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November 2010

As I mentioned a few days ago, Consumerism Commentary is matching your charitable contributions. Please take this opportunity to give to your favorite charity. Here’s how to make your charity count twice.

The four-day weekend has seen consumers spend $45 billion, up from $41.2 billion last year. I contributed to this figure slightly, buying three long-sleeve shirts at good, but hardly impressive, discounts on Saturday. Cyber Monday is an extension of this weekend, having become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy as online retailers have grabbed the opportunity for another sales event.

Productivity around the country will likely have faltered today as shoppers take time away from working to surf the internet looking for deals from the office. A few years ago, Cyber Monday was a myth. That is no longer true; for those who are interested in spending, today is a good day to find deals online, whether for your Christmas gift ideas or for yourself.

One of my favorite places for deals today is the Amazon.com Gold Box. While I didn’t have time to keep checking the website, one friend brought my attention to a sale featuring BBC television series on DVD and Blu-Ray. I didn’t take advantage, but if I didn’t already have the latest Doctor Who episodes, I would have taken action.

Did you find any Cyber Monday deals today, or are you still looking? I can’t fault anyone for spending. The most financially secure advice tends to focus on not spending unless you can afford what you’re buying without debt and if the purchase doesn’t sacrifice your future. The occasional holiday gift usually won’t destroy someone’s finances, but I know many people who buy a number of toys for their children that end up piling up in the attic until the next office campaign to solicit new toys for underprivileged children.


On Thanksgiving, the New York Times published a story about a man who had a check for $14 million ten years ago — $10 million after taxes — and who now has little to his name (Nick Martin). It’s not the sort of uplifting, family-focused feature article you usually see around the holidays, but people do seem to enjoy reading about the misfortune (quite literally, in this case) of others.

During the holidays, I was able to forget about money for a little while, but returning to “real life” after a vacation means I have to get down to business. For me, that means doubling my writing efforts and managing Consumerism Commentary better and stronger. Back to the series of Nick Martin’s unfortunate events.

In 1998, Nick received a check for his portion of the proceeds from the sale of his family’s billboard company. The urge to spend took hold, resulting in cars, houses, and horses. To keep his new purchases in good condition, he needed cash flow, something that was significantly lacking, particularly as real estate investments and the stock market crashed.

It’s easy to be judgmental. The internet is a place where armchair quarterbacks feel comfortable. Very few people know what would happen if the same situation — an unexpected windfall — occurs to them. There’s enough blame to go around. Here is Mr. Martin’s perspective:

He is furious at the banks and the bankers, who he thinks gave him bad advice, and he still sounds angry at his brother and others who decided to sell the company and who he says gave him little voice. Some of them got more than $100 million each, he said, while he got $14 million, as did his father and his sister Ann, because they were all minority shareholders.

In any similar situation, we see bankers who give advice with their own financial gain in mind rather than fiduciary responsibilities, individuals who trust a limited number of professional opinions, and the temptation to spend. Placing blame isn’t really important.

We can play games of hypothetical situations, asking each other, “What would you do if you inherited $10 million?”. When we can separate ourselves from the situation, it’s easy to think rationally. Here is what one might consider if they took the opportunity to envision receiving such a lump sum ahead of time.

  • Invest conservatively to ensure a cash flow and live off the income.
  • Have a low-stress job to boost that income.
  • Invest a small portion in the stock market for a chance to grow wealth without risking too much of the balance.
  • Possibly start a foundation, passionately supporting a cause.

These are all rational choices. Unfortunately, rationality is often the first thing to go once that check is in hand. In general, financial decisions are rarely rational even when not involving windfalls because humans are generally irrational, favoring emotional decisions. It is quite unfortunate that a descent like Nick Martin’s can occur, but losing a great deal or having a windfall slip through your fingers can be a good reminder that these is more to life than your net worth.

New York Times


The 2009 economic stimulus came to the middle class in the form of the Making Work Pay credit, which provided a $400 credit for single taxpayers or a $800 credit for married taxpayers filing jointly across two years. The credit was embedded in W-2 paychecks, hardly noticeable to many.

The credit was also designed to last throughout 2009 and 2010, automatically expiring in 2011, when the economy was expected to be in better shape. Without a congressional action to renew the credit, taxpayers will notice a lower net income on each paycheck when the year beginnings — lower than it would be anyway with the other taxes that start at the beginning of the year but are fully paid in the middle of each year.

Most of the recent talk about taxes is on the possible repeal of lower tax rates for those with adjusted gross incomes over $250,000, a move that would result in a 3 percentage point increase in just the highest marginal rate. This change would effect a tiny portion of American taxpayers, but if the Making Work Pay credit isn’t renewed, all single taxpayers earning $75,000 or less or married-filing-jointly taxpayers earning $150,000 or less will pay more. In terms of numbers, this credit benefits 90% of all taxpayers or 110 million households.

The credit costs $60 billion. That’s certainly a lot of money, but it’s small when compared to the cost of extending the tax cuts for individuals earning over $200,000 or couples earning over $250,000. That move would cost $700 billion, but pales in comparison with the $3 trillion cost extending the tax cuts for everyone else, an expense that can most likely not be avoided.

The Making Work Pay tax credit, as it allowed most taxpayers to spend a little more, may have helped support the economy’s feeble recovery over the past year. With the economy not yet fully recovered even though we are no longer in a technical recession, should the tax credit be extended?


As I mentioned a few days ago, Consumerism Commentary is matching your charitable contributions. Please take this opportunity to give to your favorite charity. Here’s how to make your charity count twice.

In other news, I have returned from visiting my family in California for Thanksgiving. I spent some time with my brother and sister-in-law, hiking, trying yoga for the first time, seeing a play in Los Angeles, and participating in two great Thanksgiving meals. I’ve included a photograph from a nearby lake I explored on Thanksgiving day before arriving at dinner.

ThanksgivingLast week, in the midst of my travel, U.S. News published an appropriate new article of mine, The 3 Best Ways to Increase Travel Rewards. I expect to travel more in the future, so I’ve shifted most of my spending from cash back to travel rewards. Making the most of my miles has been on my mind lately.

The best time to start a health savings account is two years before you start having children, according to Money Reasons. I don’t use a health insurance plan that is eligible for health savings accounts (HSA), so I haven’t paid much attention to the rules.

Donna Freedman asks, Could Your Family Survive on One Salary? I have a family of one, so this question is most likely not directed at me. The answer to this question is unique to every circumstance. In a family where there are two salaries, perhaps one salary could support the family with minimal struggle while the other could not support the family without major adjustments. Some families will need both salaries to survive.

If you are interested in personal finance blogs, take a look at this collection of the 25 most influential finance bloggers from Redeeming Riches. I appreciate being included! Read the full article →


Podcast 84: Stew Langille, Mint Data

by Luke Landes

On today’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek speaks with Stew Langille, Director of Marketing for Intuit Personal Finance Group about Mint’s new real time consumer spending tracking website Mint Data. Stew talks about the features of Mint.com Data, including how it polls four million Mint users and tracks their spending habits, allowing them to identify ... Continue reading this article…

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Consumerism Commentary Matching Charitable Donations for Thanksgiving

by Luke Landes

Last year, Consumerism Commentary matched $3,584 in readers’ charitable contributions. For every dollar that readers donated and informed us, we made a matching donation to the World Food Programme (through the American arm of the organization, the Friends of the World Food Program). I felt this was a great way to give thanks to our ... Continue reading this article…

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Performance Reviews: Useless or Worthwhile?

by Luke Landes

As the end of the year approaches, managers and supervisors throughout the corporate world will begin having conversations with the employees who report to them. These conversations usually involve tools like a self-evaluation form completed by the employee, feedback forms completed by the supervisor, and possibly peer evaluations completed by co-workers. There isn’t one part ... Continue reading this article…

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Get Your Free Credit Score With IDENTITY GUARD®

by Luke Landes

If you’re looking to obtain a copy of your credit report, your first choice should be to visit the website AnnualCreditReport.com. As I mentioned this morning, every American is entitled to three free credit reports, and this is the only website that allows you to view these credit reports for free. Once you’ve exhausted your ... Continue reading this article…

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The Perfect Wedding Doesn’t Cost Much

by Financial Samurai

This is a guest article by Sam, the author of the blog Financial Samurai and the founder of the Yakezie Challenge and Network. He writes a column for Consumerism Commentary every other Tuesday. This past summer I went to my friends Peter and Stephanie’s wedding in Hawaii. Peter is 35, but looks 25, and works ... Continue reading this article…

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Invest in Individual Stocks or Mutual Funds?

by Luke Landes

This is a guest article by Barbara Friedberg, editor-in-chief of Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance. Barbara holds an MBA in finance, a BS in economics, and an MS in counseling. In addition to writing, Barbara is a portfolio manager and a professor. “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 83: Money & Happiness, Laura Rowley

by Luke Landes

On today’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek speaks with Laura Rowley, columnist at Yahoo Finance and author of the book Money and Happiness: A Guide to Living the Good Life. Laura talks about money and its correlation to happiness including topics such as how much money it takes to feel satisfied, at what monetary point ... Continue reading this article…

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Good Movies, 2011 Investment Strategy, and Basic Financial Terms

by Luke Landes

It’s not often I get a chance to travel to California to visit my family, but I’ll be flying today from east coast to west to spend quality time with my brother, sister-in-law, and mother for Thanksgiving. It will be a fast week; I have plans for just about every day I’ll be in California. ... Continue reading this article…

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Discover Open Road Card Review

by Luke Landes

The offer you are interested in has expired. Read our review of the best gas credit cards.

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Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength

by Luke Landes

A group of millionaires — the definition of which is any individual with an annual income of over $1,000,000, not a net worth of $1,000,000 — has assembled to let the government know that they’d like the tax cuts for that income level expire, in patriotic duty to the fiscal solvency of the United States. ... Continue reading this article…

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Chase United Mileage Plus® Signature® Visa Card Review

by Luke Landes

The offer you are interested in has expired. Read our review of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card.

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Extreme Boomerang: Heidi Montag

by Luke Landes

I am completely disconnected from the genre of television shows called “reality.” The fascination with people whose celebrity status stemmed from reality television, or most celebrities in general, seems to be built on a foundation of schadenfreude. People love to hear about the failures of famous people. Heidi Montag and her husband, a couple who ... Continue reading this article…

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Electronic Cigarettes Might Just Be Ideal

by Smithee

This is an article by Consumerism Commentary staff writer, Smithee. This article assumes that some people smoke and some people don’t. It won’t address the notion that smokers shouldn’t smoke, and I hope you will also avoid that controversial viewpoint in the comments below. People are vaporizing all over town, but don’t worry, they’re doing ... Continue reading this article…

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Night Owls Are More Intelligent Than Morning Birds

by Luke Landes

If I have to define myself by my productivity tendency based on the time of day, I would have to say I am not a morning person. I imagine my mother is nodding in agreement as she reads this article, as I didn’t make life easy for her while I was a teenager. Though I ... Continue reading this article…

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Podcast 82: Credit Sesame and Betterment

by Luke Landes

Today’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast, features two guests. In the first segment, Tom Dziubek talks to Adrian Nazari, founder and CEO of the online credit & loan analysis tool Credit Sesame. Adrian discusses how the website can help customers analyze their debt situation and assist them by presenting them with multiple loan options. In the second ... Continue reading this article…

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Frequent Flyers, Dangerous Investing Advice, and Supercharged Income

by Luke Landes

A week from today, I’ll be on my way to California. I’ll be visiting my family in Los Angeles and Orange County for Thanksgiving and to get away. It’s not all personal, though; I’ll be doing quite a bit of work on Consumerism Commentary while traveling. I’ll be writing, assisted by a few guest authors, ... Continue reading this article…

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