Sunday, May 31

Frugal is SEXY!

To piggyback a bit on my friend J. Money, "Frugal is SEXY!"

Okay, on a first date, it might not be the ultimate turn-on to whip out a coupon (unless you're the one being taken out), but otherwise, frugality is pretty freakin' hot!

Tim has worked his way from spendthrift to frugal! And I gotta tell ya, it's pretty sexy! (Psst, J. Money, you should totally trademark the phrase, so that we all have to use "TM" and pay you money. Talk about budget-friendly!)

When I met Tim, he routinely overdrafted and that wasn't even the end of the fees. When his account stayed in the negative for more than a couple of days, he would get charged a daily $7 thanks the fuzzy, cuddly folks at U.S. Bank (boo! hiss!).

In addition, whenever he saw something he wanted, he got it. He could actually spend his whole paycheck in one day. (Luckily, I wasn't around for that part. I think I'd have fainted dead away. Or thrown up. And throwing up is NOT sexy!)

Over the past three years, though, he's been making huge strides. In fact, lately, he's been outdoing me!

We decided to splurge and see Up in 3D. Problem? Tickets were a whopping $14 each! (hat's $10.50 for the movie and $3.50 for the 3D format, in case you're interested.) Cringe-worthy to say the least.

Thankfully, Tim remembered that our beloved Entertainment Book had coupons for Regal Cinemas. It wasn't huge, but we managed to save $5 total on our entrance. Plus we got free popcorn and free soda, since it was the theater's grand opening.

But the savings don't stop there! Now every time we bite the bullet and pay for a movie at Regal, we'll bring our handy-dandy coupons with us. It will bring ticket prices down to $6.50 (with an extra $1.50 if we want to see a starred attraction). That means a savings of $8 any time we go to a non-AMC theater. Ka-ching!

Of course, this isn't the only time that Tim has shown an interest in saving money. Something just seems to have really clicked lately. He was trying to be diligent before, but it was always an effort. Now I find him saying things like, "I'm just trying to help you not spend money unnecessarily." (How HOT is that?!)

Recently, we were at QFC, and ice cream was on sale for $2.88. Since we were going to Safeway right after, I suggested we get the ice cream there, so it wouldn't melt in the car. I said it was $2.99 there. He said -- get this -- "Well, yeah, but 10 ten cents or so can really add up over time."

It was all I could do to not whirl around, grab him, dip him, and kiss him right there in the frozen foods. On second thought, maybe I should have at least tried: positive reinforcement and all. On third thought, though, I'm not strong enough to dip him; and I don't think there's much positive reinforcement in getting dropped by your wife onto a hard linoleum floor. Romance in the modern age is tough!

Seriously, though, I'm just incredibly impressed by how diligent Tim is being. He and I have started having dialogues about purchases that I don't start. Before he would just listen to what I had to say, nod and then we'd go put the plan into action. Now, he engages me in discussion and helps me brainstorm other ways to save -- or to do without the item entirely.

It's clear he's really gotten into this frugal thing. He's eager to help save money, and even more eager to avoid future debt as much as possible. He even told me that he wants to be able to pay cash when we buy a car.

I'm just so proud of how far he's come on the financial side of things. Sure, some of it is reflected glory, since I have been pushing him. But mostly it's just a testament to his determination and willpower. He has changed -- or at least tamed -- his spending ways. He's started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel: a debt-free life. He's done it for me, but also for himself and mainly for our life together.

It's incredibly sweet and very wonderful. And also pretty durn sexy!

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Friday, May 29

Freebie Friday

Freebie Friday is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger.

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Try an Alouette Cheese Wedge for free after mail in rebate.

Borders is offering a printable coupon for a free small coffee through 5/31/09.

Get a free one year subscription to Car & Driver magazine from Rewards Country. is offering a free “Save Water. Drink Riesling” reusable shopping bag (bottom of page).

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Enter your cell phone number here (bottom of page) and receive a coupon via text for free Sopapillas or bowl of Queso at On The Border Restaurants. is still offering a free tea sample.

Teenagers can get a free 2 month summer membership at Lifestyle Family Fitness Centers.

Send an email here to receive a free sample of Glue Dots.

Burt’s Bees is giving away free product coupons for lip balm.


Wednesday, May 27

Will annual fees turn you off credit cards?

When Congress was considering the new credit card laws, the card companies made quite a fuss. They said that credit cards would become harder to obtain (I'm assuming this is supposed to be a bad thing), rewards cards would become more scarce and annual fees would probably become a basic fact of life.

Frankly, I think it was a bluff. I think the credit card companies were hoping to create a public outcry. Congress would have it heed the constituents' opinions, and the the law would be thrown out.

Of course, even if this had been a bluff, the fact is that no one flinched. I mean, plenty of PF bloggers commented. But overall, we welcomed the changes to the industry.

That makes me wonder if the companies won't follow through on their threats. After all, we proved that we're willing to survive harder credit terms, if it goes hand-in-hand with a more level playing field. So why wouldn't the companies try some of the ideas?

At least in the short term, I would need to keep two cards: one with the balance we're carrying, one for any new charges we have to put through. In the end, I do agree with my mom that two cards is generally a good idea (link). But I would probably keep it to that.

So for me, annual fees aren't enough to make me give up credit cards, even if we could afford to right now. But it has affected which cards I might keep. Tim and I recently decided to get rid of one of our cards. Originally, we had decided to nix the United Airlines card we have through Chase. I had signed up for one to help us get free tickets for our honeymoon. (I had my mom get one too, so we had enough for two people's plane fare.)

We had chosen the United card because it has an annual fee. The fee is payable with rewards miles, but it's still unpleasant to lose potential rewards. Now that annual fees may become commonplace, though, this may become an appealing option.

So what about you? Will you pony up for an annual fee? Will you swear off credit cards altogether? For that matter, do you think the credit companies will follow through with their threats?

Tuesday, May 26

West Coasters unite!

Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks beat me to the punch in posting about it, but I've been pondering trying to organize some sort of meet-up for awhile. She and I discussed it a bit on Twitter. Then the crafty gal, went and took some action. (It was bound to be her first, given my recent procrastination streak.)

For obvious reasons of energy, I'm hoping to keep things in Seattle. But Portland is possible in a pinch. My mom has already expressed some interest in rallying some troops.

It just seems like those East Coasters are always meeting up and having a great time. Meanwhile, there are at least 4 Vancouver-area bloggers I know of, a couple in WA, a couple in OR and at least one in CA. And I have a relatively limited knowledge of the blogosphere!

For religious reasons, Shevy would need at least some of the activities to take place on Sunday. But we could potentially also organize some general sight-seeing stuff on Saturday if there were an interest. Mom and I have at least three (maybe four) Entertainment Books between the two of us. Those have coupons for plenty of museums and other attractions. (Because you can't go on a vacation to see PF bloggers and spend full price!)

It sounded like some folks would be up for camping. Bless their hearts. Maybe I'll come by their tents so I can make some s'mores. But I'm not very outdoorsy. (My TempurPedic and I have a deep relationship that I'm quite content in. We miss each other when I'm not around. Don't worry, Tim knows all about it.) So if you're like me and interested in a meet-up but also in an affordable hotel, we can probably make that happen.

If and when we have a better idea of who wants to come, I can call some hotels and see if we can qualify for a group discount. If that fails, there is always Priceline, I suppose.

Anyway, Krystal is thinking next year, but if anyone is interested, we could probably do a mid- to late-summer meet-up this year. Depending on everyone's schedules. At the very least, we need to convene next year.

What does everybody think?

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Monday, May 25

The TWO secrets of frugality revealed here!

Once upon a time, I said that the real key to frugality is simply thinking ahead. Well, I'm going to amend that.

Planning is still an integral part of living affordably. After all, if you plan to bring a lunch to a long excursion, you won't be tempted to buy fast food. (Savings: $5-8.) If you plan ahead on every purchase -- that is, not buying the first model you see on impulse -- you ensure that you always get the best product for your needs. This avoids the costly desire to upgrade, and gives you a better chance of having a long-lasting item, which saves on replacement costs. (Savings: Immeasurable.)

Similarly, you can avoid stores that you know will tempt you. (I try never to go into clothing stores unless absolutely necessary. In fact, I try to avoid malls whenever possible.) You can also plan out your budget, so that you know ahead of time exactly how much you can afford to spend. This means you always have money available for bills.

But you know all this. You're intelligent folks who are working toward being frugal. You know the basics. You know the axioms. In fact, you probably even know this second part, too: Keep pushing.

That's simple enough, right? I mean, who doesn't know that you can't be complacent in life? On some level, we all know this. Most of us even practice it.

I suppose the real questions are, "Do you practice it enough? Do you realize just how valuable a resource persistence is?"

I was recently struck by the sheer power of dogged determination. It has saved me a lot of money over the years. While I know this abstractly, once I sat down and thought about it, I was rather amazed by just how true this was.

For example, our new phone. Our old one recently gave up the ghost after 6-7 years of faithful service. (We could dial out, but the person on the other end couldn't hear anything.) While phones can certainly last longer, this particular one owed us nothing. The plastic antenna cover had fallen off about a month before its official demise. We had replaced the battery once. Most importantly, it had survived far too many of my temper tantrums. Which I'm working on. In the past, though, these often meant the poor device got thrown across the room. Sometimes at walls. All of which it bounced back from. We decided a DNR was the most humane thing.

We would have gone shopping for a new one, but my mom happened to have one in abeyance. It was free after rebate, and she figured hers would eventually die. (See what I mean about forethought? She's the queen of anticipating needs.)

So we charged that one up and used it. For two days. Then it stopped working. We put it back on the base to charge, but that did nothing. I pulled out the instructions and reviewed them. It was a relatively simple phone, so there could only have been a couple of reasons for it not working. As it turned out, the battery pack had come unplugged in back. Simple, easy, and then it was working just fine.

I felt proud. True, this was a minor thing, but I'd saved us the inconvenience of dealing with customer service. And allegedly there are people out there who'd have assumed the phone was just badly made and bought a replacement. So a quick bit of persistence on my part paid off.

Certainly, though, this determination has saved us on bigger things. Like when we'd resigned ourselves to paying for a new Xbox 360. Despite having gone through all the resources two or three times, I decided one day to do one last search for Xbox problems/fixes. Paging through the results, I found an article about a new glitch that Microsoft was fixing for free. It turned out not to be relevant to our situation, but the piece mentioned that "Red Ring of Death" consoles could be fixed for an additional two years after purchase.

With that information, we got Microsoft to repair the Xbox for free. That saved us $200. Technically, those $200 would mainly have been gift cards. But getting that many rewards point would have taken a lot of time and effort. In fact, we saved at least 2-3 months, during which Tim would have had no way to play video games. Hardly a life-threatening condition, but it would have resulted in increased restlessness, which could have resulted in more entertainment expenses.

Instead, thanks to a little extra effort on my part, Tim has his games and we have the rewards points to use for holiday gifts. That's a pretty happy outcome for everyone!

Let's not forget about the time Tim needed to switch insurance. If I had taken the operator's first answer (or her second, third, or fourth), Tim would have been uninsured for one month, and his conditions would have been considered preexisting for a second month. That would have been, at minimum, $500 of medical bills. It probably would have been closer to $1000.

Finally, there was Tim's trip to the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC). We got the bill later and it was around $400. Not quite in our budget. So we called and requested a financial aid packet. We were told that, since he had insurance, there was about zero chance we'd qualify. While we're still waiting for the final bill, the last operator I spoke to said the hospital is covering at least 80%.

It's actually a tad astounding, really, when you sit down and think of all the ways that frugal folks save by being persistent:

  • We clip coupons.
  • Most of us don't use coupons right away, but instead wait for sales, thereby getting the most bang for our buck.
  • We make sure that warranties are honored.
  • We try to fix things if they're "already broken anyway."
  • Before we buy new, we shop used
  • Before we buy at all, we see if we can do without
  • If we can't do without, we see if there are lower-cost alternatives
  • We comparison shop to get the best price.
  • We're always looking for new frugal hacks, never complacent in our savings
  • We spend less so that we can pay down debt faster (saving us interest charges)
  • We spend less so that we can save more money (gaining us interest from banks)
  • Most of you save for emergencies, so that unexpected charges don't go on a card, where interest will accrue.
  • We find ways to pay less for our entertainment, including taking advantage of free previews and movie tickets. (Incidentally, Coke Rewards has reinstated the AMC tickets as a redemption option.)
  • We constantly differentiate between "need" and "want."

Okay, well I'm sure there are plenty of other ways that I haven't thought of. Please help me out by naming some!


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Friday, May 22

Friday Freebies

Freebie Fridays are brought to you courtesy of The Freebie Blogger. Check this site out everyday for the latest offers, free samples and more!

Walmart is offering a free sample of Garnier Ultra-Lift Pro Deep Wrinkle Cream with SPF 20.

Join the Quiznos Q club and get a coupon for a free sammie as a thank you for signing up along with a coupon for a free cookie on your birthday.

Sign up to receive a free sample of Nexcare Bandages. There is a limited amount of samples available each day.

Get a free o.b. tampon sample when you vote for the sustainable cause you believe in most. You can also get a Playtex sample here.

Acuvue is offering four free contact lens trial pair certificates.

Here is yet another link to get a free sample of Nutrish Dog Food from Rachael Ray.

Sign up to receive a free Iowa Travel Guide, Calendar of Events and the Iowa Transportation Map. This is a great offer for those of you thinking of traveling to Iowa and also for current residents.

Get a Blue Bunny Apsen or Sedona Frozen Yogurt Granola Novelty Product free after mail in rebate.

Arm & Hammer is offering a free coloring book called Law & Odor.

Sign up to receive a free Nicoderm CQ non medicated sample and $7 off coupon.

Thursday, May 21

We're making progress

CC balance (4/22): $8342.74
CC balance (5/19): $6997.99

Yep, that's right folks: When the payment goes through tomorrow, we'll officially be under the $7,000 mark!

This was an exceptional month, mainly because we had a nice lil $500 boost from our favorite Uncle (Sam). I got $250 as part of the Economic Recovery Program. This amount was sent to people on SSI and, I believe, also disability. Tim got the other $250 as backpay from the unemployment department. Apparently there was a $25/week increase back in mid-February, but the state of Washington didn't get its act together until last week.

I'm pretty proud of us, though, because even without the $500 boost, we were able to pay down $844.75 of debt. Out of our actual budget of $3,145 (now $3245, thanks to the unemployment increase), that means we paid 27% of our relatively modest income toward debt.

My ongoing efforts to make a buck...

Another piece of good news: We didn't have to get a new Xbox 360! It turns out we were still in the warranty period for the Red Ring of Death. It's just that, in Tim's three or four phone calls to Microsoft, no one informed him that the warranty had been extended for an extra two years for equipment that exhibits the Red Ring of Death. We sent it off at no charge and were not charged for repairs.

So Tim gets his Xbox 360 back, and I get to throw rewards' money at debt. In the case of gift cards, I will either save them for Christmas shopping or I can sell them on eBay and put the proceeds against debt.

Here's an update of how my efforts:


I'm happy to announce I finally got my first check from ebates, which Liz Pulliam Weston cites as one of the best sites for bargain hunting. We're not talking huge money by any stretch, but I was more than happy to put that $35.61 against our debt in this week's payment.

If you haven't yet joined ebates, now's the time. When you sign up, you get an automatic $5 credit to your account. This is an especially good idea if you have a lot of impressionable friends. Normally, you get $5 per referral; but for a limited time, every three friends you refer doubles the bonus. So instead of $15, you'll get $30.

When you're already planning on buying something anyway, it just makes sense to go through a program like this. (And to profit off your more obedient friends!) Sign up today!

Inbox Dollars

I'm almost ready to get my first check from Inbox Dollars. The minimum payout is $30, and I'm at $28.79. It's amazing how those emails add up! I didn't do any cash shopping and did very few surveys or cash offers. There are plenty of both, so depending on your willingness to participate, you could get your first $30 pretty quickly. Or, like me, you can just rely on those emails to add up over time. Either way, free money is free money.


I'm almost at $25. After that, I may quit. I haven't decided yet. The main reason I loved this program was that it offered the daily lottery for 100 points a day: 10 points per game, 10 games a day.

So imagine my dismay to find that the lottery games are now only worth 1 point each. I wrote customer support explaining how upset I was that we weren't notified about the change. I didn't get a very satisfactory reply.

That said, there are some decent deals. For example, the site routinely doubles the points offered. This came in handy when we were replacing a pair of Tim's shoes. Shoebuy was cheaper than DSW, wouldn't charge us sales tax and has free shipping. We also got 15,600 points. (For reference, 19,300 points will get you $10.)

There are also routine opportunities to earn 480-600 per survey. A new one is introduced every two or three weeks. And if you can qualify for and finish the OTX daily survey, you make a quick 720 points.

In other words, the utility of Memolinks will probably be vary by person. Like I said, I'm torn about continuing. I'll keep you guys updated.

And saving the best for last....


I am soooo addicted to Swagbucks, I may actually need an intervention!

When I wrote about rewards programs back on April 14th, I had 179 Swagbucks. Thanks to some referrals and being diligent about Swagcodes (more on that in a moment), I'm up to 393 (UPDATE: make that 411, as of 4 p.m. PST). For the math averse among you, that's 214 (er, 232) Swagbucks in just over 30 days!

How is such a thing possible? As with most things on the Internet, referrals are a large part. When you refer someone, you earn a buck for each buck he or she wins, up to 100. Tim and my Mom were a big help in this area, though a couple of you readers gave me a boost too.

Another big help: Swagcodes. Periodically, Swagbucks will post a code (or a clue to a code) on the Swagbucks blog or Facebook page. These are usually worth one Swagbuck. Given that there's usually one a day, that can add up pretty quickly. For those of you who pay attention to Twitter, follow Swagbucks, which will tweet every time there's a new code up. Otherwise, I like to use Engineer a Debt Free Life. It's good about keeping current on codes. I check it around three or four times a day.

I'm not sure what I'm going to get but here's a cool sampling:

  • 45 Swagbucks for a $5 Amazon GC. Save them up for a big item, or use these for cheap, reader-attracting giveaways on your site!
  • 220 Swagbucks for $20 Target GC. There's pretty much always something I need in that store. I'm not sure if it's evil or wonderful. But it's definitely useful.
  • 320 Swagbucks for a $25 Macy's GC. Free clothes? A discount on a wedding gift for the upcoming nuptials season? The possibilities abound.
  • 400 Swagbucks for 1600 Xbox live points. Great for getting quickie games, special armor and other items, or downloadable content to extend your play.
  • 450 Swagbucks for a $25 Fandango GC. Because even frugal folks enjoy the occasional summer blockbuster. But we're too frugal to pay retail prices!

There are also Star Wars collectibles, Puma gear, electronics, songs and other sections.


Wednesday, May 20

The Clear Card: How much is your airport time worth?

I stumbled on this strange, strange idea that they call the Clear Card.

Basically, the company centers around one aspect of modern life: airport security lines. Rather than wait in the security line like the rest of the mortals, Clear Card members go to a kiosk. You hand your card to the attendant, who has the machine check your fingerprints, scan your iris, and check your picture.

Once it's clear that you are, in fact, you, well then you are directed to a Clear Lane. It is a passage that can only be used by Clear Card members. Bags are still scanned, etc. But the losers waiting a whole 15 minutes in the security lines will watch in envy as you glide through the process, unencumbered by a wait of any kind.

So how much would this life-saving service cost? Why, a mere $199 for one year!

But don't let that seemingly steep price dissuade you: There are discounts. Why, if you sign up for a second year, the cost is only $358. That's a $40 savings! How it could not be worthwhile?!

Still a little freaked about the price? Well, bring the whole family in on the deal:

  • 2 family members are $329 -- a savings of $60
  • 3 costs just $459 ($138 saved)
  • 4 is $589 (a $207 discount)
  • 5 is $719 ($276 off)

You're practically losing money by not buying them! (Except, of course, for the fact that most families of 4 & 5 don't actually travel all that much.)

Suppose, however, you're not traveling with family. Certainly, even in this economy, plenty of people routinely fly on business. It's easy to imagine how the value of time saved would add up. Over the course of the membership, you could argue that $199 was worthwhile.

This is definitely an argument that could be made. After all, a whopping 15 cities already accept the Clear Card. So you'll save time all over the place. I mean, how many businessmen and women fly to places other than Reno-Tahoe, Salt Lake City, Denver, Little Rock, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando, Louisville, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Washington DC, Albany, Westchester and Boston.

Even better, every airport has slightly different times of operation. So you get to experience that special tingle we all get from games of chance: Will the service I paid $199 for actually be open for business? It's like Christmas, every single time.

Of course, the numbers of cities and the cost of memberships don't come close to telling the whole story. The Clear Card is a membership that comes with its fair share of perks.

For example, if you sign up for 2+ years, you automatically receive a subscription to Travel + Leisure. Given the offer on the magazine's website, that's a $12 value! So, right, there, you've recouped 3% of your initial outlay.

And if you sign up at a portal through Delta Air Lines, you get 1,500 SkyMiles. That will get you 5% of the way to a free flight on Delta (30,000 SkyMiles). No, sirree, you can't beat that! Unless, of course, you sign up for Netflix through Delta. Then you get 2,500 SkyMiles.

Still not convinced? Okay Doubting Thomas. We hear you. We understand. So for those commitment phobes out there, you can have a trial, 6-month membership for only $89.

So what are you all waiting for? Get to that website and sign up today!

Monday, May 18

A house shouldn't be a priority

By which I mean: A house should not be a priority above funding your retirement!

Look, I used to own a house. I miss it. I really miss having a garden -- especially the free and tasty raspberries and plums. But even after we pay off the debt, I refuse to sacrifice our retirement savings for a house.

And it seems like I may be one of the only ones who thinks this.

Over and over, I hear about houses. How people are saving up for one. How they're putting other items on hold.

Folks, they are nice, but they are not a necessity. Not even when you have kids. They are a luxury. In the midst of all these subprime loans, we seem to have forgotten that.

**People talk about how they are stretched thin so that they could afford a house. Well, then clearly you can't afford a house.

**People talk about how hard it was to find a place so that the kids could have separate bedrooms, so they ended up with a tiny house they don't like. Since when do kids have to have separate bedrooms? (Yes, I understand puberty may eventually force this issue if you have a boy and a girl. But I don't think that's the main reason most folks decide their kids each need a bedroom.)

**People talk about how they have to put retirement savings on hold for awhile, so that they can get a house. Or they put money toward a down payment while they still have interest-bearing debt. Folks: Do some math and reassess your priorities.

First, you're losing money by keeping the interest-bearing debt -- at least, when you look at the savings rate for that down-payment account. I can sort of understand some people's rationalization about saving for an emergency fund while still paying down debt. I get that, to an an extent.

But I cannot, for the life of me, understand why you'd continue to ding yourself for longer than was absolutely necessary. Don't forget: Your debt-to-credit ratio (and debt vs income) are taken into account when you apply for a loan. So you're making things harder on yourself -- as if the new, saner mortgage guidelines weren't enough of a hurdle for most people.

**Finally, people talk about putting retirement on hold to get a downpayment. Since when is it financially sound to put off future security for more immediate gratification?

Because "immediate gratification" is exactly what you're doing. I'm sorry if you folks don't want to hear it. But once again, a house is not a necessity. So ranking a luxury (house) over a necessity (retirement funds) is pretty much the antithesis of all PF advice.

Sure, back when house prices were going up, up, up -- and real estate was disappearing days after being listed -- PF experts advised us to make the leap. But that was then. How many experts are still saying you should make it a priority? And of those, how many are simply catering to what they know the audience wants? (You can only force so many unpleasant truths down people's throats. And if you're taking away their lattes, you may have to concede that a house is important.)

Just remember, you might own a house. But the house owns you, right back. It's the same reason that I don't want to get a car before we pay off our debt: Both create a new drain on your finances. (And now you can't even argue that houses will definitely appreciate, at least in the short-term.) There will be repair costs, property taxes, homeowner's insurance and all sorts of other unexpected liabilities.

And, when you're figuring out your maximum mortgage, can you guarantee that you'll remember to factor in the retirement contributions you want to restart? I doubt I would. I'd figure out how to make it all work. Then I'd realize that I needed an extra couple hundred each month to go toward retirement. That'd pinch the budget even further.

This whole subject arose over on Sense to Save, when Kacie asked her readers what they thought about postponing retirement savings in order to save for a downpayment. She was taking a page out of the oh-so-hallowed Dave Ramsey book. (Sorry to all the Ramsey followers for the sarcasm. He has some good ideas, but it scares me how blindly folks sometimes follow him.) He suggests that it makes sense to put it off -- though for no longer tahn 18-24 months.

To give props to Kacie, she and her husband will apparently take the middle road: Save for both. It won't get them to a house as quickly as they would like, but it also won't leave their retirement accounts destitute.

So why am I so violently against saving for a downpayment rather than retirement? Oh, where to begin...

First, if you put money in your 401(k), you do have the option of borrowing it for a downpayment at a later date. (Don't forget, this whole thing could also be avoided simply by contributing to a Roth IRA, which allows you to take any invested funds back out penalty-free.)Of course, this comes with caveats. You want to be in a much more stable economy than we currently are. There are very strict repayment rules, and if you become unemployed (through your own volition or not) you are expected to pay it back pretty much immediately. Still, by putting money into your 401(k) you are keeping your housing option open, while still securing your future.

And, yes, I know that naysayers will insist that it's not that simple. You could put money in and your 401(k) could lose value. That's money you could have been putting in something secure like a savings account or CD. This is a valid point to consider. But also a valid point: If you invest carefully and/or conservatively, your stocks will be lower risk. And, technically, your "losses" are not real until you sell the stock. So if you buy shares, which lose value in the short-term, you still have the chance to make money in the long-term by holding on to them. History has shown that the market does inevitably rebound. While we may not see the heydays of the last decade or so, I feel confident that we will, in fact, see people make money on stocks again. (And not through short selling.)

Arguably, a dropping value does it make it harder to borrow from your 401(k), but then again dropping house price can be a huge problem as well, if circumstances change and you need to sell. Nothing right now is a certain investment.

Speaking of selling your house, what if circumstances force a move? And what if that move is to an area with substantially higher housing costs? Did you put off your retirement savings for nothing? Will you have to do it again to amass enough for another downpayment? How long are you willing to stave off investing in your future?

Finally, I have to use my favorite example from Deal With Your Debt by Liz Pulliam Weston:

A woman starts investing in retirement at age 22 and stops at age 32. Each of those years, she contributes $3,000. After this, she never puts in another dime.

Her twin, however, contributes starting at age 32 and continuing through age 62. She, too, contributes an annual $3,000.

At retirement, the first twin will have around $200,000 more in her retirement fund, despite having contributed 1/3 the amount of her late-to-the-game sister.

Naturally, this example is based on average returns that may no longer be applicable. But I do feel certain that the market will, in time, inch back up to something approaching bearable. (No pun intended.) And, either way, these twins would have withstood mostly the same market forces. So while the difference might be smaller in today's conditions, it would still exist and be notable.

I love this example because it truly drives home the fact that compound interest is completely undervalued by most Americans. I was certainly shocked to read this example. It seems so impossible that a 10 year head start (especially compared to an extra 2 decades' contributions) would lead to such a marked difference in funds.

So, given how powerful compound interest can be, I don't understand how anyone could rationalize saving for a house over paying into a retirement fund. You're getting what you want now, but at the expense of your future security.

Let's recap:

I know no one wants to hear it, but here's the thing: A house is not a necessity. No matter how badly you want it; no matter how much it pains you not to have it. It is never a necessity. It is a wonderful luxury that I hope everyone gets to experience (with financially prudent saving). But it is simply not indispensable. Funds for retirement, however, are absolutely integral. Take it from someone who receives $883 each month from the government. In a city where 1 BR apartments are $700.

Even assuming phenomenal changes are made and Social Security stands for our retirement (and I know plenty of you doubt that will happen), could you live on $1,500 a month in retirement?

If you said yes, remember:

  • Inflation for cost of living, but not necessarily reflected in SSA payments.

  • Medicare coverage is not free. Part B (non-hospitalized medical care) is $96.40 a month.

  • If you want better coverage, that will cost you, too.

  • Want decent precription drug coverage (Part D)? More money.

  • You still have the "donut hole" to worry about. Once your Part D coverage company has paid $2,700 (your deductible, oddly, is included in that amount, despite sometimes being more than $200) you are responsible for 100% of the costs for the next $4,350. Then, your coverage kicks in again -- at a higher rate than before. (Isn't that sweet?)

  • You can get a supplemental plan that avoids the donut hole (technically called the coverage gap) but it'll cost you. Surprise, surprise.

Of course, if you're pretty broke, Medicaid will take pity on you and help you pay some of the premiums and will lower your co-pays. But that's only in specific cases.

Still think retirement can be put off for awhile?

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Sunday, May 17

S'mores, you foul temptress!

It's one of the only things I don't like about summer. (The other being that Seattle apartments don't come with air conditioners, which completely sucks during the few scorching summers we have.)

Already, it's started this year. In just about every store circular, you can find S'mores kits beckoning. There are sales aplenty. This week, one store is offering free marshmallows when you buy Hershey's bars and graham crackers. Others have bundled them.

And all this advertising goes on, oblivious of the pain it causes some of us. What about the minorities, like myself, who don't camp? Who don't have a patio and Hibachi suitable for such items? Well, I'm calling a foul! Flag on the play! In other words, just knock it off!

Now, I know some of you will argue that it's for the best. I'm watching my calories, trying to lose weight, etc etc. And the makings for S'mores can, in fact, be surprisingly high. Not to mention the fact that if we had a patio, I'd probably spend the whole summer toasting marshmallows and/or making S'mores until the structure could no longer support my weight.

Technically, as a restaurant chain or two has proven, you can create S'mores with a can of Sterno and some sticks. But I very much doubt my landlord would appreciate the Sterno residue on the walls. And I know Tim's lungs would protest.

And if I took it outside -- marshmallow on stick, huddled over the Sterno and carefully guarding my chocolate and graham crckers -- I think I might just get some funny looks. Plus, knowing me, I'd drop marshmallow after marshmallow into the grass, which would culminate in me eating them off the ground. Did I mention marshmallows and I have an unhealthy relationship?

So, while you're all out enjoying your toasted, marshmallow goodness, take a moment to remember us, the S'moreless Americans. We who are taunted at every turn, in every summer grocery circular, and must resign ourselves to boring old "normal" junk foods. (We're starting a telethon later this year...)

Friday, May 15

Friday Freebies

Friday Freebies are brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. Check out this helpful website for great samples, sales and discounts!

Sign up to receive a free sample of Hawaiian Tropic Sun Care
After Sun Body Butter or Sheer Touch Lotion SPF 15

Cuddle up with your old TV before transitioning to digital and get a free
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Walmart is offering a free sample of Kotex Overnight.

Get a free Kellogg's All Bran 10 Day Promise Pack
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Fiber Bar, Red Raspberry Fiber Drink Mix and $4 in coupons.

Sign up receive a free Nescafe Taster’s Choice stick pack sample with a 6
flavors. Once on their site you will need to click on “Try It On Us.”
Limit one sample pack per person, 2 samples per household.

Arby’s is offering free food with purchase on Wednesdays throughout the
summer at participating locations. Click here to view the calendar.

Walmart is giving away free samples of Bodycology hand
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Sign up your children ages 10 and under for Denny’s Birthday
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Get a free sample of Dove Energy Glow
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Thursday, May 14

Carnival of Pecuniary Delights

Avarica III: It's raining money. Photo by NeoGabX

Welcome to the seventh installment of the Carnival of Pecuniary Delights! I am pleased to present this week's offerings. Be sure to check out next week's carnival over at The Passive Dad.

Editor's Picks

Tasty Money. Photo by oskay

Christina @ Northern Cheapskate from presents Why a Recession is Good For Us.

mfd from My Findependence Day presents My Favorite Lesson From The Market Crash.

Mr. ToughMoneyLove from Tough Money Love presents Eight Baby Boomer Money Mistakes You Should Avoid.


Uncle Sam Is Broke. Illustration by James Montgomery Flagg

Frugal Dad from Frugal Dad presents Can One Choose Not To Participate In A Recession?


Money Shirt. Photo by Rob Lee

The Weakonomist from Weakonomics presents How Corporate Executives Should Be Paid.

Money Management

Untitled. Photo by saschapohflepp

Penelope Pince from Pecuniarities presents The No-Budget System.

Miss M from M is for Money presents Save or Pay Down Debt?.

The Smarter Wallet from The Smarter Wallet presents Budget Your Money and Control Your Spending Using This Simple System.

Personal Finance

Financial Crisis Poster Alteration Art. Photo by Mark Wallace

Super Saver from My Wealth Builder presents Is Anything Really NEW in Personal Finance?.

Gloomberg from GloombergNews presents FMyLife Financial Advice.

Mr. GoTo from Go To Retirement presents How and Why I Bought Long Term Care Insurance.

Wojciech Kulicki from Fiscal Fizzle presents Drips Turn Into Rivers - Another Car Story.

Studenomist from Studenomics presents Read This Article And Get Off the Internet.

J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy presents The Budgets are Sexy Rap - our new theme song!.

FMF from Free Money Finance presents How I Use PowerPoint to Keep My Wife Informed on Our Finances.

Debt & Credit

Engineering the Post-Consumer Economy. Photo by Kevin Krejci

Madison from My Dollar Plan presents Making Home Affordable Q & A.

Silicon Valley Blogger from The Digerati Life presents Prevent Identity Theft: Some Credit Report Monitoring Services and Options.


Custom made CD holder. Photo by melloveschallah

Charlie from presents 7 Smart Money Saving Breakfast Ideas.

TStrump from The Strump - Financial Blog presents Is Going to the Movies Still Worth It?.


Wednesday, May 13

The $60 weight-loss nanny

I've mentioned recently that my depression caused me a lot of problems, including weight gain. In fact, I had to buy some new clothes while I work on losing the extra weight.

Most of the time that I am awake and not actively focused on another activity, I want to eat. It's not just a desire, it's an active fascination. So even when I'm successfully curbing these urges more than half of the time, it quickly adds up to more calories than my poor body can burn. And it's not like I can just go work out more at the gym.

So I made a difficult decision. I decided to go ahead and buy some Alli. It was expensive, but things were getting desperate. I need to take this weight off, both for my energy and my overall health. While Alli will help me lose extra pounds, I wanted to take it for the simple fact of real, immediate consequences. That is, if you eat more fat than recommended, you run the risk of some very messy, embarrassing gastrointestinal symptoms.

And that's what it comes down to: the need for short-term consequences. Abstractly, I know that if I eat too much, I'll gain weight. That will make me feel bad. But it's too far in the future, and the eating is too emotionally motivated.

In the end, I needed to make a short-term, non-frugal decision in order to help my long-term frugality. For example, if I can revamp my overall eating habits, we'll buy less junk food, which means a smaller grocery budget. And there are plenty of articles citing the savings from being more physically fit.

Don't get me wrong. Nothing is going to happen overnight. But I nabbed 16 frozen dinners for $1.88 at a QFC sale a week ago. (That was how many our freezer could hold.) I eat my Kashi Go Lean Crunch for breakfast. I got sliced cheese -- again not as frugal as block cheese, but calories are easier to ascertain -- and some lunch meat. I cram as much lettuce and tomato (and sometimes cucumber slices) as I can reasonably stand. No mayo, just mustard on 12-grain bread. Tasty and healthy. A low-fat yogurt snack. And for dinner, a frozen meal.

The meals aren't bad. They just aren't great. But they have vegetables included, which I othewise skip, and the (small) dessert fruit crisps are actually quite tasty. It's fast, the calories are right on the back, and no one has to worry about what I'll eat for dinner. I often still have enough calories leftover to have a double-serving of my favorite ice cream: Dryer's Slow Churned Chocolate Fudge Chunk.

This week, I need to reintegrate exercise, which fell by the wayside in my new calorie-counting ordeal. But overall, I'm very happy with my progress so far.

What I really like about Alli is that it's sensible. Jenny Craig charges you money to starve yourself. (They put everyone on 1200 calories a day, whether you're 20 pounds overweight or 100.) Weight Watchers was an option I considered, but my fatigue would interfere with meeting attendance, and it's just not the same when it's online.

Meanwhile Alli would have me eat 1800 calories a day and no more than 19 grams of fat in a meal. Both very achievable goals. Because I do want to get the weight off a little more quickly, I set my own goals at the next notch down: 1500 calories a day, 15 grams of fat a meal. This gives me wiggle room. Most days, I hit my goal or am close. Some days, I need the full 1800 calories. But this way, if I go over my calorie-goal, I know that I'm still in a perfectly acceptable range and don't berate myself.

I did take the weekend off, since we weren't at home. With the two-hour shopping trip and the breakfast we took Tim's mom to, it was simply too difficult to worry about fat. So I simply stopped taking the pills for two days. Not ideal, but better than letting myself suffer when I could simply be realistic.

Incidentally, in the end my Mom decided to buy the Alli for me, so that we didn't take the money out of the budget. Very thoughtful and generous of her. I certainly appreciate it. But the point is that I was willing to spend the money. It proves once again that sometimes what's most frugal doesn't always seem like it in the short-term.

Tuesday, May 12

Money scams

While we were down at Tim's parents' house this weekend, I discovered a new money scam is out and about. I learned about this because a friend of Tim's was nearly a victim.

It's a twist on the Nigerian ruler email. Tim's friend received a $5,000 check and a letter from a mystery shopping company. Or so the business claimed. It explained that she had been chosen to perform some mystery shopping. It instructed her to deposit the $5,000 in her account. (Of course, it advised her to keep all receipts, and her costs would be reimbursed.) She should then go to a UPS store and wire $1,750 back to the company. She would, naturally, get to keep the remaining $3,250.

This is probably the only time someone was saved by not having a bank account. Instead, she called Tim's mom, asking about mystery shopping. She was told it was a scam and to leave it alone.

As a reminder, you should never, ever have to cash someone else's check as part of a mystery shop. In addition, don't ever pay for mystery shopping programs. You can always refer to my list of mystery shopping companies or check into Volition and other free resources.

But this by-mail scam isn't the only new one around. Plenty of folks have been getting recorded messages about money they're due (or, at least, can get) thanks to Obama's stimulus package. Plenty of online ads hint around that, too.

Folks always seem to forget the cardinal rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But people insist on believing that there is such a thing as a successful get-rich-quick scheme. I understand that it's not only greed, but also desperation in times like this. But anyone who would believe that she could get paid $3,250 for a mystery shop is being willfully myopic.

Have you seen any new scams? Have you ever been tricked into something like this?

Monday, May 11

365 days (and counting!)

Well, it's official, folks: Today is Tim's and my one-year anniversary!

Yep, we have spent one year as a married couple (plus two more dating). This is pretty impressive when you consider that we live in a 648 sq ft, 1 BR apartment.

Two people, for a full year, both with health problems and neither working outside the home! And we haven't tried to kill each other. Not even once!

I wish I could say we had grander plans for our anniversary, but both of us are pretty pooped. We were down at Tim's parents' place for the weekend, so we could celebrate Mother's Day. And Tim's skin is acting up a bit. So tonight we're going to kick back and watch some TV. We're shooting to celebrate on Tuesday, instead, skin permitting.

The first step is massage. A relative had a massage appointment where the therapist was significantly late. As a mea culpa, the masseuse offered a free 30-minute massage coupon. The relative then purchased a second one and gave both to us as an anniversary gift. Mom offered to pay to upgrade each to a one-hour massage -- also as an anniversary gift. This is one of the main reasons Tim's skin has to be clear.

Then we're going to go out for a nice dinner at a place called Pomodoro. Tim is absolutely in love with this restaurant. If he were still a single man, I fear Pomodoro would've gotten the proposal instead of me.

It's actually a nice place, though, and the chef has cooked on a few occasions for the King of Spain. Not too shabby! (And surprisingly decent prices.)

We may then go see a movie, because we're creatures of habit. It will depend on my energy and Tim's skin. No one can say we're not a couple of suckers for romance, eh?

Still, Tim and I have always been practical romantics. Frankly, I prefer a nice night out with him to a present that might add clutter. And I definitely prefer less debt, so for me, this evening is a win-win.

And now I am off to eat some cake that's been frozen for a year (his mom was very insistent about this particular tradition) and snuggle up with my sweetie.

Sunday, May 10

I spent $105 on clothes

That may seem like a weird thing for a PF blogger to brag about. But for that $105, I got:

  • 1 workout tank
  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 jeans

How is that possible, you ask? Well, thanks to my friends over at Engineer a Debt Free Life, I found out that Old Navy has a special page with "hidden" coupons. For example, if you clicked on the boy mannequin's floatation devices, you would have found a coupon for 20% off. These coupons are currently out. But they reload randomly, as I understand it, so be sure to check in every day or so! I was lucky enough to nab 25% off for my own email address, and $45 off of $100 for Tim's. (You can only print one coupon a week, so be sure you have the best deal in your cart, before hitting "Make A Coupon.")

Those two, plus some careful clearance-section shopping, allowed me to get significant bang for my buck. That's pretty handy, since I'm struggling with some weight gain. Now I actually have pants that I can breathe in. And that don't give me that unsightly, embarrassing muffin-top that I'm so self-conscious about. The shirts are good, too, because they're not as tight as my other ones. So, once again, I won't constantly be worrying about my tummy.

My usual MO is to just put my nose to the grindstone and start losing weight. Which I am doing. But I am also trying to be more realistic. (Or, to be more exact, Tim is making me be more realistic.) Since my body weight tends to fluctuate, it makes sense to have a couple sets of items. Chances are, I will eventually end up close to this weight again, what with my stress levels and sweet tooth (and being easily fatigued).

Do any of you have separate sets of wardrobes? What would you do right now if you found that you couldn't fit into your current clothes? Is it more important in a situation like this to be frugal or kind to yourself?

Labels: ,

Friday, May 8

Friday Freebies

Friday Freebies is brought to you by The Freebie Blogger. The website is updated daily, so check in early and often!

P&G Everyday Solutions is offering a free sample of Head & Shoulders along with a free coupon and 10 ct. sample of Charmin Freshmates.

Walmart is offering a free sample of Pull-Ups Training Pants.

Sign up for the Bakers Square eClub and receive a printable coupon for a free piece of pie on your birthday.

Click here for a list of free and discounted food offers on Mother's Day.

Mars is offering free candy bar coupons each Friday, starting a 9 AM ET, through September.

Sign up to receive a free sample of John Frieda Brilliant Brunette Liquid Shine.

Click here for a list of free and discounted movie theater tickets this summer for families.
Sam’s Club is offering a free sample of NatureMade TripleFlex.

Here is a new link to get a free sample of Cottonelle Bath Tissue and Frest Moist Wipes from Walmart.

Remedy Life is offering free health product samples and a free 3 year subscription to Remedy Magazine.

Wednesday, May 6

Money Hacks Carnival: Swine Flu edition

In honor of the overwrought swine flu hype, I thought I would dedicate this Money Hacks edition to all things porcine!

If you enjoy these articles (and my illuminating illustrations) please Tweet, digg or otherwise post this carnival on social bookmarking sites!

Editor's picks

MLR presents 6 Signs That the Recession is Ending posted at My Life ROI, Getting the Best Return On Life.

Ms. SP presents Sell Your Used CDS to Second Spin For Extra Money posted at Ms. Smarty Pants Know It All.

Little People Wealth presents Little People Wealth: Stealing and Lying in the Name of Frugality - Thirteen Horrible Tips posted at Little People Wealth.

The Happy Rock presents Necessity vs Luxury: Research Shows That The Economy Shapes Our Perspective posted at The Happy Rock.

Real Estate

Jacqulyn Richey presents Hope for Distressed Homeowers posted at Las Vegas Real Estate Market News.

Aryn presents Understanding Mortgage Points posted at Sound Money Matters.

Money Beagle presents Is Now The Time To Buy Rental Properties? posted at Money Beagle.

Kevin presents Negotiating Refinancing Closing Costs posted at No Debt Plan.


Bootstrap presents Lessons from an Index Fund posted at Bootstrap Investing.

D4L presents Buy-And-Hold Under Attack posted at Dividends Value.

Investing School presents Investor Mistakes - Constant Refresh posted at Investing School.

Neal Frankle presents Variable Annuities - Why They Stink & How To Get Out Now posted at Wealth Pilgrim: Money Management Advice, Financial Stress Management, & Resources.

ChristianPF presents Diversification strategy from the Bible posted at Christian Personal Finance.

Matt SF presents What is the Fear Trade? posted at Steadfast Finances.

Stock Trading Brokers presents Zecco Discount Broker Review posted at Stock Trading Brokers.

Darwin presents Swine Flu Investment Ideas posted at Darwin's Finance.

Praveen presents Combining Fundamental and Technical Analysis in Stock Trading posted at My Simple Trading System.

Manshu presents Gold ETF: iShares Comex Gold Trust (IAU) posted at OneMint.

Steve Patterson presents Chinese Internet Companies Climbing posted at

J. Money presents Just call me Warren Buffett The 2nd in stock picking. posted at Budgets are Sexy.

The Smarter Wallet presents Fibonacci Retracement: A Technical Stock Tool To Predict Market Direction posted at The Smarter Wallet.

Jae Jun presents Stock Investments From Forbes 400 Best Big Companies posted at Old School Value.

Credit & Debt

KCLau presents Do You Have a Wedding Debt? posted at KCLau's Money Tips.

jim presents Citi Forward Credit Card Review: Rewarding Responsibility posted at Bargaineering.

Jeremy presents Criminal Charges, Volume XXXVIII: More people you thought you could trust posted at Taking Charge.

Ben presents Credit Card Scammers posted at Money Smart Life.

David presents Why low interest credit cards are not always the best option posted at Credit Card Offers IQ.

Thursday presents Credit Freeze: Stop Identity Thieves Cold posted at Wealth Junkies. presents Pump Up Your Rewards Programs posted at

Mr Credit Card presents Credit Card Car Rental Rewards posted at Ask Mr Credit Card.

Frugality & Saving Money

Bank Champ presents Failed Banks Not Required to Honor CD Rates posted at Bank Champ.

Nui Loa presents 67 Cheap Date Ideas for the Recession-Era Romantic posted at Love Hacks.

Jack Schmidt presents Starting Young: Teaching Teens to Save Money posted at SectorMatic Money Journal.

Billeater presents You want Tips? You Can't Handle These Tips! posted at Billeater.

Barry presents How To Have A Baby Amid A Recession? posted at Associate Money.

Cooupon Artist presents Why It is Worth My Time to Argue For My Coupons | posted at

Pinyo presents How To Find The Best Online High Yield Savings Account posted at Moolanomy Personal Finance.

DR presents Is Budgeting Keeping You Poor? posted at The Dough Roller.

Momma presents 25 ways to save money posted at Engineer a debt free life.

d. ninja presents Get rid of that darn storage unit posted at Punch Debt In The Face.

Patrick @ Cash Money Life presents Save Money on Mother’s Day Flowers posted at Cash Money Life.

Jeff@StretchyDollar presents Saving Money On Minimum Wage posted at StretchyDollar.

MatthewPaulson presents Money Merge Accounts: Are they Real and do they Work? posted at Fine Tuned Finances.

nickel presents How to Negotiate and Lower Your Bills posted at

pfincome presents Money Saving Tips for Starting a New Vegetable Garden posted at Passive Family Income.

Mike Pastore presents Web Site Review of | posted at Mike Pastore.

RC presents 20 Ways To Reduce Your Household Energy Use posted at Think Your Way to Wealth.


MoneyNing presents 20 Different Areas to Think About for a Cheaper Auto Insurance Policy posted at Personal Finance Blog by Money Ning.

Sun presents Life Insurance May Make Better Budget Sense Than You Think posted at Earn More Invest Wisely at The Sun's Financial Diary.

Jim DeSantis presents Divorce: What To Do About Medical, Life, Homeowners, and Auto Insurance! posted at Divorce.


FMF presents How to Make Money by Becoming a Referee posted at Free Money Finance.

Writers Coin presents Turning Down a Promotion: A Baseball Lesson posted at The Writer’s Coin.

BloggingBanks presents $75 Bank Bonus Deal at Bank of America posted at Blogging Banks.

Samuel Baron presents How To Maximize Sales On Your Site | Samuel Baron | posted at Samuel Baron |

Jacques Groenewald presents Make Easy Money On Ebay posted at Monkeyprofit.

Madison presents American Express $100 - $250 Gift Card posted at My Dollar Plan.


Jeff Rose presents Surviving an IRS Audit — Tips for Small Businesses posted at Jeff Rose.

FFB presents 25 Ideas For Your Income Tax Refund posted at Free From Broke.


Michael Gvirtzman presents Retirement Planning and Net Worth Calculation Tool posted at Mind Listings.

Len Penzo presents Personal Finance For Dummies: It's as Easy as A-B-C posted at Len Penzo . Com.

kathryn presents Stimulus Plan Leads to Stimulus Scams posted at Out of Debt - Christian Finances and Debt Help.