Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Car Buying Mistakes

A friend of mine recently bought a new car, and my husband had been helping her out by keeping an eye out for a good deal. This reminded me of my last car purchase. I bought my Mustang in 2001 and, while the car has been a real gem, I made quite a few mistakes when I bought it.

1. I took the salesman at his word. When he first showed me the Mustang, the salesman said that he thought the previous owner had added an after market upgrade. Even though my dad and brother are both grease monkeys, I didn't have them verify the upgrade until after I had bought my car. What do you know? NO after market upgrade.

2. I let the salesman talk me into a different car than what I had gone there for. I went to the dealership looking for a 1995-1997 Mustang. They didn't have any, but the salesman showed me a shiny black 2000 Mustang and let me take it home for the weekend! Smart guy, huh? Of course, I fell in love with the car. :)

3. I didn't do my research. Even though I had an entire weekend to look into how much the car was worth, I didn't do it. After buying the car, I eventually did the research and realized that I had overpaid for it by at least $1,000.

Overall, this wasn't the worst purchase I've ever made. My Mustang has been really good to me, and I've had very few mechanical problems with it. I still love driving it around, even after 7 years. And then there's the fact that I learned a few valuable lessons during it's purchase, which will come in very handy the next time I need to buy a car!

I'd love to hear about your car buying lessons learned!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Let the Torture Begin

I mentioned in a post last month that I was going to be getting braces and eventually having oral surgery. Well, today was the day that I considered "passing the point of no return". I had a short appointment with the orthodontist this morning to have spacers put in between a bunch of my teeth. Right now, I feel like I have a ton of popcorn kernels stuck between my teeth. It's pretty annoying.
I will have the spacers for a week and then bands get put around my molars. A couple of weeks after that is when the real torture begins. At that point, I get an appliance put in that will try to gradually widen my upper jaw. The appliance is meant to be used on kids (who are still growing), so it may or may not work on me. If it doesn't, I have to have even more oral surgery, so I'm really hoping it will work!
On the positive side, I received confirmation from my dental insurance company that they will be paying for almost half of the cost of the braces. The remainder of the cost will come out of my HSA, so it will be federal tax free. Yes!
Wish me luck :)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saving Money on Your Wedding: Bridal Gowns

I am doing a series of posts on saving money while planning a wedding. Today I will talk about the bridal gown. My total amount spent in this area was $824.86, including alterations.

Bridal Gown
My biggest tip in regards to buying a wedding gown is to not let the dress shop salespeople scare you into rushing into your gown purchase. I have a friend who is currently planning a November 2008 wedding. She was in the dress shop and had found a gown she felt "so-so" about. The salespeople tried to get her to order the gown that day, saying that dresses can become discontinued at any time. She had eleven months before her wedding, and she wasn't even in love with this dress! Why on earth would she rush into ordering "just in case" the gown became discontinued?
I planned my entire wedding in 2 months. Yes, you read that right! I can tell you for a fact that you don't need to order your wedding gown eleven months before the wedding. Six months is plenty of time to get a wedding gown and have it altered and pressed. Take your time and find the right dress.

Some other money-saving tips:
-Ask to have your shoes (or veil, headpiece, etc.) thrown in for free with the purchase of your dress. These items have a really high mark-up, so the dress shop can afford to part with them if you're making a big purchase (like a wedding gown!). I got my shoes for free!
-Look at the sales and discontinued racks. I tried on two $100 clearance dresses at David's Bridal. Either would have worked well if I hadn't come across my "dream dress".
-Call around. Once you find the perfect dress, go on the dress company's website and find out all the bridal shops in the area that carry that brand. Make a few phone calls; one of them might offer you a better deal to get your business (that's how I got my free shoes).

Feel free to add additional ideas or stories in the comments!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm Back and Carnivals

Jamaica was awesome! We had a great time and I wasn't quite ready to come home yet. Luckily, we completely missed a really cold spell here in Wisconsin. I was really glad to be in my swimsuit by a pool in the tropics while my friends and family back home were suffering through temperatures below zero ;)

It's just about bedtime, so I'll keep it at that for now and hopefully do a little longer post on Jamaica later this week. I was included in two carnivals while I was gone:

Carnival of Personal Finance
Carnival of Twenty-Something Finances

I'll post again soon!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm Off to Jamaica!!!

...that is, unless the snow doesn't stop and our flight gets canceled. Pray that doesn't happen!

I will not have any internet access while on my honeymoon, and I have yet to figure out a way to have my articles automatically post on a future date (if anyone knows how, please share!). I will be back on the night of Friday, January 25th and will post again by the following Monday. Don't forget about me!

I wasn't going to do a favorite blog post this week, but I found a really neat one. It's a cool story from ChristianPF that highlights the need to balance planning for the future with living life today.
Don't Save It All Up for Retirement

Walk good, mon!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Good Example

I recently wrote an article detailing some reasons to not hold stocks in certificate form. I came across the perfect example last week.

Some clients came in for their annual review with my boss, a financial adviser. They brought along a letter they had received regarding a stock they owned. They bought the stock a number of years ago and didn't remember how many shares they owned. Also, they had lost the stock certificate. My boss made a copy of the letter and had me call the stock company's shareholder services department.

I spoke to a really nice gentleman who told me that our clients owned over 10,000 shares of the stock and it was worth almost $160,000! He then proceeded to tell me that the clients can't do anything with the shares (sell them, move them to our firm, etc.) until they either found their certificate or paid for a new certificate to be issued. The cost to replace the certificate? About $1,800. Yikes! Needless to say, they clients are searching their house for the lost certificate. Can you imagine losing a piece of paper worth $160,000?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Free Peanut Butter!

I love getting good deals. I was at the grocery store the other day to stock up on some things. I had a $1.00 off coupon for peanut butter, and when I got to the peanut butter aisle, that brand of peanut butter was on sale for $.99. My grocery store has a tendancy to manually enter in coupons without asking any questions or looking at prices, so they paid me a penny to take the peanut butter! That rocks :)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Saving Money on Your Wedding, Introduction

As I've mentioned before, I am recently married. I got married to my husband on July 1st of 2007. The total cost of our wedding was $5,786. This includes all three rings but does not include the cost of our honeymoon, which we are taking in 4 days!

I would like to do a series of posts about putting together an inexpensive wedding. I heartily welcome comments from married people on how you saved money on your wedding. Please tell anyone you know who is getting married (or thinking about getting married) about these posts :)

My number one tip, which will carry over into future posts about specific costs, is to really think about what is and what is not important to you. It is ok to skimp on the areas that don't matter much to you. For example, my flowers were pretty low on my importance list. I figured they'd be dead and tossed within a week anyway. I opted for red carnations instead of red roses to be included in the bouquets. I'm fairly certain no one noticed and my bouquet still looked absolutely gorgeous in my pictures (see for yourself!).

My second tip goes right along with the first one. Have the wedding that you want. Sit down with your spouse-to-be and discuss what your ideal wedding would look like. Just because everyone has a Saturday afternoon ceremony with a dinner and dance reception doesn't mean you have to. If that is what you really want, great. But maybe you'd rather have lunch with your guests and have a quiet dinner alone with your honey. Or maybe neither of you likes to dance. Don't be afraid to break from tradition!

Third, set up and keep to a budget. I know this doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but it is really helpful. This way, you decide at the beginning which things are important enough to budget more money for. When you're later tempted to spend an outrageous amount of money on a tiara at the dress shop, you can look back at your budget and remember that you only budgeted $20 for a tiara because you were pretty sure you could find a cute one at Claire's.
I signed up for free at and used their budget calculator. It was very helpful and especially fun when I could enter in a number that came in under budget! I'm sure has a similar budget calculator.

Check back over the next couple of weeks and I will break a wedding down into parts and give some ideas, most of which I used myself, to save money on your wedding.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Favorite Blog Post 1/11/08

My favorite blog post this week is from Lynnae over at She wrote an article about the balance between paying off debt and spending time with your family. It was very well-written and I heartily agree with her! Here is the link:

Is There a Downside to Gazelle Intensity?

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

ps- One week until my husband and I leave for Jamaica! I'm getting more excited every day :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thoughts on Insurance Part 3: Comprehensive and Collision

First off, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page and know that I am not an insurance agent and that every state has different rules and regulations.
I used to work in the personal (auto and home) industry, and a recent post by Mrs. Micah made me decide to share some things I learned. Please note that I do not benefit in any way by sharing this opinion with you and that it is only an opinion!

Comprehensive and Collision Coverage

I've had many conversations with people over the years about auto insurance. I've come to the conclusion that a lot of people have an incorrect assumption of what comprehensive and collision coverages do for you.
First off, both comprehensive and collision cover damage that occurs only to the insured vehicle or, in certain circumstances, possibly a friend's vehicle or a rental vehicle (check with your insurance company on this, don't assume). If you get into an accident and cause damage to the other person's vehicle, that is covered under your Property Damage coverage.

While it could vary slightly among insurance companies and states, comprehensive coverage generally covers damage to the insured vehicle that was NOT caused by a collision (accident). Comprehensive coverage usually covers loss caused by:
-contact with an animal (often a deer in my home state of Wisconsin)
-missiles or falling objects (I hope this never happens to me!)
-windstorm, hail, water, or flood
Though it's not an all-inclusive definition, the insurance world often calls these things "Acts of God". In other words, there's not much, if anything, that you could have done to prevent these things. The ones used most often where I live are "contact with an animal" and "windstorm or hail".

Collision coverage is pretty self-explanatory. It covers damage to the insured vehicle caused by a collision (accident). Remember, this does not cover damage you might do to the other person's vehicle. This coverage is just for your vehicle. My policy actually says that Collision coverage would cover the cost to replace a child safety seat if it was damaged in the accident, as well. I never knew that!

If you do get in an accident, make sure you pull out your insurance policy and double-check what is covered. I read through the comprehensive and collision parts of my policy before writing this post, and I found out there are quite a few things covered that I had no idea about! Definitely do not take your insurance agent or claims adjuster's word for it - they're there to keep money in the insurance company's pockets, after all.

If you think of any other questions you might have about insurance, please let me know. I'd love to share anything I can that might help!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Don't Hold Stocks in Certificate Form

Boston Gal recently blogged about some stock certificates her dad had forgotten he had. I work for a financial services firm ( I am NOT a broker) and we always recommend that clients hold their stocks at the firm and not in certificate form. Here are some reasons:

-If you own multiple stocks, holding them in firm name will allow you to receive just one annual tax form instead of a separate tax form from each stock company.
-Stocks held at the firm are easier to pass on to heirs. You will only need one set of paperwork for your entire account, no matter how many different stocks you own. If you held them in certificate form, your heirs would need to contact each company separately to get their paperwork.
-If you hold stocks in certificate form, they could be lost. Getting a replacement certificate often costs two to five percent of the value of the stock.
-Most firms will maintain the cost basis information for you and update it automatically when any change happens at the stock company. Ask your tax advisor how much he/she loves this!
-Firm will let you know of mergers, tender offers, etc. and handle them as you direct.
-Stock splits, spin-offs, etc. will be handled by your firm and will be updated on your next statement, making it easier to stay updated on how much you own of each stock company and the value of your shares.
-Holding stocks at your firm means fewer phone calls to make when you change your address (not to mention how easy it is for a stock company to lose track of you over the years if you forget to update your address!).
-Have you read any of the news stories about stock certificates found in desks bought at rummage sales, etc? It's a lot easier to forget about a certificate than it is a stock that's held at a firm who sends you monthly or quarterly statements about your account!

BostonGal's dad's situation is a little different, but if the stocks had been held at a firm with his address listed and he was getting statements from them, he at least would probably have known within a few months that the stocks had been sold from underneath him. As it was, he didn't find out until years later. According to BostonGal, he took it pretty well. I think I would have been furious :)

Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page and note that I am not a financial advisor. Please speak to your financial advisor before making any decisions regarding your money!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Favorite Blog Post 1/4/08

If you read yesterday's post, I was in a pretty good mood about halfway through the day. That all changed at about 5:30pm, when I realized that I lost the pedometer I got for Christmas. It was clipped to my jeans and must have slipped off while I was out and about shopping. I am sooo bummed! Somebody who was at Walmart or the grocery store yesterday has a really awesome pedometer now :-(
*Update: Just for the heck of it, I called the grocery store this afternoon. Someone turned my pedometer in! I can't believe it. It kind of renews my confidence in people, you know? :)

Anyway, my favorite blog post from this past week is from Free Money Finance.

Is a Roth IRA Really Better than a Non-Matched 401k?

The idea in this article is that since we don't know what will happen with taxes in 30 years, we don't really know if a ROTH is as beneficial as we think it is. I liked the article because I have the option to switch over to the ROTH 401(k) at my workplace and haven't done so yet. I realized when reading this article that the reason I've been putting it off is because I kind of like having the diversification of both the tax-deferred and the tax-free accounts. Interesting stuff!

Also, please check out the Carnival of Financial Goals. My 2008 goals were included in the list, along with tons of other good stuff and some really cute pictures!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Good Things!

I love days like today! No, not because it's negative 2 degrees outside (I hate the cold!). Here is why I like today:

-My $500 employer match showed up in my 401(k)! It wasn't a surprise, my match always shows up at the end of the year. It's just nice to see my balance jump by $500 without my having to do anything :)

-I earned a 9.06% rate of return in my 401(k) for 2007! This isn't a fantastic number considering that I have some funds that have averaged over 12% per year in my ROTH. Still, I think it's respectable considering the blah way the market ended in 2007.

-I put the last $40 into our honeymoon fund! We finished paying for our all-inclusive honeymoon package last month (mostly with money we received when we got married), but we also wanted $1000 in spending money. I have been saving a little from each paycheck into that fund and with the $40 I put in today, it's at $1000! Now we can swim with a dolphin when we go to Jamaica in two weeks - yah :)

I hope your 2008 is starting out as well as mine is. God Bless!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thoughts on Insurance Part 2: Market Value Vs. Replacement Cost

First off, please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page and know that I am not an insurance agent and that every state has different rules and regulations.
I used to work in the personal (auto and home) industry, and a recent post by Mrs. Micah made me decide to share some things I learned. Please note that I do not benefit in any way by sharing this opinion with you and that it is only an opinion!

Market Value Vs. Replacement Cost
These two options are part of your home or renters insurance. They both have to do with how your insurance company will pay for a loss to your home or possessions (aka personal property).

The market value of your home is how much you could sell it for at any given moment. The replacement cost of your home is how much it would cost to build your house from scratch at today's costs.
Let's say you own a home and it burns to the ground. If you have market value coverage on your home, your insurance company will pay you what it determines the house could sell for, minus the value of your land (assuming you had it covered for at least that amount). Now take the same scenario and assume that you have replacement coverage. In that case, your insurance company will pay the costs for a house to be built on your property that is of similar size and quality to the house that burned down, up to the amount of coverage you have (though a lot of policies in Wisconsin, and maybe elsewhere, will pay 110% of what your insurance coverage is).

With the cost of building materials on the rise, the cost to rebuild a house is often more expensive than the market value of that home. This is especially true if you own a quality-built house or a very old house, such as an old Victorian.

My husband and I have replacement cost coverage. We gave our insurance agent all of the information about our house (size, quality, wood floors, fireplace, etc.), which he put into a calculator he has. He then let us know how much it would probably cost to rebuild our house. That is how much we insured our house for. With our insurance company, the amount automatically goes up a little each year to account for inflation in the cost of building materials. Plus, we have that extra 10% in case the agent's calculation would up a being a little low.

Personal Property

This is the big one. Whereas your home's market value and replacement cost are often pretty close to each other, it is not the same with your possessions (personal property).

The best way to explain how these coverages differ when it comes to your possessions is to use an example. Let's say that your couch is destroyed in a fire at your apartment complex. You paid $500 for your couch 10 years ago. You tell your insurance claims adjuster about your 10-year-old couch and he checks your policy. If he says you have market value coverage, he might calculate an original $500 cost minus $400 of depreciation equals a check for $100 to go find another 10-year-old couch. Good luck with that! If, on the other hand, he says that you have replacement cost coverage, he might calculate that a $500 couch 10 years ago would cost about $900 to replace new today. He would then cut you a check for $900 to buy yourself a brand new couch of similar size and quality.

You might say to yourself, "Big deal, I don't mind checking Craigslist for a used couch." That's great, but what if everything in your apartment/house was destroyed? Do you really want the hassle of trying to find used couches, tv's, computers, clothing, toys, kitchenware, etc? I'm guessing that, if you lost everything, you would want to be able to go to your local store and pick out your replacements quickly so you could restart your life.

The issue of market value vs. replacement coverage might not be easy if the difference in costs was large, but it is usually a very small additional premium for a lot better coverage.