner display right away, but the model we wanted was on the top shelf about 20 feet in the air. We looked for a salesman – lo and behold one was standing about ten feet away. He and another salesman assured us they would get it down right away and went off to get a forklift. It took them a few minutes, nothing unreasonable in my opinion, and heartily apologized for the delay. They got the unit down for us and even fetched us a hand truck to get it up to the register.

    At the register, things didn’t go as planned. I had wanted to use a rewards credit card, but the card had expired a few days earlier (I hadn’t noticed). Rather than getting irritated, the cashier re-tried the card in the card reader, tried typing it in by hand, and even offered to try typing in a later expiration date to see if that would work. I declined (at that point I wasn’t sure what the new expiration date was and I didn’t want her to get in trouble for fraud or anything) and paid with a debit card instead. The cashier offered to have someone help us out to the car, which we accepted. It was a really big and heavy unit, and with his recent knee surgery, Him isn’t in the best condition for heavy lifting. A man showed up right away and waited with me while Him got the car. Then he tried to help us fit it into the trunk. It was too tall. I suggested we fit it in the backseat on its side, but the man told us this would harm the unit. Finally he helped us take the air conditioner out of the cardboard box; then the air conditioner just barely fit into the car. To top it off he even got some twine and tied it into our car for us. He told us he isn’t actually supposed to do that (for liability, I suppose) and made us promise to drive home safely. We tipped the man with the cash we had on hand, but I wish we could have given him more.

    All told, we interacted with not one but SIX Lowe’s employees that day, and EVERY one of them went out of their way to be unusually kind, respectful and helpful. Six out of six can’t be some kind of divine accident. The management at Lowes must be doing a super job of training and motivating their employees. I couldn’t be more pleased with how we were treated!

    Book Review: The Number (1 Star out of 4)

    by  • April 16, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    This week I picked up a copy of The Number ($26.00, published by Free Press) by Lee Eisenberg after reading a recommendation from Financial Reflections. I read it cover to cover in an evening at home followed by a day in the waiting room at the hospital. In a nutshell, here’s my review:

    Read this book if you have to wait in a hospital waiting room and the only alternative is watching the TV, which is on mute. Or, if you are approaching 50 or 60 and have neither saved enough for retirement nor managed your retirement savings well, this book is for you.

    It scored highest for me in the entertainment/trivia department. The book is well written in a conversational tone with plenty of amusing digressions, including the history of Sun City retirement communities and other fun facts.

    Despite the title, this book does more talking around The Number (the dollar amount you predict you’ll need for a comfortable retirement) than about The Number. Like college, this book just shows you how little you know. Eisenberg offers several ways to quickly calculate your Number, but spends most of his book casting doubt on the accuracy of any Number calculation formula. In short, this book will help you orient your mind so you can tackle emotional questions such as, “What does comfortable mean to me?” and “How long can I expect to live, with life expectancies constantly rising?” After you have prioritized what your goals are for the rest of your life, then you can meet with a financial planner (although Eisenberg makes them all sound like scam artists and frauds) and together, devise a plan to meet your goals.

    Eisenberg writes confidently, but in the end you’re left staring at the sky, waiting for it to fall. Eisenberg posits that:

    You haven’t saved enough for retirement.
    If you think you have, you’re wrong.
    You don’t know enough about managing your retirement accounts.
    If you think you do, you’re wrong.
    You can’t trust your (or any) financial advisor, unless your nest egg is over $20 million. Even then, it’s a crapshoot.
    If you think you can, you’re wrong.

    And he offers very little applicable knowledge to help you get out of this situation. If you are writing a thesis on the history and future of retirement, this book is a great reference. But if it’s your own future you’re concerned with, you’ll need something more instructional.

    1-800 Contacts: Did Not Fail During the Last Mile

    by  • March 11, 2006 • Tagged: ,  • Comments

    Ramit over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich wrote two good posts about the Failure of the Last Mile, and examples of said failure. Here’s a story of the Success of the Last Mile.

    On Tuesday morning, I opened up a new box of contacts that I ordered from 1-800 Contacts. I popped one and, and I couldn’t see! I thought there may have been a defect in that particular one, so I tried another one…and I still couldn’t see out of that eye.

    Let me tell you that it is the weirdest feeling putting in a contact and actually seeing worse. It turns out that I mistakenly ordered contacts with the prescription of 6.5.

    Here’s a short lesson in contact prescriptions: contacts can have a prescription from -12.0 – +8.0: the more negative, the more nearsighted – conversely, the more positive, the more farsighted.

    My prescription is actually -6.5. Did I mention that I bought two years’ supply?

    Obviously, I screwed up pretty badly when I ordered these online. As soon as I caught the mistake, I called 1-800 Contacts. To my surprise, a person answered only after a few rings. She offered to either send a mailing label to send the boxed I had back to them and then they would send me the correct ones, or for them to send the new contacts right away with a mailing label to send back the old ones, of course charging me again for the new ones, but crediting me when the old ones are received. I chose to have them send the new contacts right away, and to my surprise the rep told me that she would send it via expedited shipping for FREE.

    Thank you 1-800 Contacts, for not ridiculing me for my mistake and actually making me feel good for doing business with you. You’ve earned a repeat customer.

    PFBlogs.org is the sexiest PFBlog aggregator around

    by  • February 21, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Oh yeah it is.

    Why?

    They aggregate, like, a GAZILLION personal finance blogs. Rock!

    They have a little web 2.0 in them. Look at the links on the right — the MORE BLUE, the more HOTT. That’s right, HOTT with two T’s.

    They don’t make money off of you. We should be the only ones making money off of you. Seriously.

    It looks way better than the other guys. In our eyes, LOOKS TRUMP ALL.

    They make me do NOTHING at work. Not even personal procrastination can do that!

    PFBLOGS.ORG — Better than milkshakes.