My 1st Million At 33 – yes, you can do it too

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  • Archive for the 'Debt/Frugality' Category

    Over $2000 Cashback/Reward on my credit cards

    Posted by Frugal on 15th December 2013

    It’s almost year-end. Just doing a tally on my credit cards. When you use your credit cards everyday, it’s wise to pick the right cards. Wonder what’s in my wallet?

    1. $375 cashback from 5% rebates on all of my grocery/gasoline/pharmacy stores purchases. I have applied a HSBC card long time ago but it’s not available now. The extra bonus for using this card is that you can get 5% off on ANY gift cards that you purchase as well in grocery/pharmacy stores. That includes Amazon, Paypal, Home Depot/Lowes, etc. It’s an extra hassle, but will surely quite help for a big purchase. Plus towards the year end, MANY grocery stores have gift card purchase promotion. Before Xmas, Vons/Pavillion has 15% off for selected gift cards. I’ve got another $20 off just last week from a grocery store for $100 Amazon gift card purchase which I only paid $95 effectively.

    2. $138 from Costco TrueEarnings Card. Most of the rebate were coming from my airline tickets for visiting my parents.

    3. $416.50 from $1600 spent on Premier Reward Gold card from American Express.

    4. $602.44 from Chase Sapphire & 1% back on Chase Freedom. Got the bonus of $400 on my wife’s card this year, and got $400 on my own card last year (not included).

    5. $500 bonus from Chase Ink Plus.

    So the total is $2031.94 on some $35K credit card expenses, averaging out to be more than 5% off.

    As far as I know, Sapphire & Ink Plus are both available. I think you need an invitation for Premier Reward American Express card. A dollar saved is two dollars earned (for 50% marginal tax bracket).

    Posted in Credit Cards | Comments Off

    Eleven Tips on Selling on Craiglist

    Posted by Frugal on 21st February 2011

    Craiglist.org is probably the best free site to sell your unwanted items. It’s the internet version of garage sale. The next distant best site is kijiji.com which has been bought out by EBAY as http://www.ebayclassifieds.com/. Throughout Christmas & Valentine’s day, I have been posting some of my extra unwanted items for sale. It takes several postings & transactions to actually learn the art of selling on craiglist.

    Here are some precious lessons that I have learned from my experiences of over 10 successful transactions:

    1. Privacy issues: most people would post their emails and/or contact phone number within the posting. If you care about your own privacy, don’t do that. Potential buyers can always email your registered craiglist email by clicking on your post. Once you post your email and phone numbers, they get copied to so many other craiglist copycat sites. Your posts will expire after 45 days on craiglist, but on other copycat sites, it could be forever. This way it reduce the chance of getting phone & email spams too. If you really have to post a phone number, use a Google Voice phone number.

    2. Do your market research: For every item that you sell, you should always think as the potential buyer, and search briefly on Amazon, craiglist, ebay, Walmart/Target, etc. for the same item. That is the only way to determine your best pricing. A good price will always sell itself. You obviously want to undercut others a little. And you should post a couple of your search result in your own ad too to convince the buyer that indeed they are getting a better price from you.

    3. Pricing: if the absolute price of your item is high, it will really take a bigger effort to sell (unless it’s highly popular like ipad, Wii, etc). You have to know that people who browse & buy from craiglist probably don’t have much spare money to begin with. If they have money, most of them are extreme price bargainers. I didn’t understand this initially, but after awhile, I realize that ALL people who actually buy from craiglist always expect a price cut from your original posting price, even if the posted price is dirt cheap already. To optimize on between getting more interests versus finishing off the transaction, my advice is to post a low enough price to stir interests, and then reserve a 5% to 10% discount for price negotiation. The room should not be more than 10%, or else you may not even get any replies to your post. And give the buyer your final 5% to 10% discount to sweeten the deal or fatten up your profit margin, depending on how things go.

    4. Taking a firm stand on your pricing: If you ever want to be successful in any negotiation, the first thing that you need to understand is that you need to position yourself to walk away from the deal anytime mentally. So unless you simply want to throw away your item for sale, then you need to have an attitude of not being able to sell your item when the price is not right. Why is this even important? Because there are so many craiglist trolls who would low-ball your price extremely to almost insult your common sense. If you get those low-ball offers, just ignore them. And if anybody asks for your lowest price, don’t give away all of your padded 5% to 10% room all at once.

    5. Price negotiation techniques: Because Craiglist is like a silent invisible auction, there is no way for the buyer to know how many people are bidding and at what price. In a way, it’s like selling/buying a home with a given listed price. Therefore, what you need to do is to guess the buyer’s willingness and create the image of invisible bidding frenzy if possible. So if you have only one offer, you may still want to state to that only buyer that you cannot give more discount to this only buyer because “the other buyer” has given you this price already. You could risk losing out this only buyer, but it would preserve your little amount of price margins.

    6. Art of advertisement: Photos are a must. Always emphasize the good points, and disclose any necessary defects that the buyer should know in the ad. Your advertisement must be honest (so that you don’t waste your time & buyers’ time besides all the legal issues). And during the entire sale process, never tell your buyers anything that could discourage the sale. I was selling a big CRT TV with HD-input at a cheap price. Because of the low price & the HD confusion with the LCD, I got more than 10 inquiries. I was over-confident and told all of the buyers as my disclosure that if they get hurt in moving the 150+ pounds of CRT, I cannot be responsible. Well, that did it, and scared away ALL buyers. I actually needed to repost my ad to sell the TV. At the end, I was still able to sell my 30+ inch CRT for about $30.

    7. Prompt response: especially if your item is hard to sell. The buyer sometimes has a sudden compulsive urge. And if you don’t continue this purchasing process promptly along with him or her, the deal will simply not go through once the buying urge is gone. So in the email exchanges, not only you should be prompt, but also you would recreate buyer’s urge repeatedly by how much you cherish this item of yours but only selling it because of …(some “unfortunate” or inconvenient reasons).

    8. A Big handshake to finish off: In whatever business negotiations, you should learn that only by making your customers happy, then it’s a good business. I had repeat business on Craiglist from a customer because I made him “happy” in terms of quality and pricing. I didn’t need to negotiate much at all for the second & third time because he knows that I had already “given” him the best possible price. Well, of course, I was still making a tiny amount of money (even though he still thinks that he is getting the best possible deal from me).

    9. Post at the optimal time: Based on my personal experiences, I think posting on Friday and Sunday/Monday night or Saturday and Monday/Tuesday early morning should be the best. Monday & Tuesday internet traffics are always the heaviest for almost all sites. However, since it’s an internet garage sale, I usually prefer posting for the weekend on Friday. Quite often, the sale is all done before Monday, if you have priced your item correctly.

    10. Don’t post too often too fast: this is just a special “feature” on craiglist. If you post too frequently (like more than 2 posts in an hour), your account can be suspended, and/or your posts will never appear. Stick to craiglist rules carefully, and don’t re-post the same item. Otherwise, you may need to find a new IP address and create a new account to continue selling. I actually found that it was quite easy to trip on craiglist’s watch for spammers.

    11. Xmas season helps A LOT: one third or more of the total retail sales happens from Thanksgiving to New Year. Be part of it and go with the flow. Your asking prices can also be higher during this time (simply due to more buyers).

    I learned so much from selling on craiglist that I sort of went from being a total nerd to a semi-savvy salesman. The lessons were worth so much more than any amount of money that I was making on craiglist. When my kids grow bigger, I also want them to learn these invaluable lessons firsthand by selling on craiglist. It really takes practices to be a good negotiator, and selling on craiglist is the best prep for that.

    So what did I sell on craiglist? I sold PSP, Nintendo DS, baby crib, Legos, TV, several baby & kid’s toys such as tricycles. If the items were new, I made 3% to 15%. If the items were used, I recovered 40% to 100% of the original price that I paid (except the TV of course). I would say that it was a pretty darn good record.

    Posted in Business, Frugal Ways | Comments Off

    Revising household budget for 2011 – Savings drop again

    Posted by Frugal on 14th February 2011

    I’m revising my last budget made in 2008 due to inflation and various changes in spending patterns. A household budget always needs to reflect the reality. Otherwise it loses its purpose.
    A budget shows where the family finance situates and allows future financial planning to be possible. If you don’t even know where the money is going out, you cannot possibly know where your finance will be 5 or 10 years from now.

    item

    amount

    comment

    Mortgage

    2500

    This is not the true value that I pay, but only serves as what I should be paying in terms of interest cost due to carrying a mortgage, or the equivalent rent that I should be paying.

    Homeowner due

    205

    Includes the insurance for the condo.

    Electricity & Gas

    100

    I have over-budgeted last time (in 2008)

    Water

    38

    Both water usage & cost has definitely increased.

    Trash

    15

    Local Phone

    20

    Cell Phone

    9

    There has been some increase due to usage, but here is how I get it so low.

    Long Distance Phone

    14

    Mostly it’s international calling cards. Over-budget in 2008

    Cable/Satellite/Internet

    15

    I became the “cord-cutter” without any cable/satellite service. The HD signal receptions are way better than SD. I only pay $15 for my DSL internet service.

    Medical Insurance + Out-of-pocket expenses

    154 + 42

    Covered thru my employer. This amount is what I need to pay, and it went up due to inflation. And I have more out-of-pocket expenses for the last few years.

    Car Insurance

    61

    Only pay about $730 a year for liability only on 1 car and comprehensive+collision on another 2007 car . I should probably drop the extra $14/month collision coverage on my 2007, which is getting old. Note that I sold an old unused car since 2008.

    Gasoline

    250

    My round trip work commute is 24 miles. My commute car has about 25 miles/gallon (better than 2008). And I have more short-trips now for kids’ outing. Better mileage seems to have offset the increase due to more driven miles and gasoline price increase.

    Car Maintenance

    60

    Oil changes + prorate for changing brake + 30K/60K miles service + new tires. Adjusted slightly upward for inflation, and I forgot to account for new tires in 2008.

    Travel/Vacation

    450

    Annual of $5400, mainly for flying (internationally) back home to visit parents. Adjusting for inflation.

    Food

    600

    Does not include dining out. We are definitely buying more nutritious food now with kids growing up. And it also shows in the reduction of dining out expenses that my wife is cooking more often for better food for kids.

    Dining out

    220

    Reduced from 2008. It definitely appears that my wife is cooking more often now.

    Toys/Books for children

    150

    My kids buy A LOT of legos, and they are quite expensive.

    Other extra-curricular educational expenses

    230

    Still expect increases as time goes on.

    Wife’s & kids’ allowance

    360

    Wife’s & family’s happiness is of the most importance.

    Cash Usage

    0

    I think I have a better control over misc cash that is going out. So I’m reducing it to $0 from $100.

    Charity

    375

    Increase again due to my increase of charity contribution. The actual figure is usually higher (when my other sources of income are there).

    Miscellaneous/Clothing/Electronics/etc.

    450

    About $100 extra padding..

    Federal Tax

    2000

    My real amount of tax is higher than this, due to other capital gain income/etc. Same for CA tax. I’m changing the way that I account for the tax here. $2000 is still low for me, but it could be on the high side for anyone who earns similar income that was used in this budget calculation. Obviously, one cannot make a budget containing any projection for capital income/loss (from stocks) which I’m not including it here.

    State tax

    650

    Includes SDI unemployment tax in CA.

    City tax

    28

    Adjusting for inflation. Don’t you hate all the taxes that one needs to pay?

    Social security tax

    552

    I’m paying maximum of social security tax every year now

    Medicare tax

    163

    Property tax

    500

    401k

    1375

    Annual limit is $16500, maxing out.

    Spousal IRA

    0

    I’m not allowed to contribute to this due to my high tax bracket.

    ESPP

    1688

    Employee stock purchase plan.

    Reviewing the differences between the current budget versus my 2008 budget, there are several categories that have gone up. The income in this budget has increased by $25K, but I’m budgeting a lot taxes now to reflect the fact that my marginal bracket is basically 45% to 50% (even back in 2008). The other increases are the new $230 extra-curricular lessons for my sons and $140 extra in food & dining, and about $300 extra spending for my wife & kids on toys/clothes/electronics/etc. My charity contribution has increased by about 30% too. And traveling back home & vacation has gone up too by almost $800 a year.

    Looking at this budget and the corresponding increases from 2008, I can identify that my kids are not frugal at all. They are basically getting every new lego boxes out there, and lots of Wii games too. I think it is time to put up some constraints. That is probably the only item that I can cut down because all other increases are due to inflation or are necessary. Looking forward, children’s educational cost will continue to go up as kids grow up.

    From above, my total expenses (in white) are $6318, and my total taxes (in red) are $3893, and the savings (in green) are $3063. Assuming a household income of about $135K, or a monthly wage of $11250, my cashflow after deducting all the above items is negative $2024, which needs to be deducted from the above savings number. Please note that the above taxes are just the taxes that one might be paying at such income level. My marginal bracket is at about 50%, instead of just 24% from the above.

    My net saving has dropped (again) from $45000 to $30400 in 2008 to now at about $16000 in 2011. This is after I account for the 15% discount in share purchases of my company ESPP plan. Unfortunately, I expect my saving levels to continue to dwindle, due to the increase in the child expenses going forward. My annual cashflow now is negative $24300 from above, and that is very observable in my bank’s balance. I need to constantly infuse more cash into my regular checking account to just pay all the expenses.

    I’m drawing exactly the same conclusion as in my 2008 budget:

    What’s the lesson here? I’m not becoming much less frugal, but my saving drops. Inflation accounts partially for the drop, but the main reason is as stages in life progress, your saving (if it is still positive) will be dropping to its LOWEST when your children start going to college. I’ve written an entire post (boring, but truth that you don’t want to hear) on this point to advise anyone out there to start SAVING NOW. The best time to accumulate your savings is before having any kids, especially before getting married (and after you just started working). The next best time to accumulate your savings is when your kids finish college, and before you retire. The rest of the time, one should consider oneself lucky to scrap away something left after all expenses are paid. If you have any doubts about my drawn conclusion, simply ask your parents.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | Comments Off

    $888 cash back reward from my credit cards in 2010

    Posted by Frugal on 8th February 2011

    I’ve always chosen cashback instead of air mileages for my credit card reward. The reason is cashback goes into your pocket directly, and unlike air mileages or point systems, it is not subject to the conversion factor change in the future.

    I have arranged my spending on credit cards as follows:
    1. Grocery, drugstore, and any gasoline purchases not at Costco for a flat 5% cashback on HSBC Platinum Cashback Card.
    2. Restaurants for 3% cashback and travel related stuffs for 2% cashback on True Earnings American Express card.
    3. Essentially 2% cashback on Citi’s Driver’s Edge Option credit card for everything else. It’s 1% + 1% via submitting mileage record. I just submit it for every oil change that I need to do for my car. On this card, it’s actually by point system. I only buy $100 Macy’s gift card using 10000 Thank You points so that I can get a conversion factor of 1 point for 1 cent. Unfortunately, this program is going away now.

    I have searched on the internet for a better deal to replace the Citi’s Driver’s Edge card, but I can’t find anything. EmigrantDirect had a 1.4% cashback on everything but it’s gone too. The best thing that I could find is the 2% cashback on Fidelity Rewards American Express card, but the credits go into your Fidelity brokerage account.

    I will need to think about this deal, since I’m a little wary of opening another brokerage account just for that. I have consolidated most of my accounts at WellsFargo (where I trade free through PMA account) and InteractiveBroker (for cheap options). I definitely don’t want to have my cash simply sitting in the Fidelity brokerage account doing nothing. Based on my past spending pattern, I can get about $275 just from 2% Citi Driver’s edge card. If I move that spending to any of my existing 1% cashback card, I would throw away $125 per year. Hmm. Something to think about.

    In any case, if you don’t use any of the cashback credit card, you are definitely missing out BIG time. I got $362 back on my HSBC, $276 on my Citi Driver’s Edge, $250 on my True Earning AMEX for a total spending of about $34700 on these three cards. That’s $888 that you may be missing.

    At the minimum, you should get yourself the True Earning AMEX (assuming you buy stuffs at Costco) and Chase Freedom card for basic 1% cashback & 5% cashback on rotating categories. That’s just a little effort to “earn” while you spend. It really adds up!

    Frugal at 1stMillionAt33.com

    Posted in Credit Cards | 1 Comment »

    Get 25% off on almost everything

    Posted by Frugal on 10th December 2010

    I think this deal may only be valid in California. Until Dec 12 at Albertson, you can get $20 coupon for grocery for every $100 spent on all gift cards (except Visa/Mastercard & Albertson, and limit of $500 in 1 transaction). The coupons must be used before 12/24/2010. Besides that, as long as you have the credit line, there should not be much problems.

    Since I used my Chase Freedom card which has 5% off for all grocery purchase (upto the first $1500), and my old HSBC card which also has 5% off but no limit, I get a total of $25 back for every $100 purchased in gift cards. More people have Chase Freedom cards. So at least, you can get 25% off for your first $1500.

    Also, a couple of restaurants are having gift card sales too. Souplantation (and Sweet Tomatoes) has 1 free meal pass for every $50 gift card. Since 1 dinner is about $9.50 plus tax, you are getting a little bit more than 20% off. Panda Express has a free two item entree for every $25 gift card purchased. That’s about $6.50 plus tax. For CA 9% tax, that will be a 28% off for every $25 Panda gift card.

    So far I’ve bought up $500 in Shell gasoline gift cards at Albertson, $400 in Amazon gift cards which I will spend almost right away for a HD camcorder, and another $300 in various restaurants. That’s $1200 in gift cards, or $240 in free grocery at Albertson, plus $60 in cashback on Chase Freedom card. I figured that $500 gasoline will only last me 2 to 3 months, and I’m spending $200 to $300 on dining out anyway, these gift cards would go extremely quickly. In fact, if I could find more grocery to buy at Albertson, I could easily prepaid 3+ months of my expenses. The most tricky thing about the whole Albertson deal is that $20 grocery coupon cannot be combined, and so only $20 off per transaction. But you could go to a self-checkout and simply check stuffs out for every $20 that you have in the cart.

    For a little inconvenience in managing to use various gift cards, you can get 25% off on almost everything. Not a bad deal at all. Certainly, for my marginal tax brackets at about 45%, a dollar saved is two dollars earned. With $300 already saved in my pocket, I’ve got myself a $600 “salary raise”. Maybe I should work on it some more.

    25% off is quite a lot. I really wonder how these stores survive.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 1 Comment »

    My Thanksgiving Goodies & Observations

    Posted by Frugal on 28th November 2010

    I “participated” in the Black Friday frenzy again this year, just to survey how retail sales were going. There were many pre-Black Friday sales going on, and I thought the sale this year was going to be soft. Many stores opened very early too, and Walmart even opened 24 hours. Based on my experience at Walmart which had a 3-phase sales (midnight to 5am, 5am to 11am for electronics, etc.), I think Walmart stole quite a lot of sales this year. The 3-phase worked really good, because I found that almost ALL stores couldn’t make more sales, simply because of the capacity of the cashiers, parking lot space, and moving space within the stores. Oh yeah, almost all the retail stores that I went to were that PACKED with people & cars. The 3-phase sales at Walmart spread out different types of crowd somewhat, and many people really liked being able to get their 1st part of buying done (since no other major retail stores were opened at midnight).

    Regardless, I also found that most shoppers were extremely price-conscious. I didn’t notice that, until I went to Target and found my $36 Shark Steam Mop from Walmart, priced at $45 at Target, piled up and not moved at all. Looked like everyone has done their comparison already. Yeah, and all those items that were not on sale were not touched mostly. I went to the LEGO aisle that my kids loved most. Almost all legos didn’t get sold, except very few ones that were on sale.

    And I’m sorry to report to all the Apple lovers that I don’t see IPads selling. They are well-stocked in all stores, and not moving. In fact, most electronics were not selling a lot. This includes TV, blu-ray players, and even game consoles. In fact, there were so many Wifi-ready players with just an ethernet port, trying to trick buyers to buy them. No, these units won’t stream Netflix wirelessly, and will need a $80 to $130 ethernet-to-wifi adapter, after you pay some $100+ for the blu-ray players.

    The only exceptions to electronics are probably mobile phones and low-priced NetBooks. Yeah, I really wanted the $150 NetBook black Friday sale at BestBuy, but it’s all gone probably within minutes when the store opened. With NetBook selling at $150 with 160GB hard drive and SD card slots, it makes triply hard to buy the most basic IPad priced at $500. Oh, I forgot, Apple is not about price, but fashion, as long as our generations stay away from the new frugal reality. Actually, I should use $400 for comparison, because TJMaxx seemed to have this item in extremely limited supply for $400 on Black Friday (if you could bust the door in time).

    Anyway, I managed to get the following items this week:
    1. A 3-night stay at 4-star Planet Hollywood for $56 per night after tax at Las Vegas, plus 1 free buffet pass. This was just before Thanksgiving, when you can get really good prices without much traffics. During Thanksgiving and Xmas, there are no ways to enjoy yourself, because the lines for buffet are usually 3-hours long, converting your lunch meal to early dinner literally.

    2. $89.99 1TB MyPassport portable hard drive, free shipping, bought with $100 BestBuy gift card from Albertson, which gave me a $20 coupon for free grocery, and charged on my ChaseFreedom credit card for 5% cashback (or $5). So I paid about $65 before tax, when the price has gone back up to $150 now. However you can still get this item at Costco for $99.99, but you won’t get any gift card/credit card bonuses.

    3. Super-Mario Wii game at Target, regularly priced at $49.99, but got a $10 gift card when bought during Thanksgiving, and I got $5 off coupon, plus 5% off charged on their RedCard (Target’s credit card). So that was like $35, not counting taxes. You could get those $5 off coupon or 10% off coupons at the checkout if you bought anything at Target, just before Thanksgiving.

    4. Slave I LEGO construction set, regularly priced at $79.99 everywhere. My son asked this for Christmas, and the only reason that he wants this is that it’s got a special mini-figure Hans Solo frozen in stone. I paid about $57 before tax, because Target had it temporarily on sale for $69.99, plus there is a $10 Target coupon just for LEGO sets, and I charged it on RedCard again for 5% off.

    5. $60 Brother Color Inject MFC-J410W Wireless All-in-One at OfficeMax. This one is not a deal, since you can get most wireless printers easily for less than $100 these days. And I’m buying Brother, not HP nor Canon, because the ink cartridges are cheaply available on Amazon or Ebay at less than $1 per cartridge, without me going an extra mile to find out how to refill my own cartridges. Since I won’t print a lot, per page cost matters less to me than per cartridge cost. In the past, usually I spent like $8 to $30 on a cartridge, just to print less than 30 pages, and just to find out that my $30 investment on the cartridge is totally gone and dried up after many idle months. So I think Brother should work for me better.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 7 Comments »

    Get Your Google Voice Phone Number Now

    Posted by Frugal on 22nd June 2010

    Today Google Voice has been made publicly available to anyone. I have just been using Google Voice for about one month with my landline, thanks to my IT friend’s invitation into the program. It has been terrific.

    Here are some of the highlights in my trials:
    1. It will ring ALL of your (mobile) phone numbers if you list them out. This means that you could use the Google Phone number as the main permanent contact phone number for family & friends, and you could change your mobile plans/phone numbers in whatever ways you want, and it won’t change even after you move out of the area. And Google Voice will further block any spam callings & mobile texting messages automatically.

    2. It will TRANSCRIBE any voicemail messages into text. That accuracy of the transcription is simply amazing. I tested it a little bit, and it’s 100% accurate so far. Creative usage of this would be that you could use it yourself for any typing needs for blogging, writings, etc.

    3. Obviously not many people write these days, but because the messages are transcribed, it becomes a searchable database, which Google excels in doing. If you receive many voicemails for your business, this will be an excellent way of handling your high volume of voicemail messages (although I’m not sure if business are allowed for using Google Voice).

    4. The best of all you get everything for free, AND a free US-registered phone number. I know many of those “free-for-ever” IP phone services (like Ooma), which still require you to pay $5 to $10 every year for a valid US phone number registration (to government I believe). Guess what! Insanely profitable Google pays that for you, and you get to pick your own phone number!

    5. Free conference calling capability which you don’t need to pay extra.

    6. Google intended the Google Voice for mobile phones (and by the way, it doesn’t work with prepaid T-mobile phones). However, you can use it for landline too. I have been using my Google Voice number to dial around from my landline phone for FREE US domestic calls, and very competitive international calls. Calling quality is most of the time BETTER than any IP phones that you can get (Yeah, I tried and quited on Ooma already). Here is the detailed dialing instructions which you need to follow exactly once you get your Google Voice phone number:

    • You MUST set up your voice mail password from your Google Voice account http://www.google.com/voice/ (after you log into your gmail obviously).
    • Dial your Google Voice number (from your landline) which hopefully is a free local call if you have chosen your number wisely.
    • Don’t let it ring any of your phones, and then you can press * (star) to enter into your voice mail. Punch in your voice mail password.
    • Voila! You can press 2 to dial out, possibly after listening to or skipping all of your recorded messages.

    Get your free & favorite phone number before they get taken now at www.google.com/voice!

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 2 Comments »

    Bing Cashback Ending in July

    Posted by Frugal on 4th June 2010

    I just received this email from Bing cashback program:

    Dear valued cashback customer:

    We are writing to notify you that the Bing cashback program will be discontinued, and the last day to earn cash back on your Bing Shopping purchases will be July 30, 2010.

    Until July 30, 2010 9:00 pm PST, it’s business as usual so continue to take advantage of great offers from your favorite merchants. You can redeem all of your earned cashback savings consistent with the cashback terms and conditions and access the Bing cashback customer support system through July 30, 2011. We encourage you to redeem your cashback savings and to further support redemption, we are waiving the $5 minimum payout effective July 31, 2010….

    It’s a pity to see it goes. I guess good things just don’t last forever. I have definitely enjoyed the total savings of $29 cashback on already discounted online goodies that I was able to find.

    Make sure you redeem your remaining cashback in your own account before the end of July.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 1 Comment »

    Coaching my best buddy on personal finance

    Posted by Frugal on 10th May 2010

    I have just a few best friends. I only told my IT friend about my blog because I needed several helps on the repeated hackers’ attack on my site. On mother’s day, my buddy and I talked almost 3 hours about his personal finance, answering every conceivable questions that he had (not that this is the first time). Kind of reminded me that I should not tell anyone else, :) .

    My IT friend is basically at the same age as I am. But in terms of accumulated assets, he is quite behind me (not that I’m trying to brag, my friend). He is one of the few people who I would call innately smart. And I have always encouraged him to go further beyond what he can achieve because he really can. He started out inherently behind me because he helped paying his brother’s college education. This is probably unheard of in a western American society, but we Asians would do that for our family members. Sometimes, an entire family would work together (financially) towards one goal, sending just a person for higher education, and then in term, this person would give back once he is able to lift up his financial and professional status.

    In any case, my IT friend is buying a house, and has been asking me lots of questions even before our 3-hour talk. I directed him to my rent-vs-buy financial calculator. We worked through all the numbers together. Besides the tax benefit that was not very clear initially, I think everything else was straightforward. On the “tax benefit average rate on property tax+interest”, one needs to account for the standard tax deduction (now at $11400 for federal tax) to calculate the tax benefits from itemized deduction of property tax and mortgage interest. It’s often A LOT less than one’s marginal tax bracket, on the contrary to the realtors’ claims. At his particular city and state, buying a home makes good sense because using conservative assumptions such as 0% appreciation rate for home, he can still break even in about 4 to 6 years. But that is with an implicit assumption of upgrading his lifestyle (for his anticipated family need) to a bigger home, paying a higher equivalent rent of $1900 instead of his current $1500. Most people buy home, thinking that house is an asset. But no, the home is only an asset, unless buying is better than renting. Otherwise, it’s a liability that bleeds your pocket. And buying a bigger home than what you need is NOT investment. Do not justify your ego’s need with the illicit logic of making a good investment. One way or the other you will ALWAYS pay for the expanded space with your own pocket.

    Besides the home, I also advised him to read through “My Advice” page. Summarizing for him, to get to millionaire status, it’s basically
    1. Acquiring skills/network (for an income source).
    2. Relentless savings for accumulation.
    3. Proper investing for preservation.

    I tried to emphasize to him that the 3 best time to save (in the right order) is
    1. Right out-of-school, and before getting married.
    2. Before having kids.
    3. After kids finish college.

    Unfortunately, most of the American young generation either take up too much college debt, or frivol through their best years to save. Those early years obviously make a huge difference in the long run.

    Then I also strongly encouraged him that it’s never too late to save, and he still has a real chance of making into millionaire club. Why? His current household income is even higher than my 2007 base salary (or my household income for that matter since my wife doesn’t work). On my job(s), I’ve “slaved” through almost 7 years at a way-below average household in my area, accepting a 35% salary cut, and yet I was able to make into the club. If I could do it, then he or anybody CAN do it too. The key is obviously to somehow maintain your (hopefully significant amount of) saving within your own acceptable living style. I advised him multiple times to go through his own credit statements. Pulled out the last 3 months. Have a monthly budget and compare to what really happens. Re-visit after 6 or 12 months. Monitor spending until it’s within budgeted expectation. The budget needs to be realistic to reflect the spending. It’s the guide of how far your saving effort would go. Budgeting is a personal experience, and it’s where your emotionally material desires fight with your goal-oriented mind.

    He has not got into many needed investing side of personal finance yet. But again, it’s very important, since the only way to get into the club is
    1. First, you must have it (through earning & saving).
    2. Second, you must preserve it (through investing).

    I encouraged him that after 15 years to come back to my blog to write about his becoming millionaire experience. As the second part of the title of my site states, “Yes, you can do it too”. That is REALLY true for MANY of the people out there. But if you just started saving at 50, then I’m sorry that I’m not going to be like all those authors writing “feel-good” personal finance books out there, and tell you that “yes, you can do it too”. But the whole point is not to become just another millionaire. What your financial security (whether it’s $400K or $700K) gives you is a peace of mind. It’s when you walk into a car dealership to buy a car, pay cash to buy the car, and you don’t even need to fidget about whether you can make the next month mortgage or car payment. It’s if your family member gets terribly sick, and requires $100K medical treatment beyond insurance, and you don’t even need to worry about sky collapsing on you, or selling the house to pay for it. It’s when your kid goes to college, and you don’t need to say to him or her, that “sorry, you really have to pay for yourself”, or that “sorry, you can only go to state universities.”

    Striving towards wealth is truly about personal financial responsibility, and not about millionaire bragging rights. It’s about taking care of oneself, one’s family, and hopefully extending the helping hands to so many needy people out there. That’s what my site wants to convey to everyone of you out there (even when I just get to sleep 4 or 5 hours a day). “My 1st million, and YES, you can do it too”. In fact, “YES, you should try to do it too.”

    Here is one of my favorite quote from my favorite books, “Karma Yoga” by Swami/Yogi Vivekanada (p.27):

    A householder (as opposed to a monk) who does not struggle to get wealth is immoral. If he is lazy and content to lead an idle life, he is immoral, because upon him depend hundreds. If he gets riches, hundreds of others will be thereby supported.

    Posted in Debt/Frugality | 4 Comments »

    Cheap Eye-Fi SD memory

    Posted by Frugal on 26th April 2010

    For those who are not aware of eye-fi, it’s an SD memory card that has built-in wi-fi, allowing automatic uploads of your photos to your PC & designated websites. I have held off buying eye-fi for the longest time since this great product first came out. Finally I yielded to my necessity of just saving 15 to 20 minutes per picture download. What I was doing for all of my pictures were simply not working. I kept buying another cheap 4GB or 8GB SD memory card when it got full (after some 1000 or 2000 pictures at 4MB per photo). But my pictures stay on SD card “forever”.

    Right now you can get 4GB Eye-Fi for $44.99 – 7% off via Bing Cashback + local taxes or about $41.85 + local taxes, assuming you choose store pickup option at OfficeDepot.com (2nd link in the Bing search result). The smallest eye-fi is 2GB and it costs about $40 also. So this 4GB is a pretty good deal. I never really love anything from Microsoft, except its Bing cashback. Anything that I buy online now, I always search it through Bing cashback first, and see if I could shave off additional 5% to 10% on an already cheap price.

    This price is only valid until May 1st, 2010. There is a temporary price reduction of $5, which is not even reflected in Bing search. If you want to get your hands on this, act now. But do make sure that you check the camera compatibility list at eye-fi site, so that you don’t run into any problems.

    Posted in Frugal Ways | 2 Comments »