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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The More I Write, the Less People Read

Quick post today.

I have noticed something interesting since I have been back writing the Blog. The more I post and write, the lower the subscriber list goes!

It made me think about how we all react to availability.

Question: What is generally the best Rated Episodes of a TV series...Answer: The Premiere and the Finale! It is probably the reason people used to really like mini-series!

Not that I will stop posting just to get my numbers up, but it was just an interesting observation (at least to me!).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Tata Nano PTII

Back in January I posted about a car that was announced by Tata Motors. The Nano was to smash price barriers for the third world and sell for less than $2500.

Well Tata, which recently bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford, is having a tough time hitting the price point given the commodity price increase over the last 6 months.

Today in BusinessWeek they spotlighted the status of the little wonder and some of their prospective customers, especially in India. Based on the taxes and other initial expenses the car won't be quite as cheap as hoped. A good used car, with AC can be had for about $3000 (and if you have been to India, you'll recommend the AC!).

Will the Nano be as successful as its iPod namesake? Who knows, but I remember when dealer in the US were all worried be a car out of Eastern Europe...the Yugo!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Blogger in Space

I plan to be the first blogger in space. It would only be for 2 1/2 hours and 5 mins weightless, but it officially counts as space travel for the (very wealthy) everyman. Virgin Galactic can make that a real possibility.

OK, so I am $199,990 short on the ticket price (I have $10 left over from my allowance) and they have already per-sold 250 out of the first years 500 seats, but it still leaves 250 more :) Plus I'd like to go when all of the kinks are worked out!

OK, so personal finance would be out the window, but I am from that first generation of kids that had astronauts as hero's. I was just six-months old when Neil Armstrong made that "Giant Leap for Mankind," 8-yrs old when Star Wars came out not to mention in my teens when I realized it probably wasn't gonna happen in my lifetime, Buck Rogers or not. This really is stuff of dreams

Just a few years ago Burt Rutan changed all that. His PRIVATE company designed a ship that went into space, safely returned and collected the X-Prize. The X-Prize was a $1 Million prize to the first that could pull it off. While he spent well more than that to do it (Paul Allen of Microsoft fame was a key investor) the prize lit a spark under a great group of businessmen that went for it.

Richard Branson of Virgin fame, saw the excitement and quickly made a deal with Burt to turn his design into the first affordable space excursion available to man. Before this some very rich folk had bought $10 Million rides to the space station, but Virgin is taking it to a whole other dimension.

In the first year alone, as I said, Virgin hopes to fly 500 people into space. To put that into perspective, that is nearly equal to ALL of the people that have EVER gone into space. Pretty amazing.

Look, I get that this is a horrible investment. However it isn't dis-similar to wanting to climb Mount Everest or take a Submarine to see the Titanic. In fact the price will come down in time and with increased competition.

Anyway this is the sort of thing that is neat to at least highlight. Remember it is a curse and a blessing to say, "May you live in interesting times!"

Who's with me! Moon or Bust :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Up like a Rocket, Down like a Feather

The title is how I have always seen gasoline pump prices go. It seems like when oil goes up $1 barrel, gas will jump that day. Forget the logic that says, there is no way oil got from the Oil Derrick, to the refinery and to the gas station to be pumped into my car in Southern Oregon the next day.

However, the second part of the statement is true also. The day prices go down, do the pump prices? Nope. It can take days or weeks to fall. The talking heads (the PR people, not the band) will tell you, "OH, it takes time to filter through..."

I have to say though, this time feels different. Maybe this is due to demand actually falling this time and the oil companies trying to stoke usage. Summer is their traditional big demand month and yet in June demand was 5.2% off!

According to this article prices are going to dip up to 25 cents more by Labor Day. Cannot come to soon. Energy has been a key driver (along with cheap money) of inflation. Perhaps we can escape the "Pit and the Pendulum" one more time!

Are the prices coming down where you are as well?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best of the Week; No Dawson's Creek

It has been a staggeringly busy week as I have four projects all coming to a head, perhaps making my head implode at a date TBD.

That being said, plenty o' great stuff on others sites and given that all is TV today are Dawson's Creek Reruns (on four channels???) it shows me I have no more excuses to not post today! :)

Here are the Best of the Week:

  • Funny About Money - Great story about how a little good will is generated, by just paying attention. More stores should think this way!
  • Iowa Hippie Chick - Dawn discusses where the blame lies with extended debt...probably don't need to go past your bathroom mirror!
  • The Digerati Life - Neat article on becoming a professional blogger! SVB is one of the best, heed the advice!

Favorite Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Money Post:

  • The Office of Doom - Based on the responces, I don't think i am the only one living in Doomsville :)

Well, that's it! Almost end of the month so I am beginning work on my month end report. So far, so good!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Video Games Kill Kids in the Congo

In a recent article on Yahoo Games I read about how certain components in Sony's PS2/3 and other electronics devices directly led to a rare metal becoming scarce and driving third world dictatorships, like the Congo, to use Slave and child labor to mine the material.

I had never heard of the metal before, but apparently when the PS2 was really in demand Sony was having a hard time getting enough of an "unrefined metallic ore, coltan." After processing, coltan turns into a powder called tantalum. Still have never heard of it, but apparently demand drove the price of this stuff from $49/pound to over $250! You know how the dictators like their money, so "Leave the Blood Diamonds, and mine the Blood Diamond Pokemon!"

I am not trying to draw a conclusion here about video games at all. My real point is how much we have in the civilized world, and how much we take for granted. How many other product issues out their like this where a popular product (which could never be afforded there BTW!) Are being built at the expense of others...I have inspected factories in China, I will tell you...lots!

I often wondered what a person must think about people far away that spend more then they may ever make on...plastic! That they paint or process everyday!

To sum it all up, it is easy to focus on the hardships we can have here (see yesterday's post!). But for the most part our toughest day is way better than most ever achieve!

Take advantage of this bounty!

The Office of Doom

OK, so I have talked about living in the modern Office before, but this is getting out of hand.

In our move to be more employee friendly we have had a series of Human Resource (HR) initiatives. these have been from the slightly odd to the down-right scary. The sad thing is that I am sure it comes from a place of best hope and wishes...OK I know better than that. It comes from internal surveys that measure employee satisfaction.

About 6 months ago we received the results of our Employee Satisfaction survey and, big surprise, it was low...really low. So low that we had to do something.

First blame HR. Check. Second ignore the horrible raises and oppressive time lines. Double check. Third, get some slogans. Triple check! Fine, then the beatings will continue until the moral improves.

So here are some of the "improvements" that have been made recently:

  • Hire a VP of HR - Especially get someone that doesn't understand out culture, but tries to be Hip by mis-using phrases and terms. Like, "Hey you are all into music so we should have a Square Dance!" And when you mention, for us, this is , well, stupid, you should be called out as a "wet blanket"
  • Change the name of HR to People Services - Um...OK!
  • Mandatory All-Company Meetings - Not a bad idea, but don't need a 45 min meeting to discuss when we should have a bake sale
  • Ignore all of the data from the survey - Even though the survey said in big 74 point type that people were frustrated with the pay scale, keep saying, "that is a symptom, not the root cause!
  • Use more Politically Correct Language! - When people are fired, they are now called "Alumni" What did they graduate??? When can I!

Anywho, I am sure that if I whine about it I'll just end up a, wet-blanket-alumni! Can't wait until the next survey. I am going to ask for a Pony, and hope for an Ice machine!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I Am the Madame Cleo of Oil

Back in my post on July 9th I said it felt like the oil bubble was about to burst. Of course the day after I wrote it oil went up...To nearly $150. But a funny thing then happened, it slipped. No problem said the investors, "Its a temporary shelf price due to goblety-goob."

This ignored the gravity (pun intended) of the rest of the news. Demand is down, way down. In fact for the first time year over year gas usage in the US looks like it will contract. All it takes is a very small pinhole for a giant to blow-out or completely leak out.

I am not saying the $2 gas will be here by Christmas, but maybe $100/barrel oil...The oil producers got this. No one believed that the intrinsic value of the Texas Tea was anywhere near $150/barrel. The didn't think it was $20 either, the pendulum swings both ways...usually to far.

So unless Capt Crazy in Iran, or Major Mayhem in Venezuela pull off a Joker-level whackness act, I gotta believe the price support isn't there. If so it is going to be a big help to US families.

However, I AM the Madame Cleo of Oil predictions so I'll say $100/barrel before Christmas. It probably won't stay there, but it will touch it.

So let it be written...

ps - Like the "real" Madame Cleo I am a complete fake... :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fighting the Big Boys...

BusinessWeek had a great article story about how small, local, coffee houses were competing with Starbucks. And not just surviving, but thriving. While Starbucks is its own worst enemy (although they are at least taking the right steps to right the ship) in a lot of areas, including here in Southern Oregon, they are getting their butt handed to them by local, or regional chain.

So how do you compete with a behemoth?

  • Zig to their Zag - Competing directly can be suicide. If they are trying to expand into other areas, focus on your core. Or, Muffins vs Cookies. Pleasant people vs the not so nice (at least here).
  • Know your niche - They grew because they became an authority on coffee. If you are gonna compete find your niche or sub-niche, like fast service, special Teas better loyalty rewards, etc.
  • Work Harder - Howard Schultz works very hard, but the bigger you grow even a 1% bad apple quotient is gonna creep in (if not higher). Be prepared to personally out-work them. I have tried a lot of new places because they were, well, open! Hire other hard workers. Pay them more then the competition and only hire the best. If they aren't fire them and do it yourself. If you can't outspend them (and you can't!) Gotta make this step!!!

This applies to any business. If you say you can't compete, you can't. You won't buy better then them no matter how hard you whine, so work hard, work around them, and know your business and I guarantee success!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Personal Finance Tips from Jay Leno

Great article in USA Today about Jay Leno. The Tonight Show host is in the midst of a changing of the guard of the Late Night Hosts. Conan is set to replace Jay as early as next Summer as the Host ad Jimmy Fallon, of SNL fame is replacing Conan.

The fact the NBC would replace its host, who is still far and away the ratings leader (although I still prefer Letterman - Sorry Jay) shows how scared NBC was to lose Conan to another network. My gut is that, as Jay said in the article, he won't have a hard time finding a gig with either Fox or ABC.

So what's this have to do with personal finance?

Mixed in with the story you get some great tips from a guy with a lot of money:

  • Don't live beyond your means - Jay has NEVER used a dime form hosting the Tonight Show. It has all been banked. He still does 150+ gigs a year and lives off of that income.
  • Modest Tastes - Jay is still a burger and brat guy even though he could afford the best restaurants in the world. Often people spend money, because they this that they are Supposed To!
  • Making Your Hobbies Self Sufficient - Jay is one of the foremost authorities on cars...and he has a lot of them. But he also has sponsorship deals with GM and various magazines that help pay for the hobby. Plus the increased value of the cars once finished develops a great asset.
  • You can be Green and Frugal - The sidebar is great in talking about how Jay saves money via solar and the environment (and probably his guys health) by using alternative sources to solvents

Anyway I came away from the article a bigger fan of Jay's, not to mention I think that there are some great lessons for all of us here. That being said, if Jay wants me to drive any of those cars, you know just to keep them running, I am in :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Best Week Ever - Begins

Another Week has come and past and I am the biggest fool at last!

OK not really, but I have been running around so much lately that i haven't really had time to spend with the kids. Well this weekend we are doing a bit more. Easy to forget that they grow up sooo fast!

We went to see Batman yesterday and today, the fair (all budgeted and saved for BTW!). The kids are excited since we really didn't get to have a real vacation this year. We all really enjoyed the movie, but a warning that it is dark. Other then the guy dressed up like a bat, it could have been a Scorsese crime drama. Really good. Joker steals the movie big time, making Heath's death all the sadder, this movie would have taken his career to the next level.

On to happier things, the Best of my Favorite Blogs:

  1. Cath L - I nearly stopped here...Every once in a while she does these Uber post that are just amazing. It will take all week to read, but you'll gain really neat insight...I have 3-4 new must read blogs from it!
  2. Get Rich Slowly - This is one of the Top Personal Finance Blogs out there as evidenced by this great post on Investing. Given that I get less than 1% of their traffic, I am sure my recommendation will be the final straw that pushes them over the top for success!
  3. Simplicity In Kansas - This blog is always amazing and reminds us all how much we could be doing! This is a short/sweet post that made me laugh :)

Our Top Post this week was due to a challenge by Mrs Micah:

A couple milestones passed earlier that I failed to call out but there are pretty darn impressive to me, as, like I have said, I am always appreciative that anyone comes here to read this blog:

  • Over 225 Posts!
  • Over 14,000 Visitors! Wow!

Thanks again for all the support and I look forward to the next 14,000!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Random Act of Conscience as I Fly Home

Got in late last night. While flying home, I started thinking, I just can't believe July is half over already! Seems like it was just Christmas.

That being said did some quick bill paying and this is looking like a pretty good month (knock on wood!). Balances are coming down, no new charges. About ready to complete our 9th month without using a Credit Card (used our debit card only).

If I was reading this back then I wouldn't have believed it! Since we have kept our snowball up and as the minimums have reduced, we are paying more and more off per month.

How is your month going?

Well..off to sleep and getting ready to see Batman tomorrow with the Boy! We are looking forward to it, but I must say I waste good chunks of these shows watching his reaction! Then Sunday we are going to our local fair.

Big doin' at the Circle K Theodore!

I'll review with my post tomorrow!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wow! Direct TV Sucks!

Wow, I had a horrible experience with Direct TV tonight. And after reading more on the net it seems that it is their modis operandi.

I received my bill for the month today when I returned from work. Given that I was paid today and I am traveling all day I want to get everything paid and ready to go before I leave.

So I open my Direct TV bill and notice that I am being charged for NFL Sunday Ticket. The first of 6 $41.50 charges have been added to my account. Only problem is that I told Direct TV that I would NOT be re-upping the service this year. Given that I am asking all others to trim and live in budget, can't ask any less of myself, so it is no go.

So, no problem it says right on the bill that you can address billing issues one the internet. After getting my Net account all going I go into billing and I CAN change my package type...as long as I am increasing my service...oh no..I know what this means. I am marketing boy.


These fine folks are also called retention. They offer you deals or whatever to stay. Can't blame them as it is expensive to get new customers, try to keep them. But for me, I am not working them, I just wanna move on. I don't want to explain to Trixie that, "No I really do understand that its like Peyton Manning is in my house."

So I gotta call...

So I call the 800 number and can only describe my experience to that of brave Ulysses. First it is the "talk" system that picks the wrong input every time. I mean a random generator would have more luck (I miss the push button #2 days). I have to call back 8 times. As 6 times it finally routes me to the wrong port and drops my call, 1 time I believe I hit a bizarre tech chat line and then finally in cue...for 90 minutes...on hold…with a horrible message every 1-2 minutes.

"Hi this is Peyton Manning, press #2 to order NFL Sunday ticket now!" That mean I heard 45 marketing messages for the thing I am trying to cancel.

I finally get a real person, and you can tell they are being beat. You know, the kind of dog that lowers its head quickly when you go to pet it. Nice kid, but by this time dinner is cold, and I am chapped. I get a very nice explanation about how they will drop it, I review the next payment with him and I hope all is resolved.

Hey, I am a marketing guy, these companies survive by getting you and blocking all of the fire exits...I get it...but all the did is give me the desire to look to replace them!

Oh, yeah, Peyton...Go Cowboys :)-

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tempus Fugit is NOT a Rap Star

Crazy time at work right now. Five major projects on my plate all at once. One just launched, two more need to by the end of the month, and the remaining two follow quickly behind this.

The point of telling you that isn't for the sympathy (although I like the "Poor Baby" as much as the next guy), but to tell you about something that hit me hard today...The busier you are, the faster time goes. Today it felt like literally I walked in, had one big long meeting and then it was 7pm! And it wasn't just the meetings but all of the project prep. It has been like this for the past...career...kidding, this heavy for the last two weeks or so.

When this is happening to you, in whatever you are doing, here are some tips that I have developed to maintain sanity:
  1. Remember; This too shall pass - Every job from CEO to stay at home Mom to combat soldiers, you can be busy all the time but the mayhem is usually x amount of time. If not there are larger issues in play!
  2. Compartmentalize - Whatever thing you are doing right then, give it 100% attention. Multi-tasking is NOT as efficient as doing, completing and repeating
  3. Track and Verify - Measure twice and cut once! Have a daily list with ABC priority; must get done, Needs to be done, and would be nice to be done. Not everything is an A! A good guideline is 20/60/20% buckets. Then do not quit until the A's are done...and save the list! When you get down on yourself review your progress. You've come a long way baby!
  4. Don't allow interruptions - "Sorry no I don't have a minute, but please book a quick 5-10 minute meeting with me to resolve." It wastes so much time to start-stop-start-stop and you fall out of a groove. You'll be surprise how few people interrupting will book that time! But when they do, give them the same focus you were giving whatever you were doing when they came in.
  5. Fill your schedule - With time for your A's. I know I need about 3-4 uninterrupted hours to get this stuff ready in time for thee presentations...Book it! If you are expected to stay pretty current on email, like I am, I book the time and the amount that I am gonna get through. I have 3-30 min slots to answers emails and I try to keep them brief!
  6. Make sure one of those compartments is rest! - I have seen people choke a big presentation (Opportunity!) by not taking the time to eat, rest and focus.
Well my blogging compartment is now full! :)

What works for you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Is a Relative Term...

We live in a "Here Today Gone Later Today" society. Folks are all geared up to see the new Batman movie that opens Friday. But know this, as sure as I am typing this we will be saying the same thing 2, 3 or 4 years from now, Can't wait to see the new Batman or Hancock 12 or get the new CD from our favorite artists.

This really got me thinking; to quote (or massacre a theory) from Einstein, time is relative. What is new, won't be later, the other thing that changes is our knowledge and perception.

OK enough of the deep stuff.

The wife doesn't like "old" movies, she like the new stuff, don't blame her, she is in the majority. Sure she has a few favorite DVDs that she'll watch a few times, but she isn't a nostalgia hound like me. I, on the other hand, love old (2-50 years) movies that I have seen a bajillion times. Are the effects as cool? Probably not, but the stories are there and they are still great.

So two weekends ago I had the two younger kids all day while the wife was picking our 15-year old up from her visit at Grandma's for the month (separate post!). I decided that I was going to indoctrinate the two into the movies I loved in my youth. It went over like gang-busters to where I am working the 15-yr old now as well.

As you who are old enough, probably can guess one of the moviews based on the pic, but here are a great 5 DVDs to buy (they aren't new so cheap!) or rent and enjoy these comedies:
  • Ghostbusters - The kids flipped! I had a good time as well. Still very funny. A little dated, but great mix or light fright and silly.
  • Back to the Future - Real soft spot in my heart for these movies. Longer story to be shared later, but the kids jump and cheered when Marty decks Biff!
  • Planet of The Apes - A HUGE personal favorite. All-time twist at the end, best line ever "Get your paws off me you damn dirty ape!" and for the older viewer great subtext. Plus written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame!
  • No Time for Sergeants - Andy Griffith at his funniest. Hard to get the wife past the Black and White cornyness, but the kids loved it!
  • Ferris Beuller's Day Off - Gosh this movie is funny and now a favorite of my 15-yr old. I feel sorry for today's teens not having John Hughes movies!
I currently have a touch over 1,000 DVDs (we bought most of them dirt cheap) and some special set boxes as well. Sure I could sell the less watched ones, but they really are a collection for me at this point and I happily lend them out when asked, "What's a good movie to watch!"

The first time you see a movie, or if it has been purged from the memory banks, it is new to you! So seek out those movies you either missed the first time, or loved and need to revisit. And if you do, expose someone else to it as well. It just might become a favorite for them as well!

One side note, the kids really loved that if they liked a movie, they could see the sequel right away!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Microsoft Money Is Bigger Stronger Faster

Responding to a direct challenge from fellow blogger, the lovely and talented Mrs. M, I completed a big finance project this weekend. Well OK it is never really compete, but my goal was to rest up my MS Money account. OK so I finished the project then accepted the already complete challenge, but she said it was OK, so there.
Never one to ignore the free gift of links from another, I said on her blog I would tell how/why the project came about.
Back in March my computer first went down. Something about a drive partition. It wiped out everything... Through Herculean efforts by this great resource I found locally for computer repair we were able to at least save my data, but no program data. So I had my last backup...from January. This was over 60 days old that was not really complete either.
Around this time (end  of March) I was going through a burnt-out phase regarding finances due to a bonus that I still believe I was hosed out of as well as slower than expected growth opportunities at my current gig. In other words I was being a bit (re: a lot) pouty.
Luckily my Excel Master tracking sheet was fine and I survived by using this tool, which works good for basic tracking, but it wasn't designed, by me, for reports and spending pattern sort of duty. So, as I am want to do, I procrastinated. But, it has been in my short-term goals list to get up and going.
So this weekend I rebuilt the file from January complete to this Saturday (July 12th). To this I had to do the following:
  • Get a new copy of the software, as my last copy was a digital download. Always get the disc backup for $5 more...well worth it!
  • Get all of the bills together from the last 6 months (3.5" high stack!)
  • Input all of the data
  • Test the reports
  • Bring in all of the new accounts (lie E*Trade) and do the same thing for them
  • File all of the paperwork
Well I still need to get the stack filed but it is in chronological and alphabetical order!

I can once again use all of my favorite reports and "what-if" scenarios, but the main point is that I took one of the key opening steps:; Get organized!

My next project; Short, Medium and Long personal goals and tracking!

OK Mouseketeers, what's your next, or first, step in your plan!

Monday, July 14, 2008

The King of Beers Get an Emporer

The King of Beers has met his match and for a mere $50 Billion will now be part of InBev, A Belgium Based, Brazilian run conglomerate that makes Stella Artois and others.

Originally rebuked by the BUD board InBev came back with an offer that just couldn't refuse, $70 per share, or 27% higher than its 2002 all-time high. This creates the world's largest Beer Company, and gives InBev #1 Market share in the US auto-magically Given that BUD has nearly 50% market share between all of its domestic brands.

Given BUD's investment in Groupo Modelo (Corona - 50%) and China's Tsingtao Brewery (27%) we are likely to see the FTC and EUro regulators step in and do their dance. However given the strength of other competitors in the market of others, likely only small changes to the portfolio are expected.

That, however, might not be the case (pun intended) for BUDs St Louis operation that may get pulled way back. Gotta pay for that premium some way and it will probably be on the backs of the workers there. InBev has promised that Budweiser will be the new Flagship brand for the company, but these deals are often paid for via the synergies of the two companies. Meaning that either St Louis will start brewing InBev brands and their breweries will close or the other way around...but usually "to the victor the spoils."

I wonder if the Clydesdales will be wearing wooden shoes at the next Super Bowl?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Best Week Ever; Pt XII

Well this is now the 4th time I have written the same post. I use "Blogger in Draft" to schedule out my posts so that they are hot and fresh for you in the morning, right out of the oven!

Well, the oven keeps burning the toast (tell I can't cook yet?). Regardless this had been a gooweek for the blog as I just completed my second week back, traffic is coming back and people are commenting again (THANK YOU ALL BTW!)

That being said here are some great posts from other blogs to read as well as a special extra:
  • Mrs Micah - A great post about not replacing until it has to be done. And to be frank, when you are using two elastics from underwear to attach the laptop screen...it may be time!
  • Paid it Down - Sharon has started her Jar Cash System, I use a similar envelope system and I trully believe it has been the #1 thing that has helped my finances.
  • That Saddity Chic - A touching post regarding how those without a father in their life often feel, somehow tied in a neat way to commercial real estate investing as only she could do!
  • Iowa Hippie Chick - Yeah Dawn is back! If you don't read her blog you are missing out, and we all were for a bit. Beyond a great blog, though, she is trully a great person. Welcome Back!
  • Open Wallet - Winning for best pic in a post this week! A shrt so bad that even Samuel L Jackson is scowling at it!
For Life, Liberty and the Pursuit on Money:
  • Most Affordable Places to Buy a House -  Most popular post of all week, even with the second half being totally silly! The best part of the post are the comments, really interesting to read where people would live if money was no object.
Thanks again for visiting and commenting!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

IndyMac Bank Shut down by Government

The US Government shut down former internet darling IndyMac Bank on Friday. This mortgage provider was and aggressive mortgage lender with very low rate at one time. The also feature great savings plans with above norm returns.

This really made me re-think a lot of what I have seen on Finance Blogs regarding bank and credit card arbitrage. In the case of savings, it is chasing the highest returns, and then pulling once the bonus is paid or the offer runs out. Often you need to set up direct deposit with then to get the bonus, or follow other steps that lock you up, or at least make it a pain to switch.

Credit Card arbitrage is a bit scarier, at least to me, although many are great at it. Basically, that is signing up for every 0% transfer rate Credit Card at once then maxing them out via a transfer to a bank account, usually at a bank with better than average deals ala ETrade or others like...IndyMAC.

As long as you aren't ever one day late (which triggers the higher rate) and are very diligent, you can make good money. Consider getting three $5000 one interest no payment cards for one year (using these to show the math, but banks are running away from no payments...not too tough. You max out the $15K in credit and start to get, say 3%. You then withdraw the money and pay-off the card at the end of the year. Worst case you earned $450 (actually a bit more since it compounds at least weekly).

Hey I'll take $450 for just paying my cards on time, plus say you have good credit and get $50,000; you could make $1500+ or more.

Downside, one slip up and it can wipe out your profit with late fees and penalties. OR even worse...the bank could go out of business. Yes they are (hopefully) FDIC insured to $100k per person, but it takes the FDIC often a lot of time to process claims! Hope you didn't need that cash right now sir!

Anywho, long story longer, just be careful when you see those over-stuff return rates, risk=reward, and sometimes you do get the fuzzy end of the Lollypop.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Most Affordable Places to Buy a House

BusinessWeek just ran a piece discussing the most affordable Global Real Estate. Given the run-up here in Southern Oregon, even after the crash, I say, lets take a look at their Top 10...Then I'll make pithy comments :)

  1. Bogata, Columbia (Shown Above)
  2. Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
  3. Charlottetown PEI, Canada
  4. Granada, Nicaragua
  5. Panama City, Panama
  6. St. John's Newfoundland, Canada
  7. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  8. Manama-Muharraq, Bahrain
  9. Aruba, Aruba
  10. Suzhou, China
I am pretty sure the author was Canadian as they have 3 of the top 10! Every Canadian friend of mine (ok I have two!) tell me the, while not as bad as the US, Real Estate prices and currency changes are making it more expensive to buy property then ever before, OK they are in their 30's so they mean in the last 10 years.

I expected China and Columbia on the list. As nice as they are not the first place to move that pops into my head of somewhere I want to move to (at least those two cities), but maybe I just underestimate them. I also see two cities on the list that we "liberated" so maybe the Army made BW put them on the list....We'll know for sure next year in Baghdad is on the list.

Here are mine that are probably real affordable right now:
  1. Baghdad, Iraq - Sure no power, but nicer then it was...a couple months ago
  2. Three-Mile Island, Middletown, Pennsylvania - Lots of land available
  3. Atlantis, Atlantic Ocean - A Little damp, but awesome technology
  4. Santa's Villiage, North Pole - Hurry it is melting...
  5. Chernobyl, Russia - Buy the whole city cheap

Given the choices (although Aruba sounds nice) I guess I'll stay here for now. Money no object, man of leasure time? I am off to somewhere in the Caribbean, and if I get sick for a white christmas, I'll visit :) Given that Santa's workshop is gone be underwater soon, I'll keep a room for St Nick ready too!

How about you? Money no object, where would you live?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

200 Point Stock Drop Isn't Even a Crash Anymore!

Percentage-wise a 200 point swing on a 11,000+ Dow isn't earth-shattering, but it still represents real dollars in my 401k (and yours!). Yesterday's drop received so-so coverage.

They say a Recession is when your neighbor loses their job, a depression is when you do. Well, I am not there, but a lot of my neighbors are worried. It was bad enough when everything was melting down, but now inflation is hitting at the same time; a big reason - $5 gas (coming soon!). As energy touches everything, it raises every ship in the harbor.

Heck, the interest rate cuts aren't even helping as promised, since credit markets are getting tighter. At least we could of had a refinance (I was hoping for one!) to dump some $$$ into the mean green machine.

So, how do we get off this Tilt-a-Whirl o' Doom....Eventually the Fed will have to tighten the money supply at some point. Which means it would get worse before it gets better. Not trying to be the Siren of Death, but it is one set of body blows after the next...gee I hope one of the political parties raises my taxes next :)

Then again, maybe I just shouldn't post after I pay bills :)-

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oil Bubble to Finally Burst?

Oil has continued to slide in recent days and is back down to the $136 level today. It seemed just two weeks ago the it was going to be "$150 or Bust."

I know for us and across the internet I see more and more tlking obut how they have had to cut back, how small town especially are getting decimated, and how Congress is being beat up up pretty badly for letting this gett so out of control.

Could this be the, not the end of historically high oil/gas price. Not so sure, but to rip off Churchill...I hope it is at least the End of the Beginning!

If this has been an investor bubble, which I believe, oil would over-correct ala the houseing market. Regardless it is going to be a wild ride as no political office holder want to be running with $5 Gas hanging over their heads.

It is going to get interesting...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Power of Focus...

*Warning - This post is being written while I can't sleep and I am digging deep into my ego/super ego!*

In the movie for "Brief History of Time" Steven Hawking said that ALS was one of the best things that happened to him as it made him focus on one key area of Physics. Now ALS is a horrible disease that I hope to see eradicated in my lifetime, but it makes you really think about the power of Focus and what I call "Compartmentalizing."

At a recent talk our CEO, when asked about his success and his career pointers for the audience, he  said one word. Focus

Basically, if you try to be great at everything, you will be at best mediocre at a lot of stuff.

His point was that you can be really good at 2-3 things max; otherwise there is just not enough time in the day to focus on those areas. His point was he picked his Career and Wife. He tried to really focus on those two areas. He didn't get into Golf until later as his career had reached an apex, and he really didn't have the time to do other things to the level he felt where he was achieving.

My List of stuff I am Interested In:
  • Career
  • Family - Husband
  • Family - Father of Three
  • Music
  • Blogging
  • Other Writing
  • History
  • My Finances
  • Golf
  • Health (Or...I will die!...or diet :) )
  • Entertainment - Movies
  • Entertainment - Video Games
In other words...I am screwed.

Not to mention all the sub-bullets I am not listing, or that my attention span is that of a Gnat on Prom Night...I have really felt this pull in my life since I can remember, back to being a young child. I have had those feelings before that, "Work is great, Home life is crap..." Or, "Wow we are getting along well, too bad my boss is chapped at me!"

So to try to deal with these areas I am trying to compartmentalize, or really Focus on that area when I am on it. I am really trying to work the following:
  • Determining what really matters to me in whole and each area
  • Have real Short term, Medium term and Long term goals
  • Seperate the wheat from the chaff - Is it really important to lower my golf score?
  • Focus on what I am doing at the time (Compartmentalize). - If I am working on my finances I am working on my finances. If I am playing Legos with the boy (his Focus!!!) I am playing Legos, not emailing on the crackberry.
  • Realizing that the last perfect guy died on the cross 2000 years ago (not being flipant to my strong faith friends)
How's it going?...plans in place, goals are being made, but I know I can easily fall back into that Snoopy banner that I had on my wall as a kid..."I've got to start acting more resonsible...Tomorrow!"

Off to bed...need to Focus tomorrow!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Positive Side of the Internet

I read more and more online about what a dark, damp scary place the internet is, and how it is growing worse. Just looking up how to donate to the poor your computer gets a nasty virus, your bank is depleted and cats live dogs.

Well the internet has been, IMHO, the single largest knowledge change for mankind since the printing press (I'll get some nasty emails now :) ). Penicillin is pretty good too, but I can't use that to buy Gun's and Roses downloads at 11:30pm at night. It is easy to forget, how life was before Al Gore invented the 'net and Electricity and I believe Goats.

5 Racer X's Favorite Things about the Net:
  1. When something tickles my fancy to learn about I can look it up right then! I am a history buff, especially Roman history. I have more at my disposal via Google then most University's had 20 years ago!
  2. Recontact old friends. I have been able to reconnect the some old buddies by them finding me on press releases for the companies I have worked for!
  3. The positive communities. I have learned more and been better supported by those on my blogroll then I have by people I know!
  4. Bank and Commerce is so much easier. I can go right now and check to see if my checks have gone through, whether I have been paid yet. Internet retailing has leveled the playing field. More than ever you have the power, customers are more fiscal than ever...good for them!
  5. Online education - Deeper than just poking around like #1, you can get a quality education through an online school around your schedule! The quality keeps going up as well as major Ivy League schools now let you go through their class materials and lectures!
Sure, anywhere you go, bad things can happen. Just protect yourself and explore, we are living in a wonderful time :)

...I think it may be the 3-day weekend getting to me though :) I will probably hate my fellow man again by...Thursday at the latest :)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Secret Obsession...

OK I am secretly obsessed with World of Warcraft (I guess not so secret now...doh!).

If you don't know anything about World of Warcraft (WOW to us!), it is the most successful Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO). Over 10 million people pay each month to play, interact, and have fun.

I started playing in October of 2005, and you might think, what the heck does this have to do with Personal Finance??

Well I hate to say it, but my favorite part of the game isn't the leveling, Battlegrounds or Arenas. It isn't the great people you meet, even that is a close second...nope I really enjoy the player economy.

There is a robust auction system for buying the things that you win or receive in the game. Get a weapon you can't use? expose it to the rest of the server that might be looking for that item! You get money, they get the item they need...Adam Smith is pleased :)

But there are a small group of us players that like to basically day-trade. If you put something up that we feel has a higher value we buy it and flip it. When I was really working on it at one point I had 3% of all trade involving me!

From this I have learned the following:

  1. Invest in what you know - I only buy and trade those thing that I have bought and traded I have in the past well.
  2. If it looks too good, it is...run! - I have seen thing that look like they are trading cheap but it really is a function of a very limited supply and demand. See rule #1!
  3. Treat others as you want to be treated - I have folk that directly send me items to buy, bypassing the Auction system and fees. I always make sure I am giving them the agreed upon deal or better. I rarely lose customers and most are sending me more!

The point is whatever your hobbies are, you can use these lessons in your personal finance life!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Happy 4th of July!

No crazy plans, just family gathering  for a big potluck dinner / BBQ. It will be great to see my little Niece who is getting pretty close to her 1st Birthday. It is such a gather heart-warming time. Then we'll blow up stuff!

Then after the food off to see fireworks and launch the USS Guilt (my Mom's nickname) who will tell us we don't visit enough (she's probably right, which is why the guilt works).

So not much to talk about today, but since you were so nice to vist, tomorrow I will tell you about my secret obsession...Going since October, 2005.

It ties to finance, although you won't think it will!

Best of Fun Holiday for You!

P.S Ever notice that the Fourth is one of the few holidays we don't give cards for...hmmm

Thursday, July 3, 2008

They Don't Get The Hint...

As I caught up on mail over the past few weeks I noticed something...a slew of Credit card offers. Now this is nothing new as credit card companies are trying to find anyone with a pulse. It costs over $30 (probably closer to $100 now) to acquire a new credit card customer, and most of those have to be rate flippers.

So like I said nothing really new, except that I noticed I am getting bombarded by Chase Visa and American Express. I am now getting multiple offers...per week from both of them. It costs, even with great marketing consolidation and bulk, probably between 40 and 50 cents to contact me, just through the mail! $20-30 per year in junk just to me!

Now I know I can save trees and my mail carrier and probably kittens in a third-world country by blocking my adress either through the DMA (Direct Marketers Assc) or True Credit, where I get my credit report, but truth of the matter is I like to see the offers.

One, it is a great early warning system about how your credit ranking is currently. The offer reflect your credit FICO band...I have crept into the 700 band now, so we are getting pretty darn good offers, but not the Captain Insano ones (you need 720+ to get those). Second, I like being able to weight moving debt around if I can save money and I am not above call my card company and grinding them for a better deal.

So we dance...

Dance the "I may ask you out, but I am waiting for a better looking gal (or fella for the ladies)" sort of dance. However, if they want to save some money I will tell them NO for $10 :)

How's your mailbox?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

June Finance and Goal Review

Well June is done, stick a fork in the first half of the year as well. The days are getting shorter already as we head into the Fourth of July holiday, but as the sun sets on one month it is a great time to take stock of where we are as well as look at the missing few months.
With out further ado..
  • Stuck to most of plan - Used cash for cash bills, didn't use Cards and survived some Ninja Bills!
  • Improved Net Worth by $3455! - Mostly debt reduction, but still!
  • Back to blogging! - Missed you all. But keeping it in perspective! Moderation in all things, including moderation
Points to work on:
  • Still need to rebuild MS Money file after last computer failure...again!
  • Check mail more frequently - Avoidance doesn't work
  • Began saving for something - Need a good medium term goal that we can save for as starvation spending is grating on all of our nerves. Just feels like more tunnel is in front of tunnel!
  • Pay Off StateFarm CC - $2836 - Down to $2228 or $608 less! Need to pick up pace to do it...iffy
  • Pay Off Car - $4594.87 - Down to $2706,  $1888 less than the beginning of the year! Less and Less interest per payment...looking probable
  • Pay Off CC CitiBank Platinum - $8989 - Now $8749, $240 less than the beginning of the year. Not using it, still making progress, but given no bonus...no way.
  • Pay off all CC Debt - Paid off $848 since beginning of the year, another bonus causualty!
  • Save 100% 2008 Property Taxes - $4500 - $3024 Saved in E*Trade Account. Back to working this amount. Whatever not achieved will come out of Emergency fund, but would rather not tap it.
  • Keep Snowball 100% Intact - $308.43 Is the Current. Once StateFarm is paid off, it will be $654.72! Back at it in July!
  • No CC Use - For the Ninth month! Getting close to the 1-year mark!
  • Increase Average FICO-Score to 720- Without CC payoff not gonna happen this year, but Sstill getting better. Now average 700.7 over the three agencies!
  • Stick to Cash Budget System - Yep!
  • Net Worth increased by $20,000 - $9,932 so far! Halfway there. Broke the Negative $20K mark (small things are happy things!)
So goal-wise with no bonus or opportunity this year it is really gonna be hard to hit these payoff goals. All I can do is at least work my snowball, but a good lesson for my self-image...won't count chickens...

Baby Step Progress:
  • Baby Step 2 - We have paid off $20,057 worth of non-mortgage debt putting us at 29% complete. Don't know whether  to cry or cheer about that!

That's it, warts and all! Hope to do better, but god knows I have done much worse!

Thanks for all of the support!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Man Sells Life on eBay...

In bidding over the weekend a man sold his life on eBay.

No, he isn't now a slave to some non-descript Middle-Eastern Shiek or a Circus in a state where the family trees have no branches. Nope he sold all of his stuff, including access to friends and his current job. After a bitter divorse he is now going to pack it all up and move somewhere else and start over.

This raises some interesting thoughts:

  1. Who would buy your life? - You think yours sucks, and yet someone thinks you are worth a six-figure buyout.
  2. What if you paid all that money and found you were just as miserable? - This is the "grass is always greener" issue. It may just be you and not your life!
  3. When will we see Life-bay (or LBay, once it catched on)? - Just another $40k and I can be suburbanite Tech worker with three kids!!!
This sounds like a whacky 1990's movie starring Scott Baio...Or maybe a show on the CW Network.

That being said, my life is up there now, bidding starts at $7.35. I've decided to bid on being a Cowboy :)

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