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August 2008

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.


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 allows you to make that loan. The terms of the loan are generally 6 to 12 months. Kiva claims that repayment rates are 99.7%, so there is very little risk of default.

Even with the potential for earning interest as a lender, I’d be careful about including microlending as an important part of an investment portfolio. It might be best to lend money only with amounts you don’t mind losing. Despite success stories — Endless Gibberish is “addicted” to Kiva and has lent over $20,000 — there is always a risk.

Kiva BusinessCardFor anyone who finds Kiva to be a valuable resource, the Kiva BusinessCard, a credit card offered by Advanta, is an excellent choice. This is the only credit card I’ve encountered that is geared towards philanthropy. The Kiva BusinessCard matches your Kiva contribution (when placed on the credit card) dollar for dollar, up to $200 each month. Your contribution has twice the power. This match is considered a grant, however, and not part of your microloan. When the loan is repaid, you will only receive the amount of your contribution, not including the match. The matching portion will be paid back to Advanta.

Additionally, the card offers an 5% cash back rebate in the form of a statement credit for grants to Kiva, charitable donations, and some expense categories, up to $1,200 in charges to the card. Beyond that $1,200 limit, and in other expense categories, the program offers a cash back rebate of up to 1% on all other purchases. The total cash back you receive is unlimited. The cash back incentive for charitable donations is an excellent idea; to loan $100 to Kiva or donate $100 to your favorite non-profit, it will only cost you $95 (after you receive your credit).

That same $95 you spent on a $100 microloan provides the recipient with $200, thanks to Advanta’s matching grant.

Like other business credit cards, you don’t have to be a business in order to apply and be approved for this credit card.


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 as a result. Together, they ask readers for suggestions about overcoming the psychology of “spending somebody else’s money.”

Decision Made: I Am Moving All of Our Accounts to Vanguard. NCN from No Credit Needed has decided that the low-cost funds available at Vanguard suit his investing style. NCN made a great choice based mostly on numbers. (The funds have very low expense ratios for all account owners and will actually become less expensive as your balance increases and you qualify for different levels of service). It’s an excellent financial decision. I agree with NCN and at this time I plan on opening any new investment accounts at Vanguard.

Cost vs. Benefit Analysis: Extra Chest Freezer in the Garage. Jonathan from MyMoneyBlog runs the numbers to determine whether it is worthwhile to buy an extra freezer. This is a good example of an analytical approach to decide whether the potential benefits of a large purchase are worth the cost, but as always, a number of assumptions are involved.

Buying a Used Auto With High Miles. Gather Little By Little shares his recent experience buying a Eddie Bauer edition (didn’t they go out of business? or just close a bunch of stores?) Ford Expedition with over 100,000 miles. In many cases it makes financial sense to buy used cars, though there are some exceptions. He got a great deal on this car as long as there are no undiscovered problems.


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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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Your Emergency Fund: What Qualifies as an Emergency?

by Luke Landes

An emergency fund is the cornerstone of good financial management, regardless of which personal finance guru you listen to. A small emergency fund of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars can make all the difference when you’re trying to make steps to become financially independent. Saving your emergency fund in a high-yield savings […]

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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 […]

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