Frugal Living 
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Avoid These Financial Products

When I was younger, I remember Consumer Reports was the authority on reviews of household appliances, cars, and all the other major purchases in our lives. In the ensuing decade, where I stopped paying attention (known as high school and college), they’ve expanded to include reviews on basically everything. Today I read an article that is the epitome of what Consumer Reports is about – an article on “Financial Products That Are a Waste of Money.” (They also bought one of my favorite sites, The Consumerist, which I think is absolutely awesome)

So I’m going to share with you what I do anytime I read an article like this: I go down the list and compare it with what I’m doing (these are not recommendations for what you should do, just an illustration of what I do).

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 NEWS 
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New Yorkers Are The Dumbest Drivers

Car AccidentDon’t shoot the messenger!

According to a survey by GMAC, their GMAC Insurance National Drivers test, the dumbest drivers are in New York where the average driving test score was a mere 70.0%. New Jersey wasn’t that far behind with an average test score of 70.5%. The “smartest” drivers were in Kansas (82.3%) and Oregon (82.1%). Here are the results in an interactive app that doesn’t really work all that well.

It’s really an interesting study because they also asked how many people apply makeup while driving, eat while driving, or change their clothes while driving. Change their clothes! Who changes their clothes while driving? Apparently a lot of people do because 2.9% of the respondents in Kansas, the “smartest” drivers, have changed their clothes while driving.

As an aside, the number of people who text while driving is also pretty alarming. Many states have laws against texting while driving.

It only takes a few minutes to pull off to the side of the road to change, yet 3% of people in several states insist on driving at the same time.

Don’t be stupid, don’t change while driving. :)

(Photo: jshultz)


 Frugal Living 
58
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Find and Plug Your Money Leaks

Financial Leaks = Leaky FaucetsHow many times have you run into this scenario at work: you start a task that seems ridiculously inefficient or outdated, bring it up to your supervisor only to hear them say “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Sadly, it happens all too often and it’s the product of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality that permeates almost every aspect of life. When was the last time you took a hard look at how you did things? Your commute to work every day, how you pay your bills, and how you set your thermostat? Probably not much, especially with all the other, more important, things you have to worry about right?

I totally get it because everyone does the same thing. There are a lot of things in our lives that we probably do the exact same way because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It has worked… but it could be better. And, just like at work, we’ve done it that way because while it may not be the best way, it worked and you have a million other things competing for your time and energy.

However, today I want to work with you to try to find some ways we may be leaking money. It’s hard to know where you might be losing your hard earned cash bit by bit because it’s hard to know what you don’t know, right? So, to help get our mindgrapes flowing, I listed a few common money leaks in the hopes that you could kick in a few leaks you may have found recently.

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 Investing 
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Comparing Fixed Annuities & Certificates of Deposit

Hand Painted Piggy BankWhen I first opened up my Vanguard account a few years ago, I requested all sorts of fancy investment brochures. I had just started Bargaineering and had a voracious appetite for financial information and fancy words like annuities, in all their flavors, really intrigued me because I had never heard of them. One of the books I requested was Vanguard’s booklet on annuities, an investment vehicle I would later learn is rife with ripoffs and unscrupulous characters.

I never read the booklet until my wife and I were cleaning out some documents and they remind me a lot of long term CDs, with a few wrinkles. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years is that the financial community has a funny way of coming up with a million different ways to do the same thing, if only to be able to say they have a hot new investment option for you!

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 Personal Finance 
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Setting Your Emergency Fund Amount

Emergency Fund TruckIt’s seven o’clock and you’re just leaving work. You’re tired after a long day of work and all you want to do is turn into a vegetable in front of yet another episode of Law and Order. As you walk to your car, you notice someone clipped the bumper and managed to unhinge it from the chassis. It’s scraped, a little cracked, and almost most importantly, since it is the bumped, it looks like crap. The culprit left no note. You are probably out a few hundred dollars of your deductible to get it repaired… fortunately you have an emergency fund… unfortunately, you’ll have to tap into it for this.

That situation is one of any number of reasons why emergency funds are so important. In the situation above, you are likely required by law to fix an unhinged bumper and any visit to the shop will cost you a few hundred bucks. Without an emergency fund, you might resort to a credit card or a short term loan. If you can’t pay that back, it quickly becomes a downward spiral you can’t escape. A minor expense becomes a major expense. But how much should you have saved in an emergency fund? The answer depends on who you ask! Some experts say twelve months of expenses, other will say six months, and even others say “however much you feel comfortable with.” The answer, unfortunately, is that the amount “depends” on you and your situation.

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 Cars 
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What To Do After A Car Accident

Car AccidentA few years ago, I was driving from one office building to another when a Dodge Durango ran a red light and totaled my car. I was fine, as the Durango hit me at a forty-five degree angle, but my car was destroyed. The passenger door was dented in, the front quarter-panel was crushed, the frame was bent, and the wheel was crooked on the axle. If that wasn’t enough, both airbags deployed – my Acura Integra was kaput. I was fortunate in that accident because I wasn’t at fault, the other driver was calm, a witness stopped, and the police handled the situation expeditiously. The end result was that I got a check and needed a new car, but the process as quick as could be expected.

There was one good thing about that experience, it taught me how to properly respond in the event of an accident. Accidents are very scary and it’s very easy to lose your calm. They are exactly like those “controversial” Volkswagon “Safe Happens” commercials (I embedded two at the end of this article, they are very shocking). One minute you’re minding your own business, the next you’re being violently interrupted.

Here’s what I do immediately following an accident, I’ve written little notes down to myself on a piece of paper in my wallet to remind me. (In fact, I got the idea from Geico, which writes a sub-set of these instructions on what you should do immediately following an accident)

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 Personal Finance 
5
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50 Financial Skills Every Person Needs To Know

Popular Mechanics created a list of 100 Skills Every man Should Know, which naturally gravitated towards DIY/physical skills like jump starting a car and split firewood. The Frisky listed 30 Skills Every Woman Should Have Before Turning 30, which actually touched on more than physical skills (though #12 is physical :) ), with a handful of financial skills (#17 – #20).

This isn’t a checklist of things you need to necessarily do in your life, it’s just a list of things that you should know how to do (in case the need arises).

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 Banking 
23
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How To Use Safe Deposit Boxes

When I was a kid, there was always this mystique about safe deposit boxes. My parents never had one so the only experience I had with them involved television shows or movies. The scenes were always of bank robberies, of masked men and women running into a smoke filled room filled (after they blew open the door of course!) with hundreds of these boxes all stacked up nicely and neatly in their little cubbyholes. Inside each was a little treasure chest of riches and these crooks were here to take them.

It wasn’t until I was an adult did I realize that they typically held more pedestrian items such as important paperwork (car and house titles, marriage licenses) rather than sexy uber-valuable jewelry one could fence.

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