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

December 2011

In what almost seemed like a staged publicity stunt, Verizon Wireless quickly rescinded their plans for a new $2 fee for most bill payment options. An employee leaked an internal memo describing the new fee, and within twenty-four hours, the wireless company both confirmed and then rescinded the fee, citing their policy of listening to their customers. The timing was convenient; Verizon Wireless had been suffering from a number of mobile service outages that had customers complaining about the company.

It seemed to me there was more outrage about the service interruptions than the $2 fee. The fee was addressed within 24 hours while the service outages were never properly addressed. Would a company stoop to creating its own fake conflict in order to distract customers from other problems?

Real customer outrage is powerful, however. Bank of America’s $5 monthly debit card fee was in the works when massive consumer feedback was successful in convincing the company to reconsider its plans, and find revenue from consumers elsewhere.

There are issues more important than these small fees. While fees here and there can have a snowball effect, both over time and across other companies happy to charge the same fees once success is apparent, the bigger issues often don’t get as much attention. Wells Fargo’s change of policy to include mandatory binding arbitration is a much bigger problem for consumers than a fee, but since it isn’t immediately apparent how this could affect customers, people stay silent. Customers who have trouble with the bank will be prevented from availing themselves of a court process that includes discovery and appeals.

Most of the time, binding arbitration clauses won’t have any immediate effect on customers’ wallets unlike monthly fees, but the consequences could be worse. With enough outrage, Wells Fargo would likely change these plans, but the issue is not getting enough attention.

Here are some of this week’s most interesting articles in addition to a few articles I’ve published elsewhere. [click to continue…]


This is a guest article by Emily Guy Birken, author of The SAHMambulust. In this article, Emily explains and reviews the 3/50 Project, a movement designed to boost local economies.

The presents have been given out, the wrapping paper has been cleaned up, and Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday from American Express are just distant memories. Now may not be when most people are thinking about shopping, but it’s the perfect opportunity to commit to really help small businesses in your area for 2012. And what do small businesses need more than anything else? Loyal customers.

This is the basis of The 3/50 Project, spearheaded by Cinda Baxter, a retail consultant, professional speaker, and former retail business owner. Back in 2009, after hearing several reports about how patronizing local brick-and-mortar stores could help the economy, Cinda wrote about the achievability of economic recovery if we all simply commit to being good customers to independent retailers.

BakeryFrom that blog post, a movement was born.

The idea is very simple. Pick three local, independently owned businesses in your area — businesses that you would be sad to see shut their doors — and plan on spending $50 total per month among those three businesses. That’s it. The movement does not ask you to spend more than you already do. Just plan on $50 of your monthly expenditures going toward local businesses.

It is important to note that sometimes you will end up spending a little more money by purchasing locally rather than at the neighborhood box store or online. However, paying above bargain-basement prices means that you are also helping your local economy — a fairly easy trade-off in most budgets.

What’s exciting about making this commitment is the fact that it could contribute to our financial recovery. According to the statistics provided by The 3/50 Project website, every $100 spent in local brick-and-mortars results in “$68 return[ed] to the community through taxes, payroll, and other expenditures. If you spend that in a national chain, only $43 stays [local]. Spend it online, and nothing comes home.” Imagine the boom to the economy if everyone simply chose to spend some of their money locally.

The 3/50 Project is specific in how it defines an independent business. Though a franchised store may have a local owner, it is not one of the local businesses that The 3/50 Project is aiming to help. As a franchisee, the owner of a fast food restaurant, for example, can benefit from national ad campaigns, preferred vendor lists and large-scale price negotiations. This project is looking to help the independents who are relying on their own unique brand, pay their own expenses for marketing, rent and other operating costs, and operate from a storefront, rather than their home, a kiosk, or the internet. The full description of what constitutes an independent retailer is available here.

Deciding to try The 3/50 Project in your community does not mean that you have to give up your Starbucks coffee or your cheap groceries at Wal-Mart. There is room for national chains, internet shopping, and local stores in your commitment. This is an opportunity to be mindful about your spending, which should always be a goal of responsible personal finance. Why not help your local economy while you’re making savvy spending decisions?

Photo: Calgary Reviews
3/50 Project


Having ready many books about personal finance and money management over the last decade, I recognize most new books as offering nothing particularly new to readers. Some of the world’s favorite money gurus rehash the same ideas repeatedly, some on a predictable yearly release schedule, and these books become best-sellers due to the names attached. There have been some notable exceptions to the endless supply of old ideas, and I try to recognize them when I can.

There is a reason for repetition, though. Here are a few:

  • You might have missed “Get Out of Debt 2012” because you weren’t thinking about money at the time, but “Get Out of Debt 2013” was released at the perfect time for you.
  • “Wealthy Dad, Middle-Class Dad” might not have been a book that caught your attention, but “Wealthy Sister, Middle-Class Sister” was recommended by your favorite talk show host.

Kimberly Palmer's Money PlannerKimberly Palmer, the author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back, has decided to take a different approach with her latest project. Kimberly has been a guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcasttwice — and she also writes for U.S. News and World Report.

The author has created a series of workbooks, meant to appeal to those of us who are more creative, designed to help guide participants through the financial aspects of life. The workbook approach transforms readers into participants, and if the workbooks are engaging, they can be much more effective in someone’s life than just reading a book.

Normally, I’m not a fan of worksheets. These are great learning tools for elementary school students, and any time I’m asked to complete an assignment like that, I begin to think that the author is treating readers like children. As I’ve discovered by maintaining this website since 2003, writing things down works to change your life. Once you complete a worksheet that asks you to write down your financial goal for the year, that goes becomes real. It adds a level of commitment. While there are no consequences for missing your goal other than self-reprimand, writing things down can add motivation.

Kimberly Palmer is offering several self-published money planners on Etsy.

  • The Money Planner is designed as a companion workbook for Generation Earn. The activities match the book’s chapters.
  • The 2012 Money Planner breaks down the coming year by month, with tasks appropriate for the time of the year.
  • The Debt-Free Planner focuses on the one specific task of eliminating debt.
  • The Baby Planner helps expecting families get ready for the new financial responsibilities of having kids.

Kimberly Palmer's Money Planner, Page 1The first three planners are also available as a bundle.

To get an idea of whether these planners are right for you, I’ve included the first page of the Money Planner. Kimberly indicates the creative and visual approach will appeal more to right-brainers like herself. Whether your mind is ruled by the logical or creative aspects of thought, anything that inspires you to take action will help improve your finances.

The key to success is maintaining your motivation over a long period of time, and workbooks can inspire success more than typical books. In the end, however, success depends on a family’s or individual’s ability to maintain focus and motivation.

If you’re interested in one or more of Kimberly Palmer’s Money Planners, visit the author’s Etsy shop.


As the year draws to a close, I plan to take some time to evaluate the progression of my life, including my finances, against my goals and resolutions for 2011. I reached some goals while missing others. There are many reasons people don’t keep new year’s resolutions, and I’m not any different.

In one recent survey, only 15 percent of those who made resolutions have kept them. Other studies have presented even more startling numbers, claiming a resolution success rate of only 8 percent. I even found one researcher claiming only 3 percent of resolutions survive the first month of the year. The statistics get even worse for people who follow self-help advice promising to improve resolution-keeping through visualization (for example, hanging a pair of jeans you’d like to fit on your door or keeping a photograph of a vacation spot you’d like to afford on your dresser) or through sheer willpower.

Furthermore, only about half of all Americans even bother to make new year’s resolutions. Given the negative media surrounding failure, with a word like “doomed” making prominent appearances, that makes sense. Why spend the time thinking about how to improve your life if chances are good you’ll fail?

Beating the odds and succeeding at keeping your new year’s resolutions comes down to setting the right goals from the beginning, focusing on fewer aspects of your life, and not using the new year as a one-night stand for resolutions. The failure rate doesn’t concern me, though; I’m more concerned with the half of the population that doesn’t take the time to look at how they can improve their lives and the world around them. It’s unacceptable to me that the fear of failure is preventing people from thinking about the future.

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” according to a popular translation of Socrates. A tortured philosopher’s nearly-final words from the textbooks of history are relevant today. (According to Plato, Socrates’ last words were, “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?” Those words could inspire a different discussion about personal finances.) The end of one year and the start of another is a convenient time to self-reflect. Did you live your life according to your values and pursue the things that inspire you? Is the world a better place after 365 days?

These questions go beyond goals and resolutions, but they can inspire both as well as a renewed dedication to living your life a certain way in the new year and beyond. Set some goals and resolutions, not just the typical positive changes like paying off debt, losing weight, and quitting smoking, but others that are tied more to who you are. That might even include some goals that can’t be measured. That goes against typical goal-setting advice, but with new year’s resolutions, it doesn’t have to be a matter of reaching your goal or failing. Just the process of thinking — and if you’re so inclined, writing down — your thoughts about the ideal “you” can improve your life and the lives of those around you.

The root of making resolutions that stick is looking deep into your own life to determine who you are at your core, and if that person is approaching the person you’d like to be. No resolution can be successful, or for that success to matter, without being that meaningful. The end of one year and the start of the next is a good time to begin this process, but don’t set self-reflection aside for just the one day.


Bank of America Class Action Lawsuits – Did You Receive a Check?

by Luke Landes

Many Consumerism Commentary readers have written in to let me know that they recently received a check for about $98 from Bank of America. If you received this check prior to November 2012, this check is not a result of the Bank of America overdraft fee class action lawsuit, but it is the result of […]

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Reflecting on My 2011 Goals

by Luke Landes

A little less than a year ago, I mentioned that 2011 would be the year that everything changes. It’s a phrasing that I borrowed from Torchwood, but it was relevant for me as well as to the television program’s concept. I’ll have more to say about this year’s changes later. At the time I created […]

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Podcast 140: Kidworth

by Luke Landes

Today on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek talks to Rudy DeFelice, founder of the financial management tool for children and parents, Kidworth. Rudy discusses several topics about Kidworth including what it does, what inspired him to found it, as well as how Kidworth can help children save towards different financial goals. Consumerism Commentary Podcast […]

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Behavior Gap Napkin Sketch Giveaway

by Luke Landes

I received an advance copy of Carl Richards’ book scheduled for wide release on January 3, The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money. Carl is a Certified Financial Planner who began writing articles — and sketching on napkins — at his own website,, and now does the same for […]

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Binding Arbitration: Wells Fargo Taking Away Customers’ Rights

by Luke Landes
Wells Fargo

February 14, 2012 update: The change in terms described here goes into effect tomorrow. It’s not too late to switch banks. If you enter into an agreement with a company, and that company does something to wrong you, most of the time you can avail yourself of the American judicial system to correct the problem. […]

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Payroll Tax Cut Extended for Two Months

by Luke Landes

After political bickering, the House of Representatives agreed to make a deal with the Senate to extend the payroll tax holiday. This tax cut reduced the payroll tax — a tax separate from but often associated with federal income tax — from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent of the first $110,100 of wages. The tax benefits Social […]

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