Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Festival of Frugality is Up

Yes, it is. Being Frugal is the host, and my post about online-surveys is there among many others.

Speaking of being frugal, yesterday, I got $30 from Lightspeed Panel and 2 $10 Starbucks giftcards. I should save the latter for stocking stuffers, but an overwhelming urge for a grande coffee and a cranberry orange scone overtook me this morning, so, um, NO to that idea!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Keep Those Dollars Trickling In

Even before I write this, I suspect I'm going to get responses that tell me this is a waste of time. Nonetheless, along with similar penny ante financial activities like cutting out and using coupons, I mine simple online activities for money or gift cards. There are many sources out there, but these are the ones I use, along with my comments:

My Points: My number one favorite site for giftcards that are easy to earn. I can earn points by buying things through this site, but over the course of three years, the only thing I've ever bought is the Entertainment Book for my city. And I don't buy it until they offer the book with free shipping (or this year, $1 shipping) and a $25 restaurant card and 1000 MyPoints. However, I can also earn points just for reading the ads. This consists of opening an e-mail, clicking on the "act now" button which takes me to the advertiser's website, and then closing the website and the e-mail. Basically two clicks and I've earned 5 points. Other points are earned for surveys, including dorky 2-question surveys like "Do you have life insurance? Yes/No; Are you interested in purchasing life insurance? Yes/No." For me, that's a yes on the first and a no on the second question, at which point I earn 10 points. Then, there's signing up for newsletters, such as Viking River, a travel agency. 50 points and I never even open the ensuing e-mails. God bless the delete button. After a month or so, I terminate the subscription.

The best deals with one's MyPoints are $10 gift cards from Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Gap, Red Lobster or various other trendy places for 1400 points. But $5 cards are available for as little as 750 points.

If I don't get the Barnes & Noble card, I spring for the $10 Starbucks card for 1450 points.

If all this sounds like too much work for too little reward, all I can say is that it's not. In my work, I get a lot of e-mail, so I don't mind opening a few extra that will give me something back over the long run.

My Survey: my favorite survey site with lots of ten point surveys, and a surprising number of longer ones. For the record, no "twenty minute" survey actually takes more than ten minutes to complete. Most surveys are worth 75 or 150 points. The points can be traded for money or gifts. At $10 per 1000 points, I usually opt for the money.

Another good survey site is Lightspeed Surveys. This one also pays $10 per 1000 points, with the points especially easy to earn.

One thing about all the survey sites is that they really don't want to hear from us older folks--I note that young women and, particularly, young men have many more surveys available to them. If one is African American or Hispanic, that will also increase the chances of a survey being available.

One way past this overt discrimination is to have a teenager in the house. Most survey sites will let your teenager earn points under your account. My daughter likes taking the surveys. Fortunately, she hasn't asked about the points or what I do with them.

There is one thing, common to bloggers, that I do not do. That is, I don't have any paid advertising on this site. I may change my mind about that in the future, but for the time being, I want this site to be all Grace, all the time, with no advertising to distract either me or the reader.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Spoonful of Sugar

Let's start with the fact that it was all my fault.

I knew I had online payments to make on the 15th. It was a Monday, I got busy, and next thing ya know, I'd missed the cut-off time (3:00 p.m. ET, which is, unfortunately, noon for me on the west coast).

So I was looking at late payment fees on three credit cards that ranged from $22 to $39.

I lamented the loss to a co-worker who said "Call them up and ask them to rescind the charges. Be nice."

I was fine with the calling up piece, but I am not known for always being nice. However, it was worth a try.

I only called two places. The third was handled entirely by e-mail. I was so nice, and so apologetic, it's lucky I didn't go into a diabetic coma

Dang if it didn't work.

I told everyone who responded, including "Robert" with the suspiciously heavy Indian accent, that I knew I was in the wrong and that I had, in fact, made a late payment. Since I was only one day late, and it hadn't happened in the past, and I was a good customer (here, I had my fingers crossed that they looked only at my balances and payment history without noticing that I hadn't charged anything in almost a year), could they please just this once help me out.

When they did help me out, I thanked them profusely.

I saved myself $78.

Of course, I wouldn't have had those charges in the first place if I'd been a tad more prompt with my payments

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toilet Paper Economics

Big Sigh.

Kimberly-Clark has announced it will be raising toilet paper prices in January, 2008.

Is there any better indication of creeping inflation?

The problem for those of us already practicing frugality is that there is nowhere to go to avoid these price increases. Well, I guess that's not entirely true--one could always move from 2-ply to 1-ply, but there is a limit to the sacrifices I'm willing to make to save a dollar.

When we already buy generic products, check for the lowest prices, and generally use it up, wear it out or don't buy in the first place, what happens when the lowest prices rise?

This, of course, is the curse always visited upon the poor. There are some items, like toilet paper, that one must buy. And if one's income does not increase at a rate commensurate with what one must buy--well, no wonder the poor keep getting poorer. And the frugal wind up saving less.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No Easy Answers, but the Advice Seems Questionable

The Boston Globe presents a money makeover for a 55 year old single school teacher with a son who is a junior in college.

As a single parent in my late '50's I'm drawn to these stories. I wind up measuring my progress against others in my age/financial bracket with similar life circumstances.

Diane's financial situation is serious, but I wonder at some of the advice the counselor is giving her. Initially, he suggests foreclosure on her condominium as a viable option. Really? While it is certainly an option, it appears to me that it would be among Diane's worst choices. Her credit rating is already trashed due to payments she missed while waiting to get on a professional debt-reduction plan. Fortunately, she refuses to consider a foreclosure. Good for her.

Then the financial "expert" suggests that she retire from teaching in order to access her pension funds. He says she can get some other job. This strikes me as crazy. While teachers are in demand, it takes awhile to "grow into" one's position at any given school. I assume she would have to change school districts and possibly even states in order to access the pension if she intends to teach somewhere else. At age 55, I also assume she enjoys teaching as a career. How emotionally healthy would it be to change careers at her age, even if she wanted to? What about health insurance? She would have 18 months of health insurance coverage under COBRA, but only if she can afford the monthly costs. Given that teachers tend to have unusually good health benefits at unusually high costs (for the employer, not the employee), COBRA may be too expensive an option for her.

In the end, the "expert" does give Diane enough ammunition to approach her lenders and secure a two-year moratorium on an interest/payment reset. This is temporary, of course, but in two years, her son will be through with college. One hopes he would be employed and able to help out on any remaining loan payments. At the least, she will have had two years to build up equity in her condominium in the event she has to sell it.

I am no personal finance expert. Part of the reason I read as much in the field as I do, and all of the reasons for having this blog center around the expertise of others. It bothers me to read advice such as that given to Diane--so much of it appears to me to be downright harmful.

How does one wade through it? How does one know who to trust? How does anyone in crisis figure out what the next step is for them?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Should Be Where? At What Age?

Hazzard, at Everybody Loves Your Money has a nifty chart of what your net worth should be at every age from 21 to 64. As long as we're talking about net worth, it works for me. I'm only a few thousand behind. But I suspect it's really savings Hazzard is talking about. In that case, I'm way off the mark. I should have $580,781 accumulated. Instead, as of this morning, I have $172,009. If I count my rental home, which could be liquidated, that only brings the total up to $309,605.