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Beware McDonald’s Monopoly Trading Scams

by Jim Wang on August 05, 2013

McDonald's MonopolyThe McDonald’s Monopoly game is one of the biggest company-sponsored contests out there. Each year, millions play the game, millions win, and it’s become a bit of a magnet for scammers. One of the things that always happens is that our post discussing How to Win the McDonald’s Monopoly Game garners a ton of comments and we try our best to weed out the scammers. Unfortunately, due to the sheer volume of comments, we can’t keep an eye on everything (and we can’t see what happens off the site), so I wanted to put together a brief guide to avoiding scams.

It’s actually quite simple.

Don’t trade with anyone ever.

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Your Take: Marriage Decisions Based on Credit?

by Jim Wang on August 02, 2013

Wedding RingsSo… here’s a pretty wild one. Apparently 20% of men and 30% of women say they won’t marry someone with a bad credit score, according to a poll by FreeCreditScore.com. They polled 1,000 adults and had a few other interesting findings but that one was the most eye opening.

Financial responsibility is sexy again!

When I started dating my lovely wife, finances never came up. It helped that we were both in college at the time so finances were simpler then. For us, a $60 dinner was incredibly nice (they are still nice now but not these epic affairs as they once were… plus it was $60 in Pittsburgh, which goes a long way) and we didn’t make that much money. We never talked about money because we didn’t have any.

I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be dating after college in the “real world,” when these types of discussions become increasingly important. While the CNN story gets a little ridiculous (does Linda Basloe really want the credit score before giving out her number or did she just say that to get a quote in an article?), it confirms the bigger point of how finances do play a role in the marriage decision. I think it’s smart to have these conversations.

Should a person’s finances (or their credit score) factor into your dating decisions? Was it a factor for you? Please someone have a funny story!

(Credit: Caucas’)


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Why We Use a Charitable Gift Fund

by Jim Wang on August 01, 2013

Donation BoxA few years ago, I mentioned we were going to open up a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund to help facilitate our charitable giving. When I was growing up, my parents didn’t do any charitable giving the way Americans do – donating to their favorite charities or philanthropies. For our family, our charitable giving was in the form of sending money back to grandparents and relatives. Anything “left over,” as if that existed, was saved so that we could pay for flights back to Taiwan to see those relatives. (nowadays it’s different, my mom and I have chatted about the charities we support)

So when my lovely wife started talking about making some charitable donations, I left it in her hands. I was just going to try to figure out how to donate the smartest way possible. That’s when I stumbled upon charitable gift funds.

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How to Be a Smarter Online Shopper

by Jim Wang on July 31, 2013

Best BuyWhen you do something a lot you start to settle into a rhythm. When it comes to buying things online, I use the same process over and over again. I usually do a quick Google search to see what the lowest possible price is on the item, with a bias towards vendors I’ve heard of before. It doesn’t have to be Amazon or someone huge but they need to have a little name recognition. Then I start looking around for coupons or cash back programs, like Fatwallet’s Fat Cash or Ebates. For coupons, I usually do a Google search and land on a site like RetailMeNot or some other coupon list. They’re usually not going to have anything better than the standard coupons the vendor has ($5 off $50, free shipping, stuff like that) but it’s better than nothing.

If I think it’s a decent price, I’ll pull the trigger. If it’s not “good enough,” which is entirely subjective, I’ll just put it on the list of “things I need” and wait until I see some kind of deal that matches up. If I’m willing to wait 3-4 days to get something, chances are I can wait even longer. :)

With that process pretty much etched in stone, it was fun to read some stats about what other people do and I tried to build a list of tips on how to be a better online shopper. Here’s the list of shopping statistics (plus slick infographic), courtesy of Ziff Davis’ LogicBuy, from which I drew inspiration.

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McD Monopoly Game: Mail-In vs. Hash Browns Epic Challenge Part 2

by Jim Wang on July 30, 2013

Hash Brown ChallengeLast week, to have a little fun, we bought two hundred hash browns to see if the game pieces you get on food might be “better” than the game pieces you get in the mail. We called it the . Brandon was going to mail in five hundred self-addressed stamped envelopes in order to get a thousand game pieces, each with two peels. I was going to get two hundred hash browns, each with two peels. We were going to average the results and try to figure out which was “better.”

This post covers part one, where Brandon writes/stamps 500 letters to McDonald’s, and I buy and remove the pieces from the hash brown baggies. We’ll track our progress in this nifty chart.

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Understand Your 401(k) Hardship Withdrawal Rules

by Jim Wang on July 29, 2013

ParachuteWe recently purchased a home (this moved quickly!) and I complained a little about all the extra paperwork I had to fill out and all the documents I had to produce. One of the documents I had to produce was a document from my 401(k) plan administrator detailing the hardship withdrawal rules for my 401(k). The last 7-8 years of the Great Recession and people falling behind on mortgage payments has resulted in banks wanting to know if there’s some sort of backup plan. While a hardship withdrawal is hardly a great backup plan, it’s better than nothing.

As it turns out, your 401(k) isn’t required to give you the ability to make a hardship withdrawal. There are general guidelines from the IRS as to what is considered a “hardship” and how you “prove” you need the funds, but your retirement plan gets to set the specifics. The IRS has general guidelines but the basic requirement is that the distribution is made because of an “immediate and heavy financial need” and that the amount must be “necessary to satisfy the financial need.”

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Your Take: Restaurant Week!

by Jim Wang on July 26, 2013

DessertToday marks the first day of Baltimore’s Restaurant Week (and the second week of Howard County’s Farm 2 Table Restaurant Week), and an opportunity for diners to try out nice restaurants at a discount price. I didn’t know the history of Restaurant Week (that it was started by Joe Baum and Tim Zagat in 1992 in NYC) but I’m glad the idea caught on and expanded!

If you don’t know what this is, Restaurant Week is where restaurants offer a fixed price menu at a discount. Do a search of restaurant week and your city or county to see if there’s one going on near you. Every year, we try to make it out to one new restaurant during the week in order to try something new. There are plenty of restaurants out there and being able to dine at a discount is a great way to see if we like a place without committing too much money. We also tend to visit an old favorite or two simply because the prices are often very good.

We’ve had good experiences and bad experiences (at one steakhouse, the meal took almost three hours and my dessert of a cheesecake came out half melted) but overall we’ve been pleased to be introduced to some fine restaurants. It makes for a nice date night!

What do you think about restaurant weeks? Fad? Marketing gimmick? Or do you enjoy them?

(Credit: lennard2305)


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Saving for the Future Vs. Spending Today

by Jim Wang on July 25, 2013

Piggy BankThere was a great discussion last week on Reddit’s Personal Finance subreddit about how people find the balance between saving for the future versus spending today. The original poster was curious how to draw the line between putting money aside for some nebulous future need versus something that is very tangible and enjoyable today. Then he adds in the kicker, which I think is a fear for a lot of folks, of what happens if those savings are eroded because your savings vehicle (i.e. stock market) crashes or does poorly?

There are really two questions in there and I’ll explain my approach to both.

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