February 27, 2015

Best of Blogs for Week of February 27th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

Planet Money shares  a dynamic graphic showing state by state 50 Years Of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map

DoughRoller tells us 8 Key Financial Numbers for 2015

February 26, 2015

Modeling Impact of Some Example Credit Changes on FICO Score Using MyFICO Score Estimator

I decided to use the MyFICO credit score estimator to model some changes in credit usage and see what kind of impact it might have on a FICO score. 

The basic starting point I'll use is my own personal situation.    I will then run the estimator again with changed information to see what kind of impact to the FICO estimate such changes might give me.

Keep in mind that this is just one example scenario and its just an estimator.  So this is not at all exact and your own results may vary.   The impact of changes will also vary depending on where your score starts as well.

My current score as of Feb 2nd reported by Discover card is 816.

Here is my current situation roughly and how I answered the questions : 
I have over 5 cards
My oldest card > 20 yrs
My first loan was 15-20 years ago
I've gotten 0 cards in last year
most recent 6 months ago
I've got a balance on 0-4 cards
The total balance is $1-5k
I have no missed payments
0 card are past due
The ratio of my current balance / credit limit is 0-9%.
I've got no bankruptcy or foreclosures

Starting with that info the estimator says my score should be 770 - 820.      So my actual score falls within their predicted range.

Scenario 1 :  Applying for 3 new cards

I'm going to rerun the estimator and this time tell it that I've applied for 3 cards in the past 3 months.
I keep all the other options the same.

The resulting estimate is now 745 to 795

This gives me an estimate that applying for 3 new cards may cut your FICO by ~25 points.

Scenario 2 :    Using a lot of cards at the same time

In this scenario I'm assuming that I use a lot of cards and will say I have balances on 9 different cards.

Estimated score is 750 to 800.    Spreading usage over 9 cards instead of 0-4 drops the FICO by ~20 points.

Scenario 3 : Adding a large balance on a card of ~20% of limit

I've got a large total credit card limit of over $100k.   What happens if I were to put $20k on  a credit cards, say to take advantage of some 0% interest promotion?

All else equal that will give me a estimated score of 740-790.   That drops the FICO by ~30 points.

Scenario 4 : Missing a payment and getting 30 days overdue

Lets say I forget or goof up and somehow miss a payment.   Mistakes happen.

That will give an estimated score of 680 - 730 which is a hefty drop of ~90 points on the FICO.


February 25, 2015

$1 MP3 Credit on Amazon for "buying" the Free Android App for 2/25

Short and simple version :  

Get this free app Escape From Work today and you'll get a $1 MP3 credit too.

So I just went to Amazon and bought their free app of the day.   I usually try to get the free app whether I am particularly interested in it or not, just so I can get a pile of games and misc. apps for free in case I ever want or need one.   Right after I got the free app. I also got an email notice saying I got a $1 MP3 credit.   I wasn't even aware of this $1 MP3 promotion.   But I googled it and found the details afterwards.

The free app today is Escape From Work

And apparently it qualifies for the $1 MP3 promotion deal, so if you "buy" that free app today then you get a $1 MP3 credit.

Here are the promotion details from Amazon's page :

Buy Select Apps for Android, Get $1 in MP3 Credit
How to Qualify for This Offer:

    Purchase at least one qualifying app offered in the Amazon.com Appstore for Android in the webstore or on an Android device. Many free and paid apps qualify or shop top free qualifying apps below.
    After completing a qualifying purchase, you will receive an e-mail indicating that a $1 credit for Amazon MP3 music has been applied to your account automatically. The e-mail will also provide instructions on how to redeem your credit.
    Promotional offer limited to one promotional credit per customer.
    Promotional offer is valid from February 1, 2015, through December 31, 2015 and subject to change. You must redeem the credit by January 31, 2016.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

February 24, 2015

Did Lower Interest Rates Cause Home Values to Go Up?

It would seem that mortgage interest rates should impact the cost of housing.    The higher the interest the higher the payment and the less affordable homes become and vice versa.   I discussed this before in the article  If Interest Rates go Up then Will House Prices Go Down? and I didn't find any direct correlation.   I think the real answer is that there are just too many variables to see a direct connection.   Or home shoppers simply don't think or act that way.

In the past 12 months rates have dropped and so you might expect to see that impact home prices.  This presents another chance to look for correlation.   With cheap loan interest rates we can all afford to spend more on homes right?

Lets look at 30 year mortgage rate history from Fannie Mae

In the most recent month January 2015 the average rate is 3.67%.   A year before that in January 2014 the rates were 4.43%.    Rates are down 0.76%.    That may not sound like a lot but its pretty significant difference if you're looking at the mortgage payments.

Now if the assumption is that rates going up will cause home values to go down then we can also assume logically that the opposite will hold true.   That means that if rates go down then home values should go up.   With cheap interest we ought to be seeing lower payments and that would let buyers afford to spend more on homes and thus drive up market values.

Ok so what kind of impact on home values could that 12 month change in interest give us.   Lets start with a $100k mortgage in January of 2014 and figure the payment then compare to what kind of loan we'd be able to afford with a similar payment at the January 2015 interest rates.

With interest of 4.43% a $100,000 loan gives a payment of $502.53
With interest of 3.67% a $109,500 loan makes the payment $502.15

Based on the interest rate change year over year buyers should be able to afford about 9.5% more house.  

The Realtor site tracks median home prices and from 2013 Q4 to 2014 Q4 prices are up 6%.     So we certainly haven't seen the nearly 10% gains that the drop in interest might imply.


MBA Interest Rate Forecast from 2013

Almost two years ago I wrote about a MBA Forecast on Mortgage rates for 2013 & 2014

MBA = Mortgage Bankers Association in this context

They said at the time :
"according to the MBA, by the end of 2013, the interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage will be at 4.4 percent. And by the end of 2014, they see the rate at 4.6 percent."

Lets see how they did and compare their forecast to the actual rates in the history of rates from Freddie Mac

The end of 2013 rates were 4.46%.   But at the end of 2014 they were down to 3.86%

So the MBA was fairly close in calling the rate at the end of 2013 but off by 0.74% for the year later 2014 forecast.


February 22, 2015

You're (NOT) One Click Away From a 19% Return

I received a postcard  in the mail advertising an investment opportunity that would pay 19% returns.   I immediately concluded it was a scam or otherwise too good to be true.   If 19% returns were that easy then everyone would be getting them.   Clearly theres got to be some substantial risk or outright lying going on here.   The postcard in question explained with an * on that 19% figure that :

"IIR is based on investment projections of Sponsor and as provided in the PPM for the investment.  Results may vary due to a wide variety of factors."
OK so that seems fair and they're at least saying that the 19% is just their projection and its not guaranteed.    So this seems more like a relatively high risk investment and not an outright pyramid scheme style scam.   

I went to the website they listed on the page and found that its actually an investment offered through the RealCrowd site.    RealCrowd is a crowd funded real estate company.   For more on the topic see Crowdfunding Real Estate from CNBC.      

Probe a little on the Real Crowd site and I see that only accredited investors are allowed.    Thats a good thing.    It means that you have to have piles of money sitting around that you can afford to lose it.   Just kidding.  But really it means that you have to have piles of money sitting... oops, I almost said the same thing.   Accredited investors have to have a minimum income level of $200k a year / $300k if married for 2 years OR have net worth over $1M excluding your primary residence.    My wife and I don't happen to fit that description so I guess we're losers who have to sit on the benches and watch the rich people make 19% while we make due with our 0.01% savings rate.

How mean of them to tease me with this fabulous investment opportunity but then say I can't play because I'm a poor kid.  

Given that the investment is on RealCrowd this makes it seem much more legit to me than some random postcard claiming 19% returns.   But are advertisements for 19% returns really ever legit?   (at least in this current market)    Is that even possible?   I found the actual property for sale on Loopnet.com and I can use the info there to estimate the financials.    The property is actually just about a 2 mile drive away from a rental that we own and recently rented out after a vacancy so I've got some direct experience and recent with the market in question.  

Here are the basic example financials* for the property : 

Property cost $3M
37 units
Average rents = $850
Annual gross rent = $377,400
Expenses = 50% = $188,700
Gross = $188,700 

$2.4M loan and $600k down payment
Mortgage payments $137,496
Gross rent - expenses - mortgage =  $51,204 
 8.5% return

 Lets say they expect to spend an average of $10k per unit to fancy the place up then jack up rents by $200 each.    

That means the total investment is now $3.37M.    The loan is now $2.696M and the down payment is $674k.
But now the rents are up substantially at $466,200 per year total.     If we use the same 50% ratio then we're looking at gross of $233,100.   The mortgage payments are up to $154,440/yr.     This gives us a $78,660 bottom line on $674k of equity.   That gets you up to 11.7% return.    Thats getting a lot closer to 19% but not quite.    This is a realistic scenario.    $850 average rents are typical for that area of town and you could probably get up to $1050 fair enough if its nicely remodeled.   But pushing it much higher than that isn't very likely for an older building.  

OK now what if you bought the place, spruced it up and then resold it?    If you can reasonably sell a place with $850 rents for and a cap rate of 6.29% then it sells at $3M.   But if you also expect a 6.29% cap rate on an improved property then you'd expect the $1050 rents to equate to a sale price of $3.7M.   Thats about 10% gain in equity in value after doing the improvements.   So maybe what the idea here is to buy the place, spend some money fixing it up.   Jack the rents up.   And then after a year or two try and resell at a higher price based on the higher rents.    Based on that kind of strategy I think its actually feasible that they could net 19% returns.    Note I'm just guessing what kind of investment strategy they might have but I think my guess is fairly good one.   You really cant   make 19% return on a simple multifamily investment so they must be expecting to improve and flip the property and I assume they must be using fairly high leverage as well.    If their strategy fails then that high leverage could mean big losses for the investors or at least much lower rate of return, and that is where the risks come it.   I also have no idea how liquid the investment would be or if theres any other requirements involved.  

But the investment and potential 19% return is based on a lot of ifs and risks.  There is risk involved for sure but its not impossible.     I mean hey, my Dad and I bought a property $45k in 2002 and its worth $127k now.   Thats 8% appreciation.   Plus we've netted about $6k profit annually off the property.     We probably could have realistically flipped that place in a few years for nearly a 200% return and gained 25% annual investment returns.   While what my dad and I did is different than what this investment in question would do, its proof that high returns are possible on real estate given the right situation.   If my dad and I could do it then I'm sure competent real estate professionals using other peoples money can do it too.

While I think 19% might be feasible I also think you should NEVER sign up for investments that you get via mass mailings that advertise high returns and have little detail.   

Bottom Line :   A 19% return might be feasible but it would come with risks and I certainly would not trust an investment pitch advertising 19% returns received via postcard.

* I used similar but fake numbers for the examples here.     The numbers I use are similar but not exact.   --

February 20, 2015

Best of Blogs for Week of February 20th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

MyMoneyBlog gives a  Sling TV Quick Review and Promo: Prepay 3 Months, Get Free Fire TV Stick, Free Roku Stick, or $50 off Amazon Fire TV

and also from MMB they did a TurboTax Review – What’s New For 2014 Tax Year?
while DoughRoller has a FreeTaxUSA Review

The Big Picture shares an infographic on the History of High-Frequency Trading

52% Cash Back on Magazines.com today at Ebates

Today the daily double at  Ebates  is Magazines.com at 52% cash back. 

If you're looking for a magazine subscription this is a good day to get 1/2 off the price.    And that cash back is on top of any of the sales at Magazines.com

Also see my previous coverage of Magazines.com :  Cheap or Free Magazines -  Review of Magazines.com


Standard Ebates blurb:To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates.  

This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

February 19, 2015

Have US Houses Really Nearly Tripled In Size?

The Big Picture cited an info graphic from Treehugger that says that "avg. house size" of 1950 was 983 sq.ft. and in 2011 it was 2480 sq. ft.     So they're basically saying that home sizes have nearly tripled in America since the 1950's.     This is one of those examples where people say that houses have gotten bigger in the USA.  I dont' disagree with that point in general and I'm sure house sizes are bigger. But I might quibble on the details...

First, I'm not sure where claim that houses in 1950 averaged 983 sq. ft. came from.    Treehugger got the graphic from Mother Nature Network.   They cite the infographic as being courtesy of Masters in Human Resources.   I don't see any specific citation for that 983 figure for house sizes in 1950 from anyone.   And the infographic has been passed around the net and started with a site that seems to shill for online degrees.  

Now I'm not saying 983 is wrong but I just can't find a source for that number no matter how hard I search on Census or elsewhere.  I did found this paper that says :  "The average size of new houses increased from about 1,100 ft2 (100 m2) in the 1940s and 1950s..."    They talk about data from the Census and US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.  The best I can find on the Census myself only goes back to 1973.    Median and average size of new construction.   They say the average new house was 1,660 in 1973 and 2,392 by 2010.   An NAHB paper says that the "typical" new home in 1950 was 1,000 sq.ft. or less.  This paper The U.S. Homebuilding Industry: A Half-Century of Building the American Dream has figure 5 that says the "Average Single-Family Home Size: 1,065 square feet They in turn cite the source as : US department of commerce bureau of the Census : US Department of housing and housing at the millennium facts figures and trends, a publication of The National Association of Home Builders"   They also have a chart for "Average New Single-Family Home Size, 1950 - 1972" showing the trend starting around 1,000 sq. ft in 1950 and going up to 1,634 in 1972.   They cite the US Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census as the source

I think thats enough data points to believe that the average new home size in 1950 was 1,000 to 1,100 sq. ft.  

But one thing to keep in mind that these are the stats for NEW houses built.    The size of a new house is not the same as the average size of houses in the nation.    Most people don't live in new houses and a lot of Americans still live in those 1,000 sq. ft. houses built in 1950.     Currently the median home size as of AHS 2011 data is 1,700 sq. ft.    People buying new houses are often buying bigger houses because they can afford them.   Plus if you're going to go to all the expense to build a new house then may as well make it a little bigger.   The additional cost to increase the sq. ft. is marginal compared to all the total construction costs and land.

Maybe its something unique to the city I grew up in but I recall a lot of older houses that were fairly big.   A relative of mine owned a house built in the 19th century and that was a really big old farm house that had 2 stories and 4 bedrooms.   That house is 2300 sq.ft.    Of course thats just anecdotal and maybe big old farm houses aren't at all the norm.     We also have an 1940's house that is a rental which is only about 830 sq. ft.   

I did a search of my home on Zillow for homes in one specific ZIP code.    I looked at only homes built in 1940's and homes built after 2000.   Just to compare those two specific timeframes.    This is what I found :

1940's 2000+
total 72 141
under 1000 6 1
1000 to 1500 24 42
1500 to 2000 23 45
over 2000 19 53
Median 1630 1770

This is just a small sample and very anecdotal.   Plus it ignores all the homes that were demolished in the past 75 years and the homes that were built in the 40's but then later expanded in size.    But in my small sample the difference in size is clearly not as stark as just saying houses are 2-3 times as big.    Houses are bigger.    There is a higher % of homes built in the 40's that are under 1000 and a higher % from the 2000 and later years that are over 2000.  But the median size is only a big larger.


February 17, 2015

Diesel versus Gas Prices

Lately I've been  seeing a very steep premium for diesel fuel prices over the cost of regular gasoline.    One of the pricier stations had regular for $2.25 and diesel for $2.95.   Thats a 31% premium.   Of course thats just one example.

I found historical prices from the EIA .    The most recent numbers as of Feb 2nd (as I write this) says that the national average for gas is $1.98  and $2.86 for diesel.     Thats a hefty 44% premium for diesel.   I the EIA data and pulled out just the prices from the first week of each month.   Below is the trend showing the difference in prices for diesel over gasoline :

The current difference is abnormally high.   You can see the large spike for the most recent data which is way off the chart compared to normal.   Usually the % difference is less than 20% but now its hit over 40%.   

You can also see that it varies seasonally.     I plotted monthly prices for a few years 1995 to 2000 to see how the difference varies month to month. 

Generally diesel is around 5-10% higher than gas in the winter and then drops to ~5% cheaper

Overall diesel averages about 6% higher than gasoline over the long run.     The mean and median are both 6%.


February 15, 2015

An Example of Instacart versus In Store Costco Prices

I just made a trip to Costco to pick up a few things.    They had a big sign advertising that you can use Instacart to shop through Costco here now.   I decided to compare my receipt to the prices on Instacart.

Here are how the prices came out :

store instacart
walnuts 18.99 $    23.19
pecans $   12.99 $    15.69
coffee $   16.99 $    18.29
jam $     6.89 $      8.49
toilet paper $   15.99 $    18.29
trash bags $   13.99 $    17.09
SUM $   85.84 $  101.04

As you can see there the prices at Instacart are all higher than in store.     Overall the prices are 18% higher via Instacart.    This little shopping run took me maybe 20-40 minutes all together in the store and I certainly took my time browsing through Costcos aisles.

Instacart price is $15.20 more than going to the store.  Plus assuming you don't have their membership you'd have to pay their $3.99 delivery fee for a total of $19.19 extra


February 14, 2015

Amazon Subscribe and Save Filler Items under $2 - February 2015

Updated list of items under $2 eligible for Amazon Subscribe & Save :

Ampro Style Protein Styling Gel, 6 Ounce = $1.21
 Munik Soto Ayam Chicken Soto Soup Seasoning, 70-Gram = $1.26
BC Analgesic Powder, 6 Count  (aspirin) = $1.41
Pac-Kit 1-009 Fabric Adhesive Light Woven Flexible Knuckle Bandage, 3" Length x 1-1/2" Width (Box of 8) = $1.48
PureBites Beef Liver Cat Treats, 0.85-Ounce = $1.51

Suave Kids 2 in 1 Shampoo + Conditioner, Peach Smoothers 12 oz = $1.80

Wilton Red Sprinkles = $1.89
Permatex 25575 Fast Orange Pumice Bar Hand Soap, 5.75 oz. Bar =$1.95

Velveeta Kraft Cheesy Skillets Dinner Kit Box, Creamy Beef Stroganoff, 11.6 Ounce = $1.98

Lipton Pyramids, Bavarian Wild Berry 20 ct = 2.01
Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Naturals Popcorn, Classic Butter and Sea Salt, 76.3g Bags, 3 Count = $2.07

I try to list a variety of items so you'll have a better chance of seeing something on this list that you'd actually get use out of so its not just bought and wasted.

Warning :  If you use items off this list then make sure to watch them and cancel your subscription if you no longer want them or if the prices go up.   The cheap items I find seem to change pretty quickly so they may have large price hikes or be removed from the subscribe and save program. 

Note the list will get out of date within months or days.   I'll probably post a newer list before all of the above items are gone or have price increases.  But if you can't find something good here you can always go to Amazon and search for Subscribe & Save and sort based on prices and poke around to find something cheap to use as a filler.

I've discussed before how you can get a  better discount on Amazon Subscribe and Save purchases if you order 5 items at once.  However if you don't buy a lot of stuff then it can be hard to come up with a 5 item order.   However if your products are worth enough then it can be worth it to add some filler items to get up to 5 items to get the 15% discount. 

Say for example, you want to buy a couple cases of Pampers Swaddlers Diapers  that run $45.97 each with a normal purchase.   With Subscribe and save you'd get a 5% discount.to get the price down to $43.67.    But if you have 5 items in your S&S order then it is only $36.78 or a $6.89 savings.   And if you're buying two of those then thats double or $13.78.    Adding the 4 cheapest items listed here to the S&S order would only cost you $4.99 total with the 5 item discount so its worth buying those items to get you a net savings of $8.79.

Note if you don't want the filler items and only use them to get a 5 item discount then you can of course always give away the food items to someone you know or donate them to the local food bank.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

February 13, 2015

Best of Blogs for Week of February 13th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

 MyMoneyBlog looks at a couple online calculators for Comparing Your 529 In-State Tax Deduction vs. Better Out-of-State Plans

MMB also shares Costs Matter: Vanguard Long-Term Performance Update 2015


February 12, 2015

Frugal Phone Review : BLU Studio Mini LTE (unlocked)

My most recent phone purchase is a BLU Studio Mini LTE

This is the phone I'm using right now and I got it for about $120 off Amazon at the end of January.   Now $120 isn't what I'd call cheap for a phone but relative to the features the phone has its a good buy.

The BLU phones are unlocked phones not tied to a specific phone vendor.   This is a nice benefit if you want to get a phone to work on different networks or have flexibility to choose among network providers.   The phone also has 2 SIM sockets so you can actually have two accounts running on it at the same time.  Thats a nice flexibility option for some people.    Theres plenty of uses for dual SIM phones such as travel abroad or having work and home phone in one.  Also see Why you want a dual-SIM phone

The Studio Mini is a very nice phone.   I've not seen it have any problems with any of the applications I've ran on it.   It ran every game and app that I tried.   I ran the Monopoly game on it which is a pretty hefty app and while it took along time to load it eventually ran fine.    Temple Run 2 also runs fine on it and thats a fairly graphics intensive game as far as mobile apps go.

The phone has been perfectly reliable for me so far.   The wifi signal is good.
In the retail packaging it comes with earbuds, charger, screen protector and a silicon gel case.     The silicon gel case is OK but not super sturdy.

I'm using Puretalk service with the phone right now and it works just fine.   Puretalk has a $5 monthly plan that works for me since I use very few calling minutes or texts.  I also have their $10 data plan so I'm paying $15 total.   One note with Puretalk you have to follow special instructions to setup their data which they didn't bother telling me about in advance.
I might use the 2nd SIM to add a RedPocket $1GB data plan in the future but I haven't bothered yet. 

One nitpick I've got with the phone is that it does not have any kind of LED status.   So there is no visual indicator of messages or notices when the phone is in sleep and you've got to wake it up to see the screen to tell if theres any notices.   I've gotten used to a flashing LED notice on my previous phones.

Good value
Plenty powerful
Unlocked with 2 SIM sockets

None noted

I have yet to find anything particularly wrong with this phone.    The lack of a LED notice is a minor thing really.   At around $120 its not the cheapest Android phone but its a good value for the specs and quality as well as being an unlocked dual-SIM phone.

Bottom Line :  I'd recommend this phone as a very good unlocked Android phone for the price particularly if you can use the dual-SIM feature.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.  Nobody paid me for this review and I bought the phone with my own money.

February 10, 2015

Frugal Phone Review : ZTE Valet with 600 Minutes (Tracfone)

The first of the frugal phones that I bought was actually this ZTE Valet for Tracfone.   The one I got was the bundle deal with 200 minute card and triple minutes.   Available at Amazon : ZTE Valet Android Prepaid Phone with 600 Minutes and Triple Minutes (Tracfone) That gives you 600 minutes & 600 text messages and 600 MB of data as well as 3 months of service.   That 200 minute card itself is worth $39.99 if bought separately from Tracfone.    I paid about $65 for the phone plus the 200 minute card but right now you can get it for $39.99 plus $4.99 shipping.   Getting an Android phone plus 3 months service for about $45 is a great value.    Note this phone is sold via a 3rd party seller.  I bought it through that same seller and the purchase went just fine.

I used this phone myself for about 8 months.

The phone itself is so-so in quality.   I had some problems with it.   It worked mostly well in general but was not very reliable.     My wifi signal was pretty flakey.    It would crash once in a while and it would not handle some of the larger apps very well at all.   The camera is only fair quality.   I dropped this phone a few times and it is pretty sturdy.

Its android
generally runs most basic apps OK

Only 3G service
Poor wifi reception

I also had problems with text messages not sending or receiving.    That may be a network coverage issue so it may not be related to the phone itself.     That was the key reason I ended up getting a different phone.   Whether it was the phone or the service, I really couldn't stand not receiving text messages when I should have.

Its an OK phone in general but not great.   The wifi issues alone are honestly enough not to like it.   Other than that its a fairly good phone for the price.   What makes this phone a good deal is the bundle with the 200 minute / three month card and triple minutes.

Bottom line : I'd give a mild recommendation for this phone if you want Tracfone service for 3 months and want a basic Android phone and can tolerate it not being perfect.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.  Nobody paid me for this review and I bought the phone with my own money.

February 8, 2015

Frugal Phone Review : Nokia Lumia 520 GoPhone (AT&T)

I've bought 4 different phones over the past 12 months.    These have all been relatively cheap phones.  

My first review is the Nokia Lumia 520 GoPhone (AT&T)

I bought the Lumia 520 myself just before Christmas on a deal at Amazon for $19.99.  I ended up not using it because I can't get my work email to function on Windows phones.    If it weren't for that I'd probably using it now.   

My review is of limited use.   I played around with the phone for a few weeks just using it as a wifi connected mini-tablet rather than a phone.  So I've got experience using it as a smart device with wifi connection but I didn't enable the actual cell service on the phone because I determined I couldn't do work email on it so I didn't want to spend money to turn it on.

This is a great phone for the cost.  I'd recommend it very highly as a frugal phone. 

Right now Amazon has them for $29.99 and they are $29 at the Microsoft store 
You can also get 3.5% cash back (about $1) from Ebates* buying from the Microsoft store.

The phone is very reliable.  It works well and is responsive.   I have not seen any problems with the phone as far as functionality.      Its not the most powerful or feature rich phone on the market but for under 30 bucks its an incredible value.   The phone is a Windows phone so it isn't going to run the apps you can get for Android or Apple.   That could be a major problem for some users who want / need certain apps.  However Windows phones do have the major apps that most anyone would need.

Costs only $30
Solid and reliable

Windows phone lacks all the apps of Android or Apple
No front camera
Doesn't seem like the sturdiest built phone.

This phone is a AT&T Gophone but you can use it with any provider that uses the AT&T network.   So you can use it with a cheaper provider like H2O wireless or PureTalk.    AT&T Gophone plans aren't that great of a bargain so I'd recommend finding another cheaper AT&T network provider.

Bottom Line :  Good smartphone for under $30 makes this a great buy.

*Standard Ebates blurb:To get the cash back you need to be signed up with Ebates.  Then simply go to Ebates to get the referral to the the store before you do your shopping.  I also get a referral bonus if you use my links to sign up with Ebates

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.   Nobody paid me for this review and I bought the phone with my own money.

February 6, 2015

Best of Blogs for Week of February 6th

Every Friday afternoon I share some of the more interesting or notable posts that I have seen in the personal finance blogs and other sources for the past week

MyMoneyBlog shares a chart on Viewing Stock Market Risk Over The Long Run

FormSwift has a $1000 scholarship contest


February 5, 2015

Will Life Expectancy be 90 Years By The Time I Retire?

When my grandpa was born the average life expectancy was about 50.   But he lived into his 90's and when he passed the average person lived to be over 70.   One might think then that if someone born in the 1990's when average lives are over 70 years then they might end up living to a point when the average life expectancy is in the 90's.   Follow me?   But is this really the case?   Can we expect life expectancy to shoot up another 10 or 20 years in our lifetimes?

Lets take a look how life expectancy has changed over time.    I'm going to look at just white males to simplify it but generally women and minorities would see roughly similar patters with bit different numbers.    The source for my information is the Infoplease website and they seem to be just republishing government data.

So here's the change in life expectancy over the decades for birth, adult and at age 60 :

Now I'm showing the different age groups to point out how they differ.    Life expectancy at birth (red) went up a lot more but a lot of that is reflecting how much fewer infants and children die from diseases now compared to the early 20th century.      Its not as if the averages shot up because everyone used to die in their 50's but now live to 70, in reality for the most part the averages went up because many more people lived into adult years.     For the people who make it to age 60 (green) the average life span has not shot up much. 

Also, most of the gains in life expectancy were from 1900 to 1950.    In those 5 decades the average life span went up over 18 years.     However in the next 6 decades it has slowed down some and only grew about 10 years.     In the most recent 2 decades its gone up less than 4 years total.

How does the current trend project over the next few decades?    I plotted the most recent figures from 1990 onward and then had Excel run trend lines out to 2060.   

Here's how the projections look :

Roughly speaking it looks like at the current rate that life expectancy in about 50 years may increase about 10 years from birth, around 9 years more for age 20 and about 7 years for age 60.


February 3, 2015

Free 6 Month Membership to Jet

Jet is an upcoming online site that is supposed to be similar to a Costco style club membership version of Amazon.  (or something)

To get a free 6 month membership you can sign up in advance :

Click on this link.  

Thats my referral link there so I get a bonus of some sort.  There are 2 days left in the promotion.

Hard to know if this site will be worth using since the service isn't even live yet but no harm in signing up for 6 months free.

--This article may contain referral links which pay this site a commission for purchases made at the sites.

Where Do Public Community Colleges Get Their Revenue From?

The recent suggestion by the president that the government make community college tuition free to everyone has generated some discussion on community college funding.   Delta cost project has details on revenue sources for colleges at various levels like public, private and community college. 

Figure S2 in the report covers public community college revenue sources for 2000 to 2010.  

Here's a graphic :

As you can see most of the money is from the state/local level and a pretty high percentage is from net tuition.     Of course this is going to vary a lot across the nation.   Some schools have relatively low tuition rates and end up with a higher percent of the money coming from the state or local level.   The chunk of revenue from the axillary category will probably vary tons as well.


February 1, 2015

My Retirement Account Asset Mix - Jan. 2015

My personal retirement accounts are a little bit of a jumble.   I've got a Roth IRA, a 401k at my employer and another retirement account that my employer manages.   The funds are split about 2/3 in the employer managed account and 1/6 in each of the Roth and 401k.

I've got a mix of assets in the different accounts. The employer ran fund has a mix of stocks, foreign, bonds and other investments that the retirement program manages.  Its kind of like an all in one fund.    The money is in that fund by default though I should really start to move it to other funds.  My 401k is generally split between a general stock index fund and a broad bond fund about 50/50.   The Roth is mostly index funds with a dividend emphasis and a handful of individual stocks left over from my stock picking days.

Here is the current mix:

Its not looking too bad really.   The individual stocks are just whatever stuff left in my Roth IRA from when I was picking individual stocks more.   As its just ~1% of my total I"m not too concerned with it.  I've got some BPT I should liquidate next time oil goes up in value and some HPT that seems to be doing fair enough so I havent' got a plan to sell that.

The "other" category is whatever assets my employers retirement plan has that don't fall into the other categories.   Seems a mix of stuff like hedge funds and commodities.   I'd generally prefer to get out of that stuff as I don't know much about what it is and I'd prefer simple stock & bond mix.

I'd probably like to get the whole mix to something like more like 40% domestic stocks, 40% bonds and 20% foreign funds.   Or maybe 50% total stock funds and 50% bonds.

Other than my retirement accounts we have other assets in :  my wifes retirement accounts that she manages, rental real estate and cash.   The mix is roughly 40% rentals, 30% retirement, 20% house and 10% cash.    We're pretty heavily invested in real estate as you can see.


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