As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

November 2006

In response to my latest balance sheet, Wacko asked a question:

Any pointers on how to calculate an automobile’s depreciation? Obviously I can look at Kelley Blue Book, but I do not know the monthly depreciation.

Also, I was wondering if anyone knew of an accurate way to determine the value of one’s home. I want to be able to balance the current value of my home with the loan on it.

What is the true value of an asset? Read the full article →


It was actually two weeks ago that I posed the question about the “biggest weakness” question that we’ve all experienced in some form in job interviews. Some great responses followed, and one was randomly selected to win my copy of The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read, which I reviewed earlier this month. Here’s a few selected anecdotes provided by readers:

Kira said:

When I interviewed for my current job, I thought everything went really well – we seemed to all hit it off and they seemed impressed by my qualifications. Right off the bat, everyone assumed I was a whiz with computers and math (somewhat yes, completely no) – my supervisor told me recently that they assumed I had those qualifications, though we didn’t talk about them at any length in the interview, because I wore white socks with black shoes and therefore I must be a geek.

Jeremy was asked the dreaded question:

I ended up saying one of my biggest weaknesses was the fact that I have trouble delegating work. I can have a hard time letting go of control over every aspect of a project, thus I end up doing a lot of mundane tasks that eat up time that could be better spent doing more appropriate tasks.

The winner of the giveaway, samerwriter, was on the other side of the conference room table:

We’re always told to ask this question (or similar “behavioral” questions) when we interview potential employees. I don’t like them, for the reasons you mentioned. You really wind up testing someone’s interview skills rather than their job skills. Other examples of this type of question are “Give me an example of a time when you failed.” But what you’re looking for, and you don’t need to be a psychologist for this, is someone who recognizes that they aren’t perfect.

Here are the rest of the comments.


Here are four more smart year-end money moves, according to Money Magazine. I only conditionally agreed with the first four, so let’s see how the magazine did with the remaining tips.

5. Set your sights clearly. They suggest deciding well in advance the destiny of any year-end bonuses. This will prevent splurging to some extent. In my company, we don’t receive our bonuses until February or March. The delay prevents me from using the money for holiday gifts. In the past, my bonus has gone to pay for regular expenses at my regular income’s shortcoming, but that probably won’t be the case this year.

6. Make some adjustments. Consult an accountant who can help you speed up or slow down tax payments or self employment income, or adjust your withholding for next year so you won’t have to later. Speaking of adjustments, it might also be a good time to take a look at your investment asset allocation. If one part of your investments performed very well or poorly, your allocation may be out of whack with your goals.

7. Play catch-up. The maximum 401(k) contribution for most people in 2007 is $15,500. I won’t hit that mark without a significant raise, but for people like us, Money suggests increasing contributions by a percentage point. I plan to hold my contribution steady at 12% of my income.

8. Have the talk. “In your life, there’s probably a difficult financial conversation that you’ve been meaning to have with a family member but haven’t gotten around to. Maybe it’s talking with your parents about their retirement finances or discussing long-term financial goals with your spouse.” Money believes the holidays are a good time to have this talk. I talked with my mom about her retirement over Thanksgiving, and that’s a topic for another day.

In general, these are good reminders from Money Magazine. A few tweaks here and there would help the set of tips apply to my life.


These gifts may be a good choice for younger people who are just starting to get interested in taking care of their financial lives, from Chuck Jaffe and MarketWatch.

1. Shares. Buying a newborn baby shares — or even just one share — of a certain company is a nice way to start off a new life, but this works for holiday presents as well. MarketWatch suggests ShareBuilder [affiliate] for starting off in small amounts of stock. I’d watch out for transaction fees, but in the case of a gift, minimizing fees doesn’t have to be a primary goal.

2. Guidance and help. Paying for someone to start seeing an advisor can be a good gift for someone of any age — from those just starting out to those in retirement — trying to get their finances together.

3. Time and service. MarketWatch suggests offering your time as a gift. If you have a friend who has a lot of responsibilities, maybe after a spouse passes away as an example, a gift can be helping that person accomplish tasks that normally lead to exasperation.

4. Relief from monetary pressure. This is a great gift for teenagers. It doesn’t have to be a signal that they don’t have to worry about money and will be always be bailed out by those with more means. A one-time gift can help teens focus on more important issues, like their own education, rather than being burdened for a short time. It also helps to instill a giving attitude; when good is done to them, they may be more inclined to do the same for others once they can.

5. Charity. I have experience with this. I’ve donated to organizations on behalf of my friends when they’ve expressed their interest in certain charities, beyond the typical “Please sponsor me as I walk to cure [insert disease here].” MarketWatch suggests presenting a check to the recipient of the gift made out to anyone other than the recipient.

6. Nothing. The gift of the ungift: overcoming the habit of exchanging gifts with friends. This might be a good idea for a circle of friends with varying levels of income and responsibilities. It’s not as fun, but giving up the tradition of everyone exchanging gifts with everyone else saves money, and that can be a gift in itself.


Young and in Debt: Five Twenty-Somethings Share Stories

by Luke Landes

U.S.A. Today is featuring a six-week series following five twenty-somethings and their adventures in debt. Debt seems to be the primary concern of most people as they emerge from their undergraduate education and begin working or continue onto graduate education. One of the first articles in the series, Young People Struggle With the Kiss of ... Continue reading this article…

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Rockin’ the Suburbs: Y’all Don’t Know What It’s Like

by Luke Landes

Early tomorrow morning, I’ll be boarding a plane to head out to California for Thanksgiving. I’ll still be posting, but perhaps not as frequently. To hold you over, here are some lyrics from one of my favorite musucians, Ben Folds. It’s about life in suburbia, something which many of us can relate to.

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Money-Saving Tips for Shopping Online

by Luke Landes

This is a guest post by Jacquelyn Lynn, a widely published business writer and experienced online shopper. She is the author of Online Shopper’s Survival Guide and maintains a blog, Online Consumer Advice and Commentary. Shopping online is the easiest way to find the lowest price for whatever it is you want. But there are ... Continue reading this article…

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FreeCreditReport.com is a Scam!

by Luke Landes

Updated: Get Out of FreeCreditReport.com’s “Triple Advantage”. This isn’t the first time, but now the State of Florida Office of the Attorney General is investigating FreeCreditReport.com. You’ll notice I don’t link to the site. This site, run by credit reporting agency Experian is taking advantage of the ruling that anyone can receive a free annual ... Continue reading this article…

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Extreme Savers Greg and Tara: We Have Some Things in Common

by Luke Landes

CNN Money seems to have switched its focus from “Millionaires in the Making” to “Extreme Savers,” and today they have an article about Greg and Tara Black. They earn $48,000 and live in Charlottesville, Virginia. They shop at Kohls and JC Penney for clothing, as I do. Their entertainment comes mainly from Netflix, of which ... Continue reading this article…

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US Airways and Delta Airlines Might Merge, My Flight Unchanged

by Luke Landes

This story attracted my attention because I am getting ready to flow from East Coast to West on US Airways next Monday. US Airways is looking to purchase Delta Airlines, which is bankrupt, for $8 billion in cash and stock. Any merger won’t affect my flight, although it would be nice if the airline lift ... Continue reading this article…

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What is Your Biggest Weakness? With a Giveaway!

by Luke Landes

When I had the chance to interview a prospective supervisor I avoided asking this question, but every interview I’ve had in which I am the one auditioning for a position, I’ve been invariably asked about my weaknesses. Fortune Magazine is tackling this question. Dear Annie: After a detailed conversation about what I’ve been doing, the ... Continue reading this article…

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7 Ways to Save Money While Maintaining Your Extravagant Lifestyle

by Luke Landes

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of long post titles. Anyway, as the title says, here are seven ways you can save money while maintaining your extravagant style. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants? The best of both worlds? If you love living beyond your means, follow these guidelines and both worlds will ... Continue reading this article…

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Review: The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

by Luke Landes

I recently finished reading The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read: The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals [Amazon affiliate] by Daniel R. Solin. It’s a relatively short book with one simple point: For most people, investing in index funds is smarter than investing in actively managed mutual funds. The chapters are short ... Continue reading this article…

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Secrets and Myths About Salary Your Employer Doesn’t Want You to Know

by Luke Landes

Jeanne Sahadi over at CNN Money is spilling the beans again, and this time it’s about salary. Your managers know these precious pieces of info, but you might not. Armed with this knowledge, you could be better poised to tip the scale in your favor next time you negotiate. Here’s the summary. 1. Secret: Your ... Continue reading this article…

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Personal Income Statement, October 2006 (Net Income: $3,583)

by Luke Landes

This is a big chart, thanks to the large number of categories of spending I have. Perhaps that’s a sign I spend too much. On the other hand, I managed to spend in October 2006 the least I’ve spent since January 2005. I thought I was going to do better, but filling up the rental ... Continue reading this article…

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