Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars Makeover: Failure By Design

Who watched the Oscars last night? I definitely tuned in. I must say, I'm not a faithful award show viewer, but I do switch the channel to watch sometimes because, well, they’re big events. Who doesn't love to watch the rich and famous lavishly partying away what I can't even dream of earning my entire lifetime all in one evening. Besides, "everyone" will be talking about it the next day, right? The reason I paid closer attention to the Academy Awards this year was due to their promise to entertain a younger audience. Oscar v2.0, they called it.

A few years ago, viewership of the Oscars fell to an all-time low, so in order to get more people (young people, to be exact) to tune in this yesterday, they pulled out all the stops. It's not their first try. Jon Stewart hosting in 2008 followed by Hugh Jackman in 2009, the Academy's been trying to (re)build viewer base for a while now. This year's rebranding efforts seemed to be most obvious, though. Twitter, Youtube videos, television ads, and most importantly, hosts who "appeal to a younger demographic," according to host, Anne Hathaway, herself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stop Dismissing Higher Education! It's Well Worth It

I've recently read a lot articles and blog posts relating to higher education. Everything seems to come back to the point of whether it's worth it to go to college or not. Many argue that due to the Great Recession and skyrocketing cost of higher education, a lot of college graduates are stuck with loads and loads of student loans while they can't find or hold down a good job.

It's true that employment opportunities are currently not what they use to be, but that's no reason to dismiss going to college altogether. Instead, it provides a chance for us to rethink what a college education means. On an individual basis, a careful cost/benefit analysis needs to be done when choosing a school. Nationally, though, we should bring attention to studies and debates to find ways to keep costs down.

Besides, why are we talking about less education when the rest of the world is becoming increasingly more educated? In a lot of countries, a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough. People are getting masters and Ph.Ds. in order to get jobs. On top of that, globalization means that we won't only be competing for jobs here in the U.S., we'll have to compete with those people with graduate degrees from other countries in the future (it's already happening now), whether we like it or not.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

My Health/Spending Dilemma

Remember the boot camp that inspired a "buddy system" post a while back? Well, I'm finishing up week 3, and it's no joke. The trainer leads the class through drill after drill for about an hour, four days a week. Classes are fun, the people are encouraging, and I'm definitely seeing results, which is much more than I can say for other things I've tried.

Let me give you a little bit of background, first. At the end of my first year in college, the freshman 15 turned into more of a freshman 30. I tried exercising and dieting every year during break, but couldn't really get my weight down due to stress, work load, and all of the crap I feed my body daily. It became my goal after graduation to get back into shape and maintain a healthy weight. I lost all of the 30 pounds I gained and am less than 10lbs away from my weight goal. That's great and all...but I hit a wall in the fall of 2009. My weight's been fluctuating around the same place ever since.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is Your Information Secure? Technology's Not Perfect

I've been told that for someone who works as an engineer, I'm pretty hostile towards technology. I don't like feeling like a guinea pig, so I'm rarely an early adaptor to new devices. This isn't because I'm not excited about innovation or not curious about how they work. Rather, my hostility stems from a general skepticism about how increasingly "perfect" each invention seems to become. Yes, improvements are inevitable, but I also believe that a small amount of distrust is healthy. Anyway you put it, technologies are created by humans and we are hardly perfect beings.

From my experience, during the conception of a product, there are numerous factors to be considered before it can be put into the hands of consumers (think BETA versions). Even then, mistakes or problems that haven't been considered before often come up. This can be said about almost anything: software, computers, smartphones, etc.

This is the major reason why, despite the benefit of convenience, I haven't started doing mobile banking or use online bank account consolidation/budget managing websites. Yes, you heard right. I'm pretty old school when it comes to finances. Besides online banking and one android app where I log discretionary spending, technology plays a minimal part in money handling for me. (It's pretty ironic that my credit card was still charged fraudulently a few weeks ago…)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Keeping Up With Multiple Bank Accounts

I'm kind of crazy about "free" money. Really. Whenever I get those flyers in the mail to receive bonus cash for opening an account, I get super pumped. If you remember, I even wrote a post about Chase's offers. Needless to say, when I saw a "bonus $100" for opening an account at select branches of Union Bank earlier this month, it was hard to resist. Of course, I was careful about reading the small prints to see whether I'm actually qualified and capable of not being penalized. So this past Saturday, I braved the rain and made the 20 minute drive a couple of cities over to open an account.

Up until last September, besides a 12 month CD with Citi, I banked exclusively with Bank of America. Now that I'm accumulating these accounts, I think it's time start getting more organized. I don't think it's reasonable for me to just rely on memory anymore.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Groupon Mania – Deal or No Deal?

Groupon's been all the buzz recently. Within the last few months, it turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Yahoo! as well as Google's $6 billion offer. Not such a wise decision if you ask me, the company’s business model can be easily imitated by others, in fact, it already has. Numerous websites have popped up within the last year or so offering local deals. Of course, to add insult to injury, Groupon made 3 terrible (not to mention insensitive) Super Bowl ads. Bad move, especially with a pending $15 billion IPO.

Okay, enough of me giving them business advice that I'm clearly not qualified to do. For now, I'd like to believe the executives at Groupon have some special secret no-fail business plan that the rest of us can't even dream of.

Anyways, I have been on the Groupon train since 2009. When I first started, Groupon wasn’t getting all of the media attention it’s getting now, and like most people, I thought it was a very unique concept. Not only are the discounts generous, the element of supporting local businesses is a huge plus. It’s a great site to discover small local mom and pop places. In fact, my first purchase was to a restaurant that I had been dying to try. Awesome, right? In a blink of an eye, I joined Living Social (now backed by Amazon), DealOn, and BloomSpot. Sites like Yelp, Gilt, and , which I was already a part of, began to issue exclusive deals to members, too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Deal with Credit Card Fraud - Part 2

I finally got a replacement credit card today! If you didn't know, I got a credit card fraud alert call from Bank of America more than a week ago telling me that they had declined a charge for a purchase in New Jersey due to suspicious activity (I was home in California when the card was charged). I called the activation number thinking that it would be a 2 minute process of pressing buttons, but i was dead wrong.

After typing in the last four digits of my new card, the robot directed to wait to “speak to the next available representative” who’ll be right with me. Right…I waited for almost 10 minutes. Either they're trying to vamp up their customer service, push new "promotions," or get market research data, I got a live person on the other side of the line. Bank of America, if you plan on starting to charge fees to customers, you should really think about cutting down on live person credit card activation. The rep. chatted me up on the benefits of the card (which I’m well aware of) and tried to dig deeper into my spending habits.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Steps to Opening a Deposit Account

This is the 1st post in the Bank Deposit Account 101 series. 

It’s Valentine’s Day! So of course I’m going to bring up the extremely sexy topic of opening up a deposit account! Disagree with the sexiness of the topic? Well, let’s put it this way, a bank account (credit union, too, but for simplification, I’ll refer to everything as “bank”), if used correctly, acts as a tool to accumulate wealth. And money is super sexy. Below are some steps you will (or should) take when opening an account:

Research, Research, Reaserach! 
You can ask around to see what the best bank account is out there, but you must remember to at least look into it a little bit yourself. There are some traits to an account that everyone agrees are good, but there are also some others that have to be assessed on an individual basis. Some examples of these characteristics are: the amount you can put into the account, convenience, and the length of time you plan on keeping an account open. Be sure to consider these features carefully and weigh their importance to you before choosing a bank to open your account in. 

Once you’ve chosen a banking institution, you can proceed to opening an account. For a lot of banks, you’ll have the option of opening an account online or in person. If this is your first time opening a bank account, I suggest that you go to the bank (unless it’s an online bank without physical locations).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lessons Learned From An 8-Year-Old

While standing amongst all of the things I can't afford in a luxury retail store this afternoon, my attention turned to the interaction of a mother and her daughter about eight years of age. The woman was picking out designer purses and the girl curiously followed along. When the mom started to examine a purse, the eight-year-old nagged, "Check the price tag. Did you check the price tag?"

The first two requests were ignored, but by the third time the girl repeated herself, her mom impatiently replied, "Don't worry about it."

The little girl reached out, grabbed the tag, and gasped, "OH MY GOD! It's so expensive..."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Using the Buddy System in Your Financial Life

Boy, am I tired right now. It’s almost been three days since I updated, but I certainly haven’t been slacking off. In fact, I’ve been “working” way too hard. So what's this complaining about, you ask? Remember that group training membership I spent more than 30% of my "fun" budget on? I’m currently in the middle of my first week of classes. It’s been brutal, but I'm definitely going back for more tomorrow. Why torture myself? Well, there are three main sources of motivation for me: fitness, the chunk of my budget that I already invested, and my workout buddy.

Not only did I bring my own buddy, the class is set up for attendees to mingle and encourage each other. The idea is that by building a community, we'll be more accountable and more driven to keep going. I can tell you that it’s working. I haven’t felt this sore since I first started rock climbing, but I’m excited to go back there every night.

And this has to do with personal finance how…?

Monday, February 7, 2011

How to Deal with Credit Card Fraud - Part 1

I received a "Fraud Alert" email from Bank of America on Saturday night, letting me know that my credit card was declined at a Bed Bath & Beyond for a $25 charge. Hmmmmmmm...interesting. I was near a BB&B earlier that afternoon, but I sure as heck did not go into the store, nor did I attempt to make a $25 purchase. My card hasn't left my wallet in a week, so this is a little absurd. Okay, can i go back to the Bed Bath & Beyond thing? I mean seriously? That's what they stole my credit card information for? I'm kind of insulted! Anyways, stuff happens, so I figured it's a a great opportunity to blog about what to do in situations like this one.

1. Check the validity of the email/call: You don't want to compromise your accounts because you thought a fake fraud alert was real. There are scams where an email with a false link or phone number is sent out to alert people of suspicious activities on their credit card accounts. Then, when you use the contact information given to confirm this, the con artists will ask for sensitive information such as your social security number, account number, and date of birth in order to steal your identity. Don't let this happen!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Go Ahead, Live a Little and Splurge

I stumbled across the Ask the Readers section on Wisebread yesterday. What do you splurge on? They ask. Well, that’s simple enough, good food, of course! With food trucks, unique ethnic cuisine, and all of those fancy schmancy Michelin Star restaurants, the SF Bay Area attracts foodies (me included!) like a giant magnet. But the more I thought about it, the more complicated this question seems to get. Maybe I just like going on tangents or maybe there’s actually something to this. The problem with the word splurge is that it’s relative. In my current state of only have a $100 discretionary fund, almost everything can count as being extravagant. Buying lunch with friends for $12 plus transportation costs? Well, that’s 1/5 of my monthly budget spent in one (half) day! Splurging? You can say that.

But like I said, it’s all relative. These are small ticket items in my tiny budget. The things that will truly impact my finances most immediately are the big ticket items. I guess this means small gadgets, food, coffee, and occasional clothing items are out of the picture. That leaves…oh! The thing that I’ve been budgeting FOR!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Curb Spending By Using Cash

I talked about how cash is still a superior form of payment in my last post. Now is the opportunity for me to put my money where my mouth is. It's the beginning of the month, and I haven't used any of my discretionary fund yet. This morning, I will go to the ATM and take out $80 in cash (out of my $100 budget) to spend for the rest of the month. What about the rest of the budget? Well, because I have to swipe my Chase debit card a total of 5 times a month to avoid a checking maintenance fee, I left that $20 out for that purpose. Besides that, all of my "fun budget," including food (non-grocery), clothing, and going out money will be spent in cash.

So what do I hope to achieve? I'm not purposely trying to piss off the people standing in line behind me, for sure. It's really to test the theory that using cash can help you to relate more closely to your money. By spending (almost) only cash this month, I'm hoping I'll be more aware of how much $$ is physically disappearing from my wallet. It might hurt more, but hey, I call that tough love!

Have you ever used this method to curb spending? Did it help? If you've never tried this cash only spending method, I encourage you to join me. It'll be more fun with more people =D

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Why Cash Still Reigns as King

Okay, I have to admit, I used to be one of those people who roll their eyes when someone fumbles through their wallet to count their cash so they can pay with exact change. Wouldn't it be easier if everyone just swipe their card? As an engineer, the question of efficiency constantly lingers my mind. In this case, card swiping wins against cash, especially when there are 7 other people standing in line behind me and we’re all waiting for the person in front of me to finish paying.

Well, efficiency often comes at a price. In this case, the tradeoff presents itself in the form of interchange fees and wasteful spending.

Interchange Fee
If you’ve ever gone to a store that tells you it doesn't accept credit cards or that there’s a baseline spending you must reach before you can swipe, you probably have the interchange fee to thank for your inconvenience.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January Budget Summary (and Happy 1 Month!)

Wow, today marks one month of blogging! It's been a great month. The blog helps keep personal finance on my mind constantly, which is awesome because there’s still so much more I need/want to learn! Not only that, I learned a lot about blogging and social networking, too.

Remember that I mentioned setting a non-discretionary spending budget of $100 a month earlier? Well, the results are in: drum roll, please...I spent $116.11. Not a total success, but not a complete fail, either. I felt so guilty for spending more than a quarter of my budget less than a week after setting it that I returned something I bought in December.