The Quarter Million Dollar Baby

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There’s an interesting article over on MSN Money about the cost of raising a child. According to the most recent data from the USDA, a family making $70, 200 per year will spend an eye-popping $269, 520 to raise a child from birth through age 17. The numbers are a bit lower for lower income brackets, but it’s still not cheap – e.g., in the $41, 700-$70, 200 bracket the cost is projected to be $184, 320. Families making less than that are projected to spend $134, 370 over the same timeframe. Not surprisingly, they get more expensive as they get older, topping out in the 15-17 year old age bracket. (more…)


Reshuffle Your Retirement, Part Deux

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Not long ago, I wrote about rethinking your retirement contributions. In short, I suggested that you might want to consider sending excess contributions (those that go beyond what is necessary to get your employer’s match) to a Roth IRA rather than sending them to your 401(k) or 403(b). When I first started my current job, I opted to contribute 5% to get my employer’s dollar-for-dollar match, as well as an additional (unmatched) 5%. Each year since then I’ve increase my unmatched contribution by 1%. As of this year, this worked out to an extra 8% of my income going to my tax-deferred retirement account. During this time, however, I was neglecting my Roth IRA. (more…)


Hospital Rankings Available Online

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In the interest of remaining healthy, as well as wealthy and wise, I thought y’all might be interested in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ hospital comparison website. This site, which was launched in April, allows you to assess the quality of care at nearly 4, 200 hospitals nationwide. While it currently only covers treatment related to heart attacks, heart failure, and pneumonia, it really is a nice resource. It’s very easy to use, and I’m hoping that they’ll continue adding data related to additional maladies as time goes by.


The Upside of Costly Gas

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I’m sure that by now many (most?) of you are sick of hearing about gas prices, but I thought I’d throw in my own two cents anyway. According to a recent AP news article, high gas prices have resulted in an increased reliance on public transportation. If this turns out to be a real (and substantial) trend, and not just a bunch of media hype, it will not only decrease demand for oil, perhaps helping to moderate prices, but it will also help with regard to other urban woes, such as traffic and pollution. (more…)


Turn $1/Day into $67, 815

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There’s a nice (albeit very simplistic) article over on MSN Money illustrating how you can turn a dollar a day in $67, 815. Nothing magic here… Just the old ‘tuck a buck a day away, ‘ but it’s still a good reminder. Simply save an average of a dollar per day in spare change and dump it into a Roth IRA. Over 30 years this amounts to just under $11k but, assuming you can pull down an average annual return of 10%, you’ll wind up with just under $68k. The author also provides a number of other money saving tips, along with the impressive results if you invest these savings. Don’t you just love the effects of compounding? Check it out if you need some money-saving inspiration.


Online Financial Statements

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I wrote previously about how online banking is rapidly becoming the norm, and I thought I’d post a quick example of how much of an impact online access has had on my family’s finances. Just the other day we signed up to receive online statements from our bank, thereby completing our transition to 100% online financial statements. That’s right… We now get all of our banking, investment, and credit card statements online rather than receiving hard copies in the mail. While some people may may be uncomfortable about the lack of a hard copy, or about online security, I much prefer it this way. (more…)


The Best Dollar(s) that I’ve Ever Spent

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A few weeks ago, I taught my son to ride his bike. After too many episodes of running up and down the street holding onto his seat while trying to teach him how to ride, I finally wised up. We live on a slight incline and I told him that he needed to practice coasting down the hill with his feet out to the side in order to learn what it feels like to balance on a bike.

I soon noticed that he was actually getting pretty good. But instead of trying to right himself whenever he started to tip, he’d always take the easy way out and simply put a foot down on the ground. It was clear to me that he just needed a little nudge to get over his trepidation. So I made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

I offered him a dollar if he could coast to the end of the cul de sac without touching the ground. And after just one try, I owed him a dollar. Next up was learning to pedal.

I briefly explained to him what to expect when pedaling without me holding on. I then offered him another dollar if he could pedal to the end of the street. After a few false starts, he rode off and earned his dollar. But whenever he got to the end of the street, he would walk his bike back up the incline so he could start again, so…

I made him a final offer: ride back up the hill for a third (and final) dollar. After a couple of tries, he got the hang of starting of uphill, and he rode right back up to our house. Since that time, we’ve hardly been able to get him off his bike.

So… The next time you need to teach a kid to ride a bike, think about paying them off. Unorthodox? Maybe. Effective? Definitely. Three bucks beats the hell out of running up and down the street endlessly, and it was a lot more empowering for my son to essentially master this on his own.


A Quick Citi Update

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Editor’s Note: This offer expired and is no longer available.

I posted previously about the good experiences that I’ve had with CitiBank, but neglected to mention one nice feature of their reward cards. Once the promotional offers of 5% off of everything run out, a number of their cards continue to offer 5% off of gas, groceries and drugstore purchases (like the Dividend Platinum card that I mentioned in my previous entry). What I failed to mention was that all purchases at our local Super Wal-Mart (the kind with a grocery store built in) are treated as a grocery purchase. (more…)


Citi has Been Very Good to Me

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Editor’s Note: These offers have expired and are no longer available.

Prior to this past November, I had never done business with CitiBank. But since that time I’ve developed a rather profitable relationship with them. When it comes to credit card rewards, Citi is among the most generous companies in the industry, frequently offering cards that provide 5% off all purchases for a limited time (typically capped @ $300/year). I signed up for one such card (an AT&T Universal Card) last November and managed to rack up around $250 in rewards by the end of the year (this involved some creative budgeting, major medical expenses, and some rather large work-related expenses for which I was reimbursed). But I was only just getting started.

Once the limit reset for 2005, I was able to max out and cash in the new $300 reward. I have since tossed that card in my desk drawer and moved on. I am currently splitting my charges between a Citi Driver’s Edge which had an introductory offer of 5% rewards on everything (limit of $500/year), redeemable as cash off of automotive service or car purchases (just fax the receipt to Citi and they credit you — which reminds me: get yourself a fax machine) and a Citi Dividend Platinum Select Visa Card, which offers 5% rewards from Citi on eligible purchases on quarterly rotating categories when you enroll, redeemable as cash (capped @ $300/year). I expect to max out these rewards by year’s end.

But it doesn’t stop there. Shortly after you get a new card from Citi, you get a $15 check from Credit Protector. This is a ripoff of a service that promises to make your minimum payments in case of disability or death. Cashing the check signs you up for a free 30 day trial, after which you are billed in proportion to you monthly balance — but you can cancel before it costs you a thing. I received and cashed two check early this year, and promptly canceled. A couple of months later, I got two more checks for the same cards. I cashed them both and canceled one. I agreed to keep the service on the other card (the AT&T Universal Card that I’ve stopped using) in return for a series of rebate coupons worth $50 (5 x $10 rebates). These can be redeemed on any purchase, whether you charge it to your card or not. Since I’m not using this card, there’s no chance they’ll be able to hit me up for fees. Thus, it’s truly free money.

When you total up the regular rewards with the Credit Protector checks and rebates, I’m picking up close to $1500 for just using my credit cards wisely. Note here that I was able to rapidly max things out by making some fairly sizable work-related charges, as well as paying for travel for which I was reimbursed. We also had a rather large orthodontia bill early this year that we charged, and then paid out of my Flexible Spending Account at work. On top of that, we have a fairly large family; thus, we we have fairly sizable bills for things like groceries. I also pre-purchased a sizable chunk of grocery gift cards to accelerate a bit of spending ahead of the end of the year and the AT&T reward expiration date. Obviously, your mileage will vary depending on typical spending levels. Just be sure not to increase your spending to earn a bit extra in rewards — talk about penny wise and pound foolish! I was able to do all of the above while more or less sticking to our regular budget (the only deviations were to accelerate a bit of spending, which was made up for by spending less later). And we never carry a balance, so we haven’t given back a penny in fees.


Hotties Make the Big Bucks

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According to a recent news report, the Federal Reserve has concluded that ‘good looking’ people tend to make more money. In fact, there is evidence of a ‘plainness penalty’ of up to 9%, and a ‘beauty premium’ of up to 5%. In other words, the unattractive make as much as 9% less than people with average looks, whereas the ‘beautiful’ make up to 5% more. (more…)