Friday, August 24, 2007

Stuff Worth Reading, Because It Beats Stripping Your Way Through College

Author: Nick
Category: Money

cap, gown, and g-string (not shown)

Holy crap, two Friday round-ups in a row. With three I get egg roll!

  1. Poorer Than You needs cash for tuition and is considering some alternative sources of educational financial aid. Not on Stephanie’s list but still an option for some: college girls make excellent strippers. Simply run that idea by your family and they might suddenly come up with some extra money for your tuition bill.
  2. Clever Dude laments the inaccuracy of CARFAX’s vehicle condition reports. I can testify to this as a CARFAX report on my previous car, a 1991 Nissan Sentra, stated that the prior owner was a 600-pound transvestite albino when, in fact, he was just pale.
  3. Advanced Personal Finance ponders the cost of prepaying a mortgage. At the moment, we do not currently pay extra towards our mortgage because our mortgage rate is equal to our savings account’s rate of 6.00%.
  4. Lots of people have money set aside for an emergency, but We’re in Debt suggests when to tap into those emergency funds. One addition: hotel room when the in-laws come to town (for you or for them).
  5. Do recent events on Wall Street have you franticly looking for somewhere more stable to stash your cash? The Sun’s Financial Diary tells you where to park your money in an uncertain market.
  6. Trent at The Simple Dollar eats banana bread, burritos, and muffins for breakfast, all in the same morning! Okay, maybe not in the same morning; but if you’re as hungry as I am now, Trent shares some recipes for his tasty breakfast meals.
  7. Grad Money Matters has a great write-up about living frugally. I think the most important item on the list is hanging out with frugal friends. Spending is contagious, so having cheapo buddies makes it easier to hold on to your money.
  8. The next time you need a passport photo, you can save money by taking your own, thanks to advice from The Finance Journey.
  9. Cash Money Life has some advice for potential franchise owners. I’ve always wanted to own a Cold Stone Creamery franchise; alas, I was stricken with a deadly sorbet allergy at a young age.
  10. Money, Matter, and More Musings asks why some couples see weddings as profit-making opportunities. I’ll admit that I did ponder the value of gifts given to us at our wedding. (My side gave “nicer” gifts; nyah-nyah.)

And from the Punny Money archives:

  • If the overwhelming cost of college has you passing out and waking up while choking on your own bile, consider these options for paying for college without needing student loans. Looks like you won’t need to strip your way through college after all!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reply-All Thank You E-mails: Costing Companies Millions of Dollars a Year

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

in hell, reply-all is the only option when sending e-mails

Thank you e-mails. Shudder. You’ve probably gotten them before yourself, especially if you work for a company with internal e-mailing lists and lots of employees. It doesn’t matter whether your company makes billion-dollar computer systems or pink pony stationery; the following situation will eventually happen to you:

  1. Person A (we’ll call him Samantha since his parents really wanted a girl) sends an e-mail to multiple distribution lists informing everyone of very important breaking news. For example, the building is on fire, or the cafeteria is out of pudding.
  2. Grateful for the advice that saved her from burning to death or taking an unnecessary walk to the cafeteria for non-existent pudding, Person B (we’ll call her Big Sally) hits “Reply All,” types “Thanks Samantha,” and presses “Send.”
  3. You (we’ll call you Chestaroti McFinkelstein) sit down at your desk and read through your e-mails, eventually getting to Samantha’s fiery or puddingly warning. You also see a reply from Big Sally in your inbox. You open it, eager to discover if the pudding stocks have been replenished. Alas, it is simply a thank you to Samantha that Big Sally decided to share with you and 2,000 other company employees.

Her intentions were noble, but Big Sally just cost you five seconds of your life and your company $277. How do I figure that? Let’s say that each of your 2,000 co-workers costs your company an average of $100 an hour (including benefits, bonuses, and all that wine you guys drink at the company Christmas party).

2,000 employees x $100/hour ÷ 3600 seconds x 5 seconds to read the thank you e-mail = $277.78

Now let’s say that each of those 2,000 employees sends just one mass-thanking a year.

2,000 employees x $277.78 = $555,560

Thanks to you and your co-workers thanks, your CEO will be unable to feed his daughter a diet of molten gold and crushed diamonds she so greatly deserves. Way to go, Chestaroti!

Fixing the Reply-All Thank You Problem

There are many apparent solutions to the reply-all thank you dilemma, but most of them won’t work.

  • Reply-Not-All. Instead of hitting “Reply All” when sending your thanks, you could simply click “Reply” and send your thanks only to Samanta. This won’t work because, thinking that Samantha is going unthanked, many of your 2,000 co-workers will also thank him individually. Samantha spends the rest of the day reading thank you e-mails, and the cafeteria pudding stocks remain empty through tomorrow.
  • Stop by the thankee’s office. Delivering your thanks in person rather than over e-mail is more personal, but as with Reply-Not-Alls, everyone else will still e-mail thanks to Samantha (and copy the rest of the company). Or maybe they’ll all line up in front of his office, costing the company far more than $277 an e-mail.
  • Give no thanks. Sure, this might save your company over half a million dollars a year if you and every single one of your co-workers agreed to ban thank you e-mails, but then everyone would go unthanked and unappreciated. Workplace depression would skyrocket, and mental healthcare costs would triple your insurance premiums.

My solution is simple and will save your company thousands of man hours this year alone. I present to you… your new work uniform:

t-shirt: thank you for whatever you did for me or may eventually do for me or are doing for me right now. you are really awesome, and i hope reading this t-shirt can take the place of a reply-all thank you e-mail that would just waste everybody's time

Your co-workers will feel so thanked and appreciated that they won’t need to send reply-all thank you e-mails ever again. I thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter (cc: the whole freaking world).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Save Money by Watching What You Feed

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

feeeeeed me

By Rhonda Jones

Do you know how many things in your life eat? Things that eat–and that includes carbon-based life-forms and metallic “life-forms” alike–are essentially black holes. Money pits. A very good rule of thumb when it comes to saving money is to avoid having things in your life that eat, to the extent that you can avoid them. For instance, if you already have children, you can’t exactly trade them in for house plants. (You really can’t. I’ve checked.)

You can put all the munchers in your life on diets though. And here’s how.

Tip No. 1: Don’t run out for a quick anything. These days, your car is eating up more of your cash than ever before. It has a very clever way of forcing you to feed it all it wants, too: by refusing to take you home until you do. It’s like mechanical kidnapping. However, you can tighten up its belt at least a little by driving less. Don’t run out to the store for one item. If you can’t make pancakes for dinner because you don’t have eggs, then cook something else. Every time you step out for a little ingredient, you are throwing money away. Keep a detailed grocery list, and shop once a week and only when you’re on your way home from work, if possible. If you need specialty items from specialty stores, limit that shopping to once a month, and visit all the stores you need to in a particular area at the same time. No zigzagging around town.

Tip No. 2: Beware of things that eat. Like kids and pets. If you don’t have them, don’t get them. If you simply must nurture something, get yourself a needy boyfriend or girlfriend, and then go on Dutch dates. If you already have kids, don’t get pets for them. It sounds mean, yes, but saving money is a dirty business. If they cry and insist, then make them share their food allotment with the pet. You can even put them both on a diet of Krunchy Kibbles. Or at least threaten to.

Tip No. 3: That means you, too. You are one of those things that eats that you should beware of. If you’re a big eater, then stop it. Too much food isn’t just bad for your waistline and your heart, it is also bad for your wallet. So if you don’t want a doctor to perform a walletectomy in your future, curb your lust for slabs of meat, desserts and snacks. Enjoying potato chips is fine. Eating an entire bag in one sitting is unnecessary. Remember, walletectomies are very, very painful procedures.

Tip No. 4: Do not, under any circumstance, supersize.

Tip No. 5: Stop speeding. Such a simple concept, yet so hard to do. Because not speeding makes you a wussy, doesn’t it? No, it makes you broke. It uses a lot more gas to go from Point A to Point B faster than it does to follow the speed limit. And you know what’s going to happen when that nice man in the blue uniform pulls you over? He’s going to hand you a big, fat bill. Some people spend enough money on speeding tickets every year to have a really nice weekend of fun. Pocket that ticket-money for five or 10 years and that’s a pretty nice vacation you can now afford. Not speeding is another great way to put that car on a diet.

What are you feeding wads of cash to on a weekly, or even daily, basis? If you put those things on diets, you may be very surprised at how much you can save. All it takes is just being conscious of where your money goes.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 3.60 out of 5)

Eleven years’ alternative journalism. Freelancing in Europe. Vampires. Need I say more? Read Rhonda’s writing blog, One Writer’s Ridiculously Glamorous Life, at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Five Problems That’ll Make You a BILLIONAIRE If You Solve Them

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

If you look at today’s list of billionaires, you’ll see that many of the names got on that list by solving some of the biggest problems mankind ever faced:

Fortunately for you, there are still lots of problems out there in the world that need solving–diseases needing cures, wars needing resolutions, pets needing adorable outfits–and plenty of them are problems that could be solved by ordinary people like you and me. Because of the sheer impact they would have on the world, the solution to any of the following problems would virtually guarantee its inventor a paycheck in excess of a billion dollars.

real estate wasted on parking

Lotless Parking

The Problem: For every new commercial building that goes up, so must a new parking lot go down. And at any given time, more than half of all parking spaces are unoccupied. Parking lots occupy up to 50% of any given commercial property. In short, they can take up more room than the stores themselves.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: If parking lots were no longer needed, there would be trillions of dollars of prime real estate instantly available. A lot of property owners would pay handsomely for any such innovation… and you would charge them triple what they ask… and they would pay it.

My Solution: I have many, but nobody’s really interested in them. Free public transportation would solve the problem nicely. So would auto-piloted cars that return home after dropping you off at your destination. My most viable alternative: sideways parking. Simply roll your car onto a ramp which rotates it 90 degrees for storing while you work or shop. Sure, this wouldn’t eliminate the need for parking lots, but it would cut their size requirements in half.

yes, a cd being shot from a trombone, do not ask me why

Music Everyone Likes

The Problem: Despite the fact that we are all members of the same species with a common ancestry, our ears don’t all like the same kind of music. Lots of people love listening to country music; others would sooner run naked through the streets. Most young people don’t appreciate classical music, but more will when they grow older. Though music is often called the universal language, it sure has a ton of dialects that many people can’t understand.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: Imagine combining the popularity of Britney Spears, The Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Record company executives would cough up a lot of money for a sound that’s universally enjoyable.

My Solution: A rap sung by Garth Brooks set to Beethoven’s Ninth. Something for everyone.

mommy, if you hit rudolph, will christmas be canceled?

Deer-Vehicle Collision Avoidance

The Problem: Deer versus your car, and you both lose. The deer will likely be splattered across a few lanes of traffic, and you might have antlers sticking through your windshield–or worse.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: It seems like a pretty minor problem. We’ve resigned ourselves to living with the occasional wildlife meets SUV incident. But with over a million vehicle-deer rendezvous each year in the U.S. alone, and most repair bills totaling $1,000 or more, figuring out a way to prevent these accidents would make you the idol of car insurance companies worldwide.

My Solution: Cars with deer radar. Self-replicating GPS homing beacons that spread to other deer and to their offspring. Motion-activated headlight laser cannons. Trampolines at deer crossings that would fling them safely to the other side of the road. Your best bet: a combination of all four.

okay, be honest, how many of you just smacked your monitor because you thought an ant was on it?

Portable Everything

The Problem: Get ready for the most insightful statement of the century: stuff is big. And perhaps even more insightful: people like having lots of stuff. Unfortunately for most, they don’t live in a 60-bedroom mansion with room to fit all of that big stuff they like. So anything that allows people to fit more stuff in their limited space is going to encourage them to buy more stuff!

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: Folks spend ba-freaking-jillions of dollars on stuff every year, and they will gladly shell out the cash next year for the same thing they bought a few years ago if it’s smaller. People with perfectly fine desktop computers dish out even more for comparable laptop computers because they are more portable. And those same people with fabulous stereo systems, telephones, map books, and notepads will pay insane amounts of money for a smaller, more portable device with all of those functions.

A few items that could really use some miniaturization and/or portability: cars, furniture, most appliances, and toilets. Definitely toilets.

My Solution: You know those little sponge toys where you add water and it grows from a tiny pill-shaped nothing to a humongous two-inch-tall dinosaur of terror? Yes, that’s my solution for all of these.

once you have a religion, sell lots of metal trinkets in the gift shop

Universally Accepted Religion

The Problem: For thousands of years, religion has been the driving force for nearly every major world event. From wars to literature to what we name our children, religion’s influence on the evolution of humanity has been enormous. Unfortunately a lot of bad things have happened in the name of religious differences–horrible atrocities that show just how cruel human beings can really be.

Why It’s a Billion-Dollar Problem: If everyone believed in the same religion, all of these wars fought and atrocities committed because of differences in beliefs wouldn’t happen. In essence, the “inventor” of such a religion would usher in a new era of peace for mankind never before seen. As much money as all these war-mongering religions bring in, imagine how much cash would pile into the collection baskets of your world-peace-bringing religion.

My Solution: You might take exception to the idea that any one person could “invent” a religion, but that’s exactly how all of today’s major religions came into existence. Whether or not you believe in the God or gods those religions worship, the religion itself was created by the people who decided to do the worshiping. Perhaps a universally accepted religion wouldn’t be one in the traditional sense with an omnipotent being at the top of the food chain; rather, it would embody the principals of humanity that make us, for the most part, good people.

The Catholic in me says, “Let’s all just follow Jesus,” but the scientist in me says, “Office Space is a great movie.” Yeah, good luck solving this problem.

Let’s face it: you’re not going to find a clean and renewable fuel supply or reverse global warming all by yourself. But the above problems can likely be solved by a single person–any person–with a great idea and the courage and motivation to realize it. (Hopefully billions of dollars is a good enough motivation.)

And if you happen to read this and end up solving one of these problems, please consider sending me a check for a million dollars so I can solve my biggest problem: not having a million dollars.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Grow Your Green

Author: Nick
Category: Money

invest in pennies, small globes, and colorful pawns

We all know what we’d do if we won the lottery or had one day left to live or what tattoo we’d get if forced at gunpoint (the Tasmanian devil in a wrestling singlet. Don’t ask).

But what if you had a little money–not the life changing, tell your boss off kind of loot, but a couple of grand that you could really do something with–do you know where you’d invest it?

It’s a given that we’d all want to put it where it makes more money; but to get to that point, it takes a little self assessment about your financial needs, risk tolerances and goals. Otherwise, this fundamental question–and not having an answer for it–can cost you dearly.

Money Can’t Buy Love, But It Can Buy An RV

When my Mom passed away, we received a modest check from the life insurance. After funeral expenses and bills, my sisters and I were left with nearly $7,000 each. Now, granted, it wasn’t enough to retire on, but I decided that I would invest to see if I could change that.

This may or may not have been influenced by the fact that I had recently begun working with numerous financial advisers whose jobs were to give to people in exactly my position money advice–and invariably, the advice was always “invest.”

Got that? Not, “Buy a plasma TV” or “I totally must have a Coach purse!” If you want to grow your money, the only way is to invest.

But, there are just as many styles of investing as there are Coach purses: real estate, collectibles such as coins or stamps, new business ventures and precious metals, for example. These are less liquid securities, or investments that are harder to turn into cold, hard cash.

Given my $7,000 budget, none of these ideas were likely to lead me to my dream of retiring at 30, buying an RV and stopping at every tourist trap North America has to offer (first stop–the Corn Palace in South Dakota).

To get on the road, I needed to consider more liquid kinds of investing: stocks, bonds and mutual funds. In a pinch, these are relatively easy to convert to cash and are the kinds of securities that most people think of when they hear the word “invest.”

The Part Where I Call Mutual Funds “Sexy”

OK, so that still left me with three choices.

As a general rule, the closer you are to needing the money for conventional retirement, the more conservatively you should invest it. That said, as a spry 27-year-old who may or may not have a nipple piercing, I wanted to let it ride. (Yeah… may not. But I’m young yet.)

Bonds are about as conservative as it gets. There’s a reason that grandparents love to give them as gifts.

Bonds are basically loans to the U.S. government. Because the likelihood that you’ll get your money back is really high, the reward, or interest, is pretty low–generally somewhere around 4% to 5%. It varies, but you can make that amount in most savings accounts, so bonds get a big yawn.

Mutual funds are like big baskets of stocks, bonds and other types of (usually) conservative investments. Mutual funds are managed by dudes in suits who are like bouncers: they throw out any security that isn’t performing up to par and replace it with a stock or bond that is sure to “behave.”

A lot of more conservative investors like that kind of protection, but a system like that ensures that no one’s going to get up on the bar and start dancing–in other words, a part that’s not much fun for a young investor’s extra money. Most people invest in mutual funds via their 401(k)s or other retirement accounts through work, so they can have their place, but it’s generally not with speculative funds.

Don’t get me wrong–there are some sexy mutual funds focused on global economies and hot commodities, but by and large, they’re a little slower than most young professionals need outside of retirement plans.

To Market, To Market

So, that leaves the stock market. That seems easy enough. “It’s like a supermarket. I’ll just go shopping and pick out what I like.”

No. Bad. WRONG.

Just like any other major purchase, you need to do your research. Just because you love your Vonage wireless and think the service is awesome and the company is going to make a gazillion bucks does not mean you should run out and buy it.

Vonage’s value has dropped more than 50% since the beginning of 2007. The company is hemorrhaging money and ticking off investors left and right. The same may go for your favorite clothing, food, car, software or computer company.

Do your homework. It’s easy enough to look up a stock’s history on financial sites, such as Yahoo Finance, MSN, Market Watch or Google Finance.

If you don’t want to do the legwork, there are plenty of people on TV who love doing it for you. I can’t endorse any particular advisor but one guy whose name rhymes with “Slim Ramer” and is on CNBC is actually fairly entertaining to watch.

If you’d like more in-depth information, an unbiased non-profit organization, The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII), is a great place to start. A scant $29 membership fee will buy you access to all of the association’s objective advice for personal investing.

You can even subscribe to a financial advisory service where someone will tell you on a daily, weekly or monthly basis which stocks to buy and sell. These services can run anywhere from $50 a year to $5,000 annually, so just be sure the subscription cost doesn’t eat into your funds too much–most experts agree that financial advice shouldn’t cost more than 2% of your total available funds to start with.

If you have no idea where to begin looking for such a service (though doing an Internet search for “stock advisor” will generate a bunch of hits for you), there’s a great watch dog in The Hulbert Financial Advisor, which independently tracks most of the people out there who scream, “Hey! Pay me a lot to tell you how to invest your money!”

You can see each advisor’s latest returns in bi-annual issues of The Hulbert Financial Advisor, so you know whose track record is tops and who has flopped. (Although, like sports teams, financial advisors’ past performance is in no way indicative of future profit, so just keep that in mind, okay kids?)

To RV or Not To RV: That Is the Question

So, you may be wondering how I fared with my $7,000. I knew you were going to ask that. Well, I lost about half of the money, thanks to a lot of novice mistakes.

I tried too many strategies and listened to too many people instead of sticking with just one. You’ll go crazy trying to follow conflicting advice. I also entered into the market at a really bad time and, thanks to my impatience, I also left at a very bad time. But, those stories and lessons are for another time.

For now, take some time to reflect on how you would feel most comfortable investing your money if given the opportunity. And also, what time of year you’d visit the Corn Palace. I’m thinking the spring, provided I hit my retirement savings goal by then.

Come to think of it, it’s probably going to be closer to the fall. You know, I hear winter is actually a lovely time of year to visit South Dakota.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (3 votes, average: 3.67 out of 5)

Valerie March currently works for a financial publisher and has accumulated nearly three weeks of vacation. She is gladly accepting ideas for her North American exploration of the best (worst) tourist traps. If you have a suggested stop, leave it in the comments or contact her at