Your Take 

Your Take: Your Favorite Board Game

DominionThis week I wrote about how to maximize your entertainment dollar and all the comments seemed to center around our favorite board games. So it seemed like the perfect Friday Your Take post would be if everyone shared their favorite games!

Our latest favorite is Dominion, as I mentioned in that post, because it’s a different game each time. We’ve been mostly playing the “scenarios” in the instruction books, just to get a better understanding of the game; but the game lets you randomly select cards so each game is different.

What’s your favorite game lately? Favorite all time?


Ally Bank Offers 2-Year Bump Up CDs

Until today, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any online bank offer a bump up CD. A bump up CD is a certificate of deposit that gives you the option to increase the current rate of your CD to the published rate, “bumping” it up. If you remember my attempt at being cute with the Certificate of Deposit Zoo, it was the giraffe. 🙂

The biggest risk with long term CDs is inflation risk. If you open a two-year CD at 2% and inflation is 3% a year, you’ve effectively lost 1% of purchasing power on that money each year. While it’s better than being in a checking account earning 0%, thus losing 3% each year, your money is “stuck” unless you want to pay a penalty.

Bump up CDs take away some of that risk because they let you bump up the CD’s interest rate one time. Does that make a bump up CD a sure thing? No, but if you have the choice between two long term CDs with identical interest rates, it’s obvious that the CD with a bump up option is superior.

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The New Frugality by Chris Farrell

The New Frugality by Chris FarrellThe New Frugality by Chris Farrell is a new personal finance book that discusses a growing trend in America towards frugality. As we claw our way out of the Great Recession, American families are going back to smarter and safer spending after a near decade at the buffet table of cheap credit. This isn’t a book with a million different ways to pinch a penny, it’s a book that seeks to teach you how to be smarter with your money in actionable ways.

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Citi Introduces Credit Card & Banking iPhone App

Citi is one of the first credit card companies to produce their own branded iPhone app – called Citi Mobile. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, all of the functionality of the Citi website packaged up in a nice little iPhone app. With the banking part of the app, you can look up ATMs and branches (a great way to avoid fees, it even maps directions for you), check balances, pay bills, and get straight to customer service. With the credit card part of the app, you can check balances and reach customer service. I’m pretty impressed (here’s an interactive tutorial).

I’m really starting to like how credit card companies and banks are coming out with their own iPhone apps. As much as I like online personal finance tools (like Mint, Yodlee, and others) and their apps, there is always the specter of security and identity theft hanging over them. I know that they’re 99.99999% safe, but there’s always that little sliver of doubt. When I give one of the credit bureaus my social security number to get my credit report, I’m less worried because they already have all that information. When I view my Citi mtvU credit card information on their Citi Mobile applications, I’m less worried about security because it’s Citi. They already have my credentials and my information. I’m not giving it to a third party (even if they encrypt it and say they never look at it).

The slickest app is, of course, reserved for the iPhone (no iTouch version yet, though they’re supposed to come out with one later this year) but there versions for dozens of other models. Unfortunately, the Palm Treo, my phone, isn’t one of them so I won’t even be able to play with the non-iPhone version. Maybe I’ll join the cool kids this year and get an iPhone… until I realize the service plan is like a hundred bones a month.

My hope is that every financial services company produces one of these and I suspect, in the coming months, they will.


Debt Collector Crusader Craig Cunningham in Dallas Observer

When I wanted to run a series on fighting debt collectors, I knew I wanted an expert. I was fortunate to have little in the way of debt (just a mortgage and student loans) so I had no personal experience with combating with debt collectors, but I knew someone on Fatwallet, Codename47, was a debt collector ninja. I had seen all his posts, how he helped people deal with unscrupulous debt collectors, and I knew he was our guy.

I, and hopefully you, weren’t disappointed. I called him the real deal before he wrote a single post, that’s how confident I was, and after the series was complete, I think we can all agree.

Recently, Craig was in an article by Kimberly Thorpe for the Dallas Observer. In it, we get a better understanding of why Craig has so much insight (bad bets and a lot of research!) and how people like him are fighting back against the system.

As you read his story, there are two things I hope you to notice – he never plays the victim and he never blames anyone for his debt. He took some bets that turned out badly and now is simply playing the game by the rules, catching debt collectors with their pants down.

I, for one, am glad to see a “little” guy giving the big bad debt collectors a run for their money. Serves them and their predatory practices right.

 Frugal Living 

How to Maximize Your Entertainment Dollar

Over the last few months, my wife and I have been doing a lot of traveling by car. To help pass the time on the road, we’ve been borrowing a lot of books on tape from our local library. On our most recent trip, we finished Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol (we weren’t big fans) and have started on Ender’s Shadow (so far it’s been good). While both of the audiobooks cost us nothing, since they were from the library, we were able to spend hours enjoying a book (or not enjoying a book) at very little cost.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that The Lost Symbol cost over thirty dollars on unabridged audiobook from Amazon. Thirty dollars is a lot to spend on a book, audio or otherwise. I understand the reasoning, there’s a lot of production value that goes into converting a book to an audiobook (I thought it was a well done audiobook), but it’s actually quite cheap when you break it down to per hour costs of entertainment.

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Overdraft Protection Is A Good Thing

The NYT Bucks blog published a post today warning us that banks will start direct mail promotions to get customers to opt into their overdraft protection. While they don’t explicitly say overdraft protection is a bad thing, they do want to help protect against some fear mongering on the part of banks. I think that’s a good thing, we need to keep banks in check, however I also think that opting into overdraft protection is a good thing.

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Claim Haiti Relief Donations on Your 2009 Tax Return

This week, President Obama signed into law a bill that lets taxpayers claim donations made to earthquake relief in Haiti on their 2009 tax returns. If you make a cash contribution between January 11th, 2010 and March 1st, 2010 towards relief aid for earthquake victims in Haiti, you can claim it on your 2009 tax return. Specifically, you are permitted to treat the donation as having been made on December 31st, 2009 for tax purposes.

All other normal donation rules apply such as the burden of proof/written documentation (though, as I’ll explain below, they’ve specifically called out a methodology for text message donations) and how to deduction charitable donations you must itemize your deductions. Unfortunately, non-cash contributions are not eligible for this speedy deduction.

Finally, you are not required to claim the deduction on your 2009 return. Based on your tax situation, it may be better for you to claim the deduction in 2010 rather than in 2009. For example, if will not be itemizing deductions in 2009, you will want to wait until 2010. You cannot claim the deduction for both years.

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