Beware the “freebie”

these freebies aren’t necessarily free

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We all love things for free. We search for deals and steals on- line for free samples, free shipping, etc. What happens when being free isn’t so great? These are words we must beware when shopping for our best freebies.

1. When Freebies cause riots: When getting things for free or almost free come at the expense of others safety and health, it’s just not worth it. “Black Friday” sales, the sales the day after Thanksgiving this past year cost one Wal-Mart Greeter his life. When the doors were opened, the crowd trampled the poor greeter, stepping over his dead body and while the emergency personnel worked on him, the crowd continued to push the personnel. Another example is Oprah’s generous gift of free grilled chicken from KFC this past month for all American’s. All coupons had to be printed on the first day; confusing the crowd that they must be used that day, there were riots at KFC’s all over America, all for a free 2 piece chicken meal.

2. Risk Free: Risk free does not mean free. You pay a small amount, usually the shipping cost and try a product in your home for so many days. On the last day, if the product has not been shipped back, (and some times you must pay for this) you get charged for the product, whether you want it or not, or the rules on returns are not quite clear enough and they charge you and keep the product.

3. Monthly Memberships for free: There are places who allow you to have a “free membership”, which is actually an annual fee with a promise that “qualifying items” will be shipped to you for free. The truth is the $79 you pay to have things shipped to you for free isn’t exactly free is it?

4. Free Trials: The free trials you pay for on the internet are alot like the risk free products. You give a credit card number up front, and after so many days if you have not called the number that is always busy, you must pay. They do this because they usually get at least one month out of every person.

5. Buy One Get One: BOGO deals are not free either. You think you are getting a good deal until you learn that you must pay full price for the most expensive item and if your free item qualifies as free, then you get it. Many places. At the grocery store, this usually just means 50% off, and you can purchase one half off and not have to get another one, but this isn’t always the case at a retail store.

6. Free Shipping: Free shipping usually means free shipping, but in some cases it may be six to eight weeks before you get your package. Of course there are always options to pay more for your shipping to expedite it. When choosing a product based on the shipping, just have “buyer beware” on your mind and read all the fine print, unless you don’t mind waiting.

All of these freebies aren’t necessarily free and you should really search and beware when choosing these products.  Also, keep in mind that if getting something for free may put you or others at risk, maybe you should stay home and shop online!

Where Were the Watchdogs?

it would have continued to be a sure thing except one thing, people stopped paying their mortgages

Economic crisis -Isn’t this the understatement of the century. Going from a time of economic boom to giving soup-kitchen hand-outs to big name business, the World’s economy hangs on a ledge of little hope. Where were the watchdogs when the American stock-market became its own worst enemy?

CNBC depicted it perfectly in its story, House of Cards,  when they showed that the governmental standards weren’t up to par to prevent a crisis such as this. At one time, not so long ago, the American housing market was at an all-time high, and everyone was cashing in. From Lebanese businessmen, to pizza delivery guys, everyone had a mortgage to sell, and everyone wanted a home.

Businesses such as the company Quick Loan Funding  and other Internet based banks were selling mortgages to unqualified buyers like candy. No qualifications or standards were required for these mortgages. As long as someone on wall street would buy these mortgages, they were selling and profiting. Quick Loan Funding was basically an infomercial, “As seen on TV” type mortgage company. People who bought these mortgages usually were refinancing with the low APR’s they were offering. A new beginning to the buyer, a quick cash scheme for the sellers.

There were other types of mortgages that were available such as “Interest Only” loans and ridiculous mortgages that allowed the buyer to pay a percentage of their payment, in some cases, raising their mortgage principals instead of decreasing them. Anything was game, and wall street bought into it all.

Wall Street also bought into the dreaded CDO’s. CDO’s were mortgage packages, so to speak, these were grouped mortgages, such as entire subdivisions, that complicatedly grouped together and sold to mostly European and Asian governments and municipalities to gain revenue for their area. They were told this was a solid, AAA investment. This was the problem.

Rating agencies, such as Standard and Poor, were to rate an investment as a AAA or a BBB. The AAA’s were less risky, solid investments and the BBB, of course, meant more risk. With everyone cashing in and putting pressure on these rating agencies essentially lowered the AAA standard. Possibly because, if other rating agencies were lowering their standards, and your agency did not, you lost business. Therefore, the greed of Wall Street drove them as well. 

This is why that the economy nearly world wide is poor. A big percentage of Wall Street investors are other countries. Investing in American businesses has almost always been a sure thing, and it would have continued to be a sure thing except one thing, people stopped paying their mortgages. These investments were based on the future revenue of mortgage payments and interests. That required that mortgages be paid to pay out on the investment. Americans began to refinance their homes, taking out home equity loans to pay off their credit cards, using the equity in their home as an ATM machine. Once they paid off their debts, they charged them all up again. The greed of the banks and wall street drove them to never say “enough is enough”. No one ever told the buyer you are over extending yourself. The banks were driven by the competition as well. If the banks said stop, the consumer took their business to another bank. After three mortgages and $50,000 dollars of credit kept families from eating, Americans just stopped paying, thus spiraling our economy into the mess it is now.

So where were the watchdogs during this? The voice of reason from our government stepping up and saying, “there must be better standards.” America’s government has committees and bureaus that watch these kinds of things and they turned a blind eye to it. Perhaps they were cashing in too. Greed was driving everyone all over the world, perhaps the pressure was too great to put a stop to it. Who knows. What is known is that now, when it is too late, they want to scoop in and try to dig us out of the cavern of debt by using spoons. It is not going to happen by handing out big bucks that WE DON”T HAVE to companies that just didn’t know what they were getting into, or the ones that just didn’t care.

So now we all sit and wait, watching the disaster unfold in front of our eyes and think there is nothing we can do to change it. The truth is, I haven’t the answer. All I can do is take care of what is mine. Pay my bills and my mortgage, and clip and save, and hold onto what is more precious than money. Perhaps if we all do the same, we will find a way out of this Economic crisis.

The Downfall of Greed

man has been caught in the grips of greed, choked out by the immorality of it all.

Some of the worst financial mistakes ever made were made on the premise of greed. Greed is the ugly monster that has reared its head in every political and humanitarian arena throughout history. From selling out for profit, to taking advantage of a bad situation, greed has been the downfall of mankind.

Consider those who take advantage of natural disasters and charitable events. Bob Geldof, musician, was trying to rig the U.K. charts in 1984 and had a plan to do so. Live Aid was born. Live Aid was a charitable organization to help with the Ethiopian famine, a wonderful charity he wanted to hold in New York City. There was a problem, New York was greedy and wanted to get paid. Geldof settled for Philadelphia. On July 13, 1985, more than 60 artists performed for a globalized concert held at JFK Stadium to 120 countries worldwide. It became the greatest charity event in music history and New York missed the boat (1).

What about those who took advantage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama? Many of those “charitable groups” and contractors are serving time in jail for their greed; not to mention the countless families they helped destroy. This brings criminals to the table. Greed has been the downfall of too many men and women, causing them to turn to a life of crime.  Illegal gambling has become an obsession, lives have been lost and compromised simply for what cash was in their wallet, and families have been destroyed over fraud and forgery. In the September 2005 edition of Golf Magazine, the article, The Sneak Attacker, featured an anonymous man who played on the top 100 golf courses in America without paying. Greedy? Maybe yes, maybe no. His notoriety and the fee he was, I assume, paid by the magazine held little consequence to him when he boasted that he had committed over 100 thefts of service around America, all the while giving tips to others to commit the same crime. Perhaps this is a victimless crime, but as so quoted by his mother, “Wait until they find out you’re not part of their club!”. (2)

What about the downfall of the obsessed for greed? As fore-mentioned, gambling can destroy families, legal or illegal, wasting away hard earned money and some times government funds (social security checks and welfare).Also, what about the organizations spreading their own propaganda for unknown causes? Consider the 911 conspiracy theorist, Jimmy Walter, the founder of reopen911.org. Paying over $1 million dollars in ads on television and in the Times to promote the conspiracy that the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks. I do not perceive to know Walter’s motives; perhaps he just strongly believes in his theory. My question is, why profit from it? He sells vast collections of DVD’s and tshirts from the site.  Where does this money go? With all the hubbub, do these profits help victims or just spread more hate and fear and for what reason? (3)

Another conquest that could be considered a downfall is the search for lost treasure. Chicago business tycoon Bernard Keiser has poured a fortune into an island 400 miles off the coast of Chile, searching for $10 Billion dollars of lost treasure left by the Spanish captain Ubilla. In 1713, Ubilla stole some eight million pesos and supposedly hid them on this island. His Spanish empire was built on blood and slavery, forcing them to search for treasure, and mine for gold and jewels. (4)  Why profit from blood money? What if treasure is not found? Millions have been spent to find billions that has supposedly been buried for centuries, and will probably be buried for centuries more.

Why is greed so difficult to get past? Is it the demand of society? The demand to fit into the norm, to “keep up with the Jone’s” is sometimes overwhelming and mankind will do what it takes to gain that financial high. From profiting on others misfortunes to blatantly boasting on how money or notoriety could be achieved by crime, man has been caught in the grips of greed, choked out by the immorality of it all.

(1) Blender Magazine,  Things You Should Know about Live Aid, July 2005.

(2) Golf Magazine, The Sneak Attacker, September 2005.

(3) Maxim Magazine, What Really Brought Down the Towers, March 2006.

(4) Maxim Magazine, The Salesman, the Robot, and $10 Billion in Gold, June 2006.

How to Take Extreme Measures Against Debt

Debt is a cancer-cut it off.

Declare War on Debt
Declare War on Debt

Taking extreme measures against debt is one of the keys to financial success. Without debt, you can save and invest for sinking funds, college savings, retirement, or just that once in a lifetime vacation that you could not afford otherwise.

The first measure is to declare that debt is not a tool. Debt is not going to bring you riches beyond your wildest dreams. The person who says you have to spend money to make money has money to spend. The every day individual with a car payment, ten to twenty five thousand dollars in debt, and a mortgage cannot afford to use debt as a tool.

Next, pay what you can plus a little more. Get debt out from under you. If you can comfortably pay $300 a month on your debt but have an extra $150 a month that you blow on frivolous things, put it toward your debt. The faster you get away from debt the better off you are. It only takes one extra loan to wipe you out financially for the next ten years. Really consider what you can afford and don’t think that just because you pay on time that you are at the top of the game.

Since the new credit card bill came into effect just this month, credit card companies are already starting to penalize the ritual payees. The companies have been restricted to penalties and fees of late payers and over chargers. If you are a ritual payee, who pays every month on time, more than minimum payments, who never goes over the limit, you are no longer going to reap the benefits. Companies are going to have to make up these payment losses. Annual fees, loss of rewards, and high interest rates are already on the rise. The faster you declare war on the credit card companies, the better off you will be. Pay everything you can, sell stuff on eBay or amazon, have garage sales, and maybe get a part time job. Every cent you have to spare needs to go to paying these companies off.

If you are on the verge of financial despair, even more extreme measures may be needed. There are prioritized payments you will have to make. Dave Ramsey calls it the “four walls”. This means mortgage, utilities such as power and water, food, clothes. These need to be paid first. You should never let your mortgage go to pay for your car or your credit cards. You cannot live in a plastic card. Prioritize these items and send IN WRITING to your credit companies the following: a letter stating your plan,( i.e., I will pay you this much every month an only this much, I will talk to you on Tuesdays at 5:30 every week and will take no other phone calls from your company, etc.), Send them a “Pro-Rata” sheet, This is a written plan showing your debts, the payoff the percentage of your money they are getting, disposable income and how much you can afford to pay them afterwards. You can find a sheet like this at www.daveramsey.com. Stick to this plan. Do not be harassed everyday by these companies. If they call when not stated in your letter, hang up. Show these companies you are in control, they may moan and groan, but you are doing what you can.

 Side Note: Should you consider bankruptcy?  It is never something to be recommended just to pay off your debts. It is not the answer and the rules have changed. There are still debts to be paid with bankruptcy. Consult a financial planner before you consider this. Let them help you find your way back.

The last measure is to declare that you will never fall back into debt again. Declare to yourself that you will no longer be a victim of your own stupidity. Begin sinking funds, allocating cash in hand to emergency funds and repairs. Never again declare Christmas as an emergency to be put on credit cards again. Save during the year for Christmas or buy gifts throughout the year and put them back. Never again say to yourself it is OK to use the card if you pay the balance off next month. Never again even put the card in your wallet. Cut them up, freeze them, put them in a safety deposit box, whatever you must do to not use them. Buy cheaper cars that you can pay cash for or sell your car and take the bus. Scream out loud that you will do the most extreme and outrageous things to never again be close to foreclosure vs. starvation.

So, how do you get out of debt? Pay, pay, pay. Do what must be done! Declare war on the creditors; declare war on debt. Stop using credit as a tool.  It is a growth, a virus – a cancer; cut it off.

Read more about eliminating debt at http://www.daveramsey.com

One Man’s Last Stand

On this memorial weekend, I think it is important to change pace a little and focus on one of the reasons we are able to do what we do. War veterans. Whether you agree with war or not, these men and women sacrifice everything for their  country. Please join me in praising them for their sacrifice.

Please visit http://www.southernbelleshistory.wordpress.com and read “One Man’s Last Stand”, an article on the last American WWI Veteran and his last fight at age 109. Thank you for all your support Mr. Buckles.

20 Tips on How to Succeed on Your Path to Financial Freedom

Be a powerful force in your own life and know that only you have the key to financial freedom.

We each struggle, through good and bad times, on how to stay afloat with our finances from knowing what to do with money when we have it, to trying to find it when we don’t. Here are some tips on what we can do to make sure we succeed. Some of these tips are similar in thought but are important to say out loud to yourself, even if underneath they have the same meaning.

  1. Declare to have a clear direction- Declare that you will follow a certain path of success and stick to it.
  2. Keep a strong will- A strong will is crucial to following that direction.
  3. Keep self-control and discipline- Along with your strong will, keep self-control in your spending and discipline yourself to follow your path.
  4. Keep a positive outlook- With a positive outlook on life, you are sure to succeed. If you do not it won’t make a difference because you’ll still be happy.
  5. Declare that what you put your hands on will succeed- Declare that you will succeed, never give up and your deeds will prosper.
  6. Reprogram your way of thinking- Sometimes we need to “reboot” our brains and begin thinking another way. If we have been a spender, we must reprogram to be a saver and if we are negative, we must reprogram to be positive and strong willed.
  7. Discover the power of your words- Saying declarations of success out loud can unleash a power inside you never knew you had. It can also help others to realize your potential and hands will reach out to you to help you succeed.
  8. Sit Still- Sometimes the best financial plan is to do nothing at all. When you are torn on a financial decision, simply do nothing and the answer will eventually reveal itself to you by necessity or circumstance.
  9. Be happy with what you can control- If your finances have gotten so out of whack that you feel despair, be happy with the things you can control and focus on them first. Leave what is out of your hands out of your hands and you will find your way.
  10. You cannot receive if your hand is closed- Even in the roughest financial times, finding ways to give to others will open doors for you to receive. There is always ways to give, even if it is by helping someone. Not all giving must be fiscal. Kind words and actions will allow good things to happen.
  11. Enlarge your vision- Along with a powerful way of thinking, if you enlarge your vision to include future goals and reach for those goals, your path may lead you to the larger picture.
  12. Choose to be happy- Along with positive thinking, being a happy person makes financial troubles seem menial. Focus on the important things of life like family and friends and be happy about them. If someone else is prospering, be happy for them.
  13. Give thanks to what you accomplish- Thanking others that have helped you find your way can lift their spirits and your own. If no one has helped you, be thankful that you did it on your own, you have had accomplishments, no matter how big or small.
  14. Prepare for the unexpected- When times are good you must prepare for the unexpected by saving and planning. When times are bad, prepare for worse times and prepare for better times. Don’t let any change in your finances be a shock to your psyche.
  15. Organize your thoughts- Being organized  is a very important step in seeing it through. Starting with smaller goals and working your way to the bigger ones or shooting for the moon in the first place, know where you are going and organize how you will get there.
  16. Realize you are either coming or going from a storm- In life there are two realizations. We are either coming from a storm or going to one. Once you are out of a storm, you are headed towards another one eventually. The realization of this helps you better prepare for the future.
  17. Do not worry- This is easier said than, done but worrying about the troubles that are at hand can put a stand still to pulling yourself out of the muck. Just declare to yourself that you will find your way back to the top.
  18. Do not be afraid to ask for help- When you are really struggling and you feel you are at your wits end, don’t be afraid to reach for a hand. Go to your church, your friends and family, or to the government. If you are ashamed to ask for hand outs, as for advice. Many times you will find help where you least expect it.
  19. Be educated- When faced with a challenge, educate yourself on your choices. Go to the library, look for free classes, whatever you need to do to make a sound decision is worth the extra time.
  20. Praise your successes- When you have successes, it is OK to give yourself praise for your choices. Good choices help you change your thought process to positive and a healthy self esteem will help you have a healthy plan.

Take these tips and declare them outloud. Write down your goals and know that you will succeed. It may not mean that you will ever be rich; the success lies within your happiness. Be a powerful force in your own life and know that only you have the key to financial freedom.

Some ideas were taken from Joel Osteen’s “Your Best Life Now”. To read more you can go to www.joelosteen.com

The Penny: An Underestimated Currency

Pennies are an important piece of American history and are not meant to be stepped over in the street

In today’s market, many underestimate the value of a penny. Perhaps it is because of the “take a penny, leave a penny” mentality that they are not worth anything.  This could not be farther from the truth.

There have been efforts made to eliminate the use of the penny all-together in the United States. What a shame that would be. Pennies minted in the 1940’s, namely 1942 and 1943 “wheat pennies” can be worth up to $40 by a collector.  My collection of 100 wheat pennies are worth at total of $40 (forty) dollars to collectors,  $1 dollar if I spend them in circulation. What makes these coins valuable is the copper content of the coin. Today, the copper content is a fraction of what it once was at 98% zinc with only copper plating. This will change with the collectors edition coin minted with the copper content of pennies minted in 1909, which is 95% copper (1). Although it is illegal to have pennies and nickels melted down for their value, these are still worth collecting. Interestingly enough, there are about ten pennies in circulation that are illegal and subject to confiscation by the secret service. These pennies were a makeup of aluminum and bronze that were a prototype and never mass circulated for different reasons (1).

What are other reasons to pick up a penny on the street, even if it is on tails? Savings.  If you look back on your lifetime and think about how many pennies you have walked by in your life time you could probably come up with enough money for a pizza at least. Perhaps you never pass a penny up, saved pennies can add up to hundreds of dollars a year. I have paid for entire vacations on pennies saved. As a child I recall reading a story about a family who found pennies hidden in the walls of their father’s home when he died. Those pennies added up to nearly $7,000 (seven thousand) dollars.

Pennies are also good for “debt snowballs.” Financial Peace University guru Dave Ramsey teaches a theory for helping pay down your debt. Each month, you save and scrounge all you can to help pay down your debt by selling, trading, picking up pennies, whatever you must do to pay a “snowflake” on your debt. Pennies from your daily change is a good way to add to your monthly snowflake. 

Marketing promotions involving pennies have become the rage as of late. CiCi’s Pizza is laying out one million pennies all over their restaurants and if you find one, you may get a free buffet. There is a commercial where a man raised millions of pennies to help sick children.

Pennies are an important piece of American history and are not meant to be stepped over in the street. Save your pennies or give them to someone who could use them. Collect them and trade them; give them to your children. Just remember, that they still hold value in American Culture and should not be underestimated.

(1) www.wikepedia.com