Carnival of Personal Finance #294

If you think Salt Lake City's boring, visit during the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints General Conference

Thanks and welcome to the Carnival of Personal Finance, #294 in a series stretching back to the internet’s Precambrian Era. We’re presenting personal finance posts from some of the genre’s most prominent bloggers. Sit back and enjoy.

Carnival of Personal Finance

Let’s kick off with the Editor’s Choices. VH at Funny About Money is one of the few personal finance bloggers who can nonchalantly drop words such as “penury” and “forthwith” in her posts. We agree with maybe 75% of her oeuvre, and find her to be 100% thought-provoking. This week she waxes about financial planners and their worth.

OH MY GOD WITHIN JUST A FEW YEARS CHINA’S ECONOMY WILL BE BIGGER THAN OURS! Which means your average American will have a net worth only 4 times that of your average Chinese. You’re right, it’s over. Worst news ever. Consumer Boomer has a guest post from Neal Frankle who gives a little needed perspective.

It never ceases to astonish us: the average personal finance blogger for whom English is a 2nd language writes far, far better than the average personal finance blogger who grew up in the United States. (But a bigger budget for the U.S. Department of Education would solve that!) Then there’s Aloysa of Aloysa’s Kitchen Sink, for whom English is a 3rd language. Read her post on why doing business with gangsters is a bad idea.

Personal finance education can always stand a little more candor. The Financial Blogger lays bare his income and expenses, helping paint a more detailed picture of his situation than mere words could do. The use of smiley emoticons notwithstanding, that warrants your attention.

Mike Piper, the Oblivious Investor, chimes in on 401(k)s, with hard and undeniable numbers. If you plan on celebrating your 59.5th birthday at some point – and aside from childhood leukemia patients, who doesn’t? – you need to read this.

Non-obvious, informative personal finance advice? Believe it. Mike at Saving Money Today shows you how to free yourself from the opprobrium of femtoscopically small savings-account interest rates.

The eponymous Len Penzo explains the scheme behind Social Security numbering. (To summarize – 1st digit, blood type; 2nd digit is an 8 if you own a gun; 3rd digit, party registration [odd for Democrat, even for Republican, 0 for independent]; 4th digit, race [1-7, Caucasian; 8-9, black; 0, “other”]; 5th digit, square root of your body mass index to the nearest integer; 6th and 7th digits, IQ results from test administered in elementary school [scores over 100 exclude first digit]; 8th and 9th digits, year of death.)

It’s not just Len Penzo. Why do engineers make some of the best personal finance bloggers? Curious, seeing how MBAs usually make rotten engineers. Darwin from Darwin’s Money challenges the highly debunkable efficient market hypothesis.

(ungainly transition to Editor’s non-Choices)

Pat S. at Compounding Returns argues, and we second, that buying a fancy car on credit is idiotic. Now if we can only get him to put the dollar sign where it belongs…

Feeling cheery? Roshawn Watson will fix that with this piece on the Fall of the American Democracy. We never squander an opportunity to run a post that contains one of our favorite quotes: “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.”

Money Cone shows you where you can find no-fee ATMs! In fact, the only reason you’d ever have for paying ATM fees is if you’re stuck at Citi headquarters with a Bank of America card! It’s so exciting, we can’t stop using exclamation points! Get that $2 from someone else, you filthy money-lenders!

In the mood for something metaphysical? Be at one with yourself and chew on the ruminations of Net Worth Journey. Determine whether you’re making money for its own sake, or for something else.

Got a lot of time on your hands? Love technical charts? Then take a tasty bite of Arjun Rudra’s interview with a portfolio manager who explains how to take advantage of market cycles at Investing Thesis.

You can only donate so much blood before dying. Promo Code Center introduces you to the even-less-lucrative world of completing online surveys. Promo Code Center bills itself as “a one-stop shop for all your money saving needs”, which might be the least imaginative slogan of all time. Top 4, anyway.

If you’re retarded enough to carry a credit card balance…well, then you’re probably buying lottery tickets right now instead of reading a personal finance blog. Still, if that describes you it’s time to put down the cigarette and give Jim from Bargaineering a listen before scratching out that child-support check. He’ll tell you about cards that offer no-interest balance transfers, which will give you a month of breathing room before you start drowning even further in debt. You’re welcome.

Open an online brokerage account, and you too can make millions trading in your pajamas! Well, not really. Still, Ron from The Wisdom Journal knows that there’s no sense burning precious scratch on broker fees. He’s listed the positives and negatives of some of the big firms.

Regular or decaf? Standard or automatic? Roth 401(k) or traditional? R.J. Weiss at Gen Y Wealth tells you whether it’s better to get taxed at the start of your working life, or at the end.

The prolific and always entertaining Free Money Finance gives you some ideas on how to find fulfillment in a boring job. (We would have used one word. Starts with a q.)

Max out your IRA. Use zero-based budgeting. Have your parents pay for college. Just a few of the financial milestones for your 20s suggested by Crystal at Budgeting In The Fun Stuff.

Should you get the US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa card? Of course not, it comes with a $49 annual fee. For a more detailed “no”, read Credit Card Guru at Credit Card Forum.

A 10% return on dividend income? You can accomplish that too, with the benefit of hindsight. Mark at Buy Like Buffett shows how he would have done it.

The internet makes everything simpler. That’s why Jeri Ford at Help Me Travel Cheap has listed 27 Websites to Visit Before You Book Your Next Vacation. Stay tuned for her next post, 2,145 People To Call Before You Buy A House.

Meanwhile, Craig Ford – also of the Papua New Guinea Fords – explains how to save money with TurboTax at Money Help For Christians. (Yes, they share a household and they blog together. Isn’t that adorable?)

Phil Taylor at PT Money discusses a relatively underreported story – how the major component of payroll withholding taxes has fallen from 6.2% to 4.2% this year. This drop, though temporary, is relatively huge. Yet few wage-earners seem to notice, and why would they when OMG DID YOU KNOW THERE’S A NEW JUDGE ON AMERICAN IDOL THIS YEAR?!?!

Imagine a) clearing $450 monthly after housing expenses yet b) having a housekeeper on the payroll. Apparently such a person exists, and it’s Chris at Dealerity, which we have no idea how to pronounce. Chris admits that he also pays $67 a month for SEO, which is even more than your average grandmother pays for her EarthLink subscription.

In a post sure to excite bank customers in both hemispheres, The Happy Rock announces that ING Direct Will Start Allowing Paper Deposits By Scan. Yes, that’s the title of the post. In a completely unrelated development, ING Direct has a giant ad on his main page. That’s ING Direct. Everybody get that? International Netherlands Group, Direct. Let us spell it for you: I – N – …

No one’s suffering in this economy quite like the poor students and faculty of Harvard University. Jeff at The Wall Street Chalkboard points out that the school’s endowment has fallen to the point where it would rank only 89th in the world as a gross domestic product, ahead of Latvia but behind Jordan. Will Harvard have to drop the Pudding Club? Will incoming freshmen suffer the ignominy of donning poly-blend ascots and synthetic straw bowlers? Put your state-school reading skills to the task and find out.

This is amazing: someone noticed that “cents” and “sense” are homonyms, and made a pun about it! Shawna at Making Money Make Cents (see?) lists 12 ways to kick your debt to the curb. She suggests such radical measures as tracking your spending, selling things you don’t need, working longer hours and buying less. Admit it: none of that sounded glaringly obvious before she suggested it.

When Christ said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, he wasn’t envisioning a 21st-century gargantuan government populated with tens of thousands of micro-Caesars. Jason at Bible Money Matters explains how to render unto the IRS what they’ll let you get away with rendering unto them.

Will you check bags on at least 2 round trips on United or Continental next year? If you answered “no” or “how the hell do I know?”, go to the next item. Otherwise, Tim Chen at Nerd Wallet mentions that the 2 airlines are merging their frequent-flyer programs at the end of the year and are pimping credit cards in the meantime. Continental waives its $85 fee for the first year. If you pay that much for a credit card you’re insane, unless having it means the airline will waive its enormous baggage fees, which Continental does. Also, you get enough miles for a pair of round-trip domestic tickets once you buy something, but it can take 2 months. If you think this is easier and cheaper than using Expedia, knock yourself out.

Fat but ready to rationalize it? Ben at Money Smart Life tells you how to save money on a gym membership. Our suggestion? Join Curves – they’ll let you ride their recumbent bikes with a coffee in one hand and a muffin in the other. You don’t even have to break a sweat! You can sit and talk to your yenta friends about how having a baby ruined your body, even though your kid is now 13 years old.

(Serious aside: one of your hosts has been a Gold’s member for years. A Gold’s manager once remarked that 85% of members, he never sees. They come January 1, they’re gone January 6, they auto-renew, and thank God for them because they keep prices down for the rest of us who actually use our memberships.)

Think our tax system needs simplifying? Well, the taxers themselves are going the other way, thanks. Smart on Money shows how new withholding limits lead to ever-more-complex calculations and possibly less money for you. But hey, it’s for the greater good.

We figured Back Nine Finance had to be written by someone beyond the figurative turn of life. But Bogey is a 26-year old golfer who’s saving for retirement, and speculating about what things would be like if he didn’t.

Feel like paying cash for everything, or at least for more things? Craig at Free From Broke has a guest post with the solution for you: bury your credit in a cryogenic chamber and leave it there.

In Haiti, people ransack garbage cans for tonight’s dinner. But that’s nothing compared to the privations endured by Roy at Cruise Surfing Z, who laments that “in (the) USA and Canada(,) nothing is ever a round figure. It’s always $13.47 or some other stupid arbitrary number that leaves you with a bunch of pennies.” So he put his coins in a jar and they grew to total a few hundred bucks. Sorry to ruin the ending for you.

A blogger with a wry sense of humor and practical advice? Believe it. Jason at Live Real, Now explains a method for saving money, one hidden in plain sight. Heed the man’s words, maybe even the ones about credit card rates.

Apparently they have the internet in Canada. They also have the right attitude toward money, or at least The Passive Income Earner does. Here he explains how while actively earning money is swell, letting the money itself work up a sweat is the more efficient way to go.

“Aisle” never again wonder how the IRS accounts for capital gains tax on stock sales. Not after this post from Eric at Narrow Bridge rescued me from a metaphorical deserted “I’ll.”

The Dividend Guy Blog features his 15 criteria for buying a stock. “Media buzz” and “what I overheard two people discussing in an elevator” are nowhere on the list.

If you don’t know about exchange-traded funds, you’re missing out on a relatively new and interesting investment that can be reasonably easy to get into. Dan at ETF Base breaks down some new ones for 2011.

The answer is “don’t be an idiot, take the lump sum.” The question, posed by Michael at Dough Roller, is Should You Take the Annuity or Lump Sum Payment? Here he gives his contrarian arguments for the annuity.

Working for The Man is miserable enough anyway, so you might as well be among the 72% of workers who go even when they’re sick. Donna Freedman at MSN Money Smart Spending explains how going to work while sick combines the dual objectives of ruining your body and your mind.

“My twice-monthly paycheck has gone up about $350. That’s $700 per month!” Wait…$350, times 2…hey, how about that: she’s right! Jill at My Dollar Plan introduces advanced mathematical concepts to help you determine if you’re indeed falling victim to “lifestyle inflation”.

Planning on retiring on February 3, 2037? How about April 11, 2029? Tim at Grow Rich Simply explains the concept of Target Date Retirement Funds.

If predicting the date of your retirement sounds unduly detailed, how about predicting the date of your death? Check the last 2 digits of your Social Security Number before you read The Intelligent Speculator’s tips on creating a passive income portfolio for when you’re old and cranky.

Actual recommendations of particular stocks? Sure, why not? If you lose all your money and sue us, you get dibs on our hosting account and the packaging materials we mail our books out in. D4L (it stands for “Diggaz For Life”) at Dividends Value is far more interested in regular dividend payments than in the fickle promises of stock appreciation.

Kris Bickell at Debt-Tips says “Whenever I’ve heard people say ‘Money can’t buy happiness…’ my response has always been ‘…then I’ll bet you’ve never struggled with money.'” Our response is usually a little more profane, but the sentiment is the same. He lambastes that dopey survey that said happiness tops out at $75,000 a year (and certainly, none of the researchers who created the study would ever accept $75,001 or more in annual salary. Because that’d just be too much.)

Kim at figured out how to avoid reckless spending. She touches items she’s looking at with only one finger. Apparently she’s serious about this. (Sounds like a good strategy. After all, that’s one more finger than you use to touch items on Amazon and eBay, and no one ever buys from them.)

You’re never going to believe this, but failing to keep track of your money isn’t going to help you build wealth. Kristia at Family Balance Sheet calls herself a “total nerd” for using Quicken. If that’s the case, fit us for the horn-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved dress shirt and anthology of Rush albums.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s a guest post from Tom at Canadian Finance Blog about the buy & hold strategy (or as it’s known in Canada, the “parkade & cutlery” strategy.) Buy & hold isn’t as simple as it sounds – there are actually more than 2 moving parts to the system.

Thanks again to Flexo of Consumerism Commentary for letting us host. Flexo’s own contribution is a list of 7 PF blogs that “continue to provide unbiased, real information, with a personal touch.”

Finally, here’s a recent one of ours on marginal tax rates and how they work.

We hope you liked it. Please exit in an orderly fashion. Next week, visit Taking Charge for a brand-new Carnival. runs on the Genesis Framework

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