Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year's Eve!

While I don't normally post on Saturdays, I noticed on my sidebar that I had published 99 posts during 2011, and, gosh darnit, how do you not go for 100 when you're in that position?

Too dark?

Anyways, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everybody who has stopped by over the last several months.  I am thankful for my growing readership, and I will continue to publish quality commentary on monetary issues (as well as things like 2 Broke Girls) into the new year.

I'm also excited to realize that I published 100 posts in 2011 because I've only published with any consistency since July (this consistency was, in part, spurred on by my participation in the Yakezie Challenge); I look forward to the fun and challenge that will come with keeping up the pace next year and getting to (at least!) 200 posts!

A final item that I'd like to bring up is that I will be starting a new website in the coming week.  As I've mentioned on here previously, one of my goals in life is to lose a fair (unfair?) amount of weight.  This being the time of year in which people resolve to do things like lose weight, I thought, cliched though it may be, that I'd resolve to lose that weight.  I may also mention weight-loss items here, but I thought that it would dilute the focus at Pinch that Penny! to dwell too much on losing weight here.

If you are interested, I'll definitely link to it when the site is live, and I'd certainly appreciate it if any of you would stop by from time to time to encourage me (the primary reason I'm creating the site is so that I will have a very public accountability system).  As far as how much weight I'm hoping to lose, let's just say that I'm hoping, at the end, I'll look a lot more like Laurel than Hardy, or a little bit more like Abbot than Costello

In any case, have a safe and fun time tonight, and I'll see you all in 2012!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Links

Andrea at So Over Debt asked if we're defined by our mistakes, and she makes the case that those in poverty are not easily able to escape from poverty* and that assuming the poor should just choose to not be poor anymore is kind of asinine.

MSN Money listed four good and four bad money resolutions for the new year.  Interestingly, none of the good money resolutions was to pay off the Mayan gods who are planning planetary destruction as we speak.

Gizmodo had a terrific post about how the hashtag is ruining the English language

Moneycrashers posed ways in which you can create free exercise programs for yourself.  None of these involved having a Twinkie dangling from a string just out of your reach.

In a several-year-old piece, a writer for Slate described how running a coffee shop is a money pit.  It remains unfortunate that the things that we think we might most enjoy doing tend to be the worst financial decisions we could make.

Forbes magazine shared eleven life-changing tax decisions.  For me, at least, the money saved by moving from California (a state with state income tax) to Nevada (a state without state income tax) would almost certainly end up in the the coffers of the Bellagio, so it's kind of a wash.

In a guest post for Get Rich Slowly, the author describes how losing 25 pounds is a sound financial decision.  What he neglects to mention is that before his diet, the writer mostly ate gold coins.

*I would like to see the movie "Escape from Poverty" starring an eye-patch wearing Kurt Russell.  Or even Keri Russell.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Investing: P2P Lending vs. Bank CDs

I'm going to start this post by stating something that is stupidly obvious: there are a huge number of different ways to invest your money.  From stocks and bonds, to investing in new companies, to burying your cash in the backyard, if you can imagine it, you can probably invest in it (dream a little dream, you dreamers!).  For the purposes of this article though, I'm only going to focus on two that I think have a good deal in common: peer to peer (P2P) lending and certificates of deposit (CDs).

How P2P Lending and CDs Are Similar

The key similarity both investments share is that both require you to tie up your money for a certain, specified amount of time.  As such, both are essentially illiquid investments.*  However, this length of time is fairly short-term, particularly when compared to 30 year bonds, for instance. 

For CDs, your money can be tied up anywhere between three months and five years, depending on how long you choose to invest.  For P2P, (which I'm basing on my experience with Lending Club, as I am unfamiliar with Prosper and others), your money is invested for either three years or five years.**

With the above similarity stated, let's look at the pros and cons of each investment.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012 Financial Goals

Just as Couple Money and others have done, I think it's an excellent idea to spend some time thinking about what our financial goals are and should be in the new year.  Below are some of my own.

1)  Max Out my 401(k) - As I've mentioned before, the company that I work for has a very generous 401(k) plan: they match every dollar up to the federal limit (in 2011 it was $16,500, and in 2012 it will be $17,000).  Unfortunately, I have been unable to contribute to the plan thus far as the company knows that the retirement plan is very generous, and so they only offer it to employees that have been with the company for at least six months.  Luckily for me, since my position started in July, I will be able to enroll in the 401(k) retirement plan in the middle of January. 

If and when I max out my contributions in 2012 (market forces notwithstanding), I will have a cool $34,000 to show for it.  If I stay for three years, I'll have $102,000, and, if I stay my entire career full-time at this company, by the end of 2041, I'll have $1,020,000.  That's not too shabby.  It's also worth noting that $34,000 is more than 50% of my personal gross income (not counting whatever bonus I receive).

2)  Pay Off my Student Loans - As I can't seem to shut up about, I graduated in May with an M.A. in Drama.  I was able to pay most of my tuition with money I had saved from working, but during my time at school, I took out some federal loans (approximately $3,700).  For what it's worth, it's kind of amazing that I ONLY took out that much as my grad school experience was characterized by me commuting back and forth from San Diego to San Francisco (to my readers not in California, these cities are not close). 

Anyways, if I were some sort of amazing personal finance blogger, I would have already paid off my loans during the grace period.  Nevertheless, I didn't, and the grace period for my student loans ended last month.  While I don't hate student loans as much as some in the personal finance community, I think the amount that I have due will be manageable to pay off in the upcoming year, and I will be glad to be rid of them.  Plus, if I really do get into a Ph.D. program in the fall, I'd like to have all the education that I've received up to that point already paid off.*

3)  Continue to Invest in Lending Club - I've basically only dipped my toes in the waters of Lending Club so far (that is, I've only put in a couple of hundred dollars), but the calm, pleasant currents of rates of return above 7% feel awfully nice between my tootsies.**  As I invest more, I will undoubtedly write a review of the site here to talk about what I've learned.

How about you?  What are your money plans in the new year?  Let me know in the comments.

*I realize that if I do go back to school, I could defer the loans, but that's not a route I want to take.
**7% is based on my choosing pretty conservative notes, but I wanted to choose people with the "safest" credit to start out with.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Links

Shopping Detox compared the cost of purchasing all the items in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas" with the cost of purchasing all the items in Destiny's Child's song "8 Days of Christmas."  As much as I loves me some lords a-leaping, I don't think I'll shell out $24 grand for the whole package.

The Digerati Life shared some links to free ebooks on financial topics

Bookshop Blog wrote about what books to buy and what books to avoid when you own your own bookstore.  Spoiler alert: it turns out only buying what you yourself enjoy reading is not a sound business practice.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff gave some advice on what to look for when purchasing second-hand books.

Debt Black Hole asked how much do you spend on your geek collections?  I figure purchasing geeks is a pretty good investment (13th through 15th Amendments be darned!), so I actually spend quite a bit.  Oh the databases I can demand on demand!

Cash Money Life wrote about how small decisions add up, particularly in terms of purchases.

Finally, The Consumerist shared a Nielsen study that shows which television shows were most egregiously using product placement.  I mean, are they even really drinking Coke on Americas Idol?  Also, I was surprised Bones wasn't on the list as the last episode I watched seemed to basically be an advertisement for some car.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 Coupon Code Weekly Promo Offer 300 x 250
I've only seen have certificates this cheap once or twice before.  Use the coupon code JOY to receive a 90% discount on gift certificates you purchase if you buy between now and December 24.

They have 80% off sales at least once a month, so if you miss out, you'll probably be able to get these for about as cheap some time in the future.

Full disclosure: I do receive a percentage of what you buy if you click on the above link, but as you will probably be spending only a few dollars, it's not a whole lot.  I just really like it when they're 90% off!

3 Lessons about Selling Sports Tickets on Craigslist, Or, Why I'm a Moron

As I mentioned last week, over the last few months, I have managed to lose a good-sized sum of money by selling my extra season tickets for the San Diego Chargers on Craigslist.  While I have more or less sworn off of making money in this way, I learned a few things that I think could be helpful to others who are trying to make money selling tickets on Craigslist.

But today, I'd rather talk to you about the draft...

Nah, just kidding.  Here are my thoughts about selling football tickets on Craigslist.

1)  Don't Assume Prices Will Go Up - I bought a partial season ticket package (I received tickets to four of the eight home games).  For arbitrage to be successful, one must sell items for more than he or she paid for them (this is key).  Of the four games that I purchased, the ticket prices for only one of those games in the secondary market went up significantly.  For each of the other games, the tickets lost value (including one game in which market forces compelled me to sell three tickets for $10 a piece -- a $60 per ticket loss).  For the other two games, I lost about $15 to $20 per ticket.

2)  Make Sure to Maximize Profits - I purchased season tickets because the secondary market for one of the games (Green Bay at San Diego) was ridiculously expensive, and the Chargers organization, knowing that that was the marquis game of the season, did not allow fans to purchase tickets for that game alone.  Instead, fans had to buy at least a two game package.  Nevertheless, it has been a tradition for me and my family to go to a Chargers game at least once a season, so I thought I'd save us all (read: my family) money by buying the tickets as part of this package.

Then, on the morning of the game, which took place in beautiful, sunny San Diego, the unthinkable happened: it rained.  One of the people who was going to come to the game was my grandfather who, though spry for an 88 year old, is not really the sort of person who should be sitting in the rain for an extended period of time.  My uncle (understandably) decided to keep grandpa company, which left me stuck with two tickets.  Worried about the last minute nature of my plight, I hurriedly put the two tickets up on Craigslist.   While I did make a small profit, the sheer number of rapid responses to my posting led me to believe that I could have sold the tickets for quite a bit more.  When you consider that I felt compelled to pay my grandpa and uncle back for what they had paid me for the tickets, I didn't come out very far ahead at all.

Particularly when I lost money on the other games, I should have tried to sell the tickets for a lot more.

3)  Make Sure to Have Change - For one pair of tickets that I sold, the buyer and I had agreed to $110.  Absent-mindedly, I did not bring change with me.  The buyer only had twenty dollar bills (as he had just hit up an ATM on his way to meet me), so we were left with with three options: not selling the tickets, selling the tickets for $120, or selling the tickets for $100.  As I was leaving early the next morning to fly to a different state for a work conference, I wanted to get rid of the tickets (as dealing with buyers on Craigslist is a fickle, time-consuming enterprise), so not selling them wasn't really a great option for me.  He, of course, didn't want to pay more than we had agreed on, and so I was left taking less money than I had expected. 

I realize that $10 isn't a lot of money, but, as I had already lost so much money, any amount extra that I could get back would have helped.

In short, I think trying to re-sell tickets is a fool's errand, unless you can purchase the tickets for a significantly reduced rate.  If you're paying face value with the intention to re-sell, you are almost certainly paying too much.  Nevertheless, people can and do make money in this way, and I hope the above will provide a helpful, if cautionary, example.

Photo by me!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The One Dollar Coin Problem

Ah, James Buchanan and Martin van Buren:
one led to the inevitability of the Civil War, and
the other had awesome side burns.
They're both well worth spending $50 million a year on.
Let it not be said that the Obama administration is not trying to lower your taxes!  Slate reports that:

"The Vice President and Secretary Geithner announced the Administration’s plan to stop the wasteful production of $1 coins for circulation. In 2005, Congress enacted the Presidential $1 Coin Act, which mandated that the United States Mint issue new Presidential $1 Coins with the likeness of every deceased President.  But more than 40 percent of the $1 coins that the United States Mint has issued have been returned to the Federal Reserve, because nobody wants to use them."

Their plan is to comply with the law that the coins shall be minted, but to,essentially, leave the number of coins that are minted to market demands.  The Mint intends to only issue enough coins to satisfy coin collecotrs.  Apparently not sustaining coin production at its current rate will save the government approximately $50 million a year.

I see a day in America's future where all coins, like the space program, will be obsolete.  It would sure save us all a heap of money if that day came sooner rather than later.

Photo by jlodder.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Links

A broken link on the internet? Sad face!
The Centsible Life had a great post on what items are best to buy in December.  I thought it was curious that scotch was missing from the list until I realized that there is never a bad time to buy scotch.

Cordelia Calls It Quits! posted 10 ways to know you're on the right track in life.  As usual, the article is thoughtful and inspiring.  I keep hoping she'll phone some posts in so the rest of us don't look so bad, but she never does.

Posting at Yakezie, the Financial Samurai encouraged us to press on even if we momentarily feel dumb.  Heck, I feel dumb every moment, and I keep going!

Well Heeled Blog celebrated a still-running warhorse of a 16 year old, 250,000 mile-having car.  When the zombies attack, I'm totes stealing a mid-nineties Honda Accord, y'all!

So Over Debt wrote about how toys are the biggest money pit ever.  As a 29 year old man who still buys toys from time to time, I am in total agreement.  My solution?  Outlaw children.  And 29 year old men.

Farhad Manjoo at Slate suggests that, instead of helping to foster a literary community, independent booksellers are actually detrimental to the arts community when compared to buying from Amazon.  He suggests that if you can buy a book from Amazon at half the price of an item at a brick and mortar store, but choose to buy the overpriced book in person, you're foolishly spending money that could be used to promote other artistic endeavors (read: going to plays).  This one is worth a read.

Photo by oedipusphinx.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Four Tips to Living a Balanced Life

This article was contributed by Nina Bernice exclusively for All content is for informational purposes only and must not be substituted for any professional advice.

Living a healthy, relatively stress free life is one of the best health insurance policies that you can give yourself. While living healthy is no excuse for not buying some online cheap insurance quotes, it will do wonders to keep you from having to use your insurance and spend your hard earned money on doctor’s visits. Here are four tips to help you balance your busy life without sacrificing your health.

Simplify Your Life

Cut back on extra work and volunteer projects so that you aren't overwhelmed with work and have time to devote to relaxation. Automate your finances by signing up to have your health insurance, car payments and utilities automatically drafted from your checking account.
Get Enough Sleep

Everybody is different, but most sleep experts recommend that adults get between six and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. If you have problems sleeping, go to a specialist to find out what you can do to help you get an adequate amount of sleep.
Make Time for Intentional Physical Exercise Daily

Getting at least twenty minutes of activity a day is a good start for people who don't exercise regularly. A brisk walk will help tone your body and can help to clear your mind and distress. Make sure that you don't exercise within three hours of your bedtime or you will be too stimulated to fall asleep. If you are a regular at the gym, try taking the intensity of your workouts up a notch. If you are currently overweight, getting fit will help you to qualify for cheap insurance which is a win-win for you; smaller clothes and a smaller insurance premium.
Make Time for Family and Friends

Everyone has loved ones or close friends, and it's very important to have meaningful time with them to develop and maintain relationships. Fifteen minutes is just over one percent of your total day, but imagine how your relationship with your partner could improve with an investment of just a quarter of an hour each day. If you are a parent, try carving out another fifteen minutes for your kids; as time allows you can spend fifteen minutes with each one individually or together. The same applies to friends; try spending half an hour a week catching up with friends and you'll be amazed at the happiness that is brought to your life.

Following these tips and striving to live a healthy and
balanced lifestyle is the best insurance you can have for your overall long term health. You'll live your life happier knowing that you are fit and in control of your life, not the other way around.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Analysis of a 2 Broke Girls Episode

If you're interested in personal finance and you haven't been watching 2 Broke Girls, what in the world is wrong with you? that's probably okay.  However, the show, at least tangentially, revolves around ideas that have a lot to do with money, and, for this reason, here's a post about it.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the two main characters are Max, a gruff, sassy waitress who makes cupcakes for (mostly) fun, and Caroline (pronounced Care-oh-line, so you know she's uppity), a saccharine-sweet, suddenly bankrupt daughter of a Bernie Madoff-like character.  Despite the tough-girl front that Max puts up, you can tell that she, slowly and grudgingly, is coming to like her new friend Caroline, mostly because every episode seems to feature Max feeling slighted by something Caroline does, Max writing Caroline off for being like every other person who has ever mistreated her, and Caroline making a GRAND GESTURE that gets Max to like her again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I'll Probably Never Buy Season Tickets Again

Even though my Chargers are looking quite a bit better than they did when I wrote this, they will still almost certainly not make the playoffs.  The biggest reason for this is Tim Tebow loves God, God loves Tim Tebow, and Tim Tebow is in the same division as the Chargers.

Seriously, if the game's close, the dude can't seem to lose.

Anyways, my point in all this is that the Chargers haven't had the great season that I (and many others) were pretty sure that they would.  Based on my belief that they would have a great season, I purchased a partial (4 game) season ticket package for several tickets under the hopes that I would be able to sell the extra tickets that I wasn't able to use.*

Had the Chargers had the tremendous season that I had expected, I probably could have made some money off of my extra tickets.  As it turns out, nobody wants to pay full-price to see a bad team play (and if that bad team is playing another bad team, as happened when the Chargers played the Chiefs, it gets really bad: I ended up selling some tickets with a face value of $70 for only $10 a piece).

I tried selling on Craigslist.  I tried selling on eBay.  I tried shaking down friends and acquantances, all to no avail.

While it makes me too sad to come up with a specific number, I easily lost several hundred dollars on my extra tickets.  And that is why, after my very expensive experiment in selling tickets, you can count me out of that particular game.  I'll be leaving the ticket-selling to the professionals, and I'll happily let some other sucker lose their money.

In short, if you are not absolutely certain that you will be able to use all the tickets you buy when you buy a season ticket, you probably shouldn't buy them.  I learned that the hard way.

*If you're wondering why I bought season tickets instead of just a single game ticket, here's the reason: my family really wanted to go to what turned out to be a super-expensive game if you bought the tickets in the secondary market (the Packers/Chargers game).  Because the Chargers organization knew that this was going to be a popular game, they didn't let people only buy tickets to that game; you could only buy tickets to this game as part of a package.

While I saved my family members money on this particular game by buying the season ticket package, I sure lost a heap of money on all the other games.  Oh well.  You live, you learn.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Personal Update

This came up in an image search for "Theatre."
I guess I'd pay to watch this happen,
though maybe not for 90 minutes.
Last month I made a commitment to myself with the end goal of writing a full-length play during the month of November.  I did not achieve that goal by a long shot.

However, I did make some progress on the playwrighting front.  Spurred on by Cordelia, I joined the Impossible League.  While I haven't been super active over there as of yet, one of the other members happened to know somebody who happened to be running a short play competition (the due date for which was, unfortunately, only a couple of days away).  I hurriedly wrote a short play, and I submitted it.  I found out today that it was not accepted for the festival, and I'm pretty much at peace with that.  While I think the idea I had was a good one, I think that I found out about the contest too late in the game to really flesh out the script and iron out the wrinkles, so to speak.

I did also make a submission to another playwrighting contest, but this one did not require a script.  For this one, all I needed to do was to submit a sample of previous work and to write a page or two on what sort of play I would write were I chosen.  While I don't want to give any ideas away, I think I have a good shot at this one.  I haven't heard back from them yet, but I expect to in the next week.

Finally, as part of another set of goals I set out for myself a few months ago, I am in the midst of applying to a Ph.D. program in theatre.  I am applying to a well-regarded, albeit local, school.  I've already contacted former professors for references, and my big issue now is writing my statement of intent (fortunately, I already took the GRE a few years back, so I'm good on that front - 1400, what what! [for what it's worth, that score is already out of date as they retooled the scoring system for the GRE a few months ago]).  In any case, continuing my education is something that I'd really like to happen, so I hope that my passion and propensity for the material will shine through in my essay.

Photo by Rob Boudon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Links

Always the Planner featured a guest post about how to stay in shape while not spending a bunch of money.  I figured this post would be about, you know, not eating, but I was pleasantly surprised when it was more helpful than that.

J$ wrote an article about how the Green Bay Packers have started selling more team stock.  Why anybody would want to make a soup that tastes like the Packers is beyond me.

Kay Lynn Akers asked the question, "Are you piddling away your money?"  Mostly, I poop mine out, so this didn't really apply to me.

Couple Money had a post that considered the financial and academic benefits of going to school online.  None of these benefits included the money you could save by no longer needing to buy clothing or personal hygiene products.

Hank Coleman wanted us to consider how much money we spend on our vices.  I don't live in Miami, so, again, this isn't a problem for me.

My Multiple Streams considered AT&T stock as an investment.  To use my joke from above, I'm not sure why anybody wants soup that tastes like cell phones, but who can really tell?  Also, AT&T can suck it!

Punch Debt in the Face revealed how the author lost the money he had gambled while he was on a recent Vegas trip.  Psh, like losing $20 really proves that gambling isn't a profitable money-making scheme.

Jeffrey Kluger suggested that instead of levying a "sugar" tax on consumers of soda, the tax should be on the producers of soda, thus encouraging them to develop and sell healthier alternatives.  I suspect prices would just creep up, but what do I know?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

3 Year-End Money-Saving Tax Tips

If you've got some money and you're in the business of saving as much of it as you can legally,* here are a couple of ideas on how to do so.

1)  Max out your traditional IRA - If you are under 50 years old, you are eligible to put as much as $5,000 into a traditional IRA account.  The nice thing about a traditional IRA is that you are investing money in the account post-tax, but the government sees it as a pre-tax investment.  Thus, when you file your taxes, you will receive money back for the amount that you invested in your traditional IRA that you've already paid taxes on.  Bear in mind that the above $5,000 limit is the limit for any and all IRA accounts you may have (that is, if you have both a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA, the total you can invest in both combined for 2011 is $5,000 - e.g., $2,500 in the Roth, $2,500 in the traditional).

2)  Harvest losses - The market is picking back up, but if you have stock or mutual fund investments in a non-tax-advantaged acccount (i.e., not a retirement account), you can sell off some of your investments at a lower price than you bought them for in order to offset taxes that you will pay for profits from other investments.  While you will definitely lose money on your investment, you will pay less in taxes.  Five Cent Nickel does an excellent job of explaining this concept here.

3)  Donate to a charity or non-profit - Now wait a minute, you say.  I'm reading this because I want to keep my money, not give it to the poor!  That's a fair enough attitude, Ebenezer, but it is worth noting that money donated to charities and/or non-profit organization (such as THEATRES) is money that you can deduct from your taxable income and therefore pay less money in taxes on.

*If you're more interested in saving money illegally, I recommend not hiring the man in this video.

Photo by soukup.

This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #340.

Monday, December 5, 2011

AT&T Can Suck It! (And Also, Thanks AT&T for Being Reasonable)

When in Rome, make sure not to get charged for roaming.
(Wordplay!  Zing!)
A few weeks ago, I encouraged you to double-check your invoices, particularly while travelling via cruise.  My reasoning behind this advice was that Norwegian Cruise Lines double-charged me, my wife, and my brother for an excursion that we took.  However, it turns out that there were even more accounting irregularities due to our vacation.

When I was up at my family's house for Thanksgiving, my grandma complained about how high their cell phone bill with AT&T was the previous month.  Being the personal finance blogger extraordinaire that I am, I asked to take a look at their bill.  The culprit, it turns out, was my brother.  He had single-handedly made their bill go up by nearly $90.

Now, right away, I know what you're thinking, and no, my brother did NOT download Aqua's Barbie Girl 90 times through iTunes.

How did he make their bill go up so much you ask?  Well, he made and received some phone calls while he was on the east coast prior to our cruise.  And he was charged 79 cents a minute in roaming charges for the privilege of being a part of those phone calls.

Let that sink in for a moment.  Somebody, in 2011, was charged for roaming.  ROAMING!  That's like building a fire in your fire place, and then receiving a bill in the mail a few weeks later for using smoke signals.

To AT&T's credit, it was actually pretty easy to get this cleared up.  I called them up, expressed my incredulity that anybody could get charged for roaming (it's not even a thing anymore!), and they credited my grandparents' invoice the amount that had been charged.  It turned out that my grandparents had just kept renewing a very old cell phone plan (that I think they originally signed up for in 1999) under which roaming charges still applied.  With their permission (and at the firm suggestion of the AT&T customer service representative, who claimed that he would only issue a credit for roaming charges one time), I updated their service plan online to a newer, comparable plan.

But the kicker is that neither my grandparents or my brother were going to call AT&T about it!  If I hadn't been there, they would have just paid the extra cash and gone on their merry way.  Somewhat fortunately, neither my grandparents or my brother are really pressed for cash, but I can't help wondering how many people see extra charges on their bills, figure that those charges are fair, and pay them.

How much money do big companies receive just because people don't call them on it?

How about you?  Do any of you still get charged for roaming?  Do you realize that we are no longer in the year 1999?  Let me know in the comments.

Photo by tejvanphotos.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Links

Are you interested in irritating your customers?  Make your product look a lot like one of your other products.

One of my pipe dreams is to own a book store.  I say this a pipe dream because I don't think people can make much of a living selling books.  With this in mind, Bookshop Blog asks, "What Compels Someone to Own a Bookstore?"

Chase decides not to evict a soon-to-be 104 year old woman, mostly because the people it hired to do so refused.

Andrea at So Over Debt wrote about different reactions to crises.  If you're interested in personality types, this makes for some interesting reading.

Meadow DeVor wrote about how she paid off just under six hundred grand in less than three years.  It's a pretty amazing story.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Ways the 2011 San Diego Chargers Are Like Debt

These guys are true fans.
I received some positive feedback on my post a few months back about how this year's Colts compare to finances.  As I basically write on this site for love and affection, I thought I'd take another shot at that style of article.  Please feel free to love and affect me in the comments.

Let me start by saying that my favorite football team is the San Diego Chargers, and so it is with fear and trepidation that I liken my team to the pernicious "d" word of the personal finance community.  That "d" word, of course, is debt.

But how, you ask, can a real, actual team be compared to an abstract idea?  Gather around, my children, and I'll tell you a tale.

1)  Both may be fun, for a while - The Chargers started this season with a record of 4-1.  "Four wins and only one loss?", we fans asserted incredulously.  "Can life get better?  I submit that it cannot!"  Following several seasons of 2-3 starts, we finally had a team that gained momentum early, and it was difficult not to be optimistic.  That was a good time to be Chargers fan. 

In a similar way, when a person is getting into debt (especially credit card debt), it's probably a pretty good time.  "What's that?  I can buy the 70" television AND the Playstation 3 right now and only worry about paying it off in the future?  Sign me the crap up!"  Let's be real: it feels amazing to be able to gratify yourself instantly.*  It's only when the bills start to come that our purchases feel a little less like smart choices.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Update and a Financial Bucket List

Turkey knows your thoughts
and judges you.
Be afraid.

Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow to all my readers in the lower 48 (I'm pretty sure there aren't any turkeys in Alaska and Hawaii, so how can they celebrate the day? :-) ).

Today, I am thankful that, after a month, Norwegian Cruise Line has finally refunded my money from when they double-charged me for an excursion I took on my cruise that ended over a month ago.  FINALLY!  That's $178 that I have again.  Take that, suckas!

Secondly, I am trying to win the $500 Give Me Back My Five Bucks Competition, sponsored by Life Insurance Finder, the life insurance experts.  To get some extra entries, I need to list some items on my financial bucket list.  Here goes nothing!

1)  Get my money back from Norwegian Cruise Lines.  Check, check, and double-check.  I know that this was a very small goal, but it was super annoying to try to connect with the right department at NCL and I've also been checking my bank statement nearly every day to make sure that the money got credited back. I am glad to put this behind me!
2)  Max out my Roth IRA contribution every year until I can't anymore.  My wife and I are close to bumping up against the maximum income level a married couple can have and still be eligible to contribute to a Roth, so I need to contribute now while I am still able.
3)  Take full advantage of my very generous company 401(k) match.  My company matches 100% of my contributions, up to the specified limit of $16,500.  I am ineligible to contribute until January, however; they want the employee to work at the company for six months before starting to match.  Come January, look out!
4)  Save more money for traveling.  I really want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with my dad and two brothers.  My dad's getting older (aren't we all?), so I want to be able to go while he's still able.
5)  Produce and direct a play.  I haven't done this yet, but I'd like to mount a small-scale production with paid actors while shelling out approximately $5,000.  I just need to do it!

What items are on your financial bucket list?  Let me know in the comments, or, better yet, leave a comment over at Give Me Back My Five Bucks and enter the contest yourself!  (You'll just have to give me a kickback if you win. :) )

Photo by techvt

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Arts Can Help the Economy?

In a recent article at the Denver Post, it was revealed that nonprofit theatres (read: not commercial for profit theatres on Broadway) contributed 1.9 billion dollars to the national economy in 2010.

The article states:

"The $1.9 billion impact estimate, based on surveys of 171 member companies and analysis of tax records filed by 1,636 more, accounts only for salaries, benefits and payments for goods and services. The actual impact is much greater, the theater group says, when you take into account dining, parking, babysitters, hotels and more. "
The study also asserts that, generally speaking, communities in which theatres pop up are communities that are then revitalized by the presence of that theatre, which further encourages the growth of local economies.  One researcher is calling this the "arts ripple effect."

So, not only is the theatre good in qualitative ways (enrichment of mind and soul), but it's also good for America (and Canada [and...the world!]) in down and dirty monetarily quantifiable ways.  Good to know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I'm Saving Money the Next Few Days on Travel

This is me after plowing through a snow
bank last Christmas while being pulled
behind my father-in-law's tractor. 
This is, literally, how I roll.
Based on the number of posts that I write about it, you would think that I travel a lot.  While I suppose this is true, I certainly don't feel like I travel that much (of course, I spent most of the last two years making weekly flights to and from grad school, so perhaps I don't have a good base reading on just what constitutes "a lot" of travelling).

Nevertheless, over the next few days, the wife and I are taking another trip.  For this one, we'll be leaving our beloved San Diego sunshine to face the icy, frozen northern tundra that is Fargo, North Dakota.*  My wife's family lives in North Dakota, and we're making a trip out there to visit and see our new nephew. 

Here are a handful of ways that we're fortunate to be able to save money over this time.

1)  Staying with Family - While this is not as exciting as getting a hotel, it's also much less expensive.  We are flying out of LAX tomorrow morning, and, fortunately, my brother lives pretty close to LAX, and he's offered to let us stay at his place AND take us to the airport in the wee small hours of the morning.  Additionally, we are able to stay at the home of the relatives that we're visiting in North Dakota, so we'll save there too.  This leads right into...

2)  Saving on a Car Rental - Because we are able to stay with family, we will not need to rent a car to get from our hotel to our family.  This is awesome, because, as much as I like fish-tailing all over the road, I'm not the hugest fan of driving on snowy roads.  You might argue that this makes me a sissy, and I agree with your assessment.

3)  Saving on Flights - One of the primary reasons we chose this weekend to fly north for the winter (birds got it all wrong, man!) is that the price for our flights was so low.  While the airline that we're flying has stiffed us before (at least they pass on the savings incurred from treating customers badly!), we're flying Allegiant Air again.  Our tickets were approximately $250 round trip, per person.  This is almost unheard of for flying from California to North Dakota, as flights can easily be that much just one way.  However, apparently the weekend before Thanksgiving is not prime travel time, so we were able to take advantage of the cheaper tickets offered through the website.

How do you save on travel?  Let me know in the comments.

*Here's hoping nobody puts me through a wood chipper.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Two Thoughts on Timeshares

Little Miss Moneybags has a great post on things to consider when or if you are considering buying a timeshare, and I wanted to add two additional points that come from my own personal experiences.

1)  Timeshare Salesmen Are People Too - If you've been to a timeshare presentation, you probably have made a note to yourself to never go to another timeshare presentation again.  Why is this?  Timeshare salesmen have a reputation for being pushy (and I suspect many of you have much a much less diplomatic word than "pushy" when it comes to describing timeshare salesmen).  While I deplore how many salesmen conduct themselves (see below), I do my best to see it from their perspective.  They are trying to make a living by selling something that almost nobody wants to people who are probably just there to jerk them around by seeming just interested enough for long enough that they can collect their "free" prizes.  I'd be pretty pushy too.

2)  Timeshare Salesmen Need to Learn to Back It Up, or the Guy from Pinch That Penny Is Going to Cut a Fool - Having said the above, I've never felt more lied to, or misled, in my life than I have when I've talked with timeshare salesmen and/or reps from timeshare companies.  For instance, on a Vegas trip a couple of years ago*, my wife and I were talked into going to a supposedly hour presentation under the guise of free show tickets for our time (for what it's worth, I believe it was to some timeshare that was being built by Planet Hollywood in Vegas; I'd put out a call to boycott Planet Hollywood in response, but I mean, let's be real -- Bruce Willis needs money for toupees).  By the time we finally sat down with a salesperson, that salesperson refused to even go through the presentation with us because we told her that we had been told that the presentation would only take an hour.  She insisted that she needed at least an hour and a half to two hours.

So, all we got out of it was close to two hours lost from our vacation.  They didn't apologize for jerking us around, and they didn't give us our show tickets.

Having said all that, I'm not entirely averse to the idea of timeshares.  My in-laws bought a timeshare many years ago, and they are vigilant about using their weeks of vacation (the live in North Dakota, so, particularly in the winter, it's nice to have a week at a resort somewhere that's sunny).  I think if you buy a timeshare, the key thing to consider is whether you'll end up using your weeks of vacation that you've purchased.  If that's not realistically a very easy "yes," then you probably shouldn't buy one.

How about you all?  Do you have any experience with timeshares?  Let me know in the comments.

*I know it seems like I go to Vegas a lot, but it's a decent vacation destination when you live in Southern California like I do.

Photo by marbla123.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Money and a New American Musical

As it has become something of a pop-cultural punchline, I imagine some of you have heard that somebody thought that it would be a good idea to have a Spider-Man musical on Broadway.  These people are named Julie Taymor,* Bono, and The Edge (yes, the latter two are of U2 fame).  This musical's development has intrigued me for the last couple of years, and I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

What you may not have heard is just how much of a disaster the whole thing has turned out to be, particularly in regards to its (former) director and writer Julie Taymor.  Basically, it boils down to this: the show cost twice as much as any other Broadway show in history to mount (around $75 million), it started receiving horrible reviews, the producers told Julie Taymor to fix it, Taymor refused, Taymor was fired, and huge swatches of the musical were re-written.

Now, Taymor has brought suit against the producers claiming that she was only paid $125,000 five years ago for her work on the show.  She also alleges that she should be paid royalties for performances that continue to take place as she estimates that around 25% of the show as it stands now came directly from her ideas and input.  Considering how much the show cost to put on, this is a very low amount for the head writer/director to make.  Still, it's very surprising to me that whatever contract that she had didn't stipulate, you know, that she should be paid for her work.

From an outsider's perspective, one could argue that Taymor ran the production into the ground, and that, while she should be compensated for whatever work she did prior to her departure, it is odd to pay her for a production that was substantially changed after she left the show.  Still, if it's true that 25% of the show came from her artistic vision (though, one wonders just how such a percentage can be substantiated), one would think that her intellectual property ought to be worth something.

To top the whole thing off, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark** has been making buku bucks since it opened (pulling in as much as $1.6 million gross a week, which is HUGE by Broadway standards), but any optimism that the production could have in making that money is hindered by the fact that it costs well over a million dollars a week to put the show on (salaries and elaborate special effects are expensive, it turns out), which leaves the producers somewhat cash-strapped.

I guess what makes this interesting to me is that, for better or worse, Julie Taymor really had a vision for the show.  She wanted to create something new and exciting.  She invested several years of her life in putting it together, and, even so, this well-regarded and brilliant director still managed to created something that people thought was ridiculous and awful.  As an example, after seeing one of the preview performances, the main critic for the New York Times wrote in his review, "I’m not kidding. The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from 'How can $65 million look so cheap?' to 'How long before I’m out of here?'"***

Look, I appreciate that Broadway is about making money.  In America, success is inextricably linked to how much money can be made.  That's fair enough.  The producers needed to put out a saleable product, and Taymor wasn't as interested in making money as she was in staying true to her vision. That is also fair enough.

But it continues to fascinate me that somebody so talented could spend so much money and be in cahoots with two of the biggest rock stars in the world, and still put out something that people seemed to only like for its camp value.  Having more money is not always the answer when it comes to creating great art, it seems.

While the motivational rallying cry for many nowadays is "Go big or go home," Julie Taymor is one of the few who got to "Go big and go home."  I'm curious what she'll come up with next.

*Julie Taymor is, perhaps, most famous for her work on the Broadway version of The Lion King.
**This is maybe the worst name for anything I've ever seen.  How exactly does one turn off the dark?  Is it the same as turning on a light?
***At the time he saw it, the production had "only" cost $65 million.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cruise Advice - Check Your Invoice

If you've gone on a cruise, you are familiar with receiving an invoice for everything you've purchased on the cruise that arrives, tucked so delicately, under your stateroom door on the last day.

For those of you who haven't been on a cruise, here's how it works.  As part of the check-in process at the port, the cruise agent asks for a credit (or debit) card to link in with your room key.  Cruises do this so that you only have to carry your room key around; all purchases on board are done through your room key to (allegedly) save you the inconvenience of carrying around cash.

As you can imagine, when your wallet isn't literally getting lighter with each transaction (there is a bar around every corner on a cruise ship, and, what, I can't have a mimosa on vacation!?), it gets difficult to remember just how much you're spending (it is very easy to spend as much as you spent on your ticket to the cruise while on board the ship).

So, just from that perspective, it's a good idea to keep the receipts that you receive with your drink orders (or duty free purchases, or art purchases* for you big spenders) to make sure that you haven't been double-charged.

My problem, however, had to do with excursions (somewhat obviously, this is how the cruise ship refers to tours or activities off of the boat while you're at a port).  You see, there are a finite number of spots for any given excursion, so my wife and brother and I decided to purchase at least one of our excursions beforehand to ensure that we got to go on what we figured the most exciting excursion would be.**  So, a few days before the cruise, I booked three tickets for this excursion through the Norwegian Cruise Line website with my rewards credit card.

Fast-forward a few days.  On the cruise, I was trying to be a thoughtful consumer, so, about halfway through the trip, I asked for a copy of the invoice in order to check upon how much I had spent.  The items on the invoice all matched up except for the fact that I saw a charge on there for the Tulum tour (which I thought I had already paid for).

The next day, I marched to NCL's excursion desk on the ship and declared, "Behold: I have been charged twice," to which they replied, "Uhm, no, I don't think so; it looks like when you booked the excursion previously, you just created a reservation, and you weren't actually charged at that time."  I accepted this explanation (having no way to verify it on my own -- there is internet access on the boat, so I could have checked it that way, but internet usage costs a stupid amount [I think it was four dollars to set up an internet account (!) and then it was a dollar a minute after that), and I went on my merry way.

When I got home, I checked my credit card statement, and, lo and behold, I found that I had been double-charged.  This was disconcerting, as excursions are not cheap (this one cost $89 per person).

So, all that to say, I called Norwegian's customer service line  (which is open until 9 pm on the west coast), only to be told that I needed to call a different department (which is only open until 2 pm on the west coast).  When I finally spoke to the correct person, he saw that I had, in fact, been double-charged, and he promised to credit my card back during the next billing cycle (which could take up to a month).  I spoke with him two weeks ago, and I still haven't seen the credit, but I will give them another two weeks before I call back.

So, my advice is, if you're going on a cruise, make sure to check your invoice.  In the future, I will probably print out a copy of my credit card statement prior to the cruise showing any excursions that I have pre-purchased so that I can get my account credited right away.  This waiting around for a month business is for suckers.

Have any of you faced similar monetary issues while on cruises?  Let me know in the comments.

*I'm always surprised that they have art galleries and art auctions on cruises.  While I suppose cruise customers have extra income (as is evidenced by the fact that they are on the cruise), it seems really weird to me that people would drop several thousand dollars on an (apparently) impulse art buy.  But, maybe the art auctions are THE reason some people go on cruises (me, I just go to the art auctions for the free champagne).
**This excursion was for the Mayan ruins in Tulum.  It was awesome.  The ruins also overlooked a beach with beautifully blue water (which is pictured above).

Photo by jjjj56cp.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A November Goal - Nothing Comes from Nothing

If you're a blogger, then you are probably somewhat familiar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  For the last several Novembers, people around the country (and the world) have made the commitment to themselves to put 50,000 words (an average number of words for a novel) of prose onto the page (or, more likely, into Microsoft Word).

I admire the people who sign up for NaNoWriMo -- both those who finish and those who strive valiantly in attempts to finish.  However, while it is on my bucket list to write a novel, it is actually playwrighting that more captures my fancy of late.  So, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, I'm committing to writing a play during the month of November.  I am not signing up with the site, however, as the word limit is pushing it for a play (Hamlet "only" has 32,241 words).

What this means is that I will be looking to you, my reading public, for accountability in the coming weeks.  If you think of it, please feel free to drop me a comment or send me an email to ask how I'm doing.  I'd very much appreciate it.

Long time readers may remember that I have a goal of finishing and submitting a play to a contest by December 1st.  However, the contest in question requires the work be about very specific subject matter, and that subject matter has been something of a stumbling block for me over the last few months.*  So, I may write for the contest or I might not.  I'm using this month as a kick in the butt to get writing again, and I don't need to give myself any excuses.

After all, nothing comes from nothing.  If I write nothing, then nothing of mine will get performed, right?  At least if I write something, there's a chance, and that is encouragement enough for me.

*The contest wants plays that aren't necessarily historical, but the plays need to have something to do with science.  However, these plays should not be science fiction (which, to me, begs the question: if the play isn't rooted in history, isn't it in some way science fictional?  This is part of the stumbling block in my mind about the contest).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Price Synonymous with Value?

In a recent article over at, a story is told about Ernest Gallo (whom you may remember from his and his brother Julio's wine commercials in the 80s).  In the story, Ernest conducted an experiment in which he would pour two glasses of wine for his customers.  He would say that one glass was worth five cents, and the other glass was worth ten cents.  He found that every single person he did this to claimed that he or she enjoyed the ten cent wine more than the five cent wine.

The kicker?  Both glasses contained wine poured from the same bottle.  His customers had been fooled by the price, and not by the actual quality of the wine itself.

This got me to thinking about other items whose apparent value had a comparable price point.  When I think about the first generation iPods, for example, they had high price tags because they didn't have much in the way of cometition.  However, even when other companies got on the portable digital music player bandwagon, iPod prices remained high even while Zune and other comparable devices sold for much cheaper.

You might argue that the consistently high price for iPods was a product of the infrastructure that Apple had built in the form of iTunes when compared with the sparser resources for purchasing music on the other devices, but at the end of the day, an iPod and a Zune are basically just the same thing: a very portable hard drive.  The only real difference is the branding.

I guess my basic question for us is (and I'll use Apple as my example), is it the intrinsic value of an iPod what drives up the price?  Or, is it the high prices of Apple products in general that make us think that they're more valuable?  Let me know what you think in the comments.

Picture by kevin dooley

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It May Not Be So Easy to Close Your Chase Bank Account

Here's a story about a person who closed down his Chase account one day, only to have reopened a few days later to the tune of over a hundred bucks in overdraft fees.

"Remember how I said closing my account at Chase was really easy? ... A week or two later, I'm going through the mail and there's all this mail from Chase—overdraft notices for my Chase checking account. Which is supposed to be closed. The notices are for two debit card transactions and two auto-pay electronic checks. Instead of the payments not going through, like you would expect of a closed checking account, all four were paid by Chase, which then added an overdraft fee of $34 to each one, meaning $136 in overdraft fees."

I guess the banks want to make sure we all stay their customers.  It's enough to make me want to close my own Chase account (even though I love how easy it is to deposit checks).

Will any of you be switching to credit unions on November 5 as a part of National Bank Transfer Day?  If so, follow the above article's advice and cut out debit card transactions as soon as you can to avoid any overdraft fees of your own (debit card transactions can take a few days to post to your bank account).  Also, if you're switching banks, let me know in the comments.


Since getting back from my trip, I'm having a little bit of difficulty prioritizing what I want to do next.  In some ways, the trip was a goal in itself, and a lot of other things were pushed to the wayside as I prepared for it.  Now that it's past, there are many things that I'd like to/should do, but I don't know what steps to take first.

Part of the trouble for me right now is deciding whether or not I want to apply to continue in grad school.  Getting my M.A. was illuminating, and I suspect that I would enjoy and get a lot from further study, but going for a Ph.D. is an even bigger commitment as it would likely take at least 3 to 4 years to complete (as opposed to the two in which I received my M.A.).  Additionally, while there is always the faint lure of becoming a teacher, the more I read about humanities jobs in higher education, the less it seems like the degree would help me find a job.  While I, old-fashionedly, cling to the idea that getting a job is NOT the most important part of getting a degree, I'm having difficulty rationalizing expending the effort without at least some promise of career prospects.

On a concurrent note, the Mrs. and I will probably start having kids soon, so if I ever wanted a Ph.D., it would be a lot easier if I started this fall (thus knocking some classes out of the way before having the additional responsibilities that come with parenthood).*

Another item that's struggling for priority dominance is the idea of losing weight (I say "idea" because this has remained a theoretical prospect over the last few years).  While I have not yet achieved my goal of becoming the world's fattest man, I think it's about time that I threw in the towel.

Still another priority is finding time to be a creative person.  I recently reported that I received an offer to be an understudy in a play early next year with a great local theatre company (which I accepted), but I think I should be out there, auditioning more in an effort to get more roles.  I also need to make time to get my butt in a chair and start writing plays again, as I have had some success with that in past, and I enjoyed the time and effort I've put into it.

In short, I guess I need to just stop being lazy.  I'll work on that.

*All of this assumes I would even get in at this point, as it is fairly late in the application game for next fall.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Links

The Blog of Impossible Things has a post encouraging readers to be prolific, as opposed to putting off doing creative work until one receives a sudden flash of inspiration.  This is good, timely advice for me.

Always the Planner has a guest post that equates managing money with managing attention.

Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured has an essay on why marginal tax rates make sense.

So Over Debt compiled a list of 6 reasons why you may be too poor to shop at Walmart.  I am in that group myself as I compulsively check and only purchase the body wash that is the cheapest.