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June 2013


Naked With Cash is the year-long series on Consumerism Commentary where seven readers’ households share their financial progress on a monthly basis. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. Read this introduction to learn more about the series. This month the participants are discussing retirement.

Calvin is in his early 40s, earning a salary of $120,000 plus bonus as an IT project manager in New Jersey. He has recently finalized a divorce and has a teenage child. Read his bio here. Calvin is on Team Sara, with Certified Financial Planner Sara Stanich.

The net worth report below and following commentary refer to the last full month, May 2013. Last month’s report analyzed Calvin’s progress during the month of April. Continue reading this article to see the net worth report and Calvin’s own analysis, which are followed by Sara’s feedback.

Sara Stanich, CFP appears courtesy of Stanich Group and Cultivating Wealth.

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The Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs brings a flexible rewards program to a wider audience, with some unexpected perks and privileges for a no annual fee card. However, if you’re already packing a travel rewards card or a cash back card, you might find this account a little underwhelming.

Earning 1 ThankYou Rewards point per dollar spent, this card offers the equivalent of a 0.5 percent cash back rebate. That’s half the rewards value of similar cards from Capital One and Discover. The value of your rewards points increases substantially if you shop the “Rewards on Sale” section on Citi’s website. When compared to published prices on Amazon.com, some of the redemption deals on electronics push point values closer to 2 percent. Additionally new cardholders can earn 2 ThankYou points per dollar spent on the card on dining at restaurants and at select entertainment merchants.

Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs offers a taste of great things to come

Although Citi doesn’t discuss the credit score you’ll need to qualify for a Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs, its marketing materials position this account as the entry level for a series that includes the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Earn 20,000 Bonus Points offer, the Citi ThankYou Premier Card, and the Citi Prestige Card. Each rung of the ladder includes extra opportunities to earn bonus rewards points, making the basic ThankYou Card look anemic by comparison.

However, if this is your first rewards credit card, you might not know how good you’ve got it. Over the past few years, Chase and American Express have ramped up their rewards points programs with some compelling discounts on select merchandise and travel. Although Citi’s ThankYou program resembles both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, Citi makes it easier than its competitors to pool rewards with fellow cardholders.

Extra security for travelers to Europe

On the upside, the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs may be the most accessible consumer credit card with an embedded EMV chip for use in Europe. American visitors who stray too far beyond tourist zones have expressed increasing frustration about merchants’ refusal to accept magnetic stripe cards. Even though Visa and MasterCard agreements state that merchants should take cards anywhere you see their logos, magnetic stripe cloning has run rampant in some parts of Europe, forcing some retailers to only accept chip-and-PIN transactions.

Until recently, only a handful of business and luxury travel credit cards carried the chip you’ll need for universal acceptance in Europe and a few other parts of the world. Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs includes an EMV chip by default. However, Citi still charges this account’s customers a 3 percent foreign transaction fee. That’s a high enough fee to make you consider Chase’s British Airways Signature Visa or Citi’s own ThankYou Premier Card, neither of which add the surcharge. You might also consider carrying any of Capital One’s surcharge-free cards, breaking out the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs card as a backup when your cashier will only process chip-and-PIN.

Summary: A strong start, but not the go-to rewards card in Citi’s lineup.

The Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs card will do just fine if your credit score doesn’t yet qualify you for an account with better perks. And, with no annual fee, solid cardholder benefits, and a middle-of-the-road annual percentage rate, the Citi ThankYou Preferred Card – Low Intro APRs offers a step up from a no-frills card if you really want to build a relationship with Citi.

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Talking openly and honestly about money, whether with friends or family, has its benefits. Starting a conversation can be difficult, particularly if one party to the discussion is at a different place financially than the other party. Sometimes, it’s even a better choice not to discuss money if doing so might stand in the way of cherished personal relationships, particularly if it’s not a relationship where money is a critical factor.

Before you open your mouth, consider a couple of questions first.

Why do you want to talk about money? As I wrote earlier this week, there are many great reasons for opening an honest discussion about money. If you’re planning to share your life with someone, you must have this discussion at some point. Potential roommates, even those not romantically involved, need to be aware of each other’s household responsibilities and how each other treats those responsibilities. Parents need to be honest about living in a world with financial realities so their children can have a chance to be financially capable on their own.

There are some situations where money discussions are less necessary. Here’s an example. Typically, you and your long-time friends gather for dinner at a restaurant once a month. As per tradition, you split the check; none of you are financially independent (yet) and are most comfortable with this payment arrangement, rather than rotating the check to a different participant each meeting, for example.

One particular friend in this hypothetical situation always comes up short or refuses to contribute in a manner congruent with the behavior of the rest of the group. When is the appropriate time to approach this particular friend about his behavior that doesn’t fit in with the group’s norm? Is it ever appropriate? Is one individual “allowed” in this particular social setting to play and pay by his or her own rules?

There are three socially appropriate options here. Either ask this friend to adjust the behavior, accept that the behavior won’t be adjusted and work around the attitude, or stop inviting the friend to dine at these gatherings. The second and third options may not be ideal, and although they appear to avoid confrontation, they might escalate emotions or create more problems in the future. At the same time, the first option isn’t too appealing.

Is talking about money more about selfish needs? Successful people often forget that those who are less successful don’t always see unsolicited advice as a blessing. Many people have an desire to help, whether the desire seems innate or whether it’s encouraged by the environment in which someone lives. Helping others is seen as a good deed in many cultures, but there are some situations where the desire to help results in damaged feelings and relationships.

On the receiving end, unsolicited advice is bothersome. At every step in my life, friends and strangers alike have wanted to share with me their opinions about my choices — whether those choices pertain to my money, my career, my business strategies, my personal relations, and so forth. Perhaps I give off an aura begging for people to tell me what I should do. But in reality, I’ve been self-aware, and I’ve purposefully sought out people to talk to about various issues. At the same time, I have trust in myself to make good decisions and seek help when it would be to my advantage.

For this same reason, I don’t tell people what to do with their money, at least not without being asked for my opinion. I may write about money every day or so here at Consumerism Commentary, but I don’t evaluate my friends’ financial situations and don’t help them solve their problems unless they ask — and they don’t.

This need to help that inspires people to begin doling out advice often comes from selfish interests, not selflessness. At the same time, not everyone who needs to talk about money will be strong enough to ask for that advice.

When is the appropriate time to bring up the subject of money? The appropriate time depends on the situation. For example, dealing with a roommate, even with a friend, is a business relationship. The appropriate time to talk about some of the financial issues surrounding cohabitation is before anyone signs the lease. Viewed purely as a business discussion, it’s easy to bring up the topic.

Dealing with your friends outside of a business-like relationship is much more difficult. In the earlier example about dining out, you have to be somewhat sensitive to emotions. Taking someone aside to talk about incompatible behavior could be interpreted as an insult or an attack on his or her philosophy.

For new couples, money may not be an appropriate topic until the relationship seems to both people like it might have a future. By that time, each might have an idea about the other’s approach to financial issues, but there may be monsters lurking underneath. With family, if the financial situation is dire, like an adult child who cannot seem to figure out how to live on his or her own, a frank discussion is necessary as soon as possible, but it can be framed as an opening for them to ask for help, without embarrassment or an admission of defeat, with life beyond parental monetary assistance.

Those “interventions” often depicted on television, where the entire family sits down to confront a problem as a surprise, are almost never good ideas.

Tips for starting that conversation about money

Know the person. In what situations would they most likely be open to a non-confrontational talk about money? If you can’t answer this question, you may not be the best person to bring up the topic. Sometimes it helps to appeal to someone who has a closer relationship, someone who he or she respects and views as a role model, and work with that individual.

Check your own ego. Don’t approach the topic as if you have all the answers to life’s most tantalizing questions. Don’t give into your desire to be a hero or savior. Assume that you are not aware of the entire situation, assume that there is some logical reason for whatever financial behavior you feel needs addressing.

Appeal to his or her ego. Start off with a positive observation, then ask questions, particularly about his or her successes and thinking processes. It might help you better understand the philosophy behind financial choices, as well as allow them to open up to you. Follow the “PSP” framework: praise, suggestion, praise. I’ve also hear that framework called a “compliment sandwich.” Always look for something positive discuss. Even though this is a popular technique that doesn’t fully disguise intent, the praises still make it effective.

If you are a couple, talk about your shared goals. This may not be appropriate in all situations, but it can be helpful to frame discussions about money into much larger concepts, like life together in the present and in the future. Within a close, loving relationship, you might be able to delve deeper into past issues that may have framed today’s approach towards money. Remind him or her often that this is a team.

Be non-judgmental. One of the reasons people don’t talk about money is that they don’t want to be judged, particularly by people they like and respect. This makes starting a conversation more difficult. Subtly assure someone you’re speaking with that financial behavior has no bearing on what you think of him or her.

What tips do you have? How do you start a conversation about money with someone who needs help with something pertaining to money, and may need to be told that they need help? How did you begin your first conversation about money with your spouse? How did you help a son or daughter become financially responsible on his or her own?

Photo: Flickr

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Naked With Cash is the year-long series on Consumerism Commentary where seven readers’ households share their financial progress on a monthly basis. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. This month, the participants and experts are discussing, among other things, retirement. Read this introduction to learn more about the series.

Kathleen is thirty-one years old, single, and living in Portland, Oregon. She loves her job, even if it isn’t very lucrative. With her $33,000 income last year, she’s looking to make more money from “side hustles” this year, such as her blog, Frugal Portland. To learn more about Kathleen, read her bio here. Kathleen is on Team Sara, with Certified Financial Planner Sara Stanich.

Kathleen’s report this month, below, includes Kathleen’s progress over the three months leading up to the end of May 2013. Following Kathleen’s own self-analysis, Sara Stanich will offer thoughts from her perspective.

Sara Stanich, CFP appears courtesy of Stanich Group and Cultivating Wealth.

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SteveDH, May 2013 Net Worth

by Luke Landes
SteveDH Net Worth

Naked With Cash is the year-long series on Consumerism Commentary where seven readers’ households share their financial progress on a monthly basis. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. Read this introduction to learn more about the series. This month, the participants and experts will be discussing retirement as ... Continue reading this article…

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Four Reasons to Talk Honestly About Money

by Luke Landes
Talk About Money

Prior to starting Consumerism Commentary, I didn’t talk about money. I’d encountered money problems with friends and families, and dealt with the problems as they came, but except for a conversation later on with my father once I was starting to improve my financial situation, it just wasn’t a topic for general discussion. People don’t ... Continue reading this article…

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LastDollar, May 2013 Net Worth

by Luke Landes
LastDollar Net Worth, Naked With Cash

This month is Retirement Month in the series Naked With Cash. Each month, seven Consumerism Commentary readers anonymously share their financial reports to gain insight about their progress towards their goals. Read this introduction to learn more about the series. LastDollar is thirty-three years old, an entrepreneur and single mom with two children with learning ... Continue reading this article…

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JW, May 2013 Net Worth

by Luke Landes
JW Net Worth, May 2013

In Naked With Cash, seven anonymous Consumerism Commentary readers publicly track and analyze their finances on a monthly basis. For almost a decade, I tracked my own finances on Consumerism Commentary; now I’m sharing the benefits of public accountability with the participants. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. ... Continue reading this article…

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Anne and Matt, May 2013 Net Worth

by Luke Landes
AnneMatt-may2013

Have you been following the Naked With Cash series this year? Seven Consumerism Commentary readers are making their finances public, sharing the intimate details of their financial decisions and net worth. They’re putting it all out there, leaving nothing to the imagination. Aided by professional financial advisers who guide them and supported by readers cheering ... Continue reading this article…

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Bank of America Allegedly Lied to Homeowners Seeking Modifications

by Luke Landes
Bank of America Class Action Lawsuits

It’s no surprise that Bank of America is caught up in yet another scandal. This bank is no stranger to lawsuits for various practices, and the bank is now the subject of a class action lawsuit involving the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). HAMP was a government program supported by the U.S. Department of the ... Continue reading this article…

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School Gives Club of Teens $100,000 to Play in the Stock Market

by Luke Landes
Teens investing

For many children, one primary exposure to just a piece of financial literacy is the Stock Market Game. The public elementary school I attended pitted a hundred or so fourth-graders against each other. After a few months, the student with the highest overall account value, not taking fees or expenses into account like the real ... Continue reading this article…

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How to Close an E*TRADE Investing Account

by Luke Landes
How to close an E*TRADE investment account

Yesterday, I was motivated to further clean up my excess financial accounts. After a long delay, I moved my main accounts into a revocable living trust, a legal entity I created earlier this year to keep my finances in the best order possible. As I visited Wells Fargo yesterday to move my primary checking account ... Continue reading this article…

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Moved Bank and Investment Accounts to a Living Trust

by Luke Landes
Living trust

I spent about half of the day today taking care of some of the financial responsibilities I have been putting off. It feels good to check to-do items off my list, especially if they have been sitting there for some time, and I’ve been either procrastinating or filling my day with other priorities. One of ... Continue reading this article…

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4 Types of Retirement: Which Will You Choose?

by Luke Landes
Which retirement will you choose?

While every situation is different, there are only a few types of retirement for those of us in the working class. Before I get to the retirement concept, here’s what I mean by “working class.” The working class includes those who need to survive by trading their time and effort for an income. They could ... Continue reading this article…

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Four Psychological Barriers to Long-Term Change

by Luke Landes
Four psychological barriers to long-term change

The concept of success means different things to different people. Ten years ago, my vision of long-term career success would have been getting a job in a great school district as a teacher, teaching for many years, and having a positive effect on the lives of the students who pass through my doors. Financial success ... Continue reading this article…

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5 Tips for Protecting Your Windfalls

by Luke Landes
George Oscar Bluth

In the fourth season of Arrested Development, the audience discovers the troubled Bluth family received a government stimulus bailout during the recession. Rather than using the “stimmy” to fix their troubling real estate family business operation, they used the money to buy 4,000 acres of worthless land in — well, I won’t spoil it. There’s ... Continue reading this article…

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Housing Price Graphics, The President’s Finances, and Retirement Contributions

by Lance

A few times a month, Lance from Money Life and More will stop by to share some of the best articles from across a variety of publications, including other blogs and mainstream media. I’ve been spending a lot of time renovating our townhouse to prepare to become a landlord in the next month or so. It is ... Continue reading this article…

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JW, April 2013 Net Worth

by Luke Landes
JW Net Worth

Naked With Cash is the year-long series on Consumerism Commentary where seven readers’ households share their financial progress on a monthly basis. I’ve partnered with financial planners who will offer some guidance along the way. Read this introduction to learn more about the series. JW is thirty-one years old and a father of one with ... Continue reading this article…

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Discover it with 18-Month Balance Transfer Offer

by Joe Taylor Jr.

The Discover it® card with an 18 month introductory balance transfer offer arrived on the market with heavy fanfare, including lots of television ads and billboards touting personal service and a new rebate structure that frees customers from most cash back traps. This card’s critics have pointed out that other lenders extend far more generous signup offers, ... Continue reading this article…

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