How to save money on shaving

Today is a quick tip on how to save some money on a product many of us use at least a few times a week – razors.

Dorco razor

I don’t like cheap disposable razors, so for years I was using expensive razors such as the Gillette Fusion or similar blades. For the Gillette Fusion razor handle with 1 cartridge you will pay $9.99 on Amazon, and for a pack of 8 blades it is $29.96, or $3.74 per blade.

I was thinking about checking out Dollar Shave Club a while back, then I found out that their razors are Dorco razors. Why not go right to the source?

I have been using Dorco razors for a while now, and they are, by far, the best razors I have ever used.

For their 3 blade system the handle with 2 cartridges it is $6, and a pack of 4 blades is $7.15, or $1.79 per blade.

$3.74 per blade vs. $1.79 per blade – that’s a big difference!

You can regularly find coupons for 20% off that, as well. For example, this link will save 20%:

http://dorcousa.refr.cc/CT7LL7F

Bonus Tip: To make blades last longer, and for the best shave ever with no nicks, cuts or razor burn, I recommend Shave Secret.

I’ve been using it for several years now and it is the best stuff ever.

shave secretYou can find it online, on Amazon and at Wal-mart.

Droids or Tax Time?

Have you started receiving forms with names that sound like droids from Star Wars?

I’m fairly certain that all these droids will be in Star Wars episode 18:

  • W-2
  • 1099
  • 1098
  • W-4P

That can only mean one of two things. Droids are finally making their long awaited arrival on Earth, or it is tax time.

Droids or Tax Time

 

Just in case it is tax time, here are some answers to common questions to help make tax season a little less taxing.

1. How early can I file my taxes?

Wait to file your taxes until you have ALL the tax forms. This includes W-2s, 1099s, Interest statements, etc. Employers and companies have until January 31 to send you everything, so you should have everything shortly after that. Make a list of what you should receive and wait to start until you have it. The most common forms are:

  • Form W-2: You should receive one from each of your employers
  • Form 1098: If you paid interest on a home or student loan or paid college tuition you will receive a 1098
  • Form 1099-DIV: If you received dividends, distributions or capital gains on any investments, watch for one of these to grace your mailbox
  • Form 1099-INT: Any interest paid to you, such as interest on a CD or bank account, will be reported on this form.
  • 1099-MISC: If you did work as an independent contractor you’ll get one of these.
  • If you donated to a charity they will either provide you a receipt when you donated, or an end of year statement.

There’s other forms as well, but those are some of the most common ones.

Here’s a great printable checklist from TurboTax:

http://images.turbotax.intuit.com/iqcms/marketing/lib/TurboTax_TaxPrepChecklist.pdf

 

2. Should I file my own taxes or have someone do it for me?

There’s a few different ways you can file your taxes:

  • On paper
    • I don’t recommend this – calculations can be complicated
  • Software such as TaxAct, TurboTax or H&R Block at home
    • As long as you use top-rated software you’ll find it’s intuitive and simple. You’ll enter your tax forms in and the software will search for possible errors. I personally use TaxAct.
  • Discount tax preparation services, such as H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt
    • These companies have their place, but can be expensive. Their tax preparers are trained, but basically use similar software that you can use on your own. If you want the peace of mind from having someone do your taxes, this can be a good option.
  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) or Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE)
    • VITA and TCE volunteers are IRS-certified and will file your taxes for free. You read that correct. It’s free, and there’s no catch. VITA is available for anyone that makes under $54,000, and TCE is available for those over age 60. You can find them here: https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-for-You-by-Volunteers. Both VITA and TCE tend to fill up quickly, and many are first-come, first-served.
  • Accountant or CPA
    • Unless you run a business you probably don’t need an accountant or CPA to prepare your return. I have several small businesses, and we still file our own, but if your business starts to move beyond small you should work with the accountant or CPA throughout the year.

3. What is the due date to file my tax return?

It’s normally April 15, but this year it is Tuesday, April 18. Why? The 15th is a Saturday, and anytime tax day falls on a weekend it is pushed to Monday. However on Monday the 17th Washington DC has a holiday (Emancipation Day), therefore tax day gets moved to the next business day.

 

To close up this week’s article, I strongly encourage you to check out one of the VITA sites if you make less than $54,000 a year. Almost anyone who uses a discount tax preparer could have their taxes filed for free instead.

One last note – don’t ever get a Tax Refund Anticipation Loan. Companies will offer to give you your tax refund right then, for a fee that ranges between $30 and $150. Don’t fall for it – if you file electronically you’ll have your refund in 1-2 weeks.

What I Learned from my Dishwasher about the Power of Focus

dishwasher-focusWe run our dishwasher each night and one of the kids empties it in the morning. A while back we decided we wanted to leave our dishwasher open a bit during the day to let it air out. Our children decided to make it a game to see how long we could go before someone shut it all the way, which turned off the green “clean” light on the front.

The first day someone shut it shortly after it was emptied. The next few days it was shut before noon. The kids, determined to keep the light on later, were really diligent and would remind anyone by the dishwasher not to shut it. The next few days we made it later and later until one day, when I started the dishwasher around 11 PM, the light was still on.

The next day the same thing happened and since then we’ve only closed it all the way during the day a time or two.

Now clearly this is a minor thing and this post is not about the virtues of leaving your dishwasher open a bit[1]. As the title of the article says, it is about the power of focus. This experience with the dishwasher got me thinking about how we were able to change a habit and achieve a goal by focusing.

How can you use this idea to achieve on your major goals? Focus on them. Here are some ideas:

  • Read and even re-write your goals each morning
  • Look at your goals and think about them during the day
  • Journal about your progress
  • Fall asleep focusing on your goals
  • Create a vision board and screensaver with a picture of your goals

Just as the Proverb says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7), or as Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think, you become” or Emerson, “You become what you think about all day long.”

Focus on and think about your goals and you will eventually achieve them.

 

[1] It turns out this is a good practice, though: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/keep-dishwasher-building-up-mold-61036.html

Knowledge is not power. It is the wise application of knowledge that is power.

It’s been said that knowledge is power, but all of us, including me, have knowledge about something we should (or shouldn’t) be doing, but we fail to take action. Knowledge is neither wisdom nor power. It is simply knowledge until it is applied.

Here’s an example. I know I shouldn’t eat refined sugar. It is addicting, fattening, a depressant, it causes inflammation, leads to aggressive behavior, anxiety, fatigue and even cancer. I know all of that, but I continue to eat it.[i] I’ve cut back, but I still eat it.

People know that riding in a car without a seat belt or driving a motorcycle without a helmet leads to an increased chance of dying in an accident. But they still drive without a seat belt or without a helmet.

The Surgeon General has warned us for years that smoking is hazardous to your health, yet millions of people still smoke.

We think the odds are in our favor. I won’t get cancer from sugar. I won’t be in a life-threatening accident. I won’t get lung cancer.

It would probably take a trained psychologist to work out all the issues around these statements and thoughts, but the fact is that we know, deep down, that we should change.

The same is true of our finances. Personal finance is mostly common sense. Use a budget, get out of debt, save for the future, insure for major losses and plan for emergencies. We have the knowledge, it’s the execution that is lacking. If you fail to take action, though, you are going to wind up broke and frustrated.

The challenge today is simple. Turn your knowledge into power through wise application. Pick an area of your personal finances that you need to make a change in. Maybe it’s reigning in your fast food spending. Perhaps it is finally setting up a budget. Maybe you need to take a step to protect your identity. Do it today! Add it to your to-do list and get it done.

power

[i] Sorry if I ruined Halloween, but all of these things are true…

Identity Theft Monitoring and Insurance Plans

In my last post I discussed identity theft – what it is and how to prevent it.

What about identity theft monitoring or insurance? Does it make sense to purchase it?

An important note up front – no product or company can protect you from having your information stolen. The most common way your data is stolen is through data breaches. If you have a Yahoo account, for example, some of your data has already been stolen and, as we have learned recently, it has probably been sold several times over.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to secure your information better (see last post for ideas), but having identity theft “insurance” doesn’t prevent your data from being stolen any more than having auto insurance keeps you from being involved in an accident.

Let’s take a look at each of the various types of identity theft protection – monitoring, insurance and recovery.

MONITORING SERVICES

Monitoring services alert you when someone else might be using your information. Services generally include:

  • Tracking activity on your credit report
  • Sending you an alert when your personal information (bank account, Social Security number, driver’s license number, passport or medical ID) is being used
  • Access to credit reports and/or scores

No company or service can monitor all activity on all websites and merchants, but most of these companies do their best to monitor your personal information at as many places as possible.

IDENTITY THEFT INSURANCE

Identity theft insurance pays for out-of-pocket expenses incurred for recovery, which may include:

  • Postage, copying and notary fees
  • Less often, lost wages and legal fees

A few important notes about identity theft insurance:

  • This type of insurance almost never covers stolen money or other financial losses
  • There is generally a deductible
  • There is no payout if the loss is covered by any other types of insurance, such as homeowner’s or renter’s insurance
  • The majority of people who are involved in identity theft have almost no out-of-pocket losses. Most people pay little to nothing to copy or print things at home, postage is cheap and notary services are usually free at your bank. By the time your deductible kicks in you are unlikely to gain anything.

RECOVERY SERVICES

Recovery services help you deal with the effects of identity theft after it happens. Services generally include:

  • Assigning a case manager to help you work through the process
    • With some plans you actually grant authority for the case manager to act in your name, with others they guide you through the process
  • Placing a fraud alert on your credit file
  • Placing a security freeze on your credit file
  • Helping you prepare letters to send to collectors
  • Closing any tampered or fake accounts and opening new ones

Let’s take a look at two specific companies – LifeLock and Zander Insurance.

LifeLock[i]

Standard protection is $10 a month or $109 annually. Prices go up to $29.95 a month for premium services.

Basic services include:

  • Website surveillance
  • Cancel credit cards if stolen
  • Send alerts when your information is being used
  • Replace stolen funds up to $250,000 (only what the bank won’t replace)
  • Spend up to $1,000,000 on lawyers, accountants or others to restore your previous status

Zander Insurance

Zander is $75 year ($6.76 a month) for an individual or $145 a year ($13 a month) for family protection.

Zander operates their protection plan on the premise that financial identity theft is only one of more than 15 types of identity theft. There is also Social Security, criminal, employment, medical, tax refund and other types of fraud, many of which won’t be discovered by monitoring. In many cases you won’t know you have been a victim until you get a letter from the IRS or a doctor bill or even a warrant for your arrest.

Their focus is on identity theft recovery. Services provided include:

  • Up to $1,000,000 reimbursement for any stolen bank funds or unauthorized electronic funds transfer (only what the bank won’t replace)
  • Unlimited legal fees if needed
  • $0 deductible
  • Contact banks, bureaus, insurance companies and doctors for you

What I Recommend

No strategy is perfect, but this is my plan:

  • Use CreditKarma.com for monitoring (they send me an e-mail anytime something changes on my credit report)
  • Use YNAB (youneedabudget.com) to review my bank and credit card transactions daily
  • Shred any documents with financial or personal information
  • Use https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ to stop receiving most pre-screened credit card offers
  • Put a security freeze on my credit bureau reports
  • Check one credit report every 4 months on annualcreditreport.com
  • Copy the front and back of all cards in my wallet
  • Use a service such as LastPass.com to manage and use different, secure passwords on each website
  • If my wallet is stolen or I am a victim of a breach place a 90-day fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts
  • Sign up for Zander’s plan for recovery services (I believe it is worth the $145 a year for the services they will provide)

If you have taken all of these steps but choose not to sign up for recovery services, the FTC has created a new website that will help you recover. It generates pre-filled letters and walks you through exactly what you need to do to recover. You can find the website at http://www.identitytheft.gov.

 

 

Identity Theft Protection

[i] For both LifeLock and Zander be sure to review their services before signing up. Services may have changed since this article was written.

Identity Theft is Not a Joke Jim!

Watch this first:

Identity theft really is a problem that affects millions of people each year. It causes untold numbers of hours and dollars to fix the problems.

While it is impossible to stop all identity theft, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself better.

Shred Documents with Your Personal Information

You should shred any document from a financial institution, any pre-approved credit card offers, and any other documents with your personal information on it. Shredders that shred in long strips don’t work – thieves can tape together the strips (and will tape them together) and get your information or apply for credit. Some sites suggest simply tearing up and throwing away pre-approved credit card offers. Does that work? Check out this site for your answer:

http://www.cockeyed.com/citizen/creditcard/application.shtml

Use a cross-cut shredder to make sure it is fully destroyed.

Opt-out of Receiving Pre-Screened Credit Card Offers

On the website https://www.optoutprescreen.com/ you can opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit card offers. Eliminating these from your mailbox is one less thing for thieves to be able to steal.

Protect Your Social Security Number

Don’t carry anything with your Social Security number printed on it. Check your wallet or purse to see if you are carrying your social security card OR any other item with your Social Security number printed on it. Thieves really only need this one piece of information to steal your identity, so taking steps to keep it safe will help you keep your identity safe.

Don’t reply to “Phishing” E-mails

Never reply to e-mails for requests for any personal information, even if it looks like it is coming from your bank. Your bank will never request personal information via e-mail.

Put a Credit Freeze on Your Credit Report

One of the most effective things you can do to protect your identity is to freeze your credit. A credit freeze prevents the information in your credit file from being reported to anyone.

If a thief does steal your identity they can’t open new credit because your record is frozen. This will also prevent you from opening new credit unless you plan ahead and “unthaw” your credit report for a period of time.  Credit freezes and unthaws do cost money, but think of the money spent like an insurance policy. Here are the websites to freeze your credit report:

https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

http://www.experian.com/consumer/security_freeze.html

Check Your Credit Report

It is important that you check your credit report on a regular basis. You can get one free copy of each of your credit reports annually by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. A strategy I use is to check one of the reports every 4 months – that way I am checking it out on a regular basis. If there are any errors or accounts you don’t recognize you need to take steps right away to get it taken care of.

Pay with Cash

A while back I got a call at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday from the Fraud Department at my bank. My credit card number had been used for an online purchase that seemed uncharacteristic (it was a Jewish dating site), and the Fraud Department was calling to find out if my wife or I had used our card there. We had not, so they immediately closed down the card and issued a new number. When we tried to figure out how it happened we realized that the most likely scenario was when we used our debit card the last time we ate out. When the waiter/waitress takes your card and disappears with it for 2-3 minutes it is easy for them to snap a photo of the front and back using their cell phone. We now pay with cash anytime we eat out.

To review, you can help prevent identity theft I recommend that you:

  • Shred documents with your personal information
  • Opt-out of receiving pre-screened credit card offers
  • Protect your Social Security number
  • Don’t reply to “Phishing” e-mails
  • Put a credit freeze on your credit report
  • Check your credit report
  • Pay with cash

What about identity theft insurance? Is it worth the cost? I’ll review what it is and my opinion about it in my next post.

 

How to Protect Yourself from Banking Fraud

wellsfargoBy now you’ve probably heard about Wells Fargo and the $190 million fine they are being issued because their employees created more than 2 million unwanted deposit accounts and credit cards for their customers. Because of the scandal 5,300 employees have lost their jobs. Wells Fargo customers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for these unwanted accounts.

Why did the employees create fake accounts?

The employees are paid an incentive for every new account or credit card they opened. They might get $3 for signing someone up for online banking, or $5 to open a savings account, or $20 if they open a new credit card. Imagine the incentive there – if an employee making minimum wage could open 2-3 new cards a day, that makes a big difference in how much they take home.

How did so many accounts get opened without customer’s knowing about it?

Some customers did notice, and they would get the accounts closed. Others probably noticed, but didn’t take the time to get them closed. Others probably didn’t notice it. Far too many people don’t really pay attention to their accounts or even their balances.

Let’s put a few things in perspective

  • 5,300 employees are a tiny portion of Wells Fargo’s workforce. They have 265,000 employees, so 5,300 is only 2% of their work force. Also, the firings took place over several years, not just today as most news stories are indicating. The majority of Wells Fargo employees are honest and wouldn’t do something like this. Will they encourage you to open a credit card? Sure. They might take home $20 if they can convince you, but most of them would never dream of opening one up for you after you said you weren’t interested.
  • $190 million means nothing to Wells Fargo. They are worth $250 billion, so $190 million is only .076% of the bank’s net worth. If you have a net worth of $200,000 a fine of .076% would be $152. Annoying? Sure. But it isn’t going to cause any trouble to your budget or your net worth. Some people have asked if the fine is high enough. It probably isn’t.
  • Wells Fargo has agreed to change their sales practices and provide more oversight, and anyone who paid fines or fees will receive a full refund.
  • Many banks offer their employees these types of incentives. The more accounts a person has with a bank the more tied in they are, and the harder it is to leave. Employees are incentivized for helping tie you in with that bank for life.

What can you do to protect yourself?

There are a few simple steps you can take:

  • Watch your accounts. Be sure to check your accounts regularly to make sure nothing is being charged or added to your accounts.
  • Keep things simple. You don’t need 12 accounts at 9 different banks in the area. You should have one main bank. If you have little accounts open at other banks because you got a free toaster for opening an account, get them closed.
  • Switch to a local credit union. Credit unions are owned by their members, and they charge fewer and lower fees and will give you better rates on loans. You can also get to know the managers. Most of them are happy to meet with their members and will help you out if there is a problem.
  • There is no reason for you to pay any maintenance fees on your checking or savings accounts. There are plenty of credit unions and banks that have free checking and savings accounts with no minimum balance requirements and no limit on the number of transactions you can make per month.

I encourage you to be proactive about your banking by taking these simple steps to protect yourself.

And if you have a Wells Fargo account, pull up your online banking and make sure no accounts were opened for you that you didn’t want or ask for. Check for fines and fees you shouldn’t have paid. They will be contacting their customers to let them know how to get a refund.

 

Picture credit: http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/wells-fargo-go-go/

How to Pay Yourself First

By Ryan H. Law

Jim Rohn

Business philosopher Jim Rohn taught that, “Poor people spend their money and save what’s left, while rich people save their money then spend what’s left.”

It’s familiar advice that we’ve all heard:

Pay yourself first.

Pay yourself first is one of the most repeated phrases about personal finances. One of my favorite financial books, “The Richest Man in Babylon”, which was originally published in 1926, repeats over and over the idea that, “a part of all I earn is mine to keep.”

But how do we actually do this? Today’s post will give you a few ideas to begin to implement this.

  1. Contribute to your 401(k)If you have a 401(k) (or similar plan) available at work, this is one of the easiest ways to pay yourself first. Not only that, but in most cases this contribution will be pre-tax and will lower your tax bill.

    If you have a “match” from your employer, you aren’t just paying yourself first, you are, in many cases, at least doubling your savings. If you contribute 3% and your employer matches that, you are actually saving 6%.

  2. Contribute to a Roth IRAIf you are eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, it can be a great investment. Many mutual fund companies, such as Vanguard, T. Rowe Price and Fidelity, will allow you to set up an automatic transfer from your paycheck or bank account. You can often start with as little as $25 a month.
  3. Have a set amount (ideally 10%) transferred out of your checking account and deposited in a savings accountIf your bank doesn’t allow this option, check with your employer. In most cases your employer will allow you to allow a certain amount, or a certain percentage, to go to different accounts. You can direct 10% to go to savings and the remaining amount to go to your primary checking account.

    If 10% is too much, start smaller. Start with 1% or ½ of 1%. See https://ryanhlaw.com/one-small-step/ for more information about starting small.

Pay Yourself First

Automate Your Finances

A good part of financial success is setting up systems that will ensure success.

Something simple you can do is automate a few key things. Automating your finances is one of those systems that will help you be successful. Here are some examples:

  • Have your paycheck direct depositedDirect Deposit

    Many employers default to direct deposit – you have to put in a special request to get a paper check. Direct deposit is generally available in your account the same day the deposit is made and it costs less in time for both you and your employer. If your employer doesn’t offer this service, encourage them to set it up. With many accounting software packages, such as QuickBooks, direct deposit is included as a free add-on.

  • Set up as many of your bills as possible on automatic bill paybill pay

    There are two ways to do this – either set up the bill to get paid directly out of your account each month (generally charged to a credit or debit card) or you can pay through your bank’s online bill pay.We pay all of our regular monthly bills, such as the electric and gas bill, Netflix, our mortgage and others by having the payment charged to our debit card. It pulls out the same amount each month, and I can set it up once and forget it. It also ensures that we will never be late on these payments and get hit with a late fee.

    For other payments that don’t have this feature I pay them through our bank’s bill-pay system. Our children attend a local children’s choir, for example, and they don’t offer direct bill pay, so I log in to my bank when I get the bill and send the payment off. You don’t even have to pay for postage if you use this method!

  • Have a set amount (ideally 10%) transfer from checking to savings when your paycheck is deposited.Pay Yourself First

    You can either have your bank do this automatically or if your bank doesn’t offer this service, you can often have your paycheck split into several accounts. My employer, for example, will allow me to put different percentages of my paycheck into different accounts. By doing this you are “paying yourself first.” Jim Rohn once said that poor people spend their money and save what’s left, while rich people save their money then spend what’s left. Make the savings portion automatic, then spend what you have left.[1]

These three simple tips can help ensure your success with your finances. Choose one you aren’t currently doing and get it set up today.


 

[1] This does not count, of course, for cases of extreme poverty, but the vast majority of people reading my blog could adopt the idea of paying yourself first. If 10% is too much, start with just 1%, or even just ½ of 1%! Are you going to build up much money saving just 1%? No, but that’s not the point. The point is starting the habit, then building it up over time. See https://ryanhlaw.com/one-small-step/ for more ideas about starting small.