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Archive for the ‘Personal Finance’ Category

Bet Against the American Dream

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

This video and audio podcast (Inside Job) takes a deeper look into the complex financial instruments that caused all the economic turmoil we see today.  Both the NPR Planet Money folks and ProPublica folks do a really good job explaining how all this stuff was constructed and subsequently affected us all.  This also gives good background to understand what’s currently happening with Goldman Sachs, ACA, & Paulson.

This American Life: Inside Job (click on the “stream episode” link to play the audio)

Enjoy.

– Dom

Planet Money

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Just a quick post to tell people about a National Public Radio (NPR) program that caught my ear over a year ago.  It’s called Planey Money and it has totally entertained, as well as, educated me on some of the current events in Finance and Economics.  I subscribe to the podcast and listen to the programs every week on my iPhone.  Here are some of the podcasts I found the most interesting:

Enjoy!

– Dom

Expense Tracking

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Knowing what you spend is important to your personal financial health.  If you have looked at my Understanding your debt post you read about how I worked at getting my debt paid off using a spreadsheet to help me track the big picture on a month to month basis ultimately paying off credit card, car, & student loan debt.

At about the same time I created the spreadsheet, I started tracking very closely what I spent.  Back then I used a pencil and pocket sized pad of paper I carried with me.  As I paid cash for goods and services I wrote down the daily expenses as I incurred them and at the end of the day summarized the totals in a spreadsheet.  This was a very cumbersome and time consuming process.  There were times where I missed a expense because I did not get a receipt after paying cash (today I’m not sure why businesses don’t give you a receipt when you pay cash).

I looked around for a better solution back then (2004-5ish).  I did have a Palm Tungsten PDA, and found a expense tracker that helped me track and automatically sum expenses as I incurred them.  The only problem at the time, was I had a mobile phone and a PDA, carrying around 2 devices was problematic, I would at most times forget the PDA.

When the iPhone came out (I got the 2nd gen one), I realized this was device that allowed me to have software applications (expense tracking) along with the phone and a bunch of other future applications.  Yes, there was the Palm Treo, but for some reason I did not jump on that device at the time, maybe it was because I recently bought the Palm Tungsten and had a investment in it.  I moved to the iPhone with the expectation that a expense tracking application would soon be created based on a better user interface.

I now use my iPhone with a expense tracking application called iExpenseIt ($4.99 from the App Store).

I don’t use all the features of this software (like adding deposits and budgeting), all I use is the expense & reporting parts (the summary tables & pie charts are great).  I also only track cash & credit card purchases at the time I incur the expense.  I really like the feature to export a CSV file via WiFi or Email, this allows me to move the history to a spreadsheet for longer history retention.

What I have found, based on the data tracked, is that for my family of 4, we spend about the same amount on food from month to month.  If we eat more at home we spend more on groceries, if we eat out more we spend less on groceries.  By the way, eating will likely be your largest expense, it is for us.

I certainly wish I had a expense tracking application like this back in high school & college, it would have allowed me to understand where all my credit card debt came from (likely from a lot of pizza).  I may have had the opportunity to see my credit habits earlier and reign in my spending, something that took me so long to pay off.  My kids will certainly have expense tracking down by the time they hit high school.

I hope this post was useful and provides one example of what you can do to keep a grip on your personal financial situation.

– Dom

Understanding your debt

April 8, 2010 2 comments

Today, I was cleaning up some old files in my archive and came across a Excel 2003 spreadsheet I had created years ago. The reason I created this spreadsheet was to get a big picture understanding of my whole debt situation and get it paid off. At the time, I had credit card debt, student loan debt, and a car loan. I’m making it freely available for anyone to use who has Excel or OpenOffice.org Calc (I’ve tested it, and it works).

This was back in 2003-2004. and I had finished grad school. Some of the classes we had were in finance and investments, understanding time value of money, corporate structure, and the stock markets. I was determined to be debt free and now had the understanding & motivation to do it. So I went to work on a excel spreadsheet that I could plug my debt numbers into to see how I progressed and when all this would be done.

I’m glad to say that I’m relatively debt free today (still got a mortgage), thanks in part to school and the spreadsheet that provided a easy feedback mechanism for seeing my overall progress.

I’ve listened to the personal finance people over the years and based on my experience it is best to pay off the debt with the lowest balance first. Most tell you to pay the highest interest rate first since it will ultimately save you more money. What I found is that paying the lowest balance first allows you to feel good about getting something paid off quickly, but more importantly you free up your time, energy, stress, and money that was devoted to that one bill. Thinking about one less bill is a huge load off the mind. This is why my strategy was to pay the lowest balance off first, then roll the previous payment to the next bill.

Ok, here are some details about the spreadsheet:

The changeable fields are in blue (the black are calculated fields, so are the other tabs in the spreadsheet), basically plug in the relevant info and the spreadsheet does the rest. It can handle payoffs up to 30 years which will allow for some most mortgages also. For the summation rows, a weighted average calculation is done to see big picture. For the date column, it lets you put in today’s date and the spreadsheet will tell you when this part will be paid off, this does not account for variable rates it assumes a fixed rate throughout the payment which is not too realistic since credit card rates change (loans generally do not). But, then again, you can update the spreadsheet as your rates change so you are constantly on top of your debt picture.  The way I used this, was to revisit the spreadsheet once a month when all the statements came in and adjust the values that changed, typically the date, balance, & APR.  It also allows the flexibility to add increased payments and see what the payoff results would be.  Lastly since all this information is local to my computer it stayed private.

Here is a quick video demo of the spreadsheet (best viewed at 720p fullscreen):

Here is the 20 entry 30 year Credit Card Loan Calculator spreadsheet for you to download: CCLC30YR20.xls

And if you don’t have Excel, here is where you can download OpenOffice Calc for free so you can use the spreadsheet.

I hope this is useful to others as it was useful to me. Enjoy.

– Dom

* The youtube video was created using Camtasia Studio 7 and a Plantronics .Audio 470 USB Stereo Headset.

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