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

August 2008

4:45 PM update: The waiting list is again closed. Thank you to everyone who responded promptly. We now have more than 100 people on the waiting list.

As you may know, I am allowing Consumerism Commentary to share ING Direct referral links, providing new savings account holders with a $25 bonus (and a $10 bonus to the referrer). As of right now, I’m down to nine referral links for the savings account. You can find those links here.

I’m re-opening the waiting list for readers who are hoping to provide their referrals to other Consumerism Commentary readers. Please leave a comment below or email me if you’d like to be added to the short waiting list. I won’t be able to respond to everyone, but if you leave a comment or send an email, you will be added. Once it is your turn, I’ll send you instructions for sending the referrals directly to Consumerism Commentary for posting.

If you’re not currently an ING Direct customer, here’s how you can earn up to $525 by opening an account.

Note: Please don’t send links directly to me yet. Once it’s your turn on the waiting list, I will send you instructions for supplying the referrals.

4:45 PM update: The waiting list is again closed. Thank you to everyone who responded promptly. We now have more than 100 people on the waiting list. Subscribe to Consumerism Commentary (rss) to be informed when the waiting list is open again.

Update: The waiting list is now open. If you’d like to share your own ING Direct referral links, read this information. I’m now looking for Consumerism Commentary readers to share links by adding their names to the waiting list.


A former high-powered, strongly motivated boss of mine did not believe in sleep. In order to be the best in the world at what we do — and this was the goal, no doubt — sleep is an obstacle to be overcome. I disagreed, as it seemed to me at some point, bodies and minds will find what they need whether or not you try to control them.

While he was in his office until four in the morning many nights, trying to work, I was getting the sleep I needed to be effective during waking hours. Our disagreements about this as well as some other philosophies of life eventually led to my departure from the organization.

Scientific studies have long proven the importance of a good night’s sleep, but there’s some new research that links sleep deprivation and serious illness.

A 2008 research project at the University of Chicago’s medical school kept young, healthy volunteers awake for all but four hours a night for six nights running. The result: The levels of subjects’ hormones shifted – in particular a hormone called leptin that affects appetite. They became ravenously hungry, scarfing down pizza and ice cream long after they would have felt full normally, and their blood sugar shot up to pre-diabetic levels – an ominous result after less than one week of inadequate sleep.

…[T]he World Health Organization (WHO) has gathered data from around the globe showing that sleep deprivation depresses the immune system, to the point where WHO is considering labeling chronic sleep deprivation a carcinogen, comparable to tobacco and asbestos.

Sleep deprivation also results in an overestimation of health; people deprived think they have more control than they do.

One experiment at U. Penn’s medical school kept subjects up until 4 A.M., woke them at 8 A.M., and then gave them a series of tests designed to measure memory, alertness, and the ability to react quickly to new information. The researchers were startled to find that subjects’ mental acuity declined markedly after just one night and kept dropping with each successive night of four hours’ sleep. Even more worrying: The study’s volunteers were unaware of their impairment. One woman, so fatigued that she could barely say her name, was nonetheless certain she was able to drive home.

In addition to these studies, entrepreneurs surveyed about their sleep habits have claimed to come up with many of their ideas while asleep. So it seems that sleeping is good for business.

Here are five free ways to improve sleep and five more free ways to improve sleep. Get Rich Slowly also has a brief guide to better sleep.

Make Sleep Work For You, Anne Fisher, Fortune Small Business, August 25, 2008.


I’ve done a good job of sharing my disdain for Dave Ramsey’s popularization of a method of getting out of debt that caters to unmotivated individuals, the “Debt Snowball” method. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with his principles or his intentions. I just think he, as one of the most popular “gurus” in personal finance, has to cater to the masses. It makes sense for him to profess a methodology that is simple reaches people on an emotional level. Real financial planners who work one-on-one with individuals to get out of debt and formulate a lifetime financial plan would be able to supply better options.

Dave Ramsey does offer something I like, his “Baby Steps.” These are seven suggestions that, when followed sequentially, will do wonders for helping people struggling with their finances to take ownership of the money in their life and start moving towards a more prosperous future.

Here are Dave’s suggestions, verbatim:

  • $1,000 to start an emergency fund
  • Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
  • 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
  • Invest 15% of household income in Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
  • College funding for children
  • Pay off home early
  • Build wealth and give!

In general, I like this plan of action. These “baby steps” help someone ease into a pattern of new, financially responsible behavior, with small mini-goals which when taken in full view go a long way to help ensure financial stability.

These “baby steps” are designed to appeal to a large mass of people. This is not advice based on any one individual’s real situation, so it’s fair to apply some customization and perhaps even improvements. Here are a few small criticisms.

Is $1,000 enough or too much for an emergency fund base? Dave Ramsey suggests shoring up a $1,000 cash cushion before beginning to pay off debt. Although $1,000 is a finite number of dollars, its value has a different meaning to different people or to different families. A family with an income of $250,000 a year and $1,000,000 in debt may not consider $1,000 to be much of anything, while a family earning $20,000 per year and $100,000 in debt might find the saving of $1,000 to be a struggle. So what’s a better option? I would suggest that this base savings, what is needed to lay the groundwork before embarking on the great debt reduction journey, should be one months’ expenses, whatever they happen to be. That sets a high enough starting goal.

The “Debt Snowball” method is not so great. Despite its popularity and proven track record with a million dollar business marketing this method, I’d like to see more people give a real try to the Debt Avalanche. They’ll save money and time in the long run if they are intrinsically motivated. I’ve discussed this at length before.

Is it too soon to worry about college funding for children? I’ve heard experts suggest that parents should make sure their retirement is fully funded before worrying about funding education for their children. I don’t think saving 15% of household income, unless begun at a young age, will get most parents to a secure retirement, but that depends on the family’s needs at that later date. There are too many variables to predict that with any accuracy. The reason most experts suggest this is because you can borrow money for college, but you can’t borrow money (as easily or inexpensively) for retirement.

I strongly believe that parents have a responsibility to ensure that the best educational opportunities are available to their children, but with the prices of tuition increasingly well beyond the rate of inflation, I’m not sure how well that philosophy will work in the future.

Why pay off the mortgage early? Dave Ramsey is strongly against holding all forms of debt. Mostly, I agree. If the mortgage rate is low enough, and you have the fortitude, risk tolerance, and availability to invest the funds you would otherwise use to accelerate your mortgage payment in an asset allocation designed with a long-term time horizon, it may make more sense to pay just your minimum to the mortgage. But I won’t stop anyone who wants to pay off their mortgage early, even if they might end up with a lower net worth than if they had invested. The market is unreliable, but when paying off a mortgage early, you’re guaranteed to “earn” the rate of interest you’re being charged. It’s not a precise way of figuring the math, but knowing that you don’t have to pay interest that was originally included in your amortization is good.

Thanks go to Dave Ramsey for popularizing good general advice.


Are you looking for Quicken 2010? Quicken 2010 is available now and here are the latest products.

The new versions of all the Quicken products are available to purchase starting today, and shipping of the new software will begin on September 9. Intuit, the company that develops the Quicken software and owns the brand, is offering some special discounts to certain websites including Consumerism Commentary. I was not selected to be included in the Quicken 2009 beta test, so I have not seen the software yet. I will most likely download the latest version and share my thoughts as soon as possible.

I’ve been generally happy with my switch from Microsoft Money to Quicken several years ago. There were some improvements I hoped for last year after my dissatisfaction with the earliest release of Quicken 2007 and my reconsideration after Intuit released some fixes. None of the ideas on my wish list were included in the 2008 version, so I’d like to get a look at any improvements in the newest release.

Here are the products now available as well as the discounted price for each. These prices beat even those listed by Amazon.com. All of these products except for the Online Edition can be ordered as CD-ROMs to be delivered to you or as direct downloads.

Quicken 2009 Home & Business $69.99 ($30 discount)
Quicken 2009 Premier $59.99 ($30 discount)
Quicken 2009 Deluxe $39.99 ($20 discount)
Quicken Mac $69.99 (no discount)
Quicken 2009 Rental Property Manager $99.99 ($50 discount)
Quicken Medical Expense Manager $49.99 ($20 discount)
Quicken Home Inventory Manager $29.99 (no discount)
Quicken Online Edition As of October 13, 2008, Quicken Online is free

More discounted Quicken products and other deals are available here.

I will continue to be a Quicken user. There have been many attempts to develop web-based software for money management, including Mint, Geezeo, and even Quicken Online (review here). None of these programs suit my needs at this point.


Support Entrepreneurs in Developing Countries With Kiva

by Luke Landes

Kiva is an international non-profit organization that facilitates “microlending” for the purpose of its mission, alleviating poverty across the world. The organization allows those who wish to contribute to lend money in small amounts to entrepreneurs in the developing world. Kiva’s website lets you browse entrepreneurs’ profiles to select the recipient of your micro-loan and ... Continue reading this article…

4 comments Read the full article →

Weekly Blog Roundup: Psychology of Credit Cards, Vanguard, and Freezers

by Luke Landes

Here are some interesting articles from the MoneyBlogNetwork and beyond. I enjoyed these posts and I believe others will as well. The Psychology of Credit Cards? Get Rich Slowly shares the story of a reader who has switched from debit card to credit card but has lost the ability to keep track of his spending ... Continue reading this article…

2 comments Read the full article →

More $25 Bonus Links for New ING Direct Customers

by Luke Landes

Once again, I’ve refreshed the list of $25 bonus referral links for new ING Direct customers. I usually keep about ten unique links for the Orange Savings Account listed, and in most cases, they are all used within a week. Remember that these links are only valid for new customers who deposit at least $250 ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →

The Path to Mediocrity: Doing What Works For You and Other Self-Limiting Philosophies

by Luke Landes

General advice for an imaginary average person Personal finance advice comes in many forms, running the gamut from Dave Ramsey’s philosophies on getting out of debt to Suze Orman’s no-nonsense anti-stupidity spending advice. Opinions vary wildly as you stroll down the promenade from the broker, a salesperson, to the financial planner paid by the hour ... Continue reading this article…

18 comments Read the full article →

Twitter Poll: Do You Work in the Same Field as Your Degree?

by Luke Landes

While I haven’t decided whether I’m making a habit of this, earlier today I asked Twitter users whether their current job is related to the field in which they earned a bachelor’s degree. The unique thing about Twitter is that responses are limited to 140 letters and spaces, so it’s a challenge to condense a ... Continue reading this article…

8 comments Read the full article →

Why I Will (Probably) Never Buy a Condominium

by Luke Landes

The “condominium” (or “condo” for short) is generally seen as the missing link between renting an apartment and owning land with a house. Commonly, at least in my experience, a condominium is an apartment building in which the units are individually owned but the common spaces are jointly owned by all individual owners. There is ... Continue reading this article…

153 comments Read the full article →

Your Emergency Fund: What Qualifies as an Emergency?

by Luke Landes

Having an emergency fund, money set in an easily accessible location like a savings account earmarked for certain situations, is one of the first steps to being financially secure. This is common advice, particularly among financial advisers. Ideally, one wouldn’t tap the emergency fund at all. That sacrifices some earning power because even high-yield savings ... Continue reading this article…

12 comments Read the full article →

Donating Old Clothing and Blog Roundup

by Luke Landes

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through my clothing and eliminated items which are no longer appropriate for wear. For most of my life so far, my habit of keeping clothes for a long time — until recently, I still had a few items left from high school (1994) — was out of ... Continue reading this article…

12 comments Read the full article →

Is Finding $6,000 in Saved Expenses Better Than a Raise?

by Luke Landes

As I mentioned earlier, Consumer Reports makes it sound easy for the average family to find $500 a month in saved expenses. Scott Burns calls this the “power of attentive spending.” Pay attention to the little details and you can end the year with $6,000 more in your pocket than you would have otherwise. The ... Continue reading this article…

6 comments Read the full article →

Can You Eliminate $500 of Your Expenses Each Month?

by Luke Landes

I may have fallen back into old habits. Several years ago, when I was refreshing my life and beginning to control my finances, I made deep cuts into my expenses. I took on three roommates, paying only $325 a month for my portion of rent. I didn’t own a car and relied on mass transit ... Continue reading this article…

18 comments Read the full article →

Home Improvement Cost vs. Value (2007)

by Smithee

As first-time homeowners, we watch more than our share of DIY Network / HGTV / buying and selling home shows. My wife and I work as a team: she concentrates on making home improvements, and I’m concerned with making sure things don’t fall apart. I also worry sometimes that any project we undertake might be ... Continue reading this article…

17 comments Read the full article →

Inspect Your Home Inspector

by Guest Author

This article was written for Consumerism Commentary by Antelope, an entertainment lighting designer working hard to achieve financial security. In the last year, my wife and I have sold a house in one city, and bought and sold another house in another city. After a bad experience with a home inspector when we were buying ... Continue reading this article…

6 comments Read the full article →

Twitter Poll: How Much Do You Have in Your Emergency Fund?

by Luke Landes

Earlier today, I asked via Twitter how much everyone has in their emergency fund in relation to their monthly expenses. Here are some of the responses. (I assumed if the message wasn’t sent privately and if the twitter account wasn’t protected that I could re-post the source of the responses.) nodebtplan: 3 months of expenses ... Continue reading this article…

9 comments Read the full article →

This Tee-Shirt Was Brought to You By Pepsi (And This Mustache by Just For Men)

by Luke Landes

Why is it that everyone wants me to advertise for them for free, particularly when it is related to sports? At almost every baseball game attend, I can receive “free” gifts. Last year, in return for buying a ticket to one particular game, I received a bucket hat with my team’s logo. Just several hours ... Continue reading this article…

16 comments Read the full article →

The Right Size for Your Emergency Fund

by Luke Landes

One of the most popular pieces of financial advice is the importance of establishing an emergency fund, money that can be accessed to assist with life unexpected problems, like medical emergencies or the loss of a job. Financial advisers like Suze Orman suggest that most people have ready three to six months’ worth of expenses ... Continue reading this article…

14 comments Read the full article →

Several Interesting Articles From Around the Web

by Luke Landes

Here are some articles from the Money Blog Network I enjoyed recently. All I Really Need to Know About Stocks I Learned in the Sixth Grade. Get Rich Slowly interviews David Gardner, one of the founders of The Motley Fool, a website mainly about investing. The forums on The Motley Fool is where I originally ... Continue reading this article…

0 comments Read the full article →
Page 1 of 212