Archive for April, 2009

#046 — “Sin” Taxes: Congress Raises Taxes on Tobacco

April 17th, 2009

“Don’t Drink, Smoke, or Chew…

At the beginning of this month, the largest tobacco tax increase in history came into effect.  The Federal tax on a pack of cigarettes increased from 39 cents/pack to $1.01/pack.  Strategy involved is at least two-fold.  Idealists believe from a health perspective, the increased taxes on tobacco is enough to force people to quit smoking, while the more cynical say it’s just a ploy to generate government revenue, particularly from the middle & lower class, where percentage-wise, it will hurt their pocketbooks greater.

…Or Associate With Those Who Do.”

This is a tough one for me.  I can’t stand smoking; moreso cigarettes than cigars, hookah, or smokeless tobacco.  I hate when I’m forced to breathe toxic air because of someone else’s habit.  I also hate having to spend money on dry cleaning because my clothes get cigarette smoke ingrained in them anytime you go to a restaurant.

But I also hate taxes.  However, government has a clear history of promoting public policy by dangling purse strings.  To the citizenry they promote charitable causes, home buying, education, and parenting by providing tax breaks.  To the states they offer matching federal dollars to build highways and infrastructure.

The difference with smoking, however, is that instead of a passive tax break, this is an active taxing of the citizenry’s actions.  There IS a difference between encouraging behavior by providing tax relief, and manipulating behavior by forcing your hand with a tax.  But here, it’s a bad habit that most don’t care about anymore; and since it doesn’t affect them, they’re all for it.  I guess it comes down to whether you’re an Idealist or a Cynic on this issue.


Here’s some comments I got on this topic from my Twitter buddies:

  • @MoneyEnergy – an increased tobacco tax is a good thing in the long run – it’s only painful in the present for a select few… my 2 cents.
  • @VictorB123 – I think tobacco is the modern “tea”. People should start growing their own and avoiding the tax if they use it.
  • @gregzimmerman – ridiculous money grab!
  • @PerryNunley – I quit smoking about 1 year ago cuz sin taxes are stupid (so is smoking).
  • @photog357 – Utterly asinine. It’s nanny state tactic, & illogical in that revenue goes to counteract activity they want money from.
  • @The_Weakonomist – I decided to be OK with it. They do risk an underground tobacco uprising. Moonshine? No. Brownburn!
  • @blockss – Well, it’s quite interesting that the Federal Gov’t will need to recruit ~20 million more smokers in order to pay for SCHIP [the name of the tobacco tax legislation].
  • @ManVsDebt – I hate smoking, but think this could be a slippery slope… How long until Fat Tax? Hmmm maybe I’d shed some pounds…
  • @MoneyEnergy – but if more tax is necessary, shouldn’t it be on smtg we want to discourage (based on obj. evidence)?  It’s not like the ONLY tax would have to be on cigarettes, etc. besides cigarette butts everywhere pollute, too.

Me?  I say tax the tobacco enough to provide vouchers for my dry cleaning bill.

twitter-follow-me10What do YOU think about tobacco taxes?

photo by Chris Schroeder


#045 — Tax Day TEA Parties

April 15th, 2009

Party Like It’s 1773!

Today, thousands if not millions of people are expected to turn out to local Tax Day TEA parties.  The Tax Day Tea Party is a national collaborative grassroots effort organized by Smart Girl Politics, Top Conservatives on Twitter, the DontGo Movement and many other online groups & coalitions.

TEA stands for “Taxed Enough Already”, and these grassroots protests are in response to reactionary and excessive tax & spend policies by the U.S. government prompted by the recent bailouts and stimulus plans passed by Congress & signed into law by President Obama.  The TEA Party is analogous to the Boston Tea Party of 1773, a protest over the American colonists being subject to British taxing policies without any representation.

Here’s the video that started it all:

CNBC\’s Rick Santelli\’s Chicago Tea Party

Where’s The Party?

Thousands of Tax Day TEA Parties are scheduled today in many cities around the country.  For more information on a TEA Party in your local area, visit the Tax Day Tea Party website.

I’m Busy, How Can I Follow Today’s Events?

There are many political pundits, bloggers, and organizations covering the events nationwide.  Here’s a few I’ve seen:


Many people are covering local events real-time on Twitter:

You can also search Twitter for comments using the following search tags:


Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party


Do a search for “Tea Party”.  Plenty of attendees in numerous cities are posting their videos throughout the day.

Report Back to MyMoneyMinute!

Are any of you attending a Tax Day TEA Party today?? Please leave comments below about your experience, as well as links to pictures.  I may do a follow-up post if there’s enough reports generated.

twitter-follow-me9photos by skye820

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#044 — The 16 DOs & DON’Ts of Weekend Travel

April 14th, 2009

This past weekend, my wife & I took a weekend trip to Austin, and had a great time.  There were a few lessons learned to pass along.

The DOs & DON’Ts of Weekend Travel

  • DO clean your home before you leave; DON’T come back to a messy house.

On any vacation, it’s nice to come home to a clean house, isn’t it?  We don’t always follow this advice, but it is a relaxing feeling to come home and know you don’t have any chores to do for a few days.

  • DO use or some discount hotel website to book a cheap hotel.

If you’re not camping, it’s the best way to get a good deal on a weekend getaway.  We pricelined a 4-star hotel in Austin for $90, and may even been able to go lower.

  • DO make it a road trip; DON’T fly.

Drive somewhere.  Spending time on a drive can be as much fun and quality time as being in the actual destination.  Also, given the current gas prices, it’s just cheaper.  You also have the freedom to take the “back way” home and explore small-town America.  We did this by driving through part of the Texas Hill Country on the way back home.

The only exception to this might be a weekend trip to Vegas, since there’s such great package deals, and plenty of direct entertainment in the casinos to keep you occupied for a weekend.

  • DO pack a bottle of wine and some snacks; DON’T spend all your money at bars & restaurants.

You may be eating out all weekend, but if you pack a few snacks and drinks, it will cut down on your weekend food tab.  This is especially true with alcohol, which can often double your restaurant bill if you’re not careful.  To help soften the blow of a high bar tab, we brought a bottle of wine with us to share at the hotel, and grabbed some cheese & bread from the local supermarket.

  • DO find a way to make it an extended weekend; DON’T only make it a one-night adventure.

Weekends go fast enough as it is.  Find a weekend where you can take a Friday or Monday off to extend your time.  It makes your schedule a little more flexible and a little less stressful.  We took off Good Friday and made it a three-day Easter weekend.

  • DO see something of historical significance.

We arrived in Austin on Friday afternoon, with just enough time to stop by the state capitol building.  It was free to park that day, and free to enter the capitol and look around.  Texas is rich in history and it was a nice semi-educational detour to stop by and look around.  Next time we’ll have to go when the legislature is in session, so we can meet our local representatives.

  • DO ask for your friends’ recommendations; DON’T travel somewhere without some knowledge.

Everyone we knew, especially the native Texans, had been to (or went to school in) Austin.  There was not a shortage of excellent information.  Friends will give you the ‘insider’ information, like the hole-in-the-wall restaurants that don’t cost much, but have excellent food and atmosphere.  We found a great restaurant & bar by calling and getting a recommendation from a friend who went to college in Austin.

  • DON’T spend money at the chain stores; DO visit the local establishments.

I can eat at Chili’s or On The Border in Dallas; there’s no difference from one suburb to another.  The real fun is tasting the local cuisine or finding the mom & pop establishments.  It is more hit & miss this way, but ultimately you’ll have more memories of visiting the local shops or restaurants.

  • DON’T buy spa packages from the hotel.

This goes along with the chain vs. local establishments I spoke of above.  The hotel spa packages are overpriced, and don’t get you out into the town.  We found a day spa down the road that was local and had better prices.  The massages were great, although the pedicures unfortunately were a disaster.  Maybe we should have used more of my advice above, and asked a friend for a recommendation!

  • DO attend an out-of-town church service

I know growing up, being gone for a weekend meant no church service.  However, if you’re a person of faith, I highly recommend attending a church service while you’re out of town.  It gives you a fresh perspective on how other churches worship & operate.  A different pastor or speaker can also give you a fresh perspective on fairly common topics.  It also helps you realize that God is a whole lot bigger and encompassing than your local church, with all its joys and flaws.

How about you — What would you add to this list?  Any that you agree or disagree with?  Let’s see some comments below!

twitter-follow-me8photos by veganstraightedge & nicolasnova

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#043 — Links O’ The Week

April 13th, 2009

I was out of town this weekend, spending time with The Lovely Miss H on a weekend trip to Austin, Texas.  We had a great time, but I didn’t get a chance to promote the Carnivals in which I participated last week, as well as some of my favorite links I recently read.  I’ll get a fresh post out tomorrow about the financial “Do’s & Don’ts” of a weekend road-trip.  Meanwhile, enjoy these links!


The 199th Carnival of Personal Finance accepted my article on finishing my taxes and a TurboTax Review.

My interview with the creators of moneyStrands was featured in the 59th Money Hacks Carnival.

The 2nd Carnival of Pecuniary Delights featured my article titled Beyond The Paper: How Your Digital Imprint Affects Your Employment.

Thanks to the hosts for each of these Carnivals for including my submissions!

Links O’ The Week

Here’s a few links for you to check out in your spare time:

Looking to make that resume sizzle?  Squawkfox has 8 Keywords That Set Your Resume On Fire!

Single Guy Money gives us 5 Reasons To Pay Off Debt.  Short, simple, and to the point.

Dog Ate My Finances says she’s glad that Cigarette Taxes Are Up.

Finally, Get Rich Slowly offers a Financial Literacy Compendium to start off Financial Literacy Month.  There is a WEALTH of information just in this post on all topics Personal Finance.  Take a look.


photo by amir taj

Links O' The Week

#042 — Dave Ramsey’s Town Hall For Hope

April 10th, 2009

Are You Choosing To Participate In This Recession?

Let’s face it – the bad economic times are real.  We are in a deep recession.  Unemployment is high, construction is at a stand-still, and the stock market is in major correction.

But have we deepened our misery with an attitude of “doom & gloom”?  Are we in a self-fulfilling prophecy, where it has in fact become a more harmful economic environment because we are living in fear of how bad it can get?  While some of us may not have much say in a lay-off or a salary freeze, we do control our attitudes and whether we live our lives out of a spirit of fear, or from a spirit of empowerment and hope.

Town Hall For Hope

Dave Ramsey, a best-selling author and nationally-syndicated radio host, is a personal finance guru and America’s chief proponent of a debt-free lifestyle.  Dave will be hosting a Town Hall For Hope on April 23, 2009, at 8pm EST.  Over 5,000 churches and other organizations have signed up to host the event, which will be broadcast via a live private feed to each location, as well as through select radio markets and on the Fox Business Network, where Dave also hosts a daily television show.

In the 90 minute broadcast, Dave will spend 30 minutes speaking directly to our current economic climate, where true “hope” comes from (hint: it doesn’t come from Washington, DC!), and what real “change” must happen to put you & your family on the road to financial fitness.

The remaining 60 minutes will be split into two 30-minute Q&A sessions.  Questions will be taken not only from the live audience in Oklahoma City, but Dave is also going “Web 2.0″ by integrating and taking questions from these social networking sites:

Find A Host In Your Area

I’m hoping to find Dave’s message and this Town Hall For Hope both encouraging and inspiring.  You too should consider attending this event!  Click here or on the picture at the top of the page to locate a church or other organization that is hosting in your area.

Have you been reacting out of fear in this down economy?  Where do you place YOUR hope?  Tell me what would you ask Dave in this upcoming Town Hall For Hope.


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Personal Finance, Uncategorized ,

#041 — Are Your Credit Card Habits Changing For Good?

April 8th, 2009

Record Drop In Credit Card Usage

The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that credit card usage & consumer borrowing (non-mortgage debt) has dropped at record levels.  Credit card spending fell at an annual rate of $7.8 billion, or 9.7%.  People are charging less and saving more.  That’s good news, right?

Lesson Learned?

In a vaccuum, decreased credit consumption is a victory in the battle against the bondage of debt.  Does that mean the Dave Ramsey’s and Suze Orman’s of the world have gotten through to the consumptive masses, and people are rejecting debt?  Hopefully, but studies show household debt decreases during times of recession and then, as creditors begin to make more credit lines available, consumers increase their credit card borrowing levels at the first sign that the economy is breaking out of a recession.

In fact, the reason the credit crunch is so huge during this recession, is because during the last recession (dot-com bust, 2001-2002), household debt actually grew because of low-interest rates and the break-out of credit card “teaser rates”.  So instead of a natural ebb & flow to credit availability, creditors have slashed credit card limits and increased minimum payments.  Basically, we’re now forced to double-correct our credit usage because our households kept on borrowing through our last recession!

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

Use this double-correction recession to your advantage, and resist the urge to increase credit card spending when our economy begins to break out of this.  Practice delayed gratification by saving up to pay for things.  It is character-developing.  Use blog post and financial personalities to motivate yourself to get out of debt.  If you think you’re in too big a hole, consult some professionals about options prior to filing bankruptcy!  The point being, you need to eliminate past mistakes and work hard to put yourself into a position where financial mistakes won’t happen again.

Proverbs 22:7 (The Message) says “The poor are always ruled over by the rich, so don’t borrow and put yourself under their power.” Other versions say the borrower is servant, or slave to the lender.

With a deep recession and slashed credit limits, you have been forced to change your habits… for now.  What habits you default to when times are good again economically?

Are you subjected to the power of the rich?  Are you a servant?  Who owns you?


photo by Andres Rueda

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#040 — Car Talk: Don’t Use Your Emergency Fund To Replace Your Tires

April 6th, 2009

Tire Troubles?

Our family goes through tires like nobody’s business.  On my wife’s car, it seems like we’re always having trouble with the alignment.  My car has high-performance tires (which can’t be replaced with normal tires) that do not qualify for warranty, and have to be replaced about every 20,000 miles!

Is It An Emergency?

By definition, emergencies are unforeseeable or unplanned event that comes up.

Maybe the first time I replaced some tires, it was an emergency.  But now that I’m aware of my “high-performance” tires, it no longer is an emergency when it comes time to prematurely replacing them.  I would encourage you to add a “car maintenance” fund to your budget.  If you have a positive balance at the end of the month, set it aside and add it to the next month’s “car maintenance” allotment.  Allow it to build so when something DOES happen to your car (and it will), you’ll have a bit of cash set aside to help cover the costs.

In our budget, we’ve added an additional $50/month or so to our car maintenance line just because I know we’ll have to replace some tires each year.  It comes in handy to have an extra couple hundred dollars sitting around when you’re treading on thin ice.. or tires, as it may be.

Where To Buy Tires

We like to buy our tires at Discount Tire, also called America’s Tire in some parts of the country.  They are really close to home, have many locations in our area, and most importantly, they’ve got cheap prices!  Other people have loved using Wal-Mart or Costco to get their tires replaced.  If you’re an online shopper, you can even try, which appears to have pretty decent prices, and can deliver either to your residence or directly to your local tire shop where they can install them for you.

Do you have a budget line for car maintenance?  Where do you shop for tires?


photo by david.nikonvscanon


#039 — Links O’ The Week

April 4th, 2009

Lots of good reading out there. Here’s some recent favorites:


My post on What We Learn From Tragedy was featured in the 1st ever Carnival of Pecuniary Delights last week.  This Carnival features articles with information that’s more timeless content rather than the weekly fad, and will be a great recurring resource for its readers.

My post challenging you to Identify Your Underwater Financial Volcanoes was featured in the April Fools Edition of the Money Hacks Carnival.

The Carnival of Debt Reduction featured my post:  Don’t Laugh, It’s Paid For!

The Carnival of Personal Finance featured my Recession Buster: Increase Cash Flow With High Interest Checking.

Links O’ The Week

Money Grubbing Lawyer says we should Leave Emotion out of Negotiation (and if you find out how, let me know!)

Frugal Dad says Discover Cards for Teens Creates Bad Habits.

Pimp Your Finances has an Interview with Ramit Sethi, best-selling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

Five Cent Nickel shares with us some money advice and principles that he got from his followers on Twitter.

NCN also gets responses from his fellow “Tweeps” on Reasons Why We Fail To Stick To Our Budget.  Look for my comment in his post!

Clever Dude has a great post on Deconstructing the Job Offer.

Counting My Pennies talks the size of our Emergency Funds.

I’ve got more suggested reading, but that’ll do for now.  Have a great weekend!


Links O' The Week

#038 — A Few Details Once You Pay Off Your Car Loan

April 3rd, 2009

As I recently chronicled, we recently paid off my wife’s car.  The bank mailed the title to us the other day, and reminded us we have a few details left to take care of now that we’re official car owners.  I’m passing along their reminders with a few of my own suggestions & comments mixed in.  For other inspiration, see a similar article written by PT Money when he paid off his car in January.

What To Do After You Pay Off Your Car Loan

The Title

Check your title to make sure a bank representative signed & dated your release of lien. They should have upon mailing it to you, but hey, mistakes happen.  A signed & dated release of lien is satisfactory to transfer a clean title down the road, but if you want the lien completely removed from your title, go to your local county tax office, pay the applicable fees, and order a new title with the lien removed.

Store your title in a safe place. Title can be stolen and forged, so I recommend you don’t keep the title in your car.  Leave it in a protected place, such as your home safe, a locked file cabinet, or a safe deposit box at your local bank.

Insurance Policy

Change the “loss payee” on your insurance policy. When your vehicle’s financed, the lender requires you list them as “loss payee”, which means that if you total your car, any insurance payment for a total loss goes to cover the remaining loan balance first.  When you become the outright owner, you should change this to avoid any miscommunication and hassle with the bank and insurance adjuster should you total your car.  We use Esurance for our auto insurance, so this was easy for us.  I just logged onto my online account, and edited the car information.  In fact, I had forgotten to do this for our other car, so I changed them both on the spot.

While you’re at it, review the rest of your insurance policy. I considered raising my deductible, but decided against it for now.  But I did decide to add roadside assistance to our policy should our cars breakdown.  Both our vehicles are getting along in miles and we have an 80 mile round-trip commute each day.  I figured an extra $10 every six months wasn’t too bad for roadside assistance coverage.

Personal Finance

Snowball your car payment. If you just paid off a typical car loan, odds are your payment was about $400/month.  What will you do with all this extra money each month?  Don’t waste it on frivolous spending.  Be focused & intentional with that extra dough.  Add it to your debt snowball, or continue paying yourself a car payment each month, so you can buy your next car with cash, rather than a cash advance.

Take a minute to celebrate! That’s one less chain in the bondage of debt.  One more link broken on your way to freedom.  Congratulations are in order!  Pat yourself on the back, enjoy a celebratory dinner — whatever works to keep you motivated to continue on the path to financial awareness.

twitter-follow-me2photo by rick

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#037 — Interviewing The Creators Of moneyStrands

April 2nd, 2009


moneyStrands is the latest in the explosion of personal finance programs to hit the web.  Recently, I had a chance to have a virtual sit-down with Ryan Williams & Atakan Cetinsoy from the moneyStrands team to find out a little more about their newest product and the Strands business line.

Tell me a little bit about moneyStrands and how you came up with the concept?

Ryan: moneyStrands is an online money management application that lets you keep track of your money with ease, saving you time and perhaps money along the way.  moneyStrands lets you pull your data from many financial accounts, whether it’s a bank account, credit card, or loan, and brings everything together in one place.  Once the data is flowing in, automatically, you can take advantage of the many widgets that moneyStrands provides to allow you to build a completely customized financial dashboard.  We have a variety of tools — from alerts, budgeting, data visualization, reporting, and peer comparison features — along with personalized widgets that take advantage of Strands recommendation technology.  It’s a challenging time for many with our current economic conditions and I hope we can build something to help make people’s lives easier.

Atakan: Strands had the opportunity to work with BBVA in Spain, the 7th largest bank in the world based on market cap, to develop a new personal finance tool, Tú cuentas, for their online banking site and through this project, we were able to build a solution that we are now able to offer to the general public.

There are many budget & financial tracking websites popping up these days, such as Mint or Wesabe.  Do you see these sites as your competition, or does moneyStrands cater to its own niche market?

Ryan: It’s great to see the wave of innovation in this area of personal finance, and I think it speaks to the need that people have to make this process easier and more powerful.  It’s a competitive market and we certainly think we have a unique approach to solving this need.

Atakan: While covering the “must have” personal finance use cases, moneyStrands also is looking to add some measured element of fun.  We’d like to move away from the spreadsheet approach to money management to the extent possible.  We’d like to fill that void.

I’ve signed up for moneyStrands and honestly, I have been very impressed at its clean look, functionality, and usability by regular guys like me.  What do you like about your site that you feel is an improvement over other financial management websites?  What do you anticipate improving on the moneyStrands website?

Ryan: Thanks, we appreciate that!  The moneyStrands team is extremely talented and I too love to see what these guys can design and build.  We think we’ve developed a unique combination of financial tools, mobile access (iPhone app and mobile optimized websites), customization (with the widget based approach) and personalization that together offer a platform that offers users access to the information they need, and a platform to grow up with.

moneyStrands is only one aspect of the Strands brand.  Tell me about the other branches of the Strands brand.

Ryan: Strands was founded in 2003 with the core focus on social recommendation technologies that are brought to life in a number of different ways.  MyStrands is a powerful music recommendation site that let’s you share your music tastes and receive recommendations of other music you may like based on those tastes.  Our latest consumer site, provides a home for you to log training activities related to running, cycling and many other sports, allowing you to interact with other athletes (or geeks if you’re into the social media scene) to find similar people and discover new ideas for your training.  Watch that site for more soon!  Finally, our Strands Business Solutions group provides an easy way for e-commerce stores and content sites to provide recommendations to their customers for relevant products and articles that they find interesting.

What is the overall vision for the Strands brand?  Do you hope to merge or enter ventures with other online companies that would compliment your company’s vision?

Atakan: Strands believes in the concept of a personal web experience that we are only beginning to witness today.  This may perhaps be thought of as an intermediate step between today’s web and the semantic web concept of the future.  The crumbles of information about us users are out there and in many cases these are not being interpreted efficiently.  Strands’ vision is to collect, aggregate, and personalize the bits and pieces of our information preferences and needs in selected verticals while properly addressing privacy implications.  moneyStrands is a example of this in the personal finance space.

We are always looking for strategic partners that complement our strengths with strengths of their own.

Finally, I am always impressed with those that have a vision and go out into the real world and execute it.  Tell me a little bit about yourselves.

Atakan: My background is in software product marketing and integrated marketing analytics. Prior to joining Strands I spent 5 years at Apple setting up CRM systems and managing personalized marketing programs for their online sales channel as well as the iTunes store. I hold an MBA degree and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.  I am originally from Turkey.

Ryan: Thanks again.  I joined the moneyStrands team in the acquisition of NetworthIQ last year.  I had started NetworthIQ with some friends in 2005 after having always been a little too obsessive about my own personal finances and wanted to find a way to merge my interest in personal finance with my passion for web development.  I graduated from The University of Oregon and currently live in Portland, Oregon.  Feel free to connect with me on Twitter (@ryanwi).  I love to connect with members of the personal finance community.

Thanks to Ryan & Atakan for the interview. I’ll have a review of their website soon!


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