Personal Finance Review – Best Investment I Ever Made Edition


Maybe I’m being a little over the top but in terms of value gained in relation to money spent, the purchase of my Zen Nano Plus mp3 player is the best investment I ever made!  What’s so great about it?  Never ending learning and self-improvement, anytime and anywhere.

Whether it’s driving to work, waiting in line, or doing housework all weekend I’m constantly learning through the audio I download from across the web.  I can stuff tons of financial tips, business building resources, personal development audio, and expert interviews into the 1 GB of storage space. The problem I have is making time to apply everything that I learn!

I bought it for a steal about 18 months ago. The information I’ve absorbed over that time has earned or saved me thousands of dollars and hopefully many more to come : )   Definitely my best investment ever. If you don’t have some kind of portable audio player, I’d recommend searching the web for one on sale and filling it full of information you want to learn.  While you’re shopping, look for one that you can dictate into as well so that you can record mental notes for yourself as you listen and learn.

If only all the personal finance sites would just record their content on audio, I could listen to posts about money all day long : )  Oh well, until that happens we’ll just have to read them, here are some good ones this week:

What A Financially Painful Childhood Can Teach You about Money @ Money, Matter, & More

Reader Question: I’m Investing Regularly, but How Do I Know if I’m Doing Well? @ Generation X Finance

Where Would You Put Money Now? @ Lazy Man & Money

There are Lifecycle Funds. Then There are Lifecycle ETFs @ Suns Financial Diary

Yet Another Finance Giveaway! Enter Our First Year Anniversary Prize Giving Event @ The Digerati Life

Credit Card Debt: It’s About Responsibility, Not Math @ Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

Look Before You Leap: Roth IRA Conversions in 2010 @ Five Cent Nickel

Find Out How Bad (Or Good) Your Situation Really Is @ No Credit Needed

List of money-related forums and discussion boards @ Mighty Bargain Hunter

I Almost Saved $100k on a Home! @ Free Money Finance

When Everyday Life Gets in the Way of Your Dreams – And A Plan To Get Past It @ The Simple Dollar

Thanks to Mighty Bargain Hunter for hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance last week.  I’ve done it once before and know it’s a LOT of work.  Also, I’ve recently become acquainted with another network of personal finance sites that offer interesting money stories and tips you might want to check out, the sites are listed below:

How eBay Sellers Can Save Money on Shipping Supplies

Warning: Some eBay sellers may not like this idea.  You might think it’s not worth your time or might think it’s tacky.  This tip isn’t for everyone but if it works for your eBay Business it will save you money guaranteed.

eBay Shipping Costs


Shipping costs are becoming more of an issue for eBay sellers. The higher cost of gasoline is raising shipping rates across the board and eBay is making it easier for customers to search based on both product and shipping price. So what can you do to keep your shipping costs competitive without eating into your profits?  How about getting free boxes?

Free Shipping Boxes
Do you know how much stuff people buy every day that comes in cardboard boxes?  Just look out your window on trash day and you’ll see the boxes lined up, house after house.  How would you like to get your hands on some of those boxes?  Now, you likely don’t want to drive around your neighborhood pillaging boxes from the trash heap.  Not only would it be inefficient in terms of gasoline and time but you might get some weird looks from your neighbors as well.  The good news is there’s a much better way to get loads of free boxes.

Box Paradise
Here are the steps to finding “box paradise”. Do a Google search on “cardboard recycling” and the name of your town to find directions and hours for the closest recycling center.  Block out an hour of time on the weekend, throw on some work clothes, show up to the recycling center in an empty vehicle, and pull up close to the cardboard recycling. 

You now have access to hundreds of free boxes, of various sizes and shapes to meet your shipping needs.  I know this tip works because I’ve used it many times before.  As a matter of fact, I actually took back a load of boxes today because I’ve been a little overzealous in my box collecting over the last 6 months and had too many free boxes!

Save on Shipping
Since all of my shipping boxes are free, I can offer lower mailing costs without costing myself any money.  If you make one big trip for free boxes every month or two the time and gas it takes is tiny spread across all your sales. I still charge more than UPS or the USPS fee in order to cover my time to package & ship, ink for the printer, and gas to drop off packages but the total shipping charge on eBay is still very competitive.

The tip is a little dusty and you’ll need somewhere to store the boxes but it can definitely save you some money.  Of course, you can always get free eBay branded boxes delivered from the USPS but they only come in certain dimensions.  This strategy is excellent for locating an ongoing free supply of all different size boxes to help lower your shipping costs and keep you competitive on eBay.

How You Can Quit Your Job and Win $50,000!

What are you waiting for? Intuit is giving away $40K cash and $10K in business resources to someone that will pledge to resign and start their own company!

Okay, don’t get carried away and give your two weeks notice yet. However, you should put together a video or an essay that answers the following questions:

  • What’s your idea for starting your own company?
  • What you will resign from?
  • What you would do with the winnings to pursue starting a business?

Submit your business overview at and checkout the contest rules.  Below are some of the business ideas submitted so far:

  • Coffee Shop
  • Nail Salon
  • Golf Website
  • Organic Hot Dog Stands
  • Doll Clothing
  • Comic Book Venture
  • Clothing Line
  • Law firm
  • Personal Shopping Business
  • Yoga studio
  • Job website
  • Social website

Remember it’s a competition, being judged by Anita Campbell, John Jantsch, and Ramon Ray so make a convincing argument.  The grand prize is valued at $50K and two other people will win $5K each.  The deadline for entries is December 15, 2007 and the winner will be announced  on February 10, 2008.  Even if you don’t have the time to enter, you can always sign up for a free copy of Quickbooks Simple Start 2008.

Who is Participating?
I was browsing the video entries and heard a variety of interesting stories.  There were mothers that wanted start their own company so they could set their own schedule and spend more time with their families.  Some entrants got laid off and decided to take the plunge into working for themselves.  Another set of people weren’t happy in their job and knew they needed something different.  One teacher started a business over summer break and it did so well that she never went back to teaching.

Entrepreneurial Advice
I was surprised at the number of people who were greeted with words of support and understanding from their boss when they gave their two weeks notice and described their new venture.  I guess I just assumed most bosses would be upset an employee was leaving.  It’s smart to leave cordially and not burn any bridges since you never know how the venture will work out and if you may need a job again in the future.

One lady made the point of saying it’s important to take the risk and be aware that it might fail.  If it doesn’t work out you can always go back to what you were doing, or something similar, and you will have gained valuable experience.

Another piece of advice I thought rang true was to start with small steps and build a business over time.  She began by working out of her kitchen in her spare time figuring things out as she and her business partner went along.  It seems intimidating to think about everything required to run a successful business but if you look at it one step at a time the task seems much more manageable.

Just Start!
Most videos end with the contestant smiling into the camera and advising us to “Just Start”.  If you’re interested in getting started, enter the contest or at just sign up for your free copy of Quickbooks Simple Start 2008.  Good luck!

How Do You Value Your Money?

How do you decide how much money things are worth to you?  How do you decide when you’ve spent enough? 

eBay Discounts
I had an eBay customer ask recently for a discount if they bought two of the same item. I knew how much I stood to make with and without the discount and both amounts fit the profit margins guidelines I try to follow for all sales. On one hand I wanted the sale so maybe it was smart to offer a discount to close the deal.  On the other hand, I try to maximize the amount I earn off each sale and a discount would drop down the margins. 

After giving it some thought I informed them there would be no discount and they bought both items anyway.  This transaction got me thinking about how it is that we value our money and how we decide what we’re willing to pay as consumers.

Valuing Money
This lady liked the price but it didn’t hurt her to ask for a discount.  She may have even paid more for the product if I’d been asking a slightly higher price.  When you’re in the store or online browsing for a purchase, how do you decide how much is too much?  Some people spend $10 bucks for a pair of jeans on the sale rack at Old Navy while others pay $675 for Diesel Denim Gallery jeans.  The end product is pretty much the same exact thing, I don’t care how you look at it, jeans are jeans.

What makes a cheapo like me think $20 jeans are too expensive and a big spender in New York think $675 is a rational amount to pay for a pair of pants? If you looked around enough, you could almost always find the same thing you just bought for a little less or a little more.  So how do we choose that magic number that makes something affordable for us? 

How to Work Extremely Hard and Get Nothing Done

Do you ever have a flash of inspiration, stayed up all night working on your idea only to see it’s brilliance fade away the next morning?  My computer is littered with projects like these, so many in fact that I’m almost an expert at working hard and getting nothing done.

Running Standing Still
It can be quite an overwhelming feeling actually, having a dozen partly finished projects sitting around waiting to be completed.  The idea behind them is still good but I start to doubt whether they’re worth the time I’m putting in or whether they’ll be successful or not.  As one loses steam, I hop to another. I can literally work until the break of dawn every night for a whole week and come to Saturday having brought closure to zero projects!

In terms of productivity, often times I’m my own worst enemy.  Having bursts of ideas is better than having no ideas at all but it makes staying focused an extremely difficult thing to accomplish; I guess you could call it web ADD.  Chasing multiple ideas at a time has several negative consequences:

Think of when you’re trying to do twenty things at once on your computer.  Your PC slows down as it tries to share its finite CPU and memory across the multitude of tasks.  Instead of being more productive by multi-tasking, you end up waiting on the computer and getting less done. The same thing happens with people, namely me.  I’m spending so much energy organizing my time for projects and worrying about which to work on, I don’t get much done.

Sub-Par Performance
Seth Godin has a book out that I should probably read called The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) :

According to bestselling author Seth Godin, what really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt—until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons.

I listened to a conference call with Seth and Andy Wibbels when he released the book and from what I gathered, he says if you can’t be the best at what you’re doing, quit and pursue something you can excel in. 

It’s hard to be the best when you’re working on ten things at once.  You may not even complete them all and the ones you finish you only turn in a mediocre showing.  Why do I work so hard for a lot of sub-par output when I could spend the same amount of time creating one thing that’s awesome?

Poor Return on Effort
Time is money.  Since I’m working on so many projects at once, it takes forever to finish one of them.  While the many projects are sitting idle, the time I invested in them is lying there with no return on effort. I’ve sunk a lot of sweat equity into tasks that may potentially never see the light of day.

Making a Change
Okay, so I know I have a problem, what should I do about it?  I obviously need to make a prioritized list of all my projects and make a decision for each one: Drop it, Delay it, or Do it.

Drop Project
These are projects that just don’t make the cut.  It will be tough getting rid of ones I’ve already invested a lot of time into but if I don’t drop them now, I’ll never get anywhere.

Delay Project
I’ll just put some projects on the back burner for now.  These are ideas I think could be successful but I just don’t have time to work on.  Maybe down the road once I’ve finished several active projects things will click and these can come back to life.

Do Project
Finding the right number of projects to put into this category will be difficult. Obviously just one would allow me to focus all my energy but sometimes it’s nice to have at least two things on my plate to prevent getting stuck in a rut.  When I hit a wall with a project, I like to be able to switch over to something else for a change to get my creative juices flowing again. Hmmm, what’s the magic number?

I have to remind myself that working my fingers to the bone for progress isn’t my only option.  If I have a project that really has potential there are other ways to get it done with less concentrated effort.

Launch in Beta
I could just take a project I’m in the middle of and launch it as is. I guess with Web 2.0 you just do that and call it Beta : )  The good thing about this approach is that I could get a feel for what kind of response I’d get before sinking any more work into it.  I could garner feedback, then make adjustments as necessary. Of course, the downside is someone’s first visit may be their last if they don’t like half-finished.

Hire Help
I was talking with a friend the other day and made the comment “I wish there were 48 hours in a day”.  “There are”, he said.  “Just hire someone to do 24 hours worth of work for you.”  I’ve never listed a job on eLance before but will do so soon.

Find Partners
I’ve actually already done this. I went in on a site with a friend where I’m the idea/technology guy and he’s the subject matter expert with industry connections.  Sadly, I’ve neglected the site for the last few weeks due to another new partnership but need to get back in the saddle. 

The new venture is really more of an apprenticeship with a successful internet entrepreneur that I’m really excited about.  I’m helping him create a site and he’s teaching me his tricks of the trade.  Nothing like learning from someone else’s experience instead of having to learn from your own mistakes.

Working with a partner really helps divide up the workload and generate great new ideas. I need to find partners for the other ideas I decide to pursue.

Getting Things Done
I’m tired of working extremely hard and getting nothing done. I think I have a pretty good initial plan in place, we’ll see how it goes.  Hopefully I’ll get more done in the same amount of time, maybe even by working less.  What techniques do you use to control your flood of ideas and choose the best projects to work on?

Saving the Environment and Saving Money – Blog Action Day

Saving money and saving the environment are sometimes complementary objectives. A lot of it has to do with limiting your resource consumption. For example, using less gasoline is good for your wallet and helps reduce your footprint on the environment. While we’re not the world’s foremost conservationists we do try to manage our resource usage.

On the road. My wife and I own Honda’s in part because of their good fuel efficiency. I looked at buying a hybrid about 3 years ago but the price tag scared me away. I always try and combine errands so I’m not making multiple trips. I used to ride the bus to work before we had our son. That saved a good deal of gas and money but due to a new job location and kid duty I’m back to commuting in the car.

At Home. This one is pretty simple. Keeping the thermostat lower in the winter and higher in the summer makes a difference. Of course, since the baby came along we’ve been keeping the temperature more moderate for him.

Our local recycling center used to be pretty close to our house. About a year ago, they moved it to another part of town so now my trips there are less frequent. We still recycle everything; just store it in our garage until the bins are overflowing. I’m amazed at how quickly the glass, plastic, paper, paperboard, newspaper, and aluminum pile up. I’d hate to think of all that stuff going into the landfills instead. Recycling doesn’t save me any money but in some areas where they charge you if you exceed a certain number of trash bags, this could translate into savings.

One other thing I’m amazed by is the amount of things people in my neighborhood throw in the trash. I’ve seen kids toys, BBQ grills, lawn furniture, lamps, and decorations sitting by the curb for the garbage truck this summer. One option these people have is to get rid of old stuff they don’t want anymore through Craigslist or eBay. They could make a few bucks and get the item to someone who wants it, instead of tossing it into a landfill. If they don’t want to take that approach, they could just donate it and get a tax write-off . Not having time to drive it to Goodwill is not a good excuse since there are non-profit groups who send trucks around the neighborhood to pick up donations every month or so.

Blog Action Day
This post is a part of Blog Action Day, where people around the world are taking time to think about their impact on the environment. Thanks to the instigators of this project for getting me to take another look at my impact on the environment. Now that I have a son who will inherit any damage I do to the environment, conserving our resources takes on an additional importance.

Investor’s Business Daily – Daily Stock Analysis Videos

If you’re like me and are looking to learn more about investing in individual stocks you might want to checkout the new free daily stock analysis video provided by Investor’s Business Daily.

Every business day they review a different stock, the video I saw covered both fundamental and technical analysis.  I’m somewhat familiar with the fundamental details of a company’s financial health but know nothing about the technical analysis.  I’m not looking to become an expert in technical analysis but I’m glad to get a basic understanding of how it works.


The thing I liked about the video is that it not only shows you data like earnings history, earnings per share, growth rate, sales history, and industry information but discusses the numbers and what they mean to you. The same is true for the technical analysis side.  The video not only presents the information but it also explains what it means and puts it in context. Since technical analysis is all new to me the combination of audio and video analysis of the chart was pretty helpful.

The best part about the video is the service is free!  The analysis I watched ran just over 7 minutes long.  I figure catching a short video analysis of a stock every few days will be a good way to help me learn more about stock valuations.

Personal Finance Review – Featuring Joe Money & Bob Cash

Today the weekly roundup will be run by two special hosts, please welcome Joe Money and Bob Cash.  Joe and Bob have been close friends since they were little but have different outlooks on money so I thought it’d be interesting to hear their take on the personal finance articles this week.

Joe: Hey Bob, you’re almost broke; you should be looking to save a bundle of money.

Bob: Come on Joe, I’m trying to win a Wii here, don’t bring up money please.

Joe: If you had lost all your money last night I wouldn’t be bugging you.  Didn’t you pickup any money lessons from your poker game?

Bob: Hey man, give me a break, I just figured out the cheapest ways to exercise so I can save money on my gym membership.

Joe: Well, you wouldn’t be so poor if you hadn’t up and resigned from your job yesterday.

Bob: I told you already, my life is not my job! My quality of life is way more important to me than money.  I bet you’d feel better if you weren’t counting your money and measuring your investment’s performance all the time.

Joe: Hey, I’m being money smart!  I’ll be able to retire way earlier than you. What you need is a framework for personal finance to get you on track. Plus how are you going to pay your half of the rent?

Bob: Don’t sweat it Joe, I signed up for the a rewards card, I have some bonus cash coming my way.  Plus I’m going to start an online business and make tons of money.  I don’t know why you spend so much time researching your investments; all you really need to do is check out the Kiplinger’s Best List.

Joe: I’ve guess I’ve just been thinking a lot about money lately. When I think back through my best & worst financial decisions I realize I’ve many more bad decisions than good ones but at least I’m learning from mine.  I bet you haven’t even started saving for college yet.

Bob: Hey, I do things to save money, like making good use of old magazines and buying cheap olive oil.

Joe: I guess that’s a start but things like that will never make you wealthy, you really need to focus on getting out of debt and building your net worth.

Bob: Yeah, I guess you’re right.  I’m broke as a joke, think you could buy me some dinner…..

Thanks to Joe & Bob for stopping by and entertaining us!  Of course they’re not actually real people but if you’d like to see them come to life check out the movie, You, Me, & Dupree.

Health Insurance Blame Game – Stuck Between Insurance Company and Doctor’s Office

Do you ever feel like navigating the health insurance claim process is like walking through a maze blindfolded?  Our most recent experience leaves me wondering how many people get stuck paying hundreds of dollars for claims that should have been covered.

During a recent visit to the pediatrician the receptionist informed my wife we had a balance of over $300 outstanding. Luckily she only paid the co-pay and got the phone number of the billing department so I could call and investigate.

Doctor’s Office Perspective
When I spoke with billing the next day, they informed me that the claim they had filed with our insurance company for a visit from December of last year had never been processed.  They started off by sending an electronic claim and after receiving no response they sent a follow up by either mail or fax.  When no response was received the doctor’s office then billed us directly.

Insurance Company’s Perspective
Having heard the pediatrician’s side of the story, I then called the insurance company to see what went wrong with the claim.  According to little miss phone rep the doctor’s office hadn’t submitted the necessary paperwork until April of this year, past the 90 day window stated in the contract between the doctor’s office and the insurance company.  According to the contract, since the pediatrician had waited too long to submit the claim, the insurance company was not liable for the charges and had sent the doctor’s office a letter informing them of this.

Patient’s Perspective
I pay my health insurance premiums monthly and a fork over a co-pay at every doctor’s visit; I’ve upheld my end of the contract.  I expect the insurance company and the doctor’s office to run their business correctly. I shouldn’t have to be stuck in the middle of the two parties trying to negotiate an agreement.

When the doctor’s office joins the insurance company network, they agree to follow certain procedures and the insurance company takes on the obligation to process claims effectively and efficiently.  It sounds as though the claims process is not perfect and could use some revising.  If the system is broken, they should do something to fix it, not leave the customer stuck with a bill.

Stuck in the Middle
When I spoke with the women in the pediatrician’s billing department she said this type of thing happens all the time.  In my conversation with little miss phone rep from the insurance company she informed me this type of thing is rare.  Obviously the two answers don’t match up.

The insurance company advised me to ask if the doctor’s office had any proof that they had sent the claim within the 90 day window.  If not I should tell the pediatrician I wasn’t liable for the payment and if they gave me grief to let the insurance company know. 

The only positive in the experience is that my wife didn’t pay the over $300 bill when she was at the doctor. I’m sure if she had we would never have seen the money again.  However, I’m not looking forward to the nasty arbitration I imagine I’ll have to direct to resolve the issue.  Does it really have to be this difficult?

Free Trial Subscription – Investors Business Daily Case Study

Investors Business Daily Free Trial

Are free trials a selling tactic, a useful tool for consumers, or both?  I received a lot of comments and emails on the Free Trial Offer post the other day and decided to dig into this one a little more by looking at a free trial offer from Investors Business Daily.

Investing Research
The story actually begins 8 years ago. When I graduated from college and started my first job I went from making no money at all to earning $40K a year.  Suddenly I had all this money coming in and decided I wanted to invest some of it but didn’t know where.  I signed up for the Investors Business Daily  to learn more about investing and would pour through it every day during my lunch break and after work.  Soon I began working insanely long hours, with no time to read the paper so I canceled the service and dumped all my money into a mutual fund.

Service Referral
Fast forward to the present. I was visiting with a co-worker yesterday who subscribes to Investors Business Daily and always raves about the investing news and tools they provide.  He encouraged me to give it try but I balked since I’m used to reading all my financial information online.  When he mentioned they have an online digital edition as well and that I could sign up for a 4 week trial period I decided to check it out.

Free Trials
After researching the offer a little I realized this was a perfect example of how free trials are both sales tactics and good consumer screening tools. I would never sign up for a service that charged a monthly fee without knowing more about what value it would offer me in return for my money.  A referral is what began the process but my interest would never have made it past that initial conversation without the free trial.

So the sales tactic worked, it convinced me to sign up for a service I would not have otherwise.  Of course, this was a type of service I had already been interested in and had been considering so it benefits me as well.  The free trial allows me to see if I can put the financial information in Investors Business Daily to good use without costing me any cash.

Protecting My Paycheck
Since signing up for the free trial requires you to put your credit card on file, I was sure to check out the terms of the offer and the cancellation policy before signing up.

“For free trial access to eIBD and the IBD Investing Tools on, please enter your credit card information and billing address. You may cancel any time during the four-week free trial period. If you opt to cancel, you will not be billed. Otherwise, after your free trial period, we will bill you for your subscription automatically, at the current monthly rate of $28.95 (US). Thereafter, your eIBD subscription will renew automatically on a monthly basis, and we will charge the credit card we have on file.”

After calling the 1–800 number they provide to make sure I could easily cancel if I decided against the subscription I felt like I had covered my bases.

Trying It Out


After signing up for the free trial I was taken to an upsell page where I was given a long list of trial offers for other financial services and products. I opted against any of those and was taken to the confirmation page, one free trial at a time is enough to keep track of. The free offer was an effective selling tactic, now I just have to take advantage of the trial period and decide whether the service is for me or not.

Investors Business Daily

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