Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas!

A fiscally responsible holiday is my wish for you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Stock Ups and Downs

I'm not going to make a habit of looking at single stocks, but Starbucks (SBUX) is trading just a few cents above its 52-week low. Read the reports, do your research, but if you like the company, it's a good time to buy.

I like to buy and hold. I don't like to fuss with my stocks, so I choose funds or individual stocks that I will want to hold for at least five years. When you're buying securities, it's important to know why you're buying, what your plans are for that money, and how long you plan to hold the security.

It's a good practice to sit down with your end of year financial report and really look at it. What did you sell and why? Was that decision in keeping with your overall goals? What did you buy and why? Again, double-check that your decisions agree with your goals. Sometimes during the year, a stock report or an article in the Business section of the newspaper might inspire you to make an impulsive decision. Make sure that those impulses aren't costing your portfolio money.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Eat Simply Eat Well

Food is an expense that can easily get out of hand. Forget to shop for dinner, heck, just order some pizza. If that is happening to you more than, say, once a month, your food budget could skyrocket.

It's not that hard to eat well on a budget. But it does take some work. Some cost-conscious folks take the grocery price book angle and keep track of prices at several grocery stores in their area. Then, they check the circulars each week and make up their list, focusing on what is cheapest that week. Some parts of the country offer double coupons, which can make couponing actually pay off.

I personally avoid coupons. I try not to look at the circulars. I also don't shop at many stores. I do the bulk of my grocery shopping at two stores: the local market two blocks away that is part of a small, local chain and Costco. If you've come here from my other blog, Confessions of a Hoarder, you'll know why: I tend to stockpile. I'm one of those strange people who really lovees to grocery shop. I'd do it everyday if I could. I'd shop for others! So, for me, going to more stores doesn't guarantee a bargain, it only guarantees that I'll have more opportunities to buy stuff. The more you see, the more you'll want, and the harder the decisions will be to make.

Thus, to save more on food, keep it simple. Choose one or two stores at which to do your shopping. Make a list and stick to it. Plan your meals for the week (or month if you like to plan ahead). Make use of tools like the Crock-Pot and the freezer. If you find an item you often use on sale for a price lower than you usually see it at that store, consider stocking up, but only if there is money available for it in that week or month's budgeted amount for groceries. If *will* go on sale again, believe me.

Another reason to shop at one or at most two stores is that you'll learn their patterns. For example, I really like Cascade Fresh yogurt in the 32 ounce size. It's normal price is $2.99. I know that about once a month, it goes on sale for $1.99. So, I wait until it's on sale, and then I'll often buy two or three containers, which can sometimes even last me until the next sale. You'll get to know the patterns at your local store, and then you won't need the hassle of a price book or the weekly circulars.

Avoid buying convenience foods and junk foods. They cost more per serving and they have less nutrition. They do save time, I'll give you that. And sometimes, you need the help of a packaged mix or pre-made item. Use them in moderation.

How have you saved on your food budget?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Banking Decisions

I think of there being two major ways to manage one's money: keep it all in one place or spread it out among many institutions.

The trend of banks and brokerages offering bonuses for new accounts can lead to a dispersal in ones funds. I personally am always tempted by the various offers (My Money Blog has a lot of the good ones...), and often succomb. The problem then is, you have another account to keep track of. Another user name and password, more statements, more potential tax consequences.

The simple me wars with the frugal me on this issue. The simple me wants just one institution, maybe two (a bank and a brokerage). The frugal me wants to get as many extras as possible, whether it be free trades, account bonuses or iPods. Who will win? So far, it's frugal me, but when it's time to do this year's taxes, well, simple me may need to take over!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sharebuilder Bonus for Costco Members

Sharebuilder is offering a bonus of $55 to Costco members who open a new custodial account. Give the gift of a strong financial future and start your kids/nieces/nephews/grandkids off right! Use the promotion code: CSTOCKGIFT07

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2008 Financial Goals

Patrick over at Cash Money Life is running a contest to encourage formation of financial goals for the next year. In order to set a goal that has a hope of being met, he's asked that everyone use the SMART mnemonic to make sure that our goals are: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

My most pressing financial goals really are organizational goals. I have accounts at several different brokerage houses and banks. I use several online-only banks and financial institutions (i.e. Paypal). Do I know where all my money is? No! could I find out if I really had to? Yes, but...

Ah, that but. See, here's my goal. By the end of 2008, I want to have fully implemented a financial organization system. This might just be a Word table, an Excel sheet or even a Notepad file. It might involve using one of the newer online services, like Mint or Wesabe. It might just be a notebook filled with information. The means isn't as important as that it gets done.

To do this, starting in January of 2008, I'll gather the information from each bill and statement that comes in through paper mail. In February, I'll tackle those that come via email. In March, I'll seek out the ones with no statements at all (i.e. Paypal, which only sends me information if I use it). Thus, by the end of March 2008, I should have a clear picture of how much I have, how much I owe and where I hold and spend my money. I'll be able to make changes to my portfolio based on actual information rather than on what looks good in the financial section of the newspaper. And, I'll better be able to track expenses.

There's another component to financial organization and that's the brutal reality of all the paperwork that we get. I have two Rubbermaid bins full of several years' worth of bill stubs, check registers, bank statements, and what have you. Why aren't they filed neatly? Well, that's a good question. If you've peeked at my other blog, you'll know that I'm a hoarder. I love stuff, and I hate letting go of things. But I also despise disorder and clutter. Ironic, eh? In the past, when I tried to set up a financial organization system, I would try to make it perfect. Everything in chronological order, get the picture. Guess how much of my filing I got done? Yeah, not much. In fact, I have two large Rubbermaid bins full of unfiled, unorganized paperwork. Why? Because my system was too labor-intensive. I just couldn't keep up.

My new system will involve a simple rack for my desk, those manila file folders, and a file tray. After a bill is paid or a statement opened, it will go into the file tray. Once a week, I'll take what is in the tray and sort it into its appropriate folder. Once a folder is full, it will go into the file cabinet and a new one will take its place.

The true test of how this all works will be at tax time. I'll update you then!

Mega Returns Master Buffett

So, you've heard of Warren Buffet, of course. Master investor, buddy of Bill Gates, Bridge player, general nice guy. Master philanthropist (gave away a huge chunk of his money after being inspired by Bill G.).

A recent Bloomberg news article discusses just how good a stock picker Warren Buffett is. "Buying whatever billionaire Warren Buffett bought, often months after his share purchases, delivered twice the return of the Standard & Poor's 500 Index during the past three decades." The best bet for an individual is to buy class B shares of Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway. Of course, the price for a single share runs around $4,475.00. Luckily, you can buy partial shares.

If you wanted to have some fun, you could open an account through a company like Zecco, which offers ten free stock trades per month if you have an account balance of at least $2,500, and set up your own little Mini-Berkshire Hathaway.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday!

So, yes, I went out today, Black Friday, the most infamous shopping day of the year. I deliberately planned our departure from home to miss the most common doorbusters. That is, we left around noon, at least an hour after the end of the craziness. We ventured into the downtown core of our not-so-fair city, visiting two bookstores, a Starbucks, a brief stop at the Gap, and a peek into the window at Nordstrom to see Santa (he waved at us).

Along the way, we encountered some environmentalists (no, I don't have "a minute for the environment today"), a sax-playing Santa, and the oddest group, well-dressed folks carrying black signs with white lettering that say "Buy More Stuff" and "Buy Stuff". They seemed cheerful, and completely serious. A gentleman in a camel overcoat handed me a card, which merely said "Buy More Stuff" and listed a url.

Now, I've heard and read about Buy Nothing Day and that makes perfect, lovely sense. I want to believe that the Buy More Stuff folks are being delightfully ironic, but if you look at the site, well, the serious tone doesn't slip. They're devilish, eh? Lots of photos on their site, here's one from my own not-so-fair city.

And, to be truthful, I'll tell you what I bought today. Two small items for holiday gifts, coffee and hot cocoas for the family, and a math workbook for my older daughter (actually, DH paid for that). I checked two books out of the library. I windowshopped. I tried on a ladies undergarment. Ooo La La!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

This holiday has the grocery stores hopping! You can find some great deals, and if you have a stand-alone freezer, you can really take advantage of the sales. If you have the space, and have the ability to plan, go ahead and stock up. Buy an extra turkey, cans of pumpkin (great for soup, quick breads as well as the pie), cranberries (freeze the fresh ones right in the bags to use later for cranberry bread, extra sauce...hmmmm...I have a great Crock-Pot recipe for cranberry beef...)

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your day, don't eat too much, and don't watch too much football!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Year End Activities

We're closing in on the end of the tax year, if your accounting year follows the IRS's that is.

That means it's time to make those last donations (before end of calender year), think about your IRA and Roth IRA (due by April 15), and make any stock or other security sales you want to count for this tax year.

It's time to go over your portfolio, and check your holdings, see what you have too much of and what you'd like more of.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Preparing Financially for the Holidays

Ah, the holidays we say these days. The winter holidays. Can't say the religious ones, can we? The stores are mostly full of holiday trees and winter themes. Be bold and talk about what you actually celebrate!

But, anyway, on to the money aspect. The Christmas season is huge for retailers. It's when they make the bulk of their profits. It's gold for them. They need us to buy. But always remember, it's our choice whether we buy or not.

The Consumerist has a report from All Financial Matters with six tips for surviving the season with your budget intact.

The Consumerist takes issue with the last item, which involves actually (gasp) talking with your family to coordinate gift efforts. I think that is a great idea, although it's quite a loaded issue for many families. I finally had the talk with my extended family a few years ago. Essentially, I asked if we could please stop the obligatory gift giving amoung the adults. Keep giving gifts to the kids, but don't feel that a gift must be bought for each adult. Most took it not just well, but as a relief and ever since, the gift tide has ebbed. Less clutter, less unnecessary spending, more happiness.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Welcome to Clean Simple Finance

Since 2006, I've been blogging about clutter reduction, hoarding, the tyranny of stuff, and moving toward a cleaner, more simple lifestyle. Throughout, I've had a sub-focus on finance, since having a clean house is so closely linked with having clean and clear finances.

To that end, I've started this blog to discuss finance. The clean and simple side, the complicated side, and most important, the necessary side.

Join me here to hear more about my philosophy on finance. I'll be posting several times a week on various financial topics.