Saturday, September 30, 2006

Jealous piggy banks...

OK, I think I need a nap. See, I have two piggy banks ($5 from Old Navy, woot) - one is a yellow elephant with flowers, and it holds the silver change, and one is a zebra-striped pig, and it holds the pennies. Somehow I feel like I am shortchanging the zebra-striped piggy bank, because it's the older one and I've had it a long time, by putting the pennies in it. There aren't as many pennies and they certainly aren't worth as much. It seems like I should be striving for equality of piggy banks. Maybe the zebra pig thinks that I don't like it anymore...

Yeah. Nap time.

Friday, September 29, 2006

MBNA loves me, la la la la la

I am singing the happy I-got-things-taken-care-of song. A while ago, I was charged for two memberships that shouldn't have been charged, because I used the ShopSafe program. (This is an MBNA feature where you can get a new credit card number that links to your account, with a pre-set expiration date and limit. For any transaction where I just need a credit card number, I would set the expiration date for a month in the future, and the limit to $1.) The idea is that if they do something unauthorized, they a) don't have your real card number, and b) can't charge beyond the limit or it'll bounce, just like if you really did have only $1 left of credit on your card. (Actually, sometimes they let a charge go through anyway, so this is even more effective.)

Well, I signed up for trial memberships and forgot to cancel them, but wasn't too concerned since they wouldn't be able to charge me anyway. Right? Nope, the charges came through loud and clear to the tune of $100. I put in disputes and called people and ranted and raved, but there were two problems. One, the dispute people didn't know anything about ShopSafe. Two, the regular reps couldn't dispute items, because that was the job of the dispute people. So we went round in circles, each rep offering to send me to the other type of rep. And last week I got some papers asking for documentation, even though I said in the dispute that I didn't have any, and my dispute was with MBNA, not the merchant.

Today I logged in to check things like the neurotic that I am, and voila! Two reversals, PLUS 18 cents for finance charges! Woot!

I am very excited. Can you tell? I have had Chase reverse charges for me before (even a couple of times when I didn't recognize my Lingo bill because it didn't say Lingo, it had some other weird company name) but I hadn't used the MBNA card enough to need that service. I'm glad they came through for me.

An interesting story from my tax teacher on why you now need to get receipts for charitable donations individually over $250, BUT not total

You know the new tax rule that you now have to get a receipt for any cash donation over $250? You can't just use a cancelled check anymore, you need better proof. BUT, you could write 10 checks for $100 and they'd take each one individually as proof. As always, people who abuse the system create consequences for the rest of us.

Evidently some years ago there was this guy who every single week made a really, really big check out to his church, and used the cancelled checks to deduct charitable giving of more than 30% of his income. That's below guidelines, but it's still a LOT of money, and made up more than ten percent of the church's income. The auditors felt something was up but could not find anything amiss. This guy deducted over $10,000 a year to his church - and had all the cancelled checks to prove it.

Eventually they figured out what was happening - each week the guy would do his church a favor and relieve them of the cash in the offering plate, and writing one large check for the total, which the church would then cash. I guess none of the other members were deducting much, since it was cash, but this guy took all the credit without giving all the money! So now all of us have to have receipts clearly stating we gave that money for anything larger than $250, but individual amounts lower than that don't require receipts unless they're cash.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Yay business cards!

I finally got the big (actually pretty small) box of CashDuck business cards from VistaPrint. They're pretty good quality, I'd say the paper is the same weight as my work business cards which were probably 4x as expensive! The color is nice and clear, and the edges look crisp. All in all they're very nice and well worth the $35 or so I paid for 1000 of them (both sides full color, too.)

I was not so pleased with the return address labels I ordered - despite the fact that I used one of their pre-made templates for the design, the printing is WAY outside the borders. It looks like it was intended to fit (the image is cut off at the edges and rounded at the bottom corner) but it doesn't. And I don't think it's misaligned or anything. When I designed the business cards, they gave guidelines and showed on the screen where the image should be to ensure that nothing gets cut off, since I uploaded my own design - but I kind of assumed that their own pre-made design would also be pre-aligned. The quality is good though - it's more of a sticker weight paper than the address labels you get on a roll.

The notepads, postcards, and folding cards are also pretty nice, especially considering they were free! I'm still waiting on the rubber stamp but a) I don't really need a rubber stamp and I just did it because it was free, and b) Claire [tiredbuthappy] said that they stink. So we'll see.

Oh, and on the off chance that anybody's interested in having some to give to all your friends and admirers, send me an email at with your address and I'd be thrilled to mail you some. ;)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tax class update

This is the third week now of my tax class at H&R Block and I think I am getting the hang of things. I made no mistakes on any of my practice returns we had for homework so I felt pretty good. Usually I make at least one mistake - which then I don't think I'll make again. I only got an 18 on my quiz because I forgot the piece of advice the instructor had given us - that any time alimony is put on a quiz, it's usually one of the answers. Apparently H&R Block just really wants people to know about alimony - but the teacher said that in the more than 1000 returns he's done, he's never seen any alimony. I guess it's just not that common anymore.

The "new hire coordinator" dropped by also, I guess just to see us, but I'm starting to dread her visits because she doesn't seem to actually do anything other than disrupt class and overreact to everything that happens. She also made some comments about how we shouldn't expect her to be on top of who's in what class because there are FIFTEEN CLASSES and that's just SOOOO MUCH. Except that that's pretty much her job right now, so I'm not impressed by her inability to do it. =P

I also made sure on a point that I wanted to know for CashDuck - that 1099-MISC forms, which I will be sending my users at the end of each year, can be counted as earned income for the Earned Income Credit. Even though they're not required to get a 1099 and I'm not required to report it unless they're over $600 in earnings, some people could get some extra EIC if they reported some extra earnings. While I'll be happy to generate a 1099-MISC for any user who wants one even if they're not over $600, I wonder if I should put up a special notice about it for people who might potentially be able to get $50 more in EIC or something with it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Schweet! Free money!

What free money have I gotten lately? Well, I kind of tapered off with the DealBarbie type stuff, because I'm focusing my time on my own site now, but I still got some money, about $60, from things I did last month. Plus, I got my $100 Bank of America credit for opening a new account. Here's hoping my KeyBank account is OK too and I get my free iPod nano! That would be five kinds of awesome. I also got a PineCone check and a $15 check in the mail for a survey I don't remember doing. (Which is why doing these surveys is great - it's always surprise money.)

Of course, with all that money in my PayPal account, I went and bought this shirt for my dad's birthday. What good is surprise money if not to surprise someone with it?

The Nifty Fifty - Check out 50 members of the Under 30 Honor Roll

We've hit quite a milestone! Fifty under-30 bloggers all in once place. I present to you the members of the Under 30 Honor Roll:

300 @ 30

A Life After College

A Penny Saved

Abandon Nest

Accumulating Money

Beachgirl's Budget Blog

Birds and Bills

calgirlfinance's journey to financial freedom

Chipping Away

City Girl's Financial Blog

College Student Financials

Debt Has Made Me Its Bitch

Debt in Seattle


Financial Confessions of a College Graduate

Finding Freedom

Fiscal Responsibility

Frank the Financially Savvy Atheist

From The Red

Highest Echelon

HJL Money Blog

Matt's Money Blog

Molly's Brother on a Budget

Money 360

Money and Values

Money Crashers

Money, Matter, and More Musings

Ms. MiniDucky

My Money Path

My Young Guns

Ninja Pigeon

No Money In Poetry

One For The Money

Penny Foolish

Pragmatic Finance

Savvy Saver

The Budgeting Babe

The Business Of Life

The Finance Journey

The Financial Ladder

The Skinny Investor


Tired But Happy

Tired of Being Broke

udandi & the craft of money


What Makes Cents

Young and Broke

Young Finance Guy

Monday, September 25, 2006

BAD spending (and saving) month

September isn't even over yet and already the damage is mounting. I get paid once a month, so I am acutely aware of how much I spend each month. (This month in particular is a problem because Boyfriend isn't getting paid at the end of it as he is between paychecks for the summer job and the academic-year job.) But this month just happened to be a constellation of events that invited spending.

$105 - H&R Block class fee. (Apparently some people get to take it for free. I was annoyed to find that out.)

$60 - Greyhound ticket to go home for the holiday this past weekend.

$55 - Buying lunch for family and friend at my favorite restaurant while home. (I have more disposable income than my parents do.)

$300 - Or something close. We ate out a LOT this month, partially because I am stressed from waiting to hear about the potential new job and wanted crab rangoon about 8 times. This is pretty bad both for my health and my wallet, especially since I paid for most of the eating out because Boyfriend isn't getting paid. This is BAD BAD BAD. We will be much better next month.

About $500 - CashDuck related expenses. This month I did not put anything into savings and took out about $150 to prevent an overdraft, which I haven't put back. The rest came from skipping the savings this month. (I know, not good, but it's a one time thing.) Includes $76 in VistaPrint supplies for CashDuck because my business account wasn't set up yet and I didn't want to wait forever to get them.

$85 - Doctor visit/prescription expenses. I put in an FSA reimbursement request for the prescription but neglected to get appropriate documentation for the two $15 doctor visit copays. Evidently a receipt is not enough. I will not make that mistake again.

$200 - At least, in groceries.

$100 - Used laser printer off Craigslist. Another $30 too for the little wireless device that will network it wirelessly and let both Boyfriend and I print from it.

$450 - Very beginning of month, made BIG payment to credit card so that all of the debt would be gone so I could do the 0% balance transfer. Probably more than I had room in the budget for, but what's done is done.

Oy. Not the best, but I'm only down $150 from savings. I did take out an extra $1000 on the 0% balance transfer over what I needed because Boyfriend isn't getting paid this month. I don't expect to need all of it so at the end I should be able to send back $500 or so. Or I might just add it to the emergency fund, I don't know.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A drug named after a graphics layout...

Since I work in healthcare, I have a lot of pens that have drug names on them. Today a drug rep came by for a new drug I haven't heard of. The brand name is Tygacil, generic tigecycline.. it's an IV antibiotic, and I'm sure it's lovely, but seriously, everything is tiger-print. I think they named it that just so that they could put tiger stripes on everything. Unfortunately, so did Valcyte and certain lines of Roche freezer products. I guess tigers are popular as infection "fighters"... who can say?

It's a nice pen, though.

VistaPrint Is Weird

About two weeks ago I ordered a bunch of custom printed stuff from VistaPrint for CashDuck. Since they kept sending me emails about "get this other stuff for free!" I took them up on it and will be getting a whole BUNCH of stuff:

1000 color front and back business cards
20 flower notecards with envelopes
2 duck notepads
50 business card magnets
Rubber stamp
Roll of address labels
200 postcards (half duck, half flowers)

Total was $76 including shipping, in 3 separate shipments.

So yesterday I got a package and it felt like it had business cards in it. I was pretty excited because my mom wanted to have some and I'm going home this weekend - I figure she will pass them out to everyone on the street cause she's proud of my new business venture. (That's moms for you. ;) I feel the package, hard and squarish, maybe a box of cards? I open it up - nope, it is 100 flower postcards.. and 10 envelopes, which belong to a different product. I get another email today - they are shipping the address labels. By themselves. I guess stuff comes out at different rates, but this is weird.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

PayPerPost copies me!

Just like I've done with my CashDuck blog, PayPerPost now has a blog where you can read all about their daily travails. I think this is an interesting side shoot of businesses having blogs - a lot of businesses just have promotional information, but it's neat to get kind of an inside look at what is going on and upcoming within a business you use a lot. This could be an interesting forum for users to communicate with the higher-ups, so I hope it doesn't disintegrate into just another place to announce new posting opportunities.

One post that caught my eye was the tattooing one - they'll pay you $1000 to get PayPerPost tattooed on your body and videotape the whole thing. First off, 4" wide is pretty big - and takes a long time to tattoo. I wonder if anyone will take them up on it...

Click this link to see PayPerPost write about how toadvertise on blogs.

Holy cow! Extra $30 Sharebuilder bonus!

I found a GREAT offer for CashDuck - another place you can get a great sign up bonus for signing up with ShareBuilder. (You can get one through eBates too.) If you've already signed up with eBates, give this one a whirl - fund any account and get $30. Use one of the ubiquitous promo codes and get extra money. This is pretty exciting, I'm going to do it myself when I get home tonight. This made my day. =) You can go here to register with the site - the offer is under New Offers in the drop down.

Posts I am ITCHING to write but I WON'T.. until further notice

I have posted a couple of times about how I had a great job interview for a great new job.. and of course with switching jobs a whole host of other financial issues crop up. So I'd like to write articles about trying to keep myself in the 15% bracket so that I can roll over my 403(b) into a Roth IRA and not get hit too hard, or car costs, or considering putting the roughly $600 a month(!!) extra into the Roth IRA to fill it up for 2006, etc etc, but I tend to jump the gun a little since I don't actually HAVE the job yet. So if I get this job, expect to see a flurry of excited planning posts.. if I don't, there will just be one sad one. *snif* I should hear this week.

The one issue I don't have with Robert Kiyosaki

One of the big criticisms that's always leveled at Kiyosaki is that he's long on encouragement and short on practical ideas. Well, that's pretty true. You can read a great overview of the book here at Adventures in Money Making. Kiyosaki is mainly trying to give people an insight into the psychological mindset of how a person who made themselves wealthy would think, and it's much the same message as The Millionaire Next Door (about people who did make themselves wealthy) - you shouldn't buy things you can't afford, you should strike out for yourself, and you should live according to your principles and not what you think someone of your income should be doing. That's all fine.

Then there's kind of a disconnect between what Kiyosaki says you should do in the books, and what he says you should do specifically. It seems to me that the best way to accumulate wealth in his mindset is to either buy assets (like real estate) that create money, or to create an asset (like a business) that creates money. This is where he and The Millionaire Next Door begin to part ways. The Millionaire Next Door comes to the conclusion that being in business for yourself is the way that most wealthy people get there, but if you read Kiyosaki's Yahoo column, he talks a lot about gold (which just sits there) and disdains mutual funds and stocks (which seem to fit well with his idea of money that makes money, but he doesn't think they're fast enough.) So that doesn't make much sense there. I realize that owning a successful real estate or business empire makes money faster than a mediocre mutual fund, but investing is one good step towards creating a mindset that believes saving for the future is more important than living it up today.

The principal issue, I think, is this: Most People Don't Have Any Good Ideas. They hear that owning your own business is a great thing to do, but they don't have any idea of what they want to do. Or they don't have the desire to go out and find something that they think would make money. This is why stocks and mutual funds are easy and appealing - someone else has already thought up the business and got it going, and now all you have to do is buy part of it, or tiny parts of many businesses in the case of a mutual fund. You can do all that while holding down a different job, and not getting up at 2AM to fix somebody's overflowing toilet. Even owning real estate is a comparatively easy idea to actually thinking up a new business that works - I'll give it that. (Not an easy job, note.)

I'm not really sympathizing with the people who complain that Kiyosaki doesn't provide any follow-through. He's just providing a change of mentality - are you then going to complain that he doesn't personally show you how to file for incorporation or retain good employees? No, there are a thousand books about how to run the business. You're not supposed to get a complete handbook of action out of him - you're just supposed to get inspired to Do Something. Evidently, he believes the actual ideas will follow.

The war over PayPerPost

Take a look at this little article written by another PayPerPost-er. He's written about the mild war going on over how to make money blogging - ie, is PayPerPost the wave of the future? I don't really know. Given the limited types of things that you can write about, and how very little effort using Adsense takes, I think a lot of people are pretty content to sit back and not really do anything, and collect little Adsense checks now and then. I think it's really us little bloggers, who don't have enough site traffic to get a lot of Adsense revenue, who benefit the most from PayPerPost - and someone with a lot of blog traffic is probably concentrating more on maintaining the blog and updating it than with looking for good opportunities. I think in general both types of advertising are going to exist side by side although I think payouts from Adsense are going to go down as people learn to ignore them just as they learned to ignore banner ads.

Third class at H&R Block

Tonight we pretty much just talked about dependents, because that's something that if we work for them we need to be able to just spout off, and know it cold. We had a little quiz too which I did fine on, other than forgetting that alimony is taxable income (it's child support that's not.) Apparently H&R Block has some kind of obsession with alimony; the teacher told us that pretty much anytime we see alimony as an option on a quiz, it's probably the right answer.

We also did a class exercise at the end where we filled out a simple 1040A and a child tax credit page, and I felt very proud of myself since I was the first person done. Woo for me! I forgot that tips not reported to the employer have to go into total wages, though, so I was a little off.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A thought on how I am completely unable to keep a buffer in my checking account

I know that lots of people keep a $100 or $500 or even $1000 buffer in their checking account which they are not "allowed" to spend, but I think I am just congenitally unable to do that. I switched from using credit exclusively to using a debit card exclusively about six months ago (which was temporarily painful on the budget) but I am doing OK with it now. I switched mainly because I was spending too much money each month because I have a higher credit limit than I have money to spend - an old tale to be sure.

So now, if I have extra money that I need to save (for example, $900 that I have put aside for next month when Boyfriend will not get paid anything) it has to come OUT of the checking account. (It is in my linked savings account right now.) I need to remove the money from the account - so that anything in there is for Spending Only.

I'm not sure why I can never keep that buffer in my account. I'd certainly like to - I sometimes get down pretty close and have worried that I would overdraw. I think what is going on is that I suffer from "I'll put it back" syndrome - where things that seem like a necessity right now will start to spring leaks in my buffer, and pretty soon there will be no buffer at all. It's kind of like the big problem with payday loans - you need one because there was an unforeseen emergency, but you don't have the money next month to pay off the loan because your pay doesn't usually vary that much, so if you made enough to easily repay the loan, you would make enough to easily cover the emergency in the first place! I know that when I take money out of the buffer that it needs to go back next month - but then my spending is curtailed next month, and I see that buffer, and I think, well I'll put it back next month...

Thus, no buffer. And no credit cards. Keeps me legal.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Grumble grumble... (cute picture inside)

Man, I really don't want to fill out fake tax forms. For every chapter in the H&R Block book, you have to fill out at least one 1040EZ - and I imagine later it is the full 1040 - for fake people with fake W-2's. This is tiresome. I don't fill out my own federal taxes on paper! Why would I fill out fake people's? I realize that we learn on paper, but it's a drag. That's why they invented computers. I think.

It's also a little tiresome because instead of getting a class about taxes, I got a class about how to prepare other people's taxes. I don't like giving up on stuff but I am already getting that "I'd rather be anywhere but here" feeling about going to class.

Anyway, as promised, here's a picture of my cat helping me do my tax homework. If only he would vacuum (or at least quit stealing my ponytail holders.)

Submit your articles for this Friday's Festival of Under 30 Finances!

This edition's question posed by Molly's Brother on a Budget: Last time, Ninja asked why it's taboo to talk about debt and finances in our culture. Off of that question, do you find that you share information with your friends who might need a little financial guidance or do you hold your tongue? Click here to submit your answer and your article. Anyone of any age can submit!

How can people afford to get pregnant! Geez.

So as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm kind of shopping around for a new job, and thus for a car - and now health insurance. Since I'm young and healthy, I thought I could employ a strategy I read about a while ago: trading employer-paid health insurance for extra pay. Today I went looking for some numbers.

The things that are most important to me are the yearly deductible, urgent care or emergency room coverage, and maternity care. Why maternity care, if I don't intend on having kids for several more years? Well, I want these things to be covered because I figure if I get seriously hurt (and need emergency room care) or become pregnant, that's when I'm least going to be able to afford big medical bills. I can handle routine prescriptions, and I don't really go to the doctor. At my age, the emergency room is probably the only place I REALLY need coverage. But I'd want to get maternity coverage just in case, since I can't exactly apply for it after I need it...

Pretty good health insurance with no maternity care (low deductible, reasonable prescription costs, $25 doctor visits, etc): between $50 and $80 per month
Otherwise crappy health insurance with maternity care: over $400 per month

geez! I know babies are expensive but it seems like if I paid for it on my own, I'd be paying out the wazoo for a highly unlikely unexpected event. Maybe I'll just take what coverage I can get from the employer...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Double you tee eff? has added you to the
Zeccobloggers group with this message:

Here is the group's description:

Zecco bloggers emails

----------------------- Google Groups Information ----------------------

The owner of the group has set your subscription type as "No Email", meaning
that you'll need to visit the group's home page to view new messages.

To view this group on the web, or edit your subscription, you will need to
create a Google Account by going to:

Visit this group on the web by using this URL:

You can unsubscribe from this group using the following URL:

-------------------- Information About This Message --------------------

If you feel that this message is abuse, please inform the Google Groups staff
by using the URL below.

(I reported it as abuse - I do NOT want to be signed up for shit without my permission, and I would NOT want to be involved with Zecco as it is all investment crap)

Second class at H&R Block

This class went a lot more smoothly - although some people weren't there and some new people came. I guess since every class runs on the same schedule, you can show up at any class on the appropriate day and they'll be covering the same material. Our "new hire coordinator" also came - she's the person whose job it is to shepherd us into working for H&R Block. Apparently if you don't get good grades she will call you up and encourage you. No mention of any tutoring or anything like that though - I know it's not that hard but some people might just not be good at it, and it didn't seem like she was offering to do anything that might actually help someone who wanted to do it but was struggling. I didn't put down my phone number on the card because I don't particularly want to be shepherded.

Another thing the new hire coordinator did was basically shoot herself in the foot by telling us about how the new people were basically eaten alive by the more experienced tax preparers - wow, that really makes me confident and want to work for your company! She then kind of lamely wrapped it up by saying that it was her job to make us feel warm and cuddly.. not so hot a job there. The teacher tried to kind of clean up after her when she left, saying that he'd applied to be a manager at the office where our class is held, and that sort of behavior would not go on in any office he managed. He did say that his office is very different but it really depends on the manager, and whether the same manager is there from year to year. H&R Block seems to have a lot of people-shuffling going on; nobody seems to stay with their location for long, or even their state, if you want to move up in the organization.

In actual material-related stuff, we mostly went over filing statuses, income requirements to file, and the W-2 again, but we spent probably half the time listening to the teacher's stories about people whose taxes he'd done. He mentioned that a woman who was arrested last year for having a brothel in a nearby city had been filing as such with the IRS for years - she had actually written down on her taxes that she was the owner of a brother. The IRS doesn't care, because you're not breaking tax law, and what you submit to them is confidential - only a subpoena would bring it to light, and they probably did subpoena her tax records after the police started looking into her operations. I imagine they were very surprised.

The teacher also had a lot of negative things to say about Jackson Hewitt and the other tax preparers - evidently, their employees are not given a class on taxes, but a class on how to enter crap into the computer, which isn't particularly useful. And their fees are also higher than H&R Block's, and their loans cost more, etc etc. He did say though that when people come in who are clearly trying to do fraudulent things with their taxes (such as a guy he cited who said he was a small business owner, and recited numbers for income and expenses and what not out of his head - ie no receipts or anything) the people at H&R Block will usually just tell them they won't do their taxes - and then they go to Jackson Hewitt which is evidently happy to do them. H&R Block pretty much figures that those people are going to get audited lickety split and doesn't want to be involved.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Should I put a car on my credit card?

This was something I was pondering last night. I just interviewed for a new job which I think I'll accept if offered - but I'd have to buy a car as it's about 20 minutes from where I live and isn't bus-able. I'm thinking I can easily afford something in the $5-7k range, plus insurance costs.. and it occurs to me that I've got a bounty of credit card checks, I wonder if I should just write myself a balance transfer check and pay "cash" for the car?

This seems good to me for three reasons. One, I can get a very competitive interest rate (Chase doesn't have the fixed 3.99% right now, but I can get 5.99% anytime and they'll deposit the money into my bank account) or perhaps even 0% interest (I still have 0% checks for MBNA, I'll call them up and see if they'd raise my credit line $7,000.) I know if I do the 0% option I'll have to switch it in a year, but I'd have saved a whole lot of money. The second reason it seems good is that the credit card debt is unsecured - ie so if something bad happens and I can't pay the cards, my car won't be repossessed because the two aren't connected. Third, if bad things happen, credit cards have somewhat lower minimum payments than the regular four-year personal loan payment on a car loan, especially at 0% - and I imagine it'll be easier to work things out with the credit card company than a lender.

I'll have to see what I can do with my cards - I can still get a 7% rate from the credit union which isn't too bad.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My first H&R Block tax class

So my first class was last night - and this one was actually open and everyone was there. =P There are 7 people in my class, but apparently they sometimes have more than 20. This year there are more open classes, though. It became crystal clear within ten minues of starting that the entire purpose of this class is to recruit new people to prepare taxes for H&R Block. Apparently they lose about 30% of the staff each year, so the classes are necessary to bring in fresh blood. If you get an 80% or better on your final exam, and had no other problems in the class, you're pretty much guaranteed to get hired. We also filled out a little card with our contact information (I left off my phone number) to give to the person whose entire job consists of herding you at every step towards working for them (and continuing to work for them in future years.) You also get paid more every year, and paid more when you take more classes too, so that's encouraging.

We spent the first half of the class hearing about H&R Block's history and hearing stories from the teacher's previous sessions as a tax preparer. (We did not have textbooks at the beginning.) Once our textbooks came, we went over the 1040, 1040A, 1040EZ, and the W-2 - just generally what all of the lines mean, what the filing statuses mean, etc. So nothing earth shattering in this class but you have to start somewhere. The class ran over and I had to leave because I had to catch a bus unfortunately so I don't know how long they ended up staying. Should be interesting though. I have some homework for me tonight - although the in class exercises consisted of correctly filling in an address header and 1040EZ, so I don't think it will take long.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Any suggestions on a used car?

I don't own a car, but I've got a job interview for a job 20 minutes away (so I'd have to buy one if I got it.) And I do want this job - it sounds like a much better environment than my current one. So I, in my obsession with planning everything possible ahead of time, am looking at cars (you know, in case I get this job and need one.) I don't have enough saved to buy one outright so I want to make sure payments are quite low - with my age, insurance alone will probably run $75-100 a month, so I want to get a car that's about $5-7k so that the payments won't be too bad. The salary that I'd want to get in order to equal my current one (considering that I get $6k of retirement contributions free from my current employer) would be about $7-8k higher than I make now, so that I can swing a car and still sock away lots of money for retirement. (Salary is obviously a key issue - if they can only pay me what I get paid now, I'd effectively be taking an $8k paycut between the retirement money and the car costs.)

Anybody got any suggestions for a good used car? I basically just want a small sedan and I'd rather get something older that's more durable than something newer that only cost $10k to begin with.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My butt is so sore right now and it's all H&R Block's fault

Not like that you perverts. I rode my bike top speed 1.8 miles to the H&R Block location where I signed up to take my tax class.. and it was closed. Locked up and posted "closed until january 2, 2007." To top it off, there was a sheet with tear tabs advertising the tax classes. I called the central number on the sheet and asked the CSR why the hell I had come to a class at a locked and closed building. Evidently, they changed the class time from Monday and Thursday to all day Saturday and sent out a LETTER (in the MAIL) on THURSDAY and expected that we would get it on Monday. (of course, they have our emails and phone numbers but noooo they couldn't use that)

So the rep signed me up under a different class which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays at a different branch which is 1.7 miles in the opposite direction. My boyfriend's car is in the shop which is why I rode my bike, which also has a partially flat front tire I keep forgetting to inflate, and didn't have time to inflate tonight because I remembered at 6:14 that I had the 6:30 class. I got out of the apartment at 6:20 and arrived at the location at 6:35 - pretty good for 1.8 miles on a slight uphill with a half flat tire! But there was no rest for my butt because I had to get back on the bike and ride back home.

Stupid H&R block. Stupid butt.

My brand new business

Well I went and did it - I started a business. And you are all welcome to participate. Come take a look! The site is functional but doesn't have as much on it as I'd like yet, but I'm adding them pretty quickly. The site is called CashDuck (don't make fun of me!) and of course the theme is ducks. It is a GPT (get paid to) site like DealBarbie - so you make money by signing up for trial products, insurance quotes, etc etc.

I really want to get feedback from people who haven't used this kind of site before - what would you want to know about the site before using it? What sort of offers would entice you to actually complete something? I know a lot of people join these sites and then never complete any offers, so I'd like to get feedback from total newbies about what their concerns would be with using this kind of site.

The site is fully functional and anyone who completes offers will certainly be paid whatever they earn. I've also started a blog (of course!) specifically for CashDuck; you can see it at! Go check out CashDuck and tell me what you think!

I'm being pretty picky about the offers I post - probably less than 20% of the offers I can get from the networks go on there, either because the offers didn't seem worth it for the amount of earnings, costs too much, pain in the ass factor, etc etc. So I think that the offers that did make it up there are all pretty quality, and I would do them myself if this were someone else's site.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Money Personality Profiler

OK, obviously I am a little late on this bandwagon (Single Ma posted about it in JANUARY) but I took the Money Personality Profiler today, and surprise surprise I got:

Practical Domestic
The title we felt best suited you was Practical Domestic. When it comes to money matters you are responsible, realistic, accurate, careful, traditional, steady, practical, diligent, super dependable, dutiful, organised, orderly and decisive.

You enjoy spending on making life comfortable for your family and those who are important to you. You are often adjusting your spending to day- to-day events that make your life and work more satisfying for you and others. (This is pretty true. I like to spend my money on things for other people.)

You like nice physical surroundings and comforts. To you, home is valued territory. Your house is likely to be well-kept inside and out and meticulously maintained in a time-honoured traditional style. You love to spend on traditions and taking care of people and things. You like being with family and close friends and having special dinners and traditional family gatherings. (I wouldn't say meticulously maintained..)

You like structure and orderliness to your finances. You believe in saving and putting something aside against an unpredictable future. You want to get there by the most direct means, as indirect and open methods seem inefficient to you. You do better when you have a clear pathway and goal in mind, and have a definite plan that leads to progress charts and tangible records. (I ALWAYS want to have a plan, even if it changes by the month.. there IS a plan.)

You want knowledge and facts from financial advisers. (Although it will be a long time before I actually need one.)

Your Summary

You do well behind the scenes supporting any business you believe in. You are great with detail, bring follow through and focus to help things run smoothly. (I can't stand inefficiency. It eats at my soul.)

People seek you out as responsible guardians who bring structure and efficiency to a task. You remember to do the little things that need to be done to make a project a success. (Like stapling.)

You tend to find meaning in life by serving human needs and making others happy so investing in something you believe in eg. Using your investment to help others tends to feel most comfortable for you. (I have thought about SRI funds but I think I'd rather donate money directly in order to help people.)

Your Money Tips

We are all unique, but there maybe some potential blind spots that many people of your money personality style share. While thinking about the following suggestions, ask 'is this true of me?' If so, then ask 'how has it stopped me from being more skilled with money?' By being aware of your possible blind spots you can start to overcome them.

Don't miss out on future investments just because you are too caught up in the here and now. Don't get stuck in thinking there are no options for changing the status quo. Don't ignore gloomy, logical consequences just because they make you feel bad. Talk to people who have a more optimistic, future focus. The problem is you often think things will be worse than they are now if you tinker too much - but not necessarily. (Actually, my investments are all pretty risky since I'm young. But I won't buy stocks because I'm paranoid they'll go down.)

You are uncomfortable with uncertainty and lack of clear direction so select priorities carefully and work out clear steps. You are great at doing your research collecting facts. (Hells yes. Facts are what I specialize in.)

Try to be objective. A lot of your financial mistakes are because you have let your emotions get in the way. (I think I might be too objective...)

Take time out to consider your direction, purpose and goals. Try not to make stop gap decisions because you are unable to decide your long-term goals. Try not to neglect long term consequences. Check that your current plan still meet your needs five to ten years from now. (I will be checking my current plan every five to ten HOURS from now. I think things through OVER AND OVER AND OVER... it's fun!)

Try not to decide too quickly or be inflexible when making financial decisions. (OK, I do tend to jump the gun and want to do things NOWNOWNOW.)

Overall I think this is a pretty accurate description of me.. I like facts, I like efficiency, and I plan for things that have no logical need for a plan. Yep yep.

Yay Festival of Under 30 Finances!

Check out the 5th edition at NinjaPigeon's Flight to Financial Independence (an awesome blog name, too!) He asks a great question: Why do you think it's become so taboo in our society to have discussions on finance that don't center around debt? I have often thought this myself - I'd like to be able to help people that I know with money issues, and I'd like to be able to talk through my own with my friends and family, but unless it's complaining about debt, everything else is verboten. Sad really.

The next edition will be hosted by Molly's Brother on a Budget on September 22nd - go here to add your article!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Things I am willing to pay for that if I were really frugal I wouldn't buy

I admire the devout frugalists who can darn socks, feed people for $1 a week, and otherwise cause physical pain to the consumer system by not buying more than necessities. I am not that strong. I admit it! I am a person of creature comforts. But I do love nifty websites and pre-cooked soup.

I have had a subscription to for about a year or so and I think it's pretty useful. (No referral links here. I just think it's cool.)

I love sending birthday cards and emails and such, but my previous method of keeping track of things was a 2002 Star Trek calendar. I know that the calendar (bought for $1 in February 2002 and used for 3 years) is the frugal answer. But I kept forgetting to pull it out, and I felt like an awful mean person for forgetting. I will just face up to it: I am not that organized. So now with bigdates emailing me, I magically appear organized! Hooray!

You can check out BigDates if you are so inclined.. It's about $6 a year and I think it's worth it. My dad suggested for my new business venture that I send out birthday postcards and I'll probably be using this to track it too.

Another thing that I probably should make myself but don't is soup. Yes, I love soup. I know that cream of potato soup is probably the cheapest thing in the world to make a gallon of, but for my part I would rather just pull out one of the umpteen cans of Chunky soup or Campbell's Select that live in my desk drawer and eat something exotic and bad for me that I would totally mess up if I tried to cook it. I tried to make hot and sour soup (my favorite) a couple of times in high school and it came out as vinegar and raggedy mushrooms soup. Ech. Also in the food category is chicken salad - it just takes SO LONG to cook the chicken and THEN make the chicken salad from the ripped up chicken. At least with tuna salad you just take it out of the can and mix it up.

I used to try and make my own clothes - basically the farthest I got was skirts. As in, drawstring-waist, floor length, non fitted skirts. This is a really great invention for wearing over pajama pants to keep yourself warm in the winter. I got the idea from the Malaysian girls at college who wore a full length dress over their clothes (because it is much warmer in Malaysia than Cleveland and they were always cold.) But you do stay pretty toasty with your own personal air bubble of warm air around your legs. I haven't really tried to make anything in a few years although I have a bunch of fabric for a few projects in the closet.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How to save an old PC computer - part 2, with a real live IT lady!

Mapgirl had some really great comments concerning my last post on how to upgrade an old computer. It's always helpful to have a real live IT person give suggestions - I am OK with computers but have no actual training or anything. Here's her suggestions:

About defragmenting your hard drive:
Defragging is only necessary if you write a lot of stuff to your hard drive and delete at a lot of stuff too.

If you use your PC mostly for web browsing, doing it once every 6 months is fine. If you are doing lots of work on your PC, AND it's EXTREMELY slow, then try it once a month.

HOWEVER, if things are really slow, try getting more RAM first and twiddle with your virtual memory settings. There may be an issue with setting the priority of your process threads, i.e. which jobs get done first.

Right click on your My Computer icon and pick Properties. Under the Advanced tab will be a button for Performance settings. Your default should say on the Visual Effects tab, "Let Windows choose what's best for my computer." Personally that's what I would do, but if you are suffering from performance problems, click the third option, "Adjust for best performance."

Next, pick the Advanced tab and make sure that the Processor Scheduling and Memory usage are set for PROGRAMS and not for background processing. After that, pick the Virtual Memory button an dyou can have the System manage your maximum size.

That should also help. Frequently it's about memory management and not having 10,000 open windows. Try only to run a few things at a time. Something that drives me nuts at work is folks who complain about system slowness and then show me a window full of streaming audio, multiple chat windows, 10 emails they're reading, 2 spreadsheets, etc. It's a mess. Then they ask me why Notepad won't open. I don't know what to tell them.

About memory leaks and spyware:
oh. and I forgot. TURN OFF YOUR PC. Older Windows systems had a memory leak that was well known. It's largely gone from XP, but periodically shut off your machine to really clear the cache out. I always leave my pc on. Replacing a fan is nothing compared to always cold starting your motherboard and having to replace that instead.

Also, sometimes if you're computer has been taken over by a virus or hackers, your PC will run very slowly because it's doing lots of background things as an 'owned/pwned' machine. Spyware removal will help.

About backups (very important!):
If you go and uninstall, reinstall Windows, make sure you take a back up of your hard drive.

I'm not kidding. As an IT professional, I've seen people do things without making a backup, that have literally made me and an entire dietary staff of a nursing home cry because they lost a week's worth of menu planning for people with special dietary needs.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

How to save an old PC computer - don't replace it, upgrade it!

Having read a few posts lately from people wondering whether their old computers will hold up, I felt I needed to speak up. There is NO REASON to replace a computer unless there is something MECHANICALLY wrong with it. This is one arena in which I am extremely frugal because computers are just parts, and parts can be recycled and swapped. (Laptops, not so much, but they can still be saved.)

What can you do for a computer which is slow, crashes a lot, takes a long time to open programs, etc etc? Ask this first: Is it mechanical? Do you hear strange noises from inside the computer (grinding, excess heat, etc) when it is not doing anything? (If the noises are in conjunction with doing something like loading a CD, that may point to a specific mechanical problem with the CD drive.)

Most performance problems with computers are not mechanical, they are caused by the software. Here's some steps to consider to improve your Windows computer's performance if there is no mechanical problem:

1. Defrag, defrag, defrag. Defragmentation rearranges the data on your hard drive, and this can significantly speed up your computer if it has been a long time or you have never done this. If the pieces of data (such as the individual files that run Word) are all in different physical locations on the hard drive, it can take a lot longer to run Word. So run Disk Defragmenter (should be in System Tools) at least twice if you haven't done it in a long time, or ever.

2. Uninstall old programs you don't use anymore. You might have a lot of programs which open at start-up and then just sit there, using up all your memory, but you aren't using them. Uninstall them or change their settings so they don't open at start-up. The only things you really should have running all the time automatically are firewalls and virus or spyware protection programs. You can always open the programs later if you need them.

3. Check for spyware. You can download Spy Sweeper or McAfee or Norton or another program to see if there are hidden programs or viruses on your computer which are sucking power. These programs can also compromise your computer's security, so you should be doing this regularly even if the computer seems to be working fine.

4. Clear up space on a near-full hard drive. Your computer needs some space on the hard drive to swap files around - so if you're near 80% full, you'll need to delete some files. Back them up or email them to yourself, do whatever you need to do, but keep your utilization below 80%. You may also not be able to defragment the drive until you do this.

5. Reformat your hard drive and reinstall Windows. This sounds like a last resort, but it can actually be the most effective thing to save a computer from the trash. Your computer should have come with some installation disks, and you can usually use those to reinstall Windows. You may not need to reformat the hard drive; sometimes just reinstalling Windows is enough. If your computer is older, use Windows 2000 instead of Windows XP. If you don't have the installation disks, you can buy a new license for Windows for about $180. This sounds like a lot of money, but consider how much a new computer would cost! Installing Windows is actually pretty easy, the install disk will lead you through it step-by-step, and if you don't reformat the hard drive, most of your files should be safe.

Hardware things you can do:

1. Buy more RAM. RAM is pretty cheap for most computers (a healthy upgrade should cost less than $100), and if you go into your local Best Buy or Circuit City with your computer's model number, they will be able to tell you what kind to buy, and if you don't want to open up your computer, they can install it usually for about $40. You can check how much RAM you have by going to System in the Control Panel. 256mb is a minimum these days; I would say 512mb will significantly improve performance if you have 256mb. The Best Buy guys should be able to tell you how much RAM you can put in - it comes in sticks, and your computer only has room for a certain number of sticks, with a cap on the amount of memory per stick. So if your computer has 4 slots, with a cap of 128mb per stick, your computer can have in total 512mb of RAM. If you only have 2 slots, with a cap of 128mb, you can only have 256mb. If you buy too large of a stick, the computer won't be able to use it at all - but it will be able to use a stick SMALLER than the cap. So you can buy just one stick and replace only one at a time if you want to spread out the cost. If you search online, buy sticks that are in the upper half of the price range because RAM can die, and cheap ones will die much more quickly. Crucial is a good brand but somewhat expensive - ask for recommendations at a computer store for less expensive brands.

2. Buy a larger (or second) hard drive. If you totally replace the hard drive, you will have to format it and reinstall Windows. You can install a second drive, however, and get additional space without having to reinstall or move any of your files. If you have no idea how to do this, I would recommend getting a tech to do it for you. A good large hard drive should cost less than $100 - look for one with at least a 4mb buffer, a 7200 rpm speed - good brands include Western Digital and Seagate.

3. Buy a new monitor. If your monitor malfunctions frequently, it isn't the computer's fault (except in rare cases where the video card malfunctions) - generally if the color is off, it flickers, etc, you should probably replace it. (First however try to see if you can Degauss it - this is an option present on many CRT monitors (the boxy ones) which can sometimes help if the color is off. Try the options in the menu brought up by pressing the monitor buttons and see if it is there. It will make an alarming noise but there is nothing wrong with the monitor.) A cheap monitor should be about $100, you can spend more but it won't necessarily give great leaps in quality. Monitors can be gotten cheaply out of the classifieds or Craiglist, especially if you are satisfied with a smaller size, since they often last for years.

4. Buy a new CD drive. If you play games off a CD, or music, and it goes slowly, you might want to check how fast your CD-ROM drive operates. Anything less than 8x read speed is really slow. If you have a CD writer, anything less than 4x write is really slow. You can get a plain vanilla CD-ROM drive for less than $30, and it will probably be REALLY fast compared with anything bought three years ago. A CD-writer now will run less than $50, and a DVD writer less than $75.

5. For laptops - buy a new battery. Especially if your computer is less than five years old, you can probably buy a new battery off eBay for less than $100. If this is the problem most aggravating you, know that batteries only last so long - it's not indicative that there is anything else wrong with the computer.

If you're computer savvy, you know that there are many other options for upgrading your computer to make it faster - but those are pretty complicated so I won't go into it. If you do end up deciding to get a new computer, see if you can scavenge any parts from your old one to save money (for instance, if your new computer has six RAM slots, you can use a couple older sticks from your old computer and save buying six sticks for maximum performance. Check to make sure they are compatible though.) Your old computer will also fetch a better price if you decide to sell it, if it is in good condition and running fast.

There is nothing wrong with reformatting your computer - I have a 7 year old laptop which is on its 3rd install of Windows and is running just fine. Remember this: A computer is PARTS and PROGRAMS. The most important thing to figure out is which of those areas the computer is having issues - because if what you really need is a fresh install of Windows, buying a bigger hard drive probably won't significantly increase performance.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Fifth Third was much nicer to me on my way OUT of their business

I wrote previously about how I got nowhere with Fifth Third on removing a fee because they had a "policy" against it and basically everything else. I forgot to mention that I was also pissed at them because Fifth Third runs a promotion for employee banking benefits for employees where I work. So, I should have had a free savings account (charged the $5 account fee at least three times) and should have had a free overdraft line (so I wouldn't have been charged these stupid things in the first place.) Even though I signed up for the savings account at the branch which is PHYSICALLY CONTAINED WITHIN MY PLACE OF WORK, I didn't get the employee program even on that savings account. So that was a big strike.

I tried to call and cancel my account over the phone but the CSR told me that I had to go into a branch to cancel it. You don't have to go into one to OPEN an account, but you do to close it. So I figured that closing it would be a lengthy process.

Nope, I walked in and the lady asked what I wanted, and I said I would like to close my account, and she said okay, and went about processing it as calmly as if I had asked for quarters. (Which they also wouldn't do for me previously - if I wanted $20 in quarters, I had to go to the ATM, withdraw a $20, and come back in with it. Literally what they told me to do.) She asked for my debit card, I gave it to her, and she started to slide it back to me, but then thought better and said, "I guess you don't really need that, huh?" By this point I was pretty much out of angry (maybe that was the tactic?) so by the time she actually asked me why I wanted to close my accounts, I was pretty neutral about it, and just said that I had been charged a fee for an overdraft that wouldn't have happened if not for Fifth Third's policies, and almost forgot to say how I didn't get the employee benefits on my account that was opened there. She was very nice and completely neutral through the whole process - evidently, they know that it is probably useless to try to retain a customer who has already decided against keeping the account, and who is already mad enough at them that they will be a problem customer in the future.

It's just sad that the phone CSRs couldn't have been as nice. I probably would still have my account there if they had just reversed that fee. I already had my credit union account up and operating, and now I have the Key account for bills and the Bank of America account for known upcoming expenses. But all this occurred only after the conversations with the CSRs made me feel really like just a number to this bank. What cemented it was when I went to go open the account at the credit union, the lady was just so nice to me, and she recognized the other people in line, and was really helpful - I really felt very welcome there. I also feel like since there is more of a personal level to the transaction that I could come to the credit union lady and she would help me out if something happened like with Fifth Third. Score one for the Credit Union of Ohio - minus one for Fifth Third, giant conglomerate.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Woohoo 10,000 visitors!

I hit the 10k mark sometime last night.. pretty exciting given that my blog is only about two and a half months old. That means that on average, around a thousand people (probably the same people over and over though ;) visit the blog every week. I feel like the coolest kid on the block.

Check my stats here.

I got 2 letters from the IRS!

Yesterday I came home to find two manila envelopes marked "Time Sensitive" from the IRS. I got a little wigged out at first but after I opened them I wasn't too concerned.

I'm starting up a small business (details in a few weeks) and of course I went to the IRS website to get the scoop (and an EIN). I also ordered (for free!) a small business tax workshop DVD and a tax calendar - you can go here and order one yourself if you like. I think that the IRS is doing a really great job with the educational materials for small business owners - this DVD includes a series of videos which talk about tax issues important to small businesses, which you can also watch online.

If you've ever thought about setting up your own business, this is a pretty good place to start. As a sole proprietor with no employees, my taxes will be pretty straightforward, but there's lots of guidance if your situation is more complicated.