Would You Settle for 500K or Go for a Million Dollars?

Deal, or No Deal! That’s the million dollar question that contestants must answer on the TV game show hosted by Howie Mandel. How you play along with this game might be a good indication of how you view the risks and rewards of investing.

Financial Risk Tolerance
If you’ve ever done any type of financial planning you’ve probably filled out a questionnaire about how much risk you can tolerate. These types of questions are difficult for me to answer because they’re so general, so impersonal, and the questions often seem out of context with life situations. Deal or No Deal on the other hand breaks it down to a basic decision where your answer might tell you a little about your risk style.

The Rules
The contestants on the game show are faced with a set of cases, each containing a dollar amount they can win, ranging from $1 up to $1 million. They randomly open the cases one at a time, once they’ve opened a case the contestant cannot win the amount of money the case holds.

Behavioral Finance
As the game goes on, the number of cases shrinks and how much they can still win depends on which dollar amounts they have not opened. At several intervals the contestants are offered a certain sum of money to walk away from the contest. For example, late in one game there were four cases unopened. The dollar amounts in the cases were $1,000, $5,000, $20K, and $100K. The lady was offered $24,000 to walk away. What would you do in that situation?

In another scenario the four cases held $75, $750, $500K and $750K. The offer to walk away was $291K. Would you hold out for the chance to win $750K or would you settle for $291K. What captivates you, the potential of winning threes quarters of a million dollars or the fear of losing one quarter of a million? What would you do with that money if you won? How would it change your life? Are you willing to risk a lot of money to make a lot of money?

Find Your Sweet Spot
Obviously this is just an initial screen, to determine what types of investments suit you best would require research and planning on your own or with a professional. However, it does help you understand how you react to the financial pressures of risk and how much you’re willing to lose in return for the potential of a big reward.

How to Use Leverage to Make Money on eBay

Big time real estate investors use leverage to try and make big time profits. You can use leverage on a smaller scale on eBay without exposing yourself to the large amounts of risk that they assume.

As I read JD’s post on leverage yesterday I thought about how I currently use leverage to earn 30% to 200% returns on eBay. JD summarizes the definition of leverage as “borrowing money to magnify returns”. I’m able to borrow money to purchase items to resell for a magnified return.

How is this Leverage?
I buy heavily discounted items at wholesale, outlet, or unclaimed goods stores then sell them on eBay. I borrow money for everything I purchase by charging it on my credit card. I take possession of the merchandise, list it for sale the same day, and haven’t yet paid a cent. Depending on how the purchase date falls in relation to the closing date on my credit card, I might not have to pay anything for the item for almost two months. If it sells in that time period, I’ll have made money on an item without actually putting down any cash.

Why is this Low Risk?
Most places have a 2 weeks to 30 day return policy so if an item turns out to be unpopular you can always return it. If it doesn’t sell right away but you purchased it for a low enough price you know it will sell eventually. By keeping it longer, you are no longer using leverage because at some point you’ll have to pay your credit card bill. However, you did get a month to test the market for your merchandise and help you revise your price point, all without paying a dime.

The upside to a leveraged real estate purchase is you can make thousands of dollars if you sell the property. What happens if you can’t sell it? Until you can get rid of the real estate you’re holding thousands of dollars of debt and monthly payments.

With my eBay approach, the items I’m selling are much easier to sell than a piece of property. If I do some bad market research and can’t sell an item for my target price, I can always discount it heavily to make back a portion of the purchase price. Of course, with less risk, comes less reward. Does the work required to procure, advertise, sell, and ship the items pay off?

Is it Worth My Time?
Real estate investors borrow large sums of money so they stand to make large sums if leverage works in their favor. In my case, I’ll earn $15 – $150 per item sold. I won’t get rich on one or two transactions but the income adds up over time. You can use this version of leverage to build up capital so when that great business opportunity does materialize you’ll have the money to jump in.

Not only will this give you the money you need for a business venture but it will teach you about market research, customer service, managing cash flow, product pricing, dealing with risk, copywriting, and other business skills vital to an entrepreneur. So what are you waiting for, get started today!

Personal Finance Week in Review – Yardwork Edition

Now that Spring is here the yardwork calls. I mowed our grass for the first time this season on Friday and then teamed up with a few neighbors yesterday to rent a power rake and do some spring cleaning on our yards. It seems silly to spend so much time and money on just maintaining grass, maybe I should just dig it up and haul in a bunch of crushed stone. Anyhow, here are some good money articles for the week.

Of course there are many more great articles to choose from in the blogosphere, you can always check out the most popular articles at pfblogs for some good reading. Happy Easter!

Always Ask for a Discount

I just ran across a new site called Tricks of the Trade that collects and shares “nifty occupational secrets”. People who have gained inside knowledge by working in a certain industry share their tips with the world.

A recent tip from an anonymous hotel manager is a good addendum to my post Ten Ways to Ask for a Lower Price or a Better Deal. The hotel discount post recommends another way to save.

Always ask for a business discount. You may not have a business, but you work for one–and even if you don’t, how would I know? The worst that will happen is someone will say no.

Most motel and hotels have corporate discounts. Nobody tries very hard to find out how legitimate people’s business claims are, and most of us secretly don’t care.

So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. This tip could be especially useful if you’re staying for more than a night or two. The business discount could really add up if you stay some period of time. Thanks to Matthew Baldwin for putting this site together, I imagine it will be a great place to look for other money saving tips.

Why it Sucks to Work For Chrysler

We all make bad decisions. DaimlerChrysler is trying to break free from its 1998 decision to merge with the Chrysler Corporation and is looking for buyers for the Chrysler assets.

While CEOs and private equity groups try to determine the best way to turn a buck from the game of hot potato with Chrysler, the employees wait with baited breath. If a private equity group like the Blackstone Group or corporate raider like Kirk Kerkorian win the bidding many fear the company will be broken up and sold off.

The auto-makers in Detroit have taken a beating over the last few years and those that have likely suffered the most are the working families that build the vehicles. Now they are caught in the middle of this corporate dance and fear for their future. It is sad watching a once – great company lose its grip but to me it’s even more depressing thinking about the uncertain future of those that worked for years to make the company what it once was.

Is the Turbo Tax Estimated Taxes Product Worthwhile?

I received an email from Intuit today notifying me of a service they provide called Turbo Tax Estimated Taxes that is supposed to be a “quick, easy, and accurate way to calculate and pay your quarterly estimated taxes online”. I’m just now getting ready to make my first estimated payment for my small business and would love something that makes the process quick and easy. The features of the Estimated Taxes tool are:

1) Sends e-mail reminders
2) Calculates your payment
3) E-files and provides IRS confirmation
4) Keeps records and summary report

One thing I’d worry about with an automated payment of taxes would be if the payments weren’t made or too little was paid. According to Intuit, if you “pay an IRS penalty or interest because of a TurboTax Estimated Taxes calculation error” then Intuit will pay you back for the penalty and interest.

They are offering a free trial of the service for one year so I’ll probably sign up and give it a try. After the trial expires it is $29.95 for a 12-month subscription which includes free e-filing. Has anyone else used or heard about Turbo Tax Estimated Taxes? If so, what do you think of it?

How Do You Hold a Debt Intervention?

Thanks everyone for your feedback on the credit card debt vs. emergency fund post from yesterday. The consensus seemed to be that not paying down the credit card debt was foolish but with the caveat that the couple should address the spending problem that amassed the 10K debt in the first place. Another common suggestion was that they keep a few thousand of the emergency fund around for a rainy day.

The next question is what’s the best way to stage a debt intervention for this couple? How do you bring up the subject of debt reduction to a friend? It is obviously a sensitive issue, one that could erupt into an ugly scenario depending on their reaction. In this situation the friend brought up the debt in the first place and even asked for advice so she wouldn’t be addressing the issue “cold”.

This is a tricky situation. You don’t want to make a scene or hurt their feelings because you value their friendship; however, as their friend you want what is best for them. Obviously carrying a load of credit card debt is not in their best interest. Have you ever been in this spot before? What are some ways she can address the debt problem without coming across as too pushy or intrusive?

How to Get the Promotion You Deserve

We all know a thing or two about unrewarded effort. The fastest way to get a promotion you’ve earned or a position you want is to be pro-active about the process. I’ve followed the steps below and it’s netted me four promotions in seven years on the job.

1) Determine Expectations
Identify the goals for the position you have and the position you want. Find out what your boss and your company expect from you in return for your current salary and the salary you desire. Many companies have a list of expected skill sets and duties for each job.

2) Perform a Gap Analysis
Find the gap between what you do today and what needs to be done to get promoted. Using the expectations for your current and desired role, make a list of the skills and responsibilities required for the next level that that you don’t currently possess or perform.

3) Communicate Your Desires & Intentions
Schedule an hour long meeting with your boss. Bring along your list of skills and responsibilities that are needed to earn a promotion. Start off by letting your manager know that your goal is to get to the next level. Then walk through your list and come up with projects you can work on that will help you achieve a promotion.

4) Monitor & Prioritize Your Work
Compare all new work that you’re assigned or that someone asks for help with against your list of skills and responsibilities. Focus your efforts on the work that will help you meet your career goals. This might sound a bit petty or selfish but in the corporate world, you have to be your own advocate because it’s likely one else will. As you finish projects and learn new skills keep track of these accomplishments, documenting them as you go.

5) Cash In Your Chips
Once you feel you’ve achieved the items on your list setup another meeting with your boss. Don’t jump the gun. Make sure you really have mastered what is expected of you and met any timeframe requirements that were discussed in your initial meeting. Bring along a document summarizing how you achieved each goal along with examples. After delivering your spiel, ask for the promotion.

If the meeting ends with your boss agreeing you’ve earned a promotion, send them an electronic copy of your summary. Most managers have to submit some type of recommendation to their boss to secure your advancement, which requires time they often don’t have. You’ve basically written the justification for them so give them a head start and take away any reason they have to delay your promotion.

Progress Takes Time
Notice that some period of time will pass between 3 and step 5. This is where you must prove yourself competent or even extraordinary. This is the hard part, doing the actual work. The great part is if you follow these steps then you won’t feel like all the hard work is for nothing. You’re working towards a goal and your effort should pay off.

Growth Opportunities
One thing to consider at the beginning of this process is the amount of room for growth in your current environment. I started my career in a new product group that has grown from 8 to 50 people. As the product grew, there were opportunities for career advancement for its members.

If your current group does not offer much opportunity for growth it may be time to look for another job. If you follow all the steps above but there are no openings to fill then it will be tough for your manager to promote you.

Promote Yourself!
Planning and patience will help you get the promotion you deserve; ensuring your hard work does not go unnoticed or unrewarded. The best way to get promoted is to promote yourself!

Should You Use Your Emergency Fund to Pay Off Credit Card Debt?

If you had $10,000 of credit card debt and $10,000 in an emergency fund would you use the emergency fund money to pay down your debt?

My wife’s co-worker likes to spend money. She and her husband have accumulated a $10,000 credit card bill that they just can’t seem to pay off. The wife would like to use the money they have saved up towards the credit card debt but her husband is emphatic that they have an emergency fund to fall back on.

When the co-worker asked my wife for her advice she suggested using some or all of the savings to pay for the debt. She pointed out that a lot of the money they paid towards the credit card bill every month went towards interest. If they paid off the 10 thousand in debt they could put the same money they had been paying in credit card interest towards saving for an emergency fund.

The co-worker agreed that this seemed like financially sound advice; however her husband was set on having an emergency fund at all times. Having an emergency fund is a wise move but does it make sense to maintain this fund while paying high interest charges on the same amount of money to the credit card company? What would you do?

Tax Deduction Baby!

I started working on our family’s tax return last night and answered yes to the question in Turbo Tax about dependents for the first time.

Of course, our son is more than just a tax deduction to us, he’s also a good excuse to leave work early!

Just kidding, being a parent is a wonderful, life-changing experience and we’ve had a ball watching him grow and learn. His smile just makes our day. The tax deduction is just another thing to smile about Here is what Turbo Tax had to say about the child tax credit:

“A child tax credit is available only to taypayers with at least one qualifying child. The maximum credit is $1,000 per qualifying child. If you have more than $11,300 of earned income, or you have three or more qualifying children, and you are not able to claim the full $1,000 child tax credit for each child because of tax liability limitations, you may be able to claim the child tax credit as a partially refundable credit that will reduce your tax liability or increase your refund.”

All I know is that we now have a “qualifying child”. I’ll punch in the numbers and let Turbo Tax figure out the rest.

[photo credit annieseay]

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