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

November 2007

I received an email from EmigrantDirect today warning that the process for logging into their website for online banking is about to change. The new process will be similar to ING Direct’s security feature involving a unique sign-in ID, an image, and a pass phrase.

If you’re a customer, you might have received this email. They are staggering the transition, so it’s possible that customers haven’t received the notification. Here is the full text of the communication: Read the full article →


If your office is like mine, you celebrate the holidays (but primarily Christmas) with a gift exchange of some sort as well as a party. I’ve found the office holiday experience to be hit or miss. Now, with the help of NBC’s The Office, here are some pointers for making December in the workplace awkward, upsetting, and unfortunate.

If you’re the boss, take these thoughts into account, and you’ll be remembered as the guy (or girl) who inadvertently created the human resource regulation banning further holiday parties throughout the company.

Michael gets a Christmas tree

1. Destroy company property. In a characteristic case of poor planning, Michael Scott erects a Christmas tree taller than the height of the ceiling. The team later decides to saw off the top of the tree. You don’t own objects around the office, the company does. Don’t worry about any damage you might cause.

Ryan's iPod

2. Disobey gift exchange rules. When planning a “Secret Santa” gift exchange, it’s common to set spending limits such as $20 or $25 to ensure a little bit of equity among coworkers. As this is a “common” rule, it only applies to common coworkers. As the boss you are encouraged, even expected, to spend more than your underlings by a factor of 20. Michael presents his favorite employee, Ryan the intern, with an iPod, while others received handmade or inexpensive gifts from each other.

Michael's oven mitt

3. Be ungrateful. Effort means nothing if your Secret Santa presents you with a crappy gift. Like Michael, don’t attempt to hide your disdain. In fact, use your disappointment as an excuse to change the type of gift exchange from Secret Santa to “Yankee Swap” (also known as “Nasty Christmas” or “white elephant”), in which everyone has a chance to steal presents from the others. Optionally, use “reverse psychology” to convince your coworkers to take the crappy gift from you.

Swapping the iPod

The good news is that you’ll feel special when everyone wants your $400 gift rather than the gifts worth $20 or less. Don’t worry about upsetting the Party Planning Committee.


4. Brag about your bonus. You can afford purchasing the iPod because as the boss, you were the only one to receive a holiday bonus. Make sure you mention the amount of your bonus loud enough for everyone in the office to hear. After all, you deserve the extra $3,000, and they don’t.

Doing shots

5. Provide copious amounts of alcohol. Nothing can get a party going like vodka, and more so in an office environment. With alcohol as a social lubricant, there will always be stories to tell. Alcohol will also help you win back favor from your employees.

When I started my current position last spring, everyone was still talking about incidents from the previous year’s holiday party involving an excessively drunk coworker. That party was off-site, but as the boss, bringing alcohol against HR’s warnings will allow you to provide this kind of opportunity for someone else.

The jerk

6. Invite a jerk. Perhaps he’s your friend from your pre-managerial days, or maybe he’s just the actor who frequently plays jerks in movies and television shows. He’s always inappropriate, even before he is drunk. There’s no reason for his presence at the party, but as the boss, you can invite whomever you like.

Making out in the office

7. Designate the break room as the make-out area. We all spend so much of our waking lives with the same people, cooped up in the same office, so sexual relationships are healthy and should be encouraged. Make sure you are vigilant; as the boss, it is your responsibility to know who is hooking up with whom. This information will come in handy for blackmail later. Also, award bonus points for inter-species relationships, such as this human/elf combination…

Angela crying

… particularly if it makes another human jealous.


8. Encourage promiscuity. As the boss, it is natural for your employees to be sexually attracted to you. Most of the time the people who are the most forward are not the ones you’d like to see without clothes. Nevertheless, it is important to take a photograph for posterity or for “art for the sake of art.”

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be the producer of an unforgettable and unrepeatable holiday event.

Thanks to NBC/Universal and Universal Studios Home Entertainment for the images.


The stock market has certainly been all over the place lately. A few people have told me that the constant chatter about impending doom is pushing them towards pulling out or re-allocating their investments to expose themselves less to stocks. If I can stomach short-term losses like I think I can, I intend on using any upcoming doom as an opportunity to buy. In the long term, I don’t think the stock market will let me down.

Walter Updegrave fielded a question from a “fraidy cat” today:

Is it time to move our 401(k) out of stock funds and into bond funds? I did this back in 2000 and saved my 401(k) from huge losses. I’m getting nervous about the current market and wondering whether it’s time to make another switch.

The Money Magazine expert (in “Ask the Expert”) chided the investor and attributed her move in 2000 to luck. Selective memory attributes good results to skill and bad results to bad luck. Updegrave asked this question:

When exactly did you get back into stocks?… Ideally, you would have wanted to move back into stocks just as they hit a bottom in October 2002. Had you done that and stayed in stocks until now, you would have gained about 85 percent… But if you had waited until mid-2003 to re-enter the market — waiting until it felt safe — your gain would have been cut nearly in half to 46 percent.

Alternatively, if you had stayed in the market between August 28, 2000 and now, without purchasing while the market was down, you would have just barely recovered your losses. Dips are great opportunities for the long-term investor, but I wouldn’t suggest selling when the media is full of negative outlooks and all your friends are thinking about exiting the stock market.

Fraidy cat wants out of this stock market [Money Magazine]


Ben Stein has been making the rounds through the media in support of National Retirement Planning Week, a celebration of preparedness. He recently met with Terri Cullen from the Wall Street Journal and sat down for a quick interview.

Ben shared his opinion regarding the three biggest mistakes people often make in regards to the topic of the day.

Ben SteinMistake #1: Not Starting Early Enough. Ben says the government should require auto-enrollment in 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans, with an optional opt-out clause. He also suggests that teens with part-time jobs while going to school should have the self-discipline to save a small portion of their earnings ($10, $20, or $25 a week or month) into a retirement plan such as an IRA. The small savings will not dent today’s enjoyment of life, but the magic of compounding will do wonders for your quality of life by the time you’re 65. Start saving later, and it’s much more difficult to catch up.

Mistake #2. Not Being Diversified. Ben Stein’s advice is to diversify your investments among a number of different spectra: company size (large cap vs. small cap), company objective (value vs. growth), location (domestic vs. international), and level of market development (emerging markets vs. developed). I haven’t focused too deeply on some of these dimensions. He’s not a fan of target date funds because of the inclusion of bonds. He feels bonds are basically useless investments, especially if money markets are providing similar returns without the risk. Ben’s worried about terrorism or hyper-inflation, which would mean bad news for bonds.

Mistake #3. Not Curbing Your Spending. Lao Tsu said, “There is no catastrophe worse than lavish desires.” Ben admits this is his main mistake — it required constant effort to keep up with his lavish lifestyle. He has eight houses. Even he admits that is too much for one person. Is excessive spending overlooked as a threat to solid retirement? When it comes to spending in the present time, it comes down to a matter of personal choice. As long as one is educated so he understands that spending $x now will mean he will have $x · 1.08n where n is the number of years until retirement (assuming an 8% annual growth rate), he should be allowed to make that decision and not criticized. However, if expenses are accelerating at a higher rate then income, there will be danger ahead.

View Terri Cullen’s interview with Ben Stein here, after sitting through a commercial.


Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go (November 2007)

by Luke Landes

Each month, I take a look at the source of visitors to Consumerism Commentary. While an increasing number of readers use RSS to stay up-to-date and I can’t always see where everyone is coming from, I can thank other blogs or websites that have sent visitors our way. Not including search engines, RSS readers, and ... Continue reading this article…

6 comments Read the full article →

Holiday Gift Guide, Part 1: 3 Ways to Incorporate Charitable Giving

by Sasha

‘Tis the season to think about charitable giving, and there are some wonderful opportunities to do this while giving to your friends and loved ones. Whether it’s one of your favorite causes or one which aligns with the interests of the recipient, there are three simple ways to make a doubly-impactful gift this holiday season. ... Continue reading this article…

12 comments Read the full article →

Year-End Tax-Saving Move: Charitable Contributions

by Luke Landes

In a recent article with tips for last-minute savings on the tax bill, CNN Money suggests qualifying for a deduction by giving to charity. Donations given to a tax-exempt organization can be deducted from your income when filing your taxes. There’s a catch, though. If your total deductions including the charitable contribution don’t exceed the ... Continue reading this article…

2 comments Read the full article →

Retirement Income Rule of Thumb Debunked

by Luke Landes

To retire comfortably, you’ll need to have an income of 80 percent of your maximum pre-retirement income. That’s a common rule of thumb you hear trumpeted by financial planners. Unfortunately, it’s not accurate. It may give someone planning their retirement a basis for thinking about creating income during those years, whether from part-time work or income-producing ... Continue reading this article…

17 comments Read the full article →

79 Cards Offering 0% APR on Purchases, Balance Transfers, or Cash Advances

by Luke Landes

Editor’s Note: Thank you for your interest, these offers have expired and are no longer available. Any indented text is excerpted directly from the issuer’s marketing. Here is an update to an article I posted about four months ago. If you’re looking for 0 percent APR offers, here are 79 of them. Warning! Taking advantage of ... Continue reading this article…

10 comments Read the full article →

Weekly Blog Roundup II, Market Crash Edition

by Luke Landes

What would you do if the stock market crashed tomorrow? While you’re contemplating that, here are some more articles from Thanksgiving week to keep you reading about personal finance. How Do You Calculate Compound Growth (or Interest)? AllFinancialMatters loves tackling these mathematical questions. Here he answers with an Excel function and the underlying formulas. Personal ... Continue reading this article…

4 comments Read the full article →

Review: Navigating the Financial Blogosphere by Russell Bailyn

by Luke Landes

A little over a year ago, Russell Bailyn, an investment adviser who crossed the barrier into the blogosphere with his Financial Planning Weblog, contacted me to let me know he was beginning work on a book. As Russell and I were both music education majors in our respective undergraduate universities, I was eager to support ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →

This Month in the Archives: Money Gifts, Cyber Monday, and the Season for Giving

by Luke Landes

For a taste of old-time Consumerism Commentary, peruse these articles from the second half of November in prior years. From November 2006: * Extreme Savers Greg and Tara: We Have Some Things in Common * FreeCreditReport.com is a Scam! * Money-Saving Tips for Shopping Online * Wesabe, Web 2.0 Tool for Tracking Finances: Useful or ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →

Weekly Blog Roundup I, Guest Posts and Personal Stories

by Luke Landes

I’m using this weekend to work up the willingness and readiness to return to the office on Monday after a week of vacation. I hope you enjoyed the guest articles featured at Consumerism Commentary this week. * Consumption is Investment (from Mrs. Micah) * 3 Things You Need to Know Before Giving to Charity (from ... Continue reading this article…

2 comments Read the full article →

Black Friday and CVS Savings

by Sasha

My “Black Friday” shopping started yesterday at 8 a.m. after I’d readied my 26-pound turkey (we had 22 people planned for Thanksgiving this year) for its 6-plus hours in the oven. Instead of crawling back to bed whilst the scent of roasting turkey filled the house, I had a mission in mind. Earlier in the ... Continue reading this article…

2 comments Read the full article →

Happy Thanksgiving!

by Luke Landes

When it comes to holidays usurped by consumerism and with a backstory that begins to border on mythology rather than history, Thanksgiving is one towards the top of the list. These days, I try to take what I can from holidays without getting involved in any controversy. For me, Thanksgiving gives me a chance to ... Continue reading this article…

4 comments Read the full article →

Year-End Tax-Saving Move: Time Your Bonuses

by Luke Landes

Here in the United States, it’s Thanksgiving. I hope all readers are able to spend time with their family or friends. I’m still in California visiting my relatives and enjoying a relaxing vacation. Well, it’s relaxing in some sense. I’ve actually been working hard at moving some of my major websites, like pfblogs.org and the ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →

After Black Friday, Retailers Face a Less-Than-Joyous Holiday Season

by Sasha

Each year without fail, a relative of mine loads up on Best Buy stock just before the holidays. “It’s a sure thing,” he boasts, “because the stock always climbs from the Christmas revenue.” But even with all the earlier-than-ever Black Friday sales and hubbub this year, including the aforementioned Best Buy issuing tickets for its ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →

Year-End Tax-Saving Move: Tax Breaks for Saving

by Luke Landes

The government, when not encouraging spending to spur the immediate economy, encourages saving to keep the future economy on target. This encouragement comes in the form of tax breaks given for directing money away from consumerism today towards retirement (consumerism later). The first tax break you can get, and generally should get, is for a ... Continue reading this article…

1 comment Read the full article →

How to Turn $500 Into $7 The Hard Way

by J.D. Roth

This is a guest post from J.D. Roth, who writes about personal finance and related topics at Get Rich Slowly. Back in our young and foolish days, my wife and I bought a set of encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman. This was in 1995, at the very cusp of the digital age. We had been ... Continue reading this article…

14 comments Read the full article →

Year-End Tax-Saving Move: Reduce Capital Gains

by Luke Landes

As the year draws to an end, I start turning my mind more towards taxes. I’ve been thinking about taxes this entire year, as a matter of fact, thanks to my underestimation of income. I believe I’ve made the adjustments necessary to avoid facing a large tax bill and penalty, and CNN Money has provided ... Continue reading this article…

4 comments Read the full article →
Page 1 of 3123