Your Take Column

Every Friday morning I post a “Your Take” article in which I share my opinion on a particular subject and ask for yours. While I hope readers always share their thoughts, Your Take is more like the start to a conversation, a kick-off if you will, rather than an article in the traditional sense. I hope that you share your opinions about some of these subjects as I’m always interested to hear other people’s perspectives.


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Your Take: What is Your Favorite Free Summer Activity?

Hiking TrailheadOne of the best parts about the summer is the plethora of free summer activities available. Whether it’s free movies in the park or visiting your favorite hiking trail, there are a dozen things you can do on any given weekend and most of them are absolutely free. In the past, we’ve done entire series on free summer activities and this week, for the Your Take, I want to know your favorite free summer activity. It doesn’t have to be for weekends only nor does it necessarily have to be free, just relatively inexpensive.

For us, I think our favorite free summer activity is “hiking.” These days, it’s more like walking along paved or marked trails in the woods and less true “hiking,” but it’s usually free. It’s also good exercise and a great way to enjoy nature when it’s nice out. Sometimes, depending on the location, you might have to pay for parking at a national park but it’s usually free.

What’s your favorite free summer activity?

(Credit: Loren Sztajer)

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Your Take: Teaching New Graduates About the Real World

Next Tuesday (at 2pm ET), I’m participating in #AllyBRChat, a joint tweetchat with Ally Bank and Bankrate, and the subject of the chat is teaching new college graduates about the real world, so I thought I’d get myself ready by trying to come up with a few tips I’d give the parents of new graduates. Some of these are actually from our own Tweetchat last week with Jeff Rose, which was investing strategies for new graduates (the many wrinkles of personal finance!), so if you were part of that a few of these may be familiar.

Here were our tips:

  1. Get your child a consultation with a financial adviser. This is an idea shared during the tweetchat (Thanks Fatwallet!) and I thought it was brilliant. Why not schedule a consultation where the adviser can help your child get their finances in order? Their situation shouldn’t be complicated and it gives them a leg up.
  2. Help, but don’t support. When you first go out on your own, there are a lot of up front costs. If you had an apartment, the first month’s rent and a security deposit was a big deal. I remember my first month’s rent was a share of $1200. Security deposit was something like $500-800. Give your child a hand but don’t support them for too long.
  3. Teach them the value of networking. This isn’t directly financial but teaching your child how to network and helping them expand their network is crucial. Whether it’s trying to find a good mechanic for their car or finding their next job, your personal network is invaluable. It can save you a lot of time and a lot of money.

Do you have any suggestions for parents of new graduates?

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Your Take: The Stock Market Game

Stock MarketMy friend Scott (you may remember him from those times I mentioned his charity bar tour Ghent Bar Tours) sent me this story about how the stock market game is a bad bad game… and I agree.

The stock market game, if you’ve never played it as a kid, was a national competition where teams were given $100,000 in play money to “invest” in companies. The goal is to help teach students how to invest, how to research companies, etc.

The real end result is that you learn how Wall Street really works… in order to get the greatest gains in 10 weeks (or however long), you need to find good companies that explode in value. These companies are probably going to be tiny, penny stock types, and you go all in on the hopes they double or triple on a whim.

I like the idea of these games but I agree with Chuck Jaffe, the lessons you actually learn are the wrong ones.

Did you ever play this game? What did you think about it?

(photo: sathellite)

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Your Take: Do You Trust the Stock Market?

NASDAQLast week, I wrote about how few “retail investors,” that’s folks like you and me, have come back to investing in the stock market after the craziness of the Great Recession. The market has made significant gains, erasing the losses of the Great Recession, but many investors are still on the sidelines.

Then came word that the Japanese stock market, the NIKKEI 225, dropped 7.32% on Thursday (Wednesday night for us in the United States). It was the worst percentage decline since the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The fall continued into the FTSE 100 (London index), which shed 2.1%, but given better than expected numbers here in the U.S., the drop didn’t translate to anything significant here. For the year, all of the stock markets have been going gangbusters. The NIKKEI was up 50% year to date before the fall but no one (meaning retail investors) saw it coming, which adds to this feeling of loss of control.

On Wednesday, a perfectly happy U.S. stock market was up until Bernanke started talking and it ended up down for the day. The market was down to open Thursday but eventually made its way pretty close to even. For someone like myself with a time horizon of decades, these gyrations are kind of scary but with thirty years to go, they’re not that scary. But there is a feeling that I have no control over it. It makes me wonder if I can trust the stock market. I know people are telling me that investing is the path to wealth… but is it?

7% single day drops, even if it’s the NIKKEI, doesn’t give me much confidence that I can trust the stock market. Any stock market.

How do you feel about the market? Trust it? Don’t care?

(photo: credit)

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Your Take: Ever Research Your Zip Code?

MapYesterday, Miranda wrote a post that talked about how marketers are using zip codes to reach new customers. It made me think about the research we’ve done when looking at real estate investments (we dabble a little here and there). One interesting tool I wanted to share with you is ZipSkinny. You give it a zip code and it gives you a ton of demographic data including race, age, gender, but it also includes social and economic indicators. It’s all taken from the 2000 Census, so it’s a little dated but still works quite well I think.

This is probably a light version of what marketers use but probably not that different. 49.3% are in the same home for 5+ years. 28.9% never married, 55% are married, and 9.3% are divorced. You have household income breakdown, occupation (in some broad categories), and even unemployment and poverty. It’s amazing what is available on census alone.

I had two questions – have you ever researched data like this and does it bother you that marketers are using it?

(Credit: Eric Fischer)

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Your Take: Is Cleverness a Crime?

Game KingHere’s an interesting question – is taking advantage of an exploitable bug in something inherently illegal? By luck and lots of playing, John Kane discovered a bug in the Game King video poker gaming system (this is true of all systems, not a single unit, in which certain settings were turned on) that would give him a significant advantage. I won’t go into the exact exploit, it gets pretty detailed, but Kane was charged with a violation of federal anti-hacking law even though he didn’t tamper with anything. He simply looked for a setting (or asked that it be turned on) and used his workaround. He also worked with others to visit several casinos over and over to use the exploit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The exact charge wasn’t that they hacked the unit itself, since they didn’t, but that they exceeded “their otherwise legitimate access ‘to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.’” In other words, they discovered this workaround, used it, and made lots of money. They found a bug (the thing the accesser is not entitled to obtain or alter).

Personally, I don’t think what they did should be a crime. The manufacturers of the Game King system didn’t test their systems enough and now turning this into a legal case just brings more exposure to their oversight. This is big news only because of all the recent news about Aaron’s Law (named after Aaron Swartz), and the fight over internet regulation laws.

Did they do something ethical? No, certainly not. But you could argue that gambling is hardly ethical either (and being unethical in an unethical place… well, that’s not two wrongs make a right either!). That said, gamblers are always trying to beat the house when they play any rigged game (all casino games favor the house), these gamblers simply found a way to work things in their favor. I applaud them!

What do you think? Did they commit a crime?

(Credit: midom)

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Your Take: Do You Think Money Can Buy Happiness?

money!We’ve covered the issue of money buying happiness a few times in the past (just look at the Related Posts below and you’ll see a few fine examples). However, the last time we even mentioned it was several years ago and there’s new research! There is always new research… the question is whether that research says anything new.

This one does.

The study looked at the question of “satiation.” In plain English, they simply wondered if there was ever a point in which you earned “enough” to be happy. If you earned enough where your basic needs were met, like food and shelter, would you be happier if you continued to make more. Is there a point at which you no longer happier?

Some people have likened it to air. It’s no fun when you don’t have enough to breathe but you really don’t gain extra by have more air. Well, the results of the study suggest that the answer is that there is no point at which your happiness stops. The richer you get, the happier you are about it.

Do you think that’s true?

(Credit: stevendepolo)

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Your Take: How Do You Combat Impulse Buying?

To help combat impulse buying, j_stack shared his tip on Reddit:

To curb my impulse online shopping tendencies, I use Amazon wishlist instead of dumping everything in my shopping cart. I leave the item in there for a month or two, and come back to it later to see if I really want it. I almost never still want the item, and if I do still want it, I’ll know it’s something I’d really like to have.

edit: If I decide I don’t love something enough to ever buy it, I’ll nix it from the list, but the stuff that I stay on the fence about for a while can sit in my cart for almost a year. Then it becomes my christmas list.

This is the digital equivalent of waiting a day before you buy something you like and it’s a good tip.

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