This blog is a way for me to share hard learned lessons about money with those who are just starting out on their own. I hope it's a way for you to avoid making the mistakes I made, and to benefit from my experiences

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Best Free Web Apps Contest - $15 Amazon Gift Certificate

I'm conducting a contest. I'm looking for the best of the best of free web applications. I'll give you two examples of my favorites.

  1. Yahoo Mail - With their Beta version, they've essentially created a web based email and contact manager, that functions a lot like Outlook. I've completely abandoned Outlook in favor of it. And because I'm an AT&T DSL subscriber, I've got something like 2GB of searchable email storage.
  2. - They've got excellent web based office applications like email, spreadsheet, word processor, etc., including an incredible online CRM that is very similar to, that is free to individuals or very small businesses, and very bargain based for others. They also have project management tooks, customizable databases.
I'm running this contest for two reasons. The first is to find out how many people actually see this blog and the second is to hopefully find some really good free web applications.

The winner will receive a $15 certificate.

Here are the rules.

  1. All entries must be emailed to this email address You must provide your email address so I can send the gift certificate. I promise I won't send any spam.
  2. You must also post your entry as a comment. Sorry, I wasn't smart enough to figure out how to derive your email from your comment, without asking you to blatantly put it in the comment.
  3. You must provide the name of the web app and why you think it is among the best. Also include a link to it. Remember, it has to be free!
  4. All entries must be received no later than September 5th at 11:59:59 pm Pacific Daylight Time.
  5. Winner will be chosen by me based on how much I like the web app.
  6. Winner's name and entry will be posted and gift certificate sent no later than September 10th.

Good luck

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Comcast - Too Little, Too Late

I got a call from a Comcast telemarketer. The call went something like this:

Comcast: Good evening sir, I'd like to tell you about our digital telephone server, that gives you all the long distance you can eat for only $30.00 a month.

Me: Not interested.

Comcast: Sir, how much is your current phone bill?

Me: About $17 a month.

Comcast: And that includes long distance?

Me: No, make it $20 a month all together for phone and long distance.

Comcast: I see, well, we are also offering our broadband internet for an introductory rate of $30 per month. With that....

Me: That's interesting, especially when I called Comcast about 6 months ago and asked them to reduce my rate of $42.95 a month to AT&T's competing DSL rate of $17.99 a month. You folks didn't seem too interested in keeping me as a customer back then. Even your introductory price doesn't come close to my current rate.

If AT&T would give me TV too, I'd be happy to chuck Comcast all together. They charge me $80 a month for cable tv, and unfortunately, I have no other alternative due to HOA rules. I bet that AT&T, whenever they get around to offering TV service, will charge me less than $50 for the same service.

Comcast, you are no longer a monopoly in broadband. You better start competing. Yes, you've got faster pipes, but I don't need the Ferrari speed at the Ferrari price. Most other people don't either, unless they are downloading boatloads of video. I'm perfectly happy at DSL speeds and with my regular old telephone service, with dirt cheap 3rd party long distance at When AT&T provides television, your monopoly on that will be over too!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Don't Just Tear Up Those Credit Card Applications

I was reading an amusing blog about how a guy applied and received a credit card, using an application that had been ripped up. He even tested it by asking the credit card company to use a different address and a new cell phone number. You want to guess what happened? Yup, he received his shiny new credit card anyway.

The lesson here is to do more than rip up and throw away sensitive documents. Invest in a shredder. Any documents with bank account, credit card, social security or other sensitive info, should be shredded into tiny pieces and mixed up with other shredded documents.

Also do more than just cut up and throw away your old credit cards that have expired or you don't want any more. If you are paranoid like me, cut them up into 3 pieces vertically, then dispose of each section in a different place.

Check Your Credit Report Regularly - For Free

Checking your credit report regularly is important for a number of reasons. First, you want to make sure there are no accounts or credit balances that are not yours. These could be indications of Identity Theft or just someone elses info that got swept into your report by accident. Second, when you do want to get credit for a mortgage or auto loan, the cleaner your credit report, the better your loan terms will be.

By law, everyone is entitled to check their report from each of the 3 credit bureaus, once per year. You can do this by going to This is the only site that offers truly free credit reports, without having you sign up with an expensive credit monitoring service. This site is provided by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion themselves.

They will also offer you the opportunity to look at your credit score, for a small additional fee. Be warned, the FICO score is the only credit score that matters right now. The credit bureaus have come up with their own scoring system, and may be offering you to sell you that score instead. FICO is the industry standard. That may change in the future, but for right now, unless they offer to sell you your FICO score, don't pay anything extra for a credit score.

If you find any incorrect information on your report, dispute it with the credit bureau. The report itself will have instructions on how to do that.

Lastly, I recommend checking only one report from one of the bureaus, every 4 months. You might set up a schedule to check the Experian report in January, then Equifax in May, then TransUnion in October. This way you are really checking 3 times a year for errors. If one has an error, the others might have the same error.

If you are getting ready to make a large credit purchase, you may just want to go to instead. There you can pay to get all 3 reports and FICO scores at one time, and can fix anything that needs fixing ahead of time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Gift Cards are Evil!

We've been sold a bill of goods when it comes to gift cards.

I have these "gift certificates" available in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 denominations. They are good anywhere at any time. They're called CASH!

So why on Earth do we take these universal gift certificates, and turn them into gift cards, that are good only at 1 place, for merchandise and services only carried by them, only when they are open, and only at the price they offer?

Not only that, in many states, these gift cards can expire. I pay $50 bucks for a gift card at someone's favorite store, and if they don't cash it in 3 years (or whatever the terms) they're no good any more? Talk about a rip-off.

Also, have you ever noticed how these gift cards get misplaced, or set aside, and you find them later and go, "Oh yeah, I got that last Christmas. I forgot all about it." Have you ever noticed how that rarely happens with cash?

2 years ago, I wanted a DVD player. I had a $100 gift card I received for Sears. So I checked price online at major electronics stores and figured out what I wanted in a DVD player. If I could have bought anywhere, I would have bought a $49 one. As it was, the only one Sears had that I wanted, was $99. It's been a great DVD player, but at twice the price I would have paid otherwise.

Do yourself a favor. As long as it is socially acceptable, give your friends and relatives cash instead of gift cards. Consider it the ultimate gift certificate! Plus it also gives them the opportunity to save, pay down debt, or invest it, rather than be forced to spend it. Yet another reason Cash is King!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Saving for College

I've been looking into saving for my son's college education. So far, every educational plan leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Of the educational plans, the 529 seems the best so far.

Each state has it's own plan, but the California plan is a good one. It's a low fee plan and the earnings avoid federal and California state tax, when used on qualifying education expenses. Sounds great, right?

Here's the part that leave a bad taste in my mouth. If my son chooses not to go to college or any higher education, and I wish to take that money and use it for my own purposes, I have to pay income taxes on the earnings, because they grew tax free, plus I have to pay a 10% Federal Additional Tax and 2.5% State Additional Tax in penalties. In other words, if my son chooses not to go to college, then 1/8th of my earnings are vaporized in penalties, in addition to the income taxes I'll pay. Ouch!

Another suggestion given to me was to save that money via a Roth IRA. Even though a Roth IRA is for retirement, you can later pull out the contributions you made (not the earnings) and not pay any taxes or penalties, because the money has already been taxed. The earnings can be taken out later after age 59 tax free. The downside is that I can only contribute $8K a year for my wife and myself, and we may want to use that for our retirement first.

Lastly, someone else suggested I-Bonds, where the earnings are not taxed by the state, and are exempt from federal taxes if used for educational expenses. The downside is that the I-Bonds are earning very little right now.

So for right now, my son's college savings is on hold, until I exhaust my search for a better plan that doesn't penalize me if he doesn't go to college.

If anyone has a better idea, please leave me a comment. Remember, a big factor is avoiding penalties if he doesn't go to college.