Don’t Feed the Alligators

A Personal Finance Blog from a Small-Scale Landlord’s Perspective

Archive for the 'Weekly Feeding' Category

07.26.2008
Feeding the Firefoxes

Feeding the Firefoxes
Creative Commons License photo figure credit: Glutnix

It’s been another busy week in the MITBeta and ScrapperMom household. But I’m feeling like things are a little more under control since I started reading the now well known but still great book Getting Things Done by David Allen. I’ll have more on that in an upcoming post, but in the mean time I wanted to share some of the best articles that I read this week:

In National News:

With this week’s hike in the minimum wage, Nickel examines the historical minimum wage level relative to the value of a dollar and finds that those on minimum wage have been seeing the value of their salaries fall for the last 25 years.

The Freakonomics blog wonders are we a nation of financial illiterates?  I’ll reserve judgement for now, but what do you think?  Did you answer the quiz questions correctly?

Personal Finance

Shilpan at successsoul.com reposts Warren Buffett’s 7 Secrets for Living a Happy and Simple Life.  There’s some great advice here that really forms the basis for most personal finance: don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, be happy with who you are, not what you have, etc.

Mrs. Micah writes about an error in her paycheck and how thankful she is that she is not living paycheck to paycheck.  This reminded me of something similar that happened to ScrapperMom a couple of months ago.  Mrs. Micah also has some great tips for breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

Home Economics:

EconomistMom writes about “a big family infrastructure day” that took a serious bite out of her bank account.  She makes a couple of great points in this article, especially in explaining why the health care problem is such a difficult nut to crack.

J.D. asks readers to help a fellow reader who asks “how can I get my wife to talk about money?“  Chronic disagreements about money are cited as a leading cause of divorce.  However many astute readers rightly point out that it’s never just about money.  As near as I can tell, open communication is the only way to truly make a marriage work.  In fact, that’s the best way to make nearly any interpersonal relationship work.

Social Psychology:

Steven Levitt at Freakonomics shares a great anecdote about performing a blind taste test to see if his colleagues could tell the difference between expensive and more frugal wines.  Can you guess what the results were?  Apparently there is now scientific evidence to support the idea that taste can be influence by pre-conceived notions about something.  I wonder if this means I can think my way into liking onions…

Giveaways:

Frugal Babe is giving away a $100 jewelry gift card to Diamond Nexus Labs in the spirit of switching away from mined diamond based bling.

Baby Cheapskate is giving away $200 worth of BumGenius cloth diapers.  As you may know, using cloth diapers is a great way to save money and save the environment.

07.20.2008
AT&T Tilt

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: galaygobi

In the time-is-money category, I have discovered that Google Reader works quite nicely on my mobile phone. After going away for 4 days in June, I found that I was very far behind on my RSS feeds from other blogs. I tried the reader on my phone and sure enough it works great.  Now when I’m taking the dogs out, waiting in line, waiting for this or that, I can fire up Google Reader Mobile and catch up on my feeds.

With that in mind, you may notice that I have installed a few new plug-ins here at Don’t Feed the Alligators.

  • The first new plug-in is one that renders the blog into a format suitable for mobile devices.  This plug-in should even automatically detect that you are using a mobile device and render the articles appropriately.
  • I have also added a “Related Links” section to the bottom of each article so that if you like what you read, you can see what else I have written that’s similar.
  • Lastly, I have added a plug-in that prevents links that I put into my articles that point to other articles that I have written from creating trackbacks.  This has mostly an administrative use, but prevents it from looking like my blog has lots of comments when mostly it has very few (hint, hint…).

Here’s a sampling of some of the other articles and conversations that I have enjoyed over the last couple of weeks:

  • Nickel exposes the safest online banks.  Clearly this list is not all inclusive since the bank we use, EverBank, is not in this list, but is an online bank and scores a solid 3.  But the point here is to make your way over to Bankrate.com (again…) and check out the rating for your bank.  This was how I found out that my former bank, NetBank, was about to fail.
  • Nickel also makes an excellent point about making sure to keep up with maintenance items before they end up costing you even more.
  • Jeremy writes about the fears that many investors have when the market goes into a slump.  He cautions about keeping things in perspective and making sure that you don’t miss the inevitable upswing.  I personally like to watch the growth in the number of shares that I own, rather than their worth, because the worth of a stock only matters when you sell it.
  • JD has a great article on the difference between a career and a job.  I bounced through a string of seemingly disconnected “jobs” early in my “career” and then hit on my current job which relies a great deal on the skills that I acquired collectively at each of those disconnected jobs.
  • JD also writes about the reasons to invest in index funds.  This is not an uncommon topic in Personal Finance Blog circles, but certainly bears repeating again.
"Some people complain that an index fund dooms you to mediocre
investment returns. “Absolutely not,” Bernstein replies. “It virtually
guarantees you superior performance. Over the typical ten-year period,
most money managers would kill for index-matching returns.”"
  • Lastly, Madison posts her reply to a request from a friend to figure out how to get out of debt.  See the top 7 answers from her readers here.

Hope you had a nice weekend!

07.06.2008
Busy Bees

Busy Bees
photo figure credit: Chris

I’ve had a busy couple of weeks of traveling for work and getting ready to host an Independence Day cookout. I’m still trying to catch up on creating some new posts as well as dispensing with the backlog in my RSS Reader.

I managed to find some time to participate in one Carnival this week at the Military Finance Network. The theme of this Carnival of Financial Goals was Financial Independence. I submitted my article on Financial Independence Day. The rest of the carnival entries can be seen here.

I also enjoyed a number of other peoples’ articles this week:

  • Nickel writes about the difference between Cheap and Frugal. This segues nicely into –
  • Glbl’s entry on Walmart: There is a Price for Cheap. This article is primarily about the inconvenience of shopping at Walmart. However a number of readers point out all of the rest of the things that are wrong with Walmart.
  • The Boston Globe published a book review about Spend ’til the End. This review is about the latest offering from Boston University economics professor Laurence J. Kotlikoff who argues that most people are saving too much for retirement at the risk of not enjoying themselves enough while they’re young. While I doubt this assertion is true, Kotlikoff really seems to be advocating that each individual or family create a sustainable lifestyle now that will carry them into retirement on a modest budget. Sounds pretty common sense to me. My take on it is that it’s always going to be worse to have too little money in retirement than too much. After all, if you save too much money, you always have the option of retiring early.

Two parent oriented articles (though written by economists…) that I found interesting this week were:

  • Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame claims that a speech he gave a few years ago for TED bombed. The speech presented his analysis on the efficacy of child restraint systems versus adult seat belts for children over the age of 2. I thought that the speech was great, as did a number of his other readers. I think that we need more of this kind of science influencing lawmakers who are just as likely to enact “feel good legislation” that costs everyone a lot of money, makes everyone feel better for it, but accomplishes little or nothing.
  • Joshua at Game Theorist writes about the “war” he and and his wife have been waging against child #3 in their household. This certainly brings new meaning to the terms “shock and awe” and “the surge.”

If you liked this article, you may be interested in seeing some related articles:


06.14.2008
Skydiving

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: ctsnow

  • Yesterday I was chatting with one of my company’s summer interns about his plans for the weekend. He told me that he was going skydiving. Wow! I thought, that’s awesome. I’ve always wanted to go skydiving, but never got around to it before I got married and became a parent. I explained to the intern that the second thought that went through my head after “Wow” was “life insurance policy.” I have a sizable life insurance policy in place already, but I’ve been meaning to read up on the fine points of it to figure out exactly what coverage I have. I find that I have many insurance policies, but don’t know what insurance I actually have. You always hear horror stories about people having insurance, but not being covered for some bizarre sequence of events. So back to the top of my to do list goes: Read and understand current insurance policies.
  • A short phone call this week earned me about $150. I have been engaged in a kind of progressive credit card arbitrage. We got a cash back rewards credit card last summer that came with a high limit and a 0% APR on purchases for a year. We’ve been making minimum payments to the card while stashing the rest of the full payment in a high interest savings account. I had written in my credit card notes that the 0% offer expires in July. I called the credit card issuer to ask specifically when the offer expires. The answer is that the offer is good until the END of my August billing cycle, which means that I don’t have to settle up until the middle of September. I estimate that I should be able to earn about $150 dollars in extra interest on the money that is sitting in my Vanguard Money Market fund.
  • We finally received our tax refund this week, which isn’t bad considering that we didn’t file until about 3 weeks ago. It took longer than expected to file this year due to some Traditional to Roth IRA conversions that we ended up being ineligible to make. So it took a while to figure out how to undo the conversion and then how to record that on the tax return.
  • In case you’re wondering: this tax refund will be used to bolster our emergency funds which currently total $10,233. This is far short of 6 months worth of expenses, but we’re getting there.

Some articles that I enjoyed over the last two weeks:

  • Gather Little By Little investigates the fine art of hypermiling — eking every possible mile out of a gallon of fuel for your car. We have been de facto hypermilers since 2001 when we purchased a diesel car that easily gets 45 miles per gallon. However, I have been independently implementing some of the suggestions that also appear in GLBL’s article and anecdotally seem to have improved city mileage to previously unheard of heights. I won’t know for sure until the next fillup, which may still be weeks away.
  • The Boston Globe reports that People in Debt Feel Literal Pain. Wow! Debt troubles are pervasive! The lesson here: If you want to improve your health, get out of debt.
  • Gametheorist writes about his children’s entrepreneurial teamwork in selling candy bars for their sports club fundraiser. What fascinated me about this was the posturing of the pricing in order to induce people to buy more. What further fascinated me is that it worked so well!
  • Lastly, PaidTwice had another rough week in homeownership. Her week went from dreams about a more luxurious bath experience to a shorted circuit breaker to a major, necessary home repair. Isn’t it nearly always the case that just when we start to feel secure, comfortable, and in control of our lives Mr. Murphy comes knocking? This happens to me at work, with our finances, around the neighborhood, on the highway, etc. The best guard against Mr. Murphy is a healthy emergency fund, both in literal and figurative senses. Always try to foresee alternative outcomes and plan around them or hedge against them. We can’t foresee or prepare for everything, but a little planning can go a long way — see Point 1 at the top of this entry.
05.29.2008
Carnival

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL

This week I participated in two carnivals.

Some other articles that I enjoyed this week: