Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Discounts

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

After I started blogging at Family Money Values, my research led me to discover the “Woodstock for Capitalist” – the annual meeting of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway company.

 

The meeting.

To my knowledge, this is the only shareholder meeting that offers not only a chance to vote on proxy items in person, but also access to the ‘sage of Wall Street’ and his side kick Charlie Munger as well as a chance to glimpse some of the board members, including Bill Gates.  Buffett and Munger (he is a riot by the way) host a question answer period to a jam packed convention hall for most of the day.  The actual meeting typically lasts less than an hour.

There are dinners, a chance to mingle the night before with other shareholders, a 5k run, a huge exhibition hall and multiple shareholder discounts.

Eager to see the spectacle, I bought B shares of BRK stock in 2012.  Unlike the A shares (which as of 5/2/17 were valued at about a quarter of a million dollars per share), the B shares were only around $112 per share.

That first year, my spouse, my two grown sons and I drove to Omaha and spent the night so we could get to the meeting in time to see the movie.  The hotels were booked as early as January but we managed to get two rooms in a not so nice hotel at a price I could stomach.  We drove to the meeting in the morning and made it in time to see the starting movie – from the nosebleed section of the hall.  It was sort of a funny movie, with a lot of subtle and not so subtle advertising for Berkshire companies.

It was interesting seeing and listening to Buffett and Munger and hearing the questions folks came up with.

For lunch, the food vendor stalls in the hall are open and doing a brisk business.  We ate standing up as their were no empty seats.

Later, we strolled down to the exhibition hall and looked around.  There were some pretty good discounts (we bought a couple of knife sets) and then there were things that still seemed a bit too expensive (like the See’s Candy)

We didn’t take advantage of the 5k run, the reception on Friday at Borscheims, the steak dinner for shareholders (you still have to pay) at Gorat’s, or compete with Buffett in the Newspaper throwing challenge.  Nor did we get over to the Omaha Nebraska Furniture Mart or the Borscheims – where even more shareholder discounts were said to occur.  We did ride over to see the Netjets planes at the hanger.

Each year since, my spouse and I have attended the meeting – driving up the morning of it.

As the meeting attendance has swelled over the years, straining the area resources (hotels, convention room etc), the Berkshire folks have made some adjustments.

Last year, they initiated a live stream of the Saturday meetings.  If you are interested you can view that on Yahoo Finance https://finance.yahoo.com/brklivestream/

 

The discounts.

This year, Berkshire-Hathaway opened up the shareholder discounts to include all locations of the Nebraska Furniture Mart – NFM –  (Omaha, Kansas City and Dallas-Fort Worth), instead of limiting the discounts to the Omaha store.

I was excited about this one as we live near one of the other stores and was hopeful that the discount amounts would be significant, since we had gotten some good deals in the exhibit hall.  So, as soon as our proxy material arrived, with the form to fill out to receive shareholder credentials (which you need to get into the meeting and to get the discounts), I sent it back and got our max of 4 credentials in the mail.

The discounts run for several days prior to and throughout the weekend of the annual meeting. Yesterday was the first day of the NFM discounts so I geared up and went shopping to check them out.

As I had never been and couldn’t find any information online, I had no idea about what to expect.  Would they be limited to certain items?  Would the discounts be a set percent?

As soon as I entered the store, I asked the first person encountered how the discounts worked.  Unfortunately, that person was a security guard and didn’t have much information.  But he did tell me that I should talk to a sales person.  The appliance section was near (NFM at this location is huge so distance mattered!) and I quickly found a salesman to help me out.  Here is what I found.

The discounts are embedded inside the store’s database, not displayed anywhere.  You have to find an item in which you are interested, scout out a salesperson (who is usually on commission), show him your credential and ask him what the discounted price is.

Alternately, if you are the actual shareholder, you are in that database too and you can call in to check on prices and make an order.

 

Examples of the underwhelming discounts

So, I checked out some of the items I’m interested in obtaining to see what kind of discount they had.

I was underwhelmed, to be honest.

  • Samsung washer – manufacturer suggested retail price of $899, sale price to any shopper that day at NM of $643, and BRK shareholder discounted price of $630. Hmmm only $13 less than anyone else.
  • Samsung matching dryer – same prices as the washer.
  • GE black basic refrigerator freezer with ice maker – manufacturer suggested retail price of $994, no sale price to any shopper that day, BRK shareholder discounted price of $974.12 – only discounted $19.88.
  • Wood swivel counter height stool – regular NFM price of $159, discounted for shareholders to $127. While this was a better percentage than the appliances I checked, it was nowhere near the 30% off I had dreamed about.
  • Upholstered swivel counter height stool – regular NFM price of $369, discounted for shareholders to $295.

While it is nice to get a shareholder discount, the process used and the seemingly small percentage off what others pay was discouraging and time consuming.

Still if you are buying something anyway, and have access to shareholder credentials, it is worth checking out.  Who knows, maybe other merchandise was discounted at a higher percentage.

I have enjoyed going to the meetings and hearing first hand from the sage, but even better has been the growth in share price of BRK-B (which was at $166.65) as of the last quote – a rise of $54.65 per share – gee, which I had bought more!

Discounts aren’t everything. How about you all? Have you encountered any underwhelming discounts recently?

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/132053576@N03/17063139357/sizes/l

How to Throw a Fun Yet Affordable Graduation Party

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Summer is around the corner, which means families everywhere will be getting ready to throw high school and college graduation parties. If you’re preparing to throw a graduation party and have been talking to parents of other grads, you’re likely beginning to prepare to spend a LOT of money – or panicking about how a graduation party will affect your family finances.

The good news is that a great graduation party doesn’t have to be super expensive. Abandon thoughts of catered dinners and expensive decorations, and consider these ideas for a fun yet affordable graduation party.

Share Your Party

If your graduate has a best friend, family member or significant other who is also graduating, consider doing a shared graduation party. Not only will you be able to split the costs with the other family, but many of your guests will probably know both graduates and will likely appreciate having to only attend one party as opposed to two.

Cut Down on Equipment Rental Costs

It can be expensive to rent party tents, chairs and tables. A cheaper idea may be to rent a local park pavilion or to hold the party at the home of a friend/family member who has a large garage where most guests can be indoors without the need for a tent. Borrowing tables and chairs from family and friends can help cut down on costs there. Since the tables will be covered with tablecloths anyway it doesn’t matter much if they don’t match.

Keep a Handle on the Food Budget

There are several ways you can make sure the food budget for your graduation party doesn’t get out of hand.

Choose Your Party Time Carefully

Know that time of day makes a difference. If you hold your party at lunch time (between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) or dinner time (between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.) people will expect a full meal. However if you hold the party during midday hours, you can get away with serving a lighter assortment of finger foods and appetizers.

Don’t Do the Catering Thing

Catering is often the largest expense for graduation party holders, but it’s not always a necessary expense. Choosing foods that are inexpensive and easy to prepare, and asking for help from close friends and loved ones will help you save substantially on food costs. Here are some ideas for easy-to-prepare and serve, inexpensive foods.

  • Go to the warehouse club for maximum savings. They have great specials on deli meat, or if you really want to save you can get pulled pork for about $2 a pound and throw some BBQ sauce on it.
  • Inexpensive salads. Again, the warehouse club is your friend here. They sell pastas, lettuce and other veggies at amazingly low prices and huge quantities. Look online for salad recipes that are inexpensive yet delicious.
  • Potato and other chips may not be an adult favorite but kids love them. Warehouse clubs and stores like Aldi sell chips for super cheap.
  • Fruit and vegetable trays. Instead of buying already prepared fruit and veggie trays, shop at the warehouse club or Aldi and recruit a couple of friends to help you put together a nice array of fruits and veggies along with some store bought dips.
  • Warehouse clubs such as Sam’s Club and Costco sell delicious half and whole sheet cakes for amazingly low prices. You can usually get a whole sheet cake for under $40. If you don’t want to go the cake route, have close friends and family members contribute a plate of bars or cookies and have a dessert buffet instead of cake.
  • Lighter fare. If you’re doing a midday party you can get away with deli sandwiches cut into triangles and an assortment of veggies, fruits and chips.
  • Instead of serving sodas, choose to make punch with any combination of lemonade or Koolaid and add in lemon lime soda or Ginger Ale. Much cheaper, and different too. People drink soda often but rarely get to indulge in punch.

Invitations

Technology has made it very easy to do your own graduation party invitations, either on your home computer system or at a DIY photo system like the ones at Walmart. With pre-made templates to choose from, creating your own invitations will be cheap and easy.

Decorations

Decorations don’t have to cost a lot of money. Consider these ideas for a beautiful but frugal graduation party.

Tablecloths

Buy tablecloths at the dollar store in your child’s school colors for a colorful but inexpensive addition to your party.

Table and other Decorations

Instead of buying table centerpieces, use photos laid on tables or arranged nicely around the area, or use other items from home that reflect your child’s interests and talents. Books arranged nicely with ribbons work well as decorations too.

You can also decorate using your food choices.  Check out this Pinterest board for fun but easy ideas such as Diploma Cookies and Graduation Hat Pops.

With a little creativity and work, your child’s graduation party can be fun without draining your bank account.

A Word about Your Home’s Appearance

If you’re having your child’s graduation party at home, you may feel like you’ve got to remodel and redecorate and have your home looking picture perfect for the party. Know that cleaning, decluttering and a few inexpensive home enhancement decisions like a fresh coat of paint and a few flowers can go a long way. No need to remodel your entire home to impress people for one day. On the other hand, if you’ve been meaning to remodel anyway and have the cash on hand, an upcoming graduation party can be a great excuse to finally get it done.

How about you all? What are your tips for saving money on graduation parties? Do you have any ideas for inventive graduation gifts? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

****Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/attercop311/3092138753/

7 Tips for Helping You Sell Your Home Quickly

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer,Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Real estate experts say spring is the busiest home buying season, with June being the peak month for home sales. However, simply listing your house for sale during the busy season won’t necessarily get it sold quickly. Appearance and marking still play a part.

Here are 7 things you can do to help your home sell fast no matter what the market.

  1. Use a Good Realtor

As with any other profession, not all realtors are good at what they do. Ask for referrals from friends and family, and interview at least three realtors before choosing the one who will help you sell your home. A good realtor can mean the difference between a pleasant home selling experience and a not-so-pleasant one.

  1. Stage Your Home Well

Staging your home means making it look as much as possible like a model home you would see in a new housing development. Staging well involves taking special care to make your home shine using the following techniques.

Do Some Serious Decluttering & Depersonalizing

The goal with staging is to enable those who view your home at showings to be able to see themselves living there. Put away all items that personalize your home, such as family photos, monogrammed items and stuffed animals.

Also, minimize the amount of stuff that is in your home, even in closets and storage areas. You want your home to appear as if there is plenty of room in it and as if it is well taken care of and kept super clean. This might mean needing to rent a storage garage or having to give away lots of “stuff” to local thrift stores. Your home should look its very best, being clean, shiny and uncluttered.

Remove Overly Worn and Tacky Furniture and Accessories

That singing fish you got from Uncle Joe last Christmas? Yeah, that needs to go while your house is on the market. So does any overly worn furniture or accessories. If you need to replace overly worn items, do so by buying stuff you were going to purchase anyway or by getting super good deals on replacement items at thrift stores or on Craigslist. Make sure any new items you bring into your home match the current décor and don’t carry with them any odd smells or stains.

Update the Interior

If you’re still boasting mint green and peach walls and bedding, now might be the time to change things up. Paint where necessary using modern and neutral colors that appeal to a large variety of tastes on your walls and for your bedding, etc.

Don’t Forget Curb Appeal

The last but possibly most important part of staging your home to sell is to make sure your lawn looks neat and attractive. Make sure that the lawn is mowed, weeds are eliminated and any flowers or bushes are well trimmed. Remove and clutter from the yard and be sure the entrance area appears welcoming by adding a small mat, sitting bench, flowers or other accessories. Your house should shine on the outside as well as on the inside.

  1. Price it Right

Your realtor should be able to show you comparable sales and listings that can give you an idea of what price you should list your house for. Use your own research too, checking online for similar sizes and conditions of homes in similar areas to help determine what you should price your house at. Pricing too high will result in a longer market time, and pricing too low will mean you lose out on thousands in cash.

  1. Make it Easy to View Your Home

Be accommodating to prospective buyers and be ready to leave your home for showings on short notice, keeping it clean and organized at all times. Prospective buyers who have to try two and three times to see your house may just give up and shop elsewhere.

  1. Remove Evidence of Pets

Where possible, remove all pet paraphernalia such as litter boxes, pet toys and feeding bowls. Also, make sure your house is thoroughly vacuumed and get the carpets cleaned if necessary, so that pet evidence is minimal to none.

  1. Ensure the Listing Has Good Photos

Photos on your listing should be of good quality, accenting the best features of your home. Have a large kitchen? Make sure your realtor takes the picture from the view that will best highlight that. Does your master bath have a Jacuzzi tub? If so, include that in the pictures. The photos on your listing should help your home put its best foot forward.

  1. Be Willing to Negotiate

When buyers make an offer on a home, they will often ask for perks such as seller paid closing costs or the inclusion of furniture or other items. Your home will sell faster if you are flexible on your price and/or other aspects that make potential buyers feel like they are getting a good deal.

By taking the steps above you are creating an environment that will help your home sell quickly and easily.

How about you all? What features attract you when you are home shopping?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/cloneofsnake/727899051/sizes/l

Facing High Medical Debt? Here’s What You Should Do

The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Toi Williams, who is a professional finance blogger for MarketBeat. She has backgrounds in personal finance, sales, and real estate.

Medical debt is becoming a big problem for many in the United States. According to data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, medical debt collections currently make up about 52 percent of collection accounts on credit reports, a much higher rate than other types of debt. About a quarter of adults ages 18 to 64 reported having past-due medical debt in 2015, compared with 10 percent of people over 65. An estimated 43 million consumers with a credit report at a nationwide consumer reporting agency have one or more medical accounts in collection.

Of the consumers with only medical collections accounts, 50 percent have otherwise “clean” credit reports. However, having a single collections item on a credit report can hurt a credit score severely. A person with a FICO score of 680 could see their credit score drop 45-65 points once a collections account has been added to the information. Someone with a score of 780 could see a decline of 105-125 points.

This makes it very important to act on the medical debt quickly before it is sent to collections. There is currently no set standard for when a medical debt will be sent to collections, so it could happen anywhere between 30 – 180 days past the billing date. Here are some steps to take that will make handling high medical debt a little easier.

 

Examine Medical Bills Carefully For Errors

Medical bills are complicated and are often full of codes and terms that you may not understand. Those with chronic conditions, medical emergencies, or lengthy hospital stays face even more challenges because their care often results in multiple bills from multiple providers. Requesting itemized bill from each provider will allow you to check how much you were charged for each service.

When reviewing your medical bills, make sure that you were not mistakenly charged for services you didn’t receive. If a provider listed is unfamiliar, check the date of service to see if you had a medical treatment that day. Some providers may be associated with a hospital where you were treated but chose to bill you directly for the services.

 

Review Circumstances Of Denied Coverage

Many cases of high medical debt are due to the patient’s insurer denying coverage for certain procedures. Unless it is a medical emergency, in most cases you will know what your insurance will cover before receiving treatment. If coverage is denied for something that you believe should have been covered, there are several things that you can do.

First, review your health insurance policy to see exactly what providers and procedures are covered under your plan. If the questionable items should be covered, make sure your provider has your correct insurance info and that they used the correct billing codes when submitting the claim to your insurance company. A small mistake can lead to expensive bills for procedures that your insurance should have covered.

 

Dispute Inaccurate Charges

If you have reviewed your medical bills and find that you have been charged incorrectly, it is important to dispute the bill as quickly as you can. The first step is to send a written notice to the provider detailing which portions of the bill you are disputing. Be sure to send copies of all relevant documents along with the written notice, including copies of the bills with the errors clearly indicated and copies of medical records related to your claim.

In many cases, the provider will revise the bill to correct the errors once this notification has been received. It is important to stay on top of the matter until you can confirm that the necessary changes have been made. Keep a record of contacts made with the provider in your efforts to correct the bill. This information can be valuable if the medical bill is sent to collections still containing errors.

 

Ask If Discounts, Payment Plans, Or Financial Assistance Is Available

Medical care providers know that many people have trouble paying high medical debt and many offer ways to make paying the debt easier. For example, some medical providers will offer a discount to those that can pay the discounted amount right away. Others will accept the Medicare rate for their services, which is typically lower than the rate charged by private insurers. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Some hospitals and clinics have a financial-assistance program to help people that are unable to pay their bills, but there are typically income limitations on who can apply for these programs. The provider might also offer a monthly payment plan that enables you to pay off the debt in installments at little or no interest. You may also be able to negotiate the amount due directly with your health care provider. In many cases, they will be willing to work with you to come up with a plan that you can afford.

One of the worst things you can do is put large amounts of medical debt on your credit card. If you cannot pay off the balance right away, you will be subject to a much higher interest rate on the debt than the provider would have charged you. If the debt is sent to collections, it will look like any other credit card debt to creditors, severely harming your ability to obtain credit in the future. Explore other options for repayment first and only use your credit card if you can pay off the entire amount before the next billing cycle.

How about you all? Have you been struggling with high medical debt? How have you been coping? Tell us in the comments.

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/usarmyafrica/4567202913/sizes/l

A Talk All Couples Should Have

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

After 9/11/2001, I started sharing a written record of our finances, with our children – who are our trustees.  Each year, I try to update it to make sure it somewhat matches reality.  It is meant to be a help if both my spouse and I die together and the kids have to pick up the pieces.

This year, as I was doing my updating, I realized that was not enough.  I am the primarily financial person in our marriage at this point.  I make the investment decisions, update the financial records and file the papers.  I usually do the prep work for our taxes to send to the accountant.  My husband and I do freely discuss our finances and do split some of the financial duties.  For example, he usually pays the bills and subtracts out the check register, while I do most of the other planning and reconciling work.  I also run both of our two limited liability corporations, since he is interested in neither.

Lately I’ve come to realize that my spouse may not know what to do if I die first, and my family history is of early death while his is of longevity.

He has never had to deal with the minutiae of death, and I have minimal experience.  There is a lot to do when one of a couple dies and if no discussion has happened the decisions involved can be heart rending.

Immediate decisions as to life support withdrawal, organ donation, preferences on how the body is handled, and things like what kind of wake to hold, where the service should be, and how much to spend on a funeral are just a few of many the surviving spouse will have to handle quickly.

Becoming single after our 45 plus years of being a couple will be a dramatic change for the survivor.  While documenting financial activities and accounts is important and needed, knowing ahead of time what your partner might prefer you to do can help the surviving spouse handle those immediate and imminent decisions during a grief filled, busy and stressful period.

 

Have that death talk.

Suggested questions for discussion/decision could be as follows.

 

Do you want to donate any organs?

How does each spouse feel about it?  What do you think the relative’s reactions will be – will they make it hard on the survivor?

 

Do you want to prepare a living will and/or a medical power of attorney?

What are your wishes if you can’t speak for yourself.

When my Dad’s cancer was determined to be terminal, he and Mom had this discussion and their decision was to do everything possible to save Dad.  He was after all only 65.

 

What do you want done with your body?

Do you want to be cremated, embalmed, buried naturally?  Do you want an open casket or a closed casket?  Do you want your body preserved within concrete vaults so it doesn’t decompose or do you want your earthly remains to decompose? Does your religion approve of your wishes and if not, how will your family handle it when the survivor implements your decision.  For instance, my husband was raised Roman Catholic.  According to Church doctrine, having an intact body at the funeral is of high importance.  Does that mean cremation is out?

 

Where do you want to be interred?

Do you want a particular cemetery or type of cemetery (religious, green, local, family and etc).  Should there be a head stone, or flat to the ground grave marker?  How do you want it engraved?  If cremated, what should be done with your ashes, your urn?  Would you prefer they be placed in a mausoleum/Columbarium, scattered, kept in the family home, etc?.

 

How much do you think should be spent on your funeral?

Just discuss to get an idea of what price levels you each think are appropriate?  Do you want to go with bare bones arrangements or something more elegant (and can you afford it)?

 

What should be considered for your memorial service?

Do you have certain songs, music, passages or speakers you want to involve in the funeral service?

Do you want others to stand up and give eulogies?  Should that be done at the funeral service, during the visitation, online or some other way.

 

Are there any documents or pictures you want to make sure get distributed?

I am planning on writing my autobiography.  I’ve asked my spouse to make sure that whatever I have done at the time of my death gets distributed to my heirs.  On a similar note, it is important to me to have my side of the family genealogy and history (which I spent considerable time gathering) preserved and passed along to future generations.

 

What do you want to leave as your legacy?

Is it important to you to leave assets to the kids or grand kids?  Do you want to fund certain charities or organizations (either with your assets or via donations in lieu of flowers at your service).  Are there certain accomplishments you wish to have memorialized  – such as Thomas Jefferson did when he instructed that of all his many accomplishments only 3 were to be memorialized – being the author of the Declaration of American Independence and of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom and being the father of the University of Virginia.

 

What income and expense levels can the survivor expect?

Now is the time to do some planning to make sure your partner will not be driven into the poor house when you die.

Our good friend Bill was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He was a funny, hardworking carpenter, but he had no pension, no savings and his wife there fore would have no income.  She was handicapped and was suddenly left, not only without her life partner, but also without any economic support.

 

What tasks are done substantially by one person or the other?

Discuss how you have divided up the chores of life.  Make sure the other person is aware of all you do,  how to do it, when to do it and why to do it.

Bring the other party up to speed, especially on critical and financial tasks.  Make sure each one is aware of how to find things, who to call, and etc.  Make sure there is a common list available to both of doctors, mechanics, dentists, lawyers, accountants and etc.

 

How do you picture your life changing when I’m gone?

Help each other envision what life might be like when left behind.  By all accounts widows and widowers have a long, hard, somewhat lonely road ahead the first few years after the death of a partner.

But thinking (and talking) through possible scenarios can be helpful.   Will you keep the house?  How do you feel about  being single?  Do you think you might marry again some day (and how does the other person feel about that)?  Are there things you might want to explore that perhaps you didn’t have a chance to pursue so far?

 

What kinds of things are you going to do to get past the first couple of years alone?

Some experts say that keeping busy and socially involved can  help.  Others say you should grieve however you want.  Some say don’t make any big changes, as you are not in your best mental state while grieving.  How will you handle day to day activities that require more than one person?  Who will you call when you want or need to talk.

 

What do you want done with your ‘stuff’?

My spouse is a collector.  He fears that all of his wonderful collections will be sold off, because the heirs don’t want them.

Should there be a museum?  Is there a charity you should donate it to?  Are there certain things with special meaning you would like passed along to certain people?  My Mom requested that her jewelry be passed down the female side of the family.  I’m doing the same with all of her jewelry and with mine.

Life can and does end suddenly at times, totally unexpected.  Although not a fun topic, the above death talk is worth talking through.

How about you all? What difficulties do you foresee in initiating such a discussion with your life partner?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/halfchinese/235051813/sizes/l