Monday, March 13, 2006

You Can’t Spell "Carnival" Without "Personal Finance Advice"

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

…Okay, so maybe you can, but you definitely wouldn’t be able to link to this week’s edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance without it being hosted by Personal Finance Advice. Jeffrey Strain took an interesting and amusing approach to this week’s carnival, and I have to say that it made reading the whole thing an absolute pleasure. Seriously, if you’re gonna do a carnival, you need to have amazing attractions like bearded ladies, fire eaters, or colorful text!

An extra special thanks to Jeffrey for giving me some red, bold lovin’ with his write-up of my submission, Verizon Is One Sneaky Telecommunications Corporation!

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Blogger Net Worth Index: Making the S&P Look Like Garbage

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

The NASDAQ was down 1% for February and the S&P barely broke even, but my favorite index was up 3.4% for the month. Is it something new and innovative from T. Rowe Price or Vanguard? Nope, I’m talking about the BNWI. Sure, that link might say there’s no such index, but I’d invest every one of my hard-earned dollars in the Personal Finance Bloggers’ Net Worth Index… if it were actually a real fund.

Sadly, the BNWI is the creation of the editors at Moneysmartz and tracks the net worth of various personal finance bloggers including yours truly. You can check out how the index fares with Moneysmartz’s monthly updates. And while you can’t really invest in the index, you can always send me a check and I’ll invest it in the Funny Munny Fund (currently returning approximately -100%).

Thursday, March 9, 2006

The $39 Free Sample Experiment

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

Via digg comes news of a noble experiment conducted by ordinary citizen Tom Locke. His goal was simple: send 100 letters to various companies to obtain free samples of products. The total cost of his experiment was just $39 in stamps (plus a few bucks for envelopes) and he has already received over $75 worth of stuff.

It’s interesting to see some of the samples that companies are willing to part with to an average person who writes in requesting one for no real reason. White Castle, for example, sent Tom a booklet of the best kind of coupons–ones for tons of free burgers with no purchase requirement. It’s also equally interesting to see which companies flat out refuse such a request. Office Max gave Tom a big fat “no” for his 39-cent efforts. Of course, his letter to Office Max was a little… yeah…

Dear Sir or Madam:
I recently started my own small business, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to provide me with free samples of office supplies that I may need to help me get started. Rubber bands, paper clips, pens, staplers, staples. Anything that you think would help a budding entrepreneur to make it through the busy days! Thank you in advance,
Tom Locke, business enthusiast

Tom admits he had more fun with certain letters than others, and his website includes the full text of each letter sent. Anyone else out there willing to try an experiment like this? Tom initially limited his venture to businesses whose address he could find on products already in his home, so there are many companies he has yet to try. I might send out 100 letters of my own, but every single one of them would be going to Dunkin Donuts which sent Tom five bucks in gift certificates!

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Verizon Is One Sneaky Telecommunications Corporation!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

Why, in this era of supercomputers and flying cars, do I still have a landline phone installed in my home? Is it because I feel more secure knowing I have a phone that connects to a wall that connects to all the other phones in the world with wires? Do I have some sort of illicit passion for phone jacks and RJ-11 hinged locking tabs? Or are landlines such a great bargain that I’d be stupid not to fork over the cash each month to have one?

I can assure you that the correct answer is none of the above. Instead, the absolute only reason there is still a telephone plugged into our home’s wall is because of Comcast. You see, my wife and I aren’t big television watchers. In a given week, we’ll spend a combined total of maybe six hours viewing regular television programming. Our TV gets far more use in conjunction with its attached peripherals–the Gamecube, the PlayStation 2, and the DVD player. As such, we don’t have cable or satellite or any other paid service that would give us access to additional programming channels. And since we don’t have cable, we also don’t have access to the high-speed internet services provided by our local cable company, Comcast. In order to purchase Comcast’s internet services without also buying into its cable service, I would need to give them one of my kidneys wrapped in an enormous ball of cash.

While we can live without 430 channels of HBO, my plot to take over the world work and hobbies (like this one!) require some sort of non-dial-up connection to the internet. Verizon to the rescue! We’re signed up for their $15/month 768/128kbps DSL service. For the less technically inclined people out there, those numbers mean that I can download the entire internet in approximately seven seconds. Of course, with cable internet, that time would drop to three seconds, but I’m not in that big of a hurry.

So what does all this have to do with my having a landline phone? Well, it’s because Verizon has this one little caveat to its $15 DSL service–I need to have some sort of landline phone service with them, and not even my cash-wrapped kidney can change that. So instead of paying $40 + $40 + taxes each month for cable and cable internet, we pay $35 + $15 + taxes for a landline telephone with unlimited local and regional calling and DSL internet. Having the landline phone service also allows me to keep my cell phone rate very low since I typically only use it for long-distance calls.

In a few areas, Verizon is starting to roll out its sexy “naked” DSL service. For just an extra $5 a month, this plan would allow you to get Verizon’s DSL internet without any sort of landline service… in theory. In reality, you still need a landline; it just doesn’t need to be with Verizon. Still, if true naked DSL ever appeared in my neck of the woods, we’d just drop the landline and beef up our cell phone service.

So as the situation stands, Verizon takes our $35 each month and gives us all the calls we want in this general area along with common extras like Caller ID, Call Waiting, and unlimited calls to Mars (though that last one has yet to be useful). But with our latest bill came a tiny flyer that I almost threw away without reading. It advertised Verizon’s Freedom package (unlimited calls to anywhere in the U.S.) for just $35 a month. “Why am I paying the same price for a plan with no long distance service?” I thought. So I decided to switch my service to this new plan at my earliest convenience.

Fortunately for me, my earliest convenience was after I had a chance to discuss the plan with some wonderful folks on the internet. They kindly pointed out that the $35 version of Verizon’s Freedom plan included absolutely no extra features. No Caller ID. No Call Waiting. And zero minutes for me to talk to my future Martian friends! I priced all those options individually and found out that the ones I use the most would add an extra $10-15 to my monthly bill. For that price, I may as well have gotten the full-featured Freedom package. And even with the unlimited long distance, I’d still have to hang on to my cell phone at its current rate for the occasional use I make of it away from home.

Nice try, Verizon, but you’re not getting a penny extra from me. And as soon as I finish wiring my massive can-and-string network across Maryland, I’m ditching you altogether!

Monday, March 6, 2006

Canadian Capitalist’s Carnival of Cpersonal Cfinance

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

The Canadian Capitalist is hosting this week’s edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance. It includes a hyperlink (50% more betterer than regular links) to my recent article on the suckiness of February. If you missed the article last time, this is your absolute last chance to read it before the end of this paragraph. Don’t miss out!

A reminder that I am hosting the Carnival of Bagels in the Shape of Academy Award-Winning Actresses. So far I have received ten submissions of bagels that look nothing like Academy Award-winning actresses. Perhaps I should stick with the personal finance carnivals…