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


This article is presented by Kelly Whalen, Consumerism Commentary staff writer.

The temptation to spend money is everywhere, especially during the holidays. There is something magical about lights glowing, soft Christmas music playing everywhere, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season that seems to make money fly right out of everyone’s wallet.

Whether you enjoy the busyness of the holiday as much as I do, or not, it’s likely you have a few gifts to purchase during the week leading up to Christmas. You may, like me, still have some items still unchecked on your list, or you might be one of the 19% of holiday shoppers who haven’t started their holiday shopping. Either way, you can get your holiday shopping faster than Santa can fill stockings by trying these suggestions to curb your holiday spending. (note: the same principles apply year round)

  • Make a list, and check it twice: I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. A holiday shopping list is the ideal way to keep your spending in check. Just like a grocery list it will keep you from forgetting you already bought a gift for Great Aunt Sylvia or worse leaving someone off your list.
  • Take advantage of FREE Shipping Day: Today only, December 17, is “Free Shipping Day” at many etailers. For a complete list go to If a retailer isn’t on that list, try calling their stores or customer service line. Some companies, such as Land’s End at Sears, offer free shipping if you order from the store. What could be a better way to finish your gift list from the comfort of your own home.
  • Look, but don’t touch: When you touch an item you are more likely to buy it, according to Time magazine. Keep your hands in your pockets, or if you can’t keep from touching look at the sticker price first, so you can shock yourself into not buying.
  • Concentrate on the recipient: While it should go without saying, putting yourself in your recipient’s shoes will allow you to walk away from overspending. I found myself dreaming of a particular toy that I have not been able to find for one of the kids. After considering a web-wide hunt for said gift, I realized it was my own nostalgia that colored my perception of the “perfect” gift. I could give a gift that was similar for half the cost, and the kiddo would still be thrilled.
  • Shop after the holiday: If you don’t have small children, or will be visiting far-flung relatives after 12/26, consider going shopping on 12/26 when the products in many stores are reduced significantly.
  • Don’t try to do it all! Most of us have precious little free time. Use your free time to be with your family, or friends instead of focusing on hunting down the perfect gift, or squeezing in 5 holiday parties in 2 days.
  • Opt out. Many families are scaling back, but you might consider opting out of gift exchanges altogether. This only works well for adults, or families with older children, so proceed with caution. Some families choose a vacation over exchanging gifts.

Do you have any tips for curbing your spending?


The $155 That Almost Wasn’t

This article was written by in Tips. 4 comments.

It was only back in April that Flexo wrote about I had heard about it once before through a friend on Twitter who said he’d had some success and so I figured, “What have I got to lose?” They don’t charge anything, it’s just a convenient way to get at some abandoned money that should be yours in the first place.

I searched for myself in the three different states in which I’ve lived and found an entry tied to an old street address of mine for “More than $100”. I had to continue the process on a different site for that State, but since all they really needed was my name, it wasn’t that much of a hassle, and I never felt I was being scammed.

clear-visionIn my case the funds I was missing out on were submitted by Daimler Chrysler, which means it had something to do with the aftermath of totaling my car back in 2001. Ultimately, in order to claim the missing money, I needed to mail (or submit via a form on a Web page) some proof that I used to live at that address. Something like a utility bill or a bank statement. I don’t keep those sorts of things any longer than I have to, which to me means, “throw away as soon as you’re not using them anymore.”

However, crashing your car isn’t just an event, it’s a process that can go on, at a minimum, for weeks. A lot of paperwork is generated. I started keeping everything in a folder so I could prove the facts of the case at a moment’s notice. I figured seven years is a good amount of time to hang on to something that important, so in 2008, while pruning the filing cabinet, I very nearly got rid of the folder. Luckily, something stopped me, and a few months later, I was able to scan and e-mail the actual police report that described the accident, and included my address.

A couple of weeks later I got a check for $155. Naturally, I deposited it and made a $155 payment to one of my two remaining credit cards. If I’d received that money when I was supposed to in 2001… well, I can’t say exactly what I would’ve done with it, but some of it probably would’ve gone toward beer.

(Photo by C.P. Storm)


College classes have already begun around the country, and it’s not too late to start listening to Ben Stein. He has some great advice for those matriculating. His son is just starting college, so I would imagine Ben has been giving this topic a lot of thought lately.

Make friends with your teachers. While seeing your teachers socially was unacceptable in high school, as adults, the teacher-student relationship takes another form. I had no problem with attending barbecues hosted by my professors, going out for meals, or just relating on a more personal level. We discussed sports and books, music and logic.

Ben goes on to address ways to become friends, but they all pertain to situations in class. While I was in college, a lot of the real relating took place outside of the classroom, but that may be more a result of the type of degree I was pursuing.

Do your assignments neatly, correctly, and timely. Ben Stein mentions that college is about learning to budget your time. Looking back, I wish I had done this better. My time commitments pushed me in a number of different directions and I was always finding it difficult to fir everything I wanted to do inside of the day. I still have this problem now.

I find it hard to believe that people have to be reminded to spell correctly. I’ve encountered horrible spelling from my classmates as a graduate student, and I just don’t understand what the excuse is. Grammar is one thing; there are times when the correct grammatical rules to apply are confusing. Poor spelling is inexcusable. I am sure I’ve made spelling errors in the past, but I would be embarrassed if I spelled as poorly as some of my classmates.

Be well-rounded. I applaud Ben for writing this. Many times, people are encouraged to pick one topic and become an expert without much thought to the larger world around them. Ben Stein wants people to study history, geography, Shakespeare, poetry, literature, biology, physics, and mathematics. Of course, I would add visual and performing arts to his list. All of this teaches more about human understanding than would any business psychology or human resources class.

You probably won’t call upon these subjects in your daily life when you enter the workforce, but they’re vitally important in teaching you how to think. And learning how to think is, above all, the main challenge you face in school. It’s true that you have to know certain basic facts, but you should also know how to approach a problem, break it down, solve it, and write about it. That’s why it’s important to take English composition, and take it seriously.

Join a fraternity or a sorority. Social groups can be positive or negative, so be choosy about which groups you hang out with. My fraternity, which was new on campus when I joined as a freshman, was more of an honor society or service group during the first few years. We didn’t have a house so there are no movies that quite exemplify our dynamic, but we became decent friends as we did as much as we could to follow the fraternity’s national “purpose.”

As Ben notes, the good thing about a group of friends is the support they can provide when it is most needed. Chances are there will be some time during your time in college when you need that support.

Neatness counts. Image is always important.

If you wear sloppy clothes, be clean inside them and have your thoughts especially well-ordered to offset your appearance. You’ll need to work twice as hard so your teachers know you’re smarter on the inside than on the outside.

Don’t smoke or drink to excess. Anything in excess is bad. Aim for moderation and limit any unhealthful habits.

Play a sport. Is marching band a sport? I guess it depends on the marching band.

Have a roommate you like. Personally, I preferred having no roommate and spending most of my time in the dorms with my girlfriend. I never had to worry about disturbing anyone. I did live in a special interest dorm, where everyone on the floor was interested in the same thing. For my floor, that was music. In return for living in the nicest dorms on campus, for which we had to apply separately from the standard housing application, we had service responsibilities to the community. I enjoyed this type of environment.

Try to have a significant other. I am a strong supporter of this idea, but I would suggest not staying with the same significant other for your entire college experience unless you are sure you are going to get married. College is a great time to learn about yourself and determine you compatibilities.

Develop good work habits.

College is where you learn to allocate your time, get your assignments done, and develop a good rapport with your fellow workers (students) and your bosses (teachers), and make them all your friends.

Ben notes that in all likelihood, you’ll spend the rest of your life working. This is the reality, so it is best to make the most of it. I didn’t work as hard as I should have while I was running around leading various organizations. I put my priorities elsewhere when I should have worked for more balance between classwork, practicing (I majored in music education), activities, and socialization.

As a leader among my peers in high school in college, this hasn’t translated as well to the working world as I would like. While I’m happy with my experiences, and changing anything about my personal history would change my identity, there was possibly a little room for improvement when it came to getting the right things done at the right time.

Chances are you won’t get everything exactly right. Ben Stein’s tips will get you started in the right direction.


Perhaps she calls you “her sweeitie” and you call her “lover.” Maybe you don’t have cutesy names for each other, but if you’re planning to get married, hopefully you know each other very well.

This encompasses a little more than favorite restaurants, medical allergies, and middle names. There should be some serious discussions about life goals, passions, and philosophies. And then there’s money. Here are ten questions, thanks to Erin Burt of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, to initiate more than a five-minute conversation. She provided the questions and I’m providing my interpretation.

Each one of these questions deserves a blog post for itself.

1. Where would you like to be in five or ten years? This is more than just physical location, but where you want to live is important, too. As far as location goes, there should probably be some agreement if there are specific places to live — or flexibility. Aside from this, what are your goals? If one wants to go back to school or to take a risk and open a business, is the other willing to support that?

2. What are our assets and liabilities? You may not know about your friends’ financial positions unless they happen to post their details online. In most cases, you’ll probably need to sit down and talk about what you owe. The article suggests prenuptial agreements, but that’s a personal decision. It could be a good idea in cases where there is a wide disparity between incomes, net worth, or future earning possibilities.

3. Should we keep our finances separate or combine them? I think there is more power when two financial forces join as one — the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — but that’s just my opinion. There are valid reasons for keeping finances separate.

If you’re struggling to come up with a solution in this area, you may consider what I would do: combine almost everything, in proportion to each person’s means to contribute, for all living expenses but keep some “mad money” so you can surprise the other with gifts.

You can do this without hiding money from your partner.

4. What about our investments? Once again, the power of combined accounts works in the favor of the couple as a whole in terms of growth. Fewer separate accounts and higher balances mean fewer fees. It also forces you to discuss risk tolerance and investment goals.

5. How will we handle daily spending decisions? To budget or not to budget, that is the question. The author is strongly pro-budget. Budgets can be helpful, especially for those for whom spending may be an issue. Personally, I don’t keep a line-by-line budget for myself. This type of organization is stifling to me, but I’d be willing to give it a try in a relationship as long as it is flexible and not strict.

6. Who will be responsible for paying the bills and preparing the taxes? I think it’s best to have just one person in charge, just to keep things simple. This will help to avoid paying a bill twice. But who should do it? Perhaps the person who is more efficient with keeping track of statements and records. You could also “outsource” bill organization to a company like Paytrust and avoid all the paperwork.

7. What is your tolerance for financial risk? The article provides a link to a risk tolerance questionnaire and suggests that if the two in the couple fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, compromising may be the only option.

8. What are our insurance options? For a marriage in which both spouses work, chances are one has health benefits costing less or offering better options than the other. So it is worth it to compare plans and decide whether one should be added to the other’s plan or to continue on separate plans. This is also a good time to change beneficiary options.

9. How does your credit report look? It’s time for each part of the couple to familiarize with the other’s credit history. Use this as a chance to make sure there are no errors on the reports, retrievable from If you plan on buying a house as a couple, this step will make sure there are no surprises.

10. How will we tackle existing debt? This probably should have been included in question number 2 above. I believe debts incurred before joining together in marriage should almost always be handled by the individuals and should not be included in the merging of finances above, but there are bound to be exceptions.

Proper communication is one of the most important ways to keep a relationship healthy, and it doesn’t stop with talking about money-related issues. Monsy is simply another topic about which people in love should not be afraid to be open and honest.

Discussing these issues also doesn’t guarantee a smooth — or successful — marriage, but it couldn’t hurt.


12 Steps for the Paycheck Type to Become a Millionaire

by Luke Landes

Here is Kiplinger’s predictable 12-step program for becoming a millionaire, which inevitable contains “… and wait” somewhere. This guide is geared towards corporate workers who live and die by the paycheck. 1. Keep your eyes peeled for better ways to do your job. While Milton Wadams was slowly finding himself out of a job, thinking […]

3 comments Read the full article →

Tips for Purchasing a Musical Instrument for the Non-Professional

by Luke Landes

As I mentioned earlier, I finally picked up the Martin D-15 acoustic guitar I’ve been planning to buy since August last year. Here are some tips if you’re thinking about buying a musical instrument. First, if you are buying an instrument for your son or daughter just starting out, you may find out later that […]

9 comments Read the full article →

Bad Job-Hunting Tips You Must Avoid, Part 2

by Luke Landes

Penelope Trunk from Yahoo Finance published an article busting job-hunting myths. I looked at several of her un-tips yesterday and in Part 2, I’ll finish off my thoughts. Bad Rule No. 5: Don’t have typos in your résumé I’m not recommending that you misspell words on purpose, but I am recommending that you chill out […]

19 comments Read the full article →

Suze Orman’s 5 Tips for 2007

by Luke Landes

We’re rolling into the new year, a perfect time for gurus to repeat their favorite nuggets of advice. Suze Orman, who writes a column for Yahoo Finance, has published the five best financial moves for 2007. Here are her tips, which don’t have much relationship to 2007 specifically, but are good ideas in general. 1. […]

6 comments Read the full article →

Rule for Building Wealth: Make Saving Automatic

by Luke Landes

In July 2002, I opened an account at ING Direct and created a scheduled transaction. Every two weeks, when my day job paycheck was deposited, a portion of this money was automatically passed through directly into my new Emergency Fund. A few months earlier, I became eligible for investing in my company’s 401(k). This is […]

8 comments Read the full article →

Money Magazine: 8 Smart Year-End Moves, Part 2

by Luke Landes

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. […]

0 comments Read the full article →
Page 1 of 3123