Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turbo Tax Online

Today my wife and I went to Best Buy and bought the latest version of TurboTax, just like we do every year. Just before the installation, we discovered that Turbo Tax is available online for $20 less. Since our software was unopened, we were able to return it.

We used the online version for the first time, and highly recomend it. You don't have to install any sofware, and can access your tax filing from any computer. All of the version like Basic, Deluxe, Primere, Home Business, and Business are all available online.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pay Paper Bills Upon Receipt

We all have bills that are can't be automated. My local water company for example, doesn't have the technology to deduct money from my "Bills" bank Account, and the amount varies each month, so I can't use my banks reoccurring bill pay to issue a check.

The easiest way to pay these bills is upon receipt. If I'm thumbing through the mail and come across these type of bills, I whip out my check book right then and there. I slap a stamp on the envelope, and put it by the door for mailing. If I set it down on the counter, odds are that I'll forget to pay it. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a late fee on a bill that you had the money to pay for.

So try making it a rule to pay these un-automated bills upon receipt, you'll never be late again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Quick tip: Life without the Snooze Bar

Does it take the "Jaws-of-life" to get you out of bed in the morning? Consider changing your sleep habits. Here is a trick that I use to make my mornings easier:

Monday through Friday I get up at 5:15 am. I'm usually out the door just before 6:00 to catch the train. If motivating myself to get up at this time becomes problematic, I will plan a "sleep attack."

The Early Alarm Sleep Attack

Set your alarm an hour early, and crank up the volume. The next morning after you put your heart back in your chest, and return to DEFCON 5, go through your regular morning routine as usual. If everything goes correctly you should be walking out the door exactly 1 hour ahead of schedule.

Make sure you leave the house. Either go to work early, or stop at a coffee shop and read the paper. If you go to work early it might impress your boss, and help to compensate for your temporary sleep deprived zombie state. Do what ever it takes to get through the day. When you get home, you must stay up until an hour before you regular bed time. Before you go to bed remember to return your alarm clock to it regular settings.

The next morning you will wake up at your normal time feeling refreshed and life will be wonderful. Even 5:15am can feel like sleeping in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Long Car Trips are Better with Audio Books

Over the holidays, My Wife and I drove to California twice to see friends and family. We prefer to leave around 6:00 am, drive straight through and arrive just after 7:00 pm. To maintain our sanity during this 13+ hour drive, we listen to audio books cover to cover. A good audio book like Dan Brown's Deception Point can make the hands of a clock spin like airplane propellers while whisking you off to a far away land.

Passively listening to an audio book is much safer than chatting on a cell phone. "Drivers who talk on either handheld or hands-free cellular phones are as impaired as drunken drivers," according to experimental research conducted by Drs. Frank Drews, David Strayer, and Dennis L. Crouch of the University of Utah.

Instead of just staring at the road listening to the radio, you might consider an educational audio books. You could learn Thai, investment strategies, or even how to win an argument. If you are going to be stuck in the car for hours on end, you might as well get something out of it.

The next time you have a long drive ahead of you, try listening to an audio book and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Tip: $100 Tradeking Referrals

Right now Tradeking is offering $100 for friend referrals. Provide them with the email address of your friend, and if they open an account, deposit over $1,000.00 and make their first trade, you get $100.00.
Any of you thinking about opening an account let me know. I'll even split it with you.

The Extreme Credit Card Challenge

Get ready for my new Extreme Credit Card Challenge. It's the Nicorette for bad Credit Card spending habits, and if you are tired of unwanted credit card debt, than listen up.

Credit card debt is not a way of life! Don't become complacent with having it. Credit Card debt is a horrible addiction just like drinking or smoking. The only way to get rid of it is to stop spending, and start paying. Unfortunately most people just don't have the will power. There is another term for these people called addicts.

To combat the lack of will power I challenge you to a month without your credit card. See how many consecutive days you can leave your credit card at home. Many Alcoholics can easily go a day or two without a drink, but to abstain for a week or a month takes dedication. It is the same with your credit card. Are you such a junkie that you are actually depend on a credit card fix? Would your life really change if you were to only use a debit card or cash?

Starting tomorrow, take all credit cards out of your wallet and purposely leave them at home to test your addiction. Can you to survive a day without it? how about a week, or a month?

But what if there is an emergency?
Now you're talking! This is why starting and emergency fund is so important. Using a credit card in an emergency is the worst idea ever. Why would you want to pay interest on an already bad situation?

Comment on your progress, and how many days you've been credit card sober.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ADT Yard Signs: The Poor Man's Security System

Recently a co-worker's home was burglarized. I use the term "burglarized" not robbed, because technically a robbery only occurs if the owner is present, and forced to turn over possessions. This misfortune, however got me to re-evaluate my own security.

According to ADT, "Homes with ADT® monitored security systems are three times less likely to be broken into than those homes without a security system." This does not surprise me, because the average burglar will not go near a home with an ADT yard sign, or window decals. The interesting part is that the signs and window decals are the cheapest part of owning a security system.

A yard sign and decals can be purchased on ebay for around $30-$50. These identifiers obviously don't provide the protection of an actual system, but it can greatly affect the odds of a break in. There are even companies that specialize in making fake security signs, but I heard burglars can tell the difference.

So, if you don't currently have a functioning security system at home, consider getting some authentic signs. It could be the best $30 you ever spent.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Never Buy less than $500 of Stock at a time.

A while back I opened a Roth Ira Account, as should any financially responsible 29 year old. My contributions are automatically deducted from each paycheck, and deposited into my Tradeking account. I like Tradeking because they only charge $4.99 per trade, and make trading easy for a novice like me. I plan to max out my Roth IRA contributions once I get out of credit card debt, but for now I contribute $200.00 a month.

Since I am fairly new to investing, I would just invest the money as soon as it cleared the bank. I thought that the sooner it was invested the faster it would make money. The problem is that I would pay $4.99 each time I bought more stock. This greatly affected my earnings for each small purchase, especially since I'm paid bi-weekly. Here's why:

Scenario 1.)
A modest $100 is deposited into my Tradeking account bi-weekly. I use to invest it as soon as it cleared. After doing this for six months, I was paying $59.40 in commission fees for a mere $1200.00 invested. Those commission fees eat up 4.95% of earnings.

Scenario 2.)
Now the same $100 is deposited into my Tradeking account bi-weekly, but instead I wait to six months to invest. After six months I make a single trade. For that one trade I only pay $4.95 in commission. I still have $1200.00 invested, but the commission only consumes 0.4125% of my total investment. That is only a fraction of a percent and almost unnoticeable.

Buying less than $500.00 of stock it isn't worth the commission to me. Below is my breakdown:

I believe spending 1% to invest $500 is an acceptable cost, but ideally you want to save up as much as possible and buy in bulk. How do you regularly invest your Roth IRA contributions?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Allowance Formula for Kids

My wife and I don't have any kids yet, but we are planning to in the next few years. With that being said, I came up with an idea that I wanted to run by all you parents out there.

After reading the article "Should You Pay Your Kids for Good Grades" on fivecentnickel, I developed a formula to calculate a weekly allowance for kids based on their grades.

[GPA-Unacceptable] x Rate = Allowance

Using this formula, each report card could set the tone for allowance payments. This enables an allowance to increase or decrease with the grades on each passing report card. I have no idea what the average allowance is for children these days, but changing the rate provides flexibility.

Example 1:
Your son Michael brings home a report card with a 3.29 GPA. He is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). His pay rate is $10. And his allowance is paid weekly.

[3.29 - 2.5] x $10 = $7.90 per week

Example 2:
Your daughter Rachel brings home a report card with a 3.50 GPA. she is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). Her Pay rate is $10. And her allowance is paid weekly.

[3.5 - 2.5] x $10 = $10 per week

Example 3:
Your other son Paul brings home a report card with a 4.0 GPA. He is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). His Pay rate is $10. And his allowance is paid weekly.

[4.0 - 2.5] x $10 = $15 per week

Example 4:
Your oldest daughter Megan is starting high school, and brings home a report card with a 3.50 GPA. she is not allowed to get less than a 2.5 GPA (C average). Her Pay rate is $15 because she is older. And her allowance is paid weekly.

[3.5 - 2.5] x $15 = $15 per week

Example 5:
If you want to be really mean, you could even charge or fine your kids if they get less than an acceptable GPA.

[2.36 - 2.5] x $15 = -$2.10 fee per week

This formula rewards kids for working hard, and teaches them that there are consequences for their actions. It could also provide a platform for teaching personal finance and money management.

Please comment on whether this formula could work for your kids.

Don't Celebrate Victories Until You Cross the Finish Line

It's easy to fall short of your dreams, if you don't follow through in your efforts. Whether you're a politician leading the polls, a boxer winning a fight, or a Nascar driver with one lap to go, something can always go wrong at the last second. It's Murphy's law to have a catastrophic failure just before the smell of victory. The phrase "it's not over, until it's over" is applicable in all aspects of life.

Focusing beyond goals, will usually ensure success. In football, it's much better to run a touch down into the locker room like Forrest Gump, than to get tackled on the 1 yard line doing your victory dance. Never assume the win until you've actually won.

In Hollywood movies, villains are unable to grasp this concept. With the hero captured, and the planet doomed, the villain decides to go off and relish in his own dastardly deeds. This often allows the hero time to escape and save the day. If only the villain would see his evil plans to the bitter end, he would be much more successful.

When buying or selling a house don't break out the champagne until the paperwork is signed and the new owner has possession of the keys. All too often, couples get there heart broken because a technicality prevents them from buying their dream home. It can be equally devastating to have a buyer back out last minute. Only, once the sale is final should you start dancing in the street.