Four Letters That Will Help You in Your Debt Payoff Journey

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Click here to enter my free $201.40 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is November 30th, 2011.

The following is a guest post written by Frank Collins. Enjoy! 

Four Letters That Will Help You in Your Debt Payoff Journey

Many people don’t realize the value of letter writing. In fact, many of your rights regarding credit card and debt can only be exercised if you send a written letter. Sometimes simply calling the bank or business isn’t enough to strike a deal with your debt. Here are a few letters to keep in your arsenal of tools for attacking debt.

Debt Validation Letter

Use the debt validation letter with debt collectors in the first 30 days after they contact you about collecting the debt. The debt validation letter tells the debt collector that you dispute the validity of the debt. Once the debt collector receives your letter, they can’t contact you anymore until they send valid proof that the debt is yours and they’re supposed to be collecting it. If they don’t have the proof or can’t get it, then you don’t have to deal with that collector again, for that specific debt at least.

Credit Card Billing Dispute Letter

You don’t have to pay for billing mistakes as long as you recognize and report them in a timely manner. You have 60 days from the date the billing statement was mailed (or emailed) to you to report the error.

While you can call your creditor to report the error, the law specifically states that you should report the error in writing. There’s no harm in doing both. In your letter, list the billing error and state why it’s inaccurate. Then, the credit card issuer will acknowledge your letter and take steps to resolve your complaint. Make sure you report the errors quickly so you’re not held liable for them.

Debt Settlement Offer Letter

If you’re behind on your account payments by 90 days or more and you don’t think you can afford to catch up or pay the balance in full, you can send a debt settlement offer letter.

In the letter, state that you’re having financial difficulty and would like to settle your account. List the amount that you’re able to settle for and wait for the creditor to respond. If the creditor accepts your settlement offer, be prepared to send your payment before they take the offer off the table.

Pay-for-Delete-Offer Letter

With the pay-for-delete-offer, you can knock out your past due debt and improve your credit at the same time. The pay-for-delete letter offers to pay your account balance in full, and in exchange, the creditor agrees to remove negative information from your credit report. Keep in mind that the pay-for-delete is just an offer and the creditor isn’t obligated to give in to your request. In fact, you’ll have to get your letter to just the right person, a supervisor or executive, for the offer to be accepted.

Sending Your Letters

On the time sensitive letters like debt validation and billing error dispute letters, it’s a good idea to send them via certified mail with return receipt requested. That way you have proof of when the letter was sent and received. You can use this proof to appeal to a higher authority, e.g. the FTC, if the creditor doesn’t respond in a timely manner.

How about you all? What rights or strategies have you exercised in order to help payoff (or better manage paying off) your debt? 


Have you tried sending in any of the 4 letters mentioned above? 


Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • Thanks so much for such an informative article, Frank! I must admit that learning about all of these rights people have/techniques that people can use to help manage their debt payoff made me feel quite in the dark, as I have fairly little experience in this area.
  • However, I imagine that a lot of people are in the same boat as me in that they don’t know that many of these rights/strategies are available to them. So, thanks for laying them out in plain sight for us to analyze!
  • It’s also interesting that despite all of the technology available to debt-companies these days, there are apparently still many official actions that can only be managed and handled through good ole-fashioned mail! haha This was also the case I experienced recently when opening a self employed 401(k) account with Vanguard. They required that the hardcopy application be sent in via the US Postal Service.
  • @ Debt validation letter
    • Interesting! This sounds like a good way to at least delay (or maybe eliminate all-together) being bothered by certain debt collectors. 
    • One thing I’m curious about though is what exactly is required for “valid proof” that the debt they’re collecting is correct? Is there a standard form for this, or can it just be an “overdue balance” statement from the credit card company?
  • @ Receiving receipt confirmation when sending important debt reduction letters - 
    • In my experience, whenever you’re sending a letter either by physical mail or email that is not SPECIFICALLY requested by the receiving party, you always have to be prepared for the likelihood that it will simply be ignored and/or lost. After all, if they’re receiving hundreds of pieces of mail per day, why should they place your note at the top of the pile?
    • As such, it definitely makes sense to have a way to validate that the receiving party actually did receive the letter. Paying the $0.30 extra for delivery confirmation can go a long way to helping you achieve your goals in this case! 
  • @ Not being scared of your creditors - 
    • Lastly, I think that another important thing to point out with the whole process of paying off your debt is to avoid viewing the company to which you owe a debt as some powerful, evil entity that has the power to SUCK OUT YOUR VERY SOUL! 
    • As you can imagine, at the end of the day, the company to which you owe money is just made up of normal people who want to accomplish their goals and add value to others’ lives. Because of this, it actually is in THEIR best interest AS WELL AS YOURS to work with you in order to get you to pay off your debt. 
    • Often, I think people are surprised at how flexible debtees can be in helping their debtors pay off their debt, either by being flexible with interest rate or even payoff terms overall. Typically, this flexibility can only be discovered if you take action and ask about what you can do. After all, the worst that can happen is that they say, “no.”

***Photo courtesy of http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2105/2510296904_408a716826.jpg

5 Things to Remember When Investing in a Rental Property

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Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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The following is a guest post. Enjoy!

5 Things to Remember When Investing in a Rental Property
 
Buying a home is nerve-wracking enough; purchasing a rental property puts an even greater burden on your shoulders since your goal is not just to have a place simply to live, but to actually profit from the investment.
There are so many details to consider. Some of the questions that often come up are listed below:
  • How much money will it take to get the home in move-in condition for tenants?
  • Should you be looking into tax benefits?
  • Does the property have the potential to provide you with a steady income?

Although the process of becoming a landlord (or lady) is somewhat tedious and fraught with unnerving legal jargon, buying a rental property is essentially the same as purchasing any other house. The best thing to do is picture yourself living there. Would you pay as much as you’re hoping to ask? Listed below are several considerations to be sure to remember if you’re looking at purchasing a property to rent out as an investment.

1. Location, location, location -

Okay, so maybe it’s a cliché, but location really does matter when you are considering taking on a buy to let mortgage, and rental properties are certainly not exempt. While buying a cheaper property in a run-down neighborhood may seem like a good idea for making a bigger return on your investment, you may be ruining your chances of success before the first lease is signed.
Properties that are located in bad areas will not attract good tenants. Even if you were to find great tenants for this type of neighborhood, they won’t end up staying for very long since bad neighborhoods tend to mean higher crime rates. Check the crime statistics of the area for a rundown on the neighborhood. You can do this by visiting the police station or public library rather than asking the current homeowner, since you most likely won’t get an honest answer anyway.

2. Jobs -

This goes along with location, which stresses the importance of location even more. If there aren’t any employment opportunities in the area, it’s going to be hard to find tenants. Choose neighborhoods that are in or within close proximity of decent-sized cities. Most people prefer a short commute to work, so anything over 45 minutes to the nearest town or city may be pushing your luck.

3. The property -

Focus on the appeal of the place. Is the kitchen large enough to accommodate a family? If there are enough bedrooms, can you rent out the apartment as student housing and charge a flat rate per tenant? What sort of heating does the place have?
Certainly, you can get more money for your investment if the place has more bedrooms. Maybe you can look into remodeling the floor plan to accommodate more people? Above all else, make sure the apartment is clean!

4. Safety first -

Safety issues often arise in old houses so be wary of this fact. A licensed home inspector can help identify potential issues including lead paint, asbestos, radon, and mold. Keep in mind also that landlords are responsible for installing smoke alarms. Check for unfenced swimming pools, broken windows, open electrical circuits, and anything else that may pose a hazard.

5. Think small -

Bigger is not always better and scaling back on property size can reduce your tax rate significantly. A smaller apartment is also cheaper to heat, which helps if you are providing utilities to the tenants.
You also don’t want to dream so big that you end up buying property out of state. Stay close to home so you can stay on top of problems and keep an eye on your investment. That buy-to-rent/let mortgage was a serious investment, so you don’t want to play the absentee landlord.

How about you all? Have you ever invested in a rental property? If so, what steps did you take to make sure it was desirable/would be rented out regularly? 


If you haven’t yet invested in a rental property, what has made you resist doing so? Was it monetary, or a desire to avoid the burden of being a landlord?


Share your experiences by commenting below!

Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • Very interesting post! I like articles pertaining to becoming a landlord, as I could definitely see myself getting involved in renting out properties after finishing my graduate school program and obtaining a regular job with a more substantial salary.
  • However, the approach I would probably take is to first buy a house/condo to live in myself for several years while I made progress paying down the mortgage. Then, when I was ready to upgrade to a larger home, I would keep ownership in the old place, move in to the new house with my family (the two houses can be in the same city/location – that’s no problem), and then start renting out the previous house to tenants.
  • @ My principle concern with buying real estate just to rent it out - 
    • With the way the real estate market has been for the past several years in the US, the main worry I would have with owning a rental property is not whether I could actually do my homework properly to determine whether a place is desirable to tenants or not, but rather there is enough demand for the place to rent out in the first place.
    • For example, I currently live in a condo complex that maybe has several hundred units. However, it feels like about half of the units are empty currently. Of course, this could be related to them all being “for sale” and not an accurate reflection on the strength or weakness of the rental market. However, it still definitely prompts the question.
    • As such, before becoming a landlord, I would probably want to get a very concrete sense of the rental market overall in the town in which I lived.
    • Currently, I’m not sure of any good online resources to do this – do any of you all know of any?

***Photo courtesy of http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1406/1455052642_43acd1ab29.jpg

Carnival of Personal Finance #337 – Black Friday 2011 Statistics – November 28th, 2011 Edition

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Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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Click here to enter my free $201.40 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is November 30th, 2011.

Welcome to this week’s Carnival of Personal Finance, a weekly listing of the top personal finance articles around the blogosphere in the following categories – taxes, money management, investing, career, debt, frugality, credit, economy, finance, real estate, saving, and budgeting.

It’s amazing to think that it’s been almost 27 weeks/editions of the Carnival since the last time we hosted (back on May 23rd of this year). Summer, Halloween, fall, the 1st ever Financial Blogger Conference, and Thanksgiving have all come and gone. Time sure does fly! However, it’s good to be back hosting again, and I’m looking forward to getting through December and spending some quality time with family for Christmas.

The theme for this week’s carnival is a wrap-up of some interesting summary statistics of consumer shopping behavior during Black Friday 2011 and over this weekend! 
I hope you enjoy the posts and finding out what and how much consumers have been purchasing over the Black Friday weekend and that you can stop by My Personal Finance Journey on my non-carnival days as well!

This week, we had 55 total submissions, only 9 of which were spam or duplicate submissions, so the quality was high this week! Flexo and Revanche are doing a good job keeping spammers at bay. However, I suppose that by simply not using BlogCarnival.com to handle carnival submissions, you can avoid a lot of the spam that comes your way through that website.  


Listed below are this week’s top 3 editor’s picks. Congrats to the three winners!

1. Our #1 pick of this week is by PKamp3 from Don’t Quit Your Day Job, who presents Should the Less Attractive Receive Additional Benefits?, and says, “The subject of equality in the workplace (and the dating market) with regards to attractiveness is in the news due to a new book on the subject (mentioned in the article). Since any topic on attractiveness (being such a subjective quality) is bound to be controversial, I felt the need to explore the topic of benefits for the unattractive. I like this article as much for the subjects matter as the discussion it sparked in the comments!”


Jacob’s Comments - In this post, PKamp3 discusses the fascinating subject of the various economic and social benefits taller, slimer, attractive people have in life. Afterwards, he asks (given the evidence from a recent study) whether or not less attractive folks should receive benefits to counteract this trend.


In my experience, I have ABSOLUTELY seen that attractive people 1) fair better in relationships and 2) seem better able to obtain jobs. In fact, if I think back on the jobs I’ve held over the years since finishing my undergraduate studies, the vast majority of the people I worked with were 1) pretty healthy looking (in a broad sense) and 2) not-repulsive to look at (sorry to be blunt, but didn’t know of another gentler way to say this). Think about your workplace – is this the case also? 

2. The #2 pick of this week is by 
Darwin from Darwin’s Money, who presents Income Disparity is Actually Good. Here’s Why, and says, “With all the outrage from the Occupy movement, you’d think income disparity is a bad thing. Well, it’s not and here are the reasons why.


Jacob’s Comments – Darwin (a fellow chemical engineer – rock on!) always comes up with interesting twists on his articles. In this one, he examines the income disparity gap that is present in the United States (the whole motivation/complaint behind the Occupy Movement) and proposes that it is actually a BIG MOTIVATOR for a lot of people in the fact that it gives people something to shoot for. Irregardless of your political viewpoints on the income gap, I think you’ll find this article interesting!


3. Our #3 pick for this week’s Carnival is by Roshawn Watson from Watson Inc, who presents Broke People Afford Everything!, and says, “Your lifestyle is pretty impressive, except for the fact that you’re a financial fake. I just want to know one thing: how do broke people afford EVERYTHING?


Jacob’s Comments – In this article, Roshawn discusses something that I (unfortunately) see all too often. What myself (and Roshawn) see is that it really is impossible to determine how TRULY WEALTHY someone is these days, since even people who are broke can literally buy anything they need in order to “keep up with the Joneses” using a credit card and racking up more debt. Take a look at this article to learn more about this disturbing topic.

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Total Amount Spent By Consumers on Black Friday

On Black Friday 2011 (November 25th), consumers spent an historical high amount of 11.4 billion Dollars! Wow! That sure is a sizable amount of money! 

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And, listed below are the rest of this week’s great article submissions, separated by category for targeted reading.


FRUGALITY

Annabelle from Shopping Detox presents How frugal is the $500 Law & Order box set?, and says, “It may seem crazy expensive, but buying the complete series of Law & Order is kind of *saving* you money.”

Teacher Man from My University Money presents Black Friday and Cyber Monday Shopping Tips and Deals, and says, “I am definitely not a fan of waiting outside in the cold at 4 AM, pushing and shoving with other people in order to save twenty bucks on a laptop. However, any time I can sit on my butt, in my pajamas, with a warm cup of coffee, and save a lot of money, I am all for that!”

Fanny from Living Richly on a Budget presents 25 Gifts Under $25, and says, “Need gift ideas for under $25? Here are gift ideas for almost everyone on your list.”

Adam Williams from Rabbit Funds presents Dear Retailers: I want Thanksgiving back!, and says, “I’m outraged. And you should be too. Black Friday is officially taking over Thanksgiving. Is this nation so obsessed with profits that we will throw our heritage and family traditions out the window?”


CREDIT

Ryan Yates from Deliver Away Debt presents Cash is King, Isn’t It?, and says, “Paying cash for your monthly purchases gives you real-time feedback about how much money you’ve spent and how much money you have left. It’s just too easy to over spend when you swipe a card.”

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Most Commonly Purchased Items

1. The most commonly purchased item was clothing

2. The second most commonly purchased item was some type of electronics product (23% of total Black Friday shoppers). The most popular electronics product was flat-screen TVs, which came ringing in ahead of computers (a drastic change from last year).
3. The third most popular product was toys (11.5% of Black Friday shoppers).

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REAL ESTATE

Martin from Passive Income Now presents How to Choose a Property to Rent in Your Community, and says, “The best way to find a rental property in the area you live in.”

BUDGETING

Eric J. Nisall from DollarVersity presents Black Friday Proves People Are Just Lazy With Finances, and says, “People claim to have trouble budgeting & managing their finances, yet each year they plan meticulously for holiday shopping. What exactly is the difference?”

Jason from One Money Design presents Tips to Design on a Dime, and says, “When you don’t have the budget to create the beauty desired according to the “magazine standards.”


SAVING


Martin from Studenomics presents The Solution to All of Your Financial Problems in Your 20s, and says, “All you need to know to solve your financial problems.”

Colin Williams from Humble Savers presents Christmas Is Coming! 20 Quick Money Saving Tips, and says, “20 quick money saving tips for the festive season that will stop you having a cold sweat when that credit card bill arrives in the new year.”

Lindy from Minting Nickels presents My Six Month Spending Fast, and says, “I don’t participate in spending fasts anymore, because I already did one, and it lasted six months. This article is about that experience. “

Mr. Money from Smart on Money presents Navigating Black Friday with Your Android Phone, and says, “For dedicated shoppers, the promise of a bargain on Black Friday is too tempting to pass up. Android users already know that a smartphone is a valuable shopping assistant, but you can get even more out of Black Friday with the help of some specialty apps.”

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Most Popular Retail Stores for Black Friday 2011 Purchases

1. Wal-Mart – The fact that shoppers turned to Wal-Mart first/most for their purchasing shows (to me) that they were very interested in finding good products at the cheapest price possible.
2. Target
3. Amazon
4. Best Buy – featuring an amazing 58% conversion on getting shoppers who come in the store to purchase something. 
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CAREER

Nicole from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings presents The WOH/SAH decision: Finances, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss the working outside the home vs. staying at home parenting choice from the perspective of temporary financial independence. What factors should you consider, and how should you prepare?”

Paula from Afford Anything presents Give Me Money! Finding Freelance Work, and says, “Briana says: “I’ve been pursuing a ‘career’ as a freelance writer … but I’m still not making enough for a full time income. 11 months later and the stress of getting a ‘real job’ is even greater than before.” Here’s my epic, 2,000-word response to her question, with advice that applies to any industry, not just writing. The real question is not “Where can I find work?” The real question is: “What work is worthwhile? What work is a waste of time?””

FINANCE

Neal Frankle from Wealth Pilgrim presents How to Control Spending In 5 Minutes A Month, and says, “You may think it’s impossible but I’m here to tell you that you can control spending easily. The first step to doing that is to know what you spend. Make sense? Now, if you are sick and tired of hearing me suggest that you use software to track your spending like You Need A Budget, you have an alternative. You can get the big picture on spending in under 5 minutes a month. Oh…and that includes spending 3 minutes making yourself a nice cup of coffee.”

Money Thinker from Money Thinking presents Why Discounts help Businesses, and says, “Money Thinker explores why gimmicks like Black Friday work so well for the business and the consumer…”

INVESTING


Dividend Growth Investor from Dividend Growth Investor presents Should you follow Buffett’s latest investments?, and says, “Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors of all time. Investors who closely followed Buffett’s moves in the Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) stock portfolio between 1976 and 2006 would have significantly outperformed the market. So should investors follow his latest moves?”

Div Guy from The Dividend Guy Blog presents Uncommon Portfolio Diversification, and says, “Besides fixed income and equities or sectorial and geographic diversification, are there any other ways you can look at your portfolio to make sure it is well diversified?”

IS from Intelligent Speculator presents Yahoo As Alive As A Zombie, and says, “Have you thought about putting money into Yahoo?”

Echo from Boomer & Echo presents Are REITs Worth A Look For Yield Hungry Investors?, and says, “Even after the rally, most Canadian REIT’s are still paying juicy yields over 5%. For investors looking for stable monthly income from their portfolio, Canadian REIT’s are definitely worth a look.”


MONEY MANAGEMENT

Miranada from Financial Highway presents 45 Ways to Save Money, and says, “Do you want to start your own business and make a little extra money? It can seem daunting at first, since there are so many others out there trying to get something started. Here are 4 creative business ideas that can help you get started. “

Green Panda from Green Panda Treehouse presents Barriers That Prevent us From Saving Money, and says, “Why are you not saving up money?”

FMF from Free Money Finance presents Finding the Life Insurance That Is Best for You, and says, “What type of life insurance is right for you? This post will help you decide.”

Squirrelers from Squirrelers presents Inheritances and Blended Families: Who’s the Priority?, and says, “The topic of inheritances can be an emotional one. This tension can be heightened in the case of blended families, where there are might be different priorities and agendas. This post discusses this topic, within the context of a specific scenario.”

Miss T. from Prairie Eco Thrifter presents Why Donations to Charity are Important, and says, “Throughout history, money has been donated to the needy, as well as food, clothing, tools, bedding etc. These donations were often organized through the Church and it was considered the duty of the wealthier classes and merchants to give to the poor. These days, this generous attitude to giving to the needy is not so well defined. Why is it important that we donate to charity? Here are just 5 good reasons:”

Crystal from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff presents The Mall Is Hazardous to Your Financial Health, and says, “Despite all of these temptations, I was able to get out of the mall after our walk without spending a cent. However, it was a lot tougher than I would have anticipated to keep my money in my wallet—I actually stopped and “browsed” several times even though I had only come to the mall to walk”

Peter from Bible Money Matters presents How to Protect Your Money When Ordering Goods or Services for Future Delivery, and says, “There are circumstances where using a credit card over cash or checks is really the most prudent approach.”

Jon the Saver from Free Money Wisdom presents Tips for Buying Furniture Online, and says, “There are some tips for buying furniture online that could potentially save you even more money.

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Total Number of Shoppers and Average Spending

On Black Friday 2011 (November 25th), a total of 226 million headed out to online and brick-and-mortar stores to make purchases.


On average, each shopper spent $398.62. How much did you spend?


Source - http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/27/pf/black_friday/

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ECONOMY


Glen Craig from Free From Broke presents Occupy Movement Protests: A Revolution or a Waste of Time?, and says, “What are these Occupy Protests, what are they protesting, and what have they accomplished so far? People seem pretty divided over the Occupy movement, either supporting or hating it.”

Bret from Hope to Prosper presents What if Everything you Know about Money is Wrong, and says, “What if all of the financial advice is wrong? What if the conditions are changing and the old rules no longer apply?”

OTHER

Chris from Experiglot presents Interest Deficit Disorder, and says, “A unique problem that I have.”


Mike from The Financial Blogger presents When is it Time to Call it Quits?, and says, “When do you move on to something new?”


Cathy Moran from Money Health Central presents For Every Thing, Even Shopping, There Is A Season, and says, “Blow off Black Friday: studies show the best shopping deals are next week.”


Venita Gresham from Dumb Little Man presents How to Appreciate the Pain of Financial Problems, and says, “In short, I am forever scarred by the bad financial experience, and that’s fine with me!”


Barbara Friedberg from BARBARA FRIEDBERG PERSONAL FINANCE presents 5 Simple Tips for a Wealthy Life, and says, “Money is important… to a point. Don’t forget the other components which contribute to a wealthy life.”


Chris Holdheide from Stumble Forward presents Auto Insurance Fraud: Don’t Do It!, and says, “Learn how to avoid becoming a victim of Auto insurance fraud and what you can do to prevent it.”


Sustainable PF from Sustainable Personal Finance presents 5 Tips to Help You Downsize Your Lifestyle, and says, “One of the most effective ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle is to downsize. If you are ready to downsize your lifestyle here are a few tips that can help you get on the right track:”


Money Beagle from Money Beagle presents Quiznos: Not Worth It Even At Half Price, and says, “Some places should be avoided no matter how great the deal.”


Shaun from Money Cactus presents How to Follow Through on Your Thoughts, Achieve Goals and Kick Ass, and says, “Being more accountable will improve your personal finances out of sight. here is how you can find ways to improve your accountability along with some handy tools to help. “


Dan Meyers from Your Life, Their Life presents The Importance of Charity – Why You Should Give, and says, “Did you know giving money away is important to building your wealth? Find out why!”

Well, that concludes this week’s edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance! To all of this week’s participants – it was an honor to be able to read and get involved with such high quality articles! Please remember to link back to this post if your article was included here and to promote via social media when possible.

Currently, there is no one scheduled to host next week’s carnival, #338, which would occur on December 5th, 2011. As such, if you’re interested in hosting next week’s Carnival or another future edition of the Carnival of Personal Finance, you can apply using this form.  


When the upcoming schedule gets finalized, be sure to submit your articles for next week’s edition, using the following handy submission form.

    ***Photo courtesy of http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3279/3067820964_7421309fe8.jpg
    ***Black Friday 2011 stats courtesy of http://www.npdgroupblog.com/2011/11/they-came-with-a-purpose/, except where otherwise noted

    Easy Like Black Friday Morning Weekly Roundup – # 4 – November 25th, 2011

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    Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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    Click here to enter my free $201.40 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is November 30th, 2011 (this coming Wednesday).

    Each week (even though I missed the past several weeks! – Oops!), the purpose of the Easy Like Sunday Morning Weekly Roundup series is the same – for me to be able to connect with you, the readers, on a more personal (non personal finance informational transmission only) level, encourage community, and also to give back to the other bloggers around the blogosphere who have mentioned My Personal Finance Journey throughout the past week. This week, since I have gotten behind in doing a roundup for several weeks, I decided that I didn’t want until Sunday to put together this week’s edition. And, since it is Black Friday, that’s the reason for the minor name change! 

    As far as the theme goes, the title of the roundup gives it away. The roundup theme is named after the Lionel Richie song, Easy Like Sunday Morning (which I play once a week while putting this together), to remind us of the importance of slowing down at least once a week to take appreciation for that which transpired over the past few days.

    So, without further ado, let’s get started with this week’s roundup!

    Weekly Updates from Jacob’s Personal Finance Journey and Life

    • I mentioned in the opening paragraph of this post that I missed doing a roundup the past few weekends. However, I did not mention why. 
    • As far as my life in general, November has been a SUPER-busy month, as it often is for a lot of people in today’s society. 
      • At the beginning of November (November 4-8), my girlfriend and I took a vacation to New York City so that she could run in the New York City Marathon. 
      • Then, almost immediately when I came back from that trip, I traveled to Richmond for the Richmond / McDonald’s Half Marathon on November 12th. 
        • This race is my favorite road half marathon running race of the year, and as usual, it was a very fun time this year as well. It was about 40 degrees at the starting gun of the race, but then warmed up to around 53 degrees F by the finish. 
        • I was very satisfied with my finishing time of 1 hour and 31 minutes! 
        • If you’re interested in seeing some pictures of me running in the race, you can click here
    • Since the Richmond Half Marathon, I have been hustling to continue my graduate school research in Alzheimer’s disease in my lab. There was a slight time-crunch since we had to analyze the data from a previous aggregation/cytotoxicity experiment and then start another 8 day experiment in order to make some progress before taking off for Thanksgiving (right now! yah!).
    • Since Wednesday, my sister and mom have been in Virginia with me to celebrate Thanksgiving. Currently, they’re attending a yoga class, so I decided to do a little blogging during the downtime. 
    • We had a delicious Thanksgiving meal last night that my sister prepared. Included in the meal were 1) sweet potatoes topped with oatmeal, 2) a 10 pound free range, never frozen turkey from Whole Foods with celery/raisin stuffing (the most expensive grocery store EVER by the way, which I never usually shop at because it is overpriced. Good – but overpriced!), 3) bacon-wrapped brussel sprouts, and 4) fresh-made cranberry sauce (from real cranberries). Shown below is a picture of the complete spread! Sure was tasty! 
      • As far as my personal finances go, I’ve encountered and am currently trying to sort through two big changes. 
        • First, last week, I finally had time to analyze my earnings from this year for tax purposes, and have determined that I will indeed, owe a quarterly tax payment in January (ahead of the normal time that taxes are due). This is due to the fact that I owe taxes on self-employment income and also from my graduate school NSF fellowship, neither of which withholds any taxes automatically. 
          • Since the amount of taxes that I owe is fairly large, I’ve been investigating opening up a self-employed retirement account as a way to reduce my tax liability. I’m fairly certain I’ve narrowed the choice down to an individual 401(k). 
          • However, it was a very difficult decision due to a plethora of differing opinions on the subject, a lack of information available directly from the IRS, and changes in the tax laws over the years. 
          • As such, I’ll be sure to put together a future post covering the various considerations in my decision-making process, as I think this would be very helpful to people in the future when they are going down the same path that I was. 
        • Second, I had been planning (and saving money) for several months now in order to install a stacked clothes washer/dryer combination unit in my condo that I purchased last year. 
          • However, after recently deciding to make my second bedroom my office/blogging space (reducing total storage space in my condo), I’ve decided that placing a washer/dryer in my house would not be the best use of space because it would effectively monopolize all storage room in the biggest closet.
          • Therefore, I’ve decided to indefinitely delay my plan to install a clothes washer/dryer in my condo. There’s always a possibility that I’ll change my mind about this in the future, but for now, I’m going to devote the money I had been saving for this purpose to other outlets.    

      washer thanksgiving self employed retirement accounts retirement easy like sunday morning roundup dryer clothing black friday
      Thanksgiving Dinner Last Night at the My Personal Finance Journey Household – My mom (left), my sister (right), and the food (center)!

      My Favorite 10 Posts of the Past Week

      I read quite a few interesting posts throughout the madness that sometimes is the work week. Listed below were 10 of my favorites, listed in random order. Enjoy!

      1.    Budgeting in the Fun Stuff posted about Can Anyone Be a Successful Blogger? and enumerated four things each full-time blogger needs to be successful.
      2.    Get Rich Slowly posted about The Many Ways to Know and Control the Flow of Your Dough and discussed the different options how to keep tabs on your cash.
             
      3.    Cash Money Life posted about 10 IRA Rules Everyone Should Know and gave a list of basic IRA rules that everyone should know.
             
      4.    Budgets Are Sexy posted about The Pros of Maxing Out Your Roth IRA! and explained why he contributes to his IRA every year religiously.
      5.    I Will Teach You To Be Rich posted about how to Avoid the Top 7 Career Mistakes and identified seven critical mistakes people commit in finding their dream job.
      6.    The Centsible Life posted about DIY Thanksgiving Table Decorations and showed how she is preparing for Thanksgiving. She illustrated how to do DIY Thanksgiving table runner, DIY aluminum candle holders, and Chinese lanterns.
      7.    Frugal Dad posted about Should I Withdraw from My Roth IRA to Pay Off Debt? and discussed four reasons why you should not tap Roth IRA to pay your debts.
             
      8.    Bible Money Matters posted about 2 Years Without Credit Cards: Do I Regret It? and shared the wonderful feeling of living without credit cards. He claimed it was the best financial decision he made.
      9.    Financial Highway posted about 6 Winter Car Maintenance Tips to Save You Money and listed down six basic car maintenance tips that can help save time and money during colder months.
      10.  Fabulously Broke posted about Why You Should Check Your Bills Regularly and gave five different ways to help prevent identity theft.

      If you’re interested in submitting an article for consideration/inclusion to this roundup, just email me by clicking here. Since I’m only 1 guy without a time-machine to give me unlimited time each day, sometimes I miss some really good articles in the blogosphere, and it’s good to be notified of them directly.

      Guest Posts from Personal Finance Bloggers on My Personal Finance Journey

      Over the past week, there was one guest post here at My Personal Finance Journey.


      Corey from 20′s Finances and Passive Income to Retire posted about, “What Does a Passive Retirement Look Like?” Thanks so much Corey for the post! It was great to hear about your plans. 

      If you would like to guest post on my site, please click here to read more details about how to kick off the guest posting process. I’d love to hear from you!

      Blasts From the Past

      For the first 6 months after I started this blog, I pretty much “blogged in a cave.” What I mean by this is that I cranked out over 200 very good blog articles in this time period, but since I didn’t know any better, I didn’t reach out to other bloggers, get involved with the online community through commenting on other sites, or do any kind of site promotion at all. As you can imagine, some of the articles written during this time period didn’t get the attention that I think they deserved corresponding to the content contained.

      The Blast from the Past section will feature one old My Personal Finance Journey article each week that I feel is high quality, but was published prior to my blog having any sort of real readership. This week’s article is listed below:

      Hamster Revolution Email and Electronic File Management System - This post discusses the current email storage management system that I use to manage email with my day job as well as blogging activities. It discusses a electronic filling system consisting of the “COTAP” folders – one for clients, output, teams, administrative, and personal files/emails. It really works, and I have enjoyed using it ever since I wrote this post in July of last year!

      Personal Finance “Mad Props” of the Week Award

      Every once in a while, when I’m reading an article or site in the personal finance blogosphere, I’ll be so impressed in hearing about what a person did or wrote about, that all I can say to myself is WOW! This section of the roundup will serve as a running “home” for recognizing outstanding achievement. 

      This week’s award goes to Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents. Last week, when I was trying to sort through the seemingly overwhelming decision about which type of self-employed retirement account to open, I came across several of the posts that Jeff wrote about the subject during a Google search. It was amazing how helpful the articles were – much more helpful than any IRS tax publication, Ask.com, or Wall Street Journal research. I began reading several other articles on his site and thought it was amazing how accessible he makes very difficult personal finance topics seem when he explains them in his posts. So, good job Jeff, and I look forward to reading more! 

      If you know of someone in the PF blogging world that is really doing amazing things, feel free to send me an email for consideration in future roundups.

      Giveaways

      Listed below are the giveaways I’ve come across in my journey through the personal finance blogosphere this week (along with the links so that you can head over and enter!). It’s great to see everyone giving back to their readers through these promotions. 

      If you’re hosting a giveaway and it’s not listed above, please send me an email to let me know, and I’ll get it included in next week’s roundup!

      Blog Carnivals Featuring My Personal Finance Journey Articles

      ·       Sustainable Personal Finance hosted the Carnival of Personal Finance and included My Current Asset Allocation and Net Worth Growth – July – October, 2011
      ·         Modern Tightwad hosted the Total Money Carnival and included 10 Tips to Save Energy and Money This Winter
      ·         Money for College Product hosted the Money for College Roundup and included 10 Tips to Save Energy and Money This Winter
      ·         Sweating the Big Stuff hosted Best of the Rest and included What are the Best and Worst Jobs in the World?
      ·         My University Money hosted the Carnival of Financial Camaraderie and included Smart Choices Save Money on Life Insurance
      ·         Don’t Mess With Taxes hosted the Tax Carnival and included Is Social Security a Ponzi Scheme?
      ·         Workers’ Comp Insider hosted the Cavalcade of Risk and included Five Common Life Insurance Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
      ·         Arbor Asset Allocation Model Portfolio (AAAMP) Blog hosted the Self-Directed Investing For Retirement Carnival and included Valuation-Informed Indexing vs. Passive Investing – Which is Better?
      ·         Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance hosted the Carnival of Passive Investing and included Was the “Lost Decade” Really Lost for Investors?
      ·         Sweating the Big Stuff hosted Best of the Rest and included How You Can Obtain Long-Term Electricity Savings
      If you are hosting a carnival that includes (or included) My Personal Finance Journey and I missed listing it here (I don’t get trackbacks since I’m not on WordPress, so I have to rely on direct email and Google Alert notifications), please email me so I can include it in my roundup. Thanks!

      Top 10 Referring Sites to My Personal Finance Journey This Past Week

      Best Reader Submitted Question From the Past Week

      This section will serve as a running location for any very insightful, high quality questions submitted by readers throughout the week.
      There were no questions submitted this week. However, if you are wondering something about personal finance, please feel free to email me and ask!

      My Other Sites

      Currently, my only other site besides this one is The Carnival of Passive Investing, which runs monthly editions. If you have any passive investing posts you’ve written recently, you can submit them to be included in the carnival.

      However, I have several other domain names purchased, and I am currently learning WordPress Self-Hosted to get these sites live as soon as time allows! I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on progress.

      Well, that wraps up this week! If you have any suggestions or recommendations for things you’d like to see in this weekly roundup, just let me know by sending me an email!

      As always, thanks to all the readers for creating such a great community here at My Personal Finance Journey. Your interaction is what keeps me going on this blog!

      Until next time - Jacob

      Money-Saving Travel and Flight Apps

      ————————————————————————————————————————
      Welcome to My Personal Finance Journey! If you are new here, please read the “About” or “First-Time Visitor” pages to find out more about us. If you would like to receive free updates on articles like this by email, then sign up here or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. Also, check us out on Twitter or Facebook. Thanks for visiting! Keep on learning!
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      vacations trips travel smart phones saving money mobile phone apps eating out currency trading currency exchange

      Click here to enter my free $201.40 giveaway for a chance to win 5% of My Personal Finance Journey blog income and give another 5% to a charity of your choosing! Deadline to enter is November 30th, 2011.


      The following is a guest post. Enjoy!

      Money-Saving Travel and Flight Apps

      Regardless of where you like to take your vacations or the kind of activities that you like to take part in while away, it is fair to say that most people have something in common when booking their holiday –  a want to save some money. Listed below are some great tips to help you save some money on your next holiday:

      Language:

      Remembering just a few simple phrases can easily help you save some money. You may be able to negotiate a taxi fare, a price in a shop, or even the room rate at a hotel. At the very least, knowing a few phrases will probably curry some favour with the locals and help you to get fantastic service when dining out or using facilities.

      There are lots of fantastic mobile phone applications and websites available that can help with languages when abroad. For example, Bussu.com offers seven different language applications that allow you to learn some of the most common European languages (to a basic standard) completely free and in the minimal amount of time possible.

      Eating:

      When you are in a strange place, it can be difficult to locate an eatery that is suited to what you want to eat at that time. But, there are lots of fantastic mobile phone applications that can help with this. ‘Urbanspoon‘ is the main one that springs to mind, as it allows you to choose your eatery by price, location, and even food type, so you can be sure to find something that is suitable for your requirements before you even head out to the streets to locate a place.

      Currency:

      If your home is the United Kingdom and you are looking for a fantastic way to work out how much something costs in Sterling while on vacation out of the UK, then why not download the ‘currencyapp,’ which will allow you to see, at a glance, how much something works out from over 100 different currencies back in to your home currency. You do not need internet access, once downloaded, to use this application, so it is a fantastic way to check how much you are going to be spending even while away from an internet connection.

      Money:

      If you are looking for a way to keep track of the money that you have spent while abroad, then why not consider downloading ‘Expensify‘ or one of the other similar applications available on the market at present. This will allow you to document the items that on which you have been spending, like flights, hotels, and eating out and their cost. It is a fantastic way to see, at a glance, how much you have currently spent and therefore work out how much remaining from your budget you have.

      Communicate:

      While you are away, you may want to keep in touch with people back home. One such way to do this is to use a web based voice service, such as Skype. This allows you to talk to people, anywhere in the world, free of charge, via webcam and microphone. This is a fantastic way to check in with people and you can even add some credit to your account that allows you to send text messages and call mobile phones and landlines rather than computers for a very reasonable fee.

      Conclusion

      There are literally thousands of applications available on mobile phones that will allow you to budget your money, find locations to visit on holiday, and do numerous other things that will help you stay organized and hopefully, save a fortune while on holiday!

      How about you all? What mobile phone apps do you currently use that help streamline/simplify your traveling or even save you money? Did you have to pay for these, or were they free? 


      Share your experiences by commenting below!

      Jacob’s Thoughts – Listed below are my random thoughts as I was reading this article.

      • Interesting post here! Thanks for sharing, as I’m always interested to find out about new technological tools that people can use to save money and streamline their finances! 
      • Personally, I don’t yet have an Apple iPhone or other type of smart phone, so I’m not able to access all of these sophisticated apps. But, they sound like they could be quite useful when a person is on the road. 
      • One potential problem I do see is that when people are traveling, they often have limited access to Internet hotspots or cell phone/3G service in general. So, there may be a case for people making sure they don’t rely too heavily on the apps from their smartphones while on vacation. 
      • @ Knowing the local language helping you to save money on vacations - 
        • It’s definitely also been my experience that if you know at least a little bit (or try to speak a little bit) of the local language of the country/place you’re visiting, you’ll be shown much more respect by the people you’re paying to buy things or to provide you with a particular service. 
        • This is especially true since the price of so many services and goods are indeed quite negotiable.
        • And, if you at least attempt to speak some of the local language it shows the person that you’re trading with that you respect them and their culture. And, in my experience, this almost always is helpful in making sure you don’t get charged too much.
        • After all, would you not feel the same way if you were in their shoes?
      • @ Finding affordable restaurants while traveling abroad - 
        • So far, when I’ve traveled on vacations, I generally use hard copy versions of travel guidebooks to find appropriately-priced restaurant options. 
        • However, I could imagine that referencing a smartphone app would provide slightly more up-to-date information about the local flavor.
      • @ How I handle calculating the approximate cost of items using currency conversions -
        • Typically, when I am traveling abroad, I don’t worry about my spending down to minute penny amounts.
        • Instead, what I do is develop a general easy-to-remember mental formula for equating the price of items in the foreign country to my home currency (US Dollars) by dropping some of the zeros from the exchange rate. 
        • For example, the last foreign country my family and I visited was Chile in January 2011. Currently, the exchange rate between the Chilean Peso and the US Dollar is ~500 Chilean Pesos = 1 US Dollar.
        • So, if a bottle of Chilean red wine was 3,500 Chilean Pesos (a fairly common amount for a moderate bottle of wine), I would drop the zeros, and divide 35 by 5 to find out that the bottle of wine was about $7 US Dollars. Pretty easy, right?!
      • @ Question about spending tracking apps - 
        • Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the spending tracking smartphone apps available on the market today.
        • As such, I actually had a question for the readers out there – do these spending tracking apps hook directly up to your bank account or credit card transaction reports and update automatically? I would imagine that would streamline things a lot!

      ***Photo courtesy of http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2731/4416977499_4a9f255bb7.jpg