Monday, April 5, 2010

Don’t Put Your Money In Your Mattress! – Or, reduce your information footprint, so that bad guys are less likely to rob your piggy bank.

For years we’ve all been hearing news stories and commercials that try and drive home the importance of identity protection.  My favorite commercials are the Citibank commercials with someone speaking in a voice that is all too obvious it is not theirs.  You can see a great compilation here at Fight Identity Theft.  I just love this one (with two little old ladies on the couch – with blazing saddles cowboy voices coming out of their cute teetotal ling little mouths):

Wooohoooo Weeewww, Spending Limits, who cares?  Not Use, cause those aren’t our credit cards ….

With all the new technology it’s becoming almost second nature to put yourself on digital display.  Facebook, Twitter, and many more social media sites and apps make it far to easy for folks to put themselves on almost automatic update to tell the world what they are doing ever second of their day.

To show just how potentially dangerous this practice has become the site PleaseRobMe.com has datamine’d twitter accounts to show that real people are giving away their location and essentially saying:

Hey I’m not at home right now, so if you want, this is a perfect time to rob me.

They also show how easily you give away your home location too.

For anyone that has comcast cable at home (you can find it in the on demand movies section), you should check out a great new documentary video called Erasing David.  If you don’t have comcast, no worries.  Here’s a list of locations from Erasing David's website that you can download (like Amazon, etc.): http://erasingdavid.com/category/categories/watch-the-film/

Erasing David is an enlightening movie to show how much of a digital footprint we leave all over the place and how others can use it against us.  In their own words:

Erasing David is a documentary about privacy, surveillance and the database state.

David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world. He decides to find out how much private companies and the government know about him by putting himself under surveillance and attempting to disappear a decision that changes his life forever. Leaving his pregnant wife and young child behind, he is tracked across the database state on a chilling journey that forces him to contemplate the meaning of privacy and the loss of it.

That’s right Bond, but not James Bond :- )…

For those that watch Celebrity Apprentice, you’ll notice that in the last few weeks they had to do a challenge to create an advertorial for Lifelock.  This is the commercial membership program that protects your identity.  After a little research and a bit of ringing my memory I remember Clark Howard (of CNN shows of same name), mentioned a DIY way of setting up for yourself what basically amounts to the cornerstone of Lifelock service. Whch is to freeze and thaw your credit accounts.

This freezing of your credit accounts makes it impossible for anyone to open a credit account or otherwise run a credit report on you.  You must be careful and follow all instructions, becuase this also means that you yourself are restricted, unless you ‘thaw’ the credit report for when you are actually on the credit/new account hunt.  Clark Howard put together this great tutorial for how you can do it all online at each of the credit bureaus for a most nominal fee. His instructions are at Clarks Credit Freeze and Thaw Guide.  Here’s clark’s introduction before all the specific instructions:

 Credit freezes are one of the most effective tools against economic ID theft available to consumers. They allow you to seal your credit reports and use a personal identification number (PIN) that only you know and can use to temporarily "thaw" your credit so that legitimate applications for credit and services can be processed. That added layer of security means that thieves can't establish new credit in your name even if they are able to obtain your ID.

Freezes have been available for free to victims of ID theft for some years, but recently all three of the major credit bureaus adopted new rules allowing non-victims to have access to credit freezes as well for a small fee. In addition, most states and Puerto Rico have adopted laws establishing credit freezes for residents of their state.

The cost ranges from $3-$10 per person per bureau to freeze a credit report; a couple of states have higher fees. (For Georgia residents, the cost is $3 per freeze, free for those 65 and over and free for victims of ID Theft with a valid police report).
The cost to "thaw" your reports for one creditor -- or for a specific period of time -- range from being free to $10.

When shouldn't you freeze your credit?
If your credit reports are accessed often for work or because you create new accounts with various financial institutions on a regular basis, it is not suggested that you freeze your accounts. The costs to continually "thaw" your reports would tend to be excessive.

Afterwards you'll find directions and links to assist you in obtaining your credit freeze or thaw from each bureau.  This is quite a savings as compared to Lifelock (who charges $110+ per year for similar service).  The thing about lifelock is that you get a $1million insurance policy and other montioring assistance.  But, until you can afford lifelock on a consistent basis or need it, freezing and thawing on your own should be a definite consideration.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Count the Dollars, Not the Pennies! = max out your 401K + reduce insurance bill …

That's right I said it ... all you frugal folks, please don't faint ;- ).
I've been living this philosophy for many many years, perhaps a couple decades. It fits with my no budget philosophy. Now, I can't take credit for this phrase, it's the cornerstone to a 6-step strategy in a great book I picked up at Borders recently. The book is called All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. It's an oldie (from 2005), but definitely a goody that you should take a look at.

For folks that consider themselves frugal or thrifty, this might sound like sacrilege to a frugal lifestyle. But, give it a minute to sink in and you'll realize that it really fits quite nicely with frugal living. This philosophy of counting the dollars and not the pennies, just simply means being frugal about all the big ticket items that you 'must have' and spend on reguarly (i.e. insurance, mortgage, rent, car, etc.). You see, you stand to save huge dollars by taking a bite out of your monthly expenses when you can take a bite out of these items.

I love chatting investing, personal finance, deals, frugality, etc. with friends. Many of them get a little preachy and naggy with me about spending here and spending there. My come back for decades has been something along the lines of "I focus on Saving Dollars, not Cents! ... So, tell me, Did you max out your 401K last year?". I then procede to tell them how they can be saving big money by investing a little more sensibly when they invest in stocks (maxing out their 401k, using stop-losses, knowing when they're going to sell a stock before they buy it, getting a mortgage to save on taxes, etc.). All these things are big big ticket items that can save all of us $thousands$ a year.

So, the next time your friend nags or preaches to you about why you don't use coupons or don't seem to be as frugal or penny-conscious as them ... ask them this simple question and if their answer is yes, then listen to them they've probably got the dollars and cents stuff already figured out :- ). My simple question back at them is always

Did you max out your 401K last year and this year?


If they answered no, then give them a little education that's going to save them thousands this year and next and then learn what you can from them about pinching-pennies :- )...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Retiring Abroad - Consider India and Kerala in Particular as a World Lesson In Economic Quality of Life

From the last post on Retiring Abroad - Or, Maybe Sailing Around The World for Free! I've received some mail and recommendations to dive a little deeper into consideration of India as a retirement location abroad.   There are quite a few resources and blogs dedicated to the subject.  A great post to dig into was at Retire To India by Nigel with his post last year 10 Best Places to Retire in India.  Nigel used the following guidelines in building his 10 best list:

  • Good location with interesting local activities and places to explore.
  • Good infrastructure, including medical facilities. A significant retiree population is a plus. This eliminates some of the more exotic locations.
  • Not excessively crowded. This rules out most of the bigger cities in India.
  • Safe, with a cosmopolitan outlook and open to outsiders. A sizable expatriate population is a plus.

In reviewing Nigel's list for myself I looked for one more guideline to be on the coast, because I love the water and I think others are of like mind.  This puts Goa at the top of my list and Kerala, Mangalore, and Puducherry as honorable mentions.

The former Portuguese colony of Goa is known for a fine climate and a cosmopolitan culture. Renowned for its beaches, Goa is visited by hundreds of thousands of international and domestic tourists each year. Located on the west coast of India in the region known as the Konkan coast, Goa is home to a growing number of Europeans and Indian expats from abroad.

Looking at cost of living in Goa and you'll find that the dollar does indeed go a long way.  Nomad4ever gives us this cost of living data and it is really helpful to see how far the dollar or euro will stretch.  I only wish we had this similar data for the other 3 coastal cities of interest.:

 

exchange rates 1.12.08 Avg price in rupees in USD in EUR
Cigarettes (10 Local Brand) 24.00 0.48 0.38
Cigarettes (20 Imported, Marlboro) 80.00 1.61 1.27
Clothes - FlipFlops ('Bata' or non-branded) 120.00 2.42 1.91
Clothes - T-Shirt (non-branded) 130.00 2.62 2.07
Clothes - Sports Shoes (non-branded) 200.00 4.03 3.18
Clothes - Pair of Jeans (non-branded) 200.00 4.03 3.18

From wikipedia we can see the coastal location of Goa. 

Located on the west coast of India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its western coast.:

Finally I wanted to take a look at Kerala.  From wikipedia we can review the coastal location and climate variations of Kerala.

Kerala is wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats[35]. Lying between north latitudes 8°18' and 12°48' and east longitudes 74°52' and 72°22',[36] Kerala is well within the humid equatorial tropics. Kerala’s coast runs for some 580 km (360 miles), while the state itself varies between 35 and 120 km (22–75 miles) in width. Geographically, Kerala can be divided into three climatically distinct regions: the eastern highlands (rugged and cool mountainous terrain), the central midlands (rolling hills), and the western lowlands (coastal plains). Located at the extreme southern tip of the Indian subcontinent, Kerala lies near the centre of the Indian tectonic plate; as such, most of the state is subject to comparatively little seismic and volcanic activity.[37] Pre-Cambrian and Pleistocene geological formations compose the bulk of Kerala’s terrain.

 

I found an interesting post Kerala: A Lesson In Light Living with a perspective on Kerala that goes beyond cost of living and dives more into quality of life. 

In conventional economic terms, Kerala is one of the poorest places in the world. Annual per capita GNP in 1986 was $182 (that's less than 50 cents per day in total economic production for every person in the state), compared to $290 for the whole of India and a whopping $17,480 for the United States. If Kerala were a separate country, those figures would place it 9th on a list of the world's poorest nations.

Yet in terms of quality of life, Kerala is an astonishing success story. In contrast to the rest of India and most other low-income countries, people in Kerala enjoy education and health at levels close to those in the West.

Kerala is actually quite an economic enigma for those that study such things.  A retired professor from California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo), Will Alexander believed this so much that he setup up a series of Good Life Study Tours.  These were designed to try and convey the economic riddle that is Kerala.  Participants in the program live with a Family in Kerala for one month to try to better understand:

Kerala is a puzzle because the relatively high quality of life there simply doesn't fit with the tenets of economic science: "It's an absolute non sequitur that people could be happy and satisfied at consumption levels which are half that of Haiti."

Participation in a one month Good Life Study Tour sounds like an enlightening experience to anyone thinking about retiring abroad.  Whether they decide to retire in Kerala or not, there are valuable lessons to be learned from a community that is studied as an economic puzzle and gem of the world!