Category Archives: News

Crazy, Crazy Gas Prices

Gas prices. I don’t drive a lot, because I live in a small town where everything I need is within about a 10 mile radius. It’s nice, because I really only have to get gas when I go to class (about an hour and a half or so from where I live, every  other month or so) or when I’ve driven a lot for one reason or another. This lack of distance driving has caused my car insurance to go down, which is nice.

But even the way gas prices are hurts quite a bit for someone like me. This past week, gas prices rose to basically $4 a gallon, a price that I really never, ever wanted to see. I remember it happening when I was in college, but somehow I dodged that bullet, because it topped out at about $4.30 a gallon, and then dropped, quite rapidly, to around $2.75. Now, I haven’t seen gas that low in a really, really long time, and, as you can see… it’s back up to $4 again, and I don’t think it’s going to plummet like it did back in… I think it was 2006? I can’t remember.

Political unrest, a bad economy, and a variety of other things can cause the gas prices to go up and down. This current increase in gas prices is likely due to inflation and the world economy being at an all-time low. Thankfully, I live in one of the states where there aren’t a whole ton of taxes on it (PA) but when I lived in the northern part of the state, I would drive through New York from time to time. And the gas prices? 30 or 40 cents higher. Yeah, you always got your gas in PA if you were expecting to go up to New York for anything.

One of the other things that I’ve done is invest my money in a motorized scooter (not a mo-ped… it doesn’t have pedals). I spent about $450 on it (including the title over to me; I bought it from a friend so it was really cheap), and since I bought it last summer, it totally paid for itself. I have filled my gas tank once since June; I’ve driven the moped more than the car this summer, and to not be filling my tank up? Best thing ever.

Also, I try not to drive when I can walk or carpool. Walking’s just plain good for you, and taking turns with people allows for all of us to save money on gas in the long run. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved in a carpool. Less money on gas? Best scenario.

What do you think about the sudden increase in gas costs? What are you doing in order to have it make less of an impact on your wallet? Or do you just kind of deal with the whole thing and go on with your life as you always have? Share some of your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Groupon Company Woes

I love coupons. I love discounts, I love all of those different things. Don’t you? We all like ways to save money. There are tons of ways to save money in the midst of this rough economy, and people have been getting really creative. One way that a lot of people have been saving big money is via group coupon websites, like Groupon.

This past March was my 27th birthday. My best friend and her husband wanted to take me to something fun for my birthday. They live near DC, so her husband, the forever frugal one (not like I can talk), started to look for good deals on museums and stuff. Finally, they dragged me all over DC via the metro until we got to the International Spy Museum. It is possibly the coolest thing that I have ever seen, and my best friend’s husband got us in for a third of the price because of Groupon.

If you don’t know about companies like Groupon, they basically offer a myriad of discounts from a huge pool of merchants. You sign up for the site and subscribe according to your geographic region. Then, your deals are tailored especially for your region, emailed to you every single day. There are only a limited number of each offer available daily. One time, I spent $5 on a $20 gift card. It can be really awesome when you snatch the good deals!

On the outside, stuff looks to be going pretty well for Groupon. The website is popular, people are snatching up some pretty sweet deals, and they’re making a good amount of money,  The group coupon company reported a $46.5 million dollar profit in the second quarter of 2012, amid a lack of investment in infrastructure and technology.

But, behind the scenes, there’s a bit of a mess. There are about 12,000 employees that work for the company; 45% of those employees are salespeople, and a lot of those sales people are disgruntled. They are making anonymous claims on other websites about “outrageous sales goals” and “over-crowded territories.” These complaints are getting more and more frequent, and morale is also down because shares aren’t trading as high as expected. Groupon’s stock during the first quarter was trading at 63% less than the expected $20 a share. Ouch.

Hopefully, this all straightens out. A lot of people swear by Groupon’s deals and watch the website religiously to snatch up whatever deals that they can. Groupon has also added a “like” option in order to personalize your deals even further. There should be sunny days ahead, but with employee morale down, it could spell tragedy for the popular company.

What do you think of Groupon and other group coupon pages? Do you see why their sales people are frustrated, or do you think they’ll bounce back? Leave some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Most Expensive States

I’ve shared on here before that I live in Pennsylvania. PA has a high population of older adults (as proven by the fact that I have 2 retirement communities within a 2 mile radius of my house). Last I knew, the only state with more is, obviously, Florida. I could be wrong, like I said, it was the last I knew. I’ve always found this absolutely fascinating, by the way, especially because Pennsylvania gets really cold in the winter. Maybe it’s because the PA lottery helps older Pennsylvanians? I have no idea.

Because of the high number of retirees and the number of people who live in large cities (Philly and Pittsburgh), the cost of living in Pennsylvania isn’t that high. I’m usually fairly comfortable with my low income, and rental prices are pretty decent around here.

The other day, CNBC put out one of their slideshows talking about the most expensive states that you could live in in 2012. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised about many of them. I have friends who live in most of those states,

Most of these states are in the northeast. Look at them. Multiple states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic. Pennsylvania isn’t on this list, but almost every state that touches PA is. I’ve always known New England and New York to be expensive, and New Jersey makes sense because of the large number of commuters to NYC. And the fact that you can’t pump your own gas. Well, maybe that doesn’t have anything to do with it, cause Jersey gas is cheaper. I don’t know.

Alaska and Hawaii are pricey. Part of the reason for this has to be because of the fact that its expensive to get stuff out there. I talked on another blog I write for about a PR campaign that Taco Bell did by bringing 10,000 Doritos Locos tacos to Alaska after a big scam had gone on telling residents of a small Alaskan town that they were getting a Taco Bell. It’s just too expensive to try and get cheap food and such to these crazy remote places.

- My only surprise: Connecticut is the most expensive behind Hawaii and Alaska. I really, really thought that it would be New York City. But, Connecticut is a popular state to live in; I’m not surprised, it’s beautiful and the job market is halfway decent compared to other states. Sounds like it may be worth the higher cost of living to those who live there.

Do you live in any of these states? Have you seen some of the pains of living in these high-cost states? Do you live in a state that you think should have been on CNBC’s list? Why? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Shopping for Health Care

It’s getting ever closer to that time that every American needs to have health insurance. Guess what? I’m one of those Americans that is still sitting around and wondering where mine’s going to come from. I am in the process of getting it, but I have a preexisting condition that will make it a lot more difficult for me than it is for other people. Some people have insurance with their job, but what about the self-employed or the part time workers? Yeah, this is going to be a chore.

Here are some tips on how to shop for health care.

Research state policies. Different states have different laws as to whether or not someone can be accepted or denied for health insurance. Different health conditions (including kidney stones in California… odd)  can prevent you from getting cheap insurance. Children cannot be denied for these reasons, but adults still can.

Check out specifics. A plan may have a low premium, but does it do what you may need it to? Some plans only provide the minimum. Here are some specifics.

-          Deductable: This is the amount of money that you pay before the insurance begins to kick in. If you’re paying $50 a month, but your deductable is  $10,000, is that really worth the low cost?

-          Co-payments: How much are these? If you have to go to the doctor regularly and your co-pay is $20, it’s totally worth it, but if it’s $75, is it?

-          Annual out-of-pocket cost: Some insurances keep track of how much you spend, including prescriptions and co-pays. They start to cover everything that is covered by the plan, no co-pays, after this point. How high or low is this?

-          What does it cover? Does it cover any doctor you’d have to go to? Emergencies? Dental? How’s the prescription plan? What about surgery? Cancer? All of these are important to check out.

-          Preexisting conditions: Health care laws prevent insurances from denying you for these, but they haven’t stopped companies from charging people a heck of a lot more because of them.

-          Annual Benefits: Some companies cap your benefits at a certain amount a year.

-          Is it short term or long term? Some insurances only last a year or so, whereas others have you renew annually.

Is public health care an option? There are several programs, including COBRA, which you may be eligible for depending on your financial status, your family size, and other criteria depending on the state that you live in. Also, all children under the age of 18 are required to be covered by insurance, so if it’s causing your family a burden to pay for all of your insurances, check your state’s programs out.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be specific in what you need, what you have, and what you want. Sadly, a lot of insurance companies are just out to make a dollar, and if you don’t pry, you may not get the information that you want or need to have until it’s too late.

How’s that health insurance search going for you? Hopefully better than it is for me! Have a great week and we’ll see you here next week!

Some Problems with my Money Market Account

percentman.jpg

It looks like my money market account’s interest is finally stabilizating at 4.50%, which is .4% lower than the last time I had mentioned my money market account which is over at gmacbank. Which is okay with me, not like I’m happy that it went down but the amount of money in my account right now doesn’t make any significance difference losing that .4%. Losing the interest rates is all handy and dandy but today I encounter something that was more of a worry than just losing some interest rates.

For the most part, I try to stay away from checking my investment accounts as much as possible because then I would not be inclined to touch or do anything with the account but yesterday I checked my account and I’m glad that I did. As I was going over my account summary, I realized that there has not been to much activity going on in the account. Thats mainly because I haven’t been putting any thing into my account, so the only thing in my statement was my interest rates that were credit into my account for the past 4 months. While looking over the statement, it made me realize that I was actually making some decent money and I thought to myself, “wow, I’m glad that I had started this account a while back. Look at all this interest it’s making and how much I would have been missing out on”. But thats when I realized and said, “wait a minute, these numbers don’t seem to be adding up right”. Then after careful review of the account summary, I was right, they weren’t adding up right. Each month was credited some money from the interest rate but was not the full amount that month had earned.

Now what I am to think. There has got to be an explanation right? I mean, gmac bank is a pretty big online banking firm and I doubt that they’re trying to cheat me out of my money so I decided to give them a friendly call to see what the problem was. Maybe it was some kind of a monthly fee I didn’t know about?

So I called them up and this woman answers. The conversation was pretty quick, after giving her all my account info and my security questions, the conversation went something like this:

Me:” So I was looking over my account summary for my money market account and noticed that my interest rates weren’t adding up, whats the issue here”?

Gmac representative: “Okay, let me take a look at it.”

(Silence and some keyboard tapping noises…)

Gmac representative:”Hmmm…this is pretty interesting. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here. Let me take out a calculator to verify that they’re not adding up.”

now I’m thinking…wow. Its an obvious miscalculation, I mean you can look at the credited number and see that it doesn’t add up ( kinda like you know 1+1 is not going to be a two digit number)

me:” …ok”.

(more silence and some calculator tapping noises…)

Gmac representative:”wow, you’re right. It doesn’t add up. I’m really not sure what’s going on here.”

Me:”So it’s not any kind of fees that maybe you’re deducting each month?”

Gmac representative:”No, when we deduct fees, we list them as such. What we’ll have to do is put in an investigation ticket in and someone from the department will contact you within 2-3 business days”.

Me:”…oh…ok”.

Gmac representative:” Is there anything else I can help you with”?

Me:” No”

So that was pretty surprising. I mean, even if the interest rates don’t add up to that much, its the trust thats the issue here. Whether it’s two dollars or two hundred dollars, money is money. I’m not sure what would have happened if I didn’t call them about this issue. How long would it have taken until it was fixed or would it ever have gotten fixed? I’m not so sure.

I’m curious, has anyone else experience anything like this before? Maybe you might want to check your investment accounts and see if your interests are adding up.

[Photo]

My Money Market

percentage.jpg

So today I decided to take a look at my Money Market account, which I usually try to check only once a month, and saw that the interest rate went from 5.30% to 4.90%. I was surprised that my initial reaction wasn’t disappointment but rather quite passive. There was a point in time where I used to think that every one hundredth of a percent counted and mattered and that I would find the best money market account accordingly. But the truth is, unless you have a nice amount of money, say a million dollars, it really doesn’t matter too much.

I think people who are new to finance and just started saving have this same problem just as I did. People are always looking to get the highest percentage rate on their interest, but the thing is, the percentage rate really doesn’t matter unless you’re dealing with substantial amount of money. Instead of concentrating on trying to find an account that offers a percent higher than the current one you’re considering, you should put that energy into concentrating on how to stay saving for more than 3 months. Most Americans fall short on their savings goals, I don’t have a percentage rate to offer you but I’m sure its quite high. The personal savings rate in the United States is a negative number, but majority of Americans think of themselves as people who “always look for ways to save money“.

So back to the money market account, lets do a quick example to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

For the sake of my story, lets use my interest rate(in case you were wondering, my account is with Gmacbank) at 4.90%, which used to be at 5.30%. We’ll say account 1 has $5,000 and account 2 has $500,000. Lets crunch some numbers.

Account 1($5,000):
In one year, at 4.90%, this would make $245/year ($20.42/month).
Now at 5.30%, we get $265/year ($22.08/month).
So not a huge difference eh? Just 20 more bucks a year or $1.66 a month. I somehow doubt I’ll even notice this small difference. Now account 2 on the other hand…

Account 2($500,000):
In one year with 4.90%, this account would make $24,500/year ($2,041.66/month).
At 5.30%, this account would be $26,500/year ($2,208.33/month).
Now in this case, the difference is quite notable. This account dropping by as little as .4% makes a difference of $2,000/year and $166.67. If I was in this case, my reaction most probably would have been quite different than that of today.

The point I’m trying to make is don’t worry about the percentages now and focus more on getting our accounts to $500,000. Lets continue saving and worry about the minor details later. Chances are, you don’t have $500,000 so percentage rate is not going to help you become rich, well at least not now. The idea of saving on the other hand is a complete different story.

Quick note: If you are looking for a place to put your money into for savings and also concerned with not having to worry about commitment, then you should really consider looking into getting a money market account. I strongly suggest going with Gmacbank. I’m not saying this because they’re paying me or anything like that but just from my personal experience, they really have it well together. They are really helpful each time I call and all my calls end with the feeling of satisfaction. For more information, you can go here.

[Photo]

Upcoming Edition of the Carnival of Money Stories

Hey guys, I’m going to be hosting the next edition of the Carnival of Money Stories #13 here at Moneywalks, so if you have any money stories please submit here.

Also, please keep in mind that you should only submit articles that are stories or experience dealing with finances. I’ve already received tons of articles that were just personal finance and has no personal experience/stories behind it and I’m going to have to reject for the carnival.

Anyway, have a great weekend and check back on monday for the upcoming carnival.

Happy Memorial Day

I hope everyone had a great Memorial weekend. With school finally over for the semester, I’m definitely ready for summer to kick off. I know I have been quite dormant with my posts but since I’m finally out of school I can spend a lot more time on the site.

Happy Memorial day.

Saving Money Update

Recently I have been so busy with school preparing for these final exams and projects it’s been quite difficult to keep up with my site. I know that I have to set my priorities straight and school is definitely on the top of the list. Aside from the obvious reason why school should be placed as top priority, let me list some other reasons why keeping up with school helps me save more money(or even make money).

  1. I’m on a full scholarship which pays for tuition and fees, room and board and even as far as all my school supplies including my books. In order to keep this I need to maintain a semester and cumulative G.P.A of 3.6.
  2. Aside from the full scholarship, which is provided from the school, I also receive some scholarships and grants from the government. This extra money is then turned into a refund check and I get to pocket all of it, each semester! I usually get somewhere between 1,250 to 1,750.
  3. If for some reason I don’t graduate on time, I would have to pay for whatever credits I need in order to graduate because my scholarship only covers for 4 years.

So for the next two weeks (until exams are over), I still may not be able to post as frequently as I like to due to crazy hours spent at the library. Believe me when I say, I’m ready for summer and looking forward to full time blogging.

Good News: last week I was able to pay off a little over a thousand dollars off of my credit card. Woot! Right now it’s at an even three thousand dollars. Looking at my current funds, I may be able to pay off some more next week. I’ll keep try to keep you updated and post my total credit card debt sometime next week.

Five Cent Nickel is Giving Away Ipods!

nano_family.jpgThis past Tuesday was Five Cent Nickel‘s second year anniversary and he is celebrating by giving away free ipods! There is a total of 5 prizes and here is the list of goodies from 1st to 5th:

  1. iPod nano (2GB)
  2. iPod shuffle (1GB)
  3. USB Microdrive (5GB)
  4. Encyclopedia of Financial Planning
  5. Time is Money

He has laid out simple rules for contest and you can enter just by submitting a comment on the post(don’t forget to tell a friend). Aside from entering the contest, his site offer tremendous amount of good valuable content. Definitely one of my favorite blog sites. So if you have not been to his site, take this opportunity to visit his welcome page and subscribe to his feed. The deadline for the contest is may 11th.