If I Could Turn Back Time…

No, this isn’t going to be a post about Cher and fish-net stockings, it’ll be a metapost about what I would’ve done differently if I had to start my blog all over again. I’d have to say I’ve been pretty lucky and I haven’t made as many mistakes as I could’ve but most of my mistakes have been with respect to interaction with other bloggers – reading their sites, communicating with them, etc…

1. Name of my blog: Blueprint for Financial Prosperity is just too long of a name for a blog, I wish I spent a little more than ten minutes thinking up a name. While I do basically layout a blueprint, my blueprint towards prosperity… certainly a name with fewer than 129304823094823 letters would’ve been better.

2. Contact other bloggers sooner: JLP was the first personal finance blogger I ever sent an email to and that was quite possibly a month after I started blogging. A month! If I started over, I would’ve emailed every single blogger I knew just to say hello and ask them anything to open up a dialogue. Back then there weren’t things like MBN Forums where bloggers in the personal finance/investing/money niche could connect and share tips and ideas but if there were I’d be the most prolific member out there… in blogging it’s all about communicating with your peers and learning as much as you can.

3. Subscribed to blogs via RSS sooner: The first time I discovered RSS, I used some application installed on my PC instead of ubiquotous web based app like Bloglines – wow what a mistake. Plus, I didn’t even use RSS often in the beginning to keep up with what was going on in the world, what people were talking about, what was hot at the time. What a mistake… now I periodically read close to two hundred feeds. Granted, I don’t hit up each feed every single day but I do peek in at least once a week. There is so much stuff out there that visiting each site is impossible.

I’m sure there are many others that I can think of but none as big as the three I’ve just listed. I think the most valuable thing about blogging is it lets you connect with people you otherwise wouldn’t have.

 Investing, Personal Finance 

What is a Stock Worth? Part 2: The Risk Premium

This is a five part series written by Trent of Stock Market Beat and each part will be published this week. This is part two of the series, in part one we explained that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar in the future, and showed how to calculate exactly how much more. Now we will show you how you can apply the same principle to stocks to determine how much they are worth today.

The trick is to determine how much money you are going to get in the future. With a CD you know how much you are going to get, and can be pretty sure you get it. With a bond issued by a large company, you know how much you are going to get, but it is possible the company will go bankrupt and you won’t get it – so they have to pay you more to make up for that risk.

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Why Jason Dislikes Capital One Credit Cards

Let me just say that I only have experience with Capital One’s credit cards and not any of their other services. But my experience with their cards has made me weary of ever looking into using them for any other financial services. Last month I received a letter in the mail telling me they doubled the limit on my platinum card with them and I would be receiving an upgrade to their no hassle rewards card. Sounds great? Well, it would be if my original limit wasn’t only 300. And it has been that way for over two years since I opened it. I have called in the past to get it raised but have been told they don’t do customer credit limit increases.

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 Personal Finance 

How To Find An Apartment

ApartmentsA post about apartment hunting by Amanda inspired me to write about my experiences and lessons learned with respect to finding an apartment. Amanda quotes that apartment residency rates are like 95%+ this year and so that means that finding an apartment at an attractive price is going to be harder this year than in years past.

The article begins by discussing how to conduct research on the housing options and “climate” of the area you’re planning on moving to, then it moves towards finding an apartment within the neighborhood (or neighborhoods) you’ve chosen after paring down the choices in the first step. Finally, I talk briefly about how to compare the various apartment offerings, mentioning the promotions, referral bonuses, and other bonuses you might not immediately identify.

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Debt Pay Down FIRST

This is a guest blogging post by Julie Ali.

I have been reading with great interest, recent articles on the Internet, about the question of whether a person should pay down debt or first, accumulate an emergency fund. The debt pay down drains cash from your pocket while the emergency fund builds it up for future life accidents. Both of these uses of money are important ones but I, insist on debt pay down FIRST.

Why do I do this? Well, first, I think the emergency fund is overrated; if you are a disciplined saver, you will always be able to hoard money in nooks and crannies. Thus, if you are disciplined, you will always have money or will be able to build up a store of money and so the emergency account is of less importance in your life.

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Online Brokerage Comparison: I Gave Up on Scottrade!

This is a guest post authored by frugal at My1stMillionAt33.

Before I tell you about my terrible experience with Scottrade, let me first compare several online brokerage firms in terms of commission costs:

  1. TradeKing: Best for active traders. $4.95 per trade, even broker assisted trades, very cheap rate for option contract at $4.95 + $0.65 per contract. They’ve also won numerous awards from the likes of Barron’s, SmartMoney, etc. They were named Smart Money’s Best Discount Broker many years in a row.
  2. Scottrade: Best for casual traders and/or investors. $7 per trade. $0 for loaded mutual fund, but $17 for most other non-loaded mutual funds. Option contract at $7 + $1.25 per contract. Has offering on CD & fixed income bonds. Can only do the following option trades: buying put/call, or sell covered call.
  3. ETrade: More expensive compared to both Ameritrade Izone and Scottrade, unless trading more than 1500 trades per quarter.
  4. Sharebuilder: Good for long term investor. $4 for automatic investment, and can be as low as $1. Selling is $12 to $20 depending on the plan. The biggest downside is that you give up the control on the market timing for your buy order. Instead you will do time-averaging through automatic investment.
  5. BuyAndHold: Best for asset allocator and long term investor. I will recommend this to anyone who is currently using Sharebuilders. I like their $14.99 per month for unlimited number of “window” trades which get routed 3 times a day. With $120 $180 a year, you can buy and build 1000 stock portfolio if you want (just kidding, but it’s true). I don’t think you can beat this deal, especially after (under Ameritrade) is gone.
  6. FirsTrade: Even better than Scottrade. I’m sure everyone has lamented the reduction in the NTF program for mutual funds at Scottrade. Well, if you use FirsTrade, you can get it back. Yes, ALL mutual fund trades are FREE. And the stock trades are 5 cents cheaper at $6.95. Their pricing model is essentially the same as the old Scottrade. But they don’t have any physical branches.

Enough of cheap commissions, but if it is not reliable, it is pretty much useless. So back to my Scottrade bad experiences. My problems with them is that their internet servers are getting so unreliable, especially the first half hour right after the market opens, that it is no longer usable.

  1. One time I tried to day trade a stock, and I almost got sacked by Scottrade. I placed limit order, and I was barely able to cancel and modify my entry price in time because their servers kept non-responding.
  2. The second time, it was pretty much unforgiveable. I put in a limit order, and when I attempted to cancel the order, I simply cannot cancel it, even though it is still showing on my screen as open order. Somehow somewhere there is a server problem. Minutes later, my limit order became executable. I called up customer services, and they could not determine whether my order was filled or not. After an hour, my order got executed with a timestamp of an hour later. Scottrade claims that the timestamp is the reporting time, not the executed time, and my order was filled minutes later, instead of an hour later. Scottrade refused to correct anything, but simply blaimed everything on the delays of the market makers.
  3. Yesterday, again, stupid me, I was doing trades near market open. I am so certain that I cancelled my order. But I had some problem with their server again in the morning. After a couple of hours, I finally found out that my “un-cancelled” order got executed. They claimed that I never cancelled the order. They really have a big problem with this process. At the end of cancellation screen, there is never a confirmation number given out. I can never write down any # to prove that I have attempted to cancel my order. So after a long talk of repeating the same information over and over, and an eventual non-callback, it appears again that they will not do anything to my phantom trade becoming real and losing significant money in such a big down day.

I know that FirsTrade has its problems, especially with market quotes right after market starts. But at least there is never a problem with non-responding servers that give you a page-not-found error. Probably because they are smaller company. In any case, I am moving majority if not all of my money out of Scottrade. I’m so fed up with their parrot-talking customer non-service. I was planning to move my tradings to Ameritrade Izone, but after reading some comments at Dogs of the Dow, I’m a little hesitating now. If you have recent positive experience with Ameritrade or any online brokerages besides Scottrade, would you please suggest them to me? I don’t really know where I could find a reasonable priced and reliable brokerage now. I plan to use FirsTrade for now. Since I never tried their streamer, maybe FirsTrade streamer will not have quoting problem. I can always use the other online brokerage accounts for quote too, so it won’t be such a problem.

Thanks in advance for your online brokerage suggestions to me. Cheap commission is not everything. Without reliability, all (stock) bets are off. I’m planning to take my complaints to NASD. By the way, I really miss the reliability offered by Datek, which was bought by Ameritrade. That was my first reason of moving to Ameritrade since I assume that the platform would be similarly reliable. And I hope you will find both FirsTrade and BuyAndHold useful.


5 Ways To Save On Transportation

If you are considering a new car, here are five suggestions for savings money on your purchase.

1. Buy a standard-transmission auto. You can often get a discount of $1000-2000 dollars from a dealer if you buy a standard transmission instead of an automatic transmission. North Americans do not seem to care for standards, unless they are race car drivers, but standard cars provide much more control in almost every traffic situation. Although they’re hell on your knees in a traffic jam.

If you drive a “standard” car properly, they are much more fuel-efficient. And at the cost of gas these days, any savings will add up. Many insurance companies also reduce the premium for a standard car, because standard drivers tend to be more conscientious of the entire driving process at all times, and thus more careful drivers, relatively speaking. [Some also turn into johnny speedracer.]

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 Career, Personal Finance 

Benefits of an Internship

This summer I have participated in my first internship. I guess it could be more appropriately described as being part of a summer research program, but it serves the same function. I was pretty excited as this is my first professional job other than a teacher’s assistant position, which I’m not sure even counts. This gives me a perfect opportunity to discuss some of the benefits of having an internship while your in college. After thinking about it, I’d have to say that they fall into two categories: gaining personal knowledge and abilities and making yourself more marketable for jobs after college.

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