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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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 Having not purchased a pair in quite a while, her prescription was outdated and needed to be refreshed.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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Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School

Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in SchoolWhen I first looked at the Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School by Andrew Hallam, I thought I was seeing yet another investment guru book that was going to collect dust on the shelf. When you throw around words like millionaire and wealth, it might catch the eye but I’ve seen enough of these to immediately think that the book was going to try to convince me to invest in something I didn’t fully understand. I was completely wrong.

Andrew Hallam isn’t an investment guru, he’s a teacher in Singapore who has amassed a net worth over a million dollars doing everything you’re supposed to. Spending less than you earn, investing in a smart way (keeping costs low), and all the various tenets we learn over our lifetimes that, honestly, should’ve been taught in high school. How your neighbor driving the Porsche is probably still paying off that car note and you shouldn’t be that envious of an asset that, in reality, is a liability that constantly loses value.

Best of all, the book is entertaining and easy to read. It’s not dry, it’s not boring, and it has plenty of anecdotes to keep you interested.

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Rigged Money by Lee Munson

Rigged Money by Lee MunsonIf you ever thought that the stock market was a rigged game, you’ll really enjoy this book. Lee Muson uses a mixture of anecdotes and data to illustrate why “Wall Street” is putting on a rigged game and that it needs “Main Street” to play along. The basic gist of the book is that your standard investment advice is wrong. Buy and hold is not a guaranteed strategy (it’s not even a strategy, because it only covers half the process – when are you supposed to sell?), diversification is often done wrong, and statistics lie. Your 401(k) might be nice, but you’re pretty much trapped. He devotes a very significant percentage of his book arguing the point that Wall Street has done all it can to make sure you play its game and that it beats you.

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Easy Economics: A Visual Guide to What You Need to Know

Easy Economics: A Visual Guide to What You Need to KnowAnyone with much experience with economics is not surprised it’s often derided as “the dismal science.” While the recent rise in popularity in behavioral economics, like Freakonomics and Predictably Irrational, has probably breathed a breath of fresh air into economics, much of it is still pretty dismal. Now mix in a little reality and it goes from being dismal to confusing. Fortunately, there’s a new book that seeks to explain a lot about economics and our economy in a way that is easy and, dare I say it, a little fun. It’s titled Easy Economics and it’s written by Leonard Wolfe, Lee Smith, and Stephen Buckles. It has fun illustrations (that’s the fun part) by Roy Doty.

Wolfe and Smith worked together at Fortune Magazine with Wolfe was an art director and Smith was a senior writer and editor. Buckles was the economics consultant and is currently teaches economics at Vanderbilt. Doty is an acclaimed cartoonist who has appeared in about a million different things.

The book is structured like a Q&A and separated into seven chapters:
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Review: Affluence Intelligence

Affluence IntelligenceIn the world of personal finance books, there are basically two types. The first type outlines exactly what you should do, explains why, and includes worksheets to help you get your financial life in order. The second type is a little “softer” and it discusses the mental and psychological aspects of you, your relationship with money, and helps to get your mind right when it comes to money. I think both are important. It’s not much different than the difference between going to a mechanic to get your engine tuned up and going to a defensive driving instructor so you are a safer driver.

Affluence Intelligence by Stephen Golbart, PHD, and Joan Indursky Difuria, MFT is that second type of book written with the approach of the first. It’s designed to help reshape your mind when it comes to money but it does it in a step by step manner that is easy to follow. The book may sound like it’s tackling a “soft” subject but it does it in a very structured and analytic way, which I find is rare in books in that second category.

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Review: Lighten Up by Peter Walsh

Lighten Up by Peter WalshIn recent years I’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the amount of financial clutter (and real clutter) in my life. I’ve discovered that as my life gets simpler, I’m able to enjoy the things that I bring into it. So when I received an email to take a looka t Peter Walsh’s new book Lighten Up, I was eager to see what it had to say.

Peter Walsh is a designer who is the expert organization on TLC’s Clean Sweep, among other things. He’s an organizational guru who is a regular guest on the The Oprah Winfrey and has his own show, Enough Already! with Peter Walsh, on The Oprah Winfrey Network. While these are all organizational tips for your space, does he have the chops to organize your financial life? I argue that he does and in part because his approach is similar to my own (towards financial clutter).

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