Monday, September 29, 2008

How I Use Google to Take the Bus & Train

Want to find an extra $8,000 a year for home improvement projects? Consider taking public transportation. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that the average driver can save $672 a month this way.

Fortunately, traveling by public transportation has become easier due to a new trip planning service from Google that provides information from transit authorities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The new service gives customized bus and train information and traveling routes.

Located at www.google.com/transit, the free online trip-planning service is an upgrade from the previous Trip Planner that was locally available online and by phone through Miami-Dade County. I've frequently used the older version of the trip planner from Miami-Dade County Transit and I've been pleased.

The new service provides a Google map of your travel plans. From abroad, Google also links to rail, bus and ferry services in Canada, Japan, Russia, Italy, Switzerland and other locations.
To use the service, supply a starting address, destination, travel dates and preferred times. The service will provide an itinerary with alternative routes, stops and estimated traveling. Details include station information and schedules.

And if you're already moving, Google has a mobile option that lets travelers tap into transit information from subways, buses and trains. It can be downloaded to Java-enabled cellphones and Blackberry phones.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Weekly Roundup & Frugal Blog Network

Here are a few links that caught my eye this week, including a few posts from the Frugal Blog Network.

From The Budget Fashionista: Go Green and Save Money: Personal Finance Advice

From Money Smart Life: Financial Crisis and Wall Street Bailout - What Do They Mean to You?

From Penny For My Thoughts: Trickle-down recession

From My Two Dollars: Friends Asking Friends For Donations - How Do You Handle It?

From Budgeting Babe: Time to Remember What Money Can't Buy

From Smart Spending blog (MSN): A few things we're doing right

Frugal Blog Network partners:

From Frugal Babe: An Almost No-Spending Saturday

From Not Made Of Money: Fall Garage Sales – Time to Cash in

From Tight-Fisted Mister: Making Money on the Side
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

7 Tips for Retirement Planning in a Down Economy: CNBC Expert

Our retirement and investment accounts were hammered this week. This piece has 7 quick tips for handling your retirement/investment accounts in a down economy:

"Every 7.5 seconds an American turns 62 – that’s over ten thousand people every day. By 2015 it’s estimated that baby boomer’s age 50 and older will represent 45% of the country’s population. And each one of them is counting down the seconds until they can say goodbye to that 9 to 5 job, kick back, and retire!

While planning for retirement can appear to be a stressful, daunting task, it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need to be up to your elbows in social security, pension, and savings.

In fact, according to Bill Losey, author, retirement guru and strategist, all it takes is 7 simple steps, which include:

1. Controlling your emotions
2. Increasing your annual savings and retirement contributions
3. Reallocating your 401k/403b to higher yielding investments
4. Retiring later
5. Lowering your investment costs
6. Hiring a retirement coach
7. Reducing your retirement income needs

Losey is author of Retire In A Weekend! The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Making Work Optional and cable network CNBC’s resident retirement planning expert."

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Friday, September 26, 2008

"JP Morgan Chase Owns Me!"

My friend and his wife have a new owner. J.P. Morgan Chase owns their home, three credit-card balances and now a checking account, which was once housed at Washington Mutual, the failed institution. My friend's other accounts -- a mortgage and the credit-card debt -- pre-dated the recent financial meltdown.

To diversify his financial holdings, my friend had spread his money around: JP Morgan for the home loan, Citibank (for a secondary checking/savings account) and Washington Mutual (for the main checking account). But with the recent failure of WaMu, most of my friend's financial holdings are now at JP Morgan.

"JP Morgan owns me," he said. "JP Morgan owns my butt."

Those are strong words from a usually mild-mannered techie. His utterance was mixed with laughter. But as they say: "The truth was in the joke."

Beyond bemused laughter, he felt a sense of relief. In fact, a few of us had spent a good part of the week wondering if my friend should pull his money out of WaMu. We discussed that issue early yesterday. Check out this post: What Happens to Your Money When the Bank Goes Under?

My friend and his wife are now relieved. They believe that JP Morgan is a solid bank. What's more, the banking behemoth probably falls into that category of too-big-to-fail. Meanwhile, my friend gives JP Morgan high marks for the speedy transition. This morning, he checked out the WaMu website and was greeted by the JP Morgan logo, a welcome letter and a very helpful set of frequently asked questions.

My friend nodded in approval. But then he shook his head and laughed and grimaced:
"JP Morgan owns me," he repeated.


Articles of interest:

WaMu bank customers flock to branches to find business as usual

CEO of failed WaMu could get millions

WaMu Is Seized, Sold Off to JP Morgan,
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Happens to Your Money When the Bank Goes Under?

A friend of mine and his wife were worried this afternoon. They had money in Washington Mutual and my friend -- before the latest news on WaMu -- was worried that the thrift would be seized and his money would be frozen for a while. Meanwhile, hours after we discussed his banking situation, regulators seized Washington Mutual, making it the biggest thrift to fail. JP Morgan will be purchasing the bank. But what about my friend's money? Here's an answer from the FDIC:


"For all depositors and other customers of Washington Mutual Bank, this is simply a combination of two banks," FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair said. "For bank customers, it will be a seamless transition. There will be no interruption in services and bank customers should expect business as usual come Friday morning."

--as quoted in the LA Times



Liz Pulliam Weston at MSN Money provides an overview of what happens when your bank fails. Here's the piece:

Bank crisis: 10 things to know now

Here are a few stories:

JPMorgan Chase buys Washington Mutual

10 ways to protect your money now


What if your bank is seized?
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Frugal Book Party in Miami & 5 Errors to Avoid in a Tough Economy

CNBC features an insightful list from Bankrate.com about 5 traps to avoid in a bearish economy. No. 1 on the list: Using credit to make ends.



"Rather than continue a lifestyle financed by credit cards -- and compounding debt in the process -- consumers should "circle the wagons" by figuring out where they spend their money, Cunningham says.

Just as calorie-counters keep logs of every meal and snack, consumers should keep a meticulous watch on incidental purchases such as meals in restaurants, nights out at the movies, and, of course, gourmet cups of coffee. Think of it as an expense report to yourself. "
-- Source: Bankrate.com on CNBC.com


Here's the link to the full article about common financial mistakes.


The list of common errors includes:
  • #2 devouring long-term savings,
  • #3 skipping financial aid for college,
  • #4 ignoring your investment portfolios or becoming emotional paralyzed by the downturn and
  • #5 cashing out the equity in your home.

    I'll also have more financial and frugal tips tomorrow night at a book signing party. If you're in South Florida, please stop by the event!



    Time: Wednesday, September 24, 2008
    When: 7:30 p.m.
    Location: Books & Books, Bal Harbour Shops
    9700 Collins Avenue
    Bal Harbour, Fl
    305.864.4241

    "Award-winning journalist Sharon Harvey Rosenberg shares how she lives a life of high style without the stress of high costs or deprivation. In The Frugal Duchess of South Beach (DPL Press, $14.95), she chronicles her often hilarious journey of luxury living for less in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., while equipping readers with the tools they can use in their own cities." --Source: Books & Books

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Monday, September 22, 2008

My Favorite Picks from the Carnival of Personal Finance

How do you frugally budget for a few luxuries, and what types of insurance do you need? Those topics are covered in the 171 Edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. Hosted by Sound Money Matters, the carnival is an excellent mix of financial, career and frugal news.

Thanks to the host for compiling a great carnival and for including my piece -- Bankruptcy and Gift Cards– Seeking Protection for Consumers -- in the lineup. Here are a few of the items that caught my eye:

From My Money Blog: Saving Money on Entertainment,
  • great date-night tips for married couples
  • frugal family fun
  • how to save on movies

From I’ve Paid Twice for This Already: I Want My Fun To Be Fun - So I Budget

  • make financial room for extra perks
  • how to plan for extra treats

From The Digerati Life reviews: in Get The Right Coverage! Insurance Policies You Need and Those To Avoid.

  • insurance 101
  • coverage for renters and homeowners

From Gather Little by Little: How to Sell a Used Car.

  • prepping your car for sale
  • researching price
  • how to market your used car

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Losses, Goodbyes & Shortages: A Weekly Roundup about Turbulence

Loss is the subject of this week's roundup. From death to layoffs to finanical losses, there was a lot of grief this week. Here are a few posts that addressed the topics of loss, regrets and shortages:

From Pinching Pennies: Laid Off

From Financial Fitness: Good Bye and God Bless, Aunt May

From Wise Bread: Could the last person to leave America please turn out the light.

From Consumerist: Thrift Stores Running Out Of Pants [Thrift Stores]

From Get Rich Slick: I Pulled All My Money Out of WAMU
From Consumerism Commentary: Who Do You Blame When You Lost $6 Million Overnight?


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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Presidential Debate Schedule

Note to self: Forget about lipstick and focus on issues, especially money and healthcare. From Wall Street to Main Street the upcoming election is important. Here's the debate schedule:


First Presidential debate
Friday, September 26 - The University of Mississippi, Oxford, MS
Focus – Foreign Policy
Moderator: Jim Lehrer - Executive Editor and Anchor, The NewsHour, PBS


Vice Presidential debate
Thursday, October 2 - Washington University in St. Louis.
Moderator:Gwen Ifill - Senior Correspondent, The NewsHour, and Moderator and Managing Editor, Washington Week, PBS


Second Presidential debate
Tuesday, October 7 - Belmont University, Nashville, TN
Town Meeting format
Moderator: Tom Brokaw - Special Correspondent, NBC News

Third Presidential debate
Wednesday, October 15 - Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
Focus – Domestic Policy
Moderator: Bob Schieffer - CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent, and Host, Face the Nation

Each debate will begin at 9:00 p.m. EDT.
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10 Ways to Skip New Airline Ticket Fees

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., each of my kids (ages 10, 13 and 16) carried a small suitcase onto the plane. We saved about $15 per person by not checking our bags. I've also saved money during flights by packing DIY snacks, thereby skipping charges for airline food.

Those are two of the money-saving tips for travelers in this MSNBC piece: Top 10 ways to avoid new airline fees. The tips include this one:

"Join the club. Several airlines — including United, American, and Continental — will waive baggage fees if you are an elite member of their frequent flyer program. Remember to sign up for your carrier’s frequent flyer program before booking your flight to start accruing points, and if you are already a member of a program, keep in mind that loyalty to them might very well pay off in the long run. "

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Annual Paychecks of $70K: 15 Ideas

Careerbuilder.com has a thoughtful list of 15 jobs that pay about $70,000 a year. These positions pay well and also should be in stable-to-high demand through 2016. It's worth taking a list at the trends:

What many workers don't know is that there are numerous jobs that pay well above the average full-time worker's salary of $33,634* -- that don't require a Ph.D. or at least 10 years experience. That's not to say that the following positions are easy to come by -- like any position, no matter what the salary, you do have some qualifications to score the job.


The list includes positions in post-secondary education, engineering and healthcare, including: Radiation therapist and Physician assistant. Here's the full article about high-paying jobs.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

How Safe is Your Money? Answers from Kiplinger's

Are you wondering about the safety of your checking or saving account? This item from Kiplinger's is timely.

"So far this year, 11 banks have gone belly-up. By year-end, a few dozen more could likely follow. The question on consumers’ minds these days is: Is my money really safe? In the October issue, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance offers frank answers to questions about bank accounts, including:

· Should I worry about the safety of my bank accounts? In most instances, your money is insured by the FDIC, which is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, up to a limit of $100,000 at each bank. Add up all the accounts in your name at a bank, including checking, savings and money-market accounts as well as certificates of deposit. If your funds total more than $100,000, move the excess to another bank.

· My retirement-savings accounts are with my bank. What is the maximum coverage for them? Certain types of retirement accounts are covered by FDIC insurance, including IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs and Keogh plans. All deposits in these types of accounts are added together and insured up to $250,000 per person.

· I have a bank money-market account. Are those funds insured? Yes, but your money-market deposit account is lumped with all other accounts bearing your name, and together they are insured up to $100,000. Money that you keep in a money-market mutual fund is not insured.

· If the FDIC takes over my bank, as it recently did with IndyMac Bank, how long will it take for me to have access to my money? IndyMac's depositors had continuous access to their funds through ATM and debit cards. After federal regulators seized the bank on a Friday, some customers did not have online or phone access for a weekend, but everyone had full access to all their insured money by Monday morning.

· How can I check to see if all my money is insured? Both the FDIC's Web site and the National Credit Union Administration's site have a calculator that allows you to plug in all your accounts and the amounts deposited so you can find out whether any of your money is uninsured. Go to http://www.fdic.gov/ and click on the Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator (EDIE), or go to http://www.ncua.gov/ and use its Share Insurance Estimator Report.

The article in its entirety is available
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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Odd & Frugal Household Uses for Mouthwash

My computer screen has a minty scent. With a white tissue dampened with Spring Mint private label mouthwash from Walgreens, I've removed smudges and dust from the screen of my laptop.
As a screen cleaner, mouthwash is a bargain. Based on a price of just $2 for 42 ounces - slightly less than 5 cents an ounce - it cost me less than a penny to clean my computer screen. This trick works best on glass screens and is not recommended for computer monitors that use LCDs.
But there are other unusual uses for mouthwash:

-Bathroom cleaning product: The plaque-busting ingredients in mouthwash also effectively clean toilet bowls and kill bathroom germs. The September issue of First magazine offers this recipe: Pour two ounces of mouthwash into the toilet bowl and let the liquid sit for 30 minutes. Follow up with a quick swish with a toilet brush and then flush.

-Low-cost skin treatment: The alcohol and bacteria-fighting ingredients contained in most sugar-free mouthwashes are great for freshening up your skin, according to Readers Digest. I've tried this tip and discovered that mouthwash is great at removing grime and residue from the face. Rinse with cold water.

-Odor-eater: Working with garlic and onions can leave your hands with a strong odor long after the food has been cooked. To zap the scent, soak a cotton ball with mouthwash and apply it to your hands. This aroma therapy worked for me; however, this tip worked best when I let the mouthwash dry before rinsing. Likewise, mouthwash or just plain alcohol can also banish underarm odor during a midday emergency.

-Laundry aid: A cup of alcohol-based mouthwash is great for killing germs in the laundry, especially if you're washing very soiled items. Add to the regular cycle.

-Anti-fungus treatment: A mixture of mouthwash and water (25 percent mouthwash and 75 percent water) can be sprayed onto plant leaves suffering from mildew and fungus. Use once a week. Meanwhile, mild cases of athlete's foot and toe fungus can be treated with mouthwash. Soak a cotton ball with (sugar free) mouthwash and apply it to the foot several times a day. The athlete's foot may disappear in days, but toe fungus may take months to banish.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

6 Tips to Detour Around Car Loan Problems

This item from Citibank offered good tips about reducing car loan headaches.

"After mortgages, auto financing is the most expensive loan most Americans carry. And in this uncertain economy, more consumers are finding they are unable to repay their auto loans due to unforeseen financial circumstances. In fact, auto repossession is at a 10 year high, according to economists. Furthermore, due to the housing crisis, auto loan lenders are tightening consumer credit standards.

Personal finance expert and director of Citi’s Office of Financial Education, DARA DUGUAY, offers the following advice to help consumers understand the commitment they are making when financing a car and to minimize any unexpected issues that may arise:

1. Calculate the Total Cost of Car Ownership. Make sure the loan you obtain is well within your means to pay. This means figuring out the cost of auto ownership – which is more than just the price of the car. Be sure to budget for related costs such as insurance, gas, registration fees and maintenance.

2. A Car Loan is a Contract. The inability to make timely payments can damage your credit rating or trigger even more dire consequences, such as repossession.

3. Downsize, Not Supersize. Though that SUV may have caught your eye, additional costs for gasoline, insurance, parking, even car washes incurred for a larger vehicle may steer you toward a more fuel-efficient car.

4. Keep In Touch. As soon as you face any financial difficulties, let your creditor know, so that you can explain your situation and work out a repayment schedule.

5. Repossession Does Not Relieve You Of Your Obligation to Pay for the Car.
A creditor or assignee may take the vehicle in full satisfaction of the credit agreement or may sell the vehicle and apply the proceeds from the sale to the outstanding balance on the credit agreement. If the vehicle is sold for less than what is owed, you may be responsible for the difference.

6. Getting through the bump in the road. If necessary, seek the services of a non-profit credit counseling agency that may be able to mediate between you and your lender.
For more tips on smart car shopping and auto financing, visit Avoiding Car Repossession, the latest video in the Wallet Wisdom video series by Citi’s Office of Financial Education at http://www.citigroup.com/citi/financialeducation/videos.htm"

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Monday, September 15, 2008

News Roundup: The Wall Street Meltdown Edition

With the stock market down more than 500 points and major investment firms teetering toward takeover or disaster, I'm giving over this space to a few of the news stories about the financial turmoil:

From the New York Times: Stunning Fall for Main Street’s Brokerage Firm

quote:

"The sale, if completed, would open a new chapter for Merrill, which was founded in 1914 and promoted the idea that anyone, not just the rich, should invest in markets."


From CNNMoney.com: Credit crunch hits small businesses

quote:

"I was the type of business that in times like this people have to cut out," she explains. "More and more people had to let go of the convenience we offered to save money and instead make their own dinners, pack their own kid's lunches, do their own grocery shopping and eat less organically."

From Newsweek: How Worried Should You Be?

quote:
"With much of Wall Street and Washington in panic mode, investors and consumers might feel like they should be on the move, too. But what to do: Buy? Sell? Stuff the mattress? Head for the hills?Maybe just digest. There's a lot to swallow, coming off a weekend that saw the nation's housing-mortgage-credit crunch roll over some of the
nation's biggest financial firms."




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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kiplinger's: 37 Things to Do With $1,000

"Invest in stocks, yourself, your home, or your community." Those are a few of the 37 things to do with an extra $1,000, according to the October issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Here are a few ideas with a link to the full article:

"Get In on a Great Fund. Few outstanding funds let you in for under $1,000—but at $250, Hodges Fund (HDPMX) is a steal. The annualized return for the past five years is 16%; for the past ten years, 8%. Compare that with Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which returned 8% and 3%. For $1,000, enter the Harbor Bond Fund (HABDX), which delivers a half percentage point to a full percentage point more than the typical bond fund or bond index.

Prep for Success. Hire a career coach to help you focus your professional goals—which could take you and your salary to the next level. But not every coach has extensive experience, so look for a professional with former clients who can attest to the coach’s effectiveness.

Stock a Stellar Cellar. Buy 60 bottles of the world’s finest wines—from chardonnays to cabernet sauvignons. At $22 a bottle, Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2005 is silky and beautifully balanced. From high-altitude vineyards in Argentina, Catena Chardonnay 2006 is priced at $18 a bottle, well below the cost of comparable California wines.

Pull the Plug. Cut your electric bill with a solar attic fan, which exhausts hot air that raises your cooling costs. Install solar-powered outdoor lamps to light your path, without lightening your wallet.

Have a Heart. Bring relief to the poor in developing countries with a Mercy Kit through Mercy Corps, an Oregon-based charity. Purchase a Children’s Food Kit or Playground Kit to help communities in need. "

Here's the full article—containing all 37 ideas.

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Bankruptcy and Gift Cards-- Seeking Protection for Consumers

As a present, I was given a gift card to a store, which later filed for bankruptcy. My gift card is worth nada. Likewise, shoppers with Sharper Image gift cards have lost a combined total of $20 million after that store closed its doors.

With the growing popularity of gift cards, the Consumers Union is lobbying for regulations that will protect shoppers with gift cards when a store goes under.

Here's the release:

"Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, filed a petition today with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking the agency to protect consumers from losing money on gift cards when retailers file for bankruptcy. The issue has come to light following recent retailer bankruptcies and millions in lost gift card dollars for consumers.

“Gift cards shouldn’t be the gift that stops giving when retailers go bankrupt,” said Michelle Jun, senior attorney for Consumers Union. “Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that consumers will be able to redeem the full value of their gift cards from struggling or bankrupt retailers.”

Consumers Union was joined by the Consumers Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, and U.S. PIRG in filing the petition with the FTC.

In its petition to the FTC, the consumer groups urged the agency to require retailers to segregate funds generated from gift card sales in a trust account and to honor a consumer’s gift card as long as the doors remain open unless a bankruptcy court orders otherwise. Consumers Union called on the FTC to declare the sale of gift cards without segregating funds and holding the funds in trust to be an unfair and deceptive practice.

“Gift cards have exploded in popularity in recent years, but consumer protections haven’t kept pace with the record sales,” said Jun. “With more retailer bankruptcies on the horizon, the FTC should make sure that consumers with gift cards are protected when companies go bust.”

Bankruptcy courts treat unused gift card funds as a debt and determine whether or not the retailer must pay it. It’s up to the retailer to petition the court to allow it to continue to accept its gift cards. Consumers may lose the value of their gift card if the retailer doesn’t make such a request or if the court denies it. In these cases, the only remaining option for consumers is the cumbersome task of filing a claim as an unsecured creditor to the bankruptcy proceeding.

Earlier this year, consumers with Sharper Image gift cards were informed that they could no longer use them when the retailer filed for bankruptcy. At that time, an estimated $20 million remained unused on Sharper Image gift cards, and even more on related promotional cards. Sharper Image later petitioned the court to allow it to accept their own gift cards if consumers spent twice the value of the gift card on a single transaction.

Now that the retailer has shut its doors, consumers who want to redeem their gift cards must file as unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy proceeding. Attorneys representing gift card holders recently petitioned the court in the Sharper Image case to certify such consumers as a class to give them stronger bargaining position in the bankruptcy case. In either case, the process for getting any gift card funds back in bankruptcy court will be a lengthy one.

Although retailers may intend to accept gift cards to maintain customer loyalty and goodwill when under bankruptcy protection, they may not have the funds to cover the value of unredeemed gift cards.

After Linens N’ Things filed for bankruptcy, for example, it won court approval to continue to operate its gift card program. However, filings in the bankruptcy case made clear that the company did not maintain a cash reserve amount to fund outstanding gift cards.


While the FTC develops new rules, the consumer groups urged the agency to:

*Intervene in bankruptcy proceedings to petition the court to order the bankrupt company to accept its own gift cards at full value as long as the retailers’ doors remain open;

*Develop and maintain a new FTC registry on bankrupt retailers’ gift card practices;

*Require retailers to report to the new FTC registry within one day of filing for bankruptcy;

*Require bankrupt companies to stop selling gift cards no later than the date of the bankruptcy filing;

*Require retailers to inform third-party vendors to stop selling any bankrupt retailers’ gift cards; and

*Require third party vendors to immediately cease sale of bankrupt retailers’ gift cards."

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Blue Shoe Day -- Thrift Wins Over Fashion: Lessons from a Color Clash!

Today I was stranded at the gym with blue leather shoes. They're definitely hot shoes, but not with the outfit I was wearing. Buying new a shirt or a matching accessory was an option, but I decided to be frugal rather than fashionable.

The scenario: The non-profit company that I work for has a free gym for employees. For the last several weeks, I've run a daily brisk mile on the treadmill and lifted a few weights. Today, I tried a new routine. Rather than work out in the middle or end of the workday, I hit the free gym before work.

Great idea. I had my gym shoes. I had the rubber shower shoes ($2.49 from CVS), but the Joan and David black leather pumps ($7 dollars on sale at Marshalls versus the full price of $90) were not in my gym bag.

No problem. I typically have an extra pair or two stashed in my office. But today, only the blue shoes were left. They're a pair of Nine West Shoes ($6 on sale ) made from soft blue leather and three-inch stacked heels.

These shoes look hot with the $15 powder blue, light wool suit I found at a yard sale or the blue and brown skirt that was a hand-me-down from a friend. But today, I looked like a fashion don't, as in: don't mix those colors!

The administrative assistant in the office very was kind. She looked at my outfit and studied the situation.

"Do you have an appointment today? Do you have a meeting? Do you have to see anyone today?"

No. No. No, I said. My only appointment was with the keyboard and phone.

"Well. You're fine," she said, adding: "The shoes look...OK."

I wasn't convinced. The clash annoyed me and I knew that I could easily pick up a matching or complementing shirt for under $10 at the shopping center located dangerously across from my office. After a quick stop at the clearance sections at Gap and Ann Taylor Loft, I returned back to the office without making a purchase.

I learned a lot from my day of clashing colors:

1) Pack carefully. Whether you're going to a foreign country or just to the gym, it pays to double check your bags. Shopping for missing items can cost time or money.

2) Don't settle for near matches. To her credit, the salesclerk at Ann Taylor Loft nixed the blue shirts that I had selected as possible replacements. "Your blue shoes are much lighter than that," she said. I discovered that almost-but-not-quite matches can look worse than an outright clash.

3) Ignore your shoes. No one cared about my clashing shoes but me.

4) Turn a mistake into a fashion statement. So what if my black skirt and and yellow sweater set clashed with the baby blue shoes? I converted my error into a bold trend of extreme accent colors.

5) Whatever! By midday, I stopped caring about my shoes, my sweater and skirt. Hurricanes are threatening parts of the U.S. A historical presidential election is underway and my shoes don't match. Big Deal. Make life really happen!

6) Convert mistakes. My fashion mistake sparked a very productive day. I spent a lot of time in my office writing.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

No-Cost & Low-Cost Books: Online and Abandoned Books

A friend recently gave me a stack of books in excellent condition. The gift — a novel and two memoirs — came with a request. I was told to read the books and give them away. The books, our friend said, could also be "released" at a coffee shop, a public bench or some other location.

The books were gifts through the Bookcrossing.com program, an international program designed to promote the free circulation of books. It is just one of several free or low-cost reading programs. From online vendors to standard bookstores, there are many affordable ways to build a library or to sample best-sellers. Here are a few:

Dailylit.com: From a vast library of free classics, DailyLit.com will send you e-mails with bite-sized sections of "Moby Dick," "Pride & Prejudice" and other books. Launched by a former editor of Random House and a former guru at del.icio.us, the "social bookmarking site," DailyLit.com delivers books via plain text e-mails in serialized installments. The service also includes a fee-based subscription option for new titles and best-sellers. But books in the public domain are free and include many titles on school reading lists. The service lets you select the frequency of the e-mails. You can even opt to read far more than the daily portion. The database of free books includes more than 700 titles.

Dearreader.com: This free service provides short samples from books via e-mail. This site offers other valuable perks, according to the latest issue of ShopSmart, a Consumer Reports guide. Additional benefits include an online book forum, interactive meet-the-author sessions and information about book tours and other literary events.

• Bookcrossing.com: More than 700,000 readers from more than 130 countries participate in this free book service and club. Readers are encouraged to register give-away books on the site and then follow the literary trail as each text is given to friends or left in public spaces. Each registered title has a bookplate in the inside cover with a tracking number and details about the Bookcrossing.com program. The site also has a feature that allows readers to hunt for free books. After finding a Bookcrossing.com book, readers are encouraged to go online and participate in an online journal that follows and records a book's traveling history. Registered readers can also participate in a variety of online literary programs.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Can We Split This Expense? Timeshare Ideas for Everyday Life

Thirteen women recently split the cost of a $15,000 diamond necklace and gained a new view of life, money and values. That story prompted me to create my own list of items that can be shared by neighbors, friends or a community:

1) Lawnmowers: Why does every household need a separate set of garden supplies, such as a lawn mower, rake and hoe? Those items are used only periodically. Why not share a set with a group and create a timeshare schedule?

2) Babysitters: A friend of mine, recently shared the cost of a nanny with another family. Here's the deal: One sitter looked after babies from two different families. Each family shared the salary and provided a little extra bonus for the nanny.

3) Bikes and sports equipment: Why not buy the best equipment and share items such as bikes, hockey sticks and tennis rackets? Create a sports-lending library, with safeguards and a sign out.

4) Toys: I know a group of mothers -- upper-middle class -- who once created a toy rotation system for their young children. The toy timeshare prevented boredom and the kids always had a fresh supply of toys, with minimal costs for the parents.

5) Boats: A former co-worker of mine participates in a timeshare for a recreational boat. Each month, a different family has a weekend or week for enjoying the boat. Operating costs are evenly shared.

6) Expensive school supplies: One year, the school supply list for my kids included an expensive scientific calculator and a costly compass. Those items were not regularly used and in hindsight, I wondered if the class parents could have just purchased a few of those items and then shared the gadgets. The kids would have received another lesson in sharing and cooperation.

This article by MARTHA IRVINE about communal living and shared expenses is excellent:

Communal simple living provides economic shelter

"Keri Rainsberger isn't rich. She works in the nonprofit world for a
relatively low-profit salary. Yet, as many Americans are scrimping for every
penny, she hardly feels the pinch...."



What items or services do you think we could all share?
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Save Money on Prescription Drugs & Other Links I Liked: Weekly Roundup

Lots of great reading material out there. Here are a few of the posts that caught my attention:

From Five Cent Nickel: How to Save Money on Prescription Drugs

From Consumerism Commentary: How to Deal With Unpredictable Income

From Dog Ate My Finances: When Are You Going to Get Pregnant and Quit?

From The Budget Fashionista: Fall Shoe Sale at Nordstrom: Daily Deal

From Fiscal Zen: Save Hundreds on Your Next Pair of Glasses

From Single Ma's Fabulous Financials: No More Shopping

From Chief Family Officer: Money Saving Tip: Get your hair cut at a beauty school
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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Save Money on Cars & 4 Other Lessons from the Wealthy

Spend a lower percentage of your income on cars. That's one of five lessons that wealthy people can teach us, according to Liz Pulliam Weston in a msn.com story called: 5 lessons the rich can teach you.

The lessons include:

1. Give away money:

"Households with $500,000 or more in investible assets gave away 6% of their incomes in 2004, and those with net worth of $5 million, excluding primary residences, contributed 6.1% of their incomes. That compares to an average of about 2% for all American households and 4% for households with incomes under $25,000, according to American Demographics...."


2. Own a business:
Overall, about 12% of American families own all or part of a privately held business, according to the Federal Reserve, compared to 41% of those whose net worth puts them in the top 10% of households.

3. Borrow wisely:

The wealthy are only slightly less likely to owe money than average folks, according to the Fed, but how they borrow is quite different.

Hint: (The rich have fewer installment loans --auto loans and credit-card loans, but take out more mortgages. The wealthy seem to borrow money to purchase appreciating assets, rather than take out loans on items that lose value, such as cars, clothing, etc.


4. Hold the limit on auto spending:
...vehicles represented just 2.4% of the wealthiest households' median net worth, compared with 8.8% of net worth overall.

5. Be a homeowner and invest in other types of real estate:
About 40% of the highest-net-worth group own some kind of real estate such as rental property or a second home, compared to 11% overall.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Consumer Reports: Best & Worst Credit Cards: How to Avoid Credit Pits

This item from Consumer Reports caught my eye.

Here's the report:

"Consumer Reports analyzed hundreds of credit cards and named a dozen that are worthy of consumers’ consideration—and three to stay away from.

Among the best credit cards for low-rate/low-fee are:

Capital One Platinum Prestige,
Clear from American Express,
Iberiabank Visa Classic.

The best cash-back cards:
Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards,
Chase Freedom Visa
Discover More.

Among the best gas cards:
Chase PerfectCard MasterCard
Discover Open Road
Hess Platinum Visa.

Three cards to avoid:
First Premier Bank
HSBC American DreamCard
New Millennium Visa or MasterCard.

Although some consumers have avoided any direct effect from the storm clouds in the economy, the credit-card industry is changing in ways that could affect cardholders. Consumer Reports’ experts advise consumers to do a credit card checkup to make sure their accounts haven’t changed for the worse.

“Whether you have good credit or bad, you should check your account terms with your credit cards,” said Greg Daugherty, executive editor, Consumer Reports. "Several card issuers have doubled or tripled interest rates for some customers in recent months, even though many were current on their bills and have good credit.”

The full report is available in the redesigned October issue of Consumer Reports, on sale September 2 on newsstands and online at http://www.consumerreports.org/.

Getting the most from a card

Good credit or bad credit, consumers must keep tabs on their accounts. CR offers the following tips on how to get the most out of a credit card:

Use credit wisely. If a consumer has a lot of high-interest debt, they should find a card that has a zero-percent-interest transfer offer and no transfer fee.
Open the mail. Card issuer letters could look like advertising, but they also could be a notice of an increase in rates or a reduction in credit limit. Issuers often provide an opt-out clause, allowing customers to stop using the card and pay off the existing balance under old terms.
Contact the lender. Cardholders who are dissatisfied with account changes or errors should call the card issuer and ask to speak to a manager or customer-retention person.
• Steer clear of traps. Federal banking regulators are pushing for rule changes that could take effect as early as next year. Some current practices that could be eliminated are raising rates on existing balances and applying payments to the lowest-rate charges (such as balance transfers.)
• Pick the right card. Consumers should select the right card for the type of borrower they are. CR also found that smaller issuers including credit unions and community banks are worth checking out for various interest-free offers.

CR reports that consumers’ credit card balances are up from $825 billion at the end of 2005 to $962 billion in May. At-risk borrowers are facing tightened credit lines and higher interest rates. Periods for teaser rates are becoming shorter, and balance-transfer fees are becoming standard while fixed rates on cards are as high as ever.

All news is not bad news however, as variable interest rates have come down, which can help consumers who carry a balance. Those with excellent credit scores can earn lower rates, higher credit limits and good rewards according to the report. "

Source: www.ConsumerReports.org
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Life in Paradise; Life in a Hurricane Zone

Hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30. And in a season that includes -- so far --10 named tropical storms or hurricanes, I periodically wonder: Why did I voluntarily evacuate to a hurricane zone in 1993? I love my life in Miami. I love the ocean view from my apartment, but I was naive when I crunched the relocation numbers. I did not factor in hidden storm costs.

The move -- from Manhattan to Miami -- was prompted by the need to find affordable housing in an urban setting with a warm climate. The cost of a rental apartment, childcare and other basics in Manhattan exceeded my salary. In contrast, Miami Beach --prior to the recent spike in residential real estate -- seemed like an affordable option in a beachfront paradise.

The Lures:

*Cheap rent or low-cost housing
*Affordable childcare
*Competitive salaries

What's more, we save a fortune on clothing because our local climate is mostly sunny and warm. My kids only need a one-season wardrobe, with a few jackets and sweaters for cold snaps in the winter.

But there are hidden costs that I failed to include in the initial calculations. For example, regional and seasonal emergencies can be dangerous and expensive. Weather-related disasters have had the following impact on my family:


  • Destroyed engine: We lost one car on a flooded street. The engine was soaked and the insurance company declared the car a total loss. Although the insurance policy covered the auto loss, we did not receive dollar-for-dollar replacement value for the vehicle. There were also assorted out-of-pocket expenses related to the destroyed vehicle.
  • Damp wardrobe: Water damage and mold in our closets have trashed suits, shoes, hats and other garments.
  • Damaged furniture: During one storm, our apartment was flooded, which lead to the damage of some household items.
  • Emergency supplies: Every year, we spend between $100 to $300 on hurricane supplies, which include batteries, ice, camping supplies, bottled water and plywood.
  • Intangible costs: We have lived for short periods without water and electricity. But our total losses, thank goodness, have been small. More importantly, we have been safe. My family has been fortunate. But storm threats --with related fears about safety and security -- have exacted emotional costs.

This post, however, is not meant to be a whine. I live a life of gratitude in Miami. And there are random acts of nature in other parts of the country, including floods, wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes. And I've learned to be grateful for personal safety (and for the safety of others!) and to consider regional weather patterns and terrain when making relocation decisions.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to Complain: Getting the Most from Customer Service Reps

The journey from the checkout lane to the family garage can be bundled with regrets, especially if purchases fail to live up to advertised promises or expectations. That's what happened to a friend of mine, Deborah Gilbert, a photographer. She purchased an outdoor canopy that was difficult to assemble and was missing a few parts. It was a do-it-yourself nightmare, she said.
But by filing a complaint directly with the manufacturer, Gilbert received new parts, company assistance and an apology. Here's how she did it:

  • Go to the manufacturer. Although retail stores and distributors are often willing or able to help with defective merchandise, I've had superb responses from manufacturers. Locate contact information on the package or visit the company's Web site. From small food items to large machinery, most reputable companies provide a toll-free customer service number.
  • Stay calm. "I was polite. They were polite," Gilbert said about the canopy company. In plain but polite language, she told them that the canopy was difficult to assemble because key parts seemed to be either missing or incompatible.
  • Use humor. She tried to provide a funny, but accurate description of her attempts to wrestle with the horizontal and vertical parts of the canopy. "I had to fight with it," Gilbert told the customer rep, adding that she would have to start a weight-lifting program in order to successfully assemble the canopy.
  • Mention competitors. Gilbert was lighthearted, but she didn't want the manufacturer to make light of her complaints. Therefore, she mentioned her interest in a competing canopy. What's more, Gilbert made it clear that she would buy products from the other brand if her complaints weren't seriously handled. Gilbert successfully used this tactic because she had done her homework and offered specific details about a different brand.

From cellphone contracts to office supplies, many companies will make adjustments in service, price or delivery if you have information about competing products. As a result of her complaints, the manufacturer tested the assembly products in their back office. They called her back and admitted that the assembly kits had been mistakenly sold with ill-fitting and missing parts. "They offered to send a replacement," Gilbert said, adding that she was pleased with their response.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Weekly Roundup: Links I Liked

Happy Labor Day! Here are a few items that caught my eye this week:

From CashMoneyLife: The History of Labor Day

From My Two Dollars: People Here Don’t Give A Crap What Kind Of Car We Drive.

From Free Money Finance: Two Steps to Being a Millionaire and Retiring in Your 40's

From The Budget Fashionista: Back to School Sales, Pinching Pennies, and Gearing up for Fashion Week: Daily Poll Wrap-Up

From Single Ma's Fabulous Financials: The Financial Trail of My Hawaiian Vacation ______________

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