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Friday, November 30, 2007
IRS' Mileage Rates for 2008
The Internal Revenue Service has come out with standard auto (such as for car, van, pickup truck) mileage rates for 2008; these are:

- 50.5 cents per mile for business purposes, up from 48.5 cents in 2007 (Note: 50.5 cents per mile is valid for Jan 1 - Jun 30, 2008 but for Jul 1 - Dec 31, 2008, the rate is 58.5; see: Taxes: auto mileage rates for 2008 )
- 14 cents per mile for use while performing service for charitable organizations, which is the same rate as is 2007
- 19 cents per mile when using auto for medical or moving purposes, down from 20 cents in 2007

For details, see:

IRS' Revenue Procedure 2007-70

Accountingnet.com: IRS Announces 2008 Standard Mileage Rates

2007 Standard Mileage Rates
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Thursday, November 29, 2007
Free telecoaching call with author, David Bach - Nov 28, 5 PM EST
David Bach, author of several books such as The Automatic Millionaire : A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich and Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner is hosting a free, 1-hour live telecoaching call. Timings are Thursday, November 28 at 5 pm EST. He will be answering questions on various topics, including:

- Emergency Funds
- Owning vs. Renting
- Mortgage vs. IRA
- Debt vs. Savings

For reservations, send an email to: coachingcall@finishrich.com with "RSVP" in the subject line. Teleconference calling number is 512.879.2222; and participant access code: 879089#.
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Free Sample from Walmart - Garnier Fructis Color Shield shampoo
For a limited time, Wal-Mart is offering:

Free Sample - Garnier Fructis Color Shield system
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Saving by shopping on Black Friday
Had a nice Thanksgiving, followed by a busy post-thanksgiving shopping schedule. Since last year, we had been thinking of buying a large-screen TV, if we could get it at a reasonable price. Finally, on the black Friday, we bought a 42" Olevia LCD.

Earlier we were thinking of buying a 50" TV but our budget was to spend a maximum of $1,000 inclusive of all taxes, shipping etc. We also wanted to stick with a Plasma or a LCD TV as with a DLP, we heard that you need to replace a bulb every few years and the cost of the bulb is quite high. This criteria limited us to a 42" TV. Since we were buying a smaller-sized TV instead of a 50", we decided to cut our budget further and not to spend more than $800, excluding taxes, for it.

I had seen an ad for a 42" Poloroid Plasma TV for sale at Walmart on the Black Friday but when we reached there around 10 AM, all sets were already sold out. We then went to Staples and Best Buy but had no luck there as well for finding a 42" TV for under $800. Fortunately, I had also seen an ad for a 42" Westinghouse Plasma TV for $799 (+ tax) at Office Depot which happened to be on our way. Since we reached there around noon, I had expected that all units would have been sold out. Luckily for us, there were two sets remaining of 42" Olevia LCD TV which I and another customer who had just come in before me bought. The price was $899 plus tax. However, Office Depot was offering a $200 mail in rebate on that day, so our final cost will come to around $750, inclusive of taxes and rebate. Since we managed to fit the box fit in the back of our trunk, we didn't have to worry about shipping as well. We still have to set up the unit but overall, so far, we are happy with the purchase price.

We also bought a washing machine (since our old machine is almost on the verge of quitting) and a few winter clothing items, as they all also happened to be on sale. Overall, it was a good Black Friday experience. Since we had left for shopping after 9 AM, by the time we hit the shops, we didn't have problem finding parking at any of the places, and the crowd size was reasonable.

It was definitely worth a wait for us to postpone the purchase of non-emergency items, especially electronics items, until Black Friday since the discounts are pretty decent. Going forward, these are the rules I plan to stick with:

- Postpone purchases of electronic items as long as possible, as their prices drop drastically while memory, processing power and other features increase over time.

- Check online prior to going out for shopping at retailers to get an idea of the prices that are being offered at various online and physical retail stores. Take into consideration the total cost of buying an item, including sales tax and shipping cost.

- Purchase items, especially electronic items, during the early morning hours of Black Friday when the retailers are having significant markdowns on various items. Sale discounts are especially good on electronic items during the early hours of Black Friday.

- In the past, when I wasn't sure of buying the item even if it was on sale, I wouldn't buy it. However, later on, after going home I would think that it was a good deal and I should have bought the item. Of course, by the time I would go back to the store, the item would no longer be on sale. Now the rule is that if an item I want is on sale but am sure not whether I should buy it, buy the item as the deep sale price may not last. Do not use the item but wait for a couple of days to decide if I still really really want the item. After a few days, if I don't have the strong desire to have the item (which is often the case), return the unused/unopened new item. Otherwise, if I still like the item, then just keep it.
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Sunday, November 25, 2007
Quote - Smile
A smile will gain you ten more years of life
- Chinese Proverb


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Saturday, November 24, 2007
Bonus offers - DVD player or Digital frame from Citi's Credit Protector
Citibank is running two separate bonus offers for its Credit Protector program, with a free 30-day trial. In one promotion, the bonus offer is for a DVD Player while in the other, the offer is for a digital photo frame.

It may be beneficial to look into the program only if you have a Citibank card which you don't use as otherwise, there is a 89 cents charge per $100. This could end up resulting in paying more in charges that what the bonuses are worth depending on how much you charged to the account.

For details and other information, the link is provided below:

Citi Credit Protector: Free DVD Player Bonus Offer

Citi Credit Protector: Free Digital Frame Bonus Offer


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Thursday, November 22, 2007
Happy thanksgiving!
May this day bring families closer together, and may this day bring happiness in everyone's life.

Wish you all a very happy and safe thanksgiving!
posted by Ruby @ 8:58 AM   0 comments

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
T/R Achievers: Michael Funk – the key to upward mobility
The Tulsa World article profiles Michael Funk. Working over 8-hour days, six days a week at restaurants since high school, he worked his way up from a prep cook to become the chef de cuisine and assistant general manager of The Polo Grill Restaurant. The reason for his success:
He has taken on the attitude of a business owner: He will change a light bulb if it needs changing and do anything to make the restaurant the best and most profitable it can be.
His advises culinary school students to get jobs at hotels as they will learn a wide range of food service jobs, and recommends that restaurant employees never think they are "too good to work in a dish pit."

For complete article, see:

TulsaWorld.com: Working at the bottom prepares one for the top


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Monday, November 19, 2007
The cost of bottled water - over $10/gallon?
While most of us are concerned about the rising gas prices, many people drink bottled water under the assumption that bottled water is safer, and without realizing that a gallon of bottled water often costs more than the same amount of gas. As per the Women's Health Magazine article, 56 percent of Americans who drink bottled water buy it because they think that tap water isn't healthful or safe. Assuming that a bottled water costs $2 for a 24-ounce bottle, on a gallon basis, it works out to be over $10 per gallon of bottled water compared to about $3 per gallon of gas.
"Bottled water is popular because it's convenient," says Peter Gleick, Ph.D., president of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit think tank focusing on environmental issues. "But aggressive ad campaigns promote it as better for you than tap. Therefore, people, rightly or wrongly -- and we believe wrongly -- are afraid of what comes from their faucet."
As per the article, there's a possibility that tap water may not be totally clean and can make you sick. In addition, water quality in small towns or rural areas may not be good.
"water systems that serve fewer than 10,000 people tend to have far greater problems with contamination because the funding needed to keep these facilities and their testing up-to-date often isn't available."

If you're one of the 43.5 million Americans who drink from a well, "the big problem is [potentially toxic] nitrates, which often get into the water from leaking septic tanks and fertilizers," Dr. Solomon says. Nitrates have been linked to problems such as kidney disease and miscarriage.
On the positive side, tap water is regulated more rigorously than bottled water, is less expensive and is better for the environment.

Every time you drink bottled water, you're doing serious damage to your tree-hugger cred. "It takes three to four times the amount of water in the bottle just to make the plastic for the bottle," Gleick says. "And that's not including how much oil is used and how much carbon dioxide is created when the water is shipped to the store."
As per the article:

The truth is, most tap water is pretty darn safe -- and in the end, drinking it is better for the earth and for your purse. In fact, every expert we interviewed guzzles tap water most of the time. "Millions of people in the U.S. drink tap water every day and stay perfectly healthy," Giammar says.

"We've got some of the best water in the world."
The article suggests doing the following to ensure tap water in your area is safe:

1. Get a water report for your area and review it for any potential contaminants, and violations.

2. Test your tap water using a home-testing kit. However, in case of a well or old pipes that could be leaching chemicals, using a local lab or your county's cooperative extension program.

3. Buy a good filtering system

4. Filter your shower water to minimize the impact of chloring in water

5. When on the go, take tap water in a washable stainless-steel bottle. Avoid plastic bottles as they can harbor bacteria and may not withstand heat, when washing it in a dishwasher

6. If buying bottled water, buy domestic varieties as its more environmentally friendly.

For complete post, see:

Womenshealthmag.com: Is your tap water safe?


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Sunday, November 18, 2007
Weekend Quote - Reaping what you sow
Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil
- Chinese proverb
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Thursday, November 15, 2007
Using an explosive piggy-bank to boost savings
With an increasingly aging population, Japanese have come up with a novel idea of scaring its people into savings - a "savings bomb". The so called, savings bomb is actually a battery-powered piggy-bank type toy which explodes and scatters coins if the user doesn't fill it with a coin for a certain length of time
"Users must pick up and collect the scattered coins and reflect on their laziness," the Japanese company said.
I always thought Japanese are very good savers but seems that to some extent, they have a savings problems just like many of us. Regardless, while the concept of a "savings bomb" may be corny, it seems to have some practical value. May be we all need a similar kind of device that whacks us if we don't contribute to our retirement plans regularly or if our expenses exceed our income, and kicks politicians if they keep coming up with new spending plans, without doing anything to cut governmental expenses.

For complete article, see:

Yahoo.com: Exploding piggy-bank aims to scare Japanese into saving
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Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Free Sample from Walmart - Degree Men deodorant
For a limited time, Wal-Mart is offering:

Free Sample - Degree Men deodorant


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Monday, November 12, 2007
Are antibacterial soaps worth the extra price?
A lot of companies have been hyping the use of antibacterial soap. I like, many people, assumed that antibacterial soap are more effective in killing germs and therefore, worth the extra price over the regular soap. But over the past few weeks, have been reading quite a lot about the fact that antibacterial soap may not be better than regular soap; infact, it may even make the bacteria more resistant.

The HowStuffWorks article delves into that very topic.

Studies suggest that the widespread use of antimicrobial chemicals may be causing these products to lose their effectiveness.
.....
And adding antimicrobial chemicals to soap may be particularly ineffective.

As per the article, preliminary research shows that the regular soap does as good a job, if not better, as the antibacterial soap in getting rid of the germs.

What the researchers found is that there was no significant difference in the amount of bacteria killed by the use of antibacterial soap over regular soap. They also found that there was no significant increase in the presence of resistant bacteria in the homes that used antibacterial products.

These findings were surprising. First, the study says that antibacterial soap is no better at killing germs than regular soap. It also says that the bacteria didn't mutate into super bacteria in the homes that used antibacterial soap.

According to the article, apart from regular soap, other effective means of getting rid of bacteria include lemon juice, bleach and alcohol.

Sometimes plain old soap and other tried-and-true cleaning agents can work just as well as today's antibacterial products. Good, old-fashioned soap may not say "antibacterial" on its label, but it still kills germs. Sometimes it does a better job than antibacterial soap.

In addition, soap isn't the only thing that kills bacteria -- there are many naturally occurring antibacterial agents. Lemon juice, for example, changes the pH level in bacterial cells, creating an acidic environment in which microbes can't survive. Other naturally antibacterial substances dry cells out, killing the bacteria (bacteria most commonly thrive in moist environments). Still others, like bleach and alcohol completely obliterate the cells of the bacteria. Unlike the targeted attack of antimicrobial agents, bleach and alcohol simply cause the cells to lyse, or rupture.

For complete article, see:

HowStuffWorks: Should antibacterial soap be outlawed?


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Sunday, November 11, 2007
Weekend Quote - The right priority order for happiness in life
First people, then money, then things
- Suze Orman


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Thursday, November 08, 2007
Avoiding investment scams - trust but verify
The Columbian.com article discusses the losses of several victims who lost thought they were putting their savings in the hands of trustful people but ended up losing their savings.

Nancy Meacham lost about $54,000 she had invested with the Greater Ministries International after hearing good word about the ministry from her friends at the church. However, the people at the ministry turned out to be scam artists.

"I learned a tremendous amount - of what not to do," said Meacham, a former public schoolteacher and now a businesswoman who diagnoses and corrects reading disabilities.

"I should have checked out some kind of prospectus to see if they really were doing gold and silver mining," she said. "And I should have checked out their last three years' tax returns."

Similary, another company, Znetix defrauded about 7,200 investors with over $90 million. The company would promise huge returns for investors by investing in its stock, and recruit well-known sports stars including Shaquille O'Neal and Tiger Woods for endorsement deals of its health and fitness services and products.

"The advertising campaign was designed only to sell more stock, as Znetix had no products or services to offer, and little or no revenue."

"I had my doubts about the deal, but their pitch was so smooth and convincing," Franklin said recently. "They managed to scam people with all kinds of backgrounds, including doctors, dentists and lawyers."


As per the article, people can avoid getting scammed by doing things such as the following:

"- By saying no to strangers who phone them, offering impossible profits and using sophisticated persuasive skills.

- By tossing bogus junk-mail offerings in the trash and dealing only with companies you know to be reputable.

- By not clicking on links in unsolicited spam e-mails, links that might duplicate a respected company's logos, but will take folks and their personal information straight to the crooks."


Another good advice is to check out if the person selling investments, or advising on how to invest, is registered with the appropriate state or federal agencies.

"Just not being registered can be a red flag, officials say, and folks who check with an agency such as the DFI also can learn whether any problems have been reported about a company."

Some of the sites that people can use to find out if a person such as a broker selling investments or offering investment advice is registered or not include:

National Association of Securities Dealers Inc.'s BrokerCheck/Financial Industry Regulatory Authority

Securities and Exchange Commission and North American Securities Administrators Association

For complete article, see:

Columbian.com: Investors can learn to dodge scammers
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007
T/R Achievers: Christophe Cremer - Profiting from every day problems
The Yahoo/BusinessWeek article discusses the achievement of entrepreneur, Christophe Cremer, who founded the the Paris-based online mortgage broker, Meilleurtaux in 1999. Although similar online-mortgage application sites like E-LOAN had already existed in the US, when Cremer tried to launch one in Paris, he received cold reception from his banks. Regardless, Cremer moved ahead and his site soon became popular, making it easy for him to convince banks to partner with his firm.

"I showed them the site was getting over 40,000 applications a month and that it wouldn't be profitable for them not to work with us," he says.

Cremer got the idea of starting his firm from his brother-in-law who had shopped with just two banks when applying for a mortgage as he found the application process very boring and tedious. That conversation with his brother-in-law sparked the idea in Cremer to start his own firm.

"I thought, this is something the Internet could do," Cremer says. His idea works in the banks' favor, too, because "rather than doing 10 meetings and getting one customer, they can do two meetings and get two customers."

The article shows how entrepreneurs from all over the world get ideas to start their businesses by listening to and observing every day problems faced by others, and then finding ways to solve those problems. As happens in most cases, others initially don't buy into their visions but successful entrepreneurs generally do not give in and forge ahead anyways, and in the process, often achieve tremendous success.

"Meilleurtaux, operated by parent company Omnigain (MEX.PA), brought in revenues of more than $65.3 million last year, a 74% increase over 2005, and has now begun opening brick-and-mortar branches -- some 52 already in France, plus 60 franchises that sell insurance and provide mortgage refinancing services. It was the first company to be listed on Alternext, a trading market for small and midsize firms, in 2005, and soon graduated to the bigger Eurolist in October, 2006."

For complete article, see:

Yahoo/BusinessWeek Online: Online Mortgage Rates? Ooh-la-la...
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Sunday, November 04, 2007
Weekend Quote - The right time to buy
I've found that when the market's going down and you buy funds wisely, at some point in the future you will be happy. You won't get there by reading "Now is the time to buy".
- Peter Lynch


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Saturday, November 03, 2007
On top one moment, out another - the fleeting success
The Wall Street Journal blog post talks about how CIBC research analyst, Meredith Whitney’s downgrade of Citigroup on last Thursday helped spark selloff on the Wall Street.

As per Whitney, Citigroup may have to cut its dividend to strengthen its finances. Her downgrade of Citigroup came at a time when the market is already jittering due to subprime issues, lower Q3 earnings and other problems. With the Citigroup's CEO, Chuck Prince, already under pressure from various investor groups and other stakeholders, this downgrade probably served as the last straw that's expected to lead to his departure from Citigroup, as the WSJ reported yesterday:

WSJ.com: Citigroup CEO Plans to Resign As Losses Grow

Earlier, Merrill Lynch's former-CEO, Stanley O'Neal was also forced out, and many people are going after the CEOs at other financial firms as well. It's ironic that one moment you may be a very powerful person at the top of the world, while the next moment, every thing could fall apart. That's why it's important to not let success inflate your ego as the crown you are wearing today will be worn by someone else in future. Rather, enjoy success and use it to achieve greater success in other endeavors while being grateful for all the blessings that it brings your way.

For complete post, see:

WSJ.com: The $369 Billion Analyst


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Thursday, November 01, 2007
A new twist to identity theft - synthetic identities
The Wall Street Journal article talks about a new twist in identity theft - imaginary people, concoted by scammers, who look real on paper. These people with synthetic identity are increasingly being used to get loans and credit cards from financial institutions. The article discusses the tricks used by one scammer, Mr. Rose, who defrauded over $700,000 from banks by creating such imaginary people.

"Working with a partner, Mr. Rose tricked the guardians of the credit system - lenders and the three big credit bureaus - into treating his fake identities as if they were real, creditworthy consumers. He obtained several hundred credit cards in the names of Mr. Gregory and as many as 500 other fake personas over two years, filching around $750,000 over a two-year period.

Unlike traditional identity thieves, who purloin people's information to get loans or make purchases, fraudsters like Mr. Rose mix legitimate and phony data to create synthetic identities. This kind of fraud doesn't usually directly affect consumers. The big losers are banks, which get stuck with loan defaults and unpaid credit-card bills that identity thieves leave behind."


While the banks have been secretive about their losses from synthetic identity fraud, the article suggests that this problem is growing and "is showing up all over the place."

Such scams take advantage of the holes in the practices of the three big credit-reporting companies, which maintain a file for every inquiry lenders make, even if it contains mismatching or erroneous data. Scammer take advantage of such no-hit files by applying for credit cards using a mix of real and phony data.

"The FTC has estimated that the no-hit phenomenon has created "tens of millions" more files in the credit bureaus' databases than there are actual consumers.

For complete article, see:

The Wall Street Journal: The Borrower Who Never Was


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Favorite Quote
"If you look at what you have in life, you will always have more. If you look at what you do not have in life, you will never have enough".
                - Author Unknown
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