Friday, June 30, 2006

Nine Days to a Lawsuit-Free Life, Day Seven: How to Handle Your Money So That It Stays Your Money

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

keep me safe from lawyers

You like your money, right? Of course you do. And you don’t like the idea of somebody suing you and taking all that money away from you, right? Of course you don’t. Yet despite our strong desire for financial security, most of us don’t do some very basic things to help guard our finances from legal peril. Here are some steps you should be taking in your financial life to keep your money in your pockets and out of the courtroom.

  • Keep records of all transactions. Whether you’re paying a bill or giving a charitable donation, you will want to have some sort of confirmation that the transaction took place. For bills, avoid mailing a check whenever possible. Instead, use your bank’s (often free) bill-pay system to place the burden of on-time payment on them; just beware the dangers of automatic bill-pay systems. For all other types of transactions, ask for some sort of receipt. If you have proof showing that money went from you to another party, that party will have a much harder time stating otherwise.
  • Hold on to your tax returns. We should all know by now that it’s a good idea to hold on to your tax returns in case the IRS decides to audit you. If you know you’ve been an honest taxpayer, then keep your returns for four years (an extra year beyond the normal statute of limitations). The official IRS recommendation for tax record retention is seven years since they can come after you for up to six years if you underreported your income by more than 25%. To be extra safe, permanently store all of your important financial documents in an electronic, encrypted format.
  • Know what’s on your credit report. If I showed you a copy of your credit report today, you should be able to tell me the details of every account, inquiry, and (heaven forbid) delinquency. When you pull your credit report–something you should be doing at least three times a year for free–if you don’t recognize an item on it, you should investigate and possibly dispute it. Mistakes happen, and you could be incorrectly dinged for a financial boo-boo you didn’t even make. It’s so much easier to correct this sort of problem when it first pops up than years down the road when a collection agency magically appears and demands payment.
  • Make sure you have back-up. In the event that you are unable to perform your regular household financial duties, you’ll want someone who can temporarily take over for you. So make sure there’s a family member or someone else you trust completely who can handle your money matters while you’re out of commission.
  • Plan for the future… and beyond. Not only should you have a clear picture of your current financial situation, but you should also prepare for events down the road. Of utmost importance should be planning your estate. A properly drawn-up will demonstrating what you want done with your assets after your passing can save your loved ones from lengthy court battles or other disputes that could tear your family apart.

If you have some advice for safeguarding your finances from legal trouble, please share your thoughts here. And be sure to tune in for part eight of this series which will focus on a more controversial topic: how to have a lawsuit-free marriage.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Grand Financial Experiment #2: Can My Banks Keep Me From Being Naked?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

Despite the suggestive title, I assure you that this video starring yours truly is very much safe for work.

So now you know I’m a man on a mission–a mission to strut around in an HSBC hoodie and Bank of America boxers. Sadly I doubt that most banks have filled the position of “Person Who Watches Nick’s Every Move,” so I may need to try a more direct approach if I want to talk my teller into tossing me a T-shirt. To that end, I have prepared a letter which I will send to all the banks with which I do business.


Dear <Insert Name of Financial Institution>,

I am writing to you today to express my astonishment. Normally that astonishment would be the result of your outstanding customer service or perhaps your superb financial products, but my present state of astonishment can be credited to something which your bank has failed to do. You see, the fine folks over at Emigrant Direct have recently seen fit to bestow upon me their legendary logo-emblazened baseball cap. While it may appear at first to be of nominal value, I assure you that it is Emigrant Direct’s thought that has counted the most in the check register of my heart.

After happily donning my new cap, a thought entered my head: “Why has only Emigrant Direct seen fit to grant me a wearable token of their appreciation for my business?” After pondering this dilemma for some time, I realized that perhaps the only reason I have not received a similar gift of garment from your institution is that you doubt that I would actually wear it. Why would you waste your time and money to give me something which I may not appreciate for its true value?

But I can assure you that any such courtesy which you extend to me would not go unobliged. And should you decide to deem me worthy of receiving the gift of an article of clothing bearing the logo of your fine bank, I would prove my appreciation by proudly wearing the item in public and documenting this display of gratitude on video for all to see at my personal finance website, Punny Money (http://www.punny.org).

I wholeheartedly thank you in advance for your generosity and dedication to me, your loyal customer. I look forward to continuing our banking relationship for years to come.

Sincerely,
Nick


If this doesn’t get me into a pair of that fabled Citibank thong underwear, then I don’t know what will.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Punny Poll #6: Do You Dabble in the Stock Market?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

Punny Poll #5 asked you to pick the smallest amount you consider to be “a lot of money”. An equal percentage (23% each) picked $1,000 or $10,000, with a cool million coming in a close third (20%).

With the Punny Money Super Stock Pick Tournament well under way, I thought it’d be interesting to see if any of you have tried your luck (or skill!) in the stock market. My own experience is limited to whatever index funds are in my retirement portfolio, but I do closely monitor market conditions and reallocate my money every once in a while.
[Read more...]

Monday, June 26, 2006

Seven Jobs That Only Exist Because We Are Lazy and Dumb

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , , , , ,

why do you let these people have jobs

It has been said that everyone in our society performs a vital role that helps our worldwide community continue to function in perpetuity. But it has also been said that 99% of people work to serve the 1% of people who actually keep the world running and progressing. From the bottom of my 1% heart I’d like to thank you, other 99%, for serving me so faithfully over the years.

Okay, so I’m only joking about the 1% argument, but maybe it’s not so far-fetched to say that there are some jobs out there that we could be doing ourselves but we don’t. Maybe we just don’t have time to do them, maybe we don’t know how to do them, or maybe we just choose not to do them. Here are a few occupations that I think we could do without… were it not for our own laziness and ignorance. (Scores are on a 0-10 scale, 10 high.)

  1. tax professionalTax accountant. Why, people, do you allow services like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt to exist anymore? Those folks you hand over your W-2s and hard-earned money to each year typically only have a couple more years of training than you, and they use software not unlike that which you can find online for cheap or free. I say that if you have all that money, you should be able to compute and submit the taxes on it yourself. Millions of people do it themselves each year, and so should you! Laziness Factor: 5. Ignorance Factor: 6.
  2. home PC repair technicianHome PC repair technician. With a quick phone call to a service like Geek Squad, you can order your very own housecall from a computer geek who will help you diagnose your PC’s problems. From virus protection installation to wireless home network setup, these folks will come to the aid of the computer illiterate and perform seemingly miraculous works on their machines. In reality, companies like these are offering you services that you can take care of yourself at little or no cost. Things like spyware removal (and avoidance) or printer installation are actually fairly simple if you follow the directions that accompany the software or hardware. And you can almost always find answers to any computer problem online for free. But for some reason, a lot of folks associate the inner workings of a computer with the complexity of nuclear physics. That’s simply not the case. Pick up a computer book or two and learn about that tool you take for granted. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you’re able to handle your own technical problem next time; and in time, the number of problems you encounter will drop as your computing habits improve. Laziness Factor: 3. Ignorance Factor: 8.
  3. college admission advisorCollege admission advisor. I just read this BusinessWeek article on college admission advisors. Some of these folks are making tens of thousands of dollars per client simply dispensing advice you can find online for free or in books that go for less than $20. I think most people will agree that one of the most important parts of college is the application process–exploring your options, thinking about a major, figuring out which classes to take. If you want to pay someone a ridiculous sum of money to determine all of this for you, then maybe college isn’t right for you in the first place. Laziness Factor: 3. Ignorance Factor: 7.
  4. fast food workerFast food worker. We’re all guilty of supporting these folks from time to time. Sometimes we’re just in a hurry and need a quick bite to eat, though there are those for whom the Golden Arches are the most important architectural achievement in history. Next time instead of blowing seven bucks or more on a trip to the drive-thru, take an extra five minutes in the morning to fix yourself a lighter, more nutritious lunch. You’ll spend less money, live longer, and help save future generations from having to utter the words “Would you like fries with that?” Laziness Factor: 9. Ignorance Factor: 1.
  5. parking attendantParking attendant. Valet parking makes the most sense in crowded cities where parking is scarce, though in such cases you should probably be using public transportation in the first place to save you time and money. Now valet parking services are cropping up at malls and other locations where parking is plentiful and such services are merely an interesting convenience. So next time you’re offered valet parking when self-service parking is readily available, save yourself a couple bucks (not to mention the trouble that comes with dishonest attendants who poke through your car for “free” stuff) and get a little more exercise by finding a space yourself. Laziness Factor: 8. Ignorance Factor: 2.
  6. personal fitness trainerPersonal fitness trainer. I know a few people who swear by them, but the truth about personal trainers is that you don’t really need them unless you’re a serious athlete. You can maintain a healthy body and develop a personalized workout regimen on your own. Instead of shelling out big bucks for your own trainer, pick up a book that will tell you everything you need to know about putting together a fitness routine tailored specifically to your body. And if you’re suffering from a specific health problem that mandates a particular fitness program, then your doctor should be the one to help you put the program together, not that muscly guy at Bally’s. Laziness Factor: 2. Ignorance Factor: 6.
  7. part-time maidPart-time maid. I’m still a bit on the fence about this one. Services like Merry Maids have been booming lately as more and more people outsource their cleaning and other dreaded household chores. On the one hand, my wife and I certainly wouldn’t mind never having to clean again, so I can understand why some people would be willing to pay others to do it for them. But on the other hand, if you’re having trouble keeping up with the dust bunnies, then your home might be too big for you. If it’s just you and your spouse, do you really need five bedrooms, all of which still need to be kept clean? This job will probably move to the top of the list in a few years once affordable robots are able to run your entire household. Laziness Factor: 5. Ignorance Factor: 2.

If you’re someone who is employed in one of the above fields, I encourage you to comment on what I’ve said… especially if you agree with my assessments! Or if you know of another occupation that needs to be on this list, please feel free to leave your thoughts here as well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Super Stock Pick Tournament Team Rosters and Brackets

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

which team will win it all

The 32 teams are set and the randomized brackets have been generated for the first Punny Money Super Stock Pick Tournament. You’ll find the team rosters immediately below and the brackets for the first round at the bottom of this post. The opening round runs through this Friday, June 30th at 4pm EDT when 16 losing teams will be eliminated.

So check out the teams and brackets, and feel free to throw out guesses as to which set of five stock picks will walk away with the tournament crown!

1. Completely Random Selection from NYSE (Random NYSE)
Five totally random picks from the New York Stock Exchange.

  1. Assurant Inc. (AIZ)
  2. Colgate-Palmolive Company (CL)
  3. MBIA Inc. (MBI)
  4. Rockwell Automation Inc. (ROK)
  5. TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. (TRW)

2. Completely Random Selection from NASDAQ (Random NASDAQ)
Five totally random picks from the NASDAQ.

  1. Akamai Technologies (AKAM)
  2. Emmis Communications Corporation (EMMS)
  3. Glenayre Technologies, Inc. (GEMS)
  4. Lam Research Corporation (LRCX)
  5. Techne Corporation (TECH)

3. Completely random picks from AMEX (Random AMEX)
Five totally random picks from the American Stock Exchange.

  1. Akorn, Inc. (AKN)
  2. GeoGlobal Resources Inc. (GGR)
  3. Grey Wolf, Inc. (GW)
  4. Memry Corporation (MRY)
  5. PLC Systems Inc. (PLC)

4. Cool-Looking Stock Symbols (Cool Tickers)
If there’s a stock with a ticker symbol like BOOBS or GROOVY, it’s going on this team.

  1. Majesco Entertainment Co. (COOL)
  2. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. (HOT)
  3. Internet America, Inc. (GEEK.OB)
  4. Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV)
  5. Cedar Fair, L.P. (FUN)

5. Spam E-mail Picks (Spam Picks)
This team will be made up of picks “recommended” by unsolicited e-mails that have found their way to my inbox.

  1. IFSA Strongman Inc. (ISMN.OB)
  2. Infinex Ventures Inc. (INFX.OB)
  3. Falcon Energy Inc. (FCYI.PK)
  4. HE-5 Resources Corp. (HRRP.PK)
  5. Cereplast Inc. (CERP.OB)

6. Alphabetically First on NYSE (ABC First)
The first five companies listed in the “A” section of the NYSE.

  1. A.O. Smith Corporation (AOS)
  2. A.G. Edwards Inc. (AGE)
  3. AAG Holding Company, Inc. (GFZ)
  4. AAG Holding Company, Inc. (GFW)
  5. Aames Investment Corporation (AIC)

7. Alphabetically Last on NYSE (ABC Last)
The last five companies listed in the “Z” section of the NYSE.

  1. The Zweig Total Return Fund, Inc. (ZTR)
  2. The Zweig Fund, Inc. (ZF)
  3. Zenix Income Fund Inc. (ZIF)
  4. Zenith National Insurance Corp. (ZNT)
  5. Zapata Corporation (ZAP)

8. Number Companies on NYSE (123s)
Some picks from the companies with names starting with a 0-9 digit.

  1. 21st Century Insurance Group (TW)
  2. 3M Company (MMM)
  3. 4 Kids Entertainment, Inc. (KDE)
  4. 40/86 Strategic Income Fund (CFD)
  5. 99 Cents Only Stores (NDN)

9. Attack of the Vowels (Vowels)
I’ll be looking for lots of vowels in ticker symbols for this team. Maybe “Y” can join, too.

  1. Altana AG (AAA)
  2. Educate Inc. (EEEE)
  3. SPDR O-Strip (OOO)
  4. Universal Security Instruments Inc. (UUU)
  5. Alleghany Corp. (Y)

10. Highest Single-Day Price Percent Gainers on NYSE (1-Day Gainers)
The five stocks with the biggest percentage gain on Friday, June 23rd.

  1. Western Gas Resources, Inc. (WGR)
  2. Kerr-McGee Corporation (KMG)
  3. PCCW Limited (PCW)
  4. CONSOL Energy Inc. (CNX)
  5. Southwestern Energy Company (SWN)

11. Highest Single-Day Price Percent Losers on NYSE (1-Day Losers)
The five stocks with the biggest percentage loss on Friday, June 23rd.

  1. Six Flags, Inc. (SIX)
  2. Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. (BBW)
  3. City National Corporation (CYN)
  4. Fedders Corporation (FJC)
  5. Tektronix, Inc. (TEK)

12. Highest Single-Day Volume Leaders on NYSE (1-Day Volume)
The five stocks with the biggest trade volume on Friday, June 23rd.

  1. Kerr-McGee Corporation (KMG)
  2. Nortel Networks Corporation (NT)
  3. Ford Motor Company (F)
  4. Sprint Nextel Corporation (S)
  5. Anadarko Petroleum Corporation (APC)

13. Single-Day Upgrades From Briefing.com (1-Day Upgrades)
Five stocks upgraded on Friday, June 23rd.

  1. Coinstar Inc. (CSTR) (Neutral to Buy)
  2. Morningstar Inc. (MORN) (Buy to Strong Buy)
  3. Multimedia Games Inc. (MGAM) (Neutral to Buy)
  4. Pike Electric Corp. (PEC) (Hold to Buy)
  5. Sovran Self Storage Inc. (SSS) (Sector Perform to Outperform)

14. Single-Day Downgrades From Briefing.com (1-Day Downgrades)
Five stocks downgraded on Friday, June 23rd.

  1. Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. (FLE) (Buy to Neutral)
  2. Neurocrine Biosciences Inc. (NBIX) (Hold to Sell)
  3. QUALCOMM Inc. (QCOM) (Overweight to Neutral)
  4. Sunterra Corp. (SNRR) (Buy to Neutral)
  5. Volt Information Sciences Inc. (VOL) (Hold to Sell)

15. Past Employers (Past Employers)
Stocks of companies I or my wife have worked for in the past. Amazon’s on there from all those bucks I made with Mechanical Turk a while back.

  1. Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS)
  2. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD)
  3. Factory Card & Party Outlet Corporation (FCPO)
  4. Panera Bread Co. (PNRA)
  5. Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)

16. Local Stocks (Local Stocks)
Stocks of companies based in Montgomery County, Maryland or Washington, D.C.

  1. Pepco Holdings Inc. (POM)
  2. MedImmune Inc. (MEDI)
  3. Marriott International Inc. (MAR)
  4. Lockheed Martin Corporation (LMT)
  5. Gene Logic Inc. (GLGC)

17. The Axis of Evil (Axis of Evil)
Some corporations have earned the label of “evil” over the years. You’ll find the five evilest of them all on this team.

  1. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)
  2. ExxonMobil Corporation (XOM)
  3. McDonald’s Corporation (MCD)
  4. Philip Morris (Altria Group, Inc.) (MO)
  5. Microsoft (MSFT)

18. “Good” Companies (Good Team)
They might not be true angels of the business world, but if they have “good” in their names, they’ll make this team.

  1. Gladstone Commercial Corporation (GOOD)
  2. Goodrich Corporation (GR)
  3. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT)
  4. Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS)
  5. Good Times Restaurants Inc. (GTIM)

19. Internet Slang Team (Internet Slang)
WTF? A team full of internet slang ticker symbols? LMAO!

  1. OM Group Inc. (OMG)
  2. Brunswick Bancorp (BRB)
  3. Ambac Finl Grp 7.0% Debs (AFK)
  4. Wachovia Corp. (WB)
  5. New Ireland Fund (IRL)

20. Products In Our Home (Home Products)
Stocks of companies whose products are in our home right now.

  1. General Mills, Inc. (GIS) (Fiber One Cereal)
  2. Safeway Inc. (SWY) (Multiple products)
  3. ConAgra Foods, Inc. (CAG) (Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix)
  4. Kellogg Company (K) (Pop Tarts)
  5. General Electric Company (GE) (Light bulbs)

21. First Products I See Advertised on TV (TV Ads)
On Friday, June 23rd, I turned on the TV during The Price is Right and picked stocks based on the companies for which I saw commercials.

  1. Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) (Fruit2O)
  2. AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) (Crestor)
  3. The Procter & Gamble Company (PG) (Pantene Shampoo)
  4. GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) (Boniva)
  5. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK-B) (GEICO)

22. Beer Stocks (Beer Stocks)
Like the name says, stocks of beer makers.

  1. The Boston Beer Company, Inc. (SAM)
  2. Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. (BUD)
  3. Redhook Ale Brewery Inc. (HOOK)
  4. Granite City Food & Brewery Ltd. (GCFB)
  5. Molson Coors Brewing Company (TAP)

23. Internet Giants (Internet Giants)
A team made up of the big boys of the World Wide Web. (Sorry, but Punny Money isn’t a publicly traded stock… yet.)

  1. Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)
  2. Google Inc. (GOOG)
  3. Time Warner Inc. (TWX)
  4. Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)
  5. eBay Inc. (EBAY)

24. Car Wars (Car Wars)
Rivals of the automotive world team up to vie for the stock tournament championship title.

  1. Daimlerchrysler AG (DCX)
  2. Toyota Motor Corp. (TM)
  3. Ford Motor Co. (F)
  4. Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (NSANY)
  5. General Motors Corporation (GM)

25. The Take Charge Team (Take Charge)
A team made up of companies in the credit business.

  1. MasterCard, Inc. (MA)
  2. American Express Company (AXP)
  3. Capital One Financial Corp. (COF)
  4. Credit Suisse Group (CSR)
  5. Equifax Inc. (EFX)

26. Vanguard VIPERs (VIPERs)
Not quite stocks, these exchange-traded funds from Vanguard are traded on AMEX, so they’re subject to the same trade rules as regular stocks. I’ll pick five from the couple dozen or so VIPERs available.

  1. Vanguard Total Stock Market VIPERs (VTI)
  2. Vanguard Mid-Cap VIPERs (VO)
  3. Vanguard Growth VIPERs (VUG)
  4. Vanguard Energy VIPERs (VDE)
  5. Vanguard Pacific VIPERs (VPL)

27. Captain Planet Team (Planeteers)
The Planeteers have saved the Earth from environmental destruction countless times. Now can they take on the biggest challenge of their lives–the Punny Money Super Stock Pick Tournament?

  1. Earthlink, Inc. (ELNK)
  2. United Fire & Casualty (UFCS)
  3. Wind River Systems, Inc. (WIND)
  4. Waters Corporation (WAT)
  5. Heartland Express Inc. (HTLD)

28. Tegan’s Picks (Wife’s Picks)
Stock picks straight from my wife.

  1. Wendy’s International (WEN)
  2. The Walt Disney Company (DIS)
  3. Payless ShoeSource, Inc. (PSS) (I said, “Their stock is down today.” She replied with a whimper, “But… but everybody likes to pay less.”)
  4. The Hershey Company (HSY) (“A smile in candy form” was her reason for this pick.)
  5. Revlon, Inc. (REV)

29. My Semi-Intelligent Picks (Nick’s Picks)
Nick plays stock market analyst with amusing results! I’ll be shocked if this team makes it to Round Two.

  1. Circuit City Stores, Inc. (CC). It exceeded first quarter expectations, is expected to sell tons of high-definition TVs in coming months, and has always been my favorite big-name electronics store.
  2. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY)–solely based on its appearance in the new Adam Sandler movie, “Click.”
  3. J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (JCP). I bought some nice shirts and shorts from them the other day.
  4. HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC). They have most of my money, so they must be good!
  5. Celera Genomics, Applera Corp (CRA). On Friday, this company predicted profitability by 2008 (15-20% by 2011). I guess I can wait that long.

30. Professional Stock Picks From CNBC (CNBC Picks)
The top-performing picks from CNBC investing experts as of Sunday, June 25th.

  1. Celadon Group, Inc. (CLDN)
  2. NII Holdings, Inc. (NIHD)
  3. Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS)
  4. Frontier Oil Corporation (FTO)
  5. Gerdau AmeriSteel Corporation (GNA)

31. Random Selection From BlogsOnTrading.com (BlogsOnTrading.com)
An anonymous reader suggested the 31st category contain some stock picks from writers listed on BlogsOnTrading.com.

  1. Kyphon Inc. (KYPH)
  2. Garmin Ltd. (GRMN)
  3. OGE Energy Corp. (OGE)
  4. US Energy Systems Inc. (USEY)
  5. Ryder System Inc. (R)

32. Reader Recommendations (Reader Picks)
Thanks to the forum-goers at the MBN Forums and to several readers who posted and e-mailed their picks for this team.

  1. Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL)
  2. Home Depot Inc. (HD)
  3. Merge Healthcare (MRGE)
  4. Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. (SIRI)
  5. AT&T Inc. (T)

Super Stock Pick Tournament Brackets

super stock pick tournament brackets

Ooh, my picks are up against my wife’s in Week One. The suspense!