Personal Finance Review – Expensive Baby Shoes Edition

The weather is blistering hot here in the Midwest, making it too hot for our daily walk with our son.  We really wanted to get out so we headed over to a nearby mall to stroll around in the comfort of air-conditioning yesterday. I am not a big mall person, probably because I don’t enjoy spending money, but I will stop in every now and then. Luckily we left empty-handed but I was astounded by a stop we made at the Stride Rite store.

Whenever I need new shoes I am usually able to pick up an older model of Nike or Adidas they are phasing out for around $30 – $35. I was blown away when I looked at the price tag on some of the baby shoes and saw them priced as high as $50! I just can’t believe anyone would pay that much money for baby shoes but people must otherwise they would not price them so high. I could never pay more for kids shoes that I spend on shoes that are four times as big for adults. Baby clothes are a racket!

Here are some money posts I enjoyed this week:

Deciding To Sell Or Keep Your Employee Stock Options @ The Digerati Life

Investing On a Shoestring with DRIPS @ Lazy Man & Money

Tired of Investing in the Same Countries All the Time? @ Suns Financial Diary

I Am Happy When The Market Goes Down @ Money, Matter, & More

Think the Stock Market is Going Down? Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and Profit From It @ Generation X Finance

We Liquidated Our Target Retirement 2050 Fund @ Blueprint For Financial Prosperity

Capital One Sucks Slightly Less Now @ Five Cent Nickel

Everything Warren Buffett @ Free Money Finance

Another good reason to pay cash for a car @ Mighty Bargain Hunter

401(k) Money Isn’t His Only Option @ All Financial Matters

Opportunity Costs or How Not Watching TV will Help You Make Money @ DoshDosh

Six Habits I’ve Given Up In Order To Save Money - And How Much It’s Saved Me This Year @ The Simple Dollar

The Real Price of Cheap Books @ Money & Such

Thanks to The Frugal Law Student for including our submission on easy money in last weeks Carnival of Personal Finance.


Organize Your Financial Records for Free

T. Rowe Price is offering a free Family Records Organizer CD on their website.  It is definitely motivated by a marketing effort to begin a conversation with you but it is free and I’m interested to check it out.  I have software to track finances but nothing to manage financial records on the computer. Here is how the software is described on the T. Rowe Price website:

* Offers a single place for you to capture important personal information about your investments, banking and credit cards, insurance, and more with the intent of passing this information along to your beneficiaries or keeping it in a safe place.

* Features a comprehensive Learning Center containing helpful videos and topic information on each of the CD’s recordkeeping categories.

* Captures the wide variety of information that is key to you and your family’s financial well-being and organizes it so that anything you may need is available at a moment’s notice.

* Allows you to be paperless if you choose. You can save your information electronically or print it out.

Ordering the Records Organizer

trowepriceThe software is not something you can download, it comes on a CD so they ask for a shipping address. When I requested mine, the confirmation page didn’t give a delivery timeframe, just that it would be mailed first class. I’ll let you know if it’s of any use once it arrives. Thanks to Beacon Financial Tips for bringing this to my attention.


Show Them You Care With a Spousal IRA Contribution

Let’s be honest.  Sometimes a “non-working” spouse actually works harder with their duties at home than the working half does on the job.  What’s the best way to show them your appreciation, how about by contributing to a spousal IRA!

Keeping Up IRA Contributions
Okay, this move probably won’t win you the spouse of the week award from your significant other but they’ll thank you for it later in life.  I wrote the other day how I had cancelled my wife’s Roth IRA automatic contributions because she’ll be staying at home with our son.  I mentioned this to a money buddy at work yesterday and he set me straight, “Go home and read about Spousal IRA’s”!

Who Is Eligible for a Spousal IRA?
Typically a person must have an income to qualify for IRA contributions; however, the IRS guidelines allow an employed spouse to make contributions for their non-working husband or wife.  An article from Investopedia lays out the requirements you must meet to use a spousal IRA:

  • You must be married.
  • You must file a joint income-tax return.
  • You must have compensation or earned income of at least the amount you contribute to your IRAs.

There are no income limits on who can contribute to a traditional IRA but an article from Smart Money explains the earnings cap for a Roth IRA,  the deductibility rules for a traditional IRA, and how any employer-sponsored retirement plan investments play into contributions limits.

Re-arranging Retirement Accounts
After our retirement investing changes, I was maxing out my Roth IRA then contributing the rest of our “retirement budget” to my 401k; more than enough to get the match of course.  After learning about the spousal IRA, I plan on maxing out both of our IRAs and putting less into my 401k; still enough for the match though.

Why Use a Spousal IRA?
Although this change will increase our Adjusted Gross Income it seems to be a good trade off since the Roth will give us more flexibility than the 401k in the pre-retirement future.  This is because the tax code allows you to withdraw non-rollover Roth IRA contributions (not the earnings) at any time without paying tax or penalty. 

We have a big enough head start on the 401k, I’d rather put our money into a Roth in case we need it 20 years down the road.  Since our income is dropping sharply due to the loss of my wife’s paycheck, the reduction in tax savings from putting less pre-tax into the 401k won’t put us in danger of crossing over into a higher tax bracket.

Showing Them You Care!
My wife doesn’t care much for talk of IRA’s, 401ks, or AGI so it’s my job to make sure these things are covered.  Sure it’s not the same as a dozen roses or diamond earrings but I’m pretty sure that 30 years from now she’d much rather have a big fat IRA than dead roses or overpriced jewelry.  A spousal IRA is a good way to help make sure your spouse at home will be “paid” someday for all the work they’re doing at home today.


Forgot to Pay Taxes on eBay Income?

Minimize Your eBay Taxes & Maximize Your eBay Profits with eBiz Tax Tips

What should you do if you “forgot” to pay taxes on your eBay income?  I asked this question of a tax friend recently and got a multi-part answer that will likely interest you.

The Politically Correct Answer
The first part of the answer was to be expected. According to the tax code you should file an amended return with form 1040X and report the additional income you omitted.  I did a little bit of research on how this works when I recently ran across an electronic copy of a 1099–INT from ING Direct I thought I had forgotten to report.  Luckily it turned out the interest had been reported but this is what I found in my search.

An article by Kay Bell on Bankrate suggests you should file a 1040X if you mis-reported any of the following:

    * Your filing status
    * Your total income
    * Your dependents
    * Your deductions or credits

It’s likely the IRS will eventually notice your error and want their money if the problem is in their favor. However, if you catch the mistake first and report it they may waive some penalties. Why will they eventually notice? Because the money was probably reported to the IRS by the company associated with the income.

In this case you’ll have to work with your tax preparer or through your tax software to file the 1040X.  If you used TurboTax it will help you with the form.

The Other Answer
Now for the second part of the answer.  If you report income on form 1040X for previous tax periods, you are liable for interest and penalties from the date it should have been reported.  The IRS may waive the penalties but they have no obligation to do so.  In addition, your state will be notified of the income as well and can also collect interest and penalties.

In my example above, ING Direct sent in a 1099–INT to the IRS informing them of my income.  Although it will likely change in the future, eBay has not yet sent any income information to the IRS on its sellers.  This means the IRS is not aware you missed reporting income. 

My tax friend pointed out that you can still pay the original taxes you owe and avoid the penalties by reporting the income on the next year’s tax return.  Of course, the tax code requires you to report the income in the period in which you earned it and if you ever get audited you’ll owe even more interest and penalties than you would have because more time will have passed.  I’m not a tax expert so ask your accountant about the potential implications of this approach. 

Think Before You Act
I’m not recommending you wait to report missed income, just passing along what I found in my research. Personally, I paid taxes on my eBay income from last year and paid estimated taxes for this year so I should be all set. 

Some people feel if you catch an honest mistake and report it you shouldn’t be penalized.  They might ask what’s worse, someone paying the taxes late vs. not paying at all because they don’t want to get hit with penalties. Of course, the IRS doesn’t care if the mistake was honest or not, they just want their money and will take as much of it as the law says they can. 

Take Control of Your eBay Taxes
The simplest solution is obviously to not miss anything on your tax return. The best way to do that is to keep good records and not put off doing taxes until the last minute.  A great tax resource for eBay sellers that’s really helped me stay on top of my taxes is a book by small business expert Tim Knox and tax expert Kristine McKinley called eBiz Tax Tips.

ebaytaxes

Knox and McKinley help make sense of the tax requirements for your eBay business and show you many ways to reduce your tax burden. The tag line of the book is how to minimize your taxes & maximize your income and I think the book really does deliver on that promise. If you’ve been slacking on your eBay taxes, wonder if you’ve been doing it right, or are looking for ways to reduce the amount you pay I would definitely check out eBiz Tax Tips to help get your eBay taxes under control.


Thank You Readers!

I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy, information packed day to stay current on the latest money adventures at Money Smart Life.  There are some days when writing about personal finance is easy and others where it is more of a struggle.  Of course this means some posts are better and some are worse, thanks for commenting on the good ones and sticking around despite the bad ones.

To the Future!
I appreciate all the emails I get and the comments you leave.  I hope my insights into personal finance are valuable and that you’ve been able to apply a thing or two you picked up here.  The truth about successful personal finance is it’s typically made up of many money decisions over time, just like a useful blog is composed of many articles and their feedback over time.  I’d like to think that your personal finance knowledge and net worth will grow along with this site.  Here’s to the future!

Getting to Know You
I know some of you quite well and some not at all. You probably know more about me than I you, which is fine because that’s the way blogs work.  I often wonder about the different people that read the site and what kind of things would be useful for you to read about. Feel free to shoot me an email through my contact form or leave a comment below mentioning more about you or what you’d like to see on the site.

Reader Giveaway, Kind Of
I’d like to give away something to all the readers to say thanks but of course our son keeps using up those diapers so a giveaway isn’t in the budget.  I can give away someone else’s money though. 

ING Referrals
As a customer of ING Direct they have a referral program that gives $25 to anyone I refer (plus $10 to me) that signs up for a  Orange Savings Account or an Electric Orange checking account. You have to be a new customer and make a minimum deposit of $250 to qualify. We use the Orange Savings for our emergency fund and I can recommend them.

If you’re interested shoot an email to readers@moneysmartlife.com and I’ll send you a referral, I have 50 available.  If not, stay tuned because I’ll definitely give away sweet prizes when our net worth hits the 1 million mark.  It will be a few decades but what better reason to keep reading :)

Thanks again for reading and helping make this site a success!


How About Credit Card Savings Plans for Small Web Businesses?

What about the little guys on the web?  Why can’t we get savings on services we actually use? 

Credit Card Savings Plans
I’ve mentioned before I’m using my business credit card to build a credit history even though it doesn’t offer cash back rewards. I was hopeful when I heard my bank was offering the MasterCard BusinessCard with a rewards program but was disappointed to discover the plan was only the MasterCard Easy Savings, saving 10 – 20% at select merchants, not the cash back rewards I was looking for.

I checked out the participating companies and was frustrated to see I didn’t do business with any of them.  The merchants fell into the following categories:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels
  • Car Rentals
  • Business Services
  • Print & Shipping

No Savings for Me
One of the nice things about a home web-based business is that you don’t have to fly all over the country to meet clients, work with partners, and make deals. That knocks out any business credit card savings from airlines, hotels, car rentals.

The business services consist of things like staffing, payroll, and human resource software, again things my one-person Web business does not need.  I do quite a bit of shipping for my eBay business but it is all through UPS or the Postal Service, not the express shipping vendor the savings program uses.

Web Businesses Savings Plan
I propose a financial institution come up with a credit card savings plan for small Web businesses that includes services we actually use.  They could offer discounts with domain registration and Web hosting companies or I would love to save even a few percent on payment processing. How about partnering with a company like Elance so we could get rebates on a wide variety of services such as web design, application development, copywriting, search engine optimization, and more?

I suppose if there was money to be made banks would have already pursued something along these lines and I am sure there are logistical issues.  However, as the number of netrepreneurs continues to grow maybe there would be a market for small web business credit card savings plans.  Not to be greedy but of course I’d want it to be a cash back card as well. :)


Personal Finance Review – First Lesson in Frugality

A person is never too young to start learning how to be frugal. My son had his first lesson in frugality this weekend when I taught him to lick the inside and lid of the yogurt container clean.

Of course he doesn’t understand the concept of money yet, however, he is learning an important component of frugality.  Get the most use out of everything you can. Make your resources last as long as possible and don’t waste anything.

The responsibility of teaching him all that he needs to know can be a bit overwhelming but it is nice to see a few lessons sinking in already. I found a lot of good personal finance stuff this week so the review is a bit long, enjoy!

- Your Long Commute May Cost You More Than Time and Money @ Gen X Finance

Making Money with an eBay Store @ Mighty Bargain Hunter

What Is Gap Insurance? Who Needs It And Who Does Not? @ Money, Matter, & More

Reducing Our Electrical Usage: One Year Later @ Five Cent Nickel

Zecco and Prosper: Two Great New Ways to Invest @ Lazy Man & Money

Boost Your Career with Professional Classes @ Free Money Finance

Setting Up Another 529 Plan @ The Suns Financial Diary

One Sentence Summaries of 10 Prominent Personal Finance Books @ Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

7 Ways To Destroy Your Credit With Bad Mortgage Loans @ The Digerati Life

Get Your Personal Finance Questions Answered @ Consumerism Commentary

Starting A Savings Account For Your Newborn @ The Simple Dollar

Saving For A Home On Your Own @ My Money Blog

Store-Branded Credit Cards: A Shocking Look Back @ No Credit Needed

Thanks to Plonkee Money for hosting last week’s Carnival of Personal Finance, Frugal Babe for hosting the Festival of Frugality, and the Financial Blogger for choosing How Money Can Change a Life as his favorite web article for July!


What Would You Hide From Your Spouse to Save Money?

Does your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend spend more money than you’d like? Do they spend money on things you don’t agree with? I met some people the other day that have a sneaky tip for you.

Gadget Buster
Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent. I was out to lunch the other day with Sue and Bob, when Sue mentioned her husband is a gadget freak.  They get tons of mail from places like Best Buy, Circuit City, Gateway, and Crutchfield that she just throws away.  She hates him spending money on electronics so she screens his mail to get rid of all the advertisements. Sometimes she even gets rid of his copy of Wired Magazine or PCWorld so he won’t read about new gadgets.  I told her it was pretty sneaky and could imagine her husband would be ticked off if he found out.

Pottery Barn Not Welcome Here
Then Bob chimes in and says he does the same thing all time to his wife. She is bombarded with catalogs for stores like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware and always gets sales party invites for scrapbooking, Mary Kay, jewelry, or Longaberger baskets.  They all go in the trash he says and she is never the wiser. “We don’t need any of that stuff and can’t afford to spend money on all that overpriced junk”, he says.

What Would You Hide?
I do agree that advertisers try everything they can to create a selling opportunity and it does get old fishing the real mail out of all the junk mail. But it is pretty sneaky to trash someone else’s mail without them knowing about it, even if it is junk mail.

What to you think? How far would you go to save money? What would you do if you found out your significant other was throwing away your mail?


Why Do People Ignore Easy Money?

Why would anyone pass up free money?  I was amazed when my co-workers pulled out their credit cards to pay for lunch today and only one other person in the group had a rewards card!

Rewards Cards Savings
I was carrying my American Express Blue Cash and one lady was using the Discover Open Road card but the other 4 just had regular credit cards.  I understand some people stay away from credit cards altogether and prefer to use cash. What I don’t understand is if you’re going to use a credit card, why not use a rewards card?  That just seems like leaving money on the table. Don’t get me wrong, charging on a rewards card is not going to make you rich but you can save hundreds of dollars a year by using one.

Small Savings Matter
Something I’ve learned about personal finance over the years is that many small savings can add up to a lot of money over time. It is difficult to save or earn a lot of money all at once, so a slow and steady approach is the most likely to succeed.  One key to that success is taking advantage of the little easy things when you can. 

Easy Money Ignored
How hard is it to save a little money by using a rewards card, practically no effort at all!  It’s not just cash back credit cards; there are many other simple money-saving actions available to us that some people just ignore. 

I know one lady who paid an extra annual subscription fee for a service she no longer used simply because she didn’t take the time to pick up the phone and cancel. 

My company has an employee discount option for several major wireless carriers yet some people on our floor don’t take advantage of the $5 a month I save on my cell phone bill simply because it is not a big enough savings.  It took me maybe 10 minutes on the phone 5 years ago to set up my employee discount that saves us $60 annually.  So it took me 10 minutes to save $300 over the last five years, pretty easy money if you ask me.

Money Saving Month
Since the month just started, it’s the perfect time to sit down and come up with a list of small easy things you can do to save money this month.  The best opportunities are places where you can cut recurring costs, such as your television or phone bill because the savings continue month after month.  Using a rewards credit card is another example that will have long term savings since you’ll always be spending money.  What other simple things can we do to take advantage of “easy money”?


How Can Health Care Costs be Reduced & Who Will Make it Happen?

Whining About Health Care Costs
I have received several emails and comments in regards to my post on health care costs that I want to address.  There are people paying 3, 4, 5, and even 7 times the amount we’ll be paying for family health coverage. Compared to these prices my rate increase seems minor and I feel somewhat ungrateful for complaining at all. 

I feel bad for everyone paying high health insurance bills and don’t mean to come across as unappreciative of having affordable coverage.  However, that doesn’t mean I’m not always looking to save money wherever I can so when one of my expenses goes up 50% I take notice. Of course taken in the broader perspective of health insurance rates across the country my new cost of doesn’t seem so bad. 

Reader Response
One reader e-mail points out those of that can afford health care are lucky since there are many that have to go without:

“My family plan costs approximately $500 per month.  Had we gone through my wife’s plan, the monthly premium would be $900.  But I don’t think we should be thankful that we pay premiums of $80, $250, $500, or whatever.  Such complacency is dangerous and obscures the fact that our health care system is broken, inequitable, and immoral and that we all suffer as a result.  Access to health care should be an inalienable right.  The fact that we have 50 million uninsured Americans and millions more underinsured worrying about adequate care while insurance companies, drug companies, and their investors prosper on their misery is inexcusible.”

Who Will Make Health Care More Affordable?
I agree that our health care system has many problems and unfortunately think it will get worse before it gets better.  I certainly hope this problem is a top priority for our next president and not just on the campaign trail.

I am not a direct investor in any hospitals, insurance companies, or drug companies but am pretty sure I hold stock in some of them through one or more mutual funds. I don’t think me not investing in them would change their behavior.  Of course if everyone stopped buying their stock that would be a different story but I don’t see that as a likely scenario.

Corporations in general exist primarily to provide a product or service for profit and these companies are no different.  Right or wrong, they base their decisions on what’s best for the bottom line.  I don’t disagree that corporations are making obscene amounts of money in the health care sector. The book Health Care On Then Less Than You Think gives some numbers for the year 2004:

- World’s 13 largest drug companies posted $62 billion in profits
- US hospitals reached aggregate profits of $26.3 billion
- Twenty largest HMOs in the US had profits of $10.8 billion
- Twelve top HMO executives earned 222.6 million in direct compensation

The problem for many people in this country is that health care just costs them more than they can afford.  Obviously the high price of care contributes to the huge income numbers above and it does seem that in order to reduce the price to consumers these companies will be faced with lower profit margins.  I don’t think these companies will change on their own so it seems to be the job of our government to provide rules and incentives that will make health care more affordable for its citizens and provide a safety net for those that still can’t afford it.



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