Frugal Living 
comments Gift Certificate Coupon Codes & Tips

I remember when I first heard about a few years ago. Their offer back then is the same as it is now, you can buy a $25 Restaurant gift certificate for $10. Every few weeks, they run a 70% or 80% off promotion where you end up getting a $25 Restaurant gift certificate for two bucks. Two freaking dollars… three if you only use 70% off.

A few years ago, hardly anyone took them. You went on the site, did a quick search for your area, and chances are only a few obscure restaurants were available. When I first looked, I didn’t even recognize a single restaurant in the 15 miles around my zip code! That’s not to say there weren’t any popular restaurants, we just didn’t know about them.

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How to Remove Unauthorized Hard Inquiries

Reader Christine recently left a comment on the What is a good credit score? post in which she asked how she could get unauthorized hard inquiries removed. For her particular case, it’s likely that she agreed to the hard inquiries when she “clicked on a link on some website that I do not even remember now and got phone calls from about 5 lenders. I had very enlightening conversations but decided not to apply.”

Whether you apply for a loan or not, when you request quotes you will have agreed to the lenders pulling your credit report. They can’t give you a rate quote without knowing your credit score and credit history. Reputable companies won’t pull your credit without your permission because it’s illegal (it violates this: Fair Credit Reporting Act, Section 1681b(c): Transactions Not Initiated by Consumer).

But there are cases where someone could make an unauthorized hard inquiry and the solution is to send a “remove inquiry letter” to the credit reporting agencies.

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 Frugal Living 

Is YMax magicJack a Scam?

MagicJackIn a recent issue of the Retirement Millionaire, a retirement newsletter I’ve been checking out, they mentioned some frugal VOIP option I hadn’t heard of before. MagicJack is a USB based device that lets you make phone calls using your PC’s internet connection for $19.95 a year, or $1.66 a month. I currently use Skype as my VOIP service, in part because of weekly hour-long chats for the Personal Finance Hour, but that costs twice as much for unlimited US calling – $2.95 a month ($35.40, plus international fees because Skype is based outside the US).

I’m always looking for a good deal 🙂 so I thought I’d take a closer look.

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 Frugal Living 

Beware Wine Expert Ratings & Rankings

Glass of WineSince we’ve been doing a lot of “cooking as entertainment,” my wife and I have started drinking a bit of wine to help make cooking more entertaining. 🙂

Always price conscious, we set out to buy wines that we enjoyed but didn’t bust the bank. As twenty-somethings, we really don’t need our palates reaching beyond our pocketbooks, if I may be so bold in my use of alliteration. Fortunately, our tastes are plenty satisfied with bottles that cost only in the “teens” (or less, as is the case with many Rieslings). For some of our wine-buying tips, I invite you to read an earlier post title How to Save Money on Wine.

So I wasn’t surprised to read a WSJ article that basically called wine critics full of crap. Actually, full of crap is probably a little harsh, but the point of the article was that wine critics are inconsistent, to the point of being random, and that wine ratings is big business.

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How to Request Your ChexSystems Consumer Report

ChexSystemsThe Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) give you the right to review your credit reports every twelve months. Most people are aware of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) but did you know that the rule applies to all consumer reporting agencies, which includes several other types of reporting systems.

One of those systems is ChexSystems. ChexSystems is a network of financial institutions that contribute “mishandled checking and savings account” information. This includes everything from how many checks you’ve ordered, if you’ve had any bounced checks, the number of financial institution inquiries, to instances of identity theft and fraud. Whereas your credit report discusses only loan-related items and your credit score focuses on the probability you’ll default on a loan, a ChexSystems report “fills in the blanks” on how you’d be as a customer of a bank.

You can request your ChexSystems Consumer Report here.

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 Personal Finance 

American Express Flip Mino Video Camera Giveaway

AMEX + Bargaineering = 10 x Flip MinoAmerican Express wants to give away ten Flip Mino video cameras to ten readers.

The giveaway is in conjunction with a big promotional push they’ve been doing for their American Express Charge Cards and the Membership Rewards program, AMEX’s reward points catalog. They want to give readers a taste of the types of rewards they have in the Membership Rewards catalog… so they’re giving away ten Flip Mino video cameras.


While I don’t have an AMEX charge card, one of my AMEX credit cards earns Membership Rewards points and I’ve accrued quite a tidy sum of them over the last couple of years. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Southwest Rapid Rewards points because we live near a huge Southwest airport, Baltimore Washington International, and they convert at a very attractive rate. Also, when it comes to gift giving time, I usually turn to the gift cards in the catalog because I can get favorable conversion rates and gifts cards that people love. That’s a win-win there.

So how do you enter to win one of these Flip video cameras? Answer this question in the comments below or in a post on your own blog (in case you want to get more in depth, some people have emailed me saying that a comments box just isn’t large enough to fit what they want to write… which can only help your chances!), linking back to this post:

What is the savviest way you have made your money work harder for you this holiday season?

(if you opt to blog about your savviest way, please email me too just in case the trackback doesn’t come through)

This contest will be open until noon on December 22nd, 2009, when we will select the ten best answers to win a Flip Mino camera. This isn’t a random drawing so try to be creative, we want to see some interesting ideas that other people can use to be savvier with their money. Three of the cameras will be earmarked for creative ideas from registered readers on the Bargaineering Bucks Leaderboard (AMEX rewards their cardmembers, we reward our loyal readers!).

One entry per person and household (we’re not shipping more than one camera to any one address, even if you have a cornucopia of savvy money ideas) and void where prohibited.

Get your thinking caps on and good luck!

Thank you for all the entries, I will post the first names of winners once they’ve been selected, validated, contacted, and confirmed.


Introduction to FOREX Investing

500 Euro BillForeign exchange has been a hot topic lately with the weakness of the US Dollar and has always been an area rife with scams and rip-off artists (even the SEC warns about it on their website for forex transactions). Trading in foreign currencies works off the same principles are trading anything else, you want to buy low and sell high. Scammers would like you to believe FOREX is magic, that there are sure-fire trading systems that work 100% of the time, but Forex isn’t magic and there are no sure-fire trading systems… it’s just another way to invest.

So for years, the Foreign exchange market has been a secret and somewhat of a mystery to many traders, including myself. If you thought about investing, you mostly looked to the stock market or to bonds as places to invest. If you were like me, you knew about people trading in currency on the foreign exchange market but you never knew much more about it.

While I’m not advocating anyone jump into Forex investing today, I think there’s value in understanding how it works, even if you never plan on investing in it. To help demystify the Forex market, I thought I’d write a Foundation article about the basics of FOREX.

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Debt Severely Limits Your Options

Debt Eraser!A couple months ago on the Personal Finance Hour, I had a nice debate with Baker of about whether one should go with credit cards or with a cash-only system. In that episode, I mentioned that I was fan of credit cards because of their rewards and that I have never carried a balance on any card. If I had, my tune about credit card rewards might be a little different. Paying 20% in interest really makes 1% cashback look a little foolish. 🙂

A point that I never got to make, in part because it was a little off-topic, was that I never had consumer debt because I thought that debt limited your options. Making money is hard enough as it is, you don’t need to be giving up some of it to pay a credit card company for something you bought years ago. Scraping up enough for a down payment on your first home was and is still very difficult. I didn’t need the added pressure of consumer debt following me everywhere I went.

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