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Are you taking advantage of the only loyalty rewards program in the personal finance blogging world?
The Bargaineering Bucks system rewards you for doing things on the site such as visiting daily and commenting on posts. Over seven hundred readers have signed up and earned over 26,733 “Bargaineering Bucks” that you’ve spent in the Bargaineering Store for wonderful prizes such as
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>ING Direct promotional referrals, popular personal finance books, USB thumb drives, copies of Quicken, and so many more wonderfully awesome prizes.
Earning a buck for logging in is a new way to earn points, made live earlier today. If you thought you were missing out before, don’t worry! We’ve been testing the feature and wanted to make sure we got it right before rolling out.
You can earn bucks just by registering for the site and doing what you do already. Right now the two easiest ways to earn points require no extra effort. For every day you visit, you earn a buck. For every comment you leave, you earn a buck. You just have to make sure you’re logged in or the systems won’t know who to award the buck to.
Is this worth the extra hassle? Yes!
Reader daemondust only recently discovered the site and has been commenting furiously, racking up 157 ββ that he’s put towards about ten ING Direct referrals in the Bargaineering Store. If you have an ING Direct account with some referrals left, then you know each referral is worth $10 to you. Daemondust has already made $100 by participating in the site and doing nothing extra, he just makes sure he’s logged in before he comments!
So the question I ask you is … are you earning your Bargaineering Bucks?
(Photo: sokwanele)
Are You Earning Your Bargaineering Bucks? from personal finance blog

When it comes to charitable giving, some well-intentioned moves can backfire.
My wife started her first semester of classes this fall on her way towards a Ph.D. One of the best things about a Ph.D., besides the degree, is that candidates are paid to go to school. The salary isn’t something you can retire on but with the cost of education, anytime you can get college education for free (or less than free, in this case!), you jump on it.
With the start of classes comes the need for college textbooks. As I remembered years ago, college textbooks are not ch
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eap. In fact, the prices seems exorbitant to me but that’s what happens when there’s a small market forced into buying a product. Fortunately, there are some techniques you can use to defray the costs.

Buy from Previous Students
The easiest way to get a textbook is to buy it from a previous student who took the class. This works best for “foundation” type classes where every student in the program is required to attend because it means the supply of books will be high. Be sure to check that the textbook and that edition will be used again your semester (check with the professor).
The best place to find willing sellers is bulletin boards, either online or physically in the department building. Once you find a willing seller, negotiate a little to see if you can knock a few dollars off the price. Review the prices you can find online so you don’t overpay. The benefit of buying in person is that you can get the book immediately and not worry about shipping costs or delays.
Buy Online
Just put your book’s ISBN or title into Google and see what pops up. There are hundreds of vendors selling textbooks from big names like and Amazon to smaller bookstores (too numerous to name). When buying, you want to buy used and in relatively good condition. Check the seller’s feedback to see if they can be trusted. If they have hundreds of thousands of results and good feedback, chances are they will be a store or textbook distributor and can be trusted.
I took a quick peek at the results for one of the books my wife bought, Biochemical Engineering by Harvey Blanch. Brand new, the book sells for $65.77 and resellers are offering it for as low as $63.45. In this case, I’d buy it new rather than used because of shipping costs.
Rent Textbooks
I’ve never tried this but there are services where you can rent a textbook for a semester. One site I found, but have never used, was You can rent a book for 60 days, a quarter, or a semester. If their semester period ends before yours, they extend it for free.
Is it worth it? Not sure, because I checked the prices for renting Biochemical Engineering and it wasn’t that much cheaper than the $65.77 price at Amazon. For a semester, it was $56.99. You could probably buy the book new and resell it for more than $8.78 (purchase price minus the rental price). It’s an option worth considering if it makes sense for the books you might need.
Buy In Bookstore
This is the most expensive option for buying used textbooks and I’m always amazed that people will sell the books back to the bookstore, given how much they gauge you (or used to gauge you, I haven’t looked at bookstore book prices in a while). One strategy I used to use was buy the book new in the store, order it online, and then return the book when it appeared. In response, many college bookstores have now rejected returns unless you bring confirmation you dropped the class.
I believe I’ve covered all the good used textbook buying options available to the frugal minded college student. With the spring semester coming up, the used sections of these sites and in bookstores is likely to swell as people try to recoup their expenses.
Do you have any used textbook tricks up your sleeve? Tactics you used to defray the costs?
(Photo: psychobabble)
Tips for Buying Used College Textbooks from personal finance blog

The number of Americans filing personal bankruptcies surged 9% in October, and were on target for the highest annual total in four years, according to a report issued Wednesday.
When Ramit approached me about writing about his new I Will Teach You To Be Rich Boot Camp, I was a little hesitant. I was hesitant because I didn’t really know much about him, despite writing a few pages in his New York Times bestselling book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, and I didn’t know if it would really be
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worth it.

I think the way he structured it almost ensures it’ll work. So your typical classroom situation involves a teacher instructing a student. It’s a one to many relationship. The better classes incorporate a team aspect, where you and partners work on projects. You learn as much from others as you do yourself… which is crucial.
Sure, you get hands-on help from Ramit Sethi and some great guest speakers, but more importantly you are joined by people just like you. Some of them will have solved a problem you’re facing and I think that’s one of the understated things about the program.
Here’s the curriculum:

  • Week 1 – Optimizing your credit cards 11/9-11/15

  • Week 2 – Beat the banks and negotiate bills 11/16 – 11/22

  • Week 3 – Open 401K and Roth IRA 11/23-11/29

  • Week 4 – Conscious Spending 11/30 – 12/6

  • Week 5 – Automation 12/7 – 12/13

  • Week 6 – Investing – setting up portfolio 12/14 – 12/20

If you are the king of optimizing credit cards, you might be giving more than you get that first week. However, if you are weak with automation, that’s when you’ll learn something. Not good with asset allocation or planning your retirement? Week 3 looks like a place where you’ll take more than you give.
Here’s a little taste of what Ramit’s video presentations are like (and maybe what the boot camp will be like):

In the end, there is a 30-day money back guarantee. If you make it two-thirds of the way through and find it’s not for you, he’ll refund all of your money. There’s no risk in giving it a shot if you think it’s right for you.

Special Offer: If you sign up to Ramit’s 6 Week Boot Camp program and are a registered user on, I’ll give you 150 Bargaineering Bucks if you forward me the email confirmation. You can usually convert those 150 BB into about ten ING Direct referrals (worth $100) at the Bargaineering store… thus cutting the price of the program in half.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich 6-Week Boot Camp from personal finance blog

It's fun writing about Wall Street's greedheads and tax dodgers. But every once in a while, I get to write about something positive -- and unpublicized -- that some Wall Street types have done. Today's reversal of the Street's natural order involves Davis Advisors.
Think back to elementary school, can you remember how many times your school had a fire drill? They were never announced ahead of time, the bells just rang, everyone got up, lined up, and left the building in an orderly fashion. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do because it was scripted ahead of time. No one panicked because we always assumed it was a drill, even when it wasn’t. (which puzzles me why all of my employers pre-announced rare fire drills)
When was the last time you had a financial fire? Maybe the car broke down or you broke a window in your house. Maybe you wer
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e one of the many millions who lost your job last year. I bet, in most cases, you weren’t sure what to do afterwards.
That’s why I’m recommending that you conduct a financial fire drill.

How to Conduct a Financial Fire Drill
The first step is to list all the potential “fires” you could have, including an actual fire in your home. Some common ones are job loss, car problems, fire or flood in the home, burglary of your house or home, and minor and major medical emergencies. Everything you thought of when you set your emergency fund is in play here.
Next, you need to setup a response plan and a financial plan.
Response Plan
The response plan is the series of steps you’ll take to respond to the emergency. In the case of job loss, you might want to list steps like signing up for job websites, updating and listing your resume, reaching out to your network of contacts in the industry, and filing for unemployment. If there are any steps you can do today, such as registering for job websites, do them because it will make your life easier later.
You want to write down your response plan now, rather than when you’re emotionally charged, because it’s easier to think clearly about it now. What’s easier: finding a job or helping a friend find a job? Most people would say helping a friend. Helping someone find a job is easier in part because you’re less emotionally invested in the income. While you’d love to find your friend a job, the consequences are less severe if you fail.
Financial Plan
Setting up your financial plan is a lot like setting up your emergency fund but doesn’t stop there. First, you need to establish how much you need to save. Take stock of how much the fire will cost you and save money into an emergency fund to handle it. For a job loss, you can save 12 months of expenses to handle an extended period of unemployment. For a car accident, save enough to cover the deductible.
Then, for each of the potential fires, link your response to the financial plan and be sure to include a recovery plan. I’ll include a few examples afterwards but the important part of this step is to try to take “thinking” out of the equation. If you have a CD ladder, include instructions on how you want to liquidate the CDs, in what order, and how you’ll want to get your ladder rebuilt.
Example: Car Repairs
Here’s a sample response and financial plan for a typical scenario – a car repair.
Response Plan for Car Repair

  1. Get repair quotes from at least two reputable mechanics (only one is necessary if you have a mechanic you’ve worked with and trust) in the area.

  2. Try to negotiate the repair price down or personally buying the parts required.

  3. If the repair is more than half the value of the car, consider selling or donating it and buying a new (to me) car.

  4. If the repair is less than $500, pay through savings or with a credit card (assuming the $500 can be repaid before the grace period ends). If the repair is greater, begin liquidating CDs starting with the shortest original maturity period (6 months is best, since the penalty will usually be only 3 months compared to 6 months on a 12-month CD) and lowest interest rate.

  5. Bring the car in and schedule a ride to work with a friend (or get quotes and rent a car).

  6. Redirect monthly savings away from another goal to replenishing the emergency fund.

Financial Plan
Most of the numbers used are example figures used to illustrate the idea of these plans.
Deciding how much to save. My car is a 2003 Toyota Celica and we don’t anticipate major repairs on the vehicle because it’s not at the age, or mileage, where major repairs are expected. That being said, a $500 repair would be significant and so we’ve decided to set an emergency fund allocation of $500 to cover a car repair scenario. We save an extra $42 a month into the emergency fund for a year to cover this.
Our emergency fund is much larger, $2,500 a month, to cover the whole gamut of potential issues (most notably, the mortgage in case of a job loss or a major medical emergency). Our emergency fund is saved up in a CD ladder, with one rung sitting in a high yield savings account. Should we have a car accident under $3,000, we would pay for it on a credit card for the points and then pay off the credit card from savings.
Why Should I Conduct A Financial Fire Drill?
Why is this important? If you’ve ever been fired, and I have, then you know what it feels like. It’s like someone punching you in the stomach and knocking the wind out of you. It doesn’t feel good. When that pain subsides, you start feeling the pressure of having to find another job.
Having to “figure out” how to find another job is really difficult when you have to deal with all the emotional aspects of losing one. If you’ve planned ahead of time, then you can go through the steps without having to “figure it out.” This takes the thinking process out of the equation and just lets you work on executing it.
The response plan can also help you make decisions dispassionately. In the heat of the moment, your judgment might be clouded by a variety of factors. When you’re sitting at home, with a job, with a working car, and without the pressure of an emergency weighing on your mind, you can make better informed decisions. Putting those decisions on paper can give you guidance when a real emergency happens.
The response plan can help others make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. Anytime you write down the decisions you’ve made in your head, you empower others to act on your behalf if you cannot. You should put your fire drill response plan next to the list of all your bank accounts so that if someone else needs to handle your finances, they know what to do. Without guidance, they’ll use their own judgment which will invariably be different than yours.
Have you conducted financial fire drills and put together response plans? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
(Photo: mbtrama)
Conduct a Financial Fire Drill from personal finance blog

Question: My husband and I are in our late '50s and haven't put anything away for retirement, although we do own our home. We figure we'll work another 10 years or so before retiring. Do you have any helpful suggestions for us so we won't have to live solely on Social Security? --Peggy, Rockvale, Colorado
When you think of prepaid cell phones, what do you think of? If you’ve watched The Wire on HBO, a gritty drama about life in Baltimore, you associate them with drug dealers. If you were a fan of the Sopranos, you knew they were good for avoiding wiretaps. If you haven’t seen either, chances are you don’t associate them with anything. Most people don’t use prepaid cell phones because we naturally think to a nice buffet-type minute plan with a major carrier.
For our vacation to Europe, we used a pay as you go phone. We couldn’t use our own phones since we didn&
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#8217;t have compatible technology but our friend lent us her old phone. We went to a local Orange store (a pay as you go service company, bought a Sim card, and loaded it up with some minutes.
The cost of the chip? £0.
We put £5 on the phone and we now had cell service without a commitment, without any huge up front payments, and we only pay for the minutes we needed.

Topping Up
Topping Up is the term used whenever you add minutes to your phone. There are a variety of ways you can top up. The easiest was to a credit card to the SIM card, which would top it up in pre-defined increments. If you didn’t want to link a card, you could top up by going to an ATM/cash machine or to a local grocery store. You pay for the minutes, the register prints a voucher, you text the code to the phone company and your minutes are added in just a few seconds.
A lot of people in UK and Europe use pay as you go cell phones and there may be something to it too… Americans pay more than anyone else for cell phone service. We pay more than $600 a year, while some people pay less than $140 a year!
Consider Prepaid Cell Phones
Take a look at your cell phone bill and review how many minutes you used last month, assuming it was a typical month. Be sure to add every minute, from the Anytime minutes to the Night & Weekend minutes (whatever your provider calls them). Then just divide your monthly cost by the number of minutes and you have your per minute cost. I have a phenomenal plan from Sprint, the SERO plan from years ago, where I pay $35 a month for 500 minutes and unlimited data and text messages. Last month, I used 674 total minutes at a cost of about 5.1¢ a minute.
How does that compare to a prepaid phone? I’m going to use T-Mobile’s program as the benchmark only because the rates were the easiest to find. With T-Mobile, you can pay $1 a day on the days you use the phone or ten cents a minute. For me, that plan doesn’t make sense because I pay less than 10 cents a minute plus I get the benefit of unlimited text and data.
Another fixed cost to consider is the cost of the phone itself. Usually prepaid cell phones don’t offer a lot of the bells and whistles of other phones, so what you’ll be getting is a bare bones phone for somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 – $50. It’s a fixed cost that you probably wouldn’t have with a fixed plan so be sure to include it in your comparison.
One other side thought to consider… you probably will use your phone less if you’re paying per minute. I think it’s a great way to save money if it makes sense for you and if you’re not already in a contract.
If you use a prepaid phone, I’d love to hear your opinion of it in terms of call quality, savings, convenience, etc.
(Photo: bchai)
Consider Prepaid Cell Phones from personal finance blog

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