Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hey Money you listen to Money Blogger Podcast?

Ok, so this might be a matter of preaching to the choir but there may be a few of you out there that have not heard of the Money Blogger Podcast.

This is an audio podcast where he this guy interviews a whole array of Money Bloggers....and gets there perspectives on money and why they BLOG. (You can check out tons of Money and Personal Finance BLOGs at:

It is interesting to see why people BLOG, and what they expect to get out of their writings themselves. To me it is very interesting to hear these bloggers that I have often read and hearing their voice is often gives me great insight into the personality and individual behind the thoughts and words.

Most of the shows I have listened to are very interesting.....I suggest you give it a listen.

Here is how this podcaster describes his Podcast:

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Putting the ca$h in my Scottrade account to work!

I think I mentioned that I had this small account in which I would trade. It started out as about $3000 about a year or so ago when I bought 100 shares of Vonage (VG) at $10 per share. (I thought it was a great buy at that price)

Well, the bad news about Vonage just kept coming out and it took a nose dive.....I dumped out of half of it a while back and noted here that I bought 99 shares of China Unicom (CHU) and about two weeks ago I dumped the other half of the VG at just over $7.00 per share and I was just holding it as cash.

Well, I was thinking of buying China Mobile (CHL) which has been doing pretty well...but I decided instead to buy a ETF called FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index (FXI). It turns out this fund holds CHL as it's largest holding....about 9.78% of it's total I still get good exposure to CHL after all.

I'm not sure how long it is going to take me to get back up to my initial investment in VG. Today my total Scottrade balance stands at
$2,202.27. (including $2.49 in cash) I started with about $ I'm still digging out!

Wish me luck.....

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Automatic Computer Stock Picking: Even a broken watch is right twice a day!

I work for a computer company, so "I do believe" in the power of computers. (When I started in this business, I was told that the I should be able to expect it to do anything if I am able to program it's only limits like within me!)

But do I really want to turn my hard earned money over to a computer to play with? Can all the stocks of an investment fund actually be managed my a computer algorithm?

Some day I suppose....maybe even now in some limited cases.....but I'm not sure I trust that idea quite yet! (I don't want to be the guinea pig tossing my life savings into that test.)

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Update on my small individual stock portfolio

I have been playing with a pretend stock portfolio on CAPS.FOOL.COM, trying to see how well I do.

My rating over the last month looks like the graph on the left, and I have only been marginally succesful. I chose my stocks based on some knowlege and a bit of "feeling" way or the other. Since I didn't really have any skin in this game, I figured I could worry less about facts and go more with general feeling.

The investments I chose include FXI (a Hong Kong ETF fund) to go up, SKS (Saks Fifth Avenue) to go down, USB (US Bancorp) to go up, SSRI (Silver Commodities) to go up, CHU (China Unicom) to go up, VG (Vonage) to go down, CHL (China Mobile Limited) to go up, and SUNW (Sun Microsystems) to go down.

I am winning overall with only SKS, USB and SUNW not performing as planned. (I'm glad Sun is going up since I actually own Sun stock as an employee....I only bet against it for the game)

But all of this is great......what about the actual stock I own?

Well, I think I mentioned before that the majority of my investment money is NOT in individual stocks, but in a variety of funds and bonds. I do have a small cache of cash that I play with.....and at this point I have about 50% of it in CHU and the other half in cash. (I sold that VG stock a couple of weeks ago at just over $7.00 at a fair loss from $9.00)

The CHU has been a little rough going in the last two weeks, but it has never gone below what I own it for, and it is back on the rise again now. I'm looking for an opportunity to put that cash money into...any ideas?

As I noted before, I also own a number of shares of Sun Microsystems stock, being an employee. I don't plan on selling that any time soon because the company is doing well and the stock price seems to be on the mend.

But I have to put my mind to where I am going to place that cash!!!

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Cheap Knock-off Music Player on EBay saves me Ca$h!

Up until about a week ago I was the happy owner of a Creative Zen MP3 player that I used to listen to music and Podcasts. (not in that order though!)

Well, last week it simply stopped working. I suppose I probably manhandled it at some point in the past, and it's disk probably just decided it was time to die.

So I decided two things.....these things were "throw-away" items....and I wasn't going to pay much for the next one! (and even then, I wasn't going to have a disk drive in it!)

So I stated looking on the net and found these cheap Chinese players on EBay, and I decided to take the chance. (since they were 4GB and could be big on for less than $65 including shipping)

I thought I would take the chance on it since a 4GB iPod is quite a bit more money, and I have no interest in getting a proprietary iPod device. (the 4GB nano costs $199, and I don't think it does video....and I think the 4GB Creative MicroPhoto, which does photos but not video, but still has a disk costs about $179 now)

So I bid and won, and I've only just begun playing with it, but it sure seems pretty looks like a USB disk, so you can load it with anything from music to spreadsheets if you need 4GB space to carry things.

Also, it is an MP4 player...which means it plays video as well as all kinds of audio formats! (video requires conversion which is NOT a fast process) the tools used to organize my music don't seem to come with the machine....but I can use cut and paste with the best of them, and for only $60...that I can do!

There are several of these units on EBay as I type this....check them out, they may be useful.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

My first real purchase at a Warehouse "Club"

This isn't meant as an ad for BJs, but just a description of how this 47 year old did something absolutely new today. my "first" was not all that unusual....or outstanding, but I actually experienced something I had never done before, and I had to BLOG about it. (what was this exciting moment pray tell???)

My wife and I actually did some shopping at a warehouse club today....BJs to be exact.

I have never owned a membership, and never been with my mother who used to have one from time to time. I always had mental pictures of warehouse purchases as having to be tractor-trailer load sized. (large yes.....too large, not at BJs)

So we went in just to look around, and pick-up some bananas.....which we did, but while we were looking around we saw so many other cool and affordable things. First there was the large container of Olive Oil that I just have to have.....then the industrial sized box of Oregano. (I can't have enough of that for sure) Then there was a great deal on pistachios, which I had a craving for!

These items did have a great bit of savings on them....and I look forward to trying the place out again in the next 40 or so days.

In fact, holiday time is probably an opportune time to take advantage of some of the "try-us" shopping days that these clubs offer. BJs offers a 60 day free trial, and I believe Sams Club gives out "Try us FREE for a day" cards.

Shopping these clubs isn't for everybody, but there does look to be savings to be had if they carry what you want and you shop there regularly.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Staying Crowd Free on Black Friday

So today was Black Friday....a day that people ventured away from the Thanksgiving dinner table to become fanatic Christmas shoppers!

This is normally the way it is today, and when I drove my daughter to work at about 5:30am today, it looked as though it was going to happen yet again.

People were lined up at Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, Office Depot, Toys-R-Us, even Radio Shack......everywhere! The line were around the building in most cases.

I had decided that I would drive away from the crowds and check out the very same stores away from the malls. I figured that because I would be starting my shopping a little "late" I may not end up with the "treasures", but I would at least not have to fight the crowds. (and I figured tha either way I would come up empty handed.)

So I drove away from Nashua toward Londonderry where I first stopped at Radio Shack in Hudson. It was about 7:00am and the place was empty. I thought they had not yet opened, but they were open since 6:00am. I might have been the 3rd person in the store! Alas, all the early bird specials there were mine!

So after I got everything I wanted there I then went to Staples up the street in Londonderry. (NOTE: I'm not going to tell you what I bought at any point here because I do have gift receivers reading my BLOGS!) Much to my surprise, it was about 7:20pm and they had everything I wanted too. (except the laptop that was on sale)

I was actually too productive in my shopping.....I actually bought my wife too many gifts! (and I have still to buy one gift for one of my daughters)

I then went to Sears Essentiuals in Londonderry....picked up some Halloween Candy for $0.09 a bag and a couple of other small items....but I actually had no plans for that store, but I was making such good time that I needed to stop just to "slow down" a little.

I shot over to Bensons Hardware and then VIP Automotive and bought my wife a few more things, and then stopped for stamps at the Post Office. (I was so succesful in my shopping that I had a boat load of rebates to send in....and BTW, let me go on record saying that the Staples "Easy rebate" system is just fantastic!)

After noon I ended up circling back down to Nashua where the huge lines were at 6:00am...and I found very few people.....certainly not the huge crouds of 5:00am. What gives?

The stores were just a little messy, but not the normal "black friday"mess with items all over the floor. I saw stores with a large number of store employees sort of hanging around.

My daughter said that the store she worked at was busy at first, but the crowds lessened withing a few hours. Could this shopping day have been a dud?

I worry for the economy if it was because if retail goes the way of houses, we are in a bit of a bind.....too many things slumping at one time.

But then, according to this article, Black Friday isn't the huge shopping day that the news makes it out to me.....all hat, no cattle I guess.

But still....we will see if the rest of the country is acting like the Nashua, NH area....very conservative to buy this year!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Black Friday Ad Sites about specialized web are three sites I found that post Black Friday sale ads for both online and store day after Thanksgiving bargains.

As I understand it, the "Grand daddy of them all" is BFADS.NET. They break the savings up by storefront and then by product.

The next site is, and like the first store, they provide links right to the online site where you can add the item right to your shopping cart.

Then seems to focus on scanning the sales fliers of the stores they list. At least this is what I found with Staples.

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After Thanksgiving, we need to be happy and SPEND!

Here we are on the day before Thanksgiving and two days before the start of the shopping season and wouldn't you know it....we get news reported that consumer sentiment has dropped in November.

The article note: "The University of Michigan's final reading of its November index of consumer sentiment fell to 92.1 from October's final reading of 93.6. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a final November reading of 93.1."

So there is concern that the holiday shopping spending may be down and that anemic holiday spending might slow the economy even more. Hey, perhaps people are actually looking out for themselves rather than going even further into debt. (what a concept....and perhaps a sign that people are learning!)

The second bit of news might be a part of the problem causing the slip in sentiment....jobless claims have risen again.

Another article said: "The number of U.S. workers applying for jobless benefits rose by an unexpectedly steep 12,000 last week to 321,000, government data showed on Wednesday...."

Hmm....the troubling comment in there is "unexpectidly".....

Working in the computer industry, and seeing the massive desire and reality of outsourcing, I see reason for people to worry. At least the people in high tech.

But I am guessing that we will be told to "not worry about the man (problems) behind the curtain"....and something to the affect that it is our patriotic duty to spend and keep the engine of the economy running. (in the old days we were told to work all we need to do is spend all sounds so easy, except now that means more debt!)

Well, spending makes sense to me when it is connected with investment. That is, when the money you put out there is being used to enhance a process, build up an asset (like a property), invest in a company, get an education...things like that. That is money well spent. (it is actually growing the money)

Spending to buy the latest consumable isn't even a close second....but I can see doing this as a form of relaxation....or when giving a present to a loved one.

But going into debt to spend on consumables that do nothing to grow your net worth....that's shear folly. But this is what we are asked to do....

Do yourself a money. I'm not speaking in "government double-talk". I don't mean lower the rate of increase of your debt spending...I mean start increasing your net worth by saving!

We can have fun by baking cookies, talking about old times and enjoying our friends and family. Those are the most important things in life anyways...right?

I hope everyone has a very Happy Thanksgiving Day tomorrow!

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Sold the other half of my VG....

I have a small Scottrade account with a bit of money in it that I thought I would try my hand at "trading" with.

I have never been a I am more of a "saver" that invests with more of a buy and hold approach. I try to scope out long term investments, and quite heavily diversified. (so I skipped all the day trading of the '90s.....)

Anyways, a number of months ago I took the plunge buying 300 shares of Vonage at about $9.00 per share. I thought that was a GREAT buy because I use Vonage.....I think it is a GREAT product, and I thought the stock's fall from $14 was only a short term glitch.

Well, then the trouble started for Vonage.....from their poor handling of stockholders "revolt" after their IPO to their being taken to court for a patent violation....all of which they seemed totally unprepared for. They ended up on the stock "black list" pretty quickly.

Even while I say that, I still think they have a great product, and urge people to consider them for their phone service...but in terms of their stock, it seems to be a non-starter right now.

So I started out by selling half of it about 2 weeks ago, and then last Friday I sold the rest at $7.02 per share.

Two weeks ago I took the first half I sold and put the money into China Unicom LTD (CHU) (the small Mobile Phone company in China which started out going gangbusters but has now fallen back about to where I bought it) So this past Friday, I sold the second half of my VG and now my second chunk of money is sitting in cash waiting for the right investment.

How will I figure out that that will this point I am not sure. More analysis is needed!

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Click for a soup donation

Ok, so this might not strictly be a personal finance post, but it is sort of close in that you simply have to go to a Campbells website, pick your favorite NFL team and Campbells will donate cans of Campbells soup for the holiday.

It is the holiday season, and if Campbells wants to spend it's marketing money to feed those who need it, then I say we should help go ahead and click away.

Here is the pitch from the website......

Vote Now View Results

Click for Cans… Just One Part of Chunky Tackling Hunger™

Campbell Soup Company and the NFL™ have partnered together to help fight hunger since 1997. Since then, Campbell has donated more than 32 million cans of soup to a variety of hunger relief charities across the country, in NFL cities, and in the 30,000 markets served by Campbell’s many retail partners.

I promise my next post will be more on topic!

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review: BJs vs Sams vs Costco

Bottom line question.....would shopping at any of these places save me money? Also, did I like one place over the other? I went out for a few hours seeking these answers today.

It all started when my wife gave me a coupon from BJ's that would give us me a 60 day membership there.
(I say ME because while the paid membership gives you two cards, this 60 day free membership is locked to a single shopper....because they put your picture on the card) So while I knew I was going to take advantage of this trial BJs membership, I thought I would stop in at Sams Club as well as Costco which are all down the street from each other here in Nashua, NH. (Living in southern NH is great....we have more stores than we would normally have because the "sales tax-free" shopping of New Hampshire attracts so many people from Massachusetts)

I do have "some" experience with club shopping, though I myself have never belonged. It has probably been about 4 years since I stepped inside one of these places, but I must say that today they all look about the way I remember them. My wife had a card for her school when she worked at Presentation of Mary Academy, but she didn't shop there for home things...and that was also a few years ago too.
(I believe my Mother in-law might have a BJ's membership...but I am not sure)

When I say they all looked as I expected, I don't mean to suggest that the three clubs each don't have their own personality....they certainly do. But they also seem to have a lot in common. I was actually surprised at now much food areas of each of these places sold. Between junk food, auto stuff and electronics.....there was little room for anything else.
(they had "good" food too....and at what looked like good prices....but they serve a ton of snack food and pastry...I guess this is what people buy)

But in terms of access to the general range of things, I didn't find the store to be as interesting as a Walmart of Target. They all simply seemed to have tons of certain things, and then it seemed catch as catch can for the rest.
(I guess I remember a lot of clothes too.)

In fact, I was actually looking for a lamp for our bedroom, and I was very disappointed to find that none of the three stores had ANYTHING interesting!
(They had small desk lamps...maybe one or two at each place.....but only Sams had a single tall floor lamp)

I also went from store to store with a few "items" in mind as I was going to benchmark between the them. The items included the following:
  • Block of Cheddar Cheese (2 pounds or more)
  • HD TVs
  • Laptop Computers
These items seemed to be popular things at all three stores, also being front and center in all three. I was going to try and benchmark them by price, but this turned out to be impossible since the brands and items varied from store to store. This means I would have been comparing apples and oranges. (BTW: All three DID in fact sell apples and oranges, I should have compared those! :-)

All I could notice is that on these sort of popular high volume items, all three stores carried say three price/feature bands of a $700, $1100, and $1500 laptops of several different screen sizes.

So my comparison is not so much based on particular items as opposed to general impressions, and my general impression started off with thinking there was a lack of selection, even in the more popular items. Yes, the selection is perhaps as good as any department store besides Target and Walmart, but since I would be "tied" to the store because of my membership, I wasn't comfortable with that.
(though I was shocked at how many different digital cameras that Costco almost seemed that they had as many as Hunt Photo, and at very good prices.)

If I were to pick one out of the three, I would go with Costco. I liked the selection a bit more, and I actually "liked" the massive size of the items available. All three had bulk packages of things, but Costco seemed to take that to the extreme with many things.
(how about a 50 pound bag of sugar or two gallons of Mayonase!)

The people at BJs seemed to be friendlier, and more willing to help....and while all three had that warehouse "feel", Sams Club seemed to be almost out of control in terms of being messy.
(but then the Walmart next door is similar too)

But review above might only be valid in these particular stores...and even then, I might have hit a particularly good or bad work crew when I went. I like the idea that BJs has to give you the 60 day trial shopping with limitations. I think Sams also has some sort of "one day" memberships.....but Costco seemed almost militant about even letting me go in without a memberhip card. I needed to "register" and get a pass to even look!
(I was stopped at the door on the way in.....don't they think people come in to compare?)

Representatives at BJs and Sams Clubs gave me the pitch, gave me a sizable packet on their membership benefits and answered all my questions when I asked.....Costco was a bit different. The guy there simply have me a very thin flier and told me to look online. (not a very appealing sales job...and I had read online about how Costco employees are more motivated and friendly...I didn't see that, but maybe it was just the particular crew I ran up against)

First of all, it seems to me that warehouse shopping just doesn't fit our needs. The cost of membership needs to be considered, and while there appears to be savings to be had, unless we either buy everything there or we have our eyes on some bigger ticket items we would probably lose out. (and even the big ticket item argument might be dampened because of the limited selection and the ability to perhaps buy those on "special" at a regular buying last years lawn mowers at the start of snow season)

In fact, this was something I these clubs ever have "sales" to move old models?
(That's where a lot of savings can be had, and this I just don't know)

I guess general prices are a bit cheaper than just buying "off the rack" at department stores....but perhaps NOT if you look around and shop a bit. For example, the Microsoft Zune player was $239 at Costco....and it was $249 at Target.
(but Target was giving the buyer a $25 gift card for the it was LESS)

As I said before, I actually like the idea of bulk shopping for many items, but not everything, and this would mean that our shopping effort would be going up rather than down....and this is worth something too. If you had a situation with a bigger family or perhaps a business where you had a pretty constant volume of purchases of particular seems like a GREAT idea.
(Another example, I have a couple of older printers, and they just didn't carry the toner I needed)

So I will probably use my BJ's membership as much as I can over the next 60 days, and unless a bolt of lightning comes down hitting me and somehow really enhancing my shopping experience...I will probably let my membership lapse.

There certainly is decent savings to be had, but you have to "fit the mold" in order to realize it.

Check it out is a coupon for a 1-day BJs membership.
(hunt around, you might find coupons for the other places as well)

Check out other people's reviews too on BJs, Sams Club and Costco.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our investments (the general broad brush anyways)

I promised when I started this BLOG that I would talk a little about our own families assets and investments. I believe I said something to the effect that I wanted to figure out exactly what I wanted to disclose and how to dislose it.

I actually have little issue disclosing things to friends and people I know and trust, but the internet being a sort of "open book" means there are all kinds of people out there and while I am sure only "good" people read me....I figured I would just keep it general....after all, who really cares about little old me.

The first thing I think I will address is our risk tolorance. We have answered a number of worksheet questionaires that assess our risk tolorance, and I have to say my wife and I are a bit conservative when it comes to investing. I hate to lose money because I feel we have saved it and it feels as though all my work was for not if I lose it.

My proof of that assesment is found in my consern back in 2001 when the market was starting to tank. (I think it started in about March 2001) I was sick of seeing my portfolio drop, so on about September 4th I told our advisor to move it all to bonds. (just a few days before September 11th)

We lost about 25% in the big downturn in 2001....and I know people who lost a lot more. Of course I also did not get back in very early either, so I missed some of the subsequent ride back up too. (I told that story not to show you my "luck", but our risk aversion.)

So now that I told you that story about being conservative/worry wart investors, I am going to show you an asset allocation that sort of flies in the face of what I just said. To the right you will see that for all my worry, we actually have 77% of our portfolio in stock! (actually, we have only two individual stocks and a very small amount of those too...the rest of the investments are all in mutual funds)

I can already see the value of looking at this because in doing so the hairs on the back of my neck came up....leading me to think that in our next meeting with our advisor, I might ask that this percentage be shifted a bit more to bonds. (but I need to talk to Cheryl and our advisor first....whats the back back-of-the envelope rule for percent stocks, something like 110-your age in for me that would be 63%)

The other thing I didn't mention is that our conservative nature also means we have a very diversified portfolio of funds and fund families. But I'm not going to drag you through that detail.

As with stocks, our bond holdings come mostly in bond funds, although we do have some money in EEE Savings bonds (small bonds that my mother gave me as birthday gifts over the years) and a few iBonds. (again, not any large number of dollar value) We also own a City of Manchester zero coupon bond that I can honestly say I do not totally understand, but that seems to have appreciated in value quite nicely and I liked the idea of investing locally. (again, not very large in value)

The cash is mostly in a high yield savings account. (fully FDIC insured)

Now in terms of our return, the graph to the left shows the value of our portfolio over the past two years. You can see the general ups and downs of the market in that period, but also that we have made very decent gains. (about 8% per year, which is OK given the conservative natur of the portfolio and since I think inflation has been something like 3.4% in 2005 and about 2.7% so far this year)

Well, I am not sure that any of this information was helpful to anyone but myself. I think I will be looking to move some money out of stocks, and into bonds....and then into a bit move of it into foreign investments. (and am also thinking a small amount of non-dollar demonimated equities....but my advisor is not too keen on that....and I listen to him more times than not....except back there on September 4th, 2001....hmmm)

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Our Electric Bill Savings is visible!

It was only about a month ago (October 17th) that I BLOGGED about an energy measuring device called the the Kill A Watt, and it was with that post that I became conserned about our energy bills.

Our electricity costs had risen to about $100 or more a month and this was quite high for us.

Well, we just received our bill for the period of October 13th through November 10th and I am happy to report that it was only $74.86! (495 KWH) Also NOTICE that we missed 4 days of savings at the start of the billing period!

In fact, the bill has a little graph of electricity usage (to the right) and you can see that we have in fact been trying to save for the past 2 months or so and that our average daily consumption this past month is way down below the prior 11 months!

I think tools like the Kill A Watt made it crystal clear that things like computer monitors are bit money sinks, and that it REALLY makes sense to shut them down.

I think the Kill A Watt cost me about $29, and I almost paid for it in a month. (of course, not all the savings should be attributed to that device, but you get the picture)

Anyways......our basic savings routine now includes:
  1. Turn off all computers and monitors when not in use. (we still leave two computers on all the time, but the monitors OFF)
  2. Turn off all lights when you leave the room, and minimize lights while in room.
I guess you can save money if you put your mind to it!

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FREE WiFi....Again....FREE is good!

I must be on a FREE search mission tonight because I came up with another one.

I came across a BLOG tonight that pointed me at a website that gives you an access code from ATT to use their WiFi at select public locations. For example, the WiFi at Barnes and Noble in Nashua would be FREE through the end of the year with the coupon code.

Check out the debasite at:

BTW: The access code is: WP96-gVMB-7N

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Free is generally always good...right?

I like things that are FREE because generally, if you don't like what you get you can just throw it away!

I read a BLOG today that pointed me at a free piece of Open Source virus software called Clam Win. (that is supposed to handle SPYWARE as well...and i\I suppose there is no accounting for that name)

I have not idea if it works well or not, but I thought I would pass along the information anyways. I will probably try it out myself at some point....why not?

Check out:

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cool Gauge might help me "Save money" while Driving

Ok, I admit to being a bit of a geek at heart....and I'm not sure what the ROI would be on one of these things given that it costs $169.00 (free shipping though :-) {Hmmm: Also looks like it might be had for about $147 on EBay!)

But I like the idea of watching my fuel mileage....and all the other "cool things" you can do with it.

I already have an OBD-II scan code reader I bought on EBay for about $29.00....but if I didn't the ScanGauge II will do duty in that regard as well!

It plugs right into your OBD-II connector which should be within 1 meter of your steering column (generally under the dash) After that, if you want it in the car all the time, I guess you need to find a place to mount it. (double sticky tape maybe)

Here are some of the things it will read:

The ScanGaugeII allows you to troubleshoot your own car, read error codes, and the conditions present when the error occurred. You can also turn off the “Check Engine” light and avoid those costly trips to the mechanic.

Display 4 gauges at a time from the 12 built-in digital gauges. the information is presented in Real-time!

Automatically tracks four sets of trip data - Each with 11 individually stored parameters.

This is NOT an ad for this device.....and I have not tried it to report on it myself....but I am thinking of buying one....but what would the ROI (return on investment be) you ask.....back of the envelope says:

Driving 32,000 miles / year and getting about 33MPG means I burn about 970 gallons of fuel. If I increase that fuel mileage by 10% because of my better driving (a SWAG at best), I would then burn 882 gallons of fuel, or a savings of 88 gallons.

At $2.09 per gallon, my savings would be $184 per year! (wow) That means my ROI would be about 11 months! (but wait...the gauge actually saves me NOTHING, it only gives me visual feedback about my is the improvements in driving that saves money...and I can do that without a gauge!)

But the gauge is so cool! (oh well....I'll let my mind wrestle with that on the way home. :-)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Save money buy buying used cars with great repair histories

I suppose my comments here are as obvious as the ass on a goat, but I think we sometimes have to say these things to ourtselves a few times before they sink in.

We have all heard about how the simple act of driving a new car off the lot lowers it's value by 20%...yet when it comes to car buying, many of us continue to shun the thought of buying used. I have bought used about 50% of the time, and to be honest, I have had great luck with those purchases. (perhaps even better luck than with the new cars....let's just say the worst issues I had were with the new purchases)

The second thing we hear is that it is cheaper to run a car into the ground rather than trade it in every two or three years. This makes total sense to me, and this is generally what I have done all my life.

I believe I have only gotten rid of one pick-up truck before it's time. (other than the two other vehicles I totaled) Since about 1984, I have never gotten rid of a car with less than 180,000 miles on it. (several just under or just over 200,000 miles)

But my metric for getting rid of a car is cost of ownership and reliability. I expect to spend about $2500 per year (give or take) on a car. When it is new, this is that I want to see for payments. When it is old, I don't want to see repair costs going above that. But even more important, I want the car to remain reliable. As soon as I start seeing issues that might leave me stranded on the highway when it is 15 degrees below zero....that vehicle is on the short list to be replaced.

But what about reliability? Well, I try to consider that when I buy the car. Waiting until it has 150,000 miles is a little too late to think about that. Look at the ratings before you buy it, and I would choose this factor over any of the sex-appeal factors of looks or performance. In other words, I plan to "run it into the ground" and I want to maximize my long term value.

EG: I would much prefer the Volvo 240DL over the Fiat whatever. (I don't think there are FIATs here in the states any more....not sure)

So where to start when looking for reliability.....check friends and family first. Particularly if they tend to keep cars for a long time. Then check the road you drive on....look for older cars and see which they are. (bad cars get traded out much quicker than old reliable cars)

When all else fails, check out the Consumer Reports reliability issue that come out every year. I'm not sure I totally buy into all their ratings, but they are a good point from which to start. (

Here is a list of "good" cars from this years Consumer Reports article:

CR Good Bets
The best of both worlds

These are models that have performed well in Consumer Reports road tests over the years and have proved to have several or more years of better-than-average Used Car Verdict. They are listed alphabetically.

Acura Integra
Acura MDX
Acura RL
Acura RSX
Acura TL
BMW Z3, Z4
Buick Regal
Chevrolet Prizm
Ford Crown Victoria
Ford Escort
Mustang (V8)
Honda Accord
Honda Civic
Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda CR-V
Honda Element
Honda Odyssey
Honda Pilot
Honda Prelude
Honda S2000
Infiniti FX35 (V6)
Infiniti G20

Infiniti G35
Infiniti I30, I35
Infiniti QX4
Lexus ES300, ES330
Lexus GS300/GS400, GS430
Lexus IS300
Lexus GX470
Lexus LS400, LS430
Lexus RX300, RX330
Lincoln Town Car
Mazda Millenia
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda Protegé
Mercury Grand Marquis
Mitsubishi Galant
Nissan Altima
Nissan Maxima
Nissan Murano
Nissan Pathfinder
Pontiac Vibe

Subaru Forester
Subaru Impreza
Subaru Impreza
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Avalon
Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry Solara
Toyota Celica
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Echo
Toyota Highlander
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Matrix
Toyota Prius
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Sequoia
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Tundra

Here are some of their questionable cars:

CR Bad Bets

These models from the Used Cars to Avoid list have shown multiple years of much-worse-than-average Used Car Verdicts. They have regularly shown more problems than most models each production year.

BMW 7 Series
BMW X5 (V8)
Chevrolet Astro
Chevrolet Blazer
Chevrolet Express 1500
Chevrolet S-10 (4WD)
Chevrolet TrailBlazer
Chevrolet Venture
Chrysler Town & Country (AWD)
Dodge Grand Caravan (AWD)
GMC Envoy
GMC Jimmy
GMC Safari
GMC Savana 1500
GMC Sonoma (4WD)
Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar X-Type

Kia Sedona
Land Rover Discovery
Lincoln LS
Lincoln Navigator
Mercedes-Benz CLK
Mercedes-Benz E-Class (V8)
Oldsmobile Alero
Oldsmobile Bravada
Oldsmobile Silhouette
Pontiac Aztek
Pontiac Trans Sport/Montana
Saturn Vue (AWD)
Volkswagen Cabrio
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen New Beetle
Volkswagen Passat Wagon (V6)
Volvo XC90

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Book Burro: Saving money on Book Purchases

Do you like to read?

Do you like to save money?

Would you rather not only find a book for a lower price at a bookstore, but perhaps even just find it at a local library to save buying it all together?

Well you answered YES to these, then you might want to check-out BOOKBURRO.ORG.

It is a Firefox Browser add-on that allows you to search for books by ISBN number. It has a connection to a number of online bookstores as well as the ability to find books in local libraries.

I was shocked to find that not only the Boston Public Library was included in their search, but also Rivier College, the college I am taking MBA classes at currently.

Check out BOOKBURRO.ORG, it is really cool!

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Charitable Giving is a Part of Personal Finance too

Tis the season to give!

I was reading a personal finance BLOG today that was talking about how it is "More Blessed to give than to receive". Being a Christian, this is certainly something I have been taught all my life as well...but trust me, I'm not here to preach.

Ok...there are plenty of aspects of charitable giving that can be discussed. The most obvious is the implications it has on one's taxes, and while this is certainly perhaps the most obvious one to discuss in a Personal Fianance BLOG...I think I will leave that to others.

Another couple of angles from which to discuss giving comes from our general giving back to society, and how we might try to teach our kids about that same thing. (here is an NPR broadcast that talks about teaching kids about giving) I could go on and on about this sort of thing, but this might be considered preachy....and while I think discussing charitable giving IS fair game for a personal finance BLOG, I'm going there in this post.

So without getting into religion or morals I will say that I think the most good we can have is when we roll-up our sleeves and get personally involved in a charity. Giving money is certainly easier, is tax deductable and in any cases may be the most helpful thing for a particular charity, but I feel our hands-on support is as good for us as it is for the people we try to help. (and it does go a lot longer way to teaching our kids the lesson of charity. Writing a check just does not give children the same "connection" to the help being given.)

Don't worry, I am not going to "push" a particular charity...I think you can find one that you would want to support right in your own town! There is no shortage of need even in a country as blessed with wealth as ours. (and there are certainly plenty more in the rest of the world too)

The above mentioned BLOG did turn me on to what looks like a very useful website that evaluates charities. It apparently looks through their form 990 tax returns from which it breakdown the charities income and how it is spent. If you have a list of charities you give to, you can look them up there....but perhaps even more interesting is the "search" mechanism you can use to fine one that caters to a particular mission.

So no matter how much money you make, I do urge you to give back. If you don't have time or money...I suggest simple random acts of kindness would be great. (actually, that would be great for everyone to consider too....starting today! After all, tomorrow is World Kindness Day)

Tis the season to give, and you will feel better having done so too!

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Calendar of Economic Announcements

Just a quick post about a site that I found that seems to list all the various world economic indicators announcement dates. The owner of the site, Grace Cheng is a Forex money trader who BLOGs and offers a class on trading...and this sort of detail is apparently very important in the currency exchange world. (which I keep reading is the largest global trading market)

Anyways, I am not an expert in all these statistics, but I find them interesting.....while it might take me while to feel at home with any of the numbers, I think the longer term trend might be what might be useful to me. (because right now I tend to have many more buy and hold investments)

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

ReviewME pays Bloggers for reviews

This is another interesting thing that the 21st century work of the internet and Blogging has spun-off....the site is set-up as a place where companies and bloggers gather.

Gather for what you may ask....well, companies are looking for explosure on the net (read that advertizing) and bloggers just love to write about things.....a match made in heaven!

Bloggers sign up with the service and if your BLOG meets the requirement for volume of subscriptions and reads, you will be offered products and services to review. You will be paid between $20 and $200 to write your review and post it to your BLOG.

Two things to clarify....first, you can turn down any requests for reviews that the compant sends your way....and second, you are NOT required (and can not be required) to post a positive review. I am assuming that honesty is the only requirement.

Check it out at .

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Thankful on Veterans Day: Our country, still a very special place

I was trying to think of a reason to post a Veterans day message on my money BLOG. While I was driving to the Nashua NH Veteran's day parade it struck linkage.

It really doesn't have so much to do with Veterans Day, as with our entire country. You see there are plenty of places in the world where the kind of frustration and anger that has been builting up over the war (and that created our President's dissaproval numbers) would have resulted in blood in the streets. (either from citizen riots or police crackdowns)

But here in the USA, people went to the polls and made their opinions plainly evident. With a single vote, we have demanded and hopefully received change.

No shots blood in the streets. Totally peaceful change. (my father used to say this to me what I was younger)

So what does this have to do with money you ask. Well I think it has plenty to do with it because it shows the great calm and stability of our country. This stability is important to people investing...and right now with our trade deficits at current levels, we have plenty of other countries "investing" in us. (they are loaning us the money we need to run these debts up)

The last thing the people loaning us money want to see is their money dissappearing, so when they see such mass emotion taken out at the voting booth....and even more importantly, when we don't see the losers of the election taking to the street and causing trouble. This has to be looked at and seen as a very positive thing.

Sure, the USA is far from perfect. Our system of government has flaws, some of our leaders have flaws, and our economy is currently in a slow-slide. But rather and wringing our hands in worry let us remember that no country or person is perfect either, and our system of government is flexible and strong enough to adjust, learn from our mistakes and always strive to make things better.

I used to worry that when the USA started to get our financial trade house in order that we could see the kind of tension that would cause mass protests and unrest...and that this would make those buying our bonds leary and hesitant to continue their support/investment. But I think the very peaceful correction that occured in the vote last Tuesday will go a long way to calming their fears.

So there....our country is the connection betwen Veterans day and the money topic in this post. Our veterans sacraficed and did such great things for this country because it was a place worth it to them....and ths should allow us all to feel good about our Veterans, *AND* our country.

Happy Veterans Day to all!

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Currency Information Site

Here is an interesting website for those of you who have an interest in either tracking or knowing more about foreign currency exchange rates.

This site has many simple conversion tools as well as a lot of information to help you learn more about currency exchange and the world of money. I have looked around this site quite a bit tonight, and I feel I have barely scratched he surface.

Check it out.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Teaching kids about money and saving....

When I was a kid, I remember my parents teaching me about money and the value of saving. But I also remember that they did more than just "tell me" what to do...they would walk the talk as well.

My parents were not wealthy....and they started life from very humble beginnings. My mother had a high school education, and my father finished college in his mid-thirties.

Both of them had to work to make ends meet, but they were always happy and never in debt. They kept telling me that the key to it all was being frugal and having a mind to save!

So when my wife Cheryl and I had kids, we talked a lot about what we wanted to teach them...and how we would also try to practice what we preach. (I hope we are at least a little successful)

We wanted to give our daughters an appreciation for how saving could be done, so we decided to start by giving them an incentive to save. It all started with their receiving an allowance for doing their chores. We tried to connect the chores with the allowance, though I don't think we ever held it back if chores were not all completed. (they sort of worked on salary I guess...but they did their chores)

But how to teach saving....well, I thought that I would introduce them to the idea of making interest in money saved. But kids have a short attention span....they were not going to see the value of earning 10% per I raised the ante and offered them 10% a month! (and I rounded up to the closest dollar)

We would get together at the end of each month, look in their saving box and I would pay them the interest right on the spot. It started out giving them a buck or two, but when they saw it growing, they naturally started holding the money. They quickly saw that they could actually make more in interest payments than in allowance....and if they were patient enough, they would be buying candy with interest alone with no need to touch the new allowance or principle!

Soon after that, they noticed that their saving would allow them to have enough to buy some pretty cool things they wanted. Kristen actually bought Elijah (her dog) for $600 at one point!

What did I do when their savings level hit $500 and I was giving out $50 a month....I kept it up because I saw it was working and they were really thinking about whether they wanted to "blow" money on something or save it. (besides, if I quit, they certainly would have had an incentive to just spend it)

I think they both ended up with about $1000 in savings each, and this was what they used to open up their bank account that they have to this day.

I guess the lesson I myself learned is two fold.....first, if you want to teach your kids something, you have to be proactive and do it. You can't expect them to somehow "pick it up" along the way. (It's the parents responsibility)

Second, once we started, we had to keep it up, and more importantly....we had to ourselves be live by example ourselves. So Cheryl and I always tried to save, and to include out girls in on that thought.

So far, both of our girls have turned out to be very good with money, and very frugal as well. I believe it was at least in part due to our little lessons along the way.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Our Elected Officials Finances

I was going to post here simply reminding people to VOTE tomorrow....but being a finance/money/frugality BLOG, I thought I needed a "money" angle to the post.

My next thought was...."vote your pocketbook"....or "look at how much tax you pay"....but you know, there are other things in life besides money, and plenty of other reasons to vote. (probably more important things in the long run too)

But when I found this little website put up by The Center for Responsive Politics, I thought I had made the connection. the info here will probably NOT sway your vote one way or the other...and I'm not suggesting it should. But it is very interesting to see the diversity of wealth and income among our current elected officials.

These people also have a lot of other information on our elected officials, some that they claim might help you decide when you are in the voting booth. I don't know about that since I have not looked at all the other information. (Reader beware I guess)

Check it out at:

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Interesting site with plenty of useful tools

Just a quick post to tell you about a site that has quite a number of great calculator and tools on it to help people make their money and investment decisions.

For those of you who have an interest in Economics, they have a page that describes some of the economic indicators and when they are posted. This page also links you to the official government website that discusses that particular statistic.

Here is a page they put together to help people understand the value of a particular stock.

How about a page the describes Index Funds and some of the plusses and minuses in your using them.

The list of tools goes on and on.... (Roth IRA info, Capital Gains Calculators, Inflation Calculators, etc....)

Check it out.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book Review: "Exporting America"

I just finished reading a book titled "Exporting America" written by Lou Dobbs. The book was a fairly quick read, and it was written in a very straight forward and fact-filled way. The stories and information described was often very least if you have been watching the exportation of American jobs over the last decade.

If you are you type who has no consern for the massive outsourcing that is going on these days, then this is a great primer for you on the situation. Unlike the Three Billion New Capitalists book I mentioned earlier, this book is a bit more straight forward and while filled with plenty of facts....the volume of information isn't so large as to blow the back of your head off.

If you are someone who is already inclined to believe that outsourcing is a problem, and that we need to talk about fair as opposed to totally open trade...then this book might be preaching to the converted. (though it is still a good might want to skip right over the the 3 Billion Capitalists book straight away)

Trust me....I've worked in the computer industry for over 20 years now, and the outsourcing is front and center in your face. It is quite sad to see how we bend over backwards to cut the cost of Engineering salaries. We often train the very people that will be taking our jobs. Such is life. (It may be fact, but I don't have to enjoy or agree with it)

Anyways/ my pile of books is growing faster than I am reading them.....and have three books sitting looking for my attention.

Beginners Guide to the World Economy, The Chinese Century, and Economics: Making sense of the Modern Economy.

Please tell me about any interesting books you might have read long the line of these....I'd love to add them to my reading list.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Wow, what a great FREE Cell Phone Driven service for buyers! (

Wow, I came across this Yahoo Finance article on a Comparison Shopping service that can be accessed by calling on a cell phone.

I've tried it...and it works great! (and best of all, it is totally FREE!)

You go to the web page: (BTW: The FRU in the name stands for "Frugal")

You create an account with your name, email address and cell phone number and then when you call the phone number 1-888-DO-FRUCALL (1-888-363-7822) and key in the 10 or 12 digit bar-code...a computer generated voice attendent gives you comparative prices right then and there! (including shipping costs, and the place they are referencing which seems to be online stores)

It works incredibly well....try it yourself!

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Does the National Association of Home Builders Buyers Confidence index measure future Stock Market Pricing?

I just read this article in Yahoo Finance that references the graph here. This graph was created by Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab & Co. It is a comparison graph of the National Association of Home Builders' Housing Market index (a monthly measure of builder confidence) against the S & P 500 stock market index, with a one-year delay.

It is an amazing fit, at least since about 1994. (I wonder why the start of the line before '94 was not a good fit at all?) Anyways, as you can see, the start of 2006 shows a severe slide of confidence, and according to this article, the worst slide in housing ever.

According to Warren Brussey's (who wrote the book "The Second Great Depression") November Amazon BLOG entry:
"To keep selling homes, builders have reduced prices nearly 10% in the last year, the largest drop in 35 years. Existing home prices have dropped 2.5%, the largest drop in history; but they still are not selling."
The one year delay may make some sense, not only because (as the Yahoo Article notes):
"Housing downturns happen in a fairly slow-motion way, and I really think we're just at the beginning of the impact on the market and the economy."
Another interesting comment I came across in this Merriman Capital Podcast dated November 3rd was that there was a lot of money fleeing the housing market right now, and going into stocks. They wondered if this might might be what is currently driving the market up right now and if this rise might continue just a little longer until either the money is all in play, or housing gets better. (this might be the reason for the typical 1 year "delay")

In searching for others who might have beat me to this story, I found two people who already BLOGGED about this very thing. Larry Nusbaum's BLOG describes a 79% correlation between the two plots since 1994.....but even Larry references WCW's BLOG that shows that before 1994, there was very little correlation. (so who knows what kind of connection there really is.....or what other factors are also involved)

Just as a somwhat related aside, here is another page guy (
Nouriel Roubini is a professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at NYU and chairman of Roubini Global Economics, an economic consultant group.) who believes the rise in prices since about 1997 have had no economic reason behind them....except perhaps a speculative run-up. He notes that this bubble is now popping.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Half of my VG turns into CHU!


Well, about two months ago I decided I wanted to think about getting rid of my Vonage stock. I started by setting up a Scottrade Account ($7 internet trades) and having my Vonage stock transfered there. Then I sat and waited for the stock to rise a bit.

I had bought the stock at something like $9.00 a share when I thought it was an absolutely great buy. I do honestly believe that VoiP is the wave of the future, and I thought that Vonage was going to cash in on it by being there FIRST and biggest in the market. (They may still do that, but given their current state of disfavor, I don't think the stock is going up very soon.)

But at about the time I invested, the IPO buyers were all bent out of shape because they felt that had been taken. Then there were bits of bad news about companies takign Vonage to court for patent infringment, and several other negative news things came up...the stock quickly tanked to below $7.00 a share.

I still think Vonage is an OK company, but people think of it as a damaged I wanted out. But what to buy?

I started looking around, and I was always taught to invest in things you understand and believe in. In my travels, I have heard the stories of how the cell phone will be the dominent "appliance" in the world...NOT the computer. I thought of growing areas....and India and China came to mind. So I searched for mobile phone telecommunications companies there...and found good things being said about China Unicom LTD (CHU) and China Mobile Limited (CHL).

CHL is a big player, and CHU the smaller....and people were saying good things about both. I decided to sell half my VG and buy CHU, and I never looked back. (I liked the numbers behind CHU a bit more, but both seem like interesting companies.)

I sold the VG at about $7.20/share and bought the CHU for about $10.25/share. The VG has since sunk to about $6.56/share, and CHU is up to $11.49/share. I missed the latest high with VG, and should have just sold it all rather than being greedy. Next time is goes up, I'm out of VG for good!

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