Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Inexpensive Sports

I am a huge sports nut, I breathe, eat, sleep sports and the only channels I really watch are Sportscenter and market news. What got me thinking about this topic was playing golf the other day. Normally at the course I play at I get a pretty nice student discount and play for about $14, but the other day 3 buddies and I went to a new course about 30 minutes away. As it turned out the greens fees there were like $36. I could not believe it, especially since the course was not really all that nice to begin with. As I hacked my way around the course, shrewdly calculating how much each hole was costing me, I began to think about inexpensive leisure activities. Below are some of the ones I came up with, let me know if you have some other ideas:

  • Riding bikes. Obviously it is free to ride, but there is an initial expenditure required in either purchasing or renting a bike, all the more reason to borrow one from a friend/relative

  • Shooting hoops, throwing a football/baseball/frisbee,etc. These are very low cost activities (buying the ball or even just borrowing it from a friend). Good way to get outside and have some fun

  • Hiking. Can't get much more free than this, the only expenses I can think of would be when you want to go to a national park or forest and then you would end up paying some entrance fee

  • Bowling. Pretty cheap (even after having to rent the clown shoes) and some good old school fun

Some of the pricier ones:

  • Golf. This all depends on where you go (wanna play the courses the pros do, then fork over the bucks). Most public courses are reasonable though for the occasional round

  • Ice Skating. Not terribly expensive but do need to factor in renting the skates and purchasing an ice ticket

  • Water sports (Jet skiing, Water skiing, wake boarding, etc). All a ton of fun, but a little expensive by the time you hire someone take you out in a boat

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How Far Would Your Salary Last In Another City?

I was searching around some finance sites when I came across this interesting little tool for comparing how your current salary would match up in another city. It was fun to plug in different cities and see how much my groceries or mortgage payment would go up or down. This may be a nice thing to play around with for those of us procrastinating, but for some of us it may just be useful...

Many of us are in a time of transition with the real estate market in flux, possibly with employment opportunities or issues, or just looking to make a move with your family. Regardless of the motives for moving, keep in mind that your $60,000 job in a small suburb won't by you jack in the heart of New York City (welcome to the land of $10 deli sandwiches, however good they may be).

Cost of living varies between cities so don't end up the victim of ignorance, check how much your salary will buy in another city. Adjust your spending accordingly, and work hard for that raise. I have heard of some particular nasty differences in spending power even if you are only moving an hour away. Be careful around your big metropolises, they tend to be the worst.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What To Do With Your Life

It's that time of year again, graduation season. Time to don the robe and walk down the isle and into your new life filled with fame and fortune right? Not for most of us. Most recent college grads have no idea what to do with their life. One of the first things on most people's mind when they are searching for a job is salary. Whether you are going to be slingin' burgers at a fast food joint or sportin' the pinstripes and ties in some Fortune 500 company executive suite, that salary is what is going to pay the bills and put a roof over your head. With that being said, and without undermining the importance of a decent wage, that paycheck you will be getting is not the most important thing to think about when searching for a job: happiness, fulfillment, and passion are.

That might sound like the view of an idealist at first glance, but I can't stress the importance of these attributes. My father used to tell me when I was young to find something I loved to do and make a living out of it and I would be a better person for it. I had no idea what he meant at the time, but I am starting to figure it out. What he meant was that you don't have to have a mansion with a pool and 4 Mercedes-Benzes to be happy, you just had to find out what you were passionate about which made you happy and fulfilled you.

Want to know what to do with your life? It's simple: find what you are passionate about and discover a way to make a living at it. The hard part: easier said than done!
Another Good Article about this topic at Get Rich Slowly

10 Ways You Can Save Money In a Relationship!

We all know how expensive it can be having a significant other. Birthdays, Valentines, anniversaries, and dates all add up, however they don't have to. I love dinner at a nice restaurant, maybe a bottle of wine, a nice steak......... and then the bill comes and I wince. But I soldier on, whip out the plastic and say "you only live once" (disclaimer: not a sound personal finance strategy).

The other day I lost a friendly bet with my girlfriend, the wager: a cooked meal. The reason I made the bet is because she is an excellent cook and I was convinced I couldn't lose. Well a few nights later after a lengthy trip to the grocery store, I whipped up a pretty decent meal (chef bias). The two things I learned: don't go to the grocery store during rush hour, and COOKING FOOD SAVES MONEY. I realize this isn't exactly a world revelation, most people know this however how much do we eat out anyway? Below are 10 cost-cutting ideas for your relationship:

  1. Cook: Instead of a night out on the town, try offering to whip up a gourmet meal for your partner

  2. One lazy Sunday afternoon drive to a national or state park to enjoy the outdoors together

  3. What % of your paycheck do you try and commit to saving each time? Whatever your goal number is (ie: 10%), talk with your significant other and decide that every paycheck you reach your goal, you guys will put $10, $20, $30 or whatever amount you guys come up with in an envelope. When you have enough, you guys go out for dinner and a movie or whatever you feel like. This way saving becomes like a game, reach your goal and stash away money for a night of fun, don't reach your goal don't add anything to the envelope. Pay your retirement savings first, then use the extra for fun

  4. Check your area for movie theaters that play old films for a heavily discounted price. While we all like to check out the new hot release, you would be surprised at how fun it is to go check out an old flick you've never heard of, and these usually cost only a couple of dollars.

  5. Check out events in your community. Most communities include things such as: school sporting events, town fairs, local performances, etc. These are very low-cost, if not free. CitySearch is a nice way to find some of the happening things in your area.

  6. Try and find a mutual low-cost hobby. This can lead to some quality bonding time, and a nice break for your wallet.

  7. Birthday? Anniversary? Valentine's? Holidays? Rather than purchase some expensive gift, try building something that has meaning to both of you. One example is a photo album with fun memories, you would be surprised at the cost-effective trinkets you can make that will often have more meaning than some material gift.

  8. When was the last time you've been bowling? Maybe high school, middle school even. Try it out, there's a reason why it's been around since the beginning of time - it's fun (try cosmic bowling late at night for a change of pace)

  9. Rent Movies rather than going to the theater. Try Netflix or Blockbuster's new Total Access

  10. Think of other fun, cost effective dates. One of my favorites: miniature golf, maybe even do a little friendly wager, just don't bet on dinner unless you know how to cook.

Other ideas? Please Share

A little off topic, but I can't resist a good retirement article

Monday, May 7, 2007

Articles Worth Checking Out

I spend a lot of time trying to learn as much as I can about finance and personal wealth advice, etc. This means I read a lot of articles and blog posts, here are a few that I have come across recently that I think are worth the time:

  • If you're like me you ask why more people don't use online banks with high interest rates

  • This is an inspiring story of climbing out of that black hole we all know called debt

  • Interesting post on whether or not to combine financial accounts if you are in a relationship

  • You know when you are eating with friends and you hesitate when the bill comes, do you wonder if you're being frugal or cheap?

  • If you don't want to believe me about index funds, take it from a man who knows a little about investing - Warren Buffett

Wish You Had $51 million?

If you had made a $10,000 investment in Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffetts company) in 1965, you would be sitting on $51 million today. That is the perfect example of successful long term investing, and unfortunately that is pretty much a once in a lifetime opportunity. Can you imagine throwing down 10g today on a stock and by the time you retire you have $50 mil? But the good news is that there plenty of opportunities to invest for the long run and come out with great returns if you do your research. But you will never get those types of returns being a "trader", you must be an "investor". You have to find a company with the right fundamentals and the right business model and stay in for the long haul.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Loose Change

Maybe once a year if I get around to it, or the jar/console in my car is overflowing, I take my loose change to a CoinStar machine. Problem with that of course is CoinStar takes a % of the money, but rolling it myself takes lots of time and the dang machine always jams. So I'm stuck wondering, is there an efficient way to get use out of my spare change?

I had a buddy who's family used to put all their change in this BIG TUB, and every 2-3 years when it got full they would take all the money in it and go on a family vacation. Seemed like a pretty fun way to put spare change to use and get something out of it; something the whole family can participate in.

What do you do with your spare change? Any good/fun/interesting ideas about what to do with it?

13 Days on $100.17

Want to know what it's like to check your online bank statement and realize you have $100.17 dollars left and 13 days to make it last...

This was the situation I found myself in during the 2nd semester of my sophomore year in college. The first thing I did was sit down and write out a list of the absolute bare necessity purchases I was going to need to make.

I ended up going to the grocery store and picking up a GIANT sack of potatoes, some lettuce, and carrots. I survived the week, barely. Did you know there are like a million ways to cook a potato?. It took me 6 months before I could eat another one.

A few things to keep in mind when you are extremely strapped for cash:

  • Organize yourself, plan to purchase only the bare necessities

  • Don't be shy to ask around at the grocery store for deals on overstock food, etc

  • Take public transportation when possible (seen gas prices lately?)

  • Keep yourself busy doing something you've been meaning to do for awhile (read a favorite book, do some much needed yard work, organize the junk in your attic or basement)

  • Celebrate when your next paycheck comes in (cost effectively of course!)

  • Learn from your mistake, keep a better eye on your finances and control unnecessary expenses in the future
Also check out this article: Retirement Concerns

Friday, May 4, 2007

Personal Finance Fridays

Welcome to Personal Finance Fridays. My goal for the year is to return 12% on my investments, but so far I am not doing as well as I would like this year. For the year-to-date (YTD) I am up 2.54% compared to 5.93% for the S&P 500. Listed below is the breakdown of my portfolio:

18.47% iShares NYSE 100 Index (NY)
18.18% Under Armor (UA)
16.10% iShares S&P 500 Index (IVV)
7.12% Apple (AAPL)
6.81% Coca-Cola (KO)
6.42% Goldman Sachs (GS)
5.73% Citigroup (C)
5.10% Borg Warner (BWA)
3.69% Montpelier RE Holdings (MRH)
3.59% Best Buy (BBY)
2.41% Colgate Palmolive (CL)

I am not as diversified as I would like to be. However, my plan is to make periodic purchases as my income allows to re-balance it. The good news about this strategy is that over time I will become more invested in the market as I diversify, the downside is that I am putting myself in greater risk right now. In my defense, I am SLIGHTLY more diversified than first meets the eye because 2 out of 3 of my biggest holdings are index funds, which are themselves diversified.

I am taking steps to diversify and correct my performance and hopefully continue to build wealth as the years go by. Feel free to post constructive criticisms or anything you feel relevant, look forward to more of these Personal Finance Fridays so we can track my performance over the long term.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Easiest Way to Invest in the Market

My college Econ 201 professor gave us one piece of investing advice: invest in index funds that track the overall market.

Here I am a few years later repeating the same advice, only wishing I had been listening more closely.
Index funds are essentially mutual funds that attempt to track the performance of a specific index (although they don't have to). The most common index funds track stock market indices such as the S&P 500, Russell 2000, Wilshire 5000, Lehman Brothers Aggregate Bond, Nasdaq 100, DJIA, etc. The advantages of index funds is they have much lower expense ratios (around 0.3% vs 2-3% for mutual funds), more tax friendly and THEY BEAT 75% OF ACTIVELY MANAGED FUNDS over long periods of time.

Examples of Index Funds:
Vanguard S&P 500 6.51% return (Jan '07 - May '07)
Vanguard Total Stock Market 6.94% (Jan '07 - May '07)
iShares S&P 500 5.53% (Jan '07 - May '07)


Retirement? I haven't even graduated yet. This is typically the first response from recent college grads, but the truth is that retirement saving starts the day you get that diploma. .

One of the first things anyone should do when they start work is inquire about 401(k) plans, matching contributions, Health insurance (including dental plans), etc.

The great thing about 401(k) and Roth IRAs is that the money grows tax-deferred, meaning you do not pay taxes until you withdraw the money. So remember that even though you may only be in your early twenties, there has never been a better time to begin saving for your retirement... golf in Florida anyone?

Young American's making a mistake

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Investment Options

There are tons of ways to invest, but the easiest and most common way is with stocks and bonds. There are other ways to invest though and below are some of the common ones:

Bonds, Real Estate, Stocks, Mutual Funds, Index Funds, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), Hedge Funds, Private Equity, Venture Capital, Commodities,Futures,Fund of Funds, Certificates of Deposit (CDs), Treasury Bills

DO NOT worry if you haven't heard of half of these, investing is a very broad category. Many people invest in things such as art, or even hobbies like rare coins or baseball cards. Does anyone have some unorthodox investments? If so we would love to hear about them.

Power of Compound Interest

One of the most powerful mechanisms in the world in terms of finance is that of compound interest. This is your money making money for you. Most banks pay about 0.3% interest on accounts less than $10,000. Let's say you put $10,000 in a savings account and didn't touch it for 5 years:

Year 1: interest ($10,000 x .003) = $30
Year 2: interest ($10,030 x .003) = $30.09
Year 3: interest ($10,060.09 x .003) = $30.18
Year 4: interest ($10,090.27 x .003) = $30.27
year 5: interest ($10,120.54 x .003) = $30.36
Total = $10,150.90

You earned a return on your money, but it was PITIFULLY low.

Let's say you are able to save $2,000 per year and invest it in an index fund that mirrors the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The stock market has historically returned roughly 10% per year over the past half century (substantially more than any bank can offer). The downside is the increased risk of your money depreciating. You are 22 when you graduate college and plan on retiring at the age of 65. Check out what your retirement nest egg would be after 43 years returning 10% per year:

Initial amount: $0
Annual contribution: $2,000
Annual interest rate (rate of return): 10%
Time: 43 years

With steady saving, investing, and the power of compound interest, you would have a little over $1.3 million when you retired at 65. Here is a financial calculator for you to check out your numbers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Spend Less, Earn More

The single most important thing you can do to build wealth is save money. My first piece of advice is to become aware of how much you spend and what you spend it on. People who know what they spend money on are less likely to thro money around on the latest gadget. While budgeting your money is a great way to cut costs (if you actually stick to your budget), I first recommend writing down your expenses (http://www.buxfer.com/).

The key to building wealth is not spending more than you make. Without cash in the bank you have no chance to invest and grow you money, and no buffer in case of an unexpected expense.

Investing at a Glance

While I was the first one to indulge in all the freedoms college life presented, I was fortunate enough to recognize early on the importance of saving and investing and the power of compound returns. I want to help college students, and amateur investors in general, learn the basics of investing and avoid the common pitfalls. I will share some of my own experiences along the way (some good, others not so good), in hopes that you too can be successful in sustaining and growing your wealth through sound investing techniques. Thanks for checking out my introductory post, and definently don't hesistate to post any questions or comments. Stay tuned for more...