Reviews Column

Whether it’s latest book, high yield bank account, stock brokerage, or financial service or product, I try to review as many products as I can so that you don’t have to waste your money buying stuff that isn’t worth it. In general I’m a very forgiving reviewer, I’m just a laid back kinda guy, but I’m also a very frugal one, so I won’t recommend that you buy something unless it’s really worth the price.


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How to Really Ruin Your Financial Life and Portfolio by Ben Stein

How to Really Ruin Your Financial Life and Portfolio by Ben SteinMost people of my generation know Ben Stein as the monotone voiced teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and then host for Win Ben Stein’s Money with Jimmy Kimmel (he won five Daytime Emmy awards!), but his first success was as a speechwriter for President Nixon and Ford. He’s since done a lot of speaking, on economic and social issues, and was most recently in the news for saying taxes were too low while on Fox & Friends (Stein is a Republican).

He recently came out with a book titled How to Really Ruin Your Financial Life and Portfolio by Ben Stein in which he injects a little humor and straight talk to many topics in personal finance and investing. The book is extremely easy to read but be careful, they’re all written tongue in cheek and you should do the opposite of all of them.

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There Are No Dumb Questions About Money by Liz Pulliam Weston

Liz Weston-No Dumb Questions About MoneyMost of us have questions about money. How can I build my credit? What can I do to pay for college? What should I look for in a financial advisor? Some of us may even feel as though the questions we have about money are a little stupid.

Liz Pulliam Weston, one of the foremost experts on money, and a popular personal finance columnist, believes that there are no dumb questions about money. Indeed, she tackles some of the most common questions about money — and provides practical answers to them — in her latest book, There Are No Dumb Questions About Money.

This latest book from Liz is actually a collection of some of her Q&A columns. If you have a question about how to manage money more effectively, chances are that you can find the answer in this book.

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Lending Club PRIME Review

One of the big stories in the last few years has been the rise of peer to peer lending sites. I haven’t written as much about them on Bargaineering because I’m not allowed to invest! Only residents of certain states are allowed to invest at Lending Club and, unfortunately, Maryland is not on the list. :(

That said, I still like to keep up to date on what’s happening and it turns out that Lending Club has a “mutual fund” type of managed investing option called Prime. (they also have some private funds for accredited investors, I’m speaking with someone about that too… look for a review of that in the future) While many people are familiar with the process of using Lending Club, and what the site offers, many are unfamiliar with the fact that there is a “prime” option.

Lending Club PRIME provides investors with a minimum investment amount the opportunity to take advantage of a different service — one in which Lending Club takes care of your note investing for you.

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Credit Sesame Mobile App Review

Credit SesameLast week, we reviewed Credit Karma’s iPhone app. As it turns out, Credit Sesame, a similar service, also has an app that’s available on iPhone and Android. To recap, Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are similar services at their core. Whereas Credit Sesame offers you a credit score from Experian, Credit Karma offers you a score from TransUnion. They have similar monetization strategies – earning revenue off the offers they present given your credit report data. The big difference is how Credit Sesame integrates your home into the whole picture, whereas Credit Karma largely ignores it (outside of seeing your mortgage).

I see value in using both services because one gives you a way to monitor your Experian report (Credit Sesame) while the other gives you the ability to monitor your TransUnion report (Credit Karma).

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Review of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace, Jr.

Dave Ramsey has helped many Americans turn their financial lives around with his cash based approach to money. Can’t pay cash? Then Ramsey says you can’t afford it. His debt snowball turned typical financial wisdom around, urging consumers to pay off their smallest debts first rather than the one with the highest interest rate.

However, Dave Ramsey intends to help more than just American adults. With his Financial Peace, Jr. kit, targeted for children ages 3 to 12, he seeks to also educate children about finances.

My son was a spendthrift who begged for money all the time, so one step we took, in addition to making him work for his money, was to buy him Financial Peace, Jr. Overall, I highly recommend the kit, especially for kids ages 6 to 9, but it does have some downsides.

The kit includes:
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Credit Karma iPhone Mobile App Review

Credit KarmaCredit Karma recently released a free Credit Karma iPhone app that lets you monitor your credit anytime you want. It was released today I think and, as is the case with everything I’ve seen from them, it’s very well done.

The data on the screens isn’t mine so I can’t speak to what some of that means in a broader context.

The app is straightforward, with four basic screens (click to enlarge them in a new window):

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Zenni Optical Review

Zenni OpticalOne of the best parts about getting laser eye surgery last year is that I, hopefully, won’t need glasses for a very long time. My wife, however, isn’t so lucky and she hasn’t done it because I think she looks cute in glasses (plus her prescription isn’t too bad). But just recently her glasses broke, after several years of good service, and she needed to buy another pair. Having not purchased a pair in quite a while, her prescription was outdated and needed to be refreshed.

When she went to our local optometrist, who had an adjoining glasses business, she discovered that they were charging $200-300 for a pair of glasses! When she came home and told me this, I said that was ridiculous. $100 for a pair of glasses is too much, $300 is absurd. We first went to Costco to look for a pair but she didn’t like anything there. Then I remembered all those years of hearing about Zenni Optical and their ridiculously cheap frames.

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FaxZero Review: Send 3 Pages Faxes for Free

FaxZero ReviewA few years ago I tried to find the best internet fax options and came away with few options that impressed me. Fast forward a few years and of the companies I listed on that page, the only I still use is FaxZero.

What do you get? You can send 2 faxes a day of up to three pages as long as you’re OK with the first page, which isn’t counted, has an advertisement on it (it’s just the FaxZero logo, but I imagine it could be anything). You can send something as long as it’s a Word doc or a PDF, I’ve just always scanned the document to a PDF and sent it like that.

When you send the fax, you have to enter a valid email address. They send you an email with a link that you must click before they send the fax, this is probably to cut down on junk faxes (that and the limit). The email they send comes in about a minute or less but it could take longer.

I’ve sent maybe a dozen faxes this way over the years (who uses fax machines these days anyway?) and it’s worked like a charm each time. I imagine this wouldn’t be all that great for professional use but in most cases my recipient didn’t care that the first page had a huge FaxZero logo on it. They also have a pay version for $1.99 per fax which has a limit of 15 pages and no advertisement on the first page, for those cases where the first page ad would matter.

Do you know of any better free faxing services?

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