July 31, 2009

Best of blog posts for week of July 31st

fivecentnickel points out that Buying Foreclosures Can Be Risky

Jim at Bargaineering explains What Are Refundable Tax Credits vs. Non-Refundable Tax Credits?

A couple guest posters talk about 401k fees. Get Rich Slowly hosts How Much Is Your 401(k) Costing You? and Free Money Finance has Seven Termites That Eat Your 401(k)

Net worth update July 2009 : +$25,468

I track my net worth monthly on NetworthIQ.

For July 2009 my Net Worth is $616,290 which is up $25,468 from the previous month.

Thats a pretty good jump for one month. The net worth is a new record high.

The main reasons it went up so much are increases in real estate values and retirement accounts. My house value jumped up quite a bit in the past month and our rentals also increased. The value of our house was up about 5% and the other property about 2%. My retirement accounts also grew pretty well and they were up about 5%.

Cash and stock value didn't change a whole lot. I did actually sell some stock but the rest of the stock I've got has increased in value. I've even got some value in stock options now. Previously my stock options were not worth anything since the grant price was lower than what the stock was trading at. We paid half the bill to get our house insulation done so that ate up the profits from the stock sale.

Cash for Clunkers already out of money

The US "Cash for Clunkers" government incentive program has already blown through the $1 billion in funding. That means there are already nearly 250,000 new cars sold via the program. The program just started in July and its already out of funds within a month. I guess thats a success. Last I had heard some people were talking like it wouldn't work or that nobody could find cars to exchange that even qualified. It doesn't necessarily mean the program is over, the government is talking about securing more funds. We'll see.

July 30, 2009

Free credit score and other services from Quizzle.

Quizzle is neat.

Quizzle is a free service from Quicken Loans. You can sign up for a free account through their website. One feature that I think is really nice is that when you sign up you don't have to give them your social security number, which makes me more confident in the security risk.

OK so what is Quizzle? From Quizzle's main page they say : "Quizzle is the only place that gives you a simple understanding of your home and your money, all in one spot. You'll get a free evaluation of your credit, home value, mortgage, budget and more, then get important tips on how to make the most of them (minus the confusing financial jargon)."

Quizzle has a few nice features but the best reason to sign up is that they give you a free credit score. The score they use is a "National Equivalency Score" from the Experian credit bureau. So it should be noted that this is not an actual FICO score. The FICO scores are available for purchase at myFICO But for personal use I think a "FAKO" score is just fine to get an idea of how your credit is doing. In addition to the credit score you can also see a copy of your Experian credit report. You get a new credit score and credit report every 6 months.

Quizzle gives you letter grades (A,B,...F) for your financial aspects including : Credit, Home Value, Mortgage, Budget and Rainy day fund. Then Quizzle combines all the financial data in to one overall Quizzle score which gives you an overall financial grade. These scores help you see how you're doing on your finances in general.

How they grade them varies: For the rainy day fund their goal is to have 4 months living expenses. Home value grade is based on how much your home as appreciated or depreciated since you bought it. They get a estimate of the homes current value from CyberHomes. Given that home values have gone down recently, it would be no surprise for many people to have a low score on this category. If you have depreciation overall then you'll get a D or F. The credit score grade is straight basis of how your credit score compares to the population in general. The mortgage grade is a little iffy in my opinion. They seem to grade you based on how much you'd save if you refinanced more than anything. That is very dependent on the ups and downs of interest rates. Personally I think that comparing your debt to your total income would be a better measure of your financial health.

My scores are pretty good. My overall Quizzle score is 96 out of 100. I got all 'A' grades except for home appreciation which is a 'B'. My home was bought 10 years ago and it has appreciated +50% in that time for annual increase rate of 4%.

If you'd like another opinion then here is another review of Quizzle from the blog Stop Buying Crap.

Overall I recommend Quizzle. Its a nice easy way to get access to a free credit score and their financial grades are a nice tool as well.

July 29, 2009

Comparing Two Investments

Lets say you were offered two investment choices either A or B as follows:

Option A

You get 5% fixed interest on your investment for a 10 year period. You might get this kind of investment with a CD or a bond.

Option B

You get 10% interest 9 out of 10 years but one year you see a 40% drop in your investment. The average annual rate is 5%. The average of +10%, +10%, +10%, +10%, +10%, +10%, +10%, +10%, +10% and -40% is +5%. I don't think anyone out there sells investments like this. But its theoretically possible that you could see this kind of return trend in a stock market investment.

If you put $1000 into each of these options which do you think would give you more money in the end?

Surely the annual average rate of 5% is going to give you the same amount in the end compared to the fixed 5%, right? No, you might have guessed that this is a trick question. In fact that 40% drop really undercuts all your growth. While the annual returns might average to 5% you're losing much of your compound growth and its harder to dig out of a hole.

With option A you would have $1,629 after 10 years. Option B would leave you with only $1,415.

The compound annual growth rates are option A : 5.0% and option B : 3.5%.

July 28, 2009

History of Taxes as % of GDP

Buried in the Budget of the US government documents there is information on our government receipts. One table includes receipts broken down by source as a % of GDP.

I pulled out the figures for individual income tax and corporate income tax and graphed them post WWII era from 1944 to 2007. The two graphs are shown below.

For individual income taxes the total receipts ranged from a minimum of 5.7% of GDP to a maximum of 10.3% of GDP. The receipts averaged 8.0% and the standard deviation was 0.83%. The median value was also 8.0%. In 2007 the amount was 8.5%, marginally above the historic average. The black trend line shows a gradual increase over time.

Corporate tax receipts as % of GDP ranged from 1.1% minimum to 7.2% maximum. The mean was 3.1% with a standard deviation of 1.45%. The median value was 2.7%. In 2007 the rate was 2.7% which is close to historical averages. The black trend line shows a fairly steep decreasing trend in the long term.

July 27, 2009

How Much Does It Cost to Operate an Electric Lawn Mower?

I previously estimated that I save $8 a year by using an electric mower rather than a gasoline mower. That estimate was figured when gasoline was about 50% higher than it is now so the number has dropped since then. When I did that estimate I did not have a hard number for the amount of electricity my mower actually uses. At the time I used an estimate of 0.5 kWh. But I decided to answer the question : How much electricity does it really cost me?

First a couple basic facts: I currently have a Black & Decker CMM1200 19-inch 24V cordless mower. The mower runs on a battery that you charge by plugging it in. I'm not really sure exactly how big my lawn is. I'd estimate that there is around 4000 to 5000 square feet total. But thats a fairly rough guess.

I used a Kill-a-Watt monitor to measure how much power my mower was using while it charged the last couple times. The Kill-a-Watt can see the Watts, Amps and accumulated kWh used. I used 0.28 kWh for the first mowing and 0.22 kWh for the second mowing. Thats an average of 0.25 kWh across the two. Our electricity is 10-11¢ so that means I spent around 2.5-2.75¢ in electricity for each of the two mowings.

I think its a pretty safe bet that a typical 19 inch electric mower is going to cost about the same amount to run. Electric motors are fairly standard and there is not much of any difference in how they operate from one model to another. May mower may be a bit more or less powerful that other models. There may be some minor variation but you're probably looking at 2-4¢ for a lawn my size. Plus how fast or slow you are when you mow the lawn will impact it some. If you walk faster you'll be mowing faster and operate the mower for less time.

I'd estimate that it is roughly 0.5 to 1¢ per 1000 sq foot to operate a typical 19" electric lawn mower.

To get a better approximation of your own costs you can use the do the math using your own figures for electricity cost and the size of your lawn:

cost of electricity to mow lawn = .25/4500 x cost per kWh x size of lawn in sq ft

July 26, 2009

Most of us can't loan money on Prosper or Lending Club

I've heard of Prosper and Lending club for a while. Both are peer to peer lending institutions. If you're a lender you invest your money and it is loaned to individuals for various reasons. The benefit of these systems is the lender gets a relatively high return and the borrower gets a relatively low rate. I've thought it would be interested in joining to try it out. I can't lend money on Prosper or Lending Club and you probably can't either.

Prosper and Lending Club are both limited to certain states and they have income and net worth restrictions.

Looking at Prosper:

Prosper is only available in 16 states. From their website : "Prosper is currently available to lenders in the following states: California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Also, Prosper is always working to make lending on Prosper available in more states, so please check back. "

The graphic on the right shows the states that Prosper lenders can live in.

Those states represent about 115 million people or under 40% of the total population. That means that over 60% of Americans aren't in states that are allowed to be lenders on Prosper.

Plus for some states there are extra rules for Prosper:
If you live in Alaska, Idaho, Kansas or Pennsylvania then you have to have 1) income of $70,000 and net worth of $70,000 or 2) at least a net worth of $250,000 and you can't put more than 10% of your assets into Prosper.
For California you can't put more than 10% of your net worth into it and if you invest over $2500 then you need 1) income of $85,000 and assets of $85,000 or 2) net worth of $200,000.

Those rules apply to about 54 million people and exclude about 27 million people. I'm making a rough estimate that about half the people have incomes and net worth below those minimums.

In total 115 million people live in states that are allowed to lend on Prosper. The state specific income and net worth minimums exclude around 27 million of those people. That leaves about 88 million Americans who can actually lend money on Prosper. In total only about 30% of Americans are allowed to lend money on Prosper. So chances are you can't.

Lending Club is a similar situation:

From their website, you have to be in the following states:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Those states are home to about 154 million Americans.

Lending Club also has income requirements but theirs appear to apply to all states. They require 1) $70,000 income and $70,000 net work or 2) $250,000 net worth. If you're in California they require 1) $100,000 income and $100,000 net work or 2) $250,000 net worth.

The income restrictions would likely exclude half of the population. That leaves about 77 million Americans, or about 25% of the population, who can participate in Lending Club as lenders. About 75% of Americans are not able to be lenders on Lending Club due to state of residence or income limitations.

July 25, 2009

25% off on myFICO

You can get a 25% discount on FICO scores at myFICO by using the promo code FICOHELP25.

Normally your FICO scores are $15.95 each so 25% off would be $3.99 savings each.

The code is good until July 31st.

Right now FICO has scores for Transunion & Equifax. Experion is not allowing myFICO to sell the score for their data.

I heard about this from My Money Blog.

July 24, 2009

Best of blog posts for week of July 24th

Jim at Bargaineering asks Is FreeCreditReport.com A Scam?

Trent suggests that Over-Saving for Retirement? is possible. Sometimes it is.

Bad Money Advice wonders: Does it Matter Which College You Attend?

FreeMoneyFinance tells us When to Take Two Pages on Your Resume

Renting Solar Power from SolarCity

About a year ago I wrote the article: Renting Solar Panels? In that I talked about a company named Citizenre that planned to rent solar panels to people with no cost other than the power of the electricity. Well a year has gone by and Citizenre doesn't seem like they have any concrete details or dates yet for when they would actually start renting solar.

There is a company out there leasing solar panels to consumers and actively installing hardware. That company is SolarCity. They actually had a booth setup at our local Costco a while back. Before I go too far into talking about them I should note that it looks like they currently serve Arizona, California and Oregon.

Solarcity will sell and rent panels to individual homeowners. Their SolarLease lets you pay them monthly payments on your solar panels over a 25 year period which is effectively renting them. Their website says a "typical" 3 bedroom home with an electric bill of $200 would get a 4kW solar system and then end up with electric bills from the electric utility of $65 and a $0 down lease of $115. Thats a $20 month savings. However I suspect that their 'typical' home is in a fairly sunny location.

I ran the numbers for my own home and came out with a -$156 annual savings on their Solarlease. I'd be losing money on the lease setup. So their lease isn't going to work for me. Our electric is currently $175/month. The solarlease would be $41 and the new electric bill would be $147. However using their calculator defaults it said if I bought the system with cash it would cost $34,014 less federal, state and local tax and rebate incentives for final out of pocket cost of $10,132 and I'd save $336 a year on my electric. They calculate the ROI at 2%.

In my last look at evaluating solar panels I figured that the 'sweet spot' to maximize my return would be a 2kW system. SolarCity's calculator seems to default to a larger 3-4kW system. I told their calculator that my electric bill is $25 and it put out a smaller cost system with final cost of $3,638 and annual savings of $168. Thats not the sweetest deal but not too bad either. It amounts to 4.6% annual payback and a 21 year payback period.

SolarCity claims to be the largest installer of residential solar power in the country. Plus they have a lot of positive press including news of installations for major companies. I think their Solarlease system could be a great deal for people in sun drenched areas.

If you're looking into solar then SolarCity is probably worth checking out.

July 23, 2009

Avoid getting Ripped off on eBay

The other day I wrote about how I narrowly avoided getting ripped off for $75 on eBay. While I've had many good experiences on eBay there are scammers out there and you do need to be wary of them.

eBay has a set of pages on Marketplace Safety with all sorts of tips on how to be a safe buyer. That site has a number of things you should do to help ensure a safe purchase on eBay. Key items include: Watching for spoof emails and websites, review feedback and item descriptions, avoid second chance offers, and avoid instant cash payments. Follow the Marketplace Safety link for all the details from eBay.

eBay also has a page about Avoiding Fraud. Their key safety tips are :

1. Learn as much as possible about the product and seller.
2. Understand the retailers' refund and return policies.
3. Use a secure checkout and payment process.
4. If an offer sounds highly suspicious or too good to be true, it probably is.

Those are all good overall tips. Again for the details read the page on eBay: Avoiding Fraud

Personally my process for being safe on eBay includes:

1. Reviewing seller feedback. I look for a seller with >95% feedback and at least 20 positive sales. Ideally a seller will have >1000 sales and a high >95% rating. The more positive sales the better. Someone is very unlikely to sell 2000 items on eBay and then wake up one day and become a thief. If a seller has 100% rating thats great but I don't expect perfect. The more sales someone has the more likely they are to drop into the 97-99% range. This is often not the sellers fault. Customers are not always right and if you sell 1000 things then theres going to be 1-10 people out there that will give you negative feedback through no fault of your own.

2. Read the item description carefully. I try and read the item very carefully to know exactly what I'm buying. If the description lacks key information then assume the worst. If they don't say an item works then don't assume it works. If there is no picture then its possible the item is in poor condition. There can also be key details in the description that are not obvious on first glance. For example if I search for "computer books" I might find an auction of a interesting sounding book. But the book could be an "ebook" which is a PDF file and that might be a detail that is not in the auction title and buried in the description. If an item is being sold "as is" or they note any defects then those are very important details to be aware of.

3. Be critical of payment options. I use Paypal. If the seller requires an unusual method of payment then I generally stay away. At this point I'm only buying items that I cay pay via Paypal. This gives me some added protection with Paypal's buyer protection for eBay purchases. Thankfully this is the key thing that saved me from being ripped off in my recent attempted purchase. If I'd went ahead and paid via Google checkout like the seller requested I'd likely be out the $75 now.

Remember that the vast majority of sellers and buyers on eBay are honest people and its just a few "rotten apples" that are the problem. If you are wary and careful on eBay you should be able to avoid most scams.

You may also be interested in the article that JD at Get Rich Slowly recently wrote about How Money-Transfer Scams Work.

July 22, 2009

I Almost Got Ripped Off on eBay - How to be More Cautious

Recently my wife and I have been watching reruns of Friends on TV. She has never seen the show before and took a liking to it. However we've been frustrated that they run the episodes out of order and seem to skip key episodes. So we decided to buy the complete series on DVD. The plan is to buy the DVDs, watch them all and then resell them. I figure this is a pretty good way to watch the show at our own with relatively low cost. Amazon had some for sale fairly cheap but eBay auctions looked a bit cheaper. I started shopping around to buy the complete series on DVD on eBay.

Over the past few years I've bought dozens of items off eBay and never had any real problems. Most sales work perfectly and I've been very happy with the experience. This time was different. I have high confidence that buying on eBay is safe in general but I've also tried to be cautious with who I buy from. There are definitely scammers on eBay unfortunately.

I shopped around for a few days and placed some bids on some auctions but was outbid. Then the other day one seller had multiple copies of the series going for $40-70 range. That is a good price since other auctions were running $80-90 range mostly. The seller had 100% feedback with around 40-50 positive reviews and no negatives. The auction listing said they accept Paypal but don't "prefer" it. Nothing raised major warning flags for me at that point. I went ahead and bid and ended up winning the auction at $75.

Warning sign #1: My first warning sign was when I was looking at the auction listing after I initially bid and I noticed that the DVDs were "unrestricted". Normally DVDs are restricted to certain geographies. DVDs sold in the USA / Canada are only usable on DVD players made for the US/Canada market. All the other Friends DVDs on the auctions were restricted to the US/Canada market. So I was a little concerned that the DVDs being sold may be 'greymarket' from some other country or worse, and more likely they could be forgeries. At this point I was hopping I would not win the auction. But I did end up winning it. So I forged ahead with fingers crossed that I wasn't buying a cheap forgery.

Warning sign #2: The seller then sent me a invoice for Google checkout. I prefer to pay with Paypal so I went ahead and paid via Paypal. The seller then denied my Paypal payment and asked me to pay by Google checkout instead since they "HIGHLY" prefer it, but if not they'll take Paypal. Hmm... ok well I prefer Paypal and their auction says they accept Paypal so I'm paying with Paypal. I sent them a mail asking them to accept Paypal. Now I'm not really very happy with a seller that tries to argue me into paying outside eBay with his preferred method. If he doesn't want to accept Paypal then he should just not accept Paypal. Given the way the guy has acted thus far more warning bells are going off in my head. But I won the auction so I really have to proceed with the transaction at this point, since I dont' have any direct evidence of fraud or anything.

The clincher:

The next time I went to look at the auction I got an error:

Thats odd. I don't recall auctions being removed that soon after the auction ends.

Then I noticed in the "My eBay" that it showed this:
Oh, oh. That can't be good. Why would a seller be unregistered at that point?

Whew. No money lost:
Thankfully the seller never actually accepted the Paypal payment. So the payment didn't go through. I guess he was still waiting for me to send money via Google. I went into Paypal and cancelled the payment. I then sent eBay an email asking them whats going on. I also sent the seller an email telling him that I'm cancelling payment on Paypal and asking him why he's no longer registered in eBay. Its been about 3 days since then and I haven't heard a word back.

Warning Sign missed:
Only after the fact did I realize that the seller was using a PO box for their google account. I never followed the Google checkout invoice until after the fact, but when I do it gives a PO box for their address.

What can I learn?

Be Extra cautious with very cheap deals. The price seemed pretty cheap and I was wondering how they could be so much lower than everyone else. But I went ahead anyway. A low price alone should not keep you from buying on eBay. But a super "too good to be true" price should be a big warning flag. Generally a very cheap price should be reason for you to be extra cautious.
Be more careful examining auction listings before bidding. If I had read the auction listing more carefully in the first place then I would have noticed that the DVDs were 'unrestricted'. I probably wouldn't have bid on them because of that.
Be wary of people asking for alternative payment. If someone is explicitly pushing you towards a form of payment that isn't protected like Paypal then this could be a warning sign. Of course not all sellers who prefer alternate payment are con artists but its something to out look for. If a legitimate seller really doesn't want to take Paypal then they can simply not take Paypal.

I think was only lucky that I didn't get ripped off for $75. Next time I'll be even more careful on eBay and hopefully continue my trend of successful purchases there. I really do like eBay and 99.9% of the people there are honest. Its the remaining .1% that you have to be wary of.

July 21, 2009

Save Big buying Vitamins at Costco or Online

I've realized that we're overpaying on some food and household items at our local grocery store. I am working on doing some price research to compare prices on the items we buy on a regular basis, but I've only just started. One item I have found a significant price difference for is vitamins.

Lets look at one example : Nature Made 1200 Mg Omega-3 Fish Oil supplements

Safeway : a 180 count jar for $19.99
Amazon : 375 count for $22.99
Costco : 375 count for $15.39

Per pill that comes to prices of :
Costco: $0.04
Amazon: $0.06
Safeway: $0.11

Costco is 63% cheaper than Safeway and Amazon is 45% cheaper. Look at it another way, if you use 1 vitamin a day then you'd be spending $40.15 /year at Safeway and only $15.39 at Costco. Thats a $24.76 savings per year for just one vitamin. If you take a few vitamins then the savings could add up significantly.

Fish oil is just one example another is a daily multi-vitamin A store brand senior daily multi vitamin is about $13 for 400 at Costco and $23 for 300 at Safeway. Thats about $16 a year difference.

July 20, 2009

Is Dr. Oz Really selling Miracle Cures?

In the past few weeks I've started to notice a fair number of web ads with the image of Dr. Mehmet Oz pitching what seems to be some sort of elixir of youth called resveratrol. The ads immediately strike me as snake oil sales. Not cause they have Dr. Oz in them but because of the nature of the ads themselves.

Apparently Dr. Oz did actually endorse the use of resveratrol during an episode of the Oprah show. But Dr. Oz isn't really part of these ads. A statement on the Oprah website says very specifically that Dr. Oz and Oprah are not affiliated with these people: "Neither Oprah nor Dr. Oz are associated with nor do they endorse any specific resveratrol product, company or online solicitation of such products. Any companies that misrepresent their affiliation are making false claims. Harpo attorneys are pursuing companies that claim such an affiliation."

According to Forbes this is causing a bit of A headache for Dr. Oz. Unsurprisingly some of the companies pitching resveratrol are virtually scam artists that will send you a free 30 day sample and then start charging you over $80 a month to send you more and you only realize that is going to happen if you read all the fine print carefully. Some of these companies selling the stuff online using Dr. Oz in their ads are rated F by the BBB and being investigated by the Florida state attorney general.

I did a google search for resveratrol and the top ad sent me to a site offering a free trial. But I was warned that I should hurry since supplies are limited. I followed their order page and found this:Notice the "Only 3:26 left!" bit. I'm sure that counter starts fresh anytime anyone hits their site. Its undoubtedly totally bogus time limit to rush you into purchasing and not noticing the fine print found at the bottom of the page:If you read all that small font text in their "money back guarantee" you'll see that you're signing up to have them ship you more every month and charge you $87.13.

Is resveratrol really any good for you?

Maybe. There are studies that demonstrate positive health impacts to lab animals from resveratrol. But its exact impact on human health is not yet known. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University says "At present, relatively little is known about the effects of resveratrol in humans." So I'd say at this point it might be good for you but theres certainly nothing conclusive. I'm not a doctor by any stretch so don't take my word for it, instead go do your own research and make your own conclusion. Or better yet ask your own doctor.

If you're still inclined to buy resveratrol then shop around a little. Amazon has 60 count of 200mg of resveratrol for $17.96. Thats a whole lot cheaper than $87.13 a month and theres no bogus marketing tactics involved.

July 19, 2009

Congratulations on your Marriage. .. Can I sell some junk to you and all your friends?

I know someone who is going to a bachelorette party in a while and she told me there would be a 'party' hosted where they can buy things for the bride to be. Of course the gracious 'host' of the party will certainly be happy to sell their wonderful wares to the other people at the party and not just the bride. The host is called a 'consultant' for the items being sold and they will help explain their use at the party. Of course if you don't buy something for the bride then you're obviously going to be thought of as 'cheap'. I'm sure people may end up feeling a bit of peer pressure to buy something for themselves as well. The genius who decided to crash peoples bachelorette parties to sell them junk was very clever and evil.

I know that 'parties' as a multi-level marketing sales tool have existed for a long time. I've heard of Tupperware parties and other kinds of parties for Avon or various household goods or beauty supplies. The marketing mechanism where people throw a party in someones home to sell stuff is called a party plan. Apparently Tupperware has been doing it since the 1950's. I'm not a huge fan of such parties since they do tend to rely on peer pressure from your friends to make sales. But at least with these parties the nature and intention of the party is very straight forward. Its a party to look at and consider buying Tupperware, Avon or some other product. If you don't want to go then you can decline the invitation. I'm sure for some people they enjoy the process and like the products so it has its place and isn't all bad. I've got nothing against Tupperware or Avon for sure.

But by inserting the sales party onto the bachelorette party is not something you can very easily opt out of in a socially acceptable way. So this concept is much more deceptive and intrusive. If someone is going to have a bachelorette party then it should be a bachelorette party and not a sales pitch.

If you feel the need to hold one of these sales parties then hold it separate from a normal party. Don't force a captive audience to attend a sales pitch for products they may or may not have any interest in. Make it optional and clearly separate so that people can opt out of the sales pitch and attend the normal event if they choose to.

I just hope there isn't an Timeshare presentation between the ceremony and reception.

July 17, 2009

Best of blog posts for week of July 17th

Frank at Bad Money Advice mentioned this eHow article on How to Get a Free Flight by Getting Bumped I don't know if its a tactic I'd like to use since I tend to hate complications with air travel, but it sounds like a good way to try and get free air fare.

Jim at Bargaineering gives 8 Reasons Credit Cards Beat Debit Cards

The Wallet at WSJ has a couple articles this month recounting troubles he's had with AOL billing.
You’ve Got Blackmail: The AOL Account That Wouldn’t Die and the follow up You’ve Got Blackmail II: AOL Responds If you've ever had an AOL account and tried to cancel it then you're probably somewhat familiar with their business tactics.

Billshrink has an interesting chart on the Cost Efficiency of Transportation

MyMoneyBlog passes along an offer from BofA to get $100 for a new checking account: Bank of America Promotion Offer Code: $100 Bonus For New Accounts

Cheap Online Degrees starting at $16,080

Think that a 4 year college degree is going to cost you $160,000 or more total? It certainly doesn't have to. Going to a local public state school and living at home can cut the costs significantly. But even public schools aren't always cheap. Average tuition at public 4 year colleges is $6,585 annually. But thats still $26,340 for 4 years. Whats more you might not have a public college within commuting distance so housing costs might run it up even higher.

One possible way to cut the costs is to go to college online only. There are more and more online study programs from accredited colleges across the country. Some of these can be very inexpensive when compared to tuition and other costs for on campus study.

The site GetEducated features a list of Best Buys in business degrees. Some of the online programs have the same tuition rate for non-residents. Below are a few of the online college bargains available.

Total cost for tuition for an online BS degree for non-residents:

University of Wyoming : $16,080

Fort Hays State University : $19,964

SUNY Empire State College: $21,380

Troy University eCampus: $24,000

Eastern Oregon University: $25,430

July 16, 2009

Free and cheap magazine subscriptions

This site Lowpricesubs.com is offering free 1 year subscriptions to the following magazines:

  • Bassmaster 2 yrs
  • Weight Watchers 1yr
  • Muscle & Fitness 1yr
  • Field & Stream 1yr
  • Latina 1 yr
  • ESPN Magazine 1 yr

To get the subscription you fill in your shipping info and say which magazine you want in the comments section. There is no credit card required. I haven't tried it and I don't plan to since none of the options is anything I personally read.

But the site also has other subscriptions for other magazines at discount prices. 1 year of Car and Driver for $4, Motor Trend for $3 and Road and Track for $5.

I heard about the offer at Fatwallet.

July 15, 2009

Dave Ramsey's Overly Optimistic College Investment Growth Expectation

The other day I was watching an older episode of the Dave Ramsey show. In one bit a caller asked about saving for college. Dave's advice to the caller was to open an Education Savings Account (ESA) and put $2,000 a year into it. He said that after 18 years of investing over a childs life you'd accumulate over $120,000. I'm paraphrasing here since I didn't capture the exact quotes. But I remember for sure he was claiming about $90,000 in growth in the investment over the 18 years with $2,000 annual contributions. I did a little math in Excel and checked it with this investment calculator and it appears that Dave is expecting 12% growth in the college savings investments.

I have 3 problems with Dave's advice.

1. I don't know why you'd want to invest in an ESA over a 529 in general. 529 savings plans are newer than ESA's and have a lot of benefits over them. Moolanomy discussed Dave's recommendation of an ESA over 529 and disagreed. Motley Fool also compares the different college savings plans. I do think that sometimes a 529 isn't the best choice especially if your state has a poorly designed one with no tax perks. But in my opinion for most people the 529 should be the better investment option. Dave Ramsey does discuss ESA's or 529's as options on his website. But he seems more in favor of ESA's than 529s due to their flexibility.

2. I think that 12% return expectation is overly optimistic expectation. If you're investing for 18 years its likely you'll hit a good rate of return over so many years. But 12% is pretty optimistic expectation. This post at Get Rich Slowly has some charts on historic stock returns. Using those charts as a reference, historically the S&P 500 had about a 80% chance of hitting 12% returns over a 15-20 year period. So then there is a 1 in 5 chance you'll have had lower than 12% annual returns. If you aimed for a lower 8% return then you would hit that 100% of the time for every 15 or 20 year period in the S&P 500 history. I think you should hope for 12% but expect 8% over a 15 year period.

3. You wouldn't want to be 100% in the stock market 100% of your saving period. Dave's prediction on the investment growth is based on investing your entirely money in the stock market. But what if the stock market has a down period in the 1-2 years just before college starts. If you started investing in stocks in 1992 and your child was just about to go to college this year and you still had all your money in equities then you would have seen your college savings drop about 40% in the past 12 months. Of course 2008 is an unusual year for stocks, but for an individual 1 year period theres a fairly decent probability that stocks will lose money. I wouldn't risk it. To be safe, the closer you get to the end of your savings period, the less you should have in stocks. It would be safe to start shifting your college savings over to bonds and/or cash around 5 years before college starts. That would mean 13 years investing 100% in stocks and then 5 years investing in bonds and a gradually decreasing % of stocks. An impact of safer allocation between stocks and fixed income would be lower investment growth. While you might get 8-12% annual growth while you're 100% the stock market for the first 13 years, during the last 5 years when you shift the % allocation over to fixed income your growth rate will be closer to 4-8% due to lower returns from bonds and cash.

Bottom line:
Of course Dave's basic advice is to put $2,000 a year into an ESA isn't a bad idea really. An ESA is a decent way to save money and saving $2,000 a year is a decent goal. However I think setting expectations too high such high investment growth is not good idea and can leave some people with a false sense of security. And for most people the 529 savings accounts are going to be a better option.

July 14, 2009

What if the Insurance company holding your Life Insurance or Annuity fails?

I've been looking at annuities as part of a retirement plan. One of the concerns that I've occasionally heard about annuities is the fear that if the insurance company that you buy the annuity contract from fails that you might lose your retirement money. Say that someone retired 5 years ago and had bought an annuity from AIG. What would happen to that persons investment if AIG went bankrupt? Thats a scary idea isn't it? I'd hate to buy an annuity with an insurance company only to see them go under some years down the road and then lose all my money. Thankfully you don't need to worry too much.

There is a guarantee on life insurance and annuity contracts issued by insurance companies that is backed by a state guarantee association. Each of the 50 states and D.C. has a guarantee association. They are organized nationally as the National Organization of Life & Health Insurance Guarante Associations (NOLHGA)

Each states guarantee association acts a little differently. But generally the idea is the same. The state guarantee association acts to back life insurance policies and annuities much like the FDIC backs bank accounts. In the case that an insurance company becomes insolvent the state guarantee association will step in to help cover it.

Here is their informational brochure that addresses consumer questions about how it works.

Quoting from the brochure, here are a couple key points:

"What happens when my insurance company goes out of business as a result of insolvency?
Insurance companies that experience severe financial difficulties are taken over by the insurance department of the state in which they are based,and that state’s insurance commissioner becomes the “receiver.” If the company is determined to be insolvent, it may be liquidated. When a liquidation is ordered by a court, state guaranty associations work with the receiver to pay covered claims directly or transfer the policies to a financially sound insurance company."

"How much protection do I have?
Like the FDIC, state guaranty associations have maximum benefit limits. These limits are established by state law and can vary from state to state, but most states provide at least:
• $300,000 in life insurance death benefits
• $100,000 in cash surrender or withdrawal values for life insurance
• $100,000 in withdrawal and cash values for annuities
• $100,000 in health insurance policy benefits"

Those are the minimums and some states offer higher coverages maximums.

Basically the bottom line is that if your insurance company goes bankrupt then you will be covered up to the amounts listed above. This is certainly some protection so that we all don't have to worry so much about an individual insurance company failing. If for example you had a $75,000 annuity with AIG and you were worried about them failing then you shouldn't sweat it since that amount is guaranteed by your state guarantee agency.

If you have amounts above the limits in an individual insurance company then it would be a smart move to diversify with multiple insurance agencies. Instead of buying a single $200,000 annuity from one insurance company consider buying two $100,000 annuities via two separate insurance companies. That way if one of them fails then you'll be covered to the maximum value of the annuity.

Again, each state is a little different so for the exact details on your state go to the NOLHGA site and find the link to your states agency. Depending on the state, you're going to have at least the protections listed from the QA above but you might have more than that.

Bottom line: Life insurance and annuities are guaranteed by state agencies up to $100,000 for cash value or annuity policies and $300,000 for life insurance death benefits.

July 13, 2009

Another Example of a Whole Life Insurance Policy

I've talked about a couple previous examples of cash value insurance investments. I gave an example of a universal insurance and an example of whole life insurance. I was watching the Suze Orman show again this weekend and they had another caller ask about their whole life insurance policy. Here are the details about the callers policy:

$150,000 death benefit
$10,000 cash value after 10 years
Premium payments of $261 quarterly
They were told they would have a 4.4% interest rate.

So their cash value in the policy is now roughly a little less than the premiums they've paid over the 10 years. The death benefit of the policy has effectively eaten up all their interest.

I ran a quick test in Excel and found that at 4.4% interest growth you would need to save about $818 annually to accumulate $10,000 in 10 years. They've paid $261 quarterly or $1,044 annually. So they have paid about $226 a year to get $150,000 in insurance in addition to putting $818 away into the cash value investment.

I searched for quotes on term insurance over at QuickQuote and found that a 38 year old man should be able to get a 20 term policy with about $250,000 to $300,000 coverage.

So you have 2 options: the whole life policy the caller bought or buying a 20 year term policy and invest the rest. Lets see how those compare:

Whole life:
Cost: $1044 a year for 10 years
Death Benefit : $150,000 for as long as policy is maintained
Savings: $10,000

Term life + savings :
Cost : $226 for insurance and $881 for savings
Death Benefit : $250,000 for 20 years
Savings: $10,000

Overall I think that in this comparison term life and investing is a better option. Isn't it better to have $250,000 of coverage for 20 years than $150,000 coverage?

This whole life policy isn't a horrible one and they could have done a lot worse. But even this policy isn't as good as term life.

July 12, 2009

Is owning a Rental or buying a REIT more profitable?

A little bit ago Frank at Bad Money Advice discussed Owning Rental Property or Owning REITs. It was an interesting article. I agree with Frank that for most people buying a REIT is a better choice. Few people are really cut out to be landlords and owning a rental is essentially like starting up a side business or taking on a part time job. But when evaluating the two you really need to compare the investment returns. So I figured I would do that.

Lets look at an example of how both invests would have performed over the past 10 years.

Buying a REIT:

Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VGSIX) would be a good choice to invest in REITs since its a diversified index with low expenses. From June 1999 to June 2009 the fund has paid out $9.15 in dividends per share. Thats a pretty good return. The value of the shares hasn't fared as well in the pas t10 years though. In June-July of 1999 the fund sold for over $11 a share and today its trading at $9.50. Overall if you bought the REIT in July 1999 accumulated all the dividends and then sold today you'd be up $7.65. That equates to about 5.4% annualized return in 10 years.

Buying a rental:
Case Shiller home price index has data on the history of home prices. The composite-10 index went from 92 in April 1999 to 150 in April 2009. Thats a 5% appreciation rate in the property values across the composite index. And thats after the drop in real estate, the index peaked in summer of 2006 around 226. Plus you would get rent from the property. Current capitalization rates for rentals is around 5-6%. Lets say you bought a property in 1999 for $100,000. You'd get rental income profits of say $5,000 a year which would add up to $50,000 over the 10 years. Then in 2009 you could sell the property for $150,000. Thats a total of $50,000 in equity appreciation and $50,000 rental profit for $100,000 increase in the investment. Your money doubled in 10 years which equates to a 7.2% annualized return.

So comparing broad average performance between real estate and REIT industry the direct ownership of a rental comes out a bit ahead in average annualized gains in the past 10 years.

Of course as with any kind of investment the historical returns are no guarantee of future returns. Nobody has a crystal ball to see what real estate will do in the future and how REIT yields will compare to rental profits. But the previous returns are about the best indicator we've got to look at to compare the returns of the two. I'd also like to look at a longer period than 10 years but its hard to find solid data for longer time frames. The Case-Shiller index doesn't go back too far and most REITS haven't been around a long time.

I'm purposefully not looking at tax implications for owning rentals versus REITs since thats an entire topic in itself. Briefly though: REIT dividends are taxed as income and equity growth is taxed at capital gains rate. Rental profits are taxed as income and equity growth is taxed at capital gains rate. Owning rentals does get a big fat deduction due to depreciation. So the tax situation for rental ownership should be better overall than buying a REIT.

Location, location, location.

These examples are basically national averages. A REIT index is the reflection of a wide variety of REITs and the composite price index is a national composite of house prices across the country. But the real estate in your local market is probably not going to act the same as a national average. Location is very important for real estate. Certain areas are going to have better real estate markets and other areas will have worse markets. IN the same 10 year period from 1999 to 2009 real estate values in Detroit dropped 3% annually. Likewise if you bought the wrong REIT it could have lost money. ProFunds Real Estate UltraSector (REPSX) was trading around $21 when it started in 2000 and is now only at $8.47. Their dividends in the past 9 years were about $7.25. So thats about a 3.1% annual loss. A good REIT will beat a bad rental and a good rental will beat a bad REIT.

So, whats the bottom line?

REIT returns appear to be a bit less than owning rentals historically. Of course owning the rental requires more work.

[edit 7/13: fixed grammar error in title]

July 10, 2009

Best of blog posts for week of July 10th

Trent at The Simple Dollar tries out Amazon's Mechanical Turk : Can You Actually Earn Reasonable Money from Mechanical Turk?

fivecentnickel has a good solid article on keeping spending in check : Strategies to Curb Lifestyle Inflation

Jim at Bargaineering explains Why Naming Beneficiaries Is Important

My Money Blog shares a couple cash bonus deals for opening new accounts: WT Direct Promotion Code, Up To $150 Opening Bonus and Zecco Forex Promotion Code: Up to $200 Bonus

How Much Does New Car Quality Differ?

Sometimes when I hear people talk about different car brands they act as if every car made by Honda or Toyota is a marvelous bulletproof miracle that will go 500,000 miles virtually guaranteed with *maybe* a flat tire or something minor like that if you're unlucky. On the other hand many people seem to think that certain American car brands use duct tape and bailing wire as the primary materials in construction and they are virtually guaranteed to require a major engine overhaul within 100,000 miles assuming it doesn't spontaneously burst into flames within days after purchase. Now certainly there are different levels of quality but I think many peoples perception of the relative quality of different car manufacturers is a bit exaggerated.

JD Power Initial Quality Survey (IQS) for 2009 was released recently. JD Power survey's new car buyers to see how many defects the cars had in the first 3 months after purchase. The average was 108 defects per 100 vehicles. They list all the car brands and the number of defects on average per brand. If you look at the PDF version of the JD Power release and scroll to the bottom its easier to see the list of brands and their defect rates.

The best brand was Lexus at 84 defects and the worst was MINI at 166. So the very worst car in the survey had about 2x the number of defects as the very best. Compared to average the Lexus is 22% lower than average and the MINI is 52% higher. The standard deviation among brands is 17.5 so most car brands are between 91 and 125 or +/- 16% of the average.

Average of brands by geography: Asian car brands average 110, American car brands average 120 and European car brands average 124.

Keep in mind that these are average figures. SO you might have one lemon with 10 problems and 9 cars with no defects amount to 1 defect average. Also the study's defect number does not differentiate between different severity of defects. So it counts a broken sun visor as equal to a faulty transmission. But in any case average defects is generally a decent measure of overall quality. I doubt you get many car factories where they screw up all the little details yet someone make a car with a solid drivetrain nor the other way around. Its a fairly safe bet that higher defect levels point to lower quality standards and less reliability overall.

July 9, 2009

I bought Bristol-Meyers Squibb

Disclaimer: Investing in individual stocks is risky and I wouldn't take my comments here as investment advice in any way shape or form.

Yesterday I bought some shares of Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMY) for my Roth IRA. I bought 25 shares of BMY today at $19.60 or $490 worth. Not a huge stake.

Previously I mentioned that I had decided on a high dividend stock strategy for my Roth IRA. I've used this strategy for my 2008 & 2009 Roth IRA contributions, so thats $10,000 total. I had about $200 in cash around the start of the year and I've been accumulating some cash from the dividend payments. I had over $500 in cash so I decided to go ahead and buy something.

Reasons I bought BMY:

1) 6% yield on dividends -- My strategy for my Roth is to get high dividend paying holdings and build a cash flow plus hopefully gain in equity value. 6% yield is pretty good for a solid company.
2) PE of 7.5 -- They are trading relatively low given earnings.
3) Solid financials -- Their revenue and profits have been growing steadily in the past few years. They have more cash than debt.
4) I wanted to add pharmaceutical -- I didn't have any healthcare or drug related stocks in my IRA yet so I wanted to add something in this industry. I think health related businesses are only going to keep growing as the need for their goods and services will not go away.
5) They aren't a one-trick pony -- the company has several drugs on the market and many in development. So I'm not worried about their future depending on FDA approval of a single drug.

Those reasons are not in priority order. The solid financials are a make or break decider for me. If a company doesn't have solid financials then I'm not buying it. The other reasons I bought all add up to make BMY more attractive to me than its peers.

My Roth IRA holdings

Overall my strategy has been to mix high quality individual stocks with decent dividends: AT&T (T), GE (GE) and Harley Davidson (HOG), high dividend REITs : HRPT properties trust (HRP) and Hospitality Property Trust (HPT) and high dividend ETF : Vanguard High Dividend Yield Index (VYM).

The yields based on my purchase prices are:
T = 5.5%
GE = 1.9%
HOG = 2.3%
HRP = 13%
HPT = 0% ?
VYM = 3.6%

So far GE & Harley Davidson have both dropped dividends significantly since I bought them. The HPT REIT suspended dividends and I'm not sure what if anything I'll get out of that one for the year. REITs have to pay out 90% of their profits in dividends but I don't know what they'll have for profits if anything.

So far I've gotten about $300 in dividends from about $10,000 in holdings in the first half of the year. I'm on track for a total 6% annual return at that rate in 2009. Not bad.

July 8, 2009

Free Online Data Backup Services

I just read an article discussing Wells Fargo's vSafe service which they are selling online backup starting at $4.95 / month for 1 GB of data. I figured there had to be some services that give you that much storage for free so I did a quick Google search and easily found some.

Free online backup services:

Mozy offers 2GB of backup for free.

DriveHQ offers 1GB of free storage.

ADrive advertises 50GB of free storage (for individual use only).

So there you are 3 online services that give you similar offering for free.

I haven't used any of the 3 services myself. If you're interested in using them then I'd recommend you do some searches for reviews of each and make sure to compare their features.

Next time you see someone selling something then why not take the time to do a search for the keywords "free" and the service name on Google and see what you come up with. You might find a way to save $5 a month or more.

Ebates deals

Here are a couple decent deals for clothing on Ebates. :

Lane Bryant - 3% cash back plus:

$25 off $75 order at Lane Bryant with code 025009972 (ends 8/31)
10% off any order at Lane Bryant with code 000109932. (Exp. 07/27/2009)

Old Navy - Earn 8% Cash Back now through July 19th
Plus coupon codes:
15% off $75+ order at Old Navy. Code SAVENOW (Exp. 07/11/2009)
Free Standard Shipping on $150+ order at Old Navy. Code FREE150 (Exp. 08/01/2009)

July 7, 2009

Its NOT against the 'rules' for merchants to charge less for Cash versus Credit

I've seen people say more than once that its against the 'rules' for a business to charge more for use of a credit card versus cash. Around here its not uncommon to see gas stations charging one price for cash and then another price for credit. Charging less for cash transactions is perfectly OK under the rules of the credit cards.

From the Mastercard Rules for merchants page 5-9 states :
"A Merchant may provide a discount to its customers for cash payments."

From the VISA website:
"Can a merchant offer a discount for cash and check purchases? Yes."

Keep in mind these are only the policies of the credit card companies. So even if it was against the rules then the worst that could happen is the credit card companies would discipline the merchant in some way like dropping their account.

July 6, 2009

New Income Based RePayment Plan for Student Loans

The government has introduced a new payment option for student loans that lets you pay lower payments if your income is low. The system is called Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan. You can read about the system on the IBR website. The new option that went into effect on July 1, 2009.

If you have a debt that is high relative to your income then you may qualify for the IBR payments. There are a few benefits of the IBR system.

1) Lower monthly payments. The payments will be lower than your normal 10 year payments.
2) Guaranteed interest payments. If your IBR payment is not enough to cover the interest then the government will pay the interest for you.
3) Forgiveness of principal after 25 years. If you make IBR payments for 25 years and still have a balance then the loan may be forgiven.

Lets look at a couple examples:

1) Say you have $30,000 in loans at 6.8% and your income is only $25,000. You're single with no kids. Using the calculator on the IBR site you can see that you would qualify for IBR payment option and the monthly payment would be only $110. By comparison the standard payment for a 10 year repayment schedule would be $345.

2) Consider if you've got income of $50,000 and loans of $25,000. You're family size is 2 people. Using the IBR calculator it will tell you that you do NOT qualify for IBR payments. Your loan balance is not high enough relative to your income.

If you have loans and your income is low by comparison then I'd check out the IBR site and see if you might qualify for the IBR plan.

July 5, 2009

How a few hours effort may have saved us over $2,000

Recently I wrote an update about our energy savings project. My wife and I are planning to have our home air sealing, duct sealing and insulation improved. My wife has actually done most of the work for the project so far dealing with the auditors and getting estimates. From the first article I explained how we had 3 different estimates : two of which were about $6,000 and the third was over $8,000. We quickly crossed the 3rd estimate off our list since it was over $2,000 more than the other two and didn't have any visible benefit.

But what if the most expensive estimate was the first person we talked to and we didn't bother to get more estimates? If we had called the expensive contractor first and then not bothered to call around to get other quotes we might have went ahead and paid them over $8,000 to do the work when we could have easily found other contractors who would do it for $6,000. It did take my wife a few hours to call around and talk to people on the phone then have them come over to the house and do the estimate. If we hadn't taken that extra time it could have cost us $2,000! Yikes. I'm sure glad we shopped around and didn't call the most expensive contractor first.

For another example of this kind of thing check out How My Parents Saved $14,000 on Home Repairs from JD at Get Rich Slowly. In the middle of that article they say they got estimates of $10,000, $7,500 and $8,000 for work to fix a deck and the $10,000 estimate was the first. If they hadn't shopped around then they would have paid $2,500 more.

I hope most people don't do major work like this that costs several thousand dollars without even getting estimates. But I'm sure that it happens. Its unfortunate that some people would pay so much more simply because they don't shop around a little. Even if the work isn't as expensive a relatively small job is worth shopping around for too. A couple hours of your time is probably worth saving a hundred bucks or more.

July 4, 2009

July 3, 2009

Good Economic News

Since the press seems full of nothing but gloomy economic news for the past year or so. In honor of the 4th of July, I figured it would be nice to highlight some positive economic data.

Higher wages, lower prices, more savings...

In the past 12 months average hourly wages rose 3.1%

Gasoline prices are 37% lower now than they were this time last summer.

The Housing Affordability Index rose 32.5% in the 12 months from May 2008 to May 2009.

Americans are saving over 4% of their disposable income.

Mortgage interest rates on 30 year fixed loans are 20% lower today than a year ago.

Crime has been going down...

Violent crime rates were down 2.5% in 2008.

Looking at things with a 'glass is half full' perspective...

90.6% of working Americans are employed.

92.5% of working women in the US are employed.

99.5% of banks are operating successfully in 2009.

99.75% of mortgages did not go into foreclosure in May 2009.

55% of Americans carry no credit card balances

23% of Americans have no debt whatsoever

Data sources: Employment Situation Summary for May 2009 FDIC bank stats. Realtytrac May foreclosure report Realtor Housing Affordability Index. FBI crime data. Gasbuddy BEA savings rate Freddiemac mortgage data

Image by kevinzhengli

July 2, 2009

Movie date : $30 versus $20

My wife and I wanted to catch a movie about a week ago. We usually go to the movies on the weekends and see the matinee showing. We like to split a small popcorn and pop. Usually we go to the small chain theater on one side of town. But on that day we were too late to catch the early evening showing of the movie we were interested in so we decided to go to the Regal cinema on the other side of town. By going to an evening showing at Regal we ended up spending quite a bit more than we usually do.

Movie Date #1 : Tuesday evening at Regal
2 adult tickets = $19
Popcorn & pop = $11
Total = $30

This past Saturday we went to another film at the usual small chain for a matinee price.

Movie Date #2 : Saturday afternoon at small chain
2 adult tickets = $13
Pop & popcorn = $7
Total = $20

The quality of the experience was virtually the same in both cases. The pop at Regal was probably a 32 ounce and the pop at the small chain theater was just a 20 ounce. However I don't think this is much of a complaint since we don't really need nor want to drink 32 ounces anyway. And if we really wanted we could up grade to a larger soda to get 32 ounces for $1-2 more.

By simply going to the movies at a different day at a more economical theatre we save $10.

Of course we could save more by not buying the overpriced popcorn and pop at the theatre at all. We could save even more than that by waiting till the movie is out on DVD and renting it. But going out to the movies and having popcorn is part of the entertainment experience and we enjoy doing this. If we were broke or had lots of credit card debt then I think this kind of indulgence would be a luxury we couldn't afford. We choose to spend some of our discretionary spending on this form of entertainment. But even when you're spending on luxury, discretionary items theres no sense in wasting money when you don't have to.

July 1, 2009

Updown Performance : down 19%

Practice invest

My Updown account is currently down 19% overall and I'm down about 4% since the start of 2009. In my last report at the end of My I was down 16.4%

The S&P 500 is down 30% in the same total period since March 2008, I'm beating the S&P 500 by 11% since starting. However the S&P is only down a little over 1% so far in 2009 so this year I'm not beating the index.

I haven't made any trades since March. Since I started playing
Updown I've won $1.54 in real cash that was payed directly to my Paypal account. Not anything to brag about but not a bad perk for playing an online stock game.

Net Worth Update June 2009 : +$5,065

I track my net worth monthly on NetworthIQ.

For June 2009 my Net Worth is $590,822 which is up $5,065 from the previous month.

Most of the increase, around $4,000 worth, was due to a little bit of rebound in the real estate values. It may just be short term fluctuations. I doubt we've hit bottom, but who knows.

I also saw cash balance and stock values grow a little and we continue to pay down mortgage balances gradually. On the negative side, my retirement account funds dropped a little bit.

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