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January 2007

Last week I started a contest to give away my copy of The Maui Millionaires by David Finkel and Diane Kennedy. I didn’t exactly give the book a glowing review, but there might be some value for someone else. (Plus, it’s free!) There were 40 entries, and the only requirement was to name someone whose company or conversation is worth $30,000, though I allowed quite a bit of freedom for those who wouldn’t pay that kind of money for anyone’s companionship. There were some great answers:

* “I’d like to sit down with Albert Einstein to discuss his thoughts on String Theory. I would not pay $30k to do it though.” (Jeremy)
* “I’d really like to meet someone like Jon Stewart.” (Matt #1)
* “I’d pay 30k to meet YOU, flexo!” (Teresa)
* “Shakespeare. The guy’s genius is unmatched, except perhaps by Cervantes or Jesus.” (Leo Babauta)
* “I think you’d pretty much have to go with one of the Big Guys. So, I’d probably go with Jesus.” (Chris)
* “I would love to meet Jesus so he can heal me. I’ve been sitting in this chair way to long.” (Michael Monaco)
* “Hmm if I had 30k, I’d probably wanna kick it with Jesus for a day.” (Jay)
* “Have dinner with Jesus and bring DaVinci along to paint the portrait of the entire dinner party…” (Yo–Yo Mama)

I did detect a theme, here. Personally, I was pulling for Teresa. The Fates had other plans, however. I used to generate a random number between 1 and 40, and the number picked was 36, corresponding to a comment by Matt (#2):

I think I would pay 30K to hang out with Larry David for a day. resultNow the very strange thing is I happened to be watching Curb Your Enthusiasm, a television show produced, written by, and starring Larry David when preparing this post. What a coincidence! Congratulations, Matt. The Maui Millionaires, plus a bonus book, will be on the way this weekend. I hope you enjoy it and manage to get more out of it than I did.

By the way, the attached image should be proof the number was randomly selected.

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A few weeks ago, I heard the news that credit card numbers were stolen from T.J. Maxx computers. Coincidentally, I had shopped at that store recently. In fact, it was the first time I had shopped there in many years.

This was a good reminder for me to check my credit report. Last night, I visited to get one of the three free annual credit reports all citizens of the United States are entitled to by law.

It’s important to keep an eye on your own credit report. Not only is it interesting to see which companies are pinging your report to determine which offers to send you through snail junk mail, but there may be errors on the report requiring correction. is the only portal you can use to take advantage of the three free yearly reports. Once you enter your personal information, you can choose one of the three credit reporting agencies to view that company’s report. The best plan for me to is to spread my credit checks throughout the year: Experian in January, Equifax in May, and TransUnion in September.

If you use a scheduling program like Microsoft Outlook, it’s very easy to set up reminders so you are warned when it’s time to get your next report.

I’m happy to report that my credit has not been compromised as a result of shopping at T.J. Maxx. Neither has it been compromised by a recent security breach by a third party vendor working with my employer. I’ll continue checking every several months to make sure nothing unexpected appears.

Update: Consumerist mentioned that a class action lawsuit was filed yesterday against T.J. Maxx due to the security breach.

Credit cards stolen in the breach have been used in Florida, Georgia, and Louisana, as well as Hong Kong and Sweden. Driver’s license data was stolen as well. Hundreds of thousands of credit cards have been reissued due to the theft.

Here is the news piece.


I’m a fan of using financial reports to analyze my personal financial position and progress. I’ve done this so far using basic reports, like the balance sheet and income and expense report. When investors and decision makers analyze companies, they also look beyond these statements. There are a number of ratios or comparisons that tell a better story, especially when these ratios are examined over time.

One of these is the working capital ratio, also known as the “current ratio.” This ratio describes how well one can meet short-term debt obligations. It answers the question, “Will I be able to make all of my payments this year?” The working capital ratio compares current assets and current liabilities. When evaluating businesses, for assets and liabilities to be “current,” they are either convertible to cash within a year (assets) or due to creditors within a year (liabilities).

For personal finances, I think using a month for this comparison rather than a year tells a better story. That’s how I’ll perform my calculations. In order to determine working capital ratio, I’ll use the numbers from the end of 2006. [click to continue…]


A while ago, I started a series reviewing my experience with the University of Phoenix Online. I attended this school through its online master’s degree program and I earned my MBA several months ago. So far, I’ve discussed how I decided to go this route, their admission philosophy and policies, and what it’s like attending a course online.

Banking Deal: Earn 1.30% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Synchrony Bank.

The next part, a review of my curriculum is long past due. I’ve procrastinated this section as I originally intended to take a quick look at each course and write about the merits of each. This was a daunting task hindering me from continuing the series. I’ve decided to take a different, more general approach.

The bottom line is that there were only a few courses from which I feel I gained useful knowledge. The first course was a three-week, 1 credit course called “Managerial Communication.” The class allowed the students to get their feet wet with the format, which for some students was quite foreign and a major change. It forced us to rethink the techniques we’ve learned throughout our lives for effective learning. My prior experience with technology and online learning helped make it a quick transition for me, but others were not as successful. Here are the “highlights” of the rest of the curriculum.

  • Human Relations and Organizational Behavior: the theory behind behavior I’ve observed in the workplace, and how to manage people and projects.
  • Statistics: I’ll still need to use reference materials if my job every required statistical analysis, but the classes was good practice.
  • Accounting: I’ve been “in accounting” for a while but never had an overview of its theories and practices, just learned on the job. The class added some technical knowledge, but not much practical ideas.
  • Finance: These classes were helpful in terms of reading and analyzing financial statements and preparing budgets and forecasts.
  • Project Management: I did pick up useful tools and techniques for running projects, something which I didn’t have extensive experience on the job.
  • Information Management and e-Business: Nothing I didn’t already know from my own experiences, these classes added very little.
  • Cases in Decision Making: This class did a good job of bringing together everything from the two years of classes and running decision-making scenarios.

My path at the University of Phoenix involved a curriculum of 46 credits for a general MBA. The University’s program description is a little different as it provides this information:

The MBA consists of 39 credit hours and includes three proficiency courses (MBA 501, MBA 502, MBA 503) which may be satisfied using an undergraduate business degree, undergraduate coursework or graduate coursework. Students may also waive an additional nine credits using graduate courses and may qualify for a 21-credit hour residency.

During my time enrolled, the University updated the curriculum several times. In the middle of my degree pursuit, I dropped to part time employment at my job to teach music full time in a high school for six months. (This time also coincided with a hiatus on Consumerism Commentary.) I paused my degree for a year, and when I returned, there were several changes to the curriculum and to my overall experience, but I’ll get to that in Part 5.

This is Part 4 of a series about my experiences with the University of Phoenix Online. Here is what has been published so far.


Discover Business Card or AmEx SimplyCash Business FreedomPass?

by Luke Landes

Editor’s Note: Thank you for your interest, these offers have expired and are no longer available. Here is an instant messaging exchange from last night which may assist anyone trying to decide between a wide selection of business credit cards with cash back. [23:53] DoNotBlink: Hi there! [23:53] DoNotBlink: Was reading your blog and hoped […]

10 comments Read the full article →

Investing: Real Estate vs. Stock Market

by Luke Landes

Reminder: This week I am giving away a copy of The Maui Millionaires. There is still time left to enter the random drawing. It’s easy. The gurus tout real estate, real estate, real estate as the way to get rich. It’s perpetuated in the media, penetrating a number of people I know who generally speak […]

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Review: The Maui Millionaires by David Finkel and Diane Kennedy

by Luke Landes

The introduction of The Maui Millionaires by David Finkel and Diane Kennedy, CPA read like a sales pitch. This turned me off immediately. I felt like I was sitting in one of those free seminars with one of those energetic, motivational speakers, whose goal was nothing more than to sell me some abstract concepts and […]

12 comments Read the full article →

Forget About the Latte Factor

by Luke Landes

See also: Put Your Savings Into Hyperdrive, Part 4: The Expensive Coffee-Related Drink Factor. I’m sure a number of regular Consumerism Commentary readers have heard about “The Latte Factor®,” the idea (trademarked by David Bach) that cutting back on a cup of gourmet coffee each day will result in wealth in the long term. My […]

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Ben Stein: Invest in 2007 or You’ll Regret It!

by Luke Landes

Before we get started with the details in US News & World Report’s Investing Guide, Ben Stein (actor, speech writer, guru) has some strategies to share with those wondering what to do with their money this year. Here are his thoughts. Dollar? Dollar? Dollar? The decline of the USD will continue as the United States […]

4 comments Read the full article →

US News Annual Investing Guide, Part 1

by Luke Landes

Yesterday, Nagel write in with a question: Are many predicting a recession? Over the past few months, I’ve heard some anecdotal predictions for the stock market in 2007 including the Dow and S&P 500 reaching record levels, a topsy-turvy year, a typical “up” third year of a presidential cycle, a correction, and yes, even a […]

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