Monday, December 27, 2010

Found Money?

Yesterday a friend of mine excitedly told me she 'found' $280. She was organizing her papers to do her taxes and she found a statement from her brokerage account when she sold a few shares of stock last January 2005. The check for the proceeds was still attached to the statement. Of course, the check had expired, but a quick phone call to her broker resulted in the promise that another check would be sent to her.

What bothered me about this story is that my friend was ecstatic over the 'found money.' She should have been furious at herself for the oversight. In fact, it should be considered lost money given the fact that she lost the opportunity to pay down a debt or to earn interest on the amount.

When I have money owed to me, I jot it down on a little post-it note next to my computer until I receive the funds. I do this for refunds, rebates, personal loans, etc. If I return an item to a store and received a refund slip for my credit card, I put that next to my PC and check my online credit card activity every few days until I see the refund appear. Currently, my little list looks like this:

IRS refund $295
Amex credit $25
Qwest Wireless credit $75
Personal Loans $528
Best Buy rebate $13
Chase Visa cash back reward $100

It doesn't matter how big or little the amount is. If I'm awaiting payment, it goes onto the list. I hope I never let a $280 check slip by unnoticed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Asked for a Refund and Got One!

Two years ago when I moved into my condo, I ordered cable from Comcast. The technician made a site visit to my condo. He hooked up my cable and asked me which cable outlets I wanted to have activated. I have four outlets, but I had no idea at that point where I was going to locate the TV so I chose two of the four outlets to activate. Comcast charged an activation fee for each outlet.

I recently decided to rearrange some furniture in my condo and in the process, I decided to move the television to a different room next to an outlet I had not paid to have activated. So I called Comcast and asked them to activate this new outlet. They quoted a $22 fee and said it required another site visit. The technician arrived and looked into my cable box and informed me that my condo is wired for cable to be all 'on' or all 'off.' So all my outlets were activated. Grrr! He charged me the $22 for his site visit, which I signed off on. So yesterday I wrote a pleasant, terse and to-the-point e-mail to Comcast requesting refund of the $22 fee, and expressing my displeasure with being charged false activation fees two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised when Comcast immediately refunded the $22 fee! Hurrah! Score one for the good guys!

I believe I achieved a quick resolution for the following reasons:

  • I put my complaint in writing
  • Instead of just complaining about the issue, I stated what action I wanted them to take ("$22 refund of the site visit fee")
  • I was professional and unemotional in my e-mail
  • I thanked them in advance for their prompt attention to the matter
  • I included my pertinent account information so they could investigate the matter and make a quick decision

The next time you feel you were unjustly charged for something, follow these simple rules for putting your request for a refund in writing. It never hurts to ask!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Take the Pain Out of Brown-Bagging Lunch

I have lunch with the same group of coworkers every day. It all started when one of the women joined weight watchers and started to bring her lunch. I always had brought my lunch and just ate at my desk. So we starting getting away from the office and eating together. The third coworker had always popped out to pick something up and she would bring it back to her desk. We invited her to eat with us and she felt inspired to start bringing her lunch as well. She brought her lunch two or three times, then fell back into the habit of buying a sandwich or salad then joining us.

I think the reason she didn't stick with it is that she would always prepare her lunch either the night before or in the morning. If you are tired or running late, preparing lunch for the day is the first thing that falls off the list. I have always made a week's worth of lunches on Sunday, and carted everything into the office fridge on Monday morning. Here are my tips on how I make this work for me, a very picky eater:

  • Most frozen leftover dinners seem to taste funky after I've nuked them in the office microwave. So I make fresh lunches on Sunday that do not need to be frozen to still be good on Friday.
  • I do not include chicken or beef in the meal, to avoid the funky-by-Friday syndrome. So I stick with beans, tunafish, boiled eggs or nuts to supply the protein.
  • I don't care for the taste of bread that has been refrigerated, so I never bring a sandwich (picky me). To minimize the time and complexity of preparing lunches on Sunday, I eat foods that require little or no cooking.
  • Favorite meal #1 is a huge green salad consisting of any combination of protein (see above), artichokes, beets, corn, onions, roasted red peppers, blue cheese or feta, and fresh cracked pepper. I keep bottled balsamic vinaigrette in the office fridge and dress the salad just before lunch.
  • Favorite meal #2 is couscous. I saute a diced onion and garlic while I prepare 1/2 cup whole wheat couscous. Add navy beans and a combination of raw vegetables (tomato, zucchini, asparagus, etc) then toss in some crumbled feta. You can nuke or eat at room temperature.
  • Bring some fruit and crackers, and after just a few minutes of preparation on a Sunday evening, you have lunch for 5 days!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Words of Wisdom for Your Simplicity Journey

If you are considering making a lifestyle change toward a more frugal, simple life and you visit blogs like mine for ideas and inspiration, I have an important tip to make that first step MUCH easier:

Ignore other people's opinions.

This is much harder than it sounds. But you'll get the hang of it. When you go against social norms, friends and family often will not hesitate to provide unsolicited opinions about your choices. Chances are your friends and family simply want what they believe to be in your best interest. The trick is not to dismiss an unsolicited opinion, nor should you argue your point. Simply say, "that's a good point," or "I'll have to take that into consideration." Then happily continue your merry little frugal/simple ways.

This post is inspired by my family's continuing puzzlement over why I haven't acquired all the regular status symbols associated with a successful professional in her mid-thirties. I have no upscale car, no large house full of gorgeous furniture, no flat-screen TV, no walk-in closet full of shoes and purses. Rather I have a 1-bedroom condo furnished in Ikea's finest, a ten-year old TV held together by twist ties, only two purses and less than ten pairs of shoes. When my family waxes philosophical over my life, I have perfected the art of smiling, nodding and saying, "perhaps that's something I'll consider in the future..."

Monday, December 13, 2010

CSN Stores Giveaway

The recent CSN Stores Giveaway on Seattle Simplicity has been completed. I want to thank everybody who entered. There were over 25 valid entries on my post. The winner has been notified by Email, and will receive a $45 gift certificate good for any purchase at CSN Stores.

I hope that new readers will continue to visit my blog. For those who did not win, I encourage you to check back for new giveaway contests in the future.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

How I Simplify Retirement Planning

I am a big fan of Vanguard funds. I was first attracted to their low fees and index-fund approach. As I started researching what kind of asset allocation to use for my IRA, I was thrilled to discover Vanguard target retirement funds. Vanguard has created retirement funds that are comprised of an assortment of their index funds, properly allocated based on your target retirement date. The asset allocation within the fund is adjusted for you as you near your retirement date. You never have to rebalance your money.

If you are interested in learning more about the Vanguard target retirement funds, visit the Vanguard website and review the prospectus.

Friday, November 12, 2010

$45 Giveaway from CSN Stores

The people at CSN Stores have provided me a $45 gift certificate to give away to one of my lucky blog readers. CSN operates numerous websites that offer a variety of products ranging from shoes, furniture, and cookware to briefcases. I was recently shopping for a suitcase on one of their sites. But to be honest, I haven't gotten around to buying it yet. I would be interested in knowing if any of my readers can share their experiences with CSN Stores.

Anyway, I have decided to hold a random drawing for the gift certificate. You can have up to three chances to win the prize:

1) Any reader can enter by posting a comment below.
2) For an additional entry, web site owners can link to this post, to let other know about this contest.
3) Lastly, my fellow bloggers can add Seattle Simplicity to your blogroll (must be accessible from blog's main page) for one more entry in the drawing.

There is one more step. Since Blogger does not automatically collect contact information, you will need to send me an Email message letting me know that you posted a comment, created a link to my post, and/or added Seattle Simplicity to your blogroll. (My E-mail address is in the sidebar of my blog.)

The drawing is limited to US residents. The certificate will be in the form of a promo code, and does does not cover any shipping costs. The code can be used on any product from any one of the CSN Stores. A winner will be randomly picked from among the qualified entries received by December 10, 2010. I will contact the winner by Email. Good luck to everyone who enters!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Guest Post: 7 Smart Tips On How To Improve Your Credit Score

Are you having a tough time in procuring loans due to poor credit score? Well, you are not alone. A considerable number of people are entangled in the same web. Though this is a pretty serious problem, it is not impossible to fix it. You might find the following tips useful in case you have wrecked your credit:
  • Pay off your credit cards: The smartest and quickest way to improve your credit rating is to pay off your credit cards as soon as possible. Creditors are fond of seeing a huge gap between your credit limit and the credit amount you have used. Getting your balances at least 30% of the credit limit on each card can be really helpful. While most authorities on debt opine that it is better to pay off the high rate cards first, a better strategy is to pay off the cards that are closest to your monetary limits.
  • Use your credit cards lightly: Accruing large balances can be quite injurious to your credit score, irrespective of whether you pay your bills in full every month. What is reported to the credit bureaus and pitched into your credit scores are the balances reported on your last statements. But that definitely does not mean that clearing your balances every month is not a good decision. You can boost your credit score by limiting your balances to 30% (or less) of the cards limit.
  • Track your limits: your credit score might be apparently lowered if your credit card issuer is showing a lower limit than you actually have. Most credit card issuers will quickly update this information if you request them to do so. But, if it is a policy with your user not to report consumers’ credit limit, then the credit bureaus will use your highest balance on the card as a proxy for your credit limit. An easy solution would simply be to pay off your balance before your statement period ends. It will not give a hike to your reported limit, but it will widen the gap between the credit limit and your closing balance, which should increase your credit score.
  • Don’t stop using an old card: If you stop using your oldest credit cards, the issuers may stop updating those accounts at the credit bureaus. The account will appear on your credit report anyway. But they will not give any boost to your credit score as your active accounts will do. So, it is always advised that you use your oldest accounts at least once in a few months. But take care not to accrue a large balance and pay off the balance in full when you receive the statement.
  • Make use of goodwill: If you have been a good customer throughout, then you can request your creditor to simply erase one late payment from your credit history. You need to make the request in writing and your creditor is likely to grant your request. If an account is still open, the creditor might delete the previous delinquencies, provided you make a series of timely payments. And that will help you improve your credit score.
  • Avoid applying for new credits: As long as you are in the process of credit score repair, try and avoid applying for new credits. New credits will open up possibilities of new defaults and you may end up damaging your credit score even more.
  • Seek professional help: It is important to manage your debts properly if you want to improve your credit score. And if you are having trouble managing your debts by your own, then you can seek professional help. Go for services credit counseling and get enrolled in programs such as debt settlement, debt consolidation etc to pay off your debts.

So, it’s explicit that improving your credit score is not that difficult. All you need is some financial discipline. But remember, your score was not spoiled overnight. So, do not expect your credit score to get repaired overnight. Be patient and be regular with your payments and your credit score is sure to improve over time.

About the Author
This guest post was written by "David Brown". If you are interested in writing a guest post, please contact Seattle Simplicity at the Email address listed in the sidebar.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guest Post: 10 Ways to Save $100

With more and more people living paycheck to paycheck it’s more important than ever to have some money saved for emergencies. But while you are living this way, it may seem impossible to put away any extra funds. However, by making just a few small changes in your lifestyle, you can really see the money saved add up. In fact, if you adhere to any of the following ten steps you will soon find yourself with an extra $100.

  1. If you find yourself spending too much each month on electricity costs, call your utility company and ask for a home energy audit. This audit will help you find spots in your home where you are wasting money on energy. For example, be sure you have a good seal around doors and windows to avoid drafts. Another tip is running appliances such as the dishwasher at night. Taking this one step alone can cut a utility bill by 40%. A utility company might also be able to point out energy vampires living in your home. These are items such as computer monitors, televisions, or microwaves with a clock display which continue to use power even when in standby mode. To fight these vampires, unplug the appliances or look for those that use the least amount of standby power.

  2. Another easy way to save over $100 a year is to cancel your PMI insurance. Many times this insurance is a requirement when a home is purchased with less than a 20% down payment. However, once you have 20% equity, either in a down payment or paying over time, you may be able to cancel the PMI insurance. Typically, these policies cost over $50 per month, potentially saving you $600 a year.

  3. Consider participating in your company’s flexible spending account. This is pre-tax money taken out of your check each pay period to pay for unreimbursed medical expenses. If you don’t use it you will lose it, but if you are in the 28% tax bracket and allocate $500 to your flexible spending account, you can reduce your taxes by over $100.

  4. If you drive a car, try calling your insurance company to reduce your rates. Even raising the collision deductable from $200 to $500 could potentially reduce your coverage costs by 15-30%. This is an especially good step to take if you drive an older car and don’t need quite as much coverage. In addition, look for any discount offered including good driver, seat belts, air bags, anti-theft and annual mileage below 10,000 miles.

  5. You can also save money on your weekly trips to the grocery store. By cutting back on buying things as soda and chips, you can potentially save over $200 per year.

  6. In addition, buy in bulk. Items such as paper towels and toilet paper never spoil and you can stock up at one time potentially saving over $100 a year more than if you bought a pack every time you visit the supermarket.

  7. Clipping coupons can also save hundreds of dollars each year. Nowadays, you don’t even have to wait for the Sunday paper to come out. Coupons are available on many online sites and even individual stores will post coupons for their most loyal customers. In addition, many online coupons offer higher savings than those found in the paper.

  8. Regular car maintenance can eat up a chunk of change every time you take your car in for an oil change. If you learn how to do this yourself, you can save about $30 every time you change your oil resulting in saving of about $100 every year.

  9. If you like movies or books, consider getting both of them from the library instead of the bookstore and movie rental spot. The library is free and has a wide selection. With the cost of going to a movie these days, you can save substantial money over a year.

  10. Finally, if you can’t get your morning started without a cup of coffee, it is much cheaper to brew your own rather than stopping by Starbucks. Even if you purchase a bag of coffee beans costing $10, after just six cups you’ll start to save the money you would have spent at your local coffee shop.

About the Author
This is a guest post from Genuwave LLC. Some of their blogs include topics on Personal Finance and Selling Time Share. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please contact Seattle Simplicity at the Email address listed in the sidebar.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Guest Post: Exemptions Under Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

The debtor has to sell his entire non-exempt property to pay off his unsecured debt if he is planning to file bankruptcy under Chapter 7.

The debtor has to go to the local Federal Bankruptcy court and file a petition if you are thinking of filing bankruptcy. The process of filing bankruptcy includes a complete statement of the owed amount and assets. The bankruptcy petition would be dismissed if a filer misrepresents or fails to include his assets while considering Chapter 7.

An "automatic stay" is placed as soon as the petition is filed.
The creditors are not allowed to collect the debt with the enforcement of the automatic stay order. If they want to collect the debt then they have to persuade the court that with the affect of the automatic stay their interest would be hampered.

The trustee appointed by the bankruptcy judge would liquidate the debtor’s nonexempt property and the amount would be distributed among the creditor as per the Bankruptcy Code. The debtor gets discharge from the piling burden of debt but he loses control over his nonexempt property.

Chapter 7 has certain exemptions:

Things that are exempted from liquidation:
1) Unemployment insurance
2) Pensions and IRAs Plans
3) Alimony and child support
4) House Equity less than $ 17,425
5) Things used for personal purpose up to $9,300
6) Ornaments and attires
7) Public benefits as well as conveyance

With these exemptions there are few additional exemptions that the federal law offers known as wild card exemption.

Wild card exemption includes:
  1. Nonexempt property: There would be an exemption up to $11,200 on the taxable property as per the total amount of the wild card exemption. The debtor can save his taxable property up to the total amount of the wild card exemption if he has any intention to use the wild card exemption.
  2. Partial exemption of property: Under the Federal law the property is exempted to a stipulated amount. Under the wild card exemption the property that has not been exempted this portion can be excused and the debtors are obliged to regain control over his property.
  3. Discharge of Cash: The cash and bank funds can be discharged with the help of wild card exemption.

Changes in the Chapter 7 proceedings with the introduction of new law:
Before the introduction of the new law the debtor could file for bankruptcy at any time. But now if the debtor is filing under personal bankruptcy for instance chapter 7 then you need to under go credit counseling session within 6 months of filing.

Initially the bankruptcy court used to decide whether you qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or not. But now with the implementation of the new law you are liable to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that would be decided by two-part Means Test.

If you fail to qualify for the Means Test then the debtor is left with no choice other than to file for Chapter 13 and repay his debts.

In 6 years the debtor could file for another chapter 7 before the implementation of new law. The new bankruptcy law would prolong the period from 6 to 8 years between filing Chapter 7's.

Author bio:
This is a guest post by Kevin Craig who is a financial writer. He has helped lots of debt burdened people with free counseling and advices on many finance related topics. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please contact Seattle Simplicity at the Email address listed in the sidebar.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not meant as tax or bankruptcy advice. I encourages readers to consult with a bankruptcy attorney or financial adviser if they have specific questions about bankruptcy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Guest Post: Tips to Erase Credit Card Debt

Shopping with the plastic money has become a fashion statement for the youngsters. As money is limited in our hand it does not give a scope of carefree shopping. But when we have the card in the wallet our expectation rises and there is no restriction while buying. In this way our expenses increase and we fall into the trap of debt. This article would share some useful tips in order to eliminate the credit card debt.

  1. Prepare a budget: Make a budget and try to follow it in this way you can control your expenses. Your first task would be to pay off your debts and then create a budget. In order to avoid similar situation you need to redesign your lifestyle. Control your expenses if you find that your expenditure is increasing than your income then you might face trouble. In order to save yourself from the trap of debt prepare a budget and secure you financial future.

  2. Creditor negotiation: Negotiate with the creditor on the outstanding balance as well as on the interest rate. The creditors would be willing to negotiate with you only if you have a valid reason why you have been a defaulter. If he still does not agree to negotiate on your terms then you can threaten him of filing bankruptcy. If the negotiation is mutually beneficial then the creditor would be willing to reduce the outstanding balance including the interest rate and you would get a profitable deal.

  3. Only minimum payment should be avoided: Try to make a monthly payment so that you do not incur debt. It would not be a smart move to make a payment of minimum amount per month. Only paying the minimum amount is going to prolong the period to pay off your debt. If you are inclined to pay off the outstanding balance then start saving money and get rid of debt.

  4. Borrow from a 401(k) plan: You can take loan against the 401(k) plan. But the interest rate that is charged on the loan is 2 points above the average. The credit card interest rate is high compared to this loan. So pay off the card loan and then pay off the borrowed amount from the plan.
    It would come under taxable bill along with a penalty charge if you fail to pay back the amount. Consider to settle your loan before you plan to change your job.

  5. Use cash instead of credit card: If you use credit card then you cannot avoid incurring more debt. If you have piling debts then make it a point to avoid using the credit card unless and until you pay off your existing debt. Use cash instead of your plastic money while you go for shopping. Credit card instigates you to spend more than you can afford. So be attentive while you think of using your credit card.

So these are few following ways that would help you to erase your debts and help you to get a financially sound future.

About the Author
This is a guest post by Kevin Craig who is a financial writer. He has helped lots of debt burdened people with free counseling and advices on many finance related topics. If you are interested in writing a guest post, please contact Seattle Simplicity at the Email address listed in the sidebar.