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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fun Freebies and Samples

Sample Stuff  

This site is just great fun.  Freebies, samples, even links to opinion and surveys sights where you can rack up points that add up to cash rebates. 

One of the cutest elements of this site is that the owner posts photos of all the samples she has received free of charge on a page called "Freebies I've Received."    The editorial staff is a group of about five people who just love writing about frugality, coupons and saving money.  It's a keeper!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Student Loan Repayment Option from the National Health Service Corps

Thanksgiving dinner can be about more than just the turkey and shrimp-stuffed merliton!  A casual conversation with friends who are still repaying college student loans pointed to this great resource about student loan replayment help for up to $50,000 in debt. 

The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) designated funds to help repay up to $50,000 in student loans to primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, physician assistants, dentists, dental hygienists and behavioral and mental health providers.  They must serve two-years in a health professional shortage area (HPSA) designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.   Even better, the loan repayment help is free from taxes.

The average student loan debt burden in 2009, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, is $24,000, although average student loan debt for physicians exceeds $150,000.*


An easy-to-use map for finding these HPSA job opportunities is available and the directions are in simple English.  (thank you!)  Nice to know that if your future employer is not one of the previously designated  agencies, if they are located in a HPSA, their human resources office can still apply to have your loans considered for repayment.  

WARNING:  Be sure and either read this complete overview of the National Health Service Student Loan Repayment program and/or call their help desk with questions at 1-800-221-9393 (TTY: 1-877-897-9910) Monday through Friday (except Federal holidays) 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.   Congress can move to repeal ARRA benefits at anytime, so please make the phone call first just to ensure that this act's provisions are still in effect and are being funded.      

Something else to be thankful for this year! 

*Student loan debt figures for physicians taken from the American Medical Association website November 2010 and sourced AAMC 2009 Graduation Questionnaire.  AAMC stands for Association of American Colleges of Medicine 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SmartyPig Savings Pay 1.75%

SmartyPig Widget: "Check out my SmartyPig goals."

Have you used the SmartyPig website yet to save money toward a goal? 

I'm trying out SmartyPig now because I need new carpeting and have had no inspiration toward saving for it.  My household savings account in INGDirect was depleted down to $500 by roof and air conditioner repairs this year.  There isn't any money left over for the fun stuff, such as a new refrigerator, washer/dryer, carpeting.  Carpeting is top of my list! 

Smarty Pig is FDIC insured and the savings account work like any other online direct bank savings.  But
Smarty-Pig gives a great interest rate now, 1.75%.  Also, you can redeem for account a gift card at retailers, such as Lowe's and get additional cash back.

Have you saved for any goals using SmartyPig?

Other popular savings posts:

Save on Bounty Paper Towels
Lending Club Update

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Personal Finance Software: Mint versus Quicken rematch

Mint.com or Quicken Personal Finance Software?

Mint.com has been sending me emails again -- very tempting emails that outline my personal finance situation for the past week.  This is a handy summary that hooked me into Mint.com a long time ago.  Right into your email box comes a note that tells you how much you spent on food last week and points out that your car insurance is too high: with a link to quotes for a cheaper rate.   I love the website interface and frankly, the cool green mint color is so clean and groovy.  A nice distraction from the sometimes mundane world of personal finance management. 

I reeived the email based on a re-try of the software I engaged in a few months ago.    And after linking a ton of accounts to Mint.com, with great anticipation that this new upgrade of the software would make the big green Mint finally work for me, I gave up and threw in the towel.  I STILL can't get my ING Direct accounts to load into the program.  Really?  Seriously?  With nine different ING accounts that are critically important to my savings and cash flow management system, it just didn't make sense to try Mint.com again.

By using Quicken and combining it with Neobudget (for micro-cash management a la the classic envelope method), I've got the full suite.  Sorry Mint.  Keep those upgrades coming and those email reminders coming, though.  I suspect the fine folks in the Mint.com IT department will have this solved soon.

Other posts on this topic:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It’s A Wonderful Life. Save a Little.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the main character in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a banker. Okay, so he’s a poor, failed banker. That’s true enough. And the bad guy is a rich, miserly banker.

One of the many messages I hear in the movie is that it’s the little things that make up the purpose of your life. It’s not a huge act that you commit one afternoon. With a bang. Accompanied by white lightening. In front of a arrow that points to a sign that says “oh! This is why I was born!”

Rather it’s the smaller acts of kindness that ripple on without us knowing where they go or how far. Money is a little like that. You never know how much good you could be doing with spending that $10 in just the right way.

Saving that $10 for tomorrow or the next day just gives you more choices that you will exercise later. You will spend it eventually. It will either go to the mortgage, or it will go to your heirs. Or to a latte that might make the day better. Or a gift that might make a friend or a stranger’s day. Or to paying off a student loans. Or it will go to your favorite charity.

That’s why we try not to spend it on things that don’t matter. Because it is a wonderful life. And money can be our ticket to the next great memory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

3 easy-to-avoid vacation expense bloopers that can save you hundreds.

    
Or How My "Free" European Travel Vacation Really Cost $2,500

When I started saving money for my 8-day European dream vacation, my biggest focus was on earning enough Delta Frequent Flyer Skymiles to get a free round trip ticket. 75,000 miles gets you a free round trip to the European continent.  That’s the most expensive part of the tab, right? (Hint: yes, it usually is the biggest single ticket item in a trip to Europe, but other items add up quickly)


Hotel rooms are high too, but I have a relative in one country who was willing to put me up for a few nights before I headed out for my real dream destination: Florence and Venice Italy! So how expensive could the whole trip be? I got back from my vacation yesterday and added up $2,500 in vacation expenses. Gulp.


After careful review, I realized that some of the biggest expenses were due to my ignorance about travel in Europe and could have been avoided:

1) I didn’t realize how expensive Eurail passes could be. If you are going to more than one location, understand that even with Eurail passes, transportation costs in Europe can be high. And there aren’t always direct trains connecting your city to the next. My ticket from Luxembourg to Florence was $240 and took twelve hours with four train connections (Luxembourg to Basel Switzerland, Basel to Nancy, France, then Nancy France to Milan and Milan to Florence).   I booked a flight back from Florence to Luxembourg because it only took 4 hours and cost about the same amount. After all I’d heard about Eurail passes being so cheap, I felt pretty jipped.

2) Try to make your plans first re: what cities you want to visit, then book your flight “open-jaw” if you can. If I had flown into Brussels, then flown out of Florence (instead of flying into and out of Brussels round trip), I would have saved the $240 it cost me to get back to Brussels to catch my plane home. Once I booked the plane ticket, I couldn’t change it back without hefty penalities.

3) When I had to cut my trip short because my budget was running out, I was stuck with a $100 change fee from Delta. It was still cheaper for me to shorten the trip, so I took the hit. But I thought travel insurance would cover it. WRONG. I didn’t realize that the basic travel insurance I purchased when booking my flight would only cover me if I had a medical illness and had to return early or change my plans. It also required documented evidence from a physician that I had been ill and what dates. Realize that travel insurance won’t cover your plane fare if you simply change your mind.

I'll be posting more tips on what I got right -- and how you can do the same -- in my next blog re: Real Money In Europe!

Links:
Booking Eurail passes
Delta Frequent Flyer Miles Reward Travel Info

Do you have travel money tips or rip-offs to share?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Health Care Reform Implementation Timeline

It's been awhile since my last post.   A family health crisis put me in the ICU waiting room for the last couple of weeks.  During that time I had a first hand look at how health care reform legislation may make a huge difference in my (and your) financial future.

An easy-to-read timeline for the health care insurance reform changes is available on the Senate website or by clicking on this link.

One of the topics you'll find covered in the time line is the section that extends coverage for young adults.  "Extending Coverage for Young Adults. Requires any group health plan or plan in the individual market that provides dependent coverage for children to continue to make that coverage available
until the child turns 26 years of age. Effective six months after enactment."

My daughter graduated from college this May and has a job managing a restaurant -- but no health insurance. Luckily, I have a job that does provide coverage, and has already begun offering coverage to employees whose children are twenty-six-years old or younger.   What a benefit!  I was considering moving jobs, but now I'm not so sure.  This strategy of early adoption has given me a new appreciation for my job and my current organization.

At the same time that my daughter is now covered, I have friends and colleagues who are not, and their financial futures are at great risk.    These are working people....but they have jobs that offer work for 38 hours per week or less so that the employer doesn't have to provide benefits.  The majority of the uninsured are working people.  They are forced into using .  And they are hoping to hold out until they can find a job with benefits, or in some cases, until they can age into Medicare.   Some other friends are "under insured," thinking they have benefits, but the lifetime insurance caps leave them vulnerable.

This isn't a blog for politically posturing, but for common sense advice born of real-life experience.   A friend asked me recently if I agreed with the health insurance reform plank that "forces" everyone to buy health insurance.  Being known as a rebel in so many areas of my life, I'm sure my answered surprised him.  I'm absolutely delighted to be able to access insurance, and gleefully pay for it every month.  Thank you to my company for providing it.   My advice to you if you can buy insurance?  Grab it. 



 
 
 
 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Get Rich Slowly Video Contest

You can win $500 just by submitting your personal financial success to JD Roth at Get Rich Slowly.  His last post about the contest motivated me to enter -- he's only got six entires so far and the contest goes until April 15th.  He's giving away 3 different cash prizes along with runner-up prizes that include copies of his new book, Your Money:  The Missing Manual.  (Even a non-math major like myself can figure that she has a pretty good chance of winning something, just by entering).

With only two minutes to express my personal success story, it really made me clarify the most important lessons I learned on my journey out of debt into financial freedom.   Here's a stab at a short list of what I recommend to anybody and everybody who is interested.

Jerrold Mundis' "How to Get Out of Debt and Stay Out of Debt."  This little paperback taught me that Debt is just a number, and that the more fearful you are, the harder it is to dig out.  He takes the shame out of owing, and puts you back in control of your finances.

Andrew Tobias' "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need."  It's a thumbs up recommendation because stock picking is hard, and math is hard, and Tobias reminds us that even supergurus on Wall Street lose money all the time.  Most important?  He says you don't have to be in the stock market to be financially secure some day.  (His tips on hoarding tuna under the coffee table are pretty funny -- and I'm 'long' on Tide Detergent right now, at $8.99 for the 63-100 load liquid variety, because Tobais taught me how.)

MSN.com Money Blog.  All the authors there are great and they, along with JD Roth at Get Rich Slowly, taught me that downsizing my house and car was a plausible, workable next step that would bring me a great deal of financial peace.  And it has!   Also an awesome reasource for car purchasing.

Dave Ramsey's envelope budgeting method (I still use it), and his debt snowball concept.  The envelope budgeting method helped me get to a place where I am out of debt snowballing, fully funded in my emergency account, fully funding my retirement plan, and now paying off my mortgage.

Langiappe (a little extra):  Quicken.com (I play with my accounts like other people play video games), Mint.com, Michael BlueJay's tips on saving energy,

Check out the videos on Get Rich Slowly!  Everyday people sharing everyday wisdom.  It's pretty inspirational.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tax goofs

Over the last two months, I've been busy with my side-job of helping people prepare their taxes.  When there is trouble at tax time, I've noticed that it usually comes from just one or two places.  Here's a couple of easy tips to make sure that your tax time is easy breesy...

1)  Have taxes deducted from your paycheck.   Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn't it?  In the office where I work, at least 30% of our customers come in and say "but my Aunt said that because I have a dependent, I shouldn't have to have any taxes taken out..." or "but my Mother said that if I just file Married and 4 then I will have enough taxes taken out..."      Mom and Auntie have been incorrect each time, unfortunately.  And the IRS doesn't take crying and tears into consideration at tax time.  Frankly, I don't have much patience for them either.

Unless you make less than $11-$18,000 per year,  have 2-3 children and pay a lot of day care expenses, odds are you are probaby going to pay some tax during the year. Expect 10-15% of your earnings will be paid out in taxes, THEN do your planning and research re: reducing your tax burden.  You'll be happily surprised instead of crying on April 15th.

2)  Find an old file somewhere and throw your receipts into it.   Again, so many of my clients have deductions that they could take, like school supplies and uniforms.  But who knows what's going to be deductible when?  It is a moving target.  My best advice, and what I do for myself, is to just keep all medical receipts, and anything except grocery store, ATM and restaurant receipts.  There's a good chance you'll find gold in them there receipts!

More Tax posts that readers like:

Standard Deduction Changes Save You Money

How Long to Keep Records

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How To Decide to Rent a Home or Buy - The Easy Way

A key piece to living a debt-free bigger life for me was to sell the bigger house and downsize my living expenses -- from the monthly entergy bill to the rent.  It took a year, but I sold my Big House with the plan to Buy a Smaller One. Lessons learned about EBay, Craigs List, Renting and Moving are some of  the more popular posts.

Selling the Pool Table via Craig's List
Creating Stability with UPS Address
First Steps in Downsizing

The equity has been sitting in a nice Capitol One savings stash, earning 4% interest until November 2009, and I had figured I was saving money renting versus owning (quite a contrarian opinion!).   But I was living in a luxury condo and paying $5,000 a year less in expenses, so there was no impetus to buy.*

Each of these free internet calculators offered me the information I needed to make that decision to rent for 18 months.  Thanks to the New York Times, Michael Blue Jay's Awesome Calculator, BankRate.com, JD Roth, a devil's advocate opinion from Bargaineering, About.com's "Not Everyone Should Own a Home!", as well as a few surprises such as the calculator on Move.com.

So...why am I two weeks away from closing on a townhome with the potential of saving $3,300 per year...and why should you consider doing the same?

For a couple of very good reasons -- the extended First-time Home Buyer's Tax Credit of $6,500 and the lowest interest rates on cash savings in a lifetime. Here's an example that any non-math major can follow with their own figures to figure out what's best for you.

A Simple English Major's Comparison of Renting versus Buying:

Fill in these blanks (my data is listed as an example below each number.

Rental Data:

1)  Rental property background:  1200 square feet, 2 bedrooms, 2 bath, in great mid-town, safe location.

2) Rent $:  _____
$1100 per month for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath 1200 square foot condo in about 10 minutes from work

3) Renter's Insurance:  _____
$40 per month

4) Utilities: _____
$100 per month average for gas and electric, water and sewer included

5) Cable Television:  _____
$45 per month

6) Cable Hi Speed Internet:  _____
$40 per month

Subtotal = $1325/mo

Then Deduct:

7) Tax Deduction for Real Estate Taxes: _____
$0

8) Tax Deduction for Mortgage Interest: _____
$0

9) How much you are earning from your down payment/equity being in a savings account, minus taxes: ____
$56 per month     ($53,000 down payment * 1.5% interest minus 15% tax effect/12)

Renting Annual Total = $15,228
($1269*12)

Purchase Comparison Data:
1) Purchase property background:  I'm purchasing a bigger townhouse (1,450 square feet) than the condo I'm renting so I'll get a couple of extra hundred square feet, but lose a screened in porch.  Not sure how to put that into monetary value, but

You can go to Bankrate.com or any other mortgage table calculator to figure out mortgage principal and interest for various scenarios.  In my case, my townhome price is $136,500, loan percentage and length is 5.125% loan over 30 years, $50,000 down, and closing costs of $3,075.  That gave me the numbers for #1 starting below.

2)  Mortgage$ (Principal and Interest): __________
$468.26

3) Hazard Insurance: _____
$62 per month (available from previous home owner or your insurance agent)

4) Real Estate Taxes:  _____
$100 per month estimate (estimates available from your local tax assessor)

5) Home Owner's Association: _____
$129 per month
(includes cable television)

6) Water and Sewer: _____
$60 per month

7) Maintenance Sinking Fund: _____
$200 per month, general rule of thumb.
(painting, decorating, new roof, new appliances)

8) Utilities: _____
$100 per month (same square footage as condo)

9) Cable Hi Speed Internet:  _____
$45

Subtotal = $13,968 or ($1164 * 12)

Then Deduct: 

10)  Deduct tax savings for real estate taxes: ______
(approximateley $70 per month for me in tax savings.  Real esate taxes $100/mo and mortgage interest $398 per month in first year = $468*.15 tax bracket =  $70 approximate per month in tax savings first few years if itemizing.)

11)  Deduct any interest on cash you aren't putting into the down payment, if applicable: _____
$23 per month ($22,000 still left in savings from first home sold equity * .15/12)

Owning Total:  $11,928
($1071 * 12)



Conclusion -- Although the monthly difference doesn't seem to be large, only $1071 versus $1269, you can see on an annual level how the annual total of $3,300 is a significant savings.  In  my tax bracket of 15%, I would have to earn an extra $3700 per year to get this kind of savings! 
Do you think I made the right? decision? Are you struggling with similar decisions?  Share!


1st Time Home Buyer's Tax Credit Note - The $6,500 first time home buyers tax credit covers closing costs and miscellaneous expenses such as moving, furniture, new draperies, unexpected repairs in first year.


*(Additional costs for the bigger home included $2,500 extra per year in maintenance, $1200 per year in lawn maintenance, $1,500 per year in water/sewer /pest control and additional utility costs of $1200 per year, because I was in double the square footage.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

New online PearBudget Makes Money Management Easy

JD Roth's Blog "Get Rich Slowly" is a constant source of fantastic money resources for English Majors.  Information on his blog inspired me to try the new online PearBudget money management software.  I have no idea what the Pear is all about, but the online version is the easiest envelope budgeting system I've ever used, and I've tried the top three or four.   They call it "really simple budgeting" and it's true.

With PearBudget, you have one category of expenses that are the same every month.  That group is separated from the expenses that you really can't predict, but can try to "set aside" a certain amount each month to be ready for them.  This is the trickiest part of monthly money management, in my opinion, and causes a lot of people to throw up their hands and just give up!  Don't do it...this problem can be solved
 

For example, you might use the irregular budget expense category for groceries and for medical.  Maybe you try to set aside $250 for groceries, and $100 or so for medical each month.  If you don't spend all that money in a month, it rolls over to the next month.  Shazam!  You are building a fund for whatever might happen medically (or better yet, you've got money to stock up on groceries for your next party). 

This program is so great -- it even prints out a "Go Card" that you can put in your wallet or purse.   You can adjust the Go Card to only include those categories of items that you tend to spend on while out and about each day.  Groceries, gas, personal care, dining out, entertainment, etc.  For example, when I open my wallet to buy that extra pack of gum at the convenience store -- my Go Card reminds me I only have $3.33 left until the end of the month in that category.  Might want to hold out!

Love, Love, Love this software, I think you will too.  I get no money from recommending it, either.  Just sharing the good news. 

You can try it for a month for free, then pay $3 a month.  I'm still on free trial, not sure if I'll switch over to the pay version.  There is also a free Excel Spreadsheet version that you can download.  Honestly, the online version is so smooth and amazing compared to the excel spreadsheet, I just may pay the $3.00.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Say Hello to the New Jackson Hewitt Tax Preparer

Well, it's official. I've completed 75 hours of training at Jackson Hewitt to become a tax preparer for the 2010 tax season. The company opened its offices this week and I'm not on the schedule yet. But after all the stuff I've learned, I'm excited about finally filling out someone's return and saying "your refund is Big this Year!"


The tips I'm telling friends most often include the American Opportunity Tax Credit for all 4 years of college and the new Louisiana tax credit for school fees, including books and private school tuition. It's up to $5,000 in deductions per child. That's a hefty chunk of change depending on your filing status and adjusted gross income. I'm keeping up with the federal tax changes at Bankrate and MSN Money has great tips as well.