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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Payback Time by Phil Town

Payback Time by Phil TownIn Payback Time, Phil Town teaches you the tenets of value investing, the same approach that Warren Buffett takes, with today’s tools. With all the value investing books out there, what separates Town’s Payback Time, and his earlier work Rule #1, from the pack? Two reasons – first, he’s not a long time investor who is very far removed from “Main Street,” he was a regular Joe just a short time ago and he’s able to explain concepts in terms most people can understand. Second, he explains these terms and walks you through the tools, like the screener from Yahoo Finance, you can use today to find good companies.

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On The Brink by Henry M. Paulson Jr.

On the BrinkOn The Brink by Henry Paulson is the first book I’ve read cover to cover in the last year. You’re probably not surprised to hear that I don’t read every single page of the books I review on Bargaineering but for On The Brink, I read every last page. On The Brink is Henry Paulson’s, then Treasury Secretary, account of the financial crisis that nearly brought the United States, and must of the world, to its knees. Throughout the crisis, I was reading all the news stories about various rescues, bankruptcies, etc. but I always knew there was more to the story. I knew that there were things going on behind the scenes that we wouldn’t hear about for quite some time and I didn’t expect to read about it in a book so soon.

If you want to learn what happened, what caused it, and what some of the most brilliant and hardworking financial minds in the world did to prevent a complete meltdown, then you need to read this book. It reads like a novel, Paulson is frank (which is awesome), and you walk away feeling like you actually understand what happened and why certain things were done. And for $14, it’s a bargain.

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TurboTax Tax Year 2009 Review

TurboTaxLast week, Rich Preece, Director of Product Management for TurboTax, gave me a quick run through the new features of TurboTax for the 2009 tax year. Since I haven’t been using TurboTax to prepare my returns (I use an accountant because of the business), I wanted someone at TurboTax to walk me through the features that were different from last year. While the bulk of tax preparation doesn’t change from year to year, features change, move around, and in order to capture the important ones, I’ll need the help of someone who plays with it everyday.

To Rich’s credit, it was a very straightforward demonstration of the features with an explanation of why things were done a certain way (for example, why they added flagging/bookmarking) without any cheerleading or attempt to paint things more favorably.

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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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Get Financially Naked by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar

Get Financially Naked by Manisha Thakor and Sharon KedarGet Financially Naked by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar is a book that helps couples discuss financial issues before they become Issues. The two collaborated on On My Own Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance and while they traveled the United States to promote it, they were frequently asked questions about how to discuss money with your significant other, a chapter absent from the book. So they worked together again to create Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey.

The book was written for women, though it easily applies to either gender, because 80% of men die married while 80% of women die single (the statistic isn’t cited). They throw out some more statistics, which seem plausible but aren’t cited, but they all paint the same picture – women are more likely to be left financially vulnerable at the end of the relationship (divorce, death, etc.). Couple that with the idea that women are less likely to discuss finances or acquiesce responsibility (again, their arguments) and you have a recipe for disaster.

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Wisdom on Value Investing by Gabriel Wisdom

Wisdom on Value Investing by Gabriel WisdomWisdom on Value Investing by Gabriel Wisdom is based on Wisdom’s professional experience and his Fallen Angels investment strategy, a way to identify good companies that have been punished by the stock market.

Value investing is an investment strategy made popular by Benjamin Graham and brought to the forefront with the successes of Warren Buffett. The idea is that you want to buy a great company at a great price, when it’s been discounted by an emotional stock market.

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SmartyPig Review

SmartyPigNot too long ago, when SmartyPig first debuted, I complained about how high SmartyPig’s fees were. I wasn’t the only one and shortly thereafter, they dropped many of those fees and restructured their program a bit. I think it’s a testament to their openness to feedback and willingness to adapt to their customer’s needs.

So what exactly is SmartyPig? It’s a website that helps you save towards your goals, giving you a high yield interest rate (currently 2.01% APY) and the ability to have family and friends help you save towards your goal. When you’ve achieved it, you can access it by having it transferred back to your bank, converted to a debit card, or converted to a retail gift card.

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Career Comeback by Lisa Johnson Mandell

Career Comeback by Lisa Johnson MandellCareer Comeback by Lisa Johnson Mandell is a career book designed to help the older job seeker freshen up their resume and avoid age discrimination. If the same sounds a little familiar, it’s because Mandell was the subject of a very popular WSJ article on Botoxing Your Resume back in mid 2008. The book isn’t a longer version of the article but it does take advantage of the same idea – after a certain point, your resume would be fifty pages if you included everything you ever did. While the breadth of experience may seem like an asset, it could be a liability as employers see your wealth of experience and expertise as a liability. An expensive liability.

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