Know of a baby born October 20? They can get a FREE $500 mutual fund investment

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Nathan Rupert via Flickr

If you’ve got friends who have been posting non-stop on social media about their two-day-old baby, you can now reply with something a little more substantial than “#blessed.”

Perhaps you should consider #Borntosave.

In news that would have been supremely more useful to me nine months ago, one company is offering a free $500 mutual fund investment to any baby born in the U.S. on Monday, which was October 20, 2014.

Voya Financial, formerly ING U.S., is celebrating National Retirement Week, the one-year anniversary of its own IPO, and its stated vision of becoming America’s Retirement Company with the offer pending filling out all the right paperwork, including providing proof of the child’s birth on October 20, 2014.

Called the Born to Save program, this is a pretty awesome deal for anyone who just happened to have their baby on Monday.

For the rest of us, it’s just a good reminder how important it is to get started investing early: that $500 alone, if left untouched, has the potential to grow into a substantial size to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars when it’s time for that newborn to retire.


Source: Voya Financial. “Voya Financial Offers $500 Mutual Fund Investment to Every Baby Born on October 20, 2014.” Oct. 20, 2014. Disclaimers:I’m getting no money from Voya for posting this

When I asked about hidden conditions, a representative from Voya financial said:

“This is a complimentary offering — there are no out-of-pocket costs associated with enrolling an eligible baby in the program, or for a receiving a $500 mutual fund investment as a head start on their retirement savings. Parents [or] guardians are not required to purchase any products from Voya in order to enroll their baby in the program and they do not need to be an existing customer of Voya to receive the offer

She went on to say:

We want [Debt BLAG] readers to think about retirement not simply as a distant destination, but as a journey that starts the day they are born. We believe it’s never too early — or too late — to start saving.

Solid. Anyhow, good luck and please make sure to pass this along to anyone you know who might have recently had a baby. I’d love to see lots of people take advantage of this :)

HBO now lets you buy HBO Go without a cable subscription — one step closer to cutting the cord

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xan latta via Flickr

HBO’s Game of Thrones is a spectacular show based on a spectacular series of novels. It’s no wonder then, that it’s won countless awards and is the most popular show on HBO.

The show also holds another distinction that’s less an honor and more a thorn in the side of HBO execs — it’s perennially the most pirated show out there. This past spring, the royal wedding episode set a record for being the most illegally shared thing EVER, after having been illegally downloaded 1.5 million times that first day.

And a huge number of fans who don’t take part in the record-breaking piracy still have to take the backdoor route of using their family or friend’s HBO Go — included when you subscribe to the channel.

HBO to offer standalone service

HBO has responded in a huge way, by announcing that starting in 2015, you’ll be able to buy HBO to stream over the internet without a cable subscription.

It’s tough to say what sort of effect this will have on the industry as a whole, especially since no specific terms or pricing have been announced. From what I hear talking to friends, it seems like the big market for standalone HBO would be younger, internet-savvy folks who may not have cross-shopped a full cable package anyway. So I wouldn’t expect a huge flood of subscribers to drop cable next year to head to a TV life of internet-only services like HBO Go, Amazon Prime, and Netflix.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the move has long-term repercussions because the cable companies figure that those people who are marginally attached to cable would progress to eventually become full-on subscribers.

For now, it seems that the part of the public that worries themselves with such things is pretty convinced that Netflix will take a big hit from the move.

I’m no scientist, but it’s probably safe to say HBO will end all this with even bigger piles of money.

But what does this mean for ME?

As it pertains to me, it means I and my roommates are just one step closer to not having to deal with the costly annoyance of a cable bill every month. Now, if only more live sports made the switch to offering a-la-carte internet streaming service, we might have ourselves a stew going….

How about you guys? Gonna drop cable once standalone HBO Go goes live?

Get a 40% discount on an annual pass to New York’s American Museum of Natural History #dinosaurs

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Christian Bobadilla via Flickr

I try not to post too many deals, but this is a pretty stellar price for an annual pass to what I consider one of the coolest places in the world.

For me, the dinosaurs and other fossils are worth the price of admission by themselves.

Dinosaurs!

Everything else in the museum, plus the rotating exhibits, plus the fact that the Living Social deal gives you two extra ickets to the Space Show and two tickets to the 3D/IMAX films, are all just icing on the cake.

Details:

  • Individual package is $95 and includes unlimited general admission and admission to special exhibitions for a year for one or two adults, plus discounts at the gift shop, restaurant, and if you need more tickets to the Space Shows and IMAX movies.
  • The family package is $130 and includes admission for two adults and four kids (Yes, it’s kinda weird that they’ve decided that’s how big a family is, especially in New York City, but the price still makes sense), six Space Show tickets, and all the discounts.
  • Disclaimer: Neither Living Social nor the American Museum of Natural History are giving me money or free stuff for posting this, even if you buy. If you represent either of those places and want to send me money, you know how to contact me

OK, here’s the link: “American Museum of Natural History
One-Year Dual or Single Adult Membership or a Family Membership With Space Show Tickets

Good luck, y’all.

Dinosaurs.



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Ten things you should always buy generic

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Nikol Lohr via Flickr

We’ve all heard the saying, “you get what you pay for.”

While it is a sensible mantra in some situations, when it comes to choosing an aspirin or a type of paper towel, sometimes the glossy name is nothing more than a good way to spend more money for no added benefit.

So how do you know when to pay for quality and when to just pick the cheapest option?

Let’s break it down.

Commodity goods

Commodity goods are mass-produced [in a way] to arrive at a finished good that is both basic and homogeneous.

Some examples of this are hardware fasteners — such as nails, screws, and bolts — and foods like baking soda, granulated sugar, table salt, and medium grain white rice.

I’ve found that especially with regard to food, people get hung up on certain brands. But know that chefs themselves are more likely to pick the store brand, particularly when it comes to buying the sweet stuff. (Bronnenberg, Dubé, Gentzkow, and Shapiro, p. 46)

Highly regulated stuff

When it comes to over-the-counter medication and most gasoline, the government or some other regulatory body makes sure that products carrying a certain name meet a minimum requirement for ingredients, safety, and effectiveness.

It’s easy to understand why you might lean toward the more expensive option when looking at medication. After all, our bodies are complex machines and we really don’t understand all the science that goes into making drugs. Luckily, doctors understand it a bit better than we do, and for most categories, they go for generics when they buy over-the-counter medication for themselves (Ibid, p. 43)

Of course, this discounts the placebo effect that some people may experience by simply believing their name brand drugs carry special powers. Scientists have actually shown that high-priced placebos have a greater effect than less expensive placebos. (Ariely, Waber, Shiv, Carmon)

In other words, expensive fake medicine works better than cheap fake medicine.

Still, when I’m feeling sick and have to make a trip to the drug store, knowing that I saved a few dollars to get the same ingredients as the expensive stuff makes me feel better already.

Things that are pretty hard to mess up that I don’t care too much about.

I wish I had a better name for this category, but I think you get the idea. There are a lot of things that we need to buy and the quality isn’t terribly important.

For me, this category includes notebook paper, cotton socks, and paper towels (note that it does not include toilet paper). Of course, for all these things, I’m assuming a reasonable difference in quality, but at the end of the day, as long as they serve their basic function — to write, wear, or clean — it doesn’t really matter.

Bottled water

Bottled water gets its own category. I understand why people prefer certain brands over others, but really — do you need bottled water at all? If you’re staying well-hydrated, the extra few bucks you’ll pay up for a reusable bottle and a filter (if you need it) will outlast those 24-packs, and it’ll help the environment.



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Not smoking could save me over $5,000 a year — wish me luck

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Phillip Kalantzis Cope via Flickr

Like a lot of people who have served in the Army, I’m no stranger to tobacco. Whether it was cigarettes, dip,  or the occasional cigar, it really just became part of everyday life. This was aided, in small part at least, by the fact that the Department of Defense mandates lower prices on military bases.

About one-quarter of soldiers smoke. Compare that to 18.1% of American adults at large who do.

Now, as a civilian, the health concerns and the smell should already be enough to keep me from smoking cigarettes. The cost here on the outside just makes the decision even easier.

In 2014, The Awl reported that the average cost of a pack of cigarettes here in New York is $12.85. This jives with what I’ve seen on the streets. A pack-a-day smoker would spend $4,690 per year, and that’s not even including the extra laundry, dry-cleaning, tooth-brushing, and healthcare costs you’re likely to see.

And that’s money that could go straight to paying down my student loan debt.

So let’s do this, once and for all.

What other tips do you have to save money on smoking?



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Why EVERYONE paying off student loans should apply for Income-Based Repayment (like I did)

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Koshy Koshy via Flickr

I suck at brevity when it comes to headlines :/

If this is your first time reading this blog, welcome!

What I do here is chronicle my long slog toward paying down the massive debt I took on to get bachelor and master degrees, and share the tips I learn along the way.

Early on, I figured out that the most important factor in knocking down my debt would be sending the most money I can to my lenders each month.

Simple, right?

Why apply for Income-Based Repayment?

I started with three student loans:

    • One at 7.9%
    • Another at 6.9%
    • A third at 3.3%

The first bill I received from my lender told me that my total minimum payments would be around $1400 each month.

Knowing how important it is to send a lot of money to my loan servicers each month, why then, did I use these steps to apply for Income-Based Repayment to cut my minimum payments in half to around $700 per month?

The answer has to do with the different interest rates.

A graphic explanation

Think of my starting debt this way:

orig-deb

I drew the debt with higher interest rates a little bit taller because interest accumulates on the balance more quickly. Sticking to the standard repayment would mean that I would be sending $1,500 to my lender each month in a payment relative to the total balance. Visually, think about each payment like this:

1500

But when I use income-based repayment to cut my minimum payment on each loan in half, I can focus a lot more of that monthly $1,500 toward the loan with a 7.9% interest rate, like this:

750x2

And in this scenario, focusing on the higher rate loans first cuts about four months off my total payoff! Sure, four less monthly payments may not seem like much, but at $1,500 each, that’s $6,000! Who wouldn’t want a cool six grand for almost no effort?



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How barcodes can help a business

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This looks like a bar code, kinda. Fernando Insausti via Flickr

Do you know what I don’t talk about very often on this blog?

Barcodes.

Let’s rectify this right now.

I may have discussed something similar in Kindle Unlimited (because certainly Amazon uses many barcodes).

Moreover, barcodes are a unique advancement in the realm of product information. With the availability of affordable barcode printers, such as those offered by Shopify any company can utilize barcodes to increase their efficiency and productivity. Barcodes are heavily underutilized, sadly. This partially stems from an inability to grasp exactly how powerful incorporating barcodes into a company’s operation can be. By understanding exactly how a barcode generator can help your business, you take the first step towards making your business more profitable. Of all the things that barcodes can help your company do, there are a few that stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

Elimination of Human Error

Humans are prone to making errors, especially when it comes to mundane and repetitive tasks. If a company can manage to produce its own barcodes through the use of a barcode printer, then they have the ability to limit user error through input. Barcode printers work alongside barcode scanners to embed information about the product (such as cost and tax) so that the human cashier can simply scan it in and the information shows up automatically. This removes the need for entering numbers manually, and makes the point of sale far more effective at getting a bill generated in as little time as possible. It removes the possibility of a bottleneck in the cashing procedure and also makes it easier on the personnel running the point of sale terminal since they don’t have to memorize the prices of individual objects, a task that may lead to further errors if the price is memorized wrongly.

Ease of Incorporation

When considering ways to effectively increase the productivity of a business, you need to be careful that the proposed changes won’t cost the business more in the long run. Barcodes offer the best benefit per unit cost of any other advancement that you might find. The only major costs that would be associated with it would be the purchasing of a barcode printer and scanner and the associated maintenance costs. Thermal barcodes are easy to include either on products or forms to ease the struggle of inputting large volumes of data. They usually come with an adhesive surface already attached to the back of the printed barcode to enable easy attachment. Barcodes are far more durable than simply using labels and barcode scanners take input to a whole other level, extracting information from the codes in the blink of an eye.

Inventory Control and Management

When combined with a point of sale system, barcodes can make the tedious task of inventory management and control a walk in the park. Since information regarding inventory items can be included on the barcode, the scanner simply has to pick up the code, associate it with the correct product in the database and reduce the total by one for each item. Inventory control could not be any easier. The system can also be made to warn the inventory manager when a certain item is at the point where a reorder is necessary. Combining printed barcodes with inventory information makes for a powerful tool for manipulation and control of a company’s inventory, and indirectly the overall efficiency of the company to perform its function.

Versatility

The adaptability of barcodes cannot be understated. Barcodes can be used to convey large volumes of data in a comparably small spaaaaaace. Because of their ability to fit on packaging ranging from equipment to products, they are ideal for use in a number of different situations. In fact, using your own barcode printer, different information can be included on a barcode to be read by particular departments as the barcode passes through them, delivering the relevant information to the necessary personnel. By using a barcode in this manner you create a system that lends itself to being dynamic and able to generate data quickly and effectively. The adhesive strip that comes ready-generated at the back of all barcodes make it simple for attaching to even perishable items. Directly printed labels also lend themselves to be used with foodstuffs since they are unlikely to contaminate them. Printed codes can also be long term or short term, depending on the type of printer used to create them. Long term labels are usually created using a heat transfer method whereas short term labels are directly printed onto special paper.

Acquiring a barcode printer can change the face of your business drastically. Being able to print your own barcodes with the data already generated automatically on it makes for a faster process time than if manual input would be required. This in turn makes for a more productive business overall. It is important not to overlook what barcodes can do for your particular business. Due to their ability to adapt to fit any situation, you can use them in almost any business situation.

A well-known business publication, Business Week, verifies this in their article, “How the bar code took over the world.”

Finally, according to the New York Times, New Bar Codes Can Talk With Your Cellphone . Why, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discussed barcodes in this page titled Barcodes on Vaccine Information Statements.

October 2014 net worth update — crushed $2,700 of debt this month

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Bob Jagendorf via Flickr

Welcome to October. It’s fall here in the northern hemisphere and as the leaves change color, it’s pretty natural to think of transition. One big transition I’m personally looking forward to is finally being out of debt.

In September, I took a big step in that direction by knocking out $2,700 of debt.

It just goes to show that that fixing my financial situation is all about attitude.

The numbers

Debt: Paid off $2,700 for a balance of -$105,700

There’s that big number again. And while that balance is still hugely negative, it feels amazing to make big progress like this. Financial freedom, I’m coming for you!

Retirement: Dropped $600 to $50,800

Sometimes, even though I contribute new money, the market is a total jerk about things. This month was one of those sometimes. Luckily, I’m focused on the long game here, but this still stings.

Net worth: Increased $2,100 to -$54,900

I’m pretty happy about this too. It too is very, very negative but headed in the right direction.

Let’s see how I did tackling the personal finance goals I set for myself at the beginning of September.

The goal results

Goal #1: Pay off $2,700 of student loan debt. Pass.

Yeah, I did. I made this work by setting up an automatic payment at the beginning of the month to take away the temptation to spend the money on other frivolity.

Goal #2: Limit total vacation spending to $100 per day. Fail.

Oh hey, I’m in London, still just about 3/4 of the way done with a short vacation in Europe.

I still have a few more days to go, but big expenses like rental cars and train trips are all paid for and it looks like the best I’ll be able to do will be averaging about $115 per day for the 18 days I’m afield. I was actually on track to be much closer, but then I missed a train and had to pay exorbitantly for a last-minute ticket on the next train so as not to miss my follow-on connection.

Sigh. I suppose this is what I get for scheduling early departures when I’m on vacation.

Sub-goal #2a: Have fun. Pass.

Almost forgot I set this goal!

Yes, mission accomplished :)

Goal #3: Make good vegetarian food. Fail.

Not only did I cook far less than I thought I would, thanks to Europe’s amazing culture of fast, inexpensive, good food, I also gave up on the vegetarianism pretty quickly.

At most of the inexpensive small restaurants we’ve been to, the only vegetarian options have been pastries or bread with butter. I suppose I’ll try to get back on the train in October.

Goal #4: Not get fat on vacation. Neutral.

Not quite fat, thanks to all the walking around and thanks to the much more reasonable portion size, but I’m certainly not in any great shape right now.

I’ll try to get back to this in October as well.

Goal #5: Write a post about not spending too much on attending weddings. Fail.

What the… this seems like it would have been the easiest goal to accomplish, considering that the whole point of traveling here was to attend a wedding (without spending too much). You’ll get this post in October as well!

Looks like there’s a lot I’ll have to make up in October, but because these accomplishments are important to me, it’ll be very worth it.

How was everyone else’s September?



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Oh, still here? Have a bonus video of a bear waving:

Fixing your finances is all about ATTITUDE

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Tambako The Jaguar

I told a friend over the weekend about some of the progress I’ve made in paying off student loan debt and was taken aback at the single follow-up question he came back with.

In fact, I’ve started to notice a trend among the reactions when I tell people about some of the progress I’ve made along the way toward getting out of debt.

When they’re simply making comments, folks are generally supportive, offering words of praise with the occasional bit of advice rolled in there. I always appreciate the motivation and additional suggestions on how I could be doing better.

But it’s the follow-up questions that make me a bit confused and make me wonder where some folks’ heads are at.

What they never ask:

I have never had someone ask me, “What are some tips for using public transport so I can get by without a car?” or “How do you find nice roommates you can get along with?” And I can say with utmost certainty that no one, upon hearing about my debt payoff, has ever asked me, “What did you eat for dinner last night?”

I find this odd because dwelling, transport, and food are the biggest components of most people’s budgets and so cutting these down should make the biggest difference in giving you more to send off to your debt servicers. And consequently, these would be the most important thing in determining how quickly you can pay off student loans.

The one questions they do ask

No, rather than ask about ways to save money, most people pretty much all ask one thing: “How much money do you make?”

That’s it.

This question is ridiculous because you should know that getting your personal finances in the right place isn’t about how much you make; it’s about how much you save.

And how much you save is all about just one thing: ATTITUDE.

As for what I had for dinner last night, I had a chick pea curry that I made with a bit of rice. And yeah, I’m still hungry.



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Mortgage refinancing saves me over $5,000 per year — small changes make a big difference!

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American Advisors Group via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

When I started this blog and started getting serious about paying off debt, one of the first things I did was work to refinance my mortgages. After months of working with multiple banks and credit unions, I knocked about 2.5% off each of them. Sure, 2.5% may not seem like much, but considering that each mortgage is for hundreds of thousands of dollars, my annual savings on interest charges is well over $5,000.

Every little bit counts!

That money saved goes straight to paying down student loan debt.

Refinancing could be good for all kinds of people

If you’re a property owner, there’s a pretty good chance you’re locked into a rate higher than what would be available to you right now.

There’s plenty of reasons why that might be; maybe you bought a home when all interest rates were higher. Maybe you got an adjustable rate mortgage with a low, fixed teaser rate that has since reset. Maybe you just couldn’t get a great rate since you were just starting out and hadn’t yet built up much of a credit history.

Got any other tips for saving on housing payments?